The tone of his voice was so bitter that Stephen seized his hand.
“My dear old man, you’re too kind. Why, she’s no hold on you—not the smallest in the world!”
“Except the hold of this devotion I’ve roused in her, God knows how, and her destitution.”
“You let these people haunt you,” said Stephen. “It’s quite a mistake—it really is.”
“I had forgotten to mention that I am not an iceberg,” muttered Hilary.
Stephen looked into his face without speaking, then with the utmost earnestness he said:
“However much you may be attracted, it’s simply unthinkable for a man like you to go outside his class.”
“Class! Yes!” muttered Hilary: “Good-bye!”
And with a long grip of his brother’s hand he went away.
Stephen turned to the window. For all the care and contrivance bestowed on the view, far away to the left the back courts of an alley could be seen; and as though some gadfly had planted in him its small poisonous sting, he moved back from the sight at once. ‘Confusion!’ he thought. ‘Are we never to get rid of these infernal people?’
His eyes lighted on the melon. A single slice lay by itself on a blue-green dish. Leaning over a plate, with a desperation quite unlike himself, he took an enormous bite. Again and again he bit the slice, then almost threw it from him, and dipped his fingers in a bowl.
‘Thank God!’ he thought, ‘that’s over! What an escape!’
Whether he meant Hilary’s escape or Thyme’s was doubtful, but there came on him a longing to rush up to his little daughter’s room, and hug her. He suppressed it, and sat down at the bureau; he was suddenly experiencing a sensation such as he had sometimes felt on a perfect day, or after physical danger, of too much benefit, of something that he would like to return thanks for, yet knew not how. His hand stole to the inner pocket of his black coat. It stole out again; there was a cheque-book in it. Before his mind’s eye, starting up one after the other, he saw the names of the societies he supported, or meant sometime, if he could afford it, to support. He reached his hand out for a pen. The still, small noise of the nib travelling across the cheques mingled with the buzzing of a single fly.
These sounds Cecilia heard, when, from the open door, she saw the thin back of her husband’s neck, with its softly graduated hair, bent forward above the bureau. She stole over to him, and pressed herself against his arm.
Stephen, staying the progress of his pen, looked up at her. Their eyes met, and, bending down, Cecilia put her cheek to his.
THE FLOWERING OF THE ALOE
This same day, returning through Kensington Gardens, from his preparations for departure, Hilary came suddenly on Bianca standing by the shores of the Round Pond.