It was an odd freak, but Bob began to have a pleasure in this renewal of intimacy; he wished he had been wearing his best suit. Years ago his father had brought him on a public holiday to the Museum, and his interest was chiefly excited by the collection of the Royal Seals. To that quarter he first led his companion, and thence directed her towards objects more likely to supply her with amusement; he talked freely, and was himself surprised at the show of information his memory allowed him to make—desperately vague and often ludicrously wide of the mark, but still a something of knowledge, retained from all sorts of chance encounters by his capable mind. Had the British Museum been open to visitors in the hours of the evening, or on Sundays, Bob Hewitt would possibly have been employing his leisure nowadays in more profitable pursuits. Possibly; one cannot say more than that; for the world to which he belonged is above all a world of frustration, and only the one man in half a million has fate for his friend.
Much Clem cared for antiquities; when she had wearied herself in pretending interest, a seat in an unvisited corner gave her an opportunity for more congenial dialogue.
‘How’s Mrs. Pennyloaf?’ she asked, with a smile of malice.
‘How’s Mr. What’s-his-name Snowdon?’ was the reply.
’My husband’s a gentleman. Good thing for me I had the sense to wait.’
‘And for me too, I dare say.’
‘Why ain’t you at work? Got the sack?’
‘I can take a day off if I like, can’t I?’
’And you’ll go ’ome and tell your wife as you’ve been working. I know what you men are. What ’ud Mrs. Pennyloaf say if she knew you was here with me? You daren’t tell her; you daren’t!’
’I’m not doing any harm as I know of. I shall tell her if I choose, and if I choose I shan’t. I don’t ask her what I’m to do.’
’I dare say. And how does that mother of hers get on? And her brother at the public? Nice relations for Mr. Bob Hewett. Do they come to tea on a Sunday?’
Bob glared at her, and Clem laughed, showing all her teeth. From this exchange of pleasantries the talk passed to various subjects— the affairs of Jack Bartley and his precious wife, changes in Clerkenwell Close, then to Clem’s own circumstances; she threw out hints of brilliant things in store for her.
‘Do you come here often?’ she asked at length.
‘Can’t say I do.’
’Thought p’r’aps you brought Mrs. Pennyloaf. When’ll you be here again?’
‘Don’t know,’ Bob replied, fidgeting and looking to a distance.
‘I shouldn’t wonder if I’m here this day next week,’ said Clem, after a pause. ‘You can bring Pennyloaf if you like.’
It was dinner-time, and they left the building together. At the end of Museum Street they exchanged a careless nod and went their several ways.