’Yes, a wonderful day. But I only left home an hour ago. Shall we walk this way?’
They went along the path by the river. Widdowson exhibited none of the artifices of gallantry practised by men who are in the habit of picking up an acquaintance with shop-girls. His smile did not return; an extreme sobriety characterized his manner and speech; for the most part he kept his eyes on the ground, and when silent he had the look of one who inwardly debates a grave question.
‘Have you been into the country?’ was one of his first inquiries.
’No. I spent the morning with my sisters, and in the afternoon I had to see a lady in Chelsea.’
‘Your sisters are older than yourself?’
‘Yes, some years older.’
‘Is it long since you went to live apart from them?’
‘We have never had a home of our own since I was quite a child.’
And, after a moment’s hesitation, she went on to give a brief account of her history. Widdowson listened with the closest attention, his lips twitching now and then, his eyes half closed. But for cheek-bones that were too prominent and nostrils rather too large, he was not ill-featured. No particular force of character declared itself in his countenance, and his mode of speech did not suggest a very active brain. Speculating again about his age, Monica concluded that he must be two or three and forty, in spite of the fact that his grizzled beard argued for a higher figure. He had brown hair untouched by any sign of advanced life, his teeth were white and regular, and something—she could not make clear to her mind exactly what—convinced her that he had a right to judge himself comparatively young.
‘I supposed you were not a Londoner,’ he said, when she came to a pause.
‘Your speech. Not,’ he added quickly, ’that you have any provincial accent. And even if you had been a Londoner you would not have shown it in that way.’
He seemed to be reproving himself for a blunder, and after a short silence asked in a tone of kindness,—
‘Do you prefer the town?’
‘In some ways—not in all.’
’I am glad you have relatives here, and friends. So many young ladies come up from the country who are quite alone.’
Their progress to familiarity could hardly have been slower. Now and then they spoke with a formal coldness which threatened absolute silence. Monica’s brain was so actively at work that she lost consciousness of the people who were moving about them, and at times her companion was scarcely more to her than a voice.
They had walked along the whole front of the park, and were near Chelsea Bridge. Widdowson gazed at the pleasure-boats lying below on the strand, and said diffidently,—
‘Would you care to go on the river?’
The proposal was so unexpected that Monica looked up with a startled air. She had not thought of the man as likely to offer any kind of amusement.