They passed, and Monica did not allow herself to look back.
‘I think it’s a nice house,’ she said presently.
’All my life I have wished to have a house of my own, but I didn’t dare to hope I ever should. Men in general don’t seem to care so long as they have lodgings that suit them—I mean unmarried men. But I always wanted to live alone—without strangers, that is to say. I told you that I am not very sociable. When I got my house, I was like a child with a toy; I couldn’t sleep for satisfaction. I used to walk all over it, day after day, before it was furnished. There was something that delighted me in the sound of my footsteps on the staircases and the bare floors. Here I shall live and die, I kept saying to myself. Not in solitude, I hoped. Perhaps I might meet some one—’
Monica interrupted him to ask a question about some object in the landscape. He answered her very briefly, and for a long time neither spoke. Then the girl, glancing at him with a smile of apology, said in a gentle tone—
’You were telling me how the house pleased you. Have you still the same pleasure in living there?’
’Yes. But lately I have been hoping—I daren’t say more. You will interrupt me again.’
‘Which way are we going now, Mr. Widdowson?’
’To Streatham, then on to Carshalton. At five o’clock we will use our right as travellers, and get some innkeeper to make tea for us. Look, the sun is trying to break through; we shall have a fine evening yet. May I, without rudeness, say that you look better since you left that abominable place.’
‘Oh, I feel better.’
After keeping his look fixed for a long time on the horse’s ears, Widdowson turned gravely to his companion.
’I told you about my sister-in-law. Would you be willing to make her acquaintance?’
‘I don’t feel able to do that, Mr. Widdowson,’ Monica answered with decision.
Prepared for this reply, he began a long and urgent persuasion. It was useless; Monica listened quietly, but without sign of yielding. The subject dropped, and they talked of indifferent things.
On the homeward drive, when the dull sky grew dusk about them, and the suburban street-lamps began to show themselves in long glimmering lines, Widdowson returned with shamefaced courage to the subject which for some hours had been in abeyance.
’I can’t part from you this evening without a word of hope to remember. You know that I want you to be my wife. Will you tell me if there is anything I can say or do to make your consent possible? Have you any doubt of me?’
‘No doubt whatever of your sincerity.’
’In one sense, I am still a stranger to you. Will you give me the Opportunity of making things between us more regular? Will you allow me to meet some friend of yours whom you trust?’
‘I had rather you didn’t yet.’
‘You wish to know still more of me, personally?’