“I can’t thank you, Mr. Matthew,” she wept. “I couldn’t thank you enough.”
“But I’ve done nothing,” he protested.
She shook her head. “I never hoped for this. Never hoped for it!” she went on. “It makes me so happy—in a way. ... You mustn’t take any notice of me. I’m silly. You must kindly write down that address for me. And I must write to Cyril at once. And I must see Mr. Critchlow.”
“It’s really very funny that Cyril hasn’t written to you,” said Matthew.
“Cyril has not been a good son,” she said with sudden, solemn coldness. “To think that he should have kept that ...!” She wept again.
At length Matthew saw the possibility of leaving. He felt her warm, soft, crinkled hand round his fingers.
“You’ve behaved very nicely over this,” she said. “And very cleverly. In every thing—both over there and here. Nobody could have shown a nicer feeling than you’ve shown. It’s a great comfort to me that my son has got you for a friend.”
When he thought of his escapades, and of all the knowledge, unutterable in Bursley, fantastically impossible in Bursley, which he had imparted to her son, he marvelled that the maternal instinct should be so deceived. Still, he felt that her praise of him was deserved.
Outside, he gave vent to a ‘Phew’ of relief. He smiled, in his worldliest manner. But the smile was a sham. A pretence to himself! A childish attempt to disguise from himself how profoundly he had been moved by a natural scene!
On the night when Matthew Peel-Swynnerton spoke to Mrs. Scales, Matthew was not the only person in the Pension Frensham who failed to sleep. When the old portress came downstairs from her errand, she observed that her mistress was leaving the mahogany retreat.
“She is sleeping tranquilly, the poor one!” said the portress, discharging her commission, which had been to learn the latest news of the mistress’s indisposed dog, Fossette. In saying this her ancient, vibrant voice was rich with sympathy for the suffering animal. And she smiled. She was rather like a figure out of an almshouse, with her pink, apparently brittle skin, her tight black dress, and frilled white cap. She stooped habitually, and always walked quickly, with her head a few inches in advance of her feet. Her grey hair was scanty. She was old; nobody perhaps knew exactly how old. Sophia had taken her with the Pension, over a quarter of a century before, because she was old and could not easily have found another place. Although the clientele was almost exclusively English, she spoke only French, explaining herself to Britons by means of benevolent smiles.
“I think I shall go to bed, Jacqueline,” said the mistress, in reply.