In the drawing-room he smoked cigarettes and played the piano— waltzes of his own composition. Constance and Sophia did not entirely comprehend those waltzes. But they agreed that all were wonderful and that one was very pretty indeed. (It soothed Constance that Sophia’s opinion coincided with hers.) He said that that waltz was the worst of the lot. When he had finished with the piano, Constance informed him about Amy. “Oh! She told me,” he said, “when she brought me my water. I didn’t mention it because I thought it would be rather a sore subject.” Beneath the casualness of his tone there lurked a certain curiosity, a willingness to hear details. He heard them.
At five minutes to ten, when Constance had yawned, he threw a bomb among them on the hearthrug.
“Well,” he said, “I’ve got an appointment with Matthew at the Conservative Club at ten o’clock. I must go. Don’t wait up for me.”
Both women protested, Sophia the more vivaciously. It was Sophia now who was wounded.
“It’s business,” he said, defending himself. “He’s going away early to-morrow, and it’s my only chance.” And as Constance did not brighten he went on: “Business has to be attended to. You mustn’t think I’ve got nothing to do but enjoy myself.”
No hint of the nature of the business! He never explained. As to business, Constance knew only that she allowed him three hundred a year, and paid his local tailor. The sum had at first seemed to her enormous, but she had grown accustomed to it.
“I should have preferred you to see Mr. Peel-Swynnerton here,” said Constance. “You could have had a room to yourselves. I do not like you going out at ten o’clock at night to a club.”
“Well, good night, mater,” he said, getting up. “See you to-morrow. I shall take the key out of the door. It’s true my pocket will never be the same again.”
Sophia saw Constance into bed, and provided her with two hot-water bottles against sciatica. They did not talk much.
Sophia sat waiting on the sofa in the parlour. It appeared to her that, though little more than a month had elapsed since her arrival in Bursley, she had already acquired a new set of interests and anxieties. Paris and her life there had receded in the strangest way. Sometimes for hours she would absolutely forget Paris. Thoughts of Paris were disconcerting; for either Paris or Bursley must surely be unreal! As she sat waiting on the sofa Paris kept coming into her mind. Certainly it was astonishing that she should be just as preoccupied with her schemes for the welfare of Constance as she had ever been preoccupied with schemes for the improvement of the Pension Frensham. She said to herself: “My life has been so queer—and yet every part of it separately seemed ordinary enough—how will it end?”
Then there were footfalls on the steps outside, and a key was put into the door, which she at once opened.