“Don’t you love Bond Street?” she gabbled on. “There’s something so unusual and distinctive about it; no other street anywhere else is quite like it. Don’t you know those ikons and images and things scattered up and down Europe, that are supposed to have been painted or carved, as the case may be, by St. Luke or Zaccheus, or somebody of that sort; I always like to think that some notable person of those times designed Bond Street. St. Paul, perhaps. He travelled about a lot.”
“Not in Middlesex, though,” said Francesca.
“One can’t be sure,” persisted Merla; “when one wanders about as much as he did one gets mixed up and forgets where one has been. I can never remember whether I’ve been to the Tyrol twice and St. Moritz once, or the other way about; I always have to ask my maid. And there’s something about the name Bond that suggests St. Paul; didn’t he write a lot about the bond and the free?”
“I fancy he wrote in Hebrew or Greek,” objected Francesca; “the word wouldn’t have the least resemblance.”
“So dreadfully non-committal to go about pamphleteering in those bizarre languages,” complained Merla; “that’s what makes all those people so elusive. As soon as you try to pin them down to a definite statement about anything you’re told that some vitally important word has fifteen other meanings in the original. I wonder our Cabinet Ministers and politicians don’t adopt a sort of dog-Latin or Esperanto jargon to deliver their speeches in; what a lot of subsequent explaining away would be saved. But to go back to Bond Street—not that we’ve left it—”
“I’m afraid I must leave it now,” said Francesca, preparing to turn up Grafton Street; “Good-bye.”
“Must you be going? Come and have tea somewhere. I know of a cosy little place where one can talk undisturbed.”
Francesca repressed a shudder and pleaded an urgent engagement.
“I know where you’re going,” said Merla, with the resentful buzz of a bluebottle that finds itself thwarted by the cold unreasoning resistance of a windowpane. “You’re going to play bridge at Serena Golackly’s. She never asks me to her bridge parties.”
Francesca shuddered openly this time; the prospect of having to play bridge anywhere in the near neighbourhood of Merla’s voice was not one that could be contemplated with ordinary calmness.
“Good-bye,” she said again firmly, and passed out of earshot; it was rather like leaving the machinery section of an exhibition. Merla’s diagnosis of her destination had been a correct one; Francesca made her way slowly through the hot streets in the direction of Serena Golackly’s house on the far side of Berkeley Square. To the blessed certainty of finding a game of bridge, she hopefully added the possibility of hearing some fragments of news which might prove interesting and enlightening. And of enlightenment on a particular subject, in which she was acutely and personally interested, she