The Whirlpool by George Gissing
Part the Second
Mrs. Frothingham's sister, who lived near Basingstoke, gave a warm welcome to little Hugh Rolfe; and Mrs. Frothingham, who had all but forgotten that the child was not really her grandson, took charge of him with pride and joy. He stayed a week; he stayed a fortnight; -- he stayed two months.
For when the Carnabys -- who landed at Plymouth and rested there for a couple of days -- made known their intention of straightway taking a flat in town, it seemed to Alma that the very best thing for her health would be to spend a week or two in London, and see her old friends, and go to a few concerts. The time was favourable, for June had only just set in. Harvey, nothing loath, took his wife to a quiet hotel in the Portman Square region, whither also went their friends from abroad; his project being to look for furnished rooms, where child and nurse could join them. But Mrs. Frothingham thought it a pity of pities to take little Hugh into the town, when all was so pleasantly arranged for him down in Hampshire; and, as Alma evidently inclined to the same view, the uninviting thought of 'apartments' was laid aside. They might as well remain at the hotel, said Harvey. Alma, with a pretty show of economical hesitation, approved the plan, saying that she would be quite ready to go home again when Sibyl had established herself in a flat. This event came to pass in about three weeks; the Carnabys found a flat which suited them very well at Oxford and Cambridge Mansions, and thither, with the least possible delay, transferred a portion of their furniture, which had lain in warehouse. Thereupon, sweetly reasonable, Mrs. Rolfe made known that it was time to fetch her baby and return to Carnarvonshire. She felt incalculably better; the change had been most refreshing; now for renewed enjoyment of her dear home!
But Harvey wore his wisest countenance; no owl could have surpassed it for sage gravity.
'You are very much better, and don't you think you would be better still after another week or two? The concerts are in full swing; it seems a pity -- now you are here ----'
Alma looked gracefully reluctant. Were not the hotel expenses rather heavy?
'Pooh! You must remember that at home we live on half our income, or less. If that's all that troubles you ----'
'You are very kind, Harvey!'
'Why, as for that, I'm enjoying myself. And I like to see you in such capital spirits.'
So, with a happy sigh, Alma gave up the packing of her trunk, and wrote to Mrs. Frothingham that if baby really was not a trouble, they might stay for another fortnight. 'Harvey is in such capital spirits, and does so enjoy himself, that I don't think he ought to go home whilst all the life of the season is in full swing. Of course, I could leave him here, but -- if you will credit it -- he seems really to wish to have me with him. If I tried to say how thoroughly good and kind he is, I should make you laugh. It amuses me to see him turned into a sort of bachelor again. This is no contradiction; I mean that here, among his men friends, he shows a new side of himself, seems younger (to tell the truth), and has a kind of gaiety quite different from his good humour at home. You can't think how he enjoys a dinner at the club, for instance, quite in a boyish way; and then he comes back with all sorts of stories and bits of character and I don't know what; we forget the time, and sit talking till I daren't tell you when. But I am doing the same thing now, for it is half-past twelve (noon), and I have promised to lunch with Sibyl at half-past one. Her flat is just finished, and looks very pretty indeed. A thousand kisses to my little darling! Try and make him understand that mum-mum has not gone for ever.'
She dressed with care (her wardrobe had undergone a complete renewal), and drove off in a hansom to Oxford and Cambridge Mansions. It was to be a luncheon of intimacy, for Sibyl had not yet gathered her acquaintances. When Alma entered, Mrs. Carnaby was sitting just as in the days before her great migration, perfectly at ease, admirably self-possessed, her beauty arrayed with all the chastity of effect which distinguished her among idle and pleasure-loving women. She had found a new way of doing her hair, a manner so young, so virginal, that Alma could not but gaze with wonder and admiration.
'You do look sweet today!'
'Do I? I'm glad you think so. -- I want your opinion. Would you have the piano there, or there?'
This matter was discussed, and then they obeyed the tuneful gong that summoned them to the dining-room. Alma surveyed everything, and felt a secret envy. Here was no demonstration of the simple life; things beautiful and luxurious filled all available space, and indeed over-filled it, for Sibyl had tried to use as much as possible of the furniture formerly displayed in Hamilton Terrace, with such alterations and novelties as were imposed by the fashion of today. She offered her guest a most dainty little meal; a luncheon such as Alma could not possibly have devised, in spite of all her reminiscences.
'Civilisation is a great thing,' Sibyl remarked. 'It's good to have been in savagery, just to appreciate one's privileges.'
'But you liked Honolulu?'
'Honolulu -- yes. I was thinking of Queensland. There's no barbarism at Honolulu, if you keep out of sight of the Americans and Europeans. Yes, I enjoyed myself there. I think I could go back and live out my life at Waikiki.'
'It astonished me that you didn't make an effort to go with Hugh to that great volcano. I have read about it since, and I'm sure I should have faced anything.'
'Kilauea,' murmured Sibyl, with a dreamy air, as she raised the wine-glass to her lips. 'I was lazy, no doubt. The climate, you know; and then I don't care much about bubbling lava. It was much nicer to watch the gold-fish at Waikiki. -- Where is your husband today?'
'Of all things in the world, gone to Lord's! He says he never saw a cricket match in his life, and it struck him this morning that it really was a defect in his education. Of course, he was thinking of Hughie. He wants Hughie to be a cricketer and horseman and everything that's robust.'
'Just like Hugh,' replied Sibyl, laughing. 'I should feel the same if I had a boy. I like open-air men -- though I shouldn't care always to live among them.'
'Hugh at Coventry still?' Alma inquired.
Her hostess gave a nod, with a look intimating that she would say more when the servant left them free to talk. She added ----
'Do you know Mrs. Strangeways?'
'I seem to remember a Mr. Strangeways,' replied Alma, 'but I can't think how or where.'
'Yes, he's a man who goes about a good deal. His wife was the widow of that artist who promised so well, and got into a scrape, and died miserably -- Edward -- no, Egbert Dover. Don't you know that big landscape that hangs in Mrs. Holt's boudoir? -- that was one of his. He hid himself away, and died in a garret or a workhouse -- something cheerful. I met Mrs. Strangeways at Brisbane; she and her husband were globe-trotting. She might look in this afternoon. I don't know whether you would care for her; she's rather -- rapid, you know. But she remembers hearing you play somewhere -- spoke of you with great admiration.'
Alma's eyes shone.
'Oh, I should be glad to meet her! Are you going to let me stay with you all the afternoon, then?'
'If you have nothing better to do. I suppose I shall be losing you presently. I'm very sorry. I wish you lived in London.'
'On this one account,' replied Alma, 'I wish I did. But I've got so out of it. Don't you think I carry a rustic atmosphere about with me?'
Sibyl laughed, in the tone her friend wished to hear. Alma would have been profoundly mortified if Mrs. Carnaby had seemed ever so little to agree with her.
For all that, they were not quite so well attuned to each other as when the young married woman, indifferent seemingly to social distinction, patronised the ambitious girl, and, by the mere bestowal of confidence, subtly flattered her. In those days Alma did not feel it as patronage, for Sibyl's social position was perhaps superior to her own, and in things of the intellect (apart from artistic endowment) she sincerely looked up to her friend. Together they trod ground above the heads of ordinary women in their world. But changes had been at work. Alma now felt herself, to say the least, on equal terms with Mrs. Carnaby. Economically, she was secure; whereas Sibyl, notwithstanding the show she made, drew daily nearer to a grave crisis, and might before long find herself in a very unpleasant situation. Intellectually, Alma saw herself in a less modest light than before marriage; the daily companionship of such a man as her husband had been to her as a second education; she had quite overtaken Sibyl, if not gone a little beyond her. The deference she still showed was no longer genuine, and this kind of affectation, hard to support and readily perceived, is very perilous to friendship. Conscious of thoughts she must not utter, Alma naturally attributed to her friend the same sort of reticence. She feared that Sibyl must often have in mind the loss she had suffered three years ago, and would contrast her own precarious circumstances with the comfort of Bennet Frothingham's daughter. Moreover, Mrs. Carnaby was not in all respects her own self; she had lost something on her travels; was it a shade of personal delicacy, of mental refinement? She seemed more inclined to self-assertion, to aim somewhat at worldly success, to be less careful about the friends she made. Alma felt this difference, though not clear as to its nature, and insensibly it helped to draw them apart.
'Yes, Hugh is at Coventry,' said Sibyl, when the servant had withdrawn. 'He'll go backwards and forwards, you know. I don't think he'll have very much to do practically with the business; but just at first he likes to see what's going on.'
'I hope it will prosper.'
'Oh, no doubt it will. It was a very good idea.'
Sibyl spoke as though she had never contemplated the possibilities which were in Alma's mind. Her husband, as Alma knew from Rolfe, was in anything but a sanguine mood; he saw his position in all its gravity, and could hardly rest for fear that this latest enterprise should not succeed. Sibyl, however, enjoyed her lunch with complete tranquillity. She had the air of being responsible for nothing.
'I'm not at all sorry we went away for a time. Travelling suits Hugh; it has done him a great deal of good. I believe he would have liked to stay in Tasmania; but he saw it wouldn't do for me, and the good fellow could think of nothing else but my comfort. I have a great admiration for Hugh,' she added, with a smile, not exactly of superiority or condescension, but of approval distinct from tenderness. 'Of course, I always had, and it has increased since I've travelled with him. He shows to far more advantage on a ship than in a drawing-room. On this last voyage we had some very bad weather, and then he was at his best. I admired him immensely!'
'I can quite imagine how he would be,' said Alma.
'And how glad I was when I heard you had married his best friend! It had crossed my mind more than once. Perhaps you don't remember -- you didn't notice it at the time -- but I ventured a discreet hint before we parted. You couldn't have done a more sensible thing, Alma.'
Though quite willing to believe this, Alma, for some reason, did not care to hear it thus asserted. The manner of the remark, for all its friendliness, reminded her that marriage had signified her defeat, the end of high promises, brave aspirations.
'I couldn't tell you how it happened,' she said, with a little awkwardness. 'And I dare say you would say the same about your own marriage.'
'Of course So would every woman. One never does know how it happens'
And Sibyl laughed with quiet merriment which had a touch of cynicism. Alma had not yet spoken of the impulse which carried her away to the little house in Carnarvonshire, to the life of noble simplicity and calm retirement, and she had no disposition now to touch on the matter. Even in her early letters to Sybil not much was said of it, for she felt that her friend might have a difficulty in sympathising with such enthusiasm. She would have liked to make Sibyl understand that her rustication was quite voluntary; but the subject embarrassed her, and she preferred to keep silence.
'I didn't hear very much about your time in Germany,' Mrs. Carnaby resumed. 'Nothing much to tell, I suppose.'
'Any -- any adventures?'
Alma felt herself grow warm, less at the thought of the adventures which really had befallen her than from vexation at the feeling of insignificance. She understood very well what Sibyl meant by her smiling question, and it would almost have been a relief to tell certain stories, in proof that she had not utterly fallen out of sight and mind on her self-banishment from society. There was no reason, indeed, why she should not make fun of Felix Dymes and his proposal; but the episode seemed idle in comparison with another, on which she had never ceased to reflect. Perhaps a certain glory attached to that second incident; Sibyl might be impressed alike with the character of the temptation and with her friend's nobility in scorning it. But the opportunity had gone by.
On rising from table, Sibyl remarked that she wished to make one or two purchases; would Alma accompany her to the shop? They went forth, and drove as far as Regent Street. Mrs. Carnaby's requirements were one or two expensive trifles, which she chose with leisurely gratification of her taste. It surprised Alma to see this extravagance; one would have thought the purchaser had never known restricted means, and dreamt of no such thing; she bought what she happened to desire, as a matter of course. And this was no ostentation for Alma's benefit. Evidently Sibyl had indulged herself with the same freedom throughout her travels; for she had brought back a museum of beautiful and curious things, which must have cost a good deal. Perhaps for the first time in her life Alma experienced a sense of indignation at the waste of money. She was envious withal, which possibly helped to explain the other impulse.
They returned in an hour's time. Sibyl then withdrew for a few minutes, and reappeared in an exquisite tea-gown, which made her friend's frock, though new and handsome, look something less than suitable to the occasion. Alma, glancing about the room, spoke as if in pursuance of a train of thought.
'People do make a lot of money out of bicycles, I think?'
'I have heard so,' answered her hostess indifferently. 'Will you play me something? The piano has been tuned; I should like to know if you think it all right.'
'I have quite given up playing the piano.'
'Indeed? And the violin too?'
'No, no; the violin is my instrument. Whose is that little water-colour, Sibyl? I tried for just that effect of sun through mist not long ago.'
'Oh yes, to be sure, you have gone in for water-colours; you told me in a letter. I must see some of your things. Of course, I shall becoming ----'
The door opened, and a small page, very smartly equipped, to Alma; she had not as yet seen this functionary; but Mrs. announced Mrs. Herbert Strangeways. The page was a surprise Strangeways drew her attention. A lady of perhaps thirty-five, with keen, thin face, and an artificial bloom on her hollow cheeks; rather overdressed, yet not to the point of vulgarity; of figure very well proportioned, slim and lissom. Her voice was a trifle hard, but pleasant; her manner cordial in excess.
'So here you are, chez vous. Charming! Charming! The prettiest room I have seen for a long time. Mrs. Rolfe? Oh, Mrs. Rolfe, the name put me out for a moment; but I remember you perfectly, perfectly. It was at the Wigrams'; you played the violin wonderfully!'
Alma did not much care to be reminded of this. Mr. Wigram, one of her father's co-directors, was lying at this moment in durance vile, and his wife lived somewhere or other on charity. But Mrs. Strangeways uttered the name without misgiving, and behaved as though nothing conceivable could have afforded her more delight than to meet Alma again. It was her habit to speak in superlatives, and to wear a countenance of corresponding ecstasy. Any casual remark from either of the ladies she received with a sort of rapture; her nerves seemed to be in a perpetual thrill. If she referred to herself, it was always with depreciation, and not at all the kind of depreciation which invites compliment, but a tremulous self-belittlement, such as might be natural in a person who had done something to be ashamed of, and held her place in society only on sufferance.
'You still play, of course?' she said to Mrs. Rolfe presently. 'I so hope I may have the pleasure of hearing you again. I wonder whether I could persuade you to come next Wednesday? We have a little house in Porchester Terrace. Of course, I don't mean to ask you to play; I shouldn't venture to. Just a few friends in the evening -- if you didn't think it tiresome? I'll send you a card.'
There entered a tall young man of consumptive features, accompanied by a stout, florid woman, older than himself; and upon this couple followed half-a-dozen miscellaneous callers, some of whom Alma knew. These old acquaintances met her with a curiosity they hardly troubled to disguise; she herself was reserved, and took no part in the general chatter. Mrs Strangeways withdrew into a corner, as if wishing to escape observation. When Mrs. Rolfe took a chair by her side, she beamed with gratitude, and their gossip grew quite intimate. Alma could not understand why Sibyl had stigmatised this woman as 'rapid' -- that is to say, 'fast'; she gabbled, indeed, at a great rate, but revealed no startling habits of life or thought, and seemed to have rather an inclination for childish forms of amusement. Before they parted, Alma gave a promise that she would go to Mrs. Strangeways 'at home' next Wednesday.
'And your husband, if he would care to come. I should be so delighted to know him. But perhaps he doesn't care about that kind of thing. I hate to bore anyone -- don't you? But then, of course, you're never in danger of doing it. So very, very glad to have met you! And so exceedingly kind of you to promise! -- so very kind!'
As Sibyl also was going to Porchester Terrace, they arranged to chaperon each other and to start from Mrs. Rolfe's hotel.
'It's no use making Harvey uncomfortable,' said Alma. 'He would go if I asked him but sorely against the grain. He always detested 'at homes' -- except when he came to admire me! And he likes to see me going about independently.'
'Does he?' said Sibyl, with an inquiring look.
'Yes -- seriously. We do our best not to encumber each other. Don't you think it's the best way?'
'No doubt whatever.'
Mrs. Carnaby smiled, and the smile grew to a laugh; but she would not explain what she meant by it.
On the Wednesday evening, they reached Mrs. Strangeways' house at ten o'clock. Carriages and cabs made a queue up to the door, and figures succeeded each other rapidly on the red cloth laid down across the pavement. Alma was nervous. More than three years had passed since the fatal evening when, all unconsciously, she said goodbye to social splendours; from then till now she had taken part in no festivity. The fact that her name was no longer Frothingham gave her some encouragement; but she must expect to be recognised, perhaps to be stared at. Well, and would it be so very disagreeable? An hour before, the mirror had persuaded her that she need not shrink from people's eyes; her dress defied criticism, and she had not to learn how to bear herself with dignity. Sibyl was unusually lavish of compliments, and in a matter such as this Sibyl's judgment had weight. As soon as she found herself on the stairs, amid perfumes and brilliances, she breathed freely; it was the old familiar atmosphere; her heart leaped with a sudden joy, as in a paradise regained.
Already the guests were very numerous, and they continued to arrive. The drawing-rooms filled; a crowd of men smoked in the 'library' and the billiard-room; women swarmed in passages and staircase. After welcoming Mrs. Rolfe with the ardour of a bosom friend and the prostration of a devotee, the hostess turned to the next comer with scarcely less fervency. And Alma passed on, content for the present to be lost amid thronging strangers.
'Who are all these people?' she asked of Sibyl, who had moved along by her side.
'Nobodies, most of them, I should imagine. There's no need to stay very long, you know. That's Mr. Strangeways, the little man with a red face talking to that mountain of a woman in green. Mercy, what a dress! He's coming this way; I'll introduce him to you.'
The host had a jovial carriage and a bluff way of speaking, both obviously affected. His eyes wandered as he talked, and never met anyone else's with a steady look. Alma thought him offensively familiar, but he did not inflict himself upon her for long.
When the hostess began to go hither and thither, she pounced eagerly on Mrs. Rolfe, and soon made her the centre of a group. Alma began to taste the old delight of homage, though she perceived that her new acquaintances were not of the world in which she had formerly shone. About midnight, when she was a little tired of the crush, and thought of going, there fell upon her ear a voice which startled and aroused her like an unexpected grasp. On the instant she saw an open place in Munich; the next, a lake and mountains.
'I wasn't in town then. I got out of sorts, and ran away to a little place I have on the Lake of Garda.'
The speaker was immediately behind her. She all but turned her head, and grew hot in the effort to command herself. Amid the emotions naturally excited in her she was impressed by a quality in the voice, a refinement of utterance, which at once distinguished it from that of the men with whom she had been talking. It belonged to a higher social grade, if it did not express a superiority of nature. For some moments she listened, catching now and then a word; then other voices intervened. At length, turning where she stood, she let her eyes range, expressionless, over the faces near by. That which she sought was not discoverable, but at the same moment the hostess came up to her.
Mrs. Rolfe, do you know Mr. Cyrus Redgrave?'
'Mr. Redgrave ----?'
The confused, hesitating repetition of the name was taken by Mrs Strangeways for a reply in the negative.
'A charming man, and a great friend of mine -- oh, a very old friend. Let me bring him.'
She rustled away, and Mrs. Rolfe sank back on to the causeuse from which she had newly risen. Quickly the hostess returned, and, in the track she made through crowded clusters of people who stood talking, there followed a gentleman of easy carriage, with handsome features and thin hair. He was looking for Alma, and as soon as his eyes perceived her, they fell. Of what Mrs. Strangeways said, Alma heard not a syllable; she bowed mechanically, clutching her fan as though in peril of a fall and this the only thing within reach; she knew that Redgrave bent solemnly, silently; and then, with sudden relief, she saw the hostess retire.
'I beg your pardon.' The voice was addressing her in a respectful undertone. 'I had no choice. I did not feel justified in saying I knew you.'
'You were quite right,' she replied coldly, her fingers now relaxed upon the fan. 'Mrs. Strangeways is a little impulsive; she gave me no opportunity of preventing the introduction.'
'Will you let me say, Mrs. Rolfe, that I am glad to have been presented to you as a stranger? I should be happy indeed if our acquaintance might begin anew.'
It was polite in terms, but sounded to Alma very like the coolest impertinence. She bent her head, ever so little. The second seat of the causeuse being unoccupied, Redgrave hereupon took possession of it. No sooner had he done so than Alma rose, let a smile of indifference just fall upon him, and lost herself amid the buzzing assembly.
Ten minutes later, Redgrave and Mrs. Carnaby were lounging in these same seats, conversing with perfect mutual intelligence. They had not met for three years, but the interval signified very little in their lives, and they resumed conversation practically at the point where it had broken off in Mrs. Frothingham's drawing-room. A tactful question assured the man of the world that Mrs. Carnaby knew nothing of certain passages at Munich and Bregenz.
'I'm afraid,' he added, 'Mrs. Rolfe has become a little reserved. Natural, no doubt.'
'She lives in a wild part of Wales,' Sibyl answered, smiling tolerantly. 'And her husband detests society.'
'Indeed? Odd choice for her to have made, don't you think? -- And so your Odyssey is over? We shall have some chance of seeing you again.'
'But your own Odyssey is perpetually going on. Are you ever in town except for a few weeks of the season?'
'Oh, I go about very little now; I'm settling down. -- You never met my sister, I think? She has a house at Wimbledon with a good-sized garden -- sort of little park, in fact, -- and I have persuaded her to let me build myself a bungalow among the trees.'
'Not bad, I think. One is free there; a member of the family whenever one likes; domesticated; all that's respectable; and only a few steps away, the bachelor snuggery, with all that's ----. No, no! I was not going to complete the antithesis, though by your smiling you seem to say so.'
'The suggestion was irresistible,' said Sibyl, with the composure, the air of security, which always covered her excursions on to slippery ground.
'When the weather is good, I ask a few of my friends to come and sit there in the shade. They may or may not be my sister's friends also; that doesn't matter. I have a separate entrance from the road. -- But I wish you knew Mrs. Fenimore. She lived a year or two at Stuttgart, for her children to learn German. Her husband's in India. She tried it, but couldn't stand the climate.'
'And you really live in the bungalow?' inquired Mrs. Carnaby, disregarding this information about Redgrave's sister.
'Yes, it's my headquarters in England. Let me send you a card, will you, when I have my next afternoon? It might amuse you, and I assure you it is perfectly respectable.'
'How could I doubt it, if you invite me?'
Alma drove home by herself in a hansom. She liked this disregard of conventionalities; all the more because Harvey, who, of course, had sat up for her, seemed a trifle anxious. Her spirits were exuberant; she gave a merry, mocking account of the evening, but it included no mention of Cyrus Redgrave.
At the end of June her friends the Leaches moved from their old house in Elgin Road to a new one out at Kingsbury-Neasden, and when the removal was completed Alma went there to make a call, taking her husband. Harvey had never been beyond Swiss Cottage on this extension of the Metropolitan Railway; he looked with interest at the new districts springing up towards Harrow, and talked of them with Mrs. Leach. A day or two after, he travelled by himself to a greater distance on the same line, making a survey of the country from Harrow to Aylesbury. At his next meeting with Hugh Carnaby, which took place about the middle of July, he threw out a suggestion that for anyone who wished to live practically in London and yet away from its frenzy, the uplands towards Buckinghamshire were convenient ground.
'I wish you were thinking of it yourself,' replied Hugh. 'Your wife is about the only woman Sibyl cares to see much of, and the only woman I know that she'll get any good from.'
The strong man did not look very cheerfully on the world just now, and it was evident that he felt some sort of trouble with regard to his wife. For her sake solely he had returned to England, where he was less than ever at his ease. He wished Sibyl to live in her own way, grudged her nothing, admired and cherished her with undiminished fervour; but in Oxford and Cambridge Mansions it cost him a great effort to pretend to be at home. The years of wandering had put him hopelessly out of touch with what Sibyl called society. Little as he understood about manufactures, or cared for the details of commerce, he preferred to stay down at Coventry with his partner Mackintosh, living roughly, smoking his pipe and drinking his whisky in the company of men who had at least a savour of sturdy manhood. His days of sport were gone by; he was risking the solid remnant of his capital; and if it vanished -- But of that possibility he would not speak, even with Harvey Rolfe. As he meditated, his teeth were set, his eyes darkened. And it appeared to Harvey that the good fellow drank a little more whisky than was needful, even in these warm days.
'I want to see the little chap, my namesake,' he said. 'Why don't you have him up here? Doesn't your wife feel she wants him?'
'Alma will think more of him in a year or two,' Harvey replied.
'Yes. I've noticed that women -- one sort of women -- don't care much about babies nowadays. I dare say they're right. The fewer children people have, the better. It's bad to see the poor little squalling brats in the filth and smoke down yonder, and worse still in this damned London. Great God! when there's so much of the world clean and sweet, here we pack and swelter together, a million to the square mile! What eternal fools we are!'
Harvey growled his heartiest agreement. None the less, a day or two after, he was holding a conversation with Alma which encouraged her secret weariness of the clean and sweet places of the earth. They had come home from a Richter concert, and Alma uttered a regret that she had not her violin here. A certain cadenza introduced by a certain player into a certain violin solo did not please her; why, she could extemporise a cadenza far more in keeping with the spirit of the piece. After listening, with small attention to the matter, but much to the ardent speech and face of enthusiasm, Harvey made a quiet remark.
'I want you to decide very soon what we are going to do.'
'Going to do?'
'About the future -- where we are to live.'
Alma strummed lightly with her finger-tips upon the table, and smiled, but did not look up.
'Do you really think of making any change?'
'I leave it entirely to you. You remember our last talk before we came away. You have simply to ask yourself what your needs are. Be honest with yourself and with me. Don't sacrifice life to a whim, one way or the other. You have had plenty of time to think; you have known several ways of life; you're old enough to understand yourself. Just make up your mind, and act.'
'But it's ridiculous, Harvey, to speak as if I had only myself to consider.'
'I don't want you to do so. But supposing that were your position, now, after all your experience, where would you choose to live?'
He constrained her to answer, and at length she spoke, with a girlish diffidence which seemed to him very charming.
'I like the concerts -- and I like to be near my musical friends -- and I don't think it's at all necessary to give up one's rational way of living just because one is in London instead of far away.'
'Precisely. That means we ought to come back.'
'Not if you do it unwillingly.'
'I'll be frank in my turn. For Hughie's sake, I don't think we ought to live in the town; but it's easy enough to find healthy places just outside.'
'I shouldn't wish to be actually in the town,' said Alma, her voice tremulous with pleasure. 'You know where the Leaches are living?'
'Yes. Or just a little farther away, on the higher ground. Very well, let us regard that as settled.'
'But you, dear -- could you live there?'
'Well enough. It's all the same to me if I have my books, and a field to walk in -- and if you don't want me to see too many women.'
Alma laughed gaily, and had done with semblance of hesitation.
They began to search for a house, and in a week's time had found one, newly built, which seemed to answer their requirements. It was at Pinner, not many minutes by rail from Alma's friends at Kingsbury-Neasden, and only about half an hour from Baker Street -- 'so convenient for the concerts'. A new house might be damp, but the summer months were hastening to dry it, and they would not enter into residence before the end of autumn. 'We must go and enjoy our heather,' said Alma brightly. The rent was twice what Harvey had been paying; there was no stabling, but Alma agreed that they ought not to keep a horse, for naturally there would be 'other expenses'.
Other expenses, to be sure. But Harvey signed the three years' lease without misgiving. A large surplus lay in hand after the 'simple life' in Carnarvonshire, and his position was not that of men who have extravagant wives.