7 On the morning of the day upon which they had asked him to tea, Oliver Haddo left at Margaret's door vast masses of chrysanthemums. There were so many that the austere studio was changed in aspect. It gained an ephemeral brightness that Margaret, notwithstanding pieces of silk hung here and there on the walls, had never been able to give it. When Arthur arrived, he was dismayed that the thought had not occurred to him. 'I'm so sorry,' he said. 'You must think me very inconsiderate.' Margaret smiled and held his hand. 'I think I like you because you don't trouble about the common little attentions of lovers.' 'Margaret's a wise girl,' smiled Susie. 'She knows that when a man sends flowers it is a sign that he has admired more women than one.' 'I don't suppose that these were sent particularly to me.' Arthur Burdon sat down and observed with pleasure the cheerful fire. The drawn curtains and the lamps gave the place a nice cosiness, and there was the peculiar air of romance which is always in a studio. There is a sense of freedom about it that disposes the mind to diverting speculations. In such an atmosphere it is possible to be serious without pompousness and flippant without inanity. In the few days of their acquaintance Arthur and Susie had arrived at terms of pleasant familiarity. Susie, from her superior standpoint of an unmarried woman no longer young, used him with the good竏地atured banter which she affected. To her, he was a foolish young thing in love, and she marvelled that even the cleverest man in that condition could behave like a perfect idiot. But Margaret knew that, if her friend chaffed him, it was because she completely approved of him. As their intimacy increased, Susie learnt to appreciate his solid character. She admired his capacity in dealing with matters that were in his province, and the simplicity with which he left alone those of which he was ignorant. There was no pose in him. She was touched also by an ingenuous candour which gave a persuasive charm to his abruptness. And, though she set a plain woman's value on good looks, his appearance, rough hewn like a statue in porphyry, pleased her singularly. It was an index of his character. The look of him gave you the whole man, strong yet gentle, honest and simple, neither very imaginative nor very brilliant, but immensely reliable and trustworthy to the bottom of his soul. He was seated now with Margaret's terrier on his knees, stroking its ears, and Susie, looking at him, wondered with a little pang why no man like that had even cared for her. It was evident that he would make a perfect companion, and his love, once won, was of the sort that did not alter. Dr Porhoet came in and sat down with the modest quietness which was one of his charms. He was not a great talker and loved most to listen in silence to the chatter of young people. The dog jumped down from Arthur's knee, went up to the doctor, and rubbed itself in friendly fashion against his legs. They began to talk in the soft light and had forgotten almost that another guest was expected. Margaret hoped fervently that he would not come. She had never looked more lovely than on this afternoon, and she busied herself with the preparations for tea with a housewifely grace that added a peculiar delicacy to her comeliness. The dignity which encompassed the perfection of her beauty was delightfully softened, so that you were reminded of those sweet domestic saints who lighten here and there the passionate records of the Golden Book. 'C'est tellement intime ici,' smiled Dr Porhoet, breaking into French in the impossibility of expressing in English the exact feeling which that scene gave him.
Published on Apr 1, 2012