‘So you’ve got here all right.’
‘I’ve never lived in this part of London before.’
Philip showed her the room. It was that in which Cronshaw had died. Philip, though he thought it absurd, had never liked the idea of going back to it; and since Cronshaw’s death he had remained in the little room, sleeping on a fold-up bed, into which he had first moved in order to make his friend comfortable. The baby was sleeping placidly.
‘You don’t recognise her, I expect,’ said Mildred.
‘I’ve not seen her since we took her down to Brighton.’
‘Where shall I put her? She’s so heavy I can’t carry her very long.’
‘I’m afraid I haven’t got a cradle,’ said Philip, with a nervous laugh.
‘Oh, she’ll sleep with me. She always does.’
Mildred put the baby in an arm-chair and looked round the room. She recognised most of the things which she had known in his old diggings. Only one thing was new, a head and shoulders of Philip which Lawson had painted at the end of the preceding summer; it hung over the chimney-piece; Mildred looked at it critically.
‘In some ways I like it and in some ways I don’t. I think you’re better looking than that.’
‘Things are looking up,’ laughed Philip. ‘You’ve never told me I was good-looking before.’
‘I’m not one to worry myself about a man’s looks. I don’t like good-looking men. They’re too conceited for me.’
Her eyes travelled round the room in an instinctive search for a looking-glass, but there was none; she put up her hand and patted her large fringe.
‘What’ll the other people in the house say to my being here?’ she asked suddenly.
‘Oh, there’s only a man and his wife living here. He’s out all day, and I never see her except on Saturday to pay my rent. They keep entirely to themselves. I’ve not spoken two words to either of them since I came.’
Mildred went into the bedroom to undo her things and put them away. Philip tried to read, but his spirits were too high: he leaned back in his chair, smoking a cigarette, and with smiling eyes looked at the sleeping child. He felt very happy. He was quite sure that he was not at all in love with Mildred. He was surprised that the old feeling had left him so completely; he discerned in himself a faint physical repulsion from her; and he thought that if he touched her it would give him goose-flesh. He could not understand himself. Presently, knocking at the door, she came in again.
‘I say, you needn’t knock,’ he said. ‘Have you made the tour of the mansion?’
‘It’s the smallest kitchen I’ve ever seen.’
‘You’ll find it large enough to cook our sumptuous repasts,’ he retorted lightly.
‘I see there’s nothing in. I’d better go out and get something.’
‘Yes, but I venture to remind you that we must be devilish economical.’
‘What shall I get for supper?’
‘You’d better get what you think you can cook,’ laughed Philip.
He gave her some money and she went out. She came in half an hour later and put her purchases on the table. She was out of breath from climbing the stairs.
‘I say, you are anaemic,’ said Philip. ‘I’ll have to dose you with Blaud’s Pills.’
‘It took me some time to find the shops. I bought some liver. That’s tasty, isn’t it? And you can’t eat much of it, so it’s more economical than butcher’s meat.’
There was a gas stove in the kitchen, and when she had put the liver on, Mildred came into the sitting-room to lay the cloth.
‘Why are you only laying one place?’ asked Philip. ‘Aren’t you going to eat anything?’
‘I thought you mightn’t like me to have my meals with you.’
‘Why on earth not?’
‘Well, I’m only a servant, aren’t I?’
‘Don’t be an ass. How can you be so silly?’
He smiled, but her humility gave him a curious twist in his heart. Poor thing! He remembered what she had been when first he knew her. He hesitated for an instant.
‘Don’t think I’m conferring any benefit on you,’ he said. ‘It’s simply a business arrangement, I’m giving you board and lodging in return for your work. You don’t owe me anything. And there’s nothing humiliating to you in it.’
She did not answer, but tears rolled heavily down her cheeks. Philip knew from his experience at the hospital that women of her class looked upon service as degrading: he could not help feeling a little impatient with her; but he blamed himself, for it was clear that she was tired and ill. He got up and helped her to lay another place at the table. The baby was awake now, and Mildred had prepared some Mellin’s Food for it. The liver and bacon were ready and they sat down. For economy’s sake Philip had given up drinking anything but water, but he had in the house a half a bottle of whiskey, and he thought a little would do Mildred good. He did his best to make the supper pass cheerfully, but Mildred was subdued and exhausted. When they had finished she got up to put the baby to bed.
‘I think you’ll do well to turn in early yourself,’ said Philip. ‘You look absolute done up.’
‘I think I will after I’ve washed up.’
Philip lit his pipe and began to read. It was pleasant to hear somebody moving about in the next room. Sometimes his loneliness had oppressed him. Mildred came in to clear the table, and he heard the clatter of plates as she washed up. Philip smiled as he thought how characteristic it was of her that she should do all that in a black silk dress. But he had work to do, and he brought his book up to the table. He was reading Osler’s Medicine, which had recently taken the place in the students’ favour of Taylor’s work, for many years the text-book most in use. Presently Mildred came in, rolling down her sleeves. Philip gave her a casual glance, but did not move; the occasion was curious, and he felt a little nervous. He feared that Mildred might imagine he was going to make a nuisance of himself, and he did not quite know how without brutality to reassure her.
‘By the way, I’ve got a lecture at nine, so I should want breakfast at a quarter past eight. Can you manage that?’
‘Oh, yes. Why, when I was in Parliament Street I used to catch the eight-twelve from Herne Hill every morning.’
‘I hope you’ll find your room comfortable. You’ll be a different woman tomorrow after a long night in bed.’
‘I suppose you work till late?’
‘I generally work till about eleven or half-past.’
‘I’ll say good-night then.’
The table was between them. He did not offer to shake hands with her. She shut the door quietly. He heard her moving about in the bed-room, and in a little while he heard the creaking of the bed as she got in.