Page:The Voyage Out.djvu/201

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199
THE VOYAGE OUT

laughed. She had a laugh like the cry of a jay, at once startling and joyless.

"What does any sane person want with those great big houses?" she demanded. "If you go downstairs after dark you're covered with black beetles, and the electric lights always goin' out. What would you do if spiders came out of the tap when you turned on the hot water?" she demanded, fixing her eye on Helen.

Mrs. Ambrose shrugged her shoulders with a smile.

"This is what I like," said Mrs. Flushing. She jerked her head at the Villa. "A little house in a garden. I had one once in Ireland. One could lie in bed in the mornin' and pick the roses outside the window with one's toes."

"And the gardeners, weren't they surprised?" Mrs. Thornbury enquired.

"There were no gardeners," Mrs. Flushing chuckled. "Nobody but me and an old woman without any teeth. You know the poor in Ireland lose their teeth after they're twenty. But you wouldn't expect a politician to understand that—Arthur Balfour wouldn't understand that."

Ridley sighed that he never expected any one to understand anything, least of all politicians.

"However," he concluded, "there's one advantage I find in extreme old age—nothing matters a hang except one's food and one's digestion. All I ask is to be left alone to moulder away in solitude. It's obvious that the world's going as fast as it can to—the Nethermost Pit, and all I can do is to sit still and consume as much of my own smoke as possible." He groaned, and with a melancholy glance laid the jam on his bread, for he felt the atmosphere of this abrupt lady distinctly unsympathetic.

"I always contradict my husband when he says that," said Mrs. Thombury sweetly. "You men! Where would you be if it weren't for the women!"

"Read the Symposium," said Ridley grimly.

"Symposium?" cried Mrs. Flushing. "That's Latin or Greek? Tell me, is there a good translation?"

"No," said Ridley. "You will have to learn Greek,"

Mrs. Flushing cried, "Ah, ah, ah! I'd rather break stones