in the road. I always envy the men who break stones and sit on those nice little heaps all day wearin' spectacles. I'd infinitely rather break stones than clean out poultry runs, or feed the cows, or——"
Here Rachel came up from the lower garden with a book in her hand.
"What's that book?" said Ridley, when she had shaken hands.
"It's Gibbon," said Rachel as she sat down.
"The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?" said Mrs. Thornbury. "A very wonderful book, I know. My dear father was always quoting it at us, with the result that we resolved never to read a line."
"Gibbon the historian?" enquired Mrs. Flushing. "I connect him with some of the happiest hours of my life. We used to lie in bed and read Gibbon—about the massacres of the Christians, I remember—when we were supposed to be asleep. It's no joke, I can tell you, readin' a great big book, in double columns, by a night-light, and the light that comes through a chink in the door. Then there were the moths—tiger moths, yellow moths, and horrid cockchafers. Louisa, my sister, would have the window open. I wanted it shut. We fought every night of our lives over that window. Have you ever seen a moth dyin' in a night-light?" she enquired.
Again there was an interruption. Hewet and Hirst appeared at the drawing-room window and came up to the tea-table.
Rachel's heart beat hard. She was conscious of an extraordinary intensity in everything, as though their presence stripped some cover off the surface of things; but the greetings were remarkably commonplace.
"Excuse me," said Hirst, rising from his chair directly he had sat down. He went into the drawing-room, and returned with a cushion which he placed carefully upon his seat.
"Rheumatism," he remarked, as he sat down for the second time.
"The result of the dance?" Helen enquired.
"Whenever I get at all run down I tend to be rheumatic," Hirst stated. He bent his wrist back sharply. "I hear little pieces of chalk grinding together!"