Page:The Voyage Out.djvu/210

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Helen sat and looked at him with her needle in her hand. From her position she saw his head in front of the dark pyramid of a magnolia-tree. With one foot raised on the rung of a chair, and her elbow out in the attitude for sewing, her own figure possessed the sublimity of a woman's of the early world, spinning the thread of fate—the sublimity possessed by many women of the present day who fall into the attitude required by scrubbing or sewing. St. John looked at her.

"I suppose you've never paid any one a compliment in the course of your life," he said irrelevantly.

"I spoil Ridley rather," Helen considered.

"I'm going to ask you point blank—do you like me?"

After a certain pause, she replied, "Yes, certainly."

"Thank God!" he exclaimed. "That's one mercy. You see," he continued with emotion, "I'd rather you liked me than any one I've ever met."

"What about the five philosophers?" said Helen, with a laugh, stitching firmly and swiftly at her canvas. "I wish you'd describe them."

Hirst had no particular wish to describe them, but when he began to consider them he found himself soothed and strengthened. Far away on the other side of the world as they were, in smoky rooms, and grey medieval courts, they appeared remarkable figures, free-spoken men with whom one could be at ease; incomparably more subtle in emotion than the people here. They gave him, certainly, what no woman could give him, not Helen even. Warming at the thought of them, he went on to lay his own case before Mrs. Ambrose. Should he stay on at Cambridge or should he go to the Bar? One day he thought one thing, another day another. Helen listened attentively. At last, without any preface, she pronounced her decision.

"Leave Cambridge and go to the Bar," she said. He pressed her for her reasons.

"I think you'd enjoy London more," she said. It did not seem a very subtle reason, but she appeared to think it sufficient. She looked at him against the background of flowering magnolia. There was something curious in the sight. Perhaps it was that the heavy wax-like flowers were so smooth