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Instantly he saw his mistake. He had had the opportunity to treat the subject in the same playful spirit. But he had been unable to: it was all too serious to him. The grim Puritan streak in him, which had not prevented his falling in love with Norah, made it impossible for him to jest or suffer a jest about it. He was not a flirt, and did not care to have that tawdry cloak thrown on to his shoulders. But he had made a mistake: he ought to have accepted that ridiculous decoration with a grin as ridiculous. Now he tried to recapture the belated inanity.

‘Ah, you’re just chaffing me,’ he said, ‘and there’s no harm in that. But I didn’t care for what Mr Silverdale would say. He’s naughty too, if he’s not going to ask poor Alice to marry him, when she’s recovered from her influenza. Or have you done as I asked you, and cut your daughter out yourself? That’s a joke too: one bad joke deserves another, Emmeline.’

Suddenly it struck him that the situation was parallel to, but more significant than that which had occurred in her drawing-room when Norah had come into it for a few minutes one snowy{183} evening. Then, as now, his wife had hinted at an underlying truth, which he was aware of: then, as now, he had scolded her for the ridiculous suggestion her words implied. But to-day the same situation was intensified, it presented itself to him in colours many tones more vivid, even as the underlying truth had become of far greater concern to him. And, unless he was mistaken, it had become much more real to his wife. Her first 长沙桑拿会所哪里最好 vague, stupid (but truly-founded) suspicion had acquired solidity in her mind. He doubted whether he could, so to speak, bomb it to bits by the throwing to her of a pearl-pendant.

She looked at him a moment with eyes behind which there smouldered a real though a veiled hostility, and he found himself wishing that she would put it into words, and repeat definitely and seriously the accusation at which her dismal little jest about the work of the catalogue keeping him here in Bracebridge, had hinted. Then he could have denied it more explicitly, and with a violence that might have impressed her. But his roughness, his fierce challenging of her stupid chaff had effectively frightened her off any such repetition, and she gave him no opportunity of denial or

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defence. Only, as she left him, with the intention of seeing Alice 长沙桑拿会所 before lunch, he noted this intensified situation. It had become more explosive, more dangerous, and now instead of taking it boldly out into the open, and encouraging{184} it to explode, with, probably, no very destructive results, he had caused his wife to lock it up in the confined space of her own mind, hiding it away from his anger or his ridicule. But it was doubtful whether she had detached the smouldering fuse of her own suspicions. They were at present of no very swiftly inflammable stuff: there was but a vague sense that her husband was more interested in Norah than he should be, and had he answered her chaff with something equally light, she might easily have put out that smouldering fuse. But he had not done that: he had flared and scolded, and his attempt to respond in the same spirit was hopelessly belated. She began 长沙桑拿最好的场子 to wonder whether Mrs Fyson was not right…. True, Mrs Fyson had said very little, but that little appeared now to be singularly suggestive.

The various sale departments at the Stores were thronged all day from morning to night during this week before Christmas with crowds of purchasers, but the correspondence on business matters, such as engaged Norah, fell off as the holidays approached, and next morning, when she arrived, she found not more than a dozen letters for her to open. Charles, however, was being worked off his feet in the book-department, where were a hundred types of suitable Christmas gifts (the more expensive being bound in stuffed morocco, so that the sides of them resembled flattish{185} cushions) and Norah intended, as soon as she had finished her shorthand transcription, to proceed at once with the typewriting, and then ask leave of Keeling to go and help her brother. He arrived but a few minutes after her, and in half an hour her shorthand dictation was finished.

‘I was going to typewrite these at once,’ she said, ‘if you’ll allow me, and then go and help Charles in the book department.’

Keeling pushed back his chair as he often did when he was disposed for a few minutes’ talk, putting a gap between himself and his business table. He gave her a smile and a long look.

‘Have you seen the books?’ he said. ‘I’m almost ashamed to get a profit out of such muck. Beastly paper, beastly printing, and squash bindings. The more expensive they are, the more loathsome.’

She laughed.

‘They are pretty bad,’ she said. ‘But there’s a big sale for them. May I go and help Charles?’

‘And not do any work in my library this morning?’ he asked.

‘Unless you wish me to.’

He paused.

‘I do rather,’ he said. ‘I want that work to go on as usual. Monday is your regular day to go there.’

Now yesterday, when Norah met Mrs Keeling in the porch, the latter had been so very normal{186} and condescending that she had scarcely given another thought to the encounter. Mrs Keeling had often met her coming or going to her work, and had always a word for her even as she had had yesterday. But instantly now, when Keeling expressed a wish that she should go there this morning, she connected it in her mind with that meeting.

‘I will go if you like,’ she said.