For half an hour there had been perfect silence in the room. The cat upon the hearthrug slept profoundly; the fire was sunk to a still red glow; the cold light of the autumn afternoon thickened into dusk.
Lilian seemed to be reading. She sat on a footstool, her arm resting on the seat of a basket-chair, which supported a large open volume. But her hand was never raised to turn a page, and it was long since her eyes had gathered the sense of the lines on which they were fixed. This attitude had been a favourite one with her in childhood, and nowadays, in her long hours of solitude, she often fell into the old habit. It was a way of inviting reverie, which was a way of passing the time.
She stirred at length; glanced at the windows, at the fire, and rose.
A pleasant little sitting-room, furnished in the taste of our time; with harmonies and contrasts of subdued colour, with pictures intelligently chosen, with store of graceful knick-knacks. Lilian's person was in keeping with such a background; her dark gold hair, her pale, pensive, youthful features, her slight figure in its loose raiment, could not have been more suitably displayed. In a room of statelier proportions she would have looked too frail, too young for significance; out of doors she was seldom seen to advantage; here one recognized her as the presiding spirit in a home fragrant of womanhood. The face, at this moment, was a sad one, but its lines expressed no weak surrender to dolefulness; her lips were courageous, and her eyes such as brighten readily with joy.
A small table bore a tea-tray with a kettle and spirit-lamp; the service for two persons only. Lilian, after looking at her watch, ignited the lamp and then went to the window as if in expectation of some one's arrival.
The house stood in a row of small new dwellings on the outskirts of Clapham Common; there was little traffic along the road at any time, and in this hour of twilight even a passing footstep became a thing to notice. Some one approached on her side of the way she listened, but with disappointment; it was not the step for which she waited. None the less it paused at this house, and she was startled to perceive a telegraph messenger on the point of knocking. At once she hastened to the front door.
"Mrs. Quarrier?" inquired the boy, holding out his missive.
Lilian drew back with it into the passage. But there was not light enough to read by; she had to enter the sitting-room and hold the sheet of paper close to the kettle-lamp.
"Very sorry that I cannot get home before ten. Unexpected business."
She read it carefully, then turned with a sigh and dismissed the messenger.
In a quarter of an hour she had made tea, and sat down to take a cup. The cat, refreshed after slumber, jumped on to her lap and lay there pawing playfully at the trimming of her sleeves. Lilian at first rewarded this friendliness only with absent stroking, but when she had drunk her tea and eaten a slice of bread and butter the melancholy mood dispersed; pussy's sportiveness was then abundantly indulged, and for awhile Lilian seemed no less merry than her companion....