there are plenty in the cellar.”
“All right, dear.”
“And after Lina and I have left you,” added Freda nastily, “you’d better get Johnnie to give you a few hints on how to deal with wines.”
Harry edged apologetically out of the room.
He was a tall, well made man, who looked exactly like a cavalry officer. Actually he had inherited a cotton mill in Lancashire, sold out in the boom period after the war, and settled down on the proceeds (on the instructions of his wife) as a country gentleman. Having failed in this respect in the Midlands, he had caused himself (on the instructions of his wife) to be adopted as Liberal candidate for the constituency in which Upcottery was situated and had settled down there to try again (on the now somewhat acrimonious instructions of his wife).
The fresh bottle of port was opened and consumed, and Harry, with accentuated magnanimity, forgiven.
Lina and her hostess retired conventionally to the drawing room. Neither of them wanted in the least to go, but to go was the right thing; and in Freda’s house the right thing was invariably done – by Freda, if not, it would appear, by Harry. Freda in her tweeds following hounds on foot was more absolutely right than any ladies’ tailor-and-outfitter could have conceived.
Lina did not, however, think they would be alone long. It was Harry Newsham’s habit to entertain his male guests, and indeed anyone else whom he could lure at any time into any secluded place, with a discourse upon Free Trade and, as a corollary, the dishonest iniquities of Tariff Reform: a subject in which he was distressingly interested. Harry really took politics seriously.
In her just overfurnished, or, as she herself called it, cosy, drawing room, Freda settled herself down on the big settee and lifted her feet onto the seat.
“Now, my dear,” she said to Lina, in an easy chair on the other side of the fireplace. “Now we can have a really good gossip.” Freda was very fond of the phrase. Her really good gossips consisted in talking as hard and as fast about nothing at all as she could possibly manage, while her presumed fellow gossiper put in a bare affirmative or negative in any vacant space she could find.
“Yes,” said Lina, who did not like really good gossips but knew from experience that she was a good listener.
In deference to Lina’s notorious tastes Freda at once began to talk brightly, and with an effect of inside knowledge, about books.
Freda, on her own statement, read simply everything. Naturally, therefore, she considered herself well read. She was most devastating about any author who came above her standards.
Lina listened, and agreed. It was always less trouble to agree with Freda than not.
Lina went on listening.
Often and often there fell from her hostess’s lips some emphatic statement with which, had it been Janet who had made it, Lina would have at once joined argument. But of course one could not argue with Freda. Freda was one of those women to whom the word “argument” is exactly synonymous with the word “quarrel.” “Oh, well, my dear, don’t let’s
about it, for heaven’s sake,” Freda would say; and Lina would long to box her ears.
She agreed now that neither of their husbands could be credited with any really fine literary perceptions.
“Though of course,” said Freda, “I make Harry read anything I get from the library that’s
good. The first-rate novelists, I mean: Wells, and Warwick Deeping, and so on. But I’m afraid they’re rather lost on him, poor dear.”
“Johnnie reads nothing but detective stories,” said Lina.
“I know. Of course
never read detective stories.”
“Oh, don’t you?” It was not the first time Lina had heard this inept remark. She wondered why people who never read detective stories are so proud of the fact. “I love a good detective story.”
“Oh, yes, my dear. I know you say that.” Freda gave her a knowing smile. “How is your