The meal was begun in an appreciative silence; a picnic in which three kinds of red pepper were available for the caviare demanded a certain amount of respectful attention.
“My heart ought to be like a singing-bird to-day, I suppose,” said Cicely presently.
“Because your good man is coming home?” asked Ronnie.
“He’s expected some time this afternoon, though I’m rather vague as to which train he arrives by. Rather a stifling day for railway travelling.”
“And is your heart doing the singing-bird business?” asked Ronnie.
“That depends,” said Cicely, “if I may choose the bird. A missel-thrush would do, perhaps; it sings loudest in stormy weather, I believe.”
Ronnie disposed of two or three stems of asparagus before making any comment on this remark.
“Is there going to be stormy weather?” he asked.
“The domestic barometer is set rather that way,” said Cicely. “You see, Murrey has been away for ever so long, and, of course, there will be lots of things he won’t be used to, and I’m afraid matters may be rather strained and uncomfortable for a time.”
“Do you mean that he will object to me?” asked Ronnie.
“Not in the least,” said Cicely, “he’s quite broad-minded on most subjects, and he realises that this is an age in which sensible people know thoroughly well what they want, and are determined to get what they want. It pleases me to see a lot of you, and to spoil you and pay you extravagant compliments about your good looks and your music, and to imagine at times that I’m in danger of getting fond of you; I don’t see any harm in it, and I don’t suppose Murrey will either—in fact, I shouldn’t be surprised if he takes rather a liking to you. No, it’s the general situation that will trouble and exasperate him; he’s not had time to get accustomed to the fait accompli like we have. It will break on him with horrible suddenness.”
“He was somewhere in Russia when the war broke out, wasn’t he?” said Ronnie.
“No,” said Cicely, “but he’ll come back naturally feeling sore and savage with everything he sees around him, and he won’t realise just at once that we’ve been through all that ourselves, and have reached the stage of sullen acquiescence in what can’t be helped. He won’t understand, for instance, how we can be enthusiastic and excited over Gorla Mustelford’s début, and things of that sort; he’ll think we are a set of callous revellers, fiddling while Rome is burning.”