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The Gioconda Smile
by [?]

Miss Spence, who had sat down, pointed to a chair at her side.

“No, really, I can’t sit down,” Mr. Hutton protested. “I must get back to see how poor Emily is. She was rather seedy this morning. ” He sat down, nevertheless. “It’s these wretched liver chills. She’s always getting them. Women—” He broke off and coughed, so as to hide the fact that he had uttered. He was about to say that women with weak digestions ought not to marry; but the remark was too cruel, and he didn’t really believe it. Janet Spence, moreover, was a believer in eternal flames and spiritual attachments. “She hopes to be well enough,” he added, “to see you at luncheon tomorrow. Can you come? Do!” He smiled persuasively. “It’s my invitation, too, you know. ”

She dropped her eyes, and Mr. Hutton almost thought that he detected a certain reddening of the cheek. It was a tribute; he stroked his moustache.

“I should like to come if you think Emily’s really well enough to have a visitor. ”

“Of course. You’ll do her good. You’ll do us both good. In married life three is often better company than two. ”

“Oh, you’re cynical. ”

Mr. Hutton always had a desire to say “Bow-wow-wow” whenever that last word was spoken. It irritated him more than any other word in the language. But instead of barking he made haste to protest.

“No, no. I’m only speaking a melancholy truth. Reality doesn’t always come up to the ideal, you know. But that doesn’t make me believe any the less in the ideal. Indeed, I believe in it passionately—the ideal of a matrimony between two people in perfect accord. I think it’s realizable. I’m sure it is. ”

He paused significantly, and looked at her with an arch expression. A virgin of thirty-six, but still unwithered; she had her charms. And there was something really rather enigmatic about her. Miss Spence made no reply, but continued to smile. There were times when Mr. Hutton got rather bored with the Gioconda. He stood up.

“I must really be going now. Farewell, mysterious Gioconda. ” The smile grew intenser, focused itself, as it were, in a narrower snout. Mr. Hutton made a Cinquecento gesture, and kissed her extended hand. It was the first time he had done such a thing; the action seemed not to be resented. “I look forward to tomorrow. ”

“Do you?”

For answer, Mr. Hutton once more kissed her hand, then turned to go. Miss Spence accompanied him to the porch.

“Where’s your car?” she asked.

“I left it at the gate of the drive. ”

“I’ll come and see you off. ”

“No, no. ” Mr. Hutton was playful, but determined. “You must do no such thing. I simply forbid you. ”

“But I should like to come,” Miss Spence protested, throwing a rapid Gioconda at him.

Mr. Hutton held up his hand. “No,” he repeated, and then, with a gesture that was almost the blowing of a kiss, he started to run down the drive, lightly, on his toes, with long, bounding strides like a boy’s. He was proud of that run; it was quite marvellously youthful. Still, he was glad the drive was no longer. At the last bend, before passing out of sight of
the house, he halted and turned round. Miss Spence was still standing on the steps smiling her smile. He waved his hand, and this time quite definitely and overtly wafted a kiss in her direction. Then, breaking once more into his magnificent canter, he rounded the last dark promontory of trees. Once out of sight of the house he let his high paces decline to a trot, and finally to a walk. He took out his handkerchief and began wiping his neck inside his collar. What fools, what fools! Had there ever been such an ass as poor, dear Janet Spence? Never, unless it was himself. Decidedly he was the more malignant fool, since he, at least, was aware of his folly and still persisted in it. Why did he persist? Ah, the problem that was himself, the problem that was other people…

He had reached the gate. A large, prosperous looking motor was standing at the side of the road.

“Home, M’Nab. ” The chauffeur touched his cap. “And stop at the cross-roads on the way, as usual,” Mr. Hutton added, as he opened the door of the car. “Well?” he said, speaking into the obscurity that lurked within.