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The Gioconda Smile
by [?]

Mrs. Hutton was lying on the sofa in her boudoir, playing Patience. In spite of the warmth of the July evening a wood fire was burning on the hearth. A black Pomeranian, extenuated by the heat and the fatigues of digestion, slept before the blaze.

“Phew! Isn’t it rather hot in here?” Mr. Hutton asked as he entered the room.

“You know I have to keep warm, dear. ” The voice seemed breaking on the verge of tears. “I get so shivery. ”

“I hope you’re better this evening. ”

“Not much, I’m afraid. ”

The conversation stagnated. Mr. Hutton stood leaning his back against the mantelpiece. He looked down at the Pomeranian lying at his feet and with the toe of his right boot he rolled the little dog over and rubbed its white-flecked chest and belly. The creature lay in an inert ecstasy. Mrs. Hutton continued to play Patience. Arrived at an impasse, she altered the position of one card, took back another, and went on playing. Her Patiences always came out.

“Dr. Libbard thinks I ought to go to Llandrindod Wells this summer. ”

“Well, go, my dear—go, most certainly. ”

Mr. Hutton was thinking of the events of the afternoon: how they had driven, Doris and he, up to the hanging wood, had left the car to wait for them under the shade of the trees, and walked together out into the windless sunshine of the chalk down.

“I’m to drink the waters for my liver, and he thinks I ought to have massage and electric treatment, too. ”

Hat in hand, Doris had stalked four blue butterflies that were dancing together round a scabious flower with a motion that was like the flickering of blue fire. The blue fire burst and scattered into whirling sparks; she had given chase, laughing and shouting like a child.

“I’m sure it will do you good, my dear. ”

“I was wondering if you’d come with me, dear. ”

“But you know I’m going to Scotland at the end of the month. ”

Mrs. Hutton looked up at him entreatingly. “It’s the journey,” she said. “The thought of it is such a nightmare. I don’t know if I can manage it. And you know I can’t sleep in hotels. And then there’s the luggage and all the worries. I can’t go alone. ”

“But you won’t be alone. You’ll have your maid with you. &#1
48; He spoke impatiently. The sick woman was usurping the place of the healthy one. He was being dragged back from the memory of the sunlit down and the quick, laughing girl, back to this unhealthy, overheated room and its complaining occupant.

“I don’t think I shall be able to go. ”

“But you must, my dear, if the doctor tells you to. And, besides, a change will do you good. ”

“I don’t think so. ”

“But Libbard thinks so, and he knows what he’s talking about. ”

“No, I can’t face it. I’m too weak. I can’t go alone. ” Mrs. Hutton pulled a handkerchief out of her black silk bag, and put it to her eyes.

“Nonsense, my dear, you must make the effort. ”

“I had rather be left in peace to die here. ” She was crying in earnest now.

“O Lord! Now do be reasonable. Listen now, please. ” Mrs. Hutton only sobbed more violently. “Oh, what is one to do?” He shrugged his shoulders and walked out of the room.

Mr. Hutton was aware that he had not behaved with proper patience; but he could not help it. Very early in his manhood he had discovered that not only did he not feel sympathy for the poor, the weak, the diseased, and deformed, he actually hated them. Once, as an undergraduate, he spent three days at a mission in the East End. He had returned, filled with a profound and ineradicable disgust. Instead of pitying, he loathed the unfortunate. It was not, he knew, a very comely emotion, and he had been ashamed of it at first. In the end he had decided that it was temperamental, inevitable, and had felt no further qualms. Emily had been healthy and beautiful when he married her. He had loved her then. But now—was it his fault that she was like this?

Mr. Hutton dined alone. Food and drink left him more benevolent than he had been before dinner. To make amends for his show of exasperation he went up to his wife’s room and offered to read to her. She was touched, gratefully accepted the offer, and Mr. Hutton who was particularly proud of his accent, suggested a little light reading in French.