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The Gioconda Smile
by [?]

Mr. Hutton took a deep breath of the warm and fragrant air. “It’s good to be alive,” he said.

“Just to be alive,” his wife echoed, stretching one pale, knot-jointed hand into the sunlight.

A maid brought the coffee; the silver pots and the little blue cups were set on a folding table near the group of chairs.

“Oh, my medicine!” exclaimed Mrs. Hutton. “Run in and fetch it, Clara, will you? The white bottle on the sideboard. ”

“I’ll go,” said Mr. Hutton. “I’ve got to go and fetch a cigar in any case. ”

He ran in towards the house. On the threshold he turned round for an instant. The maid was walking back across the lawn. His wife was sitting up in her deck-chair, engaged in opening her white parasol. Miss Spence was bending over the table, pouring out the coffee. He passed into the cool obscurity of the house.

“Do you like sugar in your coffee?” Miss Spence inquired.

“Yes, please. Give me rather a lot. I’ll drink it after my medicine to take the taste away. ”

Mrs. Hutton leaned back in her chair, lowering the sunshade over her eyes, so as to shut out from her vision the burning sky.

Behind her, Miss Spence was making a delicate clinking among the coffee cups.

“I’ve given you three large spoonfuls. That ought to take t
he taste away. And here comes the medicine. ”

Mr. Hutton had reappeared, carrying a wine-glass, half full of a pale liquid.

“It smells delicious,” he said, as he handed it to his wife.

“That’s only the flavouring. ” She drank it off at a gulp, shuddered, and made a grimace. “Ugh, it’s so nasty. Give me my coffee. ”

Miss Spence gave her the cup; she sipped at it. “You’ve made it like syrup. But it’s very nice, after that atrocious medicine. ”

At half-past three Mrs. Hutton complained that she did not feel as well as she had done, and went indoors to lie down. Her husband would have said something about the red currants, but checked himself; the triumph of an “I told you so” was too cheaply won. Instead, he was sympathetic, and gave her his arm to the house.

“A rest will do you good,” he said. “By the way, I shan’t be back till after dinner. ”

“But why? Where are you going?”

“I promised to go to Johnson’s this evening. We have to discuss the war memorial, you know. ”

“Oh, I wish you weren’t going. ” Mrs. Hutton was almost in tears. “Can’t you stay? I don’t like being alone in the house. ”

“But, my dear, I promised—weeks ago. ” It was a bother having to lie like this. “And now I must get back and look after Miss Spence. ”

He kissed her on the forehead and went out again into the garden. Miss Spence received him aimed and intense.

“Your wife is dreadfully ill,” she fired off at him.

“I thought she cheered up so much when you came. ”

“That was purely nervous, purely nervous. I was watching her closely. With a heart in that condition and her digestion wrecked—yes, wrecked—anything might happen. ”

“Libbard doesn’t take so gloomy a view of poor Emily’s health. ” Mr. Hutton held open the gate that led from the garden into the drive; Miss Spence’s car was standing by the front door.

“Libbard is only a country doctor. You ought to see a specialist. ”

He could not refrain from laughing. “You have a macabre passion for specialists. ”

Miss Spence held up her hand in protest. “I am serious. I think poor Emily is in a very bad state. Anything might happen at any moment. ”

He handed her into the car and shut the door. The chauffeur started the engine and climbed into his place, ready to drive off.

“Shall I tell him to start?” He had no desire to continue the conversation.

Miss Spence leaned forward and shot a Gioconda in his direction. “Remember, I expect you to come and see me again soon. ”

Mechanically he grinned, made a polite noise, and, as the car moved forward, waved his hand. He was happy to be alone.

A few minutes afterwards Mr. Hutton himself drove away. Doris was waiting at the cross-roads. They dined together twenty miles from home, at a roadside hotel. It was one of those bad, expensive meals which are only cooked in country hotels, frequented by motorists. It revolted Mr. Hutton, but Doris enjoyed it. She always enjoyed things. Mr. Hutton ordered a not very good brand of champagne. He was wishing he had spent the evening in his library.