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When William Came

L’art D’etre Cousine
Joan Mardle had reached forty in the leisurely untroubled fashion of a woman who
intends to be comely and attractive at fifty. She cultivated a jovial, almost joyous
manner, with a top-dressing of hearty good will and good nature which disarmed
strangers and recent acquaintances; on getting to know her better they hastily re-armed
themselves. Some one had once aptly described her as a hedgehog with the protective
mimicry of a puffball. If there was an awkward remark to be made at an inconvenient
moment before undesired listeners, Joan invariably made it, and when the occasion did
not present itself she was usually capable of creating it. She was not without a certain
popularity, the sort of popularity that a dashing highwayman sometimes achieved among
those who were not in the habit of travelling on his particular highway. A great-aunt on
her mother’s side of the family had married so often that Joan imagined herself justified
in claiming cousin-ship with a large circle of disconnected houses, and treating them all
on a relationship footing, which theoretical kinship enabled her to exact luncheons and
other accommodations under the plea of keeping the lamp of family life aglow.
“I felt I simply had to come to-day,” she chuckled at Yeovil; “I was just dying to see the
returned traveller. Of course, I know perfectly well that neither of you want me, when
you haven’t seen each other for so long and must have heaps and heaps to say to one
another, but I thought I would risk the odium of being the third person on an occasion
when two are company and three are a nuisance. Wasn’t it brave of me?”
She spoke in full knowledge of the fact that the luncheon party would not in any case
have been restricted to Yeovil and his wife, having seen Ronnie arrive in the hall as she
was being shown upstairs.
“Ronnie Storre is coming, I believe,” said Cicely, “so you’re not breaking into a tête-à-
tête.”
“Ronnie, oh I don’t count him,” said Joan gaily; “he’s just a boy who looks nice and eats
asparagus. I hear he’s getting to play the piano really well. Such a pity. He will grow
fat; musicians always do, and it will ruin him. I speak feelingly because I’m gravitating
towards plumpness myself. The Divine Architect turns us out fearfully and wonderfully
built, and the result is charming to the eye, and then He adds another chin and two or
three extra inches round the waist, and the effect is ruined. Fortunately you can always
find another Ronnie when this one grows fat and uninteresting; the supply of boys who
look nice and eat asparagus is unlimited. Hullo, Mr. Storre, we were all talking about
you.”
“Nothing very damaging, I hope?” said Ronnie, who had just entered the room.
“No, we were merely deciding that, whatever you may do with your life, your chin must
remain single. When one’s chin begins to lead a double life one’s own opportunities for
 
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