Arthur Norris 53

Not many days after this, Arthur telephoned to tell me that Otto and Anni had made it up.

‘I felt sure you’d be glad to hear. I may say that I myself was to some extent instrumental in the good work. Yes. …Blessed are the peacemakers. …As a matter of fact, I was particularly interested in effecting a reconciliation just now, in view of a little anniversary which falls due next Wednesday. … You didn’t know? Yes, I shall be fifty-three. Thank you, dear boy. Thank you. I must confess I find it difficult to become accustomed to the thought that the yellow leaf is upon me. … And now, may I invite you to a trifling banquet? The fair sex will be represented. Besides the reunited pair, there will be madame Olga and two other of my more doubtful and charming acquaintances. I shall have the sitting-room carpet taken up, so that the younger members of the party can dance. Is that nice?’

‘Very nice indeed.’

On Wednesday evening I had to give an unexpected lesson and arrived at Arthur’s flat later than I intended. I found Hermann waiting downstairs at the house door to let me in.

‘I’m so sorry,’ I said. ‘I hope you haven’t been standing here long?’

‘It’s all right,’ Hermann answered briefly. He unlocked the door and led the way upstairs. What a dreary creature he is, I thought. He can’t even brighten up for a birthday party.

I discovered Arthur in the sitting-room. He was reclining on the sofa in his shirt-sleeves, his hands folded in his lap.

‘Here you are, William.’

‘Arthur, I’m most terribly sorry. I hurried as much as I could. I thought I should never get away. That old girl I told you about arrived unexpectedly and insisted on having a two-hour lesson. She merely wanted to tell me about the way her daughter had been behaving. I thought she’d never stop. … Why, what’s the matter? You don’t look well.’

Arthur sadly scratched his chin.

‘I’m very depressed, dear boy.’