Paulina went over to the window and pulled aside the curtain. An inky fog pressed, threatening, against the pane. It was cold, and her bedroom would be colder, but the sitting-room, with all its warmth and smoke and light and cheerfulness, had become since her father's declaration almost repulsive.
The Varleys had lived intermittently at Mott Street, Kennington, for several years. During that period Mrs. Purdie, so gay and good-natured in the presence of her male lodgers, had, in her relentless persecution of the luckless Paulina, proved herself a bully of the first order. Latterly, as the subjugation of Mr. Varley grew daily more probable, Mrs. Purdie's hostility expressed itself more violently. Frequently she pinched; occasionally she cuffed. Her pinch was an exquisite, devilish work of art; her blows might well have been the envy of a heavyweight pugilist. Yet, devastating as were these physical demonstrations of Mrs. Purdie's enmity, Paulina on the whole preferred them to the lash of her shrewish and vindictive tongue. Sometimes she begged her father to leave Mott Street for more congenial lodgings, but always he blustered, refusing with every show of indignation. He was very well where he was; Mrs. Purdie looked after him and made him comfortable; naturally the excellent widow, respecting him as she did, thought it a pity Polly couldn't support herself after all that time at old Vanessi's. But he was damned if he was going to leave.
And now he would never leave, because he was going to marry Mrs. Purdie, and Paulina would thus acquire a stepmother.
The first Mrs. Varley, known in the corps de ballet as Katie Dean, hailed originally from the East End of London, where she had answered to the name of Katarina Lipovsky. Slim, elongated, exotic, with almond eyes and a waxen skin, Katie, after various amorous misadventures