But talk they must, for the benefit of the servants, and talk they did after an uneasy fashion, making specious arrangements for Lanyard’s departure on the morrow, when Eve was to drive him to Millau to catch the afternoon rapide for Paris.
Nor was it much better after dinner in the drawing-room. Consciousness of each other and consciousness of self, as each fought to master the emotions inspired by thoughts of their near parting, drove both into the refuge of a dry, insincere, cool impersonality. Lanyard communicated nothing of his plans, though aware his failure to do so might be misconstrued, instil an instinctive if possibly unconscious resentment to render the situation still more difficult. The truth was, he could barely trust himself to speak lest mere words work on his guard like tiny streams that sap the strength of the dike till it breaks and looses the pent and devastating seas.
At half past nine, ending a long silence, Lanyard sat forward in his chair, hesitated, and covered his hesitation by lighting a cigarette.
“I must go now,” he said, puffing out the match.
He was aware of her almost imperceptible start of surprise.
“So soon?” she breathed.
“The moon rises not long after ten, and I want to get away without being seen either by the servants or by—anybody who might happen to be passing. You understand.”
She nodded. He lingered, frowning at his cigarette.
“With permission, I will write...”
“When I have anything to report.”
She turned her head full face to him, letting him see her fluttering, indulgent smile.
“You must wait for that?”
“Perhaps,” he faltered—“at least, I hope—it won’t be long.”
“You must wait for that?”
“Perhaps,” he faltered—“at least, I hope—it won’t be long.” “I shall be waiting,” she told him simply—“watching every post for word from you. I shan’t worry, only for you.”
He got up slowly from his chair, and stood half choking with unutterable words.
“I know no way to thank you,” he managed to say at last.
“For everything—kindness, charity, sympathy—”
“What are those things?” she demanded with a nervous little laugh. “Words! Just words that you and I use to hide behind, like timid children...” She rose suddenly and offered him her hand. “But I don’t think it’s any use, my friend, I’m quite sure that neither of us is deceived. No: say nothing more; the time is not yet and—we both can wait. Only know I understand ... Go now”—her fingers tightened round his—“but don’t stay away any longer than you must, don’t be influenced by silly traditions, false and foolish standards when you think of me. Go now”—she freed her hand and turned away—“but oh, come safely back to me, my dear!”