He bit his lip in sheer impatience, but the next moment he controlled himself. “I’m asking a difficult thing of you,” he said, forcing his voice to a quiet level. “It isn’t particularly easy for me either; perhaps in a sense, it’s even harder. But you must have known when you sent for me that something of the kind was inevitable. What you didn’t know—possibly—was that Jeanie is grieving badly over our estrangement. She wants to draw us together again. Will you suffer it? Will you play the game with me? It won’t be for long.”
His eyes looked straight into hers, but they held only a great darkness in which no flicker of light burned. Avery felt as if the gulf between them had widened to a measureless abyss. Once she could have read him like an open book; but now she had not the vaguest clue to his feelings or his motives. He had as it were withdrawn beyond her ken.
“Is it to be only make-believe?” she asked at last.
“Just that,” he said, but she thought his voice rang hard as he said it.
An odd little tremor went through her. She put her hand up to her throat. “Piers, I don’t know—I am afraid—” She broke off in agitation.
He leaned towards her. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “There is nothing so damning as fear. Shall we go up to her now? I promised I wouldn’t be long.”
She rose. He was still standing close to her, so close that she felt the warmth of his body, heard the sharp indrawing of his breath.
For one sick second she thought he would snatch her to him; but the second passed and he had not moved.
“Shall we go?” he said again. “And I say, can you put me up? I don’t care where I sleep. Any sort of shakedown will do. That sofa—” he glanced towards the one by the window upon which Jeanie had been wont to lie.
“If you like,” Avery said.
She felt that the power to refuse him had left her. He would do as he thought fit.
They went upstairs together, and she saw Jeanie’s face light up as they entered. Piers was behind. Coming forward, he slipped a confident hand through Avery’s arm. She felt his fingers close upon her warningly, checking her slight start; and she knew with an odd mixture of relief and dismay that this was the beginning of the game. She forced herself to smile in answer, and she knew that she succeeded; but it was one of the greatest efforts of her life.
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
For a week after Piers’ arrival, Jeanie was better, so much better that she was able to be carried downstairs and into the garden where she loved to lie. There was a piano in the sitting-room, and Piers would sit at it by the hour together, playing anything she desired. She loved his music, would listen entranced for any length of time while he led her through a world of delight that she had never explored before. It soothed her restlessness, comforted her in weariness, made her forget her pain. And then the summer weather broke. There came a spell of rainy days that made the garden impossible, and immediately Jeanie’s strength began to wane. It went from her very gradually. She suffered but little, save when her breathing or her cough troubled her. But it was evident to them all that her little craft was putting out to sea at last.