“Thank you very much, Stephen,” she said, and she spoke with decision albeit her voice was not wholly steady. “But I don’t feel that that kind of diversion would do me much good. I think I shall run up to the nursery and see Baby Phil have his bath.”
She was gone; but so noiselessly that Mr. Lorimer, turning in his chair to rebuke her frivolity, found himself addressing the closed door.
He turned back again with a heavy sigh. There seemed to be some disturbing element at work. Time had been when she had deemed it her dearest privilege to sit and listen to his sermons. He could not understand her refusal of an offer that ought to have delighted her. He hoped that her heart was not becoming hardened.
Could he have seen her ascending the stairs at that moment with the tears running down her face, he might have realized that that fear at least was groundless.
THE TICKET OF LEAVE
Seated at the schoolroom piano, Piers was thoroughly in his element. He had a marvellous gift for making music, and his audience listened spell-bound. His own love for it amounted to a passion, inherited, so it was said, from his Italian grandmother. He threw his whole soul into the instrument under his hands, and played as one inspired.
Jeanie, from her sofa, drank in the music with shining eyes. She had never heard anything to compare with it before, and it stirred her to the depths.
It stirred Avery also, but in a different way. The personality of the player forced itself upon her with a curious insistence, and she had an odd feeling that he did it by deliberate intention. Every chord he struck seemed to speak to her directly, compelling her attention, dominating her will. He was playing to her alone, and, though she chose to ignore the fact, she was none the less aware of it. By his music he enthralled her, making her see the things he saw, making her feel the fiery unrest that throbbed in every beat of his heart.
Gracie, standing beside him, watching with fascinated eyes the strong hands that charmed from the old piano such music as probably it had never before uttered, was enthralled also, but only in a superficial sense. She was keenly interested in the play of his fingers, which seemed to her quite wonderful, as indeed it was.
He took no more notice of her admiring gaze than if she had been a fly, pouring out his magic flood of music with eyes fixed straight before him and lips that were sometimes hard and sometimes tender. He might have been a man in a trance.
And then very suddenly the spell was broken. For no apparent reason, he fell headlong from his heights and burst into a merry little jig that set Gracie dancing like an elf.
He became aware of her then, threw her a laugh, quickened to a mad tarantella that nearly whirled her off her feet, finally ended with a crashing chord, and whizzed round on the music-stool in time to catch her as she fell gasping against him.