“I believe,” she said reflectively, “but I cannot analyse my belief. I am most content when I keep my brain shut off from it and consider it as an instinct. I try to tell myself that the power which is responsible for the sorrows of this world must provide compensation. Even history can show us that this has always been the case. Yesterday,” she continued, “I went to a spiritual seance. I found nothing. I shall go to the next thing of the sort which any one suggests. I am like the hypochondriac with his list of patent medicines. I try them all, but my heart still aches.”
“I think,” he admitted, “that au fond I have, like most men, a strong leaven of materialism in me. I have had my disappointments in life. I want my compensations here, in the same world where I have suffered.”
“Why should we not try to believe, like La Fontaine,” she questioned, “that sorrow and unhappiness are akin to disease, a mental instead of a physical scourge—that it must pass just as inevitably?”
“It is a comfortable philosophy,” he confessed. “Could you adopt it?”
“In my blackest moments I should have scoffed at the idea,” she replied. “One thing I know quite well, though, is unchanging,” she continued, her face losing all the gentle softness which a moment before he had found so fascinating, so reminiscent of those sad, sleepy-eyed women immortalised by the masters of the Renaissance. “That is my hatred of everything and everybody connected with my present life.”
“Everybody?” he murmured.
She stretched out her hand impulsively. He held it in his with a tender, caressing clasp. There seemed to be no need of words. The moment was in its way so wonderful that neither of them heard the opening of the door. It was only the surprised exclamation of the man who had entered which brought them back to a very sordid present.
“I fear” the newcomer remarked, as he softly closed the door behind him, “that I am an intruder. Perhaps, Josephine, I may be favoured with an introduction to this gentleman? He is a stranger to me, so far as I remember. An old friend of yours, I presume?”
He advanced a step or two farther into the room, a slim, effeminate-looking person of barely medium height, dressed with the utmost care, of apparently no more than middle age but with crow’s-feet about his eyes and sagging pockets of flesh underneath them. His closely trimmed, sandy moustache was streaked with grey, his eyes were a little bloodshot, he had the shrinking manner of one who suffers from habitual nervousness. Josephine, after her first start of surprise, watched him with coldly questioning eyes.
“I hope you have dined, Henry,” she said. “A waiter rang up from somewhere to say you would not be home.”
“A message which I do not doubt left you inconsolable,” he observed, with a little curl of his lips. “Do not distress yourself, I pray. I have dined at the club, and I have only come home to change. I am on my way to a party. I would not have intruded if your maid had shown her usual discretion.”