“And now you are sorry you told me; you think I have led you into a breach of trust. Is it not so?” She spoke without a trace of petulance, and her tone of dignified self-accusation made me feel a veritable worm.
“My dear Miss Gibson,” I expostulated, “you entirely misunderstand me. I am not in the least sorry that I told you. How could I have done otherwise under the circumstances? But I want you to understand that I have taken the responsibility of communicating to you what is really a professional secret, and that you are to consider it as such.”
“That was how I understood it,” replied Juliet; “and you may rely upon me not to utter a syllable on the subject to anyone.”
I thanked her for this promise, and then, by way of making conversation, gave her an account in detail of Anstey’s visit, not even omitting the incident of the cigar.
“And are Dr. Thorndyke’s cigars so extraordinarily bad?” she asked.
“Not at all,” I replied; “only they are not to every man’s taste. The Trichinopoly cheroot is Thorndyke’s one dissipation, and, I must say, he takes it very temperately. Under ordinary circumstances he smokes a pipe; but after a specially heavy day’s work, or on any occasion of festivity or rejoicing, he indulges in a Trichinopoly, and he smokes the very best that can be got.”
“So even the greatest men have their weaknesses,” Juliet moralised; “but I wish I had known Dr. Thorndyke’s sooner, for Mr. Hornby had a large box of Trichinopoly cheroots given to him, and I believe they were exceptionally fine ones. However, he tried one and didn’t like it, so he transferred the whole consignment to Walter, who smokes all sorts and conditions of cigars.”
So we talked on from one commonplace to another, and each more conventional than the last. In my nervousness, I overdid my part, and having broken the ice, proceeded to smash it to impalpable fragments. Endeavouring merely to be unemotional and to avoid undue intimacy of manner, I swung to the opposite extreme and became almost stiff; and perhaps the more so since I was writhing with the agony of repression.
Meanwhile a corresponding change took place in my companion. At first her manner seemed doubtful and bewildered; then she, too, grew more distant and polite and less disposed for conversation. Perhaps her conscience began to rebuke her, or it may be that my coolness suggested to her that her conduct had not been quite of the kind that would have commended itself to Reuben. But however that may have been, we continued to draw farther and farther apart; and in that short half-hour we retraced the steps of our growing friendship to such purpose that, when we descended from the cab at the prison gate, we seemed more like strangers than on the first day that we met. It was a miserable ending to all our delightful comradeship, and yet what other end could one expect in this world of cross purposes and things that might have been? In the extremity of my wretchedness I could have wept on the bosom of the portly warder who opened the wicket, even as Juliet had wept upon mine; and it was almost a relief to me, when our brief visit was over, to find that we should not return together to King’s Cross as was our wont, but that Juliet would go back by omnibus that she might do some shopping in Oxford Street, leaving me to walk home alone.