Raphael shook himself impatiently, and the poet threw the door wide open and disappeared.
For a full minute Raphael dared not look towards the door for fear of seeing the poet’s cajoling head framed in the opening. When he did, he was transfixed to see Esther Ansell’s there, regarding him pensively.
His heart beat painfully at the shock; the room seemed flooded with sunlight.
“May I come in?” she said, smiling.
ESTHER DEFIES THE UNIVERSE.
Esther wore a neat black mantle, and looked taller and more womanly than usual in a pretty bonnet and a spotted veil. There was a flush of color in her cheeks, her eyes sparkled. She had walked in cold sunny weather from the British Museum (where she was still supposed to be), and the wind had blown loose a little wisp of hair over the small shell-like ear. In her left hand she held a roll of manuscript. It contained her criticisms of the May Exhibitions. Whereby hung a tale.
In the dark days that followed the scene with Levi, Esther’s resolution had gradually formed. The position had become untenable. She could no longer remain a Schnorrer; abusing the bounty of her benefactors into the bargain. She must leave the Goldsmiths, and at once. That was imperative; the second step could be thought over when she had taken the first. And yet she postponed taking the first. Once she drifted out of her present sphere, she could not answer for the future, could not be certain, for instance, that she would be able to redeem her promise to Raphael to sit in judgment upon the Academy and other picture galleries that bloomed in May. At any rate, once she had severed connection with the Goldsmith circle, she would not care to renew it, even in the case of Raphael. No, it was best to get this last duty off her shoulders, then to say farewell to him and all the other human constituents of her brief period of partial sunshine. Besides, the personal delivery of the precious manuscript would afford her the opportunity of this farewell to him. With his social remissness, it was unlikely he would call soon upon the Goldsmiths, and she now restricted her friendship with Addie to receiving Addie’s visits, so as to prepare for its dissolution. Addie amused her by reading extracts from Sidney’s letters, for the brilliant young artist had suddenly gone off to Norway the morning after the debut of the new Hamlet. Esther felt that it might be as well if she stayed on to see how the drama of these two lives developed. These things she told herself in the reaction from the first impulse of instant flight.
Raphael put down his pipe at the sight of her and a frank smile of welcome shone upon his flushed face.
“This is so kind of you!” he said; “who would have thought of seeing you here? I am so glad. I hope you are well. You look better.” He was wringing her little gloved hand violently as he spoke.