He stood like a rock under her caress; he did not make any answer; he did not attempt to undo the clasp of her arms. He was as impassive as a hunted animal who, in some terrible danger, pretends to be already dead.
It was a matter of only a few seconds. Then she dropped her arms, and he went away.
Running away is seldom a becoming gesture, yet it is one that should at least bring relief; but as Riatt went westward, he was conscious of no relief whatsoever. The day was bitter and gray, and, looking out of the window, he felt that he was about as flat and dreary as the country through which he was passing.
He sat a little while with the Lanes in their compartment.
“I suppose you’ll be glad to get home and see George and Louise and the children,” said Mrs. Lane, referring to some cousins of Riatt’s about whom, it is to be feared, he had not thought for weeks.
Dorothy laughed. “What does he care for home-staying cousins when he is leaving a lovely creature languishing for him in New York?” she said.
“I doubt if Christine does much languishing,” he returned, though the idea was not at all disagreeable to him.
“You two are the strangest lovers I ever knew,” said Miss Lane.
Riatt wondered if that were an accurate description of them—lovers, though strange ones.
He left his old friends presently and went and sat in the observation-car. What, he wondered, had Christine meant by her last words, about never coming back? Never come back to annoy with his critical attitude? Never come back to watch her deterioration as Hickson’s wife? Or never come back to disturb her peace of mind and heart by his mere presence? He debated all interpretations but the last pleased him most.
A bride and groom were in the car. The girl was not in the least like Christine. She was small and wore a pair of the most fantastic gray and black boots that Riatt had ever seen; but she was very blond and very much in love. Riatt hated both her and her husband. “People ought not to be allowed to show their feelings like that,” he said to himself, as he kicked open the door leading to the back platform, with a violence that was utterly unnecessary.
Nor did things mend on his arrival at his home. His native town was naturally interested in his engagement; it showed this interest by keeping the idea continually before him. It assumed, of course, that he was going to bring his bride home. The rising architect of the community came to him with the assumption that he would wish to build her a more suitable house than that of his father, which, large and comfortable, had been constructed in the very worst taste of the early “eighties.” No, Riatt found himself saying with determination, his father’s house would be good enough for his wife. He thought the sentiment sounded rather well, as he pronounced it. But this did not solve his difficulties, for now it was but too evident that he must at least redecorate the old house; and he found himself, he never knew exactly how, actually in process of doing over a bedroom, bathroom and boudoir for Christine, just exactly as if he had expected her ever to lay eyes on them.