She began to be afraid, not for him, but of herself. He had taught her what it might be to love. For the first time love’s premonitory thrill—promise of unspeakable, uncomprehended mysteries—had wrung her, and the echo of that thrill stirred in her yet; but what might not happen in his long absence? She was afraid of that critical and analyzing power of mind which she had so long trained to attack all that came to her. What might it not work with the new thing that had come? To what pitiful shreds might it not be rent while he who only could renew it was away? She looked ahead at the weeks and months to come, and she was terribly afraid.
She went out of the room and up to her grandfather’s chamber and knocked there. The admirable Peters, who opened to her, said that his master had not been very well, and was just then asleep, but as they spoke together in low tones the old gentleman cried, testily, from within:
“Well? Well? Who’s there? Who wants to see me? Who is it?”
Miss Benham went into the dim, shaded room, and when old David saw who it was he sank back upon his pillows with a pacified growl. He certainly looked ill, and he had grown thinner and whiter within the past month, and the lines in his waxlike face seemed to be deeper scored.
The girl went up beside the bed and stood there a moment, after she had bent over and kissed her grandfather’s cheek, stroking with her hand the absurdly gorgeous mandarin’s jacket—an imperial yellow one this time.
“Isn’t this new?” she asked. “I seem never to have seen this one before. It’s quite wonderful.”
The old gentleman looked down at it with the pride of a little girl over her first party frock. He came as near simpering as a fierce person of eighty-six, with a square white beard, can come.
“Rather good—what? What?” said he. “Yes, it’s new. De Vries sent it me. It is my best one. Imperial yellow. Did you notice the little Show medallions with the swastika? Young Ste. Marie was here this afternoon.” He introduced the name with no pause or change of expression, as if Ste. Marie were a part of the decoration of the mandarin’s jacket. “I told him he was a damned fool.”
“Yes,” said Miss Benham, “I know. He said you did. I suppose,” she said, “that in a sort of very informal fashion I am engaged to him. Well, no, perhaps not quite that; but he seems to consider himself engaged to me, and when he has finished something very important that he has undertaken to do he is coming to ask me definitely to marry him. No, I suppose we aren’t engaged yet; at least, I’m not. But it’s almost the same, because I suppose I shall accept him whether he fails or succeeds in what he is doing.”
“If he fails in it, whatever it may be,” said old David, “he won’t give you a chance to accept him; he won’t come back. I know him well enough for that. He’s a romantic fool, but he’s a thoroughgoing fool. He plays the game.” The old man looked up to his granddaughter, scowling a little. “You two are absurdly unsuited to each other,” said he, “and I told Ste. Marie so. I suppose you think you’re in love with him.”