“I am ever so much obliged to you,” he said fervently, in the comparative solitude of the lower floor. She had paused to look at something in the book-department.
“Of course I was entirely at your service; don’t mention it,” she replied, reaching forth her hand in an absent way for her parasol.
He held up instead the volume he had purchased. “Guess what that is! You never would guess in this wide world!” His manner was surcharged with a sense of the surreptitious.
“Well, then, there’s no good trying, is there?” commented Celia, her glance roving again toward the shelves.
“It is a life of George Sand,” whispered Theron. “I’ve been reading it this morning—all the Chopin part—while I was waiting for you.”
To his surprise, there was an apparently displeased contraction of her brows as he made this revelation. For the instant, a dreadful fear of having offended her seized upon and sickened him. But then her face cleared, as by magic. She smiled, and let her eyes twinkle in laughter at him, and lifted a forefinger in the most winning mockery of admonition.
“Naughty! naughty!” she murmured back, with a roguishly solemn wink.
He had no response ready for this, but mutely handed her the parasol. The situation had suddenly grown too confused for words, or even sequent thoughts. Uppermost across the hurly-burly of his mind there scudded the singular reflection that he should never hear her play on that new piano of his. Even as it flashed by out of sight, he recognized it for one of the griefs of his life; and the darkness which followed seemed nothing but a revolt against the idea of having a piano at all. He would countermand the order. He would—but she was speaking again.
They had strolled toward the door, and her voice was as placidly conventional as if the talk had never strayed from the subject of pianos. Theron with an effort pulled himself together, and laid hold of her words.
“I suppose you will be going the other way,” she was saying. “I shall have to be at the church all day. We have just got a new Mass over from Vienna, and I’m head over heels in work at it. I can have Father Forbes to myself today, too. That bear of a doctor has got the rheumatism, and can’t come out of his cave, thank Heaven!”
And then she was receding from view, up the sunlit, busy sidewalk, and Theron, standing on the doorstep, ruefully rubbed his chin. She had said he was going the other way, and, after a little pause, he made her words good, though each step he took seemed all in despite of his personal inclinations. Some of the passers-by bowed to him, and one or two paused as if to shake hands and exchange greetings. He nodded responses mechanically, but did not stop. It was as if he feared to interrupt the process of lifting his reluctant feet and propelling them forward, lest they should wheel and scuttle off in the opposite direction.