She held both his hands in hers. She wore a loose, golden-brown wrapper such as she had always worn when she had been working hard. She had changed very little and a great deal. If something of the whimsical mysteriousness of her youth had faded she had broadened and deepened into a woman warm and generous as the earth. Her thick hair swept back from her face with the old wind-blown look, and her eyes were candid and steadfast as they had ever been. But some sort of mist had been brushed away from them so that they saw more clearly and profoundly. He thought: “She has seen a great many people suffer. She doesn’t go away so often into herself.”
He had tried hard, over and over again, to imagine their meeting, but he had never imagined that it would be so simple or that she would say to him, as though the eight years had not happened:
“Why didn’t you tell me about Christine, Robert?”
“It wouldn’t have made any difference.”
“I’ve been waiting for you to tell me.”
He tried to smile.
“You don’t know how difficult it has been to come. I’ve been prowling past—night after night—trying to think what you’d say to me, if I turned up.”
“You might have known.”
“I didn’t—I don’t know even now.”
She had made him sit down by the fire and she sat opposite him, bending towards him, with her slim, beautiful hands to the blaze. He felt that she knew, for all the outward signs of his prosperity, that he was destitute. He felt that his real self with which she had always been so much concerned had been stripped naked, and that she was trying to warm and console him. She was wrapping him round with that unchanged tenderness.
“It’s—it’s the old room!” he said.
But his enmity was dead. He was at peace with it. He had been initiated. He had heard, very faintly it is true, but loud enough to understand, the music to which the faun danced. He was not the outsider any more.
“I wanted it to be the same.”
“And the house——”
“I took it as soon as I could get it. I made up my mind to live here, whatever it cost. You see, I was quite sure that you would go past one of these days to have a look at it, and that you would say to yourself: ‘Why, there’s Francey, after all! I’ll go in——’”
But they both drew back instinctively. He blundered into a hurried question. The Gang? What had happened to them all? It seemed that Gertie still lived, defying medical opinion and apparently feeding her starved spirit on the treasures of the Vatican. Howard, who had become a very bad artist and lived on selling copies of the masterpieces to tourists, looked after her.
“But they’re not married,” Francey said. “Just friends.”
He said humbly:
“Well, he’s been awfully decent to her.”
As to the rest, no one knew what had become of them.