It was Edith speaking.
“You won’t leave me, will you, Christine? Poor Jim! And then that man—I should die of fright. Besides, it wouldn’t be right—not proper—to-morrow one of my sisters——”
“Very well. I will spend the night here. But Robert must go to my people. They won’t mind now. I shall be back in half an hour.”
She helped him into his reefer coat, which she had brought down with her. And still he could not speak to her. She was a long way off from him. As they went into the hall he hid his face against her arm for fear of the things that he might see. But once they were outside, and the good night wind rushed against his face, a great intoxicating joy came over him. He wanted to dance and shout. The Dragon was dead. No one could frighten them again.
“Aren’t we ever coming back, Christine?”
“No, dear, I don’t think so.”
He looked back at the grim, high house. For a moment a sorrow as deep as joy rushed over him. It was as though he knew that something besides the Dragon had died up there in that dimly lit room—as though he were saying good-bye to something he would never find, though he hunted the world over.
He had been a little boy. He would never be quite a little boy again.
Or perhaps the Dragon wasn’t dead at all—perhaps Dragons never died, but lived on and on, hiding in secret places, waiting to pounce out on you and drag you back.
He seized Christine’s hand.
“Let’s run,” he whispered. “Let’s run fast.”
He discovered that there were people in the world who could make scenes without noise. They were like the crocodiles he had met on his visit to the Zoo, lying malignantly inert in their oily water. But one twitch of the tail, one blink of a lightless eye, was more terrifying than the roar of a lion.
No one made a noise in Christine’s home. The two sisters looked at Robert as though he were a small but disagreeable smell that they tried politely to ignore. They asked him if he wanted a second helping in voices of glacial courtesy. They said things to each other and at Christine which were quiet and deadly as the rustle of a snake in the grass. Robert had never fled from his father as he fled from their restrained disgust. He had never been more aware of storm than in the smother of the heavily carpeted, decorously silent rooms. It broke, three days later, not with thunder and lightning, but with the brief malicious rattle of a machine-gun.
“You ought not to have brought him here. You have no pride. But, then, you never had. At least some consideration for our feelings might have been expected. We have suffered enough. If you knew what people said—— Mrs. Stonehouse has been talking. She offered to take the child. As his natural guardian she had the right. An unpardonable, undignified interference——”