And catastrophic. Not till now had he realised to what catastrophe he then had plunged. He thought, “The fact was Nona touched things in me that helped me. Without her I just shut down—I just go about—longing, longing, and all shut up, day after day, year after year—all shut up. And now there’s this—she’s come back like this—”
He came upon the picture of himself alone with Nona—alone with her watching her beautiful face—and saying to her, “Look here, there were three things you said, three expressions you used. Explain them, Nona. Explain ‘There!’ with your glove off. Explain ‘Flotsam.’ Explain ’Well, I had to come.’ Explain them, Nona—for God’s sake.”
But it was October before he asked her to explain them. The Tybars, as he learnt when next he met her, a week after her visit to the office, were only at Northrepps for a breathing space after their foreign tour. Through the summer they were going the usual social round, ending in Scotland. Back in October for the shooting, and wintering there through the hunting season.
So she told him; and he thought while she was speaking, “All right. I’ll accept that. That helps to stop me asking her. If an opportunity occurs before she goes I’ll ask her. I must. But if it doesn’t occur I’ll accept that. I won’t make an opportunity.”
It did not occur, and he abode by his resolution. He met her once or twice, always in other company. And she was always then particularly gay, particularly airy, particularly bantering. But answering her banter he once caught an expression behind her airiness. He thought, “It is a shield”; and he turned away abruptly from her. He could not bear it.
This was on the occasion of a little dinner party at Northrepps to which he had come with Mabel; Major Hopscotch Millet and one or two others were among the guests. Major Millet, who had been in particularly hopscotch, Ri—te O! form throughout the evening, was walking back, but Mabel invited him to accompany them in the ancient village fly. “Ri—te O!” said Major Millet with enormous enthusiasm.
Nona came with them to the door on their departure. Sabre was last down the steps. “Well, I shan’t see you again till October,” she said.
“No, till October.” He no more than touched her hand and turned away. He had kept his resolution.
She was close behind him. He heard her give the tiniest little catch at her breath. She said, “Shall I write to you, Marko?”
He turned towards her. She was smiling as though it was a chaffing remark she had made. Her shield!
And he answered her from behind his own shield, “Oh, well, I’m bad at letters, you know.”
But their eyes met with no shields before them; and she was wounded, for he just caught her voice as he went down the steps, “Oh, Marko, do write to me!”