“I don’t know, but you are. You’ve not been yourself ever since you came here. I wish you’d never seen the place. It’s stopped your work, it’s making you into a person I hardly know, and it’s made me horribly anxious about you.... Oh, how my hand is beginning to throb!”
“Poor child!” he murmured. “Will you let me take you to a doctor and have it properly dressed?”
“No—I shall be all right presently—I’ll keep it raised——”
She put her elbow on the back of her chair, and the bandaged hand rested lightly on his shoulder.
At that touch an entirely new anxiety stirred suddenly within him. Hundreds of times previously, on their jaunts and excursions, she had slipped her hand within his arm as she might have slipped it into the arm of a brother, and he had accepted the little affectionate gesture as a brother might have accepted it. But now, for the first time, there rushed into his mind a hundred startling questions. Her eyes were still closed, and her head had fallen pathetically back; and there was a lost and ineffable smile on her parted lips. The truth broke in upon him. Good God!... And he had never divined it!
And stranger than all was that, now that he did see that she was lost in love of him, there came to him, not sorrow and humility and abasement, but something else that he struggled in vain against—something entirely strange and new, that, had he analysed it, he would have found to be petulance and irritation and resentment and ungentleness. The sudden selfish prompting mastered him before he was aware. He all but gave it words. What was she doing there at all? Why was she not getting on with her own work? Why was she here interfering with his? Who had given her this guardianship over him that lately she had put forward so assertively?—“Changed?” It was she, not himself, who had changed....
But by the time she had opened her eyes again he had overcome his resentment sufficiently to speak gently, albeit with reserve.
“I wish you would let me take you to a doctor.”
“No, thank you, Paul,” she said. “I’ll go now. If I need a dressing I’ll get one; take the other hand, please. Good-bye—”
He did not attempt to detain her. He walked with her to the foot of the stairs. Half-way along the narrow alley she turned.
“It would be a long way to come if you happened not to be in,” she said; “I’ll send you a postcard the next time.”
At the gate she turned again.
“Leave here, Paul,” she said, with a mournful look. “Everything’s wrong with this house.”
Then she was gone.
Oleron returned to his room. He crossed straight to the window-box. He opened the lid and stood long looking at it. Then he closed it again and turned away.
“That’s rather frightening,” he muttered. “It’s simply not possible that I should not have removed that nail....”