In a dull tone he asked her why. Again she looked straight before her as she replied:
“I came to force your hand. Things couldn’t go on as they have been going, you know; and now that’s all over.”
“All over,” he repeated stupidly.
“All over. I want you now to consider yourself, as far as I’m concerned, perfectly free. I make only one reservation.”
He hardly had the spirit to ask her what that was.
“If I merely need you,” she said, “please don’t give that a thought; that’s nothing; I shan’t come near for that. But,” she dropped her voice, “if you’re in need of me, Paul—I shall know if you are, and you will be—then I shall come at no matter what cost. You understand that?”
He could only groan.
“So that’s understood,” she concluded. “And I think that’s all. Now go back. I should advise you to walk back, for you’re shivering—good-bye—”
She gave him a cold hand, and he descended. He turned on the edge of the kerb as the bus started again. For the first time in all the years he had known her she parted from him with no smile and no wave of her long arm.
He stood on the kerb plunged in misery, looking after her as long as she remained in sight; but almost instantly with her disappearance he felt the heaviness lift a little from his spirit. She had given him his liberty; true, there was a sense in which he had never parted with it, but now was no time for splitting hairs; he was free to act, and all was clear ahead. Swiftly the sense of lightness grew on him: it became a positive rejoicing in his liberty; and before he was halfway home he had decided what must be done next.
The vicar of the parish in which his dwelling was situated lived within ten minutes of the square. To his house Oleron turned his steps. It was necessary that he should have all the information he could get about this old house with the insurance marks and the sloping “To Let” boards, and the vicar was the person most likely to be able to furnish it. This last preliminary out of the way, and—aha! Oleron chuckled—things might be expected to happen!
But he gained less information than he had hoped for. The house, the vicar said, was old—but there needed no vicar to tell Oleron that; it was reputed (Oleron pricked up his ears) to be haunted—but there were few old houses about which some such rumour did not circulate among the ignorant; and the deplorable lack of Faith of the modern world, the vicar thought, did not tend to dissipate these superstitions. For the rest, his manner was the soothing manner of one who prefers not to make statements without knowing how they will be taken by his hearer. Oleron smiled as he perceived this.
“You may leave my nerves out of the question,” he said. “How long has the place been empty?”