And there was yet another psychological fact that astonished her, though she was only conscious of it in a parenthetical kind of way, and that was the strength of her feeling for Laurie himself. It seemed to her curious, when she considered it, how the horror of that which lay over the boy seemed, like death itself, to throw out as on a clear background the best of himself. His figure appeared to her memory as wholly good and sweet; the shadows on his character seemed absorbed in the darkness that lay over him; and towards this figure she experienced a sense of protective love and energy that astonished her. She desired with all her power to seize and rescue him.
Then she drew a long steady breath, thrust out her strong white hand to see if the fingers trembled; went down the stairs, and, without knocking, opened the smoking-room door and went straight in, closing it behind her. There was a screen to be passed round.
She passed round it.
And he sat there on the couch looking at her.
For the first instant she remained there standing motionless; it was like a declaration of war. In one or two of her fragmentary rehearsals upstairs she had supposed she would say something conventional to begin with. But the reality struck conventionality clean out of the realm of the possible. Her silent pause there was as significant as the crouch of a hound; and she perceived that it was recognized to be so by the other that was there. There was in him that quick, silent alertness she had expected: half defiant, half timid, as of a fierce beast that expects a blow.
Then she came a step forward and sideways to a chair, sat down in it with a swift, almost menacing motion, and remained there still looking.
This is what she saw:
There was the familiar background, the dark paneled wall, the engraving, and the shelf of books convenient to the hand; the fire was on her right, and the couch opposite. Upon the couch sat the figure of the boy she knew so well.
He was in the same suit in which he had traveled; he had not even changed his shoes; they were splashed a little with London mud. These things she noticed in the minutes that followed, though she kept her eyes upon his face.
The face itself was beyond her power of analysis. Line for line it was Laurie’s features, mouth, eyes and hair; yet its signification was not Laurie’s. One that was akin looked at her from out of those windows of the soul—scrutinized her cautiously, questioningly, and suspiciously. It was the face of an enemy who waits. And she sat and looked at it.
A full minute must have passed before she spoke. The face had dropped its eyes after the first long look, as if in a kind of relaxation, and remained motionless, staring at the fire in a sort of dejection. Yet beneath, she perceived plainly, there was the same alert hostility; and when she spoke the eyes rose again with a quick furtive attentiveness. The semi-intelligent beast was soothed, but not yet reassured.