Yet, as she sat there in the lamplight, with Laurie speechless before her, and the great curtained window behind, she became conscious of an uneasiness that she could not entirely repel. It was just physical, she said; it was the result of the change of weather; or, at the most, it was the silence that had now fallen and the proximity of a terrified boy.
She looked across at him again.
He was lying back in the old green arm-chair, his eyes rather shadowed from the lamp overhead, quite still and quiet, his hands still clasping the lion bosses of his chair-arms. Beside him, on the little table, lay his still smoldering cigarette-end in the silver tray....
Maggie suddenly sprang to her feet, slipped round the table, and caught him by the arm.
“Laurie, Laurie, wake up.... What’s the matter?”
A long shudder passed through him. He sat up, with a bewildered look.
“Eh? What is it?” he said. “Was I asleep?”
He rubbed his hands over his eyes and looked round.
“What is it, Maggie? Was I asleep?”
Was the boy acting? Surely it was good acting! Maggie threw herself down on her knees by the chair.
“Laurie! Laurie! I beg you not to go to see Mr. Vincent. It’s bad for you.... I do wish you wouldn’t.”
He still blinked at her a moment.
“I don’t understand. What do you mean, Maggie?”
She stood up, ashamed of her impulsiveness.
“Only I wish you wouldn’t go and see that man. Laurie, please don’t.”
He stood up too, stretching. Every sign of nervousness seemed gone.
“Not see Mr. Vincent? Nonsense; of course I shall. You don’t understand, Maggie.”
“What a relief,” sighed Mrs. Stapleton. “I thought we had lost him.”
The three were sitting once again in Lady Laura’s drawing-room soon after lunch. Mr. Vincent had just looked in with Laurie’s note to give the news. It was a heavy fog outside, woolly in texture and orange in color, and the tall windows seemed opaque in the lamplight; the room, by contrast, appeared a safe and pleasant refuge from the reek and stinging vapor of the street.
Mrs. Stapleton had been lunching with her friend. The Colonel had returned for Christmas, so his wife’s duties had recalled her for the present from those spiritual conversations which she had enjoyed in the autumn. It was such a refreshment, she had said with a patient smile, to slip away sometimes into the purer atmosphere.
Mr. Vincent folded the letter and restored it to his pocket.
“We must be careful with him,” he said. “He is extraordinarily sensitive. I almost wish he were not so developed. Temperaments like his are apt to be thrown off their balance.”
Lady Laura was silent.