Janet looked at the card in astonishment, debating with herself what it might mean—such a formality was absurd between them. Why had not Elfrida come up at once to this third-story den of theirs she knew so well? What new preposterous caprice was this? She went down gravely, chilled; but before she reached the drawing-room door she resolved to take it another way, as a whim, as matter for scolding. After all, she was glad Elfrida had come back to her on any terms. She went in radiant, with a quick step, holding the card at arm’s length.
“To what,” she demanded mockingly, “am I to attribute the honor of this visit?” but she seized Elfrida lightly and kissed her on both cheeks before it was possible for her to reply.
The girl disengaged herself gently. “Oh I have come, like the rest, to lay my homage at your feet,” she said, with a little smile that put spaces between them. “You did not expect me to deny myself that pleasure?”
“Don’t be absurd, Frida. When did you come back to town?”
“When did I come back?” Elfrida repeated slowly, watching for the effect of her words. “On the first, I think it was.”
“And this is the tenth!” Janet exclaimed; adding helplessly, “You are an enigma! Why didn’t you let me know?”
“How could I suppose that you would care to know anything just now—except what the papers tell you.”
Janet regarded her silently, saying nothing. Under her look Elfrida’s expression changed a little, grew uncomfortable. The elder girl felt the chill, the seriousness with which she received the card upstairs, return upon her suddenly, and she became aware that she could not, with self-respect, fight it any longer.
“If you thought that,” she said gravely, “it was a curious thing to think. But I believe I am indebted to you for one of the pleasantest things the papers have been telling me,” she went on, with constraint. “It was very kind—much too kind. Thank you very much.”
Elfrida looked up, half frightened at the revulsion of her tone. “But—but your book is delightful. I was no more charmed than everybody must be. And it has made a tremendous hit, hasn’t it?”
“Thanks, I believe it is doing a fair amount of credit to its publishers. They are very pushing people.”
“How delicious it must feel!” Elfrida said. Her words were more like those of their ordinary relation, but her tone and manner had the aloofness of the merest acquaintance. Janet felt a slow anger grow up in her. It was intolerable, this dictation of their relation. Elfrida desired a change—she should have it, but not at her caprice. Janet’s innate dominance rose up and asserted a superior right to make the terms between them, and all the hidden jar, the unacknowledged contempt, the irritation, the hurt and the stress of the year that had passed rushed in from banishment and gained possession of her. She took just an appreciable instant to steady herself, and then her gray eyes regarded Elfrida with a calm remoteness in them which gave the other girl a quick impression of having done more than she meant to do, gone too far to return. Their glances met, and Elfrida’s eyes, unquiet and undecided, dropped before Janet’s. Already she had a vibrant regret.