“Ah, yes! It was contemptible—but contemptible! I did it partly to hurt her, and partly, I think, to gratify my vanity. You would not have thought anything so bad of me perhaps?” She looked up at him childishly. They were strolling about the quiet spaces of the Temple Courts. It was a pleasant afternoon in February, the new grass was pushing up. They could be quite occupied with one another—they had the place almost to themselves. Elfrida’s well-fitting shabby little jacket hung unbuttoned, and she swung Cardiff’s light walking-stick as they sauntered. He, with his eyes on her delicately flushed face and his hands unprofessorially in his pockets, was counting the minutes that were left them.
“You wouldn’t have, would you?” she insisted.
“I would think any womanly fault you like of you,” he laughed, “but one—the fear to confess it.”
Elfrida shut her lips with a little proud smile. “Do you know,” she said confidingly, “when you say things like that to me I like you very much—but very much!”
“But not enough,” he answered her quickly, “never enough, Frida?”
The girl’s expression changed. “You are not to call me ‘Frida,’” she said, frowning a little. “It has an association that will always be painful to me. When people—disappoint me, I try to forget them in every way I can.” She paused, and Cardiff saw that her eyes were full of tears. He had an instant of intense resentment against his daughter. What brutality had she been guilty of toward Elfrida in that moment of unreasonable jealousy that surged up between them? He would fiercely like to know. But Elfrida was smiling again, looking up at him in wilful disregard of her wet eyes.
“Say ‘Elfrida’ please—all of it.”
They had reached the Inner Temple Hall. “Let us go in there and sit down,” he suggested. “You must be tired—dear child.”
She hesitated and submitted. “Yes, I am,” she said. Presently they were sitting on one of the long dark polished wooden benches in the quiet and the rich light the ages have left in this place, keeping a mutual moment of silence. “How splendid it is!” Elfrida said restlessly, looking at the great carved wooden screen they had come through.
“The man who did that had a joy in his life, hadn’t he? To-day is very cheap and common, don’t you think?”
He had hardly words to answer her vague question, so absorbed was he in the beauty and the grace and the interest with which she had suddenly invested the high-backed corner she sat in. He felt no desire to analyze her charm. He did not ask himself whether it was the poetry of her eyes and lips, or her sincerity about herself, or the joy in art that was the key to her soul, or all of these, or something that was none of them. He simply allowed himself to be possessed by it and Elfrida saw his pleasure in his eager look and in every line of his delicate features. It was delicious to be able to give such pleasure, she thought. She felt like a thrice spiritualized Hebe, lifting the cup, not to Jove, but to a very superior mortal. She wished in effect, as she looked at him, that he were of her essence—she might be cup-bearer to him always then. It was a graceful and unexacting occupation. But he was not absolutely, and the question was how long—She started as he seemed to voice her thought.