John Kendal had turned the key upon his dusty work-room in Bryanston Street among the first of those who, according to the papers, depopulated London in July. He had an old engagement to keep, which took him, with Carew of the Dial and Limley of the Civil Service, to explore and fish in the Norwegian fjords. The project matured suddenly, and he left town without seeing anybody—a necessity which disturbed him a number of times on the voyage. He wrote a hasty line to Janet, returning a borrowed book, and sent a trivial message to Elfrida, whom he knew to be spending a few days in Kensington Square at the time. Janet delivered it with an intensity of quiet pleasure which she showed extraordinary skill in concealing. “May I ask you to say to Miss Bell—” seemed to her to be eloquent of many things. She looked at Elfrida with inquiry, in spite of herself, when she gave the message, but Elfrida received it with a nod and a smile of perfect indifference. “It is because she does not care—does not care an iota,” Janet told herself; and all that day it seemed to her that Elfrida’s personality was inexhaustibly delightful.
Afterward, however, one or two letters found their way into the sandal-wood box, bearing the Norwegian postmark. They came seldomer than Elfrida expected. “Enfin!” she said when the first arrived, and she felt her pulse beat a little faster as she opened it. She read it eagerly, with serious lips, thinking how fine he was, and with what exquisite force he brought himself to her as he wrote. “I must be a very exceptional person,” she said in her reverie afterward, “to have such things written to me. I must—I must!” Then as she put the letter away she reflected that she couldn’t amuse herself with Kendal without treachery to their artistic relationship; there would be somehow an outrage in it. And she would not amuse herself with him; she would sacrifice that, and be quite frank and simple always. So that when it came to pass—here Elfrida retired into a lower depth of consciousness—there would be only a little pity and a little pain, and no reproach or regret. There was a delay in the arrival of the next letter which Elfrida felt to be unaccountable, a delay of nearly three weeks. She took it with an odd rush of feeling from the hand of the housemaid who brought it up, and locked herself in alone with it.
A few days later, driving through Bryanston Street in a hansom, Elfrida saw the windows of Kendal’s studio wide open. She leaned forward to realize it with a little tumult of excitement at the possibility it indicated, half turned to bid the cabman stop, and rolled on undecided. Presently she spoke to him.
“Please go back to number sixty-three,” she said, “I want to get out there,” and in a moment or two she was tripping lightly up the stairs.