Kendal, in his shirt-sleeves, with his back to the door, was bending over a palette that clung obstinately to the hardened round dabs of color he had left upon it six weeks before. He threw it down at Elfrida’s step, and turned with a sudden light of pleasure in his face to see her framed in the doorway, looking at him with an odd shyness and silence. “You spirit!” he cried, “how did you know I had come back?” and he held her hand for just an appreciable instant, regarding her with simple delight. Her tinge of embarrassment became her sweetly, and the pleasure in his eyes made her almost instantly aware of this.
“I didn’t know,” she said, with a smile that shared his feeling. “I saw the windows open, and I thought the woman downstairs might be messing about here. They can do such incalculable damage when they really set their minds to it, these concierge people. So I—I came up to interfere. But it is you!” She looked at him with wide, happy eyes which sent the satisfaction she found in saying that to his inmost consciousness.
“That was extremely good of you,” he said, and in spite of himself a certain emphasis crept into the commonplace. “I hardly realize myself that I am here. It might very well be the Skaagerak outside.”
“Does the sea in Norway sound like that?” Elfrida asked, as the roar of London came across muffled from Piccadilly. She made a tittle theatrical movement of her head to listen, and Kendal’s appreciation of it was so evident that she failed to notice exactly what he answered. “You have come back sooner than you intended?”
“By a month.”
“Why!” she asked. Her eye made a soft bravado, but that was lost. He did not guess for a moment that she believed she knew why he had come.
“It was necessary,” he answered, with remembered gravity, “in connection with the death of—of a relative, a granduncle of mine. The old fellow went off suddenly last week, and they telegraphed for me. I believe he wanted to see me, poor old chap, but of course it was too late.”
“Oh!” said Elfrida gently, “that is very sad. Was it a granduncle you were—fond of?”
Kendal could not restrain a smile at her earnestness.
“I was, in a way. He was a good old fellow, and he lived to a great age—over ninety. He has left me all the duties and responsibilities of his estate,” Kendal went on, with sudden gloom. “The Lord only knows what I’ll do with them.”
“That makes it sadder,” said the girl.
“I should think it did,” Kendal replied; and then their eyes met, and they laughed the healthy instinctive laugh of youth when it is asked to mourn fatuously, which is always a little cruel.
“I hope,” said Elfrida quickly, “that he has not saddled you with a title. An estate is bad enough, but with a title added it would ruin you. You would never do any more good work, I am sure—sure. People would get at you—you would take to rearing farm creatures from a sense of duty—you might go into Parliament. Tell me there is no title!”