“How do you know all that?” Kendal exclaimed, laughing. “But there is no title—never has been.”
Elfrida drew a long sigh of relief, and held him with her eyes as if he had just been snatched away from, some impending danger. “So now you are—what do you say in this country?—a landed proprietor. You belong to the country gentry. In America I used to read about the country gentry in London Society—all the contributors and all the subscribers to London Society used to be country gentry, I believe, from what I remember. They were always riding to hounds, and having big Christmas parties, and telling ghost stories about the family, diamonds.”
“All very proper,” Kendal protested against the irony of her tone.
“Oh, if one would be quite sure that it will not make any difference,” Elfrida went on, clasping her knee with her shapely gloved hands. “I should like—I should like to beg you to make me a promise that you will never give up your work—your splendid work!” She hesitated, and looked at him almost with supplication. “But then why should you make such a promise to me!”
They were sitting opposite one another in the dusty confusion of the room, and when she said this Kendal got up and walked over to her, without knowing exactly why.
“If I made such a promise,” he said, looking down at her, “it would be more binding given to you than to anybody else—more binding and more sacred.”
If she had exacted it he would have promised then and there, and he had some vague notion of sealing the vow with his lips upon her hand, and of arranging—this was more indefinite still—that she should always insist, in her sweet personal way, upon its fulfilment. But Elfrida felt the intensity in his voice with a kind of fear, not of the situation—she had a nervous delight in the situation—but of herself. She had a sudden terror in his coming so close to her, in his changed voice, and its sharpness lay in her recognition of it. Why should she be frightened? She jumped up gaily with the question still throbbing in her throat.
“No,” she cried, “you shall not promise me. I’ll form a solemn, committee of your friends—your real friends—and we’ll come some day and exact an oath from you, individually and collectively. That will be much more impressive. I must go now,” she went on reproachfully, “and you have shown me nothing that you’ve brought back with you. Is there anything here?” In her anxiety to put space between them she bad walked to the furthest and untidiest corner of the room, where half a dozen canvases leaned with their faces to the wall.
Kendal watched her, tilt them forward one after another with a kind or sick impotence.
“Absolutely nothing!” he cried.
But it was too late—she had paused in her running commentary on the pictures, she was standing looking, absolutely silent, at the last but one. She had come upon it—she had found it—his sketch of the scene in Lady Halifax’s drawing-room.