“Take them off here,” he said; “you needn’t go away.”
She looked at him and laughed again. “Help me, then,” she said, and turned her back for him to loosen her dress.
Clumsily he obeyed. He helped her off with the shimmering beautiful thing, and put it carefully over a chair. With deft fingers she loosened her hair, and he ran his fingers through it, and buried his face in the thick growth of it. She untied a ribbon at her waist, and threw from her one or two of her mysterious woman’s things. Then, with a sigh of utter abandonment, she threw herself into his arms.
They sat long over the fire. Outside the dull roar of the sleepless city came faintly up to them, and now and again a coal fell in the grate. At long last Peter pushed her back a little from him. “Little girl,” he said, “I must ask one thing. Will you forgive me? That night at Abbeville, after we left Langton, what was it you wouldn’t tell me? What was it you thought he would have known about you, but not I? Julie, I thought, to-night—was it anything to do with East Africa—those tropical nights under the moon? Oh, tell me, Julie!”
The girl raised her eyes to his. That look of pain and knowledge that he had seen from the beginning was in them again. Her hand clasped the lappet of his tunic convulsively, and she seemed to him indeed but a little girl.
“Peter! could you not have asked? But no, you couldn’t, not you.... But you guess now, don’t you? Oh, Peter, I was so young, and I thought—oh, I thought: the big thing had come, and since then life’s been all one big mockery. I’ve laughed at it, Peter: it was the only way. And then you came along. I haven’t dared to think, but there’s something about you—oh, I don’t know what! But you don’t play tricks, do you, Peter? And you’ve given me all, at last, without a question.... Oh, Peter, tell me you love me still! It’s your love, Peter, that can make me clean and save my soul—if I’ve any soul to save,” she added brokenly.
Peter caught her to him. He crushed he so that she caught her breath with the pain of it, and he wound his hand all but savagely in her hair. He got up—and she never guessed he had the strength—and carried her out in his arms, and into the other room.
And hours later, staring into the blackness while she slept as softly as a child by his side, he could not help smiling a little to himself. It was all so different from what he had imagined.
Peter awoke, and wondered where he was. Then his eye fell on a half-shut, unfamiliar trunk across the room, and he heard splashing through the open door of the bathroom. “Julie!” he called.