Her eyes were fixed on the motor omnibuses passing up and down Maida Vale at the end of her road. Her lips were parted—the ripeness of youth and health rendered her adorable. A flush stained her ivory cheek—you will find the exact simile in Virgil. She was too desirable for Jaffery’s self-control. He bent forward in his chair—they were sitting face to face, so that he had his back to the motor omnibuses—and put his great hand on her knee.
“Why not we two?”
It was silly, sentimental, schoolboyish—what you please; but every man’s first declaration of love is bathos—the zenith of his passion connoting perhaps the nadir of his intelligence. Anyhow the declaration was made, without shadow of mistake.
Doria switched her knee away sharply, as her vision of sunset and gulls and blue sea and a clematis-covered house vanished from before her eyes, and she found herself on her balcony with Jaff Chayne.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“You know very well what I mean.”
He rose like a leviathan and made a step towards her. The three-foot balustrade of the balcony seemed to come to his ankles. She put out a hand.
“Oh, don’t do that, Jaff. You might fall over. It makes me so nervous.”
He checked himself and stood up quite straight. Again he felt as if she had dealt him a slap in the face.
“You know very well what I mean,” he repeated. “I love you and I want you and I’ll never be happy till I get you.”
She looked away from him and lifted her slender shoulders.
“Why spoil things by talking of the impossible?”
“The word has no meaning. Doesn’t exist,” said Jaffery.
“It exists very much indeed,” she returned, with a quick upward glance.
“Not with an obstinate devil like me.”
He leaned against the low balustrade. She rose.
“You’ll drive me into hysterics,” she cried and fled to the drawing-room.
He followed, impatiently. “I’m not such an ass as to fall off a footling balcony. What do you take me for?”
“I take you for Adrian’s friend,” she said, very erect, brave elf facing horrible ogre—and, either by chance or design, her hand touched and held the tip of a great silver-framed photograph of her late husband.
“I think I’ve proved it,” said Jaffery.
“Are you proving it now? What value can you attach to Adrian’s memory when you say such things to me?”
“I’m saying to you what every honest man has the right to say to the free woman he loves.”
“But I’m not a free woman. I’m bound to Adrian.”
“You can’t be bound to him forever and ever.”
“I am. That’s why it’s shameful and dishonourable of you,”—his blue eyes flashed dangerously and he clenched his hands, but heedless she went on—“yes, mean and base and despicable of you to wish to betray him. Adrian—”