“I see,” said Jaffery, frowning at his blades of grass.
“But between liking, figuratively, to take off your corsets in a crowd of Bohemians and wanting to marry the worst of them lies a big difference. You must have got fond of the fellow,” he added, in a low voice.
I said nothing. It was their affair. I was responsible to Barbara for her safe deliverance and here she was delivered. My attitude, as you can understand, was solely one of kindly curiosity. Liosha, for some moments, also said nothing. Rather feverishly she pulled off her new white gloves and cast them away; and I noticed an all but imperceptible something—something, for want of a better word, like a ripple—sweep through her, faintly shaking her bosom, infinitesimally ruffling her neck and dying away in a flush on her cheek.
“You loved the fellow,” said Jaffery, still picking at the grass-blades.
She bent forward, as she sat; hovered over him for a second or two and clutched his shoulder.
“I didn’t,” she cried. “I didn’t.” She almost screamed. “I thought you understood. I would have married anybody who would have taken me out of prison. He was going to take me out of prison to places where I could breathe.” She fell back onto her heels and beat her breast with both hands. “I was dying for want of air. I was suffocating.”
Her intensity caught him. He lumbered to his feet.
“What are you talking about?”
She rose, too, almost with a synchronous movement. An interested spectator, I continued sitting, my hands clasped round my knees.
“The little prison you put me into. I felt this in my throat”—and forgetful of the admirable Mrs. Considine’s discipline she mimed her words startlingly—“I was sick—sick—sick to death. You forget, Jaff Chayne, the mountains of Albania.”
“Perhaps I did,” said he, with his steady eyes fixed on her. “But I remember ’em now. Would you like to go back?”
She put her hands for a few seconds before her face, as though to hide swift visions of slaughtered enemies, then dashed them away. “No. Not now. Not after—No. But mountains, freedom—anything unlike prison. Oh, I’ve gone mad sometimes. I’ve wanted to take up a fender and smash things.”
“I’ve felt like that myself,” said Jaffery.
“And what have you done?”
“I’ve broken out of prison and run away.”
“That’s what I did,” said Liosha.
Then Jaffery burst into his great laugh and held her hands and looked at her with kindly, sympathetic mirth in his eyes. And Liosha laughed, too.
“We’re both of us savages under our skins, old lady. That’s what it comes to.”
No more was said of Ras Fendihook. The man’s broad, flashy good-humour had caught her fancy; his vagabond life stimulated her imagination of wider horizons; he promised her release from the conventions and restrictions of her artificial existence; she was ready to embark with him, as his wife, into the Unknown; but it was evident that she had not given him the tiniest little scrap of her heart.