“Have you seen Doria yet?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Barbara is with her. She’s coming in to lunch.”
At the anti-climax, I smiled. “That shews she’s not quite dead yet.”
But to Jaffery it was no smiling matter. “Look here, Hilary,” he said hoarsely, “don’t you think it would be better for me to cut the whole thing and go away right now?”
“Go away—?” I stared at him. “What for?”
“Why should I force myself on that poor, tortured child? Think of her feelings towards me. She must loathe the sound of my name.”
“Jaff Chayne,” said I, “I believe you’re afraid of mice.”
He frowned. “What the blazes do you mean?”
“You’re in a blue funk at the idea of meeting Doria.”
“Rot,” said Jaffery.
But he was.
Franklin summoned us to luncheon. We went into the drawing-room where the rest of our little party were assembled, Susan and her governess, Liosha, Barbara and Doria. Doria stepped forward valiantly with outstretched hand, looking him squarely in the face.
“Welcome back, Jaffery. It’s good to see you again.”
Jaffery grew very red and bending over her hand muttered something into his beard.
“You’ll have to tell me about your wonderful voyage.”
“There was nothing so wonderful about it,” said Jaffery.
That was all for the moment, for Barbara hustled us into the dining-room. But the terrible meeting that both had dreaded was over. Nobody had fainted or shed tears; it was over in a perfectly well-bred way. At lunch Susan, between Liosha and Jaffery, became the centre of attention and saved conversation from constraint.
To Doria, who had lingered at Northlands, in order to lose no time in setting herself right with Jaffery,—her own phrase—the ordinary table small-talk would have been an ordeal. As it was, she sat on my left, opposite Liosha, lending a polite ear to the answers to Susan’s eager questions. The child had not received such universal invitation to chatter at mealtime since she had learned to speak. But, in spite of her inspiring assistance, a depressing sense of destinies in the balance pervaded the room, and we were all glad when the meal came to an end. Susan, refusing to be parted from her beloved Liosha, carried her off to the nursery to hear more fairy-tales of the steamship Vesta. Barbara and Doria went into the drawing-room, where Jaffery and I, after a perfunctory liqueur brandy, soon joined them. We talked for a while on different things, the child’s robustious health, the garden, the weather, our summer holiday, much in the same dismal fashion as assembled mourners talk before the coffin is brought downstairs. At last Barbara said:
“I must go and write some letters.”
And I said: “I’m going to have my afternoon nap.”
Both the others cried out with simultaneous anxiety and scarlet faces: