“Phil,” she faltered, bewildered by the mirage, “is it only a bad dream, after all?” And as the false magic glowed into blinding splendour to engulf them: “Oh, boy! boy!—is it hell or heaven where we’ve fallen—?”
There came a loud rapping at the door.
“Phil,” she wrote, “I am a little frightened. Do you suppose Boots suspected who it was? I must have been perfectly mad to go to your rooms that night; and we both were—to leave the door unlocked with the chance of somebody walking in. But, Phil, how could I know it was the fashion for your friends to bang like that and then come in without the excuse of a response from you?
“I have been so worried, so anxious, hoping from day to day that you would write to reassure me that Boots did not recognise me with my back turned to him and my muff across my eyes.
“But scared and humiliated as I am I realise that it was well that he knocked. Even as I write to you here in my own room, behind locked doors, I am burning with the shame of it.
“But I am not that kind of woman, Phil; truly, truly, I am not. When the foolish impulse seized me I had no clear idea of what I wanted except to see you and learn for myself what you thought about Gerald’s playing at my house after I had promised not to let him.
“Of course, I understood what I risked in going; I realised what common interpretation might be put upon what I was doing. But ugly as it might appear to anybody except you, my motive, you see, must have been quite innocent—else I should have gone about it in a very different manner.
“I wanted to see you, that is absolutely all; I was lonely for a word—even a harsh one—from the sort of man you are. I wanted you to believe it was in spite of me that Gerald came and played that night.
“He came without my knowledge. I did not know he was invited. And when he appeared I did everything to prevent him from playing; you will never know what took place—what I submitted to—
“I am trying to be truthful, Phil; I want to lay my heart bare for you—but there are things a woman cannot wholly confess. Believe me, I did what I could. . . . And that is all I can say. Oh, I know what it costs you to be mixed up in such contemptible complications. I, for my part, can scarcely bear to have you know so much about me—and what I am come to. That is my real punishment, Phil—not what you said it was.
“I do not think it is well for me that you know so much about me. It is not too difficult to face the outer world with a bold front—or to deceive any man in it. But our own little world is being rapidly undeceived; and now the only real man remaining in it has seen my gay mask stripped off—which is not well for a woman, Phil.
“I remember what you said about an anchorage; I am trying to clear these haunted eyes of mine and steer clear of phantoms—for the honour of what we once were to each other before the world. But steering a ghost-ship through endless tempests is hard labour, Phil; so be a little kind—a little more than patient, if my hand grows tired at the wheel.