“It wasn’t about them,” Jervaise said awkwardly.
“What was it, then?” Anne asked. I dared to look at her, now, and her face was perfectly serious as she added, “Was it about the milk, or eggs, or anything?”
Without doubt there was a delicious strain of minx in her!
Jervaise lost his temper. I believe that if I had offered to fight him, then, he would have welcomed the opportunity.
“Oh! you know what I want to say,” he snorted.
“Then why not say it?” Anne replied.
He turned savagely upon me. “Haven’t you got the common sense...” he began, but Anne cut him short.
“Oh! we don’t suspect our guests of spying,” she said.
I was nearly sorry for Jervaise at that moment. He could not have looked any more vindictive than he looked already, but he positively trembled with anger. He could not endure to be thwarted. Nevertheless, he displayed a certain measure of self-control.
“Very well,” he said as calmly as he could. “If you’re going to take that tone...”
“Yes?” Anne prompted him. She showed no sign of being in any way disconcerted.
“It will hardly help your brother,” he concluded.
“I made a mistake in trying to help him this morning,” she said. “I shan’t make the same mistake twice in one day.”
He evidently knew what she meant, although I did not. His heavy eyebrows twitched, and then, with a half-contemptuous shrug of his shoulders he strode out of the room with an air of leaving us to the doom we so justly deserved.
“The worst of it is that the second mistake doesn’t cancel the first,” Anne remarked thoughtfully.
She still stood by the great oak table, her hands resting lightly on its dark polished surface. I could see the vague reflection of her fingers reaching up through the deep solidity of the oak to join hands with her. She produced, I thought, an impressive effect of fragility and power in her contrast with that massive table. The material of her flesh was so delicate compared to the inert, formidable mass before her. She could not have lifted or moved it by her own effort. And yet it seemed that she had absolute command over that ponderous obstacle, that in some way the mobility of her spirit must give her control of it, that she might, if she wished, plunge those relatively fragile hands of hers deep into the lake of that dark and adamant surface.
She had not looked at me since Jervaise left the room, and when she spoke again she gazed with a kind of concentrated abstraction out of the window at the quiet glory of the calm August evening. Nevertheless her speech showed that all her attention was being given to the human interests that had just been absorbing us.
“Are you really a friend of ours?” she asked, “or did you just come here faute de mieux?” The little French phrase came like an unexpected jewel, as if she had relapsed unconsciously into a more familiar language.