St. John was explaining what a quiet life he had led. Perhaps, to her, it would have even seemed dull. (This to him was rhetorical paradox, and to her an obvious truth.) She did not know, he said, what it meant to feel that the land belonged to you—to see your own flowers growing, your own calves being born—to feel yourself surrounded by your own people, for whose happiness and welfare you were responsible.
Ariadne said that inheritance was a sacred trust (it was wonderful how easy she found it to talk like St. John).
“Yes,” he said, “that is just it—a sacred trust. Why, I hardly ever go up to London now, and when I do, I feel quite homesick till I get here again.”
They got up from dinner.
“Shall we go and sit in the library?” he said.
They sat one on either side of the fire. She felt like an ancestress or a family portrait. The rosy haze of her tea-gown looked strange and alien fluttering in the huge leather armchair.
“What a wisp you look,” St. John said. She remembered how satisfactory her tininess had always been to him. “I think I could blow you away with a puff of smoke.”
“I am a limpet really,” she laughed, “think how I have stuck to your life.”
“Thank God,” he affirmed fervently.
“Are you still a great flirt, St. John?”
He looked at her in amazement.
“You have surely not forgotten the way you played fast and loose with me?”
“Ariadne,” he was using the firm voice she knew so well, “you mustn’t talk like that.”
“But you did. Don’t you remember that dinner you gave when we went to the L——’s ball and you never danced with me till seventeen minutes past one?”
“My dear, I was saving you up. The joy after all the duties.”
“You never told me so.”
“There were a lot of things I never told you.”
“I tried so hard to make you.”
“It was so hard not to.”
“St. John,” she said, “the things you didn’t tell me, were they true?”
“Yes, they were true.”
He had got up and knelt by her chair.
She put her hand on his head.
“St. John,” she said. Should she tell him that they were not true? That he was building up a retrospective passion which had never existed? That what he supposed to have been renunciation and self-control and chivalry had in reality been a rather tactfully steered uninflammable affection? Why his voice now was far more broken up and moved than she had ever heard it before. Of course he had not been in love with her. She had never realised it as clearly as to-night. For a moment he put his face in her lap, then he kissed her hands—reverently, in memory of his great sacrifice.
“May I smoke a cigarette?” he asked.
He went back to his chair.
She was, he said, a wonderful friend.
So, she said, was he.