‘Do you mean to say—?’ he cried. The rapidity of her confidence alone made him feel it all of a dreamlike unreality.
‘Hush! Cecilia’s singing!’ she admonished him with an unexpected smile, as her fingers fell from her face.
‘Oh, you have been making fun of me.’ He was vastly relieved. ’He beats you—at chess—or at lawn-tennis?’
’Does one wear a high-necked dress to conceal the traces of chess, or lawn-tennis?’
He had not noticed her dress before, save for its spiritual whiteness. Susceptible though he was to beautiful shoulders, Winifred’s enchanting face had been sufficiently distracting. Now the thought of physical bruises gave him a second spasm of righteous horror. That delicate rose-leaf flesh abraded and lacerated!
‘The ruffian! Does he use a stick or a fist?’
’Both! But as a rule he just takes me by the arms and shakes me like a terrier a rat. I’m all black and blue now.’
‘Poor butterfly!’ he murmured poetically.
‘Why did I tell you?’ she murmured back with subtler poetry.
The poet thrilled in every vein. ‘Love at first sight’, of which he had often read and often written, was then a reality! It could be as mutual, too, as Romeo’s and Juliet’s. But how awkward that Juliet should be married and her husband a Bill Sykes in broad-cloth!
Mrs. Glamorys herself gave ‘At Homes’, every Sunday afternoon, and so, on the morrow, after a sleepless night mitigated by perpended sonnets, the love-sick young tutor presented himself by invitation at the beautiful old house in Hampstead. He was enchanted to find his heart’s mistress set in an eighteenth-century frame of small-paned windows and of high oak-panelling, and at once began to image her dancing minuets and playing on virginals. Her husband was absent, but a broad band of velvet round Winifred’s neck was a painful reminder of his possibilities. Winifred, however, said it was only a touch of sore throat caught in the garden. Her eyes added that there was nothing in the pathological dictionary which she would not willingly have caught for the sake of those divine, if draughty moments; but that, alas! it was more than a mere bodily ailment she had caught there.
There were a great many visitors in the two delightfully quaint rooms, among whom he wandered disconsolate and admired, jealous of her scattered smiles, but presently he found himself seated by her side on a ‘cosy corner’ near the open folding-doors, with all the other guests huddled round a violinist in the inner room. How Winifred had managed it he did not know but she sat plausibly in the outer room, awaiting newcomers, and this particular niche was invisible, save to a determined eye. He took her unresisting hand—that dear, warm hand, with its begemmed artistic fingers, and held it in uneasy beatitude. How wonderful! She—the beautiful and adored hostess, of whose sweetness and charm he heard even her own guests murmur to one another—it was her actual flesh-and-blood hand that lay in his—thrillingly tangible. Oh, adventure beyond all merit, beyond all hoping!