Jack stared at him as if he hardly heard, and then suddenly he stepped nearer and spoke.
“Did she ask you to have this talk with me?”
“No,” said the brother in surprise, “she never says anything about you to me.”
A look of relief fled across his friend’s face, and then a look of resolution succeeded it.
“I’m not going to be discouraged,” he said; “not for a while, at any rate.”
“You’d better be.”
Jack laughed. The laugh sounded a trifle hollow, but still it was a laugh, and that in itself was a triumph of which none but himself might ever measure the extent.
Because in that moment he decided to lay the whole case before her the next time that he went to town, and the coming to a resolution was a relief from the uncertainty that clouded his days and nights—even if a further black curtain of darkest doubt hung before the possibilities of what her answer might be.
Chapter Nine — The Downfall of Hope
It was on a Saturday about the middle of May that Jack came to town, his mind well braced with love and arguments, and his main thoughts being that when he returned something would be settled.
It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, and at five in the afternoon both of the drawing-room windows of Mrs. Rosscott’s house were wide open, and the lace curtains were taking the breeze like little sails.
Just as Jack mounted the steps, the door opened, and a plainly dressed, unattractive-looking man was let out. The servant who did the letting out saw Jack and let him in without closing the door between the egress of the one and the ingress of the other. So he entered without ringing, and, as he was very well known and intensely popular with all of Mrs. Rosscott’s servants, the man invited him to walk up unannounced, since he himself was just “bringing in the tea.”
Jack went upstairs, and because the carpet was of thickly piled velvet and his boots were the boots of a well-shod gentleman, he made no noise whatever in the so doing.
There were double parlors above stairs in the domicile which Burnett’s sister had taken until July, and they were furnished in the most correct and trying mode of Louis XIV. The chairs were gilt and very uncomfortable. The ornaments were all straight up and down and made in such shapes that there was no place to flick off cigarette ashes anywhere. Nothing could be pulled up to anything else and there was not a single good place to rest one’s elbows anywhere. The only saving grace in the situation was that after five minutes or so Mrs. Rosscott invariably suggested removal to the library which lay beyond—a very different species of apartment where no mode at all prevailed except the terrible demode thing known as comfort. To prevent her visitors, when seated (for the five minutes aforementioned) amid the correct carving of French art, from looking longingly through at the easy-chairs of American manufacture, Mrs. Rosscott had ordered that the blue velvet portieres which hung between should never be pushed aside, and it was owing to this order that Jack, entering the drawing-room, heard voices, but could not see into the library beyond. Also it was owing to this order that those in the library could not see or hear Jack.