“Forget—as if I could help being grateful as long as I live!”
“But I don’t want you to be grateful. It—it’s obnoxious to me!”
She was as blankly hurt as a slapped child. Then she looked away, a little pulse in her throat beating fast. “Then I won’t—try to thank you,” she answered in a very small voice, and stared harder and harder out the window.
Billy felt that he had accomplished a tremendous stride. “A feeling of obligation kills a friendship,” he told her didactically, “and I want you to be really my friend.”
“I am.” Her voice was distinct, though queerly lack-luster. And she did not look at him again.
He went on: “The Evershams will be in on the boat about seven. From the station I’ll take you straight to the boat, where your stateroom is surely being kept for you. Then to-morrow your trunks will arrive from Cook’s, and by the time you are through resting, you will be ready to sally out and meet the world.... I hope my own trunk will make its appearance, too,” he added. “I telegraphed the hotel to pack my things and send them on.”
She made no comment on the obvious haste with which he had left Cairo. She said slowly, “I want to do a little mathematics now. What is the shocking sum I owe you?”
He shut his lips in an obstinate line. After a moment she added, “I can’t take that, you know.”
It struck him as a trifle ludicrous that dollars were so important among all the rest, but unwillingly enough he understood.
“Won’t you just let it stand as it is?” he said under his breath. “Let me have the whole thing—please.”
“You mean you won’t?”
“I can’t,” she repeated inflexibly, and then, with a childish flash, “Since you dislike me to feel grateful—I should think you would be glad to let me reduce the debt.”
“All right.” He spoke gruffly. “Then you owe me what you spent just now and what your railroad ticket cost. Not a cent more. For what went before I am absolutely responsible, and I decline to let you pay my debts.”
This time he was inflexible. She repeated, with a spark of resentment, “It’s not fair to let you pay so much——”
“It was my adventure,” said Billy firmly.
She said, “Very well,” in a voice that puzzled him. He felt she was annoyed. And he realized more than ever that he could never take advantage of her indebtedness to make her pay with her companionship. It was becoming a queer tangle.... He felt they had suddenly slipped out of tune.... She seemed to be escaping him—withdrawing ...
He wondered, very unhappily, with no fine glow of altruism at all, if he had rescued her for another man. Those things happened, they happened with dismal frequency. Billy distinctly recalled the experience of a college friend who had carried a girl out of a burning hotel, to have her wildly embrace an unstirring youth below. Yes, such things happened. But he had never contemplated having anything like that happen to him.