“I shall see you again, I trust,” I pleaded, as she rose to leave me.
“If you wish, by all means. Why should we not dine together in the dining-car by and by?” she proposed with charming frankness, in the lighter mood that sat so well upon her. “The waiters will be there to play propriety, and no Mrs. Grundy within miles.”
“Or your maid might be chaperon at an adjoining table.”
“Philpotts? Impossible! She cannot leave—she must remain on duty; one of us must be in charge always. Who knows what might happen when our backs were turned? We might lose it—it might be abstracted. Horrible thought after all it has cost us.”
“‘It’ has evidently an extraordinary value in your eyes. If only I might be allowed to—” know more, I would have said, but she chose to put other words into my mouth.
“To join us in the watching? Take your turn of ’sentry go’—isn’t that your military term? Become one of us, belong to a gang of thieves, liable like the rest of us to the law? Ah, that would be trying you too far. I see your face fall.”
“I am ready to do much to serve you. I would gladly help you, see you through any difficulty by the way, but I’m afraid I must draw the line at active partnership,” I answered a little lamely under her mocking eyes. Once more, as suddenly as before, she veered round.
“There is a limit, then, to your devotion?” She was coldly sarcastic now, and I realized painfully that I had receded in her favour. “I must not expect unhesitating self-sacrifice? So be it; it is well to know how far I may go. I sincerely hope I may have no need of you at all. How thankful I am that I never let you into my secrets! Good afternoon,” and with a contemptuous whisk of her skirts and a laugh, she was gone.
“I’ll have nothing more to say to her,” I cried in great heat, vexed and irritated beyond measure at her capricious temper. I should only be dragged into some pitfall, some snare, some dire unpleasantness. But what did I know of her real character? What of my first doubts and suspicions? She had by no means dispelled them. She had only bamboozled me by her insinuating ways, had drawn me on by her guileful cleverness to pity and promises to befriend her. I had accorded her an active sympathy which in my more sober moments I felt she did not, could not, deserve; if I were not careful she would yet involve me in some inextricable mess.
So for half an hour I abused her fiercely; I swore at myself hotly as an ass, a hopeless and unmitigated ass, ever ready to be betrayed and beguiled by woman’s wiles, the too easy victim of the first pretty face I saw. The fit lasted for quite half an hour, and then came the reaction. I heard her rich deep voice singing in my ears, I felt the haunting glamour of her eyes, remembered her gracious presence, and my heart went out to her. I was so sorry for her: how could I cast her off? How could