Jerry’s dinner was not, for some reason, quite the success he had anticipated.
Nan made no complaint of the cooking, but she ate next to nothing, to the grief of his hospitable soul. She was tired, of course, but there was something in her manner that he could not fathom. She was silent and unresponsive. There was almost an air of tragedy about her that made her so unfamiliar that he felt as if he were entertaining a stranger. He did not like the change. His old domineering, impetuous playfellow was infinitely easier to understand. He did not feel at ease with this quiet, white-faced woman, who treated him with such wholly unaccustomed courtesy.
“I say,” he said, when the meal was ended, “let’s go upstairs and have a smoke. I can clear away after you have gone to bed. Or do you want to go to bed now? It’s nearly nine, so you may if you like.”
She thanked him, and declined.
“I shouldn’t sleep if I did,” she said with a shiver. “No; I will help you wash up, and then we will go upstairs and have some music.”
Jerry fell in eagerly with this idea. He loved his banjo. He demurred a little at accepting her assistance in the kitchen, but finally yielded, for she would not be refused. She seemed to dread the thought of solitude.
When they went upstairs at length, she made a great effort to shake off her depression. She even sang a little to one or two of Jerry’s melodies, but her customary high spirits remained conspicuously absent, and after a while Jerry became impatient, and laid the instrument down.
“What’s the matter?” he asked bluntly.
Nan was sitting with her feet on the fender, her eyes upon the flames. His question did not seem to surprise her.
“You wouldn’t understand,” she said, “if I were to tell you.”
“Well, you might as well give me the chance,” he responded. “My intelligence is up to the average, I dare say.”
She looked round at him with a faint smile.
“Oh, don’t be huffy, dear boy! Why should you? You want to know what is the matter? Well, I’ll tell you. I’m afraid—I’m horribly afraid—that I’ve made a great mistake.”
“You have?” said Jerry. “How? What do you mean?”
“I knew you would ask that,” she said, with a little, helpless gesture of the shoulders. “And it is just that that I can’t explain to you. You see, Jerry, I’ve only just begun to realize it myself.”
Jerry was staring at her blankly.
“Do you mean, that you wish you hadn’t come?” he said.
She nodded, rising suddenly from her chair.
“Oh, Jerry, don’t be vexed, though you’ve a perfect right. I’ve made a ghastly, a perfectly hideous mistake. I—I can’t think how I ever came to do it. But—but I wouldn’t mind so frightfully if it weren’t for you. That’s what troubles me most—to have made a horrible mess of my life, and to have dragged you into it.” Her voice shook, and she broke off for a moment, biting her lips. Then: “Oh, Jerry,” she wailed, “I’ve done a dreadful thing—a dreadful thing! Don’t you see it—what he will think of me—how he will despise me?”