“She has told me you were rude, and that you left without notice, and she wants me to prosecute you. I suppose you lost your temper. You found her rather difficult.”
“I found her impossible,” said Eileen, frigidly.
“Yes, yes, I understand.” He was flushed and unhappy. “You found her impossible to live with?”
Eileen nodded; she would have added “or to make a lady of,” but he looked so purple and agitated that she charitably forbore. She was wondering whether Mrs. Maper could really have been so mean as to omit her share in the quarrel, but he went on eagerly:—
“Quite so, quite so. And what do you think it has been for me?”
She murmured inarticulate sympathy.
“Ah, if you only knew! Oh, my dear Miss O’Keeffe, while you’ve been in the house, it’s been like heaven.”
“I’m glad I’ve given satisfaction,” she said drily.
“Then what do you give by going? I assure you the day you came to the works it was like heaven there too.”
“You forget the temperature,” Eileen smiled. “However, it was a very nice day, and I thank you. But I can’t come back after—”
“Who asks you to come back?” he broke in. “No, I should be sorry to see you again in a menial position, you with your divine gifts of beauty and song. The idea of your getting a new place,” he added with a fall into prose, “makes me feel sick.”
“I value your sympathy, but it is misplaced,” she replied freezingly.
“Sympathy! It isn’t sympathy! It’s jealousy. Oh, my dear Miss O’Keeffe!” He seized her limp hand. “Eileen! Let me help you—”
As the true significance of his visit, and of the purple agitation, dawned upon her, the grim humour of the position overbore every other feeling. Her hand still in his, she began to laugh, and no biting of her lips could do more than change the laugh into an undignified snigger. Instead of profiting by his grip of her, he dropped her hand suddenly as if a hose had been turned on his passion, and this surrender of her hand reduced Eileen to a passable gravity.
“I’m very sorry, Mr. Maper. But really, life is too horribly amusing.”
“I’m very sorry it’s me that affords you amusement,” he said stiffly.
“No, it isn’t you at all, it’s just the whole thing. You’ve been most kind all along. And I dare say you mean to be kind now. But I don’t really need any help. Your wife’s threats of prosecution are ridiculous, she made my longer stay impossible. I could more justly claim a month’s notice from her.”
“That’s what I thought. I’ve brought you a month’s salary.” He fumbled in his pocket-book.
“Don’t trouble. I shall not accept it.”
“You shall,” he said sternly. “Or I’ll prosecute you.”
Eileen’s laugh rang out clear. This time he laughed too.
“Now, don’t you call life amusing?” she said. “Here am I to take a cheque under penalty of having to pay it.”