On the ninth day he proposed.
Eileen knew it would be that day. Lying in bed that morning, she found herself caught by her old impersonal whimsy. “I’m a fever, and on the ninth day of me the man comes out in a rash proposal.” Ah, but this time she was in a tertian, too. What a difference from those other proposals—proper or improper. Her mind ran over half a dozen, with a touch of pity she had not felt at the time. Poor Bob Maper, poor Jolly Jack Jenkins, if it was like this they felt! But was it her fault? No man could say she had led him on—except, perhaps, the Hon. Reginald, and towards him her intentions were honourable, she told herself smiling. But the jest carried itself farther and more stingingly. Could he make an “honourable” she told herself her? Ah, God, was she worthy of him, of his simple manhood? And would he continue proposing, if she told him she was Nelly O’Neill? And what of his noble relatives? No, no, she must not run risks. She was only Eileen O’Keeffe, she had never left Ireland save for the Convent. The rest was a nightmare. How glad she was that nobody knew!
The proposal duly took place in a bunker, while Eileen was whimsically vituperating her ball. The fascination of her virginal diablerie was like a force compelling the victim to seize her in his arms after the fashion of the primitive bridegroom. However the poor Honourable refrained, said boldly, “Try it with this,” and under pretence of changing her golfsticks possessed himself of her hand. For the first time his touch left her apathetic.
“Now it is coming,” she thought, and suddenly froze to a spectator of the marionette show. As the Hon. Reginald went through his performance, she felt with a shudder of horror over what brink she had nearly stepped. The man was merely a magnificent animal! She, with her heart, her soul, her brain, mated to that! Like a convict chained to a log. Not worthy of him forsooth! “There’s a gulf between us,” she thought, “and I nearly fell down it.” And the Half-and-Half rose before her, clamouring, pungent, deliciously seductive.
“Dear Mr. Winsor,” she listened with no less interest to her own part in the marionette performance, “it’s really too bad of you. Just as I was getting on so nicely, too!”
“Is that all you feel about—about our friendship?”
“All? Didn’t you undertake to teach me golf? I haven’t the faintest desire not to go on ... as soon as we have escaped from this wretched bunker. Come! Did you say the niblick?”
Reginald’s manners were too good to permit him to swear, even at golf.
“One’s body is like an Irish mud-cabin,” Eileen reflected. “It shelters both a soul and a pig.”
Nelly O’Neill threw herself into her work with greater ardour than ever. But her triumphs were shadowed by worries. She was nervous lest the Hon. Reginald should turn up at one of her Halls—she had three now; she was afraid her voice was spoiling in the smoky atmosphere; sometimes the image of the Hon. Reginald came back reproachfully, sometimes tantalisingly. Oh, why was he so stupid? Or was it she who had been stupid?