“A telegram for you, Miss Wylie, and one for Chester.” Erskine started up, white with vague fears. Agatha’s color went, and came again with increased richness as she read:
“I have arrived safe and ridiculously happy. Read a thousand things between the lines. I will write tomorrow. Good night.”
“You may read it,” said Agatha, handing it to Jane.
“Very pretty,” said Jane. “A shilling’s worth of attention—exactly twenty words! He may well call himself an economist.”
Suddenly a crowing laugh from Erskine caused them to turn and stare at him. “What nonsense!” he said, blushing. “What a fellow he is! I don’t attach the slightest importance to this.”
Agatha took a corner of his telegram and pulled it gently.
“No, no,” he said, holding it tightly. “It is too absurd. I don’t think I ought—”
Agatha gave a decisive pull, and read the message aloud. It was from Trefusis, thus:
“I forgive your thoughts since Brandon’s return. Write her to-night, and follow your letter to receive an affirmative answer in person. I promised that you might rely on me. She loves you.”
“I never heard of such a thing in my life,” said Jane. “Never!”
“He is certainly a most unaccountable man,” said Sir Charles.
“I am glad, for my own sake, that he is not so black as he is painted,” said Agatha. “You may believe every word of it, Mr. Erskine. Be sure to do as he tells you. He is quite certain to be right.”
“Pooh!” said Erskine, crumpling the telegram and thrusting it into his pocket as if it were not worth a second thought. Presently he slipped away, and did not reappear. When they were about to retire, Sir Charles asked a servant where he was.
“In the library, Sir Charles; writing.”
They looked significantly at one another and went to bed without disturbing him.
When Gertrude found herself beside Trefusis in the Pullman, she wondered how she came to be travelling with him against her resolution, if not against her will. In the presence of two women scrutinizing her as if they suspected her of being there with no good purpose, a male passenger admiring her a little further off, her maid reading Trefusis’s newspapers just out of earshot, an uninterested country gentleman looking glumly out of window, a city man preoccupied with the “Economist,” and a polite lady who refrained from staring but not from observing, she felt that she must not make a scene; yet she knew he had not come there to hold an ordinary conversation. Her doubt did not last long. He began promptly, and went to the point at once.
“What do you think of this engagement of mine?”
This was more than she could bear calmly. “What is it to me?” she said indignantly. “I have nothing to do with it.”
“Nothing! You are a cold friend to me then. I thought you one of the surest I possessed.”