“Yes, that is it! I am so tired—so tired of life! Don’t keep me! Let me go—while I have the strength!” The little, white, sharp-featured face, with its tight-shut eyes and childish, quivering mouth, was painfully pathetic. “Death can’t be more dreadful than life,” the low voice urged. “If I don’t go back—I shall be so sorry afterwards. Why should one live—to suffer?”
It was piteously spoken, so piteously that for a moment the man seemed moved to compassion. His hold relaxed; but when the little form between his hands took swift advantage and strained afresh for freedom he instantly tightened his grip.
“No, No!” he said, harshly. “There are other things in life. You don’t know what you are doing. You are not responsible.”
The dark eyes opened upon him then—wide, reproachful, mysteriously far-seeing. “I shall not be responsible—if you make me live,” said the Dragon-Fly, with the air of one risking a final desperate throw.
It was almost an open challenge, and it was accepted instantly, with grim decision. “Very well. The responsibility is mine,” the man said briefly. “Come with me!”
His arm encircled the narrow shoulders. He drew his young companion unresisting from the spot. They left the glare of the furnace behind them, and threaded their way through dark and winding alleys back to the throbbing life of the city thoroughfares, back into the whirl and stress of that human existence which both had nearly quitted—and one had strenuously striven to quit—so short a time before.
“My name is Merryon,” the man said, curtly. “I am a major in the Indian Army—home on leave. Now tell me about yourself!”
He delivered the information in the brief, aggressive fashion that seemed to be characteristic of him, and he looked over the head of his young visitor as he did so, almost as if he made the statement against his will.
The visitor, still clad in his great-coat, crouched like a dog on the hearthrug before the fire in Merryon’s sitting-room, and gazed with wide, unblinking eyes into the flames.
After a few moments Merryon’s eyes descended to the dark head and surveyed it critically. The collar of his coat was turned up all round it. It was glistening with rain-drops and looked like the head of some small, furry animal.
As if aware of that straight regard, the dancer presently spoke, without turning or moving an eyelid.
“What you are doesn’t matter to any one except yourself. And what I am doesn’t matter either. It’s just—nobody’s business.”
“I see,” said Merryon.
A faint smile crossed his grim, hard-featured face. He sat down in a low chair near his guest and drew to his side a small table that bore a tray of refreshments. He poured out a glass of wine and held it towards the queer, elfin figure crouched upon his hearth.