I was not sure that this surmise was not due to an over-active imagination, but I was determined to get away from the man’s scrutiny, so I called a taxicab and gave the driver my address.
“Go through some side streets and go fast,” I said.
The fellow nodded. He understood my motive, though I fear he may have misinterpreted the circumstances. We entered, and the girl nestled back against the comfortable cushions, and we drove at a furious speed, dodging down side streets at a rate that should have defied pursuit.
During the drive I instructed my companion emphatically.
“Since you have no friends here, you must have confidence in me, mademoiselle,” I said.
“And you are my friend? Well, monsieur, be sure I trust you,” she answered.
“You must listen to me attentively, then,” I continued. “You must not admit anybody to the apartment until I ring to-morrow. I have the key, and I shall arrive at nine and ring, and then unlock the door. But take no notice of the bell. You understand?”
“Yes, monsieur,” she answered wearily. Her eyelids drooped; I saw that she was very sleepy.
When the taxicab deposited us in front of the house, I glanced hastily up and down the road. There was another cab at the east end of the street, but I could not discern if it were approaching me or stationary. I opened the front door quickly and admitted my companion, then preceded her up the uncarpeted stairs to my little apartment on the top floor. I was the only tenant in the house, and therefore there would be no cause for embarrassment.
As I opened the door of my apartment the dog pushed past me. Again I had forgotten it; but it had not forgotten its mistress.
I looked inside my bare little rooms. It was hard to say good-by.
“Till to-morrow, mademoiselle,” I said. “And won’t you tell me your name?”
She drew off her glove and put one hand in mine.
“Jacqueline,” she answered. “And yours?”
“Paul,” I said.
“Au revoir, Monsieur Paul, then, and take my gratitude with you for your goodness.”
I let her hand fall and hurried down the stairs, confused and choking, for there was a wedding-ring upon her finger.
BACK IN THE ROOM
The situation had become more preposterous than ever. Two hours before it would have been unimaginable; one hour ago I had merely been offering aid to a young woman in distress; now she was occupying my rooms and I was hurrying along Tenth Street, careless as to my destination, and feeling as though the whole world was crumbling about my head because she wore a wedding-ring.
Certainly I was not in love with her, so far as I could analyze my emotions. I had been conscious only of a desire to help her, merging by degrees into pity for her friendlessness.