And Brigit, touched by her kindness as well as terrified by her own indiscretion, sat down by her.
When Joyselle came in at eight o’clock he went straight to his room to dress. He was still very angry, but his anger was less poignant than his sense of helpless defeat. Brigit’s attitude was absolutely incomprehensible to him, and hurt him in an almost unbearable degree. That she should defy him, grow as angry as he himself, he had already learned was not impossible; but the cruel hardness of her face as she had sent him away had shocked him more than anything in his whole experience.
He was a shrewd man, and his love for her had never blinded him as to her faults; often he had corrected her for unfilial behaviour, for a too sharp word, for selfishness. But the one quality which to a strong and tender man is unendurable in the woman he loves, cruelty, he had never before realised in the girl, and his discovery that it lay in her to hurt him as she had done, had nearly broken his heart.
For hours he had walked rapidly through the streets, seeing no one, avoiding being knocked down by a kind of subconscious attention and alertness of mind, his brain struggling desperately with its problem.
In a few words, all life seemed to him to have reduced itself to the question, “How could she?” As yet he had not got further than this, and it did not occur to him to wonder whether or no her mental attitude was definite or only temporary. “How could she? How could she so rend him? Of what was her heart made that it could allow her so to wound his?”
When he reached home the incomprehensibility of this problem was fast outweighing his anger, and Felicite, who came in as he stood in the middle of the room brushing his hair, smiled at the misery in his face.
“So she was cruel, the little one?” she asked gently, sitting down and folding her hands in her characteristic way.
“She was—abominable. But how did you know?”
“I found her in tears. You must be gentle with her, my man.”
He stared. “Gentle? But she is a demon when she is angry. Tell me to be gentle with an enraged lioness.”
Felicite’s smile was good to see. “She
is not an enraged lioness,
Victor. She is—very unhappy, and we must help her.”
He went to the dressing-table and put down his brushes. “I am tired, wife,” he said quietly; “let us talk of something else. Besides, it is nearly half-past eight.”
“Yes. But—Victor, you remember the Polish girl?”
“Well? And the pantomimiste, and Miss Belton, and Lady Paula——”
Joyselle started in the act of shaking scent on his handkerchief. “Of course I remember them. But what have they to do with Brigitte?”
“Only this, Victor. The poor child is in love with you, vieux vaurien! And that is why she is so savage.”