Yelverton, too, noticed the disquieting change that had come over Lady Brigit, and observed with some amusement that she had noticed his observation and did not care about it, one way or the other.
Theo, seeing his love with the rosiest of spectacles, asked her gently what was the matter, and was told in a quiet voice that she was cross. “I have an abominable temper, poor boy,” she said.
And possibly because it was the simple truth, it never occurred to him to believe her, and he set this remark down as an example of her divine humility.
Her mother, glaring at her toward the end of dinner, shrugged her shoulders.
“Cross again,” she thought; “what an infernal temper she has. I’m glad I haven’t, it makes so many wrinkles.”
But Brigit had some reason for looking tragic, for she had made up her mind, while dressing, to break her engagement. Perhaps, after all, Joyselle would prove large-minded enough to continue to see Tommy, and even if he did not, she must end matters.
Regarding herself, the girl had a curious prescience, and the vague foreboding she had felt ever since her realisation of her love for Joyselle had, as she sat before her glass while her maid dressed her hair, suddenly developed into a definite terror. She knew that something dreadful would happen if she continued to see Joyselle, and the fact that he was quite innocent, and unsuspecting of the threatened danger, gave her the sensation of one who sees a child playing with a poisonous snake. He was in danger as well as she, and not only they two, but his son and his wife. Her beauty was so great, and she was so accustomed to see its effect on men, that there was no vanity at all in her suddenly awakened solicitude for him. At any moment he might see her with the eyes of a man, instead of, as he had hitherto done, with those of a father.
“And if he fell in love with me,” she told herself as the maid clasped her pearls round her neck, “there would be no hope for any of us.”
It is remarkable that the possibility of Joyselle’s loving her only added to her misery, for most women in like cases would have clutched at the bare chance of such a contingency in rapturous disregard of all consequences.
She, however, who had been the object of more strong passions than many women ever even hear of, knew although, or possibly because, she had never before cared a jot for any man, that her time had come, and that for her love must be a perilous thing. She had once been called a stormy petrel, and now as, racked with the agony of her resolve, she sat through the interminable dinner, she recalled the name, and smiled bitterly to herself. Yes, she was a stormy petrel, and she had no right to ruin Victor Joyselle and his family. She would break her engagement and go to Italy for the winter. The Lenskys were going, and she would go with them.
Joyselle was in high spirits that evening. He had had a letter from La-bas, as he always called Normandy, and his mother was better, and greatly looking forward to his visit. “She is old, my mother,” he told the party, “eighty years old, but her cheeks are still rosy! They live in Falaise, in a small little house near the parish church, and in her garden she grows vegetables—ah, such vegetables!”