He gave a short, nervous laugh. “Yes, it is very idiotic, I know, but——”
“And then to bolt away into the very thick of it! That was because you were ashamed! I shall tell petite mere and Theo. But it was an awful storm, and so fearfully warm afterwards, wasn’t it? I couldn’t sleep at all—that’s why I’m up so early. I came over to ask you to go up to Hampstead with me to get some real air. This London extract of air is a very poor substitute, isn’t it? Now don’t say no to a poor daughter whose young man is out of town!”
As she talked, looking casually at the passers-by, she could, so tense were her nerves, almost hear him think. “She is quite unsuspecting,” he was telling himself, “there is no danger for her, and—it doesn’t matter about me. And I am strong and need never betray myself——”
She talked on, the kind of unconcerned nonsense that was, her strange, new instinct told her, best calculated to quite his vibrant nerves. “Little child, little child,” he returned mutely, “how little you know! Well—as you are so innocent, why should not I snatch this fearful joy while I may? It harms no one but myself, and such pain is better than any happiness on earth——”
“Yes, ma fille,” he said at length, as she pointed to a barrow of nodding daffodils, “we will go to Hampstead; it is a good idea. But first I must send a wire or two. And—you must promise to return to me, unopened, the note you will find in Pont Street.”
Her wandering stare was admirable. “Return unopened? But why? Was it—cross?”
He laughed aloud, his brilliant teeth flashing. “Si, si, that is it. Cross! You know how stupid I was last night? The coming storm—well—it was a silly note, and you will return it.”
“Oh, of course, if you wish me to,” she answered carelessly, but clenching her hands. “C’est une boutade comme une autre!”
He laughed again. His spirits were flying upwards like those of a criminal unexpectedly reprieved.
“Yes—just a fad. Hi, cab_bee_, stop here, will you?”
While he was in the telegraph-office Brigit allowed her muscles to relax and her face to express her hitherto rigidly concealed triumph.
He was not going. He would stay; she should continue to see him, and the world was full of joy. “Heavens, how I can lie,” she whispered softly, “and now we shall both have to lie. We both know about him; he thinks I don’t know; and he doesn’t know about me! It is a comedy. Oh, Victor, Victor, Victor!”
He came out a moment later, seeming to fill the world with his giant bulk and his astounding radiation of joy. Two narrow-chested city clerks stood still to stare at him, their pallid little faces blank with amazement. A red-nosed flower-girl thrust a great bunch of yellow roses up at him with certainty of sale written all over her. “Roses? Of course. How much?”