At last footsteps echoed up the stairs. She caught her breath, and a sound broke in her throat. They came nearer, and she trembled; her hand shook; her whole body was chilled with searching cold. She had not seen him for three months—more. Now she began to think that she could not bear it. Then the knock fell on the door. A cry was on her lips. She forced it back, turned, holding as naturally as possible to the mantelpiece, and said—
He entered. He closed the door after him. Then she looked around.
The situation was as strained, as tautened, as is the gut of a snapping fiddle-string. Every sound seemed to vibrate in itself. For an instant he stood still, coming forward at last, hand outstretched to relieve the tension.
“Well, how are you, Sally?” he asked.
The random speech, jerked out—any words to break the silence. Even he felt it beating on his brain.
She shook hands with him. For the brief moment he touched her cold fingers in the grip of his; then she withdrew them.
“Let me take your hat,” she said.
He gave it her. Watched her as she crossed the room to lay it on the chintz-covered settee, turned then to the fireplace, biting a nail between his teeth.
“Do you know the kettle’s boiling?” he forced himself to say.
“Yes; I’m just going to make tea. You’ll have some tea?”
“Oh, rather. You promised that.”
He looked up with his old jerk of the head, courting the smile to her lips. She had no smile to give, and a shrug half tossed his shoulders.
“Are you comfortable here?” he asked, as she poured out the boiling water.
“Oh yes. Very.”
“God!” he said casually within himself, feeling the weight of the strain. Then he struggled for it once more.
“I’m dining with Devenish this evening,” he said lightly. “You remember Devenish, don’t you?”
“Oh yes—I remember him. He came up to see me here a few weeks ago.”
“Did he? He’s a gay dog,” he said lightly. “Do you like him?”
“I haven’t thought about it.”
“Oh, then you don’t. And haven’t you seen him since?”
“No; I’ve been away.”
“Yes; down at Cailsham—staying with my mother.”
“Oh, very nice, I should think. I’m glad you’re moving about a bit. I was rather afraid, you know, that you’d hang about in town all through the summer, and that ’ud be bound to knock you up.”
She handed him his cup of tea. “Why were you afraid?” she asked.
“Why? Do you think I’d be glad if you were knocked up?”
He looked up at her, with raised eyebrows, not understanding.
“I don’t suppose you’d be sorry, would you?”
She said it gently—no strain of bitterness. The emotion which had swept her at first was passed now. All her mind concentrated to the one end.