“Twenty-one! I was fifteen when you first woke up and yelled.”
She threw back her head and laughed.
“Why do you laugh?”
“You say such funny things sometimes.”
“I remember the first joke I made you thought was bad taste.”
She looked at him. There was excitement in her eyes. The rush of the stream had taken her; an impulse for the moment carried her away.
“I repeated that joke afterwards,” she said quickly, “the same evening to shock Mr. Arthur.”
The moment she had said it, came regret. It was showing him too plainly the impression that he had left upon her. But he seemed not to notice it.
“Was he shocked?” he asked.
She looked at her watch. That moment’s regret had brought her to her senses. The blood came quickly to her face, as she thought how intimately they had talked within so short a time. Reviewing it—as with a searchlight that strides across the sky—she scarcely believed that it was true. In just an hour, she had told him as much—more than she had told Miss Hallard. Had she changed? Was the freedom of the life she lived altering her? She had known Mr. Arthur for a year and a half before he had thought of speaking with any intimacy to her. The thought that she was deteriorating—becoming as other women—passed across her mind with a sensation of nausea. She rose to her feet.
“I must get back,” she said.
“But it’s only just two,” he replied.
“I know, but then I came out five minutes early.”
“Are they so fierce as that?”
“Yes, I daren’t be late. Mr. Bonsfield gives me his letters directly after lunch. I think he’d tell me I might go, if I was late. You see it’s very easy for them to get a secretary, the work’s not difficult though there’s a lot of it; and there are hundreds of girls who’d be ready to fill my place in a moment.”
He watched her considerately. “Thank God,
my lance is free,” he said.
“Well—I suppose you must—if you must. I’ve enjoyed the talk.”
Her eyes lighted, smiling. “So have I—immensely—it is very good of you. Good-bye.” She held out her hand.
“Do you think you get off so lightly?” he asked.
“How do you mean?”
“I mean—do you think I’m going to let you go without some chance of seeing you again?”
He checked that. He could not guess what had been passing through her mind, yet the note in her voice on that one word was discouraging.
“You are going to come to dinner with me one evening.”
She was full of indecision. He gave her no time to think. It was not his intention to do so.
“But how can I?” she began.
“By coming dressed—just as you are. No need to go home and change. I’ll be ready to meet you outside the office at six o’clock. You don’t get out till a quarter past? Then a quarter past. We go to dinner—we go to a theatre; music-hall if you like—then I drive you down to Waterloo, put you in the last train to Kew Bridge—and that is all.”