A few minutes after eight she heard him knock, and going to the street door, opened it for him. The night was a vapourish, miserable one, blurring his figure into indistinctness, and when he spoke his voice was hoarse, as though the damp tendrils of the mist had penetrated to his throat.
Answering something to his greeting, she led him through the hall into the sitting-room. He paused as he entered. Without looking back, she crossed to the fireplace, and kneeling down, stirred the fire.
‘May I help?’
‘No, thanks. I prefer to do it.’
Her answer had followed so swiftly on his question that he stopped in the act of stepping forward. She looked over her shoulder with a swift, searching glance.
His face was a tired gray, and the silk scarf thrown about his neck looked oddly vivid against the black evening-clothes and overcoat. But if his face suggested weariness, his eyes were alive with dynamic force. The intensity of the man’s personality strangely moved Elise. She felt the presence of a mind and a body vibrating with tremendous purpose—a man who drew vitality from others, yet charged them in return with his own greater store.
To her he seemed to have divorced himself from type—he had lost even the usual characteristics of race. With the thought, she wondered how far his solitary life had effected the transition, if his idealism had brought him loneliness.
‘Won’t you sit down?’ she said hesitatingly.
He acquiesced, and took a seat in the chair from which Maynard had run the emotional gamut the previous evening.
‘You look pale,’ she said, drawing a chair near the fire. ’I hope you have not been unwell.’
’No—no; it is merely that I have been so little out of doors. I could not gather from your note what kind of work you were engaged in. I see you are an ambulance-driver. I congratulate you.’
His voice conveyed nothing but polite interest in an obvious situation. With over-sensitive apprehension she listened for any suggestion of sarcasm that lay behind his words, but she could detect nothing beyond mere impersonal courtesy—that, and a far-off weariness, as of one who has passed the borders of fatigue.
‘I wrote to your mother,’ he said, ’when I heard of your elder brother’s death. It must have been a great grief to you all.’
She did not answer him. His manner was so cold that he might have been deliberately disposing of a number of prepared comments rendered imperative by the laws of polite intercourse.
‘Why didn’t you let us know you had seen Dick?’ she said abruptly.
‘Then—you have heard?’ He raised his eyebrows in surprise.
’Only last night, by the merest accident. He might have been killed in France, and we should never have known about it.’ Her words were resentful and swift. ‘Will you please tell me about him?’