“I didn’t think anything,” I hastened to assure her. “I tell you, Alison, I never thought of anything but that you were unhappy, and that I had no right to help you. God knows, I thought you didn’t want me to help you.”
She held out her hand to me and I took it between both of mine. No word of love had passed between us, but I felt that she knew and understood. It was one of the moments that come seldom in a lifetime, and then only in great crises, a moment of perfect understanding and trust.
Then she drew her hand away and sat, erect and determined, her fingers laced in her lap. As she talked the moon came up slowly and threw its bright pathway across the water. Back of us, in the trees beyond the sea wall, a sleepy bird chirruped drowsily, and a wave, larger and bolder than its brothers, sped up the sand, bringing the moon’s silver to our very feet. I bent toward the girl.
“I am going to ask just one question.”
“Anything you like.” Her voice was almost dreary. “Was it because of anything you are going to tell me that you refused Richey?”
She drew her breath in sharply.
“No,” she said, without looking at me. “No. That was not the reason.”
She told her story evenly, with her eyes on the water, only now and then, when I, too, sat looking seaward, I thought she glanced at me furtively. And once, in the middle of it, she stopped altogether.
“You don’t realize it, probably,” she protested, “but you look like a—a war god. Your face is horrible.”
“I will turn my back, if it will help any,” I said stormily, “but if you expect me to look anything but murderous, why, you don’t know what I am going through with. That’s all.”
The story of her meeting with the Curtis woman was brief enough. They had met in Rome first, where Alison and her mother had taken a villa for a year. Mrs. Curtis had hovered on the ragged edges of society there, pleading the poverty of the south since the war as a reason for not going out more. There was talk of a brother, but Alison had not seen him, and after a scandal which implicated Mrs. Curtis and a young attache of the Austrian embassy, Alison had been forbidden to see the woman.
“The women had never liked her, anyhow,” she said. “She did unconventional things, and they are very conventional there. And they said she did not always pay her—her gambling debts. I didn’t like them. I thought they didn’t like her because she was poor —and popular. Then—we came home, and I almost forgot her, but last spring, when mother was not well—she had taken grandfather to the Riviera, and it always uses her up—we went to Virginia Hot Springs, and we met them there, the brother, too, this time. His name was Sullivan, Harry Pinckney Sullivan.”
“I know. Go on.”