Her face looked just as when she had ridden at that gravel pit. Loving, wild, undisciplined, without resource of any kind—what might she not do? Why could he not stir without bringing disaster upon one or other? And between these two, suffering so because of him, he felt as if he had lost his own existence. In quest of happiness, he had come to that!
Suddenly she said:
“Oliver asked me again at the dance on Saturday. He said you had told him to be patient. Did you?”
“I was sorry for him.”
She let his hand go.
“Perhaps you would like me to marry him.”
Very clearly he saw those two going round and round over the shining floor.
“It would be better, Nell.”
She made a little sound—of anger or dismay.
“You don’t really want me, then?”
That was his chance. But with her arm touching his, her face so pale and desperate, and those maddening eyes turned to him, he could not tell that lie, and answered:
“Yes—I want you, God knows!”
At that a sigh of content escaped her, as if she were saying to herself: ‘If he wants me he will not let me go.’ Strange little tribute to her faith in love and her own youth!
They had come somehow to Pall Mall by now. And scared to find himself so deep in the hunting-ground of the Dromores, Lennan turned hastily towards St. James’s Park, that they might cross it in the dark, round to Piccadilly. To be thus slinking out of the world’s sight with the daughter of his old room-mate—of all men in the world the last perhaps that he should do this to! A nice treacherous business! But the thing men called honour—what was it, when her eyes were looking at him and her shoulder touching his?
Since he had spoken those words, “Yes, I want you,” she had been silent—fearful perhaps to let other words destroy their comfort. But near the gate by Hyde Park Corner she put her hand again into his, and again her voice, so clear, said:
“I don’t want to hurt anybody, but you will let me come sometimes— you will let me see you—you won’t leave me all alone, thinking that I’ll never see you again?”
And once more, without knowing what he answered, Lennan murmured:
“No, no! It’ll be all right, dear—it’ll all come right. It must— and shall.”
Again her fingers twined amongst his, like a child’s. She seemed to have a wonderful knowledge of the exact thing to say and do to keep him helpless. And she went on:
“I didn’t try to love you—it isn’t wrong to love—it wouldn’t hurt her. I only want a little of your love.”
A little—always a little! But he was solely bent on comforting her now. To think of her going home, and sitting lonely, frightened, and unhappy, all the evening, was dreadful. And holding her fingers tight, he kept on murmuring words of would-be comfort.