“No, no; let’s sit down quietly!”
He obeyed, half-divining, half-refusing to admit all that lay behind that strange coldness, and this desperate embrace; all the self-pity, and self-loathing, shame, rage, and longing of a married woman for the first time face to face with her lover in her husband’s house.
She seemed now to be trying to make him forget her strange behaviour; to be what she had been during that fortnight in the sunshine. But, suddenly, just moving her lips, she said:
“Quick! When can we see each other? I will come to you to tea— to-morrow,” and, following her eyes, he saw the door opening, and Cramier coming in. Unsmiling, very big in the low room, he crossed over to them, and offered his hand to Lennan; then drawing a low chair forward between their two chairs, sat down.
“So you’re back,” he said. “Have a good time?”
“Thanks, yes; very.”
“Luck for Olive you were there; those places are dull holes.”
“It was luck for me.”
“No doubt.” And with those words he turned to his wife. His elbows rested along the arms of his chair, so that his clenched palms were upwards; it was as if he knew that he was holding those two, gripped one in each hand.
“I wonder,” he said slowly, “that fellows like you, with nothing in the world to tie them, ever sit down in a place like London. I should have thought Rome or Paris were your happy hunting-grounds.” In his voice, in those eyes of his, a little bloodshot, with their look of power, in his whole attitude, there was a sort of muffled menace, and contempt, as though he were thinking: “Step into my path, and I will crush you!”
And Lennan thought:
“How long must I sit here?” Then, past that figure planted solidly between them, he caught a look from her, swift, sure, marvellously timed—again and again—as if she were being urged by the very presence of this danger. One of those glances would surely—surely be seen by Cramier. Is there need for fear that a swallow should dash itself against the wall over which it skims? But he got up, unable to bear it longer.
“Going?” That one suave word had an inimitable insolence.
He could hardly see his hand touching Cramier’s heavy fist. Then he realized that she was standing so that their faces when they must say good-bye could not be seen. Her eyes were smiling, yet imploring; her lips shaped the word: “To-morrow!” And squeezing her hand desperately, he got away.
He had never dreamed that to see her in the presence of the man who owned her would be so terrible. For a moment he thought that he must give her up, give up a love that would drive him mad.
He climbed on to an omnibus travelling West. Another twenty-four hours of starvation had begun. It did not matter at all what he did with them. They were simply so much aching that had to be got through somehow—so much aching; and what relief at the end? An hour or two with her, desperately holding himself in.