It was the worst thing he could have done. George had almost made up his mind to take a chance when the sheet was snatched from his grasp as if it had been some live thing deliberately eluding his clutch. The thought of what would have happened had this occurred when he was in mid-air caused him to break out in a cold perspiration. He retired a pace and perched himself on the rail of the balcony.
“Psst!” said Albert.
“It’s no good saying, ‘Psst!’” rejoined George in an annoyed undertone. “I could say “Psst!” Any fool could say ‘Psst!’”
Albert, he considered, in leaning out of the window and saying “Psst!” was merely touching the fringe of the subject.
It is probable that he would have remained seated on the balcony rail regarding the sheet with cold aversion, indefinitely, had not his hand been forced by the man Plummer. Plummer, during these last minutes, had shot his bolt. He had said everything that a man could say, much of it twice over; and now he was through. All was ended. The verdict was in. No wedding-bells for Plummer.
“I think,” said Plummer gloomily, and the words smote on George’s ear like a knell, “I think I’d like a little air.”
George leaped from his rail like a hunted grasshopper. If Plummer was looking for air, it meant that he was going to come out on the balcony. There was only one thing to be done. It probably meant the abrupt conclusion of a promising career, but he could hesitate no longer.
George grasped the sheet—it felt like a rope of cobwebs—and swung himself out.
Maud looked out on to the balcony. Her heart, which had stood still when the rejected one opened the window and stepped forth to commune with the soothing stars, beat again. There was no one there, only emptiness and Plummer.
“This,” said Plummer sombrely, gazing over the rail into the darkness, “is the place where that fellow what’s-his-name jumped off in the reign of thingummy, isn’t it?”
Maud understood now, and a thrill of the purest admiration for George’s heroism swept over her. So rather than compromise her, he had done Leonard’s leap! How splendid of him! If George, now sitting on Reggie Byng’s bed taking a rueful census of the bits of skin remaining on his hands and knees after his climb, could have read her thoughts, he would have felt well rewarded for his abrasions.
“I’ve a jolly good mind,” said Plummer, “to do it myself!” He uttered a short, mirthless laugh. “Well, anyway,” he said recklessly, “I’ll jolly well go downstairs and have a brandy-and-soda!”