Jon did not answer. His face had the stillness of extreme trouble. At last he said:
“It’s like hitting them. I must think a little, Fleur. I really must.”
Fleur slipped out of his arms.
“Oh! Very well!” And suddenly she burst into tears of disappointment, shame, and overstrain. Followed five minutes of acute misery. Jon’s remorse and tenderness knew no bounds; but he did not promise. Despite her will to cry, “Very well, then, if you don’t love me enough-goodbye!” she dared not. From birth accustomed to her own way, this check from one so young, so tender, so devoted, baffled and surprised her. She wanted to push him away from her, to try what anger and coldness would do, and again she dared not. The knowledge that she was scheming to rush him blindfold into the irrevocable weakened everything—weakened the sincerity of pique, and the sincerity of passion; even her kisses had not the lure she wished for them. That stormy little meeting ended inconclusively.
“Will you some tea, gnadiges Fraulein?”
Pushing Jon from her, she cried out:
“No-no, thank you! I’m just going.”
And before he could prevent her she was gone.
She went stealthily, mopping her gushed, stained cheeks, frightened, angry, very miserable. She had stirred Jon up so fearfully, yet nothing definite was promised or arranged! But the more uncertain and hazardous the future, the more “the will to have” worked its tentacles into the flesh of her heart—like some burrowing tick!
No one was at Green Street. Winifred had gone with Imogen to see a play which some said was allegorical, and others “very exciting, don’t you know.” It was because of what others said that Winifred and Imogen had gone. Fleur went on to Paddington. Through the carriage the air from the brick-kilns of West Drayton and the late hayfields fanned her still gushed cheeks. Flowers had seemed to be had for the picking; now they were all thorned and prickled. But the golden flower within the crown of spikes seemed to her tenacious spirit all the fairer and more desirable.
THE FAT IN THE FIRE
On reaching home Fleur found an atmosphere so peculiar that it penetrated even the perplexed aura of her own private life. Her mother was inaccessibly entrenched in a brown study; her father contemplating fate in the vinery. Neither of them had a word to throw to a dog. ’Is it because of me?’ thought Fleur. ‘Or because of Profond?’ To her mother she said:
“What’s the matter with Father?”
Her mother answered with a shrug of her shoulders.
To her father:
“What’s the matter with Mother?”
Her father answered:
“Matter? What should be the matter?” and gave her a sharp look.
“By the way,” murmured Fleur, “Monsieur Profond is going a ‘small’ voyage on his yacht, to the South Seas.”