“Don’t you think that’s rather nice?” he heard her ask, and then: “Oh, here you aye! It’s very nice to see you back!”
Shelton slipped into a wicker chair. Antonia looked up quickly from her sketch-book, put out a hand, but did not speak.
He watched her bending head, and his eagerness was changed to gloom. With desperate vivacity he sustained the five intolerable minutes of inquiry, where had he been, what had he been doing? Then once again the maiden aunt commenced her extracts from the Morning Post.
A touch on his sleeve startled him. Antonia was leaning forward; her cheeks were crimson above the pallor of her neck.
“Would you like to see my sketches?”
To Shelton, bending above those sketches, that drawl of the well-bred maiden aunt intoning the well-bred paper was the most pleasant sound that he had ever listened to.
“My dear Dick,” Mrs. Dennant said to him a fortnight later, “we would rather, after you leave here, that you don’t see each other again until July. Of course I know you count it an engagement and all that, and everybody’s been writin’ to congratulate you. But Algie thinks you ought to give yourselves a chance. Young people don’t always know what they’re about, you know; it’s not long to wait.”
“Three months!” gasped Shelton.
He had to swallow down this pill with what grace he could command. There was no alternative. Antonia had acquiesced in the condition with a queer, grave pleasure, as if she expected it to do her good.
“It’ll be something to look forward to, Dick,” she said.
He postponed departure as long as possible, and it was not until the end of April that he left for England. She came alone to see him off. It was drizzling, but her tall, slight figure in the golf cape looked impervious to cold and rain amongst the shivering natives. Desperately he clutched her hand, warm through the wet glove; her smile seemed heartless in its brilliancy. He whispered “You will write?”
“Of course; don’t be so stupid, you old Dick!”
She ran forward as the train began to move; her clear “Good-bye!” sounded shrill and hard above the rumble of the wheels. He saw her raise her hand, an umbrella waving, and last of all, vivid still amongst receding shapes, the red spot of her scarlet tam-o’-shanter.
A ZOOLOGICAL GARDEN
After his journey up from Dover, Shelton was still fathering his luggage at Charing Cross, when the foreign girl passed him, and, in spite of his desire to say something cheering, he could get nothing out but a shame-faced smile. Her figure vanished, wavering into the hurly-burly; one of his bags had gone astray, and so all thought of her soon faded from his mind. His cab, however, overtook the foreign vagrant marching along towards Pall Mall with a curious, lengthy stride—an observant, disillusioned figure.