“To Persia, Mrs. Benton, where the carpets come from.”
“Oh! yes, sir. Your washing’s just come home.”
Her, apparently cast-down, eyes stored up a wealth of little details; the way his hair grew, the set of his back, the colour of his braces. But suddenly she said in a surprising voice:
“You haven’t a photograph you could spare, sir, to leave behind? Mr. Benton was only saying to me yesterday, we’ve nothing to remember him by, in case he shouldn’t come back.”
“Here’s an old one.”
Mrs. Benton took the photograph.
“Oh!” she said; “you can see who it is.” And holding it perhaps too tightly, for her fingers trembled, she added:
“A note, please, sir; and the messenger boy is waiting for—an answer.”
While he read the note she noticed with concern how packing had brought the blood into his head....
When, in response to that note, Courtier entered the well-known confectioner’s called Gustard’s, it was still not quite tea-time, and there seemed to him at first no one in the room save three middle-aged women packing sweets; then in the corner he saw Barbara. The blood was no longer in his head; he was pale, walking down that mahogany-coloured room impregnated with the scent of wedding-cake. Barbara, too, was pale.
So close to her that he could count her every eyelash, and inhale the scent of her hair and clothes to listen to her story of Miltoun, so hesitatingly, so wistfully told, seemed very like being kept waiting with the rope already round his neck, to hear about another person’s toothache. He felt this to have been unnecessary on the part of Fate! And there came to him perversely the memory of that ride over the sun-warmed heather, when he had paraphrased the old Sicilian song: ’Here will I sit and sing.’ He was a long way from singing now; nor was there love in his arms. There was instead a cup of tea; and in his nostrils the scent of cake, with now and then a whiff of orange-flower water.
“I see,” he said, when she had finished telling him: “’Liberty’s a glorious feast!’ You want me to go to your brother, and quote Bums? You know, of course, that he regards me as dangerous.”
“Yes; but he respects and likes you.”
“And I respect and like him,” answered Courtier.
One of the middle-aged females passed, carrying a large white card-board box; and the creaking of her stays broke the hush.
“You have been very sweet to me,” said Barbara, suddenly.
Courtier’s heart stirred, as if it were turning over within him; and gazing into his teacup, he answered—
“All men are decent to the evening star. I will go at once and find your brother. When shall I bring you news?”
“To-morrow at five I’ll be at home.”
And repeating, “To-morrow at five,” he rose.