“Let me try, anyway.”
Jolyon stood a moment without speaking. Between this devil and this deep sea—the pain of a dreaded disclosure and the grief of losing his wife for two months—he secretly hoped for the devil; yet if she wished for the deep sea he must put up with it. After all, it would be training for that departure from which there would be no return. And, taking her in his arms, he kissed her eyes, and said:
“As you will, my love.”
That “small” emotion, love, grows amazingly when threatened with extinction. Jon reached Paddington station half an hour before his time and a full week after, as it seemed to him. He stood at the appointed bookstall, amid a crowd of Sunday travellers, in a Harris tweed suit exhaling, as it were, the emotion of his thumping heart. He read the names of the novels on the book-stall, and bought one at last, to avoid being regarded with suspicion by the book-stall clerk. It was called “The Heart of the Trail!” which must mean something, though it did not seem to. He also bought “The Lady’s Mirror” and “The Landsman.” Every minute was an hour long, and full of horrid imaginings. After nineteen had passed, he saw her with a bag and a porter wheeling her luggage. She came swiftly; she came cool. She greeted him as if he were a brother.
“First class,” she said to the porter, “corner seats; opposite.”
Jon admired her frightful self-possession.
“Can’t we get a carriage to ourselves,” he whispered.
“No good; it’s a stopping train. After Maidenhead perhaps. Look natural, Jon.”
Jon screwed his features into a scowl. They got in—with two other beasts!—oh! heaven! He tipped the porter unnaturally, in his confusion. The brute deserved nothing for putting them in there, and looking as if he knew all about it into the bargain.
Fleur hid herself behind “The Lady’s Mirror.” Jon imitated her behind “The Landsman.” The train started. Fleur let “The Lady’s Mirror” fall and leaned forward.
“Well?” she said.
“It’s seemed about fifteen days.”
She nodded, and Jon’s face lighted up at once.
“Look natural,” murmured Fleur, and went off into a bubble of laughter. It hurt him. How could he look natural with Italy hanging over him? He had meant to break it to her gently, but now he blurted it out.
“They want me to go to Italy with Mother for two months.”
Fleur drooped her eyelids; turned a little pale, and bit her lips. “Oh!” she said. It was all, but it was much.
That “Oh!” was like the quick drawback of the wrist in fencing ready for riposte. It came.
“You must go!”
“Go?” said Jon in a strangled voice.
“But—two months—it’s ghastly.”
“No,” said Fleur, “six weeks. You’ll have forgotten me by then. We’ll meet in the National Gallery the day after you get back.”