She became conscious that he was standing just behind her; his figure in its thin covering looked very lean, his face strangely worn.
“I’m sorry you put that idea into my head!” he said. “I’m fond of Olive.”
Again Mrs. Ercott felt that jealous twinge, soon lost this time in the motherliness of a childless woman for her husband. He must not be troubled! He should not be troubled. And she said:
“The water’s boiling! Now sip a good glass slowly, and get into bed, or I’ll take your temperature!”
Obediently the Colonel took from her the glass, and as he sipped, she put her hand up and stroked his head.
In the room below them the subject of their discussion was lying very wide awake. She knew that she had betrayed herself, made plain to Mark Lennan what she had never until now admitted to herself. But the love-look, which for the life of her she could not keep back, had been followed by a feeling of having ‘lost caste.’ For, hitherto, the world of women had been strictly divided by her into those who did and those who did not do such things; and to be no longer quite sure to which half she belonged was frightening. But what was the good of thinking, of being frightened?—it could not lead to anything. Yesterday she had not known this would come; and now she could not guess at to-morrow! To-night was enough! To-night with its swimming loveliness! Just to feel! To love, and to be loved!
A new sensation for her—as different from those excited by the courtships of her girlhood, or by her marriage, as light from darkness. For she had never been in love, not even with her husband. She knew it now. The sun was shining in a world where she had thought there was none. Nothing could come of it. But the sun was shining; and in that sunshine she must warm herself a little.
Quite simply she began to plan what he and she would do. There were six days left. They had not yet been to Gorbio, nor to Castellar—none of those long walks or rides they had designed to do for the beauty of them. Would he come early to-morrow? What could they do together? No one should know what these six days would be to her—not even he. To be with him, watch his face, hear his voice, and now and then just touch him! She could trust herself to show no one. And then, it would be—over! Though, of course, she would see him again in London.
And, lying there in the dark, she thought of their first meeting, one Sunday morning, in Hyde Park. The Colonel religiously observed Church Parade, and would even come all the way down to Westminster, from his flat near Knightsbridge, in order to fetch his niece up to it. She remembered how, during their stroll, he had stopped suddenly in front of an old gentleman with a puffy yellow face and eyes half open.
“Ah! Mr. Heatherley—you up from Devonshire? How’s your nephew —the—er—sculptor?”