“I don’t care.” Then peering up through the kitten’s fur she murmured: “Oliver wants me to go to a dance on Saturday—it’s for a charity. Shall I?”
“Of course; why not?”
“Will you come?”
“Oh, do! You must! It’s my very first, you know. I’ve got an extra ticket.”
And against his will, his judgment—everything, Lennan answered: “Yes.”
She clapped her hands, and the kitten crawled down to her knees.
When he got up to go, she did not move, but just looked up at him; and how he got away he did not know.
Stopping his cab a little short of home, he ran, for he felt cold and stiff, and letting himself in with his latch-key, went straight to the drawing-room. The door was ajar, and Sylvia standing at the window. He heard her sigh; and his heart smote him. Very still, and slender, and lonely she looked out there, with the light shining on her fair hair so that it seemed almost white. Then she turned and saw him. He noticed her throat working with the effort she made not to show him anything, and he said:
“Surely you haven’t been anxious! Nell had a bit of a fall—jumping into a sandpit. She’s quite mad sometimes. I stayed to tea with her—just to make sure she wasn’t really hurt.” But as he spoke he loathed himself; his voice sounded so false.
She only answered: “It’s all right, dear,” but he saw that she kept her eyes—those blue, too true eyes—averted, even when she kissed him.
And so began another evening and night and morning of fever, subterfuge, wariness, aching. A round of half-ecstatic torment, out of which he seemed no more able to break than a man can break through the walls of a cell. . . .
Though it live but a day in the sun, though it drown in tenebrous night, the dark flower of passion will have its hour. . . .
To deceive undoubtedly requires a course of training. And, unversed in this art, Lennan was fast finding it intolerable to scheme and watch himself, and mislead one who had looked up to him ever since they were children. Yet, all the time, he had a feeling that, since he alone knew all the circumstances of his case, he alone was entitled to blame or to excuse himself. The glib judgments that moralists would pass upon his conduct could be nothing but the imbecilities of smug and pharisaic fools—of those not under this drugging spell—of such as had not blood enough, perhaps, ever to fall beneath it!
The day after the ride Nell had not come, and he had no word from her. Was she, then, hurt, after all? She had lain back very inertly in that chair! And Sylvia never asked if he knew how the girl was after her fall, nor offered to send round to inquire. Did she not wish to speak of her, or had she simply—not believed? When there was so much he could not talk of it seemed hard that just what happened to be true should be distrusted. She had not yet, indeed, by a single word suggested that she felt he was deceiving her, but at heart he knew that she was not deceived. . . . Those feelers of a woman who loves—can anything check their delicate apprehension? . . .