Her little pink and white face hardened until it looked almost ugly. The unpercipient young man continued:
“And so I take my stand on a position that you must accept on trust. I am English to the backbone. You can’t possibly dream that I’m not. Come, dear, let me try to explain.”
His arm curved as if to encircle her waist. She sprang away.
“Don’t touch me. I couldn’t bear it. There’s something about you I can’t understand.”
In her attitude, too, he found a touch of the incomprehensible. He said, however, with a sneer:
“If I were swaggering about in a cheap uniform, you’d find me simplicity itself.”
She caught at his opening, desperately.
“Yes. At any rate I’d find a man. A man who wasn’t afraid to fight for his country.”
“Yes,” she cried, and her blue eyes blazed. “Afraid. That’s why I can’t marry you. I’d rather die than marry you. I’ve never told you. I thought you’d guess. I’m an English girl and I can’t marry a coward—a coward—a coward—a coward.”
Her voice ended on a foolish high note, for Randall, very white, had seized her by the wrist.
“You little fool,” he cried. “You’ll live to repent what you’ve said.”
He released her, mounted his motor bicycle, and rode away. Phyllis watched him disappear up the avenue; then she walked rather blindly back to the bench and sat down among the ruins of a black and abominable world. After a while the friendly robin, seeing her so still, perched first on the back of the bench and then hopped on the seat by her side, and cocking his head, looked at her enquiringly out of his little hard eye, as though he would say:
“My dear child, what are you making all this fuss about? Isn’t it early June? Isn’t the sun shining? Aren’t the chestnuts in flower? Don’t you see that bank of dark blue cloud over there which means a nice softening rain in the night and a jolly good breakfast of worms in the morning? What’s wrong with this exquisitely perfect universe?”
And Phyllis—on her own confession—with an angry gesture sent him scattering up among the cool broad leaves and cried:
“Get away, you hateful little beast!”
And having no use for robins and trees and spring and sunshine and such like intolerable ironies, a white little wisp of a nurse left them all to their complacent riot and went back to the hospital.
A few days after this, Mrs. Holmes sent me under cover a telegram which she had received from her son. It was dispatched from Aberdeen and ran: “Perfectly well. Don’t worry about me. Love. Randall.” And that was all I heard of him for some considerable time. What he was doing in Aberdeen, a city remote from his sphere of intellectual, political, and social activities, Heaven and himself alone knew. I must confess that I cared very little. He was alive, he was well, and his mother had no cause for anxiety. Phyllis had definitely sent him packing. There was no reason for me to allow speculation concerning him to keep me awake of nights.