“Safe?” she asked, under her breath.
He looked at her in the same despairing way, but said nothing.
“Father,” she began, her lips quivering in the intensity of her inward struggle, “can you not go away from here? Can you not take mother away?”
They gazed at each other, each trying to divine what it was that made the other so pale. Did her father know?—Maud asked herself. Did Maud know something more than he himself?—was the doubt in Paul’s mind. But they were thinking of different things.
“I can’t, I can’t!” the wretched man exclaimed, spreading out his arms on the desk. “Perhaps in a few months—but I doubt. I can do nothing now; I am helpless; I am not my own master. O God, if I could but go and leave it all behind me!”
Maud could only guess at the meaning of this. He had already hinted to her of business troubles which were crushing him. But this was a matter of no moment in her sight. There was something more terrible, and she could not force her tongue to speak of it.
“You fear for her?” Paul went on. “You have noticed her strangeness?” He lowered his voice. “What can I do, Maud?”
“You are so much away,” she said hurriedly, laying her hand on his arm. “Her visitors—she has so many temptations—”
“Father, help her against herself!”
“My help is vain. There is a curse on her life, and on mine. I can only stand by and wait for the worst.”
She could not speak. It was her duty, clearly her imperative duty, yet she durst not fulfil it. She had come down from her room with the fixed purpose, attained after nights of sleepless struggle, of telling him what she had seen. She found herself alone again, the task unfulfilled. And she knew that she could not face him again.
Waymark received with astonishment Maud’s letter from Paris. He had seen her only two days before, and their conversation had been of the ordinary kind; Maud had given him no hint of her purpose, not even when he spoke to her of the coming holiday season, and the necessity of her having a change. She confessed she was not well. Sometimes, when they had both sat for some minutes in silence, she would raise her eyes and meet his gaze steadily, seeming to search for something. Waymark could not face this look; it drove him to break the suspense by any kind of remark on an indifferent subject. He remembered now that she had gazed at him in that way persistently on the last evening that they were together. When he was saying good-bye, and as he bent to kiss her, she held him back for a moment, and seemed to wish to say something. Doubtless she had been on the point of telling him that she was going away; but she let him leave in silence.
It was not a long letter that she wrote; she merely said that change had become indispensable to body and soul, and that it had seemed best to make it suddenly.