“Miss Doran has put into my hands a letter she received from you this morning, Mr. Elgar.”
Reuben waited. Mrs. Lessingham had not invited him to sit down; she also stood.
“You probably wished me to learn its contents?”
“Yes; I am glad you have read it.”
“It didn’t occur to you that Miss Doran might find the task you imposed upon her somewhat trying?”
Elgar was startled. Just as little as Cecily had he pondered the details of the situation; mere frenzy possessed him, and he acted as desire bade. Had Cecily been embarrassed? Was she annoyed at his not proceeding with formality? He had never thought of her in the light of conventional obligations, and even now could not bring himself to do so.
“Did Miss Doran wish me to be told that?” he asked, bluntly, in unconsidered phrase.
“Miss Doran’s wish is, that no further step shall be taken by either of you until her guardian, Mr. Mallard, has been communicated with.”
“She will not see me?”
“She thinks it better neither to see you nor to write. I am bound to tell you that this is the result of my advice. Her own intention was to do as you request in this letter.”
“What harm would there have been in that, Mrs. Lessingham? Why mayn’t I see her?”
“I really think Miss Doran must be allowed to act as seems best to her. It is quite enough that I tell you what she has decided.”
“But that is not her decision,” broke out Elgar, moving impetuously. “That is simply the result of your persuasion, of your authority. Why may I not see her?”
“For reasons which would be plain enough to any but a very thoughtless young gentleman. I can say no more.”
Her caustic tone was not agreeable. Elgar winced under it, and had much ado to restrain himself from useless vehemence.
“Do you intend to write to Mr. Mallard to-day?” he asked.
“I will write to-day.”
Expostulation and entreaty seemed of no avail; Elgar recognized the situation, and with a grinding of his teeth kept down the horrible pain he suffered. His only comfort was that Mallard would assuredly come post-haste; he would arrive by to-morrow evening. But two days of this misery! Mrs. Lessingham was gratified with his look as he departed; she had supplied him with abundant matter for speculation, yet had fulfilled her promise to Cecily.
She finished her letter, then went to Cecily’s room. The girl sat unoccupied, and listened without replying. That day she took her meals in private, scarcely pretending to eat. Her face kept its flush, and her hands remained feverishly hot. Till late at night she sat in the same chair, now and then opening a book, but unable to read; she spoke only a word or two, when it was necessary.
The same on the day that followed. Seldom moving, seldomer speaking; she suffered and waited.