Jim jerked in his chair, and looked round.
“It isn’t that I don’t like the man,” he said, in a rather small voice. “But I knew if he went on I should have to do it.”
To Lilly, rigid and physically preoccupied, there sounded a sort of self-consciousness in Jim’s voice, as if the whole thing had been semi-deliberate. He detected the sort of maudlin deliberateness which goes with hysterics, and he was colder, more icy than ever.
Tanny looked at Lilly, puzzled, bewildered, but still rather pleased, as if she demanded an answer. None being forthcoming, she said:
“Of course, you mustn’t expect to say all those things without rousing a man.”
Still Lilly did not answer. Jim glanced at him, then looked at Tanny.
“It isn’t that I don’t like him,” he said, slowly. “I like him better than any man I’ve ever known, I believe.” He clasped his hands and turned aside his face.
“Judas!” flashed through Lilly’s mind.
Again Tanny looked for her husband’s answer.
“Yes, Rawdon,” she said. “You can’t say the things you do without their having an effect. You really ask for it, you know.”
“It’s no matter.” Lilly squeezed the words out coldly. “He wanted to do it, and he did it.”
A dead silence ensued now. Tanny looked from man to man.
“I could feel it coming on me,” said Jim.
“Of course!” said Tanny. “Rawdon doesn’t know the things he says.” She was pleased that he had had to pay for them, for once.
It takes a man a long time to get his breath back, after a sharp blow in the wind. Lilly was managing by degrees. The others no doubt attributed his silence to deep or fierce thoughts. It was nothing of the kind, merely a cold struggle to get his wind back, without letting them know he was struggling: and a sheer, stock-stiff hatred of the pair of them.
“I like the man,” said Jim. “Never liked a man more than I like him.” He spoke as if with difficulty.
“The man” stuck safely in Lilly’s ears.
“Oh, well,” he managed to say. “It’s nothing. I’ve done my talking and had an answer, for once.”
“Yes, Rawdy, you’ve had an answer, for once. Usually you don’t get an answer, you know—and that’s why you go so far—in the things you say. Now you’ll know how you make people feel.”
“Quite!” said Lilly.
“I don’t feel anything. I don’t mind what he says,” said Jim.
“Yes, but he ought to know the things he DOES say,” said Tanny. “He goes on, without considering the person he’s talking to. This time it’s come back on him. He mustn’t say such personal things, if he’s not going to risk an answer.”
“I don’t mind what he says. I don’t mind a bit,” said Jim.
“Nor do I mind,” said Lilly indifferently. “I say what I feel—You do as you feel—There’s an end of it.”