In the Cage (London: Duckworth, 1898)/Chapter 17

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In spite of this drop, if not just by reason of it, she felt as if Lady Bradeen, all but named out, had popped straight up; and she practically betrayed her consciousness by waiting a little before she rejoined: 'Cleverer than who?'

'Well, if I wasn't afraid you'd think I swagger, I should say—than anybody! If you leave your place there, where shall you go?' he more gravely demanded.

'Oh, too far for you ever to find me!'

'I'd find you anywhere.'

The tone of this was so still more serious that she had but her one acknowledgment. 'I'd do anything for you—I'd do anything for you,' she repeated. She had already, she felt, said it all; so what did anything more, anything less, matter? That was the very reason indeed why she could, with a lighter note, ease him generously of any awkwardness produced by solemnity, either his own or hers. 'Of course it must be nice for you to be able to think there are people all about who feel in such a way.'

In immediate appreciation of this, however, he only smoked without looking at her. 'But you don't want to give up your present work?' he at last inquired. 'I mean you will stay in the post-office?'

'Oh yes; I think I've a genius for that.'

'Rather! No one can touch you.' With this he turned more to her again. 'But you can get, with a move, greater advantages?'

'I can get, in the suburbs, cheaper lodgings. I live with my mother. We need some space; and there's a particular place that has other inducements.'

He just hesitated. 'Where is it?'

'Oh, quite out of your way. You'd never have time.'

'But I tell you I'd go anywhere. Don't you believe it?'

'Yes, for once or twice. But you'd soon see it wouldn't do for you.'

He smoked and considered; seemed to stretch himself a little and, with his legs out, surrender himself comfortably. 'Well, well, well—I believe everything you say. I take it from you—anything you like—in the most extraordinary way.' It struck her certainly—and almost without bitterness—that the way in which she was already, as if she had been an old friend, arranging for him and preparing the only magnificence she could muster, was quite the most extraordinary. 'Don't, don't go!' he presently went on. 'I shall miss you too horribly!'

'So that you just put it to me as a definite request?'—oh, how she tried to divest this of all sound of the hardness of bargaining! That ought to have been easy enough, for what was she arranging to get? Before he could answer she had continued: 'To be perfectly fair, I should tell you I recognise at Cocker's certain strong attractions. All you people come. I like all the horrors.'

'The horrors?'

'Those you all—you know the set I mean, your set—show me with as good a conscience as if I had no more feeling than a letter-box.'

He looked quite excited at the way she put it. 'Oh, they don't know!'

'Don't know I 'm not stupid? No, how should they?'

'Yes, how should they?' said the Captain sympathetically. 'But isn't "horrors" rather strong?'

'What you do is rather strong!' the girl promptly returned.

'What I do?'

'Your extravagance, your selfishness, your immorality, your crimes,' she pursued, without heeding his expression.

'I say!' her companion showed the queerest stare.

'I like them, as I tell you—I revel in them. But we needn't go into that,' she quietly went on; 'for all I get out of it is the harmless pleasure of knowing. I know, I know, I know!'—she breathed it ever so gently.

'Yes; that 's what has been between us,' he answered much more simply.

She could enjoy his simplicity in silence, and for a moment she did so. 'If I do stay because you want it—and I'm rather capable of that—there are two or three things I think you ought to remember. One is, you know, that I'm there sometimes for days and weeks together without your ever coming.'

'Oh, I'll come every day!' he exclaimed.

She was on the point, at this, of imitating with her hand his movement of shortly before; but she checked herself, and there was no want of effect in the tranquillising way in which she said: 'How can you? How can you?' He had, too manifestly, only to look at it there, in the vulgarly animated gloom, to see that he couldn't; and at this point, by the mere action of his silence, everything they had so definitely not named, the whole presence round which they had been circling became a part of their reference, settled solidly between them. It was as if then, for a minute, they sat and saw it all in each other's eyes, saw so much that there was no need of a transition for sounding it at last. 'Your danger, your danger———!' Her voice indeed trembled with it, and she could only, for the moment, again leave it so.

During this moment he leaned back on the bench, meeting her in silence and with a face that grew more strange. It grew so strange that, after a further instant, she got straight up. She stood there as if their talk were now over, and he just sat and watched her. It was as if now—owing to the third person they had brought in—they must be more careful; so that the most he could finally say was: 'That's where it is!'

'That's where it is!' the girl as guardedly replied. He sat still, and she added: 'I won't abandon you. Good-bye.'

'Good-bye?'—he appealed, but without moving.

'I don't quite see my way, but I won't abandon you,' she repeated. 'There. Good-bye.'

It brought him with a jerk to his feet, tossing away his cigarette. His poor face was flushed. 'See here—see here!'

'No, I won't; but I must leave you now,' she went on as if not hearing him.

'See here—see here!' He tried, from the bench, to take her hand again.

But that definitely settled it for her: this would, after all, be as bad as his asking her to supper. 'You mustn't come with me—no, no!'

He sank back, quite blank, as if she had pushed him. 'I mayn't see you home?'

'No, no; let me go.' He looked almost as if she had struck him, but she didn't care; and the manner in which she spoke—it was literally as if she were angry—had the force of a command. 'Stay where you are!'

'See here—see here!' he nevertheless pleaded.

'I won't abandon you!' she cried once more—this time quite with passion; on which she got away from him as fast as she could and left him staring after her.