His having kept this great news for the last, having had such a card up his sleeve and not floated it out in the current of his chatter and the luxury of their leisure, was one of those incalculable strokes by which he could still affect her; the kind of thing that reminded her of the latent force that had ejected the drunken soldier--an example of the profundity of which his promotion was the proof. She listened a while in silence, on this occasion, to the wafted strains of the music; she took it in as she had not quite done before that her future was now constituted. Mr. Mudge was distinctly her fate; yet at this moment she turned her face quite away from him, showing him so long a mere quarter of her cheek that she at last again heard his voice. He couldn't see a pair of tears that were partly the reason of her delay to give him the assurance he required; but he expressed at a venture the hope that she had had her fill of Cocker's.
She was finally able to turn back. "Oh quite. There's nothing going on. No one comes but the Americans at Thrupp's, and they don't do much. They don't seem to have a secret in the world."
"Then the extraordinary reason you've been giving me for holding on there has ceased to work?"
She thought a moment. "Yes, that one. I've seen the thing through--I've got them all in my pocket."
"So you're ready to come?"
For a little again she made no answer. "No, not yet, all the same. I've still got a reason--a different one."
He looked her all over as if it might have been something she kept in her mouth or her glove or under her jacket--something she was even sitting upon. "Well, I'll have it, please."
"I went out the other night and sat in the Park with a gentleman," she said at last.
Nothing was ever seen like his confidence in her and she wondered a little now why it didn't irritate her. It only gave her ease and space, as she felt, for telling him the whole truth that no one knew. It had arrived at present at her really wanting to do that, and yet to do it not in the least for Mr. Mudge, but altogether and only for herself. This truth filled out for her there the whole experience about to relinquish, suffused and coloured it as a picture that she should keep and that, describe it as she might, no one but herself would ever really see. Moreover she had no desire whatever to make Mr. Mudge jealous; there would be no amusement in it, for the amusement she had lately known had spoiled her for lower pleasures. There were even no materials for it. The odd thing was how she never doubted that, properly handled, his passion was poisonable; what had happened was that he had cannily selected a partner with no poison to distil. She read then and there that she should never interest herself in anybody as to whom some other sentiment, some superior view, wouldn't be sure to interfere for him with jealousy. "And what did you get out of that?" he asked with a concern that was not in the least for his honour.
"Nothing but a good chance to promise him I wouldn't forsake him. He's one of my customers."
"Then it's for him not to forsake you."
"Well, he won't. It's all right. But I must just keep on as long as he may want me."
"Want you to sit with him in the Park?"
"He may want me for that--but I shan't. I rather liked it, but once, under the circumstances, is enough. I can do better for him in another manner."
"And what manner, pray?"
This was an ejaculation used also by Captain Everard, but oh with what a different sound! "You needn't 'say'--there's nothing to be said. And yet you ought perhaps to know."
"Certainly I ought. But what--up to now?"
"Why exactly what I told him. That I'd do anything for him."
"What do you mean by 'anything'?"
Mr. Mudge's immediate comment on this statement was to draw from his pocket a crumpled paper containing the remains of half a pound of "sundries." These sundries had figured conspicuously in his prospective sketch of their tour, but it was only at the end of three days that they had defined themselves unmistakeably as chocolate-creams. "Have another?--that one," he said. She had another, but not the one he indicated, and then he continued: "What took place afterwards?"
"What did you do when you had told him you'd do everything?"
"I simply came away."
"Out of the Park?"
"Yes, leaving him there. I didn't let him follow me."
"Then what did you let him do?"
"I didn't let him do anything."
Mr. Mudge considered an instant. "Then what did you go there for?" His tone was even slightly critical.
"I didn't quite know at the time. It was simply to be with him, I suppose--just once. He's in danger, and I wanted him to know I know it. It makes meeting him--at Cocker's, since it's that I want to stay on for--more interesting."
"It makes it mighty interesting for me!" Mr. Mudge freely declared. "Yet he didn't follow you?" he asked. "I would!"
"Yes, of course. That was the way you began, you know. You're awfully inferior to him."
"Well, my dear, you're not inferior to anybody. You've got a cheek! What's he in danger of?"
"Of being found out. He's in love with a lady--and it isn't right- -and I've found him out."
"That'll be a look-out for me!" Mr. Mudge joked. "You mean she has a husband?"
"Never mind what she has! They're in awful danger, but his is the worst, because he's in danger from her too."
"Like me from you--the woman I love? If he's in the same funk as me--"
"He's in a worse one. He's not only afraid of the lady--he's afraid of other things."
Mr. Mudge selected another chocolate-cream. "Well, I'm only afraid of one! But how in the world can you help this party?"
"I don't know--perhaps not at all. But so long as there's a chance--"
"You won't come away?"
"No, you've got to wait for me."
Mr. Mudge enjoyed what was in his mouth. "And what will he give you?"
"If you do help him."
"Nothing. Nothing in all the wide world."
"Then what will he give me?" Mr. Mudge enquired. "I mean for waiting."
The girl thought a moment; then she got up to walk. "He never heard of you," she replied.
"You haven't mentioned me?"
"We never mention anything. What I've told you is just what I've found out."
Mr. Mudge, who had remained on the bench, looked up at her; she often preferred to be quiet when he proposed to walk, but now that he seemed to wish to sit she had a desire to move. "But you haven't told me what he has found out."
She considered her lover. "He'd never find you, my dear!"
Her lover, still on his seat, appealed to her in something of the attitude in which she had last left Captain Everard, but the impression was not the same. "Then where do I come in?"
"You don't come in at all. That's just the beauty of it!"--and with this she turned to mingle with the multitude collected round the band. Mr. Mudge presently overtook her and drew her arm into his own with a quiet force that expressed the serenity of possession; in consonance with which it was only when they parted for the night at her door that he referred again to what she had told him.
"Have you seen him since?"
"Since the night in the Park? No, not once."
"Oh, what a cad!" said Mr. Mudge.
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