"I should have thought it's they specially who ought to have been congratulated. Don't you?"
"Oh, yes — I understand what you mean; but there were forty days before it was all over."
"You seem to be in possession of all the details."
Heyst spoke just to say something rather than to gaze at her in silence. She was not looking at him.
"Sunday school," she murmured. "I went regularly from the time I was eight till I was thirteen. We lodged in the north of London, off Kingsland Road. It wasn't a bad time. Father was earning good money then. The woman of the house used to pack me off in the afternoon with her own girls. She was a good woman. Her husband was in the post office. Sorter or something. Such a quiet man. He used to go off after supper for night-duty, sometimes. Then one day they had a row, and broke up the home. I remember I cried when we had to pack up all of a sudden and go into other lodgings. I never knew what it was, though — "
"The deluge," muttered Heyst absently.
He felt intensely aware of her personality, as if this were the first moment of leisure he had found to look at her since they had come together. The peculiar timbre of her voice, with its modulations of audacity and sadness, would have given interest to the most inane chatter. But she was no chatterer. She was rather silent, with a capacity for immobility, an upright stillness, as when resting on the concert platform between the musical numbers, her feet crossed, her hands reposing on her lap. But in the intimacy of their life her grey, unabashed gaze forced upon him the sensation of something inexplicable reposing within her; stupidity or inspiration, weakness or force — or simply an abysmal emptiness, reserving itself even in the moments of complete surrender.
During a long pause she did not look at him. Then suddenly, as if the word "deluge" had stuck in her mind, she asked, looking up at the cloudless sky:
"Does it ever rain here?"
"There is a season when it rains almost every day," said Heyst, surprised. "There are also thunderstorms. We once had a 'mud-shower.'"
"Our neighbour there was shooting up ashes. He sometimes clears his red-hot gullet like that; and a thunderstorm came along at the same time. It was very messy; but our neighbour is generally well behaved — just smokes quietly, as he did that day when I first showed you the smudge in the sky from the schooner's deck. He's a good-natured, lazy fellow of a volcano."
"I saw a mountain smoking like that before," she said, staring at the slender stem of a tree-fern some dozen feet in front of her. "It wasn't very long after we left England — some few days, though. I was so ill at first that I lost count of days. A smoking mountain — I can't think how they called it."
"Vesuvius, perhaps," suggested Heyst.
"That's the name."
"I saw it, too, years, ages ago," said Heyst.
"On your way here?"
"No, long before I ever thought of coming into this part of the world. I was yet a boy."
She turned and looked at him attentively, as if seeking to discover some trace of that boyhood in the mature face of the man with the hair thin at the top and the long, thick moustaches. Heyst stood the frank examination with a playful smile, hiding the profound effect these veiled grey eyes produced — whether on his heart or on his nerves, whether sensuous or spiritual, tender or irritating, he was unable to say.
"Well, princess of Samburan," he said at last, "have I found favour in your sight?"
She seemed to wake up, and shook her head.
"I was thinking," she murmured very low.
"Thought, action — so many snares! If you begin to think you will be unhappy."
"I wasn't thinking of myself!" she declared with a simplicity which took Heyst aback somewhat.
"On the lips of a moralist this would sound like a rebuke," he said, half seriously; "but I won't suspect you of being one. Moralists and I haven't been friends for many years."
She had listened with an air of attention.
"I understood you had no friends," she said. "I am pleased that there's nobody to find fault with you for what you have done. I like to think that I am in no one's way."
Heyst would have said something, but she did not give him time. Unconscious of the movement he made she went on:
"What I was thinking to myself was, why are you here?"
Heyst let himself sink on his elbow again.
"If by 'you' you mean 'we' — well, you know why we are here."
She bent her gaze down at him.
"No, it isn't that. I meant before — all that time before you came across me and guessed at once that I was in trouble, with no one to turn to. And you know it was desperate trouble too."