Genuine concern for his comfort was mingled with the satisfaction in her mind that Glenn had such a worth-while friend at college and had succeeded in bringing him home for the holidays. Enderly assured his hostess of the complete comfort of her arrangements for him.
Then the bedroom doors were closed, and quiet reigned upstairs and down in the big, rambling house. Hugh and Ariel, arriving, were met by the stillness. Hugh passed Ariel and looked in at the library. He surveyed the unoccupied room with some disconcertion. There was no actual cause for complaint, but he was concerned for the impression the absence of welcome might make on the girl standing there at his back, pale and wordless under the brilliant impersonal light of the hall chandeliers. And Anne will come straight there the minute she gets in.
He went ahead, carrying the suitcases up the stairs. But nothing so fortuitous happened. His resentment became actual when he had to feel for the electric-light switch in the guest room allotted to Ariel and was conscious that she had followed him in and was standing there in the dark as aware of the chill in the room as was he. They might at least have told Rose, the second maid, to have the lights turned on, and a fire blazing in the little marble fireplace.
All right? Ariel assured him that she was all right.
And then, when the door closed on his back she breathed one deep breath of satisfaction. It seemed days and days ago, not a mere few hours, since Hugh had taken her arm and hurried her through the jam of people and luggage surging under the great swinging letter C in the customs shed. As they had stood with the customs official whom Hugh had captured with what had every appearance of special secret powers—since although Ariel was almost the last person off the Bermuda , she was certainly the very first person to have her baggage passed on—Hugh had turned and looked down at her with his first concentrated attention.
Is there another coat, a big overcoat, anywhere in your baggage? I thought March was almost spring here. I was stupid. My stupidity. An icicle from Bermuda would be too surprising!
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But Ariel did not laugh. The tone of his humor surprised and confused her. Sometimes thus she had heard adults banter a child. Children are. It would be more—practical.
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Hugh, however, proved domineering. Ariel said nothing farther. Three weeks ago she had watched a coffin lowered into the ground So she went with Hugh dumbly, numbed by the noise and the crowds of the city as much as by the unaccustomed cold, a walk of several blocks to the place where his roadster stood parked.
The seat of the roadster was swung so low and the wind-shield stood so high that Ariel felt protected from both wind and hurrying crowds the minute she was in. Glancing up at his profile, she felt that he had forgotten her, and that his skillful maneuvering of the car was automatic. He was deep in thoughts of his own, in his own inner life. He parked as soon as he could find a place. Ariel knew in that instant how utterly he was changed. That first sight of him from the deck had been strangely deceiving.
She was sorry for him, without knowing why. Of course he should please himself about buying a fur coat for her. She wanted him to be pleased and happy, as he had been all those days in Bermuda. Inside the shop door Hugh paused and stood looking about, while salesmen and salesgirls hovered, watching him with eager curiosity. Then, when he had come to his decision, he swooped, a clean swoop, seizing on the proprietor of the shop—how he guessed he was the proprietor and would so save time and words for them, Ariel did not know—and pointed out a soft white coat, hanging at the end of a near rack.
In an instant Ariel was turning herself about at the center of a fan of long mirrors, in the beautiful coat.
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Its collar rolled away softly at her neck, its girlishness offsetting the luxuriousness. The garment was cut straight from shoulder to hem, and its cuffs, narrow and young, like the collar, rolled softly back at the wrists. It was flexible and light. It was like being wrapped in swansdown, not fur. Then Hugh stood behind her and folded it back for her to take in the scarlet silk lining. It was plain, in the mirror, that already the new coat was giving him pleasure, just as he had promised her it would.
She turned on Hugh Weyman and threw her head back, meeting his eyes squarely. Much, much rather!
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He could not think what she meant at first. Then he remembered. Joan Nevin had held out her hands for the violets, and he had tossed them up to her. He had taken them to the boat for her. They were to have been his welcoming present. He slowly flushed. Ariel was sorry and dropped her eyes. Yellow violets too, and white.
I promise. But this is rather nice just now. He was teasing her.
But he was as sincere as was she. She jammed her hands into the deep, soft pockets, while her fingers clenched. She had made a fool of herself. He was sweet, and dear, this Hugh she had never known. Then he moved a little away with the shopman. Ariel surmised that the price of the coat was now under discussion.
The little Jew rubbed his hands, hesitated, smiled up almost affectionately, and named it.
Ariel did not hear his words, but she saw Hugh come very near to starting, while his shoulders stiffened. So it was some outrageous price, and Hugh was surprised and would not think of paying it. But he ought to have known he was picking out the most expensive thing in the shop. It was obviously a coat for a princess, a Russian princess in old Petersburg when the world was kind to princesses.
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This scarlet lining! The deftly rolling, beautiful collar and cuffs! Hugh said something then, and the shopkeeper raised his voice in replying. And I named you my bottom price on account of the season. I saw at once that you would buy or leave a thing. So I did not bother to bargain by naming a price of unreasonableness.
If you do not care for the coat enough—I am sorry. The little man was vigorously shrugging his sincerity and his sorrow. For an instant more Ariel saw Hugh hesitate. Then his eyes narrowed ever so slightly and he too shrugged—a whimsical submission. He came toward Ariel.