The Tempting of Tavernake
I.9. The Plot Thickens
The man whom Tavernake had left walking up and down the corridor lost no time in
presenting himself once more at the apartments of Mrs. Wenham Gardner. He entered the
suite without ceremony, carefully closing both doors behind him. It became obvious then
that his deportment on the occasion of his previous appearance had been in the nature of a
bluff. The air with which he looked across the room at the woman who watched him was
furtive; the hand which laid his hat upon the table was shaking; there was a gleam almost
of terror in his eyes. The woman remained impassive, inscrutable, simply watching him.
After a moment or two, however, she spoke--a single monosyllable.
The man broke down.
"Elizabeth," he exclaimed, "you are too--too ghastly! I can't stand it. You are unnatural."
She stretched herself upon the couch and turned towards him.
"Unnatural, am I?" she remarked. "And what are you?"
He sank into a chair. He had become very flabby indeed.
"What you are always calling me, I suppose," he muttered,--"a coward. You have so little
consideration, Elizabeth. My health isn't what it was."
His eyes had wandered longingly toward the cupboard at the further end of the apartment.
The woman upon the couch smiled.
"You may help yourself," she directed carelessly. "Perhaps then you will be able to tell
me why you have come in such a state."
He crossed the room in a few hasty steps, his head and shoulders disappeared inside the
cupboard. There was the sound of the withdrawal of a cork, the fizz of a sodawater
syphon. He returned to his place a different man.
"You must remember my age, Elizabeth dear," he said, apologetically. "I haven't your
nerve--it isn't likely that I should have. When I was twenty-five, there was nothing in the
world of which I was afraid."
She looked him over critically.
"Perhaps I am not so absolutely courageous as you think," she remarked. "To tell you the
truth, there are a good many things of which I am afraid when you come to me in such a
state. I am afraid of you, of what you will do or say."