"Only through the bars, in future," she promised. "With the gaoler between us." She put her arms round Flossie and bent her head, so that her face was hidden.
Flossie still seemed troubled. She held on to Joan.
"You are sure of yourself?" she asked. "We're only the female of the species. We get hungry and thirsty, too. You know that, kiddy, don't you?"
Joan laughed without raising her face. "Yes, ma'am, I know that," she answered. "I'll be good."
She sat in the dusk after Flossie had gone; and the laboured breathing of the tired city came to her through the open window. She had rather fancied that martyr's crown. It had not looked so very heavy, the thorns not so very alarming--as seen through the window. She would wear it bravely. It would rather become her.
Facing the mirror of the days to come, she tried it on. It was going to hurt. There was no doubt of that. She saw the fatuous, approving face of the eternal Mrs. Phillips, thrust ever between them, against the background of that hideous furniture, of those bilious wall papers--the loneliness that would ever walk with her, sit down beside her in the crowded restaurant, steal up the staircase with her, creep step by step with her from room to room-- the ever unsatisfied yearning for a tender word, a kindly touch. Yes, it was going to hurt.
Poor Robert! It would be hard on him, too. She could not help feeling consolation in the thought that he also would be wearing that invisible crown.
She must write to him. The sooner it was done, the better. Half a dozen contradictory moods passed over her during the composing of that letter; but to her they seemed but the unfolding of a single thought. On one page it might have been his mother writing to him; an experienced, sagacious lady; quite aware, in spite of her affection for him, of his faults and weaknesses; solicitous that he should avoid the dangers of an embarrassing entanglement; his happiness being the only consideration of importance. On others it might have been a queen laying her immutable commands upon some loyal subject, sworn to her service. Part of it might have been written by a laughing philosopher who had learnt the folly of taking life too seriously, knowing that all things pass: that the tears of to-day will be remembered with a smile. And a part of it was the unconsidered language of a loving woman. And those were the pages that he kissed.