Chapter V. The Barrier

Tudor was very quiet and preoccupied during breakfast, but Audrey would not notice it; and when at length she rose from the table she laid her fingers for a second on his shoulder in a passing caress.

He turned instantly and took her hand.

"Just a moment, Audrey!" he said gravely.

She stopped unwillingly, her hand fidgeting ineffectually to be free.

He rose, still holding it in a quiet, strong grasp. He was frowning slightly.

"I only want to say," he said, "that what you did this morning was somewhat unusual, though you may not have been aware of it. Please don't do it again!"

Her cheeks flamed, and she met his eyes defiantly. She left her hand in his rather than prove her weakness, but quite suddenly she was trembling all over. It was a moment for asserting her freedom of action, and she fully meant to do so; but she was none the less afraid.

"I was aware of it," she said, speaking very quickly before his look could disconcert her. "But then what I did last night was unusual, too. Also what Phil Turner did for me. You--you don't seem to realise that he saved my life!"

"I think you discharged your debt," Tudor returned, with a certain dryness that struck her unpleasantly.

"What else could I have done?" she demanded stormily. "If you had been in my place--"

He stopped her.

"I was not discussing that," he said. "I have not blamed you for that. Under the circumstances, you did the best thing possible. But I can't say the same of your conduct this morning; and since you knew that what you did was highly unconventional, I blame you for it. I hope you will be more careful in the future."

Audrey was chafing openly before he ended.

"You treat me like a child," she broke in, the instant he paused. "You don't give me credit for any judgment or discretion of my own."

He raised his eyebrows.

"That is hardly remarkable," he said.

She snatched her hand from him at last, too exasperated for the moment to care what she did or how she did it.

"It is remarkable," she declared, her voice quivering with wrath. "It--it's intolerable. And there's something else that struck me as remarkable, too, and that is that you didn't think it worth while even to thank Phil for--for saving my life last night. I think you might have expressed a little gratitude, even--even if you didn't feel it."

The bitter words were uttered before she realised their full bitterness. But the moment she had spoken them she knew, for his face told her.

A dead silence followed her outburst, and while it lasted she was casting about wildly for some means of escape other than headlong flight. Then, as if he read her impulse in her eyes, he moved at last and turned aside.

She did not hear his sigh as she made her escape, or even then she might have scaled the barrier that divided them, and found beyond it a better thing than the freedom she prized so highly.