Margaret set down her cup on the lid of the piano, and at the slight sound Lady Maud turned towards her, so that their eyes met. Each noticed the other’s expression.
‘What is it?’ asked Lady Maud, with a little smile of friendly concern. ‘Is anything wrong?’
‘No—that is—’ Margaret smiled too, as she hesitated—’I was going to ask you the same question,’ she added quickly.
‘It’s nothing more than usual,’ returned her friend. ’I think it has gone very well, don’t you, these three days? He has made a good impression on everybody—don’t you think so?’
‘Oh yes!’ Margaret answered readily. ’Excellent! Could not be better! I confess to being surprised, just a little—I mean,’ she corrected herself hastily, ’after all the talk there has been, it might not have turned out so easy.’
‘Don’t you feel a little less prejudiced against him yourself?’ asked Lady Maud.
‘Prejudiced!’ Margaret repeated the word thoughtfully. ’Yes, I suppose I’m prejudiced against him. That’s the only word. Perhaps it’s hateful of me, but I cannot help it—and I wish you wouldn’t make me own it to you, for it’s humiliating! I’d like him, if I could, for your sake. But you must take the wish for the deed.’
‘That’s better than nothing!’ Lady Maud seemed to be trying to laugh a little, but it was with an effort and there was no ripple in her voice. ‘You have something on your mind, too,’ she went on, to change the subject. ‘Is anything troubling you?’
‘Only the same old question. It’s not worth mentioning!’
‘To marry, or not to marry?’
’Yes. I suppose I shall take the leap some day, and probably in the dark, and then I shall be sorry for it. Most of you have!’
She looked up at Lady Maud with a rather uncertain, flickering smile, as if she wished her mind to be made up for her, and her hands lay weakly in her lap, the palms almost upwards.
‘Oh, don’t ask me!’ cried her friend, answering the look rather than the words, and speaking with something approaching to vehemence.
‘Do you wish you had waited for the other one till now?’ asked Margaret softly, but she did not know that he had been killed in South Africa; she had never seen the shabby little photograph.
That was all Lady Maud said, and the two words were not uttered dramatically either, though gravely and without the least doubt.
The butler and two men appeared, to collect the coffee cups; the former had a small salver in his hand and came directly to Lady Maud. He brought a telegram for her.
‘You don’t mind, do you?’ she asked Margaret mechanically, as she opened it.
‘Of course,’ answered the other in the same tone, and she looked through the open window while her friend read the message.