“It is true,” said Kennaston—“yes, very true that some men love in that fashion.”
There ensued a silence. It was a long silence, and under the tension of it Kathleen’s composure snapped like a cord that has been stretched to the breaking point.
“Yes, yes, yes!” she cried, suddenly; “that is how I have loved you and that is how you’ve loved me, Felix Kennaston! Ah, Billy told me what happened last night! And that—that was why I—” Mrs. Saumarez paused and regarded him curiously. “You don’t make a very noble figure, just now, do you?” she asked, with careful deliberation. “You were ready to sell yourself for Miss Hugonin’s money, weren’t you? And now you must take her without the money. Poor Felix! Ah, you poor, petty liar, who’ve over-reached yourself so utterly!” And again Kathleen began to laugh, but somewhat shrilly, somewhat hysterically.
“You are wrong,” he said, with a flush. “It is true that I asked Miss Hugonin to marry me. But she—very wisely, I dare say—declined.”
“Ah!” Kathleen said, slowly. Then—and it will not do to inquire too closely into her logic—she spoke with considerable sharpness: “She’s a conceited little cat! I never in all my life knew a girl to be quite so conceited as she is. Positively, I don’t believe she thinks there’s a man breathing who’s good enough for her!”
Kennaston grinned. “Oh, Kathleen, Kathleen!” he said; “you are simply delicious.”
And Mrs. Saumarez coloured prettily and tried to look severe and could not, for the simple reason that, while she knew Kennaston to be flippant and weak and unstable as water and generally worthless, yet for some occult cause she loved him as tenderly as though he had been a paragon of all the manly virtues. And I dare say that for many of us it is by a very kindly provision of Nature that all women are created capable of doing this illogical thing and that most of them do it daily.
“It is true,” the poet said, at length, “that I have played no heroic part. And I don’t question, Kathleen, that I am all you think me. Yet, such as I am, I love you. And such as I am, you love me, and it is I that you are going to marry, and not that Woods person.”
“He’s worth ten of you!” she cried, scornfully.
“Twenty of me, perhaps,” Mr. Kennaston assented, “but that isn’t the question. You don’t love him, Kathleen. You are about to marry him for his money. You are about to do what I thought to do yesterday. But you won’t, Kathleen. You know that I need you, my dear, and—unreasonably enough, God knows—you love me.”
Mrs. Saumarez regarded him intently for a considerable space, and during that space the Eagle warred in her heart with the one foe he can never conquer. Love had a worthless ally; but Love fought staunchly.
By and bye, “Yes,” she said, and her voice was almost sullen; “I love you. I ought to love Billy, but I don’t. I shall ask him to release me from my engagement. And yes, I will marry you if you like.”