“And I should hate that,” she answered candidly.
“I’m sure you would,” he answered. “And I don’t particularly enjoy threatening you with such a possibility.”
“Really,” said she. “Now I rather like you when you talk like that.”
“Fortunate that you do,” he returned, “for you will probably hear a good deal of it.”
She nodded with perfect acquiescence. “And now,” she said, “if you have no more hateful things to say, let’s go and tell our friends of the great happiness that has come into our lives.”
As they went down the stairs—those same stairs on which only two evenings before they had first met—toward the drawing-room where their great announcement was to be made, Riatt stopped Christine in her triumphal progress.
“You’re not going to have the supreme cruelty,” he said, “to let poor Hickson think that our engagement is a genuine one?”
Christine paused. “I wonder,” she answered thoughtfully, “which in the end would deceive him most—to make him think it was real or fake?”
“You blood-curdling woman,” said Riatt. “I am not engaged to you.”
“Oh, yes, you are—until March first.”
“I am pretending to be until March first.”
She leant against the banisters, and regarded him critically. “Isn’t it strange,” she remarked, “that you dislike so much the idea of my trying to make you care for me? Some men would be crazy about the process.”
“Oh, if I enjoyed the process, I should regard myself as lost.”
She shook her head. “I’m not sure that this terror isn’t a more significant confession of weakness. Who is it is most afraid of high places? Those who feel a desire to jump off.”
“I’m not afraid,” he returned crossly. “I just don’t like it. I don’t want to be made love to. That’s one of the mistakes women are always making. They think all men want to be made love to by any woman. We don’t.”
Christine sighed gently. “You’re getting disagreeable again,” she said with the softest reproach in her tone. “Let’s go on.”
“You haven’t answered my question,” he said. “Are you going to tell Hickson the truth?”
“How can I? If I told him, Nancy would know at once, and the whole aim of this plot is to deceive Nancy. However,” she added brightly, “I shall do what I can to alleviate his sufferings. I shall tell him that I am not in the least in love with you, that you have never so much as kissed me, and that my present intention is that you never shall.”
“And you may add that my intention is the same,” replied Riatt with some sternness.
Christine smiled. “There’s no use in telling him that,” she answered, “for he wouldn’t believe it.”
“Upon my word,” said he, “I think you’re the vainest woman I ever met.”
“Candid, merely,” she returned, as she opened the door of the drawing-room. The scene that greeted them was eminently suited to their purpose. Laura and Ussher were standing at the table watching the last bitter moments of the game between Nancy and the unfortunate Wickham. Hickson was not there.