Miss Wildmere felt sure that before the evening was over she could convey to Graydon her decision, and chafed every moment over the leisurely supper that Mr. Arnault persisted in making, especially as she saw that it was not his appetite that detained him. The Muir group had passed out, and to leave him and her father would not only be an act of rudeness, but also would appear like open pursuit of Graydon. When at last she reached the parlor, to decline Arnault’s invitation to dance would be scarcely less than an insult; yet, with intensifying anger and fear, she saw that circumstances were compelling her to appear as if she had disregarded Graydon’s warnings and expectations. So far from being dismissed, Arnault was the one whom she had first greeted and to whom she was now giving the evening.
While she was dancing with Arnault, Graydon, with Madge, appeared upon the floor. She was almost reckless in her efforts to secure his attention. In this endeavor she did not fail, but she failed signally in winning any recognition, and the ill-concealed importunity of her eyes hastened Graydon’s departure with Madge, and gave time for the long interview described in the previous chapter. She grew cold with dread. It was the impulse of her self-pleasing nature to want that most which seemed the most denied, and she reasoned, “He is angry because Arnault is at my side as usual, in spite of all he said. He is determined to bring me to a decision, and won’t approach me at Arnault’s side. Yet I dare not openly shake Arnault off, and he’s so attentive that I must do it openly if at all. Graydon’s manner was so very strange and cold that I feel that I should do something to conciliate him at once; and yet how can I when Arnault is bent upon monopolizing the whole evening? He gives me no chance to leave him unless I am guilty of the shameful rudeness of telling him to leave me. Oh, if I could only see Graydon alone, even for a moment!”
Arnault was indeed a curious study, and yet he was acting characteristically. He had virtually given up hope of ever winning Stella Wildmere. He had wooed devotedly, offered wealth, and played his final card, and in each had failed. When he left the city he still had hope that his promise of immediate wealth and Mr. Wildmere’s necessity and influence might turn the scale in his favor; and he believed that having secured her decision she, as a woman of the world, would grow content and happy in the future that he could provide for her. But, be his fate what it might, both his pride and his peculiar sense of honor made it imperative that he should be her suitor until the time stipulated for his answer should expire. Up to twelve o’clock that night he would not give her the slightest cause for resentment or even complaint. Then his obligation to her ceased utterly, and she knew that it would.