Stella complied instantly, thinking, “Graydon may return now at any moment, and if he sees that I am not with Arnault will come to me, as usual.”
Arnault bowed politely, looked at his watch, and invited another lady to dance. Stella had been on the floor but a few moments when not Graydon, but her father came and said to her partner, “Excuse me, sir. I wish to speak to my daughter.”
Requesting her companion to wait, she followed Mr. Wildmere through an open window, and when on the piazza he took her hand and put it within his arm with a firmness that permitted no resistance. Arnault noted the proceeding with a cynical smile.
“Stella,” said her father, in a low, stern tone, “did you not promise Mr. Arnault his answer this evening?”
“Answer my question first,” she replied, bitterly. “Did Henry Muir fail to-day? Of course he did not. You have been deceiving me.”
“I did not deceive you—I was mistaken myself. But I warn you. Graydon Muir is not at your side. He may not return. Arnault is waiting to give you wealth and me safety, but he may not wait much longer. You are taking worse risks than I ever incurred in the Street, and your loss may be greater than any I have met with.”
“Bah!” she replied, in anger. “I might have been engaged to Graydon Muir this moment had I not listened to your croakings. I’ll manage for myself now;” and she broke away and joined her partner again.
After the dance was over she said, “Suppose we walk on the piazza; I’m warm.” She was cold and trembling. Arnault took his stand in the main hall, where he and she could see the clock should she approach him again. The last hour was rapidly passing. Miss Wildmere and her attendant strolled leisurely the whole length of the piazza, but Graydon was not to be seen. Then she led him through a hall whence she could glance into the reception and reading rooms. The quest was futile, and she passed Arnault unheedingly into the parlor, saying that she was tired, and with her companion sat down where they could be seen from the doorway and windows. But he thought her singularly distraite in her effort to maintain conversation.
“Oh,” she thought, “he will come soon—he must come soon! I must—I must see him before I retire!”
Arnault meantime maintained his position in the hall, chatting and laughing with an acquaintance. She could see him, and there was little in his manner to excite apprehension. He occasionally looked toward her, but she tried to appear absorbed in conversation with the man whom she puzzled by her random words. Arnault also saw that her eyes rested in swift, eager scrutiny on every one who entered from without, and that the two hands of the clock were pointing closely toward midnight.
The parlor was becoming deserted. Those whom the beauty of the night had lured without were straggling in, the man at her side was growing curious and interested, and he determined to maintain his position as long as she would.