She caught hold of his hands.
“You poor, poor dear!” she cried. “How you must have suffered!”
Wingrave had a terrible moment. What he felt he would never have admitted, even to himself. Her eyes were shining with sympathy, and it was so unexpected. He had expected something in the nature of a cold withdrawal; her silence was the only thing he had counted upon. It was a fierce, but short battle. His sudden grasp of her hands was relaxed. He stood away from her.
“You are very kind,” he said. “As you can doubtless imagine, it is a little too late for sympathy. The years have gone, and the better part of me, if ever there was a better part, with them.”
“I am not so sure of that!” she whispered.
He looked at her coldly.
“If you were absolutely heartless,” she said, “if you were perfectly consistent, why did you not make me suffer? You had a great chance! A little feigned affection, and then a few truths. You could have dragged me down a little way into the pit of broken hearts! Why didn’t you?”
“One is forced to neglect a few opportunities!”
She smiled at him—delightfully.
“You foolish man!” she murmured. “Some day or other, you will turn out to be a terrible impostor. Do you know, I think I am going to ask you again—what I asked you last night?”
“I scarcely think that you will be so ill-advised,” he declared coldly. “Whether you believe it or not, I can assure you that I am incapable of affection.”
“I am not so sure about that,” she said with protesting eyebrows, “but you are terribly hard-hearted?”
He was entirely dissatisfied with the impression he had produced. He considered the attitude of the Marchioness unjustifiably frivolous. He had an uneasy conviction that she was not in the least inclined to take him seriously.
“I don’t think,” he said, glancing at the clock, “that I need detain you any longer.”
“You are really going away, then?” she asked him softly.
“To call on Lady Ruth, perhaps?”
“As it happens, no,” he answered.
Suddenly her face changed—she had remembered something.
“It was Lady Ruth!” she exclaimed.
“Exactly!” he interrupted.
“What a triumph of inconsistency!” she declared scornfully. “You are lending them money!”
“I am lending money to Lady Ruth,” he answered slowly.
Their eyes met. She understood, at any rate, what he intended to convey. Certainly his expression was hard and merciless enough now!
“Poor Ruth,” she murmured.
“Some day,” he answered, “you will probably say that in earnest.”
“Of course,” Juliet said, “after Tredowen it seems very small, almost poky, but it isn’t, really, and Tredowen was not for me all my days. It was quite time I got used to something else.”