“God bless my soul!” the lawyer gasped again. “I don’t think you can be—as bad as you think you are. What about Juliet Lundy?”
Fire flashed in Wingrave’s eyes. Again, at the mention of her name, he seemed almost to lose control of himself. It was several moments before he spoke. He looked Mr. Pengarth in the face, and his tone was unusually deliberate.
“Gifts,” he said, “are not always given in friendship. Life may easily become a more complicated affair for that child with the Tredowen estates hanging round her neck. And anyhow, I disappoint my next of kin.”
Morrison, smooth-footed and silent, appeared upon the lawn. He addressed Wingrave.
“A lady has arrived in a cab from Truro, sir,” he announced. “She wishes to see you as soon as convenient.”
A sudden light flashed across Wingrave’s face, dying out again almost immediately.
“Who is she, Morrison?” he asked.
The man glanced at Mr. Pengarth.
“She did not give her name, sir.”
Mr. Pengarth and Wingrave both rose. The former at once made his adieux and took a short cut to the stables. Wingrave, who leaned heavily upon his stick, clutched Morrison by the arm.
“Who is it, Morrison?” he demanded.
“It is Lady Ruth Barrington, sir,” the man answered.
“Quite alone, sir.”
The library at Tredowen was a room of irregular shape, full of angles and recesses lined with bookcases. It was in one of these, standing motionless before a small marble statue of some forgotten Greek poet, that Wingrave found his visitor. She wore a plain serge traveling dress, and the pallor of her face, from which she had just lifted a voluminous veil, matched almost in color the gleaming white marble upon which she was gazing. But when she saw Wingrave, leaning upon his stick, and regarding her with stern surprise, strange lights seemed to flash in her eyes. There was no longer any resemblance between the pallor of her cheeks and the pallor of the statue.
“Lady Ruth,” Wingrave said quietly, “I do not understand what has procured for me the pleasure of this unexpected visit.”
She swayed a little towards him. Her head was thrown back, all the silent passion of the inexpressible, the hidden secondary forces of nature, was blazing out of her eyes, pleading with him in the broken music of her tone.
“You do not understand,” she repeated. “Ah, no! But can I make you understand? Will you listen to me for once as a human being? Will you remember that you are a man, and I a woman pleading for a little mercy—a little kindness?”
Wingrave moved a step further back.
“Permit me,” he said, “to offer you a chair.”
She sank into it—speechless for a moment. Wingrave stood over her, leaning slightly against the corner of the bookcase.