He moved to the writing table, and wrote a few lines to the Marchioness, regretting that his absence from town would prevent his dining with her on the following day. Then he studied the money column in several newspapers for half an hour, and telephoned to his broker. At eleven o’clock, he rode for an hour in the quietest part of the park, avoiding, so far as possible, anyone he knew, and galloping whenever he could. It was the only form of exercise in which he was known to indulge although the knowledge of English games, which he sometimes displayed, was a little puzzling to some of his acquaintances. On his return, he made a simple but correct toilet, and at half-past one he met Lady Ruth at Prince’s Restaurant.
Lady Ruth’s gown of dove color, with faint touches of blue, was effective, and she knew it. Nevertheless, she was a little pale, and her manner lacked that note of quiet languor which generally characterized it. She talked rather more than usual, chattering idly about the acquaintances to whom she was continually nodding and bowing. Her face hardened a little as the Marchioness, on her way through the room with a party of friends, stopped at their table.
The two women exchanged the necessary number of inanities, then the Marchioness turned to Wingrave.
“You won’t forget that you are dining with me tomorrow?”
Wingrave shook his head regretfully.
“I am sorry,” he said, “but I have to go out of town. I have just written you.”
“What a bore,” she remarked. “Business, of course!”
She nodded and passed on. Her farewell to Lady Ruth was distinctly curt. Wingrave resumed his seat and his luncheon without remark.
“Hateful woman,” Lady Ruth murmured.
“I thought you were friends,” Wingrave remarked.
“Yes, we are,” Lady Ruth assented, “the sort of friendship you men don’t know much about. You see a good deal of her, don’t you?”
Wingrave raised his head and looked at Lady Ruth contemplatively.
“Why do you ask me that?” he asked.
“I do,” he remarked; “you should be grateful to her.”
“It may save you a similar infliction.”
Lady Ruth was silent for several moments.
“Perhaps,” she said at last, “I do not choose to be relieved.”
Wingrave bowed, his glass in his hand. His lips were curled into the semblance of a smile, but he did not say a word. Lady Ruth leaned a little across the table so that the feathers of her hat nearly brushed his forehead.
“Wingrave,” she asked, “do you know what fear is? Perhaps not! You are a man, you see. No one has ever called me a coward. You wouldn’t, would you?”
“No!” he said deliberately, “you are not a coward.”
“There is only one sort of fear which I know,” she continued, “and that is the fear of what I do not understand. And that is why, Wingrave, I am afraid of you.”