“You are a peculiar girl, Opal, and—we don’t say those things in England.”
“No, you don’t say those things, you cold English women! You do not even feel them! As for sin, Alice, to my mind there can be no worse sin under heaven than you commit when you give yourself to a man whom you do not love better than you could possibly love any other. Oh, it is a sin—it must be—to sell yourself like that! It’s no wonder, I think, that your husbands are so often driven to ’the women we do not talk about’ for—consolation!”
“Opal! Opal! hush! What are you saying? You really—but see! isn’t that Algernon crossing the terrace? He is probably looking for us.”
“And like a dutiful English wife, you mustn’t fail to obey, I suppose! Lead the way, cousin mine, and I’ll promise to follow you with due dignity and decorum.”
And the rustle of silken skirts heralded the departure of the ladies away from the hedge and beyond Paul’s hearing.
Then he too started at an eager, restless pace for the centre of the crowd. He had quite forgotten the future so carefully arranged for him, and was off in hot pursuit of—what? He did not know! He only knew that he had heard a voice, and—he followed!
As he rejoined the guests, he looked with awakened interest into every face, listened with eager intensity to every voice. But all in vain. It did not occur to him that he might easily learn from his hostess the identity of her American guest; and even if the thought had presented itself to him, he would never have acted upon it. The experience was his alone, and he would have been unwilling to share it with any one.
He was no longer bored as earlier in the afternoon, and he carried the assurance of enthusiasm and interest in his every glance and motion. People smiled at the solitary figure, and whispered that he must have lost Verdayne. But for once in his life, the Boy was not looking for his friend.
But neither did he find the voice!
Usually among the first to depart on such occasions as these, this time he remained until almost all the crowd had made their adieux. And it was with a keen sense of disappointment that he at last entered his carriage for the home of the Verdaynes. He was hearing again and again in the words of the voice, as it echoed through his very soul, “When my time comes, I shall certainly know, and I shall—live!”
The letter in his pocket no longer scorched the flesh beneath. He had forgotten its very existence, nor did he once think of the Princess Elodie of Austria. What had happened to him?
Had he fallen in love with a—voice?
It was May at Verdayne Place, and May at Verdayne Place was altogether different from May in any other part of the world. The skies were of a far deeper and richer blue; the flowers reached a higher state of fragrant and rainbow-hued perfection; the sun shining through the green of the trees was tempered to just the right degree of shine and shadow. To an Englishman, home is the beginning and the end of the world, and Paul Verdayne was a typical Englishman.