Her eyes glistened with a strange lustre.
“Oh, Paul! Paul!” she murmured, faintly. “Why did you not say this before—or—why do you tell me now?”
“Because now I know I love you more than all the world—more than my duty—more than my life! Is that enough?”
And Paul was about to break into a torrent of passionate appeal, when Gilbert Ledoux joined them and, shortly after, Mrs. Ledoux called Opal to her side.
Opal looked miserably unhappy. Why was she not rejoicing? Paul knew that she loved him. Nothing could ever make him doubt that. As he stood wondering, idly exchanging platitudes with his genial host, Mrs. Ledoux spoke in a tone of ringing emphasis that lingered in Paul’s ears all the rest of his life, “I think, Opal, it is time to share our secret!”
And then, as the girl’s face paled, and her frail form trembled with the force of her emotion, her mother hastened to add, “Gentlemen, you will rejoice with us that our daughter was last week formally betrothed to the Count de Roannes!”
The inevitable had happened.
How the remainder of the evening passed, Paul Zalenska never knew. As he looked back upon it, during the months that followed, it seemed like some hideous dream from which he was struggling to awake. He talked, he smiled, he even laughed, but scarcely of his own volition; it was as though another personality acted through him.
He was a temperate boy, but that night he drank more champagne than was good for him. Paul Verdayne was grieved. Not that he censured the lad. He knew only too well the anguish the Boy was suffering, and he could not find it in his heart to blame him for the dissipation. And yet Verdayne also knew how unavailing were all such attempts to drown the sorrow that had so shocked the Boy’s sensitive spirit.
As he gazed regretfully at the Boy across the dinner table, the butler placed a cablegram before him. Receiving a nod of permission from his hostess, he hastily tore open the envelope and paled at its contents.
The message was signed by the Verdaynes’ solicitor, and read:
Sir Charles very ill. Come immediately.
* * * * *
Before they left the house, Paul sought Opal for a few last words. There were no obstacles placed in his way now by anxious parental authority. He smiled cynically as he noticed how clear the way was made for him, now that Opal was “safeguarded” by her betrothal.