“You are learning that I am not the harlequin after all,” he said bitterly.
“There is no one in all the world so good and strong and true.”
“You—you will love me?”
“You must not ask that of me. I am still Lady Huntingford, a wife for all we know. Yet if I loved you, I would tell you so. Have I not told you that I cannot love? I have never loved. I never shall. Don’t look like that, Hugh. I would to God I could love you,” she exclaimed. His chin had sunk upon his breast and his whole body relaxed through sheer dejection.
“I’ll make you love me!” he cried after a moment’s misery in the depths, his spirits leaping high with the quick recoil. His eager hands seized her shoulders and drew her close, so close that their bodies touched and his impassioned eyes were within a few inches of hers of startled blue. “I’ll make you love me!”
“Please let me go. Please, Hugh,” she murmured faintly.
“You must—you shall love me! I cannot live without you. I’ll have you whether you will or no,” he whispered fiercely.
She did not draw back, but looked him fairly in the eye as she spoke coldly, calmly, even with a sneer.
“You are master here and I am but a helpless woman. Would you force me to forget that you have been my ideal man?”
“Tennys!” he cried, falling back suddenly. “You don’t think I would harm you—oh, you know I didn’t mean that! What must you think of me?”
He put his hand over his eyes as if in deep pain, and, turning away, leaned against the tree unsteadily. With his first words, his first expression, she knew she had wronged him. A glad rush of blood to her heart set it throbbing violently.
She could not have explained the thrill that went through her when he grasped her shoulders, nor could she any more define the peculiar joy that came when she took a step forward and placed her hands gently, timidly on his arm.
“Forgive me, Hugh, I must have been mad to say what I did. You are too noble—too good—” she began in a pleading little quaver.
“I knew you couldn’t mean it,” he exclaimed, facing her joyously. “How beautiful you are!” he added impetuously. He was looking down, into that penitent face and the cry was involuntary. She smiled faintly and he raised his arms as if to clasp her to his breast, come what may. The smile lingered, yet his arms dropped to his sides. She had not moved, had not taken her eyes from his, but there was an unrelenting command in the soft words she uttered. “Be careful. I am always to trust you, Hugh.” He bowed his head and they walked slowly homeward.
THE OTHER SURRENDER
The first few days and nights after this episode found Ridgeway despairing and unhappy, but as time removed the sting from defeat, his hopes began to flounder to the surface again, growing into a resolution, strong and arrogant. He devoted himself to her tenderly, thoughtfully, unreservedly. There was something subtle in his gallantry, something fascinating in his good humor, something in everything he did that attracted her more than it had before. She only knew that she was happy when with him and that he was unlike any man she had known.