“But you must not let her suspect,” cautioned he.
“It would ruin everything for her if she even dreamed that you had told me, and I would not mar her happiness for the world. Really, Mr. Ridge, I am so excited over your exploit that I can scarcely contain myself. It seems so improbable, so immense, yet so simple that I can hardly understand it at all. Why is it other people have not found this way to revolutionize life? Running around the world to get married without the faintest excuse save an impulse—a whim. How good, how glorious! It is better than a novel!”
“I hope it is better than some novels.”
“It is better than any, because it is true.”
“I am afraid you are trying to lionize me,” he jested.
“You have faced a British lion,” she said slowly.
“My only regret is that he is old and clawless.”
“We are retracing our steps over dangerous ground,” she said with a catch in her breath.
“You would have me to believe that I am a brave man, so I am determined to court the danger of your displeasure. How did you happen to marry this old and clawless lion?”
She did not exhibit the faintest sign of surprise or discomfiture, certainly not of anger. Instead, she looked frankly into his eyes and answered: “That is what I thought you would ask me. I shall not refuse to answer. I married because I wanted to do so.”
“What!” exclaimed he incredulously. “I had hoped—er—I mean, feared that you had been—ah—sort of forced into it, you know.”
“Since my marriage I have discovered, however, that there is no fool like the ambitious fool,” she went on as if he had not spoken. “Do you understand what I mean?”
“That you married for position?”
“That I married simply to become Lady Huntingford.”
“And you did not love him at all?” There was something like disgust, horror in Hugh’s voice.
“Love him?” she exclaimed scornfully, and he knew as much as if she had spoken volumes. Then her face became rigid and cold. For the first time he saw the hard light of self-mastery in her eyes. “I made my choice; I shall abide by it to the end as steadfastfully as if I were the real rock which you may think me to be. There is nothing for me to tell—nothing more that I will tell to you. Are you not sorry that you know such a woman as I? Have you not been picking me to pieces and casting me with your opinions to the four winds?”
“I am truly sorry for you,” was all that he could say.
“You mean that you despise me,” she cried bitterly. “Men usually think that of such women as I. They do not give us a hearing with the heart, only with the cruel, calculating brain. Think of it, Mr. Ridge, I have never known what it means to love. I have been loved; but in all my life there has been no awakening of a passion like that which sends Grace Vernon around the world to give herself to you. I know that love exists for other people. I have seen it—have almost felt it in them when they are near me. And yet it is all so impossible to me.”