Erect, with well-assured poise, she looked at him; he took one of the flowers, gazed at it, a tiny thing in his own great palm, a tiny, red thing, like a jewel in hue—that reminded him of—what? As through a mist he saw a spark—where?
“Only one?” she said in the same tone. “You are modest. And you don’t even condescend to put it in your coat?”
He did so; in his gaze was a sudden new expression, something so compelling, so different, it held her, almost against her will. He seemed to see her and yet not fully to be aware of her presence; she drew back slightly. The girl’s crimson lips parted as with a suspicion of faint wonder; the blue eyes, just a little soberer, were, also, in the least degree, perplexed. The man’s breast suddenly stirred; a breath—or was it the merest suggestion of a sigh?—escaped the firm lips. He looked out of the window at the garden, conventional, the arrangement of lines one expected.
When his look returned to her it was the same he had worn when he had first stepped forward to speak with her that afternoon.
“Thank you for the lesson in botany, Miss Wray!” he said easily. “I shall not forget it.”
The other primroses fell from her fingers; with a response equally careless if somewhat reserved, she turned and reentered the library. Lord Ronsdale regarded both quickly; then started, as he caught sight of the flower in John Steele’s coat. A frown crossed his face and he looked away to conceal the singularly cold and vindictive gleam that sprang to his eyes.
* * * * *
One evening about a fortnight later Lord Ronsdale, in a dissatisfied frame of mind, strolled along Piccadilly. His face wore a dark look, the expression of one ill-pleased with fortune’s late attitude toward him. Plans that he had long cherished seemed to be in some jeopardy; he had begun to flatter himself that the flowery way to all he desired lay before him and that he had but to tread it, when another, as the soothsayers put it, had crossed his path.
A plain man, a man without title! Lord Ronsdale told himself Miss Jocelyn Wray was no better than an arrant coquette, but the next moment questioned this conclusion. Had she not really been a little taken by the fellow? Certainly she seemed not averse to his company; when she willed, and she willed often, she summoned him to her aide. Nor did he now appear reluctant to come at her bidding; self-assertive though he had shown himself to be he obeyed, sans demur, the wave of my lady’s little hand. Was it a certain largeness and reserve about him that had awakened her curiosity? From her high social position had she wished merely to test her own power and amuse herself after a light fashion, surely youth’s and beauty’s privilege?