“Quite!” The nobleman’s tone was even harder and more metallic than usual; his thin lips compressed to a tight line; his eyes that looked out to a great distance were bright and glistening.
“Are you ready, Mr. Steele?” Jocelyn Wray waited a moment as the others started, looked down at that gentleman. Her voice was gracious; its soft accents seemed to say: “You may ride with me; it is your reward!”
For one restored so quickly to favor, with a felicitous prospect of gay words and bright glances, John Steele seemed singularly dull and apathetic. He exhibited no haste in the task he was engaged in; straightened slowly and mounted with leisure. Once again in the saddle, and on their way, it is true he appeared to listen to the girl; but his responses were vague, lacking both in vivacity and humor. It was impossible she should not notice this want of attention; she bit her lips once; then she laughed.
“Do you know, Mr. Steele, if I were vain I should feel hurt.”
“Hurt?” he repeated.
“You haven’t heard what I have been saying.” Her eyes challenged his.
He did not; again she looked at him merrily.
“Of course, I can’t afford to be harsh with my rescuer. Perhaps”—in the same tone—“you really did save my life! Have you ever really saved any one—any one else, shall I say?—you who are so strong?”
A spasm as of pain passed over his face; his look, however, was not for her; and the girl’s eyes, too, had now become suddenly set afar. Was she thinking of another scene, some one her own words conjured to mind? Her mood seemed to gain in seriousness; she also became very quiet; and so almost in silence they went on to the entrance, down the street, to her home.
“Au revoir, and thank you!” she said there, regaining her accustomed lightness.
“Good-by! At least for the present,” he added. “I am leaving London,” abruptly.
“Leaving?” She regarded him in surprise. “To be gone long?”
“It is difficult to say. Perhaps.”
“But—you must have decided suddenly?”
“While we have been riding home?” Again he answered affirmatively; the blue eyes looked at him long. “Is it—is it serious?”
“Men make so much of business, nowadays,” she observed, “it—it always seems serious, I suppose. We—we are moving into the country in a few weeks. Shall I—shall we, see you before then?”
“To my regret, I am afraid not.”
“And after”—in a voice matter-of-fact—“I think aunt has put you down for July; a house party; I don’t recall the exact dates. You will come?”
“Shall we say, circumstances permitting—” “Certainly,” a little stiffly, “circumstances permitting.” She gave him her hand. “Au revoir! Or good-by, if you prefer it.” He held the little gloved fingers; let them drop. There was a suggestion of hopelessness in the movement that fitted oddly his inherent vigor and self-poise; she started to draw away; an ineffable something held her.