If she indeed resembled a rare piece of flawless Dresden on this morning, she was as cold, her features were as unmarked by any human pity. Ah! so different an Elisabeth, this, from the one I had last seen at the East Room, with throat fluttering and cheeks far warmer than this cool rose pink. But, changed or not, the full sight of her came as the sudden influence of some powerful drug, blotting out consciousness of other things. I could no more have refrained from approaching her than I could have cast away my own natural self and form. Just as she reached the top of the broad marble stairs, I spoke.
Seeing that there was no escape, she paused now and turned toward me. I have never seen a glance like hers. Say not there is no language of the eyes, no speech in the composure of the features. Yet such is the Sphinx power given to woman, that now I saw, as though it were a thing tangible, a veil drawn across her eyes, across her face, between her soul and mine.
Elisabeth drew herself up straight, her chin high, her eyes level, her lips just parted for a faint salutation in the conventions of the morning.
“How do you do?” she remarked. Her voice was all cool white enamel. Then that veil dropped down between us.
She was there somewhere, but I could not see her clearly now. It was not her voice. I took her hand, yes; but it had now none of answering clasp. The flush was on her cheek no more. Cool, pale, sweet, all white now, armed cap-a-pie with indifference, she looked at me as formally as though I were a remote acquaintance. Then she would have passed.
“Elisabeth,” I began; “I am just back. I have not had time—I have had no leave from you to come to see you—to ask you—to explain—”
“Explain?” she said evenly.
“But surely you can not believe that I—”
“I only believe what seems credible, Mr. Trist.”
“But you promised—that very morning you agreed—Were you out of your mind, that—”
“I was out of my mind that morning—but not that evening.”
Now she was grande demoiselle, patrician, superior. Suddenly I became conscious of the dullness of my own garb. I cast a quick glance over my figure, to see whether it had not shrunken.
“But that is not it, Elisabeth—a girl may not allow a man so much as you promised me, and then forget that promise in a day. It was a promise between us. You agreed that I should come; I did come. You had given your word. I say, was that the way to treat me, coming as I did?”
“I found it possible,” said she. “But, if you please, I must go. I beg your pardon, but my Aunt Betty is waiting with the carriage.”
“Why, damn Aunt Betty!” I exclaimed. “You shall not go! See, look here!”
I pulled from my pocket the little ring which I had had with me that night when I drove out to Elmhurst in my carriage, the one with the single gem which I had obtained hurriedly that afternoon, having never before that day had the right to do so. In another pocket I found the plain gold one which should have gone with the gem ring that same evening. My hand trembled as I held these out to her.