“Is Golightly Ticke your friend—completely?”
“More—pardon me—than you could ever be,” she answered him, undaunted by the contempt in his tone.
There was silence for a moment between them. Elfrida’s wide-eyed gaze wandered appreciatively over the dusky interior, which for the man beside her barely existed.
“What a lot of English character there is here,” she said softly. “How dignified it is, and conscientious, and restrained!”
It was as if she had not spoken. Cardiff stared with knit brows into the insoluble problem she had presented to him a moment longer. “How are we so different, Elfrida?” he broke out passionately. “You are a woman and I am a man; the world has dealt with us, educated us, differently, and I am older than I dare say I ought to be to hope for your love. But these are not differences that count, whatever their results may be. It seems to me trivial to speak of such things in this connection, but we like very much the same books, the same people. I grant you I don’t know anything about pictures; but surely,” he pleaded, “these are not the things that cut a man off from the happiness of a lifetime!”
“I’m afraid—” she began, and then she broke off suddenly. “I am sorry—sorrier than I have ever been before, I think. I should have liked so well to keep your friendship; it is the most chivalrous I know. But if you feel like—like this about it I suppose I must not. Shall we say good-by here and now? Truly I am sorry.”
She had risen, and he could find no words to stay her. It seemed that the battle to possess her was over, and that he, had lost. Her desire for his friendship had all the mockery of freedom in it to him—in the agony of the moment it insulted him. With an effort he controlled himself—there should be no more of the futility of words. He must see the last of her some time—let it be now, then. He bent his head over the slender hand he held, brought his lips to it, and then, with sudden passion, kissed it hotly again and again, seeking the warm, uncovered little spot above the fastening. Elfrida snatched it away with a little shiver at the contact, a little angry shiver of surprised nerves. He looked at her piteously, struggling for a word, for any word to send away her repulsion, to bring her back to the mood of the moment before. But he could not find it; he seemed to have drifted hopelessly from her, to have lost all his reckonings.
“Well?” she said. She was held there partly by her sense of pity and partly by her desire to see the last, the very last of it.
“Go!” he returned, with a shrinking of pain at the word, “I cannot.”
“Pauvre ami!” she said softly, and then she turned, and her light steps sounded back to him through the length of the hall.
She walked more slowly when she reached the pavement outside, and one who met her might have thought she indulged in a fairly pleasant reverie. A little smile curved about the corners of her mouth, half compassionate, half amused and triumphant. She had barely time to banish it when she heard Cardiff’s step beside her, and his voice.