“Sit down, old enemy,” said she, sinking into a chair and pointing to another—which she had been careful to place just within reach. “You’ve nothing much to do for a short while, have you?”
“I’ve nothing much to do any time except to keep an eye on you!” he laughed.
“Am I so difficult?” she asked.
“You keep me fairly occupied at all times—and sometimes rather more.”
“At least I endeavour not to offend your eye!” she smiled, her head on her hand, her eyes on him.
“The only difficulty is that you are too alluring,” he returned. “One is prone to forget that his business is not to admire but to observe dispassionately and to block your plans. You’re much too beautiful, Madeline; you usually make monkeys of all of us, and while we’re held fascinated by your loveliness you scoop the prize. It’s not fair, my lady; you play with—loaded dice.”
“Flatterer!” she said, melting into another pose.
“Flatterer!” he exclaimed. “If you could but see yourself now, you would confess the truth of the indictment. You’re the loveliest thing, and you grow lovelier every day and younger. Positively, Madeline, you’re a—” he paused for words and raised his hands helplessly.
“I’m a what?” she murmured, leaning a bit toward him.
“I haven’t the word; there isn’t one adequate to the—subject.”
“You actually mean that?” she asked, gliding into another posture, even more alluring.
“You know I mean it,” he declared. “Haven’t we agreed to be honest with each other?”
“I’ve been honest!” she answered.
“Meaning that I’ve not been?”
“Have you?” she inflected, “I wonder, Guy.”
She might just as well have asked direct his feeling for Mrs. Clephane—and he understood perfectly the question.
He nodded, slowly but none-the-less definitely.
She took a cigarette and lighted it with careful attention, then blew the smoke sharply against the incandescent coal.
“Guy,” said she, “I’m about to speak plainly; please don’t misunderstand; I’m simply a woman, now—a weak woman, perhaps; it will be for you to judge me at the end.” She smiled faintly.
“Not a weak woman, Madeline,” he replied. “Your worst enemy would not venture to call you that.”
He wondered what more was coming, and at what directed. Her tone and attitude and deprecation of self were new to him. He had never seen her so; always she was the embodification of calm, self-reliance, poise, never flustered, never disturbed. A weak woman! It was so absurd as to be ridiculous, and she was aware of it. So what was the play with so bald a notice to beware?
“No, no, Guy,” said she. “You think it’s a play, but it isn’t. It’s the simple truth I’m about to tell you, and as truth I pray you take it.”
“I’ll take it as you wish it taken,” he responded, more than ever mystified.