She beamed on them both, then swiftly retreated, and the door behind Joan Meredyth quickly closed.
FACE TO FACE
It was, Hugh Alston decided, the most beautiful face he had ever seen in his life and the coldest, or so it seemed to him. She was looking at him with cool questioning in her grey eyes, her lips drawn to a hard line.
He saw her as she stood before him, and as he saw her now, so would he carry the memory of the picture she made in his mind for many a day to come—tall, perhaps a little taller than the average woman, tall by comparison with Marjorie Linden, brown of hair and grey of eye, with a disdainfully enquiring look about her.
He was not a man who usually noticed a woman’s clothes, yet the picture impressed on his mind of this girl was a very complete one. She was wearing a dress that instinct told him was of some cheap material. She might have bought it ready-made, she might have made it herself, or some unskilled dressmaker might have turned it out cheaply. Poverty was the note it struck, her boots were small and neat, well-worn. Yes, poverty was the keynote to it all.
It was she, womanlike, who broke the silence.
“Well? I am waiting for some explanation of all the extraordinary things that have been said to me since I have been in this house. You, of course, heard what Lady Linden said as she left us?”
“I heard,” he said. His cheeks turned red. Was ever a man in a worse position? The questioning grey eyes stared at him so coldly that he lost his head. He wanted to apologise, to explain, yet he knew that he could not explain. It was Marjorie who had brought him into this, but he must respect the girl’s secret, on which so much depended for her.
“Please answer me,” Joan Meredyth said. “You heard Lady Linden advise us, you and myself, to make up a quarrel that has never taken place; you heard her—” She paused, a great flush suddenly stole over her face, adding enormously to her attractiveness, but quickly as it came, it went.
What could he say? Vainly he racked his brains. He must say something, or the girl would believe him to be fool as well as knave. Ideas, excuses, lies entered his mind, he put them aside instantly, as being unworthy of him and of her, yet he must tell her—something.
“When—when I used your name, believe me, I had no idea that it was the property of a living woman—”
“When you used my name? I don’t understand you!”
“I claimed that I was married to a Miss Joan Meredyth—”
“I still don’t understand you. You say you claimed that you were married—are you married to anyone?”
“Then—then—” Again the glorious flush came into her cheeks, but was gone again, leaving her whiter, colder than before, only her eyes seemed to burn with the fire of anger and contempt.