“I am sorry.”
“Yes; it was partly my fault—very largely my fault. But your mother angered me from the first by assuming—what she had no right to assume. It was horrible.”
Diana Vyell seated herself, eyed her steadily for a moment, and nodded again. “Mamma can be raide, there’s no denying. She was wrong, of course; that’s understood. . . . Still, on the whole you have done pretty well, and had your revenge.”
Ruth’s eyes widened, for this was beyond her.
Diana explained. “You have let us make the most impossible fools of ourselves. It may have been more by luck than by good management, as they say; but there it is. Now don’t say that revenge isn’t sweet. . . . I’ve done you what justice I can; but if you pose as an angel from heaven, it’s asking too much.” While Ruth considered this, she added, “I don’t know if you can put yourself in mamma’s place for a moment; but if you can, the hoax is complete enough, you’ll admit.”
“I had rather put myself in yours.”
Their eyes met, and Diana’s cheek reddened slightly. “You are an extraordinary girl,” she said, “and there seems no way but to be honest with you. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy, even with the best will in the world. Can you understand that?”
“If you love him—”
“Oh, for pity’s sake spare me!” Diana bounced up and stepped to the window. The red on her cheek had deepened, and she averted it to stare out at the poultry in the yard. “You are unconscionable,” she said after a while, with a vexed laugh. “I have known my cousin Oliver since we were children together. Really, you know, you’re almost as brutal as mamma. . . . The truth? Let me see. Well, the truth, so near as I can tell it, is that I just let mamma have her head, and waited to see what would happen. This was her expedition, and I took no responsibility for it from the first.”
“I understand.” Ruth, watching the back of her head, spoke musingly, with pursed lips.
“Excuse me”—Diana wheeled about suddenly—“you cannot possibly understand just yet. This last was my tenth season in London. One grows weary . . . and then in the confusion of papa’s death— It comes to this, that I was ready for anything to get out of the old rut. I—I—shall we say that I just cast myself on fate? It may have been at the back of my head that whatever happened might be worse, but couldn’t well be wearier. But if you think I had any design of setting my cap at him—”
“Hush!” said Ruth softly. “I had no such thought.”
“And if you had, you would not have cared,” said Diana, eyeing her again long and steadily. “Mamma—you really must forgive mamma. If you knew them, there was never a Pett that was not impayable. Mamma spoke of asking your price. . . . As if, for any price, he would give you up!”
“I have no price to ask, of him or of any one.”