“No—I’m not. Perhaps it makes me seem to you a bit of a fool?”
“Quite the reverse. It’s all along been a part of your charm.”
There was more of tenderness than amusement in her low laugh. “Precisely! If you didn’t possess—some magnetic quality, could I have been drawn away from a man—like Lance, when I’d nearly made up my mind—to face the music.”
For answer, he kissed her captured hand.
Then: “Roy, if it doesn’t hurt too much,” she urged, “will you tell me first—just—what Lance said?”
It would hurt, horridly. But it was as well she should know; and not a word need he withhold. Could there be a finer tribute to his friend? It was his own share in their last unforgettable talk that could not be reproduced.
“Yes—I’ll tell you,” he said. And, his half-closed eyes resting on the sunlit hills, he told her, in a voice from which all feeling was carefully expunged. Only so could he achieve the telling; and she listened without interruption, for which he felt grateful, exceedingly....
When it was over he merely moved his head and looked up at her; and she returned his look, her eyes heavy with tears. Mutually their fingers tightened.
“Thank you,” she said. “It makes me ... ashamed, but it makes me proud.”
“It made me angry and bewildered,” said Roy. “If you really were ... coming his way, what the devil did I do to upset it all? Of course I admired you; and I was interested—on his account. But—I had no thought—I was absorbed in other things——”
She nodded slowly, not looking at him. “Quite so. And I suppose—being me—I didn’t choose that a man should dance with me, ride with me, obviously admire me, and yet remain absorbed in other things. And—being you—of course it never struck you that, for my kind of girl, your provocatively casual attitude almost amounted to a challenge. Besides—as I said—you were charming; you were different. Perhaps—if I’d felt a shade less sure—of Lance, if he’d had the wit even to seem keen on some one else ... he might have saved himself. As it was—you were irresistible.”
She heard him grit his teeth; and turned with swift compunction.
“My poor Roy! Am I jarring you badly? I suppose, if I talked till midnight, I’d never succeed in making a man like you understand how purely instinctive it all is. Analysed, like this, it sounds cold-blooded. But, it’s just—second nature. He—Lance—understood up to a point. That’s why he was aggressive that day: oh—furiously angry; all because of you. The pair you are! He said if I fooled you, and didn’t play fair, he’d back out, or insist on a pucca engagement. And—yes—it did have the wrong effect. It made me wonder—if I could marry a man, however splendid, who owned such exacting standards and such a hot temper. And there were you—an unknown quantity, with the Banter-Wrangle discreetly in pursuit. A supreme inducement in itself!—Yes, distinctly, that afternoon was a turning-point. Just Lance losing his temper, and you coolly forgetting an arrangement with me——”