Her fascination gripped him in proportion as she let him go.
“I don’t know that I should mind if nobody really knows,” he began.
“You! It’s I that would mind. And I really know. Could I marry a man who had told me smoking-room stories? No, Eileen is done with you. Good-by!”
“Good-by? No, I can’t go. I can’t face the emptiness. You’ve filled me and fooled me with love all these weeks. Good God! Do you owe me nothing?”
“I leave you something—Nelly O’Neill! Go and see her. Now you’re off with the old love. You mark what a prophetess I was. Nelly’ll receive you very differently. No cant of superiority. You’ll be just a pair of jolly good fellows. You’ll sit up drinking whisky together and yarning anecdotes. No uncomfortable pretences; no black bog posing as white fire; no driven snow business, London snow nicely trodden, in. And the tales of the world you tell me—how useful they’ll come in for stage-patter! Oh, we shall be happy enough! We can still pick up the pieces!”
“Eileen! Eileen! you will drive me mad. What do you mean? You know I could never have a wife on the Halls. It would ruin me in the clubs, it would—”
“In the clubs! Ha! ha! ha! Every member of which would be delighted to have tea with me! But who’s proposing to you a wife on the Halls? You said I owed you myself, and it’s true, but you don’t suppose I could marry a man I didn’t respect? I told you we’re not a marrying profession. Come, let’s kiss and be friends.”
He drew back as in horror. “No, no, Eileen, I respect you too much for that.”
She looked at him long and curiously. “Yes, the sexes don’t understand each other. Well, good-by. I almost could marry you, after all. But I’m too wise. Please go. I have a headache and it is quite possible I shall scream. Good-by, dear. I was never more than a phantom to you—a boyish memory, and a bad one at that. Don’t you know you gave me a pair of black eyes? Good-by: you’ll marry a dear, sweet girl in white muslin who’ll never know. God bless you.”
Sir Robert Maper simply could not get up on the Monday morning. The agony of suspense was too keen, and he lay with closed eyes, trying to drowse his consciousness, and exchanging it in his fitful snatches of sleep for oppressive dreams, in one of which Eileen figured as a Lorelei, combing her locks on a rock as she sang her siren song.
But she did not prolong his agony beyond mid-day.
“MY DEAR SIR ROBERT,—Both of us are dead and gone, so, alas! neither can marry you. Don’t be alarmed, we are only dead to the world, and gone to the Continent. ‘Get thee to a nunnery.’ Hamlet knew best. If I could have married any man it would have been you. You are the only gentleman I have ever known. But I don’t love you. It’s a miserable pity. I wish I did. I wonder