Trefusis, evidently concerned, looking doubtfully at Erskine, and pondered for a moment. “I think you are on a wrong scent about this,” he said. “My relations with Miss Lindsay were not of a sentimental kind. Have you said anything to her—on your own account, I mean?”
“I have spoken to her on both accounts, and I know from her own lips that I am right.”
Trefusis uttered a low whistle.
“It is not the first time I have had the evidence of my senses in the matter,” said Erskine significantly. “Pray think of it seriously, Trefusis. Forgive my telling you frankly that nothing but your own utter want of feeling could excuse you for the way in which you have acted towards her.”
Trefusis smiled. “Forgive me in turn for my inquisitiveness,” he said. “What does she say to your suit?”
Erskine hesitated, showing by his manner that he thought Trefusis had no right to ask the question. “She says nothing,” he answered.
“Hm!” said Trefusis. “Well, you may rely on me as to the train. There is my hand upon it.”
“Thank you,” said Erskine fervently. They shook hands and parted, Trefusis walking away with a grin suggestive of anything but good faith.
Gertrude, unaware of the extent to which she had already betrayed her disappointment, believed that anxiety for her father’s health, which she alleged as the motive of her sudden departure, was an excuse plausible enough to blind her friends to her overpowering reluctance to speak to Agatha or endure her presence; to her fierce shrinking from the sort of pity usually accorded to a jilted woman; and, above all, to her dread of meeting Trefusis. She had for some time past thought of him as an upright and perfect man deeply interested in her. Yet, comparatively liberal as her education had been, she had no idea of any interest of man in woman existing apart from a desire to marry. He had, in his serious moments, striven to make her sensible of the baseness he saw in her worldliness, flattering her by his apparent conviction—which she shared—that she was capable of a higher life. Almost in the same breath, a strain of gallantry which was incorrigible in him, and to which his humor and his tenderness to women whom he liked gave variety and charm, would supervene upon his seriousness with a rapidity which her far less flexible temperament could not follow. Hence she, thinking him still in earnest when he had swerved into florid romance, had been dangerously misled. He had no conscientious scruples in his love-making, because he was unaccustomed to consider himself as likely to inspire love in women; and Gertrude did not know that her beauty gave to an hour spent alone with her a transient charm which few men of imagination and address could resist. She, who had lived in the marriage market since she had left school, looked upon love-making as the most serious business of life. To him it was only a pleasant sort of trifling, enhanced by a dash of sadness in the reflection that it meant so little.