“Don’t take any notice of it,” said Phil. “It isn’t worth it.”
“I can’t help myself,” said Audrey. “You see—I’m married!”
“So is Mrs. Raleigh.” Phil spoke with sudden heat. “But she doesn’t care.”
“No, I know. But her husband is such an old dear. Everything she does is right in his eyes.”
It was skating on thin ice, and Phil at least realised it. He made an abrupt effort to pull up.
“Yes, I’m awfully fond of Major Raleigh,” he said. “By the way, he’s an immense admirer of yours. Your promptitude the other night quite won his heart. He complimented your husband upon it.”
“Did he? What did Eustace say?”
There was more than curiosity in Audrey’s voice.
“I don’t know.”
Phil’s eyes suddenly avoided hers. He spoke in a dogged, half-surly tone.
Audrey sat and looked at him for a moment. Then lightly she rose and stood before him.
“Tell me, please!” she said imperiously.
He made a sharp gesture of remonstrance.
“Sorry,” he said, after a moment, as she waited inexorably. “I can’t!”
“Oh, but you can!” she returned. “You’re not to say you won’t to me.”
He looked down at her.
“I am sorry!” he said less brusquely. “But it can’t be done. It isn’t worth a tussle, I assure you, nor is it worth the possible annoyance it might cause you if you had your way. Look here, can’t we talk of something else?”
She laid her hand impulsively on his arm.
“Tell me, Phil!” she said.
He drew back abruptly.
“You put me in a beastly position, Mrs. Tudor,” he said. “I hate repeating things. It isn’t fair to corner me like this.”
“Don’t be absurd!” said Audrey. Her face was flushed and determined. She was bent upon having her own way in this, at least. “I shall begin to hate you in a minute.”
But Phil could be determined, too.
“Can’t help it,” he said; but there was genuine regret in his voice. “You’ll have to, I’m afraid.”
He was scarcely prepared for the effect of his words. She flung away from him in tempestuous anger and turned as if to leave the room. But before she reached the door some other impulse apparently overtook her. She stopped abruptly with her back to Phil, and stood for what seemed to him interminable seconds, fumbling with her handkerchief.
Then, before he had fully realised the approaching catastrophe, her self-control suddenly deserted her. She sank into a chair with her hands over her face and began to cry.
Now, Phil was young, and no woman had ever thus abandoned herself to tears in his presence before. The sight sent a sharp shock through him that was almost like a dart of physical pain. It paralysed him for an instant; but the next he strode forward, convention flung to the winds, desirous only to comfort. He reached her and bent over her, one hand upon her shaking shoulder.