“I did not mean to hurt you,” he said gently, and her voice softened at his tone.
“Ah, Adrien,” she cried beseechingly, “you do hurt me when you treat me like this. Try and forget her, unless”—she broke off abruptly—“unless you are really going to marry her. Is that so?”
“I told you,” he answered wearily. “I shall never marry Constance. She is engaged to another.”
“Thank Heaven!” was her, ladyship’s mental ejaculation, but she said nothing aloud.
Leroy roused himself. “I must go,” he said.
“So soon?” she asked tremulously. “Where are you going?”
“To the theatre.”
She frowned, and, seeing it, he stopped to explain.
“It is no longer mine,” he said with a faint smile.
“Not yours!” she cried in surprise.
“No, it belongs to Miss Lester.”
Her quick intellect grasped his meaning at once.
“Henceforth, you mean to retire from the gay world, then?” she said, with a faint sneer, adding quickly, as his face darkened, “Ah, forgive me, if am bitter! I hate to see you unhappy. Try and forgive my ill-humour.”
“You are, as ever, my queen,” he said, “and can, therefore, do no wrong.”
Lifting her hand to his lips, he turned and strode hastily from the room.
Adrien Leroy dined alone that night—a most unusual occurrence; but the scene with Lady Merivale moved him, and still troubled his mind. He had hitherto only regarded his love-making with her as part in the comedy of life, wherein he played the lover, to her lead; doffing and donning the character at will. That she had taken either him or herself seriously had never entered into his mind. Believing also in the hopelessness of his love for Lady Constance, he regretted bitterly having allowed his secret to escape him; yet so unaccustomed was he to the conventional and inevitable lying of the world in which he moved so serenely, that it had never occurred to him to deny the charge, and swear everlasting devotion to the countess alone.
Norgate, who waited on him as usual, noticed his abstraction.
“We’re getting tired of London again,” said that astute servant to himself, as he changed the dishes. “We’re thinking of going East again or my name ain’t what it is.” For Adrien had spent the preceding year in Persia.
After dinner Leroy lingered in the comfortable, luxurious room, as if loth to start out again on the weary round of amusement. To youth and the uninitiated, pleasure, as represented by balls, theatres or feasting, seems to be an everlasting joy; but to those born in the midst of it, trained and educated only to amuse or to be amused, it becomes work, and work of a most fatiguing nature. To dance when one wishes to rest; to stand, hour after hour, receiving guests with smile and bows, when one would gladly be in bed; to eat, when one has no appetite for food; all this, continued day in day out, is no longer a pleasure—it becomes a painful duty.