Alas! for the irony of fate! This day, during which he had strenuously endeavoured to forget Constance, had only shown him more plainly the utter impossibility of doing so. If he had but known the opportunity he had missed with that letter, his mortification and despair would have been even greater.
Constance had regretted her policy in sending Adrien from her almost before the day was over, and had purposely planned this way of seeing him. Deeming his outing—thanks to Jasper’s clever insinuations—to have been undertaken on purpose to avoid her, the girl’s heart was heavy within her, and filled with something very like resentment too.
Adrien, on the other hand, all unwitting of the harm this excursion had done his cause, had talked long and quietly with Lady Merivale. He had made up his mind to break away even from these silken strings.
“So you have determined to leave me?” she said sadly.
“You know I must,” he replied. “For your sake, as well as mine, it is best.”
“Perhaps you are right,” she said in a low voice. “So this is the last happy day we shall spend together?”
“Yes,” he answered with a sigh. “Now, standing here, I see only too well that we ought never to have spent any at all. I dread lest I have spoilt your happiness, Eveline, lest a breath of slander should touch your name. I will not deny that I had of late hoped to marry and settle down as my father wishes, but it is not to be. Don’t laugh at me when I tell you I am going to turn over a new leaf. After this ball at Barminster, I shall go abroad for awhile. That will give the world time to forget we have ever had more than a passing acquaintance.”
Tears rolled down Eveline’s face as she listened to his words. She had played her last card, and she knew the game was lost; though it was her vanity that suffered more than her heart. She was too clever and too proud to resist any further, however, or sue for his favour. Presently she rose, and said, as steadily as usual:
“Come, Adrien, let us turn down stream and retrace our way while we can see. It is dusk already—I had no idea it had grown so late.”
He helped her into the little skiff in silence; and as the Sea Foam glided over the rippling waters a profound stillness seemed to descend over the darkening landscape.
Presently Lady Merivale peered forward.
“This half-light is so deceptive,” she said, in a rather nervous voice; “I nearly steered you into the bank then.”
“Can you see?” he asked. “Put down the lines and let me guide the boat.”
“No, no,” she replied. “I can see well enough.”
“Just as you like,” he said gently. “I will row quicker. It’s time we were in Hampton. For what hour did you order the car?”
“I came by train,” she answered.
“I have my motor,” said Leroy; “I suppose you would not return in that?”