“If one could believe that,” he murmured.
“Two months ago,” she continued, “every one was saying that you had made up your mind to end your days in the hunting-field. All Melton was talking about your reckless riding, and your hairbreadth escapes.”
“Both shockingly exaggerated,” he said, under his breath.
Perhaps; but apart from the papers I have seen people who were out and who have told me that you rode with absolute recklessness, simply and purely for a fall, and that you deserved to break your neck a dozen times over. Then there was your week in Paris with Prince Comfrere, and now your supper-parties are the talk of London.”
“They are justly famed,” he answered, gravely, “for you know I brought home the chef from Voillard’s. I am sorry that I cannot ask you to one.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Arranmore. Why do you do these things? Does it amuse you, give you any satisfaction?
“Upon my word I don’t know,” he answered.
“Then why do you do it?”
“Because,” he said slowly, “there is a shadow which dogs me. I am always trying to escape—and it is always hard on my heels. You are a woman, Catherine, and you don’t know the suffering of the most intolerable form of ennui—loneliness.”
“And do you?” she asked, looking at him with softening eyes.
“Always. It rode with me in the turnkey frill—and sometimes perhaps it lifted my spurs—why not? And at these suppers you speak of, well, they are all very gay—it is I only who have bidden them, who reap no profit. For whosoever may sit there the chair at my side is always empty.”
“You speak sadly,” she said, “and yet—”
“To hear you talk, Arranmore, with any real feeling about anything is always a relief,” she said. “Sometimes you speak and act as though every emotion which had ever filled your life were dead, as though you were indeed but the shadow of your former self. Even to know that you feel pain is better than to believe you void of any feeling whatever.”
“Then you may rest content,” he told her quietly, “for I can assure you that pain and I are old friends and close companions.”
“You have so much, too, which should make you happy—which should keep you employed and amused,” she said, softly.
“‘Employed and amused.’” His eyes flashed upon her with a gleam of something very much like anger. “It pleases you to mock me!”
“Indeed no!” she protested. “You must not say such things to me.”
“Then remember,” he said, bitterly, “that sympathy from you comes always very near to mockery. It is you and you alone who can unlock the door for me. You show me the key—but you will not use it.”
A belated caller straggled in, and Arranmore took his leave. Lady Caroom for the rest of the afternoon was a little absent. She gave her visitors cold tea, and seriously imperiled her reputation as a charming and sympathetic hostess.