“For nearly twenty years,” she said, “you disappeared. You were reported at different times to be in every quarter of the earth, from Zambesia to Pekin. But no one knew, and, of course, in a season or two you were forgotten. I always wondered, I am wondering now, where were you? What did you do with yourself?
“I went down into Hell,” he answered. “Can’t you see the marks of it in my face? For many years I lived in Hell—for many years.”
“You puzzle me,” she said, in a low tone. “You had no taste for dissipation. You look as though life had scorched you up at some time or other. But how? where? You were found in Canada, I know, when your brother died. But you had only been there for a few years. Before then?”
“Ay! Before then?”
There was a short silence. Then Arranmore, who had been gazing steadily into the fire, looked up. She fancied that his eyes were softer.
“Dear friend,” he said, “of those days I have nothing to tell—even you. But there are more awful things even than moral degeneration. You do me justice when you impute that I never ate from the trough. But what I did, and where I lived, I do not think that I shall ever willingly tell any one.”
A piece of burning wood fell upon the hearthstone. He stooped and picked it up, placed it carefully in its place, and busied himself for a moment or two with the little brass poker. Then he straightened himself.
“Catherine,” he said, “I think if I were you that I would not marry Sybil to Molyneux. It struck me to-day that his eyeglass-chain was of last year’s pattern, and I am not sure that he is sound on the subject of collars. You know how important these things are to a young man who has to make his own way in the world. Perhaps, I am not sure, but I think it is very likely I might be able to find a husband for her.”
“You dear man,” Lady Caroom murmured. “I should rely upon your taste and judgment so thoroughly.”
There was a discreet knock at the door. A servant entered with a card.
Arranmore took it up, and retained it in his fingers.
“Tell Mr. Brooks,” he said, “that I will be with him in a moment. If he has ridden over, ask him to take some refreshment.”
“You have a visitor,” Lady Caroom said, rising. “If you will excuse me I will go and lie down until luncheon-time, and let my maid touch me up. These sentimental conversations are so harrowing. I feel a perfect wreck.”
She glided from the room, graceful, brisk and charming, the most wonderful woman in England, as the Society papers were never tired of calling her. Arranmore glanced once more at the card between his fingers.
“Mr. Kingston Brooks.”
He stood for a few seconds, motionless. Then he rang the bell.
“Show Mr. Brooks in here,” he directed.