LADY ANGELA’S ENGAGEMENT
I dined that night at Rowchester. Lord Blenavon was sulky, and Lady Angela was only fitfully gay. It was not altogether a cheerful party. Lady Angela left us the moment Blenavon produced his cigarette-case.
“Do not stay too long, Mr. Ducaine,” she said, as I held the door open for her. “I want a lesson at billiards.”
I bowed and returned to my seat. Blenavon was leaning back in his chair, smoking thoughtfully.
“My sister,” he remarked, looking up at the ceiling and speaking as though to himself, “would make an admirable heroine for the psychological novelist. She is a bundle of fancies; one can never rely upon what she is going to do. What other girl in the world would get engaged on the Thursday, and come down here on the Friday to think it over—leaving, of course, her fiance in town? Doesn’t that strike you as singular?”
“Is it,” I asked calmly, “a genuine case?”
Lord Blenavon nodded.
“I do not think that it is a secret,” he said, helping himself to wine and passing the decanter. “She has made up her mind at last to marry Mostyn Ray. The affair has been hanging about for more than a year. In fact, I think that there was something said about it before Ray went abroad. Personally, I think that he is too old. I don’t mind saying so to you, because that has been my opinion all along. However, I suppose it is all settled now.”
I kept my eyes fixed upon the wineglass in front of me, but the things which I saw, no four walls had ever enclosed. One moment the rush of the sea was in my ears, another I was lying upon the little horsehair couch in my sitting-room. I felt her soft white fingers upon my pulse and forehead. Again I saw her leaning down from the saddle of her great brown horse, and heard her voice, slow, emotionless, yet always with its strange power to play upon my heartstrings. And yet, while the grey seas of despair were closing over my head, I sat there with a stereotyped smile upon my lips, fingering carelessly the stem of my wineglass, unwilling guest of an unwilling host. I do not know how long we sat there in silence, but it seemed to me an eternity, for all the time I knew that Blenavon was watching me. I felt like a victim upon the rack, whilst he, the executioner, held the cords. I do not think, however, that he learnt anything from my face.
With a little shrug of the shoulders he abandoned the subject.
“By-the-bye, Ducaine,” he said, “I hope you won’t mind my asking you a rather personal question.”
“If it is only personal,” I answered quietly, “not at all. As you know, I may not discuss any subject connected with my work.”
“Quite so! I only want to know whether your secretarial duties begin and end with your work on the Council of Defence, or are you at all in my father’s confidence as regards his private affairs?”