“Do you think that you are behaving fairly to her?” he asked. “Remember that she is not the child with whom you used to talk sentiment in your little Cumberland village. She is a woman now, with keen susceptibilities—as little a woman to be trifled with in her way as Emily de Reuss herself.”
The two men faced one another. Douglas was angry with Drexley, angry too with himself.
“I believe you’re right, Drexley,” he said, with an effort, “but I’m hanged if I see what business it is of yours.”
“It is the business of any man at any time,” Drexley answered softly, “to speak for the woman whom he loves.”
CICELY MAKES HER CHOICE
Society, over whose borders Douglas had once before passed under the tutelage of Emily de Reuss, opened her doors to him now freely, and Douglas, convinced that here was a solitude which the four walls of his chambers in Adam Street, peopled as they were with memories, could never offer, passed willingly inside. For a week or two he accepted recklessly whatever hospitalities were offered him, always with an unacknowledged hope that chance might offer him at least a glimpse of the woman who was destined to be the one great influence of his life. He frequented the houses where the possibilities of meeting her seemed best, and he listened continually and with ill-suppressed eagerness for any mention of her name. It chanced, however, that even the latter faint consolation was denied to him, and he neither saw anything of her at the houses of her friends, nor came across her name in the papers which, as a rule, never failed to chronicle her doings. At the club they chaffed him mercilessly—a rabid tuft-hunter, or had he political ambitions? He chaffed back again and held his own as usual, but not a soul, save perhaps Drexley, understood him in those days. Then there came to him one day a sudden fear. She was surely ill—or she had disappeared. He caught up his hat and coat and walked swiftly to Grosvenor Square.
He reached the house and stopped short in front of it. It seemed to him to have a gloomy, almost an uninhabited appearance. For a few moments he struggled with himself—with his pride, a vague sense of alarm every moment growing stronger as the dismantled aspect of the house became more apparent to him. Then he walked up the steps and rang the bell.
A servant in plain clothes answered it after a delay which was in itself significant. He appeared surprised at Douglas’s inquiry, knowing him well as a frequent visitor at the house. The Countess had left for abroad several days since—he believed for Russia, and for a considerable time. The servants were all discharged and the house “to let,” he himself remained only as caretaker. Douglas walked back again into the streets with a heart like lead and a mist before his eyes. She had taken him at his word then—he had lost her. After all it was the inevitable.