“Bosh! My friends and your wife must make the best of it. I shan’t rob her again as I did just now. You can blot that out—antedate it. It belonged to the past. But I am not going through life as I have gone through this last year, longing for a sight of you, longing to hear you speak, and denying myself just because you are married. Live with your wife, Lawrence, and make her as happy as you can, but remember that you owe me a great deal, too, and you must do your best to pay it. Don’t look at me as though I were talking nonsense.”
He held her hand. She placed it in his unresistingly. All the lines in his face seemed smoothed out. The fire of youth was in his eyes.
“Do you wonder that I am surprised?” he asked. “All this year you have made no sign. All the time I have been schooling myself to forget you.”
“Don’t dare to tell me that you have succeeded!” she exclaimed.
“Not an iota!” he answered. “It was the most miserable failure of my life.”
She smiled upon him delightfully, and gently withdrew her hand.
“Lawrence,” she said, “I am going to talk to you seriously for one minute. You are too conscientious for a politician. Don’t let the same vice spoil our friendship! Certain things you owe to your wife. Mind, I admit that, though from some points of view even that might be disputed. But you also owe me certain things—and I mean to be paid. I won’t be avoided, mind. I want to be treated as a very close—and dear—companion—and—kiss me once more, Lawrence, and then we’ll begin,” she wound up, with a little sob in her throat.
An hour later the whole party had dejeuner together in the courtyard of the little hotel. The Duchess was noticeably kind to Mrs. Mannering, and she snubbed Sir Leslie. Clara looked on a little gravely. The situation contained many elements of interest.
CLOUDS—AND A CALL TO ARMS
The first cloud appeared towards the end of the third day at Bonestre. Blanche and Sir Leslie were left alone, and he hastened to improve the opportunity.
“The Duchess and your husband,” he remarked, “appear very easily to have picked up again the threads of their old friendship.”
“The Duchess,” she answered, “is a very charming woman. I am sure that you find her so, don’t you?”
“We are very old friends,” he answered, “but I was never admitted to exactly the same privileges as your husband enjoys.”
“The Duchess,” she answered, calmly, “is a woman of taste!”
Sir Leslie muttered something under his breath. Blanche made a movement as though to take up again the book which she had been reading in a sheltered corner of the hotel garden.
“Don’t you think,” he said, “that we should make better friends than enemies?”
“I am not at all sure,” she answered, calmly. “To tell you the truth, I don’t fancy you particularly in either capacity.”