Mannering was silent for a moment. This woman seemed to belong to a different world from that with whose denizens he was in any way familiar. Years of isolation, and a certain epicureanism of taste, from which necessity had never taken the fine edge, had made him a little intolerant. He could see nothing that was not absolutely repulsive in this woman, whose fine eyes were seeking even now to attract his admiration. She was making the best of herself. She had chosen the darkest corner of the room, and her pose was not ungraceful. Her skirts were skilfully raised to show just as much as possible of her long, slender foot, with the patent shoes and silver buckles. She knew that her ankles were above reproach, and her dress becoming. A dozen men had paid her compliments during the day, yet she knew that every admiring glance, every whispered word which had come to her to-day, or for many days past, would count for nothing if only she could pierce for a single moment the unchanging coldness of the man who sat watching her now with the face of a Sphynx. A slow tide of passion welled up in her heart. Was not he a man and free, and was not she a woman? It was not much she asked from him, no pledge, no bondage. His kindness only, she told herself, was all she craved. She wanted him to look at her as other men looked at her. Who was he that he should set himself on a pedestal? Perhaps he had grown shy from the rust of his country life, the slow drifting apart from the world of men and women. Perhaps—she rose swiftly to her feet and crossed the room.
She leaned over him, one hand on the back of his chair, the other seeking in vain for his.
“Lawrence,” she said, “you grow colder and more unkind every day. What have I done to change you so? I am a foolish woman, I know, but there are things which I cannot forget.”
He rose at once to his feet, and stood apart from her.
“I thought,” he said, “I believed that we understood one another.”
She laughed softly.
“I am very sure that I do not understand you,” she said. “And as for you—I do not believe that you have ever understood any woman. There was a time, Lawrence—”
His impassivity was gone. He threw out his hands.
“Remember,” he said, “there is a promise between us. Don’t break it. Don’t dare to break it!”
She looked at him curiously. A new idea concerning this man and his avoidance of her crept into her mind. It was at least consoling to her vanity, and it left her a chance. She had roused him too, at last, and that was worth something.
“Why not?” she asked, moving a step towards him. “It was a foolish promise. It has done neither of us any good. It has spoilt a part of my life. Why should I keep silence, and let it go on to the end? Do you know what it has made of me, this promise?”