“It is impossible that you should understand,” she said tranquilly. “But you will, at least, remember what I have said?”
“I will,” he promised easily. “I shall never forget it!”
A slight humorous smile curved the corners of his handsome mouth.
“Now this—er—what shall we call it?—’bone of contention’ savors too strongly of wrath and discomfiture; so we’ll say, simply and specifically, this photograph—which chances to have a harmless quotation inscribed upon its reverse: Suppose I drop it in the waste-basket? I can conceive that it possesses no particular significance or value for any one. I assure you most earnestly that it does not—for me.”
He made as though he would have carelessly torn the picture across, preparatory to making good his proposal.
She stopped him with a swift gesture.
“Give it to me,” she said. “It is lost property, and I am responsible for its safe-keeping.”
She perceived that she had completely failed in her intention.
“What are you going to do with it?” he inquired, with an easy assumption of friendliness calculated to put her more completely at her ease with him.
“I don’t know. For the present, I shall put it back in my desk.”
“Better take my advice and destroy it,” he persisted. “It—er—is not valuable evidence. Or—I believe on second thought I shall accept your suggestion and return it myself to its probable owner.”
He was actually laughing, his eyes brimming with boyish mischief.
“I think it belongs to Miss Dix,” he told her audaciously.
“To Miss Dix?” she echoed.
“Yes; why not? Don’t you see the fair Ellen among the group?”
Her eyes blazed suddenly upon him; her lips trembled.
“Forgive me!” he cried, aghast at his own folly.
She retreated before his outstretched hands.
“I didn’t mean to—to make light of what appears so serious a matter to you,” he went on impetuously. “It is only that it is not serious; don’t you see? It is such a foolish little mistake. It must not come between us, Lydia!”
“Please go away, at once,” she interrupted him breathlessly, “and—and think of what I have said to you. Perhaps you didn’t believe it; but you must believe it!”
Then, because he did not stir, but instead stood gazing at her, his puzzled eyes full of questions, entreaties, denials, she quietly closed a door between them. A moment later he heard her hurrying feet upon the stair.