“I asked you where you are going?” she repeated with a faint smile.
“Nowhere in particular.”
“But you are going somewhere, I suppose.”
“I suppose so.”
“In my direction?”
“I think not.”
“That is very rude of you, Delancy—when you don’t even know where my direction lies. Do you think,” she demanded, amused, “that it is particularly civil of a man to terminate an interview with a woman before she offers him his conge?”
He finished reeling in his line, hooked the drop-fly into the reel-guide, shifted his creel, buttoned on the landing-net, and quietly turned around and inspected Mrs. Dysart.
“I want to tell you something,” he said. “I have never, even as a boy, had from you a single word which did not in some vague manner convey a hint of your contempt for me. Do you realise that?”
“W-what!” she faltered, bewildered.
“I don’t suppose you do realise it. People generally feel toward me as you feel; it has always been the fashion to tolerate me. It is a legend that I am thick-skinned and stupidly slow to take offence. I am not offended now.... Because I could not be with you.... But I am tired of it, and I thought it better that you should know it—after all these years.”
Utterly confounded, she leaned back, both hands tightening on the hand-rail behind her, and as she comprehended the passionless reproof, a stinging flush deepened over her pretty face.
“Had you anything else to say to me?” he asked, without embarrassment.
“Then may I take my departure?”
She lifted her startled blue eyes and regarded him with a new and intense curiosity.
“Have I, by my manner or speech, ever really hurt you?” she asked. “Because I haven’t meant to.”
He started to reply, hesitated, shook his head, and his pleasant, kindly smile fascinated her.
“You haven’t intended to,” he said. “It’s all right, Rosalie——”
“But—have I been horrid and disagreeable? Tell me.”
In his troubled eyes she could see he was still searching to excuse her; slowly she began to recognise the sensitive simplicity of the man, the innate courtesy so out of harmony with her experience among men. What, after all, was there about him that a woman should treat with scant consideration, impatience, the toleration of contempt? His clumsy manner? His awkwardness? His very slowness to exact anything for himself? Or had it been the half-sneering, half-humourous attitude of her husband toward him which had insensibly coloured her attitude?
She had known Delancy Grandcourt all her life—that is, she had neglected to know him, if this brief revelation of himself warranted the curiosity and interest now stirring her.
“Were you really ever in love with me?” she asked, so frankly that the painful colour rose to his hair again, and he stood silent, head lowered, like a guilty boy caught in his sins.