There was a feverish colour in her face; she spoke rapidly, like one who temporises, trying to convince others and over-ride the inward voice; her slender hands were restless on his shoulders, her eyes lowered, avoiding his.
“Perhaps if you and Kathleen, and I, myself, were not so afraid—perhaps if I were not forbidden—if I had your confidence and my own that I would not abuse my liberty, it might be easier to refrain. Shall we try it that way, Duane?”
“Do you think it best?”
“I think—I might try that way. Dear, I have so much to sustain me now—so much more at stake! Because there is the dread of losing you—for, Duane, until I am mistress of myself, I will never, never marry you—and do you suppose I am going to risk our happiness? Only leave me free, dear; don’t attempt to wall me in at first, and I will surely find my way.”
She sprang up, trying to smile, hesitated, then slowly came back to where he was standing and put her arms around his neck.
“Good-bye until luncheon,” she said. “I must go back to my neglected guests—I am going to run all the way as fast as my legs can carry me! Kathleen will be dreadfully mortified. Do you love me?... Even after my horrid confessions?... Oh, you darling!... Now that you know the very worst, I begin to feel as clean and fresh as though I had just stepped from the bath.... And I will try to be what you would have me, dear.... Because I am quite crazy about you—oh, completely mad!”
She bent impulsively and kissed his hands, freed herself with a breathless laugh, and turned and fled.
For a long time her lover stood there, motionless, downcast, clenched fists in his pockets, face to face with the past. And that which lay behind him was that which lies behind what is commonly known to the world as the average man.
The Masked Dance was to begin at ten that evening; for that reason dinner had been served early at scores of small tables on the terrace, a hilarious and topsy-turvy, but somewhat rapid affair, because everybody required time for dressing, and already throughout the house maids and valets were scurrying around, unpacking masks and wigs and dainty costumes for the adorning of the guests at Roya-Neh.
Toward nine o’clock the bustle and confusion became distracting; corridors were haunted by graceful flitting figures in various stages of deshabille, in quest of paraphernalia feminine and maids to adjust the same. A continual chatter filled the halls, punctuated by smothered laughter and subdued but insistent appeals for aid in the devious complications of intimate attire.
On the men’s side of the house there was less hubbub and some quiet swearing; much splashing in tubs, much cigarette smoke. Men entered each other’s rooms, half-clad in satin breeches, silk stockings, and ruffled shirts, asking a helping hand in tying queue ribbons or adjusting stocks, and lingered to smoke and jest and gossip, and jeer at one another’s finery, or to listen to the town news from those week-enders recently arrived from the city.