“It wasn’t fair!” she broke out fiercely; “there is no honour in you—no loyalty! Oh, Duane! Duane! How could you—at the very moment we were nearer together than we had ever been! It isn’t jealousy that is crying out in me; it is nothing common or ignoble in me that resents what you have done! It is the treachery of it! How could you, Duane?”
The utter hopelessness of clearing himself left him silent. How much was to be asked of him as sacrifice to code? How far was he expected to go to shield Sylvia Quest—this unhappy, demoralised girl, whose reputation was already at the mercy of two men?
“Geraldine,” he said, “it was nothing but a carnival flirtation—a chance encounter that meant nothing—the idlest kind of——”
“Is it idle to do what you did—and what she did? Oh, if I had only not seen it—if I only didn’t know! I never dreamed of such a thing in you. Bunny Gray and I were taking a short cut to the Gray Water to sit out the rest of his dance—and he saw it, too—and he was furious—he must have been—because he’s devoted to Sylvia.” She made a hopeless gesture and dropped her hand to her side: “What a miserable night it has been for me! It’s all spoiled—it’s ended.... And I—my courage went.... I’ve done what I never thought to do again—what I was fighting down to make myself safe enough for you to marry—you to marry!” She laughed, but the mirth rang shockingly false.
“You mean that you had one glass of champagne,” he said.
“Yes, and another with Jack Dysart. I’ll have some more presently. Does it concern you?”
“I think so, Geraldine.”
“You are wrong. Neither does what you’ve been doing concern me—the kind of man you’ve been—the various phases of degradation you have accomplished——”
“What particular species of degradation?” he asked wearily, knowing that Dysart was now bent on his destruction. “Never mind; don’t answer, Geraldine,” he added, “because there’s no use in trying to set myself right; there’s no way of doing it. All I can say is that I care absolutely nothing for Sylvia Quest, nor she for me; that I love you; that if I have ever been unworthy of you—as God knows I have—it is a bitterer memory to me than it could ever be to you.”
“Shall we go back?” she said evenly.
“Yes, if you wish.”
They walked back together in silence; a jolly company claimed them for their table; Geraldine laughingly accepted a glass of champagne, turning her back squarely on Duane.
Naida and Kathleen came across.
“We waited for you as long as we could,” said his pretty sister, smothering a yawn. “I’m horribly sleepy. Duane, it’s three o’clock. Would you mind taking me across to the house?”
He cast a swift, anxious glance at Geraldine; her vivid colour, the splendour of her eyes, her feverish laughter were ominous. With her were Gray and Sylvia, rather noisy in their gaiety, and the boisterous Pink ’uns, and Jack Dysart, lingering near, the make-up on his face in ghastly contrast to his ashen pallor and his fixed and unvaried grin.