“As yesterday! Lucille, I could kill you when I think of those days. For twenty years your kiss has lain upon my lips—and you —with you—it has been different.”
She laughed softly upon him, laughed more with her eyes than with her lips. She watched him curiously.
“Dear me!” she murmured, “what would you have? I am a woman—I have been a woman all my days, and the memory of one kiss grows cold. So I will admit that with me—it has been different. Come! What then?”
“I wonder,” he said, “what miserable fate, what cursed stroke of fortune brought you once more into my life?”
She threw her head back and laughed at him, this time heartily, unaffectedly.
“What adorable candour!” she exclaimed. “My dear friend, how amiable you are.”
He looked at her steadfastly, and somehow the laugh died away from her lips.
“Lucille, will you marry me?”
“Marry you? I? Certainly not.”
“And why not?”
“For a score of reasons, if you want them,” she answered. “First, because I think it is delightful to have you for a friend. I can never quite tell what you are going to do or say. As a husband I am almost sure that you would be monotonous. But then, how could you avoid it? It is madness to think of destroying a pleasant friendship in such a manner.”
“You are mocking me,” he said sadly.
“Well,” she said, “why not? Your own proposal is a mockery.”
“A mockery! My proposal!”
“Yes,” she answered steadily. “You know quite well that the very thought of such a thing between you and me is an absurdity. I abhor your politics, I detest your party. You are ambitious, I know. You intend to be Prime Minister, a people’s Prime Minister. Well, for my part, I hate the people. I am an aristocrat. As your wife I should be in a perfectly ridiculous position. How foolish! You have led me into talking of this thing seriously. Let us forget all this rubbish.”
He stood before her—waiting patiently, his mouth close set, his manner dogged with purpose.
“It is not rubbish,” he said. “It is true that I shall be Prime Minister. It is true also that you will be my wife.”
She shrank back from him—uneasily. The fire in his eyes, the ring in his tone distressed her.
“As for my politics, you do not understand them. But you shall! I will convert you to my way of thinking. Yes, I will do that. The cause of the people, of freedom, is the one great impulse which beats through all the world. You too shall hear it.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I have no wish to hear it. I do not believe in what you call freedom for the people. I have discovered in America how uncomfortable a people’s country can be.”
“Yet you married an American. You call yourself still the Countess Radantz ... but you married Mr. James B. Peterson!”