She looked at him insolently.
“My good man,” she said, “whatever you do don’t try and be sentimental. You know quite well that I have never in my life pretended to care a rap about you—except to pass the time. You are altogether too obvious. Very young girls and very old women would rave about you. You simply don’t appeal to me. Perhaps I know you too well. What does it matter!”
He sighed and examined a sauce critically. They were lunching at Prince’s alone, at a small table near the wall.
“Your taste,” he remarked a little spitefully, “would be considered a trifle strange. Souspennier carries his years well, but he must be an old man.”
She sipped her wine thoughtfully.
“Old or young,” she said, “he is a man, and all my life I have loved men,—strong men. To have him here opposite to me at this moment, mine, belonging to me, the slave of my will, I would give —well, I would give—a year of my life—my new tiara—anything!”
“What a pity,” he murmured, “that we cannot make an exchange, you and I, Lucille and he!”
“Ah, Lucille!” she murmured. “Well, she is beautiful. That goes for much. And she has the grand air. But, heavens, how stupid!”
“Stupid!” he repeated doubtfully.
She drummed nervously upon the tablecloth with her fingers.
“Oh, not stupid in the ordinary way, of course, but yet a fool. I should like to see man or devil try and separate us if I belonged to him—until I was tired of him. That would come, of course. It comes always. It is the hideous part of life.”
“You look always,” he said, “a little too far forward. It is a mistake. After all, it is the present only which concerns us.”
“Admirable philosophy,” she laughed scornfully, “but when one is bored to death in the present one must look forward or backward for consolation.”
He continued his lunch in silence for a while.
“I am rebuked!” he said.
There came a pause in the courses. He looked at her critically. She was very handsomely dressed in a walking costume of dove-coloured grey. The ostrich feathers which drooped from her large hat were almost priceless. She had the undeniable air of being a person of breeding. But she was paler even than usual, her hair, notwithstanding its careful arrangement, gave signs of being a little thin in front. There were wrinkles at the corners of her eyes. She knew these things, but she bore his inspection with indifference.
“I wonder,” he said reflectively, “what we men see in you. You have plenty of admirers. They say that Grefton got himself shot out at the front because you treated him badly. Yet—you are not much to look at, are you?”
She laughed at him. Hers was never a pleasant laugh, but this time it was at least natural.
“How discriminating,” she declared. “I am an ugly woman, and men of taste usually prefer ugly women. Then I am always well dressed. I know how to wear my clothes. And I have a shocking reputation. A really wicked woman, I once heard pious old Lady Surbiton call me! Dear old thing! It did me no end of good. Then I have the very great advantage of never caring for any one more than a few days together. Men find that annoying.”