“No, no,” he interrupted earnestly. “I have not once looked away from you, I could n’t.” Their eyes met, but instantly hers were lowered; the bright smile with which she had been rallying him faded and there was a pause during which he felt that she had become very grave. When she spoke, it was with a little quaver, and the controlled pathos of her voice was so intense that it evoked a sympathetic catch in his own throat.
“But, my frien’, if it should be that I cannot wish you to look so at me, or to speak so to me?”
“I beg your pardon!” he exclaimed, almost incoherently. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I wouldn’t do anything you’d think ungentlemanly for the world!”
Her eyes lifted again to his with what he had no difficulty in recognizing as a look of perfect trust; but, behind that, he perceived a darkling sadness.
“I know it is true,” she murmured—“I know. But you see there are time’ when a woman has sorrow—sorrow of one kind—when she mus’ be sure that there is only—only rispec’ in the hearts of her frien’s.”
With that, the intended revelation was complete, and the young man understood, as clearly as if she had told him in so many words, that she was not a widow and that her husband was the cause of her sorrow. His quickened instinct marvelously divined (or else it was conveyed to him by some intangible method of hers) that the Count de Vaurigard was a very bad case, but that she would not divorce him.
“I know,” he answered, profoundly touched. “I understand.”
In silent gratitude she laid her hand for a second upon his sleeve. Then her face brightened, and she said gayly:
“But we shall not talk of me! Let us see how we can keep you out of mischief at leas’ for a little while. I know very well what you will do to-night: you will go to Salone Margherita an’ sit in a box like all the wicked Americans—”
“No, indeed, I shall not!”
“Ah, yes, you will!” she laughed. “But until dinner let me keep you from wickedness. Come to tea jus’ wiz me, not at the hotel, but at the little apartment I have taken, where it is quiet. The music is finish’, an’ all those pretty girl’ are goin’ away, you see. I am not selfish if I take you from the Pincio now. You will come?”
It was some fair dream that would be gone too soon, he told himself, as they drove rapidly through the twilight streets, down from the Pincio and up the long slope of the Quirinal. They came to a stop in the gray courtyard of a palazzo, and ascended in a sleepy elevator to the fifth floor. Emerging, they encountered a tall man who was turning away from the Countess’ door, which he had just closed. The landing was not lighted, and for a moment he failed to see the American following Madame de Vaurigard.
“Eow, it’s you, is it,” he said informally. “Waitin’ a devil of a long time for you. I’ve gawt a message for you. He’s comin’. He writes that Cooley—”