“Forgive me for coming; something must be settled. This—rumour——”
“Oh! that!” she said. “Is there anything I can do to stop the harm to you?”
It was the turn of Miltoun’s lips to curl. “God! no; let them talk!”
Their eyes had come together now, and, once together, seemed unable to part.
Mrs. Noel said at last:
“Will you ever forgive me?”
“What for—it was my fault.”
“No; I should have known you better.”
The depth of meaning in those words—the tremendous and subtle admission they contained of all that she had been ready to do, the despairing knowledge in them that he was not, and never had been, ready to ’bear it out even to the edge of doom’—made Miltoun wince away.
“It is not from fear—believe that, anyway.”
There followed another long, long silence! But though so close that they were almost touching, they no longer looked at one another. Then Miltoun said:
“There is only to say good-bye, then.”
At those clear words spoken by lips which, though just smiling, failed so utterly to hide his misery, Mrs. Noel’s face became colourless as her white gown. But her eyes, which had grown immense, seemed from the sheer lack of all other colour, to have drawn into them the whole of her vitality; to be pouring forth a proud and mournful reproach.
Shivering, and crushing himself together with his arms, Miltoun walked towards the window. There was not the faintest sound from her, and he looked back. She was following him with her eyes. He threw his hand up over his face, and went quickly out. Mrs. Noel stood for a little while where he had left her; then, sitting down once more at the piano, began again to con over the line of music. And the cat stole back to the window to watch the swallows. The sunlight was dying slowly on the top branches of the lime-tree; a, drizzling rain began to fall.
Claud Fresnay, Viscount Harbinger was, at the age of thirty-one, perhaps the least encumbered peer in the United Kingdom. Thanks to an ancestor who had acquired land, and departed this life one hundred and thirty years before the town of Nettlefold was built on a small portion of it, and to a father who had died in his son’s infancy, after judiciously selling the said town, he possessed a very large income independently of his landed interests. Tall and well-built, with handsome, strongly-marked features, he gave at first sight an impression of strength—which faded somewhat when he began to talk. It was not so much the manner of his speech—with its rapid slang, and its way of turning everything to a jest—as the feeling it produced, that the brain behind it took naturally the path of least resistance. He was in fact one of those personalities who are often enough prominent in politics and social