“I fear it is the worst, Sir Robert. There are hundreds of women superior to myself in every way who would be glad to give you the help and companionship you ask, with their hearts thrown in. Choose one of them, for I cannot do so.”
He heard and for the first time his face broke, as it were. All this while it had remained masklike and immovable, even when he spoke of his love, but now it broke as ice breaks at the pressure of a sudden flood beneath, and she saw the depths and eddies of his nature and understood their strength. Not that he revealed them in speech, angry or pleading, for that remained calm and measured enough. She did not hear, she saw, and even then it was marvellous to her that a mere change in a man’s expression could explain so much.
“Those are very cruel words,” he said. “Are they unalterable?”
“Quite. I do not play in such matters, it would be wicked.”
“May I ask you one question, for if the answer is in the negative, I shall still continue to hope? Do you care for any other man?”
Again she looked at him with her fearless eyes and answered:
“Yes, I am engaged to another man.”
“To Alan Vernon?”
“When did that happen? Some years ago?”
“No, this morning.”
“Great Heavens!” he muttered in a hoarse voice turning his head away, “this morning. Then last night it might not have been too late, and last night I should have spoken to you, I had arranged it all. Yes, if it had not been for the story of that accursed fetish and your uncle’s illness, I should have spoken to you, and perhaps succeeded.”
“I think not,” she said.
He turned upon her and notwithstanding the tears in his eyes they burned like fire.
“You think—you think,” he gasped, “but I know. Of course after this morning it was impossible. But, Barbara, I say that I will win you yet. I have never failed in any object that I set before myself, and do not suppose that I shall fail in this. Although in a way I liked and respected him, I have always felt that Vernon was my enemy, one destined to bring grief and loss upon me, even if he did not intend to do so. Now I understand why, and he shall learn that I am stronger than he. God help him! I say.”
“I think He will,” Barbara answered, calmly. “You are speaking wildly, and I understand the reason and hope that you will forget your words, but whether you forget or remember, do not suppose that you frighten me. You men who have made money,” she went on with swelling indignation, “who have made money somehow, and have bought honours with the moneys somehow, think yourselves great, and in your little day, your little, little day that will end with three lines in small type in The Times, you are great in this vulgar land. You can buy what you want and people creep round you and ask you for doles and favours, and railway porters call you