Durham, during this appeal, had had time to steady his thoughts; and the result of his deliberation was that he said, with a return to his former directness: “Well, then, what I wish to know is, what position your family would take if Madame de Malrive should sue for a divorce.” He added, without giving her time to reply: “I naturally wish to be clear on this point before urging my cause with your sister-in-law.”
Madame de Treymes seemed in no haste to answer; but after a pause of reflection she said, not unkindly: “My poor Fanny might have asked me that herself.”
“I beg you to believe that I am not acting as her spokesman,” Durham hastily interposed. “I merely wish to clear up the situation before speaking to her in my own behalf.”
“You are the most delicate of suitors! But I understand your feeling. Fanny also is extremely delicate: it was a great surprise to us at first. Still, in this case—” Madame de Treymes paused—“since she has no religious scruples, and she had no difficulty in obtaining a separation, why should she fear any in demanding a divorce?”
“I don’t know that she does: but the mere fact of possible opposition might be enough to alarm the delicacy you have observed in her.”
“Ah—yes: on her boy’s account.”
“Partly, doubtless, on her boy’s account.”
“So that, if my brother objects to a divorce, all he has to do is to announce his objection? But, my dear sir, you are giving your case into my hands!” She flashed an amused smile on him.
“Since you say you are Madame de Malrive’s friend, could there be a better place for it?”
As she turned her eyes on him he seemed to see, under the flitting lightness of her glance, the sudden concentrated expression of the ancestral will. “I am Fanny’s friend, certainly. But with us family considerations are paramount. And our religion forbids divorce.”
“So that, inevitably, your brother will oppose it?”
She rose from her seat, and stood fretting with her slender boot-tip the minute red pebbles of the path.
“I must really go in: my mother will never forgive me for deserting her.”
“But surely you owe me an answer?” Durham protested, rising also.
“In return for your purchases at my stall?”
“No: in return for the trust I have placed in you.”
She mused on this, moving slowly a step or two toward the house.
“Certainly I wish to see you again; you interest me,” she said smiling. “But it is so difficult to arrange. If I were to ask you to come here again, my mother and uncle would be surprised. And at Fanny’s—”
“Oh, not there!” he exclaimed.
“Where then? Is there any other house where we are likely to meet?”
Durham hesitated; but he was goaded by the flight of the precious minutes. “Not unless you’ll come and dine with me,” he said boldly.