Durham had reseated himself at her side. “Tell me what I can do,” he said in a low tone, forgetting his own preoccupations in his genuine concern for her distress.
She looked up at him through tears. “How dare I? Your race is so cautious, so self-controlled—you have so little indulgence for the extravagances of the heart. And my folly has been incredible—and unrewarded.” She paused, and as Durham waited in a silence which she guessed to be compassionate, she brought out below her breath: “I have lent money—my husband’s, my brother’s—money that was not mine, and now I have nothing to repay it with.”
Durham gazed at her in genuine astonishment. The turn the conversation had taken led quite beyond his uncomplicated experiences with the other sex. She saw his surprise, and extended her hands in deprecation and entreaty. “Alas, what must you think of me? How can I explain my humiliating myself before a stranger? Only by telling you the whole truth—the fact that I am not alone in this disaster, that I could not confess my situation to my family without ruining myself, and involving in my ruin some one who, however undeservedly, has been as dear to me as—as you are to—”
Durham pushed his chair back with a sharp exclamation.
“Ah, even that does not move you!” she said.
The cry restored him to his senses by the long shaft of light it sent down the dark windings of the situation. He seemed suddenly to know Madame de Treymes as if he had been brought up with her in the inscrutable shades of the Hotel de Malrive.
She, on her side, appeared to have a startled but uncomprehending sense of the fact that his silence was no longer completely sympathetic, that her touch called forth no answering vibration; and she made a desperate clutch at the one chord she could be certain of sounding.
“You have asked a great deal of me—much more than you can guess. Do you mean to give me nothing—not even your sympathy—in return? Is it because you have heard horrors of me? When are they not said of a woman who is married unhappily? Perhaps not in your fortunate country, where she may seek liberation without dishonour. But here—! You who have seen the consequences of our disastrous marriages—you who may yet be the victim of our cruel and abominable system; have you no pity for one who has suffered in the same way, and without the possibility of release?” She paused, laying her hand on his arm with a smile of deprecating irony. “It is not because you are not rich. At such times the crudest way is the shortest, and I don’t pretend to deny that I know I am asking you a trifle. You Americans, when you want a thing, always pay ten times what it is worth, and I am giving you the wonderful chance to get what you most want at a bargain.”