Durham sat silent, her little gloved hand burning his coat-sleeve as if it had been a hot iron. His brain was tingling with the shock of her confession. She wanted money, a great deal of money: that was clear, but it was not the point. She was ready to sell her influence, and he fancied she could be counted on to fulfil her side of the bargain. The fact that he could so trust her seemed only to make her more terrible to him—more supernaturally dauntless and baleful. For what was it that she exacted of him? She had said she must have money to pay her debts; but he knew that was only a pre-text which she scarcely expected him to believe. She wanted the money for some one else; that was what her allusion to a fellow-victim meant. She wanted it to pay the Prince’s gambling debts—it was at that price that Durham was to buy the right to marry Fanny de Malrive.
Once the situation had worked itself out in his mind, he found himself unexpectedly relieved of the necessity of weighing the arguments for and against it. All the traditional forces of his blood were in revolt, and he could only surrender himself to their pressure, without thought of compromise or parley.
He stood up in silence, and the abruptness of his movement caused Madame de Treymes’ hand to slip from his arm.
“You refuse?” she exclaimed; and he answered with a bow: “Only because of the return you propose to make me.”
She stood staring at him, in a perplexity so genuine and profound that he could almost have smiled at it through his disgust.
“Ah, you are all incredible,” she murmured at last, stooping to repossess herself of her fan; and as she moved past him to rejoin the group in the farther room, she added in an incisive undertone: “You are quite at liberty to repeat our conversation to your friend!”
Durham did not take advantage of the permission thus strangely flung at him: of his talk with her sister-in-law he gave to Madame de Malrive only that part which concerned her.
Presenting himself for this purpose, the day after Mrs. Boykin’s dinner, he found his friend alone with her son; and the sight of the child had the effect of dispelling whatever illusive hopes had attended him to the threshold. Even after the governess’s descent upon the scene had left Madame de Malrive and her visitor alone, the little boy’s presence seemed to hover admonishingly between them, reducing to a bare statement of fact Durham’s confession of the total failure of his errand.
Madame de Malrive heard the confession calmly; she had been too prepared for it not to have prepared a countenance to receive it. Her first comment was: “I have never known them to declare themselves so plainly—” and Durham’s baffled hopes fastened themselves eagerly on the words. Had she not always warned him that there was nothing so misleading as their plainness? And might it