“I don’t mind,” said Margaret. “It’s quite harmless.”
“That’s it!” exclaimed Grant in gloomy triumph. “You can’t care for me because you think me harmless.”
“Well, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” he admitted, “I couldn’t give anybody—at least, not a blase Washington society girl—anything approaching a sensation. I understand the mystery at last.”
“Do you?” said Margaret, with a queer expression in her eyes. “I wish I did.”
Grant reflected upon this, could make nothing of it. “I don’t believe you’re really in love with him,” he finally said.
“Was that what you told him you wished to talk to me about?”
“I didn’t tell him I wanted to talk with you,” protested Grant. “He asked me to try to persuade you not to marry him.”
“To explain how coarse he is.”
“How coarse is he?”
“To dilate on the folly of your marrying a poor man with no money prospects.”
“I’m content with his prospects—and with mine through him.”
“Seven or eight thousand a year? Your dresses cost much more than that.”
“You must be in love with him!”
“Women take strange fancies.”
“What’s the matter, Rita? What have you in the back of your mind?”
She looked straight at him. “Nothing about you. Not the faintest, little shadow of a regret.” And her hazel eyes smiled mirth of the kind that is cruelest from woman to man.
“How exasperating you are!”
“Perhaps I’ve caught the habit from my man.”
“Rita, you don’t even like me any more.”
“I deserve it.”
“You do. I can never trust you again.”
He shrugged his shoulders; but he could not pretend that he was indifferent. “It seems to me, if Josh forgave me you might.”
“But not even friendship?”
“Not even friendship.”
“You are hard.”
“I am hard.”
“Rita! For God’s sake, don’t marry that man! You don’t love him— you know you don’t. At times you feel you can hardly endure him. You’ll be miserable—in every way. And I—At least I can give you material happiness.”
She smiled—a cold, enigmatic smile that made her face seem her grandmother’s own peering through a radiant mask of youth. She glanced away, around—“Ah! there are mamma and Augusta Burke.” And she left him to join them.
He wandered out of the garden, through the thronged corridors, into the street, knocking against people, seeing no one, not heeding the frequent salutations. He went to the Wyandotte, to Craig’s tawdry, dingy sitting-room, its disorder now apparently beyond possibility of righting. Craig, his coat and waistcoat off, his detachable cuffs on the floor, was burrowing into masses of huge law-books.