“She could never succeed in making her mind a 업소알바 blank, I fancy. She thinks all the time—nothing particularly worth thinking, I daresay. Still, she is so pretty, I should like to try. She is not a London woman?”

“How do you know that?”

“Oh, she is beautifully dressed. It isn’t that,” he said smiling. “The dress may be Paris, but the soul is Newcastle.”

Egidia started. “You are really a wonderful man, Dr. André, or else you have the luck of coincidences!”

He smiled, with the fatuity of the occultist.

“You are right, she does come from Newcastle, but let me tell you that when I introduce you, you will find her quite au fait of all the latest London fads. She makes it her business to be. These illustrated papers do a great deal to prepare the provincial mind for the more startling developments of our civilization. Mrs. Elles has looked on the Medusa head of certain aspects of society through the medium of ‘Black and White,’ and the ‘Ladies’ Field.’”

“How you hate her!” said Dr. André.

Egidia wore mental sackcloth and ashes for the{224} rest of the evening, conscious that she had for once allowed herself to be drawn to the very verge of the fathomless gulf of feminine spite.

. . . . . . . .

“Did I look nice? Did I seem too dreadfully provincial?” was what Mrs. Elles said to her hostess when the door had closed on the last guest.

Egidia had sunk into a chair, and sat staring at vacancy. Mrs. Elles’s voice recalled her from her reverie.

“Not at all—I mean provincial. You and the Doctor seemed to get on? Did he propose to mesmerize you?”

“Oh, yes!” Mrs. Elles answered eagerly. “Soon. May he? Here in your flat?”

“Certainly!” Egidia replied, feeling now a little apprehension of the consequences. “But you must not believe in him too much. You must not let him get an influence over you!”

“I shouldn’t mind. I am sure he would not use his power for harm against me—or any woman!”

“Oh, no, he is a good old thing!” Egidia said condescendingly. “And this little social trick of his amuses people, and makes him a personage, and asked out a great deal!”

“I believe very much in hypnotism as a serious force in life,” said the other sturdily. “I can’t laugh at it. And I think Dr. André is a most interesting man who could give one a real glimpse into{225} one’s self and into futurity, if he chose, and one turned out to be a good subject.”

“And he thinks you a very pretty woman—he told me so.”

“Oh—pretty!” said Mrs. Elles, as much as to imply that she did not wish to stand on anything so trivial as good looks in the seër’s good opinion.

“At any rate, you enjoyed yourself?”

“Enormously! I mean, that I did not want to be a blot on your party, so I screwed myself up, and was gay!”

“You mean you were acting a part?” Egidia answered, coldly.

“Well, partly,” Mrs. Elles replied; then she added with the pretty smile that leavened so many of her little insincerities, “but I confess—I forgot every now and then, and let myself feel as if nothing had happened, and I was a girl again, beginning life—the life I always wanted, the life I was made for, I think. Oh, don’t you see how hard it all is for me, this course I have to take—that I must take for his sake?”

With a comical little twist of the mouth, she went on: “Some are born virtuous, some are—something or other—what is it?—and some have virtue thrust upon them! I know that I must defend this wretched case for the sake of other people, but I can’t help thinking that if Mortimer did win it and get his divorce, it would be the very thing for me!”

“I confess I don’t understand{226}——”

“Mr. Rivers would marry me,” she said, wistfully, “and then I should live in London!”

Egidia laughed—she could not help it! This, then, was the net result of her carefully arranged plan for indoctrinating her guest with the pleasures of respectability and the advantages of a defined social position.

“My dear woman, forgive me!” she exclaimed. “Have you the very remotest notion of what you are saying? You cannot have the most elementary knowledge of social laws if you imagine that a man having married a divorced woman—divorced on his account—could take her out, and expect his friends to call on her! On the contrary, you and he—God help you both—would have to forego all society. You would have to live abroad in some shady place, and be thankful for the company of blacklegs and second-rate women, or else make up your minds to live entirely apart from the world. He would not mind that; he is used to it; but you! What would you do without life, movement, and, above all, consideration? That is what I was asking myself when I looked down the table to-night, and saw you happy and gay——”

Mrs. Elles demurred.

“Well, pretending to be happy and gay—though I really and truly believe you were. As you have just been saying yourself, you were in your element. And I thought what a volcano it was that you were standing on, and how, if the worst came to pass, how{227} different a life yours would be from this you covet—and all the time you were thinking that the very fact of your divorce would entitle you to it all! Good Heavens! Instead of sitting there, gay and important, admired and attended to, with people taking the trouble to mesmerize you and analyze you and take your soul to pieces for you, you would be hidden away in some little foreign town—Boulogne, say?—cut, snubbed, and penned up for life with no other society but that of the man you have dragged down along with you, and involved in your ruin, and who would end by hating you in consequence.”

Mrs. Elles cried out, outraged. “You forget—you forget that he proposed to me—when he thought I was free!”

“I beg your pardon——” Egidia said, vaguely.

“No, don’t beg my pardon, you meant to be kind—but——” She stopped, and her whole manner altered as the humiliating suggestion took root in her mind. “Tell me—you must mean—tell me in so many words—you must mean to say that he never really cared for me? For God’s sake, speak out!”

“If you ask me to speak out honestly, then I don’t think he really did! He is not what is called a marrying man.... Now you will of course never be able to forgive me.... Let us both go to bed now at any rate—I am quite worn out!”

She turned aside wearily, and passed through the portière, letting her hand drag after her, as she went. Mrs. Elles’s vexation at her plain speaking died{228} before a more generous instinct of gratitude to the woman who had befriended her in her need. She caught hold of the fugitive hand——

“Oh, don’t leave me like this; indeed, you are my best friend. Thank you, thank you—for telling me the truth. I ought to know it.”

“It is only my opinion!” said the other, suffering herself, however, to be drawn into the room again, by the insistent tenderness of her rival, which touched her, and made her feel a brute.

“Yes,” Mrs. Elles went on sadly. “Only your opinion, but you have known him so very much longer than I have.” She would have been equal to the mental sacrifice of adding, “and so much more intimately,” but hardly dared, lest it was taken, not as a compliment but as an impertinence. “I only saw him for a month, and even in that time I could not help loving him—adoring him.... How could anyone help it? Could you?”

“No,” Egidia murmured under her breath, too much moved to resent the question.

“It is just those very silent men whom every one adores,” the other went on. “But he always preferred his art to me. I knew it at the time, only I was so blinded. Then when he realized that he was compromising me, he did the honourable thing, and proposed. Of course I don’t suppose he thought me quite impossible, he felt it would be just bearable to be married to me, if he had to be married, but he had never meant to be married, as you say. But you{229} must see, that if I come to think that, how very much more humiliating it makes it for me—how painful to have to think that one was only proposed to out of pity and a sense of duty!”

She turned her face away, sobbing.

Egidia put her arm round her. She could unfeignedly sympathise with the very real sorrows of wounded vanity. She felt she had spoken plainly—with full conviction and honest intent, it was true, but still plainly and perhaps brutally. She was conscious that her care had been all along for the man, and not the woman.

“My dear, my dear,” she said, drawing Mrs. Elles close to her, “there is another thing I see—that saves it a little—a good deal, I think!”

“What?” asked Phœbe Elles.

“You don’t really love him either!”

“What, not love him?”