"I suppose you're tired of me."
"I shall be an hour hence. You see I have the gift of foreknowledge."
"Oh, I shall be delightful meanwhile," said Ralph.
But he said nothing more, and as she made no rejoinder they sat some time in a stillness which seemed to contradict his promise of entertainment. It seemed to him she was preoccupied, and he wondered what she was thinking about; there were two or three very possible subjects. At last he spoke again. "Is your objection to my society this evening caused by your expectation of another visitor?"
She turned her head with a glance of her clear, fair eyes. "Another visitor? What visitor should I have?"
He had none to suggest; which made his question seem to himself silly as well as brutal. "You've a great many friends that I don't know. You've a whole past from which I was perversely excluded."
"You were reserved for my future. You must remember that my past is over there across the water. There's none of it here in London."
"Very good, then, since your future is seated beside you. Capital thing to have your future so handy." And Ralph lighted another cigarette and reflected that Isabel probably meant she had received news that Mr. Caspar Goodwood had crossed to Paris. After he had lighted his cigarette he puffed it a while, and then he resumed. "I promised just now to be very amusing; but you see I don't come up to the mark, and the fact is there's a good deal of temerity in one's undertaking to amuse a person like you. What do you care for my feeble attempts? You've grand ideas — you've a high standard in such matters. I ought at least to bring in a band of music or a company of mountebanks."
"One mountebank's enough, and you do very well. Pray go on, and in another ten minutes I shall begin to laugh."
"I assure you I'm very serious," said Ralph. "You do really ask a great deal."
"I don't know what you mean. I ask nothing."
"You accept nothing," said Ralph. She coloured, and now suddenly it seemed to her that she guessed his meaning. But why should he speak to her of such things? He hesitated a little and then he continued: "There's something I should like very much to say to you. It's a question I wish to ask. It seems to me I've a right to ask it, because I've a kind of interest in the answer."
"Ask what you will," Isabel replied gently, "and I'll try to satisfy you."
"Well then, I hope you won't mind my saying that Warburton has told me of something that has passed between you."
Isabel suppressed a start; she sat looking at her open fan. "Very good; I suppose it was natural he should tell you."
"I have his leave to let you know he has done so. He has some hope still," said Ralph.
"He had it a few days ago."
"I don't believe he has any now," said the girl.
"I'm very sorry for him then; he's such an honest man."
"Pray, did he ask you to talk to me?"
"No, not that. But he told me because he couldn't help it. We're old friends, and he was greatly disappointed. He sent me a line asking me to come and see him, and I drove over to Lockleigh the day before he and his sister lunched with us. He was very heavy-hearted; he had just got a letter from you."
"Did he show you the letter?" asked Isabel with momentary loftiness.
"By no means. But he told me it was a neat refusal. I was very sorry for him," Ralph repeated.
For some moments Isabel said nothing; then at last, "Do you know how often he had seen me?" she enquired. "Five or six times."
"That's to your glory."
"It's not for that I say it."
"What then do you say it for. Not to prove that poor Warburton's state of mind's superficial, because I'm pretty sure you don't think that."
Isabel certainly was unable to say she thought it; but presently she said something else. "If you've not been requested by Lord Warburton to argue with me, then you're doing it disinterestedly — or for the love of argument."
"I've no wish to argue with you at all. I only wish to leave you alone. I'm simply greatly interested in your own sentiments."
"I'm greatly obliged to you!" cried Isabel with a slightly nervous laugh.
"Of course you mean that I'm meddling in what doesn't concern me. But why shouldn't I speak to you of this matter without annoying you or embarrassing myself? What's the use of being your cousin if I can't have a few privileges? What's the use of adoring you without hope of a reward if I can't have a few compensations? What's the use of being ill and disabled and restricted to mere spectatorship at the game of life if I really can't see the show when I've paid so much for my ticket? Tell me this," Ralph went on while she listened to him with quickened attention. "What had you in mind when you refused Lord Warburton?"