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 “BUT what is she like?” asked O’Hara impatiently. “Man alive, you’ve seen her, haven’t you? Sat next to her at dinner at the Embassy last night, didn’t you? Well, then, for the love of the Saints, what’s the creature like?”  
De Nemours shrugged his shoulders, raising whimsical eyebrows at the slim young giant towering above him.
“Mon cher, one cannot put the lady into two words. Voyons—she is, as our Alfred so charmingly puts it, blonde like the wheat——”
“Oh, rot.” The ardent voice of the British representative was curt to the point of rudeness, and De Nemour’s smile became exquisitely courteous. “I don’t care whether she’s an albino. She’s the American representative on this committee, and I’m interested in her mental qualifications. Is she intelligent?”
“Intelligent! Ah, my poor friend, she is far, far worse.” His smile grew reminiscent as he lit his cigarette. “She has a wit like a shining sword, and eyelashes of a truly fantastic length.”
178 “And every time her eyes shine you think it’s the sword,” commented O’Hara bitterly. “God, this is hideous! I can see her sitting there chattering epigrams and fluttering dimples——”
“You do Mrs. Lindsay an injustice,” said another voice quietly, and O’Hara swung around with a slight start.
“Oh, Celati, I clean forgot that you were there. I thought that you had never met the lady.”
“Unfortunately for me, you are entirely correct. But last night I came in after the dinner for some bridge, and I watched Mrs. Lindsay with great interest, with great admiration, for more than half an hour. There was a most fat Senator from the South talking to her, and she was listening. I say listening, mark. In this great country the most charming of women feel that they have already acquired all desirable information and wisdom and that it is their not unpainful function to disseminate it. I find that it makes intercourse more exciting than flattering. But Mrs. Lindsay was—listening.”
“You mean to say that she said nothing at all in half an hour?” O’Hara’s tone was flatly incredulous.
“Oh, si, si, she spoke three times—and if one may judge by the human countenance, I dare to179 wager that that most fat Senator thought that never woman spoke more wittily or wisely.”
“And we are to have the jewels?”
“But surely. She said after the first ten minutes, ‘Oh, but do go on!’ and after the next, ‘But what happened then?’ and after the third ‘Good-night—and thank you.’ May I have a light, De Nemours? Thanks!”
“And those—those are the epigrams?” O’Hara threw back his head and laughed—a sudden boyish shout, oddly at variance with his stern young face.
“Ah,” murmured Celati, a reminiscent and enigmatic smile touching his lips, “you should have heard her voice!”
O’Hara’s smile vanished abruptly. He came perilously near scowling as he stood staring down at the inscrutable Latin countenances blandly presented for inspection. De Nemours permitted a flicker of genial appreciation to warm his cold eyes, the tribute of a highly distinguished connoisseur. Truly, this young Irishman, he was of a magnificence. No collector of beauty in all its forms could remain unmoved by the sight of that superb head—that more than superb body. Praxiteles Hermes turned gypsy! One of those Celts with obviously Spanish blood running hot and cold through their veins. The cool appraisal180 hovered for the moment on the verge of interest—flickered out. De Nemours was quite definitely convinced that not one man in a thousand was deserving of interest, and he had found little in an extremely varied experience to shake his conclusions.
“An exquisite voice,” he agreed pleasantly. “It will turn our dullest statistics to madrigals. The gods are merciful.”
O’Hara swung his chair to the table, protest bitter in his stormy gray eyes and on his quick tongue. These damned foreigners!
“You don’t seem to grasp the situation. We are here to settle matters of vital urgency, not to conduct a salon. Our reports on the various insurgent activities throughout our countries are to be test cases for the world. We’re not only to report conditions but to suggest solutions. Think, man, think! This room may be the laboratory where we will discover the formula to heal a world that’s near to dying. Can you turn that into an epigram or a jest?”
“No,” said De Nemours softly, and he looked suddenly very tired and very old, “that is no epigram, Monsieur O’Hara—that is no jest. Ah, my country, my country.” His voice was hardly above a whisper, but in the cold and bitter eyes there was something that wailed aloud.
181 “Yes, my country,” O’Hara retorted fiercely, “but more than that. There are five members of this Committee—not four.”
“Not four?” Celati’s level voice was suddenly sharp.
“Not four. There will be represented at this table Great Britain, France, Italy, the United States—and Humanity. The greatest of these, gentlemen, will have no voice.”
“Au bonheur!” commented De Nemours affably. “It, unlike Mrs. Lindsay, might not sing us madrigals.”
O’Hara brought his clenched fist down on the table with a gesture at once despairing and menacing. “Now by the Lord,” he said, his voice oddly shaken, “if this woman——”
The door into the hall opened very quietly, closed more quietly still, and Delilah Lindsay stood facing them, her hand still on the knob.
“I knocked twice,” she said softly. “The woodwork must be very thick.”
O’Hara rose slowly to his feet. Celati and De Nemours had already found theirs.
“Good evening,” he said, “it’s not quite the hour, I believe.” He was fighting an absurd and overwhelming impulse—an impulse to reply with perfect candour, “The woodwork is not thick at all. Were you listening at that door?”
182 For a moment, hardly longer, Delilah stood quite still. It was long enough to stamp on every mind present an indelible picture of the primrose-yellow head shining out against the dark panels; therefore, long enough for all practical purposes. She released the door-knob, smiling very faintly.
“It is unfortunate for a man to be late,” she replied, “but unpardonable for a woman. We have so much time of our own to waste that we must be very careful not to waste that of others. Bon soir, De Nemours.”
She crossed the room with her light, unhurried tread, and stopped, serenely gracious, before O’Hara.
“You are the British representative, are you not? It is very stupid of me, but I don’t believe that I have heard your name.”
“You have heard it a good hundred times,” thought the British representative grimly.
“Madame, permit that I present to you Mr. O’Hara.”
“Mr. O’Hara?” Her smile was suddenly as winningly mischievous as a child’s. “That’s a grand name entirely for an Englishman.”
O’Hara’s eyes were ice gray. “I’m no Englishman, Mrs. Lindsay. But some of us in Ireland hold still that we are part of Great Britain though the Colonials may have seen fit to forget it.”
183 The velvety eyes lifted to his were warm with sympathy and concern. “That’s splendid of you; we hear so much bitterness amongst the Irish here, and somehow it seems—ugly. After all, as you say, no matter what she may do—or has done—England is England! But I am distressed to hear that there has been disloyalty elsewhere. You think Canada—Australia?”
“I think neither. It was of other children of England that I was thinking, Mrs. Lindsay—ungrateful and rebellious children.”
“Oh, how stupid. Egypt, of course, and India. But, after all, they are only adopted children, aren’t they? Perhaps if we give them time they’ll grow to be as loyal and steadfast and dependable as you yourselves. Pazienza——”
“I was not——”
She raised a protesting hand, gay and imperious. “No, no, don’t even bother to deny it. You must be discreet, I know—indeed, indeed I honour you for it.” She turned to De Nemours, the sparkling face suddenly grave. “But we must not be forgetting; we are here to discuss more vital matters than England’s colonial policy, vital as that may well be. Will you forgive us—and present my colleague from Italy?”
“Mrs. Lindsay, Signor Celati.” Both De Nemours and Celati were struggling with countenances184 not habitually slaves to mirth, but the look of stony and incredulous amazement on O’Hara’s expressive visage was enough to undermine the Sphinx.
By what miracle of dexterity had she turned the tables on him, leaving him gracefully rebuked for triviality—he, the prophet and crusader? And by what magic had she transformed his very palpable hit at the recalcitrant Americans into a boomerang? He drew a long breath. This woman—this woman was so unscrupulously clever that she could afford to seem stupid. That rendered her pretty nearly invulnerable. The stormy eyes grew still—narrowed intently—smiled.
“Mrs. Lindsay is entirely right,” he agreed. “Let us get to business; Heaven knows that we have enough of it to get through! Mrs. Lindsay, we have gone over a certain amount of ground in your unavoidable absence. I regret——”
“I, too, regret it,” she said quietly. “But it is, as you say, unavoidable. I was greatly honoured by the Government’s choice, but it was impossible for me to drop the Oregon investigations at that stage. If I could have the minutes of the previous meetings——”
“We have no minutes. It has been decided to dispense with the services of a stenographer, as the matters handled are of really incalculable delicacy.185 Each of us, however, keeps an abstract of the proceedings, which we check up together, in order to prevent any possible misunderstandings. These are at your disposal, naturally.”
“I see. Then if it will not be too much trouble, I’ll run through yours. It will only be necessary to see one lot, if they have been checked, of course. Shall we begin where you left off, then? And shall I take this chair? I’m quite ready. I left my hat and cloak and such feminine trappings downstairs. What is under discussion?”
“I’ll have the report for you at the next meeting,” said O’Hara. “We were thrashing out the situation in Rome. You think that the Pope will influence the Blacks to vote against the commonist element, Celati? That’s unusual, isn’t it? A distinct return to temporal power?”
“Unusual, yes. A return to temporal power? Possibly. But the Vatican contends that it is a spiritual and social matter rather than a political matter. It seems——”
For a moment—for more than a moment O’Hara lost track of the even, unemotional voice. He was watching, with a blazing and concentrated curiosity, the face of the American representative. Mrs. Lindsay was listening to the Italian with rapt interest, but O’Hara could have sworn that it was the same interest, fascinated and indulgent, which186 an intelligent small child bestows on a grown-up telling fairy tales—an interest which whispers “It’s so pretty—let’s pretend it’s true!” She looked almost like a small child as she sat facing him across the darkly shining table; almost like a small boy. Her thick, soft hair was cut short and framed her face like a little medi?val page’s—straight across the low white forehead, curling strongly under about her ears. The blue jacket with its white Eton collar and narrow cuffs was boyish, too. And the chin—O’Hara pulled himself up, frowning. He was mad! His cousin Norah was boyish, if you like, with her honest freckled face and puppy eyes, and red hands—but this small smooth creature could clip her shining hair to its roots—it would only betray the eternal feminine more damningly. No stiff collar would ever do anything but accentuate the velvety darkness of her eyes, the pure beauty of the wistful mouth. Possibly that was why she wore it! He caught back a grim smile as the velvet eyes met his.
“It’s desperately awkward, of course,” said the voice that De Nemours had accurately described as exquisite. “What solution would you suggest, Mr. O’Hara?”
“I am not yet prepared to offer a solution,” Mr. O’Hara informed her a trifle stiffly. What in187 the name of Gods and Devils had Celati been talking about, anyway?
“But after all,” urged Mrs. Lindsay, “it comes down to a question of two alternatives, doesn’t it? Which seems to you the lesser evil?”
“I prefer to wait until we hear a little more about it.” His back was against the wall, but he thoroughly intended to die fighting.
“More about it? What more is there to hear?” Her amazement was so wide-eyed that it seemed almost impossible that it was not genuine. But if you had put thumb-screws to him, O’Hara would have maintained that in some inexplicable manner the small, demure, deferential fiend across the table was fully aware of the fact that he had not been listening—and fully prepared to make his unsuspicious colleagues aware of it, too.
“Part of it did not seem quite clear to me,” he said curtly.
“Not clear?” repeated Celati, his imperturbable calm severely ruffled, “what do you say, not clear? You find my English at fault, possibly—certainly not my explanation. No child could do that.”
“Surely not,” agreed Mrs. Lindsay, and her voice was as soothing as a cool hand, “I confess that it struck me as—well—limpid. But perhaps Mr. O’Hara will tell us just what part of it he did not follow?”
188 “Put it,” said O’Hara, with something perilously like hatred blazing in his eyes, “that I did not follow. We are simply wasting time. Will someone repeat the alternatives?”
Mrs. Lindsay’s gravely solicitous eyes met the look unflinchingly. “Surely. All this is simply wasting time, as you say. It comes down to a question as to whether it is preferable for the Italian Government to countenance or discountenance the Papal entry into politics. In the present case it is naturally an asset, but it is possible that it might entail serious consequences. I put it baldly and clumsily, but I am trying to be quite clear.”
“You are succeeding admirably,” O’Hara assured her. He was dangerously angry, with the violent and sickening anger of a man who had been made a fool of—and who has richly deserved it. “As you say, it is—limpid. But why not a third alternative? Why should the Italian Government do anything at all? Why not simply lie quiet and play safe? It would not be for the first time.”
“Mr. O’Hara!” Celati was on his feet, white to the lips.
Mrs. Lindsay stretched out her hands with a prettily eloquent gesture of despair. “Oh, really!” she said quietly. “Is this kind of thing necessary? We are all working together for the same purpose—a189 purpose that has surely too much dignity to be degraded to such pettiness. Mr. O’Hara, I beg of you——”
“It is not necessary to beg of me.” He leaned across the table, something boyish and winning in his face, his hand outstretched. “I say, Celati, I’m no end of a bounder; do let me off this once—I’m bone tired—haven’t slept for nights, trying to think of ways through this beastly mess. I don’t know what I’m saying, and that’s Heaven’s truth. Is it all right?”
“Quite. We are, I think, all tired.”
“Men,” Mrs. Lindsay murmured gently—“men are really wonderful. What two women would have done that?”
O’Hara considered her for a moment in silence.
“Is that a tribute you are paying us?” he inquired quite as gently.
“Why, what else?” Again the soft amazement.
“I was seeking information. It struck me as ambiguous.”
Mrs. Lindsay smiled, that enigmatic smile, wistful and ironic. “It is undue humility on your part, believe me. But shan’t we get back to the matter in hand? Monsieur De Nemours, what is your opinion?”
“I think there is much in Mr. O’Hara’s suggestion190 that the Government should not be over-precipitate,” replied De Nemours pleasantly. He was horribly bored; politics, unless they concerned France, bored him almost beyond endurance, but his ennui was somewhat alleviated by the fact that a very pretty woman was asking him a question. “If silence were maintained for a few weeks, it might well be——”
O’Hara was listening—fiercely. He was sure that he could smell violets somewhere; why didn’t the woman take her hands off the table? They lay there, white and fragile and helpless, like broken flowers. Why didn’t she wear a wedding ring? Why—he jerked his tired mind back savagely to De Nemours’ easy, fluent voice, his tired eyes to the worn but amiable mask that the Frenchman substituted for a face. Why didn’t he stop talking?
“We, in France, have been learning tolerance to God as well as to man,” he was saying. “Possibly before the war we have been drastic, but the truly remarkable revival——”
France again! France and Italy and Oregon—on and on and on—the clock on the mantel clicked away the minutes ruthlessly, the precious minutes that belonged to a dying world. It was striking eleven when Mrs. Lindsay rose.
“Then that’s cleared up, I think,” she said.191 “We begin the regular routine to-morrow morning, don’t we? Half-past nine? And here?”
“The house has been placed at my disposal,” replied O’Hara formally. “I have placed it at the Committee’s. It has proved a convenient arrangement.”
“Are the night sessions usual?” she asked.
“Usual? I don’t know.” He looked at her wearily; how could any one emerge from that harrowing bickering and man?uvering so fresh and untouched and shining? “We have them when it seems necessary—how often should you say, De Nemours?”
“Never mind.” The cool fingers were touching his; she was going. “I will keep my evenings free, too—I was simply wondering what to do about some invitations. But nothing else counts, of course, does it? Do get a good rest; you look so tired. Good-night.” She smiled, nodded the golden head graciously, and was gone.
O’Hara stood gazing blankly at the closed door for a moment—then he swung across the room, flung the windows up with a carefully controlled violence, and stood leaning heavily against its frame, his shoulders sagging suddenly, his tired young face turned to the stars.
“You find it too warm?” De Nemours inquired courteously.
192 “No—I don’t know. Those beastly violets——”
“Violets?” De Nemours waited with raised brows.
“The first time the poison gas came over at Ypres, the chap standing next to me said, ‘Funny—there’s a jolly smell of violets about.’ Violets—God!” His voice twisted—broke. But after a minute he continued casually: “Rotten trick to have your senses go back on you like that, what? They’re the little beggars Nature has given us for guards and watchmen and here one of them turns traitor and instead of shrieking ‘Careful—careful—the ugliest poison ever found is touching you!’ it whispers ‘See, it smells of violets—oh, England—oh, Spring.’ Damned traitors, the lot of them—for ever telling us that poison is sweet!”
“Why, so it is,” murmured De Nemours. “Many and many a time. But where were the violets to-night, mon ami?”
O’Hara jerked about incredulously, “What! you didn’t smell them? Why, every time she moved the air was thick with them!”
“Ah, Youth!” Irony and regret tempered the low laughter. “One must be young indeed to smell violets when a woman moves!”
Celati stirred slightly. “A most remarkable woman, this Mrs. Lindsay.”
193 “Remarkable, indeed. There is something about her fine and direct——”
O’Hara stared at him aghast. “Direct? Man, but you’re mad! The woman’s tortuous as a winding lane—and it’s a dark place it leads to, I’m thinking.”
De Nemours yielded once more to indulgent mirth, “Pauvre ami, those nerves of yours play tricks with you! Mrs. Lindsay is a woman with an exceptional mind of which she makes exceptional use. She is a beautiful woman, but alas, she does not remind you of it. She is entirely devoted to her work, she shows tact and courage, a rare discretion, a fine simplicity——”
“Oh, God!” There was something very like despair in O’Hara’s mirth. “Simplicity, by the Almighty! Because she wears blue serge instead of white lace? Why, I tell you that she trails yards of chiffon behind her when she goes, that her eyes are for ever smiling at you over a scented fan, that there’s always a rose in her hair and a kiss on her lips. She’s just as simple as Eve—and she still has fast hold of the apple!”
Celati eyed him a trifle sternly. “You object to women in politics, Mr. O’Hara?”
“Object? My soul, no! My mother and sister are in it up to their eyebrows, and making a rattling good job of it, too. But when they play the game,194 they play it. They leave more trappings than their hats and cloaks downstairs; they let you forget that they are women, and remember that they are human beings.”
“I find masculine women—distasteful.”
“I never said that they were masculine,” O’Hara retorted sharply, “I said that they were first and foremost human beings. Any other attitude is fatal. I tell you that this woman cares nothing in the world for our game; she is playing her own. And she is playing with loaded dice.”
“And what game is she playing, pray?”
“The oldest game in the world,” said O’Hara. “Antony’s dark-eyed Egypt played it, and that slim witch, Mary Stuart, and the milliner’s exquisite minx, Du Barry. Only they played behind silken curtains, with little jewelled hands and heads and words. They fight with other weapons nowadays, but the stakes haven’t changed since Antony lost a world and won a kiss.”
“And the stakes?”
“Why, you are the Stake,” said O’Hara. “And I—and Celati there; they are playing for Power—and Man is Power—and Man, poor fool, is their toy. Little Sisters of Circe—they have come out from behind their pale silken curtains and stripped the jewels from the small hands and perfumed195 heads and covered their shining shoulders with harsh stuffs and schooled their light tongues to strange words—and we are blind and mad, and call them comrade!”
“Tiens, tiens!” murmured De Nemours, “you interest me, O’Hara. I confess that I had failed to find this sinister glamour; but you open pleasant vistas in a parched land!”
O’Hara gave him a wrenched smile. “That was not my endeavour,” he said briefly.
Celati rose, a little stiffly. He was a heavy man, and oddly deliberate for a Latin.
“It is late,” he said. “Are you coming, De Nemours? Till to-morrow morning, Mr. O’Hara; a rivederla.”
“Good-night,” returned O’Hara. “At nine-thirty, then. Good-night.”
He stood staring down absently at the polished surface of the table for a moment or so after the door had closed, and then crossed to the open window. The stars were shining brightly—but they were very far away and cold, the stars. There was something nearer and sweeter in the quiet room behind him, nearer and sweeter even than on that spring day at Ypres. He turned from the window with a gesture at once violent and weary. Those accursed violets! He could smell them still.
“You are taking Lilah Lindsay in to dinner,” said Mrs. Dane. “I am kind to you, you see! She’s the most exquisite person.”
“Exquisite,” O’Hara agreed politely, but there was something in his voice that caused Mrs. Dane to raise her beautifully pencilled eyebrows. There was no doubt about it, her distinguished guest was in no transport of enthusiasm as to her adored Lilah. Rumour, for once, was correct! She glanced toward the door, bit her lip, and then, with a swift movement of decision, she turned to the high-backed sofa, her draperies fluttering about her as she seated herself.
“I am so very glad that you came early,” she informed him graciously, and O’Hara thought again of her astonishing resemblance to a humming-bird—small and restless and vivid, eternally vibrating over some new flower. “I so rarely get a chance to talk to you—you are most impressively busy, aren’t you? Do you see a great deal of Lilah?”
“Mrs. Lindsay has attended all our conferences for the past few weeks.”
“Oh, of course, but you can hardly get to know her there, can you?”
“Possibly not. However, I have had to content197 myself with that. She is a very busy woman, of course, and my own time is not at my disposal.”
“I suppose not,” murmured Mrs. Dane mendaciously. She supposed nothing of the sort. “But you are to be pitied, truly. She is a most enchanting person; all the tragedy and cruelty of her life have left her as gay and sweet and friendly as a child. It’s incredible.”
“She has had tragedy and cruelty in her life?”
“Oh, it’s been a nightmare—nothing less. She hadn’t been out of her French convent six months when she married that beast, Heaven knows why—she had every other man in Washington at her feet, but he apparently swept her off them! Of course, he had a brilliant future before him——”
“Of course,” murmured O’Hara.
“What do you mean? Did you know Curran Lindsay?”
“Never heard of him,” O’Hara assured her. “But do go on: what happened to the beast’s future?”
She shrugged her white shoulders distastefully. “Oh, he died in a sanitarium in California several years ago, eaten up with drugs and baffled ambition.”
“And languishing away without his favourite pastime of beating the lovely Mrs. Lindsay black and blue, I suppose?”
198 Mrs. Dane controlled a tremor of annoyance. She disliked flippancy and she disliked grimness; combined she found them irritating to a really incredible degree. “Curran never subjected Lilah to physical maltreatment,” she said coldly, “he subjected her to something a thousand times more intolerable—his adoration.”
“So the beast adored her?”
“He was mad about her. You find that unlikely?”
“On the contrary,” replied O’Hara amiably, “I find it inevitable. But what happened to his brilliant career?”
“Oh, he was crazily, insanely jealous—and some devil chose to send him an anonymous letter in the middle of a crucial party contest when his presence was absolutely vital, saying that Lilah was carrying on an affair with an artist in California, where he’d left her for the winter. He went raving mad—threw up the whole thing—told his backers that they could go to Hell, he was going to California—and he went, too.”
“Ah, Antony, Antony!” O’Hara said softly.
Mrs. Dane stared at him, wide-eyed. “Why, what do you mean? Have you heard the story before?”
“It sounds, somehow, vaguely familiar,” he told her. “There was a woman in Egypt—no—that199 was an older story than this. Well, what did the beast find?”
“He found Lilah,” replied Mrs. Dane sharply. “The artist had promptly blown his brains out when she had sent him about his business, as she naturally did. But Curran’s contest was lost, and so was Curran. He might as well have been Benedict Arnold, from his party’s point of view. He went absolutely to pieces; took to drinking more and more—then drugs—oh, the whole thing was a nightmare!”
“And the artist blew his brains out, you say?”
“Yes, it was too tragic. Lilah was almost in despair, poor child. He left some dreadful note saying that exiles from Paradise had no other home than Hell—and that one of them was taking the shortest cut to get there. The newspapers got hold of it and gave it the most ghastly publicity,—you see, everyone had prophesied such wonderful things about his future!”
“Still, he had dwelt in Paradise,” murmured O’Hara.
“Dwelt? Nonsense—he said that he was an exile!” Mrs. Dane’s voice was distinctly sharp, but O’Hara smiled down at her imperturbably.
“Oh, come. It’s a little difficult to be exiled from a spot where you’ve never set foot, isn’t it? No, I rather fancy that Mrs. Lindsay found consolation200 in the dark hours by remembering that she had not always been unkind to the poor exile—that in Paradise for a time there had been moonlight and starlight and sunlight—and that other light that never was, on sea or land. It must have helped her to remember that.”
Mrs. Dane dropped her flaming eyes to the fan that shook a little in her jewelled hands. Perhaps it was best to hold the thunder and lightning that she ached to release; after all, it was clearly impossible that he should actually mean the sinister things that he was implying about her incomparable Lilah! It would be an insult to that radiantly serene creature to admit that insult could so much as touch her. She raised defiant eyes to his mocking ones.
“Yes, that’s possible; Lilah is divinely kind to any beggar that crosses her path—it isn’t in her to hurt a fly, and she must have been gracious to that wretched boy until he made it impossible. But here is Monsieur De Nemours and the lady herself! Let’s go into the next room, shall we? Lilah, you lovely wonder, you look sixteen—and young for your age, at that. Let’s see, the Havilands aren’t here yet, and Bob Hyde telephoned that he and Sylvia would be late——”
O’Hara followed the swift, bird-like voice into the next room. By and by it would stop and he201 and Lilah would have to find words to fill the silence. What words should he choose? He was too tired to be careful—too tired to think; what devilish Fate was thrusting him into a position where he must do both?
She was talking to De Nemours, the shining head tilted back a little, the hushed music of her voice drifting across the room to him like a little breeze. She had on a black frock, slim and straight—not a jewel, not a flower, but all of spring laughed and danced and sang and sparkled in that upturned face. O’Hara’s hand closed sharply on the back of the chair. What if he were wrong—if this were all some ugly trick that his worn-out nerves were playing? After all, Lucia Dane had known her for years, and women’s friendships were notoriously exacting. What did he know of her save that she was lovely? Ah, lovely, lovely to heartbreak, as she stood there laughing up at De Nemours—at once still and sparkling, in that magical way of hers, like sunshine dancing on a quiet pool. Was it some devil in him that made him suspect the angel in her? Sometimes he thought that he must be going mad.
He had been so sure of himself; no woman was to touch his life until he had moulded it into its appointed shape—and then he would find a clear-eyed comrade who would be proud and humble in his202 glory—some girl, wise and tender and simple, who would always be waiting, quiet-eyed and quiet-hearted when he turned his tired steps to home—someone in whose kind arms he would find peace and rest and quiet. For he would be Man, the conqueror, and he would have deep need of these. So he had decreed, during the hard years that brought him to this place where, if he stretched only a little higher, he could touch the shining dreams—and behold, a door had opened and closed, and a yellow-haired girl had come in—and his ordered world was chaos and madness. He knew, with a sense of profoundly rebellious despair, that he was out of hand; his nerves had him, and they were riding him unmercifully, revenging themselves richly for all the days and nights that he had crushed them down and scorned them and ignored them. They had him now, this arrogant young dreamer, out to save a world—they had him now, for all his dreams!
“Mr. O’Hara, aren’t you taking me in to dinner?”
He started as violently as though she had touched his bare heart with those soft fingers of hers.
“You were a thousand miles away,” said the fairy voice, and the hand rested lightly on his arm. “I hate to bring you back, but they’re all going in, you see. Was it a pleasant country that you were playing in?”
203 “Pleasant enough,” he told her hardly. “But it’s poor spor............
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