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The Dilettante
by [?]

“None–except an added link in the chain.”

“An added link?”

“In having one more thing to like you for–your letting Miss Gaynor see why I had already so many.” He flattered himself that this turn had taken the least hint of fatuity from the phrase.

Mrs. Vervain sank into her former easy pose. “Was it that you came for?” she asked, almost gaily.

“If it is necessary to have a reason–that was one.”

“To talk to me about Miss Gaynor?”

“To tell you how she talks about you.”

“That will be very interesting–especially if you have seen her since her second visit to me.”

“Her second visit?” Thursdale pushed his chair back with a start and moved to another. “She came to see you again?”

“This morning, yes–by appointment.”

He continued to look at her blankly. “You sent for her?”

“I didn’t have to–she wrote and asked me last night. But no doubt you have seen her since.”

Thursdale sat silent. He was trying to separate his words from his thoughts, but they still clung together inextricably. “I saw her off just now at the station.”

“And she didn’t tell you that she had been here again?”

“There was hardly time, I suppose–there were people about–” he floundered.

“Ah, she’ll write, then.”

He regained his composure. “Of course she’ll write: very often, I hope. You know I’m absurdly in love,” he cried audaciously.

She tilted her head back, looking up at him as he leaned against the chimney-piece. He had leaned there so often that the attitude touched a pulse which set up a throbbing in her throat. “Oh, my poor Thursdale!” she murmured.

“I suppose it’s rather ridiculous,” he owned; and as she remained silent, he added, with a sudden break–“Or have you another reason for pitying me?”

Her answer was another question. “Have you been back to your rooms since you left her?”

“Since I left her at the station? I came straight here.”

“Ah, yes–you could: there was no reason–” Her words passed into a silent musing.

Thursdale moved nervously nearer. “You said you had something to tell me?”

“Perhaps I had better let her do so. There may be a letter at your rooms.”

“A letter? What do you mean? A letter from her? What has happened?”

His paleness shook her, and she raised a hand of reassurance. “Nothing has happened–perhaps that is just the worst of it. You always hated, you know,” she added incoherently, “to have things happen: you never would let them.”

“And now–?”

“Well, that was what she came here for: I supposed you had guessed. To know if anything had happened.”

“Had happened?” He gazed at her slowly. “Between you and me?” he said with a rush of light.

The words were so much cruder than any that had ever passed between them that the color rose to her face; but she held his startled gaze.

“You know girls are not quite as unsophisticated as they used to be. Are you surprised that such an idea should occur to her?”

His own color answered hers: it was the only reply that came to him.

Mrs. Vervain went on, smoothly: “I supposed it might have struck you that there were times when we presented that appearance.”

He made an impatient gesture. “A man’s past is his own!”

“Perhaps–it certainly never belongs to the woman who has shared it. But one learns such truths only by experience; and Miss Gaynor is naturally inexperienced.”

“Of course–but–supposing her act a natural one–” he floundered lamentably among his innuendoes–“I still don’t see–how there was anything–“

“Anything to take hold of? There wasn’t–“

“Well, then–?” escaped him, in crude satisfaction; but as she did not complete the sentence he went on with a faltering laugh: “She can hardly object to the existence of a mere friendship between us!”

“But she does,” said Mrs. Vervain.

Thursdale stood perplexed. He had seen, on the previous day, no trace of jealousy or resentment in his betrothed: he could still hear the candid ring of the girl’s praise of Mrs. Vervain. If she were such an abyss of insincerity as to dissemble distrust under such frankness, she must at least be more subtle than to bring her doubts to her rival for solution. The situation seemed one through which one could no longer move in a penumbra, and he let in a burst of light with the direct query: “Won’t you explain what you mean?”