‘You can’t set a higher one than I do. Don’t I prove it by wishing to marry her?’

‘I wish to marry her very well,’ Osmond went on with a dry impertinence which, in another mood, poor Rosier would have admired.

‘Of course I pretend she’d marry well in marrying me. She couldn’t marry a man who loves her more—or whom, I may venture to add, she loves more.’

‘I’m not bound to accept your theories as to whom my daughter loves’—and Osmond looked up with a quick, cold smile.

‘I’m not theorizing. Your daughter has spoken.’

‘Not to me,’ Osmond continued, now bending forward a little and dropping his eyes to his boot-toes.

‘I have her promise, sir!’ cried Rosier with the sharpness of exasperation.

As their voices had been pitched very low before, such a note attracted some attention from the company. Osmond waited till this little movement had subsided; then he said, all undisturbed: ‘I think she has no recollection of having given it.’

They had been standing with their faces to the fire, and after he had uttered these last words the master of the house turned round again to the room. Before Rosier had time to reply he perceived that a gentleman—a stranger—had just come in, unannounced, according to the Roman custom, and was about to present himself to his host. The latter smiled blandly, but somewhat blankly; the visitor had a handsome face and a large, fair beard, and was evidently an Englishman.

‘You apparently don’t recognize me,’ he said with a smile that expressed more than Osmond’s.

‘Ah yes, now I do. I expected so little to see you.’

Rosier departed and went in direct pursuit of Pansy. He sought her, as usual, in the neighbouring room, but he again encountered Mrs Osmond in his path. He gave his hostess no greeting—he was too righteously indignant, but said to her crudely: ‘Your husband’s awfully cold-blooded.’

She gave the same mystical smile he had noticed before. ‘You can’t expect every one to be as hot as yourself.’

‘I don’t pretend to be cold, but I’m cool. What has he been doing to his daughter?’

‘I’ve no idea.’

‘Don’t you take any interest?’ Rosier demanded with his sense that she too was irritating.

For a moment she answered nothing; then, ‘No!’ she said abruptly and with a quickened light in her eyes which directly contradicted the word.

‘Pardon me if I don’t believe that. Where’s Miss Osmond?’

‘In the corner, making tea. Please leave her there.’

Rosier instantly discovered his friend, who had been hidden by intervening groups. He watched her, but her own attention was entirely given to her occupation. ‘What on earth has he done to her?’ he asked again imploringly. ‘He declares to me she has given me up.’

‘She has not given you up,’ Isabel said in a low tone and without looking at him.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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