voice at his elbow—a soft, low voice, a voice not to be mistaken. He turned and saw Lady Grace.
‘Mr. Beavis,’ she said, ‘how have I offended you? You have not asked me to dance with you once to-night; but see’—she held out her tablet to him—‘I have put you down, unsolicited, for the next quadrille.’
His eye caught a single B on the place indicated. He coloured with pleasure, and looked his gratitude without speaking.
‘We have not had a confidential talk together for an age,’ she said in her gentle tones, so soft, yet quite distinct; ‘and I want it. Dear Lucy has been engaged night and day, and could spare me none of her precious time. Besides, she is reserved with me on the subject of all others that occupies my thoughts. I have no one to speak to but yourself, and I can only speak with you in the midst of a ball. You will be candid with me, will you not? You are a crystal moorstream, and when I look in I see the spars and the sparkling mica, even the grains of black hornblende. Now I want to look in and find what is the gravel over which your clear thoughts run.’
She smiled. The look of her sweet eyes, the dimple on her delicate cheek, the flutter of the throat, the intonation of the voice, were full of pleading.
‘Dear Lady Grace,’ answered Beavis, ‘you know that I am devoted to your service. I can deny you nothing.’
‘Then, Mr. Beavis, be frank with me. I know how kind and good you and all your family are. You are too kind, if I may dare say that. I mean that to spare me a moment’s pain you would cover up from my eyes all the little black grains. But, I pray you, let me have the very truth. Hide nothing; let me see all I ask to see. Will you not trust me? Am I a coward to turn pale and fly at the sight of a spider? I am stronger than you think. I can bear more than you give me credit for. That which tortures me most of all is uncertainty. You will trust me—do, pray!’
She put her fingers to her fan beseechingly, and looked at him.
‘What do you desire to know, Lady Grace?’ he asked with restraint. There were things he could not tell her, however suppliantly and sweetly she might plead.
‘I cannot understand my brother’s engagement. Does he love her? Does he admire her? I have tried my best. I have done all I can to find out what there is admirable in her, and I