"It is the dearest hope of my life that she may be fond of me," he said.
Francine dropped his arm "And fortune favors your hopes," she added, with an ironical assumption of interest in Mirabel's prospects. "When Mr. Morris leaves us to-morrow, he removes the only obstacle you have to fear. Am I right?"
"In this way. I don't regard Mr. Morris as an obstacle. Emily is too delicate and too kind to hurt his feelings--she is not in love with him. There is no absorbing interest in her mind to divert her thoughts from me. She is idle and happy; she thoroughly enjoys her visit to this house, and I am associated with her enjoyment. There is my chance--!"
He suddenly stopped. Listening to him thus far, unnaturally calm and cold, Francine now showed that she felt the lash of his contempt. A hideous smile passed slowly over her white face. It threatened the vengeance which knows no fear, no pity, no remorse--the vengeance of a jealous woman. Hysterical anger, furious language, Mirabel was prepared for. The smile frightened him.
"Well?" she said scornfully, "why don't you go on?"
A bolder man might still have maintained the audacious position which he had assumed. Mirabel's faint heart shrank from it. He was eager to shelter himself under the first excuse that he could find. His ingenuity, paralyzed by his fears, was unable to invent anything new. He feebly availed himself of the commonplace trick of evasion which he had read of in novels, and seen in action on the stage.
"Is it possible," he asked, with an overacted assumption of surprise, "that you think I am in earnest?"
In the case of any other person, Francine would have instantly seen through that flimsy pretense. But the love which accepts the meanest crumbs of comfort that can be thrown to it--which fawns and grovels and deliberately deceives itself, in its own intensely selfish interests--was the love that burned in Francine's breast. The wretched girl believed Mirabel with such an ecstatic sense of belief that she trembled in every limb, and dropped into the nearest chair.