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It was a deprecating smile, wistful.

'Bill!' she said again, and stopped. She laid her left hand lightly on the gate. Bill had a sort of impression that there was some meaning behind this action; that, if he were less of a chump than Nature had made him, he would at this point receive some sort of a revelation. But, being as Nature had made him, he did not get it.

He was one of those men to whom a girl's left hand is simply a girl's left hand, irrespective of whether it wears rings on its third finger or not.

This having become evident to Claire after a moment of silence, she withdrew her hand in rather a disappointed way and prepared to attack the situation from another angle.

'Bill, I've come to say something to you.'

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Bill was looking at her curiously. He could not have believed that, even after what had happened, he could face her with such complete detachment; that she could so extraordinarily not matter. He felt no resentment toward her. It was simply that she had gone out of his life.

'Bill, I've been a fool.'

He made no reply to this for he could think of no reply that was sufficiently polite. 'Yes?' sounded as if he meant to say that that was just what he had expected. 'Really?' had a sarcastic ring. He fell back on facial expression, to imply that he was interested and that she might tell all.

Claire looked away down the road and began to speak in a low, quick voice:

'I've been a fool all along. I lost you through being a fool. When I saw you dancing with that girl in the restaurant I didn't stop to think. I was angry. I was jealous. I ought to have trusted you, but--Oh, well, I was a fool.'

'My dear girl, you had a perfect right--'

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'I hadn't. I was an idiot. Bill, I've come to ask you if you can't forgive me.'

'I wish you wouldn't talk like that--there's nothing to forgive.'

The look which Claire gave him in answer to this was meek and affectionate, but inwardly she was wishing that she could bang his head against the gate. His slowness was maddening. Long before this he should have leaped into the road in order to fold her in his arms. Her voice shook with the effort she had to make to keep it from sharpness.

'I mean, is it too late? I mean, can you really forgive me? Oh, Bill'--she stopped herself by the fraction of a second from adding 'you idiot'--'can't we be the same again to each other? Can't we--pretend all this has never happened?'

Exasperating as Bill's wooden failure to play the scene in the spirit in which her imagination had conceived it was to Claire, several excuses may be offered for him: He had opened the evening with a shattering blow at his faith in woman. He had walked twenty miles at a rapid pace. He had heard shots and found a corpse, and carried the latter by the tail across country. Finally, he had had the stunning shock of discovering that Elizabeth Boyd loved him. He was not himself. He found a difficulty in concentrating. With the result that, in answer to this appeal from a beautiful girl whom he had once imagined that he loved, all he could find to say was: 'How do you mean?'

Claire, never an adept at patience, just succeeded in swallowing the remark that sprang into her mind. It was incredible to her that a man could exist who had so little intuition. She had not anticipated the necessity of being compelled to put the substance of her meaning in so many blunt words, but it seemed that only so could she make him understand.

'I mean, can't we be engaged again, Bill?'