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The Tempting of Tavernake

II.6. Understanding Comes Too Late
Tavernake's first impression of Elizabeth was that he had never, even in his wildest
thoughts, done her justice. He had never imagined her so wonderfully, so alluringly
beautiful. She had received him, after a very long delay, in her sitting-room at Claridge's
Hotel--a large apartment furnished more like a drawing-room. She was standing, when he
entered, almost in the center of the room, dressed in a long lace cloak and a hat with a
drooping black feather. She looked at him, as the door opened, as though for a moment
half puzzled. Then she laughed softly and held out her hands.
"Why, of course I remember you!" she exclaimed. "And to think that when I had your
card I couldn't imagine where I had heard the name before! You are my dear estate
agent's clerk, who wouldn't take my money, and who was so wretchedly rude to me
twelve months ago."
Tavernake was quite cool. He found himself wondering whether this was a pose, or
whether she had indeed forgotten. He decided that it was a pose.
"I was also," he reminded her, "one night in your rooms at the Milan Court when your
husband--"
She stopped him with an imperative gesture.
"Spare me, please," she begged. "Those were such terrible days --so dull, too! I remember
that you were quite one of the brightest spots. You were absolutely different from every
one I had ever met before, and you interested me immensely."
She looked at him and slowly shook her head.
"You look very nice," she said. "Your clothes fit you and you are most becomingly
tanned, but you don't look half so awkward and so adorable."
"I am sorry," he replied, shortly.
"And you came to see me!" she went on. "That was really nice of you. You were quite
fond of me, once, you know. Tell me, has it lasted?"
"That is exactly what I came to find out," he answered deliberately. "So far, I am inclined
to think that it has not lasted."
She made a little wry face and drew his arm through hers.
"Come and sit down and tell me why," she insisted. "Be honest, now. Is it because you
think I am looking older?"
 
 
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