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How different they were! Their very voices--Elizabeth had a sort of quiet, soothing, pleasant voice, the kind of voice that somehow suggested that she thought a lot of a chap without her having to say it in so many words. Whereas Claire's voice--he had noticed it right from the beginning--Claire's voice--

While he was trying to make clear to himself just what it was about Claire's voice that he had not liked he was granted the opportunity of analysing by means of direct observation its failure to meet his vocal ideals, for at this moment it spoke behind him.

She was standing in the road, her head still covered with that white, filmy something which had commended itself to Mr Pickering's eyes. She was looking at him in a way that seemed somehow to strike a note of appeal. She conveyed an atmosphere of softness and repentance, a general suggestion of prodigal daughters revisiting old homesteads.

'We seem always to be meeting at gates, don't we?' she said, with a faint smile.

It was a deprecating smile, wistful.

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'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.

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'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--'

'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?'