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In trying interviews, as in sprint races, the start is everything. It was the fact that she recovered more quickly from her astonishment that enabled Claire to dominate her scene with Bill. She had the advantage of having a less complicated astonishment to recover from, for, though it was a shock to see him there when she had imagined that he was in New York, it was not nearly such a shock as it was to him to see her here when he had imagined that she was in England. She had adjusted her brain to the situation while he was still gaping.
This speech in itself should have been enough to warn Lord Dawlish of impending doom. As far as love, affection, and tenderness are concerned, a girl might just as well hit a man with an axe as say 'Well, Bill?' to him when they have met unexpectedly in the moonlight after long separation. But Lord Dawlish was too shattered by surprise to be capable of observing nuances. If his love had ever waned or faltered, as conscience had suggested earlier in the day, it was at full blast now.
'Claire!' he cried.
He was moving to take her in his arms, but she drew back.
'No, really, Bill!' she said; and this time it did filter through into his disordered mind that all was not well. A man who is a good deal dazed at the moment may fail to appreciate a remark like 'Well, Bill?' but for a girl to draw back and say, 'No, really, Bill!' in a tone not exactly of loathing, but certainly of pained aversion, is a deliberately unfriendly act. The three short words, taken in conjunction with the movement, brought him up with as sharp a turn as if she had punched him in the eye.
'Claire! What's the matter?'
She looked at him steadily. She looked at him with a sort of queenly woodenness, as if he were behind a camera with a velvet bag over his head and had just told her to moisten the lips with the tip of the tongue. Her aspect staggered Lord Dawlish. A cursory inspection of his conscience showed nothing but purity and whiteness, but he must have done something, or she would not be staring at him like this.
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