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Morella Winmarleigh had been taking an evening stroll with Lord
Wensleydown. They had come upon the two in the summer-house quite by
accident, but now they had caught them they would stick to them, and
make their walk as tiresome as possible, they both decided to
After very great emotion such as Hector and Theodora had been
experiencing, to have this uncongenial and hateful pair as companions
was impossible to bear.
Neither Hector or Theodora stirred or made room for them on the seat.
"Isn't this a sweet place, Lord Wensleydown?" Miss Winmarleigh said.
"Why have you never brought me here before? How did you find it,
Hector?" turning to him in a determined fashion. "You will have to show
us the way back, as we are quite lost!" and she giggled irritatingly.
"The first turn to the right at the end of the willows," said Hector,
with what politeness he could summon up, "and I am sure you will be
able to get to the house quite safely. As you are in such a hurry, don't
let us keep you. Mrs. Brown and I are going the other way by the river,
when we do start."
"Oh, we are not in a hurry at all," said Lord Wensleydown. "Do come with
us, Mrs. Brown, we are feeling so lonely."
Theodora rose. She could bear no more of this.
"Let us go," she said to Hector, and they started, leading the way. And
for a while they heard the others in mocking titters behind them, but
presently, when near the house, they quickened their pace, and were
again alone and free from their tormentors.
They had not spoken at all in this hateful walk, and now he turned to
"My darling," he said, "life seems over for me."
"And for me, too, Hector," she said. "And when we come to this dark
piece of wood I want you to kiss me once more and say good-bye forever,
and go out of my life." There was a passionate sob in her voice. "And
oh! Bien-aimé, please promise me you will leave to-morrow. Do not make
it more impossible to bear than it already is."
But he was silent with pain. A mad, reckless revolt at fate flooded all
It was past eight o'clock now, and when they came to the soothing gloom
of the dark firs he crushed her in his arms, and a great sob broke from
him and rent her heart.
"My darling, my darling! Good-bye," he said, brokenly. "You have taught
me all that life means; all that it can hold of pleasure and pain.
Henceforth, it is the gray path of shadows; and oh, God take care of you
and grant us some peace."
But she was sobbing on his breast and could not speak.
"And remember," he went on, "I shall never forget you or cease to
worship and adore you. Always know you have only to send me a message, a
word, and I will come to you and do what you ask, to my last drop of
blood. I love you! Oh, God! I love you, and you were made for me, and we
could have been happy together and glorified the world."
Then he folded her again in his arms and held her so close it seemed the
breath must leave her body, and then they walked on silently, and
silently entered the house by the western garden door.
The evening was a blank to Theodora. She dressed in her satins and
laces, and let her maid fasten her wonderful emeralds on throat and
breast and hair. She descended to the drawing-room and walked in to
dinner with some strange man--all as one in a dream. She answered as an
automaton, and the man thought how beautiful she was, and what a pity
for so beautiful a woman to be so stupid and silent and dull.
"Almost wanting," was his last comment to himself as the ladies left the
Then Theodora forced herself to speak--to chatter to a now complacent
group of women who gathered round her. Those emeralds, and the way the
diamonds were set round them, proved too strong an attraction for even
Lady Harrowfield to keep far away.
She was going to have her rubies remounted, and this seemed just the
pattern she would like.
So the time passed, and the men came into the room. But Hector was not
with them. He had found a telegram, it transpired, which had been
waiting for him on his return, and it would oblige him to go to
Bracondale immediately, so he was motoring up to London that night. He
had acted his part to the end, and no one guessed he was leaving the
best of his life behind him. When Theodora realized he was gone she
suddenly felt very faint; but she, too, was not of common clay, and
breeding will tell in crises of this sort, so she sat up and talked
gayly. The evening passed, and at last she was alone for the night.
There are moralists who will assure us the knowledge of having done
right brings its own consolation. And in good books, about good women,
the heroine experiences a sense of peace and satisfaction after having
resigned the forbidden joy of her life. But Theodora was only a human
being, so she spent the night in wild, passionate regret.
She had done right with no stern sense of the word "Right" written up in
front of her, but because she was so true and so sweet that she must
keep her word and not betray Josiah. She did not analyze anything. Life
was over for her, whatever came now could only find her numb. By an
early train Josiah left for London.
"Take care of yourself, my love," he had said, as he looked in at her
door, "and write to me this afternoon as to what train you decide to
leave by on Thursday."
She promised she would, and he departed, thoroughly satisfied with his
visit among the great world.
The day was spent as the other days, and after lunch Theodora escaped to
her room. She must write her letter to Josiah for the afternoon's post.
She had discovered the train left at eleven o'clock. It did not take her
long, this little note to her husband, and then she sat and stared into
space for a while.
The terrible reaction had begun. There was no more excitement, only the
flatness, the blank of the days to look forward to, and that unspeakable
sense of loss and void. And oh, she had let Hector go without one word
of her passionate love! She had been too unnerved to answer him when he
had said his last good-bye to her in the wood.
She seized the pen again which had dropped from her hand. She would
write to him. She would tell him her thoughts--in a final farewell. It
might comfort him, and herself, too.
So she wrote and wrote on, straight out from her heart, then she found
she had only just time to take the letters to the hall.
She closed Hector's with a sigh, and picking up Josiah's, already
fastened, she ran with them quickly down the stairs.
There was an immense pile of correspondence--the accumulation of
The box that usually received it was quite full, and several letters lay
about on the table.
She placed her two with the rest, and turned to leave the hall. She
could not face all the company on the lawn just yet, and went back to
her room, meeting Morella Winmarleigh bringing some of her own to be
posted as she passed through the saloon.
When Miss Winmarleigh reached the table curiosity seized her. She
guessed what had been Theodora's errand. She would like to see her
writing and to whom the letters were addressed.
No one was about anywhere. All the correspondence was already there, as
in five minutes or less the post would go.
She had no time to lose, so she picked up the last two envelopes which
lay on the top of the pile and read the first: To
Josiah Brown, Esq.,
and the other: The Lord Bracondale,
"The husband and--the lover!" she said to herself. And a sudden
temptation came over her, swift and strong and not to be resisted.
Here would be revenge--revenge she had always longed for! while her
sullen rage had been gathering all these last days. She heard the groom
of the chambers approaching to collect the letters; she must decide at
once. So she slipped Theodora's two missives into her blouse and walked
towards the door.
"There is another post which goes at seven, isn't there, Edgarson?" she
asked, "and the letters are delivered in London to-morrow morning just
"Yes, ma'am, they arrive by the second post in London," said the man,
politely, and she passed on to her room.
Arrived there, excitement and triumph burned all over her. Here, without
a chance of detection, she could crush her rival and see her thoroughly
punished, and--who knows?--Hector might yet be caught in the rebound.
She would not hesitate a second. She rang for her maid.
"Bring me my little kettle and the spirit-lamp. I want to sip some
boiling water," she said. "I have indigestion. And then you need not
wait--I shall read until tea."
She was innocently settled on her sofa with a book when the maid
returned. She was a well-bred servant, and silently placed the kettle
and glass and left the room noiselessly. Morella sprang to her feet with
unusual agility. Her heavy form was slow of movement as a rule.
The door once locked, she returned to the sofa and began operations.
The kettle soon boiled, and the steam puffed out and achieved its
The thin, hand-made paper of the envelope curled up, and with no
difficulty she opened the flap.
Hector's letter first and then Josiah's. All her pent-up, concentrated
rage was having its outlet, and almost joy was animating her being.
Hector's was a long letter; probably very loving, but that did not
It would be most unladylike to read it, she decided--a sort of thing
only the housemaids would do. What she intended was to place them in the
wrong envelopes--Hector's to Josiah, and Josiah's to Hector. It was a
mistake any one might make themselves when they were writing, and
Theodora, when it should be discovered, could only blame her own
supposed carelessness. Even if the letter was an innocent one, which was
not at all likely. Oh, dear, no! She knew the world, however little
girls were supposed to understand. She had kept her eyes open, thank
goodness; and it would certainly not be an epistle a husband would care
to read--a great thing of pages and pages like that. But even if it were
innocent, it was bound to cause some trouble and annoyance; and the
thought of that was honey and balm to her.
She slipped them into the covers she had destined for them and pressed
down the damp gum. So all was as it had been to outward appearance, and
she felt perfectly happy. Then when she descended to tea she placed them
securely in the box under some more of her own for the seven-o'clock
post, and went her way rejoicing.