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Next morning, over a rather late breakfast in his sitting-room at
Claridge's, Josiah's second post came in.
All had gone well with his business in the City the day before, and in
the afternoon he had run down to Bessington Hall, returning late at
He was feeling unusually well and self-important, and his thoughts
turned to pleasant things: To the delight of having Theodora once more
as a wife; of his hope of founding a family--the Browns of
Bessington--why not? Had not a boy at the gate called him squire?
"Good-day to 'e, squire," he had said, and that was pleasant to hear.
If only his tiresome cough would keep off in the autumn, he might
himself shoot the extensive coverts he had ordered to be stocked on the
estate. He had heard there were schools for would-be sportsmen to learn
the art of handling a gun, and he would make inquiries.
All the prospect was fair.
He picked up his letters and turned them over. Nothing of importance.
Ah, yes! there was Theodora's. The first letter she had ever written
him, and such a long one! What could the girl have to say? Surely not
all that about trains! He opened the envelope with a knife which lay by
his plate, and this is what he read--read with whitening face and
sinking heart: "BEECHLEIGH, June 5th.
HECTOR, MY BELOVED!--Oh, for this last time I must think
of you as that! Dearest, we are parted now and may never meet
again, and the pain of it all kept me silent yesterday, when my
heart was breaking with the anguish and longing to tell you how I
loved you, how you were not going away suffering alone. Oh, it has
all crept upon us, this great, great love! It was fate, and it was
useless to struggle against it. Only we must not let it be the
reason of our doing wrong--that would be to degrade it, and love
should not live in an atmosphere of degradation. I could not go
away with you, could not have you for my lover without breaking a
bargain--a bargain over which I have given my word. Of course I did
not know what love meant when I was married. In France one does not
think of that as connected with a husband. It was just a duty to be
got through to help papa and my sisters. But my part of the bargain
was myself, and in return for giving that I have money and a home,
and papa and Sarah and Clementine are comfortable and happy. And as
Josiah has kept his side of it, so I must keep mine, and be
faithful to him always in word and deed. Dearest, it is too
terrible to think of this material aspect to a bond which now I
know should only be one of love and faith and tenderness. But it
is a bond, and I have given my word, and no happiness could come
to us if I should break it, as Josiah has not broken his. And oh,
Hector, you do not know how good he has always been to me, and
generous and indulgent! It is not his fault that he is not of our
class, and I must do my utmost to make him happy, and atone for
this wound which I have unwittingly given him, and which he is, and
must always remain, unconscious of. Oh, if something could have
warned me, after that first time we met, that I would love you--had
begun to love you--even then there would have been time to draw
back, to save us both, perhaps, from suffering. And yet, and yet, I
do not know, we might have missed the greatest and noblest good of
all our lives. Dearest, I want you to keep the memory of me as
something happy. Each year, when the spring-time comes and the
young fresh green, I want you to look back on our day at
Versailles, and to say to yourself, 'Life cannot be all sad,
because nature gave the earth the returning spring.' And some
spring must come for us, too--if only in our hearts.
"And now, O my beloved, good-bye! I cannot even tell to you the
anguish which is wringing my heart. It is all summed up in this. I
love you! I love you! and we must say forever a farewell!
"P.S.--I am sending this to your home."
As he read the last words the paper slipped from Josiah's nerveless
hands, and for many minutes he sat as one stricken blind and dumb. Then
his poor, plebeian figure seemed to crumple up, and with an inarticulate
cry of rage and despair he fell forward, with his head upon his
out-stretched arms across the breakfast-table.
How long he remained there he never knew. It seemed a whole lifetime
later when he began to realize things--to know where he was--to
"Oh, God!" he said. "Oh, God!"
He picked up the letter and read it all over again, weighing every word.
Who was this thief who had stolen his wife? Hector? Hector? Yes, it was
Lord Bracondale; he remembered now he had heard him called that at
Beechleigh. He would like to kill him. But was he a thief, after all? or
was not--he--Josiah the thief? To have stolen her happiness, and her
life. Her young life that might have been so fair, though how did he
know that at the time! He had never thought of such things. She was what
he desired, and he had bought her with gold. No, he was not a thief, he
had bought her with gold, and because of that she was going to keep to
her bargain, and make him a true and faithful wife.
"Oh, God!" he said again. "Oh, God!"
Presently the business method of his life came back to him and helped
him. He must think this matter over carefully and see if there was any
way out. It all looked black enough--his future, that but an hour ago
had seemed so full of promise. He rang for the waiter and gave orders to
have the breakfast things taken away. That accomplished, he requested
that he should not be disturbed upon any pretext whatsoever. And then,
drawn up to his writing-table, he began deliberately to think.
Yes, from the beginning Theodora had been good and meek and docile. He
remembered a thousand gentle, unselfish things she had done for him. Her
patience, her kindness, her unfailing sympathy in all his ills, the
consideration and respect with which she treated him. When--when could
this thing have begun? In Paris? Only these short weeks ago--was love so
sudden a passion as that? Then he turned to the letter again and once
more read it through. Poor Theodora, poor little girl, he thought. His
anger was gone now; nothing remained but an intolerable pain. And this
lord--of her own class--her own class! How that thought hurt. What of
him? He was handsome and young, and just the mate for Theodora. And she
had said good-bye to him, and was going to do her best to make
him--Josiah--happy. He gave a wild laugh. Oh, the mockery of it all, the
mockery of it all! Well, if she could renounce happiness to keep her
word, what could he do for her in return? She must never know of the
mistake she had made in putting the letters into the wrong envelopes.
That he could save her from. But the man? He would know--for he must
have got the note intended for him--Josiah. What must be done about
that? He thought and thought. And at last he drew a sheet of paper
forward and wrote, in his neat, clerklike hand, just a few lines.
And these were they: "MY LORD,--You will have received, I presume, a
communication addressed to you and intended for me. The enclosed
speaks for itself. I send it to you because it is my duty to do so.
If I were a young man, though I am not of your class, I would kill
you. But I am growing old, and my day is over. All I ask of you is
never, under any circumstances, to let my wife know of her
mistake about the letters. I do not wish to grieve her, or cause
her more suffering than you have already brought upon her.
Then he got down the Peerage and found the correct form of
superscription he must place upon the envelope.
He folded the two letters, his own and Theodora's, and, slipping them
in, sealed the packet with his great seal which was graven with a deep
J.B. And lest he should change his mind, he rang the bell for the
waiter, and had it despatched to the post at once--to be sent by
express. If possible it must reach Lord Bracondale at the same time as
the other letter--Theodora's letter to himself in the wrong envelope.
And then poor Josiah subsided into his chair again, and suffered and
suffered. He was conscious of nothing else--just intense, overwhelming
When his secretary, from his office in the City, came in about
luncheon-time to transact some important business, he was horrified and
distressed to see the change in his patron; for Josiah looked crumpled
and shrivelled and old.
"I caught a chill coming from Bessington last night," he explained, "and
I will send for Toplington to give me a draught if you will kindly touch
Then he tried to concentrate his mind on his affairs and get through the
day. But the gray look kept growing and growing, and the secretary
decided towards evening to suggest sending for Theodora. Josiah,
however, would not hear of this. He was not ill, he said, it was merely
a chill; he would be quite restored by a night's rest, and Mrs. Brown
would be with him, anyway, in the morning. Of what use to alarm her
unnecessarily. But he had unfortunately mislaid her letter with the
exact time of her train, so he had better telegraph to her before six
o'clock to make sure. He wrote it out himself. Just: "Stupidly mislaid your letter. What time did you say for the
carriage to meet your train?
And about eight o'clock her reply came, and then he went to bed,
wondering if he had reached the summit of human suffering or if there
would be more to come.