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Weekly tips on great novels to read.
After the rain and gloom of the week, Sunday dawned gloriously fine.
There was to be a polo match on Monday in the park, which contained an
excellent ground--Patrick and his Oxford friends against a scratch team.
The neighborhood would watch them with interest. But the Sunday was for
rest and peace, so all the morning the company played croquet, or lay
about in hammocks, and more than half of them again began bridge in the
great Egyptian tent which served as an out-door lounge on the lawn. It
was reached from the western side down wide steps from the terrace, and
beautiful rose gardens stretched away beyond.
Theodora had spent a sleepless night. There was no more illusion left to
her on the subject of her feelings. She knew that each day, each hour,
she was growing more deeply to love Hector Bracondale. He absorbed her
thoughts, he dominated her imagination. He seemed to mean the only thing
in life. The situation was impossible, and must end in some way. How
could she face the long months with Josiah down at their new home, with
the feverish hopes and fears of meetings! It was too cruel, too
terrible; and she could not lead such a life. She had thought in Paris
it would be possible, and even afford a certain amount of quiet
happiness, if they could be strong enough to remain just friends. But
now she knew this was not in human nature. Sooner or later fate would
land them in some situation of temptation too strong for either to
resist--and then--and then--She refused to face that picture. Only she
writhed as she lay there and buried her face in the fine pillows. She
did not permit herself any day-dreams of what might have been. Romauld
himself, as he took his vows, never fought harder to regain his soul
from the keeping of Claremonde than did Theodora to suppress her love
for Hector Bracondale. Towards morning, worn out with fatigue, she fell
asleep, and in her dreams, released from the control of her will, she
spent moments of passionate bliss in his arms, only to wake and find she
must face again the terrible reality. And cruellest thought of all was
the thought of Josiah.
She had so much common-sense she realized the position exactly about
him. She had not married him under any false impression. There had been
no question of love--she had frankly been bought, and had as frankly
detested him. But his illness and suffering had appealed to her tender
heart--and afterwards his generosity. He was not unselfish, but,
according to his lights, he heaped her with kindness. He could not help
being common and ridiculous. And he had paid with solid gold for her,
gold to make papa comfortable and happy, and she must fulfil her part of
the bargain and remain a faithful wife at all costs.
This visit must be the last time she should meet her love. She must tell
him, implore him--he who was free and master of his life; he must go
away, must promise not to follow her, must help her to do what was right
and just. She had no sentimental feeling of personal wickedness now. How
could it be wicked to love--to love truly and tenderly? She had not
sought love; he had come upon her. It would be wicked to give way to her
feelings, to take Hector for a lover; but she had no sense of being a
wicked woman as things were, any more than if she had badly burned her
hand and was suffering deeply from the wound; she would have considered
herself wicked for having had the mischance thus to injure herself. She
was intensely unhappy, and she was going to try and do what was right.
That was all. And God and those kind angels who steered the barks beyond
the rocks would perhaps help her.
Hector for his part, had retired to rest boiling with passion and rage,
the subtle, odious insinuations of Mildred ringing in his ears. The
remembrance of the menace on Morella's dull face as she had watched
Theodora depart, and, above all, Wensleydown's behavior as they all said
good-night: nothing for him actually to take hold of, and yet enough to
convulse him with jealous fury.
Oh, if she were only his own! No man should dare to look at her like
that. But Josiah had stood by and not even noticed it.
Passionate jealousy is not a good foster-parent for prudence.
The Sunday came, and with it a wild, mad longing to be near her
again--never to leave her, to prevent any one else from so much as
saying a word. Others besides Wensleydown had begun to experience the
attraction of her beauty and charm. If considerations of wisdom should
keep him from her side, he would have the anguish of seeing these
others take his place, and that he could not suffer.
And as passion in a man rages higher than in the average woman,
especially passion when accelerated by the knowledge of another's desire
to rob it of its own, so Hector's conclusions were not so clear as
He dared not look ahead. All he was conscious of was the absolute
determination to protect her from Wensleydown--to keep her for himself.
And fate was gathering all the threads together for an inevitable
catastrophe, or so it seemed to the Crow when the long, exquisite June
Sunday evening was drawing to a close and he looked back on the day.
He would have to report to Anne that the two had spent it practically
together; that Morella had a sullen red look on her face which boded ill
for the part she would play, when she should be asked to play some part;
that Mildred had done her best to render Theodora uncomfortable and
unhappy, and thus had thrown her more into Hector's protection. The
other women had been indifferent or mocking or amused, and Lady
Harrowfield had let it be seen she would have no mercy. Her comments
had been vitriolic.
Hector and Theodora had not gone out of sight, or been any different to
the others; only he had never left her, and there could be no mistaking
the devotion in his face.
For the whole day Sir Patrick had more or less taken charge of Josiah.
He was finding him more difficult to manipulate over money matters than
he had anticipated. Josiah's vulgar, round face and snub nose gave no
index to his shrewdness; with his mutton-chop whiskers and bald head,
Josiah was the personification of the smug grocer.
As she went to dress for dinner it seemed to Theodora that her heart was
breaking. She was only flesh and blood after all, and she, too, had felt
her pulses throbbing wildly as they had walked along by the lake, when
all the color and lights of the evening helped to excite her imagination
and exalt her spirit. They had been almost alone, for the other pair who
composed the partie carrée of this walk were several yards ahead of
Each minute she had been on the verge of imploring him to say
good-bye--to leave her--to let their lives part, to try to forget, and
the words froze on her lips in the passionate, unspoken cry which
seemed to rise from her heart that she loved him. Oh, she loved him! And
so she had not spoken.
There had been long silences, and each was growing almost to know the
other's thoughts--so near had they become in spirit.
When she got to her room her knees were trembling. She fell into a chair
and buried her face in her hands. She shivered as if from cold.
Josiah was almost angry with her for being so late for dinner. Theodora
hardly realized with whom she went in; she was dazed and numb. She got
through it somehow, and this night determined to go straight to her room
rather than be treated as she had been the night before. But one of the
women whom the intercourse of the day had drawn into conversation with
her showed signs of friendliness as they went through the anteroom, and
drew her towards a sofa to talk. She was fascinated by Theodora's beauty
and grace, and wanted to know, too, just where her clothes came from, as
she did not recognize absolutely the models of any of the well-known
couturières, and they were certainly the loveliest garments worn by
any one in the party.
One person draws another, and soon Theodora had three or four around
her--all purring and talking frocks. And as she answered their questions
with gentle frankness, she wondered what everything meant. Did any of
them feel--did any of them love passionately as she did?--or were they
all dolls more or less bored and getting through life? And would she,
too, grow like them in time, and be able to play bridge with interest
until the small hours?
Later some of the party danced in the ballroom, which was beyond the
saloon the other way, and now a definite idea came to Hector as he held
Theodora in his arms in the waltz. They could not possibly bear this
life. Why should he not take her away--away from the smug grocer, and
then they could live their life in a dream of bliss in Italy, perhaps,
and later at Bracondale. He had a great position, and people soon forget
His pulses were bounding with these wild thoughts, born of their
nearness and the long hours of strain. To-morrow he would tell her of
them, but to-night--they would dance.
And Theodora felt her very soul melt within her. She was worn out with
conflicting emotions. She could not fight with inclination any longer.
Whatever he should say she would have to listen to--and agree with. She
felt almost faint. And so at the end of the first dance she managed to
whisper: "Hector, I am tired. I shall go to bed." And in truth when he looked at
her she was deadly white.
She stopped by her husband.
"Josiah," she said, "will you make my excuses to Lady Ada and Uncle
Patrick? I do not feel well; I am going to my room."
Hector's distress was intense. He could not carry her up in his arms as
he would have wished, he could not soothe and pet and caress her, or do
anything in the world but stand by and see Josiah fussing and
accompanying her to the stairs and on to her room. She hardly said the
word good-night to him, and her very lips were white. Wensleydown's
face, as he stood with Mildred, drove him mad with its mocking leer, and
if he had heard their conversation there might have been bloodshed.
Josiah returned to the saloon, and made his way to the bridge-room to
Sir Patrick and his hostess; but Hector still leaned against the door.
"He'll probably go out on the terrace and walk in the night by himself,"
thought the Crow, who had watched the scene, "and these dear people
will say he has gone to meet her, and it is a ruse her being ill. They
could not let such a chance slip, if they are both absent together."
So he walked over to Hector and engaged him in conversation.
Hector would have thought of this aspect himself at another time, but
to-night he was dazed with passion and pain.
"Come and smoke a cigar on the terrace, Crow," he said. "One wants a
little quiet and peace sometimes."
And then the Crow looked at him with his head on one side in that wise
way which had earned for him his sobriquet.
"Hector, old boy, you know these damned people here and their ways. Just
keep yourself in evidence, my son," he said, as he walked away.
And Hector thanked him in his heart, and went across and asked Morella
Up in her room Theodora lay prostrate. She could reason no more--she
could only sob in the dark.
Next day she did not appear until luncheon-time. But the guests at
Beechleigh always rose when they pleased, and no one remarked her
absence even, each pair busy with their own affairs. Only Barbara crept
up to her room to see how she was, and if she wanted anything. Theodora
wondered why her cousin should have been so changed from the afternoon
of their arrival. And Barbara longed to tell her. She moved about, and
looked out of the window, and admired Theodora's beautiful hair spread
over the pillows. Then she said: "Oh, I wish you came here often and Mildred didn't. She is a brute, and
she hates you for being so beautiful. She made me keep away, you know.
Do you think me a mean coward?" Her poor, plain, timid face was pitiful
as she looked at Theodora, and to her came the thought of what Barbara's
life was probably among them all, and she said, gently: "No, indeed, I don't. It was much better for you not to annoy her
further; she might have been nastier to me than even she has been. But
why don't you stand up for yourself generally? After all, you are Uncle
Patrick's daughter, and she is only your mother's niece."
"They both love her far more than they do me," said Barbara, with
And then they talked of other things. Barbara adored her home, but her
family had no sentiment for it, she told Theodora; and Pat, she
believed, would like to sell the whole thing and gamble away the money.
Just before luncheon-time, when Theodora was dressed and going down,
Josiah came up again to see her. He had fussed in once or twice before
during the morning. This time it was to tell her a special messenger had
come from his agent in London to inform him his presence was absolutely
necessary there the first thing on Tuesday morning. Some turn of deep
importance to his affairs had transpired during the holiday. So he would
go up by an early train. He had settled it all with Sir Patrick, who,
however, would not hear of Theodora's leaving.
"The party does not break up until Wednesday or Thursday, and we cannot
lose our greatest ornament," he had said.
"I do not wish to stay alone," Theodora pleaded. "I will come with you,
But Josiah was quite cross with her.
"Nothing of the kind," he said. These people were her own relations, and
if he could not leave her with them it was a strange thing! He did not
want her in London, and she could join him again at Claridge's on
Thursday. It would give him time to run down to Bessington to see that
all was ready for her reception. He was so well now he looked forward to
a summer of pleasure and peace.
"A second honeymoon, my love!" he chuckled, as he kissed her, and would
hear no more.
And having planted this comforting thought for her consolation he had
quitted the room.
Left alone Theodora sank down on the sofa. Her trembling limbs refused
to support her; she felt cold and sick and faint.
A second honeymoon. Oh, God!