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"Oh, Crow, dear, what are we to do, then?" said Lady Anningford.
"Surely, surely you don't anticipate any sudden catastrophe? In these
days people never run away--"
"No," said the Crow. "They stay at home until the footman, or the man's
last mistress, or the woman's dearest friend, send anonymous letters to
"Well, I tell you, Queen Anne, to me this appears serious. I know Hector
pretty well, and I have never seen him as far gone as this before. The
woman--she is a mere child--looks as unsophisticated as a baby, and
probably is. She won't have the least idea of managing the affair. She
will tumble headlong into it."
"Well, what is to be done, then?" exclaimed Anne, piteously.
"You had better talk to him quietly. He is very fond of you. Though
nothing, I am afraid, will be of the least use," said the Crow.
"But if she is going into the country they won't meet," reasoned Anne.
"You saw the dreadful-looking husband just now. Will he be the colonial
who will object, do you think, or the English snob who won't?"
But the Crow refused to give any more opinions except in general.
It all came, he said, from the ridiculous marriage laws in this
over-civilized country. Why should not people eminently suited to each
other be allowed to be happy?
"It is too bad, Crow," said Anne. "You take it for granted that Hector
has the most dishonorable intentions towards Mrs. Brown. He may worship
her quite in the abstract."
"Fiddle-dee-dee, my child!" said Colonel Lowerby. "Look at him! You
don't understand the fundamental principles of human nature if you say
that. When a man is madly in love with a woman, nature says, 'This is
your mate,' not a saint of alabaster on a church altar. There are
numbers of animals about who find a 'mate' in every woman they come
across. But Hector is not that sort. Look at his face--look at him now
they are passing us, and tell me if you see any abstract about it?"
Anne was forced to admit she did not; and it was with intense uneasiness
she saw her brother and his partner stop, and disappear through one of
the doors towards the supper-room.
When her mother perceived the situation--or Morella--disagreeable
moments would begin at once for everybody!
Meanwhile, the culprits were extremely happy.
With the finest and noblest intention in the world, Theodora was too
young, and too healthy, not to have become exhilarated with the dance
and the scene. Something whispered, Why should she not enjoy herself
to-night? What harm could there be in dancing? Every one danced--and
Josiah, himself, had left her alone.
Hector had not said a word that she must rebuke him for; they had just
waltzed and thrilled, and been--happy!
And now she was going to eat some supper with him, and forget there were
They found a secluded corner, and spent half an hour in perfect peace.
Hector was an artist in pleasing women--and to-night, though he never
once transgressed in words, she could feel through it all that he loved
her--loved her madly. His voice was so tender and deep, and his thought
for her slightest wish and comfort so evident; he was masterful, too,
and settled what she was to do--where to sit, and now and then he made
her look at him.
He was just so wildly happy he could not stop to count the cost; and
while he worshipped her more deeply than when they had sat on the soft
greensward at Versailles, even the whole sight of her pure soul now
could not stop him--now he knew she loved him, and that there were
possible others on the scene. She had trusted him--had appealed to his
superior strength; he did not forget that fact quite--but here at a ball
was not the place to analyze what it would mean. They were just two
guests dancing and supping like the rest, and were supremely content.
He found out where she was going for Whitsuntide, but said nothing of
his own intentions.
The blindness and madness of love was upon him and held him in complete
bondage. The first shock, which her look of the wounded fawn had given
him, was over. They had suffered, and made good resolutions, and parted,
and now they had met again. And he could not, and would not, think where
they might drift to.
To be near her, to look into her eyes, to be conscious of her
personality was what he asked at the moment, what he must have. The
rest of time was a blank, and meaningless. It is not every man who
loves in this way--fortunately for the rest of the world! Many go
through life with now and then a different woman merely as an episode,
as far as anything but a physical emotion is concerned. Sport, or their
own ambitions, fill up their real interests, and no woman could break
But Hector was not of these. And this woman had it in her power to make
his heaven or hell.
They had both passed through moments of exalted sentiment, even a little
dramatic in their tragedy and renunciation, but circumstance is stronger
always than any highly strung emotion of good or evil. At the end of
their good-bye at Madrid their story should have closed, as the stories
in books so often do, with the hero and heroine worked up to some
wonderful pitch of self-sacrifice and drama. They so seldom tell of the
flatness of the afterwards. The impossibility of retaining a balance on
this high pinnacle of moral valor, where circumstance, which is a
commonplace and often material thing, decrees that the lights shall not
be turned out with the ring-down of the curtain.
Unless death finishes what is apparently the last act, there is always
the to-morrow to be reckoned with--out of the story-book. So while
exalted--he by his sudden worship of that pure sweetness of soul in
Theodora which he had discovered, she by her innocence and desire to do
right--they had been able to tune their minds to an idea of a tender
good-bye, full of sentiment and vows of abstract devotion, and adherence
And if he had gone to the ends of the earth that night the exaltation,
as a memory, might have continued, and time might have healed their
hurts--time and the starvation of absence and separation. But fate had
decreed they should meet again, and soon; and all the forces which
precipitate matters should be employed for their undoing.
For all else in life Hector was no weakling. He had always been a strong
man, physically and morally.
His views were the views of the world. It seemed no great sin to him to
love another man's wife. All his friends did the same at one period or
It was only when Theodora had awakened him that he had begun even to
think of controlling himself.
It was to please her, not because he was really convinced of the right
and necessity of their course of action, that he had said good-bye and
agreed to worship her in the abstract.
He had been highly moved and elevated by her that night in Paris. And
when he wrote the letter his honest intention had been to follow its
He did not recognize the fact that without the zeal of blind faith as to
the right, human nature must always yield to inclination.
So they sat there and ate their supper, and forgot to-morrow, and were
As they had gone down the stairs Monica Ellerwood had joined Lady
Bracondale in the gallery above.
"Oh! Look, Aunt Milly!" she had said. "Hector is with the American I
told you about in Paris. Do you see, going down to supper. Oh, isn't she
pretty! and what jewels--look!"
And Lady Bracondale had moved forward in a manner quite foreign to her
usual dignity to catch sight of them.
"It is the same woman he talked to at the opera last night," she said.
"She is not an American, but a Mrs. Brown, an Australian millionaire's
wife, we were told. She is certainly pretty. Oh--eh--you said Hector
was devoted to her in Paris?"
"Why, of course! You can ask Jack."
"I do not think we need worry, though, dear, because I am happy to say
Hector shows great signs of wishing to be with Morella."
And with this pleasing thought she had turned the conversation.
"I think we must go back now," said Theodora, after she had finished the
last monster strawberry on her plate. "Josiah may be waiting for me."
Oh, she had been so happy! There was that sense vibrating through
everything that he loved her, and they were together--but now it must
So they made their way up the stairs and back to the ballroom.
Mrs. Devlyn had abandoned Josiah, and he stood once more alone and
supremely uncomfortable. A pang of remorse seized Theodora; she wished
she had not stayed so long; she would not leave him again for a moment.
He had supped, it appeared, been hurried over it because Mrs. Devlyn
wished to return, and was now feeling cross and tired. He was quite
ready to leave when Theodora suggested it, and they said good-night to
Hector and descended to find their carriage. But in that crowd it was
not such an easy matter.
There was a long wait in the hall, where they were joined by the
assiduous Marquis and Delaval Stirling. And Hector, from a place on the
stairs, had all his feelings of jealous rage aroused again in watching
them while he was detained where he was by his hostess.
Meanwhile, Sir Patrick Fitzgerald had gone about telling every one of
the beauty of his new-found niece, and had brought his wife to be
introduced to her just after Theodora had left.
Since his scapegrace brother was going to make such an advantageous
marriage, and this niece had proved a lovely woman, and rich withal, he
quite admitted the ties of blood were thicker than water.
Lady Ada was not of like opinion; she had enough relations of her own,
and resented his having asked the Browns to Beechleigh for Whitsuntide.
"My party was all made up but for one extra man," she said, "whom I
think I have found; and we did not need these people."