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That night was Honora's soul played upon by the unknown musician of the sleepless hours. Now a mad, ecstatic chorus dinned in her ears and set her blood coursing; and again despair seized her with a dirge. Periods of semiconsciousness only came to her, and from one of these she was suddenly startled into wakefulness by her own words. “I have the right to make of my life what I can.” But when she beheld the road of terrors that stretched between her and the shining places, it seemed as though she would never have the courage to fare forth along its way. To look back was to survey a prospect even more dreadful.
The incidents of her life ranged by in procession. Not in natural sequence, but a group here and a group there. And it was given her, for the first time, to see many things clearly. But now she loved. God alone knew what she felt for this man, and when she thought of him the very perils of her path were dwarfed. On returning home that night she had given her maid her cloak, and had stood for a long time immobile, gazing at her image in the pierglass.
"Madame est belle comme l'Impératrice d'Autriche!” said the maid at length.
"Am I really beautiful, Mathilde?”
Mathilde raised her eyes and hands to heaven in a gesture that admitted no doubt. Mathilde, moreover, could read a certain kind of history if the print were large enough.
Honora looked in the glass again. Yes, she was beautiful. He had found her so, he had told her so. And here was the testimony of her own eyes. The bloom on the nectarines that came every morning from Mr. Chamberlin's greenhouse could not compare with the colour of her cheeks; her hair was like the dusk; her eyes like the blue pools among the rocks, and touched now by the sun; her neck and arms of the whiteness of sea-foam. It was meet that she should be thus for him and for the love he brought her.
She turned suddenly to the maid.
Mathilde was not surprised. She was, on the contrary, profoundly touched.
“How can madame ask?” she cried impulsively, and seized Honora's hand. How was it possible to be near madame, and not love her?
“And would you go—anywhere with me?”
The scene came back to her in the night watches. For the little maid had wept and vowed eternal fidelity.
It was not until the first faint herald of the morning that Honora could bring herself to pronounce the fateful thing that stood between her and happiness, that threatened to mar the perfection of a heaven-born love--Divorce! And thus, having named it resolutely several times, the demon of salvation began gradually to assume a kindly aspect that at times became almost benign. In fact, this one was not a demon at all, but a liberator: the demon, she perceived, stalked behind him, and his name was Notoriety. It was he who would flay her for coquetting with the liberator.
What if she were flayed? Once married to Chiltern, once embarked upon that life of usefulness, once firmly established on ground of her own tilling, and she was immune. And this led her to a consideration of those she knew who had been flayed. They were not few, and a surfeit of publicity is a sufficient reason for not enumerating them here. And during this process of exorcism Notoriety became a bogey, too: he had been powerless to hurt them. It must be true what Chiltern had said
that the world was changing. The tragic and the ridiculous here joining hands, she remembered that Reggie Farwell had told her that he had recently made a trip to western New York to inspect a house he had built for a "remarried” couple who were not wholly unknown. The dove-cote, he had called it. The man, in his former marriage, had been renowned all up and down tidewater as a rake and a brute, and now it was an exception when he did not have at least one baby on his knee. And he knew, according to Mr. Farwell, more about infant diet than the whole staff of a maternity hospital.
At length, as she stared into the darkness, dissolution came upon it. The sills of her windows outlined themselves, and a blurred foliage was sketched into the frame. With a problem but half solved, the day had surprised her. She marvelled to see that it grew apace, and presently arose to look out upon a stillness like that of eternity: in the grey light the very leaves seemed to be holding their breath in expectancy of the thing that was to come. Presently the drooping roses raised their heads, from pearl to silver grew the light, and comparison ended. The reds were aflame, the greens resplendent, the lawn sewn with the diamonds of the dew.
A little travelling table was beside the window, and Honora took her
and wrote. “My dearest, above all created things I love you. Morning has come, and seems to me that I have travelled far since last I saw you. I have come to a new place, which is neither hell nor heaven, and in the mystery of it you-you alone
are real. It is to your strength that I cling, and I know that you will not fail me.
“Since I saw you, Hugh, I have been through the Valley of the Shadow. I have thought of many things. One truth alone is clear that I love you transcendently. You have touched and awakened me into life. I walk in a world unknown.
“There is the glory of martyrdom in this message I send you now. You must not come to me again until I send for you. I cannot, I will not trust myself or you. I will keep this love which has come to me undefiled. It has brought with it to me a new spirit, a spirit with a scorn for things base and mean. Though it were my last chance in life, I would not see you if you came. If I thought you would not understand what I feel, I could not love you as I do.
“I will write to you again, when I see my way more clearly. I told you in the garden before you spoke that I was going away. Do not seek to know my plans. For the sake of the years to come, obey me.
She reread the letter, and sealed it. A new and different exaltation had come to her-begotten, perhaps, in the act of writing. A new courage filled her, and now she contemplated the ordeal with a tranquillity that surprised her. The disorder and chaos of the night were passed, and she welcomed the coming day, and those that were to follow it. As though the fates were inclined to humour her impatience, there was a telegram on her breakfast tray, dated at New York, and informing her that her husband would be in Newport about the middle of the afternoon. His western trip was finished a day earlier than he expected. Honora rang her bell.
“Mathilde, I am going away.
“It is only fair that you should understand, Mathilde. I am going away alone. I am not coming back.'
The maid's eyes filled with sudden tears.
“Oh, madame," she cried, in a burst of loyalty, “if madame will permit me to stay with her!”
Honora was troubled, but her strange calmness did not forsake her. The morning was spent in packing --which was a simple matter. She took only such things as she needed, and left hér dinner-gowns hanging in the closets. A few precious books of her own she chose, but the jewellery her husband had given her was put in boxes and laid upon the dressing-table. In one of these boxes was her wedding ring. When luncheon was over, an astonished and perturbed butler packed the Leffingwell silver and sent it off to storage.
There had been but one interruption in Honora's labours. A note had arrived from him-a note and a box. He would obey her! She had known he would understand, and respect
her the more. What would their love have been, without that respect? She shuddered to think. And he sent her this ring, as a token of that love, as undying as the fire in its stones. Would she wear it, that in her absence she might think of him? Honora kissed it and slipped it on her finger, where it sparkled. The letter was beneath her gown, though she knew it by heart. Chiltern had gone at last: he could not, he said, remain in Newport and not see her.
At midday she made but the pretence of a meal. It was not until afterwards, in wandering through the lower rooms of this house, become so dear to her, that agitation seized her, and a desire to weep. What was she leaving so precipitately? and whither going? The world indeed was wide, and these rooms had been her home. The day had grown blue-grey, and in the dining room the gentle face seemed to look down upon her compassionately from the portrait. The scent of the roses overpowered her. As she listened, no sound broke the quiet of the place.
Would Howard never come? The train was in—had been in ten minutes. Hark, the sound of wheels! Her heart beating wildly, she ran to the windows of the drawing-room and peered through the lilacs. Yes, there he was, ascending the steps.
“Mrs. Spence is out, I suppose,” she heard him say to the butler, who followed with his bag.
“No, sir, she's in the drawing-room.
The sight of him, with his air of satisfaction and importance, proved an unexpected tonic to her strength. It was as though he had brought into the room, marshalled behind him, all the horrors of her marriage, and she marvelled and shuddered anew at the thought of the years of that suffer
"Well, I'm back,” he said, “and we've made a great killing, as I wrote you. They were easier than I expected.”
He came forward for the usual perfunctory kiss, but she recoiled, and it was then that his eye seemed to grasp the significance of her travelling suit and veil, and he glanced at her face.