Page images
PDF
EPUB

hope, as an old friend and well-wisher of your family, that you may find happiness."

Israel Simpson fumbled for his hat, picked it up, and left the room. For a moment Chiltern stood like a man turned to stone, and then he pressed the button on the wall behind him.

CHAPTER XVI

In Which a Mirror Is Held Up
SPRING

ING came to Highlawns, Eden tinted with myriad tender greens. Yellow-greens, like the beech boughs over the old wall, and gentle blue-greens, like the turf; and the waters of the lake were blue and white in imitation of the cloudflecked sky. It seemed to Honora, as she sat on the garden bench, that the yellow and crimson tulips could not open wide enough their cups to the sun.

In these days she looked at her idol, and for the first time believed it to be within her finite powers to measure him. She began by asking herself if it were really she who had ruined his life, and whether he would ultimately have redeemed himself if he had married a woman whom the world would have recognized. Thus did the first doubt invade her heart. It was of him she was thinking still, and always. But there was the doubt. If he could have stood this supreme test of isolation, of the world's laughter and scorn, although it would have made her own heavy burden of responsibility heavier, yet could she still have rejoiced. That he should crumble was the greatest of her punishments.

Was he crumbling? In these months she could not quite be sure, and she tried to shut her eyes when the little pieces fell off, to remind herself that she must make allowances for the severity of his disappointment. Spring was here, the spring to which he had so eagerly looked forward, and yet the listlessness with which he went about his work was apparent. Sometimes he did not appear at breakfast, although Honora clung with desperation to the hour they had originally fixed: sometimes Mr. Manning waited for him until nearly ten o'clock, only to receive a curt dismissal. He went off for long rides, alone, and to the despair of the groom brought back the horses in a lather,

a

a

with drooping heads and heaving sides; one of them he ruined. He declared there wasn't a horse in the stable fit to give him exercise.

Often he sat for hours in his study, brooding, inaccesible. She had the tennis-court rolled and marked, but the contests here were pitifully unequal; for the row of silver cups on his mantel, engraved with many dates, bore witness to his athletic prowess. She wrote for a book on solitaire, but after a while the sight of cards became distasteful. With a secret diligence she read the reviews, and sent for novels and memoirs which she scanned eagerly before they were begun with him. Once, when she went into his study on an errand, she stood for a minute gazing painfully at the cleared space on his desk where once had lain the papers and letters relative to the life of General Angus Chiltern.

There were intervals in which her hope flared, in which she tasted, fearfully and with bated breath, something that she had not thought to know again. It was characteristic of him that his penitence was never spoken: nor did he exhibit penitence. He seemed rather at such times merely to become normally himself, as one who changes personality, apparently oblivious to the moods and deeds of yesterday. And these occasions added perplexity to her troubles. She could not reproach him—which perhaps in any event she would have been too wise to do; but she could not, try as she would, bring herself to the point of a discussion of their situation. The risk, she felt, was too great; now, at least. There were instances that made her hope that the hour might come.

One fragrant morning Honora came down to find him awaiting her, and to perceive lying on her napkin certain distilled drops of the spring sunshine. In language less poetic, diamonds to be worn in the ears. The wheel of fashion, it appeared, had made a complete revolution since the early days of his mother's marriage. She gave a little exclamation, and her hand went to her heart.

“They are Brazilian stones,” he explained, with a boyish pleasure that awoke memories and held her speechless. "I believe it's very difficult, if not impossible, to buy them now.

[ocr errors]

66

99

My father got them after the war, and I had them remounted.” And he pressed them against the pink lobes of her ears. "You look like the Queen of Sheba.”

“How do you know?" she asked tremulously. “You never saw her.”

“According to competent judges,” he replied, "she was the most beautiful woman of her time. Go upstairs and put them on."

She shook her head. An inspiration had come to her.

“Wait,” she cried. And that morning, when Hugh had gone out, she sent for Starling and startled him by commanding that the famous Lowestoft set be used at dinner. He stared at her, and the corners of his mouth twitched, and still he stood respectfully in the doorway.

“That is all, Starling."

"I beg pardon, madam. How-how many will there be at the table?”

"Just Mr. Chiltern and I," she replied. But she did not look at him.

It was superstition, undoubtedly. She was well aware that Starling had not believed that the set would be used again. An extraordinary order, that might well have sent him away wondering; for the Lowestoft had been reserved for occa. sions. Ah, but this was to be an occasion, a festival! The whimsical fancy grew in her mind as the day progressed, and she longed with an unaccustomed impatience for nightfall, and anticipation had a strange taste. Mathilde, with the sympathetic gift of her nation, shared the excitement of her mistress in this fête. The curtains in the pink bedroom were drawn, and on the bed, in all its splendour of lace and roses, was spread out the dinner-gown—a chef-d'oeuvre of Madame Barrière's as yet unworn. And no vulgar, worldly triumph was it to adorn.

Her heart was beating fast as she descended the stairway, bright spots of colour flaming in her cheeks and the diamonds sparkling in her ears. A prima donna might have guessed her feelings as she paused, a little breathless, on the wide landing under the windows. She heard a footstep. Hugh came out of the library and stood motionless, looking up at her. But even those who have felt the silence and the stir that prefaces the clamorous applause of the thousands could not know the thrill that swept her under his tribute. She came down the last flight of steps, slowly, and stopped in front of him.

“You are wonderful, Honora!” he said, and his voice was not quite under control. He took her hand, that trembled in his, and he seemed to be seeking to express something for which he could find no words. Thus may the King have looked upon Rosamond in her bower; upon a beauty created for the adornment of courts which he had sequestered for his eyes alone.

Honora, as though merely by the touch of his hand in hers, divined his thought. “If

you think me so, dear,” she whispered happily, “It's all I ask.”

And they went in to dinner as to a ceremony. It was indeed a ceremony filled for her with some occult, sacred meaning that she could not put into words. A feast symbolical. Starling was sent to the wine-cellar to bring back a cobwebbed Madeira near a century old, brought out on rare occasions in the family. And Hugh, when his glass was filled, looked at his wife and raised it in silence to his lips.

She never forgot the scene. The red glow of light from the shaded candles on the table, and the corners of the dining room filled with gloom. The old butler, like a high priest, standing behind his master's chair. The long windows, with the curtains drawn in the deep, panelled arches; the carved white mantelpiece; the glint of silver on the sideboard, with its wine-cooler underneath,--these spoke of generations of respectability and achievement. Would this absorbed isolation, this marvellous wild love of theirs, be the end of it all? Honora, as one detached, as a ghost in the corner, saw herself in the picture with startling clearness. When she looked up, she met her husband's eyes. Always she met them, and in them a questioning, almost startled look that was new.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »