At the door

Up went Lady Aspasia’s eyeglasses. Often had she pictured to herself
the woman who had “cut her out.” She vowed she knew the type: “men are
so silly!”—the Simla belle, ill-painted, ill-dyed, with the airs of
importance of the Governor’s wife badly grafted upon the second-rate
manners of the Indian officer’s widow.

As Rosamond came into the room, her long black draperies trailing, her
radiant head held high, a geranium flush upon cheeks and lips, Lady
Aspasia’s glasses fell upon her knees with a click; then she lifted them
quickly to stare afresh. She forgot to rise from her chair; she forgot
even to criticise.

“I’m done for—I’m stumped!” cried the poor sporting lady, in her candid
soul. “It’s all u-p! Lord, what a fool I have been!”

Sir Arthur, filling his lungs with a breath of righteous reprehension,
looked; and exhaled it in a puff of triumph. A beautiful creature. By
George, the most beautiful creature he had ever seen! And she was
his—his wife—Lady Gerardine. The old glorious self-satisfaction rushed
back upon him. How well he had chosen, after all! A little
neurasthenia might well be forgiven to one who so superlatively
vindicated his taste. It was a glorious moment, this, of presenting the
shining star of his selection to the poor old flame.

“Sac-à-papier! … Quand une anglaise se mêle d’être belle, elle ne fait
pas les choses à moitié.”

Dr. Châtelard adjusted his spectacles. This was the woman whom the
astute Bethune, under the purple Indian sky, had accused in his hearing
of being cold. Cold? Just heavens—what a bloom, what a flower! Ah!
the answer to that question he had been asking himself with devouring
curiosity ever since his recognition of the manor-house guest, was here
given him without a word. The poor—the poor Sir Gerardine! Here was
what he, Châtelard, with his enormous experience, had securely
predicted. _Voici la conflagration!_

Not a jewel did Rosamond wear; but her soft draperies were strung with
long lines of jet, so that, with each movement, subdued fires seemed to
flash about her. The fever colour in her cheeks, the fever light in her
eyes, lent her usually pale and pensive beauty an unnatural brilliancy.
All in the room were unwittingly struck into immobility, that their
every energy might be given to so rare a sight.

Raymond Bethune flung but one look, then dropped his eyes.

“He is afraid to betray himself,” thought the shrewd Châtelard (his own
inquisitive eye was everywhere); for once he was right in the midst of
his wild surmises.

Even Baby stared, open-mouthed.

Rosamond advanced, looked round with unseeing glances. “I am here.
What is wanted of me?” she seemed to ask, vaguely.

“Painted!” cried Lady Aspasia to herself, her gaze fixed hungrily.
“No”—for here Sir Arthur bent to kiss his wife, and the scarlet cheek
turned to him was suddenly blanched—”No. What’s the matter with the
creature? She looks as if she were going to faint.”

But Lady Aspasia was in no mood to follow the fertile train of thought
suggested by Lady Gerardine’s evident emotion under her husband’s
caress; her own emotions were for the moment unwontedly acute and
painful. Sir Arthur’s fond and proud look at his beautiful consort
struck the old love with a stab. She was not even regretted!

“My dear,” said Sir Arthur, one of his wife’s cold hands in his, “here
is Lady Aspasia, of whom you have heard so much.”

Then Lady Aspasia remembered her manners, and rose to greet her hostess.
As she did so, she caught the reflection both of herself and of Lady
Gerardine side by side in the mirror over the chimney-piece. Both tall
women, their heads were nearly on a level; but between the two faces
what a chasm! How could the old love be regretted? She was not even
regrettable.

The elder woman gave a harsh laugh.

“Awfully glad,” she muttered, for once at a loss for words. “She’s got
it all,” she was saying to herself. “Youth and beauty—and Arty. Poor
Arty; she does not care a snap of her finger for him, and Heaven knows
what’s on her conscience!”

“You remember Dr. Châtelard, my love,” proceeded Sir Arthur. M.
Châtelard made his preliminary French bow, and respectfully took
possession of Rosamond’s icy fingers. While his lips were forming an
elegant little speech of greeting, while he was assuring her ladyship of
his acute sense of privilege at being under her roof, his swift thoughts
were busy on fresh conclusions. He looked down at the pale hand, the
death-like touch of which lay inert in his palm, and up at the hectic
loveliness of the face.

“C’est qu’elle est malade—tres malade même!” he said to himself, with
sudden gravity. “Ah, she is not one to whom sin is easy! The young man
may remember he was warned.” And, as he gave his arm to his hostess to
lead her into the dining-room, he was perhaps the only member of the
company to realise that Lady Gerardine had not so far uttered a single
word. “This will end in tragedy,” he told himself again; and the ring
of Sir Arthur’s laugh, the jovial content of his voice behind him,
struck the Frenchman’s ear, mere student of psychology as he was, with
an actual sensation of pain.

As they crossed the hall they passed the figure of the Indian secretary
standing motionless, with folded arms, at the further end. The man
salaamed as they went by, and M. Châtelard felt Lady Gerardine shudder.

“Does the Eastern inspire you with repugnance?” queried he, as they
entered the dining-room.

“With horror,” she answered, in a deep, vibrating voice; “with hatred.”

The note of her passion was so incongruous to the occasion that the
traveller found nothing to reply.

Once seated at the table, however, he set himself, with tactful
assiduity, to cover a situation which tended to become awkward, not to
say impossible. Fortunately, too, both the Aspasias kept up an almost
violent conversation, and between them Sir Arthur was allowed very
little time for reflection or observation.

Baby had purposely placed a large erection of ferns and flowers in the
centre of the table. Sir Arthur had to peer round if he wanted to catch
his wife’s eyes. The four candles, in their red shades, gave but faint
illumination. The dark oak panelling absorbed the side lights. It was
only to Bethune on the one hand, to M. Châtelard on the other, that
Rosamond’s persistent mutism, her abstraction, became obtrusive.

“You have, I fear, small appetite, madam,” said the Frenchman at last,
with kindly anxiety, unable himself to enjoy the excellent plain fare
provided by old Mary while this lovely dumb creature beside him
shuddered from the food on her plate, much as she had shuddered from the
sight of the Pathan in the hall.

She turned her eyes, unnaturally bright in their haggard setting, slowly
upon him, as if aware that he had spoken, and yet unable to grasp his
meaning.

“You do not eat,” he repeated, with more explicitness. On the other side
of him Lady Aspasia, wheeling round from her absorbing conversation with
Sir Arthur, caught the words. She looked curiously at Lady Gerardine.

“We have taken away her appetite,” she cried, in her literal French.
“Too bad—and such a good dinner, too! I am ravenous still, in spite of
the scones.” And she fell with zest upon the chop before her.

Jealousy might beset her, and angry suspicion of the woman who had
supplanted her, but the business of the moment for Lady Aspasia was
dinner.

“Capital wine,” said Sir Arthur. “I had no idea, my dear Rosamond, that
you could give us anything like this.” He peered round the
chrysanthemums at her, and received again the agreeable shock of her
beauty in its new garb of colour. “I shall have to visit the cellar
to-morrow. It’s quite old wine, ’pon my soul. Châtelard,” and he burst
into his ultra-Parisian French, “you maintain a pretty fashion in your
country, which we have given up in ours. Let us clink glasses.”

There was a flutter of napkins, an exchange of salutations. M.
Châtelard rose, bowed his close-cropped grey head, and reached over his
brimming glass. When it had touched Sir Arthur’s, he turned and held it
out, for the same ceremony, towards Lady Gerardine. Again she merely
lifted her eyes towards him. He sank back on his chair and drank
hastily.

“_Saperlotte_—she looks at one like a suffering dog…. And that fellow
opposite, with his face of marble! He drinks, that one, if he eats as
little as she. And Sir Gerardine, the poor husband, so touching in his
joy of family affection—and the little Miss, so innocent and gay—and the
storm gathering—gathering! I could almost wish myself out of this,
after all. The interest is undeniable, but the situation lacks
comfort!”

“Look,” said Aspasia, suddenly, in a low tone to Major Bethune, and
laying her hand on his sleeve; “look, now that the door is open!
Muhammed has been in the hall all the time of dinner. He’s listening to
us and watching.”

“Muhammed?” echoed Major Bethune, starting slightly. His thoughts had
been fixed so intently upon a painful and tangled speculation that he
had some difficulty in bringing them back to Aspasia and her fears.

“Yes,” urged the girl, “Muhammed. Don’t you see? There he is.” She
dropped her voice still lower. “I do think he’s got his eye on Runkle.
Oh, dear, I don’t believe I ever knew what it was to be frightened
before I came to this dreadful Old Ancient House!”

Bethune glanced at her paling cheek, and then out through the half-open
door into the hall, where the figure of the Pathan might indeed be
perceived leaning against the staircase post in his former attitude of
composed watchfulness.

“Don’t be frightened,” said the officer of Guides, smiling, “the Eastern
are as curious as children, for all their grand impassive airs; and this
very fine westernised specimen has come to stare at us, and despise us
in the depths of his soul, which is as savage, no doubt, as that of his
brethren, in spite of his veneer. Besides, Miss Aspasia, he’s not
looking at Sir Arthur; he’s looking at Lady Gerardine.”

“He knows she hates him, perhaps,” said Baby, with a fresh chill of
apprehension. “Oh, Major Bethune, you may laugh, but I don’t believe
the creature’s safe; and I, who thought him quite human when he helped
me with the wine to-night. Fancy, I was down in the dark cellars with
him!”

“Capital pheasants,” said Sir Arthur; “capital.”

“Lord!” cried Lady Aspasia’s shrill voice; “I wish my _chef_ would only
learn to make bread sauce like this.”

“I hope there’s another bottle up of that excellent wine,” resumed the
great man, genially.

“Excellent wine in very truth,” echoed M. Châtelard.

Rosamond’s soul sickened within her. How they ate and drank! How
nauseating was the clatter of knives and forks, the clink of glasses,
the fumes of wine and roast! Away, away, in the old grey fort, at the
end of endless winding valleys under the snows, one was a-hungered and
a-thirst.

“_We shall have to draw in our belts_,” he was saying, making mock, as
strong men will, of his physical pain. “_Only four dozen boxes of
pea-meal and twenty bags of rice left_.” …

“_When men are slowly starved they can bear the hunger … but thirst is
an active devil_.”

Oh, God, the smell of the wine—his wine—to see them drink it, laughing,
while his dear lips in vain were calling out for water!

* * * * *

She felt his anguish burn in her own throat, desiccate her own mouth.
Some one was speaking to her; her dry tongue clicked and could form no
sound. She groped for the glass of water and lifted it to her lips, but
laid it down untouched in a spasm of horror. How could she drink when he
was parched?

“_Rosamond, Rosamond, when will you hold the cup for me?_” She put her
hand to her throat; the room went round with her.

“You are suffering,” said Bethune, leaning over to her.

His nature was all unused to introspection. By character and breeding
he was given to hold in scorn all troubles that were not concrete, all
conflicts conducted in those nebulous regions known as the heart or the
soul. His life had been mapped out on positive lines, where right and
wrong were as white and black. But, since his first meeting with Lady
Gerardine, his simple ethics no longer sufficed. Not only did others
discover to him desires, motives, heights and depths undreamed of in his
philosophy, but he had become aware of some such forces in his own
being. Like a man who first suspects within himself the germs of mortal
illness, he had tried to prove their non-existence by denial. But the
pain-life is too strong for human will, and the time comes when the only
fight the will can make against it is that of silent endurance.

As Bethune sat by his hostess to-night, he was feeling, inarticulately,
according to his nature, but acutely, not only the pain of her own
situation as he dimly guessed it, but the actual physical pain of her
suffering, her sick recoil from meat and bread, almost the spasm in her
beautiful throat that would not let her swallow one drop of the water
her fevered lips yearned for.

He spoke at last. Her dumb anguish was more than he could bear.

She inclined her head towards him. Vague at first, he saw understanding
of his speech, consciousness of his presence gather into her glance; and
then, something else—something, the name of which he could not
formulate, even in his own mind, but which turned him cold. Suddenly
she spoke, in so low a voice that the words, like some distilled poison,
seemed, drop by drop, to fall straight from her lips into his heart
only:

“You sit at his table, you drink his wine—you—you who took the sacrifice
of his life for your own—you, who should have died, that dawn, that he
might live!”

What things are these, our conventions of civilisation! There sat
Bethune, in his high white collar, his stiff shirt-front, his trim black
coat, listening to Lady Gerardine’s mad words, one hand still on his
fork, with that air of courteous attention which a man should pay to his
hostess’ conversation, be it on the subject of the weather or the last
political conundrum.

Even had M. Châtelard adjusted his spectacles for a piercing look at the
hero of his drama at that particular moment, he would have read nothing
on the lean saturnine countenance. Yet had it not been for the
conventions of society, how would not Raymond Bethune have answered
Rosamond Gerardine? With what madness leaping to hers; with what
passion, down on his knees! … “Scorn me, for I deserve your scorn. I
cast myself and my worthless life before you. Crush me into the dust if
you will, only let me feel as I die the print of your foot upon me. Oh,
you—most beautiful!”

“I think,” said M. Châtelard, rising abruptly, “that Lady Gerardine is
ill.”

She was leaning back, deathly white, save for two hectic spots on each
cheekbone which heightened the ghastliness of her look.

Poor Sir Arthur! It was too bad! Just as he was beginning to feel so
comfortable, in spite of the pokey little place, so connubially
satisfied.

“Tut, tut!” he cried, as he fussily made his way round the table. “I
had hoped we had left all this in India.”

Baby warded off his approach with a pointed elbow.

“Keep away, for goodness’ sake, Runkle,” she cried sharply. “She’s
faint; she wants air, that’s all. Come with me, darling.”

But, with unexpected strength, Lady Gerardine rose abruptly from her
chair and pushed the faithful child on one side.

“I am not faint,” she said. “I am not faint; I am sick. Oh … to see
you all eat and drink!” She swept the circle with her eyes; her last
glance resting upon Bethune. Then, with a beating heart, he knew what
it was, this new nameless thing he had never seen before in her soft
eyes—it was hatred.

Her light draperies, weighted with their embroideries, swung against the
chairs and the panelling of the narrow room as she hurried out from
among them, head erect—scorn, abhorrence, in the very wind of her swift
passage.

With a sudden dilation of the eye, Muhammed Saif-u-din watched her come.
He checked a forward movement towards her, and drew himself up sharply.
But as she passed him he bent his supple frame and bowed deep—deep.
Suddenly aware of him, she started fiercely from the proximity.

“Out of my sight,” she exclaimed, with a hoarse, deep cry, “son of
treachery; his blood is still upon your hands!”

The tread of her foot, curiously heavy, resounded, measured, all up the
oaken stairs.

Muhammed shot one eager glance after the retreating figure, then turned
abruptly and plunged into the side passage.

In the dining-room a dead little silence had fallen. Even Aspasia dared
not follow her aunt. Consternation sat upon every countenance; the eye
of each guest was instinctively dropped, as if dreading to betray a
thought. Dr. Châtelard drew his brow together with professional
gravity.

“Insane—the poor, beautiful lady?” he asked himself. “Here is a
solution, _par exemple_, that even I could not have foretold!”

“I’m afraid Lady Gerardine has found our surprise party a little
overwhelming,” cried Lady Aspasia at last, with her harsh laugh.

Young Aspasia began to sidle towards the door. Sir Arthur, rousing
himself from his painful astonishment, arrested her in the act.

“No, my dear Aspasia,” said he, not without dignity; “you remain here
and entertain our guests. I will see to your aunt. You are right, Lady
Aspasia, it was inconsiderate of me to take my wife by surprise in this
way. The poor girl is quite overwrought. Never fear, my dear,” he went
on, again addressing his niece, in answer to her last feeble objection,
“I shall find my way, the house is not so large. Une neurasthénie, mon
cher Châtelard, compliquée d’hyperésthésie,” he added, with his seraphic
smile. “I do not know if your experience has brought any such cases
under your notice, but, of course, you know they require careful
handling.”

Sir Arthur might have been a fool, and a pompous one, but long
traditions leave their stamp, even on unworthy material. You may be a
bad specimen of porcelain, but porcelain will remain refined clay. Grand
seigneur in breeding, if in nothing more, he carried off the situation
with due regard to his guests and due regard to English reserve, as well
as a better man. Nevertheless, no situation could be imagined more
galling, perhaps, to his particular temperament. His hand on the door
knob, he made them a courtly little bow, and left the room.

“Overwrought!” commented Lady Aspasia, dilating her nostrils, with an
expression that made her long-featured face look more equine than ever.
“Some people would call it ’high strikes’; and, if you ask me, I think
the ’high strikes’ in this case are sheer temper.”

Baby sat down, looking sick and faint herself.

“The fat’s in the fire, now,” said she, in a desperate whisper to
Bethune.

The man made no response, but taking a nut from the dish before him,
seemed exclusively interested in the task of cracking it between his
fingers.

“Neurasthenia is, I fear, sadly on the increase,” said M. Châtelard, in
a non-committal manner to Lady Aspasia.

The latter laughed again.

“Neurasnonsense and hyperfiddlesticks! Poor Arty—with his careful
handling! Careful handling. I should carefully handle the water-jug.”

She flung an irate and contemptuous look at Bethune, who was absorbed in
his nut-cracking. What sordid hole-and-corner business had this
two-penny-halfpenny Indian officer been concocting with the
Lieutenant-Governor’s wife to account for these tantrums?

“So ill-bred,” said the lady of birth to herself. “When people make
these slips, at least they should have the decency not to parade them!”

Sir Arthur had, as he foretold, little difficulty in finding his wife’s
room; indeed, her door had been left open, and she stood directly in his
line of vision as he came upstairs. A lighted candle aloft in her hand,
she seemed to be examining a picture that hung on the panel immediately
above her dressing-table.

He came in quickly, with his short consequential step, and closed the
door behind him. At the sound of the clicking lock she wheeled round,
still holding the candle above her head. The light played upon the
outstanding aureole of her hair, caught on one side the scarlet oval of
her cheek, the gleam of her teeth between lips, open as upon amazement.
Her rapid breathing shook her as she stood; and the darkling brilliancy
of her jet-flecked robe ran all about, and up and down the long lines of
her limbs, as if she had been clothed in black fires.

“You said you were sick,” he exclaimed tartly, “and I find you looking
at a picture.”

She made no reply, but stood, still holding up her light, shimmering and
quivering, a thing of such extraordinary vividness and beauty, out of
the half-darkness of the room, that in admiration he felt his righteous
wrath once more slip from him.

“Really, my dear Rosamond,” he went on, in mollified tones, “you should
try and have a little more self-control. I cannot imagine what Lady
Aspasia must think of you. I declare any one might have thought—I don’t
know what they might not have thought,” concluded Sir Arthur, somewhat
lamely.

Rosamond put down the candlestick on the table beside her, then stood
clasping her hands tightly together, her head bent in the attitude of a
chidden child. She was making a strong effort after her vanishing
sanity. It was, perhaps, the old instinctive dread of violent emotion,
or the realisation that here was the crisis at last, hitherto so
deliberately thrust from her thoughts, that braced her to meet the
moment. It may have been, after all, the fact that it was Sir Arthur the
taskmaster, not Sir Arthur the fond husband, that stood before her.
However it might be, something of the sweet reasonableness that had made
her so acceptable a consort to the Lieutenant-Governor all these years
did, in truth, seem to come back to her. She answered, very gently:

“Indeed, I owe you all an apology. You will explain it to the others,
will you not? I am really ill.”

Ill; tut, tut! What was she feeling? Was she sick; had she a pain; had
she a cough? He lit another candle to look at her. Had she taken her
temperature. Where was the thermometer?

With an unutterable failing of the heart, the atmosphere of her whole
life as Lady Gerardine seemed suddenly to close round her once more; the
intolerable solicitude, the tyrannic fondness, the perpetual,
ineluctable watchfulness, how had she endured it? But she must be calm.
What was it Baby had said? “Anything would be better than a scandal.”
These holy walls, this consecrate house—oh, no, they should never echo
the wranglings of her most unholy union!

Sir Arthur was turning over the trinkets on her dressing-table. Where
was the thermometer?

She did not know.

Not know where the thermometer was!

“I don’t think I’ve got one,” said Lady Gerardine, faintly. “But it’s
not fever; it’s not that! Indeed, I only want rest——”

He turned, in real indignation and surprise.

“Not got one?”

“Perhaps if you were to ask Aspasia——” The suggestion was coupled with
a wild look at the door.

Sir Arthur laughed, not very pleasantly. One would almost have thought
she wanted to get rid of him. Women were certainly incomprehensible
creatures.

“You have not mislaid your pulse, I take it.”

She retreated from his touch till she could retreat no further; then,
brought up by the wall, slid both her hands behind her.

“I’m not ill in that way. You know I always did hate being fussed
about. Aspasia told you I had a headache. It is true, I have a
headache. I only want to be alone; I only want to sleep.”

Sir Arthur stood surveying her. Poor gentleman; his mind was generally
in a compact and neatly labelled condition, quite ready with an adequate
theory for each event of life. But to-night it was as if some one had
been making hay in the tidy compartments. His ideas were positively
jumbled. Scarcely did he seem to have a proper hold of one when the
next would send him off at a tangent. He had come upstairs to make his
wife feel how grievously she had offended his idea of decorum, and had
immediately lost himself in admiration of her appearance. And now, once
more, in the very midst of his real anxiety about her health, he found
himself abjectly remarking what an extraordinarily beautiful woman she
was.

“I’m not so sure,” he said suddenly, half fondly, half irritably, “that
those red cheeks are a very good sign.”

He put out a finger and stroked the velvet outline. She closed her eyes
and set her teeth, nerving herself against the agony of the caress.

“I left a white rose,” he went on, with elaborate gallantry; “I find a
red one. My dear, your cheeks are certainly very hot.”

That voice from the past, to which Rosamond’s ears had been so acutely
attuned these days, suddenly took up the words: “_My white rose, my red,
red rose!_” As the sailor feels the raft break beneath him, she felt
the last shreds of her self-control giving way under the stress of seas
of passion and terror. She looked round desperately; almost, she
thought, that man—that intruder—must have heard the dear voice also.
Oh, sacrilege to have him standing there!

“Will you not leave me?” she cried, with a burst of pleading. “I must
rest. You were always kind to me—will you not leave me now? Indeed, I
am in pain.”

“My darling!” he exclaimed, in genuine concern.

That flush was unnatural, it was evident. She had wasted away, too. He
could see that. She who used to have such a noble, full throat; and her
breathing came all too quick.

“Come, my darling,” he went on, “let me see you to bed myself. No one,
you know, can look after you as I do. I should not have trusted you
away from me all this time. Come, come, we must let this hair down to
ease the poor head—your golden hair, Rosamond. It is not the first time
I have unbound it—eh, my love?”

“Your golden hair, Rosamond…” whispered the voice in her heart. What
sort of a woman was she that another should dare use these sacred words
of love to her? She fixed her piteous eyes upon Sir Arthur, as if, by
the sheer intensity of dread, she could keep him from her. But he
stretched out his arms.

She shrank, flattening herself against the wall, one arm raised across
her brow as though to protect her hair.

“One would almost think you were shy—afraid of me,” said he, jocularly,
while his embrace hovered over her.

“Once there was fear of me in your eyes…”

“Don’t touch me!” she shrieked. “Oh, your horrible hands!”

There fell instantly between them the silence of the irremediable deed.

Rosamond had at last torn across the interwoven fabric of their two
lives; the ugly rending sound of the parting hung in the air. These
gaping edges no seam could ever join again. To the woman came a fierce
realisation of freedom, a sweeping anger at the petty shackles that had
held her so long.

Sir Arthur stepped back, his arms falling by his side. He, poor man,
felt as if the good old world, of which he was such an ornament, had
ceased to be solid beneath his feet.

“Rosamond!”

“What are you doing here?” she cried, in a panting whisper. “What do
you want with me? How dare you come into this room?”

“Rosamond!”

“Go!” she bade him, pointing to the door. “In the name of God, leave
me. Merciful Heavens … to follow me here! Have you not a spark of
human feeling left in you? Is it not bad enough, is it not terrible,
hideous, that you should be in this house at all?” She caught him by
the arm, pushing him like a frenzied creature. “Go!”

“Are you mad?” he furiously exclaimed.

Upon the very words he stopped abruptly and stared at her. A horrible
suspicion of their truth flashed upon him. Could it be possible, could
fate dare to play so horrible a trick on him? Was the wife of Sir
Arthur Gerardine actually going out of her mind? He felt his hair rise.
A dampness gathered cold on his forehead.

She stood, with outflung arm, motionless, save for her rapid breathing.

“If you’re really ill,” he faltered now, seeking for his handkerchief
and mopping his face with flurried hand. The tail of his apprehensive
eye upon her, he was, in his mind, rapidly concocting that telegram to
the family physician in London which should be despatched at the
earliest possible moment, and bring him—and also a mental specialist—to
the manor-house by the first possible train. “Most urgent, serious
anxiety.” The Lieutenant-Governor muttered the words to himself. He
belonged to that type of fond family man who, at the first hint of a
possibly insane member in the home circle, has no other idea than the
immediate shutting up and putting away of the dangerous dear one.

Dimly, through the storm and stress in which her soul was struggling,
there came to Rosamond some perception of the pathetic figure presented
by Sir Arthur in his sudden trouble. The well-worn cloak of
self-complacency was rudely torn from him. His was the flurry of the
man on the wrong side of life who has neither the elasticity of youth
nor the true dignity of age to help him meet an unexpected blow. Her
hand dropped by her side. He had been kind to her, after his own
fashion; generous, too, and trusting. She sank back against the bed with
a moan.

“I am to blame, all through, from the beginning,” she said hopelessly.
“I have sinned against myself, against you, against him,” she faltered;
and laid her left hand on the old carven bedpost to steady herself. Her
head dropped sideways against her shoulder. “If I could set you free,”
she murmured.

Sir Arthur turned sharply upon her, one suspicion chased by another.
This was coherent enough. There was meaning in this—too much! A purple
flush mounted to his face; the veins in his forehead swelled.

“I was content to go on,” pursued the woman, in the same vague tones of
plaint. “Remember, it was you who insisted. Before you curse me,
always remember that. I wanted to dream my life away—why, else, should
I ever have listened to you? But you would not let me dream. You
thrust my fate upon me—you and that man. What chance had I of escape
between you both? you and that man!”

From purple, Sir Arthur’s face grew ashen grey. That smiling, genial,
handsome face became a positive mask—lips drawn back from the teeth,
pupils narrowed to vindictive pin-points of fury. He drew near to her
in silence, his head thrust forward, his twitching hands clutching the
lapels of his coat on either side.

You and that man—that man, Bethune!

Through the buzzing in his ears there came once again the echo of Lady
Aspasia’s laugh, her meaning words: “So you were the excuse.” And again
the gibe: “Aspasia is tired of playing chaperon!”

Mad? Would God it had been madness! This was a confession. His wife,
Lady Gerardine, the consort of the Lieutenant-Governor, had had a low
intrigue with an obscure Indian officer, a fellow of no standing, of no
importance—Bethune! As Sir Arthur drew near her, silent through the
very inadequacy of language, his eye fell upon the pale hand clasping
the bedpost. There, upon the third finger, flashed the tiny gems of an
unknown ring—a miserable, paltry thing. (Sir Arthur was a creature of
detail, even at such a moment.) It was the last straw. He gripped her
by the wrist, brutally.

“Whose ring is that?” he sputtered.

The physical pain of his clutch did her good—roused her, with a sense of
relief, to face his onslaught. She was glad that he should be angry,
that his countenance should be distorted and ugly. In such a mood as
this she could meet him and feel strong. It was the broken-down,
trembling, aged Sir Arthur she could not meet.

“Whose ring?” he repeated, and shook her as he held her.

She straightened herself, and with her free hand swept a gesture of
pride towards the portrait on the wall. Far away was she, in the depth
of her grand passion, from the sordid speculations of his mind.

“What!” he shouted, dropped her hand, and ran to the dressing-table,
flinging a candle on high to stare. “Why—why!” he stammered, putting
down the light. “Pooh, what nonsense is this? You can’t put me off
like this now. That—why, that’s poor English!”

“And I,” she cried, walking up to him, “I am Mrs. English. Oh, that was
the mistake! You thought I was Lady Gerardine. I never was. You took
a dream woman and thought she was your wife. I never was your wife. I
am his—his only. Now you understand, do you not?”

Poor Sir Arthur! In proportion as her exaltation mounted, his heat of
anger fell away. His bewilderment grew, and his perturbation. For a
moment or two he tried to cling to his conviction of her guilt. We are
always anxious to vindicate ourselves when we are moved to great wrath;
and the more unjust we have been the more loth are we to give up our
suspicions. But with these eyes of flame upon him, with these accents
of passion in his ears, even he could not maintain his damning judgment.
The first hypothesis, that of insanity, came back to him in full force.
Then arose a mitigated suggestion. A man of desultory reading, he had a
smattering of many subjects. He had heard of that form of mental
trouble called auto-suggestion—_idée fixe_. He looked round the room.

By George, there was another portrait of poor English! And, as he
lived, a photograph of him on the chimney-piece. He had passed one on
the stairs. And now he remembered the daub in the hall. He drew a long
breath. This little damp hole of a place, with the fellow’s head
staring down at one from every corner—yes, that was it—it had been too
much for her in her nervous state of health. The next words she spoke
brought confirmation:

“Do not think I blame you! I know—I know. It is my own cowardice, my
own baseness of soul that has brought it all upon me. And now it is too
late. His papers, his letters, too late they came to me. I am
lost—lost!”

She put her hands to her forehead, and reeled. He caught her in his
arms.

Those dashed papers! How obstinate she had been about them! He had
known it would be too much for her; he had even been ready to take the
burden upon himself.

“There, there, Rosamond!” She faintly struggled against his supporting
embrace, every inch of her flesh shuddering from his touch. Oh, that
voice from the past: “_There are things a man cannot contemplate in his
living body; things the flesh rebels against. The dead will be quiet._”
The dead … but he was not dead. Perhaps now he was looking on them!
The horror of the thought paralysed her, as the snake paralyses the
bird. Yet, if she had had a knife in her hand she might, in that
madness of nausea, have struck it into the breast against which she was
clasped.

“Sir James was certainly right,” thought Sir Arthur, tightening his grip
upon her waist with one hand, while he patted her shrinking shoulder
with the other. “What Rosamond wants, poor girl, is soothing.”

She wrenched herself free suddenly, with unexpected strength. Sir
Arthur staggered. Then she turned upon him a countenance of such livid
vindictive menace and at the same time such torture that, speechless, he
recoiled before her.

At the door he muttered something about sending up Aspasia; but it was
closed upon him and locked before the words were formulated. He
listened awhile. From within came, at first, a faint swish as of her
moving draperies, and then a heavy silence.

“She looked at me,” said the unhappy husband to himself; “she looked at
me as if she could murder me!”

He shook his head, and began once more to concoct his telegram as he
slowly walked downstairs.