Chapter XLIX

SHE seemed to have slept but a few moments, when a dream of extraordinary vividness took entire possession of her. Langdale was quite near her; he had suddenly entered the room.… ‘Stella, Stella, my beloved!’ he murmured in a hushed voice, looking at her. She would not move, lest she would waken. It was long since she had seen Anselm so clearly; and now, when she saw him, she knew that she had been famishing for a sight of his face.

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And how close and real his voice sounded with its deep, tender intonations!

He trod gently so as not to waken her. He stood over her, his hand resting on the back of the couch. Her heart began to beat wildly. Ah, would that she might never waken from this vision! It was so palpable—so much part of herself. It throbbed in every vein of her body. Why had she struggled against this communion as if it were an evil infatuation? It was the saving element left, to steady reason in the wreck that had overtaken her. She knew his face was near hers; she heard herself repeating his name once and again. And then his arms were round her—his breath came in quick pants as he held her to him. She would not open her eyes lest this dream should dissolve.

Dream! Could this be a dream? Could imagination, aided by all the ingenuity of sleep, feign the life-like ecstasy of the kisses softly imprinted on her face?

‘Darling, you called me. Are you still asleep?’

In this bewildering dream, which copied life with invincible fidelity, she seemed to open her eyes—and, lo! there he was, close beside her, his face irradiated with joy. ‘Oh, Anselm, let me sleep on!’ she said faintly. And the dream went on; for he sat beside her, and drew her close to him, so that her weary head lay upon his breast. And so she remained for a little with closed eyes; but at last she began to gather up proofs of being awake. She heard the ticking of a timepiece, the sound of a military band, the muffled roll of carriages. Then timidly she touched the hands that clasped her in so strong and unrelaxing a way.

‘Dear little Australian dormouse, does this heavy atmosphere make you so drowsy?’ he said with a happy laugh. … It was no dream. She gave a low cry of joy, and threw her arms around him. For a few bewildered moments a merciful oblivion overtook her. All the misery and humiliation and endless moral conflict of the past weeks were swept from her. How is one to account for the convictions that suddenly lodge in the heart without a spoken word? The first collected thought which came to Stella was that the dream she dreamt on the morning of her wedding-day was true. No woman stood between her and Langdale—no shadow on his past life divided them; she knew it well, as he drew her close against his heart,

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murmuring incoherent endearments, and feasting his eyes on her face.

It was much paler than formerly; and surely it was worn, sorrow-stricken, with dark circles round the large eyes, more wistful and spirituelle than ever. And those drawn lines round the mouth? She must have suffered much since they parted. The thought sobered the transports of his joy.

‘Has my sweet Herzblättchen been ill?’

‘Oh, Anselm, Anselm!’ was all she could say. And then she screened her face from his sight, hiding it against his breast. All that had happened since they parted in the light of the mystical rose twilight that stole in through the tangled clusters of leaves and purple and scarlet passion-flowers, enclosing the wide veranda of the peaceful home on the borders of the great Australian plain, had for a few tumultuous moments been whirled from her consciousness. And now that the reality, like a hideous nightmare, began once more to reassert itself, she struggled to keep it at bay.

‘So you came after all, as you threatened you would; and we have found each other once more—once more!’ he said, stroking her hair fondly. She did not look up, but drew a long, low, shuddering sigh, like a child which has been wearied with wandering, but is once more safe in its mother's arms.

‘Yes, Stella, we have found each other; this time never to lose one another again—never, till death us do part!’

Oh, merciful Heaven! how the phantom of her wrecked life began to rise and float before her, vivid and pitiful as the wave-washed form of a broken ship that comes with shattered masts and dragging anchors to a wild waste island, in which never a creature of God has lodged and found shelter.

‘You got my letter all safe, Liebe. Was it a great shock to you, that enclosure, telling the cause of my visit to England?’

A shudder passed over her, and she moaned a little, but made no reply. Then the reflection dawned on him that, in truth, the news had wounded her cruelly, coming so unexpectedly in the midst of her great happiness. Her face as he had last seen it—the large, radiant eyes, now thrilling him with their steady gaze, then softly veiled with their long dark lashes; the warm, tender damask in her cheeks

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—her voice, like a hidden bird that sang, had been with him through the weary weeks of separation like a vision of gladness, untroubled by one pang of doubt. Only in the past week or two, when no letters reached him, he had been tormented with fears lest she had fallen ill.

Had this, after all, been the case? She was so wan and silent—so unlike the picture that had been with him day and night. The smiles that rose in her eyes and lingered in them while her face was grave, her low, glad peals of laughter, her quick, imperious gestures, her troops of fancies, blithe and suggestive as the carols of birds in spring, what had become of all these? But he reminded himself that under all the gaiety and quick ardour of her nature there had ever been a strong under-current of almost sombre melancholy. In their separation this had evidently gained the upper hand. Her face would soon resume its old fascinating changefulness—cold, almost hard, one would say, at times, then soft and bright—luminously tender like a wind-flower pearled with dew and softly stirred by the morning air.

In the rush of his sudden joy on seeing her fast asleep in his stepfather's house, Langdale had scarcely wondered at Stella's unexpected presence in the Old World. Those who have been in Australia know that people of means there may at any moment embark on a voyage to the Old World — Australia, that vast island-continent, so remote from all the great international centres of activity, is yet in such curiously close touch with all the far ends of the earth. One of the last things Stella had said to him at parting was, ‘You know, Anselm, if you are detained in England, just say “Hey presto!” one morning, and there I shall be at your door with a wreath of eucalyptus-blossoms in my hair all ready to go to church. Oh, there are scores of people with whom I could go—Esther to begin with——’ Had she perhaps fallen ill and set out with her sister or some friend directly after getting his Mauritius letter, in which he told her of his mother's second marriage, and asked her to address his letters after the beginning of November to No.—, Thiergarten Strasse? Or was she one of the Adelaide friends of whom the Professor spoke so warmly? But it mattered not how she had come: here she was, and soon she would be her old joyous self again.

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She had somehow suffered keenly, but the reaction would soon set in. He would not worry her with questions or exclamations over her altered looks. She had looked so much more like her old self when she had been asleep, with a soft flush mantling in her cheeks.

‘The moment I got your precious letter I felt I must tell you all before I went away, darling,’ he said, in a low, soothing voice. ‘Your beloved letter, which I have read till it is almost worn out, and this great lovely lock of your hair—I have kissed it night and morning.’

He had taken the letter out of his pocket-book, and when she caught sight of the closely-written pages and the warmtinted coiled lock of her hair, the thought of all that lay between them and that happy night, on which she had written with gleeful rapture her first love-letter, made her suddenly turn faint and chill. He saw this, and drawing her nearer to him once more he said:

‘Now we need only speak of our joy—of our happiness, without one cloud lingering from the past. It was, as the lawyer said, a false signature. … She died a few months after I left England.’

He felt her trembling, and he stroked her face, calling her by all the old fond names.

‘Let me take off your bonnet, Blättchen, and your gloves. I want to see and feel your hands in mine.’

She hurriedly removed her gloves, intentionally slipping off the fatal wedding-ring and leaving it in the glove finger. She dared not let the truth come upon him so abruptly. She must somehow tell him—but in what words? After all, Dante showed some inflexibility of imagination in depicting the tortures of the damned. Life furnishes many more terrible situations than those depicted in the circles of the Inferno.

‘I will tell you all there is to tell, Stella, and then we need not return to this. I went from London direct to Brussels, and found the woman who had forged the signature. She admitted the imposition, and I have the needful vouchers in my possession. She was poor, and I knew what einziges Herz would wish—I have provided for her. Oh yes, you same and bade me do so. Did you know that you were with me all the time? Your precious little soul came fluttering with me all the way.’

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Every word he spoke fell on her now like knotted thongs. But she still clung to him, half hiding her face from his, while the deep, regular beating of his heart seemed to her to measure the moments that lay between her and eternal death.

‘Now speak to me a little, my darling. Do you know, I feel as if you would vanish out of my sight! Your presence is so wonderful—so incredible! And I was almost frantic because no letter came.’

‘I cannot speak just now, Anselm.’

‘My beloved! you have suffered cruelly. Then I will speak till the dear old gaiety and laughter come back. Let me look into your face. Geliebte, you have been ill. I dreamt you were—over and over again the same dream. Always I wanted to come to you, and always there was some terrible obstacle in the way. I used to set out, and suddenly find myself wandering in unknown places with thick darkness falling, and then there would be great cataracts tumbling over in my path. When I woke up I used to try and laugh at myself. But I was like Macbeth, who couldn't say “Amen!” when he most sorely needed a word of prayer. I used to think, “After all, that gay, laughing, yet melancholy little witch Blättchen has cunningly infected me with a strain of her Keltic superstition. She is rooted in two nationalities, both a little eerie.” Do you remember that tragic dream you had of joining the throng who were in sorrow? Now, confess, beloved, that foolish vision made you a little afraid? But after this you cannot believe in evil dreams. I give you notice that from this day out you must get back all your old mockeries and mischief, and quips and cranks and wreathed smiles. As for me, I foresee that I shall be a dreadful Philistine—as happy as the day is long! “To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition—the end to which every enterprise and labour tends.” Dr. Johnson must have known people like me when he said that. Of course, I’ don't mean only ourselves, Liebe. I have planned every room in the house, and trained creeping laburnum over the front of it, and as for roses, they grow round it like weeds.’

O God! how his words beat upon her heart! Her lips and throat were so parched that she could not speak.

‘Ach Himmel,’ he went on, ‘what a wretched, downcast

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creature I was yesterday, when I arrived here and found not a word from you awaiting me!’

‘Did you expect me to write?’ she asked slowly and with an effort, as she recalled word by word of that abrupt, short letter in which there had been no hint of any future communications.

Surely he forgot how cruelly he had for the time been deceived by that fatal letter, a portion of which he had enclosed to her.

‘Expect you to write, Stella?’ he echoed, looking at her in amazement. ‘You might as well ask if I expected the sun to rise! But then, of course, I did not know you were coming to this side of the world in less than a month after I set sail. How closely, after all, we are enfolded by the tabernacle of clay! Yesterday you were within reach of me, and yet, when I found no letters here, and telegraphed to London and found none had been delayed there nor sent on to Brussels too late to reach me, why, a conviction strong as life fastened on me that something was horribly wrong. I was about to send a cablegram, but found an Australian mail would reach London to-morrow, so I waited to give time to my lawyer to send any on that might have come. But I was as miserable last night as—well, as I am happy now. And my good stepfather would talk of nothing but some funeral scrap that has been unearthed of a hut supposed to date back to the glacial period or some equally impossible time. Yet all the while you were in the city of Berlin! Of course, you did not come alone, Liebe? Is it with Esther you came?’


‘Tell me, did Hector and Madonna really come? No? Do you want to give me another joyful surprise? Ah, my poor darling! you have been very ill.’

She was indeed paler than ever, and trembling at intervals all over—striving to frame words in which to tell him all, yet shrinking from the task—not as one shrinks from death, but as one shrinks from stabbing the human being who is the dearest loved in all God's wide universe. A species of physical and moral syncope had fallen on her, in which for the time nothing was possible except to half hide her face and hang on every word that Langdale uttered as a miser might gloat over the treasure that is soon

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to be swept for ever from his possession. A dull wonder had forced itself upon her when he spoke of his disappointment at getting no letter. But she could not think nor reason—she could only, in the feebleness of her great misery, postpone the moment in which the truth must be revealed.

‘Did you have a good passage, Liebe? Tell me the very day on which you left. Why, that was just twenty-four days after I did! And our voyage was longer than usual. We had no storms, but shortly after leaving Mauritius our engine got seriously out of gear, and that made us ten days later. Fortunately the sea most of the time was as calm as a great swamp. I used to pace up and down the deck for hours, and fancy we were riding side by side over the Peeloo Plain. Did you not find that a quiet sea under a dim light is wonderfully like a grayish horizonless stretch of Australian scenery Tell me, Liebe, shall you want to return soon to your beloved native land? But there is a still more important question—one that must be settled this moment—when shall we be married? To-morrow? What! crying, my own? Tell me, Stella, is there some trouble I do not know? Your mother and all—are they well? Did they approve of your coming? Only a brave, intrepid Australian girl could have done such a thing.’

‘Oh, Anselm! do not—do not praise me!’ she cried in a choked voice.

A wild scheme fashioned itself in her mind to get away before he would learn the truth—to bid him farewell, and then write and tell all and never look upon his face again. But all nerve-power seemed to have deserted her. There was a dull, deep noise in her head, which rose at times and drowned all sound, like waves moaning against a rocky shore.

‘Tell me about the Fairacre people,’ he said, haunted with the thought that some family trouble weighed on her.

‘They were all well. Maisie I brought with me,’ she forced herself to say.

‘And the friends with whom you came—do I know anything of them? By the way, Liebe, do you know that I hurried here at my stepfather's request? I met him going to his beloved museum—one full of miniature specimens of man's primitive dwellings—with some young Royal Highness athirst for knowledge. You must come with me to see

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them. If you go with the Professor, you will never get away before the dawn of the next century — and that wouldn't suit my plans in the least. You only belovedest —do you remember the butterfly kisses you used to give Lionel? Give me just two of them, in memory of our first delightful squabble over the orphaned little angel.’ He held his cheek against hers to feel the flutter of her eyelashes.

But, instead, his face was wet with her tears. Then, for the first time, a sudden pang of fear shot into his heart.

‘Your stepfather may soon be here,’ she said, raising her pallid, tear-stained face.

‘Yes, that reminds me of what I was about to tell you, Stella,’ he said, watching her face with a growing apprehension of some unknown disaster dully creeping over him. ‘He asked me to hurry here to do the honours of the house for him to an Australian friend—you know he visited South Australia in the beginning of this year—a Mrs. Ritchie, he said; do you know her? I fancy I have some association with the name. Perhaps you came with her—and I suppose also you know the Professor?’

‘Yes, I know him,’ she whispered, looking up into his face in miserable helplessness, her lips dry and quivering, unable to articulate another word. Then he knew that there was some trouble she had to tell him—trouble that she found it difficult to speak of. She had several brothers: perhaps the family had been visited by one of those trials which wound people even more bitterly than death itself. He resolved that she must tell it in the way easiest to her.

‘I am teasing you about trifles that do not signify, love. There is some trouble that weighs on you. But do not speak of it to-day if you would rather not. Only remember that any grief which comes to us now must be lighter, because shared between us. Ah, beloved, it seems incredible almost that our great happiness is now assured—within our grasp. … Tell me, was there time for you to get the diary-letter I sent from Mauritius?’

‘I got only the one terrible letter,’ she said faintly.

‘Terrible, Stella? Did you, then, blame me so hardly for not telling you all from the first? Perhaps that would have been best; yet it was to save you unnecessary anxiety. But did you not like the long letter, Blättchen?’

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‘The long letter, Anselm? There was only the one short, dreadful, blotted one, and the part of that letter— the one some woman sent you—saying the rumour of death was untrue.’

She spoke slowly, hesitatingly, as if not certain that the words she used would convey her meaning.

‘Stella—my sweet St. Charity—tell me what you mean! I have not the least clue. I wrote briefly in a separate note the cause of my visit to England. I knew that virtually I was free to ask you to be my wife, but I wanted the legal vouchers. And, as I said, the moment I got your letter I felt that to keep silence was impossible—might appear to you as a lack of confidence. And I knew—I knew, my darling, I could trust you through life and death. Then, with that brief statement, there was a much longer letter— my second love-letter to you, Blättchen—in which I tried to say a little of the thousand things that were in my heart. I enclosed them together, and gave the letter safely into your friend's possession when I found that you had gone out of town, and that there was no possibility of my seeing you. But what other letter do you speak of? My dear one, have you had a fever? Are you mixing this up with some grief?’

‘Betrayed! betrayed! betrayed!’ she moaned with ashy lips. She had drawn away from him, and leant against the back of the couch, white as death, slowly grasping the treachery that had been put on them.

‘Stella, dearest, speak to me; tell me all that causes your anguish. Do you repent coming? Do you love me less than you did?’

‘Oh no, no—my only love! God help us!’ At the sound of the agony in her voice, something of panic seized him.

‘Is it that you did not get my letter—that a false one was given to you?’

‘I got a letter addressed in your hand, posted in Melbourne.’

‘Posted? But I delivered it by hand when I found that you were away on the twenty-second of September—the day I called.’

‘I was not away. I did not go out of Melbourne for half a day during the whole of my visit.’

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‘Great heavens! what made that woman lie so infamously? Tell me, my darling, what was in the letter you got? You spoke of an unfinished one from some woman. Do you remember the words?’

Stella, roused by the shock of discovering this undreamt-of treachery, repeated, word for word, first, the unfinished letter in some woman's handwriting—then Anselm's, telling of its abrupt beginning and close, with its many erasures, one of them—that at the close—blotted, but not illegible.

‘Oh, Stella, could you believe that I would write like that, and enclose such a letttr, even if it had come? I would at least have seen you—but, then, you could not imagine that such a diabolical imposition was possible. But why did this woman, whom you visited as an equal, behave worse than a common thief?’ he asked with gathering wrath as he thought of the misery Stella must have endured.

‘She had her reasons, and she succeeded—she succeeded,’ murmured Stella; and then she slowly rose up. The moment had come when he must know all.

Her gloves fell to the ground, and as he lifted them up a ring fell out of one and rolled under the table.

‘Ah, careless little Liebchen, is this the way you let our ring slip off, with its tender old Italian motto? … But this is not the ring I gave you, darling child?’

He smiled, but there was a growing fear in his face.

‘No, Anselm—I wear that ring next my heart.’

The biting tragedy of their story—fooled and betrayed as they had been on every side—made her marriage appear to her each successive moment more and more in the light of a mocking farce.

‘Why, Stella—this is a wedding-ring!’

He looked at her, but she neither spoke nor met his gaze.

‘Whose wedding-ring is it?’

He waited for her answer in sickening suspense. To their dying hour they must both remember the awful stillness—broken only by the sullen ticking of a clock, and then the strains of a military band that suddenly broke out into ‘Die Wacht am Rhein.’

‘For God's sake, Stella, tell me how this ring came to be in your glove? Whose is it?’

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The agony in his voice made the words beat upon her heart with unendurable pain.

‘It is mine,’ came the answer at last, with a low, wailing sound.

When he heard that, he stood looking at her, his lips parted in breathless, incredulous horror.

Again there was a deep silence. This time it was broken by the miserable sobbing of a woman whose head was bent in bitter shame.

And yet so strong and deep was the man's faith, he had not yet grasped the worst. The wedding-ring was hers. She was, then, on the eve of marrying some man in whose interest, or through whom, all these foul treacheries had been practised. She had carried the ring with her. She was on the eve of marrying, misled by the unscrupulous plotting of this abandoned woman. It must have been with her she had come. Ah, now matters grew clearer. He recalled Miss Morton's story of Stella's supposed engagement—her own admission of having been engaged for a week. It was to the brother of this woman with whom Stella stayed. It was to renew that engagement, then, that this incredible fraud had been practised. And it had almost succeeded. Thank God it was not too late to defeat this wicked, cruel scheme!

These thoughts flashed through his brain like wild-fire. No wonder she was wan with misery. What had she not endured during the nine weeks that had passed since they parted! Oh, to think that through their devilish stratagem she should be made to believe he could have written such words after giving him her entire love and confidence!

‘Stella — Stella darling, do not be so broken-hearted. It kills me to see you like this. All will yet be well. We have found each other once more. That makes up for all.’

She struggled for composure, seeking to frame words that would extinguish the last spark of his hope. But she could not—she could not utter them. The exhausting struggle, the determination not to be overborne by grief, the constantly recurring effort to treat the part that Langdale had played in her life as obliterated, had been but a feeble subterfuge. Like a torrent long pent up, the passion of her

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love rose and took possession of her. What law of God or man could justify the semblance of a marriage compassed by the vilest imposition? She saw that in some way Langdale had not yet comprehended the full extent of the intolerable falsehood. Yes, that was the history of her marriage from beginning to end—an impossible lie.

‘Anselm, take me away,’ she said, going up to him and placing her hands in his.

‘My dear one, do not be afraid. No contract entered upon through such gross imposition can bind you.’

‘No—but let us go away.’

‘Where would you like to go, beloved?’

‘Oh, away to the East—far away from everyone. I do not want anyone in the whole world but you. You do not love me any less? You are my own only love, are you not? Oh, Anselm, do not leave me, whatever happens.’

‘Never again, Stella. We shall be married this very day. I shall see these people and return this ring.’

She tried to smile, but broke instead into wild, hysterical laughter. The blood had surged to her head. Her lips and cheeks were crimson—glowing like coals; and there was a glittering light in her eyes.

‘Take me away, Anselm. Do not believe them if they say I do not belong to you. It was all a horrible fraud, Anselm. Do you understand me?’

‘Yes, my beloved, I understand. I understand how this misery has worked on your mind,’ he answered in a low, soothing voice, his lips quivering as he looked at her. His practised eyes read too well the symptoms of the fever that possessed her. It had lain latent in her blood for many days, and had been fanned by this hour of strange, wild misery into fierce life.

‘Ah, but I must tell before we go. There must be perfect truth between us. They wove such a frightful mesh of deceit round me. The air is full of it—it chokes me. You and I, Anselm, must be free people under an open sky. No concealment, no duplicity, no seeming. Do you not see how that little rift at the beginning has wrecked us? You wished me to tell Hector and Madonna—but I would not. Ah, dear Madonna, she would not have let their poison fasten on me.—Anselm, for God's sake do not look away! There are tears in your eyes. I may cry, because I am a

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weak, foolish, faulty woman. But you must not; you must be strong for us both.’

‘Yes, my darling, I will be strong,’ he replied, in a broken voice. ‘And you, my dear one—will you not make me happy by sitting beside me and resting?’

‘No, oh no, I must not rest. I must tell you. You must understand how it is. Do you know, Anselm, that treachery is the worst poison of all? I will confess to you that since we have stood face to face to-day I have formed two plans of deceiving you. The first was I would kiss you good-bye as though I would see you again to-morrow, and then write you a letter, and never look into your face again. Was not that a wild infidelity to enter into my heart? Oh, what a wicked, wicked thought—not to see you again, belovedest! And all that has grown out of their duping me. And the other plan—I forget the other plan——’

‘Your head pains you terribly, my darling—I know it does.’

‘Yes, it beats all over it; and sometimes when your lips move I can hardly hear what you are saying. But I must tell you before you take me away. Do you know, beloved, how I now loathe the smallest speck of concealment? It grows and grows till it makes a horrible stifling atmosphere all round, heavy and thick with poison. It must be like clear, fine crystal all round us. Oh, how they smothered my whole life with lies …

‘They destroyed your long letter—your beautiful letter, that I would have kissed and put close against my heart, and thanked God for on my knees day and night—that I would have stolen away to read over and over to myself till I knew every word of it by heart. It would have flooded my life with fresh love and hope. But instead of it they gave me one that was turned into a tissue of awful lies— short, and hard and cruel, but with your name at the end, clear as the sun at noon-day. … And with your letter they put a woman's lying message. … I saw you day and night—night and day sailing away to another woman—to your wife, to the one who had been misrepresented, who still loved you. I followed you on and on, till you reached her—till I saw you in her arms, and my blood was on fire. I dared not go back to the old, quiet, harmonious days, to my mother's peaceful home, where fierce jealousy and the

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stain of unlawful love were only things hidden away within the covers of old tragedies. … Don't you understand, Anselm, how I loathed myself—madly, furiously jealous, because a husband was hastening back to the wife he had unwittingly wronged! I tried to take comfort in the belief she would win you back to happiness; but there was insanity in the thought, and I flung it from me. I seemed to look into black depths yawning in my soul. I could not deceive myself. I told myself if you had come trampling on the bond that held you, I would have left all and followed you to the ends of the earth. You were my highest good— my conscience. What you asked me to do I would have done, glorying in the thought of making some real sacrifice for your sake——’

‘Oh, my darling, I know all the depth of your great love. Your eyes are dim with pain. Let me soothe you into calmness!’

He came to her where she stood, leaning against the back of the pedestal-table; but when he put his arms round her she drew back.

‘No, Anselm; let me tell you all, then I will be calm, and you shall decide. All these things have been feeding on me, shrivelling all that was good in me till I began to reconcile myself—to look forward to a mere blunted, soulless existence as something to live for.’

‘Ah, my dear one, you wrong yourself; that you never could do!’

‘Anselm, you do not know all. For twenty-three years I have been slumbering through existence, looking on amused at the play, untouched by passion, till I knew you. And when the forces that had thrilled me through and through were turned aside—when all the better purpose of life was defeated—I consciously made choice of the lower part, because I knew myself too well to fancy that anything of the old magic could return. It was so in religion. When the old vivid faith left me, it never returned; and now do I not know what fond delusions we put upon ourselves when we speak of the goodness and fatherhood of God?’

‘Hush, my darling; do not speak like that! You know what beautiful holy thoughts came to you.’

‘Yes, when you once more woke the deeper, more spiritual,

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side of my nature. But what became of me when I lost you? The only purpose that made bare existence tolerable was to get away from all that reminded me of the past. No family affection, no love of books, no thought of God, could give me the smallest consolation; all—all was submerged in the fever of passion. Only to forget; and do you not understand, Anselm, that marriage without love was no more forbidding than the whole of existence without love? And then I had known him from childhood——’

‘But all that is changed now, Stella. Do not dwell on it, I implore you,’ he said. But the fear that had lodged so icily in his breast had deepened, though not an inkling of the dreadful truth had yet come to him.

‘And he was rich. Yes, that counts, if you are thrown back on the lees of life. And yet at the last, when it was too late, as I listened to my mother that evening, a conviction came over me, if I had only waited—if I had not been so insanely impatient, bent on drowning my sorrow and humiliation. “In your patience ye shall win your souls.” That was one of the things my mother said to me the day before my unhappy marriage.’

‘Your “unhappy marriage,” Stella! What are you saying?’ he cried, drawing close to her, his lips parted in stony horror.

‘Yes; is not that what it is called when lifelong vows are made in blind ignorance, though they are found to be impossible lies? though——’

She stopped abruptly. No, not even in that hour, when she was borne by the flood of misery which burst upon her far from the calm reserves of ordinary life, could she reveal the double duplicity of her miserable marriage. Langdale at once interpreted her words and sudden silence to mean that the man to whom she was married was accessory to the criminal imposition practised on her.

‘Great God, Stella!—what are you saying?’ he cried in a faint voice, his face deadly white.

Strong man though he was, with a training which inures the mind to sudden catastrophes in life, he was forced to lean heavily against an armchair, by which he stood, as the full force of the ruin that had overtaken her life dawned on him.

‘Yes, Anselm. Now you know why, after the first joy of

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seeing you, I was silent and afraid. … You know how that ring is part of the mockery. … Ah, Anselm, how strangely you look at me! … You despise me! Oh, I cannot bear that!’

She gave a low cry, and covered her face with her hands. It was an old, half-childish habit. Often had he seen her indulge in it when telling tales to the Lullaboolagana children in the twilight, or expressing mock contrition for letting fly some shaft of raillery that had too keen an edge. The action, with its old mirthful associations, stung him in that hour of almost unreal misery with intolerable pain. And yet there was a shadow of anger on his face. The revulsion of bitter disappointment, the cruel thought that a little patience, a little waiting would have saved their lives from this dark shipwreck, rendered him for the moment almost blind to her anguish.

‘How could you dare to marry any man when you loved another?’ he said, looking at her sternly.

‘Ah, you are going to leave me,’ she said, in a low, broken voice. ‘Forgive me before we part, Anselm—forgive me, beloved, for old love's sake! It is getting dark—tell me what to do. I have been piecing my life together, somehow believing those letters; but now—where shall I go? What is to become of me?’ She looked into his face in helpless misery, and a sudden desperate resolve formed itself in his mind.

‘Stella, we have been criminally, treacherously duped and deceived. But you are mine, and I am yours; and this miserable mockery of a marriage—are our whole lives to be sacrificed to this duplicity?’

‘What do you want me to do, Anselm?’ she said, drawing nearer to him. ‘You must decide quickly. I cannot think, my head swims so strangely. Do not take me away to-day; I must wait.’

He took her hands in his, and they almost scorched him. The delirium of fever was in her face and voice. He fought with the whirl of feelings that threatened to reduce him to the weakness of a woman, and then answered in a low, emotionless voice:

‘No, Stella, I will not take you away till you have calmly faced the question in all its bearings. You have been ill for some time. You are in a high fever now. You must rest,

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Stella; you must regain composure for my sake and your own.’

Even as he looked at her, he saw that a certain vacancy had come into her face.

‘You must give me those letters, Stella, that you thought I sent you. They furnish proof of the wicked imposition that misled you. Ah, my darling, my darling, how you have suffered night and day! You must get well and strong. Do not despair; all is not lost.’

His quiet, deep voice penetrated her with an involuntary sense of confidence—of being directed and absolved from the necessity of action. At this time the burning sensation in her temples had increased to an overpowering vehemence.

‘I am not as ill as you imagine,’ she said, her voice sinking to a whisper. But even as she spoke a dimness fell on her eyes, and she swayed as though she would have fallen. He led her to the chair by which he stood, and knelt at her feet, raising her hands reverently to his lips.

‘Stella, you know that there is nothing in the whole world I care for but to help you—to protect you from all evil, do you not?’

‘Yes—yes, I do; yes, I do,’ she whispered, repeating the words over and over as if they were the refrain of a song. Her face had blanched somewhat, and a great exhaustion was creeping over her.

He released her hands, and she raised them tremblingly, kissing them one by one where his lips had touched them. He saw the action, and he turned away quickly, gazing for a few moments out through the window, but seeing naught.

She leant back with closed eyes as if asleep, but opened them presently, looking round with a perplexed expression.

‘I do not know this place, do I? How quiet it is, with the busts of people dead and all the grief hidden away in books. How very, very far away everything seems! But you are here, Anselm? … You have not left me?’

‘Yes, Stella, I am here.’

Then there was silence again. Presently there was a ring, and the hall-door was opened. Langdale went out and met his stepfather in the hall.

‘Well, Anselm, have you seen my Australian friend, Mrs. Ritchie?’ he asked in a cheery voice, as he put down one or

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two books and a bundle of proofs damp from the printer's, and drew off his fur-lined gloves. ‘Does she not speak German with wonderful verve? She is still here? Ah, that is good—that is good. I thought she would find Kleinsauber's “Comparative Ethnology” a fascinating work. You see, with all her vivacity, she has an unusual love of knowledge. In that she is like your sister Amalie—a combination which is, above all others, calculated to make a woman happy.’

‘Very true,’ answered Langdale gravely. And then he told the Professor that the Australian lady seemed suddenly indisposed—that he feared she was far from well.

‘Ah, now that you speak of it, I have thought each time I saw her that she was greatly paler and thinner. Oh, she is staying only a few houses away. Her husband is in London. She must come and stay with us as soon as your mother returns.’

The good Professor hurried into the study. ‘My dear young lady, you are not well. Perhaps you have been reading Kleinsauber's book too closely. You saw it the moment you came in, of course—here on the table? It is wonderful! wonderful!’ etc.

The kind, benevolent old face, bending over her with anxious solicitude, helped Stella a little to recall her straying faculties.

When she spoke of going, the Professor proposed to get a hackney carriage, but Stella said the little walk though the fresh air would revive her. The Professor and Langdale walked with her to the pension, and she bade them goodbye at the door, saying that she would be better on the morrow. Early next day Langdale received the two fatal letters, which Stella enclosed with the words: ‘To-day I cannot see very well, nor think. Things are going away from me. I only know I will do whatever you wish.’

That night she was prostrated with acute fever. She lay for weeks hovering between life and death. Time after time the crisis seemed to have passed; but a disastrous wave of recollection would sweep over her; and then the fever re-asserted itself once more. But in the end her youth and hitherto unbroken physique triumphed. She struggled back to life shaken and wasted. Day by day she gained a little strength. But mentally a strange change

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had been wrought. She remembered all that had passed, but the sources of emotion seemed atrophied. It was like a moral aphasia. She had forgotten how to feel; and she shrank from the possibility of mental suffering with a certain morbid horror. All the passion and ardour and power of vivid emotion had left her. If she could be glad for anything, she would have been glad that now at last she knew what it was to have a sluggish nature—a heart equally steeled against hope and memory.