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A terrible secret


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Title:ATerribleSecret
Author:MayAgnesFleming
ReleaseDate:December,2004[EBook#7063][Yes,wearemorethanoneyear

aheadofschedule][ThisfilewasfirstpostedonMarch5,2003]
Edition:10
Language:English
Charactersetencoding:ASCII
***STARTOFTHEPROJECTGUTENBERGEBOOKATERRIBLE


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ATERRIBLESECRET.
ANovel.


BY
MAYAGNESFLEMING,



To
CHRISTIANREID,


AUTHOROF
“VALERIEAYLMER,”ETC.,


ASA
TOKENOFADMIRATIONANDESTEEM,


THIS
STORYISDEDICATED.
MAYAGNESFLEMING.
BROOKLYN,
September,1874.

CONTENTS.


I.—BrideandBridegroomElectII.—WifeandHeirIII.—HowLadyCatheron
cameHomeIV.—“I’llnotBelievebutDesdemona’sHonest”V.—IntheTwilight
VI.—IntheMoonlightVII.—IntheNurseryVIII.—IntheDarknessIX.—From
the“ChesholmCourier”X.—Fromthe“ChesholmCourier”—ContinuedXI.
—“RingoutyourBells!LetMourningShowsbeSpread!”XII.—Thefirst
EndingoftheTragedy
PARTII.
I.—MissDarrellII.—ANightintheSnowIII.—Trixy’sPartyIV.—“Under
theGaslight”V.—OldCopiesofthe“Courier”VI.—OneMoonlightNightVII.
—ShortandSentimentalVIII.—InTwoBoatsIX.—AlasforTrixX.—HowTrix
tookitXI.—HowLadyHelenatookitXII.—OnSt.PartridgeDayXIII.—How
CharleytookitXIV.—To-morrowXV.—LadyHelena’sBallXVI.—“OMy
CousinShallow-hearted!”XVII.—“ForeverandEver”XVIII.—TheSummons
XIX.—AtPoplarLodgeXX.—HowtheWedding-dayBeganXXI.—Howthe
Wedding-dayEndedXXII.—TheDayAfterXXIII.—TheSecondEndingofthe
Tragedy
PARTIII.
I.—AtMadameMirebeau’s,OxfordStreetII.—EdithIII.—HowtheyMetIV.
—HowtheyPartedV.—TheTellingoftheSecretVI.—ThelastEndingofthe
TragedyVII.—TwoYearsAfterVIII.—Forgivenor—Forgotten?IX.—Saying
Good-byX.—TheSecondBridalXI.—TheNightXII.—TheMorning



CHAPTERI.
BRIDEANDBRIDEGROOMELECT.

Firelightfallingonsoftvelvetcarpet,wherewhitelilybudstrailalongazure
ground,onchairsofwhite-polishedwoodthatglitterslikeivory,withpuffyof
seatsofbluesatin;onblueandgiltpanelledwalls;onawonderfullycarved
oakenceiling;onsweepingdraperiesofbluesatinandwhitelace;onhalfa
dozenlovelypictures;onanopenpiano;andlastofall,onthehandsome,angry
faceofagirlwhostandsbeforeit—InezCatheron.
ThemonthisAugust—thedaythe29th—MissCatheronhasgoodreasonto
rememberittothelastdayofherlife.But,whethertheAugustsunblazes,orthe
Januarywindshowl,thegreatroomsofCatheronRoyalsareeverchilly.Soon
thewhite-tiledhearthofthebluedrawing-roomthissummereveningacoalfire
flickersandfalls,andthemistressofCatheronRoyalsstandsbeforeit,anangry
flushburningdeepredoneitherduskcheek,anangryfrowncontractingher
straightblackbrows.
ThemistressofCatheronRoyals,—thebiggest,oldest,queerest,grandestplace
inallsunnyCheshire,—thisslim,darkgirlofnineteen,forthreeyearspastthe
bride-electofSirVictorCatheron,baronet,thelastofhisSaxonraceandname,
thelordofallthesesunnyacres,thisnobleNormanpile,thesmilingvillageof
Catheronbelow.ThemasterofastatelyparkinDevon,amoorand“bothy”in
thehighlands,avillaontheArno,agemofacottageintheIsleofWight.“A
darlingofthegods,”young,handsome,healthy;andbestofall,withtwenty
thousandayear.
Sheishisbride-elect.Inherdarkwaysheisveryhandsome.Sheistobemarried
toSirVictorearlyinthenextmonth,andsheisasmuchinlovewithhimasitis
atallpossibletobe.Afairfatesurely.AndyetwhiletheAugustnightshuts
down,whilethewindwhistlesinthetrees,whilethelongfingersoftheelm,just
outsidethewindow,tapinaghostlywayonthepane,shestandshere,flushed,
angry,impatient,andsullen,herhandsomelipssetinatight,rigidline.
Sheisverydarkatalltimes.HercousinVictortellsher,laughingly,sheisan


absoluteniggerwheninoneofhersilentrages.Shehasjet-blackhair,andbig,
brilliant,Spanisheyes.SheisSpanish.HerdeadmotherwasaCastilian,andthat
motherhasleftherherSpanishname,herbeautiful,passionateSpanisheyes,her
hot,passionateSpanishheart.InOldCastileInezwasborn;andwheninher
tenthyearherEnglishfatherfollowedhiswifetothegrave,Inezcamehometo
CatheronRoyals,toreignthere,alittle,imperious,hot-temperedMorisco
princesseversince.
Shedidnotcomealone.Abigboyoftwelve,withashockheadofblue-black
hair,twowild,glitteringblackeyes,andadiabolicallyhandsomeface,came
withher.ItwasheronlybrotherJuan,animpincarnatefromhiscradle.Hedid
notremainlong.Totheunspeakablereliefoftheneighborhoodformilesaround,
hehadvanishedassuddenlyashehadcome,andforyearswasseennomore.
AMoorishPrincess!Itishercousinandlover’sfavoritenameforher,anditfits
well.Thereisacertainbarbaricsplendoraboutherasshestandshereinthe
firelight,inhertrailingpurplesilk,inthecrossofrubiesandfinegoldthatburns
onherbosom,intheyellow,perfumyroseinherhair,lookingstately,and
beautiful,anddreadfullyoutoftemper.
Thebig,lonesomehouseisasstillasatomb.Outsidethewindisrising,andthe
heavypatter,patter,oftherain-beatsontheglass.That,andthelightfallofthe
cindersinthepolishedgrate,aretheonlysoundstobeheard.
Aclockonthemantelstrikesseven.Shehasnotstirredfornearlyanhour,but
shelooksupnow,herblackeyesfullofpassionateanger,passionateimpatience.
“Seven!”shesays,inasuppressedsortofvoice;“andheshouldhavebeenhere
atsix.Whatifheshoulddefyme?—whatifhedoesnotcomeafterall?”
Shecanremainstillnolonger.Shewalksacrosstheroom,andshewalksasonly
Spanishwomendo.Shedrawsbackoneofthewindow-curtains,andleansout
intothenight.Thecrushedsweetnessoftherain-beatenrosesfloatsuptoherin
thewetdarkness.Nothingtobeseenbutthevaguetossingofthetrees,nothing
tobeheardbutthesoughingofthewind,nothingtobefeltbutthefastandstill
fasterfallingoftherain.
Sheletsthecurtainfall,andreturnstothefire.
“Willhedaredefyme?”shewhisperstoherself.“Willhedarestayaway?”


Therearetwopictureshangingoverthemantel—shelooksupatthemasshe
asksthequestion.Oneisthesweet,patientfaceofawomanofthirty;theother,
thesmilingfaceofafair-haired,blue-eyed,good-lookinglad.Itisavery
pleasantface;theblueeyeslookatyousobrightly,sofrankly;theboyishmouth
issosweet-temperedandlaughingthatyousmilebackandfallinlovewithhim
atsight.ItisSirVictorCatheronandhislatemother.
MissInezCatheronisinmanyrespectsanextraordinaryyounglady—Cheshire
societyhaslongagodecidedthat.Theywouldhavebeenmoreconvincedofit
thanever,couldtheyhaveseenherturnnowtoLadyCatheron’sportraitand
appealtoitaloudinimpassionedwords:
“Onhisknees,byyourdyingbed,byyourdyingcommand,hevowedtolove
andcherishmealways—ashedidthen.Lethimtakecarehowhetrifleswith
thatvow—lethimtakecare!”
Sheliftsonehand(onwhichrubiesanddiamondsflash)menacingly,thenstops.
Overthesweepofthestorm,therushoftherain,comesanothersound—asound
shehasbeenlisteningfor,longingfor,prayingfor—therapidrollofcarriage
wheelsupthedrive.TherecanbebutonevisitortoCatheronRoyalsto-night,at
thishourandinthisstorm—itsmaster.
Shestandsstillasastone,whiteasastatue,waiting.Sheloveshim;shehas
hungeredandthirstedforthesoundofhisvoice,thesightofhisface,theclasp
ofhishand,alltheseweary,lonelymonths.Insomewayitisherlifeordeath
sheistotakefromhishandsto-night.Andnowheishere.
Shehearsthegreathall-dooropenandclosewithaclang;shehearsthestepof
themasterinthehall—aquick,assuredtreadshewouldknowamonga
thousand;shehearsavoice—ahearty,pleasant,manly,Englishvoice;acheery
laughsherememberswell.
“TheChiefofLarahasreturnedagain.”
Thequick,excitablebloodleapsupfromherhearttoherfaceinarosyrushthat
makesherlovely.Theeyeslight,thelipspart—shetakesastepforward,all
anger,allfear,allneglectforgotten—agirlinlovegoingtomeetherlover.The
doorisflungwidebyanimpetuoushand,andwetandsplashed,andtalland
smiling,SirVictorCatheronstandsbeforeher.


“MydearestInez!”
Hecomesforward,putshisarmaroundher,andtoucheshisblondemustacheto
herflushedcheek.
“Mydearestcoz,I’mawfullygladtoseeyouagain,andlookingsouncommonly
welltoo.”Heputsuphiseye-glasstomakesureofthisfact,thendropsit
“Uncommonlywell,”herepeats;“giveyoumywordIneversawyoulooking
halfaquartersohandsomebeforeinmylife.Ah!whycan’tweallbeMoorish
princesses,andwearpurplesilksandyellowroses?”
Heflingshimselfintoaneasy-chairbeforethefire,throwsbackhisblondehead,
andstretchesforthhisbootstotheblaze.
“Anhouraftertime,amInot?Butblametherailwaypeople—don’tblameme.
BeastlysortofweatherforthelastweekofAugust—coldasIcelandandraining
catsanddogs;theverydickensofastorm,Icantellyou.”
Hegivethefireapoke,thelightleapsupandillumineshishandsomeface.Heis
verylikehispicture—alittleolder—alittleworn-looking,andwithman’s
“crowningglory,”amustache.Thegirlhasmovedalittleawayfromhim,the
flushof“beauty’sbrighttranscientglow”hasdiedoutofherface,thehard,
angrylookhascomeback.Thatcarelesskiss,thateasy,cousinlyembrace,have
toldtheirstory.Amomentagoherheartbeathighwithhope—tothedayofher
deathitneverbeatlikethatagain.
Hedoesn’tlookather;hegazesatthefireinstead,andtalkswiththehurryofa
nervousman.Thehandsomefaceisaveryeffeminateface,andnoteventhe
light,carefullytrained,carefullywaxedmustachecanhidetheweak,irresolute
mouth,thedelicate,characterlesschin.Whilehetalkscarelesslyandquickly,
whilehisslimwhitefingersloopandunloophiswatch-chain,intheblueeyes
fixeduponthefirethereisanuneasylookofnervousfear.Andintothekeeping
ofthismanthegirlwiththedarkpowerfulfacehasgivenherheart,herfate!
“Itseemsnoendgoodtobeathomeagain,”SirVictorCatheronsays,asif
afraidofthatbriefpause.“You’venoidea,Inez,howuncommonlyfamiliarand
jollythisblueroom,thisredfire,lookedamomentago,asIsteppedoutofthe
darknessandrain.Itbringsbacktheoldtimes—thisusedtobeherfavorite
morning-room,”heglancedatthemother’spicture,“andsummerandwintera
firealwaysburnedhere,asnow.Andyou,Inez,caramia,withyourgypsyface,


mostfamiliarofall.”
Shemovesovertothemantel.Itisverylow;sheleansonearmuponit,looks
steadilyathim,andspeaksatlast.
“IamgladSirVictorCatheroncanremembertheoldtimes,canstillrecallhis
mother,hasaslightregardleftforCatheronRoyals,andamhumblygratefulfor
hisrecollectionofhisgypsycousin.Fromhisconductoflateitwashardlyto
havebeenexpected.”
“Itiscoming,”thinksSirVictor,withaninwardgroan;“and,OLord!whata
rowitisgoingtobe.WhenInezshutsherlipsupinthattightline,andsnapsher
blackeyesinthatunpleasantway,Iknowtomycost,itmeans‘wartotheknife.’
I’llberoutedwithdreadfulslaughter,andInez’smottoisever,‘Woetothe
conqueror!’Well,heregoes!”
Helooksupather,agood-humoredsmileonhisgood-lookingface.
“Humblygratefulformyrecollectionofyou!MydearInez,Idon’tknowwhat
youmean.Asformyabsence—”
“Asforyourabsence,”sheinterrupts,“youweretohavebeenhere,ifyour
memorywillserveyou,onthefirstofJune.ItisnowthecloseofAugust.Every
dayofthatabsencehasbeenanaddedinsulttome.Evennowyouwouldnot
havebeenhereifIhadnotwrittenyoualetteryoudarenotneglect—senta
commandyoudarenotdisobey.Youarehereto-nightbecauseyoudarenotstay
away.”
SomeoftheboldbloodofthesternoldSaxonracefromwhichhesprungisin
hisveinsstill.Helooksatherfull,stillsmiling.
“Darenot!”herepeats.“Youusestronglanguage,Inez.Butthenyouhavean
excitablesortofnature,andwereeverinclinedtohyperbole;anditisalady’s
privilegetotalk.”
“Andaman’stoact.ButIbegintothinkSirVictorCatheronissomethingless
thanaman.TheCatheronbloodhasbredmanyanoutlaw,manybitter,badmen,
butto-dayIbegintothinkithasbredsomethinginfinitelyworse—atraitoranda
coward!”


Hehalfspringsup,hiseyesflashing,thenfallsback,looksatthefireagain,and
laughs.
“Meaningme?”
“Meaningyou.”
“Stronglanguageoncemore—youassertyourprerogativeroyally,myhandsome
cousin.Fromwhomdidyouinheritthattwo-edgedtongueofyours,Inez,I
wonder?YourCastilianmother,surely;thewomenofourhousewerenever
shrews.Andevenyou,mydear,maygoalittletoofar.Willyoudrop
vituperationandexplain?HowhaveIbeentraitorandcoward?Itiswellwe
shouldunderstandeachotherfully.”
Hehasgrownpale,thoughhespeaksquietly,andhisblueeyesgleam
dangerously.Heisalwaysquietwhenmostangry.
“Itis.Andweshallunderstandeachotherfullybeforewepart—beverysureof
that.YoushalllearnwhatIhaveinheritedfrommyCastilianmother.Youshall
learnwhetheryouaretoplayfastandloosewithmeatyoursovereignwill.Does
yourexcellentmemorystillserveyou,ormustItellyouwhatdaythetwentythirdofSeptemberistobe?”
Helooksupather,stillpale,thatsmileonhislips,thatgleaminhiseyes.
“Mymemoryservesmeperfectly,”heanswerscoolly;“itwastohavebeenour
wedding-day.”
Wastohavebeen.Ashespeaksthewordscoldly,almostcruelly,asshelooksin
hisface,thelasttraceofcolorleavesherown.Thehotfirediesoutofhereyes,
anawfulterrorcomesinitsplace.Withallherheart,allherstrength,sheloves
themanshesobitterlyreproaches.Itseemstohershecanlookbackuponno
timeinwhichherloveforhimisnot.
Andnow,itwastohavebeen!
Sheturnssoghastlythathespringstohisfeetinalarm.
“GoodHeaven,Inez!you’renotgoingtofaint,areyou?Don’t!Here,takemy
chair,andforpity’ssakedon’tlooklikethat.I’mawretch,abrute—whatwasit


Isaid?Dositdown.”
Hehastakenherinhisarms.Inthedaysthataregonehehasbeenveryfond,
andalittleafraidofhisgipsycousin.Heisafraidstill—horriblyafraid,ifthe
truthmustbetold,nowthathismomentaryangerisgone.
Allthescorn,allthedefiancehasdiedoutofhervoicewhenshespeaksagain.
Thegreat,solemneyestransfixhimwithalookhecannotmeet.
“Wastohavebeen,”sherepeats,inasortofwhisper;“wastohavebeen.Victor,
doesthatmeanitneveristobe?”
Heturnsaway,shame,remorse,fearinhisavertedface.Heholdsthebackofthe
chairwithonehand,sheclingstotheotherasthoughitheldherlasthopeinlife.
“Taketime,”shesays,inthesameslow,whisperingway.“Icanwait.Ihave
waitedsolong,whatdoesafewminutesmorematternow?Butthinkwell
beforeyouspeak—thereismoreatstakethanyouknowof.Mywholefuturelife
hangsonyourwords.Awoman’slife.Haveyoueverthoughtwhatthatimplies?
‘Wastohavebeen,’yousaid.Doesthatmeanitneveristobe?”
Stillnoreply.Heholdsthebackofthechair,hisfaceaverted,acriminalbefore
hisjudge.
“Andwhileyouthink,”shegoeson,inthatslow,sweetvoice,“letmerecallthe
past.Doyouremember,Victor,thedaywhenIandJuancameherefromSpain?
Doyourememberme?Irecallyouasplainlyatthismomentasthoughitwere
butyesterday—alittle,flaxen-haired,blue-eyedboyinvioletvelvet,unlikeany
childIhadeverseenbefore.Isawawomanwithafacelikeanangel,whotook
meinherarms,andkissedme,andcriedoverme,formyfather’ssake.Wegrew
uptogether,Victor,youandI,suchhappy,happyyears,andIwassixteen,you
twenty.Andallthattimeyouhadmywholeheart.Thencameourfirstgreat
sorrow,yourmother’sdeath.”
Shepausesamoment.Stillhestandssilent,buthislefthandhasgoneupand
covershisface.
“Yourememberthatlastnight,Victor—thenightshedied.Noneedtoaskyou;
whateveryoumayforget,youarenotlikelytoforgetthat.Weknelttogetherby
herbedside.Itwasasthisisastormysummernight.Outside,therainbeatand


thewindblew;inside,thestillnessofdeathwaseverywhere.Wekneltalonein
thedimly-litroom,sidebyside,toreceiveherlastblessing—herdyingwish.
Victor,mycousin,doyourecallwhatthatwishwas?”
Sheholdsoutherarmstohim,allherheartbreakingforthinthecry.Buthewill
neitherlooknorstir.
“Withherdyinghandsshejoinedours,herdyingeyeslookingatyou.Withher
dyinglipsshespoketoyou:‘Inezisdearertomethanalltheworld,Victor,
exceptyou.Shemustneverfacetheworldalone.Myson,youloveher—
promisemeyouwillcherishandprotectheralways.Shelovesyouasnoone
elseeverwill.Promiseme,Victor,thatinthreeyearsfromto-nightyouwill
makeheryourwife.’Thesewereherwords.Andyoutookherhand,coveredit
withtearsandkisses,andpromised.
“Weburiedher,”Inezwenton,“andweparted.YouwentuptoOxford;Iwent
overtoaParispensionnat.Inthehourofourpartingwewentuptogetherhand
inhandtoherroom.Wekissedthepillowwhereherdyingheadhadlain;we
kneltbyherbedsideaswehaddonethatothernight.Youplacedthisringupon
myfinger;sleepingorwakingithasneverleftitsince,andyourepeatedyour
vow,thatthatnightthreeyears,onthetwenty-thirdofSeptember,Ishouldbe
yourwife.”
Sheliftsthebetrothalringtoherlips,andkissesit.“Dearlittlering,”shesays
softly,“ithasbeenmyonecomfortalltheseyears.Thoughallyourcoldness,all
yourneglectforthelastyearandahalf,Ihavelookedatit,andknownyou
wouldneverbreakyourplightedwordtothelivingandthedead.
“Icamehomefromschoolayearago.Youwerenotheretomeetandwelcome
me.Younevercame.YoufixedthefirstofJuneforyourcoming,andyoubroke
yourword.DoItireyouwithallthesedetails,Victor?ButImustspeakto-night.
Itwillbeforthelasttime—youwillnevergivemecauseagain.Ofthe
whisperedslandersthathavereachedmeIdonotspeak;Idonotbelievethem.
Weakyoumaybe,fickleyoumaybe,butyouareagentlemanofloyalraceand
blood;youwillkeepyourplightedtroth.Oh,forgiveme,Victor!Whydoyou
makemesaysuchthingstoyou?Ihatemyselfforthem,butyourneglecthas
drivenmenearlywild.WhathaveIdone?”Againshestretchesforthherhands
ineloquentappeal.“See!Iloveyou.WhatmorecanIsay?Iforgiveallthepast;
Iasknoquestions.Ibelievenothingofthehorriblestoriestheytrytotellme.


Onlycomebacktome.IfIloseyouIshalldie.”
Herfaceistransfiguredasshespeaks—herhandsstillstretchedout.
“OVictor,come!”shesays;“letthepastbedeadandforgotten.Mydarling,
comeback!”
Butheshrinksawayasthosesofthandstouchhim,andpushesheroff.
“Letmego!”hecries;“don’ttouchme,Inez!Itcanneverbe.Youdon’tknow
whatyouask!”
Hestandsconfrontinghernow,paleasherself,witheyesalight.Sherecoilslike
onewhohasreceivedablow.
“Canneverbe?”sherepeats.
“Canneverbe!”heanswers.“Iamwhatyouhavecalledme,Inez,atraitoranda
coward.IstandhereperjuredbeforeGod,andyou,andmydeadmother.Itcan
neverbe.Icannevermarryyou.Iammarriedalready!”
Theblowhasfallen—thehorrible,brutalblow.Shestandslookingathim—she
hardlyseemstocomprehend.Thereisapause—thefirelightflickers,theyhear
therainlashingthewindows,thesoughingofthegaleinthetrees.ThenVictor
Catheronburstsforth:
“Idon’taskyoutoforgiveme—itispastallthat.Imakenoexcuse;thedeedis
done.Imether,andIlovedher.Shehasbeenmywifeforsixteenmonths,and—
thereisason.Inez,don’tlookatmelikethat!Iamascoundrel,Iknow,but—”
Hebreaksdown—thesightofherfaceunmanshim.Heturnsaway,hisheart
beatinghorriblythick.Howlongtheghastlypausethatfollowslastshenever
knows—acentury,countingbywhatheundergoes.Once,duringthatpause,he
seesherfixedeyesturnslowlytohismother’spicture—hehearslow,strangesoundingwordsdropfromherlips:
“Hesworebyyourdyingbed,andseehowhekeepshisoath!”
Thenthelifethatseemstohavediedfromherfaceflamesback.Without
speakingtohim,withoutlookingathim,sheturnstoleavetheroom.Onthe


thresholdshepausesandlooksback.
“Awifeandason,”shesays,slowlyanddistinctly.“SirVictorCatheron,fetch
themhome;Ishallbegladtoseethem.”

CHAPTERII.
WIFEANDHEIR.

Inaverygenteellodging-house,intheverygenteelneighborhoodofRussell
Square,earlyintheafternoonofaSeptemberday,ayounggirlstands
impatientlyawaitingthereturnofSirVictorCatheron.Thisgirlishiswife.
Itisabright,sunnyday—assunny,atleast,asaLondondayevercanmakeup
itsmindtobe—andastheyellow,slantingrayspourinthroughthemuslin
curtainsfullonfaceandfigure,youmaysearchandfindnoflawineither.Itisa
verylovelyface,averygraceful,thoughpetitefigure.Sheisablondeofthe
blondesttype:herhairislikespungold,and,wonderfultorelate,noYellow
Wash:noGoldenFluid,hasevertoucheditsshiningabundance.Hereyesare
bluerthantheSeptemberskyovertheRussellSquarechimney-pots;hernoseis
neitheraquilinenorGrecian,butitisverynice;herforeheadislow,hermouth
andchin“morselsforthegods.”Thelittlefigureisdeliciouslyroundedandripe;
intwentyyearsfromnowshemaybeaheavyBritishmatron,withayardanda
halfwidewaist—ateighteenyearsoldsheis,inoneword,perfection.
Herdressisperfectionalso.ShewearsawhiteIndiamuslin,amarvelofdelicate
embroideryandexquisitetexture,andagreatdealofValenciennestrimming.
Shehasapearlandturquoisestarfasteningherlacecollar,pearlandturquoise
dropsinherears,andahalfdozendiamondringsonherplump,boneless
fingers.Ablueribbonknotsupthelooseyellowhair,andyoumaysearchthebig
cityfromendtoend,andfindnothingfairer,fresher,sweeterthanEthel,Lady
Catheron.
Ifeveragentlemanandabaronethadafairandsufficientexcuseforthefollyof
alowmarriage,surelySirVictorCatheronhasitinthisfairywife—foritisa
“lowmarriage”ofthemostheinoustype.Justseventeenmonthsago,sauntering


idlyalongthesummersands,lookinglistlesslyatthesummersea,thinking
drearilythatthistimenextyearhisfreedomwouldbeover,andhisCousinInez
hislawfulownerandpossessor,hiseyeshadfallenonthatlovelyblondeface—
thatwealthofshininghair,andforalltime—aye,foreternity—hisfatewas
fixed.ThedarkimageofInezashiswifefadedoutofhismind,nevertoreturn
more.
Theearthlynameofthisdazzlingdivinityinyellowringletsandpinkmuslin
wasEthelMargaretta—Dobb!
Dobb!Itmighthavedisenchantedalessrapturousadorer—itfellpowerlesson
SirVictorCatheron’sinfatuatedear.
ItwasatMargatethismeetingtookplace—thatmostpopularandmostvulgarof
allEnglishwatering-places;andtheCheshirebaronethadlookedjustonceatthe
peach-bloomface,theblueeyesoflaughinglight,theblushing,dimpling,
seventeen-year-oldface,andfalleninloveatonceandforever.
Hewasaveryimpetuousyoungman,averyselfishandunstableyoungman,
withwhom,allhislife,towishwastohave.Hehadbeenspoiledbyadoting
motherfromhiscradle,spoiledbyobsequiousservants,spoiledbyInez
Catheron’sboundlessworship.Andhewishedforthis“roseoftherose-bud
gardenofgirls”ashehadneverwishedforanythinginhistwo-and-twentyyears
oflife.Asamaninadreamhewentthroughthatmagicceremony,“MissDobb,
allowmetopresentmyfriend,SirVictorCatheron,”andtheywerefreetolook
ateachother,talktoeachother,fallinlovewitheachotherasmuchasthey
pleased.Asinadreamhelingeredbyhersidethreegoldenhours,asinadream
hesaid,“Goodafternoon,”andwalkedbacktohishotelsmokingacigar,the
worldglorifiedaboveandabouthim.Asinadreamtheytoldhimshewasthe
onlydaughterandheiressofawell-to-doLondonsoap-boiler,andhedidnot
wake.
Shewasthedaughterofasoap-boiler.Thepaternalmanufactorywasinthe
grimiestpartofthegrimymetropolis;but,remarkabletosay,shehadasmuch
innatepride,self-respect,anddelicacyasthough“allthebloodofallthe
Howards”flowedinthoseblueveins.
Hewasn’tabadsortofyoungfellow,asyoungfellowsgo,andfranticallyin
love.Therewasbutonequestiontoask,justeightdaysafterthis—“Willyoube


mywife?”—butoneanswer,ofcourse—“Yes.”
Butoneanswer,ofcourse!Howwoulditbepossibleforasoap-boiler’sdaughter
torefuseabaronet?Andyethishearthadbeatenwithafearthatturnedhim
dizzyandsickasheaskedit;forshehadshrunkawayforoneinstant,frightened
byhisfierywooing,andthesweetfacehadgrownsuddenlyandstartlinglypale.
Isitnottherulethatallmaidensshallblushwhentheirloversaskthequestionof
questions?
Therosybrightness,thesmiles,thedimples,allfadedoutofthisface,anda
whitelookofsuddenfearcrossedit.Thestartledeyeshadshrankfromhiseager,
flushedfaceandlookedoverthewidesea.Forfullyfiveminutesshenever
spokeorstirred.Tohisdyingdaythathourwaswithhim—hispassionatelove,
hissick,horriblefear,hisdizzyrapture,whenshespokeatlast,onlyoneword
—“yes.”Tohisdyingdayhesawherashesawherthen,inhersummerymuslin
dress,hergipsyhat,thepale,troubledlookchasingthecolorfromthedrooping
face.
Buttheanswerwas“yes.”Washenotabaronet?Wasshenotawell-trained
Englishgirl?Andtheecstasyofpride,ofjoy,ofthatcitysoap-boiler’sfamily,
whoshallpaint?“Awakemymuse”and—but,no!itpassethalltelling.They
boweddownbeforehim(figuratively),thisgoodBritishtradesmanandhisfat
wife,andworshippedhim.Theyburnedincenseathisshrine;theyadoredthe
groundhewalkedon;theysnubbedtheirneighbors,andheldtheirchinsatan
altitudeneverattainedbythefamilyofDobbbefore.AndinsixweeksMiss
EthelDobbbecameLadyCatheron.
Itwasthequietest,thedullest,themostsecretofweddings—notasoulpresent
exceptPapaandMammaDobb,amilitaryswellinthegrenadierguards—
Pythias,atpresent,toSirVictor’sDamon—theparson,andthepew-opener.He
wasmadlyinlove,buthewasashamedofthefamilysoap-boiling,andhewas
afraidofhiscousinInez.
Hetoldthemavaguestoryenoughoffamilymatters,etc.,thatrenderedsecrecy
forthepresentnecessary,andnobodycross-questionedthebaronet.Thatthe
parsonwasaparson,themarriagebonafide,hisdaughter“mylady,”and
himselftheprospectivegrandfatherofmanybaronets,wasenoughforthehonest
soap-boiler.


Forthebrideherself,shesaidlittle,inashy,falteringlittleway.Shewasvery
fondofherdashing,high-born,impulsivelover,andverywellcontentnotto
comeintothefullblazeanddazzleofhighlifejustyet.Ifanyotherromancehad
everfiguredinhersimplelife,thestorywasfinishedanddonewith,thebook
readandputaway.
HetookhertoSwitzerland,toGermany,toSouthernFrance,keepingwelloutof
thewayofothertourists,andtenmonthsfollowed—tenmonthsofsuch
exquisite,unalloyedbliss,asrarelyfallstomortalman.Unalloyed,didIsay?
Well,notquite,sinceearthandheavenaretwodifferentplaces.Inthedeadof
paleSouthernnights,withtheshineofthemoononhiswife’slovelysleeping
face;inthehot,brilliantnoontide;inthesweet,greengloaming—Inez
Catheron’sblackeyescamemenacinglybeforehim—theonebitterdropinhis
cup.Allhislifehehadbeenalittleafraidofher.Hewassomethingmorethana
littleafraidofhernow.
Theyreturned.ThecommodiouslodgingsinRussellSquareawaitedhim,and
SirVictor“wentin”fordomesticfelicityintheparishofBloomsbury,“onthe
quiet.”Verymuch“onthequiet”notheatregoing,noopera,novisitors,andbig
CaptainJackErroll,oftheSecondGrenadiers,hisonlyguest.Fourmonthsof
thissortofthing,andthen—andthentherewasason.
Lyinginherlace-draped,satin-coveredbed,lookingatbaby’sfatlittle,funny
littleface,Ethel,LadyCatheron,begantothink.Shehadtimetothinkinher
quietandsolitude.Monthlynursesandhusbandsbeingintheverynatureof
thingsantagonistic,andnursebeingreigningpotentateatpresent,thehusband
wasbanished.AndLadyCatherongrewhotandindignantthattheheirof
CatheronRoyalsshouldhavetobeborninLondonlodgings,andthemistressof
CatheronRoyalsliveshutuplikeanun,orafairRosamondinabower.
“Youhavenorelationslivingbutyourcousin,Victor,”shesaidtohim,more
coldlythanshehadeverspokeninherlife.“Areyoumasterinyourownhouse,
orisshe?AreyouafraidofthisMissCatheron,whowritesyousuchlongletters
(whichIneversee),thatyoudarenottakeyourwifehome?”
Hehadtoldhersomethingofthatotherstorynecessarily—hisformer
engagementtohiscousin,Inez.Onlysomething—notthebareuglytruthofhis
owntreachery.Thesoap-boiler’sdaughterwasmorenobleofsoulthanthe
baronet.Gentleasshewas,shewouldhavedespisedhimthoroughlyhadshe


knownthetruth.
“Thissecrecyhaslastedlongenough,”LadyCatheronsaid,aresolute-looking
expressioncrossingherpretty,soft-cutmouth.“Thetimehascomewhenyou
mustspeak.Don’tmakemethinkyouareashamedofme,orafraidofher.Take
mehome—itismyright;acknowledgeyourson—itishis.Whentherewasonly
I,itdidnotsomuchmatter—itisdifferentnow.”
Sheliftedoneofbaby’sdotsofhands,andkissedit.AndSirVictor,hisface
hiddenintheshadowofthecurtains,hisvoicehusky,madeanswer:
“Youareright,Ethel—youalwaysare.Assoonasyoubothcantravel,mywife
andchildshallcomehomewithmetoCatheronRoyals.”
Justthreeweekslater,astheAugustdayswereending,camethatlastletterfrom
Inez,commandinghisreturn.Hishourhadcome.Hetookthenextmorning
train,andwentforthtomeetthewomanhefearedandhadwronged.

*

Theafternoonsundropslower.IfSirVictorreturnsfromCheshireto-day,Lady
Catheronknowshewillbehereinafewminutes.Shelookedatherwatchalittle
wearily.Thedaysareverylongandlonelywithouthim.Looksupagain,her
eyesalight.Ahansomhasdasheduptothedoor,anditisherhusbandwholeaps
out.Halfaminuteandheisintheroom,andsheisclaspedinhisarms.
“Mydarling!”heexclaims,andyouneedonlyhearthetwowordstotellhow
rapturouslyheloveshiswife.“Letmelookatyou.Oh!aspaleasever,Isee.
Nevermind!Cheshireair,sunshine,greenfields,andnewmilkshallbringback
yourroses.Andyoursonandheir,mylady,howishe?”
Hebendsovertheprettybassinet,withthatabsurdpaternallookallverynew
fathersregardthefirstblessing,andhismustacheticklesbaby’sinnocentnose.
Aflushcomesintoherface.Shelooksathimeagerly.


“Atlast!Oh,Victor,whendowego?”
“To-morrow,ifyouareable.Thesoonerthebetter.”
Hesaysitwithratheraforcedlaugh.Herfacecloudsalittle.
“Andyourcousin?Wassheveryangry!”sheasked,wistfully;“verymuch
surprised?”
“Well—yes—naturally,Iamafraidshewasboth.Wemustmakethebestofthat,
however.Totellthetruth,Ihadonlyoneinterviewwithher,andthatofso
particularlyunpleasantanature,thatIleftnextmorning.Sothenwestarttomorrow?I’lljustdropalinetoErrolltoapprisehim.”
Hecatchesholdofhiswife’swriting-tabletowheelitnear.Bysomeclumsiness
hisfootcatchesinoneofitsspideryclaws,andwithacrashittopplesover.
Awaygoesthewritingcase,flyingopenandscatteringthecontentsfarandwide.
Thecrashshocksbaby’snerves,babybeginstocry,andthenew-mademamma
fliestoherangel’sside.
“Isay!”SirVictorcries.“Lookhere!Awkwardthingofmetodo,eh,Ethel?
Writingcasebrokentoo.Nevermind,I’llpick‘emup.”
Hegoesdownonhiskneesboyishly,andbeginsgatheringthemup.Letters,
envelopes,wax,seals,pensandpencils.Heflingsallinaheapinthebroken
case.LadyCatheroncooingtobaby,lookssmilinglyon.Suddenlyhecomestoa
fullstop.
Comestoafullstop,andholdssomethingbeforehimasthoughitwereasnake.
Averyharmlesssnakeapparently—thephotographofayoungandhandsome
man.Forfullyaminutehegazesatitutterlyaghast.“GoodHeaven!”hiswife
hearshimsay.
Holdingbabyinherarmssheglancesathim.Thebackofthepictureistoward
her,butsherecognizesit.Herfaceturnsashengray—shemovesroundand
bendsitoverbaby.
“Ethel!”SirVictorsays,hisvoicestern,“whatdoesthismean?”
“Whatdoeswhatmean?Hush-h-hbaby,darling.Notsoloud,Victor,please.I


wanttogetbabeasleep.”
“HowcomesJuanCatheron’spicturehere?”
Shecatchesherbreath—thetone,inwhichSirVictorspeaks,isatonenot
pleasanttohear.Sheisathoroughlygoodlittlething,butthebestoflittlethings
(beingwomen)areergodissemblers.Forasecondshedaresnotfacehim;then
shecomesbravelyuptotimeandlooksathimoverhershoulder.
“JuanCatheron!Oh,tobesure.Isthatpicturehereyet?”withalittlelaugh.“I
thoughtIhadlostitcenturiesago.”“GoodHeaven!”sheexclaimsinwardly;
“howcouldIhavebeensuchafool!”
SirVictorrisestohisfeet—acuriouspassinglikenesstohisdarkcousin,Inez,
onhisfairblondeface.“ThenyouknowJuanCatheron.You!Andyounevertold
me.”
“MydearSirVictor,”withalittlepout,“don’tbeunreasonable.Ishouldhave
somethingtodo,ifIputyouaucourantofallmyacquaintances.IknewMr.
Catheron—slightly,”withagasp.“Isthereanycrimeinthat?”
“Yes!”SirVictoranswers,inavoicethatmakeshiswifejumpandhissoncry.
“Yes—thereis.Iwouldn’townadog—ifJuanCatheronhadownedhimbefore
me.Tolookathim,ispollutionenough—toknowhim—disgrace!”
“Victor!Disgrace!”
“Disgrace,Ethel!Heisoneofthevilest,mostprofligate,mostlostwretchesthat
everdisgracedagoodname.Ethel,Icommandyoutotellme—wasthisman
everanythingtoyou—friend—lover—what?”
“Andifhehasbeen—whatthen?”Sherisesandfaceshimproudly.“AmIto
answerforhissins?”
“Yes—weallmustanswermoreorlessforthosewhoareourfriends.Howcome
youtohavehispicture?Whathashebeentoyou?Notyourlover—forHeaven’s
sake,Ethel,neverthat!”
“Andwhynot?Mind!”shesays,stillfacinghim,herblueeyesaglitter,“Idon’t
saythathewas,butifhewas—whatthen?”


“Whatthen?”Heiswhitetothelipswithjealousrageandfear.“Thisthen—
_youshouldneveragainbewifeofmine_!”
“Victor!”sheputsoutherhandsasiftowardoffablow,“don’tsaythat—oh,
don’tsaythat!And—anditisn’ttrue—heneverwasaloverofmine—never,
never!”
Sheburstsoutwiththedenialinpassionatefearandtrembling.Inallherwedded
lifeshehasneverseenhimlook,heardhimspeaklikethis,thoughshehasseen
himjealous—needlessly—often.
“Heneverwasyourlover?Youaretellingmethetruth?”
“No,no—never!never,Victor—don’tlooklikethat!Oh,whatbroughtthat
wretchedpicturehere!Iknewhimslightly—onlythat—andhedidgivemehis
photograph.HowcouldItellhewasthewretchyousayheis—howcouldI
thinktherewouldbeanyharmintakingapicture?Heseemednice,Victor.What
didheeverdo?”
“Heseemednice!”SirVictorrepeated,bitterly;“andwhatdidheeverdo?What
hasheleftundoneyouhadbetterask.Hehasbrokeneverycommandofthe
decalogue—everylawhumananddivine.Heisdeadtousall—hissister
included,andhasbeenthesemanyyears.Ethel,canIbelieve—”
“Ihavetoldyou,SirVictor.Youwillbelieveasyouplease,”hiswifeanswers,a
littlesullenly,turningawayfromhim.
Sheunderstandshim.Hisveryjealousyandangerarebornofhispassionatelove
forher.Togrieveheristorturetohim,yethegrievesheroften.
Foratradesman’sdaughtertomarryabaronetmaybebutoneremovefrom
paradise;stillitisaremove.AndtheserpentinLadyCatheron’sEdenisthe
ugliestandmostviciousofallserpents—jealousy.Hehasnevershownhisgreen
eyesandobnoxiousclawssopalpablybefore,andasSirVictorlooksather
bendingoverherbaby,hisfierceparoxysmofjealousygiveswaytoafierce
paroxysmoflove.
“Oh,Ethel,forgiveme!”hesays;“Ididnotmeantowoundyou,butthethought
ofthatman—faugh!ButIamafooltobejealousofyou,mywhitelily.Kissme
—forgiveme—we’llthrowthissnakeinthegrassoutofthewindowandforget


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