Listen! Was that some one at the door?
Only Miss Philps calling good-night. Mary answered “Good-night” in a sleepy voice, and the step passed on. It left her shaking like a leaf in the wind. What else indeed was she? A fluttering, fading leaf shaken in the teeth of a wind of dread and mad desire.
All was quiet now. She would be disturbed no more that night. Her shaking hands rattled the spoon which stirred the mixture in the glass. The familiar motion quieted her. Here, right in her hands, was peace, rest, a swift and magical release from the torment of appetite denied. To-morrow—but why think of to-morrow? She might be stronger then. Everything might be easier. All she really needed was a long night’s sleep.
She turned out the light and throwing up the blind stood for a moment looking out into the soft moonlight. The moon was clear. It would be a beautiful day for the wedding! Smiling, she picked up the glass and with a whispered, “Here’s to the bride!” raised it to her eager lips and drank.
* * * * *
Silence settled down upon the Elms. There was a harvest moon that night, a glorious rounded moon more golden than silver. The garden slumbered, wrapped in mellow light, even the shadows gleamed faintly luminous. The breeze, roaming at will, shook drowsy perfume from the lingering flowers, but for all it aped the summer it was unmistakably an autumn breeze, melancholy, earth-scented. It stirred the curtains at Mary’s window; rustled through the great bowlful of crimson leaves upon Esther’s writing table and softly stirred the dark hair of the girl as she sat with her face hidden in her curved arms. For a very long time she sat there while the moon looked in and looked away again and who can tell what her thoughts were, or if she thought at all.
By and by she rose and went to the window, looking out to where a month ago she had stood by the garden gate under the stars. It was drenched with moonlight now and the shadow under the elm tree was dark.
What was that? A darker shadow in the shadow? Esther’s hand caught at the curtain, her heart gave a great leap and then grew still. She knew who stood there. This was the good-bye he could not speak. Tears fell unheeded down the girl’s pale cheeks. If during those last days she had had any doubt of the love which loyalty to Mary had helped him hide so well, they were all swept away now. A warm spot grew and glowed in her heart and a line from that old immortal love lyric which she had learned in her school days came back vivid with eternal truth.
“I had not loved
thee, dear, so much
Loved I not honour more.”
It was a perfect day for the wedding. Autumn at her brightest and gayest before her new bright robes began to brown. Soft air, mellow sun, cool-lipped breeze, horizon veiled in tinted mist—a gem of a day, the jewel of a season.