“It is rather early. What name shall I give, sir?”
“No; Angel. It is my Christian name. She’ll understand.”
“I’ll see if she is awake.”
He was shown into the front room—the dining-room—and looked out through the spring curtains at the little lawn, and the rhododendrons and other shrubs upon it. Obviously her position was by no means so bad as he had feared, and it crossed his mind that she must somehow have claimed and sold the jewels to attain it. He did not blame her for one moment. Soon his sharpened ear detected footsteps upon the stairs, at which his heart thumped so painfully that he could hardly stand firm. “Dear me! what will she think of me, so altered as I am!” he said to himself; and the door opened.
Tess appeared on the threshold—not at all as he had expected to see her—bewilderingly otherwise, indeed. Her great natural beauty was, if not heightened, rendered more obvious by her attire. She was loosely wrapped in a cashmere dressing-gown of gray-white, embroidered in half-mourning tints, and she wore slippers of the same hue. Her neck rose out of a frill of down, and her well-remembered cable of dark-brown hair was partially coiled up in a mass at the back of her head and partly hanging on her shoulder—the evident result of haste.
He had held out his arms, but they had fallen again to his side; for she had not come forward, remaining still in the opening of the doorway. Mere yellow skeleton that he was now, he felt the contrast between them, and thought his appearance distasteful to her.
“Tess!” he said huskily, “can you forgive me for going away? Can’t you—come to me? How do you get to be—like this?”
“It is too late,” said she, her voice sounding hard through the room, her eyes shining unnaturally.
“I did not think rightly of you—I did not see you as you were!” he continued to plead. “I have learnt to since, dearest Tessy mine!”
“Too late, too late!” she said, waving her hand in the impatience of a person whose tortures cause every instant to seem an hour. “Don’t come close to me, Angel! No—you must not. Keep away.”
“But don’t you love me, my dear wife, because I have been so pulled down by illness? You are not so fickle—I am come on purpose for you—my mother and father will welcome you now!”
“Yes—O, yes, yes! But I say, I say it is too late.”
She seemed to feel like a fugitive in a dream, who tries to move away, but cannot. “Don’t you know all—don’t you know it? Yet how do you come here if you do not know?”
“I inquired here and there, and I found the way.”
“I waited and waited for you,” she went on, her tones suddenly resuming their old fluty pathos. “But you did not come! And I wrote to you, and you did not come! He kept on saying you would never come any more, and that I was a foolish woman. He was very kind to me, and to mother, and to all of us after father’s death. He—”