“Ahem! that was a very strange proceeding. But does—does he say anything about coming for you, in this letter?” inquired her companion, who was burning with curiosity to know what it contained.
“You may read it if you like, Mrs. Farnum. I see that you are still in doubt about my being what I represent myself,” Virgie returned, with some hauteur.
Mrs. Farnum flushed at this.
“You must excuse me, my dear,” she said, with hypocritical blandness, “but—but—it is simply unaccountable to me, knowing what I do about the family and their future plans for Sir William. I’m afraid——”
She did not finish what she was going to say, but coolly drew the letter from the envelope, unfolded, and began to read it, never once stopping to consider how she was outraging the delicacy and affection of the young wife by this act, notwithstanding that she had received permission to do so—She could not doubt, as she read, that the young baronet’s heart had all been given to this fair, beautiful woman, for though written in his own dignified way, the letter was full of devotion and loyalty to her. And yet not once in all those eight pages had he called her by the sacred name of “wife.” There were all manner of pet names and expressions of endearment, but not a single time was written that word which would have proved so much.
The arch plotter as she read, was quick to observe this omission, and she gloated over it; it would materially help to further her designs in the future she thought, if this letter was a sample of all others which he had written her. She would have given a great deal to be able to have that pretty writing-desk at her command for an hour or two.
Her face took on a sterner and graver look than she had ever yet worn as she read on, and when at length she finished the epistle, she appeared the horrified prude to perfection.
The Lawful Wife.
“Have you a picture of your—of Sir William, madam?” Mrs. Farnum inquired, as she folded the letter and returned it to the envelope.
Virgie arose without a word, and taking a velvet album from the table, opened it to certain picture and laid it before her companion.
Mrs. Farnum uttered a cry of despair as her glance fell upon the handsome, upturned face.
“Yes, that is a picture of Sir William Heath, of Heathdale; there can be no mistake,” she confessed, with a perfectly rigid face. “But, Mrs.—oh, madam—I am simply stunned!”
“What do you mean?” Virgie demanded, standing straight and tall before her, and meeting her eyes with a blazing look which warned Mrs. Farnum to be careful how she dealt with that spirit.
“Pray, be calm, my child,” she returned, with a pitiful accent. “Sit down beside me here, and I will explain why I am so disturbed. Good heavens! we have always supposed that Sir William was a man of unblemished honor.”