Marriage, as the Marquis said to me, was not a pleasure—it is a means to an end, a tax of society. The agrements of life came afterwards. I had always understood he had been grandmamma’s lover.
Once I heard him express this sentiment when I was supposed to be reading my book: The marriage vows, he said, were the only ones a gentleman might break without great blemish to his honor. This was the atmosphere I had always lived in, and since my wedding the people of my own class that I have met do not seem to hold different views. Lord Tilchester is Babykins’s lover. The Duke has passed on from several women, and, to come nearer home, there are my husband and Lady Grenellen. Only Lady Tilchester seems noble and above all these earthly things.
Why did I hesitate? I do not know. There is a something in my spirit which cried out against the meanness of it, the degradation, the sacrilege. I could not break my word to Augustus. Oh! I could not stoop to desecrate myself, and to act for all the future—hours of deceit.
And now after to-day I will never see Antony alone again. That we shall casually meet I cannot guard against. But never again shall I stay in his house. Never again awake in this beautiful room. Never again—
“The brougham is at the door, ma’am,” said McGreggor, interrupting my thoughts, and I descended the stairs. The fog was still gray and raw, but had considerably lifted.
In the uncompromising daylight Antony’s face looked haggard and drawn.
“Comtesse,” he said, as we drove along, “I cannot forgive myself for causing you pain last night. Nothing was further from my thoughts than to harass and disturb you—here, in my own house—that I wanted you to look upon as your haven of rest. But I am not made of stone. The situation was exceptional—and I love you.”
In spite of our imminent parting, joy rushed through me at his words. Oh! could I ever get tired of hearing Antony say “I love you”?
“You did not cause me pain,” I said. “We had drifted, neither knowing where. It was fate.”
“Darling, do you remember our talk in your sitting-room, and of the coup de foudre? Well, it has struck us both. Oh! I could curse myself! Your dear little white face looks up at me pathetically without a reproach, and I have been a selfish brute to even tell you I love you. I meant to be your friend and comrade that you might feel you had at least some one that would stand by you forever. I wanted to make your life pleasanter, and now my mad folly has spoiled it all, and you decree that we must part. Oh! my little Comtesse, my loving you has only been to hurt you!”
“Oh no. It makes me glad to know it—only—only I cannot see you any more.”
“I would promise never to say another word that could disturb you. Oh! Why must we say good-bye?”
“Because I could not promise not to wish you to say things. You must surely know if we went on meeting it could only have one end.”