“Some attachment, you mean!” exclaimed the widow; “some other attachment,” she added, forgetting how much the words betrayed. “Do you think that, Mr. Fenton? Do you think that John Saltram has some secret love-affair upon his mind?”
“I have some reason to suspect as much, from words that he has dropped during his delirium.”
There was a look of unspeakable pain in Mrs. Branston’s face, which had grown deadly pale when Gilbert first spoke of John Saltram’s illness. The pretty childish lips quivered a little, and her companion knew that she was suffering keenly.
“Have you any idea who the lady is?” she asked quietly, and with more self-command than Gilbert had expected from her.
“I have some idea.”
“It is no one whom I know, I suppose?”
“The lady is quite a stranger to you.”
“He might have trusted me,” she said mournfully; “it would have been kinder in him to have trusted me.”
“Yes, Mrs. Branston; but Mr. Saltram has unfortunately made concealment the policy of his life. He will find it a false policy sooner or late.”
“It was very cruel of him not to tell me the truth. He might have known that I should look kindly upon any one he cared for. I may be a very foolish woman, Mr. Fenton, but I am not ungenerous.”
“I am sure of that,” Gilbert said warmly, touched by her candour.
“You must let me know every day how your friend is going on, Mr. Fenton,” Adela said after a pause; “I shall consider it a very great favour if you will do so.”
“I will not fail.”
They had returned to Cumberland-gate by this time, and at Gilbert’s request Mrs. Branston allowed him to be set down near the Arch. He called a cab, and drove to the Temple; while poor Adela went back to the splendid gloom of Cavendish-square, with all the fabric of her future life shattered.
Until this hour she had looked upon John Saltram’s fidelity to herself as a certainty; she knew, now that her hope was slain all at once, what a living thing it had been, and how great a portion of her own existence had taken its colour therefrom.
It was fortunate for Mrs. Branston that Mrs. Pallinson’s toothache, and the preparations and medicaments supplied to her by her son—all declared to be infallible, and all ending in ignominious failure—occupied that lady’s attention at this period, to the exclusion of every other thought, or Adela’s pale face might have excited more curiosity than it did. As it was, the matron contented herself by making some rather snappish remarks upon the folly of going out to drive late on a January afternoon, and retired to administer poultices and cataplasms to herself in the solitude of her own apartment soon after dinner, leaving Adela Branston free to ponder upon John Saltram’s cruelty.
“If he had only trusted me,” she said to herself more than once during those mournful meditations; “if he had only given me credit for some little good sense and generosity, I should not feel it as keenly as I do. He must have known that I loved him—yes, I have been weak enough to let him see that—and I think that once he used to like me a little—in those old happy days when he came so often to Maidenhead. Yes, I believe he almost loved me then.”