Thus they remained for a few moments longer side by side: she slightly above him, with head bent, with hot tears falling slowly from her downcast eyes, her heart well-nigh breaking with the consciousness of the irreparable; he somewhat below, silent too, and rigid, all passion, all emotion, love even, numbed momentarily by the violence, the suddenness of this terrible blow.
Then without a word, without a sigh or look, he turned, and she heard his footsteps echoing across the hall, then dying away on the threshold of the door beyond. Anon the door itself closed to with a dull bang which seemed to find an echo in her heart like the tolling of a passing bell.
Then only did she raise her head, and look about her. The hall was deserted and seemed infinitely lonely, silent, and grim. The young girl-wife, who had just found a friend only to lose him again, called out in mute appeal to this old house, the oak-covered walls, the very stones themselves, for sympathy.
She was so infinitely, so immeasurably lonely, with that awful, irretrievable day at Dover behind her, with all its dreariness, its silent solemnity, its weird finish in the vestry, the ring upon her finger, her troth plighted to a man whom she feared and no longer loved.
Oh! the pity of it all! the broken young life! the vanished dreams!
Sue bent her head down upon her hands, her lips touched her own fingers there where her friend’s had rested in gratitude and love, and she cried, cried like a broken-hearted woman, cried for her lost illusions, and the end of her brief romance!
LADY SUE’S FORTUNE
Less than an hour later four people were assembled in the small withdrawing-room of Acol Court.
Master Skyffington sat behind a central table, a little pompous of manner, clad in sober black with well-starched linen cuffs and collar, his scanty hair closely cropped, his thin hands fingering with assurance and perfect calm the various documents laid out before him. Near him Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse, sitting with his back to the dim November light, which vainly strove to penetrate the tiny glass panes of the casement windows.
In a more remote corner of the room sat Editha de Chavasse, vainly trying to conceal the agitation which her trembling hands, her quivering face and restless eyes persistently betrayed. And beside the central table, near Master Skyffington and facing Sir Marmaduke, was Lady Susannah Aldmarshe, only daughter and heiress of the late Earl of Dover, this day aged twenty-one years, and about to receive from the hands of her legal guardians the vast fortune which her father had bequeathed to her, and which was to become absolutely hers this day to dispose of as she list.
“And now, my dear child,” said Master Skyffington with due solemnity, when he had disposed a number of documents and papers in methodical order upon the table, “let me briefly explain to you the object ... hem ... of this momentous meeting here to-day.”