“She never had any children, I suppose?” asked Lady Anningford.
“Never that I heard of—and she is so young; only twenty-three now.”
“Well, it is too tragic! And what is to be done? Can’t you ask the uncle? He must know.”
“I did, to-night, Anne—and he answered, so strangely, that ’yes, there was something which at times troubled her, but it would pass.’”
“Good gracious!” said Anne. “It can’t be a hallucination. She is not crazy, is she? That would be worse than anything.”
“Oh, no!” cried Ethelrida, aghast. “It is not that in the least, thank goodness!”
“Then perhaps there are some terrible scenes, connected with her first husband’s murder, which she can’t forget. The Crow told me Count Shulski was shot at Monte Carlo, in a fray of some sort.”
“That must be it, of course!” said Ethelrida, much relieved. “Then she will get over it in time. And surely Tristram will be able to make her love him, and forget them. I do feel better about it now, Anne, and shall be able to sleep in peace.”
So they said good night, and separated—comforted.
But the object of their solicitude did not attempt to get into her bed when she had dismissed her maid. She sat down in one of the big gilt William-and-Mary armchairs, and clasped her hands tightly, and tried to think.
Things were coming to a crisis with her. Destiny had given her another cross to bear, for suddenly this evening, as the Duke spoke of his wife, she had become conscious of the truth about herself: she was in love with her husband. And she herself had made it impossible that he could ever come back to her. For, indeed, the tables were turned, with one of those ironical twists of Fate.
And she questioned herself—Why did she love him? She had reproached him on her wedding night, when he had told her he loved her, because in her ignorance she felt then it could only be a question of sense. She had called him an animal! she remembered; and now she had become an animal herself! For she could prove no loftier motive for her emotion towards him than he had had for her then: they knew one another no better. It had not been possible for her passion to have arisen from the reasons she remembered having hurled at him as the only ones from which true love could spring, namely, knowledge, and tenderness, and devotion. It was all untrue; she understood it now. Love—deep and tender—could leap into being from the glance of an eye.
They were strangers to each other still, and yet this cruel, terrible thing called love had broken down all the barriers in her heart, melted the disdainful ice, and turned it to fire. She felt she wanted to caress him, and take away the stern, hard look from his face. She wanted to be gentle, and soft, and loving—to feel that she belonged to him. And she passionately longed for him to kiss her and clasp her to his heart. Whether he had consented originally to marry her for her uncle’s money or not, was a matter, now, of no further importance. He had loved her after he had seen her, at all events, and she had thrown it all away. Nothing but a man’s natural jealousy of his possessions remained.