THE SWORD OF DAMOCLES
Mr. Lumley Barrington, K.C. and M.P., was in the act of stepping into his carriage to drive down to the House, when he was intercepted by a message. It was his wife’s maid, who came hurrying out after him.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” she said, “but her ladyship particularly wished to see you as soon as you came in.”
“Is your mistress in?” Barrington asked in some surprise.
“Yes, sir!” the maid answered. “Her ladyship is resting, before she goes to the ball at Caleram House. She is in her room now.”
“I will come up at once,” Barrington said.
He kept the carriage waiting while he ascended to his wife’s room. There was no answer to his knock. He opened the door softly. She was asleep on a couch drawn up before the fire.
He crossed the room noiselessly, and stood looking down upon her. Her lithe, soft figure had fallen into a posture of graceful, almost voluptuous ease; the ribbons and laces of her muslin dressing gown quivered gently with her deep regular breathing. She had thrown off her slippers, and one long, slender foot was exposed; the other was doubled up underneath her body. Her face was almost like the face of a child, smooth and unwrinkled, save for one line by the eyes where she laughed. He looked at her steadfastly. Could the closing of the eyes, indeed, make all the difference? Life and the knowledge of life seemed things far from her consciousness. Could one look like that—even in sleep—and underneath—! Barrington broke away from his train of thought, and woke her quickly.
She sat up and yawned.
“Parsons managed to catch you, then,” she remarked.
“Yes!” he answered. “I was just off. I got away from Wills’ dinner party early, and called here for some notes. I must be at the House”—he glanced at the clock—“in three-quarters of an hour!”
She nodded. “I won’t keep you as long as that.”
Her eyes met his, a little furtively, full of inquiry. “I have done what you wished,” he said quietly. “I called at the Clarence Hotel!”
“You saw him!”
“No! He sent back my card. He declined to see me.”
She showed no sign of disappointment. She sat up and looked into the fire, smoothing her hair mechanically with her hands.
“Personally,” Barrington continued, “I could see no object whatever in my visit. I have nothing to say to him, nor, I should think, he to me. I am sorry for him, of course, but he’d never believe me if I told him so. What happened to him was partly my fault, and unless he’s changed, he’s not likely to forget it.”
She swayed a little towards him.
“It was partly—also—mine,” she murmured.
“I don’t see that at all,” he objected. “You at any rate were blameless!”
She looked up at him, and he was astonished to find how pale she was.