But it was not the loss of money or power that was separating him from Constance Bledlow. He knew her well enough by now to guess that in spite of her youth and her luxurious bringing up, there was that in her which was rapidly shaping a character capable of fighting circumstance, as her heart might bid. If she loved a man she would stand by him. No, it was something known only to her and himself in all those crowded rooms. As soon as he set eyes on her, the vision of Radowitz’s bleeding hand and prostrate form had emerged in consciousness—a haunting presence, blurring the many-coloured movements of the ballroom.
And yet it was not that maimed hand, either, which stood between himself and Constance. It was rather the spiritual fact behind the visible—that instinct of fierce, tyrannical cruelty which he had felt as he laid his hands on Radowitz in the Oxford dawn a month ago. He shrank from it now as he thought of it. It blackened and degraded his own image of himself. He remembered something like it years before, when he had joined in the bullying of a small boy at school—a boy who yet afterwards had become his good friend. If there is such a thing as “possession,” devilish possession, he had pleaded it on both occasions. Would it, however, have seemed of any great importance to him now, but for Constance Bledlow’s horror-struck recoil? All men of strong and vehement temperament—so his own defence might have run—are liable to such gusts of violent, even murderous feeling; and women accept it. But Constance Bledlow, influenced, no doubt, by a pale-blooded sentimentalist like Sorell, had refused to accept it.
“I should be always afraid of you—of your pride and your violence—and love mustn’t be afraid. Good-bye!”
He tried to scoff, but the words had burnt into his heart.
It was in the early morning, a few days after her arrival at Scarfedale Manor, the house of her two maiden aunts, that Connie, while all the Scarfedale household was still asleep, took pen and paper and began a letter to Nora Hooper.
On the evening before Connie left Oxford there had been a long and intimate scene between these two. Constance, motherless and sisterless, and with no woman friend to turn to more understanding than Annette, had been surprised in passionate weeping by Nora, the night after the Marmion catastrophe. The tact and devotion of the younger girl had been equal to the situation. She humbly admired Connie, and yet was directly conscious of a strength in herself, in which Connie was perhaps lacking, and which might be useful to her brilliant cousin. At any rate on this occasion she showed so much sweetness, such power, beyond her years, of comforting and understanding, that Connie told her everything, and thenceforward possessed a sister and a confidante. The letter ran as follows:—
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