I looked at him, my eyes staring wide. I could not believe what he said.
“Why,” I began; “how utterly monstrous!”
A step sounded in the hall behind him, and he turned back. We were joined by the tall clerical figure of the Reverend Doctor Halford, who had, it seemed, been at least one to keep his appointment as made. He raised his hand as if to silence me, and held out to me a certain object. It was the slipper of the Baroness Helena von Ritz—white, delicate, dainty, beribboned. “Miss Elisabeth does not pretend to understand why your gift should take this form; but as the slipper evidently has been worn by some one, she suggests you may perhaps be in error in sending it at all.” He spoke in even, icy tones.
“Let me into this house!” I demanded. “I must see her!”
There were two tall figures now, who stood side by side in the wide front door.
“But don’t you see, there has been a mistake, a horrible mistake?” I demanded.
Doctor Halford, in his grave and quiet way, assisted himself to snuff. “Sir,” he said, “knowing both families, I agreed to this haste and unceremoniousness, much against my will. Had there been no objection upon either side, I would have undertaken to go forward with the wedding ceremony. But never in my life have I, and never shall I, join two in wedlock when either is not in that state of mind and soul consonant with that holy hour. This ceremony can not go on. I must carry to you this young lady’s wish that you depart. She can not see you.”
There arose in my heart a sort of feeling of horror, as though something was wrong, I could not tell what. All at once I felt a swift revulsion. There came over me the reaction, an icy calm. I felt all ardor leave me. I was cold as stone.
“Gentlemen,” said I slowly, “what you tell me is absolutely impossible and absurd. But if Miss Elisabeth really doubts me on evidence such as this, I would be the last man in the world to ask her hand. Some time you and she may explain to me about this. It is my right. I shall exact it from you later. I have no time to argue now. Good-by!”
They looked at me with grave faces, but made no reply. I descended the steps, the dainty, beribboned slipper still in my hand, got into my carriage and started back to the city.
As if two gods should
play some heavenly match, and on this wager
lay two earthly women.—Shakespeare.
An automaton, scarcely thinking, I gained the platform of the station. There was a sound of hissing steam, a rolling cloud of sulphurous smoke, a shouting of railway captains, a creaking of the wheels. Without volition of my own, I was on my northward journey. Presently I looked around and found seated at my side the man whom I then recollected I was to meet—Doctor Samuel Ward. I presume he took the train after I did.