“But I loved you, dearest. I sought my own happiness, as well as yours, in asking you to be my wife. So you need never feel burdened by the idea that you are under any special obligation to me, to whom you are the very sunshine of life.”
“Dear Ned, how very kind in you to say so,” she responded, gazing with ardent affection into his eyes; “but it isn’t burdensome to be under obligation to you, any more than it is a trial to be ruled by you,” she added, with playful tenderness; “and I love to think of all your goodness to me.”
It was five minutes past four by Zoe’s watch, and she just about to go to her dressing-room to put on her hat and cloak, when visitors were announced,—some ladies who always made a lengthened call at Ion; so she at once resigned herself to the loss of her anticipated drive with her husband.
“O Ned!” she whispered in a hasty, vexed aside, “you’ll have to go alone.”
“Yes, dear,” he returned; “but I’ll try to get back in time to take you a drive in the other direction.”
They stepped forward, and greeted their guests with hospitable cordiality.
They were friends whose visits were prized and enjoyed, though their coming just at this time was causing Zoe a real disappointment. However, Edward’s promise of a drive with him at a later hour so far made amends for it, that she could truthfully express pleasure in seeing her guests.
Edward chatted with them for a few moments, then, excusing himself on the plea of business that could not be deferred, left them to be entertained by Zoe, while he entered his waiting carriage, and went on his way to the village, where he expected to meet his business acquaintance.
“The truth you speak doth lack some gentleness.”—SHAKSPEARE.
Edward had met and held his desired interview with his business acquaintance, seen him aboard his train, and was standing watching it as it steamed away and disappeared in the distance, when a feminine voice, close at hand, suddenly accosted him.
“O Mr. Travilla! how are you? I consider myself very fortunate in finding you here.”
He turned toward the speaker, and was not too greatly pleased at sight of her.
“Ah! good-evening, Miss Deane,” he said, taking her offered hand, and speaking with gentlemanly courtesy. “In what can I be of service to you?”
“By inviting me to Ion to spend the night,” she returned laughingly. “I’ve missed my train, and was quite in despair at the thought of staying alone over night in one of the miserable little hotels of this miserable little village. So I was delighted to see your carriage standing there, and you yourself beside it; for, knowing you to be one of the most hospitable of men, I am sure you will be moved to pity, and take me home with you.”
Edward’s heart sank at thought of Zoe, but, seeing no way out of the dilemma, “Certainly,” he said, and helped his self-invited guest to a seat in his carriage, placed himself by her side, and bade the coachman drive on to Ion.