That was the beginning of the end, and when, next day towards noon, my husband came with drowsy eyes to make a kind of ungracious apology, saying he supposed the doctor had been sent for, I said:
“James, I want you to take me home.”
“Home? You mean . . . Castle Raa?”
He hesitated, and I began to plead with him, earnestly and eagerly, not to deny me what I asked.
“Take me home, I beg, I pray.”
At length, seeming to think I must be homesick, he said:
“Well, you know my views about that God-forsaken place, but the season’s nearly at an end, and I don’t mind going back on one condition—that you raise no objection to my inviting a few friends to liven it up a bit?”
“It is your house,” I said. “You must do as you please in it.”
“Very good; that’s settled,” he said, getting up to go. “And I dare say it will do you no harm to be out of the way of all this church-going and confessing to priests, who are always depressing people even when they’re not making mischief.”
Hardly had my husband left me when Alma came into my sitting-room in the most affectionate and insincere of her moods.
“My poor, dear sweet child,” she said. “If I’d had the least idea you were feeling so badly I shouldn’t have allowed Jimmy to stay another minute at that tiresome reception. But how good it was of Mr. Conrad to come all that way to see you! That’s what I call being a friend now!”
Then came the real object of her visit—I saw it coming.
“I hear you’re to have a house-party at Castle Raa. Jimmy’s in his room writing piles of invitations. He has asked me and I should love to go, but of course I cannot do so without you wish it. Do you?”
What could I say? What I did say I scarcely know. I only know that at the next minute Alma’s arms were round my neck, and she was saying:
“You dear, sweet, unselfish little soul! Come let me kiss you.”
It was done. I had committed myself. After all what right had I to raise myself on a moral pinnacle now? And what did it matter, anyway? I was flying from the danger of my own infidelities, not to save my husband from his.
Price had been in the room during this interview and when it was over I was ashamed to look at her.
“I can’t understand you, my lady; I really can’t,” she said.
Next day I wrote a little letter to Martin on the Scotia telling him of our change of plans, but forbidding him to trouble to come up to say good-bye, yet half hoping he would disregard my injunction.
He did. Before I left my bedroom next morning I heard his voice in the sitting-room talking to Price, who with considerable emphasis was giving her views of Alma.
When I joined him I thought his face (which had grown to be very powerful) looked hard and strained; but his voice was as soft as ever while he said I was doing right in going home and that my native air must be good for me.