But oh, my wild woe, my frantic prayers! It was almost as if Satan himself were torturing me.
The one terror of the next few days was that my husband might return home, for I knew that at the first moment of his arrival the whole world of make-believe which my father and Alma were setting up around me would tumble about my head like a pack of cards.
He did not come, but he wrote. After saying that his political duties would keep him in London a little longer, he said:
“I hear that your father is getting you to give a great reception in honour of our home-coming. But why now, instead of three months ago? Do you know the reason?”
As I read these last words I felt an icy numbness creeping up from my feet to my heart. My position was becoming intolerable. The conviction was being forced upon me that I had no right in my husband’s house.
It made no difference that my husband’s house was mine also, in the sense that it could not exist without me—I had no right to be there.
It made no difference that my marriage had been no marriage—I had no right to be there.
It made no difference that the man I had married was an utterly bad husband—I had no right to be there.
It made no difference that I was not really an adulterous wife—I had no right to be there.
Meanwhile Price, my maid, but my only real friend in Castle Raa, with the liberty I allowed her, was unconsciously increasing my torture. Every night as she combed out my hair she gave me her opinion of my attitude towards Alma, and one night she said:
“Didn’t I tell you she was only watching you, my lady? The nasty-minded thing is making mischief with his lordship. She’s writing to him every day. . . . How do I know? Oh, I don’t keep my eyes and my ears open downstairs for nothing. You’ll have no peace of your life, my lady, until you turn that woman out of the house.”
Then in a fit of despair, hardly knowing what I was doing, I covered my face with my hands and said:
“I had better turn myself out instead, perhaps.”
The combing of my hair suddenly stopped, and at the next moment I heard Price saying in a voice which seemed to come from a long way off:
“Goodness gracious me! Is it like that, my lady?”
Alma was as good as her word.
She did everything without consulting me—fixed the date of the reception for a month after the day of my father’s visit, and sent out invitations to all “the insular gentry” included in the lists which came from Nessy MacLeod in her stiff and formal handwriting.
These lists came morning after morning, until the invitations issued reached the grand total of five hundred.
As the rooms of the Castle were not large enough to accommodate so many guests, Alma proposed to erect a temporary pavilion. My father agreed, and within a week hundreds of workmen from Blackwater were setting up a vast wooden structure, in the form of the Colosseum, on the headlands beyond the garden where Martin and I had walked together.