“No, he has not asked me to marry him yet. I wanted to tell you before it happened.”
Lady Newhaven threw herself back on the sofa. She laughed softly. A little mirror hung tilted at an angle which allowed her to see herself as she lay. She saw a very beautiful woman, and then she turned and looked at Rachel, who had no beauty, as she understood it, and laughed again.
“My poor dear,” she said, in a voice that made Rachel wince, “Hugh is no better than the worst. He has made love to you pour passer le temps, and you have taken him seriously, like the dear, simple woman you are. But he will never marry you. You own he has not proposed? Of course not. Men are like that. It is hateful of them, but they will do it. They are the vainest creatures in the world. Don’t you see that the reason he has not asked you is because he knew that Edward had to—and that I should soon be free to marry him. And, Rachel, you need not feel the least little bit humiliated, for I shan’t tell a soul, and, after all, he loved me first.”
Lady Newhaven was quite reassured. It had been a horrible moment, but it was past.
“Why do I always make trouble?” she said, with plaintive self-complacency. “Rachel, you must not be jealous of me. I can’t help it.”
Rachel tried to say “I am not,” but the words would not come. She was jealous, jealous of the past, cut to the heart every time she noticed that Lady Newhaven’s hair waved over her ears, and that she had taper fingers.
“I think it is no use talking of this any more,” Rachel said. “Perhaps I was wrong to speak of it at all. I did as I would be done by. As I am starting early I think I will say good-night and good-bye.”
“Good-night, dear Rachel, and perhaps, as you say, it had better be good-bye. You may remain quite easy in your mind that I shall never breathe a word of what you have said to any living soul—except Hugh,” she added to herself, as Rachel left the room.
“To every coward safety, and afterwards his evil hour.”
Sleep, that fickle courtier of our hours of ease, had deserted Hugh. When the last hour of the last day was over, and the dawn which he had bound himself in honor not to see found him sitting alone in his room, where he had sat all night, horror fell upon him at what he had done. Now that its mire was upon him he saw by how foul, by how dastardly a path he had escaped.
“To every coward safety, and afterwards his evil hour.” Hugh’s evil hour had come. But was he a coward? Men not braver than he have earned the Victoria Cross, have given up their lives freely for others. Hugh had it in him to do as well as any man in hot blood, but not in cold. That was where Lord Newhaven had the advantage of him. He had been overmatched from the first. The strain without had been greater than the power of resistance within. As the light grew Hugh tasted of that cup which God holds to no man’s lips—remorse. Would the cup of death which he had pushed aside have been more bitter?