But Bella had by no means surrendered her determination of going on the stage again, and was already with Saidie’s assistance on the look-out for an engagement. It would be difficult to define her feelings towards her husband at this juncture. That there was still a veiled hostility John Chetwynd could not fail to see; but in his newly formed resolution to be patient and forbearing, he simply ignored it and diligently cultivated a kindly, gentle bearing, interesting himself in her little domesticities and the general routine of her everyday life. This amused Bella intensely, and although she would not have acknowledged it, perhaps touched her a little.
Why had he not done this before? And having been careless and indifferent once, why was he not so still? For this is how it was with Bella; she was learning to compare her husband with her lover, and be very sure the former suffered by comparison.
“Les absents ont toujours tort” and Saidie found so much to say and said it in such a contemptuous, scornful way to Howard Astley, about her sister’s husband, that perhaps there was some little excuse for the young man’s impression that Bella Chetwynd would be vastly better off under his protection than amid her present surroundings.
“The man was a brute,” Miss Blackall declared.
Poor John Chetwynd! Not only was he far removed from being a brute, but he was also miles above the man whom Saidie delighted to honour, and whose addresses and attentions she thrust upon Bella at every turn.
At first, to do her justice, the young wife shrank back dismayed. Beyond his handsome face, Howard Astley had but little to recommend him, and after listening to his commonplaces and enduring the fulsome compliments it pleased him to pay, she would hurry home with tingling pulses and a shamed heart to Jack—Jack, who had once been all the world to her.
Once! Oh, and such a little time ago! After all, how little she had to complain of in the man who had made her his wife!
He was “uninteresting,” wrapped up in his profession, “dull.” That was all, but it meant a very great deal to Bella. It meant everything; and the sluggish conscience which just at first had a word or two to say in his defence, gradually went to sleep again and troubled its owner no longer.
Why should she not enjoy herself as other women of her age did?
Why, indeed? She did not intend to do anything that was really wrong, or even unbecoming in her position as Jack’s wife; but still she was resolved on extracting the utmost amount of amusement possible out of life, and thus with slow, subtle drifting and unconscious eyes—eyes that would not see their peril—she reached the point where temptation steps in.
It was his wealth that dazzled her.
She did so long to be rich. John was apt to be mean about trifles, but this man—the man she allowed to make love to her—was a very prodigal in his liberality. He spent money like water. He rarely came empty-handed. Probably he knew the manner of woman he had to deal with, and Bella hid the trinkets away with a guilty blush; they were not much good to her after all, for she did not dare to wear them, lest Jack should ask awkward questions concerning the source from whence they came.