He was there, sitting in her own cosy armchair, and he looked round expectantly as the door opened.
“Well,” she said nervously, stripping off her gloves, and avoiding meeting his stern, sad gaze. “I daresay you wonder where I have been and what has kept me so late; but, my dear old Jack, you will have to give up the bad habit of sitting up to all hours for me, for I’m likely to be late most nights now.”
She paused for a reply, but none came. Her easy assurance staggered him; he could hardly believe that this self-composed, glib-spoken young woman had been at one time his diffident, shy little love. The unhappy man found it very hard to reconcile the two. “Why don’t you speak?” she asked impatiently, facing him in a defiant manner; and as he looked up at her he noticed for the first time that she had grown older and had lost all at once—at least, so it seemed to him—the rounded, childish look from her sweet face and involuntarily a sigh broke from him.
“One would think I had committed a crime,” cried she in disdain, and then, catching her skirts up, she broke into a step dance, humming a popular music-hall air.
“Stop—do you hear me?—this instant stop!” the devil in him burst out; he could restrain himself no longer.
“Woman! What are you made of?” he cried in a voice of thunder, and she, shrinking back a little, fell half frightened into a chair. He never could quite remember afterwards what he did say. He tried with rough eloquence, that might have moved a heart of stone, to show her what it was she was doing, to appeal to her better, nobler self, to her love for him; he implored and entreated her to give up this new life—for his sake.
He had nothing better to urge than that, poor fool! It weighed with her as just so much chaff. The time had gone by when his words would have touched her; they glided lightly over what she called her “heart” now and left no impression there.
And then he went on his knees beside her and prayed her to grant him this one boon; he poured out a flood of feverish words, hardly pausing to think; he tried to paint an alluring picture of their life in the future: they would leave Camberwell, he said; she should go where she liked if she would but listen to reason; it would ruin him in his profession, he pleaded, if she persisted in returning to the stage. As he talked the pretty face grew harder and older. Bella had made up her mind, and the man beside her had not the faintest power to sway her by his reproaches or entreaties.
And then he stumbled to his feet and stood waiting for his answer.
It came at last, clear and cold, falling like pellets of ice upon his impatient fervour.
“The thing is done now, and all the talking in the world will not alter it.”
“And that is your last word to me—your husband?”
Finding she did not speak, he walked across the floor, turning at the door, hoping against hope, but she lay back as still as if she were dead.