When he had gone, Bella opened her eyes and held up her hand curiously. It was wet with—what?—tears.
Her eyes were bright and dry.
For a moment something of the old feeling swept over her.
Poor Jack! She half rose, then sank back again.
It was too late, she was thinking; as if it were ever too late to make amends, to atone, while we have still breath and life!
“It is all for the best, anyhow,” she murmured after awhile, and when philosophy is well to the fore, love hides its diminished head.
Six months wore themselves away; six months in every day of which John Chetwynd lived a year, measured by the anxiety and misery it held for him. He could no longer delude himself into the belief that Bella loved him, for all her actions went to prove the contrary. But her end just once gained, there were no more bickerings and disputes—she even condescended to consider her husband’s wishes, when they did not clash or interfere with her own. But night after night he sat alone with the hateful consciousness that the woman who bore his name was parading her charms to Dick, Tom and Harry; in fact, to anybody who chose to pay his shilling for the privilege of contemplating them. It was in moments such as these that the iron entered his soul and there was no escape from it; he must bear his burden as many a better man had borne it before him. And thus it was he buried himself in his profession, working with a will and vigour that astonished no one so much as himself. He was rapidly becoming a popular man. Through sheer good luck (as he really believed it to be) he had diagnosed one or two cases with an ease and accuracy which not only filled his purse beyond his utmost expectations, but helped him up the ladder of fame at an amazing rate. But when emboldened by success, and always remembering the fact that however wilful and oblivious she might be, she was still to all intents and purposes the wife of his bosom and equally interested with himself in all his undertakings, he recounted his triumphs and declared his intention of leaving Camberwell forthwith and settling in Camelot Square, Bella smiled, yet proved in no way elated at the intelligence.
“So, my dear, you can go as soon as you like and fix upon a house,” he said.
Bella yawned and stretched her arms above her head.
“Oh, you will know much better than I what is required,” she replied.
“Have you, then, no interest in our new home?” he asked, more hurt than he could well have expressed.
“Do you ever show the slightest interest in what concerns me?” she retorted.
He winced. “This is a mutual interest, surely, since we must occupy it together.”
“Must?” she echoed dreamily.
“What do you mean?” he asked sharply.
“Nothing, except that ‘must’ is the word I have banished from my vocabulary,” and she smiled at him—actually smiled, though she must have known she was stabbing him to the very heart.