“And you left him?”
A smile curled the corners of her mouth.
“No,” she said, slowly; “I didn’t. We took two little rooms over a baker’s shop in the High Street, Islington, and I stuck to him. I used to go out in an evening and do the marketing with a hand basket, to get it cheap. When we wanted a change we would take a bus to the Park and look at the swells across the railings; and sometimes Saidie gave us tickets for the theatres. Seems odd, don’t it? but it’s a fact. I was livelier then than ever I’ve been in my life. While he was fond of me—he showed me he was fond of me, you see.”
“You were capable of love, then, after all?” he said bitterly.
“I don’t know. I loved the freedom I think, anyway, and perhaps I took him with it. I don’t know! what does it matter? It was a release for you and you are glad that it happened, eh? now that the shame of it is forgotten? We were never suited to each other, were we?”
“Why speak of what is past?”
“You see, if I had remained with you I should have been no happier,” said Bella, reflectively; “you expected too much from me.”
“I did my best to make you happy.”
“Yes, perhaps! then if I had been more grateful and different, would you be glad if I was with you still?”
“I cannot answer that question. I loved you—I had no thought for any human being outside yourself.”
“But now,” she persisted, “now that the wound is old, do you not say to yourself, ‘it was better so’? Suppose that you and I were still what we were once to each other, would you be happy to know that I was your wife to-day?”
“I beg you to be silent. It is impossible that we can discuss such a question.”
She came close to his chair.
“I am,” she said with a sort of feverish eagerness, “no more of a lady now than I was then. I am just what I used to be when I made you ashamed of my ignorance and my mistakes. But if I were pure, if I had never been divorced, if I were standing here your faithful wife, would you be glad?”
“Hush! You are paining yourself and me.”
“For God’s sake be still!”
She fell on her knees beside him.
“Jack, say you would be glad.”
“If you had never left me, if you had remained my faithful wife, heaven knows that I should be a happier man!”
Bella burst into tears and sobbed convulsively, then pressed her handkerchief to her mouth. It was bright with blood when she withdrew it.
“Oh, be careful of yourself,” said John Chetwynd, terribly moved; “you must do what I advise.”
“I’ll try. I wonder why you should care one way or the other. It is more than I deserve—you make me so sorry and ashamed. I shall never see you any more, shall I?”
“No; I understand, I ought not to ask you. Well, good-bye. There is my address if you should take a notion to come. It is only a six months’ engagement over here, and if I’m not long for this wicked world, I may not live to finish it. Keep my card. If one day you should feel that you could come—just once. You don’t hate me?”