“Hate you? No.”
“I dare not ask you to forgive; but I begin to know and feel what my action towards you really meant. Jack, see I am on my knees. Forgive me!”
“I do. I forgive. If I was hard to you; if, as you say, I expected and exacted too much from you, may God forgive me.”
The tears were still raining down Bella’s cheeks.
“Kiss me, Jack.”
He shrank back. “You must not ask me that. I cannot.”
“Is it that you despise me so utterly?”
“No, no; you don’t understand. I—”
“Why do you make me speak? I am going to be married again. I kissed her—a young girl—in this room half an hour ago. I could not outrage her trust in me.”
A sort of stung expression came into the face of the kneeling woman and she staggered to her feet.
“You are going to take another wife! My God! I never thought—I never dreamt. It seemed so—so—impossible. I hope she will make you happier than I did.”
“Oh, hush, hush!”
“She is one of your own class—a lady? What is her name?”
“I would rather not mention it. Give me your hand and let us part in peace.”
“Tell it me,” she pleaded. “What name do you call her by?”
“Ethel and Bella. Ah, Ethel is far the nicer name. We didn’t think once that you would ever be telling me you were going to be married to someone else, did we? It feels queer, and it hurts me—a little, I think. Good-bye, Jack. I see now why you could not kiss me—it would not be right of you. She is a young girl and she might find it hard to forgive you if she knew. I am going. You used to have a bell on your table, I recollect, with a little white knob that you pressed when Mary was to go to the hall door. Do you use it still? Oh, I see. Let me press it instead of you, may I? I sha’n’t feel so much as if you were turning me out. Good-bye.” She said the word lingeringly, tenderly. “Say ‘Bella’ once again, for the sake of old times.”
Jack Chetwynd took the slender trembling hand in his with God knows what of anguish and pity stirring at his heart.
And the door fell to.
She was gone.
He could hear her hollow cough as she passed down the tesselated corridor.
It was two days later. Sir John Chetwynd sat in his big easy chair with an open letter before him. “We are surprised to have seen and heard nothing of you,” wrote the Duchess; “more especially as after the few words we had in private upon a certain important matter, I fully anticipated an early visit from you. But such a busy man as yourself and one so much in request, both socially and professionally, must not be judged by the rules which govern the common herd, I suppose; at the same time (although I assure you she has not said a word upon the subject) I can say that dear Ethel feels herself a wee bit neglected. You must have been professionally engaged last night, I presume, since we were obliged to dine without you and go to see Sarah Bernhardt alone.”