“Beg pardon, your grace, but Lady Belgrade desires me to say that you have but fifteen minutes to catch the train.”
“Very well,” replied the young duchess; but her voice sounded strangely unlike her own.
“Your ladyship will not go on your bridal tour?” said the visitor, imploringly.
“No, I shall not go on a bridal tour. How can I?—I am not a bride. I am not a wife. I am not the Duchess of Hereward. I am just Salome Levison, as I was before that false marriage ceremony was performed over me! But do you be discreet. Say nothing below stairs of what has passed between us here,” said Salome, speaking now with such amazing self-control that no one could have guessed the anguish and despair of her soul but for the marble whiteness and rigidity of her face.
“Be sure I shall not say one word, my lady,” answered Mrs. Brown.
There was another low rap at the door, and again the voice of the maid was heard:
“Please your grace, what shall I say to Lady Belgrade?”
“Tell her ladyship that I am nearly ready,” answered the young duchess. “And, Margaret,” she added, “show this good woman out. And then, do not return here until I ring.”
The visitor courtesied and went to the door, where she was met by the maid, who conducted her down stairs.
Salome locked and double-locked and bolted the doors leading from her apartments to the front corridor, and then she retreated to her dressing-room, alone with her terrible trial.
Who can conceive the mortal agony suffered by that young, overburdened heart and overtasked brain.
Who can estimate the force of the conflict that raged in her bosom, between her passion and her conscience? Between her love and her duty? Between what she knew of her worshiped husband, from daily association, and what she had just heard proved upon him by overwhelming testimony, confirmed also by the evidence of her own too long discredited senses!
He—her Apollo—her ideal of all manly excellence—her archangel, as in the infatuation of her passion she had called him—he a bigamist, and an accomplice in the murder of her father!
It was incredible! incomprehensible! maddening!
Or surely it was some awful nightmare dream, from which she must soon awake.
What should she do? How meet again the people below?
She would not look upon his face again. She could not. She felt that to do so would be perdition.
In the darkness of her despair a great temptation assailed her.
But we must leave her alone to wrestle with the demon, while we join the wedding-party below.
After the withdrawal of the bride and her attendant from the breakfast-table, the bridegroom and his friends remained a few moments longer, and then joined Lady Belgrade and the bridesmaids in the drawing-room.