“Young men are often careless in their language,” explains Dora hurriedly, feeling that she has gone too far. “He meant nothing unkind, you may be sure!”
“I am quite sure”—firmly.
“Then no harm is done”—smiling brightly. “And now, good-night, dearest; go to bed instead of sitting there looking like a ghost in those mystical moonbeams.”
“Good-night,” says Florence icily.
There is something about her that causes Mrs. Talbot to feel almost afraid to approach and kiss her as usual.
“Want of rest will spoil your lovely eyes,” adds the widow airily; “and your complexion, faultless as it always is, will not be up to the mark to-morrow. So sleep, foolish child, and gather roses from your slumbers.”
So saying, she kisses her hand gayly to the unresponsive Florence, and trips lightly from the room.
Florence, after Dora has left her, sits motionless at her window. She has thrown open the casement, and now—the sleeves of her dressing-gown falling back from her bare rounded arms—leans out so that the descending night-dews fall like a benison upon her burning brow.
She is wrapped in melancholy; her whole soul is burdened with thoughts and regrets almost too heavy for her to support. She is harassed and perplexed on all sides, and her heart is sore for the loss of the love she once had deemed her own.
The moonbeams cling like a halo round her lovely head, her hair falls in a luxuriant shower about her shoulders; her plaintive face is raised from earth, her eyes look heavenward, as though seeking hope and comfort there.
The night is still, almost to oppressiveness. The birds have long since ceased their song; the wind hardly stirs the foliage of the stately trees. The perfume wafted upward from the sleeping garden floats past her and mingles with her scented tresses. No sound comes to mar the serenity of the night, all is calm and silent as the grave.
Yet, hark, what is this? A footstep on the gravel path below arouses her attention. For the first time since Dora’s departure she moves, and, turning her head, glances in the direction of the sound.
Bareheaded, and walking with his hands clasped behind him as though absorbed in deep thought, Sir Adrian comes slowly over the sward until he stands beneath her window. Here he pauses, as though almost unconsciously his spirit has led him thither, and brought him to a standstill where he would most desire to be.
The moon, spreading its brilliance on all around, permits Florence to see that his face is grave and thoughtful, and—yes, as she gazes even closer, she can see that it is full of pain and vain longing.
What is rendering him unhappy on this night of all others, when the woman she believes he loves has been his willing companion for so many hours, when doubtless she has given him proofs of her preference for him above all men?