Feverishly she sought to make explanation. “I—I was hiding—down on the bank. I slipped into the lake. It was very foolish of me. But—but—really I couldn’t help it.”
Her teeth were chattering. He took her by the arm.
“Come up to the house at once!” he said.
She looked towards the boat-house. The door was ajar, but Wentworth had not shown himself. With a gasp of relief she yielded to Field’s insistent hand.
Her knees were shaking under her, but she made a valiant effort to control them. He did not speak further, and something in his silence dismayed her. She trembled more and more as she walked. Her wet clothes impeded her. She remembered with consternation that she had left her cloak in the boat-house. In her horror at this discovery she stopped.
As she did so a sudden tumult behind them told her that Wentworth had been sighted by his pursuers.
In the same moment Field very quietly turned and lifted her in his arms. She gave a gasp of astonishment.
“I think we shall get on quicker this way,” he said. “Put your arm over my shoulder, won’t you?”
He spoke as gently as if she had been a child, and instinctively she obeyed. He bore her very steadily straight to the house.
In the safe haven of her own room Violet recovered somewhat. Field left her in the charge of her maid, but the latter she very quickly dismissed. She sat before the fire clad in a wrapper, still shivering spasmodically, but growing gradually calmer.
“I believe there is a letter on the writing-table,” she said to the maid as she was about to go out. “Take it with you and put it in the box downstairs!”
The girl returned and took up the letter that Field had written that evening. “It isn’t stamped my lady,” she began; and then in a tone of surprise: “Why, it is addressed to your ladyship!”
Violet started. “Give it to me!” she commanded “That will do. I shall not be wanting you again to-night.”
The girl withdrew, and she crouched lower over the fire, the letter in her hand.
Yes, it was addressed to her in her husband’s clear, strong writing—addressed to her and written in her presence!
Her hands were trembling very much as she tore open the envelope. A baffling mist danced before her eyes. For a few seconds she could see nothing. Then with a great effort she commanded herself, and read:
“My own Beloved Wife,
“If I have made your life a misery, may I be forgiven! I meant otherwise. I saw you on the ramparts this evening. That is why I want you to leave this place to-morrow. But if you do not wish to share my life any longer, I will let you go. Only in Heaven’s name choose some worthier means than this!
“I am yours to take or leave. P.F.”
Hers—to take—or leave! She felt again the steady hold upon her arm, the equally steady release. That was what he had meant. That!