She heard again the jeering laughter in the room behind her, but between herself and Jeff there was a terrible silence, till abruptly he set her free, saying curtly, “You brought it on yourself. Now go!”
Her knees were shaking under her. She was burning from head to foot, as though she had been wrapped in flame. But with an effort she controlled herself.
She went in utter silence, feeling as if her heart were dead within her, mounted the stairs with growing weakness, found and fumbled at her own door, entered at last, and sank inert upon the floor.
Christmas morning broke with a sprinkle of snow, and an icy wind that blew from the north, promising a heavier fall ere the day was over.
Jeff was late in descending, and he saw that the door of Doris’s room was open as he passed. He glanced in, saw that the room was empty, and entered to lay a packet that he carried on her dressing-table. As he did so, his eyes fell upon an envelope lying there, and that single glance revealed the fact that it was addressed to him.
He picked it up, and, turning, cast a searching look around the room. Across the end of the great four-poster bed hung the black lace gown she had worn the previous evening, but the bed itself was undisturbed. He saw in a moment that it had not been slept in. Sharply he turned to the envelope in his hand, and ripped it open. Something bright rolled out upon the floor. He stopped it with his foot. It was her wedding-ring.
An awful look showed for a moment in Jeff’s eyes and passed. He stooped and picked up the ring; then, with a species of deadly composure more terrible than any agitation, he took out the letter that the envelope contained.
It was very short—the first letter that she had ever written to him.
“Dear Jeff,” it ran, “after what happened last night, I do not think you will be surprised to hear that I feel I cannot stay any longer under your roof. I have tried to be friends with you, but you would not have it so, and now it has become quite impossible for me to go on. I am leaving for town by the first train I can catch. I am going to work for my living, and some day I shall hope to make good to you all that I know you have spent on my comfort.
“Please do not imagine I am going in anger. I blame myself more than I blame you. I never ought to have married you, knowing that I did not love you in the ordinary way. But this is the only course open to me now. So good-bye!
Jeff Ironside looked up from the letter, and out across the grey meadows. His face was pale, the square jaw absolutely rigid; but there was no anger in his eyes, only the iron of an implacable determination. For several seconds he watched the feathery snowflakes drifting over the fields; then, with absolute steadiness, he returned both letter and ring to the envelope, placed them in his pocket, and, turning, left the room.