She burst into tears. “Are you speaking at all for yourself? Do you wish this?” she murmured.
“Then how can you be so cruel?”
“I should have thought it unjustifiably cruel, but that it has been suggested to me. Tell me the truth, Maude.”
Maude was turning sick with apprehension. She had begun to like her husband during the latter part of their sojourn in London; had missed him terribly during this long period of lonely ennui at Hartledon; and his tender kindness to her for the past few fleeting hours of this their meeting had seemed like heaven as compared with the solitary past. Her whole heart was in her words as she answered:
“When we first married I did not care for you; I almost think I did not like you. Everything was new to me, and I felt as one in an unknown sea. But it wore off; and if you only knew how I have thought of you, and wished for you here, you would never have said anything so cruel. You are my husband, and you cannot put me from you. Percival, promise me that you will never hint at this again!”
He bent and kissed her. His course lay plain before him; and if an ugly mountain rose up before his mind’s eye, shadowing forth not voluntary but forced separation, he would not look at it in that moment.
“What could mamma mean?” she asked. “I shall ask her.”
“Maude, oblige me by saying nothing about it. I have already warned Lady Kirton that it must not be repeated; and I am sure it will not be. I wish you would also oblige me in another matter.”
“In anything,” she eagerly said, raising her tearful eyes to his. “Ask me anything.”
“I intend to take your brother to the warmest seaside place England can boast of, at once; to-day or to-morrow. The sea-air may do me good also. I want that, or something else,” he added; his tone assuming a sad weariness as he remembered how futile any “sea-air” would be for a mind diseased. “Won’t you go with us, Maude?”
“Oh yes, gladly! I will go with you anywhere.”
He left her to proceed to Captain Kirton’s room, thinking that he and his wife might have been happy together yet, but for that one awful shadow of the past, which she did not know anything about; and he prayed she never might know.
But after all, it would have been a very moonlight sort of happiness.
The months rolled on, and Lord and Lady Hartledon did not separate. They remained together, and were, so far, happy enough—the moonlight happiness hinted at; and it is as I believe, the best and calmest sort of happiness for married life. Maude’s temper was unequal, and he was subject to prolonged hours of sadness. But the time went lightly enough over their heads, for all the world saw, as it goes over the heads of most people.