“I want to know what is the matter with Maude.”
He turned round in his chair, and met the dowager’s flaxen wig and crimson face. Val did not know what was the matter with his wife any more than the questioner did. He supposed she would be all right when she grew stronger.
“She says it’s you” said the gentle dowager, improving upon her information. “She has just been wishing you were hanged.”
“Ah, you have been teasing her,” he returned, with composure. “Maude says all sorts of things when she’s put out.”
“Perhaps she does,” was the retort; “but she meant this, for she showed her teeth when she said it. You can’t blind me; and I have seen ever since I came here that there was something wrong between you and Maude.”
For that matter, Val had seen it too. Since the night of his wife’s fainting-fit she had scarcely spoken a word to him; had appeared as if she could not tolerate his presence for an instant in her room. Lord Hartledon felt persuaded that it arose from resentment at his having refused to allow her to see the stranger. He rose from his seat.
“There’s nothing wrong between me and Maude, Lady Kirton. If there were, you must pardon me for saying that I could not suffer any interference in it. But there is not.”
“Something’s wrong somewhere. I found her just now sobbing and moaning over Eddie, wishing they were both dead, and all the rest of it. If she goes on like this for nothing, she’s losing her senses, that’s all.”
“She’ll be all right when she’s stronger. Pray don’t worry her. She’ll be well soon, I daresay. And now I shall be glad if you’ll leave me, for I am very busy.”
She did not leave him any the quicker for the request, but stayed to worry him, as it was in her nature to worry every one. Getting rid of her at last, he turned the key of the door, and wished her a hundred miles away.
The wish bore fruit. In a few days some news she heard regarding her eldest son—who was a widower now—took the dowager to Ireland, and Lord Hartledon wished he could as easily turn the key of the house upon her as he had turned that of the room.
THE SWORD SLIPPED.
Summer dust was in the London streets, summer weather in the air, and the carriage of that fashionable practitioner, Sir Alexander Pepps, still waited before Lord Hartledon’s house. It had waited there more frequently in these later weeks than of old.
The great world—her world—wondered what was the matter with her: Sir Alexander wondered also. Perhaps had he been a less courtly man he might have rapped out “obstinacy,” if questioned upon the point; as it was, he murmured of “weakness.” Weak she undoubtedly was; and she did not seem to try in the least to grow strong again. She did not go into society now; she dressed as usual, and sat in her drawing-room, and received visitors if the whim took her; but she was usually denied to all; and said she was not well enough to go out. From her husband she remained bitterly estranged. If he attempted to be friendly with her, to ask what was ailing her, she either sharply refused to say, or maintained a persistent silence. Lord Hartledon could not account for her behaviour, and was growing tired of it.