There was a chattering going on at the table around her. Tommy was clamouring for bread and butter; the vicar was reading out the telegrams from the seat of war; Marion was complaining that the butter was not good; the maid-servant was bringing in the hot bacon and eggs—it all went on like a dream around her; presently, like a voice out of a fog, somebody spoke to her:
“Vera, are you not feeling well? You look as if you were going to faint.”
And then she crunched the letter in her hand and recalled herself to life.
“I am quite well, thanks,” and busied herself with attending to the wants of the children.
The vicar glanced up over his spectacles. “No bad news, I hope, my dear.”
Oh! why could they not let her alone? But somehow she sat through the breakfast, and answered all their questions, and bore herself bravely; and when it was over and she was free to go away by herself with her trouble, then by that time the worst of it was over.
There are some people whom sorrow softens and touches, but Vera was not one of them. Her whole soul revolted and rebelled against her fate. She said to herself that for once she had let her heart guide her; she had cast aside the crust of worldliness and self-indulgence in which she had been brought up. She had listened to the softer whisperings of the better nature within her—she had been true to herself—and lo! what had come of it?
But now she had learnt her lesson; there were to be no more dreams of pure and unsullied happiness for her,—no more cravings after what was good and true and lovely; henceforth she would go back to the teachings of her youth, to the experience which had told her that a handsome woman can always command her life as she pleases, and that wealth, which is a tangible reality, is better worth striving after than the vain shadow called love, which all talk about and so few make any practical sacrifices for. Well, she, Vera Nevill, had tried it, and had made her sacrifices; and what remained to her? Only the fixed determination to crush it down again within her as if it had never been, and to carve out her fortunes afresh. Only that she started again at a disadvantage—for now she knew to her cost that she possessed the fatal power of loving—the knowledge of good and evil, of which she had eaten the poisoned fruit.
There were no tears in Vera’s eyes as she wandered slowly up and down the garden paths between the straight yellow lines of the crocus heads.
Her lover had forsaken her. Well, let him go. She told herself that, had he loved her truly, no power on earth would have been great enough to keep him from her. She said to herself scornfully—she, Vera Nevill, who was prepared to sell herself to the highest bidder—that it was Mrs. Romer’s money that kept him from her. Well, let him go to her, then? but for herself life must begin afresh.
And then she set to work to think about what she could do. To remain here at Sutton any longer was impossible. It was absolutely necessary that she should get away from it all, from the family upon whose hands she was nothing now but a beautiful, helpless burden, and still more from the haunting memories of Kynaston and all the unfortunate things that had happened to her here.