For one instant she lay still upon his heart; all the fury of her misery was at rest—all the storm of her sorrow was at peace—for one instant of time she tasted of life’s sublimest joy ere the waters of blackness and despair closed in once more over her soul. For one instant only—then she remembered, and withdrew herself shudderingly from his grasp.
“For God’s sake, have pity upon me, Maurice!” she wailed. It was the cry of a broken heart that appealed to his manhood and his honour more surely and more directly than a torrent of reproach or a storm of indignation.
“Forgive me,” he murmured, humbly; “I am a brute to you. I had forgotten myself. I ought to have spared you, sweet. See, I have let you go; I will not touch you again; but it was hard to see you alone, to be near you, and yet to remember how we are parted. Vera, I have ruined your life; it is wonderful that you do not hate me.”
“A true woman never hates the man who has been hard on her,” she answered, smiling sadly.
“If it is any comfort to you to know it, I too am wretched; now it is too late: I know that my life is spoilt also.”
“No; why should that comfort me?” she said, wearily. She leant half back against the gate—if he could have seen her well in the uncertain light, he would have been shocked at the worn and haggard face of his beautiful Vera.
Presently she spoke again.
“I am sorry that I asked you to come—it was not wise, was it, Maurice? How long must you stop at Kynaston? Can you not go away? We are neither of us strong enough to bear this—I, I cannot go—but you, must you be always here?”
“Before God,” he answered, earnestly, “I swear to you that I will go away if it is in my power to go.”
“Thank you.” Then, with an effort, she roused herself to speak to him: “But that is not what I wanted to say; let me tell you why I sent for you. I made a promise, a wretched, stupid thing, to a tiresome little man I met in London—a Monsieur D’Arblet, a Frenchman; do you know him?”
“D’Arblet! I never heard the name in my life that I know of.”
“Really, that seems odd, for I have a little parcel from him to you, and, strangely enough, he made me promise on my word of honour to give it to you when no one was near. I did not know how to keep my promise, for, though we may sometimes meet in public, we are not often likely to meet alone. I have it here; let me give it to you and have done with the thing; it has been on my mind.”
She drew a small packet from her pocket, and was about to give it to him, when suddenly his ear caught the sound of an approaching footstep; he looked nervously round, then he put forth his hand quickly and stopped her.
“Hush, give me nothing now!” he said, in a low, hurried voice. “To-morrow we shall meet at Shadonake; if you will go near the Bath some time during the day after lunch is over, I will join you there, and you can give it to me; it can be of no possible importance; go in now quickly; good-night. It is my wife.”