“Yes, let it be so to the world, because you bear my name, and I will not have it dragged through the mire—to all others it is an accident—but never to me, for I saw you let her go! There is the stain of murder upon your hands. I will never call you wife, nor look upon your face again; get yourself away out of my sight!”
With a low sobbing cry she turned and fled away from him, and away from the place, out among the shadows of the fir-trees. Once again some one stopped her in her terror-stricken flight.
It was Denis Wilde, who came striding towards her under the trees, and caught her roughly by the wrist.
“It is you who have killed her!” he said, savagely.
“What do you mean?” she murmured, faintly.
“I saw it in your face last night when you were wandering about the house during the thunderstorm; you meant her death then. I saw it in your eyes. My God! why did I not watch over her better, and save her from such a devil as you?”
“No, no, it is not true; it was an accident. Oh, spare me, spare me!” with a piteousness of terror, was all she could say.
“Yes; I will spare you, poor wretch, for your husband’s sake—because she loved him—and his burden, God help him! is heavy enough as it is. Go!” flinging her arm rudely from him. “Go, whilst you have got time, lest the thirst for your blood be too strong for me.”
And this time no one saw her go. Like a hunted animal, she fled away among the trees, her gleaming many-hued dress trailing all wet and drabbled on the sodden earth behind her, and the darkness of the gathering night closed in around her, and covered her in mercy with its pitiful mantle.
Open, dark grave, and take her:
Though we have loved her so,
Yet we must now forsake her:
Love will no more awake her:
Oh bitter woe!
Open thine arms and take her
To rest below!
So Vera was at peace at last. The troubled life was over; the vexed question of her fate was settled for her. There was to be no more struggling of right against wrong, of expediency against truth, for her for evermore. She had all—nay, more than all she wanted now.
“It was what she desired herself,” said the vicar, brokenly, as he knelt by the side of her who had been so dear and precious to him. “Only a Sunday or two ago she said to me ‘If I could die, I should be at peace.’”
And Maurice, with hidden face at the foot of the bed, could not answer him for tears.
It was there, by that white still presence, that lay so calm and so lovely amongst the showers of heavy-scented waxen flowers, wherewith loving hands had decked her for her last long sleep; it was there that Eustace learnt at last the secret of her life, and the fatal love that had so wrecked her happiness. It was all clear to him now. Her struggles, her temptations, her pitiful moments of weakness and misery, her courageous strife against the hopelessness of her fate—all was made plain now: he understood her at last.