“And this Mr. Courtier,” said Lord Dennis dryly: “Are you after him?”
“I’m after everything; didn’t you know that, dear?”
“In reason, my child.”
“In reason, of course—like poor Eusty!” She stopped. Harbinger himself was standing there close by, with an air as nearly approaching reverence as was ever to be seen on him. In truth, the way in which he was looking at her was almost timorous.
“Will you sing that song I like so much, Lady Babs?”
They moved away together; and Lord Dennis, gazing after that magnificent young couple, stroked his beard gravely.
Miltoun’s sudden journey to London had been undertaken in pursuance of a resolve slowly forming from the moment he met Mrs. Noel in the stone flagged passage of Burracombe Farm. If she would have him and since last evening he believed she would—he intended to marry her.
It has been said that except for one lapse his life had been austere, but this is not to assert that he had no capacity for passion. The contrary was the case. That flame which had been so jealously guarded smouldered deep within him—a smothered fire with but little air to feed on. The moment his spirit was touched by the spirit of this woman, it had flared up. She was the incarnation of all that he desired. Her hair, her eyes, her form; the tiny tuck or dimple at the corner of her mouth just where a child places its finger; her way of moving, a sort of unconscious swaying or yielding to the air; the tone in her voice, which seemed to come not so much from happiness of her own as from an innate wish to make others happy; and that natural, if not robust, intelligence, which belongs to the very sympathetic, and is rarely found in women of great ambitions or enthusiasms—all these things had twined themselves round his heart. He not only dreamed of her, and wanted her; he believed in her. She filled his thoughts as one who could never do wrong; as one who, though a wife would remain a mistress, and though a mistress, would always be the companion of his spirit.
It has been said that no one spoke or gossiped about women in Miltoun’s presence, and the tale of her divorce was present to his mind simply in the form of a conviction that she was an injured woman. After his interview with the vicar, he had only once again alluded to it, and that in answer to the speech of a lady staying at the Court: “Oh! yes, I remember her case perfectly. She was the poor woman who——” “Did not, I am certain, Lady Bonington.” The tone of his voice had made someone laugh uneasily; the subject was changed.
All divorce was against his convictions, but in a blurred way he admitted that there were cases where release was unavoidable. He was not a man to ask for confidences, or expect them to be given him. He himself had never confided his spiritual struggles to any living creature; and the unspiritual struggle had little interest for Miltoun. He was ready at any moment to stake his life on the perfection of the idol he had set up within his soul, as simply and straightforwardly as he would have placed his body in front of her to shield her from harm.