But always she was subconsciously aware of a sense of strife—of struggle, as though Hugh loved her in spite of himself, in defiance of some inner mandate of conscience which accused him.
And now, fear mastered her. Her dream had been a reality. And this—this sweeping away from what had been his room of every familiar little personal possession—was the symbol of some new and terribly changed relation between them.
Forcing herself to move composedly while the maid still watched her, she walked slowly out of the room, but the instant the door had closed behind her she flew downstairs to her husband’s study and, not pausing to comply with the unwritten law which forbade entrance there without express permission, broke in upon him as he sat at his desk, busily occupied with his morning mail.
Hugh turned towards her with a cold light of astonished disapproval in his eyes.
“You know I don’t like to be interrupted——”
“I know, I know. But I had to come. Something’s happened. There’s been a mistake. . . . Hugh, they’ve taken everything out of your room. All your things.”
She stood beside him breathlessly awaiting his reply—her passionate dark eyes fixed on his face, two patches of brilliant colour showing on the high cheek-bones that bore witness to her Russian origin.
They made a curious contrast—husband and wife. She, a slender thing of fire and flame, hands clenched, lips quivering—woman every inch of her; he, immaculate and composed, his face coldly expressionless, yet with a hint of something warmer, a suppressed glow, beneath the deliberately chill glance of those curious light-grey eyes—the man and bigoted fanatic fighting for supremacy within him.
“Hugh! Answer me! Don’t sit staring at me like that!” Diane’s voice held a sharpened sound.
At last he spoke, very slowly and carefully.
“There has been no mistake, Diane. Everything that has been done has been with my sanction—by my order. Our marriage has been a culpable mistake. Catherine realised it from the beginning. I only realise my full guilt now that I am punished. But whatever I can do in atonement—reparation, that I have made up my mind to do. The first—the chief thing—is that our married life is at an end.”
She heard him with a curious absence of surprise. Somehow, from the instant she had seen his dismantled room she had known, known surely, that the long fight between herself and Catherine was over. And that Catherine had won.
“At an end? Hugh, what do you mean? What are you going to do? You’re not, you’re not going to send me away?”
“No, not that. I’ve no right to punish you. You’ve been guilty of no fault—”
“Except the fault of being myself,” she flung back bitterly.
“But I ought never to have married you. I did it, knowing you were not fit—suitable”—he corrected himself hastily. “So I alone am to blame. You will retain your position here as my wife—mistress of my home.” Diane, remembering Catherine’s despotic rule, smiled mirthlessly. “But henceforth you will be my wife in name only. I shall have no wife.”