The new dress had come home finished this evening whilst Maud was away. On the latter’s return, her mother insisted on seeing her at once in it, and Maud obeyed. A strange bride, rather as one who was about to wed herself to Heaven beneath the veil, than preparing to be led to the altar.
Having resumed her ordinary dregs, Maud went downstairs to the parlour where her aunt was sitting. Miss Bygrave laid down a book as she entered.
“We shall not see each other after tonight,” Theresa said, breaking the stillness with her grave but not unkind voice. “Is there anything more you would like to say to me, Maud?”
“Only that I shall always think of you, and grieve that we are parted.”
“You are going into the world,” said the other sadly, “my thoughts cannot follow you there. But your purer spirit will often be with me.”
“And your spirit with me. If I had been permitted to share your life, that would have been my greatest joy. I am consciously choosing what my soul would set aside. For a time I thought I had reconciled myself to the world; I found delight in it, and came to look on the promptings of the spirit as morbid fancies. That has passed. I know the highest, but between me and it there is a gulf which it may be I shall never pass.”
“It is only to few,” said Theresa, looking at Maud with her smile of assured peace, “that it is given to persevere and attain.”
As they sat once more in silence, there suddenly came a light knock at the house-door. At this moment Maud’s thoughts had wandered back to a Christmas of her childhood, when she had sat just as to-night with her aunt, and had for the first time listened to those teachings which had moulded her life. The intervening years were swept away, and she was once more the thoughtful, wondering child, conscious of the great difference between herself and her companions; in spite of herself learning to regard the world in which they moved as something in which she had no part. Of those school companions a few came back to her mind, and, before all, the poor girl named Ida Starr, whom she had loved and admired. What had become of Ida, after she had been sent away from Miss Rutherford’s school? She remembered that last meeting with her in the street, on the evening of Christmas Day, and could see her face.
The house door was opened, and Maud heard a voice outside which held her to the spot where she stood. Then Theresa re-entered the room, and after her came Paul Enderby.