“It is the old difficulty. Short of killing herself, whatever she does will be the beginning of worse things. In this respect, there’s no distinction between Cecily and the wife of the costermonger. Civilization is indifferent. Her life is marred, and there’s an end on’t.”
Eleanor turned away. Her eyes were wet with tears of indignant sympathy.
On alighting at Charing Cross, Cecily searched the platform for Reuben. There could be no doubt of his coming to meet her, for she had written to tell him that Mrs. Lessingham would at once go into the country from another station, and she would thus be alone. But she looked about and waited in vain. In the end she took a cab, parted with her companion, and drove homewards.
It was more than a trivial disappointment. On the journey, she had felt a longing for home, a revival of affection; she had tried to persuade herself that this long separation would have made a happy change, and that their life might take a new colour. Had Reuben appeared ’at the station, she would have pressed his hand warmly. Her health had improved; hope was again welcome. It came not like the hope of years ago, radiant, with eyes of ecstasy; but sober, homely, a gentle smile on its compassionate lips.
His failure would easily be explained; either he had mistaken the train, or something inevitable had hindered him; possibly she had made a slip of the pen in writing. Nearing home, she grew tremulous, nervously impatient. Before the cab had stopped, she threw the door open.
The servant who admitted her wore an unusual expression, but Cecily did not observe this.
“Mr. Elgar is at home?”
“When did he go out?”
“He has not been at home for three days, ma’am.”
Cecily controlled herself.
“There are some parcels in the cab. Take them up stairs.”
She went into the study, and stood looking about her. On the writing-table lay some unopened letters, all addressed to her husband; also two or three that had been read and thrown aside. Whilst she was still at the mercy of her confused thoughts, the servant came and asked if she would pay the cabman.
Then she ascended to the drawing-room and sat down. Had her letter gone astray? But if he had not been home for three days, and, as appeared, his letters were not forwarded to him, did not this prove (supposing a miscarriage of what she had written) that he was not troubling himself about news from her? If he had received her letter—and it ought to have arrived at least four days ago—what was the meaning of his absence?
She shrank from questioning the servants further. Presently, without having changed her dress, she went down again to the library, and re-examined the letters waiting to be read; and the handwriting was in each case unknown to her. Then she took up the letters that were open. One was an invitation to dine, one the appeal of some charitable institution; last, a few lines from Mallard. He wrote asking Elgar to come and see him—seemingly with no purpose beyond a wish to re-establish friendly relations. Cecily read the note again and again, wondering whether it had led to a meeting.