Mrs. Lovell grasped it, and thrust it out of sight.
She spoke as they approached the church-door: “Mention nothing of this to a soul, or you forfeit my friendship for ever.”
When they alighted, she was smiling in her old affable manner.
Some consideration for Robert, after all, as being the man who loved her, sufficed to give him rank as a more elevated kind of criminal in Rhoda’s sight, and exquisite torture of the highest form was administered to him. Her faith in her sister was so sure that she could half pardon him for the momentary harm he had done to Dahlia with her father; but, judging him by the lofty standard of one who craved to be her husband, she could not pardon his unmanly hesitation and manner of speech. The old and deep grievance in her heart as to what men thought of women, and as to the harshness of men, was stirred constantly by the remembrance of his irresolute looks, and his not having dared to speak nobly for Dahlia, even though he might have had, the knavery to think evil. As the case stood, there was still mischief to counteract. Her father had willingly swallowed a drug, but his suspicions only slumbered, and she could not instil her own vivid hopefulness and trust into him. Letters from Dahlia came regularly. The first, from Lausanne, favoured Rhoda’s conception of her as of a happy spirit resting at celestial stages of her ascent upward through spheres of ecstacy. Dahlia could see the snow-mountains in a flying glimpse; and again, peacefully seated, she could see the snow-mountains reflected in clear blue waters from her window, which, Rhoda thought, must be like heaven. On these inspired occasions, Robert presented the form of a malignant serpent in her ideas. Then Dahlia made excursions upon glaciers with her beloved, her helpmate, and had slippings and tumblings—little earthly casualties which gave a charming sense of reality to her otherwise miraculous flight. The Alps were crossed: Italy was beheld. A profusion of “Oh’s!” described Dahlia’s impressions of Italy; and “Oh! the heat!” showed her to be mortal, notwithstanding the sublime exclamations. Como received the blissful couple. Dahlia wrote from Como:—
“Tell father that gentlemen in my Edward’s position cannot always immediately proclaim their marriage to the world. There are reasons. I hope he has been very angry with me: then it will be soon over, and we shall be—but I cannot look back. I shall not look back till we reach Venice. At Venice, I know I shall see you all as clear as day; but I cannot even remember the features of my darling here.”
Her Christian name was still her only signature.
The thin blue-and-pink paper, and the foreign postmarks—testifications to Dahlia’s journey not being a fictitious event, had a singular deliciousness for the solitary girl at the Farm. At times, as she turned them over, she was startled by the intoxication of her sentiments, for the wild thought would come, that many, many whose passionate hearts she could feel as her own, were ready to abandon principle and the bondage to the hereafter, for such a long delicious gulp of divine life. Rhoda found herself more than once brooding on the possible case that Dahlia had done this thing.