’I know. But you have Chloe’s word that she will watch over the duchess and die to save her. It is an oath. You have heard of some arrangements. I say they shall lead to nothing: it shall not take place. Indeed, my friend, I am awake; I see as much as you see. And those. . . after being where I have been, can you suppose I have a regret? But she is my dear and peculiar charge, and if she runs a risk, trust to me that there shall be no catastrophe; I swear it; so, now, adieu. We sup in company to-night. They will be expecting some of Chloe’s verses, and she must sing to herself for a few minutes to stir the bed her songs take wing from; therefore, we will part, and for her sake avoid her; do not be present at our table, or in the room, or anywhere there. Yes, you rob no one,’ she said, in a voice that curled through him deliciously by wavering; but I think I may blush at recollections, and I would rather have you absent. Adieu! I will not ask for obedience from you beyond to-night. Your word?’
He gave it in a stupor of felicity, and she fled.
Chloe drew the silken string from her bosom, as she descended the dim pathway through the furies, and set her fingers travelling along it for the number of the knots. ‘I have no right to be living,’ she said. Seven was the number; seven years she had awaited her lover’s return; she counted her age and completed it in sevens. Fatalism had sustained her during her lover’s absence; it had fast hold of her now. Thereby had she been enabled to say, ‘He will come’; and saying, ‘He has come,’ her touch rested on the first knot in the string. She had no power to displace her fingers, and the cause of the tying of the knot stood across her brain marked in dull red characters, legible neither to her eye nor to her understanding, but a reviving of the hour that brought it on her spirit with human distinctness, except of the light of day: she had a sense of having forfeited light, and seeing perhaps more clearly. Everything assured her that she saw more clearly than others; she saw too when it was good to cease to live.
Hers was the unhappy lot of one gifted with poet-imagination to throb with the woman supplanting her and share the fascination of the man who deceived. At their first meeting, in her presence, she had seen that they were not strangers; she pitied them for speaking falsely, and when she vowed to thwart this course of evil it to save a younger creature of her sex, not in rivalry. She treated them both with a proud generosity surpassing gentleness. All that there was of selfishness in her bosom resolved to the enjoyment of her one month of strongly willed delusion.