Impossible to think the thing to any conclusion! Too many possibilities might alter the entire situation. If she were married safely to Ward, for example—? But then she dared not marry Ward until Royal’s attitude was finally defined. For if her position were dangerous now, what would it be if she had committed herself irrevocably to deception by marriage? Ward’s young, crude intolerance sitting in judgment upon his wife!—Harriet shivered.
Suddenly she fell upon her knees, and dropped her bright head against the wide balustrade. She wanted to be a dignified, honourable, helpful woman; not selfish, like Nina; not an intriguer, like Isabelle; not proud, like Madame Carter. Something was changing in her heart and soul; she did not feel angry and bitter any more. With Royal’s reappearance had come the realization that the old, sad time was no longer a living wound in her life, it was merely a memory, young, and mistaken, and to be forgotten. For years she had felt that it had maimed her; now it seemed only infinitely pitiable. She could go on, to honour and happiness, despite it. And how she longed to go on, with no further handicap! If he would go away again, and leave her mistress of the field. She only wanted her chance. She wanted to win her way, here in this fascinating world; she wanted to be beloved and successful; above all she wanted to be good!
For a long time Harriet had not prayed. But now, in a few words, and quite without premeditation, there burst from her the most sincere prayer of her life. She looked up at the stars.
“God!” she said, softly, aloud, “help me! Make me do what is right, however hard it is. Father, don’t let me make another mistake!”
Sudden peace and confidence flooded her spirit. She sat on, dreaming and planning, but with no more mental distress. With the prayer she had gained, in some subtle fashion, a new self-respect. She would not let him frighten her again; after all, while she commanded her own soul, Royal Blondin could not hurt her.
“And he shall not marry Nina, either!” Harriet decided, going in, stiff and cold, but full of resolution. She looked at a clock, it was almost four. Three hours’ sleep was not to be despised, but Harriet was in no mood for it. Instead she took a bath, and just as the dawn was beginning to flood the world with mysterious half-lights and long wet shadows, she crept out into the dew-drenched garden, and with a triumphant sense of being alone, went into the wood. Early walks were one of her delights. She was rarely alone otherwise; her position afforded her almost every other luxury, but not often this one. Nina’s plans were usually cut to fit Harriet’s; even the shortest errand, or least interesting trip into town was pleasanter to Nina than her own society.