And then—and then—he came back to the prayer he had breathed in her ear more than twelve hours ago in the wintry lane. He loved her, he loved her, he loved her! Could she refuse to go away with him—having woven herself into his life, having made him madly, helplessly in love with her? Could she refuse? Had any woman the right to refuse? He appealed to her sense of honour. She had gone too far—she had granted too much already, granting him her love. She was in his arms in the dim light, in the faint, dream-like atmosphere. He was taking possession of her weak heart by all that science of love in which he was past master. Honour, conscience, fidelity to the absent, piety, innocence were being swept away in that lava flood of passion. Helpless, irresolute, she faltered again and again. "Take me home, Lostwithiel! Have mercy! Take me home."
"Isola, have you forgiven me?" he asked at last.Why should he not have a yacht? It seemed the fittest life for a man without home ties; a man still young, and with no need to labour at a profession. What better life could there be than that free wandering from port to port over a romantic sea?—and to Isola all seas were alike mysterious and romantic."I was not utterly wicked, Martin. I did not sin deliberately—I did not know what I was doing when I wrecked my life and destroyed my peace of mind for ever. I never meant to forget you—or to be false to you—but I was so lonely—so lonely. The days were so dreary and so long—even the short autumn days seemed long—and the evenings were so melancholy without you. And he came into my life suddenly—like a prince in a fairy tale—and at first I thought very little about him. He was nothing more to me than any one else in Trelasco—and then somehow we were always meeting by accident—in the lanes—or by the sea—and he seemed to care for all the things I cared for. The books I loved were his favourites. For a long time we talked of nothing but his travels, and of my favourite books. There was not a word spoken between us that you or any one else could blame."He obeyed, and went with her towards the cloak-room. The seats were nearly empty now where the matrons had sat in their velvet and brocade, a gorgeous background to the clouds of tulle and sylph-like figures of the dancers. Mrs. Baynham was nowhere to be seen, and the diminished bundles of tabby-cat cloaks and Shetland shawls in the cloak-room indicated that a good many people had left. Isola put on her soft white shawl hurriedly, and went out into the hall, where Lostwithiel had gone to look for her carriage."Knows!" The word broke from her lips almost in a shriek of horror. "He knows nothing—he must never know. He would despise me, leave me to die alone, while he went far away from me, to the very end of the world. He would take his son with him. I should be left alone—alone to face death—the most desolate creature God ever looked upon. Oh, Father Rodwell, why have you wrung my secret from me?" she cried, grovelling on her knees in the long grass beside him, clinging to his hand as he bent over her, gravely compassionate, deeply moved by her distress. "How cruel[Pg 262] to question—to torture me—how cruel to use your power of reading guilty hearts. You will tell my husband, who so loves and trusts me. You will tell him what a guilty wretch I am."
- "It is a book you gave me years ago at Dinan," she answered, looking at him piteously. "'Hero Worship.' Don't you remember? I had never read anything of Carlyle's before then. You taught me to like him."
- She dawdled away the morning; she sculled against the stream for nearly three hours, and then let her boat drift down the river to the garden above the towpath. It was long past her usual time for luncheon when she moored her boat to the little wooden steps, leaving it for Thomas, the gardener, to pull up into the boat-house. She had made up her mind that if Lostwithiel troubled himself to make any inquiry about her health he would call in the morning.
- He lifted the wasted form in his arms, and carried her with tenderest care into the next room, and to the pure white bed which had been made ready for her, the long net curtains parted, the coverlet turned down. He laid her there, as he had done many a night during that slow and monotonous journey towards the grave; but her gentle acknowledgment of his carefulness was wanting to-night.[Pg 328] Her head sank upon the pillow, her pale lips parted with a fluttering sigh, and all was still.
- "I can't help wishing I could be a Papist just for that one day," she said lightly. "An Anglican marriage seems so dry and cold compared with the pomps and splendours of Rome."
- "What's the meaning of this?" asked Disney.
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