Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/The silver cord - Part 42

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THE SILVER CORD.

BY SHIRLEY BROOKS.



CHAPTER XCIV.

While Laura was in the close embrace of her children, her husband silently left the room, casting upon the loving group an earnest glance which did not escape the vigilant eye of Beatrice.

He made a sign to Charles Hawkesley to follow him. But it was Beatrice who came out and closed the door.

“Come with me,” she said to Arthur.

He followed her to the drawing-room.

“You wish to speak to Charles,” she said, “but it is far better that you should speak to me, Arthur. Already there is coldness between you and him, and you are both falling back upon your pride and dignity, and five minutes more may separate you for life. You cannot quarrel with me, Arthur, and you cannot offend me. Speak to me.”

“I had but little to say to him, Beatrice, and that little was simply matter of business. But I will write.”

“Write! About what?”

“About future arrangements.”

“Arrangements. What is a man’s nature? He has still in his eyes the image of his children clinging round the neck of their mother, who is crying out her poor heart between happiness, and doubt, and misery, and he walks from the room and talks of arrangements. Do you ever love us, Arthur? Do you know what it is to love us?”

“Let me write to Charles, Beatrice,” said Lygon, in a troubled voice, “and let me go.”

“I will not try to stop you. If what you have just seen cannot do that, my words will be of little avail. Yes, dear Arthur, tell me that you called Charles to bid him draw the children away, and send her in here to you, for one moment, for one moment. O, Arthur, make us happy, make her happy, and God bless you for ever.”

“There is no happiness but in truth and trust,” said Arthur Lygon. “Sobs and tears are but hollow substitutes for those. When the sobs are hushed and the tears are dry, then begins again the doubt and the hypocrisy. I will not doom myself to such a life. Farewell, Beatrice, it may be long before we meet again, but be sure that I shall never forget your affection. Farewell.”

She detained him by the hand he had placed in hers.

“It is so. Yourself,” she said, almost bitterly. “You think of no one but yourself. This selfishness is fearful—yes, and it is contemptible, too.”

“Beatrice!”

“I tell you that you cannot quarrel with me. I can stand before you and charge you with contemptible cowardice, and you cannot strike me—you cannot even insult me in return. Yes, I have the advantage, and I use it. Arthur, the time of your own trial has come, and you prove unworthy. Poor Laura!”

“I can only be silent, Beatrice, and leave you.”

“Your tongue may be silent, but your heart, such as it is, owns that I am speaking the truth. And when you have gone away, and the flush of anger is over, you will accuse yourself in the very words I have spoken. Do not forget them, Arthur. I have said that you are a coward.”

“I will forget all, except that a sister made a last and desperate effort on behalf of her sister—to preserve that sister in her position in the world.”

“Arthur,” exclaimed Beatrice, passionately, “such bitter words were on my lips—they shall not be spoken—no, thank God, I have mastered myself—there. But you are very wicked.”

“Be it so, and let me go.”

“Her position in the world! There is one position in this world, and but one for which Laura cares, and for which at this moment she would joyfully give twenty years of a life that ought to be too happy for her willingly to shorten it. That, and all the world could offer, she would give to find her head on your breast, and to hear you whisper her name. You know it, you are owning it to your God at this moment, and you are too cowardly to open that door, and with one word bring a happy creature to your arms.”

“Why do you harp on the most offensive word you can find?” said Arthur, angrily.

“Because it is the truest. Even while you speak you are proving it. You are striving to close your heart against me, and fastening on that word.”

“Cowardly!” repeated Arthur, slowly.

“Yes. You are afraid of yourself. You, who have been proud, and have had a right to be proud of your calm, silent courage, who have shown yourself too really brave to be foolishly impetuous, who have faced the troubles and trials of years, and have conquered them all, you are now afraid of yourself, and of your own thoughts. I read your heart, Arthur, as if it were my own, and I almost hate you for a meanness that will send Laura to her grave.”

“I must not answer you.”

“O, if you could, we should all be so happy! But you cannot.”

“In part you are right, Beatrice, and it is painful to me to own that you are right, because that accuses one of whom I wish to speak only with kindness. I see my course before me; I have convinced myself that it is just, and I should indeed feel ashamed hereafter, if my conscience could tell me that I weakly gave way. That is cowardice of which I own I am guilty.”

“What weak, miserable, stilted words! and yet they are the right ones, Arthur, for uttering a miserable pretence. If we are never to meet again, do not let us part with a falsehood between us—a cruel, shallow falsehood.”

You have heard none.”

“Do not say so. Dear Arthur, you talk of justice; be just to yourself, and to us all. It is of no such mocking folly that you are afraid. It is of your own nature. You are proud, sensitive, and you have learned to be suspicious—there, do not speak—I know what you would answer to that word.”

“That the lesson has been wantonly forced on me,” said Arthur, sternly. “It was none of my seeking—suspicion was no part of the nature which you describe so vindictively, Beatrice. Ask Laura. Her goings-out and her comings in were uncontrolled by me; her friends, her letters, her secrets were her own. I had made her my wife, and in that word was absolute, unquestioning faith. Suddenly a whole history of treachery is thrust before my eyes, and that image, Beatrice, will outlive all others.”

“Yes, you speak the truth, now,” said Beatrice, sadly.

“And what are you asking, or what is she stooping to ask through you? That a husband who loved her better than life, and believed her worthy of his love, and who can say, as if he were speaking his last words, that never for one waking hour of their married life was she absent from his mind, and who never let a day pass without some act, it might be a trifle, it might be more, for her comfort, or her amusement—you are asking that this husband, alienated by her own deceit, shall affect to receive her home as he would have welcomed her from some holiday, and shall pretend to re-people his home and his heart with all the loving thoughts of old days, with all that she swept remorselessly away in an endeavour to conceal her treachery. This Beatrice Hawkesley stoops to ask of me, that her sister may continue to live in her husband’s house, and go out into the world under the protection of his name. You scoff at a man’s pride, Beatrice, but what is a woman’s?”

“Her love, which, Arthur, you have never comprehended—and which, I judge from your words, you never will comprehend. For the sake of that deep, true love of Laura’s, I can bear with your language, wounding as it is, and as it is intended to be. Yes, we stoop to ask what you have said we ask. We accept this at your hands, and not sullenly, Arthur, but with humble gratitude, and we will wait for the day when you shall thank those who accepted your grudged and contemptuous pity. Even on those terms, Arthur, and with such low thoughts on your part of the motives that lead us, I beg you to receive back my sister to your home.”

“I scarcely believe that I hear the voice of Beatrice Hawkesley,” said Arthur, speaking low.

“No,” said Beatrice, “you hear the voice of your wife. I speak at her bidding, and, if you will, believe her at your knees asking what I have asked in her name.”

“Beatrice, the time is too solemn for trifling. I have known you as a high-minded and truthful woman. I hold your husband responsible for the truth of what you say to me.”

“He will accept the responsibility.”

“And if I ask you, in the name of all that you hold sacred—”

“In the most sacred name of all, if you will.”

“If I ask you whether this appeal is made to me at Laura’s prayer—whether she desires, without one more word of the past, to return to my house and resume her place there—you hear me, without one word of the past,—if I ask you that, Beatrice?”

“I answer you, Yes.”

“Remember what I have said—remember it now and for ever, Beatrice.”

“Until you bid me forget it.”

“I hear,” said Arthur, in an agitated voice, “what, an hour ago, no earthly persuasion could have made me believe would have been uttered by living lips.”

“And there has been a time, this very day, Arthur, when I believed it as impossible. But you have heard me, and you grant the prayer that I have made?”

The voice of Beatrice seemed forced and unmusical, and he looked earnestly at her.

“If I judge rightly, Beatrice, it was not counsel of yours that has impelled my wife to take this course.”

“Of mine? No,” she answered, slowly. “It was no counsel of mine. I love my husband, dearly, deeply, with all my heart and soul. Perhaps I am wicked to speak of the possibility of an hour that could part us—there is but one, I bless God when I say it, that ever can. But if such an hour had come, I dare not say that, deep and true as is my love for him—well, I might have strength given me for such a trial—but I will not now say that what I have been bidden to ask for Laura I would ask for myself.”

“You would not?”

“I dare not say that I would.”

“Beatrice, in my turn, let me say that I dare not ask what this abjectness of submission means.”

“Means?” repeated Beatrice, piteously.

“Yes, the question comes to me with fearful promptness——

Beatrice Hawkesley uttered a cry—almost a wild cry—and her hand was upon his lips.

“In the name of God! for the love of your children, wicked, foolish man, be silent! Down with all thoughts but one! Oh, Arthur! down with all devilish thoughts, and pray, pray for the power to understand something of a woman’s love. She flings herself before you, she prays you to take her home—she, Laura, the proudest of us all—she begs you to forgive her, and with that head bending before you, and that proud heart stooping for pardon, are you so miserable—Oh, Arthur, it is not, it cannot be so!—are you so unhappy as to be unconvinced of her love? Does the God that gave such a woman to your heart deny you the power of knowing how you are blessed?”

Beatrice’s tears came to her relief; but, as she leant upon the arm of Arthur, he felt that her agitation was fearful.

“What am I to say?” he uttered, mechanically.

“Say?” answered Beatrice, in a voice choking with sobs. “Call her!

“Either I am mad,” said Arthur, wildly, “or God has kept such a blessing for me as I have never deserved. Which is it, Beatrice?” he exclaimed, passionately, imperatively, as if the decision were with the agitated woman who looked up to him with a glowing face, stained with tears.

“Go to her,” sobbed Beatrice.

“I will!” he answered.

He turned to the door.

“No, let her come to you.”

At least he thought he heard some such words; but there was a woman’s voice, and a figure hastily crossing the room, and something of a struggle, as of a wife who sought to kneel, but was indignantly caught up to a husband’s bosom, and held strongly there, and all that could be borne in the way of pardon given in a kiss, and that kiss forgotten in a long embrace of love.

He would never have remembered that any such words had come to him, but she murmured a word or two—how long afterwards he knew not, but they were alone in that drawing-room.

“I want to speak—darling—one word—I will speak.”

“Not now.”

“Yes, now, and never again. Will you ever think me proud any more?”

“Yes.”

“Not when I tell you that I was listening at the door. Oh! if you had—”

But the sentence was never finished.

As for Beatrice, she again behaved that night in a way so unworthy of a dignified British matron that I do not altogether like to set down the particulars. The only sort of excuse that can be offered for her is, that all the rest of the party seemed to be almost equally unmindful of the proprieties of life. I pass over the excitement of the children, which was shared, to a certain extent, by their cousins, and the merciful removal of all those household blessings, after various ineffectual attempts, and the restoration of quiet in the apartment in which the Hawkesleys and the Lygons were assembled. That Arthur Lygon should say little was natural, and that Laura, having seated herself upon a footstool beside his knee, should content herself with holding his hand, and studying her wedding-ring (which seemed to have some strange attraction for her eyes, and yet it was but a common guinea affair too), and taking very little notice of anybody, was perhaps also pardonable enough. Charles Hawkesley seemed impressed with the idea that a great deal was expected from him, and that it fell upon him to maintain the conversation of the evening, and with the best possible intentions he started topic upon topic, delivered a speech upon each, and when he had fairly worn it out, took another, and acquitted himself upon that with equal fluency and equal failure to produce the slightest response. He also acted on the same principle in regard to his hospitalities, and brought out bottle after bottle of wine, of all kinds, poured out glasses thereof, and set them before the others. Nobody tasted any, but this did not discourage Hawkesley, who continued to talk and to bring out wine as if he were actuated by some concealed machinery of a hospitable character, and had been set going for the good of society. But Mrs. Hawkesley made herself perfectly ridiculous. How many times she kissed Laura’s forehead, in a straightforward way, and how many times she took advantage of her sister’s position to come behind her, and hold her head, or touch her shoulders, or give some similar intimation of satisfaction, I cannot say. This might be forgiven, as also might her standing before Arthur and contemplating him kindly, and then walking right away to her husband, and kissing him in the very middle of a speech about Mr. Gladstone’s financial scheme, or the National Gallery, or something that neither he nor any of his audience just then cared one farthing about. But why she should have disappeared, after a time, without assigning a cause, and then should have made her re-appearance, at intervals, each time bringing down either her own baby, in its night-clothes, or Walter, in the garb of a débardeur, or Clara in some hastily assumed garment, and slippers, but no stockings, or Freddy, in extreme déshabillé (it was hard work to get him away, and he had to be bribed with wine), and then varying the performance by calmly bringing in her own baby again, as if nothing had happened, she has never been able to explain, and Charles Hawkesley teases her to this day upon her perseverance, that night, in rehearsing a sort of private Resurrection of the Nuns by instalments. But nobody seemed surprised, and Laura and Arthur, each holding a hand of any child presented to them, would have held it, I believe, until morning, if Hawkesley had not occasionally taken it away, to make room, as he said, for more novelties which were then getting up.

There had been another watcher that evening, another listener at doors, but one who had watched and listened for another purpose than that of reconciliation.

Irritable, impatient, impenitent Bertha had with difficulty endured the solitude of that day. There had been little thought for her, beyond the kindly orders which Mrs. Hawkesley had given for her comfort, and while the incidents that have been last recorded were passing, she had been left entirely alone. Speedily discovering that there was some unusual excitement in the house, Bertha had hastily dressed, and with half opened door had sought to discover the meaning of what was going on below. By dint of listening and of spying, and from hearing the joyous cries and conversation of the children, she soon found out something of the state of affairs, and learned that Laura had arrived, and was with her husband. Something Bertha contrived to hear of the interview between Beatrice and Lygon, and when she had watched the former leaving the drawing-room, Mrs. Urquhart stole down, and took the place at the door where Laura had stood trembling between a last hope and a last despair. Bertha made out that a reconciliation had been effected, and she ground her teeth in impotent anger. All was to be forgotten and forgiven between Arthur and his wife, but what would be Bertha’s place in the household circle? Would there be any place at all for her whose sin had brought wretchedness to the English home, death to the home in France? Or was she to be mercifully treated, to be placed away in obscurity, to be provided for by charity, and to be preached into the pretence of repentance? Her state of mind and of health forbad her enduring the idea with ordinary patience, and with a flushed cheek and clenched hands she hurried back to her apartment.

“They are all too good for me,” she repeated, as she made some hasty preparations for departure.

Mrs. Hawkesley’s bed-room door stood open. Bertha glided into the room, and took a purse that lay upon the toilette table. Then, she came softly down stairs, stealing from landing to landing, watching lest she should be intercepted. But at that moment a new-found happiness engrossed those who might have stayed her. She reached the hall, again listened, and heard Charles Hawkesley’s voice, and laugh of excitement. In another minute she had departed, to return to that house no more.

 

CHAPTER XCV.

Not that night, but the next day—not in that house, but away in the stillness of a lovely scene of green and shadow, Arthur Lygon and his wife sat for hours, and spoke of the events that had parted them. They had scarcely said, but had strongly felt that such a confidence should precede their return home, and they had almost instinctively chosen a retreat in which, in the earlier days of their wedded life merry hours had been passed, as also happier hours of quiet, of almost silent love. It was in a deep shade, and under the aged beeches where, as was long ago told, Beatrice Hawkesley had planned a joyous day, fated to be postponed until many sorrows should have been borne by her and by those dearest to her, that Laura and Arthur sat, too intensely happy to care much for the pleasant things around them, yet conscious that all was in accord with the music of their own hearts.

Long was the tale she had to tell him, as he lay at her feet—lay where his look was not directly upon her face, yet where the slightest turn of his head brought his eyes upon hers, and where, with a touch of his hand, he could tell her, needlessly now, that he accepted all her words with the faith of a child.

But that Laura began with the beginning, or ended with the end, or told her story as a stranger would have told it to strangers, is more than may be said. Nor might a stranger follow it with the eager affection of him who listened, and who found in a half-uttered word, or in a moment's pause, that which brought his hand to the hand of Laura. But this is something of what she had to tell him under the beeches.

When Laura and her sister, Bertha, were pupils at the school at Lipthwaite, Ernest Adair, or as he was then called, Ernest Hardwick, had recently been engaged as one of the masters. He had resided some time in the town, and had been strongly recommended to Mrs. Spagley, Laura knew not by whom; but the fact was that Marion  Wagstaffe, afterwards Mrs. Berry, had procured credentials for the young Anglo-Frenchman from some eminently Protestant friends in London. Acting under her counsels—and why these were so ready, and why so much aid of other kinds was afforded by her, needs not to be told to those who know the rest—Hardwick had gained the good opinion of her Evangelical friends by a device, not then so ordinary as it has since become, and one by which many an admirable and conscientious English woman has been deceived, and has deserved no reproach for her error. It is only those who know the intense conviction held by thousands, that the creed of Rome is the way to hell, who can fairly appreciate the eager zeal with which such believers welcome a Catholic who appears open to an effort for his conversion. Even now, when foreign adventurers have worked this mine until one would think its last lode was exhausted, we occasionally find a profligate and plebeian scoundrel, to whom no vice is unknown, succeeding, by dint of lying avowal that he is dissatisfied with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and desirous of a more “vital” faith, in obtaining access to the homes of England, and in securing a favouritism which would be far more cautiously extended to a Englishman of social position. The police of France and England can tell strange tales of many who have sat, and even yet sit “at good men’s feasts.” But at the time in question, the game was not so often or so vulgarly played, and it is not to be imputed as a heavy fault to those who, prepared by Miss Wagstaffe’s representations, received the handsome, thoughtful, and interesting young doubter, Ernest Hardwick, and, touched by his candour and zeal for truth, became the Aquilas and Priscillas to the convert, but aided him to procure such employment as should render him independant of the tyrannical priests, to whom he described himself as an unwilling slave. He came to Mrs. Spagley’s with testimonials which brought the tears into the eyes of that well-meaning custodian of so many future wives and mothers.

But he did not come alone. With him came a companion, a Frenchman, younger than himself, who had been his victim in Paris, at a time when Henri Amyot was dissipating a handsome inheritance in the ordinary courses of a young gentleman’s ruin. It was Hardwick who, while plundering his friend, did him the deeper wrong of demoralising him, and of converting a careless, self-indulgent, but not very profligate boy into a premature debauchee, and, finally, into a criminal who had placed himself within reach of the law. When Amyot’s means were gone, and he was in a position of danger that rendered him useless to Ernest, the latter would have discarded Henri, and left him to his fate. But they were not to part company so easily, for the pupil had learned something from his master, enough to make Henri a most inconvenient enemy. Later in life, Adair, as he subsequently called himself, might have disposed of this difficulty in some bold fashion of his own. But he was then young and had not entirely divested himself of the natural affections. They had been friends before they were fellow-criminals, and there was something in the gentle and confiding character of Henri Amyot,—something in the almost childlike trust which he at first reposed in Adair,—which made Ernest reluctant to abandon to utter ruin the lad whom he had so deeply injured. Through all Amyot’s vice there was a sentiment, lacking to Adair’s, and even when Amyot was revelling in the wildest excesses, he managed to tinge them with a touch of romance, which, if it did not render them less hateful, might have excused some slight pity for the fanciful and impassioned Henri. Let it have been the tie which is so often formed by the conviction of superiority, or let it have been any temporary sensation of remorse, there was something that forbad Adair to cast away his weak and gentle associate into the abyss, and though he but withdrew Henri from one atmosphere of guilt to steep him in another, Ernest permitted his friend to cling to him, and the image of that fair young face, with its deep blue eyes and pensive expression, was perhaps the least depraved of the images which set out the temple of Adair’s ungodly worship.

He brought Henri to England with him, and what such friendship as Adair’s could do for him was done. Its best effort was but to give Amyot chances similar to those which Adair worked so well. But Amyot was indolent by constitution, and his nature, libertine as he was, recoiled from many a scheme which his master set before him. Henri, though he dared not avow it to the scoffing Adair, had a dream of extricating himself from the slough, and of uniting himself to some exquisitely good and beautiful English girl, of fortune and of piety, who might enable him to pass the rest of his life in an extreme of luxury, but a luxury elevated into poetry, and refined by purity. It was a modest aspiration for the pupil of Ernest Adair, but it was genuine. And when Amyot was established in England, where vicious indulgence was not only not forced upon him, but was scarcely attainable, his purpose strengthened. Poor boy, he took the best course that he knew. He made a vow of virtue, and he addressed himself to the study of religion—such religion as stealthily read books of Catholic theology taught, and which he adapted and improved to suit his own tastes by an admixture of a poetry which would have scandalised the authors of his manuals. At this time he enjoyed the only happiness of his brief and wasted life.

For, at this time, when his heart was softened, and even improved by his religious ponderings, and by his withdrawal from the debasing associations of other days, he was introduced, through Adair’s means, to Laura Vernon.

The beautiful girl, just emerging into womanhood, and though happy, restless, too, from the sense that her happiness has yet to be complete and defined, was nearly the ideal of Amyot’s dream of an English maiden. Her heart, her person, her sweetness of disposition, her gentle yet sensitive nature were all that he could wish, and he believed that his religious efforts had found favour, and that his destiny was to be happy. Ardent and trustful, he at once accepted the representations of Adair that the father of Laura was a man of boundless wealth, which he was hoarding for his children, and poor Henri yielded himself at once to the only pure passion of his prematurely squandered life.

It was the first time in her life that Laura Vernon had felt her heart awakened, nor was it strange that the young and graceful Frenchman, with his deep blue eyes, pensive smile, and mingled religion and poesy should at once fascinate the carelessly educated girl. We have passed the stage of our story when it could be interesting to dwell on the progress he made in her affections, on the dreamlight with which she—she, at the age of dreams—invested the stranger, and how, with the alchemy of love, she found in her own disadvantages new reasons for loving him. When Henri turned his deep eyes upon her, and in that sweet voice told her of his religious doubts and fears, and exulted in urging upon her that her love had been vouchsafed as his reward, adding—we may be sure he did not forget them—all the more earthly and passionate pleadings of a lover who knows a shorter way to woman’s heart—Laura, at seventeen, felt that her time had come, and surrendered her heart, not to Henri Amyot, the worn libertine, but to an ideal of passion and of faith.

In that attitude of cloud-worship were written those letters of which we have heard so much, and many, many more, which Ernest Adair destroyed. He destroyed them, when it came to his turn to read them for a fiendish purpose, and he did so because they were too pure, too holy, to be blended into the foulness which he intermixed. There were but a few of Laura’s letters that, by accident, did not on their very faces refute the vileness which Adair and his accomplice sought to fix upon them—of these we have seen the fatal use.

Laura had loved Henri. Nor, as she sat under those beeches, did she seek by word or by tone to deny that it had been so.

The rest is soon told.

Henri Amyot died, and Adair killed him. Not with his hand, nor by violence, and yet at a blow.

With what base intent Adair had made his way to the weak and foolish heart of Laura’s sister, what shame followed, and what vile use he made of his power over the girl, to renew the exercise of that power when the girl became a wife, is already known. At first he concealed his treachery from Henri, and encouraged him in the belief that he was on a road of flowers, and on his way to fortune and happiness. It was not until the two young hearts had been knit, until each believed in the happy destiny before it, that Ernest Adair struck his blow. And then it was given almost by chance.

Maddened at the failure of some scheme for raising money, and further stung by the unexpected and firm refusal of Henri Amyot to join him in a plan of fraud, Ernest Adair, as one day the friends were standing on the hill overlooking Lipthwaite, broke out in a torrent of vindictive insult, and met the expostulations of Amyot by a brutal revelation which told all. Mr. Vernon was a beggar, and Laura was the sister of a wanton. He had perhaps added some word—some scoff—against Laura herself, but he looked in the face of Henri Amyot and he dared not.

He heard one curse—one of those utterances in which agony exhausts itself with a single effort—and then he had to raise the body of Henri Amyot from that hill-side, and to strive to staunch the blood that welled from the mouth. The earlier life of Henri had done its fatal work, and this one fierce blow was all that was needed. He did not die in Lipthwaite. Adair, in obedience to the only words Henri could speak, the only words he ever spoke again, removed him without farewell to a town at some distance, and in two days more chose his grave.

So broke that dream of Laura’s girlhood. Heaven is kinder to our young children than to permit such grief to be durable, and with womanhood came the graver sense of the meaning of life. But that girl-love and its rapid ending made their mark on the character of Laura, and the portrait that hangs on Lygon’s wall, and that speaks of troubles and of suffering, tells, though the painter knew it not—the husband knows it now—something that it had not told but for Henri Amyot. And that rosary of golden beads—you know now whence they came, and Arthur Lygon knows it too.

“And I will ask, darling, and yet I know the answer—why this was all kept from me. No, you shall not say. I did not deserve to be told.”

“My own Arthur—I dared not.”

“Dared not?”

“I thought I knew your nature, Arthur, and I loved you too well to risk the happiness of being your wife. I had heard you speak of first loves, and you had declared that no woman loved twice. This was before we married, and I kept a secret which I never dared to tell afterwards. Oh, when you have praised my courage, and I knew that I was a wicked coward—”

“You shall not say it.”

“But you know me now—you know me your own, heart and soul. Is it not so, my own?”

“My wife!”

“Yes. That is all I ask to hear. God bless you!”

“Does He not?”

And will they live happy ever afterwards? That is not for me to say, for, save one dark chapter, I have finished the story of the breaking and the re uniting the Silver Cord.