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Josiah had been too much fatigued on his machinery hunt with Mr.
Clutterbuck R. Tubbs. They had lunched too richly, he said, and stood
about too long, and so all the Sunday he was peevish and fretful, and
required Theodora's constant attention. She must sit by his bedside all
the morning, and drive round and round all the afternoon.
He told her she was not looking well. These excursions did not suit
either of them, and he would be glad to get to England.
He asked a few questions about Versailles, and Theodora vouchsafed no
unnecessary information. Nor did she tell him of her father's
good-fortune. The widow had expressly asked her not to. She wished it to
appear in the New York _Herald_ first of all, she said. And they could
have a regular rejoicing at the banquet on Monday night.
"Men are all bad," she had told Theodora during their ante-dinner chat.
"Selfish brutes most of them; but nature has arranged that we happen to
want them, and it is not for me to go against nature. Your father is a
gentleman and he keeps me from yawning, and I have enough money to be
able to indulge that and whatever other caprices I may have acquired; so
I think we shall be happy. But a man in the abstract--don't amount to
much!" And Theodora had laughed, but now she wondered if ever she would
think it was true. Would Hector ever appear in the light of a caprice
she could afford, to keep her from yawning? Could she ever truly say,
"He don't amount to much!" Alas! he seemed now to amount to everything
in the world.
The unspeakable flatness of the day! The weariness! The sense of all
being finished! She did not even allow herself to speculate as to what
Hector was doing with himself. She must never let her thoughts turn that
way at all if she could help it. She must devote herself to Josiah and
to getting through the time. But something had gone out of her life
which could never come back, and also something had come in. She was
awake--she, too, had lived for one moment like in _Jean d'Agr�ve_--and
it seemed as if the whole world were changed.
Captain Fitzgerald did not appear all day, so the Sunday was composed
of unadulterated Josiah. But it was only when Theodora was alone at last
late at night, and had opened wide her windows and again looked out on
the moon, that a little cry of anguish escaped her, and she remembered
she would see Hector to-morrow at the dinner-party. See him casually, as
the rest of the guests, and this is how it would be forever--for ever
* * * * *
Lord Bracondale had passed what he termed a dog's day. He had gone
racing, and there had met, and been bitterly reproached by, Esclarmonde
de Chartres for his neglect.
_Qu'est-ce qu'il a eu pour toute une semaine?_
He had important business in England, he said, and was going off at
once; but she would find the bracelet she had wished for waiting for her
at her apartment, and so they parted friends.
He felt utterly revolted with all that part of his life.
He wanted nothing in the world but Theodora. Theodora to worship and
cherish and hold for his own. And each hour that came made all else seem
more empty and unmeaning.
Just before dinner he went into the widow's sitting-room. She was
alone, Marie had said in the passage--resting, she thought, but madame
would certainly see milord. She had given orders for him to be admitted
should he come.
"Now sit down near me, beau jeune homme," Mrs. McBride commanded from
the depths of her sofa, where she was reclining, arrayed in exquisite
billows of chiffon and lace. "I have been expecting you. It is not
because I have been indulging in a little sentiment myself that my eyes
are glued shut--you have a great deal to confess--and I hope we have not
done too much harm between us."
Hector wanted sympathy, and there was something in the widow's
directness which he felt would soothe him. He knew her good heart. He
could speak freely to her, too, without being troubled by an
over-delicacy of _mauvaise honte_, as he would have been with an
Englishwoman. It would not have seemed sacrilege to the widow to discuss
with him--who was a friend--the finest and most tender sentiments of her
own, or any one else's, heart. He drew up a _berg�re_ and kissed her
"I have been behaving like a damned scoundrel," he said.
"My gracious!" exclaimed Mrs. McBride, with a violent jerk into a
sitting position. "You don't say--"
Then, for the first time for many years, a deep scarlet blush overspread
Hector's face, even up to his forehead--as he realized how she had read
his speech--how most people of the world would have read it. He got up
from his chair and walked to the window.
"Oh, good God!" he said, "I don't mean that."
The widow fell back into her pillows with a sigh of relief.
"I mean I have deliberately tried to make her unhappy, and I have
succeeded--and myself, too."
"That is not so bad then," and she settled a cushion. "Because
unhappiness is only a thing for a time. You are crazy for the moon, and
you can't get it, and you grieve and curse for a little, and then a new
moon arises. What else?"
"Well, I want you to sympathize with me, and tell me what I had better
do. Shall I go back to England to-morrow morning, or stay for the
"You got as far, then, as telling each other you loved each other
madly--and are both suffering from broken hearts, after one week's
"Don't be so brutal!" pleaded Hector.
And she noticed that his face looked haggard and changed. So her shrewd,
kind eyes beamed upon him.
"Yes, I dare say it hurts; but having broken up your cake, you can't go
on eating it. Why, in Heaven's name, did you let affairs get to a
"Because I am mad," said Hector, and he stretched out his arms. "I
cannot tell you how much I love her. Haven't you seen for yourself what
a darling she is? Every dear word she speaks shows her beautiful soul,
and it all creeps right into my heart. I worship her as I might an
angel, but I want her in my arms."
Mrs. McBride knew the English. They were not emotional or _poseurs_ like
some other nations, and Hector Bracondale was essentially a man of the
world, and rather a whimsical cynic as well. So to see him thus moved
must mean great things. She was guilty, too, for helping to create the
situation. She must do what she could for him, she felt.
"You should pull yourself together, mon cher Bracondale," she said; "it
is not like you to be limp and undecided. You had better stay for the
party, and make yourself behave like a gentleman, and how you mean to
continue. We have passed the days when 'Oh no, we never mention him' is
the order, and 'never meeting,' and that sort of thing. You are bound to
meet unless you go into the wilds. And you must face it and try to
"I can never forget her," he said, in a deep voice; "but, as you say, I
must face it and do my best."
"You see," continued the widow, "the girl has only been married a year,
and her husband is the most unattractive human being you could find
along a sidewalk of miles; but he is her husband, anyway, and she may
Hector clinched his hands in a convulsive movement of anguish and rage.
"And you must realize all these possibilities, and settle a path for
yourself and stick to it."
"Oh, I couldn't bear that!" he said. "It would be better I should take
her away myself now, to-day."
"You will do no such thing!" said the widow, sternly, and she sat up
again. "You forget I am going to marry her father, and I shall look upon
her as my daughter and protect her from wolves--do you hear? And what is
more, she is too good and true to go with you. She has a backbone if
you haven't; and she'll see it her duty to stick to that lump of
middle-class meat she is bound to--and she'll do her best, if she
suffers to heart-break. It is she, the poor, little white dove, that you
and I have wounded between us, that I pity, not you--great, strong man!"
Mrs. McBride's eyes flashed.
"Oh, you are all the same, you Englishmen. Beasts to kill and women to
subjugate--the only aims in life!"
"Don't!" said Hector. "I am not the animal you think me. I worship
Theodora, and I would devote my life and its best aims to secure her
happiness and do her honor; but don't you see you have drawn a picture
that would drive any man mad--"
"I said you had to face the worst, and I calculate the worst for you
would be to see her with some little Browns along. My! How it makes you
wince! Well, face it then and be a man."
He sat for a moment, his head buried in his hands--then--
"I will," he said, "I will do what I can; but oh, when you have the
chance you will be good to her, won't you, dear friend?"
"There, there!" said the widow, and she patted his hand. "I had to
scold you, because I see you have got the attack very badly and only
strong measures are any good; but you know I am sorry for you both, and
feel dreadfully, because I helped you to it without enough thought as to
There was silence for a few minutes, and she continued to stroke his
"Dominic has run down to Dieppe to see those daughters of his," she
said, presently, "and won't be back to-night. I meant to be all alone
and meditate and go to bed early; but you can dine with me, if you wish,
up here, and we will talk everything over. Our plans for the future, I
mean, and what will be best to do; I kind of feel like your
mother-in-law, you know." Which sentence comforted him.
This woman was his friend, and so kind of heart, if sometimes a little
* * * * *
And late that night he wrote to Theodora.
"My darling," he began. "I must call you that even though I have no
right to. _My_ darling--I want to tell you these my thoughts to-night,
before I see you to-morrow as an ordinary guest at your dinner-party. I
want you to know how utterly I love you, and how I am going to do my
best with the rest of my life to show you how I honor you and revered
you as an angel, and something to live for and shape my aims to be
worthy of the recollection of that hour of bliss you granted me. Dearest
love, does it not give you joy--just a little--to remember those moments
of heaven? I do not regret anything, though I am all to blame, for I
knew from the beginning I loved you, and just where love would lead us.
But it was not until I saw the peep into your soul, when you never
reproached me, that I began to understand what a brute I had been--how
unworthy of you or your love. Darling, I don't ask you to try and forget
me--indeed, I implore you not to do so. I think and believe you are of
the nature which only loves once in a lifetime, and I am world-worn and
experienced enough to know I have never really loved before. How
passionately I do now I cannot put into words. So let us keep our love
sacred in our hearts, my darling, and the knowledge of it will comfort
and soothe the anguish of separation. Beloved one, I am always thinking
of you, and I want to tell you my vision of heaven would be to possess
you for my wife. My happiest dream will always be that you are there--at
Bracondale--queen of my home and my heart, darling. _My_ darling! But
however it may be, whether you decide to chase away every thought of me
or not, I want you to know I will go on worshipping you, and doing my
utmost to serve you with my life.--For ever and ever your devoted
And then he signed it "Hector," and not "Bracondale."
The widow had promised to give it into Theodora's own hand on the
He added a postscript:
"I want you to meet my mother and my sister in London. Will you let me
arrange it? I think you will like Anne. And oh, more than all I want you
to come to Bracondale. Write me your answer that I may have your words
to keep always."
* * * * *
Mrs. McBride came round in the morning to the private hotel in the
Avenue du Bois, to ask the exact time of the dinner-party, she said. She
wanted to see for herself how things were going. And the look in
Theodora's eyes grieved her.
"I am afraid it has gone rather deeply with her," she mused. "Now what
can I do?"
Theodora was unusually sweet and gentle, and talked brightly of how
glad she was for her father's happiness, and of their plans about
England; but all the time Jane McBride was conscious that the something
which had made her eyes those stars of gracious happiness was
changed--instead there was a deep pathos in them, and it made her
"I wish to goodness I had let well alone, and not tried to give her a
happy day," she said to herself.
Just before leaving, she slipped Hector's letter into Theodora's hand.
"Lord Bracondale asked me to give you this, my child," she said, and she
kissed her. "And if you will write the answer, will you post it to him
to the Ritz."
All over Theodora there rushed an emotion when she took the letter. Her
hands trembled, and she slipped it into the bodice of her dress. She
would not be able to read it yet. She was waiting, all ready dressed,
for Josiah to enter any moment, to take their usual walk in the Bois.
Then she wondered what would the widow think of her action, slipping it
into her dress--but it was done now, and too late to alter. And their
eyes met, and she understood that her future step-mother was wide awake
and knew a good many things. But the kind woman put her arm round her
and kissed her soft cheek.
"I want you to be my little daughter, Theodora," she said. "And if you
have a heartache, dear, why I have had them, too--and I'd like to
comfort you. There!"
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