Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

a

will be better off with you, Sinclair. You won't thrash her, and then blow your brains out.”

One man, when he heard the name Douglas, seemed struck, and a little puzzled.

“Douglas ! Douglas !” he said: “what do I know about someone of that name? There was a Douglas who bolted from his wife--or, perhaps, it was she who left him. I used to know the fellow—an awful cad, in spite of his good birth, but very handsome. Had a splendid voice, too. Would have made his fortune on any stage."

The husband of this Mrs. Douglas shot himself at M—, Sinclair replied.

“Ah, yes; shot himself. And she was with him, you say? Wonder how she ever got over it! I must be all wrong. But there are lots of people called Douglas. Well, I wish you joy, with all my heart."

And so a vague, half-forgotten scandal was revived and circulated about the woman whom Sinclair loved; but it never reached either her ears or his. The summer went quickly by, and August was spoken of as next month.

Fredericka was passionately fond of music, and Sinclair often took a box for her at Covent Garden. But he was very particular-prudish, some would have said—and when he was to spend an evening with her in public, he used to meet her at the door of the theatre or concert-room, and put her into her carriage again when the performance was over; but he never asked to be allowed to drive to Brook Street with her. Fredericka was at first somewhat surprised by such obsolete chivalry and respect. She had not been accustomed to receive either the one or the other from the men with whom she had associated since her marriage. Then it amused and rather provoked her; but finally she began to like it, and a feeling, which might one day blossom into real love, began to stir with faint life in her heart for the man who lavished upon her an affection ardent enough to satisfy the most exacting of women.

She had begun by being in love with the idea of his love for her; but, to tell the honest truth, she would have preferred more fervour, and less restrained emotion on his part. Warm demonstrations she could respond to or check as the whim seized her; the passion that found expression in tender thoughtfulness she was slow to understand. But, as time went on, she began to realise the peace that lives in silent love.

If only it had been lasting peace! When she was alone,

[ocr errors]

passionate bursts of grief swept over her, for which an unsuspicious nature such as his would have been puzzled to account. She regarded her own beauty with loathing, and she turned with repugnance from the innocent caresses of her little child.

One of the last nights of the operatic season, Sinclair had a box engaged for her at Covent Garden. He met her, as usual, when she left her carriage, and she had just taken his arm when a little girl of about nine years old darted forward, and presented a bouquet for sale.

Only a shilling, lady!” she said. * One shilling, for all those lovely flowers.”

Fredericka stopped to buy the flowers, and as she put the money into the child's hand, she started suddenly, and grew very pale; even her lips were white.

“You are ill," Sinclair whispered tenderly-no change upon the face he loved could pass unnoticed by him. *You would like to go home? I can get the carriage up again directly.”

“Oh! no, no; I am not ill,” she said nervously; “but that child's face reminded me of-of-someone I used to know. What is your name ?” she added, turning again to the girl, who was watching the little scene, and wondering why the pretty lady had turned so white and looked so scared.

“Helen, please, lady,” she answered, with a curtsey; and then Sinclair and his companion were obliged to move on.

With a great effort, Mrs. Douglas forced herself to throw off the sudden faintness which had seized upon her; but the soft, yet brilliant, colour never came back to her face during the evening, and while apparently absorbed in the music, it was but too evident that her thoughts were far away. Again Sinclair remembered the child whom he supposed she had lost, and, for once, forgetting his caution-or, rather, his fear of hurting herhe said

* You had a little girl yourself, Fredericka. Did that handsome child remind you of her ?”

She gave him a quick, almost an angry look, and there was a sudden rush of colour over her whole face.

“I!-a little girl ?” she said coldly. “You are dreaming, Edward. Have I ever spoken of a child except Harry ?”

“Never," he answered; "but I thought you had had another. I am sorry I pained you, dear. Do not think of it again."

When he put her into the carriage that night, he was strongly tempted to break through his hitherto invariable rule, and to accompany her home. But he hesitated, waiting to be asked ;

1

and, not knowing what was in his mind, she gave him her hand and said good-night, as usual.

As the carriage passed through one of the thoroughfares leading to Brook Street, Mrs. Douglas heard a man singing an Italian buffo song in a deep bass voice. She looked out, and saw, a little in advance of the carriage, the child from whom she had bought the flowers standing on the footpath beside a tall man, who had, in spite of the somewhat rollicking action with which he gave point to his song, the air and upright carriage of a soldier. His face was almost entirely hidden by a large beard.

The quickly-roving eyes of the child presently fell upon and recognised, in an instant, the lady she had seen at the operahouse; and, touching the arm of her companion, she hastily pointed out to him the carriage and its occupant. He stopped singing abruptly, and, as he did so, Mrs. Douglas, unseen by anyone, wrung her hands with a movement expressive of terror or anguish. The next moment she pulled the check-string sharply, and the carriage stopped.

The rapid action may be said to have been involuntary, and it was no sooner done than she wished it undone. Of course, it was in her power to tell the coachman to drive on again without delay; but, instead of doing so, she sat looking from the open window with the light of a street-lamp shining full upon her uncovered head. There were diamonds in her ears and upon her neck--Sinclair's gift.

The man and the girl came to the door of the carriage, and the face of the former was lighted up with an expression in which surprise and amusement mingled as his eyes fell on Mrs. Douglas; but if his face was known to her, she made not the slightest sign of recognition ; after one rapid glance she turned her head away, and without looking round again she hurriedly took some silver from her purse and put it in the girl's hand; then she called out sharply

“Home” to the footman, who sprang up to his seat again, secretly wondering at the vagaries of his mistress.

As the carriage was driven rapidly off the man caught the girl's hand in his. “ We must follow it,” he said, “if it were over half London.” But his stride soon proved too much for the child, and she stood in the street looking helplessly after him as long as he was in sight.

The next morning when Sinclair called in Brook Street a note was given to him from Fredericka; it simply contained an

a

[ocr errors]

intimation that she was not well enough to see him ; but, had he been in the way at a late hour that same evening, he might have seen her, closely veiled, and plainly dressed, getting into a cab which conveyed her eastward, and she did not return to Brook Street for several hours. The greater part of the night was then spent by her in looking over letters and papers, and the first post of the following morning brought Sinclair another note which told him that, as she felt the need of rest and quiet, she was going out of town for a week. The note ended with a playful P.S.: "I am not going to give you my address," it said, "for I know you would follow me, and I really and truly want to be quite alone for a few days; at the end of a week you may expect to hear from me again.”

And at the end of a week he heard again, and the letter that reached him signed Fredericka Douglas gave him a blow under which he staggered! It was the second he had received from her hand. The letter told him that he and the writer of it had met for the last time that he was not to try and find her—that she was altogether unworthy of his love, and that with all her heart she wished she had never promised to be his wife.

It was a very hard letter; poor Sinclair could not find in it any trace that Fredericka had felt pain in thus wounding and deserting him for the second time in her short life. Naturally ere long came the desire to know why she had thrown him over -why she was more unworthy now than she had been at the first moment of their meeting? What was the terrible secret ? The mocking sneer of Douglas at the hotel at M and the horrible reminiscence of the man at the Club about the Mrs. Douglas who had left her husband, came back to Sinclair's mind, and nearly drove him mad. Why had she not trusted him ? Was there anything which his great love could not have forgiven ? Yes, one thing there was; had she not been pure and good he might have pitied and forgiven, but love would have died a violent death, for the spell wrought by her beauty was strong as iron bands.

In spite of her cruel letter Sinclair made many efforts to find Fredericka; cautious efforts—for he was ever careful of her good name; an advertisement appeared in the Times which she would readily have understood, but, although he put it in every day for a fortnight, there was no reply. He did not call at her apartments in Brook Street, for he could not bear to let the mistress of the house know that he was ignorant of Fredericka's movements; but he walked past the house many times, cherishing a vague and utterly absurd hope that she might still be there, and that chance would bring them face to face.

Time passed on, and Sinclair's despondency grew more and more intense when the day which had been fixed for his marriage came and went, and Mrs. Douglas made no sign. At the end of September he left England, and spent weeks wandering about from one foreign town to another in the hope of finding her, but no face even resembling hers ever met his eager, wistful eyes ; he went to out-of-the-way little pensions in Switzerland upon the chance of finding her hiding, as it were, from him in one of them, but all in vain; and at the end of two years he came back to England, sad at heart, and wondering why he found it so hard to forget; tenacious, dog-like fidelity did not seem a very noticeable trait in the characters of the men and women whom he knew.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

The evening Mrs. Douglas drove eastward she gave the cabman an address in the, to her, unknown regions of Whitechapel, but she took no notice of the strange sights and sounds which met her eyes and ears during the latter part of her long drive. The cab drew up at last before the door of one of those dingy houses, which in such a locality as Peter Street, Whitechapel, are always let out in tenements. Fredericka left the cab, and told the man to wait for her; then, as she was looking about her as though in search of someone from whom to ask her way, the little girl she had met at Covent Garden came out of an entry close by, and said,

“Come with me, lady; he's upstairs expecting you."

Fredericka's face grew first crimson and then pallid when the child spoke; but without a word she followed her up the dark staircase and into a front room on the third floor; it was a shabby place, but not actually sordid or dirty. Lounging on two chairs, with a cigar between his lips and a glass of brandyand-water on a table beside him, was the man who had been singing in the street the night before ; he was dressed in the old and much-worn braided undress-coat of a cavalry officer, and on his head was jauntily set a smoking-cap of faded velvet. The moment Fredericka appeared he rose, threw down his cigar, and took off his cap; but the acts of courtesy seemed more the result of habit, prompted by innate good breeding, than indications of respeet for his visitor.

“You see I have come," she said shortly; and she avoided looking at the man, just as she had done the night before.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »