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seemed so noble and so pure! And even Lady Flanders had just teen telling me that it was all nonsense--my imagination.”
"Lady Flanders ?"
“I met her in the street an hour ago. She said my suspicions were an outrage on the truest and purest woman alive ; but that I deserved to suffer the misfortune I imagined, and that if she were Marion, she would give me my deserts. And when I told her what I knew, she laughed, and said she knew all that and much more, and that Marion was as irnocent as an angel in spite of it. I didn't know what to think : but I came home, ready to kneel down and ask her pardon, if it were true. But she had taken her opportunity, and gone."
This story was a surprise for Perdita, and she could not understand it. It seemed entirely improbable that Lady Flanders could have been sincere in what she had said ; but, then, what could have been her object in saying it? Was she secretly aiding Moore in his schemes ? That was conceivable, and her ladyship was quite wicked enough : and yet it was not a characteristic kind of wickedness in her. Moreover, what help would it give the fugitive couple to make Philip believe for a few minutes that his wife was innocent ? On the other hand, however, what interest could she have had in making a woman appear innocent of whose guilt she was persuaded ? It was perplexing either way, and caused Perdita some uneasiness : she regretted having spoken to the old plotter even so frankly as she had done. But she would get to the bottom of that matter later: Philip engaged her attention now. The crisis of his trouble had come on much sooner than she expected, and she was inclined to share (though with a different feeling) his amazement at his wife's action. Perdita felt that she had undervalued Marion's audacity and resolution, not to speak of her unscrupulousness. She had been startled to see her at Vauxhall ; but this sudden culmination of the intrigue showed a spirit stronger and more thoroughgoing than that of the ordinary intriguer.
“And to think of her doing it for a dapper little tomtit like Tom Moore !” said the Marquise to herself. “Well! 'tisn't he I would have done it for !” Here she glanced at Philip, who sat relaxed and nerveless, his chin resting upon his broad chest, his great eyes, haggard and sad, gazing out beneath the dark level of his brows; his noble figure, revealed beneath the close-buttoned coat and smallclothes, sunk in a posture of unconscious grace ; his hessians stained with the mire of the weary miles he had traversed : here was a man to whom, indeed, a woman might yield her heart, and for
whose sake she might imperil her renown. But what woman in her senses---especially when they were senses so keen as Marion's appeared to be—would abandon such a man as this for ..? It roused the Marquise's indignation.
“She has gone, then, Philip: let her go !” she said, fixing upon him her sparkling eyes. “I can forgive a woman for anything but being a fool! I am a woman, and I know-or can imagine—what it is to love. But she has thrown herself away for nothing. What you loved was something that never was in her, though you fancied otherwise. You can forget her : and you will! What is she to you?”
“ I won't forget her yet!” Philip said, lifting his face with a grim look. “I'll find her first,” he continued, suddenly rising to his feet, and tossing back his black tangled hair, "and the man who is with her! I need occupation, and that will suit me.”
“I believe in revenge as much as anybody," observed the beautiful Marquise, tapping her white fingers on the arm of her chair ; "but what you are thinking of is vulgar. Any poor forsaken husband can run after his wife, and risk losing his life as well as her. There are finer things to do than that, Philip. Why should you pay them the compliment of hunting them down? Let them punish each other : they'll do it soon enough, and more cruelly than you would !"
!" “I want the fellow's blood,” said Fhilip, savagely. “I won't fight him—I'll kill him. I don't want finer kinds of revenge: they wouldn't satisfy what I feel here!” As he spoke he put his clenched hand over his heart.
“ And after the killing--what? Suicide, to prevent hanging. It mustn't be, Philip. Feel that you are well rid of her ; and let her know it!”
He shook his head. “How could that be done?”
Perdita waited until his eyes encountered hers. It would be no slight feat to make a man in Philip's condition forget his disgrace and wretchedness by dint of the sheer potency of her personal charm. But Perdita's spirit was equal to the attempt, and she was conscious that she had never been better equipped for success. And if she did succeed so far, she might safely leave the rest to him. It was a crisis for herself as well as for bim. The craving for adventure, the defiance of laws, the passion of the heart, which she had been all her lise approaching, might be realised now : if not now, then not at all. Perdita had a powerful heart, full of courage for any emergency, and with capacity for trenchant emotion both of love and hate. She had been lonely and self-poised from her girlhood ; she had fenced herself with the armour of an alert and penetrating mind, and had
made good her defence ; but, to a woman, victories like these are little better than defeat. She had fought to gain that which she would rather lose. She longed to yield; to give up her sword and shield, and taste the sweetness of submission. The laws of God and man were against her, but she perceived that it was only by disregarding these laws that she could gain her desire ; and she had never been taught to love the one or to respect the other. She had wished to conquer Philip; to bring him to her feet, as she bad brought other men, and then to draw back, herself uncompromised and unhurt. But now she found that no such cold triumph would content her. She was ready to take the further step that separates the thousand prudent coquettes of the social world from the few who are daring enough to surrender. All would be lost but love : but was not that worth all ?
These thoughts were stirring in the depths of the look which she bent upon Philip ; and the fire of them searched through the thick clouds of despondency and wrath that brooded over his mind. An answering fire began to kindle in his own eyes. For when the fierce emotions of the soul have been aroused, their sinister heat permeates the blood, and makes the impulses plastic; so that adultery goes hand-in-hand with murder.
“There is more than one woman in the world, mon ami,” said Perdita. " What you have lost by one, you might perhaps more than regain by another."
“Ah, Perdita !” muttered Philip, in an inward tone. He drew two or three deep breaths, and sat down beside her. “ Was this destined to be the end of the story ?” he continued. we not know it long ago ? Shall we revenge each other on those who have injured us?” He took her hand, which responded to the
? pressure he gave it. “So this is what was destined !” he repeated, "and I was a fool to leave you after all !”
“We were neither of us ready then, perhaps," she said, in the same low tone in which he had spoken. Speech came slowly to both of them, there was so much to say. “You gave me a scar which I vowed to requite you for,” she added with a smile.
“The seal of blood upon our union,” he responded, smiling also. “I have bled too. How well I remember all that. It was symbolic. You challenged me to it, and handed me the swords, to make my choice. In the second pass my foot slipped, and my point touched your breast. You seemed not to try to parry.”
“ If it had passed through my heart, I shouldn't have minded then.” "Were you so unhappy ?”
“I was weary.
But new life came to me with that wound. You were very tender . . . . and very timid !” she said, laughing. “Was I the first woman whose heart you had endangered ?”
Well, I had my scruples. Your husband was my friend. I'm not sorry that I did so now. I should have felt remorse. But that is all past. No remorse any more! No one can blame us, Perdita. When did you begin to .... think of me? ”
“I have never asked my heart many questions, nor let myself listen when it tried to speak. Perhaps I never cared for you until this moment. But I wanted you to care for me from the first. It seems so strange, Philip, to be talking to you without a disguise. I don't believe I have ever done that to any one. I wonder how soon I shall get used to it ! ”
“ You will forget that it was strange soon.”
“ God forbid that should ever happen !” exclaimed Philip with a sombre look.
“Yes; one cannot expect to succeed in this sort of experiment more than once," returned Perdita, with a smile. “ We should have to try another fencing match then, and you would have to push your rapier a little further.” After a pause she continued, “ Were you really in love with your wife, Philip?"
“We must not speak about that.”
“ There must be no closed subjects between us, sir!” she said, listing her finger playfully. “We don't belong to society any more, remember ; we have nothing but each other to comfort ourselves with. There is no intimacy like this intimacy, Philip. A husband and wife represent the world; but we- —what do we represent ? "
“Then let us make a new beginning here, and build a wall between us and the past. We are no longer what we have been : why should we recall the deeds and thoughts of persons who were not what we are ?"
“We have only one thing to be afraid of,” said the Marquise, looking at him thoughtfully, “and that is fear! Unless you can take your courage in your hands, mon ami, the time will come when you will need it, and find it wanting. It is best to think of these things while there is yet time. If you fear Marion, or your memories of her, do not come near me! I cannot help you there. In all else I would be as true as steel to you. But you must be true to me. The worldly honour that we abandon must make our honour toward each other doubly strong."
Again Philip rose suddenly to his feet : but instead of standing
in one place he began to pace up and down the room. Perdita, after watching him keenly for a few moments, leaned back in her chair and remained quite without movement, save that the changing glitter of the necklace on her bosom showed that she breathed. Almost any other woman would have betrayed signs of nervousness or agitation under such circumstances; but there was in Perdita, notwithstanding her subtlety and superficial fickleness, a certain strong elemental simplicity of character, that enabled her, after entering upon a given course, to pursue it with as much steadiness and singleness of purpose as if no other course were possible. She was one of those who can sleep soundly on the eve of execution, or play their last stake and lose it with a smile. And now, when, as she divined from Philip's manner, and the changing expressions that passed across his face, all was once more in doubt between them, and the issue beyond prophecy, it was not only possible but natural for her to sit composed and silent, and await what must be to her the final good or evil of the future. She knew that there were ways in which she might influence Philip; but with that strange feminine pride that never avouches itself more strongly than at the moment when all pride seems to have been surrendered, she would not avail herself of them. Had she tried to move him at all, it would have been on the other side. At last he stopped in his walk, and halted before her. She looked up at him with a smile.
"Well, monsieur, have you thought it all out? Have you realised the folly of it? Sit down here and tell me your opinion."
"I am going to play the most ungainly part that can fall to a man," he said, in a husky and obstructed voice, which he did not attempt to make smooth. “Let us part, Perdita. The only thing that gives me resolution to say this is, that I find it hard to say. But I know myself too well! I am small and incomplete of nature : hitherto I have deluded myself, and perhaps others, by a play of intellect which drew attention from my real feebleness and narrowness, and made me seem to be as broad and as deep as the reach of my thoughts and imagination. It is all delusion: I can chatter and contrive, but what I do and feel is petty and cold. There have been moments when I fancied I had overcome that torpid chill of the heart, and should be single, at last, in thought and feeling ; but the chill has always come back, and the horizon been blotted out again by the shadow of my own carcase. Even now it is of myself that I am talking, instead of about you !”
“ That is why you interest me, my friend." “Yes; and I might as well stop here. I am not going to hang VOL. CCLIV. NO. 1825.