Ethel M. Dell.

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And Dinah in her relief admitted that this was the case.

Up to the last moment she hoped that Scott would accompany them also, but
when she came down dressed for the expedition she found that he had gone
to the library to write letters. She pursued him thither, but he would
not be persuaded to leave his work.

"Besides, I should only be in the way," he said. And when she vehemently
negatived this, he smiled and fell back upon the plea that he was busy.

Just at the last she tried to murmur a word of thanks to him for
intervening on her behalf to induce Eustace to abandon the picnic, but he
gently checked her.

"Oh, please don't thank me!" he said. "I am not a very good meddler, I
assure you. I hope you are going to have a good day. Take care of
Isabel!"

Dinah would have lingered to tell him of the night's happening, but Sir
Eustace called her and with a smile of farewell she hastened away.

She enjoyed that day with a zest that banished all misgivings. Sir
Eustace insisted upon the purchase of the ring at the outset, and then
she and Isabel went their way alone, and shopped in a fashion that raised
Dinah's spirits to giddy heights. She had never seen or imagined such
exquisite things as Isabel ordered on her behalf. The hours slipped away
in one long dream of delight. Sir Eustace had desired them to join him at
luncheon, but Isabel had gravely refused. There would not be time, she
said. They would meet for tea. And somewhat to Dinah's surprise he had
yielded the point.

They met for tea in a Bond Street restaurant and here Sir Eustace took
away his _fiancée's_ breath by presenting her with a pearl necklace to
wear at her wedding.

She was almost too overwhelmed by the gift to thank him. "Oh, it's too
good - it's too good!" she said, awestruck by its splendour.

"Nothing is too good for my wife," he said in his imperial fashion.

Isabel smiled the smile that never reached her shadowed eyes. "A chain of
pearls to bind a bride!" she said.

And the thought flashed upon Dinah that there was truth in her words.
Whether with intention or not, by every gift he gave her he bound her the
more closely to him. An odd little sensation of dismay accompanied it,
but she put it resolutely from her. Bound or not, what did it
matter - since she had no desire to escape?

She thanked him again very earnestly that night in the conservatory, and
he pressed her to him and kissed the neck on which his pearls rested with
the hot lips of a thirsty man. But he had himself under control, and when
she sought to draw herself away he let her go. She wondered at his
forbearance and was mutely grateful for it.

At Isabel's suggestion she went up to her room early. She was certainly
weary, but she was radiantly happy. It had been a wonderful day. The
beauty of the pearls dazzled her. She kissed them ere she laid them out
of sight. He was good to her. He was much too good.

There came a knock at the door just as she was getting into bed, and
Biddy came softly in, her brown face full of mystery and, Dinah saw at a
glance, of anxiety also.

She put up a warning finger as she advanced. "Whisht, Miss Dinah darlint!
For the love of heaven, don't ye make a noise! I just came in to ask ye a
question, for it's worried to death I am."

"Why what's the matter, Biddy?" Dinah questioned in surprise.

"And ye may well ask, Miss Dinah dear!" Tragedy made itself heard in
Biddy's rejoinder. "Sure it's them letters of Miss Isabel's that's
disappeared entirely, and left no trace. And what'll I do at all when she
comes to ask for them? It's not meself that'll dare to tell her as
they've gone, and she setting such store by them. She'll go clean out of
her mind, Miss Dinah, for sure, they've been her only comfort, poor lamb,
these seven years."

"But, Biddy!" Impulsively Dinah broke in upon her, her eyes round with
surprise and consternation. "They can't be - gone! They must be somewhere!
Have you hunted for them? She left them on the window-sill, didn't she?
They must have got put away."

"That they have not!" declared Biddy solemnly. "It's my belief that the
old gentleman himself must have spirited them away. The window was left
open, ye know, Miss Dinah, and it was a dark night."

"Oh, Biddy, nonsense, nonsense! One of the servants must have moved them
when she was doing the room. Have you asked everyone?"

"That couldn't have happened, Miss Dinah dear." Unshakable conviction was
in Biddy's voice. "I got up late, and I had to get Miss Isabel up in a
hurry to go off in the motor. But I missed the letters directly after she
was gone, and I hadn't left the room - except to call her. No one had been
in - not unless they slipped in in those few minutes while me back was
turned. And for what should anyone take such a thing as them letters,
Miss Dinah? There are no thieves in the house. And them love-letters were
worth nothing to nobody saving to Miss Isabel, and they were the very
breath of life to her when the black mood was on her. Whatever she'll
say - whatever she'll do - I don't dare to think."

Poor Biddy flourished her apron as though she would throw it over her
head. Her parchment face was working painfully.

Dinah sat on the edge of her bed and watched her, not knowing what to
say.

"Where is Miss Isabel?" she asked at last.

"She's still downstairs with Master Scott, and I'm expecting her up every
minute. It's herself that ought to be in bed by now, for she's tired out
after her long day; but he'll be bringing her up directly and then she'll
ask for her love-letters. There's never a night goes by but what she
kisses them before she lies down. When ye were ill, Miss Dinah dear,
she'd forget sometimes, but ever since she's been alone again she's never
missed, not once."

"Have you told Master Scott?" asked Dinah.

Biddy shook her head. "Would I add to his burdens, poor young gentleman?
He'll know soon enough."

"And are you sure you've looked everywhere - everywhere?" insisted Dinah.
"If no one has taken them - "

"Miss Dinah, I've turned the whole room upside down and shaken it,"
declared Biddy. "I'll take my dying oath that them letters have gone."

"Could they - could they possibly have fallen out of the window?" hazarded
Dinah.

"Miss Dinah dear, no!" A hint of impatience born of her distress was
perceptible in the old woman's tone; she turned to the door. "Well, well,
it's no good talking. Don't ye fret yourself! What must be, will be."

"But I think Scott ought to know," said Dinah.

"No, no, Miss Dinah! We'll not tell him before we need. He's got his own
troubles. But I wonder - I wonder - " Biddy paused with the door-handle in
her bony old fingers - "how would it be now," she said slowly, "if ye was
to get Miss Isabel to sleep with ye again? She forgot last night. It's
likely she may forget again - unless he calls her."

"Biddy!" exclaimed Dinah, startled.

Biddy's beady eyes gleamed mysteriously. "Arrah, but it's the truth I'm
telling ye, Miss Dinah. He does call her. I've known him call her when
she's been lying in a deep sleep, and she'll rise up with her arms
stretched out and that look in her eyes!" Biddy's face crumpled
momentarily, but was swiftly straightened again. "Will ye do it then,
Miss Dinah? Ye needn't be afraid. I'll be within call. But when she's got
you, she don't seem to be craving for anyone else. What was it she called
ye only last night? Her good angel! And so ye be, me jewel; so ye be!"

Dinah stood debating the matter. Biddy's expedient was of too temporary
an order to recommend itself to her. She wondered why Scott should not be
consulted, and it was with some vague intention of laying the matter
before him if an opportunity should occur that she finally gave her
somewhat hesitating consent.

"I will do it of course, Biddy. I love her to sleep with me. But, you
know, it is bound to come out some time, unless you manage to find the
letters again. They must be somewhere."

Biddy shook her head. "We must just leave that to the Almighty, Miss
Dinah dear," she said piously. "There's nothing else we can do at all.
I'll get back to her room now, and when she comes up, I'll tell her ye're
feeling lonely, and will she please to sleep with ye again. She won't
think of anything else then ye may be sure. Why, she worships the very
ground under your feet, mavourneen, like - like someone else I know."

She was gone with the words, leaving upon Dinah a dim impression that her
last words were intended to convey something which she would have
translated into simpler language had she been at liberty to do so.

She did not pay much attention to them. She was too troubled over her
former revelation to think seriously of anything else. Into her mind,
all unbidden, had flashed a sudden memory, and it held her like a
nightmare-vision. She saw Sir Eustace with that imperious frown on his
face holding out Isabel's treasure with a curt, "Take this thing away!"
She saw herself leap up and seize it from his intolerant grasp. She saw
Isabel's outstretched, pleading hands, and the piteous hunger in her
eyes....

When Isabel came to her that night, her face was all softened with
mother-love. She drew Dinah to her breast, kissing her very tenderly.

"Did you want me to come and take care of you, my darling?"

Dinah's heart smote her for the deception, but she answered bravely
enough, "Oh, Isabel, yes, yes! You are so good to me, I want you always."

"Dear heart!" Isabel said, with a sigh, and folded her closer as though
she would guard her against all the world.

She was the first to fall asleep notwithstanding, while Dinah lay
motionless and troubled far into the night. She wished that Biddy would
give her permission to tell Scott, for without that permission such a
step seemed like a betrayal of confidence. But for some reason Biddy
evidently thought that Scott had enough on his shoulders just then. And
so it seemed, she could only wait - only wait.

She did not want to burden Scott unduly either, and there was something
about him just now, something of a repressing nature, that held her back
from confiding in him too freely. He seemed to have raised a barrier
between them since their return to England which no intimacy ever quite
succeeded in scaling. Full of brotherly kindness though he was, the old
frank fellowship was gone. It was as though he had realized her
dependence upon him, and were trying with the utmost gentleness to make
her stand alone.

Dinah slept at last from sheer weariness, and forgot her troubles. She
must not tell Scott, she could not tell Eustace, and so there was no
other course but silence. But the anxiety of it weighed upon her even
through her slumber. Life was far more interesting than of yore. But
never, never before had it been so full of doubts and fears. The
complexity of it all was like an endless net, enmeshing her however
warily she stepped.

And always, and always, at the back of her mind there lurked the dread
conviction that one day the net would be drawn close, and she would find
herself a helpless prisoner in the grip of a giant.




CHAPTER XII

THE DIVINE SPARK


With the morning Dinah found her anxieties less oppressive. Isabel was
becoming so much more like herself that she was able to put the matter
from her and in a measure forget it. Like Biddy, she began to hope that
by postponing the evil hour they might possibly evade it altogether. For
there was nothing abnormal about Isabel during that day or those that
succeeded it. The time passed quickly. There was much to be done, much
to be discussed and decided, and their thoughts were fully occupied.
Dinah felt as one whirled in a torrent. She could not think of the great
undercurrent. She could deal only with the things on the surface.

How that week sped away she never afterwards fully recalled. It passed
like a fevered dream. Two more journeys to town with Isabel, the ordeal
of a dinner at the house of a neighbouring magnate, a much less
formidable tea at the Vicarage, on which occasion Mr. Grey drew her aside
and thanked her for using her influence over Sir Eustace in the right
direction and earnestly exhorted her to maintain and develop it as far as
possible when she was married, a few riding-lessons with Scott who always
seemed so much more imposing in the saddle than out of it and knew so
exactly how to instruct her, a few wild races in Sir Eustace's car from
which she always returned in a state of almost delirious exultation, and
then night after night the sleep of utter weariness, with Isabel lying by
her side.

The last night came upon her almost with a sense of shock. It had become
a custom for her to sit in the conservatory with Sir Eustace after
dinner, and here with the lights turned low he was wont to pour out to
her all the fiery worship which throughout the day he curbed. No one ever
disturbed them, but they were close to Isabel's sitting-room where Scott
was wont to sit and read while his sister lay on her couch resting and
listening. The murmur of his voice was audible to Dinah, and the
knowledge of his close proximity gave her a courage which surely had not
been hers otherwise. She was learning how to receive her lover's
demonstrations without starting away in affright. If he ever startled
her, the sound of Scott's voice in the adjoining room would always
reassure her. She knew that Scott was at hand and would never fail her.

But on that last night Sir Eustace was more ardent than she had ever
known him. He seemed to be almost fiercely resentful of the coming
separation, brief though it was to be, and he would not suffer her out of
reach of his hand.

Wedding presents had begun to arrive, and in some fashion they seemed to
increase his impatience.

"I can't think what we are waiting for," he said, with his arm about her,
drawing her close. "All this pomp and circumstance is nothing but a
hindrance. It's you I want, not your wedding finery. You had better be
married first and get the finery afterwards, as it isn't to be in town."

"Oh, but I want a big wedding," protested Dinah. "It's going to be such
fun."

He laughed, holding her pointed chin between his finger and thumb. "I
believe that's all you care about, you little heartless witch. I don't
count at all. You'd have enjoyed this week every bit as well if I hadn't
been here."

She winced a little at his words, for somehow they went home. "There
hasn't been much time for anything, has there?" she said. "But - but I've
enjoyed the motor rides, and - and I ought to thank you for being so very
good to me."

He kissed the quivering lips, and she slipped a shy arm round his neck
with the feeling that she owed it to him. But she did not return his
kisses, for she was afraid to feed the flame that already leapt so high.

"You've nothing to thank me for," he said presently, when she turned her
face at last abashed into his shoulder. "I may be giving more than you at
this stage, but it won't be so later. You shall have the opportunity of
paying me back in full. How does that appeal to you, Daphne the demure?
Are you going to be a good little wife to me?"

"I'll try," she whispered.

"And give me all I ask - always?"

"I'll try," she whispered again more faintly, conscious of that
terrifying sense of being so merged into his overwhelming personality
that the very breath she drew seemed not her own.

He lifted her into his arms, holding her hard pressed against the
throbbing of his heart. "You wisp of thistledown!" he said. "You feather!
How have you managed to set me on fire like this? I think of nothing but
you - the fairy wonder of you - day and night. If you were to slip out of
my reach now, I believe I should follow and kill you."

Dinah lay across his breast in palpitating submission to his will. She
could hear his heart beating like a rising tempest, and the force of his
passion overcame her like a tornado. His kisses were like the flames of a
fiery furnace. She felt stifled, shattered by his violence. But in the
room beyond she still heard that steady voice reading aloud, and it kept
her from panic. She knew that she had only to raise her own voice, and he
would be with her, - Greatheart of the golden armour, strong and fearless
in her defence.

Sir Eustace heard that quiet voice also, as one hears the warning of
conscience. He slackened his hold upon her, with a quivering, half-shamed
laugh.

"Only another fortnight," he said, "and I shall have you to myself - all
day and all night too." He looked at her with sudden critical attention.
"You had better go to bed, child. You look like a little tired ghost."

She did not feel like a ghost, for she was burning from head to foot. But
as she slipped from his arms the ground seemed to be rocking all around
her. She stretched out her hands blindly, gasping, feeling for support.

He was up in a moment, holding her. "What is it? Aren't you well?"

She sank against him for she could not stand. He held her with a
tenderness that was new to her.

"My darling, have I tired you out? What a thoughtless brute I am!"

It was the first time she had ever heard a word of self-reproach upon his
lips; the first time, though she knew it not, that actual love inspired
him, entering as it were through that breach in the wall of overbearing
pride that girt him round.

She leaned against him with more confidence than she had ever before
known, dizzy still, and conscious of a rush of tears behind her closed
lids. For that sudden compunction of his hurt her oddly. She did not know
how to meet it.

He bent over her. "Getting better, little sweetheart? Oh, don't cry! What
happened? Did I hurt you - frighten you?"

He was stroking her hair soothingly, persuasively, his dark face so close
to hers that when she opened her eyes they looked up straight into his.
But she saw nought to frighten her there, and after a moment she reached
up and kissed him apologetically.

"I'm only silly - only silly," she murmured confusedly. "Good night - good
night - Apollo!"

And with the words she stood up, summoning her strength, smiled upon him,
and slipped free from his encircling arm.

He did not seek to detain her. She flitted from his presence like a
fluttering white moth, and he was left alone. He stood quite motionless
in the semi-darkness, breathing deeply, his clenched hands pressed
against his sides.

That moment had been a revelation to him also. He was abruptly conscious
of the spirit so dominating the body that the fierce, ungoverned heart of
him drew back ashamed as a beast will shrink from the flare of a torch,
and he felt strangely conquered, almost cowed, as though an angel with a
flaming sword had suddenly intervened between him and his desire.

The madness of his passion was yet beating in his veins, but this - this
was another and a stronger element before which all else became
contemptible. The soul of the man had sprung from sleep like an awaking
giant. Half in wonder and half in awe, he watched the kindling of the
Divine Spark that outshineth every earthly fire.




CHAPTER XIII

THE BROKEN HEART


The return home was to Dinah like a sudden plunge into icy depths after a
brief sojourn in the tropics. The change of atmosphere was such that she
seemed actually to feel it in her bones, and her whole being, physical
and mental contracted in consequence. Her mother treated her with all her
customary harshness, and Dinah, grown sensitive by reason of much
petting, shrank almost with horror whenever she came in contact with the
iron will that had subjugated her from babyhood.

Before the first week was over, she was counting the days to her
deliverance; but of this fact she hinted nothing in her letters to her
lover. These were carefully worded, demure little epistles that gave him
not the smallest inkling of her state of mind. She was far too much
afraid of him to betray that.

Had she been writing to Scott she could scarcely have repressed it. In
one letter to Isabel indeed something of her yearning for the vanished
sunshine leaked out; but very strangely Isabel did not respond to the
pathetic little confidence, and Dinah did not venture to repeat it.
Perhaps Isabel was shocked.

The last week came, and with it the arrival of wedding-presents from her
father and friends that lifted Dinah out of her depression and even
softened her mother into occasional good-humour. Preparations for the
wedding began in earnest. Billy, released somewhat before the holidays
for the occasion, returned home, and everything took a more cheerful
aspect.

Dinah could not feel that her mother's attitude towards herself had
materially altered. It was sullen and threatening at times, almost as if
she resented her daughter's good fortune, and she lived in continual
dread of an outbreak of the cruel temper that had so embittered her home
life. But Billy's presence made a difference even to that. His influence
was entirely wholesome, and he feared no one.

"Why don't you stand up to her?" he said to his sister on one occasion
when he found her weeping after an overwhelming brow-beating over some
failure in the kitchen. "She'd think something of you then."

Dinah had no answer. She could not convince him that her spirit had been
broken for such encounters long ago. Billy had never been tied up to a
bed-post and whipped till limp with exhaustion, but such treatment had
been her portion more times than she could number.

But every hour brought her deliverance nearer, and so far she had managed
to avoid physical violence though the dread of it always menaced her.

"Why does she hate me so?" Over and over again she asked herself the
question, but she never found any answer thereto; and she was fain to
believe her father's easy-going verdict: "There's no accounting for your
mother's tantrums; they've got to be visited on somebody."

She wondered what would happen when she was no longer at hand to act as
scapegoat, and yet it seemed to her that her mother longed to be rid of
her.

"I'll get things into good order when you're out of the way," she said
to her on the last evening but one before the wedding-day, the evening
on which the Studleys were to arrive at the Court. "You're just a born
muddler, and you'll never be anything else, Lady Studley or no Lady
Studley. Get along upstairs and dress yourself for your precious
dinner-party, or your father will be ready first! Oh, it'll be a good
thing when it's all over and done with, but if you think you'll ever get
treated as a grand lady here, you're very much mistaken. Home broth is
all you'll ever get from me, so you needn't expect anything different.
If you don't like it, you can stop away."

Dinah escaped from the rating tongue as swiftly as she dared. She knew
that her mother had been asked to dine at the Court also - for the first
time in her life - and had tersely refused. She wasn't going to be
condescended to by anybody, she had told her husband in Dinah's hearing,
and he had merely shrugged his shoulders and advised her to please
herself.

Billy had not been asked, somewhat to his disgust; but he looked forward
to seeing Scott again in the morning and ordered Dinah to ask him to
lunch with them.

So finally Dinah and her father set forth alone in one of the motors from
the Court to attend the gathering of County magnates that the de Vignes
had summoned in honour of Sir Eustace Studley and his chosen bride.

She wore one of her trousseau gowns for the occasion, a pale green
gossamer-like garment that made her look more nymph-like than ever. Her
mother had surveyed it with narrowed eyes and a bitter sneer.

"Ok yes, you'll pass for one of the quality," she had said. "No one would
take you for a child of mine any way."

"That's no fault of the child's, Lydia," her father had rejoined
good-humouredly, and in the car he had taken her little cold hand into
his and asked her kindly enough if she were happy.

She answered him tremulously in the affirmative, the dread of her mother
still so strong upon her that she could think of nothing but the relief
of escape. And then before she had time to prepare herself in any way for
the sudden transition she found herself back in that tropical, brilliant
atmosphere in which thenceforth she was to move and have her being.

She could not feel that she would ever shine there. There were so many
bright lights, and though her father was instantly and completely at home
she felt dazzled and strange, till all-unexpectedly someone came to her
through the great lamp-lit hall, haltingly yet with purpose, and held her
hand and asked her how she was.

The quiet grasp steadied her, and in a moment she was radiantly happy,



Online LibraryEthel M. DellGreatheart → online text (page 23 of 33)