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- The Emancipated - 91/91 -
wife's obligation has no bounds, that she _must_ sink, if her husband choose to demand it. Let those believe it who will. What motive should render such a sacrifice possible to her? You know she cannot love you. Pity? How can she pity you in such a sense as to degrade herself for your sake? Neither you nor she nor I hold the creed that justifies such martyrdom. Am _I_ to teach you such things? Shame! Have the courage of your convictions. You have released her, and you must be content to leave her free. The desire to fetter her again is ignoble, dastardly!"
He would neither be shamed nor convinced. With desperate beseechings, with every argument of passion, no matter how it debased him, he strove frantically to subdue her to his purpose. But Miriam was immovable. At length she could not even urge him with reasonings; his prostrate frenzy revolted her, and she drew away in repugnance. Reuben's supplication turned on the instant into brutal rage.
"Curse your obstinacy!" he shouted, in a voice that had strained itself to hoarseness.
The door opened, and Mallard, who had come to see whether Elgar was still here, heard his exclamation.
"Out of the house!" he commanded sternly. "March! And never let me see you here again."
Reuben rushed past him, and the house-door closed violently.
Then Miriam's overstrung nerves gave way, and for the first time Mallard saw her shed tears. She described to him the scene that had passed.
"What ought I to do? She must be warned. It is horrible to think that he may find her, and persuade her."
They agreed that she should go to Cecily early next morning. In the meantime she wrote to Eleanor.
But the morning brought a letter from Reuben, of a tenor which seemed to make it needless to mention this incident to Cecily.
"I had not long left you," he wrote, "when I recovered my reason, and recognized your wisdom in opposing me. For a week I have been drinking myself into a brutal oblivion--or trying to do so; I came to you in a nerveless and half imbecile state. You were hard with me, but it was just what I needed. You have made me understand-- for to-day, at all events--the completeness of my damnation. Thank you for discharging that sisterly office. I observe, by-the-bye, that Mallard's influence is strengthening your character. Formerly you were often rigorous, but it was spasmodic. You can now persevere in pitilessness, an essential in one who would support what we call justice. Don't think I am writing ironically. Whenever I am free from passion, as now--and that is seldom enough--I can see myself precisely as you and all those on your side of the gulf see me. The finer qualities I once had survive in my memory, bat I know it is hopeless to try and recover them. I find it interesting to write a book about it, but it would be of the kind that study the processes of my degradation. I should like n_ one would publish.
"I hope I may never by chance see Cecily; I have a horrible conviction that I should kill her. Why shouldn't I tell you all the truth? My feeling towards her is a strange and vile compound of passions, but I believe that hatred predominates. If she were so unfortunate as to come again into my power, I should make it my one object to crush her to my own level; and in the end I should kill her. Perhaps that is the destined close of our drama. Even to you, as I confessed, I felt murderous impulses. I haven't yet been quite successful in analyzing this state of mind. The vulgar would say that, having chosen the devil's part, I am receiving share of the devil's spirit. But to give a thing a bad name doesn't help one to understand it.
"Don't let this terrify you. I am going away again, to be out of reach of temptation. I know, I know with certainty, that the end in some form or other draws near. I have thought so much of Fate, that I seem to have got an unusual perception of its course, as it affects me. Keep this letter as a piece of curious human experience. It may be the last you receive from me."
Something less than a month after this, Edward Spence, examining his correspondence at the breakfast-table, found a French newspaper, addressed to him in a hand he recognized.
"This is from Seaborne," he said to Eleanor, as he stripped off the wrapper.
He discovered a marked paragraph. It reported a tragic occurrence in a street near the Luxembourg. The husband of an actress at one of the minor theatres in Paris had encountered his wife's lover, and shot him dead. The victim was "un jeune Anglais, nomme Elgare."
The sender of this newspaper had also written; his letter contained fuller details. He had seen the corpse, and identified it. Could he do anything? Or would some friend of Mrs. Elgar come over?
Eleanor carried the intelligence first of all to Roehampton. In her consultation with the Mallards, it was decided that she, rather than Miriam, should visit Cecily. She left them with this purpose.
It was possible that Cecily had already heard. On arriving at the house, Eleanor was at once admitted, and went up to the sitting-room on the second floor; she entered with a tremulous anxiety, and the first glance told her that her news had not been anticipated. Cecily was seated with several books open before her; the smile of friendly welcome slowly lighting her grave countenance, showed that her mind detached itself with difficulty from an absorbing subject.
"Welcome always," she said, "and most so when least expected."
The room was less bare than when she first occupied it. Pictures and books were numerous; the sunlight fell upon an open piano; an easel, on which was a charcoal drawing from a cast, stood in the middle of the floor. But the plain furniture remained, and no mere luxuries had been introduced. It was a work-room, not a boudoir.
"You are still content in your hermitage?" said Eleanor, seating herself and controlling her voice to its wonted tone.
"More and more. I have been reading since six o'clock this morning, and never felt so quiet in mind."
Her utterance proved it; she spoke in a low, sweet voice, its music once more untroubled. But in looking at Eleanor, she became aware of veiled trouble on her countenance.
"Have you come only to see me? Or is there something--?"
Eleanor broke the news to her. And as she spoke, the beautiful face lost its calm of contemplation, grew pain-shadowed, stricken with pangs of sorrow. Cecily turned away and wept--wept for the past, which in these moments had lived again and again perished.
It seemed to Spence that his wife mourned unreasonably. A week or more had passed, and yet he chanced to find her with tears in her eyes.
"I have still so much of the old Eve in me, replied Eleanor. "I am heavy-hearted, not for him, but for Cecily's dead love. We all have a secret desire to believe love imperishable."
"An amiable sentiment; but it is better to accept the truth."
"True only in some cases."
"In many," said Spence, with a smile. "First love is fool's paradise. But console yourself out of Boccaccio. 'Bocca baciata non perde ventura; anzi rinnuova, come fa la luna.'"
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