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what he had to do. The journey to and fro, and the business to be done at Durnside, would necessarily occupy a couple of days. This was the first time Joshua had ever had occasion to leave his wife, and the thought of her being alone and unprotected even for one night distressed him. And then it struck him that Esther need not spend the night of his absence in that solitary cottage on the edge of the common. She might sleep at his mother's that night.
He went to the dowager's lodgings to give her notice of this visit, but Mrs. Rainbow the elder was out; so Joshua left a little dutiful note, telling her that he was to leave Mirkdale next morning, and that Esther would spend the following evening and night with her. After this he went home in an easier state of mind, and told his wife of his intended journey. She was quite willing to go to his mother's as he had arranged, little sympathy as there was between her and that stern matron.
If Joshua Rainbow could have known how far away his wife's mind was when she kissed him and wished him good-bye that sultry August morning at the little garden-gate, his heart would have surely broken. But he had not the faintest suspicion of the gulf between them. They had been very happy together, and he had told himself long ago that his young wife had grown to love him, middle-aged fogey as he was.
He went away, smiling back at her and waving his hand to the last,—went away, leaving her to her long lonely day, brightened, as every day now was, by the hope of Stephen Lyne's coming. Yes, she loved him. She had never confessed as much to herself—had, indeed, shut her eyes resolutely against the truth; telling herself, whenever she did try to stifle the weak voice of her conscience, that she only liked to see him because he was a brilliant and clever gentleman, and amused her with his varied talk of books that she had never read, and people and places she had never seen.
Would he come that afternoon? It was her first thought every day. She went about her household work in a feverish hurry always now, lest he should come before the place was neat, and her hair and dress arranged for the afternoon. She made little feeble attempts to ornament the parlour,—a rose or two from the scrubby bushes in a glass of water on the chimney-piece, a spotless starched antimacassar of her own workmanship spread on the chintz-covered sofa,—she was so utterly ashamed of the cottage and its commonness when Stephen Lyne came into it, though it had once seemed to her the perfection of neatness and comfort.
Did she ever think of her dead baby in these days ? Alas, no! A stronger passion than even love for that lost little one had taken possession of her, and she had no room for any other thought.
Stephen Lyne came earlier than usual on the day when Joshua started on his journey to Durnside. He had got into a way of open
ing the door now without knocking. And he came upon Esther suddenly, as she sat at her work, unawares, though she was thinking only of him.
She looked up at him with that transient vivid blush which always made her so beautiful.
'I want you to come for a walk, Esther,' he said, he had taken to calling her Esther lately, but with no lessening of his respect,the house is insupportable upon such a day as this. Throw down that odious calico, at which those poor little fingers are always slaving, and come for an idle stroll across the common.'
I don't like,' she said hesitatingly; it seems so strange for you and I to walk together.'
* Not stranger than for us to sit together in this little room. That's strange enough, if you only knew it, Esther—strange for such a restless spirit as mine to be bound to any place for two or three hours together. Come for a walk, Esther.
I have a great deal to say to you, and I fancy I could say it best in the open air.'
She rose to obey him, reluctantly, but quite unable to oppose his gracious bidding. She put on a little straw-hat, and went out with him across the common in the still sultry atmosphere. Not a breath of air stirred the water in the black pools; and Pluto, the mastiff, panted as he trotted by his master's side.
They strolled slowly on, leaving the tranquil common behind them, and passing through the meadows that lay between them and Mapledean. Whatever important communication Stephen Lyne might have to make to his companion, his talk as yet was only of indifferent subjects,-a very fitful kind of talk, lapsing every now and then into silence.
They went on thus till they came to the gate where Esther had first seen Stephen Lyne, that quiet Sunday evening a little more than two months ago. Two months ! and it seemed to her a lifetime.
. Come in, Esther,' the young man said, in that low languid tone which was not the less a command, - come in and look at the roses once more. Do you remember that Sunday evening, childthe second time I saw you ?'
Did she remember it ?— the beginning of her new life, the opening of that strange wild dream which must end soon. Yes; it had come upon her this afternoon that she had been dreaming, and that it was time for her to awaken.
Her heart was beating violently. Yes; she knew now that she loved him—that she was guilty of a deadly sin against her husband, had suffered herself blindly to fall into the snare, and was in a measure lost.
• If he knew,' she thought to herself,— if Joshua could know how false my heart has been to him, surely he would cast me offsurely he would refuse ever to look upon my face again!' SECOND SERIES, VOL. II. F.S. VOL. XII.
They went slowly along the grassy walk where the late roses were blooming, whose fallen petals strewed the turf like summer snow. They could hear the tinkling of the water-drops from the little fountain in the still atmosphere. They were both silent : Esther troubled by the thought of her own wickedness, and yet loving this man who walked beside her with all the passion of her heart; Stephen thoughtful too, but not in an unpleasant mood, very confident of the future ; only waiting for the moment in which he should speak the words that must needs be spoken by him today.
The moment came at last. He had taken Esther through the open window into the library—the room which she had looked at in wondering admiration that Sunday night. As she was standing by his side, looking down at a heap of sketches on the table, he put his arm gently round her, and drew her to his breast.
. My darling !' he said, 'I am going to leave England to-night.'
She released herself from his encircling arm with a little cry— not of indignation, but of anguish.
Going away!' she exclaimed piteously. For ever ?'
• Who can tell ?' he asked carelessly. “Yes, Esther, I am going away. In spite of all the happy hours we have spent together, I am going away. I brought you here—to this empty old house that I might tell you this quietly. I am going. Speak to me, my love, and say whether I am to go alone.'
She shook her head hopelessly, looking at him with fixed tearless
eyes that went to his heart-such heart as he had—and seemed to wound him palpably.
'I don't understand you,' she faltered.
My darling, you love me,' answered Stephen Lyne, and love is better than understanding. You love me, Esther; I have read the truth so many times in those sweet eyes. I am not a man to speak like this if I were not certain. My life, I swore to win you the first hour I saw your face. I have lived only for that one purpose since that time. My plans are all made. Your boor of a husband is out of the way to-night.
0, no, no!' she cried, with an agonised look, don't speak of him like tbat--so good, so true!'
Good enough and true enough in his way, I daresay; but I can't forgive him for having stolen such a treasure. Why, by heaven, the man could have looked for nothing brighter or lovelier had he been a prince of the blood royal. My Esther, my precious one, you will go with me, will you not ?'
?? Yes, sweetest, to the end of the world—to one of those golden lands you have loved so much to hear me talk about—from place to place, from one earthly paradise to another, wherever the world is
Go with you
loveliest, and where you shall fancy yourself a princess, and be taken for a princess. Esther, is it yes or no ?'
'If I say no,' she said, 'you will go away all the same, and I shall never see you any more?'
Why, yes, child, that will be best for both of us. You must be all the world or nothing to me, Esther, from to-day.'
Nothing! O, my God, I could not bear that!' she cried passionately, with clasped hands.
He caught her in his arms once more, and kissed her on the lips. She felt as if truth and honour fled away from her for ever in that one fatal kiss.
• That means yes,' he said triumphantly. “My darling, there is nothing but happiness before us !'
* Happiness !' Esther echoed with a sob; “I am the most wicked woman that ever lived; but I cannot part from you.'
• My dearest, I never thought you could. I have read your heart from the first, little one. And now listen to me, darling, for we have no time to lose. The limited mail leaves at 10.30. It will take us to London in ample time for the morning mail to Dover; and we are not likely to be observed by that train. Meet me at the factory at a quarter before ten. There will be only the night-watchman there at that time, and I'll take care to get him out of the way before you come. You'll find me in the little counting-house on the first floor, at the top of the stairs. You know the place, I suppose ?
· Yes, I have been over it with Joshua.'
Her lover was just a little disconcerted by her white still face as she stood before him, with clasped hands and fixed despairing eyes. It was only natural, perhaps, that she should feel the unpleasanter aspect of her position. There are prejudices about these things.
So be it then, sweet one. I think the factory will be the wisest place-dark, and quiet, and out of the way, and yet within a stone's throw of the station. We can get out by the little gate opening from the yard into Church-lane; so if any one should happen to see either of us go in, they're not likely to see us go out. Bring nothing with you, darling. We shall be in Paris to-morrow evening, and you can get everything there-an outfit worthy of my pretty one.
You understand, Esther ?'
Her deadly pallor frightened him, and he thought she was going to faint. There was an antique chest upon one of the tables ribbed with brass, a chest of glittering liqueur bottles and glasses heavily embossed with gold. Mr. Lyne filled one of the little glasses, and
forced the contents between Esther's pale lips. It was a sickly sticky compound, but had a dash of fiery spirit in it that brought a faint colour back to her face.
Come, darling,' Stephen said gently; and they went back to the gardens, with the mastiff always at their heels.
• Faithful old Pluto,' muttered Mr. Lyne, as the dog's big jaws were thrust affectionately into his hand, I suppose I must take you with me to-night, old fellow.'
To Esther that walk back to the cottage was like a dream. The sultry oppressive atmosphere, the level stretch of common land, with patches of dark water, and cattle grazing here and there, like a Dutch picture, seemed all a part of some shapeless horror in her own mind. And yet she went on, and had no thought of turning back, and refusing to tread the dark road which had newly opened to her. Weakly, blindly, helplessly she gave her life into this man's hands.
Never to see him again, if I do not go with him to-night,' she repeated to herself, not once, but many times, when Stephen Lyne had left her alone in the little cottage, which seemed so despicable and dreary in its commonness, after the Mapledean library, with its carved-oak book-cases, rare cabinet pictures here and there, its scattered treasures of Venetian glass, and glow of light and colour upon everything.
All through the still summer twilight Esther Rainbow sat in utter idleness; not thinking_indeed her brain seemed to have lost all power of thought—but wondering feebly at her own guiltiness, with no heed for the future, except for that one thought—she would be with him with no frivolous vain dream of her altered life, and the pleasures and luxuries that her rich lover would give her. Weak and wicked as she was, and much as she had admired Stephen Lyne's surroundings, she was at least superior to any consideration of these things. If he had been the poorest workman in the factory, and had wanted her to share a life of destitution with him, she must have obeyed him all the same.
As she sat in the summer twilight, with the evening shadows closing round her, there was no picture of the future in her mind : it was a blank, or worse than a blank—utter darkness out of which arose one figure with a lurid light round its ghastly face—the face of her husband, looking at her in scornful abhorrence, as the vilest thing on earth. Did she think of her dead child in all those silent hours ? Yes, once; and then she fell suddenly upon her knees and cried aloud,
"O God, I shall never go to heaven, where he is ! I shall never see my baby any more!'
And yet there was no thought of turning back in her mind. If Stephen Lyne had been an enchanter, holding her soul by some