The Dead Secret, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter 5

The Myrtle Room.

A BROAD, square window, with small frames and dark sashes; dreary yellow light, glimmering through the dirt of half a century crusted on the glass; purer rays striking across the dimness through the fissures of the broken panes; dust floating upward, pouring downward, rolling smoothly round and round in the still atmospheric; lofty, bare, faded red walls; chairs in confusion, tables placed awry; a tall black bookcase, with an open door half dropping from its hinges; a pedestal, with a broken bust lying in fragments at its feet; a ceiling darkened by stains, a floor whitened by dust — such was the aspect of the Myrtle Room when Rosamond first entered it, leading her husband by the hand.

After passing the doorway, she slowly advanced a few steps, and then stopped, waiting with every sense on the watch, with every faculty strung up to the highest pitch of expectation — waiting in the ominous stillness, in the forlorn solitude, for the vague Something which the room might contain, which might rise visibly before her, which might sound audibly behind her, which might touch her on a sudden from above, from below, from either side. A minute or more she breathlessly waited; and nothing appeared, nothing sounded, nothing touched her. The silence and the solitude had their secret to keep, and kept it.

She looked round at her husband. His face, so quiet and composed at other times, expressed doubt and uneasiness now. His disengaged hand was outstretched, and moving backward and forward and up and down, in the vain attempt to touch something which might enable him to guess at the position in which he was placed. His look and action, as he stood in that new and strange sphere, the mute appeal which he made so sadly and so unconsciously to his wife’s loving help, restored Rosamond’s self-possession by recalling her heart to the dearest of all its interests, to the holiest of all its cares. Her eyes, fixed so distrustfully but the moment before on the dreary spectacle of neglect and ruin which spread around them, turned fondly to her husband’s face, radiant with the unfathomable brightness of pity and love. She bent quickly across him, caught his outstretched arm, and pressed it to his side.

“Don’t do that, darling,” she said, gently; “I don’t like to see it. It looks as if you had forgotten that I was with you — as if you were left alone and helpless. What need have you of your sense of touch, when you have got me? Did you hear me open the door, Lenny? Do you know that we are the Myrtle Room?”

“What did you see, Rosamond, when you opened the door? What do you see now?” he asked those questions rapidly and eagerly, in a whisper.

“Nothing but dust and dirt and desolation. The loneliest moor in Cornwall is not so lonely looking as this room; but there is nothing to alarm us, nothing (except one’s own fancy) that suggests an idea of danger of any kind.”

“What made you so long before you spoke to me, Rosamond?”

“I was frightened, love, on first entering the door — not at what I saw, but at my own fanciful ideas of what I might see. I was child enough to be afraid of something starting out of the walls, or of something rising through the floor; in short, of I hardly know what. I have got over those fears, Lenny, but a certain distrust of the room still clings to me. Do you feel it?”

“I feel something like it,” he replied, uneasily. “I feel as if the night that is always before my eyes was darker to me in this place than in any other. Where are we standing now?”

“Just inside the door.”

“Does the floor look safe to walk on?” He tried it suspiciously with his foot as he put the question.

“Quite safe,” replied Rosamond. “It would never support the furniture that is on it if it was so rotten as to be dangerous. Come across the room with me, and try it.” With these words she led him slowly to the window.

“The air seems as if it was nearer to me,” he said, bending his face forward toward the lowest of the broken panes. “What is before us now?”

She told him, describing minutely the size and appearance of the window. He turned from it carelessly, as if that part of the room had no interest for him. Rosamond still lingered near the window, to try if she could feel a breath of the outer atmosphere. There was a momentary silence, which was broken by her husband.

“What are you doing now?” he asked anxiously.

“I am looking out at one of the broken panes of glass, and trying to get some air,” answered Rosamond. “The shadow of the house is below me, resting on the lonely garden; but there is no coolness breathing up from it. I see the tall weeds rising straight and still, and the tangled wild-flowers interlacing themselves heavily. There is a tree near me, and the leaves look as if they were all struck motionless. Away to the left, there is a peep of white sea and tawny sand quivering in the yellow heat. There are no clouds; there is no blue sky. The mist quenches the brightness of the sunlight, and lets nothing but the fire of it through. There is something threatening in the sky, and the earth seems to know it!”

“But the room! the room!” said Leonard, drawing her aside from the window. “Never mind the view; tell me what the room is like — exactly what it is like. I shall not feel easy about you, Rosamond, if you don’t describe everything to me just as it is.”

“My darling! You know you can depend on my describing everything. I am only doubting where to begin, and how to make sure of seeing for you what you are likely to think most worth looking at. Here is an old ottoman against the wall — the wall where the window is. I will take off my apron and dust the seat for you; and then you can sit down and listen comfortably while I tell you, before we think of anything else, what the room is like, to begin with. First of all, I suppose, I must make you understand how large it is?”

“Yes, that is the first thing. Try if you can compare it with any room that I was familiar with before I lost my sight.”

Rosamond looked backward and forward, from wall to wall — then went to the fireplace, and walked slowly down the length of the room, counting her steps. Pacing over the dusty floor with a dainty regularity and a childish satisfaction in looking down at the gay pink rosettes on her morning shoes; holding up her crisp, bright muslin dress out of the dirt, and showing the fanciful embroidery of her petticoat, and the glossy stockings that fitted her little feet and ankles like a second skin, she moved through the dreariness, the desolation, the dingy ruin of the scene around her, the most charming living contrast to its dead gloom that youth, health, and beauty could present.

Arrived at the bottom of the room, she reflected a little, and said to her husband —

“Do you remember the blue drawing-room, Lenny, in your father’s house at Long Beckley? I think this room is quite as large, if not larger.”

“What are the walls like?” asked Leonard, placing his hand on the wall behind him while he spoke. “They are covered with paper, are they not?”

“Yes; with faded red paper, except on one side, where strips have been torn off and thrown on the floor. There is wainscoting round the walls. It is cracked in many places, and has ragged holes in it, which seem to have been made by the rats and mice.”

“Are there any pictures on the walls?”

“No. There is an empty frame over the fireplace. And opposite — I mean just above where I am standing now — there is a small mirror, cracked in the centre, with broken branches for candlesticks projecting on either side of it. Above that, again, there is a stag’s head and antlers; some of the face has dropped away, and a perfect maze of cobwebs is stretched between the horns. On the other walls there are large nails, with more cobwebs hanging down from them heavy with dirt — but no pictures anywhere. Now you know everything about the walls. What is the next thing? The floor?”

“I think, Rosamond, my feet have told me already what the floor is like?”

“They may have told you that it is bare, dear; but I can tell you more than that. It slopes down from every side toward the middle of the room. It is covered thick with dust, which is swept about — I suppose by the wind blowing through the broken panes — into strange, wavy, feathery shapes that quite hide the floor beneath. Lenny! suppose these boards should be made to take up anywhere! If we discover nothing to-day, we will have them swept to-morrow. In the meantime, I must go on telling you about the room, must I not? You know already what the size of it is, what the window is like, what the walls are like, what the floor is like. Is there anything else before we come to the furniture? Oh, yes! the ceiling — for that completes the shell of the room. I can’t see much of it, it is so high. There are great cracks and stains from one end to the other, and the plaster has come away in patches in some places. The centre ornament seems to be made of alternate rows of small plaster cabbages and large plaster lozenges. Two bits of chain hang down from the middle, which, I suppose, once held a chandelier. The cornice is so dingy that I can hardly tell what pattern it represents. It is very broad and heavy, and it looks in some places as if it had once been colored, and that is all I can say about it. Do you feel as if you thoroughly understood the whole room now, Lenny?”

“Thoroughly, my love; I have the same clear picture of it in my mind which you always give me of everything you see. You need waste no more time on me. We may now devote ourselves to the purpose for which we came here.”

At those last words, the smile which had been dawning on Rosamond’s face when her husband addressed her, vanished from it in a moment. She stole close to his side, and, bending down over him, with her arm on his shoulder, said, in low, whispering tones — “When we had the other room opened, opposite the landing, we began by examining the furniture. We thought — if you remember — that the mystery of the Myrtle Room might be connected with hidden valuables that had been stolen, or hidden papers that ought to have been destroyed, or hidden stains and traces of some crime, which even a chair or a table might betray. Shall we examine the furniture here?”

“Is there much of it, Rosamond?”

“More than there was in the other room,” she answered.

“More than you can examine in one morning?”

“No; I think not.”

“Then begin with the furniture, if you have no better plan to propose. I am but a helpless adviser at such a crisis as this. I must leave the responsibilities of decision, after all, to rest on your shoulders. Yours are the eyes that look and the hands that search; and if the secret of Mrs. Jazeph’s reason for warning you against entering this room is to be found by seeking in the room, you will find it — ”

“And you will know it, Lenny, as soon as it is found. I won’t hear you talk, love, as if there was any difference between us, or any superiority in my position over yours. Now, let me see. What shall I begin with? The tall book-case opposite the window? or the dingy old writing-table, in the recess behind the fireplace? Those are the two largest pieces of furniture that I can see in the room.”

“Begin with the book-case, my dear, as you seem to have noticed that first.”

Rosamond advanced a few steps toward the book-case — stopped, and looked aside suddenly to the lower end of the room.

“Lenny! I forgot one thing, when I was telling you about the walls,” she said. “There are two doors in the room besides the door we came in at. They are both in the wall to the right, as I stand now with my back to the window. Each is at the same distance from the corner, and each is of the same size and appearance. Don’t you think we ought to open them and see where they lead to?”

“Certainly. But are the keys in the locks?”

Rosamond approached more closely to the doors, and answered in the affirmative.

“Open them, then,” said Leonard. “Stop! not by yourself. Take me with you. I don’t like the idea of sitting here, and leaving you to open those doors by yourself.”

Rosamond retraced her steps to the place where he was sitting, and then led him with her to the door that was farthest from the window. “Suppose there should be some dreadful sight behind it!” she said, trembling a little, as she stretched out her hand toward the key.

“Try to suppose (what is much more probable) that it only leads into another room,” suggested Leonard.

Rosamond threw the door wide open, suddenly. Her husband was right. It merely led into the next room.

They passed on to the second door. “Can this one serve the same purpose as the other?” said Rosamond, slowly and distrustfully turning the key.

She opened it as she had opened the first door, put her head inside it for an instant, drew back, shuddering, and closed it again violently, with a faint exclamation of disgust.

“Don’t be alarmed, Lenny,” she said, leading him away abruptly. “The door only opens on a large, empty cupboard. But there are quantities of horrible, crawling brown creatures about the wall inside. I have shut them in again in their darkness and their secrecy; and now I am going to take you back to your seat, before we find out, next, what the book-case contains.”

The door of the upper part of the book-case, banging open and half dropping from its hinges, showed the emptiness of the shelves on one side at a glance. The corresponding door, when Rosamond pulled it open, disclosed exactly the same spectacle of barrenness on the other side. Over every shelf there spread the same dreary accumulation of dust and dirt, without a vestige of a book, without even a stray scrap of paper lying anywhere in a corner to attract the eye, from top to bottom.

The lower portion of the book-case was divided into three cupboards. In the door of one of the three, the musty key remained in the lock. Rosamond turned it with some difficulty, and looked into the cupboard. At the back of it were scattered a pack of playing-cards, brown with dirt. A morsel of torn, tangled muslin lay among them, which, when Rosamond spread it out, proved to be the remains of a clergyman’s band. In one corner she found a broken corkscrew and the winch of a fishing-rod; in another, some stumps of tobacco-pipes, a few old medicine bottles, and a dog’s -eared peddler’s song-book. These were all the objects that the cupboard contained. After Rosamond had scrupulously described each one of them to her husband, just as she found it, she went on to the second cupboard. On trying the door, it turned out not to be locked. On looking inside, she discovered nothing but some pieces of blackened cotton wool, and the remains of a jeweler’s packing-case.

The third door was locked, but the rusty key from the first cupboard opened it. Inside, there was but one object — a small wooden box, banded round with a piece of tape, the two edges of which were fastened together by a seal. Rosamond’s flagging interest rallied instantly at this discovery. She described the box to her husband, and asked if he thought she was justified in breaking the seal.

“Can you see anything written on the cover?” he inquired.

Rosamond carried the box to the window, blew the dust off the top of it, and read, on a parchment label nailed to the cover: “Papers. John Arthur Treverton. 1760.”

“I think you may take the responsibility of breaking the seal,” said Leonard. “If those papers had been of any family importance, they could scarcely have being left forgotten in an old book-case by your father and his executors.”

Rosamond broke the seal, then looked up doubtfully at her husband before she opened the box. “It seems a mere waste of time to look into this,” she said. “How can a box that has not been opened since seventeen hundred and sixty help us to discover the mystery of Mrs. Jazeph and the Myrtle room?”

“But do we know that it has not been opened since then?” said Leonard. “Might not the tape and seal have been put round it by anybody at some more recent period of time? You can judge best, because you can see if there is any inscription on the tape, or any signs to form an opinion by upon the seal.”

“The seal is a blank, Lenny, except that it has a flower like a forget-me-not in the middle. I can see no mark of a pen on either side of the tape. Anybody in the world might have opened the box before me,” she continued, forcing up the lid easily with her hands, “for the lock is no protection to it. The wood of the cover is so rotten that I have pulled the staple out, and left it sticking by itself in the lock below.”

On examination the box proved to be full of papers. At the top of the uppermost packet were written these words: “Election expenses. I won by four votes. Price fifty pounds each. J. A. Treverton.” The next layer of papers had no inscription. Rosamond opened them, and read on the first leaf — “Birthday Ode. Respectfully addressed to the Mæcenas of modern times in his poetic retirement at Porthgenna.” Below this production appeared a collection of old bills, old notes of invitation, old doctors prescriptions, and old leaves of betting-books, tied together with a piece of whip-cord. Last of all, there lay on the bottom of the box one thin leaf of paper, the visible side of which presented a perfect blank. Rosamond took it up, turned it to look at the other side, and saw some faint ink-lines crossing each other in various directions, and having letters of the alphabet attached to them in certain places. She had made her husband acquainted with the contents of all the other papers, as a matter of course; and when she had described this last paper to him, he explained to her that the lines and letters represented a mathematical problem.

“The book-case tells us nothing,” said Rosamond, slowly putting the papers back in the box. “Shall we try the writing-table by the fireplace, next?”

“What does it look like, Rosamond?”

“It has two rows of drawers down each side; and the whole top is made in an odd, old-fashioned way to slope upward, like a very large writing-desk.”

“Does the top open?”

Rosamond went to the table, examined it narrowly, and then tried to raise the top. “It is made to open, for I see the key-hole,” she said. “But it is locked. And all the drawers,” she continued, trying them one after another, “are locked too.”

“Is there no key in any of them?” asked Leonard.

“Not a sign of one. But the top feels so loose that I really think it might be forced open — as I forced the little box open just now — by a pair of stronger hands than I can boast of. Let me take you to the table, dear; it may give way to your strength, though it will not to mine.”

She placed her husband’s hands carefully under the ledge formed by the overhanging top of the table. He exerted his whole strength to force it up; but in this case the wood was sound, the lock held, and all his efforts were in vain.

“Must we send for a locksmith?” asked Rosamond, with a look of disappointment.

“If the table is of any value, we must,” returned her husband. “If not, a screw-driver and a hammer will open both the top and the drawers in anybody’s hands.”

“In that case, Lenny, I wish we had brought them with us when we came into the room, for the only value of the table lies in the secrets that it may be hiding from us. I shall not feel satisfied until you and I know what there is inside of it.”

While saying these words, she took her husband’s hand to lead him back to his seat. As they passed before the fireplace, he stepped upon the bare stone hearth; and, feeling some new substance under his feet, instinctively stretched out the hand that was free. It touched a marble tablet, with figures on it in basso-relievo which had been let into the middle of the chimney-piece. He stopped immediately, and asked what the object was that his fingers had accidentally touched.

“A piece of sculpture,” said Rosamond. “I did not notice it before. It is not very large, and not particularly attractive, according to my taste. So far as I can tell, it seems to be intended to represent — ”

Leonard stopped her before she could say any more. “Let me try, for once, if I can’t make a discovery for myself,” he said, a little impatiently. “Let me try if my fingers won’t tell me what this sculpture is meant to represent.”

He passed his hands carefully over the basso-relievo (Rosamond watching their slightest movement with silent interest, the while), considered a little, and said — “Is there not a figure of a man sitting down, in the right-hand corner? And are there not rocks and trees, very stiffly done, high up, at the left-hand side?”

Rosamond looked at him tenderly, and smiled. “My poor dear!” she said. “Your man sitting down is, in reality, a miniature copy of the famous ancient statue of Niobe and her child; your rocks are marble imitations of clouds, and your stiffly done trees are arrows darting out from some invisible Jupiter or Apollo, or other heathen god. Ah, Lenny, Lenny! you can’t trust your touch, love, as you can trust me!”

A momentary shade of vexation passed across his face; but it vanished the instant she took his hand again to lead him back to his seat. He drew her to him gently, and kissed her cheek. “You are night, Rosamond,” he said. “The one faithful friend to me in my blindness, who never fails, is my wife.”

Seeing him look a little saddened, and feeling, with the quick intuition of a woman’s affection, that he was thinking of the days when he had enjoyed the blessing of sight, Rosamond returned abruptly, as soon as she saw him seated once more on the ottoman, to the subject of the Myrtle Room.

“Where shall I look next, dear?” she said. “The bookcase we have examined. The writing-table we must wait to examine. What else is there that has a cupboard or a drawer in it?” She looked round her in perplexity; then walked away toward the part of the room to which her attention had been last drawn — the part where the fireplace was situated.

“I thought I noticed something here, Lenny, when I passed just now with you,” she said, approaching the second recess behind the mantel-piece, corresponding with the recess in which the writing-table stood.

She looked into the place closely, and detected in a corner, darkened by the shadow of the heavy projecting mantel-piece, a narrow, rickety little table, made of the commonest mahogany — the frailest, poorest, least conspicuous piece of furniture in the whole room. She pushed it out contemptuously into the light with her foot. It ran on clumsy old-fashioned casters, and creaked wearily as it moved.

“Lenny, I have found another table,” said Rosamond. “A miserable, forlorn-looking little thing, lost in a corner. I have just pushed it into the light, and I have discovered one drawer in it.” She paused, and tried to open the drawer; but it resisted her. “Another lock!” she exclaimed, impatiently. “Even this wretched thing is closed against us!”

She pushed the table sharply away with her hand. It swayed on its frail legs, tottered, and fell over on the floor — fell as heavily as a table of twice its size — fell with a shock that rang through the room, and repeated itself again and again in the echoes of the lonesome north hall.

Rosamond ran to her husband, seeing him start from his seat in alarm, and told him what had happened. “You call it a little table,” he replied, in astonishment. “It fell like one of the largest pieces of furniture in the room!”

“Surely there must have been something heavy in the drawer!” said Rosamond, approaching the table with her spirits still fluttered by the shock of’ its unnaturally heavy fall. After waiting for a few moments to give the dust which it had raised, and which still hung over it in thick lazy clouds, time to disperse, she stooped down and examined it. It was cracked across the top from end to end, and the lock had been broken away from its fastenings by the fall.

She set the table up again carefully, drew out the drawer, and, after a glance at its contents, turned to her husband. “I knew it,” she said, “I knew there must be something heavy in the drawer. It is full of pieces of copper-ore, like those specimens of my father’s, Lenny, from Porthgenna mine. Wait! I think I feel something else, as far away at the back here as my hand can reach.”

She extracted from the lumps of ore at the back of the drawer a small circular picture-frame of black wood, about the size of an ordinary hand-glass. It came out with the front part downward, and with the area which its circle inclosed filled up by a thin piece of wood, of the sort which is used at the backs of small frames to keep drawings and engravings steady in them. This piece of wood (only secured to the back of the frame by one nail) had been forced out of its place, probably by the overthrow of the table; and when Rosamond took the frame out of the drawer, she observed between it and the dislodged piece of wood the end of a morsel of paper, apparently folded many times over, so as to occupy the smallest possible space. She drew out the piece of paper, laid it aside on the table without unfolding it, replaced the piece of wood in its proper position, and then turned the frame round, to see if there was a picture in front.

There was a picture — a picture painted in oils, darkened, but not much faded, by age. It represented the head of a woman, and the figure as far as the bosom.

The instant Rosamond’s eyes fell on it she shuddered, and hurriedly advanced toward her husband with the picture in her hand.

“Well, what have you found now?” he inquired, hearing her approach.

“A picture,” she answered, faintly, stopping to look at it again.

Leonard’s sensitive ear detected a change in her voice. “Is there anything that alarms you in the picture?” he asked, half in jest, half in earnest.

“There is something that startles me — something that seems to have turned me cold for the moment, hot as the day is,” said Rosamond. “Do you remember the description the servant-girl gave us, on the night we arrived here, of the ghost of the north rooms?”

“Yes, I remember it perfectly.”

“Lenny! that description and this picture are exactly alike! Here is the curling, light-brown hair. Here is the dimple on each cheek. Here are the bright regular teeth. Here is that leering, wicked, fatal beauty which the girl tried to describe, and did describe, when she said it was awful!”

Leonard smiled. “That vivid fancy of yours, my dear, takes strange flights sometimes,” he said, quietly.

“Fancy!” repeated Rosamond to herself. “How can it be fancy when I see the face? how can it be fancy when I feel — ” She stopped, shuddered again, and, returning hastily to the table, placed the picture on it, face downward. As she did so, the morsel of folded paper which she had removed from the back of the frame caught her eye.

“There may be some account of the picture in this,” she said, and stretched out her hand to it.

It was getting on toward noon. The heat weighed heavier on the air, and the stillness of all things was more intense than ever, as she took up the paper from the table.

Fold by fold she opened it, and saw that there were written characters inside, traced in ink that had faded to a light, yellow hue. She smoothed it out carefully on the table — then took it up again and looked at the first line of the writing.

The first line contained only three words — words which told her that the paper within the writing on it was not a description of the picture, but a letter — words which made her start and change color the moment her eye fell upon them. Without attempting to read any further, she hastily turned over the leaf to find out the place where the writing ended.

It ended at the bottom of the third page; but there was a break in the lines, near the foot of the second page, and in that break there were two names signed. She looked at the uppermost of the two — started again — and turned back instantly to the first page.

Line by line, and word by word, she read through the writing; her natural complexion fading out gradually the while, and a dull, equal whiteness overspreading all her face in its stead. When she had come to the end of the third page, the hand in which she held the letter dropped to her side, and she turned her head slowly toward Leonard. In that position she stood — no tears moistening her eyes, no change passing over her features, no word escaping her lips, no movement varying the position of her limbs — in that position she stood, with the fatal letter crumpled up in her cold fingers, looking steadfastly, speechlessly, breathlessly at her blind husband.

He was still sitting as she had seen him a few minutes before, with his legs crossed, his hands clasped together in front of them, and his head turned expectantly in the direction which he had last heard the sound of his wife’s voice. But in a few moments the intense stillness in the room forced itself upon his attention. He changed his position — listened for a little, turning his head uneasily from side to side, and then called to his wife.

“Rosamond!”

At the sound of his voice her lips moved, and her fingers closed faster on the paper that they held; but she neither stepped forward nor spoke.

“Rosamond!”

Her lips moved again — faint traces of expression began to pass shadow-like over the blank whiteness of her face — she advanced one step, hesitated, looked at the letter, and stopped.

Hearing no answer, he rose surprised and uneasy. Moving his poor, helpless, wandering hands to and fro before him in the air, he walked forward a few paces, straight out from the wall against which he had been sitting. A chair, which his hands were not held low enough to touch, stood in his way; and, as he still advanced, he struck his knee sharply against it.

A cry burst from Rosamond’s lips, as if the pain of the blow had passed, at the instant of its infliction, from her husband to herself. She was by his side in a moment. “You are not hurt, Lenny,” she said, faintly.

“No, no.” He tried to press his hand on the place where he had struck himself, but she knelt down quickly, and put her own hand there instead, nestling her head against him, while she was on her knees, in a strangely hesitating timid way. He lightly laid the hand which she had intercepted on her shoulder. The moment it touched her, her eyes began to soften; the tears rose in them, and fell slowly one by one down her cheeks.

“I thought you had left me,” he said. “There was such a silence that I fancied you had gone out of the room.”

“Will you come out of it with me now?” Her strength seemed to fail her while she asked the question; her head drooped on her breast, and she let the letter fall on the floor at her side.

“Are you tired already, Rosamond? Your voice sounds as if you were.”

“I want to leave the room,” she said, still in the same low, faint, constrained tone. “Is your knee easier, dear? Can you walk now?”

“Certainly. There is nothing in the world the matter within my knee. If you are tired, Rosamond — as I know you are, though you may not confess it — the sooner we leave the room the better.”

She appeared not to hear the last words he said. Her fingers were working feverishly about her neck and bosom; two bright red spots were beginning to burn in her pale cheeks; her eyes were fixed vacantly on the letter at her side; her hands wavered about it before she picked it up. For a few seconds she waited on her knees, looking at it intently, with her head turned away from her husband — then rose and walked to the fireplace. Among the dust, ashes, and other rubbish at the back of the grate were scattered some old torn pieces of paper. They caught her eye, and held it fixed on them. She looked and looked, slowly bending down nearer and nearer to the grate. For one moment she held the letter out over the rubbish in both hands — the next she drew back shuddering violently, and turned round so as to face her husband again. At the sight of him a faint inarticulate exclamation, half sigh, half sob, burst from her. “Oh, no, no!” she whispered to herself; clasping her hands together fervently, and looking at him with fond, mournful eyes. “Never, never, Lenny — come of it what may!”

“Were you speaking to me, Rosamond?”

“Yes, love. I was saying — ” She paused, and, with trembling fingers, folded up the paper again, exactly in the form in which she had found it.

“Where are you?” he asked. “Your voice sounds away from me at the other end of the room again. Where are you?”

She ran to him, flushed and trembling and tearful, took him by the arm, and, without an instant of hesitation, without the faintest sign of irresolution in her face, placed the folded paper boldly in his hand. “Keep that, Lenny,” she said, turning deadly pale, but still not losing her firmness. “Keep that, and ask me to read it to you as soon as we are out of the Myrtle Room.”

“What is it?” he asked.

“The last thing I have found, love,” she replied, looking at him earnestly, with a deep sigh of relief.

“Is it of any importance?”

Instead of answering, she suddenly caught him to her bosom, clung to him with all the fervor of her impulsive nature, and breathlessly and passionately covered his face with kisses.

“Gently! gently!” said Leonard, laughing. “You take away my breath.”

She drew back, and stood looking at him in silence, with a hand laid on each of his shoulders. “Oh, my angel!” she murmured tenderly. “I would give all I have in the world, if I could only know how much you love me!”

“Surely,” he returned, still laughing — “Surely, Rosamond you ought to know by this time!”

“I shall know soon.” She spoke those words in tones so quiet and low that they were barely audible. Interpreting the change in her voice as a fresh indication of fatigue, Leonard invited her to lead him away by holding out his hand. She took it in silence, and guided him slowly to the door.

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:29