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lieve, "that you were as badly hurt as you appear to be. It makes it harder for me to talk to you as freely as I had intended."
"I assure you," said Julian, smiling, "that you need have no such scruples. My incapacities are local, and I can stand a long tongue as well as most men, even if I like it as little."
"I thought you would be insolent, and you are insolent," said Eurydice, with gloomy satisfaction. "That was one of the things I said to Stella."
Julian leaned forward, and for a moment his frosty, blue eyes softened as he looked at her.
"I admit I'm not very civil if I'm wrongly handled," he said in a more conciliatory tone. "Your manner was just a trifle unfortunate, Miss Eurydice; but I'd really like to be friends with you. I 've not forgotten that Stella told me you were 'special' sister. Shall we start quite afresh, and you just tell me as nicely as you know how what wrong you think I'm doing Stella?"
"I could n't possibly be friends with you," Eurydice said coldly. "The sight of you disgusts me."
Julian lowered his eyes for a moment; when he raised them again the friendliness had gone. They were as hard as windswept seas.
"I suppose," he suggested quietly, "that you have some point to make. Is n't that a little off it?"
"I don't mean physically," said Eurydice, with a wave of her hand which included his crutches. "You can't help being a cripple. It is morally I am sick to think of you. Here you are, surrounded by luxury, waited on hand and foot by menials, and yet you can't face your hardships alone-you are so parasitic by nature that you have to drag down a girl like Stella by trading on her pity."
"It would," said Julian in a level tone, holding his temper down by an effort, "be rather difficult for even the cleverest parasite to drag your sister down in the sense of degrading her. Possibly you merely refer to her having consented to marry me?"
"No, I don't," said Eurydice, obstinately. "I call it dragging a person down if you make them sacrifice their integrity. Stella and I always agreed about that before. She cared more for the truth than anything. Now she does n't; she cares more about hurting your feelings. I faced her with it last night, and she never even attempted to answer me. She only said, 'Oh, don't!' and covered her face with her hands."
"What unspeakable thing did you say to her?" asked Julian, savagely.
Ostrog, released from James, rejoined them, cowing down at his master's feet; he was aware that he was in the presence of an anger fiercer than his own.
"I did n't come here to mince matters," said Eurydice, defiantly. "If you want to know what I said to Stella, I asked her why she was going to marry a tyrannical, sterile cripple?"
For a moment Julian did not answer her; when he did, he had regained an even quieter manner than before.
"Very forcibly put," he said in a low voice; "and when your sister covered her face with her hands and said, 'Oh, don't!' you must have felt very proud of yourself."
"If you think I like hurting Stella, you 're wrong," said Eurydice. "But I'd rather hurt her now than see her whole life twisted out of shape by giving way to a feeling that is n't the strongest feeling in her, or I would n't have come down here. But she did n't deny it."
"What did n't she deny?" asked Julian. "What I came to tell you," said Eurydice. "The strongest feeling in Stella's life is her love for Mr. Travers, and she gave him up because she discovered that it was also the strongest thing in mine."
Julian flung back his head.
"Seriously, Miss Eurydice," he asked, "are you asking me to believe that your sister's in love with a town clerk?"
Eurydice flushed crimson under the undisguised amusement in Julian's eyes. He was amused, even though he had suddenly remembered that Mr. Travers was the name of the town clerk.
"Why not?" asked Eurydice, fiercely. "He's wonderful. He is n't like you; he works. He's like Napoleon, only he 's always right, and he has n't asked her to be his permanent trained nurse!"
Julian had a theory that you cannot swear at women; so he caught the words back, and wondered what would happen if Eurydice said anything worse.
"Don't you think," he said after a pause, "that if you insulted me once every five minutes, and then took a little rest, we might finish quicker? I will admit that there is no reason why Stella should n't be in love with Mr. Travers except the reason that I have for thinking she 's in love with me."
"Well, she is n't," asserted Eurydice. "She's awfully fond of you, but it all started with her finding out that you were unhappier than she was. She came to you to get over what she felt about Mr. Travers and to free him to care for me; but he does n't. That's how I found out; I asked him."
"The deuce you did!" exclaimed Julian. "Poor old Travers!"
Eurydice ignored this flagrant impertinence. She merely repeated Mr.. Travers's exact words to her: "I cared for your sister, Miss Waring; I am not a changeable man."
"But I notice," said Julian, politely, "that this profession of Mr. Travers's feelings which you succeeded in wringing from him does not include your sister's. I had already inferred from my slight knowledge of your sister that Mr. Travers was attached to her. The inference was easy."
"I hoped that myself," said Eurydice"I mean, that she did n't care. I wrote and asked Cicely. She 's my other sister; she hates me, but she 's just. She does n't know about you, of course. Would you like to see her letter?"
"It seems a fairly caddish thing to do, does n't it?" asked Julian, pleasantly. "However, perhaps this is hardly the moment for being too particular. Yes, you can hand me over the letter." Julian read:
My dear Eurydice:
You ask if I think Stella cared for Mr. Travers. I dislike this kind of question very much. However, as you seem to have some qualms of conscience at last, you may as well know that I think she did. She's never had anything for herself. You 've always taken all there was to take, and I dare say she thought Mr. Travers ought to be included. She never told me that she cared for him, but of course even you must know that Stella would n't do such a thing as that. She spoke during her illness of him once in a way that made me suspect what she was feeling, added to which I was sure that she was struggling against great mental pain, as well as physical. She evidently wanted to get away from the town hall and leave Mr. Travers to you. You can draw your Own inferences from these facts. Stella would rather be dragged to pieces by wild horses than tell you any more; so, if I were you, I would avoid asking her. Your affectionate sister,
"You did ask her, of course," said Julian, handing Eurydice the letter; "and as we are both acting in a thoroughly underhand way, perhaps you will not mind repeating to me Stella's reply."
"At first she did n't answer at all," said Eurydice, slowly, "and then when I asked her again she said: 'I'm not going to tell you anything at all about Mr. Travers. I came here to tell you about Julian, only you won't listen to me.' Then," said Eurydice, "she cried."
"Please don't tell me any more," said Julian, quickly, shading his eyes with his hand. "I should be awfully obliged if you'd go. I think you 've said enough."
Eurydice also thought that she had said enough; so she returned with the satisfaction of one who has accomplished a mission on the rest of Stella's pound.
THIS is going to be my last love-letter to you, Stella. I wonder if you will know it is a love-letter. It won't sound particularly like one. It's to tell you that I can't go
through with our marriage. I can't give you my reasons, and I can't face you without giving them to you. You must try to take my word for it that I am doing what I think best for both of us.
You see, I trust you to do what I want, though I know I am acting in a way that you'll despise. If you will think of what it means for me to act in such a way, you 'Il realize that I am pretty certain that I am right.
You are the best friend I ever had, man or woman, and I know you value my friendship, so that it seems uncommonly mean to take it away from you; and yet I'm afraid I can't be satisfied with your friendship.
It would honestly make me happier to hear that you were married; but I could n't meet you afterward, and if you don't marry, I could n't let you alone.
You see, I tried that plan when I did n't know you'd let me do anything else, and it can't be said to have worked very well, can it? It would be quite impossible now. There are two things I'd like you to remember. One is, if you set out, as I think you did, to heal a broken man, you 've succeeded, and nothing can take away from your success. You put in a new mainspring. I am going to work now. Some day I'll finish the book, but not yet. The second thing is something I want you to do for me. I know I have no right to ask you; I'm only appealing to your mercy. Will you let my mother help you a little? I know you won't let me, but you would have let me, Stella. Think what that means to me to know that you would have taken my help, and that by freeing you I am also, in a sense, deserting you. If you still want to make happier a man who has only been a nuisance to you, you can't say I have n't shown you the way.
I should like to give you Ostrog, but I suppose he 'd be out of place in a town hall.
I'm not going to ask you to forgive me; for I'm not really sorry for anything except that there was n't more of it, and I'm never going to forget anything. Your lover,
Stella was in the middle of ironing the curtains when she received Julian's letter. Everything else was ready for his visit except the curtains.
Mrs. Waring was dressed. It had taken several hours, a needle and cotton, and all the pins in the house, and now she was sitting in a drawing-room which was tidier than any she had sat in since her early married life. She thought that it looked a little bare.
Professor Waring was in the museum. He had become so restless after breakfast that it had seemed best to despatch him there, and retrieve him after Julian arrived.
Eurydice had not asked Mr. Travers for a morning off; she had merely conceded that she would allow Stella to arrange a subsequent meeting with Julian on Sunday, if it was really necessary.
Eurydice kissed Stella tenderly before she left the house to go to the town hall. She knew that she had saved her sister, but she foresaw for the victim of salvation a few painful moments. Even a kindly Providence may have its twinges of remorse.
Stella let the iron get cold while she was reading Julian's letter; but when she had finished it, she heated the iron again and went on with the curtains. They could not be hung up rough dried.
Mrs. Waring was relieved to hear that Julian was not coming. Stella told her at once, while she was slipping the rings on the curtains, which she had brought up-stairs. She added a little quickly, but in her ordinary voice:
"And we are n't going to be married, after all."
"Dear me!" said Mrs. Waring, trying not to appear more relieved still. "Then there won't have to be any new arrangements. Marriage is very unreliable, too -it turns out so curiously unlike what it begins, and it even begins unlike what one had expected. I often wish there could be more mystical unions. I can't agree with dear Eurydice about the drawback of Julian's being rich. We are told that money is the root of all evil, but there is
no doubt that it is more peaceful and refreshing to have it, as it were, growing under one's hand; and, after all, evil is only seeming. I think I'll just go upstairs and take off these constricting clothes, unless, dear, you 'd like me to help you in any way. You'll remember, won't you, that sensation is but the petal of a flower?"
Stella said that she thought, if she had the step-ladder, she would be all right.
The only moment of the day (it was curiously made up of moments prolonged to seem like years) when Stella was n't sure whether she was really all right or not was when she heard Lady Verny's voice in the hall. Lady Verny's voice was singularly like Julian's.
Something happened to Stella's heart when she heard it; it had an impulse to get outside of her. She had to sit down on the top of the stairs until her heart had gone back where it belonged.
The drawing-room had gone to pieces again. The kitten's saucer was in the middle of the floor, and the plate-basket came half in and half out of the sofacover. Lady Verny was looking at it with fascinated eyes. She had never seen a plate-basket under a sofa-cover before. Mrs. Waring, exhausted by her hours of dressing, had gone to lie down. So there was only Stella. She came in a little waveringly, and looked at Lady Verny without speaking.
Lady Verny shot a quick, penetrating glance at her, and then held out her arms. "My dear! what has he done? What has he done?" she murmured.
Stella led Lady Verny carefully away from the saucer of milk into the only safe arm-chair; then she sat down on a footstool at her feet.
"I thought," she said in a very quiet. voice, "that you 'd come, but I did n't think you 'd come so soon. I don't know what he 's done."
"It's all so extravagant and absurd," said Lady Verny, quickly, "and so utterly unlike Julian! I have never known him to alter an arrangement in his life, and as to breaking his word! I left him happier than I have ever seen him. He'd been telling me that you insisted on my staying with you after your marriage. I told him that I had always thought it a most out-of-place and unsuitable plan, and that he could n't have two women in our respective positions in this house, and he laughed and said: 'Oh, yes, I can. Stella has informed me that marrying me is n't a position; it's to be looked on in the light of an intellectual convenience. You're to run the house, and she 's to run me. I've quite fallen in with it.' I think that was the last thing he said, and when I came back, there was his astounding letter to say that your marriage was impossible, and that I was on no account to send him on your letters or to refer to you in mine.
"He gave me his banker's address, and said that he 'd see me later on, and had started some intelligence work for the War Office. He was good enough to add that I might go and see you if I liked. I really think he must be mad, unless you can throw some light on the subject. A letter came from you after he had gone."
Stella, who had been without any color at all, suddenly flushed.
"Ah," she said, "I 'm glad he did n't read that before he went! I mean, if he 'd gone after reading it, I should have felt-" She put out her hands with a curious, helpless little gesture, but she did not say what she would have felt.
"Can't you explain?" Lady Verny asked gravely. "Can't you explain anything? You were perfectly happy, were n't you? I have n't been a blind, meddling, incompetent old idiot, have I?"
Stella shook her head.
"When he left me," she said, "he gave me this." She took it out of her belt and handed it to Lady Verny; it was a check for two hundred pounds inclosed in a piece of paper, on which was written, "Dearest, please!" "I took it," said Stella.
Lady Verny was silent for a moment; then she said more gravely still:
"My dear, I think I ought to tell you. something, it is not fair not to let you have every possible indication that there is, but the day after you left, while I was away, I heard from Thompson, who seemed to be extremely upset by her, that a lady did call to see Julian who would not give her name. Thompson says he thinks she was a foreigner.
"I do not know what Julian may have told you about his life, but I myself am quite positive he would have asked no woman to marry him unless he felt himself free from any possible entanglement. Still, there it is: he went away after this person's visit."
For a moment it seemed to Stella that some inner citadel of security within her had collapsed. She knew so little about men; she had nothing but her instincts to guide her, and the memory of Eugénie
ered her face with her hands and shut out every thought but Julian. It seemed to her as if she had never been so alone with him before, as if in some strange, hidden way she was plunging into the depths of his soul.
When she looked up she had regained her calm.
"No," she said; "I am not quite sure of Julian. Perhaps some woman could make him feel shaken-shaken about its being right to marry me. I can believe that if she was very cruel and clever and knew how to hurt him most; but there is nothing else, or Julian would have told me."
Lady Verny gave a long sigh of relief. "That is what I think myself," she said; "but I could n't have tried to persuade you of it. My dear, did Julian know that you had always loved him?" Stella shook her head.
"I thought he knew all that mattered," she explained. "I did n't tell him anything else. You see, there was so very little time, and I was rather cowardly, perhaps. I did n't want him just at once to know that I had loved him before he even knew that I existed."
"I see, I see," said Lady Verny. "But would you mind his knowing now? He can't be allowed to behave in this extraordinary way, popping off like a conjurer without so much as leaving a decent address behind him. I intend to tell him precisely what I think of his behavior, and I hope that you will do the same."
Stella turned round to face Lady Verny.
"No," she said firmly; "neither of us must do that. I don't know why Julian has done this at all, but it is quite plain that he does not want to be interfered with. He wishes to act alone, and I think he must act alone. I shall not write to him or try to see him."
"But, my dear child," exclaimed Lady Verny, "how, if we enter into this dreadful conspiracy of silence, can anything come right?"
"I don't know," said Stella, quietly;