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“Indeed! she is very young, is she not? Are you sure the father would consent ? I think you said he was away."
A cold shuddering came over Virginia as her brother uttered these words, but she did not stop to consider what caused it, all her desire being at that moment to make them aware of her presence, so she knocked two glasses sharply together, and created that peculiar ringing sound, which could not possibly have escaped their attention. But they took not the slightest notice, for when the vibration passed away, Virginia heard them talking still, and the next thing she distinctly heard was-in Miss Brereton's voice,
“I used to think it would be Virginia, at one time, but I have seen quite enough in the last few weeks to show me where his fancy lies.”
That was it! that was the explanation she was waiting for! Virginia saw it all clearly at once, and with the perception came such an oppressive faintness, that for the next few minutes she sat like one stunned, her head in her hands, one thought only beating itself into her brain, "He bas been false to me, he has been false!” Presently with an effort she roused herself, what she wanted was to be alone, alone in her own room, but to gain that she must pass her Aunt Isabelle and Evered. How to do this without showing emotion ? that was the question. She stood at the dressing-room door and looked through into the next room. Her aunt was gone, that was one comfort, gone to fetch something, no matter what, there would only be Evered to face; she could do that without betraying herself, if only he would not speak to her. She moved mechanically towards the door, passed his bed, her band was on the lock, she was all but safe from observation, when her brother said,
* You're going out now, I suppose, Virgie ? Before you go just reach me that letter off the chimney-piece, please.”
If he had known the pain he was inflicting on his sister by that one simple request, he would surely have left it unsaid ! but he knew nothing of her grief, alas ! how should he ? so Virginia turned and encountered her brother's eyes. She saw he looked almost frightened as he gazed at her. Did she appear so ill then ? was she betraying herself? that must not be, and with a step as firm as control could make it, and still averting her face as much as possible from his, she brought and gave him the letter silently, and he let her go without speaking again; he saw some great sorrow had come upon her within the last few minutes, and seeing that, he let her be.
When she was gone, Evered began to think what could have caused his sister to look as she did, when she left the room, and naturally his thoughts reverted to the conversation between his aunt and himself. But he had merely time to make a few conjectures before Miss Brereton came back and resumed her discourse, though on a totally different topic, one which interested Evered so little, that his aunt, gathering from his absent manner that he was tired, left him in peace to his own reflections.
Pressing her hands to her head to still the whirling agony there, Virginia gained the solitude of her own abode, and there, pacing up and down the room, wrestled with her grief as well as she might. It was a bitter, bitter blow, all the more because it had come so unexpectedly, she had never had the slightest inkling of the truth till she heard her aunt's words. Anger and hatred for her sister who had gained Reginald's love from her, filled her heart, and the feeling that no individual ever could know all she suffered, and would suffer, made the struggle more painful. After a while her anger turned against Reginald. Of course she should release him from his bond-merely a man's word, and what was that worth ? Yes ! it was far better they should part; after all such changeable love was worth nothing. And then, poor child, she tried to make herself believe she did not care for him now he had proved so false. But that was sorry work; she knew nothing could alter her real feelings towards him. Time might blunt the sharpness of the sorrow, but for all that, it would not cease to exist.
Presently she heard Nina's voice in the hall, having come in, no doubt, from her promised visit to the Staleys about her song. She had some one with her. Who was it ? Virginia listened and heard Reginald speak in answer to some question of Nina's, after that the drawing-room door closed upon them, and all was still. Then Virginia took a sudden resolution. She could not brook indecision or delay, and she resolved to tell him, that night, there and then, that he was free. Free! and she laughed scornfully in the bitterness of her sorrow, as she thought of all she should say to him. But no time must be lost, he would go down again presently, and she began to think how she could gain an interview with him alone. There was a little room at the back of the dining-room, used as a sort of store-room, sometimes as a work-room. That would do. She would catch him as he came down stairs, and speak to him there.
Now that the time for action had arrived, Virginia was perfectly
calm. She surveyed berself in the glass, before going down, and started to see her face so pale and changed. But there were no signs of tears at any rate, she had not given way to them, and with a beating heart she descended to prepare for the interview which was to end for ever the romance of her life.
She had not long to wait. The drawing-room door soon opened, and Reginald came down, softly whistling; he was by far too intimate to expect the butler to let him out-Virginia knew that well enough. His foot was on the last step, he was advancing towards the glass door leading into the Hall, when Virginia called him, “Reginald."
He started as if he had been shot, he had no idea any one was near, but he did not move.
“Reginald !” she said again in a louder voice. "I want you, here,” and this time he was forced to come at her bidding.
She was standing in the open doorway, but as he advanced, she drew back till he was fully inside the room. Then she closed the door and stood with her back against it; she did not greet him, or offer him her hand, but stood gazing at him fixedly, while he, apparently, found something very interesting to look at in his boots, which he tapped nervously with the cane be held in his hand.
At last she spoke, slowly but steadily, still with her eyes fixed on him, and said,
Reginald, you have heard from your father ?" It was put as a question, and as such, in all courtesy, demanded an answer, which she evidently expected, so he said unwillingly,
Another question, requiring a reply just as much as the first. Reginald fidgeted, and twisted his moustache. He was fully in her power, and felt himself to be so. He must also answer her question, for he knew her well enough to know there would be no escape
from the room for him till it was answered. Nevertheless it was a long time coming. But his adversary (for so he felt her to be then) did not get impatient, she stood perfectly still, as she had stood at first, her head thrown back, her lips slightly parted, ready to speak directly he had said his say. It came at last,
“But I withhold mine,” she said in the same cold hard voice ; " you are free."
Reginald started back in astonishment, but Virginia thought she could trace a satisfied look on his countenance, and when he began, “Virginia, this is too” she exclaimed,
“Reginald, be true to yourself! You know,-rather, I know as well as you do, that your feelings towards me have changed, that all your love is now centred on my sister, and I will not be the one to stand between you, though we have been engaged these two months."
“It was not an engagement in the eyes of the world,” interrupted Reginald, almost savagely, “I told you not to count it as such till I heard from
father.” Virginia drew herself up proudly. “Call it what you will,” she replied, “I looked upon myself as bound; but now I shall do so no more, for I take back my own word, and put an end, for ever, to our—what shall I call it ? since you are pleased to say it was not an engagement. I ought to have known better than to trust a man's simple word.”
Her eyes flashed disdainfully as she spoke, and for a minute Reginald was tempted to believe that after all he would rather possess her in all her proud contempt and indignation, for he respected her from his heart, than the bright winning Nina whom he had just left in the drawing-room. Speaking under that impulse, he said, “I think, Virginia, you are very
upon me. I never said I did not still care for you. What reason have you for thinking all my love is now centred upon your sister ?”
Directly the words left his lips, he repented having uttered them, and he literally quailed under her scornful gaze.
“ Reason for thinking! I know it. Can you deny it yourself? If you did it would be of no avail, but you cannot. It is quite time that we should part, and we will do so now, and for ever; that is all, so you
Without another word of self-justification, Reginald turned and left the house, and Virginia proceeded to her room again. And that was their parting
For a long time the anger which had supported Virginia all through the preceding interview, still continued. If she had only told him more of her mind! And then she began to frame little satirical speeches which she longed to level against him, if she could have him once more in her power. Every atom of love seemed merged in terrible unresisted anger, such as she had never been subject to before. But by-and-by she got calmer. Something carried her thoughts on
to the life which might have been hers, with him as her companion, and to what, in all probability it would be now. And as she thought, the passionate anger gave way to gentler woman's feeling, and tears came to her relief. This phase of grief was less bitter, but more painful than the last, more healthy but deeper, and it did her good: and when Galway came to her door to know if she was ready to dress for dinner, she was able to answer calmly that she was suffering from a bad headache and should not go down stairs to-night, but that when Mr. Randall had his tea in the evening she would take some with him. Speaking of her brother added yet another train of thought to her mind, and suddenly those words she had heard him use, we must not think to share our hearts between God and others,” came with full force to her memory. What could he have meant? It could not be that human beings were never to be affected by earthly love, it was against all possibility; and when she sought a clue to his meaning she became more and more perplexed, and could not concentrate her thoughts, for a continuance, into any channel but the one which was causing her so much sorrow. So she let it alone till she could gain an explanation from her brother himself.
Happily when nine o'clock came, she was quite calm and able to appear in Evered's room as if nothing had occurred, her headache being, she thought, a sufficient excuse for the pale face and heavy eyes she brought with her. And so it might have been to an uninterested observer, though not to Evered, who saw at once that his sister was still weighed down by the same great grief he had seen in the afternoon; but he determined not to notice it, he knew it would be the kindest thing to do, thinking too that she might herself bring up the subject of her sorrow, whatever it might be. But in this he was mistaken. Virginia felt herself bound in all honour to keep Reginald's secret, and made up her mind that through her, no one should know of the relation which had once existed between them.
Acting upon his resolution not to observe his sister's evident melancholy, Evered began talking in his customary manner on common-place subjects, and after a few sentences had been exchanged, he said,
“Mr. Courtenay came to see me after you left the room this afternoon, and I asked him about the Confirmation.”
He said this to rouse her from her listlessness, but it did not have the desired effect.
“Did you ?” she said, indifferently.