Virginia by Mrs. Forrester
"He is a very strange mixture."
"I really do not think you ought to ask him to the house. An atheist, a
man of disreputable life, a----."
"Come, come, my dear, don't give him such a character, before Virginia."
This fragment of dialogue takes place over a cheery breakfast table in a
house not very far from Park Lane.
The first speaker is a pleasant-looking man of between fifty and sixty,
and his interlocutor is a rather prim lady, who appears older, but is,
in reality, his junior by two years. They are Mr. Hamilton Hayward and
his sister, Miss Susan.
The party has a third member—the Virginia alluded to by Mr. Hayward.
She is tall, handsome, bright-looking; evidently she possesses
character, but with it the grace and charm of manner which prevent a
woman of character from falling into that disagreeable being, a
"What are Mr. Vansittart's good points?" she says, smiling at her
"He has the kindest heart in the world," Mr. Hayward replies, warmly,
"and he would never do a shabby thing. One of the few men who really
practice not letting their left hand know the good their right does. He
certainly is a looseish fish; but he does not parade his irregularities
before the world—the world need not know anything about them if it does
not insist on prying into his affairs. The greatest grudge women have
against him is that he is mortally opposed to marriage, and carries on a
crusade against it as though he were St. George, and matrimony the
Dragon. He says if you want to make two people hate each other who would
otherwise be disposed to love—"
"Hush! my dear Hamilton," cries Miss Susan, horrified. "Pray spare us a
repetition of Mr. Vansittart's iniquitous opinions."
"I suppose," laughs Virginia, "that women don't insist on marrying him
by force, do they?"
"A great many would be very glad to have him," rejoins Mr. Hamilton, "he
is a tremendously taking fellow."
"And have you really asked him to dinner?" interposes Miss Susan.
"I have, indeed, my dear, and I had a good deal of difficulty in
persuading him to come. He persisted that he went so little into
society—into ladies' society."
Miss Susan gave a little snort.
"He has no right to go into it at all with the views he holds; and,
pray, whom is he to take in to dinner?"
"Mrs. Ashton, I thought," answers Mr. Hamilton. "I am afraid he would be
bored with an unmarried lady."
"When I was young," says Miss Susan, bridling, "married women were as
modest and particular in their conversation as unmarried ones."
"Ah!" observes her brother dryly.
"Uncle," cries Virginia, "let him take me. If he is original, I shall be
sure to like him; and as I don't intend to marry, he need not be afraid
of my having designs on him. I shall give him a hint whilst he is eating
his soup that I have made a vow to coiffer Ste. Catherine."
"Virginia!" remonstrates Miss Susan; "and you know Sir Harry Hotspur is
to take you."
"No, no," cries Virginia, "he bores me to distraction. Besides,"
laughing, "he 'goes for married women.' Let him have Mrs. Ashton, and
give me Mr. Vansittart."
Miss Susan has one virtue, which is, that she is never quite so shocked
as she pretends to be. Moreover, Virginia always gets her way with both
uncle and aunt. So when the evening of the dinner party arrives, Mr.
Hayward brings Mr. Vansittart up to his niece and introduces him. Whilst
he is uttering a few of those banalités which must inevitably be the
precursors of even the most interesting conversation between two
strangers, Virginia is taking an inventory of him. He is tall, rather
dark than fair; his features are well cut, and he has particularly
expressive eyes, the color of which it takes her some time to decide
about. At the same moment he is saying to himself: "What sort of woman
is this, and what on earth shall I talk to her about? I hope to heaven
she isn't a girl of the period. She doesn't look like it—still less
like a prude. How I hate a society dinner! I suppose I shall be bored to
death, as usual."
True to her promise, Virginia apprises him, whilst he yet is
assimilating his soup, of her vow of celibacy. He turns to look at her,
being just a shade surprised at receiving such a confidence so early in
their acquaintance, and then he sees the archest smile curving the
corners of her mouth, and meets a glance from a pair of brown eyes that
he now perceives to be beautiful.
Mr. Vansittart has a quick intelligence—he understands in an instant
the object of her remark. His eyes light up with a sudden gleam, and he
murmurs quietly, "Thanks so much for putting me at my ease."
From that moment they are perfectly at home with each other, and fall to
animated talk. He does not air his theories about marriage, nor is
religion discussed between them, but there are plenty of other topics,
and they become aware of a dozen feelings and sympathies in common.
Virginia is as bright and witty as she is modest and pure-minded; there
is nothing in the world that Mr. Vansittart detests so much as a coarse
or immodest lady. So charmed is he with Virginia, that he remains
close to her side the whole evening, to the surprise of every one else.
No one ever saw him devote himself to a girl before. He stays until the
very last. As he walks away from the door, after lighting his cigar, he
reflects to himself: "If any earthly power could induce me to marry, it
would be a girl like that. But," resolutely, "nothing could." As
Virginia wends her way upstairs to bed, she says to herself with a heavy
sigh, "Why should he abuse marriage? How happy he might make some
Virginia is the daughter of a clergyman. Father and mother are both
dead. She has a brother in the army, and a sister married to a country
rector. Her uncle, Mr. Hayward, has adopted her. She is clever and
accomplished. She has both passion and imagination. Some of her ideas
are original; she hates common-placeness, but she is also imbued with
the attribute possessed by every charming woman, the love of
approbation. This prevents her doing or saying anything outre or
unconventional; this makes her careful of her appearance and fond of
fair apparel; this makes the evidence of admiration from the other sex
exceedingly agreeable to her; this causes her to adopt a manner towards
them that induces jealous women to call her a coquette. She has had
several offers of marriage, but she entertains peculiar ideas about the
strength of passion and the sympathy of thought a man and woman ought
to feel for each other before they decide to spend a life-time together.
She does not think a man who has a good income, and who is simply not
repulsive or abhorrent to her, a sufficient inducement.
The days wear on. Virginia does not forget Mr. Vansittart any more than
he forgets her, but he weighs more on her heart than she does on his,
for, happy man! he is perpetually occupied, being a barrister with a
considerable practice, whilst she is an idle woman as the well-to-do of
her sex mostly are. If she goes to balls or dances, she is always
contrasting every man, with whom she talks or dances, with him; if she
works at her embroidery, her thoughts are intent on him; if she reads, a
hero of her own ousts the hero of the novel from her brain; if she
sings, her voice is moved to strong pathos; her eyes become drowned by
that strange passion which consumes her. Days and weeks pass by; and she
does not catch a glimpse of him; does not even hear his name. She sees
it frequently in the Times. One Sunday afternoon, she and her uncle
strolling in the Park meet him. He lifts his hat, and is about to pass,
when something that her eyes have communicated to his heart, stops him
suddenly. He turns and joins them. It is a delicious summer afternoon:
they take chairs under the big trees which shade this cool green spot.
Presently a crony joins Mr. Hayward—soon the elder pair are deep in the
cause célèbre of the day. Virginia and Mr. Vansittart have forgotten
that other people exist in the world—the topics of their conversation
are ordinary enough, but it is not from them that a subtle delight
steals through their veins. What they heed is the language of each
other's eyes. His say—"You fulfil my idea of perfect womanhood. I could
love you with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my strength. I
respect you with my purest feelings; I love you with my strongest
passions; I would to God I could shake off my doubts about marriage. But
I know that if I married you, inexorable Destiny would no longer let
us love one another."
And her eyes reiterate one little sentence, "You are my lord, my master,
and I am your slave."
It was one of the very strongest cases of love at first sight. Such
cases are more common, however, than people affect to think.
"Come home and dine with us," says Mr. Hayward, as a distant clock
"I'm afraid I have not time to dress," replies Philip Vansittart; "that
is if you dine at half past seven, as I have heard you say you do."
"Never mind about dress," answers Mr. Hayward. "I won't dress either."
He has no designs on his guest, but he is a good-natured gentleman, and
he sees that these two are attracted toward each other.
Miss Susan is at church. If her brother will dine at his usual hour on
Sunday, she cannot help it, but she will not countenance him by her
Philip Vansittart thinks he has never spent such a divinely happy
evening as this. Virginia sings to him; her voice thrills to his very
soul. Mr. Hamilton is asleep in the next room. As for Virginia, when she
is alone, she first smiles a happy, triumphant smile, because she knows
he loves her, and then she bursts into a passion of tears and sobs until
her whole frame is convulsed. If his mind is really set against
marriage, what will become of her! She feels as though life without him
must be one long night of despair.
Philip Vansittart paces his room until the small hours, thinking of this
charming, lovable creature, who inspires stronger, deeper sensations in
him than he has ever felt before. He tells himself, without vanity or
self-deception, that what he feels for her, with that difference which
governs the loves of men and women, she feels for him—heart has gone
out to heart, nay, they are twain halves of a perfect heart. It is but
for him to stretch out his hand to her, and she will come. Aye! but how
can he stretch out his hand? In the society in which they both move
there is but one way in which she can be his—the way sanctioned by
society, blessed by the church. Society and the church will bless and
smile upon any union: the decrepit old man with the blooming child; the
drunkard and adulterer with the pure young girl; the avaricious youth
with the doting old woman. Marriage purifies, sanctifies, hallows
sensuality, greed, any, every base motive. To love as God made you free
to love, unfettered, and with a true heart, is a crime; to live
together full of hatred, loathing, and revolt, is to perform a sacred
duty once you have tied yourself up in church. This was Vansittart's
theory. Marriage to him was only another word for satiety, weariness,
restraint, tyranny. He had never seen what he called a happy marriage,
though he had observed many which the world crowned with that adjective,
and he had sworn a thousand oaths that he would never subject himself to
that miserable awakening which inevitably follows the temporary sleep of
mind and reason, and the short dream of passion which makes a man bind
himself with shackles.
Philip paced his room for hours, fighting the hardest battle he had ever
fought. It was the first time he had ever been tempted to marry—tempted
beyond endurance. And, at last, ashen pale, in the wan morning light,
and with set teeth, he took his final oath and resolve. He would save
himself years of wretchedness by a month's anguish; he would not go near
her, nor see her again. He was not entirely selfish; he did not forget
that she might, nay, would suffer, but he said, with a sigh, "It will be
best for her as for me."
A month passed by: two months. Virginia grew pale, listless,
distraite; her step was languid, her eye haggard. She did not know how
to endure her life; she suffered torments day and night from an
agonising desire to hear the voice, to meet the eyes again which had
given light to her soul and in whose absence she felt it must needs
perish of want. It was plain enough to her why he avoided her. He had
seen that she loved him; he would not encourage false hopes in her
breast. Had she not been warned, ere ever she met him, that he abjured
marriage? She remembered, with a breaking heart, her own first playful
words to him.
Mr. Hayward saw the change in Virginia, but he put it down entirely to
the effects of a London season—to late hours and the want of fresh air.
Never mind! the end was near at hand, and then they would go and fill
their lungs with mountain air and their eyes with fair scenes, and the
roses would come back to her cheeks and lips, and the light to her eyes.
He never for an instant connected his niece's pallor with Philip
Vansittart. He would have ridiculed the idea of people being twice in
each other's company, and breaking their hearts with longing afterwards.
Mr. Hayward, his sister, and Virginia, were dining at a Swiss table
d'hote. Exactly opposite were two empty places. The fish had been
served, and two gentlemen came in and took them. One was Mr. Philip
Vansittart. At sight of him the crimson blood rushed to Virginia's
cheeks, then ebbed away, leaving her deathly pale. For a moment she
thought she must swoon or die from the intensity of her feelings. Philip
was scarcely less moved, though, being a man, he was better able to
control his agitation. When he had time to look more narrowly at
Virginia, he saw a mighty change in her. His heart smote him; and
yet—had he not suffered? Great heaven! had his been a bed of roses? Had
he not agonised after her?
Dinner over, the party went off into the garden. A mutual unspoken
desire made Vansittart and Virginia steal off together to a secluded
spot. Twilight was creeping on—the last glow of a rosy sunset was
fading away; the strains of a delicious waltz were borne towards them.
Vansittart felt his passion mastering him. He made a herculean effort
over himself. He would speak. He would tell her the truth. After that
she would forget him. They were sitting under a tree that screened them
off from the rest of the garden. He could see well enough that she was
trembling with nervousness; that delight, fear, expectation were blended
in the beautiful eyes she turned towards him; and, lest suddenly he
should yield to that mad longing to catch her to his heart, he began to
But Virginia scarcely hears him. Her lips are burning to ask him that
one question, and, not heeding what he is saying, she turns and in a
tremulous voice that vibrates to his very soul, she says:
"Why have you kept away from us all this time?"
Why? And Vansittart catches his breath. Then the gyves of his strong
will give way as the withes fell from Samson.
"I will tell you," he says. "I love you so horribly, that it is pain
and anguish to me to be with you, for then I feel that when I leave you
I am ready to die of longing and misery."
"Well?" she utters in a very low voice, bending her eyes on the ground.
It is only one little word, but it speaks such volumes! "Why should you
leave me?" it says. "Is it not my case, too? What need you more than
"You have heard," he goes on, not daring to look at her, "that I have
forsworn marriage. Marriage," passionately, "kills love, and I would
rather, ten times over, suffer what I have suffered—and God knows that
is not a little!--than a day should come when, having known such divine
happiness as I should know were you mine, we should grow cold and
weary; when our passions should turn to indifference, to disappointment
and heart-burnings, and end, perhaps, in our cherishing feelings of
vindictive spite and bitterness against each other, and in my thinking
every woman pleasanter and fairer than you, end in your believing me to
be the greatest brute under heaven!"
"Oh!" utters Virginia, as she raises her eyes to his face with a look of
"I have seen it a thousand times," he continues vehemently. "I have
known men passionately, madly in love with women, ready to count 'the
world well lost,' to sacrifice all the future only to call that idol of
the moment theirs. I have seen them marry. I have watched the weariness
that comes from security even more than from satiety. I have seen the
links that were forged in roses become gyves of iron—tenderness and
courtesy give place to rudeness and contempt. I never saw but two people
perfectly happy, and they," lowering his voice, "were not married. I
have sworn a thousand times never to court wretchedness for myself and a
woman I loved by loading her and myself with chains. My idea has been
this. Some day I may meet with a being who, under natural circumstances,
she keeping her freedom and leaving me mine, I might love with all my
heart and be faithful to until the day of my death. I would give her all
I possessed. I would devote myself to making her happy; if she had to
sacrifice anything for my sake, I would atone to her for it by my
unwearying love. But," his voice mastered by emotion, "how dare I say
such words to you? In the sphere in which you live they would be
considered a dastardly insult—one must not dare to move one step from
the beaten track of custom. The world would scoff at the idea that my
love for you is more sacred and reverent than that of a man who,
inspired by a momentary passion for a woman and desiring her, obtains
his end by a simple and speedy means, without reflection as to the
possible misery of both in the future. And yet," his lips quivering, his
face growing deathly white, "I believe I could love you more dearly,
love you longer than husband ever loved wife."
Virginia sits rooted to the spot, a deadly anguish strangling her
heart. Then, whilst the divine strains of music still flow on, she feels
herself drawn to his heart; his lips meet hers in one long kiss that
steals her very soul away from her. He is gone—the music has
ceased—the night grows chill—she shivers. "The world well lost," she
mutters to herself, and then, with listless steps, and strange,
affrighted eyes, she drags herself up stairs to her room.
In a charming house, surrounded by an acre of ground, turned into a
small paradise, a house not more than two miles from Hyde Park Corner,
live Philip Vansittart and Virginia Hayward. The neighbourhood knows
them as Mr. and Mrs. Vansittart, and has not the very remotest
conception that in so perfectly ordered an establishment, there is
anything which they would designate as "odd." If anything could arouse
suspicion in the breasts of the servants who wait upon them, and the
tradespeople who serve them it would be the extraordinary tenderness
subsisting between them; the excessive courtesy and consideration of Mr.
Vansittart for Mrs. Vansittart, and the entire absence of that
familiarity commonly seen between affectionate husbands and wives, which
almost invariably engenders subsequent contempt.
The house is furnished with exquisite taste. Mr. Vansittart is
continually bringing home artistic treasures to add to its
embellishment. Mrs. Vansittart has a carriage and a fine pair of horses.
She seldom, however, drives into town except to the play, or to dine. A
great many gentlemen of distinction and rank come to the house, who
treat Mrs. Vansittart like a queen, and a few ladies; clever, literary
ladies, ladies holding peculiar views—very rarely the consorts of
distinguished and well-born men.
Is Philip happy? Is Virginia happy? To this I can only reply by another
question. Is any one Happy? They love each other with unfailing
tenderness—they are all the world to each other—the thought of
separation would be death to them. And yet the heart of either is gnawed
by a secret worm. In the midst of his busy life, Philip can never forget
that he has sacrificed the woman whom he adores from the very bottom of
his soul, and the horrible suspicion will stab him, that he has
sacrificed her needlessly. They are living as husband and wife, and yet
no feeling of weariness, of satiety, comes near them—each day draws
them nearer together; makes them find fresh points in each other to love
and admire. Were she his wife, occupying her proper sphere in society,
sought after, courted, admired, he with no feeling of self-reproach, she
with no consciousness (which she must feel though she never betrays) of
cruelty and selfishness on his part; might they not be even happier? He
forgets to tell himself that they are happy because no tie binds
them—nay, he says secretly in his heart that that tie is the only thing
wanting to make their felicity perfect. Now, it is too late. The world
knows the truth—marriage can never whitewash Virginia in society's
eyes—no future can condone the crime of the past. He has settled every
farthing he has in the world upon her—no mean fortune—he loads her
with gifts—he is perpetually thinking of her pleasure and amusement,
and yet, for ever, the load of his debt to her weighs down his soul.
And Virginia? Paul is all in all to her; he is her heart, her soul, her
conscience, and yet he cannot shield her from the fate which he has
brought upon her. What must inevitably be the sufferings of a proud and
pure-minded woman, who knows herself to be an object of scorn to her
sex? How would a man, naturally honorable and high-minded, feel, if, in
some fatal moment, he had been tempted to commit a forgery, or take an
unfair advantage at cards, and was afterwards shunned by every man
friend; thrust out of every club, banned utterly from the society of his
fellows, except those with whom it would revolt him to associate? This
is the only case that can parallel that of a woman who has lost the
world for a man's sake; and men who have a difficulty in realizing how
great is the sacrifice they compel or accept from a woman, would do well
to consider this.
Virginia suffered many a bitter pang when she showed herself in public
with Philip. She quivered under the open stare, or the look askance of
members of her sex; if she showed a brave front, it was that of the
Spartan boy! Philip was particularly fond of the opera and the play; he
would not have gone without her; so she accompanied him, and made no
demur. Of course every relation and friend she had in the world shunned
her as though she were a leper, which indeed, morally, she was in their
eyes. She loved society; no woman was more calculated to shine in it,
and from this she was cut off. True, they constantly entertained
brilliant and clever men, whose conversation and company were very
agreeable to her; but, however much a woman may like, may even prefer
the society of men, it is a bitter thought to her that she cannot
command that of her own sex. And, though men treated her with even a
greater and more delicate courtesy than they would perhaps have shown
their own women, Virginia was none the less keenly conscious of the
moral ban under which she lay.
She was the daughter of a clergyman, she had been religiously brought
up, and she writhed under the terrible consciousness that her life was a
sin against her God. At first she went to church, but everything she
heard there sent the iron deeper into her soul; if there were comforting
promises to repentant Magdalens, there was nothing but wrath and
threatening for those who continued in their sin. By-and-by she left off
going to church. Philip was a sceptic, most of his friends were the
same. Virginia listened to their talk, and, in time, her faith began to
waver; she liked to think they were right, and that the Bible was a
string of fables; it lessened her sense of criminality and remorse, but
it cut her off forever from the only consolation a woman can know, when
her hour of trial comes. If man could supply the place of God and
Saviour now, whither should she fly when he was torn from her or grew
weary of her?
She was glad that she had no children—could she live to be shamed by
them, scorned by them? And yet—how sweet it would have been to feel
clinging arms about her neck; to hear little voices lisp the sweetest
word on earth to a mother's ear, if only she might have been as other
mothers—as other wives! Never, never once had she breathed or hinted a
wish that Philip should marry her; she had a superstitious dread that
once the chain was forged his love for her would cease—marriage could
not now reinstate her in the world's sight—she had ceased to remember
that her life was a crime. She had heard it said so often that marriage
was simply an institution founded upon expediency; that all systems
having been tried, the one that worked best was the union of a man to
one wife, that she herself began to doubt its being a heaven-ordained
institution, and the only state tolerated by Divine Providence. But if
she ceased to feel herself actually a guilty and sinning woman, she was
none the less sensitive to the world's scorn; to the bitterness of
holding a position that society refused to tolerate or to recognize.
But, after all, she knew happiness which is denied to nine-tenths of
women, nay, to ninety-nine out of a hundred. She enjoyed the passionate,
unfailing devotion of the man whom she adored—no harsh word ever
crossed his lips to her—she was his first care and thought—no party of
pleasure ever tempted him from her side—nothing but the claim of
business could induce him to spend an evening away from her. And so the
years passed on. It is an unalterable law of nature that passion must
succumb before habit, but it may be succeeded by a calm content, a happy
trustful confidence, that wears better, and is perhaps in the long run
Twelve years elapsed, and during that time Virginia enjoyed unbroken
health. Then, one winter, she caught a severe cold, which settled on her
lungs; her life was despaired of. No woman was ever a more tender, more
devoted nurse than Philip. But this illness left her extremely delicate;
she could no longer brave all weathers as formerly, nor be Philip's
constant companion in his walks and drives. She was forbidden to go out
at night, and they had been so in the habit of going to the play,
especially in the winter months. At first he insisted on remaining at
home with her, but she was too unselfish to allow him to sacrifice
himself. There was many an evening when she was unable to leave her
room, and when talking would bring on severe paroxysms of coughing. She
succeeded in prevailing upon him to visit the theatre without her, and
sometimes even to dine with a friend. After a time he got into the
habit of going about alone, and, although he was even more tender and
considerate than before, she felt an agonising consciousness that he
could, after all, do without her, which he had sworn ten thousand times
he never could. She began to have sleepless nights and passionate fits
of crying. Nemesis was coming upon her with gigantic strides. Philip did
not suspect that she was unhappy; he thought her illness affected her
spirits. A great change had come over her, which he deplored. She no
longer was the bright, amusing companion of yore.
Two more years went by. Virginia was almost a confirmed invalid—she
could only get out in fine summer weather—then her spirits rallied, and
she was something of her old self again. Philip often spent his evenings
away from home now; it become a habit; he did not suspect that Virginia
suffered from his absence, but thought that it was really her wish,
dear, unselfish soul that she was, that he should go out and be amused.
And she, fearful of making him fancy that he felt a chain where none
existed, was careful never to show him by word or look that she suffered
from his absence. She tormented herself with the thought that he might
meet any day with a young and beautiful woman who would inspire again in
his breast the feeling that he had once known for her. And she
remembered that she was free, even if he forgot it. Poor soul! she
recognised bitterly enough now, that the only safety for a woman is in
that bond which a man may so lightly affect to set at naught: in a
contract like hers and Philip's, the man has all to gain, the woman all
It was growing dusk one November afternoon, when the door of Virginia's
drawing-room was thrown open, and Lord Harford announced. A slight blush
suffused her cheek as she rose to receive him, and she appeared slightly
embarrassed. Virginia was still beautiful, though no longer very young;
she had an extremely fragile and delicate appearance, which is
attractive to some men, notably to those who, like Lord Harford, are
big, strong and robust.
"You are not angry with me for coming, are you?" he asks almost
diffidently, as soon as the door has closed on the servant.
"No," she answers gently. Times are changed with her since the last
occasion in which she and he stood face to face in this very room. Then
she was angry, but then she was in the full flush of health and
beauty, and he was her would-be lover. There had been nothing to wound
or humiliate her in his love-making; he had come loyally to offer her
his hand and all that belonged to him, which of wealth and honor was no
mean portion. But she had been deeply stung by a man daring to remember
that she was free, and there was only one husband and lover in the world
for her. Now that, as it seemed to her, beauty and love were so far
removed from her, it was almost a pleasure to remember that she had been
"I have passed your door a hundred times," he says, "and never been
able to summon up courage enough to ask for you."
"But to-day you were braver," she utters, looking at him with something
of the old smile and manner.
"I thought perhaps you had a good many dull hours now Vansittart is so
"How do you know that he is much away?" asks Virginia, feeling vaguely
hurt at his words and tone.
"Because I so often meet him out."
"Where do you meet him?"
"Oh, at different places. Chiefly at Mrs. Devereux's."
Lord Harford looks full in Virginia's face, and she, who is so quick,
cannot fail to see that his eyes and tone are intended to convey some
"Mrs. Devereux?" she says, inquiringly. "You mean his cousin."
After this there is a pause. It is as though he wanted her to question
him; as though she were fighting against the desire to know his meaning.
She conquers herself by an effort.
"I have been very ill since you saw me last. You find me much altered,
do you not?"
"You look delicate," he answers, "but in my eyes," lowering his voice,
"you are as beautiful as ever."
She half-smiles, half-sighs.
"It is very kind of you to say that," she utters, "but I cannot deceive
myself. I am an old woman now; if ever I had any good looks they are
"They are not!" cries Lord Harford staunchly. "What I say is gospel
truth. I think your delicacy becomes you. I hate your great buxom,
Virginia smiles at his earnestness.
"Ah, if you had been mine," he goes on, "I should never have wanted to
look at another woman, young or old."
Still that strange meaning in his tone. A chill terror creeps to
Virginia's heart—she can no longer restrain herself.
"What do you mean?" she says, fixing her eyes on him. "You are hinting
at something—you want to convey something to my mind. If you are a
man—if you pretend to be my friend, speak out honestly."
He rises, and takes one or two turns in the room, then stops abruptly in
front of her.
"Will you believe me, I wonder?" he asks, "or will you think me a mean
hound who only seeks his own interest?"
"Interest?" echoes Virginia bitterly, "what interest can it be to you?"
"This much," he answers, a red flush mounting to his brow, "that I am as
anxious this moment to make you my wife as I was four years ago."
Virginia makes an impatient movement with her hand.
"Vansittart is in love with Mrs. Devereux's eldest girl, Connie. She is
a pretty little kitten of a thing, but a mere child—a doll. I go there
rather often—they are old friends of mine. Whenever I go, he is always
For a moment Virginia feels as though she were dying; then, by an
extraordinary effort, she recovers herself.
"I would rather have my tongue cut out than tell you," Lord Harford
continues, half-ashamed, "only that I want you to know where your refuge
is if he breaks your heart. Oh!" imploringly, "why will you not care for
me who am ready to devote my life to you? Marry me, and let us go abroad
and win health for you and happiness for me!"
His voice is broken with emotion—he takes one of her hands in his. She
is leaning back in her chair, very white—she is hardly conscious of his
action—all the hot blood in his veins cannot warm her chill white
"Do you think," she says at last, very slowly, "that if—if he were rid
of me, he would marry her? Does she care for him?"
"I don't think about it. Yes, it is very strange; but, child as she is,
he has perfectly infatuated her."
There is another long pause, during which he eagerly scans her face.
Suddenly her eyes light up, and she returns his glance.
"Are you really willing to marry me?" she says.
"Why do you ask?" he returns, simply. "Are my eyes not honest?"
Virginia smiles. "If you mean it," she says, "go now, and write me the
same words to-night or to-morrow."
So, as she bids him, he goes.
Lord Harford had set down nothing in malice. What he told Virginia is
absolutely true. Philip Vansittart is in love with a gay, pretty child,
whose winsome tricks have coiled her round his heart. He has never
spoken one word of love to her, for he feels and knows himself as much
bound to Virginia as though the marriage-tie he once so utterly abhorred
linked them. He no longer, strange to say, thinks and speaks so evilly
of marriage. Were he free, would he not joyfully chain himself with all
the bonds that church and society can impose to this sweet young life
which would make him young again? He has no thought or desire to blast
this girl-life as he had done Virginia's. Perish the thought! When these
ideas come to him, he hates and loathes himself; he makes superhuman
efforts to drive them away—but the limpid blue eyes come and look at
him over his briefs; the childish voice rings in his ears in the night
watches! He grows pale and haggard. At last he makes a mighty resolve.
"Virginia," he says, two nights after Lord Harford's visit to her, "let
us be married!"
He takes her hand kindly, but his eyes do not meet hers, and the tender
inflection of yore is missing from his voice.
Virginia betrays no surprise. Poor soul! She understands too well.
"Why?" she says quietly. "I think we are very well as we are."
"No," he returns hastily, "we are not! My views have changed on the
subject—changed entirely. Marriage is the best thing. It decides your
fate. To live as we do is neither one thing nor the other."
"You forget," she says, in a tone so calm as to be almost unnatural.
"This state has great advantages. There is no tie between us. If either
of us tired of the other, there is nothing to hinder our parting,
to-morrow—to-night even." He looks at her, speechless with amazement.
Her eyes do not flinch from his. "If," she continues, with that terrible
calmness,—"if you wanted to marry Miss Constance Devereux; if I wished
to marry—let us say, Lord Harford—there is nothing to prevent it
except," slowly, "the unwritten law of a faithful heart."
Philip Vansittart leans his face between his hands. He cannot find a
word to say. He is smitten with remorse, for he knows well enough that
she is faithful. But why that allusion to Lord Harford?
"What do you mean about Harford?" he asks presently.
"He wants me to marry him," replied Virginia quietly. "He asked me four
years ago; he asked me again the day before yesterday."
She draws a letter from her pocket, and scans Philip's face as he reads
it. When he has finished, he looks at her. She understands his glance
but too well. There is an only half-suppressed eagerness—a
half-suppressed hope in it.
"What shall I do?" she says, so quietly that it deceives him.
"There is no better fellow living than Harford," he says cordially. "If
you thought you could be happy with him; if—"
He stops abruptly. There is a look of such terrible agony in Virginia's
face that he starts up and takes her hand.
"No, no," he cries. "Let it be as I said. Let us marry each other. It is
the only thing to be done."
Virginia's ears, sharpened by suffering, catch the dreary tone of the
Next morning, when Philip, according to custom, went to Virginia's room,
he found her asleep. From that sleep she never woke. One more of those
unfortunate cases of an overdose of chloral. The deceased lady had
suffered much from sleeplessness, and always kept the fatal drug by her
The church gave its blessing, and society smiled when that heretic and
sceptic Mr. Vansittart led his charming girl-bride to the altar a few
months later. It was whispered that there had been an—entanglement, but
that was all hushed up now, and he had become a respectable member of