Read CHAPTER XI of A Beautiful Alien , free online book, by Julia Magruder, on ReadCentral.com.

Next morning when the hour for Christine’s sitting came Noel was walking up and down in his studio with a face intensely pale from past sleeplessness and present excitement. He looked at his watch frequently, as if impatient, and yet the least sound made him start as if nervous and apprehensive. At last the sound he longed for and yet dreaded was heard, and he went to the door and threw it open for Christine to enter.

She came in without speaking, and throwing back her veil revealed her pale, sad face, with its look of passionless woe.

Noel took her hand as he closed the door behind her and inquired for her health. It was steadier than his, that little black-gloved hand. He felt reluctant to let it go as she withdrew it and began to take off her bonnet and gloves. When she had laid these on the table she ran her fingers with a pretty motion that he had often noticed through the loose masses of her dark hair, where it curved behind her ears. It was quite mechanical and showed an unconsciousness of self that Noel wondered whether he should ever see in her again.

She poured out a glass of water and drank half of it, and then said she was ready to begin. She looked tired, but she said she was not, and would like to begin if he were ready.

“Sit down, Christine,” he said gently, “I am not ready to begin yet. I want to talk to you.”

She looked surprised, but sank upon the lounge and he seated himself by her side. The utter lassitude of her expression made his task seem desperately hard to begin.

“I have something to tell you, dear Christine,” he said, “but I want you to make me a promise first. If the few poor little services I have been able to render you, and the interest and sympathy I have tried to express to you have done anything at all, I think they must have convinced you that I am your true, devoted friend and that you can trust me. Tell me this, Christine; you do trust me don’t you?”

“More than any one on earth but that is too little,” she said hastily “as much as I could ever have trusted any one as much as I trusted those who have been unworthy and with a feeling that the knowledge of their unworthiness could never affect a thing so high as my faith in you.”

“Thank God that it is so. And now, Christine, I call the God we both adore and fear to witness that I will be true to your faith in me, to the last recess of my mind, no less than to the last drop of my blood. See, Christine, I swear it on my cross,” and he drew it out, touching the picture as he did so. “Give me your hand,” he said, “and we will hold this sacred cross between my hand and yours, and I will tell you this thing, and you must try to feel that I am not only your knight but also your dear brother, in whom all the confidence you have expressed to me is strengthened by the added bond of relationship. Christine, my sister, I want you to realize that there is an ordeal before you which it will take all the strength that you can summon to bear with fortitude. At first you will think it intolerable impossible to be borne, and I do not pretend to tell you that the blow will not be awful, beyond words. I only want to say to you now, when you are calm enough to listen, that it is not so hopeless and terrible as it will look at first that there is light beyond, though at first you may not be able to see it. Try to keep that in your mind if you can.”

She had given him her hand and they clasped the cross between them. All the time that he was speaking she looked at him with a calm and unbelieving wonder in her large eyes. As he paused she shook her head with grave incredulousness and said quietly:

“You do not know me, Mr. Noel. I thought you understood a little, but you are wrong if you think there is anything you could tell me for which I should care so much. I do not suppose I could make you understand it, but my heart is dead and buried in my baby’s grave, and nothing could make me feel as you expect me to feel. The two or three people that I know” (Noel knew by the pause she made that she had wanted to say love, but couldn’t, in honesty, use the word) “are all well. I have just come from them even Dr. Belford I have seen to-day but if you were going to tell me they were all dead I could not care a great deal at least not in the way you expect me to care for what you have to tell me. It may be wicked to have so hard a heart, but I cannot help it. There is absolutely nothing in all the world that could make me feel in the way you think I ought to feel at what you have to tell me.”

“I did not say ought,” said Noel, “there is no ought about it. It is a thing inevitable. Oh, Christine, there is no way to lead up to it. I must just tell you and beg you, for my sake at least, to try to bear it.”

“You had better tell me,” she said. “You will see how I can bear it.”

The calm security of her tones, the passionless wonder of her quiet face were almost maddening. They made him fear the more the effect of the shock when it should come.

“Christine,” he said quietly, though his heart was leaping, “it is something about your about the man you married.”

A faint flush came up in her face, and she averted her eyes an instant. Then she looked at him and said calmly:

“I thought you knew that long ago that became one of the subjects upon which I had ceased to feel deeply. If you think it is wrong of me to say this I cannot help it. He hated his little child. He never thought it anything but a trouble and a burden, and he was not sorry when it died. He is glad the trouble of it is over. He had long ceased to feel any love for me if he ever had it but if he had cared a little for the poor little baby I could have forgotten that; but he was cruel toward it in thought and feeling, and if I had not watched the treasure of my heart and guarded it unceasingly he would have been cruel to it in deed, too. I know it and Eliza knows it. Oh, why did you make me speak of it? I ought not to say such things. It is wrong.”

“Why wrong, Christine? Why do you feel it to be wrong? Tell me.”

“Because he is my husband,” she said sternly, “and I took solemn vows to love, to serve and to obey him. I said ‘for better or for worse.’ I said ‘till death us do part.’ The God who will judge me knows whether I have kept them. The love one cannot control; but one can force one’s self to serve and obey, and that I have tried to do.”

“And you have done it. I have felt that I could kneel and worship you for it but, Christine, the truth is too evident to be avoided. He is unworthy of you. Suppose you could be free from him?”

“Divorce?” she said with a sort of horror. “Never! I scarcely know what it is but marriage seems to me a thing indissoluble and inviolate. I cannot forget that he is the father of my child. I could never wish, on that account, to be free from him.”

“Christine, there is another way. Oh, my poor, poor child, you have never even thought of it, and it breaks my heart to tell you. But there is a way you might be free from him without divorce a sad and dreadful way, my poor little sister, but remember, I implore you, that there is light beyond the darkness. Oh, cannot you think what I mean?”

She shook her head.

“I know he is not dead,” she said; “there is no other way that I know.”

“Suppose my poor girl, try to be brave now, for you will have to know it suppose your marriage to him was not legal was no marriage at all?”

Her face got scarlet.

“That is not possible,” she said, “and if it were, it would make no difference. If he did it without knowing ”

“Christine, Christine, he did not! He knew it, my child. Prepare yourself for the very worst. He deceived you wilfully. Oh, Christine, when he was married to you there was an impossible barrier between you. It was such a thing as you could not dream of. Give me your hands and try to feel that your brother bears this sorrow with you.” He caught her other hand also and pressed them both between his own.

“Christine, he was married already. When he married you, he had already a wife and child.”

She wrenched her hands away and sprang to her feet. A low cry broke from her. Noel felt that it was he who had applied the torture, and he saw her racked with agony and utterly heedless of the comfort he had offered, and had fondly hoped to give her.

“Have you proof for what you say?” she cried, her wild look of confusion and terror making her so unlike her usual self that he seemed not to know her. “I will never believe it without the strongest proof. It is too horrible, too awful, too deadly, deadly shameful to be true. Be quick about it. If there is proof, let me have it.”

“Christine, there is proof. I have it here on the spot, but spare yourself, my poor, poor girl. Wait a little ”

“Don’t talk to me of waiting. Let me see what you have got. Oh, can’t you see that I can bear anything better than not to know? Show me what you have and if what you say is true ”

But she turned away as if his eyes upon her hurt her, and raised her arm before her face. In an instant she lowered it and said entreatingly:

“Oh, show me what you have. Have pity on me.”

Noel took the envelope containing the picture from his pocket.

“This has been sent me by a lawyer,” he said. “The woman is his client. She says he gave her this picture soon after they were married. Oh, Christine, don’t look at it ”

But she walked toward him steadily and took the envelope from his hand. He could not bear to see her when her eyes rested on it, so he turned away and walked off a few paces, standing with his back toward her.

There was a moment’s silence. He heard her slip the picture from the envelope, and he knew that she was looking at it. He heard his watch tick in the stillness, and her absolute silence frightened him. It lasted, perhaps, a moment more and then he turned and looked at her. She was standing erect with the picture in her hand. He saw that she had turned it over and that it was upon the reverse side that her eyes were fixed. There was some writing on it which he had not seen.

She held the photograph out to him, with an intense calm in her manner, but he saw that her nostrils quivered and her breath came short. Her hands were trembling, too, but her voice was steady as she said:

“I am convinced.”

He glanced down at the picture and saw written on the back in a weak, uncertain hand which Christine had evidently recognized, “To my darling little wife, from Robert.”

He felt her humiliation so intensely that he could not look at her, but he took a step toward her and was about to speak when she turned away and, with a tottering step, went toward the sofa and fell heavily upon it, her face buried in her hands. A long breath that was almost a groan broke from her, and then she lay very still, except that now and then a violent shiver would run all along her frame. Poor Noel! He felt the bitterness of the false position he had tried to occupy. If he had been indeed her brother, this awful grief might have spent itself, to some extent, in his arms. He felt that he was nothing to her, but his heart was none the less soft toward her for that.

Thrusting the picture back into his pocket, he drew a chair near to her, and sat down by her side. He wanted her to feel that he was there, in case she should find it in her heart to turn to him for a help he did not venture to intrude. It seemed a long while that they remained so, but at last Christine sat up, turning upon him a face so strange and terrible that he trembled at the look of it. Sorrow had seared it like a blight. She had been lying upon a seam in the lounge and it had left a red mark across her face. He thought it looked like the wound upon her heart made visible.

“I can never see him again,” she said. “I cannot go home. Oh God, I have no home! It never was a home to me, except when my baby was in it. Oh, my baby boy! my baby boy! my little child that loved and clung to me! Oh, God was merciful to take you. My God, I see it now! I thank Thee, I thank Thee, I thank Thee!”

She fell on her knees on the floor, and then she threw herself forward on the couch, and hiding her face again shook from head to foot with great, tearless sobs.

“Oh, I am so glad he is dead! It is so sweet to me to think it! I would have had to look into his big, clear eyes that used to seem to read my very heart, and think of this! Oh, if only I could go and lie beside my baby, in the deep, still ground where the cruel eyes of men and women could not see us, I would want no other home. I have been lonely and miserable, lying in my bed at night, without him, and I have felt that he missed and needed me, as I did him. Oh, if only God would let me go to him, I would be willing to be put into his grave alive and wait for death to come! It would be easier than life with this thing branded on me.”

“Branded on you! Oh, Christine, you must not say it. You will not be branded; you will be, as you have always been, best and purest and truest among women to me at least. What have you ever been but an angel of nobleness and heroism and devotion to duty? Oh, Christine, I could worship you.”

She rose to her feet and stood before him.

“I believe God will reward you in Heaven for those words,” she said. “You are a man who can see as He sees, in truth and clearness, and you know, as He does, I have tried to do right. But what you do not know, what He alone can know, is how I have suffered how every sacred feeling of my woman’s heart has been torn and desecrated, and dragged to the earth, and how I endured it all, because I thought it was my duty and all the time it was Oh, I feel as if I don’t know what may happen to me next to drag me deeper down in misery and sorrow. I thought the worst had come when my baby died, and now a thing so terrible has come as to make that the comfort that I hug to my soul.”

She sank to a seat on the couch again, and Noel came and took the place at her side.

“Give me your hand,” she said tremblingly. “Oh, I feel so frightened. Now that this has come I feel that the air is full of awful horrors that are waiting to fall upon me.”

Noel took her hands in both his own, and she clung to them with a pitiful intensity.

“The worst is over,” he said gently. “You have only to let me manage and think for you now ”

“Tell me,” she said, “tell me all there is to know how you found this thing out, and what will be done about it. You must tell it every word to me. I can bear it better now than ever to speak of it again.”

And Noel told her, as mercifully and gently as he could, all that he had learned from the lawyer’s statements. He wanted to show her how convincing and certain the proof was, that she might be justified in acting on it. She held his hands in a hard grasp and looked at him with excited, distended eyes as she listened to it all. The mixture of wildness and calm in her manner and looks positively terrified him. He feared her reason might be temporarily disturbed, and would have given worlds to see her cry and complain, but she heard him through with the same excited stillness.

“I have a safe and pleasant refuge for you for the present, Christine,” he said. “I have arranged everything. A lady a dear friend of mine, whose son was my friend and a man I loved devotedly this lady will take you and care for you as a daughter. I have told her everything and she is waiting for you now, longing to love and comfort you. Her son is dead and she has often told me that I, as his friend, came next in her affections, and that she would do anything on earth to serve me. I was able to help him once and she never forgot it. So I went and told her all the truth. She has a mind as clean and simple as your own, Christine, and she is longing to love and comfort and take care of you. You will let me take you to her will you not?”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “God bless you for it. I could never go back there again,” she added with a shudder, “but I must write a letter.”

She rose hastily and Noel, wondering, brought her writing materials.

She wrote a hasty note, and sealing it, asked him to have it sent at once. To his surprise he found it was addressed to Dallas.

“I will give it to the janitor as we go down,” he said. “Do you feel able to go now, Christine? A carriage will be waiting for us and I will take you to that dear woman who will make you feel as if your mother’s arms were around you.”

Christine was trembling in every limb, but she reached for her bonnet and tried to tie it on. Her hands shook so that she let it fall. Noel picked it up and held it a moment, saying soothingly:

“Don’t hurry. We can wait a little while, if you wish. Try not to be too despairing. When you drive away from here to-day you leave the past behind you, and enter into a new and different life. Your new friend, Mrs. Murray, will know you only as you are now, and you may meet no one unless you wish to. She has very few friends herself, and she will tell them what she chooses of you. You will see she is not a woman that people will dare to ask questions of.”

He stopped. A look so dreary, strange and full of anguish had come into Christine’s face that he was alarmed and said quickly:

“What is it?”

She struck her hands together and uttered a low cry.

“What is my name?” she said, in a tone so wild and vacant he thought her mind was wandering. “It used to be,” she said, passing one hand across her forehead, as if in an effort of memory “it used to be Verrone Christine Verrone, but I am not that happy-hearted girl the nuns used to call by that name. This is not Christine Verrone. The very flesh and blood and bones of this body are different and surely in this mind and heart and soul there is no tinge nor remnant of that old Christine. How, then, can I be she? Oh! I have no home, no country, no dwelling-place on earth; I have not even a name to be called by!”

Noel could bear no more. Taking her hands in his, he held them firmly, and looking in her eyes, said fervently:

“Then take my name, Christine. Let me give you a home and friends, and call you by the name I bear. God knows I would feel honored in bestowing it upon you. If you will commit your precious life into my keeping if you will marry me ”

The look of her eyes checked him. The meaning of his words had dawned upon her slowly, and to his infinite distress he saw that they filled her with pain.

“You are speaking out of pity for me. You think I would die beneath it, unless you sacrificed yourself and gave me the protection of your name,” she said, speaking almost eagerly. “Tell me this is so. But you do not know how I feel. I can bear it somehow, or else I can die. I could never accept such a sacrifice from you, and, oh, I could never think of marriage again, even to the best and noblest creature on God’s earth, without a shrinking that is pain intolerable.”

Noel saw he had made a mistake. He saw, too, that the only way out of it was to let her put this interpretation on it. So he merely soothed and comforted her, and told her things should be as she chose, and then he tied her bonnet under her chin as if she had been a little girl, gave her her gloves, lowered the veil before her face and asked her if she were ready.

“You will take your sweet girl-name,” he said, “and be known as Mrs. Verrone. Only Mrs. Murray and I will know anything of your past, and we will now turn that page, Christine, and go forth into a new world and a brighter one, please God.”