Read CHAPTER XXVII of April's Lady A Novel , free online book, by Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, on ReadCentral.com.

’Since thou art not as these are, go thy ways;
Thou hast no part in all my nights and days.
Lie stillsleep onbe glad. As such things be
Thou couldst not watch with me.”

Luncheon has gone off very pleasantly. Joyce, persuaded by Lady Baltimore, had gone down to it, feeling a little shy, and conscious of a growing headache. But everybody had been charming to her, and Baltimore, in especial, had been very careful in his manner of treating her, saying little nice things to her, and insisting on her sitting next to him, a seat hitherto Lady Swansdown’s own.

The latter had taken this so perfectly, that one might be pardoned for thinking it had been arranged beforehand between her and her host. At all events Lady Swansdown was very sympathetic, and indeed everybody seemed bent on treating her as a heroine of the highest order.

Joyce herself felt dullnerveless. Words did not seem to come easily to her. She was tired, she thought, and of course she was, having spent a sleepless night. One little matter gave her cause for thankfulness. Dysart was absent from luncheon. He had gone on a long walking expedition, Lady Baltimore said, that would prevent his returning home until dinner houruntil quite 8 o’clock. Joyce told herself she was glad of thisthough why she did not tell herself. At all events the news left her very silent.

But her silence was not noticed. It could not be, indeed, so great and so animated was the flow of Beauclerk’s eloquence. Without addressing anybody in particular, he seemed to address everybody. He kept the whole table alive. He treated yesterday’s adventure as a tremendously amusing affair, and invited everyone to look upon it as he did. He insisted on describing Miss Kavanagh and himself in the same light as he had described them earlier to his sister, as the modern Babes in the Wood, Mrs. Connolly being the Robin. He made several of the people who had dropped in to luncheon roar with laughter over his description of that excellent inn keeper. Her sayingsher appearanceher stern notions of morality that induced her to bring them home, “personally conducted”the size of her waistand her heartand many other things. He was extremely funny. The fact that his sister smiled only when she felt she must to avoid comment, and that his host refused to smile at all, and that Miss Kavanagh was evidently on thorns all the time did not for an instant damp his overflowing spirits.

It is now seven, o’clock; Miss Kavanagh, on her way upstairs to dress for dinner, suddenly remembering that there is a book in the library, left by her early in the afternoon on the central table, turns aside to fetch it.

She forgets, however, what she has come for when, having entered the room, she sees Dysart standing before the fire, staring apparently at nothing. To her chagrin, she is conscious that the unmistakable start she had made on seeing him is known to him.

“I didn’t know you had returned,” says she awkwardly, yet made a courageous effort to appear as natural as usual.

“No? I knew you had returned,” says he slowly.

“It is very late to say good-morning,” says she with a poor little attempt at a laugh, but still advancing toward him and holding out her hand.

“Too late!” replied he, ignoring the hand. Joyce, as if struck by some cruel blow, draws back a step or two.

“You are not tired, I hope?” asks Dysart courteously.

“Oh, no.” She feels stifled; choked. A desire to get to the door, and escapelose sight of him foreveris the one strong longing that possesses her; but to move requires strength, and she feels that her limbs are trembling beneath her.

“It was a long drive, however. And the storm was severe. I fear you must have suffered in some way.”

“I have not suffered,” says she, in a dull, emotionless way. Indeed, she hardly knows what she says, a repetition of his own words seems the easiest thing to bar, so she adopts it.

“No?”

There is a considerable pause, and then

“No! It is true! It is I only who have suffered,” says Dysart with an uncontrollable abandonment to the misery that is destroying him. “I alone.”

“You mean something,” says Joyce. It is by a terrible effort that she speaks. She feels thoroughly unnervedunstrung. Conscious that the nervous shaking of her hands will betray her, she clasps them behind her tightly. “You meant something just now when you refused to take my hand. But what? What?”

“You said it was too late,” replies he. “And Iagreed with you.”

“That was not it!” says she feverishly. “There was moremuch more! Tell me”passionately“what you meant. Why would you not touch me? What am I to understand ”

“That from henceforth you are free from the persecution of my love,” says Dysart deliberately. “I was mad ever to hope that you could care for mestillI did hope. That has been my undoing. But now ”

“Well?” demands she faintly. Her whole being seems stunned. Something of all this she had anticipated, but the reality is far worse than any anticipation had been. She had seen him in her thoughts, angry, indignant, miserable, but that he should thus coldly set her asidebid her an everlasting adieube able to make up his mind deliberately to forget herthishad never occurred to her as being even probable.

“Now you are to understand that the idiotic farce played between us two the day before yesterday is at an end? The curtain is down. It is over. It was a failureneither you, nor I, nor the public will ever hear of it again.”

“Is thisbecause I did not come home last evening in the rain and storm?” Some small spark of courage has come back to her now. She lifts her head and looks at him.

“Oh! be honest with me here, in our last hour together,” cries he vehemently. “You have cheated me all throughbe true to yourself for once. Why pretend it is my fault that we part? Yesterday I implored you not to go for that drive with him, and yetyou went. What was Ior my love for you in comparison with a few hours’ drive with that lying scoundrel?”

“It was only the drive I thought of,” says she piteously. “Ithere was nothing else, indeed. And you; if”raising her hand to her throat as if suffocating“if you had not spoken so roughlyso ”

“Pshaw!” says Dysart, turning from her as if disgusted. To him, in his present furious mood, her grief, her fear, her shrinkings, are all so many movements in the game of coquette, at which she is a past mistress. “Will you think me a fool to the end?” says he. “See here,” turning his angry eyes to hers. “I don’t care what you say, I know you now. Too late, indeedbut still I know you! To the very core of your heart you are one mass of deceit.”

A little spasm crosses her face. She leans back heavily against the table behind her. “Oh, no, no,” she says in a voice so low as to be almost unheard.

“You will deny, of course,” says he mercilessly. “You would even have me believe that you regret the pastbut you, and such as you never regret. Man is your prey! So many scalps to your belt is all you think about. Why,” with an accent of passion, “what am I to you? Just the filling up of so many hours’ amusementno more! Do you think all my eloquence would have any chance against one of his cursed words? I might kneel at your feet from morning until night, and still I should be to you a thing of naught in comparison with him.”

She holds out her hands to him in a little dumb fashion. Her tongue seems frozen. But he repulses this last attempt at reconciliation.

“It is no good. None! I have no belief in you left, so you can no longer cajole me. I know that I am nothing to you. Nothing! If,” drawing a deep breath through his closed teeth, “if a thousand years were to go by I should still be nothing to you if he were near. I give it up. The battle was too strong for me. I am defeated, lost, ruined.”

“You have so arranged it,” says she in a low tone, singularly clear. The violence of his agitation had subdued hers, and rendered her comparatively calm.

“You must permit me to contradict you. The arrangement is all your own.”

“Was it so great a crime to stay last night at Falling?” “There is no crime anywhere. That you should have made a decision between two men is not a crime.”

“No! I acknowledge I made a decisionbut ”

“When did you make it?”

“Last eveningand though you ”

“Oh! no excuses,” says he with a frown. “Do you think I desire them?”

He hesitates for a minute or so, and now turns to her abruptly. “Are you engaged to him finally?”

“No.”

“No!” In accents suggestive of surprise so intense as to almost enlarge into disbelief. “You refused him then?”

“No,” says she again. Her heart seems to die within her. Oh, the sense of shame that overpowers her. A sudden wild, terrible hatred of Beauclerk takes her into possession. Why, why, had he not given her the choice of saying yes, instead of no, to that last searching question?

“You meanthat he ” He stops dead short as if not knowing how to proceed. Then, suddenly, his wrath breaks forth. “And for that scoundrel, that fellow without a heart, you have sacrificed the best of youyour own heart! For him, whose word is as light as his oath, you have flung behind you a love that would have surrounded you to your dying day. Good heavens! What are women made of? But ” He sobers himself at once, as if smitten by some sharp remembrance, and, pale with shame and remorse, looks at her. “Of course,” says he, “it is only one heartbroken, as I am, who would have dared thus to address you. And it is plain to me now that there are reasons why he should not have spoken before this. For one thing, you were alone with him; for another, you are tired, exhausted. No doubt to-morrow he ”

“How dare you?” says she in a voice that startles him, a very low voice, but vibrating with outraged pride. “How dare you thus insult me? You seem to thinkto thinkthat becauselast nighthe and I were kept from our home by the storm ” She pauses; that old, first odd sensation of choking now again oppresses her. She lays her hand upon the back of a chair near her, and presses heavily upon it. “You think I have disgraced myself,” says she, the words coming in a little gasp from her parched lips. “That is why you speak of things being at an end between us. Oh ”

“You wrong me there,” says the young man, who has grown ghastly. “Whatever I may have said, I ”

“You meant it!” says she. She draws herself up to the full height of her young, slender figure, and, turning abruptly, moves toward the door. As she reaches it, she looks back at him. “You are a coward!” she says, in a low, distinct tone alive with scorn. “A coward!”