Read CHAPTER XLVI of The Daughters of Danaus , free online book, by Mona Caird, on ReadCentral.com.

Professor Theobald made his confession to Lady Engleton on that same night, when he also announced that he found it suddenly necessary to return to town.

It was some time before she recovered from her astonishment and horror. He told his story quietly, and without an effort to excuse himself.

“Of course, though I can’t exonerate you, Professor, I blame her more than you,” she said finally, “for her standard in the matter was so different from your’s you being a man.”

The Professor suppressed a smile. It always seemed strange to him that a woman should be harder on her own sex than on his, but he had no intention of discouraging this lack of esprit de corps; it had its obvious conveniences.

“Did she confess everything to her aunt after her return from Portsmouth?” asked Lady Engleton.

“Yes; I have that letter now.”

“In which your name is mentioned?”

“In which my name is mentioned. I sent money to the girl, but she returned it. She said that she hated me, and would not touch it. So I gave the money to the aunt, and told her to send it on, in her own name, to Ellen, for the child’s support. Of course I made secrecy a condition. So as a matter of fact, I have acknowledged the child, though not publicly, and I have contributed to its support from its birth.”

“But I thought Mrs. Temperley had been supporting it!” cried Lady Engleton.

“Nevertheless I have continued to send the money to the aunt. If Mrs. Temperley chose to take charge of the child, I certainly had nothing to complain of. And I could not openly contribute without declaring myself.”

“Dear me, it is all very strange! What would Hadria say if she knew?”

“She does know.”

“What, all along?”

“No, since yesterday.”

“And how does she take it?”

“She is bitter against me. It is only natural, especially as I told her that I wanted to have the child under my own care.”

“Ah, that will be a blow to her. She was wrapped up in the little girl.”

Professor Theobald pointed out the difficulties that must begin to crop up, as she grew older. The child could not have the same advantages, in her present circumstances, as the Professor would be able to give her. Lady Engleton admitted that this was true.

“Then may I count on you to plead my cause with Mrs. Temperley?”

“If Hadria believes that it is for the child’s good, she will not stand in the way.”

“Unless . You remember that idea of vengeance that she used to have?”

“Oh, she would not let vengeance interfere with the child’s welfare!”

“I hope not. You see I don’t want to adopt strong measures. The law is always odious.”

“The law!” Lady Engleton looked startled. “Are you sure that the law would give you the custody of the child?”

“Sure of the law? My dear lady, one might as well be sure of a woman pardon me; you know that I regard this quality of infinite flexibility as one of the supreme charms of your sex. I can’t say that I feel it to be the supreme charm of the law. Mrs. Temperley claims to have her authority through the mother, because she has the written consent of the aunt to the adoption, but I think this is rather stretching a point.”

“I fear it is, since the poor mother was dead at the time.”

“I can prove everything I have said to the satisfaction of anybody,” continued Theobald, “I think my claim to take charge of my child is well established, and you will admit the wish is not unreasonable.”

“It does you great credit, but, oh dear, it will be hard for Mrs. Temperley.”

“I fear it will. I am most grieved, but what am I to do? I must consider the best interests of the child.”

“Doubtless, but you are a trifle late, Professor, in thinking of that.”

“Would you prefer it to be never than late?”

“Heaven forbid!”

“Then I may rely on you to explain the position of affairs to Mrs. Temperley? You will understand that it is a painful subject between us.”

Lady Engleton readily promised. She called at the Red House immediately after Professor Theobald’s departure. The interview was long.

“Then I have not spoken in vain, dear Hadria?” said Lady Engleton, in her most sympathetic tone. Hadria was very pale.

“On the contrary, you have spoken to convince.”

“I knew that you would do nothing to stand in the way of the child.”

Hadria was silent.

“I am very sorry about it. You were so devoted to the little girl, and it does seem terribly hard that she should be taken away from you.”

“It was my last chance,” Hadria muttered, half audibly.

“Then I suppose you will not attempt to resist?”

“No,” said Hadria.

“He thinks of leaving Martha with you for another month.”

“Really? It has not struck him that perhaps I may not keep her for another month. Now that it is once established that Martha is to be regarded as under his guardianship and authority, and that my jurisdiction ceases, he must take her at once. I will certainly not act for him in that matter. Since you are in his confidence, would you kindly tell him that?”

Lady Engleton looked surprised. “Certainly; I suppose he and his sister will look after the child.”

“I shall send Martha up with Hannah.”

“It will astonish him.”

“Does he really think I am going to act as his deputy?”

“He thought you would be glad to have Martha as long as possible.”

“As the child of Ellen Jervis, yes not as his child.”

“I don’t see that it matters much, myself,” said Lady Engleton, “however, I will let him know.”

“By telegram, please, because Martha will be sent to-morrow.”

“What breathless haste!”

“Why delay? Hannah will be there she knows everything about her charge; and if she is only allowed to stay

“He told me he meant to keep her.”

“I am thankful for that!”

By this time, the story had flown through the village; nothing else was talked of. The excitement was intense. Gossip ran high in hall and cottage. Professor Fortescue alone could not be drawn into the discussion. Lady Engleton took him aside and asked what he really thought about it. All he would say was that the whole affair was deeply tragic. He had no knowledge of the circumstances and feelings involved, and his judgment must therefore be useless. It seemed more practical to try to help one’s fellows to resist sin, than to shriek at convicted sinners.

His departure had been fixed for the following morning.

“So you and poor little Martha will go up together by the afternoon train, I suppose,” said Lady Engleton.

Hadria spent the rest of the day at Martha’s cottage. There were many preparations to make. Hannah was bustling about, her eyes red with weeping. She was heart-broken. She declared that she could never live with “that bad man.” But Hadria persuaded her, for Martha’s sake, to remain. And Hannah, with another burst of tears, gave an assurance which amounted to a pledge, that she would take a situation with the Father of Evil himself, rather than desert the blessed child.

“I wonder if Martha realizes at all what is going to happen,” said Hadria sadly, as she stood watching the little girl playing with her toys. Martha was talking volubly to the blue man. He still clung to a precarious existence (though he was seriously chipped and faded since the Paris days), and had as determined a centre of gravity as ever.

“I don’t think she understands, ma’am,” said Hannah. “I kep’ on tellin’ her, and once she cried and said she did not want to go, but she soon forgot it.”

Hadria remained till it was time to dress for dinner. Professor Fortescue had promised to dine with her and Valeria on this last evening. Little Martha had been put early to bed, in order that she might have a long rest before the morrow’s journey. The golden curls lay like strands of silk on the pillow, the bright eyes were closed in healthful slumber. The child lay, the very image of fresh and pure and sweet human life, with no thought and no dread of the uncertain future that loomed before her. Hannah had gone upstairs to pack her own belongings. The little window was open, as usual, letting the caressing air wander in, as sweet and fresh as the little body and soul to which it had ministered from the beginning.

The busy, loud-ticking clock was working on with cheerful unconcern, as if this were just like every other day whose passing moments it had registered. The hands were pointing towards seven, and the dinner hour was half-past seven. Hadria stood looking down at the sleeping child, her hands resting on the low rail of the cot. There was a desolate look in her eyes, and something more terrible still, almost beyond definition. It was like the last white glow of some vast fire that has been extinguished.

Suddenly as something that gives way by the run, after a long resistance she dropped upon her knees beside the cot with a slight cry, and broke into a silent storm of sobs, deep and suppressed. The stillness of the room was unbroken, and one could hear the loud tick-tack of the little clock telling off the seconds with business-like exactness.