Read CHAPTER XIV. of An Unknown Lover , free online book, by Mrs. George de Horne Vaizey, on ReadCentral.com.

Grizel came to meet Katrine on her return from the afternoon expedition and drew her into the oak-panelled morning-room.  Her cheeks were flushed, but her air was serenely unmoved.

“What do you think I’ve been doing?  I’ve been proposing to Martin,” she announced placidly.  “He’s upstairs now, suffering from nervous shock, but he is going to take me! ...  Katrine, are you pleased?”

“But, but,-all that money!” At the moment of certainty, the remembrance of the enormous sacrifice involved swamped everything else.  Katrine gasped, and Grizel sighed.

“Yes! isn’t it a bore?  I am sick about it,” she said simply.  Another woman would have rolled her eyes, protested that “money was as naught when compared with love,” or some such banality, but that was not Grizel.  She heaved a second sigh, before recovering her cheerfulness, then added hopefully:  “However!  I shall soon be fifty...  Katrine, are you pleased?”

For a moment Katrine was silent.  Then she bent her tall head and kissed Grizel on the cheek.

“Yes,” she said sweetly, “I’m pleased.  Martin will be happy.”

“He is,” Grizel held on to her hand.  “Incredibly happy!  And so am I. I’ve loved him a long time, Katrine.  I want you to know.  There has never been any one else.  Thank you, dear, for taking care of him for me so well.”

Katrine was silent.  That acknowledgment had a sting, sweet as it was, since it seemed to point out the finality of her own office.  Martin needed her no longer.  Grizel would take care of him now.  She moved away, and sat down in a chair.

“I didn’t know.  I should have suspected, I suppose, but you have known each other so long, and Martin showed no sign.-I thought you were just good friends.”

A gleam shone into Grizel’s eyes; an impish gleam.  Her red lips curled.

“Martin would have jumped at me, any time during the last five years!  I had only to lift a finger; but it suited me to wait.  I had my old Buddy, and I knew he would be there, waiting for me, whenever I was ready.”

Katrine’s glance was full of wounded dignity.

“You may be right.  Probably you are.  I begin to think I am very dense, but I don’t think, Grizel, you ought to have said so!”

“Oh, be hanged to it, not of course I shouldn’t, but it was your fault!  You insinuated that he didn’t care, and I won’t be insinuated!  He did-he does-he will, he always shall!” cried Grizel belabouring the table with a startling vigour.  “And I’ll kill you dead this moment if you dare to doubt it!  For pity’s sake, Katrine, be nice!”

“I am nice, and I’m sorry.  I was jealous, and just for the moment I snapped, but I won’t do it again.  I did suspect during that last visit, and I know he cares, but I was afraid that Lady Griselda’s will might come between you.  It’s a difficult position for Martin.”

“It’s difficult for Me, but-” Grizel shrugged, “what can’t be cured must be endured!  I’m bound to have Martin, so I shall have to put up with being poor, but I am not coming to this house, Katrine.  It’s too dull and dark, and full of sad old thoughts.  Martin will have to find a new one for me.  It will be a good thing.  Keep him quiet while he is waiting.”

Katrine stared blankly.  The news of the new home hit her like a fresh blow, removing as it did another landmark in the familiar life.  Despite all her efforts to rejoice unselfishly, a feeling of unutterable loneliness possessed her.

“And when will you be ?”

“Married?  In three or four months, I suppose; probably January.  I am leaving the town house at once, and going on a round of visits; Martin will join me sometimes, and be introduced to my friends.  Then there’ll be the trousseau!  Won’t it be great, Katrine, choosing one’s trousseau for such a scrumptious man?”

It was all settled!  Grizel had dictated, and Martin had agreed.  That one eventful interview had settled it all.  Nothing remained to be arranged but that one insignificant problem, her own future.  Katrine tasted the bitterness of loneliness; her strained glance met Grizel’s, soft with understanding love.

“I know!” she said quickly.  “It’s hard on you.  Martin will tell you that it will make no difference, but it will, and you and I won’t pretend.  It can never be easy to step down and take a second place where one has been first, and a sister fares poorly when there’s a wife in possession!  But Martin is not like other men; he is big, big enough to love us both.  He wants you to live with us; it was one of the first things he said.  He thought of you in the-midst!  And he meant it, Katrine!”

“It was good of him.  I know he meant it, but I could never consent.  That is the last thing I could do.  Honestly, Grizel, do you think it is possible?”

Grizel pondered thoughtfully.

“It would be difficult!  Worse for you than for me.  You’d be in my way-sometimes, I’d be in yours-always!  And if I were cross, I’d snap, and grumble to Martin, and you, poor lamb! would shut it all up in your heart.  I think, dear, we won’t discuss it to-day.  There’s plenty of time, and I’m not in the mood to come down to bare, bald facts.-I’m horribly happy, Katrine, but you must be happy too!  It will spoil it all if you are mumpy.  Think what you want most, and I’ll get it for you, if the skies fall!”

That was kind and sweet, and wise into the bargain, but Katrine did not know what she wanted; for all her resolution she could not banish the haunting fear of the future.  She dreaded the first meeting with Martin; knew in her heart that the dread would be mutual.  When they did meet an hour later she was amazed at the change on his face.  He looked pale and shaken; oppressed, rather than exultant; but it was the extraordinary revival of youth which struck her dumb.  The heavy lines seemed wiped away, the eyes looked at her, glad and shy; the eyes of a boy.

Katrine held out her hands, but he took her into his arms, and pressed his lips to her forehead.

“Grizel has told you!-I can’t realise it yet.  It is too wonderful.  You will be glad for me, dear, for you knew what has gone before.  I can never thank you enough for all you have done for me, these eight years.  And I have been so dull and impatient.  This will make no difference between us.  You know that, Katrine!”

Katrine smiled.  It would make just all the difference in the world, but she could not be ungenerous enough to damp his joy.  It was something that Grizel understood!

“I am glad that you are happy, dear boy.  I do congratulate you.  Grizel will be an inspiring wife.  No one could live with her and find life boring.”

“Isn’t she wonderful?  So beautiful, so fascinating, so-simple!  I am overwhelmed that she should give up so much.  That’s the only fly in the ointment.  I can’t feel that it is justified.  You must help me to look out for a house for her, Katrine-a bright, sunny place, which won’t be too painful a contrast.  I can afford a higher rent nowadays, and she must have all that she wants.  She said to me-`Wherever we go there will always be a Katrine’s room, a place for Katrine.’  That was one of the first things she said!”

“Sweet of her!” said Katrine, smiling bravely once again.  “I shall be delighted to come as a visitor sometimes, but not to live!  Newly married couples are best alone.  I must move my camp.”

Martin looked troubled and anxious.

“For a time perhaps; just for a time.  What about that visit to Dorothea?  Wouldn’t it be a good chance to fit that in?”

The blood rushed over Katrine’s face.

“No!” she said sharply.  “No!” and there was such unflinching decision in her voice that Martin dared not pursue the subject.  Was there after all some foundation for Grizel’s romance about a mysterious lover in India?  It seemed like it, since no human girl would blush like that at the mention of a female friend.  And yet, if there were a lover, why this emphatic refusal?

Martin gave it up, too engrossed in his own beatitude to feel much interest in the problem.

“Well! we needn’t discuss things to-day, dear.  There’s plenty of time,” he said, using Grizel’s own words.  “Only remember this-we shan’t be satisfied, either of us, unless you are happy!” He kissed her again, and passed on to his study.  From the central place on the mantelpiece the portrait of his dead wife gazed at him with innocent young eyes as it had gazed every day of the last eight long years.  He stood before it, gazing back, his face working with emotion.

There had been a time when to return that gaze had been his first impulse upon entering the room, days when he had sat for hours holding the photograph in his hand, had risen from his work to bend over it once and again; times again when work, and success, and the trend of life had brought a passing forgetfulness, followed by periods of passionate longing and despair.  He had even thought of ending life itself for the sake of that smiling face.  Now for months past it had counted for little more than the ornaments by which it was surrounded...

Juliet!” he murmured beneath his breath. “Juliet!” It was a summoning cry, as if he would call the dead girl’s spirit from the unseen world.  He stretched out his hand as a prisoner at the bar.  “Little girl!  Little girl!  I was faithful to you.  I gave you all that was mine to give...”

The wide eyes stared on.  The lips smiled; a blank, unanswering smile.