"IS IT ALWAYS SO—IN LIFE?"
The Duchess and her brother, an ex-diplomatist, now deaf and patiently
amiable and garrulous, had met on the doorstep of Snowdon House, and together
they insisted on Lord Windlehurst coming in for a talk. The two men had not met
for a long time, and the retired official had been one of Lord Windlehurst's own
best appointments in other days. The Duchess had the carriage wait in
The ex-official could hear little, but he had cultivated the habit of talking
constantly and well. There were some voices, however, which he could hear more
distinctly than others, and Lord Windlehurst's was one of them—clear,
well-modulated, and penetrating. Sipping brandy and water, Lord Windlehurst gave
his latest quip. They were all laughing heartily, when the butler entered the
room and said, "Lady Eglington is here, and wishes to see your Grace."
As the butler left the room, the Duchess turned despairingly to Windlehurst,
who had risen, and was paler than the Duchess. "It has come," she said, "oh, it
has come! I can't face it."
"But it doesn't matter about you facing it," Lord Windlehurst rejoined. "Go
to her and help her, Betty. You know what to do—the one thing." He took her hand
and pressed it.
She dashed the tears from her eyes and drew herself together, while her
brother watched her benevolently.
He had not heard what was said. Betty had always been impulsive, he thought
to himself, and here was some one in trouble—they all came to her, and kept her
"Go to bed, Dick," the Duchess said to him, and hurried from the room. She
did not hesitate now. Windlehurst had put the matter in the right way. Her pain
was nothing, mere moral cowardice; but Hylda—!
She entered the other room as quickly as rheumatic limbs would permit. Hylda
stood waiting, erect, her eyes gazing blankly before her and rimmed by dark
circles, her face haggard and despairing.
Before the Duchess could reach her, she said in a hoarse whisper: "I have
left him—I have left him. I have come to you."
With a cry of pity the Duchess would have taken the stricken girl in her
arms, but Hylda held out a shaking hand with the letter in it which had brought
this new woe and this crisis foreseen by Lord Windlehurst. "There—there it is.
He goes from me to her—to that!" She thrust the letter into the Duchess's
fingers. "You knew—you knew! I saw the look that passed between you and
Windlehurst at the opera. I understand all now. He left the House of Commons
with her—and you knew, oh, you knew! All the world knows—every one knew but me."
She threw up her hands. "But I've left him—I've left him, for ever."
Now the Duchess had her in her arms, and almost forcibly drew her to a sofa.
"Darling, my darling," she said, "you must not give way. It is not so bad as you
think. You must let me help to make you understand."
Hylda laughed hysterically. "Not so bad as I think! Read—read it," she said,
taking the letter from the Duchess's fingers and holding it before her face. "I
found it on the staircase. I could not help but read it." She sat and clasped
and unclasped her hands in utter misery. "Oh, the shame of it, the bitter shame
of it! Have I not been a good wife to him? Have I not had reason to break my
heart? But I waited, and I wanted to be good and to do right. And to-night I was
going to try once more—I felt it in the opera. I was going to make one last
effort for his sake. It was for his sake I meant to make it, for I thought him
only hard and selfish, and that he had never loved; and if he only loved, I
She broke off, wringing her hands and staring into space, the ghost of the
beautiful figure that had left the Opera House with shining eyes.
The Duchess caught the cold hands. "Yes, yes, darling, I know. I understand.
So does Windlehurst. He loves you as much as I do. We know there isn't much to
be got out of life; but we always hoped you would get more than anybody else."
Hylda shrank, then raised her head, and looked at the Duchess with an
infinite pathos. "Oh, is it always so—in life? Is no one true? Is every one
betrayed sometime? I would die—yes, a thousand times yes, I would rather die
than bear this. What do I care for life—it has cheated me! I meant well, and I
tried to do well, and I was true to him in word and deed even when I suffered
most, even when—"
The Duchess laid a cheek against the burning head. "I understand, my own
dear. I understand—altogether."
"But you cannot know," the broken girl replied; "but through everything I was
true; and I have been tempted too when my heart was aching so, when the days
were so empty, the nights so long, and my heart hurt—hurt me. But now, it is
over, everything is done. You will keep me here—ah, say you will keep me here
till everything can be settled, and I can go away—far away—far—!"
She stopped with a gasping cry, and her eyes suddenly strained into the
distance, as though a vision of some mysterious thing hung before her. The
Duchess realised that that temptation, which has come to so many disillusioned
mortals, to end it all, to find quiet somehow, somewhere out in the dark, was
upon her. She became resourceful and persuasively commanding.
"But no, my darling," she said, "you are going nowhere. Here in London is
your place now. And you must not stay here in my house. You must go back to your
home. Your place is there. For the present, at any rate, there must be no
scandal. Suspicion is nothing, talk is nothing, and the world forgets—"
"Oh, I do not care for the world or its forgetting!" the wounded girl
replied. "What is the world to me! I wanted my own world, the world of my four
walls, quiet and happy, and free from scandal and shame. I wanted love and peace
there, and now...!"
"You must be guided by those who love you. You are too young to decide what
is best for yourself. You must let Windlehurst and me think for you; and, oh, my
darling, you cannot know how much I care for your best good!"
"I cannot, will not, bear the humiliation and the shame. This letter here—you
"It is the letter of a woman who has had more affaires than any man in
London. She is preternaturally clever, my dear—Windlehurst would tell you so.
The brilliant and unscrupulous, the beautiful and the bad, have a great
advantage in this world. Eglington was curious, that is all. It is in the breed
of the Eglingtons to go exploring, to experiment."
Hylda started. Words from the letter Sybil Lady Eglington had left behind her
rushed into her mind: "Experiment, subterfuge, secrecy. 'Reaping where you had
not sowed, and gathering where you had not strawed.' Always experiment,
"I have only been married three years," she moaned. "Yes, yes, my darling;
but much may happen after three days of married life, and love may come after
twenty years. The human heart is a strange thing."
"I was patient—I gave him every chance. He has been false and shameless. I
will not go on."
The Duchess pressed both hands hard, and made a last effort, looking into the
deep troubled eyes with her own grown almost beautiful with feeling—the faded
"You will go back to-night-at once," she said firmly. "To-morrow you will
stay in bed till noon-at any rate, till I come. I promise you that you shall not
be treated with further indignity. Your friends will stand by you, the world
will be with you, if you do nothing rash, nothing that forces it to babble and
scold. But you must play its game, my dearest. I'll swear that the worst has not
happened. She drove him to his club, and, after a man has had a triumph, a woman
will not drive him to his club if—my darling, you must trust me! If there must
be the great smash, let it be done in a way that will prevent you being smashed
also in the world's eyes. You can live, and you will live. Is there nothing for
you to do? Is there no one for whom you would do something, who would be
heart-broken if you—if you went mad now?"
Suddenly a great change passed over Hylda. "Is there no one for whom you
would do something?" Just as in the desert a question like this had lifted a man
out of a terrible and destroying apathy, so this searching appeal roused in
Hylda a memory and a pledge. "Is there no one for whom you would do something?"
Was life, then, all over? Was her own great grief all? Was her bitter shame the
She got to her feet tremblingly. "I will go back," she said slowly and
"Windlehurst will take you home," the Duchess rejoined eagerly. "My carriage
is at the door."
A moment afterwards Lord Windlehurst took Hylda's hands in his and held them
long. His old, querulous eyes were like lamps of safety; his smile had now none
of that cynicism with which he had aroused and chastened the world. The pitiful
understanding of life was there and a consummate gentleness. He gave her his
arm, and they stepped out into the moonlit night. "So peaceful, so bright!" he
said, looking round.
"I will come at noon to-morrow," called the Duchess from the doorway.
A light was still shining in Eglington's study when the carriage drove up.
With a latch-key Hylda admitted herself and her maid.
The storm had broken, the flood had come. The storm was over, but the flood
swept far and wide.