all new to me. I had never been to New York City. Sam would
"It must be that his Grace returns earlier than we had hoped," she said, and then the other missive caught her eye.
"'Tis your ladyship's own," the lacquey explained somewhat anxiously. "'Twas brought back, Sir John not having yet come home, and Jenfry having waited three hours."
"'Twas long enough," quoth her ladyship. "'Twill do to-morrow."
She did not lay Osmonde's letter aside, but kept it in her hand, and seeing that she waited for their retirement to read it, her guests began to make their farewells. One by one or in groups of twos and threes they left her, the men bowing low, and going away fretted by the memory of the picture she made--a tall and regal figure in her flowered crimson, her stateliness seeming relaxed and softened by the mere holding of the sealed missive in her hand. But the women were vaguely envious, not of Osmonde, but of her before whom there lay outspread as far as life's horizon reached, a future of such perfect love and joy; for Gerald Mertoun had been marked by feminine eyes since his earliest youth, and had seemed to embody all that woman's dreams or woman's ambitions or her love could desire.
When the last was gone, Clorinda turned, tore her letter open, and held it hard to her lips. Before she read a word she kissed it passionately a score of times, paying no heed that Anne sate gazing at her; and having kissed it so, she fell to reading it, her cheeks warm with the glow of a sweet and splendid passion, her bosom rising and falling in a tempest of tender, fluttering breaths--and 'twas these words her eyes devoured
"If I should head this page I write to you 'Goddess and Queen, and Empress of my deepest soul,' what more should I be saying than 'My Love' and 'My Clorinda,' since these express all the soul of man could crave for or his body desire. The body and soul of me so long for thee, sweetheart, and sweetest beautiful woman that the hand of Nature ever fashioned for the joy of mortals, that I have had need to pray Heaven's help to aid me to endure the passing of the days that lie between me and the hour which will make me the most strangely, rapturously, happy man, not in England, not in the world, but in all God's universe. I must pray Heaven again, and indeed do and will, for humbleness which shall teach me to remember that I am not deity, but mere man--mere man--though I shall hold a goddess to my breast and gaze into eyes which are like deep pools of Paradise, and yet answer mine with the marvel of such love as none but such a soul could make a woman's, and so fit to mate with man's. In the heavy days when I was wont to gaze at you from afar with burning heart, my unceasing anguish was that even high honour itself could not subdue and conquer the thoughts which leaped within me even as my pulse leaped, and even as my pulse could not be stilled unless by death. And one that for ever haunted--ay, and taunted--me was the image of how your tall, beauteous body would yield itself to a strong man's arm, and your noble head with its heavy tower of hair resting upon his shoulder--the centres of his very being would be thrilled and shaken by the uplifting of such melting eyes as surely man ne'er gazed within on earth before, and the ripe and scarlet bow of a mouth so beauteous and so sweet with womanhood. This beset me day and night, and with such torture that I feared betimes my brain might reel and I become a lost and ruined madman. And now--it is no more forbidden me to dwell upon it--nay, I lie waking at night, wooing the picture to me, and at times I rise from my dreams to kneel by my bedside and thank God that He hath given me at last what surely is my own!-for so it seems to me, my love, that each of us is but a part of the other, and that such forces of Nature rush to meet together in us, that Nature herself would cry out were we rent apart. If there were aught to rise like a ghost between us, if there were aught that could sunder us--noble soul, let us but swear that it shall weld us but the closer together, and that locked in each other's arms its blows shall not even make our united strength to sway. Sweetest lady, your lovely lip will curve in smiles, and you will say, 'He is mad with his joy--my Gerald' (for never till my heart stops at its last beat and leaves me still, a dead man, cold upon my bed, can I forget the music of your speech when you spoke those words, 'My Gerald! My Gerald.') And indeed I crave your pardon, for a man so filled with rapture cannot be quite sane, and sometimes I wonder if I walk through the palace gardens like one who is drunk, so does my brain reel. But soon, my heavenly, noble love, my exile will be over, and this is in truth what my letter is to tell you, that in four days your lacqueys will throw open your doors to me and I shall enter, and being led to you, shall kneel at your feet and kiss the hem of your robe, and then rise standing to fold her who will so soon be my very wife to my throbbing breast."
Back to her face had come all the softness which had been lost, the hard lines were gone, the tender curves had returned, her lashes looked as if they were moist. Anne, sitting rigidly and gazing at her, was afraid to speak, knowing that she was not for the time on earth, but that the sound of a voice would bring her back to it, and that 'twas well she should be away as long as she might.
She read the letter, not once, but thrice, dwelling upon every word, 'twas plain; and when she had reached the last one, turning back the pages and beginning again. When she looked up at last, 'twas with an almost wild little smile, for she had indeed for that one moment forgotten.