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Over The Hills, and Far Away: A Story of New Zealand

Chapter XXX. Broken

page 309

Chapter XXX. Broken.

Beatrice and Louis were left alone. She was waiting breathlessly for his first words—bending forwards a little, with her eyes fixed eagerly on his face, and her beautiful full red lips slightly parted. At last they began to tremble, and she said softly, “Oh, Louis! have you given me up at last?”

For the first time he was mute and cold to her appeal; and suddenly she threw herself on the ground at his feet with a cry.

“Oh, Louis! Louis Cunningham!” she said, “don't cast me off! I am really your wife—your own wife Beatrice! Won't you love me still?

page 310

He shook his head.

She looked up into his face and read the decision, repeated still more pitilessly there in its hard, cold expression. She wrung her hands and began to sob, though without tears, in an almost hysteric passion of terror and, agony. The attitude 227 she had thrown herself into was superb—a splendid despairing pose, set off by her beautiful dress of silk and lace, the gold drops glittering on her handsome neck, the crimson flowers in her black hair.

Louis waited a moment, then quietly lifted her up, and put her on one side.

“A little too theatrical for my taste,” he said coolly. He had become hard as granite to the woman to whom up to this hour he had yielded willing homage 228 —the one woman Louis Cunningham had ever been in love with.

There stood on the table in the centre of the room a little tea service of white china. Louis in that very room, two hours before, had taken tea, sitting it by his wife's side, and had kissed the hand that offered him his cup. His eye fell on the little tea- page 311 cup, thin and fragile as an egg shell, standing just where he had put it down at the beginning of the evening. Suddenly he dashed his foot upon it, shattering it into a thousand tiny fragments.

“There!” he said; “do you see that? I could as soon pick up those pieces, and make that cup just as it was before, as I could gather up and mend my old love for you. It is no thanks to you if my sister's heart is not already broken. You have stained your hands with an awful sin 229 , Beatrice. Look to it!”

He turned away with the last words, and left the room, leaving Beatrice quite alone.

She remained for a long time—how long she never quite knew—lying just as Louis had left her. She had attained her revenge at last, and in doing so had also attained to the very bitterest hour of all her life. Repent 230 as much as she would, and wish to undo the past, it was now too late. How fearfully too late Beatrice had yet to learn.

At last she raised her head and looked round her. The room was just as it had been left some hours page 312 before; the tea-things were standing about; the lamp was burning brightly; the light seemed so comfortable and brilliant, it felt like a mockery in her present mood. She got up and extinguished the lamp, leaving the room to be illuminated only by a ray of moonlight which glimmered past the edge of the window curtain.

“The darkness is best for such as I am,” she said to herself. Then she threw herself on the sofa and sobbed, with her face hidden in the cushions. “He will never love me again as he did,” she moaned; “and I was growing so happy with him! Laura, I have lost all by my mad fidelity to you!”

At last her ear caught the sound of a horse's hoof on the gravel outside. She got up, and, lifting the curtain, looked out. By the light of the moon she saw Louis ride off on his favourite horse at a brisk pace.

“He will never come back,” she said, despairingly. “Oh! if I could only undo the past, and be Mrs. Keith on board the ‘Flora Macdonald’ once more!”

page 313

Her repentance, so far as it went, was very genuine; but it was a selfish repentance after all.

And ah, Beatrice! you will have to learn that, though we repent of our sins, we cannot repair the mischief they have caused. Only One can do that, and He will do it only in His own way and at His own time.

227 Suggesting an artifical stance aimed to create an impression. Is Evans attempting to be sardonic?

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

228 The paying of 'homage' is historically linked to the age of Romance and the medieval 'cult of the Lady'.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

229 Victorian Christian morality looked upon 'sin' with some seriousness.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

230 Sin and repentance are widely featured themes in English novel writing of the 18th and 19th centuries.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]