My Cousin Rachel Chapter 22

I remember the house waking to the sunlight, and seeing the round ball of it appear over the trees that fringed the lawn. The dew had been heavy, and the grass was silver, as though touched with frost. A blackbird started singing, and a chaffinch followed, and soon the whole spring chorus was in song. The weather vane was the first to catch the sun, and gleaming gold against the sky, poised above the belfry tower, it swung to the nor’west and there remained, while the gray walls of the house, dark and somber at first sight, mellowed to the morning light with a new radiance.

I went indoors and up to my room, and dragging a chair beside the open window sat down in it, and looked towards the sea. My mind was empty, without thought. My body calm and still. No problems came swimming to the surface, no anxieties itched their way through from the hidden depths to ruffle the blessed peace. It was as though everything in life was now resolved, and the way before me plain. The years behind me counted for nothing. The years to come were no more than a continuation of all I now knew and held, possessing; it would be so, forever and ever, like the amen to a litany. In the future only this; Rachel and I. A man and his wife living within themselves, the house containing us, the world outside our doors passing unheeded. Day after day, night after night, as long as we both should live. That much I remembered from the prayer book.

I shut my eyes, and she was with me still; and then I must have slept upon the instant, because when I woke the sun was streaming into the open window, and John had come in and laid out my clothes upon the chair and brought me my hot water and gone again, and I had not heard him. I shaved and dressed and went down to my breakfast, which was now cold upon the sideboard—Seecombe thinking I had long descended—but hard-boiled eggs and ham made easy fare. I could have eaten anything that day. Afterwards I whistled to the dogs and went out into the grounds, and, caring nothing for Tamlyn and his cherished blooms, I picked every budding camellia I set eyes upon and laid them in the carrier, the same that had done duty for the jewels the day before, and went back into the house and up the stairs and along the corridor to her room.

She was sitting up in bed, eating her breakfast, and before she had time to call out in protest and draw her curtains, I had showered the camellias down upon the sheets and covered her.

“Good morning once again,” I said, “and I would remind you that it is still my birthday.”

“Birthday or not,” she said, “it is customary to knock upon a door before you enter. Go away.”

Dignity was difficult, with the camellias in her hair, and on her shoulders, and falling into the teacup and the bread-and-butter, but I straightened my face and withdrew to the end of the room.

“I am sorry,” I said. “Since entering by window I have grown casual about doors. In fact, my manners have forsaken me.”

“You had better go,” she said, “before Seecombe comes up to take my tray. I think he would be shocked to see you here, for all your birthday.”

Her cool voice was a damper to my spirits, but I supposed there was logic in her remark. It was a trifle bold, perhaps, to burst in on a woman at her breakfast, even if she was to be my wife—which was something that Seecombe did not know as yet.

“I will go,” I said. “Forgive me. I only want to say one thing to you. I love you.”

I turned to the door and went, and I remember noticing that she no longer wore the collar of pearls. She must have taken it off after I left her in the early morning, and the jewels were not lying on the floor, all had been tidied away.

But on the breakfast tray, beside her, was the document that I had signed the day before.

Downstairs Seecombe awaited me, a package in his hand bound up in paper.

“Mr. Philip, sir,” he said, “this is a very great occasion. May I take the liberty of wishing you many, many happy returns of your birthday?”

“You may, Seecombe,” I answered, “and thank you.”

“This, sir,” he said, “is only a trifle. A small memento of many years of devoted service to the family. I hope you will not be offended, and that I have not taken any liberty in assuming you might be pleased to accept it as a gift.”

I unwrapped the paper and the visage of Seecombe himself, in profile, was before me; unflattering perhaps, but unmistakable.

“This,” I said gravely, “is very fine indeed. So fine, in fact, that it shall hang in place of honor near the stairs. Bring me a hammer and a nail.” He pulled the bell, with dignity, for John to do his errand.

Between us we fixed the portrait upon the panel outside the dining room. “Do you consider, sir,” said Seecombe, “that the likeness does me justice? Or has the artist given something of harshness to the features, especially the nose? I am not altogether satisfied.”

“Perfection in a portrait is impossible, Seecombe,” I answered. “This is as near to it as we shall get. Speaking for myself, I could not be more delighted.”

“Then that is all that matters,” he replied.

I wanted to tell him there and then that Rachel and I were to be married, I was so bursting with delight and happiness, but a certain hesitation held me back; the matter was too solemn and too delicate to thrust upon him unawares, and maybe we should tell him together.

I went round the back to the office, in pretense of work, but all I did when I got there was to sit before my desk and stare in front of me. I kept seeing her, in my mind’s eye, propped up against the pillows, eating her breakfast, with the camellia buds scattered on the tray. The peace of early morning had gone from me, and all the fever of last night was with me once again. When we were married, I mused, tilting back my chair and biting the end of my pen, she would not dismiss me from her presence with such ease. I would breakfast with her. No more descending to the dining room alone. We would start upon a new routine.

The clock struck ten, and I heard the men moving in the court and in the yard outside the office window, and I looked at a sheaf of bills, and put them back again, and started a letter to a fellow magistrate upon the bench and tore it up again. For no words came and nothing that I wrote made any sense, and it was still two hours to noon, when Rachel would come downstairs. Nat Bray, the farmer from Penhale, came in to see me, with a long tale about some cattle that had strayed into Trenant and how the fault was with his neighbor for not seeing to his fences, and I nodded and agreed, hearing little of his argument, for surely by now Rachel might be dressed, and out about the grounds, talking to Tamlyn.

I cut the luckless fellow short and bid him good day, and, seeing his look of hurt discomfiture, took him to seek the steward’s room and have a glass of ale with Seecombe. “Today, Nat,” I said, “I do no business, it’s my birthday, I am the happiest of men,” and clapping him on the shoulder left him openmouthed to make what he would of my remark.

Then I thrust my head out of the window, and called across the court to the kitchen, and asked them to pack a luncheon basket for a picnic, for suddenly I wanted to be alone with her under the sun, with no formality of house or dining room or silver upon a table, and this order given I walked to the stables to tell Wellington that I wished to have Solomon saddled for the mistress.

He was not there. The coach-house door was wide and the carriage gone. The stable lad was sweeping the cobbles. He looked blank at my inquiry.

“The mistress ordered the carriage soon after ten,” he said. “Where she has gone I cannot say. Perhaps to town.”

I went back to the house and rang for Seecombe, but he could tell me nothing, except that Wellington had brought the carriage to the door at a little after ten, and Rachel was ready waiting in the hall. She had never before gone driving in the morning. My spirits, pitched so high, flagged suddenly and dropped. The day was all before us and this was not what I had planned.

I sat about, and waited. Noon came and the bell clanged out for the servant’s dinner. The picnic basket was beside me, Solomon was saddled. But the carriage did not come. Finally, at two, I took Solomon round to the stable myself and bade the boy unsaddle him. I walked down the woods to the new avenue, and the excitement of the morning had turned to apathy. Even if she came now it would be too late to picnic. The warmth of an April sun would be gone by four o’clock.

I was nearly at the top of the avenue, at Four Turnings, when I saw the groom open the lodge gates and the carriage pass through. I stood waiting, in the middle of the drive, for the horses to approach, and at sight of me Wellington drew rein and halted them. The weight of disappointment, so heavy during the past hours, went at the glimpse of her, sitting in the carriage, and telling Wellington to drive on I climbed in and sat opposite her, on the hard narrow seat.

She was wrapped in her dark mantle, and she wore her veil down, so that I could not see her face.

“I have looked for you since eleven,” I said. “Where in the world have you been?”

“To Pelyn,” she said, “to see your godfather.”

All the worries and perplexities, safely buried in the depths, came rushing to the forefront of my mind, and with a sharp misgiving I wondered what they could do, between them, to make havoc of my plans.

“Why so?” I asked. “What need to go find him in such a hurry? Everything has been settled long since.”

“I am not sure,” she answered, “what you mean by everything.”

The carriage jolted in a rut beside the avenue, and she put out her hand in its dark glove to the strap for steadiness. How remote she seemed, sitting there in her mourning clothes, behind her veil, a world away from the Rachel who had held me against her heart.

“The document,” I said, “you are thinking of the document. You cannot go against it. I am legally of age. My godfather can do nothing. It is signed, and sealed, and witnessed. Everything is yours.”

“Yes,” she said, “I understand it now. The wording was a little obscure, that was all. So I wished to make certain what it meant.”

Still that distant voice, cool and unattached, while in my ears and in my memory was the other, that had whispered in my ear at midnight.

“Is it clear to you now?” I said.

“Quite clear,” she answered.

“Then there is nothing more to be said on the matter?”

“Nothing,” she replied.

Yet there was a kind of nagging at my heart, and a strange mistrust. All spontaneity was gone, the joy and laughter we had shared together when I gave her the jewels. God damn my godfather if he had said anything to hurt her.

“Put up your veil,” I said.

For a moment she did not move. Then she glanced up at Wellington’s broad back and the groom beside him on the box. He whipped the horses to a brisker pace as the twisting avenue turned into the straight.

She lifted her veil, and the eyes that looked into mine were not smiling as I had hoped, or tearful as I had feared, but steady and serene and quite unmoved, the eyes of someone who has been out upon a matter of business and settled it in satisfaction.

For no great reason I felt blank, and in some sense cheated. I wanted the eyes to be as I remembered them at sunrise. I had thought, foolishly perhaps, that it was because her eyes were still the same that she had hidden them behind her veil. Not so, however. She must have sat facing my godfather thus, across the desk in his study, purposeful and practical and cool, no whit dismayed, while I sat waiting for her, in torment, on the front door step at home.

“I would have been back before now,” she said, “but they pressed me to remain for luncheon, and I could not well refuse. Had you made a plan?” She turned her face to watch the passing scene, and I wondered how it was that she could sit there, as if we were two people of casual acquaintance, while it was as much as I could do not to put out my hands to her and hold her. Since yesterday, everything was changed. Yet she gave no sign of it.

“I had a plan,” I said, “but it does not matter now.”

“The Kendalls dine tonight in town,” she said, “but will look in upon us afterwards, before returning home. I fancy I made some progress with Louise. Her manner was not quite so frozen.”

“I am glad of that,” I said, “I would like you to be friends.”

“In fact,” she went on, “I am coming back again to my original way of thinking. She would suit you well.”

She laughed, but I did not laugh with her. It was unkind, I thought, to make a joke of poor Louise. Heaven only knew, I wished the girl no harm, and that she might find herself a husband.

“I think,” she said, “that your godfather disapproves of me, which he has a perfect right to do, but by the end of luncheon I think we understood one another very well. The tension eased, and conversation was not difficult. We made more plans to meet in London.”

“In London?” I asked. “You don’t still intend to go to London?”

“Why, yes,” she said, “why ever not?”

I said nothing. Certainly she had a right to go to London if she pleased. There might be shops she wished to visit, purchases to make, especially now that she had money to command, and yet… surely she could wait awhile, until we could go together? There were so many things we must discuss, but I was hesitant to do so. It struck me with full force, suddenly and sharply, what I had not thought of until now. Ambrose was but nine months dead. The world would think it wrong for us to marry before midsummer. Somehow there were problems to the day that had not been at midnight, and I wanted none of them.

“Don’t let’s go home immediately,” I said to her. “Walk with me in the woods.”

“Very well,” she answered.

We stopped by the keeper’s cottage in the valley, and descending from the carriage let Wellington drive on. We took one of the paths beside the stream, which twisted upward to the hill above, and here and there were primroses, in clumps, beneath the trees, which she must stoop and pick, returning again to the subject of Louise as she did so, saying the girl had quite an eye for gardens and with instruction would learn more, in time. Louise could go to the ends of the earth for all I cared, and garden there to her heart’s content; I had not brought Rachel in the woods to talk about Louise.

I took the primroses from her hands and put them on the ground, and spreading my coat under a tree I asked her to sit down upon it.

“I am not tired,” she said. “I have been sitting in the carriage this past hour or more.”

“And I also,” I said, “these four hours, by the front door, waiting for you.”

I took off her gloves, and kissed her hands, and put the bonnet and the veil among the primroses, and kissed the rest of her as I had wanted to do for long hours past, and once again she was without defense. “This,” I said, “was my plan, which you have spoiled by lunching with the Kendalls.”

“I rather thought it might be,” she answered, “which was one of the reasons why I went.”

“You promised to deny me nothing on my birthday, Rachel.”

“There is,” she said, “a limit to indulgence.”

I could see none. I was happy once again, with all anxiety gone.

“If,” she remarked, “this is a path frequented by the keeper we would look a little foolish.”

“And he more foolish still,” I replied, “when I pay his wages on Saturday. Or will you take that over with the rest? I am your servant now, you know, another Seecombe, and await your further orders.”

I lay there, with my head in her lap, and she ran her fingers through my hair. I shut my eyes, and wished it might continue. To the end of time, nothing but that moment.

“You are wondering why I had not thanked you,” she said. “I saw your puzzled eyes in the carriage. There is nothing I can say. I always believed myself impulsive, but you are more so. It will take me a little time, you know, to grasp the full measure of your generosity.”

“I have not been generous,” I answered, “it was your due. Let me kiss you once again. I have to make up for those hours upon the doorstep.”

Presently she said, “I have learned one thing at least. Never to go walking with you in the woods again. Philip, let me rise.”

I helped her to her feet, and, with a bow, handed her the gloves and bonnet. She fumbled in her purse, and brought out a small package, which she unwrapped. “Here,” she said, “is your birthday present, which I should have given you before. Had I known that I was coming into a fortune, the pearl head would have been larger.” She took the pin and put it in my cravat.

“Now will you permit me to go home?” she said.

She gave me her hand, and I remembered that I had eaten no lunch that day and had now a prodigious appetite for dinner. We turned along the pathway, I thinking of boiled fowl and bacon and the night to come, and suddenly we were upon the granite stone above the valley, which I had forgotten awaited us at the termination of the path. I turned swiftly into the trees, so as to avoid it, but too late. She had already seen it, dark and square among the trees, and letting go my hand stood still and stared at it.

“What is it, Philip,” she asked, “that shape there, like a tombstone, rising so suddenly out of the ground?”

“It is nothing,” I said swiftly, “just a piece of granite. A sort of landmark. There is a path here, through the trees, where the walking is less steep. This way, to the left. Not past the stone.”

“Wait a moment,” she said, “I want to look at it. I have never been this way before.”

She went up to the slab and stood before it. I saw her lips move as she read the words, and I watched her in apprehension. Perhaps it was my fancy, yet it seemed to me that her body stiffened, and she paused there longer that she need have done. She must have read the words twice over. Then she came back and joined me, but this time she did not take my hand, she walked alone. She made no comment on the monument, nor did I, but somehow that great slab of granite was with us as we walked. I saw the lines of doggerel, and the date beneath, and his initials A.A. cut into the stone, and I saw also, which she could not, the pocketbook with the letter buried deep beneath the stone, in the dank earth. And I felt, in some vile fashion, that I had betrayed them both. Her very silence showed that she was moved. Unless, I thought to myself, I speak now, at this moment, the slab of granite will be a barrier between us, and will grow in magnitude.

“I meant to take you there before,” I said, my voice sounding loud and unnatural after so long an interval. “It was the view Ambrose liked best, on the whole estate. That is why the stone is there.”

“But it was not,” she answered, “part of your birthday plan to show it to me.” The words were clipped and hard, the words of a stranger.

“No,” I said quietly, “not part of the plan.” And we walked along the drive without further conversation, and on entering the house she went straight to her room.

I took my bath and changed my clothes, no longer light of heart but dull, despondent. What demon took us to that granite stone, what lapse of memory? She did not know, as I did, how often Ambrose had stood there, smiling and leaning on his stick, but the silly doggerel lines would conjure up the mood that prompted them, half jesting, half nostalgic, the tender thought behind his mocking eyes. The slab of granite, tall and proud, would have taken on the substance of the man himself, whom, through fault of circumstance, she had not permitted to return to die at home, but who lay many hundred miles away, in that Protestant cemetery in Florence.

Here was a shadow for my birthday night.

At least she knew nothing of the letter, nor would she ever know, and I wondered, as I dressed for dinner, what other demon had prompted me to bury it there, rather than burn it in the fire, as though I had the instinct of an animal, that would one day return to dig it up. I had forgotten all that it contained. His illness had been upon him as he wrote. Brooding, suspicious, with the hand of death so close, he had not reckoned on his words. And suddenly, as though it danced before me on the wall, I saw the sentence, “Money, God forgive me for saying so, is, at the present time, the one way to her heart.”

The words jumped onto the mirror, as I stood before it brushing my hair. They were there as I placed her pin in my cravat. They followed me down the stairs and into the drawing room, and they turned from the written words into his voice itself, the voice of Ambrose, deep, well-loved, long known, remembered always—“The one way to her heart.”

When she came down to dinner she wore the pearl collar round her neck, as though in forgiveness, as though in tribute to my birthday; yet somehow, to my mind, the fact that she wore it made her not closer to me, but more distant. Tonight, if only for tonight, I had rather that her neck had been left bare.

We sat down to dinner, with John and Seecombe waiting on us, and the full regalia of the candlesticks and the silver upon the table, and the lace napery too, in honor of my birthday, and there was boiled fowl and bacon as of long custom, from my schoolboy days, which Seecombe bore in with great pride, his eye upon me. We laughed, and smiled, and toasted them and ourselves, and the five-and-twenty years that lay behind me; but all the while I felt that we forced our spirits into jollity for the sake of Seecombe and for John, and left to ourselves would fall to silence.

A kind of desperation came upon me, that it was imperative to feast, imperative to make merry, and the solution therefore was to drink more wine, and fill her glass as well, so that the sharper edge of feeling could be dulled and both of us forget the granite slab and what it stood for in our inner selves. Last night I had walked to the beacon head under the full moon, in exultation, sleepwalking, in a dream. Tonight, though in the intervening hours I had woken to the wealth of the whole world, I had woken to shadows too.

Muzzy-eyed, I watched her across the table; she was laughing over her shoulder to Seecombe, and it seemed to me she had never looked more lovely. If I could recapture my mood of early morning, the stillness and the peace, and blend it with the folly of the afternoon among the primroses under the tall beech trees, then I would be happy once again. She would be happy too. And we would hold the mood forever, precious and sacred, carrying it into the future.

Seecombe filled my glass again and something of the shadow slipped away, the doubts were eased; when we are alone together, I thought, all will be well, and I shall ask her this very evening, this very night, if we can be married soon, but soon, in a few weeks perhaps, in a month, for I wanted everyone to know, Seecombe, John, the Kendalls, everyone, that Rachel would bear her name because of me.

She would be Mrs. Ashley; Philip Ashley’s wife.

We must have sat late, for we had not left the table when there came the sound of carriage wheels upon the drive. The bell pealed and the Kendalls were shown in to the dining room where we were still seated amid the confusion of crumbs and dessert and half-empty glasses, and all the aftermath of dinner. I rose, unsteadily I recollect, and dragged two chairs to the table, with my godfather protesting that they had already dined, and only came in for a moment to wish me good health.

Seecombe brought fresh glasses and I saw Louise, in a blue gown, look at me, a question in her eyes, thinking, I felt instinctively, that I had drunk too much. She was right, but it did not happen often, it was my birthday, and time she knew, once and for all, that she would never have the right to criticize me, except as a childhood friend. My godfather should know too. It would put an end to all his plans for her, and put an end to gossip also, and ease the mind of anyone who cared to worry on the subject.

We all sat down again, with buzz of conversation, my godfather, Rachel and Louise already eased to each other’s company through the hours spent at luncheon; while I sat silent at my end of the table, scarce taking in a word, but turning over in my mind the announcement I had resolved to make.

At length my godfather, leaning towards me glass in hand and smiling, said, “To your five-and-twenty years, Philip. Long life and happiness.”

The three of them looked at me, and whether it was the wine I had taken, or my own full heart within me, but I felt that both my godfather and Louise were dear and trusted friends, I liked them well, and Rachel, my love, with tears already in her eyes, was surely nodding her head and smiling her encouragement.

This was the moment then, opportune and fit. The servants were from the room, so the secret could be held among the four of us.

I stood up and thanked them, and then with my own glass filled I said, “I too have a toast I wish you to drink tonight. Since this morning I have been the happiest of men. I want you, godfather, and you Louise, to drink to Rachel, who is to be my wife.”

I drained my glass, and looked down upon them, smiling. No one answered, no one moved, I saw perplexity in my godfather’s expression and turning to Rachel I saw that her smile had gone, and that she was staring at me, her face a frozen mask.

“Have you quite lost your senses, Philip?” she said.

I put my glass down upon the table. I was uncertain of my hand, and placed it too near the edge. It toppled over, and shivered in fragments on the floor. My heart was thumping. I could not take my eyes away from her still white face.

“I am sorry,” I said, “if it was premature to break the news. Remember it is my birthday, and they are both my oldest friends.”

I gripped the table with my hands for steadiness, and there was a sound of drumming in my ears. She did not seem to understand. She looked away from me, back to my godfather and Louise.

“I think,” she said, “that the birthday and the wine have gone to Philip’s head. Forgive this piece of schoolboy folly, and forget it, if you can. He will apologize when he is himself again. Shall we go to the drawing room?”

She rose to her feet and led the way from the room. I went on standing there, staring at the debris of the dinner table, the crumbs of bread, the spilled wine on the napery, the chairs pushed back, and there was no feeling in me, none at all, but a kind of vacuum where my heart had been. I waited awhile, and then, stumbling from the dining room before John and Seecombe should come to clear the table, I went into the library, and sat there in the darkness, beside the empty grate. The candles had not been lighted, and the logs had fallen into ash. Through the half-open door I could hear the murmur of the voices in the drawing room. I pressed my hands to my reeling head, and the taste of the wine was sour on my tongue. Perhaps if I sat still there, in the darkness, I would recover my sense of balance, and the numb emptiness would go. It was the fault of the wine that I had blundered. Yet why should she mind so much what I had said? We could have sworn the pair of them to secrecy. They would have understood. I went on sitting there, waiting for them to go. Presently—the time seemed endless but it may not have been more than ten minutes or so—the voices grew louder and they passed into the hall, and I heard Seecombe opening the front door, bidding them good night, and the wheels drive away, and the clanging and bolting of the door.

My brain was clearer now. I sat and listened. I heard the rustle of her gown. It came near to the half-open door of the library, paused an instant, then passed away; and then her footstep on the stair. I got up from my chair and followed her. I came upon her at the turn of the corridor, where she had paused to snuff the candles at the stair-head. We stood staring at one another in the flickering light.

“I thought you were gone to bed,” she said. “You had better go, at once, before you do more damage.”

“Now that they are gone,” I said, “will you forgive me? Believe me, you can trust the Kendalls. They won’t give away our secret.”

“Good God, I should hope not, since they know nothing of it,” she replied. “You make me feel like a backstairs servant, creeping to some attic with a groom. I have known shame before, but this is the worst.”

Still the white frozen face that was not hers.

“You were not ashamed last night at midnight,” I said, “you gave your promise then, and were not angry. I would have gone at once if you had bidden me.”

“My promise?” she said. “What promise?”

“To marry me, Rachel,” I answered.

She had her candlestick in her hand. She raised it, so that the naked flame showed on my face. “You dare to stand there, Philip,” she said, “and bluster to me that I promised to marry you last night? I said at dinner, before the Kendalls, that you had lost your senses, and so you have. You know very well I gave you no such promise.”

I stared back at her. It was not I who was out of my mind, but she. I felt the color flame into my face.

“You asked me what I wanted,” I said, “as a birthday wish. Then, and now, there was only one thing in the world I could ever ask, that you should marry me. What else could I mean?”

She did not answer. She went on looking at me, incredulous, baffled, like someone listening to words in a foreign language that cannot be translated or comprehended, and I realized suddenly, with anguish and despair, that so it was, in fact, between us both; all that had passed had been in error. She had not understood what it was I asked of her at midnight, nor I, in my blind wonder, what she had given, therefore what I had believed to be a pledge of love was something different, without meaning, on which she had put her own interpretation.

If she was ashamed then I was doubly so, that she could have been mistaken in me.

“Let me put it in plain language now,” I said. “When will you marry me?”

“But never, Philip,” she said, with a gesture of her hand, as if dismissing me. “Take that as final, and forever. If you hoped otherwise, I am sorry. I had no intention to mislead you. Now, good night.”

She turned to go, but I seized hold of her hand, and held it fast.

“Do you not love me then?” I asked. “Was it pretense? Why, for God’s sake, did you not tell me the truth last night and bid me go?”

Once again her eyes were baffled; she did not understand. We were strangers, with no link between us. She came from another land, another race.

“Do you dare to reproach me for what happened?” she said. “I wanted to thank you, that was all. You had given me the jewels.”

I think I knew, upon that instant, all that Ambrose had known too. I knew what he had seen in her, and longed for, but had never had. I knew the torment, and the pain, and the great gulf between them, ever widening. Her eyes, so dark and different from our own, stared at both of us, uncomprehending. Ambrose stood beside me in the shadows, under the flickering candlelight. We looked at her, tortured, without hope, while she looked back at us in accusation. Her face was foreign too, in the half light. Small and narrow, a face upon a coin. The hand I held was warm no longer. Cold and brittle, the fingers struggled for release, and the rings scratched, cutting at my palm. I let it go, and as I did so wanted it again.

“Why do you stare at me?” she whispered. “What have I done to you? Your face has changed.”

I tried to think what else I had to give. She had the property, the money, and the jewels. She had my mind, my body, and my heart. There was only my name, and that she bore already. Nothing remained. Unless it should be fear. I took the candle from her hand and placed it on the ledge, above the stairs. I put my hands about her throat, encircling it; and now she could not move, but watched me, her eyes wide. And it was as though I held a frightened bird in my two hands, which, with added pressure, would flutter awhile, and die, and with release would fly away to freedom.

“Never leave me,” I said, “swear it, never, never.”

She tried to move her lips in answer, but could not do so, because of the pressure of my hands. I loosened my grasp. She backed away from me, her fingers to her throat. There were two red weals where my hands had been, on either side of the pearl collar.

“Will you marry me now?” I said to her.

She gave no answer, but walked backwards from me, down the corridor, her eyes upon my face, her fingers still to her throat. I saw my own shadow on the wall, a monstrous thing, without shape or substance. I saw her disappear under the archway. I heard the door shut, and the key turn in the lock. I went to my room, and catching sight of my reflection in the mirror paused, and stared. Surely it was Ambrose who stood there, with the sweat upon his forehead, the face drained of all color? Then I moved and was myself again; with stooping shoulders, limbs that were clumsy and too long, hesitant, untutored, the Philip who had indulged in schoolboy folly. Rachel had told the Kendalls to forgive me, and forget.

I flung open the window, but there was no moon tonight and it was raining hard. The wind blew the curtain, and ruffling the almanac upon the mantelpiece brought it to the floor. I stooped to pick it up, and tearing off the page crumpled it, and flung it in the fire. The end of my birthday. All Fools Day was over.