Ella was standing waiting for her outside the open door of a drawing room. She was wearing a lovely evening dress with a corsage of white lace covered with diamonds and sapphires. Her hair—it was of the darkest brown and was very plentiful—was also glittering with gems under the light that flowed through the open door. The same light showed Phyllis how deathly white Ella’s face and neck were—how tumultuously her bosom was heaving. She had one hand pressed to her side, and the other on the handle of the door when Phyllis met her; and in that attitude, even though the expanse of white flesh, with its gracious curves that forced out her bodice, had no roseate tint upon it, she looked lovely—intoxicating to the eyes of men.

Phyllis was certainly surprised. The hour was scarcely eleven, but Ella had given no notice of her intention to pay a visit to her friend that night. When the girl raised her hands with a laugh of admiration, of pleasure, Ella grasped her hands with both of her own and drew her into the drawing room without a word. Then with a cry,—a laugh and a cry mingled,—she literally flung herself into the girl’s arms and kissed her convulsively a dozen times, on the throat, on the neck, on the shoulder whereon her head lay.

“My darling, my darling!” she cried,—and now and again her voice was broken with a sob,—“my darling Phyllis! I have come to you—I want to be with you—to be near you—to keep my arms about you, so tightly that no one can pluck us asunder. Oh, you don’t know what men are—they would pluck us asunder if they could; but they can’t now. With you I am safe—that is why I have come to you, my Phyllis. I want to be safe—indeed I do!”

She had now raised her head from Phyllis’ shoulder, but was still holding her tightly—a hand on each of her arms, and her face within an inch of the girl’s face.

Phyllis kissed her softly on each cheek.

“My poor dear!” she said, “what can have happened to you?”

“Nothing—nothing! I tell you that nothing has happened to me,” cried Ella, with a vehemence that almost amounted to fierceness in her voice. “Would I be here with you now if anything had happened to me? tell me that. I came to you—ah! women have no guardian angels, but they have sisters who are equally good and pure, and you are my sister—my sister—better than all the angels that ever sang a dirge over a lost soul that they put forth no hand to save. You will not let me go, darling Phyllis, you will not let me go even if I tell you that I want to go. Don’t believe me, Phyllis; I don’t want to go—I don’t want to be lost, and if I leave you I am lost. You will keep me, dear, will you not?”

“Until the end of the world,” said Phyllis. “Come, dearest Ella, tell me what is the matter—why you have come to me in that lovely costume. You look as if you were dressed for a bridal.”

“A bridal—a bridal? What do you mean by that?” said Ella, with curious eagerness—a suggestion of suspicion was in her tone. She had loosed her hold upon the girl’s arms.

Phyllis laughed. She put a hand round Ella’s waist and led her to a sofa, saying:

“Let us sit down and talk it all over. That is the lace you told me you picked up at Munich. What a design—lilies!”

“The Virgin’s flower—the Virgin’s flower! I never thought of that,” laughed Ella. “It is for you—not me, this lace. I shall tear it off and—”

“You shall do nothing of the kind,” cried Phyllis. “I have heaps of lace—more than I shall ever wear. What a lovely idea that is of yours,—I’m sure it is yours,—sewing the diamonds around the cup of the lilies, like dewdrops. I always did like diamonds on lace. Some people would have us believe that diamonds should only be worn with blue velvet. How commonplace! Where have you been to-night?”

“Where have I been? I have been at home. Where should a good woman be in the absence of her husband, but at home—his home and her home?”

Ella laughed loud and long with her head thrown back on the cushion of the sofa, and the diamonds in her hair giving back flash for flash to the electric candles above her head. “Yes; I was at home—I dined at home, and, God knows why, I conceived a sudden desire to go to the opera,—Melba is the Juliet,—and forgetting that you were engaged to the Earlscourts—you told me last week that you were going, but I stupidly forgot, I drove across here to ask you to be my companion. Oh, yes, I have been here since—since nine, mind that! nine—nine—ask the servants. When I heard that you were dining out I thought that I was lost—one cannot drive about the streets all night, can one? Ah! I thought that God was against me now, as he ever has been; and as for my guardian angel—ah! our guardian angels are worse than the servants of nowadays who have no sense of responsibility. Thompson, your butler, is worth a whole heavenful of angels, for it was he who asked me if I would come in and wait for your return—ask him, if you doubt my word.”

“Good Heavens, Ella, what do you say? Doubt your word—I doubt your word? You wound me deeply.”

“Forgive me, my Phyllis. I don’t quite know what I said. Ah, let me nestle here—here.” She had put her head down to Phyllis’ bare neck and was looking up to her face as a child might have done. “There is no danger here. Now pet me, and say that you forgive me for having said whatever I did say.”

Phyllis laughed and put her lips down among the myriad diamonds that glowed amid the other’s hair, like stars seen among the thick foliage of a copper beech.

“I forgive you for whatever you said,” she cried. “I, too, have forgotten what it was; but you must never say so again. But had you really no engagement for to-night that you took that fancy for going to ‘Romeo’?”

“No engagement? Had I no engagement, do you ask me?” cried Ella. “Oh, yes, yes! I had an engagement, but I broke it—I broke it—I broke it, and that is why I am here. Whatever may come of it, I am here, and here I mean to stay. I am safe here. At home I am in danger.”

Phyllis wondered greatly what had come to her friend to make her talk in this wild strain.

“Where were you engaged?” she inquired casually. She had come to the conclusion that there was safety in the commonplace: she would not travel out of the region of commonplaces with Ella in her present state.

“Where was I engaged? Surely I told you. Didn’t I say something about the opera—‘Romeo and Juliet’?—that was to be the place, but I came to you instead. Ah, what have we missed! Was there ever such a poem written as ‘Romeo and Juliet’? Was there ever such music as Gounod’s? I thought the first time that I went to the opera that it would spoil Shakspere—how could it do otherwise? I asked. Could supreme perfection be improved upon? Before the balcony scene had come to an end I found that I had never before understood the glory of the poem. Ah, if you could understand what love means, my Phyllis, you would appreciate the poem and the music; the note of doom runs through it; that—that is wherein its greatness lies—passion and doom—passion and doom—that is my own life—the life of us women. We live in a whirlwind of passion, and fancy that we can step out of the whirlwind into a calm at any moment. We marry our husbands and we fancy that all the tragedy of human passion is over so far as we are concerned. ‘The haven entered and the tempest passed.’ Philip Marston’s terrible poem,—you have read it,—‘A Christmas Vigil’? ‘The haven entered,’—the whirlwind of passion has been left far away, we fancy. Oh, we are fools! It sweeps down upon us and then—doom—doom!”

“My poor dear, you are talking wildly.”

“If you only understood—perhaps you will some day understand, and then you will know what seems wild in my speech is but the incoherence of a poor creature who has been beaten to the ground by the whirlwind, and only saved from destruction by a miracle.”

She had sprung from her place on the sofa and was pacing the room, her diamonds quivering, luminous as a shower of meteors—that was the fancy that flashed from her to Phyllis. Meteors—meteors—what a splendid picture she made flashing from place to place! Meteors—ah, surely there was the meteor-bird flashing across the drawing room!

“Come and sit down, my dear Ella,” said Phyllis. “You are, as you know, quite unintelligible to me.”

“Unintelligible to you? I am unintelligible to myself,” cried Ella. “Why should I be tramping up and down your room when I might be at this very moment——” She clutched Phyllis’ arm. “I want to stay with you all night,” she whispered. “I want to sleep in your bed with you, Phyllis. I want to feel your arms around me as I used to feel my mother’s long ago. Whatever I may say, you will not let me go, Phyllis?”

“I will load you with chains,” said Phyllis, patting her lovely hair—it was no longer smooth. “Why should you want to go away from me? Cannot we be happy together once again as we used to be long ago?”

“How long ago that was! And we read ‘Romeo and Juliet’ together, and fancied that we had gone down to the very depths of its meaning. We fancied that we had sounded the very depths of its passion and pathos. We were only girls. Ah, Phyllis, I tell you—I, who know—I, who have found it out,—I tell you that the tragedy is the tragedy of all lovers who have ever lived in the world. I tell you that it is the tragedy of love itself. ‘Gallop apace, ye fiery-footed steeds!’ That is the poem that the heart of the lover sings all day—all day! I have heard it—my heart has sung it. I have heard the passionate gallop of those fiery-footed steeds. I have listened to them while my heart beat in unison with their frantic career—all day counting the moments with fiery face, and then—then—something that was not passion forced me to fly from it for the salvation of my soul. I was a fool! Why am I here, when I should be where he——What is the hour? Why, it is scarcely twelve o’clock! Did I say nine in my letter? What does it matter? I wonder if on that wonderful night—Gounod translated its glory into music—Juliet kept her lover waiting for three hours.”

“What are you doing?” cried Phyllis, rising.

Ella had picked up her theatre wrap—it was a summer cloud brocaded with golden threads of quivering sunlight, and had flung it around her.

She held out a hand to Phyllis. Phyllis grasped her round the waist.

“Where are you going?” she said.

“To hell!”

She had whispered the words, and at their utterance Phyllis gave a cry of horror and covered her face with her hands.

Had she seen a suggestion of the satyr in the expression of that lovely face before her?

In the pause that followed the sound of footsteps upon the stairs outside was heard; the sound of footsteps and of men’s friendly laughter. Some persons were in the act of ascending.

“My God!” whispered Ella. “He has followed me here!”

“Hush!” said Phyllis. “Papa is bringing someone to us.”


They were both standing together in the middle of the room, both having their eyes fixed on the door, when the door opened and Mr. Ayrton appeared, having by his side a man with iron-gray hair and a curiously pallid face.

At the sight of that man Ella’s hands, that had been holding her wrap close to her throat, feeling for its silver clasp, fell limp, and the splendid mass of white brocade slipped to the floor and lay in folds about her feet, revealing her lovely figure sparkling from the hem of her dress to the top of her shapely head.

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