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The last rehearsal was over, a tedious dress rehearsal which had lasted
all day and exhausted the patience of every one who had to do with it.
When Hilda had dressed for the street and came out of her dressing-room,
she found Hugh MacConnell waiting for her in the corridor.
"The fog's thicker than ever, Hilda. There have been a great many
accidents to-day. It's positively unsafe for you to be out alone. Will you
let me take you home?"
"How good of you, Mac. If you are going with me, I think I'd rather walk.
I've had no exercise to-day, and all this has made me nervous."
"I shouldn't wonder," said MacConnell dryly. Hilda pulled down her veil
and they stepped out into the thick brown wash that submerged St. Martin's
Lane. MacConnell took her hand and tucked it snugly under his arm. "I'm
sorry I was such a savage. I hope you didn't think I made an ass of
"Not a bit of it. I don't wonder you were peppery. Those things are
awfully trying. How do you think it's going?"
"Magnificently. That's why I got so stirred up. We are going to hear from
this, both of us. And that reminds me; I've got news for you. They are
going to begin repairs on the theatre about the middle of March, and we
are to run over to New York for six weeks. Bennett told me yesterday that
it was decided."
Hilda looked up delightedly at the tall gray figure beside her. He was the
only thing she could see, for they were moving through a dense opaqueness,
as if they were walking at the bottom of the ocean.
"Oh, Mac, how glad I am! And they love your things over there, don't
"Shall you be glad for—any other reason, Hilda?"
MacConnell put his hand in front of her to ward off some dark object. It
proved to be only a lamp-post, and they beat in farther from the edge of
"What do you mean, Mac?" Hilda asked nervously.
"I was just thinking there might be people over there you'd be glad to
see," he brought out awkwardly. Hilda said nothing, and as they walked on
MacConnell spoke again, apologetically: "I hope you don't mind my knowing
about it, Hilda. Don't stiffen up like that. No one else knows, and I
didn't try to find out anything. I felt it, even before I knew who he was.
I knew there was somebody, and that it wasn't I."
They crossed Oxford Street in silence, feeling their way. The busses had
stopped running and the cab-drivers were leading their horses. When they
reached the other side, MacConnell said suddenly, "I hope you are happy."
"Terribly, dangerously happy, Mac,"—Hilda spoke quietly, pressing
the rough sleeve of his greatcoat with her gloved hand.
"You've always thought me too old for you, Hilda,—oh, of course
you've never said just that,—and here this fellow is not more than
eight years younger than I. I've always felt that if I could get out of my
old case I might win you yet. It's a fine, brave youth I carry inside me,
only he'll never be seen."
"Nonsense, Mac. That has nothing to do with it. It's because you seem too
close to me, too much my own kind. It would be like marrying Cousin Mike,
almost. I really tried to care as you wanted me to, away back in the
"Well, here we are, turning out of the Square. You are not angry with me,
Hilda? Thank you for this walk, my dear. Go in and get dry things on at
once. You'll be having a great night to-morrow."
She put out her hand. "Thank you, Mac, for everything. Good-night."
MacConnell trudged off through the fog, and she went slowly upstairs. Her
slippers and dressing gown were waiting for her before the fire. "I shall
certainly see him in New York. He will see by the papers that we are
coming. Perhaps he knows it already," Hilda kept thinking as she
undressed. "Perhaps he will be at the dock. No, scarcely that; but I may
meet him in the street even before he comes to see me." Marie placed the
tea-table by the fire and brought Hilda her letters. She looked them over,
and started as she came to one in a handwriting that she did not often
see; Alexander had written to her only twice before, and he did not allow
her to write to him at all. "Thank you, Marie. You may go now."
Hilda sat down by the table with the letter in her hand, still unopened.
She looked at it intently, turned it over, and felt its thickness with her
fingers. She believed that she sometimes had a kind of second-sight about
letters, and could tell before she read them whether they brought good or
evil tidings. She put this one down on the table in front of her while she
poured her tea. At last, with a little shiver of expectancy, she tore open
the envelope and read:—
Boston, February —
MY DEAR HILDA:—
It is after twelve o'clock. Every one else is in bed and I am sitting
alone in my study. I have been happier in this room than anywhere else in
the world. Happiness like that makes one insolent. I used to think these
four walls could stand against anything. And now I scarcely know myself
here. Now I know that no one can build his security upon the nobleness of
another person. Two people, when they love each other, grow alike in their
tastes and habits and pride, but their moral natures (whatever we may mean
by that canting expression) are never welded. The base one goes on being
base, and the noble one noble, to the end.
The last week has been a bad one; I have been realizing how things used to
be with me. Sometimes I get used to being dead inside, but lately it has
been as if a window beside me had suddenly opened, and as if all the
smells of spring blew in to me. There is a garden out there, with stars
overhead, where I used to walk at night when I had a single purpose and a
single heart. I can remember how I used to feel there, how beautiful
everything about me was, and what life and power and freedom I felt in
myself. When the window opens I know exactly how it would feel to be out
there. But that garden is closed to me. How is it, I ask myself, that
everything can be so different with me when nothing here has changed? I am
in my own house, in my own study, in the midst of all these quiet streets
where my friends live. They are all safe and at peace with themselves. But
I am never at peace. I feel always on the edge of danger and change.
I keep remembering locoed horses I used to see on the range when I was a
boy. They changed like that. We used to catch them and put them up in the
corral, and they developed great cunning. They would pretend to eat their
oats like the other horses, but we knew they were always scheming to get
back at the loco.
It seems that a man is meant to live only one life in this world. When he
tries to live a second, he develops another nature. I feel as if a second
man had been grafted into me. At first he seemed only a pleasure-loving
simpleton, of whose company I was rather ashamed, and whom I used to hide
under my coat when I walked the Embankment, in London. But now he is
strong and sullen, and he is fighting for his life at the cost of mine.
That is his one activity: to grow strong. No creature ever wanted so much
to live. Eventually, I suppose, he will absorb me altogether. Believe me,
you will hate me then.
And what have you to do, Hilda, with this ugly story? Nothing at all. The
little boy drank of the prettiest brook in the forest and he became a
stag. I write all this because I can never tell it to you, and because it
seems as if I could not keep silent any longer. And because I suffer,
Hilda. If any one I loved suffered like this, I'd want to know it. Help