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      He questioned his wife, he questioned his own memory, as to when the change had begun, and on looking back thus thoughtfully it seemed to him that her spirits and her strength had flagged from the time of Captain Hulbert's arrival at Fowey. She had seemed tolerably cheerful until then, interested in life, ready to participate in any amusement or occupation of Allegra's; but from the beginning of their yachting excursions there had been a change. She had shrunk from any share in their plans or expeditions. She had gone on board the yachton the two or three occasions when she had been persuaded to gowith obvious reluctance, and she had been silent and joyless all the time she was there. Within the last fortnight, when Captain Hulbert had pressed her to go to luncheon or afternoon tea at the Mount, she had persistently refused. She had begged her husband to take Allegra, and to excuse her.

      He greeted Esmeralda warmly, and even affectionately, and looked up at her face, glowing with her long walk, with unstinted admiration.

      "Next to a juvenile party, I don't know anything betterfrom a professional point of viewthan a public ball," he[Pg 65] said. "Your canvas corridors, decorated with flowers and bunting, are a fortune to a family practitioner."

      Esmeralda stood like a lay figure while the rest of the dresses were tried on, and Lady Wyndover, with a deep sigh, declared herself satisfied.

      Perhaps hes the bank agent, said Esmeralda.

      At the end of the journey, which had seemed terribly long to Lady Wyndover, but very short to Esmeralda, they found the chariot and the footman awaiting them, and the usual fuss ensued; if anything, it was more marked than usual. Trafford did not walk this time, but rode in the carriage with the ladies, and, as they passed along, pointed out the various points of local interest, and was rewarded by Esmeraldas exclamation of delight at her first glimpse of the sea.


      Forgive me, my dear Traff! One must speak sometimes with the muzzle off. I admire, I adore Ada Lancing; she has only one defect. She is as beautiful as a dream, as imperial as an empress, but, unfortunately, she has no money. And what we want is money. Money! Not a little, but a large sum. An enormous sum! He sipped his soda and whisky, and settled himself more comfortably in his easy-chair. Trafford went to the window, and looked out at the night. Every word this worldly wise uncle of his spoke jarred upon him. And yet, how worldly wise, how unanswerable it was!


      What fever-fraught vision was it that those hands tried to shut out from her burning eyes? So little had happenedso littleonly half an hour's quiet walk along the towpath, where the leafless willows had a grim, uncanny look, like those trees whose old grey branches seemed the arms of the Erlking's daughters, beckoning the child as he nestled in his father's arms, riding through the night. So littleso littleand yet it meant the lifting of a veilthe passage from happy innocence to the full consciousness of an unholy love. It meant what one kiss on trembling lips meant for Paolo and Francesca. It meant the plunge into a gulf of dark despairunless she had strength to draw back, seeing the abyss at her feet, warned of her danger.