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A Devotee by Mary Cholmondeley

Loftus went straight to Wilderleigh


At

Sibyl's wish she and Mr. Loftus went straight to Wilderleigh. They reached it after several hours' journey on the evening of their wedding-day. And gradually the nervous exhaustion and acute headache from which he had been suffering, and which had become almost unbearable in the train, relaxed their hold upon him. They were sitting in the cool, scented twilight on the terrace. Through the half-darkness came the low voice of the river talking to itself. Noise and light and other voices, and this dreadful day, were gone at last.

He gave a sigh of relief and smiled deprecatingly at her. They had hardly spoken since they were married. She was sitting near him, a slender figure in her pale gown, that shimmered in the feeble light. But there was light enough for her to see him smile, and she smiled back at him with her whole heart in her lovely eyes. No thought of self lurked in those clear depths, and Mr. Loftus, looking into them, and remembering how, on this her wedding day, her whole mind had been absorbed, to the entire oblivion of a bride's divided feelings, in the one fact that he was suffering, was touched, but not with elation.

The long listless hand lying palm upwards on his knee made a slight movement, and in instant response to it her hand was placed in his. His closed over it. Perhaps nothing could have endeared her more to him than the mute response that had waited on his mute appeal, and had not forestalled

it.

His hand clasping hers, he drew her slightly, and, obeying its pressure, she leaned towards him.

'My Sibyl!' he said, and she involuntarily drew closer to him, for something in his voice and manner, in spite of their exceeding gentleness and tenderness, seemed to remove him from her. 'Fate has been hard upon you that I should have been ill on your wedding-day.'

'No,' she said, timidly pushing off from shore into the new world upon her little raft. 'Fate was kind, because to-day has been the first day when I could be with you and take care of you.'

'You take too much care of me.'

'I care for nothing else,' she said, her voice faltering, adoration in her eyes.

One white star peered low in the western heaven through the violet dusk.

'Once long ago, before you were born,' said Mr. Loftus, 'I loved someone, and she said she loved me, and we were married. But after a time she brought trouble upon me, Sibyl.'

The great current had caught the little raft, and was hurrying it out to sea.

'I will never bring trouble upon you,' said the young girl, her lips trembling as she stooped to kiss his hand. 'When you are tired you shall lean on my arm. When your eyes are tired I will read to you. I will take care of you, and keep all trouble from you.'

'Till I die,' he said below his breath, more to himself than to her.

'Till you die,' she answered.

And so, but this time very lightly, Mr. Loftus leaned once again, or made as if he leaned, on the fragile reed of human love.


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