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A Devotee by Mary Cholmondeley

Loftus had never willingly been in the way of anyone before


That

passion of tears could flow from one source only. He knew Sibyl well enough to know that she had no tears, no strong emotion, for anything except that which affected her own personal happiness. Her slight nature could not reach to impersonal love, any more than it could reach to righteous anger. All this apparent failure of health and listlessness had a mental cause, as he had always feared, as he now knew for certain. She was unhappy.

'She has ceased to love me,' said Mr. Loftus to himself, 'and she is in despair. Doll loves her, and she has found it out. Those tears are for Doll.'

There was a long pause of thought.

He started at the remembrance that she was probably still lying on the floor in her thin night-gown.

He got up, and tapped distinctly at the door of her bedroom. At first there was no reply, but after the second time there was a slight hurried movement and a faint 'Come in.' He went in. She had crept back into bed, as he had hoped she would at the sound of his tap.

'May I have your salts?' he said, taking them from the dressing-table. 'I have waked with a headache.'

'Can I do anything for it?' she asked, but without moving, her miserable eyes following his thin, gaunt figure in its gray dressing-gown.

'Nothing, my dear, except

forgive me for disturbing you.'

'I was not asleep,' said Sibyl, yielding to the impulse, irresistible to some women, to approach the subject which they are trying to conceal.

He took the salts, and went back to his own room, closing the door carefully. But he did not use them. He sighed heavily as he sat down again in the old armchair in which he had so often watched the light grow behind the Welsh hills.

There was another pause of thought, and he remembered again Doll's confession of the day before.

'Poor children!' he said--'poor children!'

And he remembered his own youth and its devastating passions, and the woman whom he had loved in middle life, and how nearly once--how nearly---- And he and she had been stronger than Doll and Sibyl.

'God forgive me!' he said; 'I meant well.'

There was another pause.

'I knew her love could not last,' his mind went on. 'It was too extravagant, and it had no foundation. But I thought it would last my time, and it has not. I have outlived it; I am in the way.'

Mr. Loftus had never willingly been in the way of anyone before. His tact had so far saved him. But a kind intention had betrayed him at last.

'I am in the way,' he repeated, 'and I am fond of them both, and I think they are both fond of me. But they will come to hate me.'

The light was strong and white now, and a butterfly on the window-sill, that had mistaken spring for summer, waked, and began to beat its wings against the pane.

He rose wearily, and opened the old-fashioned window wide upon its hinges. The butterfly flew away into the spring morning.

'My other butterfly,' he said--'my pretty butterfly, who mistook the spring for summer, breaking your heart against the prison windows of my worn-out life--I will release you, too!'

He took up the little silver flask that always stood on his dressing-table at night and lived in his pocket by day, and which contained the only remedy which a great doctor could find for his attacks of the heart, by means of which he had been till now kept in life.


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