Chapter XXI.
 
    "And if division come, it soon is past,
     Too sharp, too strange an agony to last.
     And like some river's bright, abundant tide,
     Which art or accident had forc'd aside,
     The well-springs of affection gushing o'er,
     Back to their natural channels flow once more."
                               --Mrs. Norton.

Left alone, Zoe sat meditating on her mother-in-law's advice.

"Oh," she said to herself, "if I could only know that my husband's love isn't gone forever, I could take comfort in planning to carry it out; but oh, if he hadn't quite left off caring for me, how could he threaten me so, and then go away without making up, without saying good-by, even if he didn't kiss me? I couldn't have gone away from him so for one day, and he expects to be away for ten. Ten days! such a long, long while!" and her tears fell like rain.

She wiped them away, after a little, opened her books and tried to study, but she could not fix her mind upon the subject; her thoughts would wander from it to Edward travelling farther and farther from her, and the tears kept dropping on the page.

She gave it up and tried to sew, but could mot see to take her stitches or thread her needle for the blinding tears.

She put on her hat and a veil to hide her tear-stained face and swollen eyes, stole quietly down-stairs and out into the grounds, where she wandered about solitary and sad.

Everywhere she missed Edward; she could think of nothing but him and his displeasure, and her heart was filled with sad forebodings for the future. Would he ever, ever love and be kind to her again?

After a while she crept back to her apartments, taking care to avoid meeting any one.

But Elsie was there looking for her. The children's lesson hours were over, they were going for a drive, and hoped Zoe would go along.

"Thank you, mamma, but I do not care to go to-day," Zoe answered in a choking voice, and turned away to hide her tears.

"My dear child, my dear, foolish little girl!" Elsie said, putting her arms around her, "why should you grieve so? Ned will soon be at home again, if all goes well. He is not very far away, and if you should be taken ill, or need him very much for any reason, a telegram would bring him to you in a few hours."

"But he went away without kissing me good-by; he didn't kiss me last night or this morning." The words were on the tip of Zoe's tongue, but she held them back, and answered only with fresh tears and sobs.

"I'm afraid you are not well, dear," Elsie said. "What can I do for you?"

"Nothing, thank you, mamma. I didn't sleep quite so well as usual last night, and my head aches. I'll lie down and try to get a nap."

"Do, dear, and I hope it will relieve the poor head. As you are a healthy little body, I presume the pain has been brought on merely by loss of sleep and crying. I think Edward must not leave you for so long a time again. Would you like mamma to stay with you, darling?" she asked, with a motherly caress.

Zoe declined the offer; she would be more likely to sleep if quite alone; and Elsie withdrew after seeing her comfortably established upon the bed.

"Strange," she said to herself as she passed on through the upper hall and down the broad staircase into the lower one, "it can hardly be that Edward's absence alone can distress her so greatly. I fear there is some misunderstanding between them. I think I must telegraph for Edward if she continues so inconsolable. His wife's health and happiness are of far more consequence than any business matter. But I shall consult papa first, of course."

She went into the library, found him sitting there, and laid the case before him.

He shared her fear that all was not right between the young couple, and remarked that, unfortunately, Edward had too much of his grandfather's sternness and disposition to domineer.

"I don't like to hear you depreciate yourself, papa," Elsie said. "Edward may have that disposition without having got it from you. And I am sure mamma would indignantly repel the insinuation that you were ever a domineering husband."

"Perhaps so; my daughter was the safety-valve in my case. Well, daughter, my advice is, wait till to-morrow at all events. I must say she doesn't seem to me one of the kind to submit tamely to oppression. I did not like her behavior last evening, and it may be that she needs the lesson her husband seems to be giving her. He certainly has been affectionate enough in the past to make it reasonable to suppose he is not abusing her now."

"Oh, I could never think he would do that!" exclaimed his mother, "and I believe in my heart he would hurry home at once if he knew how she is fretting over his absence."

It was near the dinner hour when Elsie returned from her drive, and stealing on tiptoe into Zoe's bedroom she found her fast asleep. Her eyelashes were still wet, and she looked flushed and feverish.

Elsie gazed at her in tender pity and some little anxiety; the face was so young and child-like, and even in sleep wore a grieved expression that touched the kind mother heart.

"Poor little orphan!" she sighed to herself, "she must feel very lonely and forlorn in her husband's absence, especially if things have gone wrong between them. How could I ever have borne a word or look of displeasure from my husband! I hope she is not going to be ill."

"Is Zoe not coming down?" Mr. Dinsmore asked as the family gathered about the dinner-table.

"I found her sleeping, papa, and thought it best not to wake her;" Elsie answered. "I think she does not look quite well, and that sleep will do her more good than anything else."

Zoe slept most of the afternoon, woke apparently more cheerful, and ate with seeming enjoyment the delicate lunch presently brought her by Elsie's orders; but she steadily declined to join the family at tea or in the parlor.

She would much rather stay where she was for the rest of the day, she said, as she felt dull and her head still ached a little.

Every one felt concerned about, and disposed to be as kind to her as possible. Mrs. Dinsmore, Elsie, Violet, and Rosie all came in in the course of the afternoon and evening to ask how she did, and express the hope that she would soon be quite well again, and to try to cheer her up.

They offered her companionship through the night; any one of them would willingly sleep with her; but she said she was not timid and would prefer to remain alone.

"Well, dear, I should feel a trifle easier not to have you alone," Elsie said, as she bade her good-night, "but we will not force our company upon you. None of us lock our doors at night, and my rooms are not far away; don't hesitate to wake me, if you feel uneasy or want anything in the night."

"Thank you, dear mamma," returned Zoe, putting her arms about her mother's neck; "you are so good and kind! such a dear mother to me! I will do as you say; if I feel at all timid in the night I shall run to your rooms and creep into bed with you."

So they all left her, and the house grew silent and still.

It was the first night since her marriage that her husband had not been with her, and she missed him more than ever. Besides, through the day she had been buoyed up in a measure by the hope that he would send her a note, a telegram, or some sort of message.

He had not done so, and the conviction that she had quite alienated him from her grew stronger and stronger.

Again she indulged in bitter weeping, wetting her pillow with her tears as she vainly courted sleep.

"He hates me now, I know he does, and will never love me again," she repeated to herself. "I wish I didn't love him so. Ho said he was sorry he couldn't give me my liberty, but I don't want it; but he wants to be rid of me, or he would never have said that; and how unhappy he must be, and will be all his life, tied to a wife he hates.

"I won't stay here to be a burden and torment to him!" she cried, starting up with sudden determination and energy. "I love him so dearly that I'll deliver him from that, even though it will break my heart; for oh, how can I live without him!"

She considered a moment, and (foolish child) thought it would be an act of noble self-sacrifice, and also very romantic, to run away and die of a broken heart, in order to relieve her husband of the burden and torment she chose to imagine that he considered her.

A folly that was partly the effect of too much reading of sensational novels, partly of physical ailment, for she was really feverish and ill.

She did not pause to decide where she would go, or to reflect how she could support herself. Were not all places alike away from the one she so dearly loved? and as to support she had a little money, and would not be likely to live long enough to need more.

Perhaps Edward would search for her from a sense of duty--she knew he was very conscientious--but she would manage so that he would never be able to find her; she would go under an assumed name; she would call herself Miss, and no one would suspect her of being a married woman running away from her husband. Ah, it was not altogether a disadvantage to be and look so young!

And when she should find herself dying, or so near it that there would not be time to send for Edward, she would tell some one who she really was, and ask that a letter should be written to him telling of her death, so that he would know he wus free to marry again.

Marry again! The thought of that shook her resolution for a moment. It was torture to imagine the love and caresses that had been hers lavished upon another woman.

But, perhaps, after his unhappy experience of married life, he would choose to live single the rest of his days. He had his mother and sisters to love, and could be happy without a wife.

Besides, she had read somewhere that though love was everything to a woman, men were different and could do quite well without it.

She went into the dressing-room, turned up the night lamp, and looked at her watch.

It was one o'clock. At two a stage passed northward along a road on the farther side of Fairview. She could easily make her few preparations in half an hour, walk to the nearest point on the route of the stage in time to stop it and get in, then while journeying on, decide what her next step should be.

She packed a hand-bag with such things as she deemed most essential, arrayed herself in a plain, dark woollen dress, with hat, veil, and gloves to match, threw a shawl over her arm, and was just turning to go, when a thought struck her.

"I ought to leave a note, of course; they always do."

Sitting down at her writing-desk, she directed an envelope to her husband, then wrote on a card:

"I am going away never to come back. Don't look for me, for it will be quite useless, as I shall manage so that you can never trace me. It breaks my heart to leave you, my dear dear husband, for I love you better than life, but I know I have lost your love, and I want to rid you of the burden and annoyance of a hated wife. So, farewell forever in this world, and nay you be very happy all your days.

"ZOE."

Her tears fell fast as she wrote; she had to wipe them away again and again, and the card was so blotted and blistered by them that some of the words were scarcely legible, but there was not time to write another; so she put it in the envelope and laid it on the toilet table, where it would be sure to catch his eye.

Then taking up her shawl and satchel, she sent one tearful farewell glance around the room, and stole noiselessly down-stairs and out of the house by a side door. It caught her dress in closing, but she was unaware of that for a moment, as she stood still on the step, remembering with a sudden pang, that was more than half regret, that the deed was done beyond recall, for the dead-latch was down, and she had no key with which to effect an entrance; she must go on now, whether she would or not.

She took a step forward, and found she was last; she could neither go on nor retreat. Oh, dreadful to be caught there and her scheme at the same time baffled and revealed!

All at once she saw it in a new light. "Oh, how angry, how very angry Edward would be! What would he do and say to her? Certainly, she had given him sufficient reason to deem it necessary to lock her up; for what right had she to go away to stay without his knowledge and consent? she who had taken a solemn vow--in the presence of her dying father, too--to love, honor and obey him as long as they both should live. Oh, it would be too disgraceful to be caught so!"

She exerted all her strength in the effort to wrench herself free, even at the cost of tearing the dress and being obliged to travel with it unrepaired; but in vain; the material was too strong to give way, and she sank down on the step in a state of pitiable fright and despair.

She heard the clock in the hall strike two. Even the servants would not be stirring before five; so she had at least three hours to sit there alone and exposed to danger from tramps, thieves, and burglars, if any should happen to come about.

And oh, the miserable prospect before her when this trying vigil should be over. How grieved mamma would be! dear mamma, whom she loved with true daughterly affection; how stern and angry Grandpa Dinsmore, how astonished and displeased all the others; how wicked and supremely silly they would think her.

Perhaps she could bribe the servants to keep her secret (her dress, her travelling bag and the early hour would reveal something of its nature), and gain her rooms again without being seen by any of the family; but then her life would be one of constant terror of discovery.

Should she try that course, or the more straightforward one of not attempting any concealment?

She was still debating this question in her mind, when her heart almost flew into her mouth at the sound of a man's step approaching on the gravel walk. It drew nearer, nearer, came close to her side, and with a cry of terror she fell in a little heap on the doorstep in a dead faint.

He uttered a low exclamation of astonishment, stooped over her, and pushing aside her veil so that the moonlight shone full upon her face, "Zoe!" he said, "is it possible! What can have brought you here at this hour of the night?"

He paused for an answer, but none came; then bending lower and perceiving that she was quite unconscious, also fast, he took a key from his pocket and opened the door.

He bent over her again, taking note of her dress and the travelling bag by her side.

"Running away, evidently! could any one have conceived the possibility of her doing so crazy a thing!" he muttered, as he took her in his arms.

Then a dark thought crossed his mind, but he put it determinately from him.

"No; I will not, cannot think it! She is pure, guileless, and innocent as an infant."

He stooped again, picked up the bag, closed the door softly, and carried her up-stairs--treading with caution lest a stumble or the sound of his footsteps should arouse some one and lead to the discovery of what was going on; yet with as great celerity as consistent with that caution, fearing consciousness might return too soon for the preservation of the secrecy he desired.

But it did not; she was still insensible when he laid her down on a couch in her boudoir.

He took off her hat and veil, threw them aside, loosened her dress, opened a window to give her air, then went into the dressing-room for the night lamp usually kept burning there.

As he turned it up, his eye fell upon Zoe's note.

He knew her handwriting instantly.

"Here is the explanation," was the thought that flashed into his mind, and snatching it up, he tore open the envelope, held the card near the light and read what her fingers had traced scarcely an hour ago.

His eyes filled as he read, and two great drops fell as he laid it down.

He picked up the lamp and hastened back to her.

As he drew near she opened her eyes, sent one frightened glance round the room and up into his pale, troubled face, then covering hers with her hands, burst into hysterical weeping.

He set down the lamp, knelt by her sofa and gathered her in his arms, resting her head against his breast.

"Zoe, my little Zoe, my own dear wife!" he said in faltering accents, "have I really been so cruel that you despair of my love? Why, my darling, no greater calamity than your loss could possibly befall me. I love you dearly, dearly! better far than I did when I asked you to be mine--when we gave ourselves to each other."

"Oh, is it true? do you really love me yet in spite of all my jealousy and wilfulness, and--and--oh, I have been very bad and ungrateful and troublesome!" she sobbed, clinging about his neck.

"And I have been too dictatorial and stern," he said, kissing her again and again. "I have not had the patience I ought to have had with my little girl-wife, have not been so forbearing and kind as I meant to be."

"Indeed, you have been very patient and forbearing," she returned, "and would never have been cross to me if I hadn't provoked you beyond endurance. I have been very bad to you, dear Ned, but if you'll keep me and love me I'll try to behave better."

"I'll do both," he said, holding her closer and repeating his caresses.

"Oh, I'm so glad, so glad!" she cried, with the tears running over her cheeks, "so glad I have to weep for joy. And I've been breaking my heart since you went away and left me in anger and without one word of good-by."

"My poor darling, it was too cruel," he sighed; "but I found I could not stand it any more than you, so had to come back to make it up with you. And I frightened you terribly down there at the door, did I not?"

"O Ned," she murmured, hiding her blushing face on his breast, "how very good you are to be so loving and kind when you have a right to be angry and stern with me. You haven't even asked me what I was doing down there in the night."

"Your note explained that," he said in moved tones, thinking how great must have been the distress that led to such an act, "and I fear I am as deserving of reproof as yourself."

"Then you will forgive me?" she asked humbly. "I thought I had a right to go away, thinking it would make you happier, but now I know I hadn't, because I had promised myself to you for all my life."

"No; neither of us has a right to forsake the other (we 'are no more twain but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let no man put asunder'); we are husband and wife for as long as we both shall live, and must dwell together in mutual love and forbearance. We will exchange forgiveness, dearest, for we have both been to blame, and I forgive your attempt of to-night on condition that you promise me never, never to do such a thing again."

"I promise," she said, "and," imploringly, "O Ned, won't you keep my secret? I couldn't bear to have it known even in the family."

"No more could I, love," he answered; "and oh, but I am thankful that you were caught by the door and so prevented from carrying out your purpose!"

"So am I, and that it was my own dear husband, and not a burglar, as I feared, who found me there."

"Ah, was that the cause of your fright?" he asked, with a look of relief and pleasure. "I thought it was your terror of your husband's wrath that caused your faint. But, darling, you are looking weary and actually ill. You must go to bed at once."

"I'll obey you, this time and always," she answered, looking up fondly into his face. "I am convinced now that I am only a foolish child in need of guidance and control, and who should provide them but you? I could hardly stand it from anybody else--unless mamma--but I'm sure that in future it will be a pleasure to take it from my own dear husband if--if only----" she paused, blushing and hiding her face on his breast.

"If what, love?"

"If only instead of 'You must and shall,' you will say kindly, 'I want you to do it to please me, Zoe.'"

"Sweet one," he answered, holding her to his heart, "I do fully intend that it shall be always love and coaxing after this."