The Sacrifice by Ethel M. Dell
Violet was in her room ready dressed for dinner that evening, when there came a knock upon her door. She was seated at a writing-table in a corner scribbling a note, but she covered it up quickly at the sound.
"Come in!" she said.
She rose as her husband entered. He also was ready dressed. He came up to her in his quiet, direct fashion, looking at her with those steady eyes that saw so much and revealed so little.
"I just came in to say," he said, "that I am sorry to cut your pleasure short, but I find we must return to town to-morrow."
She started at the information. "To-morrow!" she echoed. "Why?"
"I find it necessary," he said.
She looked at him. Her heart was beating very fast. "Percival, why?" she said again.
He raised his eyebrows slightly. "It would be rather difficult for me to explain."
"Do you mean you have to go on business?" she said.
He smiled a little. "Yes, on business."
She turned to the fire with a shiver. There was something in the atmosphere, although the room was warm, that made her cold from head to foot. With her back to him she spoke again:
"Is there any reason why I should go too?"
He came and joined her before the fire. "Yes; one," he said.
She threw him a nervous glance. "And that?"
"You are my wife," said Field quietly.
Again that shiver caught her. She put out a hand to steady herself against the mantelpiece. When she spoke again, it was with a great effort.
"Wives are sometimes allowed a holiday away from their husbands."
Field said nothing whatever. He only looked at her with unvarying attention.
She turned at last in desperation and faced him. "Percival! Why do you look at me like that?"
He turned from her instantly, without replying. "May I write a note here?" he said, and went towards the writing-table. "My pen has run dry."
She made a movement that almost expressed panic. She was at the table before he reached it. "Ah, wait a minute! Let me clear my things out of your way first!"
She began to gather up the open blotter that lay there with feverish haste. A sheet of paper flew out from her nervous hands and fluttered to the floor at Field's feet. He stooped and picked it up.
She uttered a gasp and turned as white as the dress she wore. "That is mine!" she panted.
He gave it to her with grave courtesy. "I am afraid I am disturbing you," he said. "I can wait while you finish."
But she crumpled the paper in her hand. She was trembling so much that she could hardly stand.
"It--doesn't matter," she said almost inaudibly.
He stood for a second or two in silence, then seated himself at the writing-table and took up a pen.
In the stillness that followed she moved away to the fire and stood before it. Field wrote steadily without turning his head. She stooped after a moment and dropped the crumpled paper into the blaze. Then she sat down, her hands tightly clasped about her knees, and waited.
Field's quiet voice broke the stillness at length. "If you are writing letters of your own, perhaps I may leave this one in your charge."
She looked round with a start. He had turned in his chair. Their eyes met across the room.
"May I?" he said.
She nodded, finding her voice with an effort. "Yes--of course."
He got up, and as he did so the great dinner-gong sounded through the house. He came to her side. She rose quickly at his approach, moving almost apprehensively.
"Shall we go down?" she said.
He put out a hand and linked it in her arm. She shrank at his touch, but she endured it. She even, after a moment, seemed to be in a measure steadied by it. She stood motionless for a few seconds, and during those seconds his fingers closed upon her, very gentle, very firmly; then opened and set her free.
"Will you lead the way?" he said.