He entered the room so rapidly that he surprised her in the act of throwing the fragments of Montbarry’s last letter into the fire. She hurriedly spoke first.
‘You are leaving London very suddenly, Henry. Is it business? or pleasure?’
Instead of answering her, he pointed to the flaming letter, and to some black ashes of burnt paper lying lightly in the lower part of the fireplace.
‘Are you burning letters?’
He took her hand gently. ‘I had no idea I was intruding on you, at a time when you must wish to be alone. Forgive me, Agnes — I shall see you when I return.’
She signed to him, with a faint smile, to take a chair.
‘We have known one another since we were children,’ she said. ‘Why should I feel a foolish pride about myself in your presence? why should I have any secrets from you? I sent back all your brother’s gifts to me some time ago. I have been advised to do more, to keep nothing that can remind me of him — in short, to burn his letters. I have taken the advice; but I own I shrank a little from destroying the last of the letters. No — not because it was the last, but because it had this in it.’ She opened her hand, and showed him a lock of Montbarry’s hair, tied with a morsel of golden cord. ‘Well! well! let it go with the rest.’
She dropped it into the flame. For a while, she stood with her back to Henry, leaning on the mantel-piece, and looking into the fire. He took the chair to which she had pointed, with a strange contradiction of expression in his face: the tears were in his eyes, while the brows above were knit close in an angry frown. He muttered to himself, ‘Damn him!’
She rallied her courage, and looked at him again when she spoke. ‘Well, Henry, and why are you going away?’
‘I am out of spirits, Agnes, and I want a change.’