As we approached, in the gloaming, the house, amid the smell of woodsmoke and earth and molding leaves, with the crispness of autumn in the air, my heart was flooded with memories of the thrill I had felt whenever I treaded the path to the door that I knew would be earnestly opened by a beautiful creature with joy radiating in her eyes.
Now I savored the atmosphere, and the vision of the charming brick house whose windows glowed cheerfully with lamplight, but I feared that Miss Bellefey’s expression tonight would be one of disdain at the sight of the man she preferred not to marry.
But it was Catherine Bellefey’s father who met us at the door. He was an arresting man—as tall as I, but imposingly beefy, with large, surveying eyes and a skeptical manner. His presence was commanding and overwhelming—by necessity as well as nature, for he had been a general and had fought battles and led men with great gallantry and triumph.
“Look who I ran into in the park, my love—Mr. Morgan!” Mrs. Bellefey exclaimed.
“Ah, Mr. Morgan, the writer!”
The general greeted me as he had in the past, in his thunderous, slighting manner, as if no time had expired, no events had transpired, and no heart had been diminished. He shook my hand in his customary way, all but crushing my fingers.
“What a fine surprise. Catherine will be so happy to see you.”
These last words confounded me, for they were a departure from the general’s former dialog in both meaning and tone. They were spoken heartfully and quietly.
“Pray, Mr. Morgan,” Mrs. Bellefey said loudly in the direction of the stairs, as if to cue either her daughter to my presence or a maid to the reception of a guest—or both—“pray, please tell the general how you’ve been, Mr. Morgan. I’ll just tell Catherine the news!”
Mrs. Bellefey nearly bounded up the stairs, and the general and I remained in the hall, exchanging spare words on the subjects of my work and the news of the world. Clara appeared in the parlor and began fluffing pillows and bustling about.
At last Miss Bellefey emerged at the top of the stairs. She had indeed grown thin—fragile—though her beauty remained overpowering. Her dark golden hair flowed over her shoulders, and she was ethereal in her pale, gauzy dress. Her pained expression evoked alarm and sadness in me, and I longed to rush to her and hold her until she transformed back into the vibrant creature she had been two months before.
She descended the stairs slowly, and as she approached, I looked into her sharply blue and dark eyes, which were so resonant that they struck me like a blow. Her eyes were otherworldly, made more enchanting by the delicate skin around them, which always conveyed a sensitivity and a depth unique to only her. Despite the woundedness in those beautiful eyes, and the tears that rose in them, she took my hands in hers and greeted me with the familiar warmth that I had cherished so much in the past.
“Mr. Morgan,” she said quietly, “I am so happy to see you.”