It was midnight in the little inn at Charnex. The rain which for so many nights in this miserable June had been beating down upon the village had at last passed away. The night was clear and still—a night when the voice of mountain torrents, far distant, might reach the ear suddenly—sharply pure—from the very depths of silence.
Julie was in bed. She had been scarcely aware of her maid’s help in undressing. The ordinary life was, as it were, suspended. Two scenes floated alternately before her—one the creation of memory, the other of imagination; and the second was, if possible, the more vivid, the more real of the two. Now she saw herself in Lady Henry’s drawing room; Sir Wilfrid Bury and a white-haired general were beside her. The door opened and Warkworth entered—young, handsome, soldierly, with that boyish, conquering air which some admired and others disliked. His eyes met hers, and a glow of happiness passed through her.
Then, at a stroke, the London drawing room melted away. She was in a low bell tent. The sun burned through its sides; the air was stifling. She stood with two other men and the doctor beside the low camp bed; her heart was wrung by every movement, every sound; she heard the clicking of the fan in the doctor’s hands, she saw the flies on the poor, damp brow.
And still she had no tears. Only, existence seemed to have ended in a gulf of horror, where youth and courage, repentance and high resolve, love and pleasure were all buried and annihilated together.
That poor girl upstairs! It had not been possible to take her home. She was there with nurse and doctor, her mother hanging upon every difficult breath. The attack of diphtheria had left a weakened heart and nervous system; the shock had been cruel, and the doctor could promise nothing for the future.
The cry echoed in Julie’s ears. It seemed to fill the old, low-ceiled room in which she lay. Her fancy, preternaturally alive, heard it thrown back from the mountains outside—returned to her in wailing from the infinite depths of the lake. She was conscious of the vast forms and abysses of nature, there in the darkness, beyond the walls of her room, as something hostile, implacable…
And while he lay there dead, under the tropical sand, she was still living and breathing here, in this old Swiss inn—Jacob Delafield’s wife, at least in name.
There was a knock at her door. At first she did not answer it. It seemed to be only one of the many dream sounds which tormented her nerves. Then it was repeated. Mechanically she said “Come in.”
The door opened, and Delafield, carrying a light, which he shaded with his hand, stood on the threshold.
“May I come and talk to you?” he said, in a low voice. “I know you are not sleeping.” It was the first time he had entered his wife’s room. Through all her misery, Julie felt a strange thrill as her husband’s face was thus revealed to her, brightly illumined, in the loneliness of the night. Then the thrill passed into pain—the pain of a new and sharp perception.
Delafield, in truth, was some two or three years younger than Warkworth. But the sudden impression on Julie’s mind, as she saw him thus, was of a man worn and prematurely aged—markedly older and graver, even, since their marriage, since that memorable evening by the side of Como when, by that moral power of which he seemed often to be the mere channel and organ, he had overcome her own will and linked her life with his.
She looked at him in a kind of terror. Why was he so pale—an embodied grief? Warkworth’s death was not a mortal stroke for him.
He came closer, and still Julie’s eyes held him. Was it her fault, this—this shadowed countenance, these suggestions of a dumb strain and conflict, which not even his strong youth could bear without betrayal? Her heart cried out, first in a tragic impatience; then it melted within her strangely, she knew not how.
She sat up in bed and held out her hands. He thought of that evening in Heribert Street, after Warkworth had left her, when she had been so sad and yet so docile. The same yearning, the same piteous agitation was in her attitude now.
He knelt down beside the bed and put his arms round her. She clasped her hands about his neck and hid her face on his shoulder. There ran through her the first long shudder of weeping.
“He was so young!” he heard her say through sobs. “So young!”
He raised his hand and touched her hair tenderly.
“He died serving his country,” he said, commanding his voice with difficulty. “And you grieve for him like this! I can’t pity him so much.”
“You thought ill of him—I know you did.” She spoke between deep, sobbing breaths. “But he wasn’t—he wasn’t a bad man.”
She fell back on her pillow and the tears rained down her cheeks.
Delafield kissed her hand in silence.
“Someday—I’ll tell you,” she said, brokenly.
“Yes, you shall tell me. It would help us both.”
“I’ll prove to you he wasn’t vile. When—when he proposed that to me he was distracted. So was I. How could he break off his engagement? Now you see how she loved him. But we couldn’t part—we couldn’t say goodbye. It had all come on us unawares. We wanted to belong to each other—just for two days—and then part forever. Oh, I’ll tell you—”
“You shall tell me all—here!” he said, firmly, crushing her delicate hands in his own against his breast, so that she felt the beating of his heart.
“Give me my hand. I’ll show you his letter—his last letter to me.” And, trembling, she drew from under her pillow that last scrawled letter, written from the squalid hotel near the Gare de Sceaux.
No sooner, however, had she placed it in Delafield’s hands than she was conscious of new forces of feeling in herself which robbed the act of its simplicity. She had meant to plead her lover’s cause and her own with the friend who was nominally her husband. Her action had been a cry for sympathy, as from one soul to another.
But as Delafield took the letter and began to read, her pulses began to flutter strangely. She recalled the phrases of passion which the letter contained. She became conscious of new fears, new compunctions.
For Delafield, too, the moment was one of almost intolerable complexity. This tender intimacy of night—the natural intimacy of husband and wife; this sense, which would not be denied, however sternly he might hold it in check, of her dear form beside him; the little refinements and self-revelations of a woman’s room; his half-rights toward her, appealing at once to love, and to the memory of that solemn pledge by which he had won her—what man who deserved the name but must be conscious, tempestuously conscious, of such thoughts and facts?
And then, wrestling with these smarts, these impulses, belonging to the natural, physical life, the powers of the moral being—compassion, self-mastery, generosity; while strengthening and directing all, the man of faith was poignantly aware of the austere and tender voices of religion.
Amid this play of influences he read the letter, still kneeling beside her and holding her fingers clasped in his. She had closed her eyes and lay still, save for the occasional tremulous movement of her free hand, which dried the tears on her cheek.
“Thank you,” he said, at last, with a voice that wavered, as he put the letter down. “Thank you. It was good of you to let me see it. It changes all my thoughts of him henceforward. If he had lived—”
“But he’s dead! He’s dead!” cried Julie, in a sudden agony, wrenching her hand from his and burying her face in the pillow. “Just when he wanted to live. Oh, my God—my God! No, there’s no God—nothing that cares—that takes any notice!”
She was shaken by deep, convulsive weeping. Delafield soothed her as best he could. And presently she stretched out her hand with a quick, piteous gesture, and touched his face.
“You, too! What have I done to you? How you looked, just now! I bring a curse. Why did you want to marry me? I can’t tear this out of my heart—I can’t!”
And again she hid herself from him. Delafield bent over her.
“Do you imagine that I should be poor-souled enough to ask you?”
Suddenly a wild feeling of revolt ran through Julie’s mind. The loftiness of his mood chilled her. An attitude more weakly, passionately human, a more selfish pity for himself would, in truth, have served him better. Had the pain of the living man escaped his control, avenging itself on the supremacy that death had now given to the lover, Delafield might have found another Julie in his arms. As it was, her husband seemed to her perhaps less than man, in being more; she admired unwillingly, and her stormy heart withdrew itself.
And when at last she controlled her weeping, and it became evident to him that she wished once more to be alone, his sensitiveness perfectly divined the secret reaction in her. He rose from his place beside her with a deep, involuntary sigh. She heard it, but only to shrink away.
“You will sleep a little?” he said, looking down upon her.
“I will try, mon ami.”
“If you don’t sleep, and would like me to read to you, call me. I am in the next room.”
She thanked him faintly, and he went away. At the door he paused and came back again.
“Tonight”—he hesitated—“while the doctors were here, I ran down to Montreux by the short path and telegraphed. The consul at Zanzibar is an old friend of mine. I asked him for more particulars at once, by wire. But the letters can’t be here for a fortnight.”
“I know. You’re very, very good.”
Hour after hour Delafield sat motionless in his room, till “high in the Valais depths profound” he “saw the morning break.”
There was a little balcony at his command, and as he noiselessly stepped out upon it, between three and four o’clock, he felt himself the solitary comrade of the mist-veiled lake, of those high, rosy mountains on the eastern verge, the first throne and harbor of the light—of the lower forest-covered hills that “took the morning,” one by one, in a glorious and golden succession. All was fresh, austere, and vast—the spaces of the lake, the distant hollows of high glaciers filled with purple shadow, the precipices of the Rochers de Naye, where the new snow was sparkling in the sun, the cool wind that blew toward him from the gates of Italy, down the winding recesses of that superb valley which has been a thoroughfare of nations from the beginning of time.
Not a boat on the wide reaches of the lake; not a voice or other sound of human toil, either from the vineyards below or the meadows above. Meanwhile some instinct, perhaps also some faint movements in her room, told him that Julie was no less wakeful than himself. And was not that a low voice in the room above him—the trained voice and footsteps of a nurse? Ah, poor little heiress, she, too, watched with sorrow!
A curious feeling of shame, of self-depreciation crept into his heart.
Surely he himself of late had been lying down with fear and rising up with bitterness? Never a day had passed since they had reached Switzerland but he, a man of strong natural passions, had bade himself face the probable truth that, by a kind of violence, he had married a woman who would never love him—had taken irrevocably a false step, only too likely to be fatal to himself, intolerable to her.
Nevertheless, steeped as he had been in sadness, in foreboding, and, during this bygone night, in passionate envy of the dead yet beloved Warkworth, he had never been altogether unhappy. That mysterious It—that other divine self of the mystic—God—the enwrapping, sheltering force—had been with him always. It was with him now—it spoke from the mysterious color and light of the dawn.
How, then, could he ever equal Julie in experience, in the true and poignant feeling of any grief whatever? His mind was in a strange, double state. It was like one who feels himself unfairly protected by a magic armor; he would almost throw it aside in a remorseful eagerness to be with his brethren, and as his brethren, in the sore weakness and darkness of the human combat; and then he thinks of the hand that gave the shield, and his heart melts in awe.
“Friend of my soul and of the world, make me thy tool—thy instrument! Thou art Love! Speak through me! Draw her heart to mine.”
At last, knowing that there was no sleep in him, and realizing that he had brooded enough, he made his way out of the hotel and up through the fresh and dew-drenched meadows, where the haymakers were just appearing, to the Les Avants stream. A plunge into one of its cool basins retempered the whole man. He walked back through the scented field paths, resolutely restraining his mind from the thoughts of the night, hammering out, indeed, in his head a scheme for the establishment of small holdings on certain derelict land in Wiltshire belonging to his cousin.
As he was descending on Charnex, he met the postman and took his letters. One among them, from the Duke of Chudleigh, contained a most lamentable account of Lord Elmira. The father and son had returned to England, and an angry, inclement May had brought a touch of pneumonia to add to all the lad’s other woes. In itself it was not much—was, indeed, passing away. “But it has used up most of his strength,” said the duke, “and you know whether he had any to waste. Don’t forget him. He constantly thinks and talks of you.”
Delafield restlessly wondered when he could get home. But he realized that Julie would now feel herself tragically linked to the Moffatts, and how could he leave her? He piteously told himself that here, and now, was his chance with her. As he bore himself now toward her, in this hour of her grief for Warkworth, so, perhaps, would their future be.
Yet the claims of kindred were strong. He suffered much inward distress as he thought of the father and son, and their old touching dependence upon him. Chudleigh, as Jacob knew well, was himself incurably ill. Could he long survive his poor boy?
And so that other thought, which Jacob spent so much ingenuity in avoiding, rushed upon him unawares. The near, inevitable expectation of the famous dukedom, which, in the case of almost any other man in England, must at least have quickened the blood with a natural excitement, produced in Delafield’s mind a mere dull sense of approaching torment. Perhaps there was something non-sane in his repulsion, something that linked itself with his father’s “queerness,” or the bigotry and fanaticism of his grandmother, the Evangelical Duchess, with her “swarm of parsons,” as Sir Wilfrid remembered her. The oddity, which had been violent or brutal in earlier generations, showed itself in him, one might have said, in a radical transposition of values, a singularity of criterion, which the ordinary robust Englishman might very well dismiss with impatience as folly or cant.
Yet it was neither; and the feeling had, in truth, its own logic and history. He had lived from his youth up among the pageants of rank and possession. They had no glamour for him; he realized their burdens, their ineffectiveness for all the more precious kinds of happiness—how could he not, with these two forlorn figures of Chudleigh and his boy always before him? As for imagination and poetry, Delafield, with a mind that was either positive or mystical—the mind, one might say, of the land agent or the saint—failed to see where they came in. Family tradition, no doubt, carries a thrill. But what thrill is there in the mere possession of a vast number of acres of land, of more houses, new and old, than any human being can possibly live in, of more money than any reasonable man can ever spend, and more responsibilities than he can ever meet? Such things often seemed to Delafield pure calamity—mere burdens upon life and breath. That he could and must be forced, some time, by law and custom, to take them up, was nothing but a social barbarity.
Mingled with all which, of course, was his passionate sense of spiritual democracy. To be throned apart, like a divine being, surrounded by the bought homage of one’s fellows, and possessed of more power than a man can decently use, was a condition which excited in Delafield the same kind of contemptuous revolt that it would have excited in St. Francis. “Be not ye called master”—a Christian even of his transcendental and heterodox sort, if he were a Christian, must surely hold these words in awe, at least so far as concerned any mastery of the external or secular kind. To masteries of another order the saint has never been disinclined.
As he once more struck the village street, this familiar whirl of thoughts was buzzing in Delafield’s mind, pierced, however, by one sharper and newer. Julie! Did he know—had he ever dared to find out—how she regarded this future which was overtaking them? She had tried to sound him; she had never revealed herself.
In Lady Henry’s house he had often noticed in Julie that she had an imaginative tenderness for rank or great fortune. At first it had seemed to him a woman’s natural romanticism; then he explained it to himself as closely connected with her efforts to serve Warkworth.
But suppose he were made to feel that there, after all, lay her compensation? She had submitted to a loveless marriage and lost her lover; but the dukedom was to make amends. He knew well that it would be so with nine women out of ten. But the bare thought that it might be so with Julie maddened him. He then was to be for her, in the future, the mere symbol of the vulgarer pleasures and opportunities, while Warkworth held her heart?
He stood still, strengthening in himself the glad and sufficient answer. She had refused him twice—knowing all his circumstances. At this moment he adored her doubly for those old rebuffs.
Within twenty-four hours Delafield had received a telegram from his friend at Zanzibar. For the most part it recapitulated the news already sent to Cairo, and thence transmitted to the English papers. But it added the information that Warkworth had been buried in the neighborhood of a certain village on the caravan route to Mokembe, and that special pains had been taken to mark the spot. And the message concluded: “Fine fellow. Hard luck. Everybody awfully sorry here.”
These words brought Delafield a sudden look of passionate gratitude from Julie’s dark and sunken eyes. She rested her face against his sleeve and pressed his hand.
Lady Blanche also wept over the telegram, exclaiming that she had always believed in Henry Warkworth, and now, perhaps, those busybodies who at Simla had been pleased to concern themselves with her affairs and Aileen’s would see cause to be ashamed of themselves.
To Delafield’s discomfort, indeed, she poured out upon him a stream of confidences he would have gladly avoided. He had brought the telegram to her sitting room. In the room adjoining it was Aileen, still, according to her mother’s account, very ill, and almost speechless. Under the shadow of such a tragedy it seemed to him amazing that a mother could find words in which to tell her daughter’s story to a comparative stranger. Lady Blanche appeared to him an ill-balanced and foolish woman; a prey, on the one hand, to various obscure jealousies and antagonisms, and on the other to a romantic and sentimental temper which, once roused, gloried in despising “the world,” by which she generally meant a very ordinary degree of prudence.
She was in chronic disagreement, it seemed, with her daughter’s guardians, and had been so from the first moment of her widowhood, the truth being that she was jealous of their legal powers over Aileen’s fortune and destiny, and determined, notwithstanding, to have her own way with her own child. The willfulness and caprice of the father, which had taken such strange and desperate forms in Rose Delaney, appeared shorn of all its attraction and romance in the smaller, more conventional, and meaner egotisms of Lady Blanche.
And yet, in her own way, she was full of heart. She lost her head over a love affair. She could deny Aileen nothing. That was what her casual Indian acquaintances meant by calling her “sweet.” When Warkworth’s attentions, pushed with an ardor which would have driven any prudent mother to an instant departure from India, had made a timid and charming child of eighteen the talk of Simla, Lady Blanche, excited and disheveled—was it her personal untidiness which accounted for the other epithet of “quaint,” which had floated to the duchess’s ear, and been by her reported to Julie?—refused to break her daughter’s heart. Warkworth, indeed, had begun long before by flattering the mother’s vanity and sense of possession, and she now threw herself hotly into his cause as against Aileen’s odious trustees.
They, of course, always believed the worst of everybody. As for her, all she wanted for the child was a good husband. Was it not better, in a world of fortune hunters, that Aileen, with her half million, should marry early? Of money, she had, one would think, enough. It was only the greed of certain persons which could possibly desire more. Birth? The young man was honorably born, good-looking, well mannered. What did you want more? She accepted a democratic age; and the obstacles thrown by Aileen’s guardians in the way of an immediate engagement between the young people appeared to her, so she declared, either vulgar or ridiculous.
Well, poor lady, she had suffered for her whims. First of all, her levity had perceived, with surprise and terror, the hold that passion was taking on the delicate and sensitive nature of Aileen. This young girl, so innocent and spotless in thought, so virginally sweet in manner, so guileless in action, developed a power of loving, an absorption of the whole being in the beloved, such as our modern world but rarely sees.
She lived, she breathed for Warkworth. Her health, always frail, suffered from their separation. She became a thin and frail vision—a “gossamer girl” indeed. The ordinary life of travel and society lost all hold upon her; she passed through it in a mood of weariness and distaste that was in itself a danger to vital force. The mother became desperately alarmed, and made a number of flurried concessions. Letters, at any rate, should be allowed, in spite of the guardians, and without their knowledge. Yet each letter caused emotions which ran like a storm wind through the child’s fragile being, and seemed to exhaust the young life at its source. Then came the diphtheria, acting with poisonous effect on a nervous system already overstrained.
And in the midst of the mother’s anxieties there burst upon her the sudden, incredible tale that Warkworth—to whom she herself was writing regularly, and to whom Aileen, from her bed, was sending little penciled notes, sweetly meant to comfort a sighing lover—had been entangling himself in London with another, a Miss Le Breton, positively a nobody, as far as birth and position were concerned, the paid companion of Lady Henry Delafield, and yet, as it appeared, a handsome, intriguing, unscrupulous hussy, just the kind of hawk to snatch a morsel from a dove’s mouth—a woman, in fact, with whom a little bread-and-butter girl like Aileen might very well have no chance.
Emily Lawrence’s letter, in the tone of the candid friend, written after her evening at Crowborough House, had roused a mingled anguish and fury in the mother’s breast. She lifted her eyes from it to look at Aileen, propped up in bed, her head thrown back against the pillow, and her little hands closed happily over Warkworth’s letters; and she went straight from that vision to write to the traitor.
The traitor defended and excused himself by return of post. He implored her to pay no attention to the calumnious distortion of a friendship which had already served Aileen’s interests no less than his own. It was largely to Miss Le Breton’s influence that he owed the appointment which was to advance him so materially in his career. At the same time he thought it would be wise if Lady Blanche kept not only the silly gossip that was going about, but even this true and innocent fact, from Aileen’s knowledge. One never knew how a girl would take such things, and he would rather explain it himself at his own time.
Lady Blanche had to be content. And meanwhile the glory of the Mokembe appointment was a strong factor in Aileen’s recovery. She exulted over it by day and night, and she wrote the letters of an angel.
The mother watched her writing them with mixed feelings. As to Warkworth’s replies, which she was sometimes allowed to see, Lady Blanche, who had been a susceptible girl, and the heroine of several “affairs,” was secretly and strongly of opinion that men’s love letters, at any rate, were poor things nowadays, compared with what they had been.
But Aileen was more than satisfied with them. How busy he must be, and with such important business! Poor, harassed darling, how good of him to write her a word—to give her a thought!
And now Lady Blanche beheld her child crushed and broken, a nervous wreck, before her life had truly begun. The agonies which the mother endured were very real, and should have been touching. But she was not a touching person. All her personal traits—her red-rimmed eyes, her straggling hair, the slight, disagreeable twist in her nose and mouth—combined, with her signal lack of dignity and reticence, to stir the impatience rather than the sympathy of the bystander.
“And mamma was so fond of her,” Julie would say to herself sometimes, in wonder, proudly contrasting the wild grace and originality of her disgraced mother with the awkward, slipshod ways of the sister who had remained a great lady.
Meanwhile, Lady Blanche was, indeed, perpetually conscious of her strange niece, perpetually thinking of the story her brothers had told her, perpetually trying to recall the sister she had lost so young, and then turning from all such things to brood angrily over the Lawrence letter, and the various other rumors which had reached her of Warkworth’s relations to Miss Le Breton.
What was in the woman’s mind now? She looked pale and tragic enough. But what right had she to grieve—or, if she did grieve, to be pitied?
Jacob Delafield had been fool enough to marry her, and fate would make her a duchess. So true it is that they who have no business to flourish do flourish, like green bay-trees.
As to poor Rose—sometimes there would rise on Lady Blanche’s mind the sudden picture of herself and the lost, dark-eyed sister, scampering on their ponies through the country lanes of their childhood; of her lessons with Rose, her worship of Rose; and then of that black curtain of mystery and reprobation which for the younger child of sixteen had suddenly descended upon Rose and all that concerned her.
But Rose’s daughter! All one could say was that she had turned out as the child of such proceedings might be expected to turn out—a minx. The aunt’s conviction as to that stood firm. And while Rose’s face and fate had sunk into the shadows of the past, even for her sister, Aileen was here , struggling for her delicate, threatened life, her hand always in the hand of this woman who had tried to steal her lover from her, her soft, hopeless eyes, so tragically unconscious, bent upon the bold intriguer.
What possessed the child? Warkworth’s letters, Julie’s company—those seemed to be all she desired.
And at last, in the June beauty and brilliance, when a triumphant summer had banished the pitiful spring, when the meadows were all perfume and color, and the clear mountains, in a clear sky, upheld the ever-new and never-ending pomp of dawn and noon and night, the little, wasted creature looked up into Julie’s face, and, without tears, gasped out her story.
“These are his letters. Someday I’ll—I’ll read you some of them; and this—is his picture. I know you saw him at Lady Henry’s. He mentioned your name. Will you please tell me everything—all the times you saw him, and what he talked of? You see I am much stronger. I can bear it all now.”
Meanwhile, for Delafield, this fortnight of waiting—waiting for the African letters, waiting for the revival of life in Aileen—was a period of extraordinary tension, when all the powers of nerve and brain seemed to be tested and tried to the utmost. He himself was absorbed in watching Julie and in dealing with her.
In the first place, as he saw, she could give no free course to grief. The tragic yearning, the agonized tenderness and pity which consumed her, must be crushed out of sight as far as possible. They would have been an offense to Lady Blanche, a bewilderment to Aileen. And it was on her relation to her newfound cousin that, as Delafield perceived, her moral life for the moment turned. This frail girl was on the brink of perishing because death had taken Warkworth from her. And Julie knew well that Warkworth had neither loved her nor deserved her—that he had gone to Africa and to death with another image in his heart.
There was a perpetual and irreparable cruelty in the situation. And from the remorse of it Julie could not escape. Day by day she was more profoundly touched by the clinging, tender creature, more sharply scourged by the knowledge that the affection developing between them could never be without its barrier and its mystery, that something must always remain undisclosed, lest Aileen cast her off in horror.
It was a new moral suffering, in one whose life had been based hitherto on intellect, or passion. In a sense it held at bay even her grief for Warkworth, her intolerable compassion for his fate. In sheer dread lest the girl should find her out and hate her, she lost insensibly the first poignancy of sorrow.
These secrets of feeling left her constantly pale and silent. Yet her grace had never been more evident. All the inmates of the little pension , the landlord’s family, the servants, the visitors, as the days passed, felt the romance and thrill of her presence. Lady Blanche evoked impatience of ennui. She was inconsiderate; she was meddlesome; she soon ceased even to be pathetic. But for Julie every foot ran, every eye smiled.
Then, when the day was over, Delafield’s opportunity began. Julie could not sleep. He gradually established the right to read with her and talk with her. It was a relation very singular, and very intimate. She would admit him at his knock, and he would find her on her sofa, very sad, often in tears, her black hair loose upon her shoulders. Outwardly there was often much ceremony, even distance between them; inwardly, each was exploring the other, and Julie’s attitude toward Delafield was becoming more uncertain, more touched with emotion.
What was, perhaps, most noticeable in it was a new timidity, a touch of anxious respect toward him. In the old days, what with her literary cultivation and her social success, she had always been the flattered and admired one of their little group. Delafield felt himself clumsy and tongue-tied beside her. It was a superiority on her part very natural and never ungraceful, and it was his chief delight to bring it forward, to insist upon it, to take it for granted.
But the relation between them had silently shifted.
“You judge—you are always judging,” she had said once, impatiently, to Delafield. And now it was round these judgments, these inward verdicts of his, on life or character, that she was perpetually hovering. She was infinitely curious about them. She would wrench them from him, and then would often shiver away from him in resentment.
He, meanwhile, as he advanced further in the knowledge of her strange nature, was more and more bewildered by her—her perversities and caprices, her brilliancies and powers, her utter lack of any standard or scheme of life. She had been for a long time, as it seemed to him, the creature of her exquisite social instincts—then the creature of passion. But what a woman through it all, and how adorable, with those poetic gestures and looks, those melancholy, gracious airs that ravished him perpetually! And now this new attitude, as of a child leaning, wistfully looking in your face, asking to be led, to be wrestled and reasoned with.
The days, as they passed, produced in him a secret and mounting intoxication. Then, perhaps for a day or two, there would be a reaction, both foreseeing that a kind of spiritual tyranny might arise from their relation, and both recoiling from it…
One night she was very restless and silent. There seemed to be no means of approach to her true mind. Suddenly he took her hand—it was some days since they had spoken of Warkworth—and almost roughly reminded her of her promise to tell him all.
She rebelled. But his look and manner held her, and the inner misery sought an outlet. Submissively she began to speak, in her low, murmuring voice; she went back over the past—the winter in Bruton Street; the first news of the Moffatt engagement; her efforts for Warkworth’s promotion; the history of the evening party which had led to her banishment; the struggle in her own mind and Warkworth’s; the sudden mad schemes of their last interview; the rush of the Paris journey.
The mingled exaltation and anguish, the comparative absence of regret with which she told the story, produced an astonishing effect on Delafield. And in both minds, as the story proceeded, there emerged ever more clearly the consciousness of that imperious act by which he had saved her.
Suddenly she stopped.
“I know you can find no excuse for it all,” she said, in excitement.
“Yes; for all—but for one thing,” was his low reply.
She shrank, her eyes on his face.
“That poor child,” he said, under his breath.
She looked at him piteously.
“Did you ever realize what you were doing?” he asked her, raising her hand to his lips.
“No, no! How could I? I thought of someone so different—I had never seen her—”
She paused, her wide—seeking gaze fixed upon him through tears, as though she pleaded with him to find explanations—palliatives.
But he gently shook his head.
Suddenly, shaken with weeping, she bowed her face upon the hands that held her own. It was like one who relinquishes all pleading, all defense, and throws herself on the mercy of the judge.
He tenderly asked her pardon if he had wounded her. But he shrank from offering any caress. The outward signs of life’s most poignant and most beautiful moments are generally very simple and austere.