On the morning following these events, Warkworth went down to the Isle of Wight to see his mother. On the journey he thought much of Julie. They had parted awkwardly the night before. The evening, which had promised so well, had, after all, lacked finish and point. What on earth had that tiresome Miss Lawrence wanted with him? They had talked of Simla and the Moffatts. The conversation had gone in spurts, she looking at him every now and then with eyes that seemed to say more than her words. All that she had actually said was perfectly insignificant and trivial. Yet there was something curious in her manner, and when the time came for him to take his departure she had bade him a frosty little farewell.
She had described herself once or twice as a great friend of Lady Blanche Moffatt. Was it possible?
But if Lady Blanche, whose habits of sentimental indiscretion were ingrained, had gossiped to this lady, what then? Why should he be frowned on by Miss Lawrence, or anybody else? That malicious talk at Simla had soon exhausted itself. His present appointment was a triumphant answer to it all. His slanderers—including Aileen’s ridiculous guardians—could only look foolish if they pursued the matter any further. What “trap” was there—what mésalliance? A successful soldier was good enough for anybody. Look at the first Lord Clyde, and scores besides.
The duchess, too. Why had she treated him so well at first, and so cavalierly after dinner? Her manners were really too uncertain.
What was the matter, and why did she dislike him? He pondered over it a good deal, and with much soreness of spirit. Like many men capable of very selfish or very cruel conduct, he was extremely sensitive, and took keen notice of the fact that a person liked or disliked him.
If the duchess disliked him it could not be merely on account of the Simla story, even though the old maid might conceivably have given her a jaundiced account. The duchess knew nothing of Aileen, and was little influenced, so far as he had observed her, by considerations of abstract justice or propriety, affecting persons whom she had never seen.
No, she was Julie’s friend, the little willful lady, and it was for Julie she ruffled her feathers, like an angry dove.
So his thoughts had come back to Julie, though, indeed, it seemed to him that they were never far from her. As he looked absently from the train windows on the flying landscape, Julie’s image hovered between him and it—a magic sun, flooding soul and senses with warmth. How unconsciously, how strangely his feelings had changed toward her! That coolness of temper and nerve he had been able to preserve toward her for so long was, indeed, breaking down. He recognized the danger, and wondered where it would lead him. What a fascinating, sympathetic creature!—and, by George! what she had done for him!
Aileen! Aileen was a little sylph, a pretty child-angel, white-winged and innocent, who lived in a circle of convent thoughts, knowing nothing of the world, and had fallen in love with him as the first man who had ever made love to her. But this intelligent, full-blooded woman, who could understand at a word, or a half word, who had a knowledge of affairs which many a high-placed man might envy, with whom one never had a dull moment—this courted, distinguished Julie Le Breton—his mind swelled with half-guilty pride at the thought that for six months he had absorbed all her energies, that a word from him could make her smile or sigh, that he could force her to look at him with eyes so melting and so troubled as those with which she had given him her hands—her slim, beautiful hands—that night in Grosvenor Square.
How freedom became her! Dependency had dropped from her, like a cast-off cloak, and beside her fresh, melancholy charm, the airs and graces of a child of fashion and privilege like the little duchess appeared almost cheap and trivial. Poor Julie! No doubt some social struggle was before her. Lady Henry was strong, after all, in this London world, and the solider and stupider people who get their way in the end were not, she thought, likely to side with Lady Henry’s companion in a quarrel where the facts of the story were unquestionably, at first sight, damaging to Miss Le Breton. Julie would have her hours of bitterness and humiliation; and she would conquer by boldness, if she conquered at all—by originality, by determining to live her own life. That would preserve for her the small circle, if it lost her the large world. And the small circle was what she lived for, what she ought, at any rate, to live for.
It was not likely she would marry. Why should she desire it? From any blundering tragedy a woman of so acute a brain would, of course, know how to protect herself. But within the limits of her life, why should she refuse herself happiness, intimacy, love?
His heart beat fast; his thoughts were in a whirl. But the train was nearing Portsmouth, and with an effort he recalled his mind to the meeting with his mother, which was then close upon him.
He spent nearly a week in the little cottage at Sea View, and Mrs. Warkworth got far more pleasure than usual, poor lady, out of his visit. She was a thin, plain woman, not devoid of either ability or character. But life had gone hardly with her, and since her husband’s death what had been reserve had become melancholy. She had always been afraid of her only son since they had sent him to Charterhouse, and he had become so much “finer” than his parents. She knew that he must consider her a very ignorant and narrow-minded person; when he was with her she was humiliated in her own eyes, though as soon as he was gone she resumed what was in truth a leading place among her own small circle.
She loved him, and was proud of him; yet at the bottom of her heart she had never absolved him from his father’s death. But for his extravagance, and the misfortunes he had brought upon them, her old general would be alive still—pottering about in the spring sunshine, spudding the daisies from the turf, or smoking his pipe beneath the thickening trees. Silently her heart still yearned and hungered for the husband of her youth; his son did not replace him.
Nevertheless, when he came down to her with this halo of glory upon him, and smoked up and down her small garden through the mild spring days, gossiping to her of all the great things that had befallen him, repeating to her, word for word, his conversation with the prime minister, and his interview with the commander-in-chief, or making her read all the letters of congratulation he had received, her mother’s heart thawed within her as it had not done for long. Her ears told her that he was still vain and a boaster; her memory held the indelible records of his past selfishness; but as he walked beside her, his fair hair blown back from his handsome brow, and eyes that were so much younger than the rest of the face, his figure as spare and boyish now as when he had worn the colors of the Charterhouse eleven, she said to herself, in that inward and unsuspected colloquy she was always holding with her own heart about him, that if his father could have seen him now he would have forgiven him everything. According to her secret Evangelical faith, God “deals” with every soul he has created—through joy or sorrow, through good or evil fortune. He had dealt with herself through anguish and loss. Henry, it seemed, was to be molded through prosperity. His good fortune was already making a better man of him.
Certainly he was more affectionate and thoughtful than before. He would have liked to give her money, of which he seemed to have an unusual store; but she bade him keep what he had for his own needs. Her own little bit of money, saved from the wreck of their fortunes, was enough for her. Then he went into Ryde and brought her back a Shetland shawl and a new tablecloth for her little sitting room, which she accepted with a warmer kiss than she had given him for years.
He left her on a bright, windy morning which flecked the blue Solent with foam and sent the clouds racing to westward. She walked back along the sands, thinking anxiously of the African climate and the desert hardships he was going to face. And she wondered what significance there might be in the fact that he had written twice during his stay with her to a Miss Le Breton, whose name, nevertheless, he had not mentioned in their conversations. Well, he would marry soon, she supposed, and marry well, in circles out of her ken. With the common prejudice of the English middle class, she hoped that if this Miss Le Breton were his choice, she might be only French in name and not in blood.
Meanwhile, Warkworth sped up to London in high spirits, enjoying the comforts of a good conscience.
He drove first to his club, where a pile of letters awaited him—some letters of congratulation, others concerned with the business of his mission. He enjoyed the first, noticing jealously who had and who had not written to him; then he applied himself to the second. His mind worked vigorously and well; he wrote his replies in a manner that satisfied him. Then throwing himself into a chair, with a cigar, he gave himself up to the close and shrewd planning of the preparations necessary for his five weeks’ march, or to the consideration of two or three alternative lines of action which would open before him as soon as he should find himself within the boundaries of Mokembe. Some five years before, the government of the day had sent a small expedition to this Debatable Land, which had failed disastrously, both from the diplomatic and the military points of view. He went backward and forward to the shelves of the fine “Service” library which surrounded him, taking down the books and reports which concerned this expedition. He buried himself in them for an hour, then threw them aside with contempt. What blunders and shortsightedness everywhere! The general public might well talk of the stupidity of English officers. And blunders so easily avoided, too! It was sickening. He felt within himself a fullness of energy and intelligence, a perspicacity of brain which judged mistakes of this kind unpardonable.
As he was replacing some of the books he had been using in the shelves, the club began to fill up with men coming in to lunch. A great many congratulated him; and a certain number who of old had hardly professed to know him greeted him with cordiality. He found himself caught in a series of short but flattering conversations, in which he bore himself well—neither over-discreet nor too elated. “I declare that fellow’s improved,” said one man, who might certainly have counted as Warkworth’s enemy the week before, to his companion at table. “The government’s been beastly remiss so far. Hope he’ll pull it off. Ripping chance, anyway. Though what they gave it to him for, goodness knows! There were a dozen fellows, at least, did as well as he in the Mahsud business. And the staff-college man had a thousand times more claim.”
Nevertheless, Warkworth felt the general opinion friendly, a little surprised, no doubt, but showing that readiness to believe in the man coming to the front, which belongs much more to the generous than to the calculating side of the English character. Insensibly his mental and moral stature rose. He exchanged a few words on his way out with one of the most distinguished members of the club, a man of European reputation, whom he had seen the week before in the commander-in-chief’s room at the War Office. The great man spoke to him with marked friendliness, and Warkworth walked on air as he went his way. Potentially he felt himself the great man’s equal; the gates of life seemed to be opening before him.
And with the rise of fortune came a rush of magnanimous resolution. No more shady episodes; no more mean devices; no more gambling, and no more debt. Major Warkworth’s sheet was clean, and it should remain so. A man of his prospects must run straight.
He felt himself at peace with all the world. By the way, just time to jump into a cab and get to Park Crescent in time for his sister’s luncheon. His last interview with his brother-in-law had not been agreeable. But now—he felt for the checkbook in his pocket—he was in a position to repay at least half the last sum of money which Bella had lent him. He would go and give it her now, and report news of the mother. And if the two chicks were there—why, he had a free hour and he would take them to the zoo—he vowed he would!—give them something pleasant to remember their uncle by.
And a couple of hours later a handsome, soldierly man might have been seen in the lion house at the zoo, leading a plump little girl by either hand. Rose and Katie Mullins enjoyed a golden time, and started a wholly new adoration for the uncle who had so far taken small notice of them, and was associated in their shrewd, childish minds rather with tempests at home than buns abroad. But this time buns, biscuits, hansom drives and elephant rides were showered upon them by an uncle who seemed to make no account of money, while his gracious and captivating airs set their little hearts beating in a common devotion.
“Now go home—go home, little beggars!” said that golden gentleman, as he packed them into a hansom and stood on the step to accept a wet kiss on his mustache from each pink mouth. “Tell your mother all about it, and don’t forget your uncle Harry. There’s a shilling for each of you. Don’t you spend it on sweets. You’re quite fat enough already. Goodbye!”
“That’s the hardest work I’ve done for many a long day,” he said to himself, with a sigh of relief, as the hansom drove away. “I shan’t turn nurse-maid when other trades fail. But they’re nice little kids all the same.
“Now, then, Cox’s—and the City”—he ran over the list of his engagements for the afternoon—“and by five o’clock shall I find my fair lady—at home—and established? Where on earth is Heribert Street?”
He solved the question, for a few minutes after five he was on Miss Le Breton’s doorstep. A quaint little house—and a strange parlormaid! For the door was opened to him by a large-eyed, sickly child, who looked at him with the bewilderment of one trying to follow out instructions still strange to her.
“Yes, sir, Miss Le Breton is in the drawing room,” she said, in a sweet, deliberate voice with a foreign accent, and she led the way through the hall.
Poor little soul—what a twisted back, and what a limp! She looked about fourteen, but was probably older. Where had Julie discovered her?
Warkworth looked around him at the little hall with its relics of country-house sports and amusements; his eye traveled through an open door to the little dining room and the Russell pastels of Lady Mary’s parents, as children, hanging on the wall. The character of the little dwelling impressed itself at once. Smiling; he acknowledged its congruity with Julie. Here was a lady who fell on her feet!
The child, leading him, opened the door to the left.
“Please walk in, sir,” she said, shyly, and stood aside.
As the door opened, Warkworth was conscious of a noise of tongues.
So Julie was not alone? He prepared his manner accordingly.
He entered upon a merry scene. Jacob Delafield was standing on a chair, hanging a picture, while Dr. Meredith and Julie, on either side, directed or criticized the operation. Meredith carried picture-cord and scissors; Julie the hammer and nails. Meredith was expressing the profoundest disbelief in Jacob’s practical capacities; Jacob was defending himself hotly; and Julie laughed at both.
Toward the other end of the room stood the tea table, between the fire and an open window. Lord Lackington sat beside it, smiling to himself, and stroking a Persian kitten. Through the open window the twinkling buds on the lilacs in the Cureton House garden shone in the still lingering sun. A recent shower had left behind it odors of earth and grass. Even in this London air they spoke of the spring—the spring which already in happier lands was drawing veils of peach and cherry blossom, over the red Sienese earth or the green terraces of Como. The fire crackled in the grate. The pretty, old-fashioned room was fragrant with hyacinth and narcissus; Julie’s books lay on the tables; Julie’s hand and taste were already to be felt everywhere. And Lord Lackington with the kitten, beside the fire, gave the last touch of home and domesticity.
“So I find you established?” said Warkworth, smiling, to the lady with the nails, while Delafield nodded to him from the top of the steps and Meredith ceased to chatter.
“I haven’t a hand, I fear,” said Julie. “Will you have some tea? Ah, Léonie, tu vas en faire de nouveau, n’est-ce pas, pour ce monsieur?”
A little woman in black, with a shawl over her shoulders, had just glided into the room. She had a small, wrinkled face, bright eyes, and a much-flattened nose.
“Tout de suite, monsieur,” she said, quickly, and disappeared with the teapot. Warkworth guessed, of course, that she was Madame Bornier, the foster-sister—the “Propriety” of this ménage.
“Can’t I help?” he said to Julie, with a look at Delafield.
“It’s just done,” she said, coldly, handing a nail to Delafield. “Just a trifle more to the right. Ecco! Perfection!”
“Oh, you spoil him,” said Meredith, “And not one word of praise for me!”
“What have you done?” she said, laughing. “Tangled the cord—that’s all!”
Warkworth turned away. His face, so radiant as he entered, had settled into sharp, sudden lines. What was the meaning of this voice, this manner? He remembered that to his three letters he had received no word of reply. But he had interpreted that to mean that she was in the throes of moving and could find no time to write.
As he neared the tea table, Lord Lackington looked up. He greeted the newcomer with the absent stateliness he generally put on when his mind was in a state of confusion as to a person’s identity.
“Well, so they’re sending you to D——? There’ll be a row there before long. Wish you joy of the missionaries!”
“No, not D——,” said Warkworth, smiling. “Nothing so amusing. Mokembe’s my destination.”
“Oh, Mokembe!” said Lord Lackington, a little abashed. “That’s where Cecil Ray, Lord R’s second son, was killed last year—lion-hunting? No, it was of fever that he died. By the way, a vile climate!”
“In the plains, yes,” said Warkworth, seating himself. “As to the uplands, I understand they are to be the Switzerland of Africa.”
Lord Lackington did not appear to listen.
“Are you a homoeopath?” he said, suddenly, rising to his full and immense stature and looking down with eagerness on Warkworth.
“Because it’s your only chance, for those parts. If Cecil Ray had had their medicines with him he’d be alive now. Look here; when do you start?” The speaker took out his notebook.
“In rather less than a month I start for Denga.”
“All right. I’ll send you a medicine case—from Epps. If you’re ill, take ’em.”
“You’re very good.”
“Not at all. It’s my hobby—one of the last.” A broad, boyish smile flashed over the handsome old face. “Look at me; I’m seventy-five, and I can tire out my own grandsons at riding and shooting. That comes of avoiding all allopathic messes like the devil. But the allopaths are such mean fellows they filch all our ideas.”
The old man was off. Warkworth submitted to five minutes’ tirade, stealing a glance sometimes at the group of Julie, Meredith, and Delafield in the farther window—at the happy ease and fun that seemed to prevail in it. He fiercely felt himself shut out and trampled on.
Suddenly, Lord Lackington pulled up, his instinct for declamation qualified by an equally instinctive dread of boring or being bored. “What did you think of Montresor’s statement?” he said, abruptly, referring to a batch of army reforms that Montresor the week before had endeavored to recommend to a skeptical House of Commons.
“All very well, as far as it goes,” said Warkworth, with a shrug.
“Precisely! We English want an army and a navy; we don’t like it when those fellows on the Continent swagger in our faces, and yet we won’t pay either for the ships or the men. However, now that they’ve done away with purchase—Gad! I could fight them in the streets for the way in which they’ve done it!—now that they’ve turned the army into an examination-shop, tempered with jobbery, whatever we do, we shall go to the deuce. So it don’t matter.”
“You were against the abolition?”
“I was, sir—with Wellington and Raglan and everybody else of any account. And as for the violence, the disgraceful violence with which it was carried—”
“Oh no, no,” said Warkworth, laughing. “It was the Lords who behaved abominably, and it’ll do a deal of good.”
Lord Lackington’s eyes flashed.
“I’ve had a long life,” he said, pugnaciously. “I began as a middy in the American war of 1812, that nobody remembers now. Then I left the sea for the army. I knocked about the world. I commanded a brigade in the Crimea—”
“Who doesn’t remember that?” said Warkworth, smiling.
The old man acknowledged the homage by a slight inclination of his handsome head.
“And you may take my word for it that this new system will not give you men worth a tenth part of those fellows who bought and bribed their way in under the old. The philosophers may like it, or lump it, but so it is.”
Warkworth dissented strongly. He was a good deal of a politician, himself a “new man,” and on the side of “new men.” Lord Lackington warmed to the fight, and Warkworth, with bitterness in his heart—because of that group opposite—was nothing loath to meet him. But presently he found the talk taking a turn that astonished him. He had entered upon a drawing-room discussion of a subject which had, after all, been settled, if only by what the Tories were pleased to call the coup d’état of the Royal Warrant, and no longer excited the passions of a few years back. What he had really drawn upon himself was a hand-to-hand wrestle with a man who had no sooner provoked contradiction than he resented it with all his force, and with a determination to crush the contradictor.
Warkworth fought well, but with a growing amazement at the tone and manner of his opponent. The old man’s eyes darted war-flames under his finely arched brows. He regarded the younger with a more and more hostile, even malicious air; his arguments grew personal, offensive; his shafts were many and barbed, till at last Warkworth felt his face burning and his temper giving way.
“What are you talking about?” said Julie Le Breton, at last, rising and coming toward them.
Lord Lackington broke off suddenly and threw himself into his chair.
Warkworth rose from his.
“We had better have been handing nails,” he said, “but you wouldn’t give us any work.” Then, as Meredith and Delafield approached, he seized the opportunity of saying, in a low voice:
“Am I not to have a word?”
She turned with composure, though it seemed to him she was very pale.
“Have you just come back from the Isle of Wight?”
“This morning.” He looked her in the eyes. “You got my letters?”
“Yes, but I have had no time for writing. I hope you found your mother well.”
“Very well, thank you. You have been hard at work?”
“Yes, but the duchess and Mr. Delafield have made it all easy.”
And so on, a few more insignificant questions and answers.
“I must go,” said Delafield, coming up to them, “unless there is any more work for me to do. Goodbye, Major, I congratulate you. They have given you a fine piece of work.”
Warkworth made a little bow, half ironical. Confound the fellow’s grave and lordly ways! He did not want his congratulations.
He lingered a little, sorely, full of rage, yet not knowing how to go.
Lord Lackington’s eyes ceased to blaze, and the kitten ventured once more to climb upon his knee. Meredith, too, found a comfortable armchair, and presently tried to beguile the kitten from his neighbor. Julie sat erect between them, very silent, her thin, white hands on her lap, her head drooped a little, her eyes carefully restrained from meeting Warkworth’s. He meanwhile leaned against the mantelpiece, irresolute.
Meredith, it was clear, made himself quite happy and at home in the little drawing room. The lame child came in and took a stool beside him. He stroked her head and talked nonsense to her in the intervals of holding forth to Julie on the changes necessary in some proofs of his which he had brought back. Lord Lackington, now quite himself again, went back to dreams, smiling over them, and quite unaware that the kitten had been slyly ravished from him. The little woman in black sat knitting in the background. It was all curiously intimate and domestic, only Warkworth had no part in it.
“Goodbye, Miss Le Breton,” he said, at last, hardly knowing his own voice. “I am dining out.”
She rose and gave him her hand. But it dropped from his like a thing dead and cold. He went out in a sudden suffocation of rage and pain; and as he walked in a blind haste to Cureton Street, he still saw her standing in the old-fashioned, scented room, so coldly graceful, with those proud, deep eyes.
When he had gone, Julie moved to the window and looked out into the gathering dusk. It seemed to her as if those in the room must hear the beating of her miserable heart.
When she rejoined her companions, Dr. Meredith had already risen and was stuffing various letters and papers into his pockets with a view to departure.
“Going?” said Lord Lackington. “You shall see the last of me, too, Mademoiselle Julie.”
And he stood up. But she, flushing, looked at him with a wistful smile.
“Won’t you stay a few minutes? You promised to advise me about Thérèse’s drawings.”
“By all means.”
Lord Lackington sat down again. The lame child, it appeared, had some artistic talent, which Miss Le Breton wished to cultivate. Meredith suddenly found his coat and hat, and, with a queer look at Julie, departed in a hurry.
“Thérèse, darling,” said Julie, “will you go upstairs, please, and fetch me that book from my room that has your little drawings inside it?”
The child limped away on her errand. In spite of her lameness she moved with wonderful lightness and swiftness, and she was back again quickly with a calf-bound book in her hand.
“Léonie!” said Julie, in a low voice, to Madame Bornier.
The little woman looked up startled, nodded, rolled up her knitting in a moment, and was gone.
“Take the book to his lordship, Thérèse,” she said, and then, instead of moving with the child, she again walked to the window, and, leaning her head against it, looked out. The hand hanging against her dress trembled violently.
“What did you want me to look at, my dear?” said Lord Lackington, taking the book in his hand and putting on his glasses.
But the child was puzzled and did not know. She gazed at him silently with her sweet, docile look.
“Run away, Thérèse, and find mother,” said Julie, from the window.
The child sped away and closed the door behind her.
Lord Lackington adjusted his glasses and opened the book. Two or three slips of paper with drawings upon them fluttered out and fell on the table beneath. Suddenly there was a cry. Julie turned around, her lips parted.
Lord Lackington walked up to her.
“Tell me what this means,” he said, peremptorily. “How did you come by it?”
It was a volume of George Sand. He pointed, trembling, to the name and date on the flyleaf—“Rose Delaney, 1842.”
“It is mine,” she said, softly, dropping her eyes.
“But how—how, in God’s name, did you come by it?”
“My mother left it to me, with all her other few books and possessions.”
There was a pause. Lord Lackington came closer.
“Who was your mother?” he said, huskily.
The words in answer were hardly audible. Julie stood before him like a culprit, her beautiful head humbly bowed.
Lord Lackington dropped the book and stood bewildered.
“Rose’s child?” he said—“Rose’s child?”
Then, approaching her, he placed his hand on her arm.
“Let me look at you,” he commanded.
Julie raised her eyes to him, and at the same time dumbly held out to him a miniature she had been keeping hidden in her hand. It was one of the miniatures from the locked triptych.
He took it, looked from the pictured to the living face, then, turning away with a groan, he covered his face with his hands and fell again into the chair from which he had risen.
Julie hurried to him. Her own eyes were wet with tears. After a moment’s hesitation she knelt down beside him.
“I ought to ask your pardon for not having told you before,” she murmured.
It was some time before Lord Lackington looked up. When at last his hands dropped, the face they uncovered was very white and old.
“So you,” he said, almost in a whisper, “are the child she wrote to me about before she died?”
Julie made a sign of assent.
“How old are you?”
“She was thirty-two when I saw her last.”
There was a silence. Julie lifted one of his hands and kissed it. But he took no notice.
“You know that I was going to her, that I should have reached her in time”—the words seemed wrung from him—“but that I was myself dangerously ill?”
“I know. I remember it all.”
“Did she speak of me?”
“Not often. She was very reserved, you remember. But not long before she died—she seemed half asleep—I heard her say, ‘Papa!—Blanche!’ and she smiled.”
Lord Lackington’s face contracted, and the slow tears of old age stood in his eyes.
“You are like her in some ways,” he said, brusquely, as though to cover his emotion; “but not very like her.”
“She always thought I was like you.”
A cloud came over Lord Lackington’s face. Julie rose from her knees and sat beside him. He lost himself a few moments amid the painful ghosts of memory. Then, turning to her abruptly, he said:
“You have wondered, I dare say, why I was so hard—why, for seventeen years, I cast her off?”
“Yes, often. You could have come to see us without anybody knowing. Mother loved you very much.”
Her voice was low and sad. Lord Lackington rose, fidgeted restlessly with some of the small ornaments on the mantelpiece, and at last turned to her.
“She brought dishonor,” he said, in the same stifled voice, “and the women of our family have always been stainless. But that I could have forgiven. After a time I should have resumed relations—private relations—with her. But it was your father who stood in the way. I was then—I am now—you saw me with that young fellow just now—quarrelsome and hot-tempered. It is my nature.” He drew himself up obstinately. “I can’t help it. I take great pains to inform myself, then I cling to my opinions tenaciously, and in argument my temper gets the better of me. Your father, too, was hot-tempered. He came, with my consent, once to see me—after your mother had left her husband—to try and bring about some arrangement between us. It was the Chartist time. He was a Radical, a Socialist of the most extreme views. In the course of our conversation something was said that excited him. He went off at score. I became enraged, and met him with equal violence. We had a furious argument, which ended in each insulting the other past forgiveness. We parted enemies for life. I never could bring myself to see him afterward, nor to run the risk of seeing him. Your mother took his side and espoused his opinions while he lived. After his death, I suppose, she was too proud and sore to write to me. I wrote to her once—it was not the letter it might have been. She did not reply till she felt herself dying. That is the explanation of what, no doubt, must seem strange to you.”
He turned to her almost pleadingly. A deep flush had replaced the pallor of his first emotion, as though in the presence of these primal realities of love, death, and sorrow which she had recalled to him, his old quarrel, on a political difference, cut but a miserable figure.
“No,” she said, sadly, “not very strange. I understood my father—my dear father,” she added, with soft, deliberate tenderness.
Lord Lackington was silent a little, then he threw her a sudden, penetrating look.
“You have been in London three years. You ought to have told me before.”
It was Julie’s turn to color.
“Lady Henry bound me to secrecy.”
“Lady Henry did wrong,” he said, with emphasis. Then he asked, jealously, with a touch of his natural irascibility, “Who else has been in the secret?”
“Four people, at most—the duchess, first of all. I couldn’t help it,” she pleaded. “I was so unhappy with Lady Henry.”
“You should have come to me. It was my right.”
“But”—she dropped her head—“you had made it a condition that I should not trouble you.”
He was silenced; and once more he leaned against the mantelpiece and hid his face from her, till, by a secret impulse, both moved. She rose and approached him; he laid his hands on her arms. With his persistent instinct for the lovely or romantic he perceived, with sudden pleasure, the grave, poetic beauty of her face and delicate form. Emotion had softened away all that was harsh; a quivering charm hovered over the features. With a strange pride, and a sense of mystery, he recognized his daughter and his race.
“For my Rose’s child,” he said, gently, and, stooping, he kissed her on the brow. She broke out into weeping, leaning against his shoulder, while the old man comforted and soothed her.