The duchess and Julie were in the large room of Burlington House. They had paused before a magnificent Turner of the middle period, hitherto unseen by the public, and the duchess was reading from the catalogue in Julie’s ear.
She had found Julie alone in Heribert Street, surrounded by books and proofs, endeavoring, as she reported, to finish a piece of work for Dr. Meredith. Distressed by her friend’s pale cheeks, the duchess had insisted on dragging her from the prison house and changing the current of her thoughts. Julie, laughing, hesitating, indignant, had at last yielded—probably in order to avoid another tête-à-tête and another scene with the little, impetuous lady, and now the duchess had her safe and was endeavoring to amuse her.
But it was not easy. Julie, generally so instructed and sympathetic, so well skilled in the difficult art of seeing pictures with a friend, might, today, never have turned a phrase upon a Constable or a Romney before. She tried, indeed, to turn them as usual; but the duchess, sharply critical and attentive where her beloved Julie was concerned, perceived the difference acutely! Alack, what languor, what fatigue! Evelyn became more and more conscious of an inward consternation.
“But, thank goodness, he goes tomorrow—the villain! And when that’s over, it will be all right.”
Julie, meanwhile, knew that she was observed, divined, and pitied. Her pride revolted, but it could wring from her nothing better than a passive resistance. She could prevent Evelyn from expressing her thoughts; she could not so command her own bodily frame that the duchess should not think. Days of moral and mental struggle, nights of waking, combined with the serious and sustained effort of a new profession, had left their mark. There are, moreover, certain wounds to self-love and self-respect which poison the whole being.
“Julie! you must have a holiday!” cried the duchess, presently, as they sat down to rest.
Julie replied that she, Madame Bornier, and the child were going to Bruges for a week.
“Oh, but that won’t be comfortable enough! I’m sure I could arrange something. Think of all our tiresome houses—eating their heads off!”
Julie firmly refused. She was going to renew old friendships at Bruges; she would be made much of; and the prospect was as pleasant as anyone need wish.
“Well, of course, if you have made up your mind. When do you go?”
“In three or four days—just before the Easter rush. And you?”
“Oh, we go to Scotland to fish. We must, of course, be killing something. How long, darling, will you be away?”
“About ten days.” Julie pressed the duchess’s little hand in acknowledgment of the caressing word and look.
“By the way, didn’t Lord Lackington invite you? Ah, there he is!”
And suddenly, Lord Lackington, examining with fury a picture of his own which some rascally critic had that morning pronounced to be “Venetian school” and not the divine Giorgione himself, lifted an angry countenance to find the duchess and Julie beside him.
The start which passed through him betrayed itself. He could not yet see Julie with composure. But when he had pressed her hand and inquired after her health, he went back to his grievance, being indeed rejoiced to have secured a pair of listeners.
“Really, the insolence of these fellows in the press! I shall let the Academy know what I think of it. Not a rag of mine shall they ever see here again. Ears and little fingers, indeed! Idiots and owls!”
Julie smiled. But it had to be explained to the duchess that a wise man, half Italian, half German, had lately arisen who proposed to judge the authenticity of a picture by its ears, assisted by any peculiarities of treatment in the little fingers.
“What nonsense!” said the duchess, with a yawn. “If I were an artist, I should always draw them different ways.”
“Well, not exactly,” said Lord Lackington, who, as an artist himself, was unfortunately debarred from statements of this simplicity. “But the ludicrous way in which these fools overdo their little discoveries!”
And he walked on, fuming, till the open and unmeasured admiration of the two ladies for his great Rembrandt, the gem of his collection, now occupying the place of honor in the large room of the Academy, restored him to himself.
“Ah, even the biggest ass among them holds his tongue about that!” he said, exultantly. “But, hallo! What does that call itself?” He looked at a picture in front of him, then at the catalogue, then at the duchess.
“That picture is ours,” said the duchess. “Isn’t it a dear? It’s a Leonardo da Vinci.”
“Leonardo fiddlesticks!” cried Lord Lackington. “Leonardo, indeed! What absurdity! Really, duchess, you should tell Crowborough to be more careful about his things. We mustn’t give handles to these fellows.”
“What do you mean?” said the duchess, offended. “If it isn’t a Leonardo, pray what is it?”
“Why, a bad school copy, of course!” said Lord Lackington, hotly. “Look at the eyes”—he took out a pencil and pointed—“look at the neck, look at the fingers!”
The duchess pouted.
“Oh!” she said. “Then there is something in fingers!”
Lord Lackington’s face suddenly relaxed. He broke into a shout of laughter, bon enfant that he was; and the duchess laughed, too; but under cover of their merriment she, mindful of quite other things, drew him a little farther away from Julie.
“I thought you had asked her to Nonpareil for Easter?” she said, in his ear, with a motion of her pretty head toward Julie in the distance.
“Yes, but, my dear lady, Blanche won’t come home! She and Aileen put it off, and put it off. Now she says they mean to spend May in Switzerland—may perhaps be away the whole summer! I had counted on them for Easter. I am dependent on Blanche for hostess. It is really too bad of her. Everything has broken down, and William and I (he named his youngest son) are going to the Uredales’ for a fortnight.”
Lord Uredale, his eldest son, a sportsman and farmer, troubled by none of his father’s originalities, reigned over the second family “place,” in Herefordshire, beside the Wye.
“Has Aileen any love affairs yet?” said the duchess, abruptly, raising her face to his.
Lord Lackington looked surprised.
“Not that I know of. However, I dare say they wouldn’t tell me. I’m a sieve, I know. Have you heard of any? Tell me.” He stooped to her with roguish eagerness. “I like to steal a march on Blanche.”
So he knew nothing—while half their world was talking! It was very characteristic, however. Except for his own hobbies, artistic, medical, or military, Lord Lackington had walked through life as a Johnny Head-in-Air, from his youth till now. His children had not trusted him with their secrets, and he had never discovered them for himself.
“Is there any likeness between Julie and Aileen?” whispered the duchess.
Lord Lackington started. Both turned their eyes toward Julie, as she stood some ten yards away from them, in front of a refined and mysterious profile of the cinquecento—some lady, perhaps, of the d’Este or Sforza families, attributed to Ambrogio da Predis. In her soft, black dress, delicately folded and draped to hide her excessive thinness, her small toque fitting closely over her wealth of hair, her only ornaments a long and slender chain set with uncut jewels which Lord Lackington had brought her the day before, and a bunch of violets which the duchess had just slipped into her belt, she was as rare and delicate as the picture. But she turned her face toward them, and Lord Lackington made a sudden exclamation.
“No! Good Heavens, no! Aileen was a dancing-sprite when I saw her last, and this poor girl!—Duchess, why does she look like that? So sad, so bloodless!”
He turned upon her impetuously, his face frowning and disturbed.
The duchess sighed.
“You and I have just got to do all we can for her,” she said, relieved to see that Julie had wandered farther away, as though it pleased her to be left to herself.
“But I would do anything—everything!” cried Lord Lackington. “Of course, none of us can undo the past. But I offered yesterday to make full provision for her. She has refused. She has the most Quixotic notions, poor child!”
“No, let her earn her own living yet awhile. It will do her good. But—shall I tell you secrets?” The duchess looked at him, knitting her small brows.
“Tell me what I ought to know—no more,” he said, gravely, with a dignity contrasting oddly with his schoolboy curiosity in the matter of little Aileen’s lover.
The duchess hesitated. Just in front of her was a picture of the Venetian school representing St. George, Princess Saba, and the dragon. The princess, a long and slender victim, with bowed head and fettered hands, reminded her of Julie. The dragon—perfidious, encroaching wretch!—he was easy enough of interpretation. But from the blue distance, thank Heaven! spurs the champion. Oh, ye heavenly powers, give him wings and strength! “St. George—St. George to the rescue!”
“Well,” she said, slowly, “I can tell you of someone who is very devoted to Julie—someone worthy of her. Come with me.”
And she took him away into the next room, still talking in his ear.
When they returned, Lord Lackington was radiant. With a new eagerness he looked for Julie’s distant figure amid the groups scattered about the central room. The duchess had sworn him to secrecy, indeed; and he meant to be discretion itself. But—Jacob Delafield! Yes, that, indeed, would be a solution. His pride was acutely pleased; his affection—of which he already began to feel no small store for this charming woman of his own blood, this poor granddaughter de la main gauche—was strengthened and stimulated. She was sad now and out of spirits, poor thing, because, no doubt, of this horrid business with Lady Henry, to whom, by the way, he had written his mind. But time would see to that—time—gently and discreetly assisted by himself and the duchess. It was impossible that she should finally hold out against such a good fellow—impossible, and most unreasonable. No. Rose’s daughter would be brought back safely to her mother’s world and class, and poor Rose’s tragedy would at last work itself out for good. How strange, romantic, and providential!
In such a mood did he now devote himself to Julie. He chattered about the pictures; he gossiped about their owners; he excused himself for the absence of “that gad-about Blanche”; he made her promise him a Whitsuntide visit instead, and whispered in her ear, “You shall have her room”; he paid her the most handsome and gallant attentions, natural to the man of fashion par excellence, mingled with something intimate, brusque, capricious, which marked her his own, and of the family. Seventy-five!—with that step, that carriage of the shoulders, that vivacity! Ridiculous!
And Julie could not but respond.
Something stole into her heart that had never yet lodged there. She must love the old man—she did. When he left her for the duchess her eyes followed him—her dark-rimmed, wistful eyes.
“I must be off,” said Lord Lackington, presently, buttoning up his coat. “This, ladies, has been dalliance. I now go to my duties. Read me in the Times tomorrow. I shall make a rattling speech. You see, I shall rub it in.”
“Montresor?” said the duchess.
Lord Lackington nodded. That afternoon he proposed to strew the floor of the House of Lords with the débris of Montresor’s farcical reforms.
Suddenly he pulled himself up.
“Duchess, look round you, at those two in the doorway. Isn’t it—by George, it is!—Chudleigh and his boy!”
“Yes—yes, it is,” said the duchess, in some excitement. “Don’t recognize them. Don’t speak to him. Jacob implored me not.”
And she hurried her companions along till they were well out of the track of the newcomers; then on the threshold of another room she paused, and, touching Julie on the arm, said, in a whisper:
“Now look back. That’s Jacob’s duke, and his poor, poor boy!”
Julie threw a hurried glance toward the two figures; but that glance impressed forever upon her memory a most tragic sight.
A man of middle height, sallow, and careworn, with jet-black hair and beard, supported a sickly lad, apparently about seventeen, who clung to his arm and coughed at intervals. The father moved as though in a dream. He looked at the pictures with unseeing, lusterless eyes, except when the boy asked him a question. Then he would smile, stoop his head and answer, only to resume again immediately his melancholy passivity. The boy, meanwhile, his lips gently parted over his white teeth, his blue eyes wide open and intent upon the pictures, his emaciated cheeks deeply flushed, wore an aspect of patient suffering, of docile dependence, peculiarly touching.
It was evident the father and son thought of none but each other. From time to time the man would make the boy rest on one of the seats in the middle of the room, and the boy would look up and chatter to his companion standing before him. Then again they would resume their walk, the boy leaning on his father. Clearly the poor lad was marked for death; clearly, also, he was the desire of his father’s heart.
“The possessor, and the heir, of perhaps the finest houses and the most magnificent estates in England,” said Lord Lackington, with a shrug of pity. “And Chudleigh would gladly give them all to keep that boy alive.”
Julie turned away. Strange thoughts had been passing and repassing through her brain.
Then, with angry loathing, she flung her thoughts from her. What did the Chudleigh inheritance matter to her? That night she said goodbye to the man she loved. These three miserable, burning weeks were done. Her heart, her life, would go with Warkworth to Africa and the desert. If at the beginning of this period of passion—so short in prospect, and, to look back upon, an eternity—she had ever supposed that power or wealth could make her amends for the loss of her lover, she was in no mood to calculate such compensations today. Parting was too near, the anguish in her veins too sharp.
“Jacob takes them to Paris tomorrow,” said the duchess to Lord Lackington. “The duke has heard of some new doctor.”
An hour or two later, Sir Wilfrid Bury, in the smoking room of his club, took out a letter which he had that morning received from Lady Henry Delafield and gave it a second reading.
So I hear that mademoiselle’s social prospects are not, after all, so triumphant as both she and I imagined. I gave the world credit for more fools than it seems actually to possess; and she—well, I own I am a little puzzled. Has she taken leave of her senses? I am told that she is constantly seen with this man; that in spite of all denials there can be no doubt of his engagement to the Moffatt girl; and that en somme she has done herself no good by the whole affair. But, after all, poor soul, she is disinterested. She stands to gain nothing, as I understand; and she risks a good deal. From this comfortable distance, I really find something touching in her behavior.
She gives her first “Wednesday,” I understand, tomorrow. “Mademoiselle Le Breton at home!” I confess I am curious. By all means go, and send me a full report. Mr. Montresor and his wife will certainly be there. He and I have been corresponding, of course. He wishes to persuade me that he feels himself in some way responsible for mademoiselle’s position, and for my dismissal of her; that I ought to allow him in consequence full freedom of action. I cannot see matters in the same light. But, as I tell him, the change will be all to his advantage. He exchanges a fractious old woman, always ready to tell him unpleasant truths, for one who has made flattery her métier. If he wants quantity she will give it him. Quality he can dispense with—as I have seen for some time past.
Lord Lackington has written me an impertinent letter. It seems she has revealed herself, and il s’en prend à moi, because I kept the secret from him, and because I have now dared to dismiss his granddaughter. I am in the midst of a reply which amuses me. He is to cast off his belongings as he pleases; but when a lady of the Chantrey blood—no matter how she came by it—condescends to enter a paid employment, legitimate or illegitimate, she must be treated en reine, or Lord L. will know the reason why. “Here is one hundred pounds a year, and let me hear no more of you,” he says to her at sixteen. Thirteen years later I take her in, respect his wishes, and keep the secret. She misbehaves herself, and I dismiss her. Where is the grievance? He himself made her a lectrice, and now complains that she is expected to do her duty in that line of life. He himself banished her from the family, and now grumbles that I did not at once foist her upon him. He would like to escape the odium of his former action by blaming me; but I am not meek, and I shall make him regret his letter.
As for Jacob Delafield, don’t trouble yourself to write me any further news of him. He has insulted me lately in a way I shall not soon forgive—nothing to do, however, with the lady who says she refused him. Whether her report be veracious or not matters nothing to me, any more than his chances of succeeding to the Captain’s place. He is one of the ingenious fools who despise the old ways of ruining themselves, and in the end achieve it as well as the commoner sort. He owes me a good deal, and at one time it pleased me to imagine that he was capable both of affection and gratitude. That is the worst of being a woman; we pass from one illusion to another; love is only the beginning; there are a dozen to come after.
You will scold me for a bitter tongue. Well, my dear Wilfrid, I am not gay here. There are too many women, too many church services, and I see too much of my doctor. I pine for London, and I don’t see why I should have been driven out of it by an intrigante.
Write to me, my dear Wilfrid. I am not quite so bad as I paint myself; say to yourself she has arthritis, she is sixty-five, and her new companion reads aloud with a twang; then you will only wonder at my moderation.
Sir Wilfrid returned the letter to his pocket. That day, at luncheon with Lady Hubert, he had had the curiosity to question Susan Delafield, Jacob’s fair-haired sister, as to the reasons for her brother’s quarrel with Lady Henry.
It appeared that being now in receipt of what seemed to himself, at any rate, a large salary as his cousin’s agent, he had thought it his duty to save up and repay the sums which Lady Henry had formerly spent upon his education.
His letter enclosing the money had reached that lady during the first week of her stay at Torquay. It was, no doubt, couched in terms less cordial or more formal than would have been the case before Miss Le Breton’s expulsion. “Not that he defends her altogether,” said Susan Delafield, who was herself inclined to side with Lady Henry; “but as Lady Henry has refused to see him since, it was not much good being friendly, was it?”
Anyway, the letter and its enclosure had completed a breach already begun. Lady Henry had taken furious offence; the check had been insultingly returned, and had now gone to swell the finances of a London hospital.
Sir Wilfrid was just reflecting that Jacob’s honesty had better have waited for a more propitious season, when, looking up, he saw the war minister beside him, in the act of searching for a newspaper.
“Released?” said Bury, with a smile.
“Yes, thank Heaven. Lackington is, I believe, still pounding at me in the House of Lords. But that amuses him and doesn’t hurt me.”
“You’ll carry your resolutions?”
“Oh, dear, yes, with no trouble at all,” said the minister, almost with sulkiness, as he threw himself into a chair and looked with distaste at the newspaper he had taken up.
Sir Wilfrid surveyed him.
“We meet tonight?” he said, presently.
“You mean in Heribert Street? I suppose so,” said Montresor, without cordiality.
“I have just got a letter from her ladyship.”
“Well, I hope it is more agreeable than those she writes to me. A more unreasonable old woman—”
The tired minister took up Punch, looked at a page, and flung it down again. Then he said:
“Are you going?”
“I don’t know. Lady Henry gives me leave, which makes me feel myself a kind of spy.”
“Oh, never mind. Come along. Mademoiselle Julie will want all our support. I don’t hear her as kindly spoken of just now as I should wish.”
“No. Lady Henry has more personal hold than we thought.”
“And Mademoiselle Julie less tact. Why, in the name of goodness, does she go and get herself talked about with the particular man who is engaged to her little cousin? You know, by the way, that the story of her parentage is leaking out fast? Most people seem to know something about it.”
“Well, that was bound to come. Will it do her good or harm?”
“Harm, for the present. A few people are straitlaced, and a good many feel they have been taken in. But, anyway, this flirtation is a mistake.”
“Nobody really knows whether the man is engaged to the Moffatt girl or not. The guardians have forbidden it.”
“At any rate, everybody is kind enough to say so. It’s a blunder on Mademoiselle Julie’s part. As to the man himself, of course, there is nothing to say. He is a very clever fellow.” Montresor looked at his companion with a sudden stiffness, as though defying contradiction. “He will do this piece of work that we have given him to do extremely well.”
“The Mokembe mission?”
“He had very considerable claims, and was appointed entirely on his military record. All the tales as to Mademoiselle’s influence—with me, for instance—that Lady Henry has been putting into circulation are either absurd fiction or have only the very smallest foundation in fact.”
Sir Wilfrid smiled amicably and diverted the conversation.
“Warkworth starts at once?”
“He goes to Paris tomorrow. I recommended him to see Pattison, the military secretary there, who was in the expedition of five years back.”
“This hasn’t gone as well as it ought,” said Dr. Meredith, in the ear of the duchess.
They were standing inside the door of Julie’s little drawing room. The duchess, in a dazzling frock of white and silver, which placed Clarisse among the divinities of her craft, looked round her with a look of worry.
“What’s the matter with the tiresome creatures? Why is everybody going so early? And there are not half the people here who ought to be here.”
Meredith shrugged his shoulders.
“I saw you at Chatton House the other night,” he said, in the same tone.
“Well?” said the duchess, sharply.
“It seemed to me there was something of a demonstration.”
“Against Julie? Let them try it!” said the little lady, with evasive defiance. “We shall be too strong for them.”
“Lady Henry is putting her back into it. I confess I never thought she would be either so venomous or so successful.”
“Julie will come out all right.”
The duchess glanced at him uneasily.
“I believe you are overworking her. She looks skin and bone.”
Dr. Meredith shook his head.
“On the contrary, I have been holding her back. But it seems she wants to earn a good deal of money.”
“That’s so absurd,” cried the duchess, “when there are people only pining to give her some of theirs.”
“No, no,” said the journalist, brusquely. “She is quite right there. Oh, it would be all right if she were herself. She would make short work of Lady Henry. But, Mademoiselle Julie”—for she glided past them, and he raised his voice—“sit down and rest yourself. Don’t take so much trouble.”
She flung them a smile.
“Lord Lackington is going,” and she hurried on.
Lord Lackington was standing in a group which contained Sir Wilfrid Bury and Mr. Montresor.
“Well, goodbye, goodbye,” he said, as she came up to him. “I must go. I’m nearly asleep.”
“Tired with abusing me?” said Montresor, nonchalantly, turning around upon him.
“No, only with trying to make head or tail of you,” said Lackington, gaily. Then he stooped over Julie.
“Take care of yourself. Come back rosier—and fatter.”
“I’m perfectly well. Let me come with you.”
“No, don’t trouble yourself.” For she had followed him into the hall and found his coat for him. All the arrangements for her little “evening” had been of the simplest. That had been a point of pride with her. Madame Bornier and Thérèse dispensing tea and coffee in the dining room, one hired parlormaid, and she herself active and busy everywhere. Certain French models were in her head, and memories of her mother’s bare little salon in Bruges, with its good talk, and its thinnest of thin refreshments—a few cups of weak tea, or glasses of eau sucrée, with a plate of patisserie.
The hired parlormaid was whistling for a cab in the service of some other departing guest; so Julie herself put Lord Lackington into his coat, much to his discomfort.
“I don’t think you ought to have come,” she said to him, with soft reproach. “Why did you have that fainting fit before dinner?”
“I say! Who’s been telling tales?”
“Sir Wilfrid Bury met your son, Mr. Chantrey, at dinner.”
“Bill can never hold his tongue. Oh, it was nothing; not with the proper treatment, mind you. Of course, if the allopaths were to get their knives into me—but, thank God! I’m out of that galère. Well, in a fortnight, isn’t it? We shall both be in town again. I don’t like saying goodbye.”
And he took both her hands in his.
“It all seems so strange to me still—so strange!” he murmured.
“Next week I shall see mamma’s grave,” said Julie, under her breath. “Shall I put some flowers there for you?”
The fine blue eyes above her wavered. He bent to her.
“Yes. And write to me. Come back soon. Oh, you’ll see. Things will all come right, perfectly right, in spite of Lady Henry.”
Confidence, encouragement, a charming raillery, an enthusiastic tenderness—all these beamed upon her from the old man’s tone and gesture. She was puzzled. But with another pressure of the hand he was gone. She stood looking after him. And as the carriage drove away, the sound of the wheels hurt her. It was the withdrawal of something protecting—something more her own, when all was said, than anything else which remained to her.
As she returned to the drawing room, Dr. Meredith intercepted her.
“You want me to send you some work to take abroad?” he said, in a low voice. “I shall do nothing of the kind.”
“Because you ought to have a complete holiday.”
“Very well. Then I shan’t be able to pay my way,” she said, with a tired smile.
“Remember the doctor’s bills if you fall ill.”
“Ill! I am never ill,” she said, with scorn. Then she looked round the room deliberately, and her gaze returned to her companion. “I am not likely to be fatigued with society, am I?” she added, in a voice that did not attempt to disguise the bitterness within.
“My dear lady, you are hardly installed.”
“I have been here a month—the critical month. Now was the moment to stand by me, or throw me over—n’est-ce pas? This is my first party, my housewarming. I gave a fortnight’s notice; I asked about sixty people, whom I knew well. Some did not answer at all. Of the rest, half declined—rather curtly, in many instances. And of those who accepted, not all are here. And, oh, how it dragged!”
Meredith looked at her rather guiltily, not knowing what to say. It was true the evening had dragged. In both their minds there rose the memory of Lady Henry’s “Wednesdays,” the beautiful rooms, the varied and brilliant company, the power and consideration which had attended Lady Henry’s companion.
“I suppose,” said Julie, shrugging her shoulders, “I had been thinking of the French maîtresses de salon, like a fool; of Mademoiselle de l’Espinasse—or Madame Mohl—imagining that people would come to me for a cup of tea and an agreeable hour. But in England, it seems, people must be paid to talk. Talk is a business affair—you give it for a consideration.”
“No, no! You’ll build it up,” said Meredith. In his heart of hearts he said to himself that she had not been herself that night. Her wonderful social instincts, her memory, her adroitness, had somehow failed her. And from a hostess strained, conscious, and only artificially gay, the little gathering had taken its note.
“You have the old guard, anyway,” added the journalist, with a smile, as he looked round the room. The duchess, Delafield, Montresor and his wife, General McGill, and three or four other old habitués of the Bruton Street evenings were scattered about the little drawing room. General Fergus, too, was there—had arrived early, and was staying late. His frank soldier’s face, the accent, cheerful, homely, careless, with which he threw off talk full of marrow, talk only possible—for all its simplicity—to a man whose life had been already closely mingled with the fortunes of his country, had done something to bind Julie’s poor little party together. Her eye rested on him with gratitude. Then she replied to Meredith.
“Mr. Montresor will scarcely come again.”
“What do you mean? Ungrateful lady! Montresor! who has already sacrificed Lady Henry and the habits of thirty years to your beaux yeux!”
“That is what he will never forgive me,” said Julie, sadly. “He has satisfied his pride, and I—have lost a friend.”
“Pessimist! Mrs. Montresor seemed to me most friendly.”
“She, of course, is enchanted. Her husband has never been her own till now. She married him, subject to Lady Henry’s rights. But all that she will soon forget—and my existence with it.”
“I won’t argue. It only makes you more stubborn,” said Meredith. “Ah, still they come!”
For the door opened to admit the tall figure of Major Warkworth.
“Am I very late?” he said, with a surprised look as he glanced at the thinly scattered room. Julie greeted him, and he excused himself on the ground of a dinner which had begun just an hour late, owing to the tardiness of a cabinet minister.
Meredith observed the young man with some attention, from the dark corner in which Julie had left him. The gossip of the moment had reached him also, but he had not paid much heed to it. It seemed to him that no one knew anything firsthand of the Moffatt affair. And for himself, he found it difficult to believe that Julie Le Breton was any man’s dupe.
She must marry, poor thing! Of course she must marry. Since it had been plain to him that she would never listen to his own suit, this greathearted and clear-brained man had done his best to stifle in himself all small or grasping impulses. But this fellow—with his inferior temper and morale—alack! why are the clever women such fools?
If only she had confided in him—her old and tried friend—he thought he could have put things before her, so as to influence without offending her. But he suffered—had always suffered—from the jealous reserve which underlay her charm, her inborn tendency to secretiveness and intrigue.
Now, as he watched her few words with Warkworth, it seemed to him that he saw the signs of some hidden relation. How flushed she was suddenly, and her eyes so bright!
He was not allowed much time or scope, however, for observation. Warkworth took a turn round the room, chatted a little with this person and that, then, on the plea that he was off to Paris early on the following morning, approached his hostess again to take his leave.
“Ah, yes, you start tomorrow,” said Montresor, rising. “Well, good luck to you—good luck to you.”
General Fergus, too, advanced. The whole room, indeed, awoke to the situation, and all the remaining guests grouped themselves round the young soldier. Even the duchess was thawed a little by this actual moment of departure. After all, the man was going on his country’s service.
“No child’s play, this mission, I can assure you,” General McGill had said to her. “Warkworth will want all the powers he has—of mind or body.”
The slim, young fellow, so boyishly elegant in his well-cut evening dress, received the ovation offered to him with an evident pleasure which tried to hide itself in the usual English ways. He had been very pale when he came in. But his cheek reddened as Montresor grasped him by the hand, as the two generals bade him a cordial godspeed, as Sir Wilfrid gave him a jesting message for the British representative in Egypt, and as the ladies present accorded him those flattering and admiring looks that woman keeps for valor.
Julie counted for little in these farewells. She stood apart and rather silent. “They have had their goodbye,” thought the duchess, with a thrill she could not help.
“Three days in Paris?” said Sir Wilfrid. “A fortnight to Denga—and then how long before you start for the interior?”
“Oh, three weeks for collecting porters and supplies. They’re drilling the escort already. We should be off by the middle of May.”
“A bad month,” said General Fergus, shrugging his shoulders.
“Unfortunately, affairs won’t wait. But I am already stiff with quinine,” laughed Warkworth—“or I shall be by the time I get to Denga. Goodbye—goodbye.”
And in another moment he was gone. Miss Le Breton had given him her hand and wished him “Bon voyage,” like everybody else.
The party broke up. The duchess kissed her Julie with peculiar tenderness; Delafield pressed her hand, and his deep, kind eyes gave her a lingering look, of which, however, she was quite unconscious; Meredith renewed his half-irritable, half-affectionate counsels of rest and recreation; Mrs. Montresor was conventionally effusive; Montresor alone bade the mistress of the house a somewhat cold and perfunctory farewell. Even Sir Wilfrid was a little touched, he knew not why; he vowed to himself that his report to Lady Henry on the morrow should contain no food for malice, and inwardly he forgave Mademoiselle Julie the old romancings.