“ You have had a disquieting letter?”
The voice was Julie’s. Delafield was standing, apparently in thought, at the farther corner of the little, raised terrace of the hotel. She approached him with an affectionate anxiety, of which he was instantly conscious.
“I am afraid I may have to leave you tonight,” he said, turning toward her, and holding out the letter in his hand.
It contained a few agitated lines from the Duke of Chudleigh.
“They tell me my lad can’t get over this. He’s made a gallant fight, but this beats us. A week or two—no more. Ask Mrs. Delafield to let you come. She will, I know. She wrote to me very kindly. Mervyn keeps talking of you. You’d come, if you heard him. It’s ghastly—the cruelty of it all. Whether I can live without him, that’s the point.”
“You’ll go, of course?” said Julie, returning it.
“Tonight, if you allow it.”
“Of course. You ought.”
“I hate leaving you alone, with this trouble on your hands,” said Jacob, in some agitation. “What are your plans?”
“I could follow you next week. Aileen comes down today. And I should like to wait here for the mail.”
“In five days, about, it should be here,” said Delafield.
There was a silence. She dropped into a chair beside the balustrade of the terrace, which was wreathed in wisteria, and looked out upon the vast landscape of the lake. His thought was, “How can the mail matter to her? She cannot suppose that he had written—”
Aloud he said, in some embarrassment, “You expect letters yourself?”
“I expect nothing,” she said, after a pause. “But Aileen is living on the chance of letters.”
“There may be nothing for her—except, indeed, her letters to him—poor child!”
“She knows that. But the hope keeps her alive.”
“And you?” thought Delafield, with an inward groan, as he looked down upon her pale profile. He had a moment’s hateful vision of himself as the elder brother in the parable. Was Julie’s mind to be the home of an eternal antithesis between the living husband and the dead lover—in which the latter had forever the beau rôle?
Then, impatiently, Jacob wrenched himself from mean thoughts. It was as though he bared his head remorsefully before the dead man.
“I will go to the Foreign Office,” he said, in her ear, “as I pass through town. They will have letters. All the information I can get you shall have at once.”
“Thank you, mon ami,” she said, almost inaudibly.
Then she looked up, and he was startled by her eyes. Where he had expected grief, he saw a shrinking animation.
“Write to me often,” she said, imperiously.
“Of course. But don’t trouble to answer much. Your hands are so full here.”
“Trouble! Why do you spoil me so? Demand—insist—that I should write!”
“Very well,” he said, smiling, “I demand—I insist!”
She drew a long breath, and went slowly away from him into the house. Certainly the antagonism of her secret thoughts, though it persisted, was no longer merely cold or critical. For it concerned one who was not only the master of his own life, but threatened unexpectedly to become the master of hers.
She had begun, indeed, to please her imagination with the idea of a relation between them, which, while it ignored the ordinary relations of marriage, should yet include many of the intimacies and refinements of love. More and more did the surprises of his character arrest and occupy her mind. She found, indeed, no “plaster saint.” Her cool intelligence soon detected the traces of a peevish or stubborn temper, and of a natural inertia, perpetually combated, however, by the spiritual energy of a new and other self exfoliating from the old; a self whose acts and ways she watched, sometimes with the held breath of fascination, sometimes with a return of shrinking or fear. That a man should not only appear but be so good was still in her eyes a little absurd. Perhaps her feeling was at bottom the common feeling of the skeptical nature. “We should listen to the higher voices; but in such a way that if another hypothesis were true, we should not have been too completely duped.”
She was ready, also, to convict him of certain prejudices and superstitions which roused in her an intellectual impatience. But when all was said, Delafield, unconsciously, was drawing her toward him, as the fowler draws a fluttering bird. It was the exquisite refinement of those spiritual insights and powers he possessed which constantly appealed, not only to her heart, but—a very important matter in Julie’s case—to her taste, to her own carefully tempered instinct for the rare and beautiful.
He was the master, then, she admitted, of a certain vein of spiritual genius. Well, here should he lead—and even, if he pleased, command her. She would sit at his feet, and he should open to her ranges of feeling, delights, and subtleties of moral sensation hitherto unknown to her.
Thus the feeling of ennui and reaction which had marked the first weeks of her married life had now wholly disappeared. Delafield was no longer dull or pedantic in her eyes. She passed alternately from moments of intolerable smart and pity for the dead to moments of agitation and expectancy connected with her husband. She thought over their meeting of the night before; she looked forward to similar hours to come.
Meanwhile his relation toward her in many matters was still naïvely ignorant and humble—determined by the simplicity of a man of some real greatness, who never dreamed of claiming tastes or knowledge he did not possess, whether in small things or large. This phase, however, only gave the more value to one which frequently succeeded it. For suddenly the conversation would enter regions where he felt himself peculiarly at home, and, with the same unconsciousness on his part, she would be made to feel the dignity and authority which surrounded his ethical and spiritual life. And these contrasts—this weakness and this strength—combined with the man-and-woman element which is always present in any situation of the kind, gave rise to a very varied and gradually intensifying play of feeling between them. Feeling only possible, no doubt, for the raffinés of this world; but for them full of strange charm, and even of excitement.
Delafield left the little inn for Montreux, Lausanne, and London that afternoon. He bent to kiss his wife at the moment of his departure, in the bare sitting room that had been improvised for them on the ground floor of the hotel, and as she let her face linger ever so little against his she felt strong arms flung round her, and was crushed against his breast in a hungry embrace. When he released her with a flush and a murmured word of apology she shook her head, smiling sadly but saying nothing. The door closed on him, and at the sound she made a hasty step forward.
“Jacob! Take me with you!”
But her voice died in the rattle and bustle of the diligence outside, and she was left trembling from head to foot, under a conflict of emotions that seemed now to exalt, now to degrade her.
Half an hour after Delafield’s departure there appeared on the terrace of the hotel a tottering, emaciated form—Aileen Moffatt, in a black dress and hat, clinging to her mother’s arm. But she refused the deck chair, which they had spread with cushions and shawls.
“No; let me sit up.” And she took an ordinary chair, looking around upon the lake and the little flowery terrace with a slow, absorbed look, like one trying to remember. Suddenly she bowed her head on her hands.
“Aileen!” cried Lady Blanche, in an agony.
But the girl motioned her away. “Don’t, mummy. I’m all right.”
And restraining any further emotion, she laid her arms on the balustrade and gazed long and calmly into the purple depths and gleaming snows of the Rhône valley. Her hat oppressed her and she took it off, revealing the abundance of her delicately golden hair, which, in its lack of luster and spring, seemed to share in the physical distress and loss of the whole personality.
The face was that of a doomed creature, incapable now of making any successful struggle for the right to live. What had been sensibility had become melancholy; the slight, chronic frown was deeper, the pale lips more pinched. Yet intermittently there was still great sweetness, the last effort of a “beautiful soul” meant for happiness, and withered before its time.
As Julie stood beside her, while Lady Blanche had gone to fetch a book from the salon, the poor child put out her hand and grasped that of Julie.
“It is quite possible I may get the letter tonight,” she said, in a hurried whisper. “My maid went down to Montreux—there is a clever man at the post office who tried to make it out for us. He thinks it’ll be tonight.”
“Don’t be too disappointed if nothing comes,” said Julie, caressing the hand. Its thinness, its icy and lifeless touch, dismayed her. Ah, how easily might this physical wreck have been her doing!
The bells of Montreux struck half past six. A restless and agonized expectation began to show itself in all the movements of the invalid. She left her chair and began to pace the little terrace on Julie’s arm. Her dragging step, the mournful black of her dress, the struggle between youth and death in her sharpened face, made her a tragic presence. Julie could hardly bear it, while all the time she, too, was secretly and breathlessly waiting for Warkworth’s last words.
Lady Blanche returned, and Julie hurried away.
She passed through the hotel and walked down the Montreux road. The post had already reached the first houses of the village, and the postman, who knew her, willingly gave her the letters.
Yes, a packet for Aileen, addressed in an unknown hand to a London address, and forwarded thence. It bore the Denga postmark.
And another for herself, readdressed from London by Madame Bornier. She tore off the outer envelope; beneath was a letter of which the address was feebly written in Warkworth’s hand: “Mademoiselle Le Breton, 3 Heribert Street, London.”
She had the strength to carry her own letter to her room, to call Aileen’s maid and send her with the other packet to Lady Blanche. Then she locked herself in…
Oh, the poor, crumpled page, and the labored handwriting!
“Julie, I am dying. They are such good fellows, but they can’t save me. It’s horrible.
“I saw the news of your engagement in a paper the day before I left Denga. You’re right. He’ll make you happy. Tell him I said so. Oh, my God, I shall never trouble you again! I bless you for the letter you wrote me. Here it is…No, I can’t—can’t read it. Drowsy. No pain—”
And here the pen had dropped from his hand. Searching for something more, she drew from the envelope the wild and passionate letter she had written him at Heribert Street, in the early morning after her return from Paris, while she was waiting for Delafield to bring her the news of Lord Lackington’s state.
The small table d’hôte of the Hotel Michel was still further diminished that night. Lady Blanche was with her daughter, and Mrs. Delafield did not appear.
But the moon was hanging in glory over the lake when Julie, unable to bear her room and her thoughts any longer, threw a lace scarf about her head and neck, and went blindly climbing through the upward paths leading to Les Avants. The roads were silver in the moonlight; so was the lake, save where the great mountain shadows lay across the eastern end. And suddenly, white, through pine-trees, “Jaman, delicately tall!”
The air cooled her brow, and from the deep, enveloping night her torn heart drew balm, and a first soothing of the pulse of pain. Every now and then, as she sat down to rest, a waking dream overshadowed her. She seemed to be supporting Warkworth in her arms; his dying head lay upon her breast, and she murmured courage and love into his ear. But not as Julie Le Breton. Through all the anguish of what was almost an illusion of the senses, she still felt herself Delafield’s wife. And in that flood of silent speech she poured out on Warkworth, it was as though she offered him also Jacob’s compassion, Jacob’s homage, mingled with her own.
Once she found herself sitting at the edge of a meadow, environed by the heavy scents of flowers. Some apple trees with whitened trunks rose between her and the lake a thousand feet below. The walls of Chillon, the houses of Montreux, caught the light; opposite, the deep forests of Bouveret and St. Gingolphe lay black upon the lake; above them rode the moon. And to the east the high Alps, their pure lines a little effaced and withdrawn, as when a light veil hangs over a sanctuary.
Julie looked out upon a vast freedom of space, and by a natural connection she seemed to be also surveying her own world of life and feeling, her past and her future. She thought of her childhood and her parents, of her harsh, combative youth, of the years with Lady Henry, of Warkworth, of her husband, and the life into which his strong hand had so suddenly and rashly drawn her. Her thoughts took none of the religious paths so familiar to his. And yet her reverie was so far religious that her mind seemed to herself to be quivering under the onset of affections, emotions, awes, till now unknown, and that, looking back, she was conscious of a groping sense of significance, of purpose, in all that had befallen her. Yet to this sense she could put no words. Only, in the end, through the constant action of her visualizing imagination, it connected itself with Delafield’s face, and with the memory of many of his recent acts and sayings.
It was one of those hours which determine the history of a man or woman. And the august Alpine beauty entered in, so that Julie, in this sad and thrilling act of self-probing, felt herself in the presence of powers and dominations divine.
Her face, stained with tears, took gradually some of the calm, the loftiness of the night. Yet the close-shut, brooding mouth would slip sometimes into a smile exquisitely soft and gentle, as though the heart remembered something which seemed to the intelligence at once folly and sweetness.
What was going on within her was, to her own consciousness, a strange thing. It appeared to her as a kind of simplification, a return to childhood; or, rather, was it the emergence in the grown mind, tired with the clamor of its own egotistical or passionate life, of some instincts, natural to the child, which she, nevertheless, as a child had never known; instincts of trust, of self-abandonment, steeped, perhaps, in those tears which are themselves only another happiness?…
But hush! What are our poor words in the presence of these nobler secrets of the wrestling and mounting spirit!
On the way down she saw another figure emerge from the dark.
Lady Blanche stood still.
“The hotel was stifling,” she said, in a voice that vainly tried for steadiness.
Julie perceived that she had been weeping.
“Aileen is asleep?”
“Perhaps. They have given her something to make her sleep.”
They walked on toward the hotel.
“She was not disappointed?” she said, at last, in a low voice.
“No!” said the mother, sharply. “But one knew, of course, there must be letters for her. Thank God, she can feel that his very last thought was for her! The letters which have reached her are dated the day before the fatal attack began—giving a complete account of his march—most interesting—showing how he trusted her already—though she is such a child. It will tranquillize her to feel how completely she possessed his heart—poor fellow!”
Julie said nothing, and Lady Blanche, with bitter satisfaction, felt rather than saw what seemed to her the just humiliation expressed in the drooping and black-veiled figure beside her.
Next day there was once more a tinge of color on Aileen’s cheeks. Her beautiful hair fell round her once more in a soft life and confusion, and the roses which her mother had placed beside her on the bed were not in too pitiful contrast with her frail loveliness.
“Read it, please,” she said, as soon as she found herself alone with Julie, pushing her letter tenderly toward her. “He tells me everything—everything! All he was doing and hoping—consults me in everything. Isn’t it an honor—when I’m so ignorant and childish? I’ll try to be brave—try to be worthy—”
And while her whole frame was shaken with deep, silent sobs, she greedily watched Julie read the letter.
“Oughtn’t I to try and live,” she said, dashing away her tears, as Julie returned it, “when he loved me so?”
Julie kissed her with a passionate and guilty pity. The letter might have been written to any friend, to any charming child for whom a much older man had a kindness. It gave a businesslike account of their march, dilated on one or two points of policy, drew some humorous sketches of his companions, and concluded with a few affectionate and playful sentences.
But when the wrestle with death began, Warkworth wrote but one last letter, uttered but one cry of the heart, and it lay now in Julie’s bosom.
A few days passed. Delafield’s letters were short and full of sadness. Elmira still lived; but any day or hour might see the end. As for the father—But the subject was too tragic to be written of, even to her. Not to feel, not to realize; there lay the only chance of keeping one’s own courage, and so of being any help whatever to two of the most miserable of human beings.
At last, rather more than a week after Delafield’s departure, came two telegrams. One was from Delafield—“Mervyn died this morning. Duke’s condition causes great anxiety.” The other from Evelyn Crowborough—“Elmira died this morning. Going down to Shropshire to help Jacob.”
Julie threw down the telegrams. A rush of proud tears came to her eyes. She swept to the door of her room, opened it, and called her maid.
The maid came, and when she saw the sparkling looks and strained bearing of her mistress, wondered what crime she was to be rebuked for. Julie merely bade her pack at once, as it was her intention to catch the eight o’clock through train at Lausanne that night for England.
Twenty hours later the train carrying Julie to London entered Victoria Station. On the platform stood the little duchess, impatiently expectant. Julie was clasped in her arms, and had no time to wonder at the pallor and distraction of her friend before she was hurried into the brougham waiting beyond the train.
“Oh, Julie!” cried the duchess, catching the traveler’s hands, as they drove away. “Julie, darling!”
Julie turned to her in amazement. The blue eyes fixed upon her had no tears, but in them, and in the duchess’s whole aspect, was expressed a vivid horror and agitation which struck at Julie’s heart.
“What is it?” she said, catching her breath. “What is it?”
“Julie, I was going to Faircourt this morning. First your telegram stopped me. I thought I’d wait and go with you. Then came another, from Delafield. The duke! The poor duke!”
Julie’s attitude changed unconsciously—instantly.
“Yes; tell me!”
“It’s in all the papers tonight—on the placards—don’t look out!” And the duchess lifted her hand and drew down the blinds of the brougham. “He was in a most anxious state yesterday, but they thought him calmer at night, and he insisted on being left alone. The doctors still kept a watch, but he managed in some mysterious way to evade them all, and this morning he was missed. After two hours they found him—in the river that runs below the house!”
There was a silence.
“And Jacob?” said Julie, hoarsely.
“That’s what I’m so anxious about,” exclaimed the duchess. “Oh, I am thankful you’ve come! You know how Jacob’s always felt about the duke and Mervyn—how he’s hated the notion of succeeding. And Susan, who went down yesterday, telegraphed to me last night—before this horror—that he was ‘terribly strained and overwrought.’”
“Succeeding?” said Julie, vaguely. Mechanically she had drawn up the blind again, and her eyes followed the dingy lines of the Vauxhall Bridge Road, till suddenly they turned away from the placards outside a small stationer’s shop which announced: “Tragic death of the Duke of Chudleigh and his son.”
The duchess looked at her curiously without replying. Julie seemed to be grappling with some idea which escaped her, or, rather, was presently expelled by one more urgent.
“Is Jacob ill?” she said, abruptly, looking her companion full in the face.
“I only know what I’ve told you. Susan says ‘strained and overwrought.’ Oh, it’ll be all right when he gets you!”
Julie made no reply. She sat motionless, and the duchess, stealing another glance at her, must needs, even in this tragic turmoil, allow herself the reflection that she was a more delicate study in black-and-white, a more refined and accented personality than ever.
“You won’t mind,” said Evelyn, timidly, after a pause; “but Lady Henry is staying with me, and also Sir Wilfrid Bury, who had such a bad cold in his lodgings that I went down there a week ago, got the doctor’s leave, and carried him off there and then. And Mr. Montresor’s coming in. He particularly wanted, he said, just to press your hand. But they shan’t bother you if you’re tired. Our train goes at 10:10, and Freddie has got the express stopped for us at Westonport—about three in the morning.”
The carriage rolled into Grosvenor Square, and presently stopped before Crowborough House. Julie alighted, looked round her at the July green of the square, at the brightness of the window boxes, and then at the groom of the chambers who was taking her wraps from her—the same man who, in the old days, used to feed Lady Henry’s dogs with sweet biscuit. It struck her that he was showing her a very particular and eager attention.
Meanwhile in the duchess’s drawing—room a little knot of people was gathered—Lady Henry, Sir Wilfrid Bury, and Dr. Meredith. Their demeanor illustrated both the subduing and the exciting influence of great events. Lady Henry was more talkative than usual. Sir Wilfrid more silent.
Lady Henry seemed to have profited by her stay at Torquay. As she sat upright in a stiff chair, her hands resting on her stick, she presented her characteristic aspect of English solidity, crossed by a certain free and foreign animation. She had been already wrangling with Sir Wilfrid, and giving her opinion freely on the “socialistic” views on rank and property attributed to Jacob Delafield. “If he can’t digest the cake, that doesn’t mean it isn’t good,” had been her last impatient remark, when Sir Wilfrid interrupted her.
“Only a few minutes more,” he said, looking at his watch. “Now, then, what line do we take? How much is our friend likely to know?”
“Unless she has lost her eyesight—which Evelyn has not reported—she will know most of what matters before she has gone a hundred yards from the station,” said Lady Henry, dryly.
“Oh, the streets! Yes; but persons are often curiously dazed by such a gallop of events.”
“Not Julie Le Breton!”
“I should like to be informed as to the part you are about to play,” said Sir Wilfrid, in a lower voice, “that I may play up to it. Where are you?”
Both looked at Meredith, who had walked to a distant window and was standing there looking out upon the square. Lady Henry was well aware that he had not forgiven her, and, to tell the truth, was rather anxious that he should. So she, too, dropped her voice.
“I bow to the institutions of my country,” she said, a little sparkle in the strong, gray eye.
“In other words, you forgive a duchess?”
“I acknowledge the head of the family, and the greater carries the less.”
“Suppose Jacob should be unforgiving?”
“He hasn’t the spirit.”
“Her conscience will be on my side.”
“I thought it was your theory that she had none?”
“Jacob, let us hope, will have developed some. He has a good deal to spare.”
Sir Wilfrid laughed. “So it is you who will do the pardoning?”
“I shall offer an armed and honorable peace. The Duchess of Chudleigh may intrigue and tell lies, if she pleases. I am not giving her a hundred a year.”
There was a pause.
“Why, if I may ask,” said Sir Wilfrid, at the end of it, “did you quarrel with Jacob? I understand there was a separate cause.”
Lady Henry hesitated.
“He paid me a debt,” she said, at last, and a sudden flush rose in her old, blanched cheek.
“And that annoyed you? You have the oddest code!”
Lady Henry bit her lip.
“One does not like one’s money thrown in one’s face.”
“Most unreasonable of women!”
“Never mind, Wilfrid. We all have our feelings.”
“Precisely. Well, no doubt Jacob will make peace. As for—Ah, here comes Montresor!”
A visible tremor passed through Lady Henry. The door was thrown open, and the footman announced the minister for war.
“Her grace, sir, is not yet returned.”
Montresor stumbled into the room, and even with his eyeglasses carefully adjusted, did not at once perceive who was in it.
Sir Wilfrid went toward him.
“Ah, Bury! Convalescent, I hope?”
“Quite. The duchess has gone to meet Mrs. Delafield.”
“Mrs.—?” Montresor’s mouth opened. “But, of course, you know?”
“Oh yes, I know. But one’s tongue has to get oiled. You see Lady Henry?”
“I am glad to see Lady Henry,” he replied, stiffly.
Lady Henry slowly rose and advanced two steps. She quietly held out her hand to him, and, smiling, looked him in the face.
“Take it. There is no longer any cause of quarrel between us. I raise the embargo.”
The minister took the hand, and shook his head.
“Ah, but you had no right to impose it,” he said, with energy.
“Oh, for goodness sake, meet me halfway,” cried Lady Henry, “or I shall never hold out!”
Sir Wilfrid, whose half-embarrassed gaze was bent on the ground, looked up and was certain that he saw a gleam of moisture in those wrinkled eyes.
“Why have you held out so long? What does it matter to me whether Miss Julie be a duchess or no? That doesn’t make up to me for all the months you’ve shut your door on me. And I was always given to understand, by the way, that it wouldn’t matter to you.”
“I’ve had three months at Torquay,” said Lady Henry, raising her shoulders.
“I hope it was dull to distraction.”
“It was. And my doctor tells me the more I fret the more gout I may expect.”
“So all this is not generosity, but health?”
“Kiss my hand, sir, and have done with it! You are all avenged. At Torquay I had four companions in seven weeks.”
“More power to them!” said Montresor. “Meredith, come here. Shall we accept the pleas?”
Meredith came slowly from the window, his hands behind his back.
“Lady Henry commands and we obey,” he said, slowly. “But today begins a new world—founded in ruin, like the rest of them.”
He raised his fine eyes, in which there was no laughter, rather a dreamy intensity. Lady Henry shrank.
“If you’re thinking of Chudleigh,” she said, uncertainly, “be glad for him. It was release. As for Henry Warkworth—”
“Ah, poor fellow!” said Montresor, perfunctorily. “Poor fellow!”
He had dropped Lady Henry’s hand, but he now recaptured it, enclosing the thin, jeweled fingers in his own.
“Well, well, then it’s peace, with all my heart.” He stooped and lightly kissed the fingers. “And now, when do you expect our friend?”
“At any moment,” said Lady Henry.
She seated herself, and Montresor beside her.
“I am told,” said Montresor, “that this horror will not only affect Delafield personally, but that he will regard the dukedom as a calamity.”
“Hm!—and you believe it?” said Lady Henry.
“I try to,” was the minister’s laughing reply. “Ah, surely, here they are!”
Meredith turned from the window, to which he had gone back.
“The carriage has just arrived,” he announced, and he stood fidgeting, standing first on one foot, then on the other, and running his hand through his mane of gray hair. His large features were pale, and any close observer would have detected the quiver of emotion.
A sound of voices from the anteroom, the duchess’s light tones floating to the top. At the same time a door on the other side of the drawing room opened and the Duke of Crowborough appeared.
“I think I hear my wife,” he said, as he greeted Montresor and hurriedly crossed the room.
There was a rustle of quick steps, and the little duchess entered.
“Freddie, here is Julie!”
Behind appeared a tall figure in black. Everybody in the room advanced, including Lady Henry, who, however, after a few steps stood still behind the others, leaning on her stick.
Julie looked round the little circle, then at the Duke of Crowborough, who had gravely given her his hand. The suppressed excitement already in the room clearly communicated itself to her. She did not lose her self-command for an instant, but her face pleaded.
“Is it really true? Perhaps there is some mistake?”
“I fear there can be none,” said the duke, sadly. “Poor Chudleigh had been long dead when they found him.”
“Freddie,” said the duchess, interrupting, “I have told Greswell we shall want the carriage at half past nine for Euston. Will that do?”
Greswell, the handsome groom of the chambers, approached Julie.
“Your grace’s maid wishes to know whether it is your grace’s wish that she should go round to Heribert Street before taking the luggage to Euston?”
Julie looked at the man, bewildered. Then a stormy color rushed into her cheeks.
“Does he mean my maid?” she said to the duke, piteously.
“Certainly. Will you give your orders?”
She gave them, and then, turning again to the duke, she covered her eyes with her hands a moment.
“What does it all mean?” she said, faltering. “It seems as though we were all mad.”
“You understand, of course, that Jacob succeeds?” said the duke, not without coldness; and he stood still an instant, gazing at this woman, who must now, he supposed, feel herself at the very summit of her ambitions.
Julie drew a long breath. Then she perceived Lady Henry. Instantly, impetuously, she crossed the room. But as she reached that composed and formidable figure, the old timidity, the old fear, seized her. She paused abruptly, but she held out her hand.
Lady Henry took it. The two women stood regarding each other, while the other persons in the room instinctively turned away from their meeting. Lady Henry’s first look was one of curiosity. Then, before the indefinable, ennobling change in Julie’s face, now full of the pale agitation of memory, the eyes of the older woman wavered and dropped. But she soon recovered herself.
“We meet again under very strange circumstances,” she said, quietly; “though I have long foreseen them. As for our former experience, we were in a false relation, and it made fools of us both. You and Jacob are now the heads of the family. And if you like to make friends with me on this new footing, I am ready. As to my behavior, I think it was natural; but if it rankles in your mind, I apologize.”
The personal pride of the owner, curbed in its turn by the pride of tradition and family, spoke strangely from these words. Julie stood trembling, her chest heaving.
“I, too, regret—and apologize,” she said, in a low voice.
“Then we begin again. But now you must let Evelyn take you to rest for an hour or two. I am sorry you have this hurried journey tonight.”
Julie pressed her hands to her breast with one of those dramatic movements that were natural to her.
“Oh, I must see Jacob!” she said, under her breath—“I must see Jacob!”
And she turned away, looking vaguely round her. Meredith approached.
“Comfort yourself,” he said, very gently, pressing her hand in both of his. “It has been a great shock, but when you get there he’ll be all right.”
Her expression, the piteous note in her voice, awoke in him an answering sense of pain. He wondered how it might be between the husband and wife. Yet it was borne in upon him, as upon Lady Henry, that her marriage, however interpreted, had brought with it profound and intimate transformation. A different woman stood before him. And when, after a few more words, the duchess swept down upon them, insisting that Julie must rest awhile, Meredith stood looking after the retreating figures, filled with the old, bitter sense of human separateness, and the fragmentariness of all human affections. Then he made his farewells to the duke and Lady Henry, and slipped away. He had turned a page in the book of life; and as he walked through Grosvenor Square he applied his mind resolutely to one of the political “causes” with which, as a powerful and fighting journalist, he was at that moment occupied.
Lady Henry, too, watched Julie’s exit from the room.
“So now she supposes herself in love with Jacob?” she thought, with amusement, as she resumed her seat.
“What if Delafield refuses to be made a duke?” said Sir Wilfrid, in her ear.
“It would be a situation new to the Constitution,” said Lady Henry, composedly. “I advise you, however, to wait till it occurs.”
The northern express rushed onward through the night. Rugby, Stafford, Crewe had been left behind. The Yorkshire valleys and moors began to show themselves in pale ridges and folds under the moon. Julie, wakeful in her corner opposite the little, sleeping duchess, was conscious of an interminable rush of images through a brain that longed for a few unconscious and forgetful moments. She thought of the deferential stationmaster at Euston; of the fuss attending their arrival on the platform; of the arrangements made for stopping the express at the Yorkshire Station, where they were to alight.
Faircourt? Was it the great early-Georgian house of which she had heard Jacob speak—the vast pile, half barrack, half palace, in which, according to him, no human being could be either happy or at home?
And this was now his—and hers? Again the whirl of thoughts swept and danced round her.
A wild, hill country. In the valleys, the blackness of thick trees, the gleam of rivers, the huge, lifeless factories; and beyond, the high, silver edges, the sharp shadows of the moors…The train slackened, and the little duchess woke at once.
“Ten minutes to three. Oh, Julie, here we are!”
The dawn was just coldly showing as they alighted. Carriages and servants were waiting, and various persons whose identity and function it was not easy to grasp. One of them, however, at once approached Julie with a privileged air, and she perceived that he was a doctor.
“I am very glad that your grace has come,” he said, as he raised his hat. “The trouble with the duke is shock, and want of sleep.”
Julie looked at him, still bewildered.
“How long has my husband been ill?”
He walked on beside her, describing in as few words as possible the harrowing days preceding the death of the boy, Delafield’s attempts to soothe and control the father, the stratagem by which the poor duke had outwitted them all, and the weary hours of search through the night, under a drizzling rain, which had resulted, about dawn, in the discovery of the duke’s body in one of the deeper holes of the river.
“When the procession returned to the house, your husband”—the speaker framed the words uncertainly—“had a long fainting fit. It was probably caused by the exhaustion of the search—many hours without food—and many sleepless nights. We kept him in his room all day. But toward evening he insisted on getting up. The restlessness he shows is itself a sign of shock. I trust, now you are here, you may be able to persuade him to spare himself. Otherwise the consequences might be grave.”
The drive to the house lay mainly through a vast park, dotted with stiff and melancholy woods. The morning was cloudy; even the wild roses in the hedges and the daisies in the grass had neither gaiety nor color. Soon the house appeared—an immense pile of stone, with a pillared center, and wings to east and west, built in a hollow, gray and sunless. The mournful blinds drawn closely down made of it rather a mausoleum for the dead than a home for the living.
At the approach of the carriage, however, doors were thrown open, servants appeared, and on the steps, trembling and heavy-eyed, stood Susan Delafield.
She looked timidly at Julie, and then, as they passed into the great central hall, the two kissed each other with tears.
“He is in his room, waiting for you. The doctors persuaded him not to come down. But he is dressed, and reading and writing. We don’t believe he has slept at all for a week.”
“Through there,” said Susan Delafield, stepping back. “That is the door.”
Julie softly opened it, and closed it behind her. Delafield had heard her approach, and was standing by the table, supporting himself upon it. His aspect filled Julie with horror. She ran to him and threw her arms round him. He sank back into his chair, and she found herself kneeling beside him, murmuring to him, while his head rested upon her shoulder.
“Jacob, I am here! Oh, I ought to have been here all through! It’s terrible—terrible! But, Jacob, you won’t suffer so—now I’m here—now we’re together—now I love you, Jacob?”
Her voice broke in tears. She put back the hair from his brow, kissing him with a tenderness in which there was a yearning and lovely humility. Then she drew a little away, waiting for him to speak, in an agony.
But for a time he seemed unable to speak. He feebly released himself, as though he could not bear the emotion she offered him, and his eyes closed.
“Jacob, come and lie down!” she said, in terror. “Let me call the doctors.”
He shook his head, and a faint pressure from his hand bade her sit beside him.
“I shall be better soon. Give me time. I’ll tell you—”
Then silence again. She sat holding his hand, her eyes fixed upon him. Time passed, she knew not how. Susan came into the room—a small sitting room in the east wing—to tell her that the neighboring bedroom had been prepared for herself. Julie only looked up for an instant with a dumb sign of refusal. A doctor came in, and Delafield made a painful effort to take the few spoonfuls of food and stimulant pressed upon him. Then he buried his face in the side of the armchair.
“Please let us be alone,” he said, with a touch of his old peremptoriness, and both Susan and the doctor obeyed.
But it was long before he could collect energy enough to talk. When he did, he made an effort to tell her the story of the boy’s death, and the father’s self-destruction. He told it leaning forward in his chair, his eyes on the ground, his hands loosely joined, his voice broken and labored. Julie listened, gathering from his report an impression of horror, tragic and irremediable, similar to that which had shaken the balance of his own mind. And when he suddenly looked up with the words, “And now I am expected to take their place—to profit by their deaths! What rightful law of God or man binds me to accept a life and a responsibility that I loathe?” Julie drew back as though he had struck her. His face, his tone were not his own—there was a violence, a threat in them, addressed, as it were, specially to her. “If it were not for you,” his eyes seemed to say, “I could refuse this thing, which will destroy me, soul and body.”
She was silent, her pulses fluttering, and he resumed, speaking like one groping his way:
“I could have done the work, of course—I have done it for five years. I could have looked after the estate and the people. But the money, the paraphernalia, the hordes of servants, the mummery of the life! Why, Julie, should we be forced into it? What happiness—I ask you—what happiness can it bring to either of us?”
And again he looked up, and again it seemed to Julie that his expression was one of animated hostility and antagonism—antagonism to her, as embodying for the moment all the arguments—of advantage, custom, law—he was, in his own mind, fighting and denying. With a failing heart she felt herself very far from him. Was there not also something in his attitude, unconsciously, of that old primal antagonism of the man to the woman, of the stronger to the weaker, the more spiritual to the more earthy?
“You think, no doubt,” he said, after a pause, “that it is my duty to take this thing, even if I could lay it down?”
“I don’t know what I think,” she said, hurriedly. “It is very strange, of course, what you say. We ought to discuss it thoroughly. Let me have a little time.”
He gave an impatient sigh, then suddenly rose.
“Will you come and look at them?”
She, too, rose and put her hand in his.
“Take me where you will.”
“It is not horrible,” he said, shading his eyes a moment. “They are at peace.”
With a feeble step, leaning on her arm, he guided her through the great, darkened house. Julie was dimly aware of wide staircases, of galleries and high halls, of the pictures of past Delafields looking down upon them. The morning was now far advanced. Many persons were at work in the house, but Julie was conscious of them only as distant figures that vanished at their approach. They walked alone, guarded from all intrusion by the awe and sympathy of the unseen human beings around them.
Delafield opened the closed door.
The father and son lay together, side by side, the boy’s face in a very winning repose, which at first sight concealed the traces of his long suffering; the father’s also—closed eyes and sternly shut mouth—suggesting, not the despair which had driven him to his death, but, rather, as in somber triumph, the all-forgetting, all-effacing sleep which he had won from death.
They stood a moment, till Delafield fell on his knees. Julie knelt beside him. She prayed for a while; then she wearied, being, indeed, worn out with her journey. But Delafield was motionless, and it seemed to Julie that he hardly breathed.
She rose to her feet, and found her eyes for the first time flooded with tears. Never for many weeks had she felt so lonely, or so utterly unhappy. She would have given anything to forget herself in comforting Jacob. But he seemed to have no need of her, no thought of her.
As she vaguely looked round her, she saw that beside the dead man was a table holding some violets—the only flowers in the room—some photographs, and a few well-worn books. Softly she took up one. It was a copy of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, much noted and underlined. It would have seemed to her sacrilege to look too close; but she presently perceived a letter between its pages, and in the morning light, which now came strongly into the room through a window looking on the garden, she saw plainly that it was written on thin, foreign paper, that it was closed, and addressed to her husband.
She touched him softly on the shoulder, alarmed by his long immobility.
He looked up, and it appeared to Julie as though he were shaking off with difficulty some abnormal and trancelike state. But he rose, looking at her strangely.
“Jacob, this is yours.”
He took the book abruptly, almost as if she had no right to be holding it. Then, as he saw the letter, the color rushed into his face. He took it, and after a moment’s hesitation walked to the window and opened it.
She saw him waver, and ran to his support. But he put out a hand which checked her.
“It was the last thing he wrote,” he said; and then, uncertainly, and without reading any but the first words of the letter, he put it into his pocket.
Julie drew back, humiliated. His gesture said that to a secret so intimate and sacred he did not propose to admit his wife.
They went back silently to the room from which they had come. Sentence after sentence came to Julie’s lips, but it seemed useless to say them, and once more, but in a totally new way, she was “afraid” of the man beside her.
She left him shortly after, by his own wish.
“I will lie down, and you must rest,” he said, with decision.
So she bathed and dressed, and presently she allowed the kind, fair-haired Susan to give her food, and pour out her own history of the death-week which she and Jacob had passed through. But in all that was said, Julie noticed that Susan spoke of her brother very little, and of his inheritance and present position not at all. And once or twice she noticed a wondering or meditative expression in the girl’s charming eyes as they rested on herself, and realized that the sense of mystery, of hushed expectancy, was not confined to her own mind.
When Susan left her at nine o’clock, it was to give a number of necessary orders in the house. The inquest was to be held in the morning, and the whole day would be filled with arrangements for the double funeral. The house would be thronged with officials of all sorts. “Poor Jacob!” said the sister, sighing, as she went away.
But the tragic tumult had not yet begun. The house was still quiet, and Julie was for the first time alone.
She drew up the blinds, and stood gazing out upon the park, now flooded with light; at the famous Italian garden beneath the windows, with its fountains and statues; at the wide lake which filled the middle distance; and the hills beyond it, with the plantations and avenues which showed the extension of the park as far as the eye could see.
Julie knew very well what it all implied. Her years with Lady Henry, in connection with her own hidden sense of birth and family, had shown her with sufficient plainness the conditions under which the English noble lives. She was actually, at that moment, Duchess of Chudleigh; her strong intelligence faced and appreciated the fact; the social scope and power implied in those three words were all the more vivid to her imagination because of her history and upbringing. She had not grown to maturity inside, like Delafield, but as an exile from a life which was yet naturally hers—an exile, full, sometimes, of envy, and the passions of envy.
It had no terrors for her—quite the contrary—this high social state. Rather, there were moments when her whole nature reached out to it, in a proud and confident ambition. Nor had she any mystical demurrer to make. The originality which in some ways she richly possessed was not concerned in the least with the upsetting of class distinctions, and as a Catholic she had been taught loyally to accept them.
The minutes passed away. Julie sank deeper and deeper into reverie, her head leaning against the side of the window, her hands clasped before her on her black dress. Once or twice she found the tears dropping from her eyes, and once or twice she smiled.
She was not thinking of the tragic circumstances amid which she stood. From that short trance of feeling even the piteous figures of the dead father and son faded away. Warkworth entered into it, but already invested with the passionless and sexless beauty of a world where—whether it be to us poetry or reality—“they neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Her warm and living thoughts spent themselves on one theme only—the redressing of a spiritual balance. She was no longer a beggar to her husband; she had the wherewithal to give. She had been the mere recipient, burdened with debts beyond her paying; now—
And then it was that her smiles came—tremulous, fugitive, exultant.
A bell rang in the long corridor, and the slight sound recalled her to life and action. She walked toward the door which separated her from the sitting room where she had left her husband, and opened it without knocking.
Delafield was sitting at a writing table in the window. He had apparently been writing; but she found him in a moment of pause, playing absently with the pen he still held.
As she entered he looked up, and it seemed to her that his aspect and his mood had changed. Her sudden and indefinable sense of this made it easier for her to hasten to him, and to hold out her hands to him.
“Jacob, you asked me a question just now, and I begged you to give me time. But I am here to answer it. If it would be to your happiness to refuse the dukedom, refuse it. I will not stand in your way, and I will never reproach you. I suppose”—she made herself smile upon him—“there are ways of doing such a strange thing. You will be much criticized, perhaps much blamed. But if it seems to you right, do it. I’ll just stand by you and help you. Whatever makes you happy shall make me happy, if only—”
Delafield had risen impetuously and held her by both hands. His breast heaved, and the hurrying of her own breath would now hardly let her speak.
“If only what?” he said, hoarsely.
She raised her eyes.
“If only, mon ami”—she disengaged one hand and laid it gently on his shoulder—“you will give me your trust, and”—her voice dropped—“your love!”
They gazed at each other. Between them, around them hovered thoughts of the past—of Warkworth, of the gray Channel waves, of the spiritual relation which had grown up between them in Switzerland, mingled with the consciousness of this new, incalculable present, and of the growth and change in themselves.
“You’d give it all up?” said Delafield, gently, still holding her at arm’s length.
“Yes,” she nodded to him, with a smile.
“For me? For my sake?”
She smiled again. He drew a long breath, and turning to the table behind him, took up a letter which was lying there.
“I want you to read that,” he said, holding it out to her.
She drew back, with a little, involuntary frown.
“Dearest,” he cried, pressing her hand passionately, “I have been in the grip of all the powers of death! Read it—be good to me!”
Standing beside him, with his arm round her, she read the melancholy duke’s last words:
“My Dear Jacob,—I leave you a heavy task, which I know well is, in your eyes, a mere burden. But, for my sake, accept it. The man who runs away has small right to counsel courage. But you know what my struggle has been. You’ll judge me mercifully, if no one else does. There is in you, too, the little, bitter drop that spoils us all; but you won’t be alone. You have your wife, and you love her. Take my place here, care for our people, speak of us sometimes to your children, and pray for us. I bless you, dear fellow. The only moments of comfort I have ever known this last year have come from you. I would live on if I could, but I must—must have sleep.”
Julie dropped the paper. She turned to look at her husband.
“Since I read that,” he said, in a low voice, “I have been sitting here alone—or, rather, it is my belief that I have not been alone. But”—he hesitated—“it is very difficult for me to speak of that—even to you. At any rate, I have felt the touch of discipline, of command. My poor cousin deserted. I, it seems”—he drew a long and painful breath—“must keep to the ranks.”
“Let us discuss it,” said Julie; and sitting down, hand in hand, they talked quietly and gravely.
Suddenly, Delafield turned to her with renewed emotion.
“I feel already the energy, the honorable ambition you will bring to it. But still, you’d have given it up, Julie? You’d have given it up?”
Julie chose her words.
“Yes. But now that we are to keep it, will you hate me if, someday—when we are less sad—I get pleasure from it? I shan’t be able to help it. When we were at La Verna, I felt that you ought to have been born in the thirteenth century, that you were really meant to wed poverty and follow St. Francis. But now you have got to be horribly, hopelessly rich. And I, all the time, am a worldling, and a modern. What you’ll suffer from, I shall perhaps—enjoy.”
The word fell harshly on the darkened room. Delafield shivered, as though he felt the overshadowing dead. Julie impetuously took his hand.
“It will be my part to be a worldling—for your sake,” she said, her breath wavering. Their eyes met. From her face shone a revelation, a beauty that enwrapped them both. Delafield fell on his knees beside her, and laid his head upon her breast. The exquisite gesture with which she folded her arms about him told her inmost thought. At last he needed her, and the dear knowledge filled and tamed her heart.