The train was speeding through the forest country of Chantilly. A pale moon had risen, and beneath its light the straight forest roads, interminably long, stretched into the distance; the vaporous masses of young and budding trees hurried past the eye of the traveler; so, also, the white hamlets, already dark and silent; the stations with their lights and figures; the great woodpiles beside the line.
Delafield, in his second-class carriage, sat sleepless and erect. The night was bitterly cold. He wore the light overcoat in which he had left the Hôtel du Rhin that afternoon for a stroll before dinner, and had no other wrap or covering. But he felt nothing, was conscious of nothing but the rushing current of his own thoughts.
The events of the two preceding days, the meaning of them, the significance of his own action and its consequences—it was with these materials that his mind dealt perpetually, combining, interpreting, deducing, now in one way, now in another. His mood contained both excitement and dread. But with a main temper of calmness, courage, invincible determination, these elements did not at all interfere.
The day before, he had left London with his cousins, the Duke of Chudleigh, and young Lord Elmira, the invalid boy. They were bound to Paris to consult a new doctor, and Jacob had offered to convey them there. In spite of all the apparatus of servants and couriers with which they were surrounded, they always seemed to him, on their journeys, a singularly lonely and hapless pair, and he knew that they leaned upon him and prized his company.
On the way to Paris, at the Calais buffet, he had noticed Henry Warkworth, and had given him a passing nod. It had been understood the night before in Heribert Street that they would both be crossing on the morrow.
On the following day—the day of Julie’s journey—Delafield, who was anxiously awaiting the return of his two companions from their interview with the great physician they were consulting, was strolling up the Rue de la Paix, just before luncheon, when, outside the Hôtel Mirabeau, he ran into a man whom he immediately perceived to be Warkworth.
Politeness involved the exchange of a few sentences, although a secret antagonism between the two men had revealed itself from the first day of their meeting in Lady Henry’s drawing room. Each word of their short conversation rang clearly through Delafield’s memory.
“You are at the ‘Rhin’?” said Warkworth.
“Yes, for a couple more days. Shall we meet at the Embassy tomorrow?”
“No. I dined there last night. My business here is done. I start for Rome tonight.”
“Lucky man. They have put on a new fast train, haven’t they?”
“Yes. You leave the Gare de Lyon at 7:15, and you are at Rome the second morning, in good time.”
“Magnificent! Why don’t we all rush south? Well, goodbye again, and good luck.”
They touched hands perfunctorily and parted.
This happened about midday. While Delafield and his cousins were lunching, a telegram from the Duchess of Crowborough was handed to Jacob. He had wired to her early in the morning to ask for the address in Paris of an old friend of his, who was also a cousin of hers. The telegram contained:
“Thirty-six Avenue Friedland. Lord Lackington heart attack this morning. Dying. Has asked urgently for Julie. Blanche Moffatt detained Florence by daughter’s illness. All circumstances most sad. Woman Heribert Street gave me Bruges address. Have wired Julie there.”
The message set vibrating in Delafield’s mind the tender memory which already existed there of his last talk with Julie, of her strange dependence and gentleness, her haunting and pleading personality. He hoped with all his heart she might reach the old man in time, that his two sons, Uredale and William, would treat her kindly, and that it would be found when the end came that he had made due provision for her as his granddaughter.
But he had small leisure to give to thoughts of this kind. The physician’s report in the morning had not been encouraging, and his two traveling companions demanded all the sympathy and support he could give them. He went out with them in the afternoon to the Hôtel de la Terrasse at St. Germain. The duke, a nervous hypochondriac, could not sleep in the noise of Paris, and was accustomed to a certain apartment in this well-known hotel, which was often reserved for him. Jacob left them about six o’clock to return to Paris. He was to meet one of the Embassy attachés—an old Oxford friend—at the Café Gaillard for dinner. He dressed at the “Rhin,” put on an overcoat, and set out to walk to the Rue Gaillard about half past seven. As he approached the “Mirabeau,” he saw a cab with luggage standing at the door. A man came out with the hotel concierge. To his astonishment, Delafield recognized Warkworth.
The young officer seemed in a hurry and out of temper. At any rate, he jumped into the cab without taking any notice of the two sommeliers and the concierge who stood round expectant of francs, and when the concierge in his stiffest manner asked where the man was to drive, Warkworth put his head out of the window and said, hastily, to the cocher:
“D’abord, à la Gare de Sceaux! Puis, je vous dirai. Mais dépêchez-vous!”
The cab rolled away, and Delafield walked on.
Half past seven, striking from all the Paris towers! And Warkworth’s intention in the morning was to leave the Gare de Lyon at 7:15. But it seemed he was now bound, at 7:30, for the Gare de Sceaux, from which point of departure it was clear that no reasonable man would think of starting for the Eternal City.
“D’abord, à la Gare de Sceaux!”
Then he was not catching a train?—at any rate, immediately. He had some other business first, and was perhaps going to the station to deposit his luggage?
Suddenly a thought, a suspicion, flashed through Delafield’s mind, which set his heart thumping in his breast. In after days he was often puzzled to account for its origin, still more for the extraordinary force with which it at once took possession of all his energies. In his more mystical moments of later life he rose to the secret belief that God had spoken to him.
At any rate, he at once hailed a cab, and, thinking no more of his dinner engagement, he drove posthaste to the Nord Station. In those days the Calais train arrived at eight. He reached the station a few minutes before it appeared. When at last it drew up, amid the crowd on the platform it took him only a few seconds to distinguish the dark and elegant head of Julie Le Breton.
A pang shot through him that pierced to the very center of life. He was conscious of a prayer for help and a clear mind. But on his way to the station he had rapidly thought out a plan on which to act should this mad notion in his brain turn out to have any support in reality.
It had so much support that Julie Le Breton was there—in Paris—and not at Bruges, as she had led the duchess to suppose. And when she turned her startled face upon him, his wild fancy became, for himself, a certainty.
“Amiens! Cinq minutes d’arrêt.”
Delafield got out and walked up and down the platform. He passed the closed and darkened windows of the sleeping car; and it seemed to his abnormally quickened sense that he was beside her, bending over her, and that he said to her:
“Courage! You are saved! Let us thank God!”
A boy from the refreshment room came along, wheeling a barrow on which were tea and coffee.
Delafield eagerly drank a cup of tea and put his hand into his pocket to pay for it. He found there three francs and his ticket. After paying for the tea he examined his purse. That contained an English half crown.
So he had had with him just enough to get his own second-class ticket, her first-class, and a sleeping car. That was good fortune, seeing that the bulk of his money, with his return ticket, was reposing in his dressing-case at the Hôtel du Rhin.
“En voiture! En voiture, s’il vous plaît!”
He settled himself once more in his corner, and the train rushed on. This time it was the strange hour at the Gare du Nord which he lived through again, her white face opposite to him in the refreshment room, the bewilderment and misery she had been so little able to conceal, her spasmodic attempts at conversation, a few vague words about Lord Lackington or the duchess, and then pauses, when her great eyes, haggard and weary, stared into vacancy, and he knew well enough that her thoughts were with Warkworth, and that she was in fierce rebellion against his presence there, and this action into which he had forced her.
As for him, he perfectly understood the dilemma in which she stood. Either she must accept the duty of returning to the deathbed of the old man, her mother’s father, or she must confess her appointment with Warkworth.
Yet—suppose he had been mistaken? Well, the telegram from the duchess covered his whole action. Lord Lackington was dying; and apart from all question of feeling, Julie Le Breton’s friends must naturally desire that he should see her, acknowledge her before his two sons, and, with their consent, provide for her before his death.
But, ah, he had not been mistaken! He remembered her hurried refusal when he had asked her if he should telegraph for her to her Paris “friends”—how, in a sudden shame, he had turned away that he might not see the beloved false face as she spoke, might not seem to watch or suspect her.
He had just had time to send off a messenger, first to his friend at the Café Gaillard, and then to the Hôtel du Rhin, before escorting her to the sleeping car.
Ah, how piteous had been that dull bewilderment with which she had turned to him!
“Here they are. Oh, never mind—we will settle in town. Try to sleep. You must be very tired.”
And then it seemed to him that her lips trembled, like those of a miserable child; and surely, surely, she must hear that mad beating of his pulse!
Boulogne was gone in a flash. Here was the Somme, stretched in a pale silver flood beneath the moon—a land of dunes and stunted pines, of wide sea-marshes, over which came the roar of the Channel. Then again the sea was left behind, and the rich Picard country rolled away to right and left. Lights here and there, in cottage or villa—the lights, perhaps, of birth or death—companions of hope or despair.
The train moved slowly up to the boat-side. Delafield jumped out. The sleeping car was yielding up its passengers. He soon made out the small black hat and veil, the slender form in the dark traveling dress.
Was she fainting? For she seemed to him to waver as he approached her, and the porter who had taken her rugs and bag was looking at her in astonishment. In an instant he had drawn her arm within his, and was supporting her as he best could,
“The car was very hot, and I am so tired. I only want some air.”
They reached the deck.
“You will go downstairs?”
“No, no—some air!” she murmured, and he saw that she could hardly keep her feet.
But in a few moments they had reached the shelter on the upper deck usually so well filled with chairs and passengers on a day crossing. Now it was entirely deserted. The boat was not full, the night was cold and stormy, and the stream of passengers had poured down into the shelter of the lower deck.
Julie sank into a chair. Delafield hurriedly loosened the shawl she carried with her from its attendant bag and umbrella, and wrapped it round her.
“It will be a rough crossing,” he said, in her ear. “Can you stand it on deck?”
“I am a good sailor. Let me stay here.”
Her eyes closed. He stooped over her in an anguish. One of the boat officials approached him.
“Madame ferait mieux de descendre, monsieur. La traversée ne sera pas bonne.”
Delafield explained that the lady must have air, and was a good sailor. Then he pressed into the man’s hand his three francs, and sent him for brandy and an extra covering of some kind. The man went unwillingly.
During the whole bustle of departure, Delafield saw nothing but Julie’s helpless and motionless form; he heard nothing but the faint words by which, once or twice, she tried to convey to him that she was not unconscious.
The brandy came. The man who brought it again objected to Julie’s presence on deck. Delafield took no heed. He was absorbed in making Julie swallow some of the brandy.
At last they were off. The vessel glided slowly out of the old harbor, and they were immediately in rough water.
Delafield was roused by a peremptory voice at his elbow.
“This lady ought not to stay here, sir. There is plenty of room in the ladies’ cabin.”
Delafield looked up and recognized the captain of the boat, the same man who, thirty-six hours before, had shown special civilities to the Duke of Chudleigh and his party.
“Ah, you are Captain Whittaker,” he said.
The shrewd, stout man who had accosted him raised his eyebrows in astonishment.
Delafield drew him aside a moment. After a short conversation the captain lifted his cap and departed, with a few words to the subordinate officer who had drawn his attention to the matter. Henceforward they were unmolested, and presently the officer brought a pillow and striped blanket, saying they might be useful to the lady. Julie was soon comfortably placed, lying down on the seat under the wooden shelter. Delicacy seemed to suggest that her companion should leave her to herself.
Jacob walked up and down briskly, trying to shake off the cold which benumbed him. Every now and then he paused to look at the lights on the receding French coast, at its gray phantom line sweeping southward under the stormy moon, or disappearing to the north in clouds of rain. There was a roar of waves and a dashing of spray. The boat, not a large one, was pitching heavily, and the few male passengers who had at first haunted the deck soon disappeared.
Delafield hung over the surging water in a strange exaltation, half physical, half moral. The wild salt strength and savor of the sea breathed something akin to that passionate force of will which had impelled him to the enterprise in which he stood. No mere man of the world could have dared it; most men of the world, as he was well aware, would have condemned or ridiculed it. But for one who saw life and conduct sub specie aeternitatis it had seemed natural enough.
The wind blew fierce and cold. He made his way back to Julie’s side. To his surprise, she had raised herself and was sitting propped up against the corner of the seat, her veil thrown back.
“You are better?” he said, stooping to her, so as to be heard against the boom of the waves. “This rough weather does not affect you?”
She made a negative sign. He drew his campstool beside her. Suddenly she asked him what time it was. The haggard nobleness of her pale face amid the folds of black veil, the absent passion of the eye, thrilled to his heart. Where were her thoughts?
“Nearly four o’clock.” He drew out his watch. “You see it is beginning to lighten,”
And he pointed to the sky, in which that indefinable lifting of the darkness which precedes the dawn was taking place, and to the far distances of sea, where a sort of livid clarity was beginning to absorb and vanquish that stormy play of alternate dark and moonlight which had prevailed when they left the French shore.
He had hardly spoken, when he felt that her eyes were fixed upon him.
To look at his watch, he had thrown open his long Newmarket coat, forgetting that in so doing he disclosed the evening dress in which he had robed himself at the Hôtel du Rhin for his friend’s dinner at the Café Gaillard.
He hastily rebuttoned his coat, and turned his face seaward once more. But he heard her voice, and was obliged to come close to her that he might catch the words.
“You have given me your wraps,” she said, with difficulty. “You will suffer.”
“Not at all. You have your own rug, and one that the captain provided. I keep myself quite warm with moving about.”
There was a pause. His mind began to fill with alarm. He was not of the men who act a part with ease; but, having got through so far, he had calculated on preserving his secret.
Flight was best, and he was just turning away when a gesture of hers arrested him. Again he stooped till their faces were near enough to let her voice reach him.
“Why are you in evening dress?”
“I had intended to dine with a friend. There was not time to change.”
“Then you did not mean to cross tonight?”
He delayed a moment, trying to collect his thoughts.
“Not when I dressed for dinner, but some sudden news decided me.”
Her head fell back wearily against the support behind it. The eyes closed, and he, thinking she would perhaps sleep, was about to rise from his seat, when the pressure of her hand upon his arm detained him. He sat still and the hand was withdrawn.
There was a lessening of the roar in their ears. Under the lee of the English shore the wind was milder, the “terror-music” of the sea less triumphant. And over everything was stealing the first discriminating touch of the coming light. Her face was clear now; and Delafield, at last venturing to look at her, saw that her eyes were open again, and trembled at their expression. There was in them a wild suspicion. Secretly, steadily, he nerved himself to meet the blow that he foresaw.
“Mr. Delafield, have you told me all the truth?”
She sat up as she spoke, deadly pale but rigid. With an impatient hand she threw off the wraps which had covered her. Her face commanded an answer.
“Certainly I have told you the truth.”
“Was it the whole truth? It seems—it seems to me that you were not prepared yourself for this journey—that there is some mystery—which I do not understand—which I resent!”
“But what mystery? When I saw you, I of course thought of Evelyn’s telegram.”
“I should like to see that telegram.”
He hesitated. If he had been more skilled in the little falsehoods of every day he would simply have said that he had left it at the hotel. But he lost his chance. Nor at the moment did he clearly perceive what harm it would do to show it to her. The telegram was in his pocket, and he handed it to her.
There was a dim oil-lamp in the shelter. With difficulty she held the fluttering paper up and just divined the words. Then the wind carried it away and blew it overboard. He rose and leaned against the edge of the shelter, looking down upon her. There was in his mind a sense of something solemn approaching, round which this sudden lull of blast and wave seemed to draw a “wind-warm space,” closing them in.
“Why did you come with me?” she persisted, in an agitation she could now scarcely control. “It is evident you had not meant to travel. You have no luggage, and you are in evening dress. And I remember now—you sent two letters from the station!”
“I wished to be your escort.”
Her gesture was almost one of scorn at the evasion.
“Why were you at the station at all? Evelyn had told you I was at Bruges. And—you were dining out. I—I can’t understand!”
She spoke with a frowning intensity, a strange queenliness, in which was neither guilt nor confusion.
A voice spoke in Delafield’s heart. “Tell her!” it said.
He bent nearer to her.
“Miss Le Breton, with what friends were you going to stay in Paris?”
She breathed quick.
“I am not a schoolgirl, I think, that I should be asked questions of that kind.”
“But on your answer depends mine.”
She looked at him in amazement. His gentle kindness had disappeared. She saw, instead, that Jacob Delafield whom her instinct had divined from the beginning behind the modest and courteous outer man, the Jacob Delafield of whom she had told the duchess she was afraid.
But her passion swept every other thought out of its way. With dim agony and rage she began to perceive that she had been duped.
“Mr. Delafield”—she tried for calm—“I don’t understand your attitude, but, so far as I do understand it, I find it intolerable. If you have deceived me—”
“I have not deceived you. Lord Lackington is dying.”
“But that is not why you were at the station,” she repeated, passionately. “Why did you meet the English train?”
Her eyes, clear now in the cold light, shone upon him imperiously.
Again the inner voice said: “Speak—get away from conventionalities. Speak—soul to soul!”
He sat down once more beside her. His gaze sought the ground. Then, with sharp suddenness, he looked her in the face.
“Miss Le Breton, you were going to Paris to meet Major Warkworth?”
She drew back.
“And if I was?” she said, with a wild defiance.
“I had to prevent it, that was all.”
His tone was calm and resolution itself.
“Who—who gave you authority over me?”
“One may save—even by violence. You were too precious to be allowed to destroy yourself.”
His look, so sad and strong, the look of a deep compassion, fastened itself upon her. He felt himself, indeed, possessed by a force not his own, that same force which in its supreme degree made of St. Francis “the great tamer of souls.”
“Who asked you to be our judge? Neither I nor Major Warkworth owe you anything.”
“No. But I owed you help—as a man—as your friend. The truth was somehow borne in upon me. You were risking your honor—I threw myself in the way.”
Every word seemed to madden her.
“What—what could you know of the circumstances?” cried her choked, laboring voice. “It is unpardonable—an outrage! You know nothing either of him or of me.”
She clasped her hands to her breast in a piteous, magnificent gesture, as though she were defending her lover and her love.
“I know that you have suffered much,” he said, dropping his eyes before her, “but you would suffer infinitely more if—”
“If you had not interfered.” Her veil had fallen over her face again. She flung it back in impatient despair. “Mr. Delafield, I can do without your anxieties.”
“But not”—he spoke slowly—“without your own self-respect.”
Julie’s face trembled. She hid it in her hands.
“Go!” she said. “Go!”
He went to the farther end of the ship and stood there motionless, looking toward the land but seeing nothing. On all sides the darkness was lifting, and in the distance there gleamed already the whiteness that was Dover. His whole being was shaken with that experience which comes so rarely to cumbered and superficial men—the intimate wrestle of one personality with another. It seemed to him he was not worthy of it.
After some little time, when only a quarter of an hour lay between the ship and Dover pier, he went back to Julie.
She was sitting perfectly still, her hands clasped in front of her, her veil drawn down.
“May I say one word to you?” he said, gently.
She did not speak.
“It is this. What I have confessed to you tonight is, of course, buried between us. It is as though it had never been said. I have given you pain. I ask your pardon from the bottom of my heart, and, at the same time”—his voice trembled—“I thank God that I had the courage to do it!”
She threw him a glance that showed her a quivering lip and the pallor of intense emotion.
“I know you think you were right,” she said, in a voice dull and strained, “but henceforth we can only be enemies. You have tyrannized over me in the name of standards that you revere and I reject. I can only beg you to let my life alone for the future.”
He said nothing. She rose, dizzily, to her feet. They were rapidly approaching the pier.
With the cold aloofness of one who feels it more dignified to submit than to struggle, she allowed him to assist her in landing. He put her into the Victoria train, traveling himself in another carriage.
As he walked beside her down the platform of Victoria Station, she said to him:
“I shall be obliged if you will tell Evelyn that I have returned.”
“I go to her at once.”
She suddenly paused, and he saw that she was looking helplessly at one of the newspaper placards of the night before. First among its items appeared: “Critical state of Lord Lackington.”
He hardly knew how far she would allow him to have any further communication with her, but her pale exhaustion made it impossible not to offer to serve her.
“It would be early to go for news now,” he said, gently. “It would disturb the house. But in a couple of hours from now”—the station clock pointed to six fifteen—“if you will allow me, I will leave the morning bulletin at your door.”
“You must rest, or you will have no strength for nursing,” he continued, in the same studiously guarded tone. “But if you would prefer another messenger—”
“I have none,” and she raised her hand to her brow in mute, unconscious confession of an utter weakness and bewilderment.
“Then let me go,” he said, softly.
It seemed to him that she was so physically weary as to be incapable either of assent or resistance. He put her into her cab, and gave the driver his directions. She looked at him uncertainly. But he did not offer his hand. From those blue eyes of his there shot out upon her one piercing glance—manly, entreating, sad. He lifted his hat and was gone.