“Nothing of all that will do her any real harm,” said Jacob, rather contemptuously.
“Well, no. I know, of course, that her real friends will never forsake her—never, never! But, Jacob”—the Duchess hesitated, her charming little face furrowed with thought—“if only so much of it weren’t true. She herself—”
“Please, Evelyn,” said Delafield, with decision, “don’t tell me anything she may have said to you.”
The Duchess flushed.
“I shouldn’t have betrayed any confidence,” she said, proudly. “And I must consult with some one who cares about her. Dr. Meredith lunched with me to-day, and he said a few words to me afterwards. He’s quite anxious, too—and unhappy. Captain Warkworth’s always there—always! Even I have been hardly able to see her the last few days. Last Sunday they took the little lame child and went into the country for the whole day—”
“Well, what is there to object to in that?” cried Jacob.
“I didn’t say there was anything to object to,” said the Duchess, looking at him with eyes half angry, half perplexed. “Only it’s so unlike her. She had promised to be at home that afternoon for several old friends, and they found her flown, without a word. And think how sweet Julie is always about such things—what delicious notes she writes, how she hates to put anybody out or disappoint them! And now, not a word of excuse to anybody. And she looks so ill—so white, so fixed—like a person in a dream which she can’t shake off. I’m just miserable about her. And I hate, hate that man—engaged to her own cousin all the time!” cried the little Duchess, under her breath, as she passionately tore some violets at her waist to pieces and flung them out of the carriage. Then she turned to Jacob.
“But, of course, if you don’t care twopence about all this, Jacob, it’s no good talking to you!”
Her taunt fell quite unnoticed. Jacob turned to her with smiling composure.
“You have forgotten, my dear Evelyn, all this time, that Warkworth goes away—to mid-Africa—in little more than two weeks.”
“I wish it was two minutes,” said the Duchess, fuming.
Delafield made no reply for a while. He seemed to be studying the effect of a pale shaft of sunlight which had just come stealing down through layers of thin gray cloud to dance upon the Serpentine. Presently, as they left the Serpentine behind them, he turned to his companion with more apparent sympathy.
“We can’t do anything, Evelyn, and we’ve no right whatever to talk of alarm, or anxiety—to talk of it, mind! It’s—it’s disloyal. Forgive me,” he added, hastily, “I know you don’t gossip. But it fills me with rage that other people should be doing it.”
The brusquerie of his manner disconcerted the little lady beside him. She recovered herself, however, and said, with a touch of sarcasm, tempered by a rather trembling lip: