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 tete-a-tete 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, to-day, 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 to-morrow—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 any one 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.