The old face had become purple. Lady Henry breathed hard.
“My dear friend,” said Sir Wilfrid, quickly, laying a calming hand on her arm, “don’t let this trouble you so. Dismiss her.”
“And accept solitary confinement for the rest of my days? I haven’t the courage—yet,” said Lady Henry, bitterly. “You don’t know how I have been isolated and betrayed! And I haven’t told you the worst of all. Listen! Do you know whom she has got into her toils?”
She paused, drawing herself rigidly erect. Sir Wilfrid, looking up sharply, remembered the little scene in the Park, and waited.
“Did you have any opportunity last night,” said Lady Henry, slowly, “of observing her and Jacob Delafield?”
She spoke with passionate intensity, her frowning brows meeting above a pair of eyes that struggled to see and could not. But the effect she listened for was not produced. Sir Wilfrid drew back uncertainly.
“Jacob Delafield?” he said. “Jacob Delafield? Are you sure?”
“Sure?” cried Lady Henry, angrily. Then, disdaining to support her statement, she went on: “He hesitates. But she’ll soon make an end of that. And do you realize what that means—what Jacob’s possibilities are? Kindly recollect that Chudleigh has one boy—one sickly, tuberculous boy—who might die any day. And Chudleigh himself is a poor life. Jacob has more than a good chance—ninety chances out of a hundred”—she ground the words out with emphasis—“of inheriting the dukedom.”
“Good gracious!” said Sir Wilfrid, throwing away his cigarette.
“There!” said Lady Henry, in sombre triumph. “Now you can understand what I have brought on poor Henry’s family.”
A low knock was heard at the door.
“Come in,” said Lady Henry, impatiently.
The door opened, and Mademoiselle Le Breton appeared on the threshold, carrying a small gray terrier under each arm.
“I thought I had better tell you,” she said, humbly, “that I am taking the dogs out. Shall I get some fresh wool for your knitting?”
It was nearly four o’clock. Sir Wilfrid had just closed Lady Henry’s door behind him, and was again walking along Bruton Street.
He was thinking of the little scene of Mademoiselle Le Breton’s appearance on the threshold of Lady Henry’s dining-room; of the insolent sharpness with which Lady Henry had given her order upon order—as to the dogs, the books for the circulating library, a message for her dressmaker, certain directions for the tradesmen, etc., etc.—as though for the mere purpose of putting the woman who had dared to be her rival in her right place before Sir Wilfrid Bury. And at the end, as she was departing, Mademoiselle Le Breton, trusting no doubt to Lady Henry’s blindness, had turned towards himself, raising her downcast eyes upon him suddenly, with a proud, passionate look. Her lips had moved; Sir Wilfrid had half risen from his chair. Then, quickly, the door had closed upon her.