It was midnight in the little inn at Charnex. The rain which for so many nights in this miserable June had been beating down upon the village had at last passed away. The night was clear and still—a night when the voice of mountain torrents, far distant, might reach the ear suddenly—sharply pure—from the very depths of silence.
Julie was in bed. She had been scarcely aware of her maid’s help in undressing. The ordinary life was, as it were, suspended. Two scenes floated alternately before her—one the creation of memory, the other of imagination; and the second was, if possible, the more vivid, the more real of the two. Now she saw herself in Lady Henry’s drawing-room; Sir Wilfrid Bury and a white-haired general were beside her. The door opened and Warkworth entered—young, handsome, soldierly, with that boyish, conquering air which some admired and others disliked. His eyes met hers, and a glow of happiness passed through her.
Then, at a stroke, the London drawing-room melted away. She was in a low bell-tent. The sun burned through its sides; the air was stifling. She stood with two other men and the doctor beside the low camp-bed; her heart was wrung by every movement, every sound; she heard the clicking of the fan in the doctor’s hands, she saw the flies on the poor, damp brow.
And still she had no tears. Only, existence seemed to have ended in a gulf of horror, where youth and courage, repentance and high resolve, love and pleasure were all buried and annihilated together.
That poor girl up-stairs! It had not been possible to take her home. She was there with nurse and doctor, her mother hanging upon every difficult breath. The attack of diphtheria had left a weakened heart and nervous system; the shock had been cruel, and the doctor could promise nothing for the future.
The cry echoed in Julie’s ears. It seemed to fill the old, low-ceiled room in which she lay. Her fancy, preternaturally alive, heard it thrown back from the mountains outside—returned to her in wailing from the infinite depths of the lake. She was conscious of the vast forms and abysses of nature, there in the darkness, beyond the walls of her room, as something hostile, implacable....
And while he lay there dead, under the tropical sand, she was still living and breathing here, in this old Swiss inn—Jacob Delafield’s wife, at least in name.
There was a knock at her door. At first she did not answer it. It seemed to be only one of the many dream sounds which tormented her nerves. Then it was repeated. Mechanically she said “Come in.”
The door opened, and Delafield, carrying a light, which he shaded with his hand, stood on the threshold.
“May I come and talk to you?” he said, in a low voice. “I know you are not sleeping.”
It was the first time he had entered his wife’s room. Through all her misery, Julie felt a strange thrill as her husband’s face was thus revealed to her, brightly illumined, in the loneliness of the night. Then the thrill passed into pain—the pain of a new and sharp perception.