She rebelled. But his look and manner held her, and the inner misery sought an outlet. Submissively she began to speak, in her low, murmuring voice; she went back over the past—the winter in Bruton Street; the first news of the Moffatt engagement; her efforts for Warkworth’s promotion; the history of the evening party which had led to her banishment; the struggle in her own mind and Warkworth’s; the sudden mad schemes of their last interview; the rush of the Paris journey.
The mingled exaltation and anguish, the comparative absence of regret with which she told the story, produced an astonishing effect on Delafield. And in both minds, as the story proceeded, there emerged ever more clearly the consciousness of that imperious act by which he had saved her.
Suddenly she stopped.
“I know you can find no excuse for it all,” she said, in excitement.
“Yes; for all—but for one thing,” was his low reply.
She shrank, her eyes on his face.
“That poor child,” he said, under his breath.
She looked at him piteously.
“Did you ever realize what you were doing?” he asked her, raising her hand to his lips.
“No, no! How could I? I thought of some one so different—I had never seen her—”
She paused, her wide—seeking gaze fixed upon him through tears, as though she pleaded with him to find explanations—palliatives.
But he gently shook his head.
Suddenly, shaken with weeping, she bowed her face upon the hands that held her own. It was like one who relinquishes all pleading, all defence, and throws herself on the mercy of the judge.
He tenderly asked her pardon if he had wounded her. But he shrank from offering any caress. The outward signs of life’s most poignant and most beautiful moments are generally very simple and austere.
“You have had a disquieting letter?”
The voice was Julie’s. Delafield was standing, apparently in thought, at the farther corner of the little, raised terrace of the hotel. She approached him with an affectionate anxiety, of which he was instantly conscious.
“I am afraid I may have to leave you to-night,” he said, turning towards her, and holding out the letter in his hand.
It contained a few agitated lines from the Duke of Chudleigh.
“They tell me my lad can’t get over this. He’s made a gallant fight, but this beats us. A week or two—no more. Ask Mrs. Delafield to let you come. She will, I know. She wrote to me very kindly. Mervyn keeps talking of you. You’d come, if you heard him. It’s ghastly—the cruelty of it all. Whether I can live without him, that’s the point.”
“You’ll go, of course?” said Julie, returning it.
“To-night, if you allow it.”
“Of course. You ought.”
“I hate leaving you alone, with this trouble on your hands,” said Jacob, in some agitation. “What are your plans?”