And then it was that her smiles came—tremluous, fugitive, exultant.
* * * * *
A bell rang in the long corridor, and the slight sound recalled her to life and action. She walked towards the door which separated her from the sitting-room where she had left her husband, and opened it without knocking.
Delafield was sitting at a writing-table in the window. He had apparently been writing; but she found him in a moment of pause, playing absently with the pen he still held.
As she entered he looked up, and it seemed to her that his aspect and his mood had changed. Her sudden and indefinable sense of this made it easier for her to hasten to him, and to hold out her hands to him.
“Jacob, you asked me a question just now, and I begged you to give me time. But I am here to answer it. If it would be to your happiness to refuse the dukedom, refuse it. I will not stand in your way, and I will never reproach you. I suppose”—she made herself smile upon him—“there are ways of doing such a strange thing. You will be much criticised, perhaps much blamed. But if it seems to you right, do it. I’ll just stand by you and help you. Whatever makes you happy shall make me happy, if only—”
Delafield had risen impetuously and held her by both hands. His breast heaved, and the hurrying of her own breath would now hardly let her speak.
“If only what?” he said, hoarsely.
She raised her eyes.
“If only, mon ami”—she disengaged one hand and laid it gently on his shoulder—“you will give me your trust, and”—her voice dropped—“your love!”
They gazed at each other. Between them, around them hovered thoughts of the past—of Warkworth, of the gray Channel waves, of the spiritual relation which had grown up between them in Switzerland, mingled with the consciousness of this new, incalculable present, and of the growth and change in themselves.
“You’d give it all up?” said Delafield, gently, still holding her at arm’s-length.
“Yes,” she nodded to him, with a smile.
“For me? For my sake?”
She smiled again. He drew a long breath, and turning to the table behind him, took up a letter which was lying there.
“I want you to read that,” he said, holding it out to her.
She drew back, with a little, involuntary frown.
“Dearest,” he cried, pressing her hand passionately, “I have been in the grip of all the powers of death! Read it—be good to me!”
Standing beside him, with his arm round her, she read the melancholy Duke’s last words: