Five months ago was it, that that letter was written?
Its remembered phrases already rang bitterly in an aching heart. Since it reached her, she had put out all her powers as a woman, all her influence as an intelligence, in the service of the writer.
And now, here she sat in the dark, tortured by a passion of which she was ashamed, before which she was beginning to stand helpless in a kind of terror. The situation was developing, and she found herself wondering how much longer she would be able to control herself or it. Very miserably conscious, too, was she all the time that she was now playing for a reward that was secretly, tacitly, humiliatingly denied her. How could a poor man, with Harry Warkworth’s ambitions, think for a moment of marriage with a woman in her ambiguous and dependent position? Her common-sense told her that the very notion was absurd. And yet, since the Duchess’s gossip had given point and body to a hundred vague suspicions, she was no longer able to calm, to master herself.
Suddenly a thought of another kind occurred to her. It added to her smart that Sir Wilfrid, in their meeting at Lady Hubert’s, had spoken to her and looked at her with that slight touch of laughing contempt. There had been no insincerity in that emotion with which she had first appealed to him as her mother’s friend; she did truly value the old man’s good opinion. And yet she had told him lies.
“I can’t help it,” she said to herself, with a little shiver. The story about the biography had been the invention of a moment. It had made things easy, and it had a small foundation in the fact that Lady Henry had talked vaguely of using the letters lent her by Captain Warkworth for the elucidation—perhaps in a Nineteenth Century article—of certain passages in her husband’s Indian career.
Jacob Delafield, too. There also it was no less clear to her than to Sir Wilfrid that she had “overdone it.” It was true, then, what Lady Henry said of her—that she had an overmastering tendency to intrigue—to a perpetual tampering with the plain fact?
“Well, it is the way in which such people as I defend themselves,” she said, obstinately, repeating to herself what she had said to Sir Wilfrid Bury.