“Of course. Perhaps to-morrow you will allow me a few last words?”
“I think not. This will cost me dear,” said Lady Henry, her white lips twitching. “Say them now, mademoiselle.”
“You are suffering.” Julie made an uncertain step forward. “You ought to be in bed.”
“That has nothing to do with it. What was your object to-night?”
“I wished to see the Duchess—”
“It is not worth while to prevaricate. The Duchess was not your first visitor.”
“Captain Warkworth arrived first; that was a mere chance.”
“It was to see him that you risked the whole affair. You have used my house for your own intrigues.”
Julie felt herself physically wavering under the lash of these sentences. But with a great effort she walked towards the fireplace, recovered her gloves and handkerchief, which were on the mantel-piece, and then turned slowly to Lady Henry.
“I have done nothing in your service that I am ashamed of. On the contrary, I have borne what no one else would have borne. I have devoted myself to you and your interests, and you have trampled upon and tortured me. For you I have been merely a servant, and an inferior—”
Lady Henry nodded grimly.
“It is true,” she said, interrupting, “I was not able to take your romantic view of the office of companion.”
“You need only have taken a human view,” said Julie, in a voice that pierced; “I was alone, poor—worse than motherless. You might have done what you would with me. A little indulgence, and I should have been your devoted slave. But you chose to humiliate and crush me; and in return, to protect myself, I, in defending myself, have been led, I admit it, into taking liberties. There is no way out of it. I shall, of course, leave you to-morrow morning.”
“Then at last we understand each other,” said Lady Henry, with a laugh. “Good-night, Miss Le Breton.”
She moved heavily on her sticks. Julie stood aside to let her pass. One of the sticks slipped a little on the polished floor. Julie, with a cry, ran forward, but Lady Henry fiercely motioned her aside.
“Don’t touch me! Don’t come near me!”
She paused a moment to recover breath and balance. Then she resumed her difficult walk. Julie followed her.
“Kindly put out the electric lights,” said Lady Henry, and Julie obeyed.
They entered the hall in which one little light was burning. Lady Henry, with great difficulty, and panting, began to pull herself up the stairs.
“Oh, do let me help you!” said Julie, in an agony. “You will kill yourself. Let me at least call Dixon.”
“You will do nothing of the kind,” said Lady Henry, indomitable, though tortured by weakness and rheumatism. “Dixon is in my room, where I bade her remain. You should have thought of the consequences of this before you embarked upon it. If I were to die in mounting these stairs, I would not let you help me.”