But John’s departure from Hortense differed from his meeting her. She gave no left hand to him now; she gazed at him, and then, as the old lady began to go toward the house, she moved a step toward him, and then she cast herself into his arms! It was no acting, this, no skilful simulation; her head sank upon his shoulder, and true passion spoke in every line of that beautiful surrendered form, as it leaned against her lover’s.
“So that’s why!” I exclaimed, once more aloud.
It was but a moment; and John, released, followed Miss Eliza. The old lady walked slowly, with that half-failing step that betokens the body’s weariness after great mental or moral strain. Indeed, as John regained her side, she put her arm in his as if her feebleness needed his support. Thus they went away together, the aunt and her beloved boy, who had so sorely grieved and disappointed her.
But if this sight touched me, this glimpse of the vanquished leaving the field after supreme acknowledgment of defeat, upon Hortense it wrought another effect altogether. She stood looking after them, and as she looked, the whole woman from head to foot, motionless as she was, seemed to harden. Yet still she looked, until at length, slowly turning, her eyes chanced to fall upon Mrs. Gregory St. Michael’s card-case. There it lay, the symbol of Kings Port’s capitulation. She swooped down and up with a flying curve of grace, holding her prey caught; and then, catching also her handsome skirts on either side, she danced like a whirling fan among the empty chairs.
But a little while, and all that I had just witnessed in such vivid dumb-show might have seemed to me in truth some masque; so smooth had it been, and voiceless, coming and going like a devised fancy. And after the last of the players was gone from the stage, leaving the white cloth, and the silver, and the cups, and the groups of chairs near the pleasant arbor, I watched the deserted garden whence the sunlight was slowly departing, and it seemed to me more than ever like some empty and charming scene in a playhouse, to which the comedians would in due time return to repeat their delicate pantomime. But these were mental indulgences, with which I sat playing until the sight of my interrupted letter to Aunt Carola on the table before me brought the reality of everything back into my thoughts; and I shook my head over Miss Eliza. I remembered that hand of hers, lying in despondent acquiescence upon her lap, as the old lady sat in her best dress, formally and faithfully accepting the woman whom her nephew John had brought upon them as his bride-elect—formally and faithfully accepting this distasteful person, and thus atoning as best she could to her beloved nephew for the wrong that her affection had led her to do him in that ill-starred and inexcusable tampering with his affairs.