“My God!” said Zora.
“Do you remember the last night I was at Nunsmere?”
“Yes. You fainted.”
“I had seen the announcement of the man’s marriage in the newspaper.”
She told her story briefly and defiantly, asking for no sympathy, proclaiming it all ad majorem Septimi gloriam. Zora sat looking at her paralyzed with helplessness, like one who, having gone lightly forth to shoot rabbits, suddenly comes upon a lion.
“Why didn’t you tell me—at the time—before?”
“Did you ever encourage me to give you my confidence? You patted me on the head, too, and never concerned yourself about my affairs. I was afraid of you—deadly afraid of you. It sounds rather silly now, doesn’t it? But I was.”
Zora made no protest against the accusation. She sat quite still, her eyes fixed on the foot of the bassinette, adjusting her soul to new and startling conceptions. She said in a whisper:
“My God, what a fool I’ve been!”
The words lingered a haunting echo in her ears. They were mockingly familiar. Where had she heard them recently? Suddenly she remembered. She raised her head and glanced at Emmy in anything but a proud way.
“You said something just now about Clem Sypher having sacrificed a fortune for me. What was it? I had better hear everything.”
Emmy sat on the fender stool, as she had done when Septimus had told her the story, and repeated it for Zora’s benefit.
“You say he sent for Septimus this morning?” said Zora in a low voice. “Do you think he knows—about you two?”
“It is possible that he guesses,” replied Emmy, to whom Hegisippe Cruchot’s indiscretion had been reported. “Septimus has not told him.”
“I ask,” said Zora, “because, since my return, he has seemed to look on Septimus as a sort of inspired creature. I begin to see things I never saw before.”
There was silence. Emmy gripped the mantelpiece and, head on arm, looked into the fire. Zora sat lost in her expanding vision. Presently Emmy said without turning round:
“You mustn’t turn away from me now—for Septimus’s sake. He loves the boy as if he were his own. Whatever wrong I’ve done I’ve suffered for it. Once I was a frivolous, unbalanced, unprincipled little fool. I’m a woman now—and a good woman, thanks to him. To live in the same atmosphere as that exquisite delicacy of soul is enough to make one good. No other man on earth could have done what he has done and in the way he has done it. I can’t help loving him. I can’t help eating my heart out for him. That’s my punishment.”
This time the succeeding silence was broken by a half-checked sob. Emmy started round, and beheld Zora crying silently to herself among the sofa cushions. Emmy was amazed. Zora, the magnificent, had broken down, and was weeping like any silly fool of a girl. It was real crying; not the shedding of the tears of sensibility which often stood in her generous eyes. Emmy moved gently across the room—she was a soft-hearted, affectionate woman—and knelt by the sofa.