Mr. Vanborough gave her his arm and led her to the door. There was dead silence in the room as he did it. Step by step the wife’s eyes followed them with the same dreadful stare, till the door closed and shut them out. The lawyer, left alone with the disowned and deserted woman, put the useless certificate silently on the table. She looked from him to the paper, and dropped, without a cry to warn him, without an effort to save herself, senseless at his feet.
He lifted her from the floor and placed her on the sofa, and waited to see if Mr. Vanborough would come back. Looking at the beautiful face—still beautiful, even in the swoon—he owned it was hard on her. Yes! in his own impenetrable way, the rising lawyer owned it was hard on her.
But the law justified it. There was no doubt in this case. The law justified it.
The trampling of horses and the grating of wheels sounded outside. Lady Jane’s carriage was driving away. Would the husband come back? (See what a thing habit is! Even Mr. Delamayn still mechanically thought of him as the husband—in the face of the law! in the face of the facts!)
No. Then minutes passed. And no sign of the husband coming back.
It was not wise to make a scandal in the house. It was not desirable (on his own sole responsibility) to let the servants see what had happened. Still, there she lay senseless. The cool evening air came in through the open window and lifted the light ribbons in her lace cap, lifted the little lock of hair that had broken loose and drooped over her neck. Still, there she lay—the wife who had loved him, the mother of his child—there she lay.
He stretched out his hand to ring the bell and summon help.
At the same moment the quiet of the summer evening was once more disturbed. He held his hand suspended over the bell. The noise outside came nearer. It was again the trampling of horses and the grating of wheels. Advancing—rapidly advancing—stopping at the house.
Was Lady Jane coming back?
Was the husband coming back?
There was a loud ring at the bell—a quick opening of the house-door—a rustling of a woman’s dress in the passage. The door of the room opened, and the woman appeared—alone. Not Lady Jane. A stranger—older, years older, than Lady Jane. A plain woman, perhaps, at other times. A woman almost beautiful now, with the eager happiness that beamed in her face.
She saw the figure on the sofa. She ran to it with a cry—a cry of recognition and a cry of terror in one. She dropped on her knees—and laid that helpless head on her bosom, and kissed, with a sister’s kisses, that cold, white cheek.
“Oh, my darling!” she said. “Is it thus we meet again?”
Yes! After all the years that had passed since the parting in the cabin of the ship, it was thus the two school-friends met again.