“I answered her questions,” she said.
“Questions? Did she ask you of the Faith? Did she speak of me? Am I asking too much?”
Beatrice shook her head. For a moment again she could not speak.
“I am asking what I should not,” said the old man.
“No, no,” cried the girl, “you have a right to know. Wait, I will tell you—”
Again she broke off, and felt her own breath begin to sob in her throat. She buried her face in her hands a moment.
“God forgive me,” said the other. “I—”
“It was about your son Ralph,” said Beatrice bravely, though her lips shook.
“She—she asked whether I had ever loved him at all—and—”
“Mistress Beatrice, Mistress Beatrice, I entreat you not to say more.”
“And I told her—yes; and, yes—still.”
It was a strange meeting for Beatrice and Ralph the next morning. She saw him first from the gallery in chapel at mass, kneeling by his father, motionless and upright, and watched him go down the aisle when it was over. She waited a few minutes longer, quieting herself, marshalling her forces, running her attention over each movement or word that might prove unruly in his presence; and then she got up from her knees and went down.
It had been an intolerable pain to tell the dying woman that she loved her son; it tore open the wound again, for she had never yet spoken that secret aloud to any living soul, not even to her own. When the question came, as she knew it would, she had not hesitated an instant as to the answer, and yet the answer had materialised what had been impalpable before.
As she had looked down from the gallery this morning she knew that she hated, in theory, every detail of his outlook on life; he was brutal, insincere; he had lied to her; he was living on the fruits of sacrilege; he had outraged every human tie he possessed; and yet she loved every hair of his dark head, every movement of his strong hands. It was that that had broken down the mother’s reserve; she had been beaten by the girl’s insolence, as a dog is beaten into respect; she had only one thing that she had not been able to forgive, and that was that this girl had tossed aside her son’s love; then the question had been asked and answered; and the work had been done. The dying woman had surrendered wholly to the superior personality; and had obeyed like a child.
* * * * *
She had a sense of terrible guilt as she went downstairs into the passage that opened on the court; the fact that she had put into words what had lain in her heart, made her fancy that the secret was written on her face. Then again she drove the imagination down by sheer will; she knew that she had won back her self-control, and could trust her own discretion.
Their greeting was that of two acquaintances. There was not the tremor of an eyelid of either, or a note in either voice, that betrayed that their relations had once been different. Ralph thanked her courteously for her attention to his mother; and she made a proper reply. Then they all sat down to breakfast.