She paused for a moment, and then rejoined, instead of answering: “Do you remember that day I talked with you at Fanny’s? The day after you came back from Italy?”
He made a motion of assent, and she went on: “You asked me then what return I expected for my service to you, as you called it; and I answered, the contemplation of your happiness. Well, do you know what that meant in my old language—the language I was still speaking then? It meant that I knew there was horrible misery in store for you, and that I was waiting to feast my eyes on it: that’s all!”
She had flung out the words with one of her quick bursts of self-abandonment, like a fevered sufferer stripping the bandage from a wound. Durham received them with a face blanching to the pallour of her own.
“What misery do you mean?” he exclaimed.
She leaned forward, laying her hand on his with just such a gesture as she had used to enforce her appeal in Mrs. Boykin’s boudoir. The remembrance made him shrink slightly from her touch, and she drew back with a smile.
“Have you never asked yourself,” she enquired, “why our family consented so readily to a divorce?”
“Yes, often,” he replied, all his unformed fears gathering in a dark throng about him. “But Fanny was so reassured, so convinced that we owed it to your good offices—”
She broke into a laugh. “My good offices! Will you never, you Americans, learn that we do not act individually in such cases? That we are all obedient to a common principle of authority?”
“Then it was not you—?”
She made an impatient shrugging motion. “Oh, you are too confiding—it is the other side of your beautiful good faith!”
“The side you have taken advantage of, it appears?”
“I—we—all of us. I especially!” she confessed.
There was another pause, during which Durham tried to steady himself against the shock of the impending revelation. It was an odd circumstance of the case that, though Madame de Treymes’ avowal of duplicity was fresh in his ears, he did not for a moment believe that she would deceive him again. Whatever passed between them now would go to the root of the matter.
The first thing that passed was the long look they exchanged: searching on his part, tender, sad, undefinable on hers. As the result of it he said: “Why, then, did you consent to the divorce?”
“To get the boy back,” she answered instantly; and while he sat stunned by the unexpectedness of the retort, she went on: “Is it possible you never suspected? It has been our whole thought from the first. Everything was planned with that object.”
He drew a sharp breath of alarm. “But the divorce—how could that give him back to you?”