"There was Reggie, too," he said. "Poor Reggie! But I made what reparation I could. I gave him his chance. Did he ever have a chance, Deleah?"
She shook her head. "Never!"
"What will he say to us?"
There came a rap upon the door, and Sir Francis dropped the hands he held, and started back. "I am particularly engaged, Rogers," he said.
The door was discreetly opened to admit not Rogers, but Rogers's voice: "I beg your pardon, sir, but there is a matter of some importance; if you could come for a few minutes."
"I have told you I am engaged," the voice of authority protested. With a kind of discreet reluctance the door closed again, and Sir Francis, with the impatience of a lover whose ardour has received a momentary check, took the girl into his arms. With a hand pushed against his chest she held herself away from him.
"Why?" he asked her. "You are not afraid of me, Deleah?"
"Yes. Very much afraid."
"Tell me why, my dearest child?"
"Oh, you know," said Deleah, turning away her head.
"No! It is I who should be afraid of you; you, with your youth and beauty, and sweet and gentle goodness. I confess it--all those months you lived in my house, I was afraid."
"You said there were things between us--dividing us. You did not say what really is there. What papa did--"
As she faltered over the words there came a louder knocking upon the door, which opened almost at the same minute. Mr. Rogers's deprecating face appeared there, and behind it the face of a policeman.
"A minute, sir. I won't detain you a minute," the clerk said; and Sir Francis walked to the door with an impatient step and closed it behind him.
Deleah, left to herself--was it for an hour? was it for a minute?--looked with eyes dazed with happiness upon the hands that had been crushed in his.
"I used to think that to be loved by him would be heaven," she said. "And now--now I feel nothing. I am numb."
He came back very grave, his face unusually pale. "Your cab is waiting. I will take you home, my dear child," he said.
She crossed the big yard again at his side. The drayman was still at his horses' heads, the groom was taking the riding-horse round to the stables.
On the opposite side of the yard beneath one of the arches of a heavy colonnade, a couple of policemen stood. One of them was making notes in a book. A group of workpeople stood near by; and Deleah remembered afterwards that there was about them and the rest an air of suspending something they were saying or doing while their chief and the girl at his side walked to the great entrance gates.
"A cab was waiting, by good luck," Sir Francis said as he put her in it, and Deleah awoke, it seemed to her, for the first time since he had called her name as she leant against his door, to full consciousness.
"It was mine," she said. "I took it to get to you quickly--before you started for home. I was afraid you might be hurt. A man--the man who used to lodge with us--came to me this afternoon, and he threatened you. I was so foolish--I believed he meant it. I was afraid. I thought, as you rode past his house to Cashelthorpe, he would wait there, behind the hedge, and shoot you. I seemed to see him doing it. So foolish of me! Of course he was simply frightening me; he would not dare--" She lifted the adoring eyes to his face as he sat beside her. Who would dare indeed to harm that Excellence! "I was afraid he had gone mad," she said, excusing the folly of her thought.
"Poor fellow, I think he had," Sir Francis said. He held her face turned to him, its pure oval in his hand. "Was it love of you that made him mad, Deleah?"
She was too shy of him yet, and too modest to answer the question by word of mouth; but he knew the answer.
"He won't trouble you any more, Deleah," he said very gently. "He won't hurt me. He is dead."
She would not believe it. It was impossible. "He can't be! He was with me half an hour ago. He was well as I am, and very strong. He can't be dead!"
"He seems to have come to the Brewery-yard--why we shall never know.
Perhaps with some mad intention towards me. Perhaps--. But it is all conjecture. All we know is that he is there now. Dead."
"Was he there before me? Did he see me running through the yard--to you?"
"No one knows. No one noticed him till they found him lying behind one of the pillars of the colonnade, shot through the head. I am going back there now. They want me."
He lifted her from the cab and stood beside her till Emily opened the door: "I will be with you again as soon as I can, my darling child," he promised; and got into the cab again and drove away.
Deleah, creeping up the stairs, shut the door of the sitting-room upon Emily, voluble of questions but getting no satisfactory answers. Shaken with emotion, weak and shivering, she stood looking round the empty room, peopling it with its familiar circle. There was Bessie's place, and there Franky's especial chair. There, by the little table on one side of the fire the boarder had sat every evening, book in hand, but eyes wandering ever in Deleah's direction. She spoke, or laughed, or sighed, and the change in his face showed that he listened. Bessie had to call his name sharply twice before his attention was gained. Franky would ask some question about the mixing of his paints. The man would answer with a kind of anxious politeness, getting up to look over the child's shoulder.
Pa.s.sing Deleah, he would stoop for the book he had purposely dropped by her chair. "I love you!" she would hear his fierce low whisper in her ear.
She had been too depreciative of herself, too innocent of the workings of pa.s.sion, to have felt anything but irritation and annoyance at the signs in him of a suffering she could not believe in or understand. Was it possible, after all, that she, Deleah, whose heart was so tender, whose ways so pitiful, who saved the drowning flies and would not willingly have afflicted the meanest of G.o.d's creatures, by means of a pale and pretty face only, had wrought that havoc?
With a sob in her throat she came forward into the room. Upon the table were lying the two purple clematis flowers, backed by a spray of their own foliage and tied with the tendrils of the plant. Deleah recalled the repulsion with which she had seen them lying there. She put out her hand towards them, but drew it back. She could not touch them even now.
To each of us, however mean our lives and obscure our history, living or dead, the moment of triumph comes. To Charles Gibbon his came, when Deleah, forgetful of her new-found bliss, and the Heaven of Happiness opening before her, laid her head upon the table beside the poor blooms of the clematis flower, and as if her heart were broken, cried for the fate of the Honourable Charles.
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