Page:Court Royal.djvu/229

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The chimes had scarce done playing ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ when the blind was drawn aside, and Lord Saltcombe saw the girl beckoning to him. In another moment the house door was opened gently, and she appeared at it. She held her finger to her lips, came outside, and said, ‘Rachel is conscious. Come, and see her, but promise to go when I give the word.’ He nodded. ‘Follow me softly, make no noise. Everyone else in the house is asleep.’

He obeyed. He was in his patent-leather boots, in his dress suit, with a light overcoat. He stepped softly after Joanna. If anyone heard the steps, that person supposed it was the footfall of the doctor, turned in bed, and slept again. Joanna thrust open the chamber door and let the Marquess in. She did not enter herself, she closed the door and stood on the landing with her hands to her ears that she might not hear what was said. As Lord Saltcombe passed her into the room she looked in his face: it was older by many years, white, lined, hollow about the eyes, and sunken at the cheeks. Her heart came into her mouth, she put her hands to her white apron, and raising it wiped her eyes, then shook her head defiantly, and clasped her hands over her ears.

Lord Saltcombe stepped up to the bed, looking with his whole soul into the burning face of the poor woman. Then he sobbed, sank on his knees by her side, and hid his face in the bedclothes.

‘Herbert!’ she said in a low tone, and put out her hand for his, ‘I wanted to see you—to say good-bye.’

‘Rachel!’ He could utter no more.

‘It is now seven years since—since Sicily.’

‘Rachel,’ he said, ‘God forgive me. If it were possible in any way to undo the past, if it were within my power to make compensation, to expiate the wrong done, I would do my utmost. Rachel, I ruined your life, and I destroyed the honour and happiness of another man’s home.’

She shook her head. ‘You do not know Lazarus.’

‘It matters nothing who or what he be; I wronged him past undoing, and the knowledge of this has lamed my life. You—you above all——’

‘Do not speak of me,’ she said. ‘I forgive you—but you were not in fault. I had set my heart on the stage, I ran away for the love of art—not for love of you.’

‘Is that true?’

She slightly moved her head. ‘The consciousness of power