"Not just now. I suppose I look sadly changed for the worse since you saw me last?"
But for the feverish brightness of her eyes, she would have looked like a corpse. Her wrinkled forehead, her hollow cheeks, her white lips told their terrible tale of the suffering of years. The ghastly appearance of her face was heightened by the furnishing of the room. This doomed woman, dying slowly day by day, delighted in bright colors and sumptuous materials. The paper on the walls, the curtains, the carpet presented the hues of the rainbow. She lay on a couch covered with purple silk, under draperies of green velvet to keep her warm. Rich lace hid h er scanty hair, turning prematurely gray; brilliant rings glittered on her bony fingers. The room was in a blaze of light from lamps and candles. Even the wine at her side that kept her alive had been decanted into a bottle of lustrous Venetian glass. "My grave is open," she used to say; "and I want all these beautiful things to keep me from looking at it. I should die at once, if I was left in the dark."
Her brother sat by the couch, thinking "Shall I tell you what is in your mind?" she asked.
Mirabel humored the caprice of the moment. "Tell me!" he said.
"You want to know what I think of Emily," she answered. "Your letter told me you were in love; but I didn't believe your letter. I have always doubted whether you were capable of feeling true love--until I saw Emily. The moment she entered the room, I knew that I had never properly appreciated my brother. You _are_ in love with her, Miles; and you are a better man than I thought you. Does that express my opinion?"
Mirabel took her wasted hand, and kissed it gratefully.
"What a position I am in!" he said. "To love her as I love her; and, if she knew the truth, to be the object of her horror--to be the man whom she would hunt to the scaffold, as an act of duty to the memory of her father!"
"You have left out the worst part of it," Mrs. Delvin reminded him. "You have bound yourself to help her to find the man. Your one hope of persuading her to become your wife rests on your success in finding him. And you are the man. There is your situation! You can't submit to it. How can you escape from it?"