Knowing what she knew, suffering as she must have suffered, the quiet kindness of her tone implied an exercise of self-restraint which appealed irresistibly to Emily's sympathies. "Forgive me," she said, "for having done you an injustice. I am ashamed to think that I shrank from seeing you when I returned from Belford."
"I will endeavor to be worthy of your better opinion of me," Mrs. Delvin replied. "In one respect at least, I may claim to have had your best interests at heart--while we were still personally strangers. I tried to prevail on my poor brother to own the truth, when he discovered the terrible position in which he was placed toward you. He was too conscious of the absence of any proof which might induce you to believe him, if he attempted to defend himself--in one word, he was too timid--to take my advice. He has paid the penalty, and I have paid the penalty, of deceiving you."
Emily started. "In what way have you deceived me?" she asked.
"In the way that was forced on us by our own conduct," Mrs. Delvin said. "We have appeared to help you, without really doing so; we calculated on inducing you to marry my brother, and then (when he could speak with the authority of a husband) on prevailing on you to give up all further inquiries. When you insisted on seeing Mrs. Rook, Miles had the money in his hand to bribe her and her husband to leave England."
"I don't attempt to excuse myself. I don't expect you to consider how sorely I was tempted to secure the happiness of my brother's life, by marriage with such a woman as yourself. I don't remind you that I knew--when I put obstacles in your way--that you were blindly devoting yourself to the discovery of an innocent man."
Emily heard her with angry surprise. "Innocent?" she repeated. "Mrs. Rook recognized his voice the instant she heard him speak."
Impenetrable to interruption, Mrs. Delvin went on. "But what I do ask," she persisted, "even after our short acquaintance, is this. Do you suspect me of deliberately scheming to make you the wife of a murderer?"
Emily had never viewed the serious question between them in this light. Warmly, generously, she answered the appeal that had been made to her. "Oh, don't think that of me! I know I spoke thoughtlessly and cruelly to you, just now--"