She made him another curtsey with a merry devil twinkling in her eye

As it happened, however, there were several people much occupied about
Mrs. Brown on the morning after that wonderful chase with all its
consequences. Mab, under one pretext or another, had spent most of the
previous day in the school. She had heard the bigger girls say their
lessons; she had hovered about the classes taught by the schoolmistress;
she had watched over the course of instruction in general with anxious
eyes. Was there any tampering with the morals of the girls of Watcham?
Were the little ones taught their hymns and collects? Were the big ones
kept up to their catechism now that the time for their confirmation
began to approach? Mab had never hitherto felt herself one of the clergy
of the parish, as the Rector’s niece might have been permitted to do.
But now she was torn with those sensations which we may suppose to be
felt by a priest who has received under the seal of confession a new
light upon the proceedings and motives of an important official. This is
a drawback of the priestly office which has rarely struck the general
observer. To know that a man who is largely influential in life, who has
important issues on hand, is using his powers for evil and not for good,
and yet to be powerless to do anything, to prevent anything, to give any
warning on the subject! Many a good priest no doubt has been bowed down
under this unthought-of weight. And so was Mab, whose young shoulders
were quite unfit for the part. Should she tell it all to Lady William,
this knowledge that was too much for her to bear? Should she give her
uncle a hint that she had discovered something which made the
schoolmistress unfit for her place? Mab felt that in all likelihood
Uncle James would laugh at her discovery, and to repeat Mrs. Brown’s
confidences, even to Lady William, would be a breach of trust. Thus the
only thing Mab could do was to come in, in her own person, to hold Mrs.
Brown (perhaps) in awe, to watch over the instruction, to correct what
was wrong, to see how far it might be her bounden duty to interfere. One
wonders how a priest would act in a similar case, or whether the
possession of many secret responsibilities in his consciousness may
perhaps neutralise the weight of each. Nothing neutralised this dreadful
weight in Mab’s case. She watched Mrs. Brown as a cat watches a mouse.
She did not like to let that enigmatical person out of her sight. She
even followed down the ranks of the girls whose heads were bent over
their copybooks, to see that the line so beautifully written in round
hand at the head of each page was orthodox. Mab gave herself a great
deal more to do than if she had herself been the mistress of the school.
She asked the girls all sorts of unexpected questions to test their
views of morality.

‘What would you do if you saw somebody take something out of a shop?
Suppose you saw a very poor person take a loaf from the baker’s?’ said
Mab, with an anxious pucker in her forehead.

‘Oh, miss!’ cried two or three girls together; ‘tell Mr. White that
minute, and if he runned away, catch him up.’

‘But if he were very, very poor–starving?’ said Mab.

There was a pause, for of course all the girls studied her countenance
to know what she wished them to reply; and Mab’s little round,
blunt-featured face, with an anxious cloud upon its childish brow, was
void of all expression that could be taken as guidance.

‘If we knowed the man we could tell after–when he was gone,’ said one
Jesuitical little person.

‘And then ‘e could run after ‘im to ‘is ‘ouse–or send the police,’
cried the rest. The idea of sending the police was the most popular. It
seemed somehow to take off the responsibility. But the girls soon
perceived that this was not the solution required.

‘If you please, miss,’ said a sharp little girl who was well acquainted
with Mab’s ways, ‘if I ‘ad a penny I’d pay instead of ‘im, and then it
wouldn’t be stealing at all.’

This was received, however, by a spontaneous groan from the class. ‘Oh,
Lizzie Jones! that would be cheating as well.’

‘And it ain’t likely as I’d ‘ave the penny,’ said Lizzie meekly. She
drew from Mab’s countenance the consolation that, after all, it was she
who had answered the best.

To describe the delight with which Mrs. Brown looked on and listened to
all this would be difficult. She read little Mab like a book, and her
sense of humour was tickled beyond description. That she was herself
upon her trial, and that the sentiments of her scholars were to be
considered in justification or condemnation–while, at the same time,
Mab was covertly consulting their ignorance and (supposed)
spontaneousness of perception like an oracle, was as clear as daylight
to this clever woman. She had never met anything so funny in her life;
and it delighted her as a good joke delights people who are given that
way, whether it is against themselves or not. But the gravity of her
aspect was equally beyond description. She seemed to take this question
in ethics with the most perfect good faith and all the seriousness in
the world.

‘If the man was starving,’ she said, taking up the argument, ‘and Lizzie
Jones had not a penny, as is most likely, and he was known not to be a
dishonest man, but only driven mad by the poor children hungry at
home—-’

‘Yes, teacher,’ said Lizzie Jones, who felt that she herself had thrown
most light on the subject.

‘Well,’ said Mrs. Brown, ‘of course it is never right to shield a wrong
act.’

This was so unlike what the girls expected after her exordium that there
was a little cry of surprise, swiftly modified into one of cordial
assent.

‘But,’ said the schoolmistress, ‘knowing that this is so–which you must
never forget–I’ll tell you what this young lady would do. She would go
after the man to his house–which most likely she would know: and I’m
not sure that she would not stop and buy some things on the way–at the
butcher’s, perhaps—-’

At this the girls manifested a little doubt; while one murmured ‘Tea,
teacher,’ and another said ‘Potatoes’ loud out that she might not be
overlooked; at which the class, consulting Mrs. Brown’s face by a
lightning glance, burst into a laugh.

‘Hush!’ said Mrs. Brown. ‘This is a very interesting question that is
set to us–as good as a story; but you mustn’t laugh. The young lady
would go to the man’s house, and she would probably see the children
devouring the bread; and she would ask a number of questions–far more
than she has asked you to-day, though she has asked a great many. She
would discover there was no fire (supposing it to be cold, which it
isn’t to-day) and nothing to eat in the house, and that the man was out
of work and the wife ill and the children starving. She would
immediately send off for all that was wanted—-’

‘Please, teacher,’ said Lizzie Jones, holding out her hand, ‘she’d give
’em a coal ticket, and a bread ticket and bid ’em send one of the little
ones up with a basket for the pieces.’

‘Well, perhaps she would do that. And when she had supplied their wants,
she would take the man aside, and she would say to him, “I saw you steal
that loaf at Mr. White’s.”’

There was a long breath and a cry of ‘Oh!’ from the girls, and Lizzie
Jones, who was soft-hearted–or was it only that she was forward?–began
to cry.

‘“Now,” the young lady would say, “come back with me and pay for it.
You’re going to get work again presently, and the children shall not
starve; but you must not have anything against you when you get work.”’

There was another very large round ‘Oh!’ from the girls, who turned
their eyes with one accord from Mrs. Brown’s to Mab’s face.

‘I don’t know if I would do that,’ said Mab.

‘Neither do I,’ said Mrs. Brown; ‘but judging by what I know of your
character, Miss Pakenham, that is what I should expect you to do.’

This happened on the morning of the day after Leo’s chase in the rain.
Mab went home very soberly when the children were dismissed for dinner
and in a very uncertain state of mind. She did not know how to take Mrs.
Brown’s apologue, which already was being circulated through the village
in a dozen different versions as a thing which Miss Mab had actually
done, until it came to the ears of White, the baker, who contradicted it
indignantly, and declared that he’d give a stale loaf as soon as look at
it if the children were starving; but let a man off as stole it because
he come and offered to pay up after was what he wouldn’t never do.

In the meantime Leo had been turning over in his mind that idea of Mrs.
Brown, the schoolmistress. At first it amused him to think that so
harmless a visitor to the servants’ hall might have been the object of
his very unnecessary pursuit, and in this sense he laughed at the
situation, which was so ludicrous, and longed to cross over to the
cottage in the rain, when he left the Rectory, to make Lady William the
partaker of so good a joke. But as he drove home in Jim’s clothes and
the sober Watcham fly, which Mrs. Plowden, in her motherly care, had
ordered for him, a different view suddenly occurred to Leo. The joke was
good, but not good enough to last out that slow drive through the deep
dark and the falling rain. It occurred to him as he thought of it that a
visitor to the servants’ hall might, indeed, be disconcerted by the
curiosity of the master of the house, but would not, unless she had
some very dishonest meaning, turn back and fly. Why should the
schoolmistress, probably acquainted with the housekeeper and
entertaining a very good opinion of herself, fly from Leo? There was no
reason in the world why she should fly. She would probably have
quickened her steps, and arrived at the little side entrance puffing and
blowing, but chiefly with indignation, and given very warmly her opinion
of the young master who spied upon the back-door visitors. But to turn
back at the sight of him and get herself out of the way meant something
more than a respectable visit to the housekeeper. What did it mean? A
village schoolmistress was not one to visit the young maids, or get them
into mischief; but why, why did she turn and flee? It was impossible to
assign a sufficient reason for this to himself.

And then there was suddenly shot into his mind, as our best intuitions
come, suddenly and with a sharp shock–almost a pang–the question, Who
was the schoolmistress? Artémise was nothing if not a woman of variety.
He had himself known her go through the most extraordinary
transformation; one time dazzling in splendour, the next almost a
beggar. Why should not she herself be the schoolmistress? There could be
no such concealment, no such unlikely place to look for her, as in the
parish school of Watcham. There she would be at his mother’s very door,
accessible on every occasion, ever within call. He had thought it
scarcely possible that she could come constantly from London and
disappear again unseen; but if she were in Watcham, at hand, in such a
place, where nobody could think of looking for her, the difficulty would
disappear. And she was an excellent actress; a woman to take anybody in,
not to say an unsophisticated and artless company like the Rector and
his churchwardens. He could scarcely help smiling to himself in the dark
as he suddenly thought of the perfect representation of a model
schoolmistress which Artémise would get up for the edification of the
authorities. No schoolmistress in the world was ever so excellent a type
of the class as Artémise would make herself look–her voice, her
gestures, her demeanour would be all perfect. And she would have the
satisfaction of being perfectly safe, for who would think of looking for
her there?

But then there were the ladies, who were different. Would she take in
the ladies, too? Would not they suspect the representation to be too
complete? And then Lady William–Lady William could not have been
deceived. She must have recognised at once the woman of whom she was in
search. Leo did not know Lady William’s peculiarity about the parish. He
was aware that Mab knew everybody and all their circumstances, and it
did not occur to him that her mother would hold apart. This seemed to
cut the ground from under his feet again. But he determined to see for
himself next day who the schoolmistress was.

Next day, however, was a half-holiday, and he did not reach the school
till the afternoon, when all the children were dispersed and the house
shut up. Mrs. Brown, he was informed at the nearest cottage, where it
appeared her little maid-servant lived, had gone away for the afternoon,
so that his inquiries made no further progress that day. He went to tell
his adventure to Lady William, and, if not to suggest this solution, at
least to ask what she knew of Mrs. Brown. But Lady William also was out
of doors, and nothing more was to be done. He hesitated whether he
should not go to the Rectory to make a call of thanks, and to see
(perhaps) if Emmy Plowden resembled her aunt as much by daylight as she
had done in the unusually favourable circumstances of last night. But
this intention he did not carry out. Unfortunately for romance, Leo was
so ungrateful as to recall what he called the _bourgeois_ dinner, the
drab-coloured comfort, the petty little anxieties and cares (chiefly on
his own account) of the Rectory party, with more amusement than
admiration, though with a compunction, too. Kind excellent people! How
abominable it was to laugh at them! But his laughter was not checked by
the compunction–it only gave a certain piquancy to all that was
ludicrous in the picture.

The third person whose mind was full of Mrs. Brown was Jim Plowden. He
had seen her little of late, partly that the many calls Mr. Osborne made
upon him left him less time for those strolls about the village, which
had ended so often in the ‘Blue Boar,’ but sometimes, to his advantage,
in the schoolhouse; partly because, now that the evenings were so much
lighter, he could not go there unseen. This reason had acted with the
others in the partial reformation of Jim. It was scarcely possible to go
into the ‘Blue Boar’ in the lingering daylight while all the village
folk were about. Had he been altogether uninterrupted in his former
habits, it is possible that by this time he might not have cared. But
Mr. Osborne’s warm and exacting friendship had begun with the
lengthening days, and after an interval, even of a week or two, such a
hindrance told. On this occasion, however, Jim felt that he must risk a
little danger for the sake of a woman who had been kind to him, who had
certainly amused him, and, he sometimes began to think, had done him
good. It could be nothing to her advantage to have a visitor such as he
was. She had done it, he thought vaguely, out of kindness, and now he
would risk something for kindness too; and then he could always say he
had brought a message about the school from his father, or Florence, who
took an interest in the school, or Mab, or somebody. Fortified by his
good intention he walked into the schoolmistress’s house about six
o’clock that evening when all the people were about, several of whom
stared, he could see, at Mrs. Brown’s visitor–in which, however, I need
not say, Jim deceived himself, for the village people were already aware
that he visited Mrs. Brown, as well as that he visited the ‘Blue Boar,’
and held these secrets in store against the time when they might be of
use either for or against the Rector’s son. He went in, however, boldly,
to the surprise of Mrs. Brown, who did not expect him, and who was
engaged in some sort of operation that looked very much like packing.
She invited him to come in, and cleared one of the chairs from a number
of miscellaneous articles with which it was covered, and which she was
putting away.

‘You are not–going on a journey?’ he said, alarmed.

‘Oh no, not that I know of; but you know, Mr. Jim, a woman in such a
humble position as mine, with so many people to please, has but an
uncertain tenure. I am putting some old things in order, so that should
anything untoward happen—-’

‘But I hear nothing except praise,’ said Jim; ‘they say no one ever kept
the school in such order, or the children so bright, or—-’

‘Do they really say so? How truly good of them!’ said Mrs. Brown, with a
laugh. It was a laugh of so much amusement that Jim, who did not see the
joke, was disposed to be angry, but she ended by shaking her head and
putting on a comically doleful look. ‘But I do not please everybody,’
she said; ‘oh, far from it. Your friend, Mr. Osborne, does not like me:
and your cousin, Miss Mab, is full of suspicions.’

‘Mab,’ said Jim in high disdain, ‘as if it mattered what Mab thought!’

‘Don’t you know,’ said Mrs. Brown, ‘that Miss Mab will probably be an
heiress one of these days, and that it will matter a great deal what she
thinks?’

‘Nonsense,’ cried Jim, ‘as much an heiress as I am! We have no rich
relations, alas! to leave us money.’

‘But she may have,’ said Mrs. Brown, ‘and if you will take my advice you
will go in for your cousin, Mr. Jim; that would make everything straight
if you got a nice little bit of money with your wife.’

‘Nonsense,’ cried Jim, becoming scarlet, and feeling the very tips of
his ears burn. ‘Besides,’ he said, ‘if I ever have a wife I’d rather
keep her than that she should keep me.’

‘A very excellent sentiment,’ said his adviser, ‘but I don’t quite see
how you are going to carry it out.’

‘I shall carry it out by having no wife at all,’ said Jim: and then he
added hastily, ‘that’s not what I came to tell you. Have you any reason
for not wanting Swinford to know that you are here?’

‘For not wanting–Swinford–to know—-?’ A little colour seemed to
rise, too, in her dark countenance. ‘This change of subject,’ she cried,
‘takes away my breath. You are too quick for me. Have I any reason—-?
It is Leo Swinford you mean, at the Hall?’ As if she did not know who it
was! Even Jim was clever enough to perceive that she was simply gaining
time. ‘No,’ she answered slowly, ‘I have no particular reason. I do not,
perhaps, in a general way wish–to receive–friends who have known me
elsewhere, here—-’ She looked round upon her little room, with a
laugh. ‘You may, perhaps, if you think of it, understand why. Have you
come to warn me that I am found out?’

‘Oh no,’ said Jim. ‘And I’m sure I don’t want to interfere; but he was
at the Rectory last night. He said he had caught a glimpse of a lady he
knew, and had followed her all the way down to the village to speak to
her, and she had disappeared. Some one said that no one had passed but
Mrs. Brown. And then he laughed and said, “Perhaps it was Mrs. Brown he
had seen going to pay a visit to some one in the servants’ hall.”’

A sudden flash shot out of Mrs. Brown’s dark eyes. ‘I hope,’ she said,
‘you encouraged the idea that I paid visits in the servants’ hall?’

‘I didn’t say anything–good or bad,’ said Jim.

Which was not strictly true; but then nobody heard him, which came to
the same thing.

‘Good friend,’ said Mrs. Brown, ‘true friend! but you can tell Leo
Swinford when you see him again that one of these days Mrs. Brown is
coming to call on him, with important information, at the Hall, and he
will never need to hunt her through the rain any more!’

What a contrast from the little schoolhouse, though it was so much more
decorated than a schoolmistress’s little sitting-room has any right to
be, or from the drab drawing-room at the Rectory! The more one became
acquainted with Mrs. Swinford’s boudoir, the more exquisite it appeared.
Those little water-colours which were hung on the walls were worth a
small fortune, and a crowd of collectors would have appeared like ravens
on the scene if it had been suggested that they could be sold: and the
little Italian cabinets between the windows, with their delicate
inlayings of ivory–not like the untrained beauty of the East, but
fanciful and varied as a dream–were almost as valuable. And then the
tempered, delicious warmth, and the softened, delightful light! Yet I
think (though, of course, she would not have endured them for a day)
that the roughest wooden furniture, and the shabbiest surroundings would
have been a sort of relief–for the moment at least–to Mrs. Swinford.
She surrounded herself with all these beautiful things, and then she
hated them. They never varied, they were lovely and novel for a moment,
and then there they hung for years, and never changed. How tired she was
of them all! To have broken the delicate frames, and torn up a picture
here and there, which was only a piece of paper after all, would have
given her a sensation. And yet that would not have done much good; it
would have left a visible blank on the wall, which it would have been
necessary to fill up, searching far and near through all the studios to
find something that would fill its place–which would keep a little
movement in life for a short time. But it would be ludicrous to tear up
a picture for that reason, and ridicule was more unbearable even than
weariness. On this particular occasion, however, the room looked
brighter even to her than usual. It was again an evening of soft-falling
spring rain. The skies had been one unbroken gray all the afternoon. The
soft small flood fell almost unseen over the country, making the young
foliage, which did not dislike the wetting, glisten, and washing the
colour out of the lilacs, and covering the ground under the fruit-trees
with fallen white petals, almost like snow. A day which the lonely lady
thought, if ever by chance she glanced from her window, was enough to
account for any suicide. And she had been reading the greater part of
the day, reading, save the mark! exciting French novels, in which all
the ways of breaking the seventh commandment were dwelt upon to the
sickening of any appetite. Even Mrs. Swinford, who considered that the
chief occupation of life, was a little sick of one after another. The
delicacy of the analysis of sentiment, etc., palled upon her after hours
of such reading. She would have liked, perhaps, even at her age, if some
gay Lothario had entered her boudoir, and led her, or tried to lead her,
into those paths which relieve the idle soul: but only to look on while
one woman after another was led astray! The books were like the room,
her habitual reading as it was her habitual scene; and she would have
declared it impossible to exist without the one and the other. But even
to her accustomed faculties it became sickening at the last. Was that
life any more than the boudoir was life? It was impossible for any
drudge to have been more sick of her toil and wretchedness than Mrs.
Swinford was of her existence, if this were all.

But at the moment of distraction Artémise arrived, and everything for
the moment became tolerable. She had thrown off her cloak and overshoes
in the other room; that the shock of seeing a damp woman, who had walked
through the rain, might not be given to the delicate lady within. And
Artémise truly enjoyed the difference in the atmosphere, and held her
feet to the fire, and breathed in the warm and balmy air with genuine
pleasure. ‘How comfortable you are!’ she said.

‘Comfortable! I am miserable–always and always!’ the great lady cried.

‘My dear, many people would be very glad to have the half of your
misery,’ said Mrs. Brown, ‘though I confess I agree with you more or
less. It would bore me to death. A fight with Mrs. Jones on the question
whether or not Lizzie is getting on with her lessons as well as she
ought, for the great sum of fourpence a week, is more agreeable to me.’

‘Are you going on with that dreadful work for ever, Artémise?’

‘No, I am afraid not. It is not that I dislike it, however. It is great
fun. You should see little Mab Pakenham, who has conceived some doubts
of me from what I have told her–so it is entirely my own fault–coming
down as grave as a judge to superintend the moral effects of my
teaching. She would not betray me for the world, but she is afraid of me
lest I should teach the girls principles unknown to Watcham.’

‘The little impertinent! She ought to look at home—-!’

‘She does look at home, and that is what makes her so staunch. She comes
and superintends, but betrays me, never! However, as my morals might
prove too great a charge for little Mab, and as your son Leo has got on
my track—-’

‘What, Leo–has got on your track, Artémise?’

‘Yes, that was rather fun, too. I saw him the other day watching me
through the bushes, and as I did not want to fall into his arms at that
little side door–which is so convenient–I turned and dodged him. His
patience was wonderful; he was resolved to have me. We played an amusing
game through and through the shrubbery, and then I took to the open,
thinking I was lost. But the rain was blinding, I suppose, and the dark
coming on, so I got off safe. Were you aware that he dined at the
Rectory one night?’

‘I heard he did not come in for dinner. I was not downstairs. It did not
concern me. At the Rectory–with that Plowden woman—-’

‘And that Plowden girl. Do you know one of them is like her aunt? How
should you like it if Leo—-’

‘You insult my son, Artémise.’

‘Ah well! There is never any telling; since he cannot have one, he may
content himself with the other. I have seen more wonderful things before
now.’

‘Who is the one he cannot have?’

‘My dear Cecile, why this tone of surprise? I told you before. Leo
thinks Lady William the most attractive woman he ever saw, and I do not
wonder. She was always attractive, even as a silly girl.’

‘How you insult me, Artémise!–a woman I hate, who has no right to that
name, and will soon be proved the impostor I have always known she was.’

Mrs. Swinford sat upright on her sofa, with a glow of anger on her face.

‘Then I had better hurry off,’ said Mrs. Brown composedly. ‘If she is to
be attacked, it is evident I cannot stay here.’

‘But you said it was the safest place,’ cried Mrs. Swinford in alarm,
‘that nobody would think, of looking for you in Watcham.’

‘It is no longer safe now that Leo is on my track, and little Mab full
of alarm as to my morality. She will not betray me, that little thing;
but some time or other she will make her mother come with her, to judge
if my teaching is all right.’

‘Then you must go, Artémise–you must go at once; though how I am to
live, in this dreadful place, with no one to care whether I am alive or
dead—-’

‘Yes,’ said Mrs. Brown solemnly, ‘I have thought of that. You want
somebody to look after you. You will have to make up your mind between
two things, between the two greatest things in the world–love and hate.
If you hate her more than you love me, I will go. But you must remember,
it is not going to come back. I will have to disappear so entirely, that
no one will ever hear of me more. I can’t turn up again when you want
me, even by stealth, as I do now.’

‘Why, why?’ said Mrs. Swinford, who had uttered this question again and
again, while Mrs. Brown was speaking. ‘Why should you disappear
entirely? When it has blown over, when it is forgotten–everything is
forgotten after a while.’

‘Do you think Emily will forget a thing that means her honour, and her
child’s inheritance?–you have not forgotten, and it ought to be nothing
to you.’

‘Nothing! You know what it is to me, Artémise.’

‘Yes, I know what it is to you. It is hate and revenge–and do you think
your motives are stronger than hers? You want to pay off an old score,
but she wants to live respected and to provide for her child. She will
send detectives after me everywhere as soon as she knows. She will have
you watched so that I shall never be able to approach you. It will be
good-bye for ever between you and me, Cecile, if I am to carry out that
rôle—-’

‘Artémise, you are too cruel! You know that I cannot live long without
you. You know that seeing you, having you at hand, is my only comfort. I
live only while you are here; for the rest of the time I only exist, I
vegetate, and hate the light—-’

‘I know,’ said Mrs. Brown, in a slightly softened tone, ‘that you are
fond of me, Cecile; that I have been more or less necessary to you ever
since I was born. You must make up your mind, however, soon, for it will
certainly be as I say.’

‘No, no!’ said Mrs. Swinford, rising from her sofa, trailing her long
skirts after her from end to end of the beautiful room. ‘No, no! We will
leave this place; we will go to Paris, where we can be secure. There are
places there no detective would think of. Detective–an English
detective’–she laughed her tinkling intolerable laugh. ‘Bunglers all!
what do they ever find out? I tell you, Artémise, we can live there in
perfect safety, you and I together–and see our friends–and amuse
ourselves. All with you! Fancy what a changed life!’

‘On the edge of a volcano–for me.’

‘On the edge of no volcano–what could be done to you? Nothing! It is no
crime–and she would give it up very soon. She could not help herself,
she would have no money. These people will take even her allowance from
her–she will have nothing, nothing–not a penny, not a name; she will
have to work–she will not think much of detectives then; she will not
be able to go to law. No, Artémise; we shall live together, and you will
be safe, safe as a child.’

‘My dear Cecile! In the meantime if all this should come to pass, Leo
will marry Lady William, who will have no alternative but to accept him,
and it will be she who will have the revenge, not you. Stop a bit–and
he has plenty of money, and will never rest till he has found me out. He
will know well enough where to look. All that you know in Paris, and
more, he knows.’

Mrs. Swinford had kept saying ‘No, no, no!’ all the time. Her face
flushed, her eyes shone.

‘He shall not, he shall not! It will be with my curse. He shall never,
never do it,’ she cried. ‘I would rather he were dead.’

‘It does not matter much what you wish–your curse! you have not made
your blessing a thing to be desired, Cecile. Oh, I am not blaming you;
it is not my affair, but I don’t believe in the curse, you know. He will
do it, and the woman whom you have ruined will marry him, for she will
have no other resource. And Leo will find me wherever you hide me: no,
it is for you to choose–between love and hate, Cecile.’

‘I will never,’ she said between her closed teeth, ‘let that woman go.’

‘Then you choose hate? I knew you would,’ said Mrs. Brown, still
perfectly calm; ‘and now, my dear, you must hear me. For I never meant
to serve your hate all the time; I never meant to let Emily be ruined.
If she needs me I shall reappear. Yes, wherever I am. I am going away,
but I shall leave my address with Leo, or with Jim, or with—-’

‘Artémise!’ she cried.

It was rarely that the sound of a raised voice was heard out of Mrs.
Swinford’s room. She had nobody there to excite her to anger, but on
this occasion she was no longer the sovereign in her own palace. It was
not rebellion that moved her, for Artémise had always retained her
independence; nor defiance, for nothing could be more quiet than Mrs.
Brown’s tone. It was the impatience of contradiction, the surprise at
opposition which a woman to whom everybody has yielded feels at the
first check, and the sound was so sharp and keen, and raised to such an
unusual pitch of surprised exasperation, that when a knock came
immediately after to the door, and Leo’s voice was heard asking ‘May I
come in?’ it was impossible for his mother to stop him with the languid,
‘No, I do not wish to be disturbed,’ with which she had often closed the
door upon him. Julie, the usual sentinel, had stolen away, believing her
mistress to be too much occupied to miss her–unhappy Julie when the
moment of retribution came.

There was not a word said. Mrs. Swinford had not recovered her composure
when her son opened the door.

‘You do not say anything; so I suppose I may come in,’ he said.

The man’s intrusion was strange in this chamber never intended for him.
A man and a son!–that is something different from a man and a brother.
Mrs. Swinford gave her visitor a sharp and meaning look, and then said:

‘What may you want, Leo, coming upon us in such a sudden way?’

‘Was I sudden? I heard you with some one, and I thought I might venture
also, as you were evidently talking. And here I find precisely the
person I wanted.’

‘Leo, you are very ill-bred. When you come to your mother’s room, which
is not very often, you might pretend, at least, that it was for her you
came.’

‘That surely goes without saying, mother. I was not aware when I came
that there was any one here.’

‘And you may be very well assured, Cecile, that at all events it was not
for the love of me.’

Mrs. Swinford returned to her sofa with an exclamation of impatience.

‘You have all your own objects,’ she said, ‘you are all pursuing your
own ends. There is no one who thinks what is best for me. Leo, we were
talking on private matters, women’s matters. Now that you have seen
Artémise, as you seem to have wished, your good sense will tell you that
it is best to go away.’

‘It was not from any desire to see her,’ said Leo. ‘Madame Artémise
knows very well what I should be likely to wish in that respect: nor to
talk to her, though she is so entertaining, but to know where I may find
her, for the sake of others.’

‘Oh yes, we all know what you mean. It is Emily Plowden you mean–it is
you who have been backing her up all this time against your mother. I
know you, Leo–that it should be against your mother, gives it a zest.
You make her think–poor thing!–that it is for her, while your real
desire is to expose your mother–to build her up in opposition to me.’

‘I think you must be dreaming,’ he said provoked. ‘Madame Artémise, was
it you I saw the other night in the shrubbery? Why did you run away?’

‘Do you call that running away? I wasn’t, however, displeased to have
had a little excitement for once. But you see I was not afraid of you,
for I have come back.’

‘I don’t know wherein the excitement lies,’ said Leo impatiently. ‘I
have a message to give you, that is all.’

‘You will give no message to Madame Artémise in my room.’

‘Are you mad, mother? Why should I not say what I have got to say? There
is nothing so sacred in your room. I respect your seclusion, and never
interfere; but surely when I find you with your chosen companion—-’

‘She is my chosen companion. She is the only person who cares for me in
the world. She shall come here and live with me, and comfort me for all
the evil I have had to bear. She knows how I have been treated here, by
those who should have cherished me most. My husband, who never
understood me: my son, who has been beguiled from my side by my enemy.
Artémise knows all my miseries, every one. She has consoled me when I
have been at my worst. She shall come and live with me now, and be my
companion, as you say, or else—-’

But then Mrs. Swinford paused. There had been a certain pathos and
dignity in her complaint. And she meant to add a threat, but instead
stopped short and looked her son in the face.

‘Mother,’ he said, ‘you have always been the mistress of your own house,
and chosen your own company. You invite whom you choose here—-’

‘Yes, I will invite whom I choose. Artémise shall stay with me, and we
will fill the house. Oh, it is not the time for the country, I know; but
later, later. Thank you, Leo, I will trouble you no longer. Send the
housekeeper here, I will give my orders; or Julie–Julie will give my
orders. You need not take any trouble. And we will not detain you any
longer; you must have affairs of your own that interest you more than
ours.’

Mrs. Swinford waved her hands and all her rings, dismissing her son, who
made a step towards the door.

‘Leo will stay a little longer, please. You are speaking very much at
your ease–mother and son: are you aware that this is a proposal that
has been made before, and that I have never consented to it? No, Cecile,
I will not live in your house–nor will I do your bidding, whatever it
may be, Leo. The schoolmistress of Watcham has her own humble duties to
perform, and she will perform them just as long as she chooses. She is a
woman not bound by rules in general, and who does not care for a
character from her last place, or anything of that sort. But at present
she cannot be spared from her duties, not even for the sake of the best
of friends who dispose of her so sweetly. She is not a woman to be
calculated upon or to be disposed of, except in her own way.’

‘Do you mean to say that you are the schoolmistress, Mrs. Brown?’

Leo had no inclination or desire to thwart her, or to disturb her in her
position. He commented to himself with secret satisfaction on the
inconsequence of the woman who thus gave herself up, so to speak, into
his hands. For all that he wanted he had now discovered, that is, where
she was to be found.

‘Yes; I am the schoolmistress, Mrs. Brown, whom you scared the other
day. Why should I have been scared and fled, and led you such a dance?
Because it amused me, Mr. Swinford: and I am here because it amuses me.
And I shall go away when I please, probably without giving notice. I
think, Cecile, if you will ring your bell, it would probably please Mr.
Morris, your dignified butler, to let me out to-night by the great
door.’

‘It rains,’ said Leo. ‘If you will permit me, Madame Artémise, I will
order the brougham to take you home.’

She made him another curtsey with a merry devil twinkling in her eye.

‘The poor schoolmistress! That will be the best joke of all,’ she said.