The click of the balls and of his steps round the table

Lord Will was greatly impressed, as may be supposed, by that interview
with Mrs. Swinford. When he joined Leo downstairs he had very little to
say. He had not the heart to play a game at billiards, but knocked the
balls a little vaguely, and took the refreshment which was given to him
while he puffed at his cigar. ‘I say, Swinford, your mother and this
aunt of mine don’t seem to hit it off,’ he said.

‘Don’t they?’ said Leo. ‘I don’t know, indeed; they were great friends
once.’

‘Which makes women hate each other all the more when they fall out.’

‘Does it?’ said Leo. ‘You seem to know so much. I am older, but my
knowledge is much less.’

‘By Jove!’ said Lord Will. ‘You ought to have learnt a thing or two,’
and then he became suddenly silent, thinking it would be very difficult
if he were called upon to explain himself. Leo did not ask any
questions, but he was not indifferent to what his friend said.

‘I think you should not take anybody’s opinion,’ he said. ‘If you want
to know about your aunt, go and see her for yourself.’

‘I’ve done that, thanks to you, Swinford; and I thought her
stunning–that’s the truth. But you see there’s money in it, and we’re
not to call rich at Pakenham. It would be a deal pleasanter for my
father to keep all Uncle John’s money than to divide with a lady who
perhaps has no real right. Don’t jump up in that way–I think her
stunning. But still you know that’s a very queer story of Mrs.
Swinford’s. Uncle Will was no end of a bad old man, I’ve always heard.
Why mightn’t he do that as well as the rest?’

‘I do not know,’ said Leo, who had grown pale, ‘what your respected
uncle is supposed to have done. He may have been the greatest reprobate
that ever lived; but I do not see how that furthers your case. I presume
there must have been two of them before it would do you any good; and
the man who will endeavour to cast a blemish upon that lady–well, I may
say he will have to do with me first.’

‘Swinford! for goodness’ sake don’t take up that tone. Why, what have
you to do with it? Do you mean to challenge me? These are your French
ways–you know as well as I do they’re no go here.’

‘The more’s the pity, when it is a question of injuring a woman!’ said
Leo, whose moustache had taken a warlike twist, and every nerve in his
person seemed strung.

‘I don’t want to injure her; but if you think fifty thousand pounds or
so–that’s a nice bit of money to hand over for no motive but sheer love
of justice–if it should turn out perhaps–’

‘If what should turn out?’

‘Well–that perhaps they had no real right. I don’t mean that it would
be their fault. She might have been taken in, and never known. I’ve
always heard he was a horrible old scamp, up to everything–and would
have cheated you as soon as look at you. It would be nothing wonderful
if he had cheated a girl who, I suppose, was fond of him. A woman will
be fond of anything that notices her, I believe. And fifty thousand
pounds is a big bit of money to throw away.’

‘Well, my friend,’ said Leo, ‘I am quite well aware that fighting is, as
you say in England, no go; but I am bound also to allow that it is a
farce in France, and that if it were ever so serious and real it is not
a way to decide a question like this. However, let us try, if not to
decide it at least to throw some light upon it.’

‘Oh, that’s easy enough done, old man,’ said Lord Will. ‘You needn’t
trouble yourself. She has a solicitor, I suppose, and he will have to
send in all the papers to our man, and they’ll manage it between them.
Of course, if our fellow has a hint that there is anything irregular he
will be more particular. That’s more or less what I came for, don’t you
know: to see what she had heard about old John, and so forth, and what
she expected and—-’

‘What you say,’ said Leo, ‘sounds as if you meant–that you were to try
whether she could be made to be content with less than her rights–with
anything that it was thought well to give. I don’t suppose that is what
you mean.’

‘It’s kind of you to add that much,’ said Lord Will, who had stopped in
his amusement of knocking about the balls, which he had been doing
savagely, to stare in a threatening way at his friend. Then he threw
down the cue and began to walk up and down the hall. ‘Swinford,’ he said
after a while, coming back to the table, ‘do you know that is, I
believe, exactly what I was intended to do? I knew it in a kind of a
way, but I never put it into words. I believe they thought she might
have been put off with a thousand pounds or two, as if it had been a
legacy.’

‘But your lawyers–I suppose they have a character to lose–would not
have consented.’

‘Oh! there’s no saying what lawyers will consent to when they’re on your
side. I note what you say, about having characters to lose. I suppose
you think that we–haven’t much, perhaps.’

‘I did not mean that,’ said Leo briefly.

‘Well, perhaps you will now–but that would be a mistake. We’re none of
us lawyers. Don’t you know that people sometimes take up an idea that
looks quite allowable until you put it into words? Here’s a woman living
quite by herself in a corner, wanting very little money. And the
governor, you know, has been making her an allowance all this time. What
can she want with a lot of money like that? It would only worry her,
make her think, perhaps, she could set up in a different way of living,
and bring her to grief in the end. And she as good as owes the family
her allowance all these years, which my father wasn’t any way compelled
to give. D’ye see? Well, it doesn’t sound very high-minded, I allow, but
it’s very plausible. It would be no end of use to us–fifty thousand
pounds, or say forty-five with five thousand or so off to her—-’

‘Oh! you mean to be so liberal as that!’

‘By Jove! don’t drive me to it, or I may—- Look here, don’t let’s
quarrel, Swinford. It’s so caddish. I never thought of the business, I
tell you, from your point of view. It sounds very plausible. It’s quite
possible the lawyers wouldn’t have stood it; I don’t know. They never
thought of the law, nor that she had any natural right, don’t you see,
to old John’s money. They knew very well he would never have left it to
her, when he knew how heavily the governor was dipped and all that. I
fail to see even now what harm there was in it. The allowance, of
course, would be continued, and five thousand pounds is as much to a
woman living like that, as fifty is at home. It would have been an
enormous windfall; that is what my mo–I mean what my people thought.’

Leo Swinford had a mind which was very tolerant, and he wanted of
course, now he had calmed down a little, to make the best of it. He
nodded his head, and said: ‘I allow that perhaps it was plausible; but I
presume it would be felony all the same.’

‘Felony,’ said the other with a stare of astonishment–the word seemed
to puzzle him. ‘The governor is the head of the family,’ he said
vaguely, which somehow seemed a reason.

‘It would be defrauding one of the heirs of an intestate person of her
just share. The heir would be Mab, I suppose, not her mother.’

‘Oh,’ said Lord Will, quite confused; what between the transference of
the heirship, the inattention of his friend to his plea that his father
was the head of the family, which to himself seemed to be a condition of
importance, and the extremely big word that Leo had used, this young
man, who was not clever, but who was not at all a bad fellow
notwithstanding the mission in which his dull intelligence had not seen
any harm, was quite bewildered, and did not know what to think.

‘Yes,’ said Leo, ‘I don’t know much about English law, but Mab no doubt
would be the heir; and any reasoning brought to bear upon her to make
her accept a portion of her natural right in place of the whole, would
be the same, I presume, as if you had stolen so much from her.’

‘Oh, stolen! rubbish!’ cried Lord Will; then he explained ingenuously,
‘there was to be no reasoning brought to bear; I was to inform them
simply that Uncle John had left–a legacy.’

‘That would have been what I believe is called in English–lying.’

‘Swinford! you mean, I think, to make me forget that I am your guest, in
your house.’

‘In French,’ said Leo, taking no notice, ‘it is called _mensonge_, and
has sometimes interpretations more or less favourable. When you save
your mother’s reputation or your father’s honour, as it is called,
_mensonge_ is the word, and you are not judged too severely; but I have
always heard that in England to lie was the worst offence.’

Lord Will was a little stupid, and therefore very placable. But this
stung him to the quick. He knew what a lie meant, and though he felt a
resistance and profound objection in himself to accept that dreadful
word as representing his action, still, he felt there was a horrible
resemblance between his intentions and that theory. Certainly the
legacy would have been a lie. He did not see that though he had come to
say this, he had already in the frankness which was far deeper down in
his nature than any intention of guilt, committed himself to the actual
truth. No consciousness of that fact softened his sensations. What Leo
said was true. He had come not only to say but to act a lie.

‘You’re tremendously severe,’ he said. ‘I should knock you down by
rights for hinting at such a thing.’

‘Yes, you might,’ said Leo, ‘and you could if you liked. You are bigger
than I am; but I don’t see what difference that would make.’

‘I don’t either,’ said Lord Will. And then there was a pause; he was not
clear enough in his mind to stop there. ‘But if this,’ he said, ‘that
Mrs. Swinford tells me is true—-’

‘What did my mother tell you?’

‘Well! you ought to care more about what she says than about any other
woman’s pretences. She says that it’s very uncertain whether they were
ever married at all. Look here, don’t you know, it isn’t me, it’s your
mother. She says they went off from her house together, eloping, as far
as I could make out, in the middle of the night: and that the next time
she saw them, she–this lady–was with my uncle in Paris and called Lady
William. That’s all. Of course, if it was a marriage she’ll be able to
prove everything about it; but if not, it does seem a little hard,
doesn’t it, that those fifty thousand pounds of old John’s money should
be lost? And you must remember, Swinford, it is your mother who says so;
it is not I.’

Leo was silenced by this speech. He had not been prepared for so bold a
statement, nor that Mrs. Swinford would interfere in such a way as this.
Whence had she derived this hate against her old friend? His mind went
back easily to the period when Emily Plowden was the pet of the house.
He had only been a child, indeed, but a child remembers every detail
which older people forget. And he remembered more vaguely, yet well
enough, to have heard his father speak of Lady William after their
establishment in Paris. Leo had not known very much of his father, who
was a reserved man, and not demonstrative to the boy, who was his
mother’s toy and darling, a little drawing-room puppet, everything that
an English father would most dislike in his son. Leo was aware of all
this now, and exaggerated it, as was natural, his own later conduct in
life having been revolutionised more or less by compunctions and
repentances in respect to his father. He could not tell how it was that
in a moment the image of that father leaped into his mind. It seemed to
him that he could almost see the little scene–the ornate suite of rooms
in Paris, his mother lying back scornful and splendid in a great chair,
his father walking up and down in high indignation and something about
Lady William on his lips. What it was he did not remember, but that his
father had spoken in respect, he was sure. The recollection came to his
mind like an assurance and pledge that all was well.

‘You must take care,’ he said, taking the cue which Lord Will had thrown
down, and beginning in his turn to torture the balls, ‘that the wish is
not father to the thought. When it is for one’s interest that a thing
should be, it is so easy to persuade oneself that it is.’

‘That is not my case, Swinford. I did hope I might have made something
of the business; but to have it settled for good and all in this way was
never in my thoughts. The governor himself never knew, nor any one. I
don’t believe he ever suspected—-’

‘And yet you are certain, all at once?’

‘Well, not certain,’ said Lord Will; ‘but when a lady, a friend of the
woman, with nothing in her mind but justice, I suppose—-’

‘My mother,’ said Leo, ‘has told you nothing from her own knowledge. She
informs you of a possibility of wrong. Your own father was on the spot;
he went over when his brother died, but he suspected nothing; and my
father, a man of the highest honour, though I did not know him as I
ought, suspected nothing. Take care how you let a mere insinuation–a
doubt—-’

‘It was your mother who made it, Swinford.’

Leo was very pale, and an angry cloud came over his countenance. He
turned round with an impulse of indignation towards the young man who
forced this upon him. ‘My mother,’ he said, ‘may be mistaken; she is
human, like the rest of us. In the meantime, I think you are showing
little knowledge of human nature, Pakenham. Do you think that lady whom
you saw to-day could have lived as she has done for all these years
under a burden of shame? and could look as she does if she knew that she
might be found out any day?’

‘Women are dreadful hypocrites,’ said Lord Will. ‘They can face things
out in a way no man could do. Why, I’ve seen at home how things can be
faced out–and no doubt so have you, too.’

‘She is not of the kind to face things out.’

‘Oh, I quite acknowledge she’s a stunner, and all that. Reason the more
why she should hold her own, and refuse to understand if a fellow dared
to put a question–oh, not that I should ever dare to do that. I’m no
more a coward than most other people, but say to a woman like that that
I believed she wasn’t rightly married, I’d sooner jump into the river
any day with a bullet at my heel.’

‘Which means simply that your inner man–the better part of you–is
aware of the fact, which, for your interest, you would like to deny:
that is all about it. I advise you to drop the idea, like a hot potato,
as they say here. It is not true.’

‘Prove that it isn’t true, and I’ll not say another word.’

‘I prove it by simply pointing to the lady in question,’ said Leo hotly.

‘Oh, that! but even if I were to take that view, she mightn’t know,
herself. She might be deceived as well as the rest.’

A look of sudden alarm came upon Leo’s face. Lady William was a person
of high intelligence, but she was not a woman of the world. In the quick
look he gave upward, in his way of returning to his aimless play, and
the impatience with which he struck again the innocent balls, sending
them coursing to every corner, the trouble of his mind might be guessed.
This gave his visitor fresh courage.

‘You needn’t fear, Swinford,’ he said, ‘that I’ll bully a–person like
that. Whatever her position may be, there’s nothing common about her,
that’s clear. I’ll give our man a hint. Get it all clear about marriage
and all that, and the proof of the child’s birth and so forth–all in
the way of business. You may trust me for that: not a word to her, but
just what’s necessary between the two solicitors, don’t you know. I
think now I’m going to bed.’

‘I advise you,’ said Leo, taking care not to see his companion’s hand
stretched out to him, ‘to be careful how you discount your hopes. Do not
count your eggs, as they say here, till they are hatched.’

‘You mean the chickens: and I should not dream of putting the fifty
thousand pounds in my own pocket. Why, man alive, it’s not for me! I
shan’t get twenty thousand farthings of it, nor anything like that.’

‘Ah, then you are hopeless, for you will feel yourself disinterested,’
said Leo, so busy with the balls that once more he missed seeing Lord
Will’s hand stretched out.

‘I say, Swinford, there’s no ill-feeling, I hope.’

‘Why should there be any ill-feeling?’ said Leo, raising his eyes for a
moment with a benign but too radiant smile. He turned to the balls again
the next moment as he said lightly with a wave of his cue, ‘Good night.’

It is confusing, it must be allowed, to a plain intelligence, to have
one member of a family force information of the most serious kind upon
you, while another avoids shaking hands with you because you believe it.
Such things happen, no doubt, in the world, but they are rare, and Lord
Will went upstairs to his room in a very uncomfortable state of mind,
not knowing which he should depend on of those two conflicting powers.
Leo remained for some time after, still knocking about the balls.
Morris, with whom his master in the dearth of other companions had
sometimes played an occasional game, hung about in prospect of a call.
But Morris was disappointed, though it was perhaps an hour later before
Mr. Swinford left that uninviting occupation. He went on with the
gravest face in the world, but very devious strokes, evidently as
indifferent to what he was doing as he was overwhelmingly serious in
doing it. The click of the balls and of his steps round the table gave a
curious sound in the midst of the silence of the great house. Such
sounds say more of solitude than the most complete stillness, and Leo’s
countenance was as grave as if he had been playing, like a man in an old
legend, with some unseen being for his own soul.

It is not to be supposed that during this period the visits of Mrs.
Brown, the schoolmistress, to her friend at the Hall, who was so like
yet so unlike her–so unlike in personal importance–so superior in
position, and yet so strangely resembling–should have ceased. There
were no other two persons in all the precincts of Watcham so evidently
belonging to the same world and species, and yet there were no two more
separate in all those externals that distinguish life. Mrs. Brown’s
visits were almost all paid in the evening, sometimes very late,
sometimes at that hour before dinner when Mrs. Swinford was known to
receive no one. But there was no bar at any time against the entrance of
this privileged visitor. On the evening which Lord Will spent at the
Hall Mrs. Brown came late, while dinner was going on. She had an
entrance of her own by which she preferred to come in, a door which gave
admittance to the servants’ quarters, but which was always open, and
spared the schoolmistress the intervention of Morris, whom she did not
dislike to see now and then, and metaphorically put her foot upon with
the pride of a superior knowledge which he could not understand. But
this malicious gratification, though she enjoyed it occasionally, was
not enough to make up for the disadvantage of having her movements known
and chronicled, and it suited her character and habits better to have a
mode of access absolutely free and beyond control. She was so swift and
subtle in her movements, and so fortunate, as the clandestine often are,
in finding her passage free, that on many occasions she had glided
through the great house, mounted the great stairs, and appeared
noiseless in the ante-room occupied by Julie, the maid, without an
individual in the house being aware that she was there. It had so
happened on this particular night when even Julie was out of the way.
Mrs. Brown came in noiseless, slightly breathless, having hurried
upstairs, and just escaped meeting a strange young man, whose wide
shirt-front indicated him in the partial darkness of the corridor as if
he had carried a light, but whom to her surprise she did not know. A
woman with her wits so much about her, knew by sight by this time
everybody in the neighbourhood who was likely to dine with Leo. She
avoided him by a rapid step aside, and consequently she was a little out
of breath when she arrived in Julie’s room, where there was no one, a
dereliction of duty that might have cost Julie her place had it been
known. Mrs. Brown looked round her with a nod of satisfaction as she put
off the heavy veil in which she was accustomed to wrap herself on these
visits. She went into the inner room, and looked round with an even more
vivid look of satisfaction. Mrs. Swinford’s luxurious room was as she
had left it in the perfection of silent repose and comfort–soft light,
soft warmth, everything that the most refined suggestion of luxury and
ease could command. Mrs. Brown gave a sigh, and then a laugh. She said
to herself, ‘How little a difference would have made me like this!’ and
then she said, ‘What a bore it would have been!’ The laugh suited her
better than the sigh. It called forth a twinkle of mischief and lurking
vagabondism in her eyes. She then lay down on Mrs. Swinford’s sofa, put
back her head upon the cushions, took up first one book, then another,
and read a page or two. Then she threw them down one after another, and
looked round the room again. How pretty it was! Her eyes lingered for a
moment here and there on the pictures, the little graceful bronzes, the
prevailing ornament, the lights, carefully planned to the advantage of
the decorations. And then a strange shadow came over her face. Good
heavens, to lie here, and remember! she said. Perhaps in her energy of
feeling, these words were said aloud. At least, they brought in Julie,
who had in the meantime returned to her room, not suspecting the
presence of this visitor, and who peeped in suspicious, half-terrified,
with her hand on her breast. ‘C’est vous, Madame?’ she said, with a look
of mingled terror and relief.

‘Who else should it be, unless a thief?’ said Mrs Brown. ‘But as it
might have been a thief and not me, you know, you ought not to be
absent, _ma chère_.’

Julie clasped her hands and entreated that Madame would not say
anything. ‘This is not the house for thiefs,’ she said.

‘On the contrary, it is just the house. Don’t you know all the robberies
of jewels are done when the family are at dinner?’ Mrs. Brown rose from
the sofa and took a low chair beside the fire, where she continued to
sit when she had dismissed Julie much alarmed by the admonition. Many
thoughts went through her mind while she waited, and she had a long time
to wait. She compared her own vagabond lot, now up, now down, which she
had led after her own wild fancy–the life rather of a man than of a
woman–with this beauty and luxury, with a shudder of pity going over
her. The pity was not for herself, but for the other woman shut in, in
this gilded cage to—- remember! The pictures on the walls, the
carefully arranged lights, the unchangeable surroundings, all luxury and
brightness, affected her like a spell. Good heavens! to sit there day
after day, evening after evening, and remember! Mrs. Brown thought of
her own little rooms which it had given her pleasure to arrange and
decorate in a manner which she felt to be fictitious and out of
character, but which amused her all the same, and which she laughed at,
having done it, with a full consciousness that it was trumpery, and that
the trumpery was out of place, as a woman who knew better could not fail
to see. ‘Ah, well!’ she said to herself, ‘I’d rather have my trumpery
that I can throw away any day, and probably shall some day, and that I
can run away from when I like, when it gets too absurd.’ And then there
were the books: French novels, going over and over with fantastic
variations the one story–the story of (so-called) love–that is, the
complicated ways by which two people, generally old enough to know
better, are brought into the relations of intrigue or passion with each
other–which ends badly, either in the death of one or the disgust of
both: and so _da capo_, always beginning over again. ‘Good heavens!’
said Mrs. Brown to herself again, ‘how can she go on day after day, day
after day, reading _that_–and remembering!’ The schoolmistress had no
objection to a French novel of this class herself now and then; and
reading only now and then–being within reach of such indulgences only
now and then–naturally she got only the best, the ones that had wit and
genius in them. But the unhappy woman who lived upon that food for ever!
What garbage, what insipidity of nastiness must go through her hands!
The poor Bohemian whose life was a continual scuffle (chiefly of her own
choosing) looked upon this unvarying luxury, ease, and wealth, with a
horror and wonder which it would be difficult to describe. ‘Good
heavens!’ she repeated to herself; ‘why doesn’t she take a little
chloral and be done?’

Mrs. Swinford gave a start of pleasure when, sweeping into her room in
those long and splendid robes which were more fit for a Court than for a
country house of so little distinction as the Hall at Watcham, she
perceived Mrs. Brown sitting by the fire. It was, perhaps, the only
event which could have lighted up her face with pleasure. She was cross,
excited, full of the impatience and exasperation of effort which she
felt to be at least only half successful; and Julie had perceived by her
first glance at the lines on her lady’s brow that her evening’s task to
undress, and soothe, and persuade into calm and sleep this agitated and
disturbed old woman would be no easy one. ‘You come at the best time.
You always know when I have need of you,’ Mrs. Swinford said, letting
herself drop, as was her wont, into Mrs. Brown’s arms. The very
passiveness of the embrace was a habit–a habit of reliance and expected
help which had never failed. If such a thing as affection had ever been
in Mrs. Swinford’s heart it was this other woman, so like her, and so
unlike, who was its object.

‘I see you are got up for conquest,’ Mrs. Brown said.

‘Conquest! I am dressed as usual. There was one guest at dinner–an
insignificant boy. You can leave us, Julie, till I ring. A boy, but with
such a name! What do you think? A nephew–Lord Will they call him
fortunately, or it would have been too much.’

‘A nephew—-! of—-’

‘Do you need to inquire? Then you are growing dull, dull as your
surroundings. You who used to understand everything _à demi-mot_!’

‘I understand. I almost met him on the stairs. I thought there was
something familiar in his face. And what does he want here?’

‘Is it necessary to ask? Might he not come to see me, or Leo, whom he
knows? But no, no, Artémise, I will not deceive you. He has come to find
out about that woman–her rights to his name–which she has none, having
stolen it, as you know; and to some money that has fallen in, do I care
how! He could not have come to a better quarter. I gave him some
information.’

‘What information?’ said Mrs. Brown, sitting up in her chair.

‘I told him all that I knew. You will please to remember it is all I
know: that she left the Hall hastily at midnight, that I met her after
in Paris bearing his name.’ Mrs. Swinford, too, sat upright, with a
colour in her cheeks and a fire in her eyes that recalled something of
the beauty of old to her worn face. ‘What do I know more? Nothing,’ she
said, with a movement of her hands, which made the rings upon them flash
and send out rays like sparks of light.

‘Ah! you told him that?’

‘There is money in the question,’ said Mrs. Swinford, leaning forward
and speaking low, ‘and their object is to find out that she has no
rights. He took my hints like milk; they were balm to him. Fancy so many
thousand pounds–I know no details–and if not to her they will go to
him. Is not that worth the trouble?’

‘To the man, perhaps, Cecile–but why to you?’

‘To me much more than to him,’ she said, with flashing eyes.

‘Why?’

‘You are stupid to-night,’ said Mrs. Swinford coldly; ‘not for a long
time, for many years, have I found you so before.’

‘Because,’ said Mrs. Brown, ‘this that you have said is, as you are
aware, not—-’

‘Your scruples are engaging, they are beautiful, they are something to
put in a story-book,’ said the lady. ‘You to stand for that! You,
who—-’

‘It is better not to go too far. I have done a great many reckless
things. I am a reckless woman altogether, and have not cared what became
of me for many a long day: but I have never done anything like that. Ah
yes, I have scruples; every one has, you even, if one knew where to look
for them.’

‘It was you,’ said Mrs. Swinford, ‘who made the suggestion at the
first.’

‘To save you, Cecile, to save you.’

‘I should have found some other way to get out of it. There was never a
difficulty yet but I found a way of getting out of it. I should have
done so then, had you not come forward to say it was Emily–Emily, a
child, a nobody–whom he loved, and that I was his confidante. I can see
it all now. He had no escape. Artémise, I have loved you better than any
woman all your life, and you repaid me by taking away from me–handing
over to that girl—-’

Her eyes were ablaze in her flushed yet withered face. Her whole frame
was trembling with angry emotion. Mrs. Brown rose quickly and went to
her, taking her hands, holding her fast. ‘It is twenty years ago,’ she
said, ‘and it was to save your honour, your position, everything,
Cecile–your child, your wealth, everything you had in the world.’

‘I can see the scene now as if it was yesterday–my husband there,
blazing like white light. He never looked like that in his life but
once. And _he_–confused, afraid–on the other side of me, trembling for
me.’

‘And a little for himself, Cecile.’

‘Silence! If you say so, I will strike you. And you, with your smooth
tongue–always with your smooth tongue. How many lies it must have told
first to be capable of that!’

‘For your sake; you know it was for your sake. If you remember all that,
remember, too, how the storm died down in a moment, and all was well.’

‘Well!’ said the other. She leant back her head upon the breast of the
woman whom she was accusing. ‘If it had raged itself out, and done its
worst, would not that have been better than all that has followed–the
bitterness and the hate, and the horror, and that girl living at my very
door, to make me mad?’

‘Why did you see her, Cecile? You might have ignored her altogether,
forgotten her existence.’

‘You forget,’ cried Mrs. Swinford. ‘She is the great lady of the
village–takes precedence’–she laughed out with a hysterical violence
which shook her from head to foot–‘precedence of me, if we were in the
world together! Don’t you know that? But it will soon come to an end,’
she added, laughing again with that electric tinkle which wore out the
nerves of all who heard her. ‘What a good thing they are so sordid a
family, those Pakenhams, loving money as other people love their
children, whatever is dearest to them! She will be called on to prove
every step, and she will not be able to prove one. And then!–we shall
see what the village will think of her title and her precedence then.’

‘You have been agitating yourself in the most imprudent, in the most
foolish way. Where are your drops? Her precedence, poor thing, will not
hurt you, but a long faint will hurt you. Cecile, must I call your maid
to see you in this state, or will you be quiet and listen to me?’

‘Give me my drops. I must not, I must not, have another attack. The
doctor says so. Artémise, don’t leave me, don’t leave me!’

‘I will, if you do not turn from this subject at once. Throw it away
from you. What on earth is Emily Plowden, or Pakenham, or whatever her
name is, to you? Cecile, I begin to think a woman like you never learns,
and that you are no better than a fool.’

While she said these words, however, Mrs. Brown was busy with the most
affectionate cares, soothing the excited woman, bathing her forehead,
rubbing her hands, administering the specific, loosening the elaborate
dress, which made the heaving of the shrunken figure, and the strain of
the emaciated throat, so much the more dreadful. The passion calmed down
by degrees, and then Julie was summoned, and the robes of state replaced
by a quilted dressing-gown, scarcely less fine, but more appropriate.
After this the conversation was resumed in a less exciting vein. Mrs.
Swinford was perhaps a little ashamed to have betrayed the fury of her
feelings even to so trustworthy a confidante.

‘It is fine to see a family like that,’ she said, ‘not carried away by
passion, Artémise, like you and me. Love or revenge are not in their
way, nor hatred; but money, money. To secure a few thousands, they will
be my instruments, or any one’s, to punish a traitor. And what you are
horrified to think I should want to do, for such good reason as you
know, they will do for nothing at all–for money, as I say.’

‘Many people think money a much more sufficient reason than what you
call passion,’ said Mrs. Brown. ‘And it will be well to keep your
Lord —- whatever you call him, from knowledge of me, for I can spoil
his little transaction.’

‘Ah, you–you were there!’

The two women looked at each other, and Mrs. Swinford, notwithstanding
her age and her knowledge of the world, was sensible of a sudden heat
rising to the edge of her hair; not the blush that comes to more
innocent faces, but that burning colour of shame at a self-betrayal
which she ought to have been too strong to fall into. Mrs. Brown nodded
her head gravely. ‘You said you had no means of knowing, but you
perceive that you have: and for me, I can make an end of any such
pretension. He had better not come across my path.’

‘You would not balk me, Artémise?’

‘I would balk him, as soon as look at him, and the family, bless them;
and I would not bring the innocent to shame, not even for you.’

‘Artémise! after all we know of each other, such a pretension—-’

‘My dear Cecile, what I know of you is one thing, what you know of me is
another. I have broken every law, especially of society; but to harm the
innocent is what I have never done–at least,’ she added after a moment,
‘not in that way. And though I’d give my head for you, which is, of
course, a figure of speech, I will not ruin Emily Plowden for you, and
that’s flat, whatever you may say.’

‘Don’t interfere, Artémise,’ said Mrs. Swinford, with a sound of tears
in her voice, ‘don’t, don’t interfere. Go away, and let things take
their chance. No doubt she must have other evidence; I was a fool not to
think of that. But don’t you, who are my nearest and dearest, go against
me; don’t interfere. It is not, it has never been, a fit position for
you, wherever you are; go to London, where I will find a home for you,
Artémise.’

‘Do you think after standing out so long, I will consent to be dependent
on you now–for a reason?’ Then she laughed, changing her tone. ‘If you
can imagine a better place to hide myself in than the Girls’ National
School at Watcham,’ she resumed, ‘you have very much the advantage of
me.’