You have been in the village

The dining-room at the Hall was gloomy but grand. The walls dark, save
where they were relieved by scrolls of gilding and ornamental panels, in
which were set some full-length portraits of doubtful merit, and more
than doubtful antiquity. It was divided, like the drawing-room, by
pillars, not of marble, though they assumed that virtue, leaving a
darker strait at each end, intended, no doubt, to throw up the
brilliancy of the larger central room, in which stood the dinner-table
with all its lights. And this might have been the case had there been a
large and brilliant party round the table, and abundance of light, with
reflections of silver and crystal, as probably the builder of the house
intended should be the case. But now the Swinfords, mother and son,
alone at a round table of no great size, with a shaded lamp suspended
over it, furnished little more than an oasis in the great desert of
darkness. There was, indeed, a large fire blazing, against which Mrs.
Swinford sat, shivering from time to time, notwithstanding the mild
softness of the April night. And the table was adorned with a great
bouquet of flowers, dazzling white azaleas, and the other brilliant
children of the spring who come in such a triumph over the footsteps of
winter. Mrs. Swinford was dressed, as she always was, elaborately, and
like a picture, in dark velvet, just showing a little colour here and
there where the light caught it–and a great deal of lace. She had a
lace scarf fastened over her head, fantastically indeed, and scarcely
enough to have been allowed by Mrs. Plowden to pass muster as a cap, but
still softening the age of the face, and the tower of the abundant dark
hair piled unnaturally upon her head. She might have been a dethroned
and indignant queen. She, and the flowers, and Leo’s more youthful face,
gave a centre to the dark solemnity around, through which the servants
moved noiseless.

‘You have been in the village,’ he said; ‘I hear, making calls.’ But
this was not till the lengthened and elaborate dinner–of which both ate
fastidiously, with many criticisms and remarks little complimentary to a
very ambitious and highly-paid cook–was done.

‘I am glad you take so much interest in my movements, Leo, as to know.’

‘Of course I know. I saw the carriage for one thing; and besides—-’

‘You, I suppose, were paying visits, too?’

‘Not much,’ he said, with an embarrassed smile. ‘I saw little Miss Grey
about some of our schemes; but you don’t give Miss Grey the light of
your countenance.’

‘I have never noticed any but the principal people–who, in case of an
election or any public matter, might be useful.’

‘I don’t see what an election would be to us.’

‘Nor I, Leo. But it is part of our hereditary policy to keep the matter
open, should you or any one of the family be of a different opinion.’

‘My dear mother,’ he said, with a laugh, ‘don’t you think this
hereditary policy is overdone a little? I am afraid I thought myself a
person of much greater importance than I prove to be.’

‘I don’t admit it,’ she said; ‘but is that why you are taking so much
trouble for the _canaille_?’

‘No,’ said the young man, growing red. ‘I take trouble for the
_canaille_, as you call them–our poor neighbours, Miss Grey
says–because I thought I was somehow responsible for them.’

‘Responsible!’

‘I should have been,’ he said firmly, ‘had I been their _seigneur_;
which I suppose in my folly was something like what I thought: now that
I know they are only our poor neighbours—-’

‘Well: you think you may at least get the benefit in popularity,’ she
said, with a laugh.

‘My dear mother, as we shall never think alike on these points, don’t
you think we had better choose another subject?’

‘The subject of my calls?’ said Mrs. Swinford. ‘But how, Leo, about your
own? You find a wonderful attraction in the village, I understand.’

‘You know, I think, pretty well what attraction I find in the village,’
he said coldly; ‘I have made no secret of my doings there.’

‘Perhaps not; but you have dwelt little upon a certain cottage. One
knows how a man can be exceedingly frank in order to conceal.’

‘There is no certain cottage,’ he said, with indignation. ‘If you mean
Lady William’s, I certainly go there with pleasure, and often, and will
continue to do so. In such a matter I may surely be allowed to judge for
myself.’

‘Why do you call her by that ridiculous name? It makes me laugh–if it
didn’t make me furious!’

‘What has she done to you?’ said Leo. ‘I thought you were fond of her.
It has always been represented so to me. What has she done, a woman not
very powerful or prosperous certainly, not coming in your way, to make
you hate her so?’

‘Not coming in my way!–But what do you know of my history or my
feelings? She is already again coming in my way–with you.’

‘That is nonsense, mother. No, I know little of your history, perhaps,
except what you have told me; and as you say, excessive frankness—-’

‘You forget, I think, Leo, that you are speaking to your mother?’

‘I never wish to do so,’ he said. ‘Believe me, mother, there is nothing
I desire so much as to make you feel my anxiety, my strong desire, to do
what will please you—-’

‘By bringing me to this miserable country, for example, in the middle of
winter,’ she cried.

Leo sprang to his feet, and began to pace about the room. ‘It is my
country,’ he said. ‘If I have duties anywhere, they must be here. But I
have never wished to bind you. Why, if you hate England so, should you
stay here? We have always been together; but sooner than you should
suffer, leave me, mother. I will bear my loneliness as best I can.’

‘Your loneliness! You would not be long lonely. You would find plenty to
cheer you; whereas I am in a different position. Nay: come back with me.
You have seen exactly how things are. If you want to be charitable,
nothing is more easy. James Plowden, or if you prefer it, his sister,’
she paused, with a harsh laugh, ‘will do everything you want in that
way. Come back to the life we know; come back to the surroundings you
are accustomed to. You–you can’t, any more than I, be happy here. Where
are your _courses_, your clubs, your theatres? There is nothing,
nothing to amuse you. Leo, you know you would be more amused, you would
be more happy, as well as I.’

‘But this,’ he said, ‘is my proper sphere.’

‘_Grand seigneur_ again,’ she cried, with a laugh; ‘who takes up that
view now? Your great-grandfather bought this estate; it is then four
generations in the family. And you think that feudal! Ah! be kind to the
_canaille_ if you will; they will cheat you and hate you, but never
mind. Leo, if you keep me here, and I am tempted beyond my powers, and
do harm–harm, do you hear?–murder even–the guilt will not be on me,
but you!’

‘Mother, do you think there is any use in scaring yourself by such big
words? Murder! Whom will you kill, for example? You who faint if you
prick yourself and the blood runs! I am not afraid of you.’

‘There are more ways of murder than one. I will take no life.’

‘No, I don’t suppose so,’ he said, with a laugh; ‘but if you think you
will die of _ennui_, which, I allow, is a danger, my dear mother, your
_appartement_ is still open. I will make every arrangement. Pardon me if
I feel it is my duty to live in my own house; but why should that affect
you?’

‘If I said, Leo, that I could not live without you, that you are my only
child—-’

‘Mother,’ he said, ‘we both understand perfectly what that means. When I
was a child you were very fond of me. I was part of your _ensemble_. You
gave me everything I wanted. Now, it is not your fault nor mine that I
am a man of thirty-five, not even in my first youth. If I am ever to be
good for anything, I have no time to lose; but you have arrived at an
age—-’

‘Ah!’ she said, ‘I have arrived at an age when I am no longer good for
anything, neither the pleasures nor the duties. It is fit that it should
be you who say that to me.’

‘I say that you have arrived at an age when everything should be made
easy to you, and pleasant, mother; and that you should live, without
consideration of others, as suits you best.’

‘And you?’ she said with a smile; ‘as suits you best? Is not that what
you mean?’

‘It was not what I meant; but perhaps it is true,’ he said.

Then there was a silence, during which Leo stood by the high
mantelpiece, leaning upon it, looking down upon the bright blaze of the
fire, yet furtively watching his mother’s face.

‘I know who has done all this,’ she said rapidly and very low, as if
speaking to herself. ‘I know who has done it. It was a caprice–a fancy
that would have lasted a moment; a trick of his father’s blood. But I
know who has done it–who has stamped it in. I know–I know! for her own
advantage as before: to put me under her foot as before. But let her
take care, let her take care!’ she cried, suddenly raising her voice,
‘_J’ai des griffes, moi!_’

‘Mother, for heaven’s sake what do you mean? Who is to take care?’

‘A tigress, that’s what men call a woman in respect to her children,
Leo. I said that a tigress has claws, that was all.’

‘There is no question, surely,’ he said, looking at her; at her soft
lace, her warm velvet, her carefully-dressed hair, her air of luxury and
delicacy, ‘of claws or anything of the kind here.’

She burst out into a laugh, and rose, turning her face to the fire.

‘No; at the worst of little pins to prick, little pins that don’t draw
blood, as you say, but still make a wound. Now, Leo, though we quarrel,
you will not refuse to give me your arm upstairs?’

The drawing-room was also illuminated by a blazing fire, and groups of
candles placed about which made it very bright, unlike the gloom of the
room below; bright, yet with all manner of soft shades and contrivances
to temper the light. It was full of flowers and sweetness, full of
luxury. Mrs. Swinford paused and looked round with a satirical smile.
‘Charming!’ she said; ‘and a little more or less feudal, _grand
seigneur_, as we have been saying, with all that is novel and delightful
added; but vacant, Leo. Were we in Paris, one would come, and then
another and another, to talk, or chat round the fire; to bring the news,
to discuss everything, spiritual, gay. These words have no meaning
here.’

‘I fully feel it for you, mother. It is very dull; no one worth your
trouble to talk to. I understand perfectly. But why not, then, fill the
house?’

‘For what end? There is not even shooting to tempt them at this time of
the year. Nothing to amuse. It is not the time. In the autumn, perhaps,
if I survive it so long—-’

‘Then there is London,’ said Leo; ‘it is not exactly a village, though
I believe it is a happy slang to call it so. Let us go there.’

‘London!’ Mrs. Swinford contracted her brows. ‘I have forgotten all my
friends, or they have forgotten me. I don’t go to Court—-’

‘Why not, mother?’

She looked at him with a gleam of fury in her eyes, and a sort of wild
laugh, which was the most unlike mirth of anything Leo had ever heard.
‘Perhaps,’ she said, ‘Emily Plowden would present me once
again–whitewashed, after all these years.’

‘What do you mean by whitewashed, mother?’ There was something then in
the look with which he faced her, insisting with a flush on his face,
and a look of determination for which she was not prepared.

‘What do I mean by whitewashed? I mean’—- she paused a little, looking
at him with a malicious devil in her eye, as if undecided what she
should say. But his look subdued her, though it was a strange thing for
any look of Leo to do. It was a look of alarm yet dismay, excited and
almost fierce, yet struck with sudden fear. Her eyes sank before his.

‘I don’t know why you should look at me so. I mean that I am
forgotten–as well may be, in all these years.’

She had placed herself in the deep chair covered with brocade, which had
been carefully placed for her at the exact angle from the fire and the
lights which she liked. The table beside it was covered with the evening
papers; the French papers, arrived by the evening post; one or two
yellow novels, an English book, and all the little paraphernalia which
ladies of her period affect. She sat there, lying back in her luxurious
chair, looking at her son with defiance in her eyes; defiance, and yet a
certain uneasiness underneath. And he looked at her, uneasily too, with
a doubt, yet no wish to question her further. She broke this silence by
a sudden shrill burst of laughter, clapping her delicate hands together.

‘Could one give a greater pleasure to one’s _protégée_ of old?–to the
little girl of whom one has made a lady? A lady of rank, if you please,
according to all the clowns. Emily shall take me; she shall patronise
me; she shall be my condescending superior. Mrs. Swinford, on her return
to England, by Lady William–bah! the jest is too good.’

Her laugh rang out shrill into the silent space about them. Leo, for his
part, stood before her as grave as a judge. ‘I don’t see anything so
wonderful about it,’ he said.

‘What, not that Emily! Emily, the country girl, not so good as your
governess, not much better than my maid! Your governess? Why, for the
moment, that was Artémise.’

‘Mother, I must warn you that you are speaking of a lady for whom not
only I, but every one here has the most exalted esteem.’

‘Ah!’ she cried, still laughing, ‘so Artémise tells me. The most
exalted! She has thrown dust in everybody’s eyes.’

‘And your Artémise–I give you warning I doubt that woman.’

‘Ah! perhaps you will forbid her the house.’

‘You know very well that the house is free to all you please to see
here. For myself I shall certainly let her know that her presence is not
agreeable to me.’

‘Well, Leo,’ said his mother, ‘that will do for a token between us. When
you turn my friend, my near relation, the only creature whom I care for
here, to the door–I shall understand that I have notice to quit, and
that you want no more with me.’

‘What folly!’ he cried, ‘when you know I would as soon try to interfere
with the constitution of the earth as to lift a finger against any of
your friends.’

‘Or consort with any of my enemies, Leo.’

‘Certainly, no, if I knew who they were; but I know of none here at
least.’

She laughed again; then, turning to her table, took up the _Figaro_
which lay there. ‘Enough, enough,’ she said. ‘Enough, Leo; a quarrel is
a fearful joy; but one wearies even of that at the last.’

Leo stood for a time in the same attitude, while she opened her paper
and began to read. Then he made a turn or two round the room, stopping
here and there to look at a picture, though he neither saw nor cared
what it was. Finally, when this wandering had lasted for, perhaps, five
minutes without any sign on the part of his mother, he went quietly out
of the room and downstairs.

She did not move a finger until the sound of his steps had died away;
then she put down the paper, and listened for the closing of his door.
It came at last with a dull echo going through the silent house. That
sound brought many memories to the mind of the lady left alone in the
great room, which would have held a crowd. She remembered the times
without number when his father had retired so, and gave vent to a low
laugh of scorn. And then she remembered other things, and her face grew
grave. The paper fell rustling at her feet. She cast a look round her
upon the room with its flowers, its lights, its cosy atmosphere, which
was a triumph of skill and care, just so warm, and no more. The comfort
and the luxury were perfect; there was nothing that could be done to
increase the beauty, the ease, the grace, and completeness of all about
her; and there she sat like a queen–alone.

Lady William was still a little disturbed next morning, her usual
composure gone, her countenance clouded. She had not forgiven little
Patty, who in consequence went about her work watering with tears,
instead of damp tea-leaves as usual, the carpet in the drawing-room
which it was her business to sweep. Patty entertained the idea which,
alas! is so little general among servant-girls, that her mistress was an
angel, or something even more than that; for angels to Patty’s
consciousness were generally little boys with wings and without any
clothes, to whom it would have been profane to compare a lady. It may be
imagined how hollow the world was, and how little satisfactory the
routine of work when Lady William frowned; everything went badly with
Patty. She broke a china bowl and received from Miss Mab–Miss Mab
always so _bon camarade_, if Patty had known the qualification–a very
sharp and decided scolding, not to say that Anne–old Anne, whom Patty
considered almost too old to live, and whose work she was conscious of
doing in great part–fell upon her and nagged till the poor girl nearly
ran away. Lady William was not busy this lovely spring morning which
ought to have put new heart into everything. She said very little even
to Mab. She was evidently thinking of something with which even Mab had
but little to do. But when the girl talked of her own afternoon’s
occupation, her mother interposed quickly. ‘I think you had better come
up with me to the Hall, Mab.’

‘Then you are going, mother? in obedience to a call like that—-’

‘In obedience to nothing; because I hate it, and want to get it over.’

‘Do you hate Mrs. Swinford, mother?’

‘Oh, I hope not,’ said Lady William, the tears starting to her eyes;
‘don’t ask me such questions. I hope not: I don’t want to hate any one.
I would rather not think of her. But I hate going into a house that has
so many memories–into a house where I have known so much—-’

‘It was there you met my father,’ said Mab.

‘Yes;’ the monosyllable dropped from Lady William’s closed lips as if
dropped out against her will.

‘But that ought not to be altogether a painful recollection, mother.’
Mab had never heard anything of her father who was so long dead; there
was no portrait of him that she had ever seen. Her idea of him was not
precisely a happy one. Other people talked of the husbands they had
lost, especially the poor women who liked to enlarge upon the good or
bad qualities of the departed–but Mab knew nothing of her father,
whether he had been bad or good. And she had a great curiosity, if no
more, to know something of him. It was seldom, very seldom, that an
opportunity occurred even for a question.

‘I cannot enter into the past,’ said Lady William; ‘there is a great
deal that is very painful in it. I would rather not tell you the story,
Mab. It would do you no good, nor any one. I had forgotten a great deal
till this lady appeared again. So far as I can see now, she is
determined that I shall no longer forget.’

‘Is she your enemy, mother?’

‘I don’t believe in enemies, it is too melodramatic; and probably she
means no harm; only she likes to stir up things which I prefer to
forget. Do you understand the difference? Perhaps it keeps up her
interest, but to me it spoils everything. Death is very dreadful to you,
Mab; but it’s very merciful, too. It makes you forget many things, when
they are not forcibly brought back to your mind.’

Mab eyed her mother very curiously with a hundred questions on her lips:
but Lady William’s face was not encouraging, and with a sigh the girl
gave up her intended inquiry. She added, after some time: ‘The only
thing, mother, is that Mrs. Swinford may want to speak to you of things
that you don’t wish me to know.’

‘That is very possible, Mab: and it is for that I want you to go with
me, to protect me. She would never bring up old stories which would be
painful, before you.’

‘Mother,’ said Mab, and then paused.

‘What is it?’

‘I want to know–if I am perhaps at the mercy of a stranger like Mrs.
Swinford to tell me things that would be painful–about my
father–whether it would not be better for you, mother, who would do it
in love and quietly, to tell me yourself and put me beyond her power?’

‘Mab, you are very sensible, very reasonable.’

‘I don’t know if I’m that: but it seems to me the better way.’

Lady William began to speak: then hesitated, became husky, and paused a
moment to steady her voice. ‘There is nothing to tell about your father,
Mab, that could affect you; nothing that would hurt his name in the
world; only private matters between him and me, in which unfortunately
Mrs. Swinford was mixed up. There is no such thing,’ she went on after a
pause, with a sort of painful smile, ‘as trouble–without faults on both
sides. I was to blame as much as any one else. You would not think the
better of either of your parents if you were to be told all that there
is to tell. Will you take my word for that? and that there is nothing
which it is at all necessary for you to hear?’

‘Certainly, I will take your word, mother. But I don’t believe you were
so much wrong. You are hasty sometimes, but you never keep on or nag.
And sometimes you are so patient; if there were quarrels I know it was
not your fault.’

The girl came to her mother’s side and gave her a kiss, putting down her
soft young cheek upon Lady William’s, which was as soft, though no
longer young. The mother took the kiss with a smile. It was not wholly a
smile of pleasure at Mab’s approval and vindication of her–innocent Mab
that knew of nothing but a quarrel, a difference of opinion, a nagging.
Mab thought it was a great pity, that perhaps her father had troubles of
temper which she was conscious herself of possessing, and that no doubt
Mrs. Swinford had interfered and made things worse. It brought her
father even a little nearer to her to learn that he had been cross. Poor
father! he had been long forgiven and his tempers forgotten, when they
were not thrust back upon the memory: and poor mother, who perhaps
blamed herself more than was just, and thought now how often she might
have answered with a soft word! Lady William smiled, reading in the
child’s mind as in a book, so easy was that young interpretation, so
desirable, so strange to the woman who knew all.

The afternoon was radiant: sky and air had been washed clean, as Mab
said, by frequent showers, and there did not seem an atom of impurity,
not even a cloudlet that was not white and shining, in the whole expanse
of atmosphere. Lady William was grave, but had recovered her composure,
and Mab was gay with an unusual freshness, ready to gambol about the
path like the large loose-limbed puppy from the lodge who was fond of
taking walks with visitors, and who came up and offered himself as
guide and companion as soon as the two ladies had entered the gate. Mab
was acquainted with the puppy’s family for several generations, and knew
his mother upon intimate terms, so that there was no need of ceremony.
He and she had gone up the avenue to the point at which the house
becomes visible, rising high above the little lake and among the trees,
when Lady William called her daughter back. ‘You have had enough of the
puppy,’ she said; ‘now you must turn into a young lady, Mab.’

‘It is not half so amusing, mother; but, oh, look at the violets, how
thick they are under the trees!’

‘About the ashen roots the violets blow,’ said Lady William.

‘I never knew any one have so many bits of poetry ready for all
occasions,’ said Mab admiringly. ‘It’s a pity they’re only dog-violets,
and not sweet at all; but they are pretty like that all the same.’

‘Why, I wonder, should one speak of dog-violets, and dog-roses, and
dog-daisies?’ said Lady William. ‘I suppose it is in contempt of things
that grow wild.’

‘A dog is the wisest thing that lives,’ said Mab; ‘there’s no contempt
in such a name. Puppy! puppy! where are you going? I must run after him,
mother, and keep him from frightening those ducks.’

‘There’s contempt, if you please! The famous Swinford wild fowl!’

‘Oh, I can’t bear them, the stupid things. Puppy! puppy! oh, don’t be a
fool, they are not worth your while.’

‘Nor yours either, puppy mine. You will be as red as a peony next, and
what will Mrs. Swinford say?’

‘I hate Mrs. Swinford,’ said Mab; but she walked soberly the rest of the
way. Mrs. Swinford was in the same room and chair as she had occupied on
the previous night: with flowers piled in the jardinières, on the
tables, everywhere; a wood fire blazing very bright, but more bright
than warm, and the mistress of the house arrayed, as always, in dark
velvet, with a crimson tone in the lights, but without the lace which
had softened at once her features and her age. Her hair, in which there
was not a thread of white, was dressed high on her head; her back was,
as usual, to the light.

‘Oh, you have brought your little girl,’ she said, in a tone almost of
displeasure. ‘You are very perverse and contradictory, my dear, as you
always were. I had something to say to you, alone.’

‘Oh, as for that,’ said Mab, angry, ‘I can go away.’

Her mother gave her a restraining look. ‘There is so little,’ she said,
‘in my life that requires to be talked about _en tête-à-tête_, and Mab
goes wherever I go.’

‘That is to say, you bring her with you as young women sometimes bring
their babies, in defence.’ Mrs. Swinford laughed, and, holding out her
hand, added, ‘Come here and let me see you, little girl.’

‘I am not a little girl,’ said Mab, still angry; but another glance from
her mother to the lady of the house restored that reasonableness in
which the girl was so strong. ‘And I am not much to look at,’ she added
steadily, ‘but, as it does not much matter, here I am.’

Mrs. Swinford took her by the hand, and, drawing her forward, looked at
her closely. Then she dropped the girl’s hand and laughed. ‘She proves
her parentage, at least,’ she said; ‘no doubt upon that subject; she is
a Pakenham all over. And she is like them, Emily, in temper and
intellect, too.’

Mab, unfortunately, did not understand the whole weight of the
insinuation in this remark, and she did not see her mother’s face behind
her. She answered quickly for herself. ‘I have not a very good temper,
Mrs. Swinford. When people say nasty things to me, I can be nasty too.’

‘So I presume,’ said the lady of the house.

‘Or to my mother,’ said Mab; ‘she is too patient and too much a lady;
but I’m not.’

‘Mab!’ said her mother’s warning voice behind.

‘It is that I think this lady wants to provoke me,’ said Mab, ‘and I
don’t see—-’

‘My dear, you will show your superiority best by not suffering yourself
to be provoked.’

Mab went off to one of the jardinières with a little toss of her head,
and it was at this moment that Leo came in, a little hurried and not
without agitation. He came in saying quickly, ‘I have just heard that
you had visitors, mother.’

‘Leo,’ said Mrs. Swinford, ‘I have something to say to Emily here. I did
not expect her to bring her daughter, and I did not desire my son’s
company. You can go and show the young lady the pictures; it is a young
man’s business; and you ought to thank me for giving you the
opportunity. Now, Emily, _à nous deux_.’

‘I was not aware,’ said Lady William, pale but steadfast, ‘that what you
wanted to say to me was of particular importance.’

‘You thought I only sent for you to say I love you,’ said Mrs. Swinford.
‘Well, you knew that already; but I had something much more serious to
say. And I am glad, after all, you brought your little girl, Emily; for
she is the strongest argument I can bring forward to make you do what I
want you to do.’

‘And what is that?’ said Lady William. ‘I must warn you that I am not
very open to advice.’

‘As if I did not know you were not open to advice! except, my dear, you
will recollect, when you wished to take a certain course which was
advised.’

‘Did I wish to take it?’ said Lady William; ‘that is what has never been
clear.’

‘Oh, did you wish it?’ cried Mrs. Swinford, with a laugh. ‘However, that
is old ground; but if I have any responsibility for that first step,
Emily, I have the more right to speak now. For that child’s sake you
must make overtures to the family. Whatever they may do or say, it is
for you to put your pride in your pocket, and make friends with them, if
they like it or not. Your claims must be fully established.’

‘My claims?’ said Lady William; ‘there has never been any question made
of my claims.’

‘Probably not, so long as you live; but look at that child. You must
make everything certain for her; I must press it upon you with all my
might, Emily. Life is uncertain, and you have nothing of your own.’

‘Not much, that is true.’

‘And what would she have to depend upon if you died? You don’t even know
what questions might arise. They might ask her what her proofs were,
what evidence she had.’

‘Of what?’ said Lady William, wondering. ‘What evidence does Mab require
to prove that she is my daughter? But all the parish could prove that,
with the Rector at their head.’

‘Oh, so far as that goes; but it does not suffice to be proved to be her
mother’s daughter when the money is on the father’s side.’

‘What do you mean, Mrs. Swinford?’ Lady William had grown red and a
little angry. She fixed her eyes upon her adviser, ‘There is something
in what you say that I do not understand.’

‘Nevertheless it is very true,’ said Mrs. Swinford; ‘the money is, you
know, on the father’s side, and the father’s family have a right to know
everything about it. It should be put quite out of their power to say
afterwards that they never had any proof.’

‘Of what? You mean something that has not been suggested to me before. I
have been told I ought to make overtures; but what is this? Please to
tell me,’ she said, almost sharply, ‘what you mean.’

‘You must surely have thought of it yourself. Here you are, a widow, not
very young, with an only child. They call you Lady William, and you
enjoy the rank. Oh, you need not wave your hand as if to say no; I know
you better than you know yourself; you enjoy your rank.’

‘For the sake of argument it may be allowed that I enjoy my rank, such
as it is.’

‘Well, you do, I know, whether you choose to allow it or refuse. Emily
Plowden, it is your first business to prove your claim to it, and your
child’s to her name.’

‘I am not Emily Plowden,’ said Lady William; ‘you mistake that, to begin
with; and I can only repeat that my claim, which I have never required
to prove, has been doubted by no one, nor my child’s right. Is it for
pure insult you say this? My movements have always been open as the
day.’

‘What! when you left this house in the dark, in the middle of the night!
I have never questioned your claims till now. My motive is not to insult
you, but to help you. Where were you married, Emily Plowden? Who married
you? Have you your certificates all in order? You disappeared, and then
you came back, and I never asked, but took it all for granted. It is
only when I see your little girl that I begin to ask myself, Emily, have
you got your papers, whatever they may be? Emily Plowden, are you sure
that you have any right to another name?’