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ourselves when our lords are away. We can only stay at home until they come back.”
“That's the principle, but not always the practice,” said Philip, with a grim look.
"You have not found it out?” exclaimed the Marquise in a startled tone; and then, as if perceiving that she had committed herself, she hurriedly added, “Of course, principle and practice must always differ more or less. Human beings aren't made by rule of thumb."
Philip at first made no reply, but a painful expression passed over his face, leaving it gloomier than before. At length he said, "I'm not a man who lets himself be blindfolded to save trouble. You and I have known each other some time, Perdita. Will you answer me truly—will you tell me what you know? for I see you do know something."
“ I'm not likely to forget the past,” answered the beautiful Marquise; “I shall remember it at least as long as this scar lasts, "and as she spoke she placed her hand on the upper part of her bosom. “ But it is never true friendship to interfere between husband and wife. If you see anything that troubles you, give it the best interpretation possible, and forget it. Very likely-most likely—there is no harm in it. One must not expect, or wish, to know all the secrets even of the person they have married. Does Marion know all yours ? ”
“I thank you for your advice," said Philip, in a tone that intimated he did not mean to follow it. “ It seems you are aware that my wife spent a night away from home. Probably you also
. know where, and with whom. I shall know that in time ; but I would rather learn it from you than from any one else.”
“I could tell you nothing that would really enlighten you, Philip. Your best security for your wife's conduct is the good you know of her. Be satisfied with that. It was enough to make you marry her.
It should be enough to make you happy in your marriage."
“Yes, I know all that !” said Philip, impatiently. After a short silence, he added, turning toward her, “You are a true friend, Perdita. May I come and talk to you sometimes? The world is a lonely place ! ”
“If I can make it less lonely for you-come !” she answered.
MEANWHILE the inscrutable Providence, whose apparent neglect of the affairs of men is only less remarkable than its seeming interference with them, had decreed that those affairs with which we are at present occupied should be dignified by the participation in them of Lady Flanders. For, at about the hour when Philip and Perdita were driving in the Park, and discussing the former's domestic situation, Mr. Thomas Moore was calling upon the elderly aristocrat, and the conversation between them was taking a similar direction.
Precisely what passed on this occasion it is unnecessary at this moment to inquire ; but the reader may be reminded that Mr. Moore was a gentleman, and incapable of wantonly betraying any lady's confidence; and he may further be informed that the genial poet's acquaintance with Lady Flanders was intimate and of old standing. Her attitude towards him was, indeed, of a quasi-maternal character; and in the present instance his communications, whatever they were, were prompted in great measure by his recognition of her great social influence, and by the fact that her declared opinion, favourable or unfavourable, of any person, was apt to go a long way toward making or marring that person's social reputation. When Mr. Moore left her ladyship's presence, she patted him on the shoulder and called him a good boy; and he issued from her door with the light of conscious virtue glistening on his ir.genuous forehead.
Next morning Lady Flanders arose early, and in the course of her toilet preparations she fell into chat, as her custom was, with her maid Christine, an attractive young person of German extraction, deft of hand and soothing of voice, who could design and elevate a headdress in a manner to please the most exacting elderly aristocrat imaginable. Christine was a great favourite with her mistress, and was the only human being of either sex to whom that lady was uniformly indulgent and good-humoured. Christine, for her part, was much attached to Lady Flanders; but, with the perversity and short-sightedness of persons in her enviable condition of life, she had lately taken it into her head to lose her heart ; and the individual who had won it was a Mr. Catnip, whose name has been once or twice mentioned in this history, as a servant of Sir Francis Bendibow. It would appear that Christine and her cavalier had met to enjoy each other's society the evening previous; and Mr. Catnip had at that time confided to Christine a curious circumstance which had
happened to come under his observation the day before at Vauxhall. Aster Christine had repeated to her mistress the main points of Mr. Catnip's story, her ladyship interrupted her.
“Of course you understand, Christine," she said, "that I am convinced to begin with that your Catnip has been telling you a pack of lies, and that there's not a word of truth in the tale from beginning to end. 'Tis very foolish of you to have anything at all to say to such a fellow, and my advice to you is to drop him at once. Is he willing to make affidavit that 'twas really the Marquise Desmoines he saw there ?"
"Oh, yiss, madame ! He stand close by de box on which Madame la Marquise sit, and he recognise de ring on her finger, and her tone as she speak with her companion. They sit on de box next to Madame Lancaster.”
“ Could she and Mrs. Lancaster see each other?"
“Not whiles dey sit so; but soon Madame Lancaster get up and go out in front, and den Madame la Marquise ..."
“Ay,' ay : a mighty pretty story! And so then Sir Francis fainted away, did he, and Mrs. Lancaster got a carriage, and Catnip followed it? ... Upon my word, Christine, you ought to be ashamed of yourself to listen to such trash : much more to repeat it to me. Take care you never open your mouth about it to any one else, that's all.”
“Oh, not in de least, madame."
“There, that 'll do. Now go and tell Withers that I shall want the carriage immediately after breakfast. And, Christine . . . put in order the bedroom and the sitting-room on the second floor : I'm expecting some one to spend the night. Don't forget.”
" I shall take care of it, madame."
Lady Flanders went down to breakfast, ate with a good appetite, and having put on her bonnet and cloak she got into her carriage and was driven to the Marquise Desmoines'. The latter received her august visitor with some surprise, for Lady Flanders had not hitherto shown much disposition to cultivate intimate relations with the beautiful widow. But her ladyship was notorious for indulging in whims of which no one but herself could divine the reason : and in the present instance she was evidently laying herself out to be exceptionally polite and entertaining. After ten minutes' desultory chat on things in general, the name of Philip Lancaster happened to fall, quite by accident, from Lady Flanders' lips, and after a moment's pause she said :
"By-the-by, my dear, I was quite upset yesterday. I don't know
whether to believe it or not. I've taken such a fancy to the young gentleman, I should be sorry to see his domestic felicity destroyed. I have always disapproved of a man's marrying beneath him . . . the girl may be very attractive in some ways, but such persons lack training, and a proper realisation of their social duties. Bless you, I don't expect women to be saints—that would put an end to society in six weeks—but there is everything in savoir-faire, tact, the way a thing is managed. Let a woman do anything but make a vulgar exhibition of herself. And that is just what this unfortunate creature seems to have done—that is, if the story is to be believed : and I have it on pretty good authority. What do you think about it?"
Perdita had been on her guard from the beginning of Lady Flanders' speech. She was startled (more perhaps than distressed) to find that her visitor knew anything about the matter ; and anxious to discover why the old lady should suppose that she had any information. For there was one reason why Perdita had need to be cautious here ; and that was, lest it should transpire that she herself had been at Vauxhall. That was the weak point in her position ; but for that, she had nothing to apprehend. She was quite certain that no one among those whom she had recognized there had recognized her : as for Catnip--well as he knew her-she scarcely knew that such a person existed, she being, herein, at the disadvantage in which all persons of higher rank are liable to stand toward those in the lower. Lady Flanders therefore, (she argued), could have no knowledge of her own presence at Vauxhall ; and admitting that, it was impossible to suppose that her ladyship should, of her own motion, conjure up the imagination of so wildly improbable a thing. No; she must have been influenced by some other idea ; and it was at this juncture that the Marquise bethought herself, with a feeling of relief, that it would be natural for Lady Flanders to infer that Philip himself had been her informant. In fact it was Philip who had first introduced the subject. Her apprehensions thus relieved, Perdita no longer saw in Lady Flanders anything more than an old scandalmonger greedy for the last new scrap of her favourite wares; and she consequently felt it necessary to observe no more than ordinary discretion.
“ You have not yet told me," she remarked, “what it is you reler to.”
“ Dear me ! sure enough!” exclaimed the other innocently. “ Well, I'm glad to see it has not been more talked about. Why, you must know, my dear, that our friend Mrs. Lancaster, who seemed so precious straightforward and artless, has been guilty of the most outrageous rashness-not to call it by a worse name ! She has been
" and here Lady Flanders lowered her voice and told the story which Perdita already knew, with much vivacity, and in a way to put Marion's conduct in a most ungainly light. " 'Tis impossible
“ to be sorry for her," she continued ; “such a brazen creature puts herself outside the pale of pity; but one can't help being sincerely concerned for that poor boy, Philip Lancaster. It will be a terrible blow for him ; and knowing the friendly interest you have shown in him, I thought it likely he might have sought your advice on the subject."
“ Since you have spoken on the subject, my dear Lady Flanders," said Perdita, gravely, " I may follow your example, though otherwise I should have kept silence. Mr. Lancaster has opened his mind to me, to some extent; and I counselled him to put the best construction possible on his wife's conduct, and rather to secure her safety in the future than inquire too curiously into the past. She is young and inexperienced, and will no doubt reform her behaviour when she realizes its true character.”
“Ay, ay, you little serpent !” said Lady Flanders to herself, “ 'tis just as I thought, you and Master Philip have been feathering your own nest with what you've plucked from my poor little Marion's reputation. I'll catch you yet-see if I don't !” Aloud she added, “ Indeed, my dear, your advice was most sensible, and you're a deal more charitable than I should have been in your place. Well, and how did your advice affect him? I hope he won't lose his head and make a disturbance !”
“He does not yet know, and I hope never may know, the name of the gentleman implicated in the affair,” said Perdita. “As you say, it could only make bad worse to have a public outbreak; and I don't think Philip will go so far as that until he has seen me again. ..."
Perdita paused, doubting the prudence of this last sentence, which, in fact, had vastly delighted the cynical and Machiavellian old lady. The latter was convinced that the relations between Perdita and Philip would not bear inspection, and that they were making Marion's predicament a pretext for prosecuting their own intrigue. She was determined to bring their nefarious doings to light, and had aiready partly outlined to herself a plan of operations, having that end in view. For the present, she was satisfied at having attained the object of her visit, which was simply to ascertain that Perdita and Philip were on a confidential footing upon a matter so nearly affecting the latter's honour, and that their intimacy was such as it was expedient for them to disguise. The rest would be revealed in due