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time. Meanwhile she hastened to declare that it was a fortunate thing for Philip to have secured the friendly interest of a woman of the world like Perdita ; and that she trusted he would show his appreciation of it.
“ I was going to say,” remarked Perdita, who had her wits about her, and was by no means prone to believe in the sincerity of her visitor's cordiality," that the whole story, so far as I am aware, is mere hearsay, and may be untrue. It would not surprise me were it to turn out so. So that any premature allusion to it, as your ladyship yourself suggested, might do a great deal of harm."
“Ay, to be sure," returned Lady Flanders, admiring the cleverness of this stroke ; and for a moment she hesitated whether or not to give her authorities. She decided not to do so; turned the conversation into a review of the Bendibow affair, and soon aster took her leave, charmed with the prospect of finally getting the better of the only woman in London whom she acknowledged as her equal in subtlety and intrigue.
We will now return to Philip Lancaster. He came home late after his interview with Perdita, and Marion having already gone to her room, he resolved to postpone whatever he might have to say to her until the next day. Indeed, he needed time to turn the matter over in his mind. Before speaking to Perdita, he had not regarded it in a really serious light. All he knew was, that Marion had spent the greater part of a night away from home; that her mother had only accidentally discovered her absence; and that Marion had given no satisfactory account of where she had been. When he had asked her about it, she had merely laughed, in her strange, perverse way, had affected to treat it lightly, and had remarked that he would know by-and-by without her telling him. He had confined himself, at the time, to some moderate expression of displeasure ; he was not prepared to believe in anything worse than an imprudent freak, especially while he was under the influence of Marion's presence. She had presently begun to speak of Bendibow's arrest, and had expressed a strong desire to know the details of any confession he might make ; and she had suggested that Philip should take the packet and return it to Perdita without delay. He agreed to do this; and with that their conversation terminated. But when Philip was alone his reflections became more and more uncomfortable ; Marion's refusal to explain her escapade seemed very strange; and her sudden anxiety' to hear about Bendibow's confession looked like a pretext for changing the subject. Even this errand to Perdita might be a device to get him out of the way. When, therefore, he
and Perdita met he was in a fit mood to receive the intelligence she had ready for him; he learnt from her, for the first time, where it was that Marion had gone, and what she had been seen to do there; for although Perdita neither told him that she herself had been the witness whose testimony she cited, nor mentioned Moore's name, she made it sufficiently evident to her auditor that it was not any ordinary freak he had to deal with here, but a matter involving all that is of most vital importance to a husband. And yet, though his mind was persuaded, his heart was not so. Did he not know Marion ? and was it credible that she could do such wrong? It was necessary, however, that his mind and his heart should be put in accord one way or the other; and he spent the greater part of the night in trying to summon up all his wits and energies for the interview on the morrow. The natural consequence was, that when the morrow came he was so nervous and discomposed as with difficulty to control even his voice. The interview, which took place in the breakfast-room, which Marion entered just as Philip was ready to leave it, did not last long, though its results did.
"Well," said Marion, as she entered, "did Madame Desinoines accept the packet? And did you see what was in it?”
“She did not open it in my presence,” he answered. “We found other things to talk about.”
"Oh, no doubt," said Marion, laughingly.
“There was nothing amusing in it, as you seem to suppose," he continued, hardly controlling his indignation. “I am going to ask you a serious question, Marion, and you must answer it."
“ That depends .... upon my own pleasure, Mr. Philip !" she returned, with a nervous smile.
“You have taken your pleasure too much into your own hands already. I must know where you were the other night, and with whom.”
"La ! is your curiosity awake again so early? Ask me some other time. I'm not ready to tell you just yet.”
“No other time will do. I must tell you, since you seen. ignorant of it, that your reputation as an honest woman is at stake. Bah! don't try to escape me with subterfuges, Marion. I know that you were at Vauxhall Gardens; and that your companion was a man who"
" Has he .... has any one been so base as to tell-
Marion lifted her head high, but she trembled all over, and her face was white. She met Philip's fiery glance with a scornful look ; but beneath the scorn there were unfathomable depths of pain, humiliation, appeal. Philip saw only the scorn; he was in no mood for insight. Thus the husband and wife confronted each other for several moments, while the air still seemed to echo with Philip's
“Philip,” said Marion at length, in a thin voice, which sustained itself with difficulty, “I have done you no wrong; and I should have been willing, some time, to tell you all you ask. But until you go down on your knees at my feet, and crave my pardon, I will not speak to you again !”
“Then we have exchanged our last words together," said he.
Marion bent her head as if in assent, and moved to one side, so that her husband might leave the room. He paused at the door, and said :
"I give you one more chance. Will you confess? I might forgive you, then; but if you compel me to bring home to your ... what you have done, on any other evidence, by God, I never will forgive you !-Oh, Marion ! will you?"
His voice faltered ; tears of misery and entreaty were in his eyes. Marion made a half-step toward him: but, by another impulse, she drew back again, covering her eyes with one hand, while with the other she motioned him away. Neither would yield; and so they parted.
Philip went forth, not knowing whither he was going. His world was turned upside down, and his life looked like a desert. He walked along the streets with wide open but unseeing eyes-or with eyes that saw only Marion, as she stood with her hand over her face, waving him away. Sometimes he thought it must have been a dream : but he could not awake. He went down to the river-bank, near Chelsea, and sat for several hours on a bench, looking at the muddy current as it swirled by. The sky was cloudy and the wind cold, but he did not seem aware of it. It was already late in the afternoon when he arose, and returned towards the north. But where should he go? Home? There was no such place.
For a couple of hours we leave Philip to himself, to meet with what adventures destiny may provide.
At six o'clock in the evening we come up with him again. He is hurrying along the street with a new light in his face-of anxiety, of suspense, of hope! Hope is unmistakably there—the dawn of a belief in the possibility of better things. The unfrequent lamps that dimly light the street intermittently reveal the expression of his haggard and eager features. Arrived at the door of his house, he paused for a moment, biting his lips and clenching his hands : then he ran up the steps and rang the bell. The door seemed never to be going to open, and in his impatience he rang again. It opened at last. He strode across the threshold.
“Mrs. Lancaster upstairs ? ”
“No, sir,” said the servant. “She went out this afternoon in a carriage : not your carriage, sir. She left a note she said was to be given to you, sir. 'Tis there on the 'all table, sir.". ,
A singular quietness came over Philip, as he opened the letter, and deliberately read its contents. He seemed to himself to have known that this was coming. He put the letter in his pocket.
That's all right,” he said to the servant. “I had forgotten . ., I shall probably not be back to-night.” He waited an instant or two, looking down at the ground : then, without saying anything more, he descended the steps and walked away. The door closed behind him.
Perdita had planned to attend the opera that evening, and afterwards she meant to look in at Lord Croftus' party, which had more or less of a political significance. Her carriage was waiting at the door, and she herself, in full raiment of festivity, was in the act of coming down stairs, with a soft silken shawl thrown round her neck and shoulders to keep out the chill, when she heard the door-bell ring sharply, and some one was admitted to the hall below. Then the sound of a voice that was familiar to her came to her ears. Hearing it, the Marquise paused on the upper landing, holding the folds of her shawl together with her left hand, and gazing expectantly downward.
“ Philip, again ! ” she murmured. “Something must have happened. Well, let us see.”
Philip mounted the stairs slowly and heavily, with his hand on the banisters, and his head bent down. Only when he reached the landing where Perdita stood did he look up. When she saw the expression on his face, she took him by the hand without a word, and led him up to the next floor, and into her boudoir. Some wine was sparkling in a decanter on the cabinet between the windows. She poured out a glass of this, and held it to his lips. He had been
glancing round the room in an apprehensive but intent way, and then into her face, as if suspecting the presence of some one or of something which did not appear. After a few moments' pause he drank the wine, and put the glass down.
“If she is here, tell me at once," he said.
“I thought she might have come here. No, I didn't think it : I hoped—I couldn't believe all at once that she was gone. One tries to dodge such things as long as possible.” He fetched a deep breath, and took off his hat, which, up to this moment, he had forgotten to
“I beg your pardon,” he said vaguely, drawing his brows together as if to collect his wits : “Thank you. You're going out. I won't detain you."
“Sit down, Philip,” said the Marquise, guiding him to a chair as if he had been a child, or an infirm person. “I am not going outI am going to stay here with you. See ! I am dressed to receive you,” she added, throwing off her wrap and smiling. “Now, Philip, we are friends, you know, and you have confidence in me. Let me help you. At any rate, tell me !"
“I am ashamed to tell it,” said he, heavily. "I have been to blame : but I never thought of this. It doesn't seem possible in her!”
“Has your wife left you-has she run away?” asked Perdita, putting into words, with her accustomed strength of nerve, what Philip shrank from formulating even in his thought. He did not reply, save by an assenting silence, and she presently went on : “Are you sure there is no mistake? She can't have been gone long; she may come back."
“She will never come back: she left a letter, to say she thought it best we should not meet again, after . . . some words we had this morning. But that is a pretext! I had a right to ask her to explain. She must have made up her mind before ; and when she found I knew what--what you told me
“ Did you tell her it was I?”
“No: she thought it was the fellow himself who had spokenshe betrayed herself in thinking he had betrayed her. Oh, what a miserable, pitiable thing ! 'Tis as if she were another woman-shę