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you,” she wrote ;“ and I send to you thus early, so that you may be able to come before you go to the city. I shall be expecting you by nine o'clock. Pardon my haste and informality, mon ami: I have confidence in you."
This communication no doubt improved the lawyer's appetite, and imparted a more exquisite flavour to the coffee that he quaffed from the delicate cup of painted Meissen porcelain. He allowed the little note to remain open on the table beside him ; he scrutinised its curious chirography, at once rounded and sharp, bold, characteristic, and yet difficult to read. A faint, very faint perfume emanated from it, reminding him of the writer; her lovely hand had rested upon this
paper; her breath had touched it. The lawyer bent down, perhaps to examine it more closely. . . . At that moment the servant entered, to inquire when Mr. Fillmore wanted his carriage. Mr. Fillmore raised his head quickly, hemmed, pulled up his collar, and replied that fifteen minutes before nine would be time enough. The servant withdrew, and Fillmore, glancing at the mirror opposite, detected an unmistakable blush on his ordinarily pale cheeks. He bit his lip; then, catching up the letter, he kissed it and put it in his pocket.
At five minutes past nine he arrived at the Marquise's house, and was immediately ushered into a charming ante-room adjoining the lady's chamber. In a few moments the door of the latter opened, and the Marquise appeared. She had on a flowing dressing-gown of white cachemire lined with quilted satin and bordered with flowers worked in gold thread. Her bright reddish hair was drawn up to the top of her head, revealing the beautiful line and pose of her white neck; and her slender feet, encased in bronze slippers and openwork silk stockings, peeped out beneath the embroidered hem of her petticoat. She was fresh and rosy from her bath, and had all the fragrance and loveliness of a sweet-petalled flower.
She put her warm hand in the lawyer's cool, firm clasp, smiled upon him, and bade him be seated.
“ You are very good to come to me so promptly," she said, "and to show my appreciation of your courtesy, I will proceed to business at once, and give you your liberty as soon as possible. You have not been able to see Sir Francis, I suppose? I know that he has been arrested.”
“He gave himself up voluntarily,” said Fillmore. “He had anıple opportunity to escape, if he had wished it. I offered to help him off; but he refused.”
“You ...? You did see him, then ?
Perdita's dark, sparkling eyes fixed themselves steadfastly upon the lawyer. “In that case," she said slowly," he probably told you ... Will you tell me all that passed ?"
Fillmore complied, and Perdita listened to his story with close attention. After it was told, she sat for a while with her forefinger against her chin, meditating.
“I don't know whether to be pleased or displeased,” she remarked at length. “'Tis rather exciting, at all events. I knew about Rackett's, and all that : I knew more than he ever suspected. But I thought he was clever enough to secure himself.
I'm not sure but I might have helped him, if he had applied to me.”
Even if your means would have sufficed, he was past helping.”
"I should have done it for my own sake, not for his,” said Perdita, with a smile of cynical candour. “I care for what happens to him only as it may affect me. You won't be obliged, sir, to remodel your estimate of my character on the idea that I am given to self-sacrifice. And I should certainly not begin with Sir Francis. On the contrary !”
"I understand. You think his disgrace may affect you ? "
“You do your understanding injustice. If Sir Francis was a villain from the beginning, I am comfortable. If that old story about him and my father should turn out to my father's credit, then I should be the daughter of an honest man, who was wickedly abused; and that will be to my advantage. If this man who was lately murdered proves to have been really my father, all the better. The opposite alternatives would be what I should not like. Now, as Sir Francis has given himself up, 'tis likely he means to make a full confession : and meanwhile I'm in suspense.
What is your opinion about him ?”
“ I have been on friendly terms with him for a good many years."
“And you mean to stick by him right or wrong?”
“Does that mean that you are going to sacrifice your conscience only in special cases ?"
“I could do anything to serve you," said Fillmore, with measured emphasis.
" And I am to consider it a compliment if you betray an old friend to please a new acquaintance ?
new acquaintance? You are severe, Mr. Fillmore !"
She said this smilingly, but the lawyer could not tell whether she was offended, or was only teasing him. If he had needed any assurance that she was not a woman to be easily duped by flattery, he had it now. He had intended merely to indicate that he would not lightly be false to a trust, but she had contrived to make him imply nearly the reverse. His real sentiments in the matter were, in fact, honourable enough, though he was sensible of a fatal fascination about Perdita, stronger than the attractions of virtue. For a moment he hesitated, undecided whether to draw back now and finally, or to
“Do you give me up?" asked Perdita, with a little laugh.
“Never !” said he, with a feeling that he was pledging himself rather for the possibilities of the future than for anything in the present. “Not that there is anything in this affair to impair the most sensitive principles,” he added, smiling. “Professional etiquette is the most I have to consider, and that is not involved in the present question. As I was saying, I have been in the way of knowing a good deal about Bendibow, and my opinion is that the more complete his confession is, the less cause you will have for anxiety. At the same time, from something he let fall, I doubt whether his confession will be entirely without reserve."
“ What will he hold back?"
“Do you suspect him of knowing anything about that?" demanded Fillmore, feeling astonished.
“One cannot help seeing that if the robber had been able to rifle his victim's pockets, and had taken away that packet among other things, it would have been convenient for Sir Francis."
“But if the contents of the packet were compromising to any one, the thief would have demanded a ransom-
“Which the person compromised would have paid--if he had not already paid it in advance,” said Perdita, composedly.
“I don't think Bendibow had it in him to go such lengths," said Fillmore, after a long pause. “Besides, the fact that his son was killed at the same time ...
“ It was a dark night,” remarked Perdita. “However, I don't really believe it, either. But I've made up my mind that I want that packet. Sir Francis' confession may agree with it ; or—'tis just possible—he may try to tell a different story, in which event the packet might be useful.”
“Very true. The packet is still in Mrs. Lancaster's possession, is it not?”
"I gave it to her, for fear of my own curiosity. But 'tis another thing now. I must know what is in it. And soon!”
“Shall I get it for you?”
“ If you will be so kind. . . . No, on the whole, I think you had better not. Under the circumstances, Mrs. Lancaster would probably prefer to have me apply to her directly. But when I have got it, I shall want to consult with you
about it." “You may command me at any time, madame.”
Perdita rose, and the lawyer, though he would gladly have stayed longer, had no choice but to rise also. “Sir," said the Marquise, after contemplating him a moment, "I wish you would be con. sistent!"
Fillmore bowed, somewhat apprehensively : for although Perdita had given him to know that she was not afraid of him, he was beginning to be a little afraid of her. Perceiving that he did not catch her drift, she explained herself.
"You are one of the most agreeable and sensible men I ever met, on all points but one,” she said. “Be sensible on that too !”
“You might as well ask me not to be sensible to hunger, or to fire," he replied, drawing a deep breath and looking upon her with a sort of sullen ardour.
“ I have kept a part of my promise to you," continued the Marquise ; "I have showed you something of what I really am. There is nothing to love here "-she laid her finger on her breast" for beauty alone is not lovable to a man like you. And you have intellect enough : you need something besides intellect in a wife : and that something is just what I can never give.”
"You have it to give,” interrupted Fillmore," whether you give it to me or not.” “And what most annoys me,” she went on,
5 is that unless you come to your senses soon, I shall cease to like you, and therefore to be able to make use of you. So if you really care for me, you must not love me any more.”
“ It is no use," said Fillmore, with a slow movement of his head : and, without awaiting any further argument, he took his leave.
“ And now for you, Master Philip!” said the Marquise to herself, when she was alone. What she intended by such an exclamation there was nothing to indicate : but she called her maid, and having disembarrassed herself of her dressing-gown, she proceeded rapidly to complete her toilet, and gave orders for her carriage to be at the door at half past ten. A few minutes later she was being driven in the direction of the Lancasters' house.
VOL. CCLIV. No. 1825.
At this juncture, however, fortune again interposed to hasten matters, by bringing Philip to the corner of Hanover Square just as the Marquise's carriage was entering it. He recognised the livery, and puksed, raising his hat; but she had already caught sight of him, and the carriage drew up to the sidewalk. Philip appeared at the door, wearing a rather grave face. Perdita greeted him with radiant composure. His dejection recovered a little under this tonic; and when she followed it up by inviting him to take a seat beside her, he felt better, and complied. By a flash of memory, Perdita recollected a former occasion on which she had entreated him to do the same thing, and he had refused ; although then he had been a single man, whereas now he was married ; tris recollection made the Marquise
1 smile secretly. Meanwhile Philip took his seat in total unsuspiciousness of what was passing in her mind.
“Tell me where you want to go," she said, " and I'll drive you there."
" I was going to call on you."
In that case . suppose we carry out my original intention of-driving round the Park."
“It would give me great pleasure,” he answered ; whereupon she gave
the direction to the coachman.
“I haven't written a line for six weeks. I was coming about this Bendibow affair. Of course you've heard of it?”
" That his house was ransacked and he arrested-yes."
“Well; my wife . . . . we thought you might want those papers that you left with my wife. There's no knowing what may happen,
“You haven't got them with you ?”
“They may be needed; there's no telling, as you say. very kind of your wife-of you, that is, to think of it. You are all well and happy--that goes without saying?"
“Oh yes ; Marion is not very well this morning, though.” “ Indeed! What ails her?"
A headache, I believe. I don't know. I was away for a day or two, and she has not been quite herself since I came back.”
“Surely that's only what might be expected, after being deprived of you so long!"
“Perhaps so," said Philip, laconically. “We poor women, you know, are not permitted to amuse