This young lady at last rose again, but she lingered before going. "And has Captain Everard nothing to say to it?"
"To what, dear?"
"Why, to such questions--the domestic arrangements, things in the house."
"How can he, with any authority, when nothing in the house is his?"
"Not his?" The girl wondered, perfectly conscious of the appearance she thus conferred on Mrs. Jordan of knowing, in comparison with herself, so tremendously much about it. Well, there were things she wanted so to get at that she was willing at last, though it hurt her, to pay for them with humiliation. "Why are they not his?"
"Don't you know, dear, that he has nothing?"
"Nothing?" It was hard to see him in such a light, but Mrs. Jordan's power to answer for it had a superiority that began, on the spot, to grow. "Isn't he rich?"
Mrs. Jordan looked immensely, looked both generally and particularly, informed. "It depends upon what you call--! Not at any rate in the least as she is. What does he bring? Think what she has. And then, love, his debts."
"His debts?" His young friend was fairly betrayed into helpless innocence. She could struggle a little, but she had to let herself go; and if she had spoken frankly she would have said: "Do tell me, for I don't know so much about him as that!" As she didn't speak frankly she only said: "His debts are nothing--when she so adores him."
Mrs. Jordan began to fix her again, and now she saw that she must only take it all. That was what it had come to: his having sat with her there on the bench and under the trees in the summer darkness and put his hand on her, making her know what he would have said if permitted; his having returned to her afterwards, repeatedly, with supplicating eyes and a fever in his blood; and her having, on her side, hard and pedantic, helped by some miracle and with her impossible condition, only answered him, yet supplicating back, through the bars of the cage,--all simply that she might hear of him, now for ever lost, only through Mrs. Jordan, who touched him through Mr. Drake, who reached him through Lady Bradeen. "She adores him--but of course that wasn't all there was about it."
The girl met her eyes a minute, then quite surrendered. "What was there else about it?"
"Why, don't you know?"--Mrs. Jordan was almost compassionate.
Her interlocutress had, in the cage, sounded depths, but there was a suggestion here somehow of an abyss quite measureless. "Of course I know she would never let him alone."
"How could she--fancy!--when he had so compromised her?"
The most artless cry they had ever uttered broke, at this, from the younger pair of lips. "Had he so--?"
"Why, don't you know the scandal?"
Our heroine thought, recollected there was something, whatever it was, that she knew after all much more of than Mrs. Jordan. She saw him again as she had seen him come that morning to recover the telegram--she saw him as she had seen him leave the shop. She perched herself a moment on this. "Oh there was nothing public."
"Not exactly public--no. But there was an awful scare and an awful row. It was all on the very point of coming out. Something was lost--something was found."
"Ah yes," the girl replied, smiling as if with the revival of a blurred memory; "something was found."
"It all got about--and there was a point at which Lord Bradeen had to act."
"Had to--yes. But he didn't."
Mrs. Jordan was obliged to admit it. "No, he didn't. And then, luckily for them, he died."
"I didn't know about his death," her companion said.
"It was nine weeks ago, and most sudden. It has given them a prompt chance."
"To get married?"--this was a wonder--"within nine weeks?"
"Oh not immediately, but--in all the circumstances--very quietly and, I assure you, very soon. Every preparation's made. Above all she holds him."
"Oh yes, she holds him!" our young friend threw off. She had this before her again a minute; then she continued: "You mean through his having made her talked about?"
"Yes, but not only that. She has still another pull."
Mrs. Jordan hesitated. "Why, he was in something."
Her comrade wondered. "In what?"
"I don't know. Something bad. As I tell you, something was found."
The girl stared. "Well?"
"It would have been very bad for him. But, she helped him some way--she recovered it, got hold of it. It's even said she stole it!"
Our young woman considered afresh. "Why it was what was found that precisely saved him."
Mrs. Jordan, however, was positive. "I beg your pardon. I happen to know."
Her disciple faltered but an instant. "Do you mean through Mr. Drake? Do they tell him these things?"
"A good servant," said Mrs. Jordan, now thoroughly superior and proportionately sententious, "doesn't need to be told! Her ladyship saved--as a woman so often saves!--the man she loves."
This time our heroine took longer to recover herself, but she found a voice at last. "Ah well--of course I don't know! The great thing was that he got off. They seem then, in a manner," she added, "to have done a great deal for each other."
"Well, it's she that has done most. She has him tight."
"I see, I see. Good-bye." The women had already embraced, and this was not repeated; but Mrs. Jordan went down with her guest to the door of the house. Here again the younger lingered, reverting, though three or four other remarks had on the way passed between them, to Captain Everard and Lady Bradeen. "Did you mean just now that if she hadn't saved him, as you call it, she wouldn't hold him so tight?"
"Well, I dare say." Mrs. Jordan, on the doorstep, smiled with a reflexion that had come to her; she took one of her big bites of the brown gloom. "Men always dislike one when they've done one an injury."
"But what injury had he done her?"
"The one I've mentioned. He must marry her, you know."
"And didn't he want to?"
"Not before she recovered the telegram?"
Mrs. Jordan was pulled up a little. "Was it a telegram?"
The girl hesitated. "I thought you said so. I mean whatever it was."
"Yes, whatever it was, I don't think she saw that."
"So she just nailed him?"
"She just nailed him." The departing friend was now at the bottom of the little flight of steps; the other was at the top, with a certain thickness of fog. "And when am I to think of you in your little home?--next month?" asked the voice from the top.
"At the very latest. And when am I to think of you in yours?"
"Oh even sooner. I feel, after so much talk with you about it, as if I were already there!" Then "good-bye!" came out of the fog.
"Good-bye!" went into it. Our young lady went into it also, in the opposed quarter, and presently, after a few sightless turns, came out on the Paddington canal. Distinguishing vaguely what the low parapet enclosed she stopped close to it and stood a while very intently, but perhaps still sightlessly, looking down on it. A policeman; while she remained, strolled past her; then, going his way a little further and half lost in the atmosphere, paused and watched her. But she was quite unaware--she was full of her thoughts. They were too numerous to find a place just here, but two of the number may at least be mentioned. One of these was that, decidedly, her little home must be not for next month, but for next week; the other, which came indeed as she resumed her walk and went her way, was that it was strange such a matter should be at last settled for her by Mr. Drake
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