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THE GAME: MOUNTJOY LOSES
SURPRISE silenced Hugh for the moment. Iris understood the look that he
fixed on her, and answered it. "I am quite sure," she told him, "of
what I say."
Mountjoy's well-balanced mind hesitated at rushing to a conclusion.
"I am sure you are convinced of what you tell me," he said. "But
mistakes do sometimes happen in forming a judgment of handwriting."
In the state of excitement that now possessed her, Iris was easily
irritated; she was angry with Hugh for only supposing that she might
have made a mistake. He had himself, as she reminded him, seen Lord
Harry's handwriting in past days. Was it possible to be mistaken in
those bold thickly-written characters, with some of the letters so
quaintly formed? "Oh, Hugh, I am miserable enough as it is," she broke
out; "don't distract me by disputing what I know! Think of a woman so
kind, so disinterested, so charming--the very opposite of a false
creature--think of Mrs. Vimpany having deceived me!"
There was not the slightest reason, thus far, for placing that
interpretation on what had happened. Mountjoy gently, very gently,
"My dear, we really don't know yet that Mrs. Vimpany has been acting
under Lord Harry's instructions. Wait a little before you suspect your
fellow-traveller of offering her services for the purpose of deceiving
Iris was angry with him again: "Why did Mrs. Vimpany never tell me she
knew Lord Harry? Isn't that suspicious?"
Mountjoy smiled. "Let me put a question on my side," he said. "Did
_you_ tell Mrs. Vimpany you knew Lord Harry?" Iris made no reply; her
face spoke for her. "Well, then," he urged, "is _your_ silence
suspicious? I am far, mind, from saying that this may not be a very
unpleasant discovery. Only let us be sure first that we are right."
With most of a woman's merits, Miss Henley had many of a woman's
faults. Still holding to her own conclusion, she asked how they could
expect to be sure of anything if they addressed their inquiries to a
person who had already deceived them.
Mountjoy's inexhaustible indulgence still made allowances for her.
"When Mrs. Vimpany comes back," he said, "I will find an opportunity of
mentioning Lord Harry's name. If she tells us that she knows him, there
will be good reason in that one circumstance, as it seems to me, for
continuing to trust her."
"Suppose she shams ignorance," Iris persisted, "and looks as if she had
never heard of his name before?"
"In that case, I shall own that I was wrong, and shall ask you to
The finer and better nature of Iris recovered its influence at these
words. "It is I who ought to beg pardon," she said. "Oh, I wish I could
think before I speak: how insolent and ill-tempered I have been! But
suppose I turn out to be right, Hugh, what will you do then?"
"Then, my dear, it will be my duty to take you and your maid away from
this house, and to tell your father what serious reasons there are"----
He abruptly checked himself. Mrs. Vimpany had returned; she was in
perfect possession of her lofty courtesy, sweetened by the modest
dignity of her smile.
"I have left you, Miss Henley, in such good company," she said, with a
gracious inclination of her head in the direction of Mountjoy, "that I
need hardly repeat my apologies--unless, indeed, I am interrupting a
It was possible that Iris might have betrayed herself, when the
doctor's wife had looked at her after examining the address on the
packet. In this case Mrs. Vimpany's allusion to "a confidential
conversation" would have operated as a warning to a person of
experience in the by-ways of deceit. Mountjoy's utmost exertion of
cunning was not capable of protecting him on such conditions as these.
The opportunity of trying his proposed experiment with Lord Harry's
name seemed to have presented itself already. He rashly seized on it.
"You have interrupted nothing that was confidential," he hastened to
assure Mrs. Vimpany. "We have been speaking of a reckless young
gentleman, who is an acquaintance of ours. If what I hear is true, he
has already become public property; his adventures have found their way
into some of the newspapers."
Here, if Mrs. Vimpany had answered Hugh's expectations, she ought to
have asked who the young gentleman was. She merely listened in polite
With a woman's quickness of perception, Iris saw that Mountjoy had not
only pounced on his opportunity prematurely, but had spoken with a
downright directness of allusion which must at once have put such a
ready-witted person as Mrs. Vimpany on her guard. In trying to prevent
him from pursuing his unfortunate experiment in social diplomacy, Iris
innocently repeated Mountjoy's own mistake. She, too, seized her
opportunity prematurely. That is to say, she was rash enough to change
"You were talking just now, Hugh, of our friend's adventures," she
said; "I am afraid you will find yourself involved in an adventure of
no very agreeable kind, if you engage a bed at the inn. I never saw a
more wretched-looking place."
It was one of Mrs. Vimpany's many merits that she seldom neglected an
opportunity of setting her friends at their ease.
"No, no, dear Miss Henley," she hastened to say; "the inn is really a
more clean and comfortable place than you suppose. A hard bed and a
scarcity of furniture are the worst evils which your friend has to
fear. Do you know," she continued, addressing herself to Mountjoy,
"that I was reminded of a friend of mine, when you spoke just now of
the young gentleman whose adventures are in the newspapers. Is it
possible that you referred to the brother of the present Earl of
Norland? A handsome young Irishman--with whom I first became acquainted
many years since. Am I right in supposing that you and Miss Henley know
Lord Harry?" she asked.
What more than this could an unprejudiced mind require? Mrs. Vimpany
had set herself right with a simplicity that defied suspicion. Iris
looked at Mountjoy. He appeared to know when he was beaten. Having
acknowledged that Lord Harry was the young gentleman of whom he and
Miss Henley had been speaking, he rose to take leave.
After what had passed, Iris felt the necessity of speaking privately to
Hugh. The necessary excuse presented itself in the remote situation of
the inn. "You will never find your way back," she said, "through the
labyrinth of crooked streets in this old town. Wait for me a minute,
and I will be your guide."
Mrs. Vimpany protested. "My dear! let the servant show the way."
Iris held gaily to her resolution, and ran away to her room. Mrs.
Vimpany yielded with her best grace. Miss Henley's motive could hardly
have been plainer to her, if Miss Henley had confessed it herself.
"What a charming girl!" the doctor's amiable wife said to Mountjoy,
when they were alone. "If I were a man, Miss Iris is just the young
lady that I should fall in love with." She looked significantly at
Mountjoy. Nothing came of it. She went on: "Miss Henley must have had
many opportunities of being married; but the right man has, I fear, not
yet presented himself." Once more her eloquent eyes consulted Mountjoy,
and once more nothing came of it. Some women are easily discouraged.
Impenetrable Mrs. Vimpany was one of the other women; she had not done
with Mountjoy yet--she invited him to dinner on the next day.
"Our early hour is three o'clock," she said modestly. "Pray join us. I
hope to have the pleasure of introducing my husband."
Mountjoy had his reasons for wishing to see the husband. As he accepted
the invitation, Miss Henley returned to accompany him to the inn.
Iris put the inevitable question to Hugh as soon as they were out of
the doctor's house--"What do you say of Mrs. Vimpany now?"
"I say that she must have been once an actress," Mountjoy answered;
"and that she carries her experience of the stage into private life."
"What do you propose to do next?"
"I propose to wait, and see Mrs. Vimpany's husband to-morrow."
"Mrs. Vimpany, my dear, is too clever for me. If--observe, please, that
I do her the justice of putting it in that way--if she is really Lord
Harry's creature, employed to keep watch on you, and to inform him of
your next place of residence in England, I own that she has completely
deceived me. In that case, it is just possible that the husband is not
such a finished and perfect humbug as the wife. I may be able to see
through him. I can but try."
Iris sighed. "I almost hope you may not succeed," she said.
Mountjoy was puzzled, and made no attempt to conceal it. "I thought you
only wanted to get at the truth," he answered.
"My mind might be easier, perhaps, if I was left in doubt," she
suggested. "A perverse way of thinking has set up my poor opinion
against yours. But I am getting back to my better sense. I believe you
were entirely right when you tried to prevent me from rushing to
conclusions; it is more than likely that I have done Mrs. Vimpany an
injustice. Oh, Hugh, I ought to keep a friend--I who have so few
friends--when I have got one! And there is another feeling in me which
I must not conceal from you. When I remember Lord Harry's noble conduct
in trying to save poor Arthur, I cannot believe him capable of such
hateful deceit as consenting to our separation, and then having me
secretly watched by a spy. What monstrous inconsistency! Can anybody
believe it? Can anybody account for it?"
"I think I can account for it, Iris, if you will let me make the
attempt. You are mistaken to begin with."
"How am I mistaken?"
"You shall see. There is no such creature as a perfectly consistent
human being on the face of the earth--and, strange as it may seem to
you, the human beings themselves are not aware of it. The reason for
this curious state of things is not far to seek. How can people who are
ignorant--as we see every day--of their own characters be capable of
correctly estimating the characters of others? Even the influence of
their religion fails to open their eyes to the truth. In the Prayer
which is the most precious possession of Christendom, their lips repeat
the entreaty that they may not be led into temptation--but their minds
fail to draw the inference. If that pathetic petition means anything,
it means that virtuous men and women are capable of becoming vicious
men and women, if a powerful temptation puts them to the test. Every
Sunday, devout members of the congregation in church--models of
excellence in their own estimation, and in the estimation of their
neighbours--declare that they have done those things which they ought
not to have done, and that there is no health in them. Will you believe
that they are encouraged by their Prayer-books to present this sad
exposure of the frailty of their own admirable characters? How
inconsistent--and yet how entirely true! Lord Harry, as you rightly
say, behaved nobly in trying to save my dear lost brother. He ought, as
you think, and as other people think, to be consistently noble, after
that, in all his thoughts and actions, to the end of his life. Suppose
that temptation does try him--such temptation, Iris, as you innocently
present--why doesn't he offer a superhuman resistance? You might as
well ask, Why is he a mortal man? How inconsistent, how improbable,
that he should have tendencies to evil in him, as well as tendencies to
good! Ah, I see you don't like this. It would be infinitely more
agreeable (wouldn't it?) if Lord Harry was one of the entirely
consistent characters which are sometimes presented in works of
fiction. Our good English readers are charmed with the man, the woman,
or the child, who is introduced to them by the kind novelist as a being
without faults. Do they stop to consider whether this is a true picture
of humanity? It would be a terrible day for the book if they ever did
that. But the book is in no danger. The readers would even fail to
discover the falseness of the picture, if they were presented to
themselves as perfect characters. 'We mustn't say so, but how
wonderfully like us!' There would be the only impression produced. I am
not trying to dishearten you; I want to encourage you to look at
humanity from a wider and truer point of view. Do not be too readily
depressed, if you find your faith shaken in a person whom you have
hitherto believed to be good. That person has been led into temptation.
Wait till time shows you that the evil influence is not everlasting,
and that the good influence will inconsistently renew your faith out of
the very depths of your despair. Humanity, in general, is neither
perfectly good nor perfectly wicked: take it as you find it. Is this a
hard lesson to learn? Well! it's easy to do what other people do, under
similar circumstances. Listen to the unwelcome truth to-day, my dear;
and forget it to-morrow."
They parted at the door of the inn.
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