7Y03

7Y03

Isabel and the dog were at play together. Among the varied accomplishments possessed by Tommie, the capacity to take his part at a game of hide-and-seek was one. His playfellow for the time being put a shawl or a handkerchief over his head, so as to prevent him from seeing, and then hid among the furniture a pocketbook, or a cigar-case, or a purse, or anything else that happened to be at hand, leaving the dog to find it, with his keen sense of smell to guide him. Doubly relieved by the fit and the bleeding, Tommie’s spirits had revived; and he and Isabel had just begun their game when Moody looked into the room, charged with his terrible errand. “You’re burning, Tommie, you’re burning!” cried the girl, laughing and clapping her hands. The next moment she happened to look round and saw Moody through the parted curtains. His face warned her instantly that something serious had happened. She advanced a few steps, her eyes resting on him in silent alarm. He was himself too painfully agitated to speak. Not a word was exchanged between Lady Lydiard and Mr. Troy in the next room. In the complete stillness that prevailed, the dog was heard sniffing and fidgeting about the furniture. Robert took Isabel by the hand and led her into the drawing-room. “For God’s sake, spare her, my Lady!” he whispered. The lawyer heard him. “No,” said Mr. Troy. “Be merciful, and tell her the truth!”

He spoke to a woman who stood in no need of his advice. The inherent nobility in Lady Lydiard’s nature was aroused: her great heart offered itself patiently to any sorrow, to any sacrifice.

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Putting her arm round Isabel — half caressing her, half supporting her — Lady Lydiard accepted the whole responsibility and told the whole truth.

Reeling under the first shock, the poor girl recovered herself with admirable courage. She raised her head, and eyed the lawyer without uttering a word. In its artless consciousness of innocence the look was nothing less than sublime. Addressing herself to Mr. Troy, Lady Lydiard pointed to Isabel. “Do you see guilt there?” she asked.

Mr. Troy made no answer. In the melancholy experience of humanity to which his profession condemned him, he had seen conscious guilt assume the face of innocence, and helpless innocence admit the disguise of guilt: the keenest observation, in either case, failing completely to detect the truth. Lady Lydiard misinterpreted his silence as expressing the sullen self-assertion of a heartless man. She turned from him, in contempt, and held out her hand to Isabel.

“Mr. Troy is not satisfied yet,” she said bitterly. “My love, take my hand, and look me in the face as your equal; I know no difference of rank at such a time as this. Before God, who hears you, are you innocent of the theft of the bank-note?”

“Before God, who hears me,” Isabel answered, “I am innocent.”

Lady Lydiard looked once more at the lawyer, and waited to hear if he believed that.

Mr. Troy took refuge in dumb diplomacy — he made a low bow. It might have meant that he believed Isabel, or it might have meant that he modestly withdrew his own opinion into the background. Lady Lydiard did not condescend to inquire what it meant.

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“The sooner we bring this painful scene to an end the better,” she said. “I shall be glad to avail myself of your professional assistance, Mr. Troy, within certain limits. Outside of my house, I beg that you will spare no trouble in tracing the lost money to the person who has really stolen it. Inside of my house, I must positively request that the disappearance of the note may never be alluded to, in any way whatever, until your inquiries have been successful in discovering the thief. In the meanwhile, Mrs. Tollmidge and her family must not be sufferers by my loss: I shall pay the money again.” She paused, and pressed Isabel’s hand with affectionate fervor. “My child,” she said, “one last word to you, and I have done. You remain here, with my trust in you, and my love for you, absolutely unshaken. When you think of what has been said here to-day, never forget that.”

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Isabel bent her head, and kissed the kind hand that still held hers. The high spirit that was in her, inspired by Lady Lydiard’s example, rose equal to the dreadful situation in which she was placed.

“No, my Lady,” she said calmly and sadly; “it cannot be. What this gentleman has said of me is not to be denied — the appearances are against me. The letter was open, and I was alone in the room with it, and Mr. Moody told me that a valuable inclosure was inside it. Dear and kind mistress! I am not fit to be a member of your household, I am not worthy to live with the honest people who serve you, while my innocence is in doubt. It is enough for me now that you don’t doubt it. I can wait patiently, after that, for the day that gives me back my good name. Oh, my Lady, don’t cry about it! Pray, pray don’t cry!”

Lady Lydiard’s self-control failed her for the first time. Isabel’s courage had made Isabel dearer to her than ever. She sank into a chair, and covered her face with her handkerchief. Mr. Troy turned aside abruptly, and examined a Japanese vase, without any idea in his mind of what he was looking at. Lady Lydiard had gravely misjudged him in believing him to be a heartless man.

Isabel followed the lawyer, and touched him gently on the arm to rouse his attention.

“I have one relation living, sir — an aunt — who will receive me if I go to her,” she said simply. “Is there any harm in my going? Lady Lydiard will give you the address when you want me. Spare her Ladyship, sir, all the pain and trouble that you can.”

At last the heart that was in Mr. Troy asserted itself. “You are a fine creature!” he said, with a burst of enthusiasm. “I agree with Lady Lydiard — I believe you are innocent, too; and I will leave no effort untried to find the proof of it.” He turned aside again, and had another look at the Japanese vase.

As the lawyer withdrew himself from observation, Moody approached Isabel.

Thus far he had stood apart, watching her and listening to her in silence. Not a look that had crossed her face, not a word that had fallen from her, had escaped him. Unconsciously on her side, unconsciously on his side, she now wrought on his nature with a purifying and ennobling influence which animated it with a new life. All that had been selfish and violent in his passion for her left him to return no more. The immeasurable devotion which he laid at her feet, in the days that were yet to come — the unyielding courage which cheerfully accepted the sacrifice of himself when events demanded it at a later period of his life — struck root in him now. Without attempting to conceal the tears that were falling fast over his cheeks — striving vainly to express those new thoughts in him that were beyond the reach of words — he stood before her the truest friend and servant that ever woman had.