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“Your Ladyship will pardon me,” she said, “if I remark that my niece’s home is under my humble roof. I am properly sensible, I hope, of your kindness to Isabel, but while she remains the object of a disgraceful suspicion she remains with me.”

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Lady Lydiard closed her fan with an angry snap.

“You are completely mistaken, Miss Pink. You may not mean it — but you speak most unjustly if you say that your niece is an object of suspicion to me, or to anybody in my house.”

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Mr. Troy, quietly listening up to this point now interposed to stop the discussion before it could degenerate into a personal quarrel. His keen observation, aided by his accurate knowledge of his client’s character, had plainly revealed to him what was passing in Lady Lydiard’s mind. She had entered the house, feeling (perhaps unconsciously) a jealousy of Miss Pink, as her predecessor in Isabel’s affections, and as the natural protectress of the girl under existing circumstances. Miss Pink’s reception of her dog had additionally irritated the old lady. She had taken a malicious pleasure in shocking the schoolmistress’s sense of propriety — and she was now only too ready to proceed to further extremities on the delicate question of Isabel’s justification for leaving her house. For Isabel’s own sake, therefore — to say nothing of other reasons — it was urgently desirable to keep the peace between the two ladies. With this excellent object in view, Mr. Troy seized his opportunity of striking into the conversation for the first time.

“Pardon me, Lady Lydiard,” he said, “you are speaking of a subject which has been already sufficiently discussed between Miss Pink and myself. I think we shall do better not to dwell uselessly on past events, but to direct our attention to the future. We are all equally satisfied of the complete rectitude of Miss Isabel’s conduct, and we are all equally interested in the vindication of her good name.”

Whether these temperate words would of themselves have exercised the pacifying influence at which Mr. Troy aimed may be doubtful. But, as he ceased speaking, a powerful auxiliary appeared in the shape of the beer. Lady Lydiard seized on the jug, and filled the tumbler for herself with an unsteady hand. Miss Pink, trembling for the integrity of her carpet, and scandalized at seeing a peeress drinking beer like a washer-woman, forgot the sharp answer that was just rising to her lips when the lawyer interfered. “Small!” said Lady Lydiard, setting down the empty tumbler, and referring to the quality of the beer. “But very pleasant and refreshing. What’s the servant’s name? Susan? Well, Susan, I was dying of thirst and you have saved my life. You can leave the jug — I dare say I shall empty it before I go.”

Mr. Troy, watching Miss Pink’s face, saw that it was time to change the subject again.

“Did you notice the old village, Lady Lydiard, on your way here?” he asked. “The artists consider it one of the most picturesque places in England.”

“I noticed that it was a very dirty village,” Lady Lydiard answered, still bent on making herself disagreeable to Miss Pink. “The artists may say what they please; I see nothing to admire in rotten cottages, and bad drainage, and ignorant people. I suppose the neighborhood has its advantages. It looks dull enough, to my mind.”

Isabel had hitherto modestly restricted her exertions to keeping Tommie quiet on her lap. Like Mr. Troy, she occasionally looked at her aunt — and she now made a timid attempt to defend the neighborhood as a duty that she owed to Miss Pink.

“Oh, my Lady! don’t say it’s a dull neighborhood,” she pleaded. “There are such pretty walks all round us. And, when you get to the hills, the view is beautiful.”

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Lady Lydiard’s answer to this was a little masterpiece of good-humored contempt. She patted Isabel’s cheek, and said, “Pooh! Pooh!”