“Ah! and drift whither?”
Beatrice smiled so genially as she answered, that the other had no excuse for taking offence.
“Well, it might be better not to answer that.”
Lady Torridon looked at her with an impassive face.
“To hell, then?” she said.
“Well, yes: to hell,” said Beatrice.
There was a profound silence; broken by the stifled merriment of a servant behind the chairs, who transformed it hastily into a cough. Sir James glanced across in great distress at his son; but Chris’ eyes twinkled at him.
Lady Torridon was silent a moment, completely taken aback by the suddenness with which the battle had broken, and amazed by the girl’s audacity. She herself was accustomed to use brutality, but not to meet it. She laid her spoon carefully down.
“Ah!” she said, “and you believe that? And for those who hold wrong opinions, I suppose you would believe the same?”
“If they were wrong enough,” said Beatrice, “and through their fault. Surely we are taught to believe that, Mistress Torridon?”
The elder woman said nothing at all, and went on with her soup. Her silence was almost more formidable than her speech, and she knew that, and contrived to make it offensive. Beatrice paid no sort of attention to it, however; and without looking at her again began to talk cheerfully to Sir James about her journey from town. Margaret watched her, fascinated; her sedate beautiful face, her lace and jewels, her white fingers, long and straight, that seemed to endorse the impression of strength that her carriage and manner of speaking suggested; as one might watch a swordsman between the rounds of a duel and calculate his chances. She knew very well that her mother would not take her first repulse easily; and waited in anxiety for the next clash of swords.
Beatrice seemed perfectly fearless, and was talking about the King with complete freedom, and yet with a certain discretion too.
“He will have his way,” she said. “Who can doubt that?”
Lady Torridon saw an opening for a wound, and leapt at it.
“As he had with Master More,” she put in.
Beatrice turned her head a little, but made no answer; and there was not the shadow of wincing on her steady face.
“As he had with Master More,” said Lady Torridon a little louder.
“We must remember that he has my Lord Cromwell to help him,” observed Beatrice tranquilly.
Lady Torridon looked at her again. Even now she could scarcely believe that this stranger could treat her with such a supreme indifference. And there was a further sting, too, in the girl’s answer, for all there understood the reference to Ralph; and yet again it was impossible to take offence.
Margaret looked at her father, half-frightened, and saw again a look of anxiety in his eyes; he was crumbling his bread nervously as he answered Beatrice.