“On Ralph’s account,” put in Beatrice serenely.
“Yes; how did you know? It is on Ralph’s account. She cannot forgive that. Can you say anything to her, do you think? Anything to explain? You understand—”
“I do not know how I dare say all this,” went on Mary blushing furiously, “but I must thank you too for what you have done for my sister. It is wonderful. I could have done nothing.”
“My dear,” said Beatrice. “I love your sister. There is no need for thanks.”
A loud voice hailed them.
“Sweetheart,” shouted Sir Nicholas, standing with his legs apart at the mounting steps. “The horses are fretted to death.”
“You will remember,” said Mary hurriedly, as they turned. “And—God bless you, Beatrice!”
Lady Torridon was indeed very quiet now. It was strange for the others to see the difference. It seemed as if she had been conquered by the one weapon that she could wield, which was brutality. As Mr. Carleton had said, she had never been faced before; she had been accustomed to regard devoutness as incompatible with strong character; she had never been resisted. Both her husband and children had thought to conquer by yielding; it was easier to do so, and appeared more Christian; and she herself, like Ralph, was only provoked further by passivity. And now she had met one of the old school, who was as ready in the use of worldly weapons as herself; she had been ignored and pricked alternately, and with astonishing grace too, by one who was certainly of that tone of mind that she had gradually learnt to despise and hate.
Chris saw this before his father; but he saw too that the conquest was not yet complete. His mother had been cowed with respect, as a dog that is broken in; she had not yet been melted with love. He had spoken to Mary the day before the Maxwells’ departure, and tried to put this into words; and Mary had seen where the opening for love lay, through which the work could be done; and the result had been the interview with Beatrice, and the mention of Ralph’s name. But Mary had not a notion how Beatrice could act; she only saw that Ralph was the one chink in her mother’s armour, and she left it to this girl who had been so adroit up to the present, to find how to pierce it.
Sir James had given up trying to understand the situation. He had for so long regarded his wife as an irreconcilable that he hoped for nothing better than to be able to keep her pacified; anything in the nature of a conversion seemed an idle dream. But he had noticed the change in her manner, and wondered what it meant; he hoped that the pendulum had not swung too far, and that it was not she who was being bullied now by this imperious girl from town.
He said a word to Mr. Carleton one day about it, as they walked in the garden.
“Father,” he said, “I am puzzled. What has come to my wife? Have you not noticed how she has not spoken for three days. Do you think she dislikes Mistress Atherton. If I thought that—”