“Is it not sufficient that you are allowed an asylum in my house, but you must also disgrace it! Three hours have you been hiding yourself with Francis Levison! You have done nothing but flirt with him from the moment he came; you did nothing else at Christmas.”
The attack was longer and broader, but that was the substance of it, and Isabel was goaded to resistance, to anger little less great than that of the countess. This!—and before her attendant! She, an earl’s daughter, so much better born than Emma Mount Severn, to be thus insultingly accused in the other’s mad jealousy. Isabel tossed her hair from the hands of Marvel, rose up and confronted the countess, constraining her voice to calmness.
“I do not flirt!” she said; “I have never flirted. I leave that”—and she could not wholly suppress in tone the scorn she felt—“to married women; though it seems to me that it is a fault less venial in them than in single ones. There is but one inmate of this house who flirts, so far as I have seen since I have lived in it; is it you or I, Lady Mount Severn?”
The home truth told on her ladyship. She turned white with rage, forgot her manners, and, raising her right hand, struck Isabel a stinging blow upon the left cheek. Confused and terrified, Isabel stood in pain, and before she could speak or act, my lady’s left hand was raised to the other cheek, and a blow left on that. Lady Isabel shivered as with a sudden chill, and cried out—a sharp, quick cry—covered her outraged face, and sank down upon the dressing chair. Marvel threw up her hands in dismay, and William Vane could not have burst into a louder roar had he been beaten himself. The boy—he was of a sensitive nature—was frightened.
My good reader, are you one of the inexperienced ones who borrow notions of “fashionable life” from the novels got in a library, taking their high-flown contents for gospel, and religiously believing that lords and ladies live upon stilts, speak, eat, move, breathe, by the rules of good-breeding only? Are you under the delusion—too many are—that the days of dukes and duchesses are spent discussing “pictures, tastes, Shakespeare, and the musical glasses?”—that they are strung on polite wires of silver, and can’t get off the hinges, never giving vent to angry tempers, to words unorthodox, as commonplace mortals do? That will come to pass when the Great Creator shall see fit to send men into the world free from baneful tempers, evil passions, from the sins bequeathed from the fall of Adam.
Lady Mount Severn finished up the scene by boxing William for his noise, jerked him out of the room, and told him he was a monkey.
Isabel Vane lived through the livelong night, weeping tears of anguish and indignation. She would not remain at Castle Marling—who would, after so great an outrage? Yet where was she to go? Fifty times in the course of the night did she wish that she was laid beside her father, for her feelings obtained the mastery of her reason; in her calm moments she would have shrunk from the idea of death as the young and healthy must do.