“Thank you,” said Clementina. She rose mechanically to her feet, and at the same time Mrs. Milray sat down.
“You will find Miss Milray,” she continued, with the same glacial hauteur, “a very agreeable and cultivated lady.”
Clementina said nothing; and Mrs. Milray added,
“And I hope she may have the happiness of being more useful to you than I have.”
“What do you mean, Mrs. Milray?” Clementina asked with unexpected spirit and courage.
“I mean simply this, that I have not succeeded in putting you on your guard against your love of admiration—especially the admiration of gentlemen. A young girl can’t be too careful how she accepts the attentions of gentlemen, and if she seems to invite them—”
“Mrs. Milray!” cried Clementina. “How can you say such a thing to me?”
“How? I shall have to be plain with you, I see. Perhaps I have not considered that, after all, you know nothing about life and are not to blame for things that a person born and bred in the world would understand from childhood. If you don’t know already, I can tell you that the way you have behaved with Lord Lioncourt during the last two or three days, and the way you showed your pleasure the other night in his ridiculous flatteries of you, was enough to make you the talk of the whole steamer. I advise you for your own sake to take my warning in time. You are very young, and inexperienced and ignorant, but that will not save you in the eyes of the world if you keep on.” Mrs. Milray rose. “And now I will leave you to think of what I have said. Here is the letter for Miss Milray—”
Clementina shook her head. “I don’t want it.”
“You don’t want it? But I have written it at Mr. Milray’s request, and I shall certainly leave it with you!”
“If you do,” said Clementina, “I shall not take it!”
“And what shall I say to Mr. Milray?”
“What you have just said to me.”
“What have I said to you?”
“That I’m a bold girl, and that I’ve tried to make men admi’a me.”
Mrs. Milray stopped as if suddenly daunted by a fact that had not occurred to her before. “Did I say that?”
“The same as that.”
“I didn’t mean that—I—merely meant to put you on your guard. It may be because you are so innocent yourself, that you can’t imagine what others think, and—I did it out of my regard for you.”
Clementina did not answer.
Mrs. Milray went on, “That was why I was so provoked with you. I think that for a young girl to stand up and dance alone before a whole steamer full of strangers”—Clementina looked at her without speaking, and Mrs. Milray hastened to say, “To be sure I advised you to do it, but I certainly was surprised that you should give an encore. But no matter, now. This letter—”
“I can’t take it, Mrs. Milray,” said Clementina, with a swelling heart.