We walked the whole length of the pier, chatting of our former meetings.
‘Not here,’ she said, as soon as I began to question.
I was led farther on, half expecting that the accessories of time and place would have to do with the revelation.
The bitter creature drew me at her heels into a linendraper’s shop. There she took a seat, pitched her voice to the key of a lady’s at a dinner-table, when speaking to her cavalier of the history or attire of some one present, and said, ’You are sure the illness was not at all feigned?’
She had me as completely at her mercy in this detestable shop as if I had been in a witness-box.
‘Feigned!’ I exclaimed.
‘That is no answer. And pray remember where you are.’
‘No, the illness was not feigned.’
‘And you have not made the most of it?’
‘What an extraordinary thing to say!’
’That is no answer. And please do not imagine yourself under the necessity of acting every sentiment of your heart before these people.’
She favoured a shopman with half-a-dozen directions.
‘My answer is, then, that I have not made the most of it,’ I said.
‘Not even by proxy?’
‘Once more I’m adrift.’
’You are certainly energetic. I must address you as a brother, or it will be supposed we are quarrelling. Harry, do you like that pattern?’
‘Yes. What’s the meaning of proxy?’
’With the accent you give it, heaven only knows what it means. I would rather you did not talk here like a Frenchman relating his last love-affair in company.
Must your voice escape control exactly at the indicatory words? Do you think your father made the most of it?’
’Of my illness? Oh! yes; the utmost. I should undoubtedly think so. That’s his way.’
‘Why did you permit it?’
’I was what they call “wandering” half the time. Besides, who could keep him in check? I rarely know what he is doing.’
‘You don’t know what he wrote?’
‘That you were dying.’
‘Of me? To whom?’
She scrutinized me, and rose from her chair. ’I must try some other shop. How is it, that if these English people cannot make a “berthe” fit to wear, they do not conceive the idea of importing such things from Paris? I will take your arm, Harry.’
‘You have bought nothing,’ I remarked.
‘I have as much as I went for,’ she replied, and gravely thanked the assistant leaning on his thumbs across the counter; after which, dropping the graceless play of an enigma, she inquired whether I had forgotten the Frau von Dittmarsch.
I had, utterly; but not her maiden name of Sibley.
‘Miss Goodwin, is she one of those who are coming to the island?’
’Frau von Dittmarsch? Yes. She takes an interest in you. She and I have been in correspondence ever since my visit to Sarkeld. It reminds me, you may vary my maiden name with the Christian, if you like. Harry, I believe you are truthful as ever, in spite—’