It was very cruel to send a sensitive child of six years old in that way; but Hester was too much exhausted with her violent grief to go herself, and, devoted mother as she was in all else, she never perceived that poor child’s instinctive shrinking from Perrault.
We tried to be kind to her, and hoped she would soften towards us; but she did not. I could see her eyes glitter with their keen, searching glance under her crape veil, as if she were measuring Alured all over when the child walked into church with me; and, indeed, when he went to the Zoological Gardens some time later, and saw the cobra di capello, he said—
“Ursa, why does that snake look at me just like Lady Hester?”
There must have been fascination in the eager mystery of the gaze, for, strangely enough, he was not afraid of her. She always made much of him if he came in her way, and he was so fond of Trevor Lea that nothing made him so eager or happy as the thought of seeing him.
The one idea that her boy was ousted by Alured, and the longing to see him the heir, seemed to drive out everything else from Hester— almost feeling for her husband.
Fulk had written to Francis Dayman, and he intended to come and see after his sister as soon as he could leave his business; but this rather precipitated matters. Hester was persuaded that Alured could not live through that eighth year of his life at the utmost, and Perrault somehow persuaded her, that only as her husband could he protect her interests and Trevor’s, though what machinations she could have expected from us, I cannot guess; or how, in the case of a minor, we could have interfered with her rights. But the man had gained such an ascendancy over her, that she did not even perceive that the connection was not good for that great object of hers, her son’s position in society. In fact, he persuaded her that he was of a noble old French family, and ought to be a count. How we laughed when we heard of it! She did preserve wisdom enough to insist upon having her fortune conveyed to trustees for her son, so that Perrault could only touch the income, and not the principal; and as she told everyone that he had been determined upon this being done, I suppose he saw that any demur would excite her suspicion.
They went to London, and were married there, while we were still scouting poor Miss Prior’s rumours. We were very sorry when we thought of poor Joel’s charge; and, besides, “the count” had an uncomfortable slippery look about him. I can’t describe it otherwise. He was a slim, trim, well-dressed man, only given to elaborate jewellery and waistcoats, with polished black hair and boots, and keen French-looking eyes, well-mannered, and so versatile and polite, that he soon overcame people’s prejudices; and he was thought to make a much better master of the house than poor Joel had ever done.