‘If Mr. White would see her,’ said Jane, ’he would understand at a glance that the attraction is perfectly involuntary; and I know from other sources how persistently she has avoided young Stebbing; giving up Sunday walks to prevent meeting him, accepting nothing from him, always avoiding tete-a-tetes.’
‘Hum! But tell me this, madam,’ said Mr. White eagerly, ’how is it that, if these young folks are so steady and diligent as you would make out, that eldest brother writes to me every few months for help to support them?’
‘Oh!’ Jane breathed out, then, rallying, ’I know nothing about that eldest. Yes, I do though! His sister told my niece that all the rents of the three houses went to enable Richard to appear as he ought at the solicitor’s office at Leeds.’
‘There’s a screw loose somewhere plainly,’ said Lord Rotherwood.
‘The question is, where it is,’ said Mr. White.
’And all I hope, said Jane, ’is that Mr. White will judge for himself when he has seen Kalliope and made inquiries all round. I do not say anything for the mother, poor thing, except that she is exceedingly ill just now, but I do thoroughly believe in the daughter.’
‘And this runaway scamp, Miss Mohun?’
‘I am afraid he is a runaway; but I am quite sure he is no scamp,’ said Jane.
‘Only so clever as to be foolish, eh?’ said the Marquis, rather provokingly.
‘Exactly so,’ she answered; ’and I am certain that if Mr. White will trust to his own eyes and his own inquiries, he will find that I am right.’
She knew she ought to go, and Lord Rotherwood told her afterwards, ’That was not an ill-aimed shaft, Jane. Stebbing got more than one snub over the survey. I see that White is getting the notion that there’s a system of hoodwinking going on, and of not letting him alone, and he is not the man to stand that.’
‘If he only would call on Kalliope!’
’I suspect he is afraid of being beguiled by such a fascinating young woman.’
It was a grievous feature in the case to Gillian that she could really do nothing. Mrs. White was so ill that going to see Kalliope was of no use, and Maura was of an age to be made useful at home; and there were features in the affair that rendered it inexpedient for Gillian to speak of it except in the strictest confidence to Aunt Jane or Mysie. It was as if she had touched a great engine, and it was grinding and clashing away above her while she could do nothing to stay its course.
Dr. Dagger examined Mrs. White and pronounced that there had been mortal disease of long standing, and that she had nearly, if not quite, reached the last stage. While people had thought her selfish, weak, and exacting, she must really have concealed severe suffering, foolishly perhaps, but with great fortitude.