‘Contemptible fickleness!’ burst out Albinia, but Sophy implored silence by a gesture.
‘No,’ she said; ’it was a dream, a degrading, humiliating dream; but it is over.’
’There is no degradation except to the base trifler I once thought better things of.’
‘He has not trifled,’ said Sophy. ‘Wait! hush!’
There was a composure about her that awed Albinia, who stood watching in suspense while she went to the bed-room, drank some water, cooled her brow, pushed back her hair, and sitting down again in the same collected manner, which gave her almost a look of majesty, she said, ’Promise me, mamma, that all shall go on as if this folly had never crossed our minds.’
‘I can’t! I can’t, Sophy!’ said Albinia in the greatest agitation. ‘I can’t unknow that you have been shamefully used.’
’Then you will lead papa to break his promise to Genevieve, and lower me not only in my own eyes, but in those of every one.’
’He little knew that he was bringing her here to destroy his daughter’s happiness. So that was why she held off from Mr. Hope,’ cried Albinia, burning with such indignation, that on some one she must expend it, but a tirade against the artfulness of the little French witch was cut off short by an authoritative—
‘Don’t, mamma! You are unjust! How can she help being loveable!’
‘He had no business to know whether she was or not.’
‘You are wrong, mamma. The absurdity was in thinking I ever was so.’
‘Very little absurd,’ said Albinia, twining her arms round Sophy.
‘Don’t make me silly,’ hastily said Sophy, her voice trembling for a moment; ’I want to tell you all about it, and you will see that no one is to blame. The perception has been growing on me for a long time, but I was weak enough to indulge in the dream. It was very sweet!’ There again she struggled not to break down, gained the victory, and went on, ’I don’t think I should have dared to imagine it myself, but I saw others thought it, who knew more; I knew the incredible was sometimes true, and every little kindness he did—Oh! how foolish! as if he could help doing kindnesses! My better sense told me he did not really distinguish me; but there was something that would feed upon every word and look. Then last year I was wakened by the caricature business. That opened my eyes, for no one who had that in him would have turned my sister into derision. I was sullen then and proud, and when—when humanity and compassion brought him to me in my distress—oh! why—why could not I have been reasonable, and not have selfishly fed on what I thought was revived?’
‘He had no right—’ began Albinia, fiercely.