The place in Lincolnshire has shut its many eyes again, and the house in town is awake. In Lincolnshire the Dedlocks of the past doze in their picture-frames, and the low wind murmurs through the long drawing-room as if they were breathing pretty regularly. In town the Dedlocks of the present rattle in their fire-eyed carriages through the darkness of the night, and the Dedlock Mercuries, with ashes (or hair-powder) on their heads, symptomatic of their great humility, loll away the drowsy mornings in the little windows of the hall. The fashionable world — tremendous orb, nearly five miles round — is in full swing, and the solar system works respectfully at its appointed distances.
Where the throng is thickest, where the lights are brightest, where all the senses are ministered to with the greatest delicacy and refinement, Lady Dedlock is. From the shining heights she has scaled and taken, she is never absent. Though the belief she of old reposed in herself as one able to reserve whatsoever she would under her mantle of pride is beaten down, though she has no assurance that what she is to those around her she will remain another day, it is not in her nature when envious eyes are looking on to yield or to droop. They say of her that she has lately grown more handsome and more haughty. The debilitated cousin says of her that she's beauty nough — tsetup shopofwomen — but rather larming kind — remindingmanfact — inconvenient woman — who WILL getoutofbedandbawthstahlishment — Shakespeare.
Mr. Tulkinghorn says nothing, looks nothing. Now, as heretofore, he is to be found in doorways of rooms, with his limp white cravat loosely twisted into its old-fashioned tie, receiving patronage from the peerage and making no sign. Of all men he is still the last who might be supposed to have any influence upon my Lady. Of all women she is still the last who might be supposed to have any dread of him.
One thing has been much on her mind since their late interview in his turret-room at Chesney Wold. She is now decided, and prepared to throw it off.
It is morning in the great world, afternoon according to the little sun. The Mercuries, exhausted by looking out of window, are reposing in the hall and hang their heavy heads, the gorgeous creatures, like overblown sunflowers. Like them, too, they seem to run to a deal of seed in their tags and trimmings. Sir Leicester, in the library, has fallen asleep for the good of the country over the report of a Parliamentary committee. My Lady sits in the room in which she gave audience to the young man of the name of Guppy. Rosa is with her and has been writing for her and reading to her. Rosa is now at work upon embroidery or some such pretty thing, and as she bends her head over it, my Lady watches her in silence. Not for the first time to-day.
The pretty village face looks brightly up. Then, seeing how serious my Lady is, looks puzzled and surprised.
"See to the door. Is it shut?"
Yes. She goes to it and returns, and looks yet more surprised.
"I am about to place confidence in you, child, for I know I may trust your attachment, if not your judgment. In what I am going to do, I will not disguise myself to you at least. But I confide in you. Say nothing to any one of what passes between us."
The timid little beauty promises in all earnestness to be trustworthy.
"Do you know," Lady Dedlock asks her, signing to her to bring her chair nearer, "do you know, Rosa, that I am different to you from what I am to any one?"
"Yes, my Lady. Much kinder. But then I often think I know you as you really are."
"You often think you know me as I really am? Poor child, poor child!"
She says it with a kind of scorn — though not of Rosa — and sits brooding, looking dreamily at her.
"Do you think, Rosa, you are any relief or comfort to me? Do you suppose your being young and natural, and fond of me and grateful to me, makes it any pleasure to me to have you near me?"
"I don't know, my Lady; I can scarcely hope so. But with all my heart, I wish it was so."
"It is so, little one."
The pretty face is checked in its flush of pleasure by the dark expression on the handsome face before it. It looks timidly for an explanation.
"And if I were to say to-day, 'Go! Leave me!' I should say what would give me great pain and disquiet, child, and what would leave me very solitary."
"My Lady! Have I offended you?"
"In nothing. Come here."
Rosa bends down on the footstool at my Lady's feet. My Lady, with that motherly touch of the famous ironmaster night, lays her hand upon her dark hair and gently keeps it there.
"I told you, Rosa, that I wished you to be happy and that I would make you so if I could make anybody happy on this earth. I cannot. There are reasons now known to me, reasons in which you have no part, rendering it far better for you that you should not remain here. You must not remain here. I have determined that you shall not. I have written to the father of your lover, and he will be here to-day. All this I have done for your sake."
The weeping girl covers her hand with kisses and says what shall she do, what shall she do, when they are separated! Her mistress kisses her on the cheek and makes no other answer.
"Now, be happy, child, under better circumstances. Be beloved and happy!"
"Ah, my Lady, I have sometimes thought — forgive my being so free — that YOU are not happy."
"Will you be more so when you have sent me away? Pray, pray, think again. Let me stay a little while!"
"I have said, my child, that what I do, I do for your sake, not my own. It is done. What I am towards you, Rosa, is what I am now — not what I shall be a little while hence. Remember this, and keep my confidence. Do so much for my sake, and thus all ends between us!"
She detaches herself from her simple-hearted companion and leaves the room. Late in the afternoon, when she next appears upon the staircase, she is in her haughtiest and coldest state. As indifferent as if all passion, feeling, and interest had been worn out in the earlier ages of the world and had perished from its surface with its other departed monsters.
Mercury has announced Mr. Rouncewell, which is the cause of her appearance. Mr. Rouncewell is not in the library, but she repairs to the library. Sir Leicester is there, and she wishes to speak to him first.
"Sir Leicester, I am desirous — but you are engaged."
Oh, dear no! Not at all. Only Mr. Tulkinghorn.
Always at hand. Haunting every place. No relief or security from him for a moment.
"I beg your pardon, Lady Dedlock. Will you allow me to retire?"
With a look that plainly says, "You know you have the power to remain if you will," she tells him it is not necessary and moves towards a chair. Mr. Tulkinghorn brings it a little forward for her with his clumsy bow and retires into a window opposite. Interposed between her and the fading light of day in the now quiet street, his shadow falls upon her, and he darkens all before her. Even so does he darken her life.