He followed her listlessly as she turned away.
After walking a few paces only, she suddenly stood still.
Mr. Rayburn heard her talking to herself.
"Did I feel it again?" she said, as if perplexed by some doubt that awed or grieved her. After a while her arms rose slowly, and opened with a gentle caressing action--an embrace strangely offered to the empty air! "No," she said to herself, sadly, after waiting a moment. "More perhaps when to-morrow comes--no more to-day." She looked up at the clear blue sky. "The beautiful sunlight! the merciful sunlight!" she murmured. "I should have died if it had happened in the dark."
Once more she called to the dog; and once more she walked slowly away.
"Is she going home, papa?' the child asked.
"We will try and find out," the father answered.
He was by this time convinced that the poor creature was in no condition to be permitted to go out without some one to take care of her. From motives of humanity, he was resolved on making the attempt to communicate with her friends.
THE lady left the Gardens by the nearest gate; stopping to lower her veil before she turned into the busy thoroughfare which leads to Kensington. Advancing a little way along the High Street, she entered a house of respectable appearance, with a card in one of the windows which announced that apartments were to let.
Mr. Rayburn waited a minute--then knocked at the door, and asked if he could see the mistress of the house. The servant showed him into a room on the ground floor, neatly but scantily furnished. One little white object varied the grim brown monotony of the empty table. It was a visiting-card.
With a child's unceremonious curiosity Lucy pounced on the card, and spelled the name, letter by letter: "Z, A, N, T," she repeated. "What does that mean ?"
Her father looked at the card, as he took it away from her, and put it back on the table. The name was printed, and the address was added in pencil: "Mr. John Zant, Purley's Hotel."
The mistress made her appearance. Mr. Rayburn heartily wishe d himself out of the house again, the moment he saw her. The ways in which it is possible to cultivate the social virtues are more numerous and more varied than is generally supposed. This lady's way had apparently accustomed her to meet her fellow-creatures on the hard ground of justice without mercy. Something in her eyes, when she looked at Lucy, said: "I wonder whether that child gets punished when she deserves it?"
"Do you wish to see the rooms which I have to let?" she began.
Mr. Rayburn at once stated the object of his visit--as clearly, as civilly, and as concisely as a man could do it. He was conscious (he added) that he had been guilty perhaps of an act of intrusion.
The manner of the mistress of the house showed that she entirely agreed with him. He suggested, however, that his motive might excuse him. The mistress's manner changed, and asserted a difference of opinion.
"I only know the lady whom you mention," she said, "as a person of the highest respectability, in delicate health. She has taken my first- floor apartments, with excellent references; and she gives remarkably little trouble. I have no claim to interfere with her proceedings, and no reason to doubt that she is capable of taking care of herself."
Mr. Rayburn unwisely attempted to say a word in his own defense.
"Allow me to remind you--" he began.
"Of what, sir?"
"Of what I observed, when I happened to see the lady in Kensington Gardens."
"I am not responsible for what you observed in Kensington Gardens. If your time is of any value, pray don't let me detain you."
Dismissed in those terms, Mr. Rayburn took Lucy's hand and withdrew. He had just reached the door, when it was opened from the outer side. The Lady of Kensington Gardens stood before him. In the position which he and his daughter now occupied, their backs were toward the window. Would she remember having seen them for a moment in the Gardens?
"Excuse me for intruding on you," she said to the landlady. "Your servant tells me my brother-in-law called while I was out. He sometimes leaves a message on his card."
She looked for the message, and appeared to be disappointed: there was no writing on the card.
Mr. Rayburn lingered a little in the doorway on the chance of hearing something more. The landlady's vigilant eyes discovered him.
"Do you know this gentleman?" she said maliciously to her lodger.
"Not that I remember."
Replying in those words, the lady looked at Mr. Rayburn for the first time; and suddenly drew back from him.
"Yes," she said, correcting herself; "I think we met--"
Her embarrassment overpowered her; she could say no more.
Mr. Rayburn compassionately finished the sentence for her.
"We met accidentally in Kensington Gardens," he said.
She seemed to be incapable of appreciating the kindness of his motive. After hesitating a little she addressed a proposal to him, which seemed to show distrust of the landlady.
"Will you let me speak to you upstairs in my own rooms?" she asked.
Without waiting for a reply, she led the way to the stairs. Mr. Rayburn and Lucy followed. They were just beginning the ascent to the first floor, when the spiteful landlady left the lower room, and called to her lodger over their heads: "Take care what you say to this man, Mrs. Zant! He thinks you're mad."
Mrs. Zant turned round on the landing, and looked at him. Not a word fell from her lips. She suffered, she feared, in silence. Something in the sad submission of her face touched the springs of innocent pity in Lucy's heart. The child burst out crying.
That artless expression of sympathy drew Mrs. Zant down the few stairs which separated her from Lucy.
"May I kiss your dear little girl?" she said to Mr. Rayburn. The landlady, standing on the mat below, expressed her opinion of the value of caresses, as compared with a sounder method of treating young persons in tears: "If that child was mine," she remarked, "I would give her something to cry for."
In the meantime, Mrs.