11. The Events Of Five Days
1. NOVEMBER THE TWENTY-NINTH
The search began at dawn, but a quarter past nine o'clock came without bringing
any result. Manston ate a little breakfast, and crossed the hollow of the park
which intervened between the old and modern manor-houses, to ask for an
interview with Miss Aldclyffe.
He met her midway. She was about to pay him a visit of condolence, and to
place every man on the estate at his disposal, that the search for any relic of his
dead and destroyed wife might not be delayed an instant.
He accompanied her back to the house. At first they conversed as if the death of
the poor woman was an event which the husband must of necessity deeply
lament; and when all under this head that social form seemed to require had
been uttered, they spoke of the material damage done, and of the steps which
had better be taken to remedy it.
It was not till both were shut inside her private room that she spoke to him in her
blunt and cynical manner. A certain newness of bearing in him, peculiar to the
present morning, had hitherto forbidden her this tone: the demeanour of the
subject of her favouritism had altered, she could not tell in what way. He was
entirely a changed man.
'Are you really sorry for your poor wife, Mr. Manston?' she said.
'Well, I am,' he answered shortly.
'But only as for any human being who has met with a violent death?'
He confessed it--'For she was not a good woman,' he added.
'I should be sorry to say such a thing now the poor creature is dead,' Miss
Aldclyffe returned reproachfully.
'Why?' he asked. 'Why should I praise her if she doesn't deserve it? I say exactly
what I have often admired Sterne for saying in one of his letters--that neither
reason nor Scripture asks us to speak nothing but good of the dead. And now,
madam,' he continued, after a short interval of thought, 'I may, perhaps, hope
that you will assist me, or rather not thwart me, in endeavouring to win the love of
a young lady living about you, one in whom I am much interested already.'
'You have been loving Cytherea all the while?'
Surprise was a preface to much agitation in her, which caused her to rise from
her seat, and pace to the side of the room. The steward quietly looked on and
added, 'I have been loving and still love her.'
She came close up to him, wistfully contemplating his face, one hand moving
indecisively at her side.
'And your secret marriage was, then, the true and only reason for that
backwardness regarding the courtship of Cytherea, which, they tell me, has been
the talk of the village; not your indifference to her attractions.' Her voice had a
tone of conviction in it, as well as of inquiry; but none of jealousy.