Little Lord Fauntleroy
It is astonishing how short a time it takes for very wonderful things to happen. It had
taken only a few minutes, apparently, to change all the fortunes of the little boy dangling
his red legs from the high stool in Mr. Hobbs's store, and to transform him from a small
boy, living the simplest life in a quiet street, into an English nobleman, the heir to an
earldom and magnificent wealth. It had taken only a few minutes, apparently, to change
him from an English nobleman into a penniless little impostor, with no right to any of the
splendors he had been enjoying. And, surprising as it may appear, it did not take nearly
so long a time as one might have expected, to alter the face of everything again and to
give back to him all that he had been in danger of losing.
It took the less time because, after all, the woman who had called herself Lady Fauntleroy
was not nearly so clever as she was wicked; and when she had been closely pressed by
Mr. Havisham's questions about her marriage and her boy, she had made one or two
blunders which had caused suspicion to be awakened; and then she had lost her presence
of mind and her temper, and in her excitement and anger had betrayed herself still
further. All the mistakes she made were about her child. There seemed no doubt that she
had been married to Bevis, Lord Fauntleroy, and had quarreled with him and had been
paid to keep away from him; but Mr. Havisham found out that her story of the boy's
being born in a certain part of London was false; and just when they all were in the midst
of the commotion caused by this discovery, there came the letter from the young lawyer
in New York, and Mr. Hobbs's letters also.
What an evening it was when those letters arrived, and when Mr. Havisham and the Earl
sat and talked their plans over in the library!
"After my first three meetings with her," said Mr. Havisham, "I began to suspect her
strongly. It appeared to me that the child was older than she said he was, and she made a
slip in speaking of the date of his birth and then tried to patch the matter up. The story
these letters bring fits in with several of my suspicions. Our best plan will be to cable at
once for these two Tiptons,--say nothing about them to her,--and suddenly confront her
with them when she is not expecting it. She is only a very clumsy plotter, after all. My
opinion is that she will be frightened out of her wits, and will betray herself on the spot."
And that was what actually happened. She was told nothing, and Mr. Havisham kept her
from suspecting anything by continuing to have interviews with her, in which he assured
her he was investigating her statements; and she really began to feel so secure that her
spirits rose immensely and she began to be as insolent as might have been expected.
But one fine morning, as she sat in her sitting-room at the inn called "The Dorincourt
Arms," making some very fine plans for herself, Mr. Havisham was announced; and
when he entered, he was followed by no less than three persons--one was a sharp-faced
boy and one was a big young man and the third was the Earl of Dorincourt.
She sprang to her feet and actually uttered a cry of terror. It broke from her before she
had time to check it. She had thought of these new-comers as being thousands of miles
away, when she had ever thought of them at all, which she had scarcely done for years.
She had never expected to see them again. It must be confessed that Dick grinned a little
when he saw her.
"Hello, Minna!" he said.