The Evil Genius
3. Mrs. Presty Changes Her Mind
The two ladies were alone.
Widely as the lot in life of one differed from the lot in life of the other, they presented a
contrast in personal appearance which was more remarkable still. In the prime of life, tall
and fair--the beauty of her delicate complexion and her brilliant blue eyes rivaled by the
charm of a figure which had arrived at its mature perfection of development--Mrs. Linley
sat side by side with a frail little dark-eyed creature, thin and pale, whose wasted face
bore patient witness to the three cruelest privations under which youth can suffer--want
of fresh air, want of nourishment, and want of kindness. The gentle mistress of the house
wondered sadly if this lost child of misfortune was capable of seeing the brighter prospect
before her that promised enjoyment of a happier life to come.
"I was afraid to disturb you while you were resting," Mrs. Linley said. "Let me hope that
my housekeeper has done what I might have done myself, if I had seen you when you
"The housekeeper has been all that is good and kind to me, madam."
"Don't call me 'madam'; it sounds so formal--call me 'Mrs. Linley.' You must not think of
beginning to teach Kitty till you feel stronger and better. I see but too plainly that you
have not been happy. Don't think of your past life, or speak of your past life."
"Forgive me, Mrs. Linley; my past life is my one excuse for having ventured to come into
"In what way, my dear?"
At the moment when that question was put, the closed curtains which separated the
breakfast-room from the library were softly parted in the middle. A keen old face,
strongly marked by curiosity and distrust, peeped through--eyed the governess with stern
scrutiny--and retired again into hiding.
The introduction of a stranger (without references) into the intimacy of the family circle
was, as Mrs. Presty viewed it, a crisis in domestic history. Conscience, with its customary
elasticity, adapted itself to the emergency, and Linley's mother-in-law stole information
behind the curtain--in Linley's best interests, it is quite needless to say.
The talk of the two ladies went on, without a suspicion on either side that it was
overheard by a third person.
Sydney explained herself.
"If I had led a happier life," she said, "I might have been able to resist Mr. Linley's
kindness. I concealed nothing from him. He knew that I had no friends to speak for me;