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35. A Cry
The third week had nearly elapsed, and as yet no one was allowed to see the patient.
For a time Stephen was inclined to be chagrined. It is not pleasant to have even the most
generous and benevolent intentions thwarted; and she had set her mind on making much
of this man whom fate and his own bravery had thrown athwart her life. But in these days
Stephen was in some ways a changed woman. She had so much that she wished to forget
and that she would have given worlds to recall, that she could not bear even to think of
any militant or even questioning attitude. She even began to take herself to task more
seriously than she had ever done with regard to social and conventional duties. When she
found her house full of so many and so varied guests, it was borne in upon her that such a
position as her own, with such consequent duties, called for the presence of some elder
person of her own sex and of her own class.
No better proof of Stephen's intellectual process and its result could be adduced than her
first act of recognition: she summoned an elderly lady to live with her and matronise her
house. This lady, the widow of a distant relation, complied with all the charted
requirements of respectability, and had what to Stephen's eyes was a positive gift: that of
minding her own business and not interfering in any matter whatever. Lady de Lannoy,
she felt, was her own master and quite able to take care of herself. Her own presence was
all that convention required. So she limited herself to this duty, with admirable result to
all, herself included. After a few days Stephen would almost forget that she was present.
Mr. Hilton kept bravely to his undertaking. He never gave even a hint of his hopes of the
restoration of sight; and he was so assiduous in his attention that there arose no
opportunity of accidental discovery of the secret. He knew that when the time did come
he would find himself in a very unpleasant situation. Want of confidence, and even of
intentional deceit, might be attributed to him; and he would not be able to deny nor
explain. He was, however; determined to stick to his word. If he could but save his
patient's sight he would be satisfied.
But to Stephen all the mystery seemed to grow out of its first shadowy importance into
something real. There was coming to her a vague idea that she would do well not to
manifest any concern, any anxiety, any curiosity. Instinct was at work; she was content to
trust it, and wait.
One forenoon she received by messenger a letter which interested her much. So much
that at first she was unwilling to show it to anyone, and took it to her own boudoir to read
over again in privacy. She had a sort of feeling of expectancy with regard to it; such as
sensitive natures feel before a thunderstorm. The letter was natural enough in itself. It
was dated that morning from Varilands, a neighbouring estate which marched with
Lannoy to the south.