MISS HALCOMBE had never left Blackwater Park!
When I heard that astounding answer, all my thoughts were startled back on the instant to my parting with Lady Glyde. I can hardly say I reproached myself, but at that moment I think I would have given many a year's hard savings to have known four hours earlier what I knew now.
Mrs Rubelle waited, quietly arranging her nosegay, as if she expected me to say something.
I could say nothing. I thought of Lady Glyde's worn-out energies and weakly health, and I trembled for the time when the shock of the discovery that I had made would fall on her. For a minute or more my fears for the poor ladies silenced me. At the end of that time Mrs Rubelle looked up sideways from her flowers, and said, `Here is Sir Percival, ma'am, returned from his ride.'
I saw him as soon as she did. He came towards us, slashing viciously at the flowers with his riding- whip. When he was near enough to see my face he stopped, struck at his boot with the whip, and burst out laughing, so harshly and so violently that the birds flew away, startled, from the tree by which he stood.
`Well. Mrs Michelson,' he said, `you have found it out at last, have you?'
I made no reply. He turned to Mrs Rubelle.
`When did you show yourself in the garden?'
`I showed myself about half an hour ago, sir. You said I might take my liberty again as soon as Lady Glyde had gone away to London.'
`Quite right. I don't blame you I only asked the question.' He waited a moment, and then addressed himself once more to me. `You can't believe it, can you?' he said mockingly. `Here! come along and see for yourself.'
He led the way round to the front of the house. I followed him, and Mrs Rubelle followed me. After passing through the iron gates he stopped, and pointed with his whip to the disused middle wing of the building.
`There!' he said. `Look up at the first floor. You know the old Elizabethan bedrooms? Miss Halcombe is snug and safe in one of the best of them at this moment. Take her in, Mrs Rubelle (you have got your key?); take Mrs Michelson in, and let her own eyes satisfy her that there is no deception this time.'
The tone in which he spoke to me. and the minute or two that had passed since we left the garden. helped me to recover my spirits a little. What I might have done at this critical moment, if all my life had been passed in service, I cannot say. As it was, possessing the feelings, the principles, and the bringing up of a lady, I could not hesitate about the right course to pursue. My duty to myself, and my duty to Lady Glyde, alike forbade me to remain in the employment of a man who had shamefully deceived us both by a series of atrocious falsehoods.
`I must beg permission, Sir Percival, to speak a few words to you in private,' I said. `Having done so, I shall be ready to proceed with this person to Miss Halcombe's room.'
Mrs Rubelle, whom I had indicated by a slight turn of my head, insolently sniffed at her nosegay and walked away, with great deliberation, towards the house door.
`Well,' said Sir Percival sharply, `what is it now?'
`I wish to mention, sir, that I am desirous of resigning the situation I now hold at Blackwater Park.' That was literally how l put it. I was resolved that the first words spoken in his presence should be words which expressed my intention to leave his service.
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