"You won't trust me?" I said.
"You are afraid?"
"Do I look as if I was?"
"You are afraid of Sir Percival Glyde?"
Her colour was rising, and her hands were at work again smoothing her gown. I pressed the point farther and farther home, I went on without allowing her a moment of delay.
"Sir Percival has a high position in the world," I said; "it would be no wonder if you were afraid of him. Sir Percival is a powerful man, a baronet, the possessor of a fine estate, the descendant of a great family----"
She amazed me beyond expression by suddenly bursting out laughing.
"Yes," she repeated, in tones of the bitterest, steadiest contempt. "A baronet, the possessor of a fine estate, the descendant of a great family. Yes, indeed! A great family-- especially by the mother's side."
There was no time to reflect on the words that had just escaped her, there was only time to feel that they were well worth thinking over the moment I left the house.
"I am not here to dispute with you about family questions," I said. "I know nothing of Sir Percival's mother----"
"And you know as little of Sir Percival himself," she interposed sharply.
"I advise you not to be too sure of that," I rejoined. "I know some things about him, and I suspect many more."
"What do you suspect?"
"I'll tell you what I DON'T suspect. I DON'T suspect him of being Anne's father."
She started to her feet, and came close up to me with a look of fury.
"How dare you talk to me about Anne's father! How dare you say who was her father, or who wasn't!" she broke out, her face quivering, her voice trembling with passion.
"The secret between you and Sir Percival is not THAT secret," I persisted. "The mystery which darkens Sir Percival's life was not born with your daughter's birth, and has not died with your daughter's death."
She drew back a step. "Go!" she said, and pointed sternly to the door.
"There was no thought of the child in your heart or in his," I went on, determined to press her back to her last defences. "There was no bond of guilty love between you and him when you held those stolen meetings, when your husband found you whispering together under the vestry of the church."
Her pointing hand instantly dropped to her side, and the deep flush of anger faded from her face while I spoke. I saw the change pass over her--I saw that hard, firm, fearless, self- possessed woman quail under a terror which her utmost resolution was not strong enough to resist when I said those five last words, "the vestry of the church."
For a minute or more we stood looking at each other in silence. I spoke first.
"Do you still refuse to trust me?" I asked.
She could not call the colour that had left it back to her face, but she had steadied her voice, she had recovered the defiant self-possession of her manner when she answered me.
"I do refuse," she said.
"Do you still tell me to go?"
"Yes. Go--and never come back."
I walked to the door, waited a moment before I opened it, and turned round to look at her again.
"I may have news to bring you of Sir Percival which you don't expect," I said, "and in that case I shall come back."
"There is no news of Sir Percival that I don't expect, except----"
She stopped, her pale face darkened, and she stole back with a quiet, stealthy, cat-like step to her chair.
"Except the news of his death," she said, sitting down again, with the mockery of a smile just hovering on her cruel lips, and the furtive light of hatred lurking deep in her steady eyes.
As I opened the door of the room to go out, she looked round at me quickly. The cruel smile slowly widened her lips--she eyed me, with a strange stealthy interest, from head to foot--an unutterable expectation showed itself wickedly all over her face. Was she speculating, in the secrecy of her own heart, on my youth and strength, on the force of my sense of injury and the limits of my self-control, and was she considering the lengths to which they might carry me, if Sir Percival and I ever chanced to meet? The bare doubt that it might be so drove me from her presence, and silenced even the common forms of farewell on my lips. Without a word more, on my side or on hers, I left the room.
As I opened the outer door, I saw the same clergyman who had already passed the house once, about to pass it again, on his way back through the square. I waited on the door-step to let him go by, and looked round, as I did so, at the parlour window.
Mrs. Catherick had heard his footsteps approaching, in the silence of that lonely place, and she was on her feet at the window again, waiting for him. Not all the strength of all the terrible passions I had roused in that woman's heart, could loosen her desperate hold on the one fragment of social consideration which years of resolute effort had just dragged within her grasp. There she was again, not a minute after I had left her, placed purposely in a position which made it a matter of common courtesy on the part of the clergyman to bow to her for a second time. He raised his hat once more. I saw the hard ghastly face behind the window soften, and light up with gratified pride--I saw the head with the grim black cap bend ceremoniously in return. The clergyman had bowed to her, and in my presence, twice in one day!