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"I have frightened you?" she said.
No. It was not fright. Why should I be frightened!
"I believe," said Lady Dedlock to my guardian, "I have the pleasure of speaking to Mr. Jarndyce."
"Your remembrance does me more honour than I had supposed it would, Lady Dedlock," he returned.
"I recognized you in church on Sunday. I am sorry that any local disputes of Sir Leicester's--they are not of his seeking, however, I believe--should render it a matter of some absurd difficulty to show you any attention here."
"I am aware of the circumstances," returned my guardian with a smile, "and am sufficiently obliged."
She had given him her hand in an indifferent way that seemed habitual to her and spoke in a correspondingly indifferent manner, though in a very pleasant voice. She was as graceful as she was beautiful, perfectly self-possessed, and had the air, I thought, of being able to attract and interest any one if she had thought it worth her while. The keeper had brought her a chair on which she sat in the middle of the porch between us.
"Is the young gentleman disposed of whom you wrote to Sir Leicester about and whose wishes Sir Leicester was sorry not to have it in his power to advance in any way?" she said over her shoulder to my guardian.
"I hope so," said he.
She seemed to respect him and even to wish to conciliate him. There was something very winning in her haughty manner, and it became more familiar--I was going to say more easy, but that could hardly be--as she spoke to him over her shoulder.
"I presume this is your other ward, Miss Clare?"
He presented Ada, in form.
"You will lose the disinterested part of your Don Quixote character," said Lady Dedlock to Mr. Jarndyce over her shoulder again, "if you only redress the wrongs of beauty like this. But present me," and she turned full upon me, "to this young lady too!"
"Miss Summerson really is my ward," said Mr. Jarndyce. "I am responsible to no Lord Chancellor in her case."
"Has Miss Summerson lost both her parents?" said my Lady.
"She is very fortunate in her guardian."
Lady Dedlock looked at me, and I looked at her and said I was indeed. All at once she turned from me with a hasty air, almost expressive of displeasure or dislike, and spoke to him over her shoulder again.
"Ages have passed since we were in the habit of meeting, Mr. Jarndyce."
"A long time. At least I thought it was a long time, until I saw you last Sunday," he returned.
"What! Even you are a courtier, or think it necessary to become one to me!" she said with some disdain. "I have achieved that reputation, I suppose."
"You have achieved so much, Lady Dedlock," said my guardian, "that you pay some little penalty, I dare say. But none to me."
"So much!" she repeated, slightly laughing. "Yes!"
With her air of superiority, and power, and fascination, and I know not what, she seemed to regard Ada and me as little more than children. So, as she slightly laughed and afterwards sat looking at the rain, she was as self-possessed and as free to occupy herself with her own thoughts as if she had been alone.
"I think you knew my sister when we were abroad together better than you know me?" she said, looking at him again.
"Yes, we happened to meet oftener," he returned.
"We went our several ways," said Lady Dedlock, "and had little in common even before we agreed to differ. It is to be regretted, I suppose, but it could not be helped."
Lady Dedlock again sat looking at the rain. The storm soon began to pass upon its way. The shower greatly abated, the lightning ceased, the thunder rolled among the distant hills, and the sun began to glisten on the wet leaves and the falling rain. As we sat there, silently, we saw a little pony phaeton coming towards us at a merry pace.
"The messenger is coming back, my Lady," said the keeper, "with the carriage."
As it drove up, we saw that there were two people inside. There alighted from it, with some cloaks and wrappers, first the Frenchwoman whom I had seen in church, and secondly the pretty girl, the Frenchwoman with a defiant confidence, the pretty girl confused and hesitating.
"What now?" said Lady Dedlock. "Two!"
"I am your maid, my Lady, at the present," said the Frenchwoman. "The message was for the attendant."
"I was afraid you might mean me, my Lady," said the pretty girl.
"I did mean you, child," replied her mistress calmly. "Put that shawl on me."
She slightly stooped her shoulders to receive it, and the pretty girl lightly dropped it in its place. The Frenchwoman stood unnoticed, looking on with her lips very tightly set.
"I am sorry," said Lady Dedlock to Mr. Jarndyce, "that we are not likely to renew our former acquaintance. You will allow me to send the carriage back for your two wards. It shall be here directly."
But as he would on no account accept this offer, she took a graceful leave of Ada--none of me--and put her hand upon his proffered arm, and got into the carriage, which was a little, low, park carriage with a hood.
"Come in, child," she said to the pretty girl; "I shall want you. Go on!"
The carriage rolled away, and the Frenchwoman, with the wrappers she had brought hanging over her arm, remained standing where she had alighted.
I suppose there is nothing pride can so little bear with as pride itself, and that she was punished for her imperious manner. Her retaliation was the most singular I could have imagined. She remained perfectly still until the carriage had turned into the drive, and then, without the least discomposure of countenance, slipped off her shoes, left them on the ground, and walked deliberately in the same direction through the wettest of the wet grass.
"Is that young woman mad?" said my guardian.
"Oh, no, sir!" said the keeper, who, with his wife, was looking after her. "Hortense is not one of that sort. She has as good a head-piece as the best. But she's mortal high and passionate-- powerful high and passionate; and what with having notice to leave, and having others put above her, she don't take kindly to it."
"But why should she walk shoeless through all that water?" said my guardian.
"Why, indeed, sir, unless it is to cool her down!" said the man.
"Or unless she fancies it's blood," said the woman. "She'd as soon walk through that as anything else, I think, when her own's up!"
We passed not far from the house a few minutes afterwards. Peaceful as it had looked when we first saw it, it looked even more so now, with a diamond spray glittering all about it, a light wind blowing, the birds no longer hushed but singing strongly, everything refreshed by the late rain, and the little carriage shining at the doorway like a fairy carriage made of silver. Still, very steadfastly and quietly walking towards it, a peaceful figure too in the landscape, went Mademoiselle Hortense, shoeless, through the wet grass.
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Bleak House -- by Charles Dickens