Gryce was not the tenant of Lionnet, as the world knew him, but a mild yet awful god, in whose presence she stood revealed, and who was reading her soul, like her past, through and through. She was before him there as a criminal before a judge discovered, powerless and all attempt at concealment was at an end.
He had come there by accident and by choice lived in retirement, though also by choice he had not been there a month before he knew all there was to be known of every individual for miles round. The merest chances had made him personally acquainted with Sebastian Dundas those chances his tenancy of Lionnet and the slight attack of fever which called forth his landlord's sentiment and pity.
For a further local change, Lionnet was tenanted again by a strange and solitary man, who never went to church and did not visit in the neighborhood. He was in consequence believed to be a forger, an escaped convict in hiding, or, by the more charitable, a maniac as yet not dangerous.
Though she was no marquise, only plain Madame de Montfort so far she must confess for policy's sake, and to forestall discovery by ruder means, but what remained beyond she must keep secret as the grave, trusting to favorable fortune and man's honor for her safety though the story of the fraudulent trustee was untrue, and she never had more money than the three hundred pounds brought in her box wherewith to plant her roots in the North Aston soil though all the Lionnet bills were yet to be paid, and her husband must pay them, with awkward friends in London occasionally turning up to demand substantial sops, else they would show their teeth unpleasantly, still, she would get his forgiveness, and she would make him happy.
Also, she had the aroma of remembrance about her from another side remembrance when she had been madame's chosen friend and favorite, and the unconscious chaperon, poor dear! who had made his daily visits to Lionnet possible and respectable.
The Corfields did not count, because of Alick's illness, by which they were put in quarantine; and if Mr. Gryce at Lionnet had not been the cipher he was, his illness too would have disbarred him. There was nothing of the saint by nature nor of the instinctive philanthropist about Leam.
The drive was bordered all through with flowers from the rectory garden, and Lionnet too had been ransacked, and the hall was festooned from end to end with garlands, like a transformation-scene in a pantomime.
Gryce of Lionnet, who already knew what there was to be known of every family in the place, and who had the faculty of dovetailing parts into a whole characteristic of the born detective. The frost broke suddenly, and was succeeded by damp, close, unseasonable weather, continuing up to Christmas, and giving the "green yule" which the proverb says "makes a fat churchyard."
"I hope she is well?" he added, not attempting to conceal a certain accent of disappointment at her absence. "Quite well when I heard from her," answered Mr. Dundas, doing his best to speak without embarrassment. Mr. Gryce turned his face in frank astonishment on the speaker. "Ah! She is from home, then?" he asked. "Yes," said Mr. Dundas curtly. "I had not heard," lisped the tenant of Lionnet.
Personally, it made no difference whether she had to see madame at Lionnet or here at home, but it made all the difference to mamma, and that was all for which she cared. Thinking these things, she met Mrs. Birkett midway on the lawn, the kind soul having come out to speak a soothing word before the poor child went in, to let her feel that she was sympathized with, not abandoned by them all.