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 It was all very well of him to be so flattering, but I really did n’t see myself talking in that manner to Lady Vandeleur. I wondered why he didn’t give her this information himself, and what particular value it could have as coming from me. Then I said to myself that of course he had mentioned to her the truth I had impressed upon him (and which by this time he had evidently taken home), but that to enable it to produce its full effect upon Lady Yandeleur the further testimony1 of a witness more independent was required. There was nothing for me but to go and see her, and I went the next day, fully2 conscious that to execute Mr. Tester’s commission I should have either to find myself very brave or to find her strangely confidential3; and fully prepared, also, not to be admitted. But she received me, and the house in Upper Brook4 Street was as dismal5 as Ambrose Tester had represented it. The December fog (the afternoon was very dusky) seemed to pervade6 the muffled7 rooms, and her ladyship’s pink lamplight to waste itself in the brown atmosphere. He had mentioned to me that the heir to the title (a cousin of her husband), who had left her unmolested for several months, was now taking possession of everything, so that what kept her in town was the business of her “turning out,” and certain formalities connected with her dower. This was very ample, and the large provision made for her included the London house. She was very gracious on this occasion, but she certainly had remarkably8 little to say. Still, she was different, or at any rate (having taken that hint), I saw her differently. I saw, indeed, that I had never quite done her justice, that I had exaggerated her stiffness, attributed to her a kind of conscious grandeur9 which was in reality much more an accident of her appearance, of her figure, than a quality of her character. Her appearance is as grand as you know, and on the day I speak of, in her simplified mourning, under those vaguely10 gleaming lambris, she looked as beautiful as a great white lily. She is very simple and good-natured; she will never make an advance, but she will always respond to one, and I saw, that evening, that the way to get on with her was to treat her as if she were not too imposing11. I saw also that, with her nun-like robes and languid eyes, she was a woman who might be immensely in love. All the same, we hadn’t much to say to each other. She remarked that it was very kind of me to come, that she wondered how I could endure London at that season, that she had taken a drive and found the Park too dreadful, that she would ring for some more tea if I did n’t like what she had given me. Our conversation wandered, stumbling a little, among these platitudes12, but no allusion13 was made on either side to Ambrose Tester. Nevertheless, as I have said, she was different, though it was not till I got home that I phrased to myself what I had detected.  
Then, recalling her white face, and the deeper, stranger expression of her beautiful eyes, I entertained myself with the idea that she was under the influence of “suppressed exaltation.” The more I thought of her the more she appeared to me not natural; wound up, as it were, to a calmness beneath which there was a deal of agitation14. This would have been nonsense if I had not, two days afterwards, received a note from her which struck me as an absolutely “exalted” production. Not superficially, of course; to the casual eye it would have been perfectly15 commonplace. But this was precisely16 its peculiarity17, that Lady Vandeleur should have written me a note which had no apparent point save that she should like to see me again, a desire for which she did succeed in assigning a reason. She reminded me that she was paying no calls, and she hoped I wouldn’t stand on ceremony, but come in very soon again, she had enjoyed my visit so much. We had not been on note-writing terms, and there was nothing in that visit to alter our relations; moreover, six months before, she would not have dreamed of addressing me in that way. I was doubly convinced, therefore, that she was passing through a crisis, that she was not in her normal state of nerves. Mr. Tester had not reappeared since the occasion I have described at length, and I thought it possible he had been capable of the bravery of leaving town. I had, however, no fear of meeting him in Upper Brook Street; for, according to my theory of his relations with Lady Vaudeleur, he regularly spent his evenings with her, it being clear to me that they must dine together. I could answer her note only by going to see her the next day, when I found abundant confirmation18 of that idea about the crisis. I must confess to you in advance that I have never really understood her behavior,—never understood why she should have taken me so suddenly—with whatever reserves, and however much by implication merely—into her confidence. All I can say is that this is an accident to which one is exposed with English people, who, in my opinion, and contrary to common report, are the most demonstrative, the most expansive, the most gushing19 in the world. I think she felt rather isolated20 at this moment, and she had never had many intimates of her own sex. That sex, as a general thing, disapproved21 of her proceedings22 during the last few months, held that she was making Joscelind Bernardstone suffer too cruelly. She possibly felt the weight of this censure23, and at all events was not above wishing some one to know that whatever injury had fallen upon the girl to whom Mr. Tester had so stupidly engaged himself, had not, so far as she was concerned, been wantonly inflicted24. I was there, I was more or less aware of her situation, and I would do as well as any one else.
She seemed really glad to see me, but she was very nervous. Nevertheless, nearly half an hour elapsed, and I was still wondering whether she had sent for me only to discuss the question of how a London house whose appointments had the stamp of a debased period (it had been thought very handsome in 1850) could be “done up” without being made æsthetic. I forget what satisfaction I gave her on this point; I was asking myself how I could work round in the manner prescribed by Joscelind’s intended. At the last, however, to my extreme surprise, Lady Vandeleur herself relieved me of this effort.
“I think you know Mr. Tester rather well,” she remarked, abruptly25, irrelevantly26, and with a face’ more conscious of the bearings of things than any I had ever seen her wear. On my confessing to such an acquaintance, she mentioned that Mr. Tester (who had been in London a few days—perhaps I had seen him) had left town and would n’t come back for several weeks. This, for the moment, seemed to be all she had to communicate; but she sat looking at me from the corner of her sofa as if she wished me to profit in some way by the opportunity she had given me. Did she want help from outside, this proud, inscrutable woman, and was she reduced to throwing out signals of distress27? Did she wish to be protected against herself,—applauded for such efforts as she had already made? I didn’t rush forward, I was not
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