Suffer me, then, to ask you to retire; for by the signal of that bell, I perceive my old friend, your mother, to be close at hand. With her I promise you to do my utmost.'
And as Mrs. Desborough returned to the Divan, the Prince, opening a door upon the other side, admitted Mrs. Luxmore.
'Madam and my very good friend,' said he, 'is my face so much changed that you no longer recognise Prince Florizel in Mr. Godall?'
'To be sure!' she cried, looking at him through her glasses. 'I have always regarded your Highness as a perfect man; and in your altered circumstances, of which I have already heard with deep regret, I will beg you to consider my respect increased instead of lessened.'
'I have found it so,' returned the Prince, 'with every class of my acquaintance. But, madam, I pray you to be seated. My business is of a delicate order, and regards your daughter.'
'In that case,' said Mrs. Luxmore, 'you may save yourself the trouble of speaking, for I have fully made up my mind to have nothing to do with her. I will not hear one word in her defence; but as I value nothing so particularly as the virtue of justice, I think it my duty to explain to you the grounds of my complaint. She deserted me, her natural protector; for years, she has consorted with the most disreputable persons; and to fill the cup of her offence, she has recently married. I refuse to see her, or the being to whom she has linked herself. One hundred and twenty pounds a year, I have always offered her: I offer it again. It is what I had myself when I was her age.'
'Very well, madam,' said the Prince; 'and be that so! But to touch upon another matter: what was the income of the Reverend Bernard Fanshawe?'
'My father?' asked the spirited old lady. 'I believe he had seven hundred pounds in the year.'
'You were one, I think, of several?' pursued the Prince.
'Of four,' was the reply. 'We were four daughters; and painful as the admission is to make, a more detestable family could scarce be found in England.'
'Dear me!' said the Prince. 'And you, madam, have an income of eight thousand?'
'Not more than five,' returned the old lady; 'but where on earth are you conducting me?'
'To an allowance of one thousand pounds a year,' replied Florizel, smiling. 'For I must not suffer you to take your father for a rule. He was poor, you are rich. He had many calls upon his poverty: there are none upon your wealth. And indeed, madam, if you will let me touch this matter with a needle, there is but one point in common to your two positions: that each had a daughter more remarkable for liveliness than duty.'
'I have been entrapped into this house,' said the old lady, getting to her feet. 'But it shall not avail. Not all the tobacconists in Europe . . .'
'Ah, madam,' interrupted Florizel, 'before what is referred to as my fall, you had not used such language! And since you so much object to the simple industry by which I live, let me give you a friendly hint. If you will not consent to support your daughter, I shall be constrained to place that lady behind my counter, where I doubt not she would prove a great attraction; and your son-in-law shall have a livery and run the errands. With such young blood my business might be doubled, and I might be bound in common gratitude to place the name of Luxmore beside that of Godall.'
'Your Highness,' said the old lady, 'I have been very rude, and you are very cunning. I suppose the minx is on the premises. Produce her.'
'Let us rather observe them unperceived,' said the Prince; and so saying he rose and quietly drew back the curtain.
Mrs. Desborough sat with her back to them on a chair; Somerset and Harry were hanging on her words with extraordinary interest; Challoner, alleging some affair, had long ago withdrawn from the detested neighbourhood of the enchantress.
'At that moment,' Mrs. Desborough was saying, 'Mr Gladstone detected the features of his cowardly assailant. A cry rose to his lips: a cry of mingled triumph .