Lady Montbarry's glittering black eyes rested with steady attention on the woman who had addressed her in those terms. Not the faintest expression of confusion or alarm, not even a momentary flutter of interest stirred the deadly stillness of her face. She reposed as quietly, she held the screen as composedly, as ever. The test had been tried, and had utterly failed.
There was another silence. Lady Montbarry considered with herself. The smile that came slowly and went away suddenly--the smile at once so sad and so cruel--showed itself on her thin lips. She lifted her screen, and pointed with it to a seat at the farther end of the room. 'Be so good as to take that chair,' she said.
Helpless under her first bewildering sense of failure--not knowing what to say or what to do next--Mrs. Ferrari mechanically obeyed. Lady Montbarry, rising on the sofa for the first time, watched her with undisguised scrutiny as she crossed the room--then sank back into a reclining position once more. 'No,' she said to herself, 'the woman walks steadily; she is not intoxicated--the only other possibility is that she may be mad.'
She had spoken loud enough to be heard. Stung by the insult, Mrs. Ferrari instantly answered her: 'I am no more drunk or mad than you are!'
'No?' said Lady Montbarry. 'Then you are only insolent? The ignorant English mind (I have observed) is apt to be insolent in the exercise of unrestrained English liberty. This is very noticeable to us foreigners among you people in the streets. Of course I can't be insolent to you, in return. I hardly know what to say to you. My maid was imprudent in admitting you so easily to my room. I suppose your respectable appearance misled her. I wonder who you are? You mentioned the name of a courier who left us very strangely. Was he married by any chance? Are you his wife? And do you know where he is?'
Mrs. Ferrari's indignation burst its way through all restraints. She advanced to the sofa; she feared nothing, in the fervour and rage of her reply.
'I am his widow--and you know it, you wicked woman! Ah! it was an evil hour when Miss Lockwood recommended my husband to be his lordship's courier--!'
Before she could add another word, Lady Montbarry sprang from the sofa with the stealthy suddenness of a cat--seized her by both shoulders-- and shook her with the strength and frenzy of a madwoman. 'You lie! you lie! you lie!' She dropped her hold at the third repetition of the accusation, and threw up her hands wildly with a gesture of despair. 'Oh, Jesu Maria! is it possible?' she cried. 'Can the courier have come to me through that woman?' She turned like lightning on Mrs. Ferrari, and stopped her as she was escaping from the room. 'Stay here, you fool--stay here, and answer me! If you cry out, as sure as the heavens are above you, I'll strangle you with my own hands. Sit down again--and fear nothing. Wretch! It is I who am frightened-- frightened out of my senses. Confess that you lied, when you used Miss Lockwood's name just now! No! I don't believe you on your oath; I will believe nobody but Miss Lockwood herself. Where does she live? Tell me that, you noxious stinging little insect--and you may go.' Terrified as she was, Mrs. Ferrari hesitated. Lady Montbarry lifted her hands threateningly, with the long, lean, yellow-white fingers outspread and crooked at the tips. Mrs. Ferrari shrank at the sight of them, and gave the address. Lady Montbarry pointed contemptuously to the door--then changed her mind. 'No! not yet! you will tell Miss Lockwood what has happened, and she may refuse to see me. I will go there at once, and you shall go with me. As far as the house-- not inside of it. Sit down again. I am going to ring for my maid. Turn your back to the door--your cowardly face is not fit to be seen!'