Too much astonished to reply, I questioned her in my turn.
"Why do you ask?"
"Because I hope, for my own sake, there is one Baronet that you don't know."
"Will you tell me his name?"
"I can't—I daren't—I forget myself when I mention it." She spoke loudly and almost fiercely, raised her clenched hand in the air, and shook it passionately; then, on a sudden, controlled herself again, and added, in tones lowered to a whisper "Tell me which of them you know."
I could hardly refuse to humour her in such a trifle, and I mentioned three names. Two, the names of fathers of families whose daughters I taught; one, the name of a bachelor who had once taken me a cruise in his yacht, to make sketches for him.
"Ah! you don't know him," she said, with a sigh of relief. "Are you a man of rank and title yourself?"
"Far from it. I am only a drawing-master."
As the reply passed my lips—a little bitterly, perhaps—she took my arm with the abruptness which characterised all her actions.
"Not a man of rank and title," she repeated to herself. "Thank God! I may trust him."
I had hitherto contrived to master my curiosity out of consideration for my companion; but it got the better of me now.
"I am afraid you have serious reason to complain of some man of rank and title?" I said. "I am afraid the Baronet, whose name you are unwilling to mention to me, has done you some grievous wrong? Is he the cause of your being out here at this strange time of night?"
"Don't ask me: don't make me talk of it," she answered. "I'm not fit now. I have been cruelly used and cruelly wronged. You will be kinder than ever, if you will walk on fast, and not speak to me. I sadly want to quiet myself, if I can."
We moved forward again at a quick pace; and for half an hour, at least, not a word passed on either side. From time to time, being forbidden to make any more inquiries, I stole a look at her face. It was always the same; the lips close shut, the brow frowning, the eyes looking straight forward, eagerly and yet absently. We had reached the first houses, and were close on the new Wesleyan college, before her set features relaxed and she spoke once more.
"Do you live in London?" she said.