I pay my debt? If I was a young woman still I might say, "Come, put your arm round my waist, and kiss me, if you like." I should have been fond enough of you even to go that length, and you would have accepted my invitation—you would, sir, twenty years ago! But I am an old woman now. Well! I can satisfy your curiosity, and pay my debt in that way. You HAD a great curiosity to know certain private affairs of mine when you came to see me—private affairs which all your sharpness could not look into without my help— private affairs which you have not discovered, even now. You SHALL discover them—your curiosity shall be satisfied. I will take any trouble to please you, my estimable young friend!
You were a little boy, I suppose, in the year twenty-seven? I was a handsome young woman at that time, living at Old Welmingham. I had a contemptible fool for a husband. I had also the honour of being acquainted (never mind how) with a certain gentleman (never mind whom). I shall not call him by his name. Why should I? It was not his own. He never had a name: you know that, by this time, as well as I do.
It will be more to the purpose to tell you how he worked himself into my good graces. I was born with the tastes of a lady, and he gratified them—in other words, he admired me, and he made me presents. No woman can resist admiration and presents—especially presents, provided they happen to be just the thing she wants. He was sharp enough to know that—most men are. Naturally he wanted something in return—all men do. And what do you think was the something? The merest trifle. Nothing but the key of the vestry, and the key of the press inside it, when my husband's back was turned. Of course he lied when I asked him why he wished me to get him the keys in that private way. He might have saved himself the trouble—I didn't believe him. But I liked my presents, and I wanted more. So I got him the keys, without my husband's knowledge, and I watched him, without his own knowledge. Once, twice, four times I watched him, and the fourth time I found him out.
I was never over-scrupulous where other people's affairs were concerned, and I was not over-scrupulous about his adding one to the marriages in the register on his own account.
Of course I knew it was wrong, but it did no harm to me, which was one good reason for not making a fuss abou