A lady entered in black, closely veiled.
‘Take a chair, my dear madam,’ said the Duke, rising. ‘Thompson, put a chair. That will do. Pray be seated, madam.’
‘Thank your Grace,’ said the Sister, waiting till the valet had left the room; ‘I had rather stand. I will not detain you five minutes.’
‘No detention at all, except as a pleased captive,’ said the Duke. ‘It does an old worthless fellow like me, shelved from all useful work, good to see one whose life is devoted to doing deeds of charity, to care and toil for others. The Sister of Mercy sums up in her little self the whole duty of man, as a proverb condenses the experience of ages.’
‘Your Grace must excuse me. I do no deeds of charity. I owe no duties to my fellows. I am not a Sister. I am a nobody. I am only Joanna.’ She threw back her veil. The Duke looked at her with mingled surprise and admiration; surprise, because he did not understand her words, admiration at her beauty.
‘You have not heard of me,’ said Joanna. ‘I do not suppose you have; but I know about you, and I know more concerning your affairs than do you yourself. I dressed in this disguise to come here, because I did not wish the servants to recognise and stop me. I determined to see your Grace. I am only a small mouse, and you a great lion, but you are fallen into a net, and I can bite the threads and free you.’
‘You must excuse me, Miss Joanna—but I really do not see your drift, and understand to what I owe the honour of this visit.’ The Duke put his hand to his head.
‘Your Grace is in the hands of Jews.’ Joanna opened a little handbag, and threw some deeds on the table. ‘Look there—the mortgages my master holds. I have taken them. I bring them to you. Tear them up and burn them, and Lazarus cannot touch you. I am with Lazarus. I would have allowed myself to be hacked to pieces rather than hurt him, but he dealt falsely by me. He sent me here to pry into and discover for him your affairs. Lord Saltcombe and Lady Grace have been kind to me. I will not help to bring them down. I will show them that I am grateful. I love—I dearly love Lady Grace.’
‘My good Miss Joanna,’ said the Duke, ‘I am perplexed beyond measure. I cannot understand——’
‘Those deeds will explain all,’ said Joanna, interrupting