M rs. Ellmother addressed Francine. "You know, miss, that I served my late mistress for over twenty-five years. Will you please remember that--and let it be a reason for not asking me why I left my place."
Francine smiled compassionately. "My good creature, you have mentioned the very reason why I _should_ ask. You live five-and-twenty years with your mistress--and then suddenly leave her--and you expect me to pass over this extraordinary proceeding without inquiry. Take a little time to think."
"I want no time to think. What I had in my mind, when I left Miss Letitia, is something which I refuse to explain, miss, to you, or to anybody."
She recovered some of her old firmness, when she made that reply. Francine saw the necessity of yielding--for the time at least, Emily remained silent, oppressed by remembrance of the doubts and fears which had darkened the last miserable days of her aunt's illness. She began already to regret having made Francine and Mrs. Ellmother known to each other.
"I won't dwell on what appears to be a painful subject, "Francine graciously resumed. "I meant no offense. You are not angry, I hope?"
"Sorry, miss. I might have been angry, at one time. That time is over."
It was said sadly and resignedly: Emily heard the answer. Her heart ached as she looked at the old servant, and thought of the contrast between past and present. With what a hearty welcome this broken woman had been used to receive her in the bygone holiday-time! Her eyes moistened. She felt the merciless persistency of Francine, as if it had been an insult offered to herself. "Give it up!" she said sharply.
"Leave me, my dear, to manage my own business," Francine replied. "About your qualifications?" she continued, turning coolly to Mrs. Ellmother. "Can you dress hair?"