But it was not so with Lady Scroope. She, indeed, came to the same conclusion as her friend, but she did so with much difficulty and after many inward struggles. She understood and valued the customs of the magic line. In her heart of hearts she approved of a different code of morals for men and women. That which merited instant, and as regarded this world, perpetual condemnation in a woman, might in a man be very easily forgiven. A sigh, a shake of the head, and some small innocent stratagem that might lead to a happy marriage and settlement in life with increased income, would have been her treatment of such sin for the heirs of the great and wealthy. She knew that the world could not afford to ostracise the men,--though happily it might condemn the women. Nevertheless, when she came to the single separated instance, though her heart melted with no ruth for the woman,--in such cases the woman must be seen before the ruth is felt,--though pity for Kate O'Hara did not influence her, she did acknowledge the sanctity of a gentleman's word. If, as Lady Mary told her, and as she could so well believe, the present Earl of Scroope had given to this girl a promise that he would marry her, if he had bound himself by his pledged word, as a nobleman and a gentleman, how could she bid him become a perjured knave? Sans reproche! Was he thus to begin to live and to deserve the motto of his house by the conduct of his life?
But then the evil that would be done was so great! She did not for a moment doubt all that Lady Mary told her about the girl. The worst of it had indeed been admitted. She was a Roman Catholic, ill-born, ill-connected, damaged utterly by a parent so low that nothing lower could possibly be raked out of the world's gutters. And now the girl herself was--a castaway. Such a marriage as that of which Lady Mary spoke would not only injure the house of Scroope for the present generation, but would tend to its final downfall. Would it not be known throughout all England that the next Earl of Scroope would be the grandson of a convict? Might there not be questions as to the legitimacy of the assumed heir? She herself knew of noble families which had been scattered, confounded, and almost ruined by such imprudence. Hitherto the family of Scroope had been continued from generation to generation without stain,--almost without stain. It had felt it to be a fortunate thing that the late heir had died because of the pollution of his wretched marriage. And now must evil as bad befall it, worse evil perhaps, through the folly of this young man? Must that proud motto be taken down from its place in the hall from very shame? But the evil had not been done yet, and it might be that her words could save the house from ruin and disgrace.