Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

shall sell that horse and groom yonder.

What

will you give me for them?"

""

'I'll take the horse," said his old friend, "but I won't have the groom. You and your wife have an ugly trick of making your servants so comfortable that they are discontented everywhere else."

So they parted, and Sir John went home to dinner at six, the hour in which he delighted, but at which he never was allowed to dine when Lady Hornbury was at home. Mr. Compton was very punctual, but was evidently very serious; and before dinner was over Sir John had calculated his losses at about from ten to twenty thousand pounds. When the servants were out of the room, and Mr. Compton proposed business, that gentleman looked so very grave that Sir John thought he should be well out of it with fifty thousand.

66

Now, frowner, how much is it?" said Sir John, laughing. "How much is it? Put a name to the figure, and have it over."

"To what figure, Sir John?"

""

To the figure of the sum I have lost. You look so black that I have put it at fifty thousand pounds. Is it the colliery?"

"And poor Tom's connection with her? Certainly."

"I fear that he married her." "Then why on earth did he keep his marriage secret?"

46

'He was not proud of it," said Mr. Compton. "It was a discreditable affair from beginning to end. She found that by her conduct she had lost all claim upon society, and she led him a terrible life, accusing him, perhaps with reason, of having cut her off from the world she loved so well. She got terribly anxious about her future state-superstitiously so. She left him to enter a religious house at Amiens." "Yes," said Sir John.

"The colliery is doing splendidly, Sir John. The sixty-fathom level has been struck, and the seam is seven feet thick. But

"He was given over to the Jesuits, and was brought up at Stonyhurst. His mother provided for him partly with the nine thousand pounds which she had drawn from the estate in three years, and partly from her own property, which was a very good one. The

"What is it, then?"

"Sir John, did you ever hear of your bro- Jesuits were honest stewards for the boy, acther, Sir Thomas's, domestic life?"

cording to Watson and Hicks, and although he refused to become a priest, the young man

"I fear," said Mr. Compton, "that he had married her before she left him: in fact, I know it."

and according to the other party's statements, that same son is alive."

"Yes," said Sir John.

""

'Do you remember a certain Marchioness is pretty well off." de Toul?"

[merged small][ocr errors]

"This is too monstrous to be true!" said Sir John.

"I don't know what to make of it," said Mr. Compton. "You never can reckon on an angry woman. It would seem that she left with the lady superior at her death a packet which was not to be opened for twenty-four years. This trust was handed from one ladysuperior to another, and was opened last year only. It contains, according to the other party, the proofs of her marriage and of the birth of this boy, which the other party have verified and are prepared to bring into court to-morrow. The other party have a terrible case, and Watson and Hicks are about the most respectable and safe firm in London."

"Then I have never been Sir John Hornbury at all?" said Sir John, with a coolness which utterly astonished Mr. Compton.

"If their story is right," said Mr. Compton.

66

'We have got to see about that."

"What became of this boy?"

"Do you believe this story?"

Mr. Compton did not speak one word, but shook his head.

"Ruin?" said Sir John, quietly.

"It looks very much like it," said Mr. Compton. "I have been busy about the thing without troubling you, and I cannot at present see that we have a leg to stand on. But I come to the strangest part of the whole story. This young man will make any compromise which you please on your own terms; will leave you in possession of the estates and title for your life; will do anything you can suggest, on one condition."

"You amaze me. What is his condition?" "The hand of Miss Edith."

"Like his impudence," exclaimed Sir John, "to ask Edith to marry him before she has seen him. Why, Compton," he went on, almost violently, "if Edith were to offer to save me by such an unnatural match, I would refuse my consent in such terms as would render a renewal of the offer impossible. I would sooner live in a garret on bread than consent to such

an arrangement. And Edith, my own daughter, do you think that she would degrade herself by marrying a man she did not love? You know her better, Compton?"

99

society as well as Mrs. Hornbury as she could
as Lady Hornbury. No, if she cares for this
man, and he is really the man-
"Of which we are not sure as yet," inter-
rupted Mr. Compton.

"Of which we are not sure as yet," repeated Sir John; "I would do anything I could for peace. For, Compton, we must not take this into court without a very good case; a better one than we have at present. I am not going

"You will have Lady Hornbury's fortune, to throw £100,000 into Watson and Hicks' Sir John, five hundred a year." lap, and leave you unpaid."

"I'd fight the matter for you if you were bankrupt to-morrow, Sir John," exclaimed Mr. Compton.

"I have not the least doubt of it at all, you obstinate old man. Now I will go to bed and sleep over it. I should like to see this Holmsdale. Have you any idea whether he knew of this when he first knew my daughter?"

"I do, Sir John, and I know you pretty well also. Of course neither of you would consent for an instant-only-'

"We shall have nothing, then," said Sir John, "if this be true. My poor Mary, my poor Mary!"

"Aye, but he will want that. I must be £300,000 in his debt."

46

'It is settled on herself."

[ocr errors]

Aye, but I will make her give it to himevery penny; she never disobeyed me yet, and she will not now."

Mr. Compton looked at his old friend with eyes which were brightened with admiration. "And this," he thought, "is the man whom the world calls mean in money matters, and jealous of his young wife?" "Sir John," he continued aloud, "I have something to tell you which will surprise you more than anything, my dear old friend. This young man has told Watson in confidence, and Watson has told me in confidence, that he not only knows Miss Edith, but is absolutely certain that he gained her affections eight months ago when she was staying with her aunt. Mr. Holms

dale says

"What!" cried Sir John. "Mr. Holmsdale-by-the-by, I forgot to tell you that the young gentleman who claims to be Sir Richard Hornbury goes by the name of Holmsdale, which the Jesuits gave him (they seem to have given him none of their evil ways, for he is behaving very well)-Mr. Holmsdale says that he is absolutely certain that his attentions would not be disagreeable to Miss Edith, and should his claim, on examination, be allowed by you, he asks you to put the question to the young lady herself."

"Why, Compton," said Sir John, solemnly, striking his hand on the table, "Lady Hornbury and I sent that young man to the right about with a flea in his ear eight months ago. I believe Edith did care for him, though she behaved splendidly, sir; nobly."

"Of that I have no doubt," said Mr. Compton. "Now the question is, supposing all things go wrong with us, will you- -?"

64

You must ask her mother about that. If Edith really cares for the man, I would drop my title and live quietly at Huntly Bank on a thousand a year. I should be sorry to lose my servants and horses, but Mary could go into

"Yes," said Mr. Compton, "as Watson pointed out to me, he had been to them about his claim before he ever saw her. His affection for her is utterly disinterested. When he got his dismissal from her he waited to see if he could see her again, and win her affections entirely without letting her know the fearful power in his hands. Watson says-and Watson knows young men pretty well-that Mr. Holmsdale will not move in the matter at all during your life unless Miss Edith marries some one else. That is Watson's opinion. I am of opinion that he might if he was to find a young lady more accessible than Miss Edith, but that is all guess-work. Has Miss Edith any predilections in another quarter?"

"That good ass Lumberton seems smitten," said Sir John, "but I don't think old d'Aurilliac has given him much chance. Good night!"

We must now leave Sir John to his own thoughts, and take flight to Paris, where the most terrible events were taking place. Lady Hornbury got to the Hôtel Meurice by two o'clock in the day, and by half-past two she was in the salon of Madame d'Aurilliac, in the Rue St. Honoré, awaiting that lady's pleasure with deep anxiety. She had not asked for Edith, considering it wiser to see the duenna herself. It is worthy of note that Lady Hornbury had been thinking matters over, and had come to the conclusion that Edith was not ill. Having allayed her maternal fears on this point without the least foundation, she had travelled on alone, and by thinking about her sea-sickness, the rumbling of the railway, and her postponed ball, she had arrived in Paris extremely cross, and was just nourishing a mortal hatred against Madame d'Aurilliac for having tele

graphed instead of writing more fully, when that good lady entered the room in full war paint and feathers, looking daggers. Lady Hornbury saw that there was going to be a fight, and was determined that she would not be the last to begin it. The conversation was carried on in French, which was greatly to Madame d'Aurilliac's advantage. But then Lady Hornbury had a great advantage in not understanding the most stinging of Madame's points, and so preserving a coolness which deserted that lady at one period of the conversation.

"How do you do, madame, and how is my daughter Edith? May I ask the reason of this mysterious telegram, and whether my daughter is ill?"

"I am not in the least degree aware of the state of your daughter's health, madame." "Would you be kind enough to explain yourself, madame?"

64

'Certainly. Your daughter left here five days ago.

""

"And where is she gone, if you please?" said Lady Hornbury.

"Into Burgundy."

"With your leave, madame?"

I

"No, madame, without my knowledge. have nourished a viper in my bosom which I was weak enough not to expel."

"If you allude to my daughter as a viper, madame, you forget yourself; and as for expelling her, she seems to have expelled herself. Are any further explanations convenient?"

"I have been most grossly deceived, yet I have borne everything. Madame, when I took your daughter into my house, did you say a word about the clandestine correspondence with Holmsdale?"

[ocr errors]

Now, my dear madame,” said Lady Hornbury, who by this time had managed to moisten her dry mouth and get her heart a little quiet. "We do not want any more vipers, if you please; we have had vipers enough. I must ask you civilly to give me an account of this matter from beginning to end, first requesting you to give me your honour as a D'Aurilliac that my daughter was married as you say."

"Madame de Rocroy," said Madame d'Aurilliac, "has made a marriage which I should have recommended myself had it been sanctioned by your ladyship. M. de Rocroy is a gentleman in every way worthy of the best woman in France, and of fortune, not large, but good. He is a gentleman high in favour with his majesty Henri V., as these jewels will show. It would seem that his majesty condescended to take interest in the love affairs of M. de Rocroy, and knew what was going on, for these jewels have arrived only to-day from Frohsdorf as a bridal present for Madame Rocroy. Here are the jewels, my lady; perhaps you will take charge of them."

'Certainly not," said Lady Hornbury. "It was no business of yours: and what you choose to call a clandestine correspondence was limited to a single letter from her, in which she forbade Mr. Holmsdale to speak to her."

66

66

Thank you," said Lady Hornbury, coolly. Madame, her late maid tells quite another "I may as well take them until my daughter story," said Madame d'Aurilliac. arrives in England: they are very fine jewels; indeed, I think that I will wear them myself until my daughter, Madame what name did you say?"

"Rocroy."

"If madame chooses to believe the word of a discharged and most unprincipled servant in preference to mine, I can only pity madame: my daughter is incapable of a mean or underhanded action."

"I think that you will change your opinion of Madame Rocroy directly," said Madame d'Aurilliac.

"Madame Rocroy? I never heard of the woman," said Lady Hornbury.

married four days ago secretly at the mairie of this arrondissement, and afterwards at the Carmelite chapel in the Rue de Brissac, and at the Protestant church in the Rue d'Aguesseau."

"Your daughter Edith is now Madame Rocroy," said Madame d'Aurilliac. “She was

Though Madame d'Aurilliac said this while she was looking straight into the eyes of Lady Hornbury, the Englishwoman never flinched or changed colour. Her mouth was as dry as dust, and her heart going wildly, but she never moved a muscle before the French woman. "Not before her," she thought, "not before that woman."

"And who," she asked, "is the gentleman whom madame has selected for my son-in-law?"

"Madame is kind enough to throw the blame on me. I thank madame very much indeed for allowing me to admit a viper to my house, and then throwing the blame of what has happened on me."

66

"Ah! Rocroy claims them. And now, my dear creature, how did all this come about? I am really dying to know."

"Insular wretch!" thought Madame d'Aurilliac; "she cares nothing for her daughter."

There was a wild, nearly bursting heart behind Lady Hornbury's broad bosom which told another tale though; and one sentence

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

"I wish you had, madame. I suppose that with that letter in my hand I may be excused from blame."

"I wish I had written in French," said Lady not want to talk about it, and I should think Hornbury. you did not either. You had better not. If you hold your tongue I will hold mine; if you speak I will ruin you: you depend on your pension; and affairs of this kind, so grossly misconducted as this has been by you, would ruin a dozen pensions."

"Go on with your tale, and we will talk about blame afterwards," said Lady Hornbury, who felt a trifle guilty, though she would have died sooner than show it.

"In consequence of that letter I admitted *Lord Lumberton's visits; nay, after I had discovered the affair Holmsdale, I encouraged them."

Lady Hornbury nodded, and sneezed in the most unconcerned manner, and said, "Go on, madame, for you begin to interest me."

"I encouraged his visits, knowing what I knew, and at last he proposed to her. She refused him with scorn, and he told me of it. I went to her and told her that in consequence of the affair Holmsdale she was destined to marry that young man by her parent's orders." "Oh, you told her that, did you, madame?" said Lady Hornbury.

"Yes, madame; I considered that I was acting under your instructions, and I told her that. I told her that she must give Lord Lumberton a favourable answer in five days. On the second day after that she was gone, and at night the young Comte de Millefleurs came and told me all that had happened: he had acted as groomsman, and his sister as bridesmaid."

[blocks in formation]

will send me a note of my daughter's expenses here to my hotel to-night I will discharge it. May I ask, had you any suspicions of the attentions of M. de Rocroy towards my daughter?"

"Madame's memory is short. I thought that his attentions were directed to your daughter's maid, and so I discharged her; she was only the go-between subsidized by Rocroy."

“Ah! I see,” said Lady Hornbury. “Well, madame, I suppose that neither of us has much cause to talk about this matter. I do

So Lady Hornbury got into her fiacre and went to the Hôtel Meurice after her great victory. Madame d'Aurilliac would have given a year's income had she seen her in her bedroom, alone with her maid, an old friend, who had been her nurse in times gone by.

"Pinner," said Lady Hornbury, throwing herself in a chair, "I have borne up before that woman, but I am going to die."

"What is the matter, my lady?" said the maid, kneeling before her.

"I never can face Sir John. And oh, my Edith! my Edith! dearer than ever, why could you not have trusted your mother?"

"Is Miss Edith dead?" asked the frightened maid.

"No, Pinner; but she has married a Frenchman, and deceived us all. Oh, Madame d'Aurilliac, I will remember you!"

Pinner got her mistress to bed as soon as possible. Lady Hornbury wrote a letter to her daughter, poste restante, Dijon, full of tenderness and kindness, only regretting that Edith had not confided in her, and putting her entirely in the right about Lord Lumberton's attentions. "I will not conceal from you the fact, my darling, that we should have liked you to marry Lord Lumberton, but that old idiot, Madame d'Aurilliac, mistook everything. As for this Rocroy of yours, give him a box on the ears for me, and tell him that I will give him another when I meet him."

That was the way that Lady Hornbury got out of the difficulty: was she a wise woman, or was she not? I think that she was wise. She said to Pinner before she cried herself to sleep, "She shall love me still, though that miserable old Frenchwoman made her distrust me. We must be off by the first train to Calais, and

I must break it to Sir John. That woman d'Aurilliac will send in her bill to-night. Wait up and pay it. It will be 10,000 francs, or thereabouts. Don't haggle; I'll give her her receipt some day."

phantly, and plying her hair-brushes. "I knew it as soon as you spoke. Tell me all about it, and don't keep me waiting. I was certain it was that when you spoke."

Sir John sat down and told her the whole matter, as Compton had related it, from be

Sir John slept over Mr. Compton's astonish-ginning to end. ing communication, and he came to this conclusion, that it was in all probability perfectly true.

In the first place, it was obvious that Compton believed it, and Compton was the first solicitor in London. It was also obvious that Watson believed it, and Watson was the last man in | the world to take up a case unless he was as good as certain. Compton might still find something not known as yet, but it seemed highly improbable. Sir John quietly acquiesced in the matter as far as he was concerned: the worst thing was the breaking it to his wife. "How will she take it?" he repeated to himself a hundred times over. There will be one explosion when I tell her the truth about Compton's story, and another when I order her to give up her fortune. I wonder how she will go through with it. Poor sweetheart, she has

never seen trouble yet."

Here she was, late the next day, fresh from Paris with a new bonnet and a frank smile. "Now, John," she said, "you may kiss me, but if you rumple my bonnet you rumple two pound four, and so I warn you. And how are you, my dear?"

"I am as well as ever I was, I think," said Sir John. "I am wonderfully well. But I will come up to your dressing-room while you change your dress for dinner, for I have some very heavy news to tell you."

"I suppose that you have heard about half the truth, John," she said. "Come up and tell your story, then I will tell mine. Any one to dinner?"

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

"Well," she said, "surprises will never cease in the world. At all events, we have my fortune, and we can be very comfortable on that." 'Mary," said Sir John.

66

"Yes, dear."

"If this man is proved to be my nephew, I shall owe him about £300,000."

"I am afraid so; but we never can pay it." "We can pay him your £15,000."

"If you think it necessary to your honour, of course I will obey you; but it leaves us penniless. I suppose that we ought to give it. I will tell you what I can do better than most women-I can give music lessons.'

You are not afraid of the future, then, without a penny?"

"Not in the least. I have got you, John, and it will go hard but what I will keep you. I am not afraid so long as you are with me." "Come here, you golden woman, and sit on my knee," said Sir John.

She came, and their cheeks were together, and her brown hair was mingling with his gray hair, and they sat in the silence of love. Then you do not mind it?" he asked.

[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
« VorigeDoorgaan »