Abbildungen der Seite

never unless I have something which I wish to say. I received your letter, written last Sunday. I am not really bad at all now, but it is kind of you to feel anxious and sorry for me.

You ask me when I am going to give you a right to see that I take better care of myself and avoid these accidents. As to that I cannot say ; I shall always wish to hunt and to hunt in my own way. But if you care to have the right to imagine you are looking after my welfare, I am prepared to give it you. This will no doubt surprise you very much; but to tell the truth, I have missed you a good bit, dear Tom, since I left Dunstable, and I have often wished that you were here to cheer me up in this terribly dull hole. Now, I am not in the habit of wishing for things; when I want them, I generally get them; I hate delay! And I have arrived at the conclusion that I want you. I find I care for you far more than I knew. If we are to be married, I agree with you it will be much the best plan to do so quietly, without any fuss or bother, or asking leave. (Which, by-the-bye

we know would not be granted.) Papa is going to return home on Friday. (Doctor Sleek is here, and thinks my ankle; is quite strong enough to do so now.) So I have been thinking it over, and have decided that I will not return to Dunstable at all; I can much more easily get away unnoticed here. Do not be too grcatly elated ! I always do things suddenly like this when I do them at all! I will leave here to-morrow night and go by the 11.5 train up to town. I shall put up at the Euston Hotel ; but must, of course, leave there very early in the morning. I shall order breakfast at seven ; and you may join me then. I am not called here till half-past eight o'clock; so no one will know I have gone until then, and I leave it to you to have procured a license and to have got the whole business over long before any one can discover where I am.

Ever, dear Tom,
" Your very affectionate,

“ MARY DUNSTABLE. “I have plenty of money ; so there will be no trouble about that."


[ocr errors]

“There,” said Mary, calmly, when she had scaled and addressed this extraordinary epistle. “I think that will settle Mr. Tom Atherton, and this tiresome business at one and the same time."



AFTER writing that letter to Tom Atherton, and giving it to Marie to post, Miss Dunstable had a very restless night. Not because she was altogether unhappy, but because she was obliged to confess to herself that circumstances had been too strong for her, and the fact that they had been so, bothered her. She knew that she had played her cards badly. She had held a winning hand, and thrown the game away.

The idea of this marriage with Tom Atherton was not so wholly distasteful to her as it might have been to some other, more refined women. The fact that he just fell short of being a gentleman had never made itself very apparent to the wornan who, by birth, was not a lady. She found him congenial in many ways; he had a tall, well-made figure, and a face that many people considered good-looking, and Mary admired him; and, perhaps, in spite of the fact that she believed herself to be in love with Sir John Blunt, she was a little in love with Tom Atherton, too. Several times when John Blunt had been absent from the scene, she had thought that she really cared for Tom; she was a woman to whom it was quite possible to be in love with two or three men at once, more or less. She had not got it in her to love any one individual very deeply, and although just now she imagined that no one, except the man she had thrown over, had ever had it in his power to make her heart beat quicker than its wont, she found less pain in the thought that she was raising an insurmountable barrier between herself and Sir John than she did in the fact that in marrying Tom Atherton she was resigning a social position which had had a very decided charm in it.

To a certain extent Tom Atherton had secured a footing for himself in society. Several of the county families in Mudshire received him in their houses, and treated him as one of themselves; but Mary was sufficiently well-versed in social ways to know it was only a very surface foothold that he enjoyed. It was of a slippery, uncertain nature, and very little might carry it away from beneath his feet.' In fact, Mr. Tom Atherton, because he was the son of a very rich man, and the heir to one


of the best properties in Mudshire, was tolerated by the Muddletonites; but, as Mary knew very well, for some reason or other he was not liked ; and between liking and toleration there exists a very wide margin indeed in a case of this kind.

Had her own position as Lord Leftbury's daughter and heiress been secure, Mary would never have dreamt of marrying Tom Atherton; but when aware that it was insecure, she had considered the matter over very often indeed. She had felt that as long as her secret remained undiscovered, it might be possible to carry things off with a high hand as the Honble. Mrs. Atherton; and that should discovery follow, it might be preferable to be the wife of a millionaire to being the daughter of Jane Grant, and the recipient of Lord Leftbury's charity.

Now she felt quite sure about it. Life might yet be endurable as the wife of Tom Atherton. She would have an unlimited supply of money at command; and she so firmly believed in her own popularity, that she felt little doubt of being able to keep not only her own head above water but Mr. Tom Atherton's too.

No. The idea of her marriage was not so very distasteful, in many ways; but still Mary had a bad night. The past day had been an all-eventful one, and her future course had been a little more hurriedly decided than she quite liked. Then, of course, she could not shut her eyes to the fact that she would henceforth hold a very different position in the world to that which she had so far held. It was únavoidable, but it troubled Mary a good deal that night, and the clock on the landing outside her door struck five before she fell into a restless sleep, in which a' vision of Sir John Blunt, sitting well down in his saddle at the tail of the Delton Hounds, gave way to another of Tom Atherton, with a jubilant grin on his face, endeavouring vainly to force a diamond necklace, several inches too small for it to meet, round her own white throat.

However, when Marie woke her, in spite of a bad night and restless dreams, she put aside all troublesome thoughts, and with the sunshine that streamed in through her window began to view the matter in a clearer light. And in that clearer light she told herself plainly that even now she would only marry Tom Atherton as a last resource. If all else failed she might congratulate herself upon the fact that she had Selwick Park and the shoemaker's millions to fall back upon.

Before that evening she determined to play her last card in the game she had been playing the day before with Dr. Sleek. She had one card left, an all-important one, which might yet win the game for her ; but which it would be very dangerous to display to her adversary, and unless she played it with both skill and care might place her in the very unpleasant position of being detected in unfair play.

A dangerous game certainly; but her last chance, and so as certainly to be played at all hazards. Should it succeed, Mr. Tom Atherton, instead of finding Miss Dunstable at the Euston Hotel on the following morning, would find a note awaiting him there, in which Miss Dunstable would explain that she found herself unable to get away from Delton unobserved.

After due consideration she decided that it would be as well, if her ankle felt sufficiently strong to permit her to do so, to get up; so to Marie's surprise, soon after breakfast she got out of bed and proceeded to make an unusually elaborate toilette.

As soon as this was accomplished, she sent Marie to order the invalid-chair belonging to the hotel to be brought to her door, and when it awaited her there, with the help of Marie's arm, and a walking-stick, she limped, with much apparent difficulty into the passage, and seated herself in it with a sigh of relief.

Lord Leftbury was reading the morning papers in his sittingroom, when Mary, with a very becoming colour in her cheeks, was carried in, smiling triumphantly.

Considering the fact that she had been in her room for more than a fortnight, and that he had had no warning of the fact

a that she intended leaving it that day, her appearance naturally caused him considerable surprise.

“My dear Mary!” he exclaimed, hastily rising, and throwing aside the paper he had been reading. “My dear, dear girl! is this quite prudent?”

" Perfectly, Papa," was the quick reply, given with a smile. 'If I am to return to Dunstable to-morrow, I should say it is very prudent indeed.”

" But you must be careful, very careful, my dear," expostulated the old man, as he assisted her across the short distance between the chair and a sofa, upon which Marie, with all the quickness and deftness of her race, had already spread some rugs and arranged some cushions.

Mary sank back amongst them as if the exertion which she had just undergone had been almost too much for her.

[ocr errors]


No young woman of her age ever was more robust than she was. She had an iron constitution, and a stock of such thoroughly good-health laid in from childhood that it would have taken far more than a fortnight's confinement to her room to in any way impair it. But, as she wisely told herself, it would never do for her to recover at a moment's notice. She had been an invalid for the last two weeks, and she must continue to be an invalid to-day.

For a few seconds she lay back amongst the cushions with her eyes half closed and her breath coming a little quicker than its wont from between those full, red lips of hers, then she looked up at Lord Leftbury and smiled.

“So stupid of me, dear," she murmured in a low, rather languid tone. “I really must grant for once in my life that I feel rather faint."

“Quick, Marie !” exclaimed his lordship, who looked by this time thoroughly anxious and fussed. "Some brandy! No! No! Do not go away! ring the bell ! ”

My dear Papa !” remonstrated the invalid. “I am not going to faint, really. Nothing in the world would induce me to do such a thing. I only felt rather funny just for a minute. That is all."

But by this time the frantic peals which the little Frenchwoman had bestowed upon the bell had brought Lord Leftbury's valet upon the scene, and before Mary had time to say any more upon the subject, a glass of brandy and water was held to her lips, by a hand that trembled with excitement, and in low, kind tones Lord Leftbury was urging her to drink it.

Now Mary had no objection to the dose thus offered. She had always been in the habit of drinking her fair share of wine at luncheon and dinner-time, and she by no means disliked either it or spirits. But that the latter were not highly distasteful to her, she had never permitted Lord Leftbury to know. Instinctively she had felt that he would prefer that they should

He liked a woman to be thoroughly womanly, and to him she had ever acted that part to the best of her ability.

So she made a slight, not unbecoming grimace, shook her head remonstratingly, and murmured something about his being a dear, tiresome creature, before she raised her head and took the glass from his trembling fingers. Then, considering she had done her duty, she raised it to her lips and without further ado, drank it at a draught.

be so.

« ZurückWeiter »