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“ It's all very
"When ? ” he enquired, heedless of her dismissal. She laughed. Not a pleasant or a happy laugh.
"To-morrow, of course," she replied. “Oh, yes, to-morrow. Do not be afraid of that, Sir John. We are certainly going to be married."
It was a remark which, if she had been quite herself, she would not have made-certainly not to him; but she was not quite herself just then, and she felt in a humour to say or do anything
"I never doubted that, Miss Dunstable," was the coldly given reply. Then, after one peculiar, searching look into her face, he once again raised his hat and left her standing alone.
Not for long. He had hardly gone a dozen steps when Tom Atherton came hurrying up.
" I say, Mary!” he exclaimed, expostulatingly. fine, but what the mischief is the meaning of all this? You send me off after your luggage and then spend the time I am away with that fellow, Blunt, with whom you travelled all the way up to town."
“ All the way!" she returned sarcastically. “Would you have wished me to have Aung myself out of the window to avoid doing so ?”
And she looked scornfully at his eager smiling face as she spoke, in a way that boded ill for their future happiness.
He had been speaking in jest, now he suddenly became earnest.
“Come, Mary, dearest !” he said quickly, “don't be vexed with me about it. I was only wondering whether you had changed your mind and meant to marry your old flame tomorrow instead of me."
A very curious expression passed over Mary's face, and she never noticed the sentimental lover-like expression in the eyes of the man who was so soon to be her husband. For a moment or two she looked straight before her, saying nothing. Then she raised her head and met her lover's glance.
"No," she replied quietly. “There is no mistake, Tom. I am going to marry you. Meanwhile, I cannot put up at this hotel here now. It will not be safe. He is quite capable of going straight to my uncle, who I know is in town, or telegraphing to my father, and this is the first place they would think of.”
“ More likely the last,” replied Tom, who was no fool on a subject of this sort.
"Nevertheless, I am not going to stay here. I will not risk it,” returned Mary resolutely.
“I am sure I do not wish you to do so, dear," was the prompt and soothing reply. “ Where do you wish to go ?”
“Anywhere!”, she replied indifferently. “Let us get into a hansom and drive about until we are sure we are not watched to begin with, that is all."
To this Tom Atherton of course agreed ; and during that drive he made up his mind where to deposit her for the remainder of the night.
An old housekeeper of his father's had married and set up a lodging house in Duke Street; and it was there that he finally took Mary, much to the good woman's astonishment.
He was in high, good spirits, was Mr. Tom Atherton. He had safely landed a prize which he had not only long coveted, but could ill have done without. As to Mary's unsympathetic mood, for she was in a very unsympathetic mood during that drive about town at midnight, he made the best of it, being in a humour to make the best of everything.
The next morning, early, they were married ; Mrs. Barker, the ex-housekeeper giving the bride away.
Everything had been done quite after the most approved fashion, as far as possible, in a humble, hurried way; and, as Tom Atherton told himself, Lord Leftbury's daughter and heiress was at last safely and unquestionably his wife.
“AUNT ELIZABETH IN TROUBLE.”
." Is his lordship at home, Flower ? ” enquired Lady Constance Bleak, putting her head out of the window of her brougham, and addressing Lord Lestbury's butler over the head of her footman, who stood between them.
The footman moved hastily aside, and Flower descended the steps as quickly as age and rheumatic affections would allow.
“Yes, my lady!” he replied in a low, subdued tone. “His lordship is at home, but I fear he is unable to see anyone to-day, We are very anxious about his lordship, my lady. My lord is far from well."
His manner and the way he spoke denoted that he was an old and trusted servant, but there was something more than that in Flower's manner as he stood by the door of Lady Constance's brougham and peered up anxiously into her face.
As he had said, his lordship was very far from well, and things had been going sadly awry at Dunstable for the last week or two in consequence. Flower was devoted to the kind-hearted old nobleman who had been his master for so many years, and when he had said that he was anxious about his lordship he had merely stated the truth.
During the last few weeks his lordship had become a changed man. Instead of spending his life out of doors, as he had habitually done for years, he now sat all day by the fire in his library. He smoked a great deal, and whenever anybody entered the room held a book in front of his eyes—as often as not upside down. He was fast developing quite a hasty temper, ate next to nothing, and refused to see a soul, except his sister, to whom, during the hours devoted to breakfast, luncheon, and dinner, he made a few desultory remarks about the weather, after long intervals of moody, depressed silence.
"So I have heard, Flower, and I have been very sorry to hear it!” replied Lady Constance gently. "I wish particularly to see him, if I can. How do you think it could be arranged ?"
Flower looked thoughtful. He also much wished that Lady Constance could see his master. He had the very deepest admiration for and belief in Lady Constance, in his humble way; but he did not see how it could be arranged; he could not see his way to arranging it at all. His lordship's orders had been very clear. He could see no one. Whoever called, Flower was to say that he was out.
Now Flower had not said he was out to Lady Constance Bleak. He felt that her ladyship was too old a friend to be
. treated like that. Besides he knew quite well that if he said that Lord Leftbury was out, she would not have believed him.
It was by this time a well-known fact that his lordship had not been outside the Castle gates for more than a fortnight.
Lady Constance looked thoughtfully into the old butler's face for several seconds, but saw that no assistance could be obtained from him.
“I will come in and see Miss Dunstable, Flower,” she remarked in a more decided tone. Meanwhile, give this note to his lordship, and we will see what it will do."
As she spoke, she took a note off the little ledge in front of her, handed it to Flower, and then briskly descended from her brougham and passed up the stone steps through the Castle halldoor.
She was shown into the drawing-room, where she found old Miss Elizabeth sitting shivering over the huge fire which blazed cheerfully in the wide, open grate.
There was no doubt about it, the old lady looked very old and very infirm and feeble. The last fortnight had aged her considerably.
“Constance, my dear, dear Constance !" she moaned, holding out one of her wizened, wrinkled hands. “It does me good to see you; I have been hoping you would come. But it is a dreary, miserable house that you have come to, and as for me, I do not think I shall ever hold up my head again."
The expression on Miss Dunstable's face, and the pitiful tone in which she spoke, touched Lady Constance to the heart; and for a few seconds she returned the nervous pressure of those thin, quivering fingers, saying nothing, but expressing much sympathy in the way she did it. Then, with Miss Dunstable's hand still held in her own firm, reassuring grasp, she sat down close beside her, and spoke in quite a cheerful tone of voice.
“ Come, come, my dearest Elizabeth, it is not so bad as all that!” she exclaimed quickly. "You must not take this very gloomy view of the matter. It will never do. Of course, it is a great blow to you, and a greater to Lord Leftbury ; but after all, an elopement is not such a very uncommon occurrence, and we must try and make the best of it.”
Miss Dunstable made no immediate reply; she merely shook her white-haired little head, and gave a feeble little moan.
“There is no best about it,” she murmured presently. “Life will never be the same again for her poor father and me. She is gone; has left us of her own accord; and he is angry, very angry, Constance, and vows that she shall never enter the house again during his lifetime."
Lady Constance looked surprised. She drew a long breath. Affairs had clearly taken an unexpected turn at Dunstable. In old days it had always seemed to her that Aunt Elizabeth was rather short and disagreeable in her manner to Mary, and that she saw that young woman's failings very plainly indeed. Whereas, as everybody knew, Lord Leftbury had idolized her, with an adoration which completely blinded him to the fact that she had a few very palpable faults.
In her surprise Lady Constance said nothing; and, before long, old Miss Dunstable continued speaking; still in the same low, pitiful tone as before.
" It is all entailed upon her, poor child! Everything! She is the last of the line; and unless my brother marries again there will be no putting that aside. He is not likely to marry again, Constance, is he? But it is all dreadful, very, very dreadful ; and just now he seems so angry that one can hardly tell what he may or may not do."
It was an idea which had never for a moment entered Lady Constance's head. Lord Leftbury was
Lord Leftbury was an old man; but, of course, now that she came to think the matter over, there was no reason why he should not marry again if he chose to do so.
" It is the deception which has hurt him so," continued Miss Dunstable, with another doleful little shake of her head. “The marriage itself is terrible, of course, but if only she had acted straightforwardly, I do think he might have forgiven her in time.”
Lady Constance felt that she must speak now. something; no matter what.
“Of course, that makes it worse,” she returned soothingly " It is always difficult to forgive deceit.”
And then, having said it, Lady Constance felt that she had better have left her words unsaid. There was but cold comfort in them, in spite of her sympathetic tone ; and the poor old lady's trouble was very great and very real. Personally, she might feel rejoiced that Mary had come so woefully to grief; and possibly in his anger Lord Leftbury might receive his own daughter with open arms, just as she hoped and wished that he would do; but poor old Aunt Elizabeth was broken-hearted, and it was more than evident that she still clung to her idol of clay.
“Yes,” she agreed, in a quavering tone. “ It is the thing that to most women and nearly all men is the most impossible to