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forget or forgive; it is a thing my poor brother never will condone. But she had no mother, poor child ; she had no mother! Only me to turn to, and I was never able to guide her as I ought. I have proved indeed a broken reed.” · "No, no!” exclaimed Lady Constance, quickly. “ You must not say that.”
“Ah, but it is true; only too true!” moaned the old lady. “ I have been no use at all.”
“But, my dear Elizabeth, she was quite old enough to know that the way in which she has acted was very wrong. I cannot see that anybody but herself is at all to blame."
"That terrible young man!” murmured Miss Dunstable. “He has made her believe that he loves her, and she has been over-persuaded and led away. And it is her fortune that he cares for, not her, poor darling! Just her fortune, nothing else.”
! And a tear fell on to Aunt Elizabeth's wizen, wrinkled hand, which she was too troubled to care to brush away. It glistened there in the fire-light, and the sight of it stirred the depths of Lady Constance's kind heart.
“We will hope not that,” she returned quickly. “There is no reason to think it is as bad as that, dear. It is not as if these Athertons were not well-off. They are rich, remember ; millionaires."
Ah, my dear, so they are; but they are business people, and they will treat this marriage as a business transaction, nothing more ! Unfortunately, my poor Mary is an heiress; a very great heiress; and everybody knew it. This young Atherton may be a millionaire, but he has done very well for himself, millionaire or not; and I know that if only she had not been an heiress, he would have left her here in peace.”
“ The fact that she is Lord Leftbury's daughter may have been an attraction, I fear,” said Lady Constance, gravely. "That, of course, is probable; but as to her fortune, I fancy that these people have more money than they know what to do with, so really, really, I see no cause for great anxiety so far as that goes."
But old Miss Dunstable was unconvinced ; she shook her head again, in a slow, forlorn fashion, and made no reply.
At this moment Flower entered the room, and advanced noiselessly towards them.
"His lordship would much like to see your ladyship, before your ladyship leaves the Castle," he announced, in a subdued tone, to Lady Constance.
She rose quickly.
“Yes,” she replied, “I will join him now, if I may, Elizabcth. I especially wish to see him.”
“Yes, yes, go to him, my dear! Pray go! I am glad, very glad that he will see you. Afterwards, I will give you a cup of tea and try to be a more cheerful companion," replied the old lady quickly, trying, as she spoke, to look up and smile, and failing pitiably in the well-meant attempt.
Lady Constance almost reluctantly left her alone. In her own opinion, the news which she was going to impart to Lord Leftbury was very good news indeed ; but somehow she felt less anxious to impart it now than she had done before her interview with Aunt Elizabeth, and she carried a very painful remembrance of that would-be smile with her, as she slowly followed Flower across the hall towards the library door.
Meanwhile, left alone, Aunt Elizabeth resumed the forlornly doubled-up attitude in which Lady Constance had found hér when she first entered the room.
Always selfish, always self-willed," she murmured to herself in a low, quavering whisper. "She never cared two straws for either of us, but I loved her—I loved her ! I loved her more than she or anybody else ever knew."
“A WONDERFUL REVELATION.”
FLOWER had ushered Lady Constance into the library and had himself withdrawn. She now stood with her hand in Lord Leftbury's grasp, looking into his kind, grave face, and neither of them just then seemed able to say a word.
"I apologise for asking you to come to me here, Lady Constance,” said Lord Leftbury at last,“ but you asked me if I would see you alone, and -_-"
“Pray say no more," interrupted Lady Constance quickly, as she spoke seating herself in the chair which he had drawn up near the fire for her; “I do. wish to see you alone very
particularly indeed, and I am most glad to have such an early opportunity of doing so."
But having said this Lady Constance became silent. It was true that she had something that she very particularly wished to say to him, but now that it came to the point she felt decidedly nervous, and found it almost impossible to say it.
She wished that he would make some remark, instead of standing there with his back to the fire, looking gravely and questioningly down into her face. It was so difficult to beginto break the ice by mentioning Mary's name. She seemed to understand by his attitude that he had wrapped himself up in a thick cloak of reserve, and that the subject which she wished to discuss was one which he had put aside, and which, of his own accord, he would never mention again. Yes! it was certainly difficult to begin, and for several seconds Lady Constance Bleak heartily wished herself at home again. It would have been so much easier to have written-so very much easier to have explained the matter in a letter, or to have placed the whole affair in Sir Reginald's hands. But then, Sir Reginald, with the very best of intentions and kindest of hearts, invariably went so very straight to the point, in a manner utterly devoid of that tact which she felt was needed in a case like this.
She had flattered herself that she could handle the subject with a lighter, more gentle touch, but now her self-confidence forsook her, and when she spoke again she stumbled awkwardly and made the very same remark which, in all probability, Sir Reginald would have made.
"I have felt for you so much,” she said nervously, “but I will say nothing about that.”
“ Thank you," he replied in a strangely quiet tone, “it will be kind if you will not. Of your sympathy I feel assured, and I thank you for it, but—but it is a subject that I cannot discuss, even with you."
“Oh, but I must discuss it, I really MUST!” she exclaimed. “We cannot possibly understand each other unless I do! Do sit down, Lord Leftbury, and please try and forgive me. It is so all-important that you should know the truth.”
Looking very grave, Lord Leftbury did as she requested him to do. He sat down slowly in a chair on the opposite side of the hearth, and then, saying nothing, he looked straight across at her, waiting for her to speak.
For several seconds she found this impossible; and when she continued, it was in a quick, nervous tone.
“Do you remember that when she was a baby she had a peculiar scar and blemish on her left foot ? ” she enquired abruptly.
The question, and the manner in which she asked it, caused an expression of surprise to cross Lord Leftbury's face. Naturally he could see no rhyme or reason in her sudden and unexpected enquiry, and altogether she seemed strangely unlike her own practical, sensible self.
“ Yes,” he replied quietly, “I certainly remember ; but it was on her right foot, not her left."
Lady Constance raised her head very suddenly, and her eyes, with a startled expression in them, met his.
“I beg your pardon,” she said, with decision. “You are mistaken. It was certainly on her left foot.”
It was Lord Leftbury's turn to look startled. “Why should you think so ?” he enquired quickly.
“I do not think, I know," she replied, in the same decided tone as before.
“Odd,” he said thoughtfully, “odd that you and I and Sleek should all have made the same mistake."
" Very odd,” she agreed, drily. “If it is a mistake, it is certainly very odd indeed.”
“ That it is a mistake there is no doubt,” was the quietly-given reply.
“How do you know that?" said Lady Constance.
“ Because there is no scar on her left foot," replied Lord Leftbury.
“Ah,” said Lady Constance, “how and when did you discover that?”
“Sleek discovered it. It was her left foot that she sprained at Delton Carr,” he replied, an expression of pain and distress overclouding his kind face as he spoke, for the remembrance of Delton Carr naturally enough called up other recollections which he had in vain been trying to put aside for ever, and forget.
A stern, sad expression quickly followed that one of pain.
He had loved her, it was true, but she had deceived him; and, as his sister had said, he was a man who found deceit unpardonable ; she had also, in his opinion, brought disgrace upon his name, and in marrying beneath her had for ever placed a barrier between herself and him. She, the last of the Dunstables, was the wife of a man who not only was not a gentleman by birth, but in himself did not even resemble one. It was a state of affairs which Lord Leftbury found it hard indeed to contemplate, and he wished much that Lady Constance would leave the subject of Mary and her scar alone.
This, Lady Constance had no intention of doing. She had just made a very curious and interesting discovery; she was beginning to be shrewdly suspicious that Lord Leftbury was not the only person Mary had deceived. “ And there is no scar on her left foot ?" she continued quietly.
No,” he replied shortly. “ And you say that there is one on her right foot ?" “ Yes.” “ Have you seen it?”
"No." And in spite of his dislike to the subject under discussion, her persistence was by now beginning to raise his interest and curiosity.
“Has Dr. Sleek seen it?" she continued, with a smile upon her lips.
“No, I think not. I really do not know.”
" I know," said Lady Constance calmly. “He has not seen . it. Ask him, and you will see that I am right."
Why should you think that he has not seen it?” enquired Lord Leftbury; interested now, in spite of himself.
“ Because it is not there," was the quiet reply.
“There again I think you are mistaken," said Lord Leftbury quickly. “She told me herself that it is there—that it is on her right foot."
"Did she?" murmured Lady Constance. “I suspected as much. Well, it is necessary that that scar should be seen ; that is all that I can say."
"I will never willingly see her again as long as I live,” returned Lord Leftbury, coldly, the old stern look returning to his face and his passing interest in the subject they had been discussing gone.