« ZurückWeiter »
opinion that Lord Leftbury ought to have scen that this was so, and to be thankful she had so satisfactorily removed all responsibility off his shoulders as regarded her future.
Amongst the friends who thought thus was his sister Elizabeth. She could not understand his conduct at all. She had really loved Mary very truly herself, and the fact that she was not her niece had not altered her feelings in any way towards her. Even to Aunt Elizabeth, Lord Leftbury never revealed the true state of affairs; and Aunt Elizabeth, who in old days had always been jealous of his love for Mary, and Mary's apparent love for him, now took his conduct towards her very deeply to heart indeed, and hardened her heart resolutely against Jennie.
She never said very much to her brother on the subject, but, as he was well aware, ever since Jennic's arrival at the Castle a breach, that grew daily wider, had sprung up between them.
He resented it. Resented still more her attitude towards Jennie ; and the extreme good-temper and gentle consideration which Jennie ever displayed, her deep anxiety to win the old lady's approval, and her whole bearing towards her, won from her father golden opinions.
It was quite beyond him to understand why Aunt Elizabeth should now so obstinately take up the cause of a woman with whom she had never apparently had an idea in common, whom she had in the past taken a keen delight in snubbing, and who had always treated her in a cool, uncourteous manner, sadly lacking both in consideration and respect. And equally difficult to understand did he find her coldness towards Jennic, with her winning manners and pretty, affectionate little wayo.
As a matter of fact, those same winning manners and affectionate ways of Jennie irritated Aunt Elizabeth as Mary's abrupt discourtesy had never done. She was one of those women who love best those who treat them the worst. She was, and ever had been, Mary's best friend.
And, although Mary had never known it, the day was not far off when she would have substantial proof of it; and let it be said in her favour, when that day came, Mary felt a little ashamed of her conduct towards the poor old lady in the past, and told herself that could it all come over again she would act very differently
How many times in our lives have we all thought that, too late?
"TOM WISIES IT."
Miss DUNSTABLE went out driving one afternoon carly in the following April alone. Jennie had offered to accompany her, but her offer had been refused. Such offers on Jennie's part generally were refused, so in that there was nothing very remarkable.
The thing that was rather remarkable about that drive of Miss Dunstable's was the direction which it took. Not that she had not a perfect right to take any direction she liked. The carriage she drove in was her own, the horses which drew it were her own, and the coachman who drove her and the footman on the box had been in her especial service for many years. No; it was not that she had not a right to take any direction she chose; but because she had never driven through the Selwick gates since the Athertons had bought the place, and because it was a wellknown fact that a feud existed between Lord Leftbury and the woman who was now staying as a guest within the walls of Selwick Park.
When he received his mistress's orders to drive to Selwick, her old coachman felt not a little surprised. She had always appeared to him to be such a timid, retiring old lady, and the course which she was now adopting in direct opposition to Lord Leftbury's wishes, struck him as being a very bold and daring one. He was an old man; but he had yet to learn that sometimes the most timid people do the boldest, most courageous actions.
Arrived at Selwick, Miss Dunstable enquired if Mrs. Atherton was at home. No one knew that she gave a sigh of relief when she was informed that Mrs. and the Miss Athertons were out driving, but that Mrs. Thomas Atherton was at home alone. spite of her enquiry for the elder lady, it must have been very well known at Selwick that it was Mrs. Thomas Atherton whom Miss Dunstable wished to sce,
She was ushered into a gorgeous room on the left-hand side of the broad corridor which led out of the hall. It was the room
which in Squire Selwick's time had been the drawing-room. It was the drawing-room still; but so changed since those by-gone days that Miss Dunstable could hardly believe it was the same.
It was very gorgeous; and that was the only remark that could have been made about it. The walls and hangings were draped in a dull, rich, golden-tinted satin. There were some good pictures, and some undeniably good old china; many huge palm trees, and a profusion of hot-house plants. There were Eastern screens, Kakimonas' reed curtains, and phoolkaris; and, one and all, they had been arranged there by the hand of some upholsterer. It might have been made into a really comfortable, pretty room, but as it was, it just escaped being vulgar and certainly was not artistic.
After one amazed glance at it, Miss Dunstable never bestowed a second thought upon the Athertons' drawing-room however. Like most other old ladies, the first thing she looked for amongst our modern fallals was a high, stiff-backed chair. Having discovered one in a distant corner, by aid of her pince-nes, she pointed to it with the old-fashioned walking-stick without which she was never seen. A footman, in array no whit less gorgeous than the room, brought it forward, and under her directions placed it at some distance from the fire, almost in the centre of the room.
With a little sigh of relief Miss Dunstable sat down on it, and then waited with an ever watchful eye for the door to open, and the sight of her dear Mary to rejoice her eyes once more.
She had not long to wait. Before many minutes had passed she stood face to face with young Mrs. Atherton, both her hands clasping hers, and her little, wrinkled old face held up to receive the kisses which that young woman was not so unwilling as she would have been in olden days to bestow upon it.
“My dear, dear Mary,” she murmured in a low, agitated tone. “Dear, dear child, how glad I am to see you again!”
This greeting took Mrs. Atherton, as we must now call her, rather by surprise. She was not prepared for such an exhibition of affection from a woman whom, in the past, she had treated far from well, and who on her part had seemed to take an especial delight in contradicting her, and opposing her wishes.
But, if surprised, young Mrs. Atherton was far too worldlywise to show it. She stood upon very different ground now-a
days to that which she had occupied in the past, and Miss Dunstable's friendship was now a thing to be encouraged.
" It is very kind of you to say so, Miss Dunstable,” she replied in a tone of voice duly modulated to suit the occasion. “Very kind indeed. I need not say that I too am glad."
“Miss Dunstable'! Oh, Mary! since when have I ceased to be Aunt Elizabeth ? " exclaimed the old lady pathetically, as she spoke gently patting the large, white, bejewelled hand she held in hers.
A cloud swept over Mary Atherton's face. “Since the day I ceased to be your brother's daughter,” she replied, in a tone which this time really told of mental agitation.
" Ah !” murmured Aunt Elizabeth sadly. “He has behaved cruelly, cruelly, Mary! I never knew until now how little heart he had. It never used to seem as if he was so devoid of feeling, in the old days, did it, Mary? And yet, to cast you off like this. For no fault--no fault of yours, dear!”
Young Mrs. Atherton drew a long, deep breath. So Lord Leftbury had kept her secret. Not even his own sister knew it.
She gently drew her hand away from Miss Dunstable's grasp, and deposited the old lady carefully in the high-backed chair upon which she had been sitting when she entered the room. Then she drew an arm-chair for herself close to it, and seating herself in it, looked up, with an expression of pain in her fine dark cycs, straight into her face. The expression was not badly done, and it went straight where it was intended to go, to the warmest, softest place in old Aunt Elizabeth's heart.
“Not exactly my fault, perhaps, dear Aunt Elizabeth," she replied gently. “But you see it was so hard upon poor Jennie. And she was his daughter all the time! Oh, of course, he must have felt it all very deeply, very deeply indeed! It is but natural--could not be otherwise."
Miss Dunstable's lips drew together in an ominous manner. "I know nothing about its being natural," she said, in a hard
" But I do know that it is unjust, cruelly unjust. That is enough for me! All I care to know about it.”
Mary sighed. “It was not my fault,” she said, in a wonderfully subducd, humble tone. “I have felt it a little, I must grant. I was so very fond of him-of Dunstable--of you all."
“ I know! I know!" murmured the poor, deluded old lady.
“But you are not forsaken quite, dear one, remember that. You will always be first with Aunt Elizabeth — always, my dear.”
Mary said nothing. She leant forward and laid her hand upon Miss Dunstable's. It was one of those occasions when silence was golden, as young Mrs. Atherton knew very well.
“ Tell me you are happy, dear, in this new life of yours ? Let me have that thought to comfort me," continued Aunt Elizabeth, in a low tone, after a long, expressive pause.
“ Happy !” repeated Mary in a hard, set tone. “Ah, Aunt Elizabeth, if only I had taken your advice.”
“My dear, dear Mary!” exclaimed the old lady, aghast. “Do not tell me that you have inade a mistake-that these people do not treat you well ? "
A very peculiar expression came into Mrs. Thomas Atherton's eyes, but they were downcast and shaded by their heavy black lashes, so Miss Dunstable could not see them, nor the expression in them.
" They believed me to be an heiress, you see," she replied drily. “It made a considerable difference when they found that I was not.”
"But they are rich, fabulously rich !" protested Aunt Elizabeth. “I have always understood that their wealth is untold. That they are millionaires."
For several seconds Mary made no reply. She was looking into the fire, thinking deeply. As a matter of fact she had been very short of pocket-money ever since her marriage, and she was conscious of the existence of a good many bills, which she did not quite know how she was going to pay. Of Tom and his money matters she had gathered a very fair insight. In his disgust at the turn affairs had taken, he had not hesitated to make things pretty clear to his young wife, and that he was in a bad way she was well aware, and had no doubt. The knowledge had been an exceedingly bitter pill for young Mrs. Atherton to swallow, and she was now asking herself whether it would not be even more bitter if she disclosed the fact of its existence to old Miss Dunstable. She would have preferred greatly to be, as she had intended to be when she married Tom Atherton, the wife of a millionaire, and to have been able to pose as the wife of a millionaire to the Dunstables would not have been