His hands clenched behind him, and he was silent for a moment; then he said:
"Yes, by Heaven! I will! The sacrifice shall not be all on your side. Tell her—no, tell her nothin', or you will have to tell her all. Tell her nothin'. Miss Lorton——" His voice broke, and he hesitated. Nell waited, and he found his voice again. "When I hear that there are no good women, no noble ones, I—I shall think of what you have done this mornin'. Good-by. I—I can't ask you to shake hands. My God! I'm not fit for you to touch! I see that now. Good-by!"
He went out of the room with drooping head, but he raised it as he passed the earl, and the two men nodded—for the benefit of the footman who opened the door.
Nell hid her face in her hands and waited, and presently the earl reentered the library.
Lord Wolfer stood, with his hand resting upon the table, in silence for a moment or two, regarding Nell, no longer sternly, but with an expression of pity which was novel in him. Nell sat with her head resting in her hands, her eyes downcast. She was still pale, but her lips were set firmly, as if she were prepared for rebuke and reproach.
"Do not be afraid," he said, at last. "I have not returned to—to blame you. You are too young to understand the peril—perhaps, too, the sin—of the step which you meditated taking. I am a man of the world, and I can appreciate the temptation to which you have been subjected. Sir Archie—well, all the world knows that such men are difficult to resist, and—and your inexperience betrayed you. I know the arts by which he gained your affections and hoped to mislead you."
It was almost more than she could bear; but Nell set her teeth hard and held her breath; for she felt it well-nigh impossible to resist the aching longing to utter the cry of the unjustly accused. "I am innocent—innocent!" But she remembered the unhappy woman whom she had saved, and suffered in silence.
"That you bitterly regret your—your weakness I am convinced," said Lord Wolfer; "and I am quite satisfied with your promise that you will not see him—I wish I could add, not think of him—again. He is a dangerous man, Miss Lorton"—he paused and paced to the window, and his lips twitched—"such men are a peril to every woman upon whom they—they chance to set their fickle fancy. At one time—yes, I owe it to you to be candid—at one time I feared"—he stopped again, and drummed upon the windowsill with his forefinger—"I feared he was paying Lady Wolfer too much attention. Even now I am not sure that my fears were groundless. He came to the house frequently, and was at my wife's side perpetually, before you came."
Nell held her breath. Had her sacrifice been in vain? Had he got an inkling of the truth? But he went on sternly and in a low voice:
"If there were any reason for my suspicions, it is evident that he transferred his affections to you. It is a terrible thing to say, but—but I feel as if—as if—your presence here had averted a dreadful catastrophe from us. Yes; that letter might have been meant for my wife, and I might have found her here instead of you. Do not think it heartless of me if I say that, deeply as I sympathize with you and grieve for your—your trouble, I am relieved—relieved of an awful apprehension on—on Lady Wolfer's account. I have suffered a great deal during the past few months."
"Yes," said Nell, forgetting her own misery in sympathy for him.
He looked at her quickly.
"You have noticed it?"
Nell inclined her head.
"I have lived in the house—I have seen——" she faltered.
He nodded once or twice.
"Yes; I suppose that you could not help seeing that there has been a—a gulf between us; that we are not as other, happier, husbands and wives."
He sighed, and passed his hand across his brow wearily.
"But we are not the only couple who, living in the same house, are asunder. I am not the only man who has to endure, secretly and with a smiling face, the fact that his wife does not care for him."
Nell raised her head, and the color came to her pale face.
"You are wrong—wrong!" she said, in a low voice, but eagerly.
"Wrong? I beg your pardon?" he said gravely.
"It is all a terrible mistake," said Nell. "She does care for you. Oh, yes, yes! It is you who have been blind; it is your fault. It is hers, too; but you are the man, and it is your place to speak—to tell her that you love her——"
He reddened as he turned to her with a curious eagerness and surprise.
"I don't understand you," he said, with a shake in his voice. "Do you mean me to infer that—that I have been under a delusion in thinking that my wife——"
Nell rose and stretched out her hands with a gesture of infinite weariness.
"Oh, how blind you are!" she said, almost impatiently. "You think that she does not care for you, and she thinks that of you, and you are both in love with each other."
His face glowed, and a strange brightness—the glow of hope—shone in his eyes.
"Take care!" he said huskily. "You—you use words lightly, perhaps unthinkingly——"
Nell laughed, with a kind of weary irritation.
"I am telling you the truth; I am trying to open your eyes," she said. "She loves you."
"Why—why do you think so? Have you ever heard her address a word to me that had a note of tenderness in it?"
"Have you ever addressed such a word to her?" retorted Nell.
He started, and gazed at her confusedly.
"You have always treated her as if she were a mere acquaintance, some one who was of no consequence to you. Oh, yes, you have been polite, kind, in a way, but not in a way a woman wants. I am only a girl, but—but"—she thought again of Drake, of her own love story, and her lips trembled—"but I have seen enough of the world to know that there is nothing which will hurt and harden a woman more than the 'kindness' with which you have treated her. I think—I don't know, but I think if I cared for a man, I would rather that he should beat me than treat me as if I were just a mere acquaintance whom he was bound to treat politely. And did you think that it was she who was to show her heart? No; a woman would rather die than do that. It is the man who must speak, who must tell her, ask her for her love. And you haven't, have you, Lord Wolfer?"
He put his hand to his brow and bit his lips.
"God forgive me!" he murmured. Then he looked at her steadily. "Yes, you have opened my eyes! Heaven grant that I may see this thing as you see it! Heaven grant it! My dear"—his voice shook with his gratitude—"where—where did you learn this wisdom, this knowledge of the human heart?"
Nell drew a long breath painfully, and her gray eyes grew dark.
"It isn't wisdom," she said wearily. "Any schoolgirl knows as much, would see what I have seen—though a man might not. You have been too busy, too taken up with politics—politics!—and she—she has tried to forget her troubles in lecturing, and meetings and committees. And all the while her heart was aching with longing, with longing for just one word from you."
The earl turned his head aside.
"Ah! if you doubt it still, go to her!" said Nell. "Go and ask her!"
"I will," he said, raising his head, his eyes glowing. "I will go."
He moved to the door, then stopped and came back to her; he had forgotten her, forgotten the tragic scene in which he had just taken part.
"I beg your pardon! Forgive me! It was ungrateful of me to forget your trouble, my dear!"
Nell made a gesture of indifference.
"It does not matter," she said dully. "I—I will go."
"Go?" he said.
"Yes. I will go—leave the house at once. I could not stay."
She looked round as if the walls were closing in on her.
Wolfer knit his brows perplexedly.
"I—I do not like the idea of your going. Where will you go?"
"Home," she said; and the word struck across her heart and almost sent the tears to her eyes.
He went to the window and came back again.
"If—if you think it best," he said doubtfully. "I know that—that it must be painful to you to remain here, that the associations of this house——"
"Yes—yes," said Nell, almost impatiently.
"I need not say—indeed, I know that I need not—that no word of—of what has occurred this morning will ever pass my lips," he said in a low voice.
Nell looked up swiftly.
"Yes. Promise me, promise me on your honor that you will not tell Lady Wolfer!" she said.
"I promise," said the earl solemnly.
Nell glanced at the clock and mechanically took up her gloves, which she had torn from her hands.
"I will go straight to the station."
"You do not wish to see Ada?" he said, speaking of his wife by her Christian name, for the first time in Nell's hearing.
"No," she said, quietly but firmly.
"Perhaps it is best," he murmured. "I will order a carriage for you—you will have something to eat?"
"No, no; I will not! The carriage, please! Tell—tell Lady Wolfer that I had to go home suddenly. Tell her anything—but the truth."
He inclined his head; then he went to the bureau and took out some notes.
"You will let me give you these?" he asked, very humbly and anxiously.
Nell looked at the money with a dull indifference.
"What is owing to me, please. No more," she said.
"If I gave you that, it would leave me beggared," he said gravely. "Please give me your purse."
He folded some notes and put them in her purse, and held out his hand.
"You will let me go to the station?" he asked.
"No, no!" said Nell. "I would rather go alone."
"You are not afraid?" he ventured, in a low voice.
Nell was puzzled for a minute; then she understood that he meant afraid of Sir Archie. It was the last straw, and she broke down under it; but, instead of bursting into tears, she laughed—so wild, so eerie a laugh, that Wolfer was alarmed. But the laugh ceased suddenly, and she lowered her veil. He held out his hand again, and held hers in a warm and grateful grasp.
"God bless you, my dear!" he said. "If you are right, I—I shall owe my life's happiness to you!"
Nell went up to her room and told Burden to pack a small hand bag. "I am going away for a few days," she said; and though she endeavored to speak easily, the maid looked at her anxiously.
"Not bad news, miss, I hope?" she said.
"No; oh, no!" replied Nell.
The earl was waiting for her in the hall, and put her into the brougham; and he stood and looked after the carriage with conflicting emotions.
Then he went upstairs, and, after pausing for a moment or two, knocked at his wife's door.
"It is I," he said.
He heard her cross the room, and presently she opened the door. She was in her dressing robe, and she looked at him as if she were trying to keep her surprise from revealing itself in her face.
"May I come in?" he said, his color coming and going. "I—I want to speak to you."
She opened the door wide, and he entered and closed it after him.
She moved to the dressing table, and took up a toilet bottle in an aimless fashion.
"I have come to tell you that I have to go abroad," he said. He had thought out what he would say, but his voice sounded strange and forced, and, by reason of his agitation, graver even than usual.
"Yes," she said, with polite interest. "When do you go?"
"To-day—at once," he said. "Can you be ready in time for us to catch the afternoon mail?"
She turned her head and looked at him. The sun had come out, and shone through the muslin curtains upon her pretty face and soft brown hair.
"I!" she said, surprised and startled. "I! Do you want me to go?"
"Yes," he said.
He stood, his eyes fixed on hers, his brows knit in suspense and anxiety.
"Why?" she asked.
He came a little nearer, but did not stretch out his hands, though he longed to do so.
"Because—I want you," he replied.
She looked at him, and something in his eyes, something new, strange, and perplexing, made her heart beat fast, and caused the blood to rush to her face.
"You—want—me?" she said, in a low voice, which quavered. Its tremor drew him to her, and he held out his arms.
"Yes; I have wanted you—I have always wanted you. Ada, forgive me! Come to me!"
She half yielded, then she shrank back, her face white, her eyes full of remorse and something like fear.
"You—you don't know!" she panted.
"Yes, I know all—enough!" he said. "It was my fault as much—more than yours. Forgive me, Ada! Let us forget the past; let us begin our lives from to-day—this hour! No, don't speak! It is not necessary to say a word. Don't let us look back, but forward—forward! Ada, I love you! I have loved you all along, but I was a fool and blind; but my eyes are opened, and——Do you care for me? Or is it too late?"
She closed her eyes, and seemed as if about to fall, but he caught her in his arms, and, with a sob, she hid her face on his breast, weeping passionately.
* * * * *
Nell sank into a corner of the luxurious carriage, and stared vacantly before her. The reaction had set in, and she felt bewildered and confused. She was leaving Wolfer House "under a cloud." For all her life one person, at least—Lord Wolfer—would deem her guilty of misconduct. She shuddered and closed her eyes. How should she account to mamma for her sudden return? Then she tried to console herself, to ease her aching heart with the thought of the meeting, the reconciliation of the husband and wife. She had not sacrificed herself in vain, not in vain!
What did it matter that the earl deemed her guilty? As she had said, she was nobody, a girl for whom no one cared. She was going back to Shorne Mills. Well, thank God for that! In six hours she would be home. Home! Her heart ached at the word, ached with the longing for rest and peace.
She found that a train did not start until three, and she walked up and down the station for some time, trying to forget her unhappiness in the bustle and confusion which, even at the end of this nineteenth century, make traveling a burden and a trial.
Presently she began to feel faint rather than hungry, and she went into the refreshment room and asked for a glass of milk. While she was drinking it a gentleman came in. She saw that it was Lord Wolfer, and set down the glass and waited. The man seemed totally changed. The sternness had disappeared from his face, and his eyes were bright with his newly found happiness.
"Why have you come?" she asked dully.
"I had to," he said. "I—I wanted to tell you—you were right—yes, you were right! I was blind. We were both blind! We are going abroad to-day—together. She has asked for you—almost directly—almost as if she—she suspected that you had brought us together! I told her that you had been sent for by Sophia. I wish you were not going; I wish you were coming with us!"
Nell shook her head wearily; and he nodded. He seemed years younger; and his old stiffness had disappeared from his manner, the grave solemnity from his voice.
"That is my train," said Nell.
He looked at her wistfully, as if he longed to take her back with him, but Nell walked resolutely down the platform, and he put her into a first-class compartment. Then he got some papers and magazines, and laid them on the seat beside her. It was evident that he did not know how sufficiently to express his gratitude.
"Your going is the only alloy to my—our happiness!" he said.
Nell smiled drearily.
"You will soon forget me," she could not help saying.
"Never! Don't think that!" he said. "Have you wired to say that you are coming?"
Nell shook her head.
"I will do so," he said.
The guard made his last inspection of the carriages, and Wolfer held her hand.
"Good-by," he said. "And—and thank you!"
The words were conventional enough, but Nell understood, and was comforted.
As the train left the station, the boys from the book stall came along with the early edition of the evening papers.
"Paper, miss?" asked one, standing on the step. "Evening paper? Sudden death of the Hearl of Hangleford!"
But Nell had no desire for an evening paper, and, shaking her head, sank back with a sigh.
Beaumont Buildings is scarcely the place one would choose in which to spend a summer's day; for, though they reach unto the heavens, they are, like most of their kind, somewhat stuffy, the dust of the great city in all their nooks and corners, and the noise of the crowded life penetrates even to the topmost flat.
The agent, a man of fine imagination and unlimited descriptive powers, states that Beaumont Buildings is "situated in a fashionable locality"; but though Fashion may dwell close at hand, and its carriages sometimes roll luxuriously through the street in which the Buildings tower, the street is a grimy and rather squalid one, in which most of the houses are shops—shops of the cheap and useful kind which cater for the poor.
There is always a noise and a blare in Beaumont Street. The butcher not only displays his joints and "block ornaments" outside his shop, but proclaims their excellence in stentorian tones; and the grocer and fruiterer and fishmonger compete with the costermongers, who stand yelling beside their barrows from early morn to late and gaslit night.
The smells of Beaumont Street are innumerable, and like unto the sea shells for variety; and the scent of oranges, the pungent odor of fried fish, from the shop down the side street, and that vague smell familiar to all who dwell in the heart of London, rise and enter the open windows.
On the pavement and in the roadway, among the cabs and tradesmen's carts, the children play and yell and screech; and at night the song of the intoxicated as he rolls homeward, or is conveyed to the nearest cell by the guardian of the peace he is breaking, flits across the dreams of those in the Buildings who are so unfortunate as to sleep lightly; and they are many.
And yet in a small room of a small flat on the fourth floor of this Babel of noise and unrest sat Nell.
Eighteen months had passed since she made her sacrifice and left Wolfer House. The black dress in which she looked so slight, and against which the ivory pallor of her face was accentuated, was worn as mourning for Mrs. Lorton; for that estimable lady had genteelly faded away, and Nell and Dick were alone in this transitory world.
The sun was pouring through the open window, and Nell had dragged her chair into the angle of the wall just out of the reach of the hot beams, but still near the window, in the hope of catching something of the smoke-laden air which away out in the country must be blowing so fresh and sweetly.
As she bent over the coat which she was mending for Dick, she was thinking of one place over which that same air was at that moment wafting the scent of the sea and the flowers—Shorne Mills; and, as she raised her eyes and glanced at the triangular patch of sky which was framed by the roofs of the opposite houses, she could see the picture she loved quite distinctly, and almost hear—notwithstanding the intermezzo banged out by the piano organ in the street below—the songs and whistling of the fishermen, and the flap of the sails against the masts. Let the noise in and outside the Buildings be as great as it might, she could always lose herself in memories of Shorne Mills; and if sorrow's crown of sorrow be the remembering of happier days, such remembrance is not without its consolation.
When Dick and she had come to the Buildings, two months ago, Nell felt as if she should never get used to the crowded place and its multitudinous discomforts; but time had rendered life, even amid such surroundings, tolerable; and there were moments in which some phase of the human comedy always being played around her brought the smile to her pale face.
Presently she glanced at the tiny clock on the mantelshelf, and, laying the coat aside, put the kettle on the fire, and got ready for tea; for Dick would soon be home from the great engineering works on the other side of the water, and he liked his tea "to meet him on the stairs."
As she was cutting the bread for the toast there came a knock at the door, and in answer to her "Come in!" the door was opened halfway, and a head appeared around it.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Lorton. Lorton not in? I thought I heard his step," said a man's voice, but one almost as soft as a woman's.
Nell scarcely looked up from her task; the tenants of Beaumont Buildings are sociable, and their visits to one another were not limited to the fashionable hours. For instance, the borrowing and returning of a saucepan or a sewing machine, or some lump sugar, went on all day, and sometimes late into the night; and the borrower or lender often granted or accepted a loan without stopping the occupation which he or she happened to be engaged in at the entrance of the other party.
"Not yet. It is scarcely his time, Mr. Falconer. Is it anything I can do?"
The young man came in slowly and with a certain timidity, and stood by the mantelshelf, looking down at her as she knelt and toasted the bread. He was very thin—painfully so—and very pale. There were shadows round his large, dark eyes—the eyes of a man who dreams—and his black hair, worn rather long, swept away from a forehead as white as a woman's, but with two deep lines between the eyes which told the story of pain suffered patiently and in silence.
His hands were long and thin—the hands of a musician—and the one on which his chin rested as he leaned against the mantelshelf trembled slightly. He had been practicing for three hours. He wore an old, a very old black velvet jacket, and trousers bulgy at the knees and frayed at the edges; but both were well brushed, and his shirt and collar were scrupulously clean, though, like the trousers, they; showed signs of wear.
He occupied a room just above the Lortons' flat, and the sound of his piano and violin had entered so fully into Nell's daily life that she was sometimes conscious of a feeling of uneasiness when it ceased, and often caught herself waiting for it to begin again.
"Is it anything I can do?" she asked again, as he remained silent and lost in watching her.
"Oh, no!" he said. "I wanted him to help me lift the piano to another part of the room. The sun comes right on to it now, and it's hot. I tried by myself, but——" He stopped, as if he were ashamed of his weakness. "You've no idea how heavy a piano can make itself, especially on a hot day."
"He will be in directly, and delighted to help you. Meanwhile, help me make the toast, and stop to tea with us."
"I'll help you with the toast," he said. "But I've had my tea, thanks."
It was a falsehood, for he had run out of tea two days before; but he was proud as well as poor, which is a mistake.
"Oh, well, you can pretend to drink another cup," said Nell lightly; for she knew that the truth was not in his statement.
He stuck a slice of bread on a toasting fork, but did not kneel down before the fire for a moment or two.
"Your room faces the same way as mine," he said. "But it always seems cooler." His dark eyes wandered round meditatively. Small as the room was, it had that air of neatness which indicates the presence of a lady. The tea cloth was white, the few ornaments and pictures—brought from The Cottage—the small bookcase and wicker-work basket gave a touch of refinement, which was wholly wanting in his own sparsely furnished and always untidy den. "Coming in here is like—like coming into another world. I feel sometimes as if I should like to suggest that you should charge sixpence for admission. It would be worth that sum to most of the people in the Buildings, as a lesson in the use and beauty of soap and water and a duster."
"I think it is wonderful that they keep their rooms as clean as they do, seeing that every time one opens the windows the blacks pour in——"
"Like Zulus into a zareba—if that's what they call it. Yes; no denizen of the Buildings would feel strange in Africa, for, whatever the weather may be, the blacks are always with us. Should you say that this is done on this side?"
He held up the slice on the toasting fork for her inspection.
"Beautifully! Turn it, please."
"I hope to Heaven I shan't drop it! There you are! I knew I should."
"Well, you can keep that one for yourself," said Nell, laughing.
He listened to the laugh, with his head a little on one side.
"I like to hear that," he said, almost to himself, "though, sometimes, I wonder how you can do it—you, who must always be longing for the fresh air—for the country."
"What is the use of longing for that which one cannot have?" she said lightly, but checking a sigh.
He looked at her quickly, strangely, and a faint dash of color rose to his pale face.
"That's true philosophy, at any rate," he said, in a low voice; "but, all the same, one can't help longing sometimes."
As he spoke, he stole a glance at the beautiful face; and, in looking, forgot the toast, which promptly showed its resentment of his neglect by "catching," and filling the apartment with the smell of scorched bread.
"I think that's burning," said Nell.
"And I'm sure of it," he said penitently. "If ever you are in doubt as to the statement that man is a useless animal, set me to some simple task, Miss Lorton, and I'll prove it beyond question. Never mind, it's my slice, and charcoal is extremely wholesome."
"There's another; and do be careful! And how are you getting on?"
He jerked his head toward the sitting room above, where the piano was.
"The cantata? Slowly, slowly," he said thoughtfully. "Sometimes it goes, like a two-year-old; at others it drags and creeps along, and more often it stops altogether. You haven't heard it lately; perhaps that's the reason I'm sticking. I notice that I always get on better and faster after you—and Lorton—have been up to mark progress. Perhaps you'll come up this evening? It's cruel to ask you, I know, for you must hate the sound of my piano and fiddle, just as much as I hate the sound of Mrs. Jones spanking Tommy, or the whizzing of the sewing machine of that poor girl in the next room. And you must hear them, too—you, who have been so used to the quiet of the country, the music of the sea, and the humming of bees! Yes, it is harder for you, Miss Lorton, than for any of the rest of us; and I often stop in the middle of the cantata and think how you must suffer."
"Then don't think of it again," said Nell cheerfully, "for, indeed, there is no cause to pity me. At first——" She stopped, and her brows knit with the memory of the first few weeks of Beaumont Buildings. "Well, at first it was rather—trying; but after a while one gets used——"
"Used to the infernal—I beg your pardon—the incessant bangings on a piano, and the wailings of Tommy Jones. But you wouldn't complain even if you still suffered as keenly as you did when you first came. I know. Sometimes I feel that I would give ten years of my life if I could hear you say 'Good-by, Mr. Falconer; we are going!' though God knows I—we—should all miss you badly enough."
There came a knock at the door—a soft, dull knock, followed by a rattle of the handle—and a mite of a boy stood in the opening, inhaling the scent of the tea and toast, and gazing wide-eyed at the two occupants of the room.
"Please, mother ses will 'oo lend her free lumps o' sugar, Miss 'Orton; 'cos she've run out."
"Of course I will! And come in, Tommy!" said Nell. "There you are!"
She wrapped half the contents of the sugar basin in a piece of paper and gave it him; then, seeing his eyes fixed wistfully on the pile of buttered toast, she took a couple of slices, arranged them in sandwich fashion, butter side inward, and put them into his chubby and grimy fist. "There you are. And, Tommy, you'll be a good boy, and won't eat any of the sugar, will you?"
"No; I'll be dood, Miss 'Orton. I'll promise I'll be dood."
"Then there's one lump all to yourself!" she said, sticking it into the other fist. "Open the door for him, Mr. Falconer; and don't watch him up the stairs; he'll keep his promise," she added, in a low voice, as she searched for a comparatively clean spot on Tommy's face on which to kiss him.
"Go on—you lucky young beggar!" said Falconer, under his breath, and eying Tommy enviously.
"If you've any pity to waste, spend it on the children," said Nell, with a sigh. "Oh, what would I give to be a fairy, just for one day, and whisk them off to the seaside, into the open fields, anywhere out of Beaumont Buildings. Sometimes, when I see the women drive by in their carriages, with a lap dog on their knees or stuck up beside them, it makes me feel wicked! I want to stick my head out of the window and call put: 'Come up here and fetch some of the children for a drive; I'll take care of the dog while you're gone!' Dick's late!" she broke off; "we'd better begin. Help me wheel the table down to the window."
He attempted to do it by himself, but the color rose to his face and his breath came fast, and Nell insisted on bearing a hand.
"That's better!" she said cheerfully, and ignoring the signs of his weakness. "You can reach the toast——"
He stood by the window, looking down absently and regaining his breath which the effort, slight as it was, had tried.
"There's a brougham stopped at the door," he said. "Doctor, I suppose. No, it's a lady—a fashionable lady. Perhaps she's come to take one of the children for a drive?"
Nell looked out and uttered an exclamation.
"I—I know her," she said, with some agitation. "I'm afraid she's coming here—to see me!"
He moved to the door at once.
"Oh, but stay! Why do you run away?" she exclaimed.
He glanced at his seedy coat with a grave shyness.
"I'll come back if you're mistaken," he said. "Your swell visitor would be rather astonished at my appearance; and I'm afraid there isn't time to get my frock coat out of pawn."
"Don't go!" begged Nell; but he shook his head and left her; and as she heard his step going slowly up the stone stairs, she glanced at the tea, and thought pitifully of the meal he was losing; then she stood by the table and waited, trying to steady the beating of her heart, to assure herself that she had been mistaken; but presently some one knocked, and, opening the door, she saw Lady Wolfer standing before her.
Lady Wolfer drew the slight figure to her and kissed her again and again.
"You wicked girl!" she said, gazing at her with tender reproach. "Aren't you going to let me come in? Why do you stand and look at me with those grave eyes of yours, as if you were sorry to see me? Oh, my dear, my dear!"
"Yes, come in," said Nell, with something like the sigh of resignation.
Lady Wolfer still held her by the arm, and turned her face to the light. There had been a dash of color in it a moment ago, but it had faded, and Lady Wolfer's eyes filled with tears as she noticed the thinness and pallor of the face.
"Nell, Nell! it is wicked of you! I only knew it last night, when we came back. I thought you were at Shorne Mills still! You wrote from there—you said nothing about coming to London."
"That was more than two months ago," said Nell, with a grave smile. "And—and I said nothing because I knew that you—that Lord Wolfer—would want to—to help us. And there was no need—is none."
"No need!" Lady Wolfer looked round the room, listened for a moment to the strains of the piano mingling with the squeals of the children in the house, the yells of those playing in the street, and scented the various odors floating in at the window. "No need! Oh, Nell! isn't it wicked to be so stubborn and so proud? And we knew nothing! We thought that you had enough——"
"So we have," said Nell. "They have been very good to Dick at the works, and he is earning wages, and there—there was some money left—a little—but enough."
"Only enough to permit you to live here! In this prison! Nell, you must let me take you away——"
Nell shook her head, smiling still, but with that "stubborn" expression in her eyes which the other woman remembered.
"And leave Dick!" she said. "No, no! Don't say another word! Call us proud and stiff-necked, if you like—we're not, really—but neither Dick nor I could take anything from any one while we have enough of our own. If we could—if ever we 'run short,' and are in danger of starvation, then——But that won't happen. You don't know how clever Dick is, and how much they think of him at the works! He'll be in directly, with his hands and face all smutty, and famishing for his tea——" She laughed as she fetched another cup. "And you've come just in time. Sit down and leave off staring at me so reproachfully, and tell me all the news."
"No," said Lady Wolfer. "You tell me; yes, tell me all about it, Nell."
Nell smiled as she poured out the tea—the smile which bravely checks the sigh.
"There is not much to tell," she said. "When I got home—to Shorne Mills"—should she never be able to speak the words without a pang?—"I found mamma unwell, very unwell. She was quite changed——"
"That is why she sent for you, of course," said Lady Wolfer. "Nell, why did you go without seeing me, without saying good-by?"
"I had to leave at once," said Nell timidly, and fighting with her rising color.
"That day! I shall never forget it," said Lady Wolfer softly, and looking straight before her. "Yes, I have something to tell you, dear. But go on."
"Mamma was ill; but I was not frightened—not at first. She was always an invalid, you know, and I thought that she would get better. But she did not; she got weaker every day, and——" The tears came to her eyes, and she turned away to the fire for a moment. "Molly and I nursed her. Molly was our servant, and like a friend indeed, and the parting with her——She did not suffer much, and she was so patient, so changed. She was like a child at last; she could not bear me to leave her. I used to think that she—she was not very fond of me; but—but all that was changed before she died, and she grew to like me as much as she liked Dick. He had always been her favorite. To the last she did not think she was going to die, and—and—the evening before she went we"—she laughed, the laugh so near akin to tears—"we cut out a paper pattern for a new dress for her—one of your patterns."
"My poor Nell!" murmured Lady Wolfer.
"Then she died; and the Bardsleys offered Dick a situation—it was very kind and unusual, Dick says, and he cannot quite understand it even now—and, of course, we had to come to London——"
She stopped, and Lady Wolfer looked round and out of the window.
"No; we had to live in London, to be near the works, you know. We are very comfortable and happy."
"My poor Nell!"
"Oh, but don't pity us," said Nell, smiling. "You don't know how jolly we are, and how full of amusement our life is. We even go to the theater sometimes, and sometimes Dick brings a friend home to tea; and there are friends here in the Buildings—one has just left me. And Dick is going to be a great man, and rich and famous. Oh, there is not a doubt about it. Though Beaumont Buildings are pretty large, we have several castles in the air quite as big. And now tell me—about yourself," she broke off suddenly, and with a touch of embarrassment. "You are looking very well; yes, and younger; and your hair is long; and what a swell you are!"
"Am I?" said Lady Wolfer, in a low voice, and smiling softly. "I am glad. Nell, while you have been in such trouble—my poor, dear Nell!—I have been so happy. How can I tell you? I feel so ashamed." Her face grew crimson, and she looked down as if smitten with shame; then she raised her eyes. "It began—my happiness, I mean—the day you left us. Do you remember the night before, and—and the wild, wicked words I spoke to you?"
Nell nodded slightly, and bent over the tea things.
"I was mad that night—reckless and desperate. I—I thought that my husband didn't care for me."
Nell shook her head.
"Yes; you said I was wrong—that it was all a mistake. How did you know, dear? But I did not believe you; and I—I thought—God forgive me!—that I owed it to the man who did love me—that other. Nell, I cannot bear to speak his name now—now that all is altered! I thought that I was bound to go away with him! He had asked me—implored me more than once. I knew that he would ask me again, and soon, and—and I should have yielded!"
"No, no!" said Nell, going round to her, and putting her arms round her.
"Yes, ah, yes, I should!" said Lady Wolfer. "I had made up my mind. I was reckless and desperate. That very morning I had decided to go, whenever he asked me; and that very morning, quite early, while I was dressing, my husband came to me, and—Nell, you were right, though even now I cannot guess how you knew."
"Spectators see more of the game, dear," said Nell softly.
"And in a moment everything was changed; and I knew the truth—that he loved me—had loved me from the first. We had both been blind. But I was the worst; for I, being a woman, ought to have seen that his coldness was only the screen which his pride erected between his heart and the woman whom he thought had only married him for position. We went away together that day—our real honeymoon. Forgive me, Nell, if—if I almost forgot you! Happiness makes us selfish, dear! But I did not forget you for long. And he—Nell, why does he always speak of you as if he owed you something——"
She broke off, looking at Nell with a puzzled air.
Nell smiled enigmatically, but said nothing.
"Nell, dear, he bade me bring you back with me."
Nell shook her head.
"You will not? But you will come and stay with us; you will bring your brother? Make your home with us while we are in town, at any rate, dear. Ah, don't be stubborn, Nell! Somehow, I feel as if—as if I owed my new happiness to you—that's strange, isn't it? But it is so. And you will come?"
But Nell was wise in her generation, and remained firm.
"I must stay with Dick," she said. "We are all and all to each other. But you shall come and see me sometimes, if you will promise to be good, and not try and persuade me into leaving that sphere in which the Fates have placed me."
Lady Wolfer sighed.
"You little mule! You always had your own way while you were at Wolfer House, and I see you haven't changed. But I give you fair warning, Nell, that one day I shall take you at your weakest, and bear you away from this—this awful place! It is not fitting that you should be here! Dear, don't forget that you are a relation of mine!"
"A poor relation," said Nell, laughing softly. "And, like all poor relations, to be kept at a proper distance. Go now, dear; that coachman of yours is getting anxious about his horses."
Lady Wolfer pleaded hard, but Nell remained firm.
Her ladyship was welcome to visit at Beaumont Buildings as often as she chose, but Beaumont Buildings would keep itself to itself; and, at last, her brougham drove away.
It had scarcely turned the corner before Falconer knocked at the Lortons' door.
"Gone!" he said.
"Yes, quite gone," said Nell cheerfully, but thoughtfully. "Come and have your tea; and I'll have another cup."
He sat down at the table. Tea is a serious meal at Beaumont Buildings, and is eaten at the table, not in chairs scattered over the room. But Falconer set his cup down at the first sip and pushed his plate away.
"I know the sequel of this comedy," he said.
"What do you mean?" asked Nell, staring at him.
"Enter swell friend. 'Found at last! Ah, leave this abode of poverty and squalor. Come with me!' and the heroine goeth."
"How foolish you are, Mr. Falconer! The heroine—if you mean me—does not 'goeth,' but remains where she is."
"Do you mean it?" he asked, the color rising to his pale face.
"Yes," she said, with a cheerful nod.
"Then pass the toast," he said. "I breathe again, and tea is possible. But she wanted you to go? Don't deny it!"
Nell's pale face flushed.
"Yes. She wanted me to go; but I would not. I am going to remain at Beaumont Buildings," said Nell resolutely.
As she spoke, the door opened, and Dick entered quickly. His face and hands were smudgy, but his eyes were bright in their rings of smoke and smut.
"Hallo, Nell; hallo, Falconer!" he cried. "Eaten all the tea? Hope not, for I'm famishing. Nell, I've got some news for you—wait till I've cleaned myself."
"No, you don't!" said Falconer, catching him by the arm. "What is it?"
"Oh, not much. Only there's a chance of our leaving these beastly Buildings. I've got to go down to a place in the country to manage some water works, and install the electric light."
Falconer's face fell for a moment, then he smiled cheerfully.
"Congratulations, old fellow!" he said. "When do you go?"
"Oh, in about a fortnight. That's what kept me late. Think of it! The country, Nellakins! Jump for joy, but don't upset the tea things!"
"Where is it, Dick?" she asked, as he went to the door.
"At a place called Anglemere. One of the ancestral halls, don't you know. 'Historic Castles of England' kind of place."
"Anglemere?" said Nell, wrinkling her brows. "I seem to remember it."
Dick, having "cleaned" and "stoked" himself with tea and toast, vouchsafed for further information:
"Anglemere's in Hampshire. It's a tremendous place, so a fellow at the works says, who's seen it; one of the show places, you know; 'a venerable pile,' with a collection of pictures, and a famous library, and all that. Lord Angleford——"
"I remember!" Nell broke in, "I met Lady Angleford at Wolfer House; a little woman, and very pretty. She was exceedingly kind to me."
"Sensible as well as pretty," murmured Falconer. He had drawn his chair to the window, and was gazing down at the crowded street rather absently and sadly. In a fortnight the girl who had brightened his life, who had transformed Beaumont Buildings into an earthly paradise for him, would be gone!
"Oh!" said Dick. "That would have been the late earl's wife. The present one isn't married. He's a young chap—lucky bargee! The late earl died about eighteen months ago, suddenly. I heard old Bardsley talking about it while I was in the office with him. He's been away traveling——"
"Who—old Bardsley?" asked Nell.
"No, brainless one," said Dick; "the young earl, Lord Angleford. Rather a curious sort of customer, I should fancy, for nobody seems to know where he has been, or where he is. Left England suddenly—kind of disappearance. They couldn't find him in time for the funeral, and he's away still; but he's sent orders that this place—the beggar's got three or four others in England and elsewhere, I believe—should be put in fighting trim—water supply, new stables, electric light—the whole bag of tricks. And I—I who speak to you—am going to be a kind of clerk of the works. No need to go on your knees to me, Falconer; just simply bow respectfully. You will find no alteration in me. I shall be as pleasant and affable as ever. No pride in me."
"Thank you—thank you," said Falconer, with exaggerated meekness. "But—pardon the curiosity of an humble friend—I don't quite see where Miss Lorton comes in."
"Oh, it's this way," said Dick, reaching for his pipe—for your engineer, more even than other men, must have his smoke immediately after he has stoked: "the place is empty—nobody but caretakers and a few servants—and the agent has offered me the use of one of the lodges. There is no accommodation at the inn, I understand."
"I see," said Falconer.
"Just so, perspicacious one. It happens to be a tiny-sized lodge, with two or three bedrooms. My idea is that Nell and I could take possession of the lodge, hire a slavey from the village, and have a good time of it."
"Pleasure and business combined," said Falconer. "And it will be nice, when the Buildings are as hot as—as a baker's oven, to think of Miss Lorton strolling through the woods—there must be woods, of course—or sitting with a book beside the stream—for equally, of course, there is a stream."
"Get your fiddle and play us a 'Te Deum' for the occasion," said Dick suddenly.
When Falconer had left the room, Nell told Dick of Lady Wolfer's visit.
"Oh!" he said, by no means delightedly. "And wants you to go and live with her; or offered to make us an allowance, I suppose? At any rate, I won't have anything of that kind, Nell," he added, with fraternal despotism.
"You need not be afraid. I shall not go—there are reasons——" She turned away to hide the sudden blush. "And I am as proud as you, Dick. I should like to ask Mr. Falconer to come down to us at this place. He has not been looking well lately."
Dick shook his head.
"No, poor beggar! I'm afraid he's in a bad way. Do you hear him cough at night? It's worse than he pretends."
"Hush!" said Nell warningly, as the musician reentered, his violin held lovingly under his arm.
Soon the small room was filled with the strains of jubilant music—a "Te Deum" of thanksgiving and rejoicing.
"That's for you," he said.
Then suddenly the tune changed to a sad yet delicious melody whose sweetness thrilled through Nell, and made her think of Shorne Mills—and Drake; and as he played on she turned her face away from him and to the open window through which the wailing of the music floated, causing more than one of the passers-by in the street beneath to pause and look up with wistful eyes.
"And that is for me," said Falconer; "for me—and the rest of us—whom you will leave behind. Good night." And with an abrupt nod he left the room.
As a rule he played, in his own room, late into the night; but to-night the piano and violin were silent, and he sat by the window looking at the stars, in each of which he saw the beautiful face of the girl in the room below.
"She doesn't even guess it," he murmured. "She will never know that I—I love her. And that's all right; for though she wouldn't laugh at the love of a pauper with one leg in the grave, she'd pity me, and I couldn't stand that. She'd pity me and make herself unhappy over my—my folly; and she's unhappy enough as it is. I wonder what it is? As I watch her eyes, with that sad, wistful look in them, I feel that I would give the world to know, and another world on top of it to be able to help her. Sometimes I fancy that the look is a reflection of that in my own eyes, and that would mean that she loved some one as I love her. Is that the meaning? Is there some one of whom she is always thinking as I think of her? The look was in her eyes while I was playing to-night; I saw it as I have seen it so often."
He sighed, and hid his face in his long, thin hands.
"They paint love as a chubby, laughing child," he mused bitterly. "They should draw him as a cruel, heartless monster, with a scourge instead of a toy dart in his hands. If I wrote a love song, it should be the wail of a breaking heart. Only two months! It seems as if I had known her for years. Was that look always in her eyes? Will it always remain there? Oh, God! if I could change it, if I could be the means——Yes; I'd ask for nothing more, nothing better, but just to see her happy. They might carry my coffin down the stairs as soon as they pleased afterward."
He stretched out his hand for his violin, but drew his hand back.
"Not to-night. They are talking over the brother's slice of luck, and I won't break in upon their joy. Good night, my love—who never will be mine."
* * * * *
Every evening Dick came home with fresh items of information about the work to be done at Anglemere, and Nell began to catch something of the excitement of his anticipation.
Sometimes Falconer came down to listen, and he tried to hide the pain the prospect of their departure cost him, as now and again he joined in the discussion of their plans; but more often he sat gazing out of the window, and stealing glances at the beautiful face as it bent over some needlework for Dick or herself—more often for Dick.
But one night—it was the night before they were to start—he almost betrayed himself.
"To-morrow you will have escaped the piano and violin, Tommy's squeals and the yowling of the cats, the manifold charms of Beaumont Buildings, and the picturesque cabbages of the costers' barrows, Miss Lorton. I wonder whether you will ever come back?"
"Why, of course," said Nell, smiling. "Dick is not going to spend the remainder of his life at Anglemere. Oh, yes; we shall be back almost before you have missed us, Mr. Falconer."
"Think so?" he said, smiling, too, but with a strange look in his eyes, and a tremulous quiver of the thin and too-red lips. "Then you will have to be back in a very few minutes after the cab has left the door. No; somehow I fancy that Beaumont Buildings is seeing the last of you. Tommy must share my dread, for he howled with more than his accustomed vehemence when he said 'Good-by' just now."
"That was because you said I ought not to kiss him, because he was so dirty," said Nell. "Poor little Tommy! Yes, I think he'll miss me!"
"It's not improbable," he said, in his ironical way. "I wish I were seven years old, with a smudgy face and a perpetual sniff. Who knows! You might have some pity to spare for me."
Nell laughed with the unconscious heartlessness of the woman who does not suspect that the man she is laughing at loves her better than life itself.
"Oh, I hope you will miss us, too," she said. "But you will be freer to get on with your work. I'm afraid Dick—and I, too!—have often interrupted you and interfered with your composing. You must set at the cantata while we are away, and have it finished for us to hear when we come back. And, Mr. Falconer, you will take care of yourself, won't you? You are so careless, you know—about going out in the rain and at night without an umbrella or overcoat. I heard you coughing last night."
"Did you?" he said. "I hope I didn't keep you awake! I kept my head under the bedclothes as much as I could! Yes, I'll take care, though I don't think it matters very much."
Nell looked up at him, startled and rather shocked.
"Why do you say that?" she said reproachfully. "Do you think that Dick—and I—wouldn't be sorry if you were ill?"
"Yes," he said, smiling gravely, "you would be sorry. So you would be if Tommy got the measles, or the black cat opposite were to slip off the tiles and break its neck, or Giles came home sober enough one night to kill his wife. There! I've hurt you! I didn't mean to! It's sheer cussedness on my part, and I'm an ill-conditioned cur to say a word." Then suddenly the smile vanished, and his misery showed itself in his dark eyes. "Ah! can't you see what your going means to me—can't you see?" He caught his emotion by the throat and checked it. "That—that I shall miss you—and Dick; that I shan't have any one to come to with my cantata and my cough. There's Dick calling, and good-by. I—I shall be out at a music lesson when you start to-morrow."
He held her hand for a moment or two, half raised it slowly, but, with a wistful smile and a tightening of his lips, let it fall.
He was not out when they drove away next morning, but his door was closed, and he watched them from behind the ragged curtains drawn closely over the grimy window. Then, when the cab had rattled away, he went out on the landing and found Tommy seated on the stairs, bewailing his desertion, with his two chubby, sooty fists kneading his swollen eyes.
"Come inside, Tommy," he said. "Let us mingle our tears together. You ungrateful young sweep, how dare you cry! She kissed you!"
Nell, of the tender heart, had grown somewhat fond of Beaumont Buildings, and she sighed rather wistfully as she looked back at it, and thought of the humble friends who would, she knew, miss her; but her spirits rose as the train left the tops of the houses and carried Dick and her into the fresh air of the great Hampshire downs.
"It seems years, ages, since I saw the country!" she exclaimed. "Dick, do you see those sheep? They are white! Think of it! Think of the grimy ones in the parks! Couldn't we have a Society for Washing the Poor London Sheep, Dick? And look at that farmhouse! Oh, Dick, it isn't Devonshire and—and Shorne Mills, but it is the country at last!"
"All right; keep your hair on, young woman," said Dick, looking out of the window in a patronizing fashion. "This is all very well; but wait until you get to Anglemere. Then you can shout and carry on if you like. Old Bardsley—nice old chap when he steps off his perch—says it is one of the most delightful 'seats' in England; as if it were a kind of armchair! Lucky beggar, this young lord! Nell, I've a kind of feeling that I ought to have been the heldest son of an hearl, but that I was changed in the cradle, don't you know. I should advise you not to stick your head too far out of the window, or one of these tunnels will knock it off. A brainless sister I can bear with, but one without any head at all would be rather too much."
He was pretty jubilant himself, though, boylike, he tried to play the cynic; and when the ramshackle fly drove through the picturesque village, and they came in sight of a huge palace of a house which gleamed redly through the trees of an English park, and the flyman, pointing with his whip, informed them that it was Anglemere, Dick emitted a whistle of surprise and admiration.
"I say, that is something like! What signifies the Maltbys' and the other places we know, after that?"
But Nell's eyes, after a glance at the great house, were fixed upon the lodge at which the fly had stopped.
"Oh, Dick, how pretty!" she exclaimed, her beautiful face radiant with delight as she gazed at the ivy-covered little house with its latticed windows and Gothic porch.
A young girl—the village slavey Dick had engaged—stood under the porch to welcome them, and demurely conducted Nell over the lodge.
They scrambled through a hasty meal, and Dick invited Nell—with a touch of importance and dignity which made her smile, to "come up and see the house."
They walked up a magnificent avenue, and stood for a moment or two looking upon one of the finest specimens of Gothic domestic architecture in England.
"Fine, isn't it?" said Dick, with bated breath. "Like a picture in a Christmas number, eh, Nell? See the carving along the front, and the terrace? And there's the peacock, there, perched behind that stone lion. Fancy such a place as this belonging to you, your very own. Yes, Lord Angleford's a lucky chap!"
They went up the stone steps to the terrace steps, up which Queen Bess had ascended with stately stride, and, crossing the terrace, into the hall.
The staircase, broad enough for a coach and four, had sheets of brown holland hanging from it, and the pictures, statuary, cabinets, and figures in armor were swathed in protecting covers; but enough was visible of the magnificence, the antiquity of the grand old hall to impress Nell.
Some men were at work, whitewashing and decorating, and they stopped their splashing to permit Nell and Dick to go upstairs; and one or two of them touched their hats respectfully to the pretty young lady and her brother.
The corridors were wide and newly decorated, and lined with priceless pictures which Nell longed to linger over; but Dick led her on from one room to another; from suites in which the antique furniture had been suffered to remain to others furnished with modern luxury.
As they went downstairs again they were met by a dignified old lady who introduced herself as the housekeeper; and who, upon being informed that Dick was "the gentleman from Bardsley & Bardsley," graciously conducted them over the state apartments. Most of us know Anglemere, either from having visited it, or from the innumerable photographs of it, but Nell had not seen any pictorial representation of it, and its glories broke upon her with all the force of freshness. In silent wonder she followed the stately dame as she led them from one magnificent room to another, remarking with a pleasant kind of condescension:
"This is the great drawing-room. Designed by Onigo Jones. Pictures by Watteau. Queen Elizabeth sat in that chair near the antique mantelpiece of lapis-lazuli; this chair is never moved. This, the adjoining room, is the ballroom. Pictures by Bouchier; notice the painted ceiling, the finest in Europe, and costing over twenty thousand pounds. The next room is the royal antechamber, so called because James II. used it for writing letters while visiting Anglemere. We now pass into the banquet hall. Carved oak by Grinling Gibbings. You will remark the lifesized figures along the dado. It was here that Charles I., the Martyr, dined with his consort, Henrietta. That buffet, large as it is, will not hold the service of gold plate. That painted window's said to be the oldest of any, not ecclesiastic, in Europe. It is priceless. The pictures round the room are by Van Dyck and Carlo Dolci. The one over the mantelpiece is a portrait of the seventh Earl of Angleford."
Nell looked up at it. She was half confused by the splendors of the place and her efforts to follow the descriptions and explanations of the stately housekeeper; but as she raised her eyes to the portrait she was conscious of a sensation of surprise. For in some vague way the portrait reminded her of Drake. The pictured Angleford wore a ruff, and was habited in satin and armor, but the face——
"Come on! What are you staring at?" said Dick, impatiently; and she followed the cicerone into another room, and listened to the monotonous voice repeating the well-learned lesson.
"We have here the library, the famous Angleford library. There are twenty thousand volumes, many of them unique. They are often consulted by savants—with the permission of the earl. Many of them are priceless. That portrait is Lord Bacon," et cetera, et cetera.
"Let us go," whispered Nell, in Dick's ear. "The greatness of the house of Angleford is getting on my nerves! I—I can't help thinking of Beaumont Buildings! It is too great a contrast!"
"Shut up!" retorted Dick, who was intensely interested.
Nell went through the remainder of the inspection with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction. What right had any one man to such luxury, to such splendor, while others were born to penury and suffering?
While she was asking herself this question, the housekeeper had led them to the picture gallery, the gallery which artists came from all corners of the world to visit.
"Portraits of the earls of Angleford," she said, waving a black-clad, condescending arm.
"Is the portrait of the present Earl of Angleford here?" asked Dick, with not unnatural interest.
"No, sir. The present earl is not here. You see, it was not thought that he would be the earl. That is the late earl. Would you like to see the stables? If so, I will call the head coachman——"
But they had seen enough for one day, and, almost in silence, walked back to the lodge.
"I wonder whether Lord Angleford knows, realizes, how big a man he is?" said Dick, as he smoked his last pipe that night in the sitting room of the lodge. "We've seen the house, but we haven't seen the park or the estates or the farms, which extend for miles around. Fancy owning all this, and a title, a name, which every boy and girl learns about when they read their English history!"
"I decline to fancy to realize anything more," said Nell, with a laugh. "That old woman's voice rings in my ears, and I feel as if I were intoxicated with, overwhelmed by, the grandeur of the Anglefords. I am going to bed now, Dick. To bed in a house in the country, with the scent of the flowers stealing in at the windows! Oh, think of it! and think of—Beaumont Buildings! Dick, would it be possible to obtain the post of lodgekeeper to Anglemere House? I envy the meanest laborer on the estate. Next to being the earl himself, I think I would like to be keeper of one of the lodges, or—or chief of the laundry!"
She went up to her room—a room in which the ceiling was "covered" to the shape of the thatched roof.
She was brushing the long tresses of soft, fluffy black hair which Drake had loved to kiss, when she heard the sound of a horse trotting up the avenue.
She went to the window, and, screened by the curtain, looked out. A full moon was shining and flooding the avenue With light.
She waited, looking out absently. The sound came nearer, and suddenly the horseman came in sight. Holding the muslin curtain for a screen, she still waited and watched for him. Then, with a faint cry—a cry almost of terror—she shrank back.
For the man who was riding up the avenue to Anglemere was strangely like Drake!
He had passed in an instant; his head was bowed, his face only for a moment in the moonlight, and yet—and yet! Was she dreaming—was fancy only trifling with her—or was it indeed and in truth Drake himself?
Nell lay awake for hours, dwelling on the appearance of the horseman who had ridden by in the moonlight.
It seemed to her that it was impossible that she, of all persons in the world, could be mistaken; and yet how could Drake be here, and why should he be riding up the avenue of Anglemere at this time of night?
The sight of him, if it was he, aroused all the love in her heart, which needed little, indeed, to arouse it. She had tried to forget him during the vicissitudes of the last two years, but she knew that he was still enshrined in her heart, that while life lasted she must love him and long for him. She endeavored, by thinking of him as betrothed—perhaps married—to Lady Luce, as belonging to her, to oust her love for him as a sin, as shameful as it was futile; but there was scarcely an hour of the day in which her thoughts did not turn to him, and at night she awoke from some dream, in which he was the central figure, with an aching heart.
Life is but a hollow mockery to the woman, or the man, whose unrequited love fills the hours with an unsatisfied longing.
When she awoke in the morning, the likeness to Drake of the man she had seen had grown vaguer to her mind, and she persuaded herself that it was a likeness only; but her restless night had made her pale and preoccupied; but Dick, when he came in to breakfast, was too engrossed and excited to notice it.
"I've just been up to the house," he said, as he flung his cap on the sofa and lifted the cover from the savory dish of ham and eggs. "By George! we shall have to slip into it and look alive! The contractors have had a letter from Lady Angleford. It seems the earl's in England, and wants the place as soon as possible. The foreman has sent to London for more hands. I've wired the Bardsleys, telling them we've got to hurry up. It's always the way with these swells; when they want anything, they want it all in a minute. Something like ham and eggs! Rather different to the measly rasher and the antediluvian eggs from the grocer's opposite. But you don't seem to be very keen?" he added, as Nell pushed her plate away and absently took a slice of toast. "Miss the good old London air, Nell, or the appetizing smells of Beaumont Buildings?"
"I've got a little headache; only a tiny one," said Nell, apologetically. "I shall go for a long walk after breakfast, and you will see that I shall be all right by lunch."
"Don't talk of lunch to me!" he said. "I shan't have time for it. I shall take a hunk of bread and butter in my pocket, and nibble at it for a few minutes during the workman's dinner hour; you bet the noble British workman won't cut short his precious meal, bless him!"
He was off again as soon as he had swallowed his breakfast, with his pipe in his mouth, and a roll of plans and drawings in his hand; and Nell, after gazing from the window at the avenue up which the horseman had ridden, put on her things and went down to the village, marketing.
It was a picturesque one, and showed every sign of the sleepy prosperity which distinguishes a self-respecting English village lucky enough to lie outside the gates of such a place as Anglemere.
It was like old Shorne Mills times to Nell, and her spirits rose as she walked along with her basket on her arm.
The butcher touched his forehead and smiled with respectful admiration as she entered the tiny and scrupulously clean shop.
"You be the young lady from the lodge, miss?" he said, with a pleasant kind of welcome. "I heard as you'd come with the electric gentleman. Ah! there's going to be grand changes at the Hall, I'm told. Well, miss, it's time. Not that I've got aught to say against the old earl, for he was a good landlord and a kind-hearted gentleman. But, you see, he wasn't here very much—just a month or two in the shooting season, and perhaps at Christmas; but we're hoping, here at Anglemere, that the new earl will come oftener. It will be a great thing for us, of course, miss. But there! you can't expect him to stay for long, he's got so many places; and I'm told that some of 'em are finer and grander even than the Hall, though it's hard to believe. A piece of steak, miss? Certainly; and it's the best I've got you shall have. And about Sunday, miss? What 'u'd you say to a leg of mutton—a small leg, seem' that there's only two of you?"
"That will do," said Nell.
"Yes, miss. Perhaps you'd like to see it? It's in the meadow there—the sheep near the hedge."
The butcher grew radiant at the sweet, low-toned laugh with which Nell received this practical suggestion.
"I am afraid I shouldn't be able to judge it through that thick fleece," she said. "But I am more than willing to trust you, thank you."
"Thank you, miss," he said, as he cut the steak with critical care. "I'm told that Lord Angleford's in England, and is coming to the Hall sooner than was expected. And that's good news for all of us. Fine gentleman, the earl, miss! A regular credit to the country that bred him. I've knowed him since he was a boy, for, of course, he used to stay here in his holidays, and durin' the shootin' and Christmas. A great favorite of his uncle's, the old earl, miss, and no wonder, for there wasn't a more promising young gentleman among the aristocracy. Always so pleasant and frank spoken, and not a bit of side about him. It 'u'd be, 'Hallo, Wicks'—which was me, miss—'how are you? And how's the brindle pup?' And he'd take his hat off to the missus just as if she was one of his grand lady friends."
Nell moved toward the open door, but Mr. Wicks followed her as if loath to let her go.
"Rare cut up we was, miss, when we heard that him and the old earl had quarreled and the old gentleman had gone and got married, which was just like the Anglefords—always so hotheaded and flyaway. Yes, it was a cruel blow to Lord Selbie, or so it seemed; but it all turned out right, seeing that there wasn't a heir born to cut him out. Not that any of us had a word to say about the lady the old earl married. As nice and as pretty—begging her pardon—a little lady, though a foreigner, as ever you met. Yes, it's all right, and our young gentleman as we was all so fond of is coming into his own, as the saying is. Yes, miss, it shall be sent up at once, certainly. And good day to you, miss!"
Wherever she went, Nell found the people rejoicing at the coming advent of the new lord, who was anything but new to most of them, who, like Wicks, knew and were attached to him. Before she had finished her shopping, Nell found herself quite interested in the new master of Anglemere, and wondered whether she should see him and what he would be like. By the time she had got back to the lodge, her headache had gone, and she was singing to herself as she arranged some flowers she had picked on her way through the woods.
In the afternoon, she went for a long walk; but, long as it was, it did not by any means take her out of the domains of the Earl of Angleford, which stretched away for miles round the great house. She saw farms dotted here and there on the hillsides, and looking prosperous with their cattle and sheep feeding in the fields, and the corn waving like a green sea on the slopes of the hills. There were large plantations, in which she disturbed the game; and parklike spaces, in which colts frisked beside the brood mares, for which Anglemere was famous all the world over.
Everything spoke in an eloquent and emphatic way of wealth, and Nell sighed and grew rather pensive, now and again, as she thought of the denizens of Beaumont Buildings, and the grinding poverty in which their lives were spent. But that was like Nell—tender-hearted Nell of Shorne Mills.
Dick came home to dinner, tired, and approved of the steak, which, he declared, beat even the ham and eggs.
"We're getting on first-rate," he said, in answer to Nell's inquiry; "and I'm afraid we shan't make a very long stay here. I'd hoped that this job would spin out for—oh, ever so long; but it will have to be pushed through in a few weeks. They're waking up at the house like mad. Money makes the mare go! And there's no end to the money this young lord has got. But, from all I hear, he's a decent sort——"
"Please don't you begin to sing his praises, Dick," she said. "I've heard a general chorus of laudations all the morning, and I think I am just a wee bit tired of my Lord of Angleford! Though I'm very grateful to him for this change! I wish we could turn lodgekeepers, Dick! Fancy living here always!"
They were seated in the porch—Dick smoking away furiously—and she gazed wistfully at the greensward, and the trunks of the great elms glowing like copper in the rays of the setting sun.
"And, oh, Dick!" she cried, "if only Mr. Falconer could be here! How he would enjoy it! He's always talking of the country, and how much good it would do him!"
"Poor beggar—yes!" said Dick, with a nod of sympathy. "I say, Nell, why shouldn't we ask him to pay us a visit?"
Nell grew radiant at the suggestion; then looked doubtful.
"But may we?" she asked. "This isn't our lodge, Dick; though I have begun to feel as if it were."
"Nonsense!" said Dick emphatically. "The agent placed it absolutely at our disposal. A nice state of things if we couldn't ask a friend! Have Britons—especially engineers—become slaves? I pause for a reply. No? Good! Then I'll write him a line that will fetch him down—with his fiddle! What a pity we haven't got a piano!"
"Yes, we could put it in the sitting room, and look at it through the window; for there certainly wouldn't be room inside for it and us together!"
Dick wrote the next day, and Falconer walked up and down his bare and narrow room, with the letter in his hand, his thin face flushing and then paling with longing and doubt. To be in the country, in the same house with her! And yet—would it not be wiser to refuse? His love grew large enough when it was only fed on memory; it would grow beyond restraint in such close companionship. Better to refuse and remain where he was than to go near her, and so increase the store of agony which the final parting would bring him. And so, after the manner of weak man, he sat down and wrote a line, accepting.
Dick stole half an hour to go with Nell to meet him at the station, and Dick's hearty greeting and Nell's smile brought the blood to his face and made the thin hand he gave them tremble.
"The fact is, we couldn't get on without the violin—brought it? That's all right. Because if you hadn't, you'd be sent back for it, young man. Pretty country, isn't it? All belongs to our young swell. I say 'our,' because we feel as if we'd got a kind of share in him, as if he belonged to us. You'll hear nothing but 'Lord Angleford,' 'the earl,' all day long here; and you'll speedily come to our conviction, that the earth, or this particular corner of it, with all that it contains, man, woman, and child, birds, beasts, and fishes, was made for his lordship's special behoof. Nice little place—kind of fishing box, isn't it?" he said, nodding to the vast pile as it came in sight. "That's where I spend my laborious days, putting on water for his lordship to drink and wash with, and setting up electric light for his lordship to shave himself by, though I suppose his lordship's valet does that. And what price the lodge? For this is our residence pro tem."
Falconer was almost speechless with delight and happiness; his dark eyes glowed with a steady light, which grew brighter and deeper whenever they rested on Nell's beautiful face.
His obvious happiness reflected itself on her mood, and it was a merry trio which sat down to the simple dinner, that, simple as it was, seemed luxurious to the fare which he had left behind at Beaumont Buildings.
After dinner he got out his violin and played for them.
Dick sprawled on the sofa, and Nell leaned back in her cozy chair with some useful and necessary darning, and—with unconscious cruelty—thought of Drake and Shorne Mills, as the exquisite strains filled the tiny room.
Some of the workmen, as they tramped by from their overtime, paused to listen, and nodded to each other approvingly, and carried the news to the village that "a swell musician fellow" was on a visit at the lodge; and the next day, when Nell walked through the village, with Falconer by her side, carrying her basket, the good folk eyed his pale face and long hair with awed curiosity and interest, and then, when the couple had passed, exchanged winks and significant smiles, none of which Nell saw, or, if she had seen, would, in her unconsciousness, have understood. For it never occurs to the woman whose whole being is absorbed in love for one man, that any other man may be in love with her. So Nell was placidly happy in the musician's happiness, and never guessed that the music he played for her delight was but the expression of the longing of his heart, and that when she was not looking, his dark eyes dwelt upon her with a sad and wistful tenderness, which was all the more tender because of its hopelessness.
Now, while all Anglemere talked of its lord and master, it had no suspicion that he was near at hand.
Two days before Nell and Dick had arrived at the lodge, the Seagull sailed, with all the grace and ease of its namesake, into Southampton water, with my Lord of Angleford on board.
Drake leaned against the rail and looked with grave face and preoccupied air at his native land. Two years had passed since he had last seen it, and they had scored their log upon his face. It was handsome still, but the temples were flecked with gray, and there were certain lines on the forehead and about the mouth which are graven by other hands than Time's.
It was the face of one who lived in the past, and could find no pleasure in the present; and the expression in his eyes was that of the man to whom the gods have given everything but the one thing his heart desired.
As he leaned against the side, with his hands in his pockets, his yacht cap tilted over his eyes, he pondered on the vanity of human wishes.
Here he was, the Earl of Anglemere, owner of an historic title, the master of all the Angleford estates and wealth. Almost every man who heard his name envied him—some doubtless hated him—because of his wealth and rank. And yet he would have given it all if by so doing he could have been the "Drake Vernon" who had been loved by a certain Nell Lorton; and as he looked at the blue water, rippling in the sunlight round the stately yacht, his thoughts went back sadly to the Annie Laurie and its girl owner, and he sighed heavily.
He had intended to be absent from England for some years—perhaps forever, and even when the cable informing him of his uncle's death and his own succession to the title had reached him, he had clung to his resolution of remaining abroad, for when the news got to him his uncle had been long buried, and there seemed to him no need of his return. It was easier to forget, or to persuade himself that he forgot, Nell, while he was sailing from port to port, or shooting big game in the wild and desolate places of the earth, than it would be in England. If Nell had still been pledged to him, how differently he would have received this gift which the gods had bestowed on him! To have been able to go to her and say: "Nell, you will be the Countess of Angleford; take my hand, and let me show you the inheritance you will share with me!" That would have been a happiness which would have doubled and trebled the value of his title and estates. But now! Nell was no longer his; he had lost her, and, having lost her, all the good things which had fallen to him were of as little value as a Rubens to the blind, or a nocturne of Chopin to the deaf.
When the lawyers worried him he sent curt and evasive replies, telling them in so many words to do the best they could without him, and when Lady Angleford wrote, begging him to return and take up his duties, he answered with condolences on her loss, and vague assurances that he would be back—some time. Then she wrote again; the kind of letter a clever woman can write; the letter which, for all its gentleness, stings and irritates:
"Much as you may dislike it, much as it may interfere with your love of wandering, the fact remains that you are the Earl of Angleford, my dear Drake. And the Earl of Angleford has higher duties than ordinary men. The lawyers want you, the estate want you, the people—do you think they do not want you? And, most of all, I think, I want you. Do you remember our first meeting? It was thought that I had come between you and yours; but the fact that I have not done so, the consolation I find in the thought, is made of no avail by your absence. You are too good a fellow to inflict pain upon a lonely and sorrow-stricken woman, Drake. Come back and take your place among your peers and your people. Sometimes I think there must be some reason, some mysterious cause, for your prolonged absence, your reluctance to take up the duties and responsibilities of the position which has fallen to you; but if there should be, I beg of you to forget it, to set it aside. You are, you cannot help being, the Earl of Angleford. Come and play your part like a man."
* * * * *
It was the kind of letter which few men, certainly not Drake, could resist. Wondering bitterly whether she guessed at the reason, the cause of his reluctance to return to England, to take up the purple and ermine which had fallen from her husband's shoulders, he wrote a short note saying that he would "come back." In a second letter he asked her to get Angleford ready for him, not dreaming that she would take his request as a carte blanche, and turn the old place inside out and make it fit, as she considered fitness, for its new lord and master.
As the Seagull glided to her moorings, his expression grew harder and sterner. He was a man of the world, and he knew what would be expected of him. An earl, the owner of an historic title and vast estates, has a paramount duty—that of providing an heir to his title and lands.
Now that he had come back, he would be expected, would be hustled and goaded into marrying. Marrying! He swore under his breath, and began to pace up and down restlessly, so that Mr. Murphy, the yacht's master, thinking that his lordship was in a hurry to land, bustled the crew a bit. But when the dingy was lowered and the man-o'-warlike sailors were in their places, their lord and master lingered, for he was loath to leave the Seagull. How many nights had he paced her deck, thinking of Nell, calling up the vision of the clear, oval face, the soft, dark hair, the eyes that had grown violet-hued as they turned lovingly to him. That vision had sailed with him through many a stormy and sunlit sea, and he was loath to part with it. On shore, there he would have to plunge into his "duties," would have to sign leases, and read deeds, and listen to stewards and agents. There would be little time to think, to dream of Nell.
The dinghy took him ashore, and he put up at the large and crowded hotel, and spent the evening wishing that he was on the Seagull. The next day it occurred to him that he was within a ride of Anglemere, and he procured a horse and rode out to it. He had very little desire to see the chief of his "places," and when he had ridden up to the terrace he turned his horse down a side road and regained his hotel, little thinking that he had passed the window of Nell's room, that her eyes had rested upon him.
The sight of the old place had awakened memories which saddened him. He had played on that terrace, on the lawn beneath, when a boy. Even as a boy he had learned to regard Anglemere as his future home; and he had been, in a childish way, proud of the fact. It was his now—and what little pride and pleasure could be found in its possession! If Nell——With something like an oath he dragged himself up the grandiose stairs of the hotel, and went to bed.
In the morning the mate of the yacht brought him a letter from Lady Angleford. It said that she had heard that he had arrived at Southampton, and that she hoped he would go on to Anglemere and see and approve of the alterations and improvements she was attempting, and that he would "go into residence" in three weeks' time, as she had asked a housewarming party to welcome him.
Drake stared at the letter moodily, and wished himself among the big game in Africa, or salmon fishing in Norway; but he felt that Lady Angleford was trying to do her duty by him, and knew that he ought to follow suit.
He gravitated between the hotel and his yacht for a few days, his face growing sterner and more moody each day, then he rode out to Anglemere again.
It was a lovely afternoon, and, if he had not been haunted by the vision of Nell, Drake would have reveled in the blue sky, the soft breeze, the singing of the birds, and the scent of the flowers; but all these recalled Nell and Shorne Mills, and only made the aching of his heart more acute.
He wondered, as he rode along the well-kept roads, whether she was still at Shorne Mills; whether she had forgotten him, whether she was married. At the last thought, the blood rushed to his head, and he jerked the reins so that the good horse broke into a gallop which carried Drake to the southern lodge, where—if he could but have known it!—dwelt Nell herself!
The gates were open, and he rode through; but as he passed the lodge, the sound of a violin played by a master hand smote upon his ear. He pulled the horse into a walk, and approached the house in a dream.
Workmen were all over the place, and he stared about him like a stranger; and they eyed him with half-indifferent, half-curious scrutiny. He got off his horse and walked up the stone steps of the terrace into the hall. Here the foreman of the firm of decorators approached him.
"Do you want to see any one, sir?" he asked.
"No," said Drake diplomatically. He was reluctant to announce himself. "You are making some alterations?" he said.
"Rather, sir," assented the foreman, with a self-satisfied smile. "We're just turning the old place inside out. For the new lord, you know."
"I see," said Drake.
He knew that he ought to have said: "I am the new lord—I am Lord Angleford." But he shrank from it. The whole thing, the transformation of the old place, though he knew it was necessary, was distasteful to him.
"What is that?" and he nodded toward a cluster of small globes in the center of the hall.
"Oh, that! That's the electric light," said the man. "There's going to be electric lights all over the house. Wait a minute, and I'll turn some of it on; though perhaps I'd better not, for the gentleman who manages it is away to-day. He's gone to Southampton to see after some things which ought to have come this morning."
"Don't trouble," said Drake absently.
"Well, perhaps I'd better not," said the man. "He mightn't like it. He's the gent that lives in the lodge."
"In the lodge!" said Drake. "The south lodge?"
The man nodded.
"He plays the violin?" said Drake.
The man grinned.
"No, no! That's his friend. He's a musician—the gentleman his sister is engaged to."
Drake got on his horse and rode away, leaving the park by the east lodge.
The three weeks slipped away, and the day for the great gathering at Anglemere was near at hand. By dint of working day and night, the contractors had succeeded in getting the house finished in time; and Lady Angleford, who had come down, with an army of servants, at the week's end, expressed her approval and her astonishment that so much should have been effected in so short a time.
The lord and master was not to arrive until the evening of the twenty-first, the date of the ball, and most of the house party had reached Anglemere before him. He had pleaded urgent business as an excuse for not putting in an appearance earlier; but, beyond seeing his lawyers and listening to their complaints at his absence, he had done very little business, and had been cruising in the Solent to while away the interval.
The villagers wanted to "receive" him at the station, and talked of a "welcome" arch; but no one could find out at what hour to expect him; and Lady Angleford, who, with native quickness, had learned a great deal of his character in her short acquaintance with him, and was quite aware that he disliked fuss of any kind, had discouraged the idea.
The dogcart was sent to the station to meet the six-o'clock train, on chance, and he arrived by it, and was driven home, cheered by a few groups of the villagers who had hung about in the hope of seeing him.
Lady Angleford met him in the hall, and they went at once to the library.
"I can't tell you how glad I am that you have come, Drake—I suppose I may call you Drake?" she said, holding out her hand again to him.
"You shall call me by any name that pleases you," he said, smiling at her, and speaking very gently, for she was still in mourning, and looked very fragile and petite.
"Thanks. And yet I am not a little nervous. I don't know how you'll quite take the alterations I have made, whether you will think I have been too presumptuous. I shall watch your face with an anxious eye when I take you over the place presently."
"My only feeling is one of intense gratitude," he said; "and I can't express my thanks and surprise that you should have taken so much trouble. I had an idea that the place was all right, that what was good enough for my uncle——"
She winced slightly, but smiled bravely.
"No, Drake; he was an old man, and came here but seldom; you are young, and, I hope, will spend a great deal of time here. After all, it is your real English home."
He nodded, but not very assentingly.
"I don't know," he said, rather moodily. "I am rather a restless mortal, and find it difficult to settle in any one place."
"Have you been well?" she asked, as she saw his face plainly, for he had turned to the window.
"Oh, yes; quite," he replied.
She looked at him rather doubtfully.
"You are thinner, and——"
"Older," he said, with a smile.
"I was not going to say that; but I was going to say that you looked as if you had not been sparing yourself lately."
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I had rather a rough time of it in Africa—and a touch of fever. It always leaves its mark, you know."
She nodded as if she accepted the explanation; but she was not satisfied. A touch of fever does not leave behind the expression of weariness which brooded in his eyes.
"If you are not too tired, will you come round with me?" she said. "There's an opportunity now, for all the people are out riding or driving, and we shall be more free than we shall be when they come bustling in."
"Certainly," he said, opening the door for her. "I suppose you have filled the house? Is it a large party?"
"I am afraid it is," she said, apologetically; "but the house is not quite full, for some of the people who are coming to the dance to-morrow will have to stay the night. By the way, I asked you if there was any one to whom you would like me to send a card, but you did not reply."
"Didn't I? I humbly beg your pardon, countess! No, there was no one."
He looked round the hall admiringly.
"You have done wonders!" he said; "and in such a short time! I rode over here from the hotel the other day, and imagined they would take at least a month to finish. And is that the old drawing-room? Can it be possible! It is charming! Ah, you have left the dining room untouched—that's right."
Lady Angleford laughed.
"There is not an inch of it that has not been touched; but with reverent hands, I hope. It is upstairs that we have done most. The bedrooms, you will admit, wanted thorough renovating."
"Yes, yes," he said, as he walked beside her. "It's all perfect. It must have cost a great deal of money."
"Oh, yes; but it does not matter, you know."
He glanced at her questioningly.
"It really does not," she said. "Have you any idea how rich you are, Drake?"
He shook his head.
"I'm ashamed to say that I don't quite know how I stand. The lawyers jawed about it the other day, and I did fully manage to understand that my uncle had left me everything. Was that fair, countess?" he added gravely.
"Yes," she replied simply. "He wanted to leave me all he could; but I would not let him. You know that I have enough, and much more than enough, of my own. So why should he leave me any more?"
Drake took her hand, and kissed it gratefully.
"You have been very good to me," he said, in a low voice. "Better than I have any right to expect, or deserve."
"No," she said. "And there is no need of gratitude. I wanted to atone——No, that's not the right word. I wanted to make up to you for the trouble I had, all unconsciously, caused between you and him. And—there was another reason, Drake. Don't get conceited; but I took a fancy to my nephew the first time I saw him." She laughed softly. "And just at present I have no other object in life than the attempt to make him happy."
Drake suppressed a sigh.
Happy? Oh, Nell, Nell! How vain and foolish all this splendor, now he had lost her!
"So you turned my rambling old place into a palace? Well, it was a substantial attempt, and if I am not happy, I shall be the most mulish and ungrateful of men. The place is perfect; it lacks nothing, I should say," he added, as they descended to the hall again.
"Only a mistress," thought Lady Angleford; but she was too wise to say so.
"You haven't told me who is here," he said, as he watched her pour out the tea which had been laid in a windowed recess from which was an exquisite view of the lawns and the park beyond.
"Oh, a host of your friends," she said. "Do you like sugar, Drake? Fancy an aunt having to ask her nephew that! I shall get used to all your fads and fancies presently. There are the Northgates, and the Beeches, and old Lord Balfreed"—she ran through the list, and he listened absently until she came to—"and the Turfleighs."