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It was pouring with rain the evening Lord Bracondale arrived from Paris
at the family mansion in St. James's Square. He had only wired at the
last moment to his mother, too late to change her plans; she was
unfortunately engaged to take Morella Winmarleigh to the opera, and was
dining early at that lady's house, so she could only see him for a few
moments in her dressing-room before she started.
"My darling, darling boy!" she exclaimed, as he opened the door and
peeped in. "Streatfield, bring that chair for his lordship, and--oh, you
can go for a few minutes."
Then she folded him in her arms, and almost sobbed with joy to see him
"Well, mother," he said, when she had kissed him and murmured over him
as much as she wished. "Here I am, and what a sickening climate! And
where are you off to?"
"I am going to dine with Morella Winmarleigh," said Lady Bracondale,
"early, to go to the opera, and then I shall take her on to the
Brantingham's ball. Won't you join us at either place, Hector? I feel it
so dreadfully, having to rush off like this, your first evening,
She stood back and looked at him. She must see for herself whether he
was well, and if this riotous life she feared he had been leading lately
had not too greatly told upon him. Her fond eyes detected an air of
weariness: he looked haggard, and not so full of spirits as he usually
was. Alas! if he would only stay in England!
"I am rather tired, mother; I may look in at the opera, but I can't face
a ball. How is Anne, and what is she doing to-night?" he said.
"Anne has a bad cold. We have had such weather--nothing but rain since
Sunday night! She is dining at home and going to bed early. I have just
had a telephone message from her; she is longing to see you, too."
"I think I shall go round and dine with her then," said Hector, "and
join you later."
They talked on for about ten minutes before he left her to dress,
running against Streatfield in the passage. She had known him since his
birth, and beamed with joy at his return.
He chaffed her about growing fat, and went on his way to telephone to
"His lordship looks pale, my lady," said the demure woman, as she
fastened Lady Bracondale's bracelet. She, too, disapproved of Paris and
bachelorhood, but she did not love Morella Winmarleigh.
"Oh, you think so, Streatfield?" Lady Bracondale exclaimed, in a worried
voice. "Now that we have got him back we must take great care of him.
His lordship will join me at the opera. Are you sure he likes those
aigrettes in my hair?"
"Why, it's one of his lordship's favorite styles, my lady. You need have
no fears," said the maid.
And thus comforted, Lady Bracondale descended the great staircase to her
She was still a beautiful woman, though well past fifty. Her splendid,
dark hair had hardly a thread of gray in it, and grew luxuriantly, but
she insisted upon wearing it simply parted in the middle and coiled in a
mass of plaits behind, while one braid stood up coronet fashion well at
the back of her head. She was addicted to rich satins and velvets, and
had a general air of Victorian repose and decorum. There was no attempt
to retain departed youth; no golden wigs or red and white paint
disfigured her person, which had an immense natural dignity and
stateliness. It made her shiver to see some of her contemporaries
dressed and arranged to represent not more than twenty years of age. But
so many modern ways of thought and life jarred upon her!
"Mother is still in the early seventies; she has never advanced a step
since she came out," Anne always said, "and I dare say she was behind
the times even then."
Meanwhile, Hector was dressing in his luxurious mahogany-panelled room.
Everything in the house was solid and prosperous, as befitted a family
who had had few reverses and sufficient perspicacity to marry a rich
heiress now and then at right moments in their history.
This early Georgian house had been in the then Lady Bracondale's dower,
and still retained its fine carvings and Old-World state.
"How shall I see her again?" was all the thought which ran in Lord
"She won't be at a ball, but she might chance to have thought of the
opera. It would be a place Mr. Brown would like to exhibit her at. I
shall certainly go."
Lady Anningford was tucked up on a sofa in her little sitting-room when
her brother arrived at her charming house in Charles Street. Her husband
had been sent off to a dinner without her, and she was expecting her
brother with impatience. She loved Hector as many sisters do a handsome,
popular brother, but rather more than that, and she had fine senses and
She did not cover him with caresses and endearments when she saw him;
she never did.
"Poor Hector has enough of them from mother," she explained, when Monica
Ellerwood asked her once why she was so cold. "And men don't care for
those sort of things, except from some one else's sister or wife."
"Dear old boy!" was all she said as he came in. "I am glad to see you
Then in a moment or two they went down to dinner, talking of various
things. And all through it, while the servants were in the room, she
prattled about Paris and their friends and the gossip of the day; and
she had a shocking cold in her head, too, and might well have been
forgiven for being dull.
But when they were at last alone, back in the little sitting-room, she
looked at him hard, and her voice, which was rather deep like his, grew
full of tenderness as she asked: "What is it, Hector? Tell me about it
if I can help you."
He got up and stood with his back to the wood fire, which sparkled in
the grate, comforting the eye with its brightness, while the wind and
rain moaned outside.
"You can't help me, Anne; no one can," he said. "I have been rather
badly burned, but there is nothing to be done. It is my own fault--so
one must just bear it."
"Is it the--eh--the Frenchwoman?" his sister asked, gently.
"Good Lord, no!"
"Or the American Monica came back so full of?"
"The American? What American? Surely she did not mean my dear Mrs.
"I don't know her name," Anne said, "and I don't want you to say a thing
about it, dear, if I can't help you; only it just grieves me to see you
looking so sad and distrait, so I felt I must try if there is anything I
can do for you. Mother has been on thorns and dying of fuss over this
Frenchwoman and the diamond chain--("How the devil did she hear about
that?" thought Hector)--until Monica came back with a tale of your
devotion to an American."
"One would think I was eighteen years old and in leading-strings still,
upon my word," he interrupted, with an irritated laugh. "When will she
realize I can take care of myself?"
"Never," said Lady Anningford, "until you have married Morella
Winmarleigh; then she would feel you were in good hands."
He laughed again--bitterly this time.
"Morella Winmarleigh! I would not be faithful to her for a week!"
"I wonder if you would be faithful to any woman, Hector? I have often
thought you do not know what it means to love--really to love."
"You were perfectly right once. I did not know," he said; "and perhaps I
don't now, unless to feel the whole world is a sickening blank without
one woman is to love--really to love."
Anne noticed the weariness of his pose and the vibration in his deep
voice. She was stirred and interested as she had never been. This dear
brother of hers was not wont to care very much. In the past it had
always been the women who had sighed and longed and he who had been
amused and pleased. She could not remember a single occasion in the last
ten years when he had seemed to suffer, although she had seen him
apparently devoted to numbers of women.
"And what are you going to do?" she asked, with sympathy, "She is
married, of course?"
"Hector, don't you want me to speak about it?"
He took a chair now by his sister's sofa, and he began to turn over the
papers rather fast which lay on a table near by.
"Yes, I do," he said, "because, after all, you can do something for me.
I want you to be particularly kind to her, will you, Anne, dear?"
"But, of course; only you must tell me who she is and where I shall find
"You will find her at Claridge's, and she is only the wife of an
impossible Australian millionaire called Brown--Josiah Brown."
"Poor dear Hector, how terrible!" thought Anne. "It is not the American,
then?" she said, aloud.
"There never was any American," he exclaimed. "Monica is the most
ridiculous gossip, and always sees wrong. If she had not Jack to keep
her from talking so much she would not leave one of us with a rag of
"I will go to-morrow and call there, Hector," Lady Anningford said. "My
cold is sure to be better; and if she is not in, shall I write a note
and ask her to lunch? The husband, too, I suppose?"
"I fear so. Anne, you are a brick."
Then he said good-night, and went to the opera.
Left to herself, Lady Anningford thought: "I suppose she is some flashy,
pretty creature who has caught Hector's fancy, the poor darling. One
never has chanced to find an Australian quite, quite a lady. I almost
wish he would marry Morella and have done with it."
Then she lay on her sofa and pondered many things.
She was a year older than her brother, and they had always been the
closest friends and comrades.
Lady Anningford was more or less a happy and contented woman now, but
there had been moments in her life scorched by passion and infinite
pain. Long ago in the beginning when she first came out she had had the
misfortune to fall in love with Cyril Lamont, married and bad and
attractive. It had given him great pleasure to evade the eye of Lady
Bracondale, pure dragon and strict disciplinarian. Anne was a good girl,
but she was eighteen years old and had tasted no joy. She was not an
easy prey, and her first year had passed in storms of emotion suppressed
to the best of her powers.
The situation had been full of shades and contrasts. The outward, a
strictly guarded lamb, the life of the world and aristocratic propriety;
and the inward, a daily growing mad love for an impossible person,
snatched and secret meetings after tea in country-houses, walks in
Kensington Gardens, rides along lonely lanes out hunting, and, finally,
the brink of complete ruin and catastrophe--but for Hector.
"Where should I be now but for Hector?" her thoughts ran.
Hector was just leaving Eton in those days, and had come up and
discovered matters, while she sobbed in his arms, at the beginning of
her second season. He had comforted her and never scolded a word, and
then he had gone out armed with a heavy hunting-crop, found Cyril
Lamont, and had thrashed the man within an inch of his life. It was one
of Hector's pleasantest recollections, the thought of his cowering form,
his green silk smoking-jacket all torn, and his eyes sightless. Cyril
Lamont's talents had not run in the art of self-defence, and he had been
very soon powerless in the hands of this young athlete.
The Lamonts went abroad that night, and stayed there for quite six
months, during which time Anne mended her broken heart and saw the folly
of her ways.
Hector and she had never alluded to the matter all these years, only
they were intimate friends and understood each other.
Lady Bracondale adored Hector and was fond of Anne, but had no
comprehension of either. Anne was a _frondeuse_, while her mother's mind
was fashioned in carved lines and strict boundaries of thought and
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