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Theodora was greatly interested in Beechleigh. To her the home of her
fathers was full of sentiment, and the thought that her grandfather had
ruled there pleased her. How she would love and cherish it were it her
home now! Every one of these fine things must have some memory.
Then the pictures of as far back as she could remember came to her, and
she saw again their poor lodgings in the cheap foreign towns and their
often scanty fare. And with a fresh burst of love and pride in him, she
remembered her father's invariable cheerfulness--cheerfulness and
gayety--in such poverty! And after he had been used to--this! For all
the descriptions of Captain Fitzgerald had given her no idea of the
Now she knew what love meant, and could realize her mother's story. Oh,
she would have acted just in the same way, too.
Dominic had been forgiven by his brother after his first wife's death,
and had come back to enjoy a short spell of peace and prosperity. And
who could wonder that Lady Minnie Borringdon, in her first season, and
full of romance, should fall headlong in love with his wonderfully
handsome face, and be only too ready to run off with him from an angry
and unreasonable parent! She was a spoiled and only child who had never
been crossed. Then came that fatal Derby, and the final extinction of
all sympathy with the scapegrace. The Fitzgeralds had done enough for
him already, and Lord Borringdon had no intention of doing anything at
all, so the married lovers crept away in high disgrace, and spent a few
months of bliss in a southern town, where the sun shone and the food was
cheap, and there poor, pretty Minnie died, leaving Theodora a few hours
And now at Beechleigh Theodora looked out of her window on the north
side--the southern rooms were kept for greater than she--and from there
she could see a vast stretch of park, with the deer cropping the fine
turf, and the lions frowning while they supported the ducal coronet over
the great gates at the end of the court-yard and colonnade.
It was truly a splendid inheritance, and she glowed with pride to think
she was of this house.
So she wrote a long letter to her dear ones--her sisters at Dieppe, and
papa, still in Paris, and even one to Mrs. McBride. And then she read
until her maid came to dress her for dinner.
Her room was a large one, and numberless modern touches of comfort
brought up-to-date the early Georgian furniture and the shabby silk
hangings. A room stamped with that something which the most luxurious
apartments of the wealthiest millionaire can never acquire.
Josiah looked in upon her as she finished dressing. He was, he said,
most pleased with everything, and if they were a little unused to such
company, still nothing could be more cordial than Sir Patrick's
treatment of him.
Meanwhile, on their way up to dress, Mildred had gone in to Morella's
room, and the two had agreed that Mrs. Brown should be suppressed.
It was with extra displeasure Miss Winmarleigh had learned of Theodora's
relationship to Sir Patrick, and that after all she could not be called
a common colonial.
There was no question about the Fitzgerald and Borringdon families,
unfortunately, while Morella's grandfather had been merely a coal
"I don't think she is so wonderfully pretty, do you, Mildred?" she
But Mildred was a clever woman, and could see with her eyes.
"Yes, I do," she answered. "Don't be such a fool as to delude yourself
about that, Morella. She is perfectly lovely, and she has the most
deevie Paris clothes, and Lord Bracondale is wildly in love with her."
"And apparently Freddy Wensleydown, too," snapped Morella, who was now
boiling with rage.
"Well, she is not likely to enjoy herself here," said Mildred, with her
vicious laugh, which showed all her splendid, sharp teeth, as she went
off to dress, her head full of plans for the interloper's suppression.
First she must have a few words with Barbara. There must be none of her
partisanship. Poor, timid Barbara would not dare to disobey her, she
knew. That settled, she did not fear that she would be able to make
Theodora suffer considerably during the five days she would be at
Sir Patrick was busy with some new arrivals who had come while they were
dressing, so not a soul spoke to Theodora or Josiah when they got down
to the great, white drawing-room, from which immensely high mahogany
doors opened into an anteroom hung with priceless tapestry and
containing cabinets of rare china. From thence another set of splendid
carved doors gave access to the dining-room.
Neither Lord Wensleydown or Hector was in the room at first, so there
was no man even to talk to them. Lady Ada had not introduced them to any
one. And there they stood: Josiah ill at ease and uncomfortable, and
Theodora quite apparently unconscious of neglect, while she looked at a
All the younger women were thinking to themselves: "Who are these
people? We don't want any strangers here--poaching on our preserves. And
what perfect clothes! and what pearls! Why on earth did Ada ask them?"
And soon the party was complete, and Theodora found herself going in to
dinner with her cousin Pat, who arrived upon the scene at the very last
minute, having come from Oxford by a late train.
Mildred had taken care that neither Lord Wensleydown or Hector should be
anywhere near Theodora. She had secured Lord Bracondale for herself, and
did her best all through the repast to fascinate him.
And while he answered gallantly and paid her the grossest compliments,
she knew he was laughing in his sleeve all the time, and it made her
venom rise higher and higher.
Patrick Fitzgerald, the younger, was a dissipated, vicious youth, with
his mother's faded coloring and none of the Fitzgerald charm. How
infinitely her father surpassed any of the family she had seen yet,
She did not enjoy her dinner. The youth's conversation was not
interesting. But it was not until the ladies left the dining-room that
her real penance began.
It seemed as if all the women crowded to one end of the drawing-room
round Lady Harrowfield, and talked and whispered to one another, not one
making way for Theodora or showing any knowledge of her presence.
Barbara had gone off up to her room. She was too frightened of Mildred
to disobey her, and she felt she would rather not be there to see their
hateful ways to the dear, little, gentle cousin whom she thought she
could love so much.
Theodora subsided on a sofa, wondering to herself if these were the
manners of the great world in general. She hoped not; but although no
human creature could be quite happy under the circumstances, she was not
greatly distressed until she distinctly caught the name of "Mr. Brown"
from the woman Josiah had taken in amid a burst of laughter, and saw
Mildred, with a glance at her, ostentatiously suppress the speaker, who
then continued her narration in almost a whisper, amid mocking titters
Then anger burned in Theodora's gentle soul. They were talking about
Josiah, of course, and turning him into ridicule.
She wondered, what would be the best to do. She was too far away to
attempt to join in the conversation, or to be even able to swear she had
heard aright, although there was no doubt in her own mind about it.
So she sat perfectly still on her great sofa, her hands folded in her
lap, while two bright spots of wild rose flushed her cheeks.
She did not even pick up a book. There she sat like an alabaster statue,
and most of the women were conscious of the exquisitely beautiful
picture she made.
They could not stand in this packed group all the time, the whole dozen
or more of them, and they gradually broke up into twos and threes about
the large room.
They were delightfully friendly with one another, and all seemed in the
best of spirits and tempers.
Most of them had no ulterior motive in their behavior to Theodora; it
was merely the feeling that they were not the hostess and responsible.
It was none of their business if Ada neglected her guests, and they all
knew plenty of people and did not care to enlarge their acquaintance
So when they came in from the dining-room more than one of the men
understood the picture they saw, of the beautiful, little, strange lady
seated alone, while the other women chatted together in groups.
Hector was feeling irritated and excited, and longing to get near
Theodora. He guessed Lord Wensleydown would have the same desire, and
had no intention of being interfered with. He felt he could not bear to
spend an evening watching the little brute daring to lean over her. He
should kill him, or commit some violence, he knew.
Thus prudence, which at another time would have held him--would have
made him remember what was best for her among this crowd of hostile
women--flew to the winds. He must go to her--must show her he loved and
would protect her, and, above all, that he would permit no other man to
usurp his place.
And Theodora, who had been suffering silently a miserable feeling of
loneliness and neglect, felt her heart bound with joy at the sight of
his loved, familiar face, and she welcomed him more warmly than she had
ever done before.
"Have these demons of women been odious to you, darling?" he whispered,
hardly conscious of the term of endearment he had used. "Do not mind
them; it is only jealousy because you are so beautiful and young."
"They have not been anything at all," she said, softly; "they have just
left me alone and kept to themselves, and--and laughed at Josiah, and
that has made me very angry, because--what has he done to them?"
"I loathe them all!" said Hector. "They are hardly fit to be in the same
room with you, dear queen--and if you really belonged to me I would take
you away from them now--to-night."
His voice was a caress, and that sentence, "belonged to me," always made
her heart beat with its pictured possibilities. Oh, how she loved him!
Could anything else in the world really matter while he could sit there
and she could feel his presence and hear his tender words?
And so they talked awhile, and then they looked up and surveyed the
scene. Josiah had been joined by Sir Patrick, and they were earnestly
conversing by the fireplace. One or two pairs sat about on the sofas;
but the general company showed signs of flocking off to the
bridge-tables, which were laid out in another drawing-room beyond. And
the couples joined them gradually, until only Lord Wensleydown and
Morella Winmarleigh remained near and watched them with mocking eyes.
Hector had never before realized that Morella could have so much
expression in her face.
How could he ever have thought under any conceivable circumstances, even
at the end of his life, it would be possible to marry her! How thankful
he felt he had never paid her any attention, or from his behavior given
color to his mother's hopes.
He remembered a fairy story he had read in his youth, where a magic
power was given to the hero of discovering what beast each human being
was growing into by grasping their hands. And he wondered, if the gift
had been his, what he should now find was the destiny of those two in
front of him!
Wensleydown, no doubt, would be a great, sensual goat and Morella a
vicious mule. And the idea made him laugh as he turned to Theodora
again, to feast his eyes on her pure loveliness.
The Crow, who had arrived late and been among the last to enter the
drawing-room before dinner, had not yet had an opportunity of speaking
to Mrs. Brown, as he had been dragged off among the first of the
Presently Mildred looked through the door from the room beyond and
called: "Freddy and Morella, come and play; we must have two more to
make up the numbers. Uncle Patrick will bring Lord Bracondale
Josiah and Theodora did not count at all, it seemed!
"What intolerable insolence!" said Hector, through his teeth. "I shall
not play bridge or stir from here."
And Lord Wensleydown called back: "Do give one a moment to digest one's
dinner, dear Lady Mildred. Miss Winmarleigh does not want to come yet,
either. We are very--interested--and happy here."
Morella tittered and played with her fan. The dull, slow rage was
simmering within her. Even her vanity could not misinterpret the meaning
of Hector's devotion to Mrs. Brown. He was deeply in love, of course,
and she, Morella, was robbed of her hopes of being Lady Bracondale. Her
usually phlegmatic nature was roused in all its narrow strength. She was
like some silent, vengeful beast waiting a chance to spring.
And so the evening wore away. Sir Patrick drew Josiah into the
bridge-room, and made him join one of the tables where they were waiting
for a fourth--Josiah, who was a very bad player, and did not really care
for cards! But luck favored him, and the woman opposite restrained the
irritable things she had ready to say to him when she first perceived
how he played his hand.
And all the while Hector sat by Theodora, and learned more and more of
her fair, clear mind. All the thoughts she had upon every subject he
found were just and quaint and in some way illuminating. It was her
natural sweetness of nature which made the great charm--that quality
which Mrs. McBride had remarked upon, and which every one felt sooner or
Nothing of the ascetic saint or goody _poseuse_. She did not walk about
with a book of poems under her arm, and wear floppy clothes and talk
about her own and other people's souls. She was just human and true and
Theodora had perhaps no religion at all from the orthodox point of view;
but had she been a Mohommedan or a Confucian or a Buddhist, she would
still have been Theodora, full of gentleness and goodness and grace.
The entire absence of vanity and self-consciousness in her prevented her
from feeling hurt or ruffled even with these ill-mannered women. She
thought them rude and unpleasant, but they could not really hurt her
except by humiliating Josiah. Her generosity instantly fired at that.
Both she and Hector perceived that Morella and Lord Wensleydown sat
there watching them for no other reason but to disconcert and tease
them, and it roused a spirit of resistance in both. While this was going
on they would not move.
And Hector employed the whole of his self-control to keep himself from
making actual love to her, and they talked of many things, and she
understood and was grateful.
Presently, apparently, Morella could stand it no longer, for she rose
rather abruptly and said to Lord Wensleydown:
"Come, let us play bridge."
They went on into the other room, and Theodora and Lord Bracondale were
left quite alone.
"I should like to find Josiah," said Theodora. "Shall we not go, too?"
And they also followed upon the others' heels. Lady Ada happened to be
out at her table, and some tardy sense of her duties as a hostess came
to her, for she crossed over to where Theodora stood by the door and
made some ordinary remark about hoping it would be fine on the morrow so
they could enjoy the gardens.
And while she talked and looked into the blue eyes something attracted
and softened her. She was very gentle and pretty, after all, the new
niece, she decided, and Mildred had been quite wrong in saying she was
an upstart and must be snubbed.
Lady Ada had a nervous way of blinking her light lashes in a fashion
which suggested she might suffer from headache.
To Theodora she seemed a sad woman, full of cares, and she felt a kindly
pity for her and no resentment for her rudeness.
Mildred looked up, and a frown of annoyance darkened her face.
The "creature" should certainly not make a conquest of her hostess if
she could help it!
It was the first time Theodora had ever been into a company of people
like this, and her eyes wandered over the scene when Lady Ada had to go
back to her place.
"Tell me what you are thinking of?" said Hector, in her ear.
"I was thinking," she answered, "it is so interesting to watch people's
faces. It seems to me so queer a way to spend one's time, the whole of
one's intelligence set upon a game of cards and a few pieces of money
for hours and hours together."
"They don't look attractive, do they?" he laughed.
"No, they look haggard, and worried, and old," she said. "Even the young
ones look old and watchful, and so intent and solemn."
Lady Harrowfield had been losing heavily, and a deep mauve shade glowed
through all her paint. She was a bad loser, and made all at her table
feel some of her chagrin and wrath. In fact, candidates for the light of
her smile found it advisable to let her win when things became too
There was a dreary silence over the room, broken by the scoring and
remarks upon the games, and those who were out wandered into the saloon
beyond, where iced drinks of all sorts were awaiting the weary.
"Every one must enjoy themselves how they can, of course," said
Theodora. "It is absurd to try and make any one else happy in one's own
way, but oh, I hope I shall not have to pass the time like that, ever! I
don't think I could bear it."
The voices became raised at the table where Josiah sat. He had made some
gross mistake in the game and his partner was being fretful over it. Her
complaints amounted to real rudeness when the counting began. She had
lost twenty pounds on this rubber, all through his last foolish play,
she let it be known.
Josiah was angry with himself and deeply humiliated. He apologized as
well as he could, but to no purpose with the wrathful dame.
And Theodora slipped behind his chair, and laid her hand upon his
shoulder in what was almost a caress, and said, in a sweet and playful
"You are a naughty, stupid fellow, Josiah, and of course you must pay
the losses of both sides to make up for being such a wicked thing," and
she patted his shoulders and smiled her gentle smile at the angry lady,
as though they were children playing for counters or sweets, and the
twenty pounds was a nothing to her husband, as indeed it was not.
Josiah would cheerfully have paid a hundred to finish the unpleasant
He was intensely grateful to her--grateful for her thought for him and
for her public caress.
And the lady was so surprised at the turn affairs had taken that she
said no more, and, allowing him to pay without too great protest, meekly
suggested another rubber. But Josiah was not to be caught again. He
rose, and, saying good-night, followed his wife and Lord Bracondale into
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