Chapter 32




A COLD RECEPTION.

Richard Varley followed Nicholas into the presence of Mrs. Kent. The latter looked scrutinizingly at him as he approached, hoping that it might be an impostor. But, no! there was no mistaking his appearance. It was, indeed, her brother.

"How d'ye do, Helen," said Dick, with ostentatious cordiality.

"Very well, Richard," she answered coldly, slipping her hand out of his grasp as quickly as she could.

"The old girl ain't very glad to see me," thought Dick. "Just as I thought."

"How did you find me out?" asked Mrs. Kent.

"There was a man from this way told me of your good luck."

"Where were you, then?"

"In Missouri, near St. Louis."

"Indeed? Have you just come from there?"

"Yes."

"Did you have any business this way? I suppose you must, or you wouldn't have come so far."

"I came on purpose to see you, Helen," said Dick, trying to look like an affectionate brother, and signally failing.

"You are certainly very kind," said Mrs. Kent in a cold tone, evincing not the slightest pleasure at his devotion. "I am afraid you must have put yourself to a good deal of inconvenience on my account."

"Why, yes, I have," answered her brother, perceiving at once that he might urge this as a claim upon her; "but what of that? Ain't you my only sister, and hasn't it been years since we met?"

"Really, Richard," said Mrs. Kent, with a little quiet sarcasm, "I was hardly prepared to expect from you so great an interest in me. I wonder you didn't come before. It's a good many years since we met."

"Well, Helen, you see I couldn't afford it before. I wanted to see you, but I couldn't raise the money to come East."

"You've raised it now, it seems."

"Yes; I had a little stroke of luck."

"You're doing well, then?" asked his sister, with a slight show of interest.

If this were so, she was ready to welcome him.

"I said a little show of luck. I got together money enough to come East."

"Oh, indeed!" returned Mrs. Kent, her manner becoming chilly again.

Dick got nettled. He didn't relish his reception.

"It seems to me you ain't very glad to see me," said he, bluntly.

"I never was very demonstrative," said his sister. "Did you expect me to fall on your neck and embrace you?"

"No; but—well, you know what I mean. You are as cold as an icicle."

"It's my way, I suppose. Is your wife living?"

"Yes."

"Is she with you?" asked Mrs. Kent, rather apprehensively.

"No; it was too expensive for me to bring two. I hear you are rich, Helen."

"Is that what brought you on?"

"Don't be so suspicious. It's only natural I should congratulate you."

Before this Nicholas had left the room to go out on his proposed drive.

"I've got enough to live on economically," she answered, with reserve. "I am not rich."

"Your son, Nicholas, acts as if you were."

"How is that?"

Dick laughed.

"He puts on as many heirs as a prince."

"He has considerable spirit," said Mrs. Kent, proudly.

"There's no doubt of that. He ordered me off with the air of a young lord."

"That was before he knew who you were."

"Yes, he didn't know I was his uncle. By the way, you've got a step-son, haven't you?"

"Yes; two-thirds of this property belongs to him."

"Where is he?"

"He is absent just now," answered Mrs. Kent, in a tone of reserve.

Dick laughed.

"Oh, you're good at keeping secrets, Helen," he said; "but you can't deceive me."

"What do you mean?" inquired his sister, with some indignation.

"I know all about his going away, Helen."

"Who told you—the neighbors? Have you been questioning them about my affairs?"

"No, no. You're on the wrong scent this time. He told me himself."

"What! has he got back again?" demanded Mrs. Kent, in surprise and dismay.

"No; I met him in Missouri. He told me there."

"How did he know you were related to me?"

"He heard me and my wife talking about you, and then he told me."

"What did he tell you?"

"That you and he couldn't agree, and so he left home."

"He was insubordinate. He disobeyed me, and I wouldn't stand it."

"Oh, well, you two can settle your own affairs. I don't care to interfere, only I thought you would like to hear from him."

"What's he doing?" asked Mrs. Kent.

"He was in St. Louis when I left, looking out for a situation."

"I wash my hands of him. He might live easily enough if he would submit to me. If not, he will probably have to submit to a great many privations."

"He is a pretty smart boy; he'll get along."

"I consider my Nicholas smarter," said Mrs. Kent, coldly.

"Perhaps so," answered her brother, dubiously. "I don't know much about Nicholas."

"Where are you staying?" asked his sister.

"Why," said Dick, rather taken aback, "I calculated you would invite me to stay here awhile, seeing I've come so far to see you."

Mrs. Kent bit her lips in vexation.

"You can stay a day or two, if you like," she said, "but we live very quietly, Nicholas and I. I don't think it will suit one so active as you are."

"I'll take the risk, sister Helen. It seems good to be in my own sister's house after so many years. Besides, I should like to ride out with my nephew behind that gay horse of his."

"You can speak to him about it," said

Mrs. Kent. "I believe he prefers to be alone."

"Oh, he'll be willing to treat his uncle to a ride. I'll give him a few hints about driving."

Mrs. Kent winced. She was proud, and she did not fancy exhibiting Dick to the village people as her brother. But there seemed no way of avoiding it. She privately determined to get rid of him as soon as possible.

"I must leave you now," she said, gathering up her work. "I will ask the servant to show you your room."

"All right, Helen. Don't trouble yourself about me. I'll make myself at home."

"I'm afraid you will," thought his sister.



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