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MARY SCOTT PAYS AN UNEXPECTED CALL
Brooks met the butler entering the room with a card upon his salver. He stretched out his hand for it mechanically, but the man only regarded him in mild surprise. "For his lordship, sir. Excuse me."
The man passed on. Brooks remained bewildered. Lord Arranmore took the card from the tray and examined it leisurely.
"Miss Mary Scott," he repeated aloud. "Are you sure that the young lady asked to see me?"
"Quite sure, your lordship," the servant answered.
"Scott. The name sounds familiar, somehow!" Lord Arranmore said. "Haven't I heard you mention it, Brooks?
"Miss Scott is the niece of Mr. Bullsom, one of my best clients, a large builder in Medchester," Brooks answered. "Why?"
He stopped suddenly short. Arranmore glanced towards him in polite unconcern.
"You saw her with me at Mellon's, in Medchester. You asked me her name."
Lord Arranmore bent the card in his forefinger, and dropped his eyeglass.
"So that is the young lady," he remarked. "I remember her distinctly. But I do not understand what she can want within me. Is she by any chance, Brooks, one of those young persons who go about with a collecting-card--who want money for missions and that sort of thing? If so, I am afraid she has wasted her cab fare."
"She is not in the least that sort of person," Brooks answered, emphatically. "I have no idea what she wants to see you about, but I am convinced that her visit has a legitimate object."
Lord Arranmore stuck the card in his waistcoat pocket and shrugged his shoulders.
"You are my man of affairs, Brooks. I commission you to see her. Find out her business if you can, and don't let me be bothered unless it is necessary."
"I am not sure that I care to interfere--that my presence might not be likely to cause her embarrassment," he said. "I have seen her lately, and she made no mention of this visit."
Lord Arranmore glanced at him as though surprised. "I should like you to see her," he said, suavely. "It seems to me preferable to asking her to state her business to a servant. If you have any objection to doing so she must be sent back."
Brooks turned unwillingly away. As he had expected, Mary sprang to her feet upon his entrance into the room, and the colour streamed into her cheeks.
"You here!" she exclaimed.
He shook hands with her, and tried to behave as though he thought her presence the most natural thing in the world. "Yes. You see I am Lord Arranmore's man of affairs now, and he keeps me pretty hard at work. He seems to have a constitutional objection to doing anything for himself. He has even sent me to--to--"
"I understand," she interrupted. "To ascertain my business. Well, I can't tell it even to you. It is Lord Arranmore whom I want to see. No one else will do."
Brooks leaned against the table and looked at her with a puzzled smile.
"You see, it's a little awkward, isn't it?" he declared. "Lord Arranmore is very eccentric, and especially so upon this point. He will not see strangers. Write him a line or two and let me take it to him."
She considered for a moment.
"Very well. Give me a piece of paper and an envelope."
She wrote a single line only. Brooks took it back into the great inner hall, where Lord Arranmore had started another game of billiards with Lady Caroom.
"Miss Scott assured me that her business with you is private," he announced. "She has written this note."
Lord Arranmore laid his cue deliberately aside and broke the seal. It was evident that the contents of the note consisted of a few words only, yet after once perusing them he moved a little closer to the light and re-read them slowly. Then with a little sigh he folded the note in the smallest possible compass and thrust it into his waistcoat pocket.
"Your young friend, my dear Brooks," he said, taking up his cue, "does me the honour to mistake me for some one else. Will you inform her that I have no knowledge of the person to whom she alludes, and suggest--as delicately as you choose--that as she is mistaken an interview is unnecessary. It is, I believe, my turn, Catherine." "You decline, then, to see her?" Brooks said.
Lord Arranmore turned upon him with a rare irritation.
"Have I not made myself clear, Brooks?" he said. "If I were to keep open house to all the young women who choose to claim acquaintance with me I should scarcely have a moment to call my own, or a house fit to ask my friends to visit. Be so good as to make my answer sufficiently explicit."
"It is unnecessary, Lord Arranmore. I have come to ask you for it yourself."
They all turned round. Mary Scott was coming slowly towards them across the thick rugs, into which her feet sunk noiselessly. Her face was very pale, and her large eyes were full of nervous apprehension. But about her mouth were certain rigid lines which spoke of determination.
Sybil leaned forward from her chair, and Lady Caroom watched her approach with lifted eyebrows and a stare of well-bred and languid insolence. Lord Arranmore laid down his cue and rose at once to meet her.
"You are Lord Arranmore," she said, looking at him fixedly. "Will you please answer the question--in my note?"
He bowed a little coldly, but he made no remark as to her intrusion. "I have already," he said, "given my answer to Mr. Brooks. The name which you mention is altogether unknown to me, nor have I ever visited the place you speak of. You have apparently been misled by a chance likeness."
"It is a very wonderful one," she said, slowly, keeping her eyes fixed upon him.
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I regret," he said, "that you should have had your journey for nothing. I can, I presume, be of no further use to you."
"I do not regret my journey here," she answered. "I could not rest until I had seen you closely, face to face, and asked you that question. You deny then that you were ever called Philip Ferringshaw?"
"Most assuredly," he answered, curtly.
"That is very strange," she said.
"Yes. It is very strange because I am perfectly certain that you were."
He took up his cue and commenced chalking it in a leisurely manner.
"My dear young lady," he said, "you are; I understand, a friend of Mr. Brooks, and are therefore entitled to some amount of consideration from me. But I must respectfully remind you that your presence here is, to put it mildly, unsought, and that I do not find it pleasant to be called a liar under my own roof and before my friends."
"Pleasant!" she eyed him scornfully; "nor did my father find it pleasant to be ruined and murdered by you, a debauched gambler, a common swindler."
Lord Arranmore, unruffled, permitted himself to smile.
"Dear me," he said, "this is getting positively melodramatic. Brooks, for her own sake, let me beg of you to induce the young woman to leave us. In her calmer moments she will, I am sure, repent of these unwarranted statements to a perfect stranger."
Brooks was numbed--for the moment speechless. Sybil had risen to her feet as though with the intention of leaving the room. But Lord Arranmore interposed. If he were acting it was marvellously done.
"I beg," he said, "that you will none of you desert me. These accusations of--Miss Scott, I believe are unnerving. A murderer, a swindler and a rogue are hard names, young lady. May I ask if your string of invectives is exhausted, or is there any further abuse which you feel inclined to heap upon me?"
The girl never flinched.
"I have called you nothing," she said, "which you do not deserve. Do you still deny that you were in Canada--in Montreal--sixteen years ago?"
"Most assuredly I do deny it," he answered.
Brooks started, and turned suddenly towards Lord Arranmore as though doubtful whether he had heard rightly. This was a year before his father's death. The girl was unmoved.
"I see that I should come here with proofs," she exclaimed. "Well, they are easy enough to collect. You shall have them. But before I go, Lord Arranmore, let me ask you if you know who I am."
"I understand," Lord Arranmore answered, "that you are the daughter or niece of a highly respectable tradesman in Medchester, who is a client of our young friend here, Mr. Brooks. Let me tell you, young lady, that but for that fact I should not--tolerate your presence here."
"I am Mr. Bullsom's niece," the girl answered, "but I am the daughter of Martin Scott Cartnell!"
It seemed to Brooks that a smothered exclamation of some sort broke from Lord Arranmore's tightly compressed lips, but his face was so completely in the shadow that its expression was lost. But he himself now revealed it, for touching a knob in the wall a shower of electric lamps suddenly glowed around the room. He leaned forward and looked intently into the face of the girl who had become his accuser. She met his gaze coldly, without flinching, the pallor of her cheeks relieved by a single spot of burning colour, her eyes bright with purpose.
"It is incredible," he said, softly, "but it is true. You are the untidy little thing with a pigtail who used always to be playing games with the boys when you ought to have been at school. Come, I am glad to see you. Why do you come to me like a Cassandra of the Family Herald? Your father was my companion for a while, but we were never intimate. I certainly neither robbed nor murdered him."
"You did both," she answered, fiercely. "You were his evil genius from the first. It was through you he took to drink, through you he became a gambler. You encouraged him to play for stakes larger than he could afford. You won money from him which you knew was not his to lose. He came to you for help. You laughed at him. That night he shot himself."
"It was," Lord Arranmore remarked, "a very foolish thing to do."
"Who or what you were before you came to Montreal I do not know," she continued, "but there you brought misery and ruin upon every one connected with you. I was a child in those days, but I remember how you were hated. You broke the heart of Durran Lapage, an honest man whom you called your friend, and you left his wife to starve in a common lodging house. There was never a man or woman who showed you kindness that did not live to regret it. You may be the Marquis of Arranmore now, but you have left a life behind the memory of which should be a constant torture to you."
"Have you finished, young lady?" he asked, coldly.
"Yes, I have finished," she answered. "I pray Heaven that the next time we meet may be in the police-court. The police of Montreal are still looking for Philip Ferringshaw, and they will find in me a very ready witness."
"Upon my word, this is a most unpleasant young person," Lord Arranmore said. "Brooks, do see her off the premises before she changes her mind and comes for me again. You have, I hope, been entertained, ladies," he added, turning to Sybil and Lady Caroom.
He eyed them carelessly enough to all appearance, yet with an inward searchingness which seemed to find what it feared. He turned to Brooks, but he and Mary Scott had left the room together.
"The girl-was terribly in earnest," Lady Caroom said, with averted eyes. "Were you not--a little cruel to her, Arranmore? Not that I believe these horrid things, of course. But she did. She was honest."
Lord Arranmore shrugged his shoulders. He was looking out of the window, out into the grey windy darkness, listening to the raindrops splashing against the window-pane, wondering how long Brooks would be, and if in his face too he should see the shadow, and it seemed to him that Brooks lingered a very long time.
"Shall we finish our game of billiards, Catherine?" he asked, turning towards her.
"Well--I think not," she answered. "I am a little tired, and it is almost time the dressing bell rang. I think Sybil and I will go up-stairs."
They passed away--he made no effort to detain them. He lit a cigarette, and paced the room impatiently. At last he rang the bell.
"Where is Mr. Brooks?" he asked.
"Mr. Brooks has only just returned, my lord," the man answered. "He went some distance with the young lady. He has gone direct to his room."
Lord Arranmore nodded. He threw himself into his easy-chair, and his head sank upon his hand. He looked steadfastly into the heart of the red coals.
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