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Full text of "Wedded to sport : a novel"

WEDDED TD SPORT 

BY Mas EDWARD KENHARD 



__ 



.. ... . .■ » 




HAUEOI'S STORES, 

LIMITED, 

91-105, Brompton RcL, S.W. 



THE CHEAPEST STORES IN LONDON. 

OPEN FREE TO ALL, 

No Entrance Fee or Subscription Required. 



Extract from the Lady's Pictorial, December $th. 

By one of those paradoxes which are often so full of unconscious humour, it is 
usually found that a commercial firm becomes i' Limited " in title just when it 
intends that its enterprise shall be "unlimited." That is conspicuously the ease 
with that large, rapidly-increasing business in the Brompton Road, known to all 
London, from Belgravia to Bow Church, as " Harrod's Stores." For many years 
past it has been a landmark for all who live in that favourite and fashionable 
district of which Piccadilly on the east side and Earl's Court on the west may be 
considered the boundaries, but latterly it has extended its operations until its name 
is a household word throughout the whole of London and " Greater London," 
while, by means of rail and post and steamship, they are enabled to send the 
countless necessaries and luxuries of life which they supply so cheaply and so well 
to every part of the kingdom and the world. . , There are already between 

thirty and forty different departments in " Harrod's Stores," and there is not one 
that is not excellently well managed. Good taste, moderation of price, prompt 
delivery, and courteous attention are the invariable rule at this establishment, and 
being managed with as much discretion and good taste as enterprise, it is safe to 
predict that it has a very prosperous future before it, and no matter how complete 
the success which it achieves, it will be fully deserved. 

General Catalogue and Weekly Price Lists Sent Free on 
Application. 

HARROD'S STORES, UNITED, 

91, 93, 95, 97, 99, 101, 103, 105, BROMPTON ROAD, 

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, QUEEN'S GARDENS, 

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, RICHMOND GARDENS, 8, 9, 10, NORTH STREET, 

And 7, 8, 9, NEW STREET, BROMPTON, S.I. 

And Fireproof Furniture Depository, BARNES, S.W. 



ESTABLISHED 1851. 

BIRKBECK BANK, 

Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane, London. 

TWO-AND-A-HALF per CENT. INTEREST allowed on DEPOSITS, repayable 
on demand. 

TWO per CENT, on CURRENT ACCOUNTS on the minimum monthly 
balances, when not drawn below j£ioo. 

STOCKS, SHARES, and ANNUITIES purchased and sold. 

SAVINGS DEPARTMENT.. 

For the encouragement of Thrift the Bank receives small sums on deposit, and allows 
Interest monthly on each completed £1. 



BIRKBECK BUILDING SOCIETY. 

HOW TO PURCHASE A HOUSE 

FOR TWO GUINEAS PEE MONTH. 



BIRKBECK FREEHOLD LAND SOCIETY.. 

HOW TO PURCHASE A PLOT OF LAND 

FOB FIVE SHILLINGS PER MONTH. 



The BIRKBECK ALMANACK, with full particulars, post free. 

FRANCIS RAVENSCROFT, Manager. 



IN USE OYER FIFTY YEARS, 



STEEDMAN'S 

SOOTKIM POWDERS 

FOR CHILDREN CUTTING TEETH. 

RELIEVE FEVERISH HEAT, PREVENT FITS, 
CONVULSIONS, &c. 

Preserve a. healthy state of the constitution during the 
period Of TEETHING. 



Observe the EE in STEEDMAN, and the address .— 

WALWORTH, SURREY. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



H IRovel. 



BY 

MES. EDWAED KENNAED, 

AUTHOK OF 

" A HOMBURG BEAUTY," " THE GIRL IN THE BROWN HABIT," 
" MATRON OR MAID," " THAT PRETTY LITTLE HORSEBREAKER," 

&c, &c. 



IN ONE VOLUME. 



LONDON : 

F- V- WHITE & CO., 

14, BEDFOKD STKEET, STKAND, W.C. 

1894. 



PRINTED BY 

KELLY AND CO. LIMITED, 182, 183 AND 184, HIGH HOLBORN, W.C. 

AND KINGSTON-ON-THAMES, 



CONTE NTS 



CHAP. PAGE 

I. — Born with a Golden Spoon . . 5 

II. — A Plain-spoken Friend . . . 11 

III. — Mother and Son. . . . .18 

IY. — A Girl of the Day ... 28 

V. — Sir Philip Proposes .... 35 

VI. — Bligh's First Love Affair . . 43 

VII. — Fighting the Fight .... 53 

VIII. — A Literary Aspirant ... 59 

IX. — The Pinch of Poverty ... 67 

X. — King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid 77 

XL — Maternal Solicitude .... 88 

XII. — The Old School versus The New . 94 

XIII. — A Terrible Ordeal .... 102 

XIV. — A Shooting Woman . . . 112 

XV.— Lunch on the Common . . .118 

XVI. — Married and Done For . . . 124 

XVII. — Going to the Meet .... 133 

XVIII.— The Morning's Cub Hunting . . 138 

XIX.— Two "Good Fellows" . . .144 

XX. — Learning to Kide . . . . 156 

XXI. — The Height of Humiliation . . 163 

XXII. — A Difficult Confession . . . 171 

XXIII. — Meeting an Old Love . . . 177 

XXIV. — The Biggest Country in England . 184 



vi CONTENTS. 

CHAP. PAGE 

XXV.— An Unmerited Insult . . .195 
XXVI.— " Don't be Too Hard upon Me " 202 
XXVII. — The Respectable Firm of Dash- 
wood AND RlCKERBY . . - 210 

XXVIII. — Corkscrew, alias Patrick the 

First 218 

XXIX.— The Red-coat Race ... 229 

XXX. — Tomling's Revenge . . . 237 

XXXI. — A Bachelor Dinner Party . 247 

XXXII.—" Take Me with You " . . . 259 

XXXIII. — A Confession of Follt . . 267 

XXXIV. — Mrs. Fortescue Gives Her 

Opinions 279 

XXXV.— The Worm will Turn . . 285 

XXXVL— A Lonely Woman . . .295 

XXXVII.— " Such is Man" ... 303 

XXXVIII. — Bligh Speaks her Thoughts . 310 

XXXIX. — Confessions of an Author . 320 

XL. — In the Croftage Mine . . 326 

XLI. — The Jaws of Death . . . 337 

XLII. — The Chains are Sundered . . 346 

XLIII. — Paid in her own Coin . . 351 

XLIV.— "Such is Woman . . . .357 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



CHAPTER I. 

BORN WITH A GOLDEN SPOON. 

Beechlands was a magnificent place. It stood in an exten- 
sive, undulating park, and the pleasure grounds gave employ- 
ment to fifteen gardeners. Evervthin2f was on a similar scale 
and indicated great wealth, if not the most refined taste. Per- 
haps the wealth preponderated over the taste just a little too 
conspicuously for critical eyes. In addition to its many other 
advantages, Beechlands was situated in one of the finest hunt- 
ing counties in England, whilst the shooting, if not exactly first- 
rate, was nevertheless very fair. But it possessed a grave 
drawback. 

It was too new. The red bricks of which the immense house 
was built had not yet lost the fiery tint stamped upon them by 
the kiln. The trees in the park were mostly saplings, sur- 
rounded by iron palings to protect their tender shoots from 
greedily-nibbling deer ; whilst the flower garden, in spite of its 
size and the money spent upon it, was stiff and conventional. 
It lacked the sweet, old-fashioned luxuriance, the tangled growth 
of creeper and tendril which Time alone confers. With all its 
splendour, Beechlands was deficient in the harmony and mellow- 
ness of colouring belonging to a long established structure. 

This was not to be wondered at considering that only twelve 
years ago the ground on which the house now stood had been a 
famous grazing pasture for cattle, prior to sending them to the 
London market. 

Good Thomas Verschoyle had originally hailed from the 
Midlands. When a boy he walked barefoot to the great Metro- 
polis, beginning life with only a few shillings in his pocket. But 
he was an energetic, industrious lad, as honest as the day, and 
gifted with quick wits. Step by step he rose, until in process of 
time he became one of the wealthiest merchants in the United 



6 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

Kingdom. His house did an enormous trade. The profits 
were steady and increasing. At this period of his career he 
was installed Lord Mayor of London. During Mr. Verschoyle's 
tenure of office one of the largest strikes between Labour and 
Capital took place that had ever been known. The masters 
were determined to fight, and so were the men. Both parties 
considered themselves in the right, and declined to make any 
concession. Things assumed a serious complexion. Meantime, 
the trade of London was almost completely paralysed. The 
strike affected nearly every branch, and many of the common 
necessaries of life rose to a ruinous price. The men refused to 
work unless their demands for increased pay and shorter hours 
of labour were satisfied. The dock directors declared that 
they neither could nor would yield to such extortion. For four 
whole weeks this state of affairs continued, and much as the 
country desired it, there appeared no prospect of a settlement. 
The government were not in a position to interfere. Strange as 
it may appear, a small band of directors on the one side, and of 
several thousand workmen on the other, had power to endanger 
and bring to a standstill the whole commerce of the Metro- 
polis. 

All the newspapers filled their columns with gloomy articles. 
They predicted that if once diverted England would inevitably 
lose her trade, and discover, when too late, the impossibility of 
redirecting it into its accustomed channels. They pointed out 
the dangers to which the strike exposed the kingdom, and 
urged an immediate termination to the dispute, no matter how 
great the sacrifices involved. Public opinion to a great extent 
sided with the men. Subscriptions in support of their wives and 
families kept pouring in from America and the Colonies. An 
agreement seemed as far off as ever. Neither party was inclined 
to budge from its position, and matters were entirely at a dead- 
lock. At this juncture it was proposed that an Arbitration 
Committee should be formed in order to inquire into the dif- 
ferences existing between masters and men. Mr. Verschoyle, 
in his capacity of Lord Mayor, was appealed to. After much 
parleying, owing chiefly to his exertions, sound common sense 
and excellent advice, a settlement was arrived at, in which the 
demands of the men were practically granted. Great rejoicings 
followed, and Thomas Verschoyle gained golden opinions. 
His name was in everybody's mouth, and when he quitted office 
it pieased her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen to bestow upon 
her late Lord Mayor the rank of Baronet. 

Henceforth the plain, honest merchant began to conceive 
schemes of ambition apart from the City and money-making 
He set himself to found a familv. and was determined to make 



WEDDED TO SPORT. j 

of his only son and heir a great county gentleman. He was 
getting old. Business had lost its charm, and instead of stim- 
ulating his faculties as formerly, now only irritated and fatigued 
them. For over fifty years he had toiled almost incessantly. 
It seemed to him that he had earned a right to enjoy the even- 
ing of his days. Sir Thomas Verschoyle retired from Lombard- 
street with an untarnished reputation, and an income variously 
estimated at twenty to fifty thousand a year. His first step was 
to buy a vast quantity of land in his native county and build 
Beechlands. It is not easy to describe the pleasure which he 
and his wife derived from the purchase and gradual develop- 
ment of their new estate. For years their dream had been to 
settle down peacefully in the country, for Lady Verschoyle was 
also Midland born. Their delight was unbounded, and when 
one by one the great county families began to call, and finding 
Sir Thomas a shrewd, straightforward man, and his wife a per- 
fect lady, received them with the enthusiasm generally accorded 
to the possessors of unlimited wealth, the worthy Baronet's 
satisfaction was complete. He felt he had achieved the rare 
position of having nothing left to wish for. Alas ! that pre- 
cisely when such a climax of real happiness had been reached, 
it was ordained that he should merely touch with his lips the 
golden cup of human contentment. 

A slight cold neglected — a chill, followed by an acute attack 
of laryngitis, and in a week the tender husband and indulgent 
father lay dead upon his bed. Death swooped down upon him 
with as little ceremony as if he had been some starving hawker 
in the streets, for the great Reaper with his " sickle keen " is 
no respecter of persons. He folds rich and poor alike in his 
icy embrace, and carries them off to Heaven, to Hell, to 
Oblivion — who knows whither ? 

" Le roi est mort, vive le rot." Sir Thomas's son reigned in 
his stead, leaving the disconsolate widow to bewail the loss of 
the truest, bravest, stoutest partner ever given to woman. Lady 
Verschoyle mourned for her husband with passionate grief. 
Hers was a gentle and tenacious nature, which could not live 
without love. Henceforth she concentrated all her affection on 
Philip, who, at the time of his father's death, had just gone to 
Oxford, having previously failed for the arm)-. The fond 
mother's hopes were centred in her boy. She expected great 
things of him, and resolutely shut her eyes to certain faults in 
his character, which had become manifest since the days of his 
childhood. She trusted that time would cure them, but her ex- 
pectations had scarcely been fulfilled. Young Philip's career 
at Oxford proved far from creditable. He drank, betted, 
gambled, got himself into a very awkward scrape, wherein a 



8 WEDDED TO SPORT 

tradesman's daughter figured as heroine, and left College just 
soon enough to avoid the disgrace of being expelled. It was 
a terrible blow to Lady Verschoyle, but nevertheless she was 
firmly convinced that everything and everybody had entered 
into a combination against her Philip, and he was simply the 
victim of circumstances. So she welcomed the black sheep 
home with a serious countenance and open arms, and Sir Philip 
had not been five minutes in die house before he persuaded her 
that Oxford was an unholy and unrighteous place, to whose con- 
taminating influences he ought never to have been exposed. 
As for his little flirtation with Miss Sarah Jane Jackson, of the 
High-street, he pooh-poohed that altogether, and said such trifles 
were not worth talking about. And no doubt Ire was right, for 
to a man with a handle to his name and forty thousand a year 
much may be forgiven. Before the world condemns him he 
must be a regular reprobate. In Sir Philip Yerschoyle's case, 
dear old Mrs. Grundy was very lenient. She shook her sage 
head with a smile, and said, "Ah! well; young men must all 
sow their wild oats. He may have been just a little imprudent, 
but nothing more." Oh! dear no ; nothing more, even although 
poor Sarah Jane was left with a blasted character, and hence- 
forth every uncharitable woman might point the finger of scorn 
at her. She was a bad, wicked girl, turned out of house and 
home by unmerciful parents, crushed, ruined and degraded at 
the very onset of life, lie was a fine gentleman, with plenty of 
money, and had only been "a little imprudent." Ho! ho! It 
is a nice world, a just and excellent world we live in, and the 
social codes of our vaunted civilisation are admirable. They 
protect the strong and destroy tire weak. 

Lady Verschoyle never knew the rights of the affair, and im- 
plicitly believed the scanty explanations which Philip vouch- 
safed to give concerning his College scrapes. She, poor soul ! 
was only too thankful to have him at home again ; but lie had 
not been there long before a torturing suspicion began to creep 
into her mind that the present master of Peechlands was very 
unlike his father. Sir Thomas had always been courteous and 
considerate ; Philip was rough and loud. Sir Thomas treated 
all women with chivalry in virtue of their sex; his son regarded 
them as inferior beings. The elder man's notions of honour 
were strict, not to say severe ; the young baronet's seemed to 
his mother alarmingly loose. When she remonstrated with him 
on this subject he laughed, and told her she was delightfully 
innocent and charmingly old-fashioned. He assured her quite 
seriously that all her ideas of right and wrong were out of date 
and took great pains to demonstrate that these terms were 
merely relative. She was not clever enough to prove the 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 9 

contrary ; but in the depths of her simple soul she felt that 
a flaw existed in her boy's logic. How or where he had 
learnt it she could not conceive. She could only fall back on 
the conviction that the new generation was different from the 
old, and tried to put everything down to her own ignorance. 
But the attempt did not prove successful ; for, in spite of her 
devotion to Philip, and the excuses which she was ever ready 
to make for him, in her secret heart, a terrible truth abided. 
She knew that she was deeply, grievously disappointed in him, 
and every day the feeling increased instead of becoming obliter- 
ated. A dull pain had fastened upon her brain. Every now 
and then she would rouse herself with an effort, and say, 
" What is amiss ? Why do I suffer from this constant ache ? " 
She did not dare formulate the answer in words. Had she 
done so the reply would have been, " It is Philip." 

By the terms of her late husband's will, Beechlands belonged 
to the young baronet. Lady Verschoyle had been liberally pro- 
vided for -, but the place where she had been raised, as it were, from 
the soil — the place whose every stone and tree and shrub were 
dear to her as familiar friends — was his. This was as it should 
be. She would not have had it otherwise. So long as Philip 
remained unmarried she had his permission to look on Beech- 
lands as her home. She made him an admirable unpaid house- 
keeper, and studied his interests far better than any ordinary 
dependent. He was well aware of this fact. When he took 
himself a wife, why then his mother would have to turn out and 
find a new abode in her old age. But, up to the time when our 
story commences, although he had thought of matrimony, he 
had never thought of it seriously. So many beautiful flowers 
offered themselves to his choice that he could not make up his 
mind which to cull. The whole race of mammas filled him with 
distrust. Whenever he met a pretty girl he was always harassed 
by the belief that she, or her relatives, wanted to catch him. 
He was perfectly conscious of his own value in the matrimonial 
market, and Belgravian mothers courted him in vain. Lady 
Verschoyle was most anxious to see her son settled, and con- 
stantly urged the desirability of finding a nice wife. But at 
nine-and-twenty Sir Philip had not yet seen fit to offer to any 
young woman the priceless treasures of his hand and heart. 
As a bachelor, with plenty of money to spend, any number of 
invitations, and everybody running after and making much of 
him, he found life very pleasant. It might not be quite so 
enjoyable were he to change his state. 

During the winter months he resided principally at Beech- 
lands, hunting six days a week, running up to town on the 
seventh. When the end of March came, he invariably took his 



10 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

departure, and often Lady Verschoyle would not see him again 
until he returned in September for the partridge shooting, 
accompanied by a party of gay friends, male and female. The 
latter were nearly all strangers to her, and she did not ap- 
preciate their manners, but she was assured that they belonged 
to a smart set, and, as usual, attributed her disapproval to 
ignorance of the world's ways. 

During Sir Philip's absence she led a pleasant, tranquil, if 
somewhat monotonous, existence : but she had arrived at a 
time of life when monotony is not without charm. The garden 
proved a never-ending source of delight. She would spend 
hours bending over her rose-buds, snipping off the dead leaves 
and faded buds with a large pair of scissors, which she kept for 
the purpose ; or else trotting round the village intent on char- 
itable deeds. 

Everybody about the place, from the humblest kitchen wench 
to the stiffest and proudest county dame, loved Lady Ver- 
schoyle. She was the gentlest, kindest-hearted, and most un- 
assuming creature imaginable ; hospitable to a degree when left 
to follow her own inclinations, and entirely free from all petty 
backbiting or taste for gossip. It was an exception to hear her 
speak an ill-natured word. When she did, the censure was 
invariably deserved. 

Her chief pleasure consisted in entertaining the neighbours. 
On her afternoons " At Home " the big oaken hall was fre- 
quently crowded with visitors, who thought nothing of driving 
ten or twelve miles in order to enjoy a chat with the popular 
mistress of the mansion. Lady Verschoyle had many friends, 
but Beechlands was a large house to be occupied by one solitary 
woman, and often when her son was away she would have felt 
very lonely had it not been for the clergyman s widowed sister, 
Mrs. Fortescue, who kept house for her brother, and lived just 
outside the park gates. This lady seldom allowed a day to pass 
without seeing Lady Verschoyle. In fact, they were on terms 
of the closest intimacy, a fast friendship having subsisted 
between them for years. Mrs. Fortescue was strong, energetic, 
impulsive, and kind-hearted. She was one of those women — 
no doubt excellent in their way — who manage, or seek to 
manage, everybody with whom they come in contact. She 
ruled her brother, his household, and his parish with a rod of 
iron. Nothing ever went on without her cognisance. The 
interest she took in other people's affairs was both genuine and 
intense. She knew the history of all the old men and women 
about the place, doctored their bodies, and cared for their souls 
with untiring zeal. It was useless for them to shirk such kindly 
offices. They only laid \\--"^--^^--^^~^^->^^^-xr^ n$ i n . 



WEDDED TO SPORT, n 

gratitude, especially as there was no denying that, in cases of 
emergency, Mrs. Fortescue proved herself invaluable. She 
never lost her head, and knew exactly what ought, and what 
ought not, to be done. If people only followed her advice all 
went well, as a rule. This excellent lady possessed many 
virtues, but her enemies were wont to declare that her good 
qualities were marred by one grave defect. Mrs. Fortescue 
prided herself on her habit of plain-speaking. She looked upon 
it as a positive crime to say what you did not mean or to soften 
the truth simply because it was unpalatable. Had she confined 
herself to this the ill-natured might not have had so much cause 
for complaint ; but it must be confessed that she often went out 
of the way to make remarks which a very little tact and 
diplomacy would certainly have deprived of their sting. No 
one meant better than Mrs. Fortescue, but she laboured under 
a mistake in fanc3'ing that because she queened it over her 
brother and the parish, she could do so over all the rest of the 
world. Like attracts unlike. Lady Verschoyle's sweet nature 
and gentle disposition had inspired in Mrs. Fortescue an ardent 
affection, whilst the weaker will of her iriend unconsciously 
derived moral support from leaning on one stronger than itself. 



CHAPTER II. 

A PLAIN-SPOKEN FRIEND. 

One evening towards the end of August, the two ladies* were 
sitting together in Lady Verschoyle's boudoir. It was the 
smallest, and consequently the cosiest room in the whole house, 
and its mistress much preferred it to the state apartments, 
which were only thrown open on grand occasions. The weather 
was unusually cold for the time of year. A gale of wind raged 
out of doors, and between the squalls the rain poured down in 
torrents; striking the window panes like countless small pebbles. 
The trees creaked and groaned with quite a wintry sound, and 
great tumbled masses of purple cloud had heaped themselves 
up in the heavens. As the blast impelled them onwards, their 
solid edges parted occasionally, and displayed a pale gleam of 
light. For a summer night it was about as bad as bad could 
be. Inside the room all was bright and cheerful. Two softly 
shaded lamps illuminated the apartments, and threw up the 
glowing tints of its rich Persian carpet, and crimson velvet cur- 
tains. Flowers were scattered about everywhere — in pots, in 
vases, in, ri.ifjh n i ,,, ThajrJm osphere was heavy with the hothouse 



12 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

fragrance of clematis and tuberose. The slender green fronds 
of a large palm occupying a corner near the door glistened, as 
the wavering flames from a wood fire burning on the hearth 
rested capriciously upon them. The two friends sat on either 
side of the fire-place enjoying the generous warmth it threw 
out, their dresses turned up, after the fashion of ladies when 
alone. In appearance, as in everything else, they presented a 
marked contrast. 

Mrs. Fortescue was small, plump, dark, and alert. Her 
round black eyes were as lively as a squirrel's, and her glance 
as penetrating as a gimlet. She had a straight, well-cut nose, a 
good colour, and a square, determined chin which bespoke char- 
acter. For the rest, briskness and energy were written on 
every feature of her vivacious face. She might have been forty, 
judging from her looks. As a matter of fact, she had passed 
her fiftieth year. 

Lady Verschoyle was fair and feminine. Her soft brown 
hair, which she wore plainly parted on either side of her some- 
what high and narrow brow, had scarcely begun to turn grey, 
although she was not far off sixty. Her eyes must have been 
lovely in her youth, for they were very large and beautifully 
shaped. But age had dimmed their blue, and care had brought 
into their clear depths a timid, anxious expression which was 
strangely pathetic. Lady Verschoyle's eyes gave one the im- 
pression that their owner was never free from apprehension, 
and continually dreaded some misfortune. Of her face it need 
only be said that it was charming, and its sole defect consisted 
in a certain want of firmness about the lines of the delicate 
mouth. Naturally tall, her height was diminished by a slight 
stoop, and she was so thin that her clothes seemed to hang 
quite loosely. As a rule, she dressed very plainly, but no matter 
how homely and inexpensive the garment, she always looked a 
thorough lady. Hers was essentially a refined and sensitive 
nature. It would have been impossible to Lady Verschoyle at 
any period of her life to commit a vulgarity. Sweet, gentle, 
yielding, she seemed almost too fine-fibred to endure the buffets 
of this rough world without a strong and loving protector. Her 
sleek brown head, covered by a dainty lace cap, lay languidly 
against the cushions of her chair. She looked very worn and 
fragile. In her hand she held an open letter, which had arrived 
by the afternoon's post. Its contents proved so unusually 
exciting that she had requested Mrs. Fortescue to come to 
dinner, in order to discuss them with her friend. The subject 
was one of great interest, and which affected her very nearly. 
Certain fears were now at rest which had long proved a source 
of secret worry. 



\n:nni-:n to sport. 



J 3 



" I can't (ell you, Anne," she said to Mrs. Fortescuc, "what 
a relief this news is to me. \ on know, better than anyone else, 
how very, very anxious 1 am for Philip to marry and settle 
down; but if there was one woman on the whole face of the 
earth, whom I hoped and prayed he would never wish to make 
his wife, that woman was Blanche Sylvester." 

" I am not surprised," rejoined Mrs. Fortescue. " Von ob- 
jected, 1 suppose, to their being first cousins ? " 

" No, my dear Anne, it was not so much the relationship, 
though of course that alone rendered their union undesirable. 
What 1 feared and dreaded beyond words can toll, was the 
girl's character. 1 don't wish to say anything against my poor 
Thomas's sister's child. I have tried my very best to got on 
with her, and to think lightly of her faults, but," and Lady 
A erschoyle sighed, "do what 1 will, 1 can't bring myself to like 
Blanche. She is plausible and pleasant enough to one's face, 
but all the time she is endeavouring to make herself agreeable, 
she leaves a painful impression of insincerity on the mind. I 
never could make out why Philip was so fond of her." 

" Oh ! he would like any girl who ilattored him up, and 
allowed him to carry on pretty much as he chose." 

" I'm by no means sure, Anne. I should be sorry to think so 
badly either of Philip or Blanche. But for some reason or 
other, there is no denying that ever since he grew np, she has 
possessed an unaccountable fascination for him." 

" 1 I'm ! " snorted Airs. Fortescue. "The sort of fascination 
that most free and easily conducted women have for fast young 
bachelors." 

" Anne," said Lady \ erschoyle, with the nearest approach to 
severity of which she was capable, " you are uncharitable." 

" Perhaps 1 am. I quite acknowledge my faults. All the 
same, I am far from certain whether every now and then it is 
not almost one's duty to be uncharitable. This sounds an 
awful sentiment for a clergyman s sister to propound, I know, 
but experience has taught me that universal charity is a failure. 
As for Miss Sylvester, I detest her." And Mrs. fortescue brought 
her mouth together with a snap. 

" It is strange that poor Blanche should have so many 
enemies," responded Lady Versehoyle. 

" Strange ! Not at all. If she wants to make friends, she 
should behave herself. I haven't forgiven her yet for the way 
she ordered the servants about last winter when she was here, 
or for treating you like a nobody in your own house." 

" It is not "my own house, Anne. You never will remember 

that." 

" Tut. it's yours as long as Philip remains unmarried. CYr- 



I 4 WEDDED TO SPORT 

tainly it is not the thing for any young woman of twenty-five to 
come here, and do all she can to put your nose out of joint. I 
wonder how ever you stood it. I said at the time that you were 
far too meek, and did not assert yourself sufficiently. The idea 
of a forward miss like that wanting to have everything her own 
way ! If Philip hadn't been such a fool, he would soon have 
brought her to her bearings ; but really, Blanche Sylvester quite 
seemed to turn his head for a while." 

" I feared last winter that he was going to propose to his 
cousin," said Lady Yerschoyle, a faint flush rising to her pale 
cheek. 

" I didn't. Philip knows much too well how to take care of 
himself. He's uncommonly wary about making the fatal plunge, 
although somewhat given to fluttering moth-like round a centre 
of attraction.'' 

" One never quite knows, though, when the attraction may 
prove too strong for the moth," responded Lady Yerschoyle, 
with one of her quiet smiles. " People take odd fancies, and 
Blanche is very handsome, remember." 

" Yes," admitted Mrs. Fortescue, " I suppose she is, although 
she's not my style. Personally, I see no beauty in her, but no 
doubt some men admire those bold, black-browed, big-busted, 
small-waisted girls. I don't. I call them horrid." 

" .My dear Anne, are you not just a little prejudiced against 
Blanche ? If her character were only equal to her looks, she 
would do well enough." 

" Now don't go making excuses for her. How could I pos- 
sibly stand by and see a saint like you insulted — yes, positively 
insulted — by a rude, ill-mannered young woman, without 
resenting it ? You mark my words, if Philip had married 
Blanche Sylvester, they would have fought like a cat and dog 
by the end of three months. They have far too many points in 
common to agree. They are both selfish, both passionate, both 
vain." 

Lady Yerschoyle gave a little nervous laugh. This enumera- 
tion of her son's faults was not altogether agreeable. Mrs. 
Fortescue's outspokenness was apt every now and again to touch 
some tender spot. She sought to change the subject. 

" Well ! " she said, with an attempt at cheerfulness. " We 
need not distress ourselves as to what might have happened 
had Philip and Blanche become man and wife. She is going to be 

married almost immediately to Colonel Vansittart of the 

Dragoon Guards, as she informs me in this letter. Next month 
he has to rejoin his regiment, and directly after the marriage 
the happv couple are to sail for India. Henceforth we shall 
see very little of Blanche." 



WEDDED TO SPORT- 



J 5 



" And a good thing too. The less the better. You are so 
innocent and unsuspicious, my dear Lady Verschoyle, that you 
don't half see what goes on, even under your very eyes. I look 
upon Miss Sylvester's engagement as quite providential, for I 
feel perfectly convinced in my own mind, that had it not taken 
place, before long she would have entangled Philip into marry- 
ing her." So saying, Mrs. Fortescue clasped her hands to- 
gether with a most decided air, which seemed to intimate that 
when she formed an opinion it must necessarily be final. 

"There was a strong flirtation going on, certainly," admitted 
Lady Verschoyle. " It made me very uneasy, for I began to 
fear the existence of some secret understanding between Philip 
and Blanche." 

" They were on extremely intimate terms, even for cousins," 
responded Mrs. Fortescue, compressing her thin lips in a dis- 
approving fashion. " And Blanche, for one, was getting her- 
self very much talked about. I never shall forget the answer 
she made when I tried to give her some good advice, and told 
her no woman could afford to run counter to public opinion. 
' Pray don't trouble yourself about my morals, Mrs. Fortescue. 
I like men, and always mean to have men friends, no matter 
how much ill-natured people may gossip.' There was a pretty 
speech for you." 

" My dear Anne, we need not discuss Blanche's faults. No 
doubt she will turn over a new leaf now that she is engaged to 
Colonel Vansittart, and may surprise us all by developing into 
an excellent wife and mother. I don't believe she means half 
what she says, anyhow I feel far too grateful to her at present to 
care about dwelling on her shortcomings. I never liked to 
mention my fears before, but this projected marriage is quite a 
load off my mind." 

" So I should think," rejoined Mrs. Fortescue. " And I hope 
when you get a daughter-in-law, you'll get somebody whom you 
like, and who will treat you with proper deference and re- 
spect. 1 '' 

Lady Verschoyle made no immediate reply. A shadow passed 
over her gentle face. 

" I wonder what Philip will say when the news is broken to 
him," she said presently, in a voice that betrayed considerable 
anxiety. " You may think me very foolish, Anne, but somehow 
or other, I have a strong presentiment that he won't be at all 
pleased." 

"It won't much matter whether he is or not," said Mrs. For- 
tescue. " Miss Sylvester's engagement is not likely to be broken 
off, simply because Sir Philip Verschoyle, Bart., does not ap- 
prove of it. By-the-bye, he is coming to-night, is he not ? I must 



I 6 WEDDED TO- SPORT. 

be off." And Mrs. Fortescue rose from her seat. Between her 
and her friend's son there was no love lost. They had had one or 
two passages of arms on different occasions, and she did not care 
to meet him oftener than she could help. She resented his 
cavalier treatment of his mother, and he was a person who 
neither appreciated nor profited by plain speaking. A kind of 
tacit warfare existed between them, which continually threatened 
to break out into hostilities. When Sir Philip was at home, 
Mrs. Fortescue's visits to Eeechlands became comparatively rare. 
It had been reported to her ears that the young man had once 
spoken indignantly of her as " a meddlesome old woman." 
She never forgave hiin. The wound inflicted on her self- 
esteem remained unhealed. 

" Yes," said Lady Yerschoyle, in answer to her companion's 
inquiry. " I expect Philip every minute, indeed he ought to be 
here by now. Unfortunately, I ordered the dogcart to meet 
him, and am afraid he will be vexed, but as a rule he dislikes a 
close carriage this time of year, and it was quite fine when John 
started." 

" You can't help the weather, dear Lady Yerschoyle. Surely 
Sir Philip cannot hold you responsible for it." 

" Xo, but it has come on so wet in the last hour. The poor 
boy will be soaked." 

"Well, and if he is, it won't hurt him. A strong, healthy 
young man of nine and twenty, surely need not mind a few drops 
of rain. You mothers are dreadful people. You spoil your 
sons to such an extent that half of them turn molly-coddles." 

" You are very severe in your judgments, Anne ; besides you 
don't know how apt Philip is to get put out by trifles." 

" Oh ! yes,'' retorted Mrs. Fortescue, with ruthless candour, 
for she considered this an occasion on which plain speaking was 
not only a virtue, but her bounden duty. " I know perfectly 
well that his temper is abominable, and that, although you love 
him dearly — ever so much more than he deserves — you are 
nevertheless afraid of him. The fact is, my dear, you are too 
meek, too unselfish and retiring. If it were me, I should pay 
him back in his own coin. He is a young gentleman who wants 
a strong hand over him " 

" I never could rule by force, neither would I wish to," 
interposed Lady Yerschoyle. 

" But you should. That's exactly where you make a mistake. 
You should let him realise that as long as you reside in this 
house, you're its mistress, and won't be put upon. I always 
say that it is a thousand pities Sir Philip was born with a golden 
spoon in his mouth, and has had his life made too easy. Yery 
few people can stand pros--.-:i". -'*!>■■" ' f ht - harl hpp i a poor 



WEDDED TO SPORT. jy 

fellow without one sixpence to rub against another, and 
obliged to earn his livelihood, he might have had a chance of 
turning out a decent member of society. At all events he 
would have got some of the nonsense knocked out of him, 
whereas now- " 

" Anne," interrupted poor Lady Verschoyle piteously, with the 
tears starting to her faded eyes, " have you not said enough ? 
Philip is my only son. He is all I have in the world. You 
do not realise what exquisite pain it causes me to hear him 
abused. We are none of us so faultless as to condemn others." 

Little Mrs. Fortescue ran to her friend's side, and kissed her 
effusively. She was conscious of having committed an indis- 
cretion, and of having spoken out more forcibly than was alto- 
gether warrantable. 

" Forgive me, darling," she said, penitently. " I would rather 
cut off my right hand than grieve you intentionally. In future 
I promise to be more careful, and not say anything that may 
hurt your feelings." 

" Philip is not perfect," went on Lady Verschoyle, tremulously. 
" There are many things in him which I should like to see 
changed ; but I have no other child. Surely it is not unnatural 
for a mother, situated as I am, to try to think well rather than 
ill of her only son. I cannot help loving him. If he were a 
criminal — if he had committed the most horrible sin, he would 
always be to me — my boy. I should think of him as he 
was in his childish days. I should recall the touch of his little 
warm hands straying against my bosom, remember his inno- 
cent smiles and ejaculations. No, no, Anne, if you value my 
friendship, never again run Philip down, for I — I cannot bear 
it." Her voice broke. There was something beautiful in this 
woman's passionate adoration of an unworthy idol. Mrs. For- 
tescue seemed to feel that opposed to such pure maternal affec- 
tion, words were as sacrilege. She turned away, sorry for and 
ashamed of the part she had played. Henceforth, where Sir 
Philip was concerned, she determined to keep a guard over her 
tongue. At this moment wheels were heard coming up the 
gravel drive, shortly followed by the sound of a horse's feet 
trampling beneath the stone portico that guarded the front door. 
The colour rushed to Lady Verschoyle's face, tinting it a delicate 
crimson. Three months had elapsed since she had last seen 
her son. She rose to her feet with a little glad cry. 

" I am so thankful Philip is alone," she said, " and that his 
friends don't arrive until to-morrow. I never could have 
broken this news about Blanche to him before a whole room- 
ful of strangers. Now, at least, we shall have time for a nice 
quiet talk," 



1 8 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

Mrs. Fortescue gathered her belongings together. 

" Good-bye, dear," she said. " I don't suppose I shall see 
you again for some little while, unless you care to look in at 
the Rectory to-morrow afternoon, and drink a cup of tea. Mrs. 
Burton is coming, and Bligh — that is to say, if Mrs. Burton is 
able, but Bligh wrote saying her mother had been terribly un- 
well of late, and she might not find herself strong enough to 
travel when the day arrived. They have to take the train from 
Morthorpe, and I promised to meet them at the station. I am 
always sorry they live so far away that practically one sees next 
to nothing of them, for I like them both so much." 

" I met Mrs. Burton and her daughter once, some years ago 
at a garden party," said Lady Verschoyle. " If I remember 
right, the girl was a very nice, quiet little thing, who pleased me 
by her evident affection for her mother." 

" Yes," said Mrs. Fortescue. '' Bligh is a pattern child. She 
devoted all the best years of her youth to nursing her father, 
and now she is doing the same thing by the old lady. You'll 
come if you can, won't you, dear ? " 

" Yes, provided Philip does not require my presence." 

The two ladies kissed cordially — perhaps all the more cor- 
dially for their little fracas — and Airs. Fortescue, hearing a loud 
voice in the hall which was scarcely indicative of good temper, 
took leave without any more of those last farewells which among 
women appear indispensable. " "When my wife gets up, I sit 
down," once said a distinguished cavalry officer to the writer of 
this story. He was wise in his generation, and evidently had 
studied the idiosyncrasies of the female character. However, 
as Mrs. Fortescue did not want to meet Sir Philip, she made 
haste to go. V few moments after her departure, the young 
man, damp from the night air, and with rain-drops still glisten- 
ing; in his auburn heaiJ entered his niuthei 's room. 



CHAPTER III. 

MOTHER AND SOX. 

With arms outstretched Lady Verschoyle went to meet him 
her face turned upward. Sir Philip stooped, and just lightly 
brushed his moustache against her polished white brow. The 
salute was careless, and totally lacking in warmth. A close 
observer might have noticed that she shrank back, as if 
inwardly hurt, whilst the warm blood rushed to the surface of 
her transparent skin. For weeks oast she had looked forward 



WEDDED TO SPORT. ig 

to this meeting, and now, before her son had opened his mouth, 
a vague sense of disappointment crept over her spirit, and 
robbed her of the joy which she had expected to derive from 
the mere sight of him. Of late it had always been thus. 
Whose fault was it, hers or his ? Every year he slipped farther 
and farther away from her. Each fresh absence served to 
build up a subtle a.nd indefinable barrier, which she felt herself 
unable to break down. The wall that divided them grew, and 
so did her mental despondency. But no sign of what passed 
through the mother's mind was apparent as once more she 
lifted a loving face towards him, and said : 

" Well, Philip dear, so you have come at last ? It seems a 
regular age since we met." 

" Does it ? " he answered indifferently. " I was here not so 
very long ago. Let me see, when was I here, May or June ? " 

" You ran down from town for a night in the beginning of 
May, and left again the next morning." 

" This place is so beastly slow in the summer," he observed 
" There is nothing on earth to do." 

" When one is the master of ten thousand acres of land one 
would think that there was ahvays a certain amount to do," she 
rejoined. 

" Oh ! very likely ; but I hate being bothered except on rent 
day. It's always pretty welcome." 

Lady Verschoyle, suppressed a sigh, and changed the 
subject. 

" How have you been, Philip ? " she inquired, with fond, 
maternal solicitude. 

" Oh ! much as usual. My health doesn't trouble me. thank 
goodness. I hear fellows talking about their lungs and their 
liver, but for my part I never can understand it. By-the-bye," 
he added, giving himself a resentful shake, " what on earth 
induced you to send the dogcart for me on such a night as 
this ? I'm chilled to the bone." 

" Are you ? I'm so sorry. Come near the fire, dear, and 
warm yourself. It was my fault. I've been miserable all the 
evening, thinking what a cold, comfortless drive home you 
would have ; but when the trap started the weather was fine, 
and we never thought it was going to turn out so badly as this." 

" Anybody in their senses would have consulted the barom- 
eter, and sent the brougham," growled Sir Philip, applying a 
white silk handkerchief with a bird's-eye border to his damp 
beard. 

His mother overheard the remark, and again that nervous 
flush mantled her cheek. 

" Have you had dinner ? " she asked. 



20 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" Rather. I got a very tidy meal in the Pullman coming 
down. Nothing passes the time so quickly and agreeably when 
one is travelling as eating. The Americans thoroughly under- 
stand that." 

" I presume you came from Yorkshire then to-day, Philip ? " 

" Yes ; I left Baggerton this afternoon, and ought to have 
been here long ago, only there are so many changes en route." 

" What sort of sport have you had ? " 

" Only fair. The grouse are not so plentiful on the moors 
this year as usual. A great many young birds were killed just 
after the hatching season by the severe weather and those that 
were left are uncommonly wild. By the way, how are we off 
for partridges here ? " 

" Very well, I believe," answered Lady Verschoyle. " Turner 
was talking to me the day before yesterday " 

" Why the deuce doesn't he talk to me on these subjects, 
instead of you ? " 

" But, Philip, how can he, when you are not even here ? " 

" He might write. I told him to do so." 

" Turner belongs to the old school, and is no great hand with 
his pen. When he was young education was not so universal 
as it is now, and people had not the same chance of learning to 
read and write." 

" Well, well, never mind. What did he say about the birds ? " 

" He told me that the coveys were not only more numerous 
this season than he ever remembered them, but also that the 
young partridges were exceedingly fine and well-grown. He 
thinks you ought to get over a hundred brace a day for the first 
week, and this without touching the outlying beats, where the 
birds run somewhat smaller." 

" Come, that's good news," exclaimed Sir Philip, in a more 
amiable tone, leaning his broad back against the mantelpiece, 
and apparently enjoying the genial warmth thrown out by the 
fire. " You received my letter, I suppose, telling you I expected 
a houseful of friends to-morrow for the ist of September ? " 

" Yes ; the rooms are all ready, and everything is in order. 
Who have you got coming ? " Lady Verschoyle inquired timidly, 
as if fearful the interrogation might displease, and be attributed 
to undue curiosity. 

" Nobody you know. Only five or six pals, a couple of lively 
married women, and an amusing girl. You needn't bother 
about them. They'll take care of themselves, no doubt. It is 
not the fashion nowadays for ladies to pay much attention to 
their hostess. As long as they please the host, that's considered 
enough." 

" I don't pretend to knov ™,,r-h ahnnt- the fashionable world 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 21 

since your poor father died," rejoined Lady Verschoyle, with a 
gentle dignity that became her well ; " but as long as I remain 
here I consider it incumbent on me to do the honours of Beech- 
lands properly. If others fail in their duty, that is no reason 
why I should." 

" Oh ! of course not. There is not the least occasion to take 
so serious a view of the question. All I meant was that I didn't 
suppose any of the people who are coming were exactly your 
sort." 

" Nothing pleases me more, Philip, than to see you entertain- 
ing nice friends." And she emphasised the adjective. " I like 
to think that you have plenty of pleasant acquaintances." 

" Unfortunately, my dear mother, your notions on these 
subjects are a little out of date, and what you call ' nice friends ' 
I don't. For instance, you are perfectly satisfied with the hum- 
drum, slow-going old county folk about here. I find them tre- 
mendous bores." 

" You very seldom have anything to do with them, Philip. 
Indeed, you are barely civil to your neighbours." 

" Because I like people who amuse me, not ones who make 
me yawn the whole evening. Now you are so constituted that 
you don't mind being bored. I do. Life's too short to waste 
three or four hours at a time in the company of mumbling old 
women, who can talk of nothing but their servants and their 
parishes." This was meant for a cut at Mrs. Fortescue, but 
Lady Verschoyle wisely took no notice of the remark. She 
only looked sadly at her handsome son. As far as outward 
appearance went, Sir Philip was a splendid specimen of an 
English gentleman. He stood over six feet in his stockings, 
and his spare, muscular figure was admirably proportioned. He 
had a clear, healthy complexion, fair hair, an auburn beard and 
moustache, a straight, well-cut nose, and blue eyes, like his 
mother's. But their expression was very different ; for whereas 
hers was sweet and soft and true, his was cold and uncertain. 
Sir Philip never looked you straight in the face, and in spite of 
the undeniable beauty of his features, the impression conferred 
on the mind was one of shiftiness and cunning. There was 
something feline and stealthy about him, which involuntarily 
inspired a certain feeling of mistrust. When he chose, his 
manners were singularly caressing, with the velvety softness of 
a cat, who puts out its paw gentry before striking. The languid 
and drawling intonation of his voice produced a deceitfully 
soothing effect upon the nerves, until something happened to 
provoke him to anger. Then it became loud and harsh, and all 
the dulcet tones disappeared directly he was off his guard. At 
such times one felt there were unknown depths to Sir Philip's 



22 WEDDED 'TO SPORT. 

character — that the outward grace and fascination, which he 
certainly possessed in no small degree, were not real, but merely 
a thin veneer acquired by mixing in good society. Instinct- 
ively, one watched and waited for the man s true nature to 
reveal itself. 

Sir Philip had heaps of acquaintances, but very few friends. 
Strip him of his title and bis wealth, his fine house and his 
position, and he would not have found many people to stick to 
him. On the other hand, he might not have been singular in 
such an experience, so that perhaps the fact ought hardly to 
weigh against him. He took no pains to ingratiate himself with 
his neighbours, and looked down upon them as a set of old 
fogies, quite forgetting that old fogies have tongues, which they 
wag very energetically on occasions. He elected to fill his 
house with fast London folk, and asked them to shoot his 
game, rather than the sedate and steadv squires who inhabited 
the county. It need scarcely be said that such conduct gave 
great offence, and the young baronet was by no means popular. 

Although Sir Philip professed to despise country bumpkins — 
as he rudely called them — he, nevertheless, felt secretly irritated 
whenever he happened to appear amongst them that they did 
not receive him with more warmth. He was incensed and 
annoyed to find how devoted they all were to his mother, and 
how coldly and indifferently, in comparison, they treated him. 
When he got home he would shower abuse upon the worthy 
people, never once condescending to acknowledge that wounded 
vanity was mainly responsible for the very far from pretty 
epithets which he freely hurled against them. He was not 
candid enough to say to himself, " Their sin is that they do 
not sufficiently admire Sir Philip Verschoyle, Bart., even 
although they receive absolutely nothing from him in the way 
of game, civility, or hospitality." A few kindly words, one or 
two invitations to dinner, and how easy would it have been to 
convert enemies into friends ! But the young man did not 
choose to take the trouble, and failed to see how closely Polite- 
ness is allied to Self-interest. 

Meantime, Lady Verschoyle cogitated anxiously over the best 
manner of breaking the news. Her son was not apparentlv in 
the most amiable of moods, and ever since his arrival she had 
gradually been feeling more and more nervous. Nevertheless, 
she realised that if she let the present opportunity pass of speak- 
ing to him in private, there was no knowing when she might 
get another. To-morrow he would have accounts to settle, and 
be busy probably the whole morning with affairs connected with 
the estate. He did not like her to interfere in such matters, 
and after his long absence "" rlnuht manv small thines would 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 23 

require seeing to ; whilst later in the day the guests were ex- 
pected to arrive. Then the prospects of a tetc-a-tetc were 
practically nil. When the house was full of visitors she saw 
nothing, or next to nothing, of her boy. Lady Verschoyle felt 
that she could not go to sleep with such an important piece of 
intelligence weighing on her mind, Moreover, she was curious 
to know how Philip would take it. If he heard the news calmly, 
and without displaying much emotion, her fears would be for- 
ever set at rest. She cleared her throat once or twice, and was 
just plucking up courage to commence when he stretched out 
his hand and rang the bell. 

" What do you want, Philip ? Anything that I can get you ? " 
she inquired, with maternal readiness to wait on her offspring. 
- " No," he said, curtly. ''Nothing." 

" Bring me a brandy and soda," he said to the footman when 
that functionary appeared. " And mix it pretty stiff ; I'm 
cold." 

Lady Verschoyle was quite glad that this order put off her 
confession for a few minutes. Somehow, she was more than 
usually nervous to-night. " What a coward I am," she said to 
herself. " The thing has to be done ; therefore why delay ? 
There is nothing to be afraid of. It is all my own imagining." 
Nevertheless, she waited and waited, until Sir Philip had 
almost finished his brandy and soda, and began to yawn and 
stretch himself as if he contemplated very shortly retiring to 
rest. Then, all at once she blurted out, without any pre- 
liminary — 

" Philip, I had a letter from Blanche to-day. A letter whose 
contents you, as the head of the family, ought to be acquainted 
with." 

He altered his position, and a look of interest stole over his 
face. 

" Well," he said, with an assumption of indifference, " what 
does she say ? " 

" A great deal. I have the letter in my pocket. I think it 
would be better for you to read it." 

" Oh ! by all means. I always like Blanche's letters. They 
are almost as amusing and flippant as she is herself, which is 
saying a great deal. When one reads them one could almost 
fancy she was in the room, chattering away at her usual rate." 

" There is nothing flippant about this note," said Lady 
Verschoyle, gravely. " I expect Blanche must have written it 
in a hurry, since she vouchsafes no details, but contents herself 
with the bare announcement of an important impending event." 

" What the deuce do you mean ? " said Sir Philip, impatiently 
holding out his hand for the letter. " You talk as if some 



24 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

extraordinary mystery were about to happen. I hate people 
who make mysteries over every trifling occurrence, but you 
women are always doing it. It's a bad habit, of which apparently 
there's no curing you." 

" Read the letter for yourself, Philip ; then there will not be 
any ground for accusing either Blanche or me of wishing to be 
mysterious. I am sure nothing was farther from my thoughts." 

Sir Philip took the note, and turned it over before proceeding 
to make himself master of its contents. A well-known perfume 
assailed his nostrils, recalling many a recollection of the past 
and of his handsome cousin. 

" How fond Blanche is of that ' Wood Violet,' " he exclaimed, 
with more sentiment than he had yet displayed. " Whenever I 
smell it it always reminds me of her.'' So saying, he settled 
down to the perusal of Miss Sylvester's letter. 

Lady Verschoyle watched him narrowly, and she was conscious 
that the beats of her heart became both faster and louder. 
Without exactly knowing why, some subtle maternal intuition 
told her that a crisis in his life was at hand. 

Suddenly, Sir Philip's brows contracted, his face grew dark, 
and with an oath he threw the letter across the room. 

" Blanche engaged ! Blanche going to be married," he cried, 
excitedly. " I can't believe it." 

" But why not, Philip ? " his mother asked in alarm. 

" Why not ? For a hundred reasons. To begin with, she's 
not the girl to throw herself away on some sticky old colonel, 
and spend ten of the best years of her life in India." 

" I don't suppose Colonel Vansittart can be much over forty," 
remarked Lady Verschoyle. 

" Well, and Blanche is only twenty-five. She ought to marry 
a man nearer her own age." 

" Surely that is her affair, Philip, not ours. She must care 
for this Colonel Vansittart, else she would hardly have accepted 
him ; and for anything we know to the contrary, they may be 
very much in love." 

" Blanche isn't. I'll take my oath of that. Anyhow, I 
shan't allow the match to take place." 

" I don't see how you can possibly prevent it. Blanche is her 
own mistress. Her stepmother does not exercise the slightest 
influence over her, and she is not a person who, having once 
made up her mind, will submit to being dictated to, either by 
you or by anybody else." 

" She'll listen to me," Sir Philip said, confidently. " Blanche 
knows very well on which side her bread is buttered. I can 
make her throw over this damned old fool to-morrow." 

The muscles round Lady Verschoyle's mouth twitched. She 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



25 



sought hard to remain calm, and not to betray the excitement 
which was fast gaining possession of her. 

" Really, Philip," she exclaimed, in a voice which, despite all 
efforts at self-control, revealed much inward agitation, "your 
language is most strange. What reason can you possibly have 
for making so extraordinary a statement." 

" What reason ! I have an excellent reason, an undeniable 
reason." 

" For goodness' sake explain yourself." 

" It is very simple. Blanche is head over ears in love with 
me, and has been so any time these last seven years." 

" Oh ! Philip," ejaculated Lady A T erschoyle, faintly. " Are 
you — are you certain of this ? " 

" Quite certain." 

" But how do you know ? Girls do not generally confess to 
hopeless attachments." 

" It may not be as hopeless as you conclude. That's my 
affair. Anyhow, the marriage must be prevented. The man 
has probably talked Blanche into giving her consent, and the 
chances are a thousand to one that she is wretched at the 
present moment." 

" You have bewildered me," said Lady Verschoyle, who had 
turned ghastly pale. " Nevertheless, I don't quite see how you 
can interfere in so delicate a matter. If what you say about 
Blanche is true, your disapproval would only render her position 
the more difficult, without improving it materially." 

" That remains to be seen. I natter myself I might improve 
it very much indeed, let alone the pleasure of putting that ass 
Vansittart's nose out of joint." 

Lady Verschoyle trembled. Her worst fears were verified. 
There was even more between Philip and Blanche than she had 
suspected. 

" May I ask what you propose doing ? " she said, despairingly. 

" I intend going to call on Blanche to-morrow," he answered, 
in tones of fierce decision. " She is staying in town for a few 
days, I perceive, so I shall leave by the first train in the 
morning." 

" But, Philip, your friends arrive at four o'clock." 

" Bother my friends ! Put them off." 

" I can't well do that, seeing I neither know who they are nor 
where they live." 

" Keep them going then till my return. Say I have been 
called away on business, but shall most likely turn up during 
the evening. Give them the run of the house, and plenty to 
eat and drink," he added cynically, " and they'll not miss me 
very much, I'll be bound." 



26 WEDDED TO SPORT 

" Philip," said Lady Verschoyle, making one last effort to 
divert him from his purpose, " I think you are very unwise, and 
had far better stay at home. What good can it do, unsettling 
Blanche's mind ? " 

" What good ! " he exclaimed, and he turned upon her with 
his face ablaze, and his metallic eyes glittering like points of 
steel. " Great good. I shall propose to Blanche myself. We 
shall soon find out then," and he laughed a mirthless laugh, 
" whether she really prefers this Colonel Vansittart to me. I 
will believe it from her own lips, but from no one else's." 

Lady Verschoyle stared at him in horror-struck incredulity. 

" Are — you — in — earnest ? " she gasped, rather than said. 

" Yes, very much so. Blanche Sylvester is the only woman 
I have ever seen whom I care about. We have the same tastes. 
She likes hunting and everything connected with sport, and rides 
like an Amazon " 

" I don't approve of hunting for young women," interposed 
Lady Verschoyle. 

" It doesn't much matter, my dear mother, whether you do or 
you don't. As I have already had occasion to point out, your 
views in many ways are absurdly old-fashioned. Let this be 
understood. For several years I have always intended to make 
Blanche my wife, some day or other." 

'■ But it is incredible," said Lady Verschoyle, pushing her 
smooth hair back from her brow, with a bewildered gesture. 
" Do you mean to tell me seriously, that having loved your 
cousin for so long, you have refrained from speaking out, and 
this without any special reason for keeping silent ? Why was it 
necessary to wait until you arrived at the age of twenty-nine, and 
she reached twenty-five ? To me such conduct appears quite 
unaccountable." 

Sir Philip reddened. 

" Well ! " he said. " I was in no particular hurry to settle 
down. I wanted to sow my wild oats first, before encumbering 
myself with a wife and family ; and to tell the truth, mother, I 
always felt pretty sure of Blanche." 

" You infer that she only waited to be asked ? " 

He smiled consciously. 

" Yes. In vulgar language, I suppose that was about it." 

" And did it never occur to you that she might get weary of 
letting her youth and chances pass, awaiting your pleasure ? " 

" No, it did not. She flirted about with other men, of course ; 
and always had a lot of fellows dangling after her, but I knew I 
could cut them all out whenever things came to a point." 

" Perhaps Blanche's admirers possessed some of your caution, 
and never went the length of actually asking her to marry them," 



WEDDED TO SPORT 



- 7 7 



Said Lady Verschoyle, with a touch of bitterness which she could 
not suppress. 

" No. I fancy she had one or two decent offers, but," and 
Sir Philip smiled complacently, " she flew at higher game." 

" You, in short." 

" Exactly." 

" And you really mean to marry this girl — this girl of whom 
you speak without one particle of deference and respect ? " 

" Yes, why not ? " 

Lady Verschoyle rose from her seat, a prey to the most extreme 
agitation. 

"Oh! Philip," she said, earnestly, " I do not often interfere 
with you nowadays. I very seldom presume to censure your 
actions. Since you grew up, our paths have diverged, but per- 
haps that is more Nature's fault than yours. Nevertheless, I 
am your mother, and as a mother, knowing the female charac- 
ter better than you, and having had more experience of it, I feel 
it my duty, solemnly and seriously, to warn you against Blanche. 
Believe me, she is not a good girl — not a pure, modest, ladylike 
girl, gifted with refined tastes and domestic virtues, such as I 
should wish to see your wife and welcome as my daughter-in-law. 
Blanche is a product of the age. She is restless and without 
resources, and has an unhealthy craving for perpetual excite- 
ment and amusement. She cannot settle down for five minutes 
at a time, to a book, or to any quiet pursuit. God knows I 
don't wish to decry her, but what sort of a companion would 
such a woman make ? How would one get through one's 
life with her ? She will never render you happy, my boy, never 
— never. Oh ! Philip, dear," she went on urgently, putting her 
long white hand upon his sleeve, "do listen to advice for once. 
Be warned in time. Leave Blanche alone. She is engaged to 
Colonel Vansittart of her own free will. In common decency she 
cannot throw over an honourable gentleman simply because at 
the eleventh hour she receives a better proposal. It would be 
downright wicked of you to put such a temptation in Blanche's 
way. Philip, dear Philip," and the white hand stole from his 
sleeve to his shoulder, from his shoulder to his neck, " if you 
have the smallest respect for my opinion, the least affection for 
me, do not, ah ! do not go to town to-morrow." 

The colour flew to his blonde face in an angry wave. 

" Nonsense," he said roughly, shaking her off. " Let's have 
no more of this. You always were so infernally prejudiced 
against poor Blanche, that you refused to see any good in her 
whatever. I'm too old to be lectured like a schoolboy, and in- 
tend to please myself. Pray do not refer to the subject again, 

fnr if- rmlv in?iVp<s in<=> rrn« " 



28 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

Lady Verschoyle sank back into the nearest chair. Dismay 
paralysed her faculties. She was hardly conscious of the rude- 
ness and irritability of her son's tone. Once more Sir Philip rang 
the bell. 

" William," he said to his valet, " order the brougham to be 
round to-morrow morning at eight o'clock. I am going up to town 
by the early train, and let breakfast be on the table at half-past 
seven, sharp." 

Then he stalked out of the room, without bestowing a glance 
on the pale, sorrowful woman who had looked forward with so 
much pleasure to his arrival. She, on her part, did not dare to 
say another word. A great and exceeding bitterness flooded 
her heart. 



CHAPTER IV. 

A GIRL OF THE DAY. 

The West End of London was completely deserted. It might 
have been a City of the Dead. Blinds were drawn down, houses 
everywhere shut up. Colonel Vansittart's favourite sister and 
her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Normanby, were detained in the 
Metropolis by the illness of their youngest daughter. Wishing 
to make the acquaintance of Miss Sylvester, they had invited 
her to spend a few days with them in Cadogan-place. Woman- 
like, Mrs. Normanby was very curious to see her brother's 
fiancee, and to judge for herself of her perfections. 

Blanche's last new habit wanted nipping in quite half an inch 
at the waist ; moreover, she deemed it a good opportunity to 
have a personal interview with her dressmaker, and by informing 
her of her future prospects, pacify the excellent Madame Clem- 
entine, who for some time past had taken to giving trouble, and 
sending in her bills with impertinent regularity. Miss Sylvester 
foresaw that sooner or later she would have to go through the 
ordeal of all engaged young ladies, namely, run the gauntlet of 
her intended's family ; consequently she accepted Mr. and Mrs. 
Normanby's invitation. 

They proved to be strict, rigid, church-going people, and Miss 
Blanche had not been half a dozen hours under their roof before 
she inwardly determined to have as little as possible to do with 
them after her marriage. The Colonel should be weaned of his 
fraternal affection by all those arts which women have at their 
disposal. The process is simple enough. It begins with hints 
and innuendoes, and ends in ridicule. He would soon discover 
that, although no doubt the Normanbvs mi°rht be eood. worthy 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



29 



people in their way, they were not exactly his sort. A wife can 
so easily estrange a man from his family when she disapproves 
of its members, even without having recourse to the vulgar ex- 
pedient of an open quarrel. Colonel Vansittart was in love — 
very much in love, and as a natural consequence he had stripped 
himself for the time being of all arms of defence. He had been 
introduced to Blanche at a Woolwich ball, lost his great, soft 
heart on the spot, and proposed three days after making her 
acquaintance. Since then, it could not be said that his passion 
had cooled, but every now and again in his innermost mind a 
suspicion would arise as to the wisdom of his choice. Wrestle 
with the doubt as he might, he could not banish it altogether. 
Blanche's rich, voluptuous style of beauty enslaved his senses, 
but he soon discovered that she was wilful and headstrong to a 
degree even greater than that exhibited by the ordinary run of 
beautiful women. In conversation many of her ideas clashed 
cruelly with his own. He kept these vague alarms to himself, 
however, for he would have considered it treason to the object 
of his affections to confide them to a soul. He hoped and be- 
lieved that a fuller knowledge of each other's character would 
in the end smooth away any little disparities existing between 
them, and if Blanche had not ca.red for him, why — she would 
not have accepted him. So the good man reasoned, being, in 
spite of his forty-four years, in some things as simple as a child. 

But just because of certain misgivings which occasionally 
impaired his felicity, he was the more anxious for Miss Sylvester 
to produce a favourable impression on his relatives, for whose 
opinion he had the highest regard. Very delicately and tenderly 
he hinted as much to Blanche, but he little knew the girl with 
whom he had to deal. She was one of those high-handed 
women, who set Mrs. Grundy at defiance openly and contemp- 
tuously. The censures of her own sex, even their avoidance, 
produced no effect on her whatever. She was impervious to 
female criticism. To please and be admired by men — to have 
them dangling about, professing devotion and rendering her 
conspicuous by their attentions, constituted her chief delight, 
and the object of her existence. She chafed at restraint, and 
would not brook the slightest authority, no matter how wise and 
legitimate. In short, she was vain, selfish, and frivolous to the 
very core. Her father had died many years ago, leaving her to 
the care of a stepmother, whose life she had rendered miserable. 
When she accepted Colonel Vansittart's proposal, everybody 
connected with her pitied him from the bottom of their hearts, 
and as far as she was concerned, regarded the engagement as 
quite providential. 

" Blanche is getting on," they whispered among themselves. 



30 WEDDED TO SPOKT. 

" She is not so young as she was, and it is high time she should 
settle down. The match is respectable, if not brilliant, and 
really she is so exceedingly fast and independent, that it is a 
great relief to get her safely disposed of, before any terrible 
scandal takes place." 

They were inclined to be very civil to Blanche, now that a 
prospect presented itself of the black sheep being turned into a 
white one, and made various amicable overtures when offering 
their congratulations ; but the young lady, who possessed a 
thorough knowledge of the world, laughed at them in her sleeve, 
and refused to make friends all round just because she had 
accepted a man with a fortune of three thousand five hundred 
pounds a year. 

As for the Normanbys, she treated their house like an hotel, 
marching in and out without the smallest ceremony, keeping her 
hostess waiting for meals, and, worse still, flirting with that 
lady's husband whenever she got the chance. Now for twenty 
years Mr. Normanby had borne the marital yoke meekly and 
submissively. He was naturally of an easy-going disposition, 
and prepared to sacrifice most of his prerogatives for the sake of 
a quiet life. But amiable, sedate, pious as he might be, he had 
one grievous fault of which Mrs. Normanby had never wholly 
succeeded in curing him. Very much married, and father of 
half a dozen big boys and girls, he nevertheless was not entirely 
impervious to a pretty woman. Now, he did not approve of 
Blanche. Indeed, he took particular pains to assure his better 
half that had he been a bachelor, nothing — no, nothing on the 
face of this earth would have induced him to marry ner, but a 
man's chivalry always prompts him to talk in a similar fashion, 
when he is carrying on a Hirtation which his conscience tells him 
is not agreeable to the wife of his bosom. Jt is his talented way 
of thiowing dusl in her eyes, although it never by any chance 
blinds that sharp-seeing lady. In spite of Mr. Nonnanby's oft- 
declared compassion for Colonel Vansittart, the fact remained 
that he admired his fiancee, and found her an agreeable play- 
thing with whom to trifle away a few spare hours. Under 
these circumstances, it is almost superfluous to state that the 
impression made by Miss Sylvester on Mrs. Normanby was dis- 
tinctly unfavourable. She found fault with Blanche's dress, 
with her manner, with her appearance ; for if men are men, 
wives are wives, and the majority, in spite of many excellent 
qualities, fall victims to the "green-eyed monster," often on very 
slight provocation. Women of civilised countries are instinct- 
ively jealous of each other. The struggle to secure the favour 
of the males is too great for it to be otherwise. 

The day after Sir Philip Verschoyle's conversation with his 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



31 



mother, related in our last chapter, Blanche was sitting by her- 
self in the drawing-room of the house in Cadogan-place. Colonel 
Vansittart had come up from Woolwich that morning, and the 
two lovers had spent the forenoon together. The society of her 
future husband did not tend to raise Blanche's spirits. It was 
an effort to act up to the ideal which he foolishly chose to form 
of her, and to be treated like a saint, knowing oneself a sinner, 
produced a sense of constraint, irksome to a degree. For three 
whole hours Blanche had been on her very best behaviour. She 
had an intuitive feeling that if he knew her as she was he would 
be inclined to back out of his engagement, and she meant to hold 
him fast until they were married. After that event, the sooner 
his eyes were opened the better. It would be impossible for 
her to go on playing at goody-goody for long ; she was deadly 
tired of it already, and nothing but self-interest prevented her 
from breaking down in the part which she had chosen tem- 
porarily to assume. Colonel Vansittart appeared a desirable 
enough husband when at Woolwich, but when his ardour in- 
duced him to come to town, and pour forth strings of little 
commonplace, amorous sentences, then he bored her. It was 
useless trying to deny the fact. After ten minutes of his com- 
pany she became conscious of a feeling of ennui and of an almost 
irresistible impulse to say something that would make his hair 
stand on end. Blanche lay on the big cretonne-covered Chester- 
field sofa, and idly turned over the leaves of a novel written by 
a young girl, which had lately made some sensation in the 
fashionable world on account of its prurient character. But she 
did not get on very fast with her book, and it was evident her 
thoughts were elsewhere. In truth, she was thinking what a 
relief it was that her fiance and his sister had gone out driv- 
ing together, and that the fictitious plea of a headache had in- 
duced them to leave her alone. 

" I wish he wasn't so ridiculously proper," she soliloquised. 
" He's not a bad old Thing in many ways. He's generous, 
confiding, and high-minded — too high-minded." And she heaved 
a sigh. " I quite see his good points, and yet he oppresses me. 
There's something narrow and ponderous about his virtue which 
irritates my nerves. I wonder if he has ever been tempted and 
yielded to temptation ? I should like him all the better if he 
weren't so faultily faultless. He would certainly seem more 
human, and be more comfortable to get on with. Heigh ho ! 
What an ill-assorted couple we shall make to be sure ! Even 
now I have quite hard work not to shock him every time I open 
my mouth, and little things will slip out when one is off one's 
guard. I do my very best not to offend the poor dear's sus- 
ceptibilities, but it is boring. Ah ! boring " — yawning three or 



32 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



four times consecutively. " If we are not married very soon I 
never shall be able to keep it up. The strain is positively fear- 
ful." So saying, she lay back, and, recognising the uselessness 
of attempting to read, let the book fall slowly from her hands to 
her lap. 

The hot summer sun poured in upon her. There was no one 
by to watch every tint of her complexion, and she had pulled 
the blinds up after Colonel Vansittart's departure, feeling a 
longing for light and air. The brilliant rays illumined her mag- 
nificent black hair and large, heavy-lidded dark eyes with shafts 
of tawny orange. They lingered lovingly on her clear olive 
face, with its full, red-lipped mouth, and saucy up-turned nose. 

The physical congeniality of the sunshine, the warmth, the re- 
poseful attitude, and — must it be added ? — a heavy luncheon (for 
this splendidly-grown young woman possessed an excellent ap- 
petite), all tended to produce somnolence. She settled the soft 
cushions round the nape of her white neck, leant back her head, 
and slept. 

Very beautiful she looked thus, with her crimson lips slightly 
parted, showing two rows of exquisitely white and even teeth. 
Even a man as upright and honourable as Colonel Vansittart 
might have been excused for jumping at the conclusion on first 
acquaintance that beneath so fair a form there must necessarily 
live as fair a spirit. 

Alas ! that it was not so ; that in her case beauty of the flesh 
was not allied to beauty of the soul. 

Whether she slept a minute or an hour Blanche never knew. 
She had not returned from the Land of Nod when her slumbers 
were disturbed by the door being thrown open, and a stentorian 
voice proclaiming, " Sir Philip Verschoyle." She started to 
her feet with a glad cry, and held out both her hands. Then, 
as if remembering that they no longer met on the same terms 
as formerly, she drew them back, and said, with an assumption 
of indifference, palpably more feigned than real — ■ 

" Hulloa ! Philip. You are the last person in the world whom 
I expected to see. What brings you to town ? I had a letter 
from your mother a day or two ago, and she told me you were 
going to Beechlands for the partridge shooting." 

" I reached it last night at nine, and left this morning at 
eight," he replied. 

" What a short visit ! " she exclaimed, ironically. " Did not 
filial duty suggest a longer stay ? " 

" I wanted to see you," he rejoined, taking no notice of the 
interrogation. 

" Indeed ! I ought to feel very much flattered. Your desire 
must be extremely great ™Jv™ it- inHnrps von to leave vour 



WEDDED TO SPORT 



33 



house and home in order to seek my poor society. It is a long 
time since I was so honoured." And she swept him a mocking 
curtsey. 

" .Blanche, do be serious, and drop that horrid sarcastic tone. 
[ detest it." 

" \ on have no reason to detest it, won ami, seeing that you 
have brought it upon yourself." 

" Are you alone?" he asked, impatiently. "1 mean, is there 
no fear of our being interrupted ? " 

" None. My beloved and his charming sister have gone out 
for a drive together, and no doubt at the present moment are 
amusing themselves by talking over my imperfections. I fancy 
1 can hear Mrs. Normandy saying, 'My poor Weldon, it grieves 
me to say so, but I don't approve of Miss Sylvester. I don't 
approve of her at all.' " 

"Thank goodness! they are not at home," exclaimed her 
companion. " 1 want to have a chat with you, Blanche." 

" What about, Philip ? " So saying she reseated herself on 
the sofa, and made room for him to sit by her side. 

" About this engagement of yours, of course. You could 
have knocked me down with a feather when I heard of it." 

" Really ! It is very good of you to interest yourself so much 
in my affairs." And, putting out one slippered foot, she looked 
down at it with pensive approval. 

The calmness and composure of her manner provoked him. 
lie had expected to be received with considerably more effu- 
sion. His fancy had pictured tears, reproaches, even embraces. 
This cold, self-possessed Blanche, so different from the volcanic 
creature of his recollections and anticipations, rather took him 
aback. What had come to the girl ? He had not seen her 
since the spring. She was a changed being. He looked at her 
dissatisfiedly, and she returned the glance with a contemptuous 
defiance, which made his blood turn hot. 

" You look cross, cousin mine," she observed, in a tone that 
irritated him still more. 

"I look what I am, then," he responded, tearing savagely at 
the ends of his moustache, and catching them between his teeth, 
as he spoke. 

" You'll spoil your moustache, Philip, if you nibble at it in 
that senseless way." 

" Damn my moustache. What do I care about it ? " 

" You should ; since it forms a very decided addition to your 
appearance. Must 1 remind you that your mouth is not exactly 
your strong point ? " 

" I wisli you'd give over this confounded nonsense, and speak 
like yourself. " 



54 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



•Thank yon. I am myself. I never was more myself than at 

the present moment." 

" Upon my word. Blanche, you are enough to drive a fellow 
out of his mind." 

"I should say that depended entirely upon the fellow's, 
origina, stock of brains. May I ask what has put it out of 
temper : " And she screwed up her handsome face into a comi- 

" You _-u::w without asking." he resnonued. in a surlv tone. 

"I know! Oh! dear no. How should I:" she retorted. 
arching her .evel brows witlt an air of affected innocence. 

•■ Blanche, tell me one thing. Is it true that you are engaged 
to Colonei Vansittart ? " 

" Yes. cuiie true. I v.Tote and informed vour motlier of the 
fact the day before yesterdav " 

" I saw the letter. She showed it to me." 

•■ Well ' And areu t vou delighted : Mv relations have done 
nc thing but congratulate me ever since. Mv dear Blanche,' 
they say. coming purring about me like so many cats, we are 
charmed. Such a nice, sensible match. So suitable and satis- 
factory.' in everv way." You don t mean to tell me you disa- 
gree ? " she concluded, affecting surprise. 

•• Yes. I d-:>. most emphatically. I have come here to-day on 



-t-'- c L -' t 



A. warm hush rose to her dark face. 

'• I am inhniteiv grateful. Really, it is quite refreshing to meet 
a person '.vh.se orm:::t is sj unlike the maiontv " 

•• If vou marre Colonei Yansittart you will simply be throw- 
ing vourse.f awav." he said. 

"Thanh you. Philip. I feel more and more obliged. My 
only regret is that you did no: state your views before the gentle- 
man proposed. No ciouot. had ycu done so. my fate might have 
been different, and I miga: have been persuaded to 'throw 
mvse-f away in another quarter. As matters stand, however, I 
con t cuke see whv vou should objecT to mv fulfilling the destiny 
of mv sex. Are we net." she went on in a deep, vibrating voice, 
" all brought up from our childhood to look upon matrimony 
as me ~o.ii of a woman s aspirations and ambition " 

•■ Not one man in a thousand would suit vou." interrupted Sir 
Philip. 

- You are scarcelv in a position to judge whether they would 
or would not." she returned. '• At any rate, I am tired of play- 
ing the fool. I have tried that game." looking her cousi'n 
straight in the face. •* for a good many years, and nothing very 
advantageous has come of it. Gradually and painfully I have 
sjowii to perceive the necem 4 "- <~-+" ^o-nrmo- 3 fr<=- sh rack, for the 



WEDDED TO SPORT. ^ 

person who might have proposed to me, and who had led me 
over and over again to suppose that he intended doing so, did 
not declare himself. He proved a broken reed on which to 
rely. The years passed away, and little by little I realised that 
my youth might fade, my opportunities slip by, and one fine 
dav I should wake up to find he was only indulging in an un- 
profitable flirtation at my expense. Well, Philip," she went on, 
her words coming faster and more vehemently. " it was not good 
enough, and I determined not to rot any longer on my stalk. 
Only after much reflection and bitterness of spirit did I come 
to this decision ; but having once arrived at it, nothing remained 
but to avail myself of the first good offer of marriage that should 
be made me. I wanted a home and a sufficient competence, 
combined with a man not actively objectionable, and a gentle- 
man whom I should not feel ashamed to present as my hus- 
band. Colonel Yansittart possessed the requisite qualifications, 
added to the advantage of being madlv in love with vour humble 
servant. He is susceptible to female influence, and capable of 
being governed. With all due deference to vou. once he gets 
broken in I believe he will suit me verv well. Xow," and rising 
to her feet, she confronted Sir Philip with the frankest imperti- 
nence, " have you anything to say? If so, say it." 

He made one or two hasty strides up and down the room. 
She followed him with mocking eyes, that goaded him almost to 
madness. 



CHAPTER V 

SIR PHILIP PROPOSES. 

" Yes," he cried, in accents of such triumphant possession that 
they produced a sense of repulsion in the woman with whom 
he had trifled so long; '• I have a great deal to say. It is as 
I thought. You care no more for Colonel Yansittart than you 
do for the man in the moon. If you did you would talk of him 
very differently." 

" Care !" she said, pettishly. •• Xo, of course I don't. I never 
pretended to ; but that has nothing to do with the matter.'' 

'• I should have thought it had a great deal to do with it." 

" Then you thought wrong, Philip." 

" But, Blanche, why on earth have you promised to marry 
him then ? " 

She drummed with her strong white fingers on the top of the 
mantel-board. 

" nMr ma ' Ur -":j-±'^2i~l ":z ire, or are you so sentimentally 



3 6 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

constituted that you can't conceive of a marriage being arranged 
on any other basis than the -worn-out one of true love ? Really, 
Philip. I never thought much of your heart : but it is more to be 
admired than your head." 

"Abuse does not require a vast amount of talent either, he 
retorted : " nevertheless, it fails to explain your reasons. 

•• And why should people be expected to give their reasons 
for even- simple action ? To hear you talk, one would think 
that no woman had ever married from motives ot expediency 
before." 

"You admit then that your marriage is purely one of ex- 
pediency ? " 

" I admit nothing : besides. I refuse to recognise your right 
to catechise me. f have already told you that the time has come 
when I perceive the necessity of being whitewashed, and, there- 
fore. I desire a home and position of my own." 

"You might have found them elsewhere." 

" I quite agree with you there." she rejoined, vivaciously. " I 
might: onlv. unhappily for me, I didn't. Some women are for- 
tunate from the beginning : others have no luck. I belong to 
the latter class." 

" I don't see whv you should say that. In many ways you 
have had an excellent time of it." 

" To which, doubtless, you contributed." she answered, with 
a sneer. " For the first few years after she comes out a girl who 
is bold enough to free herself from the espionage of a chaperon 
may en'ov life very fairly well. But when she reaches the age of 
twenty-live there is another side to the picture. People begin to 
right shy of her. Men don't propose with freedom, and she must 
cither make up her mind to settle down with some individual as 
unlike her ideal as can well be conceived of. or else endure the 
supreme mortification of being left in the lurch, and laughed at, 
and pitied as a spinster. As I don t intend to degenerate into 
an old maid, forsaken by the male sex. and compassionated by 
the female. I propose to marry a good, worthy gentleman, full 
of negative qualities, who, unless I make a mistake in his char- 
acter, will give me my own way. and let me do prettv much as 
I like. At any rate, I shall have his name, which is something. 
I am tired of Sylvester. - ' 

•• Blanche." said Sir Philip, passionately, -you have acted 
like a fool. Did it never strike you that somebody else was 
willing to fill Colonel Yansittart's place ? " 

■■ Somebody else should have spoken in time.*' she answered, 
coldlv. " Somebody else had even- opportunity had he chosen.'' 

" He chooses now." said Sir Philip. " I came here to-day for 
the express purpose of a^-'"^ v-" t n V mv wife." And he 



WEDDED TO SPORT ^7 

tried to insinuate his arm round her waist, with an air of con- 
fident proprietorship. 

To his surprise she drew back, and laughed a scornful laugh. 

" Does not your proposal come just a trifle late ? " she asked, 
sarcastically. 

" Yes, perhaps it does ; but to be quite candid, Blanche, 
until this news reached me, I always looked upon you as a sen- 
sible girl, above the common feminine folly of getting married at 
all hazards." 

This speech, uttered coarsely and rudely, roused her to anger. 
Fire flashed from her dark eyes as, turning with a superb gesture, 
she fixed them full upon him. Insensibly his lids drooped be- 
fore the withering indignation of her glance. He knew that she 
had just cause for wrath, and the consciousness did not add to 
his moral well-being. 

" And you dare to tell me this — you dare ? " she said, in a 
voice ringing with passion. " You, who, for years past, have 
systematically trifled with my affections, kept me in perpetual 
suspense, and prevented me from accepting the few good offers 
that came my way ? Had it not been for you I might have been 
well and safely married long ago. You have done me more 
harm than any man in creation, and now, after I have waited 
until I am tired of waiting, for you to declare your intentions, 
you actually are audacious enough to twit me for being in a 
hurry to change my state. It is monstrous — quite monstrous." 

" Blanche, do be reasonable, and don't fly off into a fury about 
nothing." 

" Nothing ! Do you call it nothing to deliberately win a girl's 
heart, promise her marriage in every way but words, and then 
shilly-shally for an indefinite period, until at last she loses all 
faith in you, and is bewildered as to her position ? Ever since 
my seventeenth birthday, when I stayed at Beechlands for the 
Christmas holidays, if you had proposed to me you know what 
my answer would have been. You made love to me — you kept 
me from caring for anyone else, and- — and — you taught me to be 
false and tricky and underhand like yourself. I was not so al- 
ways. I have to thank you for the greater portion of my moral 
backslidings. For eight or nine years I waited patiently, hoping 
for the declaration which it has only pleased you to-day to make. 
Even now, although you seem quite sure of me, you are not sure 
of your own feelings." 

"By Heaven ! Blanche," he interrupted, "you are wrong." 

She smiled contemptuously. 

" No, I think not. Had it not been for the appearance of 
Colonel Vansittart on the scene, you would have been content 
to drift on, on, on, in the same old groove. It is all very well 



38 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

to wake up now, and talk of your love. ' Your' love indeed! 
It is nothing but the meanest, lowest form of jealousy — the sort 
of jealousy which prompts a cur to snatch away its bone from 
another dog." 

Xo need now to accuse Blanche of coldness. Her beautiful 
face was ablaze with passion. Her rounded bosom rose and 
fell like the waves of the sea, and with the same strong, undu- 
lating motion. By sheer force of feeling, all the skilful web 
built up by social conventionality was swept away. She stood 
before him like a tigress baulked of her prey, instinct with 
animal rage. Every word that she uttered struck home, for Sir 
Philip could not deny the truth of the accusations which she 
hurled so freely and furiously against him. 

" Blanche," he said, " let bygones be bygones. I may have 
acted foolishly." 

" Foolishly ! " she interposed. '• Cruelly, wickedly." 

" But," he went on more firmly, " I am here to make amends 
for past mistakes. It seems to me that we have both made 
them, for I swear to you I always thought we understood each 
other, without there being any need for explanation." 

" In short," she said, fiercely, " you deliberately intended to 
let me become an old, ugly woman, while you continued to 
amuse yourself." 

"You never could be ugly under any circumstances, Blanche." 

'* Oh ! don't pay me compliments. \Yhy should I escape the 
common fate of most women. Once they cease to be good-look- 
ing they cease to be attractive." 

•• Hush, Blanche. All this is neither here nor there. I want 
you to listen to what I have to say. You don't care for Colonel 
Vansittart, and whatever you may pretend to the contrary you 
do care for me. You have accepted him out of pique. Why 
commit the supreme folly of making your whole life miserable ? " 

" It is miserable enough already, God knows," she said, 
wearily. 

" Exactly ; because you are giving yourself over to a man who, 
in thought, temperament, and feeling is utterly uncongenial to 
you. Take my advice, whilst there is yet time. Stand proof 
against a certain amount of gossip, and chuck the colonel 
over." 

" And if I did," she said, slowlv, " what would become of me 
then ? " 

'• I offer to make you my wife. Surely you will not hesitate 
for a moment. All you have got to do is to choose between 
Yansittart and me. Blanche, dear," taking her hand in his, 
•' show a little moral courage, and answer me according to 
vour heart. ' 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



39 



A dead silence ensued. A look of perplexity stole over the 
girl's face. Once or twice her lips moved as if she were making 
some rapid mental calculation. Sir Philip grew impatient, and 
also a little puzzled, for he had imagined that she would jump 
at his offer. He drew her nearer to him, and touched her cheek 
with his lips. She shivered, but said nothing. He never doubt- 
ed what her reply would be. This beautiful creature was his, 
and the triumph of gaining her was all the greater from the fact 
of snatching her from another suitor. He laughed out loud. 

" What are you laughing at ? " she asked, suspiciously. 

" At that old fool of a colonel. Blanche, darling, how awfully 
sold he will be." 

Suddenly, she plucked away the hand which he still held in 
his, and retreated beyond reach. 

" Philip Verschoyle,'' she said, " your merriment is as prema- 
ture as your proposal is tardy, and out of place. You should 
have asked me sooner." Then her face softened, and she 
added. " If I could believe you — if I could trust you, but," re- 
turning to her former firm attitude, " I can't. You are too 
slippery, and, moreover, are quite capable of leaving me in the 
lurch even after I had complied with your demand. Then in 
what sort of a position should I find myself ? I should fall 
between two stools, and the last case of that man — or, rather, 
woman — would be worse than the first. No, no," and she began 
pacing the room in extreme agitation " I dare not risk it. A 
fortnight — only one short fortnight — ago, and I should have 
said yes with pleasure. I was free and unfettered. Now, I am 
so no longer, and, for good or for evil, must abide by my 
choice." 

" This is perfectly preposterous," said Sir Philip incredulously. 
" Surely you are not in earnest ? " 

" Yes, you appear to consider my decision strange, but I 
think that I am quite in earnest. With all my faults weighing 
heavily upon me I have not yet reached the pitch of baseness 
when I would deliberately and consciously commit a dastardly 
action, such as you propose." 

" But why sacrifice yourself in this quixotic manner ? I can 
see no object in it." 

" You may not. I do." 

" But, Blanche, by your own confession, you are not the least 
in love with Colonel Vansittart, and you are in love — ■ — ■" breaking 
off abruptly. 

" With you. Pray don't spare my feelings." And her short, 
upper lip curled disdainfully. " What would you say if I told 
you I was cured of my folly ? " 

" I shouldn't believe you." 



4 o WEDDED TO SPORT 

A flickering smile passed over her face, and died away, leav- 
ing it cold and stern. 

" You are right," she said, in an artificial tone intended to 
hide all emotion. " I do love you, and I have always loved you, 
unworthy as you are. But you fail to understand how pride 
alters the views of a woman who has been badly treated. You 
ask me to be your wife, expecting me to jump straight away 
into your arms. I shan't do any such thing. I whom you have 
despised and played with, whose heart you have wrung till it 
feels as if it never could ache again, reject your offer of mar- 
riage, and, despite the glories of the position, decline to become 
Lady Verschoyle." And she tossed her head back defiantly. 

" Blanche," he ejaculated. " Are you mad ? " 

" No. I am restored to my senses after a long period of 
lunacy." 

" What do you mean by this extraordinary obstinacy, for I can 
call it by no other name ? " 

" The explanation is easy enough. During the various stages 
of infatuation through which I was fated to pass, I never ceased 
studying your character, and the result of my observations 
amounts to this. You are false, fickle, and incapable of a real 
passion. Self is the god at whose shrine you worship, and any 
woman giving herself into your keeping would run but a small 
chance of happiness. Seeing your faults as clearly as I do, I 
have often wondered lately why I ever lavished my affection on 
so unworthy an object. I knew that you were a bad son, and 
would also make a bad husband. Since the spring I have tried 
with all my might to forget you, and — and," tearing nervously 
at the corner of her pocket-handkerchief, " I have succeeded — 
partially. No, don't interrupt," as Philip tried to speak. " After 
all these years and years, it is a relief to have my say out. 
Colonel Vansittart is a good man — far too good for me. In my 
better moments I recognise his worth, and it is horrid of me to 
talk of him as I do. If I marry him, he may perhaps save me 
from myself. He loves me, his influence is salutary, and appeals 
to my higher nature. In course of time, I might grow to be 
more like him, and adopt his ideas about morality, religion, duty, 
and all that sort of thing. I think I should like to try. I am 
getting rather tired of flying about the world by myself, doin_ 
stupid things, and having nobody to protect or help me. A 
woman has to be very strong to stand alone. I begin to see 
that. When I go to India I shall break off with all my old lot, 
and start a new life altogether. Of course it is an experiment. 
You need not impress that fact upon me. I may not prove a 
success as the virtuous matron, but, as I said before, I mean to 
try. If I do not love Colonel Vansittart, I respect him. I loved 



& 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 41 

you dearly once, Philip, but by degrees my love has given way 
to a profound distrust." 

" You are demented, Blanche. Such a jolly girl as you were, 
too, before this confounded Colonel put all these starchy notions 
into your head." 

" I have to thank you for the majority of them, Philip. They 
do not come naturally to me. They are the result of much 
bitterness of spirit, and of many a heartache. You forgot that 
whilst you trifled at my expense, I was gaining experience. God 
knows," she went on sorrowfully, " I would rather be without 
it — rather go back to the time when I was young and foolish, 
and unversed in the ways of the world, but I can't ; and seeing 
things with eyes which you have opened, I refuse to dishonour- 
ably jilt a good man for the sake of a bad one." 

Sir Philip's blue eyes glittered with an evil radiance. His 
handsome features were distorted by passion. Could he have 
foretold her answer, he would have cut off his right hand sooner 
than let her avenge herself in this signal manner. Henceforth 
Blanche would always have the satisfaction of telling her friends 
and relatives that she had refused Sir Philip Verschoyle, Bart. 
The mere thought was as gall and wormwood. Never had his 
vanity received such a blow. He felt a sudden inclination to 
wind his fingers round Blanche's throat, and silence for ever the 
sharp tongue which stung him with so many venomous truths. 
For the moment his affection was turned to hatred, and yielded 
to a murderous instinct. By a strong effort he controlled him- 
self. He felt there was nothing to be gained by flying into a 
temper. Even now, he could scarcely believe that she was in 
earnest. To-morrow, or the next day no doubt, she would 
repent of her idiocy, and come grovelling to him for forgiveness. 
It would be his turn then, to pay her back in her own coin. 
Such ungenerous thoughts as these passed through his mind as 
he stood and glowered at the girl. A hostile pause succeeded 
her last plain-spoken speech. 

At length he said in a cold, hard voice, " I am not the man 
to give a woman the chance of refusing me twice. Is this your 
final answer, Blanche ? " 

She looked at him, and for a moment hesitated. He seemed 
aware of her indecision, and smiled in a lofty, patronising way. 
There was something about that smile, which, to use a vulgar 
expression, put her back up. It roused her spirit to find that 
he counted so surely on her accepting him. 

"I have nothing more to say," she rejoined. " I have lost 
all faith in your word, and feel that I cannot trust you." 

Then, all at once, the anger blazed forth which hitherto he 
had restrained with so much difficulty. 



42 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" So be it," he cried. " I shall not stoop to entreaty. But, 
mark my words, you will live to repent of your folly. As for 
forgetting the old associations, and striking out an entirely new 
path, the thing's impossible You never could settle down to 
respectable, humdrum boredom. You have too high a spirit. 
As regards Colonel Vansittart — I predict you will soon tire of 
him. The eagle and the jackass can't mate together. It is 
impossible that their union should last. You are not the woman 
to brook being dictated to, lectured, and ordered about. All 
your life you have been impatient of authority. You want some- 
body who knows your character well. At present, both you and 
the Colonel are full of illusions. They won't take long to dis- 
appear, and then you will regret this day's work, and come back 
penitent and submissive to me " 

" Never," she interrupted indignantly. " I would sooner 
starve first." 

" Yes, you will. I know you better than you know yourself. 
But don't for a moment imagine that I shall grieve for a girl 
who has ventured to spurn me. No, no, my haughty Blanche. 
If you are proud, so also am I. Two can play at that game, and 
the very day you go to the altar, I intend to marry " 

" Who? " she demanded eagerly. 

He shrugged his shoulders. 

•• How do I know? Anybody. The first girl I come across." 
And he walked towards the door. 

On a green velvet table in a corner stood the photograph of 
a young woman, with a small, grave face, and no particular pre- 
tensions either to beauty or fashion. Sir Philip came to a full 
stop before it, and gazed at it with an air of recognition. 

'' Who is that? " he inquired, abruptly. 

Blanche lifted her eyebrows superciliously. 

" Oh ! that's poor little Bligh Burton," she said. " It appears 
her father was at school with Mr. Normanby, and every now and 
then he asks Bligh up to town for a day or two out of charity. 
She's a harmless, insignificant little thing." 

" I thought I knew the features," said Sir Philip. " I danced 
with Miss Burton once at a ball, and I rather liked her if I 
remember. I'll marry her. She'll do as well as anybody else, 
and will serve," he added nastily, " to show the world how little 
I take your marriage to heart." 

" No sane man could propose in such an unheard-of fashion ! " 
cried Blanche aghast. " You must be stark, staring mad, 
Philip." 

" Very much the reverse. Surely you did not fancy I was go- 
ing to wear the willow for you. Good morning. I hope the 
Colonel may make an obedient husband, and answer vour ex- 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 43 

pectations." Before his cousin could make any reply, he had 
stalked out of the room. 

When he was gone past recall, she burst into a passion of 
tears. " I wonder if I have done right ! " she cried. " Oh ! 
how I wonder if I have done right ! " Deep sobs shook her 
from head to foot. " If Philip were only like other men," she 
mused — " if only one could believe in him. He says I might 
be his wife — his wife " — and she heaved a sigh. " Ah ! why is it 
that all the good things of this life come too late. Heigh ho ! it's 
a very hard, perplexing world for an unfortunate young woman 
to find the right husband in. The one she likes, she can't gel ; 
and the one she can have, she doesn't care for. Philip, Philip, 
why did you not speak sooner — why did you not speak sooner ? 
It is you who have driven me to this extremity." The hot sun, 
heedless of her grief, poured in upon her, and heated the salt 
tears as they rolled down her cheeks, until they burnt like sparks 
of fire. 



CHAPTER VI. 

bligh's first love affair. 

Bligh Burton was an only child, and a better daughter never 
existed. Her life for many years past had been one long sacri- 
fice to filial duty, performed so quietly, so cheerfully, and unob- 
trusively, that nobody seemed to realise the fact of its being 
hardly natural for a girl, from the age of eighteen to eight and 
twenty, to devote all her days to nursing a pair of invalid parents. 
The springtime of youth had passed away, and with one notable 
exception, Bligh had enjoyed but few of the pleasures which 
form part of a happy girlhood. She seldom went from home, 
and in the little country village where she lived, there were not 
many attractions to be found. But Bligh did not crave for 
amusement. She had other things to occupy her, and her days, 
if monotonous, were busy. In great measure they were taken 
up with petty household cares, small worries — often so much 
harder to bear than big ones — and a continual anxiety as to the 
state of the exchequer. For they were very poor. Captain 
Burton was a man of good family, but thirty years ago, he had 
hopelessly offended his relatives by running away with a penni- 
less governess, whose charming face and brilliant accomplish- 
ments counted for nothing in their estimation, in comparison 
with the almighty dollar. His father cut him out of his will — an 
act of injustice which forever embittered the old man's memory, 
and so long as Captain Burton remained in the army, he had 



44 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

only his pay to live on. As the future looked hopeless, after a 
while he left the service, and settled down in the country. 

Here, for a few years, owing chiefly to the kindness of some 
friends who interested themselves on his behalf, he did fairly 
well as an army coach. They were palmy days for the Burtons, 
when from eight to ten young fellows, paying about a hundred 
and fifty pounds a year each, resided under their roof. The 
Captain, assisted by a couple of first-rate masters, was so suc- 
cessful in passing his lads for the different examinations, that 
he seldom had a vacancy. If his health had but held good, he 
might have died a rich man ; but always delicate, the long hours 
of teaching, combined with the responsibility, put too great a 
strain upon his constitution. A slight stroke of paralysis warned 
him that he must not over-tax his brain. By degrees, the man- 
agement of the establishment devolved upon subordinates. 

This was the period of Bligh's great happiness and subse- 
quent disappointment, which converted her from a bright, high- 
spirited girl into a sad and sober woman. 

She was eighteen — joyous eighteen, when there came to her 
father's house for the purpose of cramming for the army, a 
youth named Duncan Cameron, the eldest son of a Scotch peer. 
Duncan soon showed that he had no taste for books. Although 
a shrewd, clever enough fellow in many ways, he displayed a 
marked aversion for mathematics, or anything requiring much 
study. It was impossible to make him work. As a candidate 
for military honours, his teachers gave him up in despair. The 
consequence was, the young gentleman had a good deal of idle 
time on his hands, which, after the first few days had gone by, 
he spent very agreeably in making love to his tutor's daughter, 
then a fresh, pretty girl who looked upon him as the greatest 
hero ever born into the world. Bligh returned her admirer's 
attentions by the total surrender of her innocent heart. It had 
never yet been assailed by any masculine creature, and perhaps 
its conquest was easier than might have been the case with a 
young lady accustomed to society and flirtation. 

Anyhow, Master Duncan was not long in discovering that 
love-making presented infinitely more points of attraction than 
cramming. He took to the one naturally ; whilst for the other 
he displayed a profound distaste. He had not the slightest 
objection to being adored by a nice-looking girl. Indeed, he 
found it so agreeable, that one fine day he proposed to Bligh, 
by way of testifying his appreciation of her devotion. 

" I daresay the governor will kick up no end of a row at first," 
he observed, consolingly, to the object of his affections. " Par- 
ents always do where their sons' happiness is concerned. Mine 
will fly into a rage, no doubt ?.r?.d 1-r,w J' m tr,r > 3 7r " incr tr > fK; nk 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 45 

of marrying, and all that sort of thing. I fancy I can hear them 
saying it. But a man of nineteen," and he made a fruitless 
endeavour to twiddle the white down on his upper lip, " must 
know his own mind better than his father and mother ; and if 
we stick to each other, Bligh, matters are bound to come right 
sooner or later." 

In reply to this speech, Bligh of course declared that she could 
never, never care for anyone else but her dear, self-sacrificing 
Duncan. She deplored her own inferiority in the most sweetly 
humble manner, and was rewarded for such perfectly natural 
humility by a lordly kiss which set her tender heart a fluttering 
for the rest of the day. 

The amorous lover retired to the sanctity of his own apart- 
ment, there to compose a letter addressed to his father, in 
which he intimated his firm intention of getting married imme- 
diately. 

Unfortunately, the course of true love did not run smoothly. 
It seldom does when people are happy and foolish, and have 
yet to be imbued with worldly knowledge gained at the expense 
of youthful sentiment. Yet no love ever approaches the first, 
when on the maiden's side all is belief and innocent credulity, 
and on the man's there is at least freshness of feeling. A 
woman then is to him a goddess, a saint, a divine mystery, 
whom he approaches with awe, instead of with the familiarity of 
his later days. By return of post came a letter from Lord Kirk- 
wall, in which he roundly told his son that he was a damned 
young fool ! Captain Burton also received a communication 
from the irate father, containing some very severe strictures, 
and announcing his lordship's intention to remove the Honour- 
able Duncan at the end of the term. 

Here was a pretty state of affairs ! Bligh wept her eyes out, 
and with generous self-accusation declared that it was all her 
fault, and that she ought to have known better. " Lord Kirk- 
wall was quite right to think she was not half good enough for 
Duncan. No one realised the fact more keenly than she did 
herself, etc., etc." 

Offended by the sight of her grief, and incensed at finding 
his wishes thwarted by a father who hitherto had never denied 
him anything, Duncan displayed great spirit, and far from 
giving up his inamorata, swore undying and eternal constancy. 

" After all, Bligh," he said, " it don't much signify. We are 
young, and can afford to wait. If the worst comes to the worst, 
I come in for a couple of thousands a year when I am of age, 
over which the seniors have no control, and I can snap my 
fingers at them then. Our marriage is only a question of time, 
gn rhpM- nr> litHp woman." 



46 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

Was there ever such a lover ? Bligh thought herself the most 
fortunate girl in the world. 

" Oh ! but Duncan," she said smiling through her tears, " you 
must not offend your people. I can't think of allowing you to 
injure your prospects for my sake. It would not be right." 

" Tut, tut," he responded. " What do I care about my 
prospects so long as I have you." 

" Duncan," said Bligh. " You are too good, too noble. But 
why not go and see Lord Kirkwall, and hear what he has to say. 
A personal interview is always so much more satisfactory than 
writing." 

'' By Jove ! " he exclaimed, struck by the force of her reason- 
ing. " I think I will. That is a happy thought of yours, 
Bligh." 

A few days later a meeting was effected in town between 
father and son. 

The young man came back in a much more hopeful frame of 
mind. His impassioned appeals had not been in vain. 

"Things are not so bad, Bligh, after all," he said to the girl 
on his return. " I'm to leave at the end of the term. The gov- 
ernor thinks I'm too young to know my own mind, and insists 
on my going. But of course all that's bosh. We shall never 
forget one another. The only hard part of it is, he has made 
me promise not to write to you, or hold any communication 
with your family for a year." 

" A year ! Oh ! Duncan, that seems a long time." 

" Awful. But now comes the good news. At the end of our 
period of probation, if we still remain true to each other, which, 
as far as I am concerned, is an absolute certainty, the governor 
says we may meet, and has so far unbent as to declare that he 
will consider the question seriously. So you see, I've done a 
lot of good by running up to town." 

" That you certainly have," said Bligh, her face all rosy from 
her lover's kisses. Then she sighed, and added wistfully — 

" You will forget me sooner than I shall forget you, Duncan." 

" Nonsense," he rejoined. " I shall do no such thing. A 
year will soon go by." 

" It's a very long time to which to look forward," she 
returned. 

" Never mind, Bligh, darling. We shall laugh at it once it's 
over. My father has arranged for me to leave here on the 26th 
of July, and I am to meet him in town, when we go to Scotland 
together for the grouse season " 

" So soon ! " ejaculated Bligh, clasping her hands together 
with a gesture of despair. 

" Yes, it can't be helped. T u ~ A ^~ — *•"" " D " < " ""*— -~ : -d, 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 47 

Bligh dear. On the 26th of July, next year, you shall come to 
the station, and await the three o'clock train. You know the 
one I mean. It leaves London somewhere about half-past 
twelve. I will be there without fail. Come now, promise to 
greet me on my arrival." 

They kissed and parted under the weeping willow that adorned 
a secluded corner of Captain Burton's small garden, and the roses 
and carnations nodded their heads, and filled the sunlit air with 
their fragrance. The world looked very bright on the summer 
afternoon when Duncan Cameron bid good-bye to Bligh Burton. 
The birds seemed actuated by a perfect rage of song, flowers 
bloomed everywhere around, fields lay yellowing in the sunshiny 
leaves stirred with gentle melody, shivering under the influence 
of the balmy breeze. All the earth was fair and full of promise. 
Only in the maiden's heart dwelt a vague, unconquerable sad- 
ness. It ached, almost without her knowing the reason. For 
Duncan was right. A year was nothing— a year would soon 
pass. It was downright wicked to be so depressed, and to cast 
a cloud over his spirits. He looked forward to the future with 
such confidence. Why could not she do the same ? Was it 
because a man's portion is easier than a woman's ? Because it 
is so much less hard to go out into the world and act than it is 
to sit at home doing nothing, fading and waiting, waiting and 
fading, and brooding over the same thought. Bligh determined 
not to give way selfishly to her sorrow, and once Duncan had 
fairly gone, she adhered bravely to her resolution. 

She kept her regrets, her anxieties to herself, and instead of 
moping, tried the effect of increased occupation. 

At last the cold, dreary winter came to an end. Then when 
the tender buds burst their sheaths, when the buttercups and 
daisies starred the fields, and the vernal spring sent a glad thrill 
of youth and health through her veins, she said softly to herself, 
" Duncan is coming, Duncan is coming. On the 26th of July I 
shall see him." And every day the voice grew louder and 
louder, which whispered the good news in her heart, until 
at last it rang out clear and strong, like the nightingales 
song at evening. In those days she went about the house with 
a quick, springy step, and eyes brightened by hope. On her 
round young face lived a perpetual smile. " He is coming. He 
is coming," she warbled in triumphant accents, the joyous 
words often penetrating to the ears of her father and mother. 
At such times, they would look at each other with quiet satis" 
faction, for much as they loved their daughter, and greatly as 
they should feel her loss, it was a relief to both their minds to 
know that she would soon be happily married. For they had 



48 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

no fortune to give her, and whenever death claimed the father 
of the home, she would be left almost penniless. 

At length the long-expected and anxiously-awaited day- 
arrived. 

It came in heralded with lowering clouds, a blustering wind, 
and driving rain. But what did Bligh care ? After a year's 
separation she was going to see Duncan once more. Every- 
thing else was insignificant in comparison with the one impor- 
tant fact. She dressed herself very carefully, trying on her hats 
and jackets one by one, to ascertain which was the most becom- 
ing. Then she put on a waterproof — for the rain was coming 
down steadily — and taking an umbrella in her hand sallied forth 
bravely to the station. 

Her parents saw her go. 

" Ought we not to send somebody with her ? " said Captain 
Burton to his wife. During the last twelve months, he had 
taken to confirmed invalid ways, and now seldom ventured out 
of doors. 

" Bligh would sooner be alone," replied Mrs. Burton, with a 
fuller comprehension of the feminine mind than that possessed 
by her husband. " When people are very happy, or stricken 
by a great grief, they invariably prefer their own society. Thank 
God, our darling child has no cause for sorrow. It does one's 
heart good to see her so blythe and gay." 

The walk to the station was long, the distance being nearly 
two miles and a half, but Bligh's little feet pattered over the 
wet mud at railroad speed. Not a first-rate pedestrian, as a 
rule, to-day she knew no fatigue. With bright, unseeing eyes 
she looked on the familiar objects by which she was surrounded. 
Borne on the wings of love, her spirit flew onward, engrossed 
by one absorbing thought. The boisterous wind sought to op- 
pose her progress, but she defied its angry buffets. Did it think 
it could keep her from Duncan. Ah ! no. Ah ! no. 

When she reached the station her cloak was dripping wet. 
It dawned upon her mind vaguely that Duncan would not clasp 
her to his arms in this moist state. So she went to the cloak- 
room, and divested herself of her damp garment. Then she sat 
down on a bench in the centre of the platform, and waited im- 
patiently for the train to arrive. She had come to the trysting 
place too soon — ten whole minutes too soon, but what were they 
when compared with a long and cruel year ? How tedious it 
had been, how slowly the time had gone ; but now, thank God ! 
thank God ! the period of probation was at an end, and she and 
Duncan would be together again, as in the dear old days. 

Bligh's face was flushed with excitement. The wind and the 
rain had lent it a fresh pin 1 - — 1 ~"-" "^;^ mcrip it- w re "losing 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 4g 

to behold. In her clear eyes there beamed the light of a great 
and innocent love. And as she sat there on the wooden bench, 
she offered up a prayer to the Almighty thanking him for her 
exceeding happiness. It scarcely seemed right that so much 
joy should fall to her lot, when others went through their whole 
lives destitute of affection. She had once heard a woman in the 
village say that she looked upon man as her natural enemy. 
To Bligh, such a state of mind appeared inconceivable, and sad 
to a degree. 

She did not judge the woman, but she thought that there must 
be something radically wrong about her composition. At length 
the train was signalled, and she rose to her feet, all joy and 
expectation. 

Nearer and nearer came the dull, ponderous roar of the 
engine. A red light pierced through the mist and the rain, and 
grew steadily larger and brighter. Then the smoke became 
apparent, hanging heavy on the damp air, as it issued from the 
funnel in soft, curling clouds that resembled grey fur. Bligh's 
heart beat so fast that for a moment it seemed to suffocate her. 
A dancing haze obscured her vision. It cleared away just in 
time to let her see the train pull up, and the passengers leap out 
on to the platform. She scanned their faces narrowly, eagerly. 
Was this Duncan in the grey-checked suit and the brown pot 
hat ? A little way off she made sure it was he, but on drawing 
nearer the illusion vanished. Further on, perhaps, she might 
find him, and she walked the full length of the platform. Then 
she pushed her way back to the luggage van, and stared with 
hungry eyes at the young men clustering round. Where was 
Duncan ? She looked in vain for his sandy head with its 
homely Scotch features. A sickening sensation of terror stole 
over her. A flood of despair swept sharply through her whole 
being. The reaction was great, and totally unexpected, for she 
had trusted him too implicitly to dream of his proving fickle. 
Even now she thrust the idea from her in horror. She, who was 
incapable of change, could not credit any alteration of feeling 
in him. Yet such things were. She had read of them in books. 
Other women had trusted and been deceived, loved and been 
forsaken. 

Scarce knowing what she did, she leant against an iron 
column for support, whilst the rain dripped down upon her from 
a hole in the glass dome overhead. Her limbs trembled ; a 
sudden mental paralysis benumbed her brain. She no longer 
felt capable of thought or action. The blow had fallen with 
such stunning force that it prostrated every faculty. Like a 
person recovering from the effects of chloroform, she asked 
herself, " Is this reality, or only a bad — bad dream ? " And yet, 



5<j WEDDED TO SPORT. 

all the time she knew that it was no dream, but the hideous 
truth. Duncan had failed to keep his word. Nothing could 
soften that fact. As long as she lived she should never forget 
the pang occasioned by this bitter disappointment. No subse- 
quent jov would ever altogether atone for the total overthrow of 
her hope's. One by one the passengers bustled off, leaving her 
alone in her misery. A porter passed, who, struck by the suffer- 
ing expression of 'her white face, stopped, eyed her curiously, 
and said, with gruff sympathy. " Anything I can do for you, 
miss ? " The sound of his voice restored her to a sense of her 
surroundings. Reason began to reassert itself. What a fool 
she had been, to be sure .< When she came to think the matter 
over there were so many things which might account for Dun- 
can s non-arrival. He might have missed his train; his father 
or mother might have fallen ill ; he might even — for he was 
always careless — have made a mistake in the day. Perhaps he 
fancied the "rendezvous'" was the 27th instead of the 26th. 
That could easily be. Whilst she was going through tortures 
here, a telegram with some explanation was very likely awaiting 
her at home. It was quite possible that Duncan had not sent 
it off soon enough. She laughed hysterically. 

"Anything the matter, miss ? " inquired the porter, who did 
not like her manner. 

•• Nothing, thanks." she faltered in return. " I — I was expect- 
ing a — a friend. Perhaps you can — tell me when the next 
train is due from town."' 

The man walked to a wall where the time-tables were posted 
up, and returned with the desired information. 

•• There ain t another fast train from London, miss, till 7.30," 
he said. 

Bligh gave a groan. It was now only a little past three, and 
she could not loiter about the station for four hours and a half. 
There was nothing for it but to accept the common lot of 
women, and wait. 

Mechanically she went back into the cloak-room, and 
took up her waterproof and umbrella. How dark and 
dismal everything seemed to have turned all of a sudden. 
The pattering rain descended to the earth with a steady, 
monotonous sound. As she toiled dejectedly homewards 
the wet mud splashed about her ankles, and tile weight of 
her draggled petticoats grew more and more insupportable. 
All the way back she kept trying to think of reasons which 
might have prevented Duncan from keeping his promise. Sud- 
denly a thought occurred to her which sent an icy chill travel- 
ling through her veins. Could it be that he was dead ? Ah ! 
no, not dead — not dead. She felt then that she could bear 



WEDDED TO SPORT 



5* 



silence, injury, desertion — anything, rather than death. She 
trudged on and on, dimly conscious of an overpowering fatigue 
to which her whole frame succumbed. Mrs. Burton sat at her 
bedroom window. It commanded a view of the road. 

Far off she spied the solitary little figure, battling wearily with 
the wind and the rain. There was an unspeakable wretchedness 
about Bligh's aspect which revealed all to the fond mother. 
With dismay and compassion she ran downstairs, and opened 
the front door. No need to ask any questions. One look at 
the girl's poor, quivering face was enough. It made the mother's 
heart bleed to see its woe-begone expression. The responsibility 
of having brought a living child into the world only to suffer 
almost overwhelmed her. 

" Is — is there a telegram for me ? " Bligh asked drearily, and 
in a dull, strange voice. 

Mrs. Burton shook her head, and tried to smile ; but it was 
useless attempting to appear cheerful. 

" Oh ! Bligh," she said, " what is the matter ? " 

" D — Duncan has not — come." 

" Not come, darling ? " 

" No. I waited until all the passengers had left the train, and 
— and he was not there." Then, unable any longer to control 
her grief, Bligh burst into a passion of tears and rushed upstairs, 
feeling she could not stand being cross-examined, no matter how 
kindly or gently. Her wound was yet too new to bear probing. 

The wise mother did not seek to follow her. She knew that 
there are some sorrows which can only be borne alone, and 
whose first poignancy even sympathy cannot soften: The tears 
stood in her sweet eyes as she watched the girl disappear. She, 
too, was possessed by a presentiment of evil. The sight of 
Bligh's pathetic little face, the tone of her voice, when she sadly 
said " Duncan has not come," were exquisitely painful. She 
would willingly have given her life to secure the happiness of 
this dear only daughter. And now, instinct told her it was all 
shattered at a blow, for the lover who proves faithless once can 
never be trusted again with the same trust as before. 

The hours went by. Day faded into twilight, twilight turned 
to night, and the anxious parents sat together almost in silence, 
not daring to disturb the seclusion of their child. At last, Mrs. 
Barton could endure the tension no longer. 

" I must go and see what has become of Bligh," she said to 
her husband. 

" Aye, do," he responded. " The foolish girl takes it too 
much to heart. Duncan always was a free and easy, forgetful 
sort of fellow. As likely as not he'll turn up to-morrow, just as 
if he ^ nA """-"• 1 '- J '■- J " 



52 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" Let us hope so, for Bligh's sake," answered Mrs. Burton, 
not very sanguinely. 

She stole upstairs, and tapped softly at her daughter's door, 
which was locked. 

" Bligh," she called out. " Bligh, my dear child, let me come 
in." 

Silence followed this request ; then, slowly, the key creaked 
in the keyhole, and the door was opened. 

Bligh stood on the threshold, still clad in her wet walking 
garments, with her hat pushed back, and her soft brown hair 
hanging in damp wisps about her face. Her eyes were red with 
weeping. She averted them quickly, so that the light from her 
mother's candle should not reveal the full extent of her suf- 
ferings. 

" My darling," said Mrs. Burton, tenderly, " do not grieve so. 
Very likely it is all a mistake." 

Bligh shook her head despondently. 

" No, mother," she said. " My heart tells me differently. If 
I had been in Duncan's place I could not have acted as he has 
done. He has got tired of me, and repents of our engagement. 
That is why he has not kept his promise." 

" Nonsense, child. We shall get a letter by to-morrow's post, 
and then you will have to apologise to Duncan for all the foolish 
things you have said and thought about him. Come, cheer up." 

The kind tone, the gentle voice, the compassionate look which 
accompanied these words, went straight to Bligh's heart. She 
flung her arms round her mother's neck. 

" Mother," she cried. " Mother, darling, how selfish I am to 
think so much of myself when I have got you. There ! " and 
she dried her eyes and tried to smile. " Whatever happens I 
must not worry you with my troubles." 

" Who is so fit to share them ? " murmured Mrs. Burton, kiss- 
ing Bligh's tear-stained face. 

And then these two fond, foolish women began to cry again 
in each other's arms, although they had just made up their minds 
that there was nothing to cry about, and matters would no doubt 
come right if only they exercised a little patience, and forced 
themselves to look at the bright, rather than the gloomy side of 
things. They kissed and wept, feeling that whatever ill the 
future might contain they were very dear to one another, and 
could not be wholly unhappy so long as they were together. 

And the sullen clouds lifted, the angry wind dropped, the rain 
ceased, and after the dismal day the silvery moon shone out 
clear and bright. Her rays falling on the wet earth made it 
gleam as a mirror, in which the stars were reflected like points 
of steel. 



IVEDDED TO SPORT. 53 

Oh ! weak tears and brave hearts, let no one scoff at thee, 
least of all those who cause the former to flow, the latter to hide 
their wounds behind the grey and Quaker garb of duty. 



CHAPTER VII. 

FIGHTING THE FIGHT. 

Two days of torturing suspense followed. Every sound, every 
ring at the door, brought the colour rushing in a hot wave to 
Bligh's cheek. She was restless and nervous. The little com- 
monplace round of daily duty seemed suddenly to have become 
almost insupportable. It was terrible work going into the 
kitchen, arranging meals with the cook, and minutely inspecting 
the mutton bone left from yesterday's dinner, when her mind 
was preoccupied with Duncan. It required a stupendous effort 
to talk of Irish stews and rice puddings whilst every thought 
was given to him. Nothing but long habit enabled her to get 
through the ordeal without a total collapse. For in her present 
state the sordid details of housekeeping on nothing a year were 
simply loathsome. The young person who reigned over the 
culinary department appeared more full of wants and complaints 
than usual, and less capable of relying on the somewhat limited 
stock of brains with which Nature had endowed her. Every 
morning when Bligh descended to the lower regions she began, 
" Please, Miss, we're out of coals. Please, Miss, the b'iler's 
gone wrong. Please, Miss, the But-cher 'as not called. What 
am I to do ? " etc., etc. Bligh had to soothe and pacify and 
devise. In an ordinary way she was accustomed to an under- 
current of grumbling running through the establishment. When 
people are poor it is an experience they have to put up with ; 
but just now it irritated her nervous system and taxed her 
patience well-nigh beyond endurance. 

She had a longing to get away from home cares for a time, 
and to go to fresh scenes and surroundings, where she should 
not be constantly reminded of her love. But this she knew was 
impossible. The household could not dispense with her 
services. Her father was rapidly becoming a confirmed invalid, 
and her mother's health had also shown symptoms of giving 
way latterly. Luckily, or unluckily, for herself she was essential 
to both parents, and could not afford to indulge in any selfish 
whims. So she went about as usual, conscientiously striving to 
perform her accustomed duties, in spite of the dull, heavy pain 



54 



WEDDED TO SFORT. 



that incessantly weighted her heart. But the strain was too 
great, and on the evening of the second day she broke down. 
She was hot and feverish, and complained of shooting fires in 
her head which made it throb with an unendurable violence. 
After a restless night, when the morning came Mrs. Burton 
insisted on her breakfasting upstairs. 

" Give way a little, Bligh dear," she said. " It will be better 
for you in the end, and your father and I quite understand." 

Bligh looked at her mother with piteous eyes. 

'' Don't you think it very strange that he has not written ? " 
she asked. 

'' Yes, darling, very ; but the post is late. Perhaps we may 
hear to-day." 

" Only bad news," said Bligh, with an uncontrollable burst 
of sorrow. " It can only be bad news. Good would never 
have been so long in coming. Oh ! mother, are all men false ? " 

'• Not all, but many. It often seems that where they are 
concerned change is the law of Nature. One wonders why 
women pin their faith to such unstable creatures. And now 
I must go down to your father. He will be waiting for his 
breakfast, and I will send you up yours." 

" I don't want any," said the girl, who, in the last four and 
twenty hours, had begun to experience a strange distaste for 
food. 

" Bligh, dear, do eat something if you can, if only to please 
me." 

" Very well, then," resignedly. " I'll try, but I'm not hungry." 

Whilst Captain and Mrs. Burton were sitting at breakfast the 
postman came. Shortly afterwards a maid-servant entered the 
room bearing a letter addressed to Bligh in a strange hand- 
writing. On inspection a Scottish postmark revealed itself. 

" It is from Lord Kirkwall," exclaimed Mrs. Burton. '' 1 
feel sure that it is. Oh ! what can he have to say to Bligh ? " 
And in her excitement she allowed the water from the urn to 
run over the teapot. 

Captain Burton put down the cup which he was in the act of 
raising to his mouth. 

" Nothing very pleasant, I am afraid," he said. " I have 
always distrusted his lordship ever since that impertinent letter 
he wrote me when Duncan proposed to Bligh ; just as if you 
and I had been setting a regular trap to catch him. I wish to 
goodness that young cub of his had never come near the place, 
for my belief is he has pretty well broken the child's heart. 
I never saw anyone so changed in the last few days." 

" Bligh will have heard the postman's ring, and she is very 
anxious for news," said Mrs. Burton. " If you don't mind, 



WEDDED TO SPORT ^ 

William, I'll just run upstairs and give her her letter. I'll be 
back in a minute." 

" Don't trouble about me," responded the captain, in spite of 
paternal anxiety, applying himself to his breakfast with an un- 
diminished appetite. " If you push the toast and the butter this 
way I shall be all right." 

Mrs. Burton at once carried off the letter, and placed it in 
her daughter's hands without a word. Indeed, she did not 
know what to say. She dared not raise her hopes by giving vent 
to any favourable prognostications. 

Bligh glanced eagerly at the superscription, and the light the t 
had momentarily illumined her face died out of it. 

" A letter," she said, listlessly. " Who is it from ? " 

" I fancy it is from Lord Kirkwall," rejoined Mrs. Burton, try- 
ing to suppress her growing excitement. 

The colour flew to Bligh's cheeks, dying neck, ears, and 
brow crimson. 

" Lord Kirkwall ! " she exclaimed, tremulously. " Oh ! mother, 
read it. I have not the courage." 

Thus bidden, Mrs. Burton tore open the envelope, and in a 
voice almost as unsteady as her daughter's, read the following : — 

" Dear Miss Burton, — In my son's name I owe you a thousand 
apologies. I only discovered yesterday that in an unguarded 
moment he had foolishly made an appointment to meet you on 
the 26th of this month, which promise he was not in a position to 
keep, owing to altered circumstances. A year ago both you and 
he were very young — too young to know your own minds, as is 
evident from the change which has taken place in Duncan's. 
He now sees, as clearly as I do, the folly of committing an early 
and imprudent marriage. Pray forgive my plain speaking ; but 
in cases such as these the truth often saves much subsequent 
unpleasantness. It is for this reason that I am writing to you 
instead of my son, who, however, is quite aware of the step I 
have taken. If, like him, you have learnt wisdom in the last few 
months there remains but little to be said. On the other hand, 
should this unfortunately not be so, and you still cling to mem- 
ories of the past, I can only repeat my profound regrets and 
apologies for the pain which, in his thoughtlessness, my son 
may have caused you. — Believe me to remain, dear Miss 
Burton. Sincerely yours, 

" Kirkwall." 

The letter dropped from Mrs. Burton's hands. Its cold, 
heartless tone made her tingle with indignation. It confirmed 
her worst fears. Nothing could be more deplorable than this, 



56 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

or more galling to a high-spirited girl's pride. For a few seconds 
she positively dared not look at Bligh. Duncan's treachery, and 
his cowardly, contemptible way of getting out of the engagement, 
scarcely troubled her thoughts in comparison with her daughter's 
unhappiness. The slight, the insult, these were what she felt 
most keenly. 

From under the bedclothes there came the sound of smothered 
sobs. Lord Kirkwall's letter contained no news to Bligh. 
From the first her heart had foretold its contents. Forsaken — 
jilted, it seemed to her as if never again could she hold up her 
head. 

" Mother," she faltered, after a long and painful silence, " I 
— knew how it was. D — don't pity me please. I c — can't bear 
pity even from you." 

"Oh! my darling, my darling," cried Mrs. Burton, distracted 
at seeing her child's anguish, " is there nothing I can do for 
you ? " 

" Nothing," answered Bligh, drearily, " except to leave me 
to myself." 

" We needn't talk, dear, if you would rather keep quiet, 
only just let me sit in the room with you, so that you may feel 
there is someone near." 

" Mother," said Bligh, with a pathetic quivering of the lips, 
"don't think me ungrateful or insensible to your kindness, but I 
want to be alone — quite alone for a while." Then she gave a 
wan smile, and added, " I understand now the longing of dumb 
creatures for solitude when they are mortally wounded." These 
words stabbed Mrs. Burton to the heart. 

" As you will," she said, in subdued tones, stealing towards 
the door like a culprit. Then she paused, and taking courage, 
added, " Bligh, dearest, listen to my advice and don't shut 
yourself up too long. A grief is always worse when unshared, 
and I " — breaking down — " I do so feel for you and love 
you." 

How Bligh spent the long, weary hours that followed must 
for ever remain a secret between the girl and her Maker. 
Towards evening, when the glaring sun had sunk to rest, and 
the garish day faded into twilight, she dressed herself, and crept 
downstairs. Her eyes shone with a feverish radiance, whilst 
on her cheeks burnt a fierce, unnatural colour. When she 
entered their sitting-room, her parents watched her movements 
with a kind of morbid dread, as if they feared what she was 
about to do or say. They need not have been afraid. Bligh 
was fashioned of the stuff of which heroines are made. 

" Father, mother," she began in a trembling voice, which 
grew stronger as she went on. " I want to sav something to vnu 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



57 



— I have been thinking this matter over. It will be better not 
to discuss it more than is absolutely necessary, for the simple 
reason that there is nothing to be done. Only don't blame 
Duncan. After all, it was not so very wonderful that his feelings 
should have changed. I am not pretty — I have no fortune, in 
short, nothing particular to recommend me. I ought to have 
seen this before, only my eyes were blinded by happiness. And 
now I see something else. I see that you want me more than 
ever Duncan could, and so, instead of bemoaning my fate, I am 
going to try to be brave — not to bother you with my troubles, 
or make your home gloomy. Dear father, dear mother," she 
continued, holding out a hand to each, " it is not always easy 
to stick to one's good resolutions. You will bear with me 
sometimes, won't you, and help me on ? " 

Before either Captain or Mrs. Burton could make any answer 
to this affecting speech, a violent shudder ran through Bligh's 
frame, she uttered an inarticulate cry, and fell fainting to the 
ground. The strain which she imposed on her overwrought 
nervous system was greater than it could bear, and for the 
moment the shock she had received triumphed over the girl's 
gallant spirit. The next day she was tossing about in bed with 
brain fever, and for weeks her life was despaired of. Her 
cheeks grew thin and hollow, the blue veins showed with star- 
tling transparency on her temples, and the pretty brown hair 
which constituted her chief beauty had all to be shorn off. She 
looked a ghost of her former self. 

But she did not die. She was too strong to sink beneath the 
first stroke of misfortune, and gradually a changed, quiet, sober 
Bligh was given back to life. One by one, she took up her 
former occupations, with feeble health but indomitable courage. 
The delirium of fever gone, Duncan's name did not once pass 
her lips. She never complained, never indulged in weak self- 
pity ; only her smile grew rarer, her manner staider and more 
sedate. 

This affair seemed entirely to have crushed out all the aspira- 
tions natural to her age. She only wanted to be left quiet, and 
allowed to get over her hurt in her own way. As for men and 
marriage, she no longer cared for either, or thought of them 
in connection with herself. In the years that ensued, she had 
several fairly good proposals, for her reputation as a daughter 
enhanced her value as a wife, but she declined them firmly. 
It was as if the one great disappointment of her youth had 
forever destroyed her belief in the male sex. She treated 
them with politeness, but indifference, and never made the 
smallest effort to attract their attention. Perhaps that was 
why the better clas s o f men cherished a peculiar regard for 



58 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

Miss Bligh Burton, which their female belongings could not 
understand, and secretly resented. 

'• Such a dowdy, insignificant little girl, - ' they would say. 
" Vt'hat on earth do you see in her to admire ? " 

In these days the hours which Bligh did not devote to her 
parents, and the management of the household, were given to 
study. She read a great deal : principally works of philoso- 
phy, science, and theology, and set to work systematically to 
improve her mind, rather with a view to banish thought than 
from any ulterior motive. Music proved a consolation and 
delight. Mrs. Burton, who had been a fine vocalist, derived 
much pleasure from the training of her daughter's voice — a 
powerful mezzo soprano, very pure in quality. By the time she 
had attained her twenty-fifth year. Bligh had developed into a 
thoroughly accomplished woman, capable of playing a sonata. 
or of cooking a dinner, discussing the most vital questions of 
the day with almost a man's breadth of comprehension, or of 
cutting out and tacking a gown. 

Even - now and then, when some emergencv arose which ren- 
dered her vaguely conscious of the power and ability slowly 
strengthening within her, and which were the natural outcome 
of energy and brains, added to sorrow well borne, she would 
give a melancholy smile, and say to herself, '• This is better 
than being a coward — better than making my grief a source of 
misery to others, especially those who are nearest and dearest 
to me. If people honestly endeavour to help themselves, in 
course of time God grants compensation." But then again 
there were other moments, when in the secret agony of her 
soul, she would exclaim — 

•• Ah ! what is it all worth ? What does it amount to in com- 
parison with being loved ? Knowledge is a magnificent posses- 
sion, but it can never equal happiness. The latter contents. 
but the other only creates a perpetual craving to unravel the 
mysteries of the universe. It is a striving and striving, and an 
ending in nothing. Ah ! Duncan, why did you forsake me. 
or having forsaken, why cannot I forget you ? " Then the hot 
tears came gushing to her eyes, and the fight had to be fought 
all over again. 

But in spite of bad quarters of an hour, and many a sleepless 
night, Bligh struggled on, ever on, steadily keeping the same 
goal in view. In her darkest moments she never lost sight of 
it. From the hrst she had laid down two fixed rules. She 
would try to do her duty, and to improve. She would not sink 
in the slough of despondency, but battle her way inch by inch 
to the shore. For cowardice in any shape or form she enter- 
tained a supreme contempt. When she read works of fiction, 



WEDDED TO SPORT. ^g 

all her sympathies were with the brave, strong women who did 
not give in. She never could bring herself to admire the weak, 
plastic type. But the tension was great — too great to be alto- 
gether natural. Her mother, looking at her with a kind of rev- 
erential awe, often wondered how long Bligh would go on with- 
out breaking down. As for Captain Burton, he believed that 
Duncan was totally forgotten. 

So Bligh fought for victory. Wherein she succeeded, and 
wherein she failed, it will be for the reader to judge. 



CHAPTER VIII. 

A LITERARY ASPIRANT. 

As the years passed they brought trouble to the Burton estab- 
lishment. The head master obtained a better appointment and 
left; his assistant married and set up for himself. Pupils be- 
came scarce, and Captain Burton no longer found it as easy as 
formerly to obtain recruits. It had got about that he was in bad 
health, and incapable of personally attending to business. The 
loss of his connection was, however, softened by the zest with 
which he entered into a fresh pursuit. It was one which for 
some time past had held out a captivating vista of success to his 
exuberant fancy. 

To be brief, he commenced a book on military tactics. In it 
he pointed out a method which, by a very small additional ex- 
penditure, would materially increase the defences of the country, 
rendering London in particular quite safe from an enemy's attack. 
His brain had long been full of this interesting scheme, to the 
detriment — it must be confessed — of his youthful scholars. He 
was tired of teaching, and turned to literature as a relief, believ- 
ing that up till now he had missed his vocation, and only just 
discovered where his real talent lay. 

Bligh helped her father in his labours, and indeed may be said 
to have written the greater portion of the work. When finished, 
it was placed in the hands of a London publisher, and then 
followed a period of consuming anxiety, during which the author 
could neither eat, rest, nor sleep, and spent the majority of his 
time at the post-office. Would or would not the book be ac- 
cepted ? That was the burning question of the hour. Every 
other paled before it. 

Fortunately for Captain Burton, the times were favourable to 
the introduction of military subjects, for the national mind was 
just beginning to wake up to the importance of the national safety. 



60 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

After a whole month had elapsed, there at length came a letter 
from Messrs. Fiddler and Flumm, stating that they were pre- 
pared to undertake the publication of " How to Defend Ourselves 
at an Insignificant Cost " on the following conditions, which they 
assured Captain Burton was their usual way of doing business 
with authors whose names were not known to the world, and 
which he would find most advantageous. He was to pay a sum 
down of one hundred pounds towards the expenses. These would 
ultimately be defrayed from the proceeds, and the deposit was 
merely a formal arrangement against contracting bad debts. 
They further agreed to bring out an edition of one thousand 
copies to be sold at five shillings and sixpence each, less trade 
discounts, the profits to be divided in equal moieties between 
the author and the publisher, and an account to be rendered at 
the end of six months, on the ist of January and on the ist of 

\\ hen Captain Burton received this communication he was in 
ecstacy. Everything seemed fair sailing now. The road to fame 
lay before him, and he had only to gallop along it. On more 
mature consideration, however, his joy became slightly damped 
at being requested to furnish a hundred pounds in advance. It 
was all very well to console himself with the thought, " Oh I 
shall get it all back again out of my book," but he did not hap- 
pen to have so large a sum of ready money on which he could 
lay his hands at a moment's notice. It was only to be obtained 
in one way — namely, by borrowing at a high rate of interest. 
The family were taken into council, and the trio talked matters 
over in all their bearings. They were unanimous in deciding 
that the book must be published at any cost. Bligh perhaps was 
less enthusiastic than her father and mother, but then she was 
younger, and therefore naturally not so good a judge of high class 
literature as the elders. Nevertheless she was of the opinion 
that the money should be found, and the publishers' terms com- 
plied with. 

" We think a great deal of this hundred pounds," said Captain 
Burton, whose nature was exceedingly sanguine, " but after all, 
it's only lending it to oneself. When the book comes out, I'm 
bound to get it paid back. There's not the least risk. Of that 
I feel sure." 

Then Bligh came forward, and to the surprise of both parents, 
stated that out of the very small sum allowed her weekly for 
housekeeping expenses, she had managed to put by fifty pounds 
in the last five years, which now were entirely at the author's 
service. She produced her hoard triumphantly, being more than 
rewarded for its loss by her father's gratitude and delight. Mrs. 
Burton would not be outdone in srenerositv. She sold the few 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 6 1 

jewels she possessed, and contributed twenty pounds to the fund. 
There only remained thirty to raise, and through the kindness 
of private friends this was accomplished without having recourse 
to gentlemen of the Israelitish persuasion. The agreement be- 
tween Captain Burton and Messrs. Fiddler and Flumm was duly 
signed, and after a while the first proofs were despatched. 

Who shall describe the author's rapture at seeing his name in 
print. Even the vanity of the most modest man is tickled by 
the spectacle of his cherished periods set up in type. They 
possess an indescribable fascination, which induces the writer to 
gaze at them with almost paternal tenderness. In public he 
may pretend to be indifferent, but in private he never wearies of 
staring at his proofs, and reading his pet passages over and over 
again. Captain Burton pored over them until he must have 
known every word by heart. He could not bear those long, in- 
convenient strips of paper out of his sight. He ate with them, 
he slept with them. If anybody happened to call he alluded 
with pride to his occupation. All the neighbourhood knew that 
he was bringing out the smartest, cleverest, most invaluable 
book on national defence that had ever been produced. He 
opened a private subscription list, and cunningly induced his 
acquaintances to put their names down for copies almost before 
they knew what they were about. In short, if he had worked 
half as hard at cramming as he did to ensure the success of the 
great work, his fortune must have been made. As for the 
proofs — they were corrected and recorrected until the poor 
man's head felt quite in a muddle. He kept inserting fine, 
long-sounding words instead of short ones, whilst impressing 
upon Bligh all the time that the great thing for every young 
author to aim at was terseness and simplicity of style. Yet he 
continued to add so many flourishes to his sentences that they 
stood in danger of becoming all nourish and no sense. Luckily 
Bligh kept her head, and after arguments which often lasted 
several days, pruned down the fertile aftergrowth of her father's 
imagination, in spite of much indignant opposition on his part. 
She always would stick to the meaning, and ruthlessly sacrificed 
ornamentation. 

" People like to understand what they read," she said. " It 
is always safer to assume that one's public is stupid rather than 
clever." 

There was no getting her to budge from this standpoint, and 
Captain Burton had to submit to seeing many of his very 
choicest, and grandest adjectives struck out. It was a great 
blow, and doubtless authors will sympathise with him. 

For instance, Bligh would take up the proofs and read, " The 

gljeTYiTr ViAiran ci-alincr thf> Jipicrhtc " 



62 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" Don't you think," interrupted Captain Burton, " that scaling 
is rather a common -word ? " 

'• Xo, father, it does not strike me as being so." 

" What would you say to ascending the heights, Bligh, or en- 
compassing the heights. Encompassing sounds well, and to my 
mind lends importance to the action." 

"We will stick to scaling," Bligh answered, in her quiet, 
determined way. "It's better English. Why," she continued, 
" what have ycu here ? An officer's enfolding panoply ! What 
does that mean ? " 

"A tent, Bligh, a tent," he exclaimed, half proudly, half 
apologetically. 

''Then we' had better call it by its right name," she replied, 
running her pen through the enfolding panoply. 

However, at last the proofs were all finished, though never 
had the father and daughter come so near to quarrelling as dur- 
ing the process of correction. The book made its appearance, 
and the moment proved propitious. A Conservative Govern- 
ment had just asked for a large grant of money towards the 
army and navy, and the Liberals — as customary, when any 
question of expenditure is under discussion — had placed them- 
selves in active opposition. Public opinion, however, supported 
the Tories, and " How to Defend Ourselves at an Insignificant 
Cost," partly owing to a taking title, and partly owing to some 
intrinsic merit, went off well. The reviews did it good service. 
By the virulence of their criticisms they aroused the popular 
curiosity. They created a demand for the book, and the first 
edition was quickly sold out. A second and a third were called 
for. When Captain Burton ran up to town, and looked in at 
Messrs. Fiddler and Flumm's office, he was received with a 
politeness and an urbanity that were simply delightful. Noth- 
ing could exceed Mr. Fiddler's courtesy. He treated the captain 
as if he were his bosom friend, and then proceeded to sound 
him gently as to whether he were writing another book. 

On the strength of his success our author decided to give up 
coaching altogether, more especially as coaching had long shown 
symptoms of giving him up. He determined to devote the re- 
mainder of his days to the engrossing and, he confidently hoped, 
the lucrative profession of literature, for which, as before stated, 
he felt himself specially adapted. Bligh prudently hinted that 
it might be as well to await the accounts before taking so de- 
cisive a step ; but her advice was summarily pooh-poohed. " So 
many thousand copies at five and sixpence were bound to 
realise a handsome sum. ' How to Defend Ourselves at an Insig- 
nificant Cost ' was certain to go on selling. It would prove as 
good as an annuity, and hi - 1 ' " ' r " ' ' s, 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 63 

so startling, so original, that when they appeared in print they 
would bring in a considerable income." Thus Captain Burton 
reasoned, buoyed up by hope and the small measure of fame to 
which he had attained through one successful publication. He 
believed that his name and his fortune were both made. 

To cut a long story short, " How to Defend Ourselves " v/as re- 
sponsible for most of the misfortunes which subsequently befell 
the Burtons. It reduced them from a state of comparative 
security to one of poverty and hazard. To begin with, the ac- 
counts, when rendered after repeated requests, proved a bitter 
disappointment. In spite of three editions sold, Messrs. Fiddler 
and Flumm had so contrived to add up costs, advertisements, 
gift books, trade discounts, 225 copies sold as 208, 104 as 96, 
publishers' commission, and one thing and another, that there 
remained next to nothing to divide. The profits melted — pos- 
itively melted away, and the only satisfaction the author had 
was a melancholy conviction that there was something wrong 
somewhere. But what that something was precisely, or where, 
he was powerless to point out, and had, therefore, to content 
himself with the glory and none of the remuneration. He might 
have his suspicions as to whether Messrs. Fiddler and Flumm 
were not more fortunate than the writer, but he possessed no 
means of verifying them. By this time Captain Burton was deep 
in his great novel, entitled " The Pharisee and the Sadducee," 
and it prevented him from dwelling too much on the pecuniary 
fiasco. His mind seethed with incident, and refused any longer 
to dwell on commonplace objects. 

Henceforth, Mrs. Burton and Bligh were doomed all day and 
every day to hear " The Pharisee " talked of. It became the 
one topic of conversation, for his absorption rendered him egotis- 
tical, and to a great extent blunted his perceptions. When he 
was at work nobody was allowed to make the least sound through- 
out the house, for fear of checking his inspiration. Bligh could 
no longer play or sing as formerly. " The Pharisee " did not 
progress very fast. " The Pharisee " was made an excuse that 
shielded Captain Burton from everything he didn't like. If any 
stupid visitor called he could not possibly see him, he was en- 
gaged on " The Pharisee ; " if a creditor appeared inconveniently 
he retired to his room with " The Pharisee," and left his wife and 
daughter to bear the brunt of the battle. This important work 
of fiction upset all the household. It rendered meals unpunctual, 
destroyed order and regularity. Its author grew more and 
more erratic, preoccupied, and cantankerous. When his ideas 
did not flow readily — and, poor man, they often seemed defective 
—he got cross, or else uncomfortably depressed. His moods 
became painfully uncertain, and his female belongings bitterly 



64 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

regretted the day when he had abandoned coaching for hter- 

at The two women were admirably patient ^'^"fjf 
" The Pharisee " with unflagging vivacity, and admired the pil- 
ous developments of its plot and characters. Mrs. Burton 
believed implicitly in her husband's genius and it seemed per- 
fectly natural to her that all things in the household should be 
made subservient to it. She waited assiduously upon the ac- 
complished man of letters, whom she was proud to call her bet- 
ter half She shielded him with almost motherly care from 
every worldly element likely to exercise a pernicious effect on 
his pen, and' avoided anv allusion to the unsatisfactory state of 
their finances, which invariably cast a shadow over his talent. 
He accepted all her wifely sacrifices calmly, and as if they were 
his due. In fact, as time went on, he made larger and larger 
calls on them. 

At length, heralded by a great flourish of trumpets, The 
Pharisee^' was given to the world. Alas ! the world proved 
singularly unappreciative. It declined to buy " The Pharisee," 
would not be coaxed into a good-humour by the Sadducee, and 
refused to have anything to do with either. 

The book proved a dead failure in every sense of the word. 
Captain Burton sank beneath the disappointment. He had 
talked himself into the belief that his novel was quite equal to 
one of Gourde Eliot's or Thackeray s. It is pleasant enough to 
pose as a genius before one s wife and daughter. To have the 
pedesial ruthlessly hewn away from one's feet, and suddenly to 
he brought in contact with the barren earth, no doubt is not an 
agreeable process. 
' About this period the unfortunate author was seized by a 
second attack of paralysis, which deprived his lower extremities 
of all motion and sensation. He lingered on for six months, 
and when the spirit moved him wrote now and again in a des- 
ultory fashion. He always kept up the illusion with his family 
that lie was a -Teat writer, and hinted in a variety of delicate 
ways that it was the common fate of all great writers not to be 
appreciated in their lifetime. 

Bligh nursed her father devotedly. Everything that loving 
care and filial attention could do to relieve his condition she 
did. Put each dav Captain Burton grew feebler and feebler, 
more and more helpless. The paralysis was creeping up slowly, 
but surely. His legs began to swell, and he realised that the 
end was not far off. One evening Mrs. Burton retired early to 
rest, worn out by grief and anxiety. Bligh was left alone with 
the sick man, whom she believed to be dozing. Suddenly, he 
put out his hand, and beckoned for her to draw near. 



IVH.JJD&U TO SPORT. 65 

" Bligh," he said faintly, " I feel as if I were dying. There is 
such a cold, dead weight at my heart." 

" You want raising up in bed," she answered, trying to con- 
ceal her tears. " Put your arms round my neck and I will lift 
you. There ! " arranging the pillows deftly. " Do you feel 
easier now ? " 

" Yes, a little ; only it is so cold — so cold." He was silent 
for a few moments. Then a nickering colour rose to his cheek, 
and he added : " Bligh, before I go, I — I should like to tell 
you something." 

"What is it, dear father? " she inquired, looking down at 
him with humid eyes. 

" It is not easy for me to say it, but — but — the fact is, I never 
could have been a great author. It was not in me." 

" Oh ! never mind about that now," said Bligh, soothingly. 
" What does it matter ? " 

" Since \ have been so ill," he went on, unheeding her words, 
" it has seemed to me that I must often have tried your pa- 
tience sorely. My books absorbed me to the exclusion of every- 
thing else. I pretended to be a genius, and — I was a hypo- 
crite," turning his head to the wall. 

A pause ensued. The girl was too taken aback to make an 
immediate reply. 

" Bligh/' said the invalid, the flush on his cheek deepening, 
" I think you knew it. I am almost positive that you knew it." 

" Well ! " she said, seeing that he hung feverishly on her 
answer. " And if I did, what then ? It never made any differ- 
ence between us." 

" You knew that I was an impostor, and yet you never said a 
word. You turned yourself into a slave, who, without a mur- 
mur, obeyed my every whim. I was often a hard taskmaster, 
Bligh. I took advantage of your goodness and unselfishness. 
I did not see this at the time— that's my only excuse ; but I see 
it now quite clearly. Can you forgive ? " 

" Forgive ! " she cried, flinging herself down by his bedside. 
" Oh ! father, I have nothing to forgive. We all of us have 
our weaknesses. Yours was a very harmless one. It hurt 
nobody, and I was glad to be of service to you." 

"You knew that I was a humbug all along," he repeated, with 
bitter self-condemnation, " and yet you never breathed the 
secret to a soul." 

" Why should I ? " she responded, bending forward and kiss- 
ing his damp brow. 

For a long time he lay quite quiet. His breathing was get- 
ting more and more difficult. Twice, thrice, she propped him 
up with extra pillows. 



66 WEDDED TO SPORT 

About midnight he raised himself on one elbow, and fixing 
his dim, sunken eyes on his daughter, said : — 

'• Bligh, you are a — wonderful girl. There are not — many — 
like you. Dear child ! — don't ever tell — your mother. Let her 
b — believe in me to — to — the last.'' 

And with these words still lingering on his lips he fell back 
into the cold arms of death, which for months past had been 
stretched out ready to receive him. They folded him in their 
chill embrace, and for ever quieted the unrest of existence. 

Bligh never alluded to what had passed between them. She 
looked upon her father's dying confession as sacred. Because 
she had long since taken the measure of his literary pretensions 
that was no reason why she should not love him. Our dear 
ones are seldom faultless ; perhaps they would not be so dear 
if they were. Nevertheless, she was glad that he had spoken, 
for, strive to disguise the truth as she might, there had been 
times when the thought would intrude, *' You are a*hypocrite, 
and a selfish one into the bargain." Now she could cherish 
his memory without a shadow rising up to dim the tenderness 
of her recollections. His humility had disarmed every unpleas- 
ant reminiscence. 

She took a pair of scissors and reverently cut off a lock of 
the dead man's hair, which she pressed to her lips with filial 
fervour. 

Ah ! how sad life was, how hard, even, when one tried to be 
brave. She was not the only person to find it so. He had suf- 
fered also, and his last words were words of excuse to his own 
daughter. His end struck her as very pathetic. It made a 
vivid impression. 

She did not wish him back. He had suffered too much, and 
she had long ago realised that his continued existence was but 
a burden to himself and a pain to those who loved him best and 
most truly. She believed he was better dead than struggling, 
ever struggling, against the sharp pinch of poverty and dis- 
appointment. Then, all at once, her fortitude gave way, the 
weariness of living Hooded her spirit with a great wave of an- 
guish, and she cried aloud, " Ah ! why didn't you take me with 
you ? Father, father, why did you not take me with you ? " 



VVEVVISD TO SPORT. f yj 



CHAPTER IX. 

THE PINCH OF POVERTY. 

When the widow and daughter came to look into the affairs 
of the deceased, they found them in a most deplorable con- 
dition. A few hundred pounds laid by during comparatively 
prosperous years represented his entire fortune. Although 
Captain Burton had often talked of " insuring his life," it now 
appeared that he had failed to do so. Consequently, a difficult 
problem stared Mrs. Burton and Bligh in the face. How were 
they to live ? The elder lady, as soon as she had recovered from 
the shock of being parted from one with whom she had dwelt on 
terms of close companionship for over thirty years, discussed 
the matter continually, but without being able to arrive at any 
practical solution. Her health was so bad that she felt herself 
unfit for active employment, and her inability to earn a liveli- 
hood fretted her sorely, in spite of Bligh's assurances that she 
was quite capable of working for both. Indeed, the girl was 
but too sadly aware that she must depend on her own exertions, 
since her mother's delicacy increased daily, and with alarming 
rapidity. An immediate change was necessary. "They could 
not afford to remain where they were. 

They left the comfortable home which they had inhabited for 
so many years, and rented a tiny cottage in the village, formerly 
occupied by a sporting pupil's groom. It was a mite of a place, 
but large enough for their present requirements. The servants 
were all dismissed save one, a devoted creature who had been 
Bligh's nurse, and who vowed that she would rather receive no 
wages than be parted from her beloved young mistress. The 
faithful soul, whose name was Deborah, undertook to cook, wash, 
scrub, and superintend the entire establishment, so as to leave 
Bligh free to pursue the difficult profession of money-making. 
The girl now reaped the reward of her studies and of having 
cultivated those natural abilities with which Providence had 
endowed her. Long ago she had acquired a considerable 
reputation in the neighbourhood as an accomplished vocalist 
and musician. It was acknowledged that she possessed two 
great merits. When asked to perform she never made a fuss, 
but complied cheerfully and readily with the request, and, 
unlike a certain proportion of amateurs, who are so charmed 
with their own music that once they begin they go on ad 



68 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

infinitum, she always knew when to leave off. The conse- 
quence was she rendered herself very popular at small parties, 
and, when trouble came, several ladies with whom she was on 
friendly terms at once stepped forward and promised to assist 
her by sending their daughters for lessons. 

By degrees Bligh got quite a connection, and was so busy 
that she scarcely had a minute's leisure during the day. If only 
Mrs. Burton had been strong they could have managed very 
fairly well, but her continued ill-health proved a source of great 
expense. As time went on Bligh became convinced that her 
mother ought to have better medical advice than was obtainable 
in the village. But how to get it ? They could not afford the 
journey up to town or to hang about the anterooms of celebrated 
physicians. Their means were too limited to allow of the 
smallest additional expenditure. 

One day Bligh happened to mention her growing anxiety 
respecting Mrs. Burton to Mrs. Lomer, a lady whose little girls 
she taught, and who was one of her kindest friends. " I do not 
know what to do," she said, sadly. " Mother gets worse every 
day before my eyes, and I feel myself powerless to obtain a 
thoroughly good opinion on which I can rely. Yet something 
ought to be done. She should not be allowed to go on as she 
is doing. Doctor Jones is very kind ; nobody could be kinder. 
He constantly sends round medicines and refuses to make any 
charge for them ; but, all the same, I am positive he does not 
understand the case, and that, owing to some cause or other, it 
is beyond him." 

" Oh ! " exclaimed Mrs. Lomer. " I am so glad you mentioned 
the matter to mo, for I really do believe I can help you. My 
brother is one of the first surgeons in town. Perhaps you may 
have heard his name — Neal Donnington, and as good luck will 
have it he is coming to spend a few days with me next week. 
I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll bring him over in a friendly way, 
and get him to see your mother professionally. He is an 
extraordinarily kind-hearted man. I think the knowledge of 
what suffering goes on in the world renders him more than 
commonly sympathetic, and I know he will tell you honestly 
what ails Mrs. Burton, and without putting you to any ex- 
pense." 

Bligh was profuse in her thanks, and looked forward eagerly 
to the eminent surgeon's arrival. He came, on the very day 
that Sir Philip Verschoyle proposed to Miss Blanche Sylvester, 
who, in spite of her love, distrusted him too much to surrender 
herself into his keeping. 

Mr. Neal Donnington was a tall, spare man, with quick eyes, 
straight-cut features, and hair just beginning to grizzle. He 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 69 

might have been between forty and fifty years of age. The ex- 
pression of his face was both intelligent and kindly. Bligh liked 
him at first sight, and felt a sense of confidence in him, such as 
not many members of the male sex had hitherto inspired. 

" It is so good of you to come in this sort of way," she said, 
after Mrs. Lomer had introduced them to each other. '■ I 
scarcely know how to thank you enough." 

" My sister has been telling me something of your history," 
he responded, with a grave respect, which sent a little thrill of 
pleasure through Bligh's veins. " I am truly pleased to be of 
service to you, Miss Burton. Is your mother too ill to leave 
her room ? " 

" She happens to be particularly unwell to-day, and I pen 
suaded her to stay upstairs." 

" I will visit her there then," said Mr. Donnington. 

Bligh accompanied him to Mrs. Burton's apartment, and re- 
turned in order to keep Mrs. Lomer company. They chatted 
away for a considerable time, though the girl was evidently pre- 
occupied. At length, as her brother remained with the sick 
woman longer than Mrs. Lomer had anticipated, that lady rose 
to go, saying, " My husband has run up to London for the day, 
and I promised to meet him at the station. Will you tell Neal 
that I have walked on ? " 

Scarcely had she gone when Mr. Donnington re-entered the 
sitting-room, in which Bligh had given many a weary lesson to 
dull, unintelligent pupils. She ran towards him. The expression 
of his face had changed. It was kindly still, but very grave. 
Instinctively her heart sank as their eyes met. There was a 
pitying look in his, which brought a lump to her throat and 
made her white linen collar feel like an iron band. 

" Where is my sister ? " he inquired. 

" Mrs. Lomer has just left in order to meet her husband at the 
station," she responded faintly, feeling as if some terrible blow 
were about to strike her. 

" Ah ! well," he said, sinking into an arm-chair. " I should 
like to have a little talk with you alone." Then he glanced at 
his companion, as if taking her measure, and added, " I fear, 
my dear Miss Burton, that your mother is in a very serious con- 
dition." 

Bligh clasped her hands tightly together, and she was con- 
scious of a nervous quivering in the eyelids which refused to be 
suppressed. 

" I — I — was afraid you would think so," she faltered in 
return. 

" It would not be right of me," he continued, " to conceal 
from vou the gravity of her state. Fortunately, she herself has 



70 WEDDED TO SPORT 

not the least idea how grave it really is, and I would strongly 
recommend you to keep the knowledge from her." 

" Oh ! Air. Donnington ! " cried Bligh, turning pale. " You 
confirm my worst fears. Surely, surely, she is not in danger." 

He remained silent, his eyes seeking the carpet. 

" Can nothing be done to relieve her ? " went on the girl, 
with growing agitation. " Is there no remedy which will restore 
her to health ? "' 

He sighed and shook his head. Bligh's distress evidently 
touched him. 

" An immediate operation might perhaps sa " Then he 

checked himself suddenly, as if he had said more than he in- 
tended. 

" Her life ? " she broke in, in an agonised voice. " Oh ! Mr. 
Donnington, tell me the truth. In Heaven's name conceal 
nothing from me. She is all I have — all that is left me in this 
wide, cruel world to love. I am strong — see," and she brushed 
the tears away and made a gallant effort to compose her twitch- 
ing features. " I will be strong for my mother's sake. Don't 
treat me like an inexperienced girl. I am eight and twenty, and 
I might be a hundred from my feelings, for I have known what 
trouble is. But this suspense is more dreadful to bear than 
anything I have ever endured. In mercy end it, and tell me the 
name of the malady from which my poor darling is suffering. 
After all it is only a name. It cannot affect the fact or render 
me more miserable than I have been for weeks — months — past, 
seeing her fading and wasting beneath my eyes. Most girls 
have many people whom they love, but she is my all — my all." 

" ; My dear young lady," said Mr. Donnington slowly, and 
with infinite compassion, " I hardly know whether to tell or 
withhold the truth. You say you are strong, but you do not 
look so." 

" Oh ! my appearance counts for nothing. Pray — pray tell 
me everything. I must — I will know the worst." 

" Then," he said, in a curiously subdued tone, '"it is a case 
of — cancer." 

Bligh covered her face with her hands. 

" Cancer ! " she groaned. " Oh ! good God, this surpasses 
my gravest fears. Can nothing — nothing save her ? " 

" An operation performed at once is the only hope I can hold 
out to you. No doubt it would prolong her life for a year or 
two. If the disease did not spread she might even recover ; but 
cancer is generally in the blood, and absolute cures are, com- 
paratively speaking, rare." 

Bligh struggled hard to avoid breaking down. 

" How much would an c-^'^.tio" nnaf ? " cTlA acLWj hr>ir^ e \y. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 71 

" A hundred pounds," he answered. " That is the customary 
fee. Will you excuse my putting a question ? " 

" Certainly, Mr. Donnington." 

" You are very poor, are you not ? " 

" Yes," she said, without the smallest attempt at concealment. 
" We are about as poor as it is possible to be in our class of 
life." 

" I understand. My sister led me to infer as much. Well, 
if you wished me to perform the operation I would accept a 
much smaller sum. In fact, you should pay me at your leisure. 
Or, if you did not object to the idea, we might get Mrs. Burton 
into the Cancer Hospital, where I would attend her entirely free 
of charge. By paying two guineas a week she can have a 
separate room, and not mix with the other patients." 

Bligh rose to her feet, a prey to emotion which she no longer 
was able to conceal. 

" Ah ! " she cried. " I wish I could manage it. I wish to 
goodness I could manage it." 

" Are there still difficulties in the way ? " he inquired gently. 

She remained silent for a moment, as if hesitating to bare her 
heart. Then, taking courage from his evident sympathy, she 
said : — " Mr. Donnington, I will be quite frank with you. You 
are very kind. Don't think that I am insensible to your kind- 
ness ; but when my father died, rather more than a year ago, he 
left exactly three hundred pounds of ready money. JVt of this 
I had the doctor's bill and funeral expenses to pa^, besides 
various long-standing debts. After all claims were settled very 
little remained. I have endeavoured to support myself and my 
mother by giving music lessons, but often it has been a des- 
perate struggle to make two ends meet. Since her illness, 
rightly or wrongly, I have pretended we are better off than is 
actually the case, so as to free her mind from worry. Otherwise 
she would have deprived herself of sustenance. The conse- 
quence is," she went on, blushing a guilty red, '" instead of our 
having fifty pounds at the bank, as mother believes, at this 
moment we have not a farthing. When the doctor here has 
ordered her to take little delicacies I could not let her go with- 
out them." Bligh did not mention how she had trained herself 
to subsist on the smallest possible amount of food, and often 
went for days and never tasted meat. All that was too natural 
to be talked of. 

" Are you in debt ? " queried Mr. Donnington. 

" No, not yet ; but — it is better to conceal nothing — at the 
present time I positively have not got money enough to take my 
mother up to London and place her in a hospital. Latterly, I 
have kent all financial troubles from her, and have sought to 



72 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

make light of them, but — but — " and Bligh s voice trembled, 
•• it has not been possible to do so without practising some 
deception. Do you blame me very- much for it ? " 

There was something infinitely touching and pathetic in the 
way Bligh made the inquiry. Mr. Donnington felt strangely 
affected by the small, white, womanly face turned so humbly 
and piteously towards him. 

'• Blame you ? " he exclaimed. " Mv poor, brave child, I 
honour and respect you, and in proof of it beg you as a favour 
to let me help you. I can very well afford a temporary loan,'' 
and he reddened in his turn, " even if your pride refuses a gift." 

" The latter is out of the question," she said decidedly. 
'■ And, as for a loan, what means have I of repaying it ? " 

" Miss Burton, you are too proud. How should we ever get 
on in this world if we refused the assistance of our fellow- 
creatures ? '' 

Mr. Donnington said this ; nevertheless, in his heart he 
admired her for her independence. 

'• You don t understand ! " rejoined Bligh. " If I saw the 
slightest chance of being able to pay back the debt it would be 
different ; but there is none — absolutely none. I am paid three 
shillings and sixpence an hour for my lessons. Out of the 
proceeds we have to live, feed, dress, keep ourselves respectable, 
and pay one servant. If 1 lived to be a hundred 1 should never 
succeed in saving the necessary sum for the operation at this 
slow, monotonous drudgery." 

It was the first complaint that had passed her lips. The first 
hint she had given as to how intolerable was her life. 

Mr. Donnington looked at her. This little, pale girl, with the 
worn face, clear eyes, and soft brown hair, interested him. He 
vaguely realised that beneath her quiet exterior she possessed 
unusual force of character. 

" I am going to be in this part of the world for another three 
or four days,*' he said. " I will think the matter over, and con- 
sider what is best to be done. Before I go you shall either see 
or hear from me. Meanwhile, don't lose heart, and, above 
everything, refrain from arousing your mother's suspicions as to 
her condition. It would only have an injurious effect upon her 
spirits." 

Bligh bore his steady gaze unflinchingly. 

" You can trust me," she answered, with a little catch in her 
voice. 

" I feel sure that I can." So saying Mr. Donnington held 
out his hand, and pressing Bligh's warmly, wished her good- 
bye. 

" Poor child ! " he said to himself, as he walked homewards. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



73 



" She is not one of the common sort. She does not say much, 
or fall into hysterics. A body might fancy she was cold and 
reserved, unless he were a pretty good judge of human nature, 
but in reality she feels everything most desperately. Words go 
quivering right into her, and yet she hides their effect. How 
light she made of her own trials and privations, and how proudly 
she refused help from a stranger. These brave, independent 
women, who would rather work themselves into the grave than 
become objects of charity, make a man think well of their sex, 
in spite of its faults. I wonder what that girl's history will 
be in the future. According to my reading she will suffer 
through the heart and conquer by the head." 

For some time after Mr. Donnington s departure, Bligh paced 
the room in mortal anguish. This fresh blow well nigh crushed 
her. She could not bring herself to contemplate the possibility 
of losing her mother, whom she loved with an absorbing love. 
But after a while the strength of mind which she had acquired 
during long years of inward struggle and control came to her 
aid. It would not do to give in selfishly to her grief, or allow 
the dear sufferer upstairs to imagine that Mr. Donnington's 
report had been unfavourable. He had specially enjoined cau- 
tion, and whatever her anxieties she must keep them to herself. 
When the night came — when she was alone in her own room, 
then she would think over ways and means. At present her 
first duty was to prevent her mother from guessing that any- 
thing unusual had taken place. 

Bligh resolutely forced a smile to her face, and, before it 
could fade, ran upstairs and entered the invalid's room. 

Mrs. Burton was sitting in a large arm-chair, propped up by 
pillows. Her shoulders were covered by a woollen shawl which 
Bligh's nimble fingers had knitted during their rare hours of 
leisure. Her countenance wore an unhealthy, waxen hue. The 
skin was stretched tightly over the nose, and the cheeks were 
hollow. One could see, however, that in her youth she must 
have been a very beautiful woman. On perceiving Bligh she 
brightened up, as if the mere sight of the girl did her good. 

'• Well ! " she said. " Has Mr. Donnington gone ? " 

" Yes, mother dear," answered Bligh, stooping down and kiss- 
ing her on the forehead. " He has just left." 

" He seemed a nice sort of man," observed Mrs. Burton, 
" and I should think very clever, for he appeared to understand 
my case perfectly. The only thing was he would not open up 
very much about it. His reticence rather disappointed me. 
Did he enter into particulars with you, Bligh ? " 

" Yes, more or less." 

<; Ah ! I thought that he very likely would. These doctors 



74 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



are all so afraid of frightening one, just as if I were nervous, 
and could not bear the truth. I hate secrecy where one's 
health is concerned. Come, child, tell me, what did Mr. Don- 
nington say ? " 

Bligh averted her face, so that its expression should not tell 
any tales. 

" He did not think you were very well, dear mother," she 
said, in quiet, constrained tones. 

" No, of course not. I know that myself." 

" He said I was to take great care of you, and that he would 
either write or call in the course of a few days." 

" Really ! How excessively kind ! Does he think he can 
make me quite right again ? " 

Bligh's voice shook a little. 

" He hopes so, darling ; though perhaps a slight operation 
may be necessary." 

" I shouldn't mind an operation," said the sick woman 
eagerly. " I shouldn't mind it a bit, if only I could get strong. 
It fidgets me to death to have to sit idly at home doing nothing, 
whilst you wear yourself out in the way you are doing." 

" I am well, and it does not hurt me to work," answered 
Bligh. 

" Perhaps not — in moderation. But you are often quite 
knocked up, though you never complain or make any fuss. 
And since we came here all your dresses have got too large for 
you, and your colour has almost completely gone." 

" You forget that I am getting old," rejoined Bligh, with an 
attempt at playfulness, which contained a strong element of 
sadness. " When one is eight-and-twenty one can't expect to 
look as young as one did at eighteen. That is an ugly fact 
which most women have the pleasure of facing." 

" Nonsense, child ; I can't bear to hear you talking like that, 
just as if everything were over and done with. You are worn 
and fagged, owing to overwork, and then your thoughts take a 
morbid turn. Introduce a little sunshine and amusement into 
your life, and you would soon be a different creature." 

Bligh stifled a sigh. Her mother was right. She knew it in 
her innermost consciousness, but she could not help asking her- 
self where sunshine and amusement were likely to come from. 
The horizon presented a very lowering aspect. No light pierced 
through the clouds. Ten years ago the sun had set for Bligh. 
It had never shone since with the same generous warmth. 
There had always been a chill at her heart. The pain was 
gone. It had died out little by little, as also the hardness and 
the bitterness ; but a feeling of numbness remained, which she 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



75 



was unable to conquer. Life no longer seemed a good gift of 
God, but a burden to be borne as patiently as might be. 

" Now," resumed Mrs. Burton cheerfully, " if I could only get 
back my health sufficiently, so as to cease being a dead weight on 
you and contribute something towards my maintenance, I should 
be a thousand times easier in my mind." 

" Mother, dearest," cried Bligh, kneeling down by her side, 
" don't ever talk of being a dead weight on me. To work for 
you is the one pleasure I have. It makes me so proud, so 
happy, to think that we can live comfortably on my earnings. 
All I want is to get you strong, for," and the moisture sprang 
to her eyes, " what should I do without you — what should I do 
without you ? " 

Mrs. Burton tremblingly put out her thin hand, and fondly 
rested it on the girl's head. 

" Oh ! Bligh," she said, with much emotion, " what a good 
daughter you are ! I wonder if ever woman had so good a one 
before. When I think of what a life of devotion and sacrifice 
yours has been for the last ten years I sometimes feel as if I 
could fall down and kiss the hem of your garment." 

" Hush, mother, hush," cried Bligh, deeply moved. " You 
must not talk like that. Who else have I to love but you ? " 

Mrs. Burton looked at her wistfully. 

" Ah ! my darling," she said, " I wish I could find you a hus- 
band worthy of you. It is terrible to me to watch your youth 
slipping by, and to feel that I am in a measure instrumental in 
defrauding you of those treasures which are a good woman's due 
— children and a happy home." 

" Don't ever fret about my being an old maid," said Bligh. 
" Spinsterhood suits me best, and I accept my fate cheerfully. 
Once, perhaps," and a faint colour suffused her cheek, " I might 
not have been so resigned ; but now I no longer allow men and 
matrimony to occupy my thoughts. Besides," she added, with 
a fond caress, " no home would ever seem happy to me where 
you were not." 

" The parting would indeed be terrible ; nevertheless I must 
not selfishly stand in the way of your prospects," said Mrs. 
Burton. 

" As I have none," rejoined the girl, " at any rate of the kind 
you mean, we need scarcely discuss the point. And now, mother 
dear, you have talked enough. Don't you think if I were to 
draw down the blinds that you might get a little nap before tea- 
time ? " 

" Yes, perhaps I might. I had a very bad night, and begin 
to feel rather sleepy." 

~ " "rile." So saying Bligh dark- 



„t,:i 



•jG WEDDED TO SPORT 

ened the room, arranged her mother's pillows, and retired to 
her own apartment, there to think over the events of the day. 
But they were not yet at an end. She had hardly closed the 
door before old Deborah opened it excitedly and cried out : — 

" Miss Bligh, dear, there's a gentleman downstairs as wants 
to see you very particular." 

" A gentleman ! " exclaimed Bligh, in surprise. " Who can 
he be ? " 

" Sir Philip Verschoyle. He gave me his card. See, there 
it is,'' thrusting it into her young mistress s hand. 

" There must be some mistake. Anyhow I cannot see him. 
I am not in a mood to receive strangers. Go, Deborah, there's 
a good soul, and make some excuse."' 

Deborah did as she was bidden, but returned almost im- 
mediately. 

li It's no use,'' she said. '" He won't stir. He begs, as a 
particular favour, that you will grant him five minutes' conver- 
sation." 

" It is very strange," said Bligh. '* I hardly know Sir Philip. 
What can have brought him here ? " 

" If I might make ;o bold as to speak my thoughts," returned 
Deborah, with a kind of suppressed triumph, " I should say you 
had." 

Bligh blushed and laughed. 

" Nonsense, Deborah. You are such a dear, fond, foolish old 
thing that vou quite forget other people don't think me as at- 
tractive as yourself." 

" And the more fools they," muttered the old woman, looking 
after Bligh's retreating form. " I've no patience with the men. 
They're regular idiots, that's what they are. They'll go and 
run after some fast, flighty creature without a single good quality 
to recommend her, and never take the least notice of a girl like 
our Miss Bligh, who would make any decent man a perfect 
treasure of a wife. But there ! I often think these angels of 
women are wasted on the male sex. They are not good enough 
to appreciate them, and feel uncomfortable in their society." 

'Whereupon Deborah descended to the kitchen, where she 
went about her work devoured by a burning curiosity to know 
what Sir Philip Verschoyle, Bart., of whom she had frequently 
heard as one of the greatest gentlemen in the county, could be 
saying to her dear Miss Bligh. 

She longed to peep through the keyhole, but being the soul 
of honour, she resisted the temptation, and contented hersel.'. 
with smoking Mrs. Burton's arrowroot and letting the kettle 
boil over. 



WjUDDED to sport. 7 7 



CHAPTER X. 

KING COPHETUA AND THE BEGGAR MAID. 

Sir Philip was in the white heat of passion when he left his 
cousin. Without giving himself time to consider, he took the 
first train back to the country, hired a fly, and drove straight to 
the village of Elmsley, where an obliging rustic informed him 
Miss Burton now resided. He knew Elmsley of old, for once or 
twice during the winter the hounds met in its vicinity. 

Had he paused to reflect no doubt the absurdity of his con- 
duct would have appeared in its true light ; but he yielded to 
the impulse of the hour, and thought was precisely what he most 
wished to avoid. Anger and disappointment combined had for 
the nonce completely upset his mental equilibrium, and many 
a lunatic shut up in Bedlam was less mad than he. His one 
fixed idea was to pay Blanche out at all hazards. He had a 
notion it would annoy her beyond measure if he could write 
to her on the morrow and announce the fact that he also was 
going to be married. At any rate, it would prove conclusively 
that he didn't care twopence about her engagement to Colonel 
Vansittart. 

His motive in seeking Bligh Burton was both selfish and 
ignoble. He knew she was poor, and consequently he made 
sure of gaining her consent. In his present mood one girl was 
much the same as another to him. All he sought was to gratify 
certain feelings of vanity which Blanche happened to have 
wounded. He had so long been accustomed to have his own 
way in everything that he could not bear the slightest opposi- 
tion, and in spite of his age he was nothing more nor less than 
a big, overgrown, spoilt child, Avith a fine fortune and position 
which concealed many defects from the world. 

When Deborah opened the hall door and showed him into the 
family sitting-room, he looked around with a comprehensive 
glance. The furniture was plain and homely. The threadbare 
hearthrug and shabby carpet told a tale of scanty means. There 
were no luxuries or superfluities. The brightest ornament con- 
sisted of a pot of sweet-smelling musk placed on the Avindow- 
sill. The chairs were covered with a common chintz. The 
curtains were made of the same material. Everything, from the 
old-fashioned cottage piano in one corner to the tiny grate Avith 
its bright fire-irons and paper lining, betokened limited resources. 



78 WEDDED TO SPORT 

A satisfied smile passed over Sir Philip's face. He foresaw but 
little difficulty. 

" Hum ! " he soliloquised. " They are poor — poor as rats. 
Anybody can see that with half an eye. Well ! so much the 
better. The girl won't give herself any airs,, and will jump at 
my offer. She'll be a fool if she don't, for it's a precious good 
one for a young woman in her position. If I weren't in such a 
confounded hurry of course I might pick and choose, but that's 
just where it is. I'm driven into a corner, and out of all the 
women of my acquaintance there's scarcely one to whom I could 
propose without a little preliminary trouble and delay. Now 
this poor little thing won't stand on ceremony, and I shall be 
able to revenge myself upon Blanche. She may say what she 
likes, but I know she'll go wild when she hears that I am about 
to commit matrimony. Ha, ha ! I fancy I can see her face of 
disgust on learning the news." 

Whilst thus cogitating the door opened, and Bligh entered the 
room with a quiet grace which apparently was inborn, since it 
never forsook her. They had not met for several years, and his 
first impression was one of disappointment. He said to himself, 
'■ Why, you are ugly, downright ugly ! " Then he looked again, 
and modified his opinion. " No, you're not," he thought. " I 
made a mistake. If you filled out and lost those dark marks 
under your eyes, and got a little colour in your cheeks, you'd be 
rather nice-looking than otherwise. Not a beauty, of course ; 
but still passable when you came to have dress and additions. 
The expression of your face is pleasing, not to say intelligent, 
and I shouldn't be surprised if you had more in you than most 
girls." 

Unconscious of her visitor's reflections, Bligh advanced to- 
wards him with an air of inquiry, which mutely, but politely, de- 
manded the purport of his visit. Sir Philip had thought there 
would be no difficulty in explaining the reason why he sought 
.Miss Burton s society. He had taken it for granted that her 
poverty would render her an easy prey. But when Bligh stood 
there, looking at him with her clear, questioning eyes, and wait- 
ing for him to speak, he began to experience a certain sense of 
embarrassment. It required a considerable effort to break the 
ice. 

'• I daresay you hardly remember me, Miss Burton," he blurted 
out at last, sseing that she did not attempt to begin the conver- 
sation. " Of late years we have not met very often, and nowa- 
days we never see you at the meets." 

" No," she said, quietly. '' My father is dead, as perhaps you 
may have heard, and we can no longer afford to keep a pony. 
I think I should have recognised you," she added, " though it is 



wajLjjjcis TO SPORT. 



79 



a good many years now since we danced together at the Midland 
Hunt Ball." 

" By Jove, yes. It must be nine, ten years ago. Do you 
know, Miss Burton, that you made an indelible impression upon 
me on that occasion. Although you may not believe what I say, 
I have never forgotten you." And he drew his chair an inch or 
two nearer Bligh's side, and tried to look sentimental. She 
retreated in exact proportion as he advanced. He struck her 
as being insincere, and slightly familiar. 

" You are very kind, Sir Philip," she answered composedly. 
" Either your memory must be a remarkably tenacious one or 
else I ought to feel extremely nattered. At any rate, you appear 
to have learnt the art of making pretty speeches, whether they 
contain much element of truth or not. Truth is immaterial, I 
suppose, in polite society, but I beg to remind you that I am 
not accustomed to fine compliments." 

Bligh's tongue could be incisive enough on occasion, and she 
was peculiarly sensitive to ridicule. She imagined that Sir 
Philip was making game of her, and resented his conduct 
accordingly. 

" You are frightfully sceptical," he said. " Have you forgotten 
how we sat out in the supper-room together after our dance was 
over ? " 

" No, indeed. I retain a distinct recollection of what an ex- 
ceedingly excellent meal you made. Please forgive my putting 
the question, Sir Philip, but I happen to be much occupied this 
afternoon. Did you come here to-day for the purpose of dis- 
cussing the reminiscences of ten years ago ? " 

He reddened. It began to be clear to him that however 
humble and lowly this girl's position might be she was never- 
theless a lady, and one who would not brook the slightest inso- 
lence or familiarity. Consequently, he changed his tactics. 

" Don't you find it awfully dull in this little place ? " he in- 
quired abruptly. 

" No," she said. " I have not time to feel dull. I am too 
much occupied." 

" How do you amuse yourself, Miss Burton ? " 

She smiled faintly. 

" I can hardly be said to amuse myself. From morning till 
night I give music lessons as a means of earning a livelihood. 
My few spare moments are devoted to nursing my mother, who, 
alas ! is a great invalid." 

" Hum. It don't sound very lively." 

" When people have to work for their bread, Sir Philip, I 
hardly think the majority do extract much liveliness out of life. 
They keep their bodies going, and that's about all. The sur- 



So WEDDED TO SPORT. 

rival of the fittest entails a desperate struggle upon those who 
hare nothing to rely on but their own merits. I speak feelingly, 
and from experience.*' 

" I wonder you don't marry, and put an end to the difficulty in 
that way.'' he said bluntly. 

She coloured and made no answer. 

"Supposing, now." he continued, "that some good fellow 
with plenty of money were to propose to rou, would you take 
him?'' 

" As such a supposition is quite beyond my mental grasp it 
would be sheer waste of time to speculate upon it." 

" Come, confess. You thought it awfully strange my appear- 
ing here to-day. didn't you ? " 

" I was certainly astonished when our maid brought up your 
card." 

" The fact is. Miss Burton, I have come on business." 

" So I concluded, though I could not imagine for whom you 
required my sen-ices as teacher. I may as well tell you at once, 
though, that my time is fully occupied, and I am unable to take 
more pupils at present." 

" \Yill you listen to me for a few minutes ? I have something 
very important to say, and of a nature different from what you 
anticipate." 

She bowed in response. The gravity of his manner excited 
her curiosity and made her wonder what the communication 
could be which he desired to make. 

" I told you just now that I had never forgotten you," he 
resumed, with a clever combination of truth and untruth, which 
he knew well how to employ on occasions. " My mother is 
most anxious for me to marry and settle down. She belongs to 
the past generation, and has a particular dislike to the fast, 
slangy girls of the period. I believe it would break her heart 
were I to choose one of them, and for a long time she has been 
endeavouring to find me a wife to her mind. But we never can 
quite agree in our taste, although I don't want a London girl, or 
a regular society girl. They are too empty-headed and frivo- 
lous, and care for nothing but dress and admiration. A quiet, 
domestic woman, somewhere between twenty-live and thirtv, 
would suit me ever so much better, yet she must not be a mere 
country bumpkin. Of late, I have thought the matter over a 
good deal, and, curiously enough, whenever I have done so my 
thoughts have always reverted to you. Xo," as Bligh made a 
gesture of disbelief, " please hear me out. On all sides I heard 
your praises sung. You are lauded throughout the county as 
a pattern daughter. My interest became awakened, and I said 
to myself, ' A good daughter always makes a good wife.' To 



& 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 81 

cut a long story short, I am here to-day for the purpose of offer- 
ing you my hand and my heart." 

He spoke in a clear, precise voice, much as if he were repeat- 
ing a lesson laboriously acquired and mechanically delivered. 

A flush of indignation rose to Bligh's cheek. 

" Are you doing this for a wager, or what ? " she said. " If 
so, indeed it is a sorry joke." 

" Please don't be angry, Miss Burton," he returned, with more 
vivacity than he had hitherto displayed. " I assure you that I 
am in earnest, and mean every word." 

" But I don't understand. How can you possibly wish to 
make me your wife when to all intents and purposes I am practi- 
cally a complete stranger to you ? " 

" I know you well enough by repute, as I stated just now." 

" That is not sufficient. Marriage is a very solemn affair, Sir 
Philip, not to be lightly entered upon. To a woman it is the 
great event of her life, which means either the highest happiness 
or the greatest misery. She cannot back out of it, if she finds 
she has made a mistake, without injury to her good name ; there- 
fore, it is of paramount importance that she should choose wisely. 
In a man's case, matrimony is perhaps not the be-all and end-all 
of existence. He has a wider sphere of activity, and more loop- 
holes of escape. Nevertheless, an unsuitable alliance can render 
him very wretched. You know nothing of me or I of you. We 
have not the least idea whether we are suited to each other, and 
on neither side can there exist any affection. Surely — surely — 
you have not considered all this." 

" Your arguments are not new to me," he returned. " They 
are, in fact, what I expected : but they do not make the slightest 
alteration in my feelings." 

" Your feelings, Sir Philip ! How can you possibly have 
any ? " 

" Do you suppose that I am not capable of appreciating virtue, 
and goodness, and talent ? Believe me, Miss Burton, you under- 
rate yourself." 

His words were very subtle. Every woman, no matter how 
sensible she may be, has a certain leaven of vanity in her com- 
position. Bligh began to think that it might perhaps be true 
that Sir Philip had entertained a sneaking liking for her all these 
years. So many strange things happen in this world. She 
lifted her eyes, and took a long, steady look at him. His 
clear-cut features and fair beard were sharply defined against 
the window-panes. She saw that he was handsome, and pos- 
sessed the outward appearance of a gentleman. Save for the 
uncertain expression of the face, the head might have been that 
of a Christ. His good looks made a favourable impression on 



82 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

her artistic sensibilities. And as she continued to gaze at him 
critically, thought after thought flooded her brain in quick suc- 
cession. Like a flash of lightning it suddenly occurred to her 
that here was a way of escape from the difficulties which threat- 
ened to surround her, a sure and easy method of saving her 
mother's life. Once Lady Verschoyle and she could secure 
comfort and affluence for the beloved being who was dearer to 
her than anyone else on earth. The luxuries so indispensable 
to an invalid would then be within her reach. 

And for herself, what did it matter, since she had no love left 
to give to any man ? Her heart was dead, like a withered tree 
bereft of sap, which stretches gaunt arms to the sky, and never 
can put forth fresh blossoms, even though spring after spring 
comes round, and all things else are rich and green with renewed 
life. From a worldly point of view, Sir Philip possessed ad- 
vantages which were beyond the wildest expectations of a per- 
son occupying her humble position. It was a regular case of 
King Cophetua and the beggar maid. When one had known 
what it was to have no money, and to toil hard for every morsel 
of food one put into one's mouth, a comfortable home repre- 
sented the goal of almost every desire. Two lone women had 
so much to contend with, and where livelihood depended upon 
health, it was impossible to be ever wholly free from anxiety. 
Moreover, of late, Bligh had had sundry warnings that she was 
no longer as strong as in her youth. She lived in morbid dread 
of some illness overtaking her, which might incapacitate her from 
work. If this were to happen, starvation stared them in the 
face. It was only staved off by her own slender life. On the 
other hand, if she accepted Sir Philip's offer, all her anxieties 
would be at an end. She did not care for him. She must tell 
him so plainly, in order that there might be no deception ; but 
in course of time she would perhaps get more fond, and even 
if the worst eame to the worse, she could always do her duty. 
Thus she reasoned, whilst Sir hhilip sat and watched the various 
shades ol expression which swept over her face. Jle saw that 
some mental conflict was going on within her brain, and that 
this should be the case, taking all the circumstances into con- 
sideration, excited his curiosity. 

" What are you thinking of? " he asked, when he found that 
the silence threatened to become prolonged. 

She stretched herself like one just awakening from a dream. 

" I was thinking that I don't suppose you quite realise how 
great a temptation you are putting in my way." 

" How do you mean ? " he inquired, surprised by the extreme 
candour of her words, which seemed at variance with her reserved 
and guarded manner. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. g^ 

" Don't you understand ? I am poor ; report says you are a 
Croesus. It is my fate to be a social nobody. You occupy the 
proud position of being a somebody. From the world's stand- 
point, the advantages are entirely on your side. You might 
marry almost anyone you chose, whereas I " — looking down at 
her shabby black frock, " am no longer very young, have not 
even beauty to recommend me, and am accustomed to a 
much humbler sphere. I want to put all this plainly before you, 
as I cannot believe that the proposal you have made me 
emanates from any personal affection. To say that I do not 
feel flattered by it would not be true. To deny that such a 
marriage would free me from many anxieties is also useless, but, 
at the same time, I wish clearly to point out my shortcomings 
and deficiencies. You ought to marry someone younger, brighter, 
more calculated to adorn your home than I." 

" It's no use persuading me against you, Miss Burton. As 
far as I am concerned, my mind is quite made up, and I beg you 
to give me an answer one way or the other. I think I have a 
right to demand a reply." 

" Sir Philip," said Bligh, twisting her fingers together in per- 
plexity. " You must forgive me for saying so, but there is some- 
thing about this matter which I don't understand. I cannot be- 
lieve that you care for me. It is impossible ; neither for my 
own part can I pretend to any affection. We are almost 
strangers. As far as I make out, you have some hidden motive for 
this proposal which I am unable to fathom. Either you are act- 
ing from delusion, or else you entertain some totally unfounded 
and imaginary ideal. You appear to have invested me with so 
many qualities that you do not see the real Bligh Burton as she 
is. In no other way is it possible to account for your infatua- 
tion. But, when the profit is all on my side, I should scorn to 
take advantage of it." 

" By Jove ! " he exclaimed, bringing his right hand down on 
his knee. " You are a good, honest girl, whatever else you may 
be, and sharp into the bargain. So you think I have a reason 
for proposing, do you ? Well, well, it won't hurt you, my dear 
— it won't hurt you, and that ought to be enough. The proverb 
says, ' It's an ill wind that blows nobody any goo'd.' The 
person who profits by the breeze ought never to want to know 
from which quarter it blows." 

" I am glad you admit the truth of my suspicion," she said, 
"because it will simplify matters very considerably if we are 
perfectly frank with each other. Granted, then, that you have 
a motive for wishing to marry me. I may be a tool, an instru- 
ment of spite— anything for aught I know. But if I told you that 
I too had a motive," and she cast a scrutinising glance at him, 



84 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" for desiring to change my state — a motive on which all my 
future happiness depends, what would you say?" The words 
came low and deep, breathed as it were from the innermost 
founts of her being. 

" I shouldn't say anything," he responded, somewhat impa- 
tiently. " All the same, I should like to know what your motive 
was." 

" I will tell you, Sir Philip. Perhaps, after all, you have been 
sent here by Providence. My mother is desperately ill — dying," 
and the moisture sprang to Bligh's eyes. " This very afternoon 
a London surgeon told me that an immediate operation might 
prolong — if not save her life. I want money," she went on ex- 
citedly. " I want money, oh ! so badly. A month — a week 
hence it may be too late. Ever since Mr. Donnington was here 
I have been in a frenzy. There is nothing so awful as to feel 
yourself powerless in an emergency of this kind. Don't you 
understand now why I said you were tempting me ? " 

" How much do you require ? " he asked. 

" A hundred pounds for the operation, and fifty for the ex- 
penses. God knows where I can find such a sum." 

" You shall have it to-morrow." 

" Nobody ever gives anything for nothing in this world," said 
Bligh, who had had cause to realise the truth of the axiom. 
" Your conditions ? " 

" My conditions are that you should become my wife. And 
yours ? Since we are making a formal contract, it is better to 
define them beforehand." 

" Will you promise faithfully not to part me from my mother, 
but to let her live under the same roof ? " 

" Agreed." Inwardly he said to himself, " I daresay the old 
woman won't live long." 

Bligh put out her hand. A sense of responsibility weighed 
heavy upon her, caused by the singular compact into which she 
had entered. 

" Sir Philip," she said, " this is a strange engagement, is it 
not ? and I should hate myself if I practised any deception in 
the matter. You must not expect too much from me all at 
once. I do not profess to love you now, but I hope to do so in 
the future, and whatever happens I shall honestly try to make 
you happy, and perform my duty as a wife. You know the 
reason why I want a home, the necessity that forces me to 
marry without affection. Yesterday I should have said no, un- 
hesitatingly, to your proposition, because," blushing deeply, 
" I believe in the sanctity of love ; but to-day the conditions 
have changed. If I am wronging you — if selfishly I think more 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 85 

of my own interests than yours, go away, and all this shall be 
forgotten. There is still time to retract." 

Sir Philip's pride was hurt. He had imagined that this poor, 
half-starved little drudge, as he mentally apostrophised her, 
would have knelt at his knees in joy and thankfulness. The 
high moral tone which Bligh chose to assume irritated him. If 
she could have divined his motive, conscience suggested that 
she need not have made so many excuses for her own. He had 
only to look round the room to see the straits to which she was 
driven. A frail girl, an invalid mother, a scanty purse, it did 
not require much imagination to realise the state of affairs. 

" You don't seem over and above pleased with your bargain," 
he observed surlily. 

She took him up short. 

" It is not a question of pleasure. I thought I had made 
that clear. I don't want to marry you under false pretences, 
and if you think I personally coyet your riches and title, you 
are greatly mistaken. I cannot close my eyes to the fact that 
our union will be a very grave experiment on both sides. It 
may or it may not turn out well. We are running an immense 
risk, and such being the case, one can hardly look forward to 
the future without some anxiety. Therefore, Sir Philip, I am 
unable to regard this business in any but a serious light." 

" Well ! perhaps you are right," he said, feeling impressed by 
the solemnity of her manner. " And now the next question is, 
when will you marry me. If we have to make acquaintance 
with each other, we may as well do it after the ceremony as 
before." 

" There are a great many things to be arranged first. There 
is no immediate hurry, is there ? " 

" On my part, yes," he returned. " I want the affair settled 
quickly. The sooner the better." 

" But my mother " began Bligh. 

" Is not likely to offer any objections to our speedy marriage. 
You say that she is ill, well, consider how it will benefit her. 
You shall have a cheque to-morrow, and you can take the old 
lady up to town at once. You yourself declared that delay 
might prove fatal, (let the operation over, and there is no 
reason why we should not be married in a fortnight or three 
weeks from now. I am sure it would be to your mother's 
advantage. We shall have to spend our honeymoon abroad, I 
suppose, and for my own part I should like to get back to 
Beechlands for the finish of the cub-hunting season." 

Bligh thought a moment or two. It was impossible to gainsay 
the truth of Sir Philip's words. Mr. Donnington had laid 
particular stress on the operation taking place without loss of 



86 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

time. Every day, every hour, might prove of consequence in 
the critical condition of the invalid. And since she had quite 
made up her mind to sacrifice herself, it really signified little 
whether she took the plunge with a trifle more or less premedi- 
tation. Her reluctance was to a great extent unaccountable, for 
here was a brilliant match — a match such as would have de- 
lighted nearly every noble maid in the land, and yet it did not 
occasion her the slightest thrill of elation. She looked forward 
to it soberly and apprehensively. Somehow Sir Philip's manner 
did not inspire confidence, and she scented a mystery. 

But since Mr. Donnington's visit all question of personal 
feeling had become extinguished. Her individual welfare and 
happiness were narrowed into this : What were the best means 
of saving her mother's life ? The answer was, by marrying Sir 
Philip. 

So she said gravely and quietly, and without any of the hot 
blushes usual to a young lady when asked to fix the day, 
'• Settle it as you please." 

He rose from his seat, apparently very much relieved by her 
reply. 

•• I presume you have no objection to my announcing our 
engagement to mv mother directly I return home. There is my 
cousin too — Miss Sylvester, I should like to write to her by to- 
morrow's post." 

Something in his tone made Bligh look up. 

" You are at liberty to do as you think best," she said. 

" It's a real pleasure to deal with such a sensible girl," he ex- 
claimed, in high good-humour. " By-the-bye, Miss Burton — 
Bligh, I mean — I must get into the way of calling you Bligh 
now — are you fond of sport ? " 

She shook her head and smiled 

" I am afraid I don't know very much about it." 

" Ah ! well, never mind. You'll soon get accustomed to 
horses and dogs when you are Lady Yerschoyle. I wonder 
how you would look in a habit." 

" Not very ornamental, I fear," she answered. 

'• I'm not so sure of that, if you went to a good tailor, and got 
binged up." 

" What does ' binged up ' mean ? " she inquired, with an attempt 
at playfulness. 

" Binged up means smartened up," he rejoined graciously, 
glancing at his watch. " By Jove ! I must be going, or I shall lose 
my train back to Beechlands. I should like to have spent the 
evening with you, Bligh, but they are expecting me at home." 

He took up his hat and cane, and then as if struck by a happy 
thought said, " I say, little woman, will you give me a kiss ? " 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 87 

The colour flew to her face in a burning crimson wave. Save 
her father's no man's lips had touched hers since she had said 
good-bye to Duncan Cameron. The past came rushing back, 
filling her mind with a host of painful memories. She shrank 
away from him. 

" I — I would rather not, Sir Philip, if you — d — don't mind." 

" But I do mind, very much." 

" Not just yet," she mumbled confusedly. " Oh ! not just yet. 
Give me a little time to get used to it all." 

He laughed carelessly and coarsely. 

" Pshaw ! What a prude you are, to be sure. I shall have 
to cure you of this extraordinary modesty. Why ! most of the 
young ladies of my acquaintance have not the smallest objection 
to being kissed." 

" They must be funny girls, then," said Bligh indignantly. 

" They are very nice ones, and belong to the smartest set in 
London." 

So saying he caught her in his arms, and before she could 
offer any resistance, embraced her with the mischief of an in- 
solent schoolboy rather than with the passion of a lover. 

The iron entered into her soul. She realised then the extent 
of her degradation. She had sold herself for gold. A deadly 
shame ran quivering through her veins. In her despair and 
self-loathing, she could have knocked him down. Strange ! that 
she did not like him better. He was young, handsome, mus- 
cular. Why were his caresses so unendurable ? Was it because 
she was not used to being made love to. Ah ! no, her heart told 
her otherwise. She remembered Duncan, and the delight his 
mere presence had occasioned. 

Sir Philip held her tight. She felt a veritable weakling in his 
grasp. Another laugh, another kiss, and then he let her go free. 

" There ! " he said. " I must not frighten you too much. 
Good-bye, Bligh. You shall hear from me to-morrow." 

" Not a bad little innocent thing," he soliloquised as he 
drove off, highly satisfied with the success of his visit. " I dare- 
say I shall lick her into shape after a bit. Ha, ha ! What a 
joke it will be writing to Blanche. I wonder what my fine lady 
will say when she hears the news. " 

When Sir Philip was fairly out of the house, Bligh covered 
her face with her hands, and burst into agonised tears. 

" Oh ! mother," she sobbed, " I did it for you — only for you. 
It went against my conscience, and I am being punished already. 
How shall I bear it — how shall I bear it. I have sinned for 
your sake, and with my eyes open. May God forgive me." 

She was shaken to the depths of her being. That rude caress 
filled her with a sense of abasement. She had lost her indepen- 



88 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

dence, and this was the natural consequence. But by degrees 
she began to see a reverse side to the picture. If she had 
bartered away her freedom and peace of mind, she had at least 
secured her mother's welfare. They would live in the same 
house, and never be parted save by death. And if the grim 
reaper could only be thrust back into the shadowy future, then 
she would not grudge the price paid. 

Bligh dried her eyes. Her sobs ceased. She walked up and 
down the room endeavouring to compose her countenance, and 
to regain her customary calm. Henceforth she had a part to 
play. 

" Mother," she said, softly to herself, " whatever happens, 
you must never know what this has cost me — never — never. 
No matter how great the suffering it entails, I must bear it 
alone." 

And there, in the little shabby, homely room she registered a 
vow not to let any word of regret or self-pity pass her lips. 



CHAPTER XI. 

MATERNAL SOLICITUDE. 

When Sir Philip reached Beechlands it was quite late. The 
various guests had retired to rest, and he was informed that 
Lady Verschoyle, after sitting up for some time awaiting his 
arrival, had also gone to her room. 

He was in that state of excitation when he felt an imperative 
need of confiding the events of the day to someone, and, nat- 
urally enough, he turned to his mother. It did not occur to him, 
however, that by imparting his news at so advanced an hour he 
would probably give her a bad night and banish sleep. Where 
his immediate wishes were concerned he was but little accus- 
tomed to consider other people. 

So he marched straight upstairs and knocked loudly at the 
door of Lady Verschoyle's room. Receiving no response he 
knocked again, more imperiously than before. 

" Who's there ? " at length cried a startled voice from the 
inside. 

" Only me," he called out. " May I come in ? I want to 
speak to you." 

" Oh ! it's you, Philip. How you frightened me," she said, 
as he turned the handle and entered. 

She was in bed, and had evidently been woken up from her 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 89 

slumbers. At first she seemed a little bewildered by this noc- 
turnal visitation ; but as her faculties returned, and she remem- 
bered the mission on which her son had gone forth in the 
morning, she looked at him anxiously, and said, " Is anything 
the matter ? " 

" No," he answered. " But I thought I should like to see 
you and tell you the news." 

Lady Verschoyle clasped her thin hands nervously together. 

" You — you are really engaged then, Philip ? " 

He chuckled. 

" Oh ! yes, I'm engaged right enough." 

A faint colour nickered to her cheek, and for a few moments 
she lay quite quiet. 

" Well ! " he said with a lame attempt at jocularity. " Why 
don't you congratulate me ? " 

" I wish I could. I wish from my heart that I could. But 
since everything now seems settled between you there is some- 
thing I must say. It is possible my judgments may have been 
too severe. Henceforth I will endeavour to entertain no harsh 
or uncharitable thoughts, and strive all I can to like your 
wife. 

" Oh ! " he rejoined. " You two will get on like a house on 
fire. I have not the least fear of that." 

She shook her head and sighed. 

" I doubt it ; but, at any rate, it shan't be my fault if there is 
any breach of the peace. I suppose I had better write a line to 
Blanche to-morrow morning, and ask her to come and stay here. 
Under existing circumstances she cannot find it very pleasant 
remaining with Colonel Vansittart's relations." 

" Don't ever mention Blanche's name to me," he cried excit- 
edly. " From to-day I wash my hands of her, and never wish 
to have anything to do with her again. She has insulted me 
most grossly." 

Perplexity clouded Lady Verschoyle's dovelike eyes. 

" Philip, what do you mean by talking in this extraordinary 
way. Are you not going to marry Blanche ? " 

" No, I'm not. After what has passed between us I would 
not have her at a gift. She's a nasty, cold, heartless girl, who 
thinks of nothing but her own interests, and who is willing to 
sacrifice every feeling of affection to expediency." 

" How long have you held those views ? They surprise me, 
although to a great extent I confess that I share them. Never- 
theless, only this morning, when you left for town, you dis- 
tinctly stated your intention of proposing to your cousin." 

" And I acted up to my intention," he said, gloomily. " It 
appears she prefers her colonel to me. At any rate she pretends 



9° 



WEDDED TO SPORT 



that she does, although I don't believe she cares two straws for 
him in reality." 

" I always thought Blanche was in love with you, Philip." 

" So did I, else I should not have exposed myself to the 
humiliation of being refused." 

" Did she actually refuse you ? " 

" Yes ; she said I ought to have proposed sooner ; that she 
was quite tired of waiting for me to speak my mind, and, there- 
fore, had decided on feathering her nest before it was too 
late." 

" Well ! she was right there. She is getting on in years you 
must remember." 

" My belief is," he said, " she wanted to play fast and loose 
with me, but I wasn't going to stand any nonsense of that sort ; 
so when she said no once I gave up pressing her, and told her 
she should see I could soon find somebody else." 

" Philip, I can hardly follow all this. Did my ears deceive me 
just now when I understood you to say you were engaged to be 
married ? " 

" No, it's quite true, only the young lady does not happen to be 
the one I originally fancied. It seems funny, doesn't it ; but 
after all, I'm not sure that in the long run she won't suit me a great 
deal better than Mademoiselle Blanche, with her airs and graces. 
This one is a good, quiet, meek little thing, without an atom of 
humbug in her composition, and, as I said before, you'll like her 
even if I don't." 

Lady Verschoyle's heart thumped so loudly against the fine 
white calico of her nightdress that its pulsations were quite 
painful. 

" Philip," she said, in tones of extreme agitation, " who is the 
girl ? You forget you have not yet told me her name." 

" She is Miss Burton — Bligh Burton, who lives at Elmsley, on 
the other side of the county." 

Lady Verschoyle's astonishment was so great that for a few 
seconds she felt incapable of giving expression to it in words. 

Sir Philip stood by, enjoying the amazement depicted on his 
mother's countenance. He had a good deal of the accomplished 
actor in him, and derived genuine pleasure from a situation. It 
was a favourite amusement of his when at home to play on her 
feelings. They were so innocent and childlike that they never 
failed to inspire him with a sense of superiority. 

" Miss Burton," she gasped at last. " But this is simply in- 
credulous. You are scarcely acquainted." 

" At any rate, we know each other well enough to have settled 
the matter between us." 

"Have you been meeting h^r 1nt<=>1v Pl-iilin hvanv ofmncop" 



WEDDED TO' SPORT. gi 

"No," he answered, evasively. " Not quite lately. I went 
over there to-day after I had seen Blanche, and found Miss Bur- 
ton in great distress about her mother, who is seriously ill. It 
seems the doctor advised an expensive operation, and Bligh had 
no money. I offered to lend it. One thing led to another, and 
we ended by coming to an understanding satisfactory to both 
parties." 

" And you actually mean to tell me, Philip, that it is your in- 
tention to marry in this offhand sort of way ? " 

" Yes," he said, irritably, annoyed by the reproof expressed 
in her tone. " Why not ? After all, marriage is a lotte^, and 
whether one ponders over drawing a number or takes the first 
that happens to turn up makes very little difference. The great 
Napoleon was a sensible man. He said that ' Matrimony was 
against Nature, and merely a product of civilisation.' I agree 
with him." 

" It is monstrous, perfectly monstrous, to marry in the way you 
are doing," exclaimed Lady Verschoyle, with the nearest ap- 
proach to indignation of which her gentle nature was capable. 
" How can people expect to be happy when they enter into such 
a solemn compact with so little forethought ? " 

" I don't know that I do expect to be happy," he responded. 
" Most of the husbands and wives of one's acquaintance don't 
seem to live together in a state of beatitude. Fortune is hardly 
likely to favour me more than my neighbours." 

" I can't understand Miss Burton's conduct," observed Lady 
Verschoyle. " I have always heard her well spoken of, and it 
completely destroys my good opinion to find her jumping so 
indelicately at a man whom she scarcely knows." 

" Look here, mother," said Sir Philip, " you need not blame 
Bligh for what has happened. She's as good and as straight a 
little girl as ever stepped, I'll take my oath of that. She didn't 
jump at me. On the contrary, she did all she could to dissuade 
me from carrying out my intention. She even went the length 
of running herself down, and calling my attention to her short- 
comings, which is a long sight more than most women would 
have done in her place. I liked her for it, and stood my ground 
firmly. At last, when she saw I really was in earnest, and took 
no heed of her objections, she confessed that she was in des- 
perate straits, and would make any sacrifice in order to save 
her mother's life." 

"As far as I can gather," said Lady Verschoyle, with profound 
sadness, " this strange affair of yours may be thus summed up : 
On one side it is a marriage of pique, on the other of necessity. 
That is the plain fact shorn of wrappings." 

"TT,Yantlv."he admitted, nibbling at his nails. "You have hit 



92 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

it off to a T I was determined not to let Blanche crow over 
me." 

" Blanche, Blanche, always Blanche. Why should her opinions 
be of so much importance ? " 

" Look here, mother, you may as well understand this matter 
thoroughly, and then, as it is not a very pleasant one, especially 
to me, we need never allude to it again. Blanche is the only 
woman I ever cared two straws for, and when she refused my 
proposal, and declined to throw over Colonel Vansittart on my 
account, it made me regularly mad. I didn't know what I was 
about, and I swore to marry the first girl I came across, just to 
spite her. For, mark you, she loves me — she did not attempt 
to deny that ; only I have played the fool too long, and she got 
tired of waiting. There ! now you know the whole truth. It's 
not a bit of good lecturing me or telling me I'm a born jackass. 
I know it, but I vowed I'd be equal with Blanche, and I will. 
For God's sake, don't give me advice." 

The tears dropped fast from Lady Verschoyle's eyes, falling 
in little wet rounds upon the sheet. 

" My poor boy," she said. " My poor, foolish, wrong-headed 
boy ! What advice can I give you that you are likely to take ? 
For years past you have elected to walk alone, and I have looked 
mutely on, sorrowing very often, but never venturing to remon- 
strate. You are your own master, and must do as you choose ; 
but I hardly know which to pity most — you or Miss Burton." 

" I think she has the best of it," he remarked glumly. 

" One thing is clear," said Lady Verschoyle, with unusual 
decision. " Miss Burton should be told the real state of the case, 
and the reasons which drove you to propose." 

" If you say one single word to Bligh, mother, I shall never 
forgive you. She'll find it out soon enough for herself. Inter- 
ference won't help either of us. We are quite capable of manag- 
ing our own affairs. As for Bligh, she's a clear-headed, sensi- 
ble sort of girl, who thoroughly understands that the engagement 
on both sides is not one of sentiment, but expediency." 

" Marriage without love is to me a profanation, Philip." 

He gave a short laugh. 

" Love ! There is a great deal said and written about it, but 
it's a fraud. The fiercer the passion the sooner it dies out. At 
best the state is a very disagreeable one. It turns women into 
Delilahs, and shears men of their strength. With any luck, no 
doubt little Bligh Burton and I will rub along as well as the great 
majority of respectable married couples. We shall squabble 
and fall out until we ascertain by experience who is the mas- 
ter. The weaker vessel, perhaps, may grumble, but she will ac- 
cept her position after a tim^ <~> r if thp Vmshnnrl is a rlnnVejy^ 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



93 



he accepts his. That is the law of marriages. One rules, the 
other suffers. One commands, the other obeys. Hooray ! I 
know who'll be ruler in my case." 

" Oh ! Philip, it grieves me beyond measure to hear you talk 
in that odious, cynical fashion." 

" Can you deny its truth ? " 

" It is just because your words contain a germ of truth that 
they strike such a chill to my heart. But all marriages do not 
resolve themselves into a question of brute force. Some are 
happy." 

" Precious few." 

" Mine was. Your father and I lived together for five-and- 
twenty years and never had a difference. But then we were en- 
gaged for a long time before we were married, and were quite 
sure of our own minds." 

" Ah ! well, mother, people either glide tranquilly or else fall 
headlong into the fatal noose, according to circumstances and 
their different dispositions. I have made my plunge, and so far 
don't experience any very terrible consequences. Therefore 
cheer up. If I am satisfied, surely you ought to be so also." 

" I can't be — I can't be," she sobbed. " The whole thing 
seems so wrong and unnatural." 

He stooped and kissed her. Her grief moved him more than 
he chose to own. Warmed by this kindly action, her heart 
swelled almost to bursting. She put her arms round his neck 
and clung to him in a passion of maternal tenderness. 

" Oh ! Philip," she said. " My boy, my boy. I would give 
my life to secure your happiness. However bravely you may 
attempt to carry off matters I know that at this moment you are 
miserable. Ah ! my poor boy — my poor boy." 

" Miserable ! " he echoed scoffingly. " What ? because one 
silly girl has refused me ? No, not I. There are plenty more to 
fall back upon, as Blanche will soon perceive. Confound these 
women ! " he went on, in an altered tone. '• A good horse and 
a good hound are worth the whole lot of them put together. 
Henceforth Sport shall be my bride, and none other. And now, 
mother, I'm off to bed. Good-night, old lady. Hope I haven't 
disturbed you." 

So saying Sir Philip took up his candlestick, whistled a comic 
air out of pure bravado, and departed. 

Lady Verschoyle sighed heavily. She felt that she did not 
understand him. His character was beyond her comprehension, 
and there were times, as to-night, when it was a mystery how to 
such parents as herself and Sir Thomas such a son had been 
born. The boy had nothing of his father in him. He lacked 



94 WEDDED TO SFORT. 

the equable temper, the strong principle, the sound, shrewd com- 
mon-sense of his progenitor. 

Disturbed indeed ! How could any mother sleep after such a 
conversation. She la) - awake, quiet and unhappy, pondering 
over Sir Philip's words. To her it seemed sinful to marry in 
such a reckless fashion ; but, being a woman, she blamed Eligh 
more than she blamed him. She could not believe that the girl 
had not spread some snare into which the foolish and impetu- 
ous young man had blundered with his eyes shut. Like a ball 
on the rebound, -Miss Burton had caught him, taking advantage 
of his weakness to suit her own purposes. Even the gentlest 
and kindest of women are hard occasionally upon their own sex. 
They may not mean to be so, but their sympathies insensibly 
side with the masculine rather than with the feminine portion of 
creation. They can forgive a man a fault more easily than they 
can a woman, and thus it was in Lady Verschoyle's case. As 
she lay there in the darkness she thought hard thoughts of Bligh 
Burton. She was an unscrupulous, designing adventuress, ready 
to snap up the first rich husband who presented himself. If she 
had talked sensibly to Sir Philip, no doubt he would never have 
proposed. He would have looked about him and chosen some- 
one more suitable and in his own position. But she had egged 
him on — she must have egged him on. In her own mind Lady 
Verschoyle felt no doubt whatever on that point. Good and 
charitable as she was, she did poor Bligh considerable injustice. 
But no doubt most mothers will forgive her. The maternal 
instinct, in spite of its strength, is often blind. 



CHAPTER XII. 

THE OLD SCH'.'OL VERSUS THE NEW. 

Without being worldly. Lady Verschoyle nevertheless felt dis- 
appointed at Sir Philip seeking a wife in a rank of life lower than 
his own. County people are notoriously exclusive. Living in a 
narrow world they require to know the genealogy of persons de- 
siring to enter into what they call " their set." It may be ever so 
stupid, ever so dull ; but they themselves are convinced of its su- 
periority. Now the Burtons had never been received on equal 
terms by the leading families of Midlandshire. There was noth- 
ing against them, only folks who have to work for their bread sink 
back in the social struggle for pre-eminence, and cannot be 
expected to associate with the fortunate owners of ten or twenty 
thousand a year. Nowadays monev is at the bottom of mr>st 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



95 



differences and distinctions. Those who have none go to the 
wall, and lose caste in the estimation of their neighbours. Mr. 
Snooks soon ceases to be " a good fellow " when there are no 
more dinners to be got out of him, and when she leaves off 
entertaining poor Mrs. Snooks forfeits her reputation of being 
" a really charming little woman." 

Having in process of time earned for herself an honourable 
place amongst the county magnates, Lady Verschoyle was quite 
aware that when her son's engagement to Miss Burton became 
known the general verdict of her friends would be that he ought 
to have done a great deal better. The daughter of a humble 
crammer, supporting herself by teaching music, was scarcely a 
fitting partner for a man of Sir Philip's standing and position. 
Lady Verschoyle felt keenly alive to this fact, and already, in 
anticipation, dreaded the comments which were certain to circu- 
late round her large circle of acquaintances. " People will talk 
so," she mused disconsolately. " Every tongue in the county 
will be set a-wagging at Philip's expense." But after the first 
shock had passed away, little by little her mind familiarised 
itself to the idea of his making a comparatively bad match from 
a worldly point of view. She consoled herself by thinking that 
things might have been worse. Miss Burton was respectable 
and a lady — two great points in her favour. Her poverty was 
really all that could be urged against her. Moreover, it was an 
immense relief to know that Blanche would not be the future 
mistress of Beechlands. She should not have to resign her 
home, her son, her poor people in the village to a successor 
whom she both disliked and distrusted. Blanche's influence 
over Philip had always been bad, and she could have gone 
down on her knees and thanked her niece for having refused 
him. Yes, of the two Bligh Burton was distinctly preferable. 

The next day happened to be Sunday. The house was full of 
fashionable gentlemen and ladies, friends of the young baronet. 

On the previous evening they had been uncommonly lively, 
playing at battle-door and shuttlecock in the long corridor which 
led from the central hall to the drawing-room, frequenting the 
billiard-room, and amusing themselves extremely well despite 
their host's absence. But when the Sabbath came all their 
energy and vivacity seemed to have departed in the most extra- 
ordinary manner. One lady felt so indisposed that she requested 
her breakfast might be sent up to her in bed. A second did 
just manage to straggle down, but complained of a racking head- 
ache, which quite incapacitated her from setting foot out of 
doors ; whilst a third, who cherished agnostic tendencies, openly 
stated that she looked upon going to church as a work of 
supererogation. 



g6 wedded to sport. 

As for the men, they withdrew in a body to the smoking- 
room, where, by the aid of much strong tobacco and numerous 
brandies and sodas, they contrived to while away the hours of 
Divine service. Poor Lady Verschoyle felt that there was some- 
thing radically wrong with the morals of the rising generation, 
but she was too timid and retiring by nature to protest. She 
could only show her disapprobation by example. Consequently, 
she put on her bonnet and cloak, armed herself with an um- 
brella — for the day was drizzly, and she made a point of never 
taking the carriage out on Sunday — and walked off alone to 
church. It was a small, but very beautiful, old building, which 
Sir Thomas had restored a short time previous to his death. 

As Lady Verschoyle entered, the rich notes of the organ were 
rising and falling in harmonious waves of sound. She glided 
noiselessly into the big family pew, now, alas ! so seldom occu- 
pied by anyone save herself. To the sad, lonely woman it was 
a relief to come to this sacred spot and pray away on her knees 
the many worries by which she frequently was beset. The at- 
mosphere seemed purer than at home, and it soothed and rested 
her to look at the cool, marble columns, the carved oaken pulpit, 
the school children's little, unequal heads, and to hear the rector's 
mellow voice enunciating stereotyped platitudes, nicely suited 
to the simple minds of his rustic listeners. There was a sense 
of repose about it all, not to be found at the Hall. 

But to-day Lady Verschoyle's attention wandered somewhat, 
despite her efforts to keep it concentrated on the service. She 
caught herself devoutly hoping that Bligh Burton did not belong 
to the new school, who scoffed at religious beliefs, and desired 
nothing better than to see them swept away altogether, although 
incapable of suggesting any substitute in their place. She had 
a perfect horror of the loose atheistical talk in which so many 
of her son's friends indulged. It made her flesh creep to listen 
to the wild, vague, and irreverent notions which they propounded. 
It seemed to her an awful thing to live without faith — to run 
down all that was holy and pure, and deny the existence of an 
immortal soul. She shuddered when she heard such language, 
and the conviction that Philip, in his heart of hearts did not 
disapprove of it, caused her poignant sorrow. 

She prayed fervently that Bligh might be a well-principled, 
properly-conducted, young woman, who went respectably to 
church of a Sunday, and believed in the higher teachings of 
Christianity as implicitly as she did herself. Her anxiety on this 
point was so great that she longed impatiently for the sermon to 
come to an end, in order that she could cross-question her friend, 
Mrs. Fortescue, as to what kind of a girl Bligh Burton really was. 
Everything, she felt, would denend UDon that. But the excellent 



WEDDED TO SPORT. gy 

rector had got cm one of his pet hobbies-— foreign missions, and 
he could not tear himself away from the blacks in Africa, whom 
he lefened to repeatedly as heathens. His account of their con- 
dition vas so appalling that it made it very hard to believe these 
degraded savages could have been created by the same merciful 
Deity who permitted Christians to be born into the world. The 
worthy man's discourse was embellished by no less than three 
- in coTtchraons.*' die two first being prodncthre of extreme dis- 
appointment among the more youthful portion of the audience, 
who, on each occasion, assumed a cheerful and expectant attitude 
at the prospect of a speedy emancipation. After their hopes 
had been falsely raised they began to cough, whisper, hdget and 
drop their prayer-books until called to order by the beEringer, 
who took a peculiar delight in pouncing trpoa the offenders and 
tweaking their ears. 

At length, however, Mr. Roden bade a pathetic farewell to the 
Macks, called down a blessing upon the congregation, and allowed 
them to depart in peace. Almost immediately a great shuffling 
and panning of little feet was heard, and out rushed the school 
children into the fresh air, followed more soberly by their seniors. 
Lady Verschoyle waited for Mrs. Fortescne, who was almost the 
last to leave the sacred edifice. 

" Goodmorning, Anne, 71 she said, as soon as they were dear 
of its precincts. " Are you busy ? If not, I wish you would 
walk home part of the way with me. I have something most 
astonishing to tell yen." 

- Indeed I " exclaimed Mrs. Fortescne, pricking up her ears. 
fc Whatisit?" 

" Just fancy ! Philip is engaged, and who do you think to }>" 

" Miss Sylvester, I suppose." 

" Nothing of the sort. Blanche has refused him." 

- Well ! I am surprised. I suppose she was bound hard and 
fast to Colonel Vansitrart." 

~ Yes, I expect so. But that's not all my news. What do you 
think that foolish boy Philip has done?" 

" I haven't an idea." 

" He lias gone and asked your friend Miss Burton to marry 
lam." 

"Nonsense!" 

" He has though. He did it out of pique — pure pique. He 
bad some absurd notion in his head that it would vex Blanche, 
if he went straight off and proposed to somebody else, and so 
he fell back upon Miss Burton, though my belief is he has only 
seen her two or three times in his life." 

"Well! I declare. Wonders will never cease. And did 
Bhgh take him ? " 



9 8 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" Oh ! dear yes. Philip pretends that she didn't show any 
indecent eagerness, but in reality she seems to have jumped at 
the chance, though it appears they are so poor, one can hardly 
blame her for doing so. The mother too was ill, and Philip 
offered to help her. Altogether I am so upset that, I am 
ashamed to say, I hardly heard a word of your brother's most 
excellent sermon." 

" It was an old one," rejoined Mrs. Fortescue, with a sisterly 
contempt born of familiarity. " Charles is getting rather hard 
up for ideas, and has delivered it three times before. He 
thought it would do again, however, if he transferred the scene 
from India to Africa, which, I am bound to say, he did very 
cleverly — but about Bligh Burton. I really am dumfounded. 
She is the last girl in the world to marry for money. Why ! 
only the year before last she refused young Hornblower, of 
Stonyholm, because she said she did not care for him. He was 
quite desperate about her for a time, until he consoled himself 
with Lady Hilda Berry. I know that for a fact." 

" You can imagine my feelings," said Lady Verschoyle, 
" when Philip burst into my room last night, and told me this 
astounding piece of news. It quite took me by storm." 

" So I should think. In one sense the match is but a poor 
one for your son." 

" Yes, that's exactly my opinion. He ought to have looked 
higher." 

" On the other hand," resumed Mrs. Fortescue, with her 
usual bluntness of speech, " Bligh is ever so much too good for 
him." 

" Anne ! " exclaimed Lady Verschoyle, indignantly, " what 
do you mean by such a speech ? " 

" I mean what I say, as is my invariable habit. Bligh Burton is 
a most accomplished and intellectual young woman, and I do not 
think that even you can maintain the people by whom Sir Philip 
surrounds himself are either very cultivated or very intelligent. 
To be quite frank, I doubt his capacity to make Bligh happy. 
What her motive in accepting him is, I am not in a position to 
know, but I would stake my life that self has nothing to do with 
it, and that, to the best of her ability, she will perform the vows 
uttered at the matrimonial altar. I never came across a girl 
who possessed a stronger sense of duty. You need fear nothing 
on Sir Philip's account. He will be quite safe in her hands. It 
is of Bligh herself I am thinking. She requires a very superior 
man — a very superior man indeed." 

Mrs. Fortescue's tone rendered it patent that her opinion of 
the baronet was by no means exalted. Lady Verschoyle winced. 

" Anne," she said, plaintivelv. " I am so fond of you — I 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



99 



arvvays come to you in all my troubles for advice and support. 
But why — why do you invariably say things that hurt me ? It 
is not kind." 

Mrs. Fortescue's conscience smote her, as it very frequently 
did after the utterance of one of her plain speeches. 

" I am a brute," she exclaimed. " My only excuse is that I 
don't mean to be one." 

" Let us leave Philip out of the conversation," said poor 
Lady Verschoyle, with tears standing in her eyes. " We are 
none of us so perfect as to judge the faults of others. He has 
had many temptations, and sometimes it occurs to me that with 
the best intentions in the world perhaps his father and I may 
have spoilt him. An only son is so precious, and parents are 
apt to err on the side of over-indulgence. Now tell me about 
Bligh. I am dying with curiosity to hear what my future 
daughter-in-law is like." 

" She is the best and most conscientious girl in the world," 
responded Mrs. Fortescue, who was as good a friend as a 
hater. 

" If I were a man I would marry her to-morrow, and I am 
not easy to please, as you know. Bligh's life has been a very 
sad one. She has had to contend against disappointment, and 
sickness, and poverty. Many a woman in her place would have 
degenerated into a sour old maid. But hers is a noble nature, 
and suffering seems to have strengthened its finer qualities, 
instead of nipping them in the bud, as is often the case. She 
is as good as gold. Her only fault is that she happens to be a 
humble music teacher, who has had to live by her own exer- 
tions. If she had been my Lady Isabel or my Lady Jane all 
the county would have raved about her perfections long ago. 
For my own part, I both respect and admire her. Under ex- 
ceedingly trying circumstances she has behaved like a heroine, 
and, without any wish to offend your feelings, I must repeat 
what I said before. I only hope Sir Philip may make her 
happy." 

Lady Verschoyle's pale face brightened, as its owner listened 
to this eulogy, which made all the greater impression since it 
came from one not generally addicted to indiscriminate praise. 

" Anne," she said, " I am so glad to hear what you say. It 
takes quite a weight from my mind." Then she hesitated, and 
added meekly, " After all, it was very wrong of me to be so 
ambitious for Philip, and to wish him to make a fine marriage 
of which the neighbours would approve. We are only humble 
people ourselves. When my dear husband first went to London 
he was nothing but a poor working lad. His fortune was 
entirelv of his own makino\ Wp have no blue blood in our 



100 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

veins to give ourselves airs about. I ought never to have 
forgotten that." 

Mrs. Fortescue was touched by her friend's humility. 

" Dear Lady Verschoyle," she exclaimed. " I am sure no 
one could accuse you of being purse-proud." 

" I hope not, but I have been to blame about Philip, and un- 
consciously have wronged Miss Burton. She is a lady by birth, 
and that ought to be enough, and henceforth shall be enough 
for me. Fancy if he had fallen in love with a barmaid, or an 
actress, or — or " — lowering her voice, " even worse. Some 
people's sons do terrible things. They disgrace themselves for 
life, and sink down into the very mire. My boy has not done 
that. My boy has done nothing to be ashamed of. I have 
indeed cause to be thankful." 

" I think you will say so when you come to know Bligh 
better." 

" Ten years hence," went on Lady Verschoyle, with a 
hopeful smile, " nobody will care in the least whether Philip 
chose a music teacher or a countess for his wife. It is far 
more important that he should marry some good, honest girl 
capable of recognising the manifold duties which wealth and 
position invariably bring in their train. These fashionable 
women seem to have no sense of responsibility, no deep side to 
their nature. They care for nothing but amusement, although 
the more they seek excitement the less it satisfies them. They 
are not women, according to the true meaning of the word, but 
merely a painful variety of the nineteenth century, the product 
of fast — if not vicious — surroundings. However, now," and 
she gathered her shawl more tightly together, " I shall go back 
to Philip's fine ladies feeling quite comforted." 

" You do not care for them, then, any better than the last lot 
of visitors ? " inquired Mrs. Fortescue. 

Lady Verschoyle pinched her lips together in an endeavour 
not to say anything unkind. 

" No, I scarcely expected to. I suppose I am getting prim 
and old-fashioned in my ideas, but I can't say that I approve 
either of the manners or the conversation of the rising genera- 
tion. The whole tone is different from what it used to be in 
my time, and I often think that if I were a great lady — a really 
great lady, I mean, who was a star of importance in society, the 
first thing I should try to do would be to purify it. What a 
noble mission there is for some beautiful, high-born woman, who 
has courage enough to close her doors on all those of either 
sex, no matter what their rank or position, whose lives are not 
well conducted, and whose reputations will not bear investiga- 
tion. She would incur a g 1 """^ Hpal of abuse in the beginning, 



WEDDED TO SPORT. IO i 

but if she was impartial and sincere, the end would atone for 
many difficulties." 

" Society has certainly got to a shocking state," said Mrs. 
Fortescue. 

" Shocking. Do you know, Anne, that these smart ladies say 
things which, old as I am, positively make me blush for shame. 
As for the men, they tear them to pieces behind their backs, 
and encourage them to their faces. Both laugh at what, in our 
youth, we were taught to regard as sacred. They have no 
reverence for age, no sympathy with misfortune. The one is 
ridiculous, the other a bore, unless it affects themselves. Their 
perceptions are narrow, and all their instincts selfish and 
material. The men care only for sport and food, the women 
live solely for dress and admiration. And this is the use they 
make of the lives which God has given them ! Philip laughs at 
me whenever I speak to him on the subject. He tells me it is 
all right, and I do not know how fashionable people behave, 
but nevertheless, I cannot believe that it is all right." And a 
painful flush rose to her cheek. 

" Of course it is not," responded Mrs. Fortescue, indignantly. 
" The fact is, Sir Philip of late years has got into a fast, 
slangy set, and I wish to goodness we could get him out 
of it." 

" Perhaps Bligh will," said Lady Verschoyle, hopefully. 
" When he is married he will surely stay at home more. But 
to give you a specimen of the conversation that goes on at 
Beechlands. There is a girl staying there now — a Miss Violet 
Crisper, who, I believe, is a great success in society, and what 
do you think she said last night at dinner ? " 

" I haven't an idea." 

" They were talking about some play — not a very proper one 
I gathered, and somebody asked her how she liked it. ' Oh ! ' 
she answered, ' I thought it awfully good. It was not perhaps 
just the sort of piece I should take my mother to, but I enjoyed 
it tremendously.' Now, Anne, what do you think of that ? " 
demanded Lady Verschoyle. 

" Terrible," answered Mrs. Fortescue, unable to repress a 
laugh, in spite of her condemnation. " It only shows what 
girls are coming to. It's the poor innocent mothers nowadays 
whose morals require looking after. Bligh Burton is not one of 
your Miss Violet Crispers, fortunately. She has been brought 
up in a totally different school, and you would never hear her 
say a thing like that." 

" Thank goodness ! " exclaimed Lady Verschoyle, fervently. 
" I should sink into the ground if she did. You are sending 
me home almost happy, Anne, and I am longing to make 



102 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

Bligh's acquaintance, for I feel sure now that I shall like her. 
I can forgive everything if only she is not fast." 

" Poor Bligh ! " said Mrs. Fortescue. " You need not be 
afraid of her being fast. She has had too much trouble." 

" We must try and make her life a little more cheerful for 
her, Anne. It is very hard at eight and twenty to look back 
upon a sad past. One feels as if one had been robbed of one's 
due. Good-bye, dear, come and see me soon, for somehow or 
other I always feel very lonely, and glad of the sight of a 
familiar face when all these fine visitors are about." 

Mrs. Fortescue looked after the retreating figure of her friend. 
" Poor darling ! " she soliloquised. " I could thump that 
wretched son of yours. He ought to know better than to ask 
you to associate with such a lot. They are not fit to sit at the 
same table with you, but if Bligh can effect a reform, she will 
be even cleverer than I give her credit for being." 



CHAPTER XIII. 

A TERRIBLE ORDEAL. 

Having once arrived at the momentous decision, which hence- 
forth would entirely change her life, Bligh did not allow the 
grass to grow under her feet. By the first post on Monday 
morning Sir Philip received a letter from his fiancee stating that 
she had arranged to go to town with her mother on the Wednes- 
day, and had been recommended some quiet, airy rooms in 
Baker Street, where Mr. Donnington was in the habit of send- 
ing his patients. Bligh gave him their number, and requested 
that if he had anything to communicate he would either write 
or else pay her a flying visit at the lodgings. It was a short, 
businesslike letter, very different from the epistles usually 
despatched by lovers, for, to tell the truth, there was not a 
single word of love in it, from beginning to end. 

Fortunately Sir Philip did not notice the omission, or if he 
did he realised that it simplified matters very considerably, 
neither party pretending to any affection. Besides, it happened 
to be the ist of September, and his thoughts were far more full 
of partridge shooting than of the movements of his affianced 
bride. Whether she went to London a few days sooner or 
later interested him but little. Having settled his affairs he 
experienced no burning desire to see her again immediately. 
He could exist quite well in her absence, for she was by no' 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 10 ^ 

means essential to his happiness. After breakfast he took his 
mother aside and placed Bligh's note in her hands. 

" She wants to be off at once," he said. " I suppose it does 
not matter, and she won't rest till she gets Mrs. Burton's opera- 
tion over." 

Lady Verschoyle read the letter carefully, noting with pleas- 
ure the neat handwriting and clear signature. They differed 
from the sprawly smudges which Blanche had been in the 
habit of sending, and which often were quite undecipherable. 

" Oh ! Philip," she said. " I should so like to see Miss 
Burton. Do you think I might send her a telegram in your 
name and ask her if she can manage to come over here to-mor- 
row ? It hardly seems right to let her go away without my 
making her acquaintance." 

" You will have plenty of time for that afterwards," he said. 

" Yes, no doubt ; but even if she does not come it will be a 
way of showing her that I know, and approve, of the engage- 
ment. If I take no notice she may fancy that I am displeased 
about it, and I should not like her to imagine anything of the 
sort." 

" She can't do the least good by coming," he objected. 
" Besides, we shall be out shooting. I arranged with Turner 
yesterday afternoon that we would shoot the Top Farm beats 
to-morrow. Very likely Bligh might think I ought to stop at 
home to receive her, and I certainly don't mean to spoil my fun 
on her account." 

" There is no occasion to give up your day's shooting, Philip, 
especially as you have friends staying in the house. I am sure 
Bligh would not wish it." 

" Having already made my plans I can't very well alter them 
at a moment's notice. I think you must see that, mother." 

" If you are going to shoot the Top Farm," returned Lady 
Verschoyle, feeling hurt by the indifferent tone in which he 
talked of his future wife, " you will not be very far away from 
home, and if the day be fine I could drive Miss Burton and the 
other ladies out to lunch." 

" Oh ! they're coming with us, I believe. At least they said 
they were going to last night." 

" Not Mrs. De Morbey surely ! She told me she felt so ill 
yesterday that she could not walk a step — not even to church." 

Sir Philip laughed. 

" That was because it was Sunday. She has revived to-day. 
According to my experience these delicate ladies can always do 
everything they like, and make their health an excuse for every- 
thing they don't like." 

" Philip," said Lady Verschoyle imploringly, " do let me ask 



104 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



Bligh. I will take care that she does not interfere with your 
amusement, and this is the only chance I may have of seeing 
her for several weeks to come." 

" All right," he said. " But if you bring her to lunch don't 
stay too long. The ' guns,' including Violet Crisper, are all 
tremendously keen, and we shall want to get to work again 
immediately. One comfort is Bligh does not care for the bill- 
ing and cooing part of the business, and won't expect me to be 
very attentive." 

" In all probability she will have to catch an afternoon train 
back to Elmsley," said Lady Verschoyle, pleased at having gained 
her point, though her son's indifference occasioned an increas- 
ing sense of pain. " Anyhow, she shall be made to understand 
that the visit is to me and not to you." 

The gentlemen departed in high spirits, looking forward to 
doing great execution among the young coveys. The three 
ladies accompanied them, attired in smart shooting costumes 
" built" by first-rate London tailors. Directly Lady Verschoyle 
was alone she sent off a telegram to Bligh, begging her to come 
over for a few hours on the morrow. The receipt of this mes- 
sage occasioned quite a stir in the little household at Elmsley. 
Bligh was very busy packing, and had a variety of things to 
attend to before leaving home. She wanted all her time, and 
her first instinct was to send back a refusal. The mere thought 
of going to Beechlands all alone, to be inspected by Sir Philip's 
mother and Sir Philip's fine friends, frightened her almost to 
death. She would rather have faced any ordeal, for she felt 
terrified of Lady Verschoyle and of what she might say. It 
never occurred to her that she could entertain anything but dis- 
approbation for the match. 

But a very few minutes' reflection showed Bligh the impossibility 
of sending a reply in accordance with her inclinations. From 
the moment when she accepted Sir Philip she ceased to be her 
own mistress, and undertook obligations which she was bound 
not to ignore, simply because they entailed a disagreeable effort. 
No matter how repugnant it was to her feelings to go and be 
stared at and appraised, put in the scales and, most probably, 
found wanting, she had no alternative but to submit to the pro- 
cess. She saw that clearly, and braced herself to face the situa- 
tion, with much the same desperate courage as she would have 
gone to the dentist and had a tooth out. 

" What do you say, Bligh ? " said Mrs. Burton. " Shall you 
go?" 

" I must," she answered reluctantly. " I have no choice." 

Mrs. Burton put out her hand and placed it caressingly on 
her daughter's shoulder. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



i°5 



" Don't be afraid, my darling," she said. " I can quite under- 
stand that it seems a little alarming at first, making acquaintance 
with one's new relations ; but Lady Verschoyle is certain to like 
you when she comes to know you. Everybody does." 

Bligh shook her head. 

" You are too partial, mother dear. I suppose I am a sad 
coward, but I would give a ten-pound note — that is to say if I 
had it — to get off this visit. I never felt so nervous in my life. 
I quite dread meeting Lady Verschoyle, and yet report says she 
is charming." 

" Mrs. Fortescue never can sing her praises enough," observed 
Mrs. Burton. " She talks of her as if she were a saint." 

" Do you know, mother," said Bligh, gravely and quietly, " I 
feel as if I had committed a sin against Lady Verschoyle in 
accepting Sir Philip." 

" Good gracious ! child, what an extraordinary way to talk. 
Really, you carry modesty and self-depreciation to an extreme. 
For my part," and Mrs. Burton held up her head with motherly 
pride, " I consider my daughter a fit match for the finest lord 
in the land." 

Bligh stifled a sigh and made no reply. It was impossible to 
explain what she felt. If she had loved Sir Philip ever so little 
her mind would not have been disturbed by half so many doubts 
and hesitations. She regarded her want of affection as a sin, 
but she could not speak of these things to her mother, although 
Mrs. Burton tried hard to break through the crust of her reti- 
cence, and made several attempts to learn how so astounding 
an engagement had been brought about. But Bligh kept her 
own counsel, and the elder lady could only arrive at the conclu- 
sion that she was glad to escape from the hardships of her life. 

As for Bligh, having once decided that the visit to Beechlands 
must be paid, and an excuse was out of the question, she wired 
back to Lady Verschoyle, with characteristic promptness, " Will 
be at station to-morrow by train arriving n. 15." This done she 
set to work with redoubled energy to get through the business 
in hand. There were notes to write to her several pupils, wish- 
ing them good-bye, and informing them of her altered prospects ; 
sundry small bills to pay, and a whole host of parting injunc- 
tions to give to Deborah, who, it was settled, should remain in 
charge during their absence. Whilst all this was going on, Mrs. 
Burton remained in complete ignorance as to her real condition. 
The bustle and excitement of leaving home at such short notice 
acted as a stimulant on her spirits, and she was more cheerful 
than she had been for a long time past. Indeed, she had every 
reason for being so, since she believed that she was about to 
undergo an operation which, in all human probability, would 



106 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

entirely restore her to health. Bligh. of course, knew differently, 
and was unable to share her mother's hopefulness ; but she would 
not have destroyed it for the world, and placed a careful guard 
upon her teniae. A new sense cf responsibility, accompanied 
by an indefinable oppression, weighed upon her spirit. She had 
staked all upon one die. and could not conceal from herself that 
if the issue proved unfavourable she should be a heavy loser. 
Her anxieties were the worse to bear because there was nobody 
to whom she could confide them. Old Deborah, in spire of her 
devotion, had never acquired the art of keeping a secret, and 
would soon have revealed to her mistress Mr. Donningtcn's ulti- 
matum. So. while she strove hard to maintain a calm demean- 
our. Bligh shut her troubles up in her own breast. She knew 
by instinct that she could not share them with Sir Philip. Her 
swift perceptions had already told her that he was deficient in 
sympathy and cared nothing for the misfortunes of others, pro- 
vided they did not affect himself. 

She wondered if the mother resembled the son in this respect. 
If only Lady Verschoyle were nice and accepted her kindly 
what a difference it would make to her lot. Yet she had no 
right to expect a gracious reception. She was keenly conscious 
of the inferiority of her social position and of her own short- 
comings. Had she possessed more self-assurance she would 
have been far happier : but. as Mrs. Burton had truly said, she 
carried modesty to an extreme. That first great disappointment 
was responsible for much of herhumilitv. From then until now 
she had always felt there must be something wanting in herself. 
A girl who could not keep a man s affection was surely lacking 
in charm. It might be weakness, but ever since Sir Philip's 
visit Bligh suffered from a longing for moral support. The 
truth was she did not feel satisfied either as to the wisdom or 
the propriety of her conduct. Look at it as she might she 
could not lose sight of the fact that she had solemnly promised 
to many a man for whom she entertained no sentiments of 
affection whatever. In her heart she knew that she rather 
disliked him than otherwise, and vaguely realised they were 
antipathetic to each other. The magnetic current between 
individuals, which acts as the basis of ail love and hatred, had. 
in her case, set sharply in the latter direction. Sir Philip's first 
embrace had made an indelible impression. Her whole 
woman s nature was offended by its coarseness and its levity. 

Packing and thinking, thinking and packing, midnight found 
her still apprehensively looking forward to the future. Bodily 
she was thoroughly exhausted, but when she went to bed her 
active brain kept sleep at bay. Thought succeeded thought in 
wearying succession, and not until the grey rays of dawn stole 



WEDDED TO STOKT. 107 

softly into the room did an uneasy slumber close liligh'seyes. She 
rose unrefreshed, and, remembering the visit in store, took out 
her Sunday froek and lacked a. piece of elean frilling' into the 
neck and sleeve's. It was the only ornamentation within her 
power. She had worn the dress many times without ever caring 
whether it were becoming or not ; but today the shabby black 
merino was responsible lor a considerable loss of equanimity. 
She uneasily vera I led how badly the village dressmaker had 
made, it, and how often the seams had had to be altered and 
reallered to render the garment anything like wearable These 
reminiscences were not reassuring, particularly as she was con- 
scious that even now the gown titled horribly, and did grave 
injustice to her figure. On appealing to her hand-glass, it 
revealed a great wrinkle that lay right across her back, extend- 
ill)'; from one sleeve' to the other. The waist, too, was absurdly 
short, and the tail went all off to one side, though she stuck a 
long pin right through it in a vain endeavour to keep it in its 
place. After a while she put down the glass with a sigh. 

" It's no use," she mused despondently. " ' must try not to 
think about my appearance People may say what they like, 
bill there's an immense deal in dress, and I defy any civilised, 
woman to feci comfortable or at her ease when she knows that 
her gown is a misfit. It doesn't signify for oneself. One 
doesn't care how dowdy one is when there is nobody to notice ; 
but from the moment you have to run the gaunt lei o\' other 
women's eyes, then, no matter how little vanity you may possess, 
it's awful - simply awful. Oh I dear, oh I dear, 1 wish 1 weren't 
such a fool as to mind." 

Very dissatisfied both with herself and with her toilette, and 
feeling that she was old and ugly and unlike either people, poor 
liligh gave her mother a farewell caress ami walked discon- 
solately to the station. This girl, who had bravely looked 
poverty in the face, and who had probed her courage on many 
trying occasions, was now as frightened as the veriest coward. 
The prospect of going to a fine house, of which she was about 
to become the mistress, and making acquaintance with its 
inmates, tried her nerves to the utmost. Of late years she had 
lived such a solitary and secluded life that she seemed com- 
pletely to have lost touch of the world. It required a supreme 
effort to talk and laugh and jest like the rest of mankind. She 
had grown silent and meditative, given to thought rather than 
words, to books than people. '1'alking for talking's sake was an 
art which she had not had the leisure to cultivate. She was 
accustomed to grave, rational conversation, and had no idea of 
the modern " chaff " which passes for wit in polite society. 
When she came across smart, fashionable women her feeling 



108 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

always was that an immense gulf divided them. She looked 
upon them with mingled awe and fear. They seemed iike beings 
from a different world, with whom she could have nothing in 
common. Their gay chatter about dress, theatres, and mutual 
acquaintances, struck her dumb, and made her realise that she 
was indeed, what no doubt they mentally dubbed her, an " out- 
sider." And then sometimes, on nearer acquaintance, her 
reserve would be fairly conquered, and she was agreeably 
surprised to find that after all these charming women were 
human like herself, and not nearly so formidable as she had 
imagined. She discovered that although she could not keep up 
a continuous flow of society nothings, in some ways she knew 
more than they did, and the stream of her conversation, if not 
so sparkling, was certainly deeper. 

Balzac, than whom a more profound psychologist never existed, 
avers that solitude is apt to render a woman morose. In many 
instances it occasions a kind of savage distrust and defiance, 
both of herself and of others. This morbid condition has its 
birth almost entirely in insufficient intercourse with one's fellow- 
creatures. The softening influences of civilisation are swept 
away, and man regards man as his natural enemy, simply because 
he is not properly acquainted with him. Some such process had 
already begun to take place in Bligh's case, and her social quali- 
ties suffered from the hard, narrow life she had been forced to 
lead. Her natural modesty had given place to a perfectly pain- 
ful shyness. She positively dreaded meeting strangers, or hav- 
ing to deviate from the straight groove of her accustomed duties. 
A fashionable girl, used to seeing new people continually, would 
have thought nothing of going to Beechlands and making her 
future mother-in-law's acquaintance. She would have entertained 
few misgivings, either as to her dress or the impression she was 
likely to make. In fact, no panic of depreciatory self-conscious- 
ness would have assailed her. But for Bligh the effort was 
enormous. She felt like a snail suddenly made to forsake its 
peaceful shell, and face the wide world naked and unprotected. 
The nearer the train bore her to her destination the more loudly 
did her heart beat. Her little hand grew quite hot and damp 
within its black kid glove, carefully mended at the finger- 
tips. 

Always industrious and seeking after knowledge, even in idle 
moments, she had brought a book of science with her ; but 
although she read most perseveringly the words left no impres- 
sion on her mind. It was full of thought and refused to grasp 
theories of solar heat, missing links, and tertiary man. For her 
there were problems of the future which seemed of even greater 
importance than those contained in one of the mnstrpmsrVable 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



109 



works of the age. By-and-bye, the train came to a standstill, 
and, in fear and trembling, she descended. On the platform her 
attention was arrested by a tall female figure clad in black. The 
owner glanced uncertainly around, and then advanced with both 
hands outstretched. If Bligh could have run away at that 
moment and hidden herself out of sight she would have done 
so. But before she had time to put such cowardly intentions 
into execution a soft cheek was pressed against her own, and a 
charmingly modulated voice said, " How do you do, my dear ? 
You are Bligh Burton, I feel sure, and I am Lady Verschoyle. 
Let me thank you for coming so promptly in answer to my tele- 
gram. I fear it may have been inconvenient ; but my anxiety 
to make your acquaintance must be my excuse." 

Bligh looked at the sweet, worn face, with its kindly expres- 
sion and tender eyes, and all at once she felt reassured. Her 
dread of Lady Verschoyle vanished, never to return. It proved, 
indeed, a case of mutual liking at first sight, for the anxious 
mother was delighted to find a quiet, pleasant-looking girl, whose 
appearance and demeanour at once betrayed no affinity what- 
ever with the fast school she so detested. 

" I could not do anything else but come," returned Bligh 
pleasantly. " It was sufficient for you to express a wish." 

Lady Verschoyle was not accustomed to such courteous treat- 
ment from her nearest and dearest. She blushed with pleasure. 

" Do you know," she confessed, " I was so impatient to see 
you that I felt as if I must come to the station." 

" It was very kind of you to meet me," said Bligh grate- 
fully. 

" Not at all. Now, jump into the carriage, and we'll have a 
nice drive home together. I seem as if I had so many things 
to say to you that I hardly know how to begin. But, first and 
foremost, Bligh, I want you to regard me as a friend. Do you 
think you can ? " And she turned appealingly to her young 
companion. 

Bligh's favourable impressions were more than confirmed by 
this question. Her heart was quite won, and she began to 
wonder how she ever could have been afraid of meeting Lady 
Verschoyle. No wonder people always alluded to her as a 
charming woman. She seemed totally devoid of angles, and 
her gentle, deprecatory way of speaking possessed a peculiar 
fascination. 

" A friend ! " exclaimed Bligh impulsively. " Oh ! how can I 
thank you enough for receiving me so kindly ? " 

Lady Verschoyle smiled. 

" I hope we may grow to be very dear to each other," she said. 
" I will not deny that at first I was greatly surprised to hear of 



HO WEDDED TO SPORT. 

the engagement. I even fancied," here she hesitated, " well ! it 
is best not to have any concealments — I even fancied Philip 
ought to have made a more brilliant match " 

"Yes, I know that he ought," said Bligh, humbly. " No one 
feels it more than I do." 

" But," continued Lady Verschoyle, " I despise myself already 
for my worldliness, and ask your pardon for having entertained 
such a thought. My friend, Mrs. Fortescue, has been telling 
me all about you, Bligh, and now I can truthfully say I am not 
only satisfied but deeply thankful that Philip has made so wise 
a choice." 

The colour flew to Bligh's face. She felt like an impostor. 

" Lady Verschoyle," she said, with much emotion, " I do not 
deserve your good opinion. You would not — could not — think 
well of me if you knew all. There ia something very painful for 
me to say, and yet which it is my duty to tell you." 

" I cannot believe anything bad of you, Bligh ; but if you 
wish to confide in me your confidence shall not go further." 

" Xo doubt you think that — that I — love Sir Philip," said 
Bligh, turning from red to crimson, " but I don't. Perhaps I 
may learn to be fond of him in time. I hope so. I shall try 
very hard ; but it seems awful to marry in this sort of way. 
Llad it not been for my mother's illness I could never have rec- 
onciled it to my conscience — never — never." And she looked 
away to hide the tears that sprang to her eyes. 

" A great many things happen strangely in this world," said 
Lady Verschoyle gently. " Let us hope all will turn out well in 
the end. For my own part I cannot believe that so good a 
daughter will ever make a bad wife." 

" I am glad I have told you the truth," said Bligh, in a curi- 
ously subdued voice. " I should have hated myself if I had 
concealed anything from you. Now, at least, you know the 
worst of me. My motive in marrying is intelligible, but Sir 
Philip's remains a mystery." 

" He has been a bit of a spoilt boy all his life," said Lady 
Verschoyle. " His actions never were quite like other people's." 

" That may be ; but why should he propose to a girl whom he 
does not care the least for, and insist on marrying her all in a 
hurry, just as if he were violently in love ? I have thought the 
matter over until I am tired of thinking about it, and admit to 
b^ing fairly puzzled. And yet," she added, thoughtfully, " there 
must be some solution, if only I could get at it." 

" Bligh, dear child," rejoined Lady Verschoyle gravely, " I 
quite understand your perplexity ; but if you are wise you will 
take Philip as he is. Even I, his mother, do not always know 
the reasons by which he is actuated," 



WEDDED TO SPORT. m 

-' Surely you can guess what made him propose to me," 
said Bligh, fixing a pair of bright, inquiring eyes on her com- 
panion. 

" Perhaps I can." 

" Oh ! then, do tell me." 

" Will it be for your good ? " 

" Yes, it will help me more than anything else to shape my 
conduct. At present I have no clue. I grope about in the 
dark like the veriest mole." 

"Well, then, Philip has had a disappointment." 

" What sort of a disappointment ? Did he want to marry 
some other woman ? " 

"Yes." 

"Then why didn't he?" 

" The lady was already engaged." 

" And he cared for her ? " 

" He imagined so. In reality, what he felt was not love, but 
infatuation. It is better that you should know the truth. Just 
now he is sore and angry, but he will get over his indignation 
after a time." 

" Ah ! " exclaimed Bligh, with a look of comprehension. 
" That explains everything. Poor Sir Philip ! I am sorry for 
him. We are quits. If I succeed in making your son happy, 
Lady Verschoyle, will you forgive me the sin I commit in marry- 
ing him ? " 

" My dear ! " said the elder lady in a trembling voice. " You 
do not know what an escape Philip has had. This girl would 
have rendered him miserable. I could go down on my knees 
and thank God that he has got into good hands, for I have been 
very anxious about Philip. I am an old woman, and don't 
understand the art of managing him properly. But a wife will 
be quite different. She will be able to exercise a salutary in- 
fluence over him. Not that he is bad or wicked," she went on, 
her maternal affection overpowering every other feeling, " but 
young men of his fortune and position have so many tempta- 
tions put in their way, have they not ? " 

" Yes, no doubt," answered Bligh, feeling painfully impressed 
by the pathetic look in her companion's eyes. 

" There are some people in this county," resumed Lady Ver- 
schoyle, " who don't get on well with Philip. It grieves me very 
much to know that this is the case. I do not think Philip is to 
blame, but they have never understood how to take him. He 
just wants a little humouring, and I am convinced that a clever, 
good-tempered girl, with a fair amount of tact, could manage 
him without any trouble." 

Bligh put out her hand sympathetically. In spite of Lady Ver- 



112 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

schoyle's guarded words and evident affection for her son, she 
guessed at the disappointment he had caused his mother. 

" I will do what I can," she said. 

" Thank you, Bligh dear. Pray don't think I am complain- 
ing of Philip. Nothing was further from my intention, but 
everything will be new to you at first, and a few hints from a 
man's mother are sometimes not out of place." 

Chatting confidentially, they arrived at Beechlands. Lady 
Verschoyle was charmed with her daughter-in-law that was to be. 
She listened so patiently and deferentially to all she had to say, 
and appeared so extremely sensible. Unconsciously, she un- 
bosomed herself of many anxieties, little suspecting how quick 
Bligh was at forming conclusions. Her delight reached a cul- 
minating point when, on rounding the bend in the park, the 
church and distant village lay revealed. 

" What a dear little church," exclaimed Bligh. " I shall like 
going there of a Sunday. It looks so peaceful." 

" You do go to church, then ? " asked Lady Verschoyle, a 
flush of pleasure mantling in her cheek. 

"Why, of course. I generally conduct the choir at Elmsley." 

" Oh ! my dear," said Lady Verschoyle. " I have much to be 
thankful for. I can't tell you how glad I am that you are com- 
ing to live among us. People nowadays seem to have no respect 
for religion whatever. It is very dreadful, is it not ? If you 
could only get Philip to observe the Sabbath I should die happy." 

Bligh suppressed a sigh. She felt that more was expected of 
her than she would probably be able to perform. It is no easy 
task for a woman to reform a man close upon thirty years of 
age, and who does not pretend to care for her. Bligh knew 
enough of the world to be aware of this fact. 



CHAPTER XIV 

A SHOOTING WOMAN. 

When she set foot inside her future home, Bligh experienced a 
great relief on hearing that Sir Philip and his guests were out 
shooting. Lady Verschoyle conducted her all over the house, 
and showed off the different rooms with evident pride. Her 
visitor's admiration of their size and number afforded consider- 
able gratification. 

" I shall feel completely lost here," said Bligh, gaily, " and 



b 



WEDDED TO SPORT. n^ 

scarcely know where to sit with such a choice of grand apart- 
ments." 

" If you take my advice," responded Lady Verschoyle, " you 
will turn my boudoir into your private sitting-room. It looks 
south and east, and gets all the morning sun — a great advantage 
in the winter time." 

" Your boudoir ! " exclaimed Bligh. " I should never dream 
of appropriating anything that belongs to you." 

Lady Verschoyle smiled sadly. 

" My dear," she said, " you need have no scruples about me, 
for when Philip marries I shall no longer be here." 

" You don't mean to say that you are going away? " 

" What else can I do ? A mother-in-law's society is seldom 
conducive to the happiness of a newly married pair." 

" That depends on the mother-in-law," rejoined Bligh. " No- 
body could possibly desire your absence." 

" It is very kind of you to say so, but Philip and I settled it 
long ago between us. There is a small dower-house just out- 
side the park gates, which will suit me nicely in my old age. I 
shall be near you, and able to see you every day without living 
under the same roof." And she tried to look cheerful. 

" And will Sir Philip actually let you go ? " asked Bligh, in- 
dignantly, for she had already seen how deeply attached Lady 
Verschoyle was to the home where she had lived so many years. 

" Certainly ; he is the master, and since he came of age, it 
has always been an understood thing that I should only continue 
to reside here as long as it suited his convenience. I don't com- 
plain — indeed, I have nothing to complain of, since when Sir 
Thomas made his will, he consulted me on every point, and we 
arranged it together. We both agreed that whenever our son 
took a wife, we would turn out and leave the young couple in 
possession of Beechlands." 

" Won't you feel the change dreadfully, Lady Verschoyle ? " 

" Yes, perhaps I shall at first. When people get to my age, 
it is wonderful how they become rooted to the same spot. Be- 
sides, it would be useless to deny that this place is associated in 
my mind with a great many tender reminiscences. I can never 
forget the happy days that Sir Thomas and I have spent here." 
And she sighed, as she looked round, like a true and tender 
woman bearing ever in her heart the image of him whom she 
had loved and lost. 

Bligh thought for a moment or two, then she said suddenly — 

" Dear Lady Verschoyle, supposing Sir Philip and I both 
begged of you to remain as a favour to ourselves, would you 
stay ? " 

The elder woman changed colour- The mere suggestion sent 



II4 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

a thrill of joy travelling through her veins. She had never quite 
realised until now how painful it would be to her to leave Beech- 

^ I 'don't know," she said, hesitatingly. "If I could help 
either of you in any way— if I could be of the slightest use 

" For mv part, I feel convinced that I should never get on 
without you," returned Bligh. " Just think of poor little me 
transplanted to this great big house, and possessing no know- 
ledge or experience whatever. Why, I should be lost, simply 
lost in it." 

Lady Verschoyle gave a faint laugh. 

■•You've got a good head on your shoulders, Bligh. You'd 
soon find vourself quite competent to assume the reins of govern- 
ment." 

'• Xo. I shouldn't, and even if I did, it would not be for ages 
and ages. Imagine the change. I am not ashamed to confess 
our poverty. Almost ever since I can remember it has en- 
tailed the strictest economy. We have had to think twice about 
spending every sixpence. < me's ideas of money grow narrowed 
like everything else, when one is honest and poor. It is the in- 
evitable result of insufficient means to meet the daily wants. 
Picture to yourself a person brought up in a very small way sud- 
denly placed at the head of a household like this. Of course 
she will commit errors — any amount of them at first starting, 
and few men are tolerant of mistakes which may have the dis- 
a_o-e<-ablc eftei t of interfering with their comfort. Literally, if 
I were left to myself, I should not know what to order for 
dinner. A couple of chops, a cutlet or two, or a little minced 
meat satisfy mamma and me. I ask you, would that satisfy Sir 
Philip ?•' 

•• Well ! no, perhaps not," admitted Lady Verschoyle. 
" Kxactly. Von see yourself that it will take me some time 
to master all the details connected with a large establishment; 
to know what the proper expenditure should be, and how much 
waste one must shut one's eyes to. Xo doubt I can learn, 
(liven a certain amount of good-will and intelligence, and most 
things are to he acquired, but all the same I shall want help sadly 
to begin with, and that help you can give me better than any other 
person." 

Lady Verschoyle listened, half persuaded. Bligh had a clear, 
forcible way of representing matters which struck home. 

" I am so afraid of an old woman like myself being- in the 

mix'in S ih fi ld ' V^P Hk , S y ° ung P e °P ,e about him > who 
mix in uh a t he calls 'his set,' and even now I often feel as if 
my presence were a restraint. I belong to a past eenerJ 
and don't understand the modern jokes and allusfonf " tl0 "' 



WEDDED TO SPORT. u$ 

" In future you will have my mother to keep you company. 
Didn't Sir Philip tell you that he had promised to let her live 
with me ? " 

" No, he never mentioned the circumstance." 

" He must have forgotten to do so, then, for it was strictly on 
this understanding that I accepted him. She would have died 
unless I had been able to pay for the operation. Surely Sir 
Philip will not wish you to leave Beechlands now ? " 

" I do not know," said Lady Verschoyle. " He may." 

" He shan't," declared Bligh, energetically. " This very day 
I will speak to him and get the affair settled. It will be such 
a pleasure, such a support, to have you in the house. The 
thought of your going away makes me wretched. Dear Lady 
Verschoyle, I can't bear the idea of supplanting you, that's the 
truth. You are so kind and so good. Besides it is not fitting 
that Sir Philip's mother should leave her son's roof whilst mine 
remains beneath it." 

Lady Verschoyle felt deeply moved by this speech. She had 
never expected to meet with such consideration from her son's 
bride. Blanche would have been impatient to get rid of her. 
She was quite prepared to resign the reins of government to a 
successor, but she was not prepared for the delicacy of feeling 
displayed by this little, humble girl, whom she herself in the first 
instance had looked down upon. Her heart grew big and soft. 
The tears rose to her dim eyes. 

"If Philip wishes it — if — if Philip has not any objection " 

she faltered. 

" I will ask him to-day, before I return," said Bligh decidedly. 

" Oh ! my dear, aren't you rather venturesome ? It may make 
him angry." 

" I must run the risk of that." 

" I am afraid he will think I have been putting you up to this," 
said Lady Verschoyle nervously. 

Bligh laughed. 

" Nothing venture, nothing have," she said cheerily. " It 
won't do for me to begin by showing the white feather, and I 
am sure Sir Philip is too much of a gentleman to refuse my first 
request." 

Lady Verschoyle made no reply. She was not nearly so con- 
fident as Bligh, and feared that her audacity might lead to an 
unfortunate result, perhaps even a quarrel which might put an 
end to their present relationships, and this she dreaded beyond 
measure, for, little as she had seen of the girl, she liked her 
immensely. 

The arrival of a pretty basket chaise, drawn by a small, broad- 
backed oonv. here brought the. rnnvprsation to a close. The 



Ii6 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

two ladies seated themselves therein, the luncheon having already 
preceded them, and were soon jogging soberly along to the place 
of meeting. It was a clear, sunshiny day. Here and there the 
blue sky overhead was streaked by airy white clouds as fine as 
lawn, which sailed imperceptibly over its azure surface. The 
foliage of trees and hedges had not yet begun to drop, though 
green leaves were slowly taking on autumnal tints, whilst some 
few hung dead and shrivelled, ready to fall at the first touch of 
frost. The tops of the turnips, laden with raindrops from a 
recent shower, sparkled like diamonds. Their white roots 
gleamed above the rich earth. The level rays of the sun poured 
down upon the yellow stubble fields, and the sheaves of standing 
corn gathered up ready for carting. White roses clustered round 
cottage porches, and boldly climbed thatched roofs, scenting 
the air with their delicious fragrance. Hollyhocks and dahlias 
nodded their gay heads in the gardens, whilst the proud sun- 
flower shone like a golden disc against lichen-covered walls. 
Far off stretched a vast green vista of undulating pastures, which 
rolled away to the horizon in endless billows of grass. And on 
the sky line stood a celebrated fox covert, known far and wide 
by the name of Caryl's Clump. 

Sir Philip was a strict preserver of foxes, and his shooting 
suffered somewhat in consequence. Fond as he was of the gun 
he preferred the saddle, and placed hunting at the head of all 
sports. Although Midlandshire could not be considered a good 
game county it nevertheless yielded fair, if not sensational, bags, 
and the proprietor of Beechlands owned some remarkably fine 
partridge ground. The present season promised well, and birds 
were reported more plentiful than usual. It had been arranged 
for the party to lunch at one end of an open common which 
adjoined the Top Farm, and which lay close to the last field of 
the morning beat. Towards this spot Lady Verschoyle guided 
the pony. As they advanced nearer to it they perceived a row 
of figures in the distance, marching towards them in a straight 
line. Suddenly a large covey, consisting of two old and ten 
young birds, rose with a whirr. Bang ! bang ! rang out the guns 
on the still air, and three fluttering victims fell beneath the 
shower of shot directed at them. The others escaped and flew 
away, pitching finally beneath a hedgerow some thirty or forty 
yards distant from where Lady Verschoyle had brought the 
pony chaise to a standstill. Looking through a gap she and 
Bligh could see the poor things quite plainly, crouching in terror 
under the turnip tops. 

" How I wish we could save them," exclaimed Bligh. " I 
can't bear to see any creature killed that God has endowed with 
life." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



117 



But, alas ! they were doomed to further destruction. On, on 
came the sportsmen and gamekeepers, pressing in from every 
side, until at last the goaded birds once more sought refuge in 
flight. This time four of their number fell, a handsome girl 
clad in a short tweed petticoat, leather gaiters, a Norfolk jacket 
and cap, being responsible for the death of one. Her face 
flushed with triumph as she threw away the end of her cartridge. 

" Bravo ! that was a capital shot of yours ! " exclaimed Sir 
Philip, who happened to be next her, and who, having finished 
his forenoon's sport by a brilliant right and letter, was in an 
unusually good humour. " I congratulate you, Miss Crisper. 
With very little more practice you'll take the shine out of half 
the men." 

Delighted at this compliment, Miss Crisper grinned and 
showed her teeth, which were exceedingly fine. Women with 
bad ones always keep their mouths shut — that is to say when 
they are desirous of making a favourable impression. 

" Yes," said the young lady complacently. " I flatter myself 
I potted that bird rather neatly. This makes five brace to my 
own gun. Not so bad for one belonging to the inferior sex, eh ? " 

" There's mighty little inferiority about you, Miss Vi," laughed 
Sir Philip in reply, with a familiarity which men frequently 
assume when in the presence of ladies who insist on sharing all 
their pastimes. " You're as smart as they make them, and can 
ride to hounds, bring down your bird, and toss off a brandy and 
soda in real good form." 

" I should consider myself a hideous duffer if I couldn't," 
retorted Miss Crisper. " Women who sit at home and darn 
stockings have an awful time of it nowadays. I presume that 
in your opinion, Sir Philip, the last of my accomplishments is 
the greatest ? " 

The baronet reddened somewhat consciously. 

" None of your chaff," he said. " A fellow's naturally thirsty 
when he has been walking in this blazing sun for two or three 
hours." 

" And does that account for a fellow's natural thirst at ten 
o'clock in the morning ? Oh ! don't blush. I saw you having 
a quiet little nip in the smoking-room before we started, and, to 
tell the truth, I had a very good mind to follow your example. 
Hulloa ! there's my bird fluttering about just under your heel. 
Pick the poor wretch up, there's a good soul, and put it out of 
its misery." 

With which merciful request Miss Crisper vaulted lightly over 
a low stile which separated the turnip field from the common, 
and proceeded carefully to wipe the barrel of her gun with a silk 
bird's-eve nnrkpt-Tianrllj-pr^Vupf 



Il8 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

Bligh stared at her in amazement. This was her first experi- 
ence of the shooting woman, and the shortness of her skirt, the 
loudness of her voice, and the general mannishness of her 
demeanour, produced a startling impression upon her nerves. 
Miss Crisper seemed entirely at her ease, and after a general 
introduction had been effected, returned Bligh's stare with in- 
terest. By this time the guests had all heard of their host's 
engagement, and the ladies were extremely curious as to his 
choice. 

" Humph ! " murmured Miss Crisper, contemptuously, to Lady 
Rachel Rasper, " just fancy that being the bride. Well, I am 
astonished." 

" A regular little country dowdy, who looks like a dug-up fos- 
sil," responded her ladyship, who was considered one of the 
most fashionable women about town. " Why, her hat is at least 
three seasons old. What in the name of wonder could Sir Philip 
have seen in her ? " 

" She has regularly got hold of him, depend upon it," said 
Miss Crisper. " I never trust these quiet, demure little persons. 
They're as artful as they can be, and always know uncommonly 
well on which side their bread is buttered." 

She had come to Beechlands with the distinct intention of 
laying siege to its master's heart, so that her disapprobation was 
sufficiently intelligible. Even had Bligh been a professional 
beauty she would still have picked holes in her ; but, as it was, 
Miss Crisper's indignation knew no bounds. True, it did not 
prevent her from eating a remarkably good lunch and casting 
her bright eyes in the direction of Captain Treherne, who also 
was regarded by society as a parti , but, while she quaffed 
her claret cup and made great inroads on an excellent pigeon 
pie, she kept thinking to herself all the time what a very much 
better, smarter, and sprightlier Lady Verschoyle she would have 
made than that poor, pale-faced little thing sitting opposite. 
When she summed up her own charms and compared them Avith 
Miss Burton's, she could not imagine where Sir Philip's eyes 
were. 



CHAPTER XV. 

LUNCH ON THE COMMON. 



Meanwhile Bligh was conscious of showing to the worst ad- 
vantage. These smart ladies, with their audible comments, who 
stared at her through their eyeglasses as if she had been a per- 
fectly unique specimen of t1lp f" 11 "^ ™ rp nmvpri PYr-ppri.'^giy 



WEDDED TO SPORT H g 

overpowering to the timid girl, so long withdrawn from society. 
The shyness and sense of isolation from which she frequently 
suffered when in the presence of strangers returned in full force, 
whilst the thought of that great wrinkle across her back made 
her perfectly wretched. Whenever she was forced to move she 
tried hard to keep her face towards the ladies, and although her 
nature was by no means petty, and she was freer of small 
jealousies than the majority of her sex, she caught herself look- 
ing enviously at the admirably-fitting tailor-made gowns of Mrs. 
l)e Morbeyand Lady Rachel Rasper. How beautifully straight 
their seams were, and how differently their bodies were cut from 
her clumsy, puckered affair, which was tight where it ought to 
be loose, and loose where it ought to be tight, squeezed her 
across the chest, and deprived her waist of all shape. She 
wished the day had not been so fine, then she might have put 
on a jacket to cover its defects. Never had they appeared more 
patent ; for, as if out of pure malice, the searching sun poured 
down upon her rusty merino, making it look browner and 
shabbier than ever. Its bright ravs illuminated her finger-tips, 
bringing into prominence every stitch with which she had striven 
to make her gloves presentable on the previous night. She 
buried them in the folds of her dress, but not before she was 
aware that Miss Crisper's sharp eyes had detected their ex- 
istence. 

Once she began to make comparisons between herself and 
her neighbours they seemed unceasing. 

Even her boots were all wrong— great, square, ugly things ; 
whereas the other ladies displayed the smartest of smart Russian 
leather, brown in colour, with polished pointed toes most be- 
coming to the little feet they showed so liberally 'Their hair, 
too, was curled and frizzed all over their heads, and of a lovely 
nut-brown shade, somewhat darker at the roots, that gleamed 
like burnished gold in the sunlight, whilst hers was plain and 
smooth, and plaited in old-fashioned braids on the nape of her 
neck. Even to the smallest detail there was a tremendous dif- 
ference between her and them. They were so beautiful, aided 
by every adjunct which art and fashion could bestow ; lovely, 
with powdered noses, gently touched cheeks, and pencilled eye- 
brows, whose adornment Bligh was both too generous and too 
innocent to suspect. 1'ut she felt that she could not compete 
with them. They outshone her as a star outshines a farthing 
rushlight. 

No doubt Kligh was foolish. She ought to have risen superior 
to such trifles as a shabby frock and a pair of darned gloves ; 
but she was only a woman, and a very sensitive one into the 
bargain, on whose impressionable nature everything took effect. 



120 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

Whilst luncheon went on she sat by Lady Verschoyle's side, 
thankful for the protection afforded by her hostess, and only 
speaking when addressed. The three fashionable ladies might 
really have been forgiven for whispering to each other that she 
was as stupid as an owl ; nevertheless, if they could have looked 
into that shy, quiet girl's mind they would probably have been 
surprised at its powers of observation. 

Bligh, on her part, was astonished at the frivolous talk, and 
wondered how any member of her own sex could permit such 
free and easy remarks from the men. Once or twice she was 
conscious that the colour mounted to her cheeks in a hot wave 
of shame. She dropped her eyes on the white tablecloth, and 
hardly dared to raise them, for, as the meal proceeded, the 
gentlemen grew more and more familiar, the ladies increasingly 
indulgent. " Chaff " summed up the conversation, and it ap- 
peared to Bligh that the coarser and riskier the better it was 
received. Real wit was conspicuous only by its absence. 
When Miss Crisper called for a brandy and soda, drank it off at 
one gulp, and was vociferously cheered by the men, she could 
perceive nothing very admirable in the proceeding. Neither did 
she think any better of Sir Philip because he finished a whole 
bottle of champagne almost at a draught, became very noisy and 
facetious, and played practical jokes on Lady Rachel Rasper, 
which consisted in dropping little bread pellets down her back, 
and taking flying shots at Miss Crisper's nose across the cloth. 
Bligh noticed that the effect of the numerous drinks he tossed 
off with such apparent relish was to deepen the flush on his 
handsome cheek, lend a glitter to his cold blue eyes, and deprive 
his manners of their finish. 

From time to time Lady Yerschoyle glanced anxiously at 
him. 

'• Philip has a great horror of getting fat," she confided to 
Bligh. " When you are married you must impress upon him 
that nothing adds so much to a person's weight as liquids." 

" What's that you are saying about me, mother? " he shouted 
out. 

" I am telling Bligh you don't want to get fat." 

'• Quite right, quite right. Blazes ! how hot it is. Here, 
Spicer," calling to his valet, "mix me a brandy and soda. I 
can't be so ungallant," bowing to Miss Crisper, " as not to follow 
your lead." 

The muscles round Lady Verschoyle's mouth contracted. 
Bligh wondered why the expression of her face was so very 
sorrowful. From under her soft eyelashes she watched mother 
and son in turn. Since she had heard of Sir Philip's disappoint- 
ment he had become very much more interestine- to her The 



WEDDED TO SPORT. I2 i 

light streamed full upon his yellow hair and auburn beard. It 
lay in a polished line along his straight nose, and deepened the 
blue of his well-opened eyes. The warmth of the day and the 
champagne had lent an unusual glow and animation to his 
countenance. Bligh was struck by his good looks, and took to 
wondering why she was not more elated at what Miss Crisper 
had already incidentally referred to as " her luck." 

" He does not give one the idea of a man in love," she mused. 
" Who can the lady be ? I must find out later on." 

Meanwhile the meal was drawing to a conclusion. Ample 
justice had been done to the good fare provided by Lady Ver- 
schoyle. The empty bottles were everywhere dotted about the 
tablecloth, whilst their corks strewed the ground. Miss Violet 
was the first to intimate that hunger and thirst were satisfied. 
She drew a neat leather case from her breast pocket, and calmly 
proceeded to light up a cigar, taking it so much as a matter of 
course that it never occurred to her apparently to ask Lady 
Verschoyle's permission. Fairly startled out of her shyness 
Bligh gasped — 

" Do you — do you like smoking, Miss Crisper ? " 

" Why, naturally I do," came the prompt reply, " else I 
shouldn't be such a fool as to smoke ! " 

" I wonder it does not make you feel ill." 

" Well ! " avowed Miss Crisper, frankly, " when I first, began 
I was as sick as a cat ; but I hate being beaten, and so I stuck 
to it." 

" But for what reason ? " 

" I am vain enough to think that whatever a man does a 
woman can do very nearly, if not quite, as well. Personal ex- 
perience goes far to confirm my opinion. A year ago I could not 
look at a cigar ; now," and inhaling a quantity of smoke, she 
puffed it out through her nostrils in airy rings, an operation 
which she watched with immeasurable pride, " I can consume 
as much tobacco as most fine gentlemen. That reminds me," 
she went on, addressing Sir Philip, " I had a match the other 
night with Tolly Greene, and beat him easily. He's a poor 
creature, and turned it up after the third cigar. I was proud of 
that achievement, if you like. It made one feel so superior 
when he began to choke and grow yellow in the face." 

" And supposing the same mishap had befallen you ? " said 
Bligh, not knowing whether to be most amused or shocked. 

" What ! turning yellow in the face ? I never should." 

" Is Nature or art so kind ? " inquired Sir Philip, playfully. 

" Nature, of course, you rude man. I shall owe you one for that. 
Did you ever see a lady yellow in your life, because if you have 
she was either a fool or else crossing the Channel ? " 



122 WEDDED TO SPORT- 

Even-body laughed at this speech : not that it was particularly 
funny or clever, only Miss Violet had a way of saying things 
which her admirers called chic. Bligh laughed with the rest. 
She thought Miss Crisper the most extraordinary girl she had 
ever met. and listened to her much as she would have listened 
to a comic actress in a burlesque. It seemed hard to believe 
that she was not acting a part. This playing at being a man 
appeared a strange role for a good-looking young woman to 
assume, and if it were intended to secure a husband Bligh was 
quite sure that Miss Crisper made a mistake. Men might flirt 
with but they never married such girls. 

Sir Philip now showed symptoms of impatience, and was 
anxious to recommence work. He rose to his feet, saying, 
" Come, we have wasted enough time. Let's be off, for there is 
a great deal of ground before us still, and it's a pity not to take 
advantage of this glorious day. A week hence and the birds 
won't lie anvthing like so well." This was the signal for a start, 
but during the delay inevitable to departure Bligh managed to 
take him aside. 

" May I have a word with you ? " she said. 

" Yes." he replied ; " but don't be long about it, there's a 
good girl. We're in a hurry to be off. If it's of any importance 
you can write. You see how it is. Bligh. One's not one's own 
master when there are other fellows about. I can't even drive 
you back to the station and see you off comfortably." 

" I quite understand," she said quietly. " Pray don't allow 
me to disturb your arrangements. It is about your mother I 
wished tc speak. She has been talking to me to-day of leaving 
Beechlands." 

" Well, of course, she'll have to go when we are married." 

" I don't quite see the necessity The house is large enough 
for us and her." 

" Oh ! it's large enough, certainly. For the matter of that, 
there are more rooms than one knows what to do with. But 
she would be awfully in the way. She's so infernally strict and 
Puritanical in her notions. It's impossible to tell a good story 
before her." 

" She is your mother," said Bligh gravel}', " and she is no 
longer as young or as strong as she was. I am sure you would 
not like to let her go away, and, for myself, I should feel quite 
distressed if she did, since, were she to leave Beechlands, I be- 
lieve that it would pretty nearly break her heart. She is de- 
voted to the place." 

" Yes, you're quite right there. The old lady is never so 
happy as when she is pottering about the garden or the vil- 
lage." 



& 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 12 $ 

" Then why not let her remain happy till the end ? The best 
part of her life is gone. Is it not for us to embellish her re- 
maining days ? Your mother is not an ordinary woman. I 
admit that with some mothers difficulties might arise ; but she 
is so kind, so good, so unassuming, that I feel sure we should 
never clash. Her presence, too, would be of great assistance 
to me, for you must remember that I am not accustomed to a 
fine house and plenty of money, and in all probability will have 
much to learn." 

Sir Philip was in a remarkably good temper. He had shot 
brilliantly, " wiped " Captain Treherne's eye twice, and alto- 
gether Bligh could not have chosen a more propitious moment. 
He looked at her not unkindly. 

" Have you sufficiently thought over what you propose ? " 
he said. " It will be an experiment which, once made, is not 
easy to back out of." 

" Nevertheless, I think we ought to try it." 

" Well ! you're the rummest girl that ever I came across. I 
never heard of one before who wanted her mother-in-law to live 
in the same house with her. Generally they are all anxiety to 
bundle them out." 

" There will be my mother too," said Bligh timidly, wishing 
to recall their compact to his mind. 

" Damnation, yes. It strikes me you want to turn Beech- 
lands into an asylum for old women. What are we going to do 
with them when we have a dinner party, and fill the house with 
nice, cheery people ? They'll be awfully out of it." 

" Mamma would greatly prefer remaining upstairs. She is 
not likely to trouble you much. Such small details are easily 
arranged, and neither the presence of your mother nor mine 
shall ever interfere with the duty I owe to you." 

Her words pleased him. Like all rich and idle young men 
he had great ideas about the superiority of the male sex. In 
his opinion a man's actions were always pardonable, a woman's 
never. From a wife he expected complete submission, a total 
surrender of will, no matter Avhether he were right or wrong. 
He flattered himself that he was very strong, and above fem- 
inine influence. How weak he was in reality we have already 
seen. 

" You have an answer for everything," he said, in reply to 
Bligh's last remark. " What do you want me to promise ? " 

" Give me leave to tell Lady Verschoyle that she may stay, 
at all events for a while." 

" Let it be a temporary arrangement then. I must have that 
distinctly understood. There's no saying what the future may 
brine* fnrth qnrl T rlnn't wicV. tn ^'nd myself to any solemn 

pi. 



124 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

"Oh ! Philip," cried Bligh gratefully, for the first time call- 
ing him by his Christian name, and dropping the prefix, " this 
is very kind of you. I won't forget it in a hurry, and if I can 
show my gratitude I will." 

" Tut, tut," he said, pleased by the evident impression he had 
made, and feeling that he really was a very good boy indeed, 
which sensation proved agreeable from its novelty ; " I haven't 
done anything so wonderful, and, mind you, I don't bind my- 
self." 

" No, I shall remember the reservation." 

" Well, good-bye, Bligh, I must be off. There's Miss Violet 
making faces at me from behind her gun. I'm glad you like 
the old lady. She's a good soul in the main, though, of course, 
her way is not exactly mine." 

"Good-bye, Philip," said Bligh, with a nearer approach to 
liking than she had yet entertained for him. " I don't think 
you will regret having made this concession. In my humble 
experience people never do repent of their kind actions ; it's 
only the unkind ones which they look back upon with re- 
morse." 

They shook hands cordially and parted, Sir Philip beginning 
to feel a vague respect for the girl whom he had chosen to be 
his wife, Bligh with hope and gladness springing up in her 
heart like beautiful flowers. If she could only live in peace 
and amity, and render others happy, then she would ask for 
nothing more, and from the ashes of the old love a new might 
arise. Until to-dav she had doubted herself : now she felt that 
their future rested with him. 

Ah ! if men only knew how easily they can win women 
through kin:"ness, and how little they gain by brute force. 



CHAPTER XVI. 

MARRIED AND DONE FOR. 

Although Sir Philip particularly desired to be married as soon 
as possible, and lost no time in announcing his engagement in 
the Morning Post and the principal Society papers, over a 
month elapsed before Mrs. Burton had sufficiently recovered 
from her operation to be moved from town. By Lady Ver- 
schoyle's wish, directly she was able to travel she and Bligh 
went straight to Beechlands, and on the 7th of October, 189 — , 
the wedding was solemnised by Mr. Roden in the Parish 
Church. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



125 



Sir Philip had begun by insisting on its being a very grand 
affair ; but, owing to the joint persuasions of his mother and 
bride, the ceremony was ultimately performed quite quietly, and 
in the presence of only a limited number of intimate friends. 
Mrs. Burton's recent illness formed a good excuse for dispens- 
ing with the pomp and the fuss which Bligh secretly dreaded. 
The deed once done she felt comparatively happy. It put an 
end to all the doubt and indecision by which she had been as- 
sailed during the period of her engagement. Now that her fate 
was decided her sense of responsibility weighed less heavily 
upon her. There was much to be thankful for, apart from any 
question of personal feeling. She realised this very forcibly. 

It was a wonderful thing to wake up of a morning with a mind 
entirely free from anxiety as to how two ends could be con- 
trived to meet, and to know that, well or ill, willing or unwilling, 
she need no longer tramp along the muddy roads going from 
house to house in search of a livelihood. Only those similarly 
situated can fully comprehend the relief which Bligh experienced 
in staying quietly at home whenever she had the wish, being 
worried by no financial cares, and once more becoming her own 
mistress. It was like a haven of rest after tossing about on the 
wide sea, in constant fear of sinking. Now all the planning 
and thinking, the miserable struggle to keep up appearances in 
a country where poverty is a crime, was at an end. 

When Bligh returned from London, in spite of a hard bout of 
nursing, Lady Verschoyle was quite surprised at the improve- 
ment that had taken place in the girl's appearance. She was 
plumper and brighter. Her face had filled out and wore a deli- 
cate bloom, which made it look at least five years younger. 
Added to this Sir Philip had insisted on her profiting by her 
stay in the Metropolis to visit some of the best modistes, and 
he himself was startled at the results. 

A good dressmaker and pretty frocks did wonders for Bligh, 
as they do for most women, and the consciousness of being 
properly equipped lent a certain confidence to her manner 
which it had hitherto lacked. She began to think society was 
not so very dreadful when one could enter it on equal terms. 
With one of her new gowns on she should not feel half as afraid 
of Lady Rachel and Miss Crisper when she met them again. 

Sir Philip was so astonished at the metamorphosis effected 
by his generosity that, instead of mentally apostrophising her 
as " a plain little dowdy," as he had hitherto done, he began 
to admit that, if not exactly a beauty, she was quite nice-look- 
ing, and had an air of grace which proclaimed her unmistakably 
to be a lady. Bligh rose considerably in. his estimation, and, 
despite the hastiness of his choice, he confessed to himself that 



126 WEDDED TO SPORT 

although he had not succeeded in getting precisely what he 
wanted he might have done a very great deal worse. 

Blanche's name never passed his lips. It was as if he had 
forgotten her existence. 

Nevertheless, his mother noticed that every day the first 
thing he did on taking up the paper was to eagerly scan the 
matrimonial advertisements, as if he were looking out for some 
announcement. He had not to wait long. Just a week before 
his own marriage took place he found what he sought. Lady 
Verschovle was made aware of the fact by hearing him breathe 
two or three deep breaths and seeing his face grow dark and 
stern. 

" What is it. Philip?" she asked timorously " Is anything 
the matter ? " 

" Oh ! no. nothing. Merely the announcement of Blanche's 
lovey-dovey match in the paper." he replied. 

" She was married the day before yesterday." said Lady 
Verschovle. ■■ I sent her a set of pearls in a present." 

'• And I sent her nothing." 

'" Didn t you. Philip ? Won't that look rather shabby ? " 

" I don't care if it does. She'll know the reason fast enough." 

There was silence for a few minutes, then, breaking into a 
harsh laugh, he added : — 

'■ When she has had a sickener of India I shall write and ask 
her to come and stay here, just to let her have an opportunity 
of realising the extent of her folly." 

And with that he walked out of the room and did not say 
another word on the subject. Whatever were his thoughts he 
kept them to himself. 

Lady Verschovle shivered. 

'"Let us hope." she murmured fervently, "that Blanche never 
will come back from India — at least, not for a long, long time. 
I have a presentiment that if she does mischief will arise." 

For two or three days afterwards Sir Philip was unusually 
taciturn and reserved, and Bligh racked her brains to think 
what she could have done to offend him. However, as he chose 
to withhold his confidence, and shortly regained his usual manner, 
she wisely did not question him regarding the cause of his ill- 
humour. Xo doubt if she had been deeply in love his moods 
would have proved more disturbing to her equanimity. She had 
already discovered that his temper was extremely variable, and 
that a very little sufficed to upset it : but she did not expect per- 
fection, and, like a sensible woman, was prepared to put up 
with some few drawbacks in return for the many advantages 
which he had so strangely offered for her acceptance. 

Whenever she thought ma""" m ' or cVwi ' ,lm, ' c ^nicVio^i „™ jjy 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 12 >j 

saying to herself, " It is not reasonable to imagine that one is 
going to get so much good without some slight mixture of evil. 
Philip has been spoilt by an excess of prosperity and having 
everything made too easy for him. Consequently, if the least 
trifle happens to go wrong he feels aggrieved, and can't bear 
annoyances like people who are accustomed to being worried. 
It's purely the result of circumstances and of his education. I 
must be patient with him, and whenever he loses his temper try 
not to lose mine, for I hope — I believe — that his heart is in the 
right place. What faults he has are mostly on the surface." 

just at this period Bligh was in a singularly hopeful frame of 
mind and inclined to look at things from an optimistic point of 
view. The respite from toil, the freedom from monetary anx- 
ieties, lightened her brain much as if a great, dark cloud had 
been rolled away from it, and, in addition, her mother seemed 
stronger and better than had been the case for many months. 

Although Mrs. Burton's malady remained unchanged, Mr. 
Donnington had assured Bligh, after the operation, that if the 
disease did not spread, the patient might live for years to come. 
At the same time he did not disguise the fact that cancer was 
generally in the blood, and therefore liable to break out afresh 
in spite of every human precaution. Bligh, however, could not 
help feeling sanguine, for the remarkable improvement which 
took place in the invalid's health seemed to justify her best 
hopes. It was a source of abiding thankfulness to see her 
mother well housed and cared for, able to drive out in a nice, 
easy carriage, and to command those luxuries which her state 
demanded, yet which hitherto had been totally beyond their 
means. Even if Sir Philip were sometimes rude and cross, 
spoke roughly and plainly snowed his indifference, what did it 
signify in comparison with the all-important fact of this darling 
mother being raised above want ? 

Bligh felt that she could bear a great deal, and ought to bear a 
great deal, as a way of paying back what she had received. Her 
heart was full of gratitude. It made her very gentle to Sir 
Philip, very ready to make excuses for him, and to shut her eyes 
to his faults. In this spirit she approached the hymeneal altar, 
and from poor, struggling, brave little Bligh Burton was converted 
into Lady Verschoyle, the wife of one of the largest and richest 
landed proprietors in the county. Fortune's wheel had perched 
her up on high, and elevated her to a position which even in 
the dreams of her youth she had never contemplated. Many a 
fashionable girl envied her as she read the account of the wed- 
ding in the newspapers and ran over the list of presents, in 
which the name of the heir to the Throne figured, presenting the 
brideeroom with a handsome silver hunting flask. And Blanche 



128 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

Vansittart, the bride of a week, pored over it also, and as she 
did so a vague feeling of regret and dissatisfaction sprang up 
within her breast, making her feel curiously discontented with 
her own lot. 

" I might have had him," she sighed uneasily. '' Ah ! if I 
had only known sooner — if he had but spoken out in time." 

Great smarting drops swam in her dark eyes, burning them 
like liquid fire. An icy chill constricted her heart. 

Why did she feel like this at the mere sight of his name in 
print, linked with that of another woman ? What meant that 
dull pain ? Was it jealousy ? Before her marriage she fancied 
the fight was over, and that she had conquered. Instead of 
thinking of Philip her thoughts now ought to be for the good 
and honourable man who loved her so truly and unselfishly. 
Ah ! she was very wicked — very wicked. It was as well that 
the seas would divide them, that henceforth they were not likely 
to cross each other's path. She had made so sure of his coming 
back again after he proposed, and had he done so, in spite of 
every tie, she knew what her answer would have been. She 
never could have said him '• No '' a second time. Even now she 
could hardly realise that he had actually run his head into the 
matrimonial noose. It all seemed like a bad dream, and every 
morning she expected to awake from it, and every night went to 
bed sorrowing because it was no dream but a reality. Once or 
twice before her marriage she had been on the point of writing 
him, but the fear of a rebuff deterred her. She did not want to 
fall between two stools. Up to the last moment she felt like a 
criminal expecting his reprieve. She refused to believe that he 
would let her marry anyone else, but now her wedding-day was 
over and also his. A solid barrier reared itself between them, 
and it was too late for explanations. He belonged to another 
woman. She could have wept with rage, envy, and mortifica- 
tion. Henceforth her life appeared a dismal failure. Nothing 
could redeem the past. For there on her finger shone the 
wedding-ring, new and bright, and she was no longer Blanche 
Sylvester but Blanche Vansittart. She and Philip had played 
too long with edged tools. They had ended by cutting them- 
selves. 

Nevertheless, she was whitewashed according to her wish. 
The friends who had been inclined to show her the cold shoulder 
were now unanimous in their gush and their affection. One 
might have fancied that dear Mrs. Grundy had never cast the 
slightest shadow over her fair name or ever applied that damn- 
ing epithet " fast." The most virtuous lady of her acquaintance, 
who had dropped her for over a year, now insisted on her mak- 
ing her house her home pr«"'"" c tnfnlnnpl Vancii+art'« Hpr> ar t. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. I2 g 

ure for India. After this it was impossible to deny that even 
in the most bitter cup there are a few sweet drops of compen- 
sation. Yet Blanche was ill at ease. In face of all the hospi- 
tality and kindness shown to the newly-married couple she could 
not help asking herself how long the whitening process to which 
she had been subjected would last. Already in her heart of 
hearts she doubted its durability, and realised that the pronun- 
ciation of certain conventional words which converted her into 
a wife, bound to love, honour, and obey, could not alter her 
nature. Her proud, irregulated spirit resented any master, no 
matter how gentle or loving. When she looked forward to the 
future a shudder of despair ran through her frame. Although 
she had only been married a week she already saw clouds on 
the horizon, which threatened to extend and increase. The 
Colonel was so good, and he expected her to be so good also. 
It was difficult not to shock him, and yet, on the other hand, if 
she considered every word it made her feel hypocritical and 
uncomfortable. They were not at their ease together. He grew 
pompous, she dull. She had hoped things would improve after 
matrimony, instead of which they had gone from bad to worse. 
His very presence in the room irritated her. Sometimes she 
could hardly bring herself to be civil to him. And the terrible 
part of it all was she had not a fault to find with him. He was 
such a kind, devoted creature. But she could not help it, his 
devotion bored her intensely. Every time he left her alone — 
and, good Heavens ! how seldom that was — she experienced a 
sense of relief. And this was marriage. Should she be able to 
endure it through all the long, long years to come ? Would she 
have strength to act her part to the bitter end, sit opposite to 
him day after day, month after month, and never let him guess 
the stormy feelings in her heart ? Could she set her face to one 
fixed pattern and never for an instant lift the mask ? That was 
what most good wives did. She had seen it often, and admired 
the heroic acting which bore slights with apparent equanimity, 
insults with every outward seeming of indifference — acting so 
clever, so finished, that only the closest observer could detect 
the real, tortured nature of the woman, quivering at every stab. 
Yes, they were heroines ; but for herself she did not possess the 
qualities which render endurance a virtue. She would rather 
break than bend, defy than bear. 

She and Philip would have spent their lives in wrangling 
royally. The Colonel never wrangled. He only remonstrated 
with a pained, puzzled look in his mild eyes. It drove her 
regularly mad, for it always made her feel that she was in the 
wrong. 

As she read about the wedding at Beechlands a fair face rose 



130 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

to her mind, handsome as a god's, in spite of its shifty expres- 
sion and insincere smile. Her husband could not understand 
why she was so quiet and depressed, and took so little interest 
in their preparations for departure. He hovered round her 
uneasily, and at length inquired, in a tone of tender anxiety, if 
his bride were not well. 

" Oh ! yes," she answered shortly. " I'm perfectly well. There's 
nothing whatever the matter with me." 

'• I thought you seemed dull, my darling, and out of sorts." 

" Do I ? " and she laughed a bitter laugh. " It is extremely 
kind of you to interest yourself so much in the state of my 
health. The truth is, I am not yet accustomed to the dignity 
and honour of being ' married and done for.' One feels rather 
like a bird with his wings clipped at first." 

" Blanche, dearest, it grieves me to hear you talk in this 
way." 

" Why ! what have I said now ? I'm always saying something 
wrong apparently." 

" Am I indeed such a tyrant that you think of me as if I 
were your gaoler." 

" Every husband is, more or less, to the woman he marries." 

" That is a sentiment with which I cannot agree. Where true 
affection exists there can be no question of mastery on the one 
side or of slavery on the other. Do you honestly accuse me of 
being too masterful." 

li Oh ! no you're very pleasant, and all that sort of thing, 
but " 

" But what, Blanche ? If I have erred it has not been inten- 
tionally." 

She shrugged her shoulders with an impatient gesture. 

" As we have got to live together all our lives I wish you 
would understand one thing, Weldon. It will save such a lot 
of trouble if you can remember it from the beginning." 

" Well ! " he said, quiet and pale. " What is it ? " 

" Don't, for goodness' sake, demand an explanation of every 
word I may happen to utter. In the first place, I decline to give 
it, and, in the second, it's irritating beyond conception. If you 
think I am not lively or cheerful, instead of asking questions, 
take it for granted that I happen to be in a silent mood, and don't 
wish to go through a strict cross-examination as to why I feel 
disinclined to chatter like a parrot. Everybody is dull at times, 
and it is too much to expect an unfortunate woman always to 
play the clown for man's edification." 

" But, Blanche dear, if you are feeling dull it is for me to try 
and enliven you." 

" It's no use trying when vou won't succeed. In future if 



WEDDED TO STORE } ? }1 

you see me with one of these fits on the greatest service you can 
do me is to leave me alone." 

It was an ungracious speech, uttered in a moment of irritation. 

Colonel Vansittart looked at his wife and sighed. 

" You are a strange woman," he said. " I feel that [ don't 
understand you, or you me. Although we are married, we stand 
apart. There are times when I almost think that you hate me. 
If this is so, Blanche — if any portion of your present unhappi- 
ness is owing to me, don't be afraid to tell the truth. I love you 
too well, dear, to render your life miserable. Girls occasionally 
make mistakes. If you feel that you have made one, and can- 
not live happily with me, I — I," and his voice trembled a little, 
"will go to India alone." 

In an instant she saw what her position would be if she were 
without a strong hand to guide and support her. A great fear 
seized her — a horror of being left to battle helplessly with her 
evil impulses. Moreover his kindness and generosity appealed 
to all that was best in her complex nature. She laughed hyster- 
ically. 

" Why, Weldon ! " she said, speaking in a tone of artificial 
mirth, " what an old goose you are to be sure, to take my 
foolish speeches so seriously. Anyone can see that you have 
not been much accustomed to womankind." And she laid her 
hand on his arm. 

He thrilled at her touch. This man who had gone through half 
a dozen wars without turning a hair was completely subjugated. 

" Blanche ! " he cried, passionately, catching her in his arms 
and straining her to him, " I do love you so. No, don't re- 
pulse me," as she tried to free herself. " I am a great clumsy 
fellow, I know ; dull when I ought to be gay, and gay when I 
ought to be dull. But my affection is genuine, and if only you 
were not so cold and hard, you could make what you chose of 
me " 

'' Vou are good enough as you are," she interrupted, with real 
emotion. 

" Oh ! my darling, my darling," he continued, growing elo- 
quent from sheer force of feeling. " We are husband and wife, 
and ought to be very dear to each other. God is witness how 
dear you are to me, but I sadly fear the love is all on my side. 
Can't you — won't you try to care for me a little bit ? " In his 
agitation he loosed his hold, and began striding vehemently up 
and down the room. 

All of a sudden she burst into a passion of tears, and flung 
herself face downwards on the sofa. In an instant he was kneel- 
ing by her side, horrified at the effect of his words. 

"Blanche!" he cried, '"what have I done ? Oh! tell me, 
wha 



132 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



She tried to speak, but sobs prevented her. 

"lam a stupid brute," he went on, " and have hurt your 
feelings. I had no business to be so rough, or to take you un- 
awares. Darling, you must tell me of my faults, and I will 
endeavour to correct them all. There is nothing I would not 
do for your sake." And laying his big hand on her head, he 
gently smoothed away the hair from her brow. 

The sound of his manly, tender voice, the touch of his strong 
fingers, filled her with a sense of abasement. She caught his 
hand and kissed it. The warm blood rushed to his honest 
face. 

" It — it is not y — you whom I dislike, but — myself," she fal- 
tered, contritely. 

A look of rapture illumined his countenance. 

" Can it be that I have made a mistake ? Is it possible that 
I am not so indifferent to you as I supposed ? Oh ! Blanche, 
then indeed should I be a happy man." 

" You are too good for me, Weldon. I knew it from the first, 
and ought never to have married you. If your life is broken 
and marred, I shall be the cause of it." And again she hid her 
face among the cushions. 

He raised her gently in his arms, as a mother might raise a 
little child. 

" My beloved," he said, " your nerves are unstrung, else 
you never could say so foolish a thing. What next, I wonder ! 
My life broken — my life marred, and through you ! I don't 
think you quite realise yet my devotion, or how proud I am of 
my beautiful wife. If she would only love me a little, at this 
moment I could die happy, feeling I had nothing left to wish 
for." 

She turned her tear-stained face away. She could not stand 
the gaze of those kind brown eyes. They were as a reproach. 

" I — I — will try," she said, unsteadily, unconscious of the 
confession conveyed in her speech. 

He kissed her quietly on the forehead. All his passion had 
fled, forced back like a wave from the shore, for he knew that 
his fears were confirmed, and that he held no place in her heart. 
But he was a brave man, and did not despair. 

" I must be content to wait for the fulfilment of my happiness," 
he said, soberly. " Please God, it will come some day." 

So saying, he left the room, with an instinctive feeling that 
she desired to be alone, and did not as yet derive any solace 
from his society. The knowledge caused exquisite pain, but 
he registered an inward vow that if kindness, patience, and for- 
bearance could win a woman, he would win her. He was not a 
man to cry out when he was hurt, and make a ereat fuss without 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 133 

attempting any remedy. In his quiet way he preferred to act 
rather than talk. 

Although she did not know it, Blanche was fortunate in one 
respect. She could hardly have fallen into better hands. 



CHAPTER XVII. 

GOING TO THE MEET. 

Bligh and Philip went to Paris for their honeymoon, intending 
to stay away a fortnight or three weeks. But Sir Philip, like a 
good many of his compatriots, hated being abroad, and felt 
strange and uncomfortable out of his own country. He spoke 
French with considerable difficulty, and with an execrable accent. 
Nevertheless, he displayed extreme resentment whenever he 
failed to make himself understood, and dubbed the natives a set 
of stupid fools. 

Life at an hotel, even when you had retained the best " suite " 
of rooms in it, was very different, from being at Beechlands. 
He missed the luxuries cf Lome, his shooting, horses and 
servants ; his cosy smoking-room and particular arm-chair. 

Bligh began by taking him to the Louvre, Notre Dame, etc., 
but she soon discovered that he exhibited no interest in picture 
galleries, and detested sight-seeing when unconnected with 
horses and dogs. He frankly admitted that he saw nothing to 
admire in a lot of fusty old canvases, or in a dingy cathedral. 
After the first day or two he declined to go beyond the boulevards 
and the Palais Royal, where he spent his time principally look- 
ing at the tobacconists' shops, and criticising the various meer- 
schaum pipes designed by French genius. There were only two 
things in Paris of which Sir Philip condescended to express un- 
qualified approval — namely, the cooking and the theatres. He 
and Bligh visited by turns the various restaurants, and where 
they should dine was always the most important question of the 
day. Unfortunately Bligh's gastronomic taste was by no means 
highly developed. Of late years it had not received much cul- 
tivation, and she preferred simple fare to costly side dishes 
composed of unseasonable delicacies. Sir Philip expressed 
himself greatly disappointed by her want of appreciation. 

" I never saw such a person in my life," he grumbled. " It's 
like throwing pearls before swine. A good dinner is regularly 
wasted upon you. As for the wine, it does not matter what I 
order, you always stick to that cold, nasty water." 

They did not agree anv better in their tastes as regarded the 



134 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



theatres. Bligh loved going to the opera above everything, 
whereas her husband hated music, and cared only for ballets 
and burlesques. Even in such trifling matters as eating and 
acting, it was surprising how few points they had in common. 
What she thought odious, he termed " prime "; what she con- 
sidered vulgar, he pronounced first-rate. The one liked simpli- 
city, the other delighted in parade and ostentation ; the one never 
lost an opportunity of acquiring knowledge, the other was pro- 
foundly satisfied with the small stock already possessed. In 
fact, there was no real congeniality between them. Their natures 
were too unlike to fuse into a harmonious whole. 

Thus ten days passed away, and every morning Sir Philip 
racked his brains for an excuse to cut the honeymoon short, and 
return to his native land. For a while he said nothing, being 
afraid'of hurting Bligh's feelings, but at last he could stand it 
no longer, and in a fit of desperation remarked to his bride — " 1 
say, Bligh, don't you find Paris rather slow, because, if so, it 
strikes me we might be thinking of going home." 

She jumped at the notion. She had striven hard not to let 
him see how much she longed to put an end to their state of 
dual solitude — for, after all, that was what this wedding trip of 
theirs amounted to ; and it was an agreeable surprise to find that 
his wish coincided with her own. 

" By all means," she responded readily. " I am quite willing 
to go whenever you are." 

He was delighted at her accepting his proposition in such 
good part, and advancing no objections. 

" People are fools to come abroad for their honeymoon, when 
they are so very much more comfortable in their own country 
and their own homes," he observed. "To my mind, the only 
time when Paris is really enjoyable is during the Grand Prix. 
Then it's pleasant enough, running over for a couple of days, and 
hobnobbing with all one's friends ; but now there is absolutely 
nothing to see and nothing to do." 

Bligh's thoughts reverted to the treasures in the Louvre, which 
he had refused even to glance at ; but she made no answer, hav- 
ing already learnt the wisdom of the maxim, that if speech is 
silver, silence is golden. The discreet wife holds her tongue 
when she does not agree, and thus wards off many a quarrel. 

" Do you think you could pack up and be off to-morrow ? " he 
inquired, finding she did not reply. 

" Oh ! yes, Philip, easily. I have not much luggage ; indeed, 
I am inclined to believe you have the most of the two." Then 
a happy thought struck her, and she added, " Isn't the cub 
hunting season in full swing just now ? It seems such a pity for 
you to miss more of it tb?" ™ A non hpln " 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



J 35 



" By Jove ! " he exclaimed. " What a sensible little thing you 
are ! Yes, of course it's a pity. There are all the horses at the 
present moment eating their heads off. This very morning I 
had a letter from Masterton, saying that they were having first- 
rate sport. Last Monday it appears the hounds got on to the line 
of an old dog fox before it was possible to stop them, and ran 
as hard as they could split from Caryl's Clump to Gossington 
Gorse. An eight mile point as the crow flies. Awfully good, 
wasn't it ? " 

" Yes, very, I should think," answered Bligh, who, where 
sporting matters were concerned, was somewhat of an ignoramus. 

" Let me see," continued Sir Philip, in high good-humour at 
the prospect of making his appearance in the hunting field a 
whole week sooner than he had anticipated. " This is Thurs- 
day. If we were to start the first thing to-morrow morning, we 
could travel on from London by the evening train, and provid- 
ing we arrived at Victoria pretty punctually, reach Beechlands 
somewhere about half-past ten o'clock. Would it tire you too 
much to go straight through ? " 

" Not a bit," she responded, her eyes shining with delight at 
the prospect of so soon being with her mother again. " We had 
much better not break the journey, and then you can get out 
hunting on Saturday." 

" The same thing struck me, and as we seem both to have had 
enough of foreign parts, I'll go and telegraph to the old lady at 
once." 

For the rest of the day Sir Philip was in great spirits, and 
showed his glee by ordering an extra sumptuous dinner, on the 
ground that it was their last one. He called for champagne, and 
drank freely of the sparkling beverage, to Bligh's inward regret, 
for she had already had occasion to notice that half a dozen 
glasses of wine were sufficient to render him exceedingly talka- 
tive and argumentative. However, the evening passed off 
without any serious contrc-temps, and on the following afternoon 
they had the gratification of once more finding themselves on 
English soil. Certainly it was pleasant coming home to receive 
such a welcome. The two dear old ladies could not make 
enough of them, and fussed and purred over their respective 
darlings as if they had been away for ten years instead of ten 
days. Their loving faces were wreathed in smiles and beautified 
by affection. And they appeared so happy together that it quite 
did Bligh's heart good to see them. There was so much to say 
on either side, so many experiences to exchange, that the night 
was far advanced before the travellers were allowed to retire 
to rest. But joy does not tire, and Bligh felt no fatigue. 

Sir Philip had sent for his stud groom shortly after arriving, 



136 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

and had arranged to ride two of his best hunters on the morrow, 
when the hounds met within five miles of Beechlands. Bligh 
expressed a strong wish to go to the meet, and in spite of its 
being fixed for nine o'clock, Lady Verschoyle volunteered to 
drive with her daughter-in-law. Sir Philip was pleased at the 
interest his wife showed in his favourite pursuit, and promised to 
buy her a nice quiet hack, and teach her to ride, so that after a 
while she might accompany him out hunting. As for Mrs. Bur- 
ton, she elected to remain at home. Although much better, she 
scarcely felt equal to the exertion of rising earlier than usual. 

But those who possessed health and strength were well repaid 
the next morning for losing an additional hour of bed. The 
day broke clear and fine, with just a touch of sharpness in the 
air suggestive of autumn. The trees in the park showed very 
bright and yellow as the sunshine played upon their changing 
foliage and invested it with those gorgeous tints which herald 
decay. Every now and then a leaf, dead, withered, and twisted 
into a fantastic shape, fluttered from its stalk to the ground, 
where it lay a tiny golden mass on the emerald grass. The 
birds chirped and plumed their feathers, as if they refused to 
believe that the summer had departed, and winter frosts were 
near at hand. Sir Philip's large-eyed Alderneys cropped the 
fresh herbage, whisking their loni^ tails against their sleek russet 
sides. Outside the park the hedgerows were adorned as if fairy 
hands had been at work during the night. They were literally 
hung with gossamer nets, all sloping in the same direction, the 
work of numberless busy spiders. Great drops of dew sparkled 
like electric lights in their shining meshes, illuminating the 
shrunken form of some bloodless captive. 

" How beautiful and fresh the country is ! " Bligh exclaimed, 
as they drove along in a comfortable victoria, drawn by a pair 
of well-matched carriage horses. " On such a morning as this 
one feels inclined to bow down and worship at the shrine of 
Nature. Look at the effect of those cloud-shadows gliding along 
the field, and how they swallow up the light, only to let it re- 
appear in their train with redoubled glory. Philip was right — 
Paris is not to be compared to this, and I am more glad than 
I can tell to be at home again." 

Lady Verschoyle smiled pleasantly. Bligh was a young 
woman after her own heart, who did not care for towns and shop 
windows. 

" I think Philip is glad also ! " she said. " How happy and 
handsome he looked as he cantered away from the front door 
on his hack. I may be mistaken, but I always consider that he 
never appears to so much advantage as on horseback. Of 
course, to-day he was in ordinary clothes, but you should see 
him in his red coat." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



l 37 



" I can quite imagine it is very becoming," rejoined Bligh, 
amused by, yet respecting the mother's pride. " Is Philip a 
hard rider ? He talks as if he were." 

" A good many of them do that, but I believe Philip goes 
uncommonly well. I don't know much about it myself, but so 
I am told. He can't bear to be beaten by other people. It's 
quite funny sometimes to listen to these sporting folk, when two 
or three of them get together. You would fancy that to jump 
a hedge first, and in front of your neighbours, is the proudest 
distinction in the world. It seems to me there is a good deal 
of rivalry and jealousy amongst their ranks, and whenever 
Philip hunts, I am always in a fidget for fear of some accident 
happening." 

" Has he ever had a bad fall ? " asked Bligh. 

" No. Curiously enough, up till now he has escaped with no 
worse injury than a few bruises and contusions. But I live in 
constant dread of some serious mishap, and if he happens to be 
late I go through a perfect martyrdom of anxiety, imagining all 
the different evils that may have befallen him. The wife of a 
hunting man must often have a miserable time of it. For your 
sake, Bligh, I hope you are not nervous." 

" No, I don't think I am ; but I have not yet been tested, and 
my immunity from fear may arise from ignorance. It seems to 
me though, that to anyone who really knows how to ride, hunting 
must be glorious work. I can imagine nothing more exciting 
than being on a good horse, and feeling that you and he between 
you are prepared to face every obstacle without looking for any 
help from outside." 

" It's all very well as long as people go scot free," rejoined 
Lady Verschoyle. " But I should fancy that when they broke 
an arm or leg, or were crippled for life, as is sometimes the 
case, the question would certainly arise, is the game worth the 
candle ? If you ever do take to hunting, my dear Bligh, which, 
with such a sporting husband, seems not at all improbable, I 
hope you will ride mildly." 

" I'm not likely to ride in any other way," said Bligh, reas- 
suringly. " One has to begin young in order to be a good 
horsewoman, and I have never had the chance." 

" I don't the least object to ladies going to the meets, and 
even hacking about the roads," said the dowager, " but I cer- 
tainly think women ought not to hunt like men, although I 
am quite aware a great many do so nowadays. In my youth, 
girls who hunted were considered almost unsexed." 

Bligh laughed. 

" Dear Lady Verschoyle, you need have no fear about my 
turning into an Amazon. The first thing I must learn is to 



138 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

stick on, and I don't mind confessing to you, that that feat 
alone appears to me far from easy." 

They were now close to the rendezvous, and passed several 
mounted grooms leading their master's hunters out to covert. 
Great strapping animals the horses looked, with plenty of blood 
and bone, and all the muscle which good oats and condition 
could give them. At this early period of the season they were 
very fresh, and started like two-year-olds when they heard 
wheels behind them grinding over the stone-darned roads. 
Shortly afterwards the victoria pulled up before an old grey 
manor house, which belonged to a nourishing yeoman, whose 
fathers and forefathers had lived in it for centuries. The owner 
stood at the threshold of his oaken door, which was thrown 
open to all comers. Hale and vigorous, with a rosy, good- 
tempered face set in a frame of snow-white hair, he looked as 
fine a specimen of the real, old-fashioned sportsman to be met 
with in the United Kingdom. Mr. Hetherington was one of 
the most noted figures of the Masterton Hunt. High and low 
respected him equally. Although considerably past his seven- 
tieth year, he still rode nearly as hard as in his younger days, 
and very few there were who in a good long hunting run could 
beat the gallant old man on his gallant old mare. The pair 
between them jumped many an ugly-looking obstacle from 
which younger men thought it no shame to turn away, in all the 
brave array of scarlet coats and pipe-clayed leathers. 



CHAPTER XVIII. 

a morning's cub hunting. 

When Bligh and Lady Verschoyle arrived the hounds were 
already congregated on a grass plot in front of the house. 
Mounted on a powerful brown horse the huntsman stood in 
their midst, occasionally tossing a bit of biscuit to the young 
entry. Their elder brethren waved their slender sterns saga- 
ciously, and looked about with an intelligent air, which seemed 
to say, " We know quiet well what is expected of us later on. 
We may, therefore, take things easy whilst we can." The 
whips close by cracked their thongs, and exchanged a few 
words now and again with the foot people when they pressed 
too closely round the central group. It was a pretty sight to 
unaccustomed eyes, and the brightness of the sun, the blueness 
of the sky and freshness of the day enhanced its attractions. 
One by one the habitus? of the hunt rode un. and ex- 



WEDDED TO SPORT. I3g 

changed cordial greetings. Scarcely a day went by now without 
some noted Nimrod putting in an appearance. Sir Philip's 
arrival was the signal for a regular series of congratulations. 
Among his own set of fast, well-to-do young men he was popular 
enough. They enjoyed his good dinners, excellent wine, and 
capital shooting. Having so much to bestow he was worth cul- 
tivating, and they cultivated him accordingly, especially the 
needy, and that class of destitute gentlemen who maybe broadly 
designated as social parasites. The latter found it very con- 
venient to have the run of a place like Beechlands, and encour- 
aged all the foibles of its master by way of keeping on intimate 
terms with him. But the other and more influential members 
of the hunt had, to use a man's expression, never quite " tumbled " 
to Sir Philip. They all liked the mother, but they did not like 
the son. They thought him conceited, self-sufficient, and de- 
ficient in brains. Whenever they tried to talk to him seriously 
he seemed to have next to nothing to say, and, if the truth must 
be told, they put him down as an ass. 

However, now he was married they hoped he would turn over 
a new leaf, and display a little more interest in politics and 
county matters. His station demanded that he should take some 
small part in the latter, though hitherto he had entirely neglected 
his local duties. But all this might be changed, and there was 
no reason why he should not make a fresh start and become a 
sensible and useful member of society. So on the present occa- 
sion Sir Philip's foes welcomed him with more cordiality than 
usual, the feeling among them being that as a married man by- 
gones were bygones, and it was their business to encourage him 
in leading a more settled and domestic life. Everybody experi- 
enced a certain curiosity to see what sort of a woman his wife 
was, and he soon had a small crowd round him begging for the 
honour of an introduction to the new Lady Verschoyle. The 
very biggest man in the county — no less a personage than the 
Marquis of Midlandshire — who until to-day had seldom honoured 
Sir Philip with more than a stately nod, unbent so far as to ex- 
press a condescending hope that sometime or other, when they 
had a meet at Midland Castle, the bride and bridegroom would 
come over for the night. Certainly the invitation was vague. 
" Sometime or other " conveyed a tantalising indefiniteness to 
the mind, which might mean anything or nothing, but the wish 
had been expressed before a goodly number of listeners, and it 
pleased Sir Philip — to whom the portals of Midland Castle had 
hitherto been closed — not a little. With a vast amount of cere- 
mony he introduced the Marquis to Bligh. Unfortunately she 
did not catch his name, and smiled and nodded just as if he 
w j: -•„ — - j -r i em g a member of the Cab- 



140 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

inet and the future Prime Minister of England. She merely saw 
in him a tall, somewhat pompous-looking, middle-aged gentleman, 
and did not feel a bit impressed, except by the extreme shabbi- 
ness of his scarlet coat, the tails of which were of a faded purple. 

" Poor old man," she thought to herself " perhaps he can't 
afford a new one. But he might have it dyed. It would cer- 
tainly not look so bad." 

They chatted away about the weather and the hounds, Bligh's 
artless remarks concerning the latter calling a smile to the great 
man's face. The conversation did not last more than a couple 
of minutes, and was entirely commonplace in character ; never- 
theless, when the Marquis moved away he was pleased to observe 
to his intimate friend and neighbour, Lord Gossington, of Gos- 
sington, that the bride seemed a nice, unaffected little thing, and 
he only hoped she would succeed in licking that young cub of a 
husband of hers into shape. " Though, mind you," he added, 
" I don't envy her the task. He's a fool and doesn't know it." 

On the whole the verdict pronounced upon Bligh was favour- 
able, if not exactly enthusiastic. The men dubbed her plain, 
but pleasant ; whilst, as for the women, they were not jealous of 
her looks, and so pardoned her the position which, in some mys- 
terious and unaccountable fashion, she had managed to achieve. 
Of course, they pitied Sir Philip. A wealthy eligible seldom 
goes to the altar without exciting profound compassion among 
his female acquaintances, who are unanimous in declaring that 
he has been " taken in." And, if the bride be pretty and stylish, 
they are still more firmly convinced of her designing and artful 
nature, and experience yet greater difficulty in overcoming their 
prejudices. 

Before long the master gave the word of advance, and a move 
was made to a covert hard by, known by the name of Blackthorn 
Holt. By this time the field included a fair number of people, 
and as the procession jogged along late arrivals kept joining it 
from various quarters. Our heroine's victoria took up its station 
on the crest of a commanding hill, from whence the occupants 
obtained an extensive view of the surrounding country. 

No time was lost in putting the hounds into covert, and for 
a space there was silence, broken only by the pattering of feet and 
the cracking of dry twigs. Then, all at once, a whimper rang 
out on the still air, followed by another, and yet another, until 
at last the whole pack contributed towards an eager chorus of 
sound. One could distinguish the deep notes of the veterans, 
in contradistinction to the high, yelping tones of the puppies. 
Bligh's attention was riveted on the covert. Presently she saw a 
small red object steal out of it, and come gliding swiftly through 
the long grass towards the™ cu ~ "*"" ''""'' u "~ "'"" *■ ake 



tVEDDED TO SPOKT. I4I 

sure they did not deceive her, and, grasping Lady Verschoyle's 
arm, said — 

" Oh ! look, look, it is a fox I do believe. Can you see him ? 
How extraordinary that nobody attempts to go after him." 

It took Bligh several minutes to understand that the princi- 
pal object of cub hunting is to scatter the young foxes and teach 
them the needful lesson that if they wish to retain their lives 
they must trust rather to their own fleet limbs than to a snug 
shelter, apt on occasions to swarm with enemies. Two — three — 
cubs made their escape unmolested, after much clamouring, and 
a good deal of patient hunting on the part of the elder hounds, 
who set the youngsters a most meritorious example of steadiness 
and perseverance. But the covert was very thick, and several 
of the juveniles grew weary of a task which required more effort 
than they had yet been in the habit of exercising. They crept 
out and gazed wistfully around them, with an air which said, 
almost as clearly as words : — "This is uncommonly slow work. 
Let's do something else." They were like young children, and 
had yet to learn the lesson that idleness was not tolerated among 
their ranks. On every occasion when they were caught dawd- 
ling the whip galloped up, and laying roundly about him with the 
thong of his hunting crop rated the culprits severely. Two 
or three vigorous flicks soon sent them yelping back into the 
covert again, though some refused to hunt in spite of punish- 
ment, and lay down feebly amongst the undergrowth. 

Just when things were getting slack a loud cry from the foot 
people proclaimed that yet a fourth fox had faced the open. 
Countless view holloas rent the air. It was as if every tongue 
had been suddenly let loose. The huntsman came riding down 
the centre ride of the covert in hot haste. He knew that this was 
the last of the litter, and he blew his horn with right lusty lungs. 
Out leapt the old hounds in response, followed by a certain num- 
ber of the young division. The field had been growing tired of 
inaction and of the disagreeable task of trying to induce mad- 
fresh horses to stand still and not buck or kick. Glad of a gal- 
lop they rushed impetuously forward in pursuit of the fox, until 
a loud and indignant " Hounds, gentlemen, hounds," from the 
master reminded them that with the best will in the world they 
could not hunt by the unassisted aid of their own fine horseman- 
ship and love of jumping. 

Five minutes' delay, and then hounds settled fairly to the line 
of the fox. There was a good scent, as so often proves the case 
early in the season, when the leaves still linger on the hedgerows 
and appear to retain the delicate aroma of Master Pug. Every- 
where the ditches were choked up with nettles and coarse grass. 
They wore things to be looked at and carefully avoided in \nx 



142 



WEDDED TO SPOA'P 



present condition. But what are dangers to the gallant spirits 
of a hunt — those brave leaders who care little whether they bite 
the dust or not so long as they get to the other side ? Nettles 
and grass can't stop such as these. They would jump a house 
if it presented itself. And for the more timid procrastination 
achieves wonders. A single horse sprawling up to his middle 
in a blind ditch makes a hole in it that gladdens the anxiously 
pulsing heart and renders the way clear for the majority. Diffi- 
culties diminish in the most marvellous manner if people only 
bide their time. This rule, however, applies to the regular sea- 
son. In the cub hunting days the fields are limited, and those 
who intend to jump must be prepared to fall, whilst those who 
don't had better gallop straight off for the ever-friendly gate. 

In spite of Reynard being only a baby he proved a remark- 
ably sturdy one, and although he shaped his course in a circle 
lie ran the ring at a real good pace, which soon told upon the 
condition of his pursuers. From the top of the hill where stood 
their carriage Bligh and Lady Yerschoyle could see the whole of 
the hunt stretched out before them like a panorama. First came 
the hounds, glancing over the green sward in a silver streak, 
their speckled sides gleaming bright in the sunshine. Half a 
field behind rode the huntsman, leaning forward in his saddle as 
he watched every movement of the leaders. He was closely 
followed by some dozen gentlemen and hard-riding farmers, con- 
spicuous among them being old Mr. Hetherington. In the rear 
of this gallant group laboured an attenuated string of horsemen 
and women, who dotted the green fields for nearly half a mile. 

Bligh's face was flushed with excitement. She, too, began to 
feel something of the enthusiasm of the chase. 

" I believe I should like hunting if I could do it," she said. 
" After all, say what one likes about the folly of riding helter- 
skelter after a little, smelling fox, there must be a good deal inp 
snort which brings so manv and such different classes of people 
together. Until to-day I never understood what the charm was, 
bat now I can thoroughly realise it. Oh ! look, look, they are 
coining our way." And in her eagerness she stood up so as to 
obtain a better view of the animated scene. 

In effect the fox, finding himself somewhat sharply pursued, 
made a bend and headed straight back for the covert in which 
he had been born and bred. To achieve this object he was 
forced to creep through a large hedge that ran parallel with the 
road. The two ladies caught sight of his draggled brush, now 
almost trailing along the ground. 

" Poor thing ! " exclaimed Lady Verschoyle. " I hope they 
won't catch him. He looks tired, and my sympathies arc always 
with the oppressed. How awful his sensations must be at this 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



H3 



moment ! I think there is nothing so cruel as hunting an animal 
to its death." About five minutes afterwards up came the 
hounds, their bristles standing, their eyes gleaming ferociously. 
The air rang with murderous canine music as they raced towards 
the hedge. " It was stiff and full of foliage, and checked their 
impetuous onslaught for a few moments. But they were not to 
be d-'terred, and soon wriggled a way through the thorns. And 
now the huntsman charged the fence on his good brown horse. 
There happened to be an extra wide ditch on the far side, and 
a nasty dip in the ground on taking off, which rendered it any- 
thing but a nice place. Neither rider nor steed, however, hesi- 
tated for a single instant. Yv'here hounds went there went they. 
The noble animal cocked his ears, gave his head a resolute 
lunge forward, and hey ! presto ! they were over. Nothing could 
have been neater. 

All of a sudden Bligh held her breath, for she perceived that 
the next man was Sir Philip. Lady Verschoyle shuddered and 
turned away her head. 

" Tell me when it's over," she said to her daughter-in-law. 
" I can't bear to look on. I know he'll meet with his death 
some of these days. You'll think me very silly, but I cannot 
help myself." 

Poor clear old lady ! On the present occasion she need have 
had no fears. Sir Philip's horse jumped the fence most beauti- 
fully, and that in spite of an ill-judged job in the mouth from 
his rider just as he was in the act of taking off. He cleared the 
whole thing with a splendid stag-like bound, and never touched 
a twig. Bligh began to think that jumping must be quite easy 
work, but she was destined almost immediately to be unde- 
ceived. Sir Philip's successor, scorning a lead, chose a place a 
little to the right. But his animal stopped in his stride, as if he 
had half a mind to refuse when he saw how formidable was the 
obstacle. A vigorous dig of the spurs conquered his indecision ; 
he had lost impetus, however, and landed with both hind legs 
well in the ditch. He tried to recover himself, failed in the 
attempt, and with a snort and a groan rolled on to his side. 
Fortunately the rider was not hurt, and never letting go of the 
reins was soon up and away again, none the worse, for the 
accident. To Bligh's indignation directly he regained the saddle 
he commenced to belabour his steed. 

" Oh ! what a shame," she cried. " Who is that man ? He is 
a regular monster. I wish I could hit him as he is hitting his 
poor horse." 

" His name is Captain Dashwood, and he is a great friend of 
Philip's," answered her companion. 

'■ Oh ! I am sorry for that. I don't like him one bit. What 



144 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

a horrid temper he must have to vent his ill-humour upon an 
unfortunate animal. If you noticed, the man was quite as 
undecided as the quadruped. Philip and the huntsman rode 
their hunters at the fence resolutely, and as if they meant to get 
over, but Captain Dashwood went at it in a very half-hearted 
manner." 

Five minutes later and the entire field were assembled at the 
covert side, debating the important question whether Reynard 
should be ruthlessly dug out from the drain in which he had 
taken refuge, or left to his own devices. Hounds and huntsman 
were eager for blood, but the master did not choose to run the 
risk of chopping a fox in one of his best coverts. He therefore 
put his veto on the spade business. Pug, having well stretched 
his legs and tested his lungs, was reluctantly relinquished. 
During the proceedings above narrated, a good deal of time had 
been spent, and consequently the morning was now well ad- 
vanced. The sun's rays shone with increasing warmth, and 
sucked up the moisture lingering on grass and leaf. 

Mr. Masterton decided to move on without delay to the next 
draw. It was some way off, and necessitated a jog of three or 
four miles. The direction being entirely away from Beechlands, 
Sir Philip rode up to his wife and mother, and recommended 
them to go home. He was in excellent spirits, and the exercise 
had lent expression and animation to his face. 

'• I'm glad you've seen such a lot," he said to Bligh. " Some 
days one sees nothing in a carriage, but if the run had been 
made to order you could not possibly have had a better." 



CHAPTER XIX. 

TWO " GOOD FELLOWS." 

Jack Rickerby and Captain Dashwood hunted in couples. 
They occupied a comfortable little lodging in Beechington, in 
which small country town they had put up for several con- 
secutive seasons. They were both poor, both fond of the best 
of everything, especially when they could indulge in it at some- 
body else's expense. This propensity, combined with a love of 
billiards, card-playing, horse-racing, and wine, often rendered it 
necessary for them to supplement their income by the exercise 
of their wits. These had the reputation of being very sharp, 
and although nobody knew exactly how the two gentlemen sub- 
sisted, they managed to keep the wolf from the door somehow. 
There were a good many queer stories afloat as to the financial 



WEDDED TO SPORT. I45 

shifts to which they sometimes had recourse, but as the couple 
were always pleasant and insinuating, rode nice horses, and 
would invariably part with them at a price, most of the members 
of the hunting field discreetly shut their ears to tales told at 
their neighbours' expense. Of course a few victims existed, 
who abused Jack Rickerby and Captain Dashwood roundly. 
These had generally purchased animals which had been seen 
going well to hounds, but which, when they changed stables, 
turned out to be screws. It so happened that Sir Philip 
Verschoyle had never yet gone in for any horse-dealing trans- 
actions with the pair, consequently he voted them capital fellows, 
and displayed a great liking for their society. 

Certainly he must either have been very ungrateful or else 
very much more observant than he was had he not done so, for 
nothing could exceed the amiability of Mr. Rickerby and Cap- 
tain Dashwood whenever they chanced to meet. During their 
numerous visits to Beechlands they praised his cook, his wine, 
his horses, and last, but not least, himself. Some people like 
to be surrounded by flatterers ; others are repelled by coarse, 
inartistic, and often insincere eulogy. Sir Philip belonged to 
the former class. He did not care to associate with men above 
him in intellect and position. Perhaps they made him feel 
uncomfortable. However that may be, he showed a decided 
partiality for his inferiors. He liked sycophants whom he 
could patronise, be as rude to as he chose, and then clap on the 
back when his good-humour was restored, whilst they cringed 
and curried favour as if he were a little deity. No doubt this 
sort of society is not beneficial to a rich young man, with more 
money than brains ; but there are many who prefer it to any 
other, simply because, to use a vulgar expression, they feel 
" cock of the walk." Thanks to flattery, obsequiousness, and com- 
plaisance, Jack Rickerby and Captain Dashwood had contrived 
to establish a considerable intimacy between themselves and the 
owner of Beechlands. His marriage had been rather a blow, 
but on putting their sage heads together they arrived at the 
conclusion that their cue was to try and save their friend as 
much as possible from falling under petticoat government. 

" If his wife once gets the upper hand we shall be turned out, 
that's very certain," remarked the astute Captain Dashwood to 
Mr. Rickerby one evening shortly before Sir Philip's return from 
Paris, when they were talking matters over and facing the 
winter prospects with a frankness which they never exhibited 
except when quite alone and summing up their resources. " If 
we lose Beechlands that will mean at least two extra dinners a 
week to pay for, let alone the wine." 

" Never fear," responded Mr. Rickerby, who was of a 



I 4 6 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

bolder and more sanguine nature than his friend. " Verschoyle's 
too fond of lapping up the liquor. He may pretend to be very 
goody-goody just for a bit at first They always do, these 
married men ; but you mark my words, with that little fa i ling of 
his he"ll soon break out" 

•' I never saw such a fellow." observed Captain Dashwood 
contemptuously. " The slightest thing goes to his head. He 
gets regularly tight, whilst you and I don't turn a hair.'' 

Jack Rickerby smiled. He was a tali, unga i nly, looseiy- 
jointed man of about thirty-five, with a thin face, sharp nose, 
bright sunken eves, and a wide, clean-shaven mouth. The 
principal peculiarity 7 of his countenance consisted in a long, 
flexible upper lip. as pliable as a piece of gutta-percha. It lent 
him in turns a facetious, sinister, and benevolent expression. 
Those who knew him best asserted that when he assumed his 
benignant air he was most to be feared. A well-known wag once 
said of him that he looked like a man who had been put together 
in a hum", and half a dozen sheets of paper could not possibly 
convey a more graphic description of his personal appearance. 
Xature had evidently been pressed for time when she fashioned 
him and had not paused to round oft the corners as she turned 
him out on to the wide world posirivelv bristling with angles. 

Captain Dashwood, on the other hand, was a suave, round, 
well-nourished personage, dapper and small, who spoke in a sub- 
dued, unctuous v.av. as if he were fearful of giving offence. 
Occasionally, however, when he forgot his part — which, to do 
him justice, was very seldom — he would let fall a vinegary note, 
so different from his usual sugary accents that one could not 
help asking oneseit" of what was the real man composed — sugar 
or vinegar ? Then one watched and waited for the mask to fall, 
and end'jd by conceiving a grudging admiration for an individual 
who could play the hypocrite with such consummate skill that 
nine out of ten ordinary observers never suspected his true 
character, unless under very exceptional circumstances. 

" It would take a good deal for either you or me to get 
screwed." said Mr. Rickerby. in answer to his friend's remark. 
■• We can stow away as much liquor as most men without being 
any the worse for it. But Verschoyle's really no better than a 
child. It's an act of kindness to put him through his noviate, 
else he'll be so awfully laughed at when once he succeeds in 
freeing himself from his mamma s apron strings and goes out 
into the world." 

" He was just beginning to kick over the traces when he went 
and got married," rejoined Captain Dashwood resentfully. 
"■ Xcv it's a toss up whether he develops into a man or a mouse. 
These spoilt darlings of widowed mothers are generally muffs. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



147 



However, we shall soon see which way the wind blows. Ver- 
schoyle's a very useful acquaintance, and I should be sorry if 
anything happened to interfere with our friendship." 

" In that case," said Jack Rickerby, with a sneer, which he 
took no pains to hide, " I should advise you not to attempt to 
sell him old Corkscrew. It's running too great a risk. Even 
if you did manage to get two hundred for the horse it would 
scarcely pay us in the long run." 

Captain Dashwood looked at his friend admiringly. 

" You're a 'cute fellow, Jack. What I like about you is that 
you have such a power of looking ahead. Most people only see 
a thing from one particular point of view, but you take in every 
aspect. So you think Beechlands, even under the new regime, 
is worth more than two hundred pounds to us. Well, well, per- 
haps you are right. Anyhow, I'll do nothing in a hurry. Cork- 
crew's tendon won't be well before this side of Christmas. So 
we'll procrastinate, and form our opinion of the bride before we 
decide upon any plan of campaign." 

After this conversation it may be inferred that the friends 
were extremely pleased when they received Sir Philip's invi- 
tation to dine and sleep at Beechlands. They both agreed that, 
coming immediately on his return home, it augured exceedingly 
well for the future. His wife's society was, evidently, not all- 
sufficient, and, like so many newly-made Benedicts, he turned 
with relief to the bachelor friends associated in his thoughts 
with jollity and merriment. 

So when evening came Mr. Rickerby and Captain Dashwood 
muffled themselves up well in comforters and ulsters, tucked a 
thick fur rug round their knees, and drove over to their desti- 
nation in a high-wheeled dog-cart, drawn by broken-down 
hunter they were desirous of selling as a harness horse, and 
whose praises they sang just a little too loudly to be genuine. 
The friends, when together, were not given to garrulity as a rule. 

A terse sentence dropped here and there generally sufficed as 
a means of interchanging thought. On the present occasion 
they maintained complete silence until they were clear of the 
town. Then Captain Dashwood broke it by saying — 

" Jack, the brute's infernally lame." 

" He is so," came the response. 

" Confound it. I had Jim Pouncer coming over to see the 
wretched animal to-morrow. He wanted something warranted 
not to run away for his wife to drive. I think we could warrant 
this one, eh ? Now I suppose I shall have to telegraph the first 
thing in the morning and put him off, worse luck." 

As they had started late, and rapid progression with "the best 
harness horse in the kingdom " was not possible, they kept their 



1 48 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

host and hostess waiting over half an hour for dinner. Having 
left off a long way from home Sir Philip had not got back from 
hunting till past four o'clock. Declining to spoil his appetite 
by a heavy meal on returning he happened to be more than 
commonly hungry. It was, therefore, only natural that he should 
grumble pretty loudly at his friends' unpunctuality and consider 
himself very much aggrieved by their non-appearance. 

'' I never saw anything like these chaps," he observed irritably. 
" They get later and later, and seem to fancy they can just walk 
in when they choose, without any consideration for your dinner 
or your cook. What do you say, Bligh ? I vote we don't wait 
any longer.'' 

"I think it would serve them right to begin," she responded. 
" Perhaps they may have forgotten the day, or met with some 
accident." 

" At all events I'll ring. If they turn up it will teach them 
better manners for another time," and Sir Philip gave the bell a 
violent pull, his patience being quite exhausted. Scarcely had 
he done so when the sound of a horse's hoofs was heard coming 
up the drive, and shortly afterwards the two delinquents ap- 
peared. 

" Not late, we hope," they said, airily, shaking hands with 
Bligh as calmly as if they had arrived to the minute. " We took 
it for granted that half-past seven generally means eight, and 
so " 

" Xot in the hunting season," interrupted Sir Philip, severely. 
" I should have thought that two old stagers like you would 
have known that by now. We had just given you up, and were 
on the point of going in to dinner when you arrived." 

"Very sorry, old man," said Captain Dashwood, apologeti- 
cally, as he gave his arm to Bligh. " Fact was, I indulged in 
forty winks after coming in from hunting, and mistook the time." 
It was easier to romance than to reveal stable secrets. 

" Well, well, come along. Let's go into the dining-room. I, 
for one, am ravenous." Sir Philip's manner was not particularly 
genial, so as soon as they were seated at table, the diplomatic 
Captain Dashwood endeavoured to restor him to good humour. 

" What was that you were riding to day ? " he inquired, as a 
preliminary, knowing that even if a man escapes the temptation 
of talking about himself, he very seldom can resist discoursing 
about his horses. '' Is he a new purchase ? I don't remember 
ever having seen him before." 

" He is a horse I bought some six weeks ago," answered Sir 
Philip, who, having swallowed a few mouthfuls of soup, already 
felt more amiably inclined, and smiled forgivingly at his guests. 

" I've never been on him before to-day." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. i 4g 

" He's a very good-looking one," observed Mr. Rickerby, 
deliberately turning his back upon the Dowager Lady Verschoyle, 
whom he secretly dubbed " a silly old woman." " Where did 
you pick him up ? " 

" He came from Toynbee, who furnished him with a most 
tremendous character, and is Irish bred, by Solon out of Emerald 
Isle. He won a hunters' race at Punchestown last spring, beat- 
ing The Rogue and Jane Shore, who have run very respectably 
since. According to Toynbee, the horse is good enough to go 
for the Grand National." 

" I knew he could travel," said Captain Dashwood, in his 
suavest tone, " by the way you passed us all to-day in that first 
little spin. I thought I was on a fast one, but you went by me 
like a flash of lightning. He gallops nice and low, and steals 
over the ground at a good pace, when he looks to be only can- 
tering. What's his age ? " 

" Five off," answered Sir Philip, who, thanks to this judicious 
praise of his nag, was now in the most amiable mood. " With 
any luck, he ought to make me a nice hunter by another 
year." 

"He will, indeed," said Jack Rickerby, emphatically. "If I 
weren't a poor devil, and had the money, I would offer you three 
hundred for him on the spot." 

Sir Philip blinked his eyelids in a gratified manner. People 
always like being able to say, " I refused any amount of money 
for that horse." Quite independently of the animal's worth, it 
flatters their pride. 

" Thanks, but I don't mean parting," he said, a fact of which 
Mr. Rickerby was perfectly well aware. " These Irish quads 
are always poor in condition when they first come over. They 
all want a year's good oats put inside them." 

" He looks to me like an animal who will improve very much," 
said Captain Dashwood. " He has a big frame which wants 
furnishing. Have you any more new ones in the stable ? We 
must look round to-morrow." 

" Yes, altogether I have about half a dozen. The hard going 
at the end of last season played the bear with most of my old 
favourites. There's Beeswing, for instance. I'm keeping her 
on, but my private belief is she'll never come out again." 

" Dear, dear. What a sad pity ! She was a brilliant mare 
that." 

" Yes, she and Guardsman were the two best I ever had." 

" What became of Guardsman ? " inquired Mr. Rickerby. 

" He went the way of all flesh, poor old fellow. Do you 
remember that rippling run we had last March from Hillside 
Spinneys. Tust before wp ar& tr. t ~<-~f orc j v ni a g e) i ie pecked, on 



150 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

landing over a nasty drop, and nearly cut the back sinew of his 
off fore in two. As luck would have it, Higgins happened to be 
paying a visit in the village at the time of the accident, and he 
sewed the place up at once. For a few days it seemed to be 
going on all right. The horse fed, and barring being very lame, 
did not appear much the worse ; but from some cause or other, 
symptoms of blood-poisoning set in, and eventually we were 
forced to destroy him. Poor old Guardsman ! he carried me 
four seasons, and only once gave me a fall, which is saying a 
great deal." 

4i You won't replace him in a hurry," said Captain Dashwood. 
" A better horse never looked through a bridle. I recollect the 
dav when he jumped Blackthorn Brook, and you pounded all 
the field.'' 

A gratified smile passed over Sir Philip's face. 

" Ah ! that was a tidy jump," he said, striving to conceal his 
satisfaction. 

•• It was an extraordinary one, my dear fellow, and I don't be- 
lieve there is another man in the whole hunt who would have 
ridden at such a yawning gulf. Just out of curiosity I went the 
next day and measured it. From bank to bank spanned exactly 
twenty-four feet, and, judging by the hoofmarks, Guardsman 
must have taken off and landed with at least a foot to spare on 
either side." 

" You'll never get another to equal him," said Jack Rickerby, 
emptying his glass in a hurry, as he perceived the butler coming 
round with the champagne. 

"No, 1 don't suppose I shall," responded Sir Philip, "though 
when we get used to each other, I am in hopes that this new one 
may turn out almost as good. He jumped two or three places 
with me to-day in rare form, and Hew them like a real Midland- 
shire hunter. I confess that once or twice my heart was in my 
mouth, for the country rides awfully blind still." 

" It always does at this time of the year," said Captain Dash- 
wood. " Those infernal nettles regular choke up the ditches. 
For my part, 1 never half enjoy hunting until after Christmas. 
At the commencement of the season one's horses are so abomina- 
bly fresh, ones nerves are weak just in proportion as the fenc- 
ing is dangerous. The hedges won't be right till we get a sharp 
frost, or, better still, a good fall of snow to clear away the long 
grass." 

" There seemed a very fair scent to-day," said Sir Philip. 
" Hounds ran well both in the morning and the afternoon." 

" Yes, at first starting I thought we were in for a real good 
thing, but these cubs can't keep the ball a-rolling. They're too 
fat, and soon knuckle under. Still the one we ran to-dav will 



WEDDED TO SPORT. jp 

make a toughish customer when he is two or three months older, 
and he fairly deserved his brush." 

" How are we off for foxes on this side of the county ? " 
asked Sir Philip. " Last year they got rather scarce towards 
the end." 

" That was because Dysack is such a desperate fellow at 
catching them," said Jack Rickerby. " In old Blunt's time it 
was quite an event if we ever killed. But nowadays things are 
very much changed, and Masterton told me this morning that 
they had already accounted for two-and-twenty brace." 

" Some people say that the more foxes you kill, the more you 
have," said Sir Philip, "though I confess I never could quite 
understand on what principle. By-the-bye, where was old Tim 
Baldwin to-day ? I did not see him out. Isn't he hunting this 
year ? " 

" Oh ! yes, but he is over in Ireland fishing. Mrs. Baldwin 
expects him home every day. I suppose you know he has taken 
a regular kink on Home Rule." 

" I did hear something of the sort. But, as you are aware, I 
never trouble myself much about people's politics." 

" I wish everybody were as sensible," remarked Captain Dash- 
wood, who never lost an opportunity of nattering his host 
adroitly. "You know what cronies Baldwin and Lord Midland- 
shire used to be. At the present moment, owing to this Irish 
craze of the squire's, they are scarcely on speaking terms. It's 
'Morning, Baldwin,' and ' Morning, my lord,' and that's all." 

" Give me fox-hunting," said Sir Philip, " and I am quite con- 
tent to let my neighbours quarrel about the management of 
Ireland." 

" I agree with you. The chief duty of man in this world is to 
.enjoy himself, and the whole art of living happily is summed up 
in the one word, amusement." 

" That is not a very exalted sentiment, Captain Dashwood," 
observed Bligh, who so far had been a listener to the conversa- 
tion. 

He turned round upon her with a bland smile. The light 
from the hanging lamp struck full upon his bald forehead and 
made it shine, which added to the extreme amiability of his ap- 
pearance. There was something about it which seemed to say, 
" You are quite an insignificant personage, but I want you to 
think me a very nice sort of man. It will be to your interest to 
regard me as a friend." 

" My dear lady," he exclaimed, " I don't pretend to any ex- 
alted sentiments. In my experience people who do are nearly 
always exceedingly uncomfortable. They go about the world 
trying to impress vou with a sense of superiority. If you frankly 



152 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

confess that you are not a superior person, that you have no 
longings, or cravings after unattainable things, you may not 
perhaps pose as a hero, but you have a much better time of it." 

Bligh laughed in spite of herself, though she did not approve 
of her companion's sentiments. 

" Don't you care to do good, or to live for other people beside 
yourself ? " she demanded. 

" Doing good and living for other people are two entirely 
exploded ideas." 

" In what way ? " 

" Shall I prove it to you ? In olden days, when the country 
was thinly populated, no doubt it conferred a benefit upon 
humanity at large to protect and rear the species. Now the 
case is entirely different. If one wanted to help one's neigh- 
bours, practically the only plan would be for half the world to 
commit suicide for the sake of the other. But even if you were 
so amiably inclined as to put yourself out of the way in order to 
oblige somebody else, you would still be open to the charge of 
selfishness. Folks do good because they like it, and because 
they derive pleasure from their own virtue. Philanthropy is 
therefore quite as egotistical as fox hunting." 

" What a horribly material argument," exclaimed Bligh, in- 
dignantly. 

" Ponder over it well, and you will perceive that it is not with- 
out truth." 

" I would rather not believe such things, Captain Dashwood." 

" Very well, then, only don't look down upon me because, 
having studied the art of living for a good many more years than 
you can possibly have done, I state openly that the wise man 
is he who enjoys himself." 

" What nonsense you're talking, Bligh," called out Sir Philip, 
who happened to overhear something of the conversation. 
" Dashwood's quite right. We're put into the world to make 
the best of it, and everyone for himself is a sensible motto to 
steer one's course by. Who was the lady out to-day on the 
chestnut horse with the hogged mane ? I saw you speaking to 
her, Jack," he added, addressing Mr. Rickerby. 

After this open snub in public, Bligh relapsed into silence. 
In fact, she soon discovered the uselessness of trying to con- 
verse on any other subject except sport. Somehow or other, 
the conversation invariably worked round to it again. 

" She is a widow, Benson by name, who hails from Sketch- 
ley," responded Mr. Rickerby, with an attempt not to look 
conscious. 

" A widow is she ! Any tin ? " 

" Report says about three thousand a year." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



i$3 



" Ha, ha, my boy, and so you're going in for her, are you ? 
Does the lady respond ? " 

" Come, shut up, Verschoyle, none of your chaff," said the 
gallant Jack, grinning from ear to ear, for it had already occurred 
to him that he might do worse than convert Mrs. Benson into 
Mrs. Rickerby, always provided report spoke truth. 

" What do you think of this champagne, Dashwood ?" asked 
Sir Philip, appealing to the captain, who, like most military 
men, set up for being a good judge of wine. " It's some new 
stuff which I got down the other day from Sipper and Swallow. 
They wrote recommending it very highly, and so I ordered a 
couple of dozen on trial." 

Captain Dashwood raised his glass aloft, eyed its contents, 
then smelt, and finally tasted them, as if he had not already 
accounted for the best part of a bottle. 

" It's not bad," he said, smacking his lips, and screwing his 
face up critically. " But, since you ask my candid opinion, it's 
just a trifle too sweet to suit my taste. I prefer a dryer wine, 
and one not quite so gassy." 

" I agree with you," said Sir Philip, who cared far more for 
quantity than quality. " I don't consider it good enough to lay 
in a stock of." 

" If it is not an impertinent question, may I ask what the 
figure is ? " 

" I really forget, but somewhere between eighty and eighty- 
five shillings a dozen, I believe." 

" It ought to be better than it is at that price," said Captain 
Dashwood, decidedly. " Now, if you would go to my wine 
merchant, Hickory, in the Strand, I feel sure he would supply 
you with something very much better at a cheaper rate. 
Hickory is not a fashionable tradesman, but no one has more 
excellent stuff. If you will favour him with an order, and 
use my name as a recommendation, I am sure you will not 
regret it." 

" Thanks, old man. I'll write to-morrow, and tell him to send 
me down a few specimen bottles." 

For one instant Captain Dashwood' s and Jack Rickerby' s 
glances met. They owed Mr. Hickory a pretty heavy bill, 
which he had lately sent in with troublesome regularity. It 
occurred to them both that in return for introducing a good 
customer, they were entitled to some reprieve, if not a five per 
cent, commission. 

During the rest of dinner the gentlemen continued to dis- 
course on horses, hunting, wine, and women. It was hopeless 
trying to start any other topic, and the three ladies sat silent in 
their seats. Occasionally Lady Verschoyle cast an inquiring 



*54 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



glance at Bligh, as if seeking to ascertain the impression made 
upon her daughter-in-law. The truth was, they were a very 
incongruous lot, of which fact Bligh soon became aware. At 
first she had felt amused by the dissertations on sport that took 
place between Sir Philip and his friends. It was a novel ex- 
perience to her, and she listened to what they had to say with 
considerable interest. But when they went over the same old 
ground everlastingly, and never by any chance introduced any 
variety into their conversation, unless it were a slight flavouring 
of personal gossip, she ended by finding it extremely monot- 
onous, and not only monotonous, but witless and unimproving. 
As for the two dear old ladies in their black silk gowns and 
white lace caps, they had nothing in common with such men as 
Mr. Rickerby and Captain Dashwood, who treated them almost 
as if they had been nonentities. Indeed Bligh felt quite angry 
at their exerting themselves so little to be polite. She had 
always been accustomed to see old people regarded with 
courtesy and deference, and her sense of the fitness of things 
was outraged by the manner which her husband's friends chose 
to assume towards his mother, not to mention hers. 

As soon as she decently could she effected an escape from 
the dining-room. A feeling of constraint was fast stealing upon 
her, which she was unable to attribute altogether to her not 
being accustomed to society. There was a coarseness and 
freedom about these men which she resented. Their crafty 
flattery had not escaped her notice, and after making their 
acquaintance she quite realised that they were not desirable 
friends for Sir Philip, and deliberately encouraged his faults, 
seeking to turn them to their own benefit. Her powers of 
observation were great, and the instinct which caused her to 
take immediate likes or dislikes to people seldom proved wrong. 

She was going into the drawing-room, when Lady Verschoyle 
said, with one of those sorrowful smiles that lent such an 
interest to her thin face — 

" We can sit in the boudoir, Bligh, if you prefer it, for we 
shall see no more of our guests to-night." 

Bligh made a gesture of relief. 

" Shall we really get rid of them so easily. Do you mean to 
say they won't appear again ? I am glad." 

" You don't like them, then ? " 

" No, how could one ? They don't seem to have an idea in 
the world beyond horses and dogs. Are you sure they won't 
show up any more ? " 

" Quite sure. As soon as they are relieved of our presence 
they settle down to long cigars, and then retire to the billiard- 
room, where they stay until the small hours of the morning.'' 



WEDDED TO SPORT. IS5 

" Talking of dear old mares and ripping runs ? " queried 
Bligh, mischievously. 

" Yes, I suppose so," answered Lady Verschoyle, with a sigh. 

" I wonder what Philip sees in such men as Captain Dash- 
wood and Mr. Rickerby. Did you hear what the first-named 
gentleman said to me, when, in all innocence, I asked him what 
he thought of Bismarck's great speech to the R.eichstag ? He 
replied that he never read the newspapers, giving as his reason 
that he did not think it 'good enough.' The remark made a 
deep impression upon me, and I could not help asking myself, 
what sort of a mind can such a person possess. There must be 
something radically wrong about its composition." 

" It always vexes me when Philip asks these men to the 
house," said Lady Verschoyle. " Their influence is decidedly 
deteriorating." 

Bligh held her peace. It seemed wiser to keep silent than 
to put her thoughts into words. For there was an indescribable 
tone about the establishment which she could not help secretly 
resenting. A change in it was highly desirable, yet she clearly 
perceived the difficulties of attempting any reformation, unless 
the mood of the master altered and he backed up her efforts. 
Although she neither wanted nor expected much attention to be 
paid to her individually, she realised that as hostess some little 
consideration was due to her, and to her female friends. She 
did not consider it good manners for men to come to the house, 
eat, drink, and smoke, without giving themselves the trouble to 
wish good-night to the ladies. It was tantamount to saying, 
" We tolerate your presence during dinner, but we are very 
glad to get rid of you as soon as possible. In fact, you are 
bores, and we infinitely prefer our own society." These subtle 
shades of conduct were hard to define, but she felt vaguely 
aware of their existence, and in her opinion they constituted 
the difference between a thorough gentleman and one in name 
only. Humble as had been their home, both at Elmsley and 
during her father's lifetime, she had been accustomed to finer 
manners than those of Captain Dashwood and Mr. Rickerby, 
and certainly to superior conversation. Music, art, literature, 
were all subjects on which it was pleasant to discourse, and 
which offered an immense variety. She feared that this atmos- 
phere of fox-hunting, and of fox-hunting only, could not fail to 
become oppressive in process of time. It neither stimulated 
the faculties nor appealed to the intellect. Such were her first 
impressions. But she reserved her judgment, not deeming it 
fair to form a fixed opinion from the experiences of a single 
evening. What she was quite sure of, however, was that she 
both disliked and distrusted her husband's friends. 



156 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

By-and-bye loud voices were heard in the hall, a whiff of 
tobacco mounted to the cosy boudoir where the three ladies 
were sitting, and then the billiard-room door slammed. Lady 
Verschoyle was right. Bligh saw no more of her guests that 
evening. 

But when she came down to breakfast the next morning her 
eyes were red, as if she had been weeping, and her face wore a 
look of settled melancholy. Sir Philip complained of a bad 
headache, refused to drink any tea, but called for soda water in 
its place, and appeared irritable and depressed by turns. 
Captain Dashwood and Mr. Rickerby, on the contrary, were 
exceedingly jovial, and, if possible, even fuller of horsey talk 
than on the previous evening. Bligh was civil to them, but 
very cold, and persistently refused to laugh at their jokes, which 
possessed a decided flavour of coarseness not at all to her mind. 
Once or twice she purposely changed the subject, but her 
attempts in this direction were not very successful. Lady 
Verschoyle glanced anxiously at her son and daughter-in-law. 
When an opportunity presented itself, she whispered a question 
into the latter's ear. Bligh turned as red as a peony, and the 
moisture sprang to her eyes. She brushed her hand across 
them. 

" Don't ask me," she said, in a distressed tone. " It is better 
for you not to know the state he was in last night." 

No wonder she looked pale, for upon her mind the fearful 
truth had dawned that she had married a drunkard. Hence- 
forth all her energies must be directed to the task of keeping 
the terrible fact from her mother. Having done what she had 
done, Mrs. Burton must never guess at her unhappiness. 



CHAPTER XX. 

LEARNING TO RIDE. 

As the days went by Bligh realised more and more forcibly that 
she would be called upon to pay a heavy price for the distin- 
guished honour of wearing the name of Lady Verschoyle, for she 
saw that Sir Philip's wife was at Sir Philip's mercy. It was 
impossible to reason with him, and her hopes of being able to in- 
fluence his actions soon faded away. His weakness, vanity, 
and obstinacy were so great that they offered a perpetual barrier 
to any scheme of reformation. 

To a sensitive, finely-fibred woman no torture equals that of 



& 



WEDDED TO SPORT IS7 

living in close contact with a man made of coarser and com- 
moner clay than herself — a man whose ideas are material, whose 
standard of morality shocks her best and purest sentiments, 
and whose conversation, instead of appealing to the higher 
side of human nature, stirs up its muddiest depths. Just im- 
agine it. 

There she is, chained to him, not only by custom and con- 
ventionality, but also by the law, which renders escape shame- 
ful, and places the weak entirely within the power of the strong. 
The husband can say what he likes, and behave as he likes. 
He can fill his house with people who are positively disagree- 
able to the wife, who render her life a misery, and slight and 
insult her to her face. Or he can go away and leave her, and only 
return when he chooses. He can wound her in a thousand 
different ways, and yet Mrs. Grundy smiles on him leniently. 
He is masculine, and, therefore, not blameable. He may 
neglect, and even desert, his partner, and, if she be a good 
woman, the sole course open to her is to bear all bravely and 
silently. It is useless complaining of her lot ; besides, she 
knows by experience that her own sex are ever ready to condemn 
her conduct. Their sympathies invariably side with the man ; 
for, however great a brute he may be, it is a peculiarity of every 
woman to think that she can manage every other woman's hus- 
band. Even if they do not agree remarkably well with their 
own spouse it does not lessen the conviction that they could live 
in peace and harmony with somebody else's. 

It is always " Ah ! poor, dear Mrs. Jones. She makes such 
a mistake. If she were only to humour him a little more, and 
shut her eyes to his trifling peccadilloes, instead of going on nag, 
nag, nag, they would hit it off as well again. But she hasn't any 
tact, not an atom, and just rubs him up the wrong way. Now if 
I were in her shoes, I would — etc., etc." 

Bligh had seen enough of the world to be aware that the 
female portion of it invariably suffers, and need not look for 
compassion. To do her justice she did not want commiseration. 
She had married Sir Philip with her eyes open, and was quite 
conscious of having committed a wrong in accepting him. Of 
two evils — becoming his wife or letting her mother die — she had 
deliberately chosen what seemed to her the lesser. And now, 
just because things were not going smoothly, pride, if nothing 
else, prevented her from making any complaint. She felt that 
she fully deserved a penalty, and was prepared to bear it 
courageously, if not happily. But reason with herself as she 
might she could not control or conquer the physical repugnance 
with which her husband inspired her. When he came up to bed 
noisy and excited, ready to quarrel at the merest word ; when 



it 5 8 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

his breath smelt of brandy and tobacco, his eyes shone like an 
animal's ; and he reeled about the room, grasping at the furniture 
for support, she shrank away from him. At such times an 
unutterable loathing and sense of degradation turned her heart 
cold, and constricted it as with an iron band. She tried to 
remember that they were bound to one another, and it was 
wicked to feel like this ; but the instinct of disgust, mingled 
with contempt, was too strong to be overcome. If she could 
have respected him then the love would have followed. Her 
life had been so sad that the least kindness touched her to the 
quick ; but she was not a woman capable of bestowing her 
affections where her esteem was wanting, and already the castles 
in the air which she had built of domestic happiness were 
crumbled to the ground. She foresaw that she might keep her 
husband's house in order, manage his affairs, save him trouble, 
and prove useful to him in a variety of ways ; but for herself 
the future must henceforth be dark and dreary. Yet not on 
that account would she fail to do her duty, or shirk the respon- 
sibilities of her position. Whatever were Bligh's faults she 
started with brave intentions and an earnest desire to act rightly. 
Owing to Sir Philip's peculiar temperament the situation was by 
no means easy. The slightest word of remonstrance was suffi- 
cient to arouse his wrath. He had such an inordinate opinion of 
his own dignity and importance that anything that reflected upon 
them in the very smallest degree rendered him captious and 
irritable. 

To speak out openly about his companions would have been 
fatal. Bligh perceived this, and therefore advised cautious 
measures whenever Lady Verschoyle urged her to free the house 
once for all of men like Captain Dashwood and Mr. Rickerby. 
But the young head was clearer than the old, and counselled 
patience rather than bringing on a state of open warfare. With- 
out, therefore, expressing disapproval of her husband's com- 
panions Bligh sought gently and tactfully to wean him from them. 
When alone of an evening, and Sir Philip had no excuse for 
sitting long over his wine, she tried to teach him chess, whist, 
and various games, hoping that in course of time he might take 
an interest in such harmless recreations, and find his home 
pleasanter than any other place. In short, she devoted herself 
to him so thoroughly that Lady Verschoyle, who guessed her 
motives, often looked at her daughter-in-law with sentiments of 
gratitude and admiration. She began to feel a kind of reverence 
for Bligh, and insensibly leant upon the younger woman's 
stronger nature, realising that if it were possible to save Philip 
from the evil courses into which he had fallen surely she would 
do so. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



J 59 



Bligh did her best, both for her own sake and that of all the 
household, and yet she failed. Weary and disheartened she was 
forced to admit the fact. Things would seem to be going on 
fairly well for two or three weeks, then, all at once, Sir Philip 
swore he could stand the dulness of being cooped up with a lot 
of women nd longer, and, sallying forth into the hunting field, 
brought back with him a choice selection of its rowdiest members. 
Beechlands was converted into a sort of superior pothouse, where 
the gentlemen disported themselves quite at their ease and re- 
gardless of the feminine element. Bligh soon grew to hate and 
fear these jovial gatherings, but she was powerless to prevent 
them. Sir Philip was like a cross-grained horse, who takes the 
bit between his teeth at the slightest touch of the curb. He 
would neither be directed nor controlled. Never was the folly, 
or rather the culpability, of parents in giving in to the whims of 
a spoilt only son more apparent than in his case. Argument 
and reason were wasted upon him. He had no common-sense, 
and cared but for the amusement of the hour. 

Bligh made another attempt. Lady Verschoyle and Mrs. 
Burton were both old, and it was perhaps natural his wishing 
for younger society. So she suggested giving a series of dinner 
parties to a number of the neighbours who had called upon her. 
But Sir Philip flew into a passion at the first hint of such a 
thing, and vowed he would not allow her to ask a soul or be pes- 
tered by a set of old bores whom he did not care twopence 
about. It was useless Bligh's representing that it was one's 
duty to be socially victimised every now and again. He re- 
mained obdurate. Entertaining on a large scale thus became 
impossible. They got into the way, however, of always having 
two or three men dropping in to dinner ; unfortunately, very 
few were such as the mistress of the establishment cared to 
receive. Their presence added greatly to her difficulties, for on 
these occasions the gentlemen lingered long at table, and severe 
demands were made upon the cellar. 

As for the ladies whom Sir Philip honoured with his invita- 
tions they were nearly all fast. Whenever he said to his wife, 
" Oh ! by the way, I've asked a charming woman to come and 
stay with us for a few days," she knew invariably what to ex- 
pect. "The charming woman," painted and powdered, wore 
very smart gowns, and appeared in the evening clad in the most 
trifling of bodices. She swore when put out, and habitually in- 
terlarded her conversation with slang expressions. She was noisy, 
selfish, and inconsiderate ; favoured the gentlemen to a great 
many attentions and her hostess to very few, and spent the major 
portion of her time in the smoking-room, where she consumed 
cigarettes and an astonishing amount of brandy and soda, No 



160 WEDDED TO SPORT 

doubt it showed a lamentable want of taste on Bligh's part, but 
she did not find the society of these " charming women " very 
congenial. They struck her as being deficient in ladylike feel- 
ing, and she pitied them for possessing no real interests. Un- 
less perpetually amused time hung terribly heavily on their 
hands, whilst their chief idea of entertainment apparently con- 
sisted in running after the men, whose society they courted in a 
manner which made Bligh often blush for shame. Such conduct 
was altogether opposed to her notions of delicacy, and according 
to her opinion, showed a lamentable want of self-respect. Sir 
Philip's female friends never read, worked, or settled down to 
any profitable occupation. They had no resources in themselves, 
and spent the whole day chattering about dress, parties, theatres, 
and mutual acquaintances, who, if they happened to be femi- 
nine, were generally picked to pieces with the charity and good- 
humour for which the sex are proverbial. 

Frequently Bligh felt so disgusted by the talk that she escaped 
from the room in order to breathe a purer atmosphere, and one 
less permeated with gossip and malice. She herself rarely took 
part in these discussions. To begin with, they were distasteful, 
and, secondly, she knew very few of the people who came under 
review. 

Another thing which astonished her was the familiarity per- 
mitted by these ladies. They threw themselves about in atti- 
tudes, stuck out their feet, and had not the smallest objection 
to being patted and pawed like lap-dogs. In fact, they seemed 
rather to enjoy it than otherwise. The whole style was inde- 
scribably offensive to Bligh. It testified to an utter absence of 
good taste and breeding. Nothing pained her so much as to 
find what a liking her husband displayed for such fast society, 
or to see him led away by men and women who had a distinctly 
deteriorating effect upon his character. Instead of leading him 
to revere what was good and noble they scoffed at any elevation 
of thought, and dragged him down into the mire. Bligh believed 
that it was not well for men to lose their respect for women, and 
think them all selfish, frivolous, and ready to sell themselves to 
the highest bidder. Vainly she strove to maintain contrary 
opinions, and to prove that right and wrong were not mere 
names. Sir Philip only grew abusive and vented his indignation 
in public. In order to avoid scenes before strangers she con- 
stantly sat at the head of the table and held her tongue, whilst 
every womanly feeling within her was being shamed and out- 
raged. It required a great deal of self-control, and she had a 
difficult part to play, for as hostess she could not well reprove 
people or exhibit her displeasure too plainly in her own house. 
She was forced by circumstances to keep up a certain show of 



WEDDED TO SPORT. t$ t 

civility, even when, if free to consult her individual inclinations, 
she would frequently have shown her guests to the door. 

Every day the struggle to keep the peace grew harder, and 
necessitated more determined effort. If she had loved Philip 
she must have been jealous of him, for his conduct would have 
stabbed the heart of any wife. Over and over again she 
thanked God on her knees that she was spared this crowning 
source of misery ; as it was, she oscillated between a continual 
state of smothered rebellion and contempt. To live thus was 
unnatural, and not calculated to improve the temper. She felt 
she should grow very hard and bitter if forced to exist year 
after year cultivating an outward calm and suffering all the 
while from a consuming inward fire. For her nature was im- 
petuous and sensitive to a degree. Not a single unkind re- 
mark or sneer but what went quivering into the depths of her 
innermost being, there to leave a wound which festered, even 
although she very seldom allowed lookers-on to see how much 
it hurt her in reality. 

Meanwhile, there was one healthy, wholesome pleasure in 
which she could indulge, and which often served as a means of 
escape from the " charming women " so much patronised by 
Sir Philip. 

He had bought her a hack, a delightfully docile animal, who 
never cocked his ears, whisked his tail, or did anything alarm- 
ing. At first Bligh mounted her new steed in fear and trem- 
bling ; but King Arthur proved to be so remarkably quiet and 
well behaved that after she had been out a few times she be- 
gan to feel positively courageous. 

On the first occasion of her getting on a horse her husband 
accompanied her ; but the ride was productive of sundry dis- 
agreeable little passages between the married couple which 
Bligh, for one, felt no anxiety to repeat. Knowing how to ride 
himself, Sir Philip was under the impression that his wife ought 
to learn immediately, and because she did not appear thor- 
oughly at home in the saddle he attributed her ill-ease entirely 
to stupidity. 

" Sit firm," he said, " and keep your shoulders well back. 
You'll never make a horsewoman if you don't." 

" I can't, Philip,' she answered piteously, trying hard to obey 
his instructions. " I would if I could ; but it's so difficult. 

" Pshaw ! There's no difficulty about riding in reality. But 
you're so awkward. I don't think I ever saw anyone so 
clumsy." 

After this encouraging remark Bligh made heroic efforts to 
sit upright, and gripped the pommels hard with her knees ; 
but the smallest movement of the horse reminded her of the 



1 62 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

insecurity of her position, and she longed to clutch hold of 
King Arthur's silky mane as a means of steadying herself. 
But her husband's eye was on her, and she did not dare. The 
expression of his face made her most painfully alive to her 
own shortcomings. Now, if there was one thing Sir Philip 
hated more than another it was going slowly. He liked the 
excitement and emulation of the chase, but he was not really 
fond of horses, and had little patience for a quiet ride. Con- 
sequently they had no sooner emerged from the Park gates 
than he said, " This is deadly stupid work. We are regularly 
crawling along. Let's hurry up a bit." Whereupon he gave 
his horse a touch of the heel and set off at a sharp trot, 
leaving his companion to follow as best she might. Although 
gentle as a lamb King Arthur had a high spirit, and did 
not appreciate being left behind in this unceremonious fashion. 
He pricked his slender ears, and at once imitated the example 
of the leader, blowing the fresh air through his nostrils in 
token of pleasure. 

Now trotting may appear a very easy movement to those ac- 
customed to being in the saddle, but it is astonishing what 
difficulties it presents to an inexperienced person. The mo- 
tion of the animal possesses a strangely upsetting effect, whilst 
the reins have a horrible knack of getting jumbled together, 
until it becomes almost impossible to distinguish the curb from 
the snaffle. Either the rider seizes hold of the bridle convul- 
sively as a means of steadying herself, or else she loses all 
guidance over the steed, who, if light-mouthed, is very apt to 
go in an exactly opposite direction to that intended by the un- 
fortunate novice on his back. When King Arthur quickened 
his pace Bligh bumped and bumped and bumped in the rear of 
her lord, until she was within an ace of bumping off altogether. 
Her breath grew shorter and shorter, her face redder and red- 
der, and her back hair shakier and shakier. She felt as if every- 
thing about her were coming to pieces, and looked upon some 
horrible catastrophe as inevitable unless Sir Philip immediately 
brought his steed to a standstill. The sensation was too ex- 
citing to be pleasant. In this emergency she lost what little 
control over King Arthur she already possessed, and allowed 
him to go straight at a stone heap by the side of the road. He 
swerved so as to avoid it, and gave a half jump, totally unex- 
pected by his rider, whom he reduced to extremities. The 
sudden jerk caused Bligh to lose her equilibrium, and sent her 
on to King Arthur's tail. She tottered there for the space of 
two or three seconds, and then, by some marvel, regained her 
seat ; but in the struggle her hat flew off, and down tumbled 
her pretty brown hair in a regular cascade over her shoulders. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. ^3 

It was very long and very soft, and no doubt if it had belonged 
to anyone save his own wife Sir Philip would have admired it ; 
but at this unlucky moment an acquaintance of the baronet's 
passed by, who, with a smile of amusement, raised his hat and 
drove rapidly on. 

" Oh ! stop, Philip, stop," gasped Bligh, as soon as she was 
in a position to make herself heard. " I shall tumble off if you 
don't. You go so dreadfully fast." 



CHAPTER XXL 

THE HEIGHT OF HUMILIATION. 

Sir Philip turned short round, and his face wore an ugly 
scowl, which quite deprived it of its usual good looks. 

" I'm going home," he said sharply. " Job himself couldn't 
put up with it any longer." 

" Going home ? " echoed Bligh, in a tone of innocent amaze- 
ment. "Why! we have only just started." 

" I know ; but I can't stand this sort of thing. And if you 
take my advice you'll come too." 

" But, Philip " she began. 

He interrupted her rudely. 

" The long and short of it is, if you want to make a fool of 
yourself you had much better do it in private, and not give an 
exhibition on the public roads. I felt hot all over when Douglas 
Jackson drove by just now and saw you looking like a lunatic. 
For goodness' sake, next time you attempt to go for a ride get 
a hat that will keep on somehow, and do your hair up tight. 
Nothing proclaims the beginner so much as a dishevelled head. 
Bear that fact in mind." So saying he cantered off home, leav- 
ing the poor little woman, who felt like a culprit, to her own 
devices. 

After this inauspicious commencement Bligh did not ride 
again for a whole week. Her pride had been cruelly wounded 
by Sir Philip's remarks, although she was aware of the folly of 
allowing them to make so deep an impression. 

" He can't expect me to stick on all at once," she thought, 
resentfully. " It was very cruel of him to speak as he did, and 
considering I had never been on a horse's back before I do 
think he might have had a little more patience. When one is 
quite conscious of looking a guy already it's adding insult to 
injury to tell one so to one's face. I don't care if Mr. Jackson 
did laugh. He was r>°rtw+'" ,,^1^-.-^ t jf h e chose." 



164 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

But Bligh's reason soon came to her aid and cured the men- 
tal soreness from which she suffered for a few days. In spite 
of her catastrophe she had thoroughly enjoyed the exercise of 
riding, and was determined to learn how to sir a horse respect- 
ably. So the next time she went out she told her husband 
nothing about it, but took for companion an old groom named 
Robinson, who was in the habit of driving Lady Yerschoyle, 
and who had been in the family for many years. Bligh was not 
one of those stiff, stuck-up people given to regarding servants 
as inferiors, possessing none of the same feelings as themselves. 
She chatted away to Robinson, and in return the old man 
took a great fancy to his young mistress, and protected her 
with a fatherly care, which little by little restored her confi- 
dence. 

Instead of laughing at her faults, as Sir Philip had done, and 
weighting her with an odious sense of discouragement, he 
respectfully pointed out her mistakes, at the same time showing 
how the}- should be corrected. Always quick at picking up 
things, and assisted bv an innate love of horseflesh, before long 
she improved wonderfully. Then she confided to Robinson 
that the ambition of her life was to go out hunting, and jump — 
yes. actually jump — the fences as she had seen other people 
doing. 

"Because you know," she added, a trifle plaintivelv, " I want 
to astonish Sir Philip. He thought I never could ride." 

"You'll ride fast enough, my lady." responded Robinson, 
with a smile of encouragement. " You've got the pluck, which 
is more than can be said of arf the field, and, what's more, 
you're fond of osses, and knows how to get on with 'em. 
There's a wonderful lot of character about 'osses if folk only 
knew it. Everyone's different, and very often they're a deal 
more sensibler than the gents on their back." 

Bligh was delighted to find that Robinson did not offer any 
objection to her proposition, and, on the contrary, fully entered 
into it. He promised to accompany her on a broken-down hun- 
ter, who was now coming round, and required long, slow exercise, 
and declared proudly that his pupil was quite competent to make 
a successful debut in the hunting field. 

" There s a-many as comes out, my lady, who can't ride any 
better than you," he averred, in his customary consolatory man- 
ner. '• You may take my word for that. But, Lord ! it's wonder- 
ful how soon they improves. That there Mrs. Benson, for in- 
stance. I've 'eard say when she first come to these parts, as 
'ow she warn't anything like the 'osswoman she is now. Prac- 
tice makes perfect, and you've got on wonderful." 

These observations were distinctlv pleasing to Blierh's vanitv 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



<65 



and possibly they caused her to estimate her equestrian powers 
more highly than might otherwise have been the case. The 
result of Robinson's eulogy was that one fine morning early 
in December, when the hounds happened to meet within three 
miles of Beechlands, she and her trusty attendant stole off to- 
gether, starting a good half hour before Sir Philip, who generally 
rode out to covert at a hard gallop, and in a desperate hurry. 
They were so early, indeed, that they arrived before the hounds, 
and Bligh was able to select a nice quiet corner, where she could 
hide herself away from the public view, and thus escape the 
ignominy of being peremptorily ordered home by her lord and 
master. The ride to the meet had warmed her up, and, to use 
a sporting expression, she felt " full of go." 

King Arthur behaved admirably. Although he pawed the 
ground with delight at sight of the hounds, to which he was 
evidently accustomed, he indulged in no disconcerting vagaries, 
and stood fairly still. His temper was so perfect, that even 
when a vicious, long-tailed thoroughbred lashed out at him, and 
missed his sleek quarter by about half an inch, he scarcely took 
any notice of the affront, but continued to gaze lovingly at the 
speckled pack. As for Bligh, she looked quite pretty. Her 
trim little figure was set off to advantage by a neat, well-fitting 
habit, cut away in front to show a checked horse-cloth waistcoat. 
She had taken great pains with her get-up, and her tie and hat 
were irreproachable. The unruly hair was plaited in light coils 
at the back of her head, and secured by the best part of a packet 
of hairpins. She had the further satisfaction of knowing that 
her attire was perfectly neat and correct, since her habit had been 
manufactured by one of the first London tailors, no less a person 
than Mr. Scott, of South Molton-street. Altogether Bligh felt 
on much better terms with herself than usual. The exercise had 
brought a soft bloom to her cheeks, not often seen there, espe- 
cially of late, and her luminous eyes, which at all times were 
bright and full of intelligence, shone to-day with an additional 
light. The air, the life, the movement, added to the congeniality 
of the pale wintry sun, all combined to render her happy. 
Somehow her troubles always seemed to assume a lighter hue 
after a good canter. Possessing a concentrated, and not very 
gregarious nature, she felt quite contented jogging about the 
country lanes. King Arthur was company enough. She much 
preferred him to the ordinary run of human beings, and it fre- 
quently struck her how infinitely nicer he was than men belong- 
ing to the Dashwood-Rickerby type. To-day she was secretly 
elated at the thougnt of her husband's surprise, when he should 
perceive her gaily jumping the fences with hounds, as if she had 
been accustomed to pursuing the fox all her life. She pictured 



i66 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

to herself her revenge for his slighting observations. For she 
was determined to perform prodigies of valour just to prove to 
him that in spite of his prognostications she had learnt how to 
ride. 

So when the pack moved off, and the attendant cavalcade was 
in motion, Bligh followed in its footsteps. The first draw was 
close at hand, whereat she rejoiced, for she found the slow jog- 
ging along the road excessively fatiguing. It was so very much 
easier to trot fast than to go at an amble which just prevented 
you from rising in your stirrups, and almost broke your back. 
By the end of five minutes she became quite hot and breathless, 
and reluctantly acknowledged to herself that she hardly felt up 
to a regular day's hunting yet. Going for a quiet ride of a 
couple of hours was very different work. However, she managed 
to reach the covert at the tail of the procession, and just in the 
nick of time, since before the hounds were put in, a vociferous 
cry arose from the foot people, and one of their number informed 
the huntsman that a fine bob-tailed fox had made good his es- 
cape, not deigning to wait for the arrival of the enemy. Without 
a moment's hesitation, Dysack clapped on the pack. For a 
second or two the leaders put their noses to the ground, and 
their white-sterns were to be seen feathering busily ; then they 
flung themselves forward on the fresh hot scent, whilst the many- 
noted music of their tongues filled the air. Like a thunderbolt 
let loose, the field galloped off in pursuit. Bligh caught the 
general contagion, and began to feel the enthusiasm of the chase 
stealing into her veins. She would rather have died than have 
been left behind. Forward ! Forward ! Man and beast were 
animated by the same spirit. As King Arthur bounded over the 
springy turf all the small fears experienced by his mistress on the 
way to the meet vanished. She no longer thought of the disas- 
ters that might happen, if her horse trod on a loose stone, shied 
at a roving pig, or stumbled into a drain. These and countless 
other clangers disappeared, whilst through her veins the blood 
coursed warmly and merrily. Life was not all dark. It had 
its bright moments, and a good run on a good hunter put 
pessimism to shame. 

Old Robinson knew the country well, and steering for the 
gates, he piloted her capitally. He seemed to enjoy himself 
quite as much as his companion, and incited her to fresh effort 
by his laudatory remarks. 

" Capital, my lady. Firstrare, he sang out, as side by side 
they flew a little grip in the field, which King Arthur swung over 
in his stride. " You're on a regular water jumper. Give him 
'is 'ead, and he'll carry you like a bird. He only wants to be 
let alone." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



167 



Bligh's face literally glowed with pleasure. She understood 
now what people felt when they went hunting. Never had she 
experienced such glorious excitement. White it lasted it altered 
the whole character of life, and lifted one quite out of the 
ordinary commonplace routine of every-day existence. They 
might have been galloping about ten minutes, and things could 
not have gone better, when all at once an unexpected event 
took place. Without any apparent cause, the hounds suddenly 
threw up their heads, baffled by the mysteries of scent, which 
neither they nor their masters have yet succeeded in fathoming. 
The hard riders had the good luck to be in the same field with 
them, having gallantly ridden over a line of stiff fences so as to 
achieve this proud position ; but the gate division were not 
equally fortunate, for, unless they retraced their footsteps, or 
went a long way round, they found themselves compelled to 
jump. The fence which divided them from the main body of 
the pack was not much higher than a hurdle, but it happened to 
be extremely stiff, and had some remarkably strong growers 
running through it. It was impossible to force a gap, and al- 
though by no means a formidable obstacle, it presented decidedly 
more difficulty than the habitual shirkers were in the habit of 
overcoming. 

But on the present occasion they were fairly caught in a trap, 
and very few of them had enough nerve to expose their coward- 
ice ; for every man in the hunt with any pretensions to riding 
to hounds was on the other side, looking on with smiles of 
amusement, and enjoying the fun of watching his less cour- 
ageous brethren driven into a corner. Even the greatest " funk- 
stick" felt that in this conjunction there was nothing for it but 
to jump. So, after a brief hesitation, the boldest amongst the 
gapsters hardened their hearts, and went at the fence. Unfor- 
tunately for those who came after, they did not succeed in mak- 
ing a hole, and only added to the miseries of the comrades whom 
they had quitted. For, charmed beyond measure with their own 
achievement, they immediately drew rein, and turning' round, 
waited maliciously to see their more timid companions follow 
suit. Whilst this was going on, Bligh suddenly caught sight of 
Sir Philip, and their glances met. 

"What!" he exclaimed, in astonishment. "You! Pray, 
how did you get here ? " 

Now was Bligh's moment of triumph, to which she had looked 
forward with the eagerness of a child. 

" I rode," she said, proudly, " all the way from Beechlands. 
Would you like to see me jump ? " 

Before he could reply she gave her horse his head, and let 
him or, of the> fonw Trinrr irAnr was f ar f rom artistically rid- 



1 68 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

den, but she remembered Robinson's instructions not to tug at 
his mouth, and did not interfere with it. The good little beast, 
checked for an instant, arched his back, and bucked over with 
the cleverness of an experienced hunter, no novice at the game. 

Alas ! alas ! Why was not poor Bligh equally proficient ? 
The momentary stoppage, followed by the jerk, proved her un- 
doing. 

There ! before her husband, the huntsman, and the whole of 
the hunt, she literally flew out of the saddle. There was noth- 
ing to excuse the somersault, no mistake, no peck on landing. 
As she bumped with frightful force upon the ground, she was 
cruelly conscious of this humiliating fact. Pride in her case had 
indeed had a fall. How angry Philip would be ! This thought 
flashed across her brain as she shot through the air. She 
pitched heavily on to her right shoulder, having lost her balance 
on the off side, and lay on the wet grass, feeling partially 
stunned. 

And then she saw four shining hoofs and a brown body, sur- 
mounted by a handsome but angry face, and heard an irritable 
voice say quite out loud before everybody, " For goodness' 
sake, Bligh, go straight home and don't disgrace yourself and 
me in this ridiculous fashion. We shall never hear the last of it. 
You will be the laughing-stock of the whole of the field for 
some months to come, it was madness your attempting to 
hunt." 

Two great tears rolled down Bligh's cheeks. Do what she 
would, she could not prevent them from overflowing. 

" Oh ! Philip," she said piteously, " don't scold. Things 
are bad enough to bear as it is." 

" You have nobody but yourself to blame for your misfor- 
tunes." 

" T know, but that does not make them any better." 

"Why the dickens don't you get up ? " he said, roughly, not 
offering to dismount. 

" 1 — I think," she answered, somewhat tremulously, "that I 
am a — little — hurt." 

All at once a gentleman jumped off his horse, and lifted Bligh 
from the ground. It was Lord Midlandshire, who had over- 
heard the above conversation. 

" My dear Lady Verschoyle," he said in a loud, clear voice, 
casting an indignant glance at Sir Philip, " you must not 
think anything of this little mishap. I assure you that a volun- 
tary is quite a common affair. There is scarcely a man in the 
hunting field who does not cut one occasionally, and no begin- 
ner need be ashamed of tumbling off at starting. Jumping is 
not as easy as it looks, but vou have plenty of r>luck. which is 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



169 



the main thing, and need not feel disheartened." The words 
were distinctly spoken, so that all those within earshot might 
hear them. Any inclination to titter ceased, for Lord Midland- 
shire was the greatest man in the county, and people took their 
cue from him. If he had laughed, they would have laughed 
also, but when they found that he saw nothing ludicrous in the 
occurrence, they didn't either. Sheep are easily led, especially 
human ones. 

If his lordship's speech was kind, his manner was still more 
so. Bligh looked at him gratefully, wondering why a stranger 
should display so much greater consideration than her own hus- 
band, and take such pains to soothe her wounded susceptibili- 
ties. 

"You are very kind," she said, in a subdued tone. " I do 
not deserve kindness after being so stupid, but one appreciates 
it more when one is in trouble than at any other time. I shall 
never ride again after this hideous exhibition of incapacity." 

" Oh ! nonsense, you must not talk like that. Tumbling off 
is a little annoying just at the moment, but people soon forget 
all about it. However, I think you have had rather a shake 
for to-day, and if I may presume to advise, I should recommend 
your driving back to Beechlands." 

"I don't think I can, we have no trap out." 

" I have one posted in the village where we met. It can take 
you home, and return for me later on in the day." 

Bligh thankfully accepted Lord Midlandshire's offer. She was 
far too much ashamed of what had happened to complain of her 
sensations. But she felt very sick and faint, and she could not 
help thinking there was something the matter with her right 
shoulder. When she tried to raise it, it seemed curiously numb 
and dead. She hated making a fuss, however, and kept silent 
regarding her sufferings, being aware, as Sir Philip had said, 
that she had brought them entirely upon herself. She glanced 
at her husband, as if seeking his assent to the proposed plan. 
For several minutes the hounds had been busy feathering down 
the hedgerow, but now a couple stole out in advance of their 
companions, and began careering over the field. 

" By all means, accept such a good offer," said Sir Philip, 
who was anxious to be off again. " Are you tolerably right 
now, Bligh ? " 

" Yes," she answered, " don't let me keep you any longer." 

" I would stay if I could be of the least use, but I never did 
understand the art of mounting a lady, and Robinson is much 
better at it than I. You'll have to ride back as far as the village. 
By Jove ! the hounds have hit off the line. Good-bye for the 
present. I shall lose my start if I stay any longer." And glad 



170 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



to escape, he galloped away, whilst Lord Midlandshire looked 
after his retreating form disapprovingly, and muttered — " These 
poor little women ! They have a baddish time of it when they 
are wedded to sport, and their husbands become converted into 
so many human hounds." He stayed and held King Arthur by 
the bridle, whilst Robinson lifted Bligh into the saddle, and then 
shook hands at parting. She could have cried with the pain, 
but she said nothing until once more alone with the kind old 
groom. He was alarmed by the whiteness of her face. 

" Are you ill, my lady ? " he inquired, anxiously. 

" I didn't like to tell anybody before," she answered, " but I'm 
almost certain that I have broken a bone. If there is a doctor 
in the village, I will ask him to have a look at it, and — and — ■ 
Robinson, would you mind going slowly. I don't feel as if I 
could stand much jogging. It seems to go through one." 

They proceeded at a leisurely pace, and when they reached 
the village were fortunate enough to find the doctor just returned 
from his morning rounds. He requested Bligh to enter his 
parlour, and quickly proceeded to ascertain the extent of her 
injuries. They did not take long to discover, for he pronounced 
immediately that there was a slight fracture of the right 
clavicle, in addition to several severe bruises and contusions. 
He lost no time in setting and strapping up the injured member. 
Bligh bore the process heroically, though once or twice the room 
spun round and round, and she felt on the point of fainting. 
The doctor, however, insisted on her drinking off a glass of 
brandy, and the unaccustomed stimulant kept her up. 

" You will have to keep quiet for three weeks or a month, 
Lady Verschoyle," he said, when all was over, " and if I were 
you, I should go to bed directly I got home, for apart from the 
breakage, you are suffering from a very considerable shake to 
the system. By staying in bed for a day or two, you will recover 
far more quickly than if you attempt to go about as usual. Rest 
is the great thing in these cases." 

When Sir Philip returned, about five o'clock in the afternoon, 
he was astonished to learn what had happened, and perhaps he 
felt a little remorseful on reviewing his own conduct. At any 
rate, he went straight to his wife's room, before divesting him- 
self of his leathers, and said not unkindly — 

" Hulloa ! Bligh, this is a bad business. I had not the 
faintest idea when I rode off that you had broken a bone." 

" I suspected it," she answered, " but after my miserable per- 
formance, I did not like to make a fuss." 

" Are you in much pain ? " 

" No, only a little. It will teach me to stick on better another 
time." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



171 



" If I had known of this I should not have accepted an in- 
vitation to go out to dinner," he observed. 

" Where are you going, Philip ? " 

" Only to Captain Dashwood's and Jack Rickerby's. They 
asked me to-day out hunting. Jackson's staying with them, and 
they wanted to get up a round game." 

Her husband's softened manner gave her a hope. Now was 
her opportunity. She distrusted these round games. They in- 
variably represented a goodly sum out of pocket. 

" Philip," she said, " I do not like those men. They are 
always trying to better themselves at your expense. There is 
no occasion to quarrel, but don't you think you might be a little 
less intimate with them than you are ? The last time you went, 
you lost a couple of hundred." 

He shook off the hand which she had laid on his sleeve. 

" Bah ! " he said. " Women are all alike. They always hate 
their husband's friends, and try to close the door upon them." 
And although his conscience smote him a little, he went out to 
dinner after all, just as if his wife had not been laid up in bed 
with a broken collar bone. 



CHAPTER XXII. 

A DIFFICULT CONFESSION. 

Bligh did not recover from her disaster as quickly as might 
have been expected. The bone, it is true, soon knit, and only 
occasioned temporary inconvenience, but the effects of the fall 
made themselves felt for a long time. They caused great weak- 
ness and physical prostration, and her medical attendant strongly 
advised her not attempting to ride again at present. 

Consequently King Arthur was consigned to the stables, where 
his mistress went to visit him daily, and fed him with lumps of 
sugar. She was reluctantly forced to abandon her dreams of 
hunting for that season, at any rate, and to content herself with 
hearing the sport talked about instead, which, however ; was 
not quite the same thing. It wearied and tantalised by turns. 

In spite of every endeavour on Bligh's part to influence her 
husband for his good, he seemed to be slipping further and 
further beyond her reach. They hardly ever sat down to dinner 
alone, and their wedded life was deprived of all domesticity. 
She rarely knew beforehand who was coming, but had orders 
always to provide for half a dozen. The house was never free 
from male visitors, and th^-p i<s nr. doubt that had she been a 



172 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

flirting young woman by nature, the society with which Sir 
Philip chose to surround his wife would have proved a source 
of very considerable temptation. 

But, as the reader has probably gathered ere now, Bligh did 
not belong to the modern school of married ladies so fashion- 
able in the nineteenth century, and she resolutely set her face 
against all fast or risky conversation. After a while the guests 
came to understand that naughty stories were not appreciated by 
their hostess, and never elicited a laugh. They were unanimous 
in voting her a bit prim and " slow," but the more gentlemanly 
among their numbers had the grace to reserve their choicest 
and most sparkling anecdotes until she had quitted the dining- 
room. Under such circumstances a sense of constraint was 
well-nigh inevitable, and Bligh was generally as glad to retire as 
they were to see her depart. Then the bottles passed around 
more briskly, and tongues wagged merrily, whilst glasses were 
filled, only to be emptied immediately. None but Sir Philip 
and his butler knew the immense amount of liquor consumed on 
these festive occasion. Since the young baronet's majority 
terrible inroads had been made on the late Sir Thomas's cellar. 
The bins intended to last for generations were many of them 
three-quarters empty. 

It was with growing pain that Bligh noticed how her husband's 
complexion gradually parted with its freshness and fairness. The 
red encroached on the white until it invaded ears and throat, 
and the contour of his face lost its delicacy of outline. Every 
day served to alter his appearance for the worse. He no longer 
carried himself as erect as a couple of months ago. His eyes, 
formerly cold and clear, were fading now to a duller tint, and 
his spirits alternated between fits of boisterous mirth and of 
unnatural depression. Once or twice, when she had occasion to 
go into his smoking-room after breakfast, she had been horrified 
to find a decanter containing brandy standing on the table, and 
when he went hunting he invariably took two flasks filled with 
the same strong beverage. The smallest remonstrance roused 
his temper. An uneasy desire to assert the mastery he possessed 
over his wife rendered him peculiarly irritable to advice. A 
word from Bligh set him in a fury. She soon discovered this 
regrettable fact, and gave up any direct appeal to his better 
feelings. Sorrowfully she admitted that she was fairly nonplussed. 
This man's character, with its weakness, selfishness, want of 
sympathy, and morbid craving for power over creatures whom 
he knew he could bully with impunity, baffled her completely. 
She did not know how to take it — how to deal with it ; for 
whether she spoke out, or whether she didn't, she always 
appeared in the wrong. One thins alone was certain when- 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



173 



ever she tried to guide him, no matter how gently, he resembled 
a pig going to market, and resented the attempt. Once or 
twice it occurred to her to seek assistance from the servants, but 
when it came to the point her wifely delicacy shrank from 
taking them into her confidence. A hint to the butler to dilute 
his master's drink, and to fill up his glass as seldom as possible, 
might have been productive of good results, but she could not 
bring herself to make such an open confession of his weakness. 

Therefore, during the early part of the winter, she watched and 
waited, hoping some improvement would take place, and en- 
deavouring to think as leniently as she could of her husband's 
faults. No one knew save herself how the iron was daily, 
hourly entering her soul. She kept her troubles secret, and hid 
them from the two old ladies to the best of her ability. But it 
was a terrible disappointment to find that she could neither love 
nor respect the man with whom she had linked her lot. No 
amount of material comfort made up for it, and the knowledge 
was all the harder to bear, because since her marriage she 
realised that for years past a great and silent craving for affection 
had been slowly springing up within her breast. It only required 
some fitting object on which to vent itself. When it dawned upon 
her that for the second time she had made an unfortunate choice, 
a nameless fear took possession of her, and she trembled to 
contemplate the future. She had hoped that this yearning for 
tenderness was dead, crushed back long ago into the shadowy 
past. When she married Sir Philip, and the desire for congenial 
companionship, for a happy home and fond husband, grew 
stronger and stronger in proportion as its likelihood of attain- 
ment faded into the background, she distrusted her power to 
maintain a life-long neutrality of sentiment. Nature called out, 
" Give, oh ! give me something to love." 

Bligh was no fool. She had seen in real life, and also gathered 
from books that a reserve force of unsatisfied feeling forms a 
frightfully dangerous element in the constitution of a woman. 
A tiny spark often suffices to fan the smouldering fire into a 
glowing furnace. Sometimes when her husband's friends arrived 
she would say to herself, " What a mercy it is that I don't care 
for any of them. Pray God, I may never get fond of any man 
again. They make one so unhappy, and, after all, they are not 
worth the state of unrest which they create. My life with 
Philip is not easy, but as long as matters stay as they are, I can 
bear it. Nevertheless, if ever he or I were to fall in love, it 
would be converted into a hell upon earth." 

She knew and saw the danger, but a woman who is happily 
married does not reason in this introspective manner, and it 
was a bad thing for Bligh that the instinct of self-preservation 



174 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

possessed by every living creature should have put such thoughts 
into her head. She would have been better without them. An- 
alysis in matrimony generally signifies discontent. 

Luckily, Sir Philip's friends came and went, and were as 
utterly indifferent to the mistress of the household as if they had 
been so many pawns on a chess-board. 

She continued in this mood until one day, shortly after Christ- 
mas, when Sir Philip received a letter, the handwriting of which 
she happened to see, and which gave her a kind of shock. For 
it conjured up vivid memories of long ago. She could feel the 
colour rushing to her cheek in a burning wave, whose intensity 
filled her with guilty shame. 

" Bother ! " exclaimed Sir Philip, peevishly, as he perused 
the contents of the letter. " This is a most confounded 
nuisance." 

" What's the matter ? " she asked, almost inaudibly. 

" I wrote to a friend some time ago, asking him to come and 
stay a few days, and offering to mount him. My horses then 
were all fresh and well. Unfortunately he could not get away, 
and he now writes proposing a visit. The awkward part of it 
is, I'm infernally short of nags just at present, for I lamed three 
last week, and three more are coughing badly, and are not fit to 
hunt, i wish people would come when they're invited, or else 
not at all." 

"Could you not manage to hire something for your friend ?" 
she suggested pacificatorily, for Sir Philip's tone was far from 
amiable. 

" Yes, I see no other way out of the difficulty. I must write 
and tell him he will have to content himself with a hireling, for 
he proposes arriving on Thursday." 

"Who is he, Philip? " she demanded, with an uncomfortable 
fluttering in the region of her heart. 

" I thought I had told you. He's a fellow called Cameron, 
in the Guards. 1 met him up in Scotland about a year ago, 
when I was staying with some people called Mackintosh, and 
we rather palled. He is the eldest son of a crotchety Scotch 
peer, who, from what I gathered, keeps his heir uncommonly 
tight. I don't know whether it is true, but Cameron has the 
reputation of being always on the look-out for an heiress. He 
flirted tremendously with an American girl named Waller whilst 
we were at the Mackintoshes' Everybody thought he was going 
to propose, but it seems he ascertained just in the nick of time 
that her fortune had been very much overrated, and so he beat 
a retreat, leaving the fair one to cry her eyes out. Why ! " con- 
tinued Sir Philip, abruptly, staring hard at his wife, " what the 
deuce is wrong with you ? You look as white as a sheet." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. !jc 

" No — nothing," she articulated faintly. " I don't feel very 
well, that's all." 

" Then you had better lie down for a bit, whilst I go round 
the stables, and find out how the various cripples are progress- 
ing. Horses are cursed plagues. There always seems some- 
thing amiss just when you want them most. Anybody visiting 
here might fancy I had more hunters than I knew what to do 
with, and yet when it comes to the point, one is literally not in 
a position to mount a friend. Cameron is a deuced hard man, 
I believe, and I should have liked to have given him a decent 
crock, but it can't be helped, and he must just take his chance." 
So saying, Sir Philip walked out of the room. 

When he had gone Bligh heaved a sigh of relief. For ten 
years she had never set eyes upon Duncan, and she was par- 
alysed to find that the mere sound of his name and the thought 
of seeing him again should create such a revolution within her 
being. Could it be that the old love was not dead as she be- 
lieved, but simply slumbering ? A sudden dread seized her. 
If she was unable to answer for herself, would it not be better 
to avoid the risk of meeting him, and of their sleeping under the 
same roof ? She had never thought it necessary to communi- 
cate to Sir Philip the details of her unhappy engagement. It 
was hurtful to her woman's pride to confess that she had been 
cruelly jilted in her youth, and as he had not alluded to the 
subject, she had abstained from volunteering confidences which 
might or might not be well received. But now she regretted 
her reticence. It placed her in an awkward position, and an 
inward voice urged her strongly not to let another day pass 
without making a full confession. 

When Sir Philip first imparted the news of Duncan's coming, 
her presence of mind had fairly deserted her, but reflection soon 
pointed out that the right and proper course was to tell her 
husband everything that had happened. Having arrived at this 
resolution, she waited until she heard him re-enter the house, 
and followed him into his study. Early as was the hour, an 
odour of spirits and tobacco pervaded it, and an empty soda 
water glass stood on the mantel-piece. The atmosphere was 
offensive to a delicate woman's nostrils and consequently she 
did not often grace this sanctum with her presence. To-day, 
however, she had a purpose, and met Sir Philip's gaze of irri- 
table inquiry steadily. 

" What do you want ? " he said. " I have no end of letters to 
write, and am particularly busy this morning." 

" I will not detain you long," she began, nervously, " but 
you said a little while ago that this Mr. Cameron's coming was 
inconve " 



176 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" He is Captain Cameron," interrupted the baronet, showing 
signs of impatience. 

" Captain Cameron then. What I was going to say was, 
since so many of your horses are on the sick list, don't you 
think you could manage to put him off ? I," and she changed 
colour, " should be very glad if you would." 

Sir Philip stared at her in amazement. 

" You would be very glad, Bligh ! Why, what earthly differ- 
ence can it make to you ? " 

She cast down her eyes, and said in a constrained voice — 

" I — I would rather not meet him, please, Philip, if it is all 
the same to you." 

" And why not, pray ? Isn't the company I associate with 
good enough for your fastidious little ladyship." 

" It is not that, though I honestly confess to not liking some 
of your friends." 

" What is it then ? For any sake give up beating about the 
bush. Why can't you get to the point ? " 

" I ought to have told you before. I blame myself for not 
having done so, but — but," and her tone became tremulous, 
" once, long ago, Captain Cameron and I were engaged to be 
married. I have not seen him since, and it might be better that 
I never should." 

Sir Philip burst into a hoarse laugh. 

" Oh ! that old story. Of course I knew it. Everybody did 
at the time, but I really fail to see what it has got to do with 
the matter." 

" Philip," she said, speaking with evident effort, " I have not 
told you all. I — I was very fond of Captain Cameron. It was 
he who gave me up, not I him. I think — I hope I have forgot- 
ten the past, but I would rather not run the risk of reviving it. 
Don't you understand ? " 

" Well, no, I can't say that I do. People who mix in society 
are continually rubbing up against their old flames. They have 
so many that they quite enjoy exchanging tender reminiscences 
with former loves. It's all the fashion nowadays." 

Bligh looked away. The muscles of her lips were twitching. 

" I had only one love," she said, quietly, " and on that account 
perhaps I thought more of it than if I had had half a dozen. If 
Duncan had not jilted me, we should have been old married 
people by now." There was a touch of regret in her voice, 
which roused Sir Philip's indignation. 

" Deuce take it all ! " he exclaimed. " Do you mean to say 
you are fond of the fellow still ? " 

She drew herself up with a proud little gesture, and her clear 
eyes looked straight into his. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. jyj 

" If you trusted me, Philip, you would not ask such a question. 
At the present moment I cannot honestly say what my feeling 
for Duncan Cameron is. I have no wish ever to see him again. 
As regards your honor, you may rest assured. It is absolutely 
safe in my hands." 

Her words made him feel ashamed of the suspicions which 
he had begun to entertain. 

" Yes, yes, I know that. Whatever your faults may be, Bligh, 
you're as straight a little woman as ever stepped. In fact, you 
are too cold to have much feeling." 

She smiled. Would she have been cold had she married a 
man whom she loved and honoured ? 

" In spite of my being an icicle, Philip, I still beg you to put 
Captain Cameron off. Surely you can make some excuse now 
that you know all the circumstances of the case. It will be dis- 
tinctly disagreeable to me to find myself in the same house with 
him." 

" I can't put him off. You should have spoken sooner. I've 
just sent a telegram, telling Cameron we shall expect him on 
Thursday, and one of the stablemen has ridden over to Warlaby's 
to engage a couple of screws for Friday and Saturday. If you 
don't care for the fellow, his presence can't affect you much one 
way or the other, whilst if you continue to make a fuss, I shall 
believe that you do." 



CHAPTER XXIII. 

MEETING AN OLD LOVE. 

Bligh was struck by the force of this reasoning. 

" It's playing with edged tools," she said, " but perhaps you 
are right, Philip. Let Captain Cameron come then, only remem- 
ber that it was you and not I who wished for his society. The 
responsibility is shifted from my shoulders to yours." 

" Oh ! bother, don't let us discuss the matter any more. I'm 
sick to death of all this sentimental rubbish. Cameron's a good 
chap, even if he did throw you over, and I can't afford to quarrel 
with all my friends on your account." 

" That is a most unfair accusation," retorted Bligh, spiritedly. 
" No one ever comes to this house except on your invitation, 
and I always make a point of being civil, whatever my private 
feelings may be." And so saying she marched out of the room, 
realising how vain it was to court her husband's sympathy, since 
he invariably threw her back upon herself. It seemed strange 
that any grown-up individual should be so utterly unfamiliar 



178 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

with the workings of the female heart as Philip. Why did such 
men marry ? They interested themselves in their horses and 
their dogs, their runs and their sport, and yet apparently it never 
occurred to them that the woman with whom they lived was 
worth study. She might be ignored with impunity, and treated 
like a stock or a stone. Her most sacred feelings were scoffed 
at, and termed nonsensical rubbish. Bligh felt how hard it is 
to make confidences when they meet with ridicule and coldness. 
But her conscience whispered that she had acted rightly, and it 
did not reproach her. 

When the day came for Captain Cameron's arrival she was 
seized by an overpowering nervousness. She could hardly sit 
still for five minutes, and would have given a small fortune to 
escape the impending ordeal. Naturally, the more she thought 
about it the greater it seemed. Her mother and Lady Ver- 
schoyle went out driving as visual, but she declined to accompany 
them, pleading a bad headache as an excuse. The fact was she 
was afraid of betraying herself. Sir Philip had gone hunting, 
and although he promised to come home early in order to 
receive his guest, she was aware that this promise could not be 
depended upon. If he got into a good run he would think no 
more of Duncan Cameron than of the man in the moon. Unfor- 
tunately, the expected visitor had left the time of his arrival 
somewhat doubtful. He had written to say that, having busi- 
ness in town, he would find his own way from the station, and 
not trouble Sir Philip to send. Bligh felt he might walk in at 
any moment, and the uncertainty added to her disquietude. 

It was a dreary, depressing afternoon. The clouds lay low 
and heavy, and a white mist rose from the cold surface of the 
earth, and crept round the big trees in the park, until they 
looked like so many gigantic ghosts stretching weird arms aloft. 
Everything was grey, and moist, and formless. The fog robbed 
the surrounding landscape of its clear outlines, rendering them 
blurred and indistinct. Bligh looked out and shivered ; then, 
turning away from the window, stirred the fire into a bright 
flame. It lit up the walls of her cosy boudoir, and gave an air 
of cheerfulness, in striking contrast to the prospect presented 
out of doors. She realised that in spite of many drawbacks she 
had still much cause for thankfulness, and, sitting down in an 
arm-chair, began to soliloquise. 

" Why am I not more content ? " ran her thoughts. " What 
is it that I want ? Many women in my place would feel quite 
at rest. They would not hanker after anything beyond riches 
and rank, fine diamonds to wear, and plenty of material com- 
fort. I have these, and yet they don't satisfy me. I was 
happier when I was a poor, ill-paid music-teacher, forced to 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



179 



trudge out at all hours and seasons. At least, I was my own 
mistress then. I had not bartered away my independence. 
Heigh ho ! How different married life might be if one had a 
nice, kind husband ! How different one would be oneself ! Men 
are very foolish. They make a great mistake in their treatment 
of us, for every woman born with decent instincts is to be won 
by kindness. If Philip had only gone the right way to work he 
might have made me love him ; but now," and she sighed 
heavily, " I fear it is too late." 

Thus thinking she fell into a reverie, from which she was 
awakened by the opening of the door. In an instant she sprang 
to her feet, and stood with every nerve quivering, whilst the 
man-servant ushered in Captain Cameron. For one short 
second the room seemed to spin round and round, and then, 
summoning all her courage to her aid, she advanced to meet 
him. Oh ! what a sudden relief she experienced. Was this 
Duncan — this stout, middle-aged-looking man, with a corpulent 
figure, a red face, and no hair on the top of his head ? Why ! 
he was not her Duncan at all. If she had met him in the street 
she should not have known him. Her fears vanished. She 
was ready to laugh at them, for by some strange metamorphosis 
of the feminine nature all at once she felt quite at her ease, and 
the situation, to which she had looked forward with such dread, 
was completely divested of embarrassment. It was a miracle, 
for one glance sufficed to assure her that henceforth there could 
be no danger in his presence. The charm was broken, his 
power over her gone. Never again could he inspire sentiments 
of affection in her breast. She knew now for certain that the 
old love was not merely buried, but dead, and the knowledge 
brought a great gladness. The burden had dropped, and she 
was a free woman at last, since the image at whose shrine she 
had worshipped so long stood revealed an idol of clay. 

" How do you do, Captain Cameron ? " she said, as com- 
posedly as if they were in the habit of meeting every day. 
" You have come rather earlier than we expected." 

He started back at the sound of her voice. 

" Bligh ! " he exclaimed. " Bligh Burton ! Is it possible ? " 

" But certainly. Why not ? " 

" I never dreamt I should meet you here, Bligh." 

" You mean that you would not have come had you known 
the pleasure in store? Well, perhaps you would have been 
right." 

" If I am not welcome I can return." 

" It is hardly worth while for you to give yourself so much 
trouble." 

" And what have you been doing all these years, Bligh ? " 



180 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" Will you kindly call me by my proper name," she said, with 
dignity. 

He glanced at her left hand, and perceived the wedding-ring. 

" I do not even know it." 

'• I may have been Bligh Burton to you once, Captain Cameron ; 
but now I am Lady Verschovle." 

" What ! Sir Philip's wife'? " 

" Yes. Do you mean to say that you did not know Philip 
was married ? " 

" I had not the least idea who the lady was. I have been 
abroad for the last four months, studying the battlefields of 
Europe, and have only just returned. Pardon my ignorance." 
Then his surprise overcame his politeness, and he added : "Just 
fancy your being Lady Verschoyle. By Jove ! you have done 
well for yourself." 

She coloured at this remark, the freedom of which she re- 
sented. Was there anything so extraordinary in her having 
made a good marriage that he should consider himself entitled 
to make such an observation ? It piqued her not a little. 

" That is a matter of opinion, Captain Cameron, and one 
scarcely necessary for you to discuss in my presence. Your 
surprise is extremely flattering to my amour propre, but I 
should prefer its being expressed behind my back rather than to 
my face." 

This retort decidedly disconcerted him. Whenever he recalled 
his love passages with Bligh he always thought of them as an 
affair out of which he had issued wisely, if not exactly creditably. 
But as Lady Verschoyle she figured as a very different personage 
in his estimation. 

" Just fancy my being ignorant of your marriage, and actually 
coming to stay with you as your guest ! " he exclaimed. " Does 
not it seem odd ? " Then he looked at her critically, and added : 
" You have not changed much, Bli — I mean Lady Verschoyle ; 
in fact, if anything, you have improved." 

" Thanks," she answered sarcastically. " Your praise is ex- 
tremely gratifying. I fancy, however, that my present position 
has a good deal to do with the improvement which you profess 
to say has taken place in my appearance." 

" At any rate, matrimony has taught you the use of your 
tongue. You used to be more amiable in the olden days when 
I was cramming with your father. What jolly days those were ! 
Have you completely forgotten them ? " 

She gave a little, provoking laugh, which had the effect of 
exasperating him intensely. 

" Under my husband's roof," she observed, cuttingly, " it is 
scarcely good taste for you to discuss old times ; besides, they 



WEDDED TO SPORT. x 8i 

do not linger so pleasantly in my memory that I should care to 
dwell upon them. With your permission, Captain Cameron, we 
will dismiss the past, and confine ourselves exclusively to the 
present." 

He reddened consciously, feeling the justice of her remark, 
and also its severity. 

" It was not my fault," he muttered, in rather a hang-dog way. 
" I would have come back when I promised had my father allowed 
me to do so. He was at the bottom of the whole business. I 
dared not offend him, and, as you know, he was against us from 
the first. The governor's an awfully obstinate old chap, and 
when he takes an idea into his head persuasion is thrown away." 

" Please don't make any apologies. To begin with, they come 
rather late in the day ; and, secondly, the matter is one of no 
importance whatever. I have consoled myself, as you see, and 
managed to exist, in spite of the paternal obstinacy which you 
are filial enough to deplore. Let us talk of something else — the 
weather, for instance. That is an unfailing topic, and absolutely 
safe, even if a trifle dull." And taking up a hand-screen she 
shielded her face from the fire, in a manner which effectually 
prevented him from reading its expression. She showed him so 
clearly that she declined to continue the conversation unless 
under different conditions that he was forced to take refuge in 
the first commonplace he could think of. 

Had he found her still Bligh Burton, occupying a six-roomed 
cottage, clad in shabby, ill-fitting clothes, which betrayed her 
poverty, and living amongst humble surroundings, the chances 
are he would have met his old love with absolute indifference. 
But when he saw her at the head of a magnificent establishment, 
invested with all the pomp and appanage conferred by wealth, 
his estimation of the woman whom he had scorned rose in a 
remarkable degree. He felt piqued by her coldness and irony. 
When he contrasted them with the clinging tenderness of former 
days he suddenly experienced an overpowering desire to break 
down the barrier of her frigid self-possession. He could not 
believe it to be real. His vanity suggested that it was merely 
assumed as a means of defence, and he refused to credit that 
her love was all gone. He wondered what had become of it ; 
but it never occurred to him to wonder what had become of his 
own. He made an inward vow to find out before the end of his 
visit what were the real feelings of his hostess. Thus thinking 
he moved his chair, until Bligh once more came within focus. 
She resented his insinuating glances, for directly she became 
conscious of them she rose from her seat and rang the bell. 

" I expect you would like to see your room," she said. " My 
mother and Lady Verschoyle will be in from their drive very 



1 82 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

shortly, and then we will have tea — that is to say, if you ever 
condescend to drink so mild a beverage. Thompson," she went 
on, addressing the butler, who appeared in answer to her sum- 
mons, " show Captain Cameron upstairs, and see that he has 
everything he requires." 

Duncan had not the slightest desire to make a move, and, in 
fact, would much have preferred staying where he was ; but as 
his wishes were apparently opposed to those of the lady of the 
house there was nothing for it but to obey, which he did with a 
bad grace. He was conscious of not appearing to advantage, 
and in such circumstances a man seldom feels at his ease. 

When he had gone Bligh laughed out loud. She was afraid 
he might hear, but she could not restrain her mirth. 

" How foolish of me to mind meeting him," she said to 
herself. " If it had only happened years ago what a lot of 
misery I should have been spared. I should have given up 
idealising him for one thing. How fat he has grown, and how 
red and ugly ! And yet I remember I used to think him so 
good-looking, and so clever. To-day he gives me the impres- 
sion of being abominably dull. One or other of us must have 
altered strangely. I wonder which it is. Well ! no matter. I 
am infinitely obliged to him for restoring me my liberty. Thank 
goodness ! there is not a man in the whole world now who can 
cause my heart to beat a stroke faster than its wont. Delightful 
state of things ! May it last for ever." 

Bligh's mood was curiously defiant ; neither did it alter 
throughout the evening. She treated Captain Cameron with 
cold, but excruciating politeness, every now and then letting 
fall some sarcastic little remark, which clearly proved to him 
that although he was absolutely indifferent to her she had not 
forgotten or forgiven the offence of which he had been guilty. 
He knew that beneath her surface-civility she judged him inex- 
orably. During dinner Sir Philip could hear them from his end 
of the table sparring at each other, like a couple of accomplished 
fencers. 

" I thought you two were old friends," he called out jovially, 
secretly admiring his wife, and enjoying the Captain's discom- 
fiture. 

" So we were," rejoined that gentleman. " At least I was 
vain enough to think so ; but her ladyship appears to hold a 
contrary opinion, and to ignore the fact of our friendship." 

" Am I the only person who possesses the convenient faculty 
of ignoring facts ? " she retorted maliciously. " I fancy it was 
you who taught me so useful an accomplishment in the first 
instance, Captain Cameron." 

Sir Philip laughed. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



*8 3 



" Bravo, Bligh ! " he exclaimed. " You had him there. You'd 
better give up, Cameron," he went on, turning to his guest. 
" My wife is as good a hand at repartee as anyone I know. 
You won't get the best of her in a hurry." 

" Since when have you developed this charming talent ? " 
Duncan inquired in a low voice of Bligh. '' You used not to 
be famous for a sharp tongue. Has it grown incisive since 
your marriage ? Most women's do." 

" Is that your experience, Captain Cameron ? If so I con- 
gratulate you. You were wise to eschew matrimony, and can 
derive a salutary lesson from watching the effects of your own 
handiwork. Women are what men make them. I am no 
exception to the rule." 

He bit his lip to hide his annoyance. No matter what he 
said she always had an answer ready. How different she 
was from the little loving Bligh whom he had kissed and re- 
kissed under the weeping willow in Captain Burton's garden ten 
years previously. Yet man-like, he infinitely preferred the 
woman who scoffed at him to the woman who blindly wor- 
shipped him. Lady Yerschoyle at eight-and-twenty, with two 
powdered footmen standing behind her chair, dressed in an ex- 
quisite Parisian tea-gown, sitting at the bottom of a table laden 
with costly silver and choice hothouse flowers, appeared to him a 
very much more important and lovable person than the eighteen- 
year old Bligh Burton, with nothing to recommend her but a 
trusting heart and a sweet, childish nature. He conceived for 
the former a distinct respect and admiration, whilst to the latter 
for many years past he had seldom given more than a passing 
thought. Where is the man capable of disinterested affection ? 

Society, as composed in fashionable circles, ruins true love. 
Men simply hunger after the loaves and fishes. What a woman 
is hardly counts. What she has got is the question. Does 
she belong to a smart set ? Has she a fine house to ask us to ? 
Does she give good entertainments, shall I meet the right sort, 
and will it reflect credit upon me to be seen dancing attendance 
in her train ? If so I can afford to lose my heart ; otherwise it 
is not worth while. 

These are the considerations paramount and the language of 
the day. Truly the latter evinces much refined and beautiful 
sentiment, and does honour to the nineteenth century. Chivalry 
and manhood are magnificently represented. 

Captain Cameron, of the Guards, thought Lady Verschoyle 
of Beechlands worth cultivating. He declined, therefore, to 
participate in the pleasures of the billiard-room, and throughout 
the evening exerted himself to be agreeable. He accompanied 
the ladies to their sitting-room, and sang sentimental songs at 



184 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

Bligh, in which the words last and past, heart and dart, pain 
again, ever sever, played a conspicuous part. She listened to 
Ihem composedly, and with a little mocking smile curling the 
corners of her mouth. Did he think she was eighteen once 
more, to be impressed by such transparent artifices ? 

When the music came to an end she rose to retire to rest, and 
gave him her hand with the utmost unconcern. 

" Cruel ! " he whispered, as he pressed it warmly. " Are you 
made of stone ? " 

She snatched it away. "Yes," she said, looking him full in 
the face ; "to you." 

His eyes drooped before the withering contempt expressed 
by her glance. 



CHAPTER XXIV 

THE BIGGEST COUNTRY IX ENGLAND. 

The Honourable Duncan Cameron possessed one trait in com- 
mon with a good many of his sex. He was pre-eminently selfish, 
and in every relation of life invariably consulted his own wishes 
before those of any other person. Egotism is by no means rare, 
either among men or women ; but he had a larger share than 
most people, and as a rule did not take much trouble to hide 
the fact. The eldest son of a peer, no matter how poor he may 
be, is ahvay run after by London mammas, and our friend Dun- 
can had been a good bit spoilt since the days when he declined 
to study mathematics under Captain Burton. But whatever 
were his faults physical cowardice could not be numbered among 
them. He had earned the reputation of being one of the hard- 
est and most brilliant riders to hounds in the United Kingdom, 
and although the hunting field had not been very frequently 
graced by his presence latterly the prestige attached to his name 
si ill clung to it. Generally he sold his horses at the end of 
every season, and they fetched fabulous prices ; but a shocking 
bad Derby, followed by a disastrous Ascot, had deprived him 
of his available stock of ready money, and reduced the unfor- 
tunate plunger to the deplorable necessity of taking a trip abroad 
in order to avoid the importunity of clamorous creditors. 

It was for the above reason that, when he was enabled to re- 
turn to his native land, his stables stood empty, and did not con- 
tain a single decent hunter. At this juncture he recalled Sir 
Philip's invitation, which had arrived when he was inspecting 
the fortifications at Metz, and determined to run down to Mid- 
landshire for a few days, Knowing his host rn Hp ■> ri^v. naan) 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



185 



with a large stud of valuable horses, he calculated on his mount- 
ing him, and it proved a considerable disappointment when he 
learnt that he must put up with a couple of screws, hired out 
regularly at two guineas a day. It was the more annoying be- 
cause by nature he was extremely jealous, and heartily despised 
those of his comrades who did not cut out the work. No matter 
how well or how straight they rode he thought nothing whatever 
of their performances unless they went absolutely first. To do 
him justice, he always showed the way himself whenever he got 
the chance. His pleasure, therefore, was very naturally damped 
when Sir Philip informed him with well-feigned regret that in- 
stead of making his appearance on a brilliant performer he must 
be content to fall back upon a hireling. Of course he declared 
it did not signify in the least, though inwardly he abused his 
friend for not making other provisions, which he felt persuaded 
he could quite well have done had he chosen. 

Duncan's ruling passion was hunting, and he always enjoyed 
being on horseback. Consequently, he came down to breakfast 
on the following morning with a smiling face, only a shade less 
red than his coat, which had seen much service, and was white 
at the seams, purple at the tails. He further wore a bird's-eye 
waistcoat, a white stock wound round his neck, which served 
as collar and tie in one, and a pair of old leathers. Altogether 
his attire was sporting, if not exactly in the height of fashion ; 
but a man with his reputation could afford to dispense with ac- 
cessories which, had he not already won his spurs in the hunt- 
ing field, would no doubt have been deemed indispensable. A 
well-known pioneer across country may be forgiven if he is not 
just as smartly turned out as some novice anxious to make a 
good impression by the f aultlessness of his equipment. Duncan's 
" get up " was workmanlike, but certainly not becoming, as Bligh 
remarked to herself during breakfast. Perhaps it was that she 
looked at him with different eyes from those of ten years ago. 
Anyhow, she no longer thought him either handsome or fascinat- 
ing, but quite the reverse. 

" It ought to be a hunting morning," observed Sir Philip to 
his guest. " The glass has gone up tremendously since last 
night, and there is a sharp, crisp feeling in the air, which 
promises well after yesterday's fog." 

" An old sportsman once told me that hounds always run 
hard before a frost," rejoined Captain Cameron, " and my ex- 
perience certainly goes to prove the theory. I was staying at 
Melton two years ago, and just before the cold weather set in 
we had a brilliant week. It was the finest eight days' sport I 
ever witnessed, and directly afterwards it froze like the devil, 
and for two whole months hunting was stopped altogether." 



186 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" Well ! I hope we may show you some fun to-day," said Sir 
Philip, " and that your nag will carry you satisfactorily. I only 
wish I could have given you a mount, but I have had a regular 
run of bad luck lately, and nearly half my gees are on the sick 
list. The open weather has been responsible for several cripples, 
added to which a kind of influenza epidemic has broken out 
among the horses this year, which has committed great havoc. 
Three of my best hunters are down with it at the present moment, 
and there is hardly a stable in the county that has escaped." 

" Don't mind about me, my dear fellow," responded Duncan, 
with every appearance of outward cordiality. " No doubt I 
shall get along all right. By-the-bye, what about my quad ? Is 
he coming here or going to the meet ? " 

" I gave orders for him to be led out to Bloxington with my 
first horse, and, if agreeable to you, we will drive together in the 
dogcart. Bloxington is almost the farthest meet we have, and 
is a deuce of a way off.'' 

" How far do you call it, Verschoyle ? " 

" The best part of fifteen miles from here, and the road's 
none to good either." 

" I had a day near Bloxington once, when I was staying in 
the neighbourhood with some friends," observed Duncan. " If 
I remember rightly, it's a terrific country, is it not ? " 

" The biggest in England, bar none. Every fence is a down- 
right mantrap. There is hardly a horse in creation who can 
cross Bloxington Yale without coming to grief. It was there that 
poor young Grigson fractured his skull last season, and was 
killed, and yet no man rode better cattle." 

Captain Cameron turned to Bligh with a smile. 

" This is encouraging intelligence for me on my hireling. 
Will you ask your husband to choose some less gruesome sub- 
ject, else I shan't have an atom of nerve left ? " 

" Report says that your nerves are made of iron," she an- 
swered. " I don't think Philip can shake them." 

" They have remained fairly good up till now, but nerve is a 
thing one never can feel certain of. It is here to-day and gone 
to-morrow. Let us hope, however, after this alarming account 
of the terrors of Bloxington Vale, that fate has had the kindness 
to provide me with a screw that can jump." 

" I think Fate would be kinder if she provided you with one 
that couldn't," rejoined Bligh. 

" And then when I came home you would be the first to laugh 
at me for showing the white feather." 

" You mustn't aspire to lead the field to-day, old man," put in 
Sir Philip. " Curb your ardour for once, and be content to 
remain with the ruck. If all ^oes well, bv MonHav T shall \)Q 



WEDDED TO SPORT jS 1 / 

able to give you a mount. Until then, take my advice and let 
discretion be the better part of valour." 

With these words the gentlemen rose from the breakfast table, 
and were soon searching for gloves, crops, and cigar-cases, pre- 
vious to starting. Their final preparations took so long that 
they kept the trap waiting at the door for over ten minutes. At 
last they seated themselves in the dogcart, and were carefully 
tucked in by two stalwart footmen, who placed a fur rug and a 
waterproof apron over their knees. Then Sir Philip whipped 
up his American trotter and drove off at a great pace, by way 
of atoning for lost time. Neither he nor Captain Cameron were 
men possessing a wide range of conversation, or an extensive 
stock of ideas apart from sport ; so they confined themselves 
almost exclusively to this interesting topic. But after the first 
two or three miles they apparently wore it threadbare, and were 
reduced to long cigars and silence, broken only by an occasional 
spasmodic remark. To tell the truth they were both dull dogs, 
though they did not know it, and each voted the other stupid in 
his innermost heart. The drive was long and cold, and they 
were glad when it came to an end, and they reached their des- 
tination before hounds had moved off. Sir Philip's groom rode 
up immediately, leading Captain Cameron's hunter. Duncan 
cast his eye over him dissatisfiedly. Certainly he was a sorry 
steed to look at, and appeared quite incapable of bearing fourteen 
stone to the front. First inspection revealed a weedy thorough- 
bred, light chestnut in colour, with a long back and tail, lean an- 
gular quarters, curly hocks, and a pair of forelegs which stood 
very much over, and were covered with wind-galls and blemishes. 
He was an animal of nice quality, but one who had evidently 
seen life and also his best days. The poor, half-fed, over- 
worked beast shivered as the keen morning air caused his dull 
coat to stare. And yet, in spite of hard riding and ill usage, he 
loved the hounds, and pricked his ears as he glanced at them 
in a way which seemed to say, " Yes, yes. You and I are old 
friends. We know each other well, only don't be too hard upon 
me to-day, for I am hungry and tired, and no longer as young as 
I was once." 

" Humph ! " exclaimed Captain Cameron, discontentedly, 
addressing the groom. " He's not much to look at. Do you 
know anything about him by any chance ? " 

" No, Capting ; nothing," answered the man, touching his hat 
respectfully ; " but they told me at the stables as 'ow he was a 
wonderful good old 'oss once he warmed up, and he knows 
pretty nigh every fence in the county." 

" Knows them a long sight too well, poor old beggar, I should 



1 88 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

think," rejoined Duncan, putting his foot in the stirrup and 
mounting without further delay. 

His steed submitted to this operation with the utmost docility, 
and apparently asked for nothing better than to stand still until 
the last possible moment. His troubles, however, were about 
to begin, and a spur prick in the side caused him to hobble 
stiffly off to where the hounds were congregated. As already 
stated, Captain Cameron was a well-known man in the hunting 
field, and although he had only hunted a few times with the 
Midlandshire hounds he was hailed on the present occasion by 
a number of acquaintances. Five minutes devoted to " coffee 
housing " passed very pleasantly, for it is always agreeable to the 
feelings to be warmly greeted by people, even when one knows 
next to nothing about them. Then a move was made, and an 
outlying spinney applied to, in consequence of some intelligence 
furnished by a farmer to the huntsman. Often such information 
leads to poor results ; but to-day there was no doubt about its 
correctness, for before the rearmost horseman had reached the 
spinney a fox was set on foot. Unfortunately, the pedestrians 
headed him, and being baulked in his original intention of flight 
he turned tail and made off for Bloxington covert, which lay on 
the opposite side of the road. Having successfully gained this 
point of vantage he changed his tactics, and showed no dis- 
position to quit it. 

" Voick on to him, my beauties ! Yoick on to him ! " sang out 
Dysack, in his ringing, tenor voice. But although the hounds 
hunted most meritoriously, now throwing their tongues with con- 
fidence until the deep notes boomed like bells upon the air, anon 
subsiding into plaintive whimpers of defeat, followed by discour- 
aged silence, Reynard baffled all endeavours for very nearly an 
hour. It proved a weary interval, which rapidly degenerated 
into mute despondency. 

Human and canine foes were alike giving up hope, when all 
at once a shrill cry caused every pulse to beat. Was it a rail- 
way whistle ? Xo, for another and another following in quick 
succession proclaimed the welcome fact that pug had at last seen 
fit to break covert, and had set his mask for the open. Out 
streamed the hounds in hot pursuit, and quicker almost than it 
takes to tell they settled ravenously to the line. 

And now both men and horses were called upon to do the 
very best they knew, for by some instinct of perversity this crafty 
fox headed straight for Bloxington Vale, disdaining the compar- 
atively easy country which lay on his left. Just at first all went 
well, for he had the civility to run parallel with a road, and every- 
one took advantage of the macadam, not a few devoutly hop- 
ing that there might be no occasion to leave it. But their inward 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



[89 



prayers were doomed to receive an unfavourable response, for 
very shortly the fox took a sharp bend to the right, with the re- 
sult of interposing a thick bullfinch guarded by a double ditch 
between himself and his pursuers. It was in a direct line, and 
could not well be avoided. 

Quick as lightning half a dozen men shot out from the ranks 
and bored a hole through it. Duncan was one of them. Although 
on an untried animal, not exactly calculated to inspire confi- 
dence, he did not hesitate for a moment. Promptitude and 
decision are indispensable qualities for the pioneers of a hunt. 
He was prepared for a refusal, especially as the fence was a big 
one to start with, but the chestnut surprised him very agreeably. 
The experienced animal did not attempt to fly the bullfinch as 
a younger horse might have done, but, stopping short, popped 
over the first ditch, and then proceeded to push his head through 
the thorny screen. It was not an easy operation, but by force 
of perseverance he managed it, and also to wriggle his body 
adroitly through the aperture thus formed. After this there re- 
mained no great difficulty about stilkering down the far ditch 
and scrambling up its side, with no worse memento of the achieve- 
ment than a few scratches. The only objection to which the 
process was open was that it took time ; but as Duncan's neigh- 
bours on either hand narrowly escaped a fall he felt that he had 
decided cause for satisfaction. 

" Bravo ! old fellow," he said, bringing his crop down on the 
chestnut's neck as a mark of approval. " You did that uncom- 
monly clever. ' Slow and sure ' is your motto apparently. Come, 
let's see if you can gallop." And, standing up in his stirrups, 
he gave him a shake of the bridle hand, and tried hard to wrest 
the lead from a long, thin stranger in " mufti," riding a power- 
ful blood horse. 

The chestnut was a descendant of the famous Blair Athole, 
and a cast-off from a racing stable. He had experienced various 
vicissitudes, but even at the mature age of seventeen he still 
retained a fair turn of speed when warmed up and his stiffness 
worked off. The frosty air had dried the ground, and the light 
going suited him. Moreover, the hounds, though running fast, 
were not travelling at racing pace. The fences were too big and 
too frequent not to stop them a bit. 

Certainly Bloxington Vale deserved its reputation of being 
the stiffest country in England. Every ditch was a regular 
yawner, and the hedges were quickset, planted on banks which 
added to their size, and adorned by binders that meant a turn- 
over if at all rudely touched. And yet it was wonderful how 
well the horses jumped them as long as they were fresh. True, 
the couple of dozen now with hounds represented the pick of 



190 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



some three or four hundred, for only the very boldest riders had 
turned off the road once it became clear that Reynard had 
chosen the dreaded Vale for his route. 

Duncan's old chestnut really did wonders. He scrambled and 
doubled in the most marvellous way, and although once or 
twice he pitched on his head, being a well-proportioned animal, 
with good shoulders, on each occasion he managed to recover 
himself. But he had not been accustomed to the post of honour 
of absolute first, and after a few minutes the effort of maintain- 
ing this proud position told severely on his strength. Duncan 
began to feel him flagging, and had he been as wise as he was 
courageous would have taken a pull ; but this was precisely 
where his horsemanship became open to criticism. He would 
let a horse die under him rather than yield his place, and 
often pushed gallantry to the very verge of brutality. His 
detractors declared that he was an unmerciful butcher, and they 
would much rather see him ride his own horses than theirs, and 
although jealousy may to a certain extent have influenced their 
judgments they contained a strong element of truth. The de- 
light of swinging over a country that wanted a lot of doing ren- 
dered him less prudent even than usual, and he disregarded two 
fair warnings given him by the chestnut. To make matters worse, 
every fence seemed bigger and stiffer than its predecessor. 
The ditches increased, both in depth and size, and to prevent 
monotony they were varied by an occasional oxer. There were 
a great many empty saddles to be seen now, and Duncan 
recognised Sir Philip's magnificent grey careering about with a 
loose rein. 

" Hulloa ! " he said to himself. " Hireling versus Hunter. 
That is a joke ! Fancy a ten pound screw standing up when 
four hundred guineas worth bites the dust ! Hurrah, for old 
Stick-in-the-Mucl ! " And he gave his steed a friendly job with 
the heel. Grief now became more and more plentiful, for this 
particular fox appeared endowed with the special faculty of 
picking out the very strongest part of the whole of Bloxington 
Vale. 

" Hold up, old man," called out Duncan, as the gallant but 
exhausted chestnut crashed headlong into a thick hedge and 
narrowly escaping a somersault, rose from Mother Earth with 
two mud-stained knees and a dirty forehead ; " you must jump 
a bit cleaner than that if you want to keep on your legs." 

The poor old horse's sides were straining against the girths, 
his flanks heaved, the dock of his tail jerked in a truly pitiful 
fashion. Anyone might have told that he was about done for ; 
but Duncan had no mercy. His blood wa n up. He set his jaw 



WEDDED TO SPORT. ig t 

like a bulldog, and would have charged a house if needs were, 
utterly regardless of his animal's condition. 

To give him his due he had gone right gallantly and well up 
to this point ; but humanity now demanded that he should re- 
tire from the foremost rank. But such an idea never once pre- 
sented itself. Only last winter two of his best hunters had 
dropped dead beneath him, owing to over-riding, entailing a 
severe pecuniary loss, since he calculated that the pair would 
fetch at least five hundred guineas at his sale. It was a frenzy 
which he could not help. After dinner he might preach the 
folly of pushing a beating horse to the bitter end ; but when on 
one and he held a good place in a good run, he could no more 
pull up than he could convert a delicate living creature, capa- 
ble of acute feeling, into a mere galloping and jumping machine. 
Besides to-day he was paying three guineas — or, if he wasn't, 
somebody else was for him — and he meant to have his money's 
worth — a very common form of reasoning among sportsmen 
professing to be fond of horseflesh. 

So he dug his spurs deeper into the chestnut's sobbing sides, 
and forced him along at top speed. Thank goodness ! At last 
a nice, easy little fence loomed ahead, and on the other side the 
hounds appeared checking for a moment. It looked as if it might 
be jumped anywhere, and Duncan was therefore surprised to 
see Dysack, who rode abreast of him, draw rein suddenly. 
" What is it ? " he shouted. " Wire ? " 
" No, sir," came the reply. " Bloxington Brook." 
" Oh ! is that all ? I'll have a shy at it at any rate." 
" You'd better not, sir. There's a ford within a hundred 
yards, and it's a beastly place to jump." So saying Dysack, 
who knew the country, galloped off for a gate on the right. As 
he did so the hounds once more took up the scent and flung 
themselves forward. Duncan saw that if he jumped the brook 
he should gain a clear lead over the now reduced field. His 
thirst for glory rendered him impervious to prudential consider- 
ations. Here was a chance of fame and distinction. It might 
cost a fall, but what mattered that ? He had had so many in his 
time, and always escaped without any serious injury. 

So he took hold of the chestnut's head and crammed him 
straight at the fence. The old horse was done to a turn, and 
no longer capable of putting on the requisite pace. When he 
saw the yawning cavern ahead he checked in his stride, and 
would have refused, but the resolute man on his back rendered 
this impossible. At the last moment he made a desperate effort, 
just succeeded in reaching the opposite bank with his forelegs, 
and fell heavily back into the muddy stream, crushing his rider 



192 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

beneath him. The water parted, gurgled greedily over horse 
and man, then hid them both from vision. 

A few moments later the chestnut struggled wildly to his legs 
and wandered up the brook, where, joining the other horses, 
he floundered through the ford and stood stock-still, a lank, 
miserable, dripping object, scored all over with scratches and 
spur marks. It seemed an age before Duncan's head, minus 
its hat, emerged from the turbid stream, and those who saw it 
were at once impressed by the whiteness of his face and the 
look of suffering that it wore. He tried to clamber up the bank, 
but apparently was unable to move except by hopping on one 
foot. 

" Come and help me, some of you fellows, there's good 
chaps," he called out, in accents of distress. " The brute rolled 
upon me when I was down, and I'm a bit knocked out of time. 
Ugh ! how cold the water is ! " And he shivered dismally. 

This appeal met with generous response, as is nearly always 
the case when an accident of any gravity happens. 

Before long Duncan was drawn to shore by two stout pairs of 
arms, and carefully laid on the grass. 

" Where are you hurt ? " inquired his rescuers, bending over 
him. 

" I — I — have broken my right leg," he answered faintly. 

" Dear, dear ! You don't say so. That's a bad busi- 
ness." 

" Will someone go — for — a — doctor. I cant walk a — yard, 
and must have a trap to t — take me — back to Beechlands." 

The words came with difficulty, for he was chilled to the bone 
and suffered considerable pain. He felt very sick and queer, 
and was thankful to take a pull at the flask promptly presented 
to him. 

" Don't bother about me," he said presently. " Go on with 
the hounds. I'm better now, and if you see Sir Philip Ver- 
schoyle don't say anything to alarm him. It's no good spoiling 
his day's sport." 

Thus adjured the majority rode off in pursuit of the pack, 
but a couple of good Samaritans remained with the injured 
man, and did not leave him until his limb had been temporarily 
put into splints by the nearest doctor, who at once took charge 
of the patient and superintended his removal in a fly chartered 
for the purpose. The broken leg was propped up by cushions, 
and kept straight by means of hunting crops, and when every- 
thing was in readiness they started for Beechlands. Duncan 
was a strong man, but once or twice he nearly fainted during 
the homeward journey. Apart from the breakage his leg was 
terribly bruised and contused, and every jolt of the old-fashioned 



WEDDED TO SPORT. ^3 

carriage as it rattled over the stony road caused a dull, yet 
intense, pain. Three or four times on the way his companion 
administered brandy, and the stimulant alone prevented him 
from losing consciousness. That drive remained for ever 
branded on his memory. It was about the first experience he 
had had of sharp physical suffering, and very unpleasant he 
found it. When they at last drove up to the front door he was 
as white as a sheet, and his face no longer retained any of its 
usual rubicund tints. 

Bligh had caught sight of a carriage coming up the drive, and 
obtained a peep of a red coat within. After her own mishap 
she was always afraid of some accident happening. Conse- 
quently, before the bell was rung she rushed out, crying, 
" What is the matter ? Has anything very dreadful taken 
place ? " 

" Nothing," answered Duncan, trying to speak in his ordi- 
nary tone. " I've had rather a nasty spill and broken my leg ; 
that's all." 

" All ! " she exclaimed. " Oh ! poor you, I'm so sorry." 

" He smiled. Her compassion had a distinctly pleasing effect 
upon his nervous system. 

" I shan't mind," he said, in a significant undertone, " if it is 
the means of making you kinder to me than you were last 
night." 

" I didn't mean to be unkind," she responded, rather 
guiltily. 

" Didn't you ? A different impression was conveyed to my 
mind." Then, in a louder key : " I am afraid I shall prove an 
awful bore. An invalid laid up in somebody else's house is 
always a most infernal nuisance ; but you see how I am sit- 
uated. For a few days at any rate I cannot help claiming your 
hospitality. I suppose, doctor," he went on, turning to his 
companion, " I could hardly get to London in my present 
state ? " 

" No ; certainly not ! " answered that gentleman, decidedly. 
" It would be madness to think of such a thing." 

" You perceive that I do not willingly inflict my society upon 
you, Lady Verschoyle," said Duncan, a trifle mischievously. 
" If I could have spared you this ordeal rest assured I would 
have done so." 

" What do you take us for, Captain Cameron ? " she answered 
hotly. " You talk as if Sir Philip and I were the most hard- 
hearted people in the world " 

" I think you are," he whispered. 

" Of course you will stay here," she went on, unheeding the 
interruption. " This unfortunate accident has occurred whilst 

IT. 



1 9 4 WEDDED TO SPORT 

you were on a visit to my husband, and he would be the first 
to insist on your being nursed in his house. Besides, with all 
due respect for your reluctance to place yourself under an obli- 
gation, where else can you go ? "' 

This demand being quite unanswerable, Duncan allowed him- 
self to be carried upstairs and put to bed without any further 
protest, leaving Bligh to reproach herself for the severity of her 
conduct on the previous day. 

" I think I was a little too hard on him last night,'' she mused. 
" It is better to let bygones be bygones, as Philip said. Even if 
I had married him he would not have suited me. I see that 
quite clearly now, though I thought differently at the time. 
Perhaps everything has turned out for the best. One never 
knows and it was not quite nice of me to vent my spite so openly. 
Besides, now that I don't care the very least for him 1 can afford 
to be more generous. If he had been brought back dead I 
should certainly have felt a little remorseful for my conduct. 
Even when people have injured one it is always more comfort- 
able to make friends." 

Having arrived at this decision about an hour afterwards she 
stole into the invalid's room. Here she proposed so many 
devices which added greatly to his comfort that Duncan, shaken 
by his fall, and in a softer mood than usual, felt quite touched. 
He watched her moving gently to and fro with a sense of peace 
and security. After all many worse things might fall to a man's 
lot than to be laid up with a broken bone and nursed by a nice 
woman. He realised this, and, yielding to a sudden impulse, 
when she passed by the bed he caught hold of her dress and 
raised it to his lips. 

" Bligh ! " he exclaimed, " what a fool I have been, to be 
sure. Even if you can forgive me I shall never forgive myself." 

She drew her gown away from his grasp, and looked down at 
him with clear, untroubled eyes, which made him feel the use- 
lessness of trying to regain what he had lost. 

'•Hush!" she said, quietly. " You do not know what you 
are saying, and if you want me to continue to nurse you, you 
must not talk like that. You are ill and in pain. My wish is 
to lesson your suffering as much as possible, but it is superfluous 
to introduce any sentiment into so ordinary a matter." 

He sighed. 

" I suppose you think me an awful beast, Lady Yerschoyle — 
no, hang it all ! I must call you Bligh." 

" If you do I shan't answer. As for your being a beast I 
admit to having thought you one at first ; but now that I have 
seen more of the world I think you acted in accordance with 
the customary constancy and honour of your admirable sex.'' 



WEDDED TO SPORT. I9 ; 

" How bitter you are, and how unf orgiving ! Do you believe 
all men to be bad then ? " 

" I really can't say. ' All ' is a comprehensive word. I hope 
— I trust — that there are a few good ones about. - ' 

" Such a declaration implies that you have never met them."' 

She shrugged her shoulders. The retort was irresistible. 

" I have met you, Captain Cameron. Surely my experience 
is sufficient."' 

" No," he said, with a flush of vexation. " That is precisely 
where women go wrong, and take such a narrow, illiberal view 
of men. You judge a whole class from a single unfortunate 
experience. If a woman hasn t a good husband, lover, or father 
she hates all men indiscriminately. You are too sweeping in 
your condemnations." 

" Pardon me, but do you say this because you labour under 
an uneasy conviction that I do not worship yourself in particu- 
lar, Captain Cameron ? " 

" I say it because I would give worlds to regain your esteem. 
Will nothing induce you to forego the enmitv which you feel for 
me?" 

" You make a mistake. If my feelings are not those of ardent 
admiration they fall very short of enmity. But why pursue this 
conversation ? In the present state of affairs it can do no good. 
I shall be much better employed going downstairs and showing 
cook how to make you some strong beef tea after true invalid 
fashion." This proof of her housewifery capacity" touched Dun- 
can to the quick. He looked after her retreating form, and once 
more murmured : " What a fool I have been." He was a bit 
down on his luck, and for the time being fully persuaded himself 
into the belief that he meant what he said. 



CHAPTER XXY 

AX UNMERITED INSULT. 

When a man is laid up in bed, and is tended by a woman 
with any pretensions to amiability or good looks, one result is in- 
evitable. He falls in love with her, or else fancies that he does ; 
which comes pretty much to the same thing. 

Afcer Bligh had frankly told Duncan that he must not talk 
sentiment, under penalty of losing her services, she thought no 
more about the matter, and took it for granted he would have 
the common-sense to adhere to her restrictions. In his present 



196 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

condition she was undoubtedly useful to him ; and such being 
the case, she held the whip hand, and he was likely to trans- 
gress. She had seen the inherent selfishness of his character 
and summed it up pretty correctly, since, perhaps no eyes see 
quite so clearly as those of disillusioned love. 

For a time her anticipations were verified and all went well. 
Sir Philip hunted regularly five or six days a week, coming 
home tired, and often cross, for even in the hunting field things 
did not always go exactly to his mind, and sometimes he made 
wrong turns, or the horses misbehaved and failed to carry him 
to his satisfaction. He saw very little of the ladies, preferring 
to shut himself up with such friends as Dashwood and Rickerby, 
in whose society he could indulge in his accustomed pleasures, 
free from feminine restraint. 

To tell the truth, he was glad to get away from Bligh. Her 
watchful eye during dinner irritated him almost to a madden- 
ing point ; and to avoid incurring her grave, disapproving 
glance, which filled him with a sense of conscious guilt, and made 
him feel ill at ease, he adopted new tactics and began to have 
recourse to cunning. When she was in the room he would often 
pretend to drink nothing, just so as to throw her off her guard. 
Unfortunately, he always made up for his abstention later on. 

Between husband and wife a kind of strange armed neutrality 
prevailed. Although no serious breach of the peace had 
hitherto taken place, each was conscious that a mere trifle 
might suffice to bring about a quarrel ; and Captain Cameron's 
presence in the house did not tend to lessen the friction. 

A woman who has once truly loved a man generally retains 
a soft corner in her heart for him somewhere, in spite of her 
former misdemeanours. Bligh proved no exception to the 
rule. When Duncan Cameron was forced to lie day after day 
on a bed of pain, and his face brightened at her approach, and 
he showed in a variety of ways how agreeably her presence 
relieved the wearisome monotony of continuous inaction, the 
last remnants of her wrath faded away. She felt so certain of 
herself that she did not hesitate to spend more of her time in 
L ; society than would have been the case had the smallest 
spark of sentiment still lingered in her heart. The first inter- 
view over, she realised that he no longer caused any emotion, 
and she rejoiced to find that he was nothing to her now but a 
strong young man struck down by suffering, who aroused her 
womanly compassion, but appealed to no warmer sentiment. 

Sure of her own integrity, she nursed him with such kindness 
and attention that there was perhaps some excuse for his 
imagining the old love had taken a fresh lease of life, and was 
once more beginning to put forth shoots capable of bearing 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



197 



fruit. It never occurred to him that it was a very poor return 
for Sir Philip's hospitality to try and deliberately win the 
affections of his wife ; or, if it did happen to flit across his 
mind, he dismissed the thought summarily as an unpleasant one, 
and therefore not to be dwelt upon. Neither did it strike him 
that if he gained the object which he had in view Bligh's hap- 
piness must certainly suffer, and her moral peace in all probability 
be destroyed. 

He was ill in bed, and unable to fall back upon a better 
diversion than trying to flirt ; but after a while he was surprised 
to find that the amusement was growing serious, and no longer 
to be regarded as a pastime. He gradually made the discovery 
that he looked forward with intense eagerness to his hostess's 
visits, and invented innumerable excuses to prolong them. 
When he went to sleep he heard the sound of her soothing voice 
in his ears, and her quiet, graceful movements were impressed 
upon his memory. No one could shift his pillows, smooth the 
sheets or raise him in bed like Bligh. Her smile was sweeter, 
her touch softer, her experience of sick-rooms greater than any- 
body else's. And so he became exacting, and craved for her 
presence. 

The women whom he had been in the habit of meeting in 
London society, at country houses, balls, and races, had not 
tended to raise his opinion of the fair sex. He thought of the 
majority of his female friends as painted, dressed-up creatures, 
artificial to their fingers' ends, bent solely on flirtation, admira- 
tion and personal advancement — personal advancement mean- 
ing to achieve the acquaintance of Royalty, get invited to 
Marlborough House, secure an inclosure ticket at Ascot, and 
so on. He recalled his liaisons, and the disgust which they had 
invariably ended by inspiring. 

And now he seemed transplanted to a different atmosphere, 
where the air was clearer and purer ; and he realised at length 
the influence which a good woman exercises over even an in- 
different man. Every day he found something fresh to admire 
in Bligh, until at last he cursed his folly for having wilfully 
thrown away a pearl of such price. 

" I should have been a very different man if I had married 
her," he mused, when reviewing his past life, and making dismal 
mental additions of his debts. " She would have kept me from 
playing the fool, and been fond of me into the bargain. Now I 
suppose my end will be some society harpy, who will take me 
for my title and I her for her money. Well ! it serves me right. 
If I hadn't listened to the governor's advice, I shouldn't be the 
miserable, dissatisfied fellow I am." 

After the lapse of ten years it was easy enough for Duncan 



i 9 8 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

to reason in this way, and throw the blame of everything that 
had happened on his father. To make a long story short, he 
fell in love with Bligh over again, and this time his passion, if 
selfish, contained many more genuine elements than the boyish 
infatuation of his youth, which, in spite of present regrets, had 
left no very permanent impression. 

Had Bligh Verschoyle led the life of a large proportion of 
fashionable women, doubtless she would not have remained 
long in ignorance of her quondam lover's sentiments ; but her 
innocence shielded her. She inspired him with a certain awe 
which prevented him from speaking out all that was in his 
thoughts ; and for herself she believed that Duncan quite un- 
derstood the position, and if her manner showed more friendli- 
ness than on his arrival, it was not the result of any greater 
affection on her part, but purely on account of his accident. 

So several weeks went by, and although her husband neglected 
and left her almost entirely to her own desires she did not com- 
plain, and was too busy to be rendered unhappy by the circum- 
stance. As a matter of fact, she felt freer and more at ease 
when he asserted himself. People, especially those who are 
bound together, act and react on each other in many curious 
ways. Philip had a disturbing effect upon her. She was con- 
scious of appearing at her worst in his presence. She could 
not shine before him. He reduced her to a quite insignificant, 
rather frightened woman, who constantly dreaded an outbreak, 
and was too nervous to be natural. If people went away and 
called her " a stupid little thing," she was thoroughly aware 
that she often deserved the appellation. He robbed her of her 
individuality, and, like a snail, she retreated into her shell, and 
remained there, only peeping out on rare occasions, when she 
happened to meet with a congenial companion. But her intel- 
lect starved, and, like a drooping plant, thirsted for sustenance ; 
putting on timid feelers in search of it, and then retiring when 
repulsed. 

Matters stood thus, when about the middle of February, a 
sharp frost set in which completely stopped hunting. Sir 
Philip grumbled and growled, abused the English climate from 
morning till night, and displayed a huge self-compassion, but 
there was nothing for it but to stay at home. Now an idle man 
possessing few resources and accustomed to a great deal of ac- 
tive outdoor exercise is a pitiable object when deprived of his 
ordinary amusements. He has nothing to fall back on but 
pipes and French novels, and with all their charms these can- 
not quite make out the day. Therefore he goes about the 
house poking his nose into all sorts of things which don't con- 
cern him. The next step is natural. Having no fixed occupa- 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



199 



tion, he takes to finding fault. It is an outlet for his ill- 
humour, and acts as a safety valve. 

Sir Philip had not been at home three days before he came 
to the conclusion that his wife spent an unaccountable portion 
of her time in Captain Cameron's room, and although he 
thought nothing of leaving her from half-past nine until five or 
or six every day in the week but Sunday during the hunting 
season, he felt desperately aggrieved at her remaining ten 
minutes with his guest. He took to wondering what they 
said to each other when they were alone, and why Bligh deemed 
it necessary to inquire so often after the invalid. Little as he 
cared for her in reality, his jealousy caught fire. He recalled 
the confession she had made to him before the visitor's arrival, 
and blamed himself for having-treated it so lightly. A crowd 
of ungenerous suspicions surged up into his brain, and daily 
grew stronger. Had he but communicated them to Bligh 
in a straightforward fashion, he would very soon have ascer- 
tained how little cause he had for anxiety ; but there is a cer- 
tain order of mind which prefers circuitous and underhand 
methods to open dealing, and his was one of them. 

Then there came a change in the weather, the frost gave, 
and hunting was resumed. Unfortunately, the very first day 
that Sir Philip went out, he returned in an extremely bad 
humor. Everything had gone wrong, as now and again proves 
the case. He had arrived late at the meet, his horse had been 
odiously fresh, refused the second fence, and subsequently put 
him down, owing to which disaster he had lost the run of the 
season, and never again got on terms with the hounds. The 
greater part of the day was spent in pounding along the roads 
in pursuit. Giving up the chase as a bad job, he at length 
turned his horse's head towards home, when the miserable 
brute, without any apparent cause, suddenly fell lame. Dis- 
gusted with his slow rate of progression, the rider left the poor 
cripple at a public-house, where, after refreshing his inner man, 
he hired a gig to convey him back to Beechlands. Such a 
chapter of accidents will appeal to the sympathy of every sports- 
man. 

Bligh and Lady Verschoyle were sitting in the great hall, Mrs. 
Burton having gone upstairs a few minutes previously. They 
heard the front door slam, and then Sir Philip came in, looking 
very cold and cross, and with a muddy coat. He flung himself 
down in an armchair before the fire, and stretched his legs to 
the warmth. 

" You are back later than usual," said Bligh, stirring the huge 
wooden logs into a bright flame. " We were beginning to get 
quite anxious about you, and you have had a fall I see. I hope 

vnn arp nnt hiirf- " 



200 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" No, only a bit shaken. I shall feel all right when I have 
changed and had my dinner." 

" What were you riding ? " 

" Coldstream. He's a nasty, shifty brute, and I shall get rid 
of him as soon as I can find a purchaser." 

" I thought you liked him, Philip." 

" I used to, but he has got confoundedly cunning in his old 
age, and he has taken to running into the ditches in a most un- 
pleasant fashion. Sometimes I wonder if his eyes are all right, 
for he jumps a big place so much better than a smaller one." 

" He can't be a very safe animal," she observed, " and I 
should certainly part with him if I were you. Have you had 
a good day ? " 

" The hounds have, but personally I've had an infernally bad 
one." Whereupon he proceeded to narrate in detail the series 
of misfortunes which had befallen him, waxing eloquent as he 
recounted Coldstream's various misdeeds. Bligh knew by the 
thickness of his utterance that he had warmed himself against 
the cold on the homeward way. She was getting very much on 
the alert, and experience was fast teaching her to recognise the 
slightest symptoms of inebriety. 

Sir Philip had not finished his recital, when one of the foot- 
men appeared, and going up to Bligh, said, " Captain Cameron's 
compliments, my lady, and would you be so kind as to step up 
to his room for a few minutes, if not inconvenient and you can 
spare the time." 

Sir Philip pricked his ears. Dissatisfied with the day's sport, 
and in that condition which can best be described as " a little 
fuddled," he was just in the mood to seek a quarrel. 

" Damn his impertinence ! " he exclaimed, angrily, as soon as 
the man had withdrawn. " Does the confounded fellow think 
that you are at his beck and call, to be ordered about just as if 
you were his wife and not mine ? I call it infernal cheek, and 
if I were you, Bligh, I'd give him to understand as much." 

" Sick people are apt to be a little exacting in their demands," 
she answered, soothingly. " It's best to take no notice, and 
when a person has been laid up in bed as many weeks as Cap- 
tain Cameron has one must make allowances." 

" Oh ! yes, of course. I quite understand that it is easy 
enough for you to make allowances. Do you suppose I haven't 
noticed what's going on ? " 

'• I don't know what you mean, Philip. Nothing is going on 
that I am aware of." 

" It's all very fine for you to deny it, but I know differently. 
I'm not exactly a jackass, though you pay me the compliment of 
thinking me one ; and I've remarked how uncommonly fond 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 2 oi 

you are of sneaking upstairs on all occasions to sit with your 
old lover. No doubt you find it highly agreeable having him in 
the house, and carrying on together under my very nose, but let 
me tell you this : I'm not going to stand it any longer." 

He had risen from his seat, and his face was flushed with 
anger. 

Bligh looked at him sternly, and with a certain irrepressible 
loathing. 

" Are you drunk or dreaming ? " 

" Neither," he shouted in reply, " but I happen to have a 
pair of eyes in my head, which no doubt, is inconvenient. Deny, 
if you can, that you spend all your time in that man's room, 
under pretence of nursing him. It's not decent. The very 
servants will talk of your goings on." 

She started to her feet, and there was a dangerous light in 
her eyes which he did not care to confront. 

" Philip," she said, in a voice deep with concentrated passion, 
" how dare you use such language to me. The only possible 
excuse is that you are not sober." 

" That's right. Try to make me out a drunkard. It's so 
nice and so wifely." 

" Drunk or sober, your words are shameful ; for you know, 
as surely as there is a God above, that what you say is false, and 
that Captain Cameron is no more to me than any other guest 
who might have met with an accident in your house. When I 
first heard of his coming here, I own that I was afraid, and 
therefore I went to you, and begged you to make some excuse 
for putting his visit off. Although I plainly stated the circum- 
stances, and attempted no concealment, you refused to accede 
to my wish, and upon this I declined to assume any responsibility 
in the matter " 

" Ha, ha ! " he interrupted. " You admit to having felt 
afraid." 

" At that time — yes. I was not certain what my feelings 
would be, and for this reason I ask you to spare me what I fancied 
might prove an ordeal. But from the very instant I set eyes on 
Captain Cameron, and saw, as a grown-up woman, him as a 
grown-up man, my fears vanished. The first glance sufficed to 
show me that they were without foundation, and I was thankful, 
oh ! so thankful. Do you think," she went on proudly, " that if 
I had not been absolutely sure of myself I should have been 
idiotic enough to court temptation ? Listen to reason, Philip, 
and believe me once for all when I tell you that you have no 
cause to be jealous of Duncan Cameron. He and I are as far 
apart as if we had never met, and in order to prove the truth of 
what I say, I intend going straight to him this very moment, and 



2 02 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

begging him, as a personal favour, to leave the house to-morro 
morning. There ! will that satisfy you ? " And she marched 
out of the room, with her head held high, not waiting for an 
answer. It took a good deal to move her out of her ordinary 
calm, but for once she was thoroughly roused, and acted from 
the impulse of the moment. 



CHAPTER XXVI. 

" don't be too hard upon me." 

The Dowager Lady Verschoyle, who had listened to the above 
conversation with infinite distress, looked up from her work. 

" Oh ! Philip," she said, " you should not have spoken like 
that. It was an insult to Bligh to bring such an accusation 
against her, and no wonder she resents your conduct. It is un- 
pardonable." 

" How was I to know there was nothing in their flirtation ? " 
he said, sullenly, feeling he had gone too far. 

" You ought to have known. Nobody ought to have known 
better than yourself the purity of your wife's character. How 
can anyone doubt it ? To the best of my belief, she has not an 
evil thought in her." 

" It's all very fine to talk, but Cameron was her lover some 
years ago, and she has always had a sneaking liking for him 
ever since. She confessed as much to me herself." 

" That is quite possible, but to assume that he is her lover 
now is downright wicked. I heard the whole story of Bligh's 
engagement from Mrs. Fortescue. If there had been any occasion 
to warn you, I should have done so ; for from the day of Cap- 
tain Cameron's arrival I have watched Bligh narrowly. I fancied 
there might be some clanger in throwing them together. But he 
had not been here four-and-twenty hours before I became 
ashamed of my fears. Bligh showed me they were utterly with- 
out foundation, and if she has devoted herself to the patient it 
was only in the capacity of nurse. She is so kind and charitable 
that she cannot bear to see suffering without seeking to relieve 
it, and you — her husband — to attack her as you did was simply 
outrageous." 

Lady Verschoyle did not often speak out so plainly, but the 
cause of justice overcame her customary timidity. In any un- 
pleasantness Sir Philip had got into the way of always counting 
upon his mother to side with him. That she did not do so on 
the present occasion provoked him not a little, and added to the 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 203 

uneasy conviction of having made a mistake which he already 
entertained. 

" It seems that whatever I say or do, I am always in the 
wrong," he said sulkily. 

" You are in this instance, Philip. I only wish to goodness 
that I could contradict you. Unfortunately, I can't." 

" Bligh has perfectly infatuated you, mother. You used 
always to take my part at one time, now you never do." 

" My poor boy. Whose fault is that ? I cannot be blind to 
the very cavalier fashion in which you treat your wife." 

" Has she been telling tales ? By God ! I would throttle her 
if I thought she had." 

" Bligh is the last person in the world to cause mischief be- 
tween mother and son, but I should have no eyes if I did not 
see that you fail to make her happy, and are often in a condition 
which can only lower her wifely respect." 

" Oh ! hang it all, don't begin to preach. Life is short, and 
one may as well make the most of it." 

" I quite agree with you, but is it making the most of it to 
besot one's senses and estrange the affections of all those 
nearest and dearest to you ? I do not often allude to the sub- 
ject — it is much too painful. Nevertheless that is what you are 
doing. How can you expect a woman like Bligh to be fond of 
a man who insults her openly whenever his brain does not 
happen to be in a clear condition ? This is not the first time, 
Philip, that you have been rude to your wife in public." 

He made a gesture of impatience. 

" Bligh ! Bligh ! Why should she be everything, and I noth- 
ing ? I believe you care more for her little finger nowadays than 
you do for my whole body put together." 

" I love her very much," said Lady Verschoyle, gravely. " I 
don't think anyone who knew her intimately could help doing so. 
She is thoroughly sterling and genuine ; and I neither can nor 
will sit by and see you treat her with injustice." 

" Oh ! all right," he answered, rudely. " Say it's me. When 
two or three cackling women get together, and enter into a con- 
spiracy in a man's house, the poor unfortunate devil hasn't a 
chance." 

" You are angry, Philip, and therefore talk foolishly. No one 
has entered into a conspiracy against you, least of all I — your 
mother, who, however you may behave, cannot cease from 
loving you better than anything on this earth. At the same time, 
I preceive your faults, and as a by-stander, conceive it to be my 
duty to tell you that in speaking to Bligh as you did this after- 
noon, you are not only making a grievous error, but also doing 
yourself an immense amount of harm." 



204 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" I really fail to see it. I am master, and can act as I 
choose." 

" That is a fatal tone to adopt in dealing with a woman, 
especially one possessing Bligh's high spirit. There is only one 
course open to you." 

" And pray what might that be ! " he inquired, lending a 
grudging attention to his mother's words. 

" Seek Bligh out immediately, and beg her pardon. Tell her 
you were annoyed by the events of the day, tired and out of 
sorts, and feel thoroughly sorry for your conduct." 

He laughed shortly. 

" I'm blowed if I will. I'm not going to eat humble pie to 
any woman, let alone my wife. I\ T o, no, mother, you're a simple 
creature without any experience of the world, but you may take 
my word for it, that once a man begins playing at that game, he 
can't call his soul his own. You know the old proverb, ' A 
woman, a dog, and a walnut tree, the more you beat them the 
better they be.' It won't hurt Bligh to have her pride taken 
down a peg or two, for she has begun rather to give herself 
airs of late." And so saying, he swung out of the hall, and 
marched straight upstairs to his dressing-room. 

Lady Verschoyle dropped her knitting, and clasped her 
hands together in despair. She had hoped to have made a 
more sensible impression upon him than this. She had known 
that he was weak, foolish, obstinate ; but she had never thought 
until now that he was bad. Yet she could not reconcile his 
treatment of Bligh to her conscience. She felt it to be a terrible 
thing for a mother to side against her only son ; nevertheless 
her sympathies were all with her daughter-in-law. The attack 
was not only a foul one, but it had been made in a brutal manner, 
and before a third person. She recalled her own happy married 
life, and in her heart she pitied the wife who for months past 
had borne so many affronts with patience and dignity. 

'• What will be the end of it, if he goes on as he is doing," 
she muttered. " Ah ! good God, what will be the end of it." 

Meantime, without giving herself time to cool, Bligh pro- 
ceeded to the invalid's chamber, and put her threat into 
execution. She paused on the threshold of Captain Cameron's 
door, and tapped briskly. 

" Is it my good genius ? " he called out from within. " If so, 
pray enter." 

She advanced into the centre of the room, where he was 
reclining on a sofa, with a couple of crutches beside him. 

'Good evening," he said. "It was kind of you to answer 
my summons so soon ; but I wanted to see you." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 20 e 

" The wish was mutual, Captain Cameron. I have come to 
ask a favour." 

Some hitherto unfamiliar reflection in the tone of her voice 
made him look up in surprise. 

" A favour ! I am only too delighted to hear that it lies in 
my power to accede to any wish of yours. May I ask what it 
is ? " 

" I am afraid you will think it very strange — very inhospitable, 
and the worst is I can't explain my reasons ; but — but," and 
she flushed crimson, " for some days past you have been talk- 
ing of leaving us. Do you think you could manage to go to- 
morrow ? " She put the final question abruptly, and turned her 
head away from the light. He could see a red glow, however, 
suffuse her throat and ears ; and although he was astonished at 
the suddenness of the demand, he could make a pretty fair 
guess at the causes which had prompted it. 

" This is a most strange coincidence," he said. " I took the 
liberty of sending for you, because I wished to say good-bye 
without disturbing your rest to-morrow morning. I must be off 
at an early hour, and Robson is coming up after dinner to pack 
my things. Read this." And he placed a telegram in Bligh's 
hands. " I received it about ten minutes ago, and intended 
taking your advice. What you have just said, however, decides 
me to choose duty before pleasure, and leave at once." 

Bligh read the following message : — " Come immediately. 
Father seriously ill. Doctor fears worst." 

" My mother has sent it," said Duncan. " I must go by the 
first train in the morning." 

" But are you fit to undertake the journey ? " she inquired, 
with a sudden sense of relief, which politeness urged her to 
conceal. 

" There is no help for it, besides, I have been here long 
enough. You will be glad to get rid of me." 

She could not contradict him truthfully, so made no reply. 

" I know it," he resumed, after a brief pause, " and ought to 
have gone before, only I could not tear myself away. Poor old 
governor ! I am sorry he is ill, but if he had died this day ten 
years ago, I should be very much better off than I am." 

" For shame ! " she cried, indignantly. " What a horrible 
thing to say ! " 

" It is true though, nevertheless. I don't suppose you care 
two straws, but, personally, I never can forgive him for having 
been the means of separating me from you." 

" Your regrets come too late," she answered, coldly, " and 
therefore it can do no good to allude to them." 

" No one knows that better than myself, but since I have been 



206 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

here, and had leisure for reflection, I realise more vividly than 
I ever did before all I have lost.'' 

" You have gained plenty of assurance, Captain Cameron, to 
make up for your losses." 

He bit his lip with vexation, and then, with a sudden access 
of passion, said — 

'• You are always laughing at me, and trying to put me off, 
but, before I go, I will have my say.'' His voice changed, and 
he added, " Oh ! Bligh, what harm can there be in my telling 
you that there is no one in the whole world to compare with you. 
The thought of leaving cuts me like a knife, for I have grown 
so accustomed to your presence that I feel as if I could not exist 
without it. I don't ask much. I only ask you to say a few kind 
words to me at parting, and promise we shall meet again before 
long. Am I too bold in thinking that you have seen and 
guessed my love ? " And, stretching out his arms, he sought to 
draw her to him. 

She retreated, her face white with anger. Was this the 
reward for her kindness — this, coupled with her husband's cruel 
words ? Oh ! Life was very hard and difficult, when actions of 
the commonest charity were liable to be misjudged, and placed 
a defenceless woman at the mercy of bad men's passions. 

" Captain Cameron," she said, in tones of ringing scorn, " I 
have not deserved this at your hands. My conscience does not 
accuse me of having encouraged you in any way. Why do you 
seek to lower my self-respect, as well as your own ? '' 

" You loved me once, Bligh," he faltered in return. 

'" Yes, I loved you once, but it does not follow that I should 
love you now. When I was a girl my adoration was so insane 
that my happiness lay at your mercy. You might have been 
true to me had you chosen, but you did not choose, and it is 
cowardly and mean to blame your father now for an act which 
lie could not have opposed had you remained firm. The fault 
lav in yourself. You found playing at love an agreeable pas- 
time, and possessed the advantage of a convenient memory 
which soon enabled you to forget. When you began to tire of 
me, then your Highness remembered that I was an uncommonly 
bad match for a gentleman in your position " 

" By Jove ! " he interrupted, hotly, " you are wrong there. 
I may have been a brute, but I wasn't such a big brute as all 
that." 

" I beg to differ. At any rate, I could only judge you by 
your acts, and they were noble. It is not exactly nice, or a 
pleasant experience, for a girl to be thrown over when she has 
committed no fault, and the poor wretch happens to have lost 
her heart, but you jilted me carelessly, cruelly. The best vears 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 207 

of my life were ruined — the years," and her voice became tremu- 
lous, in spite of every effort to steady it, " when I ought to have 
been happy, and which you rendered dark and dreary. The 
suffering I then went through has left its mark upon ine. I 
have never felt the same since, and only really recovered when 
you came here. Then, thank Heaven ! the scales fell from my 
eyes, and I was cured. I saw that the Duncan of my thoughts 
was an ideal personage, totally different from the actual one." 

" Changed outwardly, but not inwardly," he interposed. " He 
loved you throughout, and will love you always." 

Her lip curled. 

" Have the goodness to listen. What happened next ? After 
an immense time, during which I might have starved for all you 
knew or cared, fate once more made our paths cross, and you 
found me elevated to a fine position, very unlike the one in 
which you had left me. It suddenly occurred to you that I was 
no longer a nobody, but a somebody. Consequently I rose in 
your estimation, not on account of what I was, but of what I 
had got. You thought Lady Verschoyle worth knowing, al- 
though poor little Bligh Burton was not ; and now, because you 
happen to have no better occupation, you fancy yourself in love. 
Love ! indeed." And the corners of her mouth were drawn 
down with supreme contempt. '• You, and men like you, are 
not capable of a real passion. You do not even know its 
meaning, else your actions never could be so full of profana- 
tion." 

" Upon my word, Bligh, you misjudge me." 

" No, I don't. I tell you to your face that I despise the 
counterfeit passion which you degrade by the name of love, and 
for you to dare to talk of it in my presence— a married woman 
living under the protection of her husband's roof, whilst you are 
eating the bread of a man whom you pretend to shake by the 
hand and call your friend, shows that you are devoid of the 
commonest instincts of a gentleman." 

" People are not always so highly moral nowadays," he mur- 
mured, writhing under the sting of her sarcasm. The remark 
only served to incense her still more. 

" What do you take me for, pray, that you have the imperti- 
nence to make such an observation ? Are you yourself so bad 
that you jump to the conclusion all women are equally wicked ? 
Don't you believe in such things as honour, and chastity, and 
purity ? Morals forsooth ! It seems to me that your standard 
of morality must be strangely low, when you can reconcile it to 
your conscience to come to a friend's house, and deliberately 
make love to a friend's wife. Oh ! for shame, for shame." Her 
whole form was dignified by a superb indignation. Never had 



2o8 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

he loved her so well, or felt his own inferiority so keenly. He 
gave up the contest. Her words were too full of stinging truth 
not to take effect on a nature self-indulgent rather than corrupt. 

" Don't be too hard upon me," he faltered, piteously. 

" Hard upon you ! Have I said anything that you can deny ? 
How could you imagine for one moment that any honest woman 
would feel flattered by such attentions as yours ? " And she 
brought her flashing eyes to bear upon him. 

" I — I don't attempt to defend myself," he said, unsteadily. 

" No, because you can't. Your conduct has been mean and 
despicable throughout. As for me, you have done me an 
infinity of harm." 

'• For any sake, don't say that, Bligh. I'm miserable enough 
as it is, and I'm sure I did not intend to." 

" May I ask what you did intend then ? " 

" I don't quite know. I was mad." 

" I suppose even you could hardly flatter yourself that it 
would be a desirable thing for me to reciprocate your so- 
called affection ? " 

" I tell you I didn't think." 

" I should imagine you did not often have recourse to so 
troublesome a process. It might seriously affect your brain ; 
but it appears to me that your ethical perceptions are very 
gravely impaired. Do all young men about town suffer in the 
same way ? " 

" How merciless vou good women are ! " he exclaimed, goaded 
into retort bv her cutting words. " You live in such a rarified 
atmosphere that you appear to have no sympathy with the faults 
and frailties of mankind at large. And the worst of it is, you 
are always — or nearly always — so horribly in the right. But 
am 1 as entirely to blame as you make out ? Is there not just a 
little something to be said on my side ? We have seen a great 
deal of each other lately, bligh, and although I now perceive 
my error, was it altogether so unnatural my imagining that you 
took some pleasure in my society? Ask yourself the question 
honestly, and then perhaps you may admit that the mistake I 
made had some justification." 

'•Justification, no. Cause, perhaps yes," she answered, 
promptly. " It is possible that I thought more of myself than 
of you." 

"And so, unwillingly, you placed me in the way of tempta- 
tion, and it did not occur to you that I might succumb." 

She thought for a moment, then she said — 

" Matters never struck me in that light until two or three 
days ago, when you said something foolish which made me feel 
uncomfortable. I gave up coming to your room so often but I 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 209 

suppose it was too late. Still, you might have had the decency 
to hold your tongue." 

" Well ! " he said, desperately, " I'm going now, and shan't 
be able to do you any more mischief, for I don't suppose we 
shall see each other again for ages. There is one request, 
however, which I should like to make before saying good- 
bye." 

" Tell me what it is," she responded, a trifle uneasily. 

" I want you to forgive me, and recall the cruel things which 
you have said." 

" Most of them were true." 

" I know, but I cannot bear them from your lips. Bligh, 
Bligh, let us part friends." 

She had been very angry with him, but the high tide of 
her wrath was stemmed. She knew that she might not have 
treated his offence with quite such fierce contempt had it not 
been for the wound inflicted by her husband on her pride. For 
a few seconds she made no sign, then she put out her hand and 
said quietly — 

" Very well. I forgive. Let it be as you will. I am not so 
perfect myself that I should presume to judge others." 

He raised her little hand to his lips and kissed it with a re- 
straint and a reverence new to his nature. 

" God bless you, Bligh. I am not a good man. I never 
was, and never could be worthy of you, but you have taught 
me a lesson, and if the day should ever come when you stand 
in need of a friend — a friend, mind you, not a lover, count 
upon me." 

"Thank you, Duncan," she said, "I will. Some of these 
days you must marry a nice, honest girl and be happy. When 
that event takes place, write me a line, and I will come to 
your wedding." 

He shook his head and sighed. Frightened by the sight of 
a suspicious moisture in his eyes, she stole into the passage, 
leaving him to his meditations. 

That night Sir Philip came to bed early, and in an unusually 
sober state. He looked at his wife rather sheepishly, and 
fidgeted about the room, as if he had something on his mind. 
She took no notice of several attempts to engage her attention, 
seeing which, after a while, he approached the bedside, and in 
a shame-faced kind of way said, hurriedly — 

" I say, Bligh, don't sulk, there's a good girl." 

" I'm not sulking," she answered, composedly. 

" Oh ! that's all right. I thought you were. By-the-way, I'm 
sorry for what I said this evening. I had had an unlucky day, 
and was a good bit put out, but, of course, I did not mean it." 

14 



2io WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" I am glad to hear that, but another time I should make 
quite sure of my suspicions before stating them." 

He was relieved to find that she took the affair so quietly, 
and felt on excellent terms with himself after his handsome 
apology, which had cost a considerable effort. 

He did not know that a man can never unjustly suspect his 
wife without falling immeasurably in her esteem and rearing 
a barrier between them not lightly to be bridged over. He 
thought the offence was wiped out when he deigned to say 
carelessly, " I'm sorry." But men are mistaken. Those caba- 
listic words do not always heel the wound inflicted. 



CHAPTER XXVII. 

THE RESPECTABLE FIRM OF DASHWOOD AND RICKERBY. 

After Captain Cameron's departure things went on much as 
usual at Beechlands. Sir Philip hunted and amused himself, 
leading an existence devoid of ambition or of high purpose, 
Bligh was a little more silent and reticent than before their dis- 
agreement, but she deferred to his wishes with punctilious 
politeness. She had come to the conclusion that in order to 
render life bearable she must not expect anything from him, 
but depend entirely on her own resources. If less happy she 
gradually became more self-supporting. Fortunately, about 
this period she found an occupation which diverted her thoughts 
from domestic trouble, gave an interest to her spare moments, 
and proved thoroughly congenial. The only drawback was that 
it necessitated being conducted in secret. As regarded the 
matter in hand she had a horror of failure and ridicule. 
Perhaps she was unduly sensitive ; but until success was assured 
she felt as if shf could not tak even her mother into her 
confidence. 

for a part of each day she shut herself up in her own room, 
and when she issued therefrom it was generally with an absorbed 
and preoccupied air, which gradually wore off when she mixed 
with the family circle. 

Sir Philip saw nothing. He was much away from home, and 
never troubled himself to inquire how his wife spent her time 
during his absence. The Dowager Lady Verschoyle was more 
observant. She attributed Bligh's prolonged disappearances, 
however, to indisposition, the cause of which was natural, and 
therefore did not comment upon them. 

As for Mrs. Burton, ever since her daughter's marriage she 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 2 II 

had been unable to shake off invalid ways, and this in spite of 
the improvement which for a month or two after the operation 
had been visible in her health. To her Bligh was the same as 
ever — always loving, always cheerful, and devoted. In her 
presence Bligh's brow never wore a cloud. The newly-made 
wife acted content to perfection. And if Mrs. Burton was to a 
certain extent deceived by the apparent serenity of her daughter's 
demeanour her blindness was in great measure excusable, for, 
poor woman ! she had a burden of her own to hide. Since 
Christmas a pain, first slight, but day by day growing more and 
more acute, had taken possession of her ; until now it proved 
an almost inseparable companion. She did not speak of it to 
Bligh, for she was determined not to frighten her. Any alarm 
might prove injurious to her in her present condition. Conse- 
quently,. Mrs. Burton maintained an heroic silence as to her 
sufferings, and surely she was to be forgiven if they blunted her 
perceptions somewhat and deprived them of their accustomed 
clearness. With it all she knew more than Bligh fancied. A 
mother is hard to deceive, especially where her daughter's hap- 
piness is concerned ; and often a lump would rise in her throat 
when she looked at Bligh's persistently cheerful countenance 
3,nd then caught sight of it when she was off her guard. The 
contrast was too great not to tell tales. But Mrs. Burton was a 
woman of tact, and perhaps realised that man and wife must 
fight their own battles. 

March set in dry and dusty, with bitter winds, and pale cold 
sunshine devoid of warmth, and the hunting season wore 
rapidly to an end. The ploughs were white, the grass turning 
to emerald green, and the fields were dotted with white-fleeced, 
shaky-legged lambs, whose tremulous tones filled the air with 
plaintive cries. A large proportion of the Midlandshire sports- 
men were greatly excited by the prospect of a red-coat race, to 
be run for at the end of the month. It was an innovation in 
their part of the country, and being the first of its kind, gave 
rise to a good deal of discussion and also of friendly emulation. 
Lord Midlandshire had started the idea, and he generously 
offered a silver cup, value one hundred guineas, as a prize to 
the winner. It was an elegant trophy, representing a hunted 
fox showing his teeth to the enemy, manufactured by a well- 
known Bond-street firm. All the hard-riding men were anxious 
to win it, and no one more so than Sir Philip. 

Unluckily he had used up all his best horses, and the one he 
would have elected to ride was suffering from a bad sprain of 
the shoulder muscles, which rendered him so lame he could 
hardly put his foot to the ground, and meant nothing short of 
six months' rest. The hunters that remained upright did not 



212 WEDDED TO SPORT 

happen to possess any particular speed. Now Sir Philip opined 
that in a race of this sort a fast horse was a sine qua non. 
No doubt there were plenty to be got for money, but the 
difficulty was to light upon the right animal and one in condi- 
tion. The time was short, and left little over a fortnight for 
preparation. 

Yet by hook or by crook he was determined to win the race. 
Ever since Bligh's disaster in the hunting field he had enter- 
tained an uneasy conviction that the Marquis of Midlandshire 
looked upon him coldly, and this seemed an excellent oppor- 
tunity to win back his esteem and teach him what a mistake he 
made in underrating Sir Philip Verschoyle, Bart. 

" I wish to goodness I could pick up a horse who can gallop 
as well as jump," he said one night to Captain Dashwood, when 
they were sitting over their wine. " I'd give a monkey for him 
to-morrow." 

The captain looked a little thoughtful, but merely replied, 
" Ah ! my dear fellow, they're not so easy to find." 

On the following morning, however, he said to Mr. Rickerby, 
who for the last week had appeared in unusually low spirits, 
" Jack, I saw you engaged on the pleasing task yesterday after- 
noon of making up our accounts. How do we stand ? " 

" Deuced badly," came the disconsolate reply. " I don't 
remember our having been in such a corner. We dropped a lot 
over that brute Circassian at Sandown, and again the other day 
at Manchester, when Tom Tit fell over the last fence exactly 
when he had the race in hand. It was crushing luck. We 
began the season fairly well, but of late we have not succeeded 
in turning an honest penny even at cards." And he tossed 
away the end of his cigar with a despairing gesture. 

" H'm ! " said Captain Dashwood, reflectively. " I was afraid 
the exchequer could not be in a very flourishing condition." 

" Flourishing ! It's just about as bad as bad can be. Unless 
we can manage to scrape a couple of hundred or so together in 
the next ten days it looks very much as if the respectable firm 
of Dashwood and Rickerby would burst up. At the present 
moment we literally haven't got enough money to pay the butcher 
and baker, and if we can't stop the tongues of these wretched 
tradespeople it means the very devil. They are beginning to 
clamour as it is. See, there is a nice little bill for forage which 
came in this morning, and how the dickens we're to settle it 
Heaven only knows." And so saying he threw across the table 
a blue ruled document of portentous length. 

Captain Dashwood took it up and ran his eye over the items. 

" The old story," he said, smothering a sigh. " To bill de- 
livered ;£8i 7s. iod. Twenty quarters of oats at thirty-one and 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



213 



sixpence ; bran, linseed, carrots, beans, and all the rest of it. 
One can't keep horses for nothing ; but I protest against having 
my temper upset by being forced to enter into these disagreeable 
details." 

" Unfortunately," observed Mr. Rickerby, grimly, " the time 
comes when it is impossible to escape from them. That time is 
rapidly approaching vis both — you, as well as me." 

" Pooh ! nonsense, my dear fellow : you take too gloomy a 
view of the situation." 

" Perhaps you would also if you had been pulled up by Field 
in the public street this morning as I was. The man actually 
had the impertinence to say that if I did not settle this account 
within a week he should bring a summons against us." 

" And if he does it won't be the first by a good many with 
which we have been served. Nevertheless, I admit to the 
thing being a bit awkward. We can't afford to lose our credit ; 
in fact, it's pretty nearly all we've got to go upon. What does 
the total amount come to ? " 

" One hundred and eighty-six pounds odd," answered Mr. 
Rickerby dismally. 

" Give the brute something on account. We can't possibly 
part with so much of the ready in a lump, even if we had it." 

" I can't," responded Jack, whose usually sanguine nature 
appeared conquered by the force of circumstances. " Last 
night's loo just about cleared me out. I haven't even a fiver to 
go on with." 

" That's the worst of cards. One has to pay up. I O U's 
may be a convenience, but they don't tide over the difficulty for 
any length of time. Well ! old man, matters being as they are 
it strikes me if we want to get away from here without a rumpus 
we must do what we have done before." 

" And what might that be ? " inquired Rickerby more hope- 
fully, for his faith in his companion was unbounded. 

" Why, fall back on our wits to be sure. For my part I see a 
way out of the dilemma already." 

" By Jove ! Dashwood," exclaimed the other admiringly. 
"What a wonderful fellow you are." 

Captain Dashwood smiled. 

" I don't know about that," he said, with gentle deprecation. 
" It don't follow that I am a genius because a large proportion 
of mankind happen to be fools." 

" We will call it a fortunate circumstance," rejoined Rickerby, 
in a very much more cheerful tone than he had hitherto 
adopted. 

" Call it what you like. As long as the fact remains it makes 
no difference." 



214 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" May I ask if you have any particular fool in your eye, though 
the question is superfluous." 

" Yes. I have spotted him for a long time." 

" Is he Sir Philip Verschoyle ? " 

The captain nodded his head. 

" Your assumption does credit to your perspicuity." 

" Forgive me, Dashwood ; but isn't the game just a little too 
dangerous ? " 

" My dear Jack. When one stands in need of eggs one must 
kill the goose, even if he be golden. Every now and then occa- 
sions arise in life when one is bound to run risks. You and I 
find ourselves placed in this unpleasant predicament. If we 
each had five thousand a year no doubt we should be as honest 
as our neighbours. Fate has treated us unkindly, and so instead 
of living comfortably on incomes amassed by our forefathers we 
are obliged to live on our brains. It's hard lines on two respect- 
able men, who only require a certain amount of coin to be 
models of virtue. But there are a good many others in the 
same boat, and when all is said and done we're better off than 
the folks who have neither money nor brains. If you can 
suggest a safer victim do so.*' 

" What is your plan ? " said Jack Rickerby, abruptly. " It's 
on good moralising." 

" My plan is simply this. I propose to sell Corkscrew to our 
young friend for five hundred guineas." 

" Five hundred guineas ! Ridiculous. No man in his senses 
would give such a sum for him." 

" That remains to be seen." 

" But, Dashwood, Verschoyle knows the old horse by 
sight." 

" I'm not so sure of that. Corkscrew has done very little hunt- 
ing this winter, and we only bought him at the end of last season. 
He is by no means so well-known as you imagine." 

" But even then," objected Rickerby. 

"Unless some mutual friend interferes I have no fear of Sir 
Philip. He goes in for being a hard man to hounds, and all that 
sort of thing ; but as for being a judge of a horse he hardly 
knows one from another. Why, when he goes into his stable he 
does not even recognise his own quads unless the groom is by 
and tells him their names." 

"That's true," remarked Jack, struck by the force of his 
friend's argument. 

"Now," resumed Captain Dashwood, emphatically, "I hap- 
pen to know that Verschoyle is dying to win this red-coat race, 
and don't mind what he gives for an animal faster than his neigh- 
bours." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



215 



"But Corkscrew hasn't any pretensions to being a racer." 

" I never said he had, but that's neither here nor there. If we 
can once make Verschoyle believe him to be a speedier horse 
than he is in reality and get five hundred guineas put into our 
pockets it's sufficient for our purpose." 

" Quite sufficient ; but for the life of me I can't see how it is 
to be done." 

" You're a capital chap, Jack ; but you're deficient in invention. 
Just listen for a minute or two, and I'll tell you what I propose. 
At the present moment Corkscrew is fit and well. It has taken 
the best part of the winter to get that tendon of his right, and, of 
course, it may spring again directly he is put into work ; but we 
must run our chance of that. Having been out so seldom this 
year he is not like a well-known animal, and there we possess a 
great advantage. I confess that had it been otherwise my plan 
might not have been feasible. But as it is, there really ought 
not to be much difficulty in the matter." 

" Go on," said Jack Rickerby. " You have excited my curi- 
osity." 

" To-morrow, then, I propose to ride Corkscrew with hounds. 
The old horse is a good stayer, and when fresh gallops very 
fairly fast. If we have a run I shall husband his resources and 
so manage as to catch Verschoyle's eye at the finish, when, pro- 
vided all goes well, he will see him going like great guns. Un- 
less I much mistake my man if once I can succeed in passing 
him the thing's done. There, don't you understand ? " 

" Yes ; but there is one contingency which you seem to ignore 
and yet it might easily upset everything." 

" Name it." 

" Supposing Sir Philip were to recognise Corkscrew." 

A smile of peculiar cunning passed over Captain Dashwood's 
face." 

" I don't think he will. To begin with, he is far too taken up 
with his own performances out hunting to bestow much attention 
on his neighbours' cattle unless they are brought directly under 
his notice ; and, secondly, it is my intention to go to the stables 
and give orders for the old horse's mane to be hogged and his 
tail docked. That will go a long way towards altering his appear- 
ance, and should the morning prove fine I'll paint a nice bold 
star on his forehead and give him a couple of white heels. If 
the baronet has doubts I need only point to them to show that 
it is a case of mistaken identity." 

" Ha, ha ! " laughed Jack. " Not half a bad idea ; but it wants 
to be artistically carried out." 

" Never fear," responded his companion confidently. " I back 
myself to do the job as neatly as a regular painter in oils. By-the- 



216 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

bye, we must be prepared with a name and a pedigree. What shall 
they be ? Something Irish generally takes best." 

" How do you like Patrick the First, by Solon, out of Mavour- 
neen ? " said Jack, glibly. " Will that do ? " 

" First rate. Couldn't be better. You have a perfect talent 
for nomenclature. Just write it down on a piece of paper, there's 
a good chap. My memory is so bad that I'm certain to make 
some mistake if you don't." 

Mr. Rickerby did as desired, and handed the ready-made pedi- 
gree to his partner. 

" Thanks, that's all right ; and now I'll go and lay in the mate- 
rials for my little decorations. I may find it necessary to invest 
in a tin of Aspinall's enamel. It comes nearer to the gloss of a 
horse's coat than ordinary paint. By the way, do you happen to 
have such a thing as a bob about you ? " 

Jack felt dubiously in his pockets. They were distressingly 
empty ; but after a protracted search he succeeded in producing 
the requisite coin, which, however, he parted from with singular 
reluctance. 

" Put it out at interest," he said, in a melancholy tone ; " for 
there are not many more where that came from." 

" All right, old man. You seem uncommonly down on your 
luck ; but leave everything to me, and I guarantee that we shall 
soon be in clover again. These east winds have affected your 
liver and made you feel depressed. Look at me, I'm as cheer- 
ful as possible." 

" Yes," answered Jack Rickerby, with a mirthless laugh. 
" You always are when you are contemplating some fresh 
roguery." 

" My dear friend, your frankness is more to be admired than 
your civility. There is a brutal candour about that speech 
which I fail to appreciate." 

" I can't help it, Dashwood. You may accuse me of growing 
squeamish, but I don't altogether approve of this business. We 
have always drawn the line hitherto at our friends, and if Ver- 
schoyle is a drunken sot we've helped him to buzz a good many 
bottles of wine and eaten a great many dinners at his expense." 

" Jack, you're nerve is affected. You've only begun to talk 
in this childish manner since the widow Benson appeared on the 
scenes. If you are in love I forgive you. Fellows always turn 
maudlin when under the influence of Cupid ; but in that case 
why the devil can't you propose and have done with it ? " 

" I have proposed, and I have done with it," said Jack, in a 
woe-begone voice, which seemed to proceed from his boots. 

" Oh ! I understand. You're going to get married. That 
accounts for your low spirits. You have my warmest sympathy." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 2l y 

" Nothing of the sort. She refused me. Said one husband 
was enough to disgust any woman with connubial bliss." 

" Ah ! the widow Benson is a female of sense and experience. 
Jack, my dear boy, I congratulate you." 

" What on ? " 

" Why ! on your escape, of course. Nature never intended 
you for a benedict. You'd be miserable as a married man." 

" I'm not so sure of that, Dashwood. I'm getting tired of this 
sort of life." 

" You'd soon get tired of the other." 

" I don't know. When a man is over five and thirty he begins 
to appreciate ease and security." 

" And a precious lot of either you'd get with a hunting wife 
nearly as old as yourself. You did not care for her, of course ? " 

Jack tried to look sentimental, but failed signally in the 
attempt. 

" I — I don't know. I rather think that I did." 

" Oh ! come, that won't go down." And Captain Dashwood 
burst into a hearty laugh. 

His friend could not resist the contagion of his merriment. 

" I daresay I shall recover," he said. " I don't pretend to say 
that it was a ' grande passion.' I liked the little woman " 

" But you liked her money better. A man of your figure and 
fashion, however, ought not to throw himself away. The widow 
has only a life interest in three thousand a year. If she were 
to die before you you'd be left without a penny." 

" H'm ! " said Jack, reflectively, stroking his chin, " I never 
thought of that." 

" What on earth were you about ? When a man takes such a 
desperate step as to propose he should think of everything. 
You're not exactly cut out for a husband, Jack. Still, I don't 
mean to say but what some of these days you might not extend 
the firm of Rickerby and take me in as a sleeping partner. 
Marriage is a bargain like any other, and my opinion is that if 
you were put up to auction in the matrimonial market to-morrow 
a fellow with your looks and appearance ought to go for more 
than three thousand." So saying Captain Dashwood withdrew 
to the stables, where he spent a busy afternoon superintending 
the process designed to transform Corkscrew from a forty pound 
screw into a five hundred guinea steeplechaser. 



2i8 WEDDED TO SPORT. 



CHAPTER XXVIII. 

CORKSCREW, ALIAS PATRICK THE FIRST. 

The conspirators were in luck. If they had designed the fol- 
lowing morning to order it could not have proved more propi- 
tious for the execution of their scheme. After a fortnight's 
drought a copious rain fell during the night, which rendered the 
turf springy and elastic, and did away with the dryness that for 
the last ten days had played such havoc with horses' forelegs 
and feet. The day moreover was dull, and a thick white mist 
rendered it difficult to see more than a couple of fields ahead. 
Captain Dashwood chuckled when he rose from his couch and 
looked out of the window. 

The first glance at the garden hedge impregnated with moist- 
ure, and the wet pavement beyond, showed him that the princi- 
pal danger which he had all along feared was now considerably 
lessened. In the present welcome softened state of the ground 
Corkscrew's tendon stood a much better chance, and was not 
nearly so likely to give way. 

At breakfast he expressed his satisfaction to Mr. Rickerby, 
who, after a good night's rest, took a much more hopeful 
view of the situation, and no longer made any allusion to his 
scruples. 

His spirits were still further raised when he entered the stable 
yard, and perceived Corkscrew being led from his box to the 
stone block, where Captain Dashwood, arrayed in all the glories 
of red coat and leathers, was preparing to mount. 

" By Jove ! " whispered Jack in his ear. " What an extraor- 
dinary change ! I never saw an animal so transformed. I de- 
clare that even I should scarcely have known him. You have 
put pounds on to his value." 

" I told you so," answered the other, triumphantly. "Admit 
who was right. The old beggar looks well, don't he ? " 

" Better than I could have believed. Hogging his mane is a 
vast improvement, and he always was a rare made 'un." 

Corkscrew fully merited the encomium ; for he was as nice a 
topped horse as one could wish to see anywhere. He stood a 
trifle over sixteen hands high, was almost pure thoroughbred, 
though up to a lot of weight ; and had a lean head, full eye, 
well-opened nostrils, clean neck, and grand shoulders. A con- 
noisseur might perhaps have said that he was a little light behind 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 219 

the saddle, but the width of his hips and the strength of his 
great muscular hocks atoned for this defect ; which moreover 
was scarcely apparent after the long rest in which he had lately- 
been indulged. All he wanted really was a pair of new forelegs. 
Unfortunately, in spite of his ingenuity, Captain Dashwood could 
not supply these. He had, however, done the best he could in 
the circumstances, and applied a couple of charges plastered 
with tow ; and over them he had so neatly sewn blue flannel 
bandages that they detracted very little from the old horse's 
appearance. 

Altogether, as Corkscrew stood there, whisking his tail and 
arching his neck, he looked an uncommonly sporting animal, and 
the model of a fourteen stone Midlandshire hunter. A finer, 
freer fencer was never foaled, and had he only been sound, the 
price his owner intended asking, though high, would not have 
been excessive as good horses go. But tendons and age are two 
things not easily cured, and they reduce the value of the best 
steeds to a mere nothing. 

Jack continued to gaze at Corkscrew with fascinated admira- 
tion. He noticed that his forehead bore a white star, and that 
his hind heels were adorned by a snowy rim just above the cor- 
onet, which set them off to advantage. 

" By George ! " he exclaimed, as soon as the village was fairly 
left behind, " I have never seen anything so natural in my life. 
Those heels are a masterpiece. Will they run ? " And he 
winked jocularly at his companion. 

" No," answered Captain Dashwood, complacently, " I think 
not. I stood them in a bucket of water for an hour, and the 
colour did not wash off in the least. It was bath enamel that I 
used, and," he added, with a little dry laugh, " I hope it will last 
until we go into summer quarters." 

" How ever did you manage to make such a good job ? " asked 
Rickerby. 

" Patience, my dear boy. Patience and perseverance. They're 
responsible for nearly all the successes of life. A clumsy work- 
man might have done the trick in ten minutes ; whereas it took 
me the best part of the afternoon, for I did not attempt to paint 
more than half a dozen hairs at a time. Hence the result. 
Steady, old boy, steady, don't display your ingratitude by up- 
setting me into the mud," he concluded, as Corkscrew executed 
a series of bucks, and broke into a canter. 

" The old beggar's fit to jump out of his skin," observed Mr. 
Rickerby, crossing to the other side of the road. 

" It's not to be wondered at, considering he has never had a 
man on his back since the beginning of November. I don't 
exactly look forward to a pleasant ride ; but, as personal comfort 



220 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

should always give way to business, I am prepared to make a 
martyr of myself for the next three or four hours." 

They were now joined by a friendly farmer, with whom they 
jogged leisurely out to the meet, which, as good luck would have 
it, happened to be close at hand. Consequently, wlr_i they 
arrived, Corkscrew had lost none of the freshness which tempo- 
rarily lent him such a look of youth and ardour. He pawed the 
ground, sniffed the foggy air impatiently through his nostrils, 
and might easily have been taken for five, instead of fifteen. 
His rider was thoroughly alive to the fact that the more he stood 
still the worse his forelegs were likely to appear to advantage ; 
so he kept him steadily moving about. Besides, on this par- 
ticular day, he had no desire to encounter too many of his 
acquaintances, and therefore slunk out of their way. Some of 
them, he knew, had sharper eyes than Sir Philip, and also better 
memories ; and he did not care to run any unnecessary risks. 

Just before the hounds were about to move off the baronet 
rode up. Whilst he was changing from his hack to his hunter, 
Captain Dashwood walked Corkscrew quietly to and fro, ap- 
parently with no purpose beyond soothing the nerves of his 
mettlesome steed ; but, in reality, so as to catch Sir Philip's 
eye. In this he was presently successful. 

A sparrow flew out of a hedge hard by, and Corkscrew, from 
pure light-heartedness, gave a whinny and a bound, which 
attracted his attention, especially as his own horse followed suit, 
before he was fairly seated in the saddle. A brutal hit on the 
head, with the butt-end of his hunting crop, quickly reduced him 
to order. Sir Philip's hunters served him through fear rather 
than love. 

"Hulloa! Dashwood," he exclaimed. "You're on a lively 
one for once ! Something young and new ? " 

Now there are rogues and rogues. Burglars are as thick as 
blackberries, but a real good clever rogue who deceives you so 
pleasantly and plausibly that you can hardly believe in his 
knavery when discovered, commands respect in spite of his vices. 
Captain Dashwood belonged to this latter category. Instead, 
therefore, of answering in the affirmative, and launching out into 
a voluble panegyric of his mount, like an old and wily diplom- 
atist he bided his time, and affected to resist temptation. On 
grounds of self-interest, if from no higher motive, he disapproved 
of telling gratuitous stories ; although he had not the slightest 
objection to fibs when circumstances appeared to warrant their 
use. His principle might be summed up thus — " Be honest 
as long as you can, and there is anything to be gained by your 
honesty ; and when you lie, lie like an artist, and take every 
human precaution against being found out. The original sin is 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 221 

nothing in comparison with discovery. In fact, original sin has 
no meaning, except that conferred on it by social laws." 

So in reply to Sir Philip's interrogation he merely said — 

" He is a horse that I have had for some little time, but as 
he happens to be rather a more valuable animal than most of 
my gees, and has not done much hunting lately, I daresay you 
don't remember him. The fact is," lowering his voice confi- 
dentially, " I'm keeping him for our red-coat race." 

" Oh ! indeed ! " said Sir Philip, picking up his ears at this. 
" I did not know you intended starting for it. Has your animal 
any chance ? " 

The captain smiled knowingly. 

" I flatter myself that he has an excellent chance, else I 
should not have specially reserved him all this time." 

" You're deuced lucky," said Sir Philip, discontentedly. 
" Much luckier than I am. With eighteen horses in the stable, 
I haven't one that can gallop." 

" How about Prince Charming ? " 

" He's laid up with a sprained shoulder, and can scarcely 
hobble round his box." 

" The Swallow then ? She can go a good pace." 

" Lame too. I've had to throw her up, she was so bad. In 
short, I've literally nothing to enter for the race." 

" H'm ! that's unfortunate with such a stud as yours." 

" I would buy, if I could find a horse to suit me," said Sir 
Philip. 

" There ought to be plenty going at the end of the season, 1 ' 
rejoined Captain Dashwood. 

" Not of the class I want. What do you call that nag of 
yours ? " 

" Patrick the First, by Solon, out of Mavourneen," replied 
the captain, glibly. " He has some good blood in his veins, 
and is a rare beggar to gallop and stay. I have never got to 
the bottom of him yet, though I've tried pretty hard once or 
twice." 

Sir Philip looked covetously at Corkscrew, who, with ears 
pricked and neck bent, was prancing about by his side. 

" Do you want to sell him by any chance ? " he asked, trying 
to appear indifferent." 

" Well, no, to tell the truth, I don't," answered the old 
horse's astute owner — " any way not at present. I don't mind 
taking you into my confidence, and if I'm not very much mis- 
taken in his form he's bound to win the red-coat race ; added 
to which I mean to race him in the spring, and hope with any 
luck to get back what I gave and a tidy lump into the bargain." 

" You did not pick him up for nothing, Dashwood ? " 



322 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" No," responded the captain, with an involuntary twitch of 
the facial muscles ; " not exactly." 

With these words he rode off, conscious that the train was 
laid, and he had thoroughly aroused Sir Philip's envy. 

The hounds now commenced the business of the day, and 
the very first covert they drew produced a fox. He ran a fast 
ring, which lasted the best part of five-and-thirty minutes. 
Nothing could have suited Captain Dashwood better ; for whilst 
the foremost sportsmen rode on the outside of the circle, he 
took care to choose the inner. Thus, whilst their horses were 
racing, his was only going at half speed ; and what with knowing 
the country, making short cuts, and keeping a good deal in the 
company of the second horsemen, he managed to take very 
little out of him, and yet never lost sight of the pack. He was 
waiting for his opportunity. Presently it came, as he felt sure 
it would, if only he bided his time, and was not too precipitate. 
He was cantering down a road when by a stroke of good fortune 
the hunted fox crawled across it right in front of him. His 
brush was draggled, his limbs stiff, and it was easy to see that 
he could not stand up much longer before the inveterate foes 
who were chasing him to his death. The captain could now 
afford to be bold, and gave a loud view hulloa. Two or three 
minutes later the hounds dashed past him, with bristles up, and 
murder gleaming from their eyes. The huntsman, accompanied 
by the hard-riding division, was a couple of hundred yards behind. 
Now it so chanced that those on the outside of the ring had not 
only been forced to gallop very fast, but had also encountered 
an unusual amount of plough, which, after the night's rain, had 
ridden extremely holding. The severity of the pace told upon 
the horses, and most of them were hanging out signals of dis- 
tress. Clouds of steam rose from their heated sides, for the fog 
rendered the atmosphere very close, and the day was still and 
windless. 

Captain Dashwood waited until he recognised Sir Philip's 
good bay hunter labouring along in Dysack's train, then he 
turned Corkscrew sharp round, and jumped him over the fence 
out of the road, thus obtaining a clear lead of all the field. 
The old horse, as already stated, was a brilliant performer, and 
he flew it like a bird. A slight drop on landing sent a thrill of 
dismay through his rider's frame. For a moment he pulled him 
back into a trot. Had the tendon sprung ? No, thank good- 
ness. Forward, forward now ! That shock and stagger had 
been but the effect of a too active imagination, 

Corkscrew's ears were gladdened by an inspiriting hound- 
music, which made him forget every ailment, and intoxicated 
him with delight. Overjoyed to find that at last he was going 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 223 

to be indulged in the pleasures of a gallop, he snatched eagerly 
at his bit. Before him lay a couple of hundred acre fields, 
smooth as a billiard table, elastic as a spring-board ; and beyond, 
showing dark through the vaporous fog, loomed the covert from 
which puss had been forced to beat a retreat earlier in the fore- 
noon. Now all the poor " thief of the world " asked was to 
regain its snug shelter, for he was pushed to extremities. 

Until this moment Corkscrew had been so carefully nursed 
that he was almost as fresh as when he came out of the stable. 
A gamer horse never looked through a bridle, and lowering his 
well-bred head, he extended himself with a will, and to those in 
the rear, literally seemed to fly over the grass. Sir Philip, who 
imagined that his friend had ridden the run fair and square 
could not take his eye off Corkscrew's quarters. Vainly he 
spurred the flagging bay, and sought to lessen the distance 
between them. In spite of every effort, he did not succeed in 
gaining a yard on the leader, and jealousy flared up like a flame 
in his breast. What was the good of having forty thousand a 
year if men with twopence halfpenny were to beat you ? The 
thing was ridiculous. 

A blackthorn fence divided the two fields. It had a good 
take-off, and a fair-sized ditch on the far side. A five-barred 
gate stood open within thirty yards of the direct line of pursuit, 
so that there really was no occasion to jump unless one wished. 
But the gallant captain might have been a schoolboy home for 
his Christmas holidays, judging from the way he disdained it. 
What had he to do with gates when he was mounted on a crack 
steeplechaser, and conscious of an intending purchaser in the 
rear ? Over he flew in grand style, whilst Sir Philip floundered 
through on his beaten horse, and muttered curiously, " By Jove ! 
what a clipper that is of Dashwood's. I wonder how the deuce 
so good a horse ever came into his possession." 

" Tally-ho ! Tally-ho ! " suddenly resounded on every side, and 
just when the poor, weary quarry was within a few yards of the 
covert, the leading hound ran into him and bowled him over. 
All were agreed that, although not a straight-necked customer, 
he had given them a capital gallop. One after another the 
horsemen straggled in, their faces flushed with pleasure and 
excitement. The warm blood glowed in their veins, causing 
them to feel on good terms with themselves, and with all man- 
kind. Sir Philip alone was out of humour, and a prey to secret 
irritability. He answered his comrades' remarks curtly, and 
appeared disinclined for general conversation. After a few 
minutes he dismounted from the bay, who, since the morning, 
had fallen considerably in his esteem, and went and stood apart, 
gnawing sulkily at the end of his moustache. Meanwhile, Cap- 



224 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

tain Dashwood was perfectly aware that the baronet was eyeing 
Corkscrew with covetous approval ; but he appeared to take no 
notice of his admiring glances. At last Sir Philip could keep 
silence no longer. 

" That's a wonderful good horse of yours, Dashwood," he 
said, presently. 

" The best I ever had, or am likely to have," responded the 
captain, patting Corkscrew's neck with much apparent effusion. 
" The worst of it is, an animal like this quite spoils one for 
riding inferior cattle. It was a fastish thing, and had the fox 
only run straight, it would have been an Ai gallop." 

" Most of the horses look as if they had had about enough," 
said Sir Philip. 

" Yes, your nag is all in a lather. I don't understand it, for 
mine has hardly turned a hair, and was as gay at the end as at 
the beginning." 

" Mine is a soft brute," answered Sir Philip, " although I 
never quite discovered how soft until to-day. He could not 
gallop a yard towards the finish, and scarcely rose a couple of 
feet at the last fence. I thought he would have tumbled head 
over heels. The honours of the chase are yours, Dashwood. 
You regularly spread-eagled the field. Not one of us could catch 
the brown, and how he jumps ! " 

" Yes," said Captain Dashwood, with a complacent smile. 
" He knows his business ; and if he don't win me Lord Mid- 
landshire's silver cup, I shall be very much surprised. Anyway 
I mean to have a good try for it, especially as I know of nothing 
going that I need fear." 

This last remark determined Sir Philip ; and he made up his 
mind not to let money stick in the way. 

" Look here, old man," he said, without further preamble. 
" It's no good my beating about the bush. You said just now 
that you would not part with the horse, but you and I know 
each other too well to stand on ceremony. I suppose it's a 
question of price, eh ? " 

The captain's countenance assumed a grave expression, be- 
coming to the importance of the occasion. 

" I won't deny that in a general way your supposition is cor- 
rect, my dear Verschoyle ; but to be perfectly honest, I think so 
highly of Patrick the First that it is my firm conviction I shall 
make more money by keeping than by selling him." 

" If it is not an impertinent question, how much do you expect 
to make ? " 

" Ah ! there you place me in a difficulty. I can only say that 
if the horse were valued by my expectations he would fetch a 
very high figure. Whether they will be realised is a different 



WEDVED TO SPORT. 



225 



affair ; hence the impossibility of replying to your query." 

He said this with an air of such exquisite candour that Sir 
Philip was more than ever resolved to become the proprietor of 
so valuable an animal. 

" I don't often take a violent fancy to a horse," he said, "but 
I have to yours, and am prepared to give a good price for him." 

" I feel extremely flattered," said Captain Dashwood, pretend- 
ing to draw back, as the other grew keener and keener. " And 
if I wished to sell we might perhaps come to terms." 

" Won't you name the figure ? " urged Sir Philip. 

" Really, my dear Verschoyle, you put me in a singular 
position. To be plain, I don't want to part with the horse." 

" Come, come," said the baronet, impatiently. " Shall we 
say three — four — five hundred guineas. There are a good many 
expenses connected with racing, and even if you do win a steeple- 
chase or two, it is not all profit, not that I need remind an old 
hand like you of the fact." 

Captain Dashwood had hard work to conceal his delight at 
having brought matters to so satisfactory a climax •, but he man- 
aged to look pensively at Patrick the First's shaky forelegs, and 
murmured — " Five hundred guineas is a handsome sum cer- 
tainly. I won't deny that, but " stopping short. 

" But what ? " inquired Sir Philip. 

" The fact is," said the captain in his softest and suavest tones. 
" I entertain a great regard for you, Verschoyle ; and wouldn't 
for the world that anything should happen which might put 
a stop to our friendship." 

Sir Philip laughed. 

" Ha, ha ! I understand. You mean that your friends have 
not always been satisfied with their purchases. I have heard 
rumours to that effect." 

" I mean nothing of the sort," retorted Captain Dashwood, in a 
somewhat sharper key. " But what I do mean is this : Horses — 
even the best of them — are delicate and uncertain creatures, and 
although in my own mind I have little doubt as to Patrick the 
First being able to win our red-coat race, In either could nor 
would guarantee it." 

" No, no, of course not, my dear fellow. I'm not such a fool 
as to imagine that you would. If I buy the horse I am prepared 
to run all risks." 

" Then, too," resumed the captain, with an inscrutable smile, 
" one must always take accidents into consideration. A horse 
may break down whilst training, or he may not be fit the day of 
the race, or he may run well in private and not in public ; in 
short, a thousand disappointments may occur for which it is 
impossible to hold the seller responsible. Under these circum- 



226 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

stances, and liking you personally and valuing your friendship 
as much as I do, I think — yes," and he enunciated his words 
very distinctly, " I really think I should prefer not to sell you 
the horse." 

This decision was totally unexpected, and proved a master- 
piece of diplomacy. If anything had been wanting to confirm 
Sir Philip's decision, the apparent reluctance on Captain Dash- 
wood's part clinched the business. For him not to jump at an 
offer of five hundred guineas proved that Patrick the First was 
an animal of no common merit. Sir Philip, therefore, became 
increasingly urgent, as his friend sought to dissuade him from 
the purchase. He ended by carrying his folly to such a height 
that he declared a trial was unnecessary, as after what he had 
seen of the horse's performance, he was perfectly satisfied, and 
did not even care to throw a leg over him. '• I have seen 
quite enough," he declared, " and am willing to take your word 
for everything else. All I want is to win the red-coat race." 

To make a long story short, the captain ended by reluctantly 
yielding to the pressure put upon him by his friend, and allowed 
his scruples to be overruled. 

'" Ton my word, Verschoyle," he said, when the bargain was 
virtually concluded, " I wouldn't have parted with the horse to 
anyone but you ; and even now I half repent the transaction. 
However, as the deed is done, and Patrick the First is no longer 
my property, I may as well take him straight home, and avoid 
running any risks by keeping him out hunting." 

" All right," said Sir Philip, in a satisfied tone. " Sorry to 
spoil your day, old fellow; but perhaps it might be as well. I'll 
send the cheque over to-morrow morning, and the man who 
takes it can bring the horse back." 

A vision of general stiffness and a bowed foreleg rose before 
Captain Dashwood's eyes. 

" If you don't mind," he said, " I think we had better let it 
be until Monday. Patrick is rather excitable, and not having 
seen hounds for some little time, it is just possible that he may 
not feel quite as usual. I should not recommend a change of 
stable for a day or two, but please yourself. It shall be just as 
you like." 

•• There's no particular hurry," answered Sir Philip. " Monday 
will do nicely." 

"And, by-the-bye," said Captain Dashwood, airily, "if I 
were you, I shouldn't go in for giving him too much of a prep- 
aration. He is a very peculiar horse — not delicate, but pecul- 
iar, and my experience is that the less he is bustled about the 
better he goes. Give him two or three hours' walking exercise 
a day on soft ground, and he'll carry you like a bird in the race. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 22 y 

He's so eager that he frets himself to death once one begins to 
gallop him." 

" Thanks for the hint," answered Sir Philip. •• I shall cer- 
tainly act upon it. I am aware that a certain proportion of 
hunters run better untrained than trained, and I suppose he is 
of the number. By-the-way, don't you think he is uncommonly 
like an old screw you used to ride at the beginning of the season ? 
I forget his name." 

" Oh ! Ah ! yes, perhaps he is. You notice the resemblance, 
do you ? Oddly enough, several of my friends have remarked 
upon it also. But Patrick shows a great deal more quality, and 
in every respect is a far finer shaped animal. And now I'd 
better be off before he catches cold. Good-morning, Verschoyle, 
good-morning." So saying the gallant captain beat a retreat, 
well satisfied Avith his forenoon's work, and deeming it unwise 
to prolong the conversation. 

The watchful Jack intercepted him before he had gone very 
far. 

" Well ! " he said, interrogatively, '■ have you managed it ? " 

" Yes," answered his friend and ally, " with the greatest 
ease in the world." Then he shrugged his shoulders lightly, 
and added, " I'm taking my steeplechaser — or rather Ver- 
schoyle's — back to his stable, and only hope the poor old beggar 
may be sound enough to go over to Beechlands on Monday." 

" Well done ! Is the money all right ? " 

" Yes. I am to receive the cheque to-morrow. One word, 
Jack. If Verschoyle should happen to cross-question you this 
afternoon, remember I only sold Corkscrew as a favour, and 
weakly yielded to pressure. Do you twig ? " 

" Rather," responded Mr. Rickerby, grinning from ear to ear. 
" You are a sharp 'un." 

" Wouldn't answer to be otherwise, and in an affair of this 
sort one is bound to leave open a line of retreat, in case of any 
disaster happening. As it is, I flatter myself, I hold my gentle- 
man tight." 

" You are admirable, Dashwood. Scarcely a day passes 
without some fresh proof of your talent. Ta ta, old chap. When 
one makes five hundre'd guineas at a stroke, one can afford to 
lose half a day's hunting." 

" Right you are," said the captain. Whereupon he set the 
old horse's head in the direction of home, and rode Corkscrew 
back very gingerly and slowly, taking care to keep him as much 
as possible on the sides of the roads. This precaution was the 
more necessary, because his mount went decidedly feeling 
whenever he was forced to go over a patch of stones. Although 
not precisely lame, Corkscrew's action was what sportsmen term 



228 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" dotty." Twice he nearly tumbled on his nose, and his rider 
had every cause to congratulate himself on having achieved so 
clever a sale. 

" I never could have done it if Verschoyle had not been such 
a flat," he mused, as he left the hounds behind. " He regularly 
rushed at the bait directly that it was brought before his nose. 
I always thought him a fool, but I never realised the depth of 
his folly until to-day. Fancy giving five hundred guineas for 
an animal not worth fifty, and on whose back one had never 
even sat. What idiots some people are to be sure ! " 

His thoughts evidently were pleasant, for his face kept break- 
ing out into smiles all the way home." 

" The beauty of the thing is," he soliloquised, " I hold him 
safe ; for if he turns round later on and tries to slang me, all I 
have got to say is that I never wished to part with the horse, 
and only did so because he left me no peace. Yes," and he 
slapped his hand on his thigh in token of self-approval, " I 
think I managed the business just about as neatly as it was pos- 
sible. Jack, dear boy," thinking of his companion's depression, 
'* you need never despond so long as James Mincham Dash- 
wood remains at the head of the firm ; for, after all, the next 
best thing to having money is having brains, and those, thank 
the Lord ! I possess in abundance." 

" Corkscrew's sold," he said, to his groom, as he entered the 
stable yard a few minutes afterwards. " Give him a bran mash 
to-night, and let him have an aconite powder on Saturday and 
Sunday. They'll freshen him up, and make his coat look well, 
and he has to go over to Beechlands on Monday." 

" Yes, capting," said the man, touching his cap. He was 
a confidential servant, and nothing ever surprised him. 

" And hark you, O'Flanaghan," resumed his master, " if Sir 
Philip Verschoyle's people come wanting to find anything out 
about the horse, mum's the word. His name is Patrick the First. 
Don't forget." 

" No, capting, I won't forgit." 

" When Cork — I mean Patrick the First has stood an hour in 
his box, let me know how he is, and if he points that near fore- 
leg. You need not take him exercising unless I give orders. It 
won't do him any harm to let him stand still for a day or two." 

" Beg pardon, capting," said O'Flanaghan, " but did I un- 
derstand yer roightly, when ye said Sir Verschoyle had bought 
th'ould baste ? " 

" Yes, he intends to win the red-coat race with him." 

O'Flanaghan's Irish eyes twinkled, and his face showed si°-ns 
of merriment. 

" That's the foinest joke I've heard for a long time," he said. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 229 

" Ah ! capting, ye're a rale clever gintleman, ye are. There's 
not minny as can bate ye, when it comes to a bargain." 

" Hold your tongue," answered Captain Dashwood, angrily. 
" Deuce take the fellow, I believe he's been drinking again. 
Look here, O'Flanaghan, if you don't keep sober between now 
and the day of the point to point race, I'll dismiss you. Upon 
my oath, I will." 

The man looked at his employer with a cunning smile. 

" Divil a bit, capting dear. I know too much, and ye're the 
last gintleman in the world to wish ye're stable sacrates made 
public." 



CHAPTER XXIX. 

THE RED-COAT RACE. 

March belied its usual character, for the end of the month 
proved as rainy as the beginning was dry. Thanks to the weather 
and to Captain Dashwood's judicious warning, Corkscrew was 
enabled to go through a light preparation for the race without 
breaking down. He did plenty of walking exercise, principally 
with the weight off his back ; but he had lost so much in con- 
dition during his enforced idleness that the time was too short 
to get him anything like fit. After Sir Philip had had the old 
horse in his stables some few days he began to feel rather less 
confident as to the wisdom of his purchase. The fact was, he 
had left one very important personage out of his calculations — 
a personage, moreover, who had no notion of being ignored — 
namely, his stud groom. This worthy functionary seldom con- 
descended to approve of any animal which he had not been 
directly instrumental in buying. Report averred that the big 
dealers with whom Sir Philip habitually dealt were accustomed 
to pay him a ten per cent, commission on all hunters sold, so 
as to insure his good-will. It may be gathered, therefore, what 
a very important individual Mr. Tomling was. And when Mr. 
Tomling discovered that his master had actually dared to buy a 
horse on his own judgment and without consulting him he suffered 
from a very natural and excusable indignation. That Corkscrew 
— or, rather, Patrick the First — should be doomed was a matter 
of course. Words failed to express the excellent man's dis- 
approval when the new arrival was installed in the Beechlands 
stables. 

" Look at them forelegs," he said to Sir Philip, jerking his 
thumb contemptuously over his shoulder. " A child in arms 
might have seen that the suspensory ligaments are not as they 



23° 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



should be. Charges, indeed ! I won't deny that they're useful 
at times ; but one don't begin by buying hunters whose tendons 
require their support. They are the' end of all things as a rule, 
the last resource of old favourites too good to shoot. No wonder 
Captain Dashwood cautioned you not to give him much of a 
preparation. The reason was simple enough. The horse cannot 
stand training, and my belief is he'd crack up altogether if he 
were asked to do a three mile gallop. As for his age," wrench- 
ing open the unfortunate animal's mouth as he spoke, " he'll 
never see fifteen again, of that I'll take my oath." 

" Nonsense, Tomling," responded Sir Philip, crossly. " I've 
bought him, and it's no use crabbing him." 

" Well, Sir Philip, all I can say is I hope you did not pay a 
very high price for the horse ; for not to mince matters, he ain't 
worth thirty pounds — leastways in my opinion, and I should be 
a pretty good judge of horseflesh by this time. He's been a nice 
animal in his day, but that must have been a precious long while 
ago, and he's nothing better now than a patched up old screw. 
That's the truth, and I feel all the easier in my mind for having 
spoken it.'' 

Mr. Tomling was consumed with curiosity to know the exact 
sum his master had given, but Sir Philip maintained a discreet 
silence on this head, and refused to satisfy his factotum's desire 
for information. The subject was rapidly becoming a painful 
one, and he did not care to refer to it more than necessary. A 
conviction was gradually growing up within him that he had 
acted foolishly in not giving Patrick the First a good trial before 
buying him at so high a price and on the spur of the moment. 
It was too late now, however, to repair the error, and he felt it 
to be a case of " least said soonest mended," especially as he 
was bound to make the best of the bargain, no matter how bad 
it might prove. So he answered Tomling's remarks very curtly, 
and gave him to understand that he did not wish the matter 
discussed. " When you have to ride the horses, not I, then you 
may criticise them," he said. '• Meanwhile, have the goodness 
to hold your tongue, and don't presume to dictate." With which 
sarcastic speech he strode out of the stable, leaving Tomling to 
recover from his indignation as best he might. 

At length the day of the race arrived. It was ushered in by 
a blue April sky, soft breezes, and bright sunshine. 

" Lord Midlandshire had been considerably gratified to find 
how much enthusiasm his scheme had aroused, and he determined 
to do the thing in style. Besides, a bye-election was shortly 
about to take place in the county, and he wished to secure the 
Conservative votes. Consequently, he caused two large mar- 
quees to be erected on the course, in one of which he proposed 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 231 

to entertain all the gentry, and in the other the farmers, graziers, 
small tenants, grooms, and tradespeople residing within an area 
of fifteen miles. 

The silver cup which he intended presenting to the winner 
had given rise to so much emulation among the members of the 
Midiandshire Hunt that there were altogether between thirty 
and forty entries, and no fewer than eight and twenty horsemen 
faced the starter on the important day. A committee of picked 
men had previously been formed to decide upon the course, and, 
after much consultation, a fine, flat, well-fenced bit of country 
was selected. A piece of rising ground stood in the centre, from 
which an excellent view could be obtained by the carriage and 
foot people. For a wonder, everyone agreed that the site was 
singularly well chosen. Those on the hill commanded the whole 
course, which was circular, and about four miles long. All the 
fences were good hunting ones, such as might be met with any 
day in a run to hounds, and though some of them were undeni- 
ably large they were fair. Every bit of wire had been removed 
for the occasion, so that the leaders had nothing to fear from 
the dreaded enemy which so frequently overthrew them in the 
hunting field. 

A vast concourse of people had assembled from all sides to 
witness the race, of whose popularity there could be no doubt. 
Amongst them Lord Midiandshire was conspicuous, mounted on 
a magnificent white horse. He did not, of course, intend to 
compete, but contented himself with riding from carriage to 
carriage, chatting to his acquaintances, and superintending the 
general arrangements. 

It was a pretty scene. The blue sky, broken by great, solid 
white clouds that looked like marble in their dazzling purity ; 
the green fields, verdant with the hue of spring ; the bright sun- 
shine gleaming on the scarlet coats of the competitors, until even 
their brass buttons shone like points of fire ; the rounded hill 
dotted black with vehicles and people, and the wide Midiandshire 
landscape rolling away to the horizon in emerald billows of 
grass, all combined to form such a picture as only our native 
land can produce. 

There was a good deal of delay, as is usual on these occasions, 
amateurs being harder to start than professionals. Most of the 
riders profited by it to avail themselves of Lord Midlandshire's 
hospitality, and lay in a stock of " jumping powder." Sir Philip 
ran up against Captain Dashwood in the tent. 

" Hulloa ! " he said. " How are you ? I see you content 
yourself with the part of spectator." 

" Yes," rejoined the captain, " I was obliged to after selling 
Patrick the First. Rickerby is going round the course. Not 



232 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

that he has any chance, but just for the fun of the thing. They've 
made Major Locock's Paragona hot favourite at three to one. 
It's ridiculous laying such short odds in a race of this sort." 

" I am afraid my chance isn't quite so rosy as you made out 
a fortnight ago," said Sir Philip, discontentedly. 

" Oh, indeed ! Isn't it ? I am sorry to hear that. Nothing 
has happened to the horse, I hope." 

" No. He's about as right as he will ever be with those fore- 
legs. It has not been possible to get him fit, and, to tell the 
truth, I had no idea when I bought him that he was quite so 
groggy." 

" Hadn't you ? " rejoined Captain Dashwood, drily. " You 
had every opportunity both of seeing, feeling, and trying his 
forelegs had you cared to avail yourself of it. You seem to for- 
get that I had not the least desire to sell you the horse, and that 
you insisted on buying him whether I would or not." 

Sir Philip felt there was a good deal of truth in his friend's 
statement, and therefore thought it wiser to discontinue the dis- 
cussion. 

"Well, well," he said, "what's done can't be undone, and 
if Patrick only wins it won't so much matter if he does crack up 
afterwards. But I fear he's too short of condition. It is a 
mystery to me how he carried you so well with the hounds that 
day, for they certainly went a great pace, and the plough rode 
uncommonly heavy. By-the-bye, I've got two or three of the 
chaps coming to dine to-night. You and Rickerby will join our 
party, won't you ? It's always fun talking matters over after- 
wards, and we may as well make an evening of it." 

" Thanks ! " said Captain Dashwood, as Sir Philip wedged 
his way to the door. " We shall be very happy to come." 

" Humph ! " he muttered to himself, tossing off a glass of 
champagne. " Verschoyle is evidently a bit suspicious, and 
not quite so pleased with his bargain as he was when he made 
it. However, that's to be expected ; nevertheless, if the old 
horse does but run decently I shall come out of the affair all 
right. Ha, ha ! I soon shut the bart. up when he began talking 
about forelegs. He curled up directly I tackled him. Those 
talking, bullying fellows always do." 

Shortly afterwards a bell rang, and one by one the competitors 
issued from the saddling paddock, and after a preliminary 
parade past the carriages were quickly marshalled into line. A 
brave show the eight and twenty red-coats made as their wearers 
sat waiting for the flag to fall. The eager horses stamped and 
sidled, turning their heads uneasily, as if in search of the hounds, 
and wondering what sort of a hunt was this without the speckled 
beauties whose sleek bodies they so loved to watch disappearing 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 233 

over the fences. One or two break-aways occurred ; then the 
signal was given and they were off, sweeping past the hill at 
a hand gallop and almost abreast. Very soon, however, the 
serried order of the rank gave way, and it was curious to see 
how, almost immediately, the men who went first with hounds 
dropped into their accustomed places and led the field. Five or 
six snot out, each one taking a line of his own, followed at a 
respectful distance by a small cluster of adherents. 

Sir Philip went to the front at once ; but although his " pluck " 
was at all times undeniable he lacked judgment. A desperate 
hard man to ride he did not possess that Heaven-born gift, a good 
eye to country. The consequence was he took an unnecessary 
lot out of his horse in the first mile, and jumped some extremely 
big places, which the more prudent pioneers avoided by select- 
ing easier spots where the fences were weaker. The truth was 
that Sir Philip had imbibed just enough of Lord Midlandshire's 
champagne to render him more than usually reckless. 

" The idiot ! " murmured Captain Dashwood, who was watch- 
ing him closely through his field-glass. " He's regularly 
throwing his chance away. No animal ever foaled could stand 
such liberties. I always said that Verschoyle was nothing of a 
horseman, and the fact was never more evident than to-day. 
By Jove ! " he added, as Corkscrew flew a wide oxer in brilliant 
style, " how the old horse does jump to be sure ! " 

This same oxer proved productive of considerable grief, and 
caused no less than five scarlet coats to bite the dust and 
practically withdraw from the contest. Several others had 
already fallen, so that the numbers were gradually diminishing. 
A goodly army, however, still stood upright. Meanwhile the 
pace, although fair, was not severe. Riders appeared actuated 
by the same desire — namely, to husband their resources until 
the finish, and not to expend them fruitlessly at the commence- 
ment of their journey. 

The line, which had hitherto been all grass, was now broken 
by an extensive ploughed field, whose wet furrows shone in the 
sunshine. The leaders were then to be seen taking a pull, and 
the more experienced steadied their horses almost into a trot. 
Sir Philip, on the contrary, thought this a fine opportunity of 
stealing a march ; so, instead of following his companions' wise 
example, he began to forge ahead, seemingly quite regardless 
of the fact that his horse's weak point was want of condition. 
Now the plough happened to ride extremely heavy, and by the 
time poor Patrick had bravely galloped to the end of it his tail 
became unduly elevated and his head proportionately depressed. 
An awkward double barred the way into the grass field beyond. 
It consisted of a small fence mounted on a bank, ornamented 



234 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

by a blind ditch on either side. Sir Philip was not quite sure 
how to take it. At first he resolved to try two jumps ; but as 
he got nearer he changed his mind, and determined to fly it. 
But he did not arrive at this decision soon enough to give 
Patrick a fair run, which was the more necessary on account of 
the holding nature of the ground. 

The consequence was the horse jumped short, pecked heavily 
on landing, and only just recovered himself without a fall. 

" H'm ! " observed Captain Dashwood, indignantly, as Sir 
Philip belaboured the animal's sides. " You needn't beat him. 
It was entirely your own fault. A worse piece of riding I never 
saw in my life, and you don't deserve to win even if poor old 
Corkscrew could. Upon my word, if I weren't so deuced hard 
up I should regret ever having sold him to you." 

It was clear that being asked to travel at top speed over the 
plough had tried Patrick severely. His nostrils were wide open, 
and his dark neck, usually so arched and pliable, was now held 
straight, and covered from the withers to the ears with soapsuds. 
His very cheeks were white, and great drops of perspiration 
rolled down his forehead. The girths were wet through, and 
seemed to encircle his panting body like iron bands. Under 
him his noble heart beat with the strong, quick strokes of a 
sledge-hammer ; but although distressed the gallant animal had 
no thought of giving in. At the end of the second mile he 
continued to hold his own right well. 

But each fence now cost more of an effort, and he dwelt a bit 
both on taking off and landing. Mutely, but surely, he was 
beginning to cry out, " I have had enough." The human brute 
on the dumb brute's back heeded not the appeal for mercy. A 
horse's life, a horse's health, what are they in comparison with 
the temporary pleasure of the rider ? Because the one is only 
a soulless animal he may go till he drops, whilst the other, who 
calls himself a man, subscribes to charities and talk philan- 
thropy, may be as cruel to his steed as he is to his wife, for the 
simple reason that they are both within his power. 

There was one thing only to be said in Sir Philip's excuse. 
What between drink, excitement, and emulation he had almost 
entirely lost what generally represented his head. The sight of 
the red-coats stealing up on either side, and little by little 
usurping the pride of place, which he realised he could no 
longer maintain, drove him distracted. A kind of frenzy took 
possession of him, and rendered him irresponsible. He was 
not master of his actions, and from sheer desperation rode in an 
even more break-neck fashion than he had hitherto done. 

Everyone knows that to win a race cool judgment and pres- 
ence of mind are indispensable qualifications. Sir PhiliD dos- 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



235 



sessed neither, and was actuated solely by jealousy and a mad 
desire for distinction. His was simply brute courage shared in 
common with the beasts of the field, and if comparisons had 
been instituted Patrick probably owned quite as large an amount 
as his rider. 

Though his forces were failing him fast he never flinched nor 
turned his game head, nor sought to save himself by a cowardly 
refusal. On, on, he plodded, brushing heavily through the 
thorns now, instead of skipping gaily over them with a satisfied 
whisk of the tail. As his elasticity departed the concussion 
produced by jumping grew greater, and he landed with a grunt 
and a groan. 

Alas ! his trials were not over, and his rider, in place of acknow- 
ledging defeat, took advantage of the horse's finely-tempered 
nature to goad him to feats beyond his strength. 

Brutes are good enough for brutes, and had poor old Cork- 
screw been one he would have fared better. 

Right in front of them a tremendous fence into a road reared 
its dark line against the sky. By going thirty yards to the right 
or to the left it was comparatively practicable ; the ditch on the 
far side being less wide and also not so much up-hill. Sir Philip 
saw his companions diverge, and also perceived that if he kept 
on his course he should gain ground. This was all he thought 
about. So he dug the spurs deep into Patrick's dripping sides 
and charged the fence right in its very thickest part. 

The good horse hesitated when he became aware of the formid- 
able nature of the obstacle, which he seemed to realise was more 
than he could negotiate in his flagging condition. Then his 
brave spirit upbore him, and he made a huge, convulsive bound, 
which succeeded in clearing the hedge. But he had not enough 
steam left to get over the ditch. He caught the bank with his 
forelegs and floundered right on to his head. He fell, but did 
not roll, and after a desperate struggle to regain his equilibrium 
rose from the ground. In doing so, however, he hit the injured 
tendon hard with the iron of his hind leg, and all of a sudden 
Sir Philip felt something give way beneath him. 

The next moment he found himself seated on a three-legged 
animal, whose bobbing ears reminded him of nothing so much 
as a see-saw. The fourth leg was useless. Poor old Corkscrew 
simply could not put it to the ground. He had broken down 
hopelessly, and the only favour that remained for him to implore 
of fate was a bullet. He stood in the road quivering with pain, 
a truly pitiable object. 

The sight of him — so hot, so weary, so scratched with thorns 
and smeared with blood — would have appealed to the most 
bard-hearted, Yet in the first anser of his disappointment Sir 



236 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

Philip knew no compassion, and even now would have forced 
the horse on had he been able. But Corkscrew had sped over 
the Midlandshire grass for the last time in his gallant career. 
Never again would he skim the fences or point his delicate ears, 
keeping time to the music of the hounds. With care and nurs- 
ing he might have lasted for years. His former master had 
treated him better than his present one. 

Sir Philip dismounted when he discovered the full gravity of 
the case, and burst into a volley of oaths. 

One after the other he had the mortification of seeing his 
companions pop in and out of the road. None of them were so 
foolish as to follow in his footsteps and his sentiments can be 
better imagined than described. The situation was full of un- 
mitigated torture, and as the red-coats disappeared in the distance 
he became more than ever a prey to the green-eyed monster. 
His chance of winning the coveted cup was completely destroyed, 
and in a few minutes from the time of the accident he found 
himself left completely alone with a horse who could scarcely 
hobble. Bitterly he cursed his luck. 

" There go five hundred guineas," he said, looking resentfully 
at poor Corkscrew, who, in spite of his suffering, was trying 
to snatch a few blades of grass. " I might just as well have 
chucked them into the sea." 

He was meditating leaving Corkscrew to his fate when a run- 
ner appeared, accustomed to run with the Midlandshire hounds, 
He knew the man by sight, and gladly hailed his arrival. 

" Hulloa ! Bill," he exclaimed. " Do you want a job ? " 

" Yes, Sir Philip. I've come all the way from the start as fast 
as ever I could," answered the man breathlessly. 

"Well ! you've turned up just in the nick of time. I'll give 
you five shillings to lead this brute back to Beechlands." 

" It 'ull be easier said nor done, I'm afeared, Sir Philip," an- 
swered Bill, tugging at Corkscrew's bridle. " He's that lame he 
can hardly stand. Come, my boy, come," patting the horse's 
neck with a coarse, but kindly, hand. 

" The only plan is to keep him moving on," said Sir Philip. 
" If he once gets stiff he'll never do the journey. If there were 
a man on the course with a gun I'd have him shot at once." 

" It's kinder to give him a chance, Sir Philip. He's a good 
horse, even if he did break down." 

" D — n him," came the answer as the baronet strode off. 

Bill looked after him disapprovingly. 

" Ah ! " he muttered. " He ain't like some gentlemen, he ain't. 
Forty thousand a year, no nor a hundred thousand, wouldn't 
ever make him a good sort. And ride ! why he rides like a 
lunatic, without a bit of sense." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 237 

Sir Philip started off at a rapid walk. He was in two minds 
whether to show his defeated countenance on the course or go 
straight home and fly to the brandy bottle for consolation. It 
so happened that he was undecided which plan to adopt when 
an incident occurred that determined him in favour of the latter. 



CHAPTER XXX. 

tomling's revenge. 

Mr. Tomling's dignity had been terribly wounded, both by his 
master's conduct and his language. The latter he considered 
quite inexcusable, for, apart from any question of personal feel- 
ing, he indignantly asked himself how he was to maintain his 
authority over the underlings of the stable when Sir Philip pos- 
sessed so little sense of the fitness of things as to request him 
to hold his tongue in their presence. It ruined the prestige on 
which he set so high a store, and was fatal to all management and 
order. If henceforth his word were not to be law in the equine 
department he might as well throw up his situation, perquisites 
notwithstanding. There were more masters than one, and 
although he had lived a good many years in Sir Philip's service 
he had had as much as most people to put up with, and was not 
bound to him by any ties of affection. 

Thus Mr. Tomling reasoned in the first heat of his wrath, 
and for several hours after the baronet's visit to the stables he 
was on the point of giving warning. But, like a wise man, he 
slept on his anger, and morning induced a milder train of thought. 
He possessed a wife and family, and he felt that it was incumbent 
on him to consider their welfare, and stifle the voice of pride 
rather than let them suffer in any way. Tommy, his son and 
heir, was getting on so nicely at school that it would be a sad pity 
to withdraw him ; Susan, the eldest girl, had just taken her first 
place with a prosperous farmer and his wife living in the neigh- 
bourhood. His house was exceedingly snug ; coals and gas 
cost a lot if people had to pay for them out of their own pocket ; 
and one way or another the post of stud groom brought in 
between a hundred and fifty and two hundred a year. Would 
it not be foolish to throw up all these advantages just because 
an ungrateful master did not value at his full worth an honest 
servant who would allow no one to rob him but himself ? 

So on second thoughts Mr. Tomling smothered his indigna- 
tion, and determined to rise superior to impulse. Impulse was 
generally foolish in the long run, and he had arrived at an age 



238 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

when he recognised the wisdom of considering a question from 
all its bearings. Nevertheless, it must not be supposed that he 
was tamely prepared to pocket the affront received. Quite the 
contrary. Mr. Tomling had a high spirit of his own, and if 
motives of expediency induced him to continue to show a smil- 
ing front to Sir Philip he never for one instant lost sight of his 
original intention to be revenged and turn the tables on his 
master. Xow the manner in which the purchase of Corkscrew 
had been effected puzzled him considerably. He knew more of 
Captain Dashwood's and Mr. Rickerby's horse-dealing transac- 
tions than he chose to divulge, and looked upon any sale in 
which these gentlemen figured as vendors as calculated to arouse 
suspicions. In fact, although he had not yet been able to dis- 
cover what sum Sir Philip paid for the horse he felt absolutely 
certain in his own mind that his master had been done. He 
argued that if he (Tomling) could only demonstrate the fact con- 
clusively it would prove a severe blow to the baronet's pride, 
and also show him the folly of attempting to dabble in horseflesh 
without the support and advice of his stud groom. 

With this praiseworthy object in view the excellent Mr. Tomling 
favoured Corkscrew with an unusual amount of his attention, 
and superintended all his goings out and comings in. Before 
many days had gone by he made an important discovery, which 
confirmed his suspicions in a remarkable manner. He became 
aware that the star on the horse's forehead and the white rims 
that adorned his heels were gradually fading. At first he thought 
his eyes must be playing him false, and in order to make sure 
went in search of a magnifying glass which he used occasionally 
for spying hidden thorns with. 

" By jingo ! " he exclaimed, speaking aloud in his excitement, 
and peering inquisitively at Corkscrew's heels, " they've been 
doctored just as I thought ; and uncommonly cleverly doctored 
too. I wonder what stuff the rogues have used. Something 
special I dare say. That Dashwood is up to all the tricks of the 
trade, and is as good a specimen of a first-class scoundrel as one 
is likely to meet anywhere. Paint, by George ! " he continued, 
regaining an upright position and examining his thumb nail, upon 
which after grasping the animal's heels, a sticky sediment re- 
mained. '" Aha ' you varmints. I've found you out now. I 
always knew from the first that there was something not straight 
about this business, and here is the proof of it." 

He gazed solemnly at Corkscrew, as if appealing to him to 
reveal the mystery, murmuring meanwhile, " Now, why the deuce 
should Captain Dashwood have taken the trouble to furbish up 
a poor old screw in this manner ? There's more in it than meets 
the eye, and I must just think the thing out, and get at the reason. 



WEDDED TO SPORT 



<39 



If he wanted to sell him why couldn't he sell him as he was ? 
Sooner or later he must have known that his imposture was sure 
to be discovered." Whereupon our friend Tomling fell into a 
brown study, which lasted nearly half an hour. He was making 
an unusual call on his mental powers, and thinking hard. That 
the effort was great could be seen from the puzzled expression 
of his face and the furrow which traced itself along his thought- 
ful brow. All at once he spat away a straw which he had 
unconsciously munched as a means of assisting the process of 
reflection, and exclaimed vivaciously — 

" I have it. That's it, of course. The captain has a broken- 
down horse in his' stable which he is anxious to get rid of. Un- 
fortunately, he has ridden him earlier in the season, and is 
afraid of his being recognised. So he sets to work with paint 
brush and scissors, alters his appearance, and turns him into 
a completely different animal — at least, as far as looks go. 
Then, when his nag comes fairly sound again, he takes him out 
into the hunting field, rides him to sell, and passes him on to 
the first flat he can catch, which flat happens to be Sir Philip. 
Yes, yes ; the whole thing is as plain as a pikestaff, and I only 
wonder that I did not see it sooner. Nov/, what I've got to find 
out is this : By what name was the horse known formerly, and 
how much was my governor fool enough to give for him. If I 
can't stop Sir Philip buying on his own account in future he'll be 
even a bigger jackass than I think him." With which conclusion 
Mr. Tomling chuckled and rubbed his hands together in token 
of mingled satisfaction and superiority. 

For the next few days he did not confide his discovery to a 
living soul. When his wife said, "What's the matter with you, 
Tomling?" he only shook his head and looked mysterious, by 
which conduct he worked the poor woman's curiosity up to an 
almost uncontrollable pitch. He bustled about the stable yard, 
wearing an air of importance, and treated his satellites with more 
" hauteur " and reserve than ever. Everybody should see before 
long what a very clever sort of man he was, and how there was 
no taking him in even if they could deceive his master. Mean- 
while he kept a furtive glance on Captain Dashwood's groom. 
He had hitherto looked down contemptuously on this individual 
as a " drunken swab," wherein he was not far wrong ; but now 
he began to cultivate his acquaintance, and once or twice dropped 
in casually of an evening at the Horse and Hound, where O'Flan- 
aghan was frequently to be found towards ten p.m., exchanging 
witticisms with the barmaid, and refreshing his inner man with 
a glass of spirits. He had the reputation of being as discreet 
and reserved as his employer except during one of his drinking 
bouts, which generally occurred at stated intervals. Then he 



3 4.0 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

poured forth such a number of amazing tales that it was diffi- 
cult to know how much was truth and how much the result of his 
Hibernian imagination. Mr. Tomling by no means despaired 
of catching him in a communicative mood, and worming a few of 
his stable secrets from him. At first he thought the matter 
would have proved comparatively easy ; but he soon found out 
that O'Flanaghan, for all his seeming joviality and love of a con- 
vivial glass, was a wary bird. It required an astonishing number 
of convivial glasses to make him unburthen himself. He would 
talk on almost any other subject, but directly Mr. Tomling 
delicately alluded to the horses under his charge he dexterously 
managed to change the conversation. Baulked in his endeav- 
ours Tomling resolved to wait until the day of the race, especially 
as the barmaid had confidently informed him that O'Flanaghan 
was sure to exceed on that occasion. " He's been sober now 
for three whole weeks," she said, " and I'm expecting him to 
break out every day. He never goes longer than a fortnight 
as a rule, and when he's in liquor — really in liquor I mean — 
you can just do what you like with him. His tongue runs on 
ever so." 

When the eventful morning arrived Tomling proceeded com- 
fortably to the racecourse in a one-horse gig, the property of a 
friendly publican of his acquaintance, and, as luck would have 
it, the first person he set eyes on was O'Flanaghan, superintend- 
ing the saddling of Mr. Rickerby s horse, a slashing chestnut 
with four white stockings and an uneasy eye. 

"Good-morning, Mr. O'Flanaghan," he said, in his most con- 
ciliatory manner. " We are fortunate in having such a nice, 
fine day, and I hope I see you well." 

" 'Deed thin, Misther Tomling," responded the Irishman 
graciously, "I am that; an' I hope yourself is the same." 

He was greatly gratified by this public notice from so great a 
man as Sir Philip Verschoyle's stud groom. 

" Thank you," answered Tomling. " My health's pretty fair, 
although I've only just got over a bad cold. Colds have been 
unusually prevalent this spring. The east winds touch up 
everybody whose chest is at all weak. That's a decentish look- 
ing horse of yours. Are you going to win to-day by any chance ? " 

O'Flanaghan wagged his head mysteriously from side to side. 

" There's no telling. We moight if there waren't anither 
animal going to run better nor ours, and one as can clane gallop 
away from Misther Rickerby's mount." 

" Indeed," said Tomling, " and what horse might that be ? " 

" He's a horse as yer know, me good friend," rejoined O'Flan- 
aghan, with an impudent wink. " A horse called Patrick the 
First, by Solon, out of Mavourneen. Bedad ! but it was a bad 



WEDDED TO SPORT 241 

day for us when the capting went and sold him. I felt riddy to 
cry when I heard Pathrick was to change stables." 

" Your tears must be curiously near the surface, Mr. O'Flana- 
ghan." 

" A warm heart, Misther Tomling, a warm heart. A mither 
could not love her child better nor I did that animal. He was 
the best as ever I had the charge of, and such a goer ! It was 
a plisure to see the clane manger of a morning, it was. Not an 
oat left behoind. Thims the sort for work." 

" I agree with you ; still, a racehorse requires something more 
than a ravenous appetite, though undoubtedly it's a good thing 
in its way. However, since you thought so highly of Patrick the 
First I presume you did not let him go for a song, and that your 
governor got a good price for him ? " 

" Price, Misther Tomling ! By the Blessed Virgin and all the 
Saints, no price could be good enough for Pathrick. He's worth 
his weight in gold. If I was a gintleman I'd write out a cheque 
for a thousand pounds for him to-morrow, and think meself lucky. 
Me heart, it was like a lump of lead when I saw him go out of 
the stable for the last toime. He was a credit to it, and we may 
wait miny a year before we come across his loike again. A Pat- 
rick is only foaled once in a centhury." 

Tomling did not believe a word of the above panegyric, and 
therefore listened to it somewhat impatiently. 

"How about your treasure's forelegs?" he inquired curtly. 
" Did they never give you any trouble, because, if so, you're 
cleverer than I am." 

" Throuble, Misther Tomling. What ! throuble with forelegs 
like thim ? No, niver, niver. All the toime we had him he 
niver once went lame." 

" And how long did you have him, Mr. O'Flanaghan ? Per- 
haps you would oblige me by answering that question." 

The cunning O'Flanaghan scratched his head and put on a 
perplexed expression. He felt that he had made a slip, and set 
to work to remedy it. 

" 'Deed now, but I can't remimber. There's so miny horses 
coming and going in our stable that unless I looked in me book I 
ralely could not tell ye. It moight have been months, and it 
moight have been weeks ; but me memory's that bad for the 
life of me I can't recollect." 

" Can't, won't," muttered Tomling, under his breath. " You're 
about as clever as they make 'em, you are. However, you've 
not done with me yet." 

Finding there was nothing to be gained from O'Flanaghan as 
long as he continued sober, Tomling now changed his tactics. 
He talked cheerfully for several minutes on indifferent subjects, 



242 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

and then suddenly complained of the cold, and proposed a little 
stimulant. 

" I don't know how you feel, Mr. O'Flanaghan," he said, with 
a bland smile, as soon as Mr. Rickerby had mounted his horse 
and disappeared from the saddling paddock ; '■ but I'm uncom- 
monly chilly. The sun is warm, but the wind is keen, and one 
feels as if one wanted something to resist it. What do you say 
to a nice hot glass of whisky and water just to keep the cold 
out? I believe we should both be the better for it." 

" And, indade, Misther Tomling, I am sartin ye're right," 
rejoined O'Flanaghan vivaciously. " 'Tis meself as feels the 
sharp wind creeping through me bones." 

'• Shall we move on then ? " 

" I have no objection, no objection whatever. Me consti- 
tooshun is delicate, and Docthor McCarthy, of Limerick, he said 
to me years ago, ' Jim, me boy, if ye iver feel inclined to take a 
drop stick to the whisky.' And bedad ! I've followed his ad- 
vice from that day to this. There niver was a docthor to under- 
stand me constitooshun loike Docthor McCarthy. He's a power- 
ful cliver practitioner, and sets whisky far afore all the pills and 
medicine stuffs." 

Finding his companion willing the wily Tomling repaired to 
a booth hard by, and plied him with liquor until his little grey 
eyes twinkled and the strings of his tongue began to get unloosed. 
But although he now talked in a vague, rambling way he kept his 
wits sufficiently about him to retain the very information which 
his friend was so anxious to obtain. Many people might have 
given up the attempt in despair, but Mr. Tomling was a man of 
strong tenacity of purpose. He went doggedly to work, and, 
like a bulldog, never loosed his hold once he had succeeded in 
closing with his victim. He saw, however, that it would not do 
to hurry O'Flanaghan. The process of intoxication was well 
started, but it proved expensive standing treat. He had already 
disbursed three shillings and sixpence, and having regard to the 
Irishman's capacity determined to wait until Lord Midlandshire's 
marquee — for which they had tickets — should be thrown open. 
The race, too, was now about to come off. The two worthies 
watched it side by side, and both agreed in condemning Sir 
Philip's horsemanship. 

" Och ! the grand ould horse," exclaimed O'Flanaghan every 
time Corkscrew successfully cleared a fence. " He's just the 
foinest lepper as iver looked through a bridle. I wish Misther 
Jack were on his back." 

'■ Sir Philip's making too much use of him," said Tomling, 
disapprovingly. " If that's the way he is accustomed to ride in 
the hunting field I don't wonder at his bringing me back so many 
cripples. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



243 



" It's the hands and the jidgment he's wanting in. Begorrah ! 
but what's the man after now? " as Sir Philip charged the fence 
into the road. " He must have taken lave of his sinses." 

" He's down ; no, he's not," cried Tomling, excitedly. " By 
Jove ! though, it's all over. He's done for his horse." 

" An' no one to blame but himself," said O'Flanaghan, with 
severity ; " though no doubt he'll try to put it on to Pathrick. 
Misther Jack is going strong and well. The money's on all 
roight, and he means winning if he can." 

" He don't always ride honest, eh? " 

" That depinds, Misther Tomling ; that depinds entirely on 
circumstances." 

Certainly the surprise was general when the favourite Para- 
gona fell at the last fence, and Mr. Rickerby's Jack o' Lantern, 
who had been looked upon as a complete outsider, the betting 
being twenty to one against him, sailed in an easy winner. 
O'Flanaghan's delight, as can he imagined, knew no bounds, and 
in the triumph of the congratulations showered upon him he 
very nearly succeeded in evading Mr. Tomling altogether. 

" By George ! " that worthy soliloquised. " They are a clever 
lot, and no mistake. What between getting rid of a worthless 
animal at a high figure, and securing such long odds, and keep- 
ing the winner so dark they must have made a pot of money. 
Won't Sir Philip be in a wax. They've done him brown, and no 
mistake." 

The marquee was now quite full, and O'Flanaghan drank so 
many healths to " Jack o' Lanthern " that before long he ex- 
perienced considerable difficulty in standing upright, and began 
to roll about much as if he were at sea. At this juncture a 
gracious arm was linked in his, and Tomling's voice said per- 
suasively, " It's very hot in here. Let's go for a stroll." 

Any power of resistance possessed by O'Flanaghan had by 
this time completely vanished, and he allowed his footsteps to 
be guided to a quiet spot in the rear of the tent, where there was 
just room for two people to stand between it and a straggly 
fence which bordered the road. Tomling was now pretty sure 
of his man. 

" Do you smoke, Mr. O'Flanaghan ? " he inquired, as a pre- 
liminary. 

" I do, Misther Tomling." 

" Ah ! I thought so. May I offer you a pinch of tobacco ? " 

Nothing loath O'Flanaghan inserted a dirty finger and thumb 
into the pouch presented him, and proceeded to fill and light 
his pipe. It proved a work of time, and once or twice he was 
forced to reel against his companion for support. 

" The atmosphere's oppressive," he said. " I niver feel dizzy 



-44 ;/7-.'/VV-.7> A> .v/'i'A'y" 

loike this excipt when there s a powerful lot of electricity in 
the air. I think 1 shall have to renumber Doolhor McCarthy s 
advice and take a drop more whisky jist to stiddv meself." 

" Vou d better smoke vonr pipe first." advised Tomling. 
"The excitement has been a bit too much for vou." 

"That's it, Misthor Tomling. the excitement. Nothing but 
the excitement. I'm a sober man nat'rallv. 1 assure vou. I'm 
so — so — sober." 

"Yes. ves ; 1 know," interrupted Tomling hastily. " Vou re 
a grand fellow. I'm proud to number myself among vour 
friends." 

" Frinds ! I tell ver, me heart wint out to yer from the first. 
It's loike a brother 1 feel towards ye." 

"Then we needn't have any secrets." 

" Sacrates. Misther Tomling ! Me have sacrates which 1 
would not impart to my bist frind ! Sorrah a bit of it." 

" Well, now, look here. You and 1 don't want to quarrel, do 
we? but I'm afraid there'll be a row between the governors." 

"A row? Yer don't sav so. Ami what might it be about. 
pray ? " 

" 1 don't suppose Sir Philip will be best pleased at Patrick s 
breaking down, .between ourselves it was onlv what I ex- 
pected." 

" And what ivei vone moight have expected who knew a horse 
from a cow," interposed O' I'lanaghan, with a drunken leer. 

" Precisely ; but, unfortunately, mv master was under the im- 
pression he stood a good chance to win, and now that Patrick 
the First is done for lie may — mind vou, 1 don't sav that lie 
will, but it is just possible lie may — suspect foul plav." 

OT'lanaghan burst into a loud laugh. His potations had 
chased away any remaining sense of discretion. 

" Ha, ha ! Patrick the First, man, why what are vc talking 
about ? His name it is Corkscrew." 

"Oh ! indeed. Names are easily changed and pedigrees in- 
vented. Solon, 1 presume, did not have the honour of siring 
him ? " 

" lVvilabit of it. Thecapting picked him up at Aldridgc's 
one wet afternoon, for forty pounds." 

" And the captain being a first-rate artist painted his heels 
and lorehead just by way of keeping his hand in, eh ? " 

" \ e've hit it to a T, me excellent frind," answered O'Flana- 
ghan, holding his sides with merriment. " Pcdad ! it was as 
good as a plav Not one of the gintlemen as fancies thiinsolves 
so clever knew th' ould horse again, lie had been in the stable 
iver since last November with the tiiulon of his off-fore clane 
sprung. Och ! the work we had with it, bandages and fomenta- 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



! 45 



tions no ind. To my sartin knowledge he wasn't worth a twinty 
pound note. Gad ! but we played Sir Verschoyle a splendid 
thrick. The capting hasn't his equal in all the counthree. 
Jack Rickerby's cute, but he ain't to be compared with the ither." 

" You mean that he is not quite such a big rogue ? " said 
Tomling, feeling a growing desire to knock his "bist frind " 
down. 

" Rogue ! " exclaimed O'Flanaghan, enthusiastically. " I tell 
ycr, Misther Tomling, and ye can take me word for it, that the 
capting's far and away the grandest, dammedest rogue iver I 
see in my loife." 

" A proud distinction, especially as I should imagine you had 
seen a good many, and were yourself entitled to a foremost 
place." 

" Do ye think," resumed O'Flanaghan, with a look of reproach, 
"that I should stick to me master if he wasn't what I tell ye ? " 

" No ; I should not dream of offering you so great an insult. 
Speaking from personal experience I should say you were a 
pair." 

" Right ye are, Misther Tomling. We're a pair, and may we 
niver be anything else is the pious wish of Timothy O'Flanaghan. 
Ha, ha, ha ! " And he began to laugh again in a maudlin way. 
" We sould Corkscrew in the nick of toime, for the tiller it was 
getting uncommonly impty, and the wages more and more irreg- 
ular. Howiver, now we're sit up on our legs for the nixt month 
or two." 

" I suppose you haven't any idea what price our governor 
paid yours for the horse ? " said Tomling, with an assumption 
of indifference. 

" 'Dade now ! An' why should ye suppose me so ignorant ? 
There's moighty little goes on in our place that your humble 
sarvint don't foind out. It's no aisy matter to kape a sacrate 
from him. An' jist to prove to ye that what I say is thrue the 
price paid was five hundred guineas, neither more nor less." 

" Five hundred guineas ! " exclaimed Tomling, astounded at 
the magnitude of the sum. "Are you in earnest? " 

"Would ye' accuse me of a falsehood?" said O'Flanaghan, 
with tipsy solemnity. 

" And you actually mean to tell me that Sir Philip gave that 
price for the horse ? " 

" He was so plased with his bargain he sint the cheque over 
by hand the nixt mornin' That I know for a fact." 

" Well, I'm blowed ! Human folly can go no further. You've 
done us once, Mr. O'Flanaghan ; but let me give you a fair 
warning. You won't do us again in a hurry; and this country 
shall be made too hot for you and that precious master of yours. 



246 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

Mine ain't up to much. I don't attempt to praise him, but he's 
a long sight better than yours ; and directly I get home I shall, 
take very good care to let him know how he has been swindled." 

" Hist ! " said O'Flanaghan, rolling his eyes in alarm. " What 
is that ? I heard somebody moving in the road.'' 

" I don't care if you did. Everybody is Avelcome to hear what 
I say. I am not ashamed of my words — no, nor of my actions 
either." 

"Oh! Misther Tomling. I'vetrated ye loike a frind. Shure, 
an' ye won't betray me, will ye ? " 

" Betray you, you infernal rascal ! If you attempt to open 
your lips again I'll knock you into a cocked hat. Drunken 
beasts like you are a disgrace to our profession, and I'm ashamed 
to call myself stud groom after seeing what unworthy specimens 
belong to so honourable a calling." 

" Hush, man ! don't talk so loud. I tell ye there is someone 
listening." 

Impelled by curiosity Tomling stooped and looked through a 
hole in the hedge. He saw a man sitting by the wayside draw- 
ing on a hunting boot, which had evidently blistered his foot. 

" By Jove ! " he exclaimed, in an altered voice. " It's Sir 
Philip." 

" Yes," shouted the baronet, springing to his feet. " And he 
has heard every word of what you and this scoundrel have been 
saying." His face was inflamed with anger ; his eyes were wild 
and bloodshot. 

Tomling felt a shock go through his whole frame ; then he 
recollected that his words had been prudent, and could not tell 
much against him. He had taken his master's part, and, in 
spite of the temptation, had refrained throughout the conversa- 
tion from abusing him. Conscious of his own virtue he realised 
that the moment of triumph for which he had waited so patiently 
had at length arrived. Therefore, he did not quail beneath Sir 
Philip's infuriated gaze, but, after a brief hesitation, answered 
in his suavest, softest tone — 

" I knew it was a conspiracy, sir. I knew it all along. But 
as I had strict orders to hold my tongue I was bound to obey 
them. If you had not closed my mouth I could have spared 
ycu the mortification of breaking down in public." 

The baronet glared at him in speechless rage. He realised 
that Tomling was trying to assert his superiority and endeavour- 
ing to humiliate him still more. 

With a muttered oath he turned away, and, chartering the 
first empty fly, ordered the driver to drive him straight back to 
Beechlands. 

Tomling placed his large hands over his round waistcoat, and 
Stroked it complacently. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 247 

" Aha ! " he murmured, whilst a smile illumined his counte- 
nance. " Every dog has his day, and I natter myself this is mine. 
If I'm not very much mistaken Sir Philip will be careful how 
he cheeks me in future. He's got as good as he gave at any 
rate, and henceforth I shall rest easy. Here ! get away. I've 
done with you." And so saying he administered a push to Mr. 
O'Flanaghan which sent him flying full length on the grass. 



CHAPTER XXXI. 

A BACHELOR DINNER PARTY. 

Sir Philip was in such a towering passion that it did not occur 
to him for some time to inquire who had won the race. 

When he learnt of the flyman that the much coveted prize had 
fallen to Mr. Rickerby's share his indignation knew no bounds. 
He felt more than ever convinced that he had been cajoled into 
giving a ridiculous sum for an absolutely worthless horse, when 
all the while the confederates had a much better one in the stable 
with which no doubt from the first they made up their minds to 
win. He realised the full extent of Captain Dashwood's dupli- 
city, and perceived that he had been nothing more than a tool in 
his hands, falling like a foolish fly into the net so artfully spread. 

Sooner or later the story was sure to get abroad, and he should 
find himself the laughing-stock of the whole county. He 
gnashed his teeth at the thought, for he had not yet arrived at 
an age to bear ridicule philosophically. It was not so much the 
loss of the money which enraged him as the knavery and deceit 
from men professing to call themselves his friends, and who had 
dined repeatedly at his table. Feeling that he could not trust 
himself to meet them, and that in his present state he was capa- 
ble of throttling or horse-whipping them, he purposely left the 
racecourse, intending, before taking any decided action in the 
matter, to turn it over in his mind. This, under the circum- 
stances, was a prudent resolve. 

As soon as Sir Philip reached Beechlands, he retired to his 
own room, and gave orders not to be disturbed. His temples 
throbbed, and his blood seemed literally on fire ; but in spite of 
the confusion of his brain, one thought stood out clear above 
every other. He would have his revenge. He did not quite know 
how, when, or where, but, as surely as there was a God above, 
he would have it. No one should insult him with impunity. In 
spite of the five hundred guineas put out of his pocket into theirs, 
" ~ " ' ~ "' '" ' by should live to regret the 



248 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

transaction. There would be no more dinners — no more pres- 
ents of game for them in the future. They would soon find out 
me difference. 

Then all of a sudden he remembered that he had invited his 
foes to dine that very evening. A dark smile spread slowly over 
his face as he recalled the fact. He began to see a way now of 
punishing them according to their deserts. Growing calmer at 
the prospect, he sat down in an arm-chair, and deliberately worked 
out a scheme of retaliation. In spite of all that had come and 
gone, he still held the trump card, if only he could curb his pas- 
sion strongly enough to play it properly. If he did but control 
himself sufficiently to clearly tell the tale of his wrongs before a 
company of impartial hearers, he felt persuaded that they would 
be unanimous in condemning the conduct of his former friends. 
He fancied he could make it precious hot for these gentlemen. 
It would not suit their book at all to be cut by every respectable 
acquaintance, and publicly denounced as rogues and swindlers. 
Their reputation was not so good already that it could afford to 
bear being blown upon. Yet this was what he meant to do. By 
degrees, as he sat there with bent head and knit brow, he ar- 
ranged a programme to his satisfaction. He would not put Cap- 
tain Dashwood or Mr. Rickerby off ; or give them the slightest 
warning. On the contrary, he would receive them with ceremoni- 
ous politeness, and when they least expected mischief hurl the 
bombshell over their heads. Taken thus unawares they must 
needs confess their sins. The idea pleased him. There was a 
refinement of malice about it which soothed his overstrung 
nerves, and restored him to comparative good-humour. 

Arrived at this stage, it occurred to him that he was hungry 
and had had no luncheon ; so he rang the bell, and ordered his 
valet to bring him something to eat and drink. 

'• We shall be two-and-twenty to dinner to-night," he said to 
the man. " Let the cook know, and when Lady Verschoyle 
returns say I wish to see her. She is not aware we have so large 
a party coming, for I forgot to mention it this morning." 

He ate a hearty meal, washed down by liberal draughts of 
brandy and soda, and after that fell into a heavy sleep, from 
which he was only awakened by his wife's arrival. 

Bligh came in looking unusually happy and animated. For 
a few hours she had thrown off the burden of her married life, 
and given herself over to the enjoyment of the moment. It 
was a new experience to her to be made much of, and every 
woman feels flattered by being noticed and deferred to. Bligh 
had had a success. Ever since her fall Lord Midlandshire had 
treated her with peculiar kindness, and to-day his attentions 
had been unremitting. He v''"""" 1 +1 " " — £ 1 '" ' ■ 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



249 



and insisted on giving her his arm to the marquee before all 
the other ladies. But what was even yet more agreeable, Bligh 
discovered him to be a man of high culture and intelligence ; 
and the pleasure of conversing with someone whose ideas 
soared above the jargon of sport, to which she had been forced 
to listen all the winter, was so great that she felt like a dif- 
ferent being. Lord Midlandshire's conversation transplanted 
her into another world — a world not of mere amusement and 
frivolous frittering away of opportunities, but one of politics, 
real work, patriotism, and noble endeavour. She could not 
help comparing his life with Philip's, and sighing at the want of 
ambition, energy, and enterprise displayed by so many men of 
the younger generation. Were the women to blame because 
they were not satisfied with such husbands, and wanted ones 
they could really look up to ? It was a difficult question, but 
Bligh thought it accounted for a good deal of the discontent 
rife among the wives of the nineteenth century. Lord Midland- 
shire, in talking of the problems of the day, had lightly touched 
upon that of matrimony, but feeling the delicacy of the sub- 
ject, she had dexterously changed it. Nevertheless, it set her 
thinking — and remarks calculated to provoke thought were so 
rare since she became Lady Verschoyle that they produced a 
bracing and stimulating effect upon her mind. 

For some time she had not missed her husband. When she 
did she grew uneasy at his prolonged absence, and returned 
from the racecourse early. Hearing he was at home, she went 
at once to his room. The wholesome excitement and fresh air 
had lent her cheeks a colour. A stray lock of soft hair was 
blown about her face. She looked deserving of Lord Midland- 
shire's description, " A dear little woman ; not exactly pretty, 
you know, but ever so much better ; genuine and intelligent, 
and awfully nice." 

Sir Philip gave a drunken snore, and woke up with a start. 

" Oh ! you've come back, have you ? " he said, stretching 
himself sleepily. 

" Yes. I was afraid something had happened." She had 
returned, intending to be cheerful and pleasant, but somehow 
the very sight of him repelled her, and reminded her of the 
chains which she was bound to wear through life. 

Her face grew instantly grave, and lost its bright expres- 
sion. 

" Something did happen," he returned, sulkily. " My cursed 
horse broke clown." 

" Yes, so I saw. Poor fellow ! I am terribly sorry for him. 
Is he very badly hurt ? " 

" He is done for altogether. " 



250 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

'■ What a sad pity ! I don t wonder you are vexed. But 
why did you go home without letting me know, Philip? I 
could not imagine what had become of you. and nobody 
seemed able to tell me. You were not hurt yourself, were 
you ? " 

"No. but I was sick to death of the whole business. So 
would you have been in my shoes." 

" I don t understand." 

" It is not necessary - that you should." Then a sneer dis- 
figured his countenance, and he added. " So our friend Rickerby 
won after all ? " 

'" Yes." she replied. ■* He won quite easily at the end: and 
somehow or other, I don't think people seemed very pleased at 
his success. There was no cheering or anyt hi ng of that sort. 
I don't know if it is true, but I heard that Sir. Rickerby had 
gained over a thousand pounds." 

■■ The devil he did '. " 

" When the report reached Lord Midlandshire's ears." she 
exclaimed " he v. -as extremely annoyed to rind that such heavy 
betting had been going on, especially as it appears he particu- 
larly requested everyone connected with the race not to let it 
degenerate into a pounds, shillings, and pence affair." 

■• His lordship might iust as well have appealed to the man 
in the moon as to our friends Dasiawood and Rickerby," said 
Sir Philip, sarcastically. ■■ I don't suppose those two worthies 
could refrain from betting to save their lives." 

Bligh looked at him in surprise. She was struck by the 
bitterness of her husband's tone. 

■■ Have you quarrelled ? " she asked feeling that it would be 
an immense relief if he answered in the affirmative. 

"No," he replied, "not yet. But they've treated me very 
scurvily, not to say dishonestly, and I mean to have it out with 
them." 

" Was it about the horse. Philip ? " 

" For goodness' sake don't bother me with questions. I'm not 
in a mood to answer them, and I hate an inquisitive woman." 

She changed colour, and appeared about to make a warm 
retort : then her habitual self-control came to her aid. and she 
said— 

•• The mere fact of your no longer being so enamoured of 
your friends is enough for me. I don't want to know anymore. 
Indeed, I am only too thankful to think that your eyes are at 
last opened to the true character of the men you have chosen to 
make your boon companions. From the first they have been 
false friends, and in mv opinion have done you an infinity of 
harm." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



2 S' 



" I swear to do them an equal amount before I've done with 
them," he retorted, threateningly. " Two can play at that 
game." 

Bligh said nothing. She saw he had been drinking as usual, 
and knew from experience that when in a state of semi-intoxica- 
tion he was wont to give vent to excessively bellicose sentiments. 
Drink generally had the effect of rendering him irritable. 

" Well ! " she answered, soothingly, " I'm glad to find you 
all right, and although you did not succeed in winning the race, 
you are better off than some people. Poor little Dicky Darner 
not only broke his leg, but also his animal's neck, and he was 
so much upset about losing the mare that he cried like a child. 
For my part, J thought his tears did him great credit, though 
several of the ladies were laughing at them." 

" He's a damned little fool at any time," growled Sir Philip. 
" And a regular outsider into the bargain. Are you going, 
Bligh ? " as his wife made a movement towards the door. 

" Yes. I thought I would take off my hat and jacket, and 
then sit with mamma for a little, and tell her the news of the 
day. Do you want me for anything ? " 

" It would not much matter if I did. ' Mamma ' always comes 
before me in this establishment." 

Bligh bridled up at these words. 

" I do not think you have anyri^ht to make such a statement 
as that. My mother is an invalid, and therefore requires a 
certain amount of attention, but give me a single instance if you 
can of my neglecting you for her. On the contrary, I have 
always taken pains to consider you first." 

He could not deny that his home was much more comfortable 
since Bligh had assumed the management of it. His mother's 
rule, though kind and gracious, had not been practical. Under 
his wife's regime the food was better, his favourite dishes were 
set before him much more frequently than in former days, the 
servants attended more punctually to their duties, the fires were 
regularly kept up, the rooms looked cosier, and last, but not 
least, the bills were considerably less, in spite of there being 
several extra mouths to feed. As for his creature comforts, 
they were studied even to the smallest item. Me could not find 
fault with Bligh, and yet he was discontented. No matter how he 
behaved, he fancied that because she was his wife he had a 
right to her affections. He vaguely realised that she did not 
love him, and even when he went reeling up to bed smelling of 
brandy and using coarse oaths in her presence, he attributed 
the entire blame to her of the want of sympathy that existed 
between them. She was cold, heartless, unwifely ; he, in his 
own p^iimntinn w^c n^t or? 1 " n iv.?.r., and therefore incapable of 



252 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



wrong when dealing with the weaker sex, but also all that a 
husband should be. 

Nevertheless, her superiority irritated him. For in his heart 
of hearts, despite the authority which on every trifling occasion 
he arrogated to himself, and the dominion and tyranny of his 
conduct, he knew that he was her inferior. No matter how he 
bullied and blustered, he never could master her spirit. It 
soared above his as a skylark soars above a barndoor fowl. 
Between them stretched an immeasurable gulf, which he was 
unable to outstride, and for some time past an uneasy sense of 
failure had begun to steal over him. He realised that for all 
her outward submission and faultless behaviour, he could not 
control his wife's thoughts, or prevent them from summing him 
up at his true worth. Little by little a certain fear of Bligh 
sprang up within him. Although he tried to resist it, it increased 
daily. He would rather avoid her eye than meet it ; and when 
she was by he felt ashamed to appear at his worst. Strangely 
enough, too, although he professed a great contempt for her 
opinions, and lost no opportunity of laughing at them in public, 
in reality they made a much deeper impression than he chose to 
admit. 

So in answer to her last speech, he said — 

" You never seem to understand a joke, Bligh. I was only in 
fun, of course ; nevertheless, it's a little hard upon me some- 
times having to live with a parcel of old women. I think even 
you must admit that." 

'■ Mamma is very ill," she said, and there was something in 
her look and voice which silenced him effectually. 

'' By-the-bye," he said, as if a sudden thought had occurred to 
him, " we are in for a large dinner-party to-night. I invited a 
good many of the fellows on the course, and did not know until 
I came to count them up that even without the ladies we should 
be twenty-two." Then he paused, and added, awkwardly, " I 
was wondering, Bligh, as you have done a good deal to-day, and 
we shall be all gentlemen except the home party, whe — whether," 
hesitating in his speech, " you would not prefer to stop out." 

She jumped at the idea. 

" Oh ! yes," she cried. " Mamma, your mother, and I can 
dine in the boudoir. We should prefer it. It will be ever so 
much nicer. I mean," correcting herself for fear of giving 
offence, "much nicer for you." 

" All right, then," he said. " I'll give orders to that effect." 

Bligh went upstairs, delighted at the j^rospect of spending a 
quiet evening, and quite unsuspicious of her husband's inten- 
tions. 

" It's better not to frighten her, especially just now," said Sir 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



253 



Philip to himself, as she closed the door. " Besides women are 
always infernally in the way when there is a row going on. 
They will insist on interfering and taking sides." 

At a quarter to eight o'clock the baronet stood in the large 
drawing-room ready to receive his guests. They arrived by 
ones and twos, and he apologised for Bligh's absence on the 
plea of indisposition. It so happened that Captain Dashwood 
and Mr. Rickerby were the last to turn up. Sir Philip went 
forward, and shook them effusively by the hand with exaggerated 
cordiality. 

" Delighted to see you," he said, in a loud, artificial voice 
intended for everyone to hear. " This gathering would have 
been very incomplete without the hero of the day and his 
talented coadjutor." 

Captain Dashwood shot an inquiring glance at him from the 
corner of his eye. He could not quite make Sir Philip's manner 
out. It was just a little too civil to be sincere, especially after 
the afternoon's defeat. He had expected to find his host in a 
remarkably bad humour ; instead of which, here he was smiling 
and benevolent, and apparently with temper unruffled. This 
amiability differed so much from his ordinary mood, when sub- 
jected to the hard usages of adversity, that it set Captain Dash- 
wood on his guard. Knowing Sir Philip as well as he did, he 
had not been in the room two minutes before he felt that his 
gaiety was not natural, but merely assumed for some unknown 
purpose, which conscience whispered boded no good. 

" Sit tight, and look out for squalls," he contrived to murmur 
to Jack Rickerby, as the gentlemen trooped into the dining- 
room. 

Once seated at the table, the conversation soon became 
general, and it remained so until dinner was brought to a con- 
clusion. Then the men servants retired, after first placing a 
small army of bottles before Sir Philip. The occasion was a 
festive one, and as the whole party had taken enough to make 
them merry, the fun threatened to become uproarious. Tongues 
were wagging with increasing eloquence, when suddenly the host 
filled himself a bumper of port, and rose from his seat, glass in 
hand. Although he had drunk freely up till now he had re- 
mained unusually silent. 

One-and-twenty pairs of hands began drumming on the table, 
whilst their owners exclaimed — 

" That's right, old boy. Make us a speech." 

The flush on Sir Philip's face deepened. The more sober of 
the company noticed his hand trembled so that several drops of 
wine fell on to the white cloth, and made an ugly stain. Cap- 
tain Dashwood tried to catch Jack Rickerby's eye. He had an 



254 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



intuitive presentiment of what was coming, and in order to bear 
the impending storm with all his wits about him had several 
times declined to have his glass refilled with champagne. In 
consequence his head was probably clearer than that of anyone 
else present. 

" Gentlemen," began Sir Philip, speaking in a thick, husky 
voice, which he vainly sought to clear, " I do not propose to 
detain you long, which must be my excuse for boldly claiming 
your attention for a few moments. To get straight to the point, 
there are some things which society will stand, and some which 
it won't ; and as I don't wish to be guided by personal feeling 
alone, I have asked you here to-night for the express purpose of 
consulting you on a most awkward and delicate matter. Now 
I want you to tell me frankly what you would think of two men, 
calling themselves your friends, and professing to be gentlemen, 
who, for their own ends and purposes, painted up a worthless 
old screw in order to deceive you." 

A murmur of indignation ran through the company. Captain 
Dashwood and Mr. Rickerby changed colour, and tried not to 
look conscious. 

" What would you say," continued Sir Philip, in tones of 
rising passion, " if these so-called friends — men, mark you, 
whom you had trusted and consulted — gave the horse a feigned 
name and pedigree, and sold him as a steeplechaser for the 
modest sum of five hundred guineas ? And supposing the very 
first time you rode this valuable animal he broke down hope- 
lessly ; and you overheard the conspirators' groom laughing 
at the trick of which you had been the victim, how would you be 
inclined to take the joke ? It seems to me, gentlemen," he went 
on, with growing excitement, " that the hunting field is an 
honourable institution, and we should not tolerate rogues and 
swindlers among its ranks. I do not know whether you agree 
with me or not ; but, for my part, I consider it a public duty to 
prevent my comrades from being fleeced as others have been 
fleeced before them, and to warn everyone against the scoun- 
drels who do not hesitate to rob a friend, and who possess 
neither morals nor the commonest instincts of honesty. If you 
wish to learn their names, there they sit." And so saying, he 
pointed his finger scornfully, first at Mr. Rickerby, and then at 
Captain Dashwood. 

The latter gentleman's thin lips were set in a hard line. His 
countenance, though pale, was smiling, and he met the charge 
with a cool audacity which native impudence and undaunted 
courage had taught him to maintain in moments of imminent 
peril. 

" I fear that our host has had more to drink than is good for 



IYJ£DDED TO SPORT. 



255 



him," he said, in a loud aside to his neighbour. " His manners 
suffer in proportion as his imagination grows riotous." 

" How dare you insinuate that I am drunk ? " thundered Sir 
Philip. " You can't get out of it in that way, you blackguard." 

Captain Dashwood rose in his turn. 

" Gentlemen," he said, " since our entertainer has set the 
example of appealing to you, I feel that I cannot do better than 
follow in his footsteps. You have all heard the epithet he has 
just made use of. In common self-defence, I beg to state that 
there are always two sides to every question. You have listened 
to Sir Philip Verschoyle's, perhaps you will now be so good as 
to listen to mine. Briefly put, the matter lies in a nutshell. I 
go out hunting, and ride a horse which our friend, whose na- 
ture, as we all know, is somewhat jealous, imagines to be faster 
than his own. Whereupon he breaks the Tenth Commandment, 
and covets his neighbour's goods. His next step is to beg me to 
name my own price for the gee. I answer that I have no desire 
to sell him, or to disturb our friendship by a quarrel. He 
insists, and offers three, four, five hundred guineas. Well ! 
gentlemen," and the speaker took a comprehensive glance 
around, as if to ascertain which way public opinion was setting, 
" I don't attempt to defend myself. I am a poor man, and the 
temptation was great. Against my better judgment, I yielded 
to it, after repeatedly advising Sir Philip not to effect the pur- 
chase, but he would not listen to a word of remonstrance, so 
set was he on having the horse. Was it my fault the animal 
broke down ? He was (he spoke in the past tense) as good and 
honest a hunter as ever I threw a leg across. You all saw in 
what manner he was ridden to-day. How many of you here 
present can produce a horse not liable to meet with a similar 
disaster, if his rider took the liberties with him that Sir Philip 
took ? He never spared him. He forced him along through 
the heavy plough, and did not ease the poor brute for a second. 
Horses are made of flesh and blood like ourselves. They are 
not mere machines ; moreover, their organisation is so delicate 
that a very slight thing suffices to throw it out of gear. I ven- 
ture to contend that any animal might have collapsed in the 
circumstances. Because Sir Philip lost his head, and rode at 
an impossible fence, I really fail to see why I should be held 
responsible ; especially when I made a point of declining all 
responsibility at the time of purchase. Is it fair to blame me 
because Sir Philip Verschoyle did not win the race ? Had he 
come in first, do you suppose for one moment he would have 
brought this charge ? The answer is No ; and he knows it as well, 
as I do. Gentlemen," concluded Captain Dashwood, satisfied 
with the impression he had evidently made upon his audience, 



256 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" the verdict lies with you, and greatly as I regret this unhappy 
quarrel, I am perfectly prepared to abide by your decision." 

His clear, penetrating voice rang through the room. lake 
an accomplished fencer, he seemed to possess in perfection the 
art of thrusting at the weak points of his enemy's armour. 

Sir Philip felt instinctively that by a few well-chosen words 
he had adroitly contrived to turn the tables. Instead of hum- 
bling his opponent to the very dust, he now saw that he himself 
stood a good chance of coming second best out of the contest. 
This conviction rendered him frantic. 

'• How about the white star and the painted heels," he 
shouted, quivering with rage. 

" Merely your fancy," responded Captain Dashwood, with 
unblushing effrontery. " People are very apt to imagine all 
sorts of impossible things when they have had a skin full of 
liquor. Knock off the drink, my dear fellow, or it will be the 
ruin of you." 

Clever as he was, Captain Dashwood had overshot the mark. 
If he had not made that speech, he would have fared better. 
It goaded Sir Philip into a fur}'. 

" You lying hound," he cried ; and so saying, he threw the 
glass which he held in his hand straight into Captain Dash- 
wood's face. It hit the mark, and in another second that gen- 
tleman s highly-glazed shirt front was dyed red with wine and 
blood which gushed from a deep gash on his forehead. 

He pushed back his chair, pale, but no longer smiling. 

'■ P>y heaven," he said, in a voice choked with passion. 
" You shall pay for this." And he flew at his adversary's 
throat. 

" ('ome on," retorted Sir Philip. '' I've been itching all the 
evening to give you the thrashing you deserve." 

The two men grappled with each other, and a scene of wild 
disorder ensued. Some took one side, some the other ; but the 
general opinion seemed to be that the opponents had better fight 
it out ; although several of the milder spirits vainly strove to part 
the combatants. All of a sudden Captain Dashwood's foot 
caught in the table-cloth, he tripped, and fell with stunning force 
against the fender. A deafening crash of china followed his 
downfall. Sir Philip stood panting for breath, his fists doubled, 
and glaring about him with wild, bloodshot eyes. Then he ad- 
ministered a kick to his prostrate foe. Englishmen, as a rule, 
are lovers of fair play. At this act of unprovoked brutality, 
cries of " Shame, shame," resounded through the room, and 
forcible hands were laid on him. 

" Let me go," he cried. " I'll kick the craven life out of him." 

" Nonsense," said Mr. Stainton Moresby, one of the oldest and 



IVEDDED TO SFORT. 2 -- 

most pacific of the party. " The man is hurt. He is stunned, 
I believe. You don t want to murder him. surely ? " 

" I don't care a hang if I do 1 " And the baronet wrenched 
himself free. 

To what extremities he might have proceeded it is impossible 
to sav. for at this iuncture an unlooked-for diversion was created. 
The door opened, and Bligh rushed into the room. One glance 
at the disordered table, the prostrate man. the broken china. 
and her husband's threatening attitude sufficed to prove how 
disgraceful was the scene that had taken place. Living in con- 
stant dread of some catastrophe, she knew in an instant that 
her worst fears were realised, and that Sir Philip had openly ex- 
posed his iiifirmity. Her one thought was to get him away be- 
fore any further mischief could be inflicted. Without pausing 
to notice the guests, she walked straight up to him, and laid her 
hand on his arm. He started at her touch. 

"Oh! Philip." she said, trembling, "what is this dreadful 
quarrel about: " 

He stared at her with drunken anger. 

•• Go away,"' he said. " What are you doing here ? How 
dare you interfere ! "' 

••We heard the noise." she faltered, "and were so terribly 
frightened ! Your mother has fainted."' 

" Bah ! Women are always fainting. Coma take vourseif 
off. You're in the way."" 

She looked round imploringly at the strong men. with their 
red coats and red faces. 

•• Won't any of you help me to get him quietly awav ; Sure : v — 
surelv you must see that he is not well to-night." And she 
turned towards them with a gesture which struck compassion in 
the hearts of all present. 

"Bligh." cried Sir Phi li p, angrily. "I order vou to leave the 
room." 

" I do not want to stay — I shall never forget the sight I have 
seen to-night, but," and her voice grew firmer. " I cannot go. 
and leave you here." 

" Don't you hear what I say ? " 

"Yes. but I will not go alone." 

" Damnation ! then I'll make you." And. beside himself, he 
luted his hand and struck the woman who in two or three months 3 
time would bear him a child a heavy blow on her delicate arm. 
She tottered and almost fell, but her purpose remained un- 
changed. He was mad. dangerous, and it was her duty to shield 
him from himself. 

" Gentlemen," she said, " if you are gentlemen, cut this even- 
ing's festivities short. Go to your own homes, and out of pin- 



258 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

to me and to him," glancing at her husband, " leave us alone. 
It is the one kindness you can do me. As for you," she went 
on, addressing Jack Rickerby and Captain Dashwood, the lat- 
ter of whom had now regained his feet, " your influence over 
Philip has been uniformly bad. You have played on his worst 
passions, and have made no effort to lead him in a right direction. 
I owe you small thanks. You are cruel enemies to me, and if 
the treatment you have received this evening has not been good, 
we can cry quits, and wish each other good-bye. Go ! " And 
she pointed towards the door. Her face was perfectly white, but 
her eyes were ablaze, and made every man in the room feel 
ashamed of himself. One by one they withdrew silently. 

To-morrow, no doubt, the tale would spread throughout the 
county, and there would be fine gossip ; but to-night she held 
her own royally. 

At last husband and wife were by themselves. Sir Philip 
stood looking sullenly into the fire. The action of striking a 
woman had sobered him. 

Bligh rang the bell without loss of time. 

" Take your master to his room," she said to the butler. " He 
feels indisposed, and wishes to go to bed." 

" I never said so " he began. 

" You will be better there." 

He dared not meet her eyes after what had happened ; and 
obeyed like a baby. Bligh remained conqueror of the field. 
But what a victory ! It left her too utterly shamed and disgusted 
even to feel anger. The disgrace crushed her to the ground ; 
for henceforth every one would know that Sir Philip was a 
drunkard, and had struck his wife. It was not so much of her- 
self she thought as of him ; the wreck, the ruin, the wasted life. 
A profound sadness raised her above mere personal resentment. 
The pity and misery of it was so great ! 

As she stole wearily upstairs, her mother-in-law peeped out of 
her bedroom door. 

" Bligh ! " she whispered, horrified by the dejected expression 
of the young wife's face, " what is the matter ? " 

" They were quarrelling," Bligh answered, in a strained, un- 
natural voice, " and Philip struck me before everybody." 

'• My poor girl. How terrible ! Can you bear it ? " 

Bligh looked away towards the room which was her mother's. 

" Hush ! " she said, " don't pity me. I must. " 



WEDDED TO srORT. ?x ~ 



CHAPTER XX XI I. 

" T A K K M K W 1 T 11 Y O U." 

I t was perhaps, a good thing for Bligh in one sense that during 
the weeks which ensued her mind was prevented I nun dwelling 
too exclusively on her own affairs. Mrs. Burton s illness assumed 
more and more dangerous proportions. The local doctor was 
wholly unable to relieve the gravity of her symptoms, and, act- 
ing with Sir Philip's consent, Bligh called in Mr. Donnington. 
She had great faith in him, and looked forward anxiously to his 
visit. A week passed, however, before he was able to obey her 
summons, and even in that short time Mrs. Burton grew rapidly 
worse Alas! when he came he was unable to bestow much 
comfort. He told Bligh plainly that the terrible malady from 
which her mother suffered had not only broken out afresh, but 
also made fearful inroads on her constitution. A further opera- 
tion was possible ; but, considering how little permanent the 
effects of the last one had proved, he could not conscientiously 
advise it. 

" Mrs. Burton is so weak," he said, " that 1 fear it would only 
be putting her to needless pain." 

" Are you going to leave her to die then ? " cried Bligh, with 
the tears rolling down her cheeks. 

He gave a little gentle cough. 

" My dear Lady Yerschoyle. don l think that I do not feel 
for you ; but would you have her stay ? See how she suffers, 
and we are powerless to give any real relief." 

" 1 know, 1 know," sobbed Bligh, fairly breaking down. " It 
is dreadfully selfish of me. 1 ought not to consider myself ; 
but life will be so lonely when she is gone." 

" Is not death sometimes kinder than life? You would agree 
with me if you had seen so much suffering as 1 have." 

" I agree with you now, only," and her voice broke suddenly. 
" it is hard for those who remain. They cannot help feeling the 
separation. If I could go too 1 should not mind." 

" You are young, and your time has not yet come. If you 
give way like this T shall regret having spoken out so un- 
reservedly." 

She dried her eves. 

- T ' "-'■ . ' . . ■ «- th, Mr. Donnins.ton, bad as 



26o WEDDED TO SPORT. 

it is. At least now," and she sighed heavily, " I can make the 
most of the time that is left us to be together." 

" Dear Lady Verschoyle," he said, with an unconscious touch 
of bitterness in his voice, "think yourself lucky that when 
your mother dies your mind will remain stored with tender mem- 
ories, which are a priceless possession, and of which no one 
can rob you. Children who have never known a mother's love, 
whose warm little hearts have been repeatedly frozen by some 
cold and indifferent woman, wholly deficient in maternal senti- 
ment, are the ones to be pitied. They go through the world 
feeling that they have been defrauded of the affection which was 
their due and which ought to have been theirs by rights. Noth- 
ing ever repays them for the loss." 

Bligh held out her hand in silent sympathy. She felt, without 
more words, that his childhood had not been happy. 

After Mr. Donnington left she devoted herself almost entirely 
to the invalid. If Sir Philip showed signs of jealousy, which he 
occasionally did, she looked at him with eyes rendered red by 
weeping, and said in a subdued tone : " It will not last long. 
Let me be with her whilst I can." And her deep sorrow ap- 
pealed even to his dull senses. Since the night of the dinner 
party he had been unusually quiet, and to a great extent kept 
out of his wife's way. He avoided being alone with her as much 
as possible, and in a clumsy, shamefaced manner sought to make 
amends for his conduct. Once or twice he even tried to express 
his regret for what had happened ; but her heart was hard and 
bitter against him, and the affront was too great and too recent for 
her to be able to say freely, " I forgive." She tolerated him, 
and that was all. And he, realising what a barrier his unmanly 
act had raised up between them, grew sullen and reserved. In 
short, things were not going well with the married couple. She 
was falling back more and more upon her own resources, growing 
concentrated, introspective, and analytical ; whilst he, conscious 
of the wrong done, degenerated from day to day, and flew to the 
bottle for consolation. It would have required a strong helping 
hand to save him. His wife had done her best, but he had re- 
pulsed and estranged her, and now she was too preoccupied to 
devote much time or attention to him. So they drifted apart ; 
not swiftly, but gradually and slowly, as is often the case when 
once an irreparable breach has been made in a woman's dignity 
and self-respect. 

One morning when Bligh entered Mrs. Burton's room, she 
found the invalid sitting up in bed and reading a letter. She 
was evidently suffering from some unwonted excitement, for her 
yellow cheeks were faintly red, as if the unaccustomed blood had 
warmed them, and in her hollow, sunken eves there ^learned a 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 2 6i 

feverish light. Bligh saw at once that her condition had under- 
gone a change, and that some emotion outside of the every day 
experiences was responsible for it. 

" What is the matter, mother dear ? " she inquired, advanc- 
ing to the bedside and sprinkling a few drops of eau-de-Cologne 
about so as to chase away the fetid odour which filled the room. 

" I have had news, Bligh ; wonderful news," answered Mrs. 
Burton. " Read that." And she thrust the letter into her 
daughter's hand. 

Bligh perused its contents. They ran as follows : — 

" Dear Madam, — By the conditions of the late Miss Mary 
Frazer's will we have great pleasure in informing you that the 
sum of four hundred a year is placed at your entire disposal, 
with absolute power to leave it to your heirs or assignees. 
Further particulars will follow by the next post. Awaiting in- 
structions, we beg to remain, dear madam, 
" Your obedient servants, 

" Danby, Ferrers, Danby, and Son, 

" Lincoln's Inn Fields." 

Bligh returned the letter to it3 onvelope. With a pang of sor- 
row she realised that as far as her mother was concerned the 
bequest came too late. It could not restore her to health or 
alter the existing state of things. 

"I suppose this was the Miss Mary Frazer," she said, "of 
whom I have sometimes heard you speak? " 

" Yes ; she and I used to be great friends. As girls we were 
at school together, and long ago Mary said laughingly that if she 
did not marry and died before me she would provide for me in 
her will. I never thought anything more of the matter. Just 
about the time when I first met your poor father Mary was en- 
gaged to a young man with property in Ireland. His story was 
a very sad one. I forget if I have ever told it you." 

" No," said Bligh ; " never." 

" A fortnight before the wedding was to have taken place," 
continued Mrs. Burton, " he found it necessary to make some 
fresh arrangements with his tenants. Times were troublous 
and the Land League agitators even in those days had turned 
all the people's heads. A meeting was held, at which they de- 
manded thirty per cent, reduction. Mary's Jia?ice could not 
see his way to granting more than fifteen, for the rents were 
already extremely low. Two nights afterwards, as he was driv- 
ing out to dinner in an open car, he was shot at from behind a 
stone wall. The bullet lodged in the unfortunate young man's 
right temple, and took fatal effect. He threw up his arms, fell 



H £.UMJ£LMJ XU Hl'Uli-t 



from the car, and died without a sigh. As is usual in these cases, 
nobody had the slightest idea who had done the deed. The 
murderer appeared endowed with the gift of invisibility, for 
although both in coming and going to the spot he must have 
passed through a thickly populated district, not a soul had seen 
him." 

" Shameful ! " said Bligh. '• What about poor Mary ? " 

" It well-nigh broke her heart when the news was communicated 
to her. For many months she was overwhelmed with grief, but 
after a while she recovered sufficiently to think that she ought 
to do something with her life, and although she could no longer 
look for personal happiness it was her duty, especially as she 
had means of her own, to promote that of others. So she went 
out to Canada with a number of fallen girls whom she had pre- 
viously trained as maid-servants, established a Home in Quebec 
for the relief of women and children, and ever since has remained 
doing good work. We have not met for nearly twenty years, 
though we corresponded occasionally. Poor Mary ! '• and Mrs. 
Burton put her handkerchief to her eyes. " It grieves me to 
know that she is dead." 

" She was a brave, good woman," said Bligh. " But no doubt 
she is glad to be at rest. You need not weep for her, mother 
dear. Women like Miss Frazer, who have lived pure lives and 
worked for the welfare of their fellow-creatures, do not often fear 
death." 

" It is strange why our western nations should be so afraid of 
dying, when nearly all eastern races view the approach of death 
calmly," observed Mrs. Burton, with a dreamy look in her dim 
eyes. " It seems to point that the imagination is responsible 
for much of the alarm which we undoubtedly feel. A Chinaman 
is comparatively callous. And yet the curious part to my mind 
is we are Christians, and, therefore, presumably possessed of 
higher knowledge ; whilst they, at least so we are told, are 
heathens." 

" Do you not think," said Bligh, " that this state of things pro- 
ceeds in great measure from the wide difference existing between 
the theory and the practice of Christianity ? The former is 
nearly perfect, but the latter leaves much to be desired. For 
instance, we are taught theoretically to cultivate faith as against 
logic. Practically the lives of most intelligent people are ordered 
by reason, and the higher their intellectual perceptions the more 
difficult it becomes for them to preserve a state of childlike 
belief. Again, we are told that it is easier for a rich man to go 
through the eye of a needle than to enter the kingdom of Heaven. 
According to this doctrine no devout Christian should aspire to 
obtain wealth. Yet, looking round one in the world, what does 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 263 

one see ? Nothing but a consuming desire for money-making, 
directly opposed to the teaching of the Gospels. Numbers of 
Christians are Christians in name only. They are not sincere, 
and equivocate both with their conscience and their religion. 
Consequently, when the reaper mows them down with his ' sickle 
keen ' very few of them are willing to say good-bye to life. They 
would like to wait a little longer, just so as to correct their errors 
and make sure of a place in Paradise." 

" I doubt whether you take the mere physical element suffi- 
ciently into consideration," said Mrs. Burton thoughtfully. " It 
alone is difficult to overcome, for there is always some material 
force which chains us to earth as long as breath remains in the 
body." She paused for a moment, held out her hand, and 
added : " And then there are those we love. It is terribly 
painful to be forced to leave them ; but still more so when we 
know that our dear ones are not happy, and dark clouds of 
sorrow and suffering roll over their beloved heads." 

Her words were so full of tender significance that Bligh 
could not choose but apply the sick woman's speech to herself. 

" If you mean me, mother," she said quickly, " I am happy — 
at least," colouring at the falsehood, " as happy as most people. 
I have a fine house, horses and carriages, every comfort. What 
more can I want ? " 

Mrs. Burton shook her head. 

" My darling, you cannot deceive me. They might be enough 
for some women, but they are not enough for you. Do you 
think I have lived under this roof and not seen what goes on ? 
I, who have the loving eyes of a mother ? Oh ! Bligh, I do not 
know if it is right for me to express my concern, but from the 
bottom of my heart I pity you. What cuts me to the quick is I 
blame myself for all that has happened. I ought to have 
guessed the truth and shielded you, instead of basely profiting 
by your misery." 

" Mother, what do you mean ? is your mind wandering ? " 

" Often I wish it would ; but, on the contrary, since this last 
illness I begin to see things clearly and as they are. Your 
marriage has all along been a great puzzle to me. There was 
something behind which I did not understand. I never thought 
you were a girl to marry a man for mere ease and position ; 
and yet I knew that you could not possibly be fond of Philip 
when you consented to become his wife. The match was 
brilliant from a worldly point of view, and I had no grounds for 
opposing it. Nevertheless, I was not content, and vainly 
sought a clue to your conduct. My blindness now seems nothing 
more nor less than crass stupidity ; for, oh ! my child, my 
child ! " and she held out her wasted arms, " I know, when too 



264 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

late, that you sacrificed yourself for me. To secure me a home you 
did violence to your best and most womanly instincts, and not 
a day, not an hour, passes by but what you pay for this loveless 
marriage with your heart's blood." 

" Mother, mother," cried Bligh, wildly, " you are ill and 
fancy all sorts of things." 

" Can you look me in the face and swear that what I say is 
not true ' No, you can't," she went on, as Bligh's troubled 
eyes sought the floor. " I was certain you could make no 
denial." 

" It is past and gone. Let us talk of something else," said 
Bligh, almost inaudibly. 

" I have never talked of it before, and I promise never to 
talk of it again," rejoined Mrs. Burton, with a pathetic quaver 
in her voice ; " but I shall die easier if you let me unburthen 
myself just for once. Words fail to express my sense of your 
devotion ; but, oh ! my darling girl, what cuts me like a knife is 
the knowledge that after all your self- surrender, all your filial 
love, the sacrifice has been made in vain. I was doomed from 
the first. Dearest, we must part. Something tells me I am not 
long for this earth, and I cannot bear the idea of leaving you 
friendless and alone in the power of a man who makes your life 
miserable and who is unworthy of you in every way. Ah ! " 
and she crushed the letter into a ball, " why did not this 
money come sooner ? A year ago it would have saved you. 
You and I could have lived comfortably on four hundred a 
year, and there would have been no question of a Sir Philip 
then." 

Bligh hid her face in her hands. Every word spoken by that 
pale invalid went quivering into the depths of her heart. They 
were too true to be contradicted, and she no longer attempted 
any denial. Yet she was annoyed with herself for having acted 
so badly that the secret, which she believed rigidly guarded, 
had been patent from the first. One more failure ! How they 
seemed to accumulate, and how utterly incapable she felt of 
further struggle. She tried to speak, but could not, and for a 
long time both mother and daughter remained silent, wrapped 
in painful thought. 

At last Mrs. Burton said — 

" I am going to send for a lawyer to-day, Bligh, to make my 
will. Nearly everything comes too late in this world — our 
knowledge, our experience, our repentance ; still, one never 
knows what may happen, and in spite of all your riches a little 
money of your own might be useful to you some day. You 
were married without settlements, and if — if the time should 
come when, in spite of your endurance and forbearance, you 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 265 

may have to leave your husband, then there will be enough to 
fall back upon when I am gone, my darling, and to place you 
above want." 

Bligh burst into passionate tears. Such language made her 
realise that the end was drawing very near, and her heart felt 
like a stone at the prospect. 

" Do — do — not talk of g — going," she sobbed. " I — I can- 
not — live — without you." 

Mrs. Burton smiled sadly. 

" We all think like that at first," she said. " I remember 
having the same thoughts when your father died ; but Time is a 
wonderful physician. Few people can resist his healing touch. 
He changes youth to age, love to indifference, sorrow to apathy, 
if not oblivion. It is the fashion to abuse old Time ; but for 
my part I consider we mortals owe him an immense debt of 
gratitude. If it were not for the gradual alteration to which all 
Nature is subject existence would not be possible. As matters 
stand at present if one cannot always laugh, neither can one 
always weep. It is the admixture of joy and grief, pain and 
ease, growth and decay, which renders life endurable." 

" Ah ! mother," cried Bligh, whose tenderer years rebelled 
against such argument, li what is the use of moralising ? The 
heart must always conquer philosophy whenever any contest 
arises between them, and reason will invariably succumb to the 
affections. When the pinch comes philosophy fails one and 
reason flies to the winds." 

" Age modifies one's views most wonderfully," said Mrs. 
Burton. 

" It will never modify mine," cried Bligh, passionately. " Oh ! 
mother, take me with you — take me with you. See, I kneel 
down and pray," suiting the action to the words. " Good God, 
when she goes have pity, and do not leave me behind." 

Mrs. Burton put out her hot hand and placed it lovingly on 
her daughter's head. The heart within her was big. 

" My darling," she said, " you have your appointed work to 
do. What it is, or how long it may last, I know not ; but this I 
do know : however hard may be the burden laid upon your 
shoulders you will bear it bravely, like the true, good woman 
that you are. Kiss me, Bligh. Kiss me, my own dear child. I 
stand on the threshold of death, and everything here below 
seems to grow vague and dark. My power of judgment goes as 
I perceive the littleness of human strife, of human cares and 
emotions. Love and hatred are much to the individual full of 
strength and vitality ; nothing to him who lies on a bed of sick- 
ness. Willingly would I help you, but I can't. Everyone must 
live and suffer for himself. Nevertheless, if there be a Deity, 



266 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

and the great scheme of creation is really the inspiration of a 
Divine brain, then those who have stood staunch, like loyal 
soldiers in the fight, may perhaps meet with reward, and earn 
the privilege of seeing their loved ones again. All the advice 
I can give you is — be honest, be strong, be true. Leave the 
rest to God." 

She fell back exhausted on her pillow, and this was the last 
long conversation which Bligh ever held with her mother. From 
that day the invalid sank rapidly. 

In the beginning of June, when the sweet red roses were 
warmly blushing amidst their green leaves, when the sun shone 
bright and powerful, and the earth was decked in the lovely garb 
of early summer, Mrs. Burton passed peacefully and quietly 
away. During the last fortnight she suffered but little pain, 
and the end came in sleep. 

Bligh bore up until after the funeral, and then she broke 
down completely. The strain of the last few weeks had been 
too severe, and she was worn out both bodily and mentally. 
She could not cry. She seemed sunk in a tearless apathy that 
numbed her senses and rendered her indifferent to the lapse of 
time. 

Whilst in this condition the pains of maternity came on prem- 
aturely, and she was confined of a boy, who only survived his 
birth a few hours. When the baby was placed by her side, 
slowly and hardly tears moistened her dry eyes. And the 
doctor, turning to Sir Philip, said in an undertone : " She is 
very ill ; but, thank God ! her reason is saved. If another four- 
and-twenty hours had gone by without any improvement taking 
place in her condition it would have been my duty to prepare 
you for the worst. Now, with care and good nursing she may 
pull through." 

Sir Philip was unused to sickness, and the sight of Bligh 
lying so wan and pale affected him. For several days he 
showed so much feeling as to quite take his mother by surprise. 
She was charmed at this evidence of his possessing a heart, and 
immediately forgave all the past. 

" You see," she said, triumphantly to Mrs. Fortescue, " there 
is more good in Philip than you ever believed." 

" Perhaps," replied that lady sceptically. " But how long 
will it show itself ? If you ask my candid opinion I consider 
he has treated his wife brutally." 

Lady Verschoyle had not asked her friend for her candid 
opinion ; so she answered spiritedly — 

" I hope Bligh s illness may make a change. I verily do be- 
lieve he is fond of her at bottom." 

Mrs. Fortescue's nose went up in the air. 



IVEDDKD TO SPORT. 267 

" Humph !" she exclaimed. "A pretty sort of fondness — • 
the kind of fondness which makes a woman wish she had never 
been born." 

'J 'he mother made no reply. The worst of Mrs. Fortescue's 
speeches was that there was always a sting of truth in them. 



CHAPTER XXXIII. 

A COWKSSION OI'' I'OI.I.Y. 

I'.i.if ;h seemed quite content to lie in bed day after day, and exhib- 
ited no desire or impatience to return to the ordinary routine 
of life. The fact was she hailed illness — anything — with relief 
which made a break in it. 

Nature, too, had been overtaxed, and required rest. For a 
while she succeeded in banishing thought, but directly her 
bodily weakness began to decrease mental activity returned, 
and she forced herself to face the future. Her mother's death 
rendered the horizon very dark. On all sides the clouds seemed 
to gather, and nowhere could she discern a ray of light. For 
years ISligh and the dead woman had been companions to one 
another. A perfect sympathy existed between them. They 
resembled two equals rather than mother and daughter, so 
completely had the elder lady identified herself with the tastes 
and aspirations of the younger. A lump rose in bligh's throat 
when she thought that never again should she look into the dear 
worn face, or hear the sound of the well-known voice. Every 
time she missed them a rush of sorrow flooded her being. At 
first she fretted much over the loss of her baby. If he had 
lived, life would not have seemed so dreary and empty. 

She possessed the maternal instinct in a high degree, and 
had always been devoted to children. To have a child of one's 
own had ever appeared to her the best gift which God could 
bestow on a woman ; but since her marriage her ideas on this 
subject had undergone a gradual alteration. She realised that 
children were a blessing or a curse, according to the parents 
from whom they were descended and the qualities and defects 
which they inherited. Also, that it was an awful thing for a 
helpless infant to be born into the world weighted from the 
very beginning by the vices of a bad father or mother. 

Consequently, when the baby died she forced back her tears, 
and said to herself — 



268 WEDDED TO SPORT. 



u - 



1 It is welL Better far that the poor mite should only be 
born to die than that he should live to grow up and be a 
drunkard. I think I should go mad if, in spite of every care 
and caution, the fatal propensity were, little by little, to develop 
itself in my son. I could not blame him. I could only pity 
him, and look on sorrowfully at the cruel results of hereditary 
transmission. Or the weakness of the father might display 
itself in another form, and attack my poor boy's brain. He 
might . be half-witted, or even a complete idiot, incapable of 
conducting his own affairs. There is no knowing in what way 
the drink would not break out, and every fresh symptom, every 
resemblance to the parent, no matter how slight, would make 
my heart bleed. Poor baby ! Poor, dear little baby ! Had 
you lived I could not have helped loving you, but things are 
best as they are. The wife of a drunkard has no right to the 
joys of motherhood, for it is a sin to perpetuate her husband's 
infirmity." 

A woman only reasons thus when she has received a scientific 
training, possesses sufficient intelligence to look ahead, and has 
been made strong by suffering. For however stem an element 
of truth this sort of philosophy contains, it must always go against 
the grain where a tender female heart is concerned. Bligh 
tried hard to believe that everything had been ordained for the 
best ; but the endeavour did not tend in any way to increase 
her happiness. The voice of Nature refused to be stifled. 
Meanwhile, she felt strangely listless and weak. Her whole 
system suffered from a nervous exhaustion which amounted 
almost to paralysis of the physical forces, and all the doctor s 
tonics proved powerless to restore her to strength. The mind 
was even more ill than the body, and certainly harder to 
cure. 

Generally Sir Philip went to town for the London season, 
and left Beechlands about the middle of May : but owing to the 
serious illness first of his mother-in-law and then of his wife, 
he stayed quietly in the country all through June, only 
running up for Ascot races, Sandown, or some very special 
entertainment. Time hung heavily on his hands. He had few 
resources within doors, and as soon as Bligh was well enough to 
leave her bed he began to get extremely restless and impatient. 
She perceived this, and at once guessed the cause. His home, 
without a bird to kill or fox to hunt, had no attractions for 
him 

"One might just as well be buried alive as stay vegetating 
here all through the summer," he said one day when they hap- 
pened to be alone. '■ Everybody is away, and one never sees a 
soul to speak to." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 2 6<) 

"That is the worst of a crack hunting county," she answered. 
" The society is more or less dependent on sport. If you are 
dull why don't you go to London ? You could easily live at your 
club, and get stabling for two or three horses to ride or drive. 
I am getting on nicely now, and it is a pity for you to stay here 
any longer boring yourself on my account." In making this 
suggestion she knew that it would chime in with his inclinations, 
and, personally, she dreaded the formal periodical visits which 
he paid to the sick room from duty, and duty alone. The mere 
sound of his boots creaking backwards and forwards, as he 
paced to and fro, had an irritating effect on her nerves during 
the trying stage of convalescence, and she was guiltily conscious 
that she should much prefer his absence to his presence. 

Sir Philip's face brightened. 

"Are you sure you won't mind my leaving you, Bligh ? " he 
asked, as a matter of form. 

She laughed ; a hard, little laugh. 

" Oh ! dear no. It's the greatest mistake in the world for 
married couples always to be glued to each other from one 
year's end to the other. A certain amount of change is not 
only good, but indispensable. The wise woman lets her hus- 
band go where he wants, for then he comes home civil and in 
a decent humour." 

" By Jove ! " he exclaimed. " It never struck me in that 
light before ; but I believe you are right." 

" I am certain I am," she answered, demurely. " You are 
tired to death of being here and playing the loving, anxious 
spouse. Why keep up the farce any longer ? Mrs. Grundy 
is quite satisfied with your conduct. You can do no good by 
remaining, and it only distresses me to think how much I have 
already interfered with your pleasures." 

She spoke with a thinly-veiled sarcasm, which cloaked an 
undercurrent of bitterness. He, however, failed to detect it. 
Her words agreed too well with his wishes for him to waste 
time in seeking after any hidden meaning. 

" Certainly, you have my mother and the nurse for company," 
he said, trying not to show his pleasure too openly ; " and in a 
few days I daresay the doctor will let you go out driving. So 
that, taking all things into consideration, I really think I might 
go away for a little bit." 

" I think so too," she agreed gravely. 

" Well, then, I'll write to the hall porter at my club and ask 
him if he can get me a room anywhere handy. Now that Ascot 
is over, town won't be quite so full as it was ; but I shall wait 
until I receive an answer, just to make sure of having comfort- 
able Quarters." 



270 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

The following morning's post, however, brought a letter 
which materially hastened Sir Philip's departure. He was 
sitting at breakfast, opposite to his mother, when he received it, 
and, as he recognised the handwriting, a sudden flush suffused 
his whole countenance. 

" By Jove ! " he exclaimed, examining the envelope. " This 
is a funny thing ! Here is a letter from Blanche, and without 
the Indian postmark." 

Lady A^erschoyle looked up quickly, whilst her heart sank 
with a presentiment of evil. 

" Nonsense, Philip," she said ; " it can't be." 

" It is though," he rejoined, breaking open the seal. " Satisfy 
yourself if you like." And he tossed her the envelope and pro- 
ceeded to make himself master of its contents. He had scarcely 
read more than the first few words when his mother, who was 
watching him narrowly, saw the expression of his face change. 

" Well ! " she inquired, nervously, " what is Blanche's news ? " 

" You would hardly believe it, but she is in England. She 
arrived in London last night." 

" Oh ! Philip. You don't say so. What can have brought 
her back ? " 

" I haven't the least idea." 

" Depend upon it, something has gone wrong between her and 
Colonel Vansittart. Dear, oh ! dear ! I would not have had 
this happen for a thousand pounds." 

" You don't know that it has happened yet. Blanche does 
not condescend to enter into details." 

" May I see the letter? " 

" Oh ! yes, certainly, if you like. There is nothing in it 
beyond the bare announcement of her return." 

Lady Yerschoyle took up the note which her son threw across 
the table, and read as follows : — 

" My dear Philip— You will be surprised to hear that I am 
here again. I reached London this afternoon, and for the 
present have taken up my abode at 356, Ebury Street — a 
respectable lodging-house which I used to patronise in the 
olden days. Come and see me soon, there's a good fellow, and 
by so doing prove that you no longer bear me any ill-will. My 
departure from India was rather hurried, else I should have 
apprised you of it beforehand. Explanations, however, will wait 
till we meet. With love to the aunt — I remain, dear Philip, 
" Your affectionate cousin, 

" Blanche Vansittart." 

" I feel certain that there is something strange about- tl-.wbusi- 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 271 

ness," said Lady Verschoyle, when she came to an end of her 
niece's letter. " What do you mean to do, Philip ? Shall you 
go and see her ? " 

" Most decidedly. I had not intended running up to town 
until Monday ; but now I shall pack up and be off this after- 
noon by the 2.45 train. It's just like Blanche to set us wonder- 
ing, rather than mention what brings her back in this unexpected 
fashion." 

Lady Verschoyle compressed her lips into a thin line. 

" I should not be at all surprised if she were ashamed to tell 
us the reason," she said, with unusual asperity. 

Sir Philip took exception to his mother's tone. 

" There you go again, mother," he said. " Really, for a good, 
blameless Christian woman professing all the virtues, you are 
about the most uncharitable person I ever met. Every now 
and then you fairly astonish me by the severity of your judg- 
ments. For goodness' sake, whilst I am away don't go filling 
Bligh's head full with all sorts of ridiculous tales told at poor 
Blanche's expense." 

" Is it likely I should do such a thing, Philip ? " 

" It strikes me you are quite capable of it, and I don't want 
Bligh prejudiced against Blanche, for the chances are I shall 
bring her back here to stay on a visit." 

"Would that be advisable?" asked Lady Verschoyle, 
uneasily. 

" Yes, of course ; why not ? With the exception of yourself, 
Blanche is the nearest relation I have, and the only one I care 
twopence about ; and if she's in trouble or anything of that sort 
I shall certainly stand by her. For all we know to the contrary, 
the poor girl may be ill, and have had to leave India on account 
of her health." 

" Other people's wives go to the hills," observed Lady Ver- 
schoyle. 

" They may go to the devil for what I care. That is quite 
apart from the question. As I said before, Blanche is my 
cousin, and I intend to do the best I can for her, always provid- 
ing she has got into hot water, which you seem to take for 
granted, but which I don't for one moment believe." 

"Very well. We shall see who is right." 

" Nothing is more natural than that Blanche should write to 
me," he went on with considerable warmth ; " and for you to 
judge her without even hearing what story she has to tell is, to 
say the least of it, very unkind, mother. Indeed, if that is all 
the good you get by going twice to church every Sunday of 
your life you might just as well stay at home, and be a jolly, 
comfortable sinner like the rest of us. You pious people are 



272 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

awfully disappointing, for when it comes to the test you are 
not one whit better than your neighbours." 

A faint flush rose to Lady Verschoyle's cheek. Rude as 
was the reproof an inward voice whispered that it was not des- 
titute of truth. Her heart was set against Blanche, and had 
always been so from the first. The instinct of antipathy which 
existed between her and her niece was too strong to be con- 
quered ; but she realised with shame that it undoubtedly de- 
tracted from her sense of justice. She was by nature an ex- 
tremely humble woman, ever ready to admit her own faults. 
So instead of feeling any anger at her son's speech she folded 
her hands and answered meekly — 

" You are right to reprove me, Philip. In future I will en- 
deavour to be more charitable, and place a stricter guard over 
my tongue. I don't know why, but I am afraid of Blanche, 
and still more so of her coming here." 

" Pshaw ! that's absurd. She is married, and so am I. What 
in the name of Heaven is there to fear ? " 

" I can*t explain " 

'■ Xo, I should think not, nor anyone else either. Let's have 
no more of this folly, and remember the less you say about 
Blanche in my absence the better. Not that Bligh is jealous. 
I will give her that credit ; but, still, women are so odd one 
never quite knows how they may receive their husbands' for- 
mer flames." 

Lady Verschoyle held her peace. She felt that argument 
was vain, and would not help to improve her daughter-in-law's 
cause. 

On the afternoon of the same day Sir Philip wished his 
mother and Bligh an affable good-bye, and gave them to 
understand that his return was uncertain, and departed with 
a light heart. Bligh had guessed his sentiments exactly. He 
was sick to death of the humdrum existence which he had been 
leading during the last few weeks, and he looked forward with 
the keenness of a schoolboy to once more having what he 
called " a fling." 

Time had softened the resentment which some months pre- 
viously he had felt against his cousin, and it startled him not a 
little to find how much he rejoiced at the prospect of seeing 
her again. If she had really quarrelled with her husband he 
was quite prepared to take her under his wing. It gratified 
him to think that his words were being fulfilled, and that directly 
things went wrong she was only too ready to apply to him. 
Representing as he did the head of the family, no doubt it was 
only right and proper for her to seek his aid in the event of 
any difficulty arising. Nevertheless, his heart beat fast as any 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 273 

lover's when, somewhere about six o'clock, he knocked at the 
door of the house in Ebury Street and was informed that Mrs. 
Vansittart was within. In order to guard against a possible 
disappointment he had taken the precaution to send off a tele- 
gram prior to leaving the country. An untidy maid-servant 
showed him up a dingy staircase, about which there lingered a 
faint, but offensive, odour of cooking. He drew two or three 
deep breaths, striving to suppress his excitement, and in an- 
other moment was ushered into Blanche's presence. 

The room was small and dark, and the blinds were drawn 
down in order to exclude the sun ; but light enough remained 
for him to see how greatly she had altered from the Blanche of 
his recollections. Her form had lost its roundness, her cheeks 
their freshness. There was no longer anything girlish about 
her ; and yet her dark eyes were more luminous than of old, 
and he fancied that the expression of the thin white face turned 
eagerly towards him was softened and more womanly. 

" Good God ! " he exclaimed, involuntarily. " How you 
have changed ! I declare if I had met you in the streets 
I should hardly have known you." 

She gave a mirthless laugh. 

" You don't think me improved, evidently. Well ! " and she 
gazed at him critically, " I can return the compliment. Time 
has not been much kinder to you than to me. What have 
you done to yourself, Philip ? " 

" Nothing," he rejoined, not relishing the tone of the conver- 
sation. " What should I do ? " 

" Matrimony does not appear to have agreed with you alto- 
gether," she retorted, a trifle maliciously. 

" The same remark applies to you. May I ask what has 
brought you to England, Blanche ? Have you been ill ? " 

" No," she answered, fidgeting with her wedding ring. '" Not 
exactly. The climate did not suit me, and I had a touch of 
fever once or twice when the weather set in hot. Still, I man- 
aged to rub on as well as most people, and I can't honestly say 
I left India on account of my health. Understand me, I am 
telling you this in strict confidence. Can I trust you, Philip ? " 

" My dear Blanche, you know that you can. Who should you 
trust if not me?" 

She shrugged her shoulders with a somewhat unbelieving 
gesture. 

" Being where I am," she said, " I must try the experiment." 

" You speak in enigmas. Tell me first of all why you came 
home." 

" Can't you guess ? " 

" A row ? " 



274 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

She nodded her head. 

" Yes. The long and short of it is I was never cut out for 
matrimony. Domestic life does not suit me. I found it too 
confining, and wanted more liberty than my estimable colonel 
was willing to grant." 

" You don't mean to say " began Sir Philip. 

She cut him short, whilst the colour mounted to her dark 
cheek. 

" I mean nothing of the sort. If you will only abstain from 
placing the very worst construction upon my actions, I am pre- 
pared to tell you the whole story ; not," she added, cynically, 
" that it is a very pleasant or edifying one." 

" Never mind," seating himself on the sofa by her side. " Let 
me hear what it is." 

She turned towards him, and as her heavy-lidded eyes sought 
his he no longer saw an unfamiliar Blanche with faded beauty, 
but the woman who had ever had it in her power to cast a glam- 
our over his senses. He respected Bligh, and was afraid of 
her. He did not respect his cousin, and felt comfortable and 
ai. his ease in her society. This thought occurred to him as the 
yellow sunlight peeping in through a hole in the blind played 
spasmodically on Blanche's neatly-coiled hair. It was ever so 
much jollier being with somebody who did not perpetually want 
to keep one in order and look as if everything one did was 
wrong. 

•• Philip," she began, '• you know me better than most people, 
and are aware of the reasons which induced me to marry my 
present husband. When we last met I told you that my mar- 
riage was neither more nor less than a pure experiment. Well ! " 
and the corners of her mouth drooped rather pathetically, "the 
experiment has failed, that is all. It is a common enough expe- 
rience;, and I fancy there are a good many other people in the 
same boat as myself. I don't suppose I am any worse off than 
my neighbours." So saying she stifled a sigh, and leant her 
head defiantly back against the cushions. 

'•Whose fault was it, Blanche ? '' he inquired. " Vansittart's 
or yours ? "' 

•• That is a difficult question to answer. If you ask my candid 
opinion, I should say neither Our temperaments alone are to 
blame. Weldon is strict, upright, and honourable to a degree. 
His nature is calm and judicial. He takes things easily enough 
up to a certain point, and regards the majority of his fellow- 
creatures with charitable indifference ; but where any principle 
is involved he is as firm as a rock, and nothing can modify his 
ideas of right and wrong. I am just the reverse in every way. 
I hate a quiet, monotonous life." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 275 

" You never were one of the stagnant sort," said Sir Philip. 

" No, nor never shall be. I like plenty of bustle, excitement, 
and amusement, and have always been accustomed to male 
society. Women at best are but dull companions, and I don't 
profess to care much for my own sex. Unfortunately, I can no 
more help flirting than I can help eating or drinking. A man 
acts upon me like a stimulant. Am I frank ? " 

" Perfectly ! " he answered, with an amused smiie. 

" As I said before," she continued, " it is a pure matter of 
temperament. To give Weldon his due, he was very long-suffer- 
inLr, and allowed me more liberty than most women. But India 
is a bad place for feminine morals, and, I regret to say, mine 
were already impaired before I left home. However, to go on 
with my story. Having nothing particular to do I set to work 
to gain the affections of several of the idle officers. It amused 
me, did them no particular harm, and passed away the time. 
Out there it is the fashion of every married lady to have a de- 
voted cavalier, who walks with her, rides with her, and dances 
with her. I had at least half a dozen. They were like lap-dogs 
running about the house, and, to tell the truth, I cared no more 
for them than if they had belonged to the canine species. It 
was all vanity on my part, and wanting to cut the other women 
out. My good colonel behaved uncommonly well. He did not 
exactly relish having his home turned into a kind of lounge for 
a lot of idiotic young men, but I suppose he thought there was 
safety in numbers. At all events, he said nothing, and, like an 
obliging husband, calmly accepted the part of cipher and nonen- 
tity. I must say I wondered at him sometimes, and wished he 
would show a little more spirit. 

" I should have kicked every man jack of them out of the 
house," interposed Sir Philip. 

Blanche laughed. 

" I daresay you would ; but Weldon is not so jealously con- 
stituted. Like a fool I did my best to provoke him. I said to 
myself, ' He hasn't a scrap of feeling, and does not care two 
straws what I do ! ' So I went on playing with fire, until one 
fine day I got burnt. One always does in the long run. No 
woman can meddle with combustible material without ending 
by being singed, and I was not an exception to the rule." 

" What happened, Blanche ? " 

" Nothing very tragic. A new regiment arrived at the station, 
and the major happened to be an awfully nice man, who consoled 
me for the loss of my old ' pals.' We soon made friends, and 
before long were almost inseparable. I don't attempt to defend 
myself. I was not a bit in love with him, but I liked him and — "' 
cVip H^cit-^tiari -inri i-.i .,tiit>/4 tK.^ -rifled abruptly, ' c we flirted to 



276 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

a very considerable extent. He was no novice at the game, 
neither was I. On either side we played at sentiment. Things 
went on thus until one night at a ball Weldon overheard some 
beast of a woman making disagreeable remarks at my expense 
and tearing my poor character to shreds. One always has to 
thank one's own sex for setting the match to the fire. The con- 
sequence was, when we got home the colonel rounded upon me, 
and said, in a quiet voice, which somehow I had learnt to dread : 
' Blanche, I have borne a good deal. I do not think you can 
accuse me of being unreasonably jealous or of curtailing your 
liberty of action in a masterful and domineering way ; but, as a 
personal favour, I must ask you to drop the acquaintance of 
Major FitzAllan.' 

" I could feel the colour rising to my cheeks as I answered 
indignantly, ' I shall do no such thing.' 

" ' It came to my ears to-day,' he said, ' that you are being 
spoken of in a manner injurious to the fame of a modest 
woman.' 

" ' Of what do you accuse me ? ' I asked fiercely. 

" He laid his hand on my shoulder and looked at me with sor- 
rowful eyes, which I fancy I can see now." And, putting her 
handkerchief to her face, Blanche sat silent for a few seconds, 
her thoughts reverting to the past. 

" Well ? " said .Sir Philip, anxious to hear the sequel to her 
narrative. 

" ' My poor child,' said Weldon, gently, ' I accuse you of noth- 
ing worse than vanity and an undue love of admiration. Don't 
imagine for one instant that I am bringing any more serious 
charge against you. It is for your own sake, and to shield your 
reputation, that I speak.' 

" Good (iod ! how his words cut into my heart. I experienced 
a horrible inclination to run away and hide my diminished head. 
If only he had given me a good scolding I shouldn't have felt half 
such a fool. To save myself from abject defeat I took refuge 
in pride. Instead of confessing my innocence, which, thank 
Heaven ! I could have done with a clear conscience, I answered 
haughtily, ' And do you suppose that I'm going to cut my best 
friend for no reason except that you choose to harbour unworthy 
suspicions against him ? No, certainly not. If I renounced 
Major FitzAllan's acquaintance it would only give them con- 
firmation.' 

" ' Can't you see,' he retorted, ' that, whether guilty or unguilty, 
from the moment a woman's fair name is attacked it is not merely 
wise policy, but also her duty, to set herself right with the world 
again.' 

" ' Rubbish ! ' I exclaimed pettishly, ' What do I cqrp n^out 



'.ID TO SPORT. 



277 



the world ? The world in this instance means that horrid Mrs. 
O'Hara, who is as jealous of me as she can be, and half a dozen 
other old cats of the same description.' 

" ' Don't run down your own sex, Blanche,' he said. ' Noth- 
ing sounds worse, particularly when you happen to be altogether 
in the wrong. In the present unfortunate state of affairs the 
world means your husband, who is bound to consider your good 
name, even if you decline to do so yourself.' 

" ' What nonsense, Weldon,' I said. ' Please cut your lecture 
short.' 

" ' You may call it nonsense if you like,' he returned ; ' but I 
give you distinctly to understand that you must choose between 
Major FitzAllan and me.' " 

" By Jove ! " interrupted Sir Philip, " I think Vansittart was 
right." 

" Right ! " she exclaimed, with a curl of her short upper lip. 
" Of course he was. That's the worst of him. He's always 
right, and I'm always wrong. Do you suppose I am not aware 
of the fact without having it crammed down my throat ? 
However, to finish this nice little story of wifely folly and per- 
versity. From that day, just out of pure ' cussedness,' I flirted 
worse than ever with Major FitzAllan. You mayn't believe me, 
Philip, but there was nothing in it more than I am telling you. 
The man was good-looking, specious, agreeable, and I found 
his society pleasant. There are some women so constituted 
that they cannot help doing foolish things, and it is my misfor- 
tune to be one of them. We get the name of being worse than 
we really are. Not to weary you with too many details, the end 
was Weldon and I had a tremendous row. Once more he 
begged me to give up FitzAllan, and again I refused. Upon 
this he declared that if I insisted on pursuing a course incon- 
sistent with his honour he should be under the painful neces- 
sity of leaving me. I replied that he need not give himself 
the trouble, since I was perfectly willing to leave him. With- 
out my husband's knowledge, I packed up a few things, 
travelled down to Bombay and," she concluded, casting down 
her eyes, "here I am." 

" It strikes me you've made a precious mess of it, Blanche," 
said Sir Philip. "What between your flirting and your pride 
you've managed to get into the wrong box. May I ask what 
steps you propose taking next? " 

" I don't know," she answered dejectedly, for even in her own 
ears her story had not sounded well. 

" H'm ! Are you sure you did not care for this Major Fitz- 
Allan ? " 

" Care for him ! " she echoed, and all at once her voice lost its 



278 



HJ^JJUILJJ 1U SJ^UKl. 



hard intonation, and grew soft and tremulous. '• Don't you 
understand ? How dull you are ! It is the colonel whom I 
love." 

" The colonel ! " exclaimed Sir Philip, fairly amazed. 

" Yes. He is such a man and a gentleman. If you could 
have seen him when he said he should leave me ! He was 
splendid. I never realised how much I honoured and respected 
him until that moment. He was so strong, so stern. It was 
just touch and go whether I threw myself at his feet or came 
away." 

Sir Philip looked at her curiously. Even although he had 
heard the confession from her own lips he refused to credit it. 

" Blanche," he said, " you are a perfect mystery to me." 

" I am not surprised at that, for I am a mystery to myself." 

" Do you mean seriously to tell me that, loving your husband, 
you flirted with all these men as an amusement, and nothing 
more ? " 

'•Yes; it seems incredible, doesn't it? But I believe there 
are a great many women like me. I don't pretend to say that 
we are nice, or calculated to make good wives and mothers, but 
we cannot help ourselves. And when we marry men who are 
our superiors it simply means purgatory for both, for we are 
not so bad as to be incapable of appreciating their virtues, and 
yet we are too frivolous to remain faithful to the highest when 
we see it. Consequently, we flutter about like butterflies, here, 
there, and everywhere." Then, suddenly, she stood up, stretched 
out both her hands like a person groping for the light, and with tears 
glistening in her eyes, said, " Don't scold me, Philip. I know I 
am altogether to blame in this matter. Pity me rather, for I've 
been a fool, and am very, very miserable." 

He put his arm round her waist, and kissed her in a friendly, 
cousinly fashion. 

" Nonsense, old girl ; you are tired after your journey, and 
consequently feel down in the clumps. I intend to look after 
you and cheer you up. We'll see the season out, and then we'll 
run down to Beechlands, have some jolly rides together, and 
put a little colour into those pale cheeks of yours." 

His confident tone did much to restore Blanche to a more hope- 
ful mood, and she began to take a less gloomy view of the situa- 
tion. 

" Thank you, Philip," she said. '" You are very kind. I was 
afraid you might cut me after my marriage." 

He reddened consciously. 

" It was a great mistake," he said. '• You and I were always 
meant for each other. However, what's done can't be undone." 

" Are you happy ? " she asked. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 279 

" Me ? Oh ! yes, I suppose so. My wife is a good little thing, 
only rather too straightlaced. And now I must be off, for I've 
promised to dine at my club with a man. I'll take tickets for 
the theatre to-morrow, and we'll go and see the new burlesque 
at the Gaiety. By the way, if you should happen to meet any 
of our old friends say you've been ill, and are home on sick 
leave. It's no use letting all the world know you've squabbled 
with Vansittart. I shan't even tell my mother. The less said 
about these sorts of things the better." So saying he kissed her 
again and departed. 

Blanche went to the window and watched him walk down 
the street. 

" Poor Philip ! " she said to herself. " He's not to be com- 
pared with Weldon ; but I like him very much indeed. I always 
did ; and it's a great satisfaction to feel that I've got him on my 
side. I wonder whether he cares for me still, or whether he's 
only friendly because he has got over the mortification of being 
refused." Then she smiled, looked coquettishly at her reflec- 
tion in the glass, and added, " I daresay I shall find out before 
long." 



CHAPTER XXXIV. 

MRS. FORTESCUE GIVES HER OPINIONS. 

Blanche was perfectly correct in her supposition. Little as it 
may say in favour of our nineteenth century morals, the fact 
remains undoubted that lively married women, who wear the 
chains of Hymen lightly, prove extremely attractive to the 
ordinary run of fashionable men. In every ballroom and at 
every race meeting one sees them surrounded, whereas some 
nice, quiet, modest girl sits totally neglected in a corner, sadly 
making mental observations as to the uselessness of being well 
behaved in an age when virtue is decidedly at a discount. It is 
not exactly encouraging for her to look on, and see what a good 
innings frivolity — not to say vice — has nowadays. Her notions 
of right and wrong get strangely upset when she mixes in the 
gay world. 

In less than a fortnight after Blanche's return to England, she 
made the pleasing discovery that Sir Philip was a hundred times 
more in love with her than he had ever been during the 
many years when all he had had to do was to speak in order to 
assure himself of her affection. 

Every morning he was to be seen at her side, walking or sit- 



If JZ.JJJJILMJ ±\J Ori/Aj 



ting in Rotten-row. He sent to Beechlands for horses, mounted 
her on his wife's special pet. King Arthur, and they rode to- 
gether most afternoons ; whilst at night they dined at the various 
cafe's, and afterwards went to the theatres. 

Blanche enjoyed herself immensely, and sought by perpetual 
excitement to chase dismal thoughts from her mind. At first 
she was rejoiced to find how well she succeeded. After several 
month's banishment to India, it was delightful to be in England 
again, if only to take stock of the fashions. Her friends (believ- 
ing her tale of ill health) were all excessively civil, and professed 
themselves charmed to see her back in her native land. Being 
a handsome, striking-looking woman, unencumbered moreover 
by a better half, she was asked out a good deal and she thor- 
oughly appreciated the value of having a settled social position. 
For the last year or two previous to her marriage she had become 
aware that people were beginning to right shy of her as a parasitic 
young woman no longer in her first youth. Consequently she 
had been forced continually to make new acquaintances in order 
to atone for being dropped by the old. An independent girl's 
life may appear very smooth and enviable on the surface, but 
Blanche had reason to know that it is not unconnected with 
struggle and strife. The prizes in the matrimonial market are 
few and far between. They cannot be gained without trouble. 
A great many smiles, wiles and smart frocks go to catch a hus- 
band. There is a terrible amount of hard work and expense 
about the proceeding, and small wonder if the fair pursuers are 
downhearted. But when their man-hunting days are over, and 
a brand-new wedding ring shines on their finger, then, surely, 
they have a right to rest on their laurels, and enjoy the status 
which by dint of much labour they have achieved. 

The cousins stayed on in London until the season came to an 
end ; after which they received invitations both for Goodwood 
and Cowes. If a man and a woman are always seen in each 
other's company, people soon drop into the way of asking them 
out together. Their friends were so kind that August was far 
advanced before Philip and Blanche arrived at Beechlands. 
In the interval neither Bligh nor Lady Verschoyle was kept 
very accurately informed of the baronet's movements. The 
dowager guessed pretty accurately what her son was about, but 
she was afraid to say anything after his parting injunctions and 
the reproof which he had seen lit to administer. As a rule, Sir 
Philip went to Scotland for the twelfth, but for once his cousin 
had not been included in the invitation, and he wrote off and 
excused himself . The truth was, things had come to such a pass 
with him that he did not care to go anywhere unless she went 
too. They had resumed their former intimate footing, with 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 28 1 

this difference. Whereas, in olden days he had been cool and 
she keen ; now, the warmth was all on his side, and she, although 
llattcrcd and gratified by his attentions, remained heart-whole. 
To a great extent she treated him as a convenience; and she 
never scrupled to accept his presents, ride his horses, and profit 
by his longer purse. Her pride was not of the refined sort, 
which recoils from receiving benefits, and would rather give than 
take. Philip was eminently useful to her. She did not mince 
the matter, or hesitate to benefit by his generosity. 

liligh had heard the story of her husband's attachment to his 
cousin from Mrs. Kortescuc ; but hers was not a jealous nature, 
and she looked forward to Tranche's coining rather with curiosity 
than dread. The Dowager Lady Verschoyle, on the other hand, 
was ill at ease, and tortured by a presentiment of evil, which, do 
what she would, six; could not shake off. All through the sum- 
mer months she and liligh had seen a great deal of each other, 
and every day the elder lady felt more and more attracted by 
the solid, sterling qualities of her young companion, and con- 
ceived a higher admiration for her character. Unconsciously 
she stood in danger of transferring her affections from her son 
to her daughter-in-law. She knew how much liligh had to 
contend with, and how little domestic happiness blessed her 
home. Since the baby's birth liligh had never been strong, and 
now to her other troubles was added the crowning one of physical 
ill-health. 

Lady Verschoyle tried hard to receive her niece with a show 
of welcome, but inwardly she wished her a thousand miles 
away. She endeavoured to stifle her fears, but it soon became 
evident they were only too well founded ; for the moment 
lilanche set foot inside lieechlands, liligh ceased to be the 
mistress of it. A single day sufficed to show that it was 
lilanche whose opinion was consulted on every point, Jilanche 
whose word was law in the establishment. 

Hitherto Sir Philip, when sober, had always been in the 
habit of paying his wife some slight deference ; but now he 
threw aside the mask, and when his cousin was by ignored her 
presence completely. Jf liligh made a remark he did not listen 
to it. He addressed himself pointedly to lilanche, and had 
eyes and ears only for her. As for Mrs. Vansittart, without 
being positively rude, or actually unkind to her hostess, she 
treated her with ill-disguised disdain. Her manner seemed to 
say — " You are and always will be a little nobody. Don't ex- 
pect me to bother much about you. I am Philip's friend, not 
yours. It was absurd his making you Lady Verschoyle. He 
liked me best, and regrets having made such a fool of himself. 
You'd better keep quiet, for the two of us together arc too much 



282 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

for you." Meanwhile, Bligh's delicacy was eagerly seized upon 
by Sir Philip as an excuse for neglecting her. Whenever they 
were asked to go anywhere, it was always — " Oh ! my poor wife 
is a great invalid at present. She gets knocked up directly, and 
can't do anything except lie on the sofa, or take a little quiet 
drive ; but if you'll allow me, I'll bring my cousin instead. 
I think you know Mrs. Vansittart. She often stayed at Beech- 
lands when she was Miss Sylvester." 

The consequence of these tactics was " my cousin " stepped 
into Bligh's shoes, and usurped her place ; whilst " my poor 
wife " stayed meekly at home, only too glad, if the truth must 
be told, to be left in peace and quiet, yet vaguely resenting the 
off-hand treatment- of which she was a victim. 

Blanche and Sir Philip possessed a good many tastes in 
common, which still further helped to bring them together. 
They were both devoted to outdoor amusements, and were never 
so happy as when scampering about the country on horseback. 
They liked lounging away their idle hours in the stable, retiring 
to the saddle-room and smoke cigarettes, and quenching the 
thirst thus occasioned by numerous potations. The lady took 
as kindly to the drink as the gentleman, only, fortunately for 
herself, she happened to have the stronger head. Their con- 
versation suited almost as well as their inclinations, and was 
interlarded by so many awfully jollys, beastlys, rippings, don't 
yer knows, and I don't care a hangs, that an uninitiated listener 
had great difficulty in following their discourse, or in sifting 
from such a running stream of slang any slight sediment of 
sense. They both belonged to the fashionable school, which in 
these days has so many pupils, and which makes the past 
generation turn up the whites of their eyes with horror. 

As the days passed Lady Verschoyle the elder grew more and 
more uneasy. She could not disguise the fact that Bligh was 
being abominably treated, and her gentle heart swelled with 
indignation. 

" I can't think how she can stand it," she said one day, when 
speaking of her daughter-in-law to Mrs. Fortescue. " I'm sure 
I couldn't sit still, as she does, and hold my tongue were I in her 
place." 

" Bligh is a very superior woman," answered Mrs. Fortescue. 
" I have the greatest regard for her, but, all the same, I agree 
with you. She puts up with too much. A time comes when 
one's self-respect is trampled upon if one does not assert one- 
self. The difficulty is to know where to draw the line." 

" Bligh is marvellously easy-going," responded Lady Ver- 
schoyle, " and although most women would be furious at being 
treated with such scant courtesy, she doesn't seem to care." 



WEDDED TO SPOR T. 



*Z 



" If she doesn't it's a very bad sign. Human nature is 
human nature, and no wife likes seeing her husband make love 
to another woman right under her nose. Even if her affections 
are not deeply involved, it puts her in a false position, and 
lowers her both in her own estimation and that of the house- 
hold. Such conduct on the man's part outrages her finest 
feelings and destroys her ideals respecting chastity and the 
sanctity of married life. Either she takes a leaf out of his 
book, and sets up an opposition attraction, just to show she 
does not care, and can find admirers too, or else she seeks to 
hide the bitterness at her heart by turning the whole thing into 
ridicule. I have seen both plans tried, but neither is very suc- 
cessful as far as the poor wife is concerned. In one case she 
loses caste ; in the other she grows hard and cynical, takes pes- 
simistic views of society, and becomes unduly harsh in her 
judgments of her own sex." 

" I fear you are right," said Lady Verschoyle, with a sigh. 
" Bligh is not a flirty woman. She does not care enough about 
men to run after them, and, indeed, despises the great majority 
of aimless, self-indulgent creatures by whom Philip surrounds 
himself ; but no doubt she might harden. I often wonder that 
she has kept as soft and womanly as she is, when one comes to 
know her. Nevertheless, her manner with strangers is very 
reserved, and often she does not do herself justice." 

" The society is not congenial," said Mrs. Fortescue, dryly. 

" No, I suppose net. I have felt the same thing myself, and 
then we both take refuge in our shells." 

" You should put out your horns, my dear, and fight." 

" Perhaps it would be better, but neither Bligh nor I is 
aggressive ; though I confess that sometimes my blood fairly 
tingles at the affronts showered upon her at her own table. 
She bears it all so beautifully too." 

" Still waters run deep," said Mrs. Fortescue. " No man can 
insult a woman with impunity. You mark my words, she'll 
resent Sir Philip's conduct some day ; and when she does break 
out, she'll surprise him." 

" Sometimes I think she has no feeling," remarked Lady 
Verschoyle. " I can't account for her endurance in any other 
way." 

" No feeling ! " echoed Mrs. Fortescue. " Bligh got no feel- 
ing ! She may not care for her husband— indeed, I don't see 
how she can — but, depend upon it, he does not utter a single 
rude word, or commit one unkind action, which she does not 
feel." 

" Poor Bligh ! I wish I could help her," said Lady Ver- 
schoyle, regretfully. 



284 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" You can't, my dear. Things are gravitating towards a 
crisis, as they do periodically in the lives of all of us. A 
climax is sure to take place before long. Any ordinary onlooker 
can see that much ; but interference would only precipitate it. 
Besides I have an idea that matters are not altogether as 
unsatisfactory as you imagine." 

" In what way, Anne ? I fail to see how they could be much 
worse." 

" Have you watched Blanche narrowly of late ? " 

" No. I dislike her so much that I keep out of her way as 
much as possible." 

" Well, I have, and in my opinion she is very much changed." 

" She looks older, of course, and sallower " 

" I don't mean that," interrupted Mrs. Fortescue. " I mean 
changed mentally." 

" I only wish she were. She seems to me to be much the 
same as ever," said Lady Verschoyle. 

" I admit that she is still fast, and slangy, and flirty. A few 
months have not sufficed to eradicate the habits of years ; never- 
theless, my impression is that, although there is yet room for 
much improvement, she is on the right road. To begin with, I 
am almost certain that she has got over her unfortunate passion 
for Philip. He cares for her nowadays, but she doesn't for him 
— at least not in the same way as formerly." 

" Impossible, Anne ! " 

'' No, I think not ; and you are so innocent, my dear Lady 
Verschoyle, that very often you don't see what goes on beneath 
the surface. I bring an unprejudiced eye to bear on the situ- 
ation." 

" And is this really the result of your observations ? " 

" Yes. Blanche told me the other day that she had written 
to her husband, and was anxiously expecting to hear from him, 
and she said it in a way, and there was a sad look on her face, 
which made me feel certain that she cared for him." 

" I wish she did," said Lady Verschoyle, impatiently. " She'd 
leave Philip alone then and go respectably back to India." 

'•Unless I'm very much mistaken that is precisely what she 
wants to do," responded Mrs. Fortescue. 

" But in that case how do you account for her being so ex- 
traordinarily thick with Philip ? " 

" I believe her to be a born coquette, who can't help trying to 
captivate every man she comes across, and I further believe that 
she takes a cat-like delight in punishing him for all he made her 
suffer in the olden days. She is cured of her love, however ; of 
that I am positive." 

" Thank God ! " exclaimed Lady Verschoyle, fervently. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



28 S 



" Would you advise me to speak to Blanche, and beg her to be 
a little more courteous in her manner to Bligh ? " 

" I am afraid it would do more harm than good. Mrs. Van- 
sittart is the last person in the world either to accept advice or 
to brook any interference. If I were you, I should just leave 
things alone for a bit. Either Blanche will return to India, or 
else she and Sir Philip will fall out. This fervid pitch of friend- 
ship can't be maintained, and if matters are as I suspect, some- 
thing is bound to cool it before long. I have seen a good many 
of these flirtations between married people in my time, and they 
nearly all end the same way, if only the parties are given rope 
enough to hang themselves with. Very few men are capable of 
constant passion, and Philip certainly does not belong to their 
number." 

" He has liked Blanche for a good many years," said Lady 
Verschoyle, retrospectively. 

" Possibly, but has he given up anything for her sake, or made 
the slightest sacrifice on her account ? He is much too selfish 
to get a black mark set against his name for the love of any 
woman. He may make you and his wife miserable, and trifle 
with the object of his affections, but he'll never commit himself 
beyond a certain point. He covets his cousin now, because she 
happens to be out of his reach ; whilst she, womanlike, enjoys 
playing at the game of tit for tat." 

" Pray Heaven you may be right," said Lady Verschoyle, feel- 
ing very much comforted by her friend's assurances. " It seems 
horrid of me to side against my own son, but Bligh is such an 
angel I can't help feeling sorry for her, and wishing it were in 
my power to render her life happier than it is." 

Mrs. Fortescue shook her head. 

" I fear that having chosen her lot, we none of us can make 
it brighter. Life is a strange puzzle, and when we poor mortals 
attempt to put the pieces together, we always get wrong ; but I 
suppose there is One above who knows how to fit the crooked 
bits, and smooth away all the inequalities." 



CHAPTER XXXV 

THE WORM WILL TURN. 



Once more the 1st of September came round, and on the after- 
noon of that day Bligh was sitting alone indoors. Her mother- 
in-law was pottering about the garden, snipping at every faded 
blossom with a huge pair of scissors ; whilst Sir Philip and 



286 WEDDED TO STORT 

Blanche had departed almost immediately after breakfast in pur- 
suit of partridges. 

It might have been about four o'clock, when suddenly she 
heard unusual sounds proceeding from the front hall, and almost 
immediately afterwards old Deborah, who since Bligh's marriage 
had been converted into her maid, appeared at the door with a 
very white face. 

" What is it ? " asked Bligh, looking up inquiringly from her 
book. 

•'Oh! my dear lady," gasped Deborah in return, "it's Sir 
Philip." 

" Well ! What of him ? " 

" He's been and gone and shot himself." 

" Shot himself ! " 

" Yes. The gun burst in his hand, and has blown it almost 
to pieces. Four of the keepers have just brought him home on 
a stretcher. It's quite awful to see him." 

"•Where is he ?" said Bligh, starting to her feet. 

" Down in the hall, and oh ! dearie, he looks dreadful bad. 
His face is that pale I should scarcely have known it was him ; 
for of late Sir Philip has always had a very high, purplish sort 
of colour." 

'' Come," said Bligh, '• don't let us waste time by talking. 
The thing is to see what can be done to amend the mischief." 

That it was serious she perceived at once : for when she reached 
the hall she found her husband lying in an almost unconscious state 
from loss of blood. His left hand dangled helplessly by his side, 
and every now and then a moan of pain escaped from him. Her 
first step was to send a man off for the doctor, bidding him come 
without delay ; the next — to get Sir Philip to bed. This was not ac- 
complished without considerable difficulty ; for the slightest move- 
ment increased the hemorrhage, and occasioned severe torture. 
Fortunately, Doctor Goodwyn happened to be at home, and 
arrived in a very few minutes. Bligh hailed his presence with 
relief, for her surgical knowledge had not sufficed to avert the 
bleeding. He inspected the shattered hand, and his face grew 
grave. After a careful examination, he pronounced that the two 
first fingers had been so injured by the bursting of the barrel that 
it was absolutely necessary to amputate them. 

'• Can't you try some less severe remedy ? " said Bligh. 

" It is impossible to save those two fingers," answered Doctor 
Goodwyn. " By all means have another opinion if you think 
mine requires confirmation ; but the patient is in great agony, 
and for his sake the sooner the operation is performed the better. 
His blood does not appear to me to be in a very good state, and 
unless prompt measures are resorted to, I fear fever and various 
complications may superverv "' 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 2S7 

" Would you give my husband chloroform ? " she asked, ner- 
vously. 

••Yes, most certainly. I should propose returning to the vil- 
lage for mv assistant and a nurse, and could have evervthinsr 
ready in half an hour from now. provided you give me permis- 
sion." 

•• Reallv. doctor. I don't know what to saw According to vou, 
the loss of the fingers seems inevitable." 

" The bones are regularly splintered," said Doctor Goodwyn. 
•• Sir Philip has had a great escape. As it is the whole of his 
left arm is riddled with shot, and I shall have to probe for the 
bullets. My fear is that if the operation is delayed beyond a 
few hours blood-poisoning may set in, and the whole hand would 
then have to be sacrificed." 

"In that case," said Bligh. firmly, "we will not put it off a 
minute." She bent over her husband, rested her cool palm on 
his forehead, and added — 

" You agree with me. don't you. Philip ? " 

He nodded his head faintly, being almost in a state of syn- 
cope. 

'• Brandv." he murmured. 

Bligh looked questioningly at Dr. Goodwyn. 

'■ Yes," he said, " you may give him a little, but only a very 
little — not more than a quarter of a wineglassful." So saying 
he went off to make the requisite arrangements, leaving Bligh 
in charge of the sick room. She opened the door, and called for 
Deborah. 

"Has Mrs. Yansittart returned ? " she whispered. 

'■ Xo, my lady, not yet. The men were saying she went on a 
beat by herself after lunch, and knew nothing of Sir Philip's acci- 
dent." 

" Tell the servants not to mention it either to her or to Lady 
Yerschoyle until all is over. The quieter the affair is managed 
the better : and if they were to rush up here, fussing and talking, 
they would only excite him, and do more harm than good." 

While Doctor Goodwyn was away Bligh and Deborah carried 
out his instructions, and prepared the room. He returned 
shortly, accompanied by an assistant and a nurse. He looked at 
Bligh' s quivering face, and knowing how ill she had been, was anx- 
ious to spare her. So he said in his most professional manner — 

" If you will be guided by my advice. Lady Yerschoyle. I 
strongly recommend your not remaining in the room during the 
operation. It will only try your nerves unnecessarily, and I have 
all the help I am likely to require." 

She looked about her undecidedly. 

" Don't vou think I ousrht to stav ? " 



288 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" No," he said. " I am quite sure you ought not. To be per- 
fectly frank, you are not in a fit state of health to receive any 
shock. Your system is already overwrought." 

She acknowledged the Avisdom of his counsel, and withdrew 
obediently ; glad, indeed, to have medical authority for doing so. 
She could not endure to see this strong, selfish man suffer. It 
seemed so opposed to his usual condition, and so unnatural for 
him to be the one to bear pain, and not herself. 

Half an hour passed in anxious expectation. At length the 
door opened, and Doctor Goodwyn popped in his head. 

'' All right," he said. " The operation is well over, and we 
have got Sir Philip back into bed. In another minute or two 
he will begin to recover from the effects of the chloroform." 

'' Oh, doctor," she exclaimed, " is his state very bad ? " 

'' Xo. I am happy to be able to report that I have succeeded 
in extracting most of the bullets, and, luckily, no vital part has 
been injured. I think Sir Philip will go on satisfactorily now. 
All he requires is care and quiet." 

'• You are sure that there is no danger ? " 

" Humanly speaking, quite sure. Of course, in these cases 
there is always some risk from fever and inflammation, but 
unless things take an unfavourable turn, which I do not for one 
moment anticipate, I see no cause at present for the slightest 
alarm." 

Bligh advanced on tiptoe to the side of the bed, and looked 
down with mingled feelings of compassion and mitigated dislike 
at the still figure, whose stalwart outlines were suggested rather 
than defined by the woollen blankets. Her heart was soft. She 
felt that in spite of all that had come and gone, this accident 
might be the means of bringing them together. She accused 
herself of having been cold, passive, indifferent. If he would 
but make advances, she was prepared to receive them in a spirit 
of friendship. Such were her thoughts as she stood gazing at 
his strangely pale face, which was only a shade less white than 
the pillow against which it rested. 

Presently the sick man groaned. In his throat the air ac- 
cumulated, and apparently formed an obstruction. The taste 
of the chloroform lingered about his mouth, and his nostrils were 
charged with the smell. He sighed heavily three or four times, 
as if oppressed by a weight of woe ; the tears forced themselves 
through his closed eyelids, and rolled swiftly down his cheeks. 
His lips parted, and he gurgled — at first helplessly, afterwards 
with more conscious effort. Far off, but gradually becoming 
nearer and more distinct, he heard whispering voices and the 
shuffling of slippered feet. Then he made a slight movement, 
and murmured spasmodically — 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



289 



" I don't love her — I never did. I only married her in a 
moment of pique — and to spite Blanche. I don't want her to 
know — but the fact is, I hate her. She hasn't done me any 
harm — but I hate her. She looks so solemn and glum when I 
drink — Blanche doesn't mind. She only laughs, and gets tight 
too. I tell you I wish Bligh were dead for then I'd marry 
Blanche in spite of Vansittart. It's very hard — very hard be- 
ing tied to a woman one does not care for, when there is an- 
other whom one likes in the same house. The mere sight of 
Bligh's face has an irritating effect upon me, whereas Blanche 
is so jolly, you know — so jolly and so different." 

These and many other words to a similar effect came pour- 
ing forth in a disconnected flow, revealing the most innermost 
thoughts of the wretched man's mind, stripped bare of all 
disguise. 

Bligh shuddered as she stood there listening. The depth of 
the hatred, which she had seemingly inspired, dismayed her ; 
and completely nipped in the bud, the tender growth of wifely 
sentiment that his misfortune had caused to arise within her 
bosom. Once again she felt repelled, and thrown back upon 
herself. 

" You see," he went on, waxing more and more garrulous and 
confidential as his consciousness returned, although not yet 
accompanied by the power of self-restraint. " I was always 
spoony on Blanche, and she on me. It was an awful sell her 
marrying — I never dreamt she would. Now we are both miser- 
able, and all through that little, puritanical, pasty-faced thing, 
whose very presence drives me wild. I wish to goodness I 
could get rid of her — I wish she'd die — then Blanche and I 
might live happily and comfortable — I don't want to be lec- 
tured, I tell you. If I'm thirsty, I'm thirsty, and have no 
notion of some fool of a woman hiding the bottles away the 
moment my back is turned — That's what my wife does, you 
know. It isn't fair — is it ? " 

" Hush ! " interrupted Doctor Goodwyn, severely. " You 
must not talk in this ridiculous fashion. Nobody's listening, 
and nobody approves of your sentiments. Come, be a man. 
You are quite conscious now, and can put a guard over your 
tongue if you choose. If you don't, I shall give orders for 
everyone to leave the room." Then he turned to Bligh, and 
added in an undertone, " Don't take any notice of this ram- 
bling nonsense, my dear Lady Verschoyle. Patients are often 
very queer after taking chloroform. It nearly always has the 
effect of making them talkative and lightheaded." 

Bligh's lip trembled, but she managed to say quietly — " Yes 
I know." 



290 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



To herself she murmured with great and exceeding bitter- 
ness, " It is not nonsense. Philip only says what is in his 
heart. Would to God I had never married him : for if I make 
his life miserable, so also does he mine." 

The doctor's stern remonstrance produced a salutary effect. 
It checked the sick man's garrulity, and after a time he lay 
quite still, too conscious now of pain to experience any longer 
a desire to converse. When the patient had arrived at this 
stage, Doctor Goodwyn left him, after giving Bligh and the 
nurse some particular instructions as to a lotion which he wished 
used. 

" Every teaspoonful must be diluted with forty times the 
same amount of water," he said. " Please remember that. I 
shall also send round a medicine to be taken every four hours, 
which I hope may be successful in keeping down the tempera- 
ture." 

" Shall we see you again this evening ? " asked Bligh. 

" Most certainly. I will look in between nine and ten 
o'clock." So saying, he went away. 

When Doctor Goodwyn had gone Bligh went to the window, 
and gazed out at the familiar landscape with dull, unseeing 
eyes. She felt as if a sledge hammer had dealt her a stunning 
blow which deadened every faculty. In her ears rang those 
terrible words : " I hate her. I wish she were dead." Every 
time she glanced at her husband she seemed to hear them 
anew, and she asked herself if it were possible for them to live 
together again after this confession, whose genuineness she did 
not doubt for a single moment. She had suffered much, en- 
dured much at his hands, but now she was wounded to the very 
quick. Her throat felt parched, her eyeballs strained and dis- 
tended. A haze descended upon her vision, and she clutched 
at the nearest chair for support. 

" Deborah," she said, almost inarticulately, " I — I don't 
feel well. I think I must 1 — lie down for a little. This busi- 
ness has upset me." 

'• And small wonder," whispered Deborah indignantly to the 
nurse, directly her mistress s back was turned, "for if ever 
there li\ ed a beast of a man, there he lies. Upon my word, 
sometimes 1 feel as if I could murder him." 

'•Take care," said the nurse, '• or he will hear you." 

" I don't mind if he does," answered Deborah, defiantly ; 
" and now I'm sure after all this trouble and work, you must 
be hungry. Hadn't you better go downstairs to the house- 
keeper's room, and have your tea ? I'll stay and look after 
him " — glancing resentfully at Sir Philip — " whilst you are 
away." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 291 

The invitation was too tempting to be refused. 

" I don't mind if I do," answered the excellent Mrs. Collins, 
readily. " But if the medicine comes in my absence, don't 
forget to give it to Sir Philip. Dr. Goodwyn made a point of 
his having it at once, and it would be more than my place is 
worth to neglect orders." 

Old Deborah stuck her nose up in the air. 

" Never fear," she answered. " I'll look after the dear in- 
valid. He and I ain't too friendly, but on a special occasion 
like this, I flatter myself I'm to be trusted as well as most 
people." 

" All right then," said the nurse. " I will go and get my tea 
while I can. Sir Philip seems quiet and comfortable at pres- 
ent, and inclined to doze. I only made a light dinner to-day, 
not knowing I should be wanted, and to tell the truth feel quite 
faint for want of food." 

Whereupon Mrs. Collins went downstairs, leaving Deborah 
in sole charge of the sick-room. 

She had not been gone more than a few minutes before a 
footman tapped at the door, and handed in a couple of bottles, 
saying they came from Doctor Goodwyn. Deborah took them, 
and undid their paper wrappings. One bottle was of a dark 
blue color, with a large poison label on the outside ; the other 
was white, and its contents were to be taken every four hours. 
And as she stood holding them in her hand, a terrible tempta- 
tion assailed this worthy woman, who throughout life had flat- 
tered herself she was no worse than her neighbours. All at 
once a devil's voice whispered — " Why not give him the lotion 
to drink, instead of the medicine ? Nobody need be any the 
wiser. People will only say you made a mistake ; and then 
your beloved mistress will be free. He makes her wretched, 
and behaves to her like a brute. The greatest kindness you 
can do her is to rid her of him for ever. The thing is easy ! 
Just a few drops of one mixture instead of another, and if any- 
body makes a fuss, all you have got to say is that you mistook 
the bottles in the dark. Courage now, Deborah, courage." 

She looked towards the curtained bed, and a smile passed 
over her wrinkled face. With that little phial grasped in her 
right hand, she held the power to destroy her greatest enemy. 
The thought was sweet ; and yet she was a Christian woman, 
who knew most of the New Testament by heart. Carefully and 
cautiously she uncorked the lotion, and smelt it. The odour 
tickled her nostrils. It was strong, pungent, penetrating. She 
took the cork, and lightly brushed her tongue against its clamp 
end. It was as if a red-hot iron had seared it ; and with the 
burnins" 03 in nrc"*wr<*A ??.m,e ?. s"ift reaction. What was this 



2 9 2 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



deed she contemplated ? Had she gone mad ? How could she, 
who had spent the majority of her days in faithful servitude, de- 
liberately contemplate ending them as a murderess ? The idea 
was too ghastly : and it only showed how wicked she was for it 
ever to have entered her head. The atmosphere of this great 
grand house was unholy, and contained no elements of peace or 
rest. She had hardly known a single day's real happiness since 
setting foot in it, and she was persuaded her poor mistress 
had not done so either. To Deborah s excited imagination it 
now appeared that some demon of evil was pursuing her, and if 
she would escape from the committal of an awful crime, her 
only chance lay in flight. Acting on the spur of the moment, 
she fled precipitately from the room, and almost unconsciously 
sought Bligh's. 

" My dearie, "' she said, abruptly, " I must go — I must leave 
you. Don t think me unkind, but I can t trust myself to stay 
under this roof any longer." 

•• Why. Deborah ! " exclaimed Bligh, in surprise, " what is 
the matter? " 

'• Nurse Collins went down to her tea. and I — I said I would 
take care of Sir Philip : but directly I was left alone with him a 
frightful notion took possession of my brain. The devil him- 
self must have put it there. I wanted to — to poison him." 

'■ Oh ' Deborah." 

'•Don t look at me like that, my dearie. I can t bear it : and 
it's no use scolding me. for I know that I'm a bad, wicked old 
woman. I hate him for all he makes you suffer, and all of a 
sudden the thought came to me that if he were out of the road 
you might be happy. I was within an ace of giving him the 
wrong medicine, when something held me back. Another time 
I might not be able to resist the temptation. Don't you under- 
stand now why it is necessary for me to go away? " 

A strange expression, partly of horror, partly of sympathy, 
flitted across Bligh s face. 

'• Deborah," she said, " we will go together. I. too, am a prey 
to hard and bitter thoughts of which I am afraid. It is no 
secret to you that my life is unendurable. As long," and her 
voice trembled, •• as long as mamma lived, and there was the 
smallest hope of reforming him, I tried to put up with it. But 
now I despair. You heard what he said this afternoon. That 
is the only result of my seeking to influence him for his good. 
From the first it was an uphill task ; of late it has become an 
impossible one ; and the worst of it is, every day my shame and 
my loathing increase, until sometimes I wish the earth would 
open and swallow me up. I have done my best. God knows 
how I have sought to crush mv r>v;r> f<^V*\' T '? "" A *:^ i: — > at 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 293 

peace with him. I never looked for much personal happiness," 
she went on with growing agitation — " I was prepared to be 
grateful for receiving food and shelter in return for the surren- 
der of my liberty ; but I did not expect both to be affronted and 
— and hated." 

" It is monstrous," said Deborah. '• Drink is fast turning him 
mad. If he goes on as he is doing, he will soon have delirium 
tremens." 

"Whatever the cause," said Bligh, " after to-day I feel that I 
have no longer any place in this house, and, like you, shall be 
better out of it. For months past everything that is worst in 
my nature has been roused, whilst all opportunity of cultivating 
the good has grown rarer and rarer. One cannot exist amidst 
debasing and uncongenial surroundings without deteriorating. 
I am growing morbid and introspective. I know it, yet am 
powerless to help the gradual growth of unhealthy thought. 
Nothing is much worse for a woman than to live in a constant 
state of smothered rebellion. When confidence is checked she 
either turns sullen, or else hypocritical. One can't go on doing 
violence to one's feelings for ever. The effort is unnatural, and 
must tell in course of time. I have suffered, oh ! — how I have 
suffered " 

She was silent for a moment or two, then resumed in a quieter 
voice — " And so, Deborah, we will go together to some quiet 
little place, where nobody will know us, and where we shall be 
removed from the temptations that assail us here. For I am 
not better than yourself. The same thoughts have passed 
through my brain as through yours. If Doctor Goodwyn had 
told me to-day that my husband must die, I should have listened 
to his fiat without a tear, and with a guilty gladness at my heart." 

" My dearie," said poor old Deborah, aghast at the strong 
emotion she had been the means of conjuring into life, " I 
ought not to have spoken as I did. Let me go by myself." 

" Xo, no," Bligh answered, with unwonted vehemence. " The 
idea of going away is not new to me. Do you suppose that 
when he insulted and struck me before people, I was made of 
stone ? I want nothing from him — neither his wealth, nor his 
name, nor his position. I will not leave Beechlands a penny 
richer than when I entered it. I despise him too much to be 
indebted to him in the smallest degree, and refuse to touch a 
farthing of his money. You and I, Deborah," and she smiled 
faintly, " are accustomed to poverty. We do not care for grand 
houses and luxuries of ever)- description. Poor as we were, we 
were happier far in our little cottage," 

" Yes, indeed," exclaimed Deborah, fervently, her sunken eyes 
glistening. 



294 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" And we will be happy again," continued Bligh, with feverish 
gaiety. " We will leave slang, and drink, and sport behind us, 
and shake ourselves free of fast ways, accompanied by loose 
talk. Ah ! mother, mother,'' clasping her hands together, " I 
wonder if you foresaw when you left me that four hundred a 
year how soon it was going to prove my only source of sub- 
sistence." 

" Miss Bligh, dear," said Deborah, making use of the old 
familiar nomenclature, as she frequently did in moments of for- 
getfulness, " don't do anything in a hurry. I feel as if I were 
to blame for your decision." 

'• Have I not already told you that the thought of leaving has 
been with me a long time ? I was vacillating. 'What Sir Philip 
said to-day determined me. We are two wretched people. Let 
one of us at least be happy. If I go he can enjoy himself as he 
likes with his cousin. Did you not hear him confess how obnox- 
ious my presence was ? It was very kind of Doctor Goodwyn 
to try and soften his pretty speeches, but I happen to know that 
people never bare their innermost secrets so completely as when 
they are just recovering from chloroform. The future lies before 
me like a closed book whose pages I cannot read. If Philip 
were dangerously ill, and really wanted me, I might return ; but 
at present I feel as if I must have a change. The very air of 
this places stifles me." 

" But where will you go ? " inquired Deborah. 

" I settled that in my own mind long ago," answered Bligh, 
with rather a conscious flush. " Do you remember our once 
spending a few days at a far-away village perched up amongst 
the Welsh hills ? We went there one summer when my father 
was alive." 

" What ! Glenarfon ! where all the iron works and coal pits 



were 



? 



" Yes. It is hidden from the world, and nobody would ever 
think of looking for us there. To-morrow morning at six o'clock 
I propose to leave this house, and God only knows whether I 
shall ever come back to it." 

Deborah looked wistfully at her mistress. 

" Thank the Lord for one thing," she said. " There is no 
man in the business. Your worst enemy cannot throw stones 
at you, or couple your name with that of a lover." 

" No," said Bligh, gravely. " I have been spared the crown- 
ing misery of an unlawful love. It is the greatest misfortune 
from which a woman can suffer, and I bless Providence for not 
having added it to my other trials." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 2 g^ 



CHAPTER XXXVI. 

A LONELY WOMAN. 

Bligh sat up late that evening, writing a letter to her husband. 
" My dear Philip," she said, " I am leaving you at a time when 
the world will probably judge my conduct unfavourably, and 
consider that I have failed in wifely duty towards you. The 
reproach is no light one, and yet I am prepared to bear public 
censure, for I feel that I can no longer remain in this house. 
When you lay unconscious a few hours ago you stated repeatedly 
that you loved Blanche Vansittart and hated me, and that I em- 
bittered your life. Those were not pleasant words to hear, and 
no doubt you spoke them under the influence of chloroform. 
Nevertheless, I know that they were the expression of your 
innermost thoughts. I stand in your way. Well ! rightly or 
wrongly, I will do so no longer. Unfortunately for us both it is 
not in my power to untie the fatal knot by which we are bound ; 
but one thing I can do — namely, relieve you of my hateful pres- 
ence. If you had only told me how obnoxious it was to you we 
might have come to some arrangement sooner. As it is, I have 
determined to leave Beechlands and to trouble you no more. 
Let me disappear from your path as if I had never crossed it. 
Our marriage was a mistake. Why not honestly admit the fact, 
and discontinue to be fettered by one another. Henceforth, as 
far as I am concerned, you are at liberty to return to your old 
bachelor habits, though I fancy you have already availed your- 
self of that permission. But understand me. I go more in sor- 
row than in anger, and should a time ever come when you are in 
difficulty or I can be of the least real service to you, then I shall 
remember that the law has made you my husband, and will re- 
turn. With such a contingency in view I take the precaution of 
enclosing my solicitor's address. Meanwhile, I feel sure you 
will agree with me in considering there is nothing to be gained 
by our corresponding. Hoping that my absence may serve to 
materially increase your happiness, and that you will soon regain 

your usual health, believe me to remain " Here she came to 

a sudden stop, unable to find a signature which sounded neither 
too formal nor too affectionate. She failed, however, to get one 
to her mind, and at last ended by adding hurriedly, " Yours 
truly, Bligh Verschoyle." She could not put " Yours lovingly " 



296 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

or " Yours devotedly." They sounded positively hypocritical 
when her heart was so charged with bitterness and pain. The 
note written, she sealed and addressed it, and then heaved a sigh 
of relief. Her spirit began to rise at the prospect of escaping 
from the uncongenial moral bondage which for months past had 
held it captive. Reviewing her married life it seemed like some 
oppressive nightmare, from which she was only too thankful to 
awake, devoutly hoping it might prove a bad dream rather than 
a reality. She had but one regret, leaving Lady Verschoyle, for 
she knew that her mother-in-law would miss her even if Sir Philip 
did not. The lonely old woman would be still more lonely when 
she was gone. The thought of her pricked Bligh's conscience, 
and she strove to dismiss her from her mind. 

" After all," she argued, " Lady Verschoyle will be no worse 
off than she was before I came. She managed to exist without 
me a good many years, and no doubt she will continue to sup- 
port life in the future." 

Nevertheless, this reasoning did not satisfy Bligh, and she ob- 
tained very little rest. She felt too excited to sleep, and during 
the silent watches of the night could not conceal from herself 
the gravity of the step she proposed taking. And yet she did 
not repent her decision, and early the next morning she and old 
Deborah left Beechlands in a hired fly. Their modest luggage 
was piled on the top, and half an hour later they found them- 
selves seated in the train, which was destined to bear them to 
Glenarfon. There were several stoppages en route, and the 
afternoon was far advanced before they arrived. Bligh experi- 
enced a severe shock of disappointment when, upon issuing from 
a tunnel just outside the station, she perceived how greatly 
Glenarfon had increased in size since her last visit, paid some 
ten years ago. Then it had been a quaint, grey-slated little vil- 
lage, nestling in a narrow valley that ran transversely between 
two ranges of rounded hills, on which the purple heather bloomed, 
and the cock grouse cackled to his mate. At that time the iron- 
works and coal pits were almost disused, and managed on old- 
fashioned principles, which yielded small results, and still less 
profit. Now all was changed. 

On every side tall funnels belched forth dense columns of 
black smoke, which, curling upwards, gradually dispersed amid 
the hazy, overcharged atmosphere. Huge blast furnaces greedily 
swallowing up the ores with which they were fed, reddened the 
evening sky and emitted their waste gases. All round the sta- 
tion a town had arisen almost with the rapidity of an American 
city. Rows of streets greeted the eye. They swarmed with 
little, dirty, bareheaded children, who rolled recklessly in the 
black coal-dust that even in dry weather gave the roads an un- 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 297 

cleanly appearance. Rough, untidy women lounged about the 
open doors of their grimy cottages, laughing when some drunken 
miner came reeling along the unevenly-laid pavement and flung 
a coarse word at them. The dull roar of the works higher up 
the valley could be heard above the squalling of babies and the 
scolding of impatient young mothers. In addition to the fur- 
naces and chimneys, the sky-line was broken by enormous ash- 
heaps, which resembled bare, grey pyramids. No verdure grew 
on their naked sides. Not a single green weed or blade of grass 
redeemed the uniform ugliness of their appearance. Engines 
whistled, trucks rattled, hammers beat, steel plates clanged, steam 
hooters hooted, machinery creaked, fires blazed, and water 
trickled. The scene, even viewed from a distance, was one of 
unparalleled activity, and to the tired travellers, weary after their 
day's journey, the noise and confusion appeared insupportable. 
Instead of the quiet asylum she had pictured it seemed to Bligh 
that she had come to a regular pandemonium. 

She looked about her with a crestfallen expression, which 
would have been comical had it not also been pathetic. 

" What are we to do ? " she said to Deborah. " It is always 
the way in this world. Nothing is ever so nice as one fancies. 
Since I was here last the place is evidently ruined, and it is 
useless to expect peace or rest amidst such a din." 

" It is too late to go on anywhere else this evening," replied 
Deborah. " We had better stay here to-night at any rate." 

" I suppose we must," said Bligh, with a sigh of resignation. 

" I think it would be advisable. You are tired, and conse- 
quently dispirited. To-morrow you may feel less despondent. 
But bear this in mind, dearie. It's all one to me where I am so 
long as you are happy. You've only got to please yourself." 

Bligh shot a grateful glance at her faithful attendant, and, 
acting on her advice, proceeded to inquire of the station-master 
if he could recommend a decent hotel. 

" They ain't up to much," he said : " leastways, for a lady like 
you. But if you go to Mr. William Williams, of the Mountain 
Ash, his good woman will give you a clean bed to lie upon and 
a tidy supper. You see," he added apologetically, " we don't 
have many tourists come this way, only gents on business and 
connected with the works." 

" We are not very particular," said Bligh, " and no doubt shall 
find every comfort at the Mountain Ash. Is it far from here ? " 

" No ; not more than two or three minutes' walk. If you go 
straight up to the top of the High-street and take the first turn 
to the right, you cannot fail to see it." 

" How about the luggage ? " she inquired. " Can we hire a 
fly?" 



298 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" We ain't got no flies here, marm. We're too far from Lon- 
don to have much call for carriages. Mr. Williams he keeps an 
old omnibus ; but you won't want it. My boy will put your 
things on a barrow and trundle them up to the inn in a trice. 
He'll be there almost as soon as you." 

Satisfied with this arrangement Bligh and Deborah started 
along the High-street. The afternoon sun poured obliquely 
down upon it, and generously sought to gild the squalid pawn- 
broker, tobacco, and refreshment shops, of which it was mainly 
composed. The latter displayed a queer assortment of miscel- 
laneous comestibles, pork pies, sausages, red herrings, ship 
biscuits, buns, bull's eyes, green apples, and periwinkles being 
the articles apparently most in favour. Every household con- 
tributed to the gutter its contingent of children. Indeed, the 
highway resembled a rabbit warren. They rolled in the mud, 
got under the horses' feet whenever a heavily loaded waggon 
went by, and appeared ubiquitous. Half-clad, half-starved, left 
almost completely to their own resources at an age when many 
of them could hardly toddle, and exposed to dangers which 
would have driven most mothers out of their minds ; they yet 
seemed to thrive. Scarcely a woman under forty who did not 
hold a baby in her arms, wrapped up in an old plaid shawl, and 
looking like a dirty bundle rather than an embryo human 
being. 

Cabbage stumps, broken plates, cast-off shoes, ashes, rusty 
pails minus a bottom, and refuse of every conceivable descrip- 
tion ornamented the roadway. The setting sun's warm rays 
caused a faint, but offensive, odour to arise, not noticed by the 
inhabitants, but exceedingly distressing to unaccustomed nos- 
trils. It was a mingled stench of decaying garbage, putrid 
bones, defective drains, and unwashed humanity. After an 
unusually hot day the air was charged with this peculiar fra- 
grance, and once or twice Bligh was forced to put her handker- 
chief to her nose. Feeling more and more disheartened she 
and Deborah walked on, until they turned down a bye-street, 
at the end of which a glimpse of rough moorland was to be 
obtained. They came to a halt before a detached house built 
of grey stone, and wearing an air of solid prosperity not to be 
mistaken. Outside the porch grew a stunted ash, bent by the 
wind, whose blackened leaves were smothered in coal dust like 
everything else. There was a gap in the buildings on the 
opposite side of the street. Through it could be seen the ruddy 
glow of the furnaces and the dark outline of the heather-clad 
hills. Bligh rang the bell, which was promptly answered by a 
tall, superior-looking landlady, who, upon hearing her require- 
ments, at once showed her to a couple of rooms, which, if some 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 299 

what scantily furnished, at all events possessed the merits of 
scrupulous cleanliness. 

Until to-day Bligh had never thoroughly realised how litde 
strensrth she had regained since her illness : but now. what widi 
the early rising, the excitement and emotion consequent upon 
leaving home, and the long railway journey, she felt quite tired 
out. So. directly after tea — for not one woman in twenty- in- 
dulges in the luxury of dinner when left to her own resources — 
she retired to rest, firmly intending to quit Glenarfon on the 
following morning and seek some more picturesque spot, where 
the beauty and calm of Nature might soothe her wounded spirit. 
But man proposes, and God disposes. 

After a long night's sleep she was inclined to take a more 
cheerful view of the situation. Their rooms were comfortable, 
the landlady most civil and attentive, and the necessity of set- 
ting off again on her travels no longer appeared quite as urgent 
as on the previous evening. 

"I think," she said to Deborah after breakfast, "that we 
might stay here for one day. It would be interesting to go over 
the works, and there are several places I should like to revisit. 
If I remember rightly there was a beautiful park and house 
belonging to a lunatic lord somewhere close by, where papa, 
mamma, and I spent a delightful afternoon. I will ask Mrs. 
Williams about it." 

She touched the bell, and the landlady came running up the 
stairs in hot haste. 

" Anything I can do for you. m ? " she inquired breathlessly. 

"Yes," said Bligh. "Several years ago I stayed a few days 
at Glenarfon. It is wonderfully altered since then, and I no 
longer know my way about. In those days it was nothing but 
a litde country village, now it has grown into quite a large town, 
with streets and shops, and an increasing population " 

" It's the works as has spodt the place for visitors." interposed 
Mrs. Williams. " We don't have a quarter of the strangers we 
used to have in olden days. The fact is. that ever since poor 
Lord de Bretton died and his nephew came into the property 
everythi ng is changed. The present owner's first step was to 
get a new manager, and. as it so happened, Mr. Vaughan — that's 
his name — was mad on improvements. Leastways, he calls 
them improvements, though there are a good few of us who hold 
a contrary opinion, and don't like seeing our pretty valley given 
over to miners and machinery."' 

" The old lord is dead then ? " said Bligh. 

" Yes : the poor gentieman had been queer in his head for 
many years, and obliged to have a keeper, as perhaps you may 
have heard. Nobody knew exactly how it arose ; but one night 



300 WEDDED TO SPORT 

a terrible fire broke out at the hall, and he threw himself out of 
the bedroom window, and was picked up stone dead. His 
nephew, Mr. Bernard de Bretton, inherited the title and estates.'' 

" Does he live at the Hall ? " inquired Bligh. 

" No. We only wish he would. But althougn he has not the 
slightest objection to spending the money made by his hard- 
worked miners he considers himself much too great a man to 
reside in their midst or to manage his property personally." 

" I don't call that right," said Bligh. 

'' Nor do I ; but the present Lord de Bretton has got the name 
of being a very gay, fast young man, who cares only for amuse- 
ments. Why ! bless you, marm, it's close upon seven years 
since he succeeded to his uncle, and, would you believe it, he 
has only twice set foot inside the Hall, and then but for a couple 
of days. My husband he goes on ever so about absentee land- 
lords and the obligations of property. He says that the upper 
classes nowadays live for nothing but pleasure, scoff at the word 
duty, and then feel very much aggrieved because honest work- 
ing men refuse to worship them like demi-gods." 

" Is Mr. Williams a Radical ? " asked Bligh. 

" I don't know what he calls himself ; but he is a man who 
has got a good head on his shoulders and plenty of common 
sense ; and he don't think it right for fine gentlemen to take all 
the wealth they can out of a place and then never come near it." 

" How many men does Lord de Bretton employ ? " inquired 
Bligh, who was getting interested in the conversation. 

" What with the pits, furnaces, and one thing and another, 
several thousand," answered Mrs. Williams. " The whole valley 
belongs to him, and they say the rents alone bring in over eight 
thousand a year, though most of the cottages are in a disgrace- 
ful condition, and many of them are hardly fit for human beings 
to live in." 

" It is abominable," exclaimed Bligh, indignantly. " Instead 
of spending so much money on himself Lord de Bretton ought 
to be made to repair them. Parliament should pass a law which 
would effectually prevent such landlords from shirking their 
responsibilities. Is there much distress among the people ? " 

" Lately there has been a great deal. The men have nearly 
all joined the trades' union, which in many instances forces 
them to strike quite independently of their personal wishes. At 
the present moment they are standing out for an increase of ten 
per cent. Mr. Vaughan says he can't afford to give it. The 
consequence is two-thirds of the colliers have struck work, and, 
being thrown out of employ, do nothing but quarrel and drink, 
leaving the poor, unfortunate women and children to starve. 
It's them I'm sorry for, since they are always the principal 
sufferers." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 30 1 

" I fear that is ever the case," said Bligh, who listened with 
growing attention to Mrs. Williams's remarks. " The weal: in- 
variably go to the wall all through life." 

" It makes me mad to hear the nonsense that's preached 
about foreign missions," went on the good landlady, garrulously. 
" Last Sunday as ever is I went to church, and a strange clergy- 
man exchanged duty with ours. The whole of the discourse 
was about blacks and heathens. He tried to prove that it was 
our duty to subscribe money to send out missionaries to convert 
them ; but, Lord bless you, marm ! to my thinking it's nothing 
but a pack of nonsense. How do we know how our shillings 
are spent when we send them off to Jericho ? Shillings are 
wanted at home, and charity begins there, as the saying very 
properly is. For my part I feel sure that if any Christian lady 
or gentleman would settle down in this place, and go about 
among the people, trying to teach them to behave a little less 
like savages, the result would be very much more satisfactory 
than worrying some poor, ignorant darkey into adopting all our 
ideas and discarding his own. The truth is there's plenty of 
work to be done right under folks' eyes if they would but see it." 

" I expect you are not far wrong," said Bligh, thoughtfully. 
" How long did you say it was since Lord de Bretton's last 
visit ? " 

" Getting on for three years. He was then going a voyage 
round the world." 

" And what is Mr. Vaughan, the manager, like ? " 

" Oh ! he's a shrewd, sharp man, who thoroughly understands 
that his business is to keep the money-grinding machine in good 
order for his employer, and supply funds whenever they are 
required." 

" Is there a Lady de Bretton ? " 

" No ; we wish there was," said Mrs. Williams ; " for then 
perhaps he'd live part of the year at any rate at the Hall, and see 
for himself that there are plenty of other things besides the 
works as wants improving. A public reading-room is very badly 
needed, also some sort of institute where amusements might be 
provided after the day's work is over." 

" Do you think," said Bligh, " that I could get someone who 
knows Glenarfon well to take me all round, and show me the 
schools, the homes of the women, and so on ? " 

" Are you going to stay among us by any chance ? " asked 
Mrs. Williams. 

" Yes," answered Bligh, forming a sudden resolution. " If 
by so doing I can employ my time profitably. That is just what 
I want, for I am a lonely woman, without any ties, and my father 
and n,nf,ior ar " T->^h rlpoH Mv namo i s Burton — Mrs. Burton. 



302 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



I intended to have left to-morrow, but after what you tell me I 
feel greatly tempted to stay. Even if I can't help the men I 
can assist the women and children — especially the children — 
by getting up classes, and teaching the girls how to cook and 
sew, and giving the boys drawing lessons, reading and arith- 
metic." 

Mrs. Williams put out a rough, but hearty, hand. 

" I wish there were more ladies like you in the world," she 
said. " You may not credit the statement, but quite half the 
quarrels which arise between our young married couples here 
are owing to the wife having no knowledge of keeping her home 
comfortable or how to serve up a tidy dinner to a tired man 
when he comes back of an evening. He cares mighty little 
then about ribbons, and fal-lals, and all the rest of it. What he 
wants is something decent to eat." 

" High or low," said Bligh, gravely, " if a woman would 
find favour in the eyesight of man she must appeal to that sen- 
sitive seat of affection — his stomach. You are of opinion that 
cooking classes would succeed ? " 

" I am certain of it," said Mrs. Williams. " They are what 
we want more than anything else." 

" All I wish is to be useful and to do what good I can," said 
Bligh, with a sad smile. " I have nothing else to live for." 

" Then," said Mrs. Williams, " Providence must have sent 
you here. And now, if you will allow me, I will take you to see 
our clergyman, Mr. Davies. No one knows the needs of the 
people so well as he, and if you want work he'll soon give you 
plenty." 

" Do you really mean to stay here, Miss Bligh, darling ? " in- 
quired Deborah, as soon as the worthy landlady had bustled 
from the room to put on her bonnet and cloak. 

" Yes, I think so. I don't mean to say that Glenarfon is an 
ideal abode, or one which I should have selected had I con- 
sulted my inclinations alone ; but that is precisely what I desire 
to avoid. I have suffered lately from the deterioration of 
character which results from leading a purely selfish and self- 
indulgent life, and I am anxious to turn over a new leaf. I 
foresee many difficulties ; but surely it will be a better thing for 
me in the end to employ myself actively and usefully rather 
than sit disconsolately at home brooding over the failures of 
matrimony. If I am not precisely happy that is no reason 
why I should nurse my sorrow at the expense of others. I 
don't intend to be guilty of such a mean weakness if I can help 
it. P'or a time at any rate we can live here happily and in 
accordance with our resources. What say you, Deborah ? " and 
she held out her hand. " Are you willing to try the experiment ? " 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



3°3 



Deborah seized it and devoured it with kisses. 

" My angel," she said, " all I ask is to be where you are. But 
I fear you will do too much. You are far from strong yet, and 
your health should be the first consideration." 

Bligh sighed. 

" It is so horrid not to do things like other people, and to feel 
fettered by one's horrible body." 

" You are sure to get well in time, honey, if you will but take 
care of yourself." 

" I can't take care of myself, Deborah. Why should I ? 
What for ? I am possessed by a feverish energy. Don't you 
see that unless I am busy and occupied I shan't be able to exist ? 
I find it impossible to drive away thought, to forget the past. 
All I can look for in the future is to tread the rugged path of 
duty. Other women are loved and cared for. Henceforth love 
stands outside my horizon. I must live and die in harness, 
straining against the instincts which God has seen fit to bestow 
on my sex. 

A lump rose in Deborah's throat. She made no reply, but 
looked sadly out of the window, where the setting sun was illumin- 
ing the ragged forms of two little yellow-haired children. Ah ! 
why had the white wings of death enfolded her dear mistress's 
baby? 



CHAPTER XXXVII. 

" SUCH IS MAN." 

A fortnight from the date of Bligh's arrival at Glenarfon she 
was settled in a small, but comfortable, cottage perched half- 
way up the hillside, and which looked serenely down upon the 
busy valley. It was situated high enough to be removed from 
the smoke that spread beneath it like a dense, black pall, whilst 
heather and tufted grass grew close round its door. Bligh sent 
to London for some nicknacks, and by the aid of these, a few 
yards of Indian muslin, Japanese fans and screens, she soon 
converted the parlour into a very pretty sitting-room, which 
bore the impress of a refined and cultured woman. 

Before long she had not only felt thoroughly at home in her 
new abode, but also persuaded herself that she was completely 
happy. As Mrs. Williams had foretold, she did not want for 
occupation. Her days were fully employed. Aided by Mr. 
Davies, who entered heartily into her schemes, she instituted a 
series of classes. Every afternoon was devoted to them, and as 
the weeks passed they became more and more popular, and she 



304 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

had the satisfaction of feeling that she was really benefiting her 
fellow-creatures in a practical way. And this conviction brought 
an inward peace which it was many months since she had ex- 
perienced. From early morning until late at night she never 
lacked for employment, and if her strength was frequently some- 
what overtaxed her mind gradually recovered its natural, healthy 
tone. Removed from the atmosphere of Beechlands her ideas 
righted themselves, like a ship when its ballast is properly ad- 
justed after having got loose. She perceived even more clearly 
than heretofore that the society of exclusively sporting men, who 
twaddled away all through dinner about one particular fence, 
and made some grubby old ditch do duty for the whole of des- 
sert, was not exactly calculated to strengthen a person s brain 
power or improve the intelligence. And when she recalled the 
way in which her husband and his fast friends talked of women, 
and the want of chivalry displayed, and the utter absence of all 
consideration and reverence for age, she positively shuddered. 
Many a time had she sat at the head of her own table and heard 
the points of some fair Amazon summed up precisely as if she 
had been a yearling filly. 

The married men past forty were the worst. They professed 
to be unable to talk to a woman over twenty-five. After that 
they declared the bloom was off, and they vastly preferred seven- 
teen. It was quite old enough for them. What they admired 
was roundness and freshness and rosiness. The sign of 
a wrinkle, the least symptom of age, and their ardour cooled at 
once. They were never weary of discussing a girl's face, figure, 
hair, and complexion : but her mental attributes were entirely 
beneath their notice. If she were fast, flirty, slangy, and run 
after by other men, that was perf ecdy sufficient for these middle- 
aged Benedicts. A nice, modest woman, no matter how great 
her qualities and intellectual abilities might be, had not a chance. 
She was always voted slow, or prudish, or — more damning than 
either — too long in the tooth ! These representative specimens 
of a fast hunting set were not capable of appreciating chastity 
or reserve in the opposite sex, and certainly did kttle by their 
conduct to encourage such virtues. They went in almost ex- 
clusively for looks, though now and again they would conde- 
scend to allow themselves to be amused by a comparatively plain 
woman, provided she possessed the enviable reputation of being 
" good fun " and was able to tell a naughty story with commend- 
able verve and audacity. Sterling merit they viewed with pro- 
found indifference. They only expected that of their wives — the 
poor, despised drudges who stayed quietly at home, managed the 
household, did all the hard work, and were invariably held re- 
sponsible for every tiny mishap. What effect their examples 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 305 

might have upon them, or how they might be affected by the 
marital neglect and unfaithfulness of their lords, never gave them 
a thought. It was their place to amuse themselves, the wife's 
to bear the kicks and abuse, and never complain. That was 
their notion of matrimony. For the man, pleasure, for the 
woman, work. For the stronger vessel, license and idleness ; 
for the weaker, struggle and self-control. Oh ! short-sighted 
policy ! since it renders the weak strong, and the strong weak. 

Bligh had seen this phase of life, and although she dearly 
loved horses and everything connected with them, she was not 
sp sorry to escape from it when it represented the total extinc- 
tion of every worthier or higher aim and the entire surrender of 
ambition. Sport, according to her ideas, was a delightful amuse- 
ment ; but not an absorbing business, to which every other pur- 
suit should be subservient. In Sir Philip's case it had not taken 
her long to discover that it was made an excuse for neglecting 
nearly all the duties entailed by his rank and position. It seemed 
to her that he and his chosen companions were frittering away 
the talents with which God had originally endowed them, and 
allowing self-indulgence to swallow up any impulse of energy 
and enterprise. In the home which she had left she was ac- 
customed to feel oppressed, repulsed, and isolated. It was use- 
less trying to give utterance to her thoughts. They were not 
congenial. Amongst this rough mining population she had 
already discovered finer gentlemen and truer friends than during 
her residence at Beechlands. She did not know as yet where 
her present life might lead her, but she knew that it was better 
in every respect than the one she had quitted. Honourable 
toil brought a sense of substantial repose, which made the 
pursuit of selfish enjoyment appear a poor, unworthy thing. All 
Bligh prayed for now was that matters might remain as they 
were, without any fresh event occurring to disturb the even 
tenor of her ways. 

" I have done with love,'' she constantly said to herself. ' ; It 
is such a comfort to outlive one's emotions, and remain abso- 
lutely indifferent to the admiration of men. The older one grows 
the more clearly one sees that it is the bane ot a woman's exist- 
ence, and how much happier she really is once she gives up 
taking a vital interest in the opposite sex. The truth is she 
knows no peace until then." 

Having been disappointed in her own particular ventures 
Bligh took refuge in philosophy, and argued herself into the 
belief that henceforth she was quite incapable of that supreme 
folly, losing one's heart to a man. And yet Balzac assures us 
thirty is the most dangerous age of any where a woman s sus- 
ceptibilities are concerned, for if the romance of youth may have 



3<H 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



had the satisfaction of feeling that she was really benefiting her 
fellow-creatures in a practical way. And this conviction brought 
an inward peace which it was many months since she had ex- 
perienced. From early morning until late at night she never 
lacked for employment, and if her strength was frequently some- 
what overtaxed her mind gradually recovered its natural, healthy 
tone. Removed from the atmosphere of Beechlands her ideas 
righted themselves, like a ship when its ballast is properly ad- 
justed after having got loose. She perceived even more clearly 
than heretofore that the society of exclusively sporting men, who 
twaddled away all through dinner about one particular fence, 
and made some grubby old ditch do duty for the whole of des- 
sert, was not exactly calculated to strengthen a person's brain 
power or improve the intelligence. And when she recalled the 
way in which her husband and his fast friends talked of women, 
and the want of chivalry displayed, and the utter absence of all 
consideration and reverence for age, she positively shuddered. 
Many a time had she sat at the head of her own table and heard 
the points of some fair Amazon summed up precisely as if she 
had been a yearling filly. 

The married men past forty were the worst. They professed 
to be unable to talk to a woman over twenty-five. After that 
they declared the bloom was off, and they vastly preferred seven- 
teen. It was quite old enough for them. What they admired 
was roundness and freshness and rosiness. The sign of 
a wrinkle, the least symptom of age, and their ardour cooled at 
once. They were never weary of discussing a girl's face, figure, 
hair, and complexion ; but her mental attributes were entirely 
beneath their notice. If she were fast, flirty, slangy, and run 
after by other men, that was perfectly sufficient for these middle- 
aged Benedicts. A nice, modest woman, no matter how great 
her qualities and intellectual abilities might be, had not a chance. 
She was always voted slow, or prudish, or — more damning than 
either — too long in the tooth ! These representative specimens 
of a fast hunting set were not capable of appreciating chastity 
or reserve in the opposite sex, and certainly did little by their 
conduct to encourage such virtues. They went in almost ex- 
clusively for looks, though now and again they would conde- 
scend to allow themselves to be amused by a comparatively plain 
woman, provided she possessed the enviable reputation of being 
" good fun " and was able to tell a naughty story with commend- 
able verve and audacity. Sterling merit they viewed with pro- 
found indifference. They only expected that of their wives — the 
poor, despised drudges who stayed quietly at home, managed the 
household, did all the hard work, and were invariably held re- 
sponsible for every tiny mishap. What effect their examples 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



3°5 



might have upon them, or how they might be affected by the 
marital neglect and unfaithfulness of their lords, never gave them 
a thought. It was their place to amuse themselves, the wife's 
to bear the kicks and abuse, and never complain. That was 
their notion of matrimony. For the man, pleasure, for the 
woman, work. For the stronger vessel, license and idleness ; 
for the weaker, struggle and self-control. Oh ! short-sighted 
policy ! since it renders the weak strong, and the strong weak. 

Bligh had seen this phase of life, and although she dearly 
loved horses and everything connected with them, she was not 
so sorry to escape from it when it represented the total extinc- 
tion of every worthier or higher aim and the entire surrender of 
ambition. Sport, according to her ideas, was a delightful amuse- 
ment ; but not an absorbing business, to which every other pur- 
suit should be subservient. In Sir Philip's case it had not taken 
her long to discover that it was made an excuse for neglecting 
nearly all the duties entailed by his rank and position. It seemed 
to her that he and his chosen companions were frittering away 
the talents with which God had originally endowed them, and 
allowing self-indulgence to swallow up any impulse of energy 
and enterprise. In the home which she had left she was ac- 
customed to feel oppressed, repulsed, and isolated. It was use- 
less trying to give utterance to her thoughts. They were not 
congenial. Amongst this rough mining population she had 
already discovered finer gentlemen and truer friends than during 
her residence at Beechlands. She did not know as yet where 
her present life might lead her, but she knew that it was better 
in every respect than the one she had quitted. Honourable 
toil brought a sense of substantial repose, which made the 
pursuit of selfish enjoyment appear a poor, unworthy thing. All 
Bligh prayed for now was that matters might remain as they 
were, without any fresh event occurring to disturb the even 
tenor of her ways. 

" I have done with love," she constantly said to herself. " It 
is such a comfort to outlive one's emotions, and remain abso- 
lutely indifferent to the admiration of men. The older one grows 
the more clearly one sees that it is the bane o± a woman's exist- 
ence, and how much happier she really is once she gives up 
taking a vital interest in the opposite sex. The truth is she 
knows no peace until then." 

Having been disappointed in her own particular ventures 
Bligh took refuge in philosophy, and argued herself into the 
belief that henceforth she was quite incapable of that supreme 
folly, losing one's heart to a man. And yet Balzac assures us 
thirty is the most dangerous age of any where a woman's sus- 
ceptibilities are concerned, for if the romance of youth may have 



308 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

had taken ; and now, because I sink, yon dare to reproach me. 
Ah ! Geoffrey, men like you, who take into their keeping a 
woman's life, and arrogate to themselves dominion over her 
soul, are no better than moral murderers. They little realise 
the mischief which they commit. Do you imagine that your 
preaching and your conduct produce no effect on a sensitive 
young mind ? Can you suppose that the wives whom you 
neglect and desert are creatures of stone ? Are you so stupid 
as to fancy us devoid of the most ordinary feelings, whilst you 
may sin — aye, sin, for that's the word — as you like without 
retribution being meted out to you in some form ? Again I 
repeat I am but what you have made me. Once upon a time 
I was as plastic clay in your hands, and if I stand here to-day 
disgraced, fallen, lowered for ever in my own self-esteem, you, 
and not I, are to blame." 

The book ended in the poor wife, after much temptation and 
misery, returning to the faith of her childhood, and resolving to 
cling to the essence, even if she were no longer able to accept 
the detail, of Christianity. 

" After all," she said, in conclusion, " it is the best teaching 
that has yet been given to the world. Let people say what 
they will, and pick the Testaments to pieces, man in his present 
stage of development is far too faultily constituted to be able 
to dispense altogether with religion. A few powerfully organ- 
is _ j d minds may manage to exist without it, but for the majority 
belief is essential. True or untrue, Christ's life is a good 
enough example for most of us. Henceforth all my endeavours 
shall be humbly to imitate it." 

The novel appealed both to the old and to the new school of 
thought, and at once brought the author's name into prominence. 
Great curiosity was exhibited as to who he or she might be, but 
the secret was well kept. Nobody knew it except Messrs. C. 
W. Gray and Co., of Bedford Street, Covent Garden, and two 
lonely women living in a little cottage amongst the Welsh hills. 

Bligh's apprenticeship to her father had borne good fruit. 
It had given her a knowledge of composition which, under other 
circumstances, she might never have gained. For years past 
she had unconsciously been absorbing impressions and assimi- 
lating them in her strong, clear mind ; so that when she took 
up her pen she had a goodly stock of subject matter to draw 
upon. The result of her first attempt was a novel remarkable 
for its interest, originality, and power. Naturally she felt 
gratified by her success, though its effect was to render her 
more anxious to improve and do better in the future. She knew 
how difficult it was for a beginner to get a start in the literary 
world and how publisher after publisher would return an un- 



W HDD ED TO SPORT. 309 

known author's MSS. unread, with a brief intimation that they 
thanked Mr. So-and-So for his kind offer, but they were not in 
a position to entertain it. Her father's struggles and disap- 
pointments ere he finally attained the gratification of seeing his 
name appear in print had to a certain extent let her behind the 
scenes, and she realised her luck in having been able to set her 
foot on the first rung of the ladder. If she should ever climb 
was a question of time and her own ability ; but at all events 
she was fairly iloatecl, and Mr. Gray had already begged per- 
mission to bring out her next book, on which she was earnestly 
engaged. His letters — always models of style and replete with 
epigram — were now complimentary into the bargain, a sure 
sign that the new author was worth cultivating. 

Wonderful to relate, the reviews were mostly favourable. 
'They contradicted each other as a matter of course. One 
alluded to the heroine as a very wicked, unprincipled young 
woman, who deserved all and more than what she got ; the next 
spoke of her in glowing terms, as one of the sweetest and most 
lovable creations of modern times, and refused to see a flaw in 
her moral conduct. \ slashing critic, who wrote for the " Two- 
penny Twaddler," bemoaned that what Stonyer Stone evidently 
meant for wit was only vulgar pomposity ; whilst his confrere', 
a gentleman who furnished sparkling articles to the " Weekly 
Gossiper," described the unknown author as the coming hu- 
mourist of the day. 

As a matter of fact there was not much real instruction to be 
gained from the reviews. They were either foolishly flattering 
or else ruthlessly severe. Nine times out of ten the reviewer 
displayed but a superficial knowledge of his subject, called the 
characters by their wrong names, and held the author responsible 
for every printer's error. At this stage of her career Bligh was 
not so thick-skinned as she afterwards became, and she took 
the majority of these criticisms very much to heart. Like all 
novices she began by feeling exceedingly elated whenever she 
received a favourable clipping from the Xews Agency to which 
she subscribed, and proportionately dejected on the receipt of 
an uncomplimentary one. She very soon saw, however, that a 
really intelligent review, setting forth the author's faults in a 
manner by which he might profit, was rare, and that in this 
respect the country press was decidedly in advance of the 
metropolitan. 

Meanwhile the book went on selling, which was the main 
thing. Three library editions were sold out in almost as many 
months ; an eminent statesman wrote an article on its theological 
aspect in the " Nineteenth t entury," which materially increased 
the sale, and the name of Stonyer Stone was in everybody's 



310 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

mouth. Women especially praised " Such is Man." They not 
only acknowledged its truth, but were delighted at the raps given 
to the sterner sex. On all sides it was admitted that whether 
agreeable or the reverse, the author undoubtedly possessed a 
graphic and forcible way of putting things, which struck home ; 
and the book, whatever its faults, had the merit of never being 
dull. From the first page to the last the reader was engrossed, 
and experienced no inclination to skip. 

So, while Bligh worked amongst her women and children, 
teaching them to cook and to sew. and gradually regained the 
moral equilibrium which her uncongenial marriage had done so 
much to destroy, the fame of Stonyer Stone went abroad, until 
it reached even to the remote Welsh valley, where a quiet little 
lady, believed to be a widow — one Mrs. Burton by name — had 
taken up her residence, unknown and unsought after. 

Mr. Davies startled her bv saving, shortly before Christmas, 
when they happened to be walking together — 

'• I must lend you this new book, Mrs. Burton, which every- 
body is talking of. I had it lent me from the library yesterday 
by good luck." 

" What new book?" she asked, quite innocently. 

'•• Why, ' Such is Man,' of course. Surely you have heard 
of it." 

She made some inaudible reply. The shock of finding herself 
famous quite took away her breath. And she had been so 
ashamed of her handiwork at Beechlands ! So terrified lest 
anyone should guess how her spare hours were spent ! 



CHAPTER XXXVIII. 

BLIGH SPEAKS HER THOUGHTS. 

Bligh had obtained leave from Mr. Vaughan to wander about 
Glenarfon Park at any time that she felt inclined. The permis- 
sion was one which she valued highly, and frequently availed 
herself of whenever she wanted a pleasant walk without going 
very far. The Hall was enclosed on three sides by a solid stone 
wall that effectually shut it out from the works, which, however, 
were situated close by, at a distance of only a few hundred yards. 
Peeping through the massive iron gates which guarded the 
park, and gazing longingly at the cooi green grass within, the 
shadowy trees and noble mansion with its palm-houses and con- 
servatories, many a weary miner trudging: home after his Hay' s 



WEDDED TO SPORT 31 j 

toil in the dark bowels of the earth, might have been excused 
for casting wistful glances at Lord de Bretton s property. 
Amid the dirt, the dust, and griminess for which Glenarfon 
was conspicuous, it did indeed resemble an oasis in the 
desert. 

And as Bligh noted the want and destitution everywhere 
apparent without those ponderous barriers, and the beauty and 
the luxury that reigned within, her spirit rose up in indigna- 
tion against the wealthy owner of the land. 

" He does nothing — absolutely nothing for the people," she 
said to herself. " It would be so easy for him to open this 
place — say once a week, on a Sunday afternoon, and let the 
poor workmen with their wives and children rove about the 
park, and have a sight of something green. It would do 
very little harm ; I am persuaded of that : and even if it did, 
it would not count for much when weighed in the scales against 
the innocent pleasure conferred. People who have to work 
by the sweat of their brow require refining influences to prevent 
them from degenerating into mere beasts of burden. Occasional 
amusement is not good for, but necessary to their barren, toil- 
some lives. It keeps them human ; but I suppose such ideas 
as these never enter his lordship's head. From all accounts, he 
must be an odious, selfish wretch who thinks of nobody but him- 
self. Such men as he are not fit to hold property, and my only 
wonder is that the lower classes are as good as they are. Were 
I in their place, I should feel very strongly tempted to overleap 
Lord de Bretton's stone walk and enjoy what is on the other 
side of it." 

One bright spring day Bligh was meditating in the above 
manner. Profiting by the mildness of the weather, she had 
taken out her palette and colour box, and was busily engaged in 
sketching a view of the valley. She had chosen a spot not far 
from the park gates, which had frequently struck her as forming 
a fit ting subject for a picture. In the foreground on a rising 
knoll stood a group of very old birches, their stems bent by the 
wind, and stripped of their white bark. On the right rose the 
square ivy-covered tower of the church, with its slender 
steeple glistening in the sunshine. Farther off the works and 
great smoky furnaces were to be seen softened by a becoming 
distance, and in their rear the outline of the purple hills stood 
but pure and clear against the blue March sky. For weeks past 
Bligh had intended making a water-colour from this particular 
place, but hitherto the weather had been against her putting her 
purpose into execution. 

She soon was busily engaged, and after a couple of hours, 
~.4-~~a~ i; r o+i OTT v.a/3 nearly finished her sketch to her satis- 



312 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

faction, when suddenly she was startled by hearing a voice 
behind her say — " May I be allowed to look ? " 

She gave a jump of astonishment, not having the least idea 
that anybody was scrutinising her work. The vcice was smooth 
and pleasant in quality, and evidently belonged to a gentleman. 
This was her first impression. Then she turned round, and her 
eyes encountered those of a good-looking young man, whose 
age might have been somewhere about thirty-one or two. He 
was tall and fair, with a well-cut aquiline nose, and a remark- 
ably clear complexion which betokened an excellent constitution. 
The expression of his face was sunny as a child's, and singularly 
attractive. All this Bligh saw at a glance. 

He wore a checked tweed suit, and a cap of the same mate- 
rial. His manner was easy and natural, without being the least 
intrusive, and she perceived immediately that he had nothing in 
common with the travelling bagmen and agents, who were in 
the habit of visiting Glenarf on. The stranger, whoever he might 
be, was a gentleman, and accustomed to good society. His soft, 
refined accents betrayed that fact. 

So in answer to his request, she said politely, " You are wel- 
come to look if you like, but I am no great artist, and fear my 
poor sketch is not worth inspection." 

He advanced a step nearer, and examined the little water- 
colour critically, and with the eye of a connoisseur. 

" On the contrary," he said, " it is extremely good, and dis- 
plays a great deal of true artistic perception. Those birches are 
admirable. One can almost see the wind bending their weather- 
worn trunks, and your colouring also is capital ; but if I might 
make a suggestion, I would point out that those hills in the 
background are just a trifle too vivid. They give a flatness to 
the general effect. Now, in my humble opinion, if you were to 
tone them down a little you would at once put a great deal of 
extra distance into the picture. It only wants that to be perfect." 

Gratified by the strangers praise, Bligh at once profited by 
his hint, and was delighted with the result. He had hit upon 
the chief defect of the sketch. 

"• Ah ! " she cried. " You must be an artist yourself. No one 
else would have seen my fault so immediately." 

He smiled, and answered carelessly — 

" I dabble a little in the fine arts from time to time, but only 
as an amateur. To be an artist means six or eight hours daily 
of serious study, and I am afraid I have not enough patience 
for that. You are very clever to have succeeded in making such 
a pretty water-colour ; for it seems to me this dirty, unpicturesque 
valley presents but few subjects worthy of the painter's brush." 

" I thought like you when I first came here," she answered, 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 3^ 

frankly, " and was packing up the very next morning after my 
arrival ; but with all its drawbacks, Glenarfon grows upon one 
on better acquaintance. There are so many human interests 
concentrated in the works that in course of time even the per- 
petual noise seems quite like an old friend. And then it is im- 
possible ever to feel dull in a place of this sort." 

" Indeed ! You surprise me. I should have thought Glenar- 
fon the dullest hole on earth." 

" To my mind, no place can be dull where there is so much 
to be done," she replied. 

" In what way ? May I venture to beg you to enlighten my 
ignorance ? " And so saying, he seated himself on a round 
granite boulder, a few yards from the spot where she had pitched 
her camp-stool, evidently with the intention of continuing the 
conversation. 

" I mean that there is so much to be done among the people," 
said Bligh, gravely. " Many of them are little better off than 
savages, and although they pay high rents for their cottages, you 
never saw such damp, miserable, tumble-down holes as they are. 
Fevers are continually breaking out, and the doctor told me only 
the other day that the great mortality which takes place is al- 
most entirely owing to defective drainage." 

" Everybody is mad on drains nowadays," remarked her 
companion. 

" I do not think you would say that if you were to take a five 
minutes' walk round the town," she returned. " In winter the 
smells are not so bad, but when the weather is hot they are 
something awful. Dr. Watkin is very anxious to start a scheme 
of public sewerage. Unfortunately, the proprietor of Glenarfon, 
whose real business it is to contribute to everything calculated to 
improve the condition of his men, takes very little interest in 
the welfare of the people he employs." 

"Are you sure that is the fact ? " inquired the stranger, shift- 
ing slightly on his seat, as if he found it hard. 

" Everybody says so, and certainly my personal experience 
tends to confirm the statement. Go into the town, the works, 
or the cottages, and on all sides one hears the same story, ' Lord 
de Bretton is an absentee landlord. He never comes near the 
place, and does not care twopence what becomes of it, so long 
as he continues to draw his rents regularly.' For my part," she 
went on decidedly, " I think Lord de Bretton must either be a 
fool, or a very bad man, and in either case I admit to feeling 
strongly prejudiced against him." 

Her interlocutor desisted from sucking the knob of his stick 
— an occupation which during Bligh's speech apparently afforded 
him considerable pleasure — and looked up sharply. 



314 WEDDED TO SPORT 

" Why do you take such a violent dislike to a person," he 
asked, " whom, according to your own account, you have never 
even seen ? " 

" For a very simple reason," she said. " It does not fall to 
everyone's lot to have wide opportunities given them of doing 
goo<L Lord de Bretton might do so much — gladden the lives 
of so many miserable people if he did but choose, and he does 
nothing — or next to nothing. The money which he draws from 
Glenarfon he spends elsewhere, and he simply ignores his re- 
sponsibilities as landlord. Surely wealth has some obligations. 
The saying, ' JS'oblesse oblige,' also holds good in the case of 
riches. His lordship has a large income without ever having 
done a thing to earn it In some countries the mines from which 
he derives the principal part of his revenue would be regarded 
as State property. One hears a great deal in these times of un- 
earned increment, and this valley is an exemplification of it 
Without its coal and iron, what would the estate be worth ? Xot 
five hundred a year, for the land is so rough it is only fit to graze 
mountain cattle upon." 

" That may be, at the same time I fail to see why Lord de 
Bretton has not a right to do what he likes with his own." 

" Is it his own ? Is anything a man's own which he can only 
keep going by the help of his fellow-creatures ? What good 
would these mines be to his lordship without hired labour ? 
They would lie idle and unprofitable. I maintain that the people 
who toil have a right to be treated with consideration, and one 
of the first things is to give them decent, weatherproof houses 
to live in. Year after year, Lord de Bretton amuses himself by 
touring round the world, and so on, instead of residing here a 
portion of the time, as he is in duty bound to do. I would give all 
I possess to take him to a place called Pit-row, and show him a 
lot of cottages there. Without exaggeration, they are not fit for 
human habitation, and yet the unfortunate inmates have to pay 
a rent of eight shillings a week for these wretched hovels, which 
are literally very little better than pig-sties. If you ask why 
they don't apply to their landlord to effect the necessary repairs, 
the reply is always. 'Oh! he is travelling abroad, and will do 
nothing." 

The stranger drew his cap over his eyes. He seemed to find 
the sun somewhat dazzling. 

'■ You appear to have a great dislike to Lord de Bretton," he 
observed. " Has it never occurred to you that he may not know 
all that goes on in his absence ? " 

' : Then he ought to know,'' she retorted, with considerable 
spirit, il I don't consider that any excuse, for it is his business 
to know. Why should he leave evervtbino r tr> a mnnnow ^ben it 
is his duty to inquire intc „::^r.; . : --:.. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



315 



T\\(t stranger rose, and for a moment his bright, good-tempered 
face beeame overcast. 

"Well !" he said, looking uncertainly at her with a pair of 
well-opened blue eyes. " Perhaps you are right. Anyhow I am 
much obliged for the interesting information which you have 
been kind enough to volunteer. Good-morning." So saying, 
he doffed his cap, showing a close-cut crop of fair hair, and 
sauntered leisurely away in the direction of the works. 

liligh could not resist, an impulse which prompted her to look 
after his retreating form. The stranger possessed an engaging 
personality, which, in spite of her indifference to the sex, proved 
attractive. She felt that she should like to see more of him, 
and experienced a strong desire to know who he was. 

" f wonder who he can he, and what brings him to this part 
of the world," she mused. " lie neither looked like a tourist, 
nor yet a. business man. Somehow or other he had an air about 
him which gave one the impression he was a personage of im- 
portance. One can nearly always tell." 

Thus meditating, she finished her sketch, and trotted off 
home. It was not an every-day occurrence to meet an interest- 
ing stranger at (Jlenarfon ; nevertheless, she omitted to mention 
the circumstance to l)chorali; although in her capacity of 
confidential servant she generally lold her every little event that 
took place during the day. At three o'clock liligh went to the 
sehoolhouse, where she remained until five, giving practical 
illustrations of the culinary art to a large number of single and 
married young women, who had assembled for the purpose. It 
was not only hot, but also tiring work ; and when the lesson 
came to an end, she put on her hat, opened the door, and stood 
for a few minutes on the stone steps that led from the classroom 
to the ground, enjoying the fresh breeze that came sweeping 
down from the mountains. Just then she perceived two figures 
coming straight towards her. One belonged to the parish clergy- 
man, Mr. havies, the other — she: recognised it at once — was 
thai of the good-looking stranger who had accosted her earlier 
in the day. They ascended the steps, evidently with the purpose 
of addressing her, so she stood still. 

" Good afternoon, Mrs. burton," said Mr. Davies, with a 
warm shake of the hand. "We have been to your house to pay 
a formal and respectful call, but were told that, as usual, you 
were charitably employed. May I introduce Lord de brctton, 
who is anxious to make your acquaintance." 

The surprise was so great that Bligh took a step backwards, 
with the result that the door against which she had been lean- 
ing, and which was only partially closed, (lew open, and she 
f t ji i,,..,.,;i„ u, «iw. fWicr in (he n\<\<\ undignified manner. Both 



316 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

gentlemen rushed to her assistance, and raised her to an upright 
position. 

" Are you hurt, Mrs. Burton ? " inquired Mr. Davies, anx- 
iously. 

"Yes — no, yes," she responded, all red and confused. "I 
am almost afraid that I have sprained my ankle. It is very 
stupid, but I can hardly put my right foot to the ground." She 
tried to hobble a step or two, but the pain was so intense that 
she was glad to desist from the endeavour. 

" Sit down," said Mr. Davies, fetching a chair. " You are 
not fit to walk, that's quite evident, and if Lord de Bretton will 
look after you for a few minutes, I'll run round to the vicarage 
and fetch my pony chaise to convey you home." 

" Thank you very much," said Bligh, gratefully. 

Hitherto his lordship had not spoken, but when Mr. Davies 
had departed on his errand, I12 said, apologetically — • 

" I feel as if I were in a great measure responsible for this 
unfortunate accident, Mrs. Burton. I may have been wrong, 
but it seemed to me that the mention of my name came as a 
surprise, and startled you considerably." 

" I admit to having been rather taken aback," she confessed, 
" particularly when I remembered our conversation of this morn- 
ing-" 

" Why should that disturb you ? " he said, with a smile. 

" Lord de Bretton, it is useless my trying to soften my words 
now, or attempting to deny that I spoke my thoughts. I can 
only say in self-defence that had I possessed the advantage of 
knowing who you were, I should certainly not have been guilty 
of the rudeness of giving such frank utterance to them." 

" Pray don't distress yourself, Mrs. Burton. It does one 
good every now and again to hear the truth, even when it is not 
altogether palatable." 

" That may be, but it is scarcely the place of an absolute 
stranger to inform one of one's faults." 

" I don't owe you any malice for informing me of mine." 

" Then generosity must be rank amongst your virtues," she 
rejoined. 

" If I possess any," he said, with a laugh. " You did not 
give me much of a character, certainly. Do you know it was 
one of the most curious sensations I ever experienced in my 
life, sitting on that stone listening to the list of my shortcom- 
ings. I had no idea it was so formidable before. Your words 
made quite an impression, and I have been thinking over them 
ever since." 

He spoke so seriously, and yet with such perfect good- 
humour, that Bligh felt encouraged to say — 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 3^ 

" What I told you about the cottages in Pit-row is all quite 
true. They arc in a dreadful condition." 

" So 1 gather. Yaughan ought to have informed me long ago 
that they needed repairs." 

" Since you are here," she said, placing an unconscious 
emphasis on the " are," "would it not be more satisfactory to 
see the cottages with your own eyes, instead of trusting to the 
report of a third person ? " 

" By Jove ! Mrs. Burton, you are right. What do you say? 
Shall we make a bargain ? " 

" That depends very much on what it is," she answered, 
guardedly. 

"Will you come with me ? " 

She hesitated for a moment, then said — " Yes, as soon as my 
bothersome ankle gets well." 

" All right. I shall keep you to your word. Do you know 
that since my arrival this morning I have been making a tour of 
the place, and wherever I went 1 heard nothing but your praises 
sung. I had a kind of an idea who you were when 1 committed 
the rudeness of overlooking your sketch." 

" Indeed ! " she exclaimed, playfully. " Then you took a 
mean advantage." 

He laughed. 

" If I did you can't complain, Mrs. Burton, for you punished 
me severely." 

She reddened consciously. His manner was so winning that 
in his actual presence it became almost impossible to judge him 
harshly. It occurred to her that his sins proceeded more from 
heedlessness and thoughtlessness than from a bad heart. 

" I don't exactly know why I should wish to excuse myself to 
you," he resumed, after a slight pause, " but I do ; and there 
are a few extenuating circumstances which I should like to put 
before you. To begin with, L was horribly strictly brought up 
by an old uncle and aunt. They meant well, no doubt, but 
they rendered my life a burden. My spirits were naturally 
high. I had an intense love of fun and merriment, yet I was 
never allowed to mix with any young people of my own age. 
Their influence was supposed to be contaminating. From morn- 
ing till night this excellent old couple talked goody-goody talk 
for my edification. My aunt dragged me to church three times 
on Sunday, and would have liked me to spend my weekdays 
toddling round the village dealing out tracts and quarter of a 
pound packets of tea." 

Bligh could not help laughing. The tone in which he re- 
called his childhood was so infinitely dismal. 

" Go on, please," she said. : ' I gather that you did not take 
kind 1 "■ 



318 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" An extra narrow, rigid, and religious education very seldom 
answers with young men," he continued. " It nearly always has 
the opposite effect, and drives them to commit every sort of 
deviltry. I know it did with me. I was so bullied and badgered 
by my fond, but injudicious relatives that, when they both died, 
and shortly afterwards I came into this property, I resolved to 
have a real good time of it. I was then twenty-five, and am now 
thirty-two. Doubtless all that you said this morning about the 
obligations of property and so on is perfectly true. Once or 
twice lately the same thoughts have occurred to me, but can't 
you understand a colt who has been hobbled kicking up his 
heels a bit when he first regains his liberty ? " 

'' Yes," said Bligh, demurely, " so long as he is a colt." 

'' Ah ! you mean that my coltish days are over, and that I am 
past the days of sowing my wild oats ? " 

" Are men ever too old for that process ? " she inquired, a 
trifle maliciously. 

" I intended to have a good time," pursued Lord de Bretton, 
" and I don't mind confessing I have had it ; but, latterly, 
whether it is because I'm getting old, developing a liver, or 
what not, I have taken quite a serious turn, and have begun to 
tire of perpetually seeking pleasure. Some few months ago I 
was in Africa, shooting big game, and I came across an old 
Scotch missionary. He lived in a mud hut, slept on the floor 
with a wooden rest for a pillow, and was as poor as Job. He 
spent his days among a lot of ignorant savages, and for thirty 
years had never once visited his native land. Looking at his 
life from an outside point of view, it struck one as being about 
as lonely and miserable as could well be conceived. And yet 
that good old Scotchman was the happiest, most cheerful, and 
contented person I ever came across. I was laid up with fever 
in his hut for nearly two months, so saw a great deal of him. 
As I lay day after day, it set me thinking, Mrs. Burton, and I 
asked myself why is this man who has nothing to make him 
satisfied so much more so than I. For a long time the problem 
beat me, but I solved it at last. He was happy because he had 
succeeded in subduing every selfish instinct, and devoted his 
days to ministering to his fellow-creatures." 

Lord de Bretton glanced tentatively at Bligh, and encour- 
aged by the sympathetic look which encountered his, he con- 
tinued — 

" I am a thoughtless, harum-scarum fellow by nature ; but 
I learnt a good deal from that old Scotchman. It began to 
dawn upon me that I was perhaps neglecting my duties at 
home ; and when I met you this morning, and heard the im- 
pression my conduct had produced on an absolute, and con- 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 3lg 

sequently impartial stranger, the idea received strong confirma- 
tion. The long and the short of the matter is, Mrs. Burton, I 
have come here now with the desire to do what is right. The 
worst of it is," and he changed colour, " I am horribly igno- 
rant. I don't take kindly to schools, and parsons, and that 
sort of work, and then people impose upon one all round." 

" You must not be discouraged by a little imposition," said 
Bligh. " We most of us have to put up with that occasion- 
ally." 

" I have no right to ask a favour at your hands, Mrs. Bur- 
ton, especially as Mr. Davies has already told me how fully 
occupied your time is, but will you — will you help me ? " 

Bligh stretched out her hand impulsively. There is one 
temptation which a good woman never can resist, namely — ■ 
that of reforming a wicked but agreeable man. It is her spe- 
cial weakness ; and if she can but convert him, she is ready to 
forgive him all his sins. 

So in response to this appeal she said, " Yes, willingly. 
Only you must not expect too much from my aid." 

" I shall find it more valuable than anyone else's," he re- 
sponded. 

The conversation was here interrupted by the return of Mr. 
Davies. 

" Come, Mrs. Burton," he said. " I will drive you home, 
and I have taken the liberty of asking Dr. Watkin to call at 
your house, and bind up the poor ankle." 

" That was indeed thoughtful," she returned. 

By the help of the two gentlemen, she was put into the pony 
chaise. Lord de Bretton lifted his hat. 

" Good-bye, Mrs. Burton," he said. " I shall look forward 
to the pleasure of meeting again before long, and reminding 
you of your promise." 

" Well ! " said Mr. Davies to Bligh, directly they were alone. 
" What do you think of our landlord ? " 

" I think," she answered, " that he is a bad landlord, but 
a charming man. His manners are extremely pleasant." 

" Yes, it is impossible to help liking him when one is with 
him, however much one may disapprove of his actions." 

" Lord de Bretton appears anxious to turn over a new leaf," 
she said, " and in that case it is our duty to help him." 

" Just so, Mrs. Burton. I am quite of your opinion. He 
strikes me as being more thoughtless than bad." 

"No one could be really bad with such a face," she said, 
decidedly. 

She was firmly persuaded that to teach this handsome young 
man to forsake the broad for the narrow path would not prove 



320 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

a difficult task, provided the teacher went the proper way to 
work. 

For herself she feared no danger. She was thoroughly dis- 
gusted with men, and consequently love-proof. Henceforth, 
she fancied she could put her head inside a hornet's nest, and 
not be stung. 

Clever women make mistakes as well as stupid ones ; and in 
spite o c disappointments and disillusions, few are absolutely 
callous where the opposite sex are concerned. They may resist 
male influence for months — nay years, then one fine day they 
awake to find themselves mysteriously attracted by some mag- 
netical affinity, which completely upsets all their preconceived 
ideas. 



CHAPTER XXXIX. 

CONFESSIONS OF AN AUTHOR. 

Although Bligh's sprain fortunately did not prove very serious, 
Doctor Watkin declared that it would be necessary for her to 
keep perfectly quiet for a few days. As good luck would have 
it, the next morning's post brought plenty of employment, for 
Mr. Gray wrote saying he was anxious to bring out a cheap edi- 
tion of " Such is Man" as soon as possible, and sent a large 
bundle of proofs in case she wished to make any alterations. 
Several months having elapsed since the writing of the book, 
Bligh was now conscious of numerous mistakes, and eagerly 
hailed this opportunity of rectifying them. 

So she caused her sofa to be drawn up to the table, and was 
soon busily engaged. Mr. Gray had recommended some conden- 
sation of the work, otherwise the three volumes, when compressed 
into one, would, he affirmed, form a bulkier book than it was 
advisable to place on the bookstalls. Bligh was aware that 
Smith, roughly speaking, represented the entire trade, and realised 
the wisdom of conforming to this advice. At the same time, 
she did not altogether like the job, for few ordeals are more 
harrowing to a young author than being called upon to prune 
his highly-cherished periods. The outpourings of his fantasy 
are dear to him. They read so well in print, and he has not yet 
sufficient experience to have arrived at the puzzling fact that the 
writer's pet passages are nearly always those least appreciated by 
the public. They skip his most beautiful descriptions, and only 
care for what they call the story. In short, it requires a great 



n jiL'I'^IJ TO SPOK T. 321 

deal of practice to know what to strike out and what to leave in. 
It is not alwavs easy to effect a compromise between the author s 
vanity and the reader's taste. 

Bligh was honestly anxious to comply with Mr. Gray's demand ; 
but whenever she ran a black line through a sentence the action 
occasioned a pang. " Can you shorten by about a hundred 
pages without interfering with the plot ? "' wrote Mr. Gray in his 
letter. " If so. it would be better in every way." 

She had a great respect for his judgment, and did not venture 
to question it ; but never had she been requested to perform a 
more disagreeable task or one so repugnant to her feelings. She 
counted the lines in order to ascertain how many there were on 
each page, and then put down the number excised on a piece 
of blotting paper, and added them up at the end of five or six 
chapters to see if the scoring out progressed fast enough. But 
it was work that went against the grain, affording an immense 
amount of anxiety and very little pleasure. In some instances 
it proved excessively difficult to take up the thread of the story 
and dexterously rejoin it after it had been snipped asunder. 
Bligh plodded away patiently at her inevitable task, but before 
very long she discovered that it was both much quicker and 
easier to make her corrections in a bound three-volume copy 
than to handle the long strips of paper sent her by Mr. Gray, 
which kept dropping to the floor and getting out of order. Mean- 
while, her cheeks grew hot and her head confused, owing to go- 
ing over the familiar sentences so often. Having lost the charm 
of novelty thev ceased to make an agreeable impression. 

" What horrible stuff it is." she murmured to herself dissati* 
fiedly. "I'm sick to death of tire trash, and wonder what on 
earth anybody can see in it."' 

By-and-bye she would pause and re-read one of her favourite 
passages, and think. " There's something in it. after all. It's 
not so very, very bad. The characters and situations are true 
to life, and strike home. That is tire great thing." Whereupon 
a smile curved the corners of her mouth, and she continued her 
occupation with renewed energy. Indeed, she was so engrossed 
by it that she never heard the front door bell ring, nor a manly 
voice inquire if Mrs. Burton were within. Visitors before lunch- 
eon were so rare that it had not occurred to her to pronounce 
those convenient words " Not at home," without which no man 
is lord of his own castle. Therefore, when Deborah ceremoni- 
ously ushered Lord de Bretton into the room she looked up 
with a start of confusion, and made a vain endeavour to sweep 
all the loose papers with which the table was covered into her 
lap. 

'• Good-morning, Mrs. Burton," he said, apologetically. " I 

21 



322 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

was passing by this way and could not resist the temptation of 
calling to inquire how you were." 

" Thanks," answered Bligh, not very cordially, for she was 
vexed at being surprised in her occupation. " You are extremely 
kind." 

" Meaning to say that I am an impertinent dog to intrude 
where I am not wanted. But, tell me how is the ankle ? " 

" Pretty well," she returned, beginning to recover her presence 
of mind. 

" Is it going to be a long job ? I am thinking of Pit-row." 
And he smiled brightly. 

" No, I hope not. Doctor Watkin assured me that if I laid up 
for a few days I should soon regain my walking powers " 

She stopped suddenly, aware that Lord de Bretton was not 
listening. His eye was fixed on the table. 

" Ah ! " he exclaimed. " I perceive that you have been lucky 
enough to get the book which has created such a sensation, and 
which the libraries seem quite unable to supply. Will you allow 
me to have a look at it ? I am so anxious to read it that I am 
seriously contemplating an expenditure of twenty-one and six." 
Before Bligh could reply, he took up the first volume, on which 
■she had been engaged, and began eagerly turning over its pages. 

" Why ! " he cried indignantly. " What's the meaning of this ? 
Somebody has been playing old Harry with the author's work. 
There are whole sentences struck out in the most ruthless man- 
ner." Then, all at once, as he gazed into Bligh's crimson face, 
a light illumined his comprehension, and made the whole thing 
clear. 

" By Jove ! Mrs. Burton," he ejaculated, " I believe I have 
discovered the secret which everybody is dying to know." 

" What secret ? " she mumbled, with a vain effort at maintain- 
ing her composure. 

" Who Stonyer Stone is. In other words, the writer of that 
remarkable book, ' Such is Man.' " 

She saw that it was useless to dissemble. 

" Lord de Bretton," she said, with gentle dignity, " you are a 
gentleman, and as such I appeal to your sense of honour. Acci- 
dent has placed you in a position to discover that which I am 
desirous of keeping from the rest of the world — at any rate, for 
the present. You will not betray me, will you ? " 

" Betray you ! My dear Mrs. Burton, of course not. You 
may trust me implicitly. Not a word of this will I breathe to a 
living soul. Your secret is safe in my hands. But how clever 
you must be to write such a book ! No wonder I felt small when 
you condescended to lecture me ! " And he looked at Bligh with 
so profound an admiration that she turned redder than ever. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 323 

" It is no great accomplishment to have written a silly novel," 
she said, deprecatingly. " Almost every other woman whom 
one meets nowadays aspires to be an authoress. Before long we 
shall have to pay the readers not the authors. That is what 
things are coming to." 

" You may belittle your performance as you like, Mrs. Burton, 
but you forget that amongst the army of aspiring writers there 
are comparatively few who succeed. As a rule, novels sink or 
swim pretty well according to their merits, and the public are 
excellent judges of what they like and dislike." 

" I think there is a good deal in just managing to hit off a popu- 
lar subject," she said, modestly. 

"You can't do that without talent," replied Lord de Bretton. 
" But tell me how you work. I have always had the greatest 
curiosity to know how authors manufacture their masterpieces. 
Do you wait until the inspiration seizes you, and then — no matter 
what the time or the place — fly to pen and paper ? " 

Bligh laughed. 

" That is the orthodox idea ; but, personally, I find there is a 
good deal of nonsense talked about inspiration. If you were 
always to wait for its advent you would get through very little 
real hard work. Perseverance and steady application are truer 
friends, in my humble opinion, than fitful flashes of genius, which, 
if not continually cultivated, soon flicker away to nothing at all." 

" I daresay you are right," said her companion, thoughtfully. 

" I can't speak for others, but I know that I am right in my 
own particular case. Often and often if I were to give in to the 
idle instincts which assail me I should remain at a complete 
standstill. There are days when my disinclination to write is so 
great that I hail the smallest incident as an excuse to prevent 
me from sitting down to my desk. I am dull, tired, drowsy, 
averse to mental labour. But," and she clenched her little 
hand, " I won't give in. Over and over again, when suffering 
from such a mood, I have shut myself up in my room, and said, 
' Now you shan't come out until you have done so much.' At 
first I wrote mechanically and with conscious effort ; but, grad- 
ually, I would warm to the subject, and in the end my will invari- 
ably triumphed. In that way many of my best chapters have 
been written." 

" You interest me extremely," said Lord de Bretton. " Pray 
go on." 

" It requires a good deal of resolution," she continued ; " but 
I hate the idea of being conquered by my inclination. However, 
the reward comes by degrees, for in process of time one acquires 
a habit of work and of concentrating one's thoughts at will into 
a given channel. And the habit, once formed, is of infinitely 



324 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

more value than inspiration. Of course, I am speaking merely 
of my own personal experience." 

" Don't you find writing a very amusing occupation ? " he in- 
quired. " It always seems to me that it must be delightful 
work." 

She shrugged her shoulders. 

" To that question I can unhesitatingly answer No. People's 
ideas naturally vary, but I cannot understand anybody whose 
literary ideal is in the least exalted looking upon writing as a 
mere amusement. It is interesting, engrossing, absorbing if you 
like, but amusing — no." 

" Indeed ! you surprise me, Mrs. Burton." 

" You are subjected to too many difficulties and perplexities," 
she resumed ; " and the more successful you may be the greater 
becomes your sense of responsibility towards the public. You 
feel that they expect something from you, and you have no right 
to disappoint them. For this reason an author can never relax 
or take liberties with his reputation — that is to say, if he would 
maintain it at its highest level. Book-writing is a profession 
like any other, and entails a vast amount of labour. No one 
need imagine that it is all easy and fair sailing. Brain work is 
frightfully exhausting. It tries the whole frame, and unless peo- 
ple are prepared to put their shoulder very resolutely to the 
wheel they had much better not attempt the toilsome hill of lit- 
erature. You can't step to the top with a giant's stride except 
in very rare instances." 

"And yet," observed Lord de Bretton, jestingly, "when you 
get there the sun seems to shine very brightly and warmly." 

" Only for a brief period," she responded, in a graver tone. 
" You can't afford to bask in its rays. Look at me, for example. 
My first book has been — what the world is good enough to call 
— a success. In consequence I am filled with apprehension 
about my second. It is in the nature of things that it should 
disappoint, owing to the high expectations which, unfortunately 
for me, have been formed. If the public are kind they forgive 
you one failure, and suspend their judgment ; but if your third 
bo^i does nothing to enhance your reputation then you must be 
prepared to sink gracefully down into the sea of oblivion. It 
follows, therefore, that an author has always to be on his mettle, 
or readers who give half-a-crown for a book at a bookstall in 
almost every instance want their money's worth." 

Lord de Bretton gave a smile of amusement. 

" You seem to take a very matter-of-fact view of the situation," 
he remarked. 

" I flatter myself that I take a common-sense one," she re- 
plied. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 335 

" But it appears to me, Mrs. Burton, that you entirely leave 
fame out of your calculations. Are you not ambitious ? " 

" Yes, very, in my own particular way ; though I see no good 
in talking about one's aspirations when one can't realise them." 

" Haven't you realised yours ? " 

" Me ! " and she stifled a sigh. " No, I should think not. 
Fame, such as I have achieved, counts for nothing in my eyes. 
It is not fame, but only a nine days' notoriety. If Stonyer Stone 
can continue for the next fifteen or twenty years to write a series 
of good books, then, perhaps, she may feel that she has won her 
spurs." 

" I don't think many authors hold such modest opinions," 
said Lord de Bretton. '• The few whom I have met have always 
appeared singularly satisfied with their own performances." 

" They are much to be envied, and I wish I could imitate 
them," she said, " for it has ever seemed to me that self-satisfac- 
tion must be a most comfortable state. Only I doubt if their 
standard is high. To me the struggle is intense, since, strive 
as one may, one never can realise one's ideals."' 

Lord de Bretton glanced at her admiringly. 

" You ought to go very far," he said. 

She shook her heaJ. 

'• No, I do my best, but there is something lacking. A wide 
gulf exists between talent and genius. Generally speaking, a 
woman's life is too narrow and confined for her to make a great 
novelist, in the true sense of the word. She marries or she 
doesn't marry. She is happy in her domestic circle, or the re- 
verse. As a rule, home constitutes all her world, by which she 
shapes her ideas. When she writes of love she writes of her 
individual experiences, and of men the same. Her heroes are 
either demi-gods or devils. There is no juste milieu." 

He laughed merrily 

"I like hearing you talk, Mrs. Burton. You are so funny." 

" Thanks. I am charmed to contribute to your amusement. 
No woman nowadays can indulge in the luxury of being dull, 
for the male sex seem to consider that they have a right to be 
entertained. But allow me to disillusion you. I am not natu- 
rally a ' funny ' person, and cannot keep up my drollness for any 
length of time. Do you intend making a long stay here, because 
if so it will be fatal to my reputation as a clown.'' 

" That depends on how much you find for me to do." 

" Then I predict that you will be a fixture at Glenarfon for 
months." 

" Are you prepared to go on being 'funny 'for my edifica- 
tion ? " he asked jestingly. " I like to be entertained." 

" You shall be entertained as vou hnve never been before — 
with 



326 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

" I'll try to like it," he said, submissively. 

" And in return, Lord de Bretton, I intend some day to ask a 
favour of you." 

" What is it, Mrs. Burton ? Needless to say, your request is 
granted beforehand." 

" I want to know if either you or Mr. Vaughan will take me 
down a coal-pit, for I have the greatest curiosity to see one." 

" Most certainly ; as soon as ever your ankle is well we will 
go together. I am almost ashamed to confess — especially to 
you — that it is years since I last went underground. And now," 
he added, rising and taking his hat, " I feel that I have intruded 
long enough on the famous Stonyer Stone's time : but, before I 
go, may I put a counter request ? " 

" Certainly," said Biigh. 

'• Would you — would you be so very good as to lend me a 
copy of your book, always provided you have one to spare. I 
wanted to read it awfully before I came here, but since making 
the author's acquaintance my wish is naturally intensified." 

41 I have a very good mind not to give it to you," she said, 
banteringly, " for you will no longer bring an impartial mind to 
bear upon my poor stuff, but allow your judgment to be influ- 
enced by your impressions of the writer." But, in spite of her 
words, she wrote his name in a fresh copy, and presented it to 
him with a smile. 

" Will you accept this as a peace offering ? " she asked. 

" Won't I, that's all. The arrows of your contempt still quiver 
in my heart, Mrs. Burton ; but I am determined not to leave 
Glenarfon until I have earned a place in your good graces." 

She laughed and gave him her hand. 

" You have done that already," she rejoined, with a rising col- 
our. " But my good graces count for nothing. I want you to 
gain those of the people, which are infinitely more important." 



CHAPTER XL. 

IN THE CROFTAGE MINE. 

A fortnight went by, and on some pretext or other Lord de 
Bretton contrived to see Bligh every day. She did not dare ask 
herself why the time passed so quickly and pleasantly, or why 
this particular spring seemed so much brighter than its prede- 
cessors. She only knew that she was happy, with a happiness 
which instinct whispered it was not wise to analyse. Every night 
she looked forward expc^ "tlv to thf> mnrninp-. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



3^7 



A certain recklessness of consequences was beginning to steal 
over her spirit. She tried hard not to reason, and when disturb- 
ing thoughts refused to be banished, she said to herself, " I have 
had so little pleasure in my life, surely there is no harm in my 
enjoying myself whilst I can. One of these days he will be 
going away, and then I shall have nothing left but the old routine 
of struggle and duty to fall back upon." 

Nevertheless at times an uneasy feeling warned her that she 
was entering on a foolish course ; but she refused to listen to 
the voice of prudence, and for a whole fortnight succumbed to 
temptation, and lived in a fool's paradise. She was fully aware 
that she could not continue to do so, and knew that sooner or 
later a change must come ; but she did nothing wilfully to pre- 
cipitate events. As long as Lord de Bretton remained in Glen- 
arfon she could not resist the pleasure of seeing him. Uncon- 
sciously, she had learnt to listen for his footstep, to brighten up 
at the sound of- his cheery voice. Things were in this state 
when one morning he called as usual ; for he had got into the 
way of popping in about eleven o'clock, either bringing some 
choice hothouse flowers, or else to see if she would take a walk. 

" How do you do, Mrs. Burton," he said. " I have come 
to-day to escort you down a coal-pit, according to your wish. 
Vaughan wants me to inspect the Croftage Mine, where we em- 
ploy between two and three hundred hands, so I remembered 
my promise to you. He — Vaughan — is unable to accompany 
us, having an important appointment, but he has arranged for 
Mr. Llewellyn, the chief underlooker, to meet us at the pit's 
mouth, and do showman." 

Bligh's ankle was now quite well again, so she eagerly hailed 
the above proposal ; more particularly as she intended to write 
a colliery chapter in her new book, and was anxious to have the 
details correct. 

" Do you happen to possess such a thing as a short skirt and 
a pair of goloshes ? " inquired his lordship. " I fancy one gets 
uncommonly wet and dirty." 

" I'll wear my waterproof," she answered. " It's of the ortho- 
dox colour — black, and won't easily spoil ; and I'll get Deborah 
to lend me her goloshes. Then I can defy the mud." So say- 
ing, she ran upstairs, and soon appeared sensibly, if not orna- 
mentally, clad for the occasion. 

He looked at her smilingly and said, " You'll do fine," and 
Bligh felt quite gratified by his approval. 

A short walk of five minutes brought them to the pit's mouth, 
where they found Mr. Llewellyn awaiting their arrival. 

Before descending he explained that the three seams of the 
Croftasre Mine were worked bv one shaft, but that there was 



328 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

also an upcast shaft for ventilation, with a capstan affording 
means of egress. The workings, moreover, were connected 
internally with the Bridget Colliery, about half a mile distant, 
so that the men could pass to and fro. 

" You must not feel nervous, Mrs. Burton," said Mr. Llewellyn, 
with a reassuring smile. " Some ladies are rather timid when 
they go underground for the first time ; but there is really no 
cause for alarm. We flatter ourselves that we are tolerably safe 
against accidents. By-the-bye," he continued, addressing Lord 
de Bretton, "the Government Inspector was round the other 
day, and I am happy to be able to inform you that he reported 
most favourably on the condition of the mine." 

"That's right," said Lordde Bretton, jocularly, "for we don't 
want to scare Mrs. Burton by an explosion." 

The words were lightly spoken, but as they seemed to cast an 
imputation on her courage, Bligh interposed spiritedly — 

" I beg leave to state that I am by no means so easily fright- 
ened as you appear to imagine." 

He contented himself with smiling at her in reply. 

They now entered the cage, and were let down a distance of 
over a hundred and fifty yards. As the light at the pit's mouth 
grew fainter and fainter, until at length only a mere speck could 
be seen, and the darkness and gloom momentarily increased, 
Bligh confessed to herself that the sensation of being transported 
into the bosom of the earth was decidedly awesome. It pro- 
duced a feeling of oppression, and cast a weird spell over the 
senses which held them in thrall. 

" Allow me to assist you, Mrs. Burton," said Mr. Llewellyn, 
when the cage came to a standstill. " It is often difficult for 
visitors to see until their eyes get accustomed to the light — or 
rather want of light." 

Bligh looked around. She found herself in a large subter- 
ranean passage, whose black walls glistened and dripped with 
moisture, as the rays of Llewellyn's Davy lamp fell upon them. 
Hearing a rumbling noise ahead, she shrank aside, just in time 
to make room for a sleek and powerful cart horse drawing a 
truck heavily laden with coal. 

" What ! " she exclaimed, in astonishment. " You actually 
have horses here ! " 

" Yes," laughed Mr. Llewellyn. " Our stable holds twenty, 
and if it held double the number we could employ them easily." 

" And they live underground ? " 

" Aye, and thrive better than above. Did you not notice what 
a gloss there was on that fellow's coat ? " 

"It all seems wonderful to me," she said, with a quick in- 
drawing of the breath. " I had not the least idea what a mine 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



329 



was like, and I am very glad to see one, if only to be able to 
realise the life of so many of my fellow-creatures. It must be 
horrible though to spend the greater part of one's days deprived 
of the light of the sun." 

" The men don't seem to mind," responded Mr. Llewellyn. 
" They get used to it from their boyhood, and numbers of them 
declare that they prefer working underground, where they are 
sheltered from wind and rain, to being on the surface. Custom 
is everything." 

" Yes, I suppose so," she answered, with a shiver. " For my 
part, I should call it no better than a living death." 

They now walked along the main passage four or five hundred 
yards from the shaft, and Mr. Llewellyn took them into several 
of the headings to show them how the men worked. If Bligh's 
compassion had been aroused in favour of the miners before, she 
pitied them doubly now, when she saw big, stalwart fellows, 
many of them six feet in height, lying on their backs picking 
away with laborious strokes at the hard coal by which they 
were surrounded, some had hewn regular caverns that had to 
be supported by props of wood, and wherever the roof showed 
symptoms of giving way, it was upheld by powerful brattices. 
A number of empty waggons stood close to where the men 
were at work. Half a dozen lads, from fourteen to sixteen years 
of age, were engaged in loading them. When full they were 
conveyed by horses to the shaft, drawn up, emptied on the 
bank, then sent down to be refilled. 

Bligh found her accoutrement stand her in good stead, for 
the farther they advanced the wetter became the passage. They 
splashed their way through one black puddle after another, and 
the moisture dripped in large drops upon their heads. 

" I don't think we need go on to the bitter end, Mrs. Burton," 
said Lord de Bretton, after a while. " When you have seen 
the upper seam, you have seen the lower ones. They are all 
pretty much alike ; and it's rough walking for a lady. What do 
you say ? Shall we retrace our footsteps ? " 

" I am perfectly willing," said Bligh, who, every yard she ad- 
vanced into the mine, suffered more and more from a feeling of 
oppression. " My curiosity is quite satisfied : and to tell the 
truth I long to regain the fresh air." 

" I am afraid you would never make a miner, Mrs. Burton," 
said Mr. Llewellyn, jestingly. 

" It is a most interesting sight," she said, apologetically. " I 
would not for worlds have missed coming ; at the same time, the 
mine gives the effect of a prison. Are we far from the pit's 
mouth ? " 

" About four hundred and fifty yards," he replied. " I took 



330 1VEDDED TO SPORT. 

you to the new headings on purpose, because just at present we 
have a great number of men employed there, and also, because 
I thought his lordship would like to see how we are extending 
our operations in that direction. The coal in this upper seam 
is very plentiful and of good quality, suitable for household 
purposes." 

" And how deep is the deepest seam ? " she inquired. 

" Over five hundred and fifty yards below the surface. We 
have nearly a hundred hands working there just now." 

" Poor things ! " she said. " I pity them." 

"They are very well sa "began Mr. Llewellyn, when sud- 
denly his attention was arrested by a putter boy, who, with a 
white scared face, came running from the interior of the mine 
as if pursued by a hundred devils. 

" Hulloa ! my lad," he exclaimed. " What's up ? " 

The words were scarcely out of his mouth before the entire pas- 
sage Was illumined by a rush of light, and at the same moment the 
lamps were extinguished. The earth quivered beneath their feet, 
and a deafening explosion was heard, accompanied by a furious 
blast of wind which hurled workers and visitors to the ground 
just as if they had been so many ninepins. Props were demol- 
ished, movable timbers flew shivered in all directions, and a 
number of the waggons were lifted out of their places, and 
violently upset. One of them fell on the boy who had sought to 
raise the alarm, and crushed him severely. 

Both Bligh and Lord de Bretton were rendered unconscious 
by the force of the shock. His lordship was the first to recover 
sensibility. He had not the least idea whether he had lain there 
for minutes or days. He breathed slowly and with difficulty, 
fighting against a horrible sense of suffocation. By degrees his 
mind grew clearer, and he realised that some apalling accident 
had taken place. Immediately his thoughts reverted to Bligh. 
She had been standing quite close to him, and could not be far 
off. Tremblingly, in the darkness, he put out his hand. It 
rested on the soft plaits of a woman's hair. The contact infused 
new life into him, and raising himself on one elbow, he strove to 
pierce the surrounding gloom. And then he dimly saw an awful 
sight. 

Men were lying prostrate in every direction. Some had been 
killed by the explosion, and lay as they fell in different postures ; 
others, stifled by the deadly gas, had fallen forwards on their 
faces, and seemed as if asleep ; whilst the injured writhed in 
agony, and uttered piteous cries for help, to which there came 
no response. Fright added to their sufferings. In many in- 
stances it was pitiful to behold how terror robbed them of their 
faculties. One great, strong, burly fellow was positively delirious 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 33 Y 

with fear, and kept on repeating the letters of the alphabet in 
schoolboy fashion, shouting them out at the top of his stentorian 
voice. Altogether it was a scene of surpassing horror. 

With mingled awe and dread Lord de Bretton staggered to 
his feet. There, straight before him, with blackened face and 
scorched clothes, lay the dead body of Mr. Llewellyn. His eyes 
were open, his lips parted as if the words he fain would have 
spoken in life had died suddenly arrested. And then for the 
first time a sensation of physical anguish seized Lord de Bretton. 
He stooped down, raised Bligh's prostrate form in his arms, and 
following the direction taken by the survivors, staggered blindly 
towards the pit's mouth. The atmosphere was well nigh insup- 
portable. Every minute he expected to be suffocated by the 
foul and poisonous after-damp which pursued his footsteps. 
Desperately he groped his way on, stumbling frequently— for 
the passage was no longer clear, but choked with debris. Some 
of the horses had got loose, and as they rushed madly to and fro, 
squealing and snorting, a prey to the wildest panic, they served 
but to intensify the danger of reaching the shaft. The perspi- 
ration poured down his brow. Each moment increased the 
difficulty of respiration. Urgent as was the necessity for speed, 
he was obliged to rest occasionally and collect his forces, other- 
wise they would have failed him altogether. There was a strange 
singing in his ears, and his brain reeled. He looked down 
at the precious burden which he carried. Bligh's head hung 
heavy on his right arm. He could see that her face was white 
and rigid. 

And then, suddenly, in spite of the pain and death from which 
he was seeking to escape, a temptation assailed him on which, 
almost immediately after he had yielded to it, he looked back 
with shame. 

Here in the dark bosom of the earth, removed from the glar- 
ing light of day, he felt that she was his own — his very own. 
The woman, of whom for days past he had dreamt, who, in his 
secret heart he worshipped as the best and purest of her sex, 
lay at his mercy. With a wave of passion inundating his whole 
being, and conquering even the terrors of the situation, he 
stooped his head, and kissed her warmly on the lips. 

" Bligh," he murmured, " Bligh, whether we are destined to 
live or die, let me hear you say once that you love me." 

Strange ! but the fierce hot kisses revived her to life. She 
sighed, opened her eyes, and encountered his ardent gaze. 

" Where am I ? " she inquired, faintly. " Is anything the 
matter ? " 

" Don't be afraid, darling little woman," he said, " you are 
with me. I will take care of you now and always." 



33 2 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



" What has happened ? " she asked, in a strange voice. 

" I scarcely know, but there has been a dreadful explosion." 

She shuddered. 

" Ah ! yes, I remember. We were in the mine. I saw a flash 
of light, and then all was darkness. Where are we now ? " 

" In the mine still. Bligh, you are brave. If anything goes 
wrong with us — if — if we can't succeed in effecting our escape, 
it won't seem so bad dying together — like this — in each other's 
arms, will it ? " 

She looked up into his face, and realised the danger ; but she 
was not afraid ; on the contrary, she experienced a thrill of joy, 
believing that their last moments were at hand, and there was 
no longer any need of concealment. All at once the laws and 
restraints imposed by men for the sake of society seemed to 
grow curiously small. 

" No," she whispered, laying her head on his breast. " It is 
much easier to die than to live apart." 

" Bligh," he said, straining her to his heart. " Say just once 
that you love me." 

" Bernard, you know that I do, and have done so since the 
first moment we met." 

Their nerves were unhinged by the shock of the explosion, 
and they were not themselves. They forgot the lesson so 
hardly learnt of civilisation, and, like the first man and the first 
woman, spoke out that which was in their hearts. They loved, 
and with death staring them in the face, it mattered little 
whether there were obstacles to their love or not. And yet, the 
confession once made, Bligh's modesty took alarm. A fierce 
blush dyed cheeks, throat and ears crimson. She was glad of 
the darkness. 

" Let me down," she said, with sudden embarrassment. "I 
am too heavy for you. You could get on much better without 
me, and besides — I can walk." 

His strength was nearly spent, and he allowed her to slip to 
the ground, retaining tight hold of her hand. She uttered an 
exclamation of dismay. 

" Oh ! " she cried. " The ground is all wet. Don't you feel 
the water coming rushing in ! It's nearly up to my knees 
already." 

In his excitement he had scarcely noticed this new danger by 
which they were threatened. His mind was fast losing its 
usual clearness. Just then a couple of miners, wild, pale, and 
haggard hurried by at topmost speed. 

" Make haste," they shouted. " Run for your lives. Some 
old workings must have given way, and caused a fresh rush of 
gas and water." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 333 

" God help us," murmured Lord de Bretton, hoarsely. " This 
air is killing me. It is as much as I can do to stand upright." 

" Bernard, Bernard," she cried. " Do not give in. Make an 
effort — the pit's mouth can't be far off." And with incredible 
strength she dragged him along. The water continued to rise. 
As they struggled on, they could feel its cold, insidious moisture 
mounting higher and higher. It was an awful race — a race for 
life. And yet at this supreme moment the consciousness of 
being together produced a secret exaltation which rose superior 
to physical fear. Had death overtaken them thus, with hand 
clasped in hand, and their hearts full of love, both felt that he 
would have been deprived of half his terrors. 

And now the cold black water gurgled and swirled almost up 
to their waists ; but nearer and clearer above their heads gleamed 
the blessed light of heaven. The shaft was close at hand. 
Around it were collected a crew of panic-stricken men, impa- 
tiently waiting for deliverance. The cage was broken by the force 
of the explosion, and a signal had been sent to the engine-house 
to repair it without loss of time, whilst those who had managed 
to effect their escape were eagerly expecting its appearance. A 
great mound of debris had accumulated since the morning at 
the bottom of the shaft. The men mounted on it, so as to keep 
out of the water. Some thirty or forty had congregated upon it, 
and other sarrived by degrees, though their numbers were lament- 
ably few. 

Half a dozen pairs of rough, blackened hands were stretched 
forth to the rescue of Bligh and Lord de Bretton as they neared 
the mount. If the water did not rise any more they were safe — 
always provided relief from above was not delayed. When the 
crisis was past Bligh began to feel deadly faint, and would have 
fallen had not Lord de Bretton held her up. He, on the con- 
trary, revived on inhaling the purer air which descended the 
shaft. An anxious half hour followed, when suddenly a hoarse 
shout was raised by the men. All eyes were strained upward, 
and slowly the cage was seen to descend, filled by an exploring 
party. The instant it reached the bottom there was a rush to- 
wards it, and a scene of confusion threatened to take place, 
when Lord de Bretton called out in a ringing voice, " Hulloa ! 
my men, where are your manners ? Let the lady go first, and 
with her those who are the most seriously injured. Have pa- 
tience only for a few minutes more, and you will all be safely 
brought to the bank." 

His words produced an immediate effect, appealing as they 
did to the better instincts of his listeners. 

" Aye, aye," shouted a great muscular fellow, who had noth- 
ing on but a burnt shirt and a pair of trousers. " His lordship 



334 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



says true. Let the lady and the lads have first turn. They 
won't keep us waiting long, I'll be bound." 

Bligh turned and looked entreatingly at her companion. 

" You won't let me go alone ? " she said. " You will come 
too, won't you ? " 

Lord de Eretton shook his head. 

" For my sake," she pleaded, softly. 

'' Dear," he said, in an undertone, " there are very few re- 
quests of yours which I could find it in my heart to refuse, but 
if I were to seize the first opportunity of safety, and leave the 
men whom I employ in danger, I should never forgive myself. 
It is my duty to stay." 

" Bernard, this is madness. You can do no good." 

' k Perhaps not, but I shall try my best to relieve the sufferers. 
There is that poor boy who was crushed under the waggon. I 
can't bear the thought of leaving him lying there. He may be 
dead, but he may also only be wounded." 

" How can you reach him with this water ? " 

" I don't know. I only know that I mean to try. Besides, 
the water is going down-. I have contrived to measure it whilst 
we have been here, and in the last ten minutes it has sunk an 
inch." 

" Do you actually mean to go back into the mine with the 
exploring party ? " she asked, horror-stricken. 

" Such is my intention." 

She grasped tight hold of his arm. 

" Bernard, Bernard, don't do it. It will be the death of you. 
Let the others go, but not you — not you. Your life is too pre- 
cious." 

He disengaged himself gently, and looked at her with steady 
eyes. 

'• Bligh/' he said, in tones of tender reproach, " it is not like 
you to prevent me from doing my duty. Hemember, dear, that 
iove must not make us selfish." 

The colour rushed to her face. 

" God forgive me," she said, " I think I must have gone 
mad. You are right. 'Whatever happens, of course you are 
right, my good and noble Bernard." 

'• I shall get through my work quicker and better, Bligh, if I 
can think of you as being safe. Will you go in the cage to 
please me ? " 

"Yes," she said, submissively. " I would do anything in the 
world to please you." 

The cage was hoisted to the top, and in a few seconds she 
once more breathed the fresh air of heaven. The explosion 
had occurred somewhere about twelve o'clock in the day, 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



335 



and immediately afterwards a great crowd collected round the 
pit's mouth. When the cage came to a standstill the agitation 
was piteous to witness. Every head within range was stretched 
eagerly forwards, and the gravity of the situation soon became 
apparent. By two o'clock seventy men had been brought up, 
of whom thirteen were dead, and a large proportion seriously 
injured. As the bodies were carried through the crowd to their 
temporary resting-place, heartrending glances were cast at them. 
Wives recognised husbands, children fathers who would never 
speak to them, nor play with them again. And then, above the 
hum of voices, the patter of feet and the roar of the machinery 
rose a mournful wail. Those who had been fortunate enough to 
escape were thankfully welcomed by friends and relatives, who 
hurried them away to their homes. 

A stable close by was converted into a mortuary, and there 
the dead were laid upon heaps of straw covered with sacking. 
This proved a great centre of attraction for all those whose 
relations had been at work in the pit, and round it there gath- 
ered a vast concourse of weeping women and silent men. By 
twos and threes they went in, seeking those whom they dreaded 
to find. The stable was but ill-lighted for the purpose of iden- 
tification, and the windows were constantly blocked by anxious 
faces, striving to penetrate the dark background where the dead 
men lay. One or two of the men seemed to have been drowned, 
but the greater number were blackened and scorched, whilst in 
some instances the force of the blast had literally ripped their 
clothes to ribbons. 

There were no extravagant demonstrations of grief, but the 
subdued sobbing of the children, the blank dismay depicted 
on the countenances of the women, and the settled melan- 
choly visible in the men, proclaimed how greatly they felt the 
calamity. 

The first exploring party, headed by Lord de Bretton, had 
not returned, and considerable anxiety was experienced on their 
account, particularly when it became evident that a change had 
taken place in the course of the ventilation. After a period of 
suspense those above were horrified to observe that the smoke 
was coming up the pit shaft, and the air going down the ventilat- 
ing shaft, which was just the reverse of the proper order. This 
was regarded as a certain indication that one of two things had 
happened — either another explosion had occurred, or there had 
been a heavy fall of earth. The liveliest fears were conse- 
quently entertained as to the safety of the exploring party. 

Again and again the signal to the bottom of the pit was kept 
running. Things looked terribly grave, when, to the general 
relief, the ventilation appeared suddenly to be restored. After 



336 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

a brief consultation, it was resolved to send a small band of 
men down to ascertain the fate of their brave but unfortunate 
comrades. Four gallant fellows immediately volunteered for 
this dangerous task. Their names were Aaron Roberts, John 
Williams, James Jones, and William Thomas. They got into 
the cage, and were slowly lowered down the pit. 

Everybody was now ordered away from the mouth, since a 
second explosion was momentarily expected. Presently the 
signal to cease lowering the cage was sounded, quickly followed 
by the '" DraAV up." 

Even the belief, amounting to almost a certainty, that a rush 
of poisonous gas and a mass of heavy debris might at any 
minute come up from the pit"s mouth, did not induce the 
people to remain at the safe distance to which they had been 
removed. 

With one impulse they ran to the shaft, and none faster than 
Bligh, who, refusing to go home, had waited about, a prey to mortal 
apprehension. She no longer attempted to disguise from her- 
self that she loved Lord de Bretton with her whole heart and 
soul. It seared her like a red-hot iron that she had ever dared 
to despise and lecture this man, whose magnificent courage 
rendered him absolutely godlike in her eyes, and effaced the 
memory of all shortcomings. From the moment when he went back 
into the mine in order to succour the men whom he employed 
she looked upon him with reverence, as a hero at whose shrine 
she must ever prostrate herself. It seemed impossible to make 
amends for the contemptuous opinion which she had once so 
wrongly and foolishly held. Xo one could talk of England's 
effeteness, when she produced such splendid specimens of man- 
hood as this. But where was he ? Why did he not come ? He 
had done enough, and more than enough to show the noble 
elements of which he was made. It was time now to desist 
from labour. 

She was the first to reach the cage. Her heart turned to stone, 
for alas ! alas ! only the brave four who went down returned. 

" Where is Lord de Bretton ? " she asked, wildly. '' Have 
you not found him ? " 

'• No, marm," answered Aaron Roberts, with the moisture 
springing to his hollow eyes. 

" Oh ! but you must. Do you hear what I say ? I will go 
myself. We can't leave him down there — to die." 

" We have done our best," said Aaron Roberts, " but when 
we had gone about a hundred yards, we met such a power of 
gas that to save our own lives we were obliged to return. Don't 
think we wouldn't find his lordship if we could." 

Bligh made no response. She put out her two hands, clutched 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 33 j 

reelingly at the air, and fell heavily to the ground. A merciful 
unconsciousness once more descended upon her senses. 



CHAPTER XLI. 

THE JAWS OF DEATH. 

Whex she came to herself she was in bed in her own room, with 
Deborah anxiously bending over her. Little by little the mist 
cleared from her brain, and as she recalled all that had taken 
place an icy chill crept round her heart. Bernard was dead. 
He had sacrificed his life in the cause of duty. She should 
never see him again, nor hear the melodious sound of his voice. 
All at once the world was robbed of the brightness which only 
a few hours previously had made it seem so fair. A wave of 
exceeding bitterness swept over her spirit, and she cried aloud, 

" Ah ! how cruel God is to part us. Why did he not let me 
die also when I was in the pit." 

Deborah thought at first that her mistress was delirious, 
but when she perceived the misery depicted on her countenance 
she realised that she was in the presence of one of those terrible 
griefs which even time can never wholly efface. 

" Hush, dearie," she said gently ; " you have had a wonderful 
escape, and if it has pleased the Almighty to take others and 
spare you, depend upon it He has done it for His own good 
purposes." 

" How long have I been lying here ? " asked Bligh, impa- 
tiently. 

" About an hour ; you were carried home by Doctor Watkins's 
orders. He sent word that you were to be kept perfectly quiet." 

The colour flew to Bligh's pale cheeks. 

" Deborah," she said presently, in a constrained voice, " has 
— any news been heard of — Lord de Bretton ? " 

"No; none." 

Bligh laughed hysterically. 

" And you fancy that I can lie here quietly when at any mo- 
ment his dead body may be brought to bank ? I tell you, De- 
borah," and her eyes glittered feverishly, " I must get up. It is 
impossible for me to remain doing nothing." 

" But, my dearie, the doctor said you were suffering from 
after-damp and general shock to the system, and his orders 
were that you should stay in bed." 

" What do I care about his orders, or the orders of a hundred 
doctors. Cart ropes couldn't keep me here. I must and wiU 



33$ WEDDED TO SP0R7' 

go back to the colliery. Oh! Deborah," she exclaimed, 
a sudden burst of despair, looking up piteously at her faithtul 
old nurse, " I daresay it seems odd to you, and I can't explain ■, 
but you — you don't understand." 

An expression of infinite compassion stole over Deborah's 
aged face. 

" Ah'! " she said, wagging her head, " I understand more than 
you think for. Do you suppose that I have been blind this 
last fortnight ? I always feared something of the kind would 
happen sooner or later. You are a young woman, and it was 
only in the nature of things." 

Bligh turned her face to the wall, and sighed. 

"I was so happy," she said, plaintively; " so happy, and it 
is years since I have known what real happiness meant. Of 
course I knew it could not last ; but still I thought I might 
enjoy it just for a little while. We were bound to part before 
long ; but I — I could have borne that as long as he was alive 
and well. To have had a letter from him occasionally and to 
have seen him once or twice a year would have satisfied me. 
I should not have expected m — more." 

" My poor dearie," said Deborah, pityingly. 

" D — death is so horrible," continued Bligh, with a shudder. 
"It takes away all hope. And I have a feeling that I drove 
him to his end. If I had not spoken as I did on the occasion 
of our first meeting I don't believe he would ever have con- 
sidered it his duty to go back into the mine. It was my fault 
— Deborah, my fault." 

" His lordship behaved like a true and honourable gentleman," 
said the old woman ; " and for my part I would rather die, 
leaving the memory of a good action behind me than live on 
like a selfish pig " — she was thinking of Sir Philip — ■" as so 
many men do." 

" That may be true," said Bligh, struggling to her feet ; "but 
it is hard for those who stay behind. Oh ! Deborah, don't 
try and comfort me at present. It's no use. Only just let me 
go and seek him." But even as she spoke her head spun round 
and she fell back onto the bed. 

She burst into tears. 

" I can't walk — I can't do anything. This stupid body of 
mine simply refuses to answer my will." 

" You are ill," said Deborah, " and whether you like it or not 
must lie where you are for the present. But I'll tell you what 
I'll do, Miss Bligh, darling. If you will be good, and promise 
to keep quiet whilst I'm away, I'll put on my bonnet and shawl 
and run down to the pit's mouth, so as to bring you back the 
very latest news." 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 339 

" Oh ! Deborah, that will indeed be good of you. But don't 
be long — make haste ; I can't bear the suspense." 

The old servant at once departed on her errand, leaving Bligh 
to a host of sorrowful thoughts. She could not forgive herself 
for having brought the wrongs of the people of Glenarfon so 
prominently before Lord de Bretton's notice. If she had left 
him to manage matters in his own way, and not been so miser- 
ably presumptuous as to judge his actions, she felt convinced in 
her own mind that this catastrophe would never have taken 
place. Her words had first piqued, then influenced him. And 
who was she to judge her fellow-creatures — to say you have done 
wrong here, neglected your duties there ! " What business was 
it of mine to point out his faults ? " she mused, bitterly. " God 
knows I had enough of my own to correct without wanting to 
correct other people's. I am punished as I deserve. Yet what 
a punishment ! I feel as if I never could hold up my head again. 
Bernard, Bernard, if only I could see you just once, to abase 
myself at your feet and ask forgiveness. Alas ! though, that 
can never be." And she sobbed aloud. 

A quarter of an hour might have passed, spent in bitter medi- 
tation, when Deborah came rushing breathlessly into the room. 
Her face was radiant, and a single glance showed that she was 
the bearer of good news. 

" Miss Bligh, Miss Bligh," she gasped. '• Cheer up. Don't 
grieve any longer." 

Bligh put out her hand, and clutched convulsively at De- 
borah's skirt. 

" Tell me — tell me at once," she said. '• Is he safe ? " 

" Yes ; not only Lord de Bretton, but also the whole of the 
first exploring party. It appears they were entombed by a 
heavy fall of earth, which closed the passage in the Agecroft 
mine ; but eventually they managed to escape by the Bridget 
Colliery." 

" Praise be to God ! " ejaculated Bligh. ; - Was he hurt, 
Deborah, or burnt ? " 

" I heard some of the men saying that his lordship was un- 
conscious when first brought to the pit's mouth ; but Doctor 
Watkins was not alarmed about him, and anticipated a speedy 
recovery. But, oh ! dearie, it has been a terrible explosion. 
Over a hundred men are still missing, and they have had to give 
up all hope of rescuing them. The whole town is in mourning, 
and the women are crying their eyes out. Poor things ! There 
are many of them will lie down widows to-night who only this 
morning were happy wives. Ah ! it is sad to think of." 

" I ought to be very thankful," said Bligh, gravely. " Prov- 
idence has, indeed, been kind to me." 



340 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

Deborah pursed up her mouth doubtfully. Now that the 
crisis was passed she felt by no means sure that Lord de 
Bretton's continued existence was likely to prove an advantage 
to her mistress. 

'• I wonder what will come of it all," she said, in a serious 
tone of voice. " I don't so much mind for him. A man can 
always look after himself, but I am afraid that things may go 
hardly with you. - ' 

" I can bear everything now that he is alive." And so saying 
Bligh turned round peacefully on her side, and, being thoroughly 
exhausted by all she had gone through, before long fell asleep. 

Deborah watched her with the tears stealing down her cheeks. 

" Poor darling ! " she soliloquised. " Xo sooner is she out 
of one trouble than she is into another ; but I sadly fear that 
this will prove the sorest trial of any, for a woman never knows 
the sharpness of pain until her love and her duty come into 
conflict. I wonder what she will do next. I wonder what on 
earth she will do next." 

Deborah was not destined to remain long in ignorance on 
this head, for the following morning Bligh startled her by 
saying — 

" I intend to leave Glenarfon to-morrow, and must ask you to 
stay behind for a few days, just so as to shut up the cottage and 
pay off anything that we may happen to owe." 

" Leaving to-morrow ! " exclaimed Deborah, in astonishment. 
" Bless my heart alive ! why, where are you going ? " 

Bligh put up her hand to her brow with a weary gesture. She 
had been awake most of the night. 

" I don't quite know ; but I am inclined to think home." 

" Home ! You do indeed surprise me." 

A faint smile caused the corners of Bligh's mouth to droop 
pathetically. 

" I have been thinking a great deal," she said, in a subdued 
voice. " And the result of my reflections is I can't possibly 
remain here. The whole thing is wrong — quite wrong. No one 
can pluck forbidden fruit without paying for it. I ought never 
to have left Beechlands. It was a deviation from duty, and not 
many women are fortunate enough to escape the toll when they 
forsake the straight and narrow path. Sir Philip is my husband. 
Nothing can undo that fact, and whatever his faults may be I 
had no right to leave him." 

'• I don't see that," said Deborah, indignantly. " A woman 
is not bound to stay with a drunken brute who ill-uses her." 

" Two blacks don't make a white. It is better to endure to 
the uttermost rather than lose one's self-respect and yield to 
temptation. That is what would happen to me if I stayed on at 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 34 1 

Glenarfon. 1 can't resist Lord de Bretton's influence. I don"t 
say that it is bad in itself, but it is bad for me. In his absence 
common-sense comes to my aid. I see things as they actually 
are, not as I wish them to be ; but when he is by I thrill in re- 
sponse to his slightest word, and my thought is only for him. 
Until recently it never occurred to me that in adopting and 
living under a false name I was no better than a fraud." 

" Lots of people change their names," said Deborah, stoutly. 
" Besides, it was your own before you married." 

" It is not mine now. In proof of what I say look at the 
result of my duplicity. I have had a fortnight's unalloyed hap- 
piness. It will ever linger in the desert of my memory as a 
bright oasis ; but the time has come to render payment. One 
always has to pay for everything nice in this world. As long 
as Lord de Bretton spoke no word of love the situation, if 
strained, was possible." 

" And can't you continue as you were ? " inquired Deborah. 
" Just good friends, and nothing more." 

" No," she responded, tremulously. " To-day in the pit — 
something happened. We believed that we were dying ; all mo- 
tive for concealment appeared at an end : and — and we confessed 
our love. No blame is to be attached to him. The fault, from 
first to last, has been entirely mine. He never doubted for an 
instant but what I was a widow and free to wed " 

"I wish to goodness you were," interrupted Deborah. 

Bligh strove to conjure up a faint smile. 

" Being as I am," she continued, trying to speak steadily, " it 
is impossible for me ever to meet Lord de Bretton again on the 
old terms. Since I can no longer consider him a friend and 
nothing more I dare not stay here. With every good resolution 
I might succumb, for where he is concerned I know myself to 
be pitifully weak. I feel that if I go back home to the narrow, 
cramping, deadening life, it will be safer, although much more 
wretched. Hemmed in by matrimonial cares, I shall be my 
own mistress. The horse who stands too long in his stable 
soon forgets how to work, whereas the one used to harness is 
forced to face the collar. Deborah ! " she burst out excitedly, 
" don't look at me with those pitying eyes. Scold me. Say hard, 
true, horrible things to me. I can bear them — anything — bet- 
ter than your compassion. After all I am not the first woman 
to whom love has come too late. Others have suffered a simi- 
lar misfortune." 

For sole answer Deborah gathered her up in her arms and 
sobbed, " My darling — my poor darling : I would give every- 
thing I possess in the world if this had never happened, for if 
you were not happy, at all events your heart was at rest, until 
Lor 



3.42 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

Bligh looked at her faithful attendant with luminous eyes. 

" I don't regret it," she said. " Don't think for one moment 
that I regret it." 

All the next day she was occupied in making preparations for 
her departure. When they were completed she sat down and 
wrote a farewell letter to Lord de Bretton. " Forgive me," she 
said. " I have deceived you. My name is not Burton, but 
Verschoyle, and my husband is still alive. You will understand 
why I am leaving Glenarfon, and why we must not meet in fu- 
ture. Had it not been for the explosion we might, perhaps, have 
continued friends. I never meant to let you know how things 
were with me : but when death seemed so near my heart spoke. 
You are a man, and will soon forget. I cannot wish you a bet- 
ter wish than that my memory should speedily be effaced from 
your mind. Until that time arrives I humbly ask forgiveness 
for any wound I may thoughtlessly have inflicted. To go right 
out of your life is the best service I can render you. So, good- 
bye, Bernard, good-bye." Here a great tear, smudged the paper. 
" May God in Heaven bless and protect you." 

" To-morrow, when I am gone," she said later on to Deborah, 
seeking to force back her tears, "you will give this note to .Lord 
de Bretton. If he asks any questions, and wants to know where 
I have gone, don't answer. It is impossible for us to meet at 
present. To do so would only inflict needless pain on us both. " 

Early the next morning she stole like a thief from Glenarfon, 
and did not breathe freely until the train put many miles between 
her and the mountain valley where such a revolution had been 
effected in her life. 

A short distance from Chester she had to change trains, and 
there was only just time to secure her luggage and jump from 
one carriage into another. The guard slammed the door, the 
station-master waved his flag, and the engine puffed noisily out 
of the station. Then all at once she became aware that the 
compartment was occupied by another person. She looked to- 
wards the slouching figure sitting muffled up in a huge fur coat, 
whose high collar almost concealed the owner's face, and an ex- 
clamation of genuine astonishment burst from her lips, 

"Philip " 

" Bligh ! " 

And the next moment husband and wife were shaking hands 
almost as cordially as if they had parted but yesterday. 

" Hulloa ! " he said, gazing at her with considerable curiosity. 
" This is a strange encounter. Oddly enough, I was just think- 
ing of you, and wondering when I should see you again. Where 
are you going to, if it is not an impertinent question ? " 

" Did yOU not get IP" t^lcon-am ? '' clip innnlrprl a <-r}f[ e un . 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 343 

steadily. " I wired yesterday to say I was coming home." 

" No. I have been staying away for some races, and have not 
been to Beechlands since last month. My mother is there, with 
some old tabby of a female friend to keep her company. And 
so your ladyship is actually coming home, eh ? " 

Bligh flushed up. There was a certain sarcasm in his tone 
which did not escape her notice. 

" Yes," she said, meekly. " That is to say, provided you have 
no objection to receiving me." 

He laughed a mirthless laugh. 

" Plenty of husbands in my place would decline, no doubt ; 
but, fortunately for you, I'm not one to bear malice. I suppose 
it never struck you, however, when you took yourself off as you 
did that it was anything but pleasant for me, all the neighbours 
declaring that my wife had run away ? " 

Again the hot blood mounted to her cheeks. 

" In cases of this kind," she replied, " I don't know that it 
much matters what other people say. There is always a certain 
amount of unpleasantness which must be borne on either side. 
Perhaps I acted too hastily; but," and her voice trembled a 
little, " I — I thought that you did not want me, and th — that I 
only stood between you — and B — Blanche." 

" Look here, Bligh," he said, " we may as well clear this 
matter up once for all. I don't mind admitting I behaved like 
a fool. After she was married Blanche cared no more for me 
than she did for those newspapers lying yonder," pointing to 
some on the opposite seat. " She simply made use of me and 
got all she could out of me, whilst I was idiot enough to believe 
that she was consumed by an ardent flame for Sir Philip Ver- 
schoyle, Bart. In reality she was head over ears in love with 
her own Irisband, though I found the fact out too late to be of 
much good. A few days after you left she got a letter from 
Vansittart, and went posting back to India in a tremendous 
hurry. Before she went my eyes were thoroughly opened, and 
I can honestly swear that I am completely cured of my infatua- 
tion. There ! will that satisfy you ? " 

" Yes, as far as Blanche is concerned. I don't think she 
behaved well either to you or to me ; but it is no longer our 
affair." 

" As for hating you, Bligh," he continued, " I ought not to be 
held responsible for what I may have said when I was ill. Be- 
sides, everybody says things now and again which they do not 
mean. When we were married we neither of us pretended to a 
very violent affection. We went in for being a sensible matter- 
of-fact couple. But I can truly declare that if you had nothing 
else you had my respect." 



344 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



" A pretty way you took of showing it," was the retort that 
rose to her lips, but by an effort she refrained fiom a sharp 
answer, and said quietly, " How was it, Philip, that you nevei 
wrote to me through my solicitor ? '' 

He hung his head. 

" To tell the truth, Bligh, I knew I had behaved like a beast. 
After Blanche went I was laid up with a sharp attack of delirium 
tremens. The doctor warned me that unless I knocked off the 
drink he would not answer for my life. I kept sober then — as 
sober as I could, and when I got better I thought a good deal 
about you. At first I determined to rout you out ; but after a 
bit I said to myself, ' 'Why should I bring her back ? I only 
lead the poor thing a devil of a life. She is happier anywhere 
away from me,' and so — and so," he concluded, unsteadily, 
staring at the window-pane as if ashamed of his emotion, " I 
arrived at the conclusion that I would wait patiently until you 
chose to return of your own accord. For goodness' sake don't 
make a fuss," he resumed, after a brief pause, perceiving that 
tears stood in his companion's eyes. " I'm far from strong yet. 
My nerves are horribly shaken, and they can't stand a scene. 
I am very glad to see you, Bligh. There, there ; that's enough. 
Don't let us talk any more. It only upsets one." And so say- 
ing he pulled his cap down over his face and relapsed into 
silence. 

Bligh stared at him in astonishment, and as she did so a huge 
compassion crept into her heart. He was terribly altered. His 
face wore a purple, bloated appearance. The complexion had 
lost its clear hue of health. His eyes were dim and sunken, and 
beneath them were swollen bags which added years to his age. 
The air of smartness and freshness which had formerly dis- 
tinguished him was gone. His very figure seemed to have 
altered. It was strangely shrunken, and his clothes hung loosely 
upon it. She noticed, too, that whenever he raised his poor 
maimed hand to his moustache it trembled like that of an old 
man. In short he was a perfect wreck, and in his present state 
he appealed powerfully to her pity. 

" Hulloa ! " cried Sir Philip, suddenly. '■ I wonder what's up. 
We're passing Crewe without stopping." 

Bligh put her head out of the window. 

" I think something must have gone wrong," she said. " Or 
perhaps we are going to shunt back into the station. I see a 
man on the line waving a red flag with all his might, and there's 
another one coming running up behind him. What can it 



mean i 



? " 



The words were scarcely out of her mouth when she was 
thrown down by a fearful shock. The floor of their carriage 



WEDDED TO SPORT. ~ , • 

rose and broke up into splinters, the roof tumbled in, and sh i 
fell with stunning force on to the rails. After that she remem- 
bered nothing for a time. When she recovered her senses she 
immediately became conscious of an intolerable weight, which 
crushed her legs and held them fast as in a vice. With difficulty 
she managed to raise her head an inch or two, and perceived 
that she was wedged in amongst a mass of wreckage. Once 
more there came borne to her ears those terrible cries of suffer- 
ing humanity which, having once heard, she was destined never 
to forget. How inscrutable were the ways of Providence ! Had 
she only escaped from the perils of the mine to perish miserably 
in a railway accident ? This second disaster following so quickly 
upon the first completely unstrung her nerves. 

" God is visiting my sins upon me," she thought. " But why 
does He not kill me straight out, instead of torturing me as a 
cat tortures a mouse ? " And in her anguish she made a des- 
perate effort to free herself from the heavy beam which was 
causing such acute physical suffering. Immediately an agonised 
voice cried out, " For God's sake, keep still. You will be the 
death of me if you move." 

The voice was her husband's. She recognised it at once. 

" Philip," she said. " Is that you ? " 

" Yes — yes," he moaned. " This cursed beam is upon my 
chest. If you stir it again as you did just now it will roll over 
and do for me altogether. I'm regularly caught, like a rat in a 
trap. Oh, Lord ! oh, Lord ! what infernal pain. Why does 
not someone come and release me ? " And he screamed aloud. 

Bligh's brain had been clouded, but now it suddenly became 
preternaturally clear. A kind of vengeful delirium seized her. 
The past rose up like a panorama. 

" Ah ! " she said to herself, " I can pay him out for all he 
has made me suffer. I hold his life in my hands. The pain is 
excruciating. Why should I be expected to bear it better than 
he ? I have only to move, and I shall be free — free to marry 
Bernard. Philip alone stands between us. A man who drinks 
till he has delirium tremens is better out of the world than in it. 
He is miserable himself, and makes everybody else miserable." 

For a few seconds the temptation was almost irresistible. It 
assailed her furiously. 

" Bligh," groaned Sir Philip, and this time his voice sounded 
weaker than before, " keep still — it is my on — only chance." 

All at once a strong reaction set in. Those piteous, pleading 
tones moved her to the very depths of her being. She recalled 
Lord de Bretton's gallant conduct in the mine and the noble 
example of unselfishness he had set. 

" He would hate me," she mused, "if he knew — hate and de- 



346 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

spise me. I could never look into his face again, or feel myself 
fit to touch his hand. Oh ! God, forgive my wicked, wicked 
thoughts." 

She breathed hard. Every moment the pain was growing 
more intolerable, and her brow was moist with perspir?tion. 

" Do you hear what I say, Bligh?" gasped Sir Philip. 

"Yes," she answered, in a curiously gentle voice. " Do not 
be afraid. I will not move — or consciously harm you in any 
way. If one must die it shall be me, and not you." 

Fainter and fainter sounded the cries of the wounded in her 
ears ; dimmer and dimmer appeared the outside world. Were 
those men's forms hurrying to and fro, bearing ghastly burdens 
in their arms, or merely black, ghostly shapes ? Was this sudden 
sense of relief and freedom real. Did she hear her husband's 
voice in a dream crying out, " Save me — oh ! save me first. I 
am suffering the pains of hell." 

Or had she fallen asleep during the journey, and her imagina- 
tion running riot conjured up horrible scenes and situations, in 
which she, and Philip, and Lord de Bretton were hopelessly 
mixed ? Was this life, or death, or what ? 

She no longer knew. A great darkness descended upon her 
faculties, and annihilated thought. 



CHAPTER XLII. 

THE CHAINS ARE SUNDERED. 

The papers were full the next clay of the Crewe railway acci- 
dent. It seemed that before nearing the station the brakes, from 
some unknown cause, refused to act, in consequence of which 
the train ran on past the terminus at a rate of five-and-twenty 
miles an hour, and dashed into some empty trucks standing ready 
for shunting. The first six carriages were completely telescoped. 
Nine people were killed on the spot and eighteen seriously 
injured. 

Lord de Bretton, reading an account of the disaster, came 
upon the following passage : — 

li We regret to say that Sir Philip and Lady Verschoyle are 
included in the list of sufferers. They were seated in the fourth 
compartment from the engine, and how they escaped instant 
destruction is a miracle, as it was completely wrecked. Sir 
Philip was badly crushed, and is now lying in a precarious con- 
dition at the Angel Hotel, Crewe, it having been found impossi- 
ble for him to continue hv= ; ™' riip ' 1 ' <■<-> "Rppr-hl qnrU T ^Ay Ver- 



WEDDED TO SFORT. ^ 

schoyle, who is well known in the literary world under the /torn 
i/cf'/Hnw of Stonyer Stone, is also suffering from contusions and 
severe shock to the system, but Doctor Carter, who is in attend- 
ance en the gi ted authoress, does not regard her injuries as 
serious." 

The above paragraph was a revelation to Lord de Bretton. 
He was acquainted with Sir Philip Verschoyle, and could well 
understand all that his wife would have to put up with. Rightly 
o; wrongly he now felt that he could not stay quietlv at Glenar- 
fon whilst the woman who filled his heart and occupied his 
thoughts was perhaps in peril of her life. Conscience told him 
that he had no business to seek her out, but love triumphed over 
every prudential consideration. If he could but see her for one 
moment just so as to ascertain that she was well and safe, then 
he told himself he should rest content. Five minutes spent in 
her society would satisfy him and quiet the torturing doubts by 
which he was assailed. Moreover, if Sir Philip were as ill as 
represented she might be glad of a friend to render assistance, 
and, if not, well, if not he could but return, after calming his 
mind as to her state of health. 

Thus he argued. So he packed a portmanteau, told his ser- 
vant he would telegraph if he found he required him, and set off 
for Crewe. He arrived at his destination in safety 7 , and drove 
straight to the Angel Hotel. 

"• Will you give this card to Lady Verschoyle," he said, " and 
say I particularly wish to see her if she is able to receive visitors." 

During the journey he had thought over the best means of 
gaining an interview widi Bligh. At first he decided to withhold 
his card, and merely send a message to the effect that a friend 
had called to inquire after her ; but on further reflection he dis- 
carded this proceeding as mean and sneaking. He would do 
nothing underhand, nor take an unfair advantage. If she did 
not wish to see him he would not force himself upon her, with- 
out even giving her the option of refusing. Therefore, he sent 
up his name, and waited anxiously for the hall porter to reappear. 
Presently the man came back, looking portentously grave. 

*" Her ladyship is in great trouble.'" he said ; " but she desires 
that you will step this wav." 

Lord de Bretton s heart beat fast. 

" She loves me." he said to himself. •• She loves me after all. 
God bless her for this mark of confidence." 

He was shown into a darkened sitting-room, with the blinds 
drawn down, and, imagining it to be unoccupied, he was taking 
up a position with his back to the mantelpiece, when suddenly 
he was startled by the sound of a smothered sob. Looking in 
the direction from whence it came he perceived a small dark 



348 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

figure lying huddled up on a horsehair sofa in one corner of 
the room. He forgot that his visit was no longer to Mrs. Burton, 
but to Lady Verschoyle. 

" Bligh ! " he exclaimed, " what is the matter ? Why are you 
crying here, all by yourself ? " 

She turned a pair of wild eyes upon him. 

" Haven't you heard ? Don't you know ? " 

"No, I know nothing, except the meagre information con- 
veyed by the newspapers. Oh ! my darling, forgive me for com- 
ing ; but I could not rest when I thought of you in danger." 

" It is not me, it is Philip," she said, with a shudder. 

" What of him ? " 

" He is dead." 

" Dead ! " And a guilty joy thrilled his heart. 

" He died about half an hour ago, in the greatest agony. His 
sufferings were awful to witness." 

Lord de Bretton knelt down by the side of the sofa and took 
one of her hands in his. It was burning hot. Her cheeks were 
flushed, and she trembled in every limb. With a strong effort 
he controlled the passion rising within his breast He did not 
like her manner. It was feverish and excitable. She looked 
as if a dangerous illness were hovering over her. 

" Are you here all alone ? " he asked. 

" Yes. I have not even Deborah, and I feel so lonely and 
miserable." 

" Poor, darling little woman ! I wish I could help you." 

" You are very kind. My head feels in a whirl. I can neither 
think nor act. The shock has stunned me, and yet there are 
ever so many things I ought to do." 

" You must let me do them instead," he said, tenderly. 
'' Have I not a right to take the burden off your shoulders ? " 

She looked at him, and as she looked a great hot blush dyed 
her face crimson. 

" Please don't," she said, in a hoarse whisper. " I feel so 
guilty. It is that which makes me unhappy. If I had loved 
him better I should not have reproached myself as I do now." 

" You have nothing to reproach yourself with, Bligh, I am 
sure." 

" Ah ! but indeed I have. You don't know how awful it is 
when a person dies suddenly. All sorts of little things come 
back to one. Ah ! if people only realised in time how seldom 
they regret their kind actions, and what a lifelong sting their 
unkind ones leave behind." 

" Did Sir Philip make you happy ? " inquired Lord de Bretton 
curtly. 

" No ; but that is another affair,, T f<->r«-i"» ^ ^' c f-anli-o jJe 



WKDDED TO SPORT. 349 

was nice to me towards the last — he held my hand in his, and 
said he was sorry if he had ever made me suffer. I am so glad 
I was with him. The doctor ordered me to remain in bed, but 
I could not stay. And now there will be the — the funeral to 

arrange for, and my mother-in-law to write to, and " She 

broke off suddenly, gave an unnatural laugh, and added, " My 
brain is on fire. I really don't know what I'm about." 

" I will telegraph to Deborah to come immediately," he said. 

" Ah ! dear old Deborah ; I want her more than anybody at 
present." 

" You don't care to see me ? " he asked, it a tone of involun- 
tary reproach. 

" I want to rest," she said, with a little tired sigh. " I am so 
weary. When I lie down I see a succession of dreadful 
scenes, one more awful than another. Horrible cries ring in 
my ears. I am haunted by mangled bodies, and Philip's pain- 
drawn face rises up before me like a vision. Oh ! kind friend," 
and her voice broke, " you must be patient with me. I have 
had a great shock." 

" You are ill, Bligh, and ought not to be left alone. Where 
is the doctor, and why has he not provided you with a suitable 
attendant ? " 

" There is a nurse in there," she said, pointing to an adjoin- 
ing bedroom, where lay her husband's dead body. 

Lord de Bretton tapped at the door, and a respectable per- 
son appeared in answer to the summons. 

" I am afraid Lady Verschoyle is very unwell," he said. 
" She looks to me as if she were going to have an attack of 
brain fever. Can't you persuade her to go to bed whilst I 
fetch the doctor ? " 

" Indeed, sir," replied the nurse, " her ladyship has not any 
business to be up ; but this trouble seems to have gone to her 
head, and there's no keeping her quiet. It's the nerves, sir, 
that's what it is, and small wonder after such a dreadful acci- 
dent." 

" Take every care of Lady Verschoyle till her own maid 
comes," he said, slipping half a sovereign into the woman's 
hand. 

Then he returned to Bligh, and, putting his hand on her 
shoulder, said, " I want you, dear, to do just as you are bidden. 
Don't trouble about anything. I will make all the necessary 
arrangements and carry out your wishes in every respect." 

" Go away," she said, excitedly, staring at him with bright, 
unseeing eyes. " You come here to tempt me. I love you — 
but I will never tell you of my love. Day after day, year after 
year, I shall live and keep my secret to myself. Do you want 



o;^ 



tr/-;i>i\ : -;f> r. 



to know why ? Because." and hor voice dropped to a whisper, 
chilling him with the fear that her reason was impaired. " I — 
am— a — married — woman. My husband was a had man. He 
drank, and struck, swore ar. and insulted me in evevv way 
My blood used to boil. 1 felt as it I could have murdered him. 
But what did that matter? 1 was his wife, his 'slave, and 
therefore bound to endure. It was no use mv trying to es- 
cape, and to live a life of my own. Women always sutler, ihev 
always suffer in the end." 

'• Hush ! dearest," lie interposed, trying to quiet her. " There 
are better times in store," 

"We are poor fools." site continued, with growing vehe- 
mence. " Our affections invariably betray us. and upset all out 
theories and resolutions. Look at me. 1 was a coward, and 
so 1 ran away. But what was the good? His eves and Ins 
smile pursue me. Ho you know what happened just now 5 " 
And she touched Lord de Brction s sleeve confidentially " I 
heard his voice- That's how it will always be Why can't L 
forget him : Kven at a time like this, oh ! why can't 1 forget 
him ? " 

" Bligh ! " he cried, thoroughly frightened by the wildness of 
her manner. '• Hon t \ou recognise me ?" 

She pushed him from her with delirious force. 

•• Ah ' that voice again. Shame that 1 should hear it when 
Philip — poor Philip' — has been dead just half an hour." And 
she burst into a flood of hysterical tears. 

•• I think you had better leave her ladyship to me, sir, and 
go for the doctor at once." said the nurse, who had stolen into 
the room unperceived. " Your presence seems to excite her. 
She is suffering from shock to the nervous system, and requires 
complete rest and quiet. It looks to me very like brain fever 
setting in. She has all the symptoms." 

Lord de Bret ton took up his hat. and., with a parting glance 
at Bligh, walked sadly out of the room. He realised that the 
time had not yet come for him to prove of anv comfort to her. 
She would feel more at home in the anus of her faithful old 
Deborah than in his. He could do nothing but wait, and pray 
that her mental equilibrium might be restored. 



/; HiJjj&i.) TO SPORT. jn 



CHAPTER XLIII. 

PAID IN IIKR OWN COIN. 

For a whole fortnight Bligh lay dangerously ill, and it was 
just touch-and-go whether she pulled through or not ; but a 
good doctor and a good nurse restored her to life, and by the 
end of April she was sufficiently recovered to undertake the 
journey to Beechlands. Of her husband's last moments, and 
of all that had immediately succeeded them, she retained but 
a vague and confused recollection. As she grew stronger, 
however, she became aware that someone outside the sick 
room was thoughtfully attending to her wants. 

Every morning regularly there came a fresh supply of flowers 
and choice hothouse fruits. Her curiosity was aroused, and 
one day she pointed to an exquisite bouquet of white lilies, 
and said — 

" Deborah, where does this come from ? Who supplies me 
with all these luxuries ? " 

" Lord de Bretton," answered the old woman, casting a side- 
long glance at her mistress. 

A vivid blush suffused Bligh's pale cheeks. 

" Is he in Crewe ? " she inquired, after a tolerably lon°- pause. 

"Yes." 

" Since when has he been here ? I have a kind of an idea 
that 1 saw him before my illness ; but the past seems so misty 
and dreamlike that somehow I can't remember things rightly. 1 
think I must have had the fever on me even before Philip 
died." 

'• I am sure of it," said Deborah. " As for his lordship, he 
has never stirred from Crewe since you were taken ill. He took 
up his quarters at the Goat — a rival hotel — and calls three times 
every day to inquire. If ever a gentleman loved a lady truly 
and well I should say he loved you." 

" One never can believe men," said Bligh. 

" You will be very foolish if you don't believe him," rejoined 
Deborah, significantly. " Though, of course, it's no business of 
mine." 

Bligh did not reply to this observation. She shook her head 
and sighed ; nevertheless, for the rest of the afternoon she lay 
with a faint smile hovering about the corners of her mouth. It 



352 WEDDED TO STORE. 

was clear that IVborah's assertion had not displeased her. 
the eve of her departure Lord de Bretton asked permission to 
be received. Fie had secured an invalid carriage, made every 
arrangement for the journey, and she felt that in return for all 
his kindness he was entitled to her best thanks, if nothing more. 
And yet, strange to say, she shrank from meeting him, and with 
the incomprehensibility of her female nature had put off doing 
so until the last moment. She loved him, but was determined 
to fight her love inch by inch, if only to make sure of their pas- 
sion on either side being genuine. 

" It never does to trust to men," she kept saying to herself. 
" They think ever so much more of you if you keep them at a 
respectful distance. Mow do I know that Bernard is any better 
than the rest of them ? Very likely it is only my fancy. One 
leap in the dark is enough. I have no wish to take another." 

'Thus she argued against the whisperings of her heart and 
prided herself on her impenetrability and wisdom. Although 
convalescent she was still extremely weak and easily upset ; 
therefore, before admitting Lord de Bret ton Deborah requested 
him not to stay more than five minutes. 

" Lady Verschoyle tires very easily," she said, " and as she 
has to travel to-morrow ] want to keep her fresh." 

"Quite right," he responded. " You may trust me not to 
overfatigue your mistress." 

He and Bligh met quietly, and with a feeling of conscious 
restraint. She thanked him for his kind attentions, talked of 
the weather, the journey — anything rather than herself, and 
managed el I actually to keep him at arm's length. In fact if he 
had been a complete stranger she could not have treated him 
with more scrupulous politeness and conventionality. Lor days 
he had looked forward to this interview, and her reception chilled 
his secret hopes. Could it be that she repented of the words 
spoken in the Croftage mine ? She looked pale and fagged. 
One glance showed that Deborah's warning must be respected, 
yet when the five minutes were up they were still talking plati- 
tudes. To part like strangers was impossible. Mis self-control 
was not equal to so severe a strain. As he rose from his seat 
reluctantly she tendered a little, cold, passive hand, which he 
warmly clasped in his. Then he spoke out a small portion of 
what was in his mind. 

" Bligh," lie said, "it seems hard to leave you like this ; but 
I can understand and respect your feelings. Why are you so 
afraid of me ? Why won't you trust me ? " 

" I do trust you," she interrupted. 

" No, dear, you don't — at least, not fully. Perhaps you fear 
that I shall hurry you, that 1 don't sufficiently consider what 



WEDDED TO SPORT. ^^ 

decency imposes. I don't ask anything at present. I only want 
you to say when we may meet again. Surely my demand is 
moderate." 

" I can't fix any time yet," she said. " It is better for us to 
go our different ways." 

" No, it is not, Bligh — at least, not for me. Of course you 
may have changed your mind. If so let me hear the truth. I 
think I have a right to know how we stand. If you don't care 
for me say so. I would rather be told the worst at once. For 
myself I shall love you always." 

There was a direct simplicity about this speech which went 
straight to her heart. But Sir Philip's sudden death had not 
only created a strong impression, but it had also occasioned a 
curious reaction in her mode of thought. She no longer made 
plans for the future. It seemed folly to do so when fate upset 
them so easily. In answer to Lord de Bretton's appeal, she 
drew herself up with gentle dignity and said — 

" It is not fitting to discuss this matter now. You are my 
friend, and I shall ever regard you as such. If you like I will 
write a few lines now and then. There can be no harm in that." 

"And are we to part thus? " he asked, striving hard to con- 
ceal his disappointment. 

" Yes, for the present. Believe me, it is best." Illness had 
rendered her physically weak, and her emotions were kept ir 
check by a sense of numbness and weariness. She imagined 
that this passive state would last forever, not realising that 
directly she regained strength the acuteness of sensation would 
return. 

He shrugged his shoulders with an angry gesture. It was 
perhaps natural that he did not understand her mood. 

" You are an enigma, Bligh." 

"All women are," she responded. " Even to themselves." 

" And you will really write and give me leave to see you ? " 
he said eagerly, trying to make the most of the small advantage 
he had gained. 

" I did not say that ; but you shall hear from me within a 
week." 

He could wring no further concession from her, and they 
went their respective ways, both rather sad at heart, though 
Bligh persuaded herself that she had behaved with the utmost 
decorum and prudence. 

For seven whole days Lord de Bretton went about feeling 
utterlv miserable ; but on the eighth his eyes were gladdened by the 
welcome sight of his lady-love's handwriting. He tore open the 
envelope. Imagine his consternation when he read the follow- 
ing : — 



354 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



" My dear Bernard, — 

Since returning home I have been seriously thinking over 
the situation in all its bearings. You say that you love me. Well, 
I too love you, but am determined not to let my affection spoil 
your life. Men are capable of a hundred loves. Therefore, 
when they marry it is incumbent upon them to marry wisely. 
A wife does not interfere much with their flirtations ; but she 
does interfere with their comfort, unless she be sensibly chosen. 
Now allow me to put the stern facts before you. You do not 
realise all my shortcomings, and I scorn to take any unworthy 
advantage of your proposal. To begin with, I am thirty years 
old. At that age, according to the men with whom I have 
associated since my marriage, a woman has long ago ceased to be 
attractive. In their refined and delicate phraseology ' the 
bloom is off,' and she is neither worth looking at nor talking 
to. The unfortunate has to accept the position as best she can. 
Her youth once gone — an unpardonable fault — no matter what 
qualities she may possess, she is voted ' no use, and long in 
the tooth.' Ah ! yes, you needn't contradict me, for I know ; 
and, moreover, have enjoyed many opportunities of hearing 
your own sex discuss the one to which I belong. At thirty a 
woman is assigned a back seat ; a man, on the contrary, is 
regarded as a mere boy — a kind of jaunty youth who, in his 
own estimation, remains ever young and fascinating. I ask you 
to look at matters plainly. When we are both forty you would 
still be in the prime of manhood, whilst I should have sunk 
down into an old and sickly female, for I am not strong. That 
is another of my drawbacks which I wish to bring before your 
notice. A single woman can afford to indulge in the luxury of 
ill-health, but it is a crime when she is married, and one that 
is always being thrown in her face. From an impartial point of 
view you ought to marry some nice, pretty girl of eighteen or 
twenty, likely to prove an ornament to your position, not a 
broken-down middle-aged person like myself, whose ideas have 
been rendered sober by trouble and sickness. As I said before, 
I have neither youth nor looks to recommend me, and the 
majority of men value nothing else in a woman. My best years 
are gone. I can only look forward in the future to growing 
plainer and plainer, more and more faded. You are suffering 
from a temporary infatuation, which will soon pass away. 
Bernard, I love you. I don't attempt to disguise that fact. 
But think of my pain if after a few months I discovered that you 
regretted the step you had taken. You are fond of gaiety and 
amusement. Take my advice. Go to London for the season, 
You will see plenty of young and pretty women there, and when 
you have found one to your mind, and who is calculated to 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 355 

make you happy, then bring her to see me. I promise to greet 
you warmly, and shall be much surprised if you do not thank me 
for having considered your interests rather than my own. 
" Ever your attached friend, 

" Bligh Verschoyle." 

When Lord de Bretton finished the perusal of the above letter 
he was beside himself with anger. What did Bligh mean by 
writing to him in this strain ? Did she consider men incapable 
of constancy or love worthy the name ? He seized a pea 
and a piece of paper, and, acting on the spur of the moment, 
wrote — 

" Dear Lady Verschoyle, — You are quite right. Many 
thanks for your disinterested advice. I am off to London ia 
search of the ' pretty girl.' No doubt I shall not have much 
difficulty in finding her. There are plenty of them about who 
will take compassion on a ' jaunty youth ' like myself of two- 
and-thirty. Expect to see the turtle dove turn up before long 
to receive your congratulations. Until then, believe me 

" Yours always, 

" De Bretton.' 3 

Bligh sighed when she received this hastily scribbled note. 
Oddly enough, although the writer expressed his intention of 
adopting her suggestions, its contents disappointed her. She 
had no cause for complaint, and yet she was not satisfied. On 
the contrary, she was intensely dissatisfied. 

" Ah ! " she mused, despondently. " He is like all the rest 
of them. He can't stand being put to the test, and, when tried, 
is found wanting. If he had loved me as I love him it would 
have been simply impossible for him to go in search of a 
strange woman just because he is advised. Heigh ho ! Men 
seem to possess an extraordinary capacity for transferring what 
they call their affections from one object to another. How 
lucky it was I did not throw myself into his arms. Where 
should I have been when he tired of me. Oh ! dear, what a fool 
I am to be sure. He is not remarkable either for talent or faith- 
fulness. He is only just his own bright, easy-going self, and 
yet I love him better than anything else on this earth. I never 
thought he would have taken my advice." A sad smile played 
round her mouth, and she added, " After all, it is better so. He 
will be happier, and it does not matter about me." 

This conclusion was most heroic ; nevertheless it did not 
succeed in putting any colour into Bligh's pale cheeks. During 
the summer months she went about listless and wan, and defied 



356 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

all Deborah's attempts to discover what had taken place during 
her last meeting with Lord de Bretton. 

" There's something gone wrong," soliloquised the old serving- 
woman. " She ain't happy, that's quite clear, and hasn't picked 
up one bit since she came home. I've half a mind to write to 
Lord de Bretton on the sly and ask him to run down and pay 
us a visit. I'm sure it would hearten her up. Happy thought ! 
I'll act upon it." 

One fine July morning shortly afterwards the post brought a 
letter which for weeks past Bligh had been secretly expecting 
and dreading to receive. As she read the contents she uttered an 
exclamation of dismay. They ran as follows : 

" My dearest Bligh, — Adopting your excellent advice I have 
been spending a very pleasant time in town. It seems to me 
that there are more pretty girls about this season than usual, and I 
know you will be glad to hear that I have been paying considerable 
attention to a young lady of whom I feel tolerably certain you 
will approve. I am proud to be connected with one of the 
nicest and prettiest girls in London. She is very honest, very 
straightforward, perfectly unaffected, and a lady in every sense 
of the word. When I say that she reminds me of you I need 
not write more in Miss Dennison's praise. I trust you will give 
me joy. Looking forward to the pleasure of shortly introducing 
her to my best friend, believe me, 

" Yours ever, 

" De Bretton." 

Bligh groaned aloud. Her worst fears were realised. Now 
she knew for certain that he could never have cared for her 
really. 

" Ah ! " she cried, indignantly, " this is beyond a joke. He 
vowed he should love me always, and three months have hardly 
gone by before I am forgotten. Talk of constancy after that ! " 
And she laughed a mirthless laugh. " It is an outrage. And 
he actually has the impertinence to say that his bread-and-butter 
Miss reminds him of me. Fool ! fool that I was not to keep 
him when he fancied himself fond of me. Now I have lost him 
for ever ; but I won't cry — I won't, I won't. He is not worth 
crying about." But in spite of her resolve she sobbed as if her 
heart would break. 



WEDDED TO SPORT. ,5* 



CHAPTER XLIV. 



The forenoon passed away like a bad dream, and Bligh wandered 
uneasily about the house, seeking relief first in one room, then 
in another. She could not rest. An inward fever consumed 
her. She suffered from an imperious need of action ; yet com- 
mon-sense told her that in the circumstances there was abso- 
lutely nothing to be done but to submit to the hard grasp of 
destiny. There was a dull, gnawing ache at her heart, which, 
as the day wore on, and she realised more completely the full 
significance of Lord de Bretton's letter, increased to positive 
pain. His smallest word and action recurred with fresh force 
to her memory, and as she recalled his good temper, his bright 
and sunny disposition, his charming manners, and personal fas- 
cination, her regrets grew more and more poignant. She had 
held the apple of love in her hand, and refused to taste it. Her 
folly had been inconceivable. She saw this clearly now that it 
was too late to go back from her words. 

Out of doors the sun shone with dazzling brilliancy. The 
trees, decked in their summer foliage, stood cool and shadowy 
against a cloudless blue sky, whilst numberless birds chirped 
amidst their leafy branches. The flower beds were gaudy with 
scarlet geraniums and yellow calceolarias. The garden was full 
of bloom and fragrance. Its sweet odours were everywhere 
wafted into the house through the open windows. A couple of 
gardeners were engaged in mowing the lawn, and every time the 
machine required emptying, the sleek pony put his head down 
and nibbled greedily at the smooth green turf. Bligh gazed at 
him with envy. 

" How happy and contented he looks," she said to herself. 
" I wish I were an animal — I wish he and I could change places. 
Surely life must be easier for these dumb beasts than it is for 
us. I wonder if they suffer tortures through their affections as 
we do. They seem so placid and satisfied compared with our- 
selves. It makes one sceptical as to what extent reason and 
intelligence are acceptable gifts." 

She turned away impatiently. Everything looked so sun- 
shiny and bright that it hurt her to see the world's exceeding 
fairness. The voices of the birds seemed to mock at her grief. 

TIipt* 3 w« nn rnmtnispratinnc in their cheerful chirrupingS ; and 



35S WEDDED TO SPORT. 

the gorgeous sun •with its glowing rays shamed her despair. 
How was she to go on living with this terrible chill turning her 
heart to stone, and compressing it as in an iron band ? She 
dared not contemplate the future. The outlook was so dark, so 
drear. 

'• It has been my own doing from first to last," she mused, in 
speechless agony. ■• Entirely my own doing." But this reflec- 
tion did not tend to lighten her sorrow. On the contrary, the 
knowledge that she had only herself to thank for all that had 
taken place added to it a thousandfold. 

She had carried her distrust of men too far. Other women 
were wise. They made the most of themselves, showed off their 
good points, and kept their bad ones in the background. They 
did not consider it necessary to enumerate all their imperfec- 
tions. If instead of volunteering the information that she was 
sickly, and unattractive, and thirty, she had given him to under- 
stand that she was extremely clever, a most talented authoress, 
and had all the world at her feet, then he would not have thrown 
her over so lightly. People estimated you at your own value. 
It was absurd to run yourself down. Diffidence and self-depre- 
ciation were totally out of place when dealing with the mascu- 
line creature. Xot one man in a hundred was capable of ap- 
preciating the reasons which prompted a woman genuinely in 
love to act as she had done. Naturally enough they judged on 
the surface. No doubt Bernard thought she was a flirt, and did 
not care a bit for him. He had not detected the deep, under- 
lying current of sacrifice and tenderness which ran through all 
her bitter sayings and sarcastic speeches. He had failed to per- 
ceive that in great measure they were prompted by an almost 
morbid yearning for affection, accompanied by an inward dread 
of being again disappointed, again disillusioned. All too effect- 
ually she had disguised her real nature. His powers of obser- 
vation were not sufficient to discover the hidden motives which 
had actuated her conduct. And now it was too late for explana- 
sions. She had held the trump card in her hand, and played 
a wrong one in its place. Thanks to this mistake, she might 
enjoy the doubtful pleasure of seeing that lucky young woman, 
Miss Dennison — whom she hated — converted into Lady de Bret- 
ton. Some errors of judgment could be retrieved, but others 
again were fatal. Hers belonged to this latter class. 

Altogether, Bligh was thoroughly miserable. Generally, when 
in trouble, she turned instinctively to Deborah for sympathy ; 
but to-day her faithful nurse irritated her almost beyond endur- 
ance. Deborah must have perceived how wretched and heart- 
broken she was, and yet the unfeeling old woman did nothing 
but nod her head and smile. Bligh felt personally insulted by 



WEDDED TO SPORT. 



359 



her maid's excessive cheerfulness. She did not understand it, 
and disdained to inquire its cause. Fortunately, the Dowager 
Lady Verschoyle happened to be away from home on a visit to 
a friend. Bligh was thankful for the solitude. Until she could 
recover partially from the stunning shock inflicted by Lord de 
Breton's letter, she asked for nothing so much as to be left 
alone. 

After luncheon she withdrew to her own room, telling Deborah 
that she h.id a bad headache, and would not receive any visitors 
should they happen to call. Thus the afternoon passed slowly 
and wearily away. In all the subsequent years Bligh never 
forgot the torture of it. It stamped its impress upon her 
spirit. 

The shadows on the velvety lawn out of doors were beginning 
to lengthen, and it might have been about five o'clock when a 
tap came at the door, and Deborah entered, her face radiant 
with smiles. 

'• Please, my lady.'* she announced, with an air of delighted 
importance, "there's a visitor in the drawing-room waiting to 
see you." 

'• A visitor ! " exclaimed Bligh. irritably. " Really, Deborah, 
this is too tiresome. Did I not tell you to let Marshall know I 
was not at home this afternoon ? " 

Instead of looking contrite, Deborah's countenance assumed a 
yet more joyous expression. 

"Yes, my dearie;" she said, ''but the gentleman would not 
be denied — it was not Marshall's fault — he said he was sure you 
would see him." 

" See him ! See who ? " asked Bligh, with a sudden presenti- 
ment of what was coming. 

" Lord de Bretton," answered Deborah, not making the 
smallest attempt to conceal her satisfaction. 

Bligh turned; deadly pale. Her heart gave two or three 
rapid beats, then seemed to stand quite still. A convulsive 
twitching attacked her eyelids, whilst showers of little black 
bubbles descended before her eyes. 

A sudden stricture of the throat impeded speech. She tried 
to speak, but the words died away in inarticulate sound. 

'• Goodness gracious, my dear Miss Bligh ' " ejaculated 
Deborah in alarm, " I thought you would have been pleased. 
Are you ill ? " 

" No," said Bligh, struggling hard to regain her composure, 
"but I — I cannot see him." 

'' Not see him after he has come all this way — and you such 
friends ! That would indeed be unkind." 

Bligh was about to respond, when the expressions used in her 



o 



60 WEDDED TO SPQRT. 



own letter flashed across her mind. " Enjoy yourself. See 
plenty of young and pretty girls, and when you have found one 
to your mind, and who is calculated to make you happy, then 
bring her to see me. I promise to greet you warmly." 

After that, was it possible to refuse to receive him, without 
revealing how matters stood with her ? Once more she had 
brought the situation on herself. Lord de Bretton could only 
put one construction upon her conduct, if she declined to grant 
him an interview. The mere thought of being accused of 
jealousy brought the blood rushing to her cheeks, and caused 
her to reconsider her previous determination. 

" Is — is his lordship alone ? " she inquired, faintly. 

"Yes. I think so," returned Deborah. 

'• You are sure th — that there is not a — a lady with him ? " 

'" Positive, for I saw him come in by the front door." 

Bligh heaved a sigh of relief. She was spared this crowning 
ordeal. He had not rendered her task doubly difficult by 
bringing Miss Dennison. A week hence, perhaps, when her 
brain assimilated the idea of his marrying and became more 
accustomed to it. she might be able to offer her congratulations 
in a sufficiently calm and friendly manner. At present she was 
too completely overwhelmed by the news to fulfil her promise of 
cordially welcoming the engaged couple. Nevertheless she 
realised that after what she had written in black and white, it 
was impossible for her to send Lord de Bretton away unseen. 

She rose from the sofa, and glanced at the glass. Ugh ! how- 
plain she looked. Uglier and older than ever. Her eyes were 
red with weeping, and the anguish of the last few hours had left 
its mark upon her small, paleface. Xo wonder he had forgotten 
her so easily. What charms had she to keep captive a gay and 
handsome young man ? Her appearance no longer mattered, 
however. His thoughts were full of another. He would have 
no eyes left for the woman whom he had professed to love so 
truly three short months ago. Comforting herself with this 
reflection, she smoothed her hair and went downstairs. Her 
heart thumped against her ribs like a sledge-hammer. 

" Oh \ God," she murmured. " Have pity on me, and keep 
me from betraying myself." 

Then she turned the handle of the door, and stood in the 
presence of Lord de Bretton. 

He advanced towards her with a joy-illumined countenance. 
An additional pang shot through the poor woman s frame. 

How handsome and happy he looked \ It was evident that 
love agreed with him. 

" Forgive me for taking you unawares in this off-hand fashion," 
he said, brightly, as the v _ 



WEDDED TO SPORT. ,6 1 

" I was half expecting you," she, answered, unsteadily. Then 
by a supreme effort, she added — " So you are going to be mar- 
ried. Allow — me — to — offer — my — congratulations. " 

He laughed and turned a pair of penetrating eyes on her 
delicate face. 

" Are you glad, Bligh ? " 

She felt the blood tingling beneath her skin. Oh ! it was 
cruel of him to ask such a question. 

" Yes," she stammered. " Of course. I — I'm delighted." 

All of a sudden, to her unutterable amazement, he caught her 
in his arms and kissed her. 

" No, you're not. You're telling a story, and deserve to be 
punished accordingly." 

" Oh ! but this is monstrous ! " she cried, quivering with in- 
dignation, and struggling desperately to regain her freedom. " I 
wonder how you dare — I wonder how you dare." And her voice 
rang with scorn and anger. 

Again he laughed — this time more merrily than before. 

" Are you afraid of Miss Dennison by any chance ? " he asked, 
mischievously. " Do you think she will be jealous ? If so, 
allow me to set your mind at ease. She is much too sensi- 
ble." 

" For shame," panted Bligh, in a white rage. " Let me go 
this minute." 

" Not I, Bligh ! Bligh ! you wicked, perverse little woman, you 
escaped me once, but now that I've got you, I mean to keep 
you. There shall be no more running away and putting me off 
with letters in the future." 

" Lord de Bretton," she said, bursting into tears. " What 
have I done to deserve this insult ? " 

" Nothing, except your very utmost to wreck our joint happi- 
ness." 

At his words a delirious joy began to steal through her veins. 
It is so hard for a woman to resist the man she loves, and after 
all he might have some explanation to offer. 

She clutched one of his big hands in hers. 

" Bernard," she said, hoarsely, " I do not know what you mean. 
For God's sake don't trifle with me, for I " — looking up at him 
with a glance which told all — " I cannot bear it." 

" Do you want to see the pretty girl you were so anxious for 
me to find ? " he inquired, playfully. 

" No, no, I detest her." 

" Oh ! you do, do you ? I'm glad to hear that. It was just 
as well I did not bring her then. Truth to tell, I was doubtful 
all along of the reception you might accord her." 

" I shall die, Bernard, if you go on talking like this. It may 



362 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

be play to you, but I have suffered so terribly." He dropped 
his bantering tone and became serious. 

" Very well then, I will begin from the beginning. When I 
got that odious, cruel, ridiculous letter of yours, Bligh, it drove 
me regularly mad. My first impression was that you did not 
care two straws about me, and I determined to give you back 
as good as you gave " 

" I am sorry," she interposed, meekly. " Perhaps I ought to 
have worded it differently." 

" Sorry, indeed ! Well you may be. The whole thing was 
preposterous from first to last. Did you take me for an idiot, 
to require to be told what you were ? I natter myself I had 
found all that out already." 

" I thought you might do so much better, Bernard, than marry 
me." 

" Yes, you thought. That's precisely where you made the 
mistake, and did not give me credit for having any mind of my 
own." 

" But Miss Dennison. It all seems so strange. I don't un- 
derstand," she said, in a bewildered tone. 

" The explanation is perfectly simple. The day I received 
that precious concoction of yours — which, by the way, I mean 
to keep as a specimen of female folly — my widowed sister, Lady 
Dennison, wrote to me, asking if I would stay with her in town, 
as she intended to introduce her only daughter, Violet, but yet 
felt unequal to going much into the world herself. A male rela- 
tion of immaculate character is useful on such occasions. I 
went, and had the pleasure of chaperoning my niece, and taking 
her about everywhere. She proved a great success, and was 
voted the belle of the season. Just before I came away young 
Lord Turfdom proposed to her, and was accepted. I am very 
fond and very proud of Violet, and want to introduce her to you 
at the first opportunity. Now to go back to your letter. I read 
it over so many times that at last its true meaning became 
revealed, and I arrived at the conclusion that you did not care 
for me after all " 

" You might have known that long ago if you had had any 
sense," she interposed. 

" Excuse me, it was not so easy. You managed to wrap your 
meaning up in so many sweeping denunciations of my unfor- 
tunate sex that I honestly think it was pardonable stupidity on 
my part if I mistook your real sentiments. As time went on, 
however, I grew uneasy at your silence, which I kept hoping 
and expecting you would break. Then I lost patience, and 
determined to play a mean trick on you ; so I wrote as if I were 
about to be married — at least, I knew that was the construction 



WEDDED TO SPORT. ,63 

you would place on my communication. Meanwhile Deborah 
acted the part of a good friend. The other day she sent me a 
line, saying you seemed moped and out of spirits, and advised 
me to come to Beechlands and plead my cause in person. So," 
he concluded, with a fond embrace, " here I am. Now what 
have you got to say ? " 

" Deborah did that ! " exclaimed Bligh, clenching her little 
fists. " Deborah wrote and said I was pining away for your 
sake. Oh ! I shall never, never forgive her." 

" Are you so sure ? " 

" Yes, of course, I'm sure. Think of the indignity of being 
made out to be madly in love with a man, and having to write 
letters to get him to come. Deborah shall live to repent her 
interference." 

It was all very well for Bligh to give herself airs, but with 
Bernard's arms holding her tight, with his warm breath stirring 
her hair, and his eyes looking lovingly in hers, her wrath soon 
died away. At best it was only feigned. Into her heart there 
stole an exquisite sense of happiness, and once for all she aban- 
doned the folly of steeling herself against that divine passion 
called love. The sun shone, the birds twittered, but they no 
longer produced a feeling of irritability and depression. Her 
mood was changed. Where darkness had reigned, now all 
was light. For several minutes she did not speak. Then she 
said softly — 

"You really care for me, Bernard, in spite of my age and 
everything ? I don't want to take you in, remember." 

" Yes," he laughed, in reply. " In spite of all the drawbacks 
which you have insisted on presenting to my notice, I care for 
you very really and truly. Henceforth the endeavour of my 
life shall be to prove to you that some men do exist capable 
of loving a woman because she is tender and honest, pure in 
mind and brave of spirit, and who value goodness, modesty, and 
intelligence more than mere outward beauty." 

Bligh's arms crept round his neck. 

" Ah ! Bernard," she murmured, " forgive me for ever hav- 
ing doubted you. I will never do so again." 

" Dear little woman," he said, pressing her to his heart, 
" you are much too good for me. Please God I may make you 
happy." 

She looked at him with her clear eyes. A wonderful light 
illumined them. 

" I have no fear of that. We will both seek our happiness by 
helping others. That is the best way." 

A year after Sir Philip's death they became man and wife, 
and acted up to. their words. 



364 WEDDED TO SPORT. 

The poor people of Glenarfon bless the day when Lord de 
Bretton married Bligh Verschoyle, alias Mrs. Burton. Pit-row 
was pulled down and rebuilt, schools and free libraries were 
erected, and an era of peace and prosperity descended on the 
working population of the far-away Welsh valley. 

Bligh wrote another book twelve months after the birth of her 
son and heir. She called it " Such is Woman," and it was 
even more successful than the famous novel by which she had 
first earned her literary laurels. Strange to say, the heroine 
was over thirty, and yet the public liked her, and found her 
interesting. 



THE END. 



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