At one o’clock, old Mr. Caresfoot, as was his rule, sat down to lunch, which, frugal as it was, so far as he was concerned, was yet served with some old-fashioned ceremony by a butler and a footman. Just as the meal was coming to an end, a fly, with some luggage on it, drove up to the hall-door. The footman went to open it.
“Simmons,” said the squire, to the old butler, “look out and tell me who that is.”
Simmons did as he was bid, and replied:
“I don’t rightly know, squire; but it’s a lady, and she be wonderful tall.”
Just then the footman returned, and said that a lady, who would not give her name, wished to speak to him in private.
“Are you sure the lady did not mean Mr. Philip?”
“No, sir; she asked for Mr. Philip first, and when I told her that he was out, she asked for you, sir. I have shown her into the study.”
“Humph! at any rate, she has come off a journey, and must be hungry. Set another place and ask her in here.”
In another moment there was a rustle of a silk dress, and a lady, arrayed in a long cloak and with a thick veil on, was shown into the room. Mr. Caresfoot, rising with that courteous air for which he was remarkable, bowed and begged her to be seated, and then motioned to the servants to leave the room.
“Madam, I am told that you wish to speak to me; might I ask whom I have the honour of addressing?”
She, with a rapid motion, removed her hat and veil, and exposed her sternly beautiful face to his inquiring gaze.
“Do you not know me, Mr. Caresfoot?” she said, in her foreign accent.
“Surely, yes, you are the young lady who lived with Maria, Miss von Holtzhausen.”
“That was my name; it is now Hilda Caresfoot. I am your son Philip’s wife.”
As this astounding news broke upon his ears, her hearer’s face became a shifting study. Incredulity, wonder, fury, all swept across it, and then in a single second it seemed to freeze. Next moment he spoke with overpowering politeness.
“So, madam; then I have to congratulate myself on the possession of a very lovely daughter-in-law.”
A silence ensued that they were both too moved to break; at last, the old man said, in an altered tone:
“We have much to talk of, and you must be tired. Take off your cloak, and eat whilst I think.”
She obeyed him, and he saw that not only was she his son’s wife, but that she must before long present the world with an heir to the name of Caresfoot. This made him think the more; but meanwhile he continued to attend to her wants. She ate little, but calmly.
“That woman has nerve,” said he to himself.
Then he rang the bell, and bade Simmons wait till he had written a note.
“Send James to Roxham at once with this. Take this lady’s things off the fly, and put them in the red bedroom. By the way, I am at home to nobody except Mr. Bellamy;” and then, turning to Hilda, “Now, if you will come into my study, we will continue our chat,” and he offered her his arm. “Here we are secure from interruption,” he said, with a ghost of a smile. “Take this chair. Now, forgive my impertinence, but I must ask you if I am to understand that you are my son’s legal wife?”