“It is perfectly true, Mr. Cossey,” he answered, “that I was engaged twenty years ago to be married to Miss Julia Heston, though I now for the first time learn that she was your aunt. It is also quite true that that engagement was broken off, under most painful circumstances, within three days of the time fixed for the marriage. What those circumstances were I am not at liberty to say, for the simple reason that I gave my word not to do so; but this I will say, that they were not to my discredit, though you may not be aware of that fact. But as you are one of the family, Mr. Cossey, my tongue is not tied, and I will do myself the honour of calling upon you to-morrow and explaining them to you. After that,” he added significantly, “I shall require you to apologise to me as publicly as you have accused me.”
“You may require, but whether I shall comply is another matter,” said Edward Cossey, and he passed out.
“I am very sorry, Mr. de la Molle,” said the Colonel, as soon as he had gone, “more sorry than I can say, that I should have been the cause of this most unpleasant scene. I also feel that I am placed in a very false position, and until I produce Mr. Cossey’s written apology, that position must to some extent continue. If I fail to obtain that apology, I shall have to consider what course to take. In the meanwhile I can only ask you to suspend your judgment.”
THE BLOW FALLS
On the following morning, about ten o’clock, while Edward Cossey was still at breakfast, a dog-cart drew up at his door and out of it stepped Colonel Quaritch.
“Now for the row,” said he to himself. “I hope that the governor was right in his tale, that’s all. Perhaps it would have been wiser to say nothing till I had made sure,” and he poured out some more tea a little nervously, for in the Colonel he had, he felt, an adversary not to be despised.
Presently the door opened, and “Colonel Quaritch” was announced. He rose and bowed a salutation, which the Colonel whose face bore a particularly grim expression, did not return.
“Will you take a chair?” he said, as soon as the servant had left, and without speaking Harold took one—and presently began the conversation.
“Last night, Mr. Cossey,” he said, “you thought proper to publicly bring a charge against me, which if it were true would go a long way towards showing that I was not a fit person to associate with those before whom it was brought.”
“Yes,” said Edward coolly.
“Before making any remarks on your conduct in bringing such a charge, which I give you credit for believing to be true, I purpose to show to you that it is a false charge,” went on the Colonel quietly. “The story is a very simple one, and so sad that nothing short of necessity would force me to tell it. I was, when quite young, engaged to your aunt, Miss Heston, to whom I was much attached, and