A cloud came over Lord Lackington’s face. Julie rose from her knees and sat beside him. He lost himself a few moments amid the painful ghosts of memory. Then, turning to her abruptly, he said:
“You have wondered, I dare say, why I was so hard—why, for seventeen years, I cast her off?”
“Yes, often. You could have come to see us without anybody knowing. Mother loved you very much.”
Her voice was low and sad. Lord Lackington rose, fidgeted restlessly with some of the small ornaments on the mantel-piece, and at last turned to her.
“She brought dishonor,” he said, in the same stifled voice, “and the women of our family have always been stainless. But that I could have forgiven. After a time I should have resumed relations—private relations—with her. But it was your father who stood in the way. I was then—I am now—you saw me with that young fellow just now—quarrelsome and hot-tempered. It is my nature.” He drew himself up obstinately. “I can’t help it. I take great pains to inform myself, then I cling to my opinions tenaciously, and in argument my temper gets the better of me. Your father, too, was hot-tempered. He came, with my consent, once to see me—after your mother had left her husband—to try and bring about some arrangement between us. It was the Chartist time. He was a Radical, a Socialist of the most extreme views. In the course of our conversation something was said that excited him. He went off at score. I became enraged, and met him with equal violence. We had a furious argument, which ended in each insulting the other past forgiveness. We parted enemies for life. I never could bring myself to see him afterwards, nor to run the risk of seeing him. Your mother took his side and espoused his opinions while he lived. After his death, I suppose, she was too proud and sore to write to me. I wrote to her once—it was not the letter it might have been. She did not reply till she felt herself dying. That is the explanation of what, no doubt, must seem strange to you.”
[Illustration: “‘FOR MY ROSE’S CHILD,’ HE SAID, GENTLY”]
He turned to her almost pleadingly. A deep flush had replaced the pallor of his first emotion, as though in the presence of these primal realities of love, death, and sorrow which she had recalled to him, his old quarrel, on a political difference, cut but a miserable figure.
“No,” she said, sadly, “not very strange. I understood my father—my dear father,” she added, with soft, deliberate tenderness.
Lord Lackington was silent a little, then he threw her a sudden, penetrating look.
“You have been in London three years. You ought to have told me before.”
It was Julie’s turn to color.
“Lady Henry bound me to secrecy.”
“Lady Henry did wrong,” he said, with emphasis. Then he asked, jealously, with a touch of his natural irascibility, “Who else has been in the secret?”