“I discharge you, sir,” Anderson had said, after hearing Miss Bank’s statement in the roadway. “You are no longer a prisoner. Have you anything to say, sir?”
“Nothing, Mr. Crow, except to offer my legal services to you and your ward in this extraordinary matter. Put the matter in my hands, sir, and she shall soon come into her own, thanks to this young lady. I may add that, as I am not in the habit of soliciting clients, it is not my intention in this instance to exact a fee from your ward. My services are quite free, given in return, Mr. Crow, for the magnanimous way in which you have taken me into your confidence ever since I have known you. It is an honour to have been arrested by you; truthfully it is no disgrace.”
In the privacy of Mrs. Bonner’s sitting-room, Elsie Banks, dry-eyed and bitter, told the story of her life. I cannot tell it as she did, for she was able to bring tears to the eyes of her listeners. It is only for me to relate the bare facts, putting them into her words as closely as possible. Rosalie Gray, faint with astonishment and incredulity, a lump in her throat that would not go down, and tears in her eyes, leaned back in an easy-chair and watched her unhappy friend.
“I shall provide Mr. Barnes with proof of everything I say,” said Miss Banks. “There can be no difficulty, Rosalie dear, in confirming all that I have to tell. If you will permit me to relate the story without interruption and afterward let me go my way without either pity or contempt, I shall be, oh, so grateful to you all—especially to you, dear Rosalie. Believe me I love you with my whole soul.
“I have come to you voluntarily, and my mother, who is in Tinkletown, in resigning herself to the calls of conscience, is now happier than she has ever been before. A more powerful influence than her own will or her own honour, an influence that was evil to the core, inspired her to countenance this awful wrong. It also checkmated every good impulse she may have had to undo it in after years. That influence came from Oswald Banks, a base monster to whom my mother was married when I was a year old. My mother was the daughter of Lord Abbott Brace, but married my own father, George Stuart, who was a brilliant but radical newspaper writer in London, against her father’s wish. For this he cast her off and disinherited her. Grandfather hated him and his views, and he could not forgive my mother even after my father died, which was two years after their marriage.
“Lord Richard Brace, my mother’s only brother, married the daughter of the Duchess of B——. You, Rosalie, are Lady Rosalie Brace of Brace Hall, W—shire, England, the true granddaughter of General Lord Abbott Brace, one of the noblest and richest men of his day. Please let me go on; I cannot endure the interruptions. The absolute, unalterable proof of what I say shall be established through the confession of my own mother, in whose possession lies every document necessary to give back to you that which she would have given to me.