Miss Hunsden sighed deeply, and went into the house. And Sir Everard rode home as if the fiend was after him—like a man gone mad—flung the reins of the foaming horse to the astounded groom, rushed up to his room and locked himself in, and declined his luncheon and his dinner.
When he came down to breakfast next morning, with a white, wild face, and livid rings round his eyes, he electrified the family by his abrupt announcement:
“I start for Constantinople to-morrow. From thence I shall make a tour of the East. I will not return to England for the next three years.”
LYING IN BRITHLOW WOOD.
A thunderbolt falling at your feet from a cloudless summer sky must be rather astounding in its unexpectedness, but no thunderbolt ever created half the consternation Sir Everard’s fierce announcement did.
“Going away!” his mother murmured—“going to Constantinople. My dear Everard, you don’t mean it?”
“Don’t I?” he said, fiercely. “Don’t I look as if I meant it?”
“But what has happened? Oh, Everard, what does all this mean?”
“It means, mother, that I am a mad, desperate and reckless man; that I don’t care whether I ever return to England again or not.”
Lady Kingsland’s own imperious spirit began to rise. Her cheeks flushed and her eyes flashed.
“It means you are a headstrong, selfish, cruel boy! You don’t care an iota what pain you inflict on others, if you are thwarted ever so slightly yourself. I have indulged you from your childhood. You have never known one unsatisfied wish it was in my power to gratify, and this is my reward!”
He sat in sullen silence. He felt the reproach keenly in its simple truth; but his heart was too sore, the pain too bitter, to let him yield.
“You promise me obedience in the dearest wish of my heart,” her ladyship went on, heedless of the presence of Mildred and Sybilla, “and you break that promise at the first sight of a wild young hoiden in a hunting-field. It is on her account you frighten me to death in this heartless manner, because I refuse my consent to your consummating your own disgrace.”
“My disgrace? Take care, mother!”
“Do you dare speak in that tone to me?” She rose up from the table, livid with passion. “I repeat it, Sir Everard Kingsland—your disgrace! Mystery shrouds this girl’s birth and her father’s marriage—if he ever was married—and where there is mystery there is guilt.”
“A sweeping assertion!” the baronet said, with concentrated scorn; “but in the present instance, my good mother, a little out of place. The mystery is of your own making. The late Mrs. Harold Hunsden was a native of New York. There she was married—there she died at her daughter’s birth. Captain Hunsden cherishes her memory all too deeply to make it the town talk, hence all the county is up agape inventing slander. I hope you are satisfied?”