My words seemed to electrify her. She pushed up her veil and looked at me eagerly.
“Well? Go on!” she exclaimed.
“There are some things,” I said, “which I have made up my mind to tell no one. But at least I can assure you of this. I am not nearly in so desperate a position as you and Colonel Ray seem to think.”
She caught hold of my hand and grasped it convulsively. The hard lines seemed to have fallen away from her face. She smiled tremulously.
“Oh, I am glad!” she declared. “I am glad!”
Just then a carriage passed us, and I saw Lady Angela lean a little forward in her seat as though to gain a better view of us.
The Duke was in his study awaiting our arrival. I saw him rise and bow stiffly to my stepmother. Then I closed the door and left them alone.
I wandered through the house, a little at a loss to know what to do with myself. It was too soon to go to Ray, and the work on which I was engaged was all in the study. Just as I passed the drawing-room door, however, it opened suddenly, and Lady Angela came out, talking to a white-haired old gentleman, who carried a stick on which he leaned heavily. He looked at me rather curiously, and then began to hobble down the hall at a great pace. But Lady Angela laid her hand upon his arm.
“Why, Sir Michael,” she exclaimed, “this won’t do at all. You can’t look him in the face and run. Mr. Ducaine, this is Sir Michael Trogoldy.”
He swung round and held out his hand. His eyes searched my face eagerly.
“Nephew,” he said, “I wanted to meet you, and I didn’t want to meet you. God bless my soul! you’ve got Muriel’s eyes and mouth. Come and dine with me one night next week-any night: let me know. Good-bye, good-bye, Lady Angela. God bless you. Here, James, give me your arm down the steps, and whistle for my fellow to draw up. There he is, in the middle of the road, the blockhead.”
Lady Angela and I exchanged glances. I think that we should both have laughed but for the tears which we had seen in his eyes.
“Poor old man,” she murmured. “He is very nervous and very sensitive. I know that he dreaded seeing you, and yet he came this afternoon for no other purpose. Will you come into the drawing-room for a moment?”
There was a certain stiffness in her manner, which was new to me. She remained standing, and her soft dark eyes were full of grave inquiry.
“Mr. Ducaine,” she said, “I passed you just now driving in a hansom with a person—of whom I disapprove. May I know—is it any secret why you were with her?”
“It is no secret at all, Lady Angela,” I answered. “I was sent to fetch her by your father.”
“By my father?” she repeated incredulously. “Do you mean that she is in this house?”