’"Meaning her lover in cocky,” I said.
’"There is no lover in cocky,” says he.
’"No Dr. Ingles!” said I.
’"Yes, there is a Dr. Ingles, but he is not her lover, and your niece never met him. I bicycled to Tutbury lately, and, after examining the scene of Queen Mary’s captivity, I made a few inquiries. What I had always suspected proved to be true. Dr. Ingles was not present at that ball at the Bear at Tutbury.”
‘Well,’ Mrs. Nicholson went on, ’you might have knocked me down with a feather! I had never asked my second cousins the question, not wanting them to guess about my affairs. But down I sat, and wrote to Maria, and got her answer. Barbara never saw Dr. Ingles! only heard the girls mention him, and his going to the war. And then, after that, by Mr. Jephson’s advice, I went and gave Barbara my mind. She should marry Mr. Jephson, who saved her life, or be the laughing stock of the country. I showed her up to herself, with her glass ball, and her teleopathy, and her sham love-letters, that she wrote herself, and all her humbug. She cried, and she fainted, and she carried on, but I went at her whenever she could listen to reason. So she said “Yes,” and I am the happy woman.’
’And Mr. Jephson is to be congratulated on so sensible and veracious a bride,’ said Merton.
’Oh, he says it is by no means an uncommon case, and that he has effected a complete cure, and they will be as happy as idiots,’ said Mrs. Nicholson, as she rose to depart.
She left Merton pensive, and not disposed to overrate human nature. ’But there can’t be many fellows like Jephson,’ he said. ’I wonder how much the six figures run to?’ But that question was never answered to his satisfaction.
I. The Earl’s Long-Lost Cousin
‘A jilt in time saves nine,’ says the proverbial wisdom of our forefathers, adding, ‘One jilt makes many.’ In the last chapter of the book of this chronicle, we told how the mercenary Mr. Jephson proved false to the beautiful Miss Willoughby, who supported existence by her skill in deciphering and transcribing the manuscript records of the past. We described the consequent visit of Miss Willoughby to the office of the Disentanglers, and how she reminded Merton that he had asked her once ’if she had a spark of the devil in her.’ She had that morning received, in fact, a letter, crawling but explicit, from the unworthy Jephson, her lover. Retired, he said, to the rural loneliness of Derbyshire, he had read in his own heart, and what he there deciphered convinced him that, as a man of honour, he had but one course before him: he must free Miss Willoughby from her engagement. The lady was one of those who suffer in silence. She made no moan, and no reply to Jephson’s letter; but she did visit Merton, and, practically, gave him to understand that she was ready to start as a Corsair on the seas of amorous adventure. She had nailed the black flag to the mast: unhappy herself, she was apt to have no mercy on the sentiments and affections of others.