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A Devotee by Mary Cholmondeley

Wilderleigh could hardly pay its way


'It's

a mistake,' he said at last, half aloud. 'But Uncle George is on the square; he always is.'

And when he was ruthlessly twitted next day by his brother officers on being cut out by his uncle, he replied simply enough:

'He is a better man than me, as all you fellows know. She would not have looked at one of you any more than she would at me. I suppose she had a fancy for marrying a man who could spell, which none of us can.'

'Spelling or none,' said the youngest sub--'which is an indecent subject which should never be mentioned between gentlemen--anyhow, I mean to borrow a thousand or a fiver off him. Mr. Loftus always tipped me at school.'

One of Mr. Loftus's first actions was to stop the preliminary proceedings regarding the sale of Wilderleigh, which he had been arranging a month ago, on the afternoon when he had called on Lady Pierpoint. It was like awakening from a nightmare to realize that Wilderleigh would not be sold, after all. He almost wished that he might live long enough to set the place in order for Doll.

The engagement was a nine days' wonder, and those nine days were purposely spent by Mr. Loftus in London. He was aware that many cruel things would be said at his expense, and that the bare fact that a man of his years and in his state of health should marry a young heiress, and so great an heiress

as Sibyl Carruthers, must call forth unfavourable comments. People who did not know him said it was perfectly shameful, and that it was just the sort of thing which those people who posed as being so extra good always did. How shocked Mr. Loftus had pretended to be when old Lord Bugbear, after his infamous life, married a girl of seventeen! And now he, Mr. Loftus, was doing exactly the same himself. Of course he had a very fascinating manner--just the kind of manner to impose on a young girl who, like Miss Carruthers, knew nothing of the world, and had been nowhere. And everyone knew he was desperately poor. Wilderleigh could hardly pay its way. A rumour had long been afloat that it would shortly be for sale. If he had not been so hard up for money it would have been different; but it was a most disgraceful thing, and Lady Pierpoint ought to be ashamed of having exposed the poor motherless girl left in her charge to his designs upon her. They wondered how much Lady Pierpoint, whose means were narrow, had been bought over for. The sums varied according to the sordidness of the different speculators, who of course named their own price.

Others who knew Mr. Loftus were puzzled and were silent. To know him at all was to believe him to be incapable of an ignoble action; yet this marriage had the appearance of being ignoble--not, perhaps, for another man, but certainly for him. His intimate friends were distressed, and greeted him with grave cordiality and affection, and hoped for an explanation. He gave none. And they remembered that never in his public or in his private life had he been known to give an explanation of his conduct, and came to the conclusion that they must trust him.

Mr. Loftus had recognised early in life that explanations explain nothing. If those who had had opportunities of knowing him well misjudged him after those opportunities, they were at liberty to do so as far as he was concerned. The weight of an enormous acquaintance oppressed him, and, though he had never been known to wound anyone by withdrawing from an unequal friendship, which he had not been the one to begin, and which was an effort to him to continue, still, he took advantage of being misunderstood to lay aside many such friendships. It was not pride which prompted this line of action on Mr. Loftus's part, though many put it down to pride, especially those who had held aloof from him at a certain doubtful moment, and in whose regard subsequent events had entirely reinstated him, and who complained that he expected to be considered infallible. It was, in reality, the natural inclination of a world-weary man of the world to lay aside, as far as he could courteously do so, the claims of the artificial side of life, its vain forms, its empty hospitalities.


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