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A Devotee by Mary Cholmondeley

And Wilderleigh was to be sold


had spoken the bare truth to Sibyl when he told her that his life hung by a thread. That this is so with all human life is a truism to which we all agree, but which none of us believe. But in his case the sword of Damocles was visible in the air above him. He never took for granted, if he went out for a walk, that he should return; and on this particular May afternoon, as he looked out from a friend's house in Park Lane across the street to the twinkle of green and the coloured bands of hyacinths beyond the railings, he locked his writing-table drawer from force of long habit, and burned the letters he had just read as carefully as if he were going on a long journey, instead of a short stroll across the park to Lady Pierpoint's house in Kensington.

It was a heavy trouble that he had just locked into the writing-table drawer--nothing less than the sale of Wilderleigh, which he and Doll, after much laying together of the gray head and the brown one, had both come to the conclusion could not be staved off any longer. For the newly-imposed death-duties and the increasing pressure of taxation on land, in the teeth of increasing agricultural depression, had been the death-blow of Wilderleigh, as of so many other quiet country homes and their owners. The new aristocracy of the ironmaster and the cheesemonger and the brewer had come to the birth, and the old must give way before the power of their money. Mr. Loftus accepted the inevitable, and Wilderleigh

was to be sold.

He did not know for certain where Lady Pierpoint was to be found, but he would try the little house in Kensington. He had seen her driving alone the previous day, and he knew that she had quite recently returned with her daughter and niece from Egypt, where they had spent the winter months. Something in the glimpse of her passing face yesterday had awakened in him a vague suspicion that she was in trouble. She looked older and grayer, and why was she alone?

He took up his hat and, entering the Park, struck across the grass in the direction of the Albert Memorial, blinking in all its gilt in the afternoon sun. The blent green and gray of a May day in London had translated the prose of the Park into poetry. Here in the very heart of the vast machine, Spring had ventured to alight for a moment, undisturbed by the distant roar of dusty struggling life all round her. The new leaves on the smoke-black branches of the trees were for a moment green as those unfolding in country lanes. Smoke-black among the silvery grass men lay strewn in the sunshine, looking like cast-off rags flung down, outworn by humanity, whose great pulse was throbbing so near at hand. Across the tender beauty of the young year fell the shadow of crime and exhaustion, and 'the every-day tragedy of the cheapness of man.'

The shadow fell on Mr. Loftus's mind, and he had well-nigh reached Lady Pierpoint's door before his thoughts returned to her and to her niece, Sibyl Carruthers.

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