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Lady Lucy’s Secret
by [?]

MR. FERRARS, who sat reading the morning paper, suddenly started with an exclamation of grief and astonishment that completely roused his absent-minded wife.

“My dear Walter, what has happened?” she asked, with real anxiety.

“A man a bankrupt, whom I thought as safe as the Bank of England! Though it is true, people talked about him months ago–spoke suspiciously of his personal extravagance, and, above all, said that his wife was ruining him.”

“His wife!”

“Yes; but I cannot understand that sort of thing. A few hundreds a year more or less could be of little moment to a man like Beaufort, and I don’t suppose she spent more than you do, my darling. At any rate she was never better dressed. Yet I believe the truth was, that she got frightfully into debt unknown to him; and debt is a sort of thing that multiplies itself in a most astonishing manner, and sows by the wayside the seeds of all sorts of misery. Then people say that when payday came at last, bickerings ensued, their domestic happiness was broken up, Beaufort grew reckless, and plunged into the excitement of the maddest speculations.”

“How dreadful!” murmured Lady Lucy.

“Dreadful indeed! I don’t know what I should do with such a wife.”

“Would not you forgive her if you loved her very much?” asked Lady Lucy, and she spoke in a singularly calm tone of suppressed emotion.

“Once, perhaps, once; and if her fault were the fault of youthful inexperience,–but so much falseness, mean deception, and mental deterioration must have accompanied such transactions, that–in short, I thank Heaven that I have never been put to the trial.”

As he spoke, the eyes of Mr. Ferrars were fixed on the leading article of the Times, not on his wife. Presently Lady Lucy glided from the room, without her absence being at the moment observed. Once in her dressing-room, she turned the key, and sinking into a low chair, gave vent to her grief in some of the bitterest tears she had ever shed. She, too, was in debt; “frightfully” her husband had used the right word; “hopelessly” so far as satisfying her creditors, even out of the large allowance Mr. Ferrars made her; and still she had not the courage voluntarily to tell the truth, which yet she knew must burst upon him ere long. From what small beginnings had this Upas shadow come upon her! And what “falseness, mean deception, and mental deterioration” had truly been hers!

Even the fancied relief of weeping was a luxury denied to her, for she feared to show the evidence of tears; thus after a little while she strove to drive them back, and by bathing her face before the glass, and drawing the braids of her soft hair a little nearer her eyes, she was tolerably successful in hiding their trace. Never, when dressing for court or gala, had she consulted her mirror so closely; and now, though the tears were dried, she was shocked at the lines of anguish–those delvers of the wrinkles of age–which marked her countenance. She sat before her looking-glass, one hand supporting her head, the other clutching the hidden letters which she had not yet the courage to open. There was a light tap at the door.

“Who is there?” inquired Lady Lucy.

“It is I, my lady,” replied Harris, her faithful maid. “Madame Dalmas is here.”

Lady Lucy unlocked the door and gave orders that the visiter should be shown up. With the name had come a flush of hope that some trifling temporary help would be hers. Madame Dalmas called herself a Frenchwoman, and signed herself “Antoinette” but she was really an English Jewess of low extraction, whose true name was Sarah Solomons. Her “profession” was to purchase–and sell–the cast-off apparel of ladies of fashion; and few of the sisterhood have carried the art of double cheating to so great a proficiency. With always a roll of bank-notes in her old leather pocket-book, and always a dirty canvass bag full of bright sovereigns in her pocket, she had ever the subtle temptation for her victims ready.