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The Lady Icenway
by [?]

He bowed his head. ‘And the child–our child?’ he said.

‘He is well,’ says she. ‘Quite well.’

With this the unhappy gentleman departed, much sadder in his heart than on his voyage to England; for it had never occurred to him that a woman who rated her honour so highly as Maria had done, and who was the mother of a child of his, would have adopted such means as this for the restoration of that honour, and at so surprisingly early a date. He had fully calculated on making her his wife in law and truth, and of living in cheerful unity with her and his offspring, for whom he felt a deep and growing tenderness, though he had never once seen the child.

The lady returned to her mansion beyond Wintoncester, and told nothing of the interview to her noble husband, who had fortunately gone that day to do a little cocking and ratting out by Weydon Priors, and knew nothing of her movements. She had dismissed her poor Anderling peremptorily enough; yet she would often after this look in the face of the child of her so- called widowhood, to discover what and how many traits of his father were to be seen in his lineaments. For this she had ample opportunity during the following autumn and winter months, her husband being a matter-of- fact nobleman, who spent the greater part of his time in field-sports and agriculture.

One winter day, when he had started for a meet of the hounds a long way from the house–it being his custom to hunt three or four times a week at this season of the year–she had walked into the sunshine upon the terrace before the windows, where there fell at her feet some little white object that had come over a boundary wall hard by. It proved to be a tiny note wrapped round a stone. Lady Icenway opened it and read it, and immediately (no doubt, with a stern fixture of her queenly countenance) walked hastily along the terrace, and through the door into the shrubbery, whence the note had come. The man who had first married her stood under the bushes before her. It was plain from his appearance that something had gone wrong with him.

‘You notice a change in me, my best-beloved,’ he said. ‘Yes, Maria–I have lost all the wealth I once possessed–mainly by reckless gambling in the Continental hells to which you banished me. But one thing in the world remains to me–the child–and it is for him that I have intruded here. Don’t fear me, darling! I shall not inconvenience you long; I love you too well! But I think of the boy day and night–I cannot help it–I cannot keep my feeling for him down; and I long to see him, and speak a word to him once in my lifetime!’

‘But your oath?’ says she. ‘You promised never to reveal by word or sign–‘

‘I will reveal nothing. Only let me see the child. I know what I have sworn to you, cruel mistress, and I respect my oath. Otherwise I might have seen him by some subterfuge. But I preferred the frank course of asking your permission.’

She demurred, with the haughty severity which had grown part of her character, and which her elevation to the rank of a peeress had rather intensified than diminished. She said that she would consider, and would give him an answer the day after the next, at the same hour and place, when her husband would again be absent with his pack of hounds.

The gentleman waited patiently. Lady Icenway, who had now no conscious love left for him, well considered the matter, and felt that it would be advisable not to push to extremes a man of so passionate a heart. On the day and hour she met him as she had promised to do.

‘You shall see him,’ she said, ‘of course on the strict condition that you do not reveal yourself, and hence, though you see him, he must not see you, or your manner might betray you and me. I will lull him into a nap in the afternoon, and then I will come to you here, and fetch you indoors by a private way.’