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The Lady Icenway
by [?]

He filled his post for more than two years with a pleasure to himself which, though mournful, was soothing, his lady never forgiving him, or allowing him to be anything more than ‘the gardener’ to her child, though once or twice the boy said, ‘That gardener’s eyes are so sad! Why does he look so sadly at me?’ He sunned himself in her scornfulness as if it were love, and his ears drank in her curt monosyllables as though they were rhapsodies of endearment. Strangely enough, the coldness with which she treated her foreigner began to be the conduct of Lord Icenway towards herself. It was a matter of great anxiety to him that there should be a lineal successor to the title, yet no sign of that successor appeared. One day he complained to her quite roughly of his fate. ‘All will go to that dolt of a cousin!’ he cried. ‘I’d sooner see my name and place at the bottom of the sea!’

The lady soothed him and fell into thought, and did not recriminate. But one day, soon after, she went down to the cottage of the gardener to inquire how he was getting on, for he had been ailing of late, though, as was supposed, not seriously. Though she often visited the poor, she had never entered her under-gardener’s home before, and was much surprised–even grieved and dismayed–to find that he was too ill to rise from his bed. She went back to her mansion and returned with some delicate soup, that she might have a reason for seeing him.

His condition was so feeble and alarming, and his face so thin, that it quite shocked her softening heart, and gazing upon him she said, ‘You must get well–you must! I have been hard with you–I know it. I will not be so again.’

The sick and dying man–for he was dying indeed–took her hand and pressed it to his lips. ‘Too late, my darling, too late!’ he murmured.

‘But you must not die! Oh, you must not!’ she said. And on an impulse she bent down and whispered some words to him, blushing as she had blushed in her maiden days.

He replied by a faint wan smile. ‘Time was! . . . but that’s past!’ he said, ‘I must die!’

And die he did, a few days later, as the sun was going down behind the garden-wall. Her harshness seemed to come trebly home to her then, and she remorsefully exclaimed against herself in secret and alone. Her one desire now was to erect some tribute to his memory, without its being recognized as her handiwork. In the completion of this scheme there arrived a few months later a handsome stained-glass window for the church; and when it was unpacked and in course of erection Lord Icenway strolled into the building with his wife.

‘”Erected to his memory by his grieving widow,”‘ he said, reading the legend on the glass. ‘I didn’t know that he had a wife; I’ve never seen her.’

‘Oh yes, you must have, Icenway; only you forget,’ replied his lady blandly. ‘But she didn’t live with him, and was seldom seen visiting him, because there were differences between them; which, as is usually the case, makes her all the more sorry now.’

‘And go ruining herself by this expensive ruby-and-azure glass-design.’

‘She is not poor, they say.’

As Lord Icenway grew older he became crustier and crustier, and whenever he set eyes on his wife’s boy by her other husband he would burst out morosely, saying,

”Tis a very odd thing, my lady, that you could oblige your first husband, and couldn’t oblige me.’

‘Ah! if I had only thought of it sooner!’ she murmured.

‘What?’ said he.

‘Nothing, dearest,’ replied Lady Icenway.

* * * * *

The Colonel was the first to comment upon the Churchwarden’s tale, by saying that the fate of the poor fellow was rather a hard one.

The gentleman-tradesman could not see that his fate was at all too hard for him. He was legally nothing to her, and he had served her shamefully. If he had been really her husband it would have stood differently.

The Bookworm remarked that Lord Icenway seemed to have been a very unsuspicious man, with which view a fat member with a crimson face agreed. It was true his wife was a very close-mouthed personage, which made a difference. If she had spoken out recklessly her lord might have been suspicious enough, as in the case of that lady who lived at Stapleford Park in their great-grandfathers’ time. Though there, to be sure, considerations arose which made her husband view matters with much philosophy.

A few of the members doubted the possibility of this.

The crimson man, who was a retired maltster of comfortable means, ventru, and short in stature, cleared his throat, blew off his superfluous breath, and proceeded to give the instance before alluded to of such possibility, first apologizing for his heroine’s lack of a title, it never having been his good fortune to know many of the nobility. To his style of narrative the following is only an approximation.