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Lady Mottisfont
by [?]

After this they lived quietly and uneventfully for two or three years at Sir Ashley Mottisfont’s residence in that part of England, with as near an approach to bliss as the climate of this country allows. The child had been a godsend to Philippa, for there seemed no great probability of her having one of her own: and she wisely regarded the possession of Dorothy as a special kindness of Providence, and did not worry her mind at all as to Dorothy’s possible origin. Being a tender and impulsive creature, she loved her husband without criticism, exhaustively and religiously, and the child not much otherwise. She watched the little foundling as if she had been her own by nature, and Dorothy became a great solace to her when her husband was absent on pleasure or business; and when he came home he looked pleased to see how the two had won each other’s hearts. Sir Ashley would kiss his wife, and his wife would kiss little Dorothy, and little Dorothy would kiss Sir Ashley, and after this triangular burst of affection Lady Mottisfont would say, ‘Dear me–I forget she is not mine!’

‘What does it matter?’ her husband would reply. ‘Providence is fore-knowing. He has sent us this one because he is not intending to send us one by any other channel.’

Their life was of the simplest. Since his travels the baronet had taken to sporting and farming; while Philippa was a pattern of domesticity. Their pleasures were all local. They retired early to rest, and rose with the cart-horses and whistling waggoners. They knew the names of every bird and tree not exceptionally uncommon, and could foretell the weather almost as well as anxious farmers and old people with corns.

One day Sir Ashley Mottisfont received a letter, which he read, and musingly laid down on the table without remark.

‘What is it, dearest?’ asked his wife, glancing at the sheet.

‘Oh, it is from an old lawyer at Bath whom I used to know. He reminds me of something I said to him four or five years ago–some little time before we were married–about Dorothy.’

‘What about her?’

‘It was a casual remark I made to him, when I thought you might not take kindly to her, that if he knew a lady who was anxious to adopt a child, and could insure a good home to Dorothy, he was to let me know.’

‘But that was when you had nobody to take care of her,’ she said quickly. ‘How absurd of him to write now! Does he know you are married? He must, surely.’

‘Oh yes!’

He handed her the letter. The solicitor stated that a widow-lady of position, who did not at present wish her name to be disclosed, had lately become a client of his while taking the waters, and had mentioned to him that she would like a little girl to bring up as her own, if she could be certain of finding one of good and pleasing disposition; and, the better to insure this, she would not wish the child to be too young for judging her qualities. He had remembered Sir Ashley’s observation to him a long while ago, and therefore brought the matter before him. It would be an excellent home for the little girl–of that he was positive–if she had not already found such a home.

‘But it is absurd of the man to write so long after!’ said Lady Mottisfont, with a lumpiness about the back of her throat as she thought how much Dorothy had become to her. ‘I suppose it was when you first–found her–that you told him this?’

‘Exactly–it was then.’

He fell into thought, and neither Sir Ashley nor Lady Mottisfont took the trouble to answer the lawyer’s letter; and so the matter ended for the time.

One day at dinner, on their return from a short absence in town, whither they had gone to see what the world was doing, hear what it was saying, and to make themselves generally fashionable after rusticating for so long–on this occasion, I say, they learnt from some friend who had joined them at dinner that Fernell Hall–the manorial house of the estate next their own, which had been offered on lease by reason of the impecuniosity of its owner–had been taken for a term by a widow lady, an Italian Contessa, whose name I will not mention for certain reasons which may by and by appear. Lady Mottisfont expressed her surprise and interest at the probability of having such a neighbour. ‘Though, if I had been born in Italy, I think I should have liked to remain there,’ she said.