Page:Out of due time, Ward, 1906.djvu/20

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so very angry, but I was too frightened, and just as Lady Hornbrook said, 'That would be rather too much, with your own children to think of,' the card-players got up. In a few minutes the Duchess told Maud that she must go to bed, as she was leaving early. Then I slipped out of the room, dashed upstairs and packed like mad—and you know the rest, Mary."

"Of course we can neither of us go there again," said Mary, in her most woman-of-the-world manner; "but I wonder if there's nothing else to be done?"

Poor little Mary, she spoke bravely, but she was terribly troubled. Our own saintly father's memory smirched and spoilt by the odious untrue talk! How hard we tried to think that it was all untrue! But the sting of it was that we could not prove it even to ourselves. It seemed a horrible, intangible cloud darkening the shrine of our home life. I think I was more crushed, Mary more cynical. And to us both it all assumed such gigantic proportions. I felt as if I could never hold up my head again, while Mary became defiant, and had a touch of defiance about her for years. Looking back, after knowing something of the rough give and take of the world's talk, of the bony excrescences protruding out of so many domestic cupboards, my father's financial wrong-doing, and, the way he had wronged John, takes its place as a mysterious blot on what was otherwise a beautiful character. Let those who neglect the poor, and drive hard bargains, and fail to pay their debts, dare to throw a stone at my father, because he did not realise that those harmless little sellings-out, thousand by thousand, were spoiling John's property.

But of course there were other things to say about that visit. My first glimpse of the world was full of matter for endless discussion. We used to start in a sort of rush on our country walks as if we had no time to spare, and then we would discuss all those twenty folk I had met at Thornly.