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“A subscription of five hundred pounds, my Lady, would provide for everything — if it could only be collected.”

“It shall be collected, Moody! I will pay the subscription out of my own purse.” Having asserted herself in those noble terms, she spoilt the effect of her own outburst of generosity by dropping to the sordid view of the subject in her next sentence. “Five hundred pounds is a good bit of money, though; isn’t it, Moody?”

“It is, indeed, my Lady.” Rich and generous as he knew his mistress to be, her proposal to pay the whole subscription took the steward by surprise. Lady Lydiard’s quick perception instantly detected what was passing in his mind.

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“You don’t quite understand my position in this matter,” she said. “When I read the newspaper notice of Mr. Tollmidge’s death, I searched among his Lordship’s papers to see if they really were related. I discovered some letters from Mr. Tollmidge, which showed me that he and Lord Lydiard were cousins. One of those letters contains some very painful statements, reflecting most untruly and unjustly on my conduct; lies, in short,” her Ladyship burst out, losing her dignity, as usual. “Lies, Moody, for which Mr. Tollmidge deserved to be horsewhipped. I would have done it myself if his Lordship had told me at the time. No matter; it’s useless to dwell on the thing now,” she continued, ascending again to the forms of expression which became a lady of rank. “This unhappy man has done me a gross injustice; my motives may be seriously misjudged, if I appear personally in communicating with his family. If I relieve them anonymously in their present trouble, I spare them the exposure of a public subscription, and I do what I believe his Lordship would have done himself if he had lived. My desk is on the other table. Bring it here, Moody; and let me return good for evil, while I’m in the humor for it!”

Moody obeyed in silence. Lady Lydiard wrote a check.

“Take that to the banker’s, and bring back a five-hundred pound note,” she said. “I’ll inclose it to the clergyman as coming from ‘an unknown friend.’ And be quick about it. I am only a fallible mortal, Moody. Don’t leave me time enough to take the stingy view of five hundred pounds.”

Moody went out with the check. No delay was to be apprehended in obtaining the money; the banking-house was hard by, in St. James’s Street. Left alone, Lady Lydiard decided on occupying her mind in the generous direction by composing her anonymous letter to the clergyman. She had just taken a sheet of note-paper from her desk, when a servant appeared at the door announcing a visitor —

“Mr. Felix Sweetsir!”

“MY nephew!” Lady Lydiard exclaimed in a tone which expressed astonishment, but certainly not pleasure as well. “How many years is it since you and I last met?” she asked, in her abruptly straightforward way, as Mr. Felix Sweetsir approached her writing-table.

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The visitor was not a person easily discouraged. He took Lady Lydiard’s hand, and kissed it with easy grace. A shade of irony was in his manner, agreeably relieved by a playful flash of tenderness.

“Years, my dear aunt?” he said. “Look in your glass and you will see that time has stood still since we met last. How wonderfully well you wear! When shall we celebrate the appearance of your first wrinkle? I am too old; I shall never live to see it.”

He took an easychair, uninvited; placed himself close at his aunt’s side, and ran his eye over her ill-chosen dress with an air of satirical admiration. “How perfectly successful!” he said, with his well-bred insolence. “What a chaste gayety of color!”

“What do you want?” asked her Ladyship, not in the least softened by the compliment.

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“I want to pay my respects to my dear aunt,” Felix answered, perfectly impenetrable to his ungracious reception, and perfectly comfortable in a spacious arm-chair.

No pen-and-ink portrait need surely be drawn of Felix Sweetsir — he is too well-known a picture in society. The little lith e man, with his bright, restless eyes, and his long iron-gray hair falling in curls to his shoulders, his airy step and his cordial manner; his uncertain age, his innumerable accomplishments, and his unbounded popularity — is he not familiar everywhere, and welcome everywhere? How gratefully he receives, how prodigally he repays, the cordial appreciation of an admiring world! Every man he knows is “a charming fellow.” Every woman he sees is “sweetly pretty.” What picnics he gives on the banks of the Thames in the summer season! What a well-earned little income he derives from the whist-table! What an inestimable actor he is at private theatricals of all sorts (weddings included)! Did you never read Sweetsir’s novel, dashed off in the intervals of curative perspiration at a German bath? Then you don’t know what brilliant fiction really is. He has never written a second work; he does everything, and only does it once. One song — the despair of professional composers. One picture — just to show how easily a gentleman can take up an art and drop it again. A really multiform man, with all the graces and all the accomplishments scintillating perpetually at his fingers’ ends. If these poor pages have achieved nothing else, they have done a service to persons not in society by presenting them to Sweetsir. In his gracious company the narrative brightens; and writer and reader (catching reflected brilliancy) understand each other at last, thanks to Sweetsir.

“Well,” said Lady Lydiard, “now you are here, what have you got to say for yourself? You have been abroad, of course! Where?”