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dies, if they should be Roman Catholics like himself— as they naturally will be in the event of his marrying Miss Ferrand."
"What a queer condition of things!"
Mr. Trenchard agreed that it was rather queer, but observed that the last will and testament of poor old Tom Scarth, who had been queer all his life, was pretty sure to be that.
"Whether he expected his nephew to accept the conditions that he laid down or not I can't tell ; assuredly he did not mean his property to remain permanently in Roman Catholic hands, though. It is just possible that he may have wished to tempt Nigel into making certain of the succession by contracting a Protestant marriage."
"But does not the Church of Rome stipulate that the children of mixed marriages must be brought up as Catholics?" Miss Dallison asked.
"Perhaps; only I know of no means by which such a stipulation could be enforced. My experience leads me to believe that three men out of every four end by doing what their wives want them to do, and, although my friend Nigel is a bit of a fanatic, I doubt whether he has a very strong will. Still I grant you that the hypothesis of his uncle, who was scarcely acquainted with him, having discovered that is a little far-fetched."
Ethel glanced once more across the table at the man of alleged weak will, whose countenance did not at that moment convey the impression that he merited Mr. Trenchard's criticism. Instead of avoiding her scrutiny, as before, he met it this time with dilated, almost fierce eyes; his brows had contracted themselves into a frown, his lower jaw was slightly thrust forward, he had much more the air of defying her than of paying homage to her physical charms. He had probably guessed, she thought, that he was under discussion, and
she promptly turned to her neighbour with a change of subject.
"I have never seen grouse-driving," said she. "Is it permitted to look on at the sport from a distance, or would one be considered a nuisance if one did?"
Mr. Trenchard assured her that there would be no difficulty about her witnessing what was likely to be a very pretty exhibition of skill on the morrow. He himself had been a fine shot up to the fatal day which had put an end to his shooting, as well as to Robert Scarth's for ever, and he could discourse upon sport-as indeed he could upon most topics-with knowledge and ease. It was not until dinner was nearly over that Ethel inquired abruptly:
"Did Monica fall in love with him, or was it he who fell in love with her?"
"My dear young lady," returned the old man, laughing, "how can I tell? I am not omniscient. Perhaps there was no falling in love at all.”
"Ah!-is that why you dislike the engagement? "Surely I had not the indiscretion to say that I disliked it, had I? Well, since you ask me, I will be indiscreet enough to confess that I don't think it a promising one and that I believe it might be broken off without breaking of hearts on either side. But this is quite between ourselves, please. I don't wish to be a busybody or a marplot, and I am in constant danger of offending in that direction. You can understand, I daresay, that a man who has so little personal interest in the present or the future is often tempted to interfere more than he ought with other people's business."
In leaving the room, Ethel had to pause for a moment at the spot where Nigel Scarth stood, and the passage of a stout lady, which caused her to step aside, brought her so close to him that a stray lock of her hair
actually brushed his cheek. He sprang back, with almost ludicrous alacrity, and exclaimed "I beg your pardon!" in a voice which sounded anything but apologetic. She turned her beautiful face towards him, surveying him with a surprise which may very probably have been genuine; then she broke into a low laugh, bowed and moved on.
"Evidently it would not be difficult, if it were worth while," she thought to herself; "but the first thing is to find out what poor little Monica's views are."
Poor little Monica had no views: probably there was a vague impression in her mind that it is scarcely proper or becoming for a young girl to entertain such things. This, at any rate, was the conclusion to which her friend and former schoolfellow came after a long talk with her in the huge bedroom which had been appropriated to the use of the mistress of the house. Monica appeared as comically lost and out of place in that vast apartment as she had done in the long drawingroom after dinner, when the Duchess of Leith had unhesitatingly usurped the position of hostess, and when Ethel had been made the recipient of many compliments, expressed and implied. Ethel could not but be conscious that she was physically and mentally adapted to fill large places, whereas Monica made no secret of the fact that what she yearned for was obscurity. Such are the practical jokes which Fate delights to play upon helpless mortals.
"Fortunately," remarked the younger of the two, "Nigel dislikes crowds as much as I do, and he says he will never wish to fill his house. I am very glad of that; for Rixmouth Castle could accommodate nearly twice the number of people that we can."
She had already related her love-tale, if such it could be called, and had answered certain pertinent queries
after a fashion more enlightening perhaps than she was
"What courage you have!" Ethel exclaimed. And, in response to surprised, but mute, interrogation, she went on: "Yes, it requires some courage to accept a part which you don't much fancy in anticipation and will fancy still less in reality. Big houses are not built to stand empty; you will have to entertain, whether you like it or not, and from what you tell me, there won't be too much money to spend upon entertainment. Of course that would be only a trifle if you really cared for this Mr. Scarth--"
"But I do care for him!" Monica protestingly interrupted.
"Oh, yes—and you care for your father and for your sisters, and even a little for your humble servant. But suppose some fine day you were to discover that there was another person for whom you cared just ten thousand times more than for all the rest of us put together, including Mr. Scarth?"
"That could not possibly happen!" cried Monica, flushing.
"Well, such things have been known to happen."
"Only to people who have no religion," Monica declared. "At all events," she added, noticing her friend's incredulous smile and remembering allusions made in her hearing to cases which did not altogether bear out that theory, "I am sure nothing of the kind will happen to me or to Nigel. You don't know how good he is!"
"He may be as good as he looks, or even better than he looks," returned her friend; "I hope he is. But if he had all the virtues of all the saints it wouldn't necessarily follow that he was the right man for you."
"You mean that I am not good enough for him!” cried Monica apprehensively.
"No; that isn't what I mean. Perhaps, after all, it doesn't very much matter what I mean. And you aren't married to him yet, and you have a whole year of liberty before you. Now I am too sleepy to say anything more, except goodnight."