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Before she went to bed in her hotel in the Rue de Rivoli, Monica
Ellerwood wrote to her aunt.
"PARIS, May 15th.
"MY DEAR AUNT MILLY,--We have had a delicious little week,
Jack and I, quite like an old honeymoon pair--and to-day we ran
across Hector, who has remained hidden until now. He is looking
splendid, just as handsome and full of life as ever, so it does not
tell upon his constitution, that is one mercy! Not like poor Ernest
Bretherton, who, if you remember, was quite broken up by her last
year. And I have one good piece of news for you, dear Aunt Milly. I
do not believe he is so frantically wrapped up in this Esclarmonde
de Chartres woman after all--in spite of that diamond chain at
Monte Carlo. For to-night he took us to dine at
Armenonville--although Jack particularly wanted to go to the
Madrid--and when we got there we saw at once why! There was a most
beautiful woman dining there with a party, and Hector never took
his eyes off her the whole of dinner, Jack says--I had my back that
way--and he got rid of us as soon as he could and went and joined
them. Very young she looked, but I suppose married, from her pearls
and clothes--American probably, as she was perhaps too well dressed
for one of us; but quite a lady and awfully pretty. Hector was so
snappish about it, and would not tell her name, that it makes me
sure he is very much in love with her, and Jack thinks so too. So,
dear Aunt Milly, you need have no more anxieties about him, as she
can't have been married long, she looks so young, and so must be
quite safe. Jack says Hector is thoroughly able to take care of
himself, anyway, but I know how all these things worry you. If I
can find out her name before I go I will, though perhaps you think
it is out of the frying-pan into the fire, as it makes him no more
in the mood to marry Morella Winmarleigh than before. Unless, of
course, this new one is unkind to him. We shall be home on
Saturday, dear Aunt Milly, and I will come round to lunch on Sunday
and give you all my news.
"Your affectionate niece,
Which epistle jarred upon Hector's mother when she read it over coffee
at her solitary dinner on the following night.
"Poor dear Monica!" she said to herself. "I wonder where she got this
strain from--her father's family, I suppose--I wish she would not be
Then she sat down and wrote to her son--she was not even going to the
opera that night. And if she had looked up in the tall mirror opposite,
she would have seen a beautiful, stately lady with a puckered, plaintive
frown on her face.
If a woman absolutely worships a man, even if she is only his mother,
she is bound to spend many moments of unhappiness, and Lady Bracondale
was no exception to the general rule. Hector had always gone his own
way, and there were several aspects of his life she disapproved of.
These visits to Paris--his antipathy to matrimony--his boredom with
girls--such nice girls she knew, too, and had often thrown him
with!--his delight in big-game shooting in alarming and impossible
countries--and, above all, his absolute indifference to Morella
Winmarleigh, the only woman who really and truly in her heart of hearts
Lady Bracondale thought worthy of him, although she would have accepted
several other girls as choosing the lesser evil to bachelorhood. But
Morella Winmarleigh was perfection! She owned the enormous property
adjoining Bracondale; she was twenty-six years old, of unblemished
reputation, nice looking, and not--not one of those modern women who are
bound to cause anxieties. Under any circumstances one could count upon
Morella Winmarleigh behaving with absolute propriety. A girl born to be
a mother-in-law's joy.
But Hector persistently remained at large. It was not that he openly
defied his mother--he simply made love to her whenever they were
together, twisted her round his finger, and was off again.
"To see mother with Hector," Lady Annigford said, "is a wonderful sight.
Although I adore him myself, I am not at the stage she is! She sits
there beaming on him exactly like an exceedingly proud and fond cat with
new kittens. He treats her as if she were a young and beautiful woman,
caresses her, pets her, pays not the least attention to anything she
says, and does absolutely what he pleases!"
Hector and Lady Bracondale together had often made the women who were in
love with him jealous.
When she had finished her letter the stately lady read it over
carefully--she had a certain tact, and Hector must be cajoled to return,
not irritated. Monica's epistle, in spite of that touch of vulgarity
which she had deplored, had held out some grains of comfort. She had
been getting really anxious over this affair with the--French person.
Even to herself Lady Bracondale would not use any of the terms which
usually designate ladies of the type of Esclarmonde de Chartres.
Since her brother-in-law Evermond had returned from Monte Carlo bringing
that disturbing story of the diamond chain, she had been on thorns--of
such a light mind and always so full of worldly gossip, Evermond!
Hector had gone from Monte Carlo to Venice, and then to Paris, where he
had been for more than a month, and she had heard that men could become
quite infatuated and absolutely ruined by these creatures. So for him to
have taken a fancy to a married American was considerably better than
that. She had met several members of this nation herself in England, and
were they not always very discreet, with well-balanced heads! So
altogether the puckered frown soon left her smooth brow, and she was
able to resume the knitting of a tie she was doing for her son, with a
spirit more or less at rest, though she sighed now and then as she
remembered Morella Winmarleigh could not be expected to wait
forever--and her cherished vision of perfectly behaved, vigorously
healthy grandchildren was still a long way from being realized. For with
such a mother what perfect children they would be! This was always her