Lady Lydiard interrupted her steward for the third time. “Did you mention my name?” she asked sharply.

“Certainly not, my Lady. I followed my instructions, and described you as a benevolent person in search of cases of real distress. It is quite true that Mr. Tollmidge has died, leaving nothing to his family. But the widow has a little income of seventy pounds in her own right.”

“Is that enough to live on, Moody?” her Ladyship asked.

“Enough, in this case, for the widow and her daughter,” Moody answered. “The difficulty is to pay the few debts left standing, and to start the two sons in life. They are reported to be steady lads; and the family is much respected in the neighborhood. The clergyman proposes to get a few influential names to begin with, and to start a subscription.”

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“No subscription!” protested Lady Lydiard. “Mr. Tollmidge was Lord Lydiard’s cousin; and Mrs. Tollmidge is related to his Lordship by marriage. It would be degrading to my husband’s memory to have the begging-box sent round for his relations, no matter how distant they may be. Cousins!” exclaimed her Ladyship, suddenly descending from the lofty ranges of sentiment to the low. “I hate the very name of them! A person who is near enough to me to be my relation and far enough off from me to be my sweetheart, is a double-faced sort of person that I don’t like. Let’s get back to the widow and her sons. How much do they want?”

“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?”

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“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.

“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.

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“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.

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.