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LIBRARY

UNIVERSITY OF
CALIFORNIA



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HIS DARLING SIN






WORKS OF M. E. BRADDON.



I.ADY AUDLEY'S SECRET.

HENRY DUNBAR.

ELEANOR'S VICTORY.

AURORA FLOYD.

JOHN MARCHMONT'S
LEGACY.

THE DOCTOR'S 'WIFE.

ONLY A CLOD.

SIR JASPERS TENANT.

TRAIL OF THE SERPENT.

THE LADY'S MILE.

LADY LISLE.

CAPTAIN OF THE VULTURE.

BIRDS OF PREY.

CHARLOTTES INHERIT-

ANCE.

RUPERT GODWIN.

RUN TO EARTH.

DEAD SEA FRUIT.

RALPH THE BAILIFF.

FENTON'S QUEST.

LOVELS OF ARDEN.

ROBERT AINSLEIGH.

TO THE BITTER END.

MILLY DARRELL.

STRANGERS AND PIL-
GRIMS.

LUCIUS DAVOREN.

TAKEN AT THE FLOOD.

LOST FOR LOVE.

A STRANGE WORLD.

HOSTAGES TO FORTUNE.

DEAD MEN'S SHOES.



JOSHUA HAGGARD.

WEAVERS AND WEFT.

AN OPEN VERDICT.

VIXEN.

THE CLOVEN FOOT.

THE STORY OF BARBARA,

JUST AS I AM.

ASPHODEL.

MOUNT ROYAL.

THE GOLDEN CALF.

PHANTOM FORTUNE.

FLOWER AND WEED.

ISHMAEL.

WYLLARDS WEIRD.

UNDER THE RED FLAG.

ONE THING NEEDFUL.

MOHAWKS.

LIKE AND UNLIKE.

THE FATAL THREE.

THE DAY WILL COME.

ONE LIFE, ONE LOVE.

GERARD.

THE VENETIANS.

ALL ALONG THE RIVER.

THOU ART THE MAN.

THE CHRISTMAS HIRE*

LINGS.
SONS OF FIRE.
LONDON PRIDE,
UNDER LOVE'S RULE.
ROUGH JUSTICE.
IN HIGH PLACES.
HIS DARLING SIN.



His darling sin



BY

M. E. BRADDON

Author cf LADY AUDLEVS SECRET." Etc.



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Copyright in the United States
cf America, 1899



London

SIMPKIN, MARSHALL, HAMILTON,

KENT & CO. Ltd.

Stationers' Hall Court



Iprinteb for tbc Hutbor bv
"CClm. Clowes S, Sons, %t^.
5lon6on an& JBcccles.



^^^ s .^. P^^






HIS DARLING SIN.



CHAPTER I.

" That small, small, imperceptible
Small talk ! that cuts like powdered glass
Ground in Tophana, — who can tell
Where lurks the power the poison has ? "

There is the desolation of riches as well as the
desolation of poverty— the empty splendour of
a large house in which there is no going and
coming of family life, no sound of light footsteps
and youthful laughter— only spacious rooms and
fine furniture, and one solitary figure moving
silently amidst the vacant grandeur. This sense
of desolation, of a melancholy silence and empti-
ness, came upon Lady Pcrivale on her return to
the mansion in Grosvenor Square, which was
among the numerous good things of this world

607 B



2 His Darling Sin.

that had fallen into her lap, seven years ago,
when she made one of the best matches of the

season.

She had not sold herself to an unloved suitor.
She had been sincerely attached to Sir Hector
Perivale, and had sincerely mourned him when,
after two years of domestic happiness, he died
suddenly, in the prime of life, from the conse-
quences of a chill caught on his grouse moor in
Argyleshire, where he and his young wife, and
a few chosen pals, made life a perpetual picnic,
and knew no enemy but foul weather.

This time the enemy was Death. A neglected
cold turned to pneumonia, and Grace Perivale

was a widow.

"It does seem hard lines," whispered Hector,
when he knew that he was doomed. " We have
had such a good time, Grace ; and it's rough on
me to leave you."

No child had been born of that happy union,
and Grace found herself alone in the world at
one and twenty, in full possession of her husband's
fortune, which was princely, even according to



His Darling Sin.



the modern standard by which incomes are
measured — a fortune lying chiefly underground,
in Durham coalfields, secure from change as the
earth itself, and only subject to temporary dimi-
nution from strikes, or bad times. She needed
a steady brain to deal with such large responsi-
bilities, for she had not been born or reared
among the affluent classes. In her father's East
Anglian Rectory the main philosophy of life had
been to do without things.

Her husband had none but distant relations,
whom he had kept at a distance ; so there were
no interfering brothers or sisters, no prying aunts
or officious uncles to worry her with good advice.
She stood alone, with a castle on the Scottish
border, round whose turrets the seamews wheeled,
and at whose base the German Ocean rolled in
menacing grandeur, one of the finest houses
in Grosvenor Square, and an income that was
described by her friends and the gossiping Press
at anything you like between twenty and fifty
thousand a year.

So rich, so much alone, Lady Perivale was



4 His Darling Sin.

naturally capricious. One of her caprices was
to hate her castle in Northumberiand, and to
love a hill-side villa on the Italian Riviera, two
or three miles from a small seaport, little known
to travellers, save as a ragged line of dilapidated
white houses straggling along the sea front, past
which the Mediterranean express carried them,
indifferent and unobservant, on their journey
between Marseilles and Genoa.

It was Lady Perivale's whim to spend her
winters in a spot unknown to Rumpelmeyer and
fashion— a spot where smart frocks were out
of place ; where royalty-worship was impossible,
since not the smallest princeling had ever been
heard of there ; and where for the joy of life
one had only the sapphire sea and the silvery
grey of the olive woods, perpetual roses, a lawn
carpeted with anemones, sloping banks covered
with carnations, palms, and aloes, orange and
lemon trees, hedges of pale pink geranium, walls
tapestried with the dark crimson of the Bougain-
villiers, the delicate mauve of the wistaria; and
balmy winds which brought the scent of the



His Darling Sin.



flowers and the breath of the sea through the
open windows.

Lady Peri vale came back to London in April,
when the flower-girls were selling bunches of
purple lilac, and Bond Street seemed as full of
lemon-coloured carriages and picture-hats as
if it were June. It was the pleasant season
after Easter, the season of warm sunshine and
cold winds, when some people wore sables and
others wore lace, the season of hals blancs and
friendly dinners, before the May Drawing Room
and the first State concert, before the great
entertainments which were to be landmarks in
the history of the year.

How empty the three drawing-rooms looked,
in a perspective of white and gold ; how black
and dismal the trees in the square, as Grace
Perivale stood at one of the front windows,
looking out at the smooth lawns and well-kept
shrubbery, in the pale English sunlight. She
thought of the ineffable blue of the Mediterranean,
the grey and green and gold and purple of the
olive wood, and the orange and lemon grove



6 His Darling Sin.

sloping down to the sea from her verandah,
where the Safrano roses hung like a curtain of
pale yellow blossom over the rustic roof.

"And yet there are people who like London
better than Italy," she thought.

Two footmen came in with the tables for tea.

" In the little drawing-room," she said, waving
them away from the accustomed spot.

The spaciousness of the room chilled her. The
Louis Seize furniture was all white and gold and
silvery blue — not too much gold. An adept in
the furniture art had made the scheme of colour,
had chosen the pale blues and greys of the
Aubusson carpet, the silvery sheen of the satin
curtains and sofa-covers. It was all pale and
delicate, and intensely cold.

" My letters ? " she asked, when the men were
retiring.

She had slept at Dover, and had come to
London by an afternoon train. She liked even
the hotel at Dover better than this great house in
Grosvenor Square. There she had at least the sea
to look at, and not this splendid loneliness.



His Darling Sin. 7

"Well," she thought, with a long-drawn sigh,
" I must plunge into the vortex again, another
mill-round of lunches and dinners, theatres and
dances, park and Princes', Ranelagh and Hur-
lingham — the same things over and over and over
and over again. But, after all, I enjoy the nonsense
while I am in it, enjoy it just as much as the other
people do. We all go dancing round the fashion-
able maypole, in and out, left hand here, right
hand there, smiling, smiling, smiling, and quite
satisfied while it lasts. We only pretend to be
bored."

The little drawing-room — twenty feet by fifteen
— looked almost comfortable. There was a bright
fire in the low grate, reflected dazzlingly in tur-
quoise tiles, and the old-fashioned bow window
was filled with a bank of flowers, which shut out
the view of the chimneys and the great glass roof
over the stable-yard.

Lady Perivale sank into one of her favourite
chairs, and poured out a cup of tea.

" Toujours cet azur banal," she said to herself,
as she looked at the pale blue china, remembering



8 His Darling Sin.

a line of Coppee's. "Poor Hector chose this
turquoise because he thought it suited my com-
plexion, but how ghastly it will make me look
when I am old — to be surrounded by a child-like
prettiness — votiee an bleu, like a good little French
Catholic!"

The butler came in with her letters. Three, on
a silver salver that looked much too large for
them.

" These cannot possibly be all, Johnson," she
said ; " Mrs. Barnes must have the rest."

" Mrs. Barnes says these are all the letters, my
lady."

" All ! There must be some mistake. You had
better ask the other servants."

Her butler and her maid had been with her
in Italy — no one else ; the butler, elderly and
devoted, a man who had grown up in the Peri vale
family ; her maid, also devoted, a native of her
father's parish, whom she had taught as a child in
the Sunday school, when scarcely more than a
child herself, not a very accomplished attendant
for a woman of fashion, but for a parson's daughter.



His Darling Sin. 9

who wore her own hair and her own eyebrows,
the country-bred girl was handy enough, nature
having gifted her with brains and fingers that
enabled her to cope with the complicated fasten-
ings of modern frocks, changing every season.

Lady Perivale's letters had been accumulating
for nearly a fortnight, and her intended arrival in
London had been announced in the Times and a
score of papers. She expected a mountain of
letters and invitations, such as had always greeted
her return to civilization.

Of the three letters, two were circulars from
fashionable milliners. The third was from her
old friend and singing mistress, Susan Rodney : —

" So glad you are coming back to town, my
dear Grace. I shall call in Grosvenor Square on
Wednesday afternoon on the chance of finding
you.

" Ever yours affectionately,

" Sue."

Miss Rodney answered every correspondent by
return of post, and never wrote a long letter.



lo His Darling Sin.

Wednesday was Lady Perivale's afternoon at
home, and this was Wednesday. A double knock
resounded through the silence of the hall and
staircase ; and three minutes later the butler
announced Miss Rodney.

"My sweet old Sue," cried Grace, "now this is
really too good of you. Words can't say how
glad I am to see you."

They kissed each other like sisters, and then
Susan seated herself opposite her friend, and
looked at her with a countenance that expressed
some strong feeling, affection mingled with sorrow
— or was it pity ?

She was Grace's senior by more than ten years.
She was good-looking in her strong and rather
masculine way — her complexion of a healthy
darkness, unsophisticated by pearl-powder, her
features rugged, but not ugly, her eyes bright
and shrewd, but capable of tenderness, her gown
and hat just the right gown and hat for a
woman who walked, or rode in an omnibus or
a hansom.

" Well, Sue, what's the news ? " asked Grace,



His Darling Sin. ii

pouring out her visitor's tea. " Is it a particularly-
dull season? Is nobody entertaining?"

"Oh, much as usual, I believe, I can only
answer for my own friends and patronesses —
mostly Bayswater way — who are as anxious as
ever to get a little after-dinner music for nothing.
They have to ask me to dinner, though. No
nonsense about that ! "

" It isn't the songs only, Sue. They want an
agreeable woman who can talk well."

" Oh, I can chatter about most things ; but I
don't pretend to talk. I can keep the ball
rolling."

"Do you know, Sue, you find me in a state
of profound mystification. I never was so puzzled
in my life. When I was leaving Italy I wired
to my people to keep back all my letters. I
was ten days on the way home ; and instead of
the usual accumulation of cards and things I find
one letter — yours."

" People don't know you are in town," Sue
suggested slowly.

" Oh, but they do ; for I sent the announcement



12 His Darling Sin.

to the Times and the Post a fortnight ago. I
really meant to be back sooner, but the weather
was too lovely. I stopped a couple of days at
Bordighera and at St. Raphael, and I was three
days in Paris buying frocks. Not a single invita-
tion — not so much as a caller's card. One would
think London was asleep. Isn't it strange ? "

"Yes," answered Sue, looking at her with an
earnest, yet somewhat furtive, scrutiny, "it is —
very — strange."

" Well, dear, don't let us be solemn about it.
No doubt the invitations will come pouring in
now I am at home. People have been too busy
to notice my name in the papers. There are
always new women for the town to run after.
Wives of diamond men from Africa or oil men
from America. One cannot expect to keep one's
place."

" No," assented Sue, " Society is disgustingly
fickle."

" But I am not afraid of being forgotten by the
people I like — the really nice people, the pretty
girls I have cultivated, and who make a goddess



His Darling Sin. 13

of me, the clever women, worldly but large-
minded — all the people I like. I am not afraid
of African competitors there. They will stick
to me," said Grace, with emphasis.

Her friend could see that she was troubled,
though she affected to take the matter easily.
There was trouble in both faces, as the friends
sat opposite each other, with only the spindle-
legged Louis Seize tea-table between them ; but
the trouble in Susan Rodney's face was graver
than in Lady Perivale's.

" Tell me about your winter," said Grace, after
a pause, during which tea-cups had been refilled,
and dainty cakelets offered and declined.

" Oh, the usual dull mechanic round ; plenty of
pupils, mostly suburban ; and one duchess, five
and fifty, who thinks she has discovered a
magnificent contralto voice of which she was
unaware till quite lately, and desires me to
develop it. We bawl the grand duet from
Norma till we are both hoarse, and then my
duchess makes me stop and lunch with her, and
tells me her troubles."



14 His Darling Sin.



" What are they ? "

"I should have put it hi the singular. When
she talks of her troubles she means her husband."

" Sue, you're trying to be vivacious ; but there's
something on your mind. If it's any bother of
your own, do tell me, dear, and let me help you
if I can."

" My tender-hearted Grace ! You always
wanted to help people. I remember your coming
to me with all your little pocket-money that
dreadful morning at the Rectory when I had a
wire to say my mother was dying, and had to
rush back to town. And my dear Gracie thought
I should be hard up, and wanted to help me.
That's nearly ten years ago. Well, well ! Such
things live in one's memory. And your father,
how kind, how courteous he always was to the
holiday music-mistress, and what a happy time
my summer holidays were in the dear old
Rectory ! "

" And what a lucky girl I was to get such a
teacher and such a dear friend for nothing ! "

" Do you call bed and board, lavender-scented



His Darling Sin. 15

linen, cream a discrtHion, pony-cart, lawn tennis,
luncheon parties, dinner at the Squire's, a dance
at the market town — do you call that nothing ?
Well, the bargain suited us both, I think, and it
was a pleasure to train one of the finest mezzo-
sopranos I know. And now, Gracie," slowly,
hesitatingly even, *' what about your winter ? "

"Five months of books, music, and idleness.
My lotus land was never lovelier. But for a
January storm, that tore my roses and spoilt a
Bougainvilliers that covers half the house, I should
hardly have known it was winter."

" And were you quite alone all the time ? No
visitors ? "

" Not a mortal ! You know I go to my villa to
read and think. When I am tired of my own
thoughts and other people's — one does tire occa-
sionally even of Browning, even of Shakespeare —
I turn to my piano, and find a higher range of
thought in Beethoven, You know I go the pace
all through the London season, never shirk a
dance, do three cotillons a week, go everywhere,
see everything."



1 6 His Darling Sin.

" Yes, I know you have gone the pace, since
your three years' mourning."

" After Cowes comes the reaction, a month or
so in Northumberland, just to show myself to
my people, and see that the gardeners are doing
their duty ; and then when the leaves begin to
fall, away to my olive woods and their perpetual
grey. For half the year I revel in solitude. If
you would spend a winter with me I should be
charmed, for you like the life I like, and it would
be a solitude a deux. But the common herd are
only good in cities. I come back to London to
be sociable and amused."

Miss Rodney rose and put on her mantle.

" Can't you stop and dine } I'll send you
snugly home in my brougham."

Home was a villa facing Regent's Park.

*' Alas ! dear, it's impossible ! I am due in
Cadogan Square at half-past six — Islington and
Chelsea 'bus from Regent-circus."

"A lesson?"

" Two lessons — sisters, and not an iota of voice
between them. But I shall make them sing.



His Darling Sin. 17

Give me a scrap of intelligence, and I can always
manage that. Good-bye, Grace. Ask mc to
dinner some other night, when you arc alone."

*' Come to-morrow night, or the night after.
I have no engagement, as you know. Let us sec
a lot of each other before the rush begins."

" Friday night, then. Good-bye."

They kissed again. Lady Perivale rang the
bell, and then followed her friend towards the
drawing-room door ; but on her way there
Miss Rodney stopped suddenly, and burst into
tears.

" Sue, Sue, what is it ? I knew you had some-
thing on your mind. If it's a money trouble,
dear, make light of it, for it needn't plague you
another minute. I have more money than I
know what to do with."

" No, no, no, dear ; it's not money," sobbed
Sue. " Oh, what a fool I am — what a weak-
minded, foolish fool ! "

A footman opened the door, and looked with
vacant countenance at the agitated group. Early
initiation in his superiors' domestic troubles had

C



1 8 His Darling Sin.

taught him to compose his features when storms
were raging.

" The door, James — presently," his mistress
said, confusedly, watching him leave the room with
that incredible slowness with which such persons
appear to move when we want to get rid of them.

"Very foolish, if you won't trust your old
friend Gracie 1 " she said, making Sue sit down,
and seating herself beside her, and then in caress-
ing tones, " Now, dear, tell me all your troubles.
You know there is no sorrow of yours — no diffi-
culty — no complication — which would find me
unsympathetic. What is it ? "

"Oh, Gracie, Gracie, my darling girl, it's not
my trouble. It's yours,"

" Mine ? " with intense surprise.

"Yes, dear. I meant to have kept silence. I
thought it was the only course, in such a delicate
matter. I meant to leave things alone — and let
you find out for yourself."

" Find out ! What ? "

"The scandal, Grace — a scandal that touches
you."



His Darling Sin. 19

" What scandal can touch me ? Scandal !
Why, I have never done anything in my life that
the most malignant gossip in London could turn
to my disadvantage,"

Her indignant eyes, her full, strong voice,
answered for her truth.

"Oh, Grace, I knew, I knew there couldn't
be anything in it. A wicked lie, a cowardly
attack upon a pure-minded woman — a woman
of spotless character ; the last woman upon this
earth to give ground for such a story."

" Oh, Sue, if you love me, be coherent ! What
is the story ? Who is the slanderer ? "

" Heaven knows how it began ! My Duchess
told me. I spoke of you the other day at our
tete-a-tete luncheon. I told her about your lovely
voice, your passion for music. She nodded her old
wig in a supercilious way. ' I have heard her sing/
she said curtly. She waited till the servants left
the room, and then asked me if it was possible I
had not heard the scandal about Lady Perivale."

" What scandal ? Oh, for pity's sake come to
that, Sue. Never mind your Duchess."



20 His Darling Sin.

" Well, I'll tell you in the most brutal way. It
seems that three or four people, whose names I
haven't discovered, declare they met you in
Algiers, and in Corsica and Sardinia, travelling
with Colonel Rannock — travelling with Colonel
Rannock — passing as his wife, under a 7to]n de
guerre— M.X. and Mrs. Randall."

" How utterly disgusting and absurd ! But
what on earth can have made them imagine such
a thing ? "

" People say you were seen — seen and recog-
nized — by different people who knew you, in one
or the other of those places."

" Travelling with Colonel Rannock, as his wife !
My God ! A man I refused three times. Three
times," laughing hysterically. " Why, I have had
him on his knees in this room ; kneeling, Sue, like
a lover in an old comedy ; and I only laughed at
him."

"That's rather a dangerous thing to do, Grace,
with some men."

" Oh, Colonel Rannock is not the kind of man
to start a vendetta for a woman's laughter. He



His Darling Sin. 21

is a laughing philosopher himself, and takes every-
thing lightly."

" Does he ? One never knows what there is
behind that lightness. What if Colonel Rannock
has set this scandal on foot with a view to pro-
posing a fourth time, and getting himself ac-
cepted ? "

" How could he make people swear they saw
me — me ! — at Algiers, when I was in Italy ? It
is all nonsense Sue ; an absurd malentendu ; my
name substituted for some other woman's. Now
I am in London, the matter will be put straight
in an hour. People have only to see me again
to be sure I am not that kind of woman. As for
Colonel Rannock, he may be dissipated, and a
spendthrift ; but he is well-born, and he ought to
be a gentleman."

'* Who said he was ill-born ? Surely, you know
that there are good races and bad. Who can tell
when the bad blood came in, and the character
of the race began to degenerate ? Under the
Plantagenets, perhaps. Colonel Rannock comes
of a bad race — everybody knows that. His



22 His Darling Sin.

grandfather, Lord Kirkmichael, was notorious in
the Regency. He left his memoirs, don't you
know, to be published fifty years after his death
— an awful book — that had a siicch de scandale
six or seven years ago. He was bosom friend
of Lord Hertford, and that set."

" I did not trouble myself about his grand-
father."

" Ah ! but you ought ! A man's family history
is the man. Lord Kirkmichael's grandson would
be capable of anything infamous."

"The whole thing is too preposterous for con-
sideration," Lady Perivale said angrily. " I wonder
at your taking it tragically."

And then, recalling that empty salver instead
of the usual pile of letters and cards, she cried,
distractedly —

" It is shameful — atrocious — that any one upon
earth could believe such a thing of me. It makes
me hate the human race. Yes, and I shall always
hate those horrid wretches I called friends, how-
ever they may try to make amends for this
insolent neglect."



His Darling Sin. 23



to

There was no question of taking the matter
lightly now, for Grace Pcrivale burst into a
passion of sobs, and was quite as tragic as her
friend.

" My dearest Grace, pray, pray be calm ! Don't
stay in this odious London, where people have no
hearts. Why not go to your Northern castle,
and live there quietly till the mystery clears itself,
as no doubt it will soon ? "

" Go ? " cried Lady Perivale, starting up out of
the drooping attitude in which she had given
way to her distress. "Beat a retreat? Why, if
Grosvenor Square were a fiery furnace I would
stay and face those wretches — those false, false
friends — till I made them know the kind of
woman I am ! "

"Well, dear, perhaps that is best — if you can
stand it," Susan answered, rather sadly.

" But where is Colonel Rannock .'* Surely he
has not been dumb ! It is his business to bring
the slanderers to book ! "

" That's what I told the Duchess. But Rannock


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