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My Lady's Money

Wilkie Collins

  Produced by James Rusk and David Widger


  by Wilkie Collins




  Lady Lydiard (Widow of Lord Lydiard)

  Isabel Miller (her Adopted Daughter)

  Miss Pink (of South Morden)

  The Hon. Mrs. Drumblade (Sister to the Hon. A. Hardyman)


  The Hon. Alfred Hardyman (of the Stud Farm)

  Mr. Felix Sweetsir (Lady Lydiard's Nephew)

  Robert Moody (Lady Lydiard's Steward)

  Mr. Troy (Lady Lydiard's Lawyer)

  Old Sharon (in the Byways of Legal Bohemia)


  Tommie (Lady Lydiard's Dog)




  OLD Lady Lydiard sat meditating by the fireside, with three letterslying open on her lap.

  Time had discolored the paper, and had turned the ink to a brownish hue.The letters were all addressed to the same person--"THE RT. HON. LORDLYDIARD"--and were all signed in the same way--"Your affectionatecousin, James Tollmidge." Judged by these specimens of hiscorrespondence, Mr. Tollmidge must have possessed one great merit as aletter-writer--the merit of brevity. He will weary nobody's patience,if he is allowed to have a hearing. Let him, therefore, be permitted, inhis own high-flown way, to speak for himself.

  _First Letter._--"My statement, as your Lordship requests, shall beshort and to the point. I was doing very well as a portrait-painterin the country; and I had a wife and children to consider. Underthe circumstances, if I had been left to decide for myself, I shouldcertainly have waited until I had saved a little money before I venturedon the serious expense of taking a house and studio at the west end ofLondon. Your Lordship, I positively declare, encouraged me to try theexperiment without waiting. And here I am, unknown and unemployed, ahelpless artist lost in London--with a sick wife and hungry children,and bankruptcy staring me in the face. On whose shoulders does thisdreadful responsibility rest? On your Lordship's!"

  _Second Letter._--"After a week's delay, you favor me, my Lord, with acurt reply. I can be equally curt on my side. I indignantly deny thatI or my wife ever presumed to see your Lordship's name as a meansof recommendation to sitters without your permission. Some enemy hasslandered us. I claim as my right to know the name of that enemy."

  _Third (and last) Letter._--"Another week has passed--and not a wordof answer has reached me from your Lordship. It matters little. I haveemployed the interval in making inquiries, and I have at last discoveredthe hostile influence which has estranged you from me. I have been, itseems, so unfortunate as to offend Lady Lydiard (how, I cannot imagine);and the all-powerful influence of this noble lady is now used againstthe struggling artist who is united to you by the sacred ties ofkindred. Be it so. I can fight my way upwards, my Lord, as other menhave done before me. A day may yet come when the throng of carriageswaiting at the door of the fashionable portrait-painter will include herLadyship's vehicle, and bring me the tardy expression of her Ladyship'sregret. I refer you, my Lord Lydiard, to that day!"

  Having read Mr. Tollmidge's formidable assertions relating to herselffor the second time, Lady Lydiard's meditations came to an abrupt end.She rose, took the letters in both hands to tear them up, hesitated, andthrew them back in the cabinet drawer in which she had discovered them,among other papers that had not been arranged since Lord Lydiard'sdeath.

  "The idiot!" said her Ladyship, thinking of Mr. Tollmidge, "I never evenheard of him, in my husband's lifetime; I never even knew that he wasreally related to Lord Lydiard, till I found his letters. What is to bedone next?"

  She looked, as she put that question to herself, at an open newspaperthrown on the table, which announced the death of "that accomplishedartist Mr. Tollmidge, related, it is said, to the late well-knownconnoisseur, Lord Lydiard." In the next sentence the writer of theobituary notice deplored the destitute condition of Mrs. Tollmidge andher children, "thrown helpless on the mercy of the world." Lady Lydiardstood by the table with her eyes on those lines, and saw but too plainlythe direction in which they pointed--the direction of her check-book.

  Turning towards the fireplace, she rang the bell. "I can do nothing inthis matter," she thought to herself, "until I know whether the reportabout Mrs. Tollmidge and her family is to be depended on. Has Moodycome back?" she asked, when the servant appeared at the door. "Moody"(otherwise her Ladyship's steward) had not come back. Lady Lydiarddismissed the subject of the artist's widow from further considerationuntil the steward returned, and gave her mind to a question of domesticinterest which lay nearer to her heart. Her favorite dog had been ailingfor some time past, and no report of him had reached her that morning.She opened a door near the fireplace, which led, through a littlecorridor hung with rare prints, to her own boudoir. "Isabel!" she calledout, "how is Tommie?"

  A fresh young voice answered from behind the curtain which closed thefurther end of the corridor, "No better, my Lady."

  A low growl followed the fresh young voice, and added (in dog'slanguage), "Much worse, my Lady--much worse!"

  Lady Lydiard closed the door again, with a compassionate sigh forTommie, and walked slowly to and fro in her spacious drawing-room,waiting for the steward's return.

  Accurately described, Lord Lydiard's widow was short and fat, and, inthe matter of age, perilously near her sixtieth birthday. But it may besaid, without paying a compliment, that she looked younger than her ageby ten years at least. Her complexion was of that delicate pink tingewhich is sometimes seen in old women with well-preserved constitutions.Her eyes (equally well preserved) were of that hard light blue colorwhich wears well, and does not wash out when tried by the test oftears. Add to this her short nose, her plump cheeks that set wrinkles atdefiance, her white hair dressed in stiff little curls; and, if a dollcould grow old, Lady Lydiard, at sixty, would have been the livingimage of that doll, taking life easily on its journey downwards to theprettiest of tombs, in a burial-ground where the myrtles and roses grewall the year round.

  These being her Ladyship's personal merits, impartial history mustacknowledge, on the list of her defects, a total want of tact and tastein her attire. The lapse of time since Lord Lydiard's death had left herat liberty to dress as she pleased. She arrayed her short, clumsy figurein colors that were far too bright for a woman of her age. Her dresses,badly chosen as to their hues, were perhaps not badly made, but werecertainly badly worn. Morally, as well as physically, it must be said ofLady Lydiard that her outward side was her worst side. The anomaliesof her dress were matched by the anomalies of her character. There weremoments when she felt and spoke as became a lady of rank; and there wereother moments when she felt and spoke as might have become the cook inthe kitchen. Beneath these superficial inconsistencies, the great heart,the essentially true and generous nature of the woman, only waited thesufficient occasion to assert themselves. In the trivial intercourseof society she was open to ridicule on every side of her. But when aserious emergency tried the metal of which she was really made, thepeople who were loudest in laughing at her stood aghast, and wonderedwhat had become of the familiar companion of their everyday lives.

  Her Ladyship's promenade had lasted but a little while, when a man inblack clothing presented himself noiselessly at the great door whichopened on the staircase. Lady Lydiard signed to him impatiently to enterthe room.

  "I have been expecting you for some time, Moody," she said. "You looktired. Take a chair."

  The man in black bowed respectfully, and took his seat.