Rupert’s Secret

Olivia was astonished to see the emotion of her aunt, for, as a
rule Miss Wharf was cold and self-contained. The two had never
got on well together, and the elder woman was undeniably jealous
of the youth and superior good looks of the younger. But as
Olivia owed bed and board to her aunt, she always behaved as
well as possible to one who was very trying in many ways. It is
only just to say, that Miss Pewsey made matters much worse by
tale-bearing, and probably had she been out of the house, Miss
Wharf and her niece might have got on better. But they could
never have been congenial companions. The difference between
their natures was too great.

“Yes,” said Miss Wharf throwing herself back in her seat, and
feeling irritated by the silence of Olivia. “I want an explanation.”

“What about?” asked the girl seating herself opposite and folding her
hands, which, Miss Wharf noticed with bitterness, were more slender
and delicate that her own.

“You know well enough.”

“If it’s about Rupert”–

“There,” snapped the aunt, “I knew you would guess. Yes it is
about young Ainsleigh, and how dare you call him Rupert?”

“Because I love him,” said Olivia firmly, and looked directly
into the cold blue eyes of her aunt.

“Then you must put this love out of your head. You shall never
marry him–never–never–never.”

“If I choose, and I do choose,” said Olivia calmly, but with a
fine colour. “I shall certainly marry him. I am of age–”

“Yes, and a pauper.”

“Rupert would not marry me for my money.”

“He is wise; for you have none.”

“It is kind of you to speak to me in this way,” said Olivia, “to
remind me of obligations. I am aware that my parents died poor
and left me a penniless orphan. I am aware that you took me in
and educated me and–”

“And acted like a mother to you,” said Miss Wharf vehemently.

“No. You never acted like a mother. With you, I have had a most
unhappy life.”

“Olivia,” the elder woman started furiously from her chair, “how
dare you say that. Have I grudged you clothes or food. Did I not
send you to a first-class school and–”

“So far as material things are concerned you have done
everything Aunt Sophia, and I thank you for what you have
done–”

“A fine way you have of showing it,” scoffed Miss Wharf.

“But a mother you have never been,” went on Olivia calmly, “you
have never given me a kind word; you speak to me before visitors
as you should not do: you make me slave for you and run messages
and talk of me to others as though I were a servant. What love
have you ever shown me?” demanded Olivia, starting up in her
turn, and also becoming excited. “I long for love. My heart
yearns for it. I would like to be a daughter to you, but always
you have kept me at arm’s length. Aunt Sophia let me go. I can
earn my bread as a governess, or as a typist. It will be better
for us both.”

“No,” said Aunt Sophia, looking as hard as stone.

“I shall not let you go. If you have any gratitude in you, you
will remain and help me to manage the house.”

“You have Miss Pewsey.”

“She is not a relative, you are.”

“And so you treat me worse than you do her. Well, Aunt Sophia, I
am not ungrateful though you seem to think I am. I shall stop
with you. I only ask for a little more consideration.”

“I give you every consideration. As for love, I cannot give it
to you or to anyone. I gave all the love my nature was capable
of feeling to Markham Ainsleigh, and he rejected my love. Yes,
you may look astonished, but it was this man’s father who broke
my heart.”

“And that is why you don’t want Rupert to marry me.”

“That is the reason,” said Miss Wharf sitting down and growing
more her calm stony self. “I was almost engaged to Markham
Ainsleigh: but he saw Violet Vane and fell in love with her. He
left me and made her his wife. Can you wonder that I hate the
son of the woman who stole my love away from me?”

“Rupert is the son of the man you loved—-”

“And of the man who cheated me. Look at my lonely life, at my
starved heart. I hate the Ainsleighs–there’s only one left but
I hate him. And when I heard Markham was murdered in China I was
glad–yes, very glad.”

“What an unforgiving nature you have.”

“I have every right to be unforgiving. Markham ruined my life.
And do you think I’ll let you marry Rupert–the son of that
woman. No! Marry him, and I leave what money I have to Miss
Pewsey.”

“You can if you like, Aunt Sophia. I don’t want your money.”

“Reflect,” said Miss Wharf violently. “I have a thousand a year.
Half of that goes to a distant relative, and the remainder you
shall have if you will give this man up. Five hundred a year is
not to be thrown away.”

“I cannot give Rupert up,” said Olivia firmly.

“Think girl,” pleaded Miss Wharf, her face becoming red and
wrinkled with the violence of her passion, “there are other men
who love you. Young Walker would make you a good husband, and
Lady Jabe is most anxious for the match.”

“I like Chris,” said Olivia, “and I have known him all my life.
But I can’t marry him. I want a master when I marry.”

“Then take Clarence Burgh,” said Miss Wharf, “he will be your
master.”

“No. He’s a brute.”

“He’s a man–much more of a man than Rupert Ainsleigh.”

“I deny that,” said Olivia fiercely.

“He is. Clarence has been all over the world. He has fought
everywhere–”

“So has Major Tidman. Do you advise me to marry him?”

“He would make you a better husband than Rupert, old as he is.
That young Ainsleigh is a dreamer. He is on the point of losing
his estates, yet he sits at Royabay doing nothing.”

“He intends to do something, and save the estates.”

“Never. He is not the sort of man to work. Olivia if you will
take Chris Walker, or Clarence Burgh for your husband I shall
leave you five hundred a year. If you refuse I give you
nothing.”

“I prefer nothing–and Rupert.”

“Then you shall not have him. I’ll ruin him first.”

Olivia started. “You can’t ruin him. You talk wildly.”

“Oh do I,” sneered Miss Wharf, “that shows you know little of me
or of my business. Listen. I bought up a mortgage on the Royabay
estate. It cost me money which I could ill afford to pay away.
But I bought it so as to ruin the son of that woman Vane who
took Markham from me. I always intended to buy the estate, or at
least to drive Rupert from the place, but if you will give him
up, I shall forego my revenge. Now what do you say?”

“Nothing,” faltered Olivia, who had turned very pale. “I don’t
know what to say.”

“Will you give the man up.”

“I won’t see him, if that will please you.”

“No. It doesn’t please me. You must give him up, and engage
yourself to Mr. Walker or to Mr. Burgh.”

“I cannot–I cannot–” said poor Olivia.

Miss Wharf stamped her foot and bit her lip. “You are as
obstinate as your mother was before you,” she said savagely. “I
shall give you one month to make up your mind, and that is very
generous of me. If you surrender Rupert and choose one of the
other two, I will not foreclose the mortgage and will leave you
five hundred a year.”

“When can you foreclose?” asked Olivia anxiously.

“By the end of the year. So it rests with you, if Rupert
Ainsleigh leaves his home in six months or keeps it. Now you can
go.”

Olivia Rayner was not a girl who would stand dictation. But for
some reason or another she meekly bowed her head and went out,
leaving Miss Wharf to calm down over her needle-work.

The girl went to her own room, and lay down to think over the
situation. What she thought or what plan she conceived, it is
difficult to say; but she came down to dinner quite composed.
Her aunt looked at her sharply, and Miss Pewsey with suspicion,
but neither of them made any remark bearing on the storm. On the
contrary Miss Wharf chatted about the ball and talked of her
dress and even advised Olivia about her costume. “You will look
very well in white,” said Miss Wharf.

“But not so lovely as my Sophia in pale blue,” said Miss Pewsey
with her usual emphasis. “I know you will be the belle of the
ball darling Sophia.”

“I have been the belle of several balls in my time,” said Miss
Wharf good-humouredly.

“And will be still,” purred Miss Pewsey like the cat she was,
“my dear nephew, said you were a rattling fine woman.”

“It sounds like one of Mr. Burgh’s speeches,” said Olivia with
great contempt. She knew that the buccaneer loved her, and
therefore disliked him the more.

“Oh Olivia how can you,” cried the little old maid, throwing up
her hands, “when poor, dear, darling, Clarence worships the
ground you walk on. He’s got money too, and wants a wife!”

“Let him marry Lotty Dean then.”

“That retired grocer’s daughter,” cried Miss Pewsey, drawing
herself up, “no indeed. I may be poor, but I am of gentle blood
Olivia. The Pewsey’s have been in Essex for generations. My papa
was rich and could afford to send me to a fashionable school
when I met my own Sophia. But poor sweet papa lost his money and
then–oh dear me.” Miss Pewsey squeezed out a tear. “What sad
times I have had.”

“You’re all right now, Lavinia,” said Miss Wharf stolidly, eating
fruit and sipping port wine.

“Yes dearest Sophia, thanks to your large and generous heart. I have
no one in the world but you and Clarence. He is the son of my only
sister, and has travelled–”

“In China,” said Olivia.

Miss Pewsey narrowed her eyes and looked as though about to
scratch.

“In China, of course. But why do you make that remark, Olivia?”

The girl shrugged her shoulders. “I observed that Mr. Burgh has not
very pleasant recollections of China,” she said deliberately, “he was
not pleased to find that Mr. Walker could talk the language, and he
was uncomfortable when the name Tung-yu was mentioned.”

Miss Pewsey bit her lip. “Do you know anything of Tung-yu?”

“No. Why should I. All I know, is that Chris Walker says he will bring
the man down here for the ball.”

The little old maid looked hard at the girl, but Olivia bore her
scrutiny composedly. She wondered why Miss Pewsey stared so
hard, and laid such emphasis on the Chinese name, but the matter
slipped from her mind when she retired to her room. She would
have wondered still more had she known that Miss Pewsey came up
the stairs and listened at the door of the bed-room.

Olivia had arranged to meet Rupert near the band-stand, as their
meetings were secret because of Miss Wharf’s dislike. Certainly
the young man had come to the house, and Miss Wharf had received
him with cold dignity: but when he showed a marked preference
for Olivia’s company, she gave him to understand that she did
not approve. Henceforth Rupert stopped away from Ivy Lodge, and
met Olivia at intervals near the band-stand. So Olivia, putting
on a dark dress and a veil, slipped out of the house, and took
her way along the brilliantly lighted front. She had often gone
before and always had left her aunt and Miss Pewsey sitting in
the drawing-room, Miss Wharf working and the companion reading
the newspaper. Miss Wharf never by any chance looked at a
newspaper herself, but left it to Miss Pewsey to cull the choice
news for her delectation.

So Olivia, feeling quite safe, stepped lightly along to where
the crowd gathered round the stand. It was a perfect night and
very warm, therefore many people were seated in the chairs
and strolling across the grass. Olivia went to a certain
corner, and, as she expected, found her lover. He was not in
evening-dress, but for the sake of the meeting had assumed a
dark serge suit. As she advanced, he recognised her and came
forward taking off his hat. Then he gave her his arm and the two
strolled to the far end of the green where they sat down under
the fence which was round the flag-staff. There, removed from
everyone, they could talk in moderately loud tones.

“My darling,” said Rupert, possessing himself of Olivia’s hand.
“I thought you would not come. You were late.”

“I could not get away before. Miss Pewsey watches me like a cat
does a mouse, and with the same disposition to pounce, I
expect.”

“She’s a detestable woman,” said Rupert angrily, “why can’t she
leave you alone?”

“I don’t know. Rupert, she wants me to marry her nephew.”

“What, that bounder who rides so furiously,” cried Rupert
fiercely, “you don’t mean to say that he dares—-”

“Not in words, but he looks–oh,” Olivia shivered, “you know the
sort of look a man like that, gives you.”

“I’ll twist his neck if he insults you.”

“Then Miss Pewsey would complain to my aunt and I should get
into trouble. Oh, Rupert,” she said softly, “I am so afraid.”

“Of that man. Nonsense.”

“No–of everything. I can keep Mr. Burgh off–”

“Who is he?” asked Rupert jealously.

“Miss Pewsey’s nephew. I can manage him, bold as he is. But it
is you I am afraid of. Listen,” and Olivia told the young man
what she had learned from Miss Wharf that afternoon. “She can
ruin you,” said the poor girl, almost crying, “and she will if
she learns the truth.”

Rupert pressed the hand he held. “Why not tell her the truth,”
he said. “I’m willing to face poverty if you are.”

“Rupert, are you mad? If Aunt Sophia learned that we were
married–hark, what was that?” and Olivia rose, and nervously
peered into the shadows, “I thought I heard a noise.”

“It’s nothing. Only some rats in the long grass within the
fence. No one’s about. They’re all over at the band. But about
our marriage, Olivia. Miss Wharf must learn sooner or later.”

“Yes. But you know I asked you to keep it quiet that I might not
have trouble with her. It was selfish of me, for it would have
been braver of me to have faced her anger and then have told all
the world that we were married at that Registry Office. But I’m
glad now I didn’t. She would have ruined you.”

“She can’t do anything till the end of the year.”

“But why didn’t you tell me she held this mortgage?”

“Well, I thought that before the end of the year I might manage
to pay it and the other mortgages off. Then we could announce
that we were married, and live at Royabay on what small income I
have.”

“I don’t mind about the income,” said Mrs. Ainsleigh, for that
Olivia secretly was. “I’d live on a shilling a day with you,
darling. But aunt threatens if I marry you to cut me out of her
will. She would do so at once if she knew the truth, and leave
the money to Miss Pewsey.”

“Let her. I daresay that old maid has schemed for it. She’s a
wicked old woman that and worthy of her bounder of a nephew.
Never mind about the money or the mortgage. Let us announce the
marriage. I don’t like the position you occupy. It is not fit
that my wife should be exposed to the attentions of a cad like
this Burgh.”

“Wait till the end of the year,” said Olivia feverishly, “then
you may be able to get money, to put things straight. It is best
to keep the matter quiet now. Oh how I wish we had money
Rupert.”

“I may be able to make it out of the fan?”

“What fan?” asked Olivia looking at him.

Rupert laughed. “I forgot you don’t know.” He took the slip of
paper from his pocket-book and lighting a match he read the
description of the fan. “I went up to the place,” he continued
dropping the lucifer, “and saw a Chinaman, Tung-yu–”

“What,” said Olivia starting, “why that is the man Mr. Walker
is going to bring to the ball. He’s a clerk in the firm of
Kum-gum-Li and Company.”

“That’s strange. I thought he was the keeper of the Joss house
in Perry Street, Whitechapel. Humph! Does Walker know of the
fan?”

“I don’t know. But he knows this Tung-yu, and I think, so does
Mr. Burgh. He seemed much annoyed when he heard the name.”

“What about?”

“I can’t say. And Rupert. Mr. Burgh speaks Chinese–”

“He must be very clever then for I hear it is a most awful
language to get hold of. Was Burgh ever in China?”

“Yes. He brought the fan from that place?”

“Fan.” Rupert turned round sharply, “what fan?”

“The one you talk about,” said Olivia innocently.

“I recognised it at once from the description you read just
now.”

“Are you sure,” said Rupert much excited, for he never expected
to hear of the missing fan from Olivia of all people.

“Quite sure–positive. The fan is painted green on one side and
the sticks on the other are overlaid with thin jade, so I
suppose it gets its name from the mineral. Then it has a cord of
yellow silk with four beads and half a bead, and—-”

“It is the same. Where did Burgh get it?”

“I don’t know. He says he brought it from China, and offered it
to me. I refused it—-”

“I should think so,” said Ainsleigh fuming, “well?”

“Then he gave it to my aunt.”

“And has Miss Wharf got it now?”

“I think so, but I have not seen it lately. I expect if she has,
she will use it at the ball.”

“And Tung-yu who advertises, is coming to the ball,” mused
Rupert, “there doesn’t seem much chance for me. I expect your
aunt will make the money after all.”

“It won’t be much. Who would give a large sum for that fan?”

“Tung-yu will. He is ready to give five thousand pounds.”

“Oh,” said Olivia with real regret, “and I refused it.”

“I’m glad you did,” cried Rupert angrily, “I would rather
everything went than that you should accept presents from that
bounder. Well I fear my chance is gone Olivia. I’m ruined.”

“Dearest I will face the ruin with you,” and in the shadows they
kissed.