One morning in February Miss Hilliard received a call from her friend, Mrs. Pettigrew, who was in London for a few days of shopping. Mrs. Pettigrew was full of news from Chilverton about Lady Caroline's wedding preparations. It was finally too much for Miss Hilliard and her malice escaped her. “Don’t talk to me of that wretched wedding!” she said. “There will be no good to come of it, I assure you.”
“Why, whatever do you mean, Clara?”
“I mean that there will be no children produced by that union. Sir Erskine Wald has been a confirmed bachelor all his life. I do not believe that a leopard changes his spots!”
Mrs. Pettigrew was shocked into silence. She could hardly wait to escape Miss Hilliard’s drawing room to go to her friends and ask their opinion of this speech. Fortunately, the friend with whom she chose to share this new information was a certain Mrs. Willingham, a dear and trusted friend of Mrs. Wald. Mrs. Willingham gave Mrs. Pettigrew the sage advice to let the calumny go no further. “I can tell you, dear Mrs. Pettigrew, that Sir Erskine Wald and his mother have been my acquaintances for a great many years and there has never been such a thing said about him. He is a gentleman and a baronet and Miss Hilliard would do well to keep her unfounded opinions to herself.”
Directly upon Mrs. Pettigrew’s departure, Mrs. Willingham took herself to call upon her friend, Mrs. Hortensia Wald. “You were quite right, my dear," said Mrs. Willingham. "Miss Hilliard was not able to keep silence. She has said her piece to Mrs. Pettigrew, though I think I quashed it there.”
“What did she say?”
Mrs. Willingham reported the conversation as it had been told to her.
“I thought as much. I shall have to pay a visit to our dear Miss Hilliard,” said Mrs. Wald with a look that boded no good to Miss Hilliard.
The very next morning Mrs. Wald was at Miss Hilliard’s doorstep. Miss Hilliard was surprised and somewhat conscious of her remarks of the previous day. “Hortensia, my dear, what an age it has been since I have seen you.”
“It has been indeed, Clara. Too long! I thought I would just drop in to bring you the latest news of our dear Lady Caroline.”
“News?” inquired Miss Hilliard nervously.
“Yes, so sad. She has seen the very distinguished specialist, Dr. Cornelius Manning, and his opinion was very grave. It seems that Lady Caroline’s heart is weakened and she will not be able to carry a child.”
Miss Hilliard colored.
“I know this is a shock to you, Clara, and I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But we must all bear up for dear Lady Caroline’s sake and give her our support.”
“Of course,” said Miss Hilliard.
“People will talk, you know. There is always someone ill-natured enough to carry a tale, but we must stand together. May I count on you to contradict any gossip you may hear?” Mrs. Wald gave Miss Hilliard one of her terrifying smiles.
“Count on me? Yes, of course.”
“I knew I should. You see, I could not stand by and let the young people be made unhappy by any spiteful tittle-tattle that may result from her unfortunate condition."
Miss Hilliard turned beet red.
“I am so glad you understand me, my dear.”
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