CHAPTER I THROWN ON THE WORLD
"Miss Winnifred," said the Old Lawyer, looking keenly over and through his shaggy eyebrows at the fair young creature seated before him, "you are this morning twenty-one."
Winnifred Clair raised her deep mourning veil, lowered her eyes and folded her hands.
"This morning," continued Mr. Bonehead, "my guardianship is at an end."
There was a tone of something like emotion in the voice of the stern old lawyer, while for a moment his eye glistened with something like a tear which he hastened to remove with something like a handkerchief. "I have therefore sent for you," he went on, "to render you an account of my trust."
He heaved a sigh at her, and then, reaching out his hand, he pulled the woollen bell-rope up and down several times.
An aged clerk appeared.
"Did the bell ring?" he asked.
"I think it did," said the Lawyer. "Be good enough, Atkinson, to fetch me the papers of the estate of the late Major Clair defunct."
"I have them here," said the clerk, and he laid upon the table a bundle of faded blue papers, and withdrew.
"Miss Winnifred," resumed the Old Lawyer, "I will now proceed to give you an account of the disposition that has been made of your property. This first document refers to the sum of two thousand pounds left to you by your great uncle. It is lost."
"Pray give me your best attention and I will endeavour to explain to you how I lost it."
"Oh, sir," cried Winnifred, "I am only a poor girl unskilled in the ways of the world, and knowing nothing but music and French; I fear that the details of business are beyond my grasp. But if it is lost, I gather that it is gone."
"It is," said Mr. Bonehead. "I lost it in a marginal option in an undeveloped oil company. I suppose that means nothing to you."
"Alas," sighed Winnifred, "nothing."
"Very good," resumed the Lawyer. "Here next we have a statement in regard to the thousand pounds left you under the will of your maternal grandmother. I lost it at Monte Carlo. But I need not fatigue you with the details."
"Pray spare them," cried the girl.
"This final item relates to the sum of fifteen hundred pounds placed in trust for you by your uncle. I lost it on a horse race. That horse," added the Old Lawyer with rising excitement, "ought to have won. He was coming down the stretch like blue—but there, there, my dear, you must forgive me if the recollection of it still stirs me to anger. Suffice it to say the horse fell. I have kept for your inspection the score card of the race, and the betting tickets. You will find everything in order."
"Sir," said Winnifred, as Mr. Bonehead proceeded to fold up his papers, "I am but a poor inadequate girl, a mere child in business, but tell me, I pray, what is left to me of the money that you have managed?"
"Nothing," said the Lawyer. "Everything is gone. And I regret to say, Miss Clair, that it is my painful duty to convey to you a further disclosure of a distressing nature. It concerns your birth."
"Just Heaven!" cried Winnifred, with a woman's quick intuition. "Does it concern my father?"
"It does, Miss Clair. Your father was not your father."
"Oh, sir," exclaimed Winnifred. "My poor mother! How she must have suffered!"
"Your mother was not your mother," said the Old Lawyer gravely. "Nay, nay, do not question me. There is a dark secret about your birth."
"Alas," said Winnifred, wringing her hands, "I am, then, alone in the world and penniless."
"You are," said Mr. Bonehead, deeply moved. "You are, unfortunately, thrown upon the world. But, if you ever find yourself in a position where you need help and advice, do not scruple to come to me....