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Angela huddled down beside her mother's old trunk in the attic, too frightened and filled with pain to cry. It had been over a year since her stepfather had beaten her, and the shock of this suddenly renewed cruelty had her trembling as much as the actual hurt. She had escaped his room through the unconscious intervention of the new butler, who had come to inform his master that a brace of fine gentlemen awaited him in the smaller drawing room. Mr. Loring went at once, with a single, baleful glance at the girl. Angela had run blindly up the stairs to the dusty old attics, scene of some happy childhood hours, sure that that was the last place her well-dressed, complacent stepfather would think of looking for her, since he had never bothered to climb up the narrow, wooden stairway to explore the boxes of fading keepsakes and treasures of the man he had succeeded. Soon after his marriage to Angela's widowed mother, Mr. Gilles Loring had ordered that everything which reminded his new wife of her former husband must be banished to the attics.
"Only in order that you may the sooner forget your grief and begin to enjoy life again, my love," he had said smoothly. "You are Mrs. Gilles Loring now, Marian, and you must never forget it." As a sensitive fifteen-year-old, Angela had mistrusted her stepfather's smooth self-confidence, and had privately told her mamma that she was not willing to forget the father who had been so wonderful a friend and companion to a growing girl. Mamma had agreed, but her subsequent tears had flowed so painfully that Angela resolved on the spot never to repeat her plea that Father be lovingly remembered in the new family. Neither Angela nor her mother atfirst realized what sort of man had replaced the laughing, reckless Denzil Swann, who had killed himself riding in an impromptu, midnight steeplechase with a troop of his boon companions.
Gilles Loring was of quite another stripe, a big, heavyset, well-groomed man, who laughed heartily without real mirth, who rode well but without the dash and skill of hell-for-leather Denzil. Indeed, while looking every inch a man's man, Loring preferred to spend his days restoring the neglected estates of Swanholme to their former glory.
"Moderation in all things, my love," he instructed his new wife, "and good, constructive building for the future. We must present a better image to our neighbors than that of a harum-scarum couple continually on the fret for new sensations!" Angela, who had overheard the remark, took it as a cut at her beloved father, and flamed into a fine rage. The result of this display of temper was the first of many beatings she received from her stepfather.
In spite of Marian's anguished pleading, Loring took the girl to his study and whipped her soundly with small flexible cane. Angela refused to cry, and her aroused stepfather finally was forced to desist when the girl fainted at his feet. He never beat her as savagely again, for the servants had overheard Marian's frantic appeals, and the story spread throughout the neighborhood. It appeared that the approval of his neighbors was indeed of prime importance to Mr. Gilles Loring.
He had been, it became known, the distant relative and estate manager of a northern nobleman before he came to Averly village--for reasons of health, he always explained with his hearty laugh, as though challenging anyone to find him other than superbly fit. He was in truth a fine figure of a man, and Marian Swann, widowed a year and quite helpless to manage the comfortable estate her husband had left her, was pathetically eager to accept first his advice, and later, his offer of marriage. It was not long until he was much more respected in the county than his predecessor had been. Everyone took to saying that Marian had done very well for herself, and that the new master of Swanholme would bring the property up to scratch in a way careless Denzil Swann had never even bothered to attempt. It was also noted, in passing, that it was an added mark of Gilles Loring's integrity that he should expend so much time and energy upon an estate which would become the property of his stepdaughter upon the day she married. It was at this time, three years after Marian's marriage, that two things happened which changed the rest of Angela's life. The first of these was the introduction into the household at Swanholme of Mr. Vivian Nellis, son of Gilles's sister.
This finicking young exquisite was a Londoner, and quite prepared to tell anyone who would listen about the advantages of life in the Metropolis, and of the fine figure he himself cut in the Ton. This elegant Tulip caused many a smothered smile among the stolid, worthy squires and their ladies, the more so because his uncle Gilles, while making excuses for the lad's youthful folly, was also seen to disguise a grin.