"Cedric always said they were good sort of girls."
"Cedric—oh, he is their hero. By the bye, Mr. Herrick, did you know the Jacobis were staying a mile and a half from Fettercairn? Ah I thought so"—as Malcolm started and frowned—"I was sure that bad boy never let any of you know."
"Were they there all the time?"
"Yes, they all travelled together. Mr. Jacobi had taken the cottage they call Shepherd's Hut, because at one time Sir Richard's shepherd lived there; but a room or two has been added, and people take it for the fishing. Alick rather thought of it himself, only the rooms are so small, and one of the chimneys smoked; we were far more comfortable at the shooting-lodge."
"I suppose Miss Jacobi was there too?"
"Of course she was there," in a significant tone, "and Cedric and Dick Wallace spent most of their time with them. I believe they fished, and wandered over the moors, and when they were not at Shepherd's Hut the Jacobis were at the Hall. Mr. Herrick, I am afraid—I am really afraid that that foolish boy Cedric is head over ears in love with Leah Jacobi."
"It looks rather shady," acknowledged Malcolm; "he is not the sort of fellow to keep things to himself." Then with a sudden change of tone—"Did you tell his sisters?"
"I just mentioned the fact of their being there; and then Elizabeth's engagement occupied my attention. Young Dick was half in love too. Miss Jacobi is really very handsome, but, as Alick says, she ought to marry a man at least ten years older."
"My dear lady, she will never marry Cedric; she is only fooling him a bit."
"Don't be too sure of that," returned Mrs. Godfrey quietly; "you know I am rather observant, and it struck me more than once that Mr. Jacobi was playing a double game. He seemed at one time to take a great deal of notice of Dick Wallace, and Cedric was rather shunted. But one Sunday afternoon, when Mr. Jacobi and Sir Richard had been having a long walk together, he suddenly changed, and Cedric was in favour again."
"I am afraid I don't quite follow you," returned Malcolm, who certainly did not understand what she meant to convey to him.
Mrs. Godfrey arched her eyebrows in surprise.
"My dear friend, you are not generally so dense. Don't you see the poor man had never heard of the existence of Ralph Wallace, and so he thought Master Dick was heir to the baronetcy—voila, tout."
"Oh, I see light now."
"Sir Richard, who is immensely proud of his eldest son, entertained his companion with graphic descriptions of Ralph, Mrs. Ralph, and all the Ralph olive branches; and of course Mr. Jacobi was immensely interested. But he was rather cool to poor Dick that evening, and now Cedric is in the ascendant again."
Malcolm reflected for a moment; then he said in rather a puzzled tone—
"Of course I see my bearings now, but all the same I am not out of the fog. At the garden-party at the Wood House Jacobi was evidently fishing for information; but he got precious little, I can tell you. But I remember he seemed to know far more than I did about the Templetons"—here Malcolm's voice unconsciously changed; "he even told me about the tin mine that had been discovered on a Cornish farm that belonged to them."
"I wonder where he got his information," observed Mrs. Godfrey thoughtfully. "But he was quite correct. Mr. Templeton was not a rich man by any means; he was just a country squire, with a moderate income, which his first wife brought him, and of course her money was left to her daughters. Cedric is absolutely dependent on his sisters."
"Oh, Jacobi quite understands that."
"So much the better. Well, then, three or four years ago this mine was discovered, and that beggarly little farm has brought them quite a fortune. Elizabeth told me that their income was nearly doubled."
"Oh, then Jacobi was right when he said they were rich." And then Malcolm smiled bitterly as he remembered the two maiden ladies of uncertain age.
"Of course he was right. Dinah was talking to me on this very subject last May. She said then that she felt that Elizabeth would marry, and that in that case she would like her to have the Wood House. Of course, I am telling you this in confidence. 'Cedric will be my heir,' she continued; 'but I do not wish him to know this at present. It will be better for him to work, and not eat the bread of idleness;' and of course I approved of this. Now, Mr. Herrick, I must not wait a moment longer. Why do you not come down to the Manor House for a quiet Sunday?" But Malcolm excused himself. He was busy; he had been away so much, he could not take any more holidays, and so on. Mrs. Godfrey looked as though she hardly believed him.
"It would do you good," she persisted, looking at him very kindly. "This week we have a young American coming to us for two or three nights—Hugh Rossiter, the famous bear-hunter. I have often mentioned him to you. Alick is devoted to him; he says of all the acute Yankees he is the acutest, and that he could see through any number of brick walls. No, I will not ask you to meet him. Bears are not in your line. Come the week after." But Malcolm shook his head.
Much as he valued his friends, and dearly as he loved to be with them, the Manor House was the last place for him just then. Elizabeth's name would be frequently mentioned, and there would be constant references to the Wood House, and he fancied that at some unguarded moment he might betray himself. At present Mrs. Godfrey had no suspicion. She very naturally attributed his jaded looks to overwork, and he had been able to mask his feelings, except at that one dreadful moment. When she spoke of the intended marriage the sudden sickening pain at his heart told him that he could not trust himself. As he walked towards the station, when he had done his business, he pondered over all Mrs. Godfrey had told him.
Was it possible that the sisters had known all these weeks that Cedric had been thrown into daily and hourly contact with Leah Jacobi and her brother? Was it likely that Cedric had told them that there was even such a place as Shepherd's Hut?
Perhaps he did not mean to wilfully deceive them. Very probably he had his excuse ready. Malcolm could almost hear his words. "I said nothing about the Jacobis because I knew your prejudice, and I did not want to fluster you. I thought Mrs. Godfrey would spin her yarn, and I left it to her. It was not my fault if the Wallaces took to them, and that they were often up at Fettercairn." Some such words Cedric would say when he saw his sisters.
What a blessing term had begun and he was back at Oxford! He was safe from the Jacobis there. They would be in town probably; and then the fancy came into his head that he would find that out for himself before he went home. His evening hours always hung heavily on his hands, and a walk more or less would not hurt him, That was the best of living with Bohemians. No one questioned his movements, or took it amiss if he were an hour or two late for meals.
He knew where the Jacobis lived—Cedric had told him—at 12 Gresham Gardens; so he went on to Queen's Road by train.
It was quite dark by that time, but he would just pass by the house and see if it were lighted up. His curiosity to know if they were there rather surprised himself. When he came in sight of No. 12 the door opened, and, unwilling to be seen, he stole into the portico of the next house, which was dark and uninhabited, and waited there for a moment.
He could hear Saul Jacobi's voice distinctly, smooth and unctuous as usual, and Leah's deep, flute-like tones chiming in. Somebody, a young man he guessed, was answering her. "You will not be late on Monday. I always like to be in good time for a new piece."
"That is so like a woman," interrupted her brother in a jeering voice. "Don't attend to her, old fellow; we have seats in the stalls, and you can please yourself."
"You bet, I always do that!" was the answer, in a slightly nasal tone. "Ta-ta, Jacobi;" and then a muscular, active-looking young man ran down the steps. Malcolm had just a glimpse of a lean brown face and deeply-set eyes, and then the door closed.
"Another string to the Jacobi bow," he thought as he followed him slowly. "I wonder how many he has." And then, as he walked back to the station, he made up his mind that as soon as possible he would run down to Oxford and have a talk with Cedric. "I think I could manage it on Friday or Saturday," he thought. "I should soon find out for myself if those people have done him any mischief."
Malcolm felt his conscience easier when he had planned this. Mrs. Godfrey had really made him very anxious about the boy. That evening he was less self-centred; the conversation had roused him; it gave him a dreary sort of satisfaction to know that there was still something that he could do for her.
He ate his supper with something of his old appetite, and the next evening he went to Queen's Gate and made himself very pleasant to his mother and Anna. "I think I shall run down to Oxford to-morrow or the next day," he said casually as he bade them good-night, "and look up Cedric Templeton," and he was still in the same mind when he woke the next morning. He would go to Lincoln's Inn and open his letters and see if he could get away that afternoon. But as he entered his chambers Malachi handed him a telegram that had just come. It was from the Manor House. "Please come at once. Hugh Rossiter here. Important news about Jacobi.—GODFREY."
HUGH ROSSITER SPINS HIS YARN
Speak to me as to thy thinkings, As thou dost ruminate, and give thy worst of thoughts The worst of words. —Othello.
The reward of one duty is the power to fulfil another. —GEORGE ELIOT.
Malcolm read the telegram twice. Then he took up his time-table. A quarter of an hour later he was in a hansom on his way to the station. With all his impracticable fads and fancies, he was not one to let the grass grow under his feet. It was quite early, barely noon, when he walked up the hill leading to the Manor House; nevertheless Mrs. Godfrey was evidently on the watch for him.
"Good man," she said approvingly; "I knew you would not fail me;" and then she led him into the morning room, her own special sanctum, which opened into her husband's study.
Colonel Godfrey always called it his study, though it may be doubted if he ever studied anything but his Times, Spectator, and his three favourite authors, Thackeray, Dickens, and Kingsley; but his wife was a great reader, and there were few modern books that she could not discuss and criticise.
"And now, my dear lady, what is wrong?" asked Malcolm. He spoke with the coolness of the well-bred Englishman, who refuses to give himself away. In reality the telegram had made him very anxious—his old friend would not have summoned him without a good reason; but this was not apparent in his manner.
"Wrong!" she replied; "I think everything is wrong. Mr. Rossiter has been making us so uncomfortable; by his account Mr. Jacobi is a mere vulgar adventurer, if not worse."
"And Mr. Rossiter knows him?"
"Yes, in a sort of way. Miss Jacobi is evidently the attraction there. As he says himself, he knocks up against lots of shady characters in his nomadic existence. But you must question him yourself. It was Alick who made me send you the telegram, as Mr. Rossiter goes back to town this evening."
"You were quite right to send for me," returned Malcolm, and then he followed her into a pleasant room with a bay window overlooking the front drive.
Malcolm gave a slight start of recognition when he saw the American. It was not the first time he had seen the lean brown face and deep-set eyes, but he kept this to himself. In spite of his nasal twang and a little surface roughness, Hugh Rossiter was decidedly a gentleman: the mere fact of his presence at the Manor House was a sufficient proof of this. But he was evidently a very eccentric and unconventional being. In age he was about seven-and-thirty.
Malcolm, who felt his position was somewhat delicate, hardly knew how to begin the conversation; but Colonel Godfrey soon put things on a comfortable footing.
"Look here, Rossiter," he said frankly, "we are all friends here, and you may speak out. Mr. Herrick is very much interested in this young fellow, Cedric Templeton, and acts as a sort of guide, philosopher, and friend to him. He has always put his foot down as far as the Jacobis were concerned; he and my wife were dead against them."
"I never believed in the man," observed Malcolm; "there was no ring of true metal about him."
"You are about right there," returned the American; "but I have come across worse fellows than Saul Jacobi. He is a clever chap—about as cute as they make 'em, and knows a trick or two; he is not too nice, does not stick at trifles, and the almighty dollar is his only deity."
"Do you mind telling my friend Herrick all you said to us?" asked Colonel Godfrey.
"Not the least, if you have a taste for chestnuts," and Hugh Rossiter laughed in a genial way. "I owe you a good turn, Colonel—" but here Colonel Godfrey held up a warning hand. "Well, I suppose I must spare your blushes, so I will take up my parable."
"May I ask you one question first?" interrupted Malcolm. "How long have you known these people?"
"About six or seven years, I should say," was the answer. "Jacobi was a billiard-marker in San Francisco when I first came across his trail, and his sister had just married an Italian count."
"Married! Leah Jacobi married! What on earth do you mean?"
"That's so," returned the American coolly. "Count Antonio Ferrari—that was the name; a hoary old sinner with a pedigree that nearly reached to Adam, and as rich and miserly as Shylock. He bid high for the girl, I can tell you that, but I believe our friend Saul had a tough job to get her to marry him."
"He is a greater brute than I thought him," returned Malcolm in a disgusted tone. "That poor girl!" Then Hugh Rossiter looked grave.
"It was a bit rough on her, but Jacobi was in Queer Street just then, and the old fellow gave him a helping hand."
"Jacobi is an Italian Jew, is he not?" Mr. Rossiter nodded.
"Yes, his father was an artist model in Rome—a fine-looking old fellow, I believe—and his mother sold flowers in the market. Some one told me she had been a model too, and that they were rather a shady couple; but peace to their manes! They have joined the majority long ago."
"And Saul Jacobi was a billiard-marker?"
"Yes, till they turned him out; and then he became valet to a young millionaire who had more dollars than brains. I was shooting grizzlies in the Rockies then, and did not come across him again until eighteen months ago. The millionaire was dead then; he never had any constitution worth mentioning, and he was evidently graduating for the idiot asylum. You bet, he would have taken a first class there, for he had fits, poor beggar; so it was a mercy that he went where the good niggers go."
"May I ask where you met Jacobi, Mr. Rossiter?"
"To be sure you may, and I have no objection to answer. It was the Hotel de Belleville at Paris. He was sitting opposite to me at table-d'hote, and his clothes were so new and glossy that I contemplated them with admiration, not unmixed with awe. He had a valuable ring on his finger, and a superb orchid in his buttonhole, and looked like a millionaire himself; things had improved with him, and the billiard-marker and valet were safely shunted. Miss Jacobi was with him"—and here Hugh paused a moment—"and she was handsomer than ever."
"Miss Jacobi—I suppose you mean the Contessa Ferrari?"
"No, Mr. Herrick, the marriage had worked badly. Count Antonio was an infernal brute—excuse my strong language. After a few months his behaviour was so atrocious that the poor thing left him and fled to her brother for protection. It would have been difficult, nay impossible, for her to obtain a divorce. Count Antonio was a wily old rascal, and he had too much influence at court. There had been no proper settlements; he had cheated them all through. Some people say he was mad, that his father had been in a lunatic asylum; but when he died he left all his money to charitable institutions."
"When did he die?"
Hugh Rossiter hesitated a moment. "Some time in September—I do not know the exact date. But he had been failing for months. I know a cousin of his, Count Orsino, and he was asking me what had become of the woman he married; but I did not give him much information."
"But why does she call herself Miss Jacobi when she is really the Contessa Ferrari?"
"Oh, that is just her craze. I believe she was a bit queer and unhinged when Jacobi got her back. Anyhow, he was obliged to pacify her a bit. She threw away her wedding-ring and never again alluded to her wretched marriage, and he is obliged to give in to her. I believe Jacobi was properly frightened that time. When I saw them in Paris Jacobi had just had a run of good luck. It is my private opinion he gambles. I once lost a good bit of money to him; but a burnt child dreads the fire—eh, Colonel? No more baccarat for me."
"And Miss Jacobi seemed in fairly good spirits?"
"Yes," hesitatingly; "but I fancied she had a fit of the blues sometimes, as though Count Antonio's ghost haunted her—oh, by the bye, he was still in the land of the living then. She and Jacobi seemed good friends, though she was evidently afraid of him. He told me one day, when he had been rather too free with the Burgundy, that she was in his way; that he wanted her to marry, and that he intended marrying himself; but he had promised her that her next husband should be young and an Englishman. I remember that this greatly surprised me. 'I understood that Count Antonio was living,' I observed; but Jacobi only winked at me in a stupid sort of way. 'Oh, we know all about that, my boy, but the gout will soon finish him; and there is no hurry—Leah is not thirty yet, and she is handsomer than she ever was in her life;' and he filled himself another bumper."
Malcolm was silent. Hugh Rossiter had apparently finished his recital, for he took up his meerschaum and polished it tenderly, an action that was full of suggestion. But Colonel Godfrey put his hand on his arm.
"One moment, my dear fellow, and then we will go out and have a smoke before luncheon. I can see Herrick has something else to ask you. Hurry up, my boy, or our friend here will lose patience."
"I shall be sorry to tax Mr. Rossiter's patience," replied Malcolm; "but I hope he will be good enough to satisfy me on one point. Is it your opinion," turning to him, "that Saul Jacobi and his sister have any designs on my friend Cedric Templeton?"
Hugh Rossiter opened his eyes rather widely at this. "Well, I suppose so—at least, Jacobi means her to marry him. Whew," with a droll gesture, "this is getting a trifle hot—you will be telling me next that you did not know they are engaged."
"Engaged! My good sir, excuse me, but this is no joke."
Mrs. Godfrey's face grew anxious. "You never told us that, Mr. Rossiter," she said rather reproachfully.
"I am not sure that I should have let the cat out of the bag now," he replied with a laugh, "if Mr. Herrick had not asked such a direct question. I am not one for meddling in other folks' business; but as this seems a grave matter, and my friend Saul is evidently playing the dark horse, I will tell you the little I know."
"I shall be obliged to you if you will do so," returned Malcolm, and Hugh Rossiter nodded good-humouredly.
"Well, then, I was dining at Gresham Gardens about a fortnight ago, and Jacobi told me in the course of conversation that his sister had never been to Oxford, and that they meant to run down for a day or two, and that a friend of theirs had offered to be showman and pilot them about the place."
Malcolm muttered something, and Mr. Rossiter stopped and looked at him inquiringly; but as he remained silent he resumed his narrative.
"They put up at the 'Ranelagh,' and had a good old time, and I believe, from a word Jacobi dropped, that the job was done then. I wanted to congratulate the lady, but Jacobi said that would do later on; his sister wished the engagement to be kept quiet, she had not been a widow for many weeks, and so on; so of course I took my cue. I am bound to say that Miss Jacobi seemed in unusually good spirits."
"And this is all you have to tell me?" asked Malcolm hurriedly.
"Well, now, I call that ungrateful, Colonel," with a droll look at his host; "here I have been talking myself dry for the last hour."
"And I am infinitely obliged to you," returned Malcolm, trying to smile. "The question is what are we to do next—there seems no time to be lost." And then, before any one could speak, he added, "I think it would be best for me to go down to Oxford at once." And as they all agreed that this would be the wisest course to pursue, Malcolm settled to go down by an early afternoon train.
They went out on the terrace after this, and Hugh Rossiter entertained them with a description of his adventures in Colorado, to which Malcolm listened some-what absently; but once, when Colonel Godfrey had left them for a moment together, the American broke off his story rather suddenly.
"Look here, Mr. Herrick," he said quickly, "I want to give you a straight tip. If the youngster will not listen to reason, and you find yourself in a fix, just talk to the girl herself."
"To Miss Jacobi?" for he was naturally surprised at this piece of advice.
"Yes, to the fair Leah herself. Oh, the girl is not so bad, considering her antecedents and the way she has been educated. Think of her own flesh and blood selling her to that son of Belial! Old Beelzebub, I call him. No wonder she got a bit queer. Jacobi knows how to manage her: she is fond of him, but she is afraid of him too. You will have to get her alone, remember that."
"Oh, that's the difficulty. Besides, I am not on visiting terms with the Jacobis."
"My good sir, what does that matter! I am to give you a straight tip, am I not? Well, then, to the best of my knowledge Miss Jacobi is in Kensington Gardens soon after ten every morning. She takes the dog for an airing before her brother is up. Saul is a lazy beast," continued Hugh Rossiter, "and is seldom down before mid-day. He takes his beauty sleep when the rest of the world is at work."
Malcolm thanked Mr. Rossiter cordially for this advice, and then the Colonel came back to them; but as they walked back to the house he stole more than one glance at the young American. The thin brown face was both intelligent and sagacious, and there was a keen, searching look in the brown eyes.
Why was this stranger so anxious to help him, he wondered. Was it mere good-humour and a wish to please, or had he any private reason of his own for desiring to break off this engagement? Had Leah Jacobi's strange beauty ensnared him too? He seemed to know her habits as though he were a constant visitor in Gresham Gardens. But his cool, impassive manner gave no clue to his feelings, and at this stage of the proceedings Malcolm was not to be enlightened. They parted in the friendliest manner. "Good luck to you, Mr. Herrick," he said cordially; "don't forget my straight tip."
Mrs. Godfrey walked with Malcolm to the station. She wanted a few last words, she said, and her mankind had had their innings.
"There is one thing you must do, if Cedric refuses to listen to reason," she said very seriously to him; "you must go down to Staplegrove and tell his sisters every-thing."
"I suppose I must," he returned; but he spoke under his breath, for this new duty filled him with dismay. He had shaken off the dust of Staplegrove, as he believed, for ever, and the thought that he must stand face to face with Elizabeth again turned him giddy. "I suppose in that case I must do it," he went on. His hesitating manner made Mrs. Godfrey look at him.
"It is the only thing to be done," she repeated firmly. "You must see them both and tell them all Hugh Rossiter said. Dinah will be very much upset, but Elizabeth never loses her wits; she will grasp everything in a minute—Elizabeth has such a clear head, and she never muddles things—and then you can hold a friendly council."
"Of course I will do what I can to help them," he replied quietly, for he had been fully aware of Mrs. Godfrey's look; but as he sat in the first-class compartment he told himself with some irritation that his position was a cruel one.
"It is Carlyon who ought to be the family adviser now," he thought. "If I could only wash my hands of this business! What a fool Cedric is to get himself into this mess. Good lack, to think he has fallen among thieves for the second time! The young jackanapes seems to have a natural affinity for sharpers and swindlers. That infernal cad Jacobi!" and here Malcolm boiled with impotent wrath as he thought of that dastardly conspiracy to entrap a young and innocent girl. "I should like to horsewhip him," he went on; "how is one to keep one's hands off such a fellow! He may be a dark horse, as Rossiter says, but he will have to reckon with me." And Malcolm straightened his shoulders with quite a martial air, as though he were ready to fight to the death.
"THE LADY CALLING HERSELF MISS JACOBI"
Master, master! news, old news, and such news as you never heard of!—Taming of the Shrew.
The first and worst of all frauds is to cheat oneself.—BAILEY, Festus.
Malcolm had telegraphed to Verity to pack his Gladstone bag and send it by special messenger to Paddington. Verity, who was accustomed to these commissions, had fulfilled her orders with neatness and despatch, and he found it waiting for him on his arrival at the station. It was nearly half-past six when the spires and pinnacles of the old collegiate city came in sight, so he drove straight to the "Randolph," ordered his room, then dined and refreshed himself after his journey; and it was not until after eight that he went across to St. John's and found his way to Cedric's rooms.
Cedric's sisters had taken great pride and pleasure in furnishing them, and they were the envy of all his friends. A rather impatient "Come in," answered Malcolm's knock.
Cedric was at his writing-table, but he was evidently not at work. He gave a surprised exclamation when he saw his visitor's face; but Malcolm at once perceived that he was not welcome. Cedric frowned slightly and closed his blotting-case, but not before Malcolm's sharp eyes had caught sight of a cabinet photograph of Leah Jacobi.
"What on earth has brought you to Oxford?" asked Cedric in rather an uneasy tone. "I thought it was one of our fellows, and was just swearing to myself for forgetting to sport the oak. I suppose you are staying with Dr. Medcalf as usual?"
"No, I had no time to let him know; I am sleeping at the 'Randolph,'" returned Malcolm quietly. "I am sorry to interrupt you, my boy," with another glance at the blotting-case; "but I have only a few hours, so I have no time to lose. May I take this comfortable chair?"—sinking into it as he spoke. "I have just dined, so we might as well smoke a friendly weed together."
"You can help yourself—there are some excellent cigars in that drawer—but I do not feel like smoking myself." Cedric spoke rather sulkily and with none of his accustomed amiability. "Shall I give you some whiskey and soda?" But Malcolm refused this refreshment—no man was more abstemious than he.
"If you want to finish your letter I can look at the paper for half an hour;" but this suggestion seemed only to irritate Cedric.
"Oh, there is no hurry," he returned hastily; "I could not write a sentence decently, feeling you were waiting for me to finish. Well," struggling with his ill-humour, "what have you been doing with yourself since you left Staplegrove? You look rather seedy and a bit pale about the gills—do you and the giant smoke too much?"
"Oh, I am well enough," replied Malcolm hurriedly. "If we come to that, you have rather a weedy appearance yourself;" for Cedric looked decidedly thinner, and his eyes were almost unnaturally bright. He seemed older, too, and changed in some undefinable way; but he had never looked handsomer. Malcolm forgot his own troubles in his anxiety to prevent his protege falling into the hands of the adventurer, Saul Jacobi. For the moment his own soul seemed to yearn over the boy who was his sisters' darling and the object of their thoughts and prayers.
"Look here, old fellow," he went on, as Cedric seemed relapsing into moody silence, "there is no use beating about the bush. I have come down to-night to have a talk with you, because a report has reached my ears. Is it true that you have been mad enough to engage yourself to the lady calling herself Miss Jacobi?" Then Cedric flushed up, and his eyes blazed with anger.
"May I ask if the report be true?" went on Malcolm, taking no notice of Cedric's fiery looks.
"I object to the manner in which you frame your question," returned Cedric proudly. Strange to say, at that moment he reminded Malcolm of Elizabeth. "Granted that such a report were true, I fail to see where the madness comes in. Any man might consider himself fortunate in winning the affections of a woman like Leah Jacobi."
"And you are engaged to her? Speak out, man; I suppose you don't intend to keep your engagement dark?"
"Of course not," angrily; but Cedric's manner was decidedly embarrassed, and he seemed unwilling to look Malcolm in the face. "But I must tell you, Herrick, that I strongly object to the way you are questioning me. I don't want to quarrel with you, but what the deuce can it matter to you if I choose to keep my private affairs to myself for a week or two! I have reasons of my own for not wishing my sisters to hear of my engagement for a fortnight or so. I—I," hesitating and floundering in his sentence, "meant to tell them myself, and to introduce Leah to them. It is a confounded shame," lashing himself up to great wrath, "that it should have leaked out in this underhand fashion. May I ask how you got your information?"
Malcolm considered for a moment; then he made up his mind that it was best to be perfectly open.
"I had it from a man who knows the Jacobis. His name is Hugh Rossiter. He is a friend of the Godfreys."
Cedric started. "I had quite forgotten that," he muttered; "the fat's in the fire with a vengeance." Then aloud, "Why, the fellow's in love with Leah himself. He made up to her, only Jacobi would not hear of it. He said he could not bear the idea of the roving, uncomfortable life she would have to lead as his wife."
"Mr. Rossiter is not well off, is he?" asked Malcolm tentatively. Then Cedric looked at him as if he suspected some arriere pensee.
"No, he has lost a good bit of money lately—invested it in some rotten concern or other. Jacobi says he can't afford to have a wife."
"I should have thought he would have said the same of you," rather pointedly. "He must be aware that you have only an allowance from your sisters?" And at this plain speaking Cedric reddened again with annoyance.
"I suppose I shall have a profession some day," he returned with a lordly air; "and as my sisters are rich, and Dinah is certainly not likely to marry, I think I may safely count on a pretty handsome allowance."
"If you marry in accordance with your sister's wish, I should think you are right," returned Malcolm coolly. "My dear fellow, would it not have been as well to find this out before you pledged yourself to the lady?"
"There was no necessity for that," replied Cedric; "Jacobi seemed quite satisfied with my prospects. He is not a bit grasping. He told me that he wished his sister to marry a gentleman; that he had been to the Wood House and seen my sisters, and he was quite willing to give his sanction to the engagement; and as Leah and I understood each other perfectly, I had no difficulty with her. Why don't you congratulate me, Herrick," exclaimed the lad excitedly, "instead of badgering and cross-examining me like an Old Bailey witness? I am the happiest fellow in existence! Leah's a darling—there is not such a woman in the world!"
"Is there not?" returned Malcolm quietly. His face looked a little haggard as he spoke, and there was a wistful, pining look in his eyes. Oh, why was the boy so like Elizabeth? There was no real similarity—it was only a trick of expression, a turn of the head, a sudden impulsive movement that recalled her. "May I ask one more question, old fellow? Is it by your own or Mr. Jacobi's wish that the engagement is kept a secret?" But Cedric refused to answer this. He said with a good deal of dignity that there were limits to everything. He had a great respect for Herrick, and always looked upon him as his best friend, but he must excuse him answering this.
"Well—well, we will talk of that again," returned Malcolm; but in his own mind he was certain that Saul Jacobi had his own reasons for preventing the news of Cedric's engagement from reaching his sisters' ears. "There is another question I must ask you. Why do you call your fiancee Miss Jacobi?"
Cedric stared at him.
"I suppose because it is her name," he replied rather impatiently. "What a fellow you are, Herrick! I think your wits must be wool-gathering."
"Oh dear, nothing of the kind; I am not mad, most noble Felix, but in my sane, sober senses. I am quite aware the lady you wish to marry was at one time Leah Jacobi, but her married name is the Countess Antonio Ferrari."
"What!" exclaimed Cedric, springing to his feet; but he added something rather stronger. "Confound you, Herrick, what do you mean by talking such infernal rot?"
"Sit down," returned Malcolm calmly; "I can't talk while you are walking to and fro like the old gentleman. My dear boy, I am sorry to give you this shock, but do you actually mean to tell me that you do not know, that Leah Jacobi is a widow—that neither she nor her brother have informed you of her previous marriage?"
"No," broke from Cedric's lips; he seemed quite stunned. Then he exclaimed indignantly, "But it is a lie—a cursed lie!"
"You would hardly dare to say that to Hugh Rossiter's face, Cedric," returned Malcolm somewhat sternly. "He was my informant; he knew the Jacobis when Saul Jacobi was a billiard-marker in San Francisco, and his sister living with her husband in Verona. You have been badly treated, my dear boy—how badly you little know. You have been encouraged to make love to a married woman. When you were at Fettercairn, Count Antonio was still alive; he only died last month."
Cedric seemed too dazed to take it in. He got up from his chair, in spite of his friend's remonstrance, and began to pace the room again. "Impossible," he muttered; "I will not believe it. She knew then that I loved her, and she promised to marry me if Saul gave his consent. For some reason he seemed to hold off a bit, but we were as good as engaged then."
"Ah, I thought so," returned Malcolm drily; and then, like a skilful surgeon, he did his work thoroughly; to be kind it was necessary to be cruel, so he spared Cedric no particulars. He told him all he knew himself; he saw him wince when he spoke of the Roman models and the billiard-marker turned into a valet.
"Saul Jacobi told me his father was a banker and his mother of noble blood, one of the Orsinos; I suppose he was ashamed of it all, and wanted to keep it back. He might have trusted me and told the truth," faltered the lad.
"Instead of which he told you this pack of lies. And his sister is no better, for she has lied to you too; and this is the sister-in-law you propose to introduce at the Wood House—a woman who has allowed you to make love to her in her husband's lifetime!"
"Look here, Herrick," returned Cedric hoarsely—his fresh young face looked quite gray—"not a word against her—not a word against my Leah. You may be right about Jacobi—I have had my doubts about him once or twice myself; he is not always kind to Leah, he bullies her dreadfully and she is afraid of him, and he is too fond of getting his own way. But I won't believe that she is to blame. Anyhow, she is more sinned against than sinning. I will go to her to-morrow and make her tell me everything. No one shall come between us—not even Saul Jacobi. Leah shall account to me for this deception. I will get to the bottom of it as sure as my name is Cedric Templeton."
Cedric spoke with an air of resolution that secretly surprised Malcolm. "It will make a man of him," he said to himself—"it will make a man of him." Then he put his hand on his shoulder.
"My dear boy," he said kindly, "I feel for you from the bottom of my heart, but you must be very firm. There can be no compromise or vacillation in a case like this; you must give her up, Cedric—you must break off this unlucky engagement." But Cedric would not be induced to promise this; he would decide nothing until he had seen Leah and heard the whole story from her lips. "No one shall come between us," cried the poor lad; "she is my promised wife." Then Malcolm's manner changed and became more resolute.
"It will be a wrench, of course," he returned; "desperate diseases require desperate remedies. But, Cedric, listen to me. If you refuse to take my advice you will repent it all your life. If you go to Gresham Gardens to-morrow you will be a lost man. The Jacobis will talk you over and persuade you that black is white. At least let me accompany you?" But Cedric absolutely refused this, and Malcolm could not press it.
"You mean kindly, Herrick," he observed hurriedly, "but a man must manage his own business. I shall have to leave you now, if I am to see the Dean to-night and get permission for a few hours' absence; and as I shall probably go up by the early train to-morrow, I shall not see you again."
"I shall be in my rooms at Lincoln's Inn by mid-day," returned Malcolm, "will you come to me there?" But Cedric hesitated.
"I shall have to go back to Oxford," he returned; "I think I had better write to you." But this proposal by no means satisfied Malcolm.
"That will not do," he said decidedly. "I would rather you wired to me from Paddington—the letter can follow. Surely you can have no objection," he continued, as Cedric seemed reluctant to do this; "it will set my mind at rest, and I shall have a better night;" and then Cedric rather ungraciously promised that a telegram should be sent.
"You must be very firm," were Malcolm's parting words, and Cedric nodded impatiently as he put on his cap and gown.
Malcolm slept restlessly; he was tired and anxious, and had done a hard day's work. His failure to influence Cedric troubled him greatly.
"They will talk him over," he repeated, "and that woman will lure him into her wiles again;" and Malcolm felt there was grave cause for fear, as he remembered Leah's rare beauty, and the strange brilliancy of her dark, melancholy eyes. Oh, what would Dinah Templeton say if she knew of the danger that threatened her cherished boy!
Malcolm tossed restlessly on his bed as he tried to formulate plans, which he rejected one by one. "If it comes to the worst, I must do as Mrs. Godfrey suggests," he thought—"I must go down to the Wood House and take counsel with them;" and in all probability it was this thought that kept him wakeful.
The next morning Malcolm learnt from Cedric's scout that his master had left by an early train; and as he himself had one or two appointments that morning, he only waited to swallow a hasty breakfast before he followed him.
For the next few hours he was very busy, and could hardly give Cedric a thought; but as work slackened and the afternoon wore on, he wondered at the non-arrival of the telegram. It was half-past four before Malachi brought in the yellow envelope. Malcolm frowned as he read it.
"Know all—have forgiven all—engagement holds good—sorry cannot take advice.—TEMPLETON."
"Unhappy boy," he groaned, "the fowler has him in his net again." Then he scrunched the thin paper in his hand, and set his teeth hard like a man who sees the dentist coming towards him with the forceps.
"I must go down to them; there is nothing else for me to do. I dare not take the responsibility of keeping this to myself an hour longer. It is all in the day's work, as the lion-tamer said when the lion prepared to bite off his head." And after this grim jest Malcolm summoned Malachi and confided the Gladstone bag to his care, and they sallied forth together. At Waterloo he sent off a telegram to Verity; a few minutes later he was in the train and on his way to Earlsfield.
"SHE IS A WICKED WOMAN"
Am I cold— Ungrateful—that for these most manifold High gifts, I render nothing back at all? Not so! not cold, but very poor instead. —E. BARRETT BROWNING.
To love, is to be made up of faith and service. —SHAKESPEARE.
It was half-past six when Malcolm reached the well-known station, and taking a fly bade the man drive him to the "King's Arms," an old-fashioned inn of good repute about half a mile distant from the Wood House. Here he secured a room for the night; ordered supper, of which he partook without appetite; then sallied forth to pay his call. It was late in October, and the darkness of the country roads surprised him, accustomed as he was to the well-lighted London streets; he could scarcely find out his bearings until a welcome light streamed out from the windows of the Crow's Nest. Malcolm lingered a moment at the little gate. "It was there I dwelt in my fool's paradise," he muttered, "and tried to eat of the forbidden fruit. Now I know good and evil, and am a sadder and wiser man." And then he went on doggedly; but he stopped again before he reached the gate of the Wood House, for he knew intuitively that he had stumbled into the little path leading to the woodlands. He strained his eyes through the darkness, but could see nothing-only the chill, damp October wind played round him, and the smell of moist earth and decaying vegetation filled his nostrils. "Change and decay in all around I see," he thought heavily; but as he turned away and crossed the road a sudden remembrance came to him and made him giddy.
It was morning or early afternoon, he forgot which, and the sunshine was filtering through the firs, and steeping his senses with the warm, resinous perfume—"spices of Araby," he had called it to himself, for he loved the scent above all things. He had clambered up the bank to pick some honeysuckle, and then the little gate had clanged on its hinges, and he had peeped through the brambles to see who was coming.
And of course he knew who it was—that tall, robust young woman in the white sun-bonnet who came down the path swinging her arms slightly, but with the free proud step of an empress. "Elizabeth, Elizabeth!" he had whispered even then, and all the manhood within him seemed to welcome her gracious presence. Poor fool—poor blind fool that he was!
Perhaps it was as well that Malcolm stumbled over the root of a tree at that moment; the rude shock roused him.
"It is a blessing I have not sprained my ankle," he said to himself; but he had struck his foot rather severely and limped on with difficulty. The pain sobered him, and he thought how Elizabeth had told him that they always used lanterns in the grounds; and he made up his mind to borrow one for his return journey.
"I wonder if Carlyon will be there," he muttered, as he went up to the front door. He had never seen it closed before, for in summer it was always open from morning to night. Somehow the sight chilled him: he was outside in the darkness and the cold, and for him no household fires would burn warm and bright, and a bitter sigh came to his lips.
He had raised his hand to the bell, when the door opened suddenly, and the rosy-cheeked housemaid he remembered peered out into the darkness. She was evidently very much startled when she saw Malcolm.
"Did you ring, sir?" she asked in some confusion, "for no one heard a bell. The ladies are still in the dining-room, but I will tell Mullins."
"Please do not bring them, I can well wait. I know my way to the drawing-room." And Malcolm put down his hat and crossed the hall, which looked warm and cheery with its bright fire.
The lamps had been lighted in the drawing-room, and the fireplace was heaped with pine logs that spluttered and blazed merrily, and diffused a sort of aromatic fragrance. There were pleasant tokens of feminine occupation on the round table: an open book and a knitting basket that he knew belonged to Dinah, and a piece of embroidery of an ecclesiastical pattern, over which he had often seen Elizabeth bending. There were the very gold scissors and thimble that she had once left down by the Pool, which cost him and Cedric an hour's search before they could find them. How pleased she had been when he had brought them back to her! Malcolm felt an irresistible desire to hold them in his hand a moment—then he turned quickly away.
There was a little side window in the drawing-room that formed a sort of alcove; it was fitted up very prettily with palms and flowering plants, and amongst the foliage stood a beautiful marble figure of a Roman peasant with her pitcher on her shoulder.
Malcolm had often admired it. It was the work of a young German sculptor, whom the sisters found in somewhat distressing circumstances in Rome, with a sick wife and hampered with debt. Arnim Freiligrath always regarded the dear ladies, as he called them, as his benefactresses, for, strange to say, from that time orders flowed in upon him, and he was soon looked upon as a rising and successful sculptor.
Dinah had once told Malcolm that the woman's features reminded her of Elizabeth, and Malcolm had agreed with her.
"I think it is the figure that most resembles your sister," he had said; "but you were wise to buy it, it is very beautiful, and Arnim Freiligrath is becoming quite the fashion."
Malcolm stepped up to the alcove; he would look at his favourite water-carrier again. He put aside the heavy plush curtains that half-veiled the recess, but the next moment he recoiled—for Elizabeth herself was standing there, almost as motionless as the marble woman beside her.
She was lost in thought, and had evidently not heard his footfall on the soft carpet, and she was gazing out into the darkness. Something in her expression arrested Malcolm's attention: he had never seen her look like that before, her lips were pressed tightly together, and her eyes were full of sadness. One hand was resting lightly on the statue, and Malcolm could see the gleam of the opal ring on her finger.
He feared to startle her, and yet it was impossible for him to stand there any longer. He pronounced her name almost timidly; and as Elizabeth started violently and turned round, he could see the tears glistening in the large gray eyes. "Mr. Herrick," in an astonished tone, as she gave him her hand—it was very cold, and trembled a little in his grasp—"what makes you steal upon us like a ghost in the darkness? Why did you not tell us you were coming?"
"I thought it would be better not," he returned quietly. "I wanted to speak to you and your sister about something that seemed to me important." Then Elizabeth gave him one of her quick, searching glances.
"It is about Cedric," she said abruptly—"that boy has got into trouble again?" Then Malcolm bowed his head. They were standing on the rug before the fire now, and at Malcolm's mute answer Elizabeth shivered slightly and held out her hands to the blaze as though she were physically cold. Malcolm leant for support against the mantel-piece, and watched her for a moment under his shading hand—if she had only seen that hungry, eloquent look! But Elizabeth's eyes were fixed on the fire. Poor Malcolm! never had she looked more beautiful to him: the black velvet gown suited her to perfection, and the antique Roman necklace she wore just fitted the full white throat. This was not the rustic owner of the white sun-bonnet, but a grand, imperial-looking Elizabeth. Malcolm felt as though he were fast losing self-control: his forehead grew clammy, and though he tried to speak—to break the embarrassing silence—no words would come; but Elizabeth, lost in her own sad thoughts, was oblivious of his emotion.
"Dinah will be here directly," she observed presently; "she is engaged just now with a woman from the village, but she will not be long, I hope. I trust"—and here she looked at him anxiously—"that you have no bad news for us."
"I am afraid it is not good," he replied evasively.
"It has something to do with those odious Jacobis?" Again Malcolm bowed his head.
"Cedric seems infatuated about them," she returned, with something of her old impetuosity, the words tripping each other up in the usual Elizabethan way. "We thought the man detestable—even Dinah could not tolerate him. Oh," interrupting herself, "what am I thinking about? you have come all this distance on our account, and I have never thought of your comfort—you have not dined, of course;" and Elizabeth's hand was on the bell, but he stopped her.
"I have just had supper at the 'King's Arms,' where I have taken a bed; I want nothing, I assure you."
"At the King's Arms'!" exclaimed Elizabeth. Then she suddenly flushed and bit her lip. She had forgotten—how could she suppose that anything would induce him to sleep under their roof again! Malcolm's manner, his painful air of consciousness, the deep melancholy in his eyes, told her plainly that his trouble was as fresh as ever.
Elizabeth began to feel nervous; it was a relief to both of them when Mullins entered the room with the coffee. "At least, you will have a cup of coffee," she said with a little effort. "Mullins, will you put the tray down, and tell my sister that Mr. Herrick has come down to speak to us on business, and ask her not to keep him waiting."
Malcolm did not refuse the coffee. As he took the cup in his hand he said in a low voice, "I hope Mr. Carlyon is well."
"Thank you, he is far from well," she returned gravely. "Mr. Charrington has been away for the last six weeks, and he has had far too much to do; he has taken a bad cold, and his cough is troublesome. I have been speaking to Dr. Randolph to-day, and he thinks the vicar ought to come back." Then she stopped as Dinah came hurriedly into the room. Malcolm's unexpected visit had evidently alarmed her.
"Oh, Mr. Herrick, what is it?" she said in such a troubled voice that Malcolm felt almost afraid to tell his news. Evidently Elizabeth read his thoughts.
"You must tell us everything," she said rather abruptly; "it will be wrong to keep anything back." And thus admonished, Malcolm began his long story—his summons to the Manor House, and Hugh Rossiter's revelation concerning the Jacobi family. The sisters listened in breathless silence, only when Malcolm mentioned the words billiard-marker and valet Elizabeth uttered a quick exclamation, and threw up her head with a proud gesture, while poor Dinah grew white when she heard that her boy was actually engaged. "It is impossible—there must be some mistake," she whispered, as though to herself—"our dear boy would never keep such a thing from his sisters. Cedric is so frank and open, he would never have secrets from us."
"Cedric is under a bad influence," replied Malcolm; "these people have got hold of him and will not let him go." And then he went on to tell of his interview with Cedric, and his total want of success. "I could do nothing," he went on despondently; "I seem to have lost my influence with him. I did my best, Miss Templeton," with an appealing look at Dinah's sad, sweet face; but it was Elizabeth who answered him.
"Do you think we do not know that," she returned impulsively—"that Dinah and I are not grateful to you! You have taken all this trouble for us—you have been to Cookham and Oxford, and now you have come here, and you are quite tired and worn out with the worry of it all, and we can do nothing for you in return!" and Elizabeth quivered with emotion. But Malcolm, suppressing his own agitation, tried to turn off her speech with a laugh. She was grateful to him—good heavens! she might as well have offered a cupful of earth to a man dying of thirst!
"Let him finish, Betty dear," observed Dinah faintly; "he has more to tell us." And then Malcolm produced the telegram and laid it before them. The sisters glanced at each other with dismay, and Dinah's forehead was furrowed like an old woman's.
"What is to be done, Mr. Herrick, to save my poor boy from this iniquitous marriage?" she inquired in a tremulous tone, and Elizabeth's eyes were asking him the same question.
"That is just the difficulty, my dear lady," he replied slowly. "If I can only see my way clear—Mr. Rossiter advised me to speak to Miss Jacobi; he seems to think she is more amenable to reason than her brother, and probably he is right." But to Malcolm's surprise Dinah's mild eyes began to flush angrily.
"I have a worse opinion of her than I have of her brother," she said hurriedly; "she is a wicked woman—she let men make love to her when she knew her husband was alive! If she marries Cedric, I will never see her or him either;" and here Dinah trembled from head to foot.
Elizabeth, startled by the excitement of one generally so gentle, knelt down by her sister and put her arms round her. "Dear Die," she implored, "don't make it worse for us all. Mr. Herrick is trying to help us, and we must not make things more difficult for him. What do you advise?" she continued, turning to Malcolm. "You have seen this Leah—would it be better to bribe or frighten her?"
"That is impossible for me to say," returned Malcolm, averting his eyes quickly from the earnest, troubled face. "I have only exchanged a few words with Miss Jacobi, and know little about her."
"You mean the Contessa Ferrari," interrupted Dinah almost harshly; "for heaven's sake let the woman be called by her right name!"
"It is a name she refuses to own," he returned quietly. "Will you let me say what I really think?—you know I have only seen her twice. I think she is a wronged and unhappy woman, and that her troubles have hardened her nature and made her reckless. Her brother tyrannises over her, and she has never been free to lead her own life or follow her own better impulses, and her beauty and wonderful fascination have only been used to further Saul Jacobi's ambitious aims. In my opinion Cedric was right when he declared to me that she was more sinned against than sinning."
"Then in that case you will be able to influence her," returned Dinah quickly. "Tell her from me, Mr. Herrick, that if she persists in marrying my poor boy, she will be marrying a pauper; that on the day the marriage takes place I shall alter my will, and that my sister Elizabeth will be my heir. Tell her this, and I will write to Cedric and let him know what he has to expect."
"Do you really mean this?" asked Malcolm, much impressed by this unexpected resolution on the part of one usually so yielding and gentle.
"I mean every word," returned Dinah firmly. "Yes, Betty dear," as she saw her sister's astonished face, "I am perfectly serious. You know what Cedric is to me"—and here her sweet voice quavered for a moment—"if it would do him good, I would give him half my fortune at this moment, and would never grudge it; but no money of mine shall be used for his undoing. Let him give up this woman and come back to me, and there is nothing I will not do for him. Am I right, Elizabeth? Do you agree with me?"
"I agree with you, and you are always right, darling. Mr. Herrick, will you do as she says, and make this Leah understand that she has nothing to expect from us. Oh, what trouble we are giving you, and we have no right!" and here Elizabeth turned her head away in pained confusion. She had said the wrong thing. Why did not Dinah come to her assistance and say some word of grateful acknowledgment?
"You have every right to use me as you will," returned Malcolm in a low voice, "for I have done nothing to forfeit your friendship." And with a dreary attempt at a smile—"A friend is born for adversity." Then Elizabeth rose from her kneeling position, but she did not answer—perhaps she could not, for Malcolm's worn face and sad, kind eyes seemed to bring a sudden lump to her throat. How good he was—how generous and forgiving and unselfish! She longed to take his hand and bid God bless him; but she could not trust herself or him. "It has gone too deep," she said with inward wonder, for Elizabeth was truly humble in her estimation of herself. Dinah was too much wrapped up in her own troubled thoughts to notice Elizabeth's emotion.
"Will you tell me what you mean to do?" she asked anxiously, for Malcolm had risen too as though he intended to take his leave. He explained briefly that he intended to act on Hugh Rossiter's suggestion. He would waylay Leah Jacobi in Kensington Gardens and do his best to induce her to give Cedric up.
"I shall tell her you have written to him and advise her to talk things over with her brother. When he knows Cedric Templeton is not his sister's heir, he will be the first to insist that your projected marriage should be broken off—I shall say some such words to her."
"And you will come down again, and let us know the result of your interview?" and Dinah looked at him imploringly. "Your room shall be ready for you at any time."
"You are very kind," he returned hesitating. "My room at the 'King's Arms' seems very comfortable." Then Dinah understood and changed colour slightly.
"It will be giving you trouble," she observed regretfully.
"No—no, it is not that," he returned hurriedly; "but it is impossible to say how things may be—what circumstances, or what complications may arise to keep me in town. I will write—you shall not be kept in suspense an hour longer than I can help; and you may depend on me that I will do my utmost to break off this wretched engagement."
"I trust you implicitly," returned Dinah gravely. "You will forgive me if I cannot thank you properly to-night."
"You need not move, Die; I will light Mr. Herrick's lantern for him"—Elizabeth spoke in her old natural way. Malcolm stood beside her silently as she performed her hospitable task. Then she placed it in his hand. "I wonder how you groped your way through the plantation," she said smiling; "but this little glimmer will guide you safely. Good-night, Mr. Herrick; we shall look eagerly for your promised letter. Poor Dinah will have one of her bad sick headaches to-morrow—worry always brings them on."
"She looks far from well," replied Malcolm; "I fear this has been a great shock to her, and to you too;" and then he shook hands and went out into the darkness. When he was half-way down the drive he turned round—the door was still open, and the cheerful light streamed out into the blackness. Elizabeth was standing on the threshold looking after him. When she saw him stop she waved her hand with a friendly 'good-night;' then the door closed, and there was only the October darkness, and an eerie, wandering wind moaning through the woodlands.
IN KENSINGTON GARDENS
If you would fall into any extreme, let it be on the side of gentleness. The human mind is so constructed that it resists vigour and yields to softness. —ST. FRANCIS DE SALES.
Malcolm went up by an early train the next morning. He had a long day's work before him—a mass of correspondence to sift, several business interviews, and some proofs to revise. It was later than usual when he went back to Cheyne Walk, but Verity had put aside his dinner for him, and sat beside him while he ate it. She even brought him coffee with her own hands. Perhaps these little womanly attentions soothed him insensibly—though he was so used to them by this time that he was almost tempted to take them as a matter of course—for his face lost its strained, weary look.
"There is a beautiful fire in your room, Mr. Herrick," she observed cheerfully before she left him. "I shall tell Amias that you are tired, and that he must not expect you in the studio to-night."
Malcolm smiled gratefully. "What a good little soul you are, Verity—you always say just the right thing! Tell Goliath, with my love, that I am busy, so there must be no pipe and no palaver to-night. I shall have to be up betimes too;" and then he took counsel with Verity as to the hour when his breakfast should be served.
It was quite true that he had business waiting to be done; nevertheless, as he lay back in his easy-chair by the fire, he could not bring himself to take up his pen. At this very hour on the previous evening he had been with Elizabeth; the dear face—dearer, alas! than ever—had been before him; the changing, characteristic voice, so musical yet so uneven, had been in his ears! He recalled her look as she stood so wrapt in thought in the alcove before she perceived his presence. Its deep sadness had surprised him. What could be troubling her? In a few months she would marry the man she loved. Truly God's best gifts were hers—health, wealth, and love—and yet the shadowed brow and the eyes misty with unshed tears seemed to speak of some hidden sorrow. What could it be? That was his last waking thought that night, and the question still troubled him when he walked the next morning in the direction of Kensington Gardens to keep his self-made tryst with Leah Jacobi.
He knew the gate that was nearest to Gresham Gardens; but it was long before the hour that Hugh Rossiter had mentioned when he reached it, and began pacing up and down like a sentinel on duty.
Fortunately the morning was fine, and a faint gleam of sunshine tried to penetrate the thin haze brooding over the Gardens. Although it was the last day of October, the air was mild; but, contrary to his usual custom, Malcolm failed to notice the effect of the clinging mist round the leafless trees, the nebulous distances, and the faint golden streaks of sunshine; his mind was full of the approaching interview and the difficult work that lay before him.
It was so early that the place seemed quite deserted; but presently he heard dogs barking, and the next moment two little fox-terriers, curiously alike, rushed past him intent on their play. He recognised them at once from Cedric's description—they were Tim and Tartar, belonging to Saul Jacobi; and he knew their mistress was at hand.
He looked at her intently as she came slowly towards him. She wore a dark red dress and jacket, that set off her graceful figure, and her close velvet hat was a darker shade of the same colour.
On any one else the effect might have been too striking, but it exactly suited her; and as Malcolm noticed the exquisite colour of her face and the wonderful coils of black hair, he was obliged to acknowledge that Cedric's temptation had been strong, and that many an older man might have lost his heart to so beautiful a creature.
Leah's eyes had been fixed on the ground, and she did not see Malcolm until she was quite close to him; but, though she was evidently surprised to meet him, she only bowed gravely, and would have passed on. But Malcolm placed himself at her side.
"You are an early riser, Miss Jacobi," he observed in a friendly tone. "Are you always so energetic?"
"I like an early morning walk," she replied quietly; but there was an uneasy flush on her face, as though she found Malcolm's society embarrassing. "I generally have the Gardens to myself at this hour. My brother is a late riser, and this is my leisure time. I have never met you here before, Mr. Herrick;" and here Leah gave him a quick, furtive glance from under her long lashes.
"I daresay not," he returned coolly, "this is hardly my beat. To tell you the truth. Miss Jacobi, my errand is to you this morning." A quick, undefinable expression almost resembling fear came over her face; but she answered him quietly.
"You have come here to talk to me?" with an air of well-simulated surprise. "How could you know my habits? I think," a little stiffly, "we have only met twice."
"You are quite right, Miss Jacobi. I spoke to you first in the porch at Cookham church, and the second time at the Etheridges—as far as that goes we are little acquainted with each other; but we have a mutual friend, you and I." Then he saw her eyes suddenly droop.
"Forgive me if I am abrupt," he went on, "but the matter concerns me intimately. I am informed that you are engaged to my friend Cedric Templeton."
It was evident that she was prepared for this—the bolt out of the blue had not startled her. She stood still and looked at him with an air of proud displeasure.
"May I ask the name of your informant, Mr. Herrick?" she asked coldly; but he saw that she knew.
"Why should I not have heard it from Cedric himself—we are close friends?" but he watched her narrowly as he said this.
"Because he would be the last person to tell you." Then she checked herself, as she saw the snare he had laid for her. "What if I am engaged to him?" as though determined to brave it out; "it can surely be no business of yours, Mr. Herrick." There was rising temper in Leah's voice.
"You must forgive me if I say that I differ from you there—my friend's interests are my own. Miss Jacobi, how can you reconcile it to your conscience to injure that poor boy's prospects by entering into a clandestine engagement with him?"
He could see her eyes flash with anger, but she made no reply.
"You know his position. He is utterly dependent on his sisters—his father left him nothing; he has no profession; he has not even finished his university training; he is far too young to think of marrying."
She opened her lips to speak, and then closed them resolutely again.
"Pardon me if I am obliged to speak plainly, but I have no option. This engagement cannot go on—you must set him free."
"Who says so—you, or Hugh Rossiter?" stopping and regarding him with a frown that made her look for the moment like a beautiful Medusa. Then she walked on again. "Excuse me, Mr. Herrick," very haughtily, "if I say that I regard your interference with my private concerns as unjustifiable impertinence. I refuse to discuss the matter with you; I am going home. Tartar—Tim!" raising her voice. And she turned and walked back so swiftly that he had some trouble in overtaking her.
"Miss Jacobi," in an urgent voice, "I must speak to you. I am an accredited ambassador from Miss Templeton and her sister—they have asked me to speak to you."
"They must choose another ambassador then," and Leah walked on faster.
Malcolm was at his wits' end. How could he compel this haughty and obstinate young woman to listen to him? Then an idea came to him.
"If Miss Jacobi is so unapproachable," he said quietly, "perhaps the Countess Ferrari will not refuse to listen to me?" Leah stopped suddenly as though she had been shot, and her face grew white.
"What do you mean? How dare you call me that—do you want to kill me!" But the expression in her eyes was not pleasant to see. For a moment she seemed almost distraught.
"Hush—hush!" he said soothingly; "I would not have called you that if I could have helped it; but you would not hear me. Let us go down that little path; there is a seat there, and we will talk this out quietly;" and taking her arm, he gently guided her to the bench. "Sit down and recover yourself," he continued kindly; for she was drawing deep breaths as though she were on the verge of an hysterical attack. Malcolm felt secretly frightened at the result of his experiment. It was clear to him that the mere utterance of her married name almost maddened her—that for some occult reason it was not safe to use it. Up to this moment she had played her cards well: she had guessed his errand and had evaded and kept him at bay—first by pretended ignorance, and next by refusing to discuss the engagement with him. That he was Miss Templeton's mouthpiece and messenger mattered little or nothing to her. No wonder Malcolm found himself nonplussed. A moment later he heard his name called. Leah's manner had changed; she was still very pale, but she had regained outward calmness. "I will hear you now," she said in a low voice; "but you must be more careful—if you mention that name again I must leave you. What is the message you have for me from Miss Templeton?"
"You shall know directly; but there is one thing I must say first. Miss Templeton and her sister are fully acquainted with your past life—your parentage, your brother's occupations, and above all, the fact that you have only recently become a widow—hardly more than six or seven weeks ago."
He was standing before her as he spoke, and she tried to look at him; but some sudden sense of womanly shame made her cover her face with her hands.
"It was not my fault," she almost whispered; "I am not good, but I am not so bad as that. Saul said it did not matter; and after that, when I began to get uncomfortable, he told me a lie."
"You mean that he told you that your husband was dead?"
Leah shivered, and bowed her head in assent. Then as she saw Malcolm's kind and pitying look, she continued in a low, constrained voice, as though something compelled her to speak—"It was not all Saul's fault. I ought not to have believed him, for he does not always tell the truth. After a time I found out that it was a lie, and then it was too late—Cedric knew I cared for him."
"You really care for him?" Malcolm was not aware how gently he spoke, but his tone thrilled through Leah; her manner softened still more, and her dark, unfathomable eyes were full of womanly tenderness.
"Is that such a strange thing?" she asked in a dreary tone. "Could not any woman love him?—so young, so fresh, so true—so different from any one I have ever met in my unhappy life! What does it matter that I am older—what has age to do with it, when two people care for each other!"
"Ah, I will grant you that," returned Malcolm slowly.
"I shall make him a good wife," she went on, "and in the years to come the old wounds will be healed, and I shall forget the terrible past. Oh," recalling herself with difficulty, "why am I talking to you like this, and I have never even heard Miss Templeton's message." Then Malcolm sat down beside her and gently repeated Dinah's words.
"'Tell her from me that if she persists in marrying my poor boy, she will be marrying a pauper; that on the day the marriage takes place I shall alter my will, and that my sister Elizabeth will be my heir. Tell her this, and I will write to Cedric.'"
There was no answer to this; but he could feel the tremor that passed through her. "She has written," he went on, "and by this time Cedric has her letter. Miss Jacobi, if you love this poor lad, how can you have the heart to ruin him? Be generous, be merciful, and set him free!" Then she turned upon him almost fiercely.
"Generous! merciful!—and who has ever shown me mercy! When my own flesh and blood have traded on my beauty—my hateful beauty—and sold me without pity or remorse. And now," still more passionately, "you and his people want to come between me and happiness. You wish me to give him up, but I cannot—I will not. I am not marrying him for Miss Templeton's money," she continued indignantly, "but for himself, and because we love each other. It is Saul who thinks of the money; but he will not believe that message—he knows she will not do it. Her sister Elizabeth is rich—rich, and we should be so poor."
"You are wrong, Miss Jacobi, she will do it. Miss Templeton is gentle and loving, but she is very firm. It is possible—nay, probable—that she would continue Cedric's allowance, but in the event of this marriage he will have nothing more from her."
"Do you mean that she would let him starve?"
"I mean that he would have to work for his bread as other men have to work, and that his whole life, and yours too, will probably be a failure. Miss Jacobi, I entreat you to listen to me for a few moments—I am speaking for your good as well as his. May I tell you what I think?" She made a movement of assent. Malcolm never could recollect afterwards what he said to her; but his words, strong, eloquent, convincing, seemed to overwhelm her like a torrent, and yet his manner was perfectly quiet and calm.
He told her, without attempting to soften or palliate the fact, that nothing would reconcile Miss Templeton and her sister to such a marriage; that her brother's character was regarded by them with abhorrence; that their cherished brother should marry the sister of a billiard-marker—a mere adventurer and gambler—was utterly impossible; and Leah's head was bowed low as she listened. He touched delicately on her own past; but his few words were terribly convincing. "You have spoken to me of Cedric's youth and freshness," he observed—"do you think that your past life with its sad experiences make you a fit mate for him? You may tell me you are only a few years older; but in knowledge of life he is a mere child compared to you. It is in the name of his youth—his fresh, unsullied youth—that I implore you to be generous and set him free."
Malcolm said more than this—for his own love for Elizabeth made him eloquent. He must do her this one service: he must deliver her young brother out of the contaminating hands of these Philistines; and so he reasoned and pleaded with Leah as he had never pleaded in his life before.
Soon she was weeping; he could see the tears dropping into her lap. Then suddenly, as a clock struck, she started up. "It is late—I must go now or Saul will question me. Indeed—indeed I must go."
"But you will think over all I have said, and let me see you again?" asked Malcolm anxiously.
"Yes, I will think over it; and if possible I will be here to-morrow. But I cannot answer you now. You have made me very unhappy, Mr. Herrick. What is it that the Bible says?—'There is no peace for the wicked.' I must be wicked, for there is no peace for me."
"No—no, you must not say that," he returned kindly; "let me give you my card, that you may know where to find me. Miss Jacobi, if you will only bring yourself to do this thing, you will be a brave woman, and I shall be your friend for life." But she only smiled faintly as she took the card and asked him as a special favour not to come any farther with her.
"Have I done any good?" thought Malcolm sorrowfully, as he walked away. "Poor soul, how she loves him! Cedric was right, as I told Miss Templeton: Leah Jacobi is more sinned against than sinning. Nature intended her for a noble woman, but Saul Jacobi and Count Antonio Ferrari have marred her handiwork." And all the rest of the day Malcolm thought of Leah with strange kindness and pity.
PLOT AND COUNTERPLOT
Many a one, by being thought better than he was, has become better. —JOWETT.
Not as little as we dare, but as much as we can. —BISHOP OF WESTCOTT.
Malcolm wrote to Dinah that afternoon, giving her a full account of his interview with Leah Jacobi; then he spent the rest of the day making up arrears of work. The last post brought him a reproachful little note from Anna.
"Mother thinks you have forgotten us. Why are you staying away in this unmannerly fashion, you naughty boy?" she wrote. "It is ten whole days since you were here, and we both feel lone and lorn without you"—and so on. But under the playful words he could detect a shade of earnestness.
Tired as he was, and needing rest sorely, he answered the letter and posted it before he slept.
Anna read it aloud to Mrs. Herrick the next morning, and they both agreed that it was a charming letter. The dear home people must forgive his seeming neglect, it said, for it was not possible for him to put in an appearance just yet. He was arranging a troublesome affair for a friend that gave him a great deal of anxiety and worry. He had been to Oxford, and might have to go down again, and he could not spare an hour for social duties.
"Oxford—I wonder if the business concerns his friend Cedric Templeton," observed Anna thoughtfully. But Mrs. Herrick only looked grave and said she did not know, and that evidently Malcolm did not wish to enlighten them. She spoke dispassionately and not in the least as though his reserve troubled her; but Anna was rather absent and distrait the rest of the day. She had watched Malcolm narrowly and had come to the conclusion that he had something on his mind. All his attempts at gaiety, his little jokes, his badinage, did not deceive her for a moment. Trouble had come to him. In some ways he was a changed man: he looked older, graver, and in repose his features had a care-worn expression, as of one who has worked hard in turmoil of soul. And this trouble—could it be connected in any way with this mysterious Elizabeth, of whom he never spoke? Ah, that was the question over which Anna pondered so heavily as her fair head bent over her typewriter.
Malcolm had ordered an early breakfast again in his own room, but as be sat down to it Hepsy brought him a note. A slip of a lad had delivered it, she said, and was waiting for an answer.
Malcolm had never seen the handwriting before, but he at once guessed it was from Leah—and he was right. It was written in pencil, and was without any conventional beginning or end.
"I am not going out this morning—will you come straight to 12 Gresham Gardens? If you come early you will find me alone. Saul went to Oxford last night, and will be back by mid-day. Send answer by bearer."
Malcolm wrote a few words—"Many thanks. Will be with you as early as possible;" then he made a hasty meal, for he felt there was no time to be lost; and as he walked to Sloane Square station his thoughts were full of perplexity. Why had Saul Jacobi gone down to Oxford—on what new mischief was he bent? Malcolm felt he had good reason for his fears. Cedric's weak, impressionable nature would be like wax in the hands of this unscrupulous adventurer; he would simply mould him to his will; the poor lad's passionate love for his sister would be turned to account and made to further his own wily purposes. Malcolm groaned inwardly, as he realised that their sole chance lay with Leah herself. Her message had given him a shade of hope, but he would not allow himself to be sanguine; he knew too well that women of Leah's calibre were not always to be depended on; in such cases one must reckon with moods and impulses. Her brother dominated her; he was the evil genius of her life. How could any one hope to influence her, when she, poor soul, lived under a reign of terror? One might as well ask some wretched prisoner to break off the fetters that bound him, as to expect Leah Jacobi to walk out of that house of bondage a free woman.
Malcolm found it impossible to rid himself of these gloomy forebodings; nevertheless he made such good speed that it was barely half-past nine when he stood in the stone porch of 12 Gresham Gardens. It was evident that he was expected, for though the maid who admitted him regarded him somewhat curiously, she did not ask his name, but conducted him at once upstairs to a handsome drawing-room where a fire was burning.
The little fox-terriers, Tim and Tartar, began barking furiously at the sight of a stranger; but before Malcolm could quiet them the plush curtains that veiled the archway were thrown back and Leah entered from an inner room.
Malcolm was quite shocked when he saw her face. She looked as though she had spent a night of weeping, that had dimmed her beauty; the hand she gave him was icy cold. Perhaps she read the silent pity in Malcolm's eyes, for her lips quivered.
"I am not ill—not really ill," she said quickly; "only I have not slept, and the night was so terrible. You were right to come early, Mr. Herrick; sometimes Saul takes an earlier train than he says. He has done that two or three times; he declares he never really trusts me. He made me promise not to go in the Gardens this morning, so I was obliged to stay at home."
"Will you tell me why your brother has gone to Oxford?" asked Malcolm, with a keen, steady glance, under which she grew still paler.
"Yes, I will tell you: he has gone to see Cedric. He was waiting for me when I got back yesterday, and he saw at once by my face that something had happened. Oh, you don't know Saul—when he means to find a thing out he is like a gimlet, one has no chance at all. He held my wrists until I told him everything—you can see how bruised they are," and she showed him the purple marks. "Oh, how angry he was! I never saw him in such a rage before, but it only made him more determined to hurry on the marriage."
"He has no objection then to your marrying a pauper?" asked Malcolm coolly, but inwardly he was boiling with impotent wrath.
"Oh, he will not believe that Cedric is poor," she returned sadly; "he only laughs at the idea of Miss Templeton disinheriting him. 'She wants to frighten him, and to choke us off, but I know a trick worth two of that,' was all he said; and then he cooled down, and called me a little fool, and bade me bring him the time-table, and ten minutes later he told me he was going to Oxford to arrange things with Cedric."
"You mean about your marriage?"
"Yes; it was fixed for next week, but last evening I received this telegram," and Leah put it in his hand. She had said all this in a weary, mechanical voice, as though she were reciting a lesson she had learnt by heart.
"Make preparations at once—Cedric returns with me—function day after to-morrow, nine sharp—all arranged—hang results." Malcolm's lip curled with disgust as he gave it back to her.
"Do you understand it?" she asked, as though distrustful of his quiet bearing. "Saul has hurried things on because he is afraid. He does not trust Cedric: he thinks he is weak and easily influenced, and fears that you may get hold of him again; his one idea is to have the marriage ceremony performed before Miss Templeton knows of it."
"Ah, just so;" but Malcolm muttered "the villain!" between his teeth.
"That is why I sent for you," continued Leah in the same dull, inward voice; "because he and Cedric have fixed it for to-morrow, and there is no time to lose. If he comes, and I were to see him again," and here her voice broke and her eyes grew piteous, "I should not have the strength to do it—to do what you want."
"What I want?" And then he added breathlessly, "Do you mean that you will give him up?"
"Yes, I mean that," in a choked voice. "I must give him up—the only creature I ever loved, and who was good to me. All night long I was thinking of it, fighting and struggling for my poor little bit of happiness; but you were right, Mr. Herrick, I love him too well to drag him down to poverty and ruin, for Saul would ruin him, I know that too well."
"I know it too. God bless you for this noble resolve," returned Malcolm quickly; but she stopped him.
"Hush! not a word of praise; you do not know—I have been to blame as well as Saul. But now what am I to do? they must not find me here."
"No, of course not. Is there any friend to whom I could take you?" But Leah shook her head.
"We have no friends, only a few acquaintances at Henley; but I could not go to them. I might take a lodging somewhere, only"—here her poor face grew crimson—"Saul never gives me any money, except a few shillings at a time; he pays my bills or leaves them unpaid, but it always makes him angry when I ask him for money."
"That need be no difficulty," returned Malcolm kindly. "Will you allow me to settle things for you?" Then she looked at him inquiringly, yet with an air of trust that moved him profoundly.
"Will you put on your walking things at once, while I make my plans?" he went on. "Be as quick as possible; we must not lose time." And she went off with the ready obedience of a child.
Malcolm hastily reviewed the situation. It was full of difficulties. Where could he take her? He thought of his mother; then he remembered that she was a woman of strong prejudices—she had her own opinions and would decline to see with other people's eyes. Leah would be to her merely an extremely dangerous and objectionable young woman, and she would dislike the idea of Anna being brought into contact with her.
The Kestons would help him, he knew that, and Verity would be a trusty and faithful little counsellor; but Cheyne Walk was hardly the place for her, and he would not be safe from Cedric.
For a moment he thought of the Wood House—they would never look for her there; but he dismissed this idea the next moment. No; the Manor House was their only resource. He would put her in Mrs. Godfrey's care, and ask her to keep her safe until they had made their plans. Mrs. Godfrey was a woman of the world; she would make allowances for any human creature so broken and buffeted in the battle of life, whose womanhood had been so tempted and crushed. His mother was kind-hearted, but her sympathies were less broad, and she often failed in tact. Leah would be to her a puzzling enigma. He felt with shrewd intuition that it would be impossible for them to understand each other.
"No, it must be my dear Mrs. Godfrey," he said to himself. "She is more human; it is not her way to use a sledge-hammer when a lighter weapon will serve her purpose; and then she never forces confidence, she is the most tactful woman I know." Malcolm broke off abruptly here as Leah entered the room. She wore the same dark red dress she had worn the previous day, and had a travelling wrap over her arm. She carried a small Gladstone bag, of which Malcolm at once relieved her.
"I packed this last night," she said in a low voice, "and I wrote this letter. Will you give it to him?" Then Malcolm glanced at the address; it was to Cedric, and he put it carefully in his breast-pocket.
"He shall have it," was his answer. "Now, if you are ready, we may as well go."
"If we are quiet no one will hear us," she observed in the same subdued voice. "The servants are in the back kitchen; I heard them laughing and talking as I came downstairs."
Then she led the way, and Malcolm followed her closely. Leah's remark about an earlier train had made him supremely uncomfortable. What if they should come face to face with Saul Jacobi and Cedric as they turned out of Gresham Gardens! The idea was unpleasant. Fortunately, at that moment he saw an empty cab crawling towards them, after the manner of growlers when a fare is wanted, and he at once hailed it. Leah looked somewhat surprised when she heard him direct the man to a pastry-cook's shop in the near vicinity of Paddington station. She gave him a questioning glance.
"We cannot go straight to our destination until I am sure the coast is clear," he explained. "There is an upstairs room at Falconer's, and I am going to order you some luncheon, and you must do your best to eat it. I shall have to leave you for a quarter of an hour or so, until the Oxford train is in."
"You mean to go to the station?" she asked nervously.
"Oh, Mr. Herrick, is that wise? Saul is so sharp-sighted, if he sees you he will guess that you have been to Gresham Gardens."
"He will not see me," returned Malcolm confidently; "there is a corner where I can secrete myself and watch the passengers go by. When we are really off I will tell you our destination, but at present I must ask you to have faith that I am doing my best for you."
She smiled faintly and said no more. Five minutes later the cab stopped, and Malcolm took her upstairs and found a quiet corner for her. "You must take a few spoonfuls of soup," he pleaded, "for the sake of appearances. Falconer is rather famed for mock-turtle." Then he put down the bag beside her and went on his quest. It was more than twenty minutes before he returned.
"It is all right," he observed. "They passed me quite close. We shall be in the train before they reach Gresham Gardens. I think I heard your brother say that they had better do their business first." Leah shivered; she knew too well what that business was. A quarter of an hour later they were on their way to Cookham.
Leah seemed very much startled and even alarmed when she learnt their destination, and at first Malcolm found it difficult to reassure her. "Mrs. Godfrey!" she exclaimed. "Oh, I scarcely know her. Somehow she frightens me; her eyes seem to read one through and through. And then the Etheridges will be so near."
"I believe they are abroad," replied Malcolm, "and not expected home until the middle of December, so you need not trouble your head about them. But indeed you are wrong about Mrs. Godfrey; she is a dear woman, and the greatest friend I have. She is so warm-hearted and true that she would go through fire and water for any one she loved."
"Oh yes, no doubt."
"And not only for her friends," he went on, "for her sympathies are world-wide. Trust her, my dear Miss Jacobi, and you will see how good she is to you. She is not hard and censorious in her judgments, she is far too well-balanced for that; if you can only secure Mrs. Godfrey for a friend, you will need no other." But it was plain to him that Leah was only half convinced; under her veil he could see she was vainly trying to repress her tears, and his heart ached for her.
During their short walk to the Manor House he kept silence; he was wondering what he should say to Mrs. Godfrey, and how he could best explain matters. But just as they turned into the drive he saw her coming round from the garden with a basket of late blowing flowers in her hand; she stood still as though petrified with astonishment when she saw Malcolm's companion.
"What is it—what does it mean?" she asked in her clear voice. "Has anything happened?"
"Much has happened, my dear lady," he returned quietly. "I am going to confide Miss Jacobi to your care for a few days;" and then very briefly but distinctly he gave her an account of Saul Jacobi's scheme—the intended marriage and Cedric's arrival at Gresham Gardens. "But for Miss Jacobi's noble behaviour," he continued, "this disgraceful plot would have been carried out. She has generously given him up, and I for one am deeply indebted to her."
"Will you hide me for a few days, until I know what to do?" asked Leah, fixing her great troubled eyes on the other woman's face. Mrs. Godfrey's manner changed.
"Hide you from your brother do you mean, or Cedric, or both? My dear, you will be perfectly safe with us. No one will molest you at the Manor House, and we will both do all we can for you." She took the girl's hand kindly and kissed her cheek. "We will have such a talk presently—you and I; but just now you are worn out, and must lie down. Your head aches, does it not?" Then Leah owned that she was right.
"Alick is about the grounds somewhere," Mrs. Godfrey continued; "when I have made Miss Jacobi comfortable I will join you both." But when she rejoined them half an hour later, Malcolm was quite sure she had been shedding tears. "Poor thing," she said to him in an undertone, "how she must have suffered; she is terribly exhausted, she has had no sleep, and has eaten nothing for four-and-twenty hours. I made her swallow some warm brandy and milk, and have covered her up snugly. Now I mean to send the servant away at luncheon, and we will wait on ourselves, and then you can tell us everything."
"You must promise not to interrupt me then," was Malcolm's answer, "for I shall have to be off in an hour or so. I mean to go down to Staplegrove by a late afternoon train, and tell Miss Templeton all we have done."
Malcolm certainly had the art of narration. Not only Mrs. Godfrey but the Colonel hung on his words with the deepest attention. Neither did they interrupt him by comment or question until he had finished. Then Mrs. Godfrey said softly—"You have done a good work there, Mr. Herrick."
"Who, I?—pooh—nonsense," but Malcolm flushed a little at her appreciative look. "I have done nothing—it is all Miss Jacobi's generosity."
"I think we should hear a different version from her," returned Mrs. Godfrey with a smile, "and I can see Alick agrees with me," nodding to her husband. "Must you really go to Staplegrove to-night? Suppose Cedric goes to Cheyne Walk?"
"That is quite possible," returned Malcolm; "nay, more, it is extremely probable; and I pencilled a line to Verity in the train. She is to tell him where I have gone; but my only fear is that he will not follow me—Saul Jacobi will keep too tight a hold of him. By the bye, Colonel, I wonder what infernal lies that fellow has induced him to tell the authorities. If he has taken French leave of absence, they will rusticate him."