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The Nest of the Sparrowhawk
by Baroness Orczy
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The soldiers drove them all together before them, in a compact, shrinking and screaming group. Then the word of command was given. The soldiers stood at attention, turned and finally marched out of the room with their prisoners, Gunning being the last to leave.

He locked the door behind him and in the wake of his men presently wended his way down the tortuous staircase.

Once more the measured tramp was heard reverberating through the house, the cry of "Attention!" of "Quick march!" echoed beneath the passage and the tumble-down archway, and anon the last of these ominous sounds died away down the dismal street in the direction of the river.

And in one of the attics at the top of the now silent and lonely house in Bath Street—lately the scene of so much gayety and joy, of such turmoil of passions and intensity of despair—two figures, a man and a woman, crouched together in a dark corner, listening for the last dying echo of that measured tramp.



PART III



CHAPTER XXI

IN THE MEANWHILE

The news of the police raid on a secret gambling club in London, together with the fracas which it entailed, had of necessity reached even as far as sea-girt Thanet. Squire Boatfield had been the first to hear of it; he spread the news as fast as he could, for he was overfond of gossip, and Dame Harrison over at St. Lawrence had lent him able assistance.

Sir Marmaduke had, of course, the fullest details concerning the affair, for he himself owned to having been present in the very house where the disturbance had occurred. He was not averse to his neighbors knowing that he was a frequenter of those exclusive and smart gambling clubs, which were avowedly the resort of the most elegant cavaliers of the day, and his account of some of the events of that memorable night had been as entertaining as it was highly-colored.

He avowed, however, that, disgusted at Richard Lambert's shameful conduct, he had quitted the place early, some little while before my Lord Protector's police had made a descent upon the gamblers. As for Mistress de Chavasse, her name was never mentioned in connection with the affair. She had been in London at the time certainly, staying with a friend, who was helping her in the choice of a new gown for the coming autumn.

She returned to Acol Court with her brother-in-law, apparently as horrified as he was at the disgrace which she vowed Richard Lambert had heaped upon them all.

The story of the young man being caught in the very act of cheating at cards lost nothing in the telling. He had been convicted before Judge Parry of obtaining money by lying and other illicit means, had been condemned to fine and imprisonment and as he refused to pay the former—most obstinately declaring that he was penniless—he was made to stand for two hours in the pillory, and was finally dragged through the streets in a rickety cart in full sight of a jeering crowd, sitting with his back to the nag in company of the public hangman, and attired in shameful and humiliating clothes.

What happened to him after undergoing this wonderfully lenient sentence—for many there were who thought he should have been publicly whipped and branded as a cheat—nobody knew or cared.

They kept him in prison for over ten weeks, it seems, but Sir Marmaduke did not know what had become of him since then.

The other gentlemen got off fairly lightly with fines and brief periods of imprisonment. Young Segrave, so 'twas said, had been shipped to New England by his father, but Master and Mistress Endicott had gone beyond the seas at the expense of the State, and not for their own pleasure or advancement. It appears that my Lord Protector's vigilance patrol had kept a very sharp eye on these two people, who had more than once had to answer for illicit acts before the Courts. They tried in a most shameful manner it appears, to implicate Sir Marmaduke and Mistress de Chavasse in their disgrace, but as the former very pertinently remarked, "How could he, a simple Kentish squire have aught to do with a smart London club? and people of such evil repute as the Endicotts could of a truth never be believed."

All these rumors and accounts had, of course, also reached Sue's ears. At first she took up an attitude of aggressive incredulity when her former friend was accused: nothing but the plain facts as set forth in the Public Advertiser of August the 5th would convince her that Richard Lambert could be so base and mean as Sir Marmaduke had averred.

Even then, in her innermost heart, a vague and indefinable instinct called out to her in Lambert's name, not to believe all that was said of him. She could not think of him as lying, and cheating at a game of cards, when common sense itself told her that he was not sufficiently conversant with its rules to turn them to his own advantage. Her hot-headed partisanship of him gave way of necessity as the weeks sped by, to a more passive disapproval of his condemnation, and this in its turn to a kindly charity for what she thought must have been his ignorance rather than his sin.

What worried her most was that he was not nigh her, now that her sentimental romance was reaching its super-acute crisis. During her guardian's temporary absence from Acol she had made earnest and resolute efforts to see her mysterious lover. She thought that he must know that Sir Marmaduke and Mistress de Chavasse were away and that she herself was free momentarily from watchful eyes.

Yet though with pathetic persistence she haunted the park and the woodlands around the Court, she never even once caught sight of the broad-brimmed hat and drooping plume of her romantic prince. It seemed as if the earth had swallowed him up.

Upset and vaguely terrified, she had on one occasion thrown prudence to the winds and sought out the old Quakeress and Adam Lambert with whom he lodged. But the old Quakeress was very deaf, and explanations with her were laborious and unsatisfactory, whilst Adam seemed to entertain a sullen and irresponsible dislike for the foreigner.

All she gathered from these two was that there was nothing unusual in this sudden disappearance of their lodger. He came and went most erratically, went no one knew whither, returned at most unexpected moments, never slept more than an hour or two in his bed which he quitted at amazingly early hours, strolling out of the cottage when all decent folk were just beginning their night's rest, and wandering off unseen, unheard, only to return as he had gone.

He paid his money for his room regularly, however, and this was vastly acceptable these hard times.

But to Sue it was passing strange that her prince should be out of her reach, just when Sir Marmaduke's and Mistress de Chavasse's absence had made their meetings more easy and pleasant.

Yet with it all, she was equally conscious of an unaccountable feeling of relief, and every evening, when at about eight o'clock she returned homewards after having vainly awaited the prince, there was nothing of the sadness and disappointment in her heart which a maiden should feel when she has failed to see her lover.

She was just as much in love with him as ever!—oh! of that she felt quite sure! she still thrilled at thought of his heroic martyrdom for the cause which he had at heart, she still was conscious of a wonderful feeling of elation when she was with him, and of pride when she saw this remarkable hero, this selfless patriot at her feet, and heard his impassioned declarations of love, even when these were alloyed with frantic outbursts of jealousy. She still yearned for him when she did not see him, even though she dreaded his ill-humor when he was nigh.

She had promised to be his wife, soon and in secret, for he had vowed that she did not love him if she condemned him to three long months of infinite torture from jealousy and suspense.

This promise she had given him freely and whole-heartedly more than a fortnight ago. Since that memorable evening when she had thus plighted her troth to him, when she had without a shadow of fear or a tremor of compunction entrusted her entire future, her heart and soul to his keeping, since then she had not seen him.

Sir Marmaduke had gone to London, also Mistress de Chavasse, and she had not even caught sight of the weird silhouette of her French prince. Lambert, too, had gone, put out of her way temporarily—or mayhap, forever—through the irresistible force of a terrible disgrace. There was no one to spy on her movements, no one to dog her footsteps, yet she had not seen him.

When her guardian returned, he seemed so engrossed with Lambert's misdeeds that he gave little thought to his ward. He and Mistress de Chavasse were closeted together for hours in the small withdrawing-room, whilst she was left to roam about the house and grounds unchallenged.

Then at last one evening—it was late August then—when despair had begun to grip her heart, and she herself had become the prey of vague fears, of terrors for his welfare, his life mayhap, on which he had oft told her that the vengeful King of France had set a price—one evening he came to greet her walking through the woods, treading the soft carpet of moss with a light elastic step.

Oh! that had been a rapturous evening! one which she oft strove to recall, now that sadness had once more overwhelmed her. He had been all tenderness, all love, all passion! He vowed that he adored her as an idolater would worship his divinity. Jealous? oh, yes! madly, insanely jealous! for she was fair above all women and sweet and pure and tempting to all men like some ripe and juicy fruit ready to fall into a yearning hand.

But his jealousy took on a note of melancholy and of humility. He worshiped her so and wished to feel her all his own. She listened entranced, forgetting her terrors, her disappointments, the vague ennui which had assailed her of late. She yielded herself to the delights of his caresses, to the joy of this hour of solitude and rapture. The night was close and stormy; from afar, muffled peals of thunder echoed through the gigantic elms, whilst vivid flashes of lightning weirdly lit up at times the mysterious figure of this romantic lover, with his face forever in shadow, one eye forever hidden behind a black band, his voice forever muffled.

But it was a tempestuous wooing, a renewal of that happy evening in the spring—oh! so long ago it seemed now!—when first he had poured in her ear the wild torrents of his love. The girl—so young, so inexperienced, so romantic—was literally swept off her feet; she listened to his wild words, yielded her lips to his kiss, and whilst she half feared the impetuosity of his mood, she delighted in the very terrors it evoked.

A secret marriage? Why, of course! since he suffered so terribly through not feeling her all his own. Soon!—at once!—at Dover before the clergyman at All Souls, with whom he—her prince—had already spoken.

Yes! it would have to be at Dover, for the neighboring villages might prove too dangerous. Sir Marmaduke might hear of it, mayhap. It would rest with her to free herself for one day.

Then came that delicious period of scheming, of stage-managing everything for the all-important day. He would arrange about a chaise, and she should walk up to the Canterbury Road to meet it. He would await her in the church at Dover, for 'twas best that they should not be seen together until after the happy knot was tied, when he declared that he would be ready to defy the universe.

It had been a long interview, despite the tempest that raged above and around them. The great branches of the elms groaned and cracked under fury of the wind, the thunder pealed overhead and then died away with slow majesty out towards the sea. From afar could be heard the angry billows dashing themselves against the cliffs.

They had to seek shelter under the colonnaded porch of the summerhouse, and Sue had much ado to keep the heavy drops of rain from reaching her shoes and the bottom of her kirtle.

But she was attune with the storm, she loved to hear the weird sh-sh-sh of the leaves, the monotonous drip of the rain on the roof of the summer house, and in the intervals of intense blackness to catch sight of her lover's face, pale of hue, with one large eye glancing cyclops-like into hers, as a vivid flash of lightning momentarily tore the darkness asunder and revealed him still crouching at her feet.

Intense lassitude followed the wild mental turmoil of that night. She had arranged to meet him again two days hence in order to repeat to him what she had heard the while of Sir Marmaduke's movements, and when she was like to be free to go to Dover. During those intervening two days she tried hard to probe her own thoughts; her mind, her feelings: but what she found buried in the innermost recesses of her heart frightened her so, that she gave up thinking.

She lay awake most of the night, telling herself how much she loved her prince; she spent half a day in the perusal of a strange book called The Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet by one William Shakespeare who had lived not so long ago: and found herself pondering as to whether her own sentiments with regard to her prince were akin to those so exquisitely expressed by those two young people who had died because they loved one another so dearly.

Then she heard that towards the end of the week Sir Marmaduke and Mistress de Chavasse would be journeying together to Canterbury in order to confer with Master Skyffington the lawyer, anent her own fortune, which was to be handed to her in its entirety in less than three months, when she would be of age.



CHAPTER XXII

BREAKING THE NEWS

Sir Marmaduke talked openly of this plan of going to Canterbury with Editha de Chavasse, mentioning the following Friday as the most likely date for his voyage.

Full of joy she brought the welcome news to her lover that same evening; nor had she cause to regret then her ready acquiescence to his wishes. He was full of tenderness then, of gentle discretion in his caresses, showing the utmost respect to his future princess. He talked less of his passion and more of his plans, in which now she would have her full share. He confided some of his schemes to her: they were somewhat vague and not easy to understand, but the manner in which he put them before her, made them seem wonderfully noble and selfless.

In a measure this evening—so calm and peaceful in contrast to the turbulence of the other night—marked one of the great crises in the history of her love. Even when she heard that Fate itself was conspiring to help on the clandestine marriage by causing Sir Marmaduke and Mistress de Chavasse to absent themselves at a most opportune moment, she had resolved to break the news to her lover of her own immense wealth.

Of this he was still in total ignorance. One or two innocent remarks which he had let fall at different times convinced her of that. Nor was this ignorance of his to be wondered at: he saw no one in or about the village except the old Quakeress and Adam Lambert with whom he lodged. The woman was deaf and uncommunicative, whilst there seemed to be some sort of tacit enmity against the foreigner, latent in the mind of the blacksmith. It was, therefore, quite natural that he should suppose her no whit less poor than Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse or the other neighboring Kentish squires whose impecuniousness was too blatant a fact to be unknown even to a stranger in the land.

Sue, therefore, was eagerly looking forward to the happy moment when she would explain to her prince that her share in the wonderful enterprise which he always vaguely spoke of as his "great work" would not merely be one of impassiveness. Where he could give the benefit of his personality, his eloquence, his knowledge of men and things, she could add the weight of her wealth.

Of course she was very, very young, but already from him she had realized that it is impossible even to regenerate mankind and give it political and religious freedom without the help of money.

Prince Amede d'Orleans himself was passing rich: the fact that he chose to hide in a lonely English village and to live as a poor man would live, was only a part of his schemes. For the moment, too, owing to that ever-present vengefulness of the King of France, his estates and revenues were under sequestration. All this Sue understood full well, and it added quite considerably to her joy to think that soon she could relieve the patriot and hero from penury, and that the news that she could do so would be a glad surprise for him.

Nor must Lady Sue Aldmarshe on this account be condemned for an ignorant or a vain fool. Though she was close on twenty-one years of age, she had had absolutely no experience of the world or of mankind: all she knew of either had been conceived in the imaginings of her own romantic brain.

Her entire childhood, her youth and maidenhood had gone by in silent and fanciful dreamings, whilst one of the greatest conflicts the world had ever known was raging between men of the same kith and the same blood. The education of women—even of those of rank and wealth—was avowedly upon a very simple plan. Most of the noble ladies of that time knew not how to spell—most of them were content to let the world go by them, without giving it thought or care, others had accomplished prodigies of valor, of heroism, aye! and of determination to help their brothers, husbands, fathers during the worst periods of the civil war.

But Sue had been too young when these same prodigies were being accomplished, and her father died before she had reached the age when she could take an active part in the great questions of the day. A mother she had never known, she had no brothers and sisters. A brief time under the care of an old aunt and a duenna in a remote Surrey village, and her stay at Pegwell Court under Sir Marmaduke's guardianship, was all that she had ever seen of life.

Prince Amede d'Orleans was the embodiment of all her dreams—or nearly so! The real hero of her dreams had been handsomer, and also more gentle and more trusting, but on the whole, he had not been one whit more romantic in his personality and his doings.

The manner in which he received the news that unbeknown to him, he had been wooing one of the richest brides in the land, was characteristic of him. He seemed boundlessly disappointed.

It was a beautiful clear night and she could see his face quite distinctly, and could note how its former happy expression was marred suddenly by a look of sorrow. He owned to being disappointed. He had loved the idea, so he explained, of taking her to him, just as she was, beautiful beyond compare, but penniless—having only her exquisite self to give.

Oh! the joy after that of coaxing him back to smiles! the pride of proving herself his Egeria for the nonce, teaching him how to look upon wealth merely as a means for attaining his great ends, for continuing his great work.

It had been perhaps the happiest evening in her short life of love.

For that day at Dover now only seemed a dream. The hurried tramp to the main road in a torrent of pouring rain: the long drive in the stuffy chaise, the arrival just in time for the brief—very brief—ceremony in the dark church, with the clergyman in a plain black gown muttering unintelligible words, and the local verger and the church cleaner acting as the witnesses to her marriage.

Her marriage!

How differently had she conceived that great, that wonderful day, the turning point of a maiden's life. Music, flowers, beautiful gowns and sweet scents filling the air! the sunlight peeping gold, red, purple or blue through the glass windows of some exquisite cathedral! The bridegroom arrayed in white, full of joy and pride, she the bride with a veil of filmy lace falling over her face to hide the happy blushes!

It was a beautiful dream, and the reality was so very, very different.

A dark little country church, with the plaster peeling off the walls! the drone of a bewhiskered, bald-headed parson being the sole music which greeted her ears. The rain beating against the broken window-panes, through which icy cold draughts of damp air reached her shoulders and caused her to shiver beneath her kerchief. She wore her pretty dove-colored gown, but it was not new nor had she a veil over her face, only a straw hat such as countrywomen wore, for though she was an heiress and passing rich, her guardian did but ill provide her with smart clothing.

And the bridegroom?

He had been waiting for her inside the church, and seemed impatient when she arrived. No one had helped her to alight from the rickety chaise, and she had to run in the pouring rain, through the miserable and deserted churchyard.

His face seemed to scowl as she finally stood up beside him, in front of that black-gowned man, who was to tie between them the sacred and irrevocable knot of matrimony. His hand had perceptibly trembled when he slipped the ring on her finger, whilst she felt that her own was irresponsive and icy cold.

She tried to speak the fateful "I will!" buoyantly and firmly, but somehow—owing to the cold, mayhap—the two little words almost died down in her throat.

Aye! it had all been very gloomy, and inexpressibly sad. The ceremony—the dear, sweet, sacred ceremony which was to give her wholly to him, him unreservedly to her—was mumbled and hurried through in less than ten minutes.

Her bridegroom said not a word. Together they went into the tiny vestry and she was told to sign her name in a big book, which the bald-headed parson held open before her.

The prince also signed his name, and then kissed her on the forehead.

The clergyman also shook hands and it was all over.

She understood that she had been married by a special license, and that she was now legally and irretrievably the wife of Amede Henri, Prince d'Orleans, de Bourgogne and several other places and dependencies abroad.

She also understood from what the bald-headed clergyman had spoken when he stood before them in the church and read the marriage service that she as the wife owed obedience to her husband in all things, for she had solemnly sworn so to do. She herself, body and soul and mind, her goods and chattels, her wealth and all belongings were from henceforth the property of her husband.

Yes, she had sworn to all that, willingly, and there was no going back on that, now or ever!

But, oh! how she wished it had been different!

Afterwards, when in the privacy of her own little room at Acol Court, she thought over the whole of that long and dismal day, she oft found herself wondering what it was through it all that had seemed so terrifying to her, so strange, so unreal.

Something had struck her as weird: something which she could not then define; but she was quite sure that it was not merely the unusual chilliness of that rainy summer's day, which had caused her to tremble so, when—in the vestry—her husband had taken her hand and kissed her.

She had then looked into his face, which—though the vestry was but ill lighted by a tiny very dusty window—she had never seen quite so clearly before, and then it was that that amazing sense of something awful and unreal had descended upon her like a clammy shroud.

He had very swiftly averted his own gaze from her, but she had seen something in his face which she did not understand, over which she had pondered ever since without coming to any solution of this terrible riddle.

She had pondered over it during that interminable journey back from Dover to Acol. Her husband had not even suggested accompanying her on her homeward way, nor did she ask him to do so. She did not even think it strange that he gave her no explanation of the reason why he should not return to his lodgings at Acol. She felt like a somnambulist, and wondered how soon she would wake and find herself in her small and uncomfortable bed at the Court.

The next day that feeling of unreality was still there; that sensation of mystery, of something supernatural which persistently haunted her.

One thing was quite sure; that all joy had gone out of her life. It was possible that love was still there—she did not know—she was too young to understand the complex sensations which suddenly had made a woman of her ... but it was a joyless love now: and all that she knew of a certainty about her own feelings at the present was that she hoped she would never have to gaze into her lover's face again ... and ... Heaven help her! ... that he might never touch her again with his lips.

Obedient to his behests—hurriedly spoken as she stepped into the chaise at Dover after the marriage ceremony—she had wandered out every evening beyond the ha-ha into the park, on the chance of meeting him.

The evenings now were soft and balmy after the rain: the air carried a pungent smell of dahlias and of oak-leaved geraniums to her nostrils, which helped her to throw off that miserable feeling of mental lassitude which had weighed her down ever since that fateful day at Dover. She walked slowly along, treading the young tendrils of the moss, watching with wistful eyes the fleecy clouds, as they appeared through the branches of the elms, scurrying swiftly out towards the sea ... out towards freedom.

But evening after evening passed away, and she saw no sign of him. She felt the futility, the humiliating uselessness of these nightly peregrinations in search of a man who seemed to have a hundred more desirable occupations than that of meeting his wife. But she had not the power to drift out towards freedom now. She obeyed mechanically because she must. She had sworn to obey and he had bidden her come and wait for him.

August yielded to September, the oak-leaved geraniums withered whilst from tangled bosquets the melancholy eyes of the Michaelmas daisies peeped out questioningly upon the coming autumn.

Then one evening his voice suddenly sounded close to her ear, causing her to utter a quickly-smothered cry. It had been the one dull day throughout this past glorious month, the night was dark and a warm drizzle had soaked through to her shoulders and wetted the bottom of her kirtle so that it hung heavy and dank round her ankles. He had come to her as usual from out the gloom, just as she was about to cross the little bridge which spanned the sunk fence.

She realized then, with one of those sudden quivers of her sensibilities, to which, alas! she had become so accustomed of late, that he had always met her thus in the gloom—always chosen nights when she could scarce see him distinctly, and this recollection still further enhanced that eerie feeling of terror which had assailed her since that fateful moment in the vestry.

But she tried to be natural and even gay with him, though at the first words of tender reproach with which she gently chided him for his prolonged absence, he broke into one of those passionate accesses of fury which had always frightened her, but now left her strangely cold and unresponsive.

Was the subtle change in him as well as in her? She could not say. Certain it is that, though his hands had sought hers in the darkness, and pressed them vehemently, when first they met he had not attempted to kiss her.

For this she was immeasurably grateful.

He was obviously constrained, and so was she, and when she opposed a cold silence to his outburst of passion, he immediately, and seemingly without any effort, changed his tone and talked more reasonably, even glibly of his work, which he said was awaiting him now in France.

Everything was ready there, he explained, for the great political propaganda which he had planned and which could be commenced immediately.

All that was needed now was the money. In what manner it would be needed and for what definite purpose he did not condescend to explain, nor did she care to ask. But she told him that she would be sole mistress of her fortune on the 2d of November, the date of her twenty-first birthday.

After that he spoke no more of money, but promised to meet her at regular intervals during the six weeks which would intervene until the great day when she would be free to proclaim her marriage and place herself unreservedly in the hands of her husband.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE ABSENT FRIEND

The prince kept his word, and she was fairly free to see him at least once a week, somewhere within the leafy thicknesses of the park or in the woods, usually at the hour when dusk finally yields to the overwhelming embrace of night.

Sir Marmaduke was away. In London or Canterbury, she could not say, but she had scarcely seen him since that terrible time, when he came back from town having left Richard Lambert languishing in disgrace and in prison.

Oh! how she missed the silent and thoughtful friend who in those days of pride and of joy had angered her so, because he seemed to stand for conscience and for prudence, when she only thought of happiness and of love.

There was an almost humiliating isolation about her now. Nobody seemed to care whither she went, nor when she came home. Mistress de Chavasse talked from time to time about Sue's infatuation for the mysterious foreign adventurer, but always as if this were a thing of the past, and from which Sue herself had long since recovered.

Thus there was no one to say her nay, when she went out into the garden after evening repast, and stayed there until the shades of night had long since wrapped the old trees in gloom.

And strangely enough this sense of freedom struck her with a chill sense of loneliness. She would have loved to suddenly catch sight of Lambert's watchful figure, and to hear his somewhat harsh voice, warning her against the foreigner.

This had been wont to irritate her twelve weeks ago. How mysteriously everything had altered round her!

And yearning for her friend, she wondered what had become of him. The last she had heard was toward the middle of October when Sir Marmaduke, home from one of his frequent journeyings, one day said that Lambert had been released after ten weeks spent in prison, but that he could not say whither he had gone since then.

All Sue's questionings anent the young man only brought forth violent vituperations from Sir Marmaduke, and cold words of condemnation from Mistress de Chavasse; therefore, she soon desisted, storing up in her heart pathetic memories of the one true friend she had in the world.

She saw without much excitement, and certainly without tremor, the rapid advance of that date early in November when she would perforce have to leave Acol Court in order to follow her husband whithersoever he chose to command her.

The last time that they had met there had been a good deal of talk between them, about her fortune and its future disposal. He declared himself ready to administer it all himself, as he professed a distrust of those who had watched over it so far—Master Skyffington, the lawyer, and Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse, both under the control of the Court of Chancery.

She explained to him that the bulk of her wealth consisted of obligations and shares in the Levant and Russian Companies, her mother having been the only daughter and heiress of Peter Ford the great Levantine and Oriental merchant; her marriage with the proud Earl of Dover having caused no small measure of comment in Court circles in those days.

There were also deeds of property owned in Holland, grants of monopolies for trading given by Ivan the Terrible to her grandfather, and receipts for moneys deposited in the great banks of Amsterdam and Vienna. Master Skyffington had charge of all those papers now: they represented nearly five hundred thousand pounds of money and she told her husband that they would all be placed in her own keeping, the day she was of age.

He appeared to lend an inattentive ear to all these explanations, which she gave in those timid tones, which had lately become habitual to her, but once—when she made a slip, and talked about a share which she possessed in the Russian Company being worth L50,000, he corrected her and said it was a good deal more, and gave her some explanations as to the real distribution of her capital, which astonished her by their lucidity and left her vaguely wondering how it happened that he knew. She had finally to promise to come to him at the cottage in Acol on the 2d of November—her twenty-first birthday—directly after her interview with the lawyer and with her guardian, and having obtained possession of all the share papers, the obligations, the grants of monopolies and the receipts from the Amsterdam and Vienna banks, to forthwith bring them over to the cottage and place them unreservedly in her husband's hands.

And she would in her simplicity and ignorance gladly have given every scrap of paper—now in Master Skyffington's charge—in exchange for a return of those happy illusions which had surrounded the early history of her love with a halo of romance. She would have given this mysterious prince, now her husband, all the money that he wanted for this wonderful "great work" of his, if he would but give her back some of that enthusiastic belief in him which had so mysteriously been killed within her, that fateful moment in the vestry at Dover.



CHAPTER XXIV

NOVEMBER THE 2D

A dreary day, with a leaden sky overhead and the monotonous patter of incessant rain against the window panes.

Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse had just come downstairs, and opening the door which lead from the hall to the small withdrawing-room on the right, he saw Mistress de Chavasse, half-sitting, half-crouching in one of the stiff-backed chairs, which she had drawn close to the fire.

There was a cheerful blaze on the hearth, and the room itself—being small—always looked cozier than any other at Acol Court.

Nevertheless, Editha's face was pallid and drawn, and she stared into the fire with eyes which seemed aglow with anxiety and even with fear. Her cloak was tied loosely about her shoulders, and at sight of Sir Marmaduke she started, then rising hurriedly, she put her hood over her head, and went towards the door.

"Ah! my dear Editha!" quoth her brother-in-law, lightly greeting her, "up betimes like the lark I see.... Are you going without?" he added as she made a rapid movement to brush past him and once more made for the door.

"Yes!" she replied dully, "I must fain move about ... tire myself out if I can ... I am consumed with anxiety."

"Indeed?" he retorted blandly, "why should you be anxious? Everything is going splendidly ... and to-night at the latest a fortune of nigh on L500,000 will be placed in my hands by a fond and adoring woman."

He caught the glitter in her eyes, that suggestion of power and of unspoken threats which she had adopted since the episode in the Bath Street house. For an instant an ugly frown further disfigured his sour face: but this frown was only momentary, it soon gave way to a suave smile. He took her hand and lightly touched it with his lips.

"After which, my dear Editha," he said, "I shall be able to fulfill those obligations, which my heart originally dictated."

She seemed satisfied at this assurance, for she now spoke in less aggressive tones:

"Are you so sure of the girl, Marmaduke?" she asked.

"Absolutely," he replied, his thoughts reverting to a day spent at Dover nearly three months ago, when a knot was tied of which fair Editha was not aware, but which rendered Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse very sure of a fortune.

"Yet you have oft told me that Sue's love for her mysterious prince had vastly cooled of late!" urged Editha still anxiously.

"Why yes! forsooth!" he retorted grimly, "Sue's sentimental fancy for the romantic exile hath gone the way of all such unreasoning attachments; but she has ventured too far to draw back.... And she will not draw back," he concluded significantly.

"Have a care, Marmaduke! ... the girl is more willful than ye wot of.... You may strain at a cord until it snap."

"Pshaw!" he said, with a shrug of his wide shoulders, "you are suffering from vapors, my dear Editha ... or you would grant me more knowledge of how to conduct mine own affairs.... Do you remember, perchance, that the bulk of Sue's fortune will be handed over to her this day?"

"Aye! I remember!"

"Begad, then to-night I'll have that bulk out of her hands. You may take an oath on that!" he declared savagely.

"And afterwards?" she asked simply.

"Afterwards?"

"Yes ... afterwards? ... when Sue has discovered how she has been tricked? ... Are you not afraid of what she might do? ... Even though her money may pass into your hands ... even though you may inveigle her into a clandestine marriage ... she is still the daughter of the late Earl of Dover ... she has landed estates, wealth, rich and powerful relations.... There must be an 'afterwards,' remember! ..."

His ironical laugh grated on her nerves, as he replied lightly:

"Pshaw! my dear Editha! of a truth you are not your own calm self to-day, else you had understood that forsooth! in the love affairs of Prince Amede d'Orleans and Lady Susannah Aldmarshe there must and can be no 'afterwards.'"

"I don't understand you."

"Yet, 'tis simple enough. Sue is my wife."

"Your wife! ..." she exclaimed.

"Hush! An you want to scream, I pray you question me not, for what I say is bound to startle you. Sue is my wife. I married her, having obtained a special license to do so in the name of Prince Amede Henri d'Orleans, and all the rest of the romantic paraphernalia. She is my wife, and therefore, her money and fortune are mine, every penny of it, without question or demur."

"She will appeal to the Court to have the marriage annulled ... she'll rouse public indignation against you to such a pitch that you'll not be able to look one of your kith and kin in the face.... The whole shameful story of the mysterious French prince ... your tricks to win the hand of your ward by lying, cheating and willful deceit will resound from one end of the country to the other.... What is the use of a mint of money if you have to herd with outcasts, and not an honest man will shake you by the hand?"

"None, my dear Editha, none," he replied quietly, "and 'tis of still less use for you to rack your nerves in order to place before me a gruesome picture of the miserable social pariah which I should become, if the story of my impersonation of a romantic exile for the purpose of capturing the hand of my ward came to the ears of those in authority."

"Whither it doubtless would come!" she affirmed hotly.

"Whither it doubtless would come," he assented, "and therefore, my dear Editha, once the money is safely in my hands I will leave her Royal Highness the Princesse d'Orleans in full possession, not only of her landed estates but of the freedom conferred on her by widowhood, for Prince Amede, her husband, will vanish like the beautiful dream which he always was."

"But how? ... how?" she reiterated, puzzled, anxious, scenting some nefarious scheme more unavowable even than the last.

"Ah! time will show! ... But he will vanish, my dear Editha, take my word on it. Shall we say that he will fly up into the clouds and her Highness the Princess will know him no more?"

"Then why have married her?" she exclaimed: some womanly instinct within her crying out against this outrage. "'Twas cruel and unnecessary."

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Cruel perhaps! ... But surely no more than necessary. I doubt if she would have entrusted her fortune to anyone but her husband."

"Had she ceased to trust her romantic prince then?"

"Perhaps. At any rate, I chose to make sure of the prize.... I have worked hard to get it and would not fail for lack of a simple ceremony ... moreover ..."

"Moreover?"

"Moreover, my dear Editha, there is always the possibility ... remote, no doubt ... but nevertheless tangible ... that at some time or other ... soon or late—who knows?—the little deception practiced on Lady Sue may come to the light of day.... In that case, even if the marriage be annulled on the ground of fraud ... which methinks is more than doubtful ... no one could deny my right as the heiress's ... hem ... shall we say?—temporary husband—to dispose of her wealth as I thought fit. If I am to become a pariah and an outcast, as you so eloquently suggested just now ... I much prefer being a rich one.... With half a million in the pocket of my doublet the whole world is open to me."

There was so much cool calculation, such callous contempt for the feelings and thoughts of the unfortunate girl whom he had so terribly wronged, in this expose of the situation, that Mistress de Chavasse herself was conscious of a sense of repulsion from the man whom she had aided hitherto.

She believed that she held him sufficiently in her power, through her knowledge of his schemes and through the help which she was rendering him, to extract a promise from him that he would share his ill-gotten spoils in equal portions with her. At one time after the fracas in Bath Street, he had even given her a vague promise of marriage; therefore, he had kept secret from her the relation of that day spent at Dover. Now she felt that even if he were free, she would never consent to link her future irretrievably with his.

But her share of the money she meant to have. She was tired of poverty, tired of planning and scheming, of debt and humiliation. She was tired of her life of dependence at Acol Court, and felt a sufficiency of youth and buoyancy in herself yet, to enjoy a final decade of luxury and amusement in London.

Therefore, she closed her ears to every call of conscience, she shut her heart against the lonely young girl who so sadly needed the counsels and protection of a good woman, and she was quite ready to lend a helping hand to Sir Marmaduke, at least until a goodly share of Lady Sue's fortune was safely within her grasp.

One point occurred to her now, which caused her to ask anxiously:

"Have you not made your reckonings without Richard Lambert, Marmaduke? He is back in these parts, you know?"

"Ah!" he ejaculated, with a quick scowl of impatience. "He has returned?"

"Yes! Charity was my informant. He looks very ill, so the wench says: he has been down with fever, it appears, all the while that he was in prison, and was only discharged because they feared that he would die. He contrived to work or beg his way back here, and now he is staying in the village.... I thought you would have heard."

"No! I never speak to the old woman ... and Adam Lambert avoids me as he would the plague.... I see as little of them as I can.... I had to be prudent these last, final days."

"Heaven grant he may do nothing fatal to-day!" she murmured.

"Nay! my dear Editha," he retorted with a harsh laugh, "'tis scarcely Heaven's business to look after our schemes. But Lambert can do us very little harm now! For his own sake, he will keep out of Sue's way."

"At what hour does Master Skyffington arrive?"

"In half an hour."

Then as he saw that she was putting into effect her former resolve of going out, despite the rain, and was once more readjusting her hood for that purpose, he opened the door for her, and whispered as he followed her out:

"An you will allow me, my dear Editha, I'll accompany you on your walk ... we might push on down the Canterbury Road, and perchance meet Master Skyffington.... I understand that Sue has been asking for me, and I would prefer to meet her as seldom as possible just now.... This is my last day," he concluded with a laugh, "and I must be doubly careful."



CHAPTER XXV

AN INTERLUDE

Master Hymn-of-Praise Busy was vastly perturbed. Try how he might, he had been unable to make any discovery with regard to the mysterious events, which he felt sure were occurring all round him, a discovery which—had he but made it—would have enabled him to apply with more chance of success, for one of the posts in my Lord Protector's secret service, and moreover, would have covered his name with glory.

This last contingency was always uppermost in his mind. Not from any feeling of personal pride, for of a truth vanity is a mortal sin, but because Mistress Charity had of late cast uncommonly kind eyes on that cringing worm, Master Courage Toogood, and the latter, emboldened by the minx's favors, had been more than usually insolent to his betters.

To have the right to administer serious physical punishment to the youth, and moral reproof to the wench, was part of Master Busy's comprehensive scheme for his own advancement and the confusion of all the miscreants who dwelt in Acol Court. For this he had glued both eye and ear to draughty keyholes, had lain for hours under cover of prickly thistles in the sunk fence which surrounded the flower garden. For this he now emerged, on that morning of November 2, accompanied by a terrific clatter and a volley of soot from out the depth of the monumental chimney in the hall of Acol Court.

As soon as he had recovered sufficient breath, and shaken off some of the soot from his hair and face, he looked solemnly about him, and was confronted by two pairs of eyes round with astonishment and two mouths agape with surprise and with fear.

Mistress Charity and Master Courage Toogood—interrupted in the midst of their animated conversation—were now speechless with terror, at sight of this black apparition, which, literally, had descended on them from the skies.

"Lud love ye, Master Busy!" ejaculated Mistress Charity, who was the first to recognize in the sooty wraith the manly form of her betrothed, "where have ye come from, pray?"

"Have you been scouring the chimney, good master?" queried Master Courage, with some diffidence, for the saintly man looked somewhat out of humor.

"No!" replied Hymn-of-Praise solemnly, "I have not. But I tell ye both that my hour hath come. I knew that something was happening in this house, and I climbed up that chimney in order to find out what it was."

Pardonable curiosity caused Mistress Charity to venture a little nearer to the soot-covered figure of her adorer.

"And did you hear anything, Master Busy?" she asked eagerly. "I did see Sir Marmaduke and the mistress in close conversation here this morning."

"So they thought," said Master Hymn-of-Praise with weird significance.

"Well? ... And what happened, good master?"

"Thou beest in too mighty an hurry, mistress," he retorted with quiet dignity. "I am under no obligation to report matters to thee."

"Oh! but Master Busy," she rejoined coyly, "methought I was to be your ... hem ... thy partner in life ... and so ..."

"My partner? My partner, didst thou say, sweet Charity? ... Nay, then, an thou'lt permit me to salute thee with a kiss, I'll tell thee all I know."

And in asking for that chaste salute we may assume that Master Hymn-of-Praise was actuated with at least an equal desire to please Mistress Charity, to gratify his own wishes, and to effectually annoy Master Courage.

But Mistress Charity was actuated by curiosity alone, and without thought of her betrothed's grimy appearance, she presented her cheek to him for the kiss.

The result caused Master Courage an uncontrollable fit of hilarity.

"Oh, mistress," he said, pointing to the black imprint left on her face by her lover's kiss, "you should gaze into a mirror now."

But already Mistress Charity had guessed what had occurred, her good humor vanished, and she began scouring her cheek with her pinner.

"I'll never forgive you, master," she said crossly. "You had no right to ... hem ... with your face in that condition.... And you have not yet told us what happened."

"What happened?"

"Aye! you promised to tell me if I allowed you to kiss me. 'Tis done...."

"I well nigh broke my back," said Master Busy sententiously. "I hurt my knee ... that is what happened.... I am well-nigh choked with soot.... Ugh! ... that is what happened."

"Lud love you, Master Busy," she retorted with a saucy toss of her head, "I trust your life's partner will not need to hide herself in chimneys."

"Listen, wench, and I'll tell thee. No kind of servant of my Lord Protector's should ever be called upon to hide in chimneys. They are not comfortable and they are not clean."

"Bless the man!" she cried angrily, "are you ever going to tell us what did happen whilst you were there?"

"I was about to come to that point," he said imperturbably, "hadst thou not interrupted me. What with holding on so as not to fall, and the soot falling in my ears...."

"Aye! aye! ..."

"I heard nothing," he concluded solemnly. "Master Courage," he added with becoming severity, seeing that the youth was on the verge of making a ribald remark, which of necessity had to be checked betimes, "come into my room with me and help me to clean the traces of my difficult task from off my person. Come!"

And with ominous significance, he approached the young scoffer, his hand on an exact level with the latter's ear, his right foot raised to indicate a possible means of enforcing obedience to his commands.

On the whole, Master Courage thought it wise to repress both his hilarity and his pertinent remarks, and to follow the pompous, if begrimed, butler to the latter's room upstairs.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE OUTCAST

It took Mistress Charity some little time to recover her breath.

She had thrown herself into a chair, with her pinner over her face, in an uncontrollable fit of laughter.

When this outburst of hilarity had subsided, she sat up, and looked round her with eyes still streaming with merry tears.

But the laughter suddenly died on her lips and the merriment out of her eyes. A dull, tired voice had just said feebly:

"Is Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse within?"

Charity jumped up from the chair and stared stupidly at the speaker.

"The Lord love you, Master Richard Lambert," she murmured. "I thought you were your ghost!"

"Forgive me, mistress, if I have frightened you," he said. "It is mine own self, I give you assurance of that, and I, fain would have speech with Sir Marmaduke."

Mistress Charity was visibly embarrassed. She began mechanically to rub the black stain on her cheek.

"Sir Marmaduke is without just at present, Master Lambert," she stammered shyly, "... and ..."

"Yes? ... and? ..." he asked, "what is it, wench? ... speak out? ..."

"Sir Marmaduke gave orders, Master Lambert," she began with obvious reluctance, "that ..."

She paused, and he concluded the sentence for her:

"That I was not to be allowed inside his house.... Was that it?"

"Alas! yes, good master."

"Never mind, girl," he rejoined as he deliberately crossed the hall and sat down in the chair which she had just vacated. "You have done your duty: but you could not help admitting me, could you? since I walked in of mine own accord ... and now that I am here I will remain until I have seen Sir Marmaduke...."

"Well! of a truth, good master," she said with a smile, for 'twas but natural that her feminine sympathies should be on the side of a young and good-looking man, somewhat in her own sphere of life, as against the ill-humored, parsimonious master whom she served, "an you sit there so determinedly, I cannot prevent you, can I? ..."

Then as she perceived the look of misery on the young man's face, his pale cheeks, his otherwise vigorous frame obviously attenuated by fear, the motherly instinct present in every good woman's heart caused her to go up to him and to address him timidly, offering such humble solace as her simple heart could dictate:

"Lud preserve you, good master, I pray you do not take on so.... You know Master Courage and I, now, never believed all those stories about ye. Of a truth Master Busy, he had his own views, but then ... you see, good master, he and I do not always agree, even though I own that he is vastly clever with his discoveries and his clews; but Master Courage now ... Master Courage is a wonderful lad ... and he thinks that you are a persecuted hero! ... and I am bound to say that I, too, hold that view...."

"Thank you! ... thank you, kind mistress," said Lambert, smiling despite his dejection, at the girl's impulsive efforts at consolation.

His head had sunk down on his breast, and he sat there in the high-backed chair, one hand resting on each leather-covered arm, his pale face showing almost ghostlike against the dark background, and with the faint November light illumining the dark-circled eyes, the bloodless lips, and deeply frowning brow.

Mistress Charity gazed down on him with mute and kindly compassion.

Then suddenly a slight rustling noise as of a kirtle sweeping the polished oak of the stairs caused the girl to look up, then to pause a brief while, as if what she had now seen had brought forth a new train of thought; finally, she tiptoed silently out through the door of the dining-hall.

"Charity! Mistress Charity, I want you! ..." called Lady Sue from above.

We must presume, however, that the wench had closed the heavy door behind her, for certainly she did not come in answer to the call. On the other hand, Richard Lambert had heard it; he sprang to his feet and saw Sue descending the stairs.

She saw him, too, and it seemed as if at sight of him she had turned and meant to fly. But a word from him detained her.

"Sue!"

Only once had he thus called her by her name before, that long ago night in the woods, but now the cry came from out his heart, brought forth by his misery and his sorrow, his sense of terrible injustice and of an irretrievable wrong.

It never occurred to her to resent the familiarity. At sound of her name thus spoken by him she had looked down from the stairs and seen his pallid face turned up to her in such heartrending appeal for sympathy, that all her womanly instincts of tenderness and pity were aroused, all her old feeling of trustful friendship for him.

She, too, felt much of that loneliness which his yearning eyes expressed so pathetically; she, too, was conscious of grave injustice and of an irretrievable wrong, and her heart went out to him immediately in kindness and in love.

"Don't go, for pity's sake," he added entreatingly, for he thought that she meant to turn away from him; "surely you will not begrudge me a few words of kindness. I have gone through a great deal since I saw you...."

She descended a few steps, her delicate hand still resting on the banisters, her silken kirtle making a soft swishing noise against the polished oak of the stairs. It was a solace to him, even to watch her now. The sight of his adored mistress was balm to his aching eyes. Yet he was quick to note—with that sharp intuition peculiar to Love—that her dear face had lost much of its brightness, of its youth, of its joy of living. She was as exquisite to look on as ever, but she seemed older, more gentle, and, alas! a trifle sad.

"I heard you had been ill," she said softly, "I was very sorry, believe me, but ... Oh! do you not think," she added with sudden inexplicable pathos, whilst she felt hot tears rising to her eyes and causing her voice to quiver, "do you not think that an interview between us now can only be painful to us both?"

He mistook the intention of her words, as was only natural, and whilst she mistrusted her own feelings for him, fearing to betray that yearning for his friendship and his consolation, which had so suddenly overwhelmed her at sight of him, he thought that she feared the interview because of her condemnation of him.

"Then you believed me guilty?" he said sadly. "They told you this hideous tale of me, and you believed them, without giving the absent one, who alas! could not speak in his own defense, the benefit of the doubt."

For one of those subtle reasons of which women alone possess the secret, and which will forever remain inexplicable to the more logical sex, she steeled her heart against him, even when her entire sensibilities went out to him in passionate sympathy.

"I could not help but believe, good master," she said a little coldly. "Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse, who, with all his faults of temper, is a man of honor, confirmed that horrible story which appeared in the newspaper and of which everyone in Thanet hath been talking these weeks past."

"And am I not a man of honor?" he retorted hotly. "Because I am poor and must work in order to live, am I to be condemned unheard? Is a whole life's record of self-education and honest labor to be thus obliterated by the word of my most bitter enemy?"

"Your bitter enemy? ..." she asked. "Sir Marmaduke? ..."

"Aye! Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse. It seems passing strange, does it not?" he rejoined bitterly. "Yet somehow in my heart, I feel that Sir Marmaduke hates me, with a violent and passionate hatred. Nay! I know it, though I can explain neither its cause nor its ultimate aim...."

He drew nearer to the stairs whereon she still stood, her graceful figure slightly leaning towards him; he now stood close to her, his head just below the level of her own; his hand had he dared to raise it, could have rested on hers.

"Sue! my beautiful and worshiped lady," he cried impassionedly, "I entreat you to look into my eyes! ... Can you see in them the reflex of those shameful deeds which have been imputed to me? Do I look like a liar and a cheat? In the name of pity and of justice, for the sweet sake of our first days of friendship, I beg of you not to condemn me unheard."

He lowered his head, and rested his aching brow against her cool, white hand. She did not withdraw it, for a great joy had suddenly filled her heart, mingling with its sadness, a sense of security and of bitter, yet real, happiness pervaded her whole being: a happiness which she could not—wished not—to explain, but which prompted her to stoop yet further towards him, and to touch his hair with her lips.

Hot tears which he tried vainly to repress fell upon her fingers. He had felt the kiss descending on him almost like a benediction. The exquisite fragrance of her person filled his soul with a great delight which was almost pain. Never had he loved her so ardently, so passionately, as at this moment, when he felt that she too loved him, and yet was lost to him irrevocably.

"Nay! but I will hear you, good master," she murmured with infinite gentleness, "for the sake of that friendship, and because now that I have seen you again I no longer believe any evil of you."

"God bless my dear lady," he replied fervently. "Heaven is my witness that I am innocent of those abominable crimes imputed to me. Sir Marmaduke took me to that house of evil, and a cruel plot was there concocted to make me appear before all men as a liar and a cheat, and to disgrace me before the world and before you. That the object of this plot was to part me from you," added Richard Lambert more calmly and firmly, "I am absolutely confident; what its deeper motive was I dare not even think. It was known that I ... loved you, Sue ... that I would give my life to save you from trouble ... I was your slave, your watch-dog.... I was forcibly removed, torn from you, my name disgraced, my health broken down.... But my life was not for them ... it belongs to my lady alone.... Heaven would not allow it to be sacrificed to their villainous schemes. I fought against sickness and death with all the energy of despair.... It was a hand-to-hand fight, for discouragement, and anon despair, ranged themselves among my foes.... And now I have come back," he said with proud energy, "broken mayhap, yet still standing ... a snapped oak yet full of vigor, yet ... I have come back, and with God's help will be even with them yet."

He had straightened his young figure, and his strong, somewhat harsh voice echoed through the oak-paneled hall. He cared not if all the world heard him, if his enemies lurked about striving to spy upon him. His profession of love and of service to his lady was the sole remaining pride of his life, and now that he knew that she believed and trusted him, he longed for every man to hear what he had to say.

"Nay! what you say, kind Richard, fills me with dread," said Sue after a little pause. "I am glad ... glad that you have come back.... For some weeks, nay, months past, I have had the presentiment of some coming evil.... I have ... I have felt lonely and...."

"Not unhappy?" he asked with his usual earnestness. "I would not have my lady unhappy for all the treasures of this world."

"No!" she replied meditatively, striving to be conscious of her own feelings, "I do not think that I am unhappy ... only anxious ... and ... a little lonely: that is all.... Sir Marmaduke is oft away: when he is at home, I scarce ever see him, and he but rarely speaks to me ... and methinks there is but scant sympathy 'twixt Mistress de Chavasse and me, though she is kind at times in her way."

Then she turned her eyes, bright with unshed tears, down again to him.

"But all seems right again!" she said with a sweet, sad smile, "now that you have come back, my dear ... dear friend!"

"God bless you for these words!"

"I grieved terribly when I heard ... about you ... at first ..." she said almost gaily now, "yet somehow I could not believe it all ... and now...."

"Yes? ... and now?" he asked.

"Now I believe in you," she replied simply. "I believe that you care for me, and that you are my friend."

"Your friend, indeed, for I would give my life for you."

Once more he stooped, but now he kissed her hand. He was her friend, and had the right to do this. He had gradually mastered his emotion, his sense of wrong, and with that exquisite selflessness which real love alone can kindle in a human heart, he had succeeded in putting aside all thought of his own great misery, his helplessness and the hopelessness of his position, and remembered only that she looked fragile, a little older, sadder, and had need of his help.

"And now, sweet lady," he said, forcing himself to speak calmly of that which always set his heart and senses into a turmoil of passionate jealousy, "will you tell me something about him."

"Him?"

"The prince...." he suggested.

But she shook her head resolutely.

"No, kind Richard," she said gently, "I will not speak to you of the prince. I know that you do not think well of him.... I wish to look upon you as my friend, and I could not do that if you spoke ill of him, because ..."

She paused, for what she now had to tell him was very hard to say, and she knew what a terrible blow she would be dealing to his heart, from the wild beating of her own.

"Yes?" he asked. "Because? ..."

"Because he is my husband," she whispered.

Her head fell forward on her breast. She would not trust herself to look at him now, for she knew that the sight of his grief was more than she could bear. She was conscious that at her words he had drawn his hand away from hers, but he spoke no word, nor did the faintest exclamation escape his lips.

Thus they remained for a few moments longer side by side: she slightly above him, with head bent, with hot tears falling slowly from her downcast eyes, her heart well-nigh breaking with the consciousness of the irreparable; he somewhat below, silent too, and rigid, all passion, all emotion, love even, numbed momentarily by the violence, the suddenness of this terrible blow.

Then without a word, without a sigh or look, he turned, and she heard his footsteps echoing across the hall, then dying away on the threshold of the door beyond. Anon the door itself closed to with a dull bang which seemed to find an echo in her heart like the tolling of a passing bell.

Then only did she raise her head, and look about her. The hall was deserted and seemed infinitely lonely, silent, and grim. The young girl-wife, who had just found a friend only to lose him again, called out in mute appeal to this old house, the oak-covered walls, the very stones themselves, for sympathy.

She was so infinitely, so immeasurably lonely, with that awful, irretrievable day at Dover behind her, with all its dreariness, its silent solemnity, its weird finish in the vestry, the ring upon her finger, her troth plighted to a man whom she feared and no longer loved.

Oh! the pity of it all! the broken young life! the vanished dreams!

Sue bent her head down upon her hands, her lips touched her own fingers there where her friend's had rested in gratitude and love, and she cried, cried like a broken-hearted woman, cried for her lost illusions, and the end of her brief romance!



CHAPTER XXVII

LADY SUE'S FORTUNE

Less than an hour later four people were assembled in the small withdrawing-room of Acol Court.

Master Skyffington sat behind a central table, a little pompous of manner, clad in sober black with well-starched linen cuffs and collar, his scanty hair closely cropped, his thin hands fingering with assurance and perfect calm the various documents laid out before him. Near him Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse, sitting with his back to the dim November light, which vainly strove to penetrate the tiny glass panes of the casement windows.

In a more remote corner of the room sat Editha de Chavasse, vainly trying to conceal the agitation which her trembling hands, her quivering face and restless eyes persistently betrayed. And beside the central table, near Master Skyffington and facing Sir Marmaduke, was Lady Susannah Aldmarshe, only daughter and heiress of the late Earl of Dover, this day aged twenty-one years, and about to receive from the hands of her legal guardians the vast fortune which her father had bequeathed to her, and which was to become absolutely hers this day to dispose of as she list.

"And now, my dear child," said Master Skyffington with due solemnity, when he had disposed a number of documents and papers in methodical order upon the table, "let me briefly explain to you the object ... hem ... of this momentous meeting here to-day."

"I am all attention, master," said Sue vaguely, and her eyes wide-open, obviously absent, she gazed fixedly on the silhouette of Sir Marmaduke, grimly outlined against the grayish window-panes.

"I must tell you, my dear child," resumed Master Skyffington after a slight pause, during which he had studied with vague puzzledom the inscrutable face of the young girl, "I must tell you that your late father, the noble Earl of Dover, had married the heiress of Peter Ford, the wealthiest merchant this country hath ever known. She was your own lamented mother, and the whole of her fortune, passing through her husband's hands, hath now devolved upon you. My much-esteemed patron—I may venture to say friend—Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse, having been appointed your legal guardian by the Court of Chancery, and I myself being thereupon named the repository of your securities, these have been administered by me up to now.... You are listening to me, are you not, my dear young lady?"

The question was indeed necessary, for even to Master Skyffington's unobservant mind it was apparent that Sue's eyes had a look of aloofness in them, of detachment from her surroundings, which was altogether inexplicable to the worthy attorney's practical sense of the due fitness of things.

At his query she made a sudden effort to bring her thoughts back from the past to the present, to drag her heart and her aching brain away from that half-hour spent in the hall, from that conversation with her friend, from the recollection of that terribly cruel blow which she had been forced to deal to the man who loved her best in all the world.

"Yes, yes, kind master," she said, "I am listening."

And she fixed her eyes resolutely on the attorney's solemn face, forcing her mind to grasp what he was about to say.

"By the terms of your noble father's will," continued Master Skyffington, as soon as he had satisfied himself that he at last held the heiress's attention, "the securities, receipts and all other moneys are to be given over absolutely and unconditionally into your own hands on your twenty-first birthday."

"Which is to-day," said Sue simply.

"Which is to-day," assented the lawyer. "The securities, receipts and other bonds, grants of monopolies and so forth lie before you on this table.... They represent in value over half a million of English money.... A very large sum indeed for so young a girl to have full control of.... Nevertheless, it is yours absolutely and unconditionally, according to the wishes of your late noble father ... and Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse, your late guardian, and I myself, have met you here this day for the express purpose of handing these securities, grants and receipts over to you, and to obtain in exchange your own properly attested signature in full discharge of any further obligation on our part."

Master Skyffington was earnestly gazing into the young girl's face, whilst he thus literally dangled before her the golden treasures of wealth, which were about to become absolutely her own. He thought, not unnaturally, that a girl of her tender years, brought up in the loneliness and seclusion of a not too luxurious home, would feel in a measure dazzled and certainly overjoyed at the brilliant prospect which such independent and enormous wealth opened out before her.

But the amiable attorney was vastly disappointed to see neither pleasure, nor even interest, expressed in Lady Sue's face, which on this joyous and momentous occasion looked unnaturally calm and pallid. Even now when he paused expectant and eager, waiting for some comment or exclamation of approval or joy from her, she was silent for a while, and then said in a stolidly inquiring tone:

"Then after to-day ... I shall have full control of my money?"

"Absolute control, my dear young lady," he rejoined, feeling strangely perturbed at this absence of emotion.

"And no one ... after to-day ... will have the right to inquire as to the use I make of these securities, grants or whatever you, Master Skyffington, have called them?" she continued with the same placidity.

"No one, of a surety, my dear Sue," here interposed Sir Marmaduke, speaking in his usual harsh and dictatorial way, "but this is a strange and somewhat peremptory question for a young maid to put at this juncture. Master Skyffington and I myself had hoped that you would listen to counsels of prudence, and would allow him, who hath already administered your fortune in a vastly able manner, to continue so to do, for a while at any rate."

"That question we can discuss later on, Sir Marmaduke," said Sue now, with sudden hauteur. "Shall we proceed with our business, master?" she added, turning deliberately to the lawyer, ignoring with calm disdain the very presence of her late guardian.

The studied contempt of his ward's manner, however, seemed not to disturb the serenity of Sir Marmaduke to any appreciable extent. Casting a quick, inquisitorial glance at Sue, he shrugged his shoulders in token of indifference and said no more.

"Certainly, certainly," responded Master Skyffington, somewhat embarrassed, "my dear young lady ... hem ... as ... er ... as you wish ... but ..."

Then he turned deliberately to Sir Marmaduke, once more bringing him into the proceedings, and tacitly condemning her ladyship's extraordinary attitude towards his distinguished patron.

"Having now explained to Lady Sue Aldmarshe the terms of her noble father's will," he said, "methinks that she is ready to receive the moneys from our hands, good Sir Marmaduke, and thereupon to give us the proper receipt prescribed by law, for the same ..."

He checked himself for a moment, and then made a respectful, if pointed, suggestion:

"Mistress de Chavasse?" he said inquiringly.

"Mistress de Chavasse is a member of the family," replied Sir Marmaduke, "the business can be transacted in her presence."

"Nothing therefore remains to be said, my dear young lady," rejoined Master Skyffington, once more speaking directly to Sue and placing his lean hands with fingers outstretched, over the bundles of papers lying before him. "Here are your securities, your grants, moneys and receipts, worth L500,000 of the present currency of this realm.... These I, in mine own name and that of my honored friend and patron, Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse, do hereby hand over to you. You will, I pray, verify and sign the receipt in proper and due form."

He began sorting and overlooking the papers, muttering half audibly the while, as he transferred each bundle from his own side of the table to that beside which Lady Sue was sitting:

"The deeds of property in Holland ... hem.... Receipt of moneys deposited at the bank of Amsterdam.... The same from the Bank of Vienna.... Grant of monopoly for the hemp trade in Russia.... hem ..."

Thus he mumbled for some time, as these papers, representing a fortune, passed out of his keeping into those of a young maid but recently out of her teens. Sue watched him silently and placidly, just as she had done throughout this momentous interview, which was, of a truth, the starting point of her independent life.

Her face expressed neither joy nor excitement of any kind. She knew that all the wealth which now lay before her, would only pass briefly through her hands. She knew that the prince—her husband—was waiting for it even now. Doubtless, he was counting the hours when his young wife's vast fortune would come to him as the realization of all his dreams.

In spite of her present disbelief in his love, in spite of the bitter knowledge that her own had waned, Sue had no misgivings as yet as to the honor, the truth, the loyalty of the man whose name she now bore. Her illusions were gone, her romance had become dull reality, but to one thought she clung with all the tenacity of despair, and that was to the illusion that Prince Amede d'Orleans was the selfless patriot, the regenerator of downtrodden France, which he represented himself to be.

Because of that belief she welcomed the wealth, which she would this day be able to place in his hands. Her own girlish dreams had vanished, but her temperament was far too romantic and too poetic not to recreate illusions, even when the old ones had been so ruthlessly shattered.

But this recreation would occur anon—not just now, not at the very moment when her heart ached with an intolerable pain at thought of the sorrow which she had caused to her one friend. Presently, no doubt, when she met her husband, when his usual grandiloquent phrases had once more succeeded in arousing her enthusiasm for the cause which he pleaded, she would once more feel serene and happy at thought of the help which she, with her great wealth, would be giving him; for the nonce the whole transaction grated on her sense of romance; money passing from hand to hand, a man waiting somewhere in the dark to receive wealth from a woman's hand.

Master Skyffington desired her to look over the papers, ere she signed the formal receipt for them, but she waved them gently aside:

"Quite unnecessary, kind master," she said decisively, "since I receive them at your hands."

She bent over the document which the lawyer now placed before her, and took the pen from him.

"Where shall I sign?" she asked.

Sir Marmaduke and Editha de Chavasse watched her keenly, as with a bold stroke of the pen she wrote her name across the receipt.

"Now the papers, please, master," said Lady Sue peremptorily.

But the prudent lawyer had still a word of protest to enter here.

"My dear young lady," he said tentatively, awed in spite of himself by the self-possessed behavior of a maid whom up to now he had regarded as a mere child, "let me, as a man of vast experience in such matters, repeat to you the well-meant advice which Sir Marmaduke ..."

But she checked him decisively, though kindly.

"You said, Master Skyffington, did you not," she said, "that after to-day no one had the slightest control over my actions or over my fortune?"

"That is so, certainly," he rejoined, "but ..."

"Well, then, kind master, I pray you," she said authoritatively, "to hand me over all those securities, grants and moneys, for which I have just signed a receipt."

There was naught to do for a punctilious lawyer, as was Master Skyffington, but to obey forthwith. This he did, without another word, collecting the various bundles of paper and placing them one by one in the brown leather wallet which he had brought for the purpose. Sue watched him quietly, and when the last of the important documents had been deposited in the wallet, she held out her hand for it.

With a grave bow, and an unconsciously pompous gesture, Master Skyffington, attorney-at-law, handed over that wallet which now contained a fortune to Lady Susannah Aldmarshe.

She took it, and graciously bowed her head to him in acknowledgment. Then, after a slight, distinctly haughty nod to Sir Marmaduke and to Editha, she turned and walked silently out of the room.



CHAPTER XXVIII

HUSBAND AND WIFE

Mistress Martha Lambert was a dignified old woman, on whose wrinkled face stern virtues, sedulously practiced, had left their lasting imprint. Among these virtues which she had thus somewhat ruthlessly exercised throughout her long life, cleanliness and orderliness stood out pre-eminently. They undoubtedly had brought some of the deepest furrows round her eyes and mouth, as indeed they had done round those of Adam Lambert, who having lived with her all his life, had had to suffer from her passion of scrubbing and tidying more than anyone else.

But her cottage was resplendent: her chief virtues being apparent in every nook and corner of the orderly little rooms which formed her home and that of the two lads whom a dying friend had entrusted to her care.

The parlor below, with its highly polished bits of furniture, its spotless wooden floor and whitewashed walls, was a miracle of cleanliness. The table in the center was laid with a snowy white cloth, on it the pewter candlesticks shone like antique silver. Two straight-backed mahogany chairs were drawn cozily near to the hearth, wherein burned a bright fire made up of ash logs. There was a quaint circular mirror in a gilt frame over the hearth, a relic of former, somewhat more prosperous times.

In one of the chairs lolled the mysterious lodger, whom a strange Fate in a perverse mood seemed to have wafted to this isolated little cottage on the outskirts of the loneliest village in Thanet.

Prince Amede d'Orleans was puffing at that strange weed which of late had taken such marked hold of most men, tending to idleness in them, for it caused them to sit staring at the smoke which they drew from pipes made of clay; surely the Lord had never intended such strange doings, and Mistress Martha would willingly have protested against the unpleasant odor thus created by her lodger when he was puffing away, only that she stood somewhat in awe of his ill-humor and of his violent language, especially when Adam himself was from home.

On these occasions—such, for instance, as the present one—she had, perforce, to be content with additional efforts at cleanliness, and, as she was convinced that so much smoke must be conducive to soot and dirt, she plied her dusting-cloth with redoubled vigor and energy. Whilst the prince lolled and pulled at his clay pipe, she busied herself all round the tiny room, polishing the backs of the old elm chairs, and the brass handles of the chest of drawers.

"How much longer are you going to fuss about, my good woman?" quoth Prince Amede d'Orleans impatiently after a while. "This shuffling round me irritates my nerves."

Mistress Martha, however, suffered from deafness. She could see from the quick, angry turn of the head that her lodger was addressing her, but did not catch his words. She drew a little nearer, bending her ear to him.

"Eh? ... what?" she queried in that high-pitched voice peculiar to the deaf. "I am somewhat hard of hearing just now. I did not hear thee."

But he pushed her roughly aside with a jerk of his elbow.

"Go away!" he said impatiently. "Do not worry me!"

"Ah! the little pigs?" she rejoined blithely. "I thank thee ... they be doing nicely, thank the Lord ... six of them and ... eh? what? ... I'm a bit hard of hearing these times."

He had some difficulty in keeping up even a semblance of calm. The placidity of the old Quakeress irritated him beyond endurance. He dreaded the return of Adam Lambert from his work, and worse still, he feared the arrival of Richard. Fortunately he had gathered from Martha that the young man had come home early in the day in a state of high nervous tension, bordering on acute fever. He had neither eaten nor drunk, but after tidying his clothes and reassuring her as to his future movements, he had sallied out into the woods and had not returned since then.

Sir Marmaduke had quickly arrived at the conclusion that Richard Lambert had seen and spoken to Lady Sue and had learned from her that she was now irrevocably married to him, whom she always called her prince. Doubtless, the young man was frenzied with grief, and in his weak state of health after the terrible happenings of the past few weeks, would mayhap, either go raving mad, or end his miserable existence over the cliffs. Either eventuality would suit Sir Marmaduke admirably, and he sighed with satisfaction at the thought that the knot between the heiress and himself was indeed tied sufficiently firm now to ensure her obedience to his will.

There was to be one more scene in the brief and cruel drama which he had devised for the hoodwinking and final spoliation of a young and inexperienced girl. She had earlier in the day been placed in possession of all the negotiable part of her fortune. This, though by no means representing the whole of her wealth, which also lay in landed estates, was nevertheless of such magnitude that the thought of its possession caused every fiber in Sir Marmaduke's body to thrill with the delight of expectancy.

One more brief scene in the drama: the handing over of that vast fortune, by the young girl-wife—blindly and obediently—to the man whom she believed to be her husband. Once that scene enacted, the curtain would fall on the love episode 'twixt a romantic and ignorant maid and the most daring scoundrel that had ever committed crime to obtain a fortune.

In anticipation of that last and magnificent denouement, Sir Marmaduke had once more donned the disguise of the exiled Orleans prince: the elaborate clothes, the thick perruque, the black silk shade over the left eye, which gave him such a sinister expression.

Now he was literally devoured with the burning desire to see Sue arriving with that wallet in her hand, which contained securities and grants to the value of L500,000. A brief interlude with her, a few words of perfunctory affection, a few assurances of good faith, and he—as her princely husband—would vanish from her ken forever.

He meant to go abroad immediately—this very night, if possible. Prudence and caution could easily be thrown to the winds, once the negotiable securities were actually in his hands. What he could convert into money, he would do immediately, going to Amsterdam first, to withdraw the sum standing at the bank there on deposit, and for which anon, he would possess the receipt; after that the sale of the grant of monopolies should be easy of accomplishment. Sir Marmaduke had boundless faith in his own ability to carry through his own business. He might stand to lose some of the money perhaps; prudence and caution might necessitate the relinquishing of certain advantages, but even then he would be rich and passing rich, and he knew that he ran but little risk of detection. The girl was young, inexperienced and singularly friendless: Sir Marmaduke felt convinced that none of the foreign transactions could ever be directly traced to himself.

He would be prudent and Europe was wide, and he meant to leave English grants and securities severely alone.

He had mused and pondered on his plans all day. The evening found him half-exhausted with nerve-strain, febrile and almost sick with the agony of waiting.

He had calculated that Sue would be free towards seven o'clock, as he had given Editha strict injunctions to keep discreetly out of the way, whilst at a previous meeting in the park, it had been arranged that the young girl should come to the cottage with the money, on the evening of her twenty-first birthday and there hand her fortune over to her rightful lord.

Now Sir Marmaduke cursed himself and his folly for having made this arrangement. He had not known—when he made it—that Richard would be back at Acol then. Adam the smith, never came home before eight o'clock and the old Quakeress herself would not have been much in the way.

Even now she had shuffled back into her kitchen, leaving her ill-humored lodger to puff away at the malodorous weed as he chose. But Richard might return at any moment, and then ...

Sir Marmaduke had never thought of that possible contingency. If Richard Lambert came face to face with him, he would of a surety pierce the disguise of the prince, and recognize the man who had so deeply wronged poor, unsuspecting Lady Sue. If only a kindly Fate had kept the young man away another twenty-four hours! or better still, if it led the despairing lover's footsteps to the extremest edge of the cliffs!

Sir Marmaduke now paced the narrow room up and down in an agony of impatience. Nine o'clock had struck long ago, but Sue had not yet come. The wildest imaginings run riot in the schemer's brain: every hour, nay! every minute spent within was fraught with danger. He sought his broad-brimmed hat, determined now to meet Sue in the park, to sally forth at risk of missing her, at risk of her arriving here at the cottage when he was absent, and of her meeting Richard Lambert perhaps, before the irrevocable deed of gift had been accomplished.

But the suspense was intolerable.

With a violent oath Sir Marmaduke pressed the hat over his head, and strode to the door.

His hand was on the latch, when he heard a faint sound from without: a girl's footsteps, timorous yet swift, along the narrow flagged path which led down the tiny garden gate.

The next moment he had thrown open the door and Sue stood before him.

Anyone but a bold and unscrupulous schemer would have been struck by the pathos of the solitary figure which now appeared in the tiny doorway. The penetrating November drizzle had soaked through the dark cloak and hood which now hung heavy and dank round the young girl's shoulders. Framed by the hood, her face appeared preternaturally pale, her lips were quivering and her eyes, large and dilated, had almost a hunted look in them.

Oh! the pity and sadness of it all! For in her small and trembling hands she was clutching with pathetic tenacity a small, brown wallet which contained a fortune worthy of a princess.

She looked eagerly into her husband's face, dreading the scowl, the outburst of anger or jealousy mayhap with which of late, alas! he had so oft greeted her arrival. But as was his wont, he stood with his back to the lighted room, and she could not read the expression of that one cyclops-like eye, which to-night appeared more sinister than ever beneath the thick perruque and broad-brimmed hat.

"I am sorry to be so late," she said timidly, "the evening repast at the Court was interminable and Mistress de Chavasse full of gossip."

"Yes, yes, I know," he replied, "am I not used to seeing that your social duties oft make you forget your husband?"

"You are unjust, Amede," she rejoined.

She entered the little parlor and stood beside the table, making no movement to divest herself of her dripping cloak, or to sit down, nor indeed did her husband show the slightest inclination to ask her to do either. He had closed the door behind her, and followed her to the center of the room. Was it by accident or design that as he reached the table he threw his broad-brimmed hat, down with such an unnecessary flourish of the arm that he knocked over one of the heavy pewter candlesticks, so that it rolled down upon the floor, causing the tallow candle to sputter and die out with a weird and hissing sound?

Only one dim yellow light now illumined the room, it shone full into the pallid face of the young wife standing some three paces from the table, whilst Prince Amede d'Orleans' face between her and the light, was once more in deep shadow.

"You are unjust," she repeated firmly. "Have I not run the gravest possible risks for your sake, and those without murmur or complaint, for the past six months? Did I not compromise my reputation for you by meeting you alone ... of nights? ..."

"I was laboring under the idea, my wench, that you were doing all that because you cared for me," he retorted with almost brutal curtness, "and because you had the desire to become the Princess d'Orleans; that desire is now gratified and ..."

He had not really meant to be unkind. There was of a truth no object to be gained by being brutal to her now. But that wallet, which she held so tightly clutched, acted as an irritant to his nerves. Never of very equable temperament and holding all women in lofty scorn, he chafed against all parleyings with his wife, now that the goal of his ambition was so close at hand.

She winced at the insult, and the tears which she fain would have hidden from him, rose involuntarily to her eyes.

"Ah!" she sighed, "if you only knew how little I care for that title of princess! ... Did you perchance think that I cared? ... Nay! how gladly would I give up all thought of ever bearing that proud appellation, in exchange for a few more happy illusions such as I possessed three months ago."

"Illusions are all very well for a school-girl, my dear Suzanne," he remarked with a cool shrug of his massive shoulders. "Reality should be more attractive to you now...."

He looked her up and down, realizing perhaps for the first time that she was exquisitely beautiful; beautiful always, but more so now in the pathos of her helplessness. Somewhat perfunctorily, because in his ignorance of women he thought that it would please her, and also because vaguely something human and elemental had suddenly roused his pulses, he relinquished his nonchalant attitude, and came a step nearer to her.

"You are very beautiful, my Suzanne," he said half-ironically, and with marked emphasis on the possessive.

Again he drew nearer, not choosing to note the instinctive stiffening of her figure, the shrinking look in her eyes. He caught her arm and drew her to him, laughing a low mocking laugh as he did so, for she had turned her face away from him.

"Come," he said lightly, "will you not kiss me, my beautiful Suzanne? ... my wife, my princess."

She was silent, impassive, indifferent so he thought, although the arm which he held trembled within his grip.

He stretched out his other hand, and taking her chin between his fingers, he forcibly turned her face towards him. Something in her face, in her attitude, now roused a certain rough passion in him. Mayhap the weary wailing during the day, the agonizing impatience, or the golden argosy so near to port, had strung up his nerves to fever pitch.

Irritation against her impassiveness, in such glaring contrast to her glowing ardor of but a few weeks ago, mingled with that essentially male desire to subdue and to conquer that which is inclined to resist, sent the blood coursing wildly through his veins.

"Ah!" he said with a sigh half of desire, half of satisfaction, as he looked into her upturned face, "the chaste blush of the bride is vastly becoming to you, my Suzanne! ... it acts as fuel to the flames of my love ... since I can well remember the passionate kisses you gave me so willingly awhile ago."

The thought of that happy past, gave her sudden strength. Catching him unawares she wrenched herself free from his hold.

"This is a mockery, prince," she said with vehemence, and meeting his half-mocking glance with one of scorn. "Do you think that I have been blind these last few weeks? ... Your love for me hath changed, if indeed it ever existed, whilst I ..."

"Whilst you, my beautiful Suzanne," he rejoined lightly, "are mine ... irrevocably, irretrievably mine ... mine because I love you, and because you are my wife ... and owe me that obedience which you vowed to Heaven that you would give me.... That is so, is it not?"

There was a moment's silence in the tiny cottage parlor now, whilst he—gauging the full value of his words, knowing by instinct that he had struck the right cord in that vibrating girlish heart, watched the subtle change in her face from defiance and wrath to submission and appeal.

"Yes, Amede," she murmured after a while, "I owe you obedience, honor and love, and you need not fear that I will fail in either. But you," she added with pathetic anxiety, "you do care for me still? do you not?"

"Of course I care for you," he remarked, "I worship you.... There! ... will that satisfy you? ... And now?" he added peremptorily, "have you brought the money?"

The short interlude of passion was over. His eye had accidentally rested for one second on the leather wallet, which she still held tightly clutched, and all thoughts of her beauty, of his power or his desires, had flown out to the winds.

"Yes," she replied meekly, "it is all here, in the wallet."

She laid it down upon the table, feeling neither anxiety nor remorse. He was her husband and had a right to her fortune, as he had to her person and to her thoughts and heart an he wished. Nor did she care about the money, as to the value of which she was, of course, ignorant.

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