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Title: The Black Moth - A Romance of the XVIIIth Century
Author: Heyer, Georgette
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Black Moth - A Romance of the XVIIIth Century" ***

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(http://www.girlebooks.com), Marc D'Hooghe
(http://www.freeliterature.org)



THE BLACK MOTH

A ROMANCE OF THE XVIII CENTURY

BY

GEORGETTE HEYER



Contents

  PROLOGUE         CHAPTER XVI
  CHAPTER I        CHAPTER XVII
  CHAPTER II       CHAPTER XVIII
  CHAPTER III      CHAPTER XIX
  CHAPTER IV       CHAPTER XX
  CHAPTER V        CHAPTER XXI
  CHAPTER VI       CHAPTER XXII
  CHAPTER VII      CHAPTER XXIII
  CHAPTER VIII     CHAPTER XXIV
  CHAPTER IX       CHAPTER XXV
  CHAPTER X        CHAPTER XXVI
  CHAPTER XI       CHAPTER XXVII
  CHAPTER XII      CHAPTER XXVIII
  CHAPTER XIII     CHAPTER XXIX
  CHAPTER XIV      EPILOGUE
  CHAPTER XV



PROLOGUE


Clad in his customary black and silver, with raven hair unpowdered and
elaborately dressed, diamonds on his fingers and in his cravat, Hugh
Tracy Clare Belmanoir, Duke of Andover, sat at the escritoire in the
library of his town house, writing.

He wore no rouge on his face, the almost unnatural pallor of which
seemed designedly enhanced by a patch set beneath his right eye. Brows
and lashes were black, the former slanting slightly up at the corners,
but his narrow, heavy-lidded eyes were green and strangely piercing. The
thin lips curled a little, sneering, as one dead-white hand travelled to
and fro across the paper.

... but it seems that the Fair Lady has a Brother, who, finding Me
Enamoured, threw down the Gauntlet. I soundly whipt the presumptuous
Child, and so the Affair ends. Now, as you, My dear Frank, also took
some Interest in the Lady, I write for the Express Purpose of informing
You that at my Hands she has received no Hurt, nor is not like to. This
I in part tell You that You shall not imagine Yr self in Honor bound
again to call Me out, which Purpose, an I mistake not, I yesterday read
in Yr Eyes. I should be Exceeding loth to meet You in a Second Time,
when I should consider it my Duty to teach You an even severer Lesson
than Before. This I am not Wishful of doing for the Liking I bear You.

"So in all Friendship believe me, Frank,

"Your most Obedient, Humble

"DEVIL."

His Grace of Andover paused, pen held in mid-air. A mocking smile dawned
in his eyes, and he wrote again.

"In the event of any Desire on Yr Part to hazard Yr Luck with my late
Paramour, Permit Me to warn You 'gainst the Bantam Brother, who is in
Very Truth a Fire-Eater, and would wish to make of You, as of Me, one
Mouthfull. I shall hope to see You at the Queensberry Rout on Thursday,
when You may Once More strive to direct mine Erring Footsteps on to the
Thorny Path of Virtue."

His Grace read the postscript through with another satisfied, sardonic
smile. Then he folded the letter, and affixing a wafer, peremptorily
struck the hand-bell at his side.

And the Honourable Frank Fortescue, reading the postscript half-an-hour
later, smiled too, but differently. Also he sighed and put the letter
into the fire.

"And so ends another _affaire_. ... I wonder if you'll go insolently to
the very end?" he said softly, watching the paper shrivel and flare up.
"I would to God you might fall honestly in love--and that the lady might
save you from yourself--my poor Devil!"



CHAPTER I

AT THE CHEQUERS INN, FALLOWFIELD


Chadber was the name of the host, florid of countenance, portly of
person, and of manner pompous and urbane. Solely within the walls of the
Chequers lay his world, that inn having been acquired by his
great-grandfather as far back as the year 1667, when the jovial Stuart
King sat on the English throne, and the Hanoverian Electors were not yet
dreamed of.

A Tory was Mr. Chadber to the backbone. None so bitter 'gainst the
little German as he, and surely none had looked forward more eagerly to
the advent of the gallant Charles Edward. If he confined his patriotism
to drinking success to Prince Charlie's campaign, who shall blame him?
And if, when sundry Whig gentlemen halted at the Chequers on their way
to the coast, and, calling for a bottle of Rhenish, bade him toss down a
glass himself with a health to his Majesty, again who shall blame Mr.
Chadber for obeying? What was a health one way or another when you had
rendered active service to two of his Stuart Highness's adherents?

It was Mr. Chadber's boast, uttered only to his admiring Tory
neighbours, that he had, at the risk of his own life, given shelter to
two fugitives of the disastrous 'Forty-five, who had come so far out of
their way as quiet Fallowfield. That no one had set eyes on either of
the men was no reason for doubting an honest landlord's word. But no one
would have thought of doubting any statement that Mr. Chadber might
make. Mine host of the Chequers was a great personage in the town, being
able both to read and to write, and having once, when young, travelled
as far north as London town, staying there for ten days and setting
eyes on no less a person than the great Duke of Marlborough himself when
that gentleman was riding along the Strand on his way to St. James's.

Also, it was a not-to-be-ignored fact that Mr. Chadber's home-brewed ale
was far superior to that sold by the landlord of the rival inn at the
other end of the village.

Altogether he was a most important character, and no one was more aware
of his importance than his worthy self.

To "gentlemen born," whom, he protested, he could distinguish at a
glance, he was almost obsequiously polite, but on clerks and underlings,
and men who bore no signs of affluence about their persons, he wasted
none of his deference.

Thus it was that, when a little green-clad lawyer alighted one day from
the mail coach and entered the coffee-room at the Chequers, he was
received with pomposity and scarce-veiled condescension.

He was nervous, it seemed, and more than a little worried. He offended
Mr. Chadber at the outset, when he insinuated that he was come to meet a
gentleman who might perhaps be rather shabbily clothed, rather short of
purse, and even of rather unsavoury repute. Very severely did Mr.
Chadber give him to understand that guests of that description were
entirely unknown at the Chequers.

There was an air of mystery about the lawyer, and it appeared almost as
though he were striving to probe mine host. Mr. Chadber bridled, a
little, and became aloof and haughty.

When the lawyer dared openly to ask if he had had any dealings with
highwaymen of late, he was properly and thoroughly affronted.

The lawyer became suddenly more at ease. He eyed Mr. Chadber
speculatively, holding a pinch of snuff to one thin nostril.

"Perhaps you have staying here a certain--ah--Sir--Anthony--Ferndale?"
he hazarded.

The gentle air of injury fell from Mr. Chadber. Certainly he had, and
come only yesterday a-purpose to meet his solicitor.

The lawyer nodded.

"I am he. Be so good as to apprise Sir Anthony of my arrival."

Mr. Chadber bowed exceeding low, and implored the lawyer not to remain
in the draughty coffee-room. Sir Anthony would never forgive him an he
allowed his solicitor to await him there. Would he not come to Sir
Anthony's private parlour?

The very faintest of smiles creased the lawyer's thin face as he walked
along the passage in Mr. Chadber's wake.

He was ushered into a low-ceilinged, pleasant chamber looking out on to
the quiet street, and left alone what time Mr. Chadber went in search of
Sir Anthony.

The room was panelled and ceilinged in oak, with blue curtains to the
windows and blue cushions on the high-backed settle by the fire. A table
stood in the centre of the floor, with a white table-cloth thereon and
places laid for two. Another smaller table stood by the fireplace,
together with a chair and a stool.

The lawyer took silent stock of his surroundings, and reflected grimly
on the landlord's sudden change of front. It would appear that Sir
Anthony was a gentleman of some standing at the Chequers.

Yet the little man was plainly unhappy, and fell to pacing to and fro,
his chin sunk low on his breast, and his hands clasped behind his back.
He was come to seek the disgraced son of an Earl, and he was afraid of
what he might find.

Six years ago Lord John Carstares, eldest son of the Earl of Wyncham,
had gone with his brother, the Hon. Richard, to a card party, and had
returned a dishonoured man.

That Jack Carstares should cheat was incredible, ridiculous, and at
first no one had believed the tale that so quickly spread. But he had
confirmed that tale himself, defiantly and without shame, before riding
off, bound, men said, for France and the foreign parts. Brother Richard
was left, so said the countryside, to marry the lady they were both in
love with. Nothing further had been heard of Lord John, and the outraged
Earl forbade his name to be mentioned at Wyncham, swearing to disinherit
the prodigal. Richard espoused the fair Lady Lavinia and brought her to
live at the great house, strangely forlorn now without Lord John's
magnetic presence; but, far from being an elated bridegroom, he seemed
to have brought gloom with him from the honeymoon, so silent and so
unhappy was he.

Six years drifted slowly by without bringing any news of Lord John, and
then, two months ago, journeying from London to Wyncham, Richard's coach
had been waylaid, and by a highwayman who proved to be none other than
the scapegrace peer.

Richard's feelings may be imagined. Lord John had been singularly
unimpressed by anything beyond the humour of the situation. That,
however, had struck him most forcibly, and he had burst out into a fit
of laughter that had brought a lump into Richard's throat, and a fresh
ache into his heart.

Upon pressure John had given his brother the address of the inn, "in
case of accidents," and told him to ask for "Sir Anthony Ferndale" if
ever he should need him. Then with one hearty handshake, he had galloped
off into the darkness....

The lawyer stopped his restless pacing to listen. Down the passage was
coming the tap-tap of high heels on the wooden floor, accompanied by a
slight rustle as of stiff silks.

The little man tugged suddenly at his cravat. Supposing--supposing
debonair Lord John was no longer debonair? Supposing--he dared not
suppose anything. Nervously he drew a roll of parchment from his pocket
and stood fingering it.

A firm hand was laid on the door-handle, turning it cleanly round. The
door opened to admit a veritable apparition, and was closed again with a
snap.

The lawyer found himself gazing at a slight, rather tall gentleman who
swept him a profound bow, gracefully flourishing his smart
three-cornered hat with one hand and delicately clasping cane and
perfumed handkerchief with the other. He was dressed in the height of
the Versailles fashion, with full-skirted coat of palest lilac laced
with silver, small-clothes and stockings of white, and waistcoat of
flowered satin. On his feet he wore shoes with high red heels and silver
buckles, while a wig of the latest mode, marvellously powdered and
curled and smacking greatly of Paris, adorned his shapely head. In the
foaming lace of his cravat reposed a diamond pin, and on the slim hand,
half covered by drooping laces, glowed and flashed a huge emerald.

The lawyer stared and stared again, and it was not until a pair of deep
blue, rather wistful eyes met his in a quizzical glance, that he found
his tongue. Then a look of astonishment came into his face, and he took
a half step forward.

"Master Jack!" he gasped. "Master--_Jack_!"

The elegant gentleman came forward and held up a reproving hand. The
patch at the corner of his mouth quivered, and the blue eyes danced.

"I perceive that you are not acquainted with me, Mr. Warburton," he
said, amusement in his pleasant, slightly drawling voice. "Allow me to
present myself: Sir Anthony Ferndale, _a vous servir_!"

A gleam of humour appeared in the lawyer's own eyes as he clasped the
outstretched hand.

"I think you are perhaps not acquainted with yourself, my lord," he
remarked drily.

Lord John laid his hat and cane on the small table, and looked faintly
intrigued.

"What's your meaning, Mr. Warburton?"

"I am come, my lord, to inform you that the Earl, your father, died a
month since."

The blue eyes widened, grew of a sudden hard, and narrowed again.

"Is that really so? Well, well! Apoplexy, I make no doubt?"

The lawyer's lips twitched uncontrollably.

"No, Master Jack; my lord died of heart failure."

"Say you so? Dear me! But will you not be seated, sir? In a moment my
servant will have induced the _chef_ to serve dinner. You will honour
me, I trust?"

The lawyer murmured his thanks and sat down on the settle, watching the
other with puzzled eyes.

The Earl drew up a chair for himself and stretched his foot to the fire.

"Six years, eh? I protest 'tis prodigious good to see your face again,
Mr. Warburton.... And I'm the Earl? Earl and High Toby, by Gad!" He
laughed softly.

"I have here the documents, my lord...."

Carstares eyed the roll through his quizzing glass.

"I perceive them. Pray return them to your pocket, Mr. Warburton."

"But there are certain legal formalities, my lord--"

"Exactly. Pray do not let us mention them!"

"But, sir!"

Then the Earl smiled, and his smile was singularly sweet and winning.

"At least, not until after dinner, Warburton! Instead, you shall tell me
how you found me?"

"Mr. Richard directed me where to come, sir."

"Ah, of course! I had forgot that I told him my--_pied-à-terre_ when I
waylaid him."

The lawyer nearly shuddered at this cheerful, barefaced mention of his
lordship's disreputable profession.

"Er--indeed, sir. Mr. Richard is eager for you to return."

The handsome young face clouded over. My lord shook his head.

"Impossible, my dear Warburton. I am convinced Dick never voiced so
foolish a suggestion. Come now, confess! 'tis your own fabrication?"

Warburton ignored the bantering tone and spoke very deliberately.

"At all events, my lord, I believe him anxious to make--amends."

Carstares shot an alert, suspicious glance at him.

"Ah!"

"Yes, sir. Amends."

My lord studied his emerald with half-closed eyelids.

"But why--amends, Warburton?" he asked.

"Is not that the word, sir?"

"I confess it strikes me as inapt. Doubtless I am dull of
comprehension."

"You were not wont to be, my lord."

"No? But six years changes a man, Warburton. Pray, is Mr. Carstares
well?"

"I believe so, sir," replied the lawyer, frowning at the deft change of
subject.

"And Lady Lavinia?"

"Ay." Mr. Warburton looked searchingly across at him, seeing which, my
lord's eyes danced afresh, brim full with mischief.

"I am delighted to hear it. Pray present my compliments to Mr. Carstares
and beg him to use Wyncham as he wills."

"Sir! Master Jack! I implore you!" burst from the lawyer, and he sprang
up, moving excitedly away, his hands twitching, his face haggard.

My lord stiffened in his chair. He watched the other's jerky movements
anxiously, but his voice when he spoke was even and cold.

"Well, sir?"

Mr. Warburton wheeled and came back to the fireplace, looking hungrily
down at my lord's impassive countenance. With an effort he seemed to
control himself.

"Master Jack, I had better tell you what you have already guessed. I
know."

Up went one haughty eyebrow.

"You know what, Mr. Warburton?"

"That you are innocent!"

"Of what, Mr. Warburton?"

"Of cheating at cards, sir!"

My lord relaxed, and flicked a speck of dust from his great cuff.

"I regret the necessity of having to disillusion you, Mr. Warburton."

"My lord, do not fence with me, I beg! You can trust me, surely?"

"Certainly, sir."

"Then do not keep up this pretence with me; no, nor look so hard
neither! I've watched you grow up right from the cradle, and Master Dick
too, and I know you both through and through. I _know_ you never cheated
at Colonel Dare's nor anywhere else! I could have sworn it at the
time--ay, when I saw Master Dick's face, I knew at once that he it was
who had played foul, and you had but taken the blame!"

"No!"

"I know better! Can you, Master Jack, look me in the face and truthfully
deny what I have said? Can you? Can you?" My lord sat silent.

With a sigh, Warburton sank on to the settle once more. He was flushed,
and his eyes shone, but he spoke calmly again.

"Of course you cannot. I have never known you lie. You need not fear I
shall betray you. I kept silence all these years for my lord's sake, and
I will not speak now until you give me leave."

"Which I never shall."

"Master Jack, think better of it, I beg of you! Now that my lord is
dead--"

"It makes no difference."

"No difference? 'Twas not for his sake? 'Twas not because you knew how
he loved Master Dick?"

"No."

"Then 'tis Lady Lavinia--"

"No."

"But--"

My lord smiled sadly.

"Ah, Warburton! And you averred you knew us through and through! For
whose sake should it be but his own?"

"I feared it!" The lawyer made a hopeless gesture with his hands. "You
will not come back?"

"No, Warburton, I will not; Dick may manage my estates. I remain on the
road."

Warburton made one last effort.

"My lord!" he cried despairingly, "Will you not at least think of the
disgrace to the name an you be caught?"

The shadows vanished from my lord's eyes.

"Mr. Warburton, I protest you are of a morbid turn of mind! Do you know,
I had not thought of so unpleasant a contingency? I swear I was not born
to be hanged!"

The lawyer would have said more, had not the entrance of a servant,
carrying a loaded tray, put an end to all private conversation. The man
placed dishes upon the table, lighted candles, and arranged two chairs.

"Dinner is served, sir," he said.

My lord nodded, and made a slight gesture toward the windows. Instantly
the man went over to them and drew the heavy curtains across.

My lord turned to Mr. Warburton.

"What say you, sir? Shall it be burgundy or claret, or do you prefer
sack?"

Warburton decided in favour of claret.

"Claret, Jim," ordered Carstares, and rose to his feet.

"I trust the drive has whetted your appetite, Warburton, for honest
Chadber will be monstrous hurt an you do not justice to his capons."

"I shall endeavour to spare his feelings," replied the lawyer with a
twinkle, and seated himself at the table.

Whatever might be Mr. Chadber's failings, he possessed an excellent
cook. Mr. Warburton dined very well, beginning on a fat duck, and
continuing through the many courses that constituted the meal.

When the table was cleared, the servant gone, and the port before them,
he endeavoured to guide the conversation back into the previous
channels. But he reckoned without my lord, and presently found himself
discussing the Pretender's late rebellion. He sat up suddenly.

"There were rumours that you were with the Prince, sir."

Carstares set down his glass in genuine amazement.

"I?"

"Indeed, yes. I do not know whence the rumour came, but it reached
Wyncham. My lord said nought, but I think Mr. Richard hardly credited
it."

"I should hope not! Why should they think me turned rebel, pray?"

Mr. Warburton frowned.

"Rebel, sir?"

"Rebel, Mr. Warburton. I have served under his Majesty."

"The Carstares were ever Tories, Master Jack, true to their rightful
king."

"My dear Warburton, I owe nought to the Stuart princes. I was born in
King George the First's reign, and I protest I am a good Whig."

Warburton shook his head disapprovingly.

"There has never been a Whig in the Wyncham family, sir."

"And you hope there never will be again, eh? What of Dick? Is he
faithful to the Pretender?"

"I think Mr. Richard does not interest himself in politics, sir."

Carstares raised his eyebrows, and there fell a silence.

After a minute or two Mr. Warburton cleared his throat.

"I--I suppose, sir--you have no idea of--er--discontinuing
your--er--profession?"

My lord gave an irrepressible little laugh.

"Faith, Mr. Warburton, I've only just begun!"

"Only--But a year ago, Mr. Richard--"

"I held him up? Ay, but to tell the truth, sir, I've not done much since
then!"

"Then, sir, you are not--er--notorious?"

"Good gad, no! Notorious, forsooth! Confess, Warburton, you thought me
some heroic figure? 'Gentleman Harry', perhaps?"

Warburton blushed.

"Well, sir--I--er--wondered."

"I shall have to disappoint you, I perceive. I doubt Bow Street has
never heard of me--and--to tell the truth--'tis not an occupation which
appeals vastly to my senses."

"Then why, my lord, do you continue?"

"I must have some excuse for roaming the country," pleaded Jack. "I
could not be idle."

"You are not--compelled to--er--rob, my lord?"

Carstares wrinkled his brow inquiringly.

"Compelled? Ah--I take your meaning. No, Warburton, I have enough for my
wants--now; time was--but that is past. I rob for amusement's sake."

Warburton looked steadily across at him.

"I am surprised, my lord, that you, a Carstares, should find
it--amusing."

John was silent for a moment, and when he at length spoke it was
defiantly and with a bitterness most unusual in him.

"The world, Mr. Warburton, has not treated me so kindly that I should
feel any qualms of conscience. But, an it gives you any satisfaction to
know it, I will tell you that my robberies are few and far between. You
spoke a little while ago of my probable--ah--fate--on Tyburn Tree. I
think you need not fear to hear of that."

"I--It gives me great satisfaction, my lord, I confess," stammered the
lawyer, and found nothing more to say. After a long pause he again
produced the bulky roll of parchment and laid it down before the Earl
with the apologetic murmur of:

"Business, my lord!"

Carstares descended from the clouds and eyed the packet with evident
distaste. He proceeded to fill his and his companion's glass very
leisurely. That done, he heaved a lugubrious sigh, caught Mr.
Warburton's eye, laughed in answer to its quizzical gleam, and broke the
seal.

"Since you _will_ have it, sir--business!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Warburton stayed the night at the Chequers and travelled back to
Wyncham next day by the two o'clock coach. He played piquet and ecarte
with my lord all the evening, and then retired to bed, not having found
an opportunity to argue his mission as he had hoped to do. Whenever he
had tried to turn the conversation that way he had been gently but
firmly led into safer channels, and somehow had found it impossible to
get back. My lord was the gayest and most charming of companions, but
talk "business" he would not. He regaled the lawyer with spicy anecdotes
and tales of abroad, but never once allowed Mr. Warburton to speak of
his home or of his brother.

The lawyer retired to rest in a measure reassured by the other's good
spirits, but at the same time dispirited by his failure to induce
Carstares to return to Wyncham.

Next morning, although he was not up until twelve, he was before my
lord, who only appeared in time for lunch, which was served as before in
the oak parlour.

He entered the room in his usual leisurely yet decided fashion and made
Mr. Warburton a marvellous leg. Then he bore him off to inspect his
mare, Jenny, of whom he was inordinately proud. By the time they
returned to the parlour luncheon was served, and Mr. Warburton realised
that he had scarcely any time left in which to plead his cause.

My lord's servant hovered continually about the room, waiting on them,
until his master bade him go to attend to the lawyer's valise. When the
door had closed on his retreating form, Carstares leaned back in his
chair, and, with a rather dreary little smile, turned to his companion.

"You want to reason with me, I know, Mr. Warburton, and, indeed, I will
listen an I must. But I would so much rather that you left the subject
alone, believe me."

Warburton sensed the finality in his voice, and wisely threw away his
last chance.

"I understand 'tis painful, my lord, and I will say no more. Only
remember--and think on it, I beg!"

The concern in his face touched my lord.

"You are too good to me, Mr. Warburton, I vow. I can only say that I
appreciate your kindness--and your forbearance. And I trust that you
will forgive my seeming churlishness and believe that I am indeed
grateful to you."

"I wish I might do more for you, Master Jack!" stammered Warburton, made
miserable by the wistful note in his favourite's voice. There was no
time for more; the coach already awaited him, and his valise had been
hoisted up. As they stood together in the porch, he could only grip my
lord's hand tightly and say good-bye. Then he got hurriedly into the
coach, and the door was slammed behind him.

My lord made his leg, and watched the heavy vehicle move forward and
roll away down the street. Then with a stifled sigh he turned and walked
towards the stables. His servant saw him coming and went at once to meet
him.

"The mare, sir?"

"As you say, Jim--the mare. In an hour."

He turned and would have strolled back.

"Sir--your honour!"

He paused, looking over his shoulder.

"Well?"

"They're on the look-out, sir. Best be careful."

"They always are, Jim. But thanks."

"Ye--ye wouldn't take me with ye, sir?" pleadingly.

"Take you? Faith, no! I've no mind to lead you into danger. And you
serve me best by remaining to carry out my orders."

The man fell back.

"Ay, sir; but--but--"

"There are none, Jim."

"No, sir--but ye _will_ have a care?"

"I will be the most cautious of men." He walked away on the word, and
passed into the house.

In an hour he was a very different being. Gone was the emerald ring, the
foppish cane; the languid air, too, had disappeared, leaving him brisk
and businesslike. He was dressed for riding, with buff coat and buckskin
breeches, and shining top boots. A sober brown wig replaced the powdered
creation, and a black tricorne was set rakishly atop.

He stood in the deserted porch, watching Jim strap his baggage to the
saddle, occasionally giving a curt direction. Presently Mr. Chadber
appeared with the stirrup-cup, which he drained and handed back with a
word of thanks and a guinea at the bottom.

Someone called lustily from within, and the landlord, bowing very low,
murmured apologies and vanished.

Jim cast a last glance at the saddle-girths, and, leaving the mare
quietly standing in the road, came up to his master with gloves and
whip.

Carstares took them silently and fell to tapping his boot, his eyes
thoughtfully on the man's face.

"You will hire a coach, as usual," he said at length, "and take my
baggage to--" (He paused, frowning)--"Lewes. You will engage a room at
the White Hart and order dinner. I shall wear--apricot and--h'm!"

"Blue, sir?" ventured Jim, with an idea of being helpful.

His master's eyes crinkled at the corners.

"You are a humorist, Salter. Apricot and cream. Cream? Yes, 'tis a
pleasing thought--cream. That is all--Jenny!"

The mare turned her head, whinnying as he came towards her.

"Good lass!" He mounted lightly and patted her glossy neck. Then he
leaned sideways in the saddle to speak again to Salter, who stood beside
him, one hand on the bridle.

"The cloak?"

"Behind you, sir."

"My wig?"

"Yes, sir."

"Pistols?"

"Ready primed, sir."

"Good. I shall be in Lewes in time for dinner--with luck."

"Yes, sir. Ye--ye will have a care?" anxiously.

"Have I not told you?" He straightened in the saddle, touched the mare
with his heel, and bestowing a quick smile and a nod on his man, trotted
easily away.



CHAPTER II

MY LORD AT THE WHITE HART


"Sir Anthony Ferndale" sat before the dressing-table in his room at the
White Hart, idly polishing his nails. A gorgeous silk dressing gown lay
over the back of his chair, and, behind him, Jim was attending to his
wig, at the same time hovering anxiously over the coat and waistcoat
that were waiting to be donned.

Carstares left off polishing his nails, yawned, and leaned back in his
chair, a slim, graceful figure in cambric shirt and apricot satin
breeches. He studied his cravat for some moments in the mirror, and
lifted a hand to it. Salter held his breath. With extreme deliberation
the hand moved a diamond and emerald pin the fraction of an inch to one
side, and fell to his side again. Salter drew a relieved breath, which
brought his master's eyes round to himself.

"No trouble, Jim?"

"None at all, sir."

"Neither had I. 'Twas most surprisingly easy. The birds had no more
fight in them than sparrows. Two men in a coach--one a bullying rascal
of a merchant, the other his clerk. Gad! but I was sorry for that little
man!" He paused, his hand on the rouge pot.

Salter looked an inquiry.

"Yes," nodded Carstares. "Very sorry. The fat man would appear to bully
and browbeat him after the manner of his kind; he even blamed him for my
advent, the greasy coward! Yes, Jim, you are right--he did not appeal to
me, _ce M. Fudby_. So--" ingenuously, "I relieved him of his cash-box
and two hundred guineas. A present for the poor of Lewes."

Jim jerked his shoulder, frowning.

"If ye give away all ye get, sir, why do ye rob at all?" he asked
bluntly.

His whimsical little smile played about my lord's mouth.

"'Tis an object for my life, Jim: a noble object. And I believe it
amuses me to play Robin Hood--take from the rich to give to the poor,"
he added, for Salter's benefit. "But to return to my victims--you would
have laughed had you but seen my little man come tumbling out of the
coach when I opened the door!"

"Tumble, sir? Why should he do that?"

"He was at pains to explain the reason. It seems he had been commanded
to hold the door to prevent my entering--so when I jerked it open,
sooner than loose his hold, he fell out on to the road. Of course, I
apologised most abjectly--and we had some conversation. Quite a nice
little man.... It made me laugh to see him sprawling on the road,
though!"

"Wish I could have seen it, your honour. I would ha' liked fine to ha'
been beside ye." He looked down at the lithe form with some pride. "I'd
give something to see ye hold up a coach, sir!"

Haresfoot in hand, Jack met his admiring eyes in the glass, and laughed.

"I make no doubt you would.... I have cultivated a superb voice, a
trifle thick and beery, a little loud, perhaps--ah, something to dream
of o' nights! I doubt they do, too," he added reflectively, and affixed
the patch at the corner of his mouth.

"So? A little low, you think? But 'twill suffice--What's toward?"

Down below in the street there was a great stirring and bustling:
horses' hoofs, shouts from the ostlers, and the sound of wheels on the
cobble-stones. Jim went to the window and looked down, craning his neck
to see over the balcony.

"'Tis a coach arrived, sir."

"That much had I gathered," replied my lord, busy with the powder.

"Yes, sir. O lord, sir!" He was shaken with laughter.

"What now?"

"'Tis the curiousest sight, sir! Two gentlemen, one fat and t'other
small! One's all shrivelled-looking, like a spider, while t'other--"

"Resembles a hippopotamus--particularly in the face?"

"Well yes, sir. He do rather. And he be wearing purple."

"Heavens, yes! Purple, and an orange waistcoat!"

Jim peered afresh.

"So it is, sir! But how did you know?" Even as he put the question,
understanding flashed into Jim's eyes.

"I rather think that I have had the honour of meeting these gentlemen,"
replied my lord placidly. "My buckle, Jim.... Is't a prodigious great
coach with wheels picked out in yellow?"

"Ay, your honour. The gentlemen seem a bit put out, too."

"That is quite probable. Does the smaller gentleman wear
somewhat--ah--muddied garments?"

"I can't see, sir; he stands behind the fat gentleman."

"Mr. Bumble Bee.... Jim!"

"Sir!" Jim turned quickly at the sound of the sharp voice.

He found that my lord had risen, and was holding up a waistcoat of
pea-green pattern on a bilious yellow ground, between a disgusted finger
and thumb. Before his severe frown Jim dropped his eyes and stood
looking for all the world like a schoolboy detected in some crime.

"You put this--this monstrosity--out for _me_ to wear?" in awful tones.

Jim eyed the waistcoat gloomily and nodded.

"Yes, sir."

"Did I not specify cream ground?"

"Yes, sir. I thought--I thought that 'twas cream!"

"My good friend, it is--it is--I cannot say what it is. And pea-green!"
he shuddered. "Remove it."

Jim hurried forward and disposed of the offending garment.

"And bring me the broidered satin. Yes, that is it. It is particularly
pleasing to the eye."

"Yes, sir," agreed the abashed Jim.

"You are excused this time," added my lord, with a twinkle in his eye.
"What are our two friends doing?"

Salter went back to the window

"They've gone into the house, sir. No, here's the spider gentleman! He
do seem in a hurry, your honour!"

"Ah!" murmured his lordship. "You may assist me into this coat. Thanks."

With no little difficulty, my lord managed to enter into the fine satin
garment, which, when on, seemed moulded to his back, so excellently did
it fit. He shook out his ruffles and slipped the emerald ring on to his
finger with a slight frown.

"I believe I shall remain here some few days," he remarked presently.
"To--ah--allay suspicion." He looked across at his man as he spoke,
through his lashes.

It was not in Jim's nature to inquire into his master's affairs, much
less to be surprised at anything he might do or say. He was content to
receive and promptly execute his orders, and to worship Carstares with a
dog-like devotion, following blindly in his wake, happy as long as he
might serve him.

Carstares had found him in France, very down upon his luck, having been
discharged from the service of his late master owing to the penniless
condition of that gentleman's pocket. He had engaged him as his own
personal servant, and the man had remained with him ever since, proving
an invaluable acquisition to my Lord John. Despite a singularly wooden
countenance, he was by no means a fool, and he had helped Carstares out
of more than one tight corner during his inglorious and foolhardy career
as highwayman. He probably understood his somewhat erratic master better
than anyone else, and he now divined what was in his mind. He returned
that glance with a significant wink.

"'Twas them gentlemen ye held up to-day, sir?" he asked, jerking an
expressive thumb towards the window.

"M'm. Mr. Bumble Bee and friend. It would almost appear so. I think I do
not fully appreciate Mr. Bumble Bee. I find his conduct rather tiresome.
But it is just possible that he thinks the same of me. I will further my
acquaintance with him."

Jim grunted scornfully, and an inquiring eye was cocked at him.

"You do not admire our friend? Pray, do not judge him by his exterior.
He may possess a beautiful mind. But I do not think so. N-no, I really
do not think so." He chuckled a little. "Do you know, Jim, I believe I
am going to enjoy myself to-night!"

"I don't doubt it, your honour. 'Twere child's play to trick the fat
gentleman."

"Probably. But it is not with the fat gentleman that I shall have to
deal. 'Tis with all the officials of this charming town, an I mistake
not. Do I hear the small spider returning?"

Salter stepped back to the window.

"Ay, sir--with three others."

"Pre-cisely. Be so good as to hand me my snuff-box. And my cane. Thank
you. I feel the time has now come for me to put in an appearance. Pray,
bear in mind that I am new come from France and journey by easy stages
to London. And cultivate a stupid expression. Yes, that will do
excellently."

Jim grinned delightedly; he had assumed no expression of stupidity, and
was consequently much pleased with this pleasantry. He swung open the
door with an air, and watched "Sir Anthony" mince along the passage to
the stairs.

In the coffee-room the city merchant, Mr. Fudby by name, was relating
the story of his wrongs, with many an impressive pause, and much
emphasis, to the mayor, town-clerk, and beadle of Lewes. All three had
been fetched by Mr. Chilter, his clerk, in obedience to his orders, for
the bigger the audience the better pleased was Mr. Fudby. He was now
enjoying himself quite considerably, despite the loss of his precious
cash-box.

So was not Mr. Hedges, the mayor. He was a fussy little man who suffered
from dyspepsia; he was not interested in the affair, and he did not see
what was to be done for Mr. Fudby. Further, he had been haled from his
dinner, and he was hungry; and, above all, he found Mr. Fudby very
unattractive. Still, a highroad robbery was serious matter enough, and
some course of action must be thought out; so he listened to the story
with an assumption of interest, looking exceedingly wise, and, at the
proper moments, uttering sounds betokening concern.

The more he saw and heard of Mr. Fudby, the less he liked him. Neither
did the town-clerk care for him. There was that about Mr. Fudby that did
not endear him to his fellow-men, especially when they chanced to be his
inferiors in the social scale. The beadle did not think much about
anything. Having decided (and rightly) that the affair had nothing
whatever to do with him, he leaned back in his chair and stared stolidly
up at the ceiling.

The tale Mr. Fudby was telling bore surprisingly little resemblance to
the truth. It was a much embellished version, in which he himself had
behaved with quite remarkable gallantry. It had been gradually concocted
during the journey to Lewes.

He was still holding forth when my lord entered the room. Carstares
raised his glass languidly to survey the assembled company, bowed
slightly, and walked over to the fire. He seated himself in an armchair
and took no further notice of anybody.

Mr. Hedges had recognised at a glance that here was some _grand
seigneur_ and wished that Mr. Fudby would not speak in so loud a voice.
But that individual, delighted at having a new auditor, continued his
tale with much relish and in a still louder tone.

My lord yawned delicately and took a pinch of snuff.

"Yes, yes," fussed Mr. Hedges. "But, short of sending to London for the
Runners, I do not see what I can do. If I send to London, it must, of
course, be at your expense, sir."

Mr. Fudby bristled.

"At _my_ expense, sir? Do ye say at _my_ expense? I am surprised! I
repeat--I am surprised!"

"Indeed, sir? I can order the town-crier out, describing the horse,
and--er--offering a reward for the capture of any man on such an
animal. But--" he shrugged and looked across at the town-clerk--"I do
not imagine that 'twould be of much use--eh, Mr. Brand?"

The clerk pursed his lips and spread out his hands.

"I fear not; I very much fear not. I would advise Mr. Fudby to have a
proclamation posted up round the country." He sat back with the air of
one who has contributed his share to the work, and does not intend to
offer any more help.

"Ho!" growled Mr. Fudby. He blew out his cheeks. "'Twill be a grievous
expense, though I suppose it must be done, and I cannot but feel that if
it had not been for your deplorably cowardly conduct, Chilter--yes,
cowardly conduct, I say--I might never have been robbed of my two
hundred!" He snuffled a little, and eyed the flushed but silent Chilter
with mingled reproach and scorn. "However, my coachman assures me he
could swear to the horse again, although he cannot remember much about
the man himself. Chilter! How did he describe the horse?"

"Oh--er--chestnut, Mr. Fudby--chestnut, with a half-moon of white on its
forehead, and one white foreleg."

Jack perceived that it was time he took a hand in the game. He half
turned in his chair and levelled his quizzing-glass at Mr. Chilter.

"I beg your pardon?" he drawled.

Mr. Fudby's eye brightened. The fine gentleman was roused to an
expression of interest at last. He launched forth into his story once
more for my lord's benefit. Carstares eyed him coldly, seeing which, Mr.
Hedges came hurriedly to the rescue.

"Er--yes, Mr. Fudby--quite so! Your pardon, sir, I have not the honour
of knowing your name?"

"Ferndale," supplied Jack, "Sir Anthony Ferndale."

"Er--yes--" Mr. Hedges bowed. "Pray pardon my importuning you with
our--"

"Not at all," said my lord.

"No--quite so--The fact is, these--er--gentlemen have had
the--er--misfortune to be waylaid on their journey here."

Sir Anthony's glass was again levelled at the group. His expression
betokened mild surprise.

"_All_ these gentlemen?" he inquired blandly. "Dear, dear!"

"Oh, no, no, no, sir! Not all--Only Mr.--er--"

"Fudby," said that worthy, and discovered that Sir Anthony was bowing
frigidly. At once he rose, and resting his knuckles on the table before
him, bent his body slowly and painfully. Sir Anthony inclined his head.
Whereupon, to the delight of all the rest, Mr. Fudby bowed again with
even greater stateliness than before. Mr. Hedges observed Sir Anthony's
lips to twitch convulsively. He waited for Mr. Fudby to subside, and
then continued:

"Yes--Mr. Fudby and Mr.--"

"My clerk!" snapped Fudby.

Sir Anthony favoured Mr. Chilter with his peculiarly sweet smile, and
turned again to Mr. Hedges.

"I see. A _daylight_ robbery, you say?"

"Broad daylight!" boomed Mr. Fudby.

"Er--yes, yes," interposed the mayor, fearing a fresh outbreak from that
quarter. "I wonder if you have seen anything of such an animal as
Mr.--er--Chilter--described?"

"'Tis a most extraordinary thing," said Carstares slowly, "but I have
just bought such an one." He glanced round with an inquiring smile and
one eyebrow lifted.

"Well!" ejaculated Mr. Fudby. "Well!"

"Dear me, sir, what a strange coincidence! May I ask where you bought
it, and from whom?"

"She has not been in my possession over two hours. I bought her from an
out-at-elbows ruffian, on my way hither. I thought at one time that
'twas strange that the man should possess such a mare--pure bred, I
vow--and wondered why he was so eager to be rid of her."

"He was eager because he knew he would be recognised by her," explained
Mr. Fudby kindly.

"Without doubt. Perhaps you would like to see her? I will send my man--"

"Oh no, no!" cried the mayor. "We would not dream of so inconveniencing
you--"

"'Twere a pleasure," bowed Jack, devoutly hoping that Mr. Fudby would
not require to see Jenny, who, he felt sure, would betray him by her
very evident affection.

"No, no, Sir Anthony, 'tis quite unnecessary, I assure you, but I thank
you for all that. Mr. Fudby, if you would describe the man himself, I
will see to the proclamation."

"Describe him, Chilter!" ordered Mr. Fudby, who was becoming rather
grumpy.

Mr. Chilter smiled suddenly.

"Certainly, sir!" he said with alacrity. "'Twas a great ruffianly
fellow, monstrous tall--"

"How tall?" interrupted the town-clerk. "Six feet?"

"Oh, quite!" lied Mr. Chilter. "And fat."

Jack's shoulders shook.

"Fat, you say?" he asked gently.

"Very fat," affirmed Mr. Chilter. "And prodigious rough, swearing
dreadfully in his speech."

"You could not see his face, I suppose?"

Mr. Chilter hesitated.

"I could see his mouth and chin," he said, "and I remarked a long scar
running from his under-lip to the--er--bottom of his face."

Involuntarily Carstares' hand caressed his perfectly smooth chin. Either
the little clerk was a born romancer, or for some reason or other he did
not want the highwayman to be taken.

"Well, Sir Anthony?" the mayor was saying. "Does that description fit
your man?"

My lord frowned thoughtfully.

"Tall," he said slowly, "and fat--you said fat, I think, Mr. Chilter?"

Rather anxiously Mr. Chilter reiterated this statement.

"Ah! And with a long scar--yes, that is undoubtedly he. Furthermore," he
added audaciously, "he has a squint in his left eye. 'Tis a most
ill-favoured rogue in all."

"It would appear so, Sir Anthony," remarked the mayor drily. He did not
in the least believe the story of the squint, and imagined that the fine
court gentleman was amusing himself at their expense. Nevertheless, he
had no intention of remonstrating; the sooner he could withdraw from
this very tiresome affair the better. So he gravely took down all the
absurd particulars, remarked that the man should be easy to find, and
made ready to depart.

The town-clerk rose, and tapped the beadle on the shoulder, whereupon
that worthy, with a grunt, abandoned his pose of masterly inactivity and
followed the mayor out of the room.

Mr. Fudby rose.

"I doubt I shall never see my money again," he said pettishly. "If you,
Chilter had not been so--"

"Allow me to offer you some snuff, Mr. Chilter," interposed my lord
gently, extending his jewelled box. "Doubtless, sir, you would wish to
see my mare?"

"I know nought of horses," snorted Mr. Fudby. "'Tis my clerk who appears
to have remarked all the details." He sneered terrifically.

"Then pray, do me the honour of walking as far as the stables, Mr.
Chilter. 'Twere as well to be certain about the mare. Mr.-ah--Fudby,
your servant."

       *       *       *       *       *

"And now, Mr. Chilter, I have a grudge against you," said Carstares, as
they walked across the little garden.

"Me, sir? Oh--er--have you, Sir Anthony?"

He looked up and perceived that the gentleman was laughing.

"Yes, Mr. Chilter, a very serious grudge: you have described me as fat!"

Chilter nearly fainted.

"_You_, sir," he gasped, and stared in amazement.

"Also that I swear dreadfully in my speech, and that I have a scar
running from my mouth to my chin."

Mr. Chilter stood stock-still in the middle of the path.

"It was you, sir, all the time? _You_ held us up? Were _you_ the man who
wrenched open the door?"

"I was that infamous scoundrel. I beg leave once more to apologise for
my carelessness in opening that same door. Now tell me, why did you
take such pains to throw dust in their sleepy eyes?"

They resumed their walk slowly. The little clerk flushed.

"I scarce know, sir, save that I--that I liked you, and--and--"

"I see. 'Twas prodigious good of you, Mr. Chilter. I wonder if there is
anything that I can do to show my gratitude?"

Again the clerk flushed and lifted his head proudly.

"I thank you, sir, but there is nought."

By now they had reached the stable. Carstares opened the door and they
entered.

"Then will you accept this in token of my regard, sir?"

Mr. Chilter gazed at the emerald ring that glowed and winked at him from
the palm of my lord's hand. He looked up into the blue eyes and
stammered a little.

"Indeed, sir--I--I--"

"'Tis honestly come by!" pleadingly. "Come, Mr. Chilter, you'll not hurt
my feelings by refusing? You will keep it in remembrance of a man--a fat
man, Mr. Chilter--who rudely jerked you on to the road?"

The clerk took it with unsteady fingers.

"I thank you most--"

"Nay, I beg of you. 'Tis I thank you for aiding me so kindly.... Come
and see my Jenny! Well, lass?" For the mare at the first sound of his
voice had turned in her loose-box, and was whinnying and pawing the
ground eagerly.

"I do not understand, sir, anything: how it is that you are a
highwayman, or why you have honoured me with your confidence--why you
should trust me. But--thank you."

As he spoke, Mr. Chilter placed his hand in my lord's, and for the
second time in his life, felt the pressure of those firm, kindly
fingers.

"Why, your honour! Ye've lost your emerald!"

"No, Jim. I gave it away."

"Ye--ye _gave_ it away, sir?"

"M'm. To the small spider."

"B-but--"

"And he called me fat, too."

"Called ye fat, sir?" asked the man, bewildered.

"Yes. Very fat. By the way, let me tell you that I bought Jenny at
Fittering to-day from the naughty ruffian who waylaid Mr. Bumble Bee."
He proceeded to give Jim a sketch of what had transpired below. When he
had finished the man shook his head severely.

"I doubt ye'll never learn wisdom, sir," he scolded.

"I? What have I done?"

"What did ye want to tell it all to the spider man for, sir? 'Twas most
incautious of ye. Like as not, he'll split to the fat gentleman, and
we'll have the whole town at our heels."

"Which just shows all you know of the small spider," replied his master
calmly. "Hand me the powder."



CHAPTER III

INTRODUCING THE HON. RICHARD CARSTARES


Wyncham! A stately old house with mullioned windows, standing high on
its stone terraces, half-covered by creepers; a house surrounded by
lawns, rolling down on the one side to a river that rippled and murmured
its way along beneath overhanging trees and a blue sky, over boulders
and rocks, so clear and sparkling that the myriad pebbles could be seen
deep down on its bed.

In the other direction, the velvet lawns stretched away till they met
the orchards and the quiet meadowland.

On two sides the house had its terraces, very white in the sunshine,
with stone steps leading down to a miniature lake where water-lilies
grew, and where the tiny fish darted to and fro unconcernedly.

Flagged walks there were, running between flower beds a riot of colour,
and solemn old trees that had stood there through all the years. Cool
woodland lay beyond the little river, carpeted with dark moss, where in
spring the primroses grew. So thick was the foliage of the trees that
the sun but penetrated in uneven patches.

Up the terrace walls crept roses, yellow and red, pink and white, and
tossed their trailing sprays across the parapet. Over the walls of the
house they climbed, mingling with purple clematis, jasmine, and sickly
honeysuckle. The air was heavy with their united perfumes, while, wafted
from a bed below, came the smoky scent of lavender.

The old house seemed half asleep, basking in the sunlight. Save for a
peacock preening its feathers on the terrace steps, there was no sign of
life....

The old place had harboured generations of Carstares. Earl had succeeded
Earl and reigned supreme, and it was only now that there was no Earl
living there. No one knew where he was. Scarce a month ago one died, but
the eldest son was not there to take his place. For six years he had
been absent, and none dared breathe his name, for he disgraced that
name, and the old Earl cast him off and forbade all mention of him. But
the poor folk of the countryside remembered him. They would tell one
another tales of his reckless courage; his sweet smile and his winning
ways; his light-heartedness and his never-failing kindness and
good-humour. What a rider he was! To see him sit his horse! What a
swordsman! Do ye mind the time he fought young Mr. Welsh over yonder in
the spinney with half the countryside watching? Ah, he was a one, was
Master Jack! Do ye mind how he knocked the sword clean out o' Mr.
Welsh's hand, and then stood waiting for him to pick it up? And do ye
mind the way his eyes sparkled, and how he laughed, just for the sheer
joy o' living?

Endless anecdotes would they tell, and the old gaffers would shake their
heads and sigh, and long for the sight of him again. And they would jerk
their thumbs towards the Manor and shrug their old shoulders
significantly. Who wanted Mr. Richard for squire? Not they, at least.
They knew he was a good squire and a kindly man, but give them Master
John, who would laugh and crack a joke and never wear the glum looks
that Mr. Richard affected.

In the house, Richard Carstares paced to and fro in his library, every
now and again pausing to glance wretchedly up at the portrait of his
brother hanging over his desk. The artist had managed to catch the
expression of those blue eyes, and they smiled down at Richard in just
the way that John was always wont to smile--so gaily, and withal so
wistfully.

Richard was twenty-nine, but already he looked twice his age. He was
very thin, and there were deep lines on his good-looking countenance.
His grey eyes bore a haunted, care-worn look, and his mouth, though
well-shaped, was curiously lacking in determination. He was dressed
soberly, and without that touch of smartness that had characterised him
six years ago. He wore black in memory of his father, and it may have
been that severity, only relieved by the lace at his throat, that made
his face appear so prematurely aged. There was none of his brother's
boyishness about him; even his smile seemed forced and tired, and his
laughter rarely held merriment.

He pulled out his chronometer, comparing it with the clock on the
mantelpiece. His pacing took him to the door, and almost nervously he
pulled it open, listening.

No sound came to his ears. Back again, to and fro across the room,
eagerly awaiting the clanging of a bell. It did not come, but presently
a footfall sounded on the passage without, and someone knocked at the
door.

In two strides Richard was by it, and had flung it wide. Warburton stood
there.

Richard caught his hand.

"Warburton! At last! I have been waiting this hour and more!"

Mr. Warburton disengaged himself, bowing.

"I regret I was not able to come before, sir," he said primly.

"I make no doubt you travelled back as quickly as possible--come in,
sir."

He led the lawyer into the room and shut the door.

"Sit down, Warburton--sit down. You--you found my brother?"

Again Warburton bowed.

"I had the felicity of seeing his lordship, sir."

"He was well? In good spirits? You thought him changed--yes? Aged
perhaps, or--"

"His lordship was not greatly changed, sir."

Richard almost stamped in his impatience.

"Come, Warburton, come! Tell me everything. What did he say? Will he
take the revenues? Will he--"

"His lordship, sir, was reluctant to take anything, but upon maturer
consideration, he--ah--consented to accept his elder son's portion. The
revenues of the estate he begs you will make use of."

"Ah! But you told him that I would touch nought belonging to him?"

"I tried to persuade his lordship, sir. To no avail. He desires you to
use Wyncham as you will."

"I'll not touch his money!"

Warburton gave the faintest of shrugs.

"That is as you please, sir."

Something in the suave voice made Richard, from his stand by the desk,
glance sharply down at the lawyer. Suspicion flashed into his eyes. He
seemed about to speak, when Warburton continued:

"I believe I may set your mind at rest on one score, Mr. Carstares: his
lordship's situation is tolerably comfortable. He has ample means."

"But--but he lives by--robbery!"

Warburton's thin lips curled a little.

"Does he not?" persisted Carstares.

"So he would have us believe, sir."

"'Tis true! He--waylaid me!"

"And robbed you, sir?"

"Rob me? He could not rob his own brother, Warburton!"

"Your pardon, Mr. Carstares--you are right: his lordship could not rob a
brother. Yet have I known a man do such a thing."

For a long minute there was no word spoken. The suspicion that had dwelt
latent in Carstares' eyes sprang up again. Some of the colour drained
from his cheeks, and twice he passed his tongue between his lips. The
fingers of his hand, gripping a chair-back, opened and shut
spasmodically. Rather feverishly his eyes searched the lawyer's face,
questioning.

"John told you--told you--" he started, and floundered hopelessly.

"His lordship told me nothing, sir. He was singularly reticent. But
there was nothing he could tell me that I did not already know."

"What do you mean, Warburton? Why do you look at me like that? Why do
you fence with me? In plain words, what do you mean?"

Warburton rose, clenching his hands.

"I know you, Master Richard, for what you are!"

"Ah!" Carstares flung out his hand as if to ward off a blow.

Another tense silence. With a great effort Warburton controlled himself,
and once more the mask of impassivity seemed to descend upon him. After
that one tortured cry Richard became calm again. He sat down; on his
face a look almost of relief, coming after a great strain.

"You learnt the truth ... from John. He ... will expose me?"

"No, sir. I have not learnt it from him. And he will never expose you."

Richard turned his head. His eyes, filled now with a species of dull
pain, looked full into Warburton's.

"Oh?" he said. "Then you...?"

"Nor I, sir. I have pledged my word to his lordship. I would not speak
all these years for your father's sake--now it is for his." He choked.

"You ... are fond of John?" Still the apathetic, weary voice.

"Fond of him--? Good God, Master Dick, I love him!"

"And I," said Richard, very low.

He received no reply, and looked up.

"You don't believe me?"

"Once, sir, I was certain of it. Now--!" he shrugged.

"Yet 'tis true, Warburton. I would give all in my power to undo that
night's work."

"You cannot expect me to believe that, sir. It rests with you alone
whether his name be cleared or not. And you remain silent."

"Warburton, I--Oh, do you think it means nothing to me that John is
outcast?"

Before the misery in those grey eyes some of Warburton's severity fell
away from him.

"Master Richard, I want to think the best I can of you. Master Jack
would tell me nothing. Will you not--can you not explain how it came
that you allowed him to bear the blame of your cheat?"

Richard shuddered.

"There's no explanation--no excuse. I forced it on him! On Jack, my
brother! Because I was mad for love of Lavinia--Oh, my God, the thought
of it is driving me crazed! I thought I could forget; and then--and
then--I met him! The sight of him brought it all back to me. Ever since
that day I have not known how to live and not shriek the truth to
everyone! And I never shall! I never shall!"

"Tell me, sir," pleaded Warburton, touched in spite of himself.

Richard's head sunk into his hands.

"The whole scene is a nightmare.... I think I must have been mad.... I
scarce knew what I was about. I--"

"Gently, sir. Remember I know hardly anything. What induced you to mark
the cards?"

"That debt to Gundry. My father would not meet it; I had to find the
money. I could not face the scandal--I tell you I was mad for Lavinia! I
could think of nought else. I ceased to care for John because I thought
him in love with her. I could not bear to think of the disgrace which
would take her from me.... Then that night at Dare's. I was losing; I
knew I could not pay. Gad! but I can see my notes of hand under
Milward's elbow, growing... growing.

"Jack had played Milward before me, and he had won. I remember they
laughed at him, saying his luck had turned at last--for he always lost
at cards. Milward and I played with the same pack that they had
used.... There was another table, I think. Dare was dicing with
Fitzgerald; someone was playing faro with Jack behind me. I heard Jack
say his luck was out again--I heard them laugh.... And all the time I
was losing ... losing.

"The pin of my cravat fell out on to my knee. I think no one saw it. As
I picked it up the thought that I should mark the cards seemed to flash
into my mind--oh, it was despicable, I know! I held the ace of clubs in
my hand: I scratched it with that pin--in one corner. It was easily
done. By degrees I marked all four, and three of the kings.

"No one noticed, but I was nervous--I dared do no more. I replaced that
pin. Soon I began to win--not very much. Then Tracy Belmanoir came
across the room to watch our play. From that moment everything seemed to
go awry. It was the beginning of the trouble.

"Tracy stood behind me watching.... I could feel him there, like some
black moth, hovering.... I don't know how long he stayed like that--it
seemed hours. I could feel his eyes.... I could have shrieked--I'll
swear my hands were trembling.

"Suddenly he moved. I had played the ace of hearts. He said: 'One
moment!' in that soft, sinister voice of his.

"Milward was surprised. I tried to tell myself that Devil had noticed
nothing.... The mark on that card was so faint that I could scarce see
it myself. I thought it impossible that he, a mere onlooker, should
discover it. He stepped forward. I remember he brushed my shoulder. I
remember how the light caught the diamonds he was wearing. I think my
brain was numbed. I could only repeat to myself: 'Extravagant Devil!
Extravagant Devil!' and stare at those winking jewels. Then I thought:
'He is Lavinia's brother, but I do not like him; I do not like him...'
--little foolish things like that--and my throat was dry--parched.

"He bent over the table ... stretched out his white, white hand ...
turned over the ace ... lifted his quizzing glass ... and stared down at
the card. Then he dropped the glass and drew out his snuff-box.... It
had Aphrodite enamelled on the lid. I remember it so distinctly.... I
heard Tracy ask Milward to examine the ace. I wanted to spring up and
strangle him.... I could scarce keep my hands still." Richard paused. He
drew his hand across his eyes, shuddering.

"Milward saw the scratch. He cried out that the cards were marked!
Suddenly everyone seemed to be gathered about our table--all talking!
Jack had his hand on my shoulder; he and Dare were running through the
pack. But all the while I could look at no one but Tracy--Andover. He
seemed so sinister, so threatening, in those black clothes of his. His
eyes were almost shut--his face so white. And he was looking at me! He
seemed to be reading my very soul.... For an instant I thought he knew!
I wanted to shout out that he was wrong! I wanted to shriek to him to
take his eyes away! Heaven knows what I should have done!... but he
looked away--at Jack, with that sneering smile on his damned mask of a
face! I could have killed him for that smile! I think Jack understood
it--he dropped the cards, staring at Tracy.

"Everyone was watching them ... no one looked at me. If they had they
must surely have learnt the truth; but they were hanging on Andover's
lips, looking from him to Jack and back again.... I remember Fitzgerald
dropped his handkerchief--I was absurdly interested in that. I was
wondering why he did not pick it up, when Andover spoke again.... 'And
Carstares' luck turned...?' Like that, Warburton! With just that faint,
questioning in his voice.

"Before Jack could speak there was an outcry. Dare cried 'Shame!' to
Andover. They laughed at him, as well they might. But I saw them
exchange glances--they were wondering.... It was suspicious that Jack
should have had that run of luck--and that he should lose as soon as he
left that table.

"Milward--poor, silly Milward--gaped at Tracy and stuttered that surely
'twas another pack we had used. I could hardly breathe! Then Andover
corrected him--How did he _know_? No one else remembered, or thought of
noticing--only he!

"I can see Jack now, standing there so stiffly, with his head thrown up,
and those blue eyes of his flashing.

"'Do I understand you to accuse me, Belmanoir?' he said. Oh, but he was
furious!

"Tracy never said a word. Only his eyes just flickered to my face and
away again.

"Jack's hand was gripping my shoulder hard. I could feel his anger....
Dare called out that the suggestion was preposterous. That John should
cheat!

"Tracy asked him if the cards were his. Gad! I can hear his soft,
mocking voice now!

"Dare went purple--you know his way, Warburton.

"'Opened in your presence on this table!' he cried.

"'By Carstares!' smiled Tracy.

"It was true. But why should Tracy remember it, and none other? They
stared at him, amazed. Dare turned to Jack for corroboration. He nodded.
I think he never looked haughtier....

"You know how fond of Jack Dare was? He tried to bluster it off--tried
to get control over the affair. It was to no avail. We were puppets,
worked by that devil, Belmanoir! One man managing that ghastly scene....
He pointed out that only three of us had used that pack: Jack, Milward
and I.

"Jack laughed.

"'Next you will accuse Dick!' he snapped scornfully.

"'One of you, certainly,' smiled Andover. 'Or Milward.'

"Then everyone realised that one of us three must have marked the cards.
Milward was upset, but no one suspected him. It was Jack--or me.

"As long as I live I shall never forget the horror of those moments. If
I were exposed it meant the end of everything between Lavinia and me. I
tell you, Warburton, I would have committed any sin at that moment!
Nothing would have been too black--I could not bear to lose her. You
don't know what she meant to me!"

"I can guess, sir," said the lawyer, gravely.

"No, no! No one could imagine the depths of my love for her! I think not
even Jack.... I felt his hand leave my shoulder.... The truth had dawned
on him. I heard the way the breath hissed between his teeth as he
realised.... Somehow I got to my feet, clutching at the table, facing
him. I don't excuse myself--I know my conduct was beyond words
dastardly. I looked across at him--just said his name, as though I could
scarce believe my ears. So all those watching thought. But Jack knew
better. He knew I was imploring him to save me. He understood all that I
was trying to convey to him. For an instant he stared at me. I
thought--I thought--God forgive me, I prayed that he might take the
blame on himself. Then he smiled. Coward though I was, when I saw that
hurt, wistful little smile on his lips, I nearly blurted out the whole
truth. Not quite.... I suppose I was too mean-spirited for that.

"Jack bowed to the room and again to Dare. He said: 'I owe you an
apology, sir.'

"Dare sprang forward, catching him by the shoulder--crying out that it
could not be true! When Jack laughed--he fell away from him as from the
plague. And all of them! My God, to see them drawing away--not looking
at Jack! And Jack's face--growing paler and harder ... every moment....
All his friends... turning their backs to him. Davenant--even Jim
Davenant walked away to the fireplace with Evans.

"I could not look at Jack. I dared not. I could not go to him--stand by
him! I had not the right. I had to leave him there--in the middle of the
room--alone. The awful hurt in his eyes made me writhe. The room was
whirling round--I felt sick--I know I fell back into my chair, hiding my
face. I hardly cared whether they suspected me or not. But they did not.
They knew how great was the love between us, and they were not surprised
that I broke down.

"I heard Andover's soft voice ... he was telling some tale to Dare. Oh,
they were well-bred those men! They skimmed over the unpleasant little
episode--ignored Jack!

"Jack spoke again. I could guess how bravely he was keeping a proud
front. I know word for word what he said: 'Mr. Dare, your Grace,
Gentlemen--my apologies for being the cause of so unpleasant an
incident. Pray give me leave.'

"They paid no heed. I heard him walk to the door--heard him open it. I
could not look at him. He--he paused ... and said just one word: 'Dick!'
quite softly. Heaven knows how I got to him! I know I overturned my
chair. That drew Dare's attention. He said: 'You are not going, Dick?' I
shouted 'Yes,' at him, and then Jack took my arm, leading me out.

"And--and all he said was: 'Poor old Dick!'... He--he had no word of
blame for me. He would not allow me to go back and tell the truth--as I
would have done. Ay, Warburton, when Jack called me to him, I could have
cried it aloud--but--he would not have it.... He said: 'For Lavinia's
sake.'..."

Warburton blew his nose violently. His fingers were trembling.

"You know what happened afterwards. You know how my father turned Jack
out penniless--you know how his friends shunned him--you know my poor
mother's grief. And you know that he went away--that we could not find
him when--my mother died.... His last words to me--were: 'Make
Lavinia-happy--and try to forget--all this.' Forget it! Heavens! Try as
I might, I could hear nothing further of him until two months ago, when
he--waylaid me. Then I was half-dazed at the suddenness of it. He--he
grasped my hand--and--laughed! It was so dark, I could scarce see him. I
only had time to demand his address, and then--he was off--galloping
away over the heath. I think--even then--he bore no malice."

"He does not now!" said Warburton sharply. "But, Master Dick, if all
this is true, why do you not even now clear him? Surely--"

Richard turned his head slowly.

"Now I may not drag my wife's name through the mud. By clearing him--I
ruin her."

Warburton could find nothing to say. Only after some time did he clear
his throat and say that he was honoured by Carstares' confidence.

"You--ah--you dwell on the part played by his Grace on that evening.
Surely your--shall we say--overwrought imagination magnified that?"

Richard was disinterested.

"I suppose so. Mayhap 'twas his extraordinary personality dominating me.
He cannot have pulled the wires as I thought he did. Not even Belmanoir
could make me act as I did. But--but at the time I felt that he was
pushing--pushing--compelling me to accuse Jack. Oh, doubtless I was
mad!"

Warburton eyed the dejected figure compassionately. Then he seemed to
harden himself and to regain some of his lost primness of manner.

"You--ah--you are determined not to accept the revenues, sir?"

"I have not yet sunk so low, Mr. Warburton."

"His lordship leaves Wyncham and all appertaining to it at your
disposal. He would be grieved at your refusal."

"I will not touch it."

The lawyer nodded.

"I confess, Mr. Carstares, I am relieved to hear you say that. It will
not be necessary again to communicate with his lordship. I think he does
not desire any intercourse with--his family. He finds it too painful.
But he wished to be remembered to you, sir. Also to her ladyship."

"Thank you.... You could--ascertain nothing of his situation? He did not
confide in you?"

"He was very reticent, sir. I think he is not unhappy."

"And not--embittered?"

"Certainly not that, sir."

Mr. Warburton rose, plainly anxious to be gone.

Reluctantly Richard followed his example.

"You--have nothing further to tell me of him?"

"I regret, sir--nothing."

Richard went slowly to the door, and opened it.

"You must allow me to thank you, sir, for your goodness in undertaking
what I know must have been a painful task. I am very grateful."

Mr. Warburton bowed low.

"I beg you will not mention it, sir. Nothing I might do for the
Carstares could be aught but a pleasure."

Again he bowed, and the next instant was gone.



CHAPTER IV

INTRODUCING THE LADY LAVINIA CARSTARES


Richard went slowly back to his chair. After a moment he sat down,
staring blankly out of the window, his hands loosely clasped on the desk
before him. So he remained for a long while, immobile. At last, with the
faintest of sighs, he moved and picked up a quill. He dipped it in the
ink, and, with his other hand, drew towards him a sheaf of papers.
Presently he was writing steadily.

For perhaps twenty minutes the quill travelled to and fro across the
pages; then it paused, and Richard looked up towards the door.

It opened to admit Lady Lavinia. She came rustling into the room with
her embroidery in her hand. She dropped her husband a mock curtsey and
went over to a high-backed armchair, stretching out a dimpled hand to
draw it forward. But even as her fingers touched it she had changed her
mind, and fluttered over to the couch, there to seat herself with much
swirling of brocades and arrangement of skirts. She then proceeded to
occupy herself with her work, plying her needle hurriedly and jerkily.

Richard watched her in silence, following each turn of the pretty hand
and each movement of her fair head.

The silence was evidently not to my lady's taste, for she presently
began to beat an impatient tattoo on the floor with one slender foot.
Still he said nothing, and she raised her pure china-blue eyes to his
face.

"Why so glum, Dick? Why do you not talk to me?" Her voice was rather
high-pitched and childish, and she had a curious way of ending each
sentence with an upward lilt and a long drawn-out accent, very
fascinating to listen to.

Richard smiled with an obvious effort.

"Am I, my dear? I crave your pardon. Warburton has just been."

Her face clouded over instantly, and the full-lipped mouth drooped
petulantly.

"He has seen him."

"Oh?" She made the word twice its length, and filled it with
disinterest.

"Yes. Jack will have none of it. He asks me to be his steward and to use
Wyncham as I will. He is very generous."

"Yes, oh yes. And you will, Richard?"

He ignored the question.

"He--Warburton--says he is not much changed."

"Oh?" Again the long-drawn monosyllable, accompanied by a tiny yawn.

"He says he does not think--Jack--bears me ill-will--" He paused, as if
expecting her to speak, but she was absorbed in arranging two
flowers--culled from a bowl at her side--at her breast, and took no
notice. Carstares turned his head away wearily.

"If it were not for you, my dear, I would tell the truth. I believe I
shall go crazed an I do not."

"Dick!" ... She dropped the flowers on the floor and thought no more
about them. "Dick!"

"Oh, you need have no fear! I do not suppose," bitterly, "that I have
the courage to face them all now--after six years."

Lavinia moved restlessly, brushing her hand along the couch.

"You will not do it, Richard? Promise! You _will_ not? I could not bear
the disgrace of it; promise me you will never do it?"

"No," he said slowly, not looking at her. "No, I cannot promise that."

She sprang to her feet, flinging her broidery from her carelessly, and
waved fierce, agitated little hands.

"That means you will do it. You _want_ to disgrace me! You do not _care_
how you hurt me by holding this threat over my head so cruelly! You--"

"Lavinia, for heaven's sake!" he implored, pushing back his chair. "Calm
yourself!" He knew she was about to fly into one of her sudden passions,
and frowned with acute vexation.

"I will not! Oh yes, yes! You think me a shrew! I know! I know! But you
need not frown on me, sir, for you are worse! No, I will not hush. I am
a horrid woman, yes, but you are a cheat--a cheat--a cheat!"

Carstares strode over to her.

"Lavinia!"

"No--no! Leave me alone! You make me miserable! You refuse me everything
that I want most, and then you threaten to disgrace me--"

"That is untrue!" cried Richard, goaded into replying. "I will not
promise, that is all. What have I refused you that was within my means
to give you? God knows you try your best to ruin me--"

"There! There! 'Tis _I_ who am to blame! Pray, did you not induce my
lord to leave his money to John when you knew he would have willed it
all to you an you had kept silence? You took no thought to me--"

"For heaven's sake, Lavinia, be still! You do not know what you are
saying!"

She pressed her hands to her hot cheeks.

"No--I am unreasonable! I know it, but don't _tell_ me so, for I cannot
bear it! And don't look reproach at me, Richard! You drive me mad, I
tell you!" She was sweeping up and down the room like some caged animal,
lashing herself to a worse fury.

"Say something, Richard! _Do_ something! Don't stand there so quietly!
Oh, you should never have married me! I displease you, and you make me
worse; and you do not see how 'tis that I cannot live without pleasure,
and money! I am despicable? Yes, yes, but what are you? Oh, why did you
tell me you cheated _after_ you had wedded me?" Angry sobs escaped her;
her handkerchief was in shreds upon the floor.

Carstares turned his back to her, that she might not see how she had
contrived to hurt him, and the movement drove her to fresh fury.

"Don't do that! Don't! Don't! You make me worse by your dreadful
silence! Oh, if you really loved me!"

"You cannot doubt that!" he cried out, wheeling suddenly round. "You
know how I love you! Don't you?" He gripped her by the shoulders and
swung her to face him.

She trembled and gave a sobbing little laugh. As suddenly as it had
come, her anger left her.

"Oh, yes, yes! You do love me, Dicky?" She twined her arms about his
neck and shrank closer.

"God help me, yes!" he groaned, thrusting her away. "And you--you care
for no one save yourself!"

"No! No!" she cried, pressing up to him again. "Do not say that, Dick.
Indeed, I love you, but I cannot live without gaiety--you know I
cannot. Oh, I do not doubt but what I am very selfish, but 'tis the way
I am fashioned, and I cannot change my nature. And now I have hurt you,
and I did not mean to! I did not mean to!"

"My dear, I know you did not; but try to be less a child, I beg of you!
You are so uncontrolled, so--"

"I knew you would say that," she answered in a dead voice. "You do not
understand me. You expect me to be good, and patient, and forbearing,
and I tell you 'tis not in my nature."

"But, Lavinia, you can control your passions," he said gently.

"No! I cannot! We Belmanoirs--as God made us, so we are--and He made us
spendthrift, and pleasure-loving, and mad!" She walked slowly to the
door. "But you do not understand, and you try to make me staid, and
thoughtful, and a good mother, when I am dying for _life_, and
excitement, and care not that for housewifery!" She opened the door
slowly. "And now my head aches, and you look grave and say 'tis my
wicked temper, when I want you to be sorry, and to be ready to do
anything to comfort me. Why can you not take me to London, when you know
how I long to be there, instead of in this gloomy house with nought to
do, save mind my child and my needle? I am so tired of it all! So very
tired of it all!"

She would have left the room then, but he detained her.

"Wait, Lavinia! You say you are unhappy?"

She released the door handle and fluttered her hands expressively.

"Unhappy? No, I am dull. I am ill-tempered. I am discontented. I am
aught you please, so do not be sad, Richard. I cannot bear you to be
solemn. Oh, why do we quarrel?" With one of her impulsive movements she
was again at his side, with her beautiful face upturned. "Love me,
Richard! Take me to London and never mind an I _do_ squander your money.
Say you do not care! Say that nothing matters so long as I am happy! Why
do you not say it? Does anything matter? Don't be prudent, Dicky! Be
wild! Be reckless! Be anything rather than grave and old!" Her arms
crept up to his coaxingly. "Take me to London!"

Carstares smoothed the soft hair back from her forehead, very tenderly,
but his eyes were worried.

"My dear, I will take you, but not just yet. There is so much to be done
here. If you will wait a little longer--"

"Ah, if I will wait! If I will be patient and good! But I cannot! Oh,
you don't understand, Dicky--you don't understand!"

"I am sorry, dear. I promise I will take you as soon as possible, and we
will stay as long as you please."

Her arms fell away.

"I want to go now!"

"Dear--"

"Very well--very well. We will go presently. Only don't reason with me."

He looked at her concernedly.

"You are overwrought, my love--and tired."

"Yes," she agreed listlessly. "Oh yes; I will go now and rest. Forgive
me, Dick!" She kissed her finger-tips and extended them to him. "I will
be good one day." She turned and hurried out of the room and up the
stairs, leaving the door open behind her.

Richard stayed for a moment looking round at the signs of her late
presence. Mechanically he stooped to pick up her embroidery and the
pieces of her handkerchief. The two flowers were broken off short, and
he threw them away. Then he left the room and went out on to the sunny
terrace, gazing across the beautiful gardens into the blue distance.

Across the lawn came a child of four or five, waving a grimy hand.

"Father!"

Richard looked down at him and smiled.

"Well, John?"

The boy climbed up the terrace steps, calling his news all the way.

"'Tis Uncle Andrew, sir. He has rid over to see you, and is coming
through the garden to find you."

"Is he? Has he left his horse at the stables?"

"Ay, sir. So I came to tell you."

"Quite right. Will you come with me to meet him?"

The little rosy face lighted up with pleasure.

"Oh, may I?" he cried and slipped his hand in Richard's.

Together they descended the steps and made their way across the lawn.

"I have run away from Betty," announced John with some pride. "There's
Uncle Andrew, sir!" He bounded away towards the approaching figure.

Lord Andrew Belmanoir was Richard's brother-in-law, brother to the
present Duke. He came up with John in his arms and tumbled him to the
ground.

"Good day, Dick! 'Tis a spoilt child you have here!"

"Ay. He is but now escaped from his nurse."

"Splendid! Come, John, you shall walk with us, and we'll confound fat
Betty!" He slipped his arm through Richard's as he spoke. "Come, Dick!
There's a deal I have to say to you." He grimaced ruefully.

The child ran on ahead towards the woods, a great bull-mastiff at his
heels.

"What's to do now?" asked Richard, looking round into the mobile,
dissipated countenance.

"The devil's in it this time, and no mistake," answered his lordship
with a rueful shake of his head.

"Debts?"

"Lord, yes! I was at Delaby's last night, and the stakes were high.
Altogether I've lost about three thousand--counting what I owe Carew.
And devil take me an I know where 'tis to come from! Here's Tracy turned
saint and swears he'll see me damned before he hands me another penny. I
doubt he means it, too."

Tracy was the Duke. Richard smiled a little cynically; he had already
had to lend his Grace a thousand guineas to pay off some "trifling
debt."

"He means it right enough. I believe it would puzzle him to find it."

"Do you say so? Why, 'tis impossible man! Tracy was in town scarce a
fortnight since, and he had a run of the devil's own luck. I tell you
Dick, I saw him walk off with a cool five thousand one night! And then
he denies me a paltry three! Lord, what a brother! And all with the air
of an angel, as if _he_ had never lost at dice. And a homily thrown in!
Anyone would think I had cheated, instead of--ahem!... Dick, I'm
confoundedly sorry! Damned thoughtless of me--never thought about
Jo--about what I was saying--I'm a fool!" For Richard had winced.

"You cannot help that," he said, forcing a laugh. "Have done with your
apologies, and continue."

They had come to the stream by now, and crossed the little bridge into
the wood.

"Oh, there's not much more. 'Tis only that something must be done, for
Carew won't wait, and stap me if I'd ask him, the lean-faced
scarecrow!--so I came to you, Dick."

He let go Richard's arm and flung himself down on a fallen tree-trunk,
regardless of velvet and laces.

"You're a good fellow, and you don't lecture a man as Tracy does, devil
take him! And you play high yourself, or you did, though 'tis an age
since I saw you win or lose enough to wink at. And, after all, you're
Lavvy's husband, and--oh, damn it all, Dick, 'tis monstrous hard to ask
you!"

Carstares, leaning against a tree, surveyed the youthful rake amusedly.

"'Tush, Andrew!" he reassured him. "You're welcome to ask, but the Lord
knows where I'm to find it! Gad, what a life! Here's Lavinia keeps
buying silks, and I don't know what all, and--"

"She was ever a spendthrift jade," said Andrew with a mighty frown.

Richard laughed at him.

"You're a thrifty fellow yourself, of course!"

Andrew looked round for something to throw at him, and finding nothing,
relapsed once more into deepest despondency.

"You're in the right of't. We're a worthless lot. 'Tis the old man's
blood in us, I doubt not, with a smattering of her Grace. You never knew
my mother, Richard. She was French--Lavvy's the spit of her. There's
Tracy--stap me, but Tracy's the very devil! Have you ever seen a face
like his? No, I'll swear you've not! What with his sneering mouth and
his green eyes--oh, 'tis enough to make a fellow go to the dogs to have
a brother like it, 'pon my soul it is! Ay, you laugh, but I tell you
'tis serious!"

"Ay, go on!"

"Well next there's Bob--damn it all, but I'm sorry for Bob! 'Tis a
beggarly pittance they give one in the army, and he was never one to
pinch and scrape. Well, as I say, there's Bob, and I never see him, but
what it's: 'Lend me a hundred, Andy!' or the like. And all to buy his
mistress some gewgaw. That's what sickens me! Why, Bob's for ever in
some scrape with a petticoat, and as for Tracy! Gad, how they can! Then
there's Lavinia, but I should think you know her by now, and lastly,
there's your humble servant. And I tell you, Dick, what with the racing,
and the cards, and the bottle, I shall be a ruined man before you can
turn round! And the pother is I'll never be any different. 'Tis in the
blood, so where's the use in trying?" He made a rueful grimace, and
rose. "Come on, young rip! We're going back."

John, engaged in the task of hunting for tadpoles in the water some
yards distant, nodded and ran on.

"I fear my lady is indisposed," said Richard hesitatingly. "You wished
to see her?"

Andrew winked knowingly.

"Tantrums, eh? Oh, I know her. No, I do not care an I do not see her;
'tis little enough she cares for me, though she's as thick as thieves
with Tracy--oh, ay, I'll be dumb."

They walked slowly back to the house, Andrew, silent for once, twirling
his gold-mounted cane.

"You shall have the money, of course. When do you want it?" said Richard
presently.

"'Pon honour, you're a devilish good fellow, Dick! But if 'tis like to
put you to any--"

"Nonsense. When do you need it?"

"I should pay Carew as soon as may be. Markham can wait over if--"

"No, no! Wednesday?"

"'Twill do excellently well. Dick, you're a--"

"Oh, pshaw! 'Tis nought. I want your opinion on the bay mare I bought
last week. You'll maybe think her a trifle long in the leg, but she's a
fine animal."

John had run indoors, and the two men proceeded to the stables alone,
Andrew discoursing all the way, recounting for his brother-in-law's
benefit the choicest morsels of scandal that were circulating town at
the moment. That his auditor but attended with half an ear affected him
not at all; he never paused for an answer, and, in any case, was far too
good-natured to care if he received none.

By the time they had duly inspected the mare and walked back to the
house, it was nearly four o'clock, and, not altogether to Carstares'
surprise, Lavinia was awaiting them on the terrace, clad in a totally
different gown, and with her hair freshly arranged and curled.

"'Twould appear that Lavinia has recovered," remarked Andrew as they
mounted the steps. "She was ever thus--not two minutes the same. Well,
Lavvy?"

"Well, Andrew?" She gave him a careless hand to kiss, but smiled sweetly
up at her husband. "My headache is so much better," she told him, "and
they said that Andrew was come to see you. So I came downstairs." She
turned eagerly to her brother. "Tell me, Andrew, is Tracy at home?"

"Lord, yes! He arrived yesterday, devil take him! Do you want him?"

"Oh, yes," she nodded. "I want to see him again. I've not set eyes on
him for an age. I want you to take me back with you."

"Surely, my dear, 'tis a trifle late in the day for such a drive?"
demurred Richard, trying to conceal his annoyance. "Can you not wait
until to-morrow?"

"Faith, you'll have to, Lavvy, for I'll not take you to-day, that's
certain. I'm riding to Fletcher's when I leave here. Tracy can visit you
to-morrow an he chooses."

"Will he?" she asked doubtfully.

Andrew clapped his hand to his vest pocket. "If I had not forgot!" he
exclaimed. "I've a letter from him for you. He intends waiting on you
to-morrow, in any case. Lord, what it is to have a scatter brain like
mine!" He pulled a handful of papers from his pocket and selected one,
sealed, and addressed in a sloping Italian handwriting.

Lavinia pounced upon it joyfully, and tore it open. Andrew restored the
rest of the documents to his pocket with yet another rueful laugh.

"Duns, Richard! Duns!"

"Give them to me," answered the other, holding out his hand.

"Oh, no! But many thanks, Dick. These are quite unimportant."

"Why not pay them all, and start afresh?" urged Carstares.

"Lord, no! Why, I should be so damned elated that before the day was out
there'd be a score of fresh debts staring me in the face!"

"Let me lend you a thousand to begin on? Could you not keep out of
debt?"

"I keep out of debt? Impossible! Don't look so solemn, Dick; I told you
'twas in the blood. We never have a penny to bless ourselves with, but
what's the odds? I shall have a run of luck soon--a man can't always
lose. Then I shall be able to repay you, but, of course, I shan't.
It'll all go at the next table. _I_ know!" He spoke so ingenuously that
Richard could not be angry with him. There was a certain frankness about
him that pleased, and though he might be spendthrift and heedless, and
colossally selfish, Richard felt a genuine affection for him. He would
have liked to argue the point further, but Lavinia came forward,
refolding her letter.

"Tracy is coming to-morrow afternoon," she told her husband. "'Twill be
prodigiously agreeable, will it not?"

He assented, but with a lack of warmth that did not fail to strike her
ears.

"And he will stay to dine with us!" she cried challengingly.

"Certainly, my love."

"Look pleased, Dicky, look pleased! Why don't you like Tracy? He is my
own brother; you _must_ like him!"

"Of course I like him, Lavinia. Pray, do not be foolish."

"Oh, I am not! Don't be cross, Dicky dear!"

"Well, if you like him, I'm surprised," broke in Andrew. "I can't bear
him! Ay, flash your eyes at me, Lavvy; I don't mind."

Lavinia opened her mouth to retaliate, but Richard hastily interposed.
Their bickering was more than he could bear, and he never understood how
Lavinia could stoop to quarrel with the boisterous youth, who tried so
palpably to rouse her.

He bore them both off to the house, feeling much like a nursemaid with
two recalcitrant children.



CHAPTER V

HIS GRACE OF ANDOVER


Lady Lavinia dressed herself with even more than her usual care next
afternoon, and well-nigh drove her maid distracted by her flashes of
temper and impatient, contradictory orders. So lengthy was the toilet
that she was only just in her boudoir when his Grace of Andover was
announced. She had no time to tell the footman that she would receive
his Grace, for almost before the words were out of James' mouth, he
stood bowing in the doorway, sure of his welcome.

He was curiously like his sister, this man, and at the same time
curiously unlike. Hers were the high cheek-bones and pinched,
aristocratic nostrils, but the mouth with its thin lips, and the
heavy-lidded green eyes, were totally different. His Grace's brows
slanted up at the corners, and his eyes, though piercing and bright,
were constantly veiled by the black-lashed lids. He wore his own black
hair, unpowdered, and that, together with the black and silver garments
that he always affected, greatly enhanced the natural pallor of his
countenance. Altogether it was a very striking figure that stood just
before the closed white door and bowed to my lady.

Lavinia took an eager step towards him, swinging her pearl-grey
brocades.

"Oh, Tracy!" she cooed, holding out both hands.

His Grace advanced into the room and bent low over them.

"I rejoice to find you within, Lavinia," he said, a faint tinge of
sarcasm running through his smooth tones. "As you perceive, I rode
over." He made a gesture towards his high boots with their
wicked-looking spurs. "No doubt Andrew forgot to give you my letter?"

"No," she said, slipping her hand in his arm. "He remembered in time,
and--oh, Tracy, I was so vastly delighted to have it!"

"I am indeed honoured," he replied. "I am come on a sufficiently
important matter."

"Oh!" She pulled her hand away disappointedly. "Money!"

"You are really wonderful, my dear. As you so crudely remark--money!
Will you not be seated?"

She sank down on the couch dejectedly and watched him take a chair
opposite her.

"Your most noble lord and master lent me a trifling sum the other day,
but very trifling. I am, as usual, hard-pressed. And that young fool
Andrew must needs fall into debt."

My lady opened wide her eyes in surprise.

"Do you tell me you need money from Richard to pay Andrew's debts?" she
asked, frankly incredulous.

"I do not. Is it likely? The remark was purely by the way."

"Well, in any case, Andrew borrowed three thousand from poor Dick only
yesterday. I know, because I heard him speak of it."

His Grace raised his black brows in patient exasperation.

"How unnecessary of Andrew! And how typical! So 'poor Dick' has been
squeezed already?"

"Don't speak like that, Tracy!" she cried. "Dicky is good to me!" She
met his piercing look unflinchingly.

"Now this becomes interesting," drawled the Duke. "Since when have you
come to that conclusion? And why this sudden loyalty?"

"I have _always_ been loyal to him, Tracy! You know I have! I worry
him--and indeed he is very forbearing."

"But how charming of him!"

"No, do not sneer, Tracy! He has promised to take me to London for the
whole winter--"

His Grace leant back in his chair again.

"Now I understand," he said placidly. "I was at a loss before."

"'Tis not that, Tracy! Indeed I realise how kind he is to me. And we
have quarrelled again. We are always quarrelling, and I know 'tis all my
fault."

"What a comfortable conviction, my dear!"

"No, no! 'Tis not comfortable, Tracy! For somehow I cannot change my
disposition, though I _mean_ to be patient and sweet. Tracy, I hate
Wyncham!"

"You hate Wyncham? There was a time--"

"I know, I know! But I never meant to live here always like this! I want
to go to London!"

"I thought you said you were going?"

"Yes, I am! But I want to go with someone who is gay-not--not--"

"In fact, you want distraction, and not with the amiable Richard? Well,
I can conceive that life with him might prove uninspiring. Safe, my
dear, but not exciting."

"I knew you would understand! You see, he does not like me to play at
cards, because I cannot stop! And he cannot see how 'tis that I care
nought for what he calls 'home-life' when there are routs, and the play,
and _real_ life. He--he is so--so--so _staid,_ Tracy, and careful!"

"A good trait in a husband, Lavinia," replied his Grace cynically. "'Tis
because I do not possess it that I am single now."

Her lips curled scornfully at this, for well she knew her brother.

"No, Tracy, that is not so! It is because you are a devil! No woman
would marry you!"

"That is most interesting, my dear," purred his Grace. "But pray strive
to be a little more original. Continue your analysis of Richard's
sterling character."

"'Tis only that we are so different," she sighed. "I always desire to do
things quickly--if I think of something, I want it at once--at once! You
know, Tracy! And he likes to wait and think on it, and--oh, 'tis so
tiresome, and it puts me in a bad humour, and I behave like a hysterical
bourgeoise!" She got up swiftly, clasping her nervous little hands.
"When he speaks to me in that gentle, reasoning way, I could scream,
Tracy! Do you think I am mad?" She laughed unmusically.

"No," he replied, "but the next thing to it: a Belmanoir. Perhaps it was
a pity you ever married Richard. But there is always the money."

"There is not," she cried out sharply.

"Not? What mean you?"

"Tracy, 'tis of this that I wanted to speak! You think my lord left his
money to Dick?"

"Certainly. He should be stupendously wealthy."

"He is not!"

"But, my good girl, the revenue must be enormous. He has the land,
surely?"

"No! No! He has not the land! Oh, but I am angry whenever I think on it!
He induced my lord to leave it to John. _He_ has but his younger son's
portion!"

"I still fail to understand. You informed me that the Earl left all to
Richard?"

"He changed his will, Tracy!"

"He--changed--his--will! Then, my dear, must you have played your cards
very badly!"

"'Twas not my fault, Tracy--indeed 'twas not! I knew nought until the
will was read. Richard never spoke a word to me about it! And now we are
comparatively poor!" Her voice trembled with indignation, but his Grace
only whistled beneath his breath.

"I always knew, of course, that Dick was a fool, but I never guessed how
much so till now!"

At that she flared up.

"He is not a fool! He is an honest man, and 'tis we_--we_, I tell
you--who are mean and despicable and mercenary!"

"Undoubtedly, Lavinia, but pray do not excite yourself over it. I
suppose he is still devoted to that young hothead?"

"Yes, yes--'tis all Jack, Jack, Jack, until I am sick to death of the
sound of his name--and--" She broke off, biting her lip.

"And what?"

"Oh, nought! But 'tis all so disagreeable, Tracy!"

"It certainly is slightly disturbing. You had better have chosen John,
in spite of all, it seems."

She stamped angrily.

"Oh, where's the good in being flippant?"

"My dear Lavinia, where's the good in being anything else? The situation
strikes me as rather amusing. To think of the worthy Richard so neatly
overturning all my plans!"

"If it had not been for you, I might never have married him. Why did you
throw them both in my way? Why did I ever set eyes on either?"

"It should have been a good match, my dear, and, if I remember rightly,
no one was more alive to that fact than yourself."

She pouted angrily and turned her shoulder to him.

"Still," he continued reflectively, "I admit that for the smart lot we
are, we do seem rather to have bungled the affair."

Lavinia swept round upon him.

"Oh, do you care no more than that? How can you be so casual! Does it
affect you not at all?"

He wrinkled his thin nose expressively.

"I shall not weep over it, Lavinia, but 'tis a plaguey nuisance. But we
must see what can be done. And that brings me back to the original
subject. Despite these upsetting revelations, I still require that
money."

"Oh, dear! How much must you have, Tracy?"

"Five hundred might suffice."

"Tracy, do not the estates bring in anything?" she asked petulantly.
"And Andrew told us you had a run of marvellous luck not a fortnight
since?"

"Since then, my dear, I have had three runs of marvellous ill-luck. As
to the estates, they are mortgaged up to the hilt, as you very well
know. What little there is is between three. And Robert is extravagant."

"I hate Robert!"

"I am not partial to him myself, but it makes no odds."

"I wish he might die!--oh no, no! Now I am become ill-natured again--I
don't wish it--only I am so tired of everything. You shall have that
money as soon as possible; but be careful, Tracy--please be careful!
'Tis not easy to get money from Dick!"

"No, I should imagine not. However, we have managed rather well up to
the present, take it all in all."

"Up to the present he has had all the money he wanted. My lord denied
him nought!"

"Well, 'tis unfortunate, as I said before, but it must be endured. Where
is Dick?"

"I know not. You will stay to dinner, Tracy?"

"Thank you. I shall be charmed."

"Yes, yes--oh, how prodigiously pleasant it is to see you again! Soon I
shall come to Andover. Will you let me stay a few days?"

"The question is, will Richard allow you to stay so long in my
contaminating presence?"

"Richard would never keep me away, Tracy!" she replied proudly. "He
_could_ not. Oh, why is it that I don't love him more? Why do I not care
for him as much as I care for you even?"

"My dear Lavinia, like all Belmanoirs, you care first for yourself and
secondly for the man who masters you. That, alas! Richard has not yet
succeeded in doing."

"But I _do_ love Richard. I do, I do, yet--"

"Exactly. 'Yet!' The 'grand passion' has not yet touched you, my dear,
and you are quite self-absorbed."

"Self-absorbed! Those are hard words."

"But not too hard for the case. You think solely of yourself, your own
pleasure, your own character, your own feelings. If you could cast
yourself into the background a little, you would be less excitable and
considerably less discontented."

"How dare you, Tracy! Pray, what of you? Are you so selfless?"

"Not at all. I am precisely the same. I was merely suggesting that you
might be happier an you could depose 'self.'"

"You had best do the same yourself!"

"My dear Lavinia, when I feel the need of greater happiness, I most
undoubtedly shall. At present I am quite content."

"You are unkind!" she protested. "And you sneer at me."

"Pray, accept my heartfelt apologies! You shall come to Andover if the
worthy Richard permits."

Her face cleared as by magic.

"Oh, Tracy! Oh, I am so desirous to be gay once more! I cannot even
receive now, on account of this mourning! But when I am at Andover--oh,
we will not worry over anything, and I can be bad-tempered without
feeling that someone is being hurt by me! Oh, come to Dicky at once--at
once!"

He rose leisurely.

"I can imagine that you try Richard's patience somewhat," he remarked.
"Happily, your impetuosity in no way disturbs me. We will go in search
of Richard."

Half-way down the great staircase she perceived her husband, and flew to
meet him.

"Richard, I was coming in search of you! Tracy has invited me to Andover
for a week--he purposes to ask several people to stay, and there will be
parties--and entertainment! You will let me go? Say yes, Dicky--say yes,
quickly!"

Carstares bowed to his Grace, who stood watching them from the stairs.
The bow was returned with exaggerated flourish. Carstares looked down at
his wife.

"So soon, Lavinia?" he remonstrated, and indicated her mourning. She
shook his hand off impatiently.

"Oh, Dicky, does it matter? What can it signify? I do not ask you to
come--"

"No," he said half-sadly, half-amusedly. "I notice that, my dear."

"No, no! I did not mean to be unkind--you must not think that! You
_don't_ think it, do you, Dick?"

"Oh, no," he sighed.

"Good Dicky!" She patted his cheek coaxingly. "Then you will allow me to
go--ah, but yes, yes, you must listen! You know how dull I am, and how
silly--'tis because I need a change, and I _want_ to go to Andover. I
_want_ to go!"

"Yes, dear, I know. But my father is not yet dead six weeks, and I
cannot think it seemly--"

"Please, Dick, please! Please do not say no! 'Twill make me so unhappy!
Oh, you will not be so unkind? You will not forbid me to go?"

"I ask you not to, Lavinia. If you need a change, I will take you
quietly to Bath, or where you will. Do not pain me by going to Andover
just now."

"Bath! Bath! What do I want with Bath at this time of the year? Oh, 'tis
kind in you to offer, but I want to go to Andover! I want to see all the
old friends again. And I want to get away from everything here--'tis all
so gloomy--after--after my lord's death!"

"Dearest, of course you shall go away--but if only you would remember
that you are in mourning--"

"But 'tis what I wish to forget! Oh, Dicky, don't, don't, don't be
unkind."

"Very well, dear. If you must go--go."

She clapped her hands joyfully.

"Oh thank you, Dicky! And you are not angry with me?"

"No, dear, of course not."

"Ah! Now I am happy! 'Tis sweet of you, Dicky, but confess you are
secretly thankful to be rid of me for a week! Now are you not?" She
spread out her fan in the highest good-humour and coquetted behind it.
Richard was induced to smile.

"I fear I shall miss you too sadly, dear."

"Oh!" She dropped the fan. "But think how you will look forward to
seeing me again, and I you. Why, I shall be so thankful to be back after
a week away, that I shall be good for months!"

His face lightened, and he caught her hands in his.

"Darling, if I thought you would miss me--"

"But of course I shall miss you, Dick--oh, _pray_, mind my frock! Shall
I not miss him, Tracy?"

Richard suddenly remembered his brother-in-law's presence. He turned and
went to the foot of the stairs.

"So you are determined to wrest my wife from me?" he smiled.

Tracy descended leisurely, opening his snuff-box.

"Yes, I require a hostess," he said. "And I have"--he paused--"induced
her to honour Andover with her presence. Shall we have the felicity of
seeing you at any time?"

"I thank you, no. I am not, you will understand, in the mood for the
gaiety for which my poor Lavinia craves."

The Duke bowed slightly, and they all three went out on to the terrace,
Lavinia laughing and talking as Richard had not heard her laugh or talk
for days. She was the life and soul of the little dinner-party, flirting
prettily with her husband and exerting herself to please him in every
way. She had won her point; therefore she was in excellent spirits with
all the world, and not even the spilling of some wine on her new silk
served to discompose her.



CHAPTER VI

BATH: 29 QUEEN SQUARE


The autumn and the winter passed smoothly, and April found the Carstares
installed at Bath, whither Lady Lavinia had teased her husband into
going, despite his desire to return to Wyncham and John. She herself did
not care to be with the child, and was perfectly content that Richard
should journey occasionally to Wyncham to see that all was well with
him.

On the whole, she had enjoyed the winter, for she had induced Richard to
open Wyncham House, Mayfair, the Earl's town residence, where she had
been able to hold several entirely successful routs, and many select
little card-parties. Admirers she had a-many, and nothing so pleased her
vain little heart as masculine adulation. Carstares never entered his
home without stumbling against some fresh flame of hers, but as they
mostly consisted of what he rudely termed the lap-dog type, he was
conscious of no jealous qualms, and patiently submitted to their
inundation of his house. He was satisfied that Lavinia was happy, and,
as he assured himself at times when he was most tried, nothing else
signified.

The only flaw to Lavinia's content was the need of money. Not that she
was stinted, or ever refused anything that he could in reason give her;
but her wants were never reasonable. She would demand a new town
chariot, upholstered in pale blue, not because her own was worn or
shabby, but because she was tired of its crimson cushions. Or she would
suddenly take a fancy to some new, and usually fabulously expensive toy,
and having acquired it, weary of it in a week.

Without a murmur, Richard gave her lap-dogs (of the real kind), black
pages, jewels, and innumerable kickshaws, for which she rewarded him
with her brightest smiles and tenderest caresses. But when she required
him to refurnish Wyncham House in the style of the French Court,
throwing away all the present Queen Anne furniture, the tapestries, and
the countless old trappings that were one and all so beautiful and so
valuable, he put his foot down with a firmness that surprised her. Not
for any whim of hers was Jack's house to be spoiled. Neither her coaxing
nor her tears had any effect upon Richard, and when she reverted to
sulks, he scolded her so harshly that she was frightened, and in
consequence silenced.

For a week she thought and dreamt of nothing but gilded French chairs,
and then abruptly, as all else, the fancy left her, and she forgot all
about it. Her mantua-maker's bills were enormous, and caused Richard
many a sleepless night, but she was always so charmingly penitent that
he could not find it in his heart to be angry; and, after all, he
reflected, he would rather have his money squandered on her adornment
than on that of her brothers. She was by turns passionate and cold to
him: one day enrapturing him by some pretty blandishment, the next
snapping peevishly when he spoke to her.

At the beginning of the season he dutifully conducted her to routs and
_bals masqués_, but soon she began to go always with either Andrew or
Robert, both of whom were in town, and whose casual chaperonage she much
preferred to Richard's solicitous care. Tracy was rarely in London for
more than a few days at a time, and the Carstares, greatly to Richard's
relief, saw but little of him. Carstares disliked Colonel Lord Robert
Belmanoir, but the Duke he detested, not only for his habitual sneer
towards him, but for the influence that he undoubtedly held over
Lavinia. Richard was intensely jealous of this, and could sometimes
hardly bring himself to be civil when his Grace visited my lady. Whether
justly or not, he inwardly blamed Tracy for all Lavinia's crazy whims
and periodical fits of ill-temper. It did not take his astute Grace long
to discover this, and with amused devilry he played upon it, encouraging
Lavinia in her extravagance, and making a point of calling on her
whenever he was in town.

Carstares never knew when not to expect to find him there; he came and
went to and from London with no warning whatsoever. No one ever knew
where he was for more than a day at a time, and no one was in the least
surprised if he happened to be seen in London when he should, according
to all accounts, have been in Paris. They merely shrugged their
shoulders, and exchanged glances, murmuring: "Devil Belmanoir!" and
wondering what fresh intrigue he was in.

So altogether Richard was not sorry when my lady grew suddenly sick of
town and was seized with a longing for Bath. He had secretly hoped that
she might return to Wyncham, but when she expressed no such wish, he
stifled his own longing for home, shut up the London house, and took her
and all her baggage to Bath, installing her in Queen Square in one of
the most elegantly furnished houses in the place.

Lady Lavinia was at first charmed to be there again; delighted with the
house, and transported over the excellencies of the new French milliner
she had discovered.

But the milliner's bills proved monstrous, and the drawing-room of her
house not large enough for the routs she contemplated giving. The air
was too relaxing for her, and she was subject to constant attacks of the
vapours that were as distressing to her household as they were to
herself. The late hours made her head ache as it never ached in London,
and the damp gave her a cold. Furthermore, the advent of an attractive
and exceedingly wealthy little widow caused her many a bitter hour, to
the considerable detriment of her good-temper.

She was lying on a couch in her white and gilt drawing room one
afternoon--alas! the craze for French furniture was o'er-smelling-bottle
in hand and a _bona fide_ ache in her head, when the door opened and
Tracy walked into the room.

"Good heavens!" she said faintly, and uncorked her salts.

It was his Grace's first appearance since she had come to Bath, and the
fact that he had politely declined an invitation that she had sent to
him still rankled in her mind. He bowed over the limp hand that she
extended, and looked her up and down.

"I regret to find you thus indisposed, my dear sister," he said
smoothly.

"'Tis nought. Only one of my stupid headaches. I am never well here, and
this house is stuffy," she answered fretfully.

"You should take the waters," he said, scrutinising, through his
eyeglass, the chair to which she had waved him. "It has an unstable
appearance, my dear; I believe I prefer the couch." He moved to a
smaller sofa and sat down.

"Pray, how long have you been in Bath?" she demanded.

"I arrived last Tuesday week."

Lady Lavinia started up.

"Last Tuesday week? Then you have been here ten days and not visited me
until now!"

He appeared to be examining the whiteness of his hands through the folds
of black lace that drooped over them.

"I believe I had other things to do," he said coolly.

A book of sermons that she had been trying to peruse slid to the ground
as Lavinia jerked a cushion into place.

"And you come to me when it suits you? How could you be so unkind as to
refuse my invitation?"

There was a rising, querulous note in her voice which gave warning of
anger.

"My dear Lavinia, if you exhibit your deplorable temper to me, I shall
leave you, so have a care. I thought you would understand that your good
husband's society, improving though it may be, would be altogether too
oppressive for my taste. In fact, I was surprised at your letter."

"You might have come for my sake," she answered peevishly, sinking back
again. "I suppose you have been dancing attendance on the Molesly woman?
Lud! but I think you men have gone crazed."

Understanding came to his Grace, and he smiled provokingly.

"Is that what upsets you? I wondered."

"No, 'tis not!" she flashed. "And I do not see why you should think so!
For my part, I cannot see that she is even tolerable, and the way the
men rave about her is disgusting! Disgusting! But 'tis always the same
when a woman is unattached and wealthy. Well! Well! Why do you not say
something? Do you find her so lovely?"

"To tell the truth, my dear, I have barely set eyes on the lady. I have
been otherwise engaged, and I have done with all women, for the time,
save one."

"So I have heard you say before. Do you contemplate marriage? Lud! but I
pity the girl." She gave a jeering little laugh, but it was evident that
she was interested.

His Grace was not in the least degree ruffled.

"I do not contemplate marriage, Lavinia, so your sympathies are wasted.
I have met a girl--a mere child, for sure--and I will not rest until I
have her."

"Lord! Another farmer's chit?"

"No, my dear sister, not another farmer's chit. A lady."

"God help her! Who is she? Where does she live?"

"She lives in Sussex. Her name I shall not tell you."

Her ladyship kicked an offending cushion on to the floor, and snapped at
him.

"Oh, as you please! I shall not die of curiosity!"

"Ah!" The cynical lips curled annoyingly, and Lady Lavinia was seized
with a mad desire to hurl her smelling-bottle at him. But she knew that
it was worse than useless to be angry with Tracy, so she yawned
ostentatiously, and hoped that she irritated him. If she did, she got no
satisfaction from it, for he continued, quite imperturbably:

"She is the daintiest piece ever a man saw, and I'll swear there's blood
and fire beneath the ice!"

"Is it possible the girl will have none of your Grace?" wondered Lavinia
in mock amazement, and had the pleasure of seeing him frown.

The thin brows met over his arched nose, and the eyes glinted a little,
while she caught a glimpse of cruel white teeth closing on a sensual
under-lip. She watched his hand clench on his snuff-box, and exulted
silently at having roused him. It was a very brief joy, however, for the
next moment the frown had disappeared, the hand unclenched, and he was
smiling again.

"At present she is cold," he admitted, "but I hope that in time she will
become more plastic. I think, Lavinia, I have some experience with your
charming, if capricious sex."

"I don't doubt you have. Where did you meet this perverse beauty?"

"In the Pump Room."

"Lud! Pray, describe her."

"I shall be delighted. She is taller than yourself, and dark. Her hair
is like a dusky cloud of black, and it ripples off her brow and over her
little ears in a most damnably alluring fashion. Her eyes are brown, but
there are lights in them that are purest amber, and yet they are dark
and velvety--"

My lady had recourse to the smelling-bottle.

"But I perceive I weary you. A man in love, my dear Lavinia--"

She was up again at that.

"In love? You? Nonsense! Nonsense! Nonsense! You do not know what the
word means. You are like a--like a fish, with no more of love in you
than a fish, and no more heart than a fish, and--"

"Spare me the rest, I beg. I am very clammy, I make no doubt, but you
will at least accord me more brain than a fish?"

"Oh, you have brain enough!" she raged. "Brain for evil! I grant you
that!"

"It is really very kind of you--"

"The passion you feel now is not _love_. It is--it is--"

"Your pardon, my dear, but at the present moment I am singularly devoid
of all strenuous emotions, so your remark is--"

"Oh, Tracy, Tracy, I am even quarrelling with you!" she cried
wretchedly. "Oh, why?--why?"

"You are entirely mistaken, my dear. This is but the interchange of
compliments. Pray, do not let me hinder you in the contribution of your
share!"

Her lip trembled.

"Go on, Tracy, go on."

"Very well. I had described her eyes, I think?"

"Very tediously."

"I will strive to be brief. Her lips are the most kissable that I have
ever seen--"

"And, as you remarked, you have experience," she murmured. He bowed
ironically.

"Altogether she's as spirited a filly as you could wish for. All she
needs is bringing to heel."

"Does one bring a filly to heel? I rather thought--"

"As usual, my dear Lavinia, you are right: one does not. One breaks in a
filly. I beg leave to thank you for correcting my mixed metaphor."

"Oh, pray do not mention it."

"I will cease to do so. She needs breaking in. It should be amusing to
tame her."

"Should it?" She looked curiously at him.

"Vastly. And I am persuaded it can be done. I will have her."

"But what if she'll none of you?"

Suddenly the heavy lids were raised.

"She will have no choice."

Lady Lavinia shivered and sat up.

"La, Tracy! Will you have no sense of decency?" she cried. "I suppose,"
she sneered, "you think to kidnap the girl?"

"Exactly," he nodded.

She gasped at the effrontery of it.

"Heavens, are you mad? Kidnap a lady! This is no peasant girl, remember.
Tracy, Tracy, pray do not be foolish! How _can_ you kidnap her?"

"That, my dear, is a point which I have not yet decided. But I do not
anticipate much trouble."

"But goodness gracious me! has the child no protectors? No brothers? No
father?"

"There is a father," said Tracy slowly. "He was here at the beginning of
their stay. He does not signify, and, which is important, he is of those
that truckle. Were _I_ to make myself known to him, I believe I might
marry the girl within an hour. But I do not want that. At least--not
yet."

"Good God, Tracy! do you think you are living in the Dark Ages? One
cannot do these things now, I tell you! Will you not at least remember
that you represent our house? 'Twill be a pretty thing an there is a
scandal!" She broke off hopelessly and watched him flick a remnant of
snuff from his cravat.

"Oh, Tracy! 'Tis indeed a dangerous game you play. Pray consider!"

"Really, Lavinia, you are most entertaining. I trust I am capable of
caring for myself and mine own honour."

"Oh, don't sneer--don't sneer!" she cried. "Sometimes I think I quite
hate you!"

"You would be the more amusing, my dear."

She swept the back of her hand across her eyes in a characteristic
movement.

"How cross I am!" she said, and laughed waveringly. "You must bear with
me, Tracy. Indeed, I am not well."

"You should take the waters," he repeated.

"Oh, I do!--I do! And that reminds me that I must look for your beauty."

"She is not like to be there," he answered. "'Tis only very seldom that
she appears."

"What! Is she then _religieuse_?"

"_Religieuse_! Why, in heaven's name?"

"But not to walk in the Rooms--!"

"She is staying here with her aunt, who has been ill. They do not mix
much in society."

"How very dreadful! Yet she used to walk in the Rooms, for you met her
there?"

"Yes," he admitted coolly. "'Tis for that reason that she now avoids
them."

"Oh, Tracy, the poor child!" exclaimed his sister in a sudden fit of
pity. "How can you persecute her, if she dislikes you?"

"She does not."

"Not! Then--"

"Rather, she fears me. But she is intrigued, for all that. I persecute
her, as you call it, for her own (and my) ultimate good. But they quit
Bath in a few days, and then, _nous verrons_!" He rose. "What of Honest
Dick?"

"Don't call him by that odious name! I will not have it!"

"Odious, my dear? Odious? You would have reason an I called him
_Dis_honest Dick."

"Don't! Don't!" she cried, covering her ears. His Grace laughed softly.

"Oh, Lavinia, you must get the better of these megrims of yours, for
there is nought that sickens a man sooner, believe me."

"Oh, go away!--go away!" she implored. "You tease me and tease me until
I cannot bear it, and indeed I do not _mean_ to be shrewish! Please go!"

"I am on the point of doing so, my dear. I trust you will have in a
measure recovered when next I see you. Pray bear my respects to Hon--to
the Honourable Richard."

She stretched out her hand.

"Come again soon!" she begged. "I shall be better to-morrow! 'Tis only
to-day that my head aches till I could shriek with the worry and the
pain of it! Come again!"

"Unfortunately I anticipate leaving Bath within a day or two. But
nothing would have given me greater pleasure than to comply with your
wishes." He kissed her hand punctiliously, and took his leave. At the
door he paused, and looked back mockingly. "By the way--her name
is--Diana." He bowed again and swept out, as Lavinia buried her face in
the cushions and burst into tears.

It was thus that Richard found her, twenty minutes later, and his
concern was so great that it in part restored her spirits, and she spent
a quiet and, for him, blissful evening, playing at piquet.

In the middle of a game she suddenly flung down her hand and caught at
his wrist.

"Dicky, Dicky--I will go home!"

"Go home? What do you mean? Not--"

"Yes, yes--Wyncham! Why not?"

"My dear, do you mean it?" His voice quivered with joyful surprise, and
the cards slipped from his hands.

"Yes, I mean it! But take me quickly before I change my mind! I can
sleep at Wyncham, and here I lie awake all night, and my head aches.
Take me home and I will try to be a better wife! Oh, Dicky, have I been
tiresome and exacting? I did not mean to be! Why do you let me?" She
came quickly round the table and knelt at his side, giving no heed to
the crumpling of her billowing silks. "I have been a wicked, selfish
woman!" she said vehemently. "But indeed I will be better. You must not
_let_ me be bad--you _must_ not, I tell you!"

He flung his arm about her plump shoulders and drew her tightly to him.

"When I get you home at Wyncham, I promise you I will finely hector you,
sweetheart," he said, laughing to conceal his deeper feelings. "I shall
make you into a capital housewife!"

"And I will learn to make butter," she nodded. "Then I must wear a
dimity gown with a muslin apron and cap. Oh, yes, yes-a dimity gown!"
She sprang up and danced to the middle of the room. "Shall I not be
charming, Richard?"

"Very charming, Lavinia!"

"Of course! Oh, we will go home at once--at once! But first I must
procure some new gowns from Marguerite!"

"To make butter in, dear?" he protested.

She was not attending.

"A dimity gown--or shall it be of tiffany with a quilted petticoat? Or
both?" she chanted. "Dicky, I shall set a fashion in country toilettes!"

Dicky sighed.



CHAPTER VII

INTRODUCING SUNDRY NEW CHARACTERS


Not twenty minutes' walk from Lady Lavinia's house in Queen Square
resided a certain Madam Thompson--a widow--who had lived in Bath for
nearly fifteen years. With her was staying Miss Elizabeth Beauleigh and
her niece, Diana. Madam Thompson had been at a seminary with Miss
Elizabeth when both were girls, and they had ever afterwards kept up
their friendship, occasionally visiting one another, but more often
contenting themselves with the writing of lengthy epistles, full of
unimportant scraps of news and much gossip, amusing only on Miss
Elizabeth's side, and on the widow's uninteresting and rambling.

It was a great joy to Madam Thompson when she received a letter from
Miss Beauleigh begging that she and her niece might be allowed to pay a
visit to her house in Bath, and to stay at least three weeks. The good
lady was delighted at having her standing invitation at last accepted,
and straightway wrote back a glad assent. She prepared her very best
bedchamber for Miss Beauleigh, who, she understood, was coming to Bath
principally for a change of air and scene after a long and rather trying
illness.

In due course the two ladies arrived, the elder very small and thin, and
birdlike in her movements; the younger moderately tall, and graceful as
a willow tree, with great candid brown eyes that looked fearlessly out
on to the world, and a tragic mouth that belied a usually cheerful
disposition, and hinted at a tendency to look on the gloomy side of
life.

Madam Thompson, whose first meeting with Diana this was, remarked on the
sad mouth to Miss Elizabeth, or Betty as she was more often called, as
they sat over the fire on the first night, Diana herself having retired
to her room.

Miss Betty shook her head darkly and prophesied that her precious Di
would one day love some man as no man in _her_ opinion deserved to be
loved!

"And she'll have love badly," she said, clicking her knitting-needles
energetically. "_I_ know these temperamental children!"

"She looks so melancholy," ventured the widow.

"Well there you are wrong!" replied Miss Betty. "'Tis the
sunniest-tempered child, and the sweetest-natured in the whole wide
world, bless her! But I don't deny that she can be miserable. Far from
it. Why, I've known her weep her pretty eyes out over a dead puppy even!
But usually she is gay enough."

"I fear this house will be dull and stupid for her," said Madam Thompson
regretfully. "If only my dear son George were at home to entertain
her--"

"My love, pray do not put yourself out! I assure you Diana will not at
all object to a little quiet after the life she has been leading in town
this winter with her friend's family."

Whatever Diana thought of the quiet, she at least made no complaint, and
adapted herself to her surroundings quite contentedly.

In the morning they would all walk as far as the Assembly Rooms, and
Miss Betty would drink the waters in the old Pump Room, pacing sedately
up and down with her friend on one side and her niece on the other.
Madam Thompson had very few acquaintances in Bath, and the people she
did know were all of her own age and habits, rarely venturing as far as
the crowded fashionable quarter; so Diana had to be content with the
society of the two old ladies, who gossiped happily enough together, but
whose conversation she could not but find singularly uninteresting.

She watched the _monde_ with concealed wistfulness, seeing Beau Nash
strut about among the ladies, bowing with his extreme gallantry, always
impeccably garbed, and in spite of his rapidly increasing age and bulk
still absolute monarch of Bath. She saw fine painted madams in enormous
hoops, and with their hair so extravagantly curled and powdered that it
appeared quite grotesque, mincing along with their various cavaliers;
elderly beaux with coats padded to hid their shrunken shoulders, and
paint to fill the wrinkles on their faces; young rakes; stout dowagers
with their demure daughters; old ladies who had come to Bath for their
health's sake; titled folk of fashion, and plain gentry from the
country--all parading before her eyes.

One or two young bucks tried to ogle her, and received such indignant
glances from those clear eyes, that they never dared annoy her again,
but for the most part no one paid any heed to the unknown and plainly
clad girl.

Then came his Grace of Andover upon the stage.

He drew Diana's attention from the first moment that he entered the Pump
Room--a black moth amongst the gaily-hued butterflies. He had swept a
comprehensive glance round the scene and at once perceived Diana.
Somehow, exactly how she could never afterwards remember, he had
introduced himself to her aunt and won that lady's good will by his
smoothness of manner and polished air. Madam Thompson, who, left to
herself, never visited the Assembly Rooms, could not be expected to
recognise Devil Belmanoir in the simple Mr. Everard who presented
himself.

As he had told his sister, Diana was cold. There was something about his
Grace that repelled her, even while his mesmeric personality fascinated.
He was right when he said that she feared him; she was nervous, and the
element of fear gave birth to curiosity. She was intrigued, and began to
look forward to his daily appearance in the Pump Room with mingled
excitement and apprehension. She liked his flattering attention, and his
grand air. Often she would watch him stroll across the floor, bowing to
right and left with that touch of insolence that characterised him, and
rejoiced in the knowledge that he was coming straight to her, and that
the painted beauties who so palpably ogled and invited him to their
sides could not alter his course. She felt her power with a thrill of
delight, and smiled upon Mr. Everard, giving him her hand to kiss, and
graciously permitting him to sit with her beside her aunt. He would
point out all the celebrities of town and Bath for her edification,
recalling carefully chosen and still more carefully censured anecdotes
of each one. She discovered that Mr. Everard was an entertaining and
harmless enough companion, and even expanded a little, allowing him a
glimpse of her whimsical nature with its laughter and its hint of tears.

His Grace of Andover saw enough to guess at the unsounded depths in her
soul, and he became lover-like. Diana recoiled instinctively, throwing
up a barrier of reserve between them. It was not what he said that
alarmed her, but it was the way in which he said it, and the vague
something in the purring, faintly sinister voice that she could not
quite define, that made her heart beat unpleasantly fast, and the blood
rush to her temples. She began first to dread the morning promenade,
and then to avoid it. One day she had a headache; the next her foot was
sore; another time she wanted to work at her fancy stitchery, until her
aunt, who knew how she disliked her needle, and how singularly free from
headaches and all petty ailments she was wont to be, openly taxed her
with no longer wishing to walk abroad.

They were in the girl's bedroom at the time, Diana seated before her
dressing-table, brushing out her hair for the night. When her aunt put
the abrupt question she hesitated, caught a long strand in her comb, and
pretended to be absorbed in its disentanglement. The clouds of rippling
hair half hid her face, but Miss Betty observed how her fingers
trembled, and repeated her question. Then came the confession. Mr.
Everard was unbearable; his attentions were odious; his continued
presence revolting to Mistress Di. She was afraid of him, afraid of his
dreadful green eyes and of his soft voice. She wished they had never
come to Bath, and still more that they had not met him. He looked at her
as if--as if--oh, in short, he was hateful!

Miss Betty was horrified.

"You cannot mean it! Dear, dear, dear! Here was I thinking what a
pleasant gentleman he was, and all the time he was persecuting my poor
Di, the wretch! _I_ know the type, my love, and I feel inclined to give
him a good piece of my mind!"

"Oh, no--no!" implored Diana. "Indeed, you must do no such thing,
Auntie! He has said nought that I could possibly be offended at--'tis
but his _manner_, and the--and the way he looked at me. Indeed, indeed,
you must not!"

"Tut, child! Of course I shall say nought. But it makes me so monstrous
angry to think of my poor lamb being tormented by such as he that I
declare I could tear his eyes out! Yes, my dear, I could! Thank goodness
we are leaving Bath next week!"

"Yes," sighed Diana. "I cannot help being glad, though Madam Thompson is
very amiable! 'Tis so very different when there is no man with one!"

"You are quite right, my love. We should have insisted on your father's
staying with us instead of allowing him to fly back to his fusty, musty
old volumes. I shall not be so foolish another time, I can assure you.
But we need not go to the Assembly Rooms again."

"I need not go," corrected Diana gently. "Of course you and Madam
Thompson will continue to."

"To tell the truth, my love," confessed Miss Betty, "I shall not be
sorry for an excuse to stay away. 'Tis doubtless most ill-natured of me,
but I cannot but think that Hester has altered sadly since last I saw
her. She is always talking of sermons and good works!"

Diana twisted her luxuriant hair into a long plait, and gave a gurgling
little laugh.

"Oh, Auntie, is it not depressing? I wondered how you could tolerate it!
She is so vastly solemn, poor dear thing!"

"Well," said Miss Betty charitably, "she has seen trouble, has Hester
Thompson, and I have my doubts about this George of hers. A worthless
young man, I fear, from all accounts. But, unkind though it may be, I
shall be glad to find myself at home again, and that's the truth!" She
rose and picked up her candle. "In fact, I find Bath not half so amusing
as I was told 'twould be."

Diana walked with her to the door.

"'Tis not amusing at all when one has no friends; but last year, when my
cousins were with us and papa took a house for the season on the North
Parade, 'twas most enjoyable. I wish you had been there, instead of with
that disagreeable Aunt Jennifer!"

She kissed her relative most affectionately and lighted her across the
landing to her room. Then she returned to her room and shut the door,
giving a tired little yawn.

It was at about that moment that his Grace of Andover was ushered into
the already crowded card-room of my Lord Avon's house in Catharine
Place, and was greeted with ribald cries of "Oho, Belmanoir!", and
"Where's the lady, Devil?"

He walked coolly forward into the full light of a great pendant
chandelier, standing directly beneath it, the diamond order on his
breast burning and winking like a living thing. The diamonds in his
cravat and on his fingers glittered every time he moved, until he seemed
to be carelessly powdered with iridescent gems. As usual, he was clad in
black, but it would have been difficult to find any other dress in the
room more sumptuous or more magnificent than his sable satin with its
heavy silver lacing, and shimmering waistcoat. Silver lace adorned his
throat and fell in deep ruffles over his hands, and in defiance of
Fashion, which decreed that black alone should be worn to tie the hair,
he displayed long silver ribands, very striking against his unpowdered
head.

He raised his quizzing glass and looked round the room with an air of
surprised hauteur. Lord Avon, leaning back in his chair at one of the
tables, shook a reproving finger at him.

"Belmanoir, Belmanoir, we have seen her and we protest she is too
charming for you!"

"In truth, we think we should be allowed a share in the lady'th
thmileth," lisped one from behind him, and his Grace turned to face
dainty, effeminate little Viscount Fotheringham, who stood at his elbow,
resplendent in salmon-pink satin and primrose velvet, with skirts so
full and stiffly whaleboned that they stood out from his person, and
heels so high that instead of walking he could only mince.

Tracy made a low leg.

"Surely shall you have a share in her smiles an she wills it so," he
purred, and a general laugh went up which caused the fop to flush to the
ears, as he speedily effaced himself.

He had been one of those who had tried to accost Diana, and
gossip-loving Will Stapely, with him at the time, had related the story
of his discomfiture to at least half-a-dozen men, who immediately told
it to others, vastly amused at the pertinacious Viscount's rebuff.

"What was it Selwyn said?" drawled Sir Gregory Markham, shuffling cards
at Lord Avon's table.

Davenant looked across at him inquiringly.

"George? Of Belmanoir? When?"

"Oh, at White's one night--I forget--Jack Cholmondely was there--he
would know; and Horry Walpole. 'Twas of Devil and his light o'
loves--quite apt, on the whole."

Cholmondely looked up.

"Did I hear my name?"

"Ay. What was it George said of Belmanoir at White's the night Gilly
made that absurd bet with Ffolliott?"

"When Gilly--oh, yes, I remember. 'Twas but an old hexameter tag,
playing on his name: '_Est bellum bellis bellum bellare puellis_.' He
seemed to think it a fitting motto for a ducal house."

There was another general laugh at this. Markham broke in on it:

"Who is she, Tracy?"

His Grace turned.

"Who is who?" he asked languidly.

Lord Avon burst out laughing.

"Oh, come now, Belmanoir, that won't do! It really will not! Who is she,
indeed!"

"Ay, Belmanoir, who is the black-haired beauty, and where did you find
her?" cried Tom Wilding, pressing forward with a glass in one hand and a
bottle of port in the other. "I thought you were captivated by Cynthia
Evans?"

Tracy looked bewildered for the moment, and then a light dawned on him.

"Evans! Ah, yes! The saucy widow who lived in Kensington, was it not? I
remember."

"He had forgotten!" cried Avon, and went off into another of the noisy
laughs that had more than once caused Mr. Nash to shudder and to close
his august eyes. "You'll be the death of me, Devil! Gad! but you will!"

"Oh, I trust not. Thank you, Wilding." He accepted the glass that Tom
offered, and sipped delicately.

"But you've not answered!" reminded Fortescue from another table. He
dealt the cards round expertly. "Is it hands off, perhaps?"

"Certainly," replied his Grace. "It generally is, Frank, as you know."

"To my cost!" was the laughing rejoinder, and Fortescue rubbed his sword
arm as if in memory of some hurt. "You pinked me finely, Tracy!"

"Clumsily, Frank, clumsily. It might have been quicker done."

The Viscount, who had been a second at the meeting, tittered amiably.

"Neatetht thing I ever thaw, 'pon my honour. All over in leth than a
minute, Avon! Give you my word!"

"Never knew you had fought Devil, Frank? What possessed you?"

"I was more mad than usual, I suppose," replied Fortescue in his low,
rather dreamy voice, "and I interfered between Tracy and his French
singer. He objected most politely, and we fought it out in Hyde Park."

"Gad, yes!" exclaimed his partner, Lord Falmouth. "Why, I was Devil's
second! But it was ages ago!"

"Two years," nodded Fortescue, "but I have not forgotten, you see!"

"Lord, I had! And 'twas the funniest fight I ever saw, with you as
furious as could be and Devil cool as a cucumber. You were never much of
a swordsman, Frank, but that morning you thrust so wildly that stap me
if I didn't think Devil would run you through. 'Stead of that he pinks
you neatly through the sword-arm, and damme if you didn't burst out
laughing fit to split! And then we all walked off to breakfast with you,
Frank, as jolly as sandboys. Heavens, yes. That was a fight!"

"It was amusing," admitted Tracy at Fortescue's elbow. "Don't play,
Frank."

Fortescue flung his cards face downwards on the table. "Curse you,
Tracy, you've brought bad luck!" he said entirely without rancour. "I
had quite tolerable hands before you came."

"Belmanoir, I will thtake my chestnut mare 'gaintht your new grey,"
lisped the Viscount, coming up to the table, dice-box in hand.

"Stap me, but that is too bad!" cried Wilding. "Don't take him, Devil!
Have you seen the brute?"

The four players had finished their card-playing and were quite ready
for the dice.

"Trust in your luck, Belmanoir, and take him!" advised Pritchard, who
loved hazarding other men's possessions, but kept a tight hold on his
own.

"Ay, take him!" echoed Falmouth.

"Don't," said Fortescue.

"Of course I shall take him," answered his Grace tranquilly. "My grey
against your chestnut and the best of three. Will you throw?"

The Viscount rattled his box with a flourish. Two threes and a one
turned up.

With a hand on Fortescue's shoulder, and one foot on the rung of his
chair, Tracy leaned forward and cast his own dice on to the table. He
had beaten the Viscount's throw by five. The next toss Fotheringham won,
but the last fell to his Grace.

"Damnathion!" said the Viscount cheerfully. "Will you thtake your grey
againtht my Terror?"

"Thunder and turf, Fotheringham! You'll lose him!" cried Nettlefold
warningly. "Don't stake the Terror!"

"Nonthenth! Do you take me, Belmanoir?"

"Certainly," said the Duke, and threw.

"Oh, an you are in a gaming mood, I will play you for the right to try
my hand with the dark beauty!" called Markham across the room.

"Against what?" asked Fortescue.

"Oh, what he wills!"

The Viscount had cast and lost, and his Grace won the second throw.

"It appears my luck is in," he remarked. "I will stake my beauty against
your estates, Markham."

Sir Gregory shook his head, laughing.

"No, no! Keep the lady!"

"I intend to, my dear fellow. She is not your style. I begin to wonder
whether she altogether suits my palate." He drew out his snuff-box and
offered it to his host, and the other men finding that he was proof
against their railing, allowed the subject to drop.

In the course of the evening his Grace won three thousand guineas--two
at ombre and one at dice--lost his coveted grey hunter and won him back
again from Wilding, to whom he had fallen. He came away at three o'clock
in company with Fortescue, both perfectly cool-headed, although his
Grace, for his part, had imbibed a considerable quantity of burgundy,
and more punch than any ordinary man could take without afterwards
feeling very much the worse for wear.

As my Lord Avon's door closed behind them, Tracy turned to his friend:

"Shall we walk, Frank?"

"Since our ways lie together, yes," replied Fortescue, linking his arm
in the Duke's. "Down Brock Street and across the Circus is our quickest
way."

They strolled down the road for a few moments in silence, passing a
linkman on the way. Fortescue bade him a cheery good-night, which was
answered in a very beery voice, but the Duke said nothing. Frank looked
into his dark-browed face thoughtfully.

"You've had the luck, to-night, Tracy."

"Moderately. I hoped entirely to repair last week's losses."

"You are in debt, I suppose?"

"I believe so."

"To what extent, Tracy?"

"My dear fellow, I neither have, nor wish to have, the vaguest notion.
Pray do not treat me to a sermon!"

"I shall not. I've said all I have to say on the subject."

"Many times."

"Yes--many times. And it has had no more effect upon you than if I had
not spoken."

"Less."

"I daresay. I wish it were not so, for there's good in you somewhere,
Tracy."

"By what strange process of reasoning do you arrive at that?"

"Well," said Fortescue laughing, "there's nearly always some good in the
very worst of men. I count on that--and your kindness to me."

"I should be interested to know when I have been kind to you--beyond the
time when I was compelled to teach you to leave me and my affairs
alone."

"I was not referring to that occasion," was the dry answer. "I had not
seen your act in that light. I meant well over the episode."

"You could not damn yourself more effectually than by saying that," said
his Grace calmly. "But we wander from the point. When have I done you an
act of kindness?"

"You know very well. When you extricated me from that cursed
sponging-house."

"I remember now. Yes, that _was_ good of me. I wonder why I did it?"

"'Tis what I want to know."

"I suppose I must have had some sort of an affection for you. I would
certainly never have done such a thing for anyone else."

"Not even for your own brother!" said Frank sharply.

They had crossed the Circus and were walking down Gay Street now.

"Least of all for them," came the placid response. "You are thinking of
Andrew's tragic act? Most entertaining, was it not?"

"You evidently found it so."

"I did. I wanted to prolong the sensation, but my esteemed
brother-in-law came to the young fool's rescue."

"Would you have assisted him?"

"In the end I fear I should have had to."

"I believe there must be a kink in your brain!" cried Fortescue. "I
cannot else account for your extraordinary conduct!"

"We Belmanoirs are all half-mad," replied Tracy sweetly, "but I think
that in my case it is merely concentrated evil."

"I will not believe it! You have shown that you can behave differently!
You do not try to strip me of all I possess--why all those unfortunate
youths you play with?"

"You see, you possess so little," the Duke excused himself.

"Neither do you sneer at me in your loathsome fashion. Why?"

"Because I have hardly ever any desire to. I like you."

"Tare an' ouns! you must like someone else in the world besides me?"

"I can think of no one. And I do not exactly worship the ground _you_
tread on. The contemplation of my brothers appals me. I have loved
various women, and shall no doubt love many more--"

"No, Tracy," interposed Fortescue, "you have never loved a woman in your
life. 'Tis that that might save you. I do not allude to the lustful
passion you indulge in, but real love. For God's sake Belmanoir, live
clean!"

"Pray do not distress yourself, Frank. I am not worth it."

"I choose to think that you are. I cannot but feel that if you had been
loved as a boy--Your mother--"

"Did you ever see my mother?" inquired his Grace lazily.

"No--but--"

"Have you ever seen my sister?"

"Er--yes--"

"In a rage?"

"Really, I--"

"Because, if you have, you have seen my mother. Only she was ten times
more violent. In fact, we were a pleasant party when we were all at
home."

"I understand."

"Good Gad! I believe you are sorry for me?" cried Tracy scornfully.

"I am. Is it a presumption on my part?"

"My dear Frank, when I am sorry for myself you may be sorry too. Until
then--"

"When that day comes I shall no longer pity you."

"Very deep, Frank! You think I shall be on the road to recovery? A
pretty conceit. Luckily, the happy moment has not yet come--and I do not
think it is like to. We appear to have arrived."

They were standing outside one of the tall houses where Fortescue
lodged. He turned and grasped his friend's shoulders.

"Tracy, give up this mad life you lead! Give up the women and the drink,
and the excessive gaming; for one day, believe me, you will overstep
yourself and be ruined!"

The Duke disengaged himself.

"I very much object to being man-handled in the street," he complained.
"I suppose you still _mean_ well. You should strive to conquer the
tendency."

"I wonder if you know how insolent is your tone, Belmanoir?" asked
Fortescue steadily.

"Naturally. I should not have attained such perfection in the art else.
But pray accept my thanks for your good advice. You will forgive me an I
do not avail myself of it, I am sure. I prefer the crooked path."

"Evidently," sighed the other. "If you will not try the straight and
narrow way, I can only hope that you will fall very deeply and very
honestly in love; and that the lady will save you from yourself."

"I will inform you of it when it comes to pass," promised his Grace.
"And now: good-night!"

"Good-night!" Frank returned the low bow with a curt nod. "I shall see
you to-morrow--that is, this morning--at the Baths?"

"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," was the smiling
rejoinder. "Sleep soundly, Frank!" He waved an ironic farewell and
crossed the road to his own lodgings, which stood almost directly
opposite.

"And I suppose _you_ will sleep as soundly as if you had not a stain on
your conscience--and had not tried your uttermost to alienate the regard
of the only friend you possess," remarked Frank bitterly to the
darkness. "Damn you, Tracy, for the villain you are!" He walked up the
steps to his own front door and turned the key in the lock. He looked
over his shoulder as a door slammed across the street. "Poor Devil!" he
said. "Oh, you poor Devil!"



CHAPTER VIII

THE BITER BIT


With John Carstares the winter had passed quite uneventfully. He
continued his highway robbery, but he made two bad blunders--not from
the point of view of a thief, but from that of the gentleman in him. The
first was when he stopped an opulent-looking chariot, which he found to
contain two ladies, their maid and their jewels, and the second when the
occupant of a large travelling coach chanced to be an old gentleman who
possessed far greater courage than physical strength. On the first
occasion my lord's dismay had been ludicrous, and he had hastily retired
after tendering a naive apology. The old gentleman in the second episode
had defied him so gallantly that he had impulsively offered him the butt
end of one of his pistols. The old man was so surprised that he allowed
the weapon to fall to the ground, where it exploded quite harmlessly,
sending up a cloud of dust and smoke. Carstares then begged his pardon
most humbly, assisted him back into his coach, and rode off before the
astonished Mr. Dunbar had time to collect his wits.

The robbing was not carried out in a very scientific manner, for, as has
been seen, Carstares could not bring himself to terrorise women or old
men, and there only remained the young and the middle-aged gentlemen,
one of whom Jack offered to fight for the possession of his jewels. His
challenge was promptly accepted by the man, who happened to possess a
strong sense of humour, and probably saw a chance of saving his
belongings in the offer. He had been speedily worsted, but Carstares was
so pleased with a particularly neat thrust which he had executed, that
he forwent half the booty, and the pair of them divided the contents of
the jewel-box by the roadside, the sporting gentleman keeping his most
valued belongings and giving Jack the surplus. They parted on the very
best of terms, and all Carstares got out of the episode was a little
sword practice and a few trinkets.

When day came he was patrolling the west side of Sussex, beyond
Midhurst, not because he thought it a profitable part, but because he
knew and loved the country. One late afternoon towards the end of the
month he rode gaily into one of the small villages that nestle amongst
the Downs, and made his way down the quaint main street to the George
Inn, where he drew rein and dismounted. At his call an aged ostler
hobbled out of a side door, chewing an inevitable straw, and after
eyeing the newcomer and his steed for an appreciable length of time,
evidently decided that they were worthy of his attention, for he came
forward, remarking that it had been a pleasant day.

Carstares agreed with him, and volunteered the information that it would
be another fine day to-morrow, if the sunset were to be trusted. To this
the ostler replied that he, for one, never trusted to no red sunsets,
and added darkly that there warn't nothing so deceitful to his manner o'
thinking. He'd known it be such a red sunset as never was, and yet be
a-pouring with rain all next day.... Should he take the mare?

Carstares shook his head.

"No, I thank you. I remain here but a few moments. I doubt she's thirsty
though--eh, Jenny?"

"Water, sir?"

"For her, yes. For myself I fancy a tankard of your home-brewed ale.
Stand, Jenny!" He turned away and walked up the steps to the inn door.

"Be you a-going to leave her there, sir--a-standing all by herself?"
inquired the man, surprised.

"Why, yes! She's docile enough."

"Well! Seems to me a risky thing to leave a hoss--and a skittish hoss at
that--a-standing loose in the road. Ye won't be tying her to a post,
master?"

Carstares leaned his arms on the balustrade and looked down at them.

"I will not. She'd be very hurt at such treatment, wouldn't you, lass?"

Jenny tossed her head playfully, as if in agreement, and the ostler
scratched his head, looking from her to my lord:

"A'most seems as if she understands what you be a-saying to her, sir!"

"Of course she understands! Don't I tell you 'tis a clever little lady?
If I call her now she'll come up these steps to me, and not all the
ostlers in Christendom could stop her."

"Don't'ee go for to do it, sir!" urged the old man, backing. "She must
be uncommon fond o' ye?"

"She'd be a deal fonder of you if you'd fetch her a drink," hinted Jack
broadly.

"Ay, sir! I be a-going this werry instant!" And with many an anxious
glance over his shoulder at the perfectly quiet mare, he disappeared
through an open doorway into the yard.

When Carstares, tankard of ale in hand, emerged from the inn and sat
himself down on one of the benches that stood against the wall, the
mare was drinking thirstily from a bucket which the ancient one held for
her.

"'Tis a wunnerful fine mare, sir," he remarked at length, after a
careful inspection of her points.

Carstares nodded pleasantly, and surveyed Jenny through half-shut eyes.

"I think so every time I look at her," he said.

"I should think she could get a bit of a pace on her, sir? Mebbe ye've
tried her racing?"

"No, she wasn't brought up to that. But she's fast enough."

"Ay, sir. No vices?"

"Lord, no!"

"Don't kick neither?"

"Not with me."

"Ah! they allus knows who'll stand it and who won't."

Jack drained his tankard, and setting it down on the bench beside him,
rose to his feet.

"She'd not dream of kicking a friend. Jenny!"

The ostler watched her pick her way towards her master, coquetting with
her head, and sidling round him in the most playful manner possible. A
slow smile dawned on the man's face.

"Ah, it be a purty sight to watch her--so it be!" he said, and received
a guinea from Jack, who never tired of listening to praise of his
beloved Jenny.

Carstares remounted, nodded farewell to the ostler and rode leisurely on
down the street, soon branching off to the right into a typical Sussex
lane, where he trotted between uneven hedges, sweet with blossom and
with May, and placid fields rolling away on either side, upwards until
they merged into the undulating hills, barely discernible in the gloom,
that are the downs. It was a wonderfully calm evening, with only a
gentle west wind blowing, and the moon already shining faintly in the
dark sky. There was nothing beyond the sound of the mare's hoofs to
break the beautiful stillness of it all.

He rode for some way without meeting a soul, and when at the end of an
hour someone did chance along the road it was only a labourer returning
home to his supper after a long day in the fields. John bade him a
cheery good evening and watched him pass on down the road humming.

After that he met no one. He rode easily along for miles, into the
fast-gathering darkness. He was frowning as he rode, thinking.

Curiously enough, it was on his penniless days in France that his mind
dwelt this evening. He had resolutely thrust that dark time behind him,
determined to forget it, but there were still days when, try as he
might, he could not prevent his thoughts flying back to it.

With clenched teeth he recalled the days when he, the son of an Earl,
had taught fencing in Paris for a living.... Suddenly he laughed
harshly, and at the unusual sound the mare pricked up her ears and
sidled uneasily across the road. For once no notice was taken of her,
and she quickened her pace with a flighty toss of her head....

He thought how he, the extravagant John, had pinched and scraped and
saved rather than go under; how he had lived in one of the poorer
_quartiers_ of the city, alone, without friends--nameless.

Then, cynically now, he reviewed the time when he had taken to drinking,
heavily and systematically, and had succeeded in pulling himself up at
the very brink of the pit he saw yawning before him.

Next the news of his mother's death.... John passed over that quickly.
Even now the thought of it had the power of rousing in him all the old
misery and impotent resentment.

His mind sped on to his Italian days. On his savings he had travelled to
Florence, and from there he went gradually south, picking up all the
latest arts and subtleties of fence on the way.

The change of scene and of people did much to restore his spirits. His
devil-may-care ways peeped out again; he started to gamble on the little
money he had left. For once Fortune proved kind; he doubled and trebled
and quadrupled the contents of his purse. Then it was that he met Jim
Salter, whom he engaged as his servant. This was the first friend since
he had left England. Together they travelled about Europe, John gambling
his way, Jim keeping a relentless hand on the exchequer. It was entirely
owing to his watchfulness and care that John was not ruined, for his
luck did not always hold good, and there were days when he lost with
distressing steadiness. But Jim guarded the winnings jealously, and
there was always something to fall back on.

At last the longing for England and English people grew so acute that
John made up his mind to return. But he found that things in England
were very different from what they had been abroad. Here he was made to
feel acutely that he was outcast. It was impossible to live in town
under an assumed name, as he would like to have done, for too many
people knew Jack Carstares, and would remember him. He saw that he must
either live secluded, or--and the idea of becoming a highwayman occurred
to him. A hermit's existence he knew to be totally unsuited to a man of
his temperament, but the free, adventurous spirit of the road appealed
to him. The finding of his mare--J. the Third, as he laughingly dubbed
her--decided the point; he forthwith took on himself the role of
quixotic highwayman, roaming his beloved South Country, happier than he
had been since he first left England; bit by bit regaining his youth and
spirits, which last, not all the trouble he had been through had
succeeded in extinguishing....

Clip-clap, clip-clop.... With a jerk he came back to earth and reined-in
his mare, the better to listen.

Along the road came the unmistakable sound of horses' hoofs, and the
scrunch-scrunch of swiftly-revolving wheels on the sandy surface.

By now the moon was right out, but owing to the fact that she was
playing at hide-and-seek in and out of the clouds, it was fairly dark.
Nevertheless, Jack fastened his mask over his face with quick, deft
fingers, and pulled his hat well over his eyes. His ears told him that
the vehicle, whatever it was, was coming towards him, so he drew into
the side of the road, and taking a pistol from its holster, sat waiting,
his eyes on the bend in the road.

Nearer and nearer came the horses, until the leader swung round the
corner. Carstares saw that it was an ordinary travelling chariot, and
levelled his pistol.

"Halt, or I fire!" He had to repeat the command before it was heard, and
to ride out from the shadow of the hedge.

The chariot drew up and the coachman leaned over the side to see who it
was bidding them to stop in so peremptory a manner.

"What d'ye want? Who are ye? Is there aught amiss?" he cried testily,
and found himself staring at a long-nosed pistol.

"Throw down your arms!"

"I ain't got none, blast ye!"

"On your honour?" Jack dismounted.

"Ay! Wish I had, and I'd see ye damned afore I'd throw 'em down!"

At this moment the door of the coach opened and a gentleman leapt
lightly down on to the road. He was big and loose-limbed as far as
Carstares could see, and carried himself with an easy grace.

My lord presented his pistol.

"Stand!" he ordered gruffly.

The moon peeped coyly out from behind a cloud and shed her light upon
the little group as if to see what all the fuss was about. The big man's
face was in the shadow, but Jack's pistol was not. Into its muzzle the
gentleman gazed, one hand deep in the pocket of his heavy cloak, the
other holding a small pistol.

"Me very dear friend," he said in a rich brogue, "perhaps ye are not
aware that that same pistol ye are pointing at me is unloaded? Don't
move; I have ye covered!"

Jack's arm fell to his side, and the pistol he held clattered to the
ground. But it was not surprise at Jim's defection that caused him that
violent start. It was something far more overwhelming. For the voice
that proceeded from the tall gentleman belonged to one whom, six years
ago, he had counted, next to Richard, his greatest friend on earth.

The man moved a little, and the moonlight shone full on his face,
clearly outlining the large nose and good-humoured mouth, and above, the
sleepy grey eyes. Miles! Miles O'Hara! For once Jack could find nothing
amusing in the situation. It was too inconceivably hideous that he
should meet his friend in this guise, and, further, be unable to reveal
himself. A great longing to tear off his mask and to grasp Miles' hand
assailed him. With an effort he choked it down and listened to what
O'Hara was saying:

"If ye will be so kind as to give me your word of honour ye'll not be
afther trying to escape, I should be greatly obliged. But I tell ye
first that if ye attempt to move, I shall shoot."

Jack made a hopeless gesture with his hand. He felt dazed. The whole
thing was ridiculous; how Miles would laugh afterwards. He went cold.
There would be no "afterwards".... Miles would never know.... He would
be given over to the authorities, and Miles would never know that he had
helped Jack Carstares to the scaffold.... Perhaps, too, he would not
mind so very much, now that he, Jack, was so disgraced. One could never
tell; even if he risked everything now, and told his true identity,
Miles might turn away from him in disgust; Miles, who could never stoop
to a dishonourable act. Carstares felt that he would bear anything
sooner than face this man's scorn....

"Never tell me 'tis a dumb man ye are, for I heard ye shout meself! Do
ye give me your word of honour, or must I have ye bound?"

Carstares pulled himself together and set his teeth as he faced the
inevitable. Escape was impossible; Miles would shoot, he felt sure, and
then his disguise would be torn away and his friend would see that Jack
Carstares was nothing but a common highwayman. Whatever happened, that
must not be, for the sake of the name and Richard. So he quietly held
out his hands.

"Ay, I give my word, but ye can bind me if ye choose." It was his
highwayman voice: raucous, and totally unlike his own.

But O'Hara's eyes were fixed on the slender white hands held out to him.
In his usual haphazard fashion, Jack had quite forgotten to grime his
hands. They were shapely and white, and carefully manicured.

Miles took either wrist in his large hands and turned them palm upwards
in the moonlight.

"Singularly white hands ye have, for one in your profession," he
drawled, and tightened his hold as Jack tried to draw them away. "No, ye
do not! Now be so good as to step within, me friend."

Jack held back an instant.

"My mare?" he asked, and O'Hara noted the anxiety in his voice.

"Ye need not be after worrying about her," he said. "George!" The
footman sprang forward.

"Yessir?"

"Ye see that mare? I want ye to ride her home. Can ye do it?"

"Yessir!"

"I doubt it," murmured Jack.

So did Jenny. She refused point blank to allow this stranger to mount
her. Her master had left her in one spot, and there she would stand
until he chose to bid her move. In vain did the groom coax and coerce.
She ran round him and seemed a transformed creature. She laid her ears
flat and gnashed at the bit, ready to lash out furiously at the first
opportunity.

Jack watched the man's futile struggles with the ghost of a smile about
his lips.

"Jenny!" he said quietly, and O'Hara looked round at him sharply,
frowning. Unconsciously, he had spoken naturally, and the voice was
faintly familiar.

Jenny twitched the bridle from the perspiring groom and minced up to the
prisoner.

"Would ye allow me to have a hand free--sir?" he asked. "Mebbe I can
manage her."

Without a word Miles released him, and he caught the bridle, murmuring
something unintelligible to the now quiet animal.

O'Hara watched the beautiful hand stroke her muzzle reassuringly, and
frowned again. No ordinary highwayman this.

"Mount her now, will 'ee?" Jack flung at the groom, and kept a warning
hand on the rein as the man obeyed. With a final pat he turned away.
"She'll do now, sir."

O'Hara nodded.

"Ye've trained her well. Get in, please."

Jack obeyed, and in a minute or two O'Hara jumped in after him, and the
coach began to move forward.

For a while there was silence, Carstares keeping himself well under
control. It was almost unbearable to think that after this brief drive
he would never set eyes on his friend again, and he wanted so badly to
turn and grasp that strong hand....

Miles turned in his seat and tried to see the masked face in the
darkness.

"Ye are a gentleman?" he asked, going straight to the point.

Jack was prepared for this.

"Me, sir? Lor' no, sir!"

"I do not believe ye. Don't be forgettin' I've seen your hands!"

"Hands, sir?" in innocent bewilderment.

"Sure, ye don't think I'd be believing ye an ordinary rogue, with hands
like that?"

"I don't rightly understand ye, sir?"

"Bejabers then, ye'll be understanding me tomorrow!"

"To-morrow, sir?"

"Certainly. Ye may as well tell me now as then. I'm not such a daft fool
as I look, and I know a gentleman when I see one, even an he does growl
at me as you do!" he chuckled. "And I'd an odd feeling I knew ye when ye
spoke to the mare. I'd be loth to send a friend to the gallows."

How well Jack knew that soft, persuasive voice. His hands clenched as he
forced himself to answer:

"I don't think I've ever seen ye afore, sir."

"Maybe ye have not. We shall see to-morrow."

"What do ye mean by to-morrow, sir?" ventured Carstares uneasily.

"Sure, ye will have the honour of appearing before me, me friend."

"Before _you_, sir?"

"Why not? I'm a Justice of the Peace, heaven save the mark!"

There was a breathless pause, and then at last the funny side of it
struck Jack, and his shoulders shook with suppressed laughter. The
exquisite irony of it was almost too much for him. He, the Earl of
Wyncham, was to be formally questioned by his friend Sir Miles O'Hara,
J.P.!

"What ails ye now, man? Ye find it amusing?" asked Miles, surprised.

"Oh, Lud, yes!" gasped Jack, and collapsed into his corner.



CHAPTER IX

LADY O'HARA INTERVENES


Lady O'Hara found that her big, indolent husband was unusually silent
next morning at breakfast. She had not been married long enough to
consent to being practically ignored, no matter what the time of day,
but she had been married quite long enough to know that before she took
any direct action against him, she must first allow him to assuage his
appetite. Accordingly she plied him with coffee and eggs, and with a
satisfied and slightly motherly air, watched him attack a sirloin of
beef. She was a pretty, birdlike little lady, with big eyes, and soft
brown curls escaping from under a demure but very becoming mob cap. She
measured five foot nothing in her stockings, and was sometimes referred
to by her large husband as the Midget. Needless to say, this flippant
appellation was in no wise encouraged by the lady.

She decided that Miles had come to the end of his repast, and, planting
two dimpled elbows on the table, she rested her small chin in her hands
and looked across at him with something of the air of an inquisitive
kitten.

"Miles!"

O'Hara leaned back in his chair, and at the sight of her fresh
prettiness his brow cleared and he smiled.

"Well, asthore?"

A reproachful finger was raised and a pair of red lips pouted adorably.

"Now, Miles, confess you've been vastly disagreeable this morning. Twice
have I spoken to you and you've not troubled to answer me--nay, let me
finish! And once you growled at me like a nasty bear! Yes, sir, you
did!"

"Did I now, Molly? 'Tis a surly brute you're after thinking me, then?
Troth, and I've been sore perplexed, me dear."

Lady O'Hara got up and sidled round to him.

"Have you so, Miles?"

He flung an arm about her and drew her on to his knee.

"Sure, yes, Molly."

"Well then, Miles, had you not better tell me what it is that troubles
you?" she coaxed, laying a persuasive hand on his shoulder.

He smiled up at her.

"'Tis just an inquisitive puss you are!"

Again the pout.

"And ye should not pout your pretty lips at me if ye are not wanting me
to kiss them!" he added, suiting the action to the word.

"But of course I do!" cried my lady, returning the kiss with fervour.
"Nay, Miles, tell me."

"I see ye mean to have the whole tale out of me, so--"

"To be sure I do!" she nodded.

He laid a warning finger on her lips and summoned up a mighty frown.

"Now will ye be done interrupting, me lady?"

Not a whit abashed, she bit the finger, pushed it away, and folding her
hands in her lap, cast her eyes meekly heavenwards.

With a twinkle in his own eyes the Irishman continued:

"Well, alanna, ye must know that yesterday evening I was at Kilroy's on
a matter of business--and that reminds me, Molly, we had a hand or two
at faro and the like before I left, and I had very distressing luck--"

On a sudden my lady's demure air vanished.

"Is that so, Miles? I make no doubt the stakes were prodigious high?
Pray, how much have you lost?"

"Whisht, darlin', 'tis a mere thrifle, I assure you.... Well, as I was
saying, on me way home, what should happen but that we be held up by one
of these highwaymen--"

My lady's eyes widened in horror, and two little hands clutched at his
coat.

"Oh, Miles!"

His arm tightened round her waist.

"Sure, asthore, I'm still alive to tell the tale, though 'tis not far
I'll be getting with you interrupting at every moment!"

"But, Miles, how terrible! You might have been killed! And you never
told me! 'Twas monstrous wicked of you, darling!"

"Faith, Molly, how should I be telling you when 'twas yourself that was
fast asleep? Now will you whisht?"

She nodded obediently, and dimpled.

"Well, as I say, here was this man standing in the road, pointing his
pistol at me. But will ye believe me, me love, when I tell you that that
same pistol was as empty as--my own?" Here he was shaken with laughter.
"Lud, Molly, 'twas the drollest thing! I had me pistol in me hand,
knowing 'twas unloaded, and wondering what the devil, saving your
presence, was to do next, when the idea struck me that I should try to
bluff me fine sir. So I cried out that his pistol was unloaded, and
completely took him by surprise! Sure he hadn't time to ask himself how
the devil I should be knowing that! He dropped it on the road. Afther--"

"Miles, you are becoming very Irish!"

"Never say so, alanna. _After_ that 'twas simple enough, and me lord
gave in. He held out his hands for me to bind--and here's where 'tis
puzzling, Molly--I saw that they were a prodigious sight too white and
fine for an ordinary highwayman. So I taxed him with it--"

"'Twas a gentleman in disguise! How splendid, Miles!"

"Will ye hold your tongue, asthore, and not be spoiling me story on me?"

"Oh, indeed I am sorry! I will be good!"

"--and he started and seemed monstrous put out. What's more, me dear, I
heard him speak to his mare in an ordinary, gentleman's voice. Molly, ye
never saw the like of that same mare! The sweetest--"

"Pray, never mind the mare, dear! I am all agog to hear about the
gentleman-highwayman!"

"Very well, me love, though 'twas a prodigious fine mare--When I heard
him speak, it flashed across me brain that I knew him--no, ye don't,
Molly!" His hand was over her mouth as he spoke, and her eyes danced
madly. "But I could not for the life of me think where I had heard that
voice: 'twas but the one word I heard him speak, ye understand, and when
I held his wrists I felt that 'twas no stranger. And yet 'tis
impossible. When I got him within the coach--"

"How imprudent! He might have--"

"Whisht now! When I got him within the coach I tried to worm his
identity out of him, but 'twas to no avail. But when I told him he would
have to appear before me to-day, he went off into a fit of laughing,
till I wondered what he was at, at all. And not another word could I get
out of him after beyond 'Yes, sir,' and 'No, sir.' Still, I felt that
'twas a gentleman all the same, so I--"

He was enveloped in a rapturous embrace.

"You dear Miles! You let him escape?"

"Sure, alanna, is it meself that would be doing the like? And me a
Justice of the Peace withal? I told them not to handcuff me lord."

"Oh, I do so wish you had let him escape! But if 'tis really a
gentleman, you will?"

"I will not then, asthore. I'll be sending him to await the Assizes."

"You are very cruel, then."

"But, me darlin'--"

"And I wish to get off your knee." He drew her close.

"I'll see what can be done for your protege, Molly. But don't be
forgetting he tried to kill the only husband you have!" He watched the
effect of this with that humorous twinkle in his eye. But my lady was
not to be put off.

"With an empty pistol? Fie on you, Miles! And may I hide behind the
screen while you question him?"

"Ye may not."

"But I wish so much to see him!"

O'Hara shook his head with an air of finality she knew full well.
However easy-going and good-natured her husband might be, there were
times when he was impervious to all blandishments. So after darkly
hinting that she would be nearer than he imagined, she gave up the
contest to go and visit young Master David in his nursery.

       *       *       *       *       *

For some time in lock-up Carstares had cudgelled his brain to think out
a possible mode of escape next day, but try as he might he could light
on nothing. If only Miles were not to question him! It was hardly likely
that he would be allowed to retain his mask, yet therein lay his only
chance of preserving his incognito. He prayed that by some merciful
providence O'Hara would either fail to recognise him or would at least
pretend that he did not. Having decided that there was nothing further
to be done in the matter he lay down on his extremely hard pallet, and
went to sleep as if he had not a care in the world.

Next morning, after a long and wordy argument with the head gaoler on
the subject of masks, he was haled in triumph to the house.

As the little cavalcade was about to ascend the steps that led to the
front door, my Lady O'Hara came gaily forth carrying a basket and a pair
of scissors, and singing a snatch of song. At the sight of the
highwayman the song broke off and her red lips formed a long-drawn "Oh!"
She stood quite still on the top step, gazing down at my lord. The two
gaolers stood aside to allow her to come down, just as a greyhound
darted up the steps and flung itself against her in an exuberance of
joy. My lady, none too securely balanced, reeled; the basket fell from
her arm, her foot missed the next step, and she tumbled headlong down.
But in the flash of an eyelid Carstares had sprung forward and received
her in his arms. He lowered her gently to the ground. "I trust you are
not hurt, madam?" he asked, and retrieved her basket, handing it to her.

Molly took it with a smile.

"I thank you sir, not at all; though I fear I should have injured myself
quite considerably had you not been so swift in catching me. 'Twas most
kind of you, I am sure!" She extended her small hand, and her eyes
devoured him.

For a moment my lord hesitated, and then, sweeping off his hat, he bowed
low over the hand.

"'Twas less than nothing, madam," he said in his own cultivated voice.
"I beg you will dismiss it from your mind." He straightened himself as
the gaolers came forward, and put on his hat again.

Lady O'Hara stepped aside and watched them disappear into the house. Her
cheeks were rather flushed, and her eyes suspiciously bright. Suddenly
she nodded her head decisively, and throwing away her luckless basket,
hurried across the lawn and entered the house through a long window.

My lord was conducted to the library, where O'Hara sat awaiting him, and
slouched forward with his hands thrust deep into his pockets and his hat
still on his head.

The head gaoler eyed him gloomily, and looked pained when Carstares with
studied boorishness leaned carelessly against a fine carved table.

"We 'ave refrained from 'andcuffin' pris'ner, sir, at your horders," he
said, in a tone that warned O'Hara that should harm come of it, on his
head be the blame.

Miles nodded.

"Quite right," he said pleasantly, and glanced at the cloaked and masked
figure before him with more suspicion than ever.

"But I regrets to 'ave to report very hobstinate be'aviour on part of
pris'ner, sir," added the gaoler impressively.

"Indeed?" said Miles gravely. "How so?"

Jack controlled an insane desire to laugh, and listened to the gaoler's
complaint.

"You see the pris'ner, sir, with that great mask on 'is face? Afore we
set out to come 'ere, I told 'im to take it hoff. And 'e refoosed, sir.
Seeing as 'ow you gave no horders, I did not force 'im to hobey."

"Ah! ... Your name, please?"

"John Smith, sir," answered Carstares promptly and hoarsely. O'Hara
wrote it down with a sceptical smile on his lips that Jack did not quite
like.

"Perhaps ye will have the goodness to unmask?"

There was a momentary silence.

"Why, sir, I thought ye might allow me to keep it on?"

"Did ye now? I will not be allowing any such thing."

"But, sir--"

"'Tis impossible. Off with it!"

"Sir--"

"If ye don't take it off, I shall ask these men to assist ye," warned
Miles.

"May I not speak with ye alone, sir?" pleaded Jack. By now O'Hara was
greatly intrigued.

"Ye may not. Unmask!" He was leaning half across the table, his eyes
fixed on Jack's face.

With a quaint little laugh that made O'Hara's brows contract swiftly, my
lord shrugged his shoulders French fashion and obeyed. The mask and hat
were tossed lightly on to the table, and Miles found himself gazing into
a pair of blue eyes that met his half defiantly, half imploringly. He
drew in his breath sharply and the thin ivory rule he held snapped
suddenly between his fingers. And at that crucial moment a door behind
him that had stood ajar was pushed open, and my Lady O'Hara came
tripping into the room.

The two gaolers and her husband turned at once to see who it was, while
Jack, who had recognised her, but had not the least idea who she was,
fell to dusting his boots with his handkerchief.

O'Hara rose, and for once looked severe.

"What--" he began, and stopped, for without so much as a glance at him,
my lady ran towards the prisoner, crying:

"Harry! Oh, Harry!"

Jack gathered that he was the person addressed, and instantly made her
an elaborate leg.

The next moment she was tugging at the lapels of his coat, with her face
upturned to his.

"Harry, you WICKED boy!" she cried, and added beneath her breath: "My
name is Molly!"

A laugh sprang to my lord's eyes and his beautiful smile appeared.

In a stupefied fashion O'Hara watched him steal an arm about her waist,
and place a hand beneath her chin. The next instant a kiss was planted
full on the little lady's lips, and he heard Jack Carstares' voice
exclaim:

"Fie on you, Molly, for a spoil-sport! Here had I fooled Miles to the
top of my bent--and 'pon rep.! he scarce knows me yet!"

My lady disengaged herself, blushing.

"Oh, Miles, you do know Harry--my cousin Harry?"

O'Hara collected his scattered wits and rose nobly to the occasion.

"Of course I do, me dear, though at first he gave me such a shock, I was
near dumbfounded. Ye are a mad, scatter-brained fellow to play such a
thrick upon us, devil take ye!" He laid his hands on Jack's shoulders.
"Pray, what did ye do it for, boy?"

Jack's brain worked swiftly.

"Why, Miles, never tell me you've forgot our wager! Did I not swear I'd
have you at a disadvantage--to be even with you for that night at
Jasper's? But what must you do but see my pistol was unloaded and make
me lose my wager! Still, 'twas worth that and a night in gaol to see
your face when I unmasked!"

O'Hara shook him slightly, laughing, and turned to the two amazed
gaolers. The senior gaoler met his humorous glance with a cold and
indignant stare, and gave a prodigious sniff.

"Me good fellows," drawled Miles, "I'm mighty sorry ye've been worried
over me young cousin here. He's fooled us all it appears, but now
there's nought to be done in the matter, though I've a mind to send him
to await the next sessions!" He slipped a guinea into each curiously
ready palm, and replied to the head gaoler's haughty bow with a pleasant
nod. In silence he watched them leave the room shaking their heads over
the incomprehensible ways of the gentry. Then he turned and looked
across at Carstares.



CHAPTER X

LADY O'HARA RETIRES


For a long minute silence reigned, all three actors in the little comedy
listening to the heavy footsteps retreating down the passage, Carstares
with one arm still around my lady's waist and a rather strained look on
his face. Molly instinctively felt that something beyond her ken was in
the air, and glanced fearfully up at the white face above her. The
expression in the blue eyes fixed on her husband made her turn sharply
to look at him. She found that he was staring at my lord as though he
saw a ghost: She wanted to speak, to relieve the tension, but all words
stuck in her throat, and she could only watch the _denouement_
breathlessly. At last O'Hara moved, coming slowly towards them, reading
John's countenance. Some of the wonder went out of his face, and, as if
he sensed the other's agony of mind, he smiled suddenly and laid his
hands once more on the straight, stiff shoulders.

"Jack, ye rascal, what do ye mean by hugging and kissing me wife under
me very eyes?"

Molly all at once remembered the position of her "Cousin Harry's" arm,
and gave a little gasp, whisking herself away.

My lord put out his hands and strove to thrust his friend off.

"Miles, don't forget--don't forget--what I am!"

The words were forced out, but his head was held high.

"Tare an' ouns, man! And is it meself that'll be caring what ye may or
may not be? Oh, Jack, Jack, I'm so pleased to see ye, that I can scarce
realise 'tis yourself I am looking at! When did ye come to England, and
what-a-plague are you doing in that costume?" He jerked his head to
where John's mask lay, and wrung the hand he held as though he would
never stop.

"I've been in England a year. As to the mask--!" He shrugged and
laughed.

Lady O'Hara pushed in between them.

"But please I do not understand!" she said plaintively.

Carstares bowed over her hand.

"May I be permitted to thank you for your kindly intervention, my lady?
And to congratulate Miles on his marriage?"

She dimpled charmingly and curtsied. Her husband caught her round the
waist.

"Ay, the saucy minx! Oh, me cousin Harry, forsooth! If it had been
anyone but Jack I should be angry with ye, asthore, for 'twas a wicked
thrick to play entirely!"

She patted his hand and smiled across at Jack.

"Of course, I would never have done such a forward thing had I not known
that he was indeed a gentleman--and had he not saved me from sudden
death!" she added as an afterthought.

Miles looked sharply round at her and then at Carstares.

"What's this?"

"My lady exaggerates," smiled my lord. "'Tis merely that I had the
honour to catch her as she fell down the steps this morning."

O'Hara looked relieved.

"Ye are not hurt, alanna?"

"Gracious, no! But I had to do something to show my gratitude--and I was
sure that you would never expose _my_ fraud--so I--But," as a sudden
thought struck her, "you seem to _know_ my highwayman!"

"Sure an' I do, Molly. 'Tis none other than Jack Carstares of whom ye've
often heard me speak!"

She turned round eyes of wonderment upon my lord.

"Can it be--is it possible that you are my husband's dearest
friend--Lord John?"

Jack flushed and bowed.

"I was once--madam," he said stiffly.

"Once!" she scoffed. "Oh, if you could but hear him speak of you! But
I'll let you hear him speak _to_ you, which perhaps you'll enjoy more. I
know you've a prodigious great deal to say to one another, so I shall
run away and leave you alone." She smiled graciously upon him, blew an
airy kiss to her husband and went quickly out of the room.

Carstares closed the door behind her and came back to O'Hara, who had
flung himself back into his chair, trying, manlike, to conceal the
excitement he was feeling.

"Come, sit ye down, Jack, and let me have the whole story!"

My lord divested himself of his long cloak and shook out his hitherto
tucked-up ruffles. From the pocket of his elegant scarlet riding coat he
drew a snuff-box, which he opened languidly. With his eyes resting
quizzically on O'Hara's face, he took a delicate pinch of snuff and
minced across the room.

Miles laughed.

"What's this?"

"This, my dear friend, is Sir Anthony Ferndale, Bart.!" He bowed with
great flourish.

"Ye look it. But come over here, Sir Anthony Ferndale, Bart., and tell
me everything."

Jack perched on the edge of the desk and swung his leg.

"Well really, I do not think there is much to tell that you do not
already know, Miles. You know all about Dare's card-party, for instance,
precisely six years ago?"

"'Tis just exactly what I do not know!" retorted O'Hara.

"You surprise me! I thought the tale was rife."

"Now, Jack, will ye have done drawling at me? Don't be forgetting I'm
your friend--"

"But are you? If you know the truth about me, do you feel inclined to
call me friend?"

"There never was a time when I would not have been proud to call ye
friend, as ye would very well have known, had ye been aught but a damned
young hothead! I heard that crazy tale about the card-party, but do ye
think I believed it?"

"It was the obvious thing to do."

"Maybe, but I fancy I know ye just a little too well to believe any
cock-and-bull story I'm told about ye. And even if I had been fool
enough to have believed it, do ye think I'd be going back on ye? Sure,
'tis a poor friend I'd be!"

Jack stared down at the toe of his right boot in silence.

"I know something more than we guessed happened at that same party, and
I have me suspicions, but 'tis your affair, and whatever ye did ye had
your reasons for. But, Jack, why in the name of wonder must ye fly off
to the devil alone knows where, without so much as a good-bye to
anyone?"

Carstares never raised his eyes from the contemplation of that boot. He
spoke with difficulty.

"Miles--in my place--would you not have done the same?"

"Well--"

"You know you would. Was it likely that I should inflict myself on you
at such a time? What would you have thought of me had I done so?"

O'Hara brought his hand down smartly on the other's knee.

"I'd have thought ye less of a young fool! I would have gone away with
ye, and nothing would have stopped me!"

Jack looked up and met his eyes.

"I know," he said. "'Twas the thought of that--and--and--I could not be
sure. How should I know whether you would even receive me? Last
night--last night--I was horribly afraid...."

The hand on his knee tightened.

"Ye foolish boy! Ye foolish boy!"

Bit by bit he drew the story of the past six years out of Carstares, and
though it was a very modified version, Miles understood his friend well
enough to read between the lines.

"And now," said Jack, when the recital was over, "tell me about
yourself. When did you marry the attractive lady whom I have just been
kissing?"

"Ye rogue! I married Molly three years ago. 'Tis a real darling she is,
isn't she? And upstairs there's a little chap--your godson."

"You lucky fellow! My godson, you say? Could you not find anyone more
worthy for that? I want to see him."

"So ye shall presently. Have ye seen Richard?"

"A year ago I held up his coach. 'Twas dark, and I could scarce see him,
but I thought he seemed aged."

"Aged! Ye wouldn't be afther knowing him! 'Tis an old man he is. Though
I swear 'tis no wonder with that hussy about the house! Lord, Jack, you
were well out of that affair with her ladyship!"

Carstares nursed his foot reflectively.

"Lavinia? What ails her?"

"Nought that I know of, save it be her shrewish temper. 'Tis a dog's
life she leads poor Dick."

"Do you mean to say she does not love Dick?"

"I cannot say--sometimes she's as affectionate as you please, but at
others she treats him to a fine exhibition of rage. And the money she
spends! Of course, she married him for what she could get. There was
never anything else to count with her."

Jack sat very still.

"And anyone but a young fool like yourself would have seen that!"

A gleam of amusement shot into the wistful blue eyes.

"Probably. Yourself, for instance?"

O'Hara chuckled.

"Oh, ay, I knew! 'Twas the money she was after all along; and now
there's not so much, it seems, as Dick won't touch a penny that belongs
to you."

"M'm. Warburton told me. Foolish of him."

A grunt was the sole response.

Jack's eyes narrowed a little as he gazed out of the window. "So Lavinia
never cared? Lord, what a mix-up! And Dick?"

"I'm afraid he still does."

"Poor old Dick! Devil take the woman! Does she bully him? I know what he
is--always ready to give in."

"I am not so sure. Yet I'll swear if 'twere not for John his life would
be a misery. He misses you, Jack."

"Who is John?"

"Did not Warburton tell you? John is the hope of the house. He's four
and a half, and as spoilt a little rascal as you could wish for."

"Dick's child? Good Lord!"

"Ay, Dick's child and your nephew." He broke off and looked into the
other's face. "Jack, cannot this mystery be cleared up? Couldn't ye go
back?" He was clasping Jack's hand, but it was withdrawn, and the eyes
looking down into his were suddenly bored and a little cold.

"I know of no mystery," said Carstares.

"Jack, old man, will ye be afther shutting me out of your confidence?"

A faint, sweet smile curved the fine lips.

"Let us talk of the weather, Miles, or my mare. Anything rather than
this painful subject."

With an impatient movement O'Hara flung back his chair and strode over
to the window with his back to my lord. Jack's eyes followed him
seriously.

"If ye cannot trust me, sure I've no more to say, thin!" flashed O'Hara.
"It seems ye do not value your friends too highly!"

My lord said never a word. But the hand that rested on the desk clenched
suddenly. O'Hara wheeled about and came back to his side.

"Sure, Jack, I never meant that! Forgive me bad temper!"

Carstares slipped off the table and straightened himself, linking his
arm in the Irishman's.

"Whisht, Miles, as you'd say yourself," he laughed, "I know that. 'Tis
not that I don't trust you, but--"

"I understand. I'll not ask ye any more about it at all. Instead, answer
me this: what made ye come out with unloaded pistols?"

The laugh died out of Carstares' face.

"Oh, just carelessness!" he answered shortly, and he thought of the
absent Jim with a tightening of the lips.

"'Twas that very same reason with meself thin!" Jack stared at him.

"Miles, don't tell me yours were unloaded, too?"

"'Deed an' they were! Ecod, Jack! 'tis the best joke I've heard for a
twelvemonth." They both started to laugh. "Sure 'twas bluff on my part,
Jack, when I told ye yours was unloaded. And me lady was determined to
set you free from the moment I told her all about it this morning. We
were sure ye were no ordinary highwayman, though I was a fool not to
have known ye right away. But now I have found ye out, ye'll stay with
us--Cousin Harry?"

"I cannot thank you enough, Miles, but I will not do that. I must get
back to Jim."

"And who the devil is Jim?"

"My servant. He'll be worried nigh to death over me. Nay, do not press
me, I could not stay here, Miles. You must see for yourself 'tis
impossible--Jack Carstares does not exist; only Anthony Ferndale is
left."

"Jack, dear man, can I not--"

"No, Miles, you can do nothing, though 'tis like you to want to help,
and I do thank you. But--oh well! ... What about my mare?"

"Plague take me if I'd not forgotten! Jack, that scoundrel of mine let
her strain her fetlock. I'm demmed sorry."

"Poor Jenny! I'll swear she gave him an exciting ride, though."

"I'll be trying to buy her off ye, Jack, if I see much of her. 'Tis a
little beauty she is."

"I'm not selling, though I intended to ask you to keep her, if--"

A quick pressure on his arm arrested him.

"That will do! I'm too heavy for her anyway."

"So was that devil of a groom you put on her."

"Ay. I'm a fool."

"I always knew that."

"Whisht now, Jack! Ye'll have to take one of my nags while she heals, if
ye won't stay with us. Can ye trust her to me for a week, do ye
suppose?"

"I don't know. It seems as though I must--oh, I retract, I retract. You
are altogether too large, the day is too hot, and my cravat too nicely
tied--Egad, Miles! I wish--oh, I _wish_ we were boys again, and--Yes.
When may I see your son and heir?"

"Sure, ye may come now and find Molly, who'll be aching for the sight of
you. Afther you, Sir Anthony Ferndale, Bart!"



CHAPTER XI

MY LORD TURNS RESCUER AND COMES NIGH ENDING HIS LIFE


Late that afternoon Carstares left Thurze House on one of his friend's
horses. He waved a very regretful farewell to O'Hara and his lady,
promising to let them know his whereabouts and to visit them again soon.
O'Hara had extracted a solemn promise that if ever he got into
difficulties he would let him know:

"For I'm not letting ye drift gaily out of me life again, and that's
flat."

Jack had assented gladly enough--to have a friend once more was such
bliss--and had given Miles the name of the inn and the village where he
would find him, for O'Hara had insisted on bringing the mare over
himself. So Carstares rode off to Trencham and to Jim, with the memory
of a very hearty handshake in his mind. He smiled a little as he thought
of his friend's words when he had shown himself reluctant to give the
required promise:

"Ye obstinate young devil, ye'll do as I say, and no nonsense, or ye
don't leave this house!"

For six years no one had ordered him to obey; it had been he who had
done all the ordering. Somehow it was very pleasant to be told what to
do, especially by Miles.

He turned down a lane and wondered what Jim was thinking. That he was
waiting at the Green Man, he was certain, for those had been his orders.
He was annoyed with the man over the incident of the pistols, for he had
inspected them and discovered that they were indeed unloaded. Had his
captor been other than O'Hara, on whom he could not fire, such
carelessness might have proved his undoing. Apart from that, culpable
negligence always roused his wrath. A rather warm twenty minutes was in
store for Salter.

For quite an hour Carstares proceeded on his way with no mishaps nor
adventures, and then, suddenly, as he rounded a corner of a deserted
road--little more than a cart-track--an extraordinary sight met his
eyes. In the middle of the road stood a coach, and by it, covering the
men on the box with two large pistols, was a seedy-looking ruffian,
while two others were engaged in what appeared to be a life-and-death
struggle at the coach-door.

Jacked reined-in his horse and rose in his stirrups to obtain a better
view. Then his eyes flashed, and he whistled softly to himself. For the
cause of all the turmoil was a slight, graceful girl of not more than
nineteen or twenty. She was frenziedly resisting the efforts of her
captors to drag her to another coach, further up the road. Jack could
see that she was dark and very lovely.

Another, elderly lady, was most valiantly impeding operations by clawing
and striking at one of the men's arms, scolding and imploring all in one
breath. Jack's gaze went from her to a still, silent figure at the side
of the road in the shadow of the hedge, evidently the stage-manager. "It
seems I must take a hand in this," he told himself, and laughed joyously
as he fixed on his mask and dismounted. He tethered his mount to a young
sapling, took a pistol from its holster, and ran softly and swiftly
under the lea of the hedge up to the scene of disaster, just as the man
who covered the unruly and vociferous pair on the box made ready to
fire.

Jack's bullet took him neatly in the neck, and without a sound he
crumpled up, one of his pistols exploding harmlessly as it fell to
earth.

With an oath the silent onlooker wheeled round to face the point of my
lord's gleaming blade.

Carstares drew in his breath sharply in surprise as he saw the white
face of his Grace of Andover.

"Damn you!" said Tracy calmly, and sprang back, whipping out his own
rapier.

"Certainly," agreed Jack pleasantly. "On guard, M. le Duc!"

Tracy's lips curled back in a snarl. His eyes were almost shut. Over his
shoulder he ordered curtly:

"Keep watch over the girl. I will attend to this young jackanapes."

On the word the blades clashed.

Jack's eyes danced with the sheer joy of battle, and his point snicked
in and out wickedly. He knew Tracy of old for an expert swordsman, and
he began warily.

The girl's persecutors retained a firm hold on either arm, but all their
thoughts were centred on the duel. The men on the box got out their
blunderbuss, ready to fire should the need arise, and the girl herself
watched breathlessly, red lips apart, and eyes aglow with fright,
indignation, and excitement. As for the old lady, she positively bobbed
up and down shrieking encouragement to Carstares.

The blades hissed continuously against one another; time after time the
Duke thrust viciously, and ever his point was skilfully parried. He was
absolutely calm, and his lips sneered. Who it was that he was fighting,
he had not the faintest idea; he only knew that his opponent had
recognised him, and must be speedily silenced. Therefore he fought with
deadly grimness and purpose. Carstares, on the other hand, had no
intention of killing his Grace. He had never liked him in the old days,
but he was far too good-natured to contemplate any serious bloodshed. He
was so used to Tracy's little affairs that he had not been filled with
surprise when he discovered who the silent figure was. He did not like
interfering with Belmanoir, but, on the other hand, he could no more
stand by and see a woman assaulted than he could fly. So he fought on
with the idea of disarming his Grace, so as to have him at a
disadvantage and to be able to command his withdrawal from the scene.
Once he feinted cleverly, and lunged, and a little blood trickled down
over the Duke's hand. No sign made Belmanoir, except that his eyelids
flickered a moment and his play became more careful.

Once the Duke thrust in tierce and Jack's sword arm wavered an instant,
and a splash of crimson appeared on his sleeve. He, for the most part,
remained on the defensive, waiting for the Duke to tire. Soon his
Grace's breath began to come unevenly and fast, and beads of moisture
started on his forehead. Yet never did the sneer fade nor his temper go;
he had himself well in hand, and although his face was livid, and his
brain on fire with fury, no trace of it showed itself in his sword-play.

Then Carstares changed his tactics, and began to put into practice all
the arts and subtleties of fence that he had learnt abroad. He seemed
made of steel and set on wires, so agile and untireable was he. Time
after time he leapt nimbly aside, evading some wicked thrust, and all
the while he was driving his Grace back and back. He was not panting,
and now and again he laughed softly and happily. The blood from the
wound on his arm was dripping steadily on to the ground, yet it seemed
to Tracy to affect him not at all. But Jack himself knew that he was
losing strength rapidly, and must make an end.

Suddenly he feinted, and fell back. Tracy saw his advantage and pressed
forward within the wavering sword-point.

The next instant his sword was whirled from his grasp, and he lay on the
ground, unhurt but helpless, gazing up at the masked face and at the
shortened rapier. How he had been thrown he did not know, but that his
opponent was a past master in the art of fence he was perfectly sure.

My lord gave a little chuckle and twisted a handkerchief about his
wounded arm.

"I am aware, m'sieur, that this is most unusual--and, in
duels--forbidden. But I am sure that milor' will agree that the
circumstances are also--most unusual--and the odds--almost
overwhelming!" He turned his head to the two men, one of whom released
his hold on the girl's arm and started forward.

"Oh, no!" drawled my lord, shaking his head. "Another step and I spit
your master where he lies."

"Stand," said his Grace calmly.

"_Bien_! Throw your arms down here at my feet, and--ah--release
Mademoiselle!"

They made no move to obey, and my lord shrugged deprecatingly, lowering
his point to Tracy's throat.

"_Eh bien!_"

They still hesitated, casting anxious glances at their master. "Obey,"
ordered the Duke.

Each man threw down a pistol, eyeing Jack furtively, while the girl ran
to her aunt, who began to soothe and fuss over her.

Jack stifled a yawn.

"It is not my intention to remain here all night. Neither am I a
child--or a fool. _Dépêchez!_"

Belmanoir saw that the coachman had his blunderbuss ready and was only
too eager to fire it, and he knew that the game was up. He turned his
head towards the reluctant bullies who looked to him for orders.

"Throw down everything!" he advised.

Two more pistols and two daggers joined their comrades.

"A thousand thanks!" bowed my lord, running a quick eye over the men.
"M. le Duc, I pray you be still. Now, you with the large nose--yes, _mon
ami_, you--go pick up the pistol our defunct friend dropped."

The man indicated slouched over to the dead body and flung another
pistol on to the heap.

My lord shook his head impatiently.

"_Mais non_. Have I not said that I am not entirely a fool? The
unexploded pistol, please. You will place it here, _doucement._ Very
good."

His eye travelled to the men on the box. The coachman touched his hat
and cried:

"I'm ready, sir!"

"It is very well. Be so good as to keep these gentlemen covered, but do
not fire until I give the order. And now, M. le Duc, have I your parole
that you will return swiftly from whence you came, leaving this lady
unmolested, an I permit you to rise?"

Tracy moved his head impatiently.

"I have no choice."

"Monsieur, that is not an answer. Have I your parole?"

"Yes, curse you!"

"But certainly," said Jack politely. "Pray rise."

He rested his sword-point on the ground, and watched Tracy struggle to
his feet.

For an instant the Duke stood staring at him, with face slightly
out-thrust.

"I almost think I know you," he said softly, caressingly.

Jack's French accent became a shade more pronounced.

"It is possible. I at least have the misfortune to know monsieur by
sight."

Tracy ignored the insult, and continued very, very silkily:

"One thing is certain: I shall know you again--if I meet you!"

Even as the words left his mouth Jack saw the pistol in his hand and
sprang quickly to one side, just in time to escape a shot that would
have gone straight through his head. As it was, it caught him in his
left shoulder.

"Do not fire!" he called sharply to the coachman, and bowed to his
Grace. "As I was saying, m'sieu--do not let me detain you, I beg."

The Duke's green eyes flashed venom for a minute, and then the heavy
lids descended over them again, and he returned the bow exaggeratedly.

"_Au revoir_, monsieur," he smiled, and bent to pick up his sword.

"It will--not be necessary for--m'sieu to--take his sword," said Jack.
"I have a--desire to keep--it as a--souvenir. Yes."

"As you will, monsieur," replied Tracy carelessly, and walked away to
his coach, his men following close on his heels.

My lord stood leaning heavily on his sword, watching them go, and not
until the coach had swung out of sight did he give way to the weakness
that was overwhelming him. Then he reeled and would have fallen, had it
not been for two cool hands that caught his, steadying him.

A tremulous, husky voice sounded in his ears:

"You are hurt! Ah, sir, you are hurt for my sake!"

With a great effort Jack controlled the inclination to swoon, and lifted
the girl's hand shakily to his lips.

"It is a--pleasure--mademoiselle," he managed to gasp. "Now--you may--I
think--proceed--in safety."

Diana slipped an arm under his shoulder and cast an anxious glance at
the footman, hurrying towards them.

"Quick!" she commanded. "Sir, you are faint! You must allow my servant
to assist you to the coach."

Jack forced a smile.

"It is--nothing--I assure you--pray do not--I--" and he fainted
comfortably away into stout Thomas's arms.

"Carry him into the coach, Thomas!" ordered the girl. "Mind his arm,
and--oh! his poor shoulder. Aunt, have you something to bind his wounds
with?"

Miss Betty hurried forward.

"My darling child, what an escape! The dear, brave gentleman! Do have a
care, Thomas! Yes, lay him on the seat."

My lord was lowered gently on to the cushions, and Miss Betty fluttered
over to him like a distracted hen. Then Diana told Thomas to take charge
of my lord's horse that they could see, quietly nibbling the grass
further down the road, stooped and picked up his Grace of Andover's
sword, with its curiously wrought hilt, and jumped into the coach to
help Miss Betty to attend to Jack's wounds.

The slash on the arm was not serious, but where the pistol had taken him
was very ugly-looking. While she saw to that, Miss Betty loosened the
cravat and removed my lord's mask.

"Di, see what a handsome boy 'tis! The poor, brave gentleman! What a
lucky thing he came up! If only this bleeding would stop!" So she ran
on, hunting wildly for her salts.

Diana looked up as her aunt finished, and studied the pale face lying
against the dark cushions. She noted the firm, beautifully curved mouth,
the aristocratic nose and delicately pencilled eyebrows, with a little
thrill. The duel had set her every nerve tingling; she was filled with
admiration for her preserver, and the sight of his sensitive, handsome
countenance did nothing to dispel that admiration.

She held the salts to his nostrils and watched eagerly for some sign of
life. But none was forthcoming, and she had to be content with placing
cushions beneath his injured shoulder, and guarding him as best she
might from the jolts caused by the uneven surface of the road.

Miss Betty bustled about and did all she could to stanch the bleeding,
and when they had comfortably settled my lord, she sat down upon the
seat opposite and nodded decisively.

"We can do no more, my dear--but, yes--certainly bathe his forehead with
your lavender water. Dear me, what an escape! I must say I would never
have thought it of Mr. Everard! One would say we were living in the
Stone Age! The wretch!"

Diana shuddered.

"I knew he was dreadful, but never _how_ dreadful! How can he have found
out when we were to leave Bath--and why did he waylay us so near home?
Oh, I shall never be safe again!"

"Nonsense, my dear! Fiddlesticks! You saw how easily he was vanquished.
Depend upon it, he will realise that he has made a bad mistake to try to
abduct you, and we shall not be worried with him again."

With this comfortable assurance, she nodded again and leant back against
the cushions, watching her niece's ministrations with a professional and
slightly amused air.



CHAPTER XII

MY LORD DICTATES A LETTER AND RECEIVES A VISITOR


My lord came sighing back to life. He opened his eyes wearily, and
turned his head. A faint feeling of surprise stole over him. He was in a
room he had never been in before, and by the window, busy with some
needlework, sat a little old lady who was somehow vaguely familiar.

"Who--are--you?" he asked, and was annoyed to find his voice so weak.

The little lady jumped, and came across to him.

"Praise be to God!" she ejaculated. "Likewise, bless the boy! The fever
is passed." She laid a thin hand on his brow, and smiled down into his
wondering eyes.

"As cool as a cucumber, dear boy. What a mercy!"

It was a long time since anyone had called Jack dear, or boy. He
returned the smile feebly and closed his eyes.

"I--do not--understand--anything," he murmured drowsily.

"Never trouble your head then. Just go to sleep."

He considered this gravely for a moment. It seemed sensible enough, and
he was so very, very tired. He shut his eyes with a little sigh.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he awoke again it was morning of the next day, and the sun streamed
in the window, making him blink.

Someone rustled forward, and he saw it was the lady who had called him
dear and bidden him go to sleep.

He smiled, and a very thin hand came out of the bedclothes.

"But who are you?" he demanded a little querulously.

Miss Betty patted his hand gently.

"Still worrying your poor head over that? I am Di's Aunt Betty--though,
to be sure, you don't know who Di is!"

Remembrance was coming back to my lord.

"Why--why--you are the lady in the coach!--Tracy--I remember!"

"Well, I know nought of Tracy, but I'm the lady in the coach."

"And the other--"

"That was Diana Beauleigh, my niece--the pet. You will see her when you
are better."

"But--but--where am I, madam?"

"Now don't get excited, dear boy!"

"I'm thirty!" protested Jack with a wicked twinkle.

"I should not have thought it, but thirty's a boy to me, in any case!"
retorted Miss Betty, making him laugh. "You are in Mr. Beauleigh's
house--Di's father, and my brother. And here you will stay until you are
quite recovered!"

Jack raised himself on his elbow, grimacing at the pain the movement
caused him.

"Egad, madam! have I been here long?" he demanded.

Very firmly was he pushed back on to his pillows.

"Will you be still? A nice thing 'twould be if you were to aggravate
that wound of yours! You will have been here a week to-morrow. Bless my
heart, what ails the boy?" For Jack's face took on an expression of
incredulous horror.

"A _week_, madam? Never say so!"

"'Tis as true as I stand here. And a nice fright you have given us, what
with nearly dying, and raving about your Dicks and your Jims!"

My lord glanced up sharply.

"Oh! So I--talked?"

"Talk? Well, yes, if you can call all that mixture of foreign jargon
talking. Now you must be still and wait till the doctor comes again."

For a while Carstares lay in silence. He thought of Jim and smiled a
little. "I could not have thought of a better punishment had I tried,"
he told himself, and then frowned. "Poor fellow! He'll be off his head
with fright over me. Miss--er--Betty?"

"Well, and are you not asleep yet?"

"Asleep, Madam? Certainly not!" he said with dignity. "I must write a
letter."

"'Deed, an' you shall not!"

"But I must! 'Tis monstrous important, madam."

She shook her head resolutely.

"Not until Mr. Jameson gives permission," she said firmly.

Jack struggled up, biting his lip.

"Then I shall get up!" he threatened.

In an instant she was by his side.

"No, no! Now lie down and be good!"

"I will not lie down and be good!"

"Then I shan't let you touch a pen for weeks!"

Jack became very masterful and frowned direfully upon her.

"Madam, I insist on being allowed to write that letter!"

"Sir, I insist on your lying down!"

He controlled a twitching lip.

"Woe betide you unless you bring me pen and paper, Miss Betty!"

"But, dear boy, reflect! You could not use your arm."

"I will use it!" replied Jack indomitably, but he sank back on to the
pillows with his eyes closed and a tiny furrow of pain between his
straight brows.

"I told you so!" scolded Miss Betty, not without a note of triumph in
her voice, and proceeded to rearrange the disorderly coverlet.

The blue eyes opened wide, pleadingly.

"Madam, indeed 'tis very important."

She could not withstand that look.

"Well," she compromised, "I'll not let you write yourself, that's
certain--but could you not dictate to me?"

Jack brightened, and caught her hand to his lips.

"Miss Betty, you are an angel!" he told her.

"Ah now, get along with you!" She hurried away to fetch paper and ink.

When she returned she found him plucking impatiently at the sheet, and
frowning.

"I am ready," she said.

"Thank you, madam. 'Tis very kind in you--"

"Nonsense!"

He laughed weakly.

"I want you to write to my servant, to bid him bring my baggage to the
nearest inn--"

"That will I not! I shall tell him to bring it here."

"But, Miss Betty, I cannot possibly trespass upon--"

"Will you have done? Trespass indeed!"

"I perceive I shall be much put upon," sighed Jack, and watched her
lightning smile.

"You BOY! Will you dictate?"

"Very well, ma'am. No, I have changed my mind. I'll have it writ to a
friend, please: 'Dear Miles.... True to my promise.... I write to
you.... In case ... you should be worried ... over my disappearance ...
be it known ... that I am at'--pray, madam, where am I?"

"Horton Manor, Littledean," she replied, writing it down.

"Thank you. 'I had the misfortune to injure my shoulder in a--"

"'And arm,'" put in the scribe, inexorably.

"'And arm, in a fight ... and a certain very ... kind lady--'"

"I refuse to write that rubbish! 'One of the ladies whom I rescued--'"

"Good heavens, madam, you've not put that?" cried Jack horrified.

She smiled reassuringly.

"I have not. I have put: 'My nurse is writing this for me.'"

"Madam, you are of a teasing disposition," reproved my lord.
"M--yes--'When you take Jenny--over to Trencham ... will you please tell
Jim to bring my baggage ... here at once?' Have you that, Miss Betty?"

"Yes."

"Remember me to Lady ... Molly, I beg ... and accept my apologies ...
and thanks.'" He paused. "Will you sign it J.C., please, and address it
to Sir Miles O'Hara, Thurze House, Maltby?"

"Sir Miles O'Hara! Is he your friend, Mr.--Mr.--I do not know your
name."

"Car--" began Jack, and stopped, biting his lip. "Carr," he continued
imperturbably, "John Carr. Do you know O'Hara, Miss Betty?"

"Me? No! Will he come to see you, do you think?"

"If you let him in, madam!"

"Gracious! Well, well! I'll tell Thomas to ride over with this at once."

"Miss Betty, you are marvellously good. I vow I can never thank--"

"Bless the boy! And what about yourself, pray? I shudder to think of
what might have happened to Di if you had not come up! 'Tis we can never
thank you enough."

Jack reddened boyishly and uncomfortably.

"Indeed, you exaggerate--"

"Tut, tut! Well, go to sleep, and never worry about anything till I
return. And you won't try and get up?"

He shook with laughter.

"I swear I will not! Even an you never return, I will lie here, wasting
away--" But he spoke to space, for with a delighted laugh she had left
the room.

It was not until late that afternoon that O'Hara arrived, and he was
conducted, after a brief conversation with Diana and her father, to my
lord's room, where Miss Betty received him with her cheery smile and
jerky curtsey.

"You'll not excite Mr. Carr?" she said, but was interrupted by my lord's
voice from within, weak but very gay.

"Come in, Miles, and never listen to Miss Betty! She is a tyrant and
denies me my wig!"

O'Hara laughed in answer to Miss Betty's quizzical smile, and strode
over to the bed. He gripped my lord's thin hand and frowned down at him
with an assumption of anger.

"Young good-for-nought! Could ye find nought better to do than to smash
yourself up and well-nigh drive your man crazy with fright?"

"Oh, pshaw! Did you find Jim?"

O'Hara looked round and saw that Miss Betty had discreetly vanished. He
sat gingerly down on the edge of the bed.

"Ay. I took the mare over as soon as I had your letter--and a fine scare
you gave me, Jack, I can tell you! She recognised him, and I accosted
him."

"I'll swear you did not get much satisfaction from Jim!" said my lord.
"Did he look very foolish?"

"To tell ye the truth, I thought the man was half daft, and wondered
whether I'd been after making a mistake. But in the end I got him to
believe what I was trying to tell him, and he has taken the mare, and
will bring your baggage along this evening. By the way, John, I told him
of our little meeting, and of your pistols being unloaded. He said 'twas
his fault, and ye never saw aught to touch his face! Put out was not the
word for it."

"I suppose so. Look here, Miles, this is a damned funny affair!"

"What happened to you exactly?"

"'Tis what I am about to tell you. After I had left you, I rode on quite
quietly for about an hour, and then came upon Miss Beauleigh's coach
stopped by three blackguards who were trying to drag her to another
coach belonging to the gentleman who conducted the affair. So, of
course, I dismounted, and went to see what was to be done."

"You _would_ be after poking your nose into what didn't concern ye. Four
men, and ye had the audacity to tackle them all? 'Tis mad ye are
entirely!"

"Of course, if you had been in my place you would have ridden off in
another direction--or aided the scoundrels?" was the scathing reply.

O'Hara chuckled.

"Well, go on, Jack. I'm not saying I don't wish I had been with ye."

"'Twould have been superb. I suppose Miss Beauleigh has told you most of
the tale, but there is one thing that she could not have told you, for
she did not know it: the man I fought with was Belmanoir."

"Thunder and turf! Not the Duke?"

"Yes. Tracy."

"Zounds! Did he know ye?"

"I cannot be certain. I was masked, of course, but he said he thought he
did. 'Twas at that moment he fired his pistol at me."

"The dirty scoundrel!"

"M'm--yes. 'Tis that which makes me think he did not know me. Damn it
all, Miles, even Tracy would not do a thing like that!"

"Would he not? If ye ask me, I say that Tracy is game enough for any
kind of devilry."

"But, my dear fellow, that is too black! He could not try to kill in
cold blood a man he had hunted with, and fenced with-and--and--no man
could!"

O'Hara looked extremely sceptical.

"Because ye could not yourself, is not to say that a miserable spalpeen
like Belmanoir could not."

"I don't believe it of him. We were always quite friendly--if it had
been Robert now--But I am not going to believe it. And don't say
anything to these people, O'Hara, because they do not know Devil. I
gather from what Miss Betty says, that he calls himself Everard. He met
the girl--Diana--at Bath; you know his way. She'd none of him: hence the
abduction."

"Heavens, but 'tis a foul mind the man's got!"

"Where women are concerned, yes. Otherwise--'tis not such a bad fellow,
Miles."

"I've no use for that kind of dirt myself, Jack."

"Oh, I don't know. I daresay we are none of us exactly saints." He
changed the subject abruptly. "How is Jenny?"

"Rather off her feed; missing you, I expect. I left her with your man.
He should be arriving soon, I should think. I don't fancy he'll waste
much time."

"Neither do I. Poor fellow, he must have worried terribly over his
worthless master."

"Sure, his face was as white as your own when I told him ye were
wounded!"

Carstares turned his head quickly.

"What's this about my face? Just be so kind as to hand me that mirror,
Miles."

O'Hara laughed and obeyed, watching my lord's close scrutiny of his
countenance with some surprise.

"Interesting pallor, my dear friend, interesting pallor. Nevertheless, I
am glad that Jim is on his way." He met O'Hara's eyes as he looked up,
and his lips quivered irrepressibly.

"You think me very vain, Miles?"

"Is it a pose of yours, John? Is it Sir Anthony Ferndale, Bart?"

"No. I believe it is myself. You see, when one has but one's self to
live for and think for--one makes the most of one's self! Hence my
vanity. Take the mirror away, please--the sight of my countenance
offends me!"

"Sure, ye are free with your orders, me lord!" said O'Hara, putting the
glass down on the table. "And, while I think of it--what might your name
be now?"

"John Carr--a slip of the tongue on my part, stopped in time. I hear my
mentor returning--and--Miles!"

"Well?"

"Come again!"

"Come again! My dear boy, ye'll be sick of the sight of me soon! I shall
be here every day."

"Thanks! It will take a good deal to sicken me, I think." He bit his
lip, turning his head away as Miss Betty came into the room.

"I'm afraid that you ought to leave my patient now, Sir Miles," she
said. "He has had enough excitement for one day, and should sleep." She
glanced at the averted head inquiringly. "I doubt he is tired?"

Jack turned and smiled at her.

"No, Miss Betty, I'm not. But I know you will refuse to believe me."

"My dear boy, do you know you have black lines beneath your eyes?"

"More remarks about my face!" he sighed, and glanced at O'Hara, who had
risen.

"You are quite right, Miss Beauleigh, I must go. May I come again
to-morrow?"

"Surely," she beamed. "We shall be delighted to welcome you."

O'Hara bent over the bed.

"Then _au revoir_, Jack. My lady sent her love to her 'Cousin
Harry'--the saucy puss!"

"Did she? How prodigious kind of her, Miles! And you'll give her mine,
and kiss her--"

"Yes?" said O'Hara with dangerous calm. "I'll kiss her what?"

"Her hand for me!" ended Carstares, bubbling over. "Good-bye, and thank
you--"

"That will suffice!" said Miles, cutting him short.

He bowed to Miss Betty and left the room.

The business-like little lady fluttered over to the bedside and
rearranged the pillows.

"Well, and are you satisfied?"

"Madam, most extraordinarily so, I thank you. I shall be getting up
soon."

"H'm!" was all she vouchsafed, and left him to his meditations.

As she had foreseen, he dozed a little, but his shoulder would not allow
him to sleep. He lay in a semi-comatose condition, his eyes shut, and a
deep furrow, telling of pain, between his brows.

The sound of a shutting door made him open his eyes; he turned his head
slightly and saw that Jim Salter was standing in the middle of the room
looking at him anxiously.

My lord returned his gaze crossly, and Jim waited for the storm to
break.

Carstares' heart melted, and he managed to smile.

"I'm monstrous glad to see you, Jim," he said.

"You--you can't mean that, sir! 'Twas I left your pistols unloaded."

"I know. Damned careless of you, but it's the sort of thing I should do
myself, after all."

Jim advanced to the bedside.

"Do you mean you forgive me, sir?"

"Why, of course! I could not have fired on my best friend in any case."

"No, sir, but that don't make it any better."

"It doesn't, of course, and I was rather annoyed at the time--Oh, devil
take you, Jim, don't look at me like that! I'm not dead yet!"

"If--if you had been killed, sir--'twould have been my fault."

"Rubbish! I'd a sword, hadn't I? For heaven's sake don't worry about it
any more! Have you brought all my baggage?"

"Yes, sir. It shan't occur again, sir."

"Certainly not. Jenny is well?"

"Splendid, sir. Will you still trust me with your pistols, sir?"

Carstares groaned.

"Will you have done? 'Twas an accident, and I have forgotten it. Here's
my hand on it!" He grasped Jim's as he spoke, and seemed to brush the
whole subject aside.

"Have you disposed of that horrible coat you tried to make me wear the
other day?"

"I gave it to the landlord, sir."

"I should have burned it, but perhaps he liked it."

"He did, sir. Will you try to go to sleep now?"

"If you had a shoulder on fire and aching as mine does, you wouldn't ask
such a ridiculous question," answered Jack snappishly.

"I'm sorry, sir. Is there aught I can do?"

"You can change the bandages, if you like. These are prodigious hot and
uncomfortable."

Without another word Salter set about easing his master, and he was so
painstaking and so careful not to hurt the ugly wound, and his face
expressed so much concern, that Carstares controlled a desire to swear
when he happened to touch a particularly tender spot, and at the end
rewarded him with a smile and a sigh of content.

"That is much better," he said. "You have such a light touch, Jim."

The man's face reddened with pleasure, but he said nothing, and walked
away to the window to draw the curtains.



CHAPTER XIII

MY LORD MAKES HIS BOW


After Jim's arrival my lord recovered quickly, each day making great
progress, much to the doctor's satisfaction, who never tired of telling
Mr. Beauleigh and Miss Betty that it was entirely owing to his treatment
that the patient had recovered at all. As his idea of treatment mainly
consisted of copiously bleeding John, which process Miss Betty very soon
put an end to, he and she had many arguments on the subject, in which he
was completely routed. She held that Mr. Carr was well on the strength
of her nursing and his own constitution--and very probably she was
right. In any case, hardly a fortnight after O'Hara's first visit, my
lord was standing before his mirror, surveying himself, with his head
speculatively on one side and a worried look in his eyes. Salter watched
him anxiously, knowing this to be a critical moment. His master was
somewhat of an enigma to him; the important things in life never
appeared to affect him, but over a question of two cravats as opposed to
each other, or some equally trivial matter, he would become quite
harassed.

After contemplating his appearance for several moments, Carstares
frowned and looked over his shoulder.

"I have changed my mind, Jim. I will wear blue after all." Salter sighed
despairingly.

"Ye look very well in what ye have on, sir," he grunted. Jack sat down
obstinately.

"I have conceived a dislike--nay, a veritable hatred--for puce. I will
wear blue."

"Now, sir, do ha' done changing your clothes! Ye'll be tired out before
ever ye get downstairs, and ye know what the doctor said."

My lord consigned the doctor and his words of wisdom to a place of great
heat.

"Ay, sir, but--"

"The doctor is a worthy individual, Jim, but he knows even less of the
art of dressing than you do. He does not understand the soul-agony of a
man who makes his first appearance in puce."

"But--"

"The blue coat laced with gold."

"Sir--"

"I order it! I insist; the blue coat or nought!"

"Very well, sir." Resignedly Jim walked to the cupboard.

When at length his lordship was dressed to his entire satisfaction it
was midway through the hot June afternoon, and Miss Betty was tapping at
the door, wishing to know whether Mr. Carr was coming down, or whether
he was not.

Carstares shifted his sling, and taking up his hat, moved just a little
shakily to the door.

Salter opened it, and cast a triumphant glance at Miss Betty, as though
he were showing off all my lord's graces. He proffered an arm.

"Shall I help ye, sir?"

Miss Betty curtsied low.

"La, Mr. Carr!"

John bowed profoundly.

"Give ye good den, madam," he said. "I am just about to descend. Thank
you, Jim." He leaned heavily on the man's arm.

Miss Betty walked round him admiringly.

"Lud! 'Tis mighty elegant, I vow! But I protest, I am shy!"

"Egad, Miss Betty! and why?"

"You are not so young as I imagined," she replied candidly.

"Bear in mind, madam, that I never sought to deceive you. I am an aged
man."

"Thirty!" she scoffed, and went on ahead. "Come, child, and mind the
first step!"

At the bottom of the staircase stood Mr. Beauleigh, a man of medium
height, thin-lipped and grey-eyed. He came forward with one hand
outstretched.

"I am delighted to see you so much better, sir. I trust your shoulder no
longer pains you?"

My lord pushed Jim gently to one side and placed his hand in Mr.
Beauleigh's.

"I thank you, sir, it is almost well. But for Miss Betty, who, I fear,
has the makings of a true tyrant, I should not wear this obnoxious
sling."

Mr. Beauleigh smiled a little.

"Ah, yes, she keeps us all in order, does Betty. Pray, will you not walk
a little in the garden? There are chairs on the lawn--and here is my
daughter."

He waved to the door, and Carstares, turning, beheld Diana.

She stood framed by the dark wood, gowned in amber silk, with old lace
falling from her elbows and over the bosom of her dress. Her hair was
dark as night, with little tendrils curling over her broad, white brow.
One rolling curl fell over her shoulder, the rest were gathered up under
a small lace cap, which was secured by means of a riband passed beneath
her chin.

Jack gazed, and gazed again, and in her turn Diana studied him with wide
brown eyes of almost childlike innocence. Then her lids fluttered and
curling lashes veiled the glorious depths, as a slow blush mounted to
her cheeks.

My lord recovered his manners and made his most approved leg as her
father presented him.

"My love, this is Mr. Carr--"

Diana sank into a curtsey.

"--and, Mr. Carr, this is my daughter, Diana."

"I am delighted to make Miss Beauleigh's acquaintance," said John, and
raised her hand to his lips.

The delicate, tapering fingers trembled a little in his hold, and
tremulous lips parted in the shyest and most adorable smile that he had
ever seen.

"Indeed, sir, we are already acquainted. I am not like to forget my
rescuer."

"I am happy to think that I was able to be of some service to you,
mademoiselle. Believe me, it was an honour to fight in your cause." His
eyes were on the fascinating dimple that played about her mouth.

"'Tis very kind of you to say so, sir. I fear we greatly incommoded
you--and--" She made a gesture towards his sling.

"That, mademoiselle, is less than nothing. All the obligation is on my
side."

Miss Betty bustled forward.

"Now that will do! I never heard such a foolish set of compliments! You
are looking tired, Mr. Carr; come into the garden and rest."

Salter stepped forward, but Diana stayed him with uplifted finger.

"If Mr. Carr will accept my arm?" she hazarded.

Jack flushed.

"Indeed, no, Miss Beauleigh--I can--"

"Oh, tut-tut!" cried Miss Betty. "Have done dilly-dallying! Take him
out, Di!"

Mr. Beauleigh had already disappeared. His world lay in his library, and
he was never far from it for any length of time. Now he had seized the
moment when his sister was not looking to withdraw quietly, and, when
she turned round, she was only in time to see the library door close
softly.

"Your papa has gone again," she remarked to her niece. "What a trying
man he is, to be sure!"

She followed the pair out on to the lawn, and helped to make Carstares
seat himself in a long chair under a great elm. A cushion was placed
under his wounded shoulder and another at his back.

"And are you sure that you are quite comfortable?" inquired Miss Betty,
anxiously bending over him.

Jack laughed up at her.

"Quite sure, thank you, madam. But where will you sit?"

"I shall sit in this chair, and Di will sit on a cushion"--throwing one
down--"at my feet--so."

"I see that you are all ruled with a rod of iron, mademoiselle," he
said, and watched the dimple tremble into being.

"Indeed, yes, sir. 'Tis very sad."

Miss Betty chuckled, and unrolled a packet of silks which she threw into
her niece's lap.

"Will you have the goodness to sort those for me, love?" she asked,
taking out her embroidery.

"Pray allow me to assist!" pleaded John.

Diana rose and planted her cushion down beside his chair. She then knelt
down upon it and emptied the multi-coloured strands on to his knee.

"Very well! You must be very careful to separate the different pinks,
though. See, we will have the rose here, the salmon here, the deeper
rose here, the pale pink over there, and the reds--there is no more
room--we will put the reds in this paper."

"Certainly," agreed Carstares. "Are we to leave the other colours until
the pinks are sorted?"

She nodded and bent her head over the silks.

"Is Sir Miles coming this afternoon, Mr. Carr?"

"Why yes, Miss Betty--now you mention it, I remember that he is. Miss
Beauleigh, I defy you to put that one on the rose pile; 'tis a shade too
deep."

"I am sure 'tis not! Where is one to compare with it?"

Carstares produced a long thread and held it next to hers. The two heads
were bent close over it. Diana sighed.

"You are right; I can just see the difference. But 'tis _very_ slight!"

Miss Betty peeped over their shoulders.

"Gracious, what an eye you must have! I can detect no difference." Her
eye ran along the row of silks laid out on my lord's white satin leg.

"Mr. Carr," said Diana suddenly, "I want to ask you something--something
that has been puzzling me."

"Faith, what is it, Miss Beauleigh?"

"Just this: why did you call Mr. Everard M. le Duc?"

There was a tiny pause. My lord looked down into the gold-flecked eyes
and frowned a little.

"Did I call him that?"

"Yes, I remember it distinctly. Was it just--a manner of speaking?"

"Just a manner of speaking.... You may call it that, mademoiselle. Do
you not think that he looks rather ducal?"

"I tried not to think of him at all. I hate him!"

"Almost I begin to pity this Mr. Everard," quoth Jack.

The dimple peeped out.

"Then 'tis most ungallant of you, sir!" she reproved. "Do you know Mr.
Everard?"

"I have certainly seen him before, madam."

Diana sat back on her heels and eyed him wonderingly.

"I believe you do not wish to answer me," she said slowly. "Tell me, is
'Everard' that man's real name?"

My lord twisted the ring on his finger uneasily. He did not feel himself
at liberty to expose Belmanoir, and if he should reveal his true
identity, it was quite possible that Mr. Beauleigh might seek him out,
in which case he himself might be recognised. He looked up.

"Pardon me, mademoiselle, but whence this cross-examination?"

Diana nodded placidly.

"I thought you would refuse, but I have discovered something that will
confound you, sir!" She rose to her feet. "I will go and get it." She
walked gracefully away towards the house, and my lord watched her go.

"Now _I_ am going to ask a question," broke in Miss Betty's voice.

He threw out an imploring hand.

"Madam, I beg you will consider my feeble condition. Am I fit to bear
the strain, think you?"

"I do!--Is it usual for gentlemen to ride masked, as you were?"

At that he laughed.

"No, madam, but for the gentlemen of the High Toby, it is _de régie_."

She paused, with her needle held in mid-air:

"Now, what mean you by that?"

"Just that I am a common highwayman, Miss Betty."

She stared at him for a moment, and then resumed her work.

"You look it."

John cast a startled glance down his slim person.

"Is that so, madam? And I rather flattered myself I did not!"

"I was only laughing at you. You do not expect me to believe that
fabrication--surely?"

"I fear I do," he sighed. "'Tis very true, alack!"

"Oh, indeed? Also a friend of Sir Miles O'Hara, _J.P_.--and of Mr.
Everard?"

"At least the last-named is not an acquaintance to be proud of," he
retorted.

"Perhaps not. My Di says he is some great gentleman."

"I perceive that your Di is by nature suspicious. Why does she think
that?"

"You will see. Di, love, here is Mr. Carr trying to make me believe that
he is a highwayman!"

Diana came up to them smiling.

"I fear he teases you, aunt. Do you remember this, sir?" Into Jack's
hands she put his Grace of Andover's sword.

Carstares took it, surprised, and glanced casually at the hilt. Then he
started up.

"Why, 'tis his sword. And I thought 'twas left on the roadside. Can it
be--did _you_ bring it, mademoiselle?"

She dropped him a curtsey, and laughed.

"You are surprised, sir? You demanded the sword, so I naturally supposed
that you required it. Therefore I brought it home."

"'Twas monstrous thoughtful of you then. I dared not hope that it had not
been forgotten. I am very grateful--"

"Then pray show your gratitude by sitting down again!" advised the elder
Miss Beauleigh. "Remember that this is your first day up, and have a
care!"

John subsided obediently, turning the sword over in his hands.

Diana pointed to the wrought gold hilt with an accusing finger.

"An I mistake not, sir, that is a coronet."

My lord's eyes followed the pink-tipped finger and rested wrathfully
upon the arms of Andover. It was like Tracy to flaunt them on his
sword-hilt, he reflected.

"It certainly has that appearance," he admitted cautiously.

"Also, those are not paste, but real diamonds, and that is a ruby."

"I do not dispute it, madam," he answered meekly.

"And I believe that that big stone is an emerald."

"I am very much afraid that it is."

"An expensive toy!" she said, and looked sharply at him.

"Ornate, I agree, but as true a piece of steel as ever I saw," replied
my lord blandly, balancing the rapier on one finger.

"A very expensive toy!" she repeated sternly.

John sighed.

"True, madam--true." Then with a brightened air: "Perhaps Mr. Everard
has expensive tastes?"

"It is very possible. And I think that Mr. Everard must have been more
than a simple country gentleman to indulge those tastes."

Carstares bit his lip to hide a smile at the thought of Tracy in the
light of a simple country gentleman, and shook his head sadly.

"Do you infer that he came by this sword dishonestly, madam?"

The dimple quivered and was gone.

"Sir, I believe that you are playing with me," she said with great
dignity.

"Madam, I am abashed."

"I am very glad to hear it, then. I infer that Mr. Everard was something
more than he pretended to be."

"In truth, a sorry rogue to deceive a lady."

"And I want to know if I am right. Is he, perhaps, some grand
gentleman?"

"I can assure you, madam, that there is very little of the gentleman
about Mr. Everard."

Miss Betty began to laugh.

"Have done, my dear! 'Tis of no avail, and 'tis impolite to press Mr.
Carr too hard."

Diana pouted.

"He is monstrous provoking, I think," she said, and eyed him
reproachfully.

"I am desolated," mourned Jack, but his eyes danced.

"And now you are laughing!"

"But then, mademoiselle, so are you!"

She shook her head, resolutely repressing the dimple.

"Then I am inconsolable."

The brown eyes sparkled and her lips parted in spite of her efforts to
keep them in a stern line.

"Oh, but you are ridiculous!" she cried, and sprang to her feet. "And
here is Sir Miles!"

O'Hara came across the lawn towards them, bowed to the ladies, and
glanced inquiringly from one to the other.

"Is it a joke ye have?" he asked.

Diana answered him.

"Indeed no, sir. 'Tis Mr. Carr who is so provoking."

"Provoking, is it? And what has he been doing?"

"I'll tell you the whole truth, Miles," interposed the maligned one.
"'Tis Mistress Diana who is so inquisitive!"

"Oh!" Diana blushed furiously "I protest you are unkind, sir!"

"Sure, 'tis no gentleman he is, at all!"

"'Twas on the subject of gentlemen that we--"

"Quarrelled," supplied her aunt.

"Disagreed," amended his lordship.

"Disagreed," nodded Diana. "I asked him whether Mr. Everard was not some
grand gentleman, and he evaded the point."

"I vow 'tis slander!" cried Jack. "I merely said that Everard was no
gentleman at all."

"There! And was not that evading the point, Sir Miles?"

"Was it? Sure, I'm inclined to agree with him."

"I declare you are both in league against me!" she cried, with greater
truth than she knew. "I mean, was he perhaps a _titled_ gentleman?"

"But how should Jack know that?"

"Because I am sure he knows him--or, at least, of him."

"Listen, Mistress Di," broke in my lord, shooting a warning glance at
O'Hara. "I will tell you all about Mr. Everard, and I hope you will be
satisfied with my tale." He paused and seemed to cudgel his brain.
"First he is, of course, titled--let me see--yes, he is a Duke. Oh, he
is certainly a Duke--and I am not sure but what he is royal--he--"

"Now you are ridiculous!" cried Miss Betty.

"You are very teasing," said Diana, and tried to frown. "First you
pretend to know nothing about Mr. Everard, and then you tell me foolish
stories about him. A Duke, indeed! I believe you _really_ do know
nothing about him!"

As Carstares had hoped, she refused to believe the truth.

"He is playing with ye, child," said O'Hara, who had listened to Jack's
tale with a face of wonder. "I warrant he knows no Everard--eh, Jack?"

"No, I cannot say that I do," laughed his lordship.

"But--but--you said--"

"Never mind what he said, Miss Di. 'Tis a scurvy fellow he is."

She regarded him gravely.

"Indeed, I almost think so."

But the dimple peeped out for all that! The next instant it was gone,
and Diana turned a face of gloom to her aunt, pouting her red lips
adorably, so thought my lord.

"Mr. Bettison," she said in accents of despair.

At these mystic words, Jack saw Miss Betty frown, and heard her
impatient remark: "Drat the man!"

He looked towards the house, and perceived a short, rather stout, young
man to be walking with a peculiar strutting gait towards them. The boy
was good-looking, Carstares acknowledged to himself, but his eyes were
set too close. And he did not like his style. No, certainly he did not
like his style, nor the proprietary way in which he kissed Diana's hand.

"How agreeable it is to see you again, Mr. Bettison!" said Miss Betty
with much affability. "I declare 'tis an age since we set eyes on you!"

"Oh, no, Aunt," contradicted Diana sweetly. "Why, it was only a very
short while ago that Mr. Bettison was here, _surely_!" She withdrew the
hand that the young man seemed inclined to hold fast to, and turned to
John.

"I think you do not know Mr. Bettison, Mr. Carr?" she said. "Mr.
Bettison, allow me to present you to Mr. Carr. Sir Miles I think you
know?"

The squire bowed with a great deal of stiff hostility. Carstares
returned the bow.

"You will excuse my not rising, I beg," he smiled. "As you perceive--I
have had an accident."

Light dawned on Bettison. This was the man who had rescued Diana,
confound his impudence!

"Ah, yes, sir! Your arm, was it not? My faith, I should be proud of such
a wound!"

It seemed to Carstares that he smiled at Diana in a damned familiar
fashion, devil take his impudence!

"It was indeed a great honour, sir. Mistress Di, I have finished sorting
your green silks."

Diana sank down on the cushion again, and shook some more strands out on
to his knee.

"How quick you have been! Now we will do the blue ones." Bettison
glared. This fellow seemed prodigious intimate with Diana, devil take
him! He sat down beside Miss Betty, and addressed my lord patronisingly.

"Let me see--er--Mr. Carr. Have I met you in town, I wonder? At Tom's,
perhaps?"

This country bumpkin _would_ belong to Tom's, reflected John savagely,
for no reason at all. Aloud he said:

"I think it extremely unlikely, sir. I have been abroad some years."

"Oh, indeed, sir? The 'grand tour,' I suppose?"

Mr. Bettison's tone was not the tone of one who supposes any such thing.

John smiled.

"Not this time," he said, "that was seven years ago."

Mr. Bettison had heard rumours of this fellow who, it was murmured, was
nought but a common highwayman.

"Really? After Cambridge, perhaps?"

"Oxford," corrected Carstares gently.

Curse his audacity! thought Mr. Bettison.

"Seven years ago--let me think. George must have been on the tour
then--Selwyn, I mean, Miss Beauleigh."

Jack, who had made the tour with several other young bucks fresh down
from college, accompanied as far as Paris by the famous wit himself,
held his peace.

Mr. Bettison then launched forth into anecdotes of his own tour, and
seeing that his friend was entirely engrossed with Miss Diana and her
silks, O'Hara felt it incumbent on him to draw the enemy's fire, and,
taking his own departure, to bear the squire off with him. For which he
received a grateful smile from my lord, and a kiss blown from the tips
of her fingers from Mistress Di, with whom he was on the best of terms.



CHAPTER XIV

MISTRESS DIANA IS UNMAIDENLY


The idyllic summer days passed quickly by, and every time that my lord
spoke of leaving, the outcry was so indignant and so firm that he
hastily subsided and told himself he would stay just another few days.
His shoulder, having mended up to a certain point, refused quite to
heal, and exertion brought the pain back very swiftly. So his time was
for the most part spent with Mistress Di out of doors, helping her with
her gardening and her chickens--for Diana was an enthusiastic poultry
farmer on a small scale--and ministering to her various pets. If Fido
had a splinter in his paw, it was to Mr. Carr that he was taken; if
Nellie, the spaniel, caught a live rabbit, Mr. Carr would assuredly know
what to do for it, and the same with all the other animals. The young
pair grew closer and closer together, while Miss Betty and O'Hara
watched from afar, the former filled with pride of her darling, and
satisfaction, and the latter with apprehension. O'Hara knew that his
friend was falling unconsciously in love, and he feared the time when
John should realise it. He confided these fears to his wife, who, with
young David, was staying at her mother's house in Kensington, in a long
and very Irish letter. She replied that he must try and coax my lord
into coming to stay with them, when her charms would at once eclipse
Mistress Diana's, though to be sure, she could not understand why Miles
should not wish him to fall in love, for as he well knew, 'twas a
prodigious pleasant sensation. If he did not know it, then he was indeed
most disagreeable. And had he ever heard of anything so
wonderful?--David had drawn a picture of a horse! Yes, really, it was a
horse! Was he not a clever child? Further, would her dearest Miles
please come and fetch her home, for although Mamma was prodigious
amiable, and wanted her to stay several weeks, she positively could not
live without her husband an instant longer than was necessary!

As soon as O'Hara read the last part of the letter he brushed Carstares
and his love affairs to one side, and posted straight to London to obey
the welcome summons.

Bit by bit my lord discovered that he was very much in love with Diana.
At first his heart gave a great bound, and then seemed to stop with a
sickening thud. He remembered that he could not ask her to marry him,
disgraced as he was, and he immediately faced the situation, realising
that he must go away at once. His first move was to Mr. Beauleigh, to
tell him of his decision. On being asked why he must so suddenly leave
Horton House, he explained that he loved Diana and could not in honour
speak of love to her. At which Mr. Beauleigh gasped and demanded to know
the reason. Carstares told him that he was by profession a highwayman,
and watched him bridle angrily. Before so agreeable and so smiling, Mr.
Beauleigh now became frigidly polite. He quite understood Mr. Carr's
position, and--er--yes, he honoured him for the course on which he had
decided. But Mr. Beauleigh was very, very cold. Carstares gave Jim
orders to pack immediately, that he might depart next day, and
reluctantly informed Miss Betty of his going. She was startled and
bewildered. She had imagined that he would spend all June with them.
Circumstances, he regretted, willed otherwise. He should always remember
her great kindness to him, and hoped that she would forgive the brusque
nature of his departure.

When he told Diana her eyes opened very wide and she laughed, pointing
an accusing finger at him.

"You are teasing, Mr. Carr!" she cried, and ran into the house.

That evening Miss Betty confirmed Jack's words, and seeing the hurt look
in the girl's eyes, wisely held her peace.

Next morning in the pleasaunce Diana came across my lord, and went up to
him, gravely questioning.

"You are really leaving us to-day, Mr. Carr?"

"I am afraid I must, Mistress Di."

"So suddenly? Then you were not teasing yesterday?"

"No, mademoiselle--I was not. I fear I have tarried too long, taking
advantage of your kindness."

"Oh, no, no!" she assured him. "Indeed, you have not! Must you _really_
go?"

Looking down into her big eyes, John read the answering love in them,
and grew pale. It was worse to think that she cared, too. If only he
thought she was indifferent, parting would not seem so unbearable.

"Mademoiselle--you overwhelm me--I must go."

"Oh, but I am sorry. Your being here has been such a pleasure! I--" She
stopped, and looked away across the flowers.

"You?" prompted Jack before he could check himself.

With a tiny laugh she brought her gaze back.

"I am sorry you must leave us, naturally."

She sat down beneath an arbour of roses, and patted the place beside her
invitingly, with just the same unconscious friendliness that she had
always shown him. My lord stayed where he was, with one hand on a tree
trunk and the other fidgeting with his quizzing glass.

"Mistress Di--I think it only right that I should tell you what I have
told your father, and what I told your aunt some time ago, when she
refused to believe me. To some extent I am here under false pretences. I
am not what you think me."

Diana laced and unlaced her fingers, and thought that she understood.

"Oh, no, Mr. Carr!"

"I am afraid yes, mademoiselle. I am--a common felon ... a highwayman!"
He bit the words out, not looking at her.

"But I knew that," she said softly.

"You _knew_ it?"

"Why, yes! I remember when you told Aunt Betty."

"You believed me?"

"You see," she apologised, "I always wondered why you were masked."

"And yet you permitted me to stay--"

"How silly of you, Mr. Carr! Of course I do not care what you are! I owe
so much to you!"

He wheeled round at that, and faced her.

"Madam, I can bear anything rather than gratitude! Is it only that which
has made you tolerate me all this time?"

Her fingers gripped one another.

"Why, sir--why, sir--"

The flame died out of his eyes, and he drew himself up stiffly, speaking
with a curtness that surprised her.

"I crave your pardon. I should be whipped at the cart-tail for asking
such an impertinent question. Forget it, I beg."

Diana looked up at the stern face, half amazed, half affronted.

"I do not think I quite understand you, sir."

"There is nought to understand, mademoiselle," he answered with dry
lips. "'Twere merely that I was coxcomb enough to hope that you liked me
a little for mine own sake."

She glanced again at his averted head with a wistful little smile.

"Oh!" she murmured. "_Oh!_"--and--"It is very dreadful to be a
highwayman!" she sighed.

"Yes, mademoiselle."

"But surely you could cease to be one?" coaxingly.

He did not trust himself to answer.

"I know you could. Please do!"

"That is not all," he forced himself to say. "There is worse."

"_Is_ there?" she asked wide-eyed. "What else have you done, Mr. Carr?"

"I--once--" heavens, how hard it was to say! "I once ... cheated ... at
cards." It was out. Now she would turn from him in disgust. He shut his
eyes in anticipation of her scorn, his head turned away.

"Only _once_?" came the soft voice, filled with awed admiration.

His eyes flew open.

"Mademoiselle--!"

She drooped her head mournfully.

"I'm afraid I always cheat," she confessed. "I had no idea 'twas so
wicked, although Auntie gets very cross and vows she will not play with
me."

He could not help laughing.

"'Tis not wicked in you, child. You do not play for money."

"Oh, did you?"

"Yes, child."

"Then that _was_ horrid of you," she agreed.

He stood silent, fighting the longing to tell her the truth.

"But--but--do not look so solemn, sir," the pleading voice went on. "I
am sure you must have had a very strong excuse?"

"None."

"And now you are letting it spoil your life?" she asked reproachfully.

"It does not wait for my permission," he answered bitterly.

"Ah, but what a pity! Must one moment's indiscretion interfere with all
else in life? That is ridiculous. You have--what is the word?--expiated!
yes, that is it--expiated it, I know."

"The past can never be undone, madam."

"That, of course, is true," she nodded, with the air of a sage, "but it
can be forgotten."

His hand flew out eagerly and dropped back to his side. It was hopeless.
He could not tell her the truth and ask her to share his disgrace; he
must bear it alone, and, above all, he must not whine. He had chosen to
take Richard's blame and he must abide by the consequences. It was not a
burden to be cast off as soon as it became too heavy for him. It was for
ever--for ever. He forced his mind to grasp that fact. All through his
life he must be alone against the world; his name would never be
cleared; he could never ask this sweet child who sat before him with
such a wistful, pleading look on her lovely face, to wed him. He looked
down at her sombrely, telling himself that she did not really care: that
it was his own foolish imagination. Now she was speaking: he listened to
the liquid voice that repeated:

"Could it not be forgotten?"

"No, mademoiselle. It will always be there."

"To all intents and purposes, might it not be forgotten?" she persisted.

"It will always stand in the way, mademoiselle."

He supposed that mechanical voice was his own. Through his brain
thrummed the thought: "It is for Dick's sake ... for Dick's sake. For
Dick's sake you must be silent." Resolutely he pulled himself together.

"It will stand in the way--of what?" asked Diana.

"I can never ask a woman to be my wife," he replied.

Diana wantonly stripped a rose of its petals, letting each fragrant leaf
flutter slowly to the ground.

"I do not see why you cannot, sir."

"No woman would share my disgrace."

"No?"

"No."

"You seem very certain, Mr. Carr. Pray have you asked the lady?"

"No, madam." Carstares was as white as she was red, but he was holding
himself well in hand.

"Then--" the husky voice was very low, "then--why don't you?"

The slim hand against the tree trunk was clenched tightly, she observed.
In his pale face the blue eyes burnt dark.

"Because, madam, 'twere the action of a--of a--"

"Of a what, Mr. Carr?"

"A cur! A scoundrel! A blackguard!"

Another rose was sharing the fate of the first.

"I have heard it said that some women like--curs, and-and--and
scoundrels; even blackguards," remarked that provocative voice. Through
her lashes its owner watched my lord's knuckles gleam white against the
tree-bark.

"Not the lady I love, madam."

"Oh? But are you sure?"

"I am sure. She must marry a man whose honour is spotless; who is not--a
nameless outcast, and who lives--not--by dice--and highway robbery."

He knew that the brown eyes were glowing and sparkling with unshed
tears, but he kept his own turned inexorably the other way. There was no
doubting now that she cared, and that she knew that he did also. He
could not leave her to think that her love had been slighted. She must
not be hurt, but made to understand that he could not declare his love.
But how hard it was, with her sorrowful gaze upon him and the pleading
note in her voice. It was quivering now:

"Must she, sir?"

"Yes, madam."

"But supposing--supposing the lady did not care? Supposing she--loved
you--and was willing to share your disgrace?"

The ground at her feet was strewn with crimson petals, and all around
and above her roses nodded and swayed. A tiny breeze was stirring her
curls and the lace of her frock, but John would not allow himself to
look, lest the temptation to catch her in his arms should prove too
great for him. She was ready to give herself to him; to face anything,
only to be with him. In the plainest language she offered herself to
him, and he had to reject her.

"It is inconceivable that the lady would sacrifice herself in such a
fashion, madam," he said.

"Sacrifice!" She caught her breath. "You call it that!"

"What else?"

"I ... I ... I do not think that you are very wise, Mr. Carr. Nor ...
that you ... understand women ... very well. She might not call it by
that name."

"It would make no difference what she called it, madam. She would ruin
her life, and that must never be."

A white rose joined its fallen brethren, pulled to pieces by fingers
that trembled pitifully.

"Mr. Carr, if the lady ... loved you ... is it quite fair to her--to say
nothing?"

There was a long silence, and then my lord lied bravely.

"I hope that she will--in time--forget me," he said.

Diana sat very still. No more roses were destroyed; the breeze wafted
the fallen petals over her feet, lightly, almost playfully. Somewhere in
the hedge a bird was singing, a full-throated sobbing plaint, and from
all around came an incessant chirping and twittering. The sun sent its
bright rays all over the garden, bathing it in gold and happiness; but
for the two in the pleasaunce the light had gone out, and the world was
very black.

"I see," whispered Diana at last. "Poor lady!"

"I think it was a cursed day that saw me come into her life," he
groaned.

"Perhaps it was," her hurt heart made answer.

He bowed his head.

"I can only hope that she will not think too hardly of me," he said,
very low. "And that she will find it in her heart to be sorry--for
me--also."

She rose and came up to him, her skirts brushing gently over the grass,
holding out her hands imploringly.

"Mr. Carr...."

He would not allow himself to look into the gold-flecked eyes.... He
must remember Dick--his brother Dick!

In his hand he took the tips of her fingers, and bowing, kissed them.
Then he turned on his heel and strode swiftly away between the hedges
towards the quiet woods, with a heart aflame with passion, and with
rebellion and impotent fury. He would go somewhere quite alone and fight
the devil that was prompting him to cry the truth aloud and to throw
aside his burden for love, forgetting duty.

But Diana remained standing among the scattered flowers, very still,
very cold, with a look of hopeless longing in her eyes and a great
hurt.



CHAPTER XV

O'HARA'S MIND IS MADE UP


Jim Salter folded one of my lord's waistcoats, and placed it carefully
in an open valise; then he picked up a coat, and spread it on the bed
preparatory to folding it in such wise that no crease should afterwards
mar its smoothness. All about him my lord's clothing was strewn; Mechlin
ruffles and cravats adorned one chair, silk hose another; gorgeous coats
hung on their backs; shoes of every description, red-heeled and white,
riding boots and slippers, stood in a row awaiting attention; wigs
perched coquettishly on handy projections, and piles of white cambric
shirts peeped out from an almost finished bag.

Jim laid the coat tenderly in the valise, coaxing it into decorous
folds, and wondering at the same time where his master was. He had been
out all the morning, and on his return had looked so ill that Jim had
been worried, and wished that they were not leaving Horton House quite
so soon. A little while ago my lord had been closeted with his host; Jim
supposed he must still be there. He reached out his hand for another
waistcoat, but before his fingers had touched it, he stopped, and lifted
his head, listening. Hasty, impetuous footsteps sounded on the stairs,
and came furiously along the corridor. The door was twisted open, and my
lord stood on the threshold. Jim scanned the tired face anxiously, and
noted with a sinking heart that the blue eyes were blazing and the fine
lips set in a hard, uncompromising line. The slender hand gripping the
door-handle twitched in a way that Jim knew full well; evidently my lord
was in an uncertain mood.

"Have you finished?" rapped out Carstares.

"Not quite, sir."

"I wish to leave this year and not next, if 'tis all the same to you!"

"Yes, sir. I didn't know you was in a hurry, sir."

There was no reply to this. My lord advanced into the room and cast one
glance at his scattered baggage and another all round him.

"Where is my riding dress?"

Jim shivered in his luckless shoes.

"I--er--'tis packed, sir. Do ye want it?"

"Of course I want it! Do you suppose that I am going to ride in what I
have on?"

"I rather thought ye were driving, your honour."

"I am not. The scarlet suit at once, please."

He flung himself down in a chair before his dressing-table and picked up
a nail-file.

Salter eyed his reflection in the glass dismally, and made no movement
to obey. After a moment my lord swung round.

"Well! What are you standing there for? Didn't you hear me?"

"Ay, sir, I did, but--your pardon, sir--but do ye think 'tis wise to
ride to-day for--for the first time?"

The file slammed down on to the table.

"I am riding to Horley this afternoon!" said his master dangerously.

"'Tis a matter of fifteen miles or so, your honour. Hadn't ye better--"

"Damn you, Jim, be quiet!"

Salter gave it up.

"Very well, sir," he said, and unearthed the required dress. "I'll see
the baggage goes by coach, and saddle the mare and Peter."

"Not Peter. You go in the coach."

"No, sir."

"_What!_"

My lord stared at him. There had been a note of finality in the
respectful tone. My lord became icy.

"You forget yourself, Salter."

"I ask your pardon, sir."

"You will travel in charge of my things, as usual."

Jim compressed his lips, and stowed a shoe away in one corner of the
bag.

"You understand me?"

"I understand ye well enough, sir."

"Then that is settled."

"No, sir."

My lord dropped his eye-glass.

"What the devil do you mean--'No, sir'?"

"I ask your pardon, sir, an I presume, but I can't and won't let ye ride
alone with your wound but just healed." There was not a hint of defiance
or impertinence in the quiet voice, but it held a great determination.

"You won't, eh? Do you imagine I am a child?"

"No, sir."

"Or unable to take care of myself?"

"I think ye are weaker than ye know, sir."

"Oh, you do, do you?"

Jim came up to him.

"Ye'll let me ride with ye, sir? I won't trouble ye, and I can ride
behind, but I can't let ye go alone. Ye might faint--sir--"

"I can assure you I am not like to be a pleasant companion!" said
Carstares with a savage little laugh.

"Why, sir, I understand there's something troubling ye. Will ye let me
come?"

My lord scowled up at him, then relented suddenly.

"As you please."

"Thank ye, sir." Salter returned to his packing, cording one bag and
placing it near the door, and quickly filling another. The piles of
linen grew steadily smaller until they disappeared, and he retired into
a cupboard to reappear with a great armful of coats and small-clothes.

For a long while my lord sat silent staring blankly before him. He
walked to the window and stood with his back to the room, looking out,
then he turned and came back to his chair. Jim, watching him covertly,
noted that the hard glitter had died out of his eyes, and that he looked
wearier than ever.

Carstares studied his nails for a moment in silence. Presently he spoke:

"Jim."

"Yes, sir?"

"I shall be--going abroad again shortly."

If Carstares had remarked that it was a fine day the man could not have
shown less surprise.

"Shall we, sir?"

John looked across at him, smiling faintly.

"You'll come, Jim?"

"I would go anywhere with ye, sir."

"And what about that little girl at Fittering?"

Salter blushed and stammered hopelessly.

"My dear fellow, since when have I been blind? Did you think I did not
know?"

"Why, sir--well, sir--er--yes, sir!"

"Of course I knew! Can you leave her to come with me?"

"I couldn't leave ye to stay with her, sir."

"Are you sure? I do not want you to come against your inclinations."

"Women ain't everything, sir."

"Are they not? I think they are ... a great deal," said my lord
wistfully.

"I'm mighty fond o' Mary, but she knows I must go with you."

"Does she? But is it quite fair to her? And I believe I am not minded to
drag you 'cross Continent again."

"Ye won't leave me behind, sir? Ye couldn't do that! Sir-ye're never
thinking of going by yourself? I--I--I won't let ye!"

"I am afraid I cannot spare you. But if you should change your mind,
tell me. Is it a promise?"

"Ay, sir. If I _should_ change my mind." Salter's smile was grimly
sarcastic.

"I am selfish enough to hope you'll not change. I think no one else
would bear with my vile temper as you do. Help me out of this coat, will
you?"

"I'll never change, sir. And as to tempers--As if I minded!"

"No. You are marvellous. My breeches. Thanks."

He shed his satin small-clothes, and proceeded to enter into white
buckskins. "Not those boots, Jim, the other pair." He leaned against the
table as he spoke, drumming his fingers on a chair-back.

A knock fell on the door, at which he frowned and signed to Jim, who
walked across and opened it, slightly.

"Is your master here?" inquired a well-known voice, and at the sound of
it my lord's face lighted up, and Salter stood aside.

"Come in, Miles!"

The big Irishman complied and cast a swift glance round the disordered
room. He raised his eyebrows at sight of Jack's riding boots and looked
inquiringly across at him.

My lord pushed a chair forward with his foot.

"Sit down, man! I thought you were in London?"

"I was. I brought Molly home yesterday, the darlint, and I heard that ye
were leaving here this afternoon."

"Ah?"

"And as I'm not going to let ye slip through me fingers again, I thought
I would come and make sure of ye. Ye are a deal too slippery, Jack."

"Yet I was coming to see you again whatever happened."

"Of course. Ye are coming now--to stay."

"Oh no!"

O'Hara placed his hat and whip on the table, and stretched his legs with
a sigh.

"Sure, 'tis stiff I am! Jim, I've a chaise outside for the baggage, so
ye may take it down as soon as may be."

"Leave it where it is, Jim. Miles, 'tis monstrous good of you, but--"

"Keep your buts to yourself, Jack. Me mind's made up."

"And so is mine! I really cannot--"

"Me good boy, ye are coming to stay with us until ye are recovered, if I
have to knock ye senseless and then carry ye!"

The lightning smile flashed into Jack's eyes.

"How ferocious! But pray do not be ridiculous over a mere scratch.
Recovered, indeed!"

"Ye still look ill. Nay, Jack, take that frown off your face; 'tis of no
avail, I am determined."

The door closed softly behind Jim as Carstares shook his head.

"I can't, Miles. You must see 'tis impossible."

"Pooh! No one who comes to Thurze House knows ye or anything about ye.
Ye need not see a soul, but come ye must!"

"But, Miles--"

"Jack, don't be a fool! I want ye, and so does Molly. 'Tis no trap, so
ye need not look so scared."

"I'm not. Indeed, I am very grateful, but--I cannot. I am going abroad
almost at once."

"What?"

"Yes. I mean it."

O'Hara sat up.

"So it has come! I knew it would!"

"What mean you?"

"Ye've found out that ye love Mistress Di."

"Nonsense!"

"And she you."

Jack looked at him.

"Oh, ay! I'm a tactless oaf, I know, and me manners are atrocious to be
for trying to break through the barriers ye've put up round yourself.
But, I tell ye, Jack, it hurts to be kept at the end of a pole! I don't
want to force your confidence, but for God's sake don't be treating me
as if I were a stranger!"

"I beg your pardon, Miles. It's confoundedly hard to confide in anyone
after six years' solitude." He struggled into his coat as he spoke, and
settled his cravat. "If you want to know the whole truth, 'tis because
of Diana that I am going."

"Of course. Ye are in love with her?"

"It rather points that way, does it not?"

"Then why the divil don't ye ask her to marry ye?"

"Why don't I ask her? Because I will not offer her a smirched name!
Because I love her so much that--" He broke off with a shaky, furious
laugh. "How can you ask me such a question? I am a desirable _parti,
hein? Nom d'un nom_! For what do you take me?"

O'Hara looked up, calmly studying the wrathful countenance.

"Chivalrous young fool," he drawled.

Again the short, angry laugh.

"It is so likely that I should ask her to marry me, is it not?
'Mademoiselle, you see in me an improvident fool: I began life by
cheating at cards, and since then--' Oh, I shall believe it myself ere
long! I seem to have told it to so many people. And I lay myself open to
the impertinences of--" he checked himself, thinking of the interview
downstairs with Mr. Beauleigh.

"Rubbish, Jack."

"'Tis not rubbish. I have one recommendation--only one."

"Faith, have ye as much? What is it?"

My lord laughed bitterly.

"I dress rather well."

"And fence better, as far as I remember."

"I have reason to. That is but another point to damn me. What woman
would marry a fencing-master? Oh, my God! what a mess I have made of my
life." He tried to laugh and failed miserably.

"I rather fancy Mistress Di would."

"She will not be asked thus to demean herself," was the proud answer.

"My dear Jack, ye forget ye are the Earl of Wyncham."

"A pretty earl! No thank you, Miles. Richard's son will be Earl--no son
of mine."

O'Hara brought his fist down on the table with a crash.

"Damn Richard and his son!"

My lord picked up a jewelled pin and, walking to the glass, proceeded to
fasten it in his cravat. The other followed him with smouldering eyes.

"Retired into your shell again?" he growled.

Carstares, with his head slightly on one side, considered the effect of
the pin. Then he came back to his friend.

"My dear Miles, the long and short of it is that I am an unreasonable
grumbler. I made my bed, and I suppose I must-on it."

"And will ye be afther telling me who helped ye in the making of it?"

Carstares sat down and started to pull on one boot.

"I foresee we shall be at one another's throats ere long," he prophesied
cheerfully. "Did I tell you that I informed Mr. Beauleigh of
my--er--profession to-day?"

Miles forgot his anger in surprise.

"Ye never told him ye were a highwayman?" he cried.

"Yes, I did. Why not?"

"Why not? Why wot? God help us all! are ye daft, man? Do ye intend to
tell every other person ye meet what ye are? Bedad, 'tis mad ye are
entirely!"

Carstares sighed.

"I was afraid you would not understand."

"'Twould take a wizard to understand ye! Another chivalrous impulse, I
doubt not?"

"Chiv--! No. It is just that I could not let him think me an honourable
gentleman. He took it well, on the whole, and is now frigidly polite."

"Polite! I should hope so! The ould scarecrow, after ye'd saved his
daughter on him, too! And 'twas he made ye so furious?"

Carstares laughed.

"He and myself. You see--he--lectured me--oh! quite kindly--on the error
of my ways, and--it hurt."

"'Tis as well ye are coming to me then, the way things are with ye at
present."

My lord opened his mouth to speak, encountered a fiery glance, and shut
it again.

"Anything to say?" inquired O'Hara with a threatening gleam in his eye.

"No, sir," replied Jack meekly.

"Ye will come?"

"Please."

O'Hara sprang up joyfully.

"Good lad! Lud! but I was afraid at one time--Put on your other boot
while I go and look for that rascal of yours!" He hurried out of the
room to find Jim, who, having foreseen the result of the contest, was
already stowing the luggage away on the chaise.

Half-an-hour later, his _adieux_ made, Jim and the baggage following, my
lord rode out with O'Hara on his way to Thurze House.

For some time there was silence between the two men, with only a
perfunctory remark or two on the fineness of the day and the freshness
of the mare to break it. Carstares' mind was, as his friend well knew,
dwelling on all that he had left behind him. His parting with Diana had
been quite ordinary, she at least making no sign that he was anything
beyond a chance acquaintance; indeed, it had almost seemed to him that
her attitude was slightly aloof, as if she had drawn a little into
herself. Her hand when he had kissed it had been lifeless and cold, her
smile sweetly remote. He knew that he had held the hand a fraction of a
minute longer than was strictly in accordance with the rules of good
manners, and he feared that he had clasped it in most unseemly wise,
pressing it hard against his lips. He wondered whether she had remarked
it. He little guessed that long after he had ridden out of sight, she
continued to feel that pressure. If he could have seen her passionately
kissing each finger separately for fear her lips might pass over the
exact spot his had touched, his heart might have been lighter.

It was true that she had retired into her shell, a little hurt at what
she termed his man's blind obstinacy. She had laid her heart bare for
him to read; she had offered herself to him as plainly as if she had
spoken in terms less general than in the pleasaunce; she had fought
desperately for her happiness, thrusting aside all thought of maiden
modesty, and when she afterwards had realised what she had done, and
tried to imagine what he must think of her, she had blushed dark, and
mentally flayed herself for her lack of proper pride and manners.
Terrified that he might think her immodest, overwhelmed with sudden
shyness, she had been colder in her attitude towards him, than she had
intended, even in her anxiety not to appear forward. But in spite of
her coldness, how intensely had she hoped that he would sense her love
and all that she wanted him to know! Incomprehensible the ways of women!

Not endowed with feminine perspicacity or intuition, how could John hope
to understand her dual feelings? He only knew that he had hurt her, and
that she had drawn back that she might not lay herself open to more. He
could not hope to understand her when she did not fully understand
herself.

Reflecting on the swiftness with which love had come to them, he
believed that with a like swiftness it might fade, at least from Diana's
memory. He told himself that he hoped for that end, but he was honest
enough to know that it was the last thing in the world he wanted. The
mere thought of Diana indifferent to him, or worse, another man's bride,
made him bite on his underlip and tighten his hold on the rein.

O'Hara cast many a surreptitious glance at the stern young profile
beside him, wondering whether his lordship would last out the tedious
ride or no. He knew enough of Carstares' indomitable courage to believe
that he would, but he feared that it would prove too great a strain on
him in his present weakened condition.

Very wisely he made no attempt to draw Carstares out of his abstraction,
but continued to push on in silence, past fields knee-deep in grass,
soon to be hay, with sorrel and poppies growing apace, along lanes with
hedges high above their heads on either side, over hill and down
dale--always in silence.

Presently O'Hara fell a little to the rear that he might study his
friend without palpably turning to do so. He thought he had never seen
Jack's face wear such a black look. The fine brows almost met over his
nose with only two sharp furrows to separate them; the mouth was
compressed, the chin a little prominent, and the eyes, staring ahead
between Jenny's nervous ears, seemed to see all without absorbing
anything. One hand at his hip was clenched on his riding-whip, the other
mechanically guided the mare.

O'Hara found himself admiring the lithe grace of the man, with his
upright carriage and splendid seat.

Suddenly, as if aware that he was being studied, my lord half turned his
head and met O'Hara's eyes. He gave a tiny shrug and with it seemed to
throw off his oppression. The frown vanished, and he smiled.

"I beg your pardon, Miles. I am a surly fellow."

"Mayhap your shoulder troubles you," suggested O'Hara tactfully.

"N-no, I am barely conscious of it. I've no excuse beyond bad manners
and a worse temper."

From thence onward he set himself to entertain his friend, and if his
laugh was sometimes rather forced, at least his wit was enough to keep
O'Hara in a pleasurable state of amusement for some miles.

By the time they arrived at Thurze House, Carstares was suspiciously
white about the mouth, and there was once more a furrow--this time of
pain--between his brows. But he was able to greet my Lady O'Hara with
fitting elegance and to pay her at least three neat, laughing
compliments before O'Hara took him firmly by the arm and marched him to
his room, there to rest and recover before the dinner hour.

Shortly after, Jim arrived, highly contented with his new surroundings,
and able to give a satisfactory verdict on Jenny's stalling. He had
quite accepted O'Hara as a friend, after some jealous qualms, and was
now well pleased that his master should be in his house instead of
roaming the countryside.

At five o'clock, as the gong rang, my lord descended the stairs
resplendent in old gold and silver trimmings, determined to be as gay
and light-hearted as the occasion demanded, as though there had never
been a Diana to upset the whole course of a man's life.

Not for nothing had he fought against the world for six long years.
Their teaching had been to hide all feeling beneath a perpetual mask of
nonchalance and wit; never for an instance to betray a hurt, and never
to allow it to appear that he was anything but the most care-free of
men. The training stood him in good stead now, and even O'Hara wondered
to see him in such spirits after all that had passed. Lady Molly was
delighted with her guest, admiring his appearance, his fine, courtly
manners, and falling an easy victim to his charm.

O'Hara, watching them, saw with content that his capricious little wife
was really attracted to my lord. It was a high honour, for she was hard
to please, and many of O'Hara's acquaintances had been received, if not
with actual coldness, at least not with any degree of warmth.

At the end of the meal she withdrew with the warning that they were not
to sit too long over their wine, and that Miles was not to fatigue his
lordship.

O'Hara pushed the decanter towards his friend.

"I've a piece of news I daresay will interest ye!" he remarked.

Carstares looked at him inquiringly.

"Ay. 'Tis that his Grace of Andover has withdrawn his precious person to
Paris."

Carstares raised one eyebrow.

"I suppose he would naturally wish to remain in the background after our
little fracas."

"Does he ever wish to be in the background?"

"You probably know him better than I do. Does he?"

"He does not. 'Tis always in front he is, mighty prominent. Damn him!"

My lord was faintly surprised.

"Why that? Has he ever interfered with you?"

"He has interfered with me best friend to some purpose."

"I fear the boot was on the other leg!"

"Well, I know something of how he interferes with Dick."

Carstares put down his glass, all attention now.

"With Dick? How?"

O'Hara seemed to regret having spoken

"Oh, well--I've no sympathy with _him_."

"What has Tracy done to him?"

"'Tis nothing of great moment. Merely that he and that worthless brother
of his seek to squeeze him dry."

"Robert?"

"Andrew. I know very little of Robert."

"Andrew! But he was a child--"

"Well, he's grown up now, and as rakish a young spendthrift as ye could
wish for. Dick seems to pay their debts."

"Devil take him! Why?"

"Heaven knows! I suppose Lavinia insists. We all knew that 'twas for
that reason Tracy flung you both in her way."

"Nonsense! We went of our own accord. She had but returned from school."

"Exactly. And whose doing was that but Tracy's?"

Carstares opened his eyes rather wide and leant both arms on the table,
crooking his fingers round the stem of his wine glass.

"Do the debts amount to much?"

"I can't tell ye that. 'Twas but by chance I found it out at all. The
Belmanoirs were never moderate in their manner of living."

"Nor were any of us. Don't be so hard on them, Miles!... I knew, of
course, that the Belmanoir estate was mortgaged, but I did not guess to
what extent."

"I don't know that either, but Dick's money does not go to pay it off.
'Tis all frittered away on gambling and pretty women."

My lord's brow darkened ominously.

"Ye-s. I think I shall have a little score to settle with Tracy on that
subject--some day."

Miles said nothing.

"But how does Dick manage without touching my money?"

"I do not know." O'Hara's tone implied that he cared less.

"I hope he is not in debt himself," mused Carstares, "'Tis like enough
he is in some muddle. I wish I might persuade him to accept the
revenue." He frowned and drummed his fingers on the table.

O'Hara exploded.

"Sure, 'twould be like you to be doing the same. Let the man alone for
the Lord's sake, and don't be after worrying your head over a miserable
spalpeen that did ye more harm than--"

"Miles, I cannot allow you to speak so of Dick! You do not understand."

"I understand well enough. 'Tis too Christian ye are entirely. And let
us have an end of this farce of yours! I know that Dick cheated as well
as you do, and I say 'tis unnatural for you to be wanting him to take
your money after he's done you out of honour and all else!"

Carstares sipped his wine quietly, waiting for Miles' anger to
evaporate, as it presently did, leaving him to glower balefully. Then he
started to laugh.

"Oh, Miles, let me go my own road! I'm a sore trial to you, I know."
Then suddenly sobering: "But I want you not to think so hardly of Dick.
You know enough of him to understand a little how it all came about. You
know how extravagant he was and how often in debt--can you not pardon
the impulse of a mad moment?"

"That I could pardon. What I cannot forgive is his--unutterable meanness
in letting you bear the blame."

"O'Hara, he was in love with Lavinia--"

"So were you."

"Not so deeply. With me 'twas a boy's passion, but with him 'twas
serious."

O'Hara remained silent, his mouth unusually hard.

"Put yourself in his place," pleaded Jack. "If you--"

"Thank you!" O'Hara laughed unpleasantly. "No, Jack, we shall not agree
on this subject, and we had best leave it alone. I do not think you need
worry about him, though. I believe he is not in debt."

"Does he have fair luck with his racing and his--"

O'Hara smiled grimly.

"Dick is a very changed man, John. He does not keep racehorses, neither
does he play cards, save for appearance's sake."

"Dick not play! What then does he do?"

"Manages your estates and conducts his wife to routs. When in town,"
bitterly, "he inhabits your house."

"Well, there is none else to use it. But I cannot imagine Dick turned
sober!"

"'Tis easy to be righteous after the evil is done, I'm thinking!"

My lord ignored this remark. A curious smile played about his mouth.

"Egad, Miles, 'tis very entertaining! I, the erstwhile sober
member--what is the matter?--am now the profligate: I dice, I gamble, I
rob. Dick the ne'er-do-weel is a saint. He--er--lives a godly and
righteous life, and--er--is robbed by his wife's relations. After all, I
do not think I envy him overmuch."

"At least, you enjoy life more than he does," said O'Hara, grinning.
"For ye have no conscience to reckon with."

Carstares' face was inscrutable. He touched his lips with his napkin and
smiled.

"As you say, I enjoy life the more--but as to conscience, I do not think
it is that."

O'Hara glanced at him sitting sideways in his chair, one arm flung over
its back.

"Will ye be offended if I ask ye a question?"

"Of course not."

"Then--do ye intend to go back to this highroad robbery?"

"I do not."

"What then will you do?"

The shadows vanished, and my lord laughed.

"To tell you the truth, Miles, I've not yet settled that point. Fate
will decide--not I."



CHAPTER XVI

MR. BETTISON PROPOSES


Mr. Bettison could make nothing of Diana of late. Her demeanour, at
first so charming and so cheerful, had become listless, and even
chilling. She seemed hardly to listen to some of his best tales, and
twice she actually forgot to laugh at what was surely a most witty
pleasantry. It struck him that she regarded him with a resentful eye, as
if she objected to his presence at Horton House, and had no desire to be
courted. But Mr. Bettison was far too egotistic to believe such a thing,
and he brushed the incredible suspicion away, deciding that her coldness
was due to a very proper shyness. He continued his visits until they
became so frequent that scarce a day passed without his strutting step
being heard approaching the house and his voice inquiring for the Miss
Beauleighs. Mr. Beauleigh, who secretly hoped for Mr. Bettison as a
son-in-law, would not permit the ladies to deny themselves, and he
further counselled Miss Betty to absent herself after the first few
moments, leaving the young couple together. Thus it was that it so
continually fell to Diana's lot to receive the Squire and to listen to
his never-ending monologues. She persistently snubbed him, hoping to
ward off the impending proposal, but either her snubs were not severe
enough, or Mr. Bettison's skin was too thick to feel them; for not a
fortnight after my lord's departure, he begged her hand in marriage. It
was refused him with great firmness, but, taking the refusal for
coquettishness, he pressed his suit still more amorously, and with such
a self-assured air that Mistress Di became indignant.

"Sir," she cried, "it seems you have indeed misread my attitude towards
you!"

Mr. Bettison was struck dumb with amazement. It had never entered his
brain that Diana could seriously refuse him. He could hardly believe his
ears at this quite unmistakable tone of voice, and sat gaping.

"I must beg," continued Diana, "I must beg that you will discontinue
your all-too-frequent visits here. Please do not deem me unkind, but
your persecution of me--I can call it nothing else--is
wearying--and--you will forgive the word--tiresome. I confess I am
surprised that you had not perceived your attentions to be distasteful
to me."

"Distasteful!" cried Mr. Bettison, recovering after two or three
unsuccessful attempts from his speechlessness. "Do you mean what you
say, Miss Diana? That you will not wed me?"

She nodded.

"Yes, Mr. Bettison, I do."

"And that my attentions are displeasing to you! Well, Miss Beauleigh!
Well, indeed!"

Diana softened a little.

"I am indeed sorry that you should have misconstrued--"

"No misconstruction, madam!" snapped the Squire, who was fast losing
control over his temper. "Do you dare aver that you did not encourage me
to visit you?"

"I do, most emphatically!"

"Oh, I see what 'tis! You cannot hoodwink me. 'Twas never thus with you
before that fellow came!"

"Mr. Bettison, I am entirely at a loss, but I desire you to leave this
room before you say aught you may afterwards regret."

He disregarded her.

"You are infatuated by that over-dressed popinjay--that insufferable
Carr, who, from all I hear, is but a shady fellow, and who--"

With a sweeping movement Diana had risen and walked to the bell-rope.
She now pulled it with such vigour that a great peal sounded throughout
the house.

She stood perfectly still, a statue of Disdain, tall, beautiful and
furious, with compressed lips and head held high. Mr. Bettison broke off
and mopped his brow, glaring at her.

Startled Thomas appeared at the door.

"Did you ring, madam?"

"Show Mr. Bettison out," was the proud answer.

The Squire got up awkwardly.

"I am sure I apologise if I said aught that was untrue," he mumbled. "I
hope you will not take my words amiss--"

"I shall try to forget your insults, sir," she replied. "The door,
Thomas!"

Mr. Bettison went out, and his step had lost some of its self-confident
swagger.

For a full minute after the great front door had shut behind him, Diana
stood where she was, and then the colour suddenly flamed in her cheeks,
and she turned and ran out of the room, up the stairs, to her own
chamber, where she indulged in a luxurious fit of crying. From this
enjoyable occupation she was interrupted by a rap on the door, and Miss
Betty's voice desiring to know if she was within.

She instantly started up and with hasty fingers straightened her tumbled
curls.

"Pray enter!" she called, trying to sound jaunty. To complete the
illusion, she started to hum. Her aunt entered.

"I came to see if you had my broidery. I cannot find it, and I am sure
'twas you brought it in from the garden this morning."

"Yes--oh, yes--I am so sorry! 'Tis in that corner on the chair, I
think," replied Diana, keeping her face averted.

Miss Betty cast a shrewd glance at her, and sat down on the sofa with
the air of one who means to stay.

"What is it, my love?" she demanded.

Diana pretended to search for something in a cupboard.

"Nothing, aunt! What should there be?"

"I do not know. 'Tis what I want to find out," answered Miss Betty
placidly.

"There is nought amiss, I assure you!" To prove the truth of this
statement, Diana essayed a laugh. It was a poor attempt, and wavered
pitifully into a sob.

"My pet, don't tell me! You are crying!"

"I--I'm n-not!" avowed Diana, hunting wildly for her
pocket-handkerchief. "'Tis a cold in the head I have had these three
days."

"Indeed, my love? Longer than that, I fear."

"Yes--perhaps so--I--What do you mean?"

"I doubt but what you caught it the day that Mr. Carr left us."

Diana started.

"P-pray, do not be ridiculous, auntie!"

"No, my dear. Come and sit beside me and tell me all about it," coaxed
Miss Betty.

Diana hesitated, gave a damp sniff, and obeyed.

Miss Betty drew her head down on to her shoulder soothingly.

"There, there! Don't cry, my sweet! What has happened?"

"'Tis that odious Mr. Bettison!" sobbed Diana "He--he had the audacity
to ask me to m-marry him!"

"You don't say so, my love! I thought I heard him arrive. So you sent
him about his business?"

"N-not before he had time to insult m-me!"

"Insult you? Di!"

"He--he dared to insinuate--oh no! he accused me outright--of being
infatuated by Mr. Carr! Infatuated!"

Over her head Miss Betty opened her eyes at her own reflection in the
glass.

"The brute! But, of course, 'tis true?"

No answer.

"Is it not?"

The sobs came faster.

"Of--of course 'tis true, but h-how dared he say so?"

"Di, my love, you really are in love with that boy?"

"I--I--I asked him to marry me--and he wouldn't!"

"Good gracious heavens!" Miss Betty was genuinely horrified. "My dear
Diana!"

"N-not outright--b-but he understood--and--he loves me! And I'd do it
again to-morrow, if I could--immodest or no! So there!"

"Yes, yes," soothed Miss Betty hastily. "Tell me all about it." Diana
lifted her head.

"That's all. And he loves me--he does--he does!"

"Did he say so?"

"N-no--but I could tell. And I love him"--sob--"and I'd sooner die than
live without him, and he won't ask me b-because he has not got a
spotless p-past, and he'd be a cur, and horrid things, and my husband
must not be an--an--outcast, and-and--and I don't care!"

Her bewildered aunt unravelled this with difficulty.

"He'd be a cur if he asked you to marry him?" she asked, with knitted
brows.

"Yes. Because he's a highwayman."

"A highwayman! Then 'twas true what he said? Well, well! I should never
have thought it! That nice boy!"

Diana disengaged herself; in her eyes was a threatening gleam.

"Don't dare say a word against him!"

"No, no--of course not! I was only surprised. But I am thankfully glad
he did not ask you, for all that!"

"Glad? How can you be so cruel?"

"My dear, you could not possibly marry--a--a--"

"Common felon!" sobbed Diana. "I can--I can!"

"And heaven alone knows what else he may have done! Why, child, he said
himself that he had a--a spotty past!"

At this her niece gave a tearful giggle.

"La! What ails you now, Di?"

"H-he never said--spotty."

Miss Betty smiled reluctantly.

"A doubtful past, then."

"I don't believe it!"

Her aunt pursed up her lips.

"I won't believe it. He couldn't be wicked. You forget he saved me!"

Miss Betty relented.

"No, I do not, my love; and, to be sure, I think he is a dear boy, but I
also think 'twas very right of him to go away."

She was enveloped in a rapturous embrace.

"Auntie, you know you love him almost as much as I do?"

"No, that I do not!" was the grim retort. "_I_ am not like to want to
marry him!"

There was another watery giggle at this, and Diana went over to the
dressing-table to tidy her hair.

"I doubt I shall never see him again," she said wretchedly. "Oh, auntie,
if you could but have seen his dear, unhappy eyes!"

"Stuff and nonsense! Not see him again, forsooth! He will call upon us
in town. 'Tis but common politeness."

"You forget he is a highwayman, and not like to come nigh us again."

"Well, my dear, if he cares for you as you say he does, he will see to
it that he takes up some decent occupation. Mayhap, he will go into the
army, or what not. Then wait and see if he does not come to you."

"Do you think so?" doubtfully.

"Of course I do, sweetheart! And if he does not try to mend his ways,
and you see him no more--why then, snap your fingers at him, my love,
for he will not be worth one tear!"

Diana sighed and poured out some water to bathe her face with.

"Is not that sensible?" coaxed her aunt.

She raised her head and looked unutterable scorn.

"I think 'tis remarkable silly," she answered. Then her dignity fell
from her. "Oh, are all men such big stupids?" she cried.

"Most of 'em," nodded her aunt.

"But can't he tell that I shall be--oh, so miserable, and that I should
not ruin my life if I married him?"

"My dear, once a man gets an idea into his head, 'tis the very devil to
get it out of him! Not but what I think Master Jack is right, mind you.
And your dear papa and I had looked higher for you. After all--what is
Mr. Carr?"

"He is the only man I will ever marry! So you may cease looking higher
for me! I suppose you want me to marry that great gaby, Sir Denis
Fabian, you are for ever inviting to the house? Or, perhaps, this
gallant Mr. Bettison? Or Mr. Everard? How _can_ you be so unkind?"

"I am not. But I could not bear to see you throw yourself away on a
highwayman, my dear."

Diana ran to her, putting her arms round her neck.

"Dearest auntie, forgive my rudeness! I know you did not mean to be
unkind! But you do not understand--I _love_ him."

"I always said you'd take it badly," nodded Miss Betty gloomily.

"Take what badly?"

"Love. And no man is worth one tear-drop, sweet."

The confident, tender little laugh that answered this statement made her
look at her suddenly changed niece in surprise.

"You don't know," said Diana. Her eyes were soft and luminous. "You just
do not know."

Before Miss Betty could think of a suitable retort, a knock fell on the
door. It was opened, and Thomas was found to be without.

"My Lady O'Hara is below, madam."

For an instant the two ladies stared at one another. Then:

"La and drat!" said Miss Betty. "With the drawing-room in a muddle after
cleaning!"

Diana nodded to the man.

"We will come, Thomas." Then as soon as he had withdrawn, she stared
again at her aunt. "Lady O'Hara! But why?"

"I suppose she felt she must call after Sir Miles had been here so
often. But why, for goodness' sake, must she choose the one day that the
drawing-room is all untidy? Drat again, I say!"

Diana was powdering her little nose, and anxiously looking to see if the
tear-stains had quite vanished.

"'Tis not untidy, Aunt Betty. Oh, I am quite eager to see her--I think
she must be charming, from all Sir Miles said. Do hurry, aunt!"

Miss Betty stuck a pin into her hair and smoothed out her dress.

"And me in this old taffeta!" she grumbled.

Diana swirled round, her own peach-coloured silk rustling fashionably.

"Never mind, dear--you look very sweet. But _do_ be quick!" Miss Betty
suffered herself to be led to the door.

"'Tis all very fine for you, my love, with a new gown fresh on to-day!
Will you just take a look at my petticoat, though?"

"Nonsense, you are beautiful! Come!"

Together they descended the stairs, and went into the drawing-room.

A dainty, very diminutive little lady arose from a chair at their entry,
and came forward with outstretched hands, and such a fascinating smile
that Miss Betty's ill-humour vanished, and she responded to her
visitor's deep curtsy with one of her best jerky dips.

"I am vastly delighted to welcome you, madam," she said primly. "'Tis
good in you to come this long way to see us."

She drew a chair forward for my lady, and presented her niece. Lady
O'Hara gave the girl a swift, scrutinising glance, and curtsied again.

"'Tis a great pleasure to me to meet you at last, Miss Beauleigh," she
smiled. "My husband has told me so much of you, I declare I was all agog
to meet you!"

Diana warmed instantly to the little lady's charm.

"Indeed, madam, we, too, have heard much of you from Sir Miles. _We_
have wanted to meet _you_!"

Lady O'Hara seated herself and nodded briskly.

"I expect he told you some dreadful tales of me," she said happily. "I
must ask your pardon for not having visited you before, but, as I
daresay you know, I have been away, and, gracious me, when I returned
everything seemed topsy-turvy!" She laughed across at Miss Betty. "I
promise you I have had my hands full putting things to rights, Miss
Beauleigh!"

Miss Betty drew her chair closer, and in a minute they were deep in
truly feminine conversation: the prodigious extravagance of the
servants; the helplessness of men-folk when left to themselves, and then
London, its shops, its parks, the newest play.

Lady O'Hara was begged to take a dish of Miss Betty's precious Bohea--a
very high honour indeed--and when Mr. Beauleigh came into the room he
found his sister and daughter seated on either side of a pretty,
animated little lady whom he had never before seen, talking hard, and
partaking of tay and angel cakes. Whereupon he retired hastily and shut
himself up in his library.



CHAPTER XVII

LADY O'HARA WINS HER POINT


Lady O'Hara looked across at her sleeping husband with no little
severity in her glance. He was stretched in a chair beneath a giant oak,
and she was busied with some needlework a few paces from him. O'Hara's
eyes were shut and his mouth open. My lady frowned and coughed. She
rasped her throat quite considerably, but it was not without effect; her
spouse shut his mouth and opened one lazy eyelid. Immediately my lady
assumed an air of gentle mournfulness, and the eye regarding her
twinkled a little, threatening to close. Molly looked reproachful, and
began to speak in an aggrieved tone:

"Indeed, and I do not think it at all kind in you to go to sleep when I
want to talk, sir."

O'Hara hastily opened the other eye.

"Why, my love, I was not asleep! I was--er--thinking!"

"Do you say so, sir? And do you usually think with your mouth
open--_snoring_?"

O'Hara started up.

"I'll swear I did not snore!" he cried. "Molly, 'tis a wicked tease ye
are!"

"Miles, 'tis a big baby you are!" she mimicked. "There is a caterpillar
on your wig, and 'tis on crooked."

"The caterpillar?" asked O'Hara, bewildered.

"No, stupid, the wig. I had best straighten it for you, I suppose." She
rose and stooped over him, settling the wig and removing the caterpillar
by means of two leaves, judiciously wielded. Then she dropped a kiss on
her husband's brow and sat down at his feet.

"First, you have never asked me where I was gone to all yesterday
afternoon."

O'Hara had been carefully broken in, and he now knew what was expected
of him, and put on an expression of great interest.

"Where _did_ ye go, my lady?"

"I went to call on Miss Beauleigh and her niece, sir!"

She looked up at him triumphantly and a little challengingly.

"The devil ye did!"

"Certainly, sir. I knew that there was something in the air, and I
remembered your letter to me saying that Jack was in love with Diana. So
I thought I would go and see her for myself."

Miles looked down at her half indulgently, half vexedly.

"Did you, puss?"

"I did. And I found that she was in love with him as well as he with
her--of course."

"Of course?"

"Who could help falling in love with him? He's so monstrous captivating,
I would like to marry him myself."

She bent her head to hide the roguish smile that had sprung to her lips.

"I beg your pardon?" asked O'Hara, startled.

My lady traced patterns on his knee.

"Provided, of course, that I had not already married you, Miles."

But O'Hara had seen the smile. He heaved a great sigh, and said in
lugubrious tones:

"There is always the river, madam."

My lady's finger wavered and stopped, and her hand tucked itself away
into his.

"That is not a nice joke, Miles."

He laughed, and tweaked one of her curls.

"Sure, and did ye not ask for it, asthore?"

"Of course I did not. But about Jack, dear--"

"I thought it _was_ about Jack?"

"Miles, will you be quiet and attend?"

"Yes, m'dear."

"Very well, then. As I have told you, I drove over to Littledean
yesterday afternoon, and made the acquaintance of the Miss Beauleighs."

"And what did ye think of them?"

"I thought Diana was wonderfully beautiful--such eyes, Miles!--and such
hair! Miss Beauleigh is very amiable, and so droll! I drank a dish of
tay with them, and I spoke of Jack--"

"Madcap, never tell me ye called him Carstares?"

"No, you great gaby! Of course I did not. As it chanced, Miss Beauleigh
mentioned him first, and she called him Mr. Carr. So I did, too. And I
noticed that Diana said scarce a word about him, and when she did 'twas
of the coolest. That, of course, made me all the more certain that she
loved him."

O'Hara was plainly puzzled.

"But why should you be certain if she did not speak of him, alanna?"

"'Tis what you'll never understand, my dear, because you are but a man.
But no matter--I knew. I quite adored Diana, and determined to talk to
her alone. So I admired the roses, and she offered to escort me round
the garden, which was what I wanted. We went out together. I think Diana
must have liked me, for--"

"Nonsense!"

"Be quiet, Miles!--for she dropped her ice and became quite friendly.
And I talked a lot."

She was aware of a convulsive movement above her, and a suppressed
cough. She raised inquiring eyebrows.

"Well, sir?"

"Nothing, asthore--nothing. Go on with the tale--you were saying--"

"That I talked a lot." She paused, and her eyes dared him; then she
dimpled and dropped her lashes over them. "I shan't tell you all I
said--"

A relieved sigh interrupted her.

"And if you continue to behave in this disagreeable fashion I shall not
say another word about anything!"

Having satisfied herself that he was not going to venture a retort, she
continued:

"We had a long chat, and I gathered, from all she said and left unsaid,
that Jack, for some foolish reason, will not ask her to marry him."

"Foolish reason, asthore?" he interrupted.

"Oh, I know you consider it a remarkable fine reason, but I tell you,
'tis rank cruelty to that poor child. As if she cared about highwaymen!"

"'Twas not so much that, I take it, as--"

"Yes, but he could tell her he was innocent--oh, Miles, do not look so
provoking! Of course he could! I vow if you had treated me so, I would
never have let you go until you had truly repented! I am of a mind to
speak to Jack."

"'Twould be an entertaining sight, but ye'll kindly have a care how you
touch him, my lady."

"He does not understand. I _know_ she would be proud to marry him--"

"And ye'd think it a fine thing in Jack to ask her, the way things are
with him at present?"

"I--oh, I don't know!"

"No, me love. Jack is right: he must first clear his name."

"Then, gracious goodness me, why does he not?" cried Molly, exasperated.

This time it was O'Hara's turn to look superior.

"Well, alanna, that's a question ye cannot hope to understand--because
ye are but a woman."

Lady O'Hara ignored the challenge.

"But what is to be done?"

"Nought. He will have to work it out himself. He bound me to secrecy
some time ago, or I would be tempted to speak to Richard."

"I quite _hate_ Richard!" she cried. "He must be a selfish, unkind
person. And now Jack swears he must go away almost at once--and, oh! you
should have seen Diana's face of despair when I mentioned that he was
going abroad again. Miles, we must keep him here as long as ever we can!
Oh, dear! 'tis all very worrying."

She broke off as O'Hara pressed her hand warningly. My lord was coming
across the lawn towards them.

"I am in dire disgrace," he said. "I was left with your ferocious baby,
Molly, and to quiet him, I gave him a string of beads that you had left
on the table."

"My precious Indian wooden beads!"

"Yes--I believe so. Anyway, the paint came off, and when Jane returned,
David looked as though he had some horrible disease. She was most
annoyed about it." He sat down in Molly's lately vacated chair, and
carefully wiped a daub of green from his forefinger.

Molly laughed.

"Poor Jane! She will have such a task to clean him. But you've arrived
most opportunely. We were talking of you."

O'Hara groaned inwardly, and tried to frown her down.

"You were? I am flattered! May I ask what you were saying?"

"Why, that we do not want you to go back to France."

O'Hara breathed again.

"That is very kind of you, my lady. I regret the necessity myself."

"Are you sure it is necessary? You might just as well live in a nice
place near here, with a dear old woman to keep house for you--and--and
Jim--and--lots of pleasant things."

My lord shook his head.

"No, thank you!"

"Yes, yes! And later on you could choose a wife!" she continued
audaciously.

"Not at all. There would be no choice; I should be made to marry the
dear old woman. You would bully me into it."

She laughed.

"Seriously, Jack, could you not settle down near here?"

"Not with that old woman, Molly."

"Never mind her; won't you consider it? No one need know you--in fact,
you need see no one--and--oh, Jack! don't look like that. Miles, is he
not ridiculous?"

"Sure, alanna, 'tis a dreary life he'd be leading," chuckled O'Hara.

"I see what it is, Molly. You have planned to make me a recluse, _and_
to marry me to my housekeeper. I protest, 'tis great ill-usage!"

Molly eyed him doubtfully.

"Would you _much_ object to the life, John?"

"Madam," he replied solemnly, "you would find my corpse in the garden at
the end of the first week."

"Of course I should not like that," she pondered. "But I do not see what
else we can do for you. Oh, and that reminds me! I drove over to
Littledean yesterday--Miles, my love, will you be so kind as to fetch me
my hat? I protest, the sun--"

"We will move more into the shade," said her disobliging husband.

"Oh, well! 'tis of no account, though I did hear that Brown was wanting
to speak to you about the new cob--"

"'Tis prodigious thoughtful of you, Molly, but I met Brown some time
ago."

Lady O'Hara gave it up.

"Well, as I was saying, Jack, I went to call at Horton House. Dear me,
what a beautiful girl Diana is, to be sure!"

Carstares tried to think of something to say, and failing, made a
non-committal sound.

"Yes. They both sent their kind wishes, and hoped you were better.
Goodness! 'tis very close here. I wonder if you will give me your arm
round the garden? And would _you_ fetch me my hat? I left it in the
hall, I think. Thank you very much!"

She waited until he was out of earshot before she turned to her husband.

"Now, Miles, you must please to stay where you are. I am not going to do
anything indiscreet."

"Molly, I can't have ye worry him--"

"No such thing! I am going to coax him to stay here instead of going
abroad. I feel sure that if we can but persuade him to stay, something
will happen."

"What will happen?"

"Something!"

"How do ye know?"

"I don't know; I only feel it."

"Very well, asthore. If you can tease Jack into staying, I'll bless ye."

"That will be most enjoyable, I make no doubt!" she answered, and
stepped back out of reach.

"Oh, thank you, John!" She tied the hat over her curls, and placed her
hand on my lord's arm. "Lazy Miles is going to sleep again!" she said.
"And I so dislike to hear him snore, so let's go a long way away--into
the rose garden!"

"Don't go so far as all that!" drawled Miles, closing his eyes. "You
will tire yourselves."

"Do you allow him to make these ribald remarks?" inquired Jack, waiting
for her to extricate a stone from her shoe.

"Not usually," she answered. "He takes advantage when you are here." She
dropped the pebble on top of O'Hara and strolled away with my lord.

As soon as they had rounded a corner in the shrubbery, she commenced the
attack.

"I want to speak to you of Miles," she confided. "He is so worried."

"Is he, Molly? Faith, I hadn't noticed it!"

She reflected that neither had she, but continued, nothing daunted:

"Ah, but he is!"

"What worries him?"

"You," sighed the lady mournfully. "'Tis the thought of your leaving us.
I feel it myself."

"Why--"

"He had hoped you would be with us for a long time--as I had."

"'Tis monstrous good of you both, but--"

"I am sure I do not know what I shall do with Miles when you are gone.
He was so looking forward to having you with him."

"Molly--"

"And, indeed, it has come as a great disappointment to both of us to
hear you talk of leaving. Won't you think better of it?"

"Molly, you overwhelm me.... How can I remain here indefinitely?"

"If only you would! You don't know how happy it would make us. I declare
Miles will worry himself quite ill if you persist in being so unkind."

"Oh, Molly, you rogue!"

She could not repress a smile, but checked it almost at once. "I mean
it, Jack."

"What! That Miles is worrying himself ill over me? Fie!"

"Perhaps not as bad as that," she admitted. "But, indeed, he is much
perturbed ... and, oh! I wish that you would not make us so unhappy."
She dabbed at her eyes with a wispy handkerchief, but managed to watch
his face all the same. "David loves you so, the pet! and Miles is so
delighted to have found you again--and _I_ like you--and--and--and I
think 'twill be indeed rude and horrid if you do go--besides being so
silly!"

"Do you, Molly? You make me feel I should be an ungrateful boor to
refuse--"

The handkerchief was whisked away.

"Then, of course you won't try to refuse! You'll stay? Promise!"

"I cannot thank you enough--"

"Oh, you nice Jack! Till the autumn? Promise!"

"Molly, I really--"

"Promise! I shall cry if you do not!"

"I cannot! How could I prey upon your hospitality for so--"

"What rubbish, Jack! As if Miles had not spent months and months at
Wyncham when you were boys--"

"That was different--"

"--when you were boys, and now you are so proud that you refuse to stay
three miserable little months with us--"

"No, no, Molly; indeed, 'tis not that!"

"Confess, if Miles were a bachelor, you would not hesitate?" He was
silent, nonplussed.

"You see! And just because he has a wife you are disagreeable and proud.
You feel you cannot bear to stay with me--"

"I swear I do not!"

"Then why do you refuse?" she triumphed.

"Molly--really, I--" He broke off, laughing. "You little wretch, you
leave me nothing to say!"

"Then you will stay, as I ask?"

"You are quite sure--"

"Quite."

"Thank you very much, I will stay. 'Tis monstrous good of you, I vow.
When you are tired of me, say so."

"I will," she promised. "Oh, but we shall do famously! How pleased Miles
will be! By the way," she continued, airily, "I asked the Miss
Beauleighs to honour us on Wednesday, but, unfortunately, they could
not. Still, perhaps some other d--"

She stopped, a little frightened, for he was standing before her,
gripping her shoulders in a very elder-brotherly fashion.

"Listen to me, Molly. I know that you have discovered that I love Diana,
and I know that you think to be very kind and to bring us together. But
I tell you that 'twill not be kind at all, only very cruel to us both.
If you worry her to come here, I must go. Do you see?"

Molly looked into the stern eyes, and her lip trembled.

"I'm very--sorry!" she faltered.

Jack drew her arm through his once more.

"'Tis nothing to be sorry about; and, indeed, I am very grateful to you
for trying to make me happy. But please do not!"

"No, I promise I will not. But--but do you think you are being quite
fair to--"

"Molly, tell me this: do you think you are being quite good to disobey
your husband?"

The blue eyes were dancing. She smiled doubtfully.

"What do you mean, Jack?"

"Do you tell me that Miles did not expressly forbid you to mention this
subject to me?"

She pulled her hand away, her mouth forming a soundless

"Oh!"

"Well--well--well, how horrid of you!" she cried, and shook her fist at
him. "I'm going now!"

Later, she found her husband in the library, and ran into his arms.

"Do you mind holding me tightly?" she asked. "I've--I've been put in the
corner!"

"What?" O'Hara drew her on to his knee.

"Yes--figuratively--by Jack. I think, perhaps, I shouldn't like to marry
him after all!"

"What has he done?"

"N-nothing. I'm _afraid_," polishing one of his buttons with an
assiduous finger, "I'm _afraid_ that it was rather my own fault!"

"Oh!"

"Yes--but I only said _very_ little about the Miss Beauleighs, and he
suddenly turned into an iceberg and made me feel like a naughty little
girl. But he is going to stay, all the same; so kiss me, Miles!"



CHAPTER XVIII

ENTER CAPTAIN HAROLD LOVELACE


At the end of August, after having spent a moderately quiet summer in
the country, Lady Lavinia was again seized with a longing for town and
its attractions. She would not listen to Richard's warnings of the
atrocious condition of the roads, declaring that she cared not one jot,
and go to London she must. After that one protest he desisted, and
promised to take her there the following week, secretly counting himself
lucky to have kept her so long at Wyncham in comparative cheerfulness of
spirits. Lavinia was overjoyed, kissed him again and again, scolded
herself for being such a wicked tease, and set about making her
preparations for the journey.

The roads proved even worse than Richard had prophesied, and twice the
coach nearly upset, and times without number stuck fast in the mire,
causing the inmates much inconvenience. Carstares rode by the side of
the heavy vehicle, in which were his wife, her maid, her tiny dog, and
countless bandboxes and small parcels. In spite of the worry the
constant stoppages entailed, he quite enjoyed the journey, for Lavinia
was in excellent spirits, and made light of their mishaps, receiving
each fresh one with roguish laughter and some witty remark. Even when
the chimney of her bed-chamber, at one of the inns at which they halted,
smoked most vilely, she did not, as Richard quite expected she would,
fly into a rage and refuse to spend another moment in the house, but
after looking extremely doleful, cheered up and told dear Dicky that she
would have his room while he should have hers. Then in the morning she
would find him all dried up and _smoked_! In high good humour she went
down to dinner with him, voted the partridges excellent, the pasties
quite French, and the wine marvellously tolerable for such an
out-of-the-way place, and kept him laughing at her antics until
bed-time.

The journey was, of necessity, very slow, not only on account of the bad
roads, but because whenever my lady caught sight of wild roses growing
on the hedges, she must stop to pluck some. Then she and Richard would
stroll along for some way, he leading his horse, the coach following at
a walking pace. All of which was very idyllic, and had the effect of
sending Richard to the seventh heaven of content.

When at length they arrived at Wyncham House, Mayfair, they found that
the servants had arrived a week before, and had made good use of their
time. Never, declared Lavinia, had the house looked so inviting--so
spick and span.

One of her black pages proffered a small monkey with much bowing and
grinning, and the murmur of: "Massa's present."

Lady Lavinia flew to embrace her Dicky. How did he guess that she had
for so long yearned for a monkey? Surely she had but once or twice
mentioned it? Oh, he was the very best of husbands! She danced off to
her apartments in a state of ecstasy.

The _beau monde_ was returning to town, and when, a few days later,
Carstares conducted his wife to Ranelagh, they found the gardens fairly
crowded and very gay. Lamps hung from tree branches, although it was
still quite light; the fiddlers scraped away almost without a pause;
fireworks shot up from one end; the summer-houses had all been freshly
painted, and the Pavilion was a blaze of light.

Consciousness of her beauty and the smartness of her Georgia silk gown,
with its petticoat covered in gold net, considerably added to Lavinia's
enjoyment. Her hair she wore powdered and elaborately curled down on
both sides with dainty escalloped lace half concealing it, and a grey
_capuchin_ over all. Her tippet was gold-laced to match her petticoat,
and to fasten it she wore a brooch composed of clustered rubies. Rubies
also hung in her earrings, which last were of such length that the other
ladies turned to stare in envy, and the bracelets that she wore over her
long gloves flashed also with the great red stones. She was well-pleased
with Richard's appearance, and reflected that, when he chose, he could
be very fashionable indeed. The claret-coloured velvet he was wearing
was most distinguished, and the gold clocks to his hose quite ravishing.

They had not been in the Gardens ten minutes before a little crowd of
men had gathered around them, professing themselves enraptured to behold
the fair Lady Lavinia once more. One of them fetched her a chair,
another a glass of negus, and the rest hovered eagerly about her.

Becomingly flushed with triumph, my lady gave her little hand to Mr.
Selwyn, who had been once a very ardent admirer, laughed at his neat
compliment, and declared that he was a dreadful flattering demon, and
positively she would not listen to him!

Sir Gregory Markham, who brought her the negus, she discovered to have
just returned from Paris. On hearing this, she broke off in the middle
of a conversation with an enchanted French Chevalier and turned to him,
raising her china-blue eyes to his face and clasping tight-gloved
hands.

"Oh, Sir Gregory! Paris? Then tell me--please, tell me--have you seen my
darling Devil?"

"Why, yes, madam," responded Markham, handing her the glass he held.

She sipped the negus, and gave it to the Chevalier to take care of.

"I declare, I quite love you then!" she exclaimed. "What is he doing,
and, oh! _when_ will he return to England?"

Sir Gregory smiled.

"How can I say?" he drawled. "I fear _monsieur s'amuse_!"

She flirted her fan before her face.

"Dreadful creature!" she cried. "How dare you say such things?"

"Belmanoir?" inquired Lord D'Egmont, twirling his cane.

"Enamoured of the Pompadour, is he not--saving your presence, Lady
Lavvy!"

Lavinia let fall her fan.

"The Pompadour! He had best have a care!"

"I believe there has already been some unpleasantness between his
Majesty and the fair Jeanne on the subject of Devil. Since then she is
supposed to have turned on him a cold shoulder."

"_I_ heard 'twas he wearied of madame," said Markham.

"Well, whichever it was, I am glad the episode is closed," decided
Lavinia. "'Tis too dangerous a game to play with Louis' mistresses. Oh,
mon cher Chevalier! if I had not forgot your presence! But I am sure you
say dreadful ill-natured things of our George, now don't you? Oh, and
have you held my negus all this time? How monstrous good of you! There,
I will drink it, and Julian shall take the glass away.... _Voila_!" She
handed it to D'Egmont and rapped Mr. Selwyn's knuckles with her fan,
looking archly up at him as he stood behind her chair.

"Naughty man! Will you have done whispering in my ear? I vow I will not
listen to your impudences! No, nor laugh at them neither! Sir Gregory,
you have given me no answer. When will Tracy return? For the Cavendish
rout on Wednesday week? Ah, say yes!"

"Certainly I will say yes, fair tormentor! But, to tell the truth, Tracy
said no word of coming to London when I saw him."

She pouted.

"Now I hate you, Sir Gregory! And he has been absent since May! Oh,
Julian, back already? You shall escort me to the fireworks then. Oh, my
fan! Where is it? I know I dropped it on the ground--Selwyn, if you have
taken it--Oh, Dicky, you have it! Thank you! See, I am going with
Julian, and you may ogle Mrs. Clive, whom I see walking over there--yes,
positively you may, and I shall not be jealous! Very well, Julian, I am
coming! Chevalier, I shall hope to see you at the rout on Wednesday
week, but you must wait upon me before then."

The Frenchman brightened.

"Madame is too good. I may then call at Wyncham 'Ouse? _Vraiment_, I
shall but exist until then!" In a perfectly audible whisper, he confided
to Wilding that "_miladi etait ravissante! mais ravissante!_"

Lady Lavinia went off on her gratified cavalier's arm, encountering many
bows and much admiration as she passed down the walk, leaving her
husband not to ogle the beautiful Kitty, as she had advised, but to
saunter away in the direction of the Pavilion in company with Tom
Wilding and Markham.

D'Egmont guided my lady into one of the winding alleys, and they
presently came out on a large lawn, dotted over with people of all
conditions. Towards them was coming Lavinia's brother--Colonel Lord
Robert Belmanoir--very richly clad and rakish in appearance. When he saw
his sister, a look of surprise came into his florid face, and he made
her a sweeping leg.

"'Pon my honour--Lavinia!"

My lady was not fond of her brother, and acknowledged the salutation
with a brief nod.

"I am delighted to see you, Robert," she said primly.

"The mere word 'delighted' in no way expresses my sensations," replied
the Colonel in the drawling, rather unpleasant voice peculiar both to
him and to the Duke. "Your servant, D'Egmont. I imagined, Lavvy, that
you were in the country?"

"Richard brought me to town last Tuesday," she answered.

"How unwise of him!" taunted the Colonel. "Or had he no choice?"

She tossed her head angrily.

"If you are minded to be disagreeable, Robert, pray do not let me detain
you!" she flashed.

D'Egmont was quite unembarrassed by this interchange of civilities. He
knew the Belmanoir family too well to be made uncomfortable by their
bickerings.

"Shall we leave him?" he asked Lavinia, smiling.

"Yes," she pouted. "He is determined to be unpleasant."

"My dear sister! On the contrary, I believe I can offer you some
amusement. Lovelace is in town."

"Captain _Harold_?" she cried incredulously.

"The same."

"Oh, Bob!" Impulsively she withdrew her hand from Julian's arm,
transferring it to the Colonel's. "I must see him at once! To think he
is returned after all these years! Quick, Julian, dear lad--go and find
him--and tell him 'tis I, Lavinia, who want him! You know him, do you
not? Yes--I thought you did. Send him to me at once!--at once!"

D'Egmont looked very crestfallen at having his walk with the goddess
thus cut short, but he had perforce to kiss her hand and to obey.

"Yes. I thought you would be pleased," remarked Lord Robert, and
chuckled. "Allow me to point out to you that there is a chair--two
chairs--in fact, quite a number of chairs--immediately behind you."

She sat down, chattering excitedly.

"Why, 'tis nigh on five years since I saw Harry! Has he changed? Lud!
but he will deem me an old woman! Is he like to be in town for long, I
wonder?--Dear me, Bob, look at the two ladies over behind that
seat!--Gracious! what extraordinary _coifs_, to be sure! And cherry
ribbons, too!... Tell me, Bob, where did you meet Harry Lovelace?"

The Colonel, who, far from attending to her monologue, had been sending
amorous glances across to a palpably embarrassed girl, who hung on her
papa's arm while that gentleman stopped to speak to a stout dowager,
brought his gaze reluctantly back to his sister.

"What's that you say, Lavvy?"

"How provoking of you not to listen to me! I asked where you met
Harold."

"Where I met him? Let me see--where did I meet him? Oh, I remember! At
the Cocoa-Tree, a fortnight since."

"And he is altered?"

"Not in any way, dear sister. He is the same mad, reckless rake-hell as
ever. And unmarried."

"How delightful! Oh, I shall be so glad to see him again!"

"You must present him to Richard," sneered the Colonel, "as an old
flame."

"I must, indeed," she agreed, his sarcasm passing over her head. "Oh, I
see him! Look! Coming across the grass!"

She rose to meet the tall, fair young Guardsman who came swiftly towards
her, curtsying as only Lady Lavinia could curtsy, with such stateliness
and coquetry.

"Captain Lovelace!"--she put forward both her hands.

Lovelace caught them in his, and bent his head over them so that the
soft, powdered curls of his loose wig fell all about his face.

"Lady Lavinia!--Enchantress!--I can find no words! I am dumb!"

"And I!"

"In that case," drawled the Colonel, "you are not like to be very
entertaining company. Pray give me leave!" He bowed and sauntered away
down the path with a peculiarly malicious smile on his lips.

Lavinia and Lovelace found two chairs, slightly apart from the rest, and
sat down, talking eagerly.

"Captain Lovelace, I believe you had forgot me?" she rallied him.

"Never!" he answered promptly. "Not though you well-nigh broke my
heart!"

"No, no! I did not do that. I never meant to hurt you."

He shook his head disbelievingly.

"You rejected me to marry some other man: do you say you did not mean
to?"

"You naughty Harry!... You never married yourself?"

"I?" The delicate features expressed a species of hurt horror. "I marry?
No! I was ever faithful to my first love."

She unfurled her fan, fluttering it delightedly.

"Oh! Oh! _Always_, Harold? Now speak the truth!"

"Nearly always," he amended.

"Disagreeable man! You admit you had lapses then?"

"So very trivial, my dear," he excused himself. "And I swear my first
action on coming to London was to call at Wyncham House. Imagine my
disappointment--my incalculable gloom (on the top of having already
dropped a thousand at faro) when I found the shell void, and Venus--"

She stopped him, her fan held ready for chastisement.

"Sir! You said your _first_ action was to call upon me!"

He smiled, shaking back his curls.

"I should have said: my first action of any importance."

"You do not deem losing a thousand guineas important?" she asked
wistfully.

"Well--hardly. One must enjoy life, and what's a thousand, after all? I
had my pleasure out of it."

"Yes!" she breathed, her eyes sparkling. "That is how I think! What
pleasure can one get if one neither hazards nor spends one's money? Oh,
well!" She shrugged one shoulder, dismissing the subject.

"Have you seen Tracy of late?"

"He was at a court ball I attended at Versailles, but I did not have a
chance of speaking with him. I heard he was very popular at Paris."

"Ay!" she said proudly. "He has the French air.... I so desire to see
him again, but I fear he does not think of returning. I know he was
promised for the Duchess of Devonshire's rout months ago--before even
the date was fixed, she so dotes on him--but I do not expect to see him
there." She sighed and drummed on the ground with her diamond-buckled
shoe. "Harry, I am chilled! Take me to the Pavilion! I doubt they are
dancing--and Dicky will be there."

"Dicky?" he repeated. "Dicky! Lavinia, do not tell me there is another
claimant to your heart?"

"Wicked, indelicate creature! 'Tis my husband!"

"Your _husband_! Enfin--"

She cast him a sidelong glance of mingled coquetry and reproof.

"Your mind is at rest again, I trust?"

"Of course! A husband? Pooh, a bagatelle, no more!"

"My husband is not a bagatelle!" she laughed. "I am very fond of him."

"This grows serious," he frowned. "'Tis very unfashionable, surely?"

She met his teasing eyes and cast down her lashes.

"Captain Lovelace, you may take me to the Pavilion."

"Sweet tormentor, not until you cease so to misname me."

"Harold, I am indeed chilly!" she said plaintively and snatched her hand
from his lips. "No, no! People will stare--look, there is my odious
brother returning! I declare I will not stay to listen to his hateful,
sneering remarks!... Come!"

They walked across the grass together, keeping up a running fire of
raillery, punctuated on his side by extravagant compliments filled with
classical allusions, all more or less erroneous, and on hers by
delighted little laughs and mock scoldings. So they came to the
Pavilion, where the musicians fiddled for those who wished to dance, and
where most of the company had assembled now that it was growing chilly
without. Down one end of the hall, card-tables were set out, where
members of both sexes diced and gambled, drinking glasses of burgundy or
negus, the men toasting the ladies, and very often the ladies returning
the toasts with much archness and low curtseying.

Lavinia cast off her _capuchin_ and plumed her feathers, giving a
surreptitious shake to her ruched skirts and smoothing her ruffles. She
rustled forward with great stateliness, fan unfurled, head held high,
her gloved fingers resting lightly on Lovelace's velvet-clad arm.
Richard, hearing the little stir caused by her entry, glanced up, and
perceived her. He did not recognise her companion, but the sparkle in
her eyes and the happy curve to her full lips were quite enough to tell
him that it was someone whom she was very contented to have met. He had
ample opportunity for studying Lovelace as the good-looking pair drew
near, and he could not but admire the delicate, handsome face with the
grey eyes that held a laugh in them, the pleasure-loving, well-curved
mouth, and the chin that spoke of determination. Here was not one of
Lavinia's lisping, painted puppy-dogs, for in spite of the effeminate
curls, it was easy to see that this man had character and a will of his
own, and, above all, a great charm of manner. He saw Lavinia blush and
rap the Captain's knuckles in answer to some remark, and his heart sank.
He rose and came to meet them.

Lady Lavinia smiled sweetly upon him, and patted his arm with a
possessive little air.

"Dicky dear, I have found an old friend--a very old friend! Is it not
agreeable? Captain Lovelace--Mr. Carstares."

The two men bowed, Richard with reluctancy, the Captain with easy
_bonhomie_.

"Sir, I claim to be a worshipper at the shrine of which you, I believe,
are High Priest!" he said impudently, and bowed again, this time to my
lady.

"You are one of many, sir," smiled Richard.

Lady Devereux came tripping up to them, and kissed Lavinia with a great
show of affection.

"My dearest life! My sweet Lavinia!"

Lady Lavinia presented a powdered cheek.

"Dearest Fanny, how charming to see you again!" she cooed. Through her
lashes she gazed at her friend's enormous headdress, with its rolls of
powdered curls and the imitation flowers perched upon the top of the
erection.

"But, my angel!" exclaimed Lady Fanny, stepping back to view her,
"surely you have been ill?"

"How strange!" smiled Lavinia. "I was about to ask you that same
question, my dear! 'Tis age, I doubt not. Do we both look such dreadful
hags?" She turned her bewitching little countenance to the men, and
smiled appealingly.

Compliments showered upon her, and Lady Devereux, who was conscious that
her own sallow countenance, in spite of rouge and powder, must appear
even more sallow beside Lavinia's pink-and-whiteness, flushed in
annoyance and turned away, begging her dearest Lavvy to come to the faro
with her. But Lavinia, it appeared, was going to watch the dicing at
Richard's table: she vowed she should bring him monstrous good luck.

"I don't doubt it, my dear," replied her husband, "but I am not playing
to-night. Will you not take your luck to Bob?" He nodded to where the
Colonel was lounging, dice-box in hand.

Lavinia pouted.

"No, I want you to play!"

"'Tis of no avail, Lady Lavinia!" drawled Sir Gregory. "Richard is the
very devil to-night."

Selwyn, rattling his dice, paused, and looked round at Markham with a
face of innocent surprise. Then he turned slowly and stared at
Carstares' grave, almost stern countenance, with even more surprise. He
started to rattle the dice again, and shifted back to face his opponent,
with pursed lips.

"Is he?" he inquired with studied depression.

Even Lavinia joined in the general laugh, not so much at the wit's words
as at his comic expression, and the extreme deliberation with which he
had enacted the little scene.

Someone cried a bet to Lovelace, which was promptly accepted, and
Lavinia's eyes glowed afresh as she followed the Captain to a table.

Richard went to fetch her some refreshment, and on his return, found her
leaning over Lovelace's chair, her hand on his shoulder, eagerly casting
the dice on to the table. He was in time to see her clap her hands and
to hear her cry of: "My luck! Oh, my luck is in! I will throw again!"

Glancing round she caught sight of her husband, and her face fell.

"Do you _mind_, Dicky?" she pleaded.

He did mind, but he could not appear churlish before all these men; so
he laughed and shook his head, and went to her elbow to watch her play.

When she at length ceased, her luck had run out, and she had lost her
much-prized ruby earring to Mr. Selwyn, who placed it carefully in his
vest pocket, vowing he should wear it next his heart for ever. Then, and
then only, did she consent to leave the gaming tables for the dancing
hall, and for another hour Richard had the felicity of watching her
tread the minuet with various young bloods, but most often with her
new-found Harry Lovelace.



CHAPTER XIX

THE REAPPEARANCE OF HIS GRACE OF ANDOVER


It seemed to Richard in the days that followed, that Captain Lovelace
was never out of his house. If he went to his wife's boudoir, there was
Lovelace, hanging over her while she played upon the spinet or glanced
through the pages of the _Rambler_. If Lavinia went to a ball or
masquerade, the Captain was always amongst the favoured ones admitted to
her chamber for the express purpose of watching her don her gown and
judiciously place her patches. If Carstares begged his wife's company
one morning, she was full of regrets: Harry was calling to take her to
Vauxhall or to Spring Gardens. When he entered his door, the first sight
that met his eyes was the Captain's amber-clouded cane and point-edged
hat; and when he looked out of the window, it was more often to see a
chair draw up at the house and Lovelace alight. After patiently enduring
a week of his continued presence, Carstares remonstrated with his wife:
she must not encourage her friend to spend all his time at Grosvenor
Square. At first she had looked reproachful, and then she inquired his
reason. His reluctant answer was that it was not seemly. At that her
eyes had opened wide, and she demanded to know what could be more seemly
than the visits of such an old friend? With a gleam of humour, Richard
replied that it was not Captain Harold's age that he objected to, but,
on the contrary, his youth. On which she accused him of being jealous.
It was true enough, but he indignantly repudiated the suggestion. Very
well, then, he was merely stupid! He must not be cross; Harry was her
very good friend, and did not Richard admire the new device for her
hair? Richard was not to be cajoled: did she clearly understand that
Lovelace's visits must cease? She only understood one thing, and that
was that Dicky was marvellous ill-tempered and ridiculous to-day. And he
must not tease her! Yes, she would be very good, but so must he! And now
she was going shopping, and she would require at least twenty guineas.

In spite of her promise to "be good," she made no attempt to discourage
Lovelace's attentions, always smiling charmingly upon him and beckoning
him to her side.

It was the morning of the Duchess of Devonshire's rout that Carstares
again broached the subject. My lady was in bed, her fair hair unpowdered
and streaming all about her shoulders, her chocolate on a small table at
her side and countless _billets doux_ from admirers scattered on the
sheet. In her hand she held a bouquet of white roses with a card
attached bearing, in bold, sprawling characters, the initials "H. L."
Perhaps it was the sight of those incriminating letters that roused
Richard's anger. At all events, with a violence quite unlike his usual
gentle politeness, he snatched the flowers from her hand, and sent them
whizzing into a corner.

"Let there be an end to all this folly!" he cried.

Lavinia raised herself on one elbow, astonished.

"H-how _dare_ you?" she gasped.

"It has come to that!" he answered. "How dare I, your husband, try to
control your actions in any way? I tell you, Lavinia, I have had enough
of your antics, and I will not longer put up with them!"

"You--you--What in heaven's name ails you, Richard?"

"This! I will not countenance that puppy's invasion of my house!" He
made a furious gesture towards the wilted bouquet.

"Neither will I permit you to make yourself the talk of London through
him!"

"I? I? _I_ make myself the talk of London? How dare you? Oh! how dare
you?"

"I beg you will cease that foolishness. There is no question of my
daring. How dare _you_ disobey me, as you have been doing all this past
week?"

She cowered away from him.

"Dicky!"

"'Tis very well to cry 'Dicky,' and to smile, but I have experienced
that before. Sometimes I think you are utterly without heart!--a
selfish, vain, extravagant woman!"

The childish lips trembled. Lady Lavinia buried her face in the pillows,
sobbing.

Carstares' face softened.

"I beg your pardon, my dear. Mayhap that was unjust."

"And cruel! And cruel!"

"And cruel. Forgive me."

She twined white, satiny arms about his neck.

"You did not _mean_ it?"

"No. I mean that I will not allow Lovelace to dangle after you,
however."

She flung away from him.

"You have no right to speak like that. I knew Harry long before I ever
set eyes on _you_!"

He winced.

"You infer that he is more to you than I am?"

"No! Though you try to make me hate you. No! I love you best. But I will
not send Harry away!"

"Not if I order it?"

"Order it? Order it? No! No! A thousand times no!"

"I do order it!"

"And I refuse to listen to you!"

"By God, madam, you need a lesson!" he flamed. "I am minded to take you
back to Wyncham this very day! And I promise you that, an you do not
obey me in this, to Wyncham you _shall_ go!" He stamped out of the room
as he spoke, and she sank back amongst her pillows, white and trembling
with fury.

As soon as she was dressed, she flounced downstairs, bent on finishing
the quarrel. But Carstares had gone out some time since, and was not
expected to return until late. For a moment Lavinia was furious, but the
timely arrival of a box from her mantua-maker's chased away the frowns
and wreathed her face in smiles.

Richard did not return until it was time to prepare for the rout, and on
entering the house he went straight to his chamber, putting himself into
the hands of his valet. He submitted to the delicate tinting of his
finger-nails, the sprinkling of his linen with rosewater and the
stencilling of his brows. He was arrayed in puce and gold, rings slipped
on to his fingers, his legs coaxed into hose with marvellous clocks
splashed on their sides, and a diamond buckle placed above the large
black bow of his tie-wig. Then, powdered, painted and patched, he went
slowly across to his wife's room.

Lavinia, who had by now quite forgotten the morning's _contretemps_,
greeted him with a smile. She sat before the mirror in her under-gown,
with a loose _déshabillé_ thrown over her shoulders. The _coiffeur_ had
departed, and her hair, thickly powdered, was dressed high above her
head over cushions, twisted into curls over her ears and allowed to fall
in more curls over her shoulders. On top of the creation were poised
ostrich feathers, scarlet and white, and round her throat gleamed a
great necklet of diamonds. The room was redolent of some heavy perfume;
discarded ribbons, laces, slippers and gloves strewed the floor; over
the back of a chair hung a brilliant scarlet domino, and tenderly laid
out on the bed was her gown, a mass of white satin and brocade, with
full ruffles over the hips and quantities of foaming lace falling from
the corsage and from the short sleeves. Beside it reposed her fan, her
soft lace gloves, her mask and her tiny reticule.

Carstares gingerly sat down on the extreme edge of a chair and watched
the maid tint his wife's already perfect cheeks.

"I shall break hearts to-night, shall I not?" she asked gaily, over her
shoulder.

"I do not doubt it," he answered shortly.

"And you, Dicky?" She turned round to look at him. "Puce... 'tis not the
colour I should have chosen, but 'tis well enough. A new wig, surely?"

"Ay."

Her eyes questioned his coldness, and she suddenly remembered the events
of the morning. So he was sulky? Very well! Monsieur should see!

Someone knocked at the door; the maid went to open it.

"Sir Douglas Faversham, Sir Gregory Markham, Moosso le Chevalier and
Captain Lovelace are below, m'lady."

A little devil prompted Lavinia.

"Oh, la-la! So many? Well, I cannot see all, 'tis certain. Admit Sir
Gregory and Captain Lovelace."

Louisa communicated this to the lackey and shut the door.

Richard bit his lip angrily.

"Are you sure I am not _de trop_?" he asked, savagely sarcastic.

Lady Lavinia cast aside her _déshabillé_ and stood up.

"Oh, 'tis no matter--I am ready for my gown, Louisa."

There came more knocking at the door, and this time it was Carstares who
rose to open it.

There entered Markham, heavily handsome in crimson and gold, and
Lovelace, his opposite, fair and delicately pretty in palest blue and
silver. As usual, he wore his loose wig, and in it sparkled three
sapphire pins.

He made my lady a marvellous leg.

"I am prostrated by your beauty, fairest!"

Sir Gregory was eyeing Lavinia's white slippers through his quizzing
glass.

"Jewelled heels, 'pon my soul!" he drawled.

She pirouetted gracefully, her feet flashing as they caught the light.

"Was it not well thought on?" she demanded. "But I must not waste
time--the dress! Now, Markham--now Harry--you will see the creation!"

Lovelace sat down on a chair, straddle-wise, his arms over the back, and
his chin sunk in his hands. Markham leant against the _garde-robe_ and
watched through his glass.

When the dress was at last arranged, the suggested improvements in the
matter of lace, ribbons, and the adjustment of a brooch thoroughly
discussed, bracelets fixed on her arms and the flaming domino draped
about her, it was full three-quarters of an hour later, and Carstares
was becoming impatient. It was not in his nature to join with the two
men in making fulsome compliments, and their presence at the toilette
filled him with annoyance. He hated that Lavinia should admit them, but
it was the _mode_, and he knew he must bow the head under it.

My lady was at last ready to start; her gilded chair awaited her in the
light of the _flambeaux_ at the door, and with great difficulty she
managed to enter it, taking absurd pains that her silks should not
crush, nor the nodding plumes of her huge head-dress become disordered
by unseemly contact with the roof. Then she found that she had left her
fan in her room, and Lovelace and Markham must needs vie with one
another in the fetching of it. While they wrangled wittily for the
honour, Richard went quietly indoors and presently emerged with the
painted chicken-skin, just as Lovelace was preparing to ascend the
steps. At last Lavinia was shut in and the bearers picked up the poles.
Off went the little cavalcade down the long square, the chair in the
middle. Lovelace walked close beside it on the right, and Richard and
Markham on the left. So they proceeded through the uneven streets,
carefully picking their way through the dirtier parts, passing other
chairs and pedestrians, all coming from various quarters into South
Audley Street. They were remarkably silent: Markham from habitual
laziness, Lovelace because he sensed Richard's antagonism, and Richard
himself on account of his extremely worried state of mind. In fact,
until they reached Curzon Street no one spoke, and then it was only
Markham, who, glancing behind him at the shuttered windows of the great
corner house, casually remarked that Chesterfield was still at Wells. An
absent assent came from Carstares, and the conversation came to an end.

In Clarges Street they were joined by Sir John Fortescue, an austere
patrician, and although some years his senior, a close friend of
Richard's. They fell behind the chair, and Fortescue took Richard's
proffered arm.

"I did not see you at White's to-day, John?"

"No. I had some business with my lawyer. I suppose you did not stumble
across my poor brother?"

"Frank? I did not--but why the 'poor'?"

Fortescue shrugged slightly.

"I think the lad is demented," he said. "He was to have made one of
March's supper-party last night, but at four o'clock received a
communication from heaven knows whom which threw him into a state of
unrest. What must he do but hurry off without a word of explanation.
Since then I have not set eyes on him, but his man tells me he went to
meet a friend. Damned unusual of him is all I have to say."

"Very strange. Do you expect to see him to-night?"

"I should hope so! My dear Carstares, who is the man walking by your
lady's chair?"

"Markham?"

"The other."

"Lovelace."

"Lovelace? And who the devil is he?"

"I cannot tell you--beyond a captain in the Guards."

"That even is news to me. I saw him at Goosetree's the other night, and
wondered. Somewhat of a rake-hell, I surmise."

"I daresay. I do not like him."

They were entering the gates of Devonshire House now, and had to part
company, for the crush was so great that it was almost impossible to
keep together. Carstares stayed by Lavinia's chair, and the other men
melted away into the crowd. Chairs jostled one another in the effort to
get to the door, town coaches rolled up, and having let down their fair
burdens, passed out again slowly, pushing through the throng.

When the Carstares' chair at last drew near the house, it was quite a
quarter of an hour later. The ball-room was already full and a blaze of
riotous colour. Lavinia was almost immediately borne off by an
infatuated youth for whom she cherished a motherly affection that would
have caused the unfortunate to tear his elegant locks, had he known it.

Richard distinguished Lord Andrew Belmanoir, one of a group of bucks
gathered about the newest beauty, Miss Gunning, who, with her sister
Elizabeth, had taken fashionable London by storm. Andrew wore a mask,
but he was quite unmistakable by his length of limb and carelessly
rakish appearance.

Wilding, across the room, beckoned to Richard, and on his approach,
dragged him to the card-room to play at lansquenet with March, Selwyn
and himself.

Carstares found the Earl in great good-humour, due, so Selwyn remarked,
to the finding of an opera singer even more lovely than the last. From
lansquenet they very soon passed to dice and betting, with others who
strolled up to the table. Then Carstares excused himself and went back
to the ball-room. He presently found himself by the side of one Isabella
Fanshawe, a sprightly widow, greatly famed for her wittiness and good
looks. Carstares had met her but once before, and was now rather
surprised that she motioned him to her side, patting the couch with an
inviting, much be-ringed hand.

"Come and sit by me, Mr. Carstares. I have wanted to speak with you this
long time." She lowered her mask as she spoke and closely scrutinised
his face with her bright, humorous eyes.

"Why, madam, I am flattered," bowed Richard.

She cut him short.

"I am not in the mood for compliments, sir. Nor am I desirous of making
or hearing clever speeches. You are worrying me."

Richard sat down, intrigued and attracted by this downright little
woman.

"I, madam?"

"You, sir. That is, your face worries me." Seeing his surprise, she
laughed, fanning herself. "'Tis comely enough, I grant you! I mean there
is such a strong likeness to--a friend of mine."

Richard smiled politely and relieved her of the fan.

"Indeed, madam?"

"Yes. I knew--this other gentleman in Vienna, three years ago. I should
judge him younger than you, I think. His eyes were blue, but very
similar to yours. His nose was almost identical with yours, but the
mouth--n-no. Yet the whole expression--" She broke off, noticing her
companion's sudden pallor. "But you are unwell, sir?"

"No, madam, no! What was your friend's name?"

"Ferndale," she answered. "Anthony Ferndale."

The fan stopped its swaying for a moment.

"Ah!" said Richard.

"Do you know him?" she inquired eagerly.

"Many years ago, madam, I was--acquainted with him. Can you tell me--was
he in good spirits when last you saw him?"

She pursed her lips thoughtfully.

"If you mean was he gay, was he witty--yes. But sometimes I thought--Mr.
Carstares, when he was silent, his eyes were so sad--! Indeed, I do not
know why I tell you this."

"You may be sure, madam, your confidence is safe with me. I had--a great
regard for this gentleman." He opened and shut her fan as he spoke,
fidgeting with the slender sticks. "You, too, were interested in him,
madam?"

"I do not think ever anyone knew him and was not, sir. It was something
in his manner, his personality--I cannot explain--that endeared him to
one. And he once--aided me--when I was in difficulties."

Richard, remembering scraps of gossip concerning the widow's past,
merely bowed his head.

She was silent for a time, staring down at her hands, but presently she
looked up smiling, and took her fan away from him.

"I cannot abide a fidget, sir!" she told him. "And I see Lord
Fotheringham approaching. I am promised to him this dance." She rose,
but Richard detained her.

"Mrs. Fanshawe, will you permit me to call upon you? I would hear more
of--your friend. You, mayhap, think it strange--but--"

"No," she answered. "I do not. Certainly call upon me, sir. I lodge in
Mount Street with my sister--No. 16."

"I protest, madam, you are too good--"

"Again, no. I have told you, I like a man to talk as a man and not as an
affected woman. I shall be pleased to welcome you."

She curtsied and went away on the Viscount's arm.

At the same moment a voice at Richard's elbow drawled:

"Do I see you at the vivacious widow's feet, my good Dick?"

Carstares turned to face his brother-in-law, Colonel Belmanoir.

"Is not all London?" he smiled.

"Oh, no! Not since the beautiful Gunnings' arrival. But I admit she is a
dainty piece. And Lavinia? Will she break her heart, I wonder?" He
laughed beneath his breath as he saw Richard's eyes flash.

"I trust not," replied Carstares. "Are you all here to-night?"

"Our illustrious head is absent, I believe. Andrew is flirting with the
Fletcher girl in the Blue Salon; I am here, and Lavinia is amusing
herself with Lovelace. Yes, Richard, Lovelace! Be careful!" With another
sneering laugh he walked on, bowing to Elizabeth Gunning, who passed by
on the arm of her partner, his Grace of Hamilton, most palpably _épris_.

At that moment two late-comers entered the room and made their way
towards their hostess, who appeared delighted to see them, especially
the taller of the two, whose hand she slapped with good-humoured
raillery. The shorter gentleman wore no mask, and the Colonel recognised
Frank Fortescue. His eyes travelled to the other, who, unlike most of
the men who only held their masks, had fastened his across his eyes, and
they widened in surprise. The purple domino, worn carelessly open,
revealed black satin encrusted with silver and diamonds. The natural
hair was raven-black, the nostrils were pinched and the lips thin.

"The Devil!" ejaculated Robert, and strolled over to him.

Fortescue walked away when he saw who approached, and his Grace of
Andover turned slowly towards his brother.

"I rather thought you were in Paris," yawned the colonel.

"I am always sorry to disillusion you," bowed his Grace.

"Not at all; I am transported with joy at seeing you. As is Lavinia, it
appears."

Lady Lavinia, on recognising his Grace, had dropped her partner's hand
and fled incontinent towards him.

"You, Tracy!" She clasped delighted hands on his arm.

"This is very touching," sneered Robert. "It only needs Andrew to
complete the happy reunion. Pray excuse me!"

"With pleasure," replied the Duke gently, and bowed as if to a stranger.

"He grows tedious," he remarked, as soon as the Colonel was out of
earshot.

"Oh, Bob! I take no account of _him_! But, Tracy, how is it you have
come to-day? I thought--"

"My dear Lavinia, do I wear an air of mystery? I imagined you knew I was
promised to Dolly Cavendish to-night?"

"Yes, but--oh, what matters it? I am so charmed to see you again, dear!"

"You flatter me, Lavinia."

"And now that you have come, I want to hear why you ever went! Tracy,
take me into the room behind us. I know 'tis empty."

"Very well, child, as you will." He held back the curtain for her and
followed her into the deserted chamber.

"You want to know why I went?" he began, seating himself at her side. "I
counsel you, my dear, to cast your mind back to the spring--at Bath."

"Your _affaire_! Of course! So the lady proved unkind?"

"No. But I bungled it."

"_You_? Tell me at once!--at once!"

His Grace stretched out his leg and surveyed his shoe-buckle through
half-closed lids.

"I had arranged everything," he said, "and all would have been well but
for an interfering young jackanapes who chanced along the track and saw
fit to espouse Madam Diana's cause." He paused. "He tripped me up by
some trick, and then--_que veux-tu_?"

"Who was it?"

"How should I know? At first he seemed familiar. At all events, he knew
me. He may be dead by now. I hope he is."

"Gracious! Did you wound him?"

"I managed to fire at him, but he was too quick, and the bullet took him
in the shoulder. It may, however, have been mortal."

"And so you went to Paris?"

"Ay. To forget her."

"And have you forgotten?"

"I have not. She is never out of my thoughts. I plan again."

His sister sighed.

"She is then more beautiful than the Pompadour?" she asked meaningly.

Tracy turned his head.

"The Pompadour?"

"Ay! We heard you contrived to amuse yourself in a pretty fashion,
Tracy!"

"Really? I had no idea people were so interested in my affairs. But
'amuse' is an apt word."

"Ah? You were not then _épris_?"

"I? With that low-born cocotte? My dear Lavinia!"

She laughed at his haughty tone.

"You've not always been so nice, Tracy! But what of your Diana? An you
are so infatuated, you had best wed her."

"Why, so I think."

Lady Lavinia gasped.

"Tracy! You do not mean it? Goodness me, but a marriage!"

"Why not, Lavinia?"

"Oh, a respectable married man, forsooth! And how long will the passion
last?"

"I cannot be expected to foretell that, surely? I hope, for ever."

"And you'll tie yourself up for the sake of one chit? Lud!"

"I can conceive a worse fate for a man."

"Can you? Well, tell me more! 'Tis monstrous exciting. Do you intend to
court her?"

"At this stage of the proceedings? That were somewhat tactless, my dear.
I must abduct her, but I must be more careful. Once I have her, I can
propitiate Papa."

"Tracy, 'tis the maddest scheme ever I heard! What will the others say?"

"Do you really suppose I care?"

"No, I suppose not. Oh, will not Bob be furious, though!"

"It were almost worth while--just for the sake of foiling him. He would
so like to succeed me. But I really do not think he must." His elbow was
on his knee, his chin in his hand, and a peculiar smile on his lips.
"Can you imagine him stepping into my ducal shoes, Lavinia?"

"Very easily!" she cried. "Oh, yes, yes, Tracy! Marry the girl!"

"If she will."

"Why, 'tis not like you to underrate your persuasive powers!"

His Grace's thin nostrils wrinkled up in a curious grimace.

"I believe one cannot force a girl to the altar," he said.

"Unless she is a fool, she'll have you."

"Her parent would be influenced by my dukedom, but she, no. Not even if
she knew of it."

"Does she not know?"

"Certainly not. I am Mr. Everard."

"How wise of you, Tracy! So you've nought to fear?"

"Fear?" He snapped his fingers. "I?"

The heavy curtain swung noiselessly aside. Richard Carstares stood in
the opening.

Tracy turned his head and scrutinised him languidly. Then he put up his
hand and removed his mask.

"Is it possible the husband scented an intrigue? It seems I am doomed to
disappoint to-night."

Lavinia, smarting from her morning's wrongs, laughed savagely.

"More probable he mistook me for someone else!" she snapped.

Richard bowed, his hand on the curtain. He had shown no surprise at
seeing the Duke.

"Far more probable, my dear. I thought you Lady Charlwood! Pray give me
leave." He was gone on the word.

Tracy replaced his mask, chuckling.

"Honest Dick grows cold, eh? But what a snub, Lavinia!"

Her little hand clenched.

"Oh, how dare he! How dare he insult me so?"

"My dear sister, in all justice to him, you must admit the boot was
rather on the other leg."

"Oh, I know--I know! But he is so provoking!--so jealous!--so
unreasonable!"

"Jealous? And why?"

With an impatient twitch at her petticoat she made answer, not looking
at him.

"Oh, I do not know! Nor he! Take me back to the ball-room."

"Certainly, my dear." He rose and led her out. "I shall do myself the
honour of waiting on you--to-morrow."

"Yes? How delightful 'twill be! Come to dine, Tracy! Richard is promised
to the Fortescues."

"In that case, I have much pleasure in accepting your invitation.... In
heaven's name, who is this?"

Lovelace was bearing down upon them.

"Lavinia! I have been seeking you everywhere!--ah--your servant, sir!"
He bowed to his Grace, and took Lavinia's hand.

"Oh--oh, Harold!--you remember Tracy?" she said nervously.

"Tracy! I did not know you masked! I saw you last in Paris."

"Really? I regret I was not aware of your presence. It is a good many
years since I had the honour of seeing you."

"Five," nodded Lovelace, and sent a smiling, amorous glance at Lavinia.

"Exactly," bowed his Grace. "You have, I perceive, renewed your
acquaintance with my sister."

When they were gone he caressed his chin, thoughtfully.

"Lovelace ... and Richard is so jealous, so unreasonable. Now I do hope
Lavinia will do nothing indiscreet--Yes, Frank, I was talking to myself;
a bad habit."

Fortescue, who had come up behind him, took his arm.

"A sign of lunacy, my dear. Jim Cavendish demands you."

"Does he? May I ask why?"

"He is in the card-room. There is some bet on, I believe."

"In that case I shall have to go. You had best accompany me, Frank."

"Very well. You have seen Lady Lavinia?"

Beneath the mask his Grace's eyes narrowed.

"I have seen Lavinia. Also I have seen an old friend--Lovelace by name."

"The captain with the full-bottomed wig? Your friend, you say?"

"Did I say so? I should correct myself: a friend of my sister's."

"Indeed? Yes, I believe I have seen him in her company."

Tracy smiled enigmatically.

"I daresay."

"And what of you, Tracy?"

"Well? _What_ of me?"

"You told me this morning that you had at last fallen in love. It is
true? You are honestly in love?"

"Honestly? How do I know? I only know that I have felt this passion for
four months, and now it is stronger than ever. It sounds like love."

"Then, an she is a good woman, I hope she will consent to take you, such
as you are, and make of you such as she can!"

"Now that is very neat, Frank. I congratulate you. Of course she will
take me; as to the rest--I think not."

"Tare an' ouns, Tracy! but an that is the tone you take with her, she'll
have none of you!"

"I have never found it unsuccessful."

"With your common trollops, no! But if your Diana is a lady, she will
dispatch you about your business! Woo her, man! Forget your own damned
importance, for I think you will need to humble yourself to the dust if
all that you tell me has passed between you is true!"

They had paused outside the card-room. A curtain shut it off from the
ball-room, and with his hand on it, Tracy stared arrogantly down at his
friend.

"Humble myself? 'Fore Gad, you must be mad!"

"Belike I am; but I tell you, Tracy, that if your passion is love, 'tis
a strange one that puts yourself first. I would not give the snap of a
finger for it! You want this girl, not for her happiness, but for your
own pleasure. That is not the love I once told you would save you from
yourself. When it comes, you will count yourself as nought; you will
realise your own insignificance, and above all, be ready to make any
sacrifice for her sake. Yes, even to the point of losing her!"

His Grace's lips sneered.

"Your eloquence is marvellous," he remarked. "I have not been so amused
since I left Paris."



CHAPTER XX

HIS GRACE OF ANDOVER TAKES A HAND IN THE GAME


When the Duke of Andover dined next day at Grosvenor Square, he
contrived, by subtle means, to make his sister feel inexplicably ill at
ease. He let fall pleasant little remarks concerning her friendship with
Captain Lovelace, in which she read disapproval and a sinister warning.
She was afraid of him, as she was not of her husband, and she knew that
if he ever guessed at the depths of her affection for the old flame, he
would take very effective measures towards stopping her intercourse with
him. It was, then, entirely owing to his return that she told Lovelace
that he must not so palpably adore her. Neither must he visit her so
frequently. They were both in her boudoir at the time, one morning, and
no doubt Lavinia looked very lovely and very tempting in her wrapper,
with her golden curls free from powder and loosely dressed beneath her
escalloped lace ruffle. At all events, Lovelace abandoned his daintily
bantering pose and seized her in his arms, nearly smothering her with
fierce, passionate caresses.

Her ladyship struggled, gave a faint shriek, and started to cry. As his
kisses seemed to aggravate her tears, he picked her up, and carrying her
to a chair, lowered her gently into it. Then, having first dusted the
floor with his handkerchief, he knelt down beside her and possessed
himself of both her hands.

"Lavinia! Goddess! I adore you!"

Bethinking herself that tears were ruinous to her complexion, Lady
Lavinia pulled her hands away and dabbed at her eyes.

"Oh, Harold!" she reproached him.

"I have offended you! Wretch that I am--"

"Oh, no, no!" Lady Lavinia gave him her hand again. "But 'twas wicked of
you, Harry! You must never, never do it again!"

His arm crept round her waist.

"But I love you, sweetheart!"

"Oh! Oh! Think of Dicky!"

He released her at that, and sprang to his feet.

"Why should I think of him? 'Tis of you and myself I think! Only a week
ago you vowed he was unkind--"

"You are monstrous wicked to remind me of that! We were both cross--and
then we were both sorry. I am very fond of poor Dicky."

"Fond of him! Ay, so you may be, but you do not love him! Not as a woman
loves a man--do you?"

"Harold!"

"Of course you do not! You used to love me--no, do not shake your head,
'tis true! You would have married me had it not been for Tracy."

"Oh, Harry! How can you say so? What had he to do with it?"

"What, indeed! Whose fault was it that I was time after time refused
admittance at Andover? Whose fault was it that you were induced to marry
Carstares?"

"Not Tracy's. 'Twas my own wish."

"Fostered by his influence?"

"Oh, no!"

"You never loved Carstares--"

"I did! I do!"

"You may think so, but I know better. Why, he is not even suited to you!
You were made for life and pleasure and hazard! With me you would have
had all that; with him--"

She had risen to her feet and drawn nearer to him, her eyes sparkling,
but now she covered her ears with her hands and stamped pettishly.

"I will not listen! I will not, I tell you! Oh, you are unkind to plague
me so!"

Lovelace took her into his arms once more, and drawing down her hands,
kissed her again and again. She resisted, trying to thrust him off, but
she was crushed against him, and he would have kissed her again, had not
there come an interruption.

A knock fell on the door, and the footman announced:

"His Grace of Andover, m'lady!"

The guilty pair sprang apart in the nick of time, she fiery red, he
pale, but composed.

His Grace stood in the doorway, his quizzing glass raised inquiringly.
His eyes went swiftly from one to the other and widened. He bowed
elaborately.

"My dear Lavinia! Captain Lovelace, your very obedient!"

Lovelace returned the bow with much flourish.

"Your Grace!"

"Dear me, Tracy!" cried Lavinia, advancing. "What an unexpected visit!"

"I trust I have not arrived at an inopportune moment, my dear?"

"Oh, no!" she assured him. "I am quite charmed to see you! But at such
an early hour--! I confess, it quite astonishes me!" She brought him to
a chair, chattering like a child, and so innocent was his expression, so
smiling his attitude towards the Captain, that she imagined that he
suspected nothing, and had not noticed her blushes.

It was only when Lovelace had departed that she was undeceived. Then,
when his Grace moved to a chair opposite her, she saw that he was
frowning slightly.

"You--you are put out over something, Tracy?" she asked nervously.

The frown deepened.

"N-no. I am not 'put out.' I merely anticipate the sensation."

"I--I don't understand. What mean you?"

"At present, nothing."

"Tracy, please do not be mysterious! Are you like to be put out?"

"I trust not, Lavinia."

"But what annoys you?"

Instead of answering, he put a question:

"I hope you amused yourself well--last night, my dear sister?"

She flushed. Last night had been Lady Davenant's masquerade, to which
Lord Robert had conducted her. She had danced almost exclusively with
Lovelace the whole evening, but as they were both masked, she was rather
surprised at the question.

"I enjoyed myself quite tolerably, thank you. You were there?"

"No, Lavinia, I was not there."

"Then how do you kn--" She stopped in confusion, biting her lips. For an
instant she caught a glimpse of his eyes, piercing and cold.

"How do I know?" smoothly finished his Grace "One hears things, Lavinia.
Also--" he glanced round the room, "one sees things."

"I--I don't understand you!" she shot out, twisting the lace of her gown
with restless, uneasy fingers.

"No? Must I then be more explicit?"

"Yes! Yes! I should be glad!"

"Then let me beg of you, my dear Lavinia, that you will commit no
indiscretion."

Her cheeks flamed.

"You mean--"

"I mean that you have grown too friendly with Harold Lovelace."

"Well! What of it?"

His Grace put up his eye-glass, faintly astonished.

"What of it? Pray think a moment, Lavinia!"

"'Tis not likely that _I_ shall be the one to disgrace the name, Tracy!"

"I sincerely hope not. I give you my word I should do all in my power to
prevent any foolhardy action on your part. Pray do not forget it."

She sat silent, biting her lips.

"It is, my child, unwise to play with fire. Sooner or later one gets
burnt. And remember that your gallant captain has not one half of
Richard's wealth."

Up she sprang, kicking her skirts as she always did when angered.

"Money! money!--always money!" she cried. "I do not care one rap for it!
And Richard is not wealthy!"

"Richard is heir to wealth," replied his Grace calmly. "And even an you
are so impervious to its charms, I, my dear, am not. Richard is
extremely useful to me. I beg you will not leave him for any such mad
rake as Lovelace, who would be faithful to you for perhaps three months,
certainly not longer."

"Tracy, I will not have you speak to me like this! How dare you insult
me so? I have given you no cause! I did not say I had any desire to run
away with him--and he _would_ be faithful to me! He has been faithful
all these years!"

His Grace smiled provokingly.

"My dear--!"

"Oh, I know there have been episodes--indiscretions. Do you think I
count him the worse for that?"

"Evidently not."

"There has never been another serious love with him! I hate you!"

"You are overfree with your emotions, my dear. So you do indeed
contemplate an elopement?"

"No, no, no! I do not! I am _fond_ of Dicky!"

"Dear me!"

"Of course I shall not leave him!"

"Why then, I am satisfied," he answered, and rose to his feet. "I shall
look to see Captain Lovelace more out of your company." He picked up his
hat and cane and stood directly in front of her. One dead white hand, on
which blazed a great ruby seal ring, took her little pointed chin in a
firm clasp and tilted her head up until she was forced to meet his eyes.
They held hers inexorably, scorchingly.

"You understand me?" he asked harshly.

Lavinia's eyes filled with tears and her soft underlip trembled.

"Yes," she fluttered, and gave a tiny sob. "Oh, yes, Tracy!"

The eyes lost something of their menacing gleam, and he smiled, for once
without a sneer, and releasing her chin, patted her cheek indulgently.

"Bear in mind, child, that I am fifteen years your senior, and I have
more worldly wisdom in my little finger than you have in the whole of
your composition. I do not wish to witness your ruin."

The tears brimmed over, and she caught his handkerchief from him,
dabbing at her eyes with one heavily-laced corner.

"You do love me, Tracy?"

"In the recesses of my mind I believe I cherish some affection for you,"
he replied coolly, rescuing his handkerchief. "I used to class you with
your deplorable brothers, but I think perhaps I was wrong."

She gave an hysterical laugh.

"Tracy, how can you be so disagreeable? Lud! but I pity Diana an she
marries you!"

To her surprise he flushed a little.

"Diana, an she marries me, will have all that her heart could desire,"
he answered stiffly, and took his leave.

Once outside in the square he looked for a sedan, and not seeing one,
walked away towards Audley Street. He went quickly, but his progress was
somewhat retarded by two ladies, who, passing in their chairs down the
street, perceived him and beckoned him to their sides. Escaping
presently from them, he turned into Curzon Street, and from thence down
Half Moon Street, where he literally fell into the arms of Tom Wilding,
who had much to say on the subject of March's last bet with Edgecumbe.
His Grace affected interest, politely declined Wilding's proffered
escort, and hurried down into Piccadilly, walking eastwards towards St.
James's Square, where was the Andover town house. He was fated to be
again detained, for as he walked along Arlington Street, Mr. Walpole was
on the point of descending the steps of No. 5. He also had much to say
to his Grace. He had no idea that Belmanoir had returned from Paris. A
week ago he had arrived? Well, he, Walpole, had been out of town all the
week--at Twickenham. He hoped Bel. would honour him with his company at
the small card-party he was giving there on Thursday. George was coming,
and Dick Edgecumbe; he had asked March and Gilly Williams, but the Lord
knew whether both would be induced to appear! Bel. had heard of Gilly's
absurd jealousy? Wilding was promised, and Markham; several other
answers he was awaiting.

Andover accepted gracefully and parted from Mr. Walpole. He made the
rest of his journey in peace, and on arriving at his house, went
straight to the library, where sat a sleek, eminently
respectable-looking individual, dressed like a groom. He stood up as his
Grace entered, and bowed.

Belmanoir nodded shortly and sat down at his desk.

"I have work for you, Harper."

"Yes, sir--your Grace, I should say."

"Do you know Sussex?"

"Well, your Grace, I don't know as how--"

"_Do you know Sussex?_"

"No, your Grace--er--yes, your Grace! I should say, not well, your
Grace!"

"Have you heard of a place called Littledean?"

"No, s--your Grace."

"Midhurst?"

"Oh, yes, your Grace."

"Good. Littledean is seven miles west of it. You will find that
out--also an inn called, I think, 'The Pointing Finger.' There you will
lodge."

"Yes, your Grace, certainly."

"At a very little distance from there is a house--Horton House, where
lives a certain Mr. Beauleigh, with his sister and daughter. You are to
watch the comings and goings of these people with the utmost care.
Eventually you will become groom to Mr. Beauleigh."

"B-but, your Grace!" feebly protested the astonished Harper.

"You will approach their present groom, and you will insinuate that I,
Andover, am in need of a second groom. You will tell him that I pay
handsomely--treble what Mr. Beauleigh gives him. If I know human nature,
he will apply for the post. You then step in. If Mr. Beauleigh asks for
some recommendation, you are to refer him to Sir Hugh Grandison, White's
Chocolate House, St. James's Street. When you are engaged I will send
further instructions."

The man gaped, shut his mouth, and gaped again.

"Do you fully understand me?" asked Belmanoir calmly.

"Er--er--yes, your Grace!"

"Repeat what I have said, then."

Harper stumbled through it and mopped his brow unhappily.

"Very well. In addition, I pay you twice as much as Mr. Beauleigh gives
you, and, at the end, if you serve me well--fifty guineas. Are you
satisfied?"

Harper brightened considerably.

"Yes, your Grace! Thank you, sir!"

Tracy laid twenty guineas before him.

"That is for your expenses. Remember this: the sooner the thing is done,
the more certain are your fifty guineas. That is all. Have you any
questions to ask?"

Harper cudgelled his still dazed brain, and finding none, shook his
head.

"No, your Grace."

"Then you may go."

The man bowed himself out, clutching his guineas. He was comparatively a
newcomer in his Grace's service, and he was by no means accustomed to
the Duke's lightning method of conducting his affairs. He was not sure
that he quite appreciated it. But fifty guineas were fifty guineas.



CHAPTER XXI

MRS. FANSHAWE LIGHTS A FIRE AND O'HARA FANS THE FLAME


Richard Carstares very soon availed himself of Mrs. Fanshawe's
permission to call upon her, and duly put in an appearance at No. 16,
Mount Street. He found the house very tastefully appointed, the sister
elderly and good-natured, and the widow herself an excellent hostess.
The first time he called he was not the only visitor; two ladies whom he
did not know and a young cousin were already there, and later, a bowing
acquaintance, Mr. Standish, also arrived. Seeing that he would have no
opportunity to talk with the widow on the subject of his brother, he
very soon took his leave, promising to wait upon her again at no very
distant date. When, three days later, he again sent in his name and was
admitted, he found the lady alone, and was gratified to hear her order
the servant to deny her to all other visitors.

He bowed over her hand and hoped she was well.

Mrs. Fanshawe drew him down beside her on the settee.

"I am very well, Mr. Carstares. And you?"

"Also," he smiled, but his looks belied his words.

She told him so, laughing, and he pleaded a worried week.

"Well, sir, I presume you did not come to talk to me about your health,
but about my friend--eh?"

"I assure--"

"Remember, no vapid compliments!" she besought.

"Then, madam, yes. I want to hear about--Ferndale. You see, I--like
you--took a great interest in him."

She sent him a shrewd glance, and nodded.

"Of course. I will tell you all I know, Mr. Carstares, but it is not
very much, and maybe you will be disappointed. But I only knew him the
short time we were both in Vienna, and--he was not very communicative."

"Ah!--he did not confide in you, madam?"

"No. If one attempted to draw his confidence, he became a polite
iceberg."

"Nevertheless, madam, please tell me all that you know."

"It will not take long, I fear. I met him in '48 at Vienna, in the
Prater, where I was walking with my husband, who had come to Vienna for
his health. I chanced to let fall my reticule when Sir Anthony was
passing us, and he picked it up, speaking the most execrable German."
She smiled a little at the remembrance. "Mr. Fanshawe, who had the
greatest dislike for all foreigners, was overjoyed to hear the English
accent. He induced Sir Anthony to continue his walk with us, and
afterwards he called at our lodgings. I think he, too, was glad to meet
a fellow-countryman, for he came often, and once when I had been talking
with him for some time he let fall--what shall I say?--his reserve--his
guard--and told me that he had scarcely spoken his own language for four
years. Afterwards he seemed to regret having said even that much, and
turned the subject." She paused and looked up to see if her auditor was
interested.

"Yes, yes?" urged Richard. "And then?"

"I do not remember. He came, as I said, often, mostly to talk to my
husband, who was a great invalid, but sometimes to see me. He would
hardly ever speak of England--I think he did not trust himself. He never
mentioned any relations or any English friends, and when I spoke of
home, he would shut his mouth very tightly, and look terribly sad. I
saw that for some reason the subject pained him, so I never spoke of it
if I could help it.

"He was a most entertaining companion, Mr. Carstares; he used to tell my
husband tales that made him laugh as I had not heard him laugh for
months. He was very lively, very witty, and almost finickingly well
dressed, but what his occupation was I could not quite ascertain. He
said he was a gentleman of leisure, but I do not think he was at all
wealthy. He frequented all the gaming houses, and I heard tales of his
marvellous luck, so one day I taxed him with it, and he laughed and said
he lived by Chance--he meant dice. Yet I know, for I once had
conversation with his servant, that his purse was at times very, very
slender."

"The time he aided you, Mrs. Fanshawe, when was that?"

She flushed.

"That was a few months after we first met him. I was--foolish; my
married life was not--very happy, and I was--or, rather, I fancied
myself--in love with an Austrian nobleman, who--who--well, sir, suffice
it that I consented to dine with him one evening. I found then that he
was not the _galant homme_ I had thought him, but something quite
different. I do not know what I should have done had not Sir Anthony
arrived."

"He did arrive then?"

"Yes. You see, he knew that this Austrian had asked me to dine--I told
him--and he counselled me to refuse. But I--well, sir, I have told you,
I was young and very foolish--I would not listen. When he called at our
house and found that I was out, he at once guessed where I had gone, and
he followed me to the Count's house, gave an Austrian name, and was
announced just as the Count tried to--tried to--kiss me. I think I shall
never forget the relief of that moment! He was so safe, and so English!
The Count was furious, and at first I thought he would have his lackeys
throw Anthony out. But when he heard all that Anthony had to say, he
realised that it was useless to try to detain me--and I was taken home.
Anthony was very kind--he did not scold, neither had he told my husband.
Two days after, he and the Count fought a duel, and the Count was
wounded in the lung. That was all. But it made me very grateful to him
and interested in his affairs. Mr. Fanshawe left Vienna a few weeks
after that, and I have never seen my _preux chevalier_ since." She
sighed and looked steadily across at Carstares. "And you--you are so
like him!"

"You think so, madam?" was all he could find to say.

"I do, sir. And something more, which, perhaps, you will deem an
impertinence. Is Anthony your brother?"

The suddenness of the attack threw Carstares off his guard. He went
white.

"Madam!"

"Please be not afraid that mine is the proverbial woman's tongue, sir.
It does not run away with me, I assure you. When I saw you the other
night for the first time, I was struck by the resemblance, and I asked
my partner, Mr. Stapely, who you were. He told me, and much more beside,
which I was not at the time desirous of hearing."

"Trust Will Stapely!" exclaimed Richard, and mentally cursed the amiable
gossip-monger.

"Among other things he told me of your elder brother-who--who--in fact,
he told me the whole story. Of course, my mind instantly leapt to my
poor Sir Anthony, despite that in appearance he is younger than you. Was
I right?"

Richard rose to his feet and walked away to the window, standing with
his back to her.

"Ay!"

"I was sure of it," she nodded. "So that was why he would not speak of
England? Poor boy!"

Richard's soul writhed under the lash of her pity.

"So he will always be outcast," she continued. "Alone, unhappy, without
friends--"

"No!" he cried, turning. "'Fore Gad, no, madam!"

"Will society--cruel, hard society--receive him, then?" she asked.

"Society will--one day--receive him, Mrs. Fanshawe. You will see."

"I long for that day," she sighed. "I wish I had it in my power to help
him--to repay in part the debt I owe him."

At that he lifted his head.

"My brother, madam, would count it not a debt, but an honour," he
answered proudly.

"Yes," she smiled. "You are like him; when you speak like that you might
almost be he."

"He is worth a thousand of me, Mrs. Fanshawe!" he replied vehemently,
and broke off, staring down at the table.

"And his name?" she asked softly.

"John Anthony St. Ervine Delaney Carstares," he said, "Earl of Wyncham."

"So the Anthony was real! I am so glad, for he would always be Anthony
to me."

There was a long silence, broken at last by the lady.

"I fear I have made you sad, Mr. Carstares. You will drink a dish of
Bohea with me, before you go? And we will not speak of this again."

"You are very good, madam. Believe me, I am grateful to you for telling
me all that you have. I beg you will allow me to wait on you again ere
long?"

"I shall be honoured, sir. I am nearly always at home to my friends."

Her sister entered the room soon after, and private conversation came to
an end.

Carstares lay awake long that night, hearing the hours toll by and the
owls screech in the square. The widow's words had sunk deep into his
ever-uneasy conscience, and he could not sleep for the thought of John,
"alone, unhappy, without friends." ... Time after time had he argued
this question with himself: John or Lavinia? ... He fell to wondering
where his brother now was; whether he was still roaming the South
Country, a highwayman. No one would ever know how he, Richard, dreaded
each fresh capture made by the military. Every time he expected John to
be among the prisoners, and he visited Newgate so often that his friends
twitted him on it, vowing he had Selwyn's love of horrors.

He would argue that the matter rested in John's own hands: if he were
minded to come back to society, he would do so; but deep within himself
he knew that such a decision was unworthy of one even so debased as was
he. Then his mind went to Lavinia, who alternately enchanted and
exasperated him. Only a week ago she had defied him openly in the matter
of her friendship with Lovelace, yet had she not afterwards apologised,
and thrust the Captain aside for his sake? She was so sweetly naughty,
so childishly unreasonable. Selfish? Yes, he supposed so, but he loved
her!--loved her so greatly that it were a pleasure to him to die for her
sake. Yet John--John was his brother--the adored elder brother, and by
obeying Lavinia he was wronging him, hurting him. If only Lavinia would
consent to the truth being told! It always came back to that point: if
only she would consent. And she never would. She insisted that, having
married her under false pretences, he had no right to disgrace her now.
She was right, he knew, but he wished she could be for once unselfish.

So he worried on through the night, tossing to and fro in his great bed,
a weight on his mind, a ceaseless ache in his heart.

Towards dawn he fell asleep and did not wake again until his chocolate
was brought to him. Bitterly he reflected that at least John had no
conscience to prey upon him; he did not fall asleep with his brain
seething with conflicting arguments, and awake with the decision as far
off as ever. To-day his head ached unbearably, and he stayed in bed for
some time contemplating the grey morning. A fog hung over the Square,
and through it the trees, with their withered autumn leaves, loomed
dismally before the windows. There was something infinitely depressing
about the dull outlook, and presently he rose and allowed his valet to
dress him, not able to stand the inaction any longer. His headache was
better by the time he had visited his wife in her room, and listened to
her enthusiastic account of last night's rout, and, going out into the
square, he called a chair, ordering the men to carry him to White's,
where he intended to write two letters. Somehow, Wyncham House was too
poignantly full of memories of John to-day, and he was thankful to be
out of it.

White's was crowded even at that hour of the morning, and the noise
seemed to cut through his head. Men hailed him from all sides, offering
him bets; someone tried to tell him some piece of scandal; they would
not let him alone, and at last his jagged nerves would no longer support
it, and he left the house to go further down the street to his other
club, the Cocoa-Tree, which he hoped to find less rowdy. It was fuller
than he expected, but many of the men had come as he had, to write
letters and to be quiet. Very little gaming was as yet in swing.

Richard wrote steadily for perhaps an hour, and sealed his last letter
preparatory to leaving. As he affixed the wafer, he was conscious of a
stir behind him, and heard exclamations of:

"Where in thunder did you spring from?"

"Gad, 'tis an age since I've seen you!"

"Lord, 'tis O'Hara!"

Then came the soft Irish voice in answer, and he slewed round in his
chair to face them all. Miles O'Hara was the centre of a little group of
interested and welcoming clubmen, explaining his arrival.

"Sure, I was in town on a matter of business, and I thought I must come
to the club to see ye all while I was here, for 'tis not often I get the
chance--"

Richard rose, gathering up his letters and stared across at this man who
had been Jack's greatest friend. He took a step towards him. As he did
so, O'Hara turned and caught sight of him. Richard was about to hail
him, when he suddenly noticed the change in his expression. The good
humour died out of the Irishman's eyes and left them hard and scornful.
His pleasant mouth curved into a disdainful line. Carstares stood still,
one hand on the back of a chair, his eyes rivetted to O'Hara's face,
reading all the reproach, the red-hot anger that Miles was trying to
convey to him. O'Hara achieved a sneer and turned his shoulder,
continuing to address his friends.

Richard's head swam. O'Hara was ignoring him, would not speak to him....
O'Hara knew the truth! He walked blindly to the door, and groped for the
handle.... O'Hara knew! He was in the passage, on the front steps, in
the road, shuddering. O'Hara knew, and he had looked at him as if--as
if--again he shuddered, and seeing an empty chair, hailed it, bidding
the men carry him to Grosvenor Square.... O'Hara despised
him!--reproached him! Then Jack was in trouble? He had seen him and
learnt the truth? God, but his brain was reeling! ...



CHAPTER XXII

DEVELOPMENTS


After the encounter with O'Hara, whatever peace of mind Richard had had,
left him. He knew not a moment's quiet; all day, and sometimes all
night, his brain worried round and round the everlasting question: John
or Lavinia? He had quite decided that it must be either the one or the
other; the idea that he might conceivably retain his wife _and_ confess
the truth, never occurred to him. So often had Lavinia assured him that
he had no right to expect her to share his disgrace, that now he
believed it. He thought that she would elope with Lovelace, whom, his
tortured mind decided, she really loved. Any attempt to frustrate such
an action would, he supposed wretchedly, be the essence of selfishness.
Of course he was not himself, and his brain was not working normally or
rationally; had he but known it, he was mentally ill, and if Lavinia had
thought to examine him closely she could not have failed to observe the
fever spots on each cheek, the unnaturally bright eyes and the dark
rings encircling them. Richard wore the look of one goaded beyond
endurance, and utterly tired and overwrought. As he told Mrs. Fanshawe,
when she exclaimed at his appearance--he could not rest; he must always
be moving, thinking. She saw that he was not entirely himself, and
counselled him to consult a doctor. His half-angry repudiation of all
illness did not surprise her, but she was considerably startled when, in
answer to her pleading that he should have a care for himself, he
vehemently said: "If I could die, I should be glad!" She wondered what
his wife was about not to see his condition, and wished that she might
do something. But she was not acquainted with Lady Lavinia, and she
felt it would be a piece of gross presumption on her part to speak to
her of Richard. If she had thought his malady to be physical, she
reflected, she might venture a word, but as she perceived it to be
mental, she could only hope that it would pass in time, and that he
would recover from his run-down condition.

Lady Lavinia was pursuing her butterfly existence, heeding nothing but
her own pleasure, bent on enjoying herself. She succeeded very well, on
the whole, but she could not help wishing that Dicky were a little more
cheerful and wishful to join in her gaiety. Of late he was worse than
ever, and although he supplied her wants uncomplainingly, she would
almost rather he had refused her and shown a little life, than give way
to her with this dreadful apathy.

Lovelace was out of town for a week, and Lavinia was surprised to find
how little she missed him. To be sure, playing with fire was very
pleasant, but when it was removed out of her reach, it really made no
odds. She missed Harry's adulation and his passionate love-making, for
she was one of those women who must always have admiration and
excitement, but she was not made miserable by his absence. She continued
to flutter round to all the entertainments of the season with one or
other of her brothers, and when Lovelace returned he was disturbed by
her casual welcome. However, she was undoubtedly pleased to see him, and
soon fell more or less under his spell, allowing him to be by her side
when Tracy was not near, and to charm her ears with compliments and
gallantry.

To do him justice, Captain Harold was really in love with her and was
quite ready to relinquish his commission if only she would run away with
him. He had private means of his own, and promised her that her every
whim should be satisfied. But Lavinia scolded him and shook her head.
Apart from any ulterior consideration, Richard was, after all, her
husband; he, too, loved her, and she was very, very fond of him,
although she did plague him dreadfully.

Lovelace assured her that her husband did not love her nearly as much as
he, and when she smiled her disbelief, lost his temper and cried that
all the town knew Carstares to be at Mrs. Fanshawe's feet!

Lavinia stiffened.

"Harold!"

"I am only surprised that you have been blind to it," he continued.
"Where do you think he goes every day for so long? White's? No. To 16,
Mount Street! Stapely called there and met him; another day Lady
Davenant saw him with her; Wilding has also met him at her house. He
spends nearly every afternoon with her!"

Lavinia was a Belmanoir, and she had all the Belmanoir pride. Rising to
her feet she drew her cloak about her with her most queenly air.

"You forget yourself, Harold," she said haughtily. "Never dare to speak
to me of my husband again in that tone! You may take me at once to my
brother."

He was very penitent, wording his apology most cleverly, smoothing her
ruffled plumage, withdrawing his words, but at the same time contriving
to leave their sting behind. She forgave him, yes, but he must never
offend her so again.

Although she had indignantly refused to believe the scandal, it
nevertheless rankled, and she found herself watching her husband with
jealous eyes, noticing his seeming indifference towards her and his
many absences from home. Then came a day when she caused her chair to be
borne down Mount Street at the very moment when Richard was coming out
of No. 16.

That was enough for Lavinia. So he was indeed tired of her! He loved
another woman!--some wretched widow! For the first time a real worry
plagued her. She stayed at home that evening and exerted all her arts to
captivate her husband. But Richard, seeing John unhappy, reproachful,
every way he turned, his head on fire, his brain seething with
conflicting arguments, hardly noticed her, and as soon as he might
politely do so, left her, to pace up and down the library floor, trying
to make up his mind what to do.

Lady Lavinia was stricken with horror. She had sickened him by her
megrims, as Tracy had prophesied she would! He no longer cared for her!
_This_ was why he continually excused himself from accompanying her when
she went out! For once in her life she faced facts, and the prospect
alarmed her. If it was not already too late, she must try to win back
his love, and to do this she realised she must cease to tease him for
money, and also cease to snap at him whenever she felt at all out of
sorts. She must charm him back to her. She had no idea how much she
cared for him until now that she thought he did not care for her. It was
dreadful: she had always been so sure of Dicky! Whatever she did,
however exasperating she might be, he would always adore her.

And all the time, Richard, far from making love to Mrs. Fanshawe, was
hearing anecdotes of his brother from her, little details of his
appearance, things he had said. He drank in all the information,
clutching eagerly at each fresh scrap of gossip, greedy to hear it if it
in any way concerned John. His brain was absorbed with this one
subject, and he never saw when Lavinia smiled upon him, nor did he seem
to hear her coaxing speeches. When she remarked, as she presently did,
on his pallor, he almost snapped at her, and left the room. Once she put
her arms about him and kissed him on the lips; he put her gently aside,
too worried to respond to the caress, but, had she known it--grateful
for it.

His Grace of Andover meeting his sister at Ranelagh Gardens, thought her
face looked pinched, and her eyes unhappy. He inquired the reason, but
Lady Lavinia refused to confide even in him, and pleaded a headache.
Andover, knowing her, imagined that she had been refused some kickshaw,
and thought no more about it.

He himself was very busy. Only two days before a groom had presented
himself at St. James's Square, bearing a missive from Harper, very
illegible and ill-spelt, but to the point:

"YR. GRACE,

"I have took the liberty of engageing this Man, Douglas, in Yr. Name. I
hope I shall soon be Able to have carrid out the Rest of yr. Grace's
Instructions, and trust my Connduct will met with Yr. Grace's Approvall.

Very Obed'tly,

M. HARPER."

       *       *       *       *       *

Tracy confirmed the engagement and straightway dispatched the man to
Andover, where the head groom would undoubtedly find work for him to do.
He was amused at the blind way in which the man had walked into his
trap, and meditated cynically on the frailty of human nature, which
will always follow the great god Mammon.

Not three days later came another letter, this time from Mr. Beauleigh,
addressed to him at White's, under the name of Sir Hugh Grandison. It
asked for the man Harper's character.

His Grace of Andover answered it in the library of his own home, and
smiled sarcastically as he wrote Harper down "exceeding honest and
trustworthy, as I have always found."

He was in the middle of the letter when the door was unceremoniously
pushed open and Andrew lounged into the room.

His Grace looked up frowning. Not a whit dismayed by the coolness of his
reception, his brother kicked the door to and lowered his long limbs
into a chair.

"May I ask to what I owe the honour of this intrusion?" smiled Tracy
dangerously.

"Richard," was the cheerful reply, "Richard."

"As I am not interested in either him or his affairs--"

"How truly amiable you are to-day! But I think you'll be interested in
this, 'tis so vastly mysterious."

"Indeed? What is the matter?"

"Just what I want to know!"

Tracy sighed wearily.

"Pray come to the point, Andrew--if point there be. I have no time to
waste."

"Lord! Busy? Working? God ha' mercy!" The young rake stretched his legs
out before him and cast his eyes down their shapeliness. Then he
stiffened and sat up, staring at one white-stockinged ankle.

"Now, damn and curse it! where did that come from?" he expostulated
mildly.

"Where did _what_ come from?"

"That great splash of mud on my leg. Brand new on this morning, and I've
scarce set my nose without doors. Damn it, I say! A brand new--"

"Leg?"

"Hey? What's that you say?"

"Nought. When you have quite finished your eulogy, perhaps you would
consent to tell me your errand?"

"Oh, ay!--but twenty shillings the pair! Think of it! ... Well, the
point--there is one, you see--is this: it is Richard's desire that you
honour him with your presence at Wyncham on Friday week, at three in the
afternoon exactly. To which effect he sends you this." He tossed a
letter on to the desk. "You are like to have the felicity of meeting me
there."

Tracy ripped open the packet and spread the single sheet on the desk
before him. He read it through very deliberately, turned it over, as if
in search of more, re-read it, folded it, and dropped it into the
wastebasket at his side. He then picked up his quill and dipped it in
the ink again.

"What think you?" demanded Andrew, impatiently.

His Grace wrote tranquilly on to the end of the line.

"What think I of what?"

"Why, the letter, of course! What ails the man? 'Something of great
import to impart to us,' forsooth! What means he?"

"Yes, I noticed 'twas very badly worded," commented Tracy. "I have not
the vaguest notion as to his meaning."

"But what do you make of it? Lord, Tracy, don't be such a fish! Dick is
summoning quite a party!"

"You appear to be in his confidence, my dear Andrew. Allow me to
congratulate you. No doubt we shall know more--ah--on Friday week, at
three o'clock."

"Oh, you'll go, then?"

"Quite possibly." He went on writing unconcernedly.

"And you've no idea of what 'tis about? Dick is very strange. He hardly
listens to what one has to say, and fidget--Lord!"

"Ah!"

"I think he looks ill, an' 'pon my soul, so does Lavvy! Do you suppose
there is aught amiss?"

"I really have no idea. Pray do not let me detain you."

Andrew hoisted himself out of his chair.

"Oh, I'm not staying, never fear! ... I suppose you cannot oblige me
with--say--fifty guineas?"

"I should be loth to upset your suppositions," replied his Grace
sweetly.

"You will not? Well, I didn't think you would somehow! But I wish you
might contrive to let me have it, Tracy. I've had prodigious ill-luck of
late, and the Lord knows 'tis not much I get from you! I don't want to
ask Dick again."

"I should not let the performance grow monotonous, certainly," agreed
the other. "Fifty, you said?"

"Forty-five would suffice."

"Oh, you may have it!" shrugged his Grace. "At once?"

"Blister me, but that's devilish good of you, Tracy! At once would be
convenient to _me_!"

His Grace produced a key from his vest pocket and unlocked a drawer in
the desk. From it he took a small box. He counted out fifty guineas, and
added another to the pile. Andrew stared at it.

"What's that for?" he inquired.

"The stockings," replied Tracy, with a ghost of a smile. Andrew burst
out laughing.

"That's good! Gad! but you're devilish amusing, 'pon rep. you are!" He
thanked his Grace profusely and gathering up the money, left the room.

Outside he gave vent to a low whistle of astonishment. "Tare an' ouns!
he must be monstrous well-pleased over something!" he marvelled. "I
shall awaken soon, I doubt not." He chuckled a little as he descended
the staircase, but his face was full of wonderment.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lovelace called nearly every day at Wyncham House, but was always
refused admittance, as Lady Lavinia deemed it prudent not to see him.
There came a day, however, when he would not be gainsaid, and was
ushered into her drawing-room. He kissed her hands lingeringly, holding
them for a long while in his.

"Lavinia! Cruel fair one!"

She drew her hands away, not too well pleased at his intrusion.

"How silly, Harold! I cannot have you tease me every day!"

She allowed him to sit by her on the window seat, and he again possessed
himself of her hands. Did she love him? She hoped he was not going to be
foolish. Of course not. He did not believe her, and started to plead his
suit, imploring her to come away with him. In vain Lady Lavinia begged
him to be quiet; she had stirred up a blaze, and it threatened to
consume her. He was so insistent that, expecting Richard at any moment,
and terrified lest there should be a disturbance, she promised to give
him an answer next evening, at the theatre. She managed to be rid of him
in this way, and, with a relieved sigh, watched him walk down the
square. She was very fond of dear Harry, but really, he was dreadfully
tiresome at times.

She brought her tiny mirror out from her pocket and surveyed her
reflection critically, giving a tweak to one curl, and smoothing another
back. She was afraid she was looking rather old this evening, and hoped
that Richard would not think so. She glanced up at the clock, wondering
where he was; surely he should be in by now? Then she arranged a chair
invitingly, pushed a stool up to it and sat down opposite. With a sigh,
she reflected that it was an entirely new departure for her to strive to
please and captivate her husband, and she fell a-thinking of how he must
have waited on her in the old days, waiting as she was waiting
now--hoping for her arrival. Lady Lavinia was beginning to realise that
perhaps Dick's life had not been all roses with her as wife.

The door opened and Richard came into the room. Deep lines were between
his brows, but his mouth was for once set firmly. He looked sombrely
down at her, thinking how very beautiful she was.

Lady Lavinia smiled and nodded towards the chair she had prepared.

"Sit down, Dicky! I am so glad you have come! I was monstrous dull and
lonely, I assure you!"

"Were you?" he said, fidgeting with her scissors. "No, I will not sit
down. I have something to say to you, Lavinia. Something to tell you."

"Oh, _have_ you?" she asked. "Something nice, Dicky?"

"I fear you will hardly think so. I am about to make an end."

"Oh--oh, are you? Of _what_?"

"Of this--this deceitful life I am leading--have been leading. I--I--I
am going to confess the whole truth."

"Rich-ard!"

He let fall the scissors and paced restlessly away down the room.

"I--I tell you, Lavinia, I cannot endure it! I cannot! I cannot! The
thought of what John may be bearing is driving me crazy! I must speak!"

"You--you can't!" she gasped. "After seven years! Dicky, for heaven's
sake--!" The colour ebbed and flowed in her cheeks.

"I cannot continue any longer this living of a lie--I have been feeling
it more and more ever since--ever since I met--Jack--that time on the
road. And now I can no longer stand it. Everywhere I go I seem to see
him--looking at me--you don't understand--"

Lavinia cast aside her work.

"No! No! I do not! 'Pon rep., but you should have thought of this
before, Dick!"

"I know it. Nothing can excuse my cowardice--my weakness. I know all
that, but it is not too late even now to make amends. In a week they
will all know the truth."

"What--what do you mean?"

"I have requested all whom it concerns to come to Wyncham the Friday
after this."

"Good heavens! Dick, Dick, _think_!"

"I have thought. God! _how_ I have thought!"

"It is not fair to me! Oh, think of your honour--Wyncham!"

"My honour is less than nothing. 'Tis of his that I think."

She sprang up, clutching at his arm, shaking him.

"Richard, you are mad! You must not do this! You must not, I say!"

"I implore you, Lavinia, not to try to make me change my decision. It is
of no use. Nothing you can say will make any difference."

She flew into a passion, flinging away from him, her good resolutions
forgotten.

"You have no right to disgrace me! If you do it, I will never forgive
you! I won't stay with you--I--"

He broke in--this was what he had expected; he must not whine; this was
retribution.

"I know. I have faced that."

She was breathless for a moment. He knew! He had faced it! He had taken
her seriously--he always expected her to leave him! Oh, he must indeed
be tired of her, and wanted her to go! What was he saying?

"I know that you love Lovelace. I--I have known it for some time."

Lavinia sank into the nearest chair. To what depths had her folly led
her?

"I shall put no obstacle in the way of your flight, of course...."

This was dreadful! Lady Lavinia buried her face in her hands and burst
into tears. It was true then--he did not love her--he loved Mrs.
Fanshawe--_she_ was to elope. She sobbed pitifully as the full horror of
the situation struck her.

The temptation to gather her into his arms almost overmastered Richard,
but he managed to choke it down. If he allowed himself to kiss her, she
would try to break his resolution--mayhap, she would succeed. So he
looked away from her, tortured by the sound of her crying.

Lavinia wept on, longing to feel his arms about her, ready to consent to
anything if only he would show that he loved her. But when he made no
movement towards her, pride came back, and flicking her handkerchief
across her eyes, she rose to her feet.

"You are cruel!--cruel!--cruel! If you do this thing I _shall_ leave
you!"

Now surely he would say something--contradict her!

With an immense effort, Richard controlled himself.

"I am--sorry--Lavinia," he said in a queer, constrained voice.

It was of no avail. She had killed his love, and he was longing to be
rid of her. She walked to the door, and turned.

"I see that you do not love me," she said, with deadly calmness. "I
understand perfectly." Then, as she wrenched the handle round: "I hate
you!" she cried, and fled, her silken skirts rustling furiously down the
corridor. A door slammed in the distance, and there was silence.

Carstares stood very still, staring down at her crumpled broidery.
Presently he stooped to pick it up, and her violet scent was wafted up
to him. He carried it to his lips, passionately.

If Lavinia had been able to see him, it would have changed the whole
state of affairs; as it was she locked herself into her room and
continued her cry in private. When she had no more tears to shed, she
sat up and tried to think that she wanted to elope. Harold would be very
good to her, she was sure, and she would doubtless lead a very exciting
life, but--somehow the more she thought of it, the less she wanted to
elope. Then she remembered that Dicky--why had she never realised how
much she cared for him?--was in love with some horrid widow, and did not
want her to remain with him. The idea was not to be borne, she was not
going to be the unwanted wife. She would have to go away, though not
with Lovelace. Dicky should _not_ force her to elope with another man.
She would go somewhere alone--she had forgotten--she had no money. The
dowry that had been hers was spent years ago. She was utterly dependent
on her husband. That settled it: she _must_ elope with Harry!

"Oh, was anyone ever so beset!" she sobbed as her misery swept in upon
her with full force. "Why should I run away if I don't want to?"



CHAPTER XXIII

LADY LAVINIA GOES TO THE PLAY


Richard was away from home all next day, and his wife had plenty of time
in which to meditate upon her situation. She had quite come to the
conclusion that she must elope with Lovelace, and was only waiting for
to-night to tell him so. She would never, never ask Richard to let her
stay with him now that she knew he loved another. Truly a most trying
predicament. The Carstares were going to-night to Drury Lane to see
Garrick play one of his most successful comedies: the _Beaux'
Stratagem_. The _monde_ that would flock to see the inimitable Archer
was likely to be a very distinguished one, especially as the cast held
the added attraction of Mrs. Clive, and ordinarily Lady Lavinia would
have looked forward with much excitement to seeing the piece. To-day,
however, she felt that she would far rather go to bed and cry. But
Lovelace had to be answered, and besides that, she had invited two
cousins, new come from Scotland, to accompany her, and she could not
fail them.

So that evening saw her seated in her box, wonderfully gowned as usual,
scanning the house. Behind her stood her husband--when she thought that
this was the last time she would ever go with him to the theatre she had
much ado to keep from bursting into tears before them all--and in the
chair at her side was the cousin, Mrs. Fleming. Mr. Fleming stood with
his hands behind his back, exclaiming every now and then as his kinsman,
young Charles Holt, pointed out each newcomer of note. He was a short,
tubby little man, dressed in sober brown, very neat as regards his
wrists and neckband, but attired, so thought Lavinia, for the country,
and not for town. His dark suit contrasted strangely with Mr. Holt's
rather garish mixture of apple-green and pink, with waistcoat of yellow,
and Richard's quieter, but far more handsome apricot and silver. His
wig, too, was not at all modish, being of the scratch type that country
gentlemen affected. His wife was the reverse of smart, but she was loud
in her admiration of her more affluent cousin's stiff silks and laces.

She had married beneath her, had Mrs. Fleming, and the Belmanoirs had
never quite forgiven the shocking _mesalliance_. William Fleming was
nought but a simple Scotsman, whose father--even now the family
shuddered at the thought--had been a farmer!

Lavinia was not over-pleased that they should have elected to visit
London, and still less pleased that they should evince such an affection
for the Hon. Richard and his wife.

"Well, to be sure, Lavvy, 'tis pleasant to sit here and admire all the
people!" exclaimed Mrs. Fleming, for perhaps the twentieth time. "I
declare I am grown positively old-fashioned from having lived for so
long in the country!--yes, my dear, positively old-fashioned! ... I
cannot but marvel at the great hoops everyone is wearing! I am sure mine
is not half the size of yours, and the lady down there in the stage-box
has one even larger!"

Lavinia directed her gaze towards the box in question. At any other time
she would have been annoyed to see that the occupant was Lady Carlyle,
her pet rival in all matters of fashion. Now she felt that nothing
signified, and merely remarked that she considered those absurd garlands
of roses on the dress quite grotesque.

Behind, Holt was directing Mr. Fleming's attention to a box at the back
of the house.

"'Pon my soul, William! 'Tis the Duchess of Queensberry and her
son--March, you know. I assure you there is no one more amiable in town.
When I last visited her--"

"Charles knows well-nigh everyone here," remarked Mrs. Fleming
ingenuously, and wondered why her cousin laughed.

When the curtain rose on the first act, Lovelace was nowhere to be seen,
and Lavinia tried to interest herself in the play. But it is difficult
to be interested in anything when one's whole mind is occupied with
something else far more overwhelming. She was not the only one of the
party that Garrick failed to amuse. Richard sat wretchedly in the shadow
of the box, thinking how, in a short while, he would never again conduct
his wife to the theatre and never again sit at her side watching her
every change of expression.

In the first interval Lovelace had still not arrived, but many other
acquaintances had arrived and called to see the Carstares. Markham,
Wilding, Devereux, Sir John Fortescue--all came into the box at
different times, paid homage to Lavinia, were introduced to Mrs.
Fleming, laughed and cracked jokes with the men, and drifted away again.

How was it she had never before realised how much she enjoyed her life?
wondered Lavinia. She settled down to listen to the second act, and
Garrick's skill caught her interest and held it. For a moment she forgot
her woes and clapped as heartily as anyone, laughing as gaily.

The next instant she remembered again, and sank back into unutterable
gloom.

But Richard had heard her merry laugh, and his heart was even gloomier
than hers. There was no help for it: Lavinia was delighted at the
thought of leaving him.

As the curtain fell, Mrs. Fleming suddenly demanded if it was not Tracy
seated in the box over on the other side. Lavinia turned to look. In the
box, alone, sat his Grace, seemingly unaware of her presence.

"Is it not Tracy?" persisted Mrs. Fleming. "I remember his face so
well."

"Yes," nodded Lavinia, and waved to him.

Andover rose, bowed, and left his box. In a few moments he was in their
own, kissing his cousin's hand.

Lavinia now caught sight of Lovelace standing on the floor of the
theatre looking up at her. He, too, disappeared from view, and she
guessed that he was coming to speak with her. He had evidently failed to
perceive the Duke, who was just a little behind her in the shadow.

Richard and Mr. Fleming had left the box, and only Charles Holt
remained, engaging Mrs. Fleming's whole attention. If only Tracy would
go! How was she ever to give Lovelace her answer with him sitting there
so provokingly.

Captain Lovelace knocked at the door. Carelessly she bade him enter, and
affected surprise on seeing him. His Grace looked at her through
narrowed lids, and shot a swift glance at Lovelace, whose discomfiture
at finding him there was palpable. Not a trace of emotion was visible on
that impassive countenance, but Lavinia felt her brother's attitude to
be sinister, as if he divined her wishes and was determined to frustrate
them. She watched him smile on Lovelace and beg him to be seated.
Whether by accident or design, she was not sure which, he had so placed
the chairs that he himself was between her and the captain. Skilfully
he drew Mrs. Fleming into the conversation, and rearranged his stage.

Lavinia found herself listening to the amiable Mr. Holt, and out of the
tail of her eye observed that Lovelace had fallen a victim to her
cousin. She could find no way of speaking to him, and dared not even
signal, so adroitly was his Grace stage-managing the scene. Lavinia was
now quite certain that he was managing it. Somehow he had guessed that
she had arranged to speak to Lovelace to-night, and was determined to
prevent her. How he had found out, she could not imagine, but she was
too well acquainted with him to be surprised. He would never let her
disgrace herself if he could help it--she knew that. In whatever manner
he himself might behave, his sister's conduct must be above reproach; he
would find some means of separating them until he could cause Lovelace
to be removed. She did not in the least know how he would contrive to do
this, but she never doubted that he could and would. And then she would
have to stay with Richard--Richard, who did not want her. If only Tracy
would go! Ah! he was rising!

His Grace of Andover begged Captain Lovelace to bear him company in his
box. He would brook no refusal. He bore his captive off in triumph.

A minute later Mr. Fleming re-entered the box. The third act had just
begun when Richard re-appeared, and softly took his seat. On went the
play. Neither Tracy nor Lovelace came to the box during the next
interval, and from her point of vantage Lavinia could see that Andrew
had been introduced to the latter. She could guess how cleverly his
Grace was keeping the Captain by him....

Lord Avon, who had only a week ago returned from Bath, came to pay his
respects. He had much to tell dear Lady Lavinia. How Cholmondely and
Falmouth had dared to fight a duel in Crescent Fields, and had been
arrested. How furious the Beau was, but how his age was beginning to
tell on him, and how it was whispered that his power was waning. All of
which at any ordinary time would have interested my lady quite
prodigiously, but now bored and even annoyed her.

On went the play. Scrub and Boniface kept the house in a roar; all but
Richard and his wife were enthralled. The incomparable Kitty failed to
hold Lavinia's attention. Would Lovelace manage to speak to her in the
last interval? A solicitous enquiry from Mrs. Fleming roused her, and
she had perforce to smile--to own to a slight headache, and to evince
some interest in the play. One more interval: would he come? She became
aware of a hand laid on her shoulder. Richard's voice, gravely
courteous, sounded in her ears.

"You are heated, my dear. Will you walk outside a little?"

She felt a mad desire to cling to his hand, and suppressed it forcibly.
She rose, hesitating. Mrs. Fleming decided the point.

"The very thing. How considerate of you, Mr. Carstares! I shall like to
walk amongst all the people, to be sure! Here is Charles offering to
escort us, too! What say you, Lavvy?"

"I--oh, I shall be pleased to do what suits you best, cousin," she
answered.

"Then let us go, my love. Charles has an arm for each, so we may leave
our husbands to chat."

They went out into the broad passage and walked towards the foyer. There
Lord March espied Lavinia, who was always a favourite with him, and came
forward, offering his arm. Lavinia took it, thankful to escape from Mr.
Holt's vapid conversation. She let March conduct her to where his mother
was sitting, with Mr. Selwyn at her elbow. Someone fetched her a glass
of ratafie, and Montagu came to talk to her.

Stepping out of his box, Richard fell into the arms of his Grace of
Andover.

"Ah! Dick!"

Richard eyed him coldly.

"You wanted me?"

Tracy saw Mr. Fleming approaching

"Only to ask if I may return with you to Grosvenor Square. I have
something important to say."

"Certainly," bowed Richard, and turned aside.

Lovelace, who had succeeded in escaping from the Belmanoir claws,
hurried in search of Lavinia. Not finding her in her box, he gathered
she must be in the foyer and made his way towards it. As soon as she saw
him coming she set down her glass and rose to her feet.

"Oh, Captain Lovelace! Have you come to fetch me back to my seat? I have
scarce set eyes on you this evening. No, Markham, you may _not_ come!
No, nor you, my lord! Madam--" She curtsied low to the old Duchess and
walked away on Harold's arm.

When they were once in the deserted passage behind the boxes, he turned
eagerly towards her.

"Well, my dearest? Well?"

Lady Lavinia's mouth drooped miserably.

"Yes," she said, "I shall have to come with you."

The tone was damping, to say the least of it, but he did not seem to
notice it.

"Lavinia! You mean it?"

"Yes," she assented, still more dejectedly.

"My beautiful love! You will really come? When? At once?"

"At--Oh, no, no!"

"Darling, the sooner the better. I understand 'tis a great step to
expect you to take in a hurry, but I assure you 'tis wisest. Can you
come to-morrow?"

Her big eyes dilated.

"No! No! I--oh, I cannot leave Dicky so soon!" She ended with a sob.

"But, Lavinia, my dearest! You surely do not want to _stay_ with him?"
he cried.

"Yes I do!" she answered. "I--I don't want ever to leave him!"

This blighting speech left him gasping.

"You--but--heavens! what are you saying? You love _me_!"

"No, I don't!" she contradicted. "I always s-said I d-didn't. I love my
husband!"

"You are distraught!" he exclaimed. "If you love him, why do you consent
to elope with me?"

She looked at him reproachfully.

"There is no one else," she said mournfully.

"Good Lord! What--"

"I have to elope with someone--because--Dick--d-doesn't love me any
more--you see. I will come with you, and I will try to be good."

He kissed her hand quickly

"Sweetheart! ... I still think you are not yourself. You will think
differently to-morrow--you do not really love Carstares."

She shut her mouth obstinately, tilting her regal little head.

He watched her anxiously.

"If you really do love him, 'tis ridiculous to elope with me," he said.

Her fingers tightened on his wrist.

"But I must! You don't understand, Harry! You _must_ take me! Don't you
want me?"

"Of course I do, but not if you are longing to be somewhere else all the
time. The whole thing seems preposterous!"

"'Tis all dreadful!--dreadful! I have never been so unhappy in my life!
I--oh, I wish I had not been so heedless and selfish!"

Lovelace pondered for a moment, as they stood outside her box; then,
seeing that people were returning to their seats, he opened the door and
took her in.

"Listen, dear! This is the maddest scheme ever I heard; but if you are
determined, you shall carry it through. Come to my lodgings to-morrow
evening! Bring as little baggage as possible; I will have all ready, and
we will post at once to Dover. Then in time I hope you will forget
Richard and come to care for me a little."

"You are very, very good, Harry! Yes, I will do just as you say and, oh,
I am sorry to put you out like this! I am nought but a plague to
everyone, and I wish I were dead! You don't really love me, and I shall
be a burden!"

"I do indeed love you!" he assured her, but within himself he could not
help wishing that he had not fallen quite so passionately in love with
her. "I'll leave you now, sweet, for your husband will be returning at
any moment." He kissed her hands lightly "_A demain_, fairest!"

How she sat through the last act Lavinia could never afterwards imagine.
She was longing to be at home--so soon to be home no longer--and quiet.
Her head ached now as Richard's had ached for weeks. More than anything
did she want to rest it against her husband's shoulder, so temptingly
near, and to feel his sheltering arms about her. But Dick was in love
with Isabella Fanshawe, and she must sit straight and stiff in her chair
and smile at the proper places.

At last the play was ended! The curtain descended on the bowing Archer,
and the house stamped and clapped its appreciation. The curtain rose
again--what! not finished yet? Ah, no! it was but Garrick leading Mrs.
Clive forward. Would they never have done?

Mrs. Fleming was standing; she supposed they were going, and got up.
Someone put her cloak about her shoulders; Richard--for the last time.
Mr. Holt escorted her to her coach, and put her and her cousin into it.
He and Mr. Fleming had their chairs; so only Richard and Tracy went with
the ladies. The Flemings were staying with friends in Brook Street, just
off Grosvenor Square, so that when they had put Harriet down, only a few
more yards remained to be covered.

Lavinia wondered dully why Tracy had elected to come with them. What did
he want? Was he going to warn Dick of her intended flight? He little
knew the true state of affairs!

At the foot of the staircase at Wyncham House she turned to say
good-night.

She merely nodded to Tracy, but to Dick she extended her hand. He took
it in his, kissing it, and she noticed how cold were his fingers, how
burning hot his lips. Then he released her, and she went slowly up the
stairs to her room.

His Grace watched her through his eyeglass. When she was out of sight he
turned and surveyed Richard critically.

"If that is the way you kiss a woman, Lavinia has my sympathies," he
remarked.

Richard's lips tightened. He picked up a stand of lighted candles and
ushered his Grace into the drawing-room.

"I presume you did not come to tell me that?" he asked.

"Your presumption is correct, Richard. I have come to open your eyes."

"You are too kind."

His Grace laid his hat on the table, and sat down on the arm of a chair.

"I think perhaps I am. It may interest you to hear that Lavinia intends
to elope with our gallant friend the Captain." Richard bowed.

"You knew it?"

"Certainly."

Andover looked him over.

"May I ask what steps you are taking to prevent her?"

"None."

His Grace's expression was quite indescribable. For a moment he was
speechless, and then he reverted to heavy sarcasm.

"Pray remember to be at hand--to conduct her to her chair!" he drawled.
"Upon my soul, you sicken me!

"I am grieved. There is a remedy," replied Carstares significantly.

Tracy ignored the suggestion.

"I suppose it is nothing to you that you lose her? No; It is nothing to
you that she disgraces her name? Oh, no!"

"_My_ name, I think."

"Our name! Is it possible for her to disgrace yours?"

Richard went white and his hand flew instinctively to his sword hilt.

Tracy looked at him.

"Do you think I would soil my blade with you?" he asked, very softly.

Richard's hand fell from the hilt: his eyes searched the other's face.

"You know?" he asked at last, quite calmly.

"You fool," answered his Grace gently. "You fool, do you think I have
not always known?"

Richard leaned against the mantel-shelf.

"You never thought I was innocent? You knew that night? You guessed?"

The Duke sneered.

"Knowing both, could I suspect other than you?" he asked insultingly.

"Oh, my God!" cried Carstares suddenly. "Why could you not have said so
before?"

The Duke's eyes opened wide.

"It has chafed you--eh? I knew it would. I've watched you." He chuckled
beneath his breath. "And those fools never looked beneath the surface.
One and all, they believed that John would cheat. John! They swallowed
it tamely and never even guessed at the truth."

"You, at least, did not believe?"

"I? Hardly. Knowing you for a weak fool and him for a quixotic fool, I
rather jumped to conclusions."

"Instead, you tried to throw the blame on him. I would to God you had
exposed me!"

"So you have remarked. I confess I do not understand this heroic
attitude. Why should I interfere in what was none of my business? What
proof had I?"

"Why did you raise no demur? What motive had you?"

"I should have thought it fairly obvious."

Richard stared at him, puzzled.

"Gad, Richard! but you are singularly obtuse. Have I not pointed out
that John was a quixotic fool? When did I say he was a weak one?"

"You mean--you mean you wanted Lavinia to marry me--because you thought
to squeeze me as you willed?" asked Carstares slowly.

His Grace's thin nostrils wrinkled up.

"You are so crude," he complained.

"It suited you that Jack should be disgraced? You thought I should seize
his money. You--you--"

"Rogue? But you will admit that I at least am an honest rogue. You
are--er--a dishonest saint. I would sooner be what I am."

"I know there is nothing on God's earth more vile than I am!" replied
Carstares, violently.

His Grace sneered openly.

"Very pretty, Richard, but a little tardy, methinks." He paused, and
something seemed to occur to him. "'Tis why you purpose to let Lavinia
go, I suppose? You confess the truth on Friday--eh?"

Richard bowed his head.

"I have not the right to stop her. She--chooses her own road."

"She knows?" sharply.

"She has always known."

"The jade! And I never guessed it!" He paused. "Yes, I understand your
heroic attitude. I am sorry I cannot pander to it. In spite of all this,
I cannot permit my sister to ruin herself."

"She were as effectually ruined an she stayed with me."

"Pshaw! After seven years, who is like to care one way or the other
which of you cheated? Play the man for once and stop her!"

"She _loves_ Lovelace, I tell you!"

"What of it? She will recover from that."

"No--I cannot ask her to stay with me--'twould be damnably selfish."

His Grace appeared exasperated.

"'Fore Gad, you are a fool! Ask her! _Ask_ her! Force her! Kick Lovelace
from your house and abandon the heroic pose, I beg of you!"

"Do you suppose I want to lose her?" cried Carstares. "'Tis because I
love her so much that I will not stand in the way of her happiness!"

The Duke flung round and picked up his hat.

"I am sorry I cannot join with you in your heroics. I must take the
matter into my own hands, as usual, it seems. Lord, but you should have
learnt to make her obey you, my good Dick! She has led you by the nose
ever since she married you, and she was a woman who wanted mastering!"
He went over to the door and opened it. "I will call upon you to-morrow,
when I shall hope to find you more sane. They do not purpose to leave
until late, I know, for Lovelace is promised to Mallaby at three
o'clock. There is time in which to act."

"I shall not interfere," repeated Richard.

His Grace sneered.

"So you have remarked. It remains for me to do. Good-night."



CHAPTER XXIV

RICHARD PLAYS THE MAN


Lady Lavinia's frame of mind when she awoke next morning was hardly
befitting one who contemplated an elopement. A weight seemed to rest on
her chest, hopeless misery was gathered about her head. She could not
bring herself to drink her chocolate, and, feeling that inaction was the
worst of all, she very soon crawled out of bed and allowed her maid to
dress her. Then she went with dragging steps to her boudoir, wondering
all the time where Richard was and what he was doing. She seated herself
at her window and looked out on to the square, biting the edge of her
handkerchief in the effort to keep back her tears.

Richard was in a no more cheerful mood. He, too, left his chocolate
untouched, and went presently down to the breakfast table and looked at
the red sirloin with a feeling of acute nausea. He managed to drink a
cup of coffee, and immediately afterwards left the room and made his way
to his wife's boudoir. He told himself he was acting weakly, and had far
better avoid her, but in the end he gave way to his longing to see her,
and knocked on one white panel.

Lavinia's heart leapt. How well she knew that knock!

"Come in!" she called, and tried to compose her features.

Richard entered and shut the door behind him.

"Oh--oh--good-morning!" she smiled. "You--wanted to speak with
me--Dick?"

"I--yes--that is--er--have you the Carlyles' invitation?"

It was, perhaps, an unlucky excuse. Lavinia turned away and fought
against her tears.

"I--I believe--'tis in my--escritoire," she managed to say. "I--I will
look for it."

She rose and unlocked the bureau, standing with her back to him.

"'Tis no matter," stammered Carstares. "I--only--'twas but that I could
not find it. Pray do not disturb yourself!"

"Oh--not--at all," she answered, scattering a handful of letters before
her. "Yes--here 'tis." She came up to him with the note in her hand,
extending it.

Carstares looked down at the golden head, and at the little face with
its eyes cast down, and red mouth set so wistfully. Heavens, how could
he bear to live without her! Mechanically he took the letter.

Lavinia turned away, and as she stepped from him something snapped in
Richard's brain. The luckless invitation was flung down.

"No, by God you shall not!" he cried suddenly.

Lavinia stopped, trembling.

"Oh--oh, what do you mean?" she fluttered.

The mists were gone from his mind now, everything was clear. Lavinia
should not elope with Lovelace. In two strides he was at her side, had
caught her by the shoulders and swung her to face him.

"You shall not leave me! Do you understand? I cannot live without you!"

Lavinia gave a little cry full of relief, joy and wonderment, and shrank
against him.

"Oh, please, please forgive me and keep me with you!" she cried, and
clung to the lapels of his coat.

Carstares swept her right off the ground in the violence of his embrace,
but she did not mind, although the crushing was ruinous to her silks.
Silks were no longer uppermost in her brain. She returned his kisses
eagerly, sobbing a little.

When Carstares was able to say anything beyond how he loved her, he
demanded if she did not love him?

"Of course I do!" she cooed. "I always, always did, only I was so
selfish and so careless!"

He carried her to the sofa and sat down with her on his knee, trying to
look into her face. But she had somehow contrived to hide it on his
shoulder, and he did not succeed.

"Then you never loved that puppy?" he asked, amazed.

One hand crept up to his other shoulder.

"Oh, Dicky, no! And--and you--you don't love that horrid Mrs. Fanshawe,
do you?"

He was still more amazed.

"Mrs. Fanshawe? Great heavens, no! You never thought that, surely?"

"I did--I did! Since you were always at her house, and so cold to
me--how could I help it?"

"Cold to _you_? My dearest, surely not?"

"You were--you truly were--and I was so miserable--I--I thought I had
been so unreasonable and so horrid that you had ceased to I-love me--and
I did not know what to do. And--and then you told me that you were going
to--to confess--and I lost my temper and said I would n-not stay with
you--But I never, never meant it--and when you seemed to expect me to
go--I--I did not know what to do again!"

He patted her shoulder comfortingly.

"Sweetheart, don't cry! I had no idea of all this--why, I was sure that
you loved Lovelace--I never doubted it--why in the world did you not
tell me the truth?"

She sat up at that, and looked at him.

"Why, how could I?" she demanded. "I was quite certain that you loved
Isabella Fanshawe. I felt I had to go away, and I could not do it
alone--so--so--so, of course I had to elope. And I told Harold last
night that I would go with him--and I'm afraid he didn't quite want me
when he heard that I loved you. Oh, Dicky darling, you'll tell him that
I won't go with him, won't you?"

He could not help laughing.

"Ay, I'll tell him. 'Pon rep., sweetheart, I can find it in me to be
sorry for him!"

"Oh, he will not mind for long," she said philosophically. "He loves so
_easily_, you see! But you, Dick--why did you go so often--so _very_
often to see Mrs. Fanshawe?"

His face grew solemn.

"She knew--Jack--in Vienna--I--I wanted to hear all she could tell me of
him--I could think of nothing else."

"Oh, Dicky! How--how wickedly foolish I have been! And 'twas that that
made you so cold--and I thought--oh, dear!"

He drew her head down on to his shoulder again.

"My poor love! Why, 'tis the kindest lady imaginable, but as to loving
her--!" He kissed her hand lingeringly. "I love--and have always
loved--a far different being: a naughty, wilful, captivating little
person, who--"

Lady Lavinia clasped her arms about his neck.

"You make me feel so very, very dreadful! I have indeed been
naughty--I--"

"And you'll be so many times again," he told her, laughing.

"No, no! I--will--try to be good!"

"I do not want you good!" Richard assured her. "I want you to be your
own dear self!" ... Lady Lavinia disengaged herself with a contented
little sigh, and stood up.

"How charming it is to be happy again, to be sure!" she remarked
naively. "To think that only half an hour ago I was wishing to be dead!"
She went over to the glass and straightened her hair.

Richard looked at her rather anxiously.

"Lavinia--you--you quite understand, I am going to tell everyone the
truth--next Friday?" he asked.

"Yes, I do, of course--'tis dreadfully disagreeable of you, but I
suppose you will do it. I do _hope_ people will not refuse to recognise
us, though."

"No one would ever refuse to recognise you, dearest."

She brightened.

"Do you really think so? Well, perhaps after all, 'twill not be so
_very_ horrid. And--and you will like to have Jack again, won't you?
Yes--I knew you would. Oh, 'twill all be quite comfortable after a
little while, I make no doubt!"

       *       *       *       *       *

His Grace of Andover arose betimes, and early sallied forth into the
street. He called a chair, and drove to an address in the Strand, where
lodged a certain Colonel Shepherd. Half-an-hour did he spend with the
Colonel, and when he at length emerged from the house the curl of his
lip betokened satisfaction. He did not at once hail a chair, but walked
along in the direction of St. James's, entering the park in company
with one Dare, who, seven years before, had given a certain memorable
card-party.

Dare was pleasantly intrigued over Richard's latest oddity.

"Have you an idea what 'tis about, Belmanoir?" he inquired. "Has he
written you to come as well?"

"I believe I did receive some communication from Carstares; yes--I
remember, Andrew brought it."

"Well, what does it mean? Fortescue is bidden, and Davenant. 'Tis very
curious."

"My dear Dare, I am not in Richard's confidence. We shall doubtless hear
all that there is to hear at the given time. Mysteries do not interest
me. But 'twill be a pleasant reunion.... Fortescue and Davenant, you
say? Strange! I have heard that Evans and Milward have also received
their sum--invitations. It should be most entertaining."

"'Tis prodigious curious," repeated Dare. "No one can imagine what 'tis
all about!"

"Ah?" His Grace's thin lips twitched.

Midway through the afternoon he repaired to Wyncham House and was
ushered into the library.

Richard sat writing, but rose on seeing him, and came forward.

It struck his Grace that Carstares was looking quite happy.

"You seem cheerful, Richard!"

"I am," smiled his brother-in-law.

"I am much relieved to hear it. I have seen Shepherd."

"Shepherd?" interrogated Carstares.

"Lovelace's colonel, my dear Richard. You may count on Captain Harold's
departure--on an important mission--in, say, forty-eight hours."

"You may count on Captain Harold's departure in very much less, Tracy,"
said Carstares, a twinkle in his eye.

The Duke started forward.

"She has gone?" he almost hissed.

"Gone? No! She is in the drawing-room with him."

"With Lovelace! And you permit it? You stand by and watch another man--"

"Say farewell to my wife. But I am not watching it, as you see."

The anger died out of his Grace's eyes.

"Farewell? Do you tell me you at last came to your senses?"

"We found that we both laboured under a delusion," replied Carstares
pleasantly.

"I am delighted to hear you say so. I hope you will for the future keep
a stricter hold over Lavinia."

"Do you?"

"I do. I think I will not undo what I have done; Lovelace were perhaps
better out of the way for a time."

"Why, I have no objection to that," bowed Richard.

His Grace nodded shortly and picked up his hat.

"Then there remains nothing more to be done in the matter."

He looked piercingly across at Carstares. "She did not love him?"

Richard gave a happy little sigh.

"She loves me."

The heavy lids drooped again.

"You cannot conceive my delight. If she indeed loves you, she is safe. I
thought she had not got it in her. Pray bear my respects to her." His
hand was on the door-knob, when something seemed to occur to him.

"I take it my presence at Wyncham on Friday will not be necessary?" he
said cynically.

Richard flushed.

"It will not be necessary."

"Then I am sure you will excuse me an I do not appear. I have other,
more important affairs on hand.....But I shall be loth to miss the
heroics," he added pensively, and chuckled. "_Au revoir,_ my good
Richard!"

Richard bowed him out thankfully.

Presently the front door opened and shut again, and looking out of the
window he saw that Captain Harold Lovelace had taken his departure.

He was now awaiting Mr. Warburton, whom he had sent in search of John
some days ago. He should have been here by now, he thought, but perhaps
he had been detained. Richard was aching to hear news of his brother,
longing to see him once more. But at the same time he was dreading the
meeting; he shrank from the thought of looking into Jack's eyes,
cold--even scornful. It was not possible, so he reasoned, that Jack
should feel no resentment....

"Mr. Warburton, sir."

Carstares turned and came eagerly forward to greet the newcomer.

"Well? Well?"

Mr. Warburton spread out deprecating hands.

"Alas! Mr. Carstares."

Richard caught his arm.

"What mean you? He is not--dead?"

"I do not know, sir."

"You could not find him? Quick! Tell me?"

"Alas! no, sir."

"But the Chequers--he said--Surely they knew something?"

"Nought, Mr. Carstares." Out came Mr. Warburton's snuff-box. Very
deliberately he took a pinch, shaking the remains from his finger-tips.
"The host, Chadber--an honest man, though lacking in humour--has not set
eyes on my lord for well-nigh six months. Not since I went to advise my
lord of the Earl's death."

"But Warburton, he cannot be far? He is not dead! Oh, surely not that?"

"No, no, Master Dick," soothed the lawyer. "We should have heard of it
had he been killed. I fear he has gone abroad once more. It seems he
often spoke of travelling again."

"Abroad? God! don't let me lose him again!" He sank into a chair, his
head in his arms.

"Tut! I implore you, Mr. Carstares! Do not despair yet. We have no proof
that he has left the country. I daresay we shall find him almost at
once. Chadber thinks it likely he will visit the inn again ere long.
Calm yourself, Master Dick!" He walked up to the man and laid a hand on
one heaving shoulder. "We shall find him, never fear! But do not--I know
'twould grieve him to see you so upset, Master Dick--pray, do not--!"

"If I could only make amends!" groaned Richard.

"Well, sir, are you not about to? He would not wish you to distress
yourself like this! He was so fond of you! Pray, pray do not!"

Carstares rose unsteadily and walked to the window. "I crave your
pardon, Mr. Warburton--you must excuse me--I have been--living in
hell--this last week."

Warburton came over to his side.

"Master Dick--I--you know I have never cared for you-as--well--as--"

"You cared for him."

"Er--yes, sir, exactly!--and of late years I may, perhaps, have been
hard. I would desire to--er--apologise for any unjust--er--thoughts I
may have harboured against you. I--I--possibly, I never quite
understood. That is all, sir."

He blew his nose rather violently, and then his hand found Richard's.

       *       *       *       *       *

Richard Carstares had plenty to occupy him for the rest of the week.
Arrangements had to be made, a house acquired for Lavinia, Wyncham House
to be thoroughly cleaned and put in order, awaiting its rightful owner.
Once she had made up her mind to face the inevitable, Lavinia quite
enjoyed all the preparations. The new house in Great Jermyn Street she
voted charming, and she straightway set to work to buy very expensive
furniture for it, and to superintend all the alterations. In her present
penitent mood she would even have accompanied her husband to Wyncham on
Monday, to stand by him on the fateful Friday; but this he would not
allow, insisting that she remain in town until his return. So she
fluttered contentedly from Grosvenor Square to Jermyn Street, very busy
and quite happy.

Carstares was to travel to Wyncham on Monday, arriving there the
following evening in company with Andrew, whom he was taking as far as
Andover. His lordship had lately embroiled himself in a quarrel over a
lady when deep in his cups, and owing to the subsequent duel at Barn
Elms and the almost overpowering nature of his debts, he deemed it
prudent to go into seclusion for a spell. Tracy disappeared from town in
the middle of the week, whither no one knew, but it was universally
believed that he had gone to Scotland on a visit.

Monday at length dawned fair and promising. After bidding his wife a
very tender farewell, and gently drying her wet eyelashes with his own
handkerchief, Richard set out with his brother-in-law in the big
travelling chaise soon after noon. Andrew had quite recovered his
hitherto rather dampened spirits, and produced a dice-box from one
pocket and a pack of cards from the other wherewith to beguile the
tedium of the journey.



CHAPTER XXV

HIS GRACE OF ANDOVER CAPTURES THE QUEEN


Diana stood in the old oak porch, riding-whip in hand, and the folds of
her voluminous gown over her arm. Miss Betty stood beside her, surveying
her with secret pride.

Diana's eyes seemed darker than ever, she thought, and the mouth more
tragic. She knew that the girl was, to use her own expression, "moping
quite prodigiously for that Mr. Carr." Not all that she could do to
entertain Diana entirely chased away the haunting sadness in her face;
for a time she would be gay, but afterwards the laughter died away and
she was silent. Many times had Miss Betty shaken her fist at the absent
John.

Presently Diana gave a tiny sigh, and looked down at her aunt, smiling.

"You would be surprised how excellently well Harper manages the horses,"
she said. "He is quite a godsend. So much nicer than that stupid
William."

"Indeed, yes," agreed Miss Betty. "Only think, my dear, he was groom to
Sir Hugh Grandison--I saw the letter Sir Hugh writ your Papa--a
remarkable elegant epistle, I assure you, my love."

Diana nodded and watched the new groom ride up, leading her mount. He
jumped down, and, touching his hat, stood awaiting his mistress's
pleasure.

Diana went up to the cob, patting his glossy neck.

"We are going towards Ashley to-day, aunt," she said. "I am so anxious
to find some berries, and Harper tells me they grow in profusion not far
from here."

"Now, my dear, pray do not tire yourself by going too far--I doubt it
will rain before long and you will catch your death of cold!"

Diana laughed at her.

"Oh, no, aunt! Why, the sky is almost cloudless! But we shall not be
long, I promise you. Only as far as Crossdown Woods and back again."

She gave her foot to the groom just as Mr. Beauleigh came out to watch
her start.

"Really, my dear, I must ride with you to-morrow," he told her. "'Tis an
age since we have been out together."

"Why, Papa, will you not accompany me this afternoon?" cried Diana
eagerly. "I should so like it!"

It struck her aunt that Harper awaited the answer to this question
rather anxiously. She watched him, puzzled. However, when Mr. Beauleigh
had refused she could not see any change in his expression, and
concluded that she must have been mistaken.

So with a wave of her hand, Diana rode away, the groom following at a
respectful distance. Yet somehow Miss Betty was uneasy. A presentiment
of evil seemed to touch her, and when the riders had disappeared round a
bend in the road she felt an insane desire to run after them and call
her niece back. She gave herself a little shake, saying that she was a
fond old woman, over-anxious about Diana. Nevertheless, she laid a
detaining hand on her brother's arm as he was about to go indoors.

"Wait, Horace! You--you _will_ ride with Di more frequently, will you
not?"

He looked surprised.

"You are uneasy, Betty?"

"Oh--uneasy--! Well, yes--a little. I do not like her to go alone with a
groom, and we do not know this man."

"My dear! I had the very highest references from Sir Hugh Grandison,
who, I am sure, would never recommend anyone untrustworthy. Why, you saw
the letter yourself!"

"Yes, yes. Doubtless I am very stupid. But you _will_ ride with her
after to-day, will you not?"

"Certainly I will accompany my daughter when I can spare the time," he
replied with dignity, and with that she had to be content.

Diana rode leisurely along the lane, beside great trees and hedges that
were a blaze of riotous colour. Autumn had turned the leaves dull gold
and flame, mellow brown and deepest red, with flaming orange
intermingled, and touches of copper here and there where some beech tree
stood. The lane was like a fairy picture, too gorgeous to be real; the
trees, meeting overhead, but let the sunlight through in patches, so
that the dusty road beneath was mottled with gold.

The hedges retained their greenness, and where there was a gap a vista
of fields presented itself. And then they came upon a clump of berries,
black and red, growing the other side of the little stream that
meandered along the lane in a ditch. Diana drew up and addressed her
companion.

"See, Harper--there are berries! We need go no further." She changed the
reins to her right hand and made as if to spring down.

"The place I spoke of is but a short way on, miss," ventured the man,
keeping his seat.

She paused.

"But why will these not suffice?"

"Well, miss, if you like. But those others were a deal finer. It seems a
pity not to get some."

Diana looked doubtfully along the road.

"'Tis not far?"

"No, miss; but another quarter of a mile, and then down the track by the
wood."

Still she hesitated.

"I do not want to be late," she demurred.

"No, miss, of course not. I only thought as how we might come back by
way of Chorly Fields."

"Round by the mill? H'm...."

"Yes, miss. Then as soon as we get past it there is a clear stretch of
turf almost up to the house."

Her eye brightened.

"A gallop? Very well! But let us hurry on."

She touched the cob with her heel, and they trotted on briskly out of
the leafy canopy along the road with blue sky above and pasture land
around. After a little while the wood came in sight, and in a minute
they were riding down the track at right angles to the road. Harper was
at Diana's heels, drawing nearer. Half unconsciously she quickened her
pace. There was not a soul in sight.

They were coming to a bend in the road, and now Harper was alongside.

Choking a ridiculous feeling of frightened apprehension, Diana drew
rein.

"I do not perceive those berries!" she said lightly.

"No, miss," was the immediate response. "They are just a step into the
wood. If you care to dismount here I can show you."

Nothing could be more respectful than the man's tone. Diana shook off
her nervous qualms and slipped down. Harper, already on the ground, took
the cob's rein and tied both horses to a tree.

Diana gathered her skirts over her arm and picked her way through the
brambles to where he had pointed.

The blackberry hedges he held back for her entrance swung back after
they had passed, completely shutting out all view of the road. There
were no berries.

Diana's heart was beating very fast, all her suspicions springing to
life again, but she showed no sign of fear as she desired him to hold
the brambles back again for her to pass out.

"For there are no berries here, as you can see for yourself."

She swept round and walked calmly towards the bushes.

Then, how she could never quite remember, she was seized from behind,
and before she had time to move, a long piece of silk was flung over her
head and drawn tight across her mouth, while an arm, as of steel, held
and controlled her.

Fighting madly, she managed to get one arm free, and struck out
furiously with her slender crop. There was a brief struggle, and it was
twisted from her grasp, and her hands tied behind her, despite all her
efforts to be free.

Then her captor swung her writhing into his arms, and strode away
through the wood without a word.

Diana was passive now, reserving her strength for when it might avail
her something, but above the gag her eyes blazed with mingled fright and
fury. She noticed that she was being carried not into the wood, but
along it, and was not surprised when they emerged on to the road where
it had rounded the bend.

With a sick feeling of terror, she saw a coach standing in the road, and
guessed, even before she knew, what was her fate. Through a haze she saw
a man standing at the door, and then she was thrust into the coach and
made to sit down on the softly-cushioned seat. All her energies were
concentrated in fighting against the faintness that threatened to
overcome her. She won gradually, and strained her ears to catch what was
being said outside.

She caught one sentence in a familiar, purring voice:

"Set them loose and tie this to the pummel." Then there was silence.

Presently she heard footsteps returning. An indistinguishable murmur
from Harper, and the door opened to allow his Grace of Andover to enter
the coach. It gave a lurch and rumbled on.

Tracy looked down with a slight smile into the gold-flecked eyes that
blazed so indignantly into his.

"A thousand apologies, Miss Beauleigh! Allow me to remove this scarf."

As he spoke he untied the knot, and the silk fell away from her face.

For a moment she was silent, struggling for words wherewith to give vent
to her fury; then the red lips parted and the small, white teeth showed,
clenched tightly together.

"You cur!" she flung at him in a panting undertone. "Oh, you cur!--you
coward! Undo my hands!"

"With pleasure." He bowed and busied himself with this tighter knot.

"Pray, accept my heartfelt apologies for incommoding you so grievously.
I am sure that you will admit the necessity."

"Oh, that there were a _man_ here to avenge me!" she raged.

His Grace tugged at the stubborn knot.

"There are three outside," he answered blandly. "But I do not think they
are like to oblige you."

He removed her bonds and sat back in the corner, enjoying her. His eyes
fell on her bruised wrists, and at once his expression changed, and he
frowned, leaning forward.

"Believe me, I did not mean that," he said, and touched her hands.

She flung him off.

"Do not touch me!"

"I beg your pardon, my dear." He leaned back again nonchalantly.

"Where are you taking me?" she demanded, trying to conceal the fear in
her voice.

"Home," replied his Grace.

"Home!" Incredulously she turned to look at him, hope in her eyes.

"Home," he reiterated. "_Our_ home."

The hope died out.

"You are ridiculous, sir."

"'Tis an art, my dear, most difficult to acquire."

"Sir--Mr. Everard--whoever you are--if you have any spark of manliness
in you, of chivalry, if you care for me at all, you will this instant
set me down!"

Never had she seemed more beautiful, more desirable. Her eyes shone with
unshed tears, soft and luminous, and the tragic mouth pleaded, even
trying to smile.

"It would appear that none of these attributes belongs to me," murmured
his Grace, and wondered if she would weep. He had never a taste for a
weeping woman.

But Diana was proud. She realised that tears, prayers and all would
avail her nothing, and she was determined not to break down, at least in
his presence. Tracy was surprised to see her arrange her skirts and
settle back against the cushions in the most unconcerned manner
possible.

"Then, since you are so ungallant, sir, pray tell me what you purpose
doing with me?" The tone was light, even bantering, but with his
marvellous, almost uncanny perspicacity, he sensed the breathless terror
behind it.

"Why, my dear, I had planned to marry you," he answered, bowing.

The knuckles gleamed white on her clenched hand. "And if I refuse?"

"I do not _think_ you will refuse, my dear." She could not repress a
shiver.

"I do refuse!" she cried sharply.

The smile with which he received this statement drove the blood cold in
her veins.

"Wait. I think you will be glad to marry me--in the end," he drawled.

Her great eyes were hunted, desperate, and her face was very white. The
dry lips parted.

"I think--you will be--very sorry--when my father--comes."

The indulgent sneer brought the blood racing back to her cheeks.

"And he will come!"

His Grace was politely interested.

"Really? But I do not doubt it, Diana, an he knows where to come."

"He will find a way, never fear!"

She laughed with a confidence she was far from feeling.

"I do not fear--not in the least--I shall be delighted to welcome him,"
promised his Grace. "I do not anticipate a refusal of your hand from
him."

"No?" Diana, too, could sneer.

"No, my dear. Not after a little--persuasion."

"Who are you?" she shot at him.

His shoulders shook in the soundless laugh peculiar to him.

"I am several people, child."

"So I apprehend," she retorted smoothly. "Sir Hugh Grandison amongst
them?"

"Ah, you have guessed that?"

"It rather leaps to the eye, sir." She spoke in what was almost an exact
imitation of his sarcastic tone.

"True. It was neatly done, I flatter myself."

"Quite marvellous, indeed."

He was enjoying her as he had rarely enjoyed a woman before. Others had
sobbed and implored, railed and raved; he had never till now met one who
returned him word for word, using his own weapons against him.

"Who else have you the honour to be?" she asked, stifling a yawn.

"I am Mr. Everard, child, and Duke of Andover."

Then she turned her head and looked at him with glittering eyes.

"I have heard of you, sir," she said, evenly.

"You are like to hear more, my dear."

"That is as may be, your Grace."

Now she understood the elaborate hilt of the mysterious sword with the
coronet on it, wrought in jewels. She wondered whether Jack had it
still, wherever he was. If only some wonderful providence would bring
him to her now in her dire need! There was no one to strike a blow for
her; she was entirely at the mercy of a ruthless libertine, whose
reputation she knew well, and whose presence filled her with dread and a
speechless loathing. She felt very doubtful that her father would
succeed in finding her. If only Jack were in England! He would come to
her, she knew.

His Grace leaned towards her, laying a thin, white hand on her knee.

"My dear, be reasonable. I am not such a bad bargain after all."

The tenderness in his voice filled her with horror. He felt her shrink
away.

"Take your hand away!" she commanded throbbingly. "Do not touch me!" He
laughed softly and at the sound of it she controlled her terrors and
dropped again to the mocking tone she had adopted. "What? Ungallant
still, your Grace? Pray keep your distance!"

The pistol holster on the wall at her side caught her attention.
Instantly she looked away, hoping he had not observed her. Very little
escaped his Grace.

"I am desolated to have to disappoint you, my dear. It is empty."

She laid a careless hand on the holster, verifying his statement.

"This? Oh, I guessed it, your Grace!"

He admired her spirit more and more. Was there ever such a girl?

"My name is Tracy," he remarked.

She considered it with her head tilted to one side.

"I do not like your name, sir," she answered.

"'There was no thought of pleasing you when I was christened,'" he quoted
lazily.

"Hardly, sir," she said. "You might be my father."

It was a master stroke, and for an instant his brows drew together. Then
he laughed.

"_Merci du compliment, mademoiselle_! I admire your wit."

"I protest I am overwhelmed. May I ask when we are like to arrive at our
destination?"

"We should reach Andover soon after eight, my dear."

So it was some distance he was taking her?

"I suppose you had the wit to provide food for the journey?" she yawned.
"You will not wish to exhibit me at an inn, I take it?"

He marvelled at her indomitable courage

"We shall halt at an inn certainly, and my servant will bring you
refreshment. That will be in about an hour."

"So long?" she frowned. "Then, pray excuse me an I compose myself to
sleep a little. I am like to find the journey somewhat tedious, I fear."

She shifted farther into the corner, leaned her head back against the
cushions and closed her eyes.

Thus outwitting his Grace. For it is impossible to be passionate with a
girl who feigns sleep when she should be struggling to escape from you.
So Tracy, who, whatever else he might lack, possessed a keen sense of
humour, settled himself in his corner and followed her example. So they
jogged on....

Arrived at length at the inn, the coach pulled up slowly. Diana opened
her eyes with a great assumption of sleepiness.

"Already?" she marvelled.

"I trust you have slept well," said his Grace suavely.

"Excellently well, I thank you, sir," was the unblushing reply.

"I am relieved to hear you say so, my dear. I had thought you unable
to--your mouth kept shut so admirably. Doubtless you have schooled your
jaw not to drop when you sleep sitting up? I wish I might do the same."

The triumph in his voice was thinly veiled. She found nothing to say.

He rose.

"With your leave, I will go to procure you some refreshment, child. Do
not think me uncivil if I remind you that a servant stands without
either door."

"I thank you for the kind thought," she smiled, but her heart was sick
within her.

He disappeared, returning a few moments later with a glass of wine and
some little cakes.

"I deplore the scanty nature of your repast," he said. "But I do not
wish to waste time. You shall be more fittingly entertained when we
reach Andover."

Diana drank the wine gratefully, and it seemed to put new life into her.
The food almost choked her, but rather than let him see it, she broke a
cake in half and started to eat it, playing to gain time: time in which
to allow her father a chance of overtaking them before it was too late.
She affected to dislike the cake, and rather petulantly demanded a 'maid
of honour.'

Tracy's eyes gleamed.

"I fear I cannot oblige you, my dear. When we are married you can go to
Richmond, and you shall have maids of honour in plenty."

He relieved her of her glass, taking it from hands that trembled
pitifully.

The rest of the journey was as some terrible nightmare. She felt that
she dared no longer feign sleep. She was terrified at what his Grace
might do, and kept him at arm's length by means of her tongue and all
her woman's wit. As a matter of fact, Andover had himself well in hand,
and had no intention of letting his passion run away with him. But as
the time went on and the light went, some of Diana's control seemed to
slip from her, and she became a little less the self-possessed woman,
and a little more the trapped and frightened child. When they at last
reached Andover Court, and his Grace assisted her to alight her legs
would barely carry her up the steps to the great iron-clamped door. She
trembled anew as he took her hand.

On the threshold he paused and bowed very low. "Welcome to your future
home, my queen," he murmured, and led her in, past wooden-faced footmen
who stared over her head, to his private room, where a table was set for
two. He would have taken her in his arms then, but she evaded him and
slipped wearily into a chair.

"I protest," she managed to say, "I protest, I am faint through want of
food."

Andover, looking at her white lips, believed her. He took a seat
opposite.

Two footmen came to wait on them, and although her very soul was shamed
that they should see her there, she was thankful for their restraining
presence.



CHAPTER XXVI

MY LORD RIDES TO FRUSTRATE HIS GRACE


My lord yawned most prodigiously and let fall the _Spectator._ His eyes
roved towards the clock, and noted with disgust that the hands pointed
to half after five. He sighed and picked up the _Rambler_.

His host and hostess were visiting some miles distant, and were not
likely to be back until late, so my lord had a long dull evening in
front of him, which he relished not at all. Lady O'Hara had tried to
induce him to accompany them, promising that he would meet no one he
knew, but he had for once been prudent and refused steadfastly. So my
lady, after pouting crossly at him and assuring him that he was by far
the most obstinate and disagreeable man that she had ever come across,
not excepting her husband, who, to be sure, had been quite prodigiously
annoying all day, relented, told him she understood perfectly, and even
offered to kiss him to make up for her monstrous ill-humour. Jack
accepted the offer promptly, waved farewell to her from the porch, and
returned to the empty drawing-room to while away the time with two
numbers of the _Spectator_ and his own thoughts till dinner, which was
to be later than usual to-day, on account of an attack of vapours which
had seized the cook.

His thoughts were too unpleasant to be dwelt on; everything in his world
seemed to have gone awry. So he occupied himself with what seemed to him
a particularly uninteresting number of the _Spectator_. The sun had
almost disappeared, and very soon it became too dark to read; no candles
having been brought as yet, my lord, very unromantically, went to sleep
in his chair. Whether he would have eventually snored is not known, for
not more than a quarter of an hour afterwards the butler roused him with
the magic words:

"Dinner is served, sir."

Carstares turned his head lazily.

"What's that you say, James?"

"Dinner is served, sir," repeated the man, and held the door wide for
him to pass out.

"Faith! I'm glad to hear it!"

My lord rose leisurely and pulled his cravat more precisely into
position. Although he was to be alone, he gave his costume a touch here
and there, and flicked a speck of dust from one great cuff with his
elegant lace handkerchief.

He strolled across the old panelled hall to the dining-room, and sat
down at the table.

The curtains were drawn across the windows, and clusters of candles in
graceful silver holders were arranged on the table, shedding a warm
light on to the white damask and the shining covers. The footmen
presented a fish, and my lord permitted a little to be put on his plate.
The butler desired to know if Mr. Carr would drink claret or burgundy,
or ale? Mr. Carr would drink claret. A sirloin of beef next made its
appearance, and went away considerably smaller. Then before my lord was
spread an array of dishes. Partridges flanked one end, a pasty stood
next, a cream, two chickens, a duck, and a ham of noble proportions.

My lord went gently through.

The butler desired to know if Mr. Carr would drink a glass of burgundy?
He exhibited a dusty bottle. My lord considered it through his eyeglass
and decided in favour. He sipped reflectively and waved the ham away.

Sweetmeats appeared before him and a soup, while plump pigeons were
uncovered at his elbow.

One was whipped deftly on to his plate, and as he took up his knife and
fork to carve it, a great scuffling sounded without, angry voices being
raised in expostulation, and, above all, a breathless, insistent appeal
for Mr. Carr or Sir Miles. My lord laid down the knife and fork and came
to his feet.

"It appears I am demanded," he said, and went to the door. It was opened
for him at once, and he stepped out into the hall to find Mr. Beauleigh
trying to dodge the younger footman, who was refusing to let him pass.
At the sight of Carstares he stepped back respectfully. Mr. Beauleigh,
hot, distraught, breathless, fell upon my lord.

"Thank God you are here, sir!" he cried.

Carstares observed him with some surprise. Mr. Beauleigh had been so
very frigid when last they had met.

"I am glad to be at your service, sir," he bowed. "You have commands for
me?"

"We are in terrible trouble," almost moaned the other. "Betty bade me
come to find you, or failing you, Sir Miles, for none other can help
us!"

Carstares' glance grew sharper.

"Trouble? Not--But I forget my manners--we shall talk more at ease in
here." He led Mr. Beauleigh into the morning-room. Beauleigh thrust a
paper into his hands.

"Diana went riding this afternoon, and only her horse returned--with
this attached to the pommel! Read it, sir! Read it!"

"Diana!" Carstares strode over to the light, and devoured the contents
of the single sheet, with eager eyes.

They were not long, and they were very much to the point:

"Mr. Beauleigh may haply recall to mind a certain 'Mr. Everard,' of
Bath, whose Addresses to Miss Beauleigh were cruelly repulsed. He
regrets having now to take the Matter into his Own Hands, and trusts to
further his Acquaintance with Mr. Beauleigh at some Future Date, when
Miss Beauleigh shall, He trusts, have become 'Mrs. Everard.'"

Jack crumpled the paper furiously in his hand, grinding out a startling
oath.

"--insolent cur!"

"Yes, yes, sir! But what will that avail my daughter? I have come
straight to you, for my sister is convinced you know this Everard, and
can tell me where to seek them!"

Carstares clapped a hand on his shoulder.

"Never fear, Mr. Beauleigh! I pledge you my word she shall be found this
very night!"

"You know where he has taken her? You do? You are sure?"

"Back to his earth, I'll lay my life; 'tis ever his custom." He strode
to the door, flung it wide and shot clear, crisp directions at the
footman. "See to it that my mare is saddled in ten minutes and Blue
Devil harnessed to your master's curricle! Don't stand staring--go! And
send Salter to me!"

The footman scuttled away, pausing only to inform my lord that Salter
was not in.

Carstares remembered that he had given Jim leave to visit his Mary at
Fittering, and crushed out another oath. He sprang up the stairs, Mr.
Beauleigh following breathlessly.

In his room, struggling with his boots, he put a few questions.

Mr. Beauleigh related the whole tale, dwelling mournfully on the
excellent references for Harper he had received from Sir Hugh Grandison.

Jack hauled at his second boot.

"Tracy himself, of course!" he fumed, adjusting his spurs.

"Pray, Mr. Carr, who is this scoundrel? Is it true that you know him?"

"Andover," answered Jack from the depths of the garde-robe. "Damn the
fellow, where has he put my cloak?" This to the absent Jim, and not the
Duke.

"Andover! Not--surely not the Duke?" cried Mr. Beauleigh.

"I know of none other. At last!"

He emerged and tossed a heavy, many-caped coat on to the bed.

"Now, sir, your attention for one moment."

He was buckling on his sword as he spoke, and not looking at the other
man.

"Tracy will have borne Di--Miss Beauleigh off to Andover Court, seven
miles beyond Wyncham, to the south-west. Your horse, I take it, is not
fresh," (he knew Mr. Beauleigh's horse). "I have ordered the curricle
for you. I will ride on at once by short cuts, for there is not a moment
to be lost--"

"The Duke of Andover!" interrupted Mr. Beauleigh. "The Duke of Andover!
Why, do you think he purposes to marry my daughter?"

Jack gave a short, furious laugh.

"Ay! As he married all the others!"

Mr. Beauleigh winced.

"Sir! Pray why should you say so?"

"I perceive you do not know his Grace. Perchance you have heard of Devil
Belmanoir?"

Then the little man paled.

"Good God, Mr. Carr, 'tis not he?"

Carstares caught up his hat and whip.

"Ay, Mr. Beauleigh, 'tis indeed he. Now perhaps you appreciate the
necessity for haste?"

Mr. Beauleigh's eyes were open at last.

"For God's sake, Mr. Carr, after them!"

"'Tis what I intend, sir. You will follow as swiftly as possible?"

"Yes, yes, but do not wait for anything! Can you reach Andover--in
time?"

"I reach Andover to-night," was the grim answer. "And you, sir? You know
the road?"

"I will find out. Only go, Mr. Carr! Do not waste time, I implore you!"

Jack struggled into his riding coat, clapped his hat on to his head, and
with his Grace of Andover's sword tucked beneath his arm, went down the
stairs three and four at a time, and hurried out on to the drive, where
the groom stood waiting with Jenny's bridle over his arm. Carstares cast
a hasty glance at the girths and sprang up. The mare sidled and
fidgeted, fretting to be gone, but was held in with a hand of iron while
her master spoke to the groom.

"You must drive Mr. Beauleigh to Andover Court as fast as you can. It is
a matter of life and death. You know the way?"

The amazed groom collected his wits with difficulty.

"Roughly, sir."

"That will do--Mr. Beauleigh will know. Drive your damnedest, man--Sir
Miles won't mind. You understand?"

Jack's word was law in the O'Hara household.

"Yes, sir," answered the man, and touched his hat.

On the word, he saw the beautiful straining mare leap forward, and the
next moment both horse and rider were swallowed in the gloom.

"Well I'm--darned," exploded the groom, and turned to fetch the
curricle.

Across the stretch of moorland went Jack at a gallop, Jenny speeding
under him like the wind, and seeming to catch something of her master's
excitement. Low over her neck he bent, holding the Duke's sword across
his saddle-bows with one hand and with the other guiding her. So he
covered some three miles. He reined in then, and forced her to a canter,
saving her strength for the long distance ahead of them. She was in
splendid condition, glorying in the unrestrained gallop across the turf,
and although she was too well-mannered to pull on the rein, Carstares
could see by the eager twitching of her ears how she longed to be gone
over the ground. He spoke soothingly to her and guided her on to the
very lane where Diana had ridden that afternoon. She fell into a long,
easy stride that seemed to eat up the ground. Now they were off the
lane, riding over a field to join another road, leading west. A hedge
cut them off, but the mare gathered her legs beneath her and soared
over, alighting as gracefully as a bird, and skimming on again up the
road.

Her responsive ears flickered as he praised her, and pulled her up.

"Easy now, Jenny, easy!"

She was trembling with excitement, but she yielded to his will and
trotted quietly for perhaps another half-hour.

Carstares rose and fell rhythmically in the saddle, taking care to keep
his spurred heels from her glossy sides. He guessed the time to be about
seven o'clock, and his brows drew together worriedly. Jenny was made of
steel and lightning, but would she manage it? He had never tested her
powers as he was about to now, and he dared not allow her much breathing
space. Every minute was precious if he were to reach Andover before it
was too late.

Assuming that Tracy had captured Diana at four, or thereabouts, he
reckoned that it should take a heavy coach four hours or more to reach
Andover. Jenny might manage it in two and a half hours, allowing for
short cuts, in which case he ought to arrive not long after the others.

He was tortured by the thought of Diana at the mercy of a man of Tracy's
calibre; Diana in terror; Diana despairing. Unconsciously he pressed his
knees against the smooth flank and once more Jenny fell into that long,
swift stride. She seemed to glide over the ground with never a jar nor a
stumble. Carstares was careful not to irk her in any way, only keeping a
guiding, restraining hand on the rein, and for the rest letting her go
as she willed. On and on they sped, as the time lagged by, sometimes
through leafy lanes, at others over fields and rough tracks. Not for
nothing had Carstares roamed this country for two years; almost every
path was familiar to him; he never took a wrong turn, never swerved,
never hesitated. On and on, past sleeping villages and lonely
homesteads, skirting woods, riding up hill and down dale, never
slackening his hold on the rein, never taking his eyes off the road
before him, except now and then to throw a glance to the side on the
look-out for some hidden by-path. After the first hour a dull pain in
his shoulder reminded him of his wound, still troublesome. He set his
teeth and pressed on still faster.

The mare caught her foot on a loose stone and stumbled. His hand held
her together, the muscles standing out like ribbed steel, his voice
encouraged her, and he made her walk again. This time she did not fret
against the restraint. He shifted the sword under his bridle hand, and
passed the right down her steaming neck, crooning to her softly beneath
his breath.

She answered with a low, throbbing whinny. She could not understand why
he desired her to gallop on, braving unknown terrors in the dark; all
she could know was that it was his wish. It seemed also that he was
pleased with her. She would have cantered on again, but he made her walk
for, perhaps, another five minutes, until they were come to a stretch of
common he knew well. It was getting late, and he pressed her with his
knee, adjuring her to do her best, and urging her to a gallop, leaning
right forward, the better to pierce the darkness ahead. A gorse bush
loomed before them, and Jenny shied at it, redoubling her pace.

With hand and voice he soothed her, and on they sped. He judged the time
to be now about half-past eight, and knew that they must make the
remaining miles in an hour. Even now the coach might have arrived, and
beyond that he dared not think.

Another half-hour crept by, and he could feel the mare's breath coming
short and fast, and reined in again, this time to a canter. He was off
the moor now, on a road he remembered well, and knew himself to be not
ten miles from Wyncham. Five more miles as the crow flies.... He knew
he must give Jenny another rest, and pulled up, dismounting and going to
her head.

Her legs were trembling, and the sweat rolled off her satin skin. She
dropped her nose into his hand, sobbingly. He rubbed her ears and patted
her, and she lipped his cheek lovingly, breathing more easily.

Up again then, and forward once more, skimming over the ground.

Leaving Wyncham on his right, Carstares cut west and then north-west, on
the highroad now, leading to Andover. Only two more miles to go....

Jenny stumbled again and broke into a walk. Her master tapped her
shoulder, and she picked up her stride again.

She was almost winded, and he knew it, but he had to force her onwards.
She responded gallantly to his hand, although her breath came sobbingly
and her great, soft eyes were blurred.

At last the great iron gates were in view; he could see them through the
dusk, firmly shut. He pulled up and walked on, looking for a place in
the hedge where Jenny might push through.



CHAPTER XXVII

MY LORD ENTERS BY THE WINDOW


His Grace of Andover made a sign to the footmen, and with a sinking
heart Diana watched them leave the room, discreetly closing the door
behind them. She affected to eat a peach, skinning it with fingers that
were stiff and wooden. Tracy leaned back in his chair, surveying her
through half-shut eyelids. He watched her eat her peach and rise to her
feet standing with her hand on the back of the high, carved chair. She
addressed him nervously and with would-be lightness.

"Well, sir, I have eaten, and I protest I am fatigued. Pray have the
goodness to conduct me to your housekeeper."

"My dear," he drawled, "nothing would give me greater pleasure--always
supposing that I possessed one."

She raised her eyebrows haughtily.

"I presume you have at least a maidservant," she inquired. "If I am to
remain here, I would retire."

"You shall, child, all in good time. But do not be in a hurry to deprive
me of your fair company." He rose as he spoke, and taking her hand, led
her dumbly to a low-backed settee at the other end of the great room.

"If you have aught to say to me, your Grace, I beg that you will reserve
it until to-morrow. I am not in the humour to-night."

He laughed at her.

"Still so cold, child?"

"I am not like to be different, sir."

His eyes glinted.

"You think so? I shall show you that you are wrong, my dear. You may
loathe me, you may love me, but I think you will lose something of that
icy indifference. Allow me to point out to you that there is a couch
behind you."

"I perceive it, sir."

"Then be seated."

"It is not worth the while, sir. I am not staying." He advanced one step
towards her with that in his face that made her sink hurriedly on to the
couch.

He nodded smiling.

"You are wise, Diana."

"Why so free with my name, sir?" This with icy sweetness.

Tracy flung himself down beside her, his arm over the back of the settee
and the fingers of his drooping hand just touching her shoulder. It was
all the girl could do to keep from screaming. She felt trapped and
helpless, and her nerve was in pieces.

"Nay, sweet! An end to this quibbling. Bethink you, is it worth your
while to anger me?"

She sat rigid and silent.

"I love you--ay, you shudder. One day you will not do that."

"You call this love, your Grace?" she cried out, between scorn and
misery.

"Something near it," he answered imperturbably.

"God help you then!" she shivered, thinking of one other who had loved
her so differently.

"Belike He will," was the pleasant rejoinder. "But we wander from the
point. It is this: you shall retire to your chamber at once--er--armed
with the key--an you will swear to marry me to-morrow."

Very white, she made as if to rise. The thin fingers closed over her
shoulders, forcing her to remain.

"No, my dear. Sit still."

Her self-control was slipping away from her; she struggled to be free of
that hateful hand.

"Oh, you brute, you brute! Let me go!"

"When you have given me your answer, sweetheart."

"It is no!" she cried. "A thousand times no!"

"Think...."

"I have thought! I would rather die than wed you!"

"Very possibly. But death will not be your lot, my pretty one," purred
the sinister voice in her ear. "Think carefully before you answer; were
it not better to marry me with all honour than to--"

"You devil!" she panted, and looked wildly round for some means of
escape. The long window was open, she knew, for the curtain blew out
into the room. But his Grace was between it and her.

"You begin to think better of it, child? Remember, to-morrow will be too
late. This is your chance, now. In truth," he took a pinch of snuff, "in
truth, it matters not to me whether you will be a bride or no."

With a sudden movement she wrenched herself free and darted to the
window. In a flash he was up and had caught her as she reached it,
swinging her round to face him.

"Not so fast, my dear. You do not escape me so."

His arm was about her waist, drawing her irresistibly towards him. Sick
with fear, she struck madly at the face bent close to hers.

"Let me go! How dare you insult me so? Oh, for God's sake let me go!"

He was pressing her against him, one hand holding her wrists behind her
in a grip of iron, his other arm about her shoulders.

"For my own sake I will keep you," he smiled, and looked gloatingly down
at her beautiful, agonised countenance, with its wonderful eyes gazing
imploringly at him, and the sensitive mouth a-quiver. For one instant he
held her so, and then swiftly bent his head and pressed his lips to
hers.

She could neither struggle nor cry out. A deadly faintness assailed her,
and she could scarcely breathe.

"By God, it is too late!" he swore. "You had best give in, madam--nought
can avail you now."

And then the unexpected happened. Even as in her last desperate effort
to free herself she moaned the name of him whom she deemed hundreds of
miles away across the sea, a crisp voice, vibrating with a species of
cold fury, sounded directly behind them.

"You delude yourself, Belmanoir," it said with deadly quiet.

With an oath Tracy released the girl and wheeled to face the intruder.

Framed by the dark curtains, drawn sword in hand, murder in his blue
eyes, stood my lord.

Tracy's snarl died slowly away as he stared, and a look of blank
amazement took its place.

Diana, almost unable to believe her eyes, dizzy with the suddenness of
it all, stumbled blindly towards him, crying:

"Thank God! Thank God! Oh, Jack!"

He caught her in his arms, drawing her gently to the couch.

"Dear heart, you never doubted I should come?"

"I thought you in France!" she sobbed, and sank down amongst the
cushions.

Carstares turned to meet his Grace.

Tracy had recovered from the first shock of surprise and was eyeing him
though his quizzing glass.

"This is an unexpected pleasure, my lord," he drawled with easy
insolence.

Diana started at the mode of address and looked up at Carstares,
bewildered.

"I perceive your sword in the corner behind you, your Grace!" snapped
Jack, and flung over to the door, twisting the key round in the lock and
slipping it into his breeches pocket.

To Diana he was as a stranger, with no laugh in the glittering blue
eyes, and none of the almost finicking politeness that usually
characterised his bearing. He was very white, with lips set in a hard
straight line, and his nostrils slightly expanded.

His Grace shrugged a careless refusal.

"My dear Carstares, why should I fight you?" he inquired, seemingly not
in the least annoyed by the other's intrusion.

"I had anticipated that answer, your Grace. So I brought _this_!"

As he spoke Jack drove the sword he held into the wood floor, where it
stayed, quivering.

Nonchalantly Tracy took it in his hand and glanced at the hilt.

His fingers tightened on it convulsively, and he shot a piercing glance
at Jack.

"I am entirely at your service," he said very smoothly, and laid the
sword on the table.

Some of the glare died out of my lord's eyes, and a little triumphant
smile curved the corners of his mouth. Quickly he divested himself of
his fine velvet coat, his waistcoat and his scabbard, and pulled off
the heavy riding boots, caked with mud. He proceeded to tuck up his
ruffles, awaiting his Grace's convenience.

As one in a dream, Diana saw the table pushed back, the paces measured,
and heard the ring of steel against steel.

My lord opened the attack after a few moments' cautious circling,
lunging swiftly and recovering, even as the Duke countered and delivered
a lightning _riposte en quinte_. My lord parried gracefully in tierce,
and chuckled softly to himself.

With parted lips and wide eyes, the girl on the couch watched each fresh
lunge. A dozen times it seemed as though Carstares must be run through,
but each time, by some miraculous means, he regained his opposition, and
the Duke's blade met steel.

Once, indeed, thrusting in _quarte_, Tracy's point, aimed too high,
flashed above the other's guard and ripped the cambric shirt at the
sleeve. My lord retired his foot nimbly, parried, and _riposted_ with a
straight thrust, wrist held high, before Tracy could recover his
opposition. The blades clashed as forte met foible, and my lord lunged
straight at his opponent's breast.

Diana shut her eyes, expecting every moment to hear the dull thud of
Tracy's body as it should fall to the ground. It did not come, but
instead there sounded a confused stamping, and scraping of blades, and
she looked again to find the Duke disengaging over my lord's supple
wrist and being parried with the utmost ease and dexterity.

Carstares knew that he would not be able to last long, however. His
shoulder, fretted by the long ride, was aching intolerably, and his
wrist seemed to have lost some of its cunning. He was conscious of a
singing in his head which he tried, in vain, to ignore. But his eyes
glowed and sparkled with the light of battle and the primitive lust to
kill.

The Duke was fencing with almost superhuman skill, moving heavily and
deliberately, seemingly tireless.

Carstares, on the other hand, was as swift and light as a panther, grace
in every turn of his slim body.

He feinted suddenly inside the arm, deceiving the parade of tierce. His
Grace fell back a pace, parrying in _quarte_, and as John with a quick
twist changed to _quarte_ also and the blades crossed, Tracy lunged
forward the length of his arm, and a deep red splash stained the
whiteness of my lord's sleeve at the shoulder.

Diana gave a choked cry, knowing it to be the old wound, and the Duke's
blade came to rest upon the ground.

"You are--satisfied?" he asked coolly, but panting a little.

My lord reeled slightly, controlled himself and brushed his left hand
across his eyes.

"On guard!" was all he replied, ignoring a pleading murmur from the
girl.

Tracy shrugged, meeting Carstares' blade with his, and the fight went
on.

Tracy's eyes were almost shut, it appeared to Diana, his chin thrust
forward, his teeth gripping the thin lower lip.

To her horror she saw that Carstares was breathing in gasps, and that
his face was ashen in hue. It was torture to her to sit impotent, but
she held herself in readiness to fly to his rescue should the need
arise. Suddenly my lord feinted on both sides of the arm and ripped open
the Duke's sleeve, causing a steady trickle of blood to drip down on to
the floor.

Tracy took no notice, but countered so deftly that John's blade wavered,
and he staggered back. For an instant it seemed as though the end had
come, but somehow he steadied himself, recovering his guard.

Diana was on her feet now, nearly as white as her lover, her hands
pressed to her breast. She saw that John's point was no longer so
purposeful, and the smile had gone from his lips. They were parted now,
the upper one rigid, and a deep furrow cut into his brow.

Then, startling in the stillness of the great house, came the clanging
of a bell, pulled with some violence.

Carstares' white lips moved soundlessly, and Diana, guessing it to be
her father, moved, clinging to the wall, towards the door.

A moment later along the passage came the sound of steps; a gay,
boisterous voice was raised, followed by a deeper, graver one.

His Grace's face became devilish in its expression, but Carstares took
no notice, seeming not to hear. Only he thrust with such skill that his
Grace was forced to fall back a pace. The loud voices demanded to know
what was toward in the locked room, and Diana, knowing that my lord was
nearly spent, beat upon the panels.

"Quickly, quickly!" she cried. "Break through, for heaven's sake,
whoever you are! 'Tis locked!"

"Good Gad! 'tis a woman!" exclaimed the voice. "Listen,
Dick!--why--why--'tis a fight!"

"Oh, be _quick_!" implored poor Diana.

And then came the deeper voice: "Stand away, madam, we will burst the
lock."

She moved quickly aside, turning her attention once more to the duel by
the window, as Andrew flung his shoulder against the stout wood. At the
third blow the lock gave, the door flew wide, and Lord Andrew was
precipitated into the room.

And the two by the window fought on unheeding, faster and faster.

"Well, I'm damned!" said Andrew, surveying them. He walked forward
interestedly, and at the same moment caught sight of Jack's face. He
stared in amazement, and called to Richard.

"Good Lord! Here! Dick! Come here! Surely it's--_who_ is that man?"

Diana saw the tall gentleman, so like her lover in appearance, step
forward to the young rake's side. The next events happened in a flash.
She heard a great cry, and before she had time to know what he was
doing, Richard had whipped his sword from its scabbard and had struck up
the two blades. In that moment the years rolled back, and, recognising
his brother, Jack gasped furiously:

"Damn--you--Dick! Out--of--the way!"

Tracy stood leaning on his sword, watching, his breath coming in gasps,
but still with that cynical smile on his lips.

Richard, seeing that his brother would fly at the Duke again, closed
with him, struggling to wrest the rapier from his weakened grasp.

"You fool, John, leave go! Leave go, I say!"

With a twist he had the sword in his hand and sent it spinning across
the room as without a sound my lord crumpled up and fell with a thud to
the floor.



CHAPTER XXVIII

IN WHICH WHAT THREATENED TO BE TRAGEDY TURNS TO COMEDY


With a smothered cry Diana flew across the room to where my lord lay in
a pitiful little heap, but before her was Richard. He fell on his knees
beside the still figure, feeling for the wound.

Diana, on the other side, looked across at him.

"'Tis his shoulder, sir--an old wound. Oh, he is not--he cannot
be--_dead_?"

Richard shook his head dumbly and gently laid bare the white shoulder.
The wound was bleeding very slightly, and they bound it deftly betwixt
them, with their united handkerchiefs and a napkin seized from the
table.

"'Tis exhaustion, I take it," frowned Richard, his hand before the pale
lips. "He is breathing still."

Over her shoulder Diana shot an order:

"One of you men, please fetch water and cognac!"

"At once, madam!" responded Andrew promptly, and hurried out.

She bent once more over my lord, gazing anxiously into his face.

"He will live? You--are sure? He--he must have rid all the way from
Maltby--for me!" She caught her breath on a sob, pressing one lifeless
hand to her lips.

"For you, madam?" Richard looked an inquiry.

She blushed.

"Yes--he--we--I--"

"I see," said Richard gravely.

She nodded.

"Yes, and--and the Duke--caught me, and--brought me here--and--and then
_he_ came--and saved me!"

The air blowing in from the window stirred the ruffles of my lord's
shirt, and blew a strand of her dark hair across Diana's face. She
caught it back and stared at Richard with a puzzled air.

"Pardon me, sir--but you are so like him!"

"I am his brother," answered Richard shortly.

Her eyes grew round with surprise.

"His _brother_, sir? I never knew Mr. Carr had a brother!"

"Mr.--who?" asked Richard.

"Carr. It is not his name, is it? I heard the Duke call him
Carstares--and--my lord."

"He is the Earl of Wyncham," answered Richard, stretching out a hand to
relieve Andrew of the jug of water he was proffering.

"Good--gracious!" gasped Diana. "B-but he said he was a highwayman!"

"Quite true, madam."

"True? But how--how ridiculous--and how like him!"

She soaked a handkerchief in the water, and bathed my lord's forehead.

"He is not coming to in the least," she said nervously. "You are sure
'tis not--not--"

"Quite. He'll come round presently. You said he had ridden far?"

"He must have, sir--I wish he were not so pale--he was staying with the
O'Haras at Maltby."

"What? The O'Haras?"

"Yes--and he must have ridden from there--and his wound still so
tender!" Again she kissed the limp hand.

Over by the window his Grace, his breath recovered, was eyeing Andrew
through his quizzing-glass.

"May I inquire what brings you here?" he asked sweetly. "And why you saw
fit to bring the saintly Richard?"

"I came because it suited me to do so. I never dreamed you were
here--'Pon my soul, I did not!"

"Where then did you think I was?"

"Never thought about you at all, my dear fellow. I'm not your squire."

"Why is Richard here?"

"Lord, what a catechism! He is here because he brought me with him on
his way to Wyncham. Have you any objection?"

"It would be useless," shrugged Tracy. "Have I killed that young fool?"

Andrew looked him over in disgust.

"No, you have not. You have barely touched him, thanks be."

"Dear me! Why this sudden affection for Carstares?"

Andrew swung round on his heel, remarking over his shoulder:

"He may be a cheat, but he's a damned fine fellow. By Gad! he nearly
pinked you as I entered!" He chuckled at the memory of that glorious
moment.

"He nearly pinked me a dozen times," replied Tracy, binding his arm
round more tightly. "He fights like ten devils. But he was fatigued."

He followed Andrew across the room and stood looking down at his
unconscious foe.

Diana's eyes challenged him.

"Stand back, your Grace! You have no more to do here!"

He drew out his snuff-box and took a pinch.

"So that is how the matter lies, my dear. I did not know that."

"You pretend that it would have made a difference in your treatment of
me?"

"Not the slightest, child," he replied, shutting the box with a snap.
"It has merely come as a slight surprise to me. It seems he has the luck
this round." He walked away again as another great bell-peal sounded
through the house.

Andrew, pouring cognac into a glass, paused with bottle held in mid-air.

"Thunder and turf! We are like to be a party! Who now?" He set the glass
down and lounged out of the room, bottle in hand. They heard him give an
astonished cry and a loud laugh, and the next moment O'Hara strode into
the room, booted and spurred and enveloped in a heavy surcoat. He came
swiftly upon the little group about my lord and went down on one knee
beside him. His eyes seemed to take in everyone at a glance. Then he
looked across at Richard.

"Is he alive?"

Richard nodded, not meeting the hard, anxious gaze.

O'Hara bent over his friend.

"He has been wounded?"

Diana answered this.

"Only slightly, Sir Miles, but 'twas his shoulder again. He was tired
after the ride--Mr. Carstares thinks he has fainted from exhaustion."

O'Hara very gently slipped one arm beneath my lord's shoulders and the
other under his knees, rising with him as easily as if he were carrying
a baby. He walked over to the couch, lowering his burden on to the
cushions that Diana placed to receive him.

"He will be easier there," he said, and looked across at her.

"Ye are quite safe, child?"

"Quite--quite--He came just in time--and fought for me." She dabbed
openly at her eyes. "I--I love him so, Sir Miles--and now I hear that he
is an Earl!" she sighed.

"Well, child, 'twill make no difference, I take it. I hope he'll make ye
happy."

She smiled through her tears very confidently.

O'Hara turned and faced Richard, who was standing a little in the rear,
watching his brother's face. He met O'Hara's scathing look squarely.

"Well?"

"Nought," answered the Irishman cuttingly, and walked over to where Lord
Andrew was arguing hotly with his brother.

Carstares returned to my lord's side and stood looking silently down at
him.

Diana suddenly gave a little joyful cry.

"He is coming round! He moved his head! Oh, Jack, my dear one, look at
me!" She bent over him with eyes alight with love.

My lord's eyelids flickered and opened. For a moment he stared at her.

"Why--Diana!" She took his head between her hands and kissed him full on
the mouth. Then she raised his head to look into the blue eyes.

My lord's arm crept round her and held her tight against him. After a
moment she disengaged herself and stood aside. Jack's eyes, still a
little bewildered, fell upon his brother. He struggled up on his elbow.

"Am I dreaming? _Dick_!" His voice was full of a great joy. Richard went
quickly to him, trying to put him back on the cushions.

"My dear Jack--no, no--lie still!"

"Lie still?" cried my lord, swinging his feet to the ground. "Not a bit
of it! I am well enough, but a trifle dizzy. How in thunder did you come
here? Surely 'twas you knocked up my sword? Yes? Interfering young cub!
Give me your arm a minute!"

"But why do you want to get up?" pleaded a soft voice in his ear.

"So that I can take you in my arms, sweetheart," he answered, and
proceeded to do so.

Then his glance, wandering round the room, alighted on the heated group
by the table; Andrew vociferously indignant, Tracy coolly sarcastic, and
O'Hara furious.

"Tare an' ouns!" ejaculated my lord. "Where _did_ they all spring from?"

"I don't quite know!" laughed Diana. "Sir Miles came a few minutes
ago--the other gentleman came with Mr. Carstares."

"Ay, I remember him--'tis Andrew, eh, Dick? Zounds! how he has grown!
But what in the world are they all fighting over? Miles! Miles, I say!"

O'Hara wheeled round, surprised.

"Oho! Ye are up, are ye." He crossed to his side. "Then sit down!"

"Since you are all so insistent, I will. How did you come here?"

O'Hara went round to the back of the couch to arrange a cushion beneath
the hurt shoulder, and leaned his arms upon the back, looking down with
a laugh in his eyes.

"Faith, I rode!"

"But how did you know? Where--"

"'Twas all on account of that young rascal David," he said. "Molly
fretted and fumed all the way to the Frasers, vowing the child would be
neglected, and what not, and we'd not been in the house above an hour or
so, when up she jumps and says she knows that _something_ has happened
at home, and nothing will suffice but that I must drive her back. We
arrived just as Beauleigh was setting out. He told us the whole tale,
and of course I had Blue Peter saddled in the twinkling of an eye and
was off after ye. But, what with taking wrong turns and me horse not
happening to be made of lightning, I couldn't arrive until now."

"You cannot have been so long after me," said Jack. "For I wasted full
half-an-hour outside here, trying to find an opening in the hedge for
Jenny to get through. She is now stalled in a shed at the bottom of the
lawn with my cloak over her. I'll swear she's thirsty, too."

"I'll see to that," promised O'Hara.

Andrew came across the room and bowed awkwardly to my lord, stammering a
little. Carstares held out his hand. "Lord, Andy! I scarce knew you!"

After a moment's hesitation, Andrew took the outstretched hand and
answered, laughingly. But my lord had not failed to notice the
hesitation, short though it had been.

"I--beg your pardon. I had forgot," he said stiffly.

Andrew sat down beside him, rather red about the ears.

"Oh, stuff, Jack! I'm a clumsy fool, but I did not mean that!" Richard
stepped forward into the full light of the candles.

"If you will all listen to me one moment, I shall be greatly obliged,"
he said steadily.

Lord John started forward.

"Dick!" he cried, warningly, and would have gone to him, but for
O'Hara's hand on his shoulder, dragging him back.

"Ah, now, be aisy," growled Miles. "Let the man say it!"

"Hold your tongue, O'Hara! Dick, wait one moment! I want to speak to
you!"

Richard never glanced at him.

"I am about to tell you something that should have been told--seven
years ago--"

"Once and for all, I forbid it!" snapped my lord, trying to disengage
himself from O'Hara's grip.

Miles leant over him.

"See here, me boy, if ye don't keep a still tongue in your head, it's
meself that'll be gagging you, and that's that!"

My lord swore at him.

Diana laid a gentle hand on his arm.

"Please, John! Please be still! Why should not Mr. Carstares speak?"

"You don't know what he would do!" fumed Jack.

"In fact, Miss Beauleigh, Sir Miles and Andrew are completely in the
dark," drawled the Duke. "Shall I tell the tale, Richard?"

"Thank you, I shall not require your assistance," was the cold
rejoinder. "But I must ask you to be quiet, John."

"I will not! You must n--"

"That will do," decided O'Hara, and placed a relentless hand over his
mouth. "Go on, Carstares!"

"For the sake of Miss Beauleigh, I will tell you that seven years ago my
brother and I went to a card-party. I cheated. He took the blame. He has
borne it ever since because I was too much a coward to confess. That is
all I have to say."

"'Twas for that ye wanted to see me on Friday?" shot out O'Hara.

Richard nodded, dully.

"Yes, I was going to tell you then."

"H'm! I'm glad ye had decided to play the man's part for once!"

With a furious oath Jack wrenched himself free and rounded on his
friend.

"You take too much upon yourself, O'Hara!"

He rose unsteadily and walked to Richard's side.

"Dick has told you much, but not all. You none of you know the reasons
we had for acting as we did. But you know him well enough to believe
that it needed very strong reasons to induce him to allow me take the
blame. If anyone has aught to say in the matter, I shall be glad if he
will say it to me--now!" His eyes flashed menacingly as they swept the
company, and rested for an instant on O'Hara's unyielding countenance.
Then he turned and held out his hand to his brother with his own
peculiarly wistful smile.

"Can you bear to speak to me?" muttered Richard, with face averted.

"Gad, Dick, don't be ridiculous!" He grasped the unwilling hand. "You
would have done the same for me!"

Andrew pressed forward.

"Well, I can see no use in raking up old scores! After all, what does it
matter? It's buried and finished. Here's my hand on it, Dick! Lord! I
couldn't turn my back on the man I've lived on for years!" He laughed
irrepressibly, and wrung Richard's hand.

My lord's eyes were on O'Hara, pleading. Reluctantly the Irishman came
forward.

"'Tis only fair to tell you, Richard, that I can't see eye to eye with
Andrew, here. However, I'm not denying that I think a good deal better
of ye now than I did--seven years ago."

Richard looked up eagerly.

"You never believed him guilty?"

O'Hara laughed.

"Hardly!"

"You knew 'twas I?"

"I had me suspicions, of course."

"I wish--oh, how I wish you had voiced them!"

O'Hara raised his eyebrows, and there fell a little silence. His Grace
of Andover broke it, coming forward in his inimitable way. He looked
round the room at each member of the company.

"One, two, three--four, five--" he counted. "Andrew, tell them to lay
covers for five in the dining-room."

"Aren't you staying?" asked his brother, surprised.

"I have supped," replied Tracy coolly.

For a moment O'Hara's mouth twitched, and then he burst out laughing.
Everyone looked at him inquiringly.

"Ecod!" he gasped. "Oh, sink me an I ever came across a more amusing
villain! 'Lay covers for five!' Oh, damme!"

"Or should I have said six?" continued his Grace imperturbably. "Am I
not to have the honour of Mr. Beauleigh's company?"

O'Hara checked his mirth.

"No, ye are not! He was content to let me manage the business, and went
back to Littledean."

"I am sorry," bowed his Grace, and turned to my lord, who, with his arm
about Diana's waist, was watching him arrogantly.

"I see how the land lies," he remarked. "I congratulate you, John. I
cannot help wishing that I had finished you that day in the road. Permit
me to say that you fence rather creditably."

My lord bowed stiffly.

"Of course," continued his Grace smoothly, "you also wish you had
disposed of me. I sympathise. But, however much you may inwardly despise
and loathe me, you cannot show it--unless you choose to make yourself
and me the talk of town--not forgetting Mistress Diana. Also I abhor bad
tragedy. So I trust you will remain here to-night as my guest--er,
Andrew, pray do not omit to order bed-chambers to be
prepared--Afterwards you need never come near me again--in fact, I hope
that you will not."

My lord could not entirely repress a smile.

"I thank your Grace for your hospitality, which I fear," he glanced down
at Diana's tired face, "I shall be compelled to accept. As to the
rest--I agree. Like you, I dislike bad tragedy."

Diana gave a tiny laugh.

"You are all so stiff!" she said _I_ shall go to bed!"

"I will take you to the stairs then," said Jack promptly, and led her
forward.

She stopped as they were about to pass his Grace, and faced him.

Tracy bowed very low.

"Good-night, madam. Carstares will know which room I had assigned to
you. You will find a servant there."

"Thank you," she said steadily. "I shall try to forget the happenings of
this day, your Grace. I see the truth in what you say--we cannot afford
to let the world see that we are at enmity, lest it should talk. And, I
confess it freely, I find it less hard to forgive you the insults of--of
to-day, since they brought--Jack--to me. An I had not been in such dire
straits, I might never have seen him again."

"In fact," bowed his Grace, "everything has been for the best!"

"I would not say that, sir," she replied, and went out.

For a moment there was silence in the room. No one quite knew what to
say. As usual, it was Tracy who came to the rescue, breaking an
uncomfortable pause.

"I suggest that we adjourn to the dining-room," he said. "I gather we
may have to wait some time before his lordship reappears. O'Hara, after
you!"

"One moment," replied Miles. "Jack's mare is in a shed somewhere. I said
I would see to her."

"Andrew!" called his Grace. "When you have finished superintending the
laying of the supper, give orders concerning Carstares' mare!"

A casual assent came from outside, and immediately afterwards Lord
Andrew's voice was heard shouting instructions to someone, evidently
some way off.

On the whole, the supper-party passed off quite smoothly. His Grace was
smilingly urbane, Andrew boisterous and amusing, and O'Hara bent on
keeping the conversation up. Richard sat rather silent, but my lord,
already deliriously happy, soon let fall his armour and joined in the
talk, anxious to hear all the news of town for the last six years.

O'Hara was several times hard put to it to keep from laughing out loud
at his thoughts. The humour of the situation struck him forcibly. After
fighting as grimly as these men fought, and after all that had
transpired, that they should both sit down to supper as they were doing,
appealed to him strongly. He had quite thought that my lord would
incline to tragedy and refuse to stay an instant longer in the Duke's
house.

It was not until midnight, when everyone else had gone to bed, that the
brothers came face to face, alone. The dining-room was very quiet now,
and the table bore a dissipated look with the remains of supper left on
it. My lord stood absently playing with the long-handled punch spoon,
idly stirring the golden dregs at the bottom of the bowl. The candles
shed their light full on his face, and Richard, standing opposite in the
shadow, had ample opportunity of studying it.

It seemed to him that he could not look long enough. Unconsciously his
eyes devoured every detail of the loved countenance and watched each
movement of the slender hand. He found John subtly changed, but quite
how he could not define. He had not aged much, and he was still the same
laughter-loving Jack of the old days, with just that intangible
difference. O'Hara had felt it, too: a slight impenetrability, a
reserve.

It was my lord who broke the uncomfortable silence. As if he felt the
other's eyes upon him, he looked up with his appealing, whimsical smile.

"Devil take it, Dick, we're as shy as two schoolboys!"

Richard did not smile, and his brother came round the table to his side.

"There's nought to be said betwixt us two, Dick. 'Twould be so damned
unnecessary. After all--we always shared in one another's scrapes!"

He stood a moment with his hand on Richard's shoulder; then Richard
turned to him "What you must _think_ of me!" he burst out. "My God, when
I realise--"

"I know. Believe me, Dick, I know just what you must have felt. But pray
forget it! It's over now, and buried."

There was another long silence. Lord John withdrew his hand at last, and
perched on the edge of the table, smiling across at Richard.

"I'd well-nigh forgot that you were a middle-aged papa! A son?"

"Ay--John--after you."

"I protest I am flattered. Lord, to think of you with a boy of your
own!" He laughed, twirling his eyeglass.

At last Richard smiled.

"To think of you an uncle!" he retorted, and suddenly all vestige of
stiffness had fled.

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning Richard went on to Wyncham, and Diana, Jack and O'Hara
travelled back to Sussex. Jack would not go home yet. He protested that
he was going to be married first, and would then bring home his
Countess. But he had several instructions to give his brother concerning
the preparation of his house. The last thing he requested Richard to do
was to seek out a certain city merchant, Fudby by name, and to rescue a
clerk, Chilter, from him, bearing him off to Wyncham. All this he called
from the coach window, just before they set off.

Richard led Jenny, whom he was to ride home, up to the door of the
vehicle, and expostulated.

"But what in thunder am I to do with the man?"

"Give him to Warburton," advised Jack flippantly. "I know he needs a
clerk--he always did!"

"But perhaps he will not desire to come--"

"You do as I tell you!" laughed his brother. "I shall expect to find him
at Wyncham when I arrive! _Au revoir_!" He drew his head in, and the
coach rumbled off.



CHAPTER XXIX

LADY O'HARA IS TRIUMPHANT


After spending a restless night, starting at every sound, and hearing
the hours strike slowly away, Lady O'Hara arose not a whit refreshed and
considerably more ill at ease than she had been before.

During the night she had imagined all sorts of impossible horrors to
have befallen her husband, and if, when the reassuring daylight had
come, the horrors had somewhat dispersed, enough remained to cause her
an anxious morning as she alternated between the hall window and the
gate.

No less worried was Jim Salter. He had returned from Fittering last
night to find his master and Sir Miles gone, Lady O'Hara in a state of
frightened bewilderment, and the house in a whirl. No one, least of all
poor Molly, seemed to know exactly where the two men had gone. All she
knew was that they had come back upon a scene of turmoil, with Mr.
Beauleigh in the midst of a small crowd of excited servants. Her husband
had elbowed his way through, and into his ears had Mr. Beauleigh poured
his story. Then O'Hara seemed to catch the excitement, and she had been
hurried into the house with the hasty explanation that Jack was off
after Devil, who had caught Diana, and he must to the rescue. Ten
minutes after, she had an alarming vision of him galloping off down the
drive, his sword at his side and pistols in the saddle-holsters. The
poor little lady had sent an imploring cry after him, checked almost
before it had left her lips. Afterwards she wished it had never been
uttered, and rather hoped that it had escaped O'Hara's ears.

Salter arrived not half-an-hour later, and his feelings when told that
his beloved master had ridden off in search of a fight, may be more
easily imagined than described. He was all for setting out in his wake,
but her ladyship strongly vetoed the plan, declaring that Sir Miles
would be rescue enough, and she was not going to be left entirely
without protectors. Jim was far too respectful to point out that there
were five able-bodied men, not counting himself, in the house, but as
his master had left no instructions for him, he capitulated.

He proved nought but a Job's comforter next day, for when my lady
pessimistically premised that both Carstares _and_ her husband were
undoubtedly hurt, he did not, as she expected he would, strive to
reassure her, but gave a gloomy assent. Whereupon she cast an indignant
glance in his direction, and turned her back.

At four in the afternoon they were both in the hall, anxiously watching
the drive.

"To be sure, 'tis monstrous late!" remarked Molly, with wide,
apprehensive eyes.

"Yes, my lady."

"If--if nought were amiss, they should have been back by now, surely?"

"Yes indeed, my lady."

Lady O'Hara stamped her foot.

"Don't say jes!" she cried.

Jim was startled.

"I beg pardon, m'lady?"

"You are not to say yes! After all, they may have gone a long
way--they--er--they may be tired! Jenny may have gone
lame--anything--anything may have happened!"

"Yes, m'--I mean certainly, your ladyship!" hastily amended Jim.

"In fact, I should not be surprised an they were not at all hurt!"

He shook his head despondently, but luckily for him the lady failed to
notice it, and continued with airy cheerfulness:

"For my husband has _often_ told me what an excellent swordsman Mr.
Carstares is, and--"

"Your ladyship forgets his wound."

What she might have been constrained to reply to this is not known, for
at that moment came the sound of coach-wheels on the gravel. With one
accord she and Salter flew to the door, and between them, wrenched it
open, just as a gentleman's travelling coach, postillioned by men in
gold and black, and emblazoned with the Wyncham arms, drew up at the
door.

My lady was down the steps in the twinkling of an eye, almost before one
of the grooms had opened the door to offer an arm to my lord. Carstares
sprang lightly out, followed by O'Hara, seemingly none the worse for
wear.

Molly ran straight into her husband's arms, regardless of the servants,
hugging him.

Jim Salter hurried up to my lord.

"Ye are not hurt, sir?" he cried.

Carstares handed him his hat and cloak.

"Nought to speak of, Jim. But 'Everard' well-nigh finished me for all
that!" He laughed at Jim's face of horror, and turned to Molly, who,
having satisfied herself that her husband was quite uninjured and had
never once been in danger of his life, had come towards him, full of
solicitude for his shoulder.

"Oh, my dear Jack! Miles tells me you have hurt your poor shoulder
again! And pray what has been done for it? I dare swear not one of you
great men had the wit to summon a doctor, as indeed you should have,
for--"

"Whist now, asthore!" adjured her husband. "'Tis but a clean scratch
after all. Take him into the house and give him something to drink! I'll
swear 'tis what he needs most!"

Molly pouted, laughed and complied.

Over the ale Jack related the whole escapade up to the moment when he
had parted from Diana at Littledean. Then O'Hara took up the tale with a
delightful chuckle.

"Sure, Molly, ye never saw anything to equal poor old Beauleigh when his
daughter had told him Jack's name! Faith, he didn't know what to do at
all, he was so excited! And Miss Betty I thought would have the vapours
from the way she flew from Di to Jack and back again, in such a state of
mind as ye can't imagine!"

Molly, who had listened with round eyes, drew a deep ecstatic breath.
Then she bounced up, clapping her hands, and proclaimed that she was
right after all!

"What will ye be meaning, alanna?" inquired O'Hara.

"Pray, sir, did I not say _over_ and _over_ again that if I could only
induce Jack to stay with us everything would come right? Now, Miles, you
know I did!"

"I remember ye said something like it once," admitted her spouse.

"Once, indeed! I was always sure of it. And I did coax you to stay, did
I not, Jack?" she appealed.

"You did," he agreed. "You assured me that if I was churlish enough to
leave, Miles would slowly sicken and pine away!"

She ignored her husband's ribald appreciation of this.

"Then you see that 'tis all owing to me that--" She broke off to shake
O'Hara, and the meeting ended in riotous hilarity.

When he went to change his clothes, Carstares found Jim already in his
room awaiting him. He hailed him gaily, and sat down before his
dressing-table.

"I require a very festive costume to-night, Jim. Rose velvet and cream
brocade, I think."

"Very good, your lordship," was the prim reply.

Jack slewed round.

"What's that?"

"I understand your lordship is an Earl," said poor Jim.

"Now who was the tactless idiot who told you that? I had intended to
break the news myself. I suppose now, you know my--story?"

"Yes, si--my lord. I--I suppose ye won't be requiring my services any
longer?"

"In heaven's name, why not? Do you wish to leave me?"

"Wish to--! No, sir--my lord--I--I thought ye'd maybe want a smarter
valet--and--not me."

My lord turned back to the mirror and withdrew the pin from his cravat.

"Don't be a fool."

This cryptic remark seemed greatly to reassure Jim.

"Ye mean it, sir?"

"Of course I do. I should be lost without you after all this time. Marry
that nice girl at Fittering, and she shall maid my lady. For I'm to be
married as soon as may be!"

"Ay, s--my lord! I'm sure I'm very glad, s--your lordship. Rose, sir?
With the silver lacing?"

"I think so, Jim. And a cream--very pale cream waistcoat, broidered in
with rose. There is one, I know."

"Yes, sir--your lordship."

My lord eyed him despondently.

"Er--Jim!"

"Yes--your lordship?"

"I'm sorry, but I cannot endure it."

"I beg pardon, my lord?"

"I can't have you call me 'your lordship,' after every second word--I
really cannot."

"Why, sir--may I still call you 'sir'?"

"I would much rather you did."

"Ay, sir--thank you...."

In the middle of tying the bow to his master's wig Jim paused, and in
the mirror Jack saw his face fall.

"What's amiss now? And what have you done with my patches?"

"In that little box, sir--yes--that one. I was just thinking--here's the
haresfoot, sir--that I shall never be able to see ye hold up a coach
now!"

My lord, striving to affix the patch in just the right spot at the
corner of his mouth, tried to control his features, failed, and went off
into a peal of laughter that reached O'Hara in the room across the
landing, and caused him to grin delightedly. He had not heard that laugh
for many a long day.



EPILOGUE


His Grace of Andover sat at the window of his lodgings at Venice,
looking down at a letter in his hand. The writing was his sister's.
After a moment he drew a deep breath and broke the seal, spreading the
sheets out upon the broad sill.

"My very dear Tracy,

"So you have gone again with no Farewell to yr. poor Sister, sir! I am
indeed very offended, but I understand yr. Reason. As soon as I sett
mine eyes on Diana I knew the Truth and recognised yr. dark Beauty. I am
monstrous grieved for you, dear. I quite love her myself, altho' she is
very tiresomely lovely, but perhaps as she is dark and I am fair, we
shall not clash.

"The Home-coming was prodigious exciting. Andrew was present, Dicky, of
course, and me. Mrs. Fanshawe, too, was there, for she knew Jack Abroad,
and a monstrous queer Old Man, who was vastly fidgetty and overcome to
see Jack. Then Sir Miles and his wife came, who I thought quite
agreeable nice People, and Diana's Father and Aunt, rather Bourgeois,
but, on the whole, presentable.

"Everyone knows the Truth now, but most People have been prodigious kind
and I scarce notice a difference in our Reception. Dearest Dicky is
gayer than he was wont to be and more darling, and I almost enjoy being
a Social Outcast.

"When Diana is properly gowned, as should suit her position (but I
grieve to say that she prefers to dress plainly), she will make a
prodigious Elegantt Countess. I have promised to connduct her to my own
Mantua Maker, which is very sacrificing, as I am sure You will agree. I
know London will go Crazy about her, and, indeed, those who have
allready seen her, which is Avon and Falmouth, are positively Foolish. I
make no doubtt 'twill be very mortifying, but I suppose it must be
borne.

"She and Jack are prodigious happy together; it is most Unfashionable,
but so am I happy with Dick, so there are a Pair of us, and we had best
_sett_ Fashion.

"Pray, return soon, my dear Tracy, you cannot conceive how I miss you. I
was surprised you went away with Mr. Fortescue, I had no Notion you were
so friendly.

"With dearest Love,

"Yr. Sister

"LAVINIA.

"P.S.--'Twill interest you to hear that Miss Gunning is to marry
Coventry. 'Tis all over Town this last Week."

       *       *       *       *       *

Slowly his Grace put the sheets together and handed them to Fortescue,
who had just come into the room.

"These, from my sister, may possibly interest you, Frank."

Fortescue read the letter through, and at the end folded it and handed
it back in silence. Tracy laid it down on the table at his elbow.

"I began--wrongly," he said.

"Yes," assented his friend. "She was not--that kind of girl."

"But having begun wrongly--I could not undo the wrong."

"So you made it worse," said Fortescue gently.

"I would have married her in all honour--"

"In your own arrogant fashion, Tracy."

"As you say--in my own arrogant fashion, Frank. If I could go back a
year--but where's the use? I am not whining. Presently I shall return
to England and make my bow to--the Countess of Wyncham. Possibly, I
shall not feel one jealous qualm. One never knows. At all events--I'll
make that bow."

"You will?" Frank looked sharply down at him. "Nothing more, Tracy! You
do not purpose--"

"Nothing more. You see, Frank--I love her."

"I crave your pardon. Yes--she would not take you, but she has, I think,
made you. As I once told you, when love came you would count yourself as
nought, and her happiness as everything."

For a moment his Grace was silent, and then back came the old smile,
still cynical, yet with less of the sneer in it.

"How very pleasant it must be, Frank, to have one's prophecies so
happily verified!" he purred. "Allow me to felicitate you!"


THE END





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