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   Chapter 38 NOT THE HEIR, AFTER ALL

Armorel of Lyonesse By Walter Besant Characters: 10274

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The storm expended itself. The gale cannot go on blowing: the injured man cannot go on raging, cursing, or weeping. Alec Feilding became calm. Yet a settled gloom rested like a dark cloud upon his front: he had lost something-a good part-of his pristine confidence. That enviable quality which so much impresses itself upon others-called swagger-had been knocked out of him. Indeed, he had sustained a blow from which he would never wholly recover: such a man could never get over the loss of such a fortune: his great-grandfather, so far as could be learned, lost his fortune and began again, with cheerful heart. Alec would begin again, because he must, but with rage and bitterness. It was like being struck down by an incurable disease: it might be alleviated, but it would never be driven out: from time to time, in spite of the physicians, the patient writhes and groans in the agony of this disease. So from time to time will this man, until the end of time, groan and lament over the wicked waste and loss of that superb inheritance.

Of course he disguised from himself-this is one of the things men always do hide away-the fact that he himself was part and parcel of the deed: he had destroyed himself by his own craft and cunning. Had he not placed his wife with Armorel under instructions to persuade and coax her into advancing money for his own purposes, the thing could never have happened.

Henceforth, though the pair should have the desire of their hearts: though they should march on to wealth and success: though the wife should invent and contrive with the cleverness of ten for the good of the firm: though the husband should grow more and more in the estimation of the outer world into the position of a Master and an Authority: between the two will lie the memory of fraud and crime, to divide them and keep them apart.

On the day after the revelation, a thought came into the mind of the inheritor of the rubies. The thing that had happened unto him-could he cause it to happen unto another? Perhaps one remembers how, on learning that the rubies were to be given to the eldest grandson of the second daughter, he had dropped, limp and pale, into a chair. One may also remember how, on learning that no further investigation would be made, he recovered again. The fact was, you see, that Mr. Jagenal had made a little mistake. His searchers had altered the order of the three sisters. Frances, Alec Feilding's grandmother, was not the second, but the third daughter. When the rubies were actually waiting and ready for him, it would have been foolish to mention that fact, especially as no further search was to be made, and the elder branch, wherever it was, would never know anything of the matter at all. Therefore, he then held his tongue.

Now, on the other hand, the jewels being worthless, he thought, first of all, that it would look extremely scrupulous to inform Mr. Jagenal of the discovery that his grandmother was really the third daughter: next, if the other branch should be discovered, the fortunate heir would, like himself, be raised to the heavens only to be dashed down again to earth. Let someone else, as well as himself, experience the agonies of that fall. He chuckled grimly as he considered the torments in store for this fortunate unknown cousin. As for danger to his wife, he considered rightly that there was none: the stones had been consigned to the bank by Armorel, and in her own name: she signed an order for their delivery to Mr. Jagenal: he had kept them in his safe. They would certainly lie there some time before he found the new heir. Nay. They had been in his custody for five years before he gave them over formally to Armorel. Who could say when the robbery had been effected? Who would think of asking the bank whether during the short time the parcel was held in the name of Armorel it had been taken out? Clearly the whole blame and responsibility lay with Mr. Jagenal himself. He would have a very curious problem to solve-namely, how the rubies had been changed in his own safe.

'Well, Alec, come to take away your rubies?' asked Mr. Jagenal, cheerily. 'There they are in that safe.'

'No,' he replied, sadly. 'I am grieved indeed to say that I have not come for the rubies. I shall never come for the rubies.'

'Why not?'

'Because they are not for me. According to your instructions, I have no claim to them.'

'No claim?'

'I understand that Miss Rosevean intends to give these jewels to the first representative of the family of Robert Fletcher. That is to say, to the eldest grandchild of the first, second, or third daughter, as the case may be?'

'That is so.'

'Very well. The eldest daughter left no children. You therefore sent for me as the eldest-and only-grandchild of the second daughter?'

'I did.'

'Then I have to tell you that you are wrong. My grandmother was the third daughter.'

'Is it possible?'

'Quite possible. She was the third daughter. I was not very accurately acquainted with that part of my genealogy, and the other day I could not have told you whether I came from the second or the third daughter

. I have since ascertained the facts. It was the second daughter who went away to Australia or New Zealand, or somewhere. I do not know anything at all about my cousins, but I think it very unlikely that there are none in existence.'

'Very unlikely. What proof have you that your grandmother was the second daughter?'

'I have an old family Bible-I can show it you, if you like. In this has been entered the date of the birth, the place and date of baptism, the names of the sponsors of all three sisters. There is also a note on the second sister's marriage and on her emigration. I assure you there can be no doubt on the subject at all.'

'Oh! This is very disastrous, my dear boy. How could my people have made such a mistake? Alec, I feel for you-I do, indeed!'

'It is most disastrous!' Alec echoed with a groan. 'I have been in the unfortunate position of a man who is suddenly put into possession of a great fortune one day, and as suddenly deprived of it the next. Of course, as soon as I discovered the real facts, it became my duty to acquaint you with them.'

'By George!' cried Mr. Jagenal. 'If you had kept the facts to yourself, no one would ever have been any wiser. No one, because the transfer of the property is a sheer gift made by my client to you without any compulsion at all. It is a private transaction of which I should never have spoken to anyone. Well, Alec, I must not say that you are wrong. But many men-most men perhaps-with a less keen sense of honour than you-well-I say no more. Yet the loss and disappointment must be a bitter pill for you.'

'It is a bitter pill,' he replied truthfully. 'More bitter than you would suspect.'

'You will have the satisfaction of feeling that you have behaved in this matter as a man of the strictest honour.'

'I am very glad, considering all things, that I have not had the rubies in my own possession, even for a single hour.'

'That is nothing: of course they would have been safe in your hands. Well, Alec, I am sorry for you. But you are young: you are clever: you are succeeding hand over hand: pay a little more attention to your daily expenses, put down your horses and live for a few years quietly, and you will make your own fortune-ay, a fortune greater far than was contained in this unlucky case of precious stones.'

'I suppose you will renew your search, now, after the descendants of the second daughter?'

'I suppose we must. Do not forget that if there are no descendants-or, which is much the same thing, if we cannot find them in a reasonable time, I shall advise my client to transfer the jewels to the grandson of the third daughter. And I hope, my dear boy-I hope, I say, that we may never find those descendants.'

Alec departed, a little cheered by the consolation that he had passed on the disappointment to another.

He went home, and found his wife in the studio, apparently waiting for him. There were dark rings round her eyes. She had been weeping. Since the storm they had not spoken to each other.

He sat down at his table-it was perfectly bare of papers-no sign of any work at all upon it-and waited for her to begin.

'Is it not time,' she asked, 'that this should cease? You have reproached me enough, I think. Remember, we are on the same level. But, whatever I have done, it was done for your sake. Whatever you have done, was done for your own sake. Now, is there going to be an end to this situation?'

'Is it not time,' she asked, 'that this should cease?'

He made a gesture of impatience.

'Understand clearly-if I am to help you for the future: if I am going to pull you through this crisis: if I am to direct and invent and combine for you, I mean to be treated with the semblance of kindness-the show of politeness at least.'

He sat up, moved by this appeal, which, indeed, was to his purse-that is, to his heart.

'I say, my husband,' she repeated, 'you must understand me clearly. Again, what I have done was done for you-for you. Unless you agree to my conditions it shall have been done-for myself. I have four thousand pounds in the bank in my own name. You cannot touch it. I shall go away and live upon that money-apart from you. And you shall have nothing-nothing-unless--'

'Unless what?' He shook off his wrath with a mighty effort, as a sulky boy shakes off his sulks when he perceives that he must, and that instantly. He threw off his wrath and sat up with a wan semblance of a smile, a spectral smile, feebly painted on his lips. 'Unless what, Zoe? My dear child, can you not make allowance for a man tried in this terrible fashion? I don't believe that any man was ever so mocked by Fortune. I have been crushed. Yes, any terms, any condition you please. Let us forget the past. Come, dear, let us forget what has happened.' He sprang to his feet and held out his arms.

She hesitated a moment. 'There is no other place for me now,' she murmured. 'We are on the same level. I am all yours-now.'

Then she drew herself away, and turned again to the table. 'Come, Alec,'she said, 'to business. Time presses. Sit down, and give me all your attention.'

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