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   Chapter 25 MILLICENT'S REVOLT

Thurston of Orchard Valley By Harold Bindloss Characters: 17504

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"I really feel mean over it, and, of course, I will pay you back, but unless I get the money to meet the call, I shall have to sacrifice the stock," said Henry Leslie, glancing furtively at his wife across the breakfast-table.

Leslie was seldom at his best in the morning, but he seemed unusually nervous, and the coffee-cup shook in his fingers as he raised it.

"It's the last I'll ask you for," he continued, "and if you press him, Thurston will sign the check. He said he was coming, did he not?"

"Yes," was the answer. "Here is his note. It must be the last, Harry, for I have overdrawn my allowance already. You will notice that Geoffrey hesitates, and will not sign the check without seeing me. He will be here on Thursday."

Leslie took the letter with an eagerness which did not escape his wife, while, as the sum in question was small, she could not quite understand the satisfaction in his face. It had grown soddened and coarse of late, and there were times when she looked upon her husband with positive disgust. Still, she had, in spite of occasional disputes, resumed her efforts to play the part of a dutiful wife, and it was easier to pay her husband money than respect, the more so because he had usually some specious excuse, which appealed both to her ambition and her gambling instinct. At times he handed her small amounts of money, said to be her share of the profits on speculations, for which he required the loans.

"'Pressure of work, but must make an effort to see you as you suggest,'" Leslie read aloud. "H'm! 'Limit exceeded already. Will be in town, and try to call upon you on Thursday.'"

"It is very good of him," remarked Millicent. "He evidently finds every minute precious, and I am very reluctant to bring him here. I gather that, except for my request, he would have deferred his other business. Still, I suppose you must have the money, Harry?"

"I must," was the answer, and Leslie, who did not look up, busied himself with his plate. "Better write that you expect him, and I will post the note. By the way, I must remind you that we take the Eastern Fishery delegates on their steamer trip the day after to-morrow, and though there may be rather a mixed company, I want you to turn out smartly, and get hold of the best people. It would be well to see a mention of the handsome Mrs. Leslie in the newspaper report."

Millicent frowned. She was a vain woman, but she had some genuine pride, and there were limits to her forbearance. By the time her husband had induced her to withdraw her refusal to accompany him, it was too late further to discuss Thurston's visit, which was exactly what Leslie desired. Accordingly, well pleased with himself, he set out for his office, with a letter in his hand.

Mrs. Leslie had reason to remember the steamer excursion. A party of prominent persons had been invited to accompany the Fishery delegates on the maritime picnic, organized for the purpose of displaying the facilities that coast afforded for the prosecution of a new industry. It was difficult for the committee to draw a rigid line, and the company was decidedly mixed, more so than even Millicent at first surmised. Her husband, who acted as marshal, was kept busy most of the time, but she noticed a swift look of annoyance on his face when, before the steamer sailed, a tastefully-dressed young woman ascended the gangway, where he was receiving the guests. There was nothing dubious in the appearance of the lady or her elderly companion, and yet Millicent felt that Leslie was troubled by their presence, and hesitated to let them pass. The younger lady, however, smiled upon him in a manner that suggested they had met before, and Leslie stood aside when Shackleby beckoned him with what looked like an ironical grin. Then the gangway was run in, and the engines started.

It was a mild day for the season, and Millicent, who found friends, dismissed the subject from her thoughts, when she saw her husband exchange no word with his latest guests. She was sitting with a young married lady, where the sun shone pleasantly in the shelter of the great white deck-house, when a sound of voices came out, with the odor of cigar smoke, from an open window.

"You fixed it all right?" observed one voice which sounded familiar, and there was a laugh which, though muffled, was more familiar still. While, with curiosity excited, Millicent listened, a companion broke in:

"Where's Mr. Leslie? I have scarcely seen him all morning."

"Making himself useful as usual. Discoursing on fisheries and harbors, of which he knows nothing, to men who know a good deal, and no doubt doing it very neatly," said Millicent, smiling.

"Why do you let him?" asked the other, with a little gesture of pride, which became her. "Now, my husband knows better than to stay away from me, even if he wanted to. Ah, here he is, bringing good things from the sunny South piled up on a tray."

Perhaps it was the contrast, for Millicent felt both resentful and neglected when a young man approached carrying choice fruits and cakes upon a nickeled tray; but before he reached them a voice came through the window again:

"You're quite certain? That man has eyes all over him, and it won't do to take any chances with him. He must be kept right here in Vancouver all night, and the game will be in our own hands before he gets back again."

"I've done my best," was the answer, and Millicent fancied, but was not certain, that it was her husband who spoke. "I have fixed things so that he will come to Vancouver. The only worry is, can we depend upon the fellow I laid the odds with?"

"Oh, yes," responded the second voice. "I guess he knows better than fail me. By the way, you nearly made a fool of yourself over Coralie."

"Somebody inside there talking secrets," observed the younger lady. "I think it is Mr. Shackleby, and I don't like that man. Charley, set down that tray and carry my chair and Mrs. Leslie's at least a dozen yards away."

Millicent, at the risk of being guilty of eavesdropping, would have greatly preferred to stay where she was; but when the man did his wife's bidding, she could only follow and thank him. Lifting a cluster of fruit from the tray, she asked one question.

"Can you tell me, Mr. Nelson, who is Coralie?"

Nelson looked startled for a moment, and found it necessary to place another folding chair under the tray. He did not answer until his wife said:

"Didn't you hear Mrs. Leslie's question, Charley? Who is Coralie?"

"Sounds like the name of a variety actress," answered the man, by no means glibly. "Why should you ask me? I really don't know. I'm not good at conundrums. Isn't this a beautiful view? I fancied you'd have a better appetite up here than amid the crowd below."

Millicent's curiosity was further excited by the speaker's manner, but she could only possess her soul in patience, until presently it was satisfied on one point at least. She sat alone for a few minutes on the steamer's highest deck against the colored glass dome of the great white and gold saloon. Several of the brass-guarded lights were open wide, and, hearing a burst of laughter, she looked down. The young woman, who had spoken to Leslie at the gangway, sat at a corner table, partly hidden by two carved pillars below. She held a champagne glass in a lavishly jeweled hand, and there was no doubt that she was pretty, but there was that in her suggestive laugh and mocking curve of the full red lips, something which set Millicent's teeth on edge. If more were needed to increase the unpleasant impression, a rich mine promoter sat near the young woman, trying to whisper confidentially, and another man, whose name was notorious in the city, laughed as he watched them. But Millicent had seen sufficient, and turning her head, looked out to sea. There were, however, several men smoking on the opposite side of the dome, and one of them also must have looked down, for his comment was audible.

"They're having what you call a good time down there! Who and what is she?"

"Ma'mselle Coralie. Ostensibly a clairvoyante," was the dry reply.

"Clairvoyante!" repeated the first unseen speaker, who, by his clean intonation, Millicent set down as a newly-arrived Englishman. "Do you mean a professional soothsayer?"

"Something of the kind," said the other with a laugh. "We're a curious people marching in the forefront of progress, so we like to think, and yet we consult hypnotists and all kinds of fakirs, even about our business. Walk down -- Street and you'll see half-a-dozen of their name-plates. When they're young and handsome they get plenty of customers, and it's suspected that Coralie, with assistance, runs a select gambling

bank of evenings. The charlatan is not tied to one profession."

"I catch on-correct phrase, isn't it?" rejoined the Englishman. "Of course, you're liberal minded and free from effete prejudice, but I hardly fancied the wives of your best citizens would care to meet such ladies."

"They wouldn't if they knew it!" was the answer. "Coralie's a newcomer; such women are birds of passage, and before she grows too famous the police will move her on. In fact, I've been wondering how she got on board to-day."

"Leslie passed her up the gangway," said another man, adding, with a suggestive laugh as he answered another question: "Why did he do it? Well, perhaps he's had his fortune told, or you can ask him. Anyway, although I think he wanted to, he dared not turn her back."

Millicent, rising, slipped away. Trembling with rage, she was glad to lean upon the steamer's rail. She had discovered long ago that her husband was not a model of virtue, but the knowledge that his shortcomings were common property was particularly bitter to her. Of late she had dutifully endeavored to live on good terms with him, and it was galling to discover that he had only, it seemed, worked upon her softer mood for the purpose of extorting money to lavish upon illicit pleasures. She felt no man could sink lower than that, and determined there should be a reckoning that very night.

"My dear Mrs. Leslie," said a voice beside her. "Why, you look quite ill. My husband brought a bottle of stuff guaranteed to cure steamboat malady. Run and get it, Charley," and Millicent turned to meet her young married friend.

"Please don't trouble, Mr. Nelson. I am not in the least sea-sick," Millicent replied. "You might, however, spread out that deck chair for me. It is a passing faintness which will leave me directly."

She remembered nothing about the rest of the voyage, except that, when the steamer reached the wharf, her husband, who helped her down the gangway, said:

"I have promised to go to the conference and afterwards dine with the delegates, Millicent, so I dare say you will excuse me. I shall not be late if I can help it, and you might wait up for me."

Millicent, who had intended to wait for him, in any case, merely nodded, and went home alone. She sat beside the English hearth all evening with an open book upside down upon her knee, and her eyes turned towards the clock, which very slowly ticked away the last hours she would spend beneath her husband's roof. There was spirit in her, and though she hardly knew why, she dressed herself for the interview carefully. When Leslie entered, his eyes expressed admiration as she rose with cold dignity and stood before him. Leslie was sober, but unfortunately for himself barely so, for the delegates had been treated with lavish Western hospitality, and there had been many toasts to honor during the dinner. He leaned against the wall with one hand on a carved bracket, looking down upon her with what seemed to be a leer of brutal pride upon his slightly-flushed face.

"You excelled yourself to-day, Millicent. I saw no end of folks admiring you," he said. "Most satisfactory day! Everything went off famously! Enjoyed yourself, eh?"

"I can hardly say I did, but that is not what you asked me to wait for," was the cold answer, and Millicent with native caution waited to hear what the man wanted before committing herself.

"No. I meant it, but it wasn't. I couldn't help saying I was proud of you." Leslie paused, doubtless satisfied, his wife thought, that he had smoothed the way sufficiently by a clumsy compliment. His abilities were not at their best just then. Millicent's thin lips curled scornfully as she listened.

"Thurston will be here on Thursday," he continued. "Never liked the man, but he has behaved decently as your trustee, and I want to be fair to him. Besides, he's a rising genius, and it's as well to be on good terms with him. Couldn't you get him to stay to dinner and talk over the way they've invested your legacy?"

"Do you think he would care to meet you?" asked Millicent, cuttingly.

"Perhaps he mightn't. You could have the Nelsons over, and press of business might detain me. Anyway, you'll have no time to settle all about that money and your English property if he goes out on the Atlantic train. You two seem to have got quite friendly again, and I'm tolerably sure he'd stay if you asked him."

Millicent's anger was rising all the time; but, because her suspicions increased every moment, she kept herself in hand. Feeling certain this was part of some plot, and that her husband was not steady enough to carry out his r?le cleverly, she desired to discover his exact intentions before denouncing him.

"Why should I press him?"

Had it been before the dinner Leslie might have acted more discreetly. As it was, he looked at the speaker somewhat blankly. "Why? Because I want you to. Now don't ask troublesome questions or put on your tragedy air, Millicent, but just promise to keep him here until after the east-bound train starts, anyway. I'm not asking for caprice-I-I particularly want a man to see him who will not be in the city until the following day."

Then, remembering what she had heard outside the steamer's deck house, a light suddenly broke in upon the woman. The man whose keen eyes would interfere with Shackleby's plans must be Thurston, and it was evident there was a scheme on hand to wreck his work in his absence. Once she had half-willingly assisted her husband to Thurston's detriment; but much had changed since then, and remembering that she had already, without knowing it, played into the confederate's hands by writing to him, her indignation mastered her.

"I could not persuade him against his wishes, and would not do so if I could," she declared, turning full upon her husband.

"You can and must," replied Leslie, whose passion blazed up. "I'm about sick of your obstinacy and fondness for dramatic situations. You could do anything with any man you laid yourself out to inveigle, as I know to my cost, and in this case-by the Lord, I'll make you!"

"I will not!" Millicent's face was white with anger as she fixed her eyes on him. "For a few moments you shall listen to me. What you and Shackleby are planning does not concern me; but I will not move a finger to help you. Once before you said-what you have done-and if I have never forgotten it I tried to do so. This time I shall do neither. I have borne very much from you already, but, sunk almost to your level as I am, there are things I cannot stoop to countenance. For instance, the draft I am to cajole from Thurston is not intended for a speculation in mining shares, but-for Coralie."

The little carved bracket came down from the wall with a crash, and Leslie, whose face was swollen with fury, gripped the speaker's arm savagely. "After to-morrow you can do just what pleases you and go where you will," he responded in a voice shaking with rage and fear. "But in this I will make you obey me. As to Coralie, somebody has slandered me. The money is for what I told you, and nothing else."

Millicent with an effort wrenched herself free. "It is useless to protest, for I would not believe your oath," she said, looking at him steadily with contempt showing in every line of her pose. "Obey-you! As the man I, with blind folly, abandoned for you warned me, you are too abject a thing. Liar, thief, have I not said sufficient?-adulterer!"

"Quite!" cried Leslie, who yielded to the murderous fury which had been growing upon him, and leaning down struck her brutally upon the mouth. "What I am you have made me-and, by Heaven, it is time I repaid you in part."

Millicent staggered a little under the blow, which had been a heavy one, but her wits were clear, and, moving swiftly to a bell button, the pressure of her finger was answered by a tinkle below.

"I presume you do not wish to make a public scandal," she said thickly, for the lace handkerchief she removed from her smarting lips was stained with blood. Then, as their Chinese servant appeared in the doorway, "Your master wants you, John."

Before Leslie could grasp her intentions she had vanished, there was a rustle of drapery on the stairway, followed by the jar of a lock, and he was left face to face was the stolid Asiatic.

"Wantee someling, sah?" the Chinaman asked.

Leslie glared at him speechless until, with a humble little nod, the servant said:

"Linga linga bell; too much hullee, John quick come. Wantee someling. Linga linga bell."

"Go the devil. Oh, get out before I throw you," roared Leslie, and John vanished with the waft of a blue gown, while Millicent's book crashed against the door close behind his head.

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