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   Chapter 2 IN THE WOOD.

Red Money By Fergus Hume Characters: 22785

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Miss Greeby swung along towards her destination with a masculine stride and in as great a hurry as though she had entered herself for a Marathon race. It was a warm, misty day, and the pale August sunshine radiated faintly through the smoky atmosphere. Nothing was clear-cut and nothing was distinct, so hazy was the outlook. The hedges were losing their greenery and had blossomed forth into myriad bunches of ruddy hips and haws, and the usually hard road was soft underfoot because of the penetrating quality of the moist air. There was no wind to clear away the misty greyness, but yellow leaves without its aid dropped from the disconsolate trees. The lately-reaped fields, stretching on either side of the lane down which the lady was walking, presented a stubbled expanse of brown and dim gold, uneven and distressful to the eye. The dying world was in ruins and Nature had reduced herself to that necessary chaos, out of which, when the coming snow completed its task, she would build a new heaven and a new earth.

An artist might have had some such poetic fancy, and would certainly have looked lovingly on the alluring colors and forms of decay. But Miss Greeby was no artist, and prided herself upon being an aggressively matter-of-fact young woman. With her big boots slapping the ground and her big hands thrust into the pockets of her mannish jacket, she bent her head in a meditative fashion and trudged briskly onward. What romance her hard nature was capable of, was uppermost now, but it had to do strictly with her personal feelings and did not require the picturesque autumn landscape to improve or help it in any way. One man's name suggested romance to bluff, breezy Clara Greeby, and that name was Noel Lambert. She murmured it over and over again to her heart, and her hard face flushed into something almost like beauty, as she remembered that she would soon behold its owner. "But he won't care," she said aloud, and threw back her head defiantly: then after a pause, she breathed softly, "But I shall make him care."

If she hoped to do so, the task was one which required a great amount of skill and a greater amount of womanly courage, neither of which qualities Miss Greeby possessed. She had no skill in managing a man, as her instincts were insufficiently feminine, and her courage was of a purely rough-and-tumble kind. She could have endured hunger and thirst and cold: she could have headed a forlorn hope: she could have held to a sinking ship: but she had no store of that peculiar feminine courage which men don't understand and which women can't explain, however much they may exhibit it. Miss Greeby was an excellent comrade, but could not be the beloved of any man, because of the very limitations of semi-masculinity upon which she prided herself. Noel Lambert wanted a womanly woman, and Lady Agnes was his ideal of what a wife should be. Miss Greeby had in every possible way offered herself for the post, but Lambert had never cared for her sufficiently to endure the thought of passing through life with her beside him. He said she was "a good sort"; and when a man says that of a woman, she may be to him a good friend, or even a platonic chum, but she can never be a desirable wife in his eyes. What Miss Greeby lacked was sex, and lacking that, lacked everything. It was strange that with her rough common sense she could not grasp this want. But the thought that Lambert required what she could never give-namely, the feminine tenderness which strong masculine natures love-never crossed her very clear and mathematical mind.

So she was bent upon a fool's errand, as she strode towards the Abbot's Wood, although she did not know it. Her aim was to capture Lambert as her husband; and her plan, to accomplish her wish by working on the heart-hunger he most probably felt, owing to the loss of Agnes Pine. If he loved that lady in a chivalrous fashion-and Miss Greeby believed that he did-she was absolutely lost to him as the wife of another man. Lambert would never degrade her into a divorce court appearance. And perhaps, after all, as Miss Greeby thought hopefully, his love for Sir Hubert's wife might have turned to scorn that she had preferred money to true love. But then, again, as Miss Greeby remembered, with a darkening face, Agnes had married the millionaire so as to save the family estates from being sold. Rank has its obligation, and Lambert might approve of the sacrifice, since he was the next heir to the Garvington title. "We shall see what his attitude is," decided Miss Greeby, as she entered the Abbot's Wood, and delayed arranging her future plans until she fully understood his feelings towards the woman he had lost. In the meantime, Lambert would want a comrade, and Miss Greeby was prepared to sink her romantic feelings, for the time being, in order to be one.

The forest-which belonged to Garvington, so long as he paid the interest on the mortgage-was not a very large one. In the old days it had been of greater size and well stocked with wild animals; so well stocked, indeed, that the abbots of a near monastery had used it for many hundred years as a hunting ground. But the monastery had vanished off the face of the earth, as not even its ruins were left, and the game had disappeared as the forest grew smaller and the district around became more populous. A Lambert of the Georgian period-the family name of Lord Garvington was Lambert-had acquired what was left of the monastic wood by winning it at a game of cards from the nobleman who had then owned it. Now it was simply a large patch of green in the middle of a somewhat naked county, for Hengishire is not remarkable for woodlands. There were rabbits and birds, badgers, stoats, and such-like wild things in it still, but the deer which the abbots had hunted were conspicuous by their absence. Garvington looked after it about as much as he did after the rest of his estates, which was not saying much. The fat, round little lord's heart was always in the kitchen, and he preferred eating to fulfilling his duties as a landlord. Consequently, the Abbot's Wood was more or less public property, save when Garvington turned crusty and every now and then cleared out all interlopers. But tramps came to sleep in the wood, and gypsies camped in its glades, while summer time brought many artists to rave about its sylvan beauties, and paint pictures of ancient trees and silent pools, and rugged lawns besprinkled with rainbow wild flowers. People who went to the Academy and to the various art exhibitions in Bond Street knew the Abbot's Wood fairly well, as it was rarely that at least one picture dealing with it did not appear.

Miss Greeby had explored the wood before and knew exactly where to find the cottage mentioned by Lady Garvington. On the verge of the trees she saw the blue smoke of the gypsies' camp fires, and heard the vague murmur of Romany voices, but, avoiding the vagrants, she took her way through the forest by a winding path. This ultimately led her to a spacious glade, in the centre of which stood a dozen or more rough monoliths of mossy gray and weather-worn stones, disposed in a circle. Probably these were all that remained of some Druidical temple, and archaeologists came from far and near to view the weird relics. And in the middle of the circle stood the cottage: a thatched dwelling, which might have had to do with a fairy tale, with its whitewashed walls covered with ivy, and its latticed windows, on the ledges of which stood pots of homely flowers. There was no fence round this rustic dwelling, as the monoliths stood as guardians, and the space between the cottage walls and the gigantic stones was planted thickly with fragrant English flowers. Snapdragon, sweet-william, marigolds, and scented clove carnations, were all to be found there: also there was thyme, mint, sage, and other pot-herbs. And the whole perfumed space was girdled by trees old and young, which stood back from the emerald beauty of untrimmed lawns. A more ideal spot for a dreamer, or an artist, or a hermit, or for the straying prince of a fairy tale, it would have been quite impossible to find. Miss Greeby's vigorous and coarse personality seemed to break in a noisy manner-although she did not utter a single word-the enchanted silence of the solitary place.

However, the intruder was too matter-of-fact to trouble about the sequestered liveliness of this unique dwelling. She strode across the lawns, and passing beyond the monoliths, marched like an invader up the narrow path between the radiant flower-beds. From the tiny green door she raised the burnished knocker and brought it down with an emphatic bang. Shortly the door opened with a pettish tug, as though the person behind was rather annoyed by the noise, and a very tall, well-built, slim young man made his appearance on the threshold. He held a palette on the thumb of one hand, and clutched a sheaf of brushes, while another brush was in his mouth, and luckily impeded a rather rough welcome. The look in a pair of keen blue eyes certainly seemed to resent the intrusion, but at the sight of Miss Greeby this irritability changed to a glance of suspicion. Lambert, from old associations, liked his visitor very well on the whole, but that feminine intuition, which all creative natures possess, warned him that it was wise to keep her at arm's length. She had never plainly told her love; but she had assuredly hinted at it more or less by eye and manner and undue hauntings of his footsteps when in London. He could not truthfully tell himself that he was glad of her unexpected visit. For quite half a minute they stood staring at one another, and Miss Greeby's hard cheeks flamed to a poppy red at the sight of the man she loved.

"Well, Hermit." she observed, when he made no remark. "As the mountain would not come to Mahomet, the prophet has come to the mountain."

"The mountain is welcome," said Lambert diplomatically, and stood aside, so that she might enter. Then adopting the bluff and breezy, rough-and-ready-man-to-man attitude, which Miss Greeby liked to see in her friends, he added: "Come in, old girl! It's a pal come to see a pal, isn't it?"

"Rather," assented Miss Greeby, although, woman-like, she was not entirely pleased with this unromantic welcome. "We played as brats together, didn't we?

"Yes," she added meditatively, when following Lambert into his studio, "I think we are as chummy as a man and woman well can be."

"True enough. You were always a good sort, Clara. How well you are looking-more of a man than ever."

"Oh, stop that!" said Miss Greeby roughly.

"Why?" Lambert raised his eyebrows. "As a girl you always liked to be thought manly, and said again and again that you wished you were a boy."

"I find that I am a woman, after all," sighed the visitor, dropping into a chair and looking round; "with a woman's feelings, too."

"And very nice those feelings are, since they have influenced you to pay me a visit in the wilds," remarked the artist imperturbably.

"What are you doing in the wilds?"

"Painting," was the laconic retort.

"So I see. Still-life pictures?"

"Not exactly." He pointed toward the easel. "Behold and approve."

Miss Greeby did behold, but she certainly did not approve, because she was a woman and in love. It was only a pictured head she saw, b

ut the head was that of a very beautiful girl, whose face smiled from the canvas in a subtle, defiant way, as if aware of its wild loveliness. The raven hair streamed straightly down to the shoulders-for the bust of the model was slightly indicated-and there, bunched out into curls. A red and yellow handkerchief was knotted round the brows, and dangling sequins added to its barbaric appearance. Nose and lips and eyes, and contours, were all perfect, and it really seemed as though the face were idealized, so absolutely did it respond to all canons of beauty. It was a gypsy countenance, and there lurked in its loveliness that wild, untamed look which suggested unrestricted roamings and the spacious freedom of the road.

The sudden, jealous fear which surged into Miss Greeby's heart climbed to her throat and choked her speech. But she had wisdom enough to check unwise words, and glanced round the studio to recover her composure. The room was small and barely furnished; a couch, two deep arm-chairs, and a small table filled its limited area. The walls and roof were painted a pale green, and a carpet of the same delicate hue covered the floor. Of course, there were the usual painting materials, brushes and easel and palettes and tubes of color, together with a slightly raised platform near the one window where the model could sit or stand. The window itself had no curtains and was filled with plain glass, affording plenty of light.

"The other windows of the cottage are latticed," said Lambert, seeing his visitor's eyes wander in that direction. "I had that glass put in when I came here a month ago. No light can filter through lattices-in sufficient quantity that is-to see the true tones of the colors."

"Oh, bother the window!" muttered Miss Greeby restlessly, for she had not yet gained command of her emotions.

Lambert laughed and looked at his picture with his head on one side, and a very handsome head it was, as Miss Greeby thought. "It bothered me until I had it put right, I assure you. But you don't seem pleased with my crib."

"It's not good enough for you."

"Since when have I been a sybarite, Clara?"

"I mean you ought to think of your position."

"It's too unpleasant to think about," rejoined Lambert, throwing himself on the couch and producing his pipe. "May I smoke?"

"Yes, and if you have any decent cigarettes I'll join you. Thanks!" She deftly caught the silver case he threw her. "But your position?"

"Five hundred a year and no occupation, since I have been brought up to neither trade nor profession," said Lambert leisurely. "Well?"

"You are the heir to a title and to a large property."

"Which is heavily mortgaged. As to the title"-Lambert shrugged his shoulders-"Garvington's wife may have children."

"I don't think so. They have been married ten years and more. You are certain to come in for everything."

"Everything consists of nothing," said the artist coolly.

"Well," drawled Miss Greeby, puffing luxuriously at her cigarette, which was Turkish and soothing, "nothing may turn into something when these mortgages are cleared off."

"Who is going to clear them off?"

"Sir Hubert Pine."

Lambert's brows contracted, as she knew they would when this name was mentioned, and he carefully attended to filling his pipe so as to avoid meeting her hard, inquisitive eyes. "Pine is a man of business, and if he pays off the mortgages he will take over the property as security. I don't see that Garvington will be any the better off in that case."

"Lambert," said Miss Greeby very decidedly, and determined to know precisely what he felt like, "Garvington only allowed his sister to marry Sir Hubert because he was rich. I don't know for certain, of course, but I should think it probable that he made an arrangement with Pine to have things put straight because of the marriage."

"Possible and probable," said the artist shortly, and wincing; "but old friend as you are, Clara, I don't see the necessity of talking about business which does not concern me. Speak to Garvington."

"Agnes concerns you."

"How objectionably direct you are," exclaimed Lambert in a vexed tone. "And how utterly wrong. Agnes does not concern me in the least. I loved her, but as she chose to marry Pine, why there's no more to be said."

"If there was nothing more to be said," observed Miss Greeby shrewdly, "you would not be burying yourself here."

"Why not? I am fond of nature and art, and my income is not enough to permit my living decently in London. I had to leave the army because I was so poor. Garvington has given me this cottage rent free, so I'm jolly enough with my painting and with Mrs. Tribb as housekeeper and cook. She's a perfect dream of a cook," ended Lambert thoughtfully.

Miss Greeby shook her red head. "You can't deceive me."

"Who wants to, anyhow?" demanded the man, unconsciously American.

"You do. You wish to make out that you prefer to camp here instead of admitting that you would like to be at The Manor because Agnes-"

Lambert jumped up crossly. "Oh, leave Agnes out of the question. She is Pine's wife, so that settles things. It's no use crying for the moon, and-"

"Then you still wish for the moon," interpolated the woman quickly.

"Not even you have the right to ask me such a question," replied Lambert in a quiet and decisive tone. "Let us change the subject."

Miss Greeby pointed to the beautiful face smiling on the easel. "I advise you to," she said significantly.

"You seem to have come here to give me good advice."

"Which you won't take," she retorted.

"Because it isn't needed."

"A man's a man and a woman's a woman."

"That's as true as taxes, as Mr. Barkis observed, if you are acquainted with the writings of the late Charles Dickens. Well?"

Again Miss Greeby pointed to the picture. "She's very pretty."

"I shouldn't have painted her otherwise."

"Oh, then the original of that portrait does exist?"

"Could you call it a portrait if an original didn't exist?" demanded the young man tartly. "Since you want to know so much, you may as well come to the gypsy encampment on the verge of the wood and satisfy yourself." He threw on a Panama hat, with a cross look. "Since when have you come to the conclusion that I need a dry nurse?"

"Oh, don't talk bosh!" said Miss Greeby vigorously, and springing to her feet. "You take me at the foot of the letter and too seriously. I only came here to see how my old pal was getting on."

"I'm all right and as jolly as a sandboy. Now are you satisfied?"

"Quite. Only don't fall in love with the original of your portrait."

"It's rather late in the day to warn me," said Lambert dryly, "for I have known the girl for six months. I met her in a gypsy caravan when on a walking tour, and offered to paint her. She is down here with her people, and you can see her whenever you have a mind to."

"There's no time like the present," said Miss Greeby, accepting the offer with alacrity. "Come along, old boy." Then, when they stepped out of the cottage garden on to the lawns, she asked pointedly, "What is her name?"

"Chaldea."

"Nonsense. That is the name of the country."

"I never denied that, my dear girl. But Chaldea was born in the country whence she takes her name. Down Mesopotamia way, I believe. These gypsies wander far and wide, you know. She's very pretty, and has the temper of the foul fiend himself. Only Kara can keep her in order."

"Who is Kara?"

"A Servian gypsy who plays the fiddle like an angel. He's a crooked-backed, black-faced, hairy ape of a dwarf, but highly popular on account of his music. Also, he's crazy about Chaldea, and loves her to distraction."

"Does she love him?" Miss Greeby asked in her direct fashion.

"No," replied Lambert, coloring under his tan, and closed his lips firmly. He was a very presentable figure of a man, as he walked beside the unusually tall woman. His face was undeniably handsome in a fair Saxon fashion, and his eyes were as blue as those of Miss Greeby herself, while his complexion was much more delicate. In fact, she considered that it was much too good a complexion for one of the male sex, but admitted inwardly that its possessor was anything but effeminate, when he had such a heavy jaw, such a firm chin, and such set lips. Lambert, indeed, at first sight did indeed look so amiable, as to appear for the moment quite weak; but danger always stiffened him into a dangerous adversary, and his face when aroused was most unpleasantly fierce. He walked with a military swing, his shoulders well set back and his head crested like that of a striking serpent. A rough and warlike life would have brought out his best points of endurance, capability to plan and strike quickly, and iron decision; but the want of opportunity and the enervating influences of civilized existence, made him a man of possibilities. When time, and place, and chance offered he could act the hero with the best; but lacking these things he remained innocuous like gunpowder which has no spark to fire it.

Thinking of these things, Miss Greeby abandoned the subject of Chaldea, and of her possible love for Lambert, and exclaimed impulsively, "Why don't you chuck civilization and strike the out-trail?"

"Why should I?" he asked, unmoved, and rather surprised by the change of the subject. "I'm quite comfortable here."

"Too comfortable," she retorted with emphasis. "This loafing life of just-enough-to-live-on doesn't give you a chance to play the man. Go out and fight and colonize and prove your qualities."

Lambert's color rose again, and his eyes sparkled. "I would if the chance-"

"Ah, bah, Hercules and Omphale!" interrupted his companion.

"What do you mean?"

"Never mind," retorted Miss Greeby, who guessed that he knew what she meant very well. His quick flush showed her how he resented this classical allusion to Agnes Pine. "You'd carry her off if you were a man."

"Chaldea?" asked Lambert, wilfully misunderstanding her meaning.

"If you like. Only don't try to carry her off at night. Garvington says he will shoot any burglar who comes along after dark."

"I never knew Garvington had anything to do with Chaldea."

"Neither did I. Oh, I think you know very well what I mean."

"Perhaps I do," said the young man with an angry shrug, for really her interference with his affairs seemed to be quite unjustifiable. "But I am not going to bring a woman I respect into the Divorce Court."

"Respect? Love, you mean to say."

Lambert stopped, and faced her squarely. "I don't wish to quarrel with you, Clara, as we are very old friends. But I warn you that I do possess a temper, and if you wish to see it, you are going the best way to get what you evidently want. Now, hold your tongue and talk of something else. Here is Chaldea."

"Watching for you," muttered Miss Greeby, as the slight figure of the gypsy girl was seen advancing swiftly. "Ha!" and she snorted suspiciously.

"Rye!" cried Chaldea, dancing toward the artist. "Sarishan rye."

Miss Greeby didn't understand Romany, but the look in the girl's eyes was enough to reveal the truth. If Lambert did not love his beautiful model, it was perfectly plain that the beautiful model loved Lambert.

"O baro duvel atch' pa leste!" said Chaldea, and clapped her slim hands.

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