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   Chapter 5 THE WOMAN AND THE MAN.

Red Money By Fergus Hume Characters: 24611

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Quite unaware that Destiny, that tireless spinner, was weaving sinister red threads of hate and love into the web of his life, Lambert continued to live quietly in his woodland retreat. In a somewhat misanthropic frame of mind he had retired to this hermitage, after the failure of his love affair, since, lacking the society of Agnes, there was nothing left for him to desire. From a garden of roses, the world became a sandy desert, and denied the sole gift of fortune, which would have made him completely happy, the disconsolate lover foreswore society for solitude. As some seek religion, so Lambert hoped by seeking Nature's breast to assuage the pains of his sore heart. But although the great Mother could do so much, she could not do all, and the young man still felt restless and weary. Hard work helped him more than a little, but he had his dark hours during those intervals when hand and brain were too weary to create pictures.

In one way he blamed Agnes, because she had married for money; in another way he did not blame her, because that same money had been necessary to support the falling fortunes of the noble family to which Lambert belonged. An ordinary person would not have understood this, and would have seen in the mercenary marriage simply a greedy grasping after the loaves and fishes. But Lambert, coming at the end of a long line of lordly ancestors, considered that both he and his cousin owed something to those of the past who had built up the family. Thus his pride told him that Agnes had acted rightly in taking Pine as her husband, while his love cried aloud that the sacrifice was too hard upon their individual selves. He was a Lambert, but he was also a human being, and the two emotions of love and pride strove mightily against one another. Although quite three years had elapsed since the victim had been offered at the altar-and a willing victim to the family fetish-the struggle was still going on. And because of its stress and strain, Lambert withdrew from society, so that he might see as little as possible of the woman he loved. They had met, they had talked, they had looked, in a conventionally light-hearted way, but both were relieved when circumstances parted them. The strain was too great.

Pine arranged the circumstances, for hearing here, there, and everywhere, that his wife had been practically engaged to her cousin before he became her husband, he looked with jealous eyes upon their chance meetings. Neither to Agnes nor Lambert did he say a single word, since he had no reason to utter it, so scrupulously correct was their behavior, but his eyes were sufficiently eloquent to reveal his jealousy. He took his wife for an American tour, and when he brought her back to London, Lambert, knowing only too truly the reason for that tour, had gone away in his turn to shoot big game in Africa. An attack of malaria contracted in the Congo marshes had driven him back to England, and it was then that he had begged Garvington to give him The Abbot's Wood Cottage. For six months he had been shut up here, occasionally going to London, or for a week's walking tour, and during that time he had done his best to banish the image of Agnes from his heart. Doubtless she was attempting the same conquest, for she never even wrote to him. And now these two sorely-tried people were within speaking distance of one another, and strange results might be looked for unless honor held them sufficiently true. Seeing that the cottage was near the family seat, and that Agnes sooner or later would arrive to stay with her brother and sister-in-law, Lambert might have expected that such a situation would come about in the natural course of things. Perhaps he did, and perhaps-as some busybodies said-he took the cottage for that purpose; but so far, he had refrained from seeking the society of Pine's wife. He would not even dine at The Manor, nor would he join the shooting-party, although Garvington, with a singular blindness, urged him to do so. While daylight lasted, the artist painted desperately hard, and after dark wandered round the lanes and roads and across the fields, haunting almost unconsciously the Manor Park, if only to see in moonlight and twilight the casket which held the rich jewel he had lost. This was foolish, and Lambert acknowledged that it was foolish, but at the same time he added inwardly that he was a man and not an angel, a sinner and not a saint, so that there were limits, etc., etc., etc., using impossible arguments to quieten a lively conscience that did not approve of this dangerous philandering.

The visit of Miss Greeby awoke him positively to a sense of danger, for if she talked-and talk she did-other people would talk also. Lambert asked himself if it would be better to visit The Manor and behave like a man who has got over his passion, or to leave the cottage and betake himself to London. While turning over this problem in his mind, he painted feverishly, and for three days after Miss Greeby had come to stir up muddy water, he remained as much as possible in his studio. Chaldea visited him, as usual, to be painted, and brought Kara with his green coat and beloved violin and hairy looks. The girl chatted, Kara played, and Lambert painted, and all three pretended to be very happy and careless. This was merely on the surface, however, for the artist was desperately wretched, because the other half of himself was married to another man, while Chaldea, getting neither love-look nor caress, felt savagely discontented. As for Kara, he had long since loved Chaldea, who treated him like a dog, and he could not help seeing that she adored the Gentile artist-a knowledge which almost broke his heart. But it was some satisfaction for him to note that Lambert would have nothing to do with the siren, and that she could not charm him to her feet, sang she ever so tenderly. It was an unhappy trio at the best.

The gypsies usually came in the morning, since the light was then better for artistic purposes, but they always departed at one o'clock, so that Lambert had the afternoon to himself. Chaldea would fain have lingered in order to charm the man she loved into subjection; but he never gave her the least encouragement, so she was obliged to stay away. All the same, she often haunted the woods near the cottage, and when Lambert came out for a stroll, which he usually did when it became too dark to paint, he was bound to run across her. Since he had not the slightest desire to make love to her, and did not fathom the depth of her passion, he never suspected that she purposely contrived the meetings which he looked upon as accidental.

Since Chaldea hung round the house, like a moth round a candle, she saw every one who came and went from the woodland cottage. On the afternoon of the third day since Pine's arrival at the camp in the character of Ishmael Hearne, the gypsy saw Lady Agnes coming through the wood. Chaldea knew her at once, having often seen her when she had come to visit Mother Cockleshell a few months previously. With characteristic cunning, the girl dived into the undergrowth, and there remained concealed for the purpose of spying on the Gentile lady whom she regarded as a rival. Immediately, Chaldea guessed that Lady Agnes was on her way to the cottage, and, as Lambert was alone as usual for the afternoon, the two would probably have a private conversation. The girl swiftly determined to listen, so that she might learn exactly how matters stood between them. It might be that she would discover something which Pine-Chaldea now thought of him as Pine-might like to know. So having arranged this in her own unscrupulous mind, the girl behind a juniper bush jealously watched the unsuspecting lady. What she saw did not please her overmuch, as Lady Agnes was rather too beautiful for her unknown rival's peace of mind.

Sir Hubert's wife was not really the exquisitely lovely creature Chaldea took her to be, but her fair skin and brown hair were such a contrast to the gypsy's swarthy face and raven locks, that she really looked like an angel of light compared with the dark child of Nature. Agnes was tall and slender, and moved with a great air of dignity and calm self-possession, and this to the uncontrolled Chaldea was also a matter of offence. She inwardly tried to belittle her rival by thinking what a milk-and-water useless person she was, but the steady and resolute look in the lady's brown eyes gave the lie to this mental assertion. Lady Agnes had an air of breeding and command, which, with all her beauty, Chaldea lacked, and as she passed along like a cold, stately goddess, the gypsy rolled on the grass in an ecstasy of rage. She could never be what her rival was, and what her rival was, as she suspected, formed Lambert's ideal of womanhood. When she again peered through the bush, Lady Agnes had disappeared. But there was no need for Chaldea to ask her jealous heart where she had gone. With the stealth and cunning of a Red Indian, the gypsy took up the trail, and saw the woman she followed enter the cottage. For a single moment she had it in her mind to run to the camp and bring Pine, but reflecting that in a moment of rage the man might kill Lambert, Chaldea checked her first impulse, and bent all her energies towards getting sufficiently near to listen to a conversation which was not meant for her ears.

Meanwhile, Agnes had been admitted by Mrs. Tribb, a dried-up little woman with the rosy face of a winter apple, and a continual smile of satisfaction with herself and with her limited world. This consisted of the cottage, in the wood, and of the near villages, where she repaired on occasions to buy food. Sometimes, indeed, she went to The Manor, for, born and bred on the Garvington estates, Mrs. Tribb knew all the servants at the big house. She had married a gamekeeper, who had died, and unwilling to leave the country she knew best, had gladly accepted the offer of Lord Garvington to look after the woodland cottage. In this way Lambert became possessed of an exceedingly clean housekeeper, and a wonderfully good cook. In fact so excellent a cook was Mrs. Tribb, that Garvington had frequently suggested she should come to The Manor. But, so far, Lambert had managed to keep the little woman to himself. Mrs. Tribb adored him, since she had known him from babyhood, and declined to leave him under any circumstances. She thought Lambert the best man in the world, and challenged the universe to find another so handsome and clever, and so considerate.

"Dear me, my lady, is it yourself?" said Mrs. Tribb, throwing up her dry little hands and dropping a dignified curtsey. "Well, I do call it good of you to come and see Master Noel. He don't go out enough, and don't take enough interest in his stomach, if your ladyship will pardon my mentioning that part of him. But you don't know, my lady, what it is to be a cook, and to see the dishes get cold, while he as should eat them goes on painting, not but what Master Noel don't paint like an angel, as I've said dozens of times."

While Mrs. Tribb ran on in this manner her lively black eyes twinkled anxiously. She knew that her master and Lady Agnes had been, as she said herself, "next door to engaged," and knew also that Lambert was fretting over the match which had been brought about for the glorification of the family. The housekeeper, therefore, wondered why Lady Agnes had come, and asked herself whether it would not be wise to say that Master Noel-from old associations, she always called Lambert by this juvenile title-was not at home. But she banished the thought as unworthy, the moment it entered her active brain, and with another curtsey in response to the visitor's greeting, she conducted her to the studio. "Them two angels will never do no wrong, anyhow," was Mrs. Tribb's reflection, as she closed the door and left the pair together. "But I do hope as that black-faced husband won't ever learn. He's as jealous as Cain, and I don't want Master Noel to be no Abel!"

If Mrs. Tribb, instead of going to the kitchen, which she did, had gone out of the front door, she would have found Chaldea lying full length amongst the flowers under the large window of the studio. This was slightly open, and the girl coul

d hear every word that was spoken, while so swiftly and cleverly had she gained her point of vantage, that those within never for one moment suspected her presence. If they had, they would assuredly have kept better guard over their tongues, for the conversation was of the most private nature, and did not tend to soothe the eavesdropper's jealousy.

Lambert was so absorbed in his painting-he was working at the Esmeralda-Quasimodo picture-that he scarcely heard the studio door open, and it was only when Mrs. Tribb's shrill voice announced the name of his visitor, that he woke to the surprising fact that the woman he loved was within a few feet of him. The blood rushed to his face, and then retired to leave him deadly pale, but Agnes was more composed, and did not let her heart's tides mount to high-water mark. On seeing her self-possession, the man became ashamed that he had lost his own, and strove to conceal his momentary lapse into a natural emotion, by pushing forward an arm-chair.

"This is a surprise, Agnes," he said in a voice which he strove vainly to render steady. "Won't you sit down?"

"Thank you," and she took her seat like a queen on her throne, looking fair and gracious as any white lily. What with her white dress, white gloves and shoes, and straw hat tied under her chin with a broad white ribbon in old Georgian fashion, she looked wonderfully cool, and pure, and-as Lambert inwardly observed-holy. Her face was as faintly tinted with color as is a tea-rose, and her calm, brown eyes, under her smooth brown hair, added to the suggestive stillness of her looks. She seemed in her placidity to be far removed from any earthly emotion, and resembled a picture of the Madonna, serene, peaceful, and somewhat sad. Yet who could tell what anguished feelings were masked by her womanly pride?

"I hope you do not find the weather too warm for walking," said Lambert, reining in his emotions with an iron hand, and speaking conventionally.

"Not at all. I enjoyed the walk. I am staying at The Manor."

"So I understand."

"And you are staying here?"

"There can be no doubt on that point."

"Do you think you are acting wisely?" she asked with great calmness.

"I might put the same question to you, Agnes, seeing that you have come to live within three miles of my hermitage."

"It is because you are living in what you call your hermitage that I have come," rejoined Agnes, with a slight color deepening her cheeks. "Is it fair to me that you should shut yourself up and play the part of the disappointed lover?"

Lambert, who had been touching up his picture here and there, laid down his palette and brushes with ostentatious care, and faced her doggedly. "I don't understand what you mean," he declared.

"Oh, I think you do; and in the hope that I may induce you, in justice to me, to change your conduct, I have come over."

"I don't think you should have come," he observed in a low voice, and threw himself on the couch with averted eyes.

Lady Agnes colored again. "You are talking nonsense," she said with some sharpness. "There is no harm in my coming to see my cousin."

"We were more than cousins once."

"Exactly, and unfortunately people know that. But you needn't make matters worse by so pointedly keeping away from me."

Lambert looked up quickly. "Do you wish me to see you often?" he asked, and there was a new note in his voice which irritated her.

"Personally I don't, but-"

"But what?" He rose and stood up, very tall and very straight, looking down on her with a hungry look in his blue eyes.

"People are talking," murmured the lady, and stared at the floor, because she could not face that same look.

"Let them talk. What does it matter?"

"Nothing to you, perhaps, but to me a great deal. I have a husband."

"As I know to my cost," he interpolated.

"Then don't let me know it to my cost," she said pointedly. "Sit down and let us talk common sense."

Lambert did not obey at once. "I am only a human being, Agnes-"

"Quite so, and a man at that. Act like a man, then, and don't place the burden on a woman's shoulders."

"What burden?"

"Oh, Noel, can't you understand?"

"I daresay I can if you will explain. I wish you hadn't come here to-day. I have enough to bear without that."

"And have I nothing to bear?" she demanded, a flash of passion ruffling her enforced calm. "Do you think that anything but the direst need brought me here?"

"I don't know what brought you here. I am waiting for an explanation."

"What is the use of explaining what you already know?"

"I know nothing," he repeated doggedly. "Explain."

"Well," said Lady Agnes with some bitterness, "it seems to me that an explanation is really necessary, as apparently I am talking to a child instead of a man. Sit down and listen."

This time Lambert obeyed, and laughed as he did so. "Your taunts don't hurt me in the least," he observed. "I love you too much."

"And I love in return. No! Don't rise again. I did not come here to revive the embers of our dead passion."

"Embers!" cried Lambert with bitter scorn. "Embers, indeed! And a dead passion; how well you put it. So far as I am concerned, Agnes, the passion is not dead and never will be."

"I am aware of that, and so I have come to appeal to that passion. Love means sacrifice. I want you to understand that."

"I do, by experience. Did I not surrender you for the sake of the family name? Understand! I should think I did understand."

"I-think-not," said Lady Agnes slowly and gently. "It is necessary to revive your recollections. We loved one another since we were boy and girl, and we intended, as you know, to marry. There was no regular engagement between us, but it was an understood family arrangement. My father always approved of it; my brother did not."

"No. Because he saw in you an article of sale out of which he hoped to make money," sneered Lambert, nursing his ankle.

Lady Agnes winced. "Don't make it too hard for me," she said plaintively. "My life is uncomfortable enough as it is. Remember that when my father died we were nearly ruined. Only by the greatest cleverness did Garvington manage to keep interest on the mortgages paid up, hoping that he would marry a rich wife-an American for choice-and so could put things straight. But he married Jane, as you know-"

"Because he is a glutton, and she knows all about cooking."

"Well, gluttony may be as powerful a vice as drinking and gambling, and all the rest of it. It is with Garvington, although I daresay that seeing the position he was in, people would laugh to think he should marry a poor woman, when he needed a rich wife. But at that time Hubert wanted to marry me, and Garvington got his cook-wife, while I was sacrificed."

"Seeing that I loved you and you loved me, I wonder-"

"Yes, I know you wondered, but you finally accepted my explanation that I did it to save the family name."

"I did, and, much as I hated your sacrifice, it was necessary."

"More necessary than you think," said Lady Agnes, sinking her voice to a whisper and glancing round, "In a moment of madness Garvington altered a check which Hubert gave him, and was in danger of arrest. Hubert declared that he would give up the check if I married him. I did so, to save my brother and the family name."

"Oh, Agnes!" Lambert jumped up. "I never knew this."

"It was not necessary to tell you. I made the excuse of saving the family name and property generally. You thought it was merely the bankruptcy court, but I knew that it meant the criminal court. However, I married Hubert, and he put the check in the fire in my presence and in Garvington's. He has also fulfilled his share of the bargain which he made when he bought me, and has paid off a great many of the mortgages. However, Garvington became too outrageous in his demands, and lately Hubert has refused to help him any more. I don't blame him; he has paid enough for me."

"You are worth it," said Lambert emphatically.

"Well, you may think so, and perhaps he does also. But does it not strike you, Noel, what a poor figure I and Garvington, and the whole family, yourself included, cut in the eyes of the world? We were poor, and I was sold to get money to save the land."

"Yes, but this changing of the check also-"

"The world doesn't know of that," said Agnes hurriedly. "Hubert has been very loyal to me. I must be loyal to him."

"You are. Who dares to say that you are not?"

"No one-as yet," she replied pointedly.

"What do you mean by that?" he demanded, flushing through his fair skin.

"I mean that if you met me in the ordinary way, and behaved to me as an ordinary man, people would not talk. But you shun my society, and even when I am at The Manor, you do not come near because of my presence."

"It is so hard to be near you and yet, owing to your marriage, so far from you," muttered the man savagely.

"If it is hard for you, think how hard it must be for me," said the woman vehemently, her passion coming to the surface. "People talk of the way in which you avoid me, and hint that we love one another still."

"It is true! Agnes, you know it is true!"

"Need the whole world know that it is true?" cried Agnes, rising, with a gust of anger passing over her face. "If you would only come to The Manor, and meet me in London, and accept Hubert's invitations to dinner, people would think that our attachment was only a boy and girl engagement, that we had outgrown. They would even give me credit for loving Hubert-"

"But you don't?" cried Lambert with a jealous pang.

"Yes, I do. He is my chosen husband, and has carried out his part of the bargain by freeing many of Garvington's estates. Surely the man ought to have something for his money. I don't love him as a wife should love her husband, not with heart-whole devotion, that is. But I give him loyalty, and I respect him, and I try to make him happy in every way. I do my part, Noel, as you do yours. Since I have been compelled to sacrifice love for money, at least let us be true to the sacrifice."

"You didn't sacrifice yourself wholly for money."

"No, I did not. It was because of Garvington's crime. But no one knows of that, and no one ever shall know. In fact, so happy am I and Hubert-"

"Happy?" said Lambert wincing.

"Yes," she declared firmly. "He thinks so, and whatever unhappiness I may feel, I conceal from him. But you must come to The Manor, and meet me here, there, and everywhere, so that people shall not say, as they are doing, that you are dying of love, and that, because I am a greedy fortune-hunter, I ruined your life."

"They do not dare. I have not heard any-"

"What can you hear in this jungle?" interrupted Lady Agnes with scorn. "You stop your ears with cotton wool, but I am in the world, hearing everything. And the more unpleasant the thing is, the more readily do I hear it. You can end this trouble by coming out of your lovesick retirement, and by showing that you no longer care for me."

"That would be acting a lie."

"And do I not act a lie?" she cried fiercely. "Is not my whole marriage a lie? I despise myself for my weakness in yielding, and yet, God help me, what else could I do when Garvington's fair fame was in question? Think of the disgrace, had he been prosecuted by Hubert. And Hubert knows that you and I loved; that I could not give him the love he desired. He was content to accept me on those terms. I don't say he was right; but am I right, are you right, is Garvington right? Is any one of us right? Not one, not one. The whole thing is horrible, but I make the best of it, since I did what I did do, openly and for a serious purpose of which the world knows nothing. Do your part, Noel, and come to The Manor, if only to show that you no longer care for me. You understand"-she clasped her hands in agony. "You surely understand."

"Yes," said Lambert in a low voice, and suddenly looked years older. "I understand at last, Agnes. You shall no longer bear the burden alone. I shall be a loyal friend to you, my dear," and he took her hand.

"Will you be a loyal friend to my husband?" she asked, withdrawing it.

"Yes," said Lambert, and he bit his lip. "God helping me, I will."

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