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   Chapter 8 AT MIDNIGHT.

Red Money By Fergus Hume Characters: 23328

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Silver's delivery of his employer's orders to Lord Garvington were apparently carried out, for no further intimation was given to the gypsies that they were to vacate Abbot's Wood. The master of The Manor grumbled a good deal at the high tone taken by his brother-in-law, as, having the instincts of a landlord, he strongly objected to the presence of such riff-raff on his estates. However, as Pine had the whip-hand of him, he was obliged to yield, although he could not understand why the man should favor the Romany in this way.

"Some of his infernal philanthropy, I suppose," said Garvington, in a tone of disgust, to the secretary. "Pine's always doing this sort of thing, and people ain't a bit grateful."

"Well," said Silver dryly, "I suppose that's his look-out."

"If it is, let him keep to his own side of the road," retorted the other. "Since I don't interfere with his business, let him not meddle with mine."

"As he holds the mortgage and can foreclose at any moment, it is his business," insisted Silver tartly. "And, after all, the gypsies are doing no very great harm."

"They will if they get the chance. I'd string up the whole lot if I had my way, Silver. Poachers and blackguards every one of them. I know that Pine is always helping rotters in London, but I didn't know that he had any cause to interfere with this lot. How did he come to know about them?"

"Well, Mr. Lambert might have told him," answered the secretary, not unwilling to draw that young man into the trouble. "He is at Abbot's Wood."

"Yes, I lent him the cottage, and this is my reward. He meddles with my business along with Pine. Why can't he shut his mouth?"

"I don't say that Mr. Lambert did tell him, but he might have done so."

"I am quite sure that he did," said Garvington emphatically, and growing red all over his chubby face. "Otherwise Pine would never have heard, since he is in Paris. I shall speak to Lambert."

"You won't find him at home. I looked in at his cottage to pass the time, and his housekeeper said that he had gone to London all of a sudden, this very evening."

"Oh, he'll turn up again," said Garvington carelessly. "He's sick of town, Silver, since-" The little man hesitated.

"Since when?" asked the secretary curiously.

"Never mind," retorted the other gruffly, for he did not wish to mention the enforced marriage of his sister, to Silver. Of course, there was no need to, as Garvington, aware that the neat, foxy-faced man was his brother-in-law's confidential adviser, felt sure that everything was known to him. "I'll leave those blamed gypsies alone meanwhile," finished Garvington, changing and finishing the conversation. "But I'll speak to Pine when I see him."

"He returns from Paris in three weeks," remarked Silver, at which information the gross little lord simply hunched his fat shoulders. Much as Pine had done for him, Garvington hated the man with all the power of his mean and narrow mind, and as the millionaire returned this dislike with a feeling of profound contempt, the two met as seldom as possible. Only Lady Agnes was the link between them, the visible object of sale and barter, which had been sold by one to the other.

It was about this time that the house-party at The Manor began to break up; since it was now the first week in September, and many of the shooters wished to go north for better sport. Many of the men departed, and some of the women, who were due at other country houses; but Mrs. Belgrove and Miss Greeby still remained. The first because she found herself extremely comfortable, and appreciated Garvington's cook; and the second on account of Lambert being in the vicinity. Miss Greeby had been very disappointed to learn that the young man had gone to London, but heard from Mrs. Tribb that he was expected back in three days. She therefore lingered so as to have another conversation with him, and meanwhile haunted the gypsy camp for the purpose of keeping an eye on Chaldea, who was much too beautiful for her peace of mind. Sometimes Silver accompanied her, as the lady had given him to understand that she knew Pine's real rank and name, so the two were made free of the Bohemians and frequently chatted with Ishmael Hearne. But they kept his secret, as did Chaldea; and Garvington had no idea that the man he dreaded and hated-who flung money to him as if he were tossing a bone to a dog-was within speaking distance. If he had known, he would assuredly have guessed the reason why Sir Hubert Pine had interested himself in the doings of a wandering tribe of undesirable creatures.

A week passed away and still, although Miss Greeby made daily inquiries, Lambert did not put in an appearance at the forest cottage. Thinking that he had departed to escape her, she made up her impatient mind to repair to London, and to hunt him up at his club. With this idea she intimated to Lady Garvington that she was leaving The Manor early next morning. The ladies had just left the dinner-table, and were having coffee in the drawing-room when Miss Greeby made this abrupt announcement.

"Oh, my dear," said Lady Garvington, in dismay. "I wish you would change your mind. Nearly everyone has gone, and the house is getting quite dull."

"Thanks ever so much," remarked Mrs. Belgrove lightly. She sat near the fire, for the evening was chilly, and what with paint and powder, and hair-dye, to say nothing of her artistic and carefully chosen dress, looked barely thirty-five in the rosy lights cast by the shaded lamps.

"I don't mean you, dear," murmured the hostess, who was even more untidy and helpless than usual. "You are quite a host in yourself. And that recipe you gave me for Patagonian soup kept Garvington in quite a good humor for ever so long. But the house will be dull for you without Clara."

"Agnes is here, Jane."

"I fear Agnes is not much of an entertainer," said that lady, smiling in a weary manner, for this society chatter bored her greatly.

"That's not to be wondered at," struck in Miss Greeby abruptly. "For of course you are thinking of your husband."

Lady Agnes colored slightly under Miss Greeby's very direct gaze, but replied equably enough, to save appearances, "He is still in Paris."

"When did you last hear from him, dear?" questioned Lady Garvington, more to manufacture conversation than because she really cared.

"Only to-day I had a letter. He is carrying out some special business and will return in two or three weeks."

"You will be glad to see him, no doubt," sneered Miss Greeby.

"I am always glad to see my husband and to be with him," answered Lady Agnes in a dignified manner. She knew perfectly well that Miss Greeby hated her, and guessed the reason, but she was not going to give her any satisfaction by revealing the true feelings of her heart.

"Well, I intend to stay here, Jane, if it's all the same to you," cried Mrs. Belgrove in her liveliest manner and with a side glance, taking in both Miss Greeby and Lady Agnes. "Only this morning I received a chit-chat letter from Mr. Lambert-we are great friends you know-saying that he intended to come here for a few days. Such a delightful man he is."

"Oh, dear me, yes," cried Lady Garvington, starting. "I remember. He wrote yesterday from London, asking if he might come. I told him yes, although I mentioned that we had hardly anyone with us just now."

Miss Greeby looked greatly annoyed, as Mrs. Belgrove maliciously saw, for she knew well that the heiress would now regret having so hastily intimated her approaching departure. What was the expression on Lady Agnes's face, the old lady could not see, for the millionaire's wife shielded it-presumably from the fire-with a large fan of white feathers. Had Mrs. Belgrove been able to read that countenance she would have seen satisfaction written thereon, and would probably have set down the expression to a wrong cause. In reality, Agnes was glad to think that Lambert's promise was being kept, and that he no longer intended to avoid her company so openly.

But if she was pleased, Miss Greeby was not, and still continued to look annoyed, since she had burnt her boats by announcing her departure. And what annoyed her still more than her hasty decision was, that she would leave Lambert in the house along with the rival she most dreaded. Though what the young man could see in this pale, washed-out creature Miss Greeby could not imagine. She glanced at a near mirror and saw her own opulent, full-blown looks clothed in a pale-blue dinner-gown, which went so well-as she inartistically decided, with her ruddy locks, Mrs. Belgrove considered that Miss Greeby looked like a paint-box, or a sunset, or one of Turner's most vivid pictures, but the heiress was very well pleased with herself. Lady Agnes, in her favorite white, with her pale face and serious looks, was but a dull person of the nun persuasion. And Miss Greeby did not think that Lambert cared for nuns, when he had an Amazonian intelligent pal-so she put it-at hand. But, of course, he might prefer dark beauties like Chaldea. Poor Miss Greeby; she was pursuing her wooing under very great difficulties, and became silent in order to think out some way of revoking in some natural manner the information of her departure.

There were other women in the room, who joined in the conversation, and all were glad to hear that Mr. Lambert intended to pay a visit to his cousin, for, indeed, the young man was a general favorite. And then as two or three decided-Mrs. Belgrove amongst the number-there really could be nothing in the report that he loved Lady Agnes still, else he would scarcely come and stay where she was. As for Pine's wife, she was a washed-out creature, who had never really loved her cousin as people had thought. And after all, why should she, since he was so poor, especially when she was married to a millionaire with the looks of an Eastern prince, and manners of quite an original nature, although these were not quite conventional. Oh, yes, there was nothing in the scandal that said Garvington had sold his sister to bolster up the family property. Lady Agnes was quite happy, and her husband was a dear man, who left her a great deal to her own devices-which he wouldn't have done had he suspected the cousin; and who gave her pots of money to spend. And what more could a sensible woman want?

In this way those in the drawing-room babbled, while Agnes stared into the fire, bracing herself to encounter Lambert, who would surely arrive within the next two or three days, and while Miss Greeby savagely rebuked herself for having so foolishly intimated her departure. Then the men straggled in from their wine, and bridge became the order of the night with some, while others begged for music. After a song or so and the execution of a Beethoven sonata, to which no one paid any attention, a young lady gave a dance after the manner of Maud Allan, to which everyone attended. Then came feats of strength, in which Miss Greeby proved herself to be a female Sandow, and later a number of the guests sojourned to the billiard-room to play. When they grew weary of that, tobogganing down the broad staircase on trays was suggested and indulged in amidst shrieks of laughter. Afterwards, those heated by this horse-play strayed on to the terrace to breathe the fresh air, and flirt in the moonlight. In fact, every conceivable way of passing the time was taken advantage of by these very bored people, who scarcely knew how to get through the long evening.

"They seem to be enjoying themselves, Freddy," said Lady Garvington to her husband, when she drifted ag

ainst him in the course of attending to her guests. "I really think they find this jolly."

"I don't care a red copper what they find," retorted the little man, who was looking worried, and not quite his usual self. "I wish the whole lot would get out of the house. I'm sick of them."

"Ain't you well, Freddy? I knew that Patagonian soup was too rich for you."

"Oh, the soup was all right-ripping soup," snorted Freddy, smacking his lips over the recollection. "But I'm bothered over Pine."

"He isn't ill, is he?" questioned Lady Garvington anxiously. She liked her brother-in-law, who was always kind to her.

"No, hang him; nothing worse than his usual lung trouble, I suppose. But he is in Paris, and won't answer my letters."

"Letters, Freddy dear."

"Yes, Jane dear," he mocked. "Hang it, I want money, and he won't stump up. I can't even get an answer."

"Speak to Mr. Silver."

"Damn Mr. Silver!"

"Well, I'm sure, Frederick, you needn't swear at me," said poor, wan Lady Garvington, drawing herself up. "Mr. Silver is very kind. He went to that gypsy camp and found out how they cook hedgehog. That will be a new dish for you, dear. You haven't eaten hedgehog."

"No. And what's more, I don't intend to eat it. But you may as well tell me how these gypsies cook it," and Freddy listened with both his red ears to the description, on hearing which he decided that his wife might instruct the cook how to prepare the animal. "But no one will eat it but me."

Lady Garvington shuddered. "I shan't touch it myself. Those horrid snails you insisted on being cooked a week ago made me quite ill. You are always trying new experiments, Freddy."

"Because I get so tired of every-day dishes," growled Lord Garvington. "These cooks have no invention. I wish I'd lived in Rome when they had those banquets you read of in Gibbon."

"Did he write a book on cookery?" asked Lady Garvington very naturally.

"No. He turned out a lot of dull stuff about wars and migrations of tribes: you are silly, Jane."

"What's that about migration of tribes?" asked Mrs. Belgrove, who was in a good humor, as she had won largely at bridge. "You don't mean those dear gypsies at Abbot's Wood do you, Lord Garvington? I met one of them the other day-quite a girl and very pretty in a dark way. She told my fortune, and said that I would come in for a lot of money. I'm sure I hope so," sighed Mrs. Belgrove. "Celestine is so expensive, but no one can fit me like she can. And she knows it, and takes advantage, the horrid creature."

"I wish the tribe of gypsies would clear out," snapped Freddy, standing before the fire and glaring at the company generally. "I know they'll break in here and rob."

"Well," drawled Silver, who was hovering near, dressed so carefully that he looked more of a foxy, neat bounder than ever. "I have noticed that some of the brutes have been sneaking round the place."

Mrs. Belgrove shrieked. "Oh, how lucky I occupy a bedroom on the third floor. Just like a little bird in its tiny-weeny nest. They can't get at me there, can they, Lord Garvington?"

"They don't want you," observed Miss Greeby in her deep voice. "It's your diamonds they'd like to get."

"Oh!" Mrs. Belgrove shrieked again. "Lock my diamonds up in your strong room, Lord Garvington. Do! do! do! To please poor little me," and she effusively clasped her lean hands, upon which many of the said diamonds glittered.

"I don't think there is likely to be any trouble with these poor gypsies, Mrs. Belgrove," remarked Lady Agnes negligently. "Hubert has told me a great deal about them, and they are really not so bad as people make out."

"Your husband can't know anything of such ragtags," said Miss Greeby, looking at the beautiful, pale face, and wondering if she really had any suspicion that Pine was one of the crew she mentioned.

"Oh, but Hubert does," answered Lady Agnes innocently. "He has met many of them when he has been out helping people. You have no idea, any of you, how good Hubert is," she added, addressing the company generally. "He walks on the Embankment sometimes on winter nights and gives the poor creatures money. And in the country I have often seen him stop to hand a shilling to some tramp in the lanes."

"A gypsy for choice," growled Miss Greeby, marvelling that Lady Agnes could not see the resemblance between the tramps' faces and that of her own husband. "However, I hope Pine's darlings won't come here to rob. I'll fight for my jewels, I can promise you."

One of the men laughed. "I shouldn't like to get a blow from your fist."

Miss Greeby smiled grimly, and looked at his puny stature. "Women have to protect themselves from men like you," she said, amidst great laughter, for the physical difference between her and the man was quite amusing.

"It's all very well talking," said Garvington crossly. "But I don't trust these gypsies."

"Why don't you clear them off your land then?" asked Silver daringly.

Garvington glared until his gooseberry eyes nearly fell out of his red face. "I'll clear everyone to bed, that's what I'll do," he retorted, crossing the room to the middle French window of the drawing-room. "I wish you fellows would stop your larking out there," he cried. "It's close upon midnight, and all decent people should be in bed."

"Since when have you joined the Methodists, Garvington?" asked an officer who had come over from some twelve-mile distant barracks to pass the night, and a girl behind him began to sing a hymn.

Lady Agnes frowned. "I wish you wouldn't do that, Miss Ardale," she said in sharp rebuke, and the girl had the sense to be silent, while Garvington fussed over the closing of the window shutters.

"Going to stand a siege?" asked Miss Greeby, laughing. "Or do you expect burglars, particularly on this night."

"I don't expect them at all," retorted the little man. "But I tell you I hate the idea of these lawless gypsies about the place. Still, if anyone comes," he added grimly, "I shall shoot."

"Then the attacking person or party needn't bother," cried the officer. "I shouldn't mind standing up to your fire, myself, Garvington."

With laughter and chatter and much merriment at the host's expense, the guests went their several ways, the women to chat in one another's dressing-rooms and the men to have a final smoke and a final drink. Garvington, with two footmen, and his butler, went round the house, carefully closing all the shutters, and seeing that all was safe. His sister rather marvelled at this excessive precaution, and said as much to her hostess.

"It wouldn't matter if the gypsies did break in," she said when alone with Lady Garvington in her own bedroom. "It would be some excitement, for all these people must find it very dull here."

"I'm sure I do my best, Agnes," said the sister-in-law plaintively.

"Of course, you do, you poor dear," said the other, kissing her. "But Garvington always asks people here who haven't two ideas. A horrid, rowdy lot they are. I wonder you stand it."

"Garvington asks those he likes, Agnes."

"I see. He hasn't any brains, and his guests suit him for the same reason."

"They eat a great deal," wailed Lady Garvington. "I'm sure I might as well be a cook. All my time is taken up with feeding them."

"Well, Freddy married you, Jane, because you had a genius for looking after food. Your mother was much the same; she always kept a good table." Lady Agnes laughed. "Yours was a most original wooing, Jane."

"I'd like to live on bread and water for my part, Agnes."

"Put Freddy on it, dear. He's getting too stout. I never thought that gluttony was a crime. But when I look at Freddy"-checking her speech, she spread out her hands with an ineffable look-"I'm glad that Noel is coming," she ended, rather daringly. "At least he will be more interesting than any of these frivolous people you have collected."

Lady Garvington looked at her anxiously. "You don't mind Noel coming?"

"No, dear. Why should I?"

"Well you see, Agnes, I fancied-"

"Don't fancy anything. Noel and I entirely understand one another."

"I hope," blurted out the other woman, "that it is a right understanding?"

Agnes winced, and looked at her with enforced composure. "I am devoted to my husband," she said, with emphasis. "And I have every reason to be. He has kept his part of the bargain, so I keep mine. But," she added with a pale smile, "when I think how I sold myself to keep up the credit of the family, and now see Freddy entertaining this riff-raff, I am sorry that I did not marry Noel, whom I loved so dearly."

"That would have meant our ruin," bleated Lady Garvington, sadly.

"Your ruin is only delayed, Jane. Freddy is a weak, self-indulgent fool, and is eating his way into the next world. It will be a happy day for you when an apoplectic fit makes you a widow."

"My dear," the wife was shocked, "he is your brother."

"More's the pity. I have no illusions about Freddy, Jane, and I don't think you have either. Now, go away and sleep. It's no use lying awake thinking over to-morrow's dinner. Give Freddy the bread and water you talked about."

Lady Garvington laughed in a weak, aimless way, and then kissed her sister-in-law with a sigh, after which she drifted out of the room in her usual vague manner. Very shortly the clock over the stables struck midnight, and by that time Garvington the virtuous had induced all his men guests to go to bed. The women chatted a little longer, and then, in their turn, sought repose. By half-past twelve the great house was in complete darkness, and bulked a mighty mass of darkness in the pale September moonlight.

Lady Agnes got to bed quickly, and tired out by the boredom of the evening, quickly fell asleep. Suddenly she awoke with all her senses on the alert, and with a sense of vague danger hovering round. There were sounds of running feet and indistinct oaths and distant cries, and she could have sworn that a pistol-shot had startled her from slumber. In a moment she was out of bed and ran to open her window. On looking out she saw that the moonlight was very brilliant, and in it beheld a tall man running swiftly from the house. He sped down the broad path, and just when he was abreast of a miniature shrubbery, she heard a second shot, which seemed to be fired there-from. The man staggered, and stumbled and fell. Immediately afterwards, her brother-she recognized his voice raised in anger-ran out of the house, followed by some of the male guests. Terrified by the sight and the sound of the shots, Lady Agnes huddled on her dressing-gown hastily, and thrust her bare feet into slippers. The next moment she was out of her bedroom and down the stairs. A wild idea had entered her mind that perhaps Lambert had come secretly to The Manor, and had been shot by Garvington in mistake for a burglar. The corridors and the hall were filled with guests more or less lightly attired, mostly women, white-faced and startled. Agnes paid no attention to their shrieks, but hurried into the side passage which terminated at the door out of which her brother had left the house. She went outside also and made for the group round the fallen man.

"What is it? who is it?" she asked, gasping with the hurry and the fright.

"Go back, Agnes, go back," cried Garvington, looking up with a distorted face, strangely pale in the moonlight.

"But who is it? who has been killed?" She caught sight of the fallen man's countenance and shrieked. "Great heavens! it is Hubert; is he dead?"

"Yes," said Silver, who stood at her elbow. "Shot through the heart."

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