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   Chapter 10 A DIFFICULT POSITION.

Red Money By Fergus Hume Characters: 23075

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Lord Garvington was not a creditable member of the aristocracy, since his vices greatly exceeded his virtues. With a weak nature, and the tastes of a sybarite, he required a great deal of money to render him happy. Like the immortal Becky Sharp, he could have been fairly honest if possessed of a large income; but not having it he stopped short of nothing save actual criminality in order to indulge his luxurious tastes to the full. Candidly speaking, he had already overstepped the mark when he altered the figures of a check his brother-in-law had given him, and, had not Pine been so generous, he would have undoubtedly occupied an extremely unpleasant position. However, thanks to Agnes, the affair had been hushed up, and with characteristic promptitude, Garvington had conveniently forgotten how nearly he had escaped the iron grip of Justice. In fact, so entirely did it slip his memory that-on the plea of Pine's newly discovered origin-he did not desire the body to be placed in the family vault. But the widow wished to pay this honor to her husband's remains, and finally got her own way in the matter, for the simple reason that now she was the owner of Pine's millions Garvington did not wish to offend her. But, as such a mean creature would, he made capital out of the concession.

"Since I do this for you, Agnes," he said bluntly, when the question was being decided, "you must do something for me."

"What do you wish me to do?"

"Ah-hum-hey-ho!" gurgled Garvington, thinking cunningly that it was too early yet to exploit her. "We can talk about it when the will has been read, and we know exactly how we stand. Besides your grief is sacred to me, my dear. Shut yourself up and cry."

Agnes had a sense of humor, and the blatant hypocrisy of the speech made her laugh outright in spite of the genuine regret she felt for her husband's tragic death. Garvington was quite shocked. "Do you forget that the body is yet in the house?" he asked with heavy solemnity.

"I don't forget anything," retorted Agnes, becoming scornfully serious. "Not even that you count on me to settle your wretched financial difficulties out of poor Hubert's money."

"Of course you will, my dear. You are a Lambert."

"Undoubtedly; but I am not necessarily a fool."

"Oh, I can't stop and hear you call yourself such a name," said Garvington, ostentatiously dense to her true meaning. "It is hysteria that speaks, and not my dear sister. Very natural when you are so grieved. We are all mortal."

"You are certainly silly in addition," replied the widow, who knew how useless it was to argue with the man. "Go away and don't worry me. When poor Hubert is buried, and the will is read, I shall announce my intentions."

"Intentions! Intentions!" muttered the corpulent little lord, taking a hasty departure out of diplomacy. "Surely, Agnes won't be such a fool as to let the family estates go."

It never struck him that Pine might have so worded the will that the inheritance he counted upon might not come to the widow, unless she chose to fulfil a certain condition. But then he never guessed the jealousy with which the hot-blooded gypsy had regarded the early engagement of Agnes and Lambert. If he had done so, he assuredly would not have invited the young man down to the funeral. But he did so, and talked about doing so, with a frequent mention that the body was to rest in the sacred vault of the Lamberts so that every one should applaud his generous humility.

"Poor Pine was only a gypsy," said Garvington, on all and every occasion. "But I esteemed him as a good and honest man. He shall have every honor shown to his memory. Noel and I, as representatives of his wife, my dear sister, shall follow him to the Lambert vault, and there, with my ancestors, the body of this honorable, though humble, man shall rest until the Day of Judgment."

A cynic in London laughed when the speech was reported to him. "If Garvington is buried in the same vault," he said contemptuously, "he will ask Pine for money, as soon as they rise to attend the Great Assizes!" which bitter remark showed that the little man could not induce people to believe him so disinterested as he should have liked them to consider him.

However, in pursuance of this artful policy, he certainly gave the dead man, what the landlady of the village inn called, "a dressy funeral." All that could be done in the way of pomp and ceremony was done, and the procession which followed Ishmael Hearne to the grave was an extraordinarily long one. The villagers came because, like all the lower orders, they loved the excitement of an interment; the gypsies from the camp followed, since the deceased was of their blood; and many people in financial and social circles came down from London for the obvious reason that Pine was a well-known figure in the City and the West End, and also a member of Parliament. As for Lambert, he put in an appearance, in response to his cousin's invitation, unwillingly enough, but in order to convince Agnes that he had every desire to obey her commands. People could scarcely think that Pine had been jealous of the early engagement to Agnes, when her former lover attended the funeral of a successful rival.

Of course, the house party at The Manor had broken up immediately after the inquest. It would have disintegrated before only that Inspector Darby insisted that every one should remain for examination in connection with the late tragical occurrence. But in spite of questioning and cross-questioning, nothing had been learned likely to show who had murdered the millionaire. There was a great deal of talk after the body had been placed in the Lambert vault, and there was more talk in the newspapers when an account was given of the funeral. But neither by word of mouth, nor in print, was any suggestion made likely to afford the slightest clue to the name or the whereabouts of the assassin. Having regard to Pine's romantic career, it was thought by some that the act was one of revenge by a gypsy jealous that the man should attain to such affluence, while others hinted that the motive for the crime was to be found in connection with the millionaire's career as a Gentile. Gradually, as all conjecture proved futile, the gossip died away, and other events usurped the interest of the public. Pine, who was really Hearne, had been murdered and buried; his assassin would never be discovered, since the trail was too well hidden; and Lady Agnes inherited at least two millions on which she would probably marry her cousin and so restore the tarnished splendors of the Lambert family. In this way the situation was summed up by the gossips, and then they began to talk of something else. The tragedy was only a nine minutes' wonder after all.

The gossips both in town and country were certainly right in assuming that the widow inherited the vast property of her deceased husband. But what they did not know was that a condition attached to such inheritance irritated Agnes and caused Garvington unfeigned alarm. Pine's solicitor-he was called Jarwin and came from a stuffy little office in Chancery Lane-called Garvington aside, when the mourners returned from the funeral, and asked that the reading of the will might be confined to a few people whom he named.

"There is a condition laid down by the testator which need not be made public," said Mr. Jarwin blandly. "A proposition which, if possible, must be kept out of print."

Garvington, with a sudden recollection of his iniquity in connection with the falsified check, did not dare to ask questions, but hastily summoned the people named by the lawyer. As these were the widow, Lady Garvington, himself, and his cousin Noel, the little man had no fear of what might be forthcoming, since with relatives there could be no risk of betrayal. All the same, he waited for the reading of the will with some perturbation, for the suggested secrecy hinted at some posthumous revenge on the part of the dead man. And, hardened as he was, Garvington did not wish his wife and Lambert to become acquainted with his delinquency. He was, of course, unaware that the latter knew about it through Agnes, and knew also how it had been used to coerce her-for the pressure amounted to coercion-into a loveless marriage.

The quintette assembled in a small room near the library, and when the door and window were closed there was no chance that any one would overhear the conference. Lambert was rather puzzled to know why he had been requested to be present, as he had no idea that Pine would mention him in the will. However, he had not long to wait before he learned the reason, for the document produced by Mr. Jarwin was singularly short and concise. Pine had never been a great speaker, and carried his reticence into his testamentary disposition. Five minutes was sufficient for the reading of the will, and those present learned that all real and personal property had been left unreservedly to Agnes Pine, the widow of the testator, on condition that she did not marry Noel Tamsworth Leighton Lambert. If she did so, the money was to pass to a certain person, whose name was mentioned in a sealed envelope held by Mr. Jarwin. This was only to be opened when Agnes Pine formally relinquished her claim to the estate by marrying Noel Lambert. Seeing that the will disposed of two millions sterling, it was a remarkably abrupt document, and the reading of it took the hearers' breath away.

Garvington, relieved from the fears of his guilty conscience, was the first to recover his power of speech. He looked at the lean, dry lawyer, and demanded fiercely if no legacy had been left to him. "Surely Pine did not forget me?" he lamented, with more temper than sorrow.

"You have heard the will," said Mr. Jarwin, folding up the single sheet of legal paper on which the testament was inscribed.

"There are no legacies."

"None at all."

"Hasn't Pine remembered Silver?"

"He has remembered nothing and no one save Lady Agnes." Jarwin bowed to the silent widow, who could not trust herself to speak, so angered was she by the cruel way in which her husband had shown his jealousy.

"It's all very dreadful and very disagreeable," said Lady Garvington in her weak and inconsequent way. "I'm sure I was always nice to Hubert and he might have left me a few shillings to get clothes. Everything goes in cooks and food and-"

"Hold your tongue, Jane," struck in her husband crossly. "You're always thinking of frocks and frills. But I agree with you this will is dreadful. I am not going to sit under such a beastly sell you know," he added, turning to Jarwin. "I shall contest the will."

The lawyer coughed dryly and smiled. "As you are not mentioned in the testament, Lord Garvington, I fail to see what you can do."

"Hum! hum! hum!" Garvington was rather disconcerted. "But Agnes can fight it."

"Why should I?" questioned the widow, who was very pale and very quiet.

"Why should you?" blustered her brother. "It prevents your marrying again."

"Pardon me, it does not," corrected Mr. Jarwin, with another dry cough. "Lady Agnes can marry any one she chooses to, save-" His eyes rested on the calm and watchful face of Lambert.

The young man colored, and glancing at Agnes, was about to speak. But on second thoughts he checked himself, as he did not wish to add to the embarrassment of the scene. It was the widow who replied. "Did Sir Hubert tell you why he made such a provision?" she asked, striving to

preserve her calmness, which was difficult under the circumstances.

"Why, no," said Jarwin, nursing his chin reflectively. "Sir Hubert was always of a reticent disposition. He simply instructed me to draw up the will you have heard, and gave me no explanation. Everything is in order, and I am at your service, madam, whenever you choose to send for me."

"But suppose I marry Mr. Lambert-"

"Agnes, you won't be such a fool!" shouted her brother, growing so scarlet that he seemed to be on the point of an apoplectic fit.

She turned on him with a look, which reduced him to silence, but carefully avoided the eyes of the cousin. "Suppose I marry Mr. Lambert?" she asked again.

"In that case you will lose the money," replied Jarwin, slightly weary of so obvious an answer having to be made. "You have heard the will."

"Who gets the money then?"

This was another ridiculous question, as Jarwin, and not without reason, considered.

"Would you like me to read the will again?" he asked sarcastically.

"No. I am aware of what it contains."

"In that case, you must know, madam, that the money goes to a certain person whose name is mentioned in a sealed envelope, now in my office safe."

"Who is the person?" demanded Garvington, with a gleam of hope that Pine might have made him the legatee.

"I do not know, my lord. Sir Hubert Pine wrote down the name and address, sealed the envelope, and gave it into my charge. It can only be opened when the ceremony of marriage takes place between-" he bowed again to Lady Agnes and this time also to Lambert.

"Pine must have been insane," said Garvington, fuming. "He disguises himself as a gypsy, and comes to burgle my house, and makes a silly will which ought to be upset."

"Sir Hubert never struck me as insane," retorted Jarwin, putting the disputed will into his black leather bag. "A man who can make two million pounds in so short a space of time can scarcely be called crazy."

"But this masquerading as a gypsy and a burglar," urged Garvington irritably.

"He was actually a gypsy, remember, my lord, and it was natural that he should wish occasionally to get back to the life he loved. As to his being a burglar, I venture to disagree with you. He had some reason to visit this house at the hour and in the manner he did, and doubtless if he had lived he would have explained. But whatever might have been his motive, Lord Garvington, I am certain it was not connected with robbery."

"Well," snapped the fat little man candidly, "if I had known that Pine was such a blighter as to leave me nothing, I'm hanged if I'd have allowed him to be buried in such decent company."

"Freddy, Freddy, the poor man is dead. Let him rest," said Lady Garvington, who looked more limp and untidy than ever.

"I wish he was resting somewhere else than in my vault. A damned gypsy!"

"And my husband," said Lady Agnes sharply. "Don't forget that, Garvington."

"I wish I could forget it. Much use he has been to us."

"You have no cause to complain," said his sister with a meaning glance, and Garvington suddenly subsided.

"Won't you say something, Noel?" asked Lady Garvington dismally.

"I don't see what there is to say," he rejoined, not lifting his eyes from the ground.

"There you are wrong," remarked Agnes with a sudden flush. "There is a very great deal to say, but this is not the place to say it. Mr. Jarwin," she rose to her feet, looking a queenly figure in her long black robes, "you can return to town and later will receive my instructions."

The lawyer looked hard at her marble face, wondering whether she would choose the lover or the money. It was a hard choice, and a very difficult position. He could not read in her eyes what she intended to do, so mutely bowed and took a ceremonious departure, paying a silent tribute to the widow's strength of mind. "Poor thing; poor thing," thought the solicitor, "I believe she loves her cousin. It is hard that she can only marry him at the cost of becoming a pauper. A difficult position for her, indeed. H'm! she'll hold on to the money, of course; no woman would be such a fool as to pay two millions sterling for a husband."

In relation to nine women out of ten, this view would have been a reasonable one to take, but Agnes happened to be the tenth, who had the singular taste-madness some would have called it-to prefer love to hard cash. Still, she made no hasty decision, seeing that the issues involved in her renunciation were so great. Garvington, showing a characteristic want of tact, began to argue the question almost the moment Jarwin drove away from The Manor, but his sister promptly declined to enter into any discussion.

"You and Jane can go away," said she, cutting him short. "I wish to have a private conversation with Noel."

"For heaven's sake don't give up the money," whispered Garvington in an agonized tone when at the door.

"I sold myself once to help the family," she replied in the same low voice; "but I am not so sure that I am ready to do so twice."

"Quite right, dear," said Lady Garvington, patting the widow's hand. "It is better to have love than money. Besides, it only means that Freddy will have to give up eating rich dinners which don't agree with him."

"Come away, you fool!" cried Freddy, exasperated, and, seizing her arm, he drew her out of the room, growling like a sick bear.

Agnes closed the door, and returned to look at Lambert, who still continued to stare at the carpet with folded arms. "Well?" she demanded sharply.

"Well?" he replied in the same tone, and without raising his eyes.

"Is that all you have to say, Noel?"

"I don't see what else I can say. Pine evidently guessed that we loved one another, although heaven knows that our affection has been innocent enough, and has taken this way to part us forever."

"Will it part us forever?"

"I think so. As an honorable man, and one who loves you dearly, I can't expect you to give up two millions for the sake of love in a cottage with me. It is asking too much."

"Not when a woman loves a man as I love you."

This time Lambert did look up, and his eyes flashed with surprise and delight. "Agnes, you don't mean to say that you would-"

She cut him short by sitting down beside him and taking his hand. "I would rather live on a crust with you in the Abbot's Wood Cottage than in Park Lane a lonely woman with ample wealth."

"You needn't remain lonely long," said Lambert moodily. "Pine's will does not forbid you to marry any one else."

"Do I deserve that answer, Noel, after what I have just said?"

"No, dear, no." He pressed her hand warmly. "But you must make some allowance for my feelings. It is right that a man should sacrifice all for a woman, but that a woman should give up everything for a man seems wrong."

"Many women do, if they love truly as I do."

"But, Agnes, think what people will say about me."

"That will be your share of the sacrifice," she replied promptly. "If I do this, you must do that. There is no difficulty when the matter is looked on in that light. But there is a graver question to be answered."

Lambert looked at her in a questioning manner and read the answer in her eyes. "You mean about the property of the family?"

"Yes." Agnes heaved a sigh and shook her head. "I wish I had been born a village girl rather than the daughter of a great house. Rank has its obligations, Noel. I recognized that before, and therefore married Hubert. He was a good, kind man, and, save that I lost you, I had no reason to regret becoming his wife. But I did not think that he would have put such an insult on me."

"Insult, dear?" Lambert flushed hotly.

"What else can you call this forbidding me to marry you? The will is certain to be filed at Somerset House, and the contents will be made known to the public in the usual way, through the newspapers. Then what will people say, Noel? Why, that I became Hubert's wife in order to get his money, since, knowing that he was consumptive, I hoped he would soon die, and that as a rich widow I could console myself with you. They will chuckle to see how my scheme has been overturned by the will."

"But you made no such scheme."

"Of course not. Still, everyone will credit me with having done so. As a woman, who has been insulted, and by a man who has no reason to mistrust me, I feel inclined to renounce the money and marry you, if only to show how I despise the millions. But as a Lambert I must think again of the family as I thought before. The only question is, whether it is wise to place duty above love for the second time, considering the misery we have endured, and the small thanks we have received for our self-denial?"

"Surely Garvington's estates are free by now?"

"No; they are not. Hubert, as I told you when we spoke in the cottage, paid off many mortgages, but retained possession of them. He did not charge Garvington any interest, and let him have the income of the mortgaged land. No one could have behaved better than Hubert did, until my brother's demands became so outrageous that it was impossible to go on lending and giving him money. Hubert did not trust him so far as to give back the mortgages, so these will form a portion of his estate. As that belongs to me, I can settle everything with ease, and place Garvington in an entirely satisfactory condition. But I do that at the cost of losing you, dear. Should the estates pass to this unknown person, the mortgages would be foreclosed, and our family would be ruined."

"Are things as bad as that?"

"Every bit as bad. Hubert told me plainly how matters stood. For generations the heads of the family have been squandering money. Freddy is just as bad as the rest, and, moreover, has no head for figures. He does not know the value of money, never having been in want of it. But if everything was sold up-and it must be if I marry you and lose the millions-he will be left without an acre of land and only three hundred a year."

"Oh, the devil!" Lambert jumped up and began to walk up and down the room with a startled air. "That would finish the Lambert family with a vengeance, Agnes. What do you wish me to do?" he asked, after a pause.

"Wait," she said quietly.

"Wait? For what-the Deluge?"

"It won't come while I hold the money. I have a good business head, and Hubert taught me how to deal with financial matters. I could not give him love, but I did give him every attention, and I believe that I was able to help him in some ways. I shall utilize my experience to see the family lawyer and go into matters thoroughly. Then we shall know for certain if things are as bad as Hubert made out. If they are, I must sacrifice you and myself for the sake of our name; if they are not-"

"Well?" asked Lambert, seeing how she hesitated. Agnes crossed the room and placed her arms round his neck with a lovely color tinting her wan cheeks. "Dear," she whispered, "I shall marry you. In doing so I am not disloyal to Hubert's memory, since I have always loved you, and he accepted me as his wife on the understanding that I could not give him my heart. And now that he has insulted me," she drew back, and her eyes flashed, "I feel free to become your wife."

"I see," Lambert nodded. "We must wait?"

"We must wait. Duty comes before love. But I trust that the sacrifice will not be necessary. Good-bye, dear," and she kissed him.

"Good-bye," repeated Lambert, returning the kiss. Then they parted.

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