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   Chapter 12 THE CONSPIRACY.

Red Money By Fergus Hume Characters: 24419

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

It was lucky that Lambert did not know of the ordeal to which Agnes had to submit, unaided, since he was having a most unhappy time himself. In a sketching expedition he had caught a chill, which had developed once more a malarial fever, contracted in the Congo marshes some years previously. Whenever his constitution weakened, this ague fit would reappear, and for days, sometimes weeks, he would shiver with cold, and alternately burn with fever. As the autumn mists were hanging round the leafless Abbot's Wood, it was injudicious of him to sit in the open, however warmly clothed, seeing that he was predisposed to disease. But his desire for the society of the woman he loved, and the hopelessness of the outlook, rendered him reckless, and he was more often out of doors than in. The result was that when Agnes came down to relate the interview with Silver, she found him in his sitting-room swathed in blankets, and reclining in an arm-chair placed as closely to a large wood fire as was possible. He was very ill indeed, poor man, and she uttered an exclamation when she saw his wan cheeks and hollow eyes. Lambert was now as weak as he had been strong, and with the mothering instinct of a woman, she rushed forward to kneel beside his chair.

"My dear, my dear, why did you not send for me?" she wailed, keeping back her tears with an effort.

"Oh, I'm all right, Agnes," he answered cheerfully, and fondly clasping her hand. "Mrs. Tribb is nursing me capitally."

"I'm doing my best," said the rosy-faced little housekeeper, who stood at the door with her podgy hands primly folded over her apron. "Plenty of bed and food is what I give Master Noel; but bless you, my lady, he won't stay between the blankets, being always a worrit from a boy."

"It seems to me that I am very much between the blankets now," murmured Lambert in a tired voice, and with a glance at his swathed limbs. "Go away, Mrs. Tribb, and get Lady Agnes something to eat."

"I only want a cup of tea," said Agnes, looking anxiously into her lover's bluish-tinted face. "I'm not hungry."

Mrs. Tribb took a long look at the visitor and pursed up her lips, as she shook her head. "Hungry you mayn't be, my lady, but food you must have, and that of the most nourishing and delicate. You look almost as much a corpse as Master Noel there."

"Yes, Agnes, you do seem to be ill," said Lambert with a startled glance at her deadly white face, and at the dark circles under her eyes. "What is the matter, dear?"

"Nothing! Nothing! Don't worry."

Mrs. Tribb still continued to shake her head, and, to vary the movement, nodded like a Chinese mandarin. "You ain't looked after proper, my lady, for all your fine London servants, who ain't to be trusted, nohow, having neither hands to do nor hearts to feel for them as wants comforts and attentions. I remember you, my lady, a blooming young rose of a gal, and now sheets ain't nothing to your complexion. But rose you shall be again, my lady, if wine and food can do what they're meant to do. Tea you shan't have, nohow, but a glass or two of burgundy, and a plate of patty-foo-grass sandwiches, and later a bowl of strong beef tea with port wine to strengthen the same," and Mrs. Tribb, with a determined look on her face, went away to prepare these delicacies.

"My dear! my dear!" murmured Agnes again when the door closed. "You should have sent for me."

"Nonsense," answered Lambert, smoothing her hair. "I'm not a child to cry out at the least scratch. It's only an attack of my old malarial fever, and I shall be all right in a few days."

"Not a few of these days," said Agnes, looking out of the window at the gaunt, dripping trees and gray sky and melancholy monoliths. "You ought to come to London and see the doctor."

"Had I come, I should have had to pay you a visit, and I thought that you did not wish me to, until things were adjusted."

Agnes drew back, and, kneeling before the fire, spread out her hands to the blaze. "Will they ever be adjusted?" she asked herself despairingly, but did not say so aloud, as she was unwilling to worry the sick man. "Well, I only came down to The Manor for a few days," she said aloud, and in a most cheerful manner. "Jane wants to get the house in order for Garvington, who returns from Paris in a week."

"Agnes! Agnes!" Lambert shook his head. "You are not telling me the truth. I know you too well, my dear."

"I really am staying with Jane at The Manor," she persisted.

"Oh, I believe that; but you are in trouble and came down to consult me."

"Yes," she admitted faintly. "I am in great trouble. But I don't wish to worry you while you are in this state."

"You will worry me a great deal more by keeping silence," said Lambert, sitting up in his chair and drawing the blankets more closely round him. "Do not trouble about me. I'm all right. But you-" he looked at her keenly and with a dismayed expression. "The trouble must be very great," he remarked.

"It may become so, Noel. It has to do with-oh, here is Mrs. Tribb!" and she broke off hurriedly, as the housekeeper appeared with a tray.

"Now, my lady, just you sit in that arm-chair opposite to Master Noel, and I'll put the tray on this small stool beside you. Sandwiches and burgundy wine, my lady, and see that you eat and drink all you can. Walking over on this dripping day," cried Mrs. Tribb, bustling about. "Giving yourself your death of cold, and you with carriages and horses, and them spitting cats of motive things. You're as bad as Master Noel, my lady. As for him, God bless him evermore, he's-" Mrs. Tribb raised her hands to show that words failed her, and once more vanished through the door to get ready the beef tea.

Agnes did not want to eat, but Lambert, who quite agreed with the kind-hearted practical housekeeper, insisted that she should do so. To please him she took two sandwiches, and a glass of the strong red wine, which brought color back to her cheeks in some degree. When she finished, and had drawn her chair closer to the blaze, he smiled.

"We are just like Darby and Joan," said Lambert, who looked much better for her presence. "I am so glad you are here, Agnes. You are the very best medicine I can have to make me well."

"The idea of comparing me to anything so nasty as medicine," laughed Agnes with an attempt at gayety. "But indeed, Noel, I wish my visit was a pleasant one. But it is not, whatever you may say; I am in great trouble."

"From what-with what-in what?" stuttered Lambert, so confusedly and anxiously that she hesitated to tell him.

"Are you well enough to hear?"

"Of course I am," he answered fretfully, for the suspense began to tell on his nerves. "I would rather know the worst and face the worst than be left to worry over these hints. Has the trouble to do with the murder?"

"Yes. And with Mr. Silver."

"Pine's secretary? I thought you had got rid of him?"

"Oh, yes. Mr. Jarwin said that he was not needed, so I paid him a year's wages instead of giving him notice, and let him go. But I have met him once or twice at the lawyers, as he has been telling Mr. Jarwin about poor Hubert's investments. And yesterday afternoon he came to see me."

"What about?"

Agnes came to the point at once, seeing that it would be better to do so, and put an end to Lambert's suspense. "About a letter supposed to have been written by me, as a means of luring Hubert to The Manor to be murdered."

Lambert's sallow and pinched face grew a deep red. "Is the man mad?"

"He's sane enough to ask twenty-five thousand pounds for the letter," she said in a dry tone. "There's not much madness about that request."

"Twenty-five thousand pounds!" gasped Lambert, gripping the arms of his chair and attempting to rise.

"Yes. Don't get up, Noel, you are too weak." Agnes pressed him back into the seat. "Twenty thousand for himself and five thousand for Chaldea."

"Chaldea! Chaldea! What has she got to do with the matter?"

"She holds the letter," said Agnes with a side-glance. "And being jealous of me, she intends to make me suffer, unless I buy her silence and the letter. Otherwise, according to Mr. Silver, she will show it to the police. I have seven days, more or less, in which to make up my mind. Either I must be blackmailed, or I must face the accusation."

Lambert heard only one word that struck him in this speech. "Why is Chaldea jealous of you?" he demanded angrily.

"I think you can best answer that question, Noel."

"I certainly can, and answer it honestly, too. Who told you about Chaldea?"

"Mr. Silver, for one, as I have just confessed. Clara Greeby for another. She said that the girl was sitting to you for some picture."

"Esmeralda and Quasimodo," replied the artist quickly. "You will find what I have done of the picture in the next room. But this confounded girl chose to fall in love with me, and since then I have declined to see her. I need hardly tell you, Agnes, that I gave her no encouragement."

"No, dear. I never for one moment supposed that you would."

"All the same, and in spite of my very plain speaking, she continues to haunt me, Agnes. I have avoided her on every occasion, but she comes daily to see Mrs. Tribb, and ask questions about my illness."

"Then, if she comes this afternoon, you must get that letter from her," was the reply. "I wish to see it."

"Silver declares that you wrote it?"

"He does. Chaldea showed it to him."

"It is in your handwriting?"

"So Mr. Silver declares."

Lambert rubbed the bristles of his three days' beard, and wriggled uncomfortably in his seat. "I can't gather much from these hints," he said with the fretful impatience of an invalid. "Give me a detailed account of this scoundrel's interview with you, and report his exact words if you can remember them, Agnes."

"I remember them very well. A woman does not forget such insults easily."

"Damn the beast!" muttered Lambert savagely. "Go on, dear."

Agnes patted his hand to soothe him, and forthwith related all that had passed between her and the ex-secretary. Lambert frowned once or twice during the recital, and bit his lip with anger. Weak as he was, he longed for Silver to be within kicking distance, and it would have fared badly with the foxy little man had he been in the room at the moment. When Agnes ended, her lover reflected for a few minutes.

"It's a conspiracy," he declared.

"A conspiracy, Noel?"

"Yes. Chaldea hates you because the fool has chosen to fall in love with me. The discovery of this letter has placed a weapon in her hand to do you an injury, and for the sake of money Silver is assisting her. I will do Chaldea the justice to say that I don't believe she asks a single penny for the letter. To spite you she would go at once to the police. But Silver, seeing that there is money in the business, has prevented her doing so. As to this letter-" He stopped and rubbed his chin again vexedly.

"It must be a forgery."

"Without doubt, but not of your handwriting, I fancy, in spite of what this daring blackguard says. He informed you that the letter stated how you intended to elope with me on that night, and would leave The Manor by the blue door. Also, on the face of it, it would appear that you had written the letter to your husband, since otherwise it would not have been in his possession. You would not have given him such a hint had an elopement really been arranged."

Agnes frowned. "There was no chance of an elopement being arranged," she observed rather coldly.

"Of course not. You and I know as much, but I am looking at the matter from the point of view of the person who wrote the letter. It can't be your forged handwriting, for Pine would never have believed that you would put him on the track as it were. No, Agnes. Depend upon it, the letter was a warning sent by some sympathetic friend, and is probably an anonymous one."

Agnes nodded meditatively. "You may be right, Noel. But who wrote to Hubert?"

"We must see the letter and find out."

"But if it is my forged handwriting?"

"I don't believe it is," said Lambert decisively. "No conspirator would be so foolish as to conduct h

is plot in such a way. However, Chaldea has the letter, according to Silver, and we must make her give it up. She is sure to be here soon, as she always comes bothering Mrs. Tribb in the afternoon about my health. Just ring that hand-bell, Agnes."

"Do you think Chaldea wrote the letter?" she asked, having obeyed him.

"No. She has not the education to forge, or even to write decently."

"Perhaps Mr. Silver-but no. I taxed him with setting the trap, and he declared that Hubert was more benefit to him alive than dead, which is perfectly true. Here is Mrs. Tribb, Noel."

Lambert turned his head. "Has that gypsy been here to-day?" he asked sharply.

"Not yet, Master Noel, but there's no saying when she may come, for she's always hanging round the house. I'd tar and feather her and slap and pinch her if I had my way, say what you like, my lady. I've no patience with gals of that free-and-easy, light-headed, butter-won't-melt-in-your-mouth kind."

"If she comes to-day, show her in here," said Lambert, paying little attention to Mrs. Tribb's somewhat German speech of mouth-filling words.

The housekeeper's black eyes twinkled, and she opened her lips, then she shut them again, and looking at Lady Agnes in a questioning way, trotted out of the room. It was plain that Mrs. Tribb knew of Chaldea's admiration for her master, and could not understand why he wished her to enter the house when Lady Agnes was present. She did not think it a wise thing to apply fire to gunpowder, which, in her opinion, was what Lambert was doing.

There ensued silence for a few moments. Then Agnes, staring into the fire, remarked in a musing manner, "I wonder who did shoot Hubert. Mr. Silver would not have done so, as it was to his interest to keep him alive. Do you think that to hurt me, Noel, Chaldea might have-"

"No! No! No! It was to her interest also that Pine should live, since she knew that I could not marry you while he was alive."

Agnes nodded, understanding him so well that she did not need to ask for a detailed explanation. "It could not have been any of those staying at The Manor," she said doubtfully, "since every one was indoors and in bed. Garvington, of course, only broke poor Hubert's arm under a misapprehension. Who could have been the person in the shrubbery?"

"Silver hints that I am the individual," said Lambert grimly.

"Yes, he does," assented Lady Agnes quickly. "I declared that you were in London, but he said that you returned on that night to this place."

"I did, worse luck. I went to town, thinking it best to be away while Pine was in the neighborhood, and-"

"You knew that Hubert was a gypsy and at the camp?" interrupted Agnes in a nervous manner, for the information startled her.

"Yes! Chaldea told me so, when she was trying to make me fall in love with her. I did not tell you, as I thought that you might be vexed, although I dare say I should have done so later. However, I went to town in order to prevent trouble, and only returned for that single night. I went back to town next morning very early, and did not hear about the murder until I saw a paragraph in the evening papers. Afterwards I came down to the funeral because Garvington asked me to, and I thought that you would like it."

"Why did you come back on that particular night?"

"My dear Agnes, I had no idea that Hubert would be murdered on that especial night, so did not choose it particularly. I returned because I had left behind a parcel of your letters to me when we were engaged. I fancied that Chaldea might put Hubert up to searching the cottage while I was away, and if he had found those letters he would have been more jealous than ever, as you can easily understand."

"No, I can't understand," flashed out Agnes sharply. "Hubert knew that we loved one another, and that I broke the engagement to save the family. I told him that I could not give him the affection he desired, and he was content to marry me on those terms. The discovery of letters written before I became his wife would not have caused trouble, since I was always loyal to him. There was no need for you to return, and your presence here on that night lends color to Mr. Silver's accusation."

"But you don't believe-"

"Certainly I don't. All the same it is awkward for both of us."

"I think it was made purposely awkward, Agnes. Whosoever murdered Hubert must have known of my return, and laid the trap on that night, so that I might be implicated."

"But who set the trap?"

"The person who wrote that letter."

"And who wrote the letter?"

"That is what we have to find out from Chaldea!"

At that moment; as if he had summoned her, the gypsy suddenly flung open the door and walked in with a sulky expression on her dark face. At first she had been delighted to hear that Lambert wanted to see her, but when informed by Mrs. Tribb that Lady Agnes was with the young man, she had lost her temper. However, the chance of seeing Lambert was too tempting to forego, so she marched in defiantly, ready to fight with her rival if there was an opportunity of doing so. But the Gentile lady declined the combat, and took no more notice of the jealous gypsy than was absolutely necessary. On her side Chaldea ostentatiously addressed her conversation to Lambert.

"How are you, rye?" she asked, stopping with effort in the middle of the room, for her impulse was to rush forward and gather him to her heaving bosom. "Have you taken drows, my precious lord?"

"What do you mean by drows, Chaldea?"

"Poison, no less. You look drabbed, for sure."


"Poisoned. But I waste the kalo jib on you, my Gorgious. God bless you for a sick one, say I, and that's a bad dukkerin, the which in gentle Romany means fortune, my Gentile swell."

"Drop talking such nonsense," said Lambert sharply, and annoyed to see how the girl ignored the presence of Lady Agnes. "I have a few questions to ask you about a certain letter."

"Kushto bak to the rye, who showed it to the lady," said Chaldea, tossing her head so that the golden coins jingled.

"He did not show it to me, girl," remarked Lady Agnes coldly.

"Hai! It seems that the rumy of Hearne can lie."

"I shall put you out of the house if you speak in that way," said Lambert sternly. "Silver went to Lady Agnes and tried to blackmail her."

"He's a boro pappin, and that's Romany for a large goose, my Gorgious rye, for I asked no gold."

"You told him to ask five thousand pounds."

"May I die in a ditch if I did!" cried Chaldea vehemently. "Touch the gold of the raclan I would not, though I wanted bread. The tiny rye took the letter to give to the prastramengro, and that's a policeman, my gentleman, so that there might be trouble. But I wished no gold from her. Romany speaking, I should like to poison her. I love you, and-"

"Have done with this nonsense, Chaldea. Talk like that and out you go. I can see from what you admit, that you have been making mischief."

"That's as true as my father," laughed the gypsy viciously. "And glad am I to say the word, my boro rye. And why should the raclan go free-footed when she drew her rom to be slaughtered like a pig?"

"I did nothing of the sort," cried Agnes, with an angry look.

"Duvel, it is true." Chaldea still addressed Lambert, and took no notice of Agnes. "I swear it on your Bible-book. I found the letter in my brother's tent, the day after he perished. Hearne, for Hearne he was, and a gentle Romany also, read the letter, saying that the raclan, his own romi, was running away with you."

"Who wrote the letter?" demanded Agnes indignantly.

This time Chaldea answered her fiercely. "You did, my Gorgious rani, and lie as you may, it's the truth I tell."

Ill as he was, Lambert could not endure seeing the girl insult Agnes. With unexpected strength he rose from his chair and took her by the shoulders to turn her out of the room. Chaldea laughed wildly, but did not resist. It was Agnes who intervened. "Let her stay until we learn the meaning of these things, Noel," she said rapidly in French.

"She insults you," he replied, in the same tongue, but released the girl.

"Never mind; never mind." Agnes turned to Chaldea and reverted to English. "Girl, you are playing a dangerous game. I wrote no letter to the man you call Hearne, and who was my husband-Sir Hubert Pine."

Chaldea laughed contemptuously. "Avali, that is true. The letter was written by you to my precious rye here, and Hearne's dukkerin brought it his way."

"How did he get it?"

"Those who know, know," retorted Chaldea indifferently. "Hearne's breath was out of him before I could ask."

"Why do you say that I wrote the letter?"

"The tiny rye swore by his God that you did."

"It is absolutely false!"

"Oh, my mother, there are liars about," jeered the gypsy sceptically. "Catch you blabbing your doings on the crook, my rani, Chore mandy-"

"Speak English," interrupted Agnes, who was quivering with rage.

"You can't cheat me," translated Chaldea sulkily. "You write my rye, here, the letter swearing to run world-wide with him, and let it fall into your rom's hands, so as to fetch him to the big house. Then did you, my cunning gentleman," she whirled round on the astounded Lambert viciously, "hide so quietly in the bushes to shoot. Hai! it is so, and I love you for the boldness, my Gorgious one."

"It is absolutely false," cried Lambert, echoing Agnes.

"True! true! and twice times true. May I go crazy, Meg, if it isn't. You wanted the raclan as your romi, and so plotted my brother's death. But your sweet one will go before the Poknees, and with irons on her wrists, and a rope round her-"

"You she-devil!" shouted Lambert in a frenzy of rage, and forgetting in his anger the presence of Agnes.

"Words of honey under the moon," mocked the girl, then suddenly became tender. "Let her go, rye, let her go. My love is all for you, and when we pad the hoof together, those who hate us shall take off the hat."

Lambert sat glaring at her furiously, and Agnes glided between him and the girl, fearful lest he should spring up and insult her. But she addressed her words to Chaldea. "Why do you think I got Mr. Lambert to kill my husband?" she asked, wincing at having to put the question, but seeing that it was extremely necessary to learn all she could from the gypsy.

The other woman drew her shawl closely round her fine form and snapped her fingers contemptuously. "It needs no chovihani to tell. Hearne the Romany was poor, Pine the Gentile chinked gold in his pockets. Says you to yourself, 'He I love isn't him with money.' And says you, 'If I don't get my true rom, the beauty of the world will clasp him to her breast.' So you goes for to get Hearne out of the flesh, to wed the rye here on my brother's rich possessions. Avali," she nodded vigorously. "That is so, though 'No' you says to me, for wisdom. Red money you have gained, my daring sister, for the blood of a Romany chal has changed the color. But I'm no-"

How long she would have continued to rage at Lady Agnes it is impossible to say, for the invalid, with the artificial strength of furious anger, sprang from his chair to turn her out of the room. Chaldea dodged him in the alert way of a wild animal.

"That's no love-embrace, my rye," she jibed, retreating swiftly. "Later, later, when the moon rises, my angel," and she slipped deftly through the door with a contemptuous laugh. Lambert would have followed, but that Agnes caught his arm, and with tears in her eyes implored him to remain.

"But what can we do in the face of such danger?" she asked him when he was quieter, and breaking down, she sobbed bitterly.

"We must meet it boldly. Silver has the forged letter: he must be arrested."

"But the scandal, Noel. Dare we-"

"Agnes, you are innocent: I am innocent. Innocence can dare all things."

Both sick, both troubled, both conscious of the dark clouds around them, they looked at one another in silence. Then Lambert repeated his words with conviction, to reassure himself as much as to comfort her.

"Innocence can dare all things," said Lambert, positively.

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