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The Slave of Silence By Fred M. White Characters: 11686

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The girl turned away from the splendour of it and laid her aching head against the cool windowpane. A hansom flashed along in the street below with just a glimpse of a pretty laughing girl in it with a man by her side. From another part of the Royal Palace Hotel came sounds of mirth and gaiety. All the world seemed to be happy, to-night, perhaps to mock the misery of the girl with her head against the windowpane.

And yet on the face of it, Beatrice Darryll's lines seemed to have fallen in pleasant places. She was young and healthy, and, in the eyes of her friends, beautiful. Still, the startling pallor of her face was in vivid contrast with the dead black dress she wore, a dress against which her white arms and throat stood out like ivory on a back-ground of ebony and silver. There was no colour about the girl at all, save for the warm, ripe tone of her hair and the deep, steadfast blue of her eyes. Though her face was cold and scornful, she would not have given the spectator the impression of coldness, only utter weariness and a tiredness of life at the early age of twenty-two.

Behind her was a table laid out for a score of dinner guests. Everything was absolutely perfect and exceedingly costly, as appertained to all things at the Royal Palace Hotel, where the head waiter condescended to bow to nothing under a millionaire. The table decorations were red in tone, there were red shades to the low electric lights, and masses of red carnations everywhere. No taste, and incidentally no expense had been spared, for Beatrice Darryll was to be married on the morrow, and her father, Sir Charles, was giving this dinner in honour of the occasion. Only a very rich man could afford a luxury like that.

"I think everything is complete, madame," a waiter suggested softly. "If there is anything--"

Beatrice turned wearily from the window. She looked old and odd and drawn just for the moment. And yet that face could ripple with delighted smiles, the little red mouth was made for laughter. Beatrice's eyes swept over the wealth of good taste and criminal extravagance.

"It will do very nicely," the girl said. "It will do-anything will do. I mean you have done your work splendidly. I am more than satisfied."

The gratified, if slightly puzzled, waiter bowed himself out. The bitter scorn in Beatrice's eyes deepened. What did all this reckless extravagance mean? Why was it justified? The man who might have answered the question sauntered into the room. A wonderfully well-preserved man was Sir Charles Darryll, with a boyish smile and an air of perennial youth unspotted by the world, a man who was totally unfitted to cope with the hard grip and sordid side of life. There were some who said that he was a grasping, greedy, selfish old rascal, who under the guise of youthful integrity concealed a nature that was harsh and cruel.

"Well, my dear child," Sir Charles cried. "And are you not satisfied? That table-setting is perfect; I never saw anything in more exquisite taste."

"It will all have to be paid for," Beatrice said wearily. "The money--"

"Will be forthcoming. I have no doubt of it. Whether I have it at the bank or not I cannot for the moment say. If not, then our good friend Stephen Richford must lend it me. My dear child, that black dress of yours gives me quite a painful shock. Why wear it?"

Beatrice crossed over and regarded her pale reflection in the glass opposite. The little pink nails were dug fiercely into the still pinker flesh of her palm.

"Why not?" she asked. "Is it not appropriate? Am I not in the deepest mourning for my lost honour? To-morrow I am going to marry a man who from the bottom of my heart I loathe and despise. I am going to sell myself to him for money-money to save your good name. Oh, I know that I shall have the benediction of the church, less fortunate girls will envy me; but I am not a whit better than the poor creature flaunting her shame on the pavement. Nay, I am worse, for she can plead that love was the cause of her undoing. Father, I can't, can't go through with it."

She flung herself down in a chair and covered her face with her hands. The boyish innocence of Sir Charles's face changed suddenly, a wicked gleam came into his eyes. His friends would have found a difficulty in recognizing him then.

"Get up," he said sternly. "Get up and come to the window with me. Now, what do you see in this room?"

"Evidences of wealth that is glittering here," Beatrice cried. "Shameless extravagance that you can never hope to pay for. Costly flowers--"

"And everything that makes life worth living. All these things are necessary to me. They will be with me till the end if you marry Stephen Richford. Now look outside. Do you see those two men elaborately doing nothing by the railings opposite. You do? Well, they are watching me. They have been dogging me for three days. And if anything happened now, a sudden illness on your part, anything to postpone to-morrow's ceremony, I should pass the next day in jail. You did not think it was as bad as that, did you?"

The man's face was livid with fury; he had Beatrice's bare arm in a cruel grip, but she did not notice the pain. Her mental trouble was too deep for that.

"It's that City Company that I hinted at," Sir Charles went on. "There was a chance of a fortune there. I recognized that chance, and I became a director. And there was risk, too. We took our chance, and the chance failed. We gambled desperately, and again fortune failed us. Certain people who were against us have made unhappy discoveries. That is why those men are watching me. But if I can send the chairman a letter to-morrow assuming innocence and regret and enclosing a cheque for £5,000 to cover my fees and to recover all the shares I have sold, then I come out with a higher reputat

ion than ever. I shall shine as the one honest man in a den of thieves. That cheque and more, Richford has promised me directly you are his wife. Do you understand, you sullen, white-faced fool? Do you see the danger? If I thought you were going to back out of it now, I'd strangle you."

Beatrice felt no fear; she was long past that emotion. Her weary eyes fell on the banks of red carnations; on the shaded lights and the exquisite table service. The fit of passion had left her indifferent and cold. She was not in the least sullen.

"It would be the kindest act you could do, father," she said. "Oh, I know that this is no new thing. There is no novelty in the situation of a girl giving herself to a man whom she despises, for the sake of his money. The records of the Divorce Court teem with such cases. For the battered honour of my father I am going to lose my own. Be silent-no sophistry of yours can hide the brutal truth. I hate that man from the bottom of my soul, and he knows it. And yet his one desire is to marry me. In Heaven's name, why?"

Sir Charles chuckled slightly. The danger was past, and he could afford to be good-humoured again. Looking at his daughter he could understand the feelings of the lover who grew all the more ardent as Beatrice drew back. And Stephen Richford was a millionaire. It mattered little that both he and his father had made their money in crooked ways; it mattered little that the best men and a few of the best clubs would have none of Stephen Richford so long as Society generally smiled on him and fawned at his feet.

"You need have no further fear," Beatrice answered coldly. "My weakness has passed. I am not likely to forget myself again. My heart is dead and buried--"

"That's the way to talk," Sir Charles said cheerfully. "Feeling better, eh? I once fancied that that confounded foolishness between Mark Ventmore and yourself,-eh, what?"

A wave of crimson passed over Beatrice's pale face. Her little hands trembled.

"It was no foolishness," she said. "I never cared for anyone but Mark, I never shall care for anybody else. If Mark's father had not disowned him, because he preferred art to that terrible City, you would never have come between us. But you parted us, and you thought that there was an end of it. But you were wrong. Let me tell the truth. I wrote to Mark in Venice, only last week, asking him to come to me. I got no reply to that letter. If I had and he had come to me, I should have told him everything and implored him to marry me. But the letter was not delivered, and therefore you need have no fear of those men in the street. But my escape has been much nearer than you imagine."

Sir Charles turned away humming some operatic fragment gaily. There was not the least occasion for him to give any display of feeling in the matter. It had been an exceedingly lucky thing for him that the letter in question had miscarried. And nothing could make any difference now, seeing that Beatrice had given her word, and that was a thing that she always respected. All Beatrice's probity and honour she inherited from her mother.

"Very foolish, very foolish," Sir Charles muttered benignly. "Girls are so impulsive. Don't you think that those carnations would be improved by a little more foliage at the base? They strike me as being a little set and formal. Now, is not that better?"

As if he had not either care or trouble in the world, Sir Charles added a few deft touches to the deep crimson blooms. His face was careless and boyish and open again. From the next room came the swish of silken skirts and the sound of a high-bred voice asking for somebody.

"Lady Rashborough," Sir Charles cried, "I'll go and receive her. And do for goodness' sake try to look a little more cheerful. Stay in here and compose yourself."

Sir Charles went off with an eager step and his most fascinating smile. Lord Rashborough was the head of his family. He was going to give Beatrice away to-morrow; indeed, Beatrice would drive to the church from Rashborough's town house, though the reception was in the Royal Palace Hotel.

Beatrice passed her hand across her face wearily. She stood for a moment looking into the fire, her thoughts very far away. Gradually the world and its surroundings came back to her, and she was more or less conscious that somebody was in the room. As she turned suddenly a tall figure turned also, and made with hesitation towards the door.

"I am afraid," the stranger said in a soft, pleading voice; "I am afraid that I have made a mistake."

"If you are looking for anybody," Beatrice suggested, "my father has these rooms. If you have come to see Sir Charles Darryll, why, I could--"

It struck Beatrice just for a moment that here was an adventurer after the silver plate. But a glance at the beautiful, smooth, sorrowful face beat down the suspicion as quickly as it had risen. The intruder was unmistakably a lady, she was dressed from head to foot in silver grey, and had a bonnet to match. In some vague way she reminded Beatrice of a hospital nurse, and then again of some grande dame in one of the old-fashioned country houses where the parvenue and the Russo-Semitic financier is not permitted to enter.

"I took the wrong turn," the stranger said. "I fancy I can reach the corridor by that door opposite. These great hotels are so big, they confuse me. So you are Beatrice Darryll; I have often heard of you. If I may venture to congratulate you upon--"

"No, no," Beatrice cried quickly. "Please don't. Perhaps if you tell me your name I may be in a position to help you to find anybody you may chance--"

The stranger shook her head as she stood in the doorway. Her voice was low and sweet as she replied.

"It does not in the least matter," she said. "You can call me the Slave of the Bond."

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