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   Chapter 3 No.3

The Slave of Silence By Fred M. White Characters: 11497

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

From the point of view of the onlooker there could have been nothing suspicious in the attitude of the pseudo waiter with his tray. He could see Beatrice leaning back as if the pain in her head had made her oblivious to everything else. As a matter of fact, Beatrice was racking her brains for some way out of the difficulty. The self-elected waiter could not stay there much longer, in any case, at least not unless the suspicious Richford took it in his head to return to the dinner-table again.

"It is so good of you to come," Beatrice said, still with her head thrown back in the air. "That man has followed me, though Heaven knows what he has to be suspicious about. Go away for a few minutes, as if you had forgotten something, and then return again."

Mark Ventmore assented with a low bow. Scarcely had he left the conservatory by a door leading to the corridor than Richford strolled in.

"Feeling better now?" he asked ungraciously. "Funny things, women's headaches!"

"For Heaven's sake go away," Beatrice exclaimed. "Why do you come and torture me like this? You are the very last I want to see just now. Don't drive me over the border. Go back to the others, and leave me in peace."

With a sullen air, Richford lounged away; Colonel Berrington was crossing the drawing-room, and Beatrice's heart beat high with hope. She might have known that the gallant soldier would help her if possible. With unspeakable relief she saw Richford tactfully drawn away and disappear. Very quickly Beatrice changed her seat, so that she could command a view of the drawing-room without herself being seen. The side door opened, and Mark Ventmore came in again. He carried a tray still, but he no longer looked like a waiter. With one quick glance around him he advanced to Beatrice and knelt by the side of her chair.

"My darling," he whispered. "Oh, my dear little love! Am I too late?"

Beatrice said nothing for a moment. She was content only to forget her unhappy lot in the knowledge that the one man she had ever cared for was by her side. Ventmore's arm stole about her; her head drooped to his shoulder. There was a faint, unsteady smile on the girl's lips as Ventmore bent and kissed her passionately.

"Why did you not come before?" she asked.

"My dearest, I could not. I was away from my quarters, and I did not get your letter. I am only here quite by chance. But is it too late?"

"Oh, I fear so; I fear so," Beatrice murmured. "If you had come a week ago I should have asked you to marry me and take me away from it all. And yet, if I had done so, my father would have been ruined and disgraced."

Mark Ventmore moved his shoulders a little impatiently.

"So Sir Charles says," he replied. "Sir Charles was always very good at those insinuations. He has played upon your feelings, of course, sweetheart."

"Not this time, Mark. He has mixed himself up in some disgraceful City business. A prosecution hangs in the air. And I am to be the price of his freedom. My future husband will see my father through after I become his wife. Even now there are private detectives watching my father. It is a dreadful business altogether, Mark. And yet if you had come a week ago, I should have risked it all for your sake."

Ventmore pressed the trembling figure to his heart passionately. Under his breath he swore that this hideous sacrifice should never be. Was this white-drawn woman in his arms, the happy laughing little Beatrice that he used to know? They had parted cheerfully enough a year since; they had agreed not to write to one another; they had infinite trust in the future. Mark was going to make his fortune as a painter, and Beatrice was to wait for him. And now it was the girl's wedding eve, and the fates had been too strong for her altogether.

"Leave your father to himself and come," Mark urged. "I am making enough now to keep us both in comfort; not quite the income that I hoped to ask you to share with me, but at least we shall be happy. I will take you to a dear old friend of mine, and to-morrow I will buy a license. After that no harm can molest you."

Beatrice closed her eyes before the beatitude of the prospect. Just for the moment she felt inclined to yield. Mark was so strong and good and handsome, and she loved him so. And yet she had given her word for the sake of her father.

"I cannot," she said. Her voice was very low but quite firm. "I have promised my father. Oh, yes, I know that I had promised you first. But it is for the sake of my father's honour. If I do what you wish he will go to jail-nothing can prevent it. I only knew to-night."

"And you are sure that Sir Charles is not-not ... you know what I mean?"

"Lying to me?" Beatrice said bitterly. "Not this time. I always know when he is making an effort to deceive me. Mark, don't press me."

Mark crushed down his feelings with an effort. Blindly and passionately in love as he was, he could see that duty and reason were on the side of the girl. She would have to be sacrificed to this scoundrelly father, and to please the other rascal who coveted her beauty and her fair white body all the more because Beatrice kept him so rigidly at a distance.

"It seems very, very hard," Mark said thoughtfully. "Terribly hard on both of us."

"Yes, but it is always the woman who suffers most," Beatrice replied. "There is no help for it, Mark. I must see this thing out to the end. If you had only come before!"

"My darling, I came as quickly as I could. I am staying here to-night, and my room is in the same corridor as that of Sir Charles. I shall see him to-night, or early to-morrow, and tell him a few of the things that I have discovered. Perhaps when I open his eyes to the truth as to hi

s future son-in-law, he will change his mind."

"He will never do so," Beatrice said mournfully. "My father can always justify himself and his conscience where his own interests are concerned. But how did you know--"

"That you were in trouble? It came to me quite by accident. I was in Paris a day or two ago to see a wealthy American who wants some of my work. And as I was alone in the evening, I went to one of the theatres. There were two English ladies by me in the stalls and presently they began to talk about you. I could not help hearing. Then I heard everything. Do you know a tall, elderly lady with dark eyes and white hair, a lady all in silver grey?"

Beatrice started. Surely Mark was describing the Slave of the Bond, as the grey lady whom Beatrice had encountered earlier in the evening had called herself.

"I know her, and I don't know her," the girl cried. "She came into the dining-room here before dinner quite by accident. I thought she was some adventuress at first. But her face was too good and pure for that. I asked her who she was, and she said she was the Slave of the Bond. Is this a coincidence, or is there something deeper beyond? I don't know what to think."

"Something deeper beyond, I should imagine," Mark said. "Be sure that in some way or another this grey lady is interested in your welfare. But I am absolutely sure that she did not know me."

"And so you came on at once, Mark?" Beatrice asked.

"As soon as possible, dear. I heard about the dinner whilst I was in the theatre. My train was very late, and I could not possibly carry out the programme that I had arranged. My next difficulty was to get speech with you. Happily, a half sovereign and an intelligent waiter solved that problem. When Richford followed you I had to borrow that tray and the rest of it and disburse another half sovereign. Then I saw that my old friend Berrington had come to my rescue. Did you tell him, Beatrice?"

"He saw the message on the wine card and recognized your handwriting. But I shall not be able to stay much longer, Mark. Those people may come into the drawing-room at any moment. This must be our last meeting."

"I am not going to be so sure of that, Beatrice. What I have to say to your father must move him. The idea of your being the wife of that man-but I will not think of it. Oh, love will find the way even at this very late hour."

Mark would have said more, only there was the flutter of a dress in the drawing-room beyond, and the echo of a laugh. The dinner guests were coming into the drawing-room. With a quick motion, Mark snatched the girl to his heart and kissed her passionately.

"Good night, darling," he whispered. "Keep up your courage. Who knows what may happen between now and twelve o'clock to-morrow? And after I have seen your father--"

Another kiss, and the lover was gone. Beatrice lay back in her chair striving to collect her thoughts. Everything seemed to have happened so suddenly and unexpectedly. There were people about her now who were asking smoothly sympathetic questions in the hollow insincerity of the world.

"I'm no better," Beatrice said. "If my aunt is ready I should like to go home. My father will stay and see that you get your bridge all right."

Beatrice had gone at length with Lady Rashborough, the rest of the guests had finished their bridge, and the party was breaking up. Mark Ventmore was sitting, smoking cigarettes in his bedroom, waiting for the chance to see Sir Charles. It was getting very late now, and all the guests had long since been in their rooms. With his door open Mark could see into the corridor.

Then he gave a little whistle of astonishment as the door of Sir Charles's sitting-room opened and the grey lady, the Slave of the Bond of Silence, came out. She was dressed just as Mark had seen her before; as she walked along, her face was calm and placid. She came at length to the end of the corridor and disappeared quietly and deliberately down the stairs. With a feeling of curiosity, Mark crossed over and tried the handle of Sir Charles's door. To his great surprise it was locked.

For a little time Mark pondered over the problem. As he did so, his head fell back and he slept. It was the sound sleep of the clean mind in the healthy body, so that when the sleeper came to himself again it was broad daylight; the hotel was full of life and bustle. With a sense of having done a fearful thing, Mark looked at his watch. It was ten minutes past eleven!

"This comes of having no rest the night before," he muttered. "And to think that the fate of my little girl should be hanging in the balance! If Sir Charles has gone!"

But Sir Charles had not gone, as one of the waiters was in a position to assure Mark. He had not retired to bed until past three, and at that time was in a state of hilarity that promised a pretty fair headache in the morning.

"Well, there is time yet," Mark thought, grimly. "And Sir Charles must be moving by this time, as the wedding is to take place at twelve."

But the minutes crept on, and it was pretty near to that hour when Sir Charles's man came down the corridor with an anxious expression on his face. He had been hammering at the bedroom door without effect.

A sudden idea thrilled Mark, an idea that he was ashamed of almost before it had come into his mind. He stood by idly, listening. He heard a clock somewhere strike the hour of midday. He stepped up to the little knot of waiters.

"Why don't you do something?" he demanded. "What is the use of standing stupidly about here? Call the manager or whoever is in attendance. Break down the door."

With all his force Mark thrust himself against the stout oak. The hinges yielded at last.

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