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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Slave of Silence By Fred M. White Characters: 12155

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Beatrice woke to the knowledge of her own utter misery. Contrary to her anticipation, she had slept very soundly all night, much as condemned criminals are supposed to do on the eve of execution. She felt well and vigorous in herself, a brilliant sunshine was pouring into her room, and all around her lay evidences of her coming slavery. Here were the bridal veil and the long train, there were the jewels laid out on the dressing table. A maid was moving quietly about the room.

"Good morning, miss," she said. "A lovely morning. And if there's any truth in the saying that 'happy's the bride that the sun shines on,' why--"

The maid stopped and smiled before she caught sight of Beatrice's pale, set face.

"I suppose you think I am to be envied?" Beatrice asked. "Now don't you?"

The maid lifted her hands to express her dumb admiration. "Who would not be happy to be dressed in those lovely clothes, to be decked in those jewels and to marry a man who will give you everything that the heart could desire?" Beatrice smiled wearily.

"You are quite wrong, Adeline," she said. "If I could change places with you at this moment I would gladly do so. You have a sweetheart, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes, miss. He's in a shop. Some day he hopes to have a shop of his own, and then--"

"And then you will be married. You love him very dearly, I suppose. And I--"

Beatrice stopped, conscious of the fact that she was saying too much. She ate sparingly enough of her breakfast; she went down to the drawing-room and wrote a few letters. It was not quite ten yet and she had plenty of time. Lady Rashborough was not an early riser, though Rashborough himself had breakfasted and gone out long before. Beatrice was moodily contemplating her presents in the library when Mr. Stephen Richford was announced. He came in with an easy smile, though Beatrice could see that his hands were shaking and there was just a suggestion of fear in his eyes. With all his faults, the man did not drink, and Beatrice wondered. She had once seen a forger arrested on a liner, and his expression, as soon as he recognized his position, was just the same as Beatrice now saw in the eyes of the man she was going to marry.

"What is the matter?" she asked listlessly. "You look as if you had had some great shock, like a man who has escaped from prison. Your face is ghastly."

Richford made no reply for a moment. He contemplated his sullen, livid features in a large Venetian mirror opposite. He was not a pretty object at any time, but he was absolutely repulsive just at that moment.

"Bit of an upset," he stammered. "Saw a-a nasty street accident. Poor chap run over."

The man was lying to her; absolutely he was forced to the invention to save himself from a confession of quite another kind. He was not in the least likely to feel for anybody else, in fact he had no feeling of human kindness, as Beatrice had once seen for herself. There had been a fatal accident at a polo match under their very feet, and Richford had puffed at his cigarette and expressed the sentiment that if fools did that kind of thing they must be prepared to put up with the consequences.

"You are not telling the truth!" Beatrice said coldly. "As if anything of that kind would affect you. You are concealing something from me. Is it-is there anything the matter with my father?"

Richford started violently. With all his self-control he could not hold himself in now. His white face took on a curious leaden hue, his voice was hoarse as he spoke.

"Of course I have no good points in your eyes," he said with a thick sneer. "And once a woman gets an idea into her head there is no rooting it out again. Your father is all right; nothing ever happens to men of that class. I saw him to his room last night, and very well he had done for himself. Won over two hundred at bridge, too. Sir Charles can take care of himself."

Beatrice's face flamed and then turned pale again. She had caught herself hoping that something had happened to her father, something sufficiently serious to postpone to-day's ceremony. It was a dreadfully unworthy thought and Beatrice was covered with shame. And yet she knew that she would have been far happier in the knowledge of a disaster like that.

"Why did you want to see me?" she asked. "I have not too much time to spare."

"Of course not. But you can cheer yourself with the reflection that we shall have so much time together later on when the happy knot is tied. Has it occurred to you that I have given you nothing as yet? I brought this for you."

Richford's hands, still trembling, produced a bulky package from his pocket. As he lifted the shabby lid a stream of living fire flashed out. There were diamonds of all kinds in old settings, the finest diamonds that Beatrice had ever seen. Ill at ease and sick at heart as she was, she could not repress a cry.

"Ah, I thought I could touch you," Richford grinned. "A female saint could not resist diamonds. Forty thousand pounds I gave for them. They are the famous Rockmartin gems. The family had to part with them, so the opportunity was too good to be lost. Well?"

"They are certainly exquisitely lovely," Beatrice stammered. "I thank you very much."

"If not very warmly, eh? So that is all you have to say? Ain't they worth one single kiss?"

Beatrice drew back. For the life of her she could not kiss this man. Never had his lips touched hers yet. They should never do so if Beatrice had her own way.

"I think not," she said in her cold constrained way. "It is very princely of you, and yet it does not touch me in the least. You made the bargain with your eyes open; I told you at the time that I could never care for you; that I sold myself to save my father's good name. I know the situation is not a new one; I know that such marriages, strange to say, have before now turned out to be something like success. But not ours. All the heart I ever had to bestow has long since been given to another. I will do my best to make your life comfortable, I will do my best to le

arn all that a wife is asked to become. But no more."

Richford turned away with a savage curse upon his lips. The cold contempt struck him and pierced the hide of his indifference as nothing else could. But he was going to have his revenge. The time was near at hand when Beatrice would either have to bend or break, Richford did not care which. It was the only consolation that he had.

"Very well," he said. "We understand one another. We shall see. Au revoir!"

He took up his hat and his stick, and strode off without a further word. Beatrice put the diamonds away from her as if they had been so many deadly snakes. She felt that she would loathe the sight of diamonds for the rest of her life.

The time was drawing on now, it only wanted another hour, and the thing would be done. Lady Rashborough came in and admired the diamonds; in her opinion, Beatrice was the luckiest girl in London. Her ladyship was a pretty little blue-eyed thing adored by her husband, but she had no particle of heart. Why a girl should dislike a man who would give her diamonds like these she could not possibly imagine.

"You will be wiser as you grow older, my dear," she said sapiently. "Why didn't I meet Richford before?"

Beatrice echoed the sentiment with all her heart. She resigned herself dully to the maid; she took not the slightest interest in the proceedings; whether she looked ill or well mattered nothing. But though her own natural beauty was not to be dimmed, and though she had the aid of all that art could contrive, nothing could disguise the pallor of her face.

"A little rouge, miss," Adeline implored. "Just a touch on your cheeks. Your face is like snow, and your lips like ashes. I could do it so cleverly that--"

"That people would never know," Beatrice said. "I have no doubt about it, Adeline. But all the same I am not going to have any paint on my face."

A big clock outside was striking the three quarters after eleven; already the carriage was at the door. As yet there was no sign of Sir Charles. But perhaps he would join the party at the church, seeing that the head of the family and not himself was going to give the bride away. Lord Rashborough, a little awkward in his new frock coat, was fuming about the library. He was an open-air man and hated the society into which his wife constantly dragged him.

"Don't be too late," he said. "Always like to be punctual. Of course that father of yours has not turned up, though he promised to drive to the church, with us."

"Father was never known to be in time in his life," Beatrice said calmly. Her dull depression had gone, she was feeling quite cool and tranquil. If anybody had asked her, she would have said that the bitterness of death had passed. "It is not necessary to wait for him."

"He'll understand," Lord Rashborough joined in. "We can leave a message, and he can follow to the church in a hansom. Let us be moving, Beatrice, if you are quite ready."

With wonderful calmness Beatrice answered that she was quite ready. A little knot of spectators had gathered outside to see the bride depart. Two or three carriages were there, and into the first, with the splendid pair of bays, Lord Rashborough handed Beatrice. They drove along the familiar streets that seemed to Beatrice as though she was seeing them for the last time. She felt like a doomed woman with the deadly virus of consumption in her blood when she is being ordered abroad with the uncertain chance that she might never see England again. It almost seemed to Beatrice that she was asleep, and that the whole thing was being enacted in a dream.

"Here we are at last," Rashborough exclaimed. "What a mob of women! What a lot of flowers! Why anybody wants to make all this fuss over getting married beats me. Come along."

It was a society wedding in the highest sense of the word, and the church was crowded. There was a rustle and a stir as the bride swept up the aisle, and the organ boomed out. There was a little delay at the altar, for the father of the bride had not yet arrived, and there was a disposition to give him a little latitude. Only Lord Rashborough rebelled.

"Let's get on," he said. "Darryll may be half an hour late. One can never tell. And I've got a most important appointment at Tattersall's at half-past two."

Beatrice had no objection to make-she would have objected to nothing at that moment. In the same dreamy way, presently she found herself kneeling at the altar, and a clergyman was saying something that conveyed absolutely nothing to her intelligence. Presently somebody was fumbling unsteadily at her left hand, whereon somebody a great deal more nervous than she was trying to fix a plain gold ring. Someone at the back of the church was making a disturbance.

The officiating clergyman raised his head in protest. Except the exhortation, the ceremony was practically finished. A policeman appeared out of somewhere and seemed to be expostulating with the intruder. Just for a minute it looked as if there was going to be an open brawl.

"I tell you I must go up," somebody was saying, and just for a moment it seemed to Beatrice that she was listening to the voice of Mark Ventmore. "It is a matter of life and death."

Beatrice glanced up languidly at the silly society faces, the frocks and the flowers. Did she dream, or was that really the pale face of Mark that she saw? Mark had burst from the policeman-he was standing now hatless before the altar.

"The ceremony must not go on," he said, breathlessly. There was a nameless horror in his white face. "I-I feel that I am strangely out of place, but it is all too dreadful."

Beatrice rose to her feet. There was some tragedy here, a tragedy reflected in the ghastly face of her groom. And yet on his face was a suggestion of relief, of vulgar triumph.

"What is it?" Beatrice asked. "Tell me. I could bear anything-now!"

"Your father!" Mark gasped. "We had to burst open his door. Sir Charles was found in his bed quite dead. He had been dead for some hours when they found him."

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