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   Chapter 7 No.7

The Slave of Silence By Fred M. White Characters: 11859

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Richford stood there shaking and quivering with passion, and yet not free from the vague terror that Beatrice had noticed all along. Beatrice could not repress a shudder as she looked at that evil, scowling face. To be with that man always, to share his home and his company, seemed to her a most impossible thing. She had lost her father; the future was black and hopeless before her, but she felt a strength and courage now, that she had been a stranger to for a long time. There was hope, too, which is a fine thing when allied with youth and vitality.

She need not live with this man; she had every excuse for not doing so. Beatrice cared very little, for the moment, whether she was married or not. It might possibly be that in the eyes of the law she was this man's wife; the law might compel her to share his home. But now Beatrice had a weapon in her hand and she knew how to use it.

"Give me that telegram," Richford said hoarsely. "Hand it over to me at once."

He advanced in a manner that was distinctly threatening. Certainly he would not have stopped at violence if violence would serve his end. But Beatrice was not afraid.

"I shall do nothing of the kind," she said. "You may as well strike me as look at me like that. If you use violence you may obtain possession of the telegram. But I warn you that I shall not yield without a struggle that will arouse the whole hotel. I am not coming with you, and we part here and now. Oh, I am not in the least afraid."

Just at that moment it looked as if the scene of violence would take place. With an oath Richford grasped the girl by the wrist and drew her to him. A blow full in the face would have laid her senseless at his feet, then he could have helped himself to that priceless telegram. But Richford had been in the world long enough to knew how to control his temper when it suited him to do so. He forced something in the semblance of a smile to his lips.

"Don't let us discuss this question like two silly children," he said. "You have fairly caught me out. I did go to your father this morning-there was an urgent reason why I should see him. We need not go into that now, for it was purely on matters of business. If you ask me how I got into that room when the door was locked, I will tell you. Before I thought of marrying you and setting up a house of my own, I had that suite of rooms."

"Is all this material to our discussion?" Beatrice asked coldly.

"Yes, I think so. At any rate I never gave up the suite of rooms, and the keys are still in my possession. That is how I got in to see your father without anybody being the wiser. I was going to show him the very telegram which has fallen into your hands. But I found that Sir Charles was dead, and it was a great shock to me. I must have dropped that telegram in my agitation and forgotten it. So far you follow me, do you not?"

"I follow you," Beatrice said bitterly. "I quite understand; I admire your restraint and your cunning. You reasoned it all out in a flash. If you raised the alarm everybody would have known the truth in a few minutes. And, that being so, there would have been no marriage. You took all the risks, and fortune favoured the bold as fortune always does. Nothing happened until it was too late, and I was married to you. But there is one thing you failed to reckon upon-that my father is no longer a pawn in the game."

Beatrice was speaking quietly and steadily enough; she felt that the victory was in her hands now. And Richford had never coveted her so passionately as he did at this moment when he realized that she was lost to him for ever.

"My father's death leaves me free," the girl went on. "He is dead and nobody can touch him. If he had died yesterday the match would have been broken off, as you know. I was prepared to take my chance. If this vile thing had not happened, then I should have respected my wedding vows and made you as good a wife as I could. I should have hated and loathed it, but I should have become accustomed to it in time. But this vile action of yours makes all the difference. When you and I part after this painful conversation, we part for good. We shall be talked about; there will be a lot of idle gossip, but I care nothing for that. And if you raise a hand, if you try to use the law on your side, I produce that telegram and tell my story."

Again the look of mingled rage and terror came into Richford's eyes.

"You talk like a fool," he said hoarsely. "What can you possibly do to get a living? You are my wife; you can never marry anybody so long as I am alive. You are very pretty, but you have been brought up to be utterly useless."

"I have strength and courage," Beatrice replied, "and they are worth a good deal. I can go into a shop if the worst comes to the worst. My relatives, the Rashboroughs--"

"Lady Rashborough will turn her back on you if you do this. She will be furious."

"Well, then, I must depend upon myself. But you are not going to say anything-for some reason you are too frightened to say anything."

"And all the wedding presents, the diamonds and the like?" Richford asked feebly.

"The wedding presents will go back to the senders. There is a plain clothes policeman keeping guard over them now-your diamonds are amongst the lot. I will see that they are safely sent to you. And I do not know that I need say any more."

Beatrice had reached the corridor by this time. She was passing Richford with her head in the air. It came to him suddenly that he had lost everything, that he was baffled and beaten. In a sudden spasm of rage he caught the girl by the shoulders in a savage grip. She gave a little moan of pain as she looked around for assistance. It came quite unexpectedly.

At the same moment Mark Ventmore was coming from his room. He took in the situation at a glance. With one bound he was by Richford's side, and he had wrenched his hands

away. With a snarl Richford turned upon the man whom he knew to be his successful rival, and aimed a blow at him. Then Mark's fist shot out, and Richford crashed to the ground with a livid red spot on his forehead. Sick and dizzy he scrambled to his feet.

"You are more than a match for me that way," he panted. "But there are other ways, my friend, of wiping that blow out. Look to yourself."

There was a deadly menace in the threat, so that Beatrice shuddered as she watched the retreating figure. She knew perfectly well that that blow would not be forgotten. Mark laughed as he heard, then his face changed and he sighed.

"What does it all mean, Beatrice?" he asked. "For that man to lay hands upon you and so soon after you are-but I cannot bring myself to say the word."

"He was not altogether without excuse, Mark," Beatrice said. "We have come to an understanding. Never shall I stay under the same roof with Stephen Richford."

"Well, thank God for that," Mark said fervently. "Something unexpected has happened!"

In a few words Beatrice told the story to which Mark listened with vivid interest. An expression of the deepest disgust came over his face as Beatrice finished her story and handed over the telegram. At the same time the feeling nearest her heart was one of relief.

"It was the act of a scoundrel, darling," he said. "And yet things might have been worse. For instance, you might not have found that telegram. But since you have done so, the game is all in your hands. You are quite right to defy that fellow and refuse to live with him. He dare not oppose you, Beatrice. Thank Heaven, I shall be able to think of you as pure and free from contamination. But what are you going to do?"

"I have not thought of that yet," Beatrice said with a faint smile. "For a day or two I shall get the Rashboroughs to give me a home. When my father's affairs come to be settled up there will be a little less than nothing for me to have. Still, I have some jewels which may bring me in a few hundred pounds. But I shall find something to do."

Mark shut his teeth tightly together to keep back the protestations of love that rose to his lips. It was no time to speak of that kind of thing. He felt that he had been tricked out of the only girl for whom he had ever cared, but, thank goodness, he would not have to think of her as dragging out a lengthening chain by the side of Stephen Richford. And Beatrice would find something to do-of that he felt certain.

"I will come and see you in a few days, dearest," he said. "Though you are bound to that man by the cruel sport of chance, you still belong to me. There can be no harm in my helping you. And may God bless and keep you wherever you go, darling."

Mark bent and kissed Beatrice's hand tenderly, and made his way down the stairs. There was nothing now to stay for; Beatrice would go to her friends, and the strange ending of the Richford-Darryll marriage would be food for the scandal-mongers for many a day to come. All these thoughts crowded into Mark's mind as he made his way down into the big dining-room for luncheon. He was sad and sick at heart, but man must eat, all the same. He did not look as if he could eat here at present, for every table was filled. The last seat had fallen to Richford, who found himself seated opposite to Colonel Berrington. Richford would far rather have been anywhere else, but there was no help for it.

The Colonel bowed coldly to the other's surly nod. Richford belonged to a class that the gallant soldier frankly detested. He expressed no surprise at seeing Richford here; it was natural under the circumstances that Beatrice should keep to her own room. And Berrington had heard nothing of the matter of the telegram.

"Oh, never mind all that rubbish," Richford said testily, as the waiter passed the elaborate menu with its imposing array of dishes. "What's the good of all that foreign cat's meat to an honest Englishman? Give me a steak and plain potatoes and a decanter of brandy."

The brandy came before the steak, and Richford helped himself liberally to the liquid. Berrington was a little astonished. He had more than once heard Richford boast that he was positively a teetotaller. He usually held in contempt those who called themselves merely moderate drinkers.

"What a time they keep you here," Richford growled. "If I'd gone to one of those City places I should have got my steak in half the time. Oh, here the fellow comes. Now, then, I--"

Richford paused in his growling, and contemplated the red hot plate on which the steak was displayed with a queer gleam in his eyes and a clicking of the corners of his mouth. Just for the moment it seemed to Berrington as if his vis a vis was going to have a fit of some kind.

"There is salt in the plate," Richford gasped. "Who has taken the liberty of putting--"

He said no more; he seemed to be incapable of further speech. The waiter looked sympathetic; it was no fault of his. And the salt was there, sure enough.

"It certainly is salt," the waiter said. "I did not notice it before. It's a lot of salt, and it is exactly in the shape of a rifle bullet; it's--When I was in South Africa--"

Berrington's glass clicked as he raised it to his lips. Just for an instant his face was as pale as that of the man opposite him. With a gesture Richford motioned the waiter away. Then he rose unsteadily from the table, and finished the rest of his brandy without any water at all. He crossed the room like a ghost. Directly he had passed the swinging doors Berrington rose and followed. He saw Richford in the distance entering a hansom; he called one himself. Evidently he had no desire for Richford to see him.

"Where shall I drive, sir?" the cabman asked.

"Keep that cab in sight without being seen," Berrington said hastily. "Do your work well, and it will be a sovereign in your pocket. Now drive on."

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