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   Chapter 9 No.9

The Slave of Silence By Fred M. White Characters: 11801

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

It was with a sigh of relief that Beatrice found herself at length alone. There was nothing for her to do now but to get her belongings together and leave the hotel. There would be an inquest on the body of Sir Charles at ten o'clock the following morning, as the authorities had already informed her, but Beatrice had looked upon this as merely a formal affair. She would pack her things and leave them in Sir Charles's dressing-room-the door of which had not been sealed-and send for everything on the morrow. All her costly presents, including the wonderful diamonds from Stephen Richford, she had entirely forgotten. A somewhat tired detective was still watching the jewels in a room off the hall where the wedding breakfast was laid out. But the fact had escaped Beatrice's attention.

Lady Rashborough was having tea alone in her boudoir when Beatrice arrived. Her pretty little ladyship was not looking quite so amiable as usual and there was the suggestion of a frown on her face. She had been losing a great deal at bridge lately, and that was not the kind of pastime that Rashborough approved. He was very fond of his empty, hard, selfish, little wife, but he had put his foot down on gambling, and Lady Rashborough had been forced to give her promise to discontinue it. The little woman cared nothing for anyone but herself, and she had small sympathy for Beatrice.

"What are you doing here?" she asked pettishly. "Where is your husband?"

"That I cannot tell you," Beatrice replied. "You hardly expected that I should have started on my honeymoon under such circumstances, did you?"

"My dear child, don't talk nonsense! Of course not. The proper thing is to go to some very quiet hotel and dine respectably-to lie low till the funeral is over. Of course this is all very annoying, especially as you have such a lovely lot of new frocks and all the rest of it, but I dare say they will come in later on. Not that it matters, seeing that you have a husband who could stifle you in pretty frocks and never miss the money. What a funny girl you are, Bee. You don't seem to appreciate your good luck at all."

"You regard me as exceedingly lucky, then?" Beatrice asked quietly.

"My dear girl, lucky is not the word for it. Of course Stephen Richford is not what I call an ideal husband, but with his amazing riches--"

"Which are nothing to me, Adela," Beatrice said. "I have discovered the man to be a degraded and abandoned scoundrel. From the first I always hated and detested him; I only consented to marry him for the sake of my father. Adela, I am going to tell you the discovery that I made in my father's bedroom this morning."

In a few words Beatrice told her story. But if she expected any outburst of indignation from her listener, she was doomed to disappointment. The little figure in the big arm chair didn't move-there was a smile of contempt on her face.

"Good gracious, what a little thing to fuss about!" she cried. "It seems to me that the man was paying you a compliment. If I had been in your place I should have said nothing till I wanted to get the whip hand of my husband. My dear child, you don't mean to say that you are going to take the matter seriously!"

Beatrice felt the unbidden tears gathering in her eyes. She had been sorely taxed and shaken to-day, and she was longing more than she knew for a little sympathy. People had told her before that Lady Rashborough had no heart, and she was beginning to believe it.

"Do you mean to say," Beatrice stammered, "do you really want me to believe-that--"

"Of course I do, you goose. Money is everything. I married Rashborough because it was the best thing that offered, and I did not want to overstay my market. It was all a question of money. I would have married a satyr if he had been rich enough. And you sit there telling me that you are going to leave Stephen Richford."

"I shall never speak to him again. He and I have finished. I have no money, no prospects, no anything. But I decline to return to Stephen Richford."

"And so you are going to have a fine scandal," Lady Rashborough cried, really angry at last. "You think you are going to hang about here posing as a victim till something turns up. I dare say that Rashborough would be on your side because he is of that peculiar class of silly billy, but you may be sure that I shall not stand it. As a matter of fact, you can't stay here, Beatrice. I rather like Richford; he gives me little tips, and he has helped me over my bridge account more than once. If he should come here to dinner--"

Beatrice rose, her pride in arms at once. It was put pretty well, but it was cold, and hard, and heartless, and the gist of it was that Beatrice was practically ordered out of the house. She had hoped to remain here a few weeks, at any rate until she could find rooms. She was pleased to recall that she had not sent her things.

"You need not trouble to put it any more plainly," she said coldly. "In the eyes of your Smart Set, I have done a foolish thing, and you decline to have me here for the present. Very well, I shall not appeal to Frank, though I am quite sure what he would say if I did. All the same, I could not tax the hospitality of one who tells me plainly that she does not want me."

Beatrice rose and moved towards the door. With a little toss of her head, Lady Rashborough took up the French novel she had been reading as Beatrice entered. Thus she wiped her hands of the whole affair; thus in a way she pronounced the verdict of Society upon Bee's foolish conduct. But the girl's heart was very heavy within her as she walked back to the Royal Palace Hotel. It was only an earnest of the hard things that were going to happen.

And she had no money, nothing beyond a stray sovereign or two in her purse. She had taken off most of her jewellery with the exception of an old diamond bangle of quai

nt design. She hated the sight of it now as she hated the sight of anything that suggested wealth and money. With a firm resolve in her mind, Beatrice turned into a large jeweller's shop in Bond Street. The firm was very well known to her; they had supplied the family for years with the costly trifles that women love. The head of the house would see her at once, and to him Beatrice told her story. A little later, and with a comfortably lighter heart, she made her way back to the Royal Palace Hotel with a sum of money considerably over two hundred pounds in her purse.

The manager of the hotel was sympathetic. Unfortunately the house was full, but Beatrice could have Sir Charles's sitting-room and the dressing-room where a bed could be put up. And would Mrs. Richford-Beatrice started at the name-give instructions as to those presents?

"I had quite forgotten them," Beatrice said. "Will you please have everything, except some jewels that I will take care of, locked up in your safe. There are some diamonds which I am going to give into the hands of Mr. Richford at once. I am so sorry to trouble you."

But it was no trouble at all to the polite manager. He begged that Mrs. Richford would let him take everything off her hands. Wearily Beatrice crept down to dinner with a feeling that she would never want to eat anything again. She watched that brilliant throng about her sadly; she sat in the drawing-room after dinner, a thing apart from the rest. A handsome, foreign-looking woman came up to her and sat down on the same settee.

"I hope you will not think that I am intruding," the lady said. "Such a sad, sad time for you, dear. Did you ever hear your father speak of Countess de la Moray?"

Beatrice remembered the name perfectly well. She had often heard her father speak of the Countess in terms of praise. The lady smiled in a sad, retrospective way.

"We were very good friends," she said. "I recollect you in Paris when you were quite a little thing. It was just before your dear mother died. You used to be terribly fond of chocolates, I remember."

The lady rambled on in a pleasing way that Beatrice found to be soothing. Gradually and by slow degrees she began to draw out the girl's confidence. Beatrice was a little surprised to find that she was telling the Countess everything.

"You are quite right, my dear," she said quietly. "The heart first-always the heart first. It is the only way to happiness. Your father was a dear friend of mine, and I am going to be a friend of yours. I have no children; I had a daughter who would have been about your age had she lived."

The Countess sighed heavily.

"I would never have allowed a fate like yours to be hers. I go back home in a few days to my chateau near Paris. It is quiet and dull perhaps, but very soothing to the nerves. It would give me great pleasure for you to accompany me."

Beatrice thanked the kind speaker almost tearfully. It was the first touch of womanly sympathy she had received since her troubles had begun, and it went to her heart.

"It is very, very good of you," she said. "A friend is what I sorely need at present. When I think of your goodness to a comparative stranger like me--"

"Then don't think of it," the Countess said almost gaily. "Let us get rid of that horrible man first. You must return those fine diamonds to him. Oh, I know about the diamonds, because I read an account of them in the papers. Perhaps you have already done so?"

"No," Beatrice said, "they are in my dressing-room at the present moment."

"Oh, the careless girl! But that shows how little you value that kind of thing. Well, General, and what do you want with me at this time of the evening?"

A tall, military man had lounged up to them. He was exquisitely preserved. He bowed over Beatrice's hand as he was introduced as General Gastang.

"Delighted to meet you," he said. "I knew your father slightly. Countess, your maid is wandering in a desolate way about the corridor, looking for you, with some story of a dressmaker."

"Ma foi, I had quite forgotten!" the Countess exclaimed. "Do not go from here, chérie; talk to the General till I return, which will not be long. Those dressmakers are the plague of one's life. I will be back as soon as possible."

The General's manner was easy and his tongue fluent. Beatrice had only to lean her head back and smile faintly from time to time. The General suddenly paused-so suddenly that Beatrice looked up and noticed the sudden pallor of his face, his air of agitation.

"You are not well?" the girl asked. "The heat of the room has been too much for you."

The General gasped something; with his head down he seemed to be avoiding the gaze of a man who had just come into the drawing-room. As the newcomer turned to speak to a lady, the General shot away from Beatrice's side, muttering something about a telegram. He had hardly vanished before Beatrice was conscious of a cold thrill.

After all she knew nothing of these people. Such scraps of her history as they had gleaned might have come from anybody. Then Beatrice had another thrill as she recollected the fact that she had told this strange Countess that the diamonds were in her dressing-room. Suppose those two were in league to--

Beatrice waited to speculate on this point no longer. She hurried from the room and up the stairs to her bedroom. The corridors were practically deserted at this time in the evening. Beatrice gave a sigh of relief to see that her door was shut. She placed her hand gently on the handle, but the door did not give.

It was locked on the inside! From within came whispering voices. In amaze, the girl recognized the fact that one of the voices belonged to Countess de la Moray, and the other to the man who called himself her husband, Stephen Richford.

There was nothing for it now but to stay and wait developments.

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