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   Chapter 25 No.25

The Slave of Silence By Fred M. White Characters: 11271

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


With the letter to Beatrice safe in her pocket, Mary made her way to the Royal Palace Hotel. She had her own idea as to what she was going to do, and that certainly was not to invite Beatrice to go to Wandsworth. For the girl had a difficult and dangerous task before her. Rightly or wrongly, it seemed to her that her place was by the side of the brother who had treated her so badly. Many a good woman before had sacrificed herself to a scoundrel, and many a good woman will do so again. Mary had always clung to the idea that Sartoris might be brought back to the fold again. She knew pretty well how far he had fallen, but she did not quite understand the deep depravity of the man's nature. After all, he was an object to be pitied; after all, he had been the victim of a woman's cruelty, or so Mary thought. But Mary did not know everything; had she done so she would have been forced to leave her brother to his own devices.

She came at length to the Royal Palace Hotel, and asked for Beatrice. The latter was in her room, she was told, and Mary went up. But Beatrice was not there, her place for the time being occupied by Adeline, the maid.

"My mistress is out," the maid explained; "but if you will leave any message I can deliver it. She will not be very long, in any case."

Mary hesitated. She had many things to do and no time to waste. It was not altogether imperative that she should see Beatrice just at the moment. She turned the matter over in her mind before she replied to Adeline's suggestion.

"I rather wanted to see your mistress," she said. "Perhaps I may make it convenient to return in about half an hour or so. Meanwhile, will you please give her this letter. Will you be very careful to say that Mrs. Richford is to do nothing till she has seen me? I mean that she is not to take any steps in the matter of the letter till I come back. Will you be especially careful about that?"

Adeline promised, in a vague kind of way. She did not express the usual curiosity of her class; her mind seemed to be elsewhere. She showed Mary out with an alacrity that would have aroused her suspicions had she had less to occupy her mind. But Adeline had affairs of her own to think of. There was a very striking-looking valet on the same floor who had shown himself not insensible to the girl's attractions. Adeline laid the note on the table and promptly forgot all about it.

In the full assurance that no harm was possible for the present, Mary went her way. It was getting late in the evening now, and the hotel was full of people; a strange excitement seemed to be in the air; outside, the newsboys were particularly busy, and there seemed to be a more than usually heavy run on their wares.

Surely they were shouting a familiar name, Mary thought. She came out of her brown study and listened. It was something to do with Stephen Richford. Surely there could not be two men of the same name. No; it must be the same.

"Startling disclosures in the City. Collapse of a great firm. Richford & Co. go down. Warrant out for the arrest of the senior partner. Flight of Stephen Richford."

Mary listened in amazement. Her brother knew a great deal about this man; he had always been spoken of as a wealthy individual. And here was Beatrice Darryll's husband a criminal and a fugitive from justice. Nobody appeared to be talking about anything else; the name was on the streets. Mary could hear it everywhere. A bent man, with a clerical hat and glasses and an Inverness cape, hurried by the girl as she came out of the hotel. Even this elderly gentleman seemed interested.

He pushed his way into the hotel and feebly ascended the stairs as if he had business there. In so large a place every respectably dressed man could pass in and out without incurring suspicion. No hall porter would stop any visitor and ask his business, so that the elderly clergyman passed unchallenged. As he came to the door of Beatrice's room he hesitated for a moment, and then passed in and closed the door behind him.

"Nobody here!" he muttered. "Maid gone off on her own business, I suppose. Well, I can sit down here and wait till Beatrice comes back. What's this? A letter addressed by some unknown correspondent to Mrs. Richford. By Jove! Sartoris's address on the flap. Now, what does this little game mean? And who wrote the letter? My dear Sartoris, if I only had you here for the next five minutes!"

The man's face suddenly convulsed with rage, his fists were clenched passionately. He paced up and down the room with the letter in his hand.

"This may tell me something," he said; "this may be a clue. I'll open it."

As frequently happens with thick envelopes, the gum was defective, and the back of a penknife served to open the cover without in any way betraying the fact that the cover had been tampered with. A puzzled frown crossed the face of the thief.

"Berrington!" he muttered; "Berrington! Oh, I know. That beast, eh? Now considering that he is more or less of a prisoner in the house of my dear friend Sartoris, why does he write like this to Beatrice? Damn Sartoris; there is no getting to the bottom of him, with his wily brain. On the whole Beatrice shall be allowed to go. It's a horrible position for a girl like her; but at the present moment I have no choice-perhaps I'll join the party later on. Hang those newsboys, too-why can't they stop their silly clatter?"

The intruder replaced the letter, and a moment later Beatrice came in. She started at the sight of the stranger, who made some apology for the intrusion. The man looked old and respectable and harmless, so tha

t the girl smiled at him. But she did not smile when the shovel hat was removed, together with the wig and the glasses.

"Stephen!" Beatrice gasped. "What is the meaning of this?"

"Well, I can conclude that my disguise is a pretty good one," Richford grinned, "seeing that you did not recognize me at all. And as to what this means, I should say that your own common sense would tell you. Did you hear anything?"

"I heard the boys with the papers," Beatrice said; "but I did not connect ... do you mean to say that you are, you are--"

Beatrice could not say the word. But there was no reason for her to ask the question.

"Why be so delicate about it in the presence of a mere husband?" Richford sneered. "Do you suppose I came here in disguise just to give you a pleasant surprise? The bubble has been pricked, and all the rest of it. I went for too much, and I failed, as many a better man has failed before me. I have Carl Sartoris to thank for this; I should have pulled through but for him. This is his revenge because I would not do as he desired. Whatever you do, beware of that man! Don't go near him under any circumstances."

"I am not likely to go near him," Beatrice said coldly; "but tell me, why did you come here? It is not possible that I can help you in any way!"

"Oh, yes it is," Richford said, with a certain good humour that caused Beatrice to turn suspicious at once. "You can do a great deal for me if you only will. I am going to leave you a desolate and disconsolate widow. A grass widow, if you like; but you will have your freedom. I am going to leave my country for my country's good; I shall never come back again. But the crash has come at a time when I least expected it, which is a habit that crashes have. I had barely time to procure this disguise before the wolves were after me. They are hot on my track now, and I have no time to spare. What I come for is money."

"Money! Surely you made a sorry mistake then!"

"Oh, no; I'm not asking for cash, seeing that you have practically none of your own. As you refuse to consider yourself my wife, in future you must also decline to take anything from me. Therefore those diamonds are not your property. If you will hand them over to me, we will shake hands and part for ever."

Beatrice drew a long deep breath of something like relief. It was good to know that this man was going to rid her of his hateful presence for ever, but this was too big a price to pay for her freedom.

"Let us quite understand one another," she said. "Your business is ruined; there is nothing left. What about your creditors, the people who trusted you?"

"Burn and blister my creditors," Richford burst out furiously. "What do they matter? Of course the fools who trusted me with their money will cry out. But they only trusted it with me, because they thought that I was slaving and scheming to pay them big dividends. It will not be the welfare of my creditors that keeps me awake at night."

"Always cold and callous and indifferent to the feelings of others," Beatrice said. "Not even one single thought for the poor people that you have ruined. What are those diamonds worth?"

"Well, I gave £40,000 for them. I dare say I can get, say £30,000 for them. But we are wasting time in idle discourse like this."

"Indeed, we are," Beatrice said coldly. "So you think that in the face of what you have just told me, I am going to hand those stones over to you! Nothing of the kind. I shall keep them in trust for your creditors. When the right time comes I shall hand them over to the proper authorities. Nothing will turn me from my decision."

A snarling oath burst from Richford's lips. He stretched out his hand as if he would have fain taken Beatrice by the throat and strangled her.

"Don't fool with me," he said hoarsely; "don't play with me, or I may forget myself. Give me those diamonds if you have any respect for your skin."

But Beatrice made not the slightest attempt to move. Her face had grown very pale, still she was quite resolute.

"If you think to frighten me by threats, you are merely wasting your time," she said coldly. "The stones are in safe keeping, and there they remain till I can give them to your trustees."

"But I am powerless," Richford said. "How am I to get away? In a few hours all my resources will be exhausted, and I shall fall into the hands of the police. And a nice thing that would be. Your husband a felon, with a long term of imprisonment before him!"

"I see no dissimilarity," Beatrice said, "between the deed and the punishment that fits it. After all I have gone through, a little thing like that would make no difference to me."

"Then you are not going to part with those diamonds?"

Beatrice shook her head. Richford stood before her with one of his hands on her arm and his other about her white slender throat. There was a murderous look on his face, but the eyes that Beatrice turned upon him did not for a moment droop. Then Richford pushed the girl away brutally from him and walked as far as the door.

"You don't want for pluck," he growled. "I believe that if you had flinched just now I should have killed you. And I was going to save you from a danger. I shall do nothing of the kind. Go your own way, and I will go mine."

Richford glanced at the letter on the table, then he passed out, banging the door behind him. In the foyer of the hotel he sat down as if waiting for somebody. In reality he was trying to collect his scattered thoughts. But it was hard work in that chattering, laughing mob, with his own name on the lips of a hundred people there.

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