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incompetence or folly of this or the other general, spoke of
the growing enteric lists ; Andrew talked of the various organi-
sations of which Lady Grindelay was the president or
patroness, and of how funds and offers of help were coming
in, Eunice was enthusiastic about Eudyard Kipling's lyric

Instinctively Agatha knew Andrew had something to tell
her; they had been friends for so long that she could read
him through. She knew that when he talked so freely it was
for concealment. What he was not saying was what she


wanted to hear. It could not be good news, or he would have
told her at once.

" May I take you out on the river after lunch ? " Michael
asked Eunice when they could no longer linger over their

Eunice looked questioningly at her aunt, and Lady Grin-
delay answered quickly:

" That is a good idea of yours, Michael. Eunice does not
go out nearly enough. She thinks it her duty to sit with me."

" I don't do it for duty."

Agatha, ignoring the interruption, went on :

'*" You need not hurry back. Your father and I will find
plenty to say to each other."

Eunice went out with Michael at her aunt's bidding.
Whenever the McKays came down, there was an hour or so
of business talk ; it was nothing unusual to leave her aunt and
the old law;>'er together to talk business. Agatha knew in-
stinctively that this occasion was different. When the hall
door closed behind the young people she asked him at once:

*' What have you come to tell me ? "

" So you guessed ? "

*' It would be strange, after all these years, if I did not
know when you had something on your mind."

He did not attempt to contradict her, to say that he had
nothing on his mind. They were still in the dining-room,
and now he held the door open for her,

" What is it ? " she asked him.

*' Wait until we get into the library," he answered. He
was in no hurry with his news.

The library, with high, mullioned windows, walls rich with
heavy tomes in leather bindings, had an air of great seclusion,
calm remoteness. He thought he would find it easier to tell
her there. She seated herself at one of the tables, but he
remained silent, hardly knowing in what words to clothe his

" Surely you are not afraid to tell me ? " For he was not
speaking. "Is there more trouble with the Irish tenants?


Are they boycotting me ? Or has one of my investments gone
wrong? "

She thought nothing he could tell her could affect her
greatly. The news he was bringing her could hardly be from
South Africa. She knew the worst there was to tell from
there; she had abandoned hope, even if Eunice had not; she
could not solace herself with dreams as the girl did.

" Don't be afraid to tell me. What could have happened
that would distress or move me now?" She gave a short
sigh. " Don't look as if the world had come to an end, speak
out, you will find I can bear anything you have to tell me.
What is wrong in Languedoc or Marley ? "

Andrew always took her affairs seriously and with Scotch
caution. An unlet or boycotted farm, a drop in the value of
a security, never seemed of small importance to him. But
she cared so little, so much less than ever.

On Andrew's table, the big library table always known as
Andrew's, where many documents of the estate were kept, were
parcels ready packed and addressed, big, bulky paxcels.

Andrew stood and looked at them.

" You must have been working very hard, you and Eunice.
I should think you were working too hard."

Now that he looked at her, he saw that her colour was
grey, that she had grown thin.

" Have you been ill, Agatha ? " he asked abruptly.

"Nothing to speak of — nothing that matters. Go on
with what you have to say to me." But he would not accept
her answer. Perhaps he was glad to put off telling his news
a little longer.

" Have you seen a doctor? Has Eeid been up? "

"You have something to break to me, then — something
very bad and bitter ? " They knew each other so well. " My
health is well enough to stand it ; go on ! "

" Sixteen parcels altogether ! I've been counting them.
Stockings and mufflers for an entire regiment. You have
been doing too much."

" We had a working bee. This is not all Eunice and my-
self. What is the trouble, Andrew ? What news can there be


that is not from South Africa, and that you are hesitating so
to tell me ? Have I lost money ? A great deal of money ? "
And then she added with some bitterness : " What do I want
money for now ? Eunice has enough, and I have no son ! "
Then she added quickly, rising from her chair as she spoke :

" Your news is about Desmond ! "

" Sit down — sit down."

" What news have you brought me ? "

" Bad news ! " he said briefly.

" About Desmond ? " Her courage broke. " Not disgrace,
Andrew ; don't tell me it is disgrace ! Leave me my pride in
him, let me think that he died like an Englishman, like a
hero; don't tell me differently." Now she was gripping the
edge of the table, and there was fear in her eyes ; always she
saw the spectre of his drunken father. What could it be that
Andrew found so hard to tell her ? " You have heard a dif-
ferent account of his death ? "

" So far as I or anybody else knows, Desmond fell as an
Englishman should, calling out ' No surrender ! ' with his
dying lips."

"Thank God! Thank God! Then you can tell me
nothing to hurt me." She put her hand to her side and sat
down abruptly.

" I am afraid the news I bring is going to hurt you."

" I can bear anything since he died like that. Go on."

He spoke briefly, curtly, since she had to know.

" There is a woman who has been haunting the War Office.
Michael met her there several times, inquiring for news of
Desmond. At my suggestion he spoke to her. She told him,
as she had told the War Office authorities, that she was Lady

He let this sink in, then added, after a short pause :

" She claims to be Desmond's widow ! "

" Desmond's widow ! "

The words were strange. She repeated them : " Desmond's
widow ! "

And then it was he, not she, who was surprised, for she
added :


" He married her ? He did what was right ? " Her face
was illumined. '* My son!" The words were whispered,
but he heard the pride in them, the utter pride.

Astonished and incredulous, he exclaimed:

" Then you knew ? "

"I was in his confidence." She was glad to be able to
say it.

" You knew he was married ? " Even now Andrew was

" That it was possible."

"Perhaps, too, you are acquainted with the lady?" he
asked satirically. "Perhaps you approved of her as a
daughter-in-law ? " As he had told Michael, there was never
any way of counting upon Agatha or foreseeing where her
distorted conscientiousness would lead her.

" Ko, I don't know her," Agatha answered slowly.

"Well, that's one good thing," he exclaimed, brutally
enough. " If he married with your consent, you gave it at
least with your eyes shut — as usual," he added as an after-

" Why ? " Her question shot out.

" Because she is a common " He had the grace not to

say the word. " And ten years his senior at the very least ! "

The question had shot, out, but the answer was a bullet that
reached its mark. Before the smoke of it had passed away
he was by her side in alarm; he was asking if he should get
brandy for her, ring for her maid. The pain had gripped
her suddenly.

"Don't ring!" she got out faintly. "It is nothing — it
will pass ! "

He waited, stood by her side and waited for her to recover
herself. He was acutely sorry for her; wished she were less
reserved, more like other women. He stood irresolutely, seeing
now how ill she looked, and altered, wondering what she
would say or do,

"You have no doubt she is of the class 3'ou describe?^'
she asked him, after a pause.

"None at all," he answered.


" Tell me all you know."

" Don't you think we had better wait a little ? You don't
look fit to hear it. You must recollect you are not so young
as you were."

But she was indomitable.

"I shall never be any younger. Go on, please — go on,
tell me all you know."

" Well, if you insist. . . ."

He began to tell her everything that the woman who
called herself Desmond's wife had told him, and the little
they had learned to supplement it. When he would have
paused, she made him go on, nor would be let off anything;
it was not her way to evade pain.

" And now the question is : what are we going to do ? "
he said, when he had finished. He wondered of what partic-
ular folly she would be guilty; made sure she would wish to
reform the woman, adopt the baby, or take some course
equally inadvisable. But Agatha could still surprise him.

" I suppose it is quite certain that my son is dead ? " she
asked heavily.

" I'm afraid there is but little hope," he answered sadly.

" Then she must be bribed to remain silent," she said sur-

Lady Grindelay was not thinking now of the woman who
called herself her son's wife, of the child, or of herself. Her
son had loved Eunice, and she him. Eunice was all that was
left to her to shelter. The girl had come to her room in the
dead of night for comfort or assurance. She thought of that
other time when, with her head in Agatha's lap, Eunice had
sobbed out how she could not believe that Desmond was really
dead, lost to them ; how she still saw him in dreams ; how, in
happy dreams, he came back. Those dreams must not be

" We must keep this from Eunice. Eunice must never
know ! "

" But how on earth is it to be kept from her ? "

" You must think of a way," she repeated.

" It is quite impossible."


" Nothing is impossible. You say she wants money ? "

" I say she is Desmond's wife — or widow."

Never yet had Agatha acted as other women did; it ap-
peared she would not do so now.

" You need not go on sajdng it. That does not help at
all. Eunice must be allowed to keep her ideals, her dreams,
for a little while — at least for a little while. Andrew, don't
oppose me; think of how to help me — there must be a way
out. Andrew, you have guessed right. I am ill, how ill they
don't know yet. I saw Dr. Reid yesterday. He wants me to
have a man down from town. He thinks — ^well, there is no
doubt there is some sort of growth — tumour, cancer — some
sort of growth. Don't look like that ; I am over sixty. Death
must have some excuse, 3^ou don't expect you are going to live
for ever, either, do you ? The girl is fond of me, I believe."
Agatha's voice did not falter. " She is all I have left. I am
not going to have her hurt. She must not have everything to
bear at once, my illness and this news. The woman must be
bribed to remain quiet. I may get well again, I am almost
sure to recover from this first operation. Andrew, I have not
asked often for help ; help me to keep this from her ! "

She had shown no sign of weakness until she made this
appeal. And then, of course, Andrew could not resist her.
He thought it all wrong, wi'ong and foolish, and that the
secret would be sure to come out. He thought that if Eunice
knew now that the cousin to whom she was so attached had
deceived her and tied himself to another woman, pride would
come to her aid, pride — and Michael. Michael would console
her. But what Agatha had told him overwhelmed him, made
it impossible to oppose her.

" I suppose you must have your own way," he said in the
end, when he had exhausted his arguments. " You always
have your own way." He refrained from telling her where
that way had so often led. He was so sorry for her; he had
never known her ill, and this was such a dreadful illness. He
yielded his Judgment, promised her that so far as he and
Michael were concerned the secret should be kept.


Agatha, strangely enough, was concerned only for Eunice.
The news had not affected her in any other way. She felt
that she had driven Desmond to this marriage, and that all
that mattered was that Eunice should not know it, and his
memory should not he besmirched.

" I will make any sacrifice of money. The woman you
describe can surely be tempted with money? Make it clear
to her that Desmond had nothing to leave, but that I will
give her what I would have given him — even more, that I
will give her anything in reason if she will cease to call her-
self Lady Grindelay, if she will keep the whole affair a secret
for the present — at least for the present. If I get well ''

" Of course you will get well.''

" I think I shall, I don't feel that my time has come ;
there is still work for me to do, and Marley. . . ." She
paused there, the tears were too deep to rise into her eyes,
but they were in her voice. " Not my son, but the girl he loved
will inherit Marley. She will hold it in his memory; she
must hear nothing, nothing of this news you have brought

Andrew wanted to know what surgeon or doctor was
coming to see her, what arrangements had been made. Agatha
did not want to talk about her illness ; she made light of it.

" I dare say I shall be as weil as ever in a few weeks. But
it is such an inconvenient time." She would only admit to
inconvenience, not to pain or danger.

Andrew was very doubtful of the wisdom of the course
upon which they were to embark ; he saw possibilities of com-
plication, of blackmail, knowing that if Gabrielle were in
truth Desmond's widow it was not right she should be bribed
not to bear his name, not to claim her rights. But Agatha
was ill, and obstinate. She reiterated that she would not
have the girl's mind disturbed, Andrew yielded; Agatha,
weakened like this, had become too strong for him.

" Only until I get better — at least until I get better she
is not to use Desmond's name. Everything must go on as
before. Eunice is to know nothing. I am sure I am right.'*


" When have you doubted that you are right ? " he asked.
But he could not argue with her.

" I am sure he would not have wished her to know. Let
me do this one thing for him ; let me keep his secret.^'

" I will do what I can. I don't think there will be any

The conversation had to be adjourned. Visitors were an-
nounced. Neither Agatha nor Andrew was sorry that their
tete-d-tete was broken in upon.


If she had not been Agatha, Andrew would have said that
she was trying to do a wrong thing, that the woman had her
rights, that it was not only Eunice whose feelings should be
considered. But she was Agatha, and he could only carry out
her instructions. He told Michael of her decision on their
journey up to town on Monday morning, briefly and
abruptly, but in a way that showed Michael it was past argu-
ment, Michael thought the idea of keeping the marriage a
secret, concealing the whole story from Eunice, buying
Gabrielle off, even more foolish than his father did, and more
reprehensible. He did not think it fair to himself; then
flushed, and was ashamed that he should be thinking of him-
self at such a time. For he heard that his father's old friend
and client had an operation in front of her, that the issue was

" I don't think at the moment she is as clear-minded as
usual. She does not see the possible consequences of this

Michael could see how moved his father was, and refrained
from pressing home his views. But his father would have to
interview Gabrielle and bribe her to silence. He, Michael,
admitted himself incapable of it.

" It is not fair to any of us," he was driven to say.

" Agatha is our client ; we have to carry out her instruc-
tions," Andrew answered. " Poor Agatha ! " he added.

Andrew was distressed at the prospect of Agatha's peril.
Michael had nothing to do but show his filial affection, help
him into his coat when the train stopped, find a cab, be
assiduous in attention.

Gabrielle proved herself amenable, more amenable than
could have been expected. Andrew went to her in the after-
noon, and told her he had seen Lady Grindelay, told her that
Desmond's mother would do nothing for her if there was any
publicity or any announcement of the marriage. But that



if she would live quietly and call herself by another name, she
would have a liberal allowance, a sum down — any reasonable
claim would be met.

" It is true that you are entitled to Languedoc when Lord
Grindelay's death is proved, but not before. There will be
delay; there is bound to be a long delay. You know your
resources — what are you going to live on meanwhile? When
eventually you are in possession of Languedoc, you will find
it is an expense, not an income. Your pension, too. Des-
mond's death will have to be proved before it is paid, the body
found, or an eye-witness who saw him after death. And it
will be a very inconsiderable amount, scarcely worth claiming
for a woman like yourself. It is better you should be quite
clear about your position. Perhaps you would like to confirm
what I am telling you with your own lawyer or one of your
friends ? "

Whether he thought her wise or not, he fought well for
his client. And when Gabrielle gave in, when she began to
bargain, he knew he had achieved his object. Agatha could
go through her ordeal without Eunice's distress to deepen it.
Eunice could still cherish Desmond's memory.

Gabrielle was persuaded to move from her present quar-
ters, where she was known as Lady Grindelay, to others
where she was unknown. Andrew McKay made no stipulation
as to where she was to go. It seemed of no consequence. Not
the liberal allowance, but a sum down* was the crux of her
bargaining. Fifteen thousand pounds, she asked ; but Andrew
got her down to five thousand pounds. She spoke of debts,
mysterious debts and expenses. Afterwards he wondered at
his own blindness, that his suspicions were not more quickly
aroused. For the moment he was only concerned to know that
he had succeeded, that Agatha's illness or convalescence
would not be troubled, that he had carried out her wishes.

Matters were very expeditiously arranged when once the
terms were agreed upon. Before the two nurses were installed
at the Court, before the surgeons had made their appoint-
ments and the news of what was to be done had been broken
to Eunice, Gabrielle Eadlett and her child had left the Buck-


ingham Gate flat. If Andrew had had misgivings before, his
last interview with Gabrielle did nothing to remove them.

" I didn't want the title," she said. " It is no use to me
where I am going. I've booked to South Africa as Nurse Rad-
lett — my old name is good enough for me. I'm off next
week. I was only waiting for the cash."

"To South Africa!"

" To Cape Town. Why not ? I'm a fully qualified nurse.
Quite a number of us are going."

"And the child?"

They were in the office ; the flat had been abandoned, all
her preparations made, and the money was in her possession.

" Oh, the child ! " She laughed ; she had the impudence
to laugh. " I wrote to Desmond's old nurse, to Biddy Maione.
It was Desmond's idea that Biddy should take care of his child
if he never came back. I wrote and told her so. I found
someone to take the kid over. She is quite safe at Langue-
doc. The old woman was glad enough to get her, I can tell
you. It seems she cherishes some old grudge against Des-
mond's mother. She seems to think she will get even with
her by keeping Desmond's child. I'm not going to interfere,
they can settle it between themselves. I don't suppose I shall
come back for a year or two. I might marry again — there
is no knowing." Her laugh rang out again. " There will be
plenty of chances. There is nothing about marrying again
in that agreement you made me sign."

She had outwitted him, kept to the letter of her agree-
ment, regained her freedom, and with more money and greater
independence than she had ever had in her life. She was an
adventuress, and this adventure had brought her in more than
she had anticipated. She had no love for Desmond, for the
difficult young man she had entrapped. She was glad to be
rid of him and his child. And at such a good price.

Lady Grindelay heard nothing of what had occurred,
nothing of what had become of the adventuress who called
herself her son's wife, nor of the child who was doubtfully his.
She relied upon Andrew; once Andrew had undertaken to
carry out her wishes she refused to give the matter any further


thought. Agatha was now in the hands of doctors and nurses.
Andrew could not break in upon them to tell her of his
doubts or misgivings. He was glad of the respite, not proud
of the way he had conducted the negotiations. There was
something about Gabrielle Eadlett when he saw her for the
last time in his office, after the agreement had been signed,
that excited his tardy suspicion. Now, when it was too late,
he put detectives on her trail, set himself and them the task
of piecing out her histor}', discovering everji;hing that should
have been discovered before that five thousand pounds had
been thrown away.

Gabrielle Eadlett had no claim to call herself Lady Grin-
delay. She was already married when she went through that
ceremony with Desmond. The story those detectives unrav-
elled was commonplace enough; it lay quite on the surface.
She was known to the police, known at Scotland Yard. Her
husband was even now at Dartmoor, serving his time for an
offence for which they had been tried together, of which she
had been acquitted, many years ago. His time was nearly up.
It was not likely he would have enough money when he came
out to follow her to South Africa. She had no fancy for a
domestic life with ex-convict No. 3734.

Andrew learnt all this from Detective Grose of Scotland
Yard. Everything about her was on record; he need only
have inquired earlier and in the right quarter.

At fourteen she was sent to a penitentiary for petty pil-
fering in the common lodging-house where she had been
employed as a general servant. Yet she was not a victim of
conditions, but of character. At the end of her detention a
benevolent old lady took a fancy to her, and paid for her
education and training as a hospital nurse. She could have
retrieved her past ; she had capacity, even talent. But before
the end of her training she was in the thick of an intrigue
with one of the young hospital doctors. He abandoned her,
and to conceal her condition she went through a hasty mar-
riage with a sympathetic and plausible scoundrel, who saw in
her profession a means he could use in his own more nefarious
one. They soon began to understand each other. The sen-


tence he was serving was for forgery and attempted blackmail.
Gabrielle had nursed the man whose will was forged. She
had been one of the witnesses, but at the trial it was said she
was acting under her husband's influence. Her youth and
good looks appealed to the jury, and, as has been seen, she
was acquitted. She resumed her profession; she had always
her attractive manner to secure the suffrages and recommen-
dations of doctors. Lord Grindelay was not the only patient
who had had to rue her ministrations.

This was, in brief, the story Inspector Grose had to tell.
He was very terse and direct. The only detail Andrew wanted
was the date of the marriage, and the proof that her first
husband was still alive, and neither was difficult to obtain.
Andrew was very much out of conceit with himself for having
become suspicious so late.

"Who could dream she was risking a prosecution for
bigamy ? "

" Well, you know, we are not criminal lawyers," Michael
said to him consolingly.

" I feel I was criminally negligent over those five thousand
pounds," Andrew replied ruefully. " Of course, she was
delighted to find we wanted the matter hushed up."

Still, there were compensations for his over-haste and
lack of caution. Desmond was not married; he had left no
heir. There was no one who was entitled to call herself
"Lady Grindelay" or disturb Eunice's mind. He knew
Agatha would think five thousand pounds not too much to
pay for the knowledge.

It was some time before he was able to see Agatha, but
he wrote her a brief letter that everything had been done as
she wished, and that the marriage of which she had been
informed had not proved a legal one. "There will be no
further trouble from that quarter," he added, knowing no

Before Andrew's letter reached Marley, however, gi'eat
news came to hand, news that made its contents comparatively
unimportant, although later the importance became more
significant. But that was not yet.

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Online LibraryJulia FrankauFull swing → online text (page 15 of 27)