The Nest of the Sparrowhawk HTML version

XXVII. Lady Sue's Fortune
Less than an hour later four people were assembled in the small withdrawing-
room of Acol Court.
Master Skyffington sat behind a central table, a little pompous of manner, clad in
sober black with well-starched linen cuffs and collar, his scanty hair closely
cropped, his thin hands fingering with assurance and perfect calm the various
documents laid out before him. Near him Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse, sitting
with his back to the dim November light, which vainly strove to penetrate the tiny
glass panes of the casement windows.
In a more remote corner of the room sat Editha de Chavasse, vainly trying to
conceal the agitation which her trembling hands, her quivering face and restless
eyes persistently betrayed. And beside the central table, near Master Skyffington
and facing Sir Marmaduke, was Lady Susannah Aldmarshe, only daughter and
heiress of the late Earl of Dover, this day aged twenty-one years, and about to
receive from the hands of her legal guardians the vast fortune which her father
had bequeathed to her, and which was to become absolutely hers this day to
dispose of as she list.
"And now, my dear child," said Master Skyffington with due solemnity, when he
had disposed a number of documents and papers in methodical order upon the
table, "let me briefly explain to you the object ... hem ... of this momentous
meeting here to-day."
"I am all attention, master," said Sue vaguely, and her eyes wide-open, obviously
absent, she gazed fixedly on the silhouette of Sir Marmaduke, grimly outlined
against the grayish window-panes.
"I must tell you, my dear child," resumed Master Skyffington after a slight pause,
during which he had studied with vague puzzledom the inscrutable face of the
young girl, "I must tell you that your late father, the noble Earl of Dover, had
married the heiress of Peter Ford, the wealthiest merchant this country hath ever
known. She was your own lamented mother, and the whole of her fortune,
passing through her husband's hands, hath now devolved upon you. My much-
esteemed patron--I may venture to say friend--Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse,
having been appointed your legal guardian by the Court of Chancery, and I
myself being thereupon named the repository of your securities, these have been
administered by me up to now.... You are listening to me, are you not, my dear
young lady?"
The question was indeed necessary, for even to Master Skyffington's
unobservant mind it was apparent that Sue's eyes had a look of aloofness in
them, of detachment from her surroundings, which was altogether inexplicable to
the worthy attorney's practical sense of the due fitness of things.
At his query she made a sudden effort to bring her thoughts back from the past to
the present, to drag her heart and her aching brain away from that half-hour
spent in the hall, from that conversation with her friend, from the recollection of