The Nest of the Sparrowhawk by Baroness Orczy - HTML preview
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XII. An Idea
The triumph was complete. But of a truth the game was waxing dangerous. Lady Sue Aldmarshe had promised to marry her prince. She would keep her word, of that Sir Marmaduke was firmly convinced. But there would of necessity be two or three days delay and every hour added to the terrors, the certainty of discovery.
There was a watch-dog at Sue's heels, stern, alert, unyielding. Richard Lambert was probing the secret of the mysterious prince, with the unerring eye of the disappointed lover.
The meeting to-night had been terribly dangerous. Sir Marmaduke knew that Lambert was lurking somewhere in the park.
At present even the remotest inkling of the truth must still be far from the young man's mind. The whole scheme was so strange, so daring, so foreign to the simple ideas of the Quaker-bred lad, that its very boldness had defied suspicion. But the slightest mischance now, a meeting at the door of the pavilion, an altercation--face to face, eye to eye--and Richard Lambert would be on the alert. His hatred would not be so blind, nor yet so clumsy, as that of his brother, the blacksmith. There is no spy so keen in all the world as a jealous lover. This had been the prince's first meeting with Sue, since that memorable day when the secret of their clandestine love became known to Lambert. Sir Marmaduke knew well that it had been fraught with danger; that every future meeting would wax more and more perilous still, and that the secret marriage itself, however carefully and secretively planned, would hardly escape the prying eyes of the young man.
The unmasking of Prince Amédé d'Orléans before Sue had become legally his wife was a possibility which Sir Marmaduke dared not even think of, lest the very thought should drive him mad. Once she was his wife! ... well, let her look to herself.... The marriage tie would be a binding one, he would see to that, and her fortune should be his, even though he had won her by a lie.
He had staked his very existence on the success of his scheme. Lady Sue's fortune was the one aim of his life, for it he had worked and striven, and lied: he would not even contemplate a future without it, now that his plans had brought him so near the goal.
He had one faithful ally, though not a powerful one, in Editha, who, lured by some vague promises of his, desperate too, as regarded her own future, had chosen to throw in her lot whole-heartedly with his.
He was closeted with her on the following day, in the tiny withdrawing-room which leads out of the hall at Acol Court. When he had stolen into the house in the small hours of the morning he had seen Richard Lambert leaning out of one of the windows which gave upon the park.
It seemed as if the young man must have seen him when he skirted the house, for though there was no moonlight, the summer's night was singularly clear. That Lambert had been on the watch--spying, as Sir Marmaduke said with a bitter oath of rage--was beyond a doubt.
Editha too was uneasy; she thought that Lambert had purposely avoided her the whole morning.
"I lingered in the garden for as long as I could," she said to her brother-in-law, watching with keen anxiety his restless movements to and fro in the narrow room, "I thought Lambert would keep within doors if he saw me about. He did not actually see you, Marmaduke, did he?" she queried with ever-growing disquietude.
"No. Not face to face," he replied curtly. "I contrived to avoid him in the park, and kept well within the shadows, when I saw him spying through the window. "Curse him!" he added with savage fury, "curse him, for a meddlesome, spying cur!"
"The whole thing is becoming vastly dangerous," she sighed.
"Yet it must last for another few weeks at least...."
"I know ... and Lambert is a desperate enemy: he dogs Sue's footsteps, he will come upon you one day when you are alone, or with her ... he will provoke a quarrel...."
"I know--I know ..." he retorted impatiently, "'tis no use recapitulating the many evil contingencies that might occur.... I know that Lambert is dangerous ... damn him! ... Would to God I could be rid of him ... somehow."
"You can dismiss him," she suggested, "pay him his wages and send him about his business."
"What were the use? He would remain in the village--in his brother's cottage mayhap ... with more time on his hands for his spying work.... He would dog the wench's steps more jealously than eve.... No! no!" he added, whilst he cast a quick, furtive look at her--a look which somehow caused her to shiver with apprehension more deadly than heretofore.
"That's not what I want," he said significantly.
"What's to be done?" she murmured, "what's to be done?"
"I must think," he rejoined harshly. "But we must get that love-sick youth out of the way ... him and his airs of Providence in disguise.... Something must be done to part him from the wench effectually and completely ... something that would force him to quit this neighborhood ... forever, if possible."
She did not reply immediately, but fixed her large, dark eyes upon him, silently for a while, then she murmured:
"If I only knew!"
"If I could trust you, Marmaduke!"
He laughed, a harsh, cruel laugh which grated upon her ear.
"We know too much of one another, my dear Editha, not to trust each other." "My whole future depends on you. I am penniless. If you marry Sue...." "I can provide for you," he interrupted roughly. "What can I do now? My penury is worse than yours. So, my dear, if you have a plan to propound for the furtherance of my schemes, I pray you do not let your fear of the future prevent you from lending me a helping hand."
"A thought crossed my mind," she said eagerly, "the thought of something which would effectually force Richard Lambert to quit this neighborhood for ever." "What were that?"
"Disgrace?" he exclaimed. "Aye! you are right. Something mean ... paltry ... despicable ... something that would make her gracious ladyship turn away from him in disgust ... and would force him to go away from here ... for ever." He looked at her closely, scrutinizing her face, trying to read her thoughts. "A thought crossed your mind," he demanded peremptorily. "What is it?" "The house in London," she murmured.
"You are not afraid?"
"Oh!" she said with a careless shrug of the shoulders.
"The Protector's spies are keen," he urged, eager to test her courage, her desire to help him.
"They'll scarce remember me after two years."
"Hm! Their memory is keen ... and the new laws doubly severe."
"We'll be cautious."
"How can you let your usual clients know? They are dispersed."
"Oh, no! My Lord Walterton is as keen as ever and Sir James Overbury would brave the devil for a night at hazard. A message to them and we'll have a crowd every night."
"'Tis well thought on, Editha," he said approvingly. "But we must not delay. Will you go to London to-morrow?"
"An you approve."
"Aye! you can take the Dover coach and be in town by nightfall. Then write your letters to my Lord Walterton and Sir James Overbury. Get a serving wench from Alverstone's in the Strand, and ask the gentlemen to bring their own men, for the sake of greater safety. They'll not refuse."
"Refuse?" she said with a light laugh, "oh, no!"
"To-day being Tuesday, you should have your first evening entertainment on Friday. Everything could be ready by then."
"Very well then, on Friday, I, too, will arrive in London, my dear Editha, escorted by my secretary, Master Richard Lambert, and together we will call and pay our respects at your charming house in Bath Street."
"I will do my share. You must do yours, Marmaduke. Endicott will help you: he is keen and clever. And if Lambert but takes a card in his hand ..."
"Nay! he will take the cards, mine oath on that! Do you but arrange it all with Endicott."
"And, Marmaduke, I entreat you," she urged now with sudden earnestness, "I entreat you to beware of my Lord Protector's spies. Think of the consequences for me!"
"Aye!" he said roughly, laughing that wicked, cruel laugh of his, which damped her eagerness, and struck chill terror into her heart, "aye! the whipping-post for you, fair Editha, for keeping a gaming-house. What? Of a truth I need not urge you to be cautious."
Probably at this moment she would have given worlds--had she possessed them
-if she could but have dissociated herself from her brother-in-law's future altogether. Though she was an empty-headed, brainless kind of woman, she was not by nature a wicked one. Necessity had driven her into linking her fortunes with those of Sir Marmaduke. And he had been kind to her, when she was in deep distress: but for him she would probably have starved, for her beauty had gone and her career as an actress had been, for some inexplicable reason, quite suddenly cut short, whilst a police raid on the gaming-house over which she presided had very nearly landed her in a convict's cell.
She had escaped severe punishment then, chiefly because Cromwell's laws against gambling were not so rigorous at the time as they had since become, also because she was able to plead ignorance of them, and because of the status of first offense.
Therefore she knew quite well what she risked through the scheme which she had so boldly propounded to Sir Marmaduke. Dire disgrace and infamy, if my Lord Protector's spies once more came upon the gamesters in her house-unawares.
Utter social ruin and worse! Yet she risked it all, in order to help him. She did not love him, nor had she any hopes that he would of his own free will do more than give her a bare pittance for her needs once he had secured Lady Sue's fortune; but she was shrewd enough to reckon that the more completely she was mixed up in his nefarious projects, the more absolutely forced would he be to accede to her demands later on. The word blackmail had not been invented in those days, but the deed itself existed and what Editha had in her mind when she risked ostracism for Sir Marmaduke's sake was something very akin to it. But he, in the meanwhile, had thrown off his dejection. He was full of eagerness, of anticipated triumph now.
The rough idea which was to help him in his schemes had originated in Editha's brain, but already he had elaborated it; had seen in the plan a means not only of attaining his own ends with regard to Sue, but also of wreaking a pleasing vengeance on the man who was trying to frustrate him.
"I pray you, be of good cheer, fair Editha," he said quite gaily. "Your plan is good and sound, and meseems as if the wench's fortune were already within my grasp."
"Within our grasp, you mean, Marmaduke," she said significantly. "Our grasp of course, gracious lady," he said with a marked sneer, which she affected to ignore. "What is mine is yours. Am I not tied to the strings of your kirtle by lasting bonds of infinite gratitude?"
"I will start to-morrow then. By chaise to Dover and thence by coach," she said coldly, taking no heed of his irony. "'Twere best you did not assume your romantic rôle again until after your own voyage to London. You can give me some money I presume. I can do nothing with an empty purse."
"You shall have the whole contents of mine, gracious Editha," he said blandly, "some ten pounds in all, until the happy day when I can place half a million at your feet."