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THE LINK IN THE CHAIN
Practically for three days and three nights the Council sat continually. There was no pretence now at recreation, no other guests. We worked, all of us, from the Duke downwards, unflaggingly and with very little respite. When at last the end came, my padlocked notebook, with its hundreds of pages of hieroglyphics, held the principal material for three schemes of coast defence, each one considered separately and supported by a mass of detail as to transport, commissariat, and many minor points.
The principal members of the Council departed by special train early on Monday morning. I myself, a little dizzy and hot-eyed, walked across the park an hour after dawn, and flung myself upon my bed with a deep sigh of relief. Before I had closed my eyes, however, Grooton appeared with apologies for his dishabille.
"I have been up to the house twice, sir," he said, "but they would not let me see you or even send in a message. I thought it only right to let you know at once, sir, that the police have been here rummaging about. They had what they called a search warrant, I believe. I came up to the house immediately, but I could not induce any of the servants to bring word in to you. Mr. Jesson, the Duke's own man, told me that it was as much as his place was worth to allow any one to enter the library."
"All right, Grooton," I muttered. "Hang the police!"
I believe he said something else, but I never heard it. I was already fast asleep.
* * * * * * *
About mid-day I was awakened by the dazzling sunshine which seemed to fill the room. I called for a bath, dressed, and made an excellent breakfast. Then I brought out my notebook and prepared for work. I had scarcely dipped my pen in the ink, however, when a shadow darkened the window. I looked up quickly. It was Ray.
He entered without knocking, and I saw at once that he was in a strange condition. He scarcely greeted me, but sank into my easy chair, and drawing out his pipe began to fill it. Then I saw, too, what I had never seen before. His fingers were shaking.
"Boy," he said, "have you any wine?"
"The Duke sent me some claret," I answered. "Will that do?"
I summoned Grooton and ordered the wine and some biscuits. Ray was a man who ate and drunk sparingly. Yet he filled a tumbler and drank it straight off.
"You and I," he remarked, "are the only two who sat the whole show out. It was a grind, wasn't it?"
"It was," I answered, "but I have slept, and I feel none the worse for it. Lord Cheisford carried us on splendidly. There is solid work here," I said; "something worth the planning."
I touched my notebook almost affectionately, for the work was fascinating now that it had attained coherent form. Ray smoked on and said nothing for several minutes. Then he looked up at me.
"Have you a spare bedroom, Ducaine?"
"One or two," I answered. "They are not all furnished, but one at any rate is decent."
"Will you put me up for a day--perhaps two?"
"Of course," I answered, "but--"
He answered my unspoken question.
"The Duke has turned me out," he said grimly. "Who would have suspected the old man of such folly? He believes in Blenavon. I told him the plain truth, and he told me that I was a liar."
"I thought that he would be difficult to convince," I remarked.
"He has all the magnificent pig-headedness of his race," Ray answered. "Blenavon is Blenavon, and he can do no wrong. He would summon him home again, but fortunately the young man himself is no fool. He will not come. You told Lady Angela?"
"She believed you?"
"I think that she did," I answered.
His face softened.
"The Duke showed me from the door himself," he said. "You will not object to my sending a note to Lady Angela by your servant?"
"Make whatever use of him you choose," I answered. "There are pen and ink and notepaper upon the table."
Then I settled down to my work. Ray wrote his note, and went upstairs to sleep. In an hour's time he was down again. There were black rims under his eyes, and I could see at once that he had had no rest. Grooton had brought his bag from the house, and a note from Lady Angela. He read it with unchanging face, and placed it carefully in his breast coat-pocket.
"I am off to the village to send some telegrams," he said, "and afterwards I shall go on for a walk." "What about lunch?" I asked, glancing at the clock. "None for me," he answered. "Some tea at four o'clock, if I may have it. I will be back by then." He swung off, and I was thankful, for my work demanded my whole attention and very careful thought. At a few minutes after four he returned, and Grooton brought us some tea. Directly we were alone Ray looked across at me with a black frown upon his face.
"You know what they are saying in the village about you, young man?"
"I can guess," I answered.
"Who is this girl, Blanche Moyat?"
"A farmer's daughter," I answered. "It seems that I paid her too much or too little, attention, I am not sure which. At any rate, she has an imaginary grievance against me, and this is the result."
"She tells the truth?"
"I have not heard her story," I answered, "but it is true that I encouraged her to suppress the fact that she bad seen the man in the village, and that he had asked for me."
"Perhaps," I answered. "You see, I thought that a verdict of 'found drowned' would save trouble."
"This accursed woman at the Grange is in it, I know," Ray remarked, slowly filling his pipe. "I wonder if she knew that I was about? That would give her a zest for the job."
"She knows that you were at Braster at the time," I said. "It was the night of your lecture."
Ray began to blow out dense clouds of smoke.
"We're safe," he said thoughtfully, "both of us. There's just a link in the chain missing."
"The police have been here with a warrant in search of that link," I remarked.
"They'll never find it, for it's in my pocket," he remarked grimly.
"Colonel Ray," I said, suddenly nerving myself to risk his anger, "there is a question which I must ask you."
I saw his lips come firmly together. He neither encouraged nor checked me.
"Who was that man?"
"You are better ignorant."
"Was it my father?"
If he did not answer my question, it at least seemed to suggest something to him.
"Has that woman been here?" he asked.
"She believes that it was your father?"
He removed his pipe from his teeth and looked at it thoughtfully.
"Ah!" he said.
"You have not answered my question," I reminded him.
"Nor am I going to," he replied coolly. "You know already as much as is good for you."
He rose and threw open the door of my cottage. For several moments he stood bareheaded, looking up towards the house, looking and listening. He glanced at his watch, and walked several times backwards and forwards from the edge of the cliff to my door. Then he came in for his hat and stick.
"I am going down to the sea," he said. "If Lady Angela comes, will you call me? I shall not be out of hearing."
"You are expecting her?" I asked, looking down at my work.
"Yes. It was necessary for me to see her somewhere, so I asked her to come here. Perhaps the Duke has found out and stopped her. Anyhow, call me if she comes."
He stepped outside, and I heard him scrambling down the cliff. I set my teeth and turned to my work. It was a hard thing to have my little room, with its store of memories, turned into a meeting-place for these two. I at least would take care to be far enough away. And then I began wondering whether she would come. I was still wondering when I heard her footsteps.
She came in unaccustomed garb to me. She wore a grey dress of some soft material, and a large black hat with feathers. Her skirts were gathered up in her hand, and I heard the jingling of harness at the corner of the avenue where her carriage was waiting. I opened the door, and she entered with a soft swish of silk and a gentle rustling. The room seemed instantly full of perfume of Neapolitan violets, a great bunch of which were in her bosom.
She looked swiftly around, and I fancied that it was a relief to her to find me alone.
"Is Colonel Ray here?" she asked.
"He is waiting for you," I answered, "on the sands. I promised to call him directly you came."
I moved toward the door, but she checked me with an imperative gesture.
"Wait," she said.
I came slowly back and stood by my table. She was sitting with her hands clasped together, looking into the fire. She looked very girlish and frail.
"I want to think--for a moment," she said. "Everything seems confusion. My father has commanded me to break my engagement with Colonel Ray."
I remained silent. What was there, indeed, for me to say?
"In my heart," she went on slowly, "I know that my father is wrong and that Colonel Ray is right. He has simply done his duty. Blenavon was being sorely tempted. He is better away--out of the country. Oh, I am sure of that."
"Colonel Ray has done what he believed to be his duty," I said slowly. "It is hard that he should suffer for that."
"Often," she murmured, "one has to suffer for doing the right thing. My father has made himself a poor man because of his sense of what was right. I do not know what to do."
I glanced out of the window. For many reasons I did not wish to prolong this interview.
"He is waiting," I reminded her.
"I must do one of two things," she murmured. "I must break my faith with my father--or with him."
Then she lifted her eyes to mine.
"Tell me what you think, Mr. Ducaine?" she asked.
I opened my lips to speak, but I could not. Was it fair that she should ask me? My little room was peopled with dreams of her, with delightful but impossible visions. My very nerves were full of the joy of her presence. It was madness to ask for my judgment, when the very poetry of my life was an unreasoning and hopeless love for her.
"I cannot!" I muttered. "You must not ask me."
She seemed surprised. After all, I had guarded my secret well, then?
"You will not refuse to help me," she pleaded.
I set my teeth hard. I longed for Ray, but there were no signs of him.
"Your father has ordered you to break your engagement with Colonel Ray," I said, "but he has done so under a misapprehension of the facts. You owe obedience to your father, but you owe more--to--the man whose wife you have promised to be. I do not think you should give him up."
She listened eagerly. Was it my fancy, or was she indeed a little paler? Her eyes seemed to gleam with a strange softness in the twilight. Her head drooped a a little as she resumed her former thoughtful attitude.
"Thank you," she said, simply. "I believe that you are right."
I caught up a bundle of papers from my desk and stole softly from the room. Ray was close at hand, and I called to him.
"She is in there waiting for you," I said. "I have some transcribed matter, which I am taking up to the safe."
Ray nodded abruptly, and I heard the door of my cottage open and close behind him.
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