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Wolfenden, for perhaps the first time in his life, chose the inland road home. He was still feeling faint and giddy, and the fresh air only partially revived him. He walked slowly, and rested more than once. It took him almost half an hour to reach the cross roads. Here he sat on a stile for a few minutes, until he began to feel himself again. Just as he was preparing to resume his walk, he was aware of a carriage being driven rapidly towards him, along the private road from Deringham Hall.
He stood quite still and watched it. The roads were heavy after much rain, and the mud was leaping up into the sunshine from the flying wheels, bespattering the carriage, and reaching even the man who sat upon the box. The horses had broken into a gallop, the driver was leaning forward whip in hand. He knew at once whose carriage it was: it was the little brougham which Mr. Sabin had brought down from London. He had been up to the hall, then! Wolfenden’s face grew stern. He stood well out in the middle of the road. The horses would have to be checked a little at the sharp turn before him. They would probably shy a little, seeing him stand there in the centre of the road; he would be able to bring them to a standstill. So he remained there motionless. Nearer and nearer they came. Wolfenden set his teeth hard and forgot his dizziness.
They were almost upon him now. To his surprise the driver was making no effort to check his galloping horses. It seemed impossible that they could round that narrow corner at the pace they were going. A froth of white foam was on their bits, and their eyes were bloodshot. They were almost upon Wolfenden before he realised what was happening. They made no attempt to turn the corner which he was guarding, but flashed straight past him along the Cromer road. Wolfenden shouted and waved his arms, but the coachman did not even glance in his direction. He caught a glimpse of Mr. Sabin’s face as he leaned back amongst the cushions, dark, satyr-like, forbidding. The thin lips seemed to part into a triumphant smile as he saw Wolfenden standing there. It was all over in a moment. The carriage, with its whirling wheels, was already a speck in the distance.
Wolfenden looked at his watch. It was five-and-twenty minutes to one. Mr. Sabin’s purpose was obvious. He was trying to catch the one o’clock express to London. To pursue that carriage was absolutely hopeless. Wolfenden set his face towards Deringham Hall and ran steadily along the road. He was filled with vague fears. The memory of Mr. Sabin’s smile haunted him. He had succeeded. By what means? Perhaps by violence! Wolfenden forgot his own aching head. He was filled only with an intense anxiety to reach his destination. If Mr. Sabin had so much as raised his hand, he should pay for it. He understood now why that blow had been given. It was to keep him out of the way. As he ran on, his teeth clenched, and his breath coming fast, he grew hot with passionate anger. He had been Mr. Sabin’s dupe! Curse the man.
He turned the final corner in the drive, climbed the steps and entered the hall. The servants were standing about as usual. There was no sign of anything having happened. They looked at him curiously, but that might well be, owing to his dishevelled condition.
“Where is the Admiral, Groves?” he asked breathlessly.
“His lordship is in the billiard-room,” the man answered.
Wolfenden stopped short in his passage across the hall, and looked at the man in amazement.
“In the billiard-room, my lord,” the man repeated. “He was inquiring for you only a moment ago.”
Wolfenden turned sharp to the left and entered the billiard-room. His father was standing there with his coat off and a cue in his hand. Directly he turned round Wolfenden was aware of a peculiar change in his face and expression. The hard lines had vanished, every trace of anxiety seemed to have left him. His eyes were soft and as clear as a child’s. He turned to Wolfenden with a bland smile, and immediately began to chalk his cue.
“Come and play me a game, Wolf,” he cried out cheerfully. “You’ll have to give me a few, I’m so out of practice. We’ll make it a hundred, and you shall give me twenty. Which will you have, spot, or plain?”
Wolfenden gulped down his amazement with an effort.
“I’ll take plain,” he said. “It’s a long time, isn’t it, since we played?”
His father faced him for a minute and seemed perplexed.
“Not so very long, surely. Wasn’t it yesterday, or the day before?”
Wolfenden wondered for a moment whether that blow had affected his brain. It was years since he had seen the billiard-room at Deringham Hall opened.
“I don’t exactly remember,” he faltered. “Perhaps I was mistaken. Time goes so quickly.”
“I wonder,” the Admiral said, making a cannon and stepping briskly round the table, “how it goes at all with you young men who do nothing. Great mistake to have no profession, Wolf! I wish I could make you see it.”
“I quite agree with you,” Wolfenden said. “You must not look upon me as quite an idler, though. I am a full-fledged barrister, you know, although I do not practise, and I have serious thoughts of Parliament.”
The Admiral shook his head.
“Poor career, my boy, poor career for a gentleman’s son. Take my advice and keep out of Parliament. I am going to pot the red. I don’t like the red ball, Wolf! It keeps looking at me like—like that man! Ah!”
He flung his cue with a rattle upon the floor of inlaid wood, and started back.
“Look, Wolf!” he cried. “He’s grinning at me! Come here, boy! Tell me the truth! Have I been tricked? He told me that he was Mr. C. and I gave him everything! Look at his face how it changes! He isn’t like C. now! He is like—who is it he is like? C.’s face is not so pale as that, and he does not limp. I seem to remember him too! Can’t you help me? Can’t you see him, boy?”
He had been moving backwards slowly. He was leaning now against the wall, his face blanched and perfectly bloodless, his eyes wild and his pupils dilated. Wolfenden laid his cue down and came over to his side.
“No, I can’t see him, father,” he said gently. “I think it must be fancy; you have been working too hard.”
“You are blind, boy, blind,” the Admiral muttered. “Where was it I saw him last? There were sands—and a burning sun—his shot went wide, but I aimed low and I hit him. He carried himself bravely. He was an aristocrat, and he never forgot it. But why does he call himself Mr. C.? What has he to do with my work?”
Wolfenden choked down a lump in his throat. He began to surmise what had happened.
“Let us go into the other room, father,” he said gently. “It is too cold for billiards.”
The Admiral held out his arm. He seemed suddenly weak and old. His eyes were dull and he was muttering to himself. Wolfenden led him gently from the room and upstairs to his own apartment. There he made an excuse for leaving him for a moment, and hurried down into the library. Mr. Blatherwick was writing there alone.
“Blatherwick,” Wolfenden exclaimed, “what has happened this morning? Who has been here?”
Mr. Blatherwick blushed scarlet.
“Miss Merton called, and a gentleman with her, from the Home Office, I b-b-believe.”
“Who let him into the library?” Wolfenden asked sternly.
Mr. Blatherwick fingered his collar, as though he found it too tight for him, and appeared generally uncomfortable.
“At Miss Merton’s request, Lord Wolfenden,” he said nervously, “I allowed him to come in. I understood that he had been sent for by her ladyship. I trust that I did not do wrong.”
“You are an ass, Blatherwick,” Wolfenden exclaimed angrily. “You seem to enjoy lending yourself to be the tool of swindlers and thieves. My father has lost his reason entirely now, and it is your fault. You had better leave here at once! You are altogether too credulous for this world.”
Wolfenden strode away towards his mother’s room, but a cry from upstairs directed his steps. Lady Deringham and he met outside his father’s door, and entered the room together. They came face to face with the Admiral.
“Out of my way!” he cried furiously. “Come with me, Wolf! We must follow him. I must have my papers back, or kill him! I have been dreaming. He told me that he was C. I gave him all he asked for! We must have them back. Merciful heavens! if he publishes them, we are ruined ... where did he come from?... They told me that he was dead.... Has he crawled back out of hell? I shot him once! He has never forgotten it! This is his vengeance! Oh, God!”
He sank down into a chair. The perspiration stood out in great beads upon his white forehead. He was shaking from head to foot. Suddenly his head drooped in the act of further speech, the words died away upon his lips. He was unconscious. The Countess knelt by his side and Wolfenden stood over her.
“Do you know anything of what has happened?” Wolfenden asked.
“Very little,” she whispered; “somehow, he—Mr. Sabin—got into the library, and the shock sent him—like this. Here is the doctor.”
Dr. Whitlett was ushered in. They all three looked down upon the Admiral, and the doctor asked a few rapid questions. There was certainly a great change in his face. A strong line or two had disappeared, the countenance was milder and younger. It was like the face of a child. Wolfenden was afraid to see the eyes open, he seemed already in imagination to picture to himself their vacant, unseeing light. Dr. Whitlett shook his head sadly.
“I am afraid,” he said gravely, “that when Lord Deringham recovers he will remember nothing! He has had a severe shock, and there is every indication that his mind has given way.”
Wolfenden drew his teeth together savagely. This, then, was the result of Mr. Sabin’s visit.
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