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THE ABSENT FRIEND
The prince kept his word, and she was fairly free to see him at least once a week, somewhere within the leafy thicknesses of the park or in the woods, usually at the hour when dusk finally yields to the overwhelming embrace of night.
Sir Marmaduke was away. In London or Canterbury, she could not say, but she had scarcely seen him since that terrible time, when he came back from town having left Richard Lambert languishing in disgrace and in prison.
Oh! how she missed the silent and thoughtful friend who in those days of pride and of joy had angered her so, because he seemed to stand for conscience and for prudence, when she only thought of happiness and of love.
There was an almost humiliating isolation about her now. Nobody seemed to care whither she went, nor when she came home. Mistress de Chavasse talked from time to time about Sue's infatuation for the mysterious foreign adventurer, but always as if this were a thing of the past, and from which Sue herself had long since recovered.
Thus there was no one to say her nay, when she went out into the garden after evening repast, and stayed there until the shades of night had long since wrapped the old trees in gloom.
And strangely enough this sense of freedom struck her with a chill sense of loneliness. She would have loved to suddenly catch sight of Lambert's watchful figure, and to hear his somewhat harsh voice, warning her against the foreigner.
This had been wont to irritate her twelve weeks ago. How mysteriously everything had altered round her!
And yearning for her friend, she wondered what had become of him. The last she had heard was toward the middle of October when Sir Marmaduke, home from one of his frequent journeyings, one day said that Lambert had been released after ten weeks spent in prison, but that he could not say whither he had gone since then.
All Sue's questionings anent the young man only brought forth violent vituperations from Sir Marmaduke, and cold words of condemnation from Mistress de Chavasse; therefore, she soon desisted, storing up in her heart pathetic memories of the one true friend she had in the world.
She saw without much excitement, and certainly without tremor, the rapid advance of that date early in November when she would perforce have to leave Acol Court in order to follow her husband whithersoever he chose to command her.
The last time that they had met there had been a good deal of talk between them, about her fortune and its future disposal. He declared himself ready to administer it all himself, as he professed a distrust of those who had watched over it so far--Master Skyffington, the lawyer, and Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse, both under the control of the Court of Chancery.
She explained to him that the bulk of her wealth consisted of obligations and shares in the Levant and Russian Companies, her mother having been the only daughter and heiress of Peter Ford the great Levantine and Oriental merchant; her marriage with the proud Earl of Dover having caused no small measure of comment in Court circles in those days.
There were also deeds of property owned in Holland, grants of monopolies for trading given by Ivan the Terrible to her grandfather, and receipts for moneys deposited in the great banks of Amsterdam and Vienna. Master Skyffington had charge of all those papers now: they represented nearly five hundred thousand pounds of money and she told her husband that they would all be placed in her own keeping, the day she was of age.
He appeared to lend an inattentive ear to all these explanations, which she gave in those timid tones, which had lately become habitual to her, but once--when she made a slip, and talked about a share which she possessed in the Russian Company being worth £50,000, he corrected her and said it was a good deal more, and gave her some explanations as to the real distribution of her capital, which astonished her by their lucidity and left her vaguely wondering how it happened that he knew. She had finally to promise to come to him at the cottage in Acol on the 2d of November--her twenty-first birthday--directly after her interview with the lawyer and with her guardian, and having obtained possession of all the share papers, the obligations, the grants of monopolies and the receipts from the Amsterdam and Vienna banks, to forthwith bring them over to the cottage and place them unreservedly in her husband's hands.
And she would in her simplicity and ignorance gladly have given every scrap of paper--now in Master Skyffington's charge--in exchange for a return of those happy illusions which had surrounded the early history of her love with a halo of romance. She would have given this mysterious prince, now her husband, all the money that he wanted for this wonderful "great work" of his, if he would but give her back some of that enthusiastic belief in him which had so mysteriously been killed within her, that fateful moment in the vestry at Dover.
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