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Title: The Salt Of The Earth
       A Story Of Love And Excitement
Author: Fred M. White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100671.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2011
Date most recently updated: November 2011

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Salt Of The Earth
       A Story Of Love And Excitement
Author: Fred M. White

*

Published in serial form in the Traralgon Record (Traralgon, Vic.)
commencing Friday 1 November, 1918.

*



CHAPTER I.--PANDORA WAITS.


Outside a blackbird was piping madly in the blackthorn, and towards the
West a sheaf of flaming violet arrows streamed to the zenith. The
hedgerows were touched here and there with tender green. The bonny
breath of the South was soft and tender as the fingers of Aphrodite. It
was the first real day of Spring, and most people lingered out of doors
till the bare branches of the trees melted in the gloaming, and it was
possible to see and hear no more, save for the promise of the little
black herald singing madly from the blackthorn.

Thus was it outside. Inside the silk blinds were closely drawn, and the
heavy tapestry curtains pulled across them as if the inmates of the room
were envious of the dying day, and were determined to exclude it. The
score or more tiny points of electric flames were scrupulously shaded
with pale blue, so that even the most dubious complexion might not
suffer. At certain places the lights were grouped in lambent masses, for
they lighted the trio of Louis Quatorze card-tables, where twelve people
were playing bridge. Now and again the tongues of yellow flame picked
out some glittering object against the walls or on the floor, hinting at
art treasures, most of them with histories of their own.

On the whole the restful room was more calculated for philosophic
reflection than for fierce silent gambling, with indrawn breath, and lip
caught sharply between white teeth. The room was deadly still, save for
the flutter of the cards as they rippled over the tables. There were
cards, too, upon the floor, glistening under the light blue like bizarre
patterns to the Oriental carpet. Only two men looked on--one a thin,
nervous, ascetic creature, with melancholy grey eyes, and a Vandyck
beard. The average man would have had no trouble in guessing than Philip
Vanstone was an artist. He had the temperament stamped upon him, both as
to his features and his clothes. His companion was built in a larger
mould, a clean-shaven man with a hard, straight mouth, and the
suggestion of a bull-dog about him. When one glanced at Douglas Denne,
one instinctively thought of Rhodes and other pioneers of Empire, who
had that marvellous combination of mind, which allies high courage and
imagination with the practical attributes that lead to fortune. To a
certain extent Denne was a pioneer. He had amassed a huge fortune in
foreign lands. He had played his part in painting the map of the world a
British red, and, incidentally, he had found time during his Oxford
career to win the Newdigate prize and write a volume of poems which had
attracted considerable attention. If he had described himself, and why
his career had been so phenomenally successful, he would have spoken
slightingly, and called himself a pawnbroker with an imagination.
Usually he thanked Pinero for that phrase. It saved a great deal of
trouble when he found himself in the clutches of the interviewers.

And yet, despite his youth, and his health, and his fortune, he was by
no means a happy man. To begin with, he was cursed with a certain demon
of introspective analysis. He was bound to bring everything under the
microscope, including his own soul, and the soul of his fellow men. He
refused to believe in the genuine disinterested action. He put it down
to temperament. It gave pleasure to the wide-minded man to do good and
kind things; therefore, it could not be accounted as righteousness--it
was merely a selfish method of enjoyment. Everything that happened in
life, every mood and impulse of his own and of other people came under
Denne's mental scalping knife, so that to him the beauty of the pearl
was never anything but the poetic secretion of the oyster. Denne would
have given much to have been able to change places with Phil Vanstone,
the penniless artist.

He wasn't playing himself; in fact, he rarely touched a card. Playing
for sovereigns was poor sport to a man who had been moved to stake an
Empire upon the throw of a dice. He had come to Adela Burton's cottage
at Maidenhead purely to please his companion, but was more or less
scornfully amused, because Adela Burton was one of the apostles of the
Simple Life. Perhaps that was why she was playing cards with a more or
less notorious set of men and women, who had motored down from town that
same morning, seeking the pure delights of the pink, March day. Denne
watched the cards flashing across the table, heedless of the play of
emotions in the rich brown Rembrandt shadows. He was as near to enjoying
himself now as ever he had been in his cynical life. Presently, by a
curious coincidence, the three rubbers finished simultaneously, and the
players sat back in their Chippendale chairs. It was characteristic of
Adela Burton's cottage, and, incidentally, of herself, that all the
furniture was Chippendale, unless it happened to date back to the period
of Louis Quatorze.

"Are you going to play any more?" Denne asked.

The hostess rose from her seat and came round to the speaker's side. She
was very simply and plainly dressed in homespun material with a
suggestion of heather blue in it, which no doubt, was one of the notes
in the melody of the Simple Life. But it had cost sixty guineas in Paris
all the same, as any woman who studied the fashion papers would have
known at a glance.

"I will play no more this evening," Adela said gaily. "In fact, I wonder
at my temerity in playing at all today. For before I sleep to-night the
great secret will be disclosed. Do you know that before long I shall
come into my mysterious fortune?"

Denne congratulated his hostess gravely. He was studying and criticising
her now in his own merciless fashion, but, outwardly, there was little
with which he could find fault. To begin with, there was no other woman
of his acquaintance who had gone through two rapid seasons in London
without some sign that the bloom was off the peach, and the dew dry on
the flower. Adela Burton's complexion was as pure and fresh now as when
she first startled society with her original methods and almost archaic
extravagance. In some strange way she had retained all the innocent look
of youth though there was wisdom and laughter in her unfathomable eyes,
which were like green lakes under budding chestnut trees in the calm of
a still May evening. Such wonderful eyes they were, with all the
knowledge of the ages in them, and yet clear and innocent as those of a
little child. For the rest, she was rather small, though she was not
without a dominating something, which it was impossible to express in
words, and yet which could be left like darkness. Two years before Adela
Burton had hardly been heard of. Now she went everywhere until the time
had come when she led fashion instead of following it. This is the rare
attribute of the gods, and is given only to great Society ladies and
inventive milliners.

Probably Adela Burton had been the first to grasp the picturesqueness
and poetical advertisements to be derived from the cult of the Simple
Life. Her cottage at Maidenhead consisted merely of a hall,
sitting-room, bedroom, and bath-room, together with a tiny kitchen,
where she did for herself. The humble necessary charwoman came every
morning to scrub and scour, and, besides that, when at Maidenhead Adela
Burton lived entirely alone. One had to look to the graphic writers of
society papers adequately to describe the personality and menage of a
woman like Adela Burton, for they were beyond the scope and intellect of
the ordinary novelist. Possibly no living woman had contributed so much
to the income of the paragraphists who make their living by describing
the toilettes and eke the pots and pans of ladies of fashion.

"I am sure I congratulate you," Denne said, in his same grave way. "Let
me see, what is the amount of this fabulous fortune? One authority, I
understand, puts it at five millions."

"I haven't the exclusive knowledge of these favored journalists," Adela
laughed. "But I shall deem Providence open to criticism if it is less
than a million. Famous Samuel Burton could not leave his adopted
daughter less than that. Now have you ever read of a more delightful
romance outside the pages of a halfpenny paper? Here am I, taken from a
humble sphere at a comparatively early age, and educated to the purple.
I am not allowed to know what relation Mr. Burton is to me. All I know
is that I get certain remittances from a New York firm of lawyers, who
always warn me not to ask unnecessary questions. Ever since I was
seventeen I have practically had as much money as I have cared to ask
for. Now the trust has expired, and by the mail which comes in to-day I
am to learn all about it. Possibly I am to have the happiness of seeing
my benefactor, and thanking him in person. I rather gather that he is
coming here this evening, and that is why I am not to have the happiness
of winning any more of my friends' money. Now, answer me a question, Mr.
Denne. Why do I always win at bridge? It makes not the slightest
difference to me whether I lose or not--"

"My dear young lady," Denne said in a monotonous voice, with all the
expression squeezed out of it, "you have answered your own question. And
after that gentle hint you gave me just now, it is time Vanstone and
myself were moving. May I be permitted again to offer you my sincere
congratulations in advance?"

Denne and his companion stepped out through the crystal glass porch,
heavy with the scent of tropical flowers, and gay with pink and yellow
orchids, into the sweetness of the air. The former drew a long, deep
breath of relief. For the moment the poetic side of his nature was
uppermost.

"What a night!" he murmured. "How wholesome and pleasant after the
heated atmosphere we have just left! I declare that blackbird yonder is
scolding us. Well, he certainly has the best of the argument. My dear
fellow, 'Idalian Aphrodite Beautiful' certainly has the popular
approval. She would take the pries hands down in a beauty show, though,
after all, Aurora has the dainty and more spiritual beauty of the two.
Vanstone, tell me candidly, why did you bring me here?"

Denne literally thrust the question at his companion. There was a sudden
and searching change in his manner.

"Oh, I'll be candid," Vanstone laughed, a trifle awkwardly. "It is no
use trying to deceive you, I know. I want you to do your best to save
that woman from herself. She is young, beautiful, and capable of the
most generous impulses, and yet, with a soul and mind and body like
hers, she is frittering away life amongst those chattering magpies."

"Making souffles instead of substantial soup," Denne laughed. "Oh, my
dear chap, you are quite wrong. What a travesty it all is. Here is a
three-roomed cottage, furnished with the loot of a score of palaces, a
sitting room almost Ouidaesque in its luxuriance, a five-hundred pound
freehold, with a couple of thousands spent on the electric light, a
kitchen to cook porridge and poach eggs designed by an Eschoffler, and
costing the income of an ambassador. Fancy the simple life in Paris
frocks, and pap served up in Charles II. porringers! The whole thing
appeals irresistibly to one's sense of humor. And, don't forget, that
this enchantress is going to marry Mark Callader. Any woman who would
stoop to marry Callader is absolutely beyond mortal aid. Nothing but
conversion to the Salvation Army would meet a case like this."

"That is why I want you to interfere," Vanstone said eagerly. "We all
know what Callader is. He has the instincts of a Squire Western, and the
mind of a pugilist. I am certain that man would knock a woman about,
especially if she were his wife. He would be far happier tied up to a
fifth-rate variety artist. You can help me if you like, and I am going
to make a personal favor of it. I am not a bit in love with the girl
myself. Besides, she wouldn't look at me if I were. But I honestly
believe if you took Adela Burton away from her surroundings, she is
capable of becoming a good woman. I know you believe in nothing, but at
any rate, I'll ask you to give me the credit of good intentions."

"I'll try," Denne said sardonically. "If there is one man I know more
than another who is given to self-sacrifice you are that foolish and
slightly idiotic person. Still, you might have asked me to help an
honest woman."

Vanstone stared at his companion in astonishment.

"I don't know what you mean," he stammered.

"I mean exactly what I say," Denne replied in matter-of-fact tones.
"Your paragon amongst women plays bridge with people who can't afford to
lose. The whole thing disgusts me. Stare as you please; if you will come
to a dinner party I am giving, I shall be able--but there--what does it
matter? And yet perhaps--"




CHAPTER II.--PANDORA SHOWS HER HAND.


At last all the guests were gone, the frivolous silken rustles had died
away, the mass of inane femininity had departed. Nothing remained but a
subtle suggestion of effete perfumes, and the acrid insinuation of
tobacco smoke. The flowers were struggling now to come into their
kingdom. A cluster of narcissus in an old Ming bowl began to assert
itself. With an impatient sigh Adela pulled back the curtains, and flung
open the long French windows leading to the lawn. She stood drinking in
the fragrance of the evening. The breath of the spring night touched her
cheek caressingly. The blackbird in retrospective mood was still
whistling softly on his porch. It was practically dark, and a sense of
desolation swept over Adela as she turned back into the room again.

"What a fool I am!" she soliloquised. "All the more so, because I am not
devoid of intellect like most of the people who have just left. I wonder
what they would say if they knew, if they realised that I have actually
come to the end of my tether, and have not a five-pound note in the
world to call my own. I wonder if this is the end of it? Perhaps the
funds are exhausted, for it is scarcely likely that those American
people would have written intimating that it was useless to apply to
them for further money, and that, in future, Mr. Burton would
communicate with me himself. Is it possible that some rich crank has
been playing a joke upon me? No, that is hardly credible. I don't think
that any man, however rich, would keep up a joke, which, from first to
last, has cost him a hundred thousand pounds. I have not long to wait. I
shall soon know my fate."

She stopped to gather up the cards which lay on the floor, like the
gaudy parti-colored leaves of an autumn forest, and placed them
methodically away. She emptied the ash trays, and sprinkled the
sitting-room with sanitas so that the flowers in the Prinus jars began
to pick up their heads, and the whole atmosphere became sweeter. It was
so dark that the purple shadows beyond the French windows were almost
menacing. With a shiver of apprehension, Adela closed the shutters and
pulled down the blind again. It seemed to her fancy that she heard a
footstep on the gravel. With a smile at her cowardice she put the fear
from her. As she stood waiting vaguely for something to happen, as one
does in moments of nervous tension, she imagined she could hear the
bathroom window raised gently and closed again. It came upon her with
overpowering force that it was half a mile to the nearest house, that
she was alone, and that there was booty enough here to keep a score of
burglars in afluence for the rest of their natural lives. Instinctively
she walked across the room to where the telephone receiver hung. She had
her hand upon it when something touched her arm. All her combative
instincts were awake. She was ready for real, palpitating danger. It was
only the intangible that frightened her. Her eyes gleamed with anger.

"What are you doing here?" she demanded.

The intruder made no reply for a moment. He pressed his hands to his
sides. The panting of his breath filled up the silence of the room. He
might have been some fugitive seeking sanctuary. But for a moment his
limbs failed him, and he staggered to his fall. There was time for Adela
to gaze at him from under her long purple lashes. She had it in her to
study him calmly and critically.

Evidently this was no creature to be afraid of. In age he was about
sixty, with a mass of white hair, and grey moustache that dropped over
the corners of his lips. His face was handsome in its way, though seared
and lined. He gave an apprehensive glance over his shoulder which told
its own tale. For the rest, he might have been a broken down derelict
cast off from some cavalry regiment. He certainly had the air of a man
who had seen service--a man who would be at home amongst refined
surroundings. His eyes were blue, small eyes, that told of cunning and
wickedness, eyes that spoilt what otherwise might have been a benevolent
face. He was dressed with some attempt at smartness, though his grey
frock-coat was faded and discolored, his patent leather boots were down
at heel. Adela knew the type. Doubtless this had been a man of clubs in
his time, a man to whom the topography of the West End was as an open
book.

Beyond question, this man had come to beg and whine, to plead some
pitiful tale, more or less true, and in her indolent way Adela was
already feeling in her pocket. A deal of promiscuous charity has its
origin in indolence rather than generosity. The man seemed to realise
what was passing through the girl's mind, for he raised his hand
protestingly. It was a long, slim hand, and Adela saw that the nails
were pink and filbert-shaped. She saw, too, what puzzled, and, at the
same time, alarmed her. The hard, sly cunning had died from the
intruder's blue eyes. His whole face had changed its expression to one
of deepest interest, and almost filial affection. Adela would have found
it hard to express her feelings at that moment. Disappointment and fear
and horror were uppermost.

"What are you doing here?" she repeated.

"They followed me," the man gasped, as a curious dry hard cough seemed
to choke him. "They nearly had me outside the station. I was an accursed
fool to come back again. I might have known that I was not forgotten.
There are a score of men in England to-day who would go a long way to
put a spoke in the 'Colonel's' wheel. And now, my dear, how are you? Ha!
There is no need to ask that question. If ever I saw anyone with the
true air about her, you are she, ruffling it with the very best of them,
too. Oh, bless you. I have read all about it in the papers. Laugh, well,
I should think so. But, you see--"

A fit of coughing choked the speaker's utterance again. He pressed a
dingy handkerchief to his lips, and Adela saw a faint smear of red upon
it. She was standing opposite the speaker, breathing quickly and rapidly
herself, and unable to overcome a feeling of evil.

"Once more, what do you want?" she demanded. "From what you say, you are
flying from justice."

"That is so," the man replied coolly. "I thought you would enjoy the
joke, and so you will when you have heard it. How like your mother you
are, to be sure!"

Like her mother! The words seemed to be tangled and twisted in Adela's
brain, just as a physical pain starts at the touch of a raw and bleeding
nerve. Had this degraded wretch known her mother, the mother she did not
remember herself, whom she naturally thought of as someone exalted and
beautiful? Yet he spoke of her as though they had been on the most
familiar terms.

"Did you know her, then?"

"Know her! I fancy I did. Why, there wasn't a man or boy in New York
twenty years ago who was not familiar with the name of Sophie Letolle.
But people are soon forgotten in these days. Ah, there was a woman for
you? Handsome? Handsome's not the word. Daring and ambitious, too. What
a queen she would have made! I ought to have married her myself. I
should have been in a very different position now if I had. But she
never cared for anybody but poor Jake, who was a feeble sort of creature
at the best. Ah, my dear, it is not from your father's side that you
inherit your brilliant qualities."

"Jake!" Adela repeated the word again and again. It was suggestive of
some handsome, degenerate bar-loafer--the type of man who often attracts
the admiration of a dashing and clever woman. Yet there was something
almost amusing in the suggestion. That man could not be Adela's father.
It was incredible that she had had her being in some gorgeous butterfly
known to man as Sophie Letolle. Oh, no, surely she had a clean and more
refined ancestry than that. Adela had assumed so much from the first.
She had known no care, no spoilt darling in Society to-day occupied a
better position than she. The whole thing was a mistake. This man had
come to the wrong house; he had taken her for someone else. She must put
him right at once.

"Stop!" she said. "There is something wrong here. Do you know who I am?"

An absurd, almost senile affection gleamed in her visitor's eyes.

"You are Adela Burton, the adopted daughter of the celebrated Sam
Burton, the American millionaire. It is astonishing what the British
public will swallow if you only go the right way about it. I could sit
down and laugh when I see you in the lap of luxury, with your portrait
in all the papers, and ever so many peers at your feet. What would they
say if they knew the truth? The paragraphs about you I have read, heaps
and heaps of them! The gorgeous things they have said about Sam Burton!
And all the while there hasn't been any Sam Burton at all. At least, not
in the sense that people suppose. My dear girl, I hope, for your sake,
that you are an admirer of Dickens' works."

"I have a great liking for most of them."

"Then you will remember 'Great Expectations?' Do you recall Pip and his
wonderful fortune?"

Adela nodded. It was coming to her mind with illuminating flashes. She
recollected the story of Pip and his phantom fortune--that memorable
scene when Pip's fairy godfather appeared in the shape of the desperate
hunted broken-down convict, whom the lad had helped so many years before
in the old churchyard on the marshes. And as this picture began to stand
out warm and tangible, a dreadful fear gripped Adela by her white throat
and held her speechless. The man was mumbling, but a horrible grin
overspread his features.

"Don't you see the analogy?" he said. "Pip helped a convict, and in
after years the old man helped him. There was a time when you helped me.
You were only a tiny tot, and probably the incident has faded from your
mind. But your pluck and courage got me out of a tight place, and I've
never forgotten it. I was always a sentimentalist at heart. Besides, you
were fond of me then. I fancy I can feel those kisses of yours on my
lips now!"

The power of speech returned to Adela in an uncontrollable torrent. A
thousand questions trembled on her lips, but she kept herself in with an
effort. The atmosphere had grown suddenly cooler. She felt cold and
shivered from head to foot.

"You had better tell me whom you are."

"So you haven't guessed? Do you mean to tell me that you are in the dark
still? Then let me introduce myself. I am the famous millionaire; the
only and original Sam Burton."




CHAPTER III.--TRAGEDY OR FARCE?


Adela groped her way to a chair, as if she were blind or fumbling in the
dark. It never occurred to her to doubt what the intruder said. She took
it all absolutely for gospel. There was no hint of mirth about the
speaker. Evidently he was in deadly earnest. He stood with his hands
under his long coat tails like a statesman in the hour of his triumph.
The leering look of affection was on his face. Adela shuddered as she
wondered whether he would expect her to kiss him.

But one fact stood out as clearly as a beacon light on a stormy sea. The
man was a criminal. He had not told her so, but Adela knew that as
plainly as if the facts had been proclaimed in a court of law. The
veriest tyro in crime would have stigmatised Burton as a shy man with a
shady reputation. He had the tone and accent of a gentleman, it is true,
and he had passed most of his time, doubtless, in cultivating refined
society. But there was no getting away from the hideous suggestiveness
of his mouth, and the wicked cunning in his blue eyes.

Nor could she escape the fact that this man had loaded her with
benefits. If this were Sam Burton, and the girl saw no reason to
question it, she was under a debt to him that she could never repay, and
she could not even claim relationship. For years past he had devoted his
life to her happiness and comfort. He had educated her, paid her
extravagant bills unmurmuringly, surrounded her with every luxury and
extravagance that the heart could desire. He had confessed to being a
sentimentalist. This was the one clean, sweet romance of his otherwise
spotted existence. He had been carried away by the genius and power of
Charles Dickens' work. He had elected to play the role of the old
convict, and Adela was Pip in another form. Was this a ghastly tragedy
or a screaming farce?

For the first time the girl laughed. It was a hard laugh with a touch of
hysteria behind it. She glanced from the self-satisfied figure standing
before the fireplace to the evidence of wealth and refinement around
her. She could see the outlay of a fortune almost within reach of her
own slender ringed fingers. This picture had a history of its own, and
the halo of the big cheque about it. There was a carpet, which had cost
half a score of lives to make. Here was a piece of statuary beyond the
purse of anyone but a millionaire. And this was only Adela's country
cottage. There was a flat in St. Veronica's Mansions, Westminster,
compared with which this bungalow was simplicity itself. Every penny of
the money had come from the pockets of the imagined millionaire, but was
probably the fruit of audacity and crime! Possibly the stranger had a
suspicion of the trend of Adela's thoughts, for he stretched out one of
his long, slim fingers and pointed to a Corot half hidden behind a
feathery bank of palms.

"I remember that picture," he said. "It used to hang in the house of a
virtuoso in Florence. You would laugh if you knew how it came into my
possession. Didn't I send it you on your twentieth birthday? Yes, I am
sure I did. I remember it because I forwarded those old Dresden beakers
at the same time. We got lots of stuff from the chateau of that mad
Hungarian Prince when his castle was burned down. As a matter of fact,
there wasn't any fire at all. I think that was about the best and most
simple scheme I ever invented. Over forty thousand pounds' worth of
plunder, and no one so much as suspected. I sent you a certain trio of
Rembrandts, too. Where are they?"

"In my London flat," said Adela feebly. She was past emotion, or anger,
or tears. She lay back in her chair limp and listless, fascinated in
spite of herself.

"That's right," Burton said encouragingly. "I am glad you are taking it
in the right way, because, you see, the game is pretty well played out.
I am not the man I was, and if the doctors tell me truly I haven't very
long to live. I daresay you remember that business a year or two ago in
Paris over the Countess De Trouville's diamonds. I believe the affair
created a considerable sensation. I got it bullet in my left lung then,
and have never quite recovered. But for that I might have kept up the
glorious game to the finish. But, what does it matter to a clever girl
like you? You are in the very first flight. You pass for a girl with a
fabulous fortune. You are even more beautiful than I expected you to be.
Ah, the salt of the earth--that's what you are--the salt of the earth."

The speaker turned the phrase around his tongue a dozen times, as it he
liked the flavor of it.

"You'll get nothing more from me," he said. "I am played out. I have
enemies, too, ready to give me away. The police know that I am in
England. It was only by the greatest good luck that I escaped them
to-night."

The speaker stopped to cough again. Once more he pressed his
handkerchief to his thin lips. For the first time Adela noted how white
and drawn he was. She became conscious of his labored breathing. She was
recovering, now. The first crushing weight of the blow was passing away.
No wild desire to cross-examine troubled her. She knew that this man was
speaking the truth. She felt very much now as Pip had felt when the
hunted convict turned up in the old chambers at the Thavies Inn.

At one stroke the whole fabric of her dreams had been shattered. As a
matter of hard, cold fact, she was not the salt of the earth at all. She
was merely the offspring of some impossible creature whose face had been
her fortune and whose audacity had been her bank-book. Of all the carved
and gilt frauds at present haunting London she was the worst. For the
last year or two she had been courted and flattered, she had basked in
the smiles of royalty, she had been the guest of more than one ducal
house. Modern society without Adela Burton seemed almost impossible. Of
course, there had been a good deal of anxiety of late, especially since
the American remittances had ceased. But Adela had not seriously
troubled about that. She had looked forward to seeing her benefactor,
but she had never dreamt to meet him in a guise like this. Now she knew
she was an big an impostor as himself.

Her path lay clear before her. But would she take it? In her heart of
hearts she knew she would do nothing of the kind. Besides, she could
always fall back upon Mark Callader. Callader was going to marry her for
her money. Indeed, he had made little disguise of the fact. On the
whole, Adela would have the best of the deal.

"Won't you sit down?" she asked.

Burton did not appear to be listening to her. He stood up rigidly, as a
fox might do when he hears the hounds. His tense expectation, the hard,
drawn lines of his mouth filled Adela with apprehension.

"There is nothing to be afraid of," she said.

"Not for you, my dear, you are all right. The police don't know
everything yet. Little do they dream of the connection between myself
and Miss Adela Burton. But I should like to know--what's that?"

Adela heard the sound of footsteps crunching on the gravel, the quick,
impatient ripple of the front-door bell. The whole aspect of the man
changed. A cruel, vengeful light lurked in his eyes. He was breathing
thick and fast. A moment before he had been holding an envelope in which
something sparkled. He placed the contents in his breast pocket, but the
envelope slipped, unnoticed by him, to the floor. Before Adela could
speak he had vanished in the direction of the bath-room. Then she heard
the front door open, and a man strode into the roam.

"Are you quite alone?" he asked.

"Yes," Adela said mechanically. "But what are you, of all men, doing
here?"

"I came with the police. There is a man I am looking for. I ran against
him by accident at Victoria, but he managed to elude me. I suppose he
hasn't been here?"

"Is it likely? Is it a new society fad to hide criminals? Doesn't it
strike you that you are behaving absurdly, Mark?"

Mark Callader shook his head doggedly.

"I am sorry," he said. "Of course I had no business to come in like
this. But we actually found that fellow's foot-prints in your garden.
Funny thing he should have come here, wasn't it?"

"Very," Adela said indifferently.

Mark Callader frowned. He stood there big and strong, a little
embarrassed, and conscious of the fact. He was clean-shaven like most of
his sort. He had the face of a pugilist, the heavy square features of
the man who gets his living in that way. There was a blue tinge on his
skin, which was slightly indented like the rind of an orange. One could
imagine him in evening dress, spending his time in a sporting den, and
gloating over the sickening spectacle of two human beings pounding each
other to a jelly for a purse of gold. The same type of face and form is
familiar at race meetings. For the rest, he was well-dressed, and up to
his neck had the semblance of being a gentleman. Mark Callader could
boast of a long line of ancestors, and the possession of considerable
property. But there the resemblance to the man of high caste ceased. He
had the courage and dogged resolution that distinguish his class. He was
always at one end of the gamut of passions. There was no limit to his
love and his hate, and Adela could imagine him like another Othello with
his hand on the pillow and murder in his heart, should the Desdemona of
the moment play him false. To sum up, he was rich, and in the smart set
to which he belonged this covered a multitude of sins. A sullen, sleepy
look of admiration lit up his eyes--the small, deep-sunk eyes, which he
turned upon Adela. Perhaps because she loathed the type and the manner,
Mark Callader fascinated her; but it was largely the fascination the
snake has upon the bird.

"I am sorry I intruded in this fashion," he stammered. "But you know I
never stop to think."

"Oh, I know that; I was merely thinking it strange you should have
traced this fugitive here. I am afraid you have had your journey for
nothing, as far as I an concerned."

"Sure you haven't seen him?"

"My dear Mark, have I not already said so?" Adela responded. There was
nothing for it but to lie. However she might despise herself, she must
be loyal to her convict. "As a matter of fact, you are detaining me. I
ought to have gone out before now."

A sudden suspicion seized Callader.

"Then why are you not dressed?" he retorted. "You can't go out and spend
the evening in that rig."

Adela would have given anything to get Callader out of the house. She
hoped he would not see the evidence of her falsehood, proof which
literally was at his feet, for upon a Persian prayer rug lay Burton's
stained handkerchief, and close beside it the envelope which had dropped
from his pocket. If Callader saw either he would never rest till his
suspicions were dispelled or confirmed, and even as Adela was racking
her brain for some plan to induce him to leave, he stooped down and
picked up the envelope from the floor. She could see it shaking in his
hand, and noticed how the blunt thumb-nail was pressed into the thick,
white paper.

"What's this?" he said hoarsely. "An envelope addressed to Douglas
Denne, and something inside it, too. Hang me, if it isn't a Mazarin
ring--the Mazarin ring, mind."

The tiny circlet of gold glittered in the air as Callader held it up to
the light. The gold workmanship was quaint and artistic. A series of
claws held three engraved diamonds in a kind of cluster. Adela
recognised the ring at once; indeed, everybody with any knowledge of art
had heard of the Mazarin ring. It was no time to wonder how it got
there, to marvel how it had come into Burton's possession, or how it
managed to slip from his pocket. It was fortunate, perhaps, for Adela
that Callader was gazing at it with rapt admiration. His love and
knowledge of antiques of all kinds was the man's one redeeming feature.
There was no dealer in London or Paris who could teach Callader anything
on the subject of art. He had the Renaissance at his finger tips. His
own collections were well nigh priceless. It was known to a few that he
made large sums by dealing. If he cared to run any risk to mortgage his
soul for anything, it would only be for a piece of rare furniture or a
famous picture. Mephistopheles himself would have chosen such bait for
him.

"How did this come here?" he demanded.

"The thing speaks for itself," Adela said. She had recovered her
self-possession. "Mr. Denne has been here this afternoon with some of
the others playing bridge. No doubt he dropped the ring and envelope out
of his pocket. Perhaps it is a good thing I have found it. Now, if you
don't mind--"

"Oh, I am going. I suppose I shall see you at Denne's dinner to-morrow
night. You will have a good opportunity to give him the ring back."

The front door closed. Adela was alone at last, and threw herself into a
chair. She tried to analyse her confused and painful thoughts. She was
like one cast away and derelict on a dark and stormy sea.

"Is it tragedy or is it farce?" she pondered. "So I am the salt of the
earth? What would they say if they knew?"




CHAPTER IV. THE KEY OF GOLCONDA.


Denne's offices were a dominant note in the architectural harmony of the
Thames Embankment. The building stood out light and graceful as some
Venetian palace, the whole structure being of marble, most of which had
been imported. There were well-kept walks and gardens and lawns trim and
velvety, as if they had been laid for a century. The ground floor was
principally devoted to business purposes, and above were the magnificent
suite of rooms where Denne kept his art treasures, and were he
entertained his friends in his own lavish fashion. To a certain extent
he had followed the lead of the New York millionaires in Fifth-avenue,
but there was a note of originality which inspired everything that Denne
did. He had his own swimming bath and tennis court; its fact, he had
enjoyed the building of his palace, and was tired of it long before the
last nail had been driven into the last carpet. In his cynical way he
was wont to declare that he had built the place to oblige his friends,
though who his friends were he would have found it difficult to say.

Denne was seated in his private office playing with his correspondence.
Despite his many interests, and the score of irons he had in the fire,
he was by no means a hard-working man, for, like most of his class, he
had the gift of picking out the right men to do the work for him.
Without this attribute it is impossible for a man to be a
multi-millionaire.

So long as Denne rode the whirlwind and directed the storm, the rest
followed automatically. He pushed aside a pile of signed letters and
shrugged his shoulders. What an easy game when one came to understand
it! How comparatively simple to pile up money when the information is
right, and one has the exclusive use of a private cable. There were
times when Denne was sick of making money--and this was one of them. He
pressed one of the numerous buttons by the side of his writing table,
and gave an order to the clerk who appeared in reply. A moment later a
little man with a shiny bald head slid noiselessly into the room.

He was a strange-looking creature, small and slightly bent. He had a
face of exceptional pallor, save at the roots of his hair, which was a
bright parchment yellow. The skin on the face was devoid of a single
wrinkle, the restless dark eyes had all the fire and sparkle of youth.
The man's moustache and whiskers were black and lustrous and unstreaked
with grey. His hands were soft as if well manicured. There was a touch
of the effeminate about him, and yet a close observer would have noticed
that in some faint intangible way Paul Lestrine suggested ripe
experience allied with the full weight of years. As a matter of fact,
the man was old, so old that he could hardly recollect how many years he
numbered. All cities seemed one to him; he was equally at home in Paris,
or Rome, or Vienna, and spoke half-a-dozen languages fluently. There was
Italian, French and Russian blood in his veins. He was Ishmaelite to his
finger tips, but clever, close, and secret as the grave.

There was a strong affinity between these two men, though they repelled
one another, and Paul Lestrine hated his patron with a malignity that
left nothing to be desired. But Denne was a generous employer, and
Lestrine loved money. He was fond of it for its own sake. The mere touch
of gold in his palm was to him like a draught of wine to a weary
traveller. Who he was and whence he came Denne had not the slightest
idea. It was enough that he was a man who carried out strange
commissions and secret orders swiftly and silently without question.
Nothing that Denne could suggest caused any surprise on the part of
Lestrine. It was merely a question of money, and for a handsome cheque
he was prepared to do anything that Denne put in his way.

Denne nodded curtly, and Lestrine bowed.

"Did you manage to get it?" Denne asked.

"Even so, sir," Lestrine replied in perfect English. "I have done
exactly as you wished. It cost me more money than I expected, but the
picture is in my office. Perhaps you would like to see it."

Denne nodded again, Lestrine slipped out of the room, and returned a
little later with a square brown paper parcel which he proceeded to lay
upon his employer's table. He stripped the covering aside, and there
stood revealed a portrait of a woman of rank in the best style of
Velasquez. Denne laid his hand almost lovingly on the canvas. Here was
one of the few things likely to stir some of the sap of his dead
enthusiasm.

"Magnificent," he said. "Ah, you are even cleverer than I took you to
be. So this is the Velasquez."

"It is, sir," Lestrine went on in the same voice. "This is the picture
which was stolen some two centuries ago from the Royal Palace at Madrid.
For two centuries collectors have been seeking it in vain. According to
so eminent an authority as Hoppenheim, the picture was originally
brought to England and came into the possession of a man of family in
the North of Scotland. His successors were ignorant of the value of
their treasure, and, indeed, for some thirty or forty years the
Velasquez was used as a fire screen in the hall."

"Yes, we know all about that," Denne said. "But suppose we send the
picture to Christie's, what will it fetch?"

"Forty-five thousand guineas," Lestrine answered promptly. "That is what
the picture would bring. Am I over wrong in matters of this kind? But
surely, sir, you would never sell it. You couldn't find it in your heart
to part with a treasure like that. Besides, it has already cost you half
that sum."

"Quite right," Denne smiled. "I haven't the faintest inclination to
place it under the hammer. As a matter of fact, I am going to give it
away."

Lestrine expressed no surprise or indignation. On the contrary, his back
curved to a rounder angle, his features were pinched and condensed into
a kind of silent mirth which had something almost Mephistophelian about
it. There was a dry, hard joke somewhere, and it touched Lestrine on his
humorous side.

"Ah, what it is to be able to dispose of things like a Napoleon," he
chuckled. "When I go to the theatre, all the world becomes the stage,
and the men and women merely players at a wave of your cheque-book. To
whom do you think of giving this picture, sir?"

There was no sign of mirth on Denne's face. He permitted Lestrine to
indulge in an outburst like this sometimes.

"To Mr. Mark Callader," he said. "I think you have already had the
pleasure of meeting Mr. Callader. He does me the honor of coming here to
eat my dinners and use my tennis court. He even brings his friends also.
My good Lestrine, tell me in confidence, what you think of Mr.
Callader."

"Yahoo," Lestrine said with a convulsive grin. "A choice blackguard, my
patron. Oh, I know there is nothing one can put one's hands on. But that
man is an out-and-out blackguard. If he had been poor he would have
found himself in gaol long ago. Half the women in London are running
after him, and yet I wouldn't place any dog of mine under his care."

"He is going to marry one of the handsomest women in the world," Denne
said inconsequently. "I suppose you don't look upon Miss Adela Burton as
a lucky girl."

Lestrine made a movement as of one who handles a whip.

"He will beat her. He will abuse her. It is in the nature of the man.
And so it is to him that you are going to give this beautiful picture!
Do you know what I would do with you if it were safe?"

"Knife me, perhaps," Denne laughed.

"No, my master," Lestrine said coolly. "Violence is not to my taste. I
would poison you rather than you should part with this marvelous
treasure. I would rob you of it now if I could. I would keep it under my
humble roof where I could worship it day by day. In all the wide world
there is nothing like art. It is the one thing in all the wide world
that satisfies and never deceives you. But I am rambling. What do you
want me to do?"

"I was coming to that," Denne said thoughtfully. "Out of all the
singular commissions I have given you this is, perhaps, the strangest
and most unaccountable. You know Mr. Callader's place in the North, the
seat in Northumberland, which he is nursing till his nephew comes of
age?"

"Do I not?" Lestrine responded. "Is there a single palace or castle in
Europe whose treasures I have not inspected? I tell you all such things
are wasted in Callader Castle. There are almost priceless works of art
in those dark rooms on which the blessed sun never shines. I don't
suppose Mr. Callader even knows what he has got. It is strange that so
fine a judge should be so careless as to the disposal of family
treasures."

"Well, I am not complaining," Denne said. "What you have pointed out to
me is a distinct asset in the game I play. Now, what I want you to do is
this--of course, nobody knows that the great Velasquez has come into our
hands."

"Not a soul."

"Very good. Then you are to go north with the picture. Find some pretext
for visiting Callader Castle, and take the Velasquez with you,
ostensibly on the ground that you wish to compare it with other pictures
there. You will contrive to leave it behind, concealed in some
out-of-the-way place, and later on some virtuoso must find it, so that
it will appear quite natural that all these years the finest Velasquez
has been hidden away at Callader Castle. There will be no trouble over
this. Much the same thing has happened to a score of famous pictures."

Lestrine expressed no surprise.

"Of course the thing can be managed," he said. "It is not for me to ask
why you are putting all this money in Mr. Callader's pocket. It is only
for me to do as I am told."

"I have my own ideas," he said. "No matter what end I mean to achieve.
Take the painting away and do exactly as I tell you. I want to be
alone."

Very carefully and tenderly Lestrine wrapped up the painting, hugging it
to his heart as it it were a beloved child. He passed out presently on
the side stairs, muttering to himself as he went, a puzzled frown
knitting his brows.

"What's his game? That is the only man in the world who baffles me, and
the world seems to understand him well enough. I would give five hundred
pounds, aye, a thousand pounds, to know what this means. Timeo Danaos et
dona ferentes. I would not stand in the shoes of Mr. Callader, not even
to own the Velasquez."




CHAPTER V.--THE LAST GUEST.


It was past six o'clock when Denne closed the door of his private
office, and went upstairs to his private apartments. He was giving a big
dinner party in the evening, but for the moment he had forgotten all
about it. He had had other things to occupy his attention, but now it
came back into his mind, and he smiled as he retired to his room to
dress. He came down presently, and glanced into the dining-room, a
self-satisfied smile crossing his lips as he looked at the table.
Everything was in red from the shades of the electric lamps to the
masses of flowers. The prevailing note was accentuated by the pale,
cream-colored panels on the walls. A servant or two hovered discreetly
in the background, probably waiting for the approval of their master.
With a word or two of praise he slipped into the salon, where he awaited
his guests. One of the first was Vanstone.

"You are a wonderful man," the artist said, as he dropped into a chair.
"You are the only rich man I have ever heard of who has a genuine love
of art. Most millionaires buy art treasures because its the correct
thing. I suppose it is the only way they can get rid of their money.
Now, your case is different. I always like to come here early so that I
may feast my eyes before those chatterboxes come and spoil everything.
By the way, have you thought any more as to what I said to you about
Adela Burton?"

"What did you say about her?" Denne asked.

"Oh, come, you know perfectly well what I said. It is a thousand pities
that she should throw herself away upon a man like Callader. If she were
one of the ordinary social butterflies I would not care. But that girl
has a great soul in a beautiful body. She is capable of noble things.
That is why I asked you to go out of your way to save her from Callader.
I hope you haven't asked her this evening?"

A peculiar smile crept over Denne's face.

"Indeed, I have," he said. "My dear fellow, I will do all I can to help
you, but I cannot permit you to come between me and my amusements. You
see, being a very rich man, I have so few of them. How do you propose
that I should help Miss Burton? Do you wish me to marry her?"

"You might do worse," Vanstone laughed, in spite of himself. "To quote
one of your own sayings, 'a man of means can do anything.'"

"I believe he can," Denne said coolly. "Anyway, make your mind easy. I
don't think Callader will marry Miss Burton after all. I admit the girl
fascinates me, and it would be a shame if she married a bounder like
Callader. No, I am not going to tell you anything. But, touching the
little matter of the bridge party the other night--"

The arrival of a couple of guests put an end to further confidences. The
salon was filling up rapidly, and there was a general murmur of
conversation from the secluded corners, where people were already
arranging themselves. Presently the door opened and Adela Burton
entered, her face serene and smiling. There was no hint of trouble or
despair in her splendid eyes. She floated gracefully to her host's side,
and held out her hand. If the shadow of the convict hung over her, she
knew how to disguise the knowledge from Denne. Close behind her came
Callader himself, heavy, stolid, and smiling as usual, yet with a
certain air of possession which caused Denne a passing irritation. It
was like Bottom and Titania up-to-date; the simile was trite, but it
rose swiftly to Denne's mind. He smiled as he bowed over the girl's
hand.

"I have not seen you," he said, "since you came into your fortune. I
hope that everything came up to your expectations."

Adela smiled brilliantly. Callader nudged her awkwardly.

"Don't forget the ring," he muttered.

"Oh, yes, the ring," Adela echoed. Her dazzling smile had become fixed
and mechanical. "I had quite forgotten it, but I have it in my hand. You
see, Mr. Callader insisted upon my bringing it. You were careless the
other night, even for a millionaire. See what you dropped in my room."

The diamonds flashed and glittered as the girl held them out in her slim
fingers. Denne was taken by surprise. It was the Mazarin circlet beyond
the shadow of a doubt. He had paid a fancy price for it some time
before, and could have sworn that the ring was at that moment safely
locked away in one of his safes. But it was no time to ask questions,
with Callader standing there, sudden suspicion glowing in his dull eyes.
He might find an opportunity later to cross-question Adela as to how the
ring had come into her possession. For the present, her eyes mutely
appealed to Denne for silence and discretion, and the man of fortune
responded. He took the ring coolly and gracefully, and slipped it in his
waistcoat pocket.

"That is very good of you. I don't know how I came to drop it, and,
believe me, I had not missed the ring. You have not told me whether your
fortune came up to expectation?"

"I cannot tell you, for the simple reason that I don't know," Adela
laughed. "As yet, Mr. Burton has not put in an appearance. Probably he
was detained by business. At any rate, I am still in the position of
pleasurable anticipation."

"I daresay Mr. Burton has a good excuse," Denne said. "He is a most
peculiar man, and has his own methods of doing things. He will appear
probably at the time when you least expect him--to-night, perhaps."

Adela's eyes opened wide. A certain pleasing doubt assailed her.

"Do you mean to say that you know him?"

"Well, yes," Denne said, gravely. "I have known the man who calls
himself Samuel Burton for many years. I have not always been in my
present position. Time was when I had to work hard for my living like
the rest of us."

Adela listened, her lips slightly parted, her eyes shining like stars.
Yet she hardly dared to ask the question that trembled on her lips, and
it was almost with a sense of relief that she was swept aside by other
guests. She shook Callader off and crossed the room to a far corner,
where she seated herself apart from the rest. Vaguely disturbed, she
began to wonder if she had been the victim of some deception. Surely
Denne could never have been on friendly terms with the seedy impostor
who had forced himself upon her. Perhaps she would have an opportunity
of asking questions presently and justify the mystery of the ring in
Denne's eyes.

She sat there thinking the matter over, till the last guest had arrived,
and the company drifted in pairs to the dining room. Adela noticed that
one of the seats was empty. Her host was explaining that one of his
guests had not yet put in an appearance. Then it seemed to Adela that
the name of Samuel Burton was floating around the room.

"I hope to have the pleasure," Denne was saying. "It will be quite a
dramatic surprise, and give a certain eclat to the evening. It will be a
sincere happiness if the meeting between Miss Burton and her fairy
godfather took place under my roof."

Adela looked up from the table from her contemplation of flashing silver
and crimson, and the dazzling red of flowers.

"Is that possible?" she asked.

Before Denne could reply one of the servants threw the door open, and
stood there erect and stiff.

"Mr. Samuel Burton, sir," he said.

Adela's heart gave a great leap, and her eyes fell. For the moment she
sat white and trembling.




CHAPTER VI.--TOUJOURS L'AUDACE.


In her mind's eye Adela plainly pictured the denouement. She could
almost pick out the phrases in which the paragraphists would describe
the scandal. It was only a question of when the blow should fall. A
score of people present would be only too pleased to pass on and retail
the delicious morsel for the benefit of other frivolities who lived
mainly for bridge and tale-bearing.

Well, if she had got to go through it she would know how to behave; it
would be better so, than continue the horrid masquerade of being a woman
of wealth and fashion when she was nothing but a penniless adventuress.
With an easy smile on her face, she sat calm and collected, waiting on
events. She had done nothing wrong thus far, and would be an object of
pity rather than of scorn and blame; but if she allowed the opportunity
of disclosure to pass, she would then deserve all that fate might have
in store for her. The people round her were mostly supposed to be her
friends; she saw them in a kind of mist, a dreamy tangle of gleaming
arms and shoulders, of glittering jewels, of draperies light and frothy,
as sea foam on an August morning. She wondered how much longer her
environment would consist of shaded lights and feathery palms and ferns,
priceless pictures and rare carpets from the Far East. It would be,
perhaps, better to cut it short there and then, and take to an honest,
if monotonous livelihood. Then the tangle straightened itself out again,
and Adela was herself once more.

At any rate, it was not for her to take the first step. She would wait
for the inevitable explosion, which possibly might come from Mark
Callader. Would he recognise, in this man Burton, the fugitive whom he
had pursued to the cottage at Maidenhead? If so, the catastrophe would
be immediate and spontaneous. Much with the feeling of one who follows
some moving stage tragedy, Adela glanced at Samuel Burton.

He was the same, and yet entirely different. The shabby frock suit had
vanished, giving place to an evening dress which bore the unmistakable
hall-mark of Bond-street. The cunning half-cringing fugitive looked
every inch a man of fashion. There was not a crease in his coat, nothing
in his attire from top to toe to which the most fastidious might take
exception. His tie was beautifully knotted, his linen was spotless; he
was well groomed, too, his white hair lay smooth and sleek, his grey
moustache was perfectly tended, He might have passed for an elderly buck
of the military type, and a club lounger in the most exclusive coteries.
His manner was natural and easy, as he came forward and shook hands with
Denne. He turned with a smile, at once paternal and patronising towards
Adela. Most of the women were watching him under their eyelids. Callader
stood with a moody frown upon his coarse, red face. He was evidently
trying to place this man, wondering where he had seen him before. He
seemed to give up the problem presently, for he shrugged his shoulders
slightly, and said nothing.

"Now this is really very good of our friend, Denne," Burton murmured.
"My dear child, you scarcely expected to see me?"

Adela's smile was non-committal. She was waiting for a lead, and flashed
one questioning glance into Burton's eyes. It was the first step which
marked the understanding in the conspiracy between them. She ought to
have said, of course, that she had not seen Burton before, and to have
asked for an introduction. But with all those Society women about her,
she lacked the necessary courage at the moment. Not one of her supposed
friends but would have rejoiced in Adela's downfall. She had been too
self-willed and overbearing; had led too long not to have made enemies
on the road. Perhaps, for the first time, she was beginning to realise
how cold and cruel the world was and what an artificial thing was this
fetish called society.

"I thought so," Burton went on. "It was Denne's idea that we should meet
here. I have done business with my friend, and I was inclined to agree
with him. I hope, my dear child, I shall come up to your expectations. I
hope you will find Samuel Burton, the millionaire, less formidable than
some people seem to think. Denne, will you introduce me to these
acquaintances of yours?"

Adela could only sit smiling and admiring. It was impossible to believe
that this well-dressed, easy, cultured man of the world was the
broken-down fugitive who had crept into her cottage asking for
protection from the police. She could see him now as he had stood then,
breathless and panting; she could see the dingy handkerchief pressed to
his lips, and stained with blood. His cough seemed to have vanished,
everything seemed to have changed, and Adela was certain that at their
last meeting that well-trained grey moustache had had no place upon the
criminal's face. She wondered whether Denne was in the conspiracy,
whether he knew anything of the amazing history. But Denne was gravely
piloting his friend around the room, introducing him to one and another
of the curious women. They were more than civil, of course; for the most
part they went out of their way to make themselves agreeable to this
handsome, debonair old man, for was he not reported to be worth five
millions at least? Callader alone stood aloof with a puzzled frown on
his bulldog face, and a steady gleam in his deep-set eyes. On the whole,
Samuel Burton was a success. Evidently he was a man to be taken up, to
be made much of. Presumably he would take a house in town, and entertain
largely in honor of his adopted daughter. Most of the women envied
Adela, and did not hesitate to show it. They crowded round her now with
fulsome compliments.

Her spirits were rising. A certain recklessness possessed her. After
all, there were the elements of comedy in this strange drama, which
would be in the cheap press tomorrow, and fill a column or two of the
weekly papers; the dresses and the dinner would be described, and Adela
would have more than a fair share of journalistic adulation. She was
amused to see the easy way in which Samuel Burton appeared to dominate
the conversation. Her only fear was for Mark Callader. He had taken her
into dinner, and sat by her side moody and preoccupied. He was still
watching Burton in that intent patient way of his. Perhaps it was some
trick in the old adventurer's voice, perhaps some gesture of hand or arm
which brought illumination to him, for his heavy face seemed to light
up, and he turned and glared at Adela. Then he faced round upon Burton
and paused for a lull in the conversation.

"Haven't we met before?" he asked.

Burton smiled in a patronising way.

"That is exceedingly likely," he said, "for I have been in many
countries, and most cities. I suppose it must be forty years since I
left the army, and set out to make my fortune. My name was not Samuel
Burton then, but that is a mere detail. Now that I come to look at you,
Mr. Callader, you do remind me of a man I met some years ago in Paris. I
am afraid I am not exactly complimentary, because the man I am speaking
of was a particularly choice scoundrel."

To Adela the words, softly spoken as they were, appeared to convey
something in the nature of a challenge. She saw Callader pass his tongue
over his lips much as a savage dog might have done, and waited
breathlessly for what was to come next. She could hear the ripple of
conversation, she could catch the rustle of silken draperies, the clink
of glass, the soft tread of the servants as they moved about the room.
This was the setting rather for a brilliant comedy than for the hideous
tragedy which loomed so close at hand.

"Now, that's a strange coincidence," Callader said in his sullen way,
"for the man you remind me of was a scoundrel, too. And, strange to say,
I met him by accident in London recently. He was very like you."

Burton laughed as he lifted a glass of champagne.

"Ah! well he must have been a good looking man. Now, my acquaintance
happened to be a man in an exceedingly good position. Only one life
stood between him and one of the oldest titles in England. I understand
he was the young man's trustee, too. I forget where the family seat was,
but it was a magnificent old place, crammed with art treasures. Do you
know what that man was doing? Why, he was actually selling the pictures
and plate, and having them replaced with copies, so that he could put
the money in his pocket without the slightest risk of being found out. A
picture he offered to a friend of mine first aroused my suspicions. I
took the matter up and soon discovered that my surmise was right. Now,
what do you think of that for a new and ingenious form of swindling?
Fancy the son of an English marquis playing a trick like that! You see
how little chance there was of his being detected. The pictures and art
treasures were heirlooms, and consequently there was no chance of their
ever coming into the open market. An expert might question the
genuineness of the copies, but, then, the family would have only smiled
at his doubts and innuendos. I can tell you more stories of the same
sort."

Callader's eyes had dropped. He was worrying at a nectarine on his plate
as if the fruit had done him some harm, and he was taking his revenge
upon it. He was still the watchful bulldog, but the dog had received a
severe thrashing, and was safe upon his chain. Adela could see how the
blood crept into his face and down the back of his thick neck. She knew
he was fuming with sullen passion, and yet some instinct told her that
for the present, at any rate, his rage would have no vent. What Burton
was saying was so much Greek to her, but it was plain that Callader
understood. It was plain, also, that he had determined to take his
defeat with the best grace he could, for he turned to Adela with a
forced smile on his lips.

"Your fairy godfather will be a success. Have you met him before?"

There was something behind the question, and Adela parried it
discreetly. It would not do to tell Callader too much.

"I was as much astonished as anybody else to find Mr. Burton here this
evening. I suppose he thought he could not do better than announce
himself at one of Mr. Denne's dinners. But have you met him before? Is
he like the man you were speaking about just now?"

"Marvellously," Callader grunted.

"Then I must beware of him," Adela smiled. "I shall have to beware of
you, to, for that matter. What a scandal if it were proved that you were
in the habit of selling the Callader pictures!"

The jest appeared to find no favor in Mark's eyes, for he muttered that
Adela was going really too far.

"Pardon!" she said. "It was a thoughtless jest. Those nectarines look
very tempting. Please pass me one."




CHAPTER VII.--THE PICTURE FRAME.


After dinner the smoke of cigarettes began to drift across the table,
and Adela and her companions were in the drawing-room. She would have
given much to be alone, to think this matter out. Even as she sat
smiling and chatting, her words were spoken almost mechanically, and she
had little idea of what she was saying. For she had taken the plunge.
She had permitted this hideous fraud to pass, and, morally speaking, was
part and parcel of it. She had been swept off her feet by the resistless
tide of events, and felt that a cruel fate had been altogether too much
for her. But, then, what could she have done? She could not have risen
to her feet directly Samuel Burton appeared and denounced him as a
criminal, a man who had not earned an honest penny for twenty years.
Besides, the man had been kind to her, extravagantly, grotesquely kind.
She was no relation of his, she had no claim upon his purse, she was
merely the daughter of a notorious woman, whose name had once been a
by-word in American drinking saloons. And this Samuel Burton had chosen
to make her the centre of the one romance in his life. For twenty years
he had lavished money upon her, and surrounded her with every luxury. He
had worked and slaved for her till her position had become unassailable.
Yet if these women knew, oh, it they only knew!

What would they say? What would they think? At least half a score of
women around her were known to some of the greatest in the land, and
were familiar with the atmosphere of Courts. But if one might read their
secret hearts, perhaps they might be no better or worse than Adela
herself. Still, they were the smartest of the smart. Their sole object
of idolatry was Money wherewith to procure the luxury and extravagance
upon which their whole souls were centred. That was why they were making
all this fuss of Adela, why they were descanting on Samuel Burton's
fortune, and speculating about its amount. In imagination they were
already making the millions fly.

"You will know how to handle him, Adela," one of them was saying. "I
don't know anyone better able to lead a guileless millionaire the way he
should go. He is very fond of you."

"He has imbibed the very best of American traditions," another remarked.
"A man should slave to amass money, and a woman should have nothing to
do but spend it. Well, dear Adela has lived up to her part honorably.
She has neglected no opportunity of spending. You will start with a
house in Park-lane, of course, my dear. It is fortunate that the Bendorf
smash should come just now. The Bendorf mansion in Park-lane is quite
lovely. Then you will have a place in Scotland, and a country house not
too far from town, and a beautiful steam yacht for your friends. No
doubt many other brilliant ideas will occur to you. These hints will
suffice for the present. There is a deal of enjoyment to be got out of
five millions. I am told that is what Mr. Burton is worth."

Adela shrugged her shoulders carelessly. She was looking her best and
most brilliant. A faint pink had over spread her cheeks, and her eyes
were sparkling. There was something malicious, too, in her amusement. It
pleased her to see how these women flocked around and flattered her, for
this evening she would play the game. What to-morrow might bring forth
she would leave till to-morrow. She knew the bubble was bound to burst,
that before long the glittering sphere would vanish into nothingness,
leaving naught but disaster and disgrace. For Samuel Burton had come to
the end of his tether; he had told Adela so plainly. She thought of the
handkerchief with its faint stains of blood. Samuel Burton was a dying
man; he had no longer the energy or audacity of youth, and though he was
carrying his head high just now, the collapse might ensue at any moment.

"I don't know what my plans will be," Adela explained. "As yet I have
given the matter no consideration. Of course, it is impossible that
things should go on as they have been doing, now that my benefactor has
come to England. I have no doubt he will be good to me, and continue to
spoil me, but as to the future--"

The girl paused; it was irksome to keep up the society small-talk, and
she longed to be alone. For the first time for many years it was borne
in upon her that somewhere or somehow there surely was a better and a
higher and a purer life. The artificiality of the present mode struck
her and rendered her discontented and weary. She would be identified
with the audacious swindler who called himself Samuel Burton, and might
have to stand in the dock, and stand her trial for colossal fraud. It
tried her courage to the utmost to sit laughing and chatting with these
people with such a weight and gloom hanging over her, and she gave a
gasp of relief when the men came filing into the drawing-room, and Denne
walked over to her side. He appeared quiet and subdued. Most of the men,
indeed, were not in their usual lively spirits. Samuel Burton had not
appeared, and, somewhat alarmed, Adela looked up questioningly at her
host.

"Where is my--Mr. Burton?" she asked.

"I was going to talk to you about him," Denne replied. "I am afraid Mr.
Burton is not at all well. He had a kind of fainting fit a little while
ago, and we had to take him into the open air. At present he is in my
smoking room. He declined to let us send for a doctor; in fact, he made
light of the whole affair. He says it is nothing unusual, and he will
join us in a few minutes. Perhaps you would like to go and speak to him.
I think you know where he is to be found."

Adela was nothing loth; indeed, she regarded the incident as an
intervention on the part of Fortune. What Denne had said had escaped the
chattering women about her, so that she managed to leave the
drawing-room without attracting any attention. She came presently to the
smoke room--a large apartment close to a corridor leading into a winter
garden. Here she found Burton seated in an armchair with his head in his
hands. He looked up with a queer smile as he saw the girl approach, but
his lips were white and he had some difficulty in breathing.

"It is all right," he whispered. "I am getting better. A few more
attacks like this, and there will be an end of Samuel Burton. It is my
heart, my dear, and the attacks are none the less painful because they
are my own fault. Now go back to the drawing room, and talk to your
aristocratic friends and leave me alone. I shall be quite myself in a
few minutes."

"Don't you think we had better go? I want to speak to you. I must have
this matter settled one way or another. I am bewildered and frightened,
too. For the first time in my life I know what fear is. How you came
here tonight and managed to deceive clever Mr. Denne I haven't the
remotest idea. But Mark Callader suspects you. He knows there is
something wrong."

Again Burton's face wore that queer smile.

"Don't worry about Callader," he said. "You have nothing to fear from
him. Dogs do not fight dogs, at least not when they are about the same
size. I should have liked to give you a word of warning before I came
tonight, but there wasn't time. My child, it will be all right
presently. That dear, delightful Mr. Burton, the millionaire, will take
his adopted daughter home, and then we can have a talk. Now return to
the drawing room, and enjoy yourself."

Such a notion brought a smile to Adela's lips, but Burton refused to say
more. So she joined the women again. She could play her part for half an
hour longer, but the half hour expanded to three-quarters, and still
Burton made no sign. Adela flashed a glance across at Denne, and he came
over to her.

"I think we had better go," she whispered. "Evidently Mr. Burton is no
better. I will take him home if you will ask one of the people to call a
hansom."

Denne obeyed her wish. When they reached the smoking room, Burton was
standing before the fire-place with a cigarette in his long, slim hand.

"I am better now," he said. "But I think, if you don't mind, Denne, I'll
get back to my hotel. I shall be all the better for a night's rest. It
was good of you to leave me alone, and give orders to your servants to
keep away. What a lot of beautiful things you have in this room! If
there is one thing I admire more than another it is pictures, especially
when matched with fine old frames. Look at that frame on the table. Did
you buy it for an Old Master?"

"It's a painting," Denne explained, "and a very valuable one, too. The
Florentine frame suits its perfectly."

"But there is no picture in it," Burton protested.

Denne smiled as he strode across the room. Then his face changed and an
exclamation of annoyance broke from his lips.

"This is very extraordinary. At dinner-time there was a picture in that
frame, and what is more, it was one of the most perfect specimens of a
Velasquez I have ever seen. I have an agent called Lestrine who is a
perfect marvel at picking up works of art. He bought this Velasquez for
me, and took it away for a time, but must have brought it back to show
me something about it. That is how I know it was in its frame. Perhaps
he has removed it from the frame for greater security."

Burton seemed to be mildly interested, and walked up to the frame.

"But it hasn't been removed," he exclaimed. "Look for yourself! The
canvas has been cut clean away from the stretcher. The job has been very
neatly done, too. The picture has been cut."

Denne bent over the frame. It was characteristic of the man that he made
no fume or outcry.

"A robbery," he said. "One of the many artistic thefts perpetrated by
the same clever gang. I am much obliged to you for calling my attention
to it. I will ask you to keep this matter a secret; it is important it
should not be talked about, or get into the papers. But I had quite
forgotten that your hansom is waiting."

Denne turned to the door as if nothing had happened. He saw his visitors
down the lift, and into the street, put them into the hansom, and bade
them good-night.

"I will see you to-morrow," Burton said. "Oh, by the by, I have
forgotten my umbrella. I walked here to-night, and I brought it instead
of a walking stick. You might ask the porter to fetch it."




CHAPTER VIII.--SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE.


Adela gave the necessary directions to the driver, and as they drove
along the dismal position of her affairs again occupied her thoughts. It
would be no longer possible to pose as a great heiress. Even the
immediate future looked black and threatening, for she had no money, and
was deeply in debt. A few days ago the debts seemed nothing; they would
easily be wiped out by a cheque from her benefactor; but now they would
overwhelm her. How could she pay them? Looking listlessly out of the
cab, she passed a score of shops, at each of which her account was very
large, at each of which she was welcomed with a smile and the obsequious
always shown to the lavish customer. Half unconsciously she began to
reckon up her indebtedness, and its amount was appalling. Five or six
thousand pounds at least would be required to set her free.

But where was the money to come from? Certainly not from the man by her
side. He had shot his bolt. The end to the meteoric career of Samuel
Burton was at hand. The passer-by might not deem the brilliant man of
the world played out. But Adela had been permitted to peep behind the
scenes, and she knew.

Indeed, Samuel Burton looked anything but done for.

There was a smile upon his face, the snatch of an operatic air upon his
lips. He seemed to be perfectly at ease, and interested in the bustle of
the traffic, and recognised a score of people in passing vehicles. He
was chattering gaily enough when Adela's flat in St. Veronica's Mansions
was reached. He criticised her drawing room with the air of a
connoisseur.

"Very nice, indeed. I like your tone colors immensely. Your scheme of
letting pictures into the panels has my warmest approval. Perhaps your
lamp shades are a trifle too effeminate, but, on the whole, it is a most
charming room, a sort of restful place that brings out all one's best
qualities. But it must be expensive, my dear child, very expensive. Have
you ever considered what this costs you?"

Adela shrugged her shoulders and Burton smiled benignly.

"I thought not," he said. "From what I could see of the hall, I presume
everything is on the same gorgeous scale. I remember, about a year ago
reading in one of the New York papers an article all about your flat. My
dear, you can't think how interested I was, and I was not the less
amused because just at that time I was suffering from a temporary
reverse of fortune. In the language of Brer Rabbit I was lying low, hard
put to it to obtain the bare necessities of life. You can't tell how
curious it was to me to feel that I was the founder of your great
reputation. But keep it up, my dear child, keep it up. You will probably
marry a Duke and become persona grata at Court."

Adela was feeling a sense of shame that tingled through every nerve, the
pain was physical as well as mental. She loathed herself and would have
liked to strip all her finery, to have done anything to stand before the
world with a light heart and clean conscience.

She had met many frauds and shams in her time, but not one of them was
so empty or pretentious as herself. She was no more than a splendid lie,
a living, breathing falsehood. Ah! and she might be worse before long.

"Give me time to think," she cried. "Your society chattering unnerves
me. Can't you see that you have done a bitterly cruel thing? Can't you
see how much kinder it would have been to leave me alone? I have brains,
courage and resolution, and could have made my way in the world. You
assure me you befriended me because I once did you a kindness. What have
you done to me in return? You have ruined me body and soul. You have
allowed me to believe I was a great heiress, have forced me into a
position I was not intended to occupy, and will compel me to sink under
a burden of shame and ignomy and disgrace. You must have known that it
was impossible to keep this up for ever. Nor is that all, for you have
deprived me of the consolation of feeling that all these years I have
been spending honestly earned money. On your own confession you are a
criminal and a thief. From your own lips I have learnt that all this
wealth was the result of fraud and crime. Now you are an old man, past
further conspiracies, with one foot in the grave. Do you want to drag me
down with you? Do you want my creditors to prosecute me for robbing them
as you have robbed other people? Oh, I know it is useless to protest. I
know that my indignation goes over your head. But I didn't think you
were going to be as cruel as this. I did not expect you to lower me to
the level of a swindler and adventuress."

Adela paused for sheer want of breath. She stood, a beautiful, glowing
figure of righteous anger, her breast heaving tumultuously, the diamonds
around her neck sparkling and quivering. Burton leant back in an
armchair, regarding this lovely picture through narrowed eyelids. He did
not seem in the least ashamed or annoyed at her outburst. He might have
been a painter viewing one of his own masterpieces with critical
approval, chastened by experience.

"My dear child," he protested, "my dear child, really, you are going too
far. You might give me credit for a little feeling, for a certain amount
of affection. Now, let me see, it must be something like eighteen years
since I first met you. I was in a very, very tight place then. I daresay
you have forgotten all about it."

"I haven't the smallest recollection of it."

"Ah, but I have. You were the prettiest little thing, and you learnt
your lesson so easily. You had only to tell a little lie or two to put
people off my track. You had only to play a little game of pretending.
Naturally, I am a hard man. I have had to fight my own battles all my
life, but I confess that I was touched upon that occasion, and the more
I thought about you the more did my scheme expand in my mind. It was
only when I heard your mother was dead that I began to put it into
execution. I removed you from your relations. You were running about
with bare feet and were clad in miserable rags; your features were
pinched and drawn for want of food. Do you know what you would have
grown up to if I hadn't taken you away as I did? You would have been a
criminal, my dear child, or the wife of a criminal. At the very best,
you could only have expected to marry a laborer. Fancy you, a slum
mother, with half a dozen children clamoring for food you couldn't give
them! You may smile, but that was the life I saved you from."

Adela shuddered and sat down.

"I suppose you meant it for the best."

"I did," Burton went on. "Every penny I could rake together I spent on
you. I gave you the best of educations, and started you in life. I am
responsible for the position you occupy to-day. Yet I am exactly what
you stigmatise me--a cosmopolitan thief and adventurer. Things were
different at one time. In my younger days I bore an honored name, and
held a commission in a crack cavalry regiment. I will not excuse my exit
from the Army; I disgraced my name and my family, and was cashiered. I
was too clever, my dear, that's the thing against me. I tried to get an
honest living for a year or two, but why go into that? I am what I am,
and I shall never be anything else."

"But that doesn't help me," Adela protested. "How am I to pay my debts?
How am I to get out of this mess? You have little money now, and will
have still less in the future. What will people say when I leave my
tradesmen unpaid? If I had enough to satisfy them, the crash would only
be a nine days' wonder, and my name would be saved."

"How much do you want?"

"Ten thousand pounds, at the very east," Adela said desperately.

Burton sat nodding his head thoughtfully.

"It seems a pity to give it all up, doesn't it?" he asked. "Why do it at
all? I shall be able to find the money you want, and after that it is
possible you may have to provide for yourself. You are a woman of the
world, and I suppose you have contemplated the possibility of making a
good marriage."

"I suppose so," Adela said carelessly.

"There you are, then, what more do you need? And the very man is to your
hand. I don't like him; there's too much of the brute and bulldog in his
nature for my taste. But if you are wise you won't think twice about
accepting Mark Callader. He is rich, and all you want is a hold over
him. That sort of man is always kept best in hand with a big stick, and
you shall have you big stick Adela. I will show you later how to keep
Mark Callader in order, and when he comes into the title and estates in
a year or two--"

"You are dreaming. His cousin is in the way; quite a boy, and a very
healthy one, too."

Burton snapped his teeth together with a clink.

"I know what I am talking about," he said. "Within two years from now
Mark Callader will be Marquis of Kempston. I do not go about with my
eyes shut. Besides, in his way, the man is in love with you, and if you
play your cards properly, you won't be unhappy. I can find the money for
your present wants, but as to the rest, it is in your own hands. Of
course, if you like to tell the truth, you can get out of it all without
a stain on your character, as they say in the police courts. But will
you do it, my child? Are you willing to wear ready-made frocks and live
in a bed sitting-room with two meals a day? I doubt whether you are.
Think it over. You know you can have Mark Callader for the asking, and
as to this money, I'll see that it is paid into your bank by the end of
the week. I am going. You'll give me one kiss, won't you?"

Adela held back. There was an expression in her eyes that brought the
thin blood into Burton's cheeks. Something like a sigh escaped her lips.
Then he laughed good naturedly, though he seemed disappointed.

"Very well," he said. "Perhaps it is too much to expect at present. I
don't think you realise how fond I am of you. Good-night. I declare I
was going off without my umbrella. I must not forget that whatever I
do."




CHAPTER IX.--IN UPPER BOHEMIA.


It was a fine, warm night, and there were plenty of people about. They
were mostly in evening dress, some coming out of restaurants, others
strolling up the steps of clubs. Fleeting visions of women, cloaked and
smiling, flashed by in hansom cabs. It was familiar enough to Samuel
Burton though it was some years since he walked up St. James' street,
and along Piccadilly. Here were the old landmarks still, the clubs he
had known back in his youth. As he sauntered along as if to the manner
born, he made out more than one figure which was known to him. They were
slightly changed, it is true, but Burton knew most of them. He smiled as
he wondered, what they would say if they knew he was so close at hand.
He had belonged to some of those very clubs, and, if he shut his eyes,
could conjure up the old rooms. In imagination he could hear the
stereotyped chatter on sport and play and women.

He looked like one of them, too, as he strode along the broad pavement.
He was well-dressed, and well set up, and might have passed for a man of
position, or a retired officer with a clean life and a clear conscience,
who was going to his club to pass an hour or so away.

Burton had no regret for the past. He was too cynical and hardened a
scoundrel for that. As a matter of fact he rather pitied his former
confreres now, grey and respected, and, some of them, high up in the
councils of the nation. He would not have changed places with any of
them. From his point of view, there was nothing so dull and tedious as
respectability. He had gone out from among them without shame or
remorse. He had thought nothing of his father's pride humbled to the
dust, and of his mother's sorrow. Throughout his tortuous life there had
only been one soft spot in his heart, and that was for Adela Burton.
Interest in her had been started in a whim, but, as he became older it
had grown upon him. He was a man, too, with the saving grace of humor,
and had always admired the genius of Charles Dickens. Gradually he had
conceived the idea of playing the convict to Adela's role of Pip, but on
a larger and more gorgeous scale. He had had his success in all quarters
of the globe; for twenty years there had not been a more plausible
villain than was known to the police in every capital in Europe, to say
nothing of America. Yet, during the long campaign against law and order,
he had been laid by the heels only once. Many great robberies had been
ascribed to him rightly, but the proof was a different matter
altogether. For twenty years he had lived freely and luxuriously, and
during that period the depredations could not have amounted to less than
three millions. No wonder it was easy come and easy go with him, and it
had never occurred to him that the time might arrive when he would be
fit for this strenuous life no longer.

The knowledge had reached him all at once, so to speak. He had awoke one
day to the fact that his heart was hopelessly diseased, that the nerve
and audacity which had served him so long were beginning to fail. He had
heard clean-living sportsmen speak regretfully of the fact that they
could not ride so straight or so hard as they could in their youth, but
he had smiled at them. Now he was comprehending that the weight of years
made all the difference in the world. Sooner or later he had intended to
put Adela beyond the need of considering ways and means. But he
recognised that the opportunity was gone.

He recognised, too, that there was something in her point of view. To
give him his due, he had never intended to be hard or cruel. On the
contrary, he had taken the greatest pride in Adela's career, and oft
enough had pinched himself so that nothing should interfere with her
triumphal progress.

The girl was right; he had placed her in a false position. She might
find herself before long an object of pity or contempt, if not worse.
Still, there was a way out, and Adela would have to take it. The chance
would have to be seized quickly, too, for those heart-pains were getting
worse and worse, and Burton trembled to think what would become of Adela
when he was no longer behind her.

As Burton walked along he began to see his way. He turned into a
brilliant bar, where his quick eye noticed all that was going on. He saw
the people from the theatres drifting in and out of the glittering
restaurant. He saw self-sufficient youth sitting with hat tilted over
its left-eye. He picked out unerringly the lad who was doing wrong, and
whose account was nearly full. He picked out the other type which was
enjoying itself modestly and discreetly. For Burton's instinct was
perfect. It was one of his great gifts that he knew how to chose his
tools. Moreover, though they and not he had suffered, they had never
betrayed him. He turned presently and walked on until be reached his
destination in Frogmore-street, and knocked at the door of a house.

Even from the outside the place conveyed a subtle suggestion of art. The
door was painted a deep green, and bore an old brass knocker. A
neat-looking butler answered Burton's summons.

"Is Mr. Marner in?" he asked.

The butler replied that Mr. Felix Marner was at home. Would the
gentleman be so good as to give his name? Burton produced a card, and a
few moments later was following the butler across the spacious dim hall
into the library beyond. A tall, slim figure in evening dress rose and
extended a hand of welcome. Marner was a striking-looking man with a
brown, sensitive face, obviously the face of an artist and a dreamer,
thought the lips were firm and well-cut, and the nose aquiline. As to
the rest, his white hair reached almost to his shoulders, and he carried
his clothes with an air of distinction. It takes a deal for a man to
attract attention in London, but when Marner walked down the street,
people looked after him, and asked each other who he was.

In point of fact, he was once a painter, a poet and a critic. His
knowledge of art was deep and profound, he was a final authority upon
anything debatable or dubious. He had married the daughter of a deceased
bishop, who was exceedingly prominent in charitable affairs. In upper
Bohemia no couple were more respected than Marner and his wife. They did
not entertain largely, but their hospitality was discreet and choice,
and many people, and good people, too, preferred the entree to number
sixteen Frogmore-street to a call to Park-lane or Grosvenor-square. No
notable gathering was complete without these two. They took their places
easily and naturally. Their own house was a veritable museum of all that
is true and honest in matters literary and artistic.

Felix Marner smiled in his grave, gracious fashion, as he bent to shake
Burton's hand, but directly the door was closed his face grew hard, and
his eyes flashed.

"Why the devil do you come here?" he said, hoarsely. "Are you mad or
drunk? Aren't you afraid of being recognised? You know it was part of
our compact not to see one another. You know that absolute security lies
behind the fine reputation which I have built up for myself, and that it
must not be jeopardised?"

"Your position is unique," Burton said, without the slightest
embarrassment. "I daresay Lord Leighton never surrounded himself with an
atmosphere quite like yours. They tell me that the elect of Boston make
pilgrim ages to the shrine in Frogmore-street. But, my dear sir, needs
must when the devil drives. We have done a great deal of business
together in our time, and I must have put a great many thousands of
pounds in your pocket. I have never been here before and I don't suppose
I shall ever come again. The fact is, I have got my verdict from the
doctors. I may die at any moment. I may expire at your feet even as I am
talking now. I have done a foolish thing, Marner. In one particular
instance I have allowed my heart to rule my head."

"I think I understand; you are speaking of that extraordinary girl,
Adela Burton. Well, it is no business of mine, though I must confess I
have watched the experiment with some interest. But has it never struck
you what is likely to happen to the girl when you are out of the way. I
don't suppose you have saved a single penny. Men of your class never
do."

"Precisely, my dear Felix. We conceive the brilliant designs, we have
the pluck and courage to carry them out, and a timid rascal like
yourself finds the money, and walks off with most of the plunder. I
don't deny that you are clever in your way--on the whole, I should say
your intellect is more profound than mine. I have the very deepest
respect for you, my fellow rascal."

Marner waved his thin hand impatiently.

"Please come to the point."

"I am here to-night because I need money, and I need it in a hurry. In
the ordinary way I know it takes about three weeks to get behind that
wonderful chain of fortresses you have built up between yourself and
those with whom you do business. I wonder what people would say if they
know that Felix Marner was, after all, nothing better--"

"They would say nothing, for the simple reason that they would never
know. Once more, will you kindly come to the point? I don't want you to
be here when my wife returns. She knows nothing, as you are perfectly
well aware. The question is, what have you got, and what do you want for
it?"

"I am prepared to pledge my umbrella, and I price it at ten thousand
pounds. I take it like this, and I open it so, What have I got inside?
Nothing less than a picture. I have had to roll it rather tight, but
that doesn't matter. A hot iron on the back will put that right. Now
behold, my dear Felix, a veritable masterpiece by Velasquez. There is no
doubt that this is the master's work, as you will see at a glance. This
is the very Velasquez which biographers of the Spanish master's work say
has been missing for generations. What do you think of it?"

Marner spread out the canvas on the table. He examined the painting with
loving care. His face lighted up with a fine enthusiasm.

"You are right," he said. "This is the missing Velasquez beyond
question. It will require careful handling, but I believe I can dispose
of it at a price. What did you say you wanted? What will be your share?"

"I have already told you," Burton said. "I cannot take a penny less. You
can take it or leave it, as you please. I know it is well worth the
risk, and I must have the money on Saturday, you see, as I am the only
one who has the least idea where you get your money."

But Marner did not appear to be listening.

"Very well," he said presently. "You shall have your price. Perhaps you
will tell me how you would like the cash, and where it is to be sent."




CHAPTER X.--THE SPELL BEGINS TO WORK.


Douglas Denne, his day's work over, was sitting in his den, deep in
conversation with Lestrine.

"You seem to have been exceedingly busy," remarked Denne, "but so far as
I can make out you have discovered nothing. Now confess it, you haven't
the least idea what has become of the picture."

Lestrine shrugged his shoulders.

"Ah, I thought so," Denne went on, a note of triumph in his tone. "I
take it, of course, that you have strictly adhered to the letter of my
instructions. You have not said anything about my loss to the police?"

"That is right, sir," Lestrine replied.

"I have my way of going about those things. A man who has been all his
life amongst art treasures has two classes of thieves to guard against.
One is the swindler, who takes his risks on the off-chance of disposing
of his stolen treasures in America, and the other is the genuine
collector who ought to know better. There are men in England to-day,
sir, rich and respected, who would not stick at any fraud but for the
fear of being found out. These are enthusiasts, men who love art
treasures for their own sake, and are content to worship them in secret.
There is a friend of yours who wanted one spoon to complete his set of
Apostle spoons. You may recollect that a short time ago a full set were
offered for sale at Maxby's, and that on the day of the sale one was
missing. That spoon is now in your friend's collection. He stole it. It
may seem strange to you--"

"Nothing appears strange to me, Lestrine. Every man has his price, only
one likes the pill gilded in one way, another in another. The longer I
live the surer I am of this. I have made my fortune largely on this
assumption. But don't let us waste time discussing the ethics of
business. You must admit that you are baffled to know where the
Volasquez is; you have not the remotest idea what has become of it?"

"No more than you yourself, sir."

"Ah, if you knew as much about it as I do you would have been more
successful?" Denne replied with an inscrutable smile. "I have my own
ideas as to the whereabouts of that picture, and shall develop my plans
when I feel absolutely sure of my ground. I want you to put the
Velasquez out of your mind altogether for the present, and to procure me
something equally costly, something really unique. It need not be a
picture. It may be a vase, or a cup, or a fine piece of statuary. I
don't care what it is, so long as it is so rare as to be unfamiliar to
collectors. I am prepared to pay for it. Only there is no time to be
lost. Now, do you know anything of the kind?"

Lestrine's face lighted up with enthusiasm.

"I could tell you of a dozen. There are castles in the Black Forest into
which the connoisseur has never penetrated. In one of these is a Saxon
cup, a veritable masterpiece of the goldsmith's art, that would create a
sensation if it came into the market. This I could get for you, but you
would have to pay a fancy price for it, and it would necessitate a
journey to Germany."

"Go and got it. Ask Delaforce for a blank cheque and let me have the
thing here in a week. Understand that you are to leave the missing
Velasquez to me. Good-day!"

Lestrine left the room in his quiet way, a sort of grudging admiration
in his eyes. He was doubtful whether he hated or admired Denne most. In
regard to art matters the man was a lunatic, the type of collector of
whose idiosyncrasies he had spoken so contemptuously. There were certain
pictures and treasures for which he would not have hesitated to connive
at murder. But Lestrine was puzzled and annoyed to find that his efforts
to recover the lost Velasquez had proved unavailing. He knew the sort of
criminal who stole for the sake of gain, the man who would stoop to
theft for the sake of his collection. And up to now, in these matters,
Denne had always taken him into his confidence.

After Lestrine had gone, Denne gave orders that he was not to be
disturbed. He pushed his books and papers on one side, and lighted a
cigarette. He sat immersed in thought for the best part of an hour, and
all this time Adela Burton was uppermost in his mind. He was beginning
to find the girl attractive; something in her personality fascinated
him. In a way, he was sorry for her, for he knew the whole circumstances
of her case. He recollected how Philip Vanstone had declared that the
girl was worth rescuing from the shoals and quicksands of the smart set,
and that it would pay a man to save her soul alive. Few were the people
upon whom he was inclined to waste his sympathy, but there was something
pathetic in Adela's isolation. Denne was a cynic, and shrewdly suspected
that Adela had no friends. She was too beautiful, too ambitious, and
clever, and overbearing to make real friends, especially with her own
sex. She had come to the front, had made a great position for herself
out of nothing, was disposed at times to be harsh and arbitrary, yet her
position was precarious, and she would be a thing for contempt and
laughter, and endless scorn when the truth came out, as it must do
before long. In any other instance nobody would have watched the comedy
with more callous amusement than Denne, but it was very hard upon the
girl; she was likely to be compromised through no fault of hers. She had
honestly believed herself to be a great heiress, and even now, when the
crash was impending, she was holding her head up high and bravely. The
mere accident of circumstance had put Denne in possession of all this
information, and he was pondering the mass of evidence, as a dramatist
might think out the plot of a new play. Was it worth while saving the
girl? Should he be the god in the car and use the wand of his wealth to
ward off the cyclone which promised to sweep Adela Burton out of
existence? From the bottom of his heart he despised the women of Adela's
set. He shrank from the idea of seeing her the sport of their wit, and
the butt of their mean witticisms.

Perhaps Vanstone was right. Perhaps this girl did really possess those
sterling qualities of heart and mind which pointed to the highest ideal.
Vanstone rarely made a mistake, a poet seldom does in such matters. If
the girl was to be saved, then, at any cost, her marriage with Mark
Callader must be prevented. That the girl had made up her mind to marry
him Denne did not doubt. Callader was rich, he might some day be the
possessor of a proud title, and some of the finest estates in England.
Denne paid Adela the compliment of feeling sure that she had formed an
accurate estimate of Callader's character. But, then, what did it matter
to society? Denne could think of a score of beautiful, refined,
intellectual women who had married brutes of the Callader type for the
sake of their money or position; he was still thinking the matter over
when he went up to his room to dress, for he had just recollected that
he had asked Vanstone to dine with him.

The poet came presently, quiet and subdued, as usual. They dined in one
of the small rooms, an oak-panelled octagon, with a few choice flowers
on the table. There were no pictures or elaborate furniture, for when
Denne dined alone he liked to get as far away as possible from the
magnificence of his surroundings. It was a plain meal, too, but washed
down by good Burgundy. There was no champagne and no liqueur with the
coffee beyond some old brandy.

"I think you prefer this kind of thing, Philip," Denne remarked, as he
lighted a cigar. "I fancy I have heard you say so before. According to
the traditions, all great poets are simple-minded people. Let us drink
to the unadulterated life."

"That's right," Vanstone said absently. "We all like to get back to the
beans and bacon sometimes. But don't let's waste time generalising. Are
you going to Adela Burton's theatre and supper party to-night? I know
you had been asked."

"I thought of going."

"Oh, you had better come. Have you thought over what I said about Miss
Burton. She must not waste her life amongst that frivolous lot. You will
laugh, but I should like to see you married to her."

Denne chuckled in amused fashion.

"I daresay you would," he said. "I didn't know you had any ambition to
be a dramatist. Am I to be a puppet in one of your comedies? But,
seriously speaking, my dear fellow, I have been thinking a good deal
about Miss Burton. She will need a friend before long."

Vanstone looked up quickly.

"Is there anything wrong? You don't mean to say that the millionaire,
Samuel Burton--"

"Indeed I do," Denne interrupted. "This must go no further. Burton is no
millionaire at all. He is a devilishly clever old swindler, perhaps the
smartest chap that ever baffled the police of two continents. I shall be
able to deal with him when the time comes, because he has put himself in
my hands. I laid a little trap for him a night or two ago, and he walked
straight into it. We need not go into particulars, but you will
understand that Miss Burton is not an heiress. There will be a mighty
crash before long, which will keep scandal-mongering journalists in
funds for weeks. But that need not trouble us."

"Quite so," Vanstone said softly. "The real problem is Miss Burton. What
is to become of her?"

"My dear fellow, of course, she has already worked out her own destiny.
Mind, I don't suggest that she knows what is going to happen, but I
think you will find her prepared for emergencies. Emergency will take
the form of the transformation of Miss Adela Burton into Mrs. Mark
Callader. How is that for a situation in your comedy?"




CHAPTER XI.--IN SOCIETY.


Vanstone pulled hard at his cigar; and his thin, delicate nostrils
flicked angrily.

"That is what I was afraid of," he said. "It's the very thing we have to
avoid. Upon my word, the idea of that dainty woman selling herself to a
brute like Callader makes me turn cold. Why, the man is a cross-grained
cad whose chief amusement lies in the arranging of prize-fights. It is
inexplicable that such a man should be such a fine judge of art matters.
But he mustn't marry that girl, Denne; he mustn't indeed. She is a
superb creature, and it is not her fault that she has drifted into a
smart set where she shines so brilliantly. That woman would make an
ideal queen. A statesman would find her a perfect helpmeet. Oh, you may
laugh and say I am in love with her myself. I am. But not in the way you
think, Denne, not in the way you think. I worship her from afar--the
desire of the moth for the star. I don't suppose a materialist like you
can follow me. But I want you to give me your promise, Denne; I want to
hear you say that Adela Burton shall not marry Mark Callader."

The whimsical smile which at first spread over Denne's face faded
presently.

"All right," he said; "anything to oblige a friend. But, seriously
speaking, my dear chap, I think I can make that promise. Adela Burton
shall not marry Mark Callader. She may go so far as to be engaged to
him; in fact, she may be engaged to him now. But she shall never become
his wife. I can't tell how I shall manage my plot--you must leave the
details to me. The novelty of the situation will cause me some interest,
and even amusement, and a rich man's amusements are few and far between.
You see, most of them have to be bought, and that is never
satisfactory."

Vanstone's features beamed with boyish pleasure as he glanced at his
friend. Then he rose to his feet and moved towards the door.

"Thank you, Denne, thank you," he said. "Now we had better be moving, it
is past nine o'clock--quite time we joined the party at the Minerva."

"I didn't pledge myself to go," Denne replied. "Still, on second
thoughts, I think I'll come. Callader is sure to be there, and he always
amuses me."

They walked to the Minerva Theatre, and found themselves presently in
Adela Burton's box, which was decorated with flowers, the prevailing
tint being coral red. The hostess was in red herself, and wore corals in
her hair and about her dazzling throat. Most of the women were similarly
attired, and they were attracting the attention of the audience, which
was a consummation most devoutly to be wished for. They were there for
no other purpose, for the society's journals would gush over Adela
Burton's latest fad, and colored theatre parties would be the rage for
some time to come. The curtain had just fallen on the first act when
Denne and Vanstone joined the party. They were received noisily by the
women, and Denne wondered why it was that the smart set were always
given over to noise. Their behavior was only a shade less vulgar than a
Bank Holiday crowd in Epping Forest, and their hilarity was far less
hearty and spontaneous. Adela welcomed her guests with a smile and a few
gracious words. She was never noisy herself, never silly, never
flippant. She left all that to her todies and sycophants.

Adela was looking her best, though her face was unusually pale, and
there was a suspicion of sadness in her splendid eyes. Behind her chair
hovered Callader, hard and dull and sullen, and the suggestion of
proprietorship in his manner which set Denne's teeth on edge. He had
seen them together before, without being in any way affected, but now,
without knowing exactly why, he was annoyed and disgusted. Callader
might, for all he know, have already made his position secure. Certainly
his manner hinted at something of the kind. He reminded Denne of a
coarse sportsman who had come into possession of a pedigree spaniel.
Very quietly and persistently Denne put Callader aside and dropped into
the seat by Adela. Her attention appeared to be fixed upon the stage,
and she replied to him absently and in monosyllable. Denne had never
seen her in such a mood before.

"Did the girl already know?" he wondered. Or was she still ignorant of
the tempest which so soon was to break over her devoted heart? There was
nothing in Adela's manner to point to this conclusion. When the curtain
fell on the last act, the party withdrew to the Dominion Restaurant.
That fashionable resort was full as they entered the supper-room. The
band was playing behind a bank of ferns and flowers. The whole apartment
glittered with gay dresses, and sparkled with jewels. In the centre was
an oval table with coral-red flowers and lampshades, a replica of the
decorations in the box of the theatre. A hundred pairs of eyes were
turned on Adela as she stepped into the room and threw back her cloak.
She was gay and smiling, and appeared to be whole-hearted and happy as
she marshalled her guests round the table, but her animation only
concealed the care that was gnawing at her heart. Was the game worth the
candle? Could she actually bring herself to abandon this mode of life,
which was to most of her party the be-all and end-all of existence.

It would be a wrench, she knew; perhaps what she most feared was the
laughter and contempt of those she called her friends, of the flattering
women who had so long fawned upon her. After all, there was something in
it. It was good to be queen even of a set like that. It was nice to be
waited upon. She would miss the sleek subservience of her servants. She
would miss her dresses and her jewels, and the subtle satisfaction of
knowing that wherever she went she was the centre of attraction and
admiration. Could she give up theatres and suppers and dinners, dispense
with the wild excitement of Ascot and Goodwood, the week-ends at country
houses, and the homage of the crowd of men who always followed her?
There were times when she longed to get away from it all, when she would
have given much to be in a cottage by the sea, or in a country garden
amidst the roses. But for ever? There was the rub.

Well, it was in her own hands. It she liked to speak the truth she could
come out of it cleanly and honorably, but at a sacrifice. If, on the
other hand, she delayed for a month, it would be too late. There was no
occasion to decide at once, for could she not marry Mark Callader? She
had checked a blunt proposal on his lips more than once lately; she knew
she had only to be alone with him, and that one glance from those liquid
eyes would bring him headlong to her feet. She knew the sort of man he
was; on that score she had no delusions. He would probably tire of her,
and drift back to the society of the women he most liked and admired. He
might ill-use her. But on the other hand, he had a past, and Samuel
Burton had promised to give her a whip with which she could scourge Mark
Callader into obedient subjection. All she needed was his name and his
money, and, possessed of these, there was no occasion to be afraid of
anything.

She came out of her reverie with a start, conscious that Denne was
speaking to her.

"A penny for your thoughts," Denne said.

"What! Do you want to make capital out of them?" Adela smiled. "Would
you like to turn them into a syndicate? Well, if you will promise to
respect my confidence I will tell you. I was wondering if all this
gaiety were worth the time and money it demands, or whether I should
ever get tired of it and turn my back on it all."

"Aren't you tired of it now?" Denne asked boldly. "Aren't you sick of
the whole thing? I know that I am. But woman seems never to have done
sowing her wild oats. She is always so anxious to see what the crop will
produce. I daresay later, when you have married and settled down, you
will find a place in the country to your liking."

Involuntarily Adela's glance travelled across towards Callader. He was
sitting on the far side of the table, dull and moody, regarding Denne
with no particular favor.

"So he is the lucky man," Denne went on audaciously. "May I venture to
congratulate you? Oh, that was clumsily put! I mean can I congratulate
him?"

A wave of color flushed over Adela's face. She was afraid of Douglas
Denne, and sometimes considered him a thought-reader.

"No," she said coldly. "You may not. I think it is exceedingly bold of
you to say so much. What made you think that?"

"Only the theory of contrasts. Nowadays the most beautiful women
frequently marry the most repulsive men. I can call to mind a score of
cases. If you look round the room you will see several instances before
you."

"I see the ladies," Adela smiled. "But the men are conspicuous by their
absence. What becomes of your argument then?"

"Oh, my argument is all right, because it is founded on fact. Entre
nous, I am glad there is nothing between you and Callader. But I must
not say any more now. I should like a quiet chat with you, because I
want you to do me a favor. May I look in to afternoon tea when you will
be alone? I know it is a great deal to ask, but believe me--"

"When a man talks like that I always doubt his sincerity," Adela
laughed. "But you can come round on Friday if you like. I daresay I can
spare you an hour then."

Denne thanked Adela gravely, took a little memorandum book from his
pocket, and made an entry therein. Callader's gloomy brows were bent
upon him. He set his own teeth together, and registered a mental vow
which would not have pleased Callader if he could have overheard it.

"That is very good of you," he said. "I must do my best to show you that
I--"

Adela turned aside for a moment, for a waiter had handed her an envelope
containing a visiting card with a few words scribbled on it. The card
bore the name of Samuel Burton, and the line, "Come and see me at once.
A messenger is waiting outside to bring you here. If you fail, you will
be sorry for it ever afterwards. S.B."




CHAPTER XII.--"EAST IS EAST AND WEST IS WEST."


Almost involuntarily Adela glanced at Mark Callader. She hoped that he
noticed nothing, that her face showed no signs of the uneasiness she was
feeling, but, fortunately, he was consulting his watch. He half rose
from his seat and turned to his hostess.

"It is past twelve," he said. "If you don't mind I must leave. I must go
to the East End to see a man about a sporting event which is coming off
at one of the clubs shortly. I ought really to be there now."

Adela acquiesced in a conventional phrase. She was glad to find that it
was past midnight, for they would all have to turn out soon. She
beckoned to the waiter, and asked him to tell the messenger to remain a
few moments. The incident passed as if nothing had happened, and
Callader's powerful frame disappeared amongst the maze of guests who
were leaving the restaurant.

"You are in some trouble," Denne whispered, "You have had bad news. Can
I do anything for you?"

Adela looked gratefully at the speaker.

"You are very clever; you seem to understand everything. Yes, I have had
bad news about an old friend who has fallen on evil days. When we reach
the street I shall be very much obliged if you will take charge of the
party for me, so that my absence will not be remarked. These
frivolous-minded creatures need not know that I am bound for a dubious
part of the town in a cab at half-past twelve in the morning. I am sure
you can manage this!"

Denne was sure of it, too. It was not a difficult matter in his capable
hands. A few minutes later the last motor had disappeared, leaving Adela
standing in her wraps as if she were waiting for a friend. Then from out
of the shadows there appeared a queer little specimen of humanity half
man, half boy, who regarded her with a certain reverent admiration not
altogether unmixed with impudence. He might have passed for sixteen, but
this was belied by the cunning of his face and the keenness of his
intensely black eyes. He had a mop of snaky curls, a tremendous nose,
altogether too big for his face, and his brown skin shone as if it had
been oiled. He was well enough dressed in a suit of flannels, and lifted
his straw hat politely, and brought his diminutive patent leather heels
together as he bowed. In spite of her anxiety and perturbation, Adela
could not repress a smile. There was something boylike about this queer
little creature, yet his easy assurance pointed to one who knew his
world thoroughly, however dark and shady it might be.

"I beg your pardon," he said, in a husky sort of bark, "but I think you
are Miss Adela Burton."

Adela bowed gravely.

"I received a message just now," she replied. "Did you bring it? Do you
know anything about it?"

The messenger winked knowingly. Adela could have boxed his ears for the
sheer audacity of his admiration of her. He walked round her once or
twice much as a would-be purchaser inspects a horse. Adela brought him
up sharply and inquired what she was to do.

"Oh, you come with me, miss. But I had better introduce myself. I am Max
Cordy at your service. The old 'un sent me here to-night. He wants to
see you very badly, indeed. It's a risky business, but he said you would
understand and ask no questions. He's very queer to-night is the old
'un. Got into a bit o' trouble this morning, he did, and that's why he
couldn't come and see you. Besides, it's not quite safe, not altogether
prudent. 'Max,' he says to me, 'I don't think the West End air is likely
to agree with my constitution at present, so you go round to St.
Vericona's Mansions, and get a reply to this note. I was told there
where I'd find you, and that's why I followed you here, lady."

"Mr. Burton is ill?"

"Well, he is and he isn't," was the non-committal reply. "But we are
wasting time here."

"You had better call a cab,"

"Oh, I think not," Cordy said with a familiar wink. "I venture to think
not, my lady. But I don't know; it won't do for you to walk in our parts
in that get-up. I tell you what to do. You get into a cab and drive to
St. Mark's Church in the Borough, and wait for me there. I shall be
there almost as soon as you, because I've got a bike. If I hadn't been a
fool I should have brought a dark cloak for you from your flat."

Adela listened with a sense of utter helplessness. It was strange how
this funny being was taking her in hand, but this was part of the chain
of deceit which she was beginning to drag in lengthening links behind
her. She felt not unlike a criminal trying a fall with justice. She
wondered what the cabman would think of the address she gave him, and
how often he drove a brilliant fare like herself to so shy a
neighborhood. But she would have to go; she was being dragged along
resistlessly. It was part of the price she had to pay in the struggle to
maintain a position to which she did not belong, and to which she had
not been born.

Still, she was not afraid. Fear was not her prevailing emotion. After
dismissing the cabman she had to wait for Cordy, who soon came up
noiselessly on his bicycle. The streets were deserted, save for a few
miserable-looking wayfarers, who regarded Adela with suspicion. Cordy
pointed out that it would be as well to avoid curious policemen, who
might be disposed to ask what a beautifully dressed stranger was doing
in that locality at that hour with such an escort. They turned presently
from the mean street into a street of dirty, forbidding-looking houses,
which for the most part were let out in tenements. It was hard to
believe that this district could ever have been respectable or that some
of the slums occupied the site of open fields. Cordy searched up and
down the street before he knocked at a door which was opened by a
slatternly-looking woman apparently under the influence of drink. She
exchanged a few words with Cordy in a tongue that Adela did not
understand, though it sounded like a mixture of slang and Romany. Then
the door closed, and Adela was invited to ascend the stairs. Cordy
preceded her, and jerked his thumb in towards a room on the landing.

"When you want me," he said, "knock on the floor twice. I'll see you
back to the church, where you can pick up another cab. Anything to
oblige a lady. I don't often get the chance."

He leered horribly, his little eyes twinkling with pleasure. Adela
murmured her thanks, turned the handle of the door, and walked into the
room.

A feeble oil lamp stood upon the bare table, and the rest of the
furniture comprised a couple of chairs and a black iron bedstead pushed
into one corner. On one of the chairs Samuel Burton sat. He was dirty
and untidy. There was a ragged beard of several days' growth on his
chin. His moustache had vanished, and with it also the society manner
which he had carried so well and naturally on the evening of Douglas
Denne's dinner, He was once again the hunted criminal, the broken-down,
whining, cringing creature he was when she first saw him. He smiled
affectionately; there was something almost senile in the fond glances he
threw at the girl. His forehead was bound up in a dirty rag, on which
certain dark stains appeared. It was almost impossible to believe that
this was the man who had shone so brilliantly and easily at Denne's
party. He took Adela's hand and mumbled over it, but on the whole she
preferred him in the role of the hard, business-like, keen, audacious
criminal.

"I knew you would come, dearie. I knew you wouldn't leave the poor old
man by himself?"

"What do you want?" Adela asked coldly.

A fit of coughing racked the emaciated frame, and it was some time
before Burton could speak.

"I sent for you because I had to," he wheezed. "I have got into trouble.
I was a fool to come back to England, but I couldn't resist the
temptation to see the old place before I died, and I also wished to see
how my little girl was getting on. I wanted to see her ruffling it with
the best of them. Many a time, when I have had to step out of doors,
because the police were after me, I have pictured you living here
flattered and sought after, and the thought warmed me. Come what may, I
have done the fair thing by you."

Adela repressed a shudder. For the life of her she could feel nothing
but loathing and contempt for this wicked old rascal, who, to gratify
his own whim, had placed her in this dreadful position. Yet she owed him
everything. No high-born girl in the land, no princess, had been more
pampered and surrounded with greater luxury than she had. Her heart
smote her and she tried to throw something like feeling into her words.

"I am very, very sorry," she said. "Is there anything I can do for you?
Do you want money?"

Burton smiled cunningly as he rose from his seat and drew a portmanteau
from under his bed. He took from it a rustling packet of paper, and
fluttered the crisp, clean notes in his trembling hands. They were bank
notes, as Adela could see.

"Here are ten thousand pounds," he said hoarsely. "They came into my
hands this afternoon, and every penny is for you. You needn't be afraid
to use them, but in spite of all this wealth, I haven't a penny to go on
with. I have been betrayed, and the police are after me. I have to thank
your friend, Mark Callader, for this. But I shall be even with him; oh,
yes, I shall be even with him before I die. I can't move a step from
here, and I don't know which way to turn for this money in my
possession!"

"I cannot understand it," Adela protested.

"Because I dare not handle the paper. Those are all fifty-pound notes.
Not a soul in this house would dare to try to cash one of them. The
thing would be madness. That's why I sent for you. Put them in your
pocket, my child. Don't be afraid, there will be plenty more when the
time comes. Samuel Burton may be old and worn out, but he isn't quite
done for yet."




CHAPTER XIII.--THE MAN AND HIS METHOD.


Slowly and mechanically Adela thrust the packet of notes into the bosom
of her dress. She felt that she was fettered hand and foot now. It was
impossible to refuse, impossible to turn her back upon this old man to
whom she was indebted for everything that had made her life pleasant and
triumphant. Besides, surely there must be some good in one who,
throughout a misspent life, had held loyally to a romantic idea, which
was sincere and honest, and as Adela looked into his face she realised
that the end was not far off. She cared not to quietly fold her hands
and see Samuel Burton spend the rest of his days in gaol.

"What do you wish me to do?" she asked.

"Turn one of those notes into gold and bring it to me. Fifty pounds will
be enough. With that money I can lie low till one or two schemes mature,
and then you can have as much as you want. I'll write to you when it is
safe to come here, and when you come down you will bring me certain
things I need. I can't stay here, and if I don't get away into a purer
air I shall be really and truly ill. But you needn't worry about that.
I'll plan it all out before you come again."

Adela was trying to think out a way out of this impasse. Such a life of
deception should not continue. She would make some excuse for moving
into the country, where she could be alone and nurse this broken old man
back to health. Then she could fade away out of her gay life altogether,
disappear abroad, and in a few months everybody would have forgotten
Adela Burton. She began to speak of this, growing keener and more
enthusiastic as she proceeded. As she went on, Burton lay back in his
chair convulsed with silent mirth, his cunning features wreathed in a
grin that brought the blood to her face and caused her to wish she had
not spoken so freely.

"I couldn't do it, my dear," Burton said. "This sort of thing is the
breath of life to me. An existence like that you describe would drive me
mad in a month. Now just do as you are told, dearie, and don't talk
sentimental nonsense. You don't seem to know how proud I am of you.
There you stand, the best-dressed and handsomest woman in London, a
welcome guest in half a score of ducal houses, and all owing to poor old
Sam Burton. I have worked and slaved for this, and I am proud of the
result. But for me you might have been--never mind what. You go on, my
child, you stick to it. Marry Mark Callader, and you'll be a marchioness
one day. I was going to let him know what it cost to play the traitor to
Samuel Burton, but I have thought better of that, and I wouldn't have
sent for you tonight if I could have helped it. There are only two men I
can trust in the world, and at present they are both in America. Max
Cordy, of course, hardly counts, though he would do anything for me. But
it doesn't do to trust any of them too far. I think it's time you were
gone."

Anxious as she was to leave, Adela hesitated. The atmosphere was close
and oppressive, the sour smell seemed to pinch her throat and cause her
difficulty in breathing. The floor was dirty, the walls were wet and
greasy, the ceiling was black with smoke. Every now and then from the
streets below came the riotous cry of a drunken brawler, or the scream
of an angry woman, or, occasionally, the whine of a child. Truly, the
way of the transgressor was hard. She marvelled that Burton could bear
his troubles so philosophically, that he was so ready to change the
comfort and luxury of his hotel for an unspeakable existence like this.
She made no allowance for the spirit of adventure, for the love of
cunning and audacity which spurs every great criminal onwards. Samuel
Burton would doubtless have told her that it was all part of the game,
that the downs of the profession rendered the ups all the more
enjoyable.

"I will go now," she said. "I will bring you the money and the things
you need directly you send for them. Is there anything else I can do? It
seems so dreadful--"

Adela paused and turned her head away. She heard Burton give two sharp
knocks on the floor, and a moment later the snaky head of Max Cordy
appeared round the doorway. He bowed with exaggerated politeness, his
beady eyes still expressing audacious admiration. He chattered with easy
confidence as he walked by Adela's side until the church was reached.

"Stand here in the porch," he whispered, "while I fetch a cab. I shan't
be long."

The minutes dragged till they totalled thirty, and still there was no
sign of Cordy's return. Adela was becoming impatient. She could not
remain there all night. Probably she would meet a policeman, who would
show her where to get a cab. She walked swiftly along the road,
forgetting what a strange figure she must cut in her opera cloak and
satin shoes, and diamonds glittering in her hair. She grew conscious
presently that someone was following her, and she quickened her steps.
Then, from out of a side street, a man lurched against her, and she
staggered back in alarm. The man behind closed up, and Adela was
terror-stricken as she looked from one repulsive face to the other. They
were new types to her, they had never come within her purview, but she
knew by instinct what these men were and how great her peril was.

"There's no call to be frightened, my dear," one of the men said
hoarsely. "It's all right. I've lost my way, too--taken a wrong turn
coming home from the opera. This is not a very nice neighborhood, and
you had better let me take care of those pretty stones for you. They'll
be safe with me."

Adela gave one despairing glance down the deserted street. There was no
policeman in sight, and as she turned to fly a rough hand was laid upon
her shoulder, and another dragged her back by the throat. As she opened
her lips to scream that awful grip tightened, the world swam round her,
a million sparks danced before her eyes.

"You are quite safe," said a voice that seemed to come from a long way
off. "All you've got to do is to behave yourself, and you won't come to
any harm."

Adela trembled in every limb, but she saw clearly that her safety lay in
obedience. She had heard of outrages in which the victim had
disappeared, never to be heard of again. She could feel a rough hand
fumbling in the coils of her hair, and pulling at her jewels. Then the
ruffian who was handling her fell back with a curse and a cry. A third
man had appeared upon the scene, a welcome intruder who took in the
situation at a glance. Her two assailants turned upon him threateningly,
and she fancied she saw the glint of steel in the light. Then, in a
dreamy kind of way, she realised that Mark Callader was standing by her
side, with a peculiar grin twitching his hard mouth. His face was dark
and set, and his eyes gleamed angrily.

He stepped back a pace or two, then with lightning speed he lunged
forward, Adela heard the stinging impact of flesh upon flesh. She saw
one man measure his length upon the pavement, the back of his head
coming down upon the stones with a sickening crash. Then Callader seized
the other man by the throat, and banged his head against a wall until he
collapsed, a white, convulsive heap, by the side of his mate.

Adela stood with clasped hands watching it all. She was glad, almost
vindictively glad, and at the same time filled with terror. She had all
a woman's admiration for strength and courage in a man. It seemed to her
that Callader was splendid, almost god-like. There was no mistaking his
magnificent nerve, his confidence in himself, his assurance of victory.
The light of battle was in his eyes, he fairly revelled in the fray. It
was all over in the twinkling of an eye. The two ruffians lay moaning
and groaning, and as Adela put her hand to her head, she felt that her
diamonds were safe. Then the elation died and gladness died out of her
heart, and fear took their place. She was grateful for Callader's
championship for the kind fate which had brought him to her rescue, but
he was the last man in the world whom she wished to meet in the
circumstances.

For the moment he said nothing, but merely offered his arm, which Adela
accepted in silence. He piloted her along the road with the air of a man
who knew where he was. He did not appear in the least disturbed. Even
his dress tie had not shifted in the struggle. It was not till a cab was
found at length and the driver awakened on his seat that Adela spoke.

"I cannot sufficiently thank you. Can't I offer you a lift as far
as--"

"Oh, I'm coming," Callader said coolly, as he stepped into the cab. "I
haven't asked for an explanation; there is plenty of time for that. Rest
yourself till we reach your flat. I am going to see you safely home, and
perhaps you will give me a cigarette and whisky and soda."

Quiet as his tones were, yet there was something truculent about them.
He paid the cabman, and followed Adela into the drawing-room. How
refined and luxuriant and grateful it looked, Adela thought, after the
vile-smelling den she had just left. The scent of the roses and Parma
violets was grateful to her nostrils. She was thankful for the shaded
lamps which somewhat hid her features from the scrutiny of those
close-set eyes. She threw back her cloak, and stood in all her
resplendent beauty. She passed over the cigarettes, and poured out the
whisky with a trembling hand, Callader watching her as a cat watches a
mouse. His dull, coarse face spoke of admiration as well as suspicion,
and Adela had an unusual feeling that she was utterly in this man's
power.

"Well," he said, "aren't you going to tell me anything."

Adela forced a smile to her lips.

"Have you any right to know? Of course, I am profoundly grateful to you,
and you behaved splendidly. I never saw anything more magnificent. But
if you want to know what I was doing in that neighborhood, I am afraid I
can't tell you. I had to go and see an old friend who is in distress,
and was foolish enough to try to find a cab myself. That is all."

"Oh, indeed," Callader replied. "Was it a man or a woman whom you went
to visit? If I were not particularly interested in you, it would not in
the least matter."

Adela laughed as she dropped into a chair, and was beginning to recover
control of her nerves.

"Mark," she began, "you are intolerable. You forget that you have no
right--"

Callader crossed, and laid his hand upon her shoulder.

"No," he said hoarsely, "but, by heaven, I mean to."




CHAPTER XIV.--GOLDEN FETTERS.


The touch of Callader's hands seemed to bear Adela down much as if she
were being forced into some abyss from which there was no escape. They
were such strong, capable hands. She was conscious of the springy
muscles. How easy for a man like Callader to choke the life out of her.
She had all the sensation of one who is drowning. A feeling of
suffocation filled her throat, and she trembled lest she might lack the
courage to keep this man at a distance.

She could not but admire his pluck; indeed, this was Callader's greatest
asset. All women are attracted by that; it is perhaps the quality they
admire most in men--a survival of the pre-historic instinct which was
obtained when the cave-dwellers took their wives by force, and brute
strength was their first and final argument.

Yet, there was nothing brutal about Callader just now, nothing but a
suggestion of certainty which filled Adela with more fear than any
outburst of anger or vituperation. She knew perfectly well that Callader
could compel her to do anything at that moment. She had no illusions,
either, no affection for him; nothing, indeed, except a shrinking fear
and detestation.

As he looked down into her face she hardly dared try to read his eyes.
She would have given much to be alone, to have this trying ordeal ended.
But there was no mercy in Callader's eyes. Adela knew that he would not
be denied a hearing.

"You are hurting me."

"Don't talk like that," Callader retorted. "I am not hurting you in the
least. Why do you behave like this? What's the use of you pretending you
don't know how much I love you?"

He had taken the plunge, and with it Adela's courage was returning.
After he took his hands from her shoulders she seemed to rise to the
surface again.

"Do you?" she asked thoughtfully. "Now, I wonder if you really care for
anybody? I wonder if you ever consider anybody in your life but
yourself?"

"I don't know that I do," Callader said candidly. "But that does not
affect my question."

"Oh, doesn't it? I should have thought it made all the difference in the
world. What you take for love is a merely passion--the animal instincts
of a strong man. My dear Mark, believe me, you don't know anything about
love at all. How could you? Your have always had your own way. You have
always been headstrong and reckless. You have never counted the cost of
anything. Love is self-sacrificing, disinterested, unselfish."

Callader laughed openly.

"What's the good of talking all that sentimental nonsense?" he said.
"Honestly, I don't know what you mean. But there's one thing I'm certain
of, and that is, you shall marry me. Everybody is looking forward to it
as a matter of course. Perhaps I am a fool because I know so very little
about you."

"You are candid," Adela smiled. "I suppose that is proof of your
disinterestedness. The fact is that you know nothing about me is in my
favor, and the fact that I know a good deal about you is, perhaps,
greatly in your disfavor."

Adela spoke quickly and nervously, possibly on the off chance of putting
Callader off the track. But he nodded with a grudging admiration. The
strange light in his eyes, however, gave Adela concern and discomfort.

"But it's true I don't know anything about you," he urged. "Nobody does.
You are a brilliant mystery with the command of plenty of money. Your
social position is not in question; there are hundreds of better men
than myself who would be proud and willing to call you their wife.
Still, you are a riddle. Tell me something about yourself, about this
mysterious Samuel Burton. Who is he and where does he come from?"

"You know as well as I do," Adela said discreetly. "I have only met him
once, but if I am not mistaken you have met him frequently. Do you take
me for a fool, Mark? Do you think I didn't notice that passage at arms
between you and Burton at Douglas Denne's the other night? It is for you
to tell me who Samuel Burton is. I know nothing. I am his protege. For
aught I knew he may have picked me out of the gutter. Rich men have
these sort of whims sometimes, but they can afford it. Come, enlighten
me on the subject of my benefactor. Where did you meet him first? Why do
you hate him so heartily?"

Callader knitted his brows in a frown, and his coarse, red face grew
darker and more angry.

"You are a devilishly clever girl, far cleverer than I am. But your
imagination is bolting with you. I haven't the slightest idea who Samuel
Burton is."

"Why lie?" Adela asked coldly. "You are afraid of that man, and he is
afraid of you. You want him out of the way. But I don't ask your
confidence!"

Callader was disturbed and uneasy. He could have given Adela much
information had he pleased, but the time was not come for confidences of
that sort. Samuel Burton's reputation or his past was no immediate
concern of his. There would be time enough later to speak freely of
these things.

"Very good," he said bluntly. "You have your secrets, and I will respect
them. I have mine, too. What does it matter who you are, and where you
come from, or how Samuel Burton made his money. I came to-night to ask
you to become my wife, and mean to have an answer. I shan't interfere
with you--you will be allowed to go your own way much as you do now. It
will be more of an alliance than a marriage. Don't forget--"

Callader paused, conscious, perhaps, that he was about to say too much.
The blood had flamed into Adela's face, her lips were parted and she was
breathing rapidly. She knew the time had come when she must make up her
mind, for here was the parting of the ways. If she said 'No' to
Callader, then she would fade out of the set in which she had queened it
so long, she would drop out of the race, and her place would know her no
more. What did that involve? It meant a hard life in the future,
possibly a sordid struggle, the relinquishing of her ambitions, and the
luxuries and pleasures which had become a second nature to her.

Could she do it? Could she face this dismal future? As she glanced round
she noted the artistic objects that gave an air to the room and the
pretty things that gladdened her aesthetic sense; even the flowers in
the vases appealed to her. In a mirror opposite she remarked the glint
and glisten of her diamonds as they rose and fell upon her bosom, the
dainty robe in which she looked like a picture by some consummate
artist. She also observed Callader, standing rough and sinister, waiting
for an answer. She could get out of her present difficulties, for she
had the money to clear herself; she could feel the notes crackling as
she breathed. But she must decide here and now.

"It shall be as you wish. No, don't come near me, don't come near me at
this moment, or I swear that I shall change my mind. You are free to
tell everybody, if you like, you may go to your club, late as it is, and
break the news, but go at once. Do you hear me?"

The words fell thick and fast from her lips. She had risen to her feet,
and stretched her hand towards the door. It even seemed that she was on
the point of a physical encounter with Callader, for he came towards her
with gleaming eyes, and there was something in his face that caused
Adela to shrink and tremble. Then he stopped abruptly and laughed.

"Have you own way. You are in one of your moods to-night. I suppose you
don't mind me coming to see you to-morrow? Good-night."

The room was the fresher and sweeter for his absence. Adela gave one
glance round, then switched off the lights passionately and went to bed.
She was tired and weary. She slept, as she told herself, like a
condemned criminal the night before his execution, but did not analyse
her feelings further.

In the morning she thought it impossible she could fulfil her promise of
the previous night. She would send for Callader and tell him so. She
would break with her friends, sell everything, and pay her debts. Burton
should have his ill-gotten gains back again. Adela had quite made up her
mind before she had finished breakfast, and was in the same mood as she
entered her sitting-room. Here someone was waiting for her, a
well-dressed man, polite and obsequious; but anxious and ill at ease.
Adela knew who he was. He was a jeweller from Regent-street with whom
she had had dealings more than once. He had a house not far from her
cottage at Maidenhead, a pretty wife, and two charming little children;
indeed, Adela had seen the children by the river frequently. She was
well aware why he was here. Doubtless he had bribed one of the servants
to procure him this interview.

"What do you want?"

The jeweller was profoundly apologetic. He was exceedingly sorry to
worry Miss Burton, but he was in great straits for ready money, and
there was an account of over twelve hundred pounds which had been
out-standing for a long time. His position was serious, and he must have
the money. He pointed out that at least two years--

"Really?" Adela said. She had lost something of her cold manner, and her
conscience was pricking her. "I am very sorry, Mr. Braxton. It is very
careless of me. Must you have the money to-day. You can't wait a week, I
suppose?"

The jeweller appeared to be swallowing something hard.

"It is a matter of bankruptcy. If you discharge this account I shall be
able to see my way clear. Believe me, madam, I would not have troubled
you, but I have a wife and family, and it comes very hard--"

There was no need to say more. The man was plainly telling the truth.
Besides, he was only asking for his own. With something like a sense of
shame upon her Adela unlocked her desk.

"Please don't make a favor of it," she said. "I won't give you a cheque,
but I have notes which come to the same thing, eh?"

The receipt was signed, and Adela was alone again. She smiled bitterly
as she turned the key in the desk.

"Fate is too strong for me. I never meant to do this. I never--but, oh,
why try to deceive myself? I have burnt my boats, and there is no
recrossing the stream."




CHAPTER XV.--THE CUP OF TANTALUS.


Douglas Denne had dined, but his dinner had afforded him no consolation.
He was vexed and disappointed, and these, usually, were emotions which
he did not allow himself to indulge in. The Curacoa he was sipping had
no flavor. He must really change his cigar merchant. He was annoyed,
too, because he had permitted outside influences to trouble him. Really,
why should he worry? Why should he feel upset because Adela Burton had
fulfilled expectations, and become engaged to Mark Callader? It had been
the one theme of conversation during the past fortnight. The marriage
was discussed in the clubs and Callader was deemed to be an exceedingly
lucky man. There were armchair philosophers who wondered what Adela
could see in him. They pondered thoughtfully the decrees of Fate which
allowed men of the coarse, animal type to marry the most beautiful
women. The girl was an heiress, too, which made the thing all the more
inexplicable.

Denne was not only irritated, but he was, perhaps, also inclined to be
jealous. He had always admired Adela. She possessed to the full the
qualities that peculiarly attracted him. Her nameless style of beauty
came very near to realising his high ideal. He had thought a good deal,
too, of what Vanstone had said, and had not forgotten his promise that
Adela should not marry Callader. He refused to admit that he was in love
with her himself, but there were moments when the conviction was forced
upon him.

"I am a fool, a sentimental fool. Despite her beauty and talent, Adela
Burton is little more than an adventurer. I wonder if she knows all
about Burton. I wonder if she knows that he is the son of an Earl, who
was kicked out of his regiment for one of the dirtiest frauds that ever
disgraced a British officer. I wonder if she knows he has been in gaol.
I wonder if he is really a rich man. At any rate, he has command of
plenty of money, and the way in which he stole my Velasquez was clever.
I can't think how he managed to smuggle it out of the house. I don't
relish this business at all, nor am I sure that I am wise in trusting
Lestrine so far. It looks uncommonly like conspiracy. There are one or
two judges on the Bench who would take that view. Fancy my being mixed
up in a thing like this! Well, we must wait and see. But Adela Burton
shall not marry Mark Callader, even if I have to marry her myself. I am
jealous, that is what is wrong with me--a nice thing at any time of
life. The question is--is she worth it?"

But that was a point that Denne could not decide off-hand. He threw his
cigar into the fire-place and pushed his glass aside. He had half a mind
to remain indoors for the rest of the evening and read, but he was too
restless for that. He glanced casually through his diary with a view to
selecting the engagement which was likely to afford him the greatest
relaxation. He smiled grimly to himself as he saw the name of Felix
Marner. That would do very well, he thought. Felix Marner and his wife
were holding a reception at which everybody would be present, and it was
pretty certain that Adela Burton would be there. Denne would go to
Frogmore-street.

About eleven o'clock he ascended the Florentine staircase which a great
American had tried, but had failed to purchase. The rooms were crowded.
Here was an ambassador, there a financial magnate, behind him a Cabinet
Minister, talking to a great singer; in fact, the whole place was a
heterogeneous collection of celebrities gathered from two continents.
Priceless tapestries draped the walls, and every picture had a history.
Every object of art was the finest and best that the world produced.
Felix Marner looked grave and picturesque in his evening dress, the
subdued light glistening upon his grey hair. Of the many notable figures
he was not the least conspicuous.

Denne exchanged a few words with his host and wandered aimlessly through
the rooms. He came presently to the object of his search. Adela was
sitting in the corner of a room with half a dozen men around her.
Marvellously dressed in some dreamy confection of green, she suggested
sea foam in the sunlight. The jewels which sparkled in her hair were as
so many sunbeams. Her face was wreathed in smiles, and there was no
shadow of trouble or anxiety in her eyes as Denne went forward and shook
hands. By and by he managed, in his own fashion, to draw Adela away, and
got her entirely to himself.

"I have not seen you for some days," he said. "I suppose this thing I
hear is true?"

"I presume people tell the truth about me sometimes," Adela laughed
gaily. "But what are you alluding to?"

"Oh, you know perfectly well--your engagement to Mark Callader. Am I to
congratulate--no, not you--but him?"

Adela's face flushed ever so slightly.

"The paragraphists are right for once," she said. "This is the only
veracious thing they have written about me for years. But why don't you
congratulate me?"

"There's nothing to congratulate you about," Denne said coolly. "You
must not be annoyed; I am generally allowed to say what I like. But I am
sorry to hear this. Between ourselves, I don't like Callader. The man is
bad tempered, and you won't be happy. Now, if I didn't take an interest
in you, I shouldn't talk like this. I am sure you could have done much
better."

Adela laughed again.

"You are frank," she said. "But one must settle down some time. Now, why
don't you marry? It is your duty to do so, and there are so many nice
girls."

"I think not," Denne said in his gravest manner. "You see, it is
difficult to persuade a man to be content with a substitute. Besides, it
is not flattering to one's vanity to be cut out by a man like Mark
Callader."

"You are jesting," Adela said coolly, "and your joke is not in good
taste. If you meant it--"

"My dear girl, I do mean it, which is my only justification. If you had
not promised to marry him, I should have asked you to be my wife. You
know enough of human nature to believe that I didn't make this discovery
until I found it was too late. You would have done so much better with
me. My position is assured, but you can't say that about Callader. A
strange conversation this, isn't it? But I never do anything like other
men. Now you know why I can't congratulate you. But I don't intend to
give up yet. There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip. Of one
thing I must assure you--whatever happens, you will always have a friend
in me. Never hesitate to come to Douglas Denne. Try to think as well of
me as possible, and whatever trouble you are in, and however badly you
behave, it will make no difference to me. Because I love you, my child,
and that accounts for everything. I am sorry I did not find this out
sooner, because I believe I should have had a better chance than Mark
Callader. That sounds egotistical, but some day you may remember it. Now
let us change the subject."

Adela looked up curiously into the speaker's grave face. At first she
had thought he was jesting, but she could see plainly now that he was
very much in earnest. All the anger died out of her heart, and she was
filled with a sense of gratitude which brought the unaccustomed tears
into her eyes.

"You are very good," she said. "Really; you are a most extraordinary
man, Mr. Denne. If you knew everything you would be inclined--but we
need not go into that."

Denne strolled off presently. He appeared to be concerned about nothing,
though he was watching carefully, and awaiting the advent of Mark
Callader. The latter arrived in his sullen, moody way, and the air which
he had in society of being absolutely out of place. Denne saw him make a
sign to Marner, and the two drifted off together towards the library.
Denne waited a moment or two, and then followed them. The door of the
library was closed, but he opened it without ceremony, and strode into
the room. He had a cigar in one hand and his matchbox in the other.

"I beg your pardon," he said, "I strolled in here to have a smoke. I
know Marner doesn't mind."

For once in his life the great critic betrayed confusion. On the table
before him stood a small, plain-looking gold cup, fashioned in the shape
of a Gothic font, such as is still to be seen in some of the older
churches. He was regarding it with his head on one side, his eyes filled
with a certain fatherly affection. He appeared to have been speaking,
but stopped abruptly as Denne came in.

"Does that belong to you?" Denne asked.

"Eh, what?" Callader said. "Oh, no. Marner was just showing it to me.
Wonderful work, isn't it?"

"Please understand, it isn't mine," Marner explained. "It has been given
to me to dispose of. I should like to keep it, but it is beyond my poor
means. I suppose that cup would fetch at least twenty-five thousand
pounds. It is the veritable Cup of Tantalus, which Geisler alludes to in
his illuminated manuscript in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. For the
last eight or nine centuries the cup has vanished, and I understand it
recently turned up in some castle in the Black Forest. The finding of
the cup has quite a romance. Perhaps you would like to have it, Denne?
Only a millionaire like yourself could afford to purchase such a thing."

But Denne did not appear to be interested. He said he had no sympathy
with sentimental values and sauntered out of the library, leaving Marner
and Callader together by the side of the table.

"You got well out of that," he heard Callader remark.

"I think so," Marner replied. "Besides, Denne was not interested. All
the same, it is as well to take no risks, and I was foolish to leave the
door unlocked."

Meanwhile Denne was walking thoughtfully homewards. When he reached his
quarters, he rang up Lestrine.

"I am here, sir," Lestrine said. "Can I do anything for you? I am quite
ready."

"That's right," Denne responded. "The mouse is in the trap, Lestrine. It
is time to kill it."




CHAPTER XVI.--THE WEARY ROUND.


At times Adela thought she could not stand the strain of her mode of
life any longer. Of course that was unreasonable; her life had the
defects of its qualities, and she could not have it both ways. She had
accepted existence as it was. It had seemed natural to turn night into
day, to be always on the stretch, and she was beginning to feel the wear
and tear. Many friends and acquaintances had fallen out of the race. It
was nothing now to hear that this or that one had been ordered south, or
was in the hands of a fashionable doctor. But Adela had regarded them as
poor creatures, not physically fit to enter the arena.

Nevertheless, she could not herself keep up the pace much longer. There
was no rest or relaxation anywhere. Whether the scene were London from
March till July, or Cowes, Goodwood, Scotland, Homburg, or Monte Carlo,
there was the same false excitement, the same constant worry and rush,
the weary monotony of familiar faces. Adela was beginning to wonder
whether this was enjoyment at all, and was getting to loathe it from the
bottom of her heart. She longed to be by herself in the country. If she
could only sleep, perchance she might be able to think, for the power of
concentrated thought was leaving her. She had strange lapses of memory,
could not rest indoors or out, started at a shadow. There was always
present the fear that something was going to happen.

Yet she could not tear herself away from it. It was absolutely
impossible to do so. Her stock of money was beginning to dwindle again.
Her daily correspondence grew more insistent and oppressive. There were
plenty of establishments still where she was received with bated breath
and whispering humbleness, but even these were shrinking, and it was not
nice to dash up to a palatial shop in a thousand guinea motor, and be
called aside by a polite, but no less determined partner, who, in a few
well-chosen sentences, intimated that no further credit could be given
until a cheque had been received. These instances were growing more and
more frequent, and Adela fancied her very servants were lacking in the
respect and obedience to which she had been accustomed.

Freedom was unobtainable. She was too fast in the golden fetters for
that; still in the world of fashion and excitement. Her engagement book
was crammed with pressing promises. There were theatricals here and
house parties there, to say nothing of stalls at charity bazaars, and
all the odds and ends of the frothy flippery in which the woman of
fashion revels.

What Adela wanted most was time--time to rest, time to think, time to
form a plan of campaign. If she drew back now her large army of
creditors would take alarm, swoop down upon her in a body, and only
disgraceful bankruptcy ensue. She was beginning to realise her own
hopeless weakness, to see more and more clearly that there was no escape
from her promise to Mark Callader. If she were only well, she might take
the plunge. Hitherto she had laughed at women's fads and fancies. It had
amused her to see the pathetic way in which some women clung to their
doctors, but now she was feeling the need of advice herself. Not without
a sense of self-contempt, she drove to Harley-street. The great man
consented to see her at once, though a score of patients were waiting in
his dining-room. He extended a slim, white hand to Adela. His manner was
confidential, almost caressing. He placed her in a seat and began to ask
questions in his blandest and most soothing style. Sir Charles Haviland
knew his world thoroughly. He saw at a glance exactly what was the
matter, though it would not be discreet to blurt it out.

"You are run down, my dear lady. Let us ask ourselves a question or two.
How long is it since you took a holiday?"

"Isn't my life all a holiday?"

Sir Charles shook his head gravely.

"A delusion," he said. "I don't know any woman who works any harder than
you do. Why, you work as strenuously as a poor woman who is compelled to
earn a living by making cheap clothing. From the time you get up in the
morning till the time you go to bed you never rest. Nor do you have
sufficient sleep. You are never in bed before two or three, and probably
breakfast at nine, and this has been going on day by day for the last
four years."

It was true enough, as Adela was bound to admit. She had never seen
things in this light before. Sir Charles took her hand in his, and
gravely consulted his stop-watch. He was looking a little more serious,
and murmured quietly that he must use the stethoscope. Adela waited for
his verdict with more or less indifference.

"You must go away at once," he said. "You must put your present life
behind you for at least three months. There is nothing radically wrong,
but you are completely run down. Now, don't come to me again, because
prescriptions are of no use, and you are merely wasting my time. What
you want is to drop this racket for two or three months, and then you
will be all right again. Otherwise, I must decline to answer for the
consequences."

There was no mistaking what the famous physician meant, and Adela looked
more thoughtful than usual as she drove away in her car. She was
conscious, however, that she was attracting attention, and was being
pointed out and spoken of. Doubtless there were hundreds of people who
envied her, and would have given much to stand in her place. What would
they have said if they only knew? As she drove along, she could hear the
boys with early copies of the newspapers calling out the latest details
of the Courtfield case. This was a sensational action which must mean
either the triumph of a brilliant adventuress, or imprisonment and
irretrievable ruin. Adela knew Nita Courtfield. Lots of people who had
taken her up were sorry for it now. Yet it seemed to Adela, criticising
her own self freely, that she was not a whit better. The only difference
was that she had not yet been found out, and the other woman had. On the
whole, what was there to choose between them?

Adela rolled along in her car, a car that had been specially built for
her, and had been the thing of a hundred paragraphs. She was beautifully
dressed; there were judges who said she was the best-dressed woman in
London. She was exceedingly beautiful, too, as many an admiring glance
testified. But Adela was feeling very keenly how false and hollow her
life was, and longed to get away from her society self. She wondered if
Sir Charles' opinion would give her the chance. But the fashionable
physician's advice would not pay her debts, and it was almost out of the
question to leave London till some of the more pressing creditors were
satisfied. Adela wondered, too, if she might not be able to do something
with moneylenders. Doubtless a score of these gentlemen would be only
too willing to oblige her. But this would be obtaining money by false
pretences, even if at usurious interest, and she knew if she fell into
their clutches there was only one way out.

She must go somewhere to think the situation out. She would not go home
to lunch, because Callader had promised to call, and she shrank from
meeting him at present. She would lunch quietly at the Savoy, and
perhaps, once in a way, might snatch an hour to herself.

She ordered a simple lunch, and, as she turned her attention to it,
there was a sudden rush of customers into the restaurant, and Adela
found herself surrounded by chattering frivolous women. Three sat down
breathlessly at the same table as herself.

"Wherever have you been?" one asked. "I never saw you this morning.
Wasn't it splendid?"

"What?" Adela asked vaguely.

"Oh, Nita Courtfield's evidence. Did you ever know anything so
audacious? It was splendid to watch the way she fought Rupert. But that
bit of evidence as to the half-burnt letter was fatal. Do you think she
will be tried for perjury?"

"I wasn't there," Adela said indifferently.

The three frivolities, rustling in their silk and chiffons, screamed
excitedly:

"Not there? I can't understand what you are thinking about. I wouldn't
have missed it for anything. It was better and more actual than a play.
You will come after lunch, of course?"

Adela excused herself. Was it impossible to get away from this rush and
rattle? The whole world seemed full of it, and it might be her turn
next. These silly creatures might soon be discussing her, and watching
her in the dock. They would be none the more friendly and more merciful
because they had undertaken a score of times of her boundless
hospitality. In imagination she pictured them watching her as she stood
up to face her trial. Anything was better than this. She would go back
to her flat and rest. She could send Mark Callader away under the excuse
that she was suffering from a severe headache. She felt utterly tired
and worn-out, and must have sleep. A curious fluttering at her heart
every now and then alarmed her. On reaching home she was informed that
Mr. Callader had come and gone. He had stayed to write a note and then
left, saying he had important business to attend to. But a man was
waiting in the dining-room, who had declined to go away. He refused his
name, but declared he must stay, because it was most important that he
should see Miss Burton. Another creditor, no doubt, Adela thought; she
would have to get rid of him somehow.

But it was not a creditor; it was the diminutive Max Cordy, self
possessed and amusingly insolent as usual. Vexed as she was, Adela could
hardly repress a smile, for Cordy was arrayed in a grey frock-suit of
perfect cut. He appeared to be especially proud of his patent-leather
boots, and held his glossy hat at quite the correct angle. He was
pleased to see Adela and labored under the impression that she was
equally glad to see him.

"What do you want here?" she demanded. Cordy winked slightly.

"I think you can guess," he said. "I was sent by the old 'un. He desires
me to say he is much better and the danger is off for the present. But
he has got to get away from London. He thinks that a month or two in the
country will do him good. Still, we can't take any risks, and that is
why we want your help."

"I will do what I can," Adela said wearily. "You have come to make some
proposition. What is it?"




CHAPTER XVII.--A RESPITE.


Max Cordy sank gracefully into a chair, hitched up his trousers and
crossed his legs. Without asking permission of Adela he proceeded to
light a cigarette. She could have boxed his ears, but behind her
annoyance was a sense of amusement, perhaps even of admiration, at the
little man who seemed so completely at home. He no longer looked like a
boy, but like a young man on whom fortune has smiled.

"Well, it's like this, miss," he said, leaning forward confidentially.
"We'll manage, for the present, at any rate, to keep out of the way of
the police. The old 'un don't say much, but he knows he can trust me; in
fact, I shouldn't dare do anything contrary to his instructions, because
there are little episodes in my own past which--well, we won't pursue
that. But when men choose to play their own game at the guv'nor's
expense, somehow or another things never seem to go well with them
again. Bless you! You needn't be afraid to speak candidly to me. I know
nothing. I don't even know who you are, though I expect you are some
relation to the guv'nor. I know he's a swell, right enough--connected
with the peerage, and all the rest of it. Still--"

"Hadn't we better get to the point?"

"Of course; I am sorry. But, you see, I don't often get a chance of
talking to a lovely lady. As I said, the old man wants to get away from
London. It isn't quite safe for him to travel in the ordinary way, nor
leave the Borough in our motor. Now, what's to be done is this. You must
go off for a ride this afternoon in your car by yourself. It won't be
the first time you have done such a thing, will it? Go by way of
'Ampstead, and 'Endon, and when you get near the Welsh 'Arp, I shouldn't
be surprised if you found the guv'nor waiting for you. Then you can take
him as far as St. Alban's, after which he will know what to do. I think
that's all, miss. If you should 'appen to be somewhere about there at
four o'clock this afternoon the guv'nor will take it very kind."

It was on the tip of Adela's tongue to refuse. Her impulse was to turn
this preposterous little criminal out of the room, and tell him sternly
not to come any more. But she was too deeply in the toils for that. To
put it bluntly, she was as much involved as Samuel Burton himself. She
was just as great a criminal. She had not actually picked pockets, but
the beautiful dress she was wearing was not paid for, nor was it likely
to be. The bubble to her romance was pricked. She now knew what Samuel
Burton was. Why, she was actually dependent upon the tradespeople for
the very food she ate. Moreover, her debt to Samuel Burton was a heavy
one, and she could not go back on him at present. She would have to wait
another opportunity.

"Very well," she said wearily. "It shall be as you say. I will be there
at the appointed time."

She changed her dress for something dark and plain and made some excuse
for dispensing with her chauffeur. The man expressed no astonishment; he
was too used to his mistress's vagaries. Besides, Adela could drive
well, and had often been out alone in her car. Bowling along, leaving
the familiar streets behind, she grew less restless, and less
discontented as the fresh sweet air of the afternoon blew upon her face.
Then, a little later, she caught sight of the familiar figure of Samuel
Burton strolling slowly along the road. He had cast off all signs of his
recent illness, walked with an easy jaunty air, had resumed his
moustache, and was unmistakably well dressed. As the car pulled up, he
jumped in, and Adela set the great motor going once more.

"Are you better?"

"I am feeling almost myself again. To tell you the truth, adventure is
meat and drink to me. I am only happy when I am in danger, and I have
been in danger lately. The strange thing is that the enemy I have most
to fear is the man you are going to marry. But I think I shall be able
to close his lips now. Let me congratulate you, my dear. I read all
about it in the papers--a marriage has been arranged, and will shortly
take place between the Honorable Mark Callader and Miss Adela Burton,
the beautiful heiress to the wealth of Samuel Burton, esquire, the
American millionaire. Ah, how I laughed at it! There were a lot of
paragraphs about me, too, all of them, between ourselves, absolute lies,
my dear."

"Why not?" Adela said wearily. "Your whole life is a lie, and so is
mine, too, for the matter of that. I am getting so dreadfully tired of
it. I meant to have used the last money you gave me to pay my creditors,
and then disappear from London altogether, but I couldn't do it."

The old man by Adela's side chuckled.

"Shall I tell you why? You couldn't do it because you hadn't money
enough. You thought what I gave you would be sufficient, but it wasn't.
Idle and extravagant people never know how much they owe. And so it's
all gone, and you want some more, my dear? Well, you shall have it. You
needn't be the least afraid of that. I have one or two little schemes on
hand which I couldn't perfect in London. I am going into the country
where I can be quiet and think matters out. I want to have a horse to
ride, and a garden to walk in, to go to bed at ten, and breakfast at
eight, and that's why I have taken a furnished house not very far from
the village of Callader. At St. Alban's another car will meet me, and
take me north. These motors are excellent things from my point of view.
When you go into a railway station you never know who is watching you;
you can never tell what detectives are prowling about; but in a car you
can put on a mask and goggles, and nobody can tell you from Adam; except
that, poor man, he didn't motor."

Adela was only listening vaguely. She had her own painful thoughts to
occupy her, but was glad to know that Samuel Burton would be out of the
way for some time to come. She was not likely to have any more
unpleasant visits from Max Cordy, and, perhaps she would get sufficient
money to clear her most pressing liabilities. When that was done, she
knew exactly what to do. Her spirits began to rise with the swift motion
of the car. She found it hard to believe that the man sitting by her
side was a hardened criminal. He did not look like it in the least. He
might have passed for a distinguished military man or a member of the
aristocracy, clean-living, and basking in the sunshine of prosperity.
She could not help being struck by the fact that the neighborhood which
Burton had chosen for his rustication was within a short distance of
Callader Castle, Mark Callader's home, and she ventured to remark this
to her companion.

Burton stroked his moustache and smiled.

"My dear child," he said blandly, "this is no mere coincidence. In a
career like mine there are no such things as coincidences. If we are
careless enough to permit them, we find that they invariably lead us
into trouble. I am going to Callader for a purpose. What that purpose is
does not matter to you so long as you benefit by it; and you will
benefit by it, and to a material extent, too. By the way, have you heard
anything of a house-party which Callader's getting up for the race-week?
I think I saw something of it in one of the society papers. It is a
magnificent place, Callader Castle. I stayed there more than once during
the life of the late Lord Kempston; in fact, I used to do a lot of
shooting there; but in those days I was not called Samuel Burton, and I
had not brought the hair of my relatives in sorrow to the grave. I was a
model young man then, and, upon my word, my dear child, when I come to
think of it, I wish that I had remained one. But there is a wild strain
in our blood somewhere. Some people can't be honest and straightforward,
and I suppose I am one of them. I don't think I ever did a kind and
disinterested action in my life except when I adopted you, and really,
that was more of a fad than anything else. I hope it is true that
Callader is getting up a party, and that he will ask you to join it. It
is a glorious old place, and its art treasures must be worth a million
of money."

"I have never been there," Adela said indifferently, "and I'm not
particularly anxious to go. How much further do you wish me to take you?
Is there any point where you would like me to put you down?"

They were approaching the outskirts of the town, and at a sign from
Burton Adela pulled up. He jumped from the car lightly and kissed his
hand to Adela as he strode along the road. Then Adela swung her car
around and headed for London. She was glad to be rid of her
responsibility, and hoped she would have a little time to breathe now.
It was not much past five when she returned. No one had called in her
absence, and she was glad to think that she had nothing pressing to do
that evening at least, nothing which she could not postpone, with the
assistance of the 'phone, and a wire or two. She would dine at home, and
go to bed early. There was a book she wanted to read which she had not
had time to look at. She tossed aside a mass of correspondence, which
would keep till the morning. As she turned the letters over, she found
the note which Mark Callader had left for her. Perhaps he would call for
an answer! At any rate, she tore open the envelope.

"Sorry I didn't see you this morning," the message ran, "but I couldn't
wait. I wanted to tell you that I have made arrangements for a house
party at Callader for the races. About a score of people are coming, all
of the right sort, and the Duchess of Southhampton has consented to act
as hostess. She and I will go up together this day fortnight, and, of
course, you will come too. The rest of the guests will arrive next day.
It we have decent weather, and any luck, we ought to have a real good
time. Yours ever, Mark."

Adela tore the note into fragments with an angry gesture. Was she never
to have peace and quietness again. No sooner had she got rid of Samuel
Burton than Fate conspired to bring them together again.

"I am fortune's fool. There are trouble and danger here, I can see. Why
can't I take my courage in my hands and end this cruel farce before?"




CHAPTER XVIII.--ON THE WHEEL.


Adela, however, could not snap the chain for the present. She would have
to drag it along until the time came when the fetters could be struck
off. The more she thought of it the more hopeless the prospect seemed. A
month or two ago she would have thought it incredible that she could
have desired any change at all. She had appeared to be born for the part
which she filled so readily. She was trying to think how it had all
begun. What was the first step she took towards the dazzling position
she occupied to-day? She had always been told that she was rich. Even at
school she had been courted and flattered. She had started life with an
easy-going chaperone, who had allowed her to do exactly as she pleased.
Her education in society affairs must have been a gradual process, and
all along the way there had been nothing but lavish and criminal waste
of money.

Adela had never met with anything in the shape of a rebuff. She had
experienced no moral or physical tonic, none of the cold douches of
adversity which give tone and vigor to the system. To carry the metaphor
further, Adela's bath had always been a marble one, always warm and
always scented. For as long as she could remember she had been wrapped
in the choicest wool, and the softest and most yielding silks. Indeed,
there had been something almost Oriental in the splendor of her course.
With her means she could command the best of everything, could arrange
the clock of time to suit her lightest convenience. Everything seemed to
run on oiled wheels. She had only to express a wish, and it was
accomplished. Whatever she took a fancy to she procured heedless of the
Day of Reckoning.

Small wonder, then, that with her beauty, and her splendid talents, with
a her large means, she should find herself occupying the position in
which she stood to-day. There had never been any other life, but had
there been another she had not the least desire to try it. Occasionally
she may have allowed her thoughts to dwell upon the existence which
other women led. She was aware, of course, that the drapers, milliners
and dressmakers who ministered to her wants had to work long and hard to
keep body and soul together. And now she was finding herself envying
these people, actually comparing herself with them to her disadvantage.
The weight and pressure of her life were beginning to weigh upon her. It
seemed to tighten across her chest like an iron hand. At times she would
have been too glad to quit it, but she could not see her way to make a
bold bid for emancipation. To begin with, she lacked sufficient ready
money. She was appalled to think how swiftly the notes Burton had given
her had gone. She had received only that morning a polite intimation
from her bankers to draw no further cheques until her account had been
put on a more satisfactory footing.

Well, she must go on for the present, but there was no reason why she
should remain pending her departure for Callader Castle. Her secretary
should paragraph the press that she was suffering from a slight
breakdown. She would withdraw to Maidenhead, and pass a few days in
strict seclusion. By this time, the cottage garden would be a thing of
beauty. The tender green would be trembling on the larches, the white
lilac would be soft and fragrant, and in the wood behind the house,
where in summer she swung her silken hammock, there would be a waving
golden carpet of daffodils. The birds would be singing, too, and as
Adela thought of it all she had a wild longing to be away at once, where
all was peace, and worry and care would not intrude.

It was good to get away from the town with its unending round of gaiety,
its dust and noise and meretriciousness, to the sanity and purity of the
country. The sun was shining as she drove along. She could see the
tender caressing green of the bursting buds and there was a smell of
wood violets in the air. Adela could have wished the atmosphere of the
cottage had been a little less artificial. It struck her for the first
time that the pictures and carpets and elaborate furniture were
strangely out of place. She felt they were all in bad taste. The cottage
was showy and fussy and ostentatious. In the drawing-room the faint
smell of the Turkish cigarettes still hung about the curtains, and
playing cards littered one of the side tables. Adela flung open the
windows and let in the fresh sweet air. She was feeling better already.
She was losing that strange, haunting feeling that something was about
to happen. The tightness about her heart was gone. For the rest of the
day she rambled about, and slept that night as she had not done for
months. Yet at the end of the second day, she began to feel bored again.
The sense of ennui came upon her with a force in that was strong and
unpleasant.

"I hope I shall not be always like this. I wonder if I shall ever enjoy
anything again? I wonder if life is over? Perhaps I have crammed all my
pleasures into small compass. What is the matter with me? I want to be
alone. I have a horror of these people, and yet I am almost afraid of
being left by myself."

But there was no answer to her musings. There was nothing for it but to
wait and see what a week's absolute quiet would do. The fourth day was
dragging slowly on. The primrose twilight was falling, and Adela sat
before the fire making a faint pretence of reading a book. The very
peace and silence began to oppress her. She longed for something in the
way of excitement and she got it. For she could hear the rush and fert
of a car as it scrunched the gravelled path. Then she heard another and
another. A door burst open and the lounge hall was filled with mirth and
laughter. Adela knew that laughter only too well. It was the high false
note peculiar to her set, the sort of screech which hears a faint
resemblance to honest jollity.

They were all there, or so it seemed. Their perfume filled the house.
Without rising from her chair Adela could see them all, could almost
tell how they were dressed. Only a few minutes before she had been
longing for human company, now she shrank from it as if she had done
something wrong, as a hunted stag might shrink at the baying of the
hounds. But there was no time to think, for the whole glittering mob
flocked in, men as well as women. Perhaps a dozen or more swooped down
upon Adela with infinite noise and screams and chatter more or less
meaningless. One or two of her visitors bore names of historic interest,
and one or two were plutocrats, whose money was the only passport into
what passes for society.

It was some little time before Adela could find out what it meant. Then
one voice, thriller and more strident, rose above the rest. It was that
of a woman who had recently been a star of the American music hall
stage, and was now the wife of a Russian, Baron Lapariski, who enjoys a
vast fortune of his own making.

"Let Topsy explain," one of the men said. "It was her idea and she may
as well have the credit of it."

But Topsy, otherwise the baroness, shook her yellow curls, and showed
her teeth in a dazzling smile. She was pretty in a saucy way, and Adela
detested her beyond any of her acquaintance, though outwardly they
appeared to be on the friendliest terms.

"Well, it was like this," the Baroness drawled. "We were bored for want
of something to do, so it occurred to me that we might motor here, and
give you a pleasant surprise."

"You certainly have," Adela said.

"That's right," the speaker continued. "I just knew you would be glad to
see us. You must be moped to death. So we got out our cars, and here we
are. Thinking you might not be prepared to entertain a large party, we
brought our own supper with us. They used to do this kind of thing when
I was a girl. A surprise party we call it. We wait upon ourselves, and
each one puts his or her contribution on the table. It will be something
for the papers to talk about."

Adela smiled faintly; she had no doubt the necessary notoriety would
follow, and could imagine how other people would copy the foolish
example. But there was no help for it. She could not turn these people
out of the house, but now that they had come she longed more than ever
to be alone. Meanwhile the Baroness was rattling on in her quick,
stacatto fashion, whilst others of the party were producing
dainty-looking packages bearing the imprint of a famous restaurateur.

"Some more are coming presently," the Baroness went on. "We asked
Douglas Denne, but he said he was afraid he couldn't get away, but he
half gave his word that he would motor down. We tried to get Mark
Callader as well, but he had got a prizefight or something of that sort
on. By the way, Adela, have you made up your party for Callader Castle?
Have you room for another one?"

There was no mistaking what the speaker meant. She put the question
eagerly, and looked Adela straight in the face.

"Really, I don't know anything about it. It was Mr. Callader's idea, and
he didn't consult me as to who was to be asked. But I fear--"

The Baroness clicked her lips together.

"That's all right," she exclaimed. "I guess I'll ask Mark myself. I'm
just dying to spend a week at Callader Castle. They tell me it is a
lovely place."

Adela wished she had been firmer, and declared finally that the party
was made up. In no case would she have the woman at Callader's; on this
point she was emphatic. She would see Callader without delay, and if he
were foolish enough to ask the Baroness, she would herself decline to
go.

"I know you don't want me," the Baroness laughed half-hysterically. "But
I am going and don't you forget it. You can't keep me out when I've made
up my mind. Now, what do you say to supper."




CHAPTER XIX.--AFTER SUPPER.


Though to Adela the eccentric supper was intensely wearisome, her
uninvited guests enjoyed themselves. She marvelled how they could find
anything interesting, or amusing, or pleasant in such a puerile
frivolity. She forgot that she had herself participated in a hundred
things equally extravagant, that she had invented or prompted a score of
silly fads for senseless people. She laughed and smiled at her guests,
and joined in their conversation, but she was the skeleton at the feast.

She glanced furtively at the clock from time to time, and was surprised
it was yet barely ten. She might consider herself fortunate if they left
before one or two o'clock.

After supper a move was made to the commodious hall. Cards were called
for and in a few moments they were all seated at bridge. The place
echoed to inane laughter and talk. The pictures on the walls grew dim
behind the clouds of cigarette smoke. Would society ever tire of bridge?
Would they play to all eternity? She was aghast to see how keen and
anxious and eager they were. But had she not herself been a slave to the
same tyranny?

To-night she had disclaimed any desire to play, had asked to be allowed
to sit out. But circumstances were too strong for her, and she found
herself by and bye at the same table with the Baroness, and two
white-faced dissipated youths, both of them apparently bent upon
unloading a handsome property in the shortest possible time. Adela knew
that she was playing with three of the most reckless gamblers in the
room. But always accustomed to high stakes, she raised no objection when
one of the young men proposed a limit which made even her uncomfortable.
For a hand or two she played listlessly, and then the gambling fever
fired her blood. She forgot all her good resolutions and put everything
aside in the excitement of the hour. They were playing grimly and in
earnest. Nothing could be heard at their table beyond the murmur of the
scorers, and the gentle flutter of the cards as they slipped over the
cloth. When Adela glanced at the clock again it was just past twelve,
and the Baroness was reminding her, with a bewitching smile, that she
had won just over a thousand pounds.

"So much as that?"

"I think it is a bit more," her partner said coolly. He seemed to be
rather proud of his extravagance. "Shocking bad luck we've had, Adela,
haven't we? I'd like to go on, but I must get back to town by half-past
one. I am going to Paris to-morrow. Send my account to me to my place,
and I'll tell my man to send you my cheque."

"I should like a cheque, too," the Baroness laughed. "I have had a
terrible time lately, and the money will be most awfully useful. Now,
Adela, pay up."

Adela tried to smile in her turn.

"I am afraid I can't to-night," she said. "I'm not sure that I have a
cheque book with me, and I couldn't draw on my account for so much if I
had. You must wait for at least a week, perhaps longer."

The Baroness' smile was not so pleasant. She pushed the cards away and
lighted a cigarette. The two young men had vanished in the meanwhile,
and the other players were deeply engrossed in their own games, so Adela
and her companion were practically alone. The Baroness reclined in her
chair.

"It doesn't much matter," she said slowly. "Take a month, if you like,
though I really am frightfully hard up. But I won't press you, if you
behave nicely. Of course, you know gambling debts must be paid on the
nail?"

The hot blood flamed into Adela's face.

"My dear Baroness," she said, "really you need not trouble yourself to
give me elementary lessons in one's social duties. I must have learnt
them all when you were playing in the second row of the chorus with a
travelling opera company."

The Baroness laughed easily.

"Oh, yes, we've both come on since those days. But, my dear child, don't
let us quarrel. Forget the debt, if you like. Put it off as long as you
please. It really doesn't matter, but, of course, you were joking just
now when you said the house-party for Callader was filled up. What
difference will one or two people make? Mark and myself are such good
friends, too. We'll call that settled."

There was no mistaking what the speaker meant. She spoke in silky tones,
and her stereotyped smile was very much in evidence. But it was a
threat, as Adela very well knew. This vulgar, pushing creature was
striking a bargain with her. She was offering to make things easy for
Adela and avert scandal in return for an invitation to Callader Castle.
If she did not get it society would learn in a day or two that Adela
Burton had contracted a debt of honor she could not pay. It is the
social crime that society does not forget or forgive. She might
cheerfully break every commandment of the Decalogue and nobody would
think a pin the worse of her.

Not only could Adela not pay, she had not the slightest idea when she
could discharge the debt. Nor could she plead any excuse. She had sat
down to the table with her eyes open. She had been a consenting party to
those high stakes. She was not only morally wrong, but in her present
financial position she had acted with downright dishonesty. She would
have given five years of her life to be able to draw a cheque for the
full amount, to tell the Baroness with polite bitterness what she
thought of her, and forbid her to enter her house again. But all she
could do now was to smile in a noncommittal fashion, and hope for the
best. The Baroness dropped her cigarette on the ash tray, and laughed
none too pleasantly. She seemed to know almost by instinct what was
passing through Adela's mind, and Adela was painfully aware of the fact.
She rose and walked over to the fireplace, whilst the Baroness crossed
over to another table where they were needing one to make up a game,
Adela stood gazing thoughtfully into the glowing fire. She did not seem
to know that someone was addressing her. Then she turned to see Douglas
Denne by her side. She held out her hand with a smile, and was genuinely
glad to see him. He was different from most people she knew. His
strength and manhood attracted her.

"How long have you been here?" she asked.

"Oh, not very long. I don't know why I came. Perhaps it was because I
wanted to see you again, or perhaps because I was bored and had nothing
else to do. One always gets some amusement at your house. I was
interested to watch and hear the little comedy between the Baroness and
yourself. I tried my hardest not to listen, but the talk was forced upon
me. Don't you think it was foolish to put yourself in that woman's
power? You know as well as I do. She is daring, ambitious, dishonest and
unscrupulous, and you have actually gone out of your way to give her a
weapon with which she will carve her way into Callader Castle. Why do
you play cards for more money than you can afford?"

Adela was not offended. Somehow she never resented the directness of
Douglas Donne's speech.

"Why do we do all sorts of foolish things?" she asked. "Why did I sit
down to play when I didn't wish to? However, I have lost what I can't
pay, and the Baroness means to have her price. I don't know how I can
prevent her from going to Callader Castle, but it will be easy at the
last moment to make some excuse for my not going."

Denne shook his head severely.

"Ah, that will be weak. Tell me, how much money do you owe her? A
thousand pounds? As much as that! I gather you haven't the means to pay
her--don't know when you will have. It's a tight corner, very. But
whatever happens you must not be under any obligations to the Baroness.
You must borrow the money, if necessary."

Adela laughed wistfully.

"That sounds easy to you, I daresay. But I begin to realise my folly,
and to find that though I have troops of acquaintances, I have no
friends. Is there one amongst all the people I know who would lend me
that money--or even half of it? There isn't one."

There was a peculiar smile upon Denne's lips as he gazed into Adela's
face.

"You take too sombre a view of the situation. There is one who would
lend you the money; in fact, I know one who will do so. You are going to
borrow it from me."

A faint pink flush crept over Adela's face. She looked up with grateful
eyes, but shook her head resolutely.

"I cannot do it. You must see how impossible it is that I can do it.
What would people say?"

"But people will not know, and are not likely to. Now, don't allow false
pride to stand in your way. You must not accept any favor from a woman
like the Baroness. Besides, my offer is only a business transaction,
after all."

"Indeed it isn't; it is an act of great generosity and kindness. If you
only knew how tired I am of this wretched life, if you only knew how I
long to get away from it! It is killing me; I don't know how I stand it.
Don't you feel the strain?"

"I do not, for the simple reason that I keep out of it," Denne replied.
"Honestly, I haven't the strength. You society women are a perfect
mystery to me. Why, on three nights a week, at least, I am in bed by
ten, and I take a lot of healthy outdoor exercise. If I acted as you do,
and attended to my work as well, I should be in an asylum in twelve
months. I take a certain interest in society because I am obliged to,
and, to tell you the honest truth, I get a lot of amusement out of it in
exchange. Moreover, I was not always in the position I occupy now. I was
poor and struggling enough at one time. Ah! you look pale. Perhaps you
feel it close here?"

Adela shook her head.

"Come out into the porch," urged Denne. "Throw something over your head.
These feather-brains won't miss us, and it is a lovely night. I am not
often talkative. Communicativeness is a luxury I seldom indulge in."




CHAPTER XX.--THE PRICE OF FORTUNE.


Denne stood in the porch looking out in the moonlight, thinking and
wondering, wondering. Was it worth while? What was he to gain by
embarking upon a sentimental enterprise like this? Adela Burton was the
most beautiful woman he had ever seen, certainly the most intellectual;
a self-respecting man was bound to feel some contempt for a woman
blessed with wealth, and health and beauty, who frittered her life away
as Adela was doing.

Denne was trying to take an entirely cynical view of the matter and was
honestly attempting to make himself believe that he would not have given
Adela a second thought if she had not become engaged to Callader.
Moreover, he was not at all sure that the woman by his side was worth
the trouble Philip Vanstone had said she was, but people with
temperaments were not as a rule good judges of these things, and
Vanstone was carried away by admiration for Adela's personal charms. For
all Denne knew to the contrary Adela might be as heartless and selfish
as any of her friends. That she was not too scrupulous upon occasion
Denne had proved. Yet he could not keep away from her, could not put her
out of his mind. For her sake he was launching upon a dangerous
enterprise, for her sake he was laying a snare for Callader, which might
land himself in serious difficulty. But though he was rapidly reasoning
the matter with himself he was not making a conspicuous success of it.
He was in love with Adela, of that he had no longer any doubt, and his
passion and admiration had been whetted by knowing that she was engaged
to somebody else. These thoughts flashed through his mind as he stood
watching the play of the moonlight upon the tender green of the trees.
What a contrast the tranquil beauty of reposing Nature offered to the
group of roues in the hall.

Outside, was the calm loveliness of the landscape, sweet and wholesome,
and refreshing; inside, set in an atmosphere of perfume and cigarette
smoke, was the quick sharp outline of faces, hard and keen with greed,
as the players bent over the tables.

"One gets it all here," Denne said at length; "every side of the
argument. I suppose this is what people call the 'simple life.' The
simplicity lies in the people, not in the life at all. Now tell me
honestly, do you enjoy this kind of thing?"

It was like Denne to put the matter so directly,

"Well, then, I don't," Adela confessed. "I am beginning to hate it.
Mind, I didn't ask these people to come here this evening. Indeed, I was
not in the least pleased to see them. I came from town because I am not
well. My doctor told me I was overdoing it, and warned me of the
consequences. But what slaves are we to habit! After the first few hours
I felt utterly miserable, tired of myself and everything else. Like a
man who gets into the habit of drinking brandy, there comes a time when
he loathes the stuff. Yet he cannot keep away from it. Of course, it is
easy to moralise, to see how hollow and heartless it all is. But we go
on doing it all the same."

"Yes, we are all alike," Denne smiled. "We are all so hopelessly vulgar.
Personally, I can't see the slightest difference between the most
exclusive set and this. Her Grace sneers at the man who is proud of his
new fortune, who tells everybody what he gave for his house, and what
his carpets cost. But she is no better herself. She gives great
entertainments, or goes to the opera smothered in diamonds while
nine-tenths of her tradesmen remain unpaid. She doesn't care whether
they are paid or not. Her pomp, vanity and ostentation may differ in
degree, but it doesn't in kind. My withers are unwrung because I am a
man of simple tastes. My hobby is art, and yet, I, in my own way, I
suppose, am as vulgar as the rest of them. I like to feel my power. I
like to feel that men watch and follow my lead. Our fathers believed
that knowledge was power; to-day money is power. I value money
accordingly. I suppose I am like Cecil Rhodes in that respect, but in my
young days I was much happier with a gun or searching for a rare bird's
nest. I often wonder what my father would have said if he had lived to
see what I have come to. He was a simple country parson, perfectly
contented with his three hundred a year, and out of that he always found
money for charity. My mother was just the same. And what I have
developed into--a mere money-making machine, a man with a commercial
instinct, and the knowledge how to apply it. I don't suppose I have ever
done anybody any good in my life; I don't remember ever considering
anybody but myself, and the consequence is that, despite my success and
my good health, I am not in the least happy. I don't know why I tell you
these things, unless it be that there comes a time when a man wants to
confide in a woman, and you happen to be that woman. But I am afraid I
am rather late in the day."

"You surprise me," Adela answered. "I never took you to be that kind of
man at all. Still, isn't it in your power to right matters? You are not
bound to go on making money, you know. Why not go out of business and
take up sport, or Parliament. If I were a man, there are plenty of
things I should like to do."

"I used to think so at one time," Denne said, "but you get caught up in
the machine. You have no idea what power it has over you; you simply
can't get away from it. There are thousands of men, ostensibly rich, who
would be comparatively poor if they had to realise everything to-morrow?
Do you know what would happen if I tried to do it myself? I should
create a panic on the Stock Exchange! Scores of honest men would be
ruined and scores of shady financiers would make fortunes. So, you see,
I must go on. If I could find the right woman, possibly I might--"

Denne ceased to speak. He looked out across the landscape with a
troubled expression in his eyes. He might have said more had not at that
moment one of the parties had broken up with two of the players
strolling out into the porch. Frivolous chatter ensued, and jokes and
quips and personalities which at another time would have brought a smile
to Adela's lips gave her no pleasure. She resented the intrusion. Never
had these friends of hers seemed so silly, so inane.

"I had no idea it was so late," she said. "It is getting chilly. Mr.
Denne and myself have been discussing money matters. I have been
learning things."

"Lucky people," one of the visitors remarked. "I never have any occasion
to worry about money. I haven't any."

Adela did not stop to listen, and returned into the hall. Most of the
card tables were deserted, and several of the guests openly and avowedly
yawned. The surprise party had lost its novelty, and they were anxious
to get back to London. The hum of a car was heard outside, and from the
porch there emerged the thick-set figure of Mark Callader.

"Sorry to be so late. But I thought I would run down on the off chance
of catching you here. Been enjoying yourselves? Hallo! what are you
doing here, Denne?"

There was challenge in the speech, but Denne ignored it.

"Oh, I am following the fashion," he said; "I don't like to be out of
the movement altogether."

Callader muttered something, and stalked over to Adela with that half
truculent, half-bullying air of possession which set Denne's teeth on
edge.

"What have you been doing?"

Adela shrugged her shoulders and laughed drearily.

"What do we always do? We chatter and cackle for a time, and then with
one accord sit down to that dreadful bridge."

The Baroness's high-pitched laugh rang in the roof. She came forward
smilingly, but the glint of battle lit up her eye.

"We always talk like that when we lose," she exclaimed. "When we win it
is different. Don't tell anybody, Mark, but Adela has had a most awfully
bad night. Between ourselves, I believe she has gambled the rest of her
fortune away. She dropped a cool thousand to me, and wants time to pay."

Callader turned inquiringly to Adela.

"What's Topsy mean?" he growled.

"I thought her words were plain enough," Adela said wearily. "I owe her
a thousand pounds, and it isn't convenient to pay her this evening. I
don't know what steps she will take. She can post me if she likes, and
then I shall disappear from Society altogether."

The Baroness laughed softly.

"Did anyone ever hear such nonsense?" she screamed. "Just as if I should
do that. Of course, I can wait. I am not so hard up as all that. You can
pay me, my dear, when we meet at Callader Castle. And, by the way, Mark,
where are your manners? Don't you know that I have not had my invitation
yet? But, of course, that is an oversight."

"Nothing to do with me," Callader said in his brutal fashion. "I have
asked a few people, but I left Adela to look after the rest, and between
ourselves, my dear Topsy, I really don't think you would hit it off with
the Duchess. She is a bit old-fashioned, and your playful ways would not
be to her taste. However, I don't care. You can settle the matter with
Adela."

"The matter is already settled," Adela said solidly. "I have made up my
party, and there is no room for anybody else."

Most of the other guests were listening with some interest. They could
see that a duel was being fought between their hostess and the Baroness,
and they waited with zest to see the finish. The Baroness laughed
cheerily, showing her perfect teeth.

"As you please," she said. "And as to that little cheque?"

She paused significantly. Adela stood cold and silent, and forced the
tears back in her eyes. Was her courage leaving her? As she glanced
round at half-smiling faces, she saw Denne signalling to her. She knew
that he meant well, and for a moment she paused, suspended as it were,
between pride and poverty.




CHAPTER XXI.--A FRIEND IN NEED.


Adela did not hesitate for long; the present temptation was altogether
beyond her strength. It offered her the means of getting rid of this
woman, of triumphing over her, of letting her know she was only in the
house on sufferance. She gave a grateful glance at Denne, and turned
upon the Baroness.

"Really, you are making a great fuss about a trifle. Are we a set of
impecunious tradesmen that we cannot trust one another for a few days?
Is it the first time that either of us has won or lost money like this?
I did not say I could not pay you. I said it was not quite convenient.
However, it is far more inconvenient to go on owing this sum, and if you
will wait I'll see if I have got a cheque-book here."

Once more the Baroness smiled. This must be pure bluff on Adela's part.
There was not the slightest chance of her finding the cheque-book. The
Baroness was sure of her ground; she would prevail. Already in
imagination she was deciding what dresses she would take to Callader
Castle.

"Oh, don't trouble," she said, sweetly.

But Adela had already left the room.

She hastily tore out one of the oblong pink slips, and scribbled the
amount of her indebtedness upon it. With a smile that was bland and
sweet as the Baroness's own, she handed the paper over. Then the
Baroness's expression changed.

"That's one to Adela," a guest whispered to his neighbor. "Doesn't the
Baroness looked charmed? Just like one of those money-lending fellows
when you call to take up a bill which they expect you want to renew. I
bet you six to four Topsy doesn't see the inside of Callader Castle this
year."

"Thanks awfully," the Baroness murmured. "Sure it doesn't inconvenience
you, dear? I suppose it will be all right when it comes to be presented.
This isn't one of your little jokes?"

"I don't feel in a jesting mood," Adela said, "and as to Callader, you
will see that I can't alter my arrangements now."

Adela walked to the fireplace. It was a signal for dismissal, and the
party took it as such. They crowded round their hostess to say
good-night, and passed noisily out into the night. There was a rattle
and purring of cars, then, gradually, silence fell on the cottage. Denne
came up and shook hands with Adela in his easy natural fashion, nodded
curtly to Callader, and vanished discreetly.

Mark had thrown himself into a chair by the side of the fire and lighted
a cigarette. There was something in his heavy, dogged face that Adela
did not like. She was longing to be alone, for she was tired and weary,
and not up to anything in the nature of a scene. A week ago she could
have handled Callader easily it would have been child's play to her
then. But she had had a very trying and exhausting night, and was not
either mentally or physically equal to hostilities.

"Don't you think you had better be a going?" she said. "It is nearly two
o'clock, and I am worn out."

Callader showed no sign of taking the hint, but sat worrying at his
cigarette as a dog worries at a bone.

"I'll go presently; there's no hurry. Meanwhile, I want to know what's
the game?"

"Game," Adela cried contemptuously, "what game?"

"You know perfectly well what I mean. This game over that cheque. You
are a proud girl, and would do a good deal rather than be under an
obligation to the Baroness. You dislike her, and she would never come
here it she didn't happen to be in your set. Where did you get the
money?"

"Where do I generally get my money?"

"I know all about that. We are all hard up at times, and if you had had
the money an hour ago you would have given the Baroness a cheque then.
You borrowed it from Denne."

The color flamed into Adela's face.

"You have no right to say anything of the kind. Mr. Denne was good
enough to offer to be my banker when he saw how that woman pestered me,
and was trying to extort an invitation to Callader. If you had asked her
to come I should have declined to be present. Of course, I refused Mr.
Denne's offer; indeed, I could do nothing less."

"Of course, of course," Callader sneered. "But Denne renewed the offer
when he saw you were in a tight pace, and you accepted it. Now, I won't
have it. If you are in a mess you must get out of it without Denne's
help. I am sorry I asked him to Callader. When the party breaks up there
I will tell him a thing or two. And you will have to tell him that I
will not have him hanging about you. Sit down and write to him now."

Adela rose slowly to her feet. For the moment her weakness had left her,
and she was filled with a passionate contempt and courage which were
born of overwhelming anger.

"You coward," she cried, "you contemptible coward! Do you think because
I have promised to marry, you that you have the right to treat me in
this degrading fashion? I have told you I refused Mr. Denne's offer, and
with that you will have to be content. Must I call my servants to turn
you out of the house?"

This scornful outburst left Callader untouched. He laid two strong hands
upon Adela's shoulders. She could feel the intensity of their grip.
Possibly Callader was not aware he was using any force. A dull red glow
gleamed in his little eyes, and his face was dogged and cruel.

"None of that play-acting," he said. "Don't try me too far, or, by
Heaven, you may be sorry for it. I am not responsible for myself after a
certain stage."

"I am not afraid of you," Adela retorted. "Remove your hands at once. I
am not Mrs. Mark Callader yet."

Callader's hands fell to his sides. He was evidently putting a great
constraint upon himself; his red face shone and the big knotted veins
stood out on his forehead.

"Very well," he growled. "We will say nothing more about it at present,
only, mind, I mean to have my own way, and you shall drop Denne after
the Callader party is over. In the meantime--"

"And in the meantime I shall be glad to be alone. I came here for peace
and quietness. I am not well. The life I am leading is telling upon me.
Come tomorrow, and let us thrash this matter out. Now, please, leave
me."

Callader sullenly pitched the end of his cigarette in the fire. In spite
of his dull, suspicious wrath, he felt a grudging admiration as he
looked at Adela. She stood white and cold and set, but full of spirit
and resolution, qualities which, to him, counted for more than grace and
physical beauty. He turned without a word and closed the door behind
him.

Adela heard his car humming in the distance. The luxury of solitude was
upon her, and she dropped into a chair and covered her face with her
hands. There was a hard lump in her throat, an icy feeling at her heart
which seemed to melt suddenly in a rush of tears. As her tears fell, the
dry, hard pain which for the last few hours had been throbbing in her
brain vanished. It was good to know she could cry. It was pleasant to
feel she was still yielding to a natural womanly weakness. When she
wiped her eyes and looked up, she saw Douglas Denne regarding her
gravely and critically. There was an apologetic touch in his manner
which she had never noticed before, and he spoke in gentle tones.

"I know it is wrong of me. I ought not to have come back. I ought not to
have watched you. But I had to return because we had to transact a
little business. You were wise to accept my offer, though I did not put
it into words the second time, and I am glad you scored off that woman.
But she will probably present your cheque immediately, and if we don't
take steps to meet it the draft will be dishonored. You must give me the
name of your bankers, so that, the first thing in the morning, I can pay
in a sum of money through my firm, and make the whole thing look like a
business transaction."

"I cannot sufficiently thank you."

"I want no thanks at all. I am only too pleased to be able to do you
this little service. I'll copy the name and the branch of your bankers
from your cheque-book, if you don't mind. There is another matter I wish
to mention. I believe Callader has an idea of what has taken place.
Those thickheaded people are nearly always suspicious, and nearly always
observant at the wrong time. I didn't like the expression of his face,
nor the dogged way he sat down after your guests had gone. If he has
anything to say to me, I ought to know how far you have confided in
him."

"You think of everything," Adela said gratefully. "In point of fact,
Mark was suspicious. He accused me directly of borrowing money off you
to pay this debt, and I was obliged to say that I had refused your
offer. It is idle to disguise the fact; I lied to him."

Denne smiled as he held out his hand.

"Well," he said, "now that I know how things stand I need not stay any
longer. Good-night, once more."

But Denne was troubled in his mind as he drove homewards. He had done
everything possible in the circumstances, and yet he was haunted with
doubt whether the woman was worth it. What would his friends say if they
knew that he was carrying on a platonic friendship with Adela Burton?
Where and how was the thing to end? At all events there was plenty of
time to think it over. He would have ample opportunity of studying the
situation during the coming visit to Callader Castle.

"Is she worth it? Is she worth it?" still rang in his ears as he fell
asleep.




CHAPTER XXII.--THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF.


The daffodils were breaking into rippling waves in the orchard behind
the cottage, a nightingale had been heard among the shrubs, but Adela
took no heed of such things. Time was when she had enjoyed the country;
indeed, the furnishing of the cottage had afforded her one of her few
pleasures of recent years, but now, like Gallio, she cared for none of
these things, for she was engrossed in her own woes and miseries. In a
measure she was better, was benefiting by the regular hours and simple
food. She did not lie awake so long at nights, but her face was pale and
drawn, and there was just the suspicion of a purple shadow under her
eyes. Above all, she could not throw off the fear of impending
disaster--that dread of nameless trouble which is far worse than trouble
itself. This feeling was with her day and night.

In truth, she had enough to worry about. The more she thought over her
situation the more desperate did it seem. She had time to look her
affairs in the face, nor did she flinch from the ordeal. Her assets were
the furniture of her cottage and flat, and a certain amount of
jewellery, which would not realise anything like what it cost. Adela had
never spent much on personal adornment. She was almost sorry now she had
not. If everything were disposed of she might manage to scrape together
some ten thousand pounds to meet her creditors.

At the outset she had comforted herself with the reflection that this
would be nearly enough. It was only when she came to examine her
enormous pile of bills, to reckon up her liabilities and put them down
in black and white, that she realised what a black deficit there was.
Her only course was to wait until Samuel Burton's schemes matured, and
then, perhaps, she would have funds sufficient to pay everybody. But, on
the other hand, there was the bitter reflection that Burton's money was
the fruit of fraud and dishonesty. She could no longer disguise the fact
that she was as callous and as reckless an adventuress as any woman who
figured in the criminal courts. Burton might be a gentleman by birth,
but he was a hardened old scoundrel, and she was practically an
accessory after the fact.

She was helpless, tied hand and foot; it was idle to blind herself to
the fact. Everything conspired to point to marriage with Callader as the
safest, if not the sole way, out of her difficulties. What his resources
were she did not know, and had never inquired. But he had the appearance
of being a rich man, and Burton had said that in course of time he would
become Marquis of Kempston. There was a young heir in the way, but when
that fact had been pointed out to Burton, he merely smiled. Was there
some hidden family scandal here? Samuel Burton was not the man to make
such remarks at random; he must have had justification for them.

But to marry Mark Callader! Adela trembled when she thought of it; but
she was prepared to take the risk; there was no other way to save
herself from something worse than disgrace. Nor was she under any
delusion as to what her life would be. Callader was a cold-blooded brute
with no instincts of pity, and no feeling for anyone. He lived hard; it
was his constant boast that nothing hurt him. He ate and drank with the
best, and yet never seemed to be out of condition. The redness of his
face and the network of veins in his cheeks told their own story. But
Callader bragged that he had never known an ache or pain in his life.
Despite his knowledge of art matters, and his feeling for such things,
his tastes were low; he was always uncomfortable in the drawing-room,
and infinitely preferred the bar parlor of a sporting public-house,
especially when the details of a prize-fight had to be settled. With
these men he was quite at home. 'Bookies' were hand-in-glove with him,
and pink-eyed journalists who called him by his Christian name.
Moreover, he could ride the maddest horse that ever stepped. Adela had
seen more than one exhibition of his cruelty in this regard.

No doubt he was proud of her in his way. He would take a pride in her
beauty, as he did in his china and pictures. But he would be harsh,
callous, and brutal, and she had seen that he would not scruple to lay
hands upon her if necessary. Adela had met other men like Mark Callader.
She was on intimate terms with the wives of two of them, and knew what
the shrinking glance and the white face and timid gesture meant. Samuel
Burton knew it also. If not, why should he have told Adela that he would
give her a weapon to keep Callader in order when she married him?

There was no help for it. Adela was as much a prisoner as if she had
been undergoing a term of penal servitude. She was bound to the wheel of
circumstance. She had looked over the edge of the cliff, and the abyss
below had been darker and uglier than she had expected.

She would just have to dress her best. The day came for her journey
North. She smiled bitterly as she discussed her dresses with her maid.
As she drove towards London in her car she had ample evidence that
people took her at her face value. The car was a gleaming mass of
crimson and black, and burnished brass. There was not a woman in the
whole metropolis more beautiful or better dressed than herself. People
turned to look at her as she stood on the platform. She saw eyebrows
raised enquiringly, and heard one man telling another that she was Miss
Adela Burton, the great heiress. A little milliner with a box on her arm
regarded her with a mute homage which would have been gratifying at any
other time, but now the girl's gaze filled her with self-contempt.

Everything was being made smooth for her. She had the obsequious
attention of the railway servants, a carriage to herself, and was
surrounded with the latest books and papers. She had luncheon and
afternoon tea on the express; these intervals broke the tedium of the
long journey. She left the train for a car, in which she whirled through
keen, pure air. Presently the car turned in between two lodge gates with
the Callader arms carved in stone on each pillar. She drove up a
magnificent beech avenue, winding through the park for some two miles,
the grand old trees fluttered in their tender spring dress, the bracken
was dappled with the faint yellow stars of primroses. There were shadows
here and there in the undergrowth where the deer moved along, and across
the park was a distant prospect of the sea. Presently the house loomed
in sight, a long, grey stone building with smoothly-shaven lawns in
front, a perfect blaze of spring flowers, while the larch-woods behind
broke the sky-line with varied contour. Adela thought it a grand old
place, which indeed it was, being one of the finest ancestral homes in
England. Here for four hundred years the Calladers had flourished and
held sway. From the Castle had emerged a succession of soldiers and
statesmen whose names were writ largely in history. Adela detected
herself wondering--not without a blush--what the dead and gone Calladers
would think if they could see their two descendants of to-day. But she
could not give play to such speculations, for the great doors were
thrown open, and Adela was conducted to the beautiful old hall, with its
lantern overhead, and its stained glass in the pointed windows.
Everything seemed to be planned on the same lavish scale. Here was space
and breadth and beauty, and all the array of art treasures which made
Callader Castle celebrated.

Adela came down to dinner presently. There were a score or so of guests
in the drawing-room. She knew them all; they seemed just the same as
when she had parted with them a fortnight ago, except that they were
differently dressed. To all intents and purposes it was a replica of the
London mode--even to the cackle, the silly laughter, and inane jokes.
Douglas Denne towered above the rest, quiet and observant as usual, with
a hint of cynicism on his lips. Callader came forward, bent down, and
pressed his lips lightly to Adela's cheek. She could feel her face
flaming. The touch seemed to sting and burn her. Yet she had to smile,
to listen to the feeble jokes, and return them in kind. She would have
liked to pass out on to the wide stone terrace, to watch the sunset, but
to express such a desire would have been pronounced eccentric.

"What shall we do to-morrow?" Adela asked.

"What do you suppose we are going to do?" Callader retorted. "We shall
be racing for the next four days. That is what we came for. There is
nothing else to do in a hole like this."

A murmur of approval followed. Adela felt isolated, as if she did not
belong to these people, as if she were here on sufferance. She had this
curious sensation all through dinner, and was glad when the long,
elaborate meal was over, and they were back in the drawing-room again.
Denne dropped into a chair by her side. He could not fail to notice the
pallor of her face, and the faint purple under her eyes.

"I hope you are better," he said. "I can't say you look it, but I hope I
am wrong."

Adela shrugged her shoulders.

"I am sleeping better, and have a better appetite, but I am not enjoying
myself. Everything bores me, and I shall be glad to get back to my
cottage. I think I shall take a long tour abroad. I have a fancy for a
walking expedition. But don't talk about me."

Denne murmured that he could not conceive a more fascinating subject. It
was not in his way to pay compliments, and the speech on his lips
sounded foolish. In fact, he had been thinking constantly about Adela.
He had not solved the problem that was uppermost in his mind; could not
bring himself to make a sacrifice that might end in disastrous failure.
That he cared for Adela, he no longer tried to disguise from himself; he
knew he loved her. He had even dared to believe that his affection was
returned. But was she worth it? That was still the question. Was she a
woman to whom he could tie himself for life, whom he would have to
consider almost to the exclusion of everything else. She was out of
sorts now, weary of the empty artificiality of her existence. But how
long would that feeling last? As his wife she would have the command of
almost limitless resource. Would she think of nothing beyond the
spending of his fortune and the ambition of being the best-dressed
woman, and the leader of the smartest set in Society? The problem still
baffled him, yet he found it as much as he could do to hold himself in
hand. He did not realise that he was not the first man ready to
sacrifice everything for a woman.




CHAPTER XXIII.--AN UNSHEATHED SWORD.


Here was another familiar picture. Adela had seen it over and over
again. Sometimes it was called Ascot, sometimes Goodwood, sometimes
Epsom. There was only a change of scene--a hill there, a glimpse of the
sea there, a group of trees yonder to vary the monotony. Here was the
shouting crowd, the raucous yell of red-faced bookmakers, the long
parallel lines of white railings, and a huge stand at the back of the
paddock crammed with an excited, eager multitude, to whom the absolute
sport of racing was the last consideration, and an ingrained love of
betting the first. Yonder were the people drawn from the whole
countryside, and here was the well-dressed crowd chattering and
laughing, and making their bets on the chief race of the day. The Rokeby
Park meeting was very similar to a score of others. It had precisely
similar attributes, and produced similar excitement. This excitement was
not shared by Adela Burton. Of course, she had made her bets as usual,
but she was supremely indifferent whether she won or lost. She surveyed
the crowd through her glasses. She looked over the paddock to the rails
beyond which the coaches and carriages had drawn up in line. Most of her
own party were off somewhere, and Denne stood behind her with that
peculiar halo of aloofness which always surrounded him like an
atmosphere. Adela turned suddenly and handed him the glasses.

"I wish you would look at those people next to General Manton's coach,"
she observed. "I have an absurd idea at that I can see Mr. Burton, and a
still more absurd idea that the Baroness Lapanski is with him. It is
ridiculous, but I should like to hear you assure at me that I am
mistaken."

Denne turned his glasses in the direction indicated.

"You are not in the least mistaken," he said. "That is Mr. Burton beyond
a doubt, and, equally beyond a doubt, the Baroness is with him. But
surely there is nothing remarkable about it. There is no reason why Mr.
Burton should not go racing, and no just cause or impediment why the
Baroness should not accompany him."

Adela had forgotten that Burton had taken a house in the village.
Possibly his temporary abode was close to Callader Castle, and this
might be part of some deep-laid scheme of his. She took the glasses from
her companion's hand, and gazed at the carriage long and intently.
Burton was immaculately dressed in grey frock-suit. His glasses were
slung over his shoulder, and he seemed to be intensely amused at his
companion's talk. Even at that distance Adela could see the Baroness'
yellow hair and flashing teeth, and take in all the details of her
toilette. By and bye the pair left the carriage and strolled across to
the paddock. Adela looked for them again more than once during the day,
but without success. The incident in itself was nothing, and yet it
filled her with a sort of vague alarm. She was glad when the last race
was run, and the Callader Castle party turned their faces homewards. It
was a beautiful spring evening, almost summer-like in its balmy heat, so
that tea was taken in the great stone hall, with the doors and windows
wide open. There was still plenty of light after dinner, and some member
of the party, wiser and saner than the rest, suggested a stroll out of
doors. The guests broke up into little groups, Adela leading the way
with Callader. He had not said much to her that day; he had appeared
sulky, as if she had incurred his displeasure. At a distance Denne
followed, accompanied by Vanstone, who was of the party. They turned
into a rose-lined alley.

"It is beautifully quiet here," Vanstone suggested, "let us sit down a
bit. What a treat it is to get away from the chattering mob! I often
wonder why I visit these people at all. I sometimes wish I had been born
poor, so that I should have been compelled to work. Besides, I want to
talk to you."

"On a lovely evening like this?"

"Why not? Such a night invites confidences. How fresh everything smells,
and how delicious the silence after the roar and noise of the
racecourse! But never mind about that. What I want to know is, what are
you going to do in the matter of Adela Burton?"

"My dear fellow, what can I do?"

"You know what I mean. I have not got over the shock I had when I heard
she was engaged to Callader. That cad is not fit to have the care of a
woman. He is sure to neglect her after a bit, and I should not be
surprised if he used personal violence towards her. You promised me--"

"My dear Philip, I don't think I did. I was rather careful not to make
any promise. You were interested in the subject, you made a
psychological study of it. You thought that Miss Burton was worth
saving, and asked me to take a hand in the problem. Now, I am not quite
convinced that she is worth saving. That is the crux of the whole
thing."

"But you admire her, Denne?"

"Oh, I go farther than that, Philip. I am in love with her. I am as much
in love with her as if I were a sentimental ass of twenty-three or a
dreamer and poet like yourself. I am unpleasantly aware that there are
two sides to my nature, though I thought I had subdued one of them long
ago. Perhaps you appreciate the difficulty I am in? Is it worth my while
to give the reins to my fancy? May I look forward to a happy future, or
is there not a serious chance of Douglas Denne, the individualist and
financier, becoming known as the husband of Mrs. Denne, with the
privilege of footing her bills. I have studied this set long enough to
know how heartless and frivolous it is, and how impossible it is for any
good to come out of it. Mind, I haven't come to any decision; there is
time enough for that. Now, please, don't say anything about being tried
in a fiery furnace, or washed in the waters of adversity, or anything of
that kind, because in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred that is pure
nonsense."

"You are wrong," Vanstone said vehemently. "I tell you that girl is
worth all the trouble. I am certain of it, and you know it, too. If you
would only give your better nature a chance. But, come what may, Adela
Burton must not marry Callader. If we allow that to be done, we shall be
as guilty of murder as if we calmly watched a child drowning in the lake
here."

Denne flicked the end off his cigar.

"Make your mind easy on that score. Mark Callader will never marry Adela
Burton. I have taken steps to prevent that catastrophe. I am not sure
that I haven't done a foolish thing. I may even have put myself within
the grip of the law. But Callader is a scoundrel as well as a bully, and
when I lay certain facts before him, I fancy he will take his punishment
lying down."

Vanstone was about to reply when the people under discussion came in
sight. Callader was walking moodily by Adela's side, his hands thrust
deep into his pockets. Adela carried her head high, and her face was
pale and scornful. They went down a side path, and had not noticed Denne
and his companion, who could still see the ill-assorted couple. Callader
paused and took hold of Adela's arm. He twisted her around as a keeper
might have done who finds some loafer poaching in his woods. There was
less in the incident than in what it suggested. It was all over in a
moment, and Callader had his hands buried in his pockets again. Vanstone
turned to Denne--a curious light shining in his eyes.

"What do you think of that? It is only a foretaste of what is to
follow."

Denne said nothing. He passed his tongue over his lips, which had become
suddenly dry, but wild rage filled his heart. It might have gone hard
with Callader if the two had met at that moment. A minute later and
Callader turned aside, walking rapidly towards the house. Adela stood
motionless as a statue, looking out over the park in the direction of
the sea.

"I'll get you to excuse me for a while," said Denne, rising; "I want to
speak to Miss Burton."

Vanstone nodded; he was discreet enough to say no more. He wished the
episode they had witnessed to saturate Denne's mind, so to speak; for
its moral was evident. Moreover, Denne had undertaken to use his best
efforts to prevent the marriage.

Denne walked up to Adela, and made some commonplace remark. Her face was
deadly pale, though there was no suggestion of tears in her eyes, and
she was breathing rapidly as if she had walked far.

"It is nice to be alone sometimes," Denne said.

"And yet one gets tired of it," Adela replied. "I was longing for
someone to talk to. I have offended Callader, who has left me to go back
to the house by myself. But I am not in the mood to listen to their idle
chatter. Let us go round by the lake, and walk up the avenue. We shall
be able to manage it before dark."

Denne was nothing loth. He had got the better of his fury, and made no
allusion to the incident which was uppermost in his mind. They strolled
along side by side, enjoying the peace and harmony of the evening, until
they reached a charming little house, half-timbered and ivy-covered,
which was accessible from the park by means of an old gate of hammered
iron.

"That is just the place I should like," Adela said. "It is big enough,
and yet not too big, and such a long way from everywhere. I suppose it
belongs to the family. Probably it was built for the use of some of the
Callader spinsters in the old days. Did you ever see such a beautiful
lawn? I wonder who lives here now. I must ascertain."

Adela lingered admiring the spring flowers in their spreading beds. Then
a figure appeared, the figure of an elderly, well set-up man in evening
dress. He looked singularly handsome and prosperous, like the best type
of military man with his white hair and carefully trimmed grey
moustache. As he approached the iron gate, Adela gave a little cry as
she recognised Samuel Burton.

Apparently he heard the exclamation, for he hurried forward, his manner
easy and debonair. He nodded in friendly fashion to Denne and held out
his hand to Adela.

"A most pleasant surprise," he said. "I have taken this house for a few
weeks from the tenant, who has gone abroad. Nice place, isn't it. I saw
you at the races, but I didn't want to interfere. I have a little
house-party of my own. Baron Lapanski and his wife are here, and the
latter is so good as to act as my hostess. Come in and see the place.
You will get back in plenty of time for bridge."




CHAPTER XXIV.--THE DESIRABLE ALIEN.


Burton spoke in his most charming manner. He might have been a man of
means and position. To look at him one assumed that money was probably
the last thing he thought of. He stood with his hands behind him,
admiring the beauty of the evening, and puffing a cigar, with a sense of
exquisite enjoyment. Adela had forgotten her companion; she was so
staggered by Burton's audacity as to think of nothing else. It was the
height of folly to put his head in the lion's mouth. Adela knew that
Burton had to thank Mark Callader for his recent peril, and here he was
deliberately settling down under the very walls of Callader Castle. It
could not be a coincidence, because Burton had told her that he knew all
about Callader, and that the house had been open to him in his younger
days.

"You must be mad," she exclaimed, "mad!"

She regretted the speech almost as soon as it was uttered, for she saw
Denne looking at her with a curious expression--half-questioning,
half-suspicious, on his face. But nothing disturbed the even tenor of
Burton's serenity. He took it all as a matter of course, laying his hand
upon Adela's arm, and patting it gently.

"It is very good of you," he said, "to be so anxious about an old man
like me. It isn't often, Mr. Denne, that you see young people so
thoughtful for their seniors. You need not be afraid, Adela. You are
concerned about my distressing cough. You think me foolish to come so
far north at this treacherous season, but, perhaps, you don't know that
I am a north-countryman, and that this is my native air."

It was spoken so naturally that even Denne appeared to be disarmed.
Adela was lost in admiration of Burton's presence of mind and
resourcefulness. Without a moment's hesitation he had made her
indiscreet speech sound quite harmless and proper.

"But you had better come in," Burton went on, "if only for a few
minutes."

Adela had no objection to offer, and Denne was entirely in her hands.
They walked across the beautifully kept lawn, into the hall, where
half-a-dozen people or more were playing pool. In his quiet, observant
way, Denne noticed the Baron and his wife. He smiled faintly as his eyes
fell upon Felix Marner, who, with his wife, was also of the party.
Baroness Lapanski was seated in a big chair watching the game, but she
came forward and shook hands in the friendliest possible fashion with
Adela, entirely ignoring the latter's coolness.

"I told you I should be here," she said, "do you know any of these
people?"

"They are strangers, excepting Mr. and Mrs. Marner and your husband,"
Adela replied. "American, are they not?"

The pool players were too absorbed in their game to heed what was taking
place, for the Baroness had led the way to a large bay window some
distance from the billiard-table. At a sign from Burton, Baron Lapanski
joined the group. He was a short, enormously fat man, with heavy
features, and dark moustache and beard, the sort of person that never
says much and thereby gains a reputation for wisdom. Who the Baron was
and whence he came nobody knew or cared. He was supposed to own great
estates in Siberia, and, for the rest, his operations on the Stock
Exchange were on a large scale. At any rate, he entertained lavishly and
liberally, though no man in that set enjoyed himself less than did Baron
Lapanski. He was always bored, always suggested the tame bear on the end
of a chain. He sat silent and moody at his own parties, unless,
perchance, he had some financier to keep him company. Denne thought the
Russian came forward reluctantly. There was something in his sombre eyes
that implied that he was waiting for a lead from Burton, at whom he
glanced furtively from time to time. He was obviously puzzled and
feeling his way.

"You are right about their being American," the Baroness said gaily.
"Ah, they are not of our world to-day, but they will be to-morrow, and
between ourselves, my dear, they are the queerest zoological set I ever
sat down with. That is one of the drawbacks of being on friendly terms
with a financier like Mr. Burton. You never know who you will meet at
their houses. But all these people are tremendously rich. They have made
their money in oil, or pigs, or timber, and some other quaint trade
known only to Americans. I am sure if they knew you were here they would
throw down their cues at once to make your acquaintance. Shall I
announce you, my dear?"

"I would much rather not. By the way, how long are you staying?"

The Baroness shrugged her plump shoulders.

"I can't tell you," she said carelessly. "It lies entirely with Mr.
Burton. We shall be here till after the races, and I believe Mr. Burton
and my husband have a big deal on with these funny-looking men who are
trying to play pool. You will come over and dine with us one night this
week, I hope, and I trust Callader will ask us in return. You can tell
the Duchess I am not such a fearful person. I don't suppose she would
mind meeting me at dinner once in a way. There is no reason why she
should recognise me when next we meet. You see what a forgiving soul I
am?"

Adela said something appropriate, for to some extent the Baroness was
mistress of the situation. She was acting as hostess to Burton's guests,
and it was clearly within her province in making these suggestions.

"Now say you'll come," she said genially.

"I'll ask Mark," Adela said coldly. "I should think he would rather like
it. Those people look just the sort of men he would be fond
of--especially the one with the red moustache. But what are Felix Marner
and his wife doing here?"

The Baroness laughed gaily.

"Oh, studying types, of course," she said. "Felix Marner is a great man.
He has left his mark on his generation, as the literary men are so fond
of saying. He is the authority upon art. He lives in a world of his own.
It is so seldom that he condescends to come down to our level that we
sit at his feet and sip wisdom, just as Ruskin's disciples used to do.
But, my dear, it is only a pose after all. Despite his picturesqueness
and his mediaeval flavor, Felix Marner is as fond of the good things of
life as we are, and his perfect house in Frogmore-street has to be kept
up. It is amusing to hear his dissertations on art, and how that raw
crowd listen open-mouthed to him. But, if I am not mistaken, before we
leave Felix will have sold them a score of pictures, and a lot of china
and furniture, quite as a favor, of course, and, incidentally, put a few
thousand pounds in his pocket. Between ourselves, Marner is as big a
humbug as anybody else, and we all know it."

Burton appeared to be amused at this sally.

"We are all humbugs," he said airily, "are we not, Baron? What do you
say?"

The Baron lifted his heavy eyes to Burton's face. He looked like a dull
boy watching his master.

"I suppose we are. If you say so it must be true. We are all humbugs."

"Including Mr. Denne?" Burton asked.

Lapanski shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. Apparently the
conversation was a little over his head. Adela thought it odd that one
so dull and stupid and heavy should be looked up to as a leading light
in the world of finance, but she had an instinct that Burton was playing
with his guest. Lapanski gave her the impression that he was under his
host's thumb. She would have found it difficult to give her reasons for
this impression, but she had formed it, and, moreover, the Baroness was
looking somewhat anxiously, if impatiently, at her husband.

"I am afraid it is true," Denne smiled, "But you mustn't take away the
reputation of Felix Marner. Don't forget that he is an institution, that
there are thousands of earnest students on both sides of the Atlantic
who hang breathlessly upon his lightest word. I should very much like to
see Marner sitting down to the same table with your other guests,
Burton. Don't you think, Miss Burton, we could persuade Callader to
invite our friends to dinner?"

"An inspiration," Burton cried. "I thank you for the idea. Positively it
will be a new sensation, and my friend, the Baron, shall come out in his
true colors. He will show us what a comedian, what a judge of character
he is; like Yorick he shall set the table in a roar, eh, Baron?"

Lapanski grinned uncomfortably. A sullen red spread over his face, and
he echoed Burton's words mechanically.

"I will set the table in a roar," he said.

Adela wondered what hold Burton had over this man. Why was he treating
him with such merciless contempt? It was not usual to spurn a financier
in this way. In the world in which Adela moved there was only one thing
that inspired respect, and that was money. What, then, was the secret of
Burton's hold upon his guest? She was still pondering this question when
the game of pool was finished, and some of the guests came forward,
obviously waiting for introductions. Half an hour later Adela found
herself in the garden again, accompanied by Denne and Burton.

"There, you have seen him for yourself," the latter said gaily,
"Prosperity as well as adversity makes us acquainted with strange
bedfellows. As a financier, Denne, you must be aware of that."

"Oh, I am," Denne said drily. "In the course of my business experience,
I have met with some of the choicest scoundrels the world has produced.
They afford an entertaining study, even at the present moment--"

Denne stopped significantly, and Burton laughed as if some joke amused
him.

"I know what you mean," he said. "Upon my word, I have a good mind to
come as far as the Castle with you, and leave my guests to their own
devices for a while. They will be safe in the capable hands of the
Baroness."

"Would it be wise?" Adela asked indiscreetly.

"You are very thoughtful," Burton replied. "'But a mild evening like
this cannot do me any harm."




CHAPTER XXV.--A MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING.


Adela said no more. Burton would have his own way, and seemed so sure of
his ground, so absolutely certain of his reception, that she could offer
no further opposition. He strode gaily along by the side of the others,
chatting in his light and clever way. It was almost impossible that this
well-dressed, well-spoken, light-hearted old man could be the
broken-down, desperate creature whom Adela had gone to visit in a London
slum on that eventful night which she was not likely to forget. She was
feeling the vague dreamy sensation that had come upon her on the night
when she had first met Samuel Burton. Could this man be the penniless,
desperate adventurer, who required all his mother wit to escape from the
toils of the police? She wondered whether Denne knew anything, whether
he had guessed at the truth. But Denne was talking to Burton as he would
have talked to an equal. There was something almost respectful in his
manner. Still, it was hard to infer anything from Denne's inscrutable
face; whether winning or losing, he always looked the same. No one had
ever seen behind his mask.

They came to the Castle at length, and walked through the open door into
the great hall, now blazing with scores of electric lights. One or two
men were smoking, and the click of the balls could be heard from the
billiard-room. In a room beyond three or four tables were set out for
cards. Burton was expatiating on the beauty of the house, and the fine
proportions of the hall, when Callader appeared. He stood in the doorway
regarding Burton with a malignant scowl, apparently petrified by the
intruder's audacity.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, pointedly.

Burton turned round with his most engaging smile.

"A most natural question, my dear fellow," he said glibly, "a most
natural question. You thought I was a long way off, didn't you? In point
of fact, I am quite a near neighbor. I have taken a charming house on
the edge of the park for a few weeks. My friend, the Baroness Lapanski,
has been good enough to act as my hostess. You see, I wished to give my
adopted daughter a surprise, and she found me out this evening, by
accident. But how are you, my dear fellow?"

Callader muttered something under his breath. His dull, heavy face
flushed, and there was an angry light in his deep-set eyes. Adela,
apparently quiet and indifferent, watched the scene with a breathless
eagerness that set her heart beating and caused her limbs to tremble.
She knew by instinct that Denne was watching, too, but she did not dare
to look at him. She was waiting for the inevitable outbreak. She
wondered what form it would take. The only one of the group who was
quite at ease was the unwelcome visitor himself. He smiled pleasantly,
caressed his grey moustache, and yet, at the same time, kept his eyes
steadily fixed upon Callader with a challenging glint which was not to
be mistaken.

"Did you want to see me?" Callader asked.

"Of course I did, my dear fellow," Burton went on in the same easy
style. "I walked over on purpose. I have not seen you since the little
dinner at the house of our friend Denne. The Baroness hopes that she and
her small party may be privileged to dine here one night this
week--quite an informal affair, not more than eight or ten of us
altogether. I have six prize Americans, immensely rich, exceedingly
simple, and all ready to purchase art treasures by the cartload. They
would be glad to meet you. My dear sir, it is an opportunity not to be
neglected."

Callader made no answer at the moment. He was no match for his
keener-witted antagonist and was obviously puzzled. In his slow way he
was struggling to see what the latter was leading to. He was only sure
of one thing, and that was that Burton appeared to be standing on
perfectly firm ground. At last Callader clumsily mumbled what sounded
like an assent to the suggestion. He proffered refreshments, and was
evidently doing his best to make himself agreeable.

"Nothing for me," Burton said. "I never touch anything except at meals.
You might walk as far as the end of the avenue, and we can fix up an
evening."

"Very well," Callader said. "If you are ready let us start at once. I
can't leave my guests long."

"They will have to be desolated by your absence for a little time,"
Burton remarked. "I daresay they will manage to survive it."

The words were thrown at Callader much as a biscuit might be thrown to a
dog. Burton turned and kissed his hand gracefully, picked up a cigarette
from a silver box on the table and lighted it. As he passed from the
porch into the garden Adela could hear him dilating on the beauty of the
evening. He did not appear to have a single trouble in the world. He
resembled a simple-hearted gentleman of clean life and clear conscience.
But when he and Callader were beyond earshot his manner changed.

"What the devil are you driving at?" Callader asked.

Burton was hard and stern now.

"It won't pay to take that tone with me," he said. "You know what
happens when flint and steel strike together over a barrel of gunpowder.
Now if you live in the same glass house as I do, you can't blow up my
part of it without shattering yours at the same time. I know what I have
to thank you for. You intended to put me out of the way and were fool
enough to think you could save yourself at my expense. You'd have been
comforted to feel that I was safe in a place where I should be compelled
to pass the rest of my days. Meanwhile you would have the spending of
Sam Burton's money. A very nice arrangement, especially to a gambler who
hasn't two shillings to jingle together. But if you try that on again
the consequences will be disastrous. I don't wish you any harm, though
you haven't played the game. But I don't mind telling you that if you
make another attempt to prick my bubble you will find yours vanish into
thin air at the same time. I have made all my arrangements. Within
twenty-four hours of my finding myself in trouble, you will find
yourself in similar circumstances. Don't say I haven't warned you. I
would have shown you before long what it was to play with me, but,
unfortunately, I could not do so without injuring my adopted daughter.
It may strike you as being very strange, that I want Adela to marry you.
I am anxious to see her Marchioness of Kempston; and that is why--"

"Oh, stop your fooling," Callader said sulkily. "You know there is
little chance of that. A robust young life stands between me and that,
and he is likely to outlive me."

"In the ordinary course of things, yes. But I know what I am talking
about. I have lived amongst singular people and heard strange things in
my time, and, by a judicious use of this knowledge I have made money. I
won't tell you everything now. Some day, and that before very long, you
will know what I mean when I say that there is every possibility of
Adela Burton becoming Marchioness of Kempston. Adela will make a most
charming widow."

"I think you must be demented."

"I have counted all the chances," Burton replied airily. "I should say
that at the end of four years Adela would be mistress of Callader Castle
with an enormous fortune to keep it up. By that time you will be out of
the way. You are the sort of man that dies early. You eat enormously,
turn night into day, and it is your boast that nothing you drink does
you any harm. I understand that in certain circles, you have a high
reputation for these accomplishments. They say that long after the rest
have collapsed, you carry your liquor like a man. My dear sir, it is
just people like yourself that go off in the most unexpected fashion.
Those big veins on your forehead, and those little red lines in your
face tell their own story. I have known a hundred of similar cases. Some
men envy you and point at you admiringly. But one day it goes round the
clubs that poor Mark Callader has had a stroke, and the next thing one
hears is that he is dead. If I were a betting man, I would wager against
your living for another four years. It was the same with your father and
grandfather before you. I knew them both."

Callader shuffled along uncomfortably by his companion's side. He knew
enough and more than enough of Burton's past, but as yet he was not
aware of the old adventurer's identity. He would have given a good round
sum for enlightenment at that moment. That Burton was a man of birth and
breeding was apparent on the face of it, but that he was a scoundrel in
spite of his wealth, Burton was also aware. He did not guess that
Burton's money was a myth, and that he did not know which way to turn
for a hundred pounds. But there was no suggestion of this in Burton's
manner.

"I think we begin to understand one another," the latter went on. "You
are going to marry my adopted daughter, so I must be easy with you. If I
were you, I should be more careful. I met a man a day or two ago who was
asking me pertinent questions. There is no occasion to give the man a
name, but he is an art dealer in a large way of business, and he is
beginning to get a little nervous over one or two transactions he has
had with you lately. It was lucky he mentioned the subject to me,
because I was able to allay his fears. But I should drop it, my dear
Callader, if I were you, because if you don't, sooner or later it will
land you in trouble."

Callader's face turned a shade redder and, though he muttered something
under his breath, he gave way to no outburst of indignation. He realised
that his antagonist was far too adroit for such a clumsy attack as his.

"Take my warning," Burton said in a fatherly way. "Hold your hand for a
bit longer, at any rate. It will be time enough for that when you are
Marquis of Kempston."

"What rot!" Callader growled. "What do you mean? It is impossible."

"My dear sir, there are no such things as impossibilities. I know what I
am talking about, and when I tell you that my girl Adela will be
Marchioness of Kempston in a year or two, I am merely speaking the
truth. I won't tell you more at present. When I am dealing with a
blackguard, I am bound to keep a card or two up my sleeve. Good night.
By the way, didn't we agree to dine with you on Thursday evening? All
right. Au revoir."




CHAPTER XXVI.--GOLDEN YOUTH.


The house party rolled back to Callader Castle in high good humor. It
had been a veritable backers' day at Rokeby Park, and they all returned
with a great deal more money than they started with. Besides, it was
pleasant to contemplate one's shrewdness, and to be assured that, for
once, at all events, one had got the better of what one called the
'pencillers.' They dashed to the hall door in carriages and motors, and
the women clamored for tea. The Duchess of Southampton was as unlike the
wearer of the traditional strawberry leaves of fiction as it was
possible to imagine. For her grace was short and stout, not to say
muscular. She was dressed in the plainest of plain Norfolk jackets, her
skirt was short, and her well-polished brown boots eminently
serviceable. She wore a grey Trilby hat tilted to the side of her head,
and a beautifully tied stock ornamented with a diamond horse-shoe pin.
Her good-humored face was round and red, and her very hair was cut short
like a man's. To use her own breezy expression, she had been reared in a
racing stable, and in her heart of hearts the stud books and the racing
calendar were far more important than Debrett.

But, nevertheless, she came of a remarkably good stock, and though her
manners were free to the verge of familiarity, she never forgot herself
or her position, as many a parvenu could tell. She viewed her present
companions with good-natured contempt. Her opinion of Mark Callader she
never disguised. But then, he was a Callader, and that counted for a
great deal.

The Duchess sank down in a chair just as she was and called loudly for
tea. She had no occasion to go upstairs to change first, for she was a
law unto herself, and did as she pleased. She flung her brown leather
racing-glasses aside, and pitched her gold mounted betting book on the
table.

"The best day I have had," she exclaimed, "since Rainbow won the Ascot
seven years ago. I must have netted seven thousand, I think, and,
goodness knows, I want it, for my stables at Randwick are falling to
pieces."

Her voice was big and resonant. She drank a cup of tea with zest, and
the others crowded around her asking questions, and the whole place was
a babel of talk. The servants glided about the hall listening greedily,
though appearing to hear nothing. No subject was discussed besides
racing. Talk was still proceeding with undiminished animation when the
first dinner-bell rang.

"Let's see," the Duchess said, "haven't we a lot of people coming to
dinner to-night. Didn't you say something to me about American freaks,
Mark, and the Baroness Lapanski. Well, I am not particularly anxious to
meet her, and you had no business to ask her without my permission.
Still, I know how to deal with that sort of woman, and will put up with
her for the sake of meeting Mr. Samuel Burton."

The sun was shining brightly, the flowers in the garden formed masses of
glowing colors, the woods behind the castle were blithe with the song of
the birds. The stained glass windows in the hall trembled in the
gorgeous sunlight that put to shame the feeble twinkling of the
electrics high up in the carved oak roof. It was a shame, an outrage,
Denne thought, to shut out an evening of such splendor. He was one of
the first to make his appearance. He threw himself down in a big chair
in a corner of the hall, and picked up a cigarette idly and placed it
between his lips. He was joined presently by Vanstone. It wanted half an
hour or more to dinner-time, and most of the guests were not likely to
make their appearance till the last moment.

"Why are you obliterating yourself like this?" Vanstone asked. "Why this
modesty?"

"I am a mere looker-on," Denne answered. "To tell you the truth, I
prefer to watch the fun. If society wasn't a comedy, I should never
trouble it."

"A cheap amusement," Vanstone suggested.

"Cheap! You call it cheap? I admit it is far more amusing than the
theatre, but it is the reverse of cheap, Philip. One way and another it
costs me the best part of twenty thousand a year. Still, there are
moments when one feels the money is well laid out, and this is one of
them."

Vanstone smiled at his friend's caustic humor. From their dim corner
they saw Adela cross the hall and stand by the spacious hearth, gazing
thoughtfully at the fire. She needed not to go as far as the
drawing-room, for the guests would be received here; in fact, it was the
custom at Callader to await the announcement in the fine old hall. It
gave a greater air of freedom, and enabled the men to smoke their
cigarettes till the last moment.

Adela was quite unconscious that she was not alone. A slanting beam of
golden light from one of the stained-glass windows fell across her, and
threw her pale, beautiful face into high relief. The light trembled on
her white lace dress. She looked almost ethereal, like some thing apart,
and out of keeping with the place, save that the setting was worthy of
the picture.

"I am right," Vanstone vowed. "I am sure that woman is worth saving,
Denne. Look at the expression of her face. There are thousands of women
who envy Adela Burton, and yet I feel sure she is so unhappy she would
change places with any of them."

"You may be right," Denne admitted. "I wish to goodness I could make up
my mind. But, whatever happens, she shall not marry Callader. I am
afraid I am a bit like the dog in the manger. I cannot decide whether I
want her or not, and at the same time I won't let anybody else have
her."

"Were I in your place, Denne, I shouldn't hesitate."

Denne made no reply. Another figure now appeared in sight, and crossed
the hall jauntily. He walked gently up to Adela and laid his hand on her
shoulder. Sitting there quietly watching, Denne felt that the simile of
the stage of a theatre was more apropos than he imagined. Samuel Burton
possessed certain of the attributes of the theatre. He looked very much
like Wyndham in certain parts--Wyndham, as a well-groomed gentleman,
with an absolutely perfect knowledge of the world. And beside him, too,
stood the beautiful heroine, in need, as beautiful heroines generally
are, of advice and assistance.

The beam of yellow light fell on Burton's face, and touched his glossy
shirt front, revealing the beautiful symmetry of his tie, and seeming to
turn the ends of his moustache into gold. There was nothing smiling or
cynical about him now, and his glance was one of pure, disinterested
affection. He might have been a proud father, rejoicing in the sweetness
and grace and beauty of his child. Hard and worldly as he was, Denne
beheld the couple not without emotion. This old scamp, after all, had
one soft spot, one spring of feeling untainted, by rascality or
selfishness.

"I thought I'd come early, on the off-chance of a few words alone with
you. The Baroness will be here later with the rest of the menagerie. I
believe they are being personally conducted by that prince of cicerones,
Felix Marner. How are you, my dear child?"

Adela's answer did not reach the listeners. Vanstone whispered to his
companion that he was not feeling comfortable; their position was too
like eavesdropping. They would have to disclose themselves a minute
later, but further embarrassment was saved, for out of the stillness of
the evening came a cackle of voices, and the Baroness Lapanski entered,
followed by the rest of the guests. She had not waited to ring the bell,
nor did she deem it necessary to stand on ceremony. She merely came in
smiling, as if quite at home, while, at the same moment, the Duchess of
Southampton and Callader appeared.

"I am glad they came," Denne muttered. "I, too, was beginning to feel it
decidedly awkward, but we shall be all right now. Pass the cigarettes,
Phil. I think we may have a bit of fun before dinner. It will be worth
the journey here to see the meeting between the Duchess and the Baron."

Her Grace of Southampton politely surveyed the newcomers through a pair
of long handled glasses with the interest of a naturalist regarding a
new specimen. She was beautifully dressed now. There were diamonds about
her throat, she had discarded her 'horsey' manner, and looked to the
full what she was, and that was a great lady, indeed, She ignored the
Baroness's outstretched hand, and embraced the whole of the party with a
comprehensive sweep of her head.

"I hope you are quite well," the Baroness said sweetly.

"I am never anything else," the Duchess answered. "I live too healthy a
life, and, as a rule, make it a point to be in bed by eleven o'clock. My
only weakness is that I am a trifle short-sighted. I find it so
difficult to recognise acquaintances when I meet them again. I always
tell them this because it frequently saves a great deal of pain."

The Duchess turned aside and began a conversation with one of the guests
staying at the house. Denne looked on with a smile of amusement. The
dash of comedy appealed to him, and rendered life more tolerable.

"That was cleverly done," he said to Vanstone. "The Duchess is a many
sided woman. There is nothing so enjoyable as to see one society woman
being rude to another without being vulgar."

Burton walked easily across the room towards his host. As he drew near,
Denne noticed that the Duchess regarded him with flattering attention.
She turned to Callader and demanded an introduction, which Mark made in
his clumsy way.

The great lady drew aside the skirt of her dress, and motioned Burton
with a glance to sit down beside her. She looked a little disturbed and
uncomfortable, but her shrewd grey eyes stared Burton intently in the
face.

"So you are Samuel Burton," she said in a low voice. "I am an old woman,
and have seen much of the world and I have learnt to be surprised at
nothing. What are you doing here? Aren't you afraid of being
recognised?"

"I am not," Burton replied. "Besides, there are very few of my
contemporaries left. But there was never any deceiving you, Hilda. I am
in your hands, and throw myself on your mercy. But, please, don't let
anybody know. Let it pass that I am Samuel Burton, the millionaire; upon
my word, my dear creature, I believe I am as respectable as the majority
of my class."




CHAPTER XXVII.--THE SAXON CUP AGAIN.


The dinner, an elaborate meal served by half a score of servants,
dragged its slow length along. Priceless pictures hung on the walls of
the vast dining-hall, each standing out in its frame against the carved
oak, illuminated with its bulb of electric light beneath. Here were
examples of Rembrandts and Velasquez, Reynolds and Romney, and the rest,
which went far to represent the pictorial treasures belonging to the
house of Callader. Otherwise the hall was in darkness, excepting that
the table was one soft radiance of green light gleaming from between
banks of flowers. The American guests were properly impressed. Neither
flamboyant nor self-assertive, they had fallen under the glamor of their
mediaeval surroundings. For the most part the men were typically
American, tall and lean and clean of limb, restless of eye and quick of
hand. The women were beautifully dressed, and quite at home.

The conversation was less sparkling and less personal than usual,
perhaps because it was felt that most of it would be over the heads of
the visitors. Burton sat next to the Duchess, with whom he held friendly
intercourse. At the other end Felix Marner expatiated on art in his most
academic manner. The subject of his talk was the Velasquez which hung at
the end of the dining-hall over the carved fireplace. Dinner was ended
before the discourse, and after the ladies had retired, Marner walked
down the room and stood in front of the fireplace with the Americans
around him.

"I suppose this is the finest specimen of the master's manner," he said.
"Like so many of Velasquez's paintings, it has a history of its own. I
understand it came into the Callader family in very curious and romantic
circumstances. As you see for yourself, it is the portrait of a Spanish
lady. I believe that in the artist's time an adventurous Callader was
attached to the Court of Madrid; indeed, he was in the service of the
State. He is supposed to have married the daughter of a Spanish Don.
Tradition says that he ran away with her, to the anger of her family,
who swore vengeance. Two of the lady's brothers set out to pursue the
runaway couple, and the lady's horse fell over a precipice in Granada,
and she was killed on the spot. I fancy that Callader afterwards fought
a three handed duel with the brothers, but what was the upshot, I don't
know. At any rate, the Callader I am speaking of was able to do
Velasquez a service, and the artist painted the unfortunate lady's
portrait from memory. It was brought to Callader, and hung in the hall
here, where it has remained ever since. Few know of it, and still fewer
imagine it has become extremely valuable; indeed, apart from the
romance, the picture is one of the greatest works of art in the world."

"What is it worth?" one of the Americans asked.

Marner smiled faintly at the question. He looked as if he had expected
something of the kind. He replied vaguely that it was impossible to
reduce the value of the painting to prosaic dollars, but at auction it
might fetch fifty thousand pounds. A reverent hush fell upon the small
group of plutocrats. Their knowledge of art was exceedingly slight, but
they could appreciate the solid fact that this was something which might
realise two hundred thousand of their beloved dollars in the open
market. Denne strolled over to the little company, and watched in
carefully disguised amusement. Two of the visitors were eagerly asking
questions of Callader, who shrugged his shoulders, as if the subject had
no interest for him.

"A fine picture," Burton said, taking his cigarette from his lips to
speak. "Marvellous coloring, too. A little yellow, perhaps, but the
high-lights are perfect. But, after all, what is Art? And who are we
that judge? Don't you think a future generation may throw all our
treasures on the rubbish heap? I daresay if we came back in five hundred
years we should discover that our treasured masters were considered to
be no better than sign-painters. Of courses that is putting the case
flippantly, but fine as that picture is, I know a man who could copy it
so faithfully that you could not tell the difference between the replica
and the original."

"What do you mean by that?" Callader asked.

"My dear fellow, I mean exactly what I say. If I could borrow your
picture for a fortnight, I could replace it by one similar in every
respect. Then I could sell the original at my own price, and the
connoisseur who came here would fall down and worship the copy. It has
been done."

An ugly scowl crossed Callader's face.

"I don't like jokes of that sort," he muttered.

"Do you like any jokes?" Burton retorted. "My good man, I am only giving
you a tip. In these hard times, when a man in your position has to keep
up appearances he sometimes is driven to resort to ingenious expedients.
Upon my word, when I think of your opportunities, I marvel at your
self-restraint. This old place is shut up for ten or eleven months in
the year. Your dull-witted servants never notice anything. What is to
prevent you from removing the best of these pictures, and replacing them
with copies? You would be perfectly safe. They are all heirlooms, and
can never find their way into the sale-room. So long as they are the
sacred pictures of Callader Castle, the question of their genuineness
would never occur to anyone. In fact, there might be a serious risk to
cast a doubt upon them? What do you say, Denne?"

Douglas was enjoying the scene immensely. He knew what the rest of them
were ignorant of--that a deep and subtle meaning lay behind Burton's
innocent words. He watched Callader shifting about uneasily, and noted
the moody frown on his red face. Felix Marner, too, was rather
disturbed. He had lost his usual picturesque sang froid, and, for once,
was not posing.

"Mr. Burton is joking, of course," Denne answered. "He is giving play to
his imagination. All millionaires are men of imagination; they couldn't
be millionaires without it. Callader evidently thinks the joke has been
carried too far."

"I do," Callader muttered sullenly.

"Then let us leave Northumberland," Denne said. "It is clear these
gentlemen cannot hope to do any business with Callader. Most of them
will do better to call upon Mr. Marner at his charming house in London.
Hardly anything that is really valuable comes into the market without
passing through his hands. I myself saw something in Frogmore-street not
long ago that enchanted me. It was a gold Saxon Cup, not very much to
look at, perhaps, but exceedingly valuable. I wonder whether you still
have it, Marner; if you have, I am sure these gentlemen would like to
see it."

"Yes, I have it still," Marner said in his stately fashion. "I should
very much like to keep it for myself, but my limited means preludes any
such idea. As I am going on to Scotland from here to show it to a
collector of old plate, I brought the Cup with me. If you gentlemen
would like to see it, I shall be only too glad to fetch it."

Great virtuoso and artist as he was, Marner never lacked an eye to the
main chance, and this was an opportunity for making a handsome sum which
was not to be neglected. Immediately upon hearing of the advent of the
Americans, he had written to his bankers for the Cup, and it had arrived
by special messenger that morning. He walked quietly out of the room, as
if he were conferring a favor upon the other guests, and returned after
a while bearing the Cup in his hands. It passed from one to the other
admiringly. The Americans bent over it with awed reverence. It was the
kind of thing that stirred their imagination, the kind of treasure that
no millionaire could afford to be without. Vanstone came eagerly
forward, and asked if he might inspect the treasure. He turned it round,
held it up to the light, and then looked questioningly at Denne. But the
latter made no sign, and looked as if he were tired of the whole thing,
and desirous of getting away to something else.

"May I ask you where you got this?" Vanstone said.

"I would rather not say, if you don't mind," Marner replied. "You see, a
good many people are compelled by circumstances to sell these things,
and they don't like to have it talked about. You understand."

"I beg your pardon," Vanstone said politely.

"Oh, not at all, not at all, my dear fellow. Naturally one would give
the pedigree of the Cup to any purchaser; you may be interested to hear
that it is valued at six thousand guineas. I beg Callader's pardon for
mentioning it, and, indeed, it is hardly necessary to say that I did not
come here to do business."

The words fell from Marner's lips quite casually. He smiled in his own
gracious manner, as he wrapped the Cup carefully up in its tissue paper
again, and walked out of the room with it. He was far too clever a man
of business to appear eager, to try to quicken the pace, for he knew
that in a day or two more than one of his hearers would make a bid for
the Saxon Cup.

The group scattered, and Denne moved away to the smoking room. Vanstone
detained him a moment.

"One word," he said, "What does this mean, Denne? Is this some deep laid
scheme of yours?"

"In what respect?" Denne asked.

"Oh, you know. Why are you always beating about the bush. Don't you
recollect my coming into your house one night as Paul Lestrine was going
out? He left behind him on the table a piece of marvellous workmanship
in gold, which, I understood you had bought. You didn't show it to me at
the time, but I could see what a perfect thing it was. Now, don't tell
me it wasn't the Saxon Cup, because I know better. This being the case,
why do you allow Marner to pass it off as it it belonged to him? Surely
you haven't turned dealer? You would not demean yourself to play some of
the tricks of that trade?"

For once Denne looked uneasy, and led Vanstone by the arm to one side.

"You are quite right," he said, "but I have not tried to deceive you.
There is a pretty little conspiracy on foot here, and I am making use of
it for my own ends. But I will ask you to keep the knowledge to yourself
because it is not wholly a personal affair. I may tell you, however,
that on this depends the happiness of a lady in whom you are deeply
interested--Adela Burton."




CHAPTER XXVIII.--AN EXPERT OPINION.


"I don't like it at all," Vanstone said uneasily.

"What don't you like?" Denne asked. "Anybody would think I was doing
something heinous."

Vanstone shot a glance at his companion. The poet's thin, sensitive face
wore an expression of worry. Like men of his temperament, he was
something of a hero-worshipper, and ranked Denne high in his estimate of
contemporary humanity. Most men, to his mind, were commonplace, sordid,
ambitious, and had a keen eye to the main chance. But Denne was
different, though rich beyond the dreams of avarice, he had a
magnificent contempt for money for its own sake. He had grown wealthy
because he was cleverer than his fellow-creatures, but Vanstone knew
that he had lofty ideals and a limitless horizon. Denne would do great
good with his wealth some day, of that Vanstone felt assured.

Thus it was that Denne's present policy disturbed him; it looked as if
his friend were contemplating something mean and discreditable.

"I think you understand me," Vanstone rejoined. "I don't like to see you
do what smaller men do. I don't think it is worthy of you."

"What isn't worthy of me?" Denne asked.

"Why, such a scheme as yours; it sounds contemptible. I hope you won't
mind my plain speaking. I am afraid that I often try you."

"You are quite right," Denne smiled, "and that is one reason why we are
such good friends. Most people seem to stand in awe of me, or rather to
respect my money, which comes to the same thing. Don't you know what is
at the back of my mind? Didn't you ask me to save Adela Burton? Do you
wish her to marry Callader? Do you want to see that fine-natured woman
tied to such a brute? I promised to save her if I could, but you must
allow me to do it in my own way."

"Still, there is another method," Vanstone ventured to say. "A man so
rich and powerful--"

"Ah, there we get back to the old thing again. I thought you had a
bigger soul, Philip; and, besides, the fact that I have all this money
handicaps me seriously. Oh, I know what you think. You think that I
should be a powerful rival, that if I were to pit myself against
Callader, he would have very little chance with me. Unfortunately, I
know that too well. This is not egotism. It is merely an unpleasant
truth. The longer one moves in Society the more this comes home to one.
What girl of our acquaintance would say 'No' to the spending of my
fortune? Not one, and you would not have me put my head in a noose like
that. My position resembles that of the heroine of a novelette--I mean,
the rich heroine who dreads lest she be wooed for her wealth alone. She
pines for the right man, and eventually he comes, and all is happiness.
But then, you see, that is fiction, and this is stern reality. I don't
doubt that Adela would throw over Callader if I asked her to marry me,
but, foolish as it may seem, I hope to find a wife who will value
Douglas Denne for his own sake. That is why I hesitate, why I am forced
to meet Callader with his own weapons."

"I wish I could convince you that Adela is really worth all the trouble
and more."

"My dear fellow," Deans said with some impatience, "I believe she is. I
am rapidly coming to that conclusion. I am getting sentimental about
her. The romantic side of the situation appeals to me, but I have my
doubts, and must not throw away my future happiness recklessly. I have
pledged my word that Adela shall not marry Callader, and the only way to
deal with a man like Mark is to frighten him. He must realise that he is
in my power, and that, if this thing goes on, I shall expose him. In
this instance exposure would mean disgrace, and probably a long term of
imprisonment. For some time I have suspected what was going on, and
to-night have proved it. I laid a trap for Callader, and he walked into
it blindfold."

"That is just what I complain of," Vanstone persisted.

"But why, my dear follow, why?"

"Because it isn't worthy of you; it savors of conspiracy. And to carry
it out you have taken Paul Lestrine into your confidence. I don't like
that man; I believe he is a wolf. He only sticks to you for what he can
get out of you, and if it were worth his while he would betray you
without the slightest hesitation. You may strike Mark Callader's guns,
but take care you don't come to grief. I have forgotten most of the law
I learnt when I was called, but I know that judges take a very stern
view of conspiracy. If your plot came to light you might probably get
imprisonment yourself. But what is Callader doing?"

Denne pondered before he spoke.

"There is a good deal in what you say. Your point of view had not
occurred to me. I see I must be careful, but there is no other way. Like
most bullies, Callader is a coward at heart, and will be too anxious to
save his own skin to think much about me. But have you no idea what he
has been doing? I only found it out a short time ago. Callader is an
extravagant man. He spends money freely, yet is not very much in debt;
has no occupation, inherited little from his father, yet lives with the
best of us. Have you never asked yourself where this cash comes from?"

"There are so many mysteries in our set," Vanstone answered. "I could
point to a score of younger sons with slender allowances who appear to
be in possession of unlimited means."

"Butterflies bred on the hotbed of credit. But Callader really has the
money. Didn't you notice how angry he was when that old scamp Burton
suggested how easy it would be to raid the family treasures, and replace
them with forgeries. You see wow the fraud came to be worked. The
pictures have been here for generations. They are never likely to come
under the hammer, and so long as they are here, no one is likely to
question their genuineness."

"I begin to understand," Vanstone admitted. "But I confess I am puzzled
about the Saxon Cup? That belongs to you."

"Well, it did. But suppose it happened to be unearthed here amongst the
family treasures and that no record of it could be found anywhere,
Callader could make a few thousand pounds with impunity. He only has to
hand the thing over to Marner, who is one of the cleverest salesmen I
know, and a deal is practically accomplished. When I discovered that the
Saxon Cup had made its way from Callader Castle to Frogmore-street, I
knew for a fact what I had long suspected. I knew that Callader was
removing the art treasures here and replacing them with forgeries. I
have learnt that this has been going on for a considerable time. If I
remain silent, it will never be found out, and Callader has hit upon an
ingenious method of putting a quarter of a million or so into his
pocket. The fact that he spends it as fast as he gets it does not affect
my argument. Now, my dear friend, you see how I hope to prevent Callader
from marrying Adela Burton. I am not proud of my scheme, but it is the
best I can think of."

Vanstone shook his head sorrowfully; the more he thought over this plan
the less he liked it. The two were still in the dining-hall; the table
had been cleared, and the servants had departed. It was a singularly
unfitting scene for sordid criminality and cheap detective work. It was
extraordinary to gaze upon the marvellous creations on the walls, and to
know that they were remarkable but deliberate forgeries. Vanstone passed
from one to another, looking at each long and carefully. Denne, with his
back to the fireplace, watched his friend with a slight smile on his
face. At that moment Burton came into the room. He wanted his
cigarette-case, had anyone seen it? He found it presently on an old oak
cabinet, and strolled over to Denne. He stood by the capitalist's side,
debonair, comfortable and quite at home. It was impossible to associate
such a man with anything sordid or contemptible.

At the same time, there was a touch of cynicism in his smile as he
nodded towards Vanstone.

"Does your friend know anything about pictures?"

"He has a feeling for them," Denne replied. "Vanstone has the artistic
temperament. We were talking just now of your theory that it would be
easy to remove these pictures, and substitute copies for them."

"Oh, it was only a passing fancy," he said. "I have heard of such things
being done. To my knowledge it happened some fifteen years ago in
Germany. The culprit was a serene Highness who was trustee for some
large properties, and there was a fine hullabaloo when the thing came to
be known. Of course it was hushed up. They manage those things better in
Germany than they do in England. All the priceless treasures were lost,
most of them turning up in the galleries of an American millionaire.
Some ingenious swindlers afterwards discovered what had happened, and
compelled the Yankee to disgorge. He, poor man, took them to be
connected with the German Court, and parted with the treasures without
questions asked."

"A very interesting story," was Denne's comment.

Burton did not say that this was a personal reminiscence. The moral of
the narrative would not have been affected if he had. He inspected the
Velasquez over the fireplace, and laid his hand upon a flaw in the
panelling in which the painting was embedded.

"Now look at this," he said. "The picture has been here for two
centuries at least. During that time, I understand, it has never been
removed. But if you will examine this woodwork you will see that a screw
has been removed quite recently. Far be it from me to suggest anything
wrong. Our young friend Callader bears too high a reputation for that.
Still--"

Burton broke off significantly and smiled to himself as he left the
room.

"That is very strange," Denne observed. "I wonder--well, it is no use
wondering; I must find out for myself."




CHAPTER XXIX.--A LEAF FROM THE PAST.


Burton returned to the great hall with a self-satisfied air. He had not
dropped the hint to Denne for nothing. It was part of the scheme he had
in his mind. He found Felix Marner in the hall expatiating to the
Americans. It was doubtful whether they understood half of what he said,
but they followed him with none the less interest because he had as high
a reputation in the United States as he had in Europe. It would be the
correct thing to say they had met him. Moreover, every genuine American
is fond of a lecture. For a moment there was suspicion of a sneer on
Burton's face as he paused to listen. The hall was large, and he caught
only the faint murmur of Marner's voice. In a distant corner a trio of
vacuous looking youths were discussing tomorrow's racing programme. They
had a litter of sporting papers and guides before them, and weighed up
the chance of this or that horse with an earnestness which spoke volumes
for their folly.

Callader was nowhere to be seen; probably he was in the billiard room
playing with some of his guests. Burton could hear the click of the
balls and the shrill sound of laughter. In one of the small
drawing-rooms the lights were low, and a dozen persons were bending with
concentrated interest over the bridge tables.

Adela came through a curtained doorway presently, and sat down, looking
white, jaded and tired. Burton's heart smote him, and he crossed over
and took a seat by her side. He patted her hand gently.

"You don't look at all well," he remarked. "You ought to be happy."

"I ought to be," Adela said, "but I am not. Oh, why should there be any
pretence between us? I wish you had never come back. I wish you had left
me to my own resources. I have tried to break away from this, to free
myself, but it is impossible. If I could only get enough money to
pay--"

"My dear child, you are not worrying over that!" Burton exclaimed. "You
will have plenty of money soon. In a week or two I shall be in funds
again. Besides, before long you will marry Mark, and be mistress of
Callader Castle. Yes, I know you think there is an obstacle, but that
will be removed."

"When can I have some more money?" she asked.

Burton was most sanguine. There were grand schemes in hand, he said.
They were more or less certainties, and before long Adela would command
more wealth than ever. Burton had all the shallow hopefulness of the
born gambler and adventurer, and always pinned his faith to the morrow.
But Adela listened with sinking heart. It was hateful to touch this
money. It was different when she was ignorant of its source. Now, she
would have liked to decline any further assistance from Burton, but she
could not do it yet. She would keep her own counsel, and say nothing to
anybody, and, when the golden stream began to flow again, she would
clear off her liabilities, and disappear. She had ample excuse; she was
run down; her physician had been imperative as to her need of a thorough
change. She would take it, and in a year be forgotten. In twelve months,
if her name was mentioned, people would ask who she was.

With this comforting thought uppermost in her mind, she sat gazing into
space. She saw nothing of Burton's concern and affection, nor heeded the
paternal note in his voice. The Duchess of Southampton spoke twice
before Adela was conscious of her presence.

"You are wanted in the billiard room," she said. "Now, run away and make
yourself agreeable. I want to have a chat with Mr. Burton."

Adela vanished, and the Duchess took her seat, and turned upon Burton
with grim directness.

"I have been waiting nearly all the evening for this opportunity. I want
an explanation. What are you doing here?"

Burton smiled with perfect equanimity.

"What a question!" he said. "In the first place why shouldn't I be here?
Don't you know that I am Mr. Samuel Burton, the American millionaire. It
doesn't matter how I made my fortune. Nobody asks such questions in the
States. The new man simply crops up, startles Wall-street by his daring
operations, and the press does the rest. Within a day or two the papers
are teeming with the story of his millions. He takes a suite of rooms at
one of the best hotels, gives out that he is building a five-million
dollar place on Fifth-avenue, and the thing is done. Meanwhile, it is
possible that he has not got a single dollar. But, then, the American
papers like to add another to their list of millionaires--they think it
enhances the importance of the nation. They imagine it makes Europeans
jealous. And that, my dear Hilda, in a nutshell, is the story of Samuel
Burton's fortune."

"Are you a millionaire?"

"Oh, that is quite immaterial. Do I look like a poor man? Does my
adopted daughter look like a poor man's child? You know what she has
been spending the last few years. I never indulged in undue extravagance
at any inconvenience to myself."

"That is true," the Duchess said candidly. "I never met a man in my life
so cruelly callous and selfish as you. You were the same even as a boy.
You ruined your friends without the least compunction. You broke your
mother's heart, and your father's suicide was directly attributable to
you. You left the army in disgrace. If you had not belonged to a great
family you would most assuredly have been prosecuted. You took advantage
of your young brother officers' ignorance to rob them at cards.
Everybody who knew you was glad when you disappeared from England. It
was a load off the mind of your acquaintances. We all thought you were
dead."

"Or hoped so," Burton said coolly.

"Well, yes; except one or two foolish women. Like most scamps you were
very handsome and fascinating. You are a handsome old man now, and
strangely enough you don't bear the least trace of one who, for the best
part of his life, must have been rubbing shoulders with the scum of the
earth. Your appearance would be security for anything in reason."

"I suppose it would," Burton said with a smile.

"And now you come back as if the past were extinguished. I can quite
understand when I look at you again how you have not been recognised,
and I see you possess your old fascinations. If anybody had told me I
should be sitting here to-night talking in this friendly way to Samuel
Mostyn, I should have laughed the idea to scorn. I should have said at
once that if he dared to address a word to me I would instantly have
exposed him, and had him turned out of the house. But I have done
nothing of the kind, simply because, forty years ago, I was weak enough
to be fond of you, and would have followed you to the end of the world.
I didn't have the chance, however, which was a good thing for me."

Burton listened good-naturedly, and the under-current of bitterness in
his companion's speech did not touch him at all.

"My good soul," he said, "isn't this ancient history? But I am glad we
met to-night, because I want to talk to you about Adela. You may not
believe it, but I am very fond of that girl. When I met her first she
was a tiny child, and I was in a position of great danger."

"From the police?"

"My dear Hilda, I could never tell a lie to an old friend like you. I
have never actually been in gaol, but I should have been incarcerated on
this particular occasion if Adela had not helped me. I had a long spell
of prosperity afterwards; in fact, I have been more or less fortunate
ever since I made Adela what she is. I took her out of the slum in which
she was living after her mother died."

"I thought she was a lady," the Duchess interrupted.

"So she is. You have only to look at her to see that. On her father's
side, at any rate, her pedigree is all right. Her mother was a dancer, a
brilliant dancer, a brilliant beauty, who was a great favorite amongst
certain men. Now I am coming to the point. I daresay you wonder why I am
so anxious to see my adopted daughter married to Callader."

"It is a marvel to me," the Duchess said drily.

"I thought it would be. But you see, when I am finished--and the need is
much nearer than people imagine--Adela will have little or nothing. I
make enormous sums of money, but I am no millionaire. I shall leave
nothing. But if Adela marries Callader, I can pass away with the
comfortable assurance that her future is provided for. When she becomes
Marchioness of Kempston--"

"My good man, what are you talking about? You forget young Guy stands in
the way."

"No, that is precisely what he does not do. I am going to tell you a
secret, because I can trust you. You know what a wild fellow the late
Marquis of Kempston was. You know that five and twenty years ago it was
considered discreet for him to disappear to America. I met him in the
States in some very shady company indeed. I introduced him to Sophie
Letolle, and was present at their wedding. Adela was the only child of
that union. Please don't interrupt me for a moment. You are going to say
that this makes no difference because Kempston married again at home,
and had a son, Guy. But he parted from Sophie after twelve tempestuous
months with her, came home to England, and married under the impression
that she was dead. He didn't know that his first wife was alive, or that
she had borne him a child. I couldn't inform him, because he broke his
neck in the hunting field soon after Guy's birth. I am able to prove all
this, and can show you the necessary documents if you like. It will be
hard upon Guy to oust him in this fashion, but the fact remains that he
is no more heir than I am and that the real heir of the family is Mark
Callader."

The Duchess swayed her fan backwards and forwards. For once in her life
she was too astonished to speak.




CHAPTER XXX.--"BEWARE OF ENTRANCE TO A QUARREL."


Samuel Burton had dropped his easy debonair manner, and was speaking
with unusual earnestness. He sat with his hands folded between his
knees, and his looks declared his anxiety. For once the Duchess was
utterly astonished, though she had frequently plumed herself as being
proof against any sensation whatever.

She knew Burton's character, and that, as a rule, his word was not to be
trusted. But it never occurred to her to disbelieve him in this
instance. There was no reason why he should fabricate such a story, and
so far as her grace could see, Burton would not benefit by the fraud.

"Now, is this true?" the Duchess inquired at last.

"Yes, really, and I will help you to prove it. This card contains the
name and address of a man who can give you chapter and verse for
everything I say. I ask you as a favor to take this matter up, and go
through with it. Unfortunately, I shall not be here to lend you any
assistance."

"Are you going away?"

A peculiar smile hovered on Burton's lips.

"Yes, I am going away," he said with strange gentleness. "But my journey
is not of the kind you are thinking of; it is the journey which we must
all take, and from which we never return."

"My dear Samuel, do you mean that you--"

"Precisely; that is exactly what I mean. I have known it for some time
past, and have had more than one imperative warning which is not to be
disregarded. The next attack will be the last, and it may come at any
moment. You can't lead the life I have been leading for forty years
without paying the price. The anxiety is killing, and when you people
say that scoundrels like myself have no heart or conscience, don't
believe it. We suffer as other folks do, and our anxiety is far greater.
One does not go into a bold scheme without the imminent risk of gaol as
one's sole reward in the same way as one sets out for a fortnight's
shooting. I don't know why I am talking in this strain; perhaps it is
because you believed in me once. Anyhow, you are one of the few friends
I ever had, and I know I can leave the future of my girl in your hands.
I have worked and schemed for her as if she were my only child, and I
wish her future to be assured. What I could do for her has practically
been done already; I am near the end of my resources, But she will be
provided for if she marries Callader and becomes Marchioness of
Kempston. In any case she will be entitled to some income out of the
estates--perhaps two or three thousand a year--as the Lady Adela
Callader, daughter of the late Marchioness of Kempston. Of course,
Duchess, there is no occasion for immediate hurry, and we may have
opportunities of discussing this matter again. On the other hand, we may
not, and that is why I mention it now. I shall be found dead in my bed
some morning, if not to-morrow, some other day--and it will be soon."

The Duchess was moved in spite of herself. She was a woman and the
romance and pathos of the thing impressed her. She would have said more,
only Adela came up at that moment, and Burton walked away, as if in
search of recreation. The party in the billiard-room had broken up, for
Callader lounged heavily in the hall, frowning as if displeased.
Possibly he had been losing, and he was a bad loser. Possibly he had
been drinking, too, for there was a dully, crimson flush on his face,
and the veins on his forehead stood out a brilliant purple. Adela
fancied he was trying to pick a quarrel with Denne, for Douglas talked
in what Callader found an irritating fashion.

"What is the matter?" the Duchess asked.

"I haven't the remotest idea," Denne said. "I have incurred our host's
displeasure. Perhaps he can explain; I am sure I can't."

"He knows all about it," Callader growled. "There are more ways than one
of telling a man you consider him a fool."

"Did I insinuate that?"

"Need you ask?" Callader retorted. "I am getting tired of it. If you
intend to stay here, I'll thank you to be more civil in future. Upon my
word, you moneyed men think you can do and say anything. There was a
time when people in society--"

"Don't you think you are going too far?" Adela said gently. "I am
certain Mr. Denne can have said and done nothing to offend you
intentionally."

Callader lifted his heavy eyes to Adela's face.

"You are like all the rest of them. If a man has plenty of money he can
do no wrong. As if money were everything. We are going too far in
worship of the dollar. It is all money nowadays. When I was a boy, in my
uncle's time, a man like Denne would have been only too glad--"

Denne laid a hand on the speaker's shoulder. His lips were rigidly set,
and there was a steely glint in his eyes. Adela hoped he would not lose
control of himself, and even the Duchess was uneasy at the turn things
threatened to take. She addressed a sharp reproof to Callader, but this
only added fuel to his wrath.

"I think I had better go," Denne said. "Callader imagines some grievance
which will have vanished in the morning."

"Say I've been drinking!" Callader exclaimed.

"I should have a very poor regard for the truth if I said anything
else," Denne replied.

He turned on his heel and walked quietly away, leaving Callader
speechless with rage. He was breathing heavily, and gave out an aroma
which resembled whisky more than it did eau de Cologne. The Duchess of
Southampton turned her back upon Callader, deeply offended. Adela must
stay and hear what Callader had to say. She had some idea, too, of what
was passing through his mind. She knew that he was jealous of Denne, and
that, perhaps, he had some cause for this feeling. Her heart was hard
and bitter, and she protested silently that this tension could not
possibly continue. That she had promised to marry such a man humiliated
her. Nay, it appeared absolutely incredible that she was going
deliberately to tie herself to Callader for the rest of her natural
life. She ignored his strength and his manhood, and only dwelt on the
innate brutality of the man who could so far forget himself as to insult
a guest under his own roof.

"Why do you do these things?" she demanded. "Why do you behave in such a
disgraceful fashion? This is not an assault-at-arms or a turn at a
music-hall. I never felt so ashamed of myself before."

Callader dropped heavily into a chair and gazed moodily into the empty
grate. He was in one of his sulky moods, and Adela knew what that meant.
With a gesture of contempt, she turned and left him. From the
billiard-room and card rooms beyond came the noise of chatter and
laughter. No one appeared to miss Callader. None regretted his absence.

The American party departed presently with Samuel Burton at its head,
and the Duchess palpably yawned as she made her way upstairs. The door
leading from the hall to the terrace was still open. It was very
tempting, and as Adela desired to be alone in the fresh air and the
darkness so that she might be at peace to think over the near future,
she went outside, and paced up and down the terrace. She could see
through the open windows into the ball, and in the stillness of the
night every word was audible. Denne had evidently returned, for she saw
him standing in front of Callader, apparently to afford the latter a
chance of explaining himself. Denne's expression was hard and cold, and
he seemed to be taking quite another attitude from that he had adopted
so long as the Duchess and Adela were present.

Though she knew it was improper to listen, Adela was fascinated, and
seemed rooted to the spot. She could not but hear Donne, and saw
Callader rise to his feet and stand before Denne in a threatening
position.

"You mustn't do that," Denne said crisply and clearly. "You mustn't take
that tone, now we are alone. If you wish me to leave, you have only got
to say so, but be careful, please, how you make an enemy of me. I am
amused to see you posing as the master of Callader. Why, I could ruin
you by lifting my finger. If I only said a dozen words you would be
expelled from your clubs, and stand in the dock, answering a criminal
charge. You imagine I don't know what is going on here? Do you think I
don't know where you get your money? You may hoodwink some, but your new
scheme for amassing wealth suddenly isn't clever enough to deceive me.
What would Miss Burton say if she only knew?"

"That's it," Callader said thickly, "that's it. I knew you were jealous.
You haven't got much of an opinion of me, but I can see as far as most
people. You are jealous, because the girl prefers me to you."

"Are you sure she does?" Denne asked quietly.

Adela felt the blood mounting into her cheeks. Something in the question
set her tingling from head to foot, and it went home to Callader, too,
for he clenched his fist and drew back his right arm menacingly. Denne
merely smiled.

"Have a care," he urged, "have a care. Remember that I am your guest.
Still, if you like to defy me, you can. But you won't do that, for the
simple reason that you are afraid to. I know too much, and the
consequences would be too serious. But whether we are to be enemies or
not, one thing is certain, you shall not marry Miss Burton."

Once more the blood flamed into Adela's face, and she glanced through
the window in expectation of a violent outburst from Callader. But none
came. On the contrary, Callader flung himself back in his chair again,
and laughed harshly.




CHAPTER XXXI.--A COUNTER-PLOT.


Adela withdrew to her room and dismissed her maid for the night. She
longed to have what she called a 'good think.' She sat before her
dressing-table looking vaguely at her reflection in the glass. Was this
white-faced woman with the rings under her eyes the Adela Burton whom
people professed to find so beautiful and fascinating? She smiled with
self-pitying contempt. Was any woman in England more miserable than she?
What a sham and fraud she was--moving amongst the salt of the earth, in
the exclusive circles which were at once the envy and admiration of
those beneath them!

From the outside it looked a veritable fairyland of beauty and wealth
and pleasure that never palled. Her name for it was Whited Sepulchre.

Adela felt that, though she was surrounded by every luxury and comfort,
she was little better than a criminal. She was tied to the wheel, and
must go on to the bitter end, whatever that end might be. There was no
snapping of the fetters, no prospect of freedom or peace or happiness in
the future. She must marry Mark Callader, and then confess to him that
she was only a pauper. On her part she must suffer him to the end of her
days.

Yet there was comfort and consolation in the enigmatical remark Denne
had addressed to her affianced husband. She had never analysed her
feelings towards Douglas, although she knew he cared for her. He was a
clean-living man of good report of whom any woman might be proud. If
Denne had asked her to marry him, Adela would have done so, primarily
for his money, but, at the same time, counting herself fortunate amongst
women in that Denne was a fine personality apart from his wealth.

But why did he make that remark? It was made in no boasting spirit, but
rather as an intimation of clear and undoubted fact by a strong man who
knew his mind, and realised what he said. On the face of it, it seemed
ridiculous, but Denne had weighed his words, and had spoken with a full
sense of responsibility.

What did he mean by it? Why had he set out to accomplish this end? Why
had he spoken so contemptuously to Callader, as if the latter were only
a dishonest clerk detected in a petty theft? He had roundly accused
Callader of being a thief. He had spoken of proofs which would
infallibly lead to Callader's arrest if they were made public. Adela
smiled bitterly; there was hardly a soul about who was honest and
upright. Ah! but if it were practicable to release her from her promise
to Callader? An intense longing to know the truth came over her, and she
was impelled to see Denne and learn what this mystery was. It was not
too late to go downstairs. She heard voices below as she stood on the
wide landing. She heard the click of the billiard balls.

Descending very quietly, she paused at a turn of the wide staircase, for
she saw at a lower stage Callader and Marner in intimate conversation.

The latter lay back in the depths of an armchair, his legs crossed, the
tips of his long, slender fingers pressed together, and spoke in his
cool, deliberate way. His delightfully clear enunciation enabled Adela
to hear quite plainly. Doubtless he was under the impression that he was
alone with Callader, and could not have known even a whisper carried in
the resounding hall.

"This is a serious matter," he was saying, "My dear sir, I don't think
you realise how serious it is. Do try to pay some sort of attention."

"This is the second time to-night," Callader said in his thick voice,
"that I have been accused of--"

"The truth isn't always palatable," Marner replied. "And besides, it is
no reproach to you. I have just been talking to a man who has come all
the way from London on purpose to see me. He told me certain things
which caused me a considerable amount of anxiety. I wonder if you ever
met a man called Lestrine?"

"I know him," Callader muttered. "Italian, isn't he? One of the best
judges of objects of art I have ever known, wonderfully clever in
unearthing rare curios, especially those of historic interest which have
been lost sight of."

"Such as the Saxon Cup?" Marner murmured.

"Eh, what? The Saxon Cup? Why, that belongs to us. I found it myself.
But you know the history of the find."

"You were looking among a lot of old rubbish in a chest, and discovered
the Cup. You showed it to me, and I pronounced it to be the genuine
thing. It is the genuine thing beyond a doubt, but that is not exactly
the point I want to arrive at. Let us suppose that you have an enemy,
and that that enemy has acquired certain information which might land
you into trouble. We'll say, still, for the sake of argument, that you
have been disposing of the family treasures and pocketing the proceeds."

"Hush! hush!" Callader said hoarsely. "Suppose anybody should hear."

"There is no fear of that. We are alone, and I am speaking very quietly.
To continue, suppose you have been doing this kind of thing for years.
You could make a very handsome income."

"You know I have," Callader growled.

A pained expression came over Marner's face.

"My dear fellow, you wound me," he said softly. "I know nothing. How
should I? We do business together, and when a man in your position
brings anything to me to dispose of I will not insult him by asking him
where he got them. I am merely putting a suppositious case."

"Go on, you old fox," Callader exclaimed. "Upon my word, as you sit
there, the picture of respectability, I begin to wonder whether I am
dreaming or not. I begin to doubt the evidence of my senses, and my
knowledge that you are the greatest scamp of us all."

Marner sat perfectly unmoved. His pose was unaltered, save that he shook
his head sorrowfully, and muttered that it was impossible for a man to
do business, and indulge his taste for intoxicants at the same time.

"Humbug me if you like, Marner, I believe you are capable of humbugging
yourself, too."

"Then we will resume our discussion," Marner went on in his even tones.
"We will suppose that your enemy is in a good position, and commands
unlimited money. He suspects what you are doing. He is naturally anxious
to prove it, because he wants to get you in his power. Afterwards he
will be able to dictate terms, to make you do just as he likes. He might
even prevent your marriage. He has his own way of getting at the bottom
of things. We will suppose that he sends a confidential messenger to the
Continent to search for some unique art treasure. We will suppose that
the messenger succeeds in procuring an article of rare historic
interest, let us say, the Saxon Cup."

Callader started from his seat. He was betraying more than a sullen
interest in the conversation.

"Do you mean to say," he demanded, "that Denne had the audacity--"

"My dear sir, I mention no names. But if this Cup were deposited among
your family possessions in such a way that you were bound to find it,
and it was eventually handed over to me to dispose of, your enemy would
have proof positive that his suspicions were correct. Now do you see the
situation? Now do you realise the position in which you will be placed."

"But," Callader protested, "he never told anybody where the Cup came
from. In any case, you must have been a fool--"

"My dear sir, why be so impetuous? How could one possibly tell that this
adroit conspiracy was on the tapis? How could one know that the Cup had
actually been placed where it should he found, and that your enemy
should stand quietly by, enjoying the comedy, when the Cup was submitted
to certain American gentlemen for examination? If you ask why I didn't
think of this before, I answer, how could I? But this is how the matter
stands, and at the present moment your position, is not--"

"Our position, you mean,"

"Oh dear, no, your position. I beg to state that I had nothing to do
with it. The Cup was handed to me by you for disposal. I propose to
forget this conversation before I go to bed. If I had to give evidence
in a court of law, I shall be unable to recall a single word of it. Make
your mind easy on that point, Callader. But if trouble arises, and there
is any--hem--litigation, you will have to conduct your case
single-handed. On the other hand, if you care to be diplomatic, and
place yourself entirely at my disposal, I think I can show you a way
whereby you can turn the tables and make a good round sum of money at
the same time. There is such a thing in this country as a law against
conspiracy. That interference with the liberty of the subject is
peculiarly obnoxious because it is little better than blackmail. You may
be all your enemy takes you for, but this move of his is a criminal
offence, and if you only had pluck enough--"

"No man ever questioned that," Callader interrupted. "Don't worry about
my pluck; I can take care of that. How did you learn all this?"

"I learnt it from Paul Lestrine. He came down here to-night to see me.
He must leave England at once; his doctors tell him he cannot possibly
spend another winter here. He is a poisonous scoundrel and has behaved
very badly to Denne, who has been a very good friend to him. But that is
by the way. He wants ten thousand pounds, and I think I have shown him
how to get it. You will have to pay the money, but that won't matter,
since you'll get it back fifty-fold from Mr.--, I forget your enemy's
name. Would you care to see Lestrine, and talk it over with him? He is
in one of the alcoves in the garden, smoking cigarettes."




CHAPTER XXXII.--IN AMBUSH.


Adela had no scruple in deciding to follow the matter up, whether she
were guilty of eavesdropping or not. She felt a real concern for Denne;
indeed, she had not hitherto realised how deeply she was interested in
him. He had been a very good friend to her; with the exception of Samuel
Burton, perhaps the best she had ever had. Moreover, he admired her,
which naturally counted with her as a woman. It was gradually dawning
upon her as not improbable that this alleged conspiracy on Denne's part
was connected with his intention to prevent her marriage with Callader.

But if Denne had really done anything to compromise himself legally, he
must be saved from the consequences of his rashness. Adela might be
impecunious, and her position be desperate, but that was no reason why
she should not help her friends. She might learn something to-night
which might prove of inestimable value to Denne later.

She waited until the way was clear, then quietly stepped out on to the
terrace. The night was warm and pleasant, and fairly dark for the time
of the year. At the end of the terrace was an elaborate alcove with
comfortable seats, and a table in the middle, and Adela made out Marner
and his companion from the glowing tips of their cigars. Walking on the
grass she was able to draw near without attracting notice, and presently
went to the side of the alcove and looked through the latticed windows.

"Show a light," Callader said impatiently.

"Is it necessary?" Marner asked, in his smooth voice. "Surely it will be
far safer to stay as we are."

"Nobody will see us. Who is likely to come at this time of night? I
prefer to look at the man I am dealing with. I am not so confoundedly
clever as you are. There's a switch somewhere behind you; turn it on."

A soft light glowed in the alcove from a pair of electric bulbs in the
roof. It was not a powerful light, but it served to render the darkness
outside all the more intense, and Adela could listen at the window in
absolute safety. She saw Marner and Callader standing, and seated in one
of the chairs was the sinister figure of Paul Lestrine. He gazed from
one to the other with an inscrutable smile in his eyes. An astute
observer would have known at once that he was the real master of the
situation.

"I am glad to see you," Lestrine said in his quiet way. "I have been
talking to Mr. Marner, and I see you, sir, have been talking to him
also. You have a proposal to make--"

"I am not sure of that; it all depends upon circumstances. What do you
want?"

But Lestrine refused to be drawn. He sat quietly smiling; he felt his
power, and evidently he would know how to use it when the time came.

"I would like to hear you speak first. You see, I am a poor man. I have
not the nerve I used to possess. Mr. Denne is not to be trifled with."

"What's the use of all this infernal diplomatic nonsense?" he exclaimed.
"Why don't you come to the point? You are a rascal, Lestrine, and the
sooner you realise it the better. You want me to make a bargain with
you, and I am prepared to do so if it is worth my while. What is your
figure?"

"Oh, gently, gently," he said. "My dear Callader, we shall never get to
business if you begin in this fashion. There are preliminaries to
settle. Of course, if you like me to withdraw, and leave you to discuss
this matter with Lestrine, I shall be willing. It is no concern of
mine."

"Oh, isn't it?" Callader rejoined in his brutal way. "You can't detach
yourself like that, my friend. You may be devilish clever, but if I
choose to speak, I can tell a few strange stories. Why not have this
thing settled in a plain manner? We are three rascals, and it would be
hard to say which is the worst. So far as I can see, Denne has some hold
over me and Lestrine has come to show me a way out of the mess. To do
that, and betray his master, he wants ten thousand pounds. If he can
show me how he proposes to earn the money, I am willing to pay it. Now,
go on, Lestrine, and no more beating about the bush."

"Well, it comes to this," Lestrine began, "I have to leave England
almost at once. My doctor tells me I am threatened with consumption. It
is imperative, he says, that I should try a warmer climate. I must not
stay in England later than September. That is unfortunate, because I
have many projects on hand, for, after all, there is no country like
this for the making of money."

"You must have made a great deal," Callader observed.

"Oh, I have. But, then, you see, I have the sanguine temperament. I
cannot resist a speculation. Therefore, directly the money comes to me,
it melts away like snow. At the present time I have practically
nothing--nothing but a great scheme which I propose to keep to myself.
For that scheme I need at least ten thousand pounds. With so much money
I can go to the South, and work there what you call it--like a mole in
the ground. It will be for you, Mr. Callader, to give me this money. It
is not very much I ask."

"A mere trifle!" Callader sneered. "And how are you going to earn it?
That's all I want to know?"

"I would earn it this week," he said. "I would prevent you from being
ruined by Denne. Why he hates you I neither know nor care; it is no
business of mine. I cannot tell whether he is right when he charges you
with breach of trust in selling the family pictures and other treasures.
I do not even say that such is the case, but Denne thinks so, though he
does not honor me by taking me into his confidence. But such are his
suspicions, or he would not have instructed me to purchase a Cup we know
of, and hide it at Callader, where you would be certain to find it. Am I
not correct? Was not something of the sort discovered? Was it not shown
to-night to certain guests of yours in Denne's presence? You need not
answer the question. You see, if Denne follows this up, if he makes it
public property, there are many awkward questions--"

"Yes, yes," Callader exclaimed, "but get on."

"I am nearing my point. I can show you, I think, how to turn the tables
upon Denne. We will suppose that you and Mr. Marner take me by surprise,
and force a confession out of me. We will go further, and assume that I
sign the confession. I need not elaborate it. I have only to tell the
plain, unvarnished truth, and you have in your hands a weapon wherewith
you can stab Denne to the heart. Armed with such a document, you could
go to the nearest magistrate, and apply for a warrant for Denne's
arrest. It will make a pretty story, won't it? You have facts enough to
secure a conviction, and if the defence accuse you of illegally selling
the family treasures the monstrous charge will be laughed out of the
Court; nobody would believe it. You see, no one's interest would be
jeopardised; who cares whether the accusation were true or not. And as
to the Saxon Cup, I will give you the name of the Castle where it came
from, and prove that I bought it on behalf of Mr. Denne. Now do you
begin to see?"

"To a certain extent," Callader said after a long pause. "But there is
one weak spot in your scheme. When you come to give evidence and are
cross-examined--"

"Ah! that is the point. I will not be here. I shall let it be assumed
that the confession was forced out of me, and that I signed it to save
my own skin. When the police come to look for me I shall have vanished,
and the authorities will search Europe for me in vain. Then, behold, you
will have everything your own way; you will have evidence which nobody
can refuse, and be able to do with Denne as you please. You cannot
deprive him of his millions, but you can ostracise him, and cause him to
be shunned by all who know him. Why, if you like you can go to him with
this paper in your hand, and compel him to buy it from you at your own
price. Of course, a gentleman in your position would not do that sort of
thing."

"Never mind that," he said, "that is no concern of yours. The question
is, when will you sign this paper, and when do you want the money. But
if you play me false--"

"How can I play you false?" he asked. "When this confession is signed, I
am in your hands. If I stay in England, and proceedings are taken, I
shall be arrested at the same time as Denne is. Besides, I want this
money, for I must get away as soon as possible. I will come to-morrow
night, and sign anything you like to put down on paper."

"Better wait till Saturday," he said. "If you will come then about the
same time, your money shall be ready."




CHAPTER XXXIII.--LIFE'S FITFUL FEVER.


After the little group of conspirators had broken up, Adela retreated to
her room, locked the door, and sat down to think the matter out. She had
a fair notion of their plot, and her duty gradually became clear. Of
course, she never supposed that Denne was actuated by any criminal
motive when he tried to get Callader into his power. Beyond all doubt,
his suspicions about him were correct. Mark had taken advantage of his
position to remove some of the finest pictures and treasures from the
Castle, and replace them with copies. Moving in the set she did, Adela
was well aware that Callader's lavish expenditure had formed the subject
of much idle gossip. She began to see where this money had come from.

But why was Denne so interested? Why had he taken these enormous pains,
and incurred this great expense simply to prove that Callader was a
thief? Although she was alone, Adela felt her features suffused with a
glow of pleasurable warmth.

But this was by the way; Denne was in imminent danger, and he must be
warned. It was possible, as Lestrine had hinted, that Callader might not
go so far as to take proceedings. He was much more likely to use
Lestrine's confession to extract a prodigious sum of money from Denne.
Still, it was never safe to take anything for granted in dealing with a
man like Callader, whose lust for revenge might outweigh his lust for
money, in which case in the inevitable exposure Denne's character would
be shattered. Those who knew the inner history of the case might
understand. Women would instinctively divine there was something to be
said in Denne's justification. But the world was not made up of women,
and if this thing were made public, Denne would be socially ruined. She
would acquaint him with this danger early next day.

With this thought in her mind, Adela retired to bed, but the hours
passed in fitful sleep, and unpleasant dreams. She woke finally with a
racking headache, and lassitude in all her limbs. It was impossible to
lift her head from the pillow and drink the cup of tea which a
sympathetic maid brought her. She lay half-asleep, half-awake, far into
the afternoon, rebelling at her helplessness, and deploring that fortune
should have deserted her at this crisis.

She contrived to get downstairs about teatime, grateful to find that the
house party had gone racing. They returned after five, excited and
exuberant, over another good day in the ring. Callader alone was sullen
and savage. He crossed over to her side, and asked her graciously enough
how she felt, but a certain hard suspiciousness in his manner gave her
to understand that he did not believe that there was much the matter
with her.

"Have you had a good day?" she asked languidly.

"Infernally bad! Everybody has made money but me. The luck of those
people! They plunged on anything that turned up, and simply could not
lose, while I, with some of the best information I have had for years,
am thousands out on the day's racing."

All this was vouchsafed in Callader's worst style. Of course, Adela said
something sympathetic, but it was obvious that she was not seriously
interested. She looked about her to see Denne, but he had not put in an
appearance. Callader detected the glance, and divined its meaning.

"You needn't worry about Denne," he said; "he has gone, and, so far as I
am concerned, I much prefer his room to his company. He said he had a
telegram this afternoon, and went straight from the course to the
station. I am sorry to disappoint you, but you have almost seen the last
of Denne."

"What do you mean?" Adela asked.

"Oh, wait and see," he said, "some men, you know, go up like a rocket,
and come down like a stick, and Denne is one of them. How many
capitalists have you known come into Society, cut a dash, and then
vanish to avoid trouble. Not that one minds that sort of thing, because
many of these fellows are interesting, and for that reason I was
disposed to take up Denne for a time. The airs that fellow used to give
himself! He talked to me yesterday as if I had been an under-servant in
my own house. However, he won't trouble us any more. Should you see him,
you can tell him that he is not wanted. Do you understand?"

"I cannot do what you want," she said. "Strange as it may seem, I like
Mr. Denne."

"Like him!" Callader sneered. "Is that all? Say you prefer him to me,
and have done with it."

"Is there any need?" Adela asked. "Would not any woman in her senses
prefer Mr. Denne to you? I am too ill to carry on a discussion like
this, but you force me to speak plainly. I thought we had come to some
sort of arrangement. You have done me the honor of asking me to be your
wife, and I have, well, I have acquiesced. It would be sheer hypocrisy
to speak in any warmer terms, but it was quite understood that we are
not to interfere with each other's affairs. You can go your own way, and
you will hear no word from me about your friends, but I will brook no
interference with mine. Mr. Denne is a friend of mine, and likely to
remain so. He is a gentleman, and it is refreshing to talk to him after
meeting the brainless men one sees in what, for a better word, we call
Society."

"Make the most of your opportunities; I can take Denne in my hand and
crush him like an eggshell. I can throw him into gaol, and if he comes
near me, I'll do so. There are other means of getting even with that
fellow, but there are times when revenge is far sweeter than mere--"

Callader paused, and caught his lip between his teeth. Adela knew
exactly what he was going to say, and the word had passed her lips
before she was conscious of speaking it.

"Than mere money," she said.

She regretted the speech the next moment, for there came into Callader's
eyes a look that was positively murderous.

"What do you know?" he asked hoarsely.

"Oh, nothing," Adela replied. "There are only two things you care about,
and money is the other one."

As she stood there watching Burton a fresh idea struck her. Why not take
him into her confidence? Why not let him know what had happened? He was
far cleverer than she and far better versed in the ways of the world.

"I must speak to you," the girl whispered. "Something very unexpected
has happened--in connection with Callader and Mr. Denne. I can't tell
you here. Can you invent an excuse for coming over later in the
evening?"

"Is it so very pressing?" Burton asked.

Adela nodded emphatically. Suddenly the pleasant smile left Burton's
face, which turned a strange unearthly grey. He pressed his hand to his
head, then drew a handkerchief from his pocket, and placed it to his
lips. How it came to pass, Adela could not tell; it was all a kind of
misty dream, a horrible minute or two of suspense, and then Burton lay
on the floor, an inert heap of brown and grey and white, a thin red
stream trickling from his lips.

"He's dying," Adela cried; "dying."




CHAPTER XXXIV.--STRESS OF CIRCUMSTANCES.


For the first time in her life Adela stood face to face with death.
Everything had hitherto been made smooth for her, so that the sudden
tragedy came upon her with a peculiar and unexpected horror. She did not
need anyone to tell her that this was the end of poor Samuel Burton. She
saw it in the ashen pallor of his face, in the twitching lips, and the
thin red streak trickling down the old man's shirt front.

With it all she was cool and collected, and she had the curious
sensation of having expected the catastrophe. The contrast between this
dying man and his luxurious surroundings was appalling. His race was
run, and not all the wealth of Croesus could save him or prolong even by
a few short hours that wasted life. It did not need the authority of a
doctor to pronounce that nothing could be done, though this evidence was
speedily forthcoming. Most of the guests had vanished by the time that
Burton was carried upstairs, and laid upon a bed. He was still breathing
faintly, but no hope was held out that he would ever regain
consciousness. "It will be over in a few minutes," Adela heard the
doctor say to the Duchess of Southampton, and a blinding rush of tears
filled her eyes as she heard the verdict.

She was surprised to see that her companion, too, was softly weeping. It
might not be prudent to inquire too closely into the past of Samuel
Burton but she had been Adela's friend, and she would have been less
than human had his passing not greatly affected her. She began to
comprehend that he had entertained for her a truly genuine affection. No
father could have been more fondly extravagant, no parent could have
lavished more upon an only child.

"I don't know what to say," her grace remarked. "This must be a great
shock for you, my child."

"It is very kind of you to come to me," Adela replied. "Positively you
are the only one who has thought of me. I suppose most of Mark's guests
look upon this as an intolerable nuisance."

"I am afraid they do, my dear, and, I daresay, you are wondering why I
should feel it so much, I will tell you a secret, Adela. But, tell me,
first, do you know anything about Mr. Burton's past life? Did he ever
tell you that his was an assumed name?"

"I know nothing," Adela answered. "In fact, until quite lately I was
more or less a mystery myself. I had not the faintest idea who my
benefactor was, all my money being paid to me through a firm of
solicitors, whose sole reply when I pressed for information respecting
my adopted father was that I should know everything in due course. Then
Mr. Burton came back from America, and told me something about myself
and my circumstances. But who he was or where he came from, I haven't
the remotest notion. He knew me as a child, and it was his whim to bring
me up in the lap of luxury. I understand my mother was a woman about
whom the less said the better. I am telling you these things because I
know you are different from the rest of the people here. There come
times when woman craves for sympathy, and this is to me one of them.
People look upon me as the most fortunate of girls, and all envy me, but
there isn't a maid in the Castle I wouldn't change places with. But we
don't want to talk about that--at least not just yet. May I ask whether
you know anything?"

"About what?"

"My benefactor?" Adela said.

"You have been candid with me," she said at length, "and I shall be
equally candid with you. I suppose I must have known him for at least
forty years, but when we were young people he was not Samuel Burton but
Samuel Mostyn. He was a son of the late Marquis of Castlestray, and it
is no scandal to say that there never breathed a man who caused his
family such black and bitter trouble. He was a handsome, clever boy, and
had a frank, open, fascinating face, which made him a general favorite.
I know there are some who say you can always tell a degenerate by
certain signs, but don't you believe it, my dear. Never was a man yet
who looked less like the rascal type than Sam Mostyn. He could look upon
you straight in the face, so that you believed every word he said, and
yet through and through he was a selfish, heartless, unfeeling wretch. I
was foolish enough to be very fond of him; even after I had found out I
cared for him just the same, and but for a fortunate chance he might
have broken my heart as he did scores of others. He robbed his father,
narrowly escaped prosecution several times, and was turned out of the
army for disgraceful practices, and even then women would have been glad
to follow him to the end of the world. Though I got over my trouble in
time I never cared for any other man. When I met him the other night I
recognised him at once. I ought to have bidden him leave or exposed him.
I ought, well, I didn't. Because, though people say I am masculine, and
strong-headed, I am only a woman, and the recollection of old days came
back to me, and I did nothing. Besides, one is always ready to find an
excuse for people one is fond of, and I was glad to discover that Samuel
had a weak spot, and that he was sincerely fond of you. He told me all
about that, and several things besides. Now, what are you going to do?
You will be a rich girl--"

"No," Adela said quietly. "I shall not lave a penny. I only knew that
quite recently. Burton was not a millionaire, and made his money by
methods which I'd better not discuss. He told me that if anything
happened to him I should have to look after myself in future. In point
of fact, Duchess, I am deeply in debt."

"I am glad to find you so frank," she said. "I had more than a hint of
this. Our poor dead friend behaved well according to his lights, but he
did not understand the cruel position he placed you in. You know what
people will say. There is Callader, to begin with."

"I am glad you mentioned him," she whispered. "For the moment I had
forgotten. Now you know what I am--shall I say a penniless adventurer
imposing on society? It is not my fault, but the fact remains. When Mr.
Burton came to me he was flying from the police. What he had done I do
not know, but he was in desperate circumstances, and to a great extent
had to thank Mr. Callader for his perilous position. Mark is still under
the impression that my benefactor was a millionaire, and still believes
that if he doesn't behave himself he may lose the chance of spending my
fortune. On the other hand, I am certain that Mr. Burton knew something
seriously to Mark's discredit. He told me that he did not mind my
marrying him because he could enable me to keep him in due order. What
that meant I never learned, and I don't suppose I ever shall know now!"

"I think you will," the Duchess said quietly. "Samuel took me into his
confidence, and I shall be able presently to examine his papers. But
something is troubling you, besides fear of Callader. Tell me what it
is. I will be your friend if I can."

Adela told her story fully and fairly, setting down nought in malice,
and extenuating nothing. She did not spare herself, and every detail of
any consequence was related. She spoke freely of the enmity between
Denne and Callader, and how the former had declared that she should
never be Mark's wife, and gave a particular account of the fateful
meeting in the alcove at the end of the terrace. Nor could she complain
that she lacked a sympathetic hearer.

"I am glad you have told me this," the Duchess observed at the close.
"What an extraordinary story! What will you do? How can you protect Mr.
Denne from the consequences of his own folly? It is incredible that so
shrewd a man should have so far forgotten himself. Surely, he might have
learnt in some other way, whether or not Callader was selling the family
treasures. But when men are in love they do extraordinary things."

"What do you mean by that?" Adela faltered.

"Oh, my dear child, the thing is plain. Douglas Denne has fallen in love
with you. I suppose he didn't realise it till your engagement to
Callader was announced, and then he deemed it too late; but he loved you
nevertheless. Probably he dreaded being married, not for himself, but
his money, which was a very natural suspicion for a wealthy man like
Denne. What I have seen of him I like amazingly. He is a visionary, too,
and I know did not despair that some day a girl might love him for his
own sake alone, as the novels say. No doubt he adopted his own method of
getting a hold over Callader, but I can see that he stands in a serious
position. Still, so long as Callader thinks you are a great heiress--"

"He must think so as long as may be," Adela said. "He must not know that
I am a pauper, and that--"

Adela paused, conscious of an unusual expression in the face of her
companion. Then she looked round and saw Callader standing behind her,
with suspicion in his deep-set eyes.




CHAPTER XXXV.--FOR HONOR'S SAKE.


In many respects Adela had never had a high opinion of Callader's mental
capacity. She believed he was dull and slow of comprehension, and she
hoped that she had not done him any injustice, for a man of alert
intellect would have no difficulty in piecing together her remarks.
However, Callader's face did not indicate that he had gleaned much. He
stood in his usual, heavy, sullen way, like a man who is uncertain of
his welcome. Yet it was very necessary to discover how much he had
heard. Adela put a question or two to him, but his replies gave her no
help, and he strolled over to the fireplace and took a cigarette-case
from his pocket.

"What are you going to do about this affair?" he asked.

"What can one do?" the Duchess retorted sharply. "We must bury the poor
man decently. I suppose you didn't know his name wasn't Burton at all?"

"Oh, yes, I did," Callader said coolly. "His name was Samuel Mostyn. I
met him years ago in New York. In fact, we did business together, and I
don't mind admitting that I got the worst of the deal. I daresay it will
hurt your feelings, Adela, but Samuel Mostyn, alias Burton, was one of
the choicest scamps. That doesn't seem to count for much nowadays, and
in this regard, I understand Burton was highly respectable."

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

As to-morrow would be Sunday she would have to leave for London that
very evening. She must contrive to see Denne without further delay, and
warn him of his impending fate.

It still wanted an hour or so to dinner-time, so that Adela had time to
walk down to the village post office, and wire to a friend asking for a
reply calling her to town at once. This hackneyed expedient had been
utilised repeatedly, and was, in fact, the normal method resorted to for
getting away from a house which might prove undesirable, and in the
existing circumstances it served. At eight o'clock the reply came and
Adela sent it up with a few pencilled words to Callader's dressing-room.
A quarter of an hour later she was hurrying across country in a
motor-car to catch the London express at a Junction some twenty miles
away. It was broad daylight by the time she arrived in town. She went
straight to her flat and lay down on her bed as she was, and slept the
sleep of utter exhaustion. She woke at one o'clock, and refreshed
herself with a bath. Then she immediately began her search for Denne. It
would not be altogether easy, she knew, for he was sure to be out of
town for the weekend. Still, a telephone was available, and by four
Adela discovered that he was spending the time with bachelor friends up
the river. This was a cause of annoyance in itself, but Adela determined
that it should not stand in her way. The cottage by the river could be
reached within an hour's run from town, and after a hasty dinner at
seven Adela set out on her uncongenial errand.

She cared little or nothing what might happen. It made no difference to
her what her chauffeur thought. It was possible, however, that she might
steal this interview with Denne without anybody being the wiser. She
left her car in the town, and walked towards the cottage. She had
already written a letter, and loitered in the road for a minute or two,
waiting for a probable messenger.

He came presently in the guise of the human boy, whistling blithely to
himself as he walked along. Adela placed the note and a shilling in his
hand.

"The shilling is for you, if you earn it," she said. "You are to go up
to that cottage and ask for Mr. Denne. You must put the note into his
own hands, and he will give you a message, 'Yes' or 'No.' When you come
back to me, I will give you this shilling and another one as well. Do
you understand?"

The boy nodded and winked slowly. He was acquainting Adela with the fact
that he quite appreciated the situation. She waited eagerly for his
return, conscious of a strange trembling nervousness, the like of which
she had never experienced before. Usually she was ready enough to laugh
at the silly affectations of the woman of her set which were given to
prattle of their nerves, but she was beginning to know what they meant.
The boy returned with a grin of satisfaction on his face.

"I saw the gentleman," he said. "He is coming now."

"Why this mystery?" he smiled. "I thought you were still at Callader
Castle. But something has happened. I never saw you so pale before. What
is wrong?"

"Let us go somewhere where we can talk a little," she said. "What must
you think of my coming all this way, and forcing myself upon you in this
fashion? What will your friends say?"

"I don't think we need trouble about them," Denne assured her. "Your
note was brought to me as I was dressing. The other men were in their
rooms. If we go through this little gate into the grounds we shall be
safe in the rose garden for half an hour. You mean to say you came here
to see me all alone?"

"I was bound to. I could not possibly tell anybody else. I made an
excuse to leave the Castle. They think I am spending Sunday with a
friend who is ill. I drove here in my car and left my man in the
village."

"Now," he said, as he led the way to a seat. "No one is likely to
interrupt us. Tell me why you took all this trouble for the sake of a
humble person like myself. You must have had a great deal of worry
during the last few days. So your fairy godfather turns out to be Lord
Samuel Mostyn."

"Did you know that?" Adela asked.

"Well, I had some sort of idea," Denne admitted.

"We can come to that presently," Adela went on. "There are many
questions I want to ask you when you have heard the reason of my errand.
I have been finding out strange things lately, and now the strangest of
all is the knowledge I have obtained about the history of the Saxon
Cup."

"What do you know about that?" he asked.

"I think I may say I know everything," Adela answered. "Paul Lestrine
obtained it for you in Germany. For reasons best known to yourself, you
contrived that the Saxon Cup should be deposited at Callader Castle
where Mark Callader found it, and naturally came to the conclusion that
it formed part of the family heirlooms. But why did you put it there?
How did you discover Mark was selling paintings and works of art, and
replacing them with copies?"

"Pardon me," he said. "Let me ask you a question before I answer yours.
How did you learn that I had any hand in this matter? Where did you hear
the name of Paul Lestrine? I am certain he never told you he was engaged
in this transaction. I beg you to be candid--"

"Have I shown any inclination to be otherwise?" She demanded. "Do you
suppose that I have taken this risk and compromised myself from any
personal motive? Oh, can't you see that I am only too anxious to save
you from the consequences of your stupendous rashness. I know that
Lestrine is mixed up in this affair because I overheard him tell
Callader and Marner so. He has betrayed your interests and sold you for
money. If you will only listen I will tell you everything."

"I spoke in haste," Denne answered at once, "and shall be only too
grateful to hear your story."




CHAPTER XXXVI.--SO VERY HUMAN.


Resolutely, Adela put aside all sense of conventionality. It fell from
her shoulders like a disused garment. She was just a woman inspired with
the hope of saving this man from what she believed to be dire and
imminent peril. She had already gone a long way to rescue him, and had
done so at great trouble and risk to herself, for she had absolutely
nothing to gain. But never had she been more thoroughly in earnest
before.

No longer did she blind herself to the truth. She knew she was not
animated by sentiments of ordinary friendship, but was actuated by deep
and genuine love for Douglas Denne. Curiously, too, now she seemed to
have loved him from the first. He had, indeed, become more or less
reconciled to the fact that she was the promised wife of Mark Callader,
but she knew now that nothing would induce her to keep her word. What
were Denne's feelings to her she knew not, for of actual direct avowal
of anything approaching to love, not a syllable had crossed his lips.
But if she lost Callader without winning Denne, that did not concern
her. She would work for her daily bread rather than marry Mark.

Nevertheless, subtle instinct informed her that Denne cared for her as
much as she cared for him. He had not told her so in as many words, but
she cherished the look he had cast upon her when he met her to-night,
when her visit could not possibly have been expected. A similar train of
thought and hope doubtless passed through Denne's mind. He could not
gaze into her white, pure face, and doubt her loyalty, and the generous
impulse which had prompted her to do this deed. He had always admired
her daintiness and beauty, but these carried another charm now--the
charm of sincerity and naturalness, and a deep abiding affection. Adela
did not realise how far she had acknowledged the natural sway of her
heart. She did not know that she was looking at Denne as a mother might
regard a child on the brink of terrible danger. As Denne grasped all
this, he recollected that Philip Vanstone had never wavered in his
declaration she was a woman worth the saving. In spite of his danger, in
spite of the knowledge that he had done a rash thing, he was conscious
of a buoyancy of spirits to which for many years he had been a stranger.
He had found what he had been looking for with an ardor which he did not
realise till this moment.

But this was not the time to speak. He could not take the shrinking girl
in his arms, and cover her face with kisses. His natural innate delicacy
prevented him from so theatrical an issue.

"It was more than good of you to come," Denne said. "Now let us discuss
this affair from a business point of view. You say that Paul Lestrine
has betrayed me?"

"You may take that for granted," Adela replied. "I heard the whole
conversation. It began, in the first place, between Callader and Marner.
It was rather a shock to me in a way, because I had always regarded Mr.
Marner as a great man in every sense of the word. I can hardly bring
myself to believe that he is little better than a felon."

"Oh, he is certainly all that," Denne said with a dry smile, "and an
exceedingly clever one. I have known this for some time. There is a gang
of expert thieves who deal exclusively in valuable works of art. They
have been carrying on operations for years. The prime movers keep
themselves in the background, and the most brilliant of them all is
Felix Marner. But his career is at an end. That business of the Saxon
Cup will wreck him. The presiding spirit of the combine lives in Paris.
He has posed for a long time as a man of great wealth and a prominent
philanthropist. I heard by telephone this afternoon that he had been
arrested and thousands of pounds worth of missing pictures discovered in
his house. Mark my words, Marner will be missing in a day or two. This
will be a fine scandal for the papers to exploit. So you see, we need
not worry ourselves about Marner. In any case, I know he will take care
to obliterate himself, so far as any charge against me is concerned. But
please go on, I have interrupted you."

"What was I saying?" Adela asked. "Oh, I remember. Mark Callader and Mr.
Marner were talking in the hall, and I listened. I ought not to have
done so, but they were talking about you, Douglas, and I listened. Then
I heard the whole scheme. Lestrine had come down to Callader to see Mr.
Marner, and had offered, for a large sum of money, to sign a confession
of the part he had played in the matter. Callader was very much upset at
first; he has no resourcefulness and evidently thought he was done. Then
Mr. Marner pointed out a way by which he could blackmail you--I think
blackmail is the proper word. They decided that with Listerine's signed
confession they could apply for a warrant against you on the ground of
conspiracy."

"So they could," Denne said coolly. "There is not the slightest doubt
about that. I suppose the idea was to offer to stay proceedings for a
hundred thousand pounds. Am I not right?"

"That was it exactly. Then they went out into the garden and had an
interview with Paul Lestrine, and I followed. I am not ashamed to say
that I heard every word. It appears that Lestrine is suffering from
consumption, must leave England at once, and wants money very badly."

"He ought not," Denne muttered. "Goodness knows, I have paid him well.
But he has the gambler's temperament. I suppose he has lost it all in
play."

"So he said," Adela went on. "He would sign this confession for ten
thousand pounds. No doubt he has had the money by this time, because the
appointment was for last night. Lestrine's idea was to disappear, and
never be heard of again. Now, you know why I came to warn you of this
terrible danger. Can you do anything to save yourself?"

Adela looked up imploringly into Denne's face as she spoke, laid a
trembling hand on his arm. She had never been so earnest or so moved in
her life. In Denne's glance there was a certain something that comforted
her, and thrilled her with elation at the same time. She had naturally
expected to see some change, some sign of annoyance or alarm on his
part; but if he felt this, there was not the slightest trace of it in
his features.

"I shall know how to thank you presently," he said, "for the moment, I
don't feel particularly alarmed. I daresay I should have managed to
circumvent Callader in any case, and yet I might have gone to work in a
better fashion, I think. It was a dangerous, not to say stupid, thing to
do. But we all make mistakes at times, especially when we allow our
hearts to rule our heads."

"Did you do that?" Adela asked innocently.

"Why, of course I did," Denne smiled. "You don't suppose I should have
been guilty of such rashness otherwise. Will you believe me if I tell
you that I embarked upon this enterprise solely for your sake?"

"I believe you if you say so," Adela murmured.

"And now let me tell you something. All my life I have been a lonely
man, and not the less so because so many people sought my friendship.
When I was poor and struggling I was comparatively happy, because the
men I knew best then valued me because I was only Douglas Denne. But my
uphill fight lasted long enough that real friends became extremely rare.
Ah! a true friend is the gift of God. When I made my fortune, and came
to London, I had learnt to discriminate between the gold and dross at a
glance. I daresay I should have been a good deal happier had I not been
somewhat of a poet as well as a capitalist, for I had the artistic
temperament, which is not an unmixed blessing. You would be surprised to
learn what dreams I have had and how I have tried to reach the ideal
existence. Nobody ever heard me talk like this before, but you will know
later why I am telling you these things. You see, I was looking for a
woman who would marry me without a thought for my money. I had discussed
the matter over and over again with Philip Vanstone, who is the only man
in whom I have fully confided, and when I asked him to name such a
woman, he did not hesitate for a moment, but told me who she was. Can
you guess?"

Adela shook her head.

"Do I know her?"

"Oh, yes, you know her well. When I heard the name, I was amazed. One
has to make an allowance for poets, but Vanstone stuck to his point. He
begged me to see more of this woman, and study her for myself. I did so,
and, to my great amazement, found that Vanstone was right. He has a far
better insight into woman's nature than I have. The astounding part of
the whole business was this: that the girl in question appeared to be
one of the most frivolous of women. As the acknowledged leader of one of
the smart sets, there was no end to her extravagance and folly. Studying
her, I mixed much in her set, until a habit was formed, and became part
and parcel of myself. What originated as a sort of psychological
recreation grew to be the outstanding occupation of my life. Gradually I
began to see that this woman, like most of us, was but the slave of her
environment, for only one man or woman in a million can get away from
his or her surroundings. Sometimes Fortune is kind, and takes matters
into her own hands; sometimes what appears to be the greatest blow turns
out to be the direct intervention of Providence. But why do you look at
me with that puzzled expression? Can't you guess whom I am talking
about? Surely it is quite obvious?"

A wave of color rushed over Adela's face. She had followed Denne with
rapt attention, and until this moment his parable had puzzled her. Now
she was beginning to understand, to see how closely his description
fitted her. She might have been offended; indeed, his outspoken candor
had offered every excuse, but she was not hurt at all. She saw that he
was paying her the highest compliment in his power, that he recognised
in her something which was worth the winning. It had been worth his
while to interest himself in her. It had been worth his while to rescue
her from a future into which she was venturing deliberately and with
open eyes.

"Oh," she stammered, "if you really mean--"

She paused and started back. Then someone in the distance was heard
calling Denne, and the smile faded from his face.

"You had better go," he said; "I will see you to-morrow."




CHAPTER XXXVII.--"OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE."


What was spoken in whispers gathered volume as it was circulated, and in
a few days everybody knew the story of the man who had chosen to call
himself Samuel Burton. The older generation in society recollected him
perfectly well; and regaled younger men with stories of his hot youth,
and of the black circumstances in which he left the army. He had made
his money in his lifetime in some dark and mysterious manner known to
himself, and had maintained his adopted daughter in every luxury; but
the fact that he had left her entirely penniless was an open secret now.
Men speculated in their idle, gossiping way on what Adela would do, and
laughed over Mark Callader's disappointment. As for Adela, no one seemed
to care a pin. Others as fortunately situated as herself had gone under,
and society had forgotten them in a week.

But certain people were not in the least likely to forget the
unfortunate girl. She figured largely in the books of many tradesmen and
shopkeepers in the West End, who took alarm at once. Though it was
barely luncheon time, Adela already felt the sting of it. Had she opened
the many demands for instant payment that every post had brought she
might have been at least forewarned. She had been annoyed by
seedy-looking men who had thrust documents upon her in the streets, but
these she had thrown aside contemptuously. When she came down late to
lunch she had to face one harsh aspect of her altered circumstances. For
a man was waiting to see her who would take no denial. He was civil
enough, but his manner was so persistent that she felt her heart turn
cold within her as she asked his business.

"Well, miss," the man began. "You see, it is quite a matter of business.
I don't suppose you will understand what I mean, but I am here on behalf
of Maurice and Co., of Hendon-street. It is just over eleven hundred
pounds altogether."

"But I will send you a cheque," Adela said haughtily.

"Bless you, miss, a cheque won't do. I am sent here by the sheriff. But
I shall be very glad to take cash, hard cash. I won't trouble you for a
moment after that. I am responsible to the sheriff; I am what is called
a sheriff's officer, if you know what I mean."

Adela was beginning to understand; she had heard of such things before;
indeed, she recollected seeing a play once which was called the 'Man in
Possession.' Gradually it dawned upon her that this grimy person would
stay on her premises till the debt was paid. The indignity of it struck
her like a blow, and she crossed over to the bell, and rang it
passionately. She rang it again and again, but nobody replied.

"I expect they've gone," the man in possession said meekly. "They
probably guessed my business. I've been in swell houses before, and the
servants nearly always vanish like this."

Adela stood with her hand on the electric bell. She could hear it
trilling away in the distance, but there was no response. The tears
rushed into her eyes, but she managed to hold them back. She was at the
mercy of the world; she had not a friend to hold out a helping hand.

"But what can I do?" she implored. She had lost all her haughty manner.
"Must you stay here till the money is actually paid. Can't you take my
word?"

The man shook his head resolutely.

"More'n my place is worth to leave you, miss," he said. "You'll have a
week or so to find the money."

"And if I don't find it?"

"Then, in that case, you'll be sold up. You'll excuse me for saying it,
miss, but you was very foolish to let things go so far. When you had the
writ you ought to have gone to your solicitor, and he would have gained
time for you."

Adela sighed hopelessly; she was not sure she knew what the man was
talking about, and wondered what a writ was. Was it one of those papers
which had been thrust upon her in the street? Yes, that must have been
it. As she stood grappling with her perplexity she heard the front-door
bell ringing almost incessantly. No doubt this was one of her frivolous
friends come to find out how the land lay. With her lip between her
teeth Adela walked into the hall and flung open the door. Despite her
anxiety she could not restrain a smile as she beheld the diminutive
figure of Max Cordy. He was beautifully attired in a grey frock suit.
His boots were glossy with varnish, and he took off an elegant silk hat
with a demonstrative flourish.

"I hope I have got here in time, miss," he said. "Yes, I know all about
it. This is just the thing that Mr. Burton was afraid of. Now, you let
me come inside, and I'll soon get rid of your unwelcome visitor. Leave
him to me, and if any questions are asked, refer to me, for I am your
solicitor."

Adela was inclined to let everything pass, and wondered whether she
would wake up presently to find this an uneasy dream. She stood aside
for Cordy to precede her. He walked into the dining-room and laid his
hat upon the table.

"Now, my man," he said in a tone of ineffable patronage, "I am Miss
Burton's solicitor. I only heard of this business this morning. Of
course, it isn't your fault. The only question is, how much?"

The man in possession quoted his previous figures with unction, but was
not in the least sanguine that the money would be forthcoming. However,
in the most businesslike way Cordy placed his hand in his breast pocket,
and produced a parcel of notes. These he counted into the hands of the
bailiff along with a sovereign or two and some odd shillings. Almost
before Adela knew what had happened her visitor had departed.

"But you ought not to have done this," she protested.

"Oh, it isn't my money," Cordy said. "It belonged to Mr. Burton. There
is a bit more where it came from, but not much. You see, there would
have been a good deal if the governor had not died. I've lost the best
friend I ever had."

"You had known him long?"

"Oh, dear, yes. I have been with him all over the world. I have known
him ever since I was a boy. You need not smile, miss, I'm a lot older
than you think. I know I look young. Why, put me in an Eton suit and I
would pass for fourteen. That is where I was so useful to the poor old
governor upon occasion. I could look so very innocent."

Adela asked no further questions. She had no wish to hear more of the
seamy side of her benefactor's life, and indeed would be only too happy
to come out of her artificial existence and go to some quiet spot where
she would know peace and comfort. This little fellow meant well, but
something about him grated on her horribly. Even his look of undisguised
admiration filled her with disgust.

"You had better go," she said quietly. "I am most sincerely obliged to
you, though I am afraid you have wasted your money. For there are others
who will hunt me down like wolves. I daresay that's one at the door at
this moment."

Cordy darted off to answer the ring, and returned with a woefully
changed countenance, looking like a boy who has been detected in an
unsuccessful raid upon an orchard. He was followed by a man who, in many
respects, was the counterfeit of the person who had not long since
departed. Max Cordy dropped into a chair and groaned aloud.

"Here's a pretty business," he exclaimed; "here's a pretty business. Oh!
miss, why ever didn't you take someone into your confidence. I am afraid
there is nothing for it but a trip to Holloway."

"I didn't know," Adela faltered, "but what does this mean? What does
this man want? Surely, it can't be any worse than the last affair."

In the depths of his chair, Cordy writhed with anguish.

"You tell her," he said to the man. "It's your business, and I haven't
the heart to do it."

"Well, you see, it's a Committal Order, miss," the intruder said
hoarsely. "There is nothing to distrain upon here, and somebody else is
already in your cottage at Maidenhead. It is about nine hundred pounds
altogether. If you can't find the money, I am afraid I shall have to get
you to come as far as Holloway Gaol with me."

It seemed almost incredible, something beyond the wildest dream. Yet the
man was speaking quietly and rationally. Adela recollected that a
similar thing had happened in the case of one of her own friends. It had
been the theme of a spicy scandal at the time, and had afforded an
outlet for many a frivolous jest. Adela was now conscious of the grim
reality of such an experience. She shot a mute glance at Cordy, who
tapped his breast-pocket, and shook his head despairingly. There was
only one thing to be done, and every drain of pride in Adela's nature
revolted against it. She, crossed to her desk and hastily dashed off a
note, which she handed to Cordy.

"Take that to Mr. Denne at once," she said. "You must find him. There is
no immediate hurry for this? If I can get the money in an hour or two, I
suppose you can wait?"

The bailiff had some of the milk of human kindness in his nature, for he
acquiesced readily in the suggestion.

"Nothing I should wish for better, miss," he said civilly. "Nobody
dislikes this kind of thing more than I do, but a man has to live. Only,
I must remain here till your messenger comes back, and it will be my
duty to see that you don't go out of my sight."

Adela murmured her thanks. She had fallen a long, long way since the
morning. She had been bitterly annoyed and wounded to find that her
servants had deserted her, but she was glad of it now. The fewer the
people that witnessed her humiliation the better. She handed the note to
Cordy, who took up his hat and vanished. The stranger, after a cautious
glance round the room to see that there was only one exit, picked up a
paper and walked out into the hall, intimating that he should prefer to
sit there.

"That is very nice of you," Adela said. "I hope it won't be for long. I
expect a friend who will cash a cheque for me."

The minutes crept on, the hour of lunch arrived, but there was no sign
of Denne. The clock struck two, and yet he failed to put in an
appearance. Then Adela's courage failed her, and she felt she was alone
indeed.




CHAPTER XXXVIII.--THE LOWEST DEPTH.


There was no bitterness in Adela's heart. There very seldom is, even in
the most pessimistic of us, when we have sounded the lowest depths of
human misery. Disgrace and humiliation hung over her head, but she was
past all sense of dismay, and felt that she would have to follow the
bailiff wherever he chose to take her. With a calmness that surprised
her, she contemplated the certainty of sleeping in gaol that night. She
refused to believe that Denne had turned a deaf ear to her request.
Probably her messenger could not find him; or he might have been engaged
in some all engrossing business that could not possibly be delayed; or
he might have been summoned to the Continent at short notice, as, she
understood, was often the lot of capitalists. She had not struck the
psychological moment, as one so often does in such circumstances.

Meanwhile the clock hands were moving towards the fatal hour. Never had
time appeared to fly so quickly before. Adela could not recollect, even
in the old days when she pursued pleasure with all the keenness and zest
of youth, that time had slipped away as rapidly as it was passing now.
She rose and went to the hall. There was no occasion to wait. Denne was
not coming, and the sooner the business was over, the better.

"I fear my friend has been detained," Adela said. "I mustn't keep you
any longer, I suppose."

The man declared that an extra half-hour would not make much difference
to him, for which relief Adela thanked him, and withdrew to her bedroom,
much disposed to end the matter there and then, and depart with the man.
Whilst those thoughts occurred to her the front door of the flat opened,
and her maid entered. She apologised, more or less incoherently, for her
absence.

"It doesn't matter," Adela said wearily. "I shan't require you after
this afternoon. I believed you had taken alarm and run away like the
others. Why did you come back?"

The maid looked at her reproachfully.

"I daresay it is natural you should think so, miss, but I hope you don't
suppose I am quite heartless. I had to go out after breakfast, and only
learnt what had happened by accident. I am not going; nothing would
induce me to leave you in your distress. Take a rest while I bring you a
cup of tea."

The tears filled Adela's eyes with a rush. She was not so hard and cold
as she thought she was. In her heart of hearts she was grateful for this
kindness on the part of her maid, for whom, after all, she had never had
much consideration. Well, it was good to find that some people could
think of others besides themselves. Adela dropped weakly into a chair,
overcome with a strange feeling of dizziness. She was trembling from
head to foot, and wondered whether she was dreaming, or whether it was
really Douglas Denne who was bending over her chair, and begging her to
tell him what was the matter. It was Denne in the flesh, as Adela saw
plainly when her head and sight cleared. There was a look on his face
which gave her fresh hope and courage.

"My poor child," he said tenderly. "So it has actually gone as far as
this? Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you send for me before? You
might have known that I should come at once. Your messenger has been
looking for me everywhere, and only caught me by the merest chance at
Charing Cross Station. I should have been on my way to Paris in another
ten minutes."

Infinitely soothing was the warm caressing tone of Denne's voice. Adela
lay back in her chair with a comfortable sense that the direction of
affairs was being taken out of her hands--that she would be saved from
an unspeakable humiliation. Now, she realised how acutely she had
dreaded the possibility of the journey across London with the man
outside. But full as she was of her own misery, she found time to think
of Denne and his own personal position.

"I did not know what to do," she said with a faint smile; "I am not used
to this sort of thing. I sent for you when I was in trouble, but I
thought, perhaps, Mark had begun--"

"Callader has not allowed the grass to grow under his feet, but I have
given him a counter-stroke that will give him something to think over
before he takes the next step. You need not have any anxiety about me.
And now, as to your own affairs; I got what I could out of your queer
little messenger. I know something of Max's history. He is a graceless
scamp, but is as devoted to your interests as he was to those of Mr.
Burton. But, in the first place, let me persuade your visitor to depart.
I called into my banker's and got some money as I came along, I hope he
hasn't been rude?"

"On the contrary, in his own way, he has been very civil. But what have
I done that you should be so kind to me?"

But Denne had vanished, and Adela heard the murmur of voices outside. By
and by Douglas returned, and took a seat opposite to her. She beheld him
through a mist of tears. Covering her face with her hands, she burst
into a fit of passionate sobbing. The breakdown did not last long, but
it seemed to ease her wonderfully. The pain had left her head, and the
hard, cold feeling at her heart was gone. She dried her eyes, and a
faint, unsteady smile flicked around her lips.

"You are very good to me," she said. "But I fear you have only postponed
the evil day. It terrifies me to think how many more are in a position
to treat me in the same way. I don't know whether you will believe me or
not, but it is only during the last few hours that I have realised what
a wretch I am. You need not shake your head, for it is quite true. I am
just as dishonest as if I had forged a cheque, or picked a pocket. I
have known for some time how I was situated, and yet I have gone on
dealing with my tradesmen in a most heartless fashion. I will make over
to them all I possess, and earn my own living after I have had a few
weeks' rest. I am utterly worn out, but if you can think of any
suggestion--"

"I have a plan," Denne replied. "You had better run down to your cottage
at Maidenhead. I know there is bother there, too, but I will easily put
that right, and then I will send my solicitor here to meet the claims
against you. You do not care to be beholden to anyone, I know, but
necessity is sometimes disagreeable. But what can you do. Somebody must
help you, and, as you are aware, in the ultrasmart set to which we
belong, it is no novelty for a rich man to assist a friend to whom he is
attached. You must recollect scores of instances. Let me quote a few."

"You are laughing at me," Adela protested.

"Indeed, I am doing nothing of the sort. You must leave this in my
hands, and, besides, it is only anticipating events. You see, if you
were my wife, I should have to pay your debts, and if you were my wife,
you would not take the slightest objection. I won't hear another word.
What you have to do is to keep quiet, drink your tea, and not worry
about anything."

Without further words, Denne walked out of the flat, and closed the door
behind him. While Adela was trying vaguely to think matters out, there
came a ring, and the Duchess of Southampton bustled in. She appeared to
know everything that had happened.

"I don't want any explanation, child. I have had one already. Besides, I
met Douglas outside, and he posted me up in the latest details. My dear,
I was quite used to this kind of thing when I was a girl. My poor dear
father lived in an atmosphere of County Court bailiffs and executions.
He never found himself inside a debtor's prison, for the simple reason
that he was a Peer, who in those days were mercifully exempt from such
indignities. It is lucky for you that you have a friend like Denne to
look after you. Why do you blush in that absurd way? The man is in love
with you, and you are in love with him, and when Callader is out of the
running, as he soon will be, you can marry him without further delay.
Meanwhile, I will take you to Maidenhead to-morrow, and stay with you a
couple of days. At any rate it will prevent the snobs from talking. That
is one of the real advantages of being a duchess."

"You are all too good to me," Adela said. "Have you seen anything of
Mark?"

"I met him at lunch to-day. He doesn't look particularly happy, though
he knows that he is practically Marquis of Kempston. I forgot to tell
you that I have been all through Burton's papers, and they are now in
the hands of the Callader solicitors. There is not the slightest doubt
that poor Samuel's story was true, but it needs confirmation. In a few
days the public will know who is the new Marquis of Kempston, and how
you have suddenly blossomed into the Lady Adela Callader. Mark doesn't
know quite what to believe as to the stories about your benefactor's
fortune. In his suspicious way he fancies he has been hoaxed. He was
coming around to see you this afternoon, and have it out, but I told him
some diplomatic lie about your being at Maidenhead, because I wanted to
see you first. I don't think you will have any trouble with Callader. He
will refuse to carry out his promise when he finds you are not an
heiress."

"He will not have an opportunity," Adela said. "In no case could I marry
Mark, and I am not in the least afraid of him for myself. It is what he
is likely to do to Douglas Denne that troubles me. I have tried to work
it out in my own mind, but I can't think. Every time I try to think my
head gets all confused and muddled, and I shake like an aspen leaf. The
feeling is coming over me now. Don't be alarmed. I shall be better in a
minute or two. It is so unlike me to be miserable."

There was a look of anxiety on the Duchess's shrewd, kindly face as she
glanced at Adela. The girl was lying back in her chair, with a white,
set face, and a strange trembling in her limbs. The Duchess rose from
her chair, and went into the kitchen where the maid was at tea.

"I want you to fetch Miss Burton's doctor at once. I am afraid she is
ill."

Adela was still sitting in the same position when the doctor came in. He
shook his head gravely.

"Nervous breakdown," he said. "Take her into the country immediately."




CHAPTER XXXIX.--RESURRECTION.


Adela sat up in bed, and gazed around her. The room was strange, and yet
irritatingly familiar. She knew the bed and the hangings, recognised the
wall decorations and the blinds. Surely those were some of her own
things, but there was a spaciousness about the room which she had never
noticed before. In the old days it had been absurdly crowded with
luxurious and costly trifles, and as she took in the details, she felt
how much more pleasing and more refined her surroundings were. Beyond
doubt, she was in her own room in her cottage at Maidenhead.

How was she there and how long had she been ill? Gradually the memory of
the recent past returned. It was all coming back to her now. The last
thing she recollected was being seated in the dining-room of her flat,
and she had a sort of hazy notion that the Duchess of Southampton had
played some part in her sudden collapse. Was that a day or two ago, or
was it a month? At any rate, the strange confusion of mind was gone, and
she could see clearly and think freshly. A glorious sunshine filtered
through the blinds, and the birds were calling in the gardens. But
though her mind was collected and calm, and recollection was easy, she
was aware of bodily weakness when she tried to rise. Then the movement
as of one walking with extreme quietness attracted her, and the Duchess
disclosed herself.

"So you are awake at last," the latter exclaimed. "You look all right.
The doctor said you would be yourself again when once you recovered
consciousness. It is only a matter of a day or two now. I shouldn't
wonder if you are allowed to get up to-morrow."

"How long have I been here?" Adela asked.

"Nine or ten days. We brought you here on the afternoon that I came to
see you at the flat. You came by car, and have been in a high fever.
But, thank goodness! that is over. There is nothing whatever to worry
about. All your affairs are settled, and we found a tenant, who took the
flat just as it was. Many of the things here have been disposed of, too,
but I think you will like the change that has been made. To be perfectly
candid, my dear child, your taste was too florid; you had too many
things here. We have left the pictures and most of the old furniture,
but all the costly falderals and knicknacks have been removed, and one
has room to move about, and breathe freely."

When Adela went downstairs next afternoon she was bound to admit that he
Duchess was right. Everything looked refined and artistic, and yet
severely simple. Nothing could interfere with or spoil the beauty of the
garden. It was delightful to lie in an easy chair on the verandah, to
breathe the fresh, pure air; and listen to the songs of the birds. There
was, too, in Adela's heart an ease and thankfulness to which she had
long been a stranger. She lay back in her chair, listening, while the
Duchess told her all that had happened. The story was not long in the
telling.

"There is little to vex you," the kindly old lady said. "In the first
place, Mark Callader has had no difficulty in establishing his claim to
the title. It is rough upon poor Guy, but he is young, and his tastes
are healthy and simple, and he will get over his disappointment. There
are a pile of letters waiting for you to read when you feel up to it,
and one of them is in Mark Callader's handwriting. You will probably
find that he has released you from your engagement. He wants to see you,
but you had better postpone that till you are quite strong."

"And Mr. Denne," Adela asked, "what about him?"

"Douglas has been here repeatedly inquiring after you, and, as I have
heard of no startling move on Callader's part, I suppose things are
where they were. Denne can take care of himself, and will give Callader
his quietus when the time comes. Now, no more questions; I'll fetch you
a cup of tea, and if you behave yourself, I may allow you to sit up to
dinner."

The next two or three days passed uneventfully, but pleasantly. Adela
was gaining strength rapidly, and slept well and peacefully. All the
restlessness and discontent had left her, and she was happy, without any
longing for the old life, which she was beginning to regard with
positive disgust. How false and artificial it all was! How foolish the
constant craving for unwholesome excitement. What the future held for
her she hardly knew, and for the present scarcely cared. She would
probably have to earn her own living, but that she was bent upon doing.
She was enjoying the tranquility that had usurped the place of her
former vexations and anxieties, and for a few days longer she would
drift thus pleasantly upon the tide, and then address herself seriously
to the problem of her future.

She was alone now. The duchess had gone home for a day or two, promising
to return at the end of the week. She had no one to look after the
cottage but her faithful maid, but she was doing many things for herself
and actually delighting in the work. She partook of her simple food with
a zest and relish which a month ago would have astonished her, and she
knew now that her former ideas about the simple life were sheer
nonsense. She was living it much more nearly now than ever before. She
was realising the advantages of the good health which regular hour's and
moderation bring in their train. As she sat in the garden one afternoon
wondering what had become of Denne, and when she should see him again,
he came swinging through the gate and strode across the lawn to the
verandah.

He looked singularly brisk and boyish, and an eager, youthful smile lit
up his face. For the time, at any rate, he had discarded the worldly
mask which he habitually wore. His eyes sparkled, and he spoke with
unusual consideration. He held Adela's hand for a moment or two, and
looked into her eyes with a glance that, to her, was most precious.

"I couldn't come before," he said. "I have had so much to do, and
besides, I had to give you a chance to get better. I should hardly have
known you. You are still pale, and so thin, but that dreadfully tired
look has gone, and there is some color in your cheeks. You look far more
beautiful in that pretty dress than in any of those confections which
you used to get at Paris at such exorbitant prices. I can't describe the
change, but it is very attractive, and very fascinating. Will you let me
stay to tea and a chat? Shall I ring the bell for you?"

"Oh, dear, no," Adela laughed; "I have given up ringing hells. I am
waiting on myself, and I rather like it."

She rose lightly from her seat and tripped into the house, Denne's eyes
following her with marked approval. To think that only a short time ago
she had appeared to be the most idle and frivolous of them all! The old
Adela might have answered to that description, but this fresh,
clear-eyed girl, who had gone so willingly to fetch the tea, would have
recoiled loathing at the mere reminder of it. Nor was he the one to
rebuke her, or point a moral, had he been so disposed. In his own past
were things which he did not care to dwell upon. Business, as well as
charity covers a multitude of sins and short-comings. He would let their
dead past bury itself. These thoughts were duly set aside, and Denne
smiled brightly again when Adela came up with the tea. Afterwards he
suggested a stroll through the garden feeling pretty sure of his ground,
and knowing how to act.

"The future will be more pleasant than the past," he said. "Tell me what
you propose to do."

"I haven't made up my mind," Adela replied. "I don't know how I shall
get out of your debt. It makes me feel uncomfortable when I think about
it."

"Then don't think about it," said Denne.

"Ah! but I must, you know. I must. I thought of going abroad. I remember
a very nice girl, who was sensible enough to marry a poor man because
she loved him. She put all luxury and enjoyment on one side and went out
to Canada to rough it as if she had been the wife of a working man. She
wrote to me several times to say how happy she was. I used to read those
letters with a shade of doubt. I didn't see how such a thing was
possible. But in the light of experience one's point of view changes,
and I know better. More than once she has pressed me to go out, and be a
sort of companion to her. I know she will be pleased to have me, and I
think I shall go."

Denne appeared to be pondering some problem.

"That is very brave of you," he said presently. "I like to hear you talk
like that; in fact, I like to hear any man or woman talk like that. It
shows the proper spirit. But I will show you an alternative. How would
you like to stay in England, and do much the same thing as you'd do in
Canada? There would be no occasion to rough it, of course, but suppose
one had a charming house with a farm attached to it, with a few horses
and cattle, where one could devote oneself to outdoor pursuits? Oh, I
don't mean an immense showy establishment. I mean a simple refined home
where one has time to think and read, and enjoy the blessings and
beauties of life. That is the dream I have always had in my mind. But it
has unfortunately lacked the one thing needful--the right woman. So far
as I am concerned, the quest of the golden fleece was nothing to it. But
I have found her, am tired of making money, and shall be only too glad
to get out of finance tomorrow. I could do so in a month's time. Now,
what do you think of that, Adela? I don't wish to hurry you, but--"

Denne broke off suddenly. The tender light died out of his eyes, and his
look was stern and high as he beheld Mark Callader coming down the path
towards them. Callader was wearing his most truculent expression, and
there was a hard, pugnacious look in his little eyes. He strode forward,
and barred the way with an air that caused Denne to tingle, and clench
his fists involuntarily.

"So this is the game, eh?" Callader said.

"I don't know what you mean," said Denne coldly. "But I am glad you are
here. This meeting has saved me the trouble of a journey. You have
something to say to me, and I have one or two propositions to put before
you."

"I hope," Adela said anxiously, "that you--"

Denne laid a hand on her arm.

"Please go back to the house," he said, "there is and will be no cause
for alarm. I will return shortly. And now, sir, I am at your service."




CHAPTER XL.--BEYOND THE GATE.


Adela glanced uneasily from one man to the other. At one time, and that
not very long ago, things had almost pointed to a personal encounter
between Denne and Callader, but she hoped they did not contemplate a
fight to-day. It was not that she was afraid as far as Denne was
concerned, yet the expression on Callader's face was calculated to
arouse anxiety, and he was something of a 'bruiser' from choice. Yet she
could hardly misread Douglas' attitude. He looked at her once with lips
compressed, and in his eyes site detected the compressed and assurance
of victory. She turned slowly away, and walked across the verandah into
the house. If she had expected the men would settle their dispute in
whatever fashion in her presence, she was disappointed, for Denne strode
to the gate with a curt intimation to Callader to follow.

"Where are you going?" the latter asked.

"Outside, if you please," Denne replied. "There's no need to settle this
matter on the high road. If there is to be any trouble, I wish to save
Miss Burton both anxiety and discredit. The papers get hold of those
kind of things too."

Callader followed readily. Whatever his faults were, he had no lack of
physical courage. The irregularities of his life had had no effect upon
his nerves, possibly because he was entirely devoid of anything in the
way of imagination. Moreover, he was certain to have matters all his own
way. He walked for a short distance in silence by Denne's side, and then
pulled up at a stile heading across the fields, declining to go further.

"I think this will do," he muttered.

Denne remarked coolly that he was quite of the same opinion, took a
cigar from his pocket, and lighted it deliberately. He perched himself
on the top of the stile, and remarked on the beauty of the afternoon.
Callader was puzzled by this behavior.

"Oh, to the devil with the afternoon!" he broke out impatiently. "What
has that got to do with it? We are not here to exchange compliments. You
are a very clever man, I know, but for once in your life you have been
too smart. You don't want me to tell you why I am here to-day."

"Not it the least," Denne replied. "To be candid, you came to blackmail
me."

Callader smiled wickedly at the word.

"Just as you please," he said. "I don't care how bluntly you put it.
Some people might prefer the word 'damages'; that is what they would
call it in a court of law."

"There are two courses open to you," Denne reminded him.

"I can either bring an action and claim a heavy sum as compensation, or
I can prosecute you for criminal conspiracy."

"Pity you can't do both," Denne said.

"Yes, isn't it?" Callader sneered, "But one can't eat one's cake and
have it, and so I prefer--"

"I know exactly what you prefer. You have given this matter a good deal
of consideration, and it is very hard to deprive yourself of the
privilege of seeing me in your mind's eye picking oakum and dining
regularly upon an appetizing dish of oatmeal gruel. You would have liked
that exceedingly, of course; it would have been most gratifying to a
vindictive nature like yours. But, on the other hand, such a proceeding
would have prevented you from putting money in your pocket. For you
agree with Tennyson that the jingling of the guinea helps the hurt that
honor feels. I congratulate you upon your choice. Well, what's the
price? How much do you expect to get, and what will you do with it when
you've got it?"

The perplexed expression returned to Callader's face. His dull intellect
always resented sarcasm or humor, which worried and irritated him, for
he did not understand it. He had a feeling that Denne was poking fun at
him, though the latter was quite grave and appeared to be thinking more
about his cigar than anything else.

"Stop that!" Callader blustered.

"Stop what? I thought we came there to discuss business. I have done you
an injury, and you think you ought to be recompensed. What a position
for the head of the Calladers! How much? Come, you know what I mean. At
what figure do you value your wounded feelings?"

The interview was not developing on the lines that Callader had
anticipated. He had an uneasy notion that he was getting the worst of
it. But if Denne insisted on taking this line, he would not shirk it.

"A hundred thousand pounds," he said.

"A hundred thousand pounds! That is a handsome fortune. Even for me. It
is a mint of money. So, to save myself from a criminal prosecution, I
must hand over as much as that. Now, have you any idea why I did this
extraordinary thing? Can't you guess why I had to take some risk to
prove that you are a thief?"

"Drop it!" Callader threatened.

"By no means, there must be no misunderstanding between us. You said you
didn't care how bluntly I spoke, and I mean to call a spade a spade. At
a heavy outlay I have acquired evidence that you are a thief. It was a
particularly mean kind of theft, this purloining of the family
treasures, this taking advantage of a young man who thoroughly trusted
you. Of course, events have hit you rather hardly. Had you known all
along that you would be the Marquis of Kempston I can't suppose you
would have stooped to anything so dishonorable. It wouldn't have been
worth while. Now don't interrupt me; it is idle to make any protest,
because you know that I can prove what has been going on at Callader for
several years. Suppose I defy you, tell you to do your worst, refuse to
pay a single penny?"

"You dare not refuse!"

"Really! Well, let us assume, for the sake of argument, that I
positively do refuse, what will happen then?"

Callader laughed unpleasantly.

"I should apply for a warrant for your arrest."

"Of course, but you would have to give evidence against me. Man! knowing
the facts as you know them, you would be reduced to pulp in the
witness-box. In spite of your bull-dog courage and tenacity, you would
be a broken man at the end of your examination. You would have to admit
everything, to confess in public that you were a despicable thief. No
doubt you would be arrested before you left the court. You might score
against me; in the dispensation of justice I might be picking oakum in
the cell adjoining yours. But I am not at all sure that the end might
not be held to have justified the means. Have you given all this your
consideration? Because, if you like to go on, I am ready for you. Of one
thing you may be absolutely certain, you won't get a brass farthing out
of me."

"Sheer bluff!" Callader declared. "You forget, or don't know that Paul
Lestrine--"

"I was coming to that," Denne said. "I know what Paul Lestrine has done.
He betrayed me, and in turn he has betrayed you. He hasn't left the
country, for I have taken steps to prevent it. He has robbed me for
years. I have known it all the time, made notes on every occasion it
happened, but said nothing because he was useful to me. I saw him on the
Monday following his visit to Callader, and spoke straight to him. At
the present moment he is being shadowed, and with the resources at my
command he cannot escape me. Lestrine has your money, and that's all he
cares about. He will admit everything because I will call him as a
witness, and he will claim an indemnity, and probably get it, against
criminal proceedings. He will show you up as a skunk and a scoundrel,
but Lestrine isn't the sort of man to mind that. He doesn't care what
people say about him; he despises them as cordially as they detest him.
He will tell everything. He will expose the conspiracy which has been
going on between you and Marner for years. He has a list of the
treasures which have been looted from Callader Castle, and he even knows
in whose possession they are at the present moment. All this will come
out, and when the trial is over you can judge for yourself what your
position will be. You won't find Marner disposed to shield you.
Yesterday afternoon the police raided Latour's house in Paris, and all
his books and papers were seized. You know what this means, and so does
Marner. The great gang is broken up, and Marner has vanished. He will
die rather than face exposure. The whole vile business is exploded, and
you will be lucky if you are not mixed up in the cause celebre which is
likely to occupy the French judges for some time to come. Now, you
understand, my friend, why I will give you nothing, why I smile at your
puny efforts, and tell you to do just what you please. I know I did a
hazardous thing, but I didn't do it with my eyes shut. The reason why I
interfered was because I did not mean that you should marry Miss Burton.
You are aware that she is not Miss Burton at all. But that is a detail.
But for her we should not be here holding this extremely pleasant
conversation."

Denne stopped as if the subject had no further interest for him, as if
he had spoken his last word. Callader stood opposite to him, dogged,
sullen, suspicious, and glancing at Denne's face as if he expected to
read something there. His mind worked slowly, but he began to see that
Denne was master of the situation. If all Denne said was correct, and he
knew it could not be doubted, or denied, his own position was full of
danger. The more he considered the matter the more he perceived that
Denne was armed at every point.

"You are too clever for me," he said sulkily, admitting defeat as a
boxer does who owns he has met someone better than himself. "You could
have had the girl, so far as I am concerned. I am sure I didn't want to
marry her."

"Perhaps not, but you wanted her money, which is about the same thing.
Now that you find she has no money, you can afford to play the
magnanimous, and set her free. Not that it matters whether you do so or
not. But are you not wasting time? Hadn't you better go back to London
at once, and put the machinery of the law in motion against me? Nothing
will give me greater satisfaction. And now, I shall be glad to finish
this interview. Henceforth we shall meet as strangers, and I am
authorised to say the same on behalf of my future wife, Lady Adela
Callader. Good afternoon!"




CHAPTER XLI.--THE SIMPLE LIFE.


All's well that ends well. The days were passing evenly and pleasantly
in the cottage by the river. Adela thought she had never had so much to
do that was profitable and good for her, and wondered hourly how she
ever endured her former mode of existence. For here she had light and
life and movement, here were the thousand and one responsibilities she
had hitherto laid on the shoulders of others. She did not, perhaps,
realise that her new-formed happiness, her new health, her new strength,
mental no less than bodily, had much to do with the present outlook.
There was sheer joy in life now; the peace and comfort which came from
regular hours and freedom from excitement had brought back the color to
her cheeks, and the sparkle to her eyes. Even the country round seemed
new country to her; the vivid green of the trees and the blending blue
arch of the sky were painted in brighter and fresher colors than before.

It was irksome to feel under so great a debt to Denne, and even the
cottage, simple as it was, cost money. It would be necessary to find
means to keep it up. How was it to be done? It was absurd to think of
turning to her former associates, for not one of them had come near her
since the crash. She had not expected them, either. They did not belong
to the class that turned a sympathetic ear to misfortune. Not that Adela
minded; she had shrewdly suspected how it would be. She had been in
London once or twice lately, and it was impossible to visit the West End
without meeting some of them. They had looked at her in a surprised kind
of way, and moved on with a more or less faint acknowledgment. Nor was
there any sting in this treatment of her. Adela was sincerely glad to
turn her back upon them all.

She had not seen Douglas Denne since the day he had so effectually
disposed of Callader. On that occasion he had returned to the cottage to
tell her briefly what had happened, and then he had gone away with all
assurance that she should see him in a few days. Nearly a month had
elapsed and she had seen no sign of him.

He came at last on one beautiful July afternoon. His car stood panting
in the road, and Adela noticed that he had driven himself. He came to
the verandah in his quiet masterful fashion. He wished Adela to go for a
drive with him. They would have tea together on the road, and he would
see that she was back in time for dinner.

Adela hesitated, but there was no resisting Denne when he was bent on a
thing. Besides, if she had missed one thing more than another it was the
rapid motion and exhilaration of her car. It had afforded, perhaps, the
only healthy amusement in which she had indulged. She cast a longing eye
at the big motor beyond the gate, and Denne smiled.

"I knew you would come," he said. "I want to go as far as Hindhead to
see a house I am interested in. I should like you to look at it,
because, if you approve of the place, I shall buy it. I daresay you have
wondered why I have not been lately."

"I have missed you," Adela said.

A pleased, eager smile came over Denne's face. The mask had fallen from
his features, and he looked like a boy starting on a holiday.

"I like to hear you say that," he remarked, "because I have missed you,
too. But, come along, don't let us waste this glorious afternoon."

Denne tucked her up tenderly in the car, and they started on their
journey. There was greater freshness and pleasure in the ride than Adela
had ever experienced. She lay back in her seat giving herself over
entirely to enjoyment, whilst Denne talked of his plans for the future.

"I have done it," he said joyously. "I have done what I told you I
should. For the past month I have been closely engaged in the business
of getting out of business, and now I am free to do what I like and go
where I please. I have made sacrifices, but that does not matter. So far
as I am concerned, I am done with the city. I don't want to see another
financial paper, or sit on the board of another company. I mean to
settle in the country, and lead a healthy, open-air life. People are
supposed to envy a capitalist, but they don't realise what a terrible
worry and anxiety his life is. Often, for weeks together, I have hardly
been able to speak. But let us change the subject. I don't wish to think
of anything else but this house which I have taken such a fancy to."

Denne drew up presently before a pair of lodge gates, of hammered iron,
fashioned curiously at the top in scrolls and patterns like rough lace.
The lodge nestled amongst a group of elms, and swallows were darting in
and out under the thatched eaves. Beyond was an avenue bordered on both
sides with magnificent rows of beeches, and as the car sped up the drive
the house opened out presently. It was pure Elizabethian in style, and
up the gables and around the latticed windows creepers grew in
profusion.

"Somebody lives here," Adela exclaimed.

"The house is practically unoccupied. It is fully furnished, and some of
the servants are here still. The place was bought by an American
millionaire as a wedding present for his daughter, who married a man you
know very well. She had a great fancy for a real Elizabethian house in
the country, and was crazy about it for a time. Her father was sensible
enough to place the house in the hands of an artist, with carte blanche
as to furnishing it. He made his commission a labor of love, and did his
work magnificently."

A sigh of something like envy came from Adela. A few months ago and she
might have admired this as an expensive toy. But now the contemplation
of it struck a deeper note, and she could realise what a paradise this
lovely house would make.

"Some people never know when they are well off," she said. "'Why do they
want to sell it?"

Denne smiled in a peculiarly dry way.

"They got tired of it," he said. "They declared that they were bored to
death here. You see, they both belong to the smart set, and there is no
escape from that. Once you are bound to the wheel it is hard to break
away. But we have tasted of the fruits of society and know that it has
nothing to offer us. We have had to pay for our experience, perhaps, but
we will be wise in time."

They walked across the lawn, and through the rose garden, along the
terraces and thence to the model farm. The dairy was so exceptionally
clean and bright and cool that Adela exclaimed in delight. The pedigreed
Jersey cattle looked like deer as they moved across the pasture. Nothing
was forgotten to make the place complete. Adela drew a sigh of pure
delight as she looked around.

"Fancy leaving this," she said, "fancy giving it up. And all to lead a
life of unhealthy excitement in town, to breathe a poisonous atmosphere
in company with people one dislikes and despises."

"It does seem strange, doesn't it?" Denne observed drily.

Adela laughed gaily.

"Ah! you mustn't altogether blame me. Don't forget that I was dragged
into it, before I knew what the pleasure of living meant. I always felt
that I wanted to get away from it, but didn't know how. But you won't
lose this chance, will you?"

"That," Denne said gravely, "depends upon you. But come inside. They are
waiting for us, and I think you will find that tea is ready."

There was no break in the chain of enchantment. Everything had been done
to preserve harmony, the symmetry of the charming old house. The
furniture looked as if it had been there for centuries, and over the
beauty of it all there hovered that spirit of tranquility and refinement
which reminded Adela of some of Tennyson's poems. Nor was she amazed,
somehow, to find herself in a dim old hall pouring out tea and listening
to Denne's plans for the future.

"It wants nothing," she said presently. "There is only one word for it,
and that is perfect."

"Not quite," Denne whispered. "You may take it for granted that I am
going to buy this place; in fact, I don't mind confessing to you that I
have already bought it. But it needs one thing, and that is a mistress."

Adela smiled unsteadily.

"That should offer no great difficulty," she murmured.

"I don't think it will," Denne said gravely. "At least, not now, because
I think I have found the right woman. Adela, darling, you know what I
mean. I didn't ask you to come just to admire my new purchase. I wished
you to see the place which I had pictured as your future home. Unless
you consent to share it with me my enjoyment will be gone. Now look me
in the face and tell me honestly, didn't you know that I was going to
ask you this question?"

"But I have nothing," Adela answered. "I have not even the reputation. I
am little better than an adventurer. I should have been leading a life
of deceit and fraud now had circumstances not proved too strong for me.
And you ask me--"

Something rose in Adela's throat, for she could say no more. Denne
reached eagerly over, and took her hands in his.

"I know everything," he whispered. "You have always been frank with
me--and I--well, I want you, and there is nothing more to be said. I
happen to want you and nobody else, and that being so, what does it
matter what anybody else says or thinks? We are both anxious to
obliterate the past. I tried not to think of you in this way, I
tried--but what is the use of talking like this? If you tell me that you
do not care for me sufficiently--"

Words failed Adela. She felt she was being borne away on a wave of
happiness, as if she were drifting out across the summer sea into the
heart of the golden sunset. Then Denne's arms went around her, and she
was crying quietly and happily upon his shoulder.

"This is your answer?" he whispered.

"Oh, yes, yes," Adela replied. "I don't know what I have done to deserve
such happiness. In my wildest dreams I never longed for anything like
this. You have won at all points, Douglas."

Denne desired to hear no more. For the first time in his life he was
wholly and entirely satisfied.



THE END



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