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The Lion's Skin by Rafael Sabatini

Part 6 out of 6

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perhaps, if he but betrayed a plot without delivering up any
of the plotters; still, he thought, it should be strong
enough. His father dead, out of consideration of the signal
loyalty his act must manifest, he thought the government would
prove grateful and forbear from prosecuting a claim for
restitution against the Ostermore estates.

He had, then, all but resolved upon the cleaner course, when,
suddenly, something that in the stress of the moment he had
gone near to overlooking, was urged upon his attention.

Hortensia had risen and had started forward at her ladyship's
last words. She stood before his lordship now with pleading
eyes, and hands held out. "My lord," she cried, "you cannot
do this thing! You cannot do it!"

But instead of moving him to generosity, by those very words
she steeled his heart against it, and proved to him that,
after all, his potentialities for evil were strong enough to
enable him to do the very thing she said he could not. His
brow grew black as midnight; his dark eyes raked her face, and
saw the agony of apprehension for her lover written there. He
drew breath, hissing and audible, glanced once at Caryll;
then: "A moment!" said he.

He strode to the door and called the footmen, then turned

"Mr. Caryll," he said in a formal voice, "will you give
yourself the trouble of waiting in the ante-room? I need to
consider upon this matter."

Mr. Caryll, conceiving that it was with his mother that
Rotherby intended to consider, rose instantly. "I would
remind you, Rotherby, that time is pressing," said he.

"I shall not keep you long," was Rotherby's cold reply, and
Mr. Caryll went out.

"What now, Charles?" asked his mother. "Is this child to

"It is the child that is to remain," said his lordship. "Will
your ladyship do me the honor, too, of waiting in the
ante-room?" and he held the door for her.

"What folly are you considering?" she asked.

"Your ladyship is wasting time, and time, as Mr. Caryll has
said, is pressing."

She crossed to the door, controlled almost despite herself by
the calm air of purpose that was investing him. "You are not
thinking of - "

"You shall learn very soon of what I am thinking, ma'am. I
beg that you will give us leave."

She paused almost upon the threshold. "If you do a rashness,
here, remember that I can still act without you," she reminded
him. "You may choose to believe that that man is your
brother, and so, out of that, and" - she added with a cruel
sneer at Hortensia - other considerations, you may elect to
let him go. But remember that you still have me to reckon
with. Whether he prove of your blood or not, he cannot prove
himself of mine - thank God!"

His lordship bowed in silence, preserving an unmoved
countenance, whereupon she cursed him for a fool, and passed
out. He closed the door, and turned the key, Hortensia
watching him in a sort of horror. "Let me go!" she found
voice to cry at last, and advanced towards the door herself.
But Rotherby came to meet her, his face white, his eyes
glowing. She fell away before his opening arms, and he stood
still, mastering himself.

"That man," he said, jerking a backward thumb at the closed
door, "lives or dies, goes free or hangs, as you shall decide,

She looked at him, her face haggard, her heart beating high in
her throat as if to suffocate her. "What do you mean?" she

"You love him!" he growled. "Pah! I see it in your eyes - in
your tremors - that you do. It is for him that you are
afraid, is't not?"

"Why do you mock me with it?" she inquired with dignity.

"I do not mock you, Hortensia. Answer me! Is it true that
you love him?"

"It is true," she answered steadily. "What is't to you?"

"Everything!" he answered hotly. "Everything! It is Heaven
and Hell to me. Ten days ago, Hortensia, I asked you to marry
me - "

"No more," she begged him, an arm thrown out to stay him.

"But there is more," he answered, advancing again. "This time
I can make the offer more attractive. Marry me, and Caryll is
not only free to depart, but no evidence shall be laid against
him. I swear it l

Refuse me, and he hangs as surely - as surely as you and I
talk together here this moment."

Cold eyes scathed him with contempt. "God!" she cried. "What
manner of monster are you, my lord? To speak so - to speak of
marriage to me, and to speak of hanging a man who is son to
that same father of yours who lies above stairs, not yet
turned cold. Are you human at all?"

"Ay - and in nothing so human as in my love for you,

She put her hands to her face. "Give me patience!" she
prayed. "The insult of it after what has passed! Let me go,
sir; open that door, and let me go."

He stood regarding her a moment, with lowering brows. Then he
turned, and went slowly to the door. "He dies, remember!"
said he, and the words, the sinister tone and the sinister
look that was stamped upon his face, shattered her spirit as
at a blow.

"No, no!" she faltered, and advanced a step or two. "Oh, have

"When you show me pity," he answered.

She was beaten. "You - you swear to let him go - to see him
safely out of England - if - if I consent?"

His eyes blazed. He came back swiftly, and she stood, a
frozen thing, passively awaiting him; a frozen thing, she let
him take her in his arms, yielding herself in horrific

He held her close a moment, the blood surging to his face, and
glowing darkly through the swarthy skin. "Have I conquered,
then?" he cried. "You'll marry me, Hortensia?"

"At that price," she answered piteously, "at that price."

"Shalt find me a gentle, loving husband, ever. I swear it
before Heaven!" he vowed, the ardor of his passion softening
his nature, as steel is softened in the fire.

"Then be it so," she said, and her tone was less cold, for she
began to glow, as it were, with the ardor of the sacrifice
that she was making - began to experience the exalted ecstasy
of martyrdom. "Save him, and you shall find me ever a dutiful
wife to you, my lord - a dutiful wife."

"And loving?" he demanded greedily.

"Even that. I promise it," she answered.

With a hoarse cry, he stooped to kiss her; then, with ,an
oath, he checked, and flung her from him so violently that she
hurtled to a chair and sank to it, overbalanced. "No," he
roared, like a mad thing now. "Hell and damnation - no!"

A wild frenzy of jealousy had swept aside his tenderness. He
was sick and faint with the passion of it of this proof of how
deeply she must love that other man. He strove to control his
violence. He snarled at her, in his endeavors to subdue the
animal, the primitive creature that he was at heart. "If you
can love him so much as that, he had better hang, I think."
He laughed on a high, fierce note. "You have spoke his
sentence, girl! D'ye think I'd take you so - at second hand?
Oh, s'death! What d'ye deem me?"

He laughed again - in his throat now, a quivering; half-
sobbing laugh of anger - and crossed to the door, her eyes
following him, terrified; her mind understanding nothing of
this savage. He turned the key, and flung wide the door with
a violent gesture. "Bring him in!" he shouted.

They entered - Mr. Caryll with the footmen at his heels, a
frown between his brows, his eyes glancing quickly and
searchingly from Rotherby to Hortensia. After him came her
ladyship, no less inquisitive of look. Rotherby dismissed the
lackeys, and closed the door again. He flung out an arm to
indicate Hortensia.

"This little fool," he said to Caryll, "would have married me
to save your life."

Mr. Caryll raised his brows. The words relieved his fears.
"I am glad, sir, that you perceive she would have been a fool
to do so. You, I take it, have been fool enough to refuse the

"Yes, you damned play-actor! Yes!" he thundered. "D'ye think
I want another man's cast-offs?"

"That is an overstatement," said Mr. Caryll. "Mistress
Winthrop is no cast-off of mine."

"Enough said!" snapped Rotherby. He had intended to say much,
to do some mighty ranting. But before Mr. Caryll's cold
half-bantering reduction of facts to their true values, he
felt himself robbed of words. "You hang!" he ended shortly.

"Ye're sure of that?" questioned Mr. Caryll.

"I would I were as sure of Heaven."

"I think you may be - just about as sure," Mr. Caryll
rejoined, entirely unperturbed, and he sauntered forward
towards Hortensia. Rotherby and his mother watched him,
exchanging glances.

Then Rotherby shrugged and sneered. "'Tis his bluster," said
he. "He'll be a farceur to the end. I doubt he's

Mr. Caryll never heeded him. He was bending beside Hortensia.
He took her hand, and bore it to his lips. "Sweet," he
murmured, "'twas a treason that you intended. Have you, then,
no faith in me? Courage, sweetheart, they cannot hurt me."

She clutched his hands, and looked up into his eyes. "You but
say that to comfort me!" she cried.

"Not so," he answered gravely. "I tell you no more than what
is true. They think they hold me. They will cheat, and lie
and swear falsely to the end that they may destroy me. But
they shall have their pains for nothing."

"Ay - depend upon that," Rotherby mocked him. "Depend upon it
- to the gallows."

Mr Caryll's curious eyes smiled upon his brother, but his lips
were contemptuous. "I am of your own blood, Rotherby - your
brother," he said again, "and once already out of that
consideration I have spared your life - because I would not
have a brother's blood upon my hands." He sighed, and
continued: "I had hoped that you had enough humanity to do the
same. I deplore that you should lack it; but I deplore it for
your own sake, because, after all, you are my brother. Apart
from that, it matters nothing to me."

"Will it matter nothing when you are proved a Jacobite spy?"
cried her ladyship, enraged beyond endurance by this calm
scorn of them. "Will it matter nothing when it is proved that
you carried that letter, and would have carried that other -
that you were empowered to treat in your exiled master's name?
Will that matter nothing?"

He looked at her an instant, then, as if utterly disdaining to
answer her, he turned again to Rotherby. "I were a fool and
blind, did I not see to the bottom of this turbid little
puddle upon which you think to float your argosies. You are
selling me. You are to make a bargain with the government to
forbear the confiscations your father has incurred out of
consideration of the service you can render by disclosing this
plot, and you would throw me in as something tangible - in
earnest of the others that may follow. Have I sounded the
depths of your intent?"

"And if you have - what then?" demanded sullen Rotherby.

"This, my lord," answered Mr. Caryll, and he quoted: "`The man
that once did sell the lion's skin while the beast lived, was
killed with hunting him. Remember that!"'

They looked at him, impressed by the ringing voice in which he
had spoken-a voice in which the ring was of mingled mockery
and exultation. Then her ladyship shook off the impression,
and laughed.

"With what d'ye threaten us?" she asked contemptuously.

"I - threaten, ma'am? Nay, I am incapable of threatening. I
do not threaten. I have reasoned with you, exhorted you,
shown you cause why, had you one spark of decency left, you
would allow me to depart and shield me from the law you have
invoked to ruin me. I have hoped for your own sakes that you
would be moved so to do. But since you will not - " He
paused and shrugged. "On your own heads be it."

"`On our own heads be what?" demanded Rotherby.

But Mr. Caryll smiled, and shook his head. "Did you know all,
it might indeed influence your decision; and I would not have
that happen. You have chosen, have you not, Rotherby? You
will sell me; you will hang me - me, your father's son. Poor
Rotherby! From my soul I pity you!"

"Pity me? Death! You impudent rogue! Keep your pity for
those that need it."

"That is why I offer it you, Rotherby," said Mr. Caryll,
almost sadly. "In all my life, I have not met a man who stood
more sorely in need of it, nor am I ever like to meet

There was a movement without, a tap at the door; and Humphries
entered to announce Mr. Green's return, accompanied by Mr.
Second Secretary Templeton, and without waiting for more, he
ushered them into the room.



To the amazement of them all, there entered a tall gentleman
in a full-bottomed wig, with a long, pale face, a resolute
mouth, and a pair of eyes that were keen, yet kindly. Close
upon the heels of the second secretary came Mr. Green.
Humphries withdrew, and closed the door.

Mr. Templeton made her ladyship a low bow.

"Madam," said he very gravely, "I offer your ladyship - and
you, my lord - my profoundest condolence in the bereavement
you have suffered, and my scarcely less profound excuses for
this intrusion upon your grief."

Mr. Templeton may or may not have reflected that the grief
upon which he deplored his intrusion was none so apparent.

"I had not ventured to do so," he continued, "but that your
lordship seemed to invite my presence."

"Invited it, sir?" questioned Rotherby with deference. "I
should scarcely have presumed so far as to invite it."

"Not directly, perhaps," returned the second secretary. His
was a deep, rich voice, and he spoke with great
deliberateness, as if considering well each word before
allowing it utterance. "Not directly, perhaps; but in view of
your message to Lord Carteret, his lordship has desired me to
come in person to inquire into this matter for him, before
proceeding farther. This fellow," indicating Green, "brought
information from you that a Jacobite - an agent of James
Stuart - is being detained here, and that your lordship has a
communication to make to the secretary of state."

Rotherby bowed his assent. "All I desired that Mr. Green
should do meanwhile," said he, "was to procure a warrant for
this man's arrest. My revelations would have followed that.
Has he the warrant?"

"Your lordship may not be aware," said Mr. Templeton, with an
increased precision of diction, "that of late so many plots
have been disclosed and have proved in the end to be no plots
at all, that his lordship has resolved to proceed now with the
extremest caution. For it is not held desirable by his
majesty that publicity should be given to such matters until
there can be no doubt that they are susceptible to proof.
Talk of them is disturbing to the public quiet, and there is
already disturbance enough, as it unfortunately happens.
Therefore, it is deemed expedient that we should make quite
sure of our ground before proceeding to arrests."

"But this plot is no sham plot," cried Rotherby, with the
faintest show of heat, out of patience with the other's
deliberateness. "It is a very real danger, as I can prove to
his lordship."

"It is for the purpose of ascertaining that fact," resumed the
second secretary, entirely unruffled, "for the purpose of
ascertaining it before taking any steps that would seem to
acknowledge it, that my Lord Carteret has desired me to wait
upon you - that you may place me in possession of the
circumstances that have come to your knowledge."

Rotherby's countenance betrayed his growing impatience. "Why,
for that matter, it has come to my knowledge that a plot is
being hatched by the friends of the Stuart, and that a rising
is being prepared, the present moment being considered
auspicious, while the people's confidence in the government is
shaken by the late South Sea Company disaster."

Mr. Templeton wagged his head gently. "That, sir - if you
will permit the observation - is the preface of all the
disclosures that have lately been made to us. The
consolation, sir, for his majesty's friends, has been that in
no case did the subsequent matter make that preface good."

"It is in that particular, then, that my disclosures shall
differ from those others," said Rotherby, in a tone that
caused Mr. Templeton afterwards to describe him as "a damned
hot fellow."

"You have evidence?"

"Documentary evidence. A letter from the Pretender himself
amongst it."

A becoming gravity overspread Mr. Templeton's clear-cut face.
"That would be indeed regrettable," said he. It was plain
that whatever the second secretary might display when the plot
was disclosed to him, he would display none of that
satisfaction upon which Rotherby had counted. "To whom, sir,
let me ask, is this letter indited?"

"To my late father," answered his lordship.

Mr. Templeton made an exclamation, whose significance was not
quite clear.

"I have discovered it since his death," continued Rotherby.
"I was but in time to wrest it from the hands of that spy of
the Pretender's, who was in the act of destroying it when I
caught him. My devotion to his majesty made my course clear,
sir - and I desired Mr. Green to procure a warrant for this
traitor's arrest."

"Sir," said Mr. Templeton, regarding him with an eye in which
astonishment was blent with admiration, "this is very loyal in
you - very loyal under the - ah - peculiar circumstances of
the affair. I do not think that his majesty's government,
considering to whom this letter was addressed, could have
censured you even had you suppressed it. You have conducted
yourself, my lord - if I may venture upon a criticism of your
lordship's conduct - with a patriotism worthy of the best
models of ancient Rome. And I am assured that his majesty's
government will not be remiss in signifying appreciation of
this very lofty loyalty of yours."

Lord Rotherby bowed low, in acknowledgment of the compliment.
Her ladyship concealed a cynical smile under cover of her fan.
Mr. Caryll - standing in the background beside Hortensia's
chair - smiled, too, and poor Hortensia, detecting his smile,
sought to take comfort in it.

"My son," interposed the countess, "is, I am sure, gratified
to hear you so commend his conduct."

Mr. Templeton bowed to her with a great politeness. "I should
be a stone, ma'am, did I not signify my - ah - appreciation of

"There is a little more to follow, sir," put in Mr. Caryll, in
that quiet manner of his. "I think you will find it blunt the
edge of his lordship's lofty loyalty - cause it to savor less
like the patriotism of Rome, and more like that of Israel."

Mr. Templeton turned upon him a face of cold displeasure. He
would have spoken, but that whilst he was seeking words of a
becoming gravity, Rotherby forestalled him.

"Sir," he exclaimed, "what I did, I did though my ruin must
have followed. I know what this traitor has in mind. He
imagines I have a bargain to make. But you must see, sir,
that in no sense is it so, for, having already surrendered the
facts, it is too late now to attempt to sell them. I am ready
to yield up the letters that I have found. No consideration
could induce me to do other; and yet, sir, I venture to hope
that in return, the government will be pleased to see that I
have some claim upon my country's recognition for the signal
service I am rendering her - and in rendering which I make a
holocaust of my father's honor."

"Surely, surely, sir," murmured Mr. Templeton, but his
countenance told of a lessening enthusiasm in his lordship's
Roman patriotism. "Lord Carteret, I am sure, would never
permit so much - ah - devotion to his majesty to go

"I only ask, sir - and I ask it for the sake of my father's
name, which stands in unavoidable danger of being smirched -
that no further shame be heaped upon it than that which must
result from the horror with which the discovery of this plot
will inspire all right-thinking subjects."

Mr. Caryll smiled and nodded. He judged in a detached spirit
- a mere spectator at a play - and he was forced to admit to
himself that it was subtly done of his brother, and showed an
astuteness in this thing, at least, of which he had never
supposed him capable.

"There is, sir," Rotherby proceeded, "the matter of my
father's dealings with the South Sea Company. He is no longer
alive to defend himself from the accusations - from the
impeachment which has been levelled against him by our enemy,
the Duke of Wharton. Therefore, it might be possible to make
it appear as if his dealings were - ah - not - ah - quite such
as should befit an upright gentleman. There is that, and
there is this greater matter against him. Between the two, I
should never again be able to look my fellow-countrymen in the
face. Yet this is the more important since the safety of the
kingdom is involved; whilst the other is but a personal
affair, and trivial by comparison.

"I will beg, sir, that out of consideration for my disclosing
this dastardly conspiracy - which I cannot do without
disclosing my father's misguided share in it - I will implore,
sir, that out of that consideration, Lord Carteret will see
fit to dispose that the South Sea Company affair is allowed to
be forgotten. It has already been paid for by my father with
his life."

Mr. Templeton looked at the young man before him with eyes of
real commiseration. He was entirely duped, and in his heart
he regretted that for a moment he could have doubted
Rotherby's integrity of purpose.

"Sir," he said, "I offer you my sympathy - my profoundest
sympathy; and you, my lady.

"As for this South Sea Company affair, well - I am empowered
by Lord Carteret to treat only of the other matter, and to
issue or not a warrant for the apprehension of the person you
are detaining, after I have investigated the grounds upon
which his arrest is urged. Nevertheless, sir, I think I can
say - indeed, I think I can promise - that in consideration of
your readiness to deliver up these letters, and provided their
nature is as serious as you represent, and also in
consideration of this, your most signal proof of loyalty, Lord
Carteret will not wish to increase the load which already you
have to bear."

"Oh, sir!" cried Rotherby in the deepest emotion, "I have no
words in which to express my thanks."

"Nor I," put in Mr. Caryll, "words in which to express my
admiration. A most excellent performance, Rotherby. I had
not credited you with so much ability."

Mr. Templeton frowned upon him again. "Ye betray a singular
callousness, sir," said he.

"Nay, sir; not callousness. Merely the ease that springs from
a tranquil conscience."

Her ladyship glanced across at him, and sneered audibly. "You
hear the poisonous traitor, sir. He glories in a tranquil
conscience, in spite of this murderous matter to which he
stood committed."

Rotherby turned aside to take the letters from the desk. He
thrust them into Mr. Templeton's hands. "Here, sir, is a
letter from King James to my father, and here is a letter from
my father to King James. From their contents, you will gather
how far advanced are matters, what devilries are being hatched
here in his majesty's dominions."

Mr. Templeton received them, and crossed to the window that he
might examine them. His countenance lengthened. Rotherby
took his stand beside his mother's chair, both observing Mr.
Caryll, who, in his turn, was observing Mr. Templeton, a faint
smile playing round the corners of his mouth. Once they saw
him stoop and whisper something in Hortensia's ear, and they
caught the upward glance of her eyes, half fear, half

Mr. Green, by the door, stood turning his hat in his hands,
furtively watching everybody, whilst drawing no attention to
himself - a matter in which much practice had made him

At last Templeton turned, folding the letters. "This is very
grave, my lord," said he, "and my Lord Carteret will no doubt
desire to express in person his gratitude and his deep sense
of the service you have done him. I think you may confidently
expect to find him as generous as you hope."

He pocketed the letters, and raised a hand to point at Mr.
Caryll. "This man?" he inquired laconically.

"Is a spy of King James's. He is the messenger who bore my
father that letter from the Pretender, and he would no doubt
have carried back the answer had my father lived."

Mr. Templeton drew a paper from his pocket, and crossed to the
desk. He sat down, and took up a quill. "You can prove this,
of course?" he said, testing the point of his quill upon his

"Abundantly," was the ready answer. "My mother can bear
witness to the fact that 'twas he brought the Pretender's
letter, and there is no lack of corroboration. Enough, I
think, would be afforded by the assault made by this rogue
upon Mr. Green, of which, no doubt, you are already informed,
sir. His object - this proved object - was to possess himself
of those papers that he might destroy them. I but caught him
in time, as my servants can bear witness, as they can also
bear witness to the circumstance that we were compelled to
force an entrance here, and to use force to him to obtain the
letters from him."

Mr. Templeton nodded. "'Tis a clear case, then," said he, and
dipped his pen.

"And yet," put in Mr. Caryll, in an indolent, musing voice,
"it might be made to look as clear another way."

Mr. Templeton scowled at him. "The opportunity shall be
afforded you," said he. "Meanwhile - what is your name?"

Mr. Caryll looked whimsically at the secretary a moment; then
flung his bomb. "I am Justin Caryll, Sixth Earl of Ostermore,
and your very humble servant, Mr. Secretary."

The effect was ludicrous - from Mr. Caryll's point of view -
and yet it was disappointing. Five pairs of dilating eyes
confronted him, five gaping mouths. Then her ladyship broke
into a laugh.

"The creature's mad - I've long suspected it." And she meant
to be taken literally; his many whimsicalities were explained
to her at last. He was, indeed, half-witted, as he now

Mr. Templeton, recovering, smote the table angrily. He
thought he had good reason to lose his self-control on this
occasion, though it was a matter of pride with him that he
could always preserve an unruffled calm under the most trying
circumstances. "What is your name, sir?" he demanded again.

"You are hard of hearing, sir, I think. I am Lord Ostermore.
Set down that name in the warrant if you are determined to be
bubbled by that fellow there and made to look foolish
afterwards with my Lord Carteret."

Mr. Templeton sat back in his chair, frowning; but more from
utter bewilderment now than anger.

"Perhaps," said Mr. Caryll, "if I were to explain, it would
help you to see the imposture that is being practiced upon
you. As for the allegations that have been made against me -
that I am a Jacobite spy and an agent of the Pretender's - "
He shrugged, and waved an airy hand. "I scarce think there
will remain the need for me to deny them when you have heard
the rest."

Rotherby took a step forward, his face purple, his hands
clenched. Her ladyship thrust out a bony claw, clutched at
his sleeve, and drew him back and into the chair beside her.
"Pho! Charles," she said; "give the fool rope, and he'll hang
himself, never doubt it - the poor, witless creature."

Mr. Caryll sauntered over to the secretaire, and leaned an
elbow on the top of it, facing all in the room.

"I admit, Mr. Secretary," said he, "that I had occasion to
assault Mr. Green, to the end that I might possess myself of
the papers he was seeking in this desk."

"Why, then - " began Mr. Templeton.

"Patience, sir! I admit so much, but I admit no more. I do
not, for instance, admit that the object - the object itself -
of my search was such as has been represented."

"What then? What else?" growled Rotherby.

"Ay, sir - what else?" quoth Mr. Templeton.

"Sir," said Mr. Caryll, with a sorrowful shake of, the head,
"I have already startled you, it seems, by one statement. I
beg that you will prepare yourself to be startled by another."
Then he abruptly dropped his languor. "I should think twice,
sir," he advised, "before signing that warrant, were I in your
place, to do so would be to render yourself the tool of those
who are plotting my ruin, and ready to bear false witness that
they may accomplish it. I refer," and he waved a hand towards
the countess and his brother, "to the late Lord Ostermore's
mistress and his natural son, there."

In their utter stupefaction at the unexpectedness and seeming
wildness of the statement, neither mother nor son could find a
word to say. No more could Mr. Templeton for a moment. Then,
suddenly, wrath fully: "What are you saying, sir?" he roared.

"The truth, sir."

"The truth?" echoed the secretary.

"Ay, sir - the truth. Have ye never heard of it?"

Mr. Templeton sat back again. "I begin to think," said he,
surveying through narrowing eyes the slender graceful figure
before him, "that her ladyship is right that you are mad;
unless - unless you are mad of the same madness that beset
Ulysses. You remember?"

"Let us have done," cried Rotherby in a burst of anger,
leaping to his feet. "Let us have done, I say! Are we to
waste the day upon this Tom o' Bedlam? Write him down as
Caryll - Justin Caryll - 'tis the name he's known by; and let
Green see to the rest."

Mr. Templeton made an impatient sound, and poised his pen.

"Ye are not to suppose, sir," Mr. Caryll stayed him, "that I
cannot support my statements. I have by me proofs -
irrefragable proofs of what I say."

"Proofs?" The word seemed to come from, every, member of that
little assembly - if we except Mr. Green, whose face was
beginning to betray his uneasiness. He was not so ready as
the others to believe, that Mr. Caryll was mad. For him, the
situation asked some other explanation.

"Ay - proofs," said Mr. Caryll. He had drawn the case from
his pocket again. From this he took the birth-certificate,
and placed it before Mr. Templeton, "Will you glance at that,
sir - to begin, with? - "

Mr. Templeton complied. His face became more and more grave.
He looked at Mr. Caryll; then at Rotherby, who was scowling,
and at her ladyship, who was breathing hard. His glance
returned to Mr. Caryll.

"You are the person designated here?" he inquired.

"As I can abundantly prove," said Mr. Caryll. "I have no lack
of friends in London who will bear witness to that much."

"Yet," said Mr. Templeton, frowning, perplexed, "this does not
make you what you claim to be. Rather does it show you to be
his late lordship's - "

"There's more to come," said Mr. Caryll, and placed another
document before the secretary. It was an extract from the
register of St. Etienne of Maligny, relating to his mother's

"Do you know, sir, in what year this lady went through a
ceremony of marriage with my father - the late Lord Ostermore?
It was in 1690, I think, as the lady will no doubt confirm."

"To what purpose, this?" quoth Mr. Templeton.

"The purpose will be presently apparent. Observe that date,"
said Mr. Caryll, and he pointed to the document in Mr.
Templeton's hand.

Mr. Templeton read the date aloud - "1692" - and then the name
of the deceased - "Antoinette de Beaulieu de Maligny. What of
it?" he demanded.

"You will understand that when I show you the paper I took
from this desk, the paper that I obtained as a consequence of
my violence to Mr. Green. I think you will consider, sir,
that if ever the end justified the means, it did so in this
case. Here was something very different from the paltry
matter of treason that is alleged against me."

And he passed the secretary a third paper.

Over Mr. Templeton's shoulder, Rotherby and his mother, who -
drawn by the overpowering excitement that was mastering them -
had approached in silence, were examining the document with
wide-open, startled eyes, fearing by very instinct, without
yet apprehending the true nature of the revelation that was to

"God!" shrieked her ladyship, who took in the meaning of this
thing before Rotherby had begun to suspect it. "'Tis a

"That were idle, when the original entry in the register is to
be seen in, the Church of St. Antoine, madam," answered Mr.
Caryll. "I rescued that document, together with some letters
which my mother wrote my father when first he returned to
England - and which are superfluous now - from a secret drawer
in that desk, an hour ago."

"But what is it?" inquired Rotherby huskily. "What is it?"

"It is the certificate of the marriage of my father, the late
Lord Ostermore, and my mother, Antoinette de Maligny, at the
Church of St. Antoine in Paris, in the year 1689." He turned
to Mr. Templeton. "You apprehend the matter, sir?" he
demanded, and recapitulated. "In 1689 they were married; in
1692 she died; yet in 1690 his lordship went through a form of
marriage with Mistress Sylvia Etheridge, there."

Mr. Templeton nodded very gravely, his eyes upon the document
before him, that they might avoid meeting at that moment the
eyes of the woman whom the world had always known as the
Countess of Ostermore.

"Fortunate is it for me," said Mr. Caryll, "that I should have
possessed myself of these proofs in time. Does it need more
to show how urgent might be the need for my suppression - how
little faith can be attached to an accusation levelled against
me from such a quarter?"

"By God - " began Rotherby, but his mother clutched his wrist.

"Be still, fool!" she hissed in his ear. She had need to keep
her wits about her, to think, to weigh each word that she
might utter. An abyss had opened in her path; a false step,
and she and her son were irrevocably lost - sent headlong to
destruction. Rotherby, already reduced to the last stage of
fear, was obedient as he had never been, and fell silent

Mr. Templeton folded the papers, rose, and proffered them to
their owner. "Have you any means of proving that this was the
document you sought?" he inquired.

"I can prove that it was the document he found." It was
Hortensia who spoke; she had advanced to her lover's side, and
she controlled her amazement to bear witness for him. "I was
present in this room when he went through that desk, as all in
the house know; and I can swear to his having found that paper
in it."

Mr. Templeton bowed. "My lord," he said to Caryll, "your
contentions appear clear. It is a matter in which I fear I
can go no further; nor do I now think that the secretary of
state would approve of my issuing a warrant upon such
testimony as we have received. The matter is one for Lord
Carteret himself."

"I shall do myself the honor of waiting upon his lordship
within the hour," said the new Lord Ostermore. "As for the
letter which it is alleged I brought from France - from the
Pretender," - he was smiling now, a regretful, deprecatory
smile, "it is a fortunate circumstance that, being suspected
by that very man Green, who stands yonder, I was subjected,
upon my arrival in England, to a thorough search at Maidstone
- a search, it goes without saying, that yielded nothing. I
was angry at the time, at the indignity I was forced to
endure. We little know what the future may hold. And to-day
I am thankful to have that evidence to rebut this charge."

"Your lordship is indeed to be congratulated," Mr. Templeton
agreed. "You are thus in a position to clear yourself of even
a shadow of suspicion."

"You fool!" cried she who until that hour had been Countess of
Ostermore, turning fiercely upon Mr. Templeton. "You fool!"

"Madam, this is not seemly," cried the second secretary, with
awkward dignity.

"Seemly, idiot?" she stormed at him. "I swear, as I've a soul
to be saved, that in spite of all this, I know that man to be
a traitor and a Jacobite - that it was the letter from the
king he sought, whatever he may pretend to have found."

Mr. Templeton looked at her in sorrow, for all that in her
overwrought condition she insulted him. "Madam, you might
swear and swear, and yet no one would believe you in the face
of the facts that have come to light."

"Do you believe me?" she demanded angrily.

"My beliefs can matter nothing," he compromised, and made her
a valedictory bow. "Your servant, ma'am," said he, from force
of habit. He nodded to Rotherby, took up his hat and cane,
and strode to the door, which Mr. Green had made haste to open
for him. From the threshold he bowed to Mr. Caryll. "My
lord," said he, "I shall go straight to Lord Carteret. He
will stay for you till you come."

"I shall not keep his lordship waiting," answered Caryll, and
bowed in his turn.

The second secretary went out. Mr. Green hesitated a moment,
then abruptly followed him. The game was ended here; it was
played and lost, he saw, and what should such as Mr. Green be
doing on the losing side?



The game was played and lost. All realized it, and none so
keenly as Hortensia, who found it in her gentle heart to pity
the woman who had never shown her a kindness.

She set a hand upon her lover's arm. "What will you do,
Justin?" she inquired in tones that seemed to plead for mercy
for those others; for she had not paused to think - as another
might have thought - that there was no mercy he could show

Rotherby and his mother stood hand in hand; it was the woman
who had clutched at her son for comfort and support in this
bitter hour of retribution, this hour of the recoil upon
themselves of all the evil they had plotted.

Mr. Caryll considered them a moment, his face a mask, his mind
entirely detached. They interested him profoundly. This
subjugation of two natures that in themselves were arrogant
and cruel was a process very engrossing to observe. He tried
to conjecture what they felt, what thoughts they might be
harboring. And it seemed to him that a sort of paralysis had
fallen on their wits. They were stunned under the shock of
the blow he had dealt them. Anon there would be railings and
to spare -against him, against themselves, against the dead
man above stairs, against Fate, and more besides. For the
present there was this horrid, almost vacuous calm.

Presently the woman stirred. Instinct - the instinct of the
stricken beast to creep to hiding - moved her, while reason
was still bound in lethargy. She moved to step, drawing at
her son's hand. "Come, Charles," she said, in a low, hoarse
voice. "Come!"

The touch and the speech awakened him to life. "No!" he cried
harshly, and shook his hand free of hers. "It ends not thus."

He looked almost as he would fling himself upon his brother,
his figure erect now, defiant and menacing; his face ashen,
his eyes wild. "It ends not thus!" he repeated, and his voice
rang sinister.

"No," Mr. Caryll agreed quietly. "It ends not thus."

He looked sadly from son to mother. "It had not even begun
thus, but that you would have it so. You would have it. I
sought to move you to mercy. I reminded you, my brother, of
the tie that bound us, and I would have turned you from
fratricide, I would have saved you from the crime you
meditated - for it was a crime."

"Fratricide!" exclaimed Rotherby, and laughed angrily.
"Fratricide!" It was as if he threatened it.

But Mr. Caryll continued to regard him sorrowfully. From his
soul he pitied him; pitied them both - not because of their
condition, but because of the soullessness behind it all. To
him it was truly tragic, tragic beyond anything that he had
ever known.

"You said some fine things, sir, to Mr. Templeton of your
regard for your father's memory," said Mr. Caryll. "You
expressed some lofty sentiments of filial piety, which almost
sounded true - which sounded true, indeed, to Mr. Templeton.
It was out of interest for your father that you pleaded for
the suppression of his dealings with the South Sea Company;
not for a moment did you consider yourself or the profit you
should make from such suppression."

"Why this?" demanded the mother fiercely. "Do you rally us?
Do you turn the sword in the wound now that you have us at
your mercy - now that we are fallen?"

"From what are you fallen?" Mr. Caryll inquired. "Ah, but let
that pass. I do not rally, madam. Mockery is far indeed from
my intention." He turned again to Rotherby. "Lord Ostermore
was a father to you, which he never was to me - knew not that
he was. The sentiments you so beautifully expressed to Mr.
Templeton are the sentiments that actuate me now, though I
shall make no attempt to express them. It is not that my
heart stirs much where my Lord Ostermore is concerned. And
yet, for the sake of the name that is mine now, I shall leave
England as I came - Mr. Justin Caryll, neither more nor less.

"In the eyes of the world there is no slur upon my mother's
name, because her history - her supposed history - was
unknown. See that none ever falls on it, else shall you find
me pitiless indeed. See that none ever falls on it, or I
shall return and drive home the lesson that, like Antinous,
you've learnt - that 'twixt the cup and lip much ill may grow'
- and turn you, naked upon a contemptuous world. Needs more
be said? You understand, I think."

Rotherby understood nothing. But his mother's keener wits
began to perceive a glimmer of the truth. "Do you mean that -
that we are to - to remain in the station that we believed our

"What else?"

She stared at him. Here was a generosity so weak, it seemed
to her, as almost to provoke her scorn. "You will leave your
brother in possession of the title and what else there may

"You think me generous, madam," said he. "Do not misapprehend
me. I am not. I covet neither the title nor estates of
Ostermore. Their possession would be a thorn in my flesh, a
thorn of bitter memory. That is one reason why you should not
think me generous, though it is not the reason why I cede
them. I would have you understand me on this, perhaps the
last time, that we may meet.

"Lord Ostermore, my father, married you, madam, in good

She interrupted harshly. "What is't you say?" she almost
screamed, quivering with rage at the very thought of what her
dead lord had done.

"He married you in good faith," Mr. Caryll repeated quietly,
impressively. "I will make it plain to you. He married you
believing that the girl-wife he had left in France was dead.
For fear it should come to his father's knowledge, he kept
that marriage secret from all. He durst not own his marriage
to his father.

He was not - as you may have appreciated in the years you
lived with him - a man of any profound feeling for others.
For himself he had a prodigiously profound feeling, as you may
also have gathered. That marriage in France was troublesome.
He had come to look upon it as one of his youth's follies - as
he, himself, described it to me in this house, little knowing
to whom he spoke. When he received the false news of her
death - for he did receive such news from the very cousin who
crossed from France to avenge her, believing her dead himself
- he rejoiced at his near escape from the consequences of his
folly. Nor was he ever disabused of his error. For she had
ceased to write to him by then. And so he married you, madam,
in good faith. That is the argument I shall use with my Lord
Carteret to make him understand that respect for my father's
memory urges me to depart in silence - save for what I must
have said to escape the impeachment with which you threatened

"Lord Carteret is a man of the world. He will understand the
far-reaching disturbance that must result from the disclosure
of the truth of this affair. He will pledge Mr. Templeton to
silence, and the truth, madam, will never be disclosed. That,
I think, is all, madam."

"By God, sir," cried Rotherby, "that's damned handsome of

"You epitomize it beautifully," said Mr. Caryll, with a
reversion to his habitual manner.

His mother, however, had no words at all. She advanced a step
towards Mr. Caryll, put out he hands, and then - portent of
portents! - two tears were seen to trickle down her cheeks,
playing havoc, ploughing furrows in the paint that overlaid

Mr. Caryll stepped forward quickly. The sight of those tears,
springing from that dried-up heart - withered by God alone
knew what blight - washing their way down those poor bedaubed
cheeks, moved him to a keener pity than anything he had ever
looked upon. He took her hands, and pressed them a moment,
giving way for once to an impulse he could not master.

She would have kissed his own in the abasement and gratitude
of the moment. But he restrained her.

"No more, your ladyship," said he, and by thus giving her once
more the title she had worn, he seemed to reinstate her in the
station from which in self-defence he had pulled her down.
"Promise that you'll bear no witness against me should so much
be needed, and I'll cry quits with you. Without your
testimony, they cannot hurt me, even though they were disposed
to do so, which is scarcely likely."

"Sir - sir - " she faltered brokenly. "Could you - could you
suppose - "

"Indeed, no. So no more, ma'am. You do but harass yourself.
Fare you well, my lady. If I may trespass for a few moments
longer upon the hospitality of Stretton House, I'll be your

"The house - and all - is yours, sir," she reminded him.

"There's but one thing in it that I'll carry off with me,"
said he. He held the door for her.

She looked into his face a moment. "God keep you!" said she,
with a surprising fervor in one not over-fluent at her
prayers. "God reward you for showing this mercy to an old
woman - who does not deserve so much."

"Fare you well, madam," he said again, bowing gravely. "And
fare you well, Lord Ostermore," he added to her son.

His brother looked at him a moment; seemed on the point of
speaking, and then - taking his cue, no doubt, from his
mother's attitude - he held out his hand.

Mr. Caryll took it, shook it, and let it go. After all, he
bethought him, the man was his brother. And if his bearing
was not altogether cordial, it was, at least, a clement
imitation of cordiality.

He closed the door upon them, and sighed supreme relief. He
turned to face Hortensia, and a smile broke like sunshine upon
his face, and dispelled the serious gloom of his expression.
She sprang towards him.

"Come now, thou chattel, that I am resolved to carry with me
from my father's house," said he.

She checked in her approach. "'Tis not in such words that
I'll be wooed," said she.

"A fig for words!" he cried. "Art wooed and won. Confess

"You want nothing for self-esteem," she informed him gravely.

"One thing, Hortensia," he amended. "One thing I want - I
lack - to esteem myself greater than any king that rules."

"I like that better," she laughed, and suddenly she was in
tears. "Oh, why do you mock, and make-believe that your heart
is on your lips and nowhere else?" she asked him. "Is it your
aim to be accounted trifling and shallow - you who can do such
things as you have done but now? Oh, it was noble! You made
me very proud."

"Proud?" he echoed. "Ah! Then it must be that you are
resolved to take this impudent, fleering coxcomb for a
husband," he said, rallying her with the words she had flung
at him that night in the moonlit Croydon garden.

"How I was mistook in you!" quoth she.

He made philosophy. "'Tis ever those in whom we are mistook
that are best worth knowing," he informed her. "The man or
woman whom you can read at sight, is read and done with."

"Yet you were not mistook in me," said she.

"I was," he answered, "for I deemed you woman."

"What other have you found me?" she inquired.

He flung wide his arms, and bade her into them. "Here to my
heart," he cried, "and in your ear I'll whisper it."

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