He came. He was received with open arms. He tooethereum blockchain la gik up his quartersat his old lodgings, but spent his evenings and every leisure hourat the chateau.
"You are willfully blind tron price speculationnow, miss, if you don't see it's true," was the stranger's biting comment.Paying no heed to her, Alida's eyes rested on the man whom she had believed to be her husband. She took an irresolute step toward him. "Speak, Wilson!" she cried. "I gave you my whole faith and no one shall destroy it but yourself. Speak, explain! Show me that there's some horrible mistake."
"Lida," said the man, lifting his bloodless face, "if you knew all the circumstances--""She shall know them!" half shrieked the woman, as if at last stung to fury. "I see that you both hope to get through this affair with a little high tragedy, then escape and come together again in some other hiding place. As for this creature, she can go where she pleases, after hearing the truth; but you, Henry Ferguson, have got to do your duty by me and your child or go to prison. Let me tell you, miss, that this man was also married to me by a minister. I have my certificate and can produce witnesses. There's one little point you'll do well to consider," she continued, in bitter sarcasm, "he married me first. I suppose you are not so young and innocent as not to know where this fact places YOU. He courted and won me as other girls are courted and married. He promised me all that he ever promised you. Then, when I lost my rosy cheeks--when I became sick and feeble from child-bearing--he deserted and left me almost penniless. You needn't think you will have to take my word for this. I have proof enough. And now, Henry Ferguson, I've a few words for you, and then you must take your choice. You can't escape. I and my brother have tracked you here. You can't leave these rooms without going to prison. You'd be taken at the very door. But I give you one more chance. If you will promise before God to do your duty by me and your child, I'll forgive as far as a wronged woman can forgive. Neither I nor my brother will take proceedings against you. What this woman will do I don't know. If she prosecutes you, and you are true to me, I'll stand by you, but I won't stand another false step or a false word from you."Ferguson had again sunk into his chair, buried his face in his hands, and sat trembling and speechless. Never for an instant had Alida taken her eyes from him; and now, with a long, wailing cry, she exclaimed, "Thank God, thank God! Mother's dead."This was now her best consolation. She rushed into her bedchamber, and a moment later came out, wearing her hat and cloak. Ferguson started up and was about to speak, but she silenced him by a gesture, and her tones were sad and stern as she said, "Mr. Ferguson, from your manner more truly than from this woman, I learn the truth. You took advantage of my misfortunes, my sorrow and friendlessness, to deceive me. You know how false are your wife's words about my eagerness to be deceived and married. But you have nothing to fear from me. I shall not prosecute you as she suggests, and I charge you before God to do your duty by your wife and child and never to speak to me again." Turning, she hastened toward the door."Where are you going?" Ferguson exclaimed, seeking to intercept her.
She waved him off. "I don't know," she replied. "I've no right to be here," and she fled down the stairway and out into the darkness.The child had not wakened. It was well that it had not looked upon such a scene, even in utter ignorance of its meaning.He saw his vantage more clearly and said quietly, "I don't want to compel you if it can be helped. You know how true I was to you--"
"No, no! You deceived me. I won't believe you now.""You may have to. At any rate, you know how fond I was of you, and I tell you plainly, I won't give you up now. This man doesn't love you, nor do you love him--""I DO love him, I'd die for him! There now, you know the truth. You wouldn't compel a woman to follow you who shrinks from you in horror, even if you had the right. Although the ceremony was brief it WAS a ceremony; and he was not married then, as you were when you deceived me. He has ever been truth itself, and I won't believe you have any rights till he tells me so himself.""So you shrink from me with horror, do you?" asked Ferguson, rising, his face growing black with passion.
"Yes, I do. Now leave me and let me never see you again.""And you are going to ask this stupid old farmer about my rights?"
"Yes. I'll take proof of them from no other, and even if he confirmed your words I'd never live with you again. I would live alone till I died!""That's all very foolish high tragedy, but if you're not careful there may be some real tragedy. If you care for this Holcroft, as you say, you had better go quietly away with me.""What do you mean?" she faltered tremblingly."I mean I'm a desperate man whom the world has wronged too much already. You know the old saying, 'Beware of the quiet man!' You know how quiet, contented, and happy I was with you, and so I would be again to the end of my days. You are the only one who can save me from becoming a criminal, a vagabond, for with you only have I known happiness. Why should I live or care to live? If this farmer clod keeps you from me, woe betide him! My one object in living will be his destruction. I shall hate him only as a man robbed as I am can hate."
"What would you do?" she could only ask in a horrified whisper."I can only tell you that he'd never be safe a moment. I'm not afraid of him. You see I'm armed," and he showed her a revolver. "He can't quietly keep from me what I feel is my own.""Merciful Heaven! This is terrible," she gasped."Of course it's terrible--I mean it to be so. You can't order me off as if I were a tramp. Your best course for his safety is to go quietly with me at once. I have a carriage waiting near at hand."
"No, no! I'd rather die than do that, and though he cannot feel as I do, I believe he'd rather die than have me do it.""Oh, well! If you think he's so ready to die--"
"No, I don't mean that! Kill me! I want to die.""Why should I kill you?" he asked with a contemptuous laugh. "That wouldn't do me a particle of good. It will be your own fault if anyone is hurt."
"Was ever a woman put in such a cruel position?""Oh, yes! Many and many a time. As a rule, though, they are too sensible and kind-hearted to make so much trouble.""If you have legal rights, why don't you quietly enforce them instead of threatening?"For a moment he was confused and then said recklessly, "It would come to the same thing in the end. Holcroft would never give you up.""He'd have to. I wouldn't stay here a moment if I had no right.""But you said you would not live with me again?"
"Nor would I. I'd go back to the poorhouse and die there, for do you think I could live after another such experience? But my mind has grown clearer. You are deceiving me again, and Mr. Holcroft is incapable of deceiving me. He would never have called me his wife unless I was his wife before God and man.""I'm not deceiving you in regard to one thing!" he said tragically.
"O God, what shall I do?""If you won't go with me you must leave him," he replied, believing that, if this step were taken, others would follow.
"If I leave him--if I go away and live alone, will you promise to do him no harm?""I'd have no motive to harm him then, which will be better security than a promise. At the same time I do promise."
"And you will also promise to leave me utterly alone?""If I can.""You must promise never even to tempt me to think of going away. I'd rather you'd shot me than ask it. I'm not a weak, timid girl. I'm a broken-hearted woman who fears some things far more than death.""If you have any fears for Holcroft, they are very rational ones."
"It is for his sake that I would act. I would rather suffer anything and lose everything than have harm come to him.""All I can say is that, if you will leave him completely and finally, I will let him alone. But you must do it promptly. Everything depends upon this. I'm in too reckless and bitter a mood to be trifled with. Besides, I've plenty of money and could escape from the country in twenty-four hours. You needn't think you can tell this story to Holcroft and that he can protect you and himself. I'm here under an assumed name and have seen no one who knows me. I may have to disappear for a time and be disguised when I come again, but I pledge you my word he'll never be safe as long as you are under his roof."
"Then I will sacrifice myself for him," she said, pallid even to her lips. "I will go away. But never dream that you can come near me again--you who deceived and wronged me, and now, far worse, threaten the man I love.""We'll see about that," he replied cynically. "At any rate, you will have left him."
"Go!" she said imperiously."I'll take a kiss first, sweetheart," he said, advancing with a sardonic smile.
"Jane!" she shrieked. He paused, and she saw evidences of alarm.The girl ran lightly out of the dairy room, where she had been a greedy listener to all that had been said, and a moment later appeared in the yard before the house. "Yes'm," she answered."Be careful now, sir," said Alida sternly. "There's a witness.""Only a little idiotic-looking girl."
"She's not idiotic, and if you touch me the compact's broken.""Very well, my time will come. Remember, you've been warned," and he pulled his hat over his eyes and strode away.
"Bah!" said Jane with a snicker, "as if I hadn't seen his ugly mug so I'd know it 'mong a thousand."With a face full of loathing and dread, Alida watched her enemy disappear down the lane, and then, half fainting, sank on the lounge.
"Jane!" she called feebly, but there was no answer.Chapter 32 Jane Plays Mouse to the Lion