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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAvenger - Chapter 31. Returned From The Tomb
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Avenger - Chapter 31. Returned From The Tomb Post by :vonjohn Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1463

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Avenger - Chapter 31. Returned From The Tomb

CHAPTER XXXI. RETURNED FROM THE TOMB

The intervention which a few seconds later abruptly terminated an emotional crisis was in itself a very commonplace one. Monsieur the proprietor deemed the moment advisable for solving a question which was beginning to distract his better half in the kitchen. He advanced towards them, all smiles and bows and gestures.

"Monsieur would pardon his inquiring--would Monsieur and the ladies be taking _dejeuner? A fowl of excellence unusual was then being roasted, the salad--Monsieur could see it growing! And Madame had thought of an omelet! There was no cooler place in all France on a day of heat so extraordinary as the table under the trees yonder. And as for strawberries--well, Monsieur could see them grow for himself! or if it was _fraises de Bois that Madame preferred, the children had brought in baskets full only that morning, fresh and juicy, and of a wonderful size."

Wrayson interrupted him at last.

"Let luncheon be served as you suggest," he directed. "In the meantime--"

Monsieur Jules understood and withdrew with more bows and smiles. The significance of his brief appearance upon the lawn was a thing of which he had not the least idea. Yet after his departure, the strain to a certain extent had passed away. Only Madame de Melbain's eyes seemed scarcely to leave the face of the man who stood still by her chair.

"Alive!" she murmured, grasping his hand in hers. "You alive!"

Louise had taken his other hand. He was imprisoned between the two.

"Yes!" he said, "I made what they called a wonderful recovery. I suppose it was almost a miracle."

"But your death," Louise declared, "was never contradicted."

"A good deal of news went astray about that time," he remarked grimly. "I was left, and forgotten. When I found what had been done, I let it go. It seemed to me to be better. I went up to Rhodesia, and of course I had the devil's luck. I've come back to Europe simply because I couldn't stand it any longer. I was not coming to England, and I had no idea of seeing you, Emilie! I travelled here on a little pilgrimage."

"It was fate," she murmured.

"But since I am here," he continued, "and since we have met again, I must ask you this. Your husband is trying to divorce you?"

"Yes!" she murmured.

"And why?"

"Because he is a brute," she answered quietly. "We have been separated for more than a year. I think that he wants to marry again."

"And you permit this?" he asked.

"No!" she answered, "I contest it. Up to now, the courts have been in my favour."

"Up to now! They must always be in your favour!" he declared vehemently. "What can they say against a saint like you?"

She smiled up at him tenderly, a little wistfully.

"They would say a good deal," she whispered, "if they could see you here now."

He drew abruptly away.

"I am a thoughtless brute," he declared. "It was for that that I decided to remain dead. I will go away at once."

Her fingers closed over his. She drew him a little nearer with glad recklessness.

"You shall not," she murmured. "It is worth a little risk, this."

Wrayson touched Louise on the arm and they turned away. He found her a seat in a quiet corner of the fruit garden, where a tall row of hollyhocks shielded them from observation. She was very white, and in a semi-hysterical state.

"I can't believe," she said, "that that is really Duncan--Duncan himself. It is too wonderful!"

"There is no doubt about it being your brother," he answered. "What I don't quite understand is why he has kept away so long."

"It is because of her," she answered. "If they had been on the same continent, I believe that nothing could have kept them apart!"

"And now?" he asked.

"I cannot tell," she answered, "I, nor any one else! God made them for one another, I am very sure!"

He took her hand and held it tightly in his.

"And you for me, dearest," he whispered. "Shall I tell you why I am sure of it?"

She leaned back with half-closed eyes. Endurance has its limits, and the mesmeric influence of the drowsy summer day was in her veins.

"If you like," she murmured, simply....

And only a few yards away, the man from the dead and the woman who had loved him seemed to have drifted into a summer day-dream. The strangeness of this thing held them both--ordinary intercourse seemed impossible. What they spoke about they scarcely knew! There were days, golden days to be whispered about and lived again; treasured minutes to be recalled, looks and words remembered. Of the future, of the actual present, save of their two selves, they scarcely spoke. It was an hour snatched from Paradise for her! She would not let it go lightly. She would not suffer even a cloud to pass across it!

In time, Monsieur Jules found himself constrained to announce that _dejeuner was served. He found it useless to try to attract the attention of either Madame de Melbain or Duncan, so he went in search of Wrayson.

"Monsieur is served," he announced, looking blandly upwards at a passing cloud. "There remains the wine only."

"Chablis of the best, and ice, and mineral water," Wrayson ordered. "Come, Louise."

She sighed a little as she rose and followed him along the narrow path, where the rose-bushes brushed against her skirt, and the air was fragrant with lavender. It had been an interlude only, after all, though the man whose hand she still held would never have admitted it. But--he did not know! She prayed to Heaven that he never might.

Luncheon, after all, with a waiter within hearing, and Monsieur Jules hovering round, banished in a great measure the curious sense of unreality from which none of them were wholly free. And when coffee came, Madame leaned a little towards Duncan, and with her hand upon his arm whispered a question.

"My letters, Duncan! What became of them?"

He sighed.

"I was a little rash, perhaps," he said, "but--they were all I had left. They were with me at Colenso, in an envelope, sealed and addressed, to be burnt unopened. When I was hit, I got a Red Cross man to cut them out of my coat and destroy them."

Madame de Melbain looked at him for a moment, and her eyes were soft with unshed tears. Then she turned away, though her hand still rested upon his.

"Duncan," she said quietly, "don't think that I mind. You did all that you could, and indeed I would rather that you cared so much. But the letters were not destroyed."

For a moment he failed to realize the import of her words.

"Not destroyed?" he repeated, a little vaguely.

"No!" she answered. "They came into the hands of some one in London. Terrible things have happened in connexion with them. Duncan, if you will listen to me quietly, I will tell you about it. Sit down, dear."

She saw the gathering storm. The man's face was black with anger. He was still a little dazed however.

"You mean--that the man to whom I trusted them--"

"He kept them for his own purpose," she said softly.

"Don't look like that, Duncan. He has paid his debt. He is dead!"

"And the letters?"

"We do not know. My husband's advisers are trying to get possession of them. That is why the courts have not yet pronounced their judgment."

He had risen to his feet, but she drew him gently down again.

"Remember, Duncan, that the man is dead! Be calm, and I will tell you all about it."

He looked at her wonderingly.

"You are not angry with me?"

"Angry! Why should I be? I am only happy to know that you never forgot--that you could not bear to destroy the only link that was left between us. Do you know, I am almost sorry that I spoke to you about this! We seem to have snatched an hour or two out of Paradise, and it is I who have stirred up the dark waters. Let us forget it for a few more minutes!"

He drew her away with him towards their seat under the trees. Wrayson looked across at Louise with a smile.

"You, too," he said. "May we not forget a little longer?"

She smiled at him sadly, and shook her head.

"No!" she answered. "With them it is different. I can scarcely yet realize that I have a brother: think what it must be to Emilie to have the man whom she loved come back from the grave. Listen!"

Outside they heard the sound of galloping horses. A moment later the Baron de Courcelles issued from the inn and crossed the lawn towards Madame de Melbain.

"Madame," he said, "the man who was caught in the park last night is, without doubt, a spy from Mexonia! He can be charged with nothing more serious than trespass, and in a few minutes he will be free. Should he return, this"--he glanced towards Duncan--"would be the end. I have a carriage waiting for you."

Madame de Melbain rose at once. With a little gesture of excuse she drew Duncan on one side.

"Wait here," she begged, "until you hear from me. Baron de Courcelles is my one faithful friend at Court. I am going to consult with him."

"I shall see you again?" he asked.

She hesitated.

"Is it wise?" she murmured. "If my enemies knew that you were alive, that I had seen you here, what chance should I have, do you think, before the courts?"

He bent over her hands.

"I have brought enough trouble upon you," he said simply. "I will wait! Only I hope that there will be work for me to do!"

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