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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharles Rex - Part 1 - Chapter 7. Larpent's Daughter
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Charles Rex - Part 1 - Chapter 7. Larpent's Daughter Post by :zamrony Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :1392

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Charles Rex - Part 1 - Chapter 7. Larpent's Daughter


The sinking of _The Night Moth after being in collision with the liner, _Corfe Castle_, bound for Brazil, was an event of sufficient importance to be given a leading place in the newspapers of the following day. Lord Saltash was well-known as a private yachtsman, and the first account which reported him amongst the drowned was received with widespread regret throughout that circle in which he was a familiar figure. Then at a later hour came its contradiction, and his friends smiled and remarked that he had the facility of an eel for getting out of tight corners, and that they would never believe him dead till they had been to his funeral.

Long before the publication of the second report, Saltash was seated in the captain's cabin on board the _Corfe Castle_, with a strong brandy and soda before him, giving a brief and vigorous account of himself and his company. Yes, he was Charles Burchester, Viscount Saltash, owner of the private yacht, _The Night Moth_. He was returning from Valrosa alone with his captain and his crew. They had been cruising in the Atlantic with the idea of going south, but he had recently changed his mind and decided to go home. He had not expected such damnable luck as to be run down in home waters, but he supposed that Fate was against him. He only asked now to be put ashore as soon as possible, being for the moment heartily sick of sea-travel. This with his most rueful grimace which Captain Beaumont of the _Corfe Castle received with gravely official sympathy.

"Well, I hope you don't blame us for your bad luck," he said. "We might have been sunk ourselves."

"I never blame anyone but the devil for that," said Saltash generously. "And as you managed to pick us all up I am glad on the whole that you weren't."

And then he turned sharply at a knock on the door behind him to see a lean, lank man enter who peered at him curiously through screwed-up eyes as though he had never seen anything like him before.

Captain Beaumont introduced him. "This is Dr. Hurst. He has come to report. Well, doctor? I hope you bring good news."

Dr. Hurst came forward to the table, still looking very attentively at Saltash.

The latter's odd eyes challenged him with royal self-assurance. "Well? What is the news?" he questioned. "Fished for a sprat and caught a whale--or is it t'other way round?"

The doctor cleared his throat and turned to the captain. "Yes, my report is good on the whole," he said. "None of the men are seriously injured, thanks to your prompt rescue measures. Captain Larpent is still unconscious; he is suffering from concussion. But I believe he will recover. And--and--" he hesitated, looking again at Saltash--"the--the person whose life you saved--"

Saltash leaned back in his chair, grinning mischievously. "To be sure! The person--whose life I saved! What of that person, Dr. Hurst?"

"Had you a passenger?" interrupted the captain. "I understood you saved a cabin-boy."

"Pray continue!" he said lightly. "What of the cabin-boy? None the worse, I hope?"

The doctor's lank figure drew together with a stiff movement of distaste. "I see," he said, "that you are aware of a certain fact which I must admit has given me a somewhat unpleasant surprise."

Saltash turned abruptly to the captain. "You ask me if I had a passenger," he said, speaking briefly, with a hint of hauteur. "Before you also begin to be unpleasantly surprised, let me explain that I had a child on board who did not belong to the ship's company."

"A child?" Captain Beaumont looked at him in astonishment. "I thought--I understood--Do you mean the boy?"

"Not a boy, no,--a girl!" Saltash's voice was suddenly very suave; he was smiling still, but there was something rather formidable about his smile. "A young girl, Captain Beaumont, but amply protected, I assure you. It was our last night on board. She was masquerading in the state-cabin in a page's livery when you struck us. But for Larpent we should have been trapped there like rats when the yacht went down. He came and hauled us out, and we saved the child between us." He turned again to the doctor, his teeth gleaming fox-like between his smiling lips. "Really, I am sorry to disappoint you," he said. "But the truth is seldom as highly-coloured as our unpleasant imaginings. The child is--Larpent's daughter." He rose with the words, still suavely smiling. "And now, if she is well enough, I am going to ask you to take me to her. It will be better for her to hear about her father from me than from a stranger."

Though courteously uttered, his words contained a distinct command. The doctor looked at him with the hostility born of discomfiture, but he raised no protest. Somehow Saltash was invincible at that moment.

"Certainly you can see her if you wish," he said stiffly. "In fact, she has been asking for you."

"Ah!" said Saltash, and turned with ceremony to the captain. "Have I your permission to go, sir?"

"Of course--of course!" the captain said. "I shall hope to see you again later, Lord Saltash."

"Thank you," said Saltash, and relaxed into his sudden grin. "I should have thought you would be glad to get rid of me before my bad luck spreads any further."

The _Corfe Castle_, herself slightly damaged, was putting back to Southampton to land the victims of the disaster, and to obtain some necessary repairs. The weather was thickening, and progress was slow, but they expected to arrive before mid-day. Saltash, carelessly sauntering in the doctor's wake, found himself the object of considerable interest on the part of those passengers who were already up in the murk of the early morning. He was stopped by several to receive congratulations upon his escape, but he refused to be detained for long. He had business below, he said, and the doctor was waiting. And so at last he came to a cabin at the end of a long passage, at the door of which a kind-faced stewardess met them and exchanged a few words with his guide.

"Can I go in?" said Saltash, growing impatient.

The woman looked at him with wonder and compassion in her eyes. "The poor little thing is very upset," she said. "She lies and trembles, and has hardly spoken at all except to ask for you."

"Well, let me in!" said Saltash, suddenly imperious. "I've got something to tell her."

He had his way, for there was something about him that compelled just then. He entered the cabin as a king might enter the apartment of a slave, and he shut the door with decision upon those without.

Then for a second--just for a second--he hesitated. "Toby!" he said.

A meagre form sprang upright in the bunk at the sound of his voice. Two bare, skinny arms reached out to him. Then with a single stride Saltash was beside the bunk and was holding tightly to him a small, whimpering creature that hid its face very deeply against his breast and clutched at him piteously whenever he sought to raise it.

Saltash bent his dark head over the fair one and spoke very gently, yet with authority. "It's all right, child. I know. I've known all along! Don't fret yourself! There's no need. I've got you under my protection. You're safe."

"You--know!" whispered the muffled voice--Toby's voice, but strangely devoid of Toby's confidence. "What must you--think?"

"I!" Saltash laughed a little. "I never think. I give everyone--always--the benefit of the doubt; which is considerably more than anyone ever gives me."

"And--you saved my life!" gasped Toby "Why did you? Why did you?"

"I wanted it," said Saltash promptly. "Now listen a moment! We've done with this show. It's played out. We'll ring up on another. You've got to change your name again. I'm telling everyone you're Larpent's daughter."

That brought the fair head upwards very swiftly. The blue eyes with their short black lashes looked straight up to his. "But--but--Captain Larpent--"

"Oh, never mind Larpent! I'll square him." Saltash's look flashed over the pale, tear-stained face. His hold, though close, no longer compelled. "Leave it all to me! Don't you fret! I'll square Larpent. I'll square everybody. You lie low till they put us ashore! After that--do you think you can--trust me?"

He spoke with comically twisted eyebrows and a smile half-kindly and half-quizzical. And the forlorn little creature in his arms turned with a swooping, passionate movement, caught one of his hands and pressed it to quivering lips.

"I'll live--or die--for your sake!" the trembling voice told him. "I'm just--yours."

Saltash stopped abruptly and laid his face for a moment against the shorn, golden head. Just for that moment a hint of emotion showed in his strange eyes, but it was gone instantly.

He raised himself again with a grimace of self-ridicule. "Well, look here! Don't forget to play the game! Larpent--your daddy--is knocked out, remember. He is unconscious for the present, but the doctor chap seems to think he'll be all right. A nasty suspicious person that doctor, so watch out! And let me see! What is Toby short for? I'd better know."

"Antoinette," whispered the lips that still caressed his hand.

"Antoinette!" Saltash's hand closed softly upon the pointed chin, softly lifted it. "I think _Mignonette would suit you better," he said, in his quick, caressing way. "It's time I chose a name for you, _ma chere_. I shall call you that."

"Or just Nonette of Nowhere," breathed the red lips, piteously smiling. "That would suit me--best of all."

"No--no!" said Saltash, and gently relinquished his hold. "Don't forget that you are a favourite of the gods! That counts for something, my Toby. They don't take up with everybody."

"They haven't done much for me so far," said Toby, suddenly rebellious.

"Hush!" said Saltash, with semi-comic warning. "You are too young to say that."

"I am--older than you think, sir," said Toby, colouring painfully and turning from his look.

"No, you're not!" Swiftly, with a certain arrogance, Saltash made answer. "I know--how old you are, child. It is written in your eyes. They have always told me--all I need to know." Then, very tenderly, as Toby's hands covered them from his look: "_Mais, Mignonette_, they have never told me anything that you could wish me not to know."

He slipped his arm again about the slender shoulders and pressed them closely for a moment. Then he stood up and turned to go.

He was smiling as he passed out--the smile of the gambler who knows that he holds a winning card.

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