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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharles Rex - Part 4 - Chapter 10. In The Name Of Love
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Charles Rex - Part 4 - Chapter 10. In The Name Of Love Post by :Allan_Lyon Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :3202

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Charles Rex - Part 4 - Chapter 10. In The Name Of Love


"It's been--a funny game," said Saltash, with a wry grimace. "We've both of us been so damned subtle that it seems to me we've ended up in much the same sort of hole that we started in."

"But you're not going to stay in it," said Maud.

He turned and looked down at her, one eyebrow cocked at a comic angle. "_Ma belle reine_, if you can help us to climb out, you will earn my undying gratitude."

She met his look with her steadfast eyes. "Charlie, do you know that night after night she cries as if her poor little heart were broken?"

Saltash's eyebrow descended again. He scowled hideously. "_Mais pourquoi? I have not broken it. I have never even made love to her."

Maud's face was very compassionate. "Perhaps that is why. She is so young--so forlorn--and so miserable. Is it quite impossible for you to forgive her?"

"Forgive her!" said Saltash. "Does she want to be forgiven?"

"She is fretting herself ill over it," Maud said. "I can't bear to see her. No, she has told me nothing--except that she is waiting for you to throw her off--to divorce her. Charlie, you wouldn't do that even if you could!"

Saltash was silent; the scowl still upon his face.

"Tell me you wouldn't!" she urged.

His odd eyes met hers with a shifting gleam of malice. "There is only one reason for which I would do that, _ma chere_," he said. "So she has not told you why she ran away with my friend Spentoli?"

Maud shook her head. "She does not speak of it at all. I only know that she was unspeakably thankful to Jake for protecting her from him."

"Ah!" Saltash's teeth showed for an instant. "I also am grateful to Jake for that. He seems to have taken a masterly grip of the situation. Is he aware that he broke Spentoli's arm, I wonder? It was in the papers, alongside the tragic death of Rozelle. 'Fall of a Famous Sculptor from a Train.' It will keep him quiet for some time, I hear, and has saved me the trouble of calling him out. I went to see him in hospital."

"You went to see him!" Maud exclaimed.

Saltash nodded, the derisive light still in his eyes. "And conveyed my own condolences. You may tell _la petite from me that I do not propose to set her free on his account. He is not what I should describe as a good and sufficient cause."

"Thank heaven for that!" Maud ejaculated with relief.

"Amen!" said Saltash piously, and took out his cigarette-case.

She watched him with puzzled eyes till the cigarette was alight and he smiled at her through the smoke, his swarthy face full of mocking humour.

"Now tell me!" she said then, "how can I help you?"

He made a wide gesture. "I leave that entirely to your discretion, madam. As you may perceive, I have wholly ceased to attempt to help myself."

"You are not angry with her?" she hazarded.

"I am furious," said Charles Rex royally.

She shook her head at him. "You're not in earnest--and it wouldn't help you if you were. Besides, you couldn't be angry with the poor little thing. Charlie, you love her, don't you? You--you want her back?"

He shifted his position slightly so that the smoke of his cigarette did not float in her direction. His smile had a whimsical twist. "Do I want her back?" he said. "On my oath, it's hard to tell."

"Oh, surely!" Maud said. She rose impulsively and stood beside him. "Charlie," she said, "why do you wear a mask with me? Do you think I don't know that she is all the world to you?"

He looked at her, and the twisted smile went from his face. "There is no woman on this earth that I can't do without," he said. "I learnt that--when I lost you."

"Ah!" Maud's voice was very pitiful. Her hand came to his. "But this--this is different. Why should you do without her? You know she loves you?"

His fingers closed spring-like about her own. A certain hardness was in his look. "If she loves me," he said, "she can come back to me of her own accord."

"But if she is afraid?" Maud pleaded.

"She has no reason to be," he said. "I have claimed nothing from her. I have never spoken a harsh word to her. Why is she afraid?"

"Have you understood her?" Maud asked very gently.

He made an abrupt movement as though the question, notwithstanding the absolute kindness of its utterance, had somehow an edge for him. The next moment he began to laugh.

"Why ask these impossible riddles? Has any man ever understood a woman? Let us dismiss the subject! And since you are here, _ma belle reine_,--you of all people--let us celebrate the occasion with a drink!--even if it be only tea!"

His eyes laughed into hers. The western light was streaming in across the music-room. They stood together in the turret beyond Saltash's piano, where she had found him pouring out wild music that made her warm heart ache for him.

She had come to him with the earnest desire to help, but he baffled her at every turn, this man to whom once in the days of her youth she had been so near. She could not follow the complex workings of his mind. He was too quick to cover his feelings. His inner soul had long been hidden from her.

Yet the conviction persisted that if any could pass that closed door that he kept so persistently against all comers, it would be herself. She had once possessed the key, and she could not believe that it was no longer in her power to turn it. He would surely yield to her though he barred out all beside.

Perhaps he read her thoughts, for the laugh died out of his eyes, melting into the old tender raillery that she remembered so well.

"Will you drink with me?" he said. "You have actually stooped to enter my stronghold without your bodyguard. Will you not honour me still further--partake of my hospitality?"

She smiled at him. "Of course I will have tea with you with pleasure, Charlie. Didn't you realize I was waiting to be asked?"

"You are very gracious," he said, and crossed the room to ring a bell.

She remained in the western turret, looking out over the beech woods that blazed golden in the sun to the darker pine-woods beyond.

"What a paradise this is!" she said, when he joined her again.

His restless eyes followed hers without satisfaction. A certain moodiness had come upon him. He made no answer to her words.

"Why doesn't Bunny come up to see me?" he asked suddenly. "He knows I am here."

She looked at him in surprise. "Are you expecting him?"

He nodded with a touch of arrogance. "Yes. Tell him to come! I shan't quarrel with him or he with me. Is he still thirsting for my blood? He's welcome to it if he wants it."

"Charlie!" she protested.

He turned from her and sat down at the piano. His fingers began to caress the keys, and then in a moment the old sweet melody that he had played to her in the long ago days came softly through the room. Her lips formed the words as he played, but she made no sound.

"There has fallen a splendid tear
From the passion-flower at the gate.
She is coming, my dove, my dear;
She is coming, my life, my fate.
The red rose cries, 'She is near, she is near!'
And the white rose weeps, 'She is late!'
The larkspur listens, 'I hear, I hear!'
And the lily whispers, 'I wait!'"

"She is certainly very late," commented Charles Rex quizzically from the piano. "And the lily is more patient than I am. Why don't you sing, Maud of the roses?"

She started a little at his voice, but she did not answer. She could not tell him that her throat was dumb with tears.

He played softly on for a space, then as the old butler entered with a tea-tray, he abruptly left the piano to wait upon her. He made her sit in the window-seat and presently sat down himself and talked of indifferent things. She did not attempt to bring him back to the matter in hand. She knew him too well for that. If he chose to be elusive, no power on earth could capture him.

But she had a strong feeling that he would not seek to elude her wholly. He might seem to trifle, as a monkey swinging idly from bough to bough, but he had an end in view, and ultimately he would reach that end, however circuitous the route.

He surprised her eventually by the suddenness with which he pounced upon it. He had turned the talk upon the subject of his new yacht, and very abruptly he announced his intention of going round the world in her.

"Not alone?" she said, and then would have checked the words lest they should seem to ask too much.

But he answered her without a pause. "Yes, alone. And if I don't come back, Bunny can marry Toby and reign here in my stead. That is, if he isn't an infernal fool. If he is, then Toby can reign here alone--with you and Jake to take care of her."

"But, Charlie, why--why?" The words leapt from Maud in spite of her.

He frowned at her whimsically. "They've always cared for one another. Don't you know it? It's true she put me in a shrine and worshipped me for a time, but I couldn't live up to it. _Figurez-vous, ma chere! Myself--a marble saint!"

"You never understood her," Maud said.

He shrugged his shoulders and went lightly on. "Oh, she was ready enough to offer me human sacrifice, but that wasn't enough for me. Besides, I didn't want sacrifice. I have stood between her and the world. I have given her protection. But it was a free gift. I don't take anything in exchange for that." An odd note sounded in his voice, as of some emotion suppressed. He leaned back against the window-frame, his hands behind his head. "That wasn't what I married her for. I tried to prove that to her. I actually thought--" the old derisive grin leapt across his face--"that I could win her trust like any ordinary man. I failed of course--failed hideously. She never expected decent treatment from me. She never even began to trust me. I was far too heavily handicapped for that. And so--as soon as the wind changed--the boat capsized."

"What made the wind change?" Maud asked gently.

He looked across at her, the baffling smile still in his eyes. "The gods played a jest with us," he said. "It was only a small jest, but it turned the scale. She fled. That was how I came to realize I couldn't hold her. I had travelled too fast as usual, and she couldn't keep up. Well," he unlocked his hands and straightened himself, "it's up to Bunny now. I'll let her go--to him."

"My dear!" Maud said.

He laughed at her with the old half-caressing ridicule. "That shocks you? But why--if they love each other? Haven't I heard you preach the gospel of love as the greatest thing on earth? Didn't you once tell me that I had yet to learn the joy--" his smile twisted again--"the overwhelming joy--of setting the happiness of another before one's own? This thing can be done quite simply and easily--as I suggested to you long ago. She has only to go away with him, and I do the rest. A moral crime--no more. Yes, it is against your code of course. But consider! I only stand to lose that which I have never possessed. For the first time in my life, I commit a crime in the name of--love!"

He laughed over the word; yet even through the scoffing sound there came a ring of pain. His face had a drawn look--the wistfulness of the monkey that has seen its prize irrevocably snatched away.

Maud rose quickly. There was something in his attitude or expression that she could not bear. "Oh, you are wrong! You are wrong!" she said. "You have the power to make her love you. And you love her. Charlie, this thing has not been given you to throw away. You can't! You can't!"

He made a sharp gesture that checked her. "My dear Maud," he said, "there are a good many things I can't do, and one of them is this. I can't hold any woman against her will--no, not if she were my wife ten times over. I wouldn't have let her go to Spentoli. But Bunny is a different matter. I have Jake's word for it that he will make her a better husband than I shall. If Bunny wants to know all about her past--her parentage--he can come to me and I can satisfy him. Tell him that! But if he really loves her--he won't care a damn--any more than I do."

"Ah!" Maud said.

She stood a moment, looking at him, and in her eyes was that mother-look of a love that understands. She held out her hand to him.

"Thank you for telling me, Charlie," she said. "Good-bye!"

He held her hand. "What have I told you?" he asked abruptly.

She shook her head. "Never mind now! You have just made me understand, that's all. I will give your message to Bunny--to them both. Good-bye!"

He stooped in his free, gallant way to kiss her hand. "After all," he said, "I return to my old allegiance. It was you, _chere reine_, who taught me how to love."

She gently freed her hand and turned to go. "No," she said. "I think it was God who taught you that."

For the second time Charles Rex failed to utter the scoffing laugh she half-expected. The odd eyes looked after her with a kind of melancholy irony.

"To what purpose?" he said.

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