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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Master Mummer - Book 1 - Chapter 8
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The Master Mummer - Book 1 - Chapter 8 Post by :ursfehr32 Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1851

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The Master Mummer - Book 1 - Chapter 8

BOOK I CHAPTER VIII

"A shade more to the right, please. There, just as you are now! Don't move! In five minutes I shall have finished for the day."

Isobel smiled.

"I think that your five minutes," she said, "last sometimes for a very long time. But I am not tired--no, not at all. I can stay like this if you wish until the light goes."

"You are splendid," Mabane murmured. "The best sitter--oh, hang it, who's that?"

"There is certainly some one at the door," Isobel remarked.

Mabane paused in his work to shout fiercely, "Come in!" I too looked up from my writing. A woman was ushered into the room--a woman dressed in fashionable mourning, of medium height, and with a wealth of fair, fluffy hair, which seemed to mock the restraining black bands. Mrs. Burdett, visibly impressed, lingered in the background.

The woman paused and looked around. She looked at me, and the pen slipped from my nerveless fingers. I rose to my feet.

"Eil--Lady Delahaye!" I exclaimed.

She inclined her head. Her demeanour was cold, almost belligerent.

"I am glad to find you here, Arnold Greatson," she said. "You are a friend, I believe, of the man who murdered my husband?"

"You have been misinformed, Lady Delahaye," I answered quietly. "I was not even an acquaintance of his. We met that day for the first time."

By the faintest possible curl of the lips she expressed her contemptuous disbelief.

"Ah!" she said. "I remember your story at the inquest. You will forgive me if, in company, I believe, with the majority who heard it, I find it a trifle improbable."

I looked at her gravely. This was the woman with whom I had once believed myself in love, the woman who had jilted me to marry a man of whom even his friends found it hard to speak well.

"Lady Delahaye," I said, "my story may have sounded strangely, but it was true. I presume that you did not come here solely with the purpose of expressing your amiable opinion of my veracity?"

"You are quite right," she admitted drily. "I did not."

She was silent for a few moments. Her eyes were fixed upon Isobel, and I did not like their expression.

"May I offer you a chair, Lady Delahaye?" I asked.

"Thank you, I prefer to stand--here," she answered. "This, I believe, is the young person who was with my husband?"

She extended a sombrely gloved forefinger towards Isobel, who met her gaze unflinchingly.

"That is the young lady," I answered. "Have you anything to say to her?"

"My errand here is with her," Lady Delahaye declared. "What is it that you call yourself, girl?"

Isobel was a little bewildered. She seemed scarcely able to appreciate Lady Delahaye's attitude.

"My name," she said, "is Isobel de Sorrens."

"You asserted at the inquest," Lady Delahaye continued, "that my husband was your guardian. What did you mean by such an extraordinary statement?"

Isobel seemed suddenly to grasp the situation. Her finely arched eyebrows were raised, her cheeks were pink, her eyes sparkling. She rose slowly to her feet, and, child though she was, the dignity of her demeanour was such that Lady Delahaye with her accusing forefinger seemed to shrink into insignificance.

"I think," she said, "that you are a very rude person. Major Delahaye took me to the convent of St. Argueil when I was four years old, and left me there. He visited me twelve months ago, and brought me to England you know when. I was with him for less than twenty-four hours, and I was very unhappy indeed all the time. I did not understand the things which he said to me, nor did I like him at all. I think that if he had left me out of his sight for a moment I should have run away."

Lady Delahaye was very pale, and her eyes were full of unpleasant things. I found myself looking at her, and marvelling at the folly which I had long since forgotten.

"You perhaps complained of him--to his murderer! It is you, no doubt, who are responsible for my husband's death!"

Isobel's lips curled contemptuously.

"Major Delahaye," she said, "did not permit me to speak to anyone. As for the man whom you call his murderer, I never saw him before in my life, nor should I recognize him again if I saw him now. I do not know why you come here and say all these unkind things to me. I have done you no harm. I am very sorry about Major Delahaye, but--but--"

Her lips quivered. I hastily interposed.

"Lady Delahaye," I said, "I do not know what the immediate object of your visit here may be, but----"

"The immediate object of my visit," she interrupted coldly, "is as repugnant to me, Mr. Greatson, as it may possibly be disappointing to you. I am here, however, to carry out my husband's last wish. This child herself has asserted that he was her guardian. By his death that most unwelcome post devolves upon me."

Isobel turned white, as though stung by a sudden apprehension. She looked towards me, and I took her hand in mine. Lady Delahaye smiled unpleasantly upon us both.

"You mean," I said, "that you wish to take her away from us?"

"Wish!" Lady Delahaye repeated coldly. "I can assure you that I am not consulting my own wishes upon the subject at all. What I am doing is simply my duty. The child had better get her hat on."

Isobel did not move, but she turned very pale. Her eyes seemed fastened upon mine. She waited for me to speak. The situation was embarrassing enough so far as I was concerned, for Lady Delahaye was obviously in earnest. I tried to gain time.

"May I ask what your intentions are with regard to the child? You intend to take her to your home--to adopt her, I suppose?"

Lady Delahaye regarded me with cold surprise.

"Certainly not," she answered. "I shall find a fitting position for her in her own station of life."

"May I assume then," I continued, with some eagerness, "that you know what that is? You are acquainted, perhaps, with her parentage?"

She returned my gaze steadily.

"I may be," she answered. "That, however, is beside the question. I intend to do my duty by the child. If you have been put to any expense with regard to her, you can mention the amount and I will defray it. I have answered enough questions. What is your name, child--Isobel? Get ready to come with me."

Isobel answered her steadily, but her eyes were filled with shrinking fear.

"I do not wish to come with you," she said. "I do not like you at all."

Lady Delahaye raised her eyebrows. It seemed to me that in a quiet way she was becoming angry.

"Unfortunately," she said, "your liking or disliking me makes very little difference. I have no choice in the matter at all. The care of you has devolved upon me, and I must undertake it. You had better come at once."

Isobel trembled where she stood. I judged it time to intervene.

"Lady Delahaye," I said, "the duty of looking after this child is evidently a distasteful one to you. We will relieve you of it. She can remain with us."

Lady Delahaye looked at me in astonishment. Then she laughed, and it seemed to all of us that we had never heard a more unpleasant travesty of mirth.

"Indeed!" she exclaimed. "And may I ask of whom your household consists?"

"Of myself and my two friends, Mabane and Fielding. We have a most responsible housekeeper, however, who will be able to look after the child."

"Until she herself can qualify for the position, I presume," Lady Delahaye remarked drily. "What a delightful arrangement! A sort of co-operative household. Quite Arcadian, I am sure, and so truly philanthropic. You have changed a good deal during the last few years, Mr. Arnold Greatson, to be able to stand there and make such an extraordinary proposition to me."

I was determined not to lose my temper, though, as a matter of fact, I was fiercely angry.

"Lady Delahaye," I said, "we are not prepared to give this child up to you. It will perhaps help to shorten a--a painful interview if you will accept that from me as final."

The change in Isobel was marvellous. The brilliant colour streamed into her cheeks. Her long-drawn, quivering sigh of relief seemed in the momentary silence which followed my pronouncement a very audible thing. Lady Delahaye looked at me as though she doubted the meaning of my words.

"You are aware," she said, "that this will mean great unpleasantness for you. You know the law?"

"I neither know it nor wish to know it," I answered. "We shall not give up the child."

I glanced at Mabane. His confirmation was swift and decisive.

"I am entirely in accord with my friend, madam," he said, with grim precision.

"The law will compel you," she declared.

"We will do our best, then," he answered, "to cheat the law."

"I should like to add, Lady Delahaye," I continued, "that our housekeeper, who has been in the service of my family for over thirty years, has willingly undertaken the care of the child, and I can assure you, in case you should have any anxieties concerning her, that she will be as safe under our charge as in your own."

Lady Delahaye moved towards the door. On the threshold she turned and laid her hand upon my arm. I was preparing to show her out. There was meaning in her eyes as she leaned towards me.

"Mr. Greatson," she said, "we were once friends, or I should drive straight from here to my solicitors. I presume you are aware that your present attitude is capable of very serious misrepresentation?"

"I must take the risk of that, Lady Delahaye," I answered. "I ask you to remember, however, that the law would also require you to prove your guardianship. Do you yourself know anything of the child's parentage?"

She did not answer me directly.

"I shall give you," she said, "twenty-four hours for reflection. At the end of that time, if I do not hear from you, I shall apply to the courts."

I held the door open and bowed.

"You will doubtless act," I said, "according to your discretion."

The moment seemed propitious for her departure. All that had to be said had surely passed between us. Yet she seemed for some reason unwilling to go.

"I am not sure, Mr. Greatson," she said, "that I can find my way out. Will you be so good as to see me to my carriage?"

I had no alternative but to obey. Our rooms were on the fifth floor of a block of flats overlooking Chelsea Embankment, and we had no lift. We descended two flights of the stone stairs in silence. Then she suddenly laid her fingers upon my arm.

"Arnold," she said softly, "I never thought that we should meet again like this."

"Nor I, Lady Delahaye," I answered, truthfully enough.

"You have changed."

I looked at her. She had the grace to blush.

"Oh, I know that I behaved badly," she murmured, "but think how poor we were, and oh, how weary I was of poverty. If I had refused Major Delahaye I think that my mother would have turned me out of doors. I wrote and told you all about it."

"Yes," I admitted, "you wrote!"

"And you never answered my letter."

"It seemed to me," I remarked, "that it needed no answer."

"And afterwards," she said, "I wrote and asked you to come and see me."

"Lady Delahaye----" I began.

"Eileen!" she interrupted.

"Very well, then, if you will have it so, Eileen," I said. "You have alluded to events which I have forgotten. Whether you or I behaved well or ill does not matter in the least now. It is all over and done with."

"You mean, then, that I am unforgiven?"

"On the contrary," I assured her, "I have nothing to forgive."

She flashed a swift glance of reproach up on me. To my amazement there were tears in her eyes.

"Mr. Greatson," she said, "I can find my way to the street alone. I will not trouble you further."

She swept away with a dignity which became her better than her previous attitude. There was nothing left for me to do but to turn back.

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BOOK I CHAPTER IXIsobel was standing quite still in the middle of the room, her hands tightly clenched, a spot of colour aflame in her cheeks. Arthur, who had passed Lady Delahaye and me upon the stairs, had apparently just been told the object of her visit. "Oh, I hate that woman!" Isobel exclaimed as I entered, "I hate her! I would rather die than go to her. I would rather go back to the convent. She looks at me as though I were something to be despised, something which should not be allowed to go alive upon the earth!" Arthur
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BOOK I CHAPTER VII"Arnold!" I waved my left hand. "Don't disturb me for a few minutes, Allan, there's a good chap," I begged. "I'm hard at it." "Found your plot, then, eh?" "I've got a start, anyhow! Give me half an hour. I only want to set the thing going." Mabane grunted, and took up his brush. For once I was thankful that we were alone. At last I saw my way. After weeks of ineffective scribbling a glimpse of the real thing had come to me. The stiffness had gone from my brain and fingers. My pen flew over the
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