A Royal Wrong - Fred M. White - ebook

A Royal Wrong ebook

Fred M White

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A story that quite often happens in the modern world. Dorchester Gardens were filled with guests gathered in honour of the engagement between Lady Letty and Stephen Du Cros, the South African millionaire. Of course, it was a marriage of convenience – they all admitted. Earl, her father, was in need of money.

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Liczba stron: 319

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Contents

The Altar Of Sacrifice

Little Kate

A Desperate Venture

The Venture Is Successful

A Sporting Chance

In The Name Of The Law

Through The Night

The Morse Code

A Friend At Court

The Ghost Of A Chance

Gaining Time

Reprieved!

A Reckless Ride

Safe—So Far!

Liston’s Bright Idea

The Chance Accepted

Behind His Back

The Panic

The Dreadful Unexpected

An Old Acquaintance

The House In Stanmore Street

The Finding Of The Belt

Down On His Luck

A Silent Witness

Kate Mayfield At Home

A Helping Hand

The Mirror

Branded!

A Woman’s Crown Of Glory

Coward Conscience

Confession

Followed Up

The Nobler Part

On His Knees

The Right Man

The Best Way Out

I. THE ALTAR OF SACRIFICE

As Lady Letty Stanborough stood in the garden listening to the rustle of silken skirts and the ripple of laughter, she was faintly conscious of the fragrance of the early May evening. The trees were touched with their spring greenery and in the air was the scent of violets. The grounds beyond the house in Dorchester Gardens were filled with guests gathered in honour of the engagement between Lady Letty and Stephen Du Cros, the South African millionaire.

It was a marriage of convenience, of course–everybody recognised that. The Earl, her father, sorely needed money; indeed there were some who said that but for the weight of Du Cros’s influence his lordship might have found himself face to face with a judge and jury. It was impossible, too, that Lady Letty should care for her wealthy admirer–that cold, proud beauty seemed to indicate a nature incapable of caring for anything or anybody. And yet–

The girl had a moment to herself presently, when the chattering mob of friends had lisped their insipid congratulations and she was alone in a corner of the garden. She had an uneasy feeling that the jealous eye of Du Cros was upon her, for in his way the millionaire was jealous. Perhaps he understood the hollowness of the compact between them.

But at any rate he could not be jealous of the man who came up just then. He would hardly condescend to be suspicious of a mere novelist dependent upon his pen for a living. He did not know that these two had been brought up together, nor that Hugh Childers had chosen to quarrel with a rich father over the young man’s devotion to his art. The bitterness had lasted five years, and Childers was still struggling. Now, for the first time, he was regretting his folly. But for his pride in his work, he would stand to-day as the heir to the vast Childers estates, with their iron and steel foundries and prosperous coal mines. He looked down into Lady Letty’s face, an eloquent sadness in his eyes. What a fool he had been! Even if he went to his father and obtained a tardy pardon he could not save Lady Letty now.

“I haven’t had an opportunity of congratulating you before,” he said. “Permit me–”

“Don’t,” Lady Letty whispered. The mask had fallen from her face and the beautiful eyes were tired and weary. “Not from you, Hugh. Oh, don’t you understand!”

Childers nodded gloomily. He understood only too well, and might have prevented it all. He knew that this woman had a warm and passionate heart under her seemingly haughty demeanour, and that it beat only for him. He guessed at the tragic sacrifice she was making to save the family honour.

“I had to say something,” he murmured. “They tell us that language is given to disguise our thoughts. It seemed the right tone to adopt in an atmosphere like this.”

“I know, I know,” Lady Letty returned. “I am thankful to think that one man understands me, Hugh. I daresay I shall get accustomed to it in time. But for the rest of my natural life–my natural life–”

The girl’s voice broke and a shudder passed over her. She felt that Hugh Childers was looking into her very soul. She knew she was reading him correctly. Though nothing was said by either, the love of the other stood confessed.

“Du Cros is a thrice fortunate man,” Hugh said bitterly. “He has money, position, good health, and you, my dear. If I had not been a blind fool–”

It was Childers’ turn to pause. He saw Du Cros in the distance talking to a business friend. The man of money looked prosperous, and the smile of the conqueror was on his lips. As one watched him, one wondered what stroke of fortune he was contemplating. The man by his side was well groomed, save that he was a trifle too glossy, too theatrical, and obviously out of place.

“Better drop it,” the stranger said. “Get this danger out of the way first, at any rate. There will be time for your revenge afterwards. Lancaster has bolted, the police are after him, and every racing man in Liverpool is talking about it. Besides, Lord Amsted will be your brother-in-law one of these days.”

Du Cros’s dark eyes flashed and his thin lips grew hard and cruel.

“Amsted humiliated me in public,” he answered. “He struck me because I dared to aspire to marry his sister, Lady Letty. I swore to ruin him, and I will. It will be my business that Amsted does not see where the blow comes from. I shall marry Lady Letty and track him down at the same time. Within a few hours Amsted will be in gaol–the heir of my distinguished father-in-law will get five years.”

“You are a fool,” the other man retorted crisply. “You forget your own danger. Lancaster, the big bookmaker has bolted. You betrayed him to the police. If he is arrested and finds that out, we shall be done. You ought to be in Liverpool to-morrow. At the very latest you must be there early on the following day. But you must get there in such a way that your enemies haven’t the slightest notion of what you are doing. If you could manage to do it under the guise of a pleasure trip–”

Du Cros smiled meaningly.

“Did I ever fail, Blossom?” he asked. “It is touch-and-go with my fortunes just when I appear to be most prosperous. What would all these empty-headed fools say if they guessed the truth? There are more reasons than one why I should be in Liverpool the day after to-morrow, but I must guard my movements so as to blind the group of speculators who are conspiring against me. Make your mind easy–you can rely upon meeting me outside Lime-street station at four o’clock in the morning the day after to-morrow. There is the woman who is unconsciously playing the game for me.”

“Madame Regnier!” Blossom exclaimed. “The great prima donna! The finest singer and the most popular artist in Europe! Whom are you getting at?”

“Listen,” Du Cros said curtly. “They are all my puppets when I pull the strings. I need to be in Liverpool at an early hour in such circumstances as my movements shall not be suspected. Madame Regnier is going to help me. Listen.”

The great singer approached them, her good-natured face wreathed in smiles. She had no love for Du Cros, especially as she had a warm admiration and affection for Lady Letty. Surrounded by friends she listened to what Du Cros was saying.

“Really, that is very charming of you,” she observed. “What it is to have the purse of Fortunatus to draw upon! But I am afraid there is not time for your brilliant suggestion. Let us hear what Lady Letty has to say. Call her, somebody.”

Lady Letty came up, cold and collected as usual. It would have been difficult for any of them to tell what was passing in her mind, to read the misery that filled her heart.

“The scheme flashed into my mind quite suddenly,” Du Cros explained. “Madame Regnier will go to Liverpool to-morrow, on her way to America for a tour in the States. I need not say how sorry we are to lose her. She will give a good-bye concert on the following afternoon. It will be her last appearance in England for more than a year. It is not right to let her slip away in this undemonstrative fashion. It will be hard to do without her in any case.”

“You are a born flatterer,” said Madame Regnier. “Please proceed with your suggestion.”

“Well, our divinest singer was going to Liverpool in the ordinary way. She cannot be permitted to leave us like an ordinary person. I propose to charter a special train, take a party to give her a send-off, and come back the same way.”

A murmur of approval followed the suggestion. Du Cros wished to disarm criticism. Had anybody any objection to the idea? Could anybody improve on it?

“The time is short,” Lady Letty said. “We all have many engagements. If dear Madame Regnier were only going a week later it would be different.”

Du Cros appeared to regard this as fatal. His air was one of disappointment.

“I have it,” he cried presently. “Stupid of me not to have seen that point before. You are quite right, Letty; every hour is precious. Let us meet the general convenience as far as we can. So my programme is–midnight to-morrow, a corridor train, and supper on board. Those who want to sleep can. If we start at midnight or a little later, we can all keep our dinner and theatre engagements, or show up at a dance. I flatter myself that is a way out of the difficulty. Let everybody come who want to. What do you say, Childers?”

Childers hesitated; then he caught Lady Letty’s eye.

“I shall be delighted,” he said gravely. “It will be a novel and enjoyable party, and assuredly it will be talked about. Would that I also were a millionaire!”

Du Cros glanced unobtrusively at the eagerly-listening Blossom. The latter winked as he turned on his heel and left the garden. Du Cros was a wonderful man! But he was playing a desperate game, and Blossom had himself to think of. As he passed into the roadway he found a little way off a taxicab with a woman inside.

“Well,” she asked, “is Du Cros there? What is he going to do?”

Blossom briefly sketched the programme he had so recently heard. The woman listened intently. Then she took from her pocket a packet of notes, which she pressed into Blossom’s hand.

“So far, so good,” she said. “You have earned your money. If you are discreet and tell no stories and ask no questions, there will be more for you where these came from. Pay the driver and dismiss him. Never mind my business now; that is no concern of yours. You can go.”

Blossom raised his glossy hat with a flourish and vanished. There was a bitter smile on the face of the woman as she watched him depart.

“Dog rob dog,” she muttered. “Still, it plays my game for me.”

She passed along till she came to the house in Dorchester Gardens where the engagement fete was taking place. At her demand for an instant interview with Lady Letty, the footman gave a supercilious stare. She touched his hand with gold.

“I must see her at once,” she said. “It is most urgent, understand. Take this sovereign. Bring Lady Letty to me here and there is another for you. Take me into some room where I can wait without being seen.”

II. “LITTLE KATE.”

The hard expression left Lady Letty’s face at the sight of her visitor.

“Little Kate Mayfield!” she exclaimed. “It seems hardly possible. But what is wrong? You are younger than I am. It isn’t that you really look old, but there is a–”

“Oh, I know,” Kate interrupted. “It is what I have been through–what I am going through now. I shall get young again when I have time to enjoy peace. But that will not be till I have exposed Stephen Du Cros and driven him out of every honest man’s house.”

Lady Letty stared haughtily at the speaker. Had the girl taken leave of her senses?

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