An Imperial Marriage
Arthur W. Marchmont
CHAPTER XX. A BRIDE ELECT.
Sly first inclination on taking my seat ; in the carriage with yon Felsen was to laugh. His face wore such an expression oi self-satisfaction and triumph that absurdity of it appealed almost irresis- '. tibly to my sense of humour. The wholo thing Was like a little farcical curtain-raiser at a theatre which which prefaces the real drama which is --. to follow. ™ : That he did not discover the deception ""at once was a cause of wonderment to " toe. li my feeling* werel*any' ! ifraic'atiQfi y„ of my appearance "I 'Tpu.st have; lo.okgd •- as awkward a creature as ever wore a - petticoat. The skirt of the dress was "'"anyhow." That is to say, it hung .' in awkward creases and folds as I sat . *with my legs doubled close under mc ". yf or fear he. should see my yery jingirlish J I had "to'-keep. my hands out "of ..sight, ■" pulled uncomfortably up under my short " cloak; and I had to sit bolt upright, be- *- cause, when I had tried to appear over- - come and had leant back against the T eide of the carriage, I was within an ace ' of dislodging the whole of my headgear, hat, veil, wig and everything. __ But of all the troubles of that terrible - costume, I think the veil was the worst. - It .tickled my nose; it irritated my - freshly shaven upper lip; it caught my .eyelashes and brought the tears to my ~Z\eyes; it interfered v?ith jpy .sight; .and it mc twitch my lips, and chin and -"-nose as if I had St. Vitus' .dance, until ~ I could have sworn aloud at it in all the -slanguages I knew.
t I presume that yon Felsen took my attitude for ' sullenness,
"and he appeared quite undecided as ; to the correct manner in which "to beto a girl he was forcing to marry "-•him. He made very little effort to
'.speak to mc during the journey, and the
- attempts he did make were of course rjmauccessful in eliciting anything from .mc but a gesture of indignation or anger. " I am sorry to have to do this, Al- - thea," he said after one of these gestures of mine. I had just turned my back on him as" he Bad sought to get ';.hold of my hand in a spoony way. I shrugged my shoulders and gave a little toss of the head—none too energetic of course, for fear of consequences. - " I'll make it up to you. You know -ihat, dearest. Yon. know_that L'worVship the very ground you tread on, and ..ia.ll my life shall be devoted to make you "Jhappy."
-; It was a queer sensation to have a —man making love to mc, and if -I could iave counterfeited Alttiea's voiced I'd -have led him oik a" bitl .Although, how -&ny girl could feel romantic with a thing
'.tickling her face, as that infernal veil tickling mine, beat mc. My chief was an almost overpowering -desire to rub my nose. My silence and my attitude-of resent--ful disbelief aiinoyea "him. ""You let .mc make love to you before that infernal " Englishman came in the way." he said, ..ronly he used a strong epithet for mc. 1"l suppose he has done his best to set yos^.- a gainst. _But.."Tin ..even .with him now."
I maintained the same stolid coldness. " Aren't you groing to speak a word to mc ? " he cried after a long pause ; and Ke Tient forward and tried to look into mv face.
It was fortunately a very dull evening, and the light inside the carriage was so dim that even at close quarters he could not have made out my features ; but I took care he should not get too close, and twisted away from him. Then he commenced to „cJST. for. my. hand again. I was afraid;*h«r would puthis arm round my waist, for I knew that the dimensions of it would give -him something of a shock. As it was he fooledrabout : ray arm-;-and -that he did not at once discover that no girl, except an athlete, was likely~"to have an arm as haTd as mine, was amazing. However, he got hold of my fingers—l was sitting with arms crossed —and when I found that the size of them did not rouse his suspicions, I let him retain his hold.
This appeared to satisfy him. and he kept hold, squeezing them now and again as if he found great pleasure in the business. ■ I could not. refrain from speculating whether a girl in" such circumstanced would have thought a man such an awful ass as I thought him. I suppose she would. He appeared to regard this "ting business as a sign of relenting on. my part, for we were quite close tp his house before he said any more.
"The mere touch of your hand is a Selight to mc, Althea," he murmured, like the fatuous idiot he was making of himself. - ' -
I drew my hand away and turned my ■back squarely upon him. The sigh he gave might have come right from the-pit of his stomach, • aiid * been-, gathering jveigh all the journey.
"I will make you love me7yeT, ATtnesu lon are the only woman in the world to mc." Kot a very original sentiment. Derhape; but apparently quite earnest; and before he could make any further headway with his love-making the carriage drew up at his door.
He got out and held his hand to help mc. But- I disdained his assistance, and grabbing hold of my dresß in the way, in which. Bessie had carefully instructed mc, I stepped out and hurried up the stops and into the hall.
Sea'fced there was a clerk from "W. IDschen"; and he arose at my entrance, and gave mc a long - eurinus stare. In his eyes, I was, of course, a lady of quality; and he scanned mc from, head to foot. 1 had presence oi mind enough to lot my drass fall "well over my boots; however.
WJisji ron Falsea saw him ho started and was for hurrjing mc into his room; but the clerk stepped forward.
'1 came for the lease and papers, sir, from "/. Misehen." he said' respectfully.
"You are- before your time; but I'll 6se y*3ti in a minute/ replied yon Felsea, charging colour and speaking nervously. 'This way, Althea;" and he pushed the door open for mc t» enter. I Jis.d feared to find in the roeia tie yriest and any 9 triers wno ware to be jTf'jeni at the marriage, aad I hesitated" a second sn the i'uT-sskeld. The hesitation was rs-Uj'jKj i£*pre tlian an iavolUß.--ary start of aurpiise a.E.d pleasure at seeing it ciHpiy. It was his j>i ivafce room, as j I liv.zw. I be mistook tjp gesture for sns j of uoub: of Lim. ''TPne res? are in ihej room ocjjosiie,'" he hastened to explain. | "I wiili to speak to you firsts We must | *&*-e air ugfMrsispdfJjg go to. tic ci»«3i,' ho. ssL4*M fsfe.ee. ■£$. srara-iit j
Author of 'By Bight of Sword," "When I was Czar." etc.
side and he had closed the door behind us. "There must be no tricks before the priest. You must promise mc not to make a scene of any sort."
The moment had come for undeceiving him; but as ho was standing between mc and the door I tried to put it off for a while.longer. I shrugged my shoulders and then", as if seized'with a sudden frenzy of dispair, I clapped my hands to my face and threw myself down on a chair. My back was to him, of course, for the electric lights were full on.
.. He came to-me and laid a hand on my ..shoulder.; but I shook it off, got lip and rushed to another chair nearer the„door, and -gave such a back view of a girl's agitation as I could manage to pourtray. It was sufficient for the purpose. "You must compose yourself, Althea," he said, following mc.
I glanced round and shuddered as if at his approach, and ventured to grunt out a little moan of pain.
He stopped and looked at mc, half in anger and half in dire perplexity. "1 won't come near you, then," he growled, and down he plumped into a chair to watch any Bigns of my return to selfcontrol.
I was now between him and the door and was much easier in-mind; and began to prepare stealthily to throw off' the disguise. I had taken off my gloves when it occurred to mc to try to continue the scene long enough to induce him. to get out, the papers for which the clerk "Was..waiting. I had no doubt ,they were in the room somewhere.
I remained inconsolable, therefore, -until his patience waned. He sat for some time tapping his fingers restlessly on the table and staring at mc; and then'with a sign of vexation, rose and crossed to an old bureau desk.
"For heaven's sake, calm yourself, Althea. The thing has got"to go through if you mean to save your father," he said; "and I pledge you my honour that afterwards I will do everything in my power to make you happy. I will, on my souL"
I responded to this with a gesture sufficient to enable mc to turn and see what he was doing, and let out a sigh.
I saw that he was watching mc furtively while he opened some secret recess in the bureau and took out a carefully sealed envelope.
I sighed again — this time with a genuine feeling of relief — and rose.
"He put '.the envelope quickly into his pocket and turned. "I have one little thing to do first," he said, and was coming toward the door when I gave him the first of his surprises.
-I stepped forward quickly, locked the -door and took out' the - key.
'■'. "What are you doing, Althea?" he cried.
I put my back to the door and slipping my hand through the opening in my skirt got my revolver in readiness.-With the other hand I took hold of the string with which we had tied on the skirt. All the top hamper and so on would come off with one vigorous lug.
Thus prepared I waited to Bee what he would do next.
His first attempt was bluster. "How dare yoti lock that., door?.:.lf yon think to try and cheat mc at the last moment, it will not help you. I have only to send word and your father will be in gaol." He was afraid to speak too loudly for fear that those outside should hear him; but his temper was rising quickly.
On my side I was absolutely indifferent who heard us, and I stood stock still with my back against the door staring at him as hard as I could stare through the meshes of the thick veil.
"Open- that door, or give mc the key at.once.y,.Do you hear, Althea? This is.foolishness. Then I shall take it from you," he continued, when he got no reply. He came up to mc and I thrust him away.
Even then he did not suspect the trick I had played him. Presumably he could not believe that anyone could have made such a fool of him.
He was at a loss what to do next. He was but a weakly fellow, and the strength with which I had pushed him away had startled him.
"What is it you want, Althea? I'll do anything you wish."
I chose tliat moment to end the farce. I drew the tape which held up the skirt, and with a vigorous tug got rid of the hat and wig and threw it all aside as I disengaged my legs from the skirt. He started back as though I were the devil himself. I must have looked a curious figure. I had had to roll up my irous'grs to prevent their being seen underneath the dress; I still had on Bessie's - short cloak and was still thus garbed on top partly as a man and partly as a woman, while my drawers showed as high as my knees.
[But it was not the humour of the change which appealed to him now. His wide eyes were fixed first on my face and then on the revolver which 1 took good care should attract a full share of his attention.
. "Sit down and hold your tongue until I tell you to speak," 1 said.
He was ashen white and trembling violently. But he was obedient enough. He sat dawn, or rather fell into a chair, and glared helplessly at mc. "
I got rid of the rest of the disguise and then rolled down my trousers. I had to free myself from the sense of the ridiculous figure I cut.
-He watched every movement like a lynx. I bundled the things into a heap. "You can send them back to my house presently," I said with a grim laugh. "And now we can talk. First, give mc that paper you were to send by that fellow in the hall."
He tried to force some sort of lie in response, but his lips were trembling so that he could not frame the words.
"I'm glad to acs you era suffering from a touch of tha agitation you were quite ready to infliot ou Artbe*. Now don't make any mistake. You have to do exaotlv whet I order y«n. It's a matter of life or death to you."
I - • I gave him time tto diga»i this ao that I it might sink, right into his inaioet eonI victions, and seturat* b«s iitiia soul with terror. He had enicryai tho sensation that afternoon of riiir.g rough-shod over mc; and he should kins now how it felt [to : havc scmaene «!=<< in the saddle. Judging by his looks he found the experience ! mightily depressing. in She pause someone knocked at the doer, A passing gleam of hope flashed into hia eyes as he half rose. But I lifted my weapon just the fraction of an inch and gestured him to keep his seat. He obeyed and crouched back to the chair like a whipped hound. In this way we waited while the knock wae -twice repeated. ''J'sjl £hem- to go away,"l ordered ' jind-tienlifJ ga?o mc a earoxisa ?a my
turn. "Break the door open," he called In as loud a tone as he could master. But fes,T had clogged his utterance, to that th-ey could not hear his voice distinctly.
"What did you say, sir?" called someone in response. Before he could reply to this I sprang on him and tore the coveted package from liis pockets, ripped off the seals and glanced at the contents. The glance was enough to satisfy mc of the prize I had secured. "You can call them in no*, if you dare. I don't want your life now." He stood a few seconds staring at mc, qtdv«ring from rage and fear; and then the question was repeated from outside. "Don't try that trick again, mind," I said... "Go away till I call," he answered. "Good," I said -with a grim smile. "Now listen to mc. Do what I tell you and you shall have a chance to get out of the mess. Go to your desk there and make up a dummy packet like this in appearance and give it to the man who is waiting."
For the moment he was incapable of movement. The failure of his little attempt to outwit mc and the result ■had unnerved him utterly.
"You are going to kill mc?" he murmured, wiping the sweat from his fore head.
"Not if you do as I bid you. I don't lie, and I have passed my word."
It was necessary to steady his nerves in some degree for what I meant him to do; so I waited while he fought down some of his paralysing terror.
Presently he rose and shainrbled across to the desk, steading himself as he went by holding to. the furniture. He fell into the chair before it and buried his head in his hands and groaned.
"Come. (Make an effort." He started at the sound of my voice and glanced round at mc. I think he was the most despicable coward I had ever seen. With another deep sigh he picked out an envelope like that I had taken from him and then with shaking fingers folded some sheets of paper, placed them in it and addressed it.. "Seal it," I ordered as ho held it out to mc. This occupied a longish time; and in his agitation he burnt his fingers badly with the wax. "So far so good," I said. "Now a note to the priest that the ceremony cannot take place. It can't, very well, unless you wish to marry mc," I added with a short unpleasant laugh.
With a great effort he succeeded in writing the note; and again held it out for mc to read. "Xow, take these to the door and tell your servant to give the one to the priest and the other to the messenger from W. Mischen. Not a syllable more. I shall <be behind you with this;" and I held up the revolver.
1 rang the bell and we crossed the room together. I unlocked the door and stood close behind him with the muzzle of my weapon pressed close to his ribs.. "My finger is on the trigger," I whispered, as the servant knocked and he opened the door. He was too abjectly frightened to try any tricks this time, nnd delivered the message just as I had told him. The next instant the door was Bafely locked once more, and he tottered back to his seat.
"You can take your own time now to recover; but you have a good deal imore writing to do, so you had better pull yourself together." A silence, lasting some minutes followed; and 1 used the time to read the paper which I had secured and to make a rough precis of it. He glanced up once or twice at mc the while, and when I put the paper back into the envelope, he asked: "What are you going to do with that?"
I paid no heed to his question. "Are you ready? Then go over to your desk again and write mc a true account of how yon got this."
This threw him again into a condition of trembling fear. "What do you want it for?" he stammered.
"I'll give you two minutes to make a start in;" and I drew out my watch.
He got up and fumbled his way to the desk again, and after a pause began to write, with many delays and hesitation.
Presently I crossed and over his shoulder read what he had written. A silly lie about having found the paper. I tore the sheet from the desk and crumpled it up. "Don't think to palm off that lie to mc. I know how you got it. Write the truth, or I send for Herr Borsen." The threat had little effect however.
"I swear on my soul that that is the truth," he muttered, looking round.
"You are playing with your life, man. Your only chance of getting mc to hold my tongue is to make a clean breast of it, not only about your theft but another thing." "What do you mean?" Just a whisper of terror. No more. "Your loss of this." I took out the ring which I had found on the night of Ziegler*s murder. It was the breaking point. .He stared at it a second like a man bereft of his wits, gave one glance up into my stern, set face, and with a groan let his head fall on the desk before it. "Come," I said, shaking him roughly. But he had swooned, and when I released my grip of him,: he slipped from
the chair to the ground and lay a huddled heap on the floor.
(To be continued next Saturday.
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