BY JEAN MIDDLEMASS.
Love was dead. There was no gainsaying the fact. With returning consciousness the expression of hatred became so fully developed on his face that Lucille de Vigny cowered before it. His wild bloodshot eyes looked as if they were ready to start from his head, and the desperation in his entire mien made her feel that there was no length to which he would not venture. Was he about to commit another murder?
Mme. de Vigny knew naught of the previous one, or probably she would have run away in dire fear.
As it was, she was under the impression that the man she had once so loved and still cared for more than anyone else in life, had suddenly become mad.
Rising at last to his feet with an effort, he began to speak gaspingly, "You fiend, you arch-demoness, where is my child?"
She laughed, and calling up her courage tried to brave the matter out, though certainly she had never been so frightened in all her life before. Then seeing that laughter irritated him, she said:
"I believe he has gone back to his mummy, or at all events to Mrs. Grandison. Colonel Clutterbuck, my husband, would not stand him any longer."
"It is a lie, and you know it. Colonel Clutterbuck is not your husband, and the child has not left America. Where is he?"
"As you know so much, probably you know the rest. It is therefore useless for me to speak." Her tone and her manner were most aggravating, and in Lord Francis Onslow's then mood were positively dangerous. After the semi-somnolent, semi-stupid phase through which he had passed, an excitement had set in over which he had but little control.
He turned savagely on Mme. de Vigny, and seized her by the throat with his long, thin fingers, and yet she was the woman before whom he had once knelt in adoration.
"My boy—where is my boy? Tell me, where is Ronny?"
How could she tell him while he held her in a vise, even if she wished to do so. She tried vainly to utter some sound, possibly a scream, but nothing was heard save a gurgle, while her features became livid. The look of her to a degree sobered him, and he relaxed his grip; that is, he almost threw her from him with a force that caused her to fall with her head against the sharp edge of a sofa.
Even then he took no notice of her; it did not seem to trouble him that she was hurt, or that the handkerchief she held to her head was covered with blood.
He did not, however, attempt to touch her again, but walked up and down the room talking rapidly:
"Curse of my life that you have been, give me my child, that I may take him to the wronged Fenella and forget that you ever existed. If it had not been for you, what a happy man I might have been with Fenella—my beautiful Fenella."
"And De Mürger?" asked Lucille, whose sting even fright and injury had not wholly killed.
"De Mürger—curse him too—but I forgot, he is dead—Fenella killed him to save her honor, even as I will kill you, if you do not take me where I shall find Ronny."
But Mme. de Vigny had not quite lost her wits, or her capacity for self-defense, though the pain in her head was intense, and the blood was still flowing freely. She managed, without his remarking it, to crawl from the sofa to the door, and then suddenly, before he had time to stop her, she jumped up, opened it, passed rapidly out, closed it, and locked him in.
Having done this, she could do no more, but fell in a dead faint on the mat.
Meantime, "cabined, cribbed, confined," Lord Francis was indeed "kept like a tiger in too small a cage."
She had thought him mad, and in truth it almost seemed as if she were right. He thumped at the door till the echoes in the house rang, again, still no one came; the servants were all very far away, and were, moreover, amusing themselves with a game of poker, which was engrossing them far more at that moment than their mistress's visitors and quarrels. Not successful with the door. Lord Francis tried the window, but it was at least sixty feet from the ground—the jump was certain death—then he fell to smashing sundry bits of bric-a-brac that fell in his way—more to annoy Lucille than because he did not know what he was doing; and finally he rang the bell.
The bell brought Lucille's maid, but she did not open the door, though he loudly demanded that it should be unlocked.
The maid found her mistress faint and bleeding on the landing; it was scarcely likely she would open the door till she had tended her, especially as there was no cessation of the smashing inside.
Lucille was recovering her senses when the maid arrived, and thus by the help of an arm crawled into her own room, which was not very far distant. The first sentence she managed to pronounce was:
"Do not let him out, he is mad. Poor man, he has a dreadful wife who has driven him mad. Set someone to watch the door in case he should force it, and send for Dr. Walton."
It was not for herself that Mme. de Vigny desired the presence of Dr. Walton, for she washed her face, and put some plaster on the wound, which, after all, was not a very serious one, and she was a good deal revived by the time the doctor arrived.
Dr. Walton was a personal friend of Mme. de Vigny, that is she had made a friend of him since she had come to New York. She had a wonderful facility for fascinating the male sex and annexing their services, and she felt very certain she could depend on Dr. Walton, or she would not have sent for him.
When he did arrive, which was speedily, he was naturally aghast at the injury she had received. She would have allowed him to see it at its worst stage if she had not feared to disillusionize him by the aspect she had presented when the maid found her.
"Never mind me," she said, "I shall be all right in a day or two; but I cannot go on being subject to attacks from that madman, you must remove him; he says I have his child, whereas you know Ronny is my own nephew."
Dr. Walton did not know anything except what she had told him, but he believed in her, and therefore did not think of doubting her statement. "My dear madame, I will do the best I can for you; of course, this must be stopped. Do you think it will be necessary to take—ahem—extreme measures? I have some influence with the police."
"No police at all, if you please, Dr. Walton. The police are a body with which I wish to have no dealings. They have never done me any good. You have a house a little way out of town, where you keep patients who cannot control themselves. Take this man there as your guest, until I have time to communicate with his friends in England. He will be out of mischief and harm, and you will be doing a good action."
"You know his friends?" asked Dr. Walton, a little dubious whether he was not risking his professional reputation by taking this step.
"Well, I am most intimate with his wife. She is a most flighty, ill-behaved little person. I fancy it is her shortcomings that have driven this poor man to desperation. Still, of course, she is the proper person to communicate with. Hark, how he is knocking at that door again—there really is no time to be lost. I do not believe there is a bit of whole furniture in the room."
Thus urged, Dr. Walton proceeded to do what she wished; in fact, he began to think that it was the only thing that could be done. To get this man away quietly was, however, the difficulty—he did not want a scene and a scandal.
"Can you depend on the man on guard?" he asked.
"For coin—yes," she said, laughing, "money makes most people reliable—for a time."
"Well, stay where you are, and leave me to do the rest. I will return later, and let you know the result." So saying, Dr. Walton proceeded to the room where Lord Francis was still knocking clamorously. He said a few words in a low tone to the man at the door, and then he proceeded to interview the supposed lunatic.
To anyone less experienced than Dr. Walton, Lord Francis would certainly have seemed to be quite mad, but the doctor saw at once that he was merely suffering from excessive nervous excitement.
A few days' seclusion would, however, he thought, do him no harm, as by that time, with a little judicious treatment, he would probably be quite himself again.
Was there something in Dr. Walton's touch or look that soothed Lord Francis, predisposed as he was to hypnotic influence, or was the doctor armed with some calming anæsthetic—who shall say? But, as if by magic, rage and excitement subsided, and as though insensible to what was passing around, Lord Francis sank down once more into the chair in which he was sitting when he first saw Lucille de Vigny.
Now he was entirely in the doctor's power, he could do with him as he liked. The servant still outside the door was called into the room, and in less than five minutes Frank Onslow was transported to the doctor's carriage, and was driven off to the private madhouse outside the city, of which Dr. Walton was the director.
From her bedroom window, by the aid of a gas lamp in the street, Lucille de Vigny saw him depart.
"Now," she said, "you are mine, to do as I like with. You will not leave that place until you have absolutely given up Fenella—forever."
Mme. de Vigny was an attractive woman, and she had, as in the instance of Dr. Walton, her slaves. She forgot that Fenella was quite as attractive, nay, more so, for she was younger than Lucille, and many thought her much better looking. She, too, had her devoted allies; Clitheroe Jacynth was no mean opponent for Walton, save that Walton was on his own ground. Still, if Mme. de Vigny was not very much on the alert she might yet be balked.
For the moment, however, she decidedly held the trump cards in this terrible life game.
For some minutes after the carriage had driven off she stood by the window, thinking. The day had been an eventful one, and before the morrow dawned she must decide on some plan of action. A move out of her present quarters was inevitable, unless she wished to be turned out. Besides, since she no longer dared call herself Mrs. Clutterbuck, it was far better to reappear as Mme. de Vigny in a new place. She did not, however, wish to leave the city till circumstances had shaped themselves somewhat; but New York was large enough for her to remain perdu for awhile if necessary. She counted her dollars. Colonel Clutterbuck's parting gift had been no mean one. She would not want money for some time to come. Having so far arranged her affairs, and told the maid to pack up, as they were going away for a few days, she went into the sitting room where Frank Onslow had been locked in for at least an hour, and, as she surveyed the débris, she smiled.
When Clutterbuck came back, as he doubtless would in a few days, when he thought she had had time to clear out, what would be his feelings! as, of course, he would attribute the breakages to her and call it petty revenge; but what matter, in fact she felt rather glad that it had happened, especially as, casting her eyes round the room, she saw that the desk was uninjured. If Lord Francis had managed to dive into that, there is no saying what a pregnant change there might not have been effected in the course of events.
She opened it, took from it the papers which she considered of considerable importance to herself, sealed them up in some strong brown paper, and put the packet carefully into a dispatch box she intended to take with her.
For that night she would sleep under Colonel Clutterbuck's roof, and on the morrow she would take her departure. Before, however, she went to bed, there was still work to be done. She told the servants, who did not yet know of the separation, that their master would not be in and that they could shut up the house and go to bed. Having thus rid herself of them, she got ready to go out, tying a very thick veil over her hat in order to conceal the white plaster on her head, which might otherwise have been remarked. The servants' quarters were at the back of the house, so she slipped out unobserved. She took a car and went to an outlying part of the city. There she got out and walked down two or three streets, looking carefully behind her to see if she were followed.
At last she knocked at the door of a tumbledown-looking house. It was opened by a slatternly foreigner, whose face lighted up into something like a smile when she saw Mme. de Vigny. Not that she had any love for her, but her coming meant gold, and it was of the avaricious nature of this woman to do anything for money. "Is it all right?" asked Lucille, speaking French in a low tone.
"Yes, he went this morning, and if Satan himself sent his myrmidons on the quest, they would not find him. Poor boy, it will be a hardish life that he will lead in the future. Have you ever read Daudet's 'Jack'?"
"Tush for Daudet's 'Jack!' Don't mix up sentiment with business."
"Business is done for the present, as far as I am concerned, only I quite understand I have to mother him in the future—mercy, what a lot of money it does cost to keep a child, even in a poor way."
"I know all about it, the terms are arranged. Here is six months' money in advance, as I am going away for a little. Not the slightest deviation in our compact, remember. You are in my hands, I know your past."
The woman made a cringing movement as she pocketed the money, and gave a promise of allegiance, but a few minutes later, as Mme. de Vigny walked away, she muttered to herself:
"I know as much of you as you of me, ma belle Lucille. Which of us has the most need to be afraid of the past, I wonder?"
Mme. de Vigny adopted the same plan for returning home that she had done for coming to these purlieus. She took a car to Broadway, and from there started to walk to Colonel Clutterbuck's house.
She had not, however, proceeded far, when, to her consternation and surprise, she met Lord Castleton and Clitheroe Jacynth strolling together arm in arm.