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Chapter 27

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« on: January 30, 2023, 08:59:42 am »

SHE left her husband's chambers with her brain in a whirl, hardly knowing where she was going until she found herself held up with a stream of pedestrians at the island intersection of Waterloo Bridge and the Strand. She thought the policeman who was regulating the traffic eyed her curiously, and, more with the object of evading his eye than with any set plan in her mind, she stepped into an empty taxi-cab which was waiting to cross the street.

"Where to, ma'am?" asked the driver.

"Where to?" she repeated vacantly. With an effort of will she concentrated her thoughts on the task in front of her, and hastily added, "To Victoria, as quick as you can. Noówaitódriver, first take me to the nearest bookstall."

The taxi-cab took her to a bookstall in the Strand, where she got out and purchased a railway guide. As the taxi-cab proceeded towards Victoria she hastily turned the pages to the trains for Dellmere. She had never been to Dellmere, but she had heard from Miss Fewbanks that her father's place was reached from a station called Horleydene, on the main line to Wennesden, and that though there were many through trains, comparatively few stopped at Horleydene. But she was unused to time-tables, and found it difficult to grasp the information she required. There was such a bewildering diversity of letters at the head of the lists of trains for that line, and so many reference notes on different pages to be looked up before it was possible to ascertain with any degree of certainty what trains stopped at Horleydene on week-days, that, in her shaken frame of mind, with the necessity for hurry haunting her, she became confused, and failed to comprehend the perplexing figures. She signalled to the driver to stop, and handed him the book.

"I cannot understand this time-table," she said, in an agitated way. "Would you find out for me, please, when the next train leaves Victoria for Horleydene?"

The driver consulted the time-table with a businesslike air.

"The next train leaves at 12.40," he informed her. "After that there isn't another one stopping there till 4.5."

Mrs. Holymead consulted her watch anxiously.

"It's almost half-past twelve now. Can you catch the 12.40?" she asked.

The driver looked dubious.

"I'll try, ma'am, but it'll take some doing. It depends whether I get a clear run at Trafalgar Square."

"Try, try!" she cried. "Catch it, and I will double your fare."

She caught the train with a few seconds to spare. She had a first-class compartment to herself, and as the train rushed out of London, and the grimy environs of the metropolis gradually gave place to green fields, she endeavoured to compose her mind and collect her thoughts for her coming interview with the daughter of the murdered man. But her mind was in such a distraught condition that she could think of no plan but to sacrifice herself in order to save her husband. With cold hands pressed against her hot forehead, she muttered again and again, as if offering up an invocation that gained force by repetition:

"I must save him. I will tell her everything."

The train ran into Horleydene shortly after two, and Mrs. Holymead was the only passenger who alighted at the lonely little wayside station which stood in a small wood in a solitude as profound as though it had been in the American prairie, instead of the heart of an English county. The only sign of life was a dilapidated vehicle with an elderly man in charge, which stood outside the station yard all day waiting for chance visitors.

"Cab, ma'am?" exclaimed the driver of this vehicle in an ingratiating voice, touching his hat.

"No, thank you," replied Mrs. Holymead. "I'll walk."

Miss Fewbanks was astonished when the parlourmaid announced the arrival of Mrs. Holymead. She hurried to the drawing-room to meet her visitor, but the warm greeting she offered her was checked by her astonishment at the ill and worn appearance of her beautiful friend.

"Please, don't," said the visitor, as she held up a warning hand to keep away a sisterly kiss. She looked at Miss Fewbanks with the air of a woman nerving herself for a desperate task, and said quickly: "I have dreadful things to tell you. You can never think of me again except with loathingówith horror."

The impression Miss Fewbanks received was that her visitor had taken leave of her senses. This impression was deepened by Mrs. Holymead's next remark.

"I want you to save my husband."

There was an awkward pause while Mrs. Holymead waited for a reply and
Miss Fewbanks wondered what was the best thing to do.

"Say you will save him!" exclaimed Mrs. Holymead. "Do what you like with me, but save him."

"Don't you think, dear, you would be better if you had a rest and a little sleep?" said Miss Fewbanks. "I am sure you could sleep if you tried. Come upstairs and I'll make you so comfortable."

"You think I am mad," said the elder woman. "Would to God that I was."

"Come, dear," said Miss Fewbanks coaxingly. She turned to the door and prepared to lead the way upstairs.

"Sleep!" exclaimed Mrs. Holymead bitterly. "I have not had a peaceful sleep since your father was killed. I have been haunted day and night. I cannot sleep."

"I know it was a dreadful shock to you, but you must not take it so much to heart. You must see your doctor and do what he tells you. Mr. Holymead should send you away."

At the mention of her husband's name Mrs. Holymead came back to the thought that had been foremost in her mind.

"Will you save him?" she exclaimed.

"You know I will do anything I can for him," answered the girl gently.
Her intention was to humour her visitor, for she was quite sure that Mr.
Holymead was in no danger.

"Will you stop Mr. Crewe?"

"Stop Mr. Crewe?" Miss Fewbanks repeated the words in a tone that showed her interest had been awakened. "Stop him from what?"

"Stop him from arresting my husband."

"Do you mean to say that Mr. Crewe thinks Mr. Holymead had anything to do with the murder of my father?"

"If I tell you everything will you stop him? Oh, Mabel, darling, for the sake of the pastóbefore I came on the scene to mar the lives of both of themówill you save him? It is Iónot heówho should pay the penalty of this awful tragedy. Will you save him?"

"Tell me everything," said the girl firmly.

To the stricken wife there was a promise in the demand for light, and in broken phrases she poured out her story of shame and sorrow. With a feeling that everything was falling away from her the girl learnt from her visitor's disconnected story that there had been a liaison between her murdered father and her friend. Mr. Holymead had discovered it after Sir Horace had gone to Scotland and husband and wife were away in the country. He was at first distracted at finding that his lifelong friend had seduced his wife, then he made her promise not to see or communicate with Sir Horace until he made up his mind what course of action to take. Three days later he caught an evening train to London and told her he was not returning, but would write to her.

It crossed her mind that he had gone up to London to meet Sir Horace, and in her distress at the thought of what might happen when they met she consulted her cousin Gabrielle, who had always been in her confidence. Gabrielle had offered to go to Riversbrook to see if Sir Horace had returned from Scotland, or was expected back. Her train was delayed by an accident, and when she arrived at Riversbrook it was after half-past ten. She arrived a few minutes too late to prevent the tragedy. She found the front door open and the electric light burning in the hall. She went up the staircase and in the library she found Sir Horace, who was lying on the floor at the point of death. She tried to lift him to a sitting position, but with a convulsive gasp he died in her arms.

She laid him down and then looked hurriedly around the room with the object of removing any evidence of how or why the crime had been committed, her main thought being to save her friend from the shame of a public scandal. She picked up a revolver which was lying on the floor near Sir Horace, turned out the lights in the library and in the hall so that the house was in darkness, and then closed the hall door after her as she went out. But Mr. Crewe had discovered in some way that Mr. Holymead had visited Sir Horace that night. Only a week ago Gabrielle had gone to him and tried to put him off the track, but it was no use.

The wretched woman made a pathetic appeal for her husband's life. She deplored the sinfulness which had resulted in the tragedy. She took on herself the blame for it all. She had sent one man to his death, and her husband stood in peril of a shameful death on the gallows. But it was in the power of Mabel to save him. On her knees she pleaded for his life; she pleaded to be saved from the horror of sending her husband to the gallows. If Mabel's father could make his wishes known he too would plead for the life of the friend he had betrayed.

The door opened and the parlourmaid entered. Miss Fewbanks stepped quickly across the room so that she should not witness the distress of Mrs. Holymead. The servant handed her a card and waited for instructions. Miss Fewbanks looked at the card in an agony of indecision. Then she made up her mind firmly.

"Show him into my study," she whispered to the girl.

She returned to her visitor, who was sitting with her face buried in her hands.

"Mr. Crewe has just motored down," she said. "I will save your husband if I can."

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