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Chapter 9

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« on: February 28, 2023, 03:31:14 am »

Having in his adventurous life become accustomed to unexpected surprises, Lemby was rarely startled, and frequently boasted that nothing could astonish him. But on this occasion he was not only astonished but enraged. At the outset he blankly refused to believe the lawyer.

"You are talking nonsense," he declared, roughly. "How could Wyke have a wife when he was engaged to be married to my daughter?"

"That is a fair question, which I shall endeavour to answer fairly," replied Mr. Sandal, ignoring the crudity of speech. "Sir Hector, it appears, was married some twenty years ago to an actress. They did not get on well together, and parted by mutual consent. Lady Wyke, under her stage name of Miss Maisie Chain, went to America, and, after a long silence, news came to Sir Hector that she had perished in a theatre fire at Chicago. He quite believed that he was a widower, and therefore felt himself at liberty to propose to Miss Lemby."

"It's all nonsense," repeated the pirate, furiously.

"Well, I don't wonder at your saying so," said Sandal, calmly. "I was surprised myself when Lady Wyke turned up again. She has altered little."

"Oh! So you have seen her before!"

"Yes. I have been Sir Hector's lawyer for many years, as we were at school together and have always been friends. When he wished to marry Miss Chain I tried to persuade him not to, but he was wilful, and persisted in doing so. As I foretold, the match turned out to be an unhappy one. When Sir Hector came to me with the news that Lady Wyke was dead, I congratulated him on his release. She was a very determined and trying woman."

Lemby clutched his head with both hands, leant his elbows on his knees, and stared at the carpet. "You are telling me the truth, I suppose?"

"Why, should I tell you a lie?" demanded Sandal, drily. "I wish myself that Sir Hector could have married your daughter, who is a sweet girl. She would have made him happy."

"How dare he make love to Claudia when he was already a married man!"

"Let me remind you, Mr. Lemby, that when Sir Hector asked your daughter to be his wife he was a widower, or, at least, believed himself to be so."

"Then why didn't he tell me so?"

"There was no need to tell you. Sir Hector very naturally wished to forget the mistake he had made with regard to his marriage."

"It's a plot to rob my daughter of her rights!" shouted Lemby, savagely.

"Lower your voice, if you please," said Sandal, sternly. "If you cannot speak quietly I shall put an end to this interview. There is no plot. I have the newspaper in which is the report of the fire at the Chicago theatre and the death of Maisie Chain, who was really Lady Wyke. Sir Hector left that with me, and it has remained in his deed box ever since. As to your daughter's rights, she had none, seeing that she was not married to my client."

"Are you sure, that this woman is Lady Wyke?"

"Yes, I am. I knew her well in the old days, when Sir Hector and I were young men. I was present at the marriage, and there is a certificate of that in the deed box also. I knew Lady Wyke immediately she walked into this office some days after her husband was buried."

"How did she escape from the fire?" asked Lemby, sullenly, for he felt that a fortune was slipping away from him.

"She was rescued, but owing to being stifled more or loss by the smoke, it was reported that she had died. But being nursed carefully she recovered, and remained quiet. Owing to the shock she did not resume her stage career, so that is why neither Sir Hector nor myself saw her name again. Had we done so, we should have known that she was still living, and then Sir Hector, being an honourable man, would not have courted your daughter."

"An honourable man!" snarled Lemby, who made no attempt to contain his wrath. "Oh, yes, very honourable to leave my daughter without a penny!"

"He had no reason to leave her anything," expostulated the lawyer, mildly.

"Yes, he had. She was engaged to him, and he dodged the marriage."

"He did so because Lady Wyke in America saw a statement in an English society paper which was sent to her that Sir Hector contemplated a second marriage. She came over to England at once and let him know that she was alive. For that reason Sir Hector postponed the marriage."

"Then you knew why he did so?" foamed Lemby, clenching his hands and looking dangerously savage.

"Not at the time. I was amazed to hear that the marriage was postponed, as I knew how deeply my old friend was in love with Miss Lemby. Only when Lady Wyke came here after his burial did I learn that her letter to him, saying she was alive, made him put off the day of his marriage with Miss Lemby."

"When he learnt that this woman was alive he should have made over a good income to my daughter, so as to recompense her for the disappointment."

"I don't agree with you," said Sandal, "for Sir Hector had no call to do what you suggest. And I don't think that your daughter is disappointed, seeing that she never cared for Sir Hector, and only yielded to your wish that the marriage should take place."

"That's a lie."

"It is not a lie. And I beg that you will not speak to me in that way. Sir Hector told me himself that Miss Lemby was in love with a young engineer calling himself Edwin Craver, and that it was you who were compelling her to marry him. I pointed out to my friend that as he had made one mistake it was foolish for him to make a second, since Miss Lemby did not love him. But he was so infatuated with her that he insisted upon getting his own way."

"He made a fool of my girl," said the visitor, sullenly.

"Indeed, he did not. His intentions were strictly honourable, and he would have fulfilled them had not Lady Wyke made her appearance."

"Seeing how things stood, Wyke should have told me all about them."

"I agree with you there. But he told no one, not even me. I knew nothing until Lady Wyke walked into this office and explained matters."

Lemby rose and stamped about the room. "It's all a lie! I don't believe a word of what you say."

"Well, it is natural that you should have your doubts," rejoined Sandal, coolly, and glanced at his watch. "But Lady Wyke will be here in a few minutes, as I have to see her to-day in regard to the property. Then she can tell you herself that what I say is true."

"Yes, I'll wait," snapped Lemby, and sat down again with a determination to have it out with this undesirable woman, who had risen from the dead to upset his selfish plans. "She sees you with regard to the property?"

"Yes. By a will made shortly after his marriage Sir Hector left all his property to his wife. That will has never been changed, and, therefore, holds good."

Lemby contradicted. "Wyke told me that when he married Claudia he intended to make a will leaving all his property to her."

"Quite so," said the solicitor, suavely. "And he would have done so when he was married. But as the marriage did not take place, there was no new will made."

"Wyke should have made the will before marriage."

Sandal laughed. "You are very ignorant of English law, Mr. Lemby," he observed drily. "A will made before marriage is waste paper when that marriage takes place. Until your daughter was Lady Wyke no disposition of the property on the lines of marriage, save in settlements, could have been made. Those settlements were drawn up, but not signed, therefore they are useless. And now that Sir Hector is dead the property goes to Lady Wyke by the only will which is in existence."

"Cannot it be upset?"

"No. The will is sound in law. I drew it up myself. And remember, Mr. Lemby, that in justice the widow of Sir Hector should inherit the five thousand a year which he died possessed of."

Lemby scowled at the carpet and revolved schemes. He wanted the money badly, as he was worse off than Claudia knew, even though he had given her a hint of coming poverty. But he saw no means of securing again what he had lost unless Lady Wyke was disposed to be gracious, and recompensed Claudia for her presumed disappointment. He therefore determined to wait and see if Lady Wyke was a person whom he could manage. Possibly he might coax or bully her into what he called justice. And it was at this stage of his meditations that the wife of Sir Hector entered the room.

"Good-day, Mr. Sandal," said Lady Wyke, in a high, shrill voice, hard and rather rasping in its tone. "I fear that I am late."

Mr. Sandal assured the newcomer that she was not late, and placed a chair for her near his desk. Lemby rose in a lumpish, ungracious fashion and glared at the fashionable little woman as though he could have slain her with a look. She cast a careless glance at him, looked him over from head to foot, and then glanced inquiringly at the lawyer.

"Is there any reason why this gentleman should wait?" asked Lady Wyke, and raised a lorgnette to her fine dark eyes to criticise the pirate.

"Mr. Lemby will explain himself why he is here, Lady Wyke."

Mr. Lemby was in no hurry to explain himself. He stared wolfishly at the woman who had put an end to his greedy hopes, and did not speak, for quite two minutes. He noted that Lady Wyke was a smallish woman, by no means in her first youth, with a slender figure and a very perfect pink-and-white complexion, which was probably due to art. Her features were cleanly cut, her teeth were white and regular, and she had a pair of large dark eyes, which suggested those of an Andalusian beauty. Nothing could have been more fashionable or accurate than mourning.

Lemby, being a big man, liked little women, and could not conceal from himself that Lady Wyke was particularly attractive. Yet he judged from the hardness of her bright eyes and the unemotional tones of her shrill voice that she was a cat. So he called her in his own mind, and decided that only personal violence could reduce her to reason, and to get the money by personal violence was quite what the buccaneer would do. He loathed Lady Wyke as a marplot, yet he could not deny her attractions. At one the same time he would have liked to kiss her and to strangle her.

"Well, Mr. Lemby," said Lady Wyke, sharply, for she objected to his insolent scrutiny, "and why are you here?"

"To stand up for Claudia's rights," growled Lemby, in a surly manner.

"Claudia? And who is Claudia?" She stared impertinently through the lorgnette.

"My daughter, who would have married Sir Hector had you not been alive."

Lady Wyke dropped her glasses and burst into a shrill, unpleasant laugh. "Oh, I remember"---she clapped her elegantly-gloved hands---"I saw the announcement of the proposed marriage in a society paper which I picked up in New York, and it was that which brought me over, to tell Hector that he must not commit bigamy. Well, I'm sorry for your daughter, Mr. Lemby, but I am Sir Hector Wyke's wife."

"Pardon me," put in Sandal, "you are his widow."

"Pooh!" said Lady Wyke, contemptuously. "How precise you are."

"It is just as well to call things by their proper names," said Lemby, grimly.

"Oh, I'm a thing am I! Don't you think he is very ungallant, Mr. Lemby?"

"I don't think anything about it," snarled the pirate, crossly.

Lady Wyke put up her lorgnette again. "No? You look as though you acted rather than thought. I wonder if your daughter is like you."

"No, she dashed well ain't."

"I thought not. My late husband was a fool, but he was always a gentleman, and would not have cared to marry a girl who used oaths and bad grammar.

"Claudia speaks as well as you do, and is much handsomer and younger," retorted Lemby, spitefully.

"Really! You make me long to see this paragon. What is your Mr. Lemby, as I should like to call," and Lady Wyke took out a set of ivory tablets.

"I don't want you to call, nor does Claudia," growled Lemby, who was exasperated at the way in which the woman spoke.

"If you don't want to see me, why are you here, then?"

"I want justice done to my daughter. Wyke intended to marry her, and settle money on her; and he's done neither."

"You can't expect a dead man to perform impossibilities, Mr. Lemby." rejoined the widow sarcastically. "I understand what you mean. If you will give me your address, I should call and talk the matter over."

Lemby shook his head. "There's not much to be got out of you."

"Dear me! how accurately you judge my character in five minutes. However, I leave the matter to your own discretion. Give me your address, and I shall pay a visit to see my rival and adjust matters."

Lemby, in a grudging tone, supplied the required information, which the widow noted down swiftly.

"That is all I want," she said, with a nod, as she replaced the tablets in her pocket. "I shall call to-morrow or the next day, Mr. Lemby, Good-afternoon."

Lemby rose and stood, fingering his silk hat like a schoolboy. He felt abashed in the presence of this domineering little woman.

She became impatient. "Don't stand there gawking. Go away. Good-afternoon, Mr. Lemby," And without a word, Lemby shambled from the room, snubbed into silence for once, in his life.

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