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Chapter 11

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« on: February 28, 2023, 04:34:28 am »

The last words of Lady Wyke, taken in conjunction with the last words of her father before he paid his visit to Sandal, alarmed Claudia exceedingly.

The high-spirited girl spent a miserable time alone before her father appeared on the scene. She employed a few minutes in wiring to Craver, saying that she wished him to call. In one way or another Claudia determined to have an explanation, so that she might know where she was. At present she did not.

Mr. Lemby made his appearance shortly before seven o'clock, and seemed to be in very good spirits. He asked for his dinner, declared that he felt better, and treated himself to a sherry and bitters so as to give zest to his meal. Then, the dinner having been cleared away, the two sat down to talk. Claudia began abruptly.

"Lady Wyke was here this afternoon," she said, hurling the bombshell at her father in the hope of startling him.

She failed to do so. "Yes, I know," he said, coolly. "I was wondering when you would tell me about the matter."

"I waited for you to speak first," said Claudia, rather annoyed. "You should have explained things to me long ago."

"I didn't think it was necessary," protested the pirate.

"Not necessary? Why, dad. Sir Hector wanted to marry me while he had a wife living, and for that reason postponed our marriage."

"I know, confound you," growled Lemby. "But Wyke didn't know that his wife was alive. If he had he would not have proposed to you. I suppose she told you all about the dashed thing?"

"She explained much, but not all. I think you might speak, dad."

"Oh, I don't mind," rejoined the old man, good-humouredly, and then and there related the past of the dead man. He stated how Lady Wyke had been the actress Maisie Chain, and how Sandal had witnessed the ill-omened wedding. Then he told Claudia about the separation, the journey to America, the presumed death in the fire at the Chicago theatre, and finally described how Lady Wyke had learnt her husband's determination to marry again. "So she came over to prevent that," he concluded, "and so completely knocked the old man off his perch that he ran away to hide from her at Hedgerton."

"What did he intend to do?" asked Claudia, after she had digested the story. Lemby shrugged his shoulders. "Ask me another, my girl? I don't know. Whether he intended to lie low until he could get rid of her and marry you, or whether he intended to stick to her and chuck you I can't say. Seeing that she's a bit of a tartar, I guess he wanted to divorce her if possible."

"Could he have done so?"

"Lady Wyke says he couldn't, as she has always kept herself respectable."

"I don't think that Sir Hector was to blame," said Claudia, after a pause "except in not telling me and you before he went to Hedgerton."

"I should have squeezed the explanation out of him when I paid him that visit, my girl, if he hadn't gone to see the man who killed him."

"Do you know the man who killed him?" asked the girl in a low voice.

"No, I don't," denied the pirate, roundly, but looking uneasy, "and I wish you'd stop harping on that dashed murder, Claudia. Wyke's dead and buried, and his widow has got the cash, so let the whole shoot slide."

"How can I when you hinted that you were mixed up in the matter?"

"Oh, I only said that to get you to come to Australia with me," said her father, rising with a yawn and stretching himself lazily.

"But Lady Wyke says the same thing."

Lemby dropped his arms and his mouth shut like a steel trap. "Tell me what that dashed woman said."

Claudia repeated Lady Wyke's last words verbatim. "And she said that, although the truth was known to her, it need not be known to others if----"

"If what; if what? Don't stop," rapped out the buccaneer, sharply.

"If I refused to marry Edwin."

"Oh!" Lemby's black eyes grew larger and rounder. "Why did she say that? She doesn't know Craver."

"Yes, she does. She saw him at the factory and at Hendon."

"What was he doing at Hendon?"

"Flying," said Claudia, curtly.

"You don't say so. I never thought he'd have the pluck to go up in an aeroplane, my girl. I wish he'd break his dashed neck."

"How dare you say that, dad! Edwin is the bravest man in the world, and if he broke his neck I should die. I love him. I love him and she shall never, never take him from me."

"She. Who?"

"Lady Wyke. She has fallen in love with Edwin."

Lemby's face grew evil and lowering. "Then I again say that I wish he'd break his dashed neck," he cried with an oath. "Confound the fellow, he comes up against me at every turn. First, he tried to spoil my plans with regard to your marriage with Wyke, and now he is my rival."

"Your rival?" Claudia looked puzzled.

"Yes, hang him. I can't get the money for you by will, as everything has been left to that woman. So I've got an idea that she might marry me."

"Marry you?" Claudia started up from the chair she was seated in. "I hope you won't be so silly as to marry at your age."

"Don't be insolent, my girl," retorted Lemby, for his vanity was hurt. "I'm by no means an old man. There's many a kick left in me yet. Why shouldn't I marry Lady Wyke? She isn't bad-looking, and has the five thousand a year we want so badly."

"I don't want it!" cried Claudia, vehemently? "I wouldn't take a penny of it, dad. She's a horrid and dangerous woman. I object to having her for a stepmother, There!" and she stamped after her usual fashion.

"Well, then," snarled Lemby, crossly, "you can prevent my having my own way by letting her marry Craver, since it seems he is in love with her."

"He isn't in love with her. I never said so. She is in love with him. As to letting her marry him, she shan't! You are cruel to suggest such a thing."

Lemby clutched his head. "Dash it, things are so crooked that I must straighten them out somehow by suggesting," he said, angrily. "And if this young jackaroo is trying to spoil my plans again, I'll make it hot for him. Upon my word, Claudia, I think it best that you should marry the fellow, so that I may be able to make Lady Wyke my wife and collar the dibs."

"She won't have you, dad."

"Oh, yes, she will." Lemby glanced at the nearest mirror, and admired his big body, his black hair, his stalwart looks and general virility. "I may as well tell you that I met her when she came downstairs after seeing you, and I took her to a teashop to have a talk. We got on famously."

"Did she tell you that she suspected you of committing the murder?" asked Claudia, acidly, and not approving of this escapade.

"No, she didn't. If she had I'd have brought her to her senses."

"You'll never do that. She's too clever for you, dad."

Claudia had just uttered this remark in a very positive way when Jane, the parlourmaid, showed young Craver into the drawing-room. Lemby was by no means so pleased to see him as Claudia was, and looked at their greeting glumly. He was quite annoyed when he heard that his daughter had summoned this inconvenient third by telegram. Edwin, who looked smart and well-groomed in evening dress, nodded coolly to his prospective father-in-law and sat down. Then Lemby could contain himself no longer.

"What the deuce do you mean by treating me as nothing in my own house?" he demanded, clenching his big fists with a truculent air.

"I apologise if I have treated you impolitely," said Edwin, raising his eyebrows; "but as you have never shaken hands with me, or bid me welcome; I do not see what you expect me to do."

"Be civil," growled the buccaneer, and dropped into an armchair to fill his pipe. "I'd have dropped you at sight with my little gun had you behaved in this cheeky way to me in Australia."

"I'm not so easily dropped." retorted Craver, laughing, for the man's childish behaviour was not worth noticing. "Two can play at that game, Mr. Lemby. But as Claudia wants to tell me something, don't you think you can treat me as your guest and with courtesy for a few minutes?"

Turning towards her lover, Claudia rapidly told him all about Lady Wyke and her visit. Craver was amazed by the story, and could not believe, that Wyke had been married.

"How do you know that this woman is not an impostor?" he asked Mr. Lemby over Claudia's shoulder.

The pirate grunted. "She ain't," he declared, decisively. "Sandal knows all about the marriage, and knows her and knows about the will leaving the cash to her, hang her! She's not an impostor, worse luck. And, what's more, she's a dashed pretty woman."

"Do you think so, Edwin?" asked Claudia, anxiously and significantly.

"Oh!" The young man smiled broadly. "Then she told you that she had met me?"

"Yes. Both at Hendon and at your factory. Edwin, you did not tell me that you went in for aviation."

"I was keeping it as a surprise for you. But I can explain all about my reasons later. Meanwhile we have ample to talk about. Yes, I did see Lady Wyke at the factory, where she came to buy a car. Afterwards I saw her at Hendon, when she congratulated me on a successful flight. She's a pretty woman created by her own art."

"What do you mean by that?" demanded Lemby, growling like a dog over a bone.

"I mean that she is painted and powdered, and padded and overdressed, and all the rest of it. She is mutton trying to look like lamb."

"Then you don't love her?" said Claudia, with a sob of relief.

"Darling," said the astonished young man, "are you mad? How could I love a woman of that kind? And, remember, I have only seen her twice."

"She loves you, however," said Lemby, grimly.

Edwin stared at him. "Is this a joke?" he asked, sternly. "If so it is not a good one, and you display bad taste in making it, Mr. Lemby."

"I am in earnest, as it happens," said the old man, drily, "and don't tell me what's good taste or bad taste, dash you! Lady Wyke saw your photograph over there, and recognised you, Claudia told her your name, which she said she had never heard."

"Then she is telling lies," said Craver, calmly. "I was introduced to her at the factory when I sold her the car."

"She said that another person attended to her," said Claudia, quickly.

"I attended to her. Lady Wyke is evidently an accomplished liar. As to being in love with a man she has only seen twice, she must be joking."

"It didn't sound like joking," remarked the girl, wretchedly. "She hinted that dad was concerned in the death of her husband, but that she would say nothing if I refused to marry you."

"I'll twist her neck if she accuses me of a crime of which I am innocent," was Lemby's observation; "and when I marry her I'll soon bring her to heel."

"Are you going to marry her?"

"Why shouldn't I, Craver? She's rich and dashed pretty, in my opinion. I want money, and I can put up with her. Do you object?" he asked, with a sneer.

"Not at all," rejoined Edwin, promptly, "I don't want her. I shall tell her so if she makes advances to me---on one condition, that is."

Lemby scowled. "What condition?"

"That you allow Claudia to pay a month's visit to my parents at Hedgerton Rectory. I have told them that I love her, and they are anxious to see her."

Claudia, longing for peace and quietness, clapped her hands. "Oh, I should like that above all things. Do say yes, dad."

To the surprise of both young people, the pirate agreed very amicably. "The fact is, I haven't enough money to run this flat much longer," he explained, coolly; "so if Claudia goes away for a month, I can stay here on short commons. Mind, I don't say that I agree to your marrying her, Craver. I let her go to Hedgerton for my convenience, not for yours."

"Dad, how excessively rude," cried the girl, colouring.

"Rude or not, you can go. As to Lady Wyke, if Craver will sheer off, I think I can bring her to reason. Wyke should have left the five thousand a year to you, Claudia. So, as we can't get it by will, we'll get it by marriage."

"I rather think you will find Lady Wyke a difficult woman to manage," said Edwin, warningly. "She's an adventuress of the worst type."

"Well, I'm an adventurer," retorted Lemby, "I know how to size her up."

"What about her accusation, dad?"

"Oh, a wife can't give evidence against her husband," said Lemby, coolly.

The young people, still mystified by the ambiguous way in which Lemby spoke, glanced at one another.

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