Richard Lambert turned back towards the village.
Sue—married to another man—had passed out of his life forever.
ALL BECAUSE OF THE TINDER-BOX
How oft it is in life that Fate, leading a traveler in easy gradients upwards along a road of triumph, suddenly assumes a madcap mood and with wanton hand throws a tiny obstacle in his way; an obstacle at times infinitesimal, scarce visible on that way towards success, yet powerful enough to trip the unwary traveler and bring him down to earth with sudden and woeful vigor.
With Sir Marmaduke so far everything had prospered according to his wish. He had inveigled the heiress into a marriage which bound her to his will, yet left him personally free; she had placed her fortune unreservedly and unconditionally in his hands, and had, so far as he knew, not even suspected the treachery practiced upon her by her guardian.
Not a soul had pierced his disguise, and the identity of Prince Amede d’Orleans was unknown even to his girl-wife.
With the disappearance of that mysterious personage, Sir Marmaduke having realized Lady Sue’s fortune, could resume life as an independent gentleman, with this difference, that henceforth he would be passing rich, able to gratify his ambition, to cut a figure in the world as he chose.
Fortune which had been his idol all his life, now was indeed his slave. He had it, he possessed it. It lay snug and safe in a leather wallet inside the lining of his doublet.
Sue had gone out of his sight, desirous apparently of turning her back on him forever. He was free and rich. The game had been risky, daring beyond belief, yet he had won in the end. He could afford to laugh now at all the dangers, the subterfuges, the machinations which had all gone to the making of that tragic comedy in which he had been the principal actor.
The last scene in the drama had been successfully enacted. The curtain had been finally lowered; and Sir Marmaduke swore that there should be no epilogue to the play.
Then it was that Fate—so well-named the wanton jade—shook herself from out the torpor in which she had wandered for so long beside this Kentish squire. A spirit of mischief seized upon her and whispered that she had held this man quite long enough by the hand and that it would be far more amusing now to see him measure his length on the ground.
And all that Fate did, in order to satisfy this spirit of mischief, was to cause Sir Marmaduke to forget his tinder-box in the front parlor of Mistress Martha Lambert’s cottage.
A tinder-box is a small matter! an object of infinitesimal importance when the broad light of day illumines the interior of houses or the bosquets of a park, but it becomes an object of paramount importance, when the night is pitch dark, and when it is necessary to effect an exchange of clothing within the four walls of a pavilion.