Now she had perforce to share her brother-in-law’s poverty. At any rate he provided a roof over her head. On the advent of Lady Sue Aldmarshe into his bachelor establishment he called on his sister-in-law for the part of duenna.
At one time the fair Editha had exercised her undoubted charms over Marmaduke’s violent nature, but latterly she had become a mere butt for his outbursts of rage. But now to her astonishment, and in response to her petulant reproach, his fury seemed to fall away from him. He threw his head back and broke out into uncontrolled, half-sarcastic, almost defiant laughter.
“How blind you are, my dear Editha,” he said with a shrug of his broad shoulders. “Nay! an I mistake not, in that case there will be some strange surprises for you within the next three months. I pray you try and curb your impatience until then, and to bear with the insolence of a serving wench, ’Twill serve you well, mine oath on that!” he added significantly.
Then without vouchsafing further explanations of his enigmatic utterances, he turned on his heel—still laughing apparently at some pleasing thought—and walked upstairs, leaving her to meditate.
THE LEGAL ASPECT
Mistress de Chavasse sat musing, in that high-backed chair, for some considerable time. Anon Sir Marmaduke once more traversed the hall, taking no heed of her as he went out into the garden. She watched his broad figure moving along the path and then crossing the rustic bridge until it disappeared among the trees of the park.
There was something about his attitude of awhile ago which puzzled her. And with puzzlement came an inexplicable fear: she had known Marmaduke in all his moods, but never in such an one as he had displayed before her just now. There had been a note almost of triumph in the laughter with which he had greeted her last reproach. The cry of the sparrowhawk when it seizes its prey.
Triumph in Sir Marmaduke filled her with dread. No one knew better than she did the hopeless condition of his financial status. Debt—prison perhaps—was waiting for him at every turn. Yet he seemed triumphant! She knew him to have reached those confines of irritability and rebellion against poverty which would cause him to shrink from nothing for the sake of gaining money. Yet he seemed triumphant!
Instinctively she shuddered as she thought of Sue. She had no cause to like the girl, yet would she not wish to see her come to harm.
She did not dare avow even to herself the conviction which she had, that if Sir Marmaduke could gain anything by the young girl’s death, he would not hesitate to ... Nay! she would not even frame that thought. Marmaduke had been kind to her; she could but hope that temptation such as that, would never come his way.
Hymn-of-Praise Busy broke in on her meditations. His nasal tones—which had a singular knack of irritating her as a rule—struck quite pleasingly on her ear, as a welcome interruption to the conflict of her thoughts.