“Who was she?” the lawyer repeated.
Sybilla turned toward him and answered, in a voice plainly audible the length and breadth of the, long room:
“She called herself Mrs. Denover. Mr. Parmalee called her his sister. Both were false. She was Captain Harold Hunsden’s divorced wife, Lady Kingsland’s mother, and a lost, degraded outcast!”
There was the silence of death. Men looked blankly in each other’s faces, then at the prisoner. With an awfully corpse-like face, and wild, dilated eyes, he sat staring at the witness—struck dumb.
The silence was broken by the lawyer.
“This is a very extraordinary statement, Miss Silver,” he said. “Are you quite certain of its truth? It is an understood thing that the late Captain Hunsden was a widower.”
“He was nothing of the sort. It suited his purpose to be thought so. Captain Hunsden was a very proud man. It is scarcely likely he would announce his bitter shame to the world.”
“And his daughter was cognizant of these facts?”
“Only from the night of her father’s death. On that night he revealed to her the truth, under a solemn oath of secrecy. Previous to that she had believed her mother dead. That death-bed oath was the cause of all the trouble between Sir Everard and his wife. Lady Kingsland would have died rather than break it.”
She glanced again—swift, keen, sidelong, a glance of diabolical triumph—at the prisoner. But he did not see it, he only heard the words—the words that seemed burning to the core of his heart.
This, then, was the secret, and the wife he had loved and doubted and scorned had been true to him as truth itself; and now he knew her worth and purity and high honor when it was too late.
“How came Mr. Parmalee to be possessed of the secret? Was he a relative?”
“No. He learned the story by the merest accident. He left New York for England in his professional capacity as photographic artist, on speculation. On board the steamer was a woman—a steerage passenger—poor, ill, friendless, and alone. He had a kindly heart, it appears, under his passion for money-making, and when this woman—this Mrs. Denover—fell ill, he nursed her as a son might. One night, when she thought herself dying, she called him to her bedside and told him her story.”
Clear and sweet Sybilla Silver’s voice rang from end to end, each word cutting mercilessly through the unhappy prisoner’s very soul.
“Her maiden name had been Maria Denover, and she was a native of New York City. At the age of eighteen an English officer met her while on a visit to Niagara, fell desperately in love with her, and married her out of hand.
“Even at that early age she was utterly lost and abandoned; and she only married Captain Hunsden in a fit of mad desperation and rage because John Thorndyke, her lover, scornfully refused to make her his wife.