Agnes gripped the man’s arm as he was about to step through the door. “I take your week of grace,” she said with a sudden impulse of wisdom.
“I thought you would,” retorted Silver insultingly. “But remember I must get the money at the end of seven days. It’s twenty-five thousand pounds for me, or disgrace to you,” and with an abrupt nod he disappeared sneering.
“Twenty-five thousand pounds or disgrace,” whispered Agnes to herself.
It was lucky that Lambert did not know of the ordeal to which Agnes had to submit, unaided, since he was having a most unhappy time himself. In a sketching expedition he had caught a chill, which had developed once more a malarial fever, contracted in the Congo marshes some years previously. Whenever his constitution weakened, this ague fit would reappear, and for days, sometimes weeks, he would shiver with cold, and alternately burn with fever. As the autumn mists were hanging round the leafless Abbot’s Wood, it was injudicious of him to sit in the open, however warmly clothed, seeing that he was predisposed to disease. But his desire for the society of the woman he loved, and the hopelessness of the outlook, rendered him reckless, and he was more often out of doors than in. The result was that when Agnes came down to relate the interview with Silver, she found him in his sitting-room swathed in blankets, and reclining in an arm-chair placed as closely to a large wood fire as was possible. He was very ill indeed, poor man, and she uttered an exclamation when she saw his wan cheeks and hollow eyes. Lambert was now as weak as he had been strong, and with the mothering instinct of a woman, she rushed forward to kneel beside his chair.
“My dear, my dear, why did you not send for me?” she wailed, keeping back her tears with an effort.
“Oh, I’m all right, Agnes,” he answered cheerfully, and fondly clasping her hand. “Mrs. Tribb is nursing me capitally.”
“I’m doing my best,” said the rosy-faced little housekeeper, who stood at the door with her podgy hands primly folded over her apron. “Plenty of bed and food is what I give Master Noel; but bless you, my lady, he won’t stay between the blankets, being always a worrit from a boy.”
“It seems to me that I am very much between the blankets now,” murmured Lambert in a tired voice, and with a glance at his swathed limbs. “Go away, Mrs. Tribb, and get Lady Agnes something to eat.”
“I only want a cup of tea,” said Agnes, looking anxiously into her lover’s bluish-tinted face. “I’m not hungry.”
Mrs. Tribb took a long look at the visitor and pursed up her lips, as she shook her head. “Hungry you mayn’t be, my lady, but food you must have, and that of the most nourishing and delicate. You look almost as much a corpse as Master Noel there.”
“Yes, Agnes, you do seem to be ill,” said Lambert with a startled glance at her deadly white face, and at the dark circles under her eyes. “What is the matter, dear?”