Soft footsteps interrupted his musing, and the next instant the door opened. Madge entered the room, holding in one white hand a crumpled letter. She wore a gown of lustrous rose-colored material, with filmy lace on the throat and bosom, and her splendid hair strayed coyly over her neck and temples. She had never looked more dazzlingly lovely, Nevill thought, and yet—
He rose quickly from the chair, and then the words of greeting died on his lips. He recoiled like a man who sees a ghost, and a sharp and sudden fear stabbed him. In Madge’s face, in her flushed cheeks and blazing, scornful eyes, he read the signs of a woman roused to supremest anger.
“How dared you come?” she cried, in a voice that he seemed never to have heard before. “How dared you? Have you no shame, no conscience? Go! Go!”
“Madge! What has happened?”
“Not that name from you! I forbid it; it dishonors me!”
“I will speak! What does this farce mean?”
“Need you ask? I know all, Victor Nevill! I know that you are a liar and a traitor—that you are everything wicked and vile, infamous and cowardly! Heaven has revealed the truth! I know that Diane Merode was never Jack’s wife! It was you, his trusted friend, who stole her from him in Paris six years ago! You, who found her in London last spring, and persuaded her to play the false and wicked part that crushed the happiness out of two lives! That is not all; but it would be useless to recount the rest of your dastardly deeds. Oh, how I despise and hate you! Your presence is an insult—it is loathsome! Go! Leave me!”
Nevill had listened to this tirade with a madly throbbing heart, and a countenance that was almost livid. He was stunned and bewildered; he did not understand how it was possible for detection to have overtaken him. His first impulse was to brazen the thing out, on the chance that the girl’s accusations were prompted more by surmise than knowledge.
“It is false!” he cried, striving to compose himself. “You will be sorry for what you have said. Has John Vernon told you these lies?”
“I have not seen him; he probably knows nothing as yet. But he will learn all, and if you are within his reach—”
“This is ridiculous nonsense,” Nevill hoarsely interrupted. “It is the work of an enemy. Some one has been poisoning your mind against me. Who is my accuser?”
“Diane Merode!” cried Madge, hissing the words from her clenched teeth. “She accuses you from the grave! Here! Take this and read it—it is a copy of the original. And then deny the truth if you dare!”
Nevill clutched the proffered letter—the girl did not give him Jimmie’s extra enclosure. He read quickly, merely scanning the written pages, and yet grasping their fateful import. He must have been more than human to hide his consternation. The blow fell like a thunderbolt: betrayal had come from the quarter whence he would have least expected it—from the grave. His lips quivered uncontrollably. The pages dropped to the floor.