He turned to leave the chapel with quick steps, when Lord Hartledon, shaking off Maude, darted forward and caught his arm.
“You will tell me one thing at least: Is Anne not going to marry Colonel Barnaby?”
“Sir!” thundered the doctor. “Going to marry whom?”
“I heard it,” he faltered. “I believed it to be the truth.”
“You may have heard it, but you did not believe it, Lord Hartledon. You knew Anne better. Do not add this false excuse to the rest.”
Pleasant! Infinitely so for the bridegroom’s tingling ears. Dr. Ashton walked out of the chapel, and Val stood for a few moments where he was, looking up and down in the dim light. It might be that in his mental confusion he was deliberating what his course should be; but thought and common sense came to him, and he knew he could not desert Lady Maude, having brought matters so far to an end.
“Proceed,” he said to the young clergyman, stalking back to the altar. “Get—it—over quickly.”
Mr. Carr unfolded his arms and approached Lord Hartledon. He was the only one who had caught the expression of the bride’s face when Hartledon dropped her arm. It spoke of bitter malice; it spoke, now that he had returned to her, of an evil triumph; and it occurred to Thomas Carr to think that he should not like a wife of his to be seen with that expression on her bridal face.
“Lord Hartledon, you must excuse me if I do not remain to countenance this wedding,” he said in low but distinct tones. “Before hearing what I have heard from that good man, I had hesitated about it; but I was lost in surprise. Fare you well. I shall have left by the time you quit the chapel.”
He held out his hand, and Val mechanically shook it. The retreating steps of Mr. Carr, following in the wake of Dr. Ashton, were heard, as Lord Hartledon spoke again to the clergyman with irritable sharpness:
“Why don’t you begin?”
And the countess-dowager fanned herself complacently, and neither she nor Maude cared for the absence of a groomsman. But Maude was not quite hardened yet; and the shame of her situation was tingeing her eyelids.
Lord Hartledon was leading his bride through the chapel at the conclusion of the ceremony, when his attention was caught by something outside one of the windows. At first he thought it was a black cat curled up in some impossible fashion, but soon saw it was a dark human face. And that face he discovered to be Mr. Pike’s, peering earnestly in.
“Hedges, send that man away. How dare he intrude himself in this manner? How has he got up to the window?”
For these windows were high beyond the ordinary height of man. Hedges went out, a sharp reprimand on his tongue, and found that Mr. Pike had been at the trouble of carrying a heap of stones from a distance and piling them up to stand upon.