“You damned fool!” my father muttered. “Take no notice of her, Guy. Five thousand pounds! I will see it paid to you, every penny of it. And not a soul will ever know!”
My father stood over her, and there was a threat in his face. She did not shrink from him for a moment. She laid her white hands upon my shoulders, and she looked earnestly into my eyes.
“Guy,” she said, “even now I do not believe that you meant to be so very, very foolish. But I want you to go away at once. You should never have come. It is not good for you to come near either of us.”
I rose obediently. I think that if I had not been there my father would have struck her. He was almost speechless with fury. He poured himself out another glass of brandy with shaking fingers.
“Thank you,” I said to her, simply. “I do not think that these papers are worth five thousand. Let me tell you what I came here for. I am a messenger from the Duke of Rowchester.”
My father dropped his glass. Mrs. Smith-Lessing looked bewildered.
“The Duke,” I said to her, “desires to see you. Can you come to Cavendish Square this afternoon?”
“The Duke?” she murmured.
“He wishes to see you,” I repeated. “Shall I tell him that you will call at four o’clock this afternoon, or will you go back with me?”
“Do you mean this?” she asked in a low tone. “I do not understand it. I have never seen the Duke in my life.”
“I understand no more than you do,” I assured her. “That is the message.”
“I do not promise to come,” she said. “I must think it over.”
My father pushed her roughly away.
“Come, there’s been enough of this fooling,” he declared roughly. “Guy, sit down again, my boy. We must have another talk about this matter.”
I turned upon him in a momentary fit of passion.
“I have no more to say, sir,” I declared. “It seems that you are not content with ruining your own life and overshadowing mine. You want to drag me, too, down into the slough.”
“You don’t understand, my dear boy!”
The door opened and Ray entered. My bundle of papers slipped from my fingers on to the floor in the excitement of the moment.
MYSELF AND MY STEPMOTHER
I Saw then what a man’s face may look like when he is stricken with a sudden paralysing fear. I saw my father sit in his chair and shake from head to foot. Ray’s black eyes seemed to be flashing upon us all the most unutterable scorn.
“What is this pleasant meeting which I seem to have interrupted, eh?” he asked, with fierce sarcasm. “Quite a family reunion!”
My stepmother, very pale, but very calm, answered him.
“To which you,” she said, “come an uninvited guest.”
He laughed harshly.
“You shall have others, other uninvited guests, before many hours are past,” he declared. “You remember my warning, Ducaine.”