He had heard of Mr. Harlowe’s death and of his grand-daughter’s good fortune when he was at Constantinople, for he had friends in London who kept him au courant with the gossip of society, and he had straightway made his preparations to return to England. He had not hurried himself, however, for what he had not heard of was that clause in the old man’s will which made his grand-daughter’s marriage within two months the sine qua non of her inheriting his fortune. Such an idea as that had never come into Monsieur D’Arblet’s head; he had no conception but that he should be in plenty of time.
When he got to the house in Princes Gate he found it shut up. This, however, did not disconcert him, it was no more than he expected. After a considerable amount of ringing at both bells, there was a grating sound within as of the unfastening of bolts and chains, and an elderly woman, evidently fresh from her labours over the scouring of the kitchen grate, appeared at the door, opening it just a couple of inches, as though she dreaded the invasion of a gang of housebreakers.
“Will you please tell me where Mrs. Romer is now living?”
The woman grinned. “She has been living at Walpole Lodge, at Kew—Lady Kynaston’s, sir.”
“Oh, thank you;” and he was preparing to re-enter his hansom.
“But I don’t think you will see her to-day, sir.”
“Why not?” turning half-round again.
“It is Mrs. Romer’s wedding-day.”
That elderly female, who had been at one time a housemaid in Mr. Harlowe’s household, confided afterwards to her intimate friend, the kitchenmaid next door, that she was so frightened at the way that foreign-looking gentleman shouted at her, that she felt as if she should have dropped. “Indeed, my dear, I was forced to go down and get a drop of whisky the very instant he was gone, I felt so fluttered, like.”
Monsieur Le Vicomte turned round to her, with his foot midway between the pavement and the step of the hansom, and shouted at her again.
“What did you say it was, woman?”
“Why, Mrs. Romer’s wedding-day, to be sure, sir; and no such wonder after all, I should say; and a lovely morning for the wedding it be, too.”
Lucien D’Arblet put his hand vaguely up to his head, as though he had received a blow; she had escaped him, then, after all.
“So soon after the old man’s death,” he murmured, half aloud; “who could have expected it?”
“Well, sir, and soon it is, as you say,” replied the ancient ex-housemaid, who had caught the remark; “but people do say as how Mr. Harlowe, my late master, wished it so, and of course Mrs. Romer, she were quite ready, so to speak, for the Captain had been a-courting her for ever so long, as we who lived in the house could have told.”
The vicomte was fumbling at his breast-coat pocket, his face was as yellow as the rose in his button-hole.