Wyndham Martyn.

The Secret of the Silver Car



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And, more than all, he had been weak in that he had encouraged an intimacy with a family of this type. The Lady Daphne was not for him. He called to mind a phrase that Miss Barham had said about Castoon at this very table. She had said there was nothing financially shady about him which might prevent marriage between him and Daphne. No matter how much Anthony Trent sought to deceive himself about his way of crime and comfort himself with the reflection he never despoiled the poor or worthy but inevitably set himself against the rich and undeserving, he knew he stood condemned in the eyes of decent men and women. He was aware that Daphne and Arthur were listening for his answer. Daphne's face was white.

"I shall miss you all, sir," he said, "more than I can say."

"You are not really going?" Arthur cried.

"I must," he said. "My affairs at home need looking after and I have lingered on here forgetting everything."

Lady Daphne said nothing. He did not dare to look at her. He knew she was thinking that but for her father's mention of his leaving she might not have known until he chose to tell; and he had told another first.

Because he was grateful that Trent had been quick to take the hint the Earl of Rosecarrel was particularly gracious to his guest and proposed a game of billiards.

It was while the old nobleman was making a break that Daphne dropped into a chair at Trent's side.

"Are you really going?" she asked.

"I ought never to have stayed so long," he answered.

"Do you want to go?"

"You know I don't," he said passionately.

"And is your business so important?"

"Wait," he said rising to his feet when his opponent had finished a break of fifty-three. "It's my turn."

"I have never," said the earl, chalking his cue, "seen you miss that particular shot before."

Anthony Trent came to the girl's side.

"We can't talk here," he whispered. "The hounds meet at Michaelstowe tomorrow and draw the Trenewth covers. Will you be out?"

"Yes," she said, "but what chance shall we have to talk there?"

"We can lose the field," he said, "and ride back over the moors alone."

Arthur Grenvil had taken the mastership of the North Cornwall Foxhounds and persuaded Trent to follow them. The American had added a couple of better-bred faster horses to his hack and now enjoyed the gallop after a fox as much as any hardened foxhunter of them all.

A fox was discovered almost immediately when the Trenewth covers were drawn and got well away making in a westerly direction for the Wadebridge road. Daphne and Trent made a pretense of following but soon drew apart from the rest. The music of hounds became fainter and they turned back to the moors.

"You might have told me," she said reproachfully.

"I didn't know," he answered, "I only realized when your father spoke that it was more or less a command."

"My father may be the lord-lieutenant of the county," she said, "but he has no power to send a man away if the man doesn't want to go."

"Can you think I want to go?" he demanded.

"I only know you are not going to stay."

She touched her horse lightly on the shoulder and put him to a canter.

Trent saw that she was heading for Rough Tor, one of the two mountains guarding the moorlands. Once or twice they had ridden to its rocky top and looked at the hamlets through whose chimneys the peat smoke rose, and those strange hut circles of a prehistoric people. The path along which she went was too narrow to permit him to ride by her side and he was forced to ride in silence for almost an hour.

When she dismounted at Rough Tor and he tethered the horses to a short wind shorn tree he could see she was not the same cheerful girl of yesterday.

"Why did you stay here so long?" she asked presently.

"Because I love you," he answered.

"Why do you go away?"

"Because I love you better than I knew."

She looked at him with a faint smile.

"That is very hard to understand, Tony."

It was the first time she had ever called him by the name her brother used. He took one of her gauntleted hands and kissed it.

"My dear," he said tenderly, "it is crucifixion for me."

She looked at him still with the little wistful smile on her face.

"And are you the only one to suffer?"

The knowledge that she cared as much as he did brought a look of misery to his face where only triumph should have reigned.

"Ada Barham told me about the girl in America," she continued. "Of course I imagined there would be a girl somewhere whom you cared for but I think you might have confided in me. Weren't we good friends enough for that?"

"There is no girl anywhere," he said. "I told Miss Barham that because I didn't want her to suspect it was you."

"Then why must you go away?" There was almost a wail in her voice.

"I have told you," he answered, trying desperately to keep his voice even, "I must go because I love you better than anything else in life."

She laughed a little bitterly.

"And so that is how men behave when they are in love!"

"When a man really loves a girl he should think first of her happiness."

She looked at him simply. There was none of the false shame that lesser natures might feel in avowing love.

"Don't you understand," she said in a low voice, "that you are my happiness?"

For a moment the devil tempted him even as the Son of Man had been tempted upon a mountain top. Why should he think of the future when today was so sweet? In the big Lion car in the castle garage he could make Southampton in time enough for the White Star liner which went out tomorrow. They could be married on board or at any rate directly they reached America. Then with the money he had saved they could be happy. She was the woman he wanted, the woman he worshipped.

Then the other side of the picture presented itself. He saw them married on board and radiantly happy as they approached the land that was to be her home. Then the hard-faced men who showed official badges and informed him he was wanted for a series of crimes which would keep him away from wife and home and liberty until she was an old woman. One ending to the trip was just as likely as the other. Situated as he was he could never be certain of safety. This period in quiet Cornwall was the first time since he had taken to crime that he had become almost careless. He would break Daphne's heart for she was of the kind who would never love another man. And the disgrace he would bring upon this kindly family of hers which had suffered enough already. The screeching headlines in the press of the earl's daughter who married a crook. It was not to be thought of.

"Dear," he said softly, "if there were any obstacles which could be removed by human effort I should not say goodbye like this. Please don't ask me to tell you anything more."

"You said at Dereham that you felt you could sell your soul for a past. Is that it?"

"That is the irrevocable thing," he told her.

"Pasts can be lived down," she whispered.

"Not mine," he said dismally. "Daphne I have not been here all this time without knowing you and the sort of people from whom you spring. It is because of your tradition of honor that you felt Arthur's misfortunes so much. I can bring upon you and yours a greater disgrace than he could."

"I won't believe it," she cried.

"I don't want you to," he said gratefully. "I remember the thing said about your family, 'the Grenvils for Loyalty' and I love you for it, but Lady Polruan was right when she called me an unknown adventurer from America. The other countrymen of mine you meet here, like Conington Warren for instance, have their place at home. I haven't. I am without the pale. They don't know me and I can't know them. There is that great gulf fixed which you can never understand. I want to go away leaving you still my friend. If you ask me questions about myself and I answer them truly I may have to carry away with me the picture of your scorn. Be kind, Daphne and don't ask any more."

"I should never scorn you," she cried.

He put his arms about her and kissed her.

"My dear," he whispered, "my sweet, believe always that there is something God himself could not alter or I would never give you up like this."

"It is very hard," she said presently, "to have found love and then to know it must only be a little dream that passes."

"It is my just punishment," he answered.

"When do you go?"

"Tomorrow."

She put her arms about his neck and looked him full in the eyes.

"Darling," she said, "I shall never love anybody but you. Girls always say that, I know, but I have always been a little afraid of love and its exactions and the sorrow it brings. You see I was right in being afraid for directly I find you I must lose you." She leaned forward, one elbow on her knee, and looked at the countryside spread out at her feet. "I shall probably live here to be an old woman and look after other old women and see they have tea and warm wraps for the bad weather, and give the old men tobacco. That's all I look forward to. Tony, Tony, why is it one can't die on the day when one is killed?"

He sat in silence. Bitterly as he regretted his past which had risen to prevent happiness, he regretted his staying here in Cornwall even more. If he alone had suffered it were well enough, part indeed of the punishment he merited. But to have dragged this girl into it and to have made her love a man who could never marry her was the blackest of all. Perhaps she suspected it for she turned to him and put her hand on his.

"Poor Tony," she said caressingly, "it's no good blaming yourself. It had to be. I think I've always loved you. Before it is too late and you are gone away, are you sure this thing that stands between us cannot be banished or atoned or paid for in money? You know I have a large fortune of my own and it is all yours if you need it. Don't let any little thing stand between us. Where one loves wholly one can forgive all. I shall not ask you again; but, my dear, if any human agency can give you to me let me know."

Anthony Trent thought of the view he once had of a great penitentiary in which a man he used to know was serving a life sentence. The prison was set among arid country in sandy plains. Along the top of the stone walls sentries were placed at intervals, men with sawed-off shot guns waiting the opportunity to kill such as sought to escape the dreary days and dreadful nights. His friend made the desperate attempt and died as warders crowded about him and congratulated the guard on his markmanship. It was this place which might at any moment receive the person of Anthony Trent.

He could not think of the law as a human agency. That was one of the differences between the Anthony Trent, writer and Anthony Trent, crook. The writer regarded the law and its officers with a certain meed of respect but the criminal hated them.

"There is nothing that can help me," he said.

There was silence for a little; then she rose to her feet and pointed out scarlet coated men in the distance and galloping horses. Arthur's hounds had lost their fox in Tregenna woods and had found another stout dog fox headed for his earth on the moors.

"We can follow after all," she said, with an attempt to be cheerful.

They kissed silently and then remounted the impatient hunters. By devious ways they joined the field again. The moorland was a dangerous country to ride. Great stone walls divided small fields and there were sunken roads and paths by which, thousands of years before, the Ph?nicians had taken their way.

It was observed with what recklessness the American rode.

"He'll break his neck if he isn't careful," said a rosy faced old "hunting parson," as Trent set his horse at a great granite barrier.

He was not to know that Anthony Trent would have welcomed just such an end.

Chapter Seven
THE SENTENCE OF BANISHMENT

Lord Rosecarrel who was out with the hounds that day was riding ahead of his daughter when she and her escort joined the field. He was a finely built man and looked exceedingly well in hunting costume. He wore a closely trimmed beard, now almost white, and seemed, so Trent thought, more than his sixty-five years. It was a fine, sensitive face, and the earl had all his days until this strange retirement mixed with the great of the earth and taken part in the councils of nations. This mystery connected with his withdrawal from public affairs intrigued the American. He believed Daphne knew. He was wondering what it was when the earl reined in his horse.

"I am told you leave no later than tomorrow, Mr. Trent, I hope you will dine with us tonight."

Anthony Trent hesitated a moment before answering.

"Thank you," he said, "I should like to."

He knew it would only reopen old wounds but the temptation to see Daphne again was not to be resisted.

It would have been a dull dinner but for the earl. Whether or not he saw Daphne's depression, the disappointment of his son and the disinclination of the visitor to talk, he was entertaining and witty. He asked a number of questions about the United States where his son and heir was. While he played billiards with Arthur, Trent and the girl watched them. In truth they paid little attention to the scores or strokes.

It was not easy to get back to the intimacy of the morning. There was a certain reserve in the girl's manner, and a look of sadness that immeasurably distressed Trent.

"Ours is a tragic family," she said, when he tried to bring her to a brighter mood. "We used to be so happy. My mother was wonderful. She is gone, my two brothers are dead, St. Just is away and my father simply pining away of a dreadful thing that wasn't his fault."

"I wish you would tell me what it is," he said.

"Impossible," she said decisively. "It poisons his whole life."

"It was Arthur's fault, wasn't it?" he demanded.

"What makes you say that?" she returned.

"I know it," he said emphatically, "and whatever he did can be undone and if it's humanly possible I can do it. Is someone blackmailing him?"

He could see she was startled. He must have hit on something not far removed from the truth.

"Not that," she said, looking at where her father was standing apprehensively. "And I'm sure you could do nothing."

"I can try," he said earnestly. "Listen to me, Daphne. I feel that there is nothing in life for me but the memory of you. I want more than anything else to do something for you to prove my love. I have nothing in all life to lose. I have no relations, no friends to speak of. My life has been made up of," he hesitated, "of adventures where I pitted myself against the world and won."

She thought of that night in Dereham. Was that one of his adventures? Certainly he had given her the impression of great strength and resolution. Of all the men she met Rudolph Castoon and Anthony Trent most radiated this uncommon quality.

She looked across the big room to her father. Arthur was making a big break and the earl was not watching him; she knew he was not thinking of the game. He was thinking of that insuperable obstacle which barred him from the work he loved, the work in which he was needed. He looked a sad, broken man and reminded Trent of the portrait of Julius the second, by Raphael, which he had seen in Florence.

"I dare not tell," she said. "It touches big things and would involve many names and would lead you into great peril."

"It would not be the peril for me that you think," he insisted. "I shall know when my hour is to strike. Darling, let me try to do something for the woman I love, for the family where I found such happiness and such sorrow. I have brought so much trouble on you that I want to feel I did something to atone."

He felt for a fleeting moment the warm clasp of her hand.

"You have often been in danger?" she asked.

"It has been my life," he said simply.

"I am afraid to tell my father," she confessed.

"Must he know?" Trent asked.

"Yes. I know the whole hideous thing only in the barest outline."

"I shall broach the subject," he said confidently, "after all I have nothing to lose. I go tomorrow anyway."

She hesitated a moment.

"My father may think you are doing it at a price."

"Instead of which I am offering to help you as atonement."

The light died from her eyes and the hope left her heart. Nothing could alter his decision, nothing apparently blot out the past that held them asunder.

The Earl of Rosecarrel heard Anthony Trent's request for a private interview with a rather troubled mind. He had no doubt it had to do with his daughter. He told himself he had been very careless.

"By all means my dear fellow," he said cordially, "come to my library where we shall be quite alone."

Never had Trent been bidden to this great book lined chamber. It was open neither to those who came on visitors' day nor to the casual guest. It was here the earl and the prime minister were closeted for several hours.

"My lord," Trent began, "I am going to say something that will first of all astonish you and then probably make you angry at what seems presumption."

"I hardly think you will do that," the other said urbanely. He was sure now it had to do with Lady Daphne.

"You have said," Trent went on, "that you are grateful to me for my help to your son, Arthur."

"I am profoundly grateful," the earl said quickly, "you have made a new man of him."

"Then promise me you will not interrupt me by ringing for a servant to show me out."

"I will promise that blindly," smiled the nobleman.

"I owe a debt to your family. Arthur saved my life and I am still a debtor. Since I have been here I have found out a great deal about your life work. I found out also that at a moment when the Empire most needed you you retired. I know at the present moment your name is being mentioned everywhere as the most suitable for one of the highest offices under the crown. I know the prime minister made a golfing trip to Newquay the excuse to call on you personally. I know that in this very room you refused a request from your sovereign."

There was no doubting the agitation this statement produced in the ex-ambassador. But he was mindful of his promise.

"I know," the inexorable Trent went on, "that your refusal has something to do with what your son did when he was irresponsible. I saw you throw a terrible glance at him during the prime minister's talk over the luncheon table. It told me plainly that remotely or not it was because of something he did that you remain here eating your heart out. Afterwards you were especially kind to him. It was as though you repented your momentary anger. My lord, am I right so far?"

"I do not pretend to understand how you have learned these facts," the earl said slowly, "but you have made no error. What happened is over, dead and done with."

"I'm not so sure," Trent cried. "Perhaps because there was a day when I wrote stories of a rather lurid type I can think of half a hundred things that might seem final to you but which would yield to my type of mind. Nothing is final to us Americans."

Lord Rosecarrel looked at him shrewdly.

"What you say is preposterous, Mr. Trent, but nevertheless it interests me. What causes could this fertile mind of yours suggest?"

"Blackmail first of all," Trent said. Lord Rosecarrel did not give any indication whether the shot told or not. "Blackmail can be sub-divided into many heads."

"And is there a remedy for blackmail, then?" the earl asked blandly.

"A remedy can always be found for things," Trent said confidently.

"It amounts to this," the diplomat continued calmly as though he were discussing an interesting phase in another man's life, "that you suppose I am held inactive here because of the hold some man or government has on me. Admitting for a moment that this is true, do you not suppose that I should have strained every nerve, called upon my every resource to remove the obstacle which you admit has a remedy?"

"I think you have tried and failed," Trent said.

"It is curious," said the earl still impersonally, "how fiction of the type you used to write has taken possession of the public mind."

"I should not fail," Trent said steadily.

"You still persist in making the imaginary real," the earl said good humouredly.

"Why do you fence with me at a time like this?" Trent said making a gesture of despair. "Can't you see I am in earnest?"

"You rate your powers so highly then?"

"You employed amateurs, my lord, I am a professional adventurer."

"What are you doing in my house?"

"Living honest hours and learning that a past can't be undone. I know very well that you thought I wanted to see you because I love your daughter. It is true. I do love her. And it is because I love her that I am going. And it is because I want to prove that I am only truthful when I say that, I offer to undertake anything that may help you."

"But the reward?"

"To have done something for her is the reward."

The earl was silent for a minute. Then he paced the room. Trent watched his tall, bent form wondering what was to be the outcome.

"Mr. Trent," said the earl pausing before him, "you are either a scoundrel or else the most chivalrous gentleman I have ever known. For the moment I hardly know what to think, or say, or do. If I give you my confidence and you abuse it the public will share the knowledge of a disgrace which now only my enemy knows. If you set me free from my bondage you put me under an obligation that I can never pay. If I let you make the attempt in which two men have given their lives and you fail I shall never forgive myself."



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