- CHAPTER XXIII. TWO INTERVIEWS.
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AND now let us turn the clock back a few hours, that we may relate how Hilda and Ruth made the well-laid plans of Ferrars of no effect, so far as himself and another were concerned.
Mr. Myers had left the ladies of his party safe in their snug quarters at Hampton Court, and went early to the city to meet Ferrars, as has already been related; but if he expected them to remain in statu quo on such a day, and in easy reach of Bond Street, it speaks ill for his knowledge of women, especially of Ruth Glidden, who knew her London well, and who--when Mrs. Myers began to long to see the inside of Howells and James, and their royal array of painted and other rare china, and Hilda looked yearningly over the guide-books for the city--took matters into her own hands.| | 280
There was no reason why they should not go to town, especially, so she privately informed Mrs. Myers, as Hilda was moping. She could guide them anywhere where they might wish to go.
And this is how the three ladies came to be seen at Marshall and Snelgrove's, linen drapers, so called; at Redmayne's and Redfern's, and at Jay's, for Hilda's sombre bedecking. Jay's has been called the "mourning warehouse" of the world, not because Jay keeps on tap a perennial and unfailing supply of tears, but because "all they (feminine) that mourn" may be suitably clad--at enormous expense, by the way--by Jay and Co.
And here it was that our little party, sweeping into one of the superb parlours where models display Jay's sombre wares, came face to face with Mrs. Jamieson, who, seated upon a broad divan, was gazing at a little blonde, of her own size and colouring, who displayed for her benefit a flowing tea-gown of soft, black silk, lighted up here and there with touches of gleaming white.
Of course there were greetings and exclamations, and such converse as may be held in so public a place; and Ruth, who, somehow, made herself spokesman for the party, exclaimed that they had "just run over for that little outing, and because. Hilda needed the change. | | 281 Oh, yes, they were well escorted; Mr. Myers was with them, and also Mr. Grant."
At the name, which was the only one by which she knew Ferrars, Mrs. Jamieson flushed and paled, and the smile with which she received this news was slightly tremulous. And then she told them how she was stopping, for a short time, with a friend in Bloomsbury. Her husband's business affairs, that had called her so suddenly back to England, were now almost settled. And then she should leave London for a time. She had been thinking of a place in Surrey; she hoped to be in possession soon, and then surely they would not return too soon for a visit to her among the Surrey Downs? And where were they stopping?
Upon which Ruth confided the fact that they were not yet in permanent quarters. They must be settled soon; however, meantime, etc., etc., etc.
They parted soon, and it was only when they were riding homeward that it occurred to them that Robert Brierly's name had not been spoken, and that Ferrars, perhaps, would not be best pleased to know of their unpremeditated excursion.
As for the little widow, she went back to Bloomsbury in a state of excitement unusual for her.
To know that "Ferriss Grant" was in London, and that she might see him soon, set her pulses beating, and | | 282 her brain teeming with plans for their meeting. What had brought him to London just now? What, indeed, save herself? Unless--and here she paled, and her little hands were clenched till the black gloves burst across the dainty palms--unless it were Ruth Glidden.
What was Ruth Glidden to the Grants? she asked herself futilely, and why were they together? And then for ten minutes Mrs. Jamieson wished she had never seen Ferriss Grant.
"I was very well content until then," she assured herself. "And my future seemed all arranged; and now----" she longed to meet him, and yet--
"If he had but waited, or if I had not been so hesitating Now I must go on, and he must not know. A month later and I might have received them all in my sweet Surrey home, have met him with full hands, and there would have been no need of explanation, while now!" She struck her hands together, and set her lips in firm lines. "I must see him once, and I then we need not meet until all is arranged. If I only knew where to send a note."
She had been absent since luncheon, and upon her arrival at home she found this brief note awaiting her:
Being in London for a short | | 283 time only, and with little leisure, I take the liberty of asking if I may call upon you in the morning, at the unfashionable hour of eleven o'clock?"Yours respectfully, "FERRISS GRANT."
It was late when she reached Bloomsbury, and she had little time to dress for dinner and the evening, for she was going out again, but she replied to this note, bidding him come, and assuring him of his welcome at any hour. Then, reluctantly, and with a look of distaste, amounting almost to repugnance upon her face, she began to dress for the evening.
When Ferrars reached his rooms, after leaving the café, his lips were set, and his eyes gleamed dangerously, for a little time he paced the floor, and then, impelled by some thought, he looked to see if any letters had arrived during his absence. Yes, there they were, half a dozen of them. He glanced at their superscriptions, and then opened a little perfumed and black-bordered envelope. It was Mrs. Jamieson's reply to his note of the afternoon, and he read it and put it down slowly.
"I shall be prompt," he said to himself, "to keep that appointment, and I wonder whether its outcome will make me more or less her friend. If it will alter or | | 284 modify my plans; and if, having met this once I shall have the courage, the hardihood to meet her again, and to say what I must say if we meet." He put down the little note and took up the one next in interest.
The handwriting was that of Ruth Glidden, and the stationery that of a fashionable Piccadilly dressmaker.
"I am aware that you did not wish us, any of us, to be seen of men in London until certain things were accomplished, and I take upon myself all the blame of the little journey we, Mrs. Myers, Hilda, and myself, took this afternoon. We felt quite safe in visiting a few shops 'for ladies only,' but at the third we met Mrs. Jamieson. This may, or may not, be of moment to you. At all events, I have eased my conscience, and Hilda's, by letting you know. Nothing of any moment was said on either side, and no questions were asked."Yours penitently, "RUTH G."
Over this womanlike note Ferrars wrinkled his brows, and finally smiled.
"I had not meant that they should meet until--but pshaw! What does it matter? Everything seems urging me on and shaping my course. So be it! It is | | 285 time for the last stroke, and to-morrow, before this hour, I shall be a free man, or a failure."
Ferrars was prompt in his appearance at the Bloomsbury cottage, and Mrs. Jamieson had been for a long half-hour awaiting him alone in the little drawing-room. Her face was somewhat pale, and there was a hint of agitation in her greeting, and a shade of gravity in his.
She talked of Hilda, and was full of pleasure at their meeting; and by and by she spoke of Ruth, her beauty, her grace, and style. Was it true that she was an heiress? And was she not, in some way, related to Miss Hilda and himself. Or perhaps to the Brierlys?
It was the first mention of that name by either, and Ferrars, looking into her eyes, answered:
"She bore the same relation to Robert Brierly that Hilda bore to Charles. They had been lovers since childhood."
"How sad, strange, and romantic! How pitiful!"
"The sadness outweighs the romance, and it is strange that the same hand should have struck at the happiness of both their friends. I have asked myself," he went on musingly, "what would be the fate of the destroyer of so much happiness, if these two girls could be made judge and jury, with the slayer at their mercy."| | 286
"Ugh!" The lady shuddered and turned her face away. "The thought is unnatural!"
"I don't know; women have been dread enemies before now, and are generally good haters. They make great criminals, too. But I fancy a woman must always betray----"
"Mercy!" She crossed the room suddenly to change the position of a translucent screen through which the sun had begun to filter. " You are positively gruesome, Mr. Grant! Let us change the subject. Or, first let me ask if they have found any trace of the cr-- the person?"
"The clues have been very unsatisfactory for the most part. But the ladies both hope to see justice done yet. We all hope it, in fact."
"And what is most lacking?"
"From the first, the motive seemed most difficult to discover. But we won't dwell upon this longer now, Mrs. Jamieson."
"Ah! And I was just getting up courage to ask you to tell me what had been done, what progress had been made; I was so near to being a witness, you know, and----"
"And of course you are interested, I quite understand that. If you really care to hear, Mrs. Jamieson, I will tell you the whole story when next we meet. | | 287 It is quite interesting. I will tell you that and other things." He arose and stood before her. "I must not tarry now. Shall you be at liberty this afternoon?"
"I am so sorry. I am promised to my hostess. She thinks I live too secluded a life. But I am about to make a change." She brightened visibly as she told of her Surrey prospects, and her hope of seeing his party, and himself, there. And then her smile faded.
"I fear I may not see you again for at least a fortnight. I have promised Mrs. Latham, my hostess, that I would go over to Paris with her. She has been very good to me," she faltered. "How long shall you remain in England?" she added.
"More than a fortnight at least."
"I shall see you again?"
"Mrs. Jamieson, never doubt it." He was drawing on a glove, as he uttered the words, and across the busy fingers he looked into her eyes. "It was to see you that I came to England, and so----" he bowed low, "till we meet." He caught up his hat and stick, and before she could put out a hand had bowed himself from the room, and she heard his quick receding step across the little vestibule.
For many moments after, she sat where she had sunk down at his sudden going, and presently the slow | | 288 tears fell upon the hands that supported her bowed face.
For years she had been an unhappy woman, living an unloved, unloving life. Then ambition and hope had taken hold of her mind, and she had tested herself, and found, in that small body, the strength to dare much, and to risk much; and now--how she thrilled at the thought--wealth, success, and love; all would come to her together. What else could his words mean? She had only to be courageous and firm for a little while. To be patient for a few more days, and then----She sprang to her feet and flung her arms aloft. She wanted to shout for triumph. "Victory!" she said aloud. "Is there another woman in all the world who can say that she has conquered fate, and gained all the good she has worked and wished for?"
And just then, the maid's voice broke in upon her dream.
"Madam, the charwoman is here for the money. Do you still wish me to give her the little suit?"
The woman turned as suddenly as if Nemesis had spoken.
"Yes!" she said, and the voice was husky, and the face almost terror stricken.
"Ruth."| | 289
Robert Brierly came up the piazza steps, where Ruth sat alone, and dropped upon the topmost one, at her feet. "I have just received a note from Ferrars."
Ruth looked up from her bit of needlework. There was a note of suppressed excitement in his tone, which she was quick to observe.
"He seems to have changed his mind," Brierly went on, "and bids me come up with Myers."
"To-day?" The work fell from her hands.
"Now. In half an hour."
"But Robert, after all his caution!"
"Let me read the note, dear," he said, unfolding the sheet he had held in his hand. "It is very brief and pointed:
Come up with Myers, and be sure that you are not observed when you enter Haynes' office. He will know what to do with you. If I have not been an awful bungler--and I don't think I have this time--you will stand a free man to-night, able to go up and down the earth without menace from the assassin's knife, and will have come into your own, which means a fortune."'FERRARS.'"
"Ruth," he spoke softly, "Do you know what that means?"| | 290
"Better than you do, perhaps." She spoke hurriedly, as if to gain time, and her cheeks were already aflame. "Your mind was so entirely set upon finding Charlie's murderer, Rob, that they thought it best not to risk a new anxiety by telling you too much about the other; besides, there could be nothing certain, you know, until Mr. Myers had investigated. You had a hint of it."
"Oh, to be sure. And I have not been quite blind to their kindly cunning. Will it be a very great fortune, Ruthie? " He caught her hand, and held it fast.
"Because if it is, I intend to come back and lay it all at your feet, formally, abjectly, and with utmost speed."
Ruth wrestled away the imprisoned hand and gave her chair a backward push.
"Robert Brierly, if you dare to come to me and offer me a fortune, a hateful old English fortune--that I despise; if you only ask me to accept you after you are sure of that money, I won't! I will not! Never!"
"Ruthie!" She sprang up, but he was before her. "Oh, you can't escape now. I intend to propose to you this minute. I'll run no risks, after such a threat as that. Ruth, if you run away, I will shout it after you, and Mrs. Myers and Hilda are half way down the stairs now. Quick, Ruth, dear, will you marry me? I sha'n't let you go until you say yes."| | 291
And then, in spite of herself, Ruth's laughter bubbled over.
"You stupid As if we hadn't been engaged for years! At least I have."
Half an hour later when Mr. Myers and Brierly came out upon the piazza together they found Ruth awaiting them there, equipped for a journey.
"Why, Ruth," said the lawyer, "are you going to the city?"
"I am going with you!" the girl replied firmly. "You need not argue. I mean to go. And Mr. Ferrars will not object. He will need me."
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