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As We Forgive Them Part 18

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"Impossible, Herbert," she answered, trying to remain calm. "You must really be patient."

"Oh, yes, I know!" he cried. "Call me good dog and all that. But that kind of game don't suit me--you hear? I've got no money, and I must have some at once--tonight."

"I haven't any," she declared.

"But you've got lots of jewellery and plate and stuff. Give me some of that, and I can sell it easily in Hereford to-morrow. Where's that diamond bracelet the old man gave you for a present last birthday--the one you showed me?"

"Here," she replied, and raised her wrist, showing him the beautiful diamond and sapphire ornament her father had given her, the worth of which was two hundred pounds at the very least.

"Give me that," he said. "It'll last me a day or two until you get me some cash."

She hesitated, evidently indisposed to accede to such a request and more especially as the bracelet was the last present her father had made her.

Yet, when he repeated his demands in a more threatening tone, it became plain that the fellow's influence was supreme, and that she was as helpless as a child in his unscrupulous hands.

The situation came upon me as an absolute revelation. I could only surmise that a harmless flirtation in the years before her affluence had developed into this common fellow presuming upon her good nature, and, finding her generous and sympathetic, he had now a.s.sumed an att.i.tude of mastery over her actions. The working of the rustic mind is most difficult to follow. To-day in rural England there is so very little real grat.i.tude shown by the poor towards the rich that in the country districts, charity is almost entirely unappreciated, while the wealthy are becoming weary of attempting to please or improve the people. Your rustic of to-day, while perfectly honest in his dealings with his own cla.s.s, cannot resist dishonesty when selling his produce or his labour to the rich man. It seems part of his religion to get, by fair means or by foul, as much as he can out of the gentleman, and then abuse him in the village ale-house and dub him a fool for allowing himself to be thus cheated. Much as I regret to allege it, nevertheless it is a plain and bitter truth that swindling and immorality are the two most notable features of English village life at the present moment.

I stood listening to that strange conversation between the millionaire's daughter and her secret lover, immovable and astounded.

The arrogance of the fellow caused my blood to boil. A dozen times as he sneered at her insultingly, now cajoling, now threatening, and now making a disgusting pretence of affection, I felt impelled to rush out and give him a good sound hiding. It was, indeed, only because I recognised that in this affair, so serious was it, I could only a.s.sist Mabel by remaining concealed and using my knowledge of it to her advantage that I held my tongue and stayed my hand.

Without doubt she had, in her girlish inexperience, once believed herself in love with the fellow, but now the hideousness of the present situation was presented to her in all its vivid reality and she saw herself hopelessly involved. Probably it was with a vain hope of extricating herself that she had kept the appointment; but, in any case, the man whom she called Herbert was quick to detect that he held all the honours in the game.

"Now come," he said at last, in his broad brogue, "if you really ain't got no money on you, hand over that bracelet and ha' done with it. We don't want to wait 'ere all night, for I've got to be in Hereford first thing in the morning. So the least said the better."

I saw that, white to the lips, she was trembling in fear of him, for she shrank from his touch, crying--

"Ah, Herbert, it is too cruel of you--too cruel--after all I've done to help you. Have you no pity, no compa.s.sion?"

"None," he growled. "I want money and must have it. In a week you must pay me a thousand quid--you hear that, don't you?"

"But how can I? Wait and I'll give it to you later--indeed, I promise."

"I tell you I ain't going to be fooled," he cried angrily. "I mean to have the money, or else I'll blow the whole thing. Then where will you be--eh?" And he laughed a hard triumphant laugh, while she shrank back pale, breathless and dismayed.

I clenched my fists, and to this moment I do not know how I restrained myself from springing from my hiding-place and knocking the fellow down.

At that moment I could have killed him where he stood.

"Ah!" she cried, her hands clasped to him in a gesture of supplication, "you surely don't mean what you say, you can't mean that, you really can't! You'll spare me, won't you? Promise me!"

"No, I won't spare you," was his brutal reply, "unless you pay me well."

"I will, I will," she a.s.sured him in a low, hoa.r.s.e voice, which was eminently that of a desperate woman, terrified lest some terrible secret of hers should be exposed.

"Ah!" he sneered with curling lip, "you treated me with contempt once, because you were a fine lady, but I am yet to have my revenge, as you will see. You are now mistress of a great fortune, and I tell you quite plainly that I intend you to share it with me. Act just as you think best, but recollect what refusal will mean to you--exposure!"

"Ah!" she cried desperately, "to-night you have revealed yourself in your true light! You brute, you would, without the slightest compunction, ruin me!"

"Because, my dear girl, you are not playing straight," was his cool, arrogant reply. "You thought that you had most ingeniously got rid of me for ever, until to-night here I am, you see, back again, ready to-- well, to be pensioned off, shall we call it? Don't think I intend to allow you to fool me this time, so just give me the bracelet as a first instalment, and say no more." And he s.n.a.t.c.hed at her arm while she, by a quick movement, avoided him.

"I refuse," she cried with a fierce and sudden determination. "I know you now! You are brutal and inhuman, without a speck of either love or esteem--a man who would drive a woman to suicide in order to get money.

Now you have been released from prison you intend to live upon me--your letter with that proposal is sufficient proof. But I tell you here to-night that you will obtain not a penny more from me beyond the money that is now paid you every month."

"To keep my mouth closed," he interrupted. And I saw an evil, murderous glitter in his black eyes.

"You need not keep it closed any longer," she said in open defiance.

"Indeed, I shall tell the truth myself, and thus put an end to this brilliant blackmailing scheme of yours. So now you understand," she added firmly, with a courage that was admirable.

A silence fell between them for a moment, broken only by the weird cry of an owl.

"Then that is absolutely your decision, eh?" he inquired in a hard voice, while I noticed that his face was white with anger and chagrin as he recognised that, if she told the truth and faced the consequence of her own exposure, whatever it might be, his power over her would be dispelled.

"My mind is made up. I have no fear of any exposure you may make concerning me."

"At any rate give me that bracelet," he demanded savagely, with set teeth, grasping her arm and trying by force to undo the clasp.

"Let me go!" she cried. "You brute! Let me go! Would you rob me, as well as insult me?"

"Rob you!" he muttered, his coa.r.s.e white face wearing a dangerous expression of unbridled hatred, "rob you!" he hissed with a ford oath, "I'll do more. I'll put you where your cursed tongue won't wag again, and where you won't be able to tell the truth!"

And, unfortunately, before I was aware of his intentions he had seized her by the wrists and, with a quick movement, forced her backwards so violently against the low parapet of the bridge that for a moment they stood locked in a deadly embrace.

Mabel screamed on realising his intentions, but next second with a vile imprecation he had forced her backwards over the low wall, and with a loud splash she fell helplessly into the deep, dark waters.

In an instant, while the fellow took to his heels, I dashed forward to her rescue, but, alas! too late, for, as I peered eagerly down into the darkness, I saw to my dismay that the swirling icy flood had closed over her, that she had disappeared.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

THE CROSSWAYS AT OWSTON.

The sound of the a.s.sa.s.sin's fast-receding footsteps, as he escaped away down the dark avenue towards the road, awakened me to a keen sense of my responsibility, and in an instant I had divested myself of my overcoat and coat, and stood peering anxiously into the darkness beneath the bridge.

Those seconds seemed hours, until of a sudden I caught sight of a flash of white in mid stream, and without a moment's hesitation I dived in after it.

The shock of the icy water was a severe one but, fortunately, I am a strong swimmer, and neither the intense coldness nor the strength of the current interfered much with my progress as I struck out towards the unconscious girl. Having seized her, however, I had to battle severely to prevent being swept out around the bend where I, knew that the river, joined by another stream, broadened out, and where any chances of effecting a rescue would be very small.

For some minutes I struggled with all my might to hold the unconscious girl's head above the surface, yet so strong was the swirling flood, with its lumps of floating ice, that all resistance seemed impossible, and we were both swept down for some distance until at last, summoning my last effort I managed to strike out with my senseless burden and reach a shallow, where I managed by dint of fierce struggling, to land and to drag the unfortunate girl up the frozen bank.

I had once, long ago, attended an ambulance cla.s.s, and now, acting upon the instructions I had there received, I set at once to work to produce artificial respiration. It was heavy work alone, with my wet clothes freezing stiff upon me, but still I persevered, determined, if possible, to restore her to consciousness, and this I was fortunately able to do within half an hour.

At first she could utter no word, and I did not question her.

Sufficient was it for me to know that she was still alive, for when first I had brought her to land I believed that she was beyond human aid, and that the dastardly attempt of her low-born lover had been successful. She shivered from head to foot, for the night wind cut like a knife, and presently, at my suggestion, she rose and, leaning heavily upon my arm, tried to walk. The attempt was at first only a feeble one, but presently she quickened her pace slightly and, without either of us mentioning what had occurred, I conducted her up the long avenue back to the house. Once within she declared that it was unnecessary to call Mrs. Gibbons. In low whispers she implored me to remain silent upon what had occurred. She took my hand in hers and held it.

"I want you, if you will, to forget all that has transpired," she said, deeply in earnest. "If you followed me and overheard what pa.s.sed between us, I want you to consider that those words have never been uttered. I--I want you to--" she faltered and then paused without concluding her sentence.

"What do you wish me to do?" I inquired, after a brief and painful silence.

"I want you to still regard me with some esteem, as you always have done," she said, bursting into tears, "I don't like to think that I've fallen in your estimation. Remember, I am a woman--and may be forgiven a woman's impulses and follies."

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As We Forgive Them Part 18 summary

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