Chapter XXXVIII. News from the Cape.
 

At the Holkers' at Chetwood, one evening some days later, Cyril Waring met Elma Clifford once more, the first time for months, and had twenty minutes' talk in the tea-room alone with her. Contrary to his rule, he had gone to the Holkers' party that night, for a man can't remain a recluse all his life, no matter how hard he tries, merely because his brother's suspected of having committed a murder. In course of time, the attitude palls upon him. For the first year after Guy's sudden and mysterious disappearance, indeed, Cyril refused all invitations point-blank, except from the most intimate friends; the shame and disgrace of that terrible episode weighed him down so heavily that he couldn't bear to go out in the world among unsympathetic strangers.

But the deepest sorrow wears away by degrees, and at the end of twelve months Cyril found he could mix a little more unreservedly at last among his fellow-men. The hang-dog air sat ill upon his frank, free nature. This invitation to the Holkers', too, had one special attraction: he knew it was a house where he was almost certain of meeting Elma. And since Elma insisted now on writing to him constantly--she was a self-willed young woman was Elma, and would have her way--he really saw no reason on earth himself why he shouldn't meet her. To meet is one thing, don't you know--to marry, another. At least so fifty generations of young people have deluded themselves under similar circumstances into believing.

Elma was in the room before him, prettier than ever, people said, in the pale red ball-dress which exactly suited her gipsy-like eyes and creamy complexion. As she entered she saw Sir Gilbert Gildersleeve with his wife and Gwendoline standing in the corner by the big piano. Gwendoline looked pale and preoccupied, as she had always looked since Granville Kelmscott disappeared, leaving behind him no more definite address for love-letters than simply Africa; and Lady Gildersleeve was, as usual, quite subdued and broken. But the judge himself, consoled by his new honours, seemed, as time wore on, to have recovered a trifle of his old blustering manner. A knighthood had reassured him. He was talking to Mr. Holker in a loud voice as Elma approached him from behind.

"Yes, a very curious coincidence," he was just saying, in his noisy fashion, with one big burly hand held demonstratively before him. "A very curious and unexplained coincidence. They both vanished into space about the self-same time. And nothing more has ever since been heard of them. Quite an Arabian Nights' affair in its way--the Enchanted Carpet sort of business, don't you know--wafted through the air unawares, like Sinbad the Sailor, or the One-eyed Calender, from London to Bagdad, or Timbuctoo or St. Petersburg. The other young man one understands about, of course; he had sufficient reasons of his own, no doubt, for leaving a country which had grown too warm for him. But that Granville Kelmscott, a gentleman of means, the heir to such a fine estate as Tilgate, should disappear into infinity leaving no trace behind, like a lost comet--and at the very moment, too, when he was just about to come into the family property--why, I call it... I call it... I call it--"

His jaw dropped suddenly. He grew deadly pale. Words failed his stammering tongue. Do what he would, he couldn't finish his sentence. And yet, nothing very serious had occurred to him in any way. It was merely that, as he uttered these words, he caught Elma Clifford's eye, and saw lurking in it a certain gleam of deadly contempt before which the big blustering man himself had quailed more than once in many a Surrey drawing-room.

For Sir Gilbert Gildersleeve knew, as well as if she had told him the truth in so many words, that Elma Clifford suspected him of being Montague Nevitt's murderer.

Elma came forward, just to break the awkward pause, and shook hands with the party by the piano coldly. Sir Gilbert tried to avoid her; but, with the inherited instinct of her race, Elma cut off his retreat. She boxed him in the corner between the piano and the wall.

"I heard what you were saying just now, Sir Gilbert," she murmured low, but with marked emphasis, after a few polite commonplaces of conversation had first passed between them; "and I want to ask you one question only about the matter. Are you so sure as you seem of what you said this minute? Are you so sure that Mr. Guy Waring had sufficient reasons of his own for wishing to leave the country?"

Before that unflinching eye, the great lawyer trembled, as many a witness had trembled of old under his own cross-examination. But he tried to pass it off just at first with a little society banter. He bowed, and smiled, and pretended to look arch--look arch, indeed, with that ashen, white face of his!--as he answered, with forced humour--

"My dear young lady, Mr. Guy Waring, as I understand, is Mr. Cyril Waring's brother, and as by the law of England the king can do no wrong, so I suppose--"

Elma cut him short in the middle of his sentence with an imperious gesture. He had never cut short an obnoxious and intruding barrister himself with more crushing dignity.

"Mr. Cyril Waring has nothing at all to do with the point, one way or the other," the girl said severely. "Attend to my question. What I ask is this: Why do you, a judge who may one day be called upon to try the case, venture to say, on such partial evidence, that Mr. Guy Waring had sufficient reasons of his own for leaving the country?"

Called upon to try Guy Waring's case! The judge paused abashed. He was very much afraid of her. This girl had such a strange look about the eyes, she made him tremble. People said the Ewes women were the descendants of a witch. And there was something truly witch-like in the way Elma Clifford looked straight down into his eyes. She seemed to see into his very soul. He knew she suspected him.

He shuffled and temporized. "Well, everybody says so, you know," he answered, shrugging his shoulders carelessly. "And what everybody says must be true. ... Besides, if he, didn't do it, who did, I wonder?"

Elma pounced upon her opportunity with a woman's quickness. "Somebody else who was at Mambury that day, no doubt," she replied, with a meaning look. "It must have been somebody out of the few who were at Mambury."

That home-thrust told. The judge's colour was livid to look upon. What could this girl mean? How on earth could she know? How had she even found out he was at Mambury at all? A terrible doubt oppressed his soul. Had Gwendoline confided his movements to Elma? He had warned his daughter time and again not to mention the fact, "for fear of misapprehension," he said, with shuffling eyes askance. It was better nobody should know he had been anywhere near Dartmoor on the day of the accident.

However, there was one consolation; the law! the law! She could have no legal proof, and intuition goes for nothing in a court of justice. All the suspicion went against Guy Waring, and Guy Waring--well, Guy Waring had fled the kingdom in the very nick of time, and was skulking now, Heaven alone knew where or why, in the remotest depths of some far African diggings.

And even as he thought it, the servant opened the door, and, in the regulation footman's voice, announced "Mr. Waring."

The judge started afresh. For one moment his senses deceived him sadly. His mind was naturally full of Guy, just now; and as the servant spoke, he saw a handsome young man in evening dress coming up the long drawing-room with the very air and walk of the man he had met that eventful afternoon at the "Duke of Devonshire" at Plymouth. Of course, it was only Cyril; and a minute later the judge saw his mistake, and remembered, with a bitter smile, how conscience makes cowards of us all, as he had often remarked about shaky witnesses in his admirable perorations. But Elma hadn't failed to notice either the start or its reason.

"It's only Mr. Cyril," she said pointedly; "not Mr. Guy, Sir Gilbert. The name came very pat, though. I don't wonder it startled you."

She was crimson herself. The judge moved away with a stealthy uncomfortable air. He didn't half care for this uncanny young woman. A girl who can read people's thoughts like that, a girl who can play with you like a cat with a mouse, oughtn't to be allowed at large in society. She should be shut up in a cage at home like a dangerous animal, and prevented from spying out the inmost history of families.

A little later, Elma had twenty minutes' talk with Cyril alone. It was in the tea-room behind, where the light refreshments were laid out before supper. She spoke low and seriously.

"Cyril," she said, in a tone of absolute confidence--they were not engaged, of course, but still, it had got to plain "Cyril" and "Elma" by this time--"I'm surer of it than ever, no matter what you say. Guy's perfectly innocent. I know it as certainly as I know my own name. I can't be mistaken. And the man who really did it is, as I told you, Sir Gilbert Gildersleeve."

"My dear child," Cyril answered--you call the girl you are in love with "my dear child," when you mean to differ from her, with an air of masculine superiority--"how on earth can that be, when, as I told you, I have Guy's confession in writing, under his own very hand, that he really did it?"

"I don't care a pin for that," Elma cried, with a true woman's contempt for anything so unimportant as mere positive evidence. "Perhaps Sir Gilbert made him do it somehow--compelled him, or coerced him, or willed him, or something--I don't understand these new notions--or perhaps he got him into a scrape and then hadn't the courage or the manliness to get him out of it. But at any rate, I can answer for one thing, I were to go to the stake for it--Sir Gilbert Gildersleeve is the man who's really guilty."

As she spoke, a great shadow darkened the door of the room for a moment ominously. Sir Gilbert looked in with a lady on his arm--the inevitable dowager who refreshes herself continuously at frequent intervals through six hours of entertainment. When he saw those two tete-a-tete, he drew back, somewhat disconcerted.

"Don't let's go in there, Lady Knowles," he whispered to the dowager by his side. "A pair of young people discussing their hearts. We were once young ourselves. It's a pity to disturb them."

And he passed on across the hall towards the great refreshment-room opposite.

"Well, I don't know," Cyril said bitterly, as the judge disappeared through the opposite door. "I wish I could agree with you. But I can't, I can't. The burden of it's heavier than my shoulders can bear. Guy's weak, I know, and might be led half unawares into certain sorts of crime; yet I only knew one man ever likely to lead him--and that was poor Nevitt himself, not Sir Gilbert Gildersleeve, whom he hardly even knew to speak to."

As he paused and reflected, a servant with a salver came up and looked into Cyril's face inquiringly.

"Beg your pardon, sir," he said, hesitating, "but I think you're Mr. Waring."

"That's my name," Cyril answered, with a faint blush on his cheek. "Do you want to speak to me?"

"Yes, sir; there's half-a-crown to pay for porterage, if you please. A telegram for you, sir."

Cyril pulled out the half-a-crown, and tore open the telegram. Its contents were indeed enough to startle him. It was dated "Cape Town," and was as brief as is the wont of cable messages at nine shillings a word--

"Coming home immediately to repay everything and stand my trial. Kelmscott accompanies me. All well.--GUY WARING."

Cyril looked at it with a gasp, and handed it on to Elma. Elma took it in her dainty gloved fingers, and read it through with keen eyes of absorbing interest. Cyril sighed a profound sigh. Elma glanced back at him all triumph. "I told you so," she said, in a very jubilant voice. "He wouldn't do that if he didn't know he was innocent."

At the very same second, a blustering voice was heard above the murmur in the hall without.

"What, half-a-crown for porterage!" it exclaimed in indignant tones. "Why, that's a clear imposition. The people at my house ought never to have sent it on. It's addressed to Woodlands. Unimportant, unimportant! Here, Gwendoline, take your message--some milliner's or dressmaker's appointment for to-morrow, I suppose. Half-a-crown for porterage! They'd no right to bring it."

Gwendoline took the telegram with trembling hands, tore it open all quivers, and broke into a cry of astonishment. Then she fell all at once into her father's arms. Elma understood it all. It was a similar message from Granville Kelmscott to tell the lady of his heart he was coming home to marry her.

Sir Gilbert, somewhat flustered, called for water in haste, and revived the fainting girl by bathing her temples. At last he took up the cause of the mischief himself. As he read it his own face turned white as death. Elma noticed that, too. And no wonder it did--for these were the words of that unexpected message--

"Coming home to claim you by the next mail. Guy Waring accompanies me.--GRANVILLE KELMSCOTT."