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- Jeanne Of The Marshes - 40/52 -
and there's photographers and newspaper men round in these parts just now, by reason of the disappearance of this young lord that you heerd tell on. Some say he was drowned, and I have heerd folk whisper about a duel with the gentleman as is with Mr. Cecil now. Anyway, it was here that he disappeared from, and though I've not seen it in print, I've heerd as his brother is offering a reward of a thousand pounds to any as might find him. It's a power of money that, miss."
"It is a great deal of money," Jeanne admitted. "I wonder if Lord Ronald was worth it."
The two men sat opposite to one another separated only by the small round table upon which the dessert which had followed their dinner was still standing. Even Forrest's imperturbable face showed signs of the anxiety through which he had passed. The change in Cecil, however, was far more noticeable. There were lines under his eyes and a flush upon his cheeks, as though he had been drinking heavily. The details of his toilette, usually so immaculate, were uncared for. He was carelessly dressed, and his hair no longer shone with frequent brushings. He looked like a person passing through the rapid stages of deterioration.
"Forrest," he said, "I cannot stand it any longer. This place is sending me mad. I think that the best thing we can do is to chuck it."
"Do you?" Forrest answered drily. "That may be all very well for you, a countryman, with enough to live on, and the whole world before you. As for me, I couldn't face it. I have passed middle age, and my life runs in certain grooves. It must run in them now until the end. I cannot break away. I would not if I could. Existence would simply be intolerable for me if that young fool were ever allowed to tell his story."
"We cannot keep him for ever," Cecil answered gloomily. "We cannot play the jailer here all our lives. Besides, there is always the danger of being found out. There are two detectives in the place already, and I am fairly certain that if they have been in the house while we have been out--"
"There is nothing for them to discover here," Forrest answered. "I should keep the doors open. Let them search if they want to."
"That is all very well," Cecil answered, "but if these fellows hang about the place, sooner or later they will hear some of the stories these villagers are only too anxious to tell."
"There," he said, "I am not disinclined to agree with you. Hasn't it ever struck you, De la Borne," he continued, after a moment's slight hesitation, "that there is only one logical way out of this?"
"No!" Cecil answered eagerly. "What way? What do you mean?"
Forrest filled his glass to the brim with wine before he answered. Then he passed the decanter back to Cecil.
"We are not children, you and I," he said. "Why should we let a boy like Engleton play with us? Why do we not let him have the issue before him in black and white? We say to him now--'Sign this paper, pledge your word of honour, and you may go.' He declines. He declines because the alternative of staying where he is is endurable. I propose that we substitute another alternative. Drink your wine, De la Borne. This is a chill house of yours, and one loses courage here. Drink your wine, and think of what I have said."
Cecil set down his glass empty.
"Well," he said, "what other alternative do you propose?"
"Can't you see?" Forrest answered. "We cannot keep Engleton shut up for ever. I grant you that that is impossible. But if he declines to behave like a reasonable person, we can threaten him with an alternative which I do not think he would have the courage to face."
"You mean?" Cecil gasped.
"I mean," Forrest answered, "what your grandfather would have told him, or your great grandfather, in half a dozen words weeks ago. At full tide there is sea enough to drown a dozen such as he within a few yards of where he lies. Why should we keep him carefully and safe, knowing that the moment he steps back into life you and I are doomed men?"
Cecil drew a little breath and lifted his hand to his forehead. He was surprised to find it wet. All the time he was gazing at Forrest with fascinated eyes.
"Look here," he said, in a hoarse whisper, "we mustn't talk like this. Engleton will turn round in a day or two. People would think, if they heard us, that we were planning a murder."
"In a woman's decalogue," Forrest said, "there is no sin save the sin of being found out. Why not in ours? No one ever had such a chance of getting rid of a dangerous enemy. The whole thing is in our hands. We could never be found out, never even questioned. If, by one chance in a thousand, his body is ever recovered, what more natural? Men have been drowned before on the marshes here many a time."
"Go on!" Cecil said. "You have thought this out. Tell me exactly what you propose."
"I propose," Forrest answered, "that we narrow the issues, and that we put them before him in plain English, now--to-night--while the courage is still with us. It must be silence or death. I tell you frankly how it is with me. I would as soon press a pistol to my forehead and pull the trigger as have this boy go back into the world and tell his story. For you, too, it would be ruin."
Cecil sank back into his chair, and looked with wide-open but unseeing eyes across the table, through the wall beyond. He saw his future damned by that one unpardonable accusation. He saw himself sent out into the world penniless, an outcast from all the things in life which made existence tolerable. He knew very well that Andrew would never forgive. There was no mercy to be hoped for from him. There was nothing to be looked for anywhere save disaster, absolute and entire. He looked across at Forrest, and something in his companion's face sent a cold shiver through his veins.
"We might go and see what he says," he faltered. "I haven't been there since the morning, have you?"
"No!" Forrest answered. "Solitude is good for him. Let us go now, together."
Without another word they rose from the table. Cecil led the way into the library, where he rang for a servant.
"Set out the card-table here," he ordered, "and bring in the whisky and soda. After that we do not wish to be disturbed. You understand?"
"Certainly, sir," the man answered.
They waited until the things were brought. Afterwards they locked the door. Cecil went to a drawer and took out a couple of electric torches, one of which he handed to Forrest. Then he went to the wall, and after a few minutes' groping, found the spring. The door swung open, and a rush of unwholesome air streamed into the room. They made their way silently along the passage until at last they reached the sunken chamber. Cecil took a key from his pocket and opened the door.
* * *
Engleton was in evil straits, but there was no sign of yielding in his face as he looked up. He was seated before a small table upon which a common lamp was burning. His clothes hung about him loosely. His face was haggard. A short, unbecoming beard disfigured his face. He wore no collar or necktie, and his general appearance was altogether dishevelled. Forrest looked at him critically.
"My dear Engleton!" he began.
"What the devil do you want with me at this time of night?" Engleton interrupted. "Have you come down to see how I amuse myself during the long evenings? Perhaps you would like to come and play cut- throat. I'll play you for what stakes you like, and thank you for coming, if you'll leave the door open and let me breathe a little better air."
"It is your own fault that you are here," Cecil de la Borne declared. "It is all your cursed obstinacy. Listen! I tell you once more that what you saw, or fancied you saw, was a mistake. Forget it. Give your word of honour to forget it, never to allude to it at any time in your life, and you can walk out of here a free man."
"I have no doubt of it," he answered. "The worst of it is that nothing in the world would induce me to forego the pleasure I promise myself, before very long, too, of giving to the whole world the story of your infamy. I am not tractable to-night. You had better go away, both of you. I am more likely to fight."
Forrest sat down on the edge of a chest.
"Engleton," he said, "don't be a fool. It can do you no particular good to ruin Cecil here and myself, just because you happen to be suspicious. Let that drop. Tell us that you have decided to let it drop, and the world can take you into its arms again."
"I refuse," Engleton answered. "I refuse once and for always. I tell you that I have made up my mind to see you punished for this. How I get out I don't care, but I shall get out, and when I do, you two will be laid by the heels."
"We came here to-night," Forrest said slowly, "prepared to compromise with you."
"There is no compromise," Engleton answered fiercely. "There is
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