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- In the Year of Jubilee - 50/87 -
lips could utter only a sound of moaning. The sisters stripped her stark naked on the floor, made a show of drying her with towels, and tumbled her into bed. Then Beatrice brewed a great jorum of hot whisky-punch, and after drinking freely to steady her shaken nerves, poured a pint or so down Mrs. Peachey's throat.
'There won't be a funeral just yet,' she remarked, with a laugh. 'Now we'll have supper; I feel hungry.'
They went to bed at something after midnight. The servants, having stolen a bottle of spirits from the cupboard, which Beatrice left open, both got drunk, and slept till morning upon the kitchen-floor.
On the morrow, Miss. French, attired as a walking advertisement of the South London Fashionable Dress Supply Association, betook herself to Farringdon Street for an interview with her commercial friend. Crewe was absent, but one of three clerks, who occupied his largest room, informed her that it could not be very long before he returned, and being so familiar a figure here, she was permitted to wait in the agent's sanctum. When the door closed upon her, the three young men discussed her character with sprightly freedom. Beatrice, the while, splendidly indifferent to the remarks she could easily divine, made a rapid examination of loose papers lying on Crewe's desk, read several letters, opened several books, and found nothing that interested her until, on turning over a slip of paper with pencilled figures upon it, she discovered a hotel-bill, the heading: Royal Hotel, Falmouth. It was for a day and night's entertainment, the debtor 'Mr. Crewe,' the date less than a week gone by. This document she considered attentively, her brows knitted, her eyes wide. But a sound caused her to drop it upon the desk again. Another moment, and Crewe entered.
He looked keenly at her, and less good-humouredly than of wont. These persons never shook hands, and indeed dispensed, as a rule, with all forms of civility.
'What are you staring at?' asked Crewe bluffly.
'What are _you_ staring at?'
'Nothing, that I know.' He hung up his hat, and sat down. 'I've a note to write; wait a minute.'
The note written, and given to a clerk, Crewe seemed to recover equanimity. His visitor told him all that happened in De Crespigny Park, even to the crudest details, and they laughed together uproariously.
'I'm going to take a flat,' Beatrice then informed him. 'Just find me something convenient and moderate, will you? A bachelor's flat.'
'What about Fanny?'
'She has something on; I don't know what it is. Talks about going to Brussels--with a friend.'
Crewe looked astonished.
'You ought to see after her. I know what the end 'll be. Brussels? I've heard of English girls going there, but they don't usually come back.'
'What can I do? I'm pretty certain that Damerel woman has a game on hand. She doesn't want Fanny to marry her nephew--if Lord _is_ her nephew. She wants his money, that's my idea.'
'Mine, too,' remarked the other quietly. 'Look here, old chap, it's your duty to look after your little damned fool of a sister; I tell you that plainly. I shan't think well of you if you don't.'
Beatrice displayed eagerness to defend herself. She had done her best; Fanny scorned all advice, and could not be held against her will.
'Has she given up all thought of Lord?'
'I'm not sure, but I think so. And it looks as if he was going his own way, and didn't care much. He never writes to her now. Of course it's that woman's doing.'
'I shall have to look into Mrs. Damerel's affairs. Might be worth while. Where is she living?' He made a note of the information. 'Well, anything else to tell me?'
Beatrice spoke of business matters, then asked him if he had been out of town lately. The question sounded rather abrupt, and caused Crewe to regard her with an expression she privately interpreted.
'A few short runs. Nowhere particular.'
'Oh?--Not been down into Cornwall?'
He lost his temper.
'What are you after? What business is it of yours? If you're going to spy on me, I'll soon let you know that I won't stand that kind of thing.'
'Don't disturb yourself,' said Beatrice, with a cold smile. 'I haven't been spying, and you can go where you like for anything I care. I guessed you _had_ been down there, that's all.'
Crewe kept silence, his look betraying uneasiness as well as anger. Speaking at length, he fixed her with keen eyes.
'If it's any satisfaction to you, you're welcome to know that I have been into Cornwall--and to Falmouth.'
Beatrice merely nodded, and still he searched her face.
'Just answer me a plain question, old chap. Come, there's no nonsense between us; we know each other--eh?'
'Oh yes, we know each other,' Miss. French answered, her lips puckering a little.
'What do you know about _her_? What has she been doing all this time?'
'I know just as little about her as I care.'
'You care a good deal more than you'll confess. I wouldn't be up to women's tricks, if I were you.'
'After all, I suppose I _am_ a woman?'
'Well, I suppose so.' Crewe grinned good-naturedly. 'But that isn't in the terms of our partnership, you remember. You can be a reasonable fellow enough, when you like. Just tell me the truth. What do you know about Nancy Lord?' Beatrice assumed an air of mystery.
'I'll tell you that, if you tell me what it is you want of her. Is it her money?'
'Her money be damned!'
'It's herself, then.'
'And what if it is? What have _you_ to say to it?'
Her eyes fell, and she muttered 'Nothing.'
'Just bear that in mind, then. And now that I've answered your question, answer mine. What have you heard about her? Or what have you found out?'
She raised her eyes again and again, but in a mocking voice said, 'Nothing.'
'You're telling me a lie.'
'You're a brute to say so!'
They exchanged fierce glances, but could not meet each other's eyes steadily. Crewe, mastering his irritation, said with a careless laugh:
'All right, I believe you. Didn't mean to offend you, old chap.'
'I won't be called that!' She was trembling with stormy emotions. 'You shall treat me decently.'
'Very well. Old girl, then.'
'I'm a good deal younger than you are. And I'm a good deal better than you, in every way. I'm a lady, at all events, and you can't pretend to be a gentleman. You're a rough, common fellow--'
'Holloa! Holloa! Draw it mild.'
He was startled, and in some degree abashed; his eyes, travelling to the door, indicated a fear that this singular business-colloquy might be overheard. But Beatrice went on, without subduing her voice, and, having delivered herself of much plain language, walked from the room, leaving the door open behind her.
As a rule, she returned from her day's occupations to dinner, in De Crespigny Park, at seven o'clock. To-day her arrival at home was considerably later. About three o'clock she made a call at the boarding-house where Mrs. Damerel lived, but was disappointed in her wish to see that lady, who would not be in before the hour of dining. She called again at seven, and Mrs. Damerel received her very graciously. It was the first time they had met. Beatrice, in no mood for polite grimaces, at once disclosed the object of her visit; she wanted to talk about Fanny; did Mrs. Damerel know anything of a proposed journey to Brussels? The lady professed utter ignorance of any such intention on Fanny's part. She had not seen Fanny for at least a fortnight.
'How can that be? She told me she dined here last Sunday.'
'That's very strange,' answered Mrs. Damerel, with suave concern. 'She certainly did not dine here.'
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