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- Our Friend the Charlatan - 81/81 -

"I ought to have told you. Oh, do forgive me! Don't walk so quickly, Dyce! I haven't the strength to keep up with you.--You know that he hadn't everything--most fortunately not everything--"

With an exclamation of wrathful contempt, the man pursued his way. Iris fell back; she tottered; she sank to her knee upon the grass, moaning, sobbing. Only when he was fifty yards ahead did Dyce pause and look back. Already she was running after him again. He turned, and walked less quickly. At length there was a touch upon his arm.

"Dear--dear--don't you love me?" panted a scarce audible voice.

"Don't be a greater idiot than you have been already," was his fierce reply. "I have to get to London, and look after your business; that's enough to think about just now."

In less than an hour they had taken train. By early evening they reached Paddington Station, whence they set forth to call upon the person whom Iris mentioned as most likely to be able to inform them concerning Wrybolt. It was the athletic Mr. Barker, who dwelt with his parents at Highgate. An interview with this gentleman, who was caught at dinner, put an end to the faint hopes Lashmar had tried to entertain. Wrybolt, said Barker, was not a very interesting criminal; the frauds he had perpetrated were not great enough to make his case sensational; but there could be no shadow of doubt that he had turned his trusteeship to the best account.

"He has nothing but his skin to pay with," added the young City man, "and I wouldn't give much for that. Don't distress yourself, Mrs. Lashmar; I know a lady who is let in worse than you--considerably worse."

The newly-married couple made their way to West Hampstead. The servant who had been left in charge of the house did not conceal her surprise as she admitted them. It was nearly ten o'clock in the evening.

"I suppose we must have something to eat," said Dyce, sullenly.

"You must be very hungry," Iris answered, regarding him like a frightened but affectionate dog that eyes its master. "Jane shall get something at once."

They sat down to such a supper as could he prepared at a moment's notice. By good fortune, a bottle of claret had been found, and, excepting one glass, which his wife thankfully swallowed, Lashmar drank it all. At an ordinary time, this excess would have laid him prostrate; in the present state of his nerves, it did him nothing but good; a healthier hue mantled on his cheeks, and he began to look furtively at Iris with eyes which had lost their evil expression. She, so exhausted that she could scarce support herself on the chair, timidly met these glances, but as yet no word was spoken.

"Why haven't you eaten anything?" asked Dyce at length, breaking the silence with a voice which was almost natural.

"I have, dear."

"Yes, a bit of bread. Come, eat! You'll he ill if you don't."

She tried to obey. Tears began to trickle down her face.

"What's the use of going on like that?" Lashmar exclaimed, petulantly rather than in anger. "You're tired to death. If you really can't eat anything, better go to bed. We shall see how things look in the morning."

Iris rose and came towards him.

"Thank you, dear, for speaking so kindly. I don't deserve it."

"Oh, we won't say anything about that," he replied, with an air of generosity. Then, laughing, "Aren't you going to show me the study?"

"Dyce! I haven't the heart."

She began to weep in earnest.

"Nonsense! Let us go and look at it. I'll carry the lamp."

They left the room, and Iris, struggling with her tears, led the way to the study door. As he entered Dyce gave an exclamation of pleasure. The little room was furnished and adorned very tastefully; hook-shelves, with all Lashmar's own books carefully arranged, and many new volumes added, made a pleasant show; a handsome writing-table and chair seemed to invite to penwork.

"I could have done something here," Dyce remarked, with a nodding of the head.

Iris came nearer. Timidly she laid a hand upon his shoulder; appealingly she gazed into his face.

"Dear"--it was a just audible whisper--"you are so clever--you are so far above ordinary men--"

Lashmar smiled. His arm fell lightly about her waist. "We have still nearly two hundred pounds a year," the whisper continued. "There's Len--but I must take him from school--"

"Pooh! We'll talk about that."

A cry of gratitude escaped her.

"Dyce! How good you are! How bravely you hear it, my own dear husband. I'll do anything, anything! We needn't have a servant. I'll work--I don't care anything if you still love me. Say you still love me!"

He kissed her hair.

"It's certain I don't hate you.--Well, we'll see how things look to-morrow. Who knows? It may be the real beginning of my career!"

Our Friend the Charlatan - 81/81

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