|Newspaper Title||Queanbeyan Age (NSW : 1867 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||Love's Conquest|
LOvE'S CONQUEST. CHAPTER II.----Continued. Through the last half of the evening Esmonde had been unlike his usual happy light hearted self. He had been silent and abstracted, and was of so little use as a dancing-man that Maude Throgmorton, who had expected great things of him, expressed .her disappointment and vexation in very decided terms. 'I cannot imagine what has happened to Captain Esmonde !' she said to her dearest friend for the time being, as they sat over the fire in the privacy of her bedroom dis cussing matters of interest. ' He was a dead failure to-night. Generally he is such a charming man to have in the house, so full of life and spirit, so ready to do anything you want, and full of fun-really quite fascinatb ing-and we thought it would be quite jolly, his being here for our dance. But you saw what he was to-night--as dull as ditch water, and lazy besides. He asked me to dance once-that was his bare duty, and he did it-but he hadn't a word to say for him elef, and I was glad when it was over-he was so stupid. I am certain that he has not enjoyed himself a bit; and there must have been some reason. What on earth was the matter with him. This was exactly what Esmonde himself was wondering at the same moment as he silently smoked his cigar and looked on blankly at a game of billiards. Notwith standing his pleasant ways and good-humored disposition, he was subject to occasional fits of depression and discouragement, and he knew whet it was to have ' ups and downs'; bhut on this night his spirits seemed to reach a depth that they had never reached before, and he felt that life had suddenly become not worth living. ' Why ?' he asked himself, and could find no answer to the question, then irritably let his thoughts drift back to the scene in the conservatory. It was a recollection that could bring him nothing but mortification and regret. He had been stung by the scorn and contempt with which Lady Adele had treated him, and the pain and indignation in her eyes, which were the expression of womanly feeling which he had outraged, made him wretched. He had not known before what dark gray eyes were capable of revealing, and his usual quickness in dismissing unwelcome subjects from his mind seemed to have deserted him. 'Look here, Denys,' said Frank Throg morton, noticing his friend's depression 'you had better give up and turn in. You've had a hard day, and you are dead best.' 'I suppose that is about it,' replied Es. monde. ' I think your advice is good, my dear fellow, and I'll take it. Good-nighbt, L'Eatrange. Good-night, Lord Tressilian.' 'Remember the room at the top of the firsteb flight,' called out Frank as his friend left the room. '- All right,' mechanically assent Esmondo, and, taking up a lighted candle as he passed through the hall, he proceeded to mount the stairs. But, before he had taken a half-a-dozen steps, his mind had reverted once more to the annoying oceurrence of the eveniang, and Throgmorton's admonition was driven com pletely out of his head. Instead of stopping on the first landing he liesurely continued his upward way, and marched straight to his old quarters. He went up and up, then down two or three steps, then along a narrow corridor that led to a wing somewhat cut off from the -rest of the house, and at the end of this passage he reached, as he imagined, the door of his room and pushed it open. He had coased the threshold and closed the door before he noticed anything unusual, and at was not until he had advanced into the middle of the room that he was startled out of his meditation by suddenly discover ing the blunder of which he had been guilty. At his approach some one started tp from a low chair by the fire-a slender girl, with the loose folds of a white dressing-gown fall ink about her, and long tresses of dark silky hair in wavy ripp!es all round her, almost reaching to her knees. It was Lady Adola : and, instantly recognising her, Captain Esmonde stood for a second time that evening before her, utterly I aghast and confounded. His first impuls,-, on seeing a lady, was to utter an excaismation of horror and dismay and beat a precipitate retreat without wait
ing to offer any explanation; hut when he saw that it was Lady Adela, and met her astonished gaze, some instinct that h'6 could not disregard impelled him to stay and to make a brief and desperate attempt at an apology. ' I beg your pardon, le stammered hastily. 'I have made a horrible blunder. I forgot that it was not my room to night. I'm awfully sorry.' With that he backed out precipitately,and when he was about to turn and flee, he heard the sound of approaching footsteps, and he stopped short, with his hand upon the door. 'There is someone on the landing,' he exelaimed, in a fresh access of dismay. ' I shall be seen coming out of here. Oh, good heavens 1' A bright flush of confusion and annoyance had risen to Adela's face as she saw who the intruder was, but she had not lost her pre. sence of mind, and she made a gesture that arrested him in his flight. £ Wait !' she said, in a low but very clear commanding voice. 'If there is someone there, you had better wait till he has gone past.' Esmonde stood motionless and listened for the footsteps to go by ; but the next moment he looked up and closed the door. ' They are coming here !' he ejaculated in. sudden horror. 'There is no other room along the passage. Oh, Lady Adela, what is to be done ?' SIt must be the maid,' said Adela. ' I will send her away.' ' But, as she spoke, she became aware that the advancing footsteps were too heavy for those of a maid, and she stopped short with a look of absolute terror on her lace. ' It is my brother,' she gasped, and darted to the door to secure it. There was no lock of fastening of any kind-nothing but the ordinary latch, as "Esmonde knew from sad experience.. He glanced hastily round the room in search of some means of exit, and for a moment con templated a flying leap through the window, but this he remembered was impracticable, for the room was in a turret high up on the third storey, and across the centre of the narrow loop-hole window there was a strong iron bar, which seemed to have been placed there on purpose to preclude any chance of escape. There was no possible means of flight ; but in an angle of the irregularly shaped room was a curtained recess that was used as a wardrobo. Esmonde knew that it afforded no means of an outlet, and the idea of con cealment was repugnant to him; but when be saw the look of despair on Lady Adela's face, he feltbhoe had no alternative. Without hesitating another moment he made for the recess, and he had just gained its shelter when a ponderous knock upon the panels of the door announced that Lord Tressilian was outside. 'You can't come in,' called.out Lady Adela, in a tone of terror and apprehensicn, and in the absence of a lock, she prepared to resist his entrance by guarding the door with her foot. But the next moment she was flung violently aside, is the door was burst right open, and Lord Tressilian made his way into the room. ' I say, Adela, what has frightened you guarding the door against me I' he demanded with a harsh laugh. f How dare you force yourself into my room 7' she said haughtily. ' Go away at once. I will nob have you here.' ' Won't you ?' he retorted, with a sneer. ' And pray how are you going to turn me out if I choose to stay ? Now, look here, Adele,' he continued, with a change of tone and manner which he intended for concili atiout-' I don't want to quarrel with you, and, if you are reasonable, you won't find me a bad fellow ; but confound it, if you are going to cut up nasty, you will find that I am a disagreeable customer to deal with. I have the whip-hand of you and you know it; but, if you will behave like a sensible girl, there shall be no row. And hang it Adela, if a fellow wants to see his sister alone for a minute, I don't perceive the necessity of yeur minding me coming into your room. I shall come and speak to you when I choose ; and I choose it now, by Jove, so you had better sit down and listen quietly to what I have so say !' lie was more sober than when lie had l had accosted her in the conservatory, but he i was three times more irritable, and lihe was I in such an angry mood that Adela, who was r in terror lest some accident might lead to a discovery, had no remedy but to submit to r
his tyranny and humour him as best she could. " She sat down in the low chair from which she had risen upon the entrance of the first intruder, and resolved to listen patiently, while her brother held forth from the position he had taken up with his back to the fire. But her patience was .quite wasted upon the incorrigible bully, and the scene that followed was such a revelation of his brutality that Esmonde, who could not help hearing every word, felt his blood boil with rage and indignation, and it was with difioulty that he restrained himself from rushing out and knocking the fellow down What could be the secret of his power over such a girl as Lady Adela 7 What was it that gave him the means of so tyrannising over her 7 Unleo she had something to dread at his hands, no high-spirited girl would have submitted for a moment to such treat ment. Why hvshould she be so afraid of her brother Her natural impulse ought to have been to welcome his approach as a relief. Site coald have explained to him the dilemma she was in, and he could have put the whole thing right in a moment -in his own interest he must have done so. But it was evident from the look of horror that had come over her face when she recognised his foots'ep, that she feared her brother. There must be some extraordinary circumstance to account for such an outrageous state of things as this. Esmondr, in his hiding-place behind the curtains, became the involuntary witness of a scone of unchecked tyranny and cruelty that was unexampled in his oxperience, and he was so inexpressibly shocked and horrified that all his chivalrous instincts were aroused, and he would have given all that he possassed to be able to defend and protect a woman so infamously insulted and oppressed. 'How can she stand it-how can shol How can anything make her put up with it 7' he said to himself in a fury. But at last Adela's self-command did give way. Esmond? hearl his own name mentioned, and the hot blood rushed to his face as Tressilian pressed him upon Lirdy Adela as a desirable husband:, and upbraided ier for neglecting her opportunities that evening. He waited breathlessly to hear what her reply would be; but there was a limit to her forbearance, and at this point it had been reached.
She pushed back her chair and stood up, facing her brother in desperation. SBe silent, Tressilian !' she exclaimed, with outraged dignity. ' You have said enough, and more than enough, and I will not listen to you any more I There are some things in which I will not endure your interference !' ' Won't you 7' he stormed. ' And pray how are you going to stop me ? I tell you, if I choose to interfere, I will interfere, and I am not going to let you make a fool of yourself in a matter that concerns the family interest ! All women are fools, but, by Jove, I think you are the chief of them ! What a confounded row you made over that Buck fastleigh business 7 First you would not have him on any terms, and then, when the match was no longer desireable-yes, by Jove, you would ! From moeives of honolur forsooth ! We weren't going to let you throw yourself away upon a man who was next-door to a beggar ! I think I circamvented you there pretty neatly-didn't I-eh I You had to endure my interferenee in that little affair.' ' Will you leave me, Greville V' cried his sister, refraining from the taunt that rose to her lips. ' We can continue this discussion on our way home to-morrow, if you wish, and you may say what you like then; but I am tired now, and you are not making much impression. It is a pity that such forcible arguments as yours should be wasted. You had better go !' SI am going,' he said, moving towards the Boor. ' I have said what I came to say, and you don't make yourself so particularly agreeable that a fellow would care to stay. But mind this, Adela ! You choose to defy me-very well ; 1hut don't be surprised if T serve you out ! I served you on ones before, and I will serve you out again, by Jove ! You had better look out; and don't complain that you haven't had fair warning ! ' He left the room, and closed the door behind him. As he did so, his hand came into contact with a bar of iron beneath the door-handle, and he stooped to examine it by the light of the candle which he carried. The turret-room was one which offered peculiar advantages as a place of confinment and Sir Nicholas Throgmorton, who was a county magistrate with thorough-going views, had decided upon it as a convenient place in which to put any miscreant who might fall into his bhands. No one had been confined in it yet, but to be ready in case of
need, the worthy magistrate had caused a a heavy iron bolt to be fitted to the outside of the door, and it was this object which at tracted Lord Tressillian's attention. As he looked at it, the scowl on his face became more malevolent. He hesitated for a moment, glancing suspiciously along the empty corridor, and then pushed the bolt noiselessly home. Captain Esmonde listened to the sound of Treasilian's retreating footsteps as they echoed along the uncarpeted parquet of the corridor, and he congratulated himself that the fellow was at last safely off. He re mained for a minute or two longer in con cealment, lest the enemy should return, and then he expected to hear a summons from Lady Adela; but it did not come. She made no sound at all, and the room was as still and undisturbed as if it were untenanted. Feeling exceedingly uncomfortable, Ea monde at last stopped out of his retirement, and, standing motionless for a moment looked around. There was no sound in the room hut the crackling of the fireand the occasional falling of ashes ; but it was not deserted, as he had at first hastily supposed. Ladv Adela was standing in the glow of the firelihgt with tightly clasped hands, and her magnificent hair fell round her like a sheltering veil, but it (lid not conceal from Esmondo the fact that tears were falling down her cheeks. Adels had a proud spirit, and heo could bear a good deal without giv ing way. ~he had been subject to persecu tion like this before without showing any signs of weakness ; but it was the horrible humiliation of her position that touched her now. It was rdo wonder that she broke down under it ; and at the sight of her wro-ched ness Denys Esmondo experienced a strange sense of conflicting emotions that was like a wrenching of the heart. He was tbo cause of her present suffering, and he could do nothing to alleviate it. She was so beautiful and so unhappy, so proud and so persecuted; he could'not see her oppressed and crushed without an overpowering feeling of sympathy that was stronger than mere compassion. He had not however a chance of expressing a single word of sympathy, for directly sheo became aware of his presence shne bI ushed away her tears and hastily coiled up her hr'r. By a great effortof self-control she suppressed her emotion, and, with a change of manner as sudden as it was complete, sh- turued and confronted him with proud composure.
' oh, you are going, Captain Esmonda,' she said, as quietly as if it were -in ev:rv-day occasion. ' The way is o!oear now, and I think you may safely venture.' She did ber best to aleak ua urallv, and her self-possess;on was very nearly p-,rf-c: ; hut there was a th.ill in her voice aiil it went straight to Esamonde's heart, and he looked at her with grave and pitying eyes. She shrank from his gaze at if she could not endure it. ' I am sory you should have been for ced to listen to such a painful inteview,'aha said, with an effort. 'So am I-for your sake,' he said, in as quiet a tone as she had assumed ; but with a sudden irresistable impulse, he added im petumusly, ' Lidy Ad,-la, it ",as horrihlt> to behlitied "o srtnl by a.,d hi a'ryou a: ...-. to lik- to" . Its ta kitd of ti n, .ff equi-ut occo- rence Forgive mue-I kno I have, no right to aik.' ' My brother was not himself to night,' she said with a reserve that Esdiiie could no; but respect; ' he wat very much out of tem per, and he lost control of himself. You must not think anything of what he seid' She paused for a moment, wi h her eyes fix--d intently upon the rug at her feet; .,en she added abruptly, ')Cap aln Esmonde, I thi k I may true, you. You wil n r ape k f this occurence to anyvoe 7 I m y tel ups. your honor to do that, I know.' ' You certainly may,'he decltaed wa m'y. 6' should he a traitor indeed if I did I Y..u may trust me never to hint at weab has passed to-night.' ' Thank you I knew that I might. And you will try to forget all that you heard 1 It was not meant for you to hear,- and you ought not to have heard it.. Please don't allow -what my brother said to dwell in your mind or to annoy you in any way. It does not matter really, for it is not as if we were neighbors and likely to meet again. Let thini instance be a memory of an absent-minded mistake-a warning, if you like-but noth ing else.' She ended with a "faint smile ; but there was no answering smile on Eamonde's face. He did not believe that they would not meet again, and he knew that there was no possi bility of his forgetting what had- made an ineradicable impression upon him. ' I am afraid my mind isn't quite like a slate, the entries on which can be sponged out at conveniense,' he said. ' Buy I can assure you that it will bear no record of annoyance on my part. There is no ceuse for it. I have made myself a great nuisance to you, and the punishment otght to have fallen upon me, instead of which you have to suffer. I shall never forgive myself for the 'distress which my stupid blunder has cus. d you.!' 'It is over now, and there is no blame attached to you. I think it is scarcely wise of you to linger here now, Captain Esmonde. Lady Throgmorton said she would send her maid to me, and, though it is rather lite, she may come at any moment. Good-night.' She did not offer her hand, and Esmonde saw that the omission was intentional. He could only return. her bow and accept hit' dismissal. Ieenly hurt by the stiffness of her manner and her evident desire to have no more to do with him than she could help, he walked to the door and tnrned the handle to open it. The door did not open. He turned the handle again, and pulled with all his strength ; but the door resisted his efforts and remained close, for it was secured on the other side by an iron as thick as a man's wrist. [To BE CoNTINUED.]