|Chapter Title||THE SNAKE IN THE GRASS.|
|Newspaper Title||Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1889 - 1915)|
|Trove Title||From Convict to Countess|
TlÍE SKAKE IM TUE G¿A8S.
.' Tho old Countess did. .riot aeons much affected by. tho absence'.'of hor son j on tho contrary, abo seamed relieved at his departure. Ncithor did she draw auy nearer to Alma, bufc she .wrapped herself up in an icy re- serve, and would sit for hours witlii
her oyes fixed on vacancy, loBt iu>. thought.
At times Alina found that threaten-
ing, foreboding look fixed on ber; but; shu shook tho impression off asquickly as she might. Silo still performed her school duties regularly and with in I tclligent care. She found her lot a. I lonely one now her lover was away j ' tho governess was too good for the-,
servant's hall and not good ' enough for the Countess' drawing-room. It seemed a hard lot, considering her expectations of being the future mis
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tress ot Budleigh ; but the Countess kept lier strictly at ann's length.
Two letters came to her from Eric, ono-from the port and ono from Paris. They were full of protestations of love, complaints about the slowness of time, and anticipations of the f uture when he could call ber his wife. . He gave her some account of tho placea he bad seen, but said how unsettled and dissatisfied ho felt now he was uway from ber. The reading and re- reading of her lore letters were tho chief comfort and solace of her life..
After three months . the Countess made a new arrangement, and desired Alma to come into thc drawing-roam in the evening and sit with her. Tio young fiancee welcomed this chango as an evidence of moro friendly feel- ing, but tho Countess still treated her with great formality. After a time a few* visitors called, and among them was a handsome yoting officer named
St. John. He laid himself out to
cultivate Alma's acquaintance, and discoursed eloquently of glory and of
The officer and Alma were thrown
a good deal together by accident , or design, and tho captain began td lay hot siege to the protty governess.
A lnia was too sensible and well
informed a girl to pay much heed to his rhapsodies about wounds from bright eyes being moro fatal than shot or «hell ; and she .dispersed his airy fancies by putting him through his
catechism as to his actual service in thc field. ."When lie found ho could
not dazzle tho governess by his military array, ho dropped it, and made love to her m spite of all the discouragement she could give him.,
Alma used often to go down to tho
Hollow Beech. Under it was the favourite scat dear to Eric and herself.
.But sho was disagreeably surprised on approacliing it ono afternoon to find tho scat occupied by St. John, .
Sho turned back; but tho officer rose and insisted on escorting her,'ánd after paying ber many . complimente on her grace and beauty, finally pro-, posed. Alma quietly but decisively rejected him.
lie took his dismissal with a -very bad grace.
" You'have used mo ill, Miss Grey," he said. " You lcd nie on."
" You insult mej" Alma- replied. "You are ho gentleman to say; so.
?It is not true."
" Yes, you did," he repeated offens- ively. " .People think we are engaged,
Slio stopped him at once. ' " I will undeccivo them," she said, "if you are not ablo to do it. Send thom to me."
" I will bo revenged,"- ho snid, working himself into a passion.. " I have a good mind to-" and he
seized her ann.
. Alma wrenched herself free and faced him.
" Toll mo, what has' this gallant officer and perfect gentleman a good .mind to do ? '
He looked at her with a face dis- torted with passion. ? ;' . " Peters, come here," Alma called aloud to thc coachman, who carno through the park leading one of his hçrses, which liad just been shod at, tho village. Thc.ihan approached,-* touching his hat. . -
" Peters, seo mc homo, if you please. I shall not require this gentleman's' escort any longer."
Wht'U sho reached homo Alma wont' straight to the Countoss. " I cannot meet St. John again," sho said. ."Ho proposed to me, and when I. rejected hiin he insulted me and offered; nie violence. I decline to enter a room whero lie is."
Tho': Countess expressed surprise,
and undertook to »nie him to terminate his visit. . - ',-'?. "??
Slatters settled down again for a, few days, and then a very unpleasant circumstance occurred."' Articles of considerable value were missed, but flo,clue for,their recovery presented itself. They were portable and easily
Tho excitement reached its height threo days after tliis St. John incident. . : Ono of. tho .Countess of .Budleigh's diamond bracelets was missing. Tho casket had been left out during the afternoon on tho toilet table in tho room of tho Countess, and.thou put away at night ; 'but when opened live days afterward tho bracelet was gone.
This was too much ; the Countess called in tho local polico to search thc
Alma had not heard of this fresh disaster, for when school was over she had taken bofhvher pupils for a walk through tho Park to tho village, to post her Paris letter. But when she
returned towards tho late dinner hour she found everything in great con- fusion. ! All tho rooms' aud each
hiding-place had been thoroughly searched without '.success, and the Inspector had just gathered,all the servants into tho hall, and a couple of policemen wcro bringing down ¡tho boxes and bags; of tho : serrants. . £ .
" Bring every./ .receptado ' " down, Armstrong, and tell Burton not'to leave a singlo bandbox or bag'behind." The Inspector looked important.
The Countess sat in state at the
upper end of tho hall ; tho rest stood about aud did thc best they could. '
" JTow," said Johnston', in his official voice, " aro all here-servants, groonw, gardeners, coachmen ?".
Thu butler certified at length that
all were there.
" 2\ow, is all thc property of the
servants hero too??"
Each one's property was separated
"I have a list of the servant's nnnicH, in alphabetical order. Apple- ton is the first." Ono of tho house- maids stood out. . ..
" Is thia your box and bag ?" asked thc Inspector. " '
" Yes, sir." Thc contents . were
turned upside down upon the floor, scrutinized, and the things unfolded, shaken out, and put hack:,
Dawson was the next, and the pro- cess was repeated,. with the same
Then came Grey. When her nome was called Alma stepped forward,
" Is this-your^trunk, Miss Grey ?" " Yes, that is/mine." .
It was treated like the rest. "There
is nothing here," said Burton, when he had been three parts through, " Ah ! here is a fragment of lace sticking out of the Batcher." He opened it. Alma was puzzled ; she
had no lace that she remembered.
The officer took it out carefully and opened it. It was ancient and of great value.
" That belongs to the Countess,"
said her maid in a low voice. .
" Eh, what ? ..' Bring that Here,
Burton." Tho constable took ? it to
his superior officer. Ho completely unrolled it ; as ho. did so something hard and white fell on to the table, Johnston took off tho paper wrapper, and held up
Tho stolen bracelet !
A sibilant sound, as everyone drew their breath hard, floated through the
hall. Then Johnston's voico was heard :
. "...Your ladyship, do you' identify . this bracelet as your property ?"
, "J do." .
' " Also tho Ince ?"
" 1 do." : _
" MisB Grey, do you wish to make any statement ? But it is my duty to warn you. that anything you may say may ho produced against you -at your
trial." - ? . .
All faces turned towards Alma.
Ghastly pale, with wild eyes, she turned to tho Countess, and her voice, clear, ringing like a bell, penetrated
" You can exonerate mc. Say am I the thief ?".
Tho Countess rose and faced Alma, and tho young .lady caught that menacing, calculating look chango into design,' measured, accomplished, trium- phant. Her ladyship opened her lips ; sho spoke deliberately V
' " You aro the thief.'" 0Ulcer, arrest that girl, and take her into custody."
At tho false and monstrous charge, Alina shuddered ; and at tho touch of the'policeman's hand upon her trem- bling shoulder, sho fainted, i
" Johnston," said tho Countess, " a carriage is at your disposal. It would bo adylsablo to- take your prisoner away before she recovers conscious- ness." .' , } '? .'.' -,.. ?
. . " .It shall bo done your ladyship," fuld tlie unconscious girl was conveyed :i\vay and lodged in tho local gaol. 1 ; '
To be continued In next Tuesday's leane.