|Chapter Title||A FATEFUL DECISION.|
|Newspaper Title||The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 - 1950)|
|Trove Title||A Terrible Wrong|
? T ? - By Mrs. Hakiuet Lewis. Author of- The DonhkLife' Lord JDcrhcood's Grime' $?-:.
CHAPTER I. «A. FATEFUL DECISION.
'A pledge? What kind of pledge ?' asked Lord Oswald. ' You are aware that I have long desired you to many the Lady Vic toria Ellesmere. She is a heauty and au heiross, the younges't daughter of a duke. Her father desires the match as much as I do, and very singularly, if he has
any suspicion of your real character. I demand your marriage with the Lady Victoria as a pledge of your sincerity of purpose. I have reason to believe that she is interested in you. That face of yours makes friends* for you among the ladies, and they do not dream of your real character,' and the earl glanced at the letter. 'If I thought that you would con . tinue your dissipations after marriage, I would not counsel this course. I would never dare bring upon any ^ woman such a cnrse as a dissolnte u husband. But I have faith that marriage may redeem you. Nothing else can. You are not worthy a pure and good woman, but you can make yourself worthy. Refuse, then, to marry the Lady' Victoria, and I will thrust yon forth from my house. More, you shall never receive another single penny from me while I live.' Lord Oswald turned pale. 'But, father ? 'he faltered. 'I will listen to no argument,' said the earl, coldly, and with a severity of tone and expression that awed his weak and wayward son. 'Not ont word, sir. Turn over a new leaf ; give up Gifford Melcomhe, cast off his evil influences ; this very, day aBk Lady Victoria to many you, and you will find in me the itiost generous of parents, I will pay all your debts, and start you anew in life. I will settle a splendid income upon you, and give you a magnificent estate. Con tract this marriage, reform, be a man, and I will do anything for you. Re fuse to obey me, and you leave my house this very day a beggar !' His eyes were stern and terrible, his face cold and impassive as if cut from marble. The words were like a decree of. fate. Lord Oswald Lennox knew that his father's utterances were like the laws of the ancient Medes and Persians— unalterable. The young man looked stunned. There was a little silence between the pair. Then the earl spoke again. '' Do you like Lady Victoria ?' he asked, 'Yes,' assented Lord Oswald. ' I don't know a woman to compare with her.' ' Then I am to understand that you agree to my terms ?' A cold sweat bedewed the young . man's forehead. Summoning with an effoi't all his courage, he stammex* ed— ' I am willing to do anything you wish, father, but — but— I nave a little entanglement ? ?' 'Silence, sir!' thundered his father. 'You need not detail your profligacy to me. I have given you my ultimatum. Hear me, sir ! Come to me this evening as the promised husband of Lady Victoria Ellesmere, as determined to reform, and I will receive you with open arms. Otherwise we need not meet again, and the sooner you leave my house the better.'
He made a gesture of dismissal. His son arose, pale and perturbed, and made an effort again to speak, but his father cut him short, and pointed to the door. Lord Oswald obeyed the mute com mand, and went up to his own room. He made a hasty toilet, and hurried out into the street. A brisk walk soon brought him to the chambers of his bosom friend, . Gifford Melcombe. Mr. Melcombe 'was at home, and harkened to his story with the liveliest interest. ' Gifford Melcombe was of good family, and had originally possessed a handsome fortune, which he had managed to dissipate. Hejwas a roue, attractive in person, fascinating in -manners, and villainous in his in stincts. He had a pale, thin, vam pire-looking face, and a pair of singularly light coloured eyes, which ho kept half-shut, after a tigerish fashion. In spite of these unpleasant peculiarities, he was esteemed by his friends as a veiy ' good fellow,' and was the chosen friend and adviser of Lord Oswald Lennox. ' Now, what am I to do ?' asked Lord Oswald, when he had narrated : his recent interview with his father. 'I am to be turned out, neck and crop, this very 'night, without a penny, a complete beggar. I can't work. 1 don't know anything useful. I can't even earn my own living as a groom. There's no use in pleading to the governor. I might as well plead to a rook. I've a good mind to commit, suicide;' concluded theyoung man moodily. ' Why don't you marry Lady Vic toria ?' asked Melcombo, coolly. ' You ask me that ?' cried Oswald, in amazement.
' les. Wiry not? She's rich, and the earl would settle a great in come upon you. You're a fool if you don't comply with his demands and win his favour.' 'ButQueenie ? ' Melcombe laughed- lightly. 'She's only a girl of eighteen,' he answered. ' She'll never make you any trouble. Why, she don't even know your real name.' ' Yet she is my wife !' interrupted Lord Oswasld, with a groan. ' What a fool I was to fall in love with a schoolgirl and many her ! I'm tired of her. I wish I'd never seen her. I prefer Lady Victoria Ellesmere a thousand times over. Curse my luck,
jueicomDe. 1 wish you could, nelp me put of my trouble!' Melcombe's eyes sparkled oddly. 'I can,' he answered. 'Your marriage is not legal, since you mar ried under an assumed name.' ' Not assumed. It was my middle name— Keith.' ' Still, the omission of your full name is fatal to the validity of the marriage,' said Melcombe. ' I have long known this fact, but kept it to myself, since telling it \vould have
done no good. You can get rid of the jyii-l, you see, easily enough !' A look of regret, anxiety and dis trust flitted over Lord Oswald's face. ' I believe the marriage to be legal in spite of what you say, Melcombe,' he declared. ' It was entered into in good faith on both sides. I Avas wild about Queenie in those days. I loved her to distraction. And now I am tired of her,' he added. 'I never possessed a toy in my child hood but I soon tired of it. Posses sion always cloys me. I repent my madness. I would give half the years that remain to me to undo this foolish marriage ? ' ? ' I will undertake to undo it this very morning,' said Melcombe, with alacrity, a curious eagerness expressed in every feature. ' If you announce this marriage to your father he will turn you adrift. If you marry Lady Victoria, you can be free from debt, and will have an income fit for a prince. Lady Victoria likes you ; all our set know that. You can have her for the asking. She's the daughter of a duke. Queenie is low born, and you are tired of her. One bold act, Lennox, and you are free!' . ' ' ; 'What ami to do ?' asked Lord Oswald, doubtfully. ' Go to Quconie — I'll go with you. Tell her that your marriage with her is illegal — that Keith is not your ieal name. Tell; her that you and she must part. I'll warrant her pride will do the rest. She will go back to her kindred, and Qevor suspect your real identity. She-4 will marry some clod years from now, and you can marry Lady Victoria as soon as yon please.' ' If I dare !' muttered Lord! Oswald. ' If I only dare ! Poor Queenie ! She's so proud— such a story would kill her!' Melcombe shrugged his shoulders. ' You were sweet on her yourself/' said Lord Oswald, suspiciously. ?' She refused you to many me. Perhaps if if she were free, you would like to' many her P' ' Not I,' said Melcombe, turning away to hide his flushed face. 'I shall have to mariy wealth. My for tunes are at a low ebb, as well as yours. Come, what do you say ? Will you give up everything for your low-born wife, or will you get rid of her? I assure you you can, easily enough. The girl has no more sus picion than a baby. She will believe whatever you tell her. She does not know your name, nor even the church she was married in. You remember we drove in a cab from church to church i& find erne open that morning, and she never could find again that dingy little odifice, not if she searched foryears. You'ro afool, Lennox, if you h#sitate to take tho way out of your predicament that opens so finely be fore you!' Lord Oswald rose and paced the floor hurriedly. His soul was in a tumult. Ho knew that his father was relentless ; that so surely as he should confess his low marriage he would be turned out upon the world a beggar. ... Truth and honour, decency and manliness, fought a terrible fight within his soul with cowardice, ex« pediency, and love of ease andyrealth. The tempter was at his elbow. With secret and villainous motives of his own, Melcombe urged him to .. repud iate his marriage, and to contract a new alliance. We need not dwell upon that fate ful conflict ; 'we have only to do with its result. Evil, that had obtained such a sway over Lord Oswald Keith's weak nature, finally triumphed. ' I will do it !' ha said, hoarsely. ' I will act upon your advice, Mel combe. What else can I do f I'll Provide handsomely for Queenie, but will persuade her that our marriage is illegal, and that she and X must part. I feel like a demon ! Poor girl ! Poor little Queenie ! Come with me, Melcombe. The sooner the crime is over the better. I am not the most to blame. I am driven to ii. Better to break her heart than to be come a beggar. Come, Melcombe. Let's be off !' They hurried out together, (To be continued.)