Chapter 14

June 16th. -- I have a few lines more to add to this day's entry before I go to bed tonight.

About two hours after Sir Percival rose from the luncheon-table to receive his solicitor, Mr Merriman, in the library, I left my room alone to take a walk in the plantations. Just as I was at the end of the landing the library door opened and the two gentlemen came out. Thinking it best not to disturb them by appearing on the stairs, I resolved to defer going down till they lad crossed the hall. Although they spoke to each other in guarded tones, their words were pronounced with sufficient distinctness of utterance to reach my ears.

`Make your mind easy, Sir Percival,' I heard the lawyer say; `it all rests with Lady Glyde.'

I had turned to go back to my own room for a minute or two, but the sound of Laura's name on the lips of a stranger stopped me instantly. I daresay it was very wrong and very discreditable to listen, but where is the woman, in the whole range of our sex, who can regulate her actions by the abstract principles of honour, when those principles point one way, and when her affections, and the interests which grow out of them, point the other?

I listened -- and under similar circumstances I would listen again -- yes! with my ear at the keyhole, if I could not possibly manage it in any other way.

`You quite understand, Sir Percival,' the lawyer went on. `Lady Glyde is to sign her name in the presence of a witness -- or of two witnesses, if you wish to be particularly careful -- and is then to put her finger on the seal and say, ``I deliver this as my act and deed.'' If that is done in a week's time the arrangement will be perfectly successful, and the anxiety will be all over. If not --'

`What do you mean by ``if not''?' asked Sir Percival angrily. `If the thing must be done it shall be done. I promise you that, Merriman-'

`Just so, Sir Percival -- just so; but there are two alternatives in all transactions, and we lawyers like to look both of them in the face boldly. If through any extraordinary circumstance the arrangement should not be made, I think I may be able to get the parties to accept bills at three months. But how the money is to be raised when the bills fall due --'

`Damn the bills! The money is only to be got in one way, and in that way, I tell you again, it shall be got. Take a glass of wine, Merriman, before you go.'

`Much obliged, Sir Percival, I have not a moment to lose if l am to catch the up-train. You will let me know as soon as the arrangement is complete? and you will not forget the caution I recommended --'

`Of course I won't. There's the dog-cart at the door for you. My groom will get you to the station in no time. Benjamin, drive like mad! Jump in. If Mr Merriman misses the train you lose your place. Hold fast, Merriman, and if you are upset trust to the devil to save his own.' With that parting benediction the baronet turned about and walked back to the library.

I had not heard much, but the little that had reached my ears was enough to make me feel uneasy. The `something' that `had happened' was but too Plainly a serious money embarrassment, and Sir Percival's relief from it depended upon Laura. The prospect of seeing her involved in her husband's secret difficulties filled me with dismay, exaggerated, no doubt, by my ignorance of business and my settled distrust of Sir Percival. Instead of going out, as I proposed, I went back immediately to Laura's room to tell her what I had heard.

She received my bad news so composedly as to surprise me. She evidently knows more of her husband's character and her husband's embarrassments than I have suspected up to this time.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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