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HOME > Classical Novels > A Traitor in London > CHAPTER VIII BAD NEWS
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So Brenda was in London again, and found the great city in an uproar over the possibility of a war in South Africa. Negotiations were constantly passing between England and the Transvaal concerning the franchise for the Uitlanders. History was being manufactured at the rate of a sensation a week; Leyds was weaving his plots and spreading his nets in Europe; while at Pretoria Paul Kruger numbered his burghers, dispensed arms, and intrigued with the President of the Free State. Few believed that a war was inevitable, that a small state of farmers would defy a mighty empire. But there were others who knew from rumors and hints that real strength lay behind the apparent weakness of those two diminutive Republics. Meanwhile zealots like Scarse preached ever the fable of the wolf and the lamb. Chamberlain was the wolf and good Oom Paul the lamb--somewhat overgrown perhaps, but still a lamb.

A pro-Boer meeting was announced to be held in Trafalgar Square, and Scarse was to speak in favor of the honest, God-fearing agriculturists, who, his imagination led him to believe, inhabited Pretoria. He and his following were dead against the war, and asserted that so many were the people of their opinion that only the big square could hold them. So they rejoiced at the prospect of their convention, which was going to force England into repeating the cowardly policy of the Liberals after Majuba--a policy miscalled magnanimous, and out of which all these present troubles had arisen. In Amsterdam, astute Dr. Leyds rejoiced also on the assumption that a house divided against itself could not stand. His President had provided him with that text, and the mere fact of this mass meeting seemed to prove the force of it.

Meanwhile he scattered money broadcast--Uitlander money--that the honorable Continental Press might yelp and clamor like jackals at the heels of the lion their respective countries dare not attack. It is only just to say that none of Leyds\' guineas found their way into Scarse\'s pocket. If misguided, he was at least honest.

But Brenda took little notice of the question of the day, burning as it was. She concerned herself only with Harold, and had the fate of the Empire been at stake--as it seemed likely to be--she would still have thought of him. Instructed by Aunt Judy, she duly invited him to dinner. He refused on the plea of regimental duty. He would be in town, he said, toward the end of the week. Brenda imagined she could read a nervous fear in every line of his letter. But having no one to consult, she was obliged to wait his coming. He alone could explain much that was mysterious to her.

Meanwhile she resolved to see her father, and ask upon what grounds he suspected Lady Jenny. His hint about the crape referred unmistakably to that lady. And it was true; Lady Jenny had stated very plainly that she did not love her husband, and that because of his connection with some other woman. But she had said nothing on which Brenda could fasten now even in the light of suspicion; certainly she was in mourning for her father and wore crape usually. And it was probable that she wore it on the night of the murder. She had been out, too, about the hour when it took place. Then there was the fact that she was an accomplished shot; but all this evidence was purely circumstantial, and could in no way bring home the guilt to her. Yet she might have a motive, and Scarse might know that motive, so Brenda sought out her father two or three days after their last interview. Come what would, she intended to force him to speak plainly.

That Harold\'s name might be cleared from the suspicions cast upon it by Inspector Woke, it was necessary that the guilt should be brought home to the right person. Now Brenda wished to be at rest about her father\'s connection with the strange man whose existence he denied.

But on the occasion of this second visit to Star Street she was unfortunate. Mr. Scarse was not at home, and the porter of the mansions did not know when he would be in. Brenda went upstairs to wait, and was admitted into the chambers by her father\'s old servant, a staid ex-butler who had been with him for years. This man brought her some tea, gave her an evening paper, and left her alone in the study. It was between four and five, so that the chances were that Mr. Scarse would soon return. One of his virtues was punctuality.

Leaning back in the deep armchair by her father\'s everlasting fire--quite superfluous on this warm evening--Brenda sipped her tea and fell to thinking of Harold.

She was physically tired, having been shopping all the morning with her aunt. The warmth of fire and atmosphere soothed her nerves and made her feel drowsy. In a very few minutes she was fast asleep and dreaming of her lover. At least so concluded her father\'s butler when he peeped in to see if she required anything.

From her slumber Brenda was awakened by the touch of a hand on her shoulder. Then, as she languidly opened her eyes, a man bent over her and kissed her.

"Harold," she murmured, drowsily, "my darling----"

"I win the gloves, Miss Scarse," said a quiet, calm voice. The man stepped back as she sprang to her feet.

"Mr. van Zwieten!" she cried, with a sense of suffocation. "You!"

"I," answered Van Zwieten, removing the lampshade that he might see her more clearly.

Then she realized that she must have been sleeping a long time, for the lamp had not been lit when she sat down.

"You coward!" she panted, with flashing eyes--"you contemptible coward!"

Cool as he was, Van Zwieten winced at the hatred in her voice. But the more she loathed him the more determined he was to make her his wife. He recovered his calmness with a laugh, and stood by the table masterful and handsome in his smart town dress. No dandy could have been better turned out than the big Dutchman.

"Ach! I have touched the proud lips of little red Schefen," said he, quoting from Heine. "Come, Miss Scarse, when am I to have my gloves?"

"If I were a man I would kill you!"

"In that case--in any case--I am glad you are a woman. Why are you angry? I am only anticipating my right."

"Oh!" cried Brenda, clenching her hands, "will no one deliver me from this man?"

"No one," said Van Zwieten, slowly and determinedly. "You are mine--you always were. That kiss makes you doubly so."

Brenda, seeing it was useless to speak, cast on him one look of scorn and stepped toward the door. Before she reached it he spoke again. What he said made her pause.

"Wait and listen to me, Miss Scarse--for your father\'s sake. Ah! you are wise. Come, here is a chair. Sit down; we have much to talk about."

"I prefer to stand. Tell me, what do you mean?" she burst out.

"What I say. Listen to me, for your father\'s sake. Or, if you care so little for him that you can get him into trouble without seeking to avert it, why the door is open."

In answer to this speech Brenda sat down and looked steadily at the man. He met her gaze frankly, and throughout conducted the interview with his usual politeness. "I know you do not love me," said he, in his deep voice; "but I love you, and I am content to win your affection after marriage."

"I will never marry you. Take that answer once and for all."

"In that case you leave me free to deal with your father."

"I don\'t understand you."

"Then I explain--not everything, for I never trust women, not even you. But I know the truth about this murder--so does your father."

Brenda preserved her coolness. "Do you accuse him of the crime?"

"Perhaps," replied Van Zwieten, with a singular smile, "should you not agree to give up Captain Burton and marry me. I know who killed Malet."

"So do I," said Brenda, quietly. "It was............
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