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HOME > Classical Novels > A Traitor in London > CHAPTER IX. MRS. ST. LEGER IS DISCREET.
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CHAPTER IX. MRS. ST. LEGER IS DISCREET.
"Is that all?" asked Brenda, drawing a breath of relief. "Oh, you stupid boy, did you run away because you were afraid to tell me that?"

Captain Burton stared and drew a breath also--one of amazement. "Well, it\'s hard to understand a woman," he said, half smiling, half annoyed. "I made sure you\'d cry your eyes out when you heard. Don\'t you understand, Brenda, what it means? If we are to marry at all, it must be on our five hundred a year?"

"And why not?" was her answer. "I am ready if you are, Harold. How could you give me all this anxiety for such a trifle? I want you, my dear, not the money. But I thought you must have had some other reason for going away."

"What other reason could I have had?" asked Burton, quickly, and waiting apprehensively for her reply.

"Never mind. I\'ll tell you later. Only the twenty thousand pounds! Well, after all, I\'m not surprised to hear of the loss."

"I was very much astonished, and very wretched when I heard it. I can\'t take the loss of all that money as quietly as you seem to do, Brenda. And not only mine has gone, but Wilfred\'s too. Forty thousand pounds, and all his own fortune! Great Scot! the man must have played day and night to get rid of it. What folly for my father to leave it so completely in his power. If there had only been another trustee to pull him up. I don\'t want to speak evil of the dead," cried Harold, wrathfully, "but I could find it in my heart to curse Malet."

"No, don\'t, Harold. His terrible death was punishment enough. How was it that Mr. van Zwieten came to know of this?"

"I can\'t say. He refused to tell me. But he did know, and he tried to make me give you up on that account. Of course I told him--well, never mind what I said--it was strong and to the point. Brenda, we have a dangerous enemy in Van Zwieten."

"I always knew we had. And now that this crime has been committed he is more dangerous than ever."

"How do you know that?" Harold looked anxiously at her.

"He threatened me the other day."

"Threatened you!--the hound! What did he say?"

"He told me, if I did not give you up and marry him, he would get my father into trouble over Mr. Malet\'s murder."

"Does he suspect your father?"

"Yes, and no. He insists that father was cognizant of the murder, but I think he puts the actual deed down to the man with the crape scarf."

"That may be true. Remember what I found!"

"I remember. I also made a discovery," and Brenda told him how she had found the crape scarf burning in the grate of her father\'s study at Chippingholt, how her father had asserted that he was the man seen by Harold, and many other things. Indeed, she told him all she knew, including her conversations with Lady Jenny, with Wilfred, with Van Zwieten and with her father. Chin in hand, Harold listened attentively, putting in a word now and then. When she had finished, he looked utterly perplexed.

"It\'s all such a muddle I can\'t get at the rights of it," he said. "No one will speak out straight, and every one seems to have something to hide. Bad as Van Zwieten is, I don\'t believe he killed Malet. I don\'t see what motive he could have had."

"Unless, as Wilfred says, it were for political reasons."

"Oh, Wilfred\'s crazy about politics," replied Harold, testily. "He thinks of nothing else. It is a perfect mania with him. But Van Zwieten would not be such a fool as to risk his neck because Malet took up the cudgels against the Boers. No, Van Zwieten is innocent enough."

"What about Lady Jenny?"

Captain Burton changed color, and commenced to pace up and down the room. "She wouldn\'t have done it. She is half an Italian, I know, and fearfully passionate, but I think she\'d stop short of that. Besides, although she is a jolly good shot, I doubt very much if she could hit a man in the dark like that so square as to kill him outright."

"But remember, Harold, the shot was fired at close quarters."

"I don\'t believe she\'d have had the nerve for that. Of course it\'s quite possible she may be guilty, but there\'s not a scrap of evidence against her as far as I can see."

"What about the crape? Lady Jenny wore crape!"

"That doesn\'t prove that this scrap was torn from her dress. The crape trimmings on that would lie close to the dress; it wouldn\'t be so easy for a man to make a clutch at them and tear a piece off as at a scarf, with the ends floating freely. My belief is that the morsel of crape was torn from the scarf."

"Well, it was not worn by my father, in spite of what he says."

"No. I dare say that man who left Chippingholt by the late train is the man who fired the shot. But your father knows all about it, Brenda. Otherwise he would not insist that he had worn the scarf, nor would he have burnt it as he did. I think with you that this unknown man is a relative of your father\'s, and that your father is shielding him to avoid the disgrace of having a criminal in the family."

"Aunt Judy would know him if he is a relative."

"That is very probable; you had better ask her."

"Harold, do you think Van Zwieten knows the truth?"

Captain Burton hesitated. "It would seem so," said he, "but I don\'t think he is very sure of the truth, or else he would speak out."

"He threatens you, dear."

"I know he does. He threatened me at Chippingholt. Brenda, I don\'t deny that the man is dangerous, and that he knows more than I like him to know. It is in his power to harm me, and if I marry you he will do his best against me. But that sha\'n\'t stop us, Brenda. We\'ll get married and defy him."

Miss Scarse signified her full approval of this course of action; but she saw that her lover was keeping something back.

"Harold, what else did Van Zwieten say to you at Chippingholt?"

"Oh, nothing of any consequence," replied her lover, uneasily.

"My dear!" Brenda slipped her arm round his neck and drew him down on the sofa beside her. "If you love me, you must trust me. If you think me a sensible woman, you must be honest with me. I know you had some other reason for leaving Chippingholt so suddenly--it was not altogether because you were afraid of telling me about the loss of your money. Van Zwieten told me he could get you into trouble, and now you say the same thing. Tell me what hold he has over you?"

"He has no hold over me," whispered Harold. But she saw that his forehead was beaded with perspiration.

"Tell me--tell me?" she repeated.

"Brenda--I cannot--I dare not."

"Then there is something?"

Captain Burton cast a glance round the room and nodded. "I am not a coward," he groaned; "I hope I am not a coward, but there are some things which make the bravest man afraid. Van Zwieten is a devil!"

"Does he accuse you of the murder?"

"No, he doesn\'t go so far as that, and yet--Brenda," he cried, taking her hand and holding it so tightly that she could have screamed, "don\'t ask me any more; it is not my own secret."

"Has it anything to do with my father?"

"Partly; but you need not be anxious about that. He is in no danger. Leave me to fight it out with Van Zwieten. I shall get the better of him yet. No, no, Brenda, don\'t ask me any more questions; you cannot help me; I must go through with this matter alone. Trust me if you love me."

"I ask you to ............
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