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HOME > Classical Novels > Red Money > CHAPTER XII. THE CONSPIRACY.
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 It was lucky that Lambert did not know of the to which Agnes had to submit, unaided, since he was having a most unhappy time himself. In a expedition he had caught a chill, which had developed once more a fever, contracted in the Congo some years . Whenever his constitution weakened, this ague fit would reappear, and for days, sometimes weeks, he would shiver with cold, and alternately burn with fever. As the autumn mists were hanging round the leafless Abbot's Wood, it was injudicious of him to sit in the open, however warmly clothed, seeing that he was predisposed to disease. But his desire for the society of the woman he loved, and the hopelessness of the outlook, rendered him reckless, and he was more often out of doors than in. The result was that when Agnes came down to relate the interview with Silver, she found him in his swathed in blankets, and reclining in an arm-chair placed as closely to a large wood fire as was possible. He was very ill indeed, poor man, and she uttered an when she saw his cheeks and hollow eyes. Lambert was now as weak as he had been strong, and with the mothering instinct of a woman, she rushed forward to kneel beside his chair.  
"My dear, my dear, why did you not send for me?" she , keeping back her tears with an effort.
"Oh, I'm all right, Agnes," he answered cheerfully, and fondly clasping her hand. "Mrs. Tribb is nursing me capitally."
"I'm doing my best," said the rosy-faced little , who stood at the door with her podgy hands folded over her . "Plenty of bed and food is what I give Master Noel; but bless you, my lady, he won't stay between the blankets, being always a worrit from a boy."
"It seems to me that I am very much between the blankets now," murmured Lambert in a tired voice, and with a glance at his swathed limbs. "Go away, Mrs. Tribb, and get Lady Agnes something to eat."
"I only want a cup of tea," said Agnes, looking anxiously into her lover's bluish-tinted face. "I'm not hungry."
Mrs. Tribb took a long look at the visitor and pursed up her lips, as she shook her head. "Hungry you mayn't be, my lady, but food you must have, and that of the most nourishing and delicate. You look almost as much a as Master Noel there."
"Yes, Agnes, you do seem to be ill," said Lambert with a startled glance at her deadly white face, and at the dark circles under her eyes. "What is the matter, dear?"
"Nothing! Nothing! Don't worry."
Mrs. Tribb still continued to shake her head, and, to vary the movement, nodded like a Chinese . "You ain't looked after proper, my lady, for all your fine London servants, who ain't to be trusted, nohow, having neither hands to do nor hearts to feel for them as wants comforts and attentions. I remember you, my lady, a blooming young rose of a , and now sheets ain't nothing to your . But rose you shall be again, my lady, if wine and food can do what they're meant to do. Tea you shan't have, nohow, but a glass or two of burgundy, and a plate of patty-foo-grass sandwiches, and later a bowl of strong beef tea with port wine to strengthen the same," and Mrs. Tribb, with a look on her face, went away to prepare these .
"My dear! my dear!" murmured Agnes again when the door closed. "You should have sent for me."
"Nonsense," answered Lambert, smoothing her hair. "I'm not a child to cry out at the least scratch. It's only an attack of my old malarial fever, and I shall be all right in a few days."
"Not a few of these days," said Agnes, looking out of the window at the gaunt, dripping trees and gray sky and monoliths. "You ought to come to London and see the doctor."
"Had I come, I should have had to pay you a visit, and I thought that you did not wish me to, until things were adjusted."
Agnes drew back, and, kneeling before the fire, spread out her hands to the blaze. "Will they ever be adjusted?" she asked herself despairingly, but did not say so aloud, as she was to worry the sick man. "Well, I only came down to The for a few days," she said aloud, and in a most cheerful manner. "Jane wants to get the house in order for Garvington, who returns from Paris in a week."
"Agnes! Agnes!" Lambert shook his head. "You are not telling me the truth. I know you too well, my dear."
"I really am staying with Jane at The Manor," she persisted.
"Oh, I believe that; but you are in trouble and came down to consult me."
"Yes," she admitted faintly. "I am in great trouble. But I don't wish to worry you while you are in this state."
"You will worry me a great deal more by keeping silence," said Lambert, sitting up in his chair and drawing the blankets more closely round him. "Do not trouble about me. I'm all right. But you—" he looked at her keenly and with a dismayed expression. "The trouble must be very great," he remarked.
"It may become so, Noel. It has to do with—oh, here is Mrs. Tribb!" and she broke off hurriedly, as the housekeeper appeared with a tray.
"Now, my lady, just you sit in that arm-chair opposite to Master Noel, and I'll put the tray on this small stool beside you. Sandwiches and burgundy wine, my lady, and see that you eat and drink all you can. Walking over on this dripping day," cried Mrs. Tribb, about. "Giving yourself your death of cold, and you with carriages and horses, and them spitting cats of things. You're as bad as Master Noel, my lady. As for him, God bless him evermore, he's—" Mrs. Tribb raised her hands to show that words failed her, and once more vanished through the door to get ready the beef tea.
Agnes did not want to eat, but Lambert, who quite agreed with the kind-hearted practical housekeeper, insisted that she should do so. To please him she took two sandwiches, and a glass of the strong red wine, which brought color back to her cheeks in some degree. When she finished, and had her chair closer to the blaze, he smiled.
"We are just like Darby and Joan," said Lambert, who looked much better for her presence. "I am so glad you are here, Agnes. You are the very best medicine I can have to make me well."
"The idea of comparing me to anything so nasty as medicine," laughed Agnes with an attempt at gayety. "But indeed, Noel, I wish my visit was a pleasant one. But it is not, whatever you may say; I am in great trouble."
"From what—with what—in what?" stuttered Lambert, so confusedly and anxiously that she hesitated to tell him.
"Are you well enough to hear?"
"Of course I am," he answered fretfully, for the began to tell on his nerves. "I would rather know the worst and face the worst than be left to worry over these hints. Has the trouble to do with the murder?"
"Yes. And with Mr. Silver."
"Pine's secretary? I thought you had got rid of him?"
"Oh, yes. Mr. Jarwin said that he was not needed, so I paid him a year's wages instead of giving him notice, and let him go. But I have met him once or twice at the lawyers, as he has been telling Mr. Jarwin about poor Hubert's investments. And yesterday afternoon he came to see me."
"What about?"
Agnes came to the point at once, seeing that it would be better to do so, and put an end to Lambert's suspense. "About a letter supposed to have been written by me, as a means of Hubert to The Manor to be murdered."
Lambert's sallow and pinched face grew a deep red. "Is the man mad?"
"He's enough to ask twenty-five thousand pounds for the letter," she said in a dry tone. "There's not much madness about that request."
"Twenty-five thousand pounds!" Lambert, gripping the arms of his chair and attempting to rise.
"Yes. Don't get up, Noel, you are too weak." Agnes pressed him back into the seat. "Twenty thousand for himself and five thousand for Chaldea."
"Chaldea! Chaldea! What has she got to do with the matter?"
"She holds the letter," said Agnes with a side-glance. "And being jealous of me, she intends to make me suffer, unless I buy her silence and the letter. Otherwise, according to Mr. Silver, she will show it to the police. I have seven days, more or less, in which to make up my mind. Either I must be , or I must face the ."
Lambert heard only one word that struck him in this speech. "Why is Chaldea jealous of you?" he demanded angrily.
"I think you can best answer that question, Noel."
"I certainly can, and answer it honestly, too. Who told you about Chaldea?"
"Mr. Silver, for one, as I have just confessed. Clara Greeby for another. She said that the girl was sitting to you for some picture."
"Esmeralda and Quasimodo," replied the artist quickly. "You will find what I have done of the picture in the next room. But this confounded girl chose to fall in love with me, and since then I have declined to see her. I need hardly tell you, Agnes, that I gave her no encouragement."
"No, dear. I never for one moment supposed that you would."
"All the same, and in spite of my very plain speaking, she continues to haunt me, Agnes. I have avoided her on every occasion, but she comes daily to see Mrs. Tribb, and ask questions about my illness."
"Then, if she comes this afternoon, you must get that letter from her," was the reply. "I wish to see it."
"Silver declares that you wrote it?"
"He does. Chaldea showed it to him."
"It is in your handwriting?"
"So Mr. Silver declares."
Lambert rubbed the of his three days' beard, and uncomfortably in his seat. "I can't gather much from these hints," he said with the fretful of an . "Give me a account of this scoundrel's interview with you, and report his exact words if you can remember them, Agnes."
"I remember them very well. A woman does not forget such insults easily."
"Damn the beast!" muttered Lambert . "Go on, dear."
Agnes patted his hand to him, and forthwith related all that had passed between her and the ex-secretary. Lambert frowned once or twice during the , and bit his lip with anger. Weak as he was, he longed for Silver to be within kicking distance, and it would have fared badly with the foxy little man had he been in the room at the moment. When Agnes ended, her lover reflected for a few minutes.
"It's a ," he declared.
"A conspiracy, Noel?"
"Yes. Chaldea hates you because the fool has chosen to fall in love with me. The discovery of this letter has placed a weapon in her hand to do you an injury, and for the sake of money Silver is assisting her. I will do Chaldea the justice to say that I don't believe she asks a single penny for the letter. To spite you she would go at once to the police. But Silver, seeing that there is money in the business, has prevented her doing so. As to this letter—" He stopped and rubbed his chin again vexedly.
"It must be a ."
"Without doubt, but not of your handwriting, I fancy, in spite of what this daring blackguard says. He informed you that the letter stated how you intended to elope with me on that night, and would leave The Manor by the blue door. Also, on the face of it, it would appear that you had written the letter to your husband, since otherwise it would not have been in his possession. You would not have given him such a hint had an elopement really been arranged."
Agnes frowned. "There was no chance of an elopement being arranged," she observed rather coldly.
"Of course not. You and I know as much, but I am looking at the matter from the point of view of the person who wrote the letter. It can't be your forged handwriting, for Pine would never have believed that you would put him on the track as it were. No, Agnes. Depend upon it, the letter was a warning sent by some sympathetic friend, and is probably an one."
Agnes nodded . "You may be right, Noel. But who wrote to Hubert?"
"We must see the letter and find out."
"But if it is my forged handwriting?"
"I don't believe it is," said Lambert decisively. "No would be so foolish as to conduct his plot ............
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