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HOME > Classical Novels > Red Money > CHAPTER XVI. THE LAST STRAW.
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 Lady Agnes was when she informed Miss Greeby that her cousin had taken a house in Kensington, since, like many women, she was accustomed to speak in general terms, rather than in a precise way. The young man certainly did live in the suburb she mentioned, but he had simply rented a furnished flat in one of the cheaper streets. He was the poorest of all the Lamberts, and could scarcely pay his club , much less live in the style his ancient name demanded. The St. James's had merely been lent to him by a friend, and when the owner returned, the temporary occupant had to shift. Therefore, on the score of economy, he hired the flat and brought up Mrs. Tribb to look after it. The little woman, on her master's account, was disgusted with the mean surroundings.  
"When you ought to be living in a kind of Buckingham Palace, Master Noel, as I should declare with my dying breath," she said indignantly. "And have the title, too, if things was as they ought to be."
"I shouldn't be much better off if I did have the title, Mrs. Tribb," replied Lambert with a . "It's common knowledge that Garvington can scarcely keep his head above water. As an old family servant you should know."
"Ah, Master Noel, there's many things as I know, as I'm sorry I do know," said Mrs. Tribb incoherently. "And them lords as is dead and buried did waste the money, there's no denying. But some of your cousins, Master Noel, have gone into trade and made money, more shame to them."
"I don't see that, Mrs. Tribb. I'd go into trade myself if I had any head for figures. There's no disgrace in trade."
"Not for them as isn't Lamberts, Master Noel, and far be it from me to say so, not being so rich as they used to be when my mother was a . I don't hold with it though for you, sir. But now Lady Agnes having millions and billions will make things easier for you."
"Certainly not, Mrs. Tribb. How could I take money from her?"
"And why not, Master Noel? if you'll excuse my making so free. As a child she'd give you anything in the way of toys, and as a grown-up, her head is yours if not her heart, as is—"
"There! there! Don't talk any more," said Lambert, coloring and .
"I haven't annoyed you, sir, I hope. It's my heart as speaks."
"I appreciate the interest you take in the family, Mrs. Tribb, but you had better leave some things unsaid. Now, go and prepare tea, as Lady Agnes has written saying she will be here this afternoon."
"Oh, Master Noel, and you only tell me now. Then there ain't time to cook them cakes she dotes on."
But Lambert declined to argue further, and Mrs. Tribb withdrew, murmuring that she would have to make shift with sandwiches. Her tongue was assuredly something of a nuisance, but the young man knew how she was to the family, and, since she had looked after him when he was a child, he sanctioned in her a freedom he would not have permitted any one else to indulge in. And it is to be feared, that the little woman in her sometimes abused her privileges.
The sitting room was small and , and atrociously furnished in an overcrowded way. There were patterns on the wall-paper, on the carpet, on the and curtains, until the eye ached for a clean surface without a design. And there were so many ill-matched colors, for purposes, that Lambert to the core of his soul when he them. To the glaring , he pulled down the blinds of the two windows which looked on to a dull roadway, and thus shut out the weak sunshine. Then he threw himself into an uncomfortable arm-chair and sought in his briar root. The future was dark, the present was disagreeable, and the past would not bear thinking about, so intimately did it deal with the murder of Pine, the threats of Silver, and the occasioned by the sacrifice of Agnes to the family fetish. It was in the young man's mind to leave England forthwith and begin a new life, unhampered by former troubles and present . But Agnes required help and could not be left to struggle unaided, so Lambert silently again, as he had vowed before, to stand by her to the end. Yet so far he was unable to see what the end would be.
While he thus the unpleasantness of life he became aware that the front door bell was ringing, and he heard Mrs. Tribb hurrying along the passage. So thin were the walls, and so near the door that he heard also the housekeeper's welcome, which was cut short by a of surprise. Lambert idly wondered what caused the little woman's , but speedily learned when Agnes appeared in the room. With rare Mrs. Tribb in the visitor and then fled to the kitchen to wonder why the widow had discarded her mourning. "And him only planted six months, as you might say," murmured the puzzled woman. "Whatever will Master Noel say to such goings on?"
Master Noel said nothing, because he was too astonished to speak, and Agnes, seeing his surprise, and guessing its cause, waited, somewhat , for him to make an observation. She was dressed in a gray silk frock, with a hat and gloves, and shoes to match, and drew off a fur-lined cloak of maroon-colored , when she entered the room. Her face was somewhat pale and her eyes looked large, but she had a expression about her mouth, which showed that she had made up her mind. Lambert, swift, from long association, to read her moods, wondered what conclusion she had arrived at, and proceeded to inquire.
"Whatever is the meaning of this?" he demanded, startled.
"This dress?"
"Of course. Where is your widow's cap and—"
"In the fire, and there they can remain until they are burned to ashes."
Lambert stared harder than ever. "What does it mean?" he asked again.
"It means," said Agnes, replying very directly, "that the victim is no longer decked out for the sacrifice. It means, that as Hubert insulted me by his will, I no longer intend to consider his memory."
"But, Agnes, you respected him. You always said that you did?"
"Quite so, until his will was read. Then when I found that his mean jealousy—which was unreasonable—had arranged to rob me of my income by preventing my marriage with you, I ceased to have any regard for him. Hubert knew that I loved you, and was content to take me on those terms so long as I was loyal to him. I was loyal, and did what I could to show him for the way in which he helped the family. Now his will has broken the bargain I respect him no longer, and for that reason I refuse to pose any longer as a grieving widow."
"I wonder, with these thoughts, that you posed at all," said Lambert gloomily, and pushed forward a chair.
"I could not make up my mind until lately what to do," explained Agnes, sitting down , "and while I accepted his money it appeared to me that I ought to show his memory the outward respect of crape and all the rest of it. Now," she leaned forward and meaningly, "I am resolved to surrender the money. That breaks the link between us. The will! the will!" she tapped an impatient foot on the carpet. "How could you expect any woman to put up with such an insult?"
Lambert dropped on the sofa and looked at her hard. "What's up?" he asked anxiously. "I never saw you like this before."
"I was not free when you last saw me," she replied dryly.
"Oh, yes; you were a widow."
"I mean free, in my own mind, to marry you. I am now. I don't intend to consider the family or society, or Mr. Silver's threats, or anything else. I have shaken off my ; I have discarded my ring." She violently pulled off her glove to show that the circle of gold was absent. "I am free, and I thank God that I am free."
"Agnes! Agnes! I can't reduce you to poverty by marrying you. It would not be honorable of me."
"And would it be honorable on my part for me to keep the money of a man I despise because his will insults me?" she retorted.
"We argued all this before."
"Yes, we did, and concluded to wait until we saw how the estates could be freed before we came to any conclusion."
"And do you see now how the estates can be freed without using Pine's money, Agnes?" asked Lambert anxiously.
"No. Things are ever so much worse than I thought. Garvington can hold out for another year, but at the end of twelve months the estates will be sold up by the person whose name is in the sealed envelope, and he will be reduced to some hundreds a year. The Lamberts!" she waved her arm dramatically, "are ruined, my dear; entirely ruined!"
"And for the simple reason that you wish us to place love before duty."
Agnes leaned forward and took his hand firmly. "Noel, you love me?"
"Of course I do."
"Do you love the family name better?"
"In one way I wish to save it, in another I am willing to let it go hang."
"Yes. Those were my views until three or four days ago."
"And what caused you to change your mind, dear?"
"A visit which Clara Greeby paid me."
"Oh." Lambert sat up very straight. "She hasn't been making , has she?"
"Not at all. On the contrary, she has done both of us a great service."
Lambert nodded thankfully. He felt doubtful as to whether Miss Greeby really had meant to her absurd passion for himself, and it was a relief to find that she had been honestly. "Has she then learned who killed Pine?" he asked cautiously.
Lady Agnes suddenly rose and began to pace the room, twisting her gloves and trying to control herself. Usually she was so composed that Lambert wondered at this restlessness. He wondered still more when she burst into violent tears, and therefore hastened to draw her back to the chair. When she was seated he knelt beside her and passed his arm round her neck, as as she was. It was so unlike Agnes to break down in this way, and more unlike her to brokenly. "Oh, I'm afraid—I'm afraid."
"Afraid of what, darling?"
"I'm afraid to learn who killed my husband. He might have done so, and yet he only fired the first shot—"
"Agnes," Lambert rose up suddenly, "are you talking of Garvington?"
"Yes." She leaned back and dried her tears. "In spite of what he says, I am afraid he may be guilty."
Lambert's heart seemed to stand still. "You talk rubbish!" he cried angrily.
"I wish it was. Oh, how I wish it was rubbish! But I can't be sure. Of course, he may have meant what he says—"
"What does he say? Tell me everything. Oh, heavens!" Lambert clutched his smooth hair. "What does it all mean?"
"Ruin to the Lambert family. I told you so."
"You have only told me so far. I don't understand how you can arrive at the conclusion that Garvington is guilty. Agnes, don't go on crying in so unnecessary a way. If things have to be faced, surely we are strong enough to face them. Don't let our emotions make fools of us. Stop it! Stop it!" he said sharply and stamping. "Dry your eyes and explain matters."
"I—I can't help my feelings," Agnes, beginning to resp............
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