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HOME > Classical Novels > White Motley > CHAPTER XI THE VIGIL OF TRAGEDY
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Lily watched the boys go down the hillside, and when they were lost to view she did not move from the door of the chalet. An onlooker might have said that her eyes searched the heights for tidings they alone could give her. A bitter wind blowing up the valley, a sky pregnant with omens of tempest, did not drive her back to the shelter of the house. She was unconscious of the cold, and took a cloak from the saturnine maid with a smile and a protest.

"I really do not want it, Louise—I don't feel the cold."

"But, Madame, it is going to snow; you will be ill, Madame, and no one to nurse you."

Lily put the cloak about her shoulders, and then asked the girl another question.

"Can you see a lantern upon the hillside, Louise, up there below Vermala?" The maid, grown curious, came and stood with her, but declared she could see nothing.

"There were gendarmes by here just now, Madame. I know them both, Albert and Philip, from Sion; there will have been trouble at the hotel, then; they would not send Monsieur Albert if it were not so."

Lily nodded her head.

"You do not often have trouble up here, Louise?"

"Ah, Madame, the world is all the same whether you are up in the mountains or down in the valleys. There are wicked people at Andana, just as anywhere else. It would be one of the waiters who has robbed his master. There are Germans at Vermala, and they are all thieves—so, you see, the police must be here."

Lily made no reply. The lanterns had come into view by this time, and could be seen dancing to and fro upon the high path which leads up to the hotel perched upon the plateau below the Zaat. It was apparent that the men were not searching the hillside as she had supposed; and, when she was sure of this, she shut the door and went back to the little library. Louise, meanwhile, had returned to the kitchen to prepare the modest supper which should be served at eight o'clock. Perhaps the gendarmes would pay the chalet a visit upon their return, in view of which possibility some culinary diligence was necessary.

In the library, Lily sat down to her writing-table to finish a letter to her brother Harold, laid aside upon the appearance of the boys, and now taken up with reluctance.

She had been trying to tell her brother to concern himself less with her affairs, and to be sure that whatever she might do, due regard would be paid to the interests and the scruples of others. Such a theme had been difficult enough before the boys appeared; but she found it quite impossible when they had left. Not a line could she write; not a sentence frame. A shadow had enveloped her suddenly, and she could not escape it.

Word by word she pieced together the story she had heard and tried to give it a meaning. A man pursued upon the mountain road and another following him! Then a loud cry heard by several people, and the belief, expressed openly, that murder had been done. Shrinking from her own dread of a terrible truth, she could not quiet the voice which told her that there was but one man at Vermala in whom, the probabilities being considered, the police might be interested—and that man, her husband, Luton! Why, the whole trend of his life pointed to such an end as this. And she had feared and dreamed of it since the day she first learned to know him and to realise the tragedy of her own fate. The end would come before all the world, she had said—and the day of it was at hand!

She put the letter into the blotting book, and went to the window again. The lanterns were no longer to be seen, and the night had come down with a darkness so intense that even the nearer slopes were invisible. Shut from her eyes, the hidden woods were revealed to a keen imagination which filled them with alien figures, searching here and there for a truth which must so alter her own life (if such a truth existed) that hereafter the whole world would hardly offer her a harbourage from the shame of it.

As in a vision, she saw the dead man lying there, deep in the snow, and the white flakes falling anew upon his face. A glow from a lantern searched it out, and declared the horror of the secret. And up there at the hotel another waited, dreading the instant of discovery—perchance preparing already for flight in the hope that discovery might never come.

It was all hysterical, and out of harmony with her good common sense, as she admitted when she turned from the window, and, looking at the clock, discovered it to be half-past six precisely. At seven, Luton had promised to come down from Vermala to see if there were a telegram from Sir Frederick Kennaird—letter there could hardly be for another four and twenty hours. If he came, and assuredly he would come, he might very well give an account of the affair which would so deride her fancies that she would be ashamed even to remember them. Or, he might say that he knew nothing of the affair at all, had taken no part in it, and had not heard it named. The latter was quite an optimistic version, to which she clung tenaciously, sitting again at her writing-table and composing quite a satisfactory epistle upon Andana and its people; to which she added excellent reasons for her preference of the chalet she occupied. The hotel, she declared, was far too noisy—her nerves were no longer equal to the exigencies of distracted youth, nor could she support the banalities of a middle-age which sought to stamp out the years by a grotesque display of elephantine energies. From these she had fled to the solitude of the chalet—a half-truth which entirely overlooked the personal element and skimmed over the broken ground where the seeds of slander had fallen.

Seven o'clock struck while she was still at the table, but there was no sign of Luton, nor any message from him at the quarter past the hour. If he were late, then, she thought, that was the first occasion she could remember when he had neglected an appointment to his own advantage and the benefit of his creditors. He had told her that his need was urgent, and had sent letters from Bothand and Co. confirming his statements. Nine thousand four hundred pounds must be paid if he would stave off those "further proceedings" with which they threatened him; and if he did not pay, then it was clear that the firm would discover at a later date excellent reasons for a criminal prosecution. In such a case, extradition would not be refused, nor would it be difficult for the police to trace a man who was at so little pains to act prudently as Luton Delayne.

The clock struck the three-quarters, and Lily put on her cloak and went to the door aga............
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