Read CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT - Caught once more. of Blind Policy , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

Marion did not check her pace till, hot and breathless, she was forced to rest for a few minutes.  Her brain was in a state of bewildering confusion, and had Chester been there then to plead his cause, her heart would have made but a poor defence.  She would have been his, and his alone.

But in a few minutes she began to grow calmer; the dangers of such a course were more and more apparent, and at last, as she walked on towards The Towers, her thoughts of the future assumed their wonted current, and she began to plan.

She was not long in deciding what to do.  Chester was evidently staying somewhere near at hand; he would grow more and more persistent, and she could see nothing in the future but his presence being discovered by James Clareborough or his brother, and then some terrible mischief would arise, and fresh misery ensue.

There seemed to be but one course open, and that was to escape from Chester’s pursuit and to this end she went quietly into her own room to try and grow more composed, joined the others at lunch, and then in the most quiet, matter-of-fact way ordered the pony carriage to be round directly after for a drive.

“You will not go with me, I suppose, Di?” she said to James’s wife.

“I?  No, thank you, Marion.  I am not well to-day,” said the lady, flushing.

“Will you come, Hester?” she continued.

“I can’t; I am going over to the Ellistons’ to tennis,” was the reply.

“Then I’ll have my little drive alone,” said Marion, smiling; and shortly afterwards she stepped into the phaeton, the boy groom sprang up behind, and the spirited little ponies started off along the park drive at a rapid pace.

“How nice Marion always looks,” said Mrs Dennis, “and how well she drives.”

“Yes,” said her sister-in-law, bitterly; “everyone admires her.  It is always Marion, Marion!  Why did he not marry her?  He would if I died.  How long does it take, Hester, to break a woman’s heart?”

“Oh, hush, hush, dear!” whispered her sister-in-law, soothingly.  “I know how sad it is, but you ought not to be so cold to poor Marion.  I honestly believe that she absolutely hates James.”

“Hates? when she does all that she can to lure him on?”

“That is not true, dear,” said Mrs Dennis, gravely.  “I know Marion better than you do, because you have always shut your heart against her.”

“Well, can you wonder?”

“Yes and no.  It is a terrible position, and I pity you, dear; but believe me, James’s advances fill Marion with disgust and shame, and some day you will find this out.”

“I’d give the world to believe it,” sobbed the wretched woman, “but I cannot, and I am certain that she has gone to keep some appointment with him now.”

“You are unjust, Di dear,” said Mrs Dennis, kissing her lovingly.

“I am a miserable, unhappy woman, ill-treated and scorned by the man who swore to love me.  What else can you expect?  Why did I ever enter this wretched family?”

“Dazzled as I was by the wealth and show, I suppose,” said Mrs Dennis, coldly.  “But we are their wives, and must bear our lot.”

“It is easy for you, Hester,” said Mrs James, clinging to her sister-in-law now.  “Paddy is always manly and kind.  He is never like James.”

“No,” said the lady addressed.  “I could not ­No, no, don’t let’s talk about that.  There, there, dear; believe me, it would be best to try and wean him from her.  Some day there may be a great change.  I believe that sooner or later Rob and Marion will break away.”

“Or James and Marion,” said her sister-in-law, bitterly.

“No, no.  Try and be just, dear, and do all you can to win Jem from his wretched madness.  We want no more terrible quarrels.  Next time someone else might suffer from a pistol shot, and then ­”

“You mean James,” cried his wife, with a spasmodic movement of her hand to her breast.

“Yes,” said Mrs Dennis, “I mean James.  Rob would certainly resent it fiercely.”

The unhappy wife turned pale, and shivered as she walked away.  Meanwhile, in accordance with her plans, Marion drove by a cross road to the pleasant little Kentish town half a dozen miles away, pulled up at the station, and on alighting handed the reins to the young groom, told him to wait for an hour, and if she were not back by the next train to drive home.

Then entering the station she took a ticket for London, too deeply intent upon her own thoughts to notice who followed her into the office; and as soon as the train drew up, she stepped into an empty compartment and drew up the glasses, to go on thinking out her further proceedings, for her mind was now made up.

She had ample means, her brother having well provided her with a banking account of her own, and her intention was to go straight to the town house, pack up a couple of trunks, and take the night boat for Dieppe, and thence go on to Switzerland, where she could extend her projects, though where she went mattered little so long as she could avoid another meeting with her pursuer.

The train was gathering speed for its straight run on to the terminus, and she was congratulating herself upon her decision, and then thinking that there was only one difficulty in her way ­the opposition which might arise on the part of the old housekeeper.  But she concluded that a little firmness would suffice; if not, a frank avowal of the dangers she foresaw would win the old woman to her side, and then, once free from the trammels which surrounded her, she would perhaps regain her peace of mind, so broken since that terrible night when she fetched Chester to her brother.

“And he will soon forget me and return to her who is his by right, and then ­”

She uttered a wild cry of alarm and shrank back for a moment or two in the corner of the compartment, for, in spite of the great speed at which they were going, the carriage window on her left was suddenly darkened, the door thrown open, and a man climbed in, fastening the door again, and then sinking panting upon the opposite seat.

“You here?” she cried wildly.  “Oh! what madness!”

“Yes, hardly the work of a sane man, with a train going at express speed.”

“You might have been killed!” cried Marion, trying hard to be firm, and descending to commonplaces.

“Yes, it seemed very likely once, for the carriages were a good way apart; but if I had been, what then?  Not the first man who has died for a woman’s sake.”

“Why have you come?” she said hurriedly.

“Why have I come?” he replied contemptuously.  “You ask that!  Well, let me tell you; because I knew that sooner or later you would try to elude me; and I have watched night and day to prevent that.  Correct me if I am wrong; my heart tells me that you are going up to town to avoid me, and are then going further to be where I cannot find you.  Am I correct?”

“Yes, quite,” she replied gravely.  “I did not know that I was so weak.  I know it now, and, as I have told you, we must never meet again.”

“I will not argue with you,” he said, “only tell you once more that you take a woman’s view of imaginary danger.  I take that of a man determined to sacrifice life sooner than lose sight of you again ­a poor stake, perhaps, for without you it is a worthless thing, but it is all I have.”

She sighed and he saw that her face grew harder, as she avoided his gaze and sat looking out of the window in silence.

“Do I understand you,” she said at last, “that you mean to follow me?”

“To the world’s end,” he cried.

“Is his manly, to force yourself upon a helpless woman?”

“No; it is despicable perhaps, but I am lost now to reason.  You are everything to me; to be near you is to live ­to lose sight of you is to die.  You are my fate, and you draw me to your side.”

“To your ruin, perhaps to your death,” she said wildly.  “You must have grasped what kind of men my relatives are.  You must have seen what risk you run.”

“Yes, I have seen and thought out all this, but it is as nothing to your love.”

“And would you see me suffer through your folly and imprudence?”

“I would give anything to spare you suffering.”

“Then leave me before my agony becomes too great to bear.”

“I ­can ­not!” he cried.  “Drive me from you, and when I find that all hope is gone, then I will seek for rest.”

“What!” she cried.

He shrugged his shoulders.

“I am no boasting boy,” he said sadly.  “Everything to make life worth living will be gone, and an easy painless death beckoning me on.  I am a doctor, I have but to go home, and there it is, to my hand.”

She said nothing, but sank back in the corner of the carriage, covering her face with her hands; and he saw that her breast was heaving with the painful sobs struggling for exit.

He bent over towards her, and touched her arm.

“Marion,” he whispered.

She started from him as if she had been stung, and her eyes flashed as her hands fell into her lap.

“Don’t touch me!” she said wildly.  “You are mad.”

The train sped on rapidly, taking them nearer and nearer to their fate, as both sat back in silence now ­she trembling, battling with her heart in her struggle to devise some means of escaping him, he sinking into a dull, stolid state of determination, for, come what might, he was resolved never to leave her now.

At last the train slowed up to the station where the tickets were taken, and Marion handed hers.

“I have no ticket,” said Chester, quietly, handing the man a sovereign.  “I had not time to go to the booking-office.  I got in at Bineleigh.  This lady will bear me out.”

The man quickly wrote a receipt and handed it with the change.  Then the train glided on once more, and in a few minutes they were in the great terminus.

“You have no carriage waiting?” Chester asked.

“No,” she said quietly; “I’ll take a cab.”

Chester summoned one, and handed her in.

“Where do you wish to be driven?” he said.

“Home.”

“May I come with you, or must I follow in another cab?” he asked.

“I am at your mercy, Dr Chester,” she replied sadly.

He hesitated for a moment, then told the driver the name and number of the street, and sprang in.

Marion drew a deep catching breath as he took his seat by her side, and then remained silent till they reached the familiar doorway.  Here, in the most matter-of-fact way, Chester alighted and handed out his companion and they walked up to the door together, Chester reaching out to pull the bell.

“No,” she said, speaking in a quick, startled tone of voice, and he looked at her wonderingly, for she opened the door with a latch-key, stepped in, holding the door with one hand and extending the other.

“Now,” she said firmly, “good-bye.”

For answer he stepped forward with a smile, but not to take her hand.  He pressed the door gently, but with sufficient force to make her give way, and his foot was on the step.

“No, no, for pity’s sake!” she almost moaned; “it may mean your death.”

“Well, better that than an empty life,” he cried, as she slowly gave way, mastered by the force that held her in its strange power.  The next minute the door was closed, and they stood together in the great, dim hall.

He saw that she was struggling to be firm, but a wave of triumphant joy carried him on, for he knew that he had won.

“My own!” he whispered passionately; “at last! at last!” and he clasped her in his arms.

“No, no!” she cried, making one last effort for the supremacy; and, thrusting him violently away, she turned and fled towards the end of the hall, darted through the open doorway into the great darkened dining-room and tried to shut the door.

But he was too close, and this time he caught her in his arms, raised her from the carpet, to bear her to the couch that had borne her wounded brother for so long, and there, letting her sink down, dropped upon his knees at her feet.

The room was very dim, the electric light being only slightly raised, but he could see her half-closed eyes and trembling lips, as she bent over towards him now till her brow rested upon his shoulder.

“This is not death, but life,” he whispered passionately.  “Tell me, you were going to escape from me?”

“Yes.”

“Where were you going?”

“Abroad ­Switzerland.”

“When?”

“To-night.”

“Yes, to-night,” he said softly, “and I with you, dearest.  Your slave ­ yourself ­one with you always.  Marion, we must never part again.”

“Never part again,” she whispered back, as his lips sought hers.  “You have mastered.  I can resist no more; take me, dearest ­I am yours.  But we must go at once.  At any moment they may return.”

“Who may?  Your brother and James Clareborough?”

“Yes.  Come away.”

“To the world’s end with you,” he whispered, but she uttered a cry and sprang to her feet.

“What is it?” he whispered.

“Didn’t you hear?  Come.”

She led the way quickly into the hall, and the voices her preternaturally sharpened hearing had detected came from below.

Marion caught Chester’s hand and ran with him towards the great front door, which they had almost reached, when there was a sharp, quick rattling sound before them and the dull movement of feet upon the stone step.

The next moment the door was opening towards them.

Hemmed in, with peril on either hand.