Read CHAPTER LXXI - UNDER BARCLAY’S SHELL. of The Master of the Ceremonies , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

Denville grew composed at once, and taking Claire’s hand, stood up facing his visitors with a slight trace of the old manner returning, as he bowed and pointed to the stool and bed.

“Poor accommodation for visitors, gentlemen,” he said; “but it is the best I have to offer.  Mr Barclay, Mr Linnell, will you be seated?”

“Couldn’t get to you before, Denville,” said the money-lender, shaking hands warmly.  “Terrible business this.  Miss Claire, my dear, the wife has gone to your house again.  Taken some things with her; said she should stay.”

“Mr Denville, I am truly grieved,” said Linnell, offering his hand, after giving Claire a grave, sad look.  “Mr Barclay and I have come to see of what service we can be to you.”

“Yes, yes, of course, Denville,” cried Barclay briskly.  “Bad business, this, but ­eh, Mr Linnell?”

“Miss Denville,” said the latter, turning to Claire, “as we are about to discuss business matters about counsel and your father’s defence, would you like to leave us?”

“No,” said Denville quickly, as he drew Claire’s hand through his arm, and shook his head.  “You will pardon me, gentlemen, but in the little space of time I am allowed to see visitors, I should like to keep my child by my side.  Gentlemen ­Mr Barclay ­Mr Linnell ­half an hour ago I said that I had no friends.  I was wrong ­I thank you for coming.  God bless you!”

“Why, of course you had friends, Denville,” cried Barclay.  “You don’t suppose because a man’s hard and fast over money matters, that he has no bowels of compassion, do you?  But now, business.  About counsel for your defence?”

“I had already discussed the matter with my daughter, gentlemen.  Counsel!  It is useless.  I need none.”

“Need none, Mr Denville?” cried Linnell quickly.  “Pray think of what you are saying.  You must have legal help.”

Claire darted a grateful look at Linnell, and then drew back with pain depicted in her countenance, mingled with pride and mortification as she saw the coldness in his manner towards her.

“I must repeat what I said, Mr Linnell,” said Denville in a low, pained voice.  “I want no counsel.  I will have none, but I thank you all the same, Mr Barclay.  Claire, my child, you will pardon me.  I must speak with Mr Barclay.”

Claire shrank into one corner of the cell, her brow drawn with the pain inflicted upon her as her father kept reverting to his old displays of deportment and mincing ways ­ways that had become so habitual that even now, incongruous as they were, he could not quite throw them off.

“You need not go, Mr Linnell,” he continued, “that is if you will bear with the pain of listening to a dying man’s request.  We have never been friends, sir, but I am your debtor now for your kindly act.  My dear Barclay, the little drama of my poor life is nearly over; the curtain is about to fall.  You have known me long ­my little ambitious hopes and disappointments.  I cannot say to my child there is a home for her with her sister; will you help her when ­you know what I would say?”

“Denville, old fellow, I don’t know what to say to this,” said Barclay quickly.  “It’s a mystery to me.  Damn it, sir, I can’t believe you killed that old woman even now.  I want to get you counsel who will clear you, sir, and throw the deed on to whoever did it ­some one unknown.”

“Hush! ­hush!  Pray hush!” cried Denville, shuddering.  “We are wasting time.  Barclay ­my daughter.”

“My dear old fellow,” said the money-lender quickly, “I told you that my wife had gone on to your place to see Miss Claire there.  Don’t you be afraid for her.  She has a friend in Mrs B who will never fail her.  Friend?  She will prove a mother.  Don’t you trouble about Miss Claire.  There’s only one obstacle to her having a happy home, and that’s me, and ­”

He stopped short, for his voice had turned husky, and gripping Denville’s hand very tightly, he held it for a few minutes.

“God bless her sweet face!” he whispered; “we never believed one of the miserable scandals about her, Denville.  But now about yourself.”

Denville turned away his face, took a couple of steps to the side, and stood with his back to them for a few minutes.  Then, turning, with his face wearing a curious look of calm, he laid his hand upon Barclay’s arm.

“You have taken away the bitterness of death, Barclay,” he said in a low voice.  “Heaven help me for the weakest of men.  I never knew who were my friends.”

“Then you will let us get counsel for you?”

“No, no!  I forbid it,” said Denville sternly.  “Good-bye, Mr Linnell.  I thank you.  Barclay, God bless you!”

His voice trembled as he pressed the money-lender’s hand, for the gaoler had opened the door, and was waiting to usher them out.

“Claire, my child,” he whispered, taking her in his arms, “you will come again.  Good-bye now.  Good-bye.”

She clung to him wildly for a few moments, and then, with a look of desolation in her eyes, slowly followed the gaoler and the other visitors along the echoing stone passages to the gate, where Linnell laid his hand upon her arm.

Before he could speak there was a rustle of a silk dress, a hurried panting as some one brushed by him, and a voluble voice exclaimed: 

“They wouldn’t let me in, my dear, and I’ve been waiting for you to come.  There, there, there, you and May are coming home along with me, and ­”

Her voice died away as Linnell stood there, feeling desolate and cold.  There was an intense bitterness in his heart, as he told himself that his love for Claire was of a very poor type, that he had been ready to believe ill of her, and let that love become chilled.  What had he done now that she was plunged into the very depths of despair?  Almost held aloof when he would have given all he had ­life itself ­to save her from her pain.

“I am mad, jealous, weak, and contemptible,” he cried to himself at last.  “I will go to her and tell her I love her more than ever.  It is not too late.”

He had taken a step to follow, when a hand was laid upon his arm, and Barclay said huskily: 

“There’s a woman for you, Mr Linnell, sir.  I often think she ought to have had a better husband.  There, the best thing is to let them alone together.  You wouldn’t think it, Mr Linnell, with me, such a hard nut as I am, but this business has quit upset me.  Good-day, sir, good-day.”

“Good-day, Mr Barclay,” said Linnell dreamily; and they were parting, when Barclay said in a low quick whisper: 

“You may think of some way of helping the old fellow, Mr Linnell.  If you do there’s any amount of money ready for the lawyers, if you give me a hint.  For he’s an innocent man, sir.  Kill that old woman?  Pho!  Pooh!  Stuff!  He couldn’t kill a cat!”