Read CHAPTER FIFTEEN - Wife to a Convict of Witness to the Deed , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

Sir Mark awoke the next morning thoroughly convinced that he had been the victim of a scoundrel, but he kept his word, and did everything possible in the way of providing able legal assistance for his son-in-law.  He had taken Myra and her cousin at once to a retired seaside place within easy reach of town, and made James Dale’s case the sole business of his life.

It was a two days’ business, that trial, owing to the efforts made by the counsel for the defence, who fought their client’s cause gallantly.  But it was a losing game from beginning to end; the proofs were utterly crushing.  James Dale had obtained a large income from the forgeries for years, and his companion in the iniquity had purchased property extensively.  The West Indian estates were certainly in existence, and belonged to a family named Barron, but in the prisoner’s case the name was assumed, and in his real patronymic he, with his confederate, was sentenced to seven years’ penal servitude.

“Deserved it, every hour,” said Sir Mark, with a sigh of relief, as he drove away from the court with Guest.  “Now for a few months of quiet abroad, and then I shall have to see the lawyers again.”

Guest looked at him inquiringly.

“Eh?  What do I mean?  Well, I don’t understand much about such matters, but surely under the circumstances the laws of England will not keep my child tied to such a rascal as that.”

Guest was about to speak, but the old man interrupted him.

“Fancy, my lad, after an apprenticeship of seven years to a convict’s life that fellow knocking at my door, and Andrews coming up to say that he had called for his wife.”

Guest shuddered:  the idea was horrible.

“No, no, my lad; that would not do at all.  But there, say no more about it now.  By and by I shall hear what the lawyers think about a divorce.”

They shook hands and parted, the admiral going home, and Guest straight to his friend’s chambers, where he knocked, but there was no answer.

Brettison came out, though, from the adjoining room.

“He has not come back yet from the trial,” Brettison said.

“Indeed!  I looked round the court, but could not see him there.  You have heard, of course?”

“The verdict?  Yes, I was there.”

The two men looked inquiringly into each others’ eyes, and just then a step was heard upon the stairs.

“Here he is,” whispered Guest, and the next minute, looking very calm and self-possessed, Stratton joined them, and asked them in; but Brettison declined, and went back to his own chambers, while Guest followed his friend into his room, thinking, as he entered the quiet, retired place, of how his coming had changed the current of Stratton’s career.

“Sit down, old fellow,” said Stratton cheerfully, and he opened the closet by the fireplace to reach down a box of cigars, which he handed to Guest, and then took one himself.

“Now for it,” thought Guest as Stratton sat back, looking pale still and thin from his illness; but he only went on smoking, apparently waiting for his friend to speak.

“And I don’t know what to say,” thought Guest.

He was relieved from his embarrassment at last by Stratton beginning to talk about one of the current topics of the day, and he left the chambers at last without there having been the slightest reference to the trial.

Guest found his way to Bourne Square the next afternoon, and was startled to find all the shutters closed and the blinds drawn in the upper rooms.

“Out of town” seemed written plainly all over the house, for that nothing serious was the matter was evident from a friendly chat going on at the area gate between two maids, who had dispensed with the hated headgear of slavery ­caps ­and were laughing with a rustic looking young milkman.

Guest took a cab and drove to Miss Jerrold’s, in Bayswater, to find that lady at home and ready to welcome him.

“Gone, my dear boy,” she said.  “Gone to Rome first, and the best thing too.  Ugh!  I never liked that man, Percy Guest.  He looked like silver, but I could feel that he was only electro-plate.  Well, poor Myra had a terrible escape.  It was, of course, her money, and he looked for some of mine.”

“But when are they coming back, Miss Jerrold?”

“Oh, not for a long time, I hope.  It will be the best thing in the world for poor Myra, and I have been thinking that I shall go and join them soon.  Not till they have all had time to calm down.  There is nothing to mind till then.”

She said these last words so meaningly that Guest gave her an inquiring look, and the old lady smiled.

“You want to know why I said that,” she said, “Well, I’ll tell you, Percy Guest.  Old women can speak pretty plainly, and I can trust you to be discreet.  The fact is, my brother is one of the best men that ever breathed, and at sea he had few officers who were his equal, but on shore he is one of those men whom any clever, designing scoundrel could impose upon, and if I don’t go to them and play the dragon of watchfulness we shall be having a foreign count without a penny, or some other dreadful swindler, hoodwinking him till there is another engagement, and poor Myra driven half-mad.”

“What, after such a lesson as this has been, Miss Jerrold?”

“Of course.  Poor Mark will think the best thing for Myra to do will be to marry, so as to get rid of the ambiguous position in which she is placed.  Wife to a convict serving his time.  Poor child, it gives me a shudder every time I think of it.  There, I will not think of it any more.  I’ve made my mind up, and I shall go.”

“I would,” said Guest eagerly.

“Eh?  And pray why, sir?” cried the old lady sharply.

“I thought it would be better,” said Guest confusedly.

“For someone we know, eh?  No, no, sir.  That’s all over now.  Some people had better treat their lives as schoolboys do their slates:  sponge them neatly, make them clean, and begin all over again.”