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THE TEMPTER'S SNARE. BY THE AUTHOR OP The Curse of the Pomfretts; Sweethearts and Wives," c. [ALL RIGHTS Ruzavia.] CHAPTER VIII-( Ctmtinued.) So little by little the spiders wove their threads more closely round Frida, till one day the unsus- pecting little fly which buzzed about so gaily in the morning sunshine, and singed its wings so thought- lessly at the midnight gas, was caught firmly in their web. Lady Denton, exasperated by her failure to im- press Mr. Maclver with the serious consequences which might result from his wife's levity of conduct, irritated by Frida's submission in the letter but con- tinued opposition in the spirit to her sojourn in Cadogan-square; and beyond all, mortified by the duchess's evident desire to befriend the girl, played her trump card, and one fine morning sought Mr. Maclver out in the library, to ask him if he was aware Mr. Kerkwich had followed his wife to Scot- land. Innocence in the hands of its enemies can always | be dressed up to resemble guilt, and Frida's con- duct, which represented by a friendly counsel would have appeared natural enough, was twisted by her aunt's consummate skill till it took the form of deliberate hypocrisy. During the course of that day which Frida spent down the river in company with Lady Jervoise and her friends, Lady Denton contrived that Sir Milton Banks should come to meet Mr. Maclver at luncheon in Cadogan-square, and so soon as the servants had retired she appealed to their guest to corroborate all the incriminating statements she had made about Frida to his uahappy host in the morning. Frida, according to her aunt, had from the first moment of her marriage, plotted and planned to secure Charlie Kerkwich's presence about her. Her desire to remain abroad when her husband wished to return to England, and her cunning achievement of being left in Rome under Lady Jervoise's care, was brought as a proof against her. Of course you knew Mr. Kerkwich was sent for to act as their cicerone so soon as you started for England ?" Her ladyship was incapable of convev- ing sympathy by her tone, but when Mr. Maclver glanced up quickly, with almost a spasm of pain shooting across his face, she murmured, "Poor James P very effectively; and Sir Milton succeeded in looking unutterably shocked. Oblige me by going on," was the millionaire's only response to their by-play. It is very terrible to me to have to ask, James, did Frida go to the Pavilion Music Hall in Mr. Kerkwich's company with your sanction ?" Heavens, no I pray spare me what you can." Are yon aware she invited Mr. Kerkwich to Glen- allon to see her, aud spent a long day with him in the woods and by the trout streams ?" "No! no I" Mr. Maclver's faith was not killed; but his patience was fast getting exhausted. You bear me out in what I say, Sir Milton ?" continued her ladyship suavely, turning to the baronet for a corroboration of her misrepresenta- tions. Unfortunately truth compels me to." Mr. Maclver gave one quick glance towards them; and then rising with a dignity and composure which did him honour, and which his wife's traducers did not expect from him, he said calmly: I will ask you, Sir Milton, to do my wife the justice and myself the favour of meeting her here to-night. God is my witness that I believe she may be able to meet these foul charges in a way which will dispose of them satisfactorily; at all events, she shall never be judged unheard by mel" and choking, almost broken down, the man whose peace of mind had been so rudely and cruelly disturbed strode from the room the echoes of poor James," bear up, Maclver," ringing and ironical peal in his ears as he hurried from the presence of the pair who had so ungratefully taken advantage of his hospitality to wrong him. Hour after hour of that miserable day on which Frida was enjoying herself so innocently down the river, pnssed for her husband with a dragging slow- ness which none but those who have endured the agonising suspense of waiting for their worst fore- bodings to be confirmed, can realise. In his heart Mr. Maclver knew that, whatever her sins against him might be, Frida was too truthful to deny them when taxed with having committed them; and he dreaded her return home. At last the carriage drove up to the door, a loud ring and mt-tat-t-it was followed by a bustle in the hall, and slowly, almost shamefacedly, Mr. Maclver descended the stairs to question Frida as to her loyalty towards him in the presence of her aunt and Sir Milton. Never had he thought his wife .10 pretty and winsome-looking as when, her bright brown eyes sparkling with excitment, she went up and kissed him, exclaiming- James, I do wish you had been with us, we had such a jolly day I" Not often did the husband and wife indulge in such demonstrations of affection even in private; and now this little outburst on Frida's part, in the pre- sence of a stranger, made Maclver feel more than ever he was a traitor to doubt her. My dear," he began in cowardly fashion, I am glad you had a pleasant day. Who were of your party ?" Oh, the usual set." Frida he knew would not see the necessity for con- cealment. Charlie Kerkwich rowed a race against Lady Jervoise, and beat her by two boat lengths she is tanned the colour of copper, and her poor hands blistered what is the matter ?" Frida stopped short in her account of the day's doings, Lady Denton having assumed such a judicial attitude and Sir Milton Banks adopted such a de- precatory look, that even she saw something was wrong. "Is baby ill ?" that was her first thought. Frida, my dear, I am so grieved to have to ask you to clear yourself from one or two accusations, which I feel must be false, that I hardly know how to commence; but, my dear, will you tell me please, whether when I left you in Rome last spring with Lady Jervoise Morton, Mr. Kerkwich joined you there ?' Mr. Maclver, not in the least the arrogant indi- vidual whose purse-proud ways had so annoyed his wife during the past few months, but a trembling man whose happiness was at stake, took Frida gently by the hand and led her to a chair. Take time to think, dear, before you give me an answer," he said nervously. There's nothing to think about, James. Of course he was there." And went about much with you ?" Yes, everywhere! Lady Jervoise says Rome is not a place ladies can go about conveniently by them- selves in." Frida, why didn't you tell me?" I thought you knew, but what do you mean ?" Her eyes were fixed on her husband, and she saw, plainly enough, that some deep feeling was moving him of which she was unconscious. "Frida, I will ask you to be good enough to reply to my questions; you perceive your husband is too unstrung to address any to you." Lady Denton's frigid tones struck an icy chill into her niece's heart. "Did you, or did you not, Frida,, go to a place called the Pavilion Music Hall in company with Mr. Kerkwich on the evening when you chose, in your childish temper, to leave your husband's roof?" I don't understand you, aunt." You do perfectly, Frida I Let me beg c-f you not to prevaricate, but to make my meaning sure I will ask, have you ever been to the Pavilion with Mr. Kerkwich iO, Once, in company with Lady Jervoise; but why do you want to know?" We will let that pass. Have you admitted Mr. Kerkwich to see you when you were ill and not re- ceiving general visitors ?" He used to come sometimes and bring me pre- sents, you knew that aunt." Did you make a special appointment for him to go to you the day before you left for Scotland?" I asked him to come and say good-bye." Did he visit you at Glenallon ?" Once." Did you spend a day with him in Edinburgh ?" I went there shopping one day with Louise, and met him; we lunched together, and I invited him to come over and see me the next day." James, will this convince you that the miserable work of opening your eyes which Sir Milton and I felt it was our bounden duty to undertake, was not uncalled for ?" Lady Denton had risen from the chair and faced the unhappy millionaire, but a deep groan was his only reply. Oh! my God, Frida, I can't believe it of you, came from his parched lips at last. Aunt! Sir Milton! James dear, what do you all mean ? Speak to me and tell me what I've done; for pity's sake, explain yourselves." Frida had flown across to where her husband was sitting, trying to drag his hands down from his face, and read from his expression what was wrong. The encouragement you have given to Mr. Kerk- wich since your marriage, Frida, ought to explain t. you to the distress of mind under which Mr. Mac. lver is now labouring. A man whom your uncle and I forbade you to entertain as a suitor is not likely to be welcomed by your husband as a friend," and Lady Denton having given vent to this withering speech, rose to leave the room. Aunt, how dare you." Frida's understanding had at last enabled her to grasp the depth of the plot laid against her, and her outraged womanhood asserted itself with a magnifi- cent scorn which though it was almost pitiable to see it called forth in one so young, yet spoke volumes for her innocence. She seized Lady Denton's skirts as the latter was endeavouring to sail from the room, and planting herself firmly with her back to thedoor, faced her accusers. "Lady Denton, Sir Milton Banks! my husband shall answer me one question in your presence, as you have cajoled me into answering many. James, will you, or will you not, take other peoples' words before my own ?" My darling," the poor millionaire looked up at his wife in a dazed way. Don't darling me," exclaimed Frida, stamping her foot: c; that is not what I want. I want justice which has been meted out to me with very bad measure since I married you." What do you want Frida ? I don't understand." I want this much. I want, if you consider me worthy of holding it, my position as mistress of your house. I want you to keep the promise you made me when I married you, as much as before God I swear I have kept the one I made you; I want no gossipping, scandal-inventing matrons to spy on my actions; and James, though I think I must lower myself in your sight by doing it, as much as I'm hurt in my pride by being called on to do so; yet in the presence of this pair of mischief-makers I swear to you before God their slander is false, and I want you to believe me." Frida had worked herself into a state of almost theatrical frenzy so soon as she understood at what her accusers had been driving, and she now paused panting for her husband's reply. "Calm yourself, Frida," at last came slowly from her husband's lips. I shall not calm myself, James Answer me yes or no, straight; do you or do you not believe my word before that of those—I was going to say liars. Aunt, you have taken away every scrap of respect I ever felt for you Sir Milton, you are beneath con- tempt as a man, James, answer me!" My dear, you don't deny appearances are against you. I-I want you to clear yourself; to explain satisfactorily to your aunt, to-to show Sir Milton That will do, James, thank you. From the moment I entered fyour house, Lady Denton, not I, has been mistress of it, and you believe her word, as you prefer her entertaining to mine; the friends who have been kind to me perhaps will shelter me now; at any rate, I will relieve you of the burden of my presence from this hour." Poor Frida She tore upstairs, pealed at her bell for the faithful but imprudent Louise, and amidst a torrent of almost hysterical tears told her what had happened. Mi ladi is what they do call a she-wolf; she do eat up the young lambs from the fold, and do let the old bell wethers of the flock go free," muttered the Frenchwoman with an imprecation. M'dme must cheer up, 'twill be to M'me la Duchesse we will take ourselves. M'me Henriette, the duchesse's maid, considered madame's toilette was by far the most rechercM at the drawing-room, and even royalty took notice of the diamonds M'me wore on that occasion. No, no, cheer up, we will what you call out-wit' those who think to serve their own ends so grandly, and M'me shall reign a happy wife in Cadogan-square, if only to spite mi ladi." Louise was a good girl, despite her love of fun and nonsense, and that spirit of intrigue which carried her further than was at all times wise. She knew right well a crisis had come, and making the excuse to her mistress that she would fetch her a cup of tea, rushed down to consult, with old Martin and the housekeeper without delay. To get Mrs. Maclver safely housed at the Duchess of Warminster's was in the opinion of one and all the wisest course; so in one brief hour after the stormy scene with her husband, Frida, accompanied by her maid, taking only one small portmanteau for luggage, drove off in a hansom cab from the house over which she should have ruled a proud young mistress. So strangely ironical is fate in the way it brings good out of evil that not half-an-hour after his wife had left Cadogan-square, Mr. MacIver, in perfect ignorance as to her whereabout, followed her to the ducal residence, having determined to take council of -the people from whom he had received the most kindness during his short career as a married man. Frida never did a better day's work in her life than when she tood refuge with the duchess. Her grace was one of those women who never desert a friend, and she gathered a very true idea of what had occurred from Frida's broken-hearted hysterical account of her aunt and Sir Milton Banks' behaviour. Not one moment did the duchess allow Frida to think she bad approved of her past conduct. At the same time a motherly heart beat in her bosom, and she knew that to act as if she believed Frida could have been guilty of the levity of conduct ascribed to her would probably drive her to commit ting social sins that as yet had never entered into her young head. So she sat up late into the night talking to her, petting and spoiling her as Lady Denton would have said but at all events learning more of the real character of her young friend than she had ever had an opportunity of doing before and growing to pity her from her heart. When at last Frida showed signs of drowsiness, and the duchess saw that over fatigue consequent on the excitement she had gone through during the day was claiming its toll by ex- acting sleep from Frida's wearied brain, her grace quietly stole away, leaving Louise to attend to her mistress's wants, and went down to join the duke and Lord Berdmore, who were endeavouring to preach peace to Mr. Maclver's troubled souL In his heart the unhappy man believed Frida to be perfectly innocent, but he had not had the courage to withstand Lady Denton's onslaught, nor the social pluck to dare Sir Milton Banks to repeat such slander; consequently Frida must have suffered for her folly had she not had friends such as the Warminsters to back her, and the duchess sympathised more than it was wise to show with her young friend's proud contempt of such mean-spirited ways. However, the first thing to be done was to explain away the misunderstanding, and bring husband and wife together again; and this work, owing to his known skill in diplomacy, devolved by common con- sent upon Lord Berdmore. The meeting between them was extremely funny. Frida was dignified to an extent no one could have thought possible, Mr. Maclver on the other hand dropped all his overweening purse-proud manners, and if anything was a little too humble. But when once the couple had been brought to understand one another, and Frida had owned with a half choke in her voice, that had she known as much as she did now, perhaps she would not have gone quite the length she had done, whilst Mr. Maclver in his turn assured her over again, no one should come between them, the duke and Lord Berdmore beat a retreat, whilst the Duchess only remained because, as she afterwards said, she thought on this occasion her advice might be needed. An hour later-for this interview between husband and wife took place on the morning following their arrival at the Warminster town house-the duchess sought the duke and Lord Berdmore in the smoking room, with a smiling face. How do you thinklt is arranged ?" she exclaimed, with a half doubtful glance at her husband. You've involved me in something especially dis- agreeable, I'll be bound," answered his grace dubi- ously. "Not exactly, at least I hope not; but I have promised we will go up to Glenallon for the shooting this year; and Berdmore, you are included in that invitation; shall you mind mv having accepted it fot you too?" Both men agreed that so far they they had net been committed to anything they could greatly object to, and when the duchess unfolded all the schemes she had discussed with the Maclvers, the duke and Lord Berdmore complimented her on her tact. Frida was to remain with the Warminsters for the rest of their stay in town, it being given out to the world that this arrangement was necessitated by Alicia Denton's forthcoming marriage, for which event Mr. Maclver had most kindly placed his mansion in Cadogan-square at the disposal of her parents and their guests. Frida had willingly agreed to this, and having accepted her part of the compromise the duchess had immediately exacted Mr. Maclver's half from him. She had insisted on his promising that Lady Denton's stay in Cadogan-square should be ter- minated with the daughter's marriage, and although with a little hesitation, Mr. Maclver had ultimately said it should be so. Then Frida had spoken of her own free will, and the duchess said the girl's genuine good-heartedness had brought tears to her eyes, her words having conveyed such a wealth of truth with them. Frida had told her husband in the duchess's pre- sence that she knew she was too young and inexperi- enced to have the control of everything, in fact she did not want it; but socially, and before the world, she would be the head of his establishment; she thought she was the only persen who had a right to, and she appealed to the duchess to confirm her opinion. Her grace had said she would rather hear her to the end before interfering, and accordingly Frida had delivered herself further. w Mr. Maclver possessed a mother, whom Frida had seen once, a dear old motherly soul, whom I could love and go out to," had been the girl's.'description ef this lady. I know she is not grand enough far Aunt Horatia, still James's people are good enough me, and if I had her in the house, I should do very well." Mr. Maclver looked softened and surprised in turns when his wife delivered herself of her ideas," continued the duchess; "but he looked at me and I saw by the appeal in his eyes that if in any way such a plan could be worked he would be glad of it." Mrs. Maclver is a good little soul, 'pon my word she isl a-tchew, a-tchew, a-tchew;" his grace had indulged in a larger pinch than usual, with the consequent results. Wait and hear the end. I ventured to asF Mr. Maclver whether, in the event of its being suggested to her, he thought his mother would agree to a pro- posal to live with him, and uncouth though he may be in some things, I must say the man won my regard from the moment he answered me. If you only were to see my mother, duchess,' he said, I think you would understand her worth; she has never known a daughter's love, and when I married Frida, I hoped she might. Darling,' he went on, apparently altogether forgetting I was by, I can never forgive myself for being such a brute, nor thank you enough for the words you have said and then Frida fell to sobbing, and from a sound I heard I think he did something like it too, and of the girl threw herself on my neck and I felt very much in the way, I led her up to her husband, who put his arms around her. If ever a pair of people have learnt to understand each other, I think we shall find they two have done so under my own roof to-day." Bravo, duchess, you will be capable of providing a heroine for the next three-volume novelist who comes to you for patronage and ideas. Be sure and tell him to say she is founded on fact. Don't be satirical, Berdmore, for I really think I shall. However, time must not be lost, for I must have the carriage round quickly and go to Lady Denton's, whilst you and the duke manage that wretched little sneak Sir Milton Banks, for whom I own to having the most supreme contempt." What about Mr. Kerkwich?" I don't think there is any harm in him Poor Frida does not deny they were very much in love, and ■>f course, this marriage with Mr. Maclver, which now must be made the best of, and is in the eyes of the:world a very much better thing in all respects for her, was never a love match on her part. But mercifully, happiness in the long run does not depend on that, and if these two young people can be separ- ated, and Mr. Maclver's mother, who I imagine to be a harmless old dame proud of her son's success in life, the only foreign element introduced into their lives, I believe Frida and her husband may yet be- come the most united pair of people; which fact, whether she likes it or not, I am going to tell Lady Denton I" The Duchess was even better than her word, for she had a long interview with Lady Denton, in which she obliged the aunt to acknowledge she had mis- judged her niece; and having obtained this admission proceeded to state her opinion very firmly that in every public and possible manner her ladyship must make reparation by upholding Mrs. Maclver's con- duct, and by vacating the Cadogan-square house so soon after her daughter's wedding as was possible, in order that Mrs. Maclver, senior, might be installed 1 in it. Lady Denton could ill-conceal her annoyance at the turn things had taken; but the duchess well knew she would not openly quarrel with her, and went her way to Lady Jervoise's, well pleased with the result of her visit to Frida's aunt. The duke and Lord Berdmore on the other hand, had sought out Charlie Kerkwich, and it was so evidently a case of spite on Sir Milton Bank's part, every answer the young man gave them tallying with what Frida had said, that the only wonder was Lord Berdmore did not horse-whip the baronet when he met him on the steps of the Corinthian Club. Meanwhile, Mr. Maclver thought very seriously over the past; he called to mind how he had worded his proposal to Frida, the few despairing words in which she had accepted it because, she could not be more happy than she was I" and he took himself to task for not having kept his promises to her better. Looking back he saw now that the dearest wish of his heart had not been to please her, morning, noon, and night, as he had said he would; that he had not tried to gratify her every wish, to give her everything she could desire; and in the light of his returning love, his softened feelings, the millionaire, no longer the overbearing, purse proud II man whom Lady Denton had spoilt, but wiser and happier, owned to himself that Frida had had a right to be disappointed over the bargain sho had made in marrying him, and vowed a silent vow that he would love and cherish her henceforth in a way I he had never done before, if only in return she would show him a little of the affection which before ever he crossed her path she had lavished on Charlie Kerkwich. And then, what possessed him Mr. Mac- lver could never afterwards say but undoubtedly it was a heaven-born inspiration seeing it brought such I a happy result he went out and calling a hansom drove straight to Mr. Kerkwich's lodgings; reaching there, not many seconds after the duke and Lord I Berdmore had left. The two men were only slight acquaintances, and ¡ Mr. Maclver had some difficulty in explaining the object of his visit; whilst Charlie Kerkwich, half affronted and inclined to stand on his dignity, half sorry and ready to say so, for the domestic disturb- ance in which all unknowingly he had got himself embroiled, received him in the stiffest manner pos- sible, and in no way attempted to help his guest out with what he had got to say. ^However, after being closeted together for over an hour, the two men parted company on the most cordial of terms. Charlie Kerkwich ringing Mr. I Maclver's hand again and again, as he saw him into a hansom, and the millionaire being driven away in I the direction of the ducal mansion, with a genial smile beaming on his face that had not been seen I there for many long day. I is more than probable that the marriage which took place in the autumn, between Lady Jervoise Morton and Charlie Kerkwich, connected with the look of pleasure that came into MacIver's counten- ance on that occasion. A couple of months before the Morton-Kerkwich marriage came off, Alicia Denton had changed her name and state for that of Lady Amyas Turner and, immediately after, Sir Michael and Lady Denton vacated the house in Cadogan-square in favour of the Maclvers. Just as husband and wife had learnt to understand one another aright, that poor little afflcted babe was j taken from the earthly suffering which must have ] been its portion had it lived. And when the child j was lying in its coffin, its eye-lids closed for ever, its deformity hidden away under the beautiful white flowers they had laid upon it, Frida's pent-up wealth of mother's love, which circumstances had so cruelly kept her from showing whilst the child was alive, broke loose; and the trial of having to part from the little one was almost more than, in her delicate state of health, she could bear. After that Frida was very ill; too ill to be told of Lady Jervoise's wedding, or to rejoice very much when she was shown her new-born son. But old Mrs. MacTver nursed her as tenderly back i to health as if she had been a child of her own, telling the duchess, with tears rolling down her dear old furrowed cheeks, that a better, sveeter, more devoted daughter, James could not hive brought her. And, though it is all thanks to your grace's goodness, as my son and I know well." added the old lady with a break in her voice yet now that Frida has set aside her jaunty ways and got precious baby to interest her, a better wife for my darling boy I could not wish to see." Mr. Maclver, changed from the vulgar, pompous, Eurse-proud man Lady Denton had spoilt, to a quiet sss obtrusive individual, whose self-respect put him at his ease amongst high and low, was playing with the baby. And when the duchess, whose eyes had strayed across the room to where the father was romping with his bonny boy, whose rosy cheeks and sturdy limbs proclaimed him his parents' pride, could steady her voice to reply, it was to her godson, James Warminster Maclver she said, I will never forgive your father and mother again, my dear, if they are silly enough to get a second time to be caught in The Tempter's Snare." THE END.




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