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The Cardinal Moth, Page 2

Fred M. White



  Frobisher sat the following morning in the orchid-house chuckling tohimself and waiting the advent of his two guests to luncheon. Heavenalone could follow the twists and turns of that cunning brain.Frobisher was working out one of his most brilliant schemes now. He tookinfinite pains to obtain by underground passages the things he mighthave obtained openly and easily. But there was the delight of puzzlingother people.

  He looked up presently, conscious of a presence beyond his own. In thedark Frobisher could always tell if anybody came into the room. Hecrooked his wicked head sideways with the air of a connoisseur, and insooth there was good cause for his admiration. Here was something equalat least to his most beautiful and cherished orchids, a tall, gracefulgirl with shining brown hair, and eyes of the deepest, purest blue. Hercomplexion was like old ivory, and as pure, the nose a little short,perhaps, but the sweet mouth was full of strength and character.

  "I came for the flowers that you promised me, Sir Clement," she said.

  "Call me uncle and you shall have the conservatory," Frobisher grinned."I am your uncle by marriage, you know, and your guardian by law.Angela, you are looking lovely. With the exception of a peasant woman Ionce met in Marenna, you are the most beautiful creature I ever saw."

  Angela Lyne listened with absolute indifference. She was accustomed tobe studied like this by Sir Clement Frobisher, whom she loathed anddetested from the bottom of her heart. But Lady Frobisher was her aunt,and Frobisher her guardian for the next year, until she came of age, infact.

  "Give me the flowers," she said. "I am late as it is. I have sent mythings on, for I shall dine with Lady Marchgrave after the concert, andcome home alone. Hafid will let me in."

  "Better take a latchkey," Frobisher suggested. "There! Let me pin themin for you. I'll show you an orchid when you have time to examine itthat will move even you to admiration. But not now; she is too superb acreature for passing admiration. Now I think you will do."

  There was no question of Frobisher's taste or his feeling for arrangingflowers. The blossoms looked superb and yet so natural as they lay onAngela's breast--white orchids shot with sulphur. They were the theme ofadmiration an hour later at Lady Marchgrave's charity concert; theygleamed again on Angela's corsage as she sat in the Grosvenor Squaredrawing-room at dinner. Five-and-twenty people sat round the long tablewith its shaded lights and feathery flowers. There were distinguishedguests present, for Lady Marchgrave was by way of being intellectual,but Angela had eyes for one man only. He had come a little late, andhad slipped quietly into a chair at the bottom of the table--a tall manwith a strong face, not exactly handsome, but full of power. Theclean-shaven lips were very firm, but when the newcomer smiled his facelooked singularly young and sweet. Angela's dinner partner followed herglance with his eyes.

  "If it isn't that beast Denvers," he muttered. "I thought he had beenmurdered in the wilds of Armenia or some such desirable spot. You oughtto be glad, Angela."

  "I am glad, Mr. Arnott," Angela said coldly. "Permit me to remind youagain that I particularly dislike being called by my Christian name; atleast, at present."

  The little man with the hooked nose and the shifting, moist eye, putdown his champagne glass savagely. For some deep, mysterious reason,Sir Clement favoured George Arnott's designs upon Angela, and if nothinginterfered he was pretty sure to get his own way in the end. At presentAngela was coldly disdainful; she little dreamt of the power and cunningof the man she was thwarting. She turned her head away, absentlywaiting for Lady Marchgrave's signal. There was a flutter and rustle ofsilken and lace draperies presently, and the chatter of high-bred voicesfloating from the hall. A good many people had already assembled in thesuite of rooms beyond, for Lady Marchgrave's receptions were popular aswell as fashionable. Angela wandered on until she came to the balconyoverlooking the square. She leant over thoughtfully--her mind had goneback to such a night a year or so before.

  "Mine is a crescent star to-night," a quiet voice behind her said. "Iseemed to divine by instinct where you were. Angela, dear Angela, it isgood to be with you again."

  The girl's face flushed, her blue eyes were full of tenderness. Mostpeople called her cold, but nobody could bring that accusation againsther now. Her two hands went out to Harold Denvers, and he held themboth. For a long while the brown eyes looked into the heavenly blueones.

  "Still the same?" Denvers asked. "Nobody has taken what should be myplace, Angela?"

  "Nobody has taken it, and nobody is ever likely to," Angela smiled."There is supposed to be nothing between us; you refused to bind me, andyou did not write or give me your address, but my heart is yours and youknow it. And if you changed I should never believe in anything again."

  "If I should change! Dear heart, is it likely? If you only knew what Ifelt when I caught sight of you to-night. My queen, my beautiful, whitequeen! If I could only claim you before all the world!"

  Angela bent her head back behind the screen of a fluttering, silkencurtain and kissed the speaker. He held her in his arms just for oneblissful moment.

  "It seems just the same," he said, "as if the clock had been put back ayear, to that night when Sir Clement found us out. The son of the manwhom he had ruined and his rich and lovely ward! There was a dramaticscene for you! But he only grinned in that diabolical way of his, andshortly after that mission to Armenia was offered to me. I neverguessed then who procured it for me, but I know now as well as I knowthat Sir Clement never intended me to come back."

  "Harold! Do you really mean to say that--that----"

  "You hesitate, of course. It is not a pretty thing to say. Life ischeap out there, and if I was killed, what matter? Let us talk of otherand more pleasant things."

  "Of your travels and adventures, for instance. Did you find anywonderful flowers, like you did, for instance, in Borneo, Harold? Wheredid you get that lovely orchid from?"

  A single blossom flamed on the silk lapel of Denvers' coat--a whitishbloom with a cloud of little flowers hovering over it like moths. Itwas the Cardinal Moth again.

  "Unique, is it not?" Harold said. "Thereby hangs a strange, romantictale which would take too long to tell at present. What would SirClement give for it?"

  "Let me have it before I go," asked Angela, eagerly. "I should like toshow it to Sir Clement. He has some wonderful flower that he wants me tosee, but I feel pretty sure that he has nothing like that. I shalldecline to say where I got the bloom from."

  Denvers removed the exquisite bloom with its nodding scarlet moths anddexterously attached it to Angela's own orchids. The thing might havebeen growing there.

  "It seems strange to see that bloom on your innocent breast," Haroldsaid. "It makes me feel quite creepy when I look at it. If you onlyknew the sin and misery and shame and crime that surrounds the CardinalMoth you would hesitate to wear it."

  Angela smiled; she did not possess the imaginative vein.

  "You shall tell me that another time," she said. "Meanwhile you seem tohave dropped from the clouds.... Are your plans more promising for thefuture?"

  "A little nebulous for the present," Denvers admitted, "though the nextexpedition, which is not connected with Sir Clement Frobisher, promiseswell for the future. There is a lot to be done, however, and I amlikely to be in London for the next three weeks or so. And you?"

  "We are here for the season, of course. My aunt is staying at ChaffersCourt till Friday, hence the fact that I am here alone. If you are verygood you shall take me as far as Piccadilly in a taxi. I must see agood deal of you, Hal, for I have been very lonely."

  There was a pathetic little droop in Angela's voice. Harold drew her alittle closer.

  "I wish I could take you out of it, darling," he said. "For your sake,we must try and make the next venture a success. If we can only startthe company fairly, I shall be able to reckon on a thousand a year. Doyou think y
ou could manage on that, Angela?"

  "Yes, or on a great deal less," Angela smiled. "I could be happy withyou anywhere. And you must not forget that I shall have a large fortuneof my own some day."

  Other people were drifting towards the cool air of the balcony now,George Arnott amongst the number. It was getting late, and Angela wastired. She whispered Harold to procure her a cab, and that she wouldsay good-night to Lady Marchgrave and join him presently. The cab came,and so did the lights of Piccadilly all too soon. Denvers lingered onthe steps just for a moment. He was going down to a big country houseon Saturday for the week-end. Would Angela come if he could procure heran invitation? Angela's eyes replied for her. She was in the house atlength by the aid of her latchkey. The dining-room door opened for amoment; there was a rattle of conversation and the smell of Egyptiancigarettes. Evidently Sir Clement was giving one of his famousimpromptu dinner-parties. Angela took the spray of orchids from herbreast and passed hurriedly in the direction of the orchid-house. Thebloom would keep best there, she thought.

  As she passed along the corridor the figure of a man preceded her. Thestranger crept along, looking furtively to the right and the left. Fromhis every gesture he was doing wrong here. Then he darted for theorchid-house and Angela followed directly she had recovered herself.She would corner the man in the conservatory and demand his business.In the conservatory Angela looked about her. The man had vanished.

  He had utterly gone--he was nowhere to be seen. Angela rubbed her eyesin amazement. There was no other way out of the conservatory. Shestood therewith the Cardinal Moth in her hand, aware now that she waslooking into the scared face of Hafid.

  "Take it and burn it, and destroy it," he said in a dazed kind of way."Take it and burn it at once. Dear lady, will you go to bed? Take itand burn it--my head is all hot and confused. Dear lady, do not stayhere, the place is accursed. By the Prophet, I wish I had never beenborn."