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    Chapter 38

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    Chapter 38
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    The Chapel in the Wood

    There is a little chapel which stands back from the Bagshot Road. The beauty of its outlines is hidden by the jealous trees. An open gateway in a side road leads, apparently, into the cool depths of the wood, without any suggestion that anything more solid than the pines or more beautiful than the wild violets that grow here in spring is concealed there.

    Ralph Hamon left his car on the Bagshot Road and proceeded afoot to his investigations. For a time he stood looking at the graceful lines of the little edifice, though in his mind there was no thought of its aesthetic beauty or the loveliness of its surroundings. He only wondered who could have been such a fool as to build a church miles from the nearest village. He also speculated as to what the collections were, and what it cost to build the chapel, and who was the lunatic who had endowed such a useless structure.

    The door was open: he went into the tiny porch and pushed gingerly at the baize door. The interior, with its gorgeous stained-glass windows and its marble altar, looked bigger than it actually was. A man was sweeping the tessellated floor, and looked round as he heard the door close.

    "Good-day to you," said Ralph. "Is the vicar about?"

    The cleaner shook his head.

    "No, sir, there's no vicar here. The curate of St. Barnabas' generally comes over to take the service. But usually we open it for marriages--there is one to-day."

    "Why for marriages?" asked Ralph, surprised.

    "Because it's romantic," said the man vaguely. "You know what young people are--they like a bit of romance in their lives. It was built for a marrying church by a rich young parson named--now, what was his name?"

    "Bannockwaite?" suggested Ralph.

    "That's the name." The verger shook his head. "He was a bad lot, according to what I've heard."

    It was a marrying church! That was good news. There would be a register. He asked the question.

    "Yes, sir, the register is kept here."

    He looked round dubiously toward the vestry door.

    "I don't know whether I'm supposed to show it to you. You have to pay a fee, don't you?"

    "I'll pay your fee, my friend. You produce your register."

    He followed the man through the little arched doorway into a small stone room furnished with a table and a few chairs. His fear was that the verger would not have either the authority for or the opportunity of showing him the book, but apparently there was no difficulty here, for the man unlocked the chest and laid a heavy volume on the table.

    "What date would it be?"

    "It would be five or six years ago," said Hamon.

    "That's as long as the church has been built," said the verger doubtfully, and turned back to the first page to verify his statement.

    And the first entry on the first page was the record of a marriage between Ferdinand Charles Farringdon and Joan Mary Carston!

    With fingers that trembled he made a copy of the entry, tipped the verger lavishly, and hurried out into the open. He saw a man walking unconcernedly between the pines, but, in his excitement, scarcely noticed, let alone recognised him.

    How was he to use his knowledge to the best advantage? Should he go to the girl, tell her all he knew, and threaten her with exposure? He rejected this plan. What was there to expose? Still, he had the knowledge, and sooner or later it must be of value.

    He went back to town in a more cheerful mood than he had been for days. Julius Welling watched his departure, and would have followed instantly, but he was anxious to know what business had brought the financier to Ascot....

    Lydia was superintending her packing when her brother arrived, and she was more amiable than usual.

    "You're back, Ralph?" she said. "I wanted to see you about one or two things. You can't tell how glad I am you've decided to go to America. I've always wanted to see the United States. You'll go to Palm Beach, won't you----"

    "Let us get this thing right before we go any farther," said Hamon. "We are not going to America!"

    Her face fell.

    "We're going to Morocco."

    "Morocco!" she gasped. "But, Ralph, you've made the reservations."

    He sighed wearily.

    "It was necessary to make reservations, because I don't want anybody to know what my plans are."

    "But you have loaned the yacht to Lord Creith. You said you hated the idea of a sea voyage----"

    "We're going by train--as you suggested," said Hamon. "My business calls me there, and it is absolutely necessary that I should see Sadi before Christmas."

    She was silent and resentful, and stood biting her lip and regarding him from under her lowered brows.

    "I don't like this, Ralph," she said. "There is something wrong."

    "There is more than one thing wrong, my dear," he said. "The whole universe is a little off its feet, and I am speaking more especially of my universe. I'll tell you this plainly: I want Joan Carston."

    She looked up at him.

    "You mean you want to marry her?"

    "I want to marry her if it is possible," he said carefully. "There are certain obstacles in the way for the moment, but they won't remain obstacles very long."

    "But if she doesn't like you----?"

    "What married couple ever like one another?" said Ralph roughly. "They are infatuated--in love, as they call it. But liking is a matter of growth and a matter of respect. And you can make a woman respect you in half-a-dozen ways. The first essential to respect is fear. Puzzle that out, my girl."

    "Is it necessary that I should come?"

    "Very necessary," he said promptly.

    She took a cigarette from a little jewelled case and lit it, watching him keenly.

    "I suppose you'll want a whole lot of help from Sadi Hafiz?" she said carelessly.

    "I certainly shall."

    "And you think that Sadi will be more amenable--if I am there?"

    His surprise did not deceive her.

    "I have never thought of it in that light," he said.

    "I hate the place!" She stamped her foot angrily. "That beastly old house and dingy garden, and those wretched women prying at me from behind the grilles----"

    "It is a lovely house," he interrupted enthusiastically, "and the air is like wine----" He stopped suddenly.

    "You're thinking of another house," she said quickly. "Has he another?"

    "I believe he has, somewhere on the hills," he answered shortly, and refused to be drawn any further on the subject.

    He locked himself in his study for the rest of the day, and she thought he was working; imagined him turning out drawers, destroying papers, and clearing up the correspondence that such a man allowed to fall into arrears. But, in truth, Ralph Hamon was dreaming. He sprawled in an easy chair, his eyes fixed on vacancy, conjuring a hundred situations in which he played a leading and a flattering part. He dreamt Jim Morlake into prison and Joan into his arms. He dreamt great financial coups and the straightening out of life's tangle. And so he passed from romance to reality, and his dreams became plans, just as Lady Joan Carston became Lady Joan Hamon.

    At five o'clock he unlocked the door and lounged into his sister's room. She had a cup of tea, a novel and a cigarette, but she also had found occupation for her thoughts, and the book was unread and the cigarette was burning itself away in the jasper tray.

    "You look pleased with yourself."

    "I am," he said, his eyes shining, "I am!"
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