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    Chapter 65

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    Chapter 65
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    A Luncheon Party

    "What is worrying me," said Lord Creith at breakfast, "is the future of this wretched estate."

    "Why, Daddy?" she asked.

    "What is going to happen, supposing this horrible scoundrel is arrested and tried and hanged, as very probably he will be? Who inherits Creith House?"

    That had not occurred to her.

    "His sister, I suppose," she said, after a moment's thought.

    "Exactly," said Lord Creith, "and we're as badly off as ever we were! I'm jiggered in this matter, my dear, absolutely jiggered!"

    "Have you actually sold the property?"

    "N-no," said his lordship. "What I gave Hamon was a sort of extravagant mortgage."

    "What kind of mortgage is that?" she asked, smiling.

    "Well, he gave me a sum which it is humanly impossible that I could ever pay back, so that foreclosure sooner or later is inevitable, in exchange for which I received the tenancy for life."

    He mentioned a sum which took her breath away.

    "Did he pay you all that money?" she said in awe. "Why, Daddy, what did you do with it?"

    Lord Creith tactfully changed the subject.

    "I gather Jim Morlake is back," he said. "Why the dickens he hasn't come down before, I do not know. Really young men have changed since my day. Not that Morlake is a chick, I suppose he's fifty."

    "Fifty!" she said scornfully. "He may be thirty but he's not much more."

    "There is very little difference between thirty and fifty, as you will discover when you are my age," said his lordship. "I sent him a note asking him to come over to breakfast, but I don't suppose he is up."

    "He is up every morning at six, Daddy," she corrected him severely, "hours before you dream of coming down."

    "I dream of it," he murmured, "but I don't do it. How do you know?"

    "He told me a whole lot about himself in Morocco," she said, and the subject of their discussion was ushered in at that moment.

    All his fears had come back to him, and her attitude did not make matters any better. She seemed scarcely interested in his recital of what he had been doing since he came to London, a recital called for by Lord Creith's persistent question:

    "But why on earth haven't you been down?" demanded his lordship. "Joan----"

    "Will you please leave me out of it?" said Joan immediately. "Mr. Morlake isn't at all interested in my views."

    "On the contrary," said Jim hastily, "I am very much interested, and as I say I had a tremendous lot of work to do."

    "And I hope you did it," said Joan briskly, "and now I'm going to the dairy. And don't come with me," she said as he half rose, "because I shall be very busy for the next two hours."

    "You're staying to lunch, Morlake?"

    "How absurd, Daddy," she said. "One would think Mr. Morlake had come down from London for the day! We're upsetting all his household arrangements and the admirable Mr. Cleaver will never forgive you."

    Lord Creith stared glumly at the visitor after the girl had gone.

    "That cuts out lunch so far as you're concerned, my boy," he said. "You're going to stay over for the hunting, of course?"

    "I don't think so." Jim was annoyed, though he made an effort not to show it. "The country doesn't appeal to me very much. I came down to get my house in order. I've only paid one visit to Wold House since I returned from Morocco. I'm going to America next week," he added.

    "It is a nice country," said his lordship, oblivious to the fact that he was called upon to show some regret or surprise.

    Jim went home feeling particularly foolish and was irritated at himself that he had been guilty of such childishness.

    The visitor was gone when Joan came back to lunch.

    "Where is Mr. Morlake?" she asked.

    "He's gone home, where you sent him," said Lord Creith, unfolding a serviette with care.

    "But I thought he was staying to lunch?"

    Lord Creith raised his pained eyes at this shocking piece of inconsistency.

    "You knew jolly well he was not staying to lunch, Joan!" he said severely. "How could the poor man stay to lunch when you sent him home? I'm going to London to-morrow to see him off."

    "Where?" she gasped.

    "He's going to America," said his lordship, "South America, probably. And," he added, "he will be away ten years."

    "Did he tell you that?" she demanded, staring at him.

    "He didn't mention the period," he answered carefully, "but I gathered from his general outlook on things that he finds Creith dull and that a few healthy quibbles with a boa-constrictor on the banks of the perfectly horrible Amazon would bring amusement into his life. Anyway, he's going. Not that I intended seeing him off. I can't be bothered."

    "But seriously, Daddy, is he leaving Creith?"

    His lordship raised his eyes wearily and sighed.

    "I've told you twice that he's going to America. That is the truth." He pulled out a chair and sat down.

    "I don't want anything, thank you, Peters."

    "Aren't you eating? You've been drinking milk," accused his lordship. "There's nothing like milk for putting you off your food. And it will make you fat," he added.

    "I haven't been drinking milk. I'm just simply not hungry."

    "Then you'd better see the doctor."

    She dropped her head on her hands, her white teeth biting at her underlip. Lunch promised to be a silent meal until she said:

    "I don't believe he is going!"

    "Who?"

    "Who were we talking about?"

    "We haven't talked about anybody for a quarter of an hour," said his lordship in despair. "You're the most unsociable woman I've ever dined with. Usually people do their best to amuse me. And believe me I pay for amusing! He's going!"

    She raised her eyebrows to signify her indifference.

    "I don't believe he is going," she said. "I'm hungry and there isn't anything to eat. I hate lamb!"

    Her parent sighed patiently.

    "Go and lunch with him, my dear, for heaven's sake! Take a message from me that you're growing more and more unbearable every day. I wonder, by the way, if you'll ever develop into an old maid? We had an aunt in our family--you remember Aunt Jemima--she was taken that way. She bred rabbits, if I remember aright...."

    But Joan did not want to discuss her Aunt Jemima and flounced up to her room.

    His lordship was in his study when he saw her walking across the meadows in the direction of Wold House and shook his head. Joan could be very trying....

    "Thank you, Cleaver," said Jim. "I don't think I want any lunch."

    "It is a woodcock, sir," said Cleaver anxiously. "You told me last night you could enjoy a woodcock."

    Jim shuddered.

    "Take it away, it seems almost human! Why do they serve woodcocks with their heads on? It isn't decent."

    "Shall I get you a chop, sir?"

    "No, thanks, a glass of water, and bring me some cheese--no, I don't think I'll have any cheese--oh, I don't want anything," he said, and got up and poked the fire savagely.

    "Jane Smith," said a voice from the doorway. "I've announced myself."

    She took off her coat and handed it to Cleaver and threw her hat on to a chair.

    "Have you had any lunch?"

    "I haven't; I'm not hungry."

    "What have you got for lunch?" she asked.

    "We have a woodcock," said Jim dismally. "It isn't enough for two."

    "Then you can have something else," said Joan, and rang the bell. "Jim, are you going to America?"

    "I don't know. I'm going somewhere out of this infernal place," he said gloomily. "The country gives me the creeps; snowing all the morning and the sound of the wind howling round the house makes my hair stand up."

    "You're not going anywhere, you are staying in Creith; I've decided that," said Joan.

    She was eating bread and butter hungrily.

    "Don't they feed you at home?" asked Jim looking at her in wonder.

    "What are you going to do about us?" was her reply.

    "What do you mean--us?" he asked, inwardly quaking.

    "About our marriage. I've taken legal advice and there is not the slightest doubt that we're married. At the same time there's not the least doubt that we're not. You see I've been to two sets of lawyers."

    "Have you really?"

    She nodded.

    "I haven't been to lawyers exactly, but I've written to two newspapers that give free advice and one says one thing and one says the other. Now what are we to do?"

    "What do you want to do?" he countered.

    "I want to get a divorce," she said calmly, "except for the publicity. I shall base my petition on incompatibility of temperament."

    "That isn't a good cause in this country."

    "We shall see."

    Jim drew a long face.

    "There's another way out of the trouble, Mrs. Morlake," he said.

    "Don't call me Mrs. Morlake. At the worst, I am Lady Joan Morlake. Jim, are you really going to America?"

    "I've had very serious thoughts about it," he said. "But honestly, what are we to do, Joan? My lawyer says that it is no marriage because the necessary licence is not issued, and the mere fact that a clergyman performed the ceremony does not legalise it."

    Consternation was in her face when he looked at her.

    "Do you mean that?" she said.

    "Are you sorry?"

    "No, I'm not exactly sorry. I'm annoyed. That means that we've got to get married all over again. And, Jim, that will take an awful time...."

    Cleaver, coming in at that moment, turned round and went out again very quickly, and it seemed almost as if the woodcock winked.
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