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CHAPTER XII
KARINE'S ENGAGEMENT RING

In the first hour of my anguish after hearing that Karine was lost to me, I had come very near to registering a vow that voluntarily I would not see her again. Now, however, since our memorable chance meeting in the hotel, my resolve was different. I determined, on the contrary, that I would see her as often as possible.

Even if I had to follow the Tressidys into the country on a pretence of hunting, or some other flimsy pretext of the sort, I would be near her. I had luckily kept my head sufficiently to breathe no word of love to Karine. I had even dwelt with some emphasis upon my "friendship," as though to assure her that she need fear no more, need dread no persecution at my hands. I believed that she did not suspect my real feeling for her, and certainly Sir Walter and Lady Tressidy had no reason to fancy anything of the kind.

Wildred had suspicions, I was sure, but they could only have been born of quick and jealous intuitions. He could make no charge against me, and it was not likely, I thought, that he would choose deliberately to put such an idea into his fiancée's head, unless I were far less cautious in my behaviour than I meant to be.

I could not conceal from myself that the talk I had had with the fellow at the Wayfarers' had somewhat discouraged me as to the ultimate success of my efforts to expose him, and as days went on I found it impossible entirely to shake off the impression made by his words.

His personality was disagreeably magnetic to me. I had to acknowledge its power, and in spite of myself there were moments when I felt daunted by his defiance.

Had he not been very sure of himself he would not have dared to say what he had said. I believed, as firmly as ever, that there was a black spot in his past, upon which I could put my finger if only I could place him in my mental gallery of photographs, in which his portrait had been so mysteriously blurred or changed. But he and Karine Cunningham would in all probability be man and wife at the end of six weeks; and six weeks was, after all, but a short space in which to tear the mask from so preternaturally clever a scoundrel.

I thought then (and even yet, I trust) that my resolution to save Karine from this man, if I were able to do so, was not all selfishness.

Knowing nothing, yet suspecting much with haunting vagueness, it seemed a horrible desecration to me that the beautiful, gentle girl should be given up to Wildred. I had little enough hope for myself with her, whatever might betide, for even had it been possible, under happier circumstances, that she could have learned to care for me, she and her friends would be sure to misunderstand and condemn my motives in working against the man she had promised to marry.

Should I have the good fortune to show him to her and those in authority over her, as the villain I believed him to be, I could not imagine myself ever attempting to take selfish advantage of his downfall.

What I might do, or try to do, I told myself, must be without any hope of future reward.

I had persuaded myself that the oftener I could see Karine, and impress upon her the strength and disinterestedness of my friendship, silently assuring her of my unforgotten resolve to help, the better it would be for her. She had said once that she had "many acquaintances but no friends," and she had seemed glad to welcome my friendship; so that now I wanted her to see I did not mean to fail her–that, after all, it might not be as she had thought, too late. At least, I succeeded in convincing myself that these were my only motives in calling again within the week on Lady Tressidy.

It was Thursday, and the family was to flit away to the country on the following afternoon. I was informed of this by the footman, whose duty it was to tell me that his mistress was superintending her packing at the moment, but would be down almost immediately. Meanwhile, Miss Cunningham was in Lady Tressidy's boudoir, and would see me.

I could scarcely believe in my good luck, and in her courage–or good nature.

She had been writing at a little davenport by the window, but rose to receive me, and extended her hand. To the other–the left–she had transferred the pen, with the ink still wet, and so it was that as she greeted me my eyes fell upon a ring which had not before adorned her finger.

It was the third of the left hand, and to my amazement I recognised the magnificent diamond–still in the old setting–worn for so many years by Harvey Farnham.