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"Perhaps you did yourself, Mr. Silver, since you are trying to blackmail me in this bareface way."

Silver snarled and gave her an ugly look. "I did no such thing," he retorted vehemently, and, as it seemed, honestly enough. "I had every reason to wish that Sir Hubert should live, since my income and my position depended upon his existence. But you—"

"What about me?" demanded Lady Agnes, taking so sudden a step forward that the little man retreated nearer the door.

"People say—"

"I know what people say and what you are about to repeat," she said in a stifled voice. "You can tell the girl to take that forged letter to the police. I am quite able to face any inquiry."

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"Is Mr. Lambert also able?"

"Mr. Lambert?" Agnes felt as though she would choke.

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"He was at his cottage on that night."

"I deny that; he went to London."

"Chaldea can prove that he was at his cottage, and—"

"You had better go," said Lady Agnes, turning white and looking dangerous. "Go, before you say what you may be sorry for. I shall tell Mr. Lambert the story you have told me, and let him deal with the matter."

Silver threw off the mask, as he was enraged she should so boldly withstand his demands. "I give you one week," he said harshly. "And, if you do not pay me twenty-five thousand pounds, that letter goes to the inspector at Wanbury."

"It can go now," she declared dauntlessly.

"In that case you and Mr. Lambert will be arrested at once."

Agnes gripped the man's arm as he was about to step through the door. "I take your week of grace," she said with a sudden impulse of wisdom.

"I thought you would," retorted Silver insultingly. "But remember I must get the money at the end of seven days. It's twenty-five thousand pounds for me, or disgrace to you," and with an abrupt nod he disappeared sneering.

"Twenty-five thousand pounds or disgrace," whispered Agnes to herself.

It was lucky that Lambert did not know of the ordeal to which Agnes had to submit, unaided, since he was having a most unhappy time himself. In a sketching expedition he had caught a chill, which had developed once more a malarial fever, contracted in the Congo marshes some years previously. Whenever his constitution weakened, this ague fit would reappear, and for days, sometimes weeks, he would shiver with cold, and alternately burn with fever. As the autumn mists were hanging round the leafless Abbot's Wood, it was injudicious of him to sit in the open, however warmly clothed, seeing that he was predisposed to disease. But his desire for the society of the woman he loved, and the hopelessness of the outlook, rendered him reckless, and he was more often out of doors than in. The result was that when Agnes came down to relate the interview with Silver, she found him in his sitting-room swathed in blankets, and reclining in an arm-chair placed as closely to a large wood fire as was possible. He was very ill indeed, poor man, and she uttered an exclamation when she saw his wan cheeks and hollow eyes. Lambert was now as weak as he had been strong, and with the mothering instinct of a woman, she rushed forward to kneel beside his chair.