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side, their steps matching as they walked slowly back to the car. For a
moment in its greater privacy, he held her in a close, passionate embrace,
then, as if his urgency could no longer be delayed, he started the car.
He drove fast but skilfully, and Noelle beside him leaned back in her seat,
content to study lovingly the profile turned towards her, to dream, to
imagine, to anticipate. Silently she blessed Bridie O'Rourke for insisting
that she seek Fergus out.
In her euphoric state, it didn't even occur to her that there were still
explanations left unmade.
A strange car stood outside the Hall.
'What a time to have visitors!' Fergus groaned, Noelle's hand held tightly in
his. 'Let's hope it's just someone for Aunt Bridie and we can sneak past
without getting caught.'
His hopes were dashed as the elderly manservant intercepted them in the
hallway.
'Miss O'Rourke asked me to look out for you, Mr Fergus. You and Miss
Noelle are wanted in the dining room.'
Bridie O'Rourke sat at the long refectory table, her companion's face a
familiar one, that of Mr Kelly the family solicitor. Both looked grave and
Miss O'Rourke decidedly nervous. She spoke first.
'Fergus, Noelle, my dears, I have a confession to make. I asked Mr Kelly to
come and see me, because it's time my little deception was set right.'
'Little deception!' the solicitor sniffed. 'Fraud, I call it, ma'am, fraud.'
'Here now, hold on,' Fergus intervened, 'just what are you accusing my aunt
of?'
'It's true, Fergus,' said Bridie O'Rourke. 'But I always meant to reveal the
truth eventually, by which time I hoped you and Noelle ... But I dared not
leave it any longer. My last illness, you see, it frightened me and I thought,
suppose I were to be ill again and die before I could put things right.'
'Perhaps I might explain,' Mr Kelly said as Miss O'Rourke showed signs of
incoherence.
Put succinctly in Mr Kelly's dry legal terminology, it transpired that the will
he had read to them on Fergus's arrival at Claddagh had not been the last one
made by Noel O'Rourke.
'His Lordship made that will some years ago, when you, Miss
Madox-Browne, were in your teens. When His Lordship heard of Mrs
Madox-Browne's death, he wrote to her husband asking to see his daughter.
But there was no reply and it seems, unknown to me,' he added severely, 'he
drew up a new will, witnessed by two of the servants here, leaving the entire
property to Mr Carrick only. Miss O'Rourke knew of this new will and
deliberately concealed its existence.'
For a moment the two people most affected sat in stunned silence. Noelle
was the first to recover. It wasn't as if she would really be losing Claddagh.
'But that's marvellous!'
'Is it?'
She turned to look at Fergus, found his face contorted in a mixture of anger
and anguish.
'Of course it is,' she told him. 'After all, it doesn't matter now which of us it
belongs to, because  '
Miss O'Rourke gave a little crow of excitement.
'Do you mean to say you two have actually come to an agreement?'
'No!' Fergus answered before Noelle could speak. 'Nothing of the sort!' He
turned on his aunt, the first time Noelle had ever seen him angry with the
elderly woman. 'Whatever possessed you to do what you did?'
'It. . . it was when I first met dear Noelle. I loved her at once,' Miss O'Rourke
faltered. 'Both of you were unmarried and the idea came to me that if you
were thrown together, as Noel originally intended, two such nice people . ..
and it would have been so suitable! When the time came for Mr Kelly to
read the first will, I was a little afraid of what I'd done.' Noelle remembered
Miss O'Rourke's strangely apprehensive manner. 'But I thought I could
always put things right, if they didn't turn out the way I planned.'
'And did it never occur to you the disappointment it would cause Noelle,
when you did reveal the truth?' Fergus asked savagely.
'No, I'm afraid not, I was so certain, you see, that . . .'
Fergus turned to the solicitor.
'I suppose there's no doubt that this later will is valid?'
'Quite legal and correct, sir.'
'Damn it all to hell!' exploded Fergus, then to his aunt. 'I wish, Aunt Bridie,
having once meddled, you'd let well alone. Excuse me,' he made for the
door, 'but I have to think this out alone,' he added warningly, as Noelle
made a movement towards him.
CHAPTER NINE
There was a second or two of astonished silence following Fergus's
departure, then Mr Kelly cleared his throat and shuffled his papers together.
'I'll be away, then,' he said and, abandoning for a moment his purely [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]