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   Chapter 1 THE DUPLICATE REMBRANDT.

In Friendship's Guise By William Murray Graydon Characters: 16715

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


The day began well. The breakfast rolls were crisper than usual, the butter was sweeter, and never had Diane's slender white hands poured out more delicious coffee. Jack Clare was in the highest spirits as he embraced his wife and sallied forth into the Boulevard St. Germain, with a flat, square parcel wrapped in brown paper under his arm. From the window of the entresol Diane waved a coquettish farewell.

"Remember, in an hour," she called down to him. "I shall be ready by then, Jack, and waiting. We will lunch at Bignon's-"

"And drive in the Bois, and wind up with a jolly evening," he interrupted, throwing a kiss. "I will hasten back, dear one. Be sure that you put on your prettiest frock, and the jacket with the ermine trimming."

It was a clear and frosty January morning, in the year 1892, and the streets of Paris were dry and glistening. There was intoxication in the very air, and Jack felt thoroughly in harmony with the fine weather. What mattered it that he had but a few francs in his pocket-that the quarterly remittance from his mother, who dreaded the Channel passage and was devoted to her foggy London, would not be due for a fortnight? The parcel under his arm meant, without doubt, a check for a nice sum. He and Diane would spend it merrily, and until the morrow at least his fellow-workers at Julian's Academy would miss him from his accustomed place.

Bright-eyed grisettes flung coy looks at the young artist as he strode along, admiring his well-knit figure, his handsome boyish features chiseled as finely as a cameo, the crisp brown hair with a slight tendency to curl, his velvet jacket and flowing tie. Jack nodded and smiled at a familiar face now and then, or paused briefly to greet a male acquaintance; for the Latin Quarter had been his little world for three years, and he was well-known in it from the Boulevard St. Michel to the quays of the Seine. He snapped his fingers at a mounted cuirassier in scarlet and silver who galloped by him on the Point Royal, and whistled a few bars of "The British Grenadiers" as he passed the red-trowsered, meek-faced, under-sized soldiers who shouldered their heavy muskets in the courts of the Louvre. The memory of Diane's laughing countenance, as she leaned from the window, haunted him in the Avenue de l'Opera.

"She's a good little girl, except when she's in a temper," he said to himself, "and I love her every bit as much as I did when we were married a year ago. Perhaps I was a fool, but I don't regret it. She was as straight as a die, with a will of her own, and it was either lose her altogether or do the right thing. I couldn't bear to part with her, and I wasn't blackguard enough to try to deceive her. I'm afraid there will be a row some day, though, when the Mater learns the truth. What would she say if she knew that Diane Merode, one of the most popular and fascinating dancers of the Folies Bergere, was now Mrs. John Clare?"

It was not a cheerful thought, but Jack's momentary depression vanished as he stopped before the imposing facade of the Hotel Netherlands, in the vicinity of the Opera. He entered boldly and inquired for Monsieur Martin Von Whele. The gentleman was gone, a polite garcon explained. He had received a telegram during the night to say that his wife was very ill, and he had left Paris by the first train.

The happiness faded from Jack's eyes.

"Gone-gone back to Amsterdam?" he exclaimed incredulously.

"Yes, to his own country, monsieur."

"And he left no message for me-no letter?"

"Indeed, no, monsieur; he departed in great haste."

An appeal to a superior official of the hotel met with the same response, and Jack turned away. He wandered slowly down the gay street, the parcel hanging listlessly under his left arm, and his right hand jingling the few coins in his pocket. His journey over the river, begun so hopefully, had ended in a bitter disappointment.

Martin Von Whele was a retired merchant, a rich native of Amsterdam, and his private collection of paintings was well known throughout Europe. He had come to Paris a month before to attend a private sale, and had there purchased, at a bargain, an exceedingly fine Rembrandt that had but recently been unearthed from a hiding-place of centuries. He determined to have a copy made for his country house in Holland, and chance brought him in contact with Jack Clare, who at the time was reproducing for an art patron a landscape in the Luxembourg Gallery-a sort of thing that he was not too proud to undertake when he was getting short of money. Monsieur Von Whele liked the young Englishman's work and came to an agreement with him. Jack copied the Rembrandt at the Hotel Netherlands, going there at odd hours, and made a perfect duplicate of it-a dangerous one, as the Hollander laughingly suggested. Jack applied the finishing touches at his studio, and artfully gave the canvas an appearance of age. He was to receive the promised payment when he delivered the painting at the Hotel Netherlands, and he had confidently expected it. But, as has been seen, Martin Von Whele had gone home in haste, leaving no letter or message. For the present there was no likelihood of getting a cheque from him.

The brightness of the day aggravated Jack's disappointment as he walked back to the little street just off the Boulevard St. Germain. He tried to look cheerful as he mounted the stairs and threw the duplicate Rembrandt into a corner of the studio, behind a stack of unfinished sketches. Diane entered from the bedroom, ravishingly dressed for the street in a costume that well set off her perfect figure. She was a picture of beauty with her ivory complexion, her mass of dark brown hair, and the wonderfully large and deep eyes that had been one of her chief charms at the Folies Bergere.

"Good boy!" she cried. "You did not keep me waiting long. But you look as glum as a bear. What is the matter?"

Jack explained briefly, in an appealing voice.

"I'm awfully sorry for your sake, dear," he added. "We are down to our last twenty-franc piece, but in another fortnight-"

"Then you won't take me?"

"How can I? Don't be unreasonable."

"You promised, Jack. And see, I am all ready. I won't stay at home!"

"Is it my fault, Diane? Can I help it that Von Whele has left Paris?"

"You can help it that you have no money. Oh, I wish I had not given up the stage!"

Diane stamped one little foot, and angry tears rose to her eyes. She tore off her hat and jacket and dashed them to the floor. She threw herself on a couch.

"You deceived me!" she cried bitterly. "You promised that I should want for nothing-that you would always have plenty of money. And this is how you keep your word! You are selfish, unkind! I hate you!"

She continued to reproach him, growing more and more angry. Words of the lowest Parisian argot, picked up from her companions of the Folies Bergere, fell from her lovely lips-words that brought a blush of shame, a look of horror and repulsion, to Jack's face.

"Diane," he said pleadingly, as he bent over the couch.

Her mood changed as quickly, and she suddenly clasped her arms around his neck.

"Forgive me, Jack," she whispered.

"I always do," he sighed.

"And, please, please get some money-now."

"You know that I can't."

"Yes, you can. You have lots of friends-they won't refuse you."

"But I hate to ask them. Of course, Jimmie Drexell would gladly loan me a few pounds-"

"Then go to him," pleaded Diane, as she hung on his neck and stopped his protests with a shower of kisses. "Go and get the money, Jack, dear-you can pay it back when your remittance comes. And we will have such a jolly day! I am sure you don't want to work."

Jack hesitated, and finally gave in; it was hard for him to resist a woman's tears and entreaties-least of all when that woman was his fascinating little wife. A moment later he was in the street, walking rapidly toward the studio of his American friend and fellow-artist, Jimmie Drexell.

"How Diane twists me around her finger!" he reflected ruefully. "I hate these rows, and they have been more frequent of late. When she is in a temper, and lets loose with her tongue, she is utterly repulsive. But I forget everything when she melts into tears, and then I am her willing slave again. I wonder sometimes if she tru

ly loves me, or if her affection depends on plenty of money and pleasure. Hang it all! Why is a man ever fool enough to get married?"

* * *

On a corner of the Boulevard St. Michel and a cross street there is a brasserie beloved of artists and art students, and slightly more popular with them than similar institutions of the same ilk in the Latin Quarter. Here, one hazy October evening, nine months after Mr. Von Whele's hurried departure from Paris, might have been found Jack Clare. Tête-à-tête with him, across the little marble-topped table, was his friend Victor Nevill, whom he had known in earlier days in England, and whose acquaintance he had recently renewed in gay Paris. Nevill was an Oxford graduate, and a wild and dissipated young man of Jack's age; he was handsome and patrician-looking, a hail-fellow-well-met and a favorite with women, but a close observer of character would have proclaimed him to be selfish and heartless. He had lately come into a large sum of money, and was spending it recklessly.

The long, low-ceilinged room was dim with tobacco smoke, noisy with ribald jests and laughter. Here and there the waitresses, girls coquettishly dressed, tripped with bottles and syphons, foaming bocks, and glasses of brandy or liqueurs. The customers of the brasserie were a mixed lot of women and men, the latter comprising' numerous nationalities, and all drawn to Paris by the wiles of the Goddess of Art. Topical songs of the day succeeded one another rapidly. A group of long-haired, polyglot students hung around the piano, while others played on violins or guitars, which they had brought to contribute to the evening's enjoyment. At intervals, when there was a lull, the click of billiard balls came from an adjoining apartment. Out on the boulevard, under the glaring lights, the tide of revelers and pleasure-seekers flowed unceasingly.

"I consider this a night wasted," said Jack. "I would rather have gone to the Casino, for a change."

"It didn't much matter where we went, as long as we spent our last evening together," Victor Nevill replied. "You know I leave for Rome to-morrow. I fancy it will be a good move, for I have been going the pace too fast in Paris."

"So have I," said Jack, wearily. "I'm not as lucky as you, with a pot of money to draw on. I intend to turn over a new leaf, old chap, and you'll find me reformed when you come back. I've been a fool, Nevill. When my mother died last February I came into 30,000 francs, and for the last five months I have been scattering my inheritance recklessly. Very little of it is left now."

"But you have been working?"

"Yes, in a sort of a way. But you can imagine how it goes when a fellow turns night into day."

"It's time you pulled up," said Nevill, "before you go stone broke. You owe that much to your wife."

He spoke with a slight sneer which escaped his companion.

"I like that," Jack muttered bitterly. "Diane has spent two francs to my one-or helped me to spend them."

"Such is the rosy path of marriage," Nevill remarked lightly.

"Shut up!" said Jack.

He laughed as he drained his glass of cognac, and then settled back in his seat with a moody expression. His thoughts were not pleasant ones. Since the early part of the year he and his wife had been gradually drifting apart, and even when they were together at theatres or luxurious cafes, spending money like water, there had been a restraint between them. Of late Diane's fits of temper had become more frequent, and only yielded to a handful of gold or notes. Jack had sought his own amusements and left her much alone-more than was good for her, he now reflected uneasily. Yet he had the utmost confidence in her still, and not a shadow of suspicion had crossed his mind. He believed that his honor was safe in her care.

"I have wished a thousand times that I had never married," he said to himself, "but it is too late for that now. I must make the best of it. I still love Diane, and I don't believe she has ceased to care for me. Poor little girl! Perhaps she feels my neglect, and is too proud to own it. I was ready enough to cut work and spend money. Yes, it has been my fault. I'll go to her to-night and tell her that. I'll ask her to move back to our old lodgings, where we were so happy. And then I'll turn over that new leaf-"

"What's wrong with you, my boy?" broke in Victor Nevill. "Have you been dreaming?"

"I am going home," said Jack, rising. "It will be a pleasant surprise for Diane."

Nevill looked at him curiously, then laughed. He took out his watch.

"Have another drink," he urged. "We part to-night-who knows when we will meet again? And it is only half-past eleven."

"One more," Jack assented, sitting down again.

Brandy was ordered, and Victor Nevill kept up a rapid conversation, and an interesting one. From time to time he glanced covertly at his watch, and it might have been supposed that he was purposely detaining his companion. More brandy was placed on the table, and Jack frequently lifted the glass to his lips. With a cigar between his teeth, with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, he laughed as merrily as any in the room. But he did not drink too much, and the hand that he finally held out to Nevill was perfectly steady.

"I must be off now," he said. "It is long past midnight. Good-by, old chap, and bon voyage."

"Good-by, my dear fellow. Take care of yourself."

It was an undemonstrative parting, such as English-men are addicted to. Jack sauntered out to the boulevard, and turned his steps homeward. His thoughts were all of Diane, and he was not to be cajoled by a couple of grisettes who made advances. He nodded to a friendly gendarme, and crossed the street to avoid a frolicksome party of students, who were bawling at the top of their voices the chorus of the latest topical song by Paulus, the Beranger of the day-

"Nous en avons pour tous les gouts."

Victor Nevill heard the refrain as he left the brasserie and looked warily about. He stepped into a cab, gave the driver hurried instructions, and was whirled away at a rattling pace toward the Seine.

"He will never suspect me," he muttered complacently, as he lit a cigar.

With head erect, and coat buttoned tightly over his breast, Jack went on through the enticing streets of Paris. He had moved from his former lodgings to a house that fronted on the Boulevard St. Germain. Here he had the entresol, which he had furnished lavishly to please his wife. He let himself in with a key, mounted the stairs, and opened the studio door. A lamp was burning dimly, and the silence struck a chill to his heart.

"Diane," he called.

There was no reply. He advanced a few feet, and caught sight of a letter pinned to the frame of an easel. He turned up the lamp, opened the envelope, and read the contents:

"Dear Jack:-

"Good-by forever. You will never see me again. Forgive me and try to forget. It is better that we should part, as I could not endure a life of poverty. I love you no longer, and I am sure that you have tired of me. I am going with one who has taken your place in my heart-one who can gratify my every wish. It will be useless to seek for me. Again, farewell. DIANE."

The letter fell from Jack's hand, and he trampled it under foot. He reeled into the dainty bedroom, and his burning eyes noted the signs of confusion and flight-the open and empty drawers, the despoiled dressing table, the discarded clothing strewn on the floor.

"Gone!" he cried hoarsely. "Gone at the bidding of some scoundrel-perhaps a trusted friend and comrade! God help my betrayer when the day of reckoning comes! But I am well rid of her. She was heartless and mercenary. She never could have loved me-she has left me because she knew that my money was nearly spent. But I love her still. I can't tear her out of my heart. Diane, my wife, come back! Come back!"

His voice rang through the empty, deserted rooms. He threw himself on the bed, and tore the lace coverings with his finger nails. He wept bitter tears, strong man though he was, while out on the boulevard the laughter of the midnight revelers mocked at his grief.

Finally he rose; he laughed harshly.

"Damn her, she would have dragged me down to her own level," he muttered. "It is for the best. I am a free man once more."

* * *

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