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   Chapter 15 FROM THE DEAD.

In Friendship's Guise By William Murray Graydon Characters: 13615

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

There were not many people about town. The strollers had gone back to town, or down the hill to their dinners. The Terrace, and the gardens that dropped below it to the Thames, were bathed in the purplish opalescent shades of evening. From the windows of the Roebuck streamed a shaft of light, playing on the trunks of the great trees, and gleaming the breadth of the graveled walk. It shone full on Nevill and his companions, and it revealed a woman coming along the Terrace from the direction of the Star and Garter; she was smartly dressed, and stepped with a graceful, easy carriage.

"Look!" whispered Jimmie. "The Lass of Richmond Hill! There's something nice for you."

"Not for me," Jack laughed.

The woman, coming opposite to the three young men, shot a bold glance at them. She stopped with a little scream, and pressed one hand agitatedly to her heart.

"Jack!" she cried in an eager whisper. "My Jack!"

That once familiar voice woke the chords of his memory, bridged the gulf of years. His blood seemed to turn to ice in his veins. He stared at the handsome face, with its expression of mingled insolence and terror-met the scrutiny of the large, flashing eyes. Then doubt fled. His brain throbbed, and the world grew black.

"Diane! My God!" fell from his lips.

"Fancy her turning up!" Nevill whispered to Drexell.

"It's a bad business," Jimmie replied; he, as well as Nevill, had known Diane Merode while she was Jack's wife.

The woman came closer; she shrugged her shoulders mockingly.

"Jack-my husband," she said. "Have you no welcome for me?"

With a bitter oath he caught her arm. His face indicated intense emotion, which he vainly tried to control.

"Yes, it is you!" he said, hoarsely. "You have come back from the grave to wreck my life. I heard you were dead, and I believed it-"

"You read it in a Paris paper," interrupted Diane, speaking English with a French accent. "It was a lie-a mistake. It was not I who was dragged from the river and taken to the Morgue. It would have been better so, perhaps. Jack, why do you glare at me? Listen, I am not as wicked as you think. There were circumstances-I was not to blame. I can explain all-"

"Hush, or I will kill you!" he said, fiercely. He snatched at a chain that encircled her white throat, and as it broke in his grasp a sparkling jewel fell to the ground. The most stinging name that a man can call a woman hissed from his clenched teeth. She shrank back, terrified, into the shadow, and he followed her. "Are you dead to all shame, that you dare to make yourself known to me?" he cried. "The life you lead is blazoned on your painted cheeks! You are no wife of mine! Begone! Out of my sight! Merciful God, what have I done to deserve this?"

"For Heaven's sake, don't make a scene!" urged Jimmie. "Control yourself, old man." He looked anxiously about, but as yet the altercation had not been observed by the few persons in the vicinity. "Nevill, we must stop this," he added.

"I won't go away," Diane vowed, obstinately. "You are my husband, Jack, and you know it. Let your friends, who knew us in the old days, deny it if they can! I have a wife's claim on you."

"Take her away!" Jack begged.

Nevill drew the woman to one side, and though she made a show of resistance at first, she quickly grew calm and listened quietly to his whispered words. He whistled for a passing hansom, and it stopped at the edge of the street. He helped Diane into it, and rejoined his companions.

"It's all right-she is reasonable now," he said in a low voice. "Brace up, Jack; I'll see you through this. Jimmie, go over and pay the account, will you? Here is the money. And say that I will send for the trap to-morrow."

Nevill entered the cab, and it rattled swiftly down the hill. As the echo of the wheels died away, Jack dropped on a bench and hid his face in his hands.

"I'll be back in a moment, old chap," said Jimmie. "Wait here."

He had scarcely crossed the street when Jack rose. His agony seemed too intense to bear, and even yet he did not realize all that the blow meant. For the moment he was hardly responsible for his actions, and a glimpse of the river, shining far below, lured him on blindly and aimlessly. A little farther along the Terrace, just beyond the upper side of the gardens, was a footway leading down to the lower road and the Thames. He followed this, swaying like a drunken man, and he had reached the iron stile at the bottom when Jimmie, who had sighted him in the distance, overtook him and caught his arm. Jack shook him roughly off.

"What do you want?" he said, hoarsely.

"Don't take it so hard," pleaded Jimmie. "I'm awfully sorry for you, old man. I know it's a knock-down blow, but-"

"You don't know half. It's worse than you think. I am the most miserable wretch on earth! And an hour ago I was the happiest-"

"Come with me," said Jimmie. "That's a good fellow."

Jack did not resist. Linked arm in arm with his friend, he stumbled along the narrow pavement of the lower road. At The Pigeons they found a cab that had just set down a fare. They got into it, and Jimmie gave the driver his orders.

It seemed a short ride to Jack, and while it lasted not a word passed his lips. He sat in a stupor, with dull, burning eyes and a throbbing head. In all his thoughts he recalled the lovely, smiling face of Madge. And now she was lost to him forever-there was a barrier between them that severed their lives. In his heart he bitterly cursed the day when he had yielded to the wiles of Diane Merode, the popular dancer of the Folies Bergere.

The cab stopped, and he reeled up a dark flight of steps. He was sitting in a big chair in his studio, with the gas burning overhead, and Jimmie staring at him with an expression of heartfelt sympathy on his honest face.

"This was the best place to bring you," he said.

Jack rose, and paced to and fro. He looked haggard and dazed; his hair and clothing were disheveled.

"Tell me, Jimmie," he cried, "is it all a dream, or is it true?"

"I wish it wasn't true, old man. But you're taking it too hard-you're as white as a ghost. It can be kept out of the papers, you know. And you won't have to live with her-you can pension her off and send her abroad. I dare say she's after money. Women are the very devil, Jack, ain't they? I could tell you about a little scrape of my own, with Totsy Footlights, of the Casino-"

"You don't understand," said Jack, in a dull, hard voice. "I believed that Diane was dead."

"Of course you did-you showed me the paragraph in the Petit Journal."

"I considered myself a free man-free to marry again."

"Whew! Go on!"

Jack was strangely calm as he took out his keys and unlocked a cabinet over his desk. He silently handed his friend a p


"By Jove, what a lovely face!" muttered Jimmie.

"That is the best and dearest girl in the world," said Jack. "I thought I was done with women until I met her, a short time ago. We love each other, and we were to be married in September. And now-My God, this will break her heart! It has broken mine already, Jimmie! Curse the day I first put foot in Paris!"

"My poor old chap, this is-"

That was all Jimmie could say. He vaguely realized that he was in the presence of a grief beyond the power of words to comfort. There was a suspicious moisture in his eyes as he turned abruptly to the table and mixed himself a mild stimulant. He drank it slowly to give himself time to think.

Jack thrust the photograph into the breast pocket of his coat. He rubbed one hand through his hair, and kicked an easel over. He burst into a harsh, unnatural laugh.

"This is a rotten world!" he cried. "A rotten world! It's a stage full of actors, and they play d-- little but tragedy! I've found my long-lost wife again, Jimmie! Rejoice with me!"

He poured three fingers of neat brandy into a glass and drank it at a gulp. Then the mocking laughter died on his lips, and he threw himself into a chair. He buried his face in his hands, and his body shook with the violence of the sobs he was powerless to stifle.

"It will do him good," thought Jimmie.

The clock ticked on, and at intervals there was the rumble of trains passing to and from Ravenscourt Park station, and the clang of distant tram-bells. The voice of mighty London mocked at Jack's misery, and he conquered his emotions. He lifted a defiant face, much flushed.

"I've made a beastly fool of myself, Jimmie."

"Not a bit of it, old chap. Brace up; some one is coming." He had heard a cab stop in the street.

There were rapid steps on the stairs, and Nevill entered the studio. His face was eloquent with sympathy, and he silently held out a hand. Jack gripped it tightly.

"Thanks, Vic," he said, gratefully. "Where did-did you take her?"

"To her lodgings, off Regent street. And then I came straight on here. I thought she was dead, Jack. I don't wonder you're upset."

"Upset? It's worse than that. If I were the only one to suffer-"

"Then there's another woman?"


"That's bad! I didn't dream of such a thing. I can't tell you how sorry I feel."

Nevill sat down and lighted a cigar; he thoughtfully watched the smoke curl up.

"I suppose I could get a divorce?" Jack asked, savagely.

"No doubt of it, but-"

"But you wouldn't advise me to do it. No, you're right. I couldn't stand the publicity and disgrace."

"I would like to choke her," muttered Jimmie.

"I had a talk with her on the way to town," said Nevill. "She has been in London for a month, and knew your address all the time, but did not wish to see you. Now she is hard up, and that is why she made herself known to you to-night."

"What became of the scoundrel she ran away with? Did he desert her?"

"Yes," Nevill answered, after a brief hesitation.

"Do you know who he was?"

"She intimated that he was a French Count. I believe she has had several others since, and the last one left her stranded."

"She wants money, then?"

"Rather. That's her game. She knows she has no legal claim on you, and for a fixed sum I think she will agree to return to Paris and not molest you in future."

"I don't care what becomes of her," Jack replied, bitterly, "but I am determined not to see her again. Let her understand that, and tell her that I will give her three hundred pounds on condition that she goes abroad and never shows her face in England again. And another thing, there must be no further appeals to me."

"Bind her tight, in writing," suggested Jimmie.

"It's asking a lot of you, Nevill," said Jack, "but if you don't mind-"

"My dear fellow, it is a mere trifle. I will gladly help you in the matter to my utmost power, and I only wish I could do more."

"That's the way to talk," put in Jimmie. "Can I be of any assistance, Nevill? I've a persuasive sort of way with women-"

"Thanks, but I can manage much better alone, I think." Nevill took a memorandum book from his pocket, and turned over the pages. "Trust all to me, Jack," he added. "I am free to-morrow after four o'clock. I will see Diane-your wife-fix the terms with her, and come down in the evening to report to you."

"What time?"

"That is uncertain. But you will be here?"

"Yes; I shall expect you," said Jack. "I can't thank you enough. It's a blessing for a chap to have a couple of friends like you and Jimmie."

"You would do as much for me," replied Nevill. "I'm going to see you through your trouble."

Jack walked abruptly to the open window, and looked out into the starry night.

"What does it matter," he thought, "whether I am rid of Diane or not? I have lost my darling. Madge is dead to me. I can't grasp it yet. How can I tell her?-how can I live without her?"

"Are you going up to town, Jimmie?" Nevill asked. "My cab is waiting, and you can share it."

"No; I shall stop with poor old Jack," Jimmie replied. "I don't like to leave him alone."

"That's good of you. It's a terrible blow, isn't it?"

Nevill went away, and Jimmie remained to comfort his friend. But there was no consolation for Jack, whose bitter mood had turned to dull despair and grief that would be more poignant in the morning, when he would be better able to comprehend the fell blow that had shattered his happiness and crushed his ambitions and dreams. He refused pipe and cigars. Until three o'clock he sat staring vacantly at the floor, seemingly oblivious of Jimmie's presence, and occasionally helping himself to brandy. At last he fell asleep in the chair, and Jimmie, who had with difficulty kept his eyes open, dozed away on the couch.

Meanwhile, Victor Nevill had driven straight to his rooms in Jermyn street and had gone to bed. He rose about ten o'clock, and after a light breakfast he sat down and wrote a short letter, cleverly disguising his own hand, and imitating the scrawly penmanship and bad spelling of an illiterate woman.

"The last card in the game," he reflected, as he addressed and stamped the envelope. "It may be superfluous, in case he sees or writes to her to-day. But he won't do that-he will put off the ordeal as long as possible. My beautiful Madge, for your sake I am steeping myself in infamy! It is not the first time a man has sold himself to the devil for a woman. Yet why should I feel any scruples? It would have been far worse to let them go on living in their fool's paradise."

An hour later, as he walked down Regent street, he posted the letter he had written in the morning.

"It will be delivered at just about the right time," he thought.

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