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   Chapter 19 A SHOCK FOR SIR LUCIUS.

In Friendship's Guise By William Murray Graydon Characters: 11157

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


They lingered but a moment at the house, standing irresolutely by the steps. Madge did not invite Nevill to stop, which suited him in his present mood. He pressed the girl's cold hand and strode away into the darkness. His thoughts were not pleasant, and there was a sneering smile on his face.

"I have won her," he reflected. "Won her at last! She will be my wife. But it is not a victory to be proud of-not worth the infamy I've waded through. She consented because she has been hard driven-because I compelled her father to put the screws on. How calmly she told me that she did not love me! I can read her like a book. I hoped she had forgotten Jack, but I see now that she cares for him as much as ever. Oh, how I hate him! Is his influence to ruin my life? I ought to be satisfied with the blow I have dealt him, but if I get a chance to strike another-"

A harsh laugh finished the sentence, and he hit out viciously with his stick at a cat perched on a garden wall.

A Waterloo train conveyed him cityward, and, avoiding the haunts of his associates, he dined at a restaurant in the Strand. It was eight o'clock when he went to his rooms in Jermyn street, intending to change his clothes and go to a theatre. A card lay inside the door. It bore Sir Lucius Chesney's name, and Morley's Hotel was scribbled on the corner of it. Nevill scowled, and a look that was closely akin to fear came into his eyes.

"So my uncle is back!" he muttered. "I knew he would be turning up some time, but it's rather a surprise all the same. He wants to see me, of course, and I don't fancy the interview will be a very pleasant one. Well, the sooner it is over the better. It will spoil my sleep to-night if I put it off till to-morrow."

He dressed hurriedly and went down to Trafalgar Square. Sir Lucius had just finished dinner, and uncle and nephew met near the hotel office. They greeted each other heartily, and Sir Lucius invited the young man upstairs to his room. He was in a good humor, and expressed his gratification that Nevill had come so promptly.

"I want a long chat with you, my boy," he said. "Have you dined?"

"Yes."

Sir Lucius lighted a cigar, and handed his case to Nevill.

"Been out of town this summer?" he asked.

"The usual thing, that's all-an occasional run down to Brighton, a month at country houses, and a week's shooting on the Earl of Runnymede's Scotch moor."

"London agrees with you. I believe you are a little stouter."

"And you are looking half a dozen years younger, my dear uncle. How is the liver?"

"It ought to be pretty well shaken to pieces, from the way I've trotted it about. It hasn't troubled me for months, I am glad to say. I've had a most enjoyable holiday, and a longer one than I intended to take. I stopped in Norway seven weeks, and then went to the Continent. I did the German baths, Vienna and a lot of other big cities, and came to Paris. There I met an old Anglo-Indian friend, and he dragged me down to the Riviera for a month. But there is no place like home. I've been in town only a couple of hours-crossed this morning. And to-morrow I'm off to Priory Court."

"So soon?"

"Yes; I can't endure your fogs."

There was an awkward pause. Nevill struck a match and put it to his cigar, though it did not need relighting. Sir Lucius coughed, and stirred nervously in his chair.

"You remember that little matter I wrote you about," he began. "Have you done anything?"

"My dear uncle, I have left nothing undone that I could think of," Nevill replied; "but I am sorry to say that I have met with no success whatever. It was a most difficult undertaking, after so many years."

"I feared it would be. You didn't advertise?"

"No; you told me not to do that."

"Quite right. I wished to avoid all publicity. But what steps did you take?"

"I made careful inquiries, interviewed some of the older school of artists, and searched London and provincial directories for some years back. Then I consulted a private detective. I put the matter in his hands. He worked on it for a couple of months, and finally said that it was too much for him. He could not discover a trace of either your sister or her husband, and he suggested that they probably emigrated to America or Australia years ago."

"That is more than possible," assented Sir Lucius; "and it is likely that they are both dead. But they may have left children, and for their sakes-". He broke off abruptly, and sighed. "I should like to have a talk with your private detective, if he is a clever fellow," he added.

"He is clever enough," Nevill replied slowly, "but I am afraid you would have to go a long distance to find him. He went to America a week ago to collect evidence for a divorce case in one of the Western States."

"Then he will hardly be back for months," said Sir Lucius. "No matter. I think sometimes that it is foolish of me to take the thing up. But when a man gets to my age, my boy, he is apt to regret many episodes in his past life that seemed proper and well-advised at the time. I am convinced that I was too harsh with your aunt. Poor Mary, she was my favorite sister until-"

He stopped, and his face hardened a little at the recollection.

"I wish I could find her," said Nevill.

"I am sure you do, my boy. I am undecided what steps to take next. It would be a good idea to stop in town for a couple of days and consult a private inquiry bureau. But no, not in this weather. I will let the matter rest for the present, and run up later on, when we get a spell of sunshine and cold."

"I think that is wise. Meanwhile I am at your service."

"Thank you. Oh, by the way, Victor, you must have incurred some considerable expense in my behalf. Let me write you a check."

"There is no hurry-I don't need the money," Nevill answered, carelessly. "I will look up the account and send it to you."

"Or bring it with you when you come down to Priory Court for Christmas, if I can induce you to leave town."

"I shall be delighted to come, I assure you."

"Then we'll consider it settled."

Sir Lucius lighted a fresh cigar and rose. His whole manner had changed; he chuckled softly, and his smile was pleasant to see.

"I have something to show you, my boy," he said. "It is the richest find that ever came my way. Ha, ha! not many collectors have ever been so fortunate. I know where to pry about on the Continent, and I have made good use of my holidays. I sent home a couple of boxes filled with rare bargains; but this one-"

"You will be rousing the envy of the South Kensington Museum if you keep on," Nevill interrupted, gaily; he was in high spirits because the recent disagreeable topic had been shelved indefinitely. "What is it?" he added.

"I'll show you in a moment, my boy. It will open your eyes when you see it. You will agree that I am a lucky dog. By gad, what a stir it will cause in art circles!"

Sir Lucius crossed the room, and from behind a trunk he took a flat leather case. He unlocked and opened it, his back screening the operation, and when he turned around he held in one hand a canvas, unframed, about twenty inches square; the rich coloring and the outlines of a massive head were brought out by the gaslight.

"What do you think of that?" he cried.

Nevill approached and stared at it. His eyes were dilated, his lips parted, and the color was half-driven from his cheeks, as if by a sudden shock. He had expected to see a bit of Saracenic armor, made in Birmingham, or a cleverly forged Corot. But this-

"I don't wonder you are surprised," exclaimed Sir Lucius. "Congratulate me, my dear boy."

"Where did you get it?" Nevill asked, sharply.

"In Munich-in a wretched, squalid by-street of the town, with as many smells as Cologne. I found the place when I was poking about one afternoon-a dingy little shop kept by a Jew who marvelously resembled Cruikshank's Fagin. He resurrected this picture from a rusty old safe, and I saw its value at once. It had been in his possession for several years, he told me; he had taken it in payment of a debt. The Jew was pretty keen on it-he knew whose work it was-but in the end I got it for eleven hundred pounds. You know what it is?"

"An undoubted Rembrandt!"

"Yes, the finest Rembrandt in existence. No others can compare with it. Look at the brilliancy of the pigments. Observe the masterful drawing. See how well it is preserved. It is a prize, indeed, my boy, and worth double what I paid for it. It will make a sensation, and the National Gallery will want to buy it. But I wouldn't accept five thousand pounds for it. I shall give it the place of honor in my collection."

Sir Lucius paused to get his breath.

"You don't seem to appreciate it," he added. "Remember, it is absolutely unknown. Victor, what is the matter with you? Your actions are very strange, and the expression of your face is almost insulting. Do you dare to insinuate-"

"My dear uncle, will you listen to me for a moment?" said Nevill. "Prepare yourself for a shock. I fear that the picture is far better known than you think. Indeed, it is notorious."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that this Rembrandt, which you purchased in Munich, is the identical one that was stolen some months ago from Lamb and Drummond, the Pall Mall dealers. The affair made a big stir."

"Impossible!"

"It is only too true. Did you read the papers while you were away?"

"No; I scarcely glanced at them. But I can't believe-"

"Wait," said Nevill. From a pocket-book he produced a newspaper clipping, which he handed silently to his uncle. It contained an account of the robbery.

Sir Lucius read to the end. Then his cheeks swelled out, and turned from red to purple; his eyes blazed with a hot anger.

"Good God!" he exclaimed, "was ever a man so cruelly imposed upon? It is a d-nable shame! You are right, Victor. This is the stolen Rembrandt!"

"Undoubtedly. I can't tell you how sorry I feel for you." Nevill's expression was most peculiar as he spoke, and the semblance of a smile hovered about his lips.

"What is to be done?" gasped his uncle, who had flung the canvas on a chair, and was stamping savagely about the room. "It is clear as daylight. The thieves disposed of the painting in Munich, to my lying rascal of a Jew. Damn him, I wish I had him here!"

"Under the peculiar circumstances, my dear uncle, I should venture to suggest-"

"There is only one course open. This very night-no, the first thing to-morrow morning-I will take the picture to Lamb and Drummond's and tell them the whole story. I can't honorably do less."

"Certainly not," assented Nevill; it was not exactly what he had been on the point of proposing, but he was glad that he had not spoken.

"I won't feel easy until it is out of my hands," cried Sir Lucius. "Good heavens, suppose I should be suspected of the theft! Ah, that infamous scoundrel of a Jew! The law shall punish him as he deserves!"

Rage overpowered him, and he seemed in danger of apoplexy. There was brandy on the table, and he poured out a glass with a shaking hand. Nevill watched him anxiously.

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