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   Chapter 28 A DISCOVERY.

In Friendship's Guise By William Murray Graydon Characters: 12470

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Jimmie's first move, on entering his chambers, was to lock the door behind him and turn up the gas. Then he produced the envelope, and tore it open, wondering as he did so what penalty the law would exact for such an offense. The enclosure consisted of a dozen closely-written pages of note-paper, dated two days before the murder. It was in the nature of a statement, or confession, which some whim had prompted Diane to put down in writing. Her motive became clearer to Jimmie as he read on. She had meant no treachery to Jack in her letter. She had come to London, a repentant woman, to do him a real service-to open his eyes to various things-and for that purpose she had made the appointment at Beak street on the fatal night. In all likelihood the document hidden in the closet was due to a premonition of impending evil-a haunting dread of the danger that was creeping upon the unfortunate woman.

The statement was in the form of a letter, addressed to Jack Vernon on the first page, and signed "Diane Merode" on the last. It ended quite abruptly, and did not refer directly to the mysterious stranger or to Diane's early life, though it hinted at certain things of importance which she was resolved to tell. But what she disclosed was astounding in itself, and when Jimmie threw down the pages, after reading them attentively, his face showed how deeply he was agitated. It took much to rouse his placid nature to anger, but now his eyes blazed with rage and indignation.

"By heavens, this is awful!" he said, hoarsely. "It is far worse than I dreamed of! The consummate scoundrel! The treacherous blackguard! There is no need to keep further watch on Victor Nevill. His record is exposed. How true were my suspicions about that money-lending business! He dropped some letters in Diane's room last spring, which she declares proved him to be a partner in the firm of Benjamin and Company. I believe her-I don't doubt it. The cursed tout! For how many years has he made use of his social advantages to ruin young men-to decoy them into the clutches of the Jews? It makes my blood boil! And the worst of it all is the part he has played toward poor Jack-a false, black-hearted friend from beginning to end; from the early days in Paris up to the present time. If I had him here now-"

He finished the sentence by banging his clenched fist on the table with a force that made it quiver.

Little wonder that Jimmie was indignant and wrathful! For Diane, weary of being made a cat's-paw for an unscrupulous villain, remorseful for the misery she had brought on one who once loved her, had confessed in writing all of Victor Nevill's dark deeds. She had not known at first, she said, that his sole aim had been to injure his trusting friend, else she would have refused to help him. She had learned the truth since, and she did not spare her knowledge of Nevill's dark deeds and cunning tricks. She told how he had tempted her to desert her husband and flee from Paris with him; how he had met her five years later in London, and planned the infamous scheme which brought Jack and Diane together on Richmond Terrace; and she declared that it was Victor Nevill also who sent the anonymous letters to Madge Foster, the second of which had led to the painful denouement in the Ravenscourt Park studio. It was all there in black and white-a story bearing the unmistakable evidence of truth and sincerity.

"This is a private matter," thought Jimmie, when he had calmed down a little, "and I'm bound to regard it as such. The statement can't affect the case against Jack-it is useless to Mr. Tenby-and it would be unwise to make it public for the purposes of denouncing Nevill-at least at present. I will put it away carefully, and give it to Jack when his innocence is proved, which I trust will be very soon. As for Nevill, I'll reckon with the scoundrel at the proper time. I'll expose him in every club in London, and drive him from the country. He shall not marry Miss Foster-I'll nip that scheme in the bud and open her eyes-and I'll let Sir Lucius Chesney know what sort of a man his nephew is. He'll cut him off with a penny, I'll bet. But all these things must wait until I find Diane's murderer, and meanwhile I will lock up the confession and keep my own counsel."

Taking the letter, he reread the closing lines, studying the curiously-worded phrases.

"I am not writing this to send to you," Diane concluded, "but to hide in a secret place where it will be found if anything happens to me; life is always uncertain. I have much more to tell, but I am too weary to put it on paper. You will know all when me meet, and when you learn my secret, happiness will come into your life again."

"It's a pretty clear case," reflected Jimmie. "The secret refers, without doubt, to the man who murdered her. And the motive for it must be traced back to her early life at Dunwold. She left a discarded lover behind when she went to Paris. Ah, but why not a husband? Suppose she was never really Jack's wife! In that case it is easy to see what she meant by saying that she would make him happy again. By Jove, I'm anxious to ferret the thing out!"

Jimmie looked at his watch; it was just seven o'clock. He put the letter in his desk, safe under lock and key, and went straight to Morley's Hotel. He dined with Sir Lucius Chesney, and told him what he had learned from his visit to Mrs. Rickett. He made no mention of what he had found in the secret closet, nor did he refer to Victor Nevill.

Sir Lucius was amazed and delighted, hopeful of success. He thoroughly approved Jimmie's plan, and gave him a brief note of introduction to the Vicar of Dunwold.

"I wish I could go with you," he said; "but, unfortunately, I have two important engagements in town to-morrow."

The interview was a long one, and it was eleven o'clock when Jimmie left the hotel. He went straight home to bed, and an early hour the next morning found him gliding out of Victoria station in a South Coast train.

* * *

On the previous night, while Jimmie and Sir Lucius were dining at Morley's, Victor Nevill emerged from his rooms in Jermyn street, and walked briskly to Piccadilly Circus. He looked quite unlike the spruce young m

an of fashion who was wont to disport himself in the West End at this hour, for he wore tweeds, a soft hat, and a rather shabby overcoat. He took a cab in Coventry street, and gave the driver a northern address. As he rode through the Soho district he occasionally pressed one hand to his breast, and a bundle of bank notes, tucked snugly away there, gave forth a rustling sound. The thought of them aggravated him sorely.

"A thousand pounds to that black-mailing scoundrel!" he muttered. "It's a steep price, and yet it means much more than that to me. There was no other way out of it, and I can't blame the fellow for making a hard bargain and sticking to it. If all goes smoothly, and I get possession of the papers, it's ten to one I will be secure, with nothing more to fear. It was fortunate that Timmins picked me out. It would have meant ruin to my prospects had he sold his knowledge elsewhere. He is a clever rascal, and he knows that it will be to his interest to keep his mouth shut hereafter. What risk there may be from other quarters is so slight that I needn't worry about it."

It had not been an easy matter to find the thousand pounds, and in the interval he had twice seen Mr. Timmins, and vainly tried to beat down his price. The money was finally squeezed out of Stephen Foster, with extreme reluctance on his part, and by means which he resented bitterly but was powerless to combat. He had angrily upbraided his unscrupulous young confederate, who would not even tell him for what purpose he wanted the sum. Nevill was indifferent to Stephen Foster's wrath and reproaches. He had accomplished his object, and he was too hardened by this time to feel any twinges of conscience. He was now going to meet the man Timmins by appointment, and buy from him the valuable papers in his possession.

It was nine o'clock when the cab put him down in one of the noisy thoroughfares of Kentish Town. He paid the driver, and entered a public house on the corner. He ordered a light stimulant, and on the strength of it he re-examined the rather vague written directions Mr. Timmins had given him. He came out five minutes later, and turned eastward into a gloomy and squalid neighborhood. He lost his bearings twice, and then found himself at one end of Peckwater street. He took the first turn to the left, and began to count the houses and scan their numbers.

While Nevill was speeding along the Kentish Town road in a cab, Mr. Timmins, alias Noah Hawker, was at home in the dingy little room which he had selected for his residence in London. With a short pipe between his teeth, he reclined in a wooden chair, which was tipped back against the wall. On a table, within easy reach of him, were a packet of tobacco and a bottle of stout. A candle furnished light.

"I wonder if the bloke'll turn up," he reflected, as he puffed rank smoke from his mouth. "If he don't he knows what to expect-I ain't a man to go back on my word. But I needn't fear. He'll come all right, and he'll have the dust with him. Is it likely he'd throw away a fortune, such as I'm offerin' him? Not a bit of it! I'll be glad when the thing is done and over with. A thousand pounds ain't to be laughed at. I'll go abroad and spend it, where the sun shines in winter and-"

At this point Mr. Hawker's soliloquies were interrupted by footsteps just outside the room.

"That's my swell," he thought, "and he's a bit early. He must be in a hurry to get hold of the documents."

The door opened quickly and sharply, and two sinewy, plainly-dressed men stepped into the room. Hawker knew his visitors to be detectives.

His jaw dropped, his face turned livid with rage and fear, and he tried to thrust one hand behind him. But the move was anticipated, and he abandoned all thought of resistance when the muzzle of a revolver stared him in the eyes.

"None of that, Hawker," said the detective who held the weapon. "You'd best come quietly. Didn't expect to catch us napping, did you?"

"I ain't done nothin'," panted Hawker, who was breathing like a winded beast.

"I didn't say you had," was the reply, "but you've been missing for a few months. Last spring you stopped reporting yourself and went abroad. We want you for that-nothing else at present."

The two final words were spoken with an emphasis and significance that did not escape the prisoner, and brought a desperate look to his face. He seemed about to show fight, but the next instant a pair of irons were clapped on his wrists, and he was helpless.

A brief time was required to search the room, but nothing was found, for all that Hawker owned was on his person. The bedding was pulled apart, and the strip of ragged carpet was lifted up. Then the detectives went downstairs with their prisoner, followed by the indignant and scandalized Mrs. Miggs. She angrily upbraided Mr. Hawker, who received her reproaches in sullen silence. Her breath was spent when she slammed the door shut.

The affair had been managed quietly, without attracting public attention, and the street was as lonely and dark as usual. One of the detectives whistled for a cab, which he had in waiting around the corner, and just then a man walked quickly by the house, glancing keenly at the little group as he passed. He slouched carelessly on into the gloom, but not until he had been recognized by Noah Hawker.

The cab came up, and the prisoner was bundled into it. He was apparently very submissive and unconcerned as he sat with manacled hands between his captors, but when the vehicle rolled into a more populous neighborhood, the street lamps revealed the expression of burning, implacable hatred that distorted his face.

"It was that swell who betrayed me to the police," he thought bitterly. "I was a fool to trust him. I know his little game, but he'll be badly mistaken if he expects to find the papers. They'll be safe enough till I want them again. I'll get square in a way he don't dream of, curse him! Yes, I'll do it! I'd rather have revenge than money. A few days yet, and then-"

"What's that?" asked one of the detectives.

"Nothing," Mr. Hawker replied, in a tone of sarcasm. "I was thinkin' of a friend of mine, what'll be sorry I was took."

* * *

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