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   Chapter 30 RUN TO EARTH.

In Friendship's Guise By William Murray Graydon Characters: 11853

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


The vicar hesitated for a moment, and then looked his companion straight in the face.

"That unhappy man, Gilbert Morris, was spared by the sea," he answered in a low voice. "The ship was lost, as reported, but he and two of the crew were picked up by a sailing vessel and carried to South America. Months elapsed before they were heard of, and Diane had been gone for a year when Gilbert Morris returned to Dunwold. The news was a terrible shock to him, for he had loved his wife with all the depth of a fierce and fiery nature. His affection seemed to turn to rage, and it was thought best to keep him in ignorance of the fact that Diane had been seen in Paris. Brain fever prostrated him, and when he recovered physically from that his mind was affected-in other words, he was a homicidal lunatic, with a fixed determination to find and kill his wife."

"By heavens!" exclaimed Jimmie. "The scent is getting warm! What was done with the man?"

"He was sent to a private madhouse in Surrey."

"And is he there still?"

"No, he is not," the vicar replied agitatedly. "He succeeded in making his escape more than a week ago. The matter was hushed up, because it was hoped that he would come back to Dunwold, and that he could be quietly captured here. But, in spite of the utmost vigilance, he was not found or traced; and this very morning I received a letter from Doctor Bent, the proprietor of the madhouse, stating that he had furnished the London police with a description of his missing patient."

"That settles it!" cried Jimmie, jumping up in excitement. "Gilbert Morris is the man!"

"Yes, I fear he is the murderer," assented the vicar. "But, pray sit down, Mr. Drexell, and we will talk further of the sad affair. Lunch will be ready in a few minutes, and I shall be glad to have you-"

"Thanks, but I can't stop," Jimmie interrupted, as he put on his hat. "I'm off to town to help the police to find the guilty man."

"But surely, my dear sir, this is a very hasty conclusion-"

"Can you doubt for one moment, in your heart, that Gilbert Morris killed that unfortunate woman?"

"The circumstances all point that way," admitted Mr. Chalfont. "Yes, it is a pretty clear case. It is distressing to think that the crime might have been prevented, had the police been promptly informed of the madman's escape. But only Doctor Bent and myself were aware of the fact-excepting the attendants of the institution. As I told you, I knew nothing of the murder until you informed me, and it was unlikely that the doctor-though he must have read the papers-should have associated the deed with Morris; he took charge of the place quite recently, and could not have been well posted regarding the history of his patient."

"He ought to be arrested for criminal neglect," Jimmie said, indignantly. "He is in a measure responsible for the murder. Gilbert Morris might have been retaken almost at once had the police been informed at the time of the escape."

"Just so!" the vicar agreed.

"I'm off now," continued Jimmie. "I can't thank you enough, Mr. Chalfont, for the information you have given me. I shall never forget it, nor will my friend."

"It was Providence that guided you here," replied the vicar. "His ways are indeed marvelous. I wish you every success, Mr. Drexell. I trust that your friend will speedily be at liberty, and if I can be of any further service, count upon me."

"I'll do that, sir," Jimmie assured him.

The next minute he was striding away from the vicarage, and it was a very perspiring and foam-flecked horse that pulled up outside the Railway Arms at Pevensey half an hour later. Jimmie jumped out of the trap, paid the account, and dashed over to the station. His arrival was timely, for he learned that a through London train was due in ten minutes. During the interval he found some vent for his impatience in sending a wire to Sir Lucius Chesney, as follows:

"Success! Back in town at three o'clock."

Never had a railway journey seemed so long and tiresome to Jimmie as that comparatively short one, in a fast train, from Pevensey to London. He had a book and a newspaper, but he could not read; he smoked like a furnace, and glared from the window at the flying landscape. He reached Victoria station at five minutes past three, and just outside the gates he met Sir Lucius.

"I barely got here-I was afraid I'd miss you," the latter exclaimed breathlessly; his face was a more ruddy color than usual. "I have something to tell you," he went on; "something that happened-"

"It's a jolly good thing, sir, that I went down to Pevensey," Jimmie interrupted, as he drew his companion aside to a quieter spot. "You'll scarcely believe what I have found out. The vicar told me a most amazing story, and we spotted the murderer at once. He is Diane's real husband-Jack was never legally married to her-and his name is Gilbert Morris. He is an escaped lunatic-"

"Gad, sir, the man is arrested!" gasped Sir Lucius. "He is in custody!"

"Arrested?" cried Jimmie.

"Yes; the afternoon papers are full of it. The police, furnished with a description of the man and other information, apprehended him this morning early in a Lambeth lodging-house. There were blood-spots on his clothing, and in his pocket they found a bloodstained knife. He became violent the moment he was arrested, and raved about his wife Diane, who had deserted him, and how he had killed her to avenge his honor."

"That's the man!" said Jimmie. "He's as mad as a March hare. Thank God, they have got him!"

"We'll soon have Mr. Vernon out," Sir Lucius replied, cheerfully.

Jimmie told the rest of the story in the privacy of a cab, which drove the two rapidly from Victoria station to Bedford street, Strand. They found Mr. Tenby in his office, and had a long interview with him. The solicitor had read the papers, and when he was put in possession of the further importa

nt facts bearing on the case, he promised to secure Jack's release as soon as the necessary legal formalities could be complied with. Moreover, he promised to go to Holloway within the course of an hour or two, and communicate the good news to the prisoner. Jimmie was anxious to go with him, but he reluctantly abandoned the project when the solicitor assured him that it would be most difficult to arrange.

"Be patient, gentlemen, and leave the matter in my hands," said Mr. Tenby. "I think we shall have Mr. Vernon out of Holloway to-morrow, and without a stain on his character."

Sir Lucius and Jimmie walked to Morley's and separated. The former went into the hotel, half resolved to pack up his luggage and take an early train in the morning to Priory Court; he was tired of London and the recent excitement he had passed through, and longed for his country home. But, on second thought, he altered his mind, and concluded to wait until Jack Vernon was a free man again; he was strangely interested in the unfortunate young artist, and was as anxious as ever to have a talk with him on matters of a private nature.

Jimmie went to his chambers in the Albany, where he removed the dust of travel and changed his clothes. He did not at once go out to dinner, though he was exceedingly hungry. He was impulsive and impatient, and he had conceived a plan whereby he might punish Victor Nevill's perfidy without a public exposure, and at the same time, he fondly hoped, do Jack a good turn.

"It will hardly be safe to wait longer," he reflected, "for all I know to the contrary, the girl may be married to-morrow. She will be glad to have her eyes opened-I can't believe that she is in love with that blackguard. As for Sir Lucius, I would rather face a battery of guns than tell the dear old chap the shameful story to his face. But it must be told somehow."

Jimmie proceeded to carry out his plans. He took Diane's last letter from its hiding-place, and sitting down to his desk he made two copies of it, prefacing each with a brief explanation of how the statement had come into his hands. It was a laborious task, and it kept him busy for two hours. At nine o'clock he went out to dinner, and on the way to the Cafe Royal he dropped two bulky letters into a street-box. One was addressed to "Miss Madge Foster, Strand-on-the-Green, Chiswick, W." The other to "Sir Lucius Chesney, Morley's Hotel."

* * *

It was ten o'clock in the morning, and the phenomenal November weather showed no signs of breaking up. The sun shone brightly in Trafalgar Square, and the people and busses, the hoary old Nelson Column and its guardian lions, made a picture more Continental than English in its coloring.

But to Sir Lucius Chesney the world looked as black as midnight. He paced the floor of his room, purple of countenance and savage of eye, letting slip an occasional oath as he glanced at the sheets of Jimmie's letter scattered over the table. The blow had hit him hard; it had wounded him in his most tender spot-his family honor. His first paroxysm of rage had passed, but he could not think calmly. His brain was on fire with pent-up emotions-shame and indignation, bitter grief and despair, a sense of everlasting disgrace. One moment he doubted; the next the damning truth overwhelmed him and defied denial.

"I can't believe it!" he muttered hoarsely. "It is too terrible! How blindly I trusted that boy! I heard rumors about him, and turned a deaf ear to them. I knew he was inclined to be dissolute and extravagant, but I never dreamed of this! To drag the name of Chesney in the dirt! My nephew a liar and a traitor, a scoundrel of the blackest dye to a confiding friend, a seducer, a tout for money-lenders, a consort of blood-sucking Jews! By heavens, I will confront him and hear the truth from his own lips! How do I know that this letter is not a forgery? Perhaps young Drexell never saw it."

It was a slim ray of hope, but Sir Lucius took some comfort from it. He put on his hat, took his stick, and marched down stairs. As he passed through the office, a clerk handed him a letter that had just been brought in. He waited until he was outside to open it, and with the utmost amazement he read the contents:

"Pentonville Prison.

"My Dear Sir Lucius-I see by the papers that you are in town temporarily, so I address you at Morley's instead of Priory Court. A very curious thing has happened. A few days ago a prisoner who was arrested for a breach of the police-supervision rules, but who was really wanted for a much more serious affair, was put in my charge. This man, Noah Hawker by name, sent for me and made a secret communication. He stated that in his room in Kentish Town, where he was arrested, he had hidden some papers of the greatest importance to yourself. He told me how to find them, and yesterday I got them and brought them here. They are in a sealed parcel, and the prisoner begs that they shall not be opened except in your presence, as he wishes to tell you the whole story. So I thought it best to send for you, and if convenient I should like to see you about noon to-day. I am posting this early in the morning, and hope you will receive it in good time.

"Sincerely your old friend,

"Major Hugh Wyatt."

"I don't understand it," thought Sir Lucius. "It is certainly most perplexing. What can it mean? I haven't seen Wyatt for years, but I remember now that he was appointed Governor of Pentonville some time ago. But who the deuce is the man Hawker? I never heard the name. Papers of importance to me? What could they be, and how did the fellow get them? There must be some mistake. And yet-"

He read the letter a second time, and it turned his curiosity into a desire to probe the mystery. He concluded to put off the interview with his nephew, and see him later in the day. He hailed a cab, and told the driver to take him to Pentonville.

* * *

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