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   Chapter 31 NOAH HAWKER'S DISCLOSURE.

In Friendship's Guise By William Murray Graydon Characters: 12562

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


True to his word, Mr. Tenby set the machinery of the law in motion as speedily as possible. About the time when Sir Lucius entered the dreary prison that lies Islington way, Gilbert Morris was brought to the court in Great Marlborough street. Jack was present-a warder had driven him from Holloway-and he promptly identified the prisoner as the man he had seen coming out of the Beak street house on the night of the murder. Other evidence was given by the police, and by Doctor Bent, the proprietor of the Surrey madhouse, and the lunatic was remanded for a week; he boasted of his crime while in the dock. Then a brief formality ensued. Mr. Tenby applied for the discharge of his client, and the magistrate granted it without delay.

A free man again! The words seemed to ring in Jack's ears as he left the court, but they meant little to him, so broken was he in spirit, so ashamed of his unmerited disgrace. Jimmie was waiting for him, and congratulated him fervently. The two shook hands with the solicitor, and thanked him for what he had done, and they went quickly off in a cab.

They drove to the Albany, and Jimmie ordered a lunch to be sent in from a Piccadilly restaurant. Jack ate listlessly, but a bottle of prime claret made him slightly more cheerful and brought some color to his bleached features. He listened to all that Jimmie had to tell him-sat with stern eyes and compressed lips while the black tale of Victor Nevill's treachery was recounted. He could not doubt when he had read the murdered woman's statement; it breathed truth in every word. He crushed the letter in his hand, as though he wished it had been the throat of his enemy.

"Nevill, of all men!" he said, hoarsely. "A creeping serpent, masked as a friend, who struck in the dark! And he was Diane's seducer! The night he stole her from me we were drinking together in a brasserie in the Latin Quarter! And, as if that was not deep enough injury, he brought her to England, years afterwards, to ruin my new-found happiness. There was never such perfidy! I was not even aware that he knew Madge, much less that he loved her. But she surely won't marry him now."

"No fear!" replied Jimmie. "His retribution has come. I hope you will pay him with interest, old chap."

"I should like to confront him," Jack answered, "but it is wiser not to; my passion would get the better of me. No, his punishment is sufficient-you have avenged me, Jimmie. Think of what it means! Public exposure, perhaps, exile from England, and the loss of his uncle's fortune. He will suffer more keenly than any low-born criminal who goes to the gallows. I will leave him to his conscience and his God."

"You are too merciful-too kind-hearted," said Jimmie. "But it is useless to argue with you. Come, we'll talk of something more cheerful and forget the past. What are you going to do with yourself? Go back to the art?"

"I have no plans," Jack replied, bitterly, "except that I shall get away from London as speedily as possible. I can't live down my disgrace here. I shall probably return to India. I have lost faith in human nature, Jimmie, and learned the mockery of friendship-no, by heavens, I shouldn't say that! I have found out what true friendship is. I can never forget what you did for me-how you worked to prove my innocence!"

"It was a pleasure, old fellow. I would have done a hundred times as much. But don't talk blooming nonsense about leaving London. Many an innocent man falls under suspicion-there is not a shadow of disgrace attached to it. Stay here and work! Go back to your studio! And marry the woman you love. Why shouldn't you, now that you are free in every sense? I'll bet anything you like that she cares for you as much as ever-"

"Stop; don't speak of her!" cried Jack. "I can't bear it!-the memory of Madge brings torments! It is too late, too late! She can never be mine!"

"That's where you're wrong, old chap," said Jimmie. "I know how you feel about it, but do listen to reason-"

He broke off at the sound of a couple of sharp raps, and jumping up he opened the door. Into the room strode Sir Lucius Chesney, with a bewildered, agitated look on his face that had been there when he drove away from Pentonville Prison an hour before, after a lengthy and most startling interview with Major Wyatt and Noah Hawker.

"I hope you will excuse my abrupt intrusion," he said quickly. "I went to Tenby's office, and he told me where you had gone. I have something very important to say-I will come to it presently. Mr. Vernon, I congratulate you! No one can rejoice more sincerely than myself that this black cloud has passed away from your life. You have paid dearly for your youthful folly-your boyish infatuation with a French dancer."

"You are very kind, sir," said Jack, as he accepted the proffered hand. "I hear that I owe very much to you."

"Thank God that I have found you-that I am not left desolate in my old age!" exclaimed Sir Lucius, to the wonder of his companions. "Prepare for a great surprise! Your name is not Vernon, but Clare?"

"John Clare is my real name, sir."

"And your father was Ralph Vernon Clare?"

"Yes!"

"I knew as much-it was needless to ask," replied Sir Lucius, in tremulous tones; something glistened in his eye. He rested an arm on Jack's shoulder and looked into his face. "My dear boy, your mother was my youngest sister," he added. "And you are my nephew!"

A rush of color dyed Jack's cheeks, and he stared in amazement; he could not grasp the meaning of what he had just heard.

"You my uncle, Sir Lucius?" he asked, hoarsely.

"Yes, your uncle!"

"By Jove, another mystery!" gasped Jimmie. "It knocks me breathless! I don't know what to make of it-it beats the novels that wind up with the discovery of the lost heir. At all events, Jack, you seem to be in luck. I'm awfully glad!"

"I-I'm afraid I don't quite understand," said Jack. "I never suspected anything of the sort, though I remember that my mother rarely spoke of her early life."

"That was her secret," replied Sir Lucius, "and she intended that it should be revealed to you after her death. Read these; they will tell you all!"

Sir Lucius produced three papers from his pocket. Jack took them, and he uttered an exclamation of

astonishment as he saw that one was a certificate of his mother's marriage, and another one of his own birth. The third paper was a letter of a dozen closely written sheets, in the dead hand that was so familiar to him. As he read on, his face showed various emotions.

"My poor mother, how she suffered!" he said when he had finished the letter. "It is a strange story, Sir Lucius. So my mother was your sister, and Victor Nevill was the son of another sister, which makes him my cousin. My mother knew all these things, and yet she never told me!"

"She had the family pride," Sir Lucius answered, with a sigh. "As for Victor Nevill, I regret that the blood of the Chesneys runs in his veins. But he is no longer any kin of mine-I disown him and cast him out. The letter does not speak so harshly of me as I deserve. Your mother, Mary, was my youngest and favorite sister-I loved her the more because my wife had died childless soon after my marriage. I got a clever young artist, Ralph Clare, down to Priory Court to paint Mary's portrait, little foreseeing what would happen. She fell in love with him, and fled to become his wife. It was a blow to my family pride, and my anger was stronger than my grief. I vowed that I would never forgive her, and when she wrote to me-once a short time after her flight, and again ten years later-I returned her letters unopened. Her elder sister was as obdurate as myself, and refused to have anything to do with her. After the death of Elizabeth-that was Victor Nevill's mother-I began to feel that I had been too harsh with Mary. My remorse grew, giving me no rest, until recently I determined to find her. But I might never have succeeded had not mere chance helped me. I was struck by your resemblance to Mary when I first met you in Lamb and Drummond's shop-"

He paused for a moment, struggling with emotion.

"My boy, believe that I am truly repentant," he added. "I have no kith or kin left but you-you alone can fill the empty void in my heart. You must reign some day at Priory Court. Will you forgive me, as your mother did at the last?"

For an instant Jack hesitated. He remembered the sad story he had just read-the story of his father's illness and death, his mother's subsequent privations, and the grief caused by her brother's cruel conduct, which continued to cloud her life after a distant relative bequeathed to her a comfortable legacy. Then he recalled the last words of the letter, and his face softened.

"I forgive you freely, Sir Lucius," he said. "My mother wished me to bear you no malice, and I cannot disregard that."

"God bless you, my boy," replied Sir Lucius. "You have made me very happy."

"Come, cheer up!" put in Jimmie. "This is an occasion for rejoicing. I have a bottle of champagne, and we'll drink it to the health of the new heir."

The wine was produced and opened, and Jack responded to the toast.

"There is one thing that puzzles me, Sir Lucius," he said. "How did these papers come into your hands? They could not have been among my mother's effects."

"Are you aware," replied Sir Lucius, "that on the night after your mother's death her house in Bayswater was broken into by a burglar?"

"Yes; I remember that."

"Well, the burglar carried off, among other things that were of little value, this packet of papers. He concealed them at his lodgings in Kentish Town, and he chose a curious and ingenious hiding-place-a recess behind a loose brick in the wall of the house, just below his window. Shortly afterward the rascal-his name was Noah Hawker-was caught at another crime, and sent to penal servitude for a term of years. On his release last spring, on ticket-of-leave, he went abroad, and when he returned to England several weeks ago he resurrected the papers from their place of security, studied them, and saw an opportunity for gain. He knew that they concerned three persons-you, Victor Nevill and myself-and he was cunning enough to start with Victor. He hunted him up and offered to sell the papers for a thousand pounds. My nephew agreed to buy them, intending to destroy them and thus retain his position as my sole heir-"

"Then Nevill knew who I was?" exclaimed Jack.

"Yes, he knew recently," Sir Lucius replied. "I must break off to tell you that while I was abroad this summer, Victor promised, at my request, to try to trace your mother; but I am thoroughly convinced now that he made no effort whatever, and that he lied to me basely, with the hope of making me believe that the task was impossible. To proceed, the man Hawker was traced by the police, and arrested while awaiting the arrival of my nephew to complete the sale of the papers. He believed that Victor had betrayed him, and he determined to be revenged. So he confided in the Governor of Pentonville Prison, who went to the house in Kentish Town and found the papers. Then, at the prisoner's earnest request, he sent for me this morning. I went to Pentonville and Hawker told me the whole story and gave me the papers. By the way, he knows you, my boy, and declares that you did him a kindness not long ago. It was at a night-club, I think, and you bandaged a wound on his head."

"I remember!" exclaimed Jack. "By Jove, was that the man?"

"The fellow must have been intent on revenge," said Jimmie, "to incriminate himself so deeply."

"That can't make much difference to Hawker, and he knows it," Sir Lucius replied. "It seems that he was really wanted for something more serious than failing to report himself to the police. In fact, as you will be surprised to learn, he is said to be mixed up in the robbery of the Rembrandt from Lamb and Drummond. His pal was arrested in Belgium, and has confessed. Hawker is aware that there is a clear case against him, and I understand that he has made some sensational disclosures. I heard this from the Governor of Pentonville, who happens to be an old friend of mine. He hinted that the matter was likely to be made public in a day or two."

"Meaning the theft of the real Rembrandt," said Jack. "I don't suppose it will throw any light on the mystery of the duplicate one."

"It may," replied Sir Lucius; and he spoke more truly than he thought. Major Wyatt had been too discreet to tell all that he knew.

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