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   Chapter 32 HOW THE DAY ENDED.

In Friendship's Guise By William Murray Graydon Characters: 13966

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


It was a day of strange events and sudden surprises. To Jack the propitious fates gave freedom and a relative whose existence he had never even suspected before; to Sir Lucius Chesney they brought a fresh interest in life, a nephew whom he was prepared to take to his heart. Let us see how certain others, closely connected with our story, fared before the day was ended.

Victor Nevill spent the afternoon at one of his clubs, where he won pretty heavily at cards and drank rather more brandy than he was accustomed to take. Feeling consequently in good spirits, he determined to carry out a plan that he had been pondering for some time. He left the club at six o'clock, and an hour later a cab put him down at the lower end of Strand-on-the-Green. Mrs. Sedgewick admitted him to Stephen Foster's house. The master had not returned from town, she said, but Miss Foster was at home. Nevill asked to see her, and was shown into the drawing-room, where a couple of red-shaded lamps were burning. He was too restless to sit down, and, sauntering to the window, he drew aside the curtains and looked out at the river, with the lights from the railway bridge reflected on its dark surface.

"There is no reason why I shouldn't do it-no reason why I should fear a refusal on her part," he thought. "The clouds have blown over. Noah Hawker's silence can be explained only in one way. The papers are hidden where he is certain that they cannot be found, and no doubt he intends to let the matter rest until he gets out of jail. As for Jack, it is not likely that he will ever learn the truth or cross my path again. The grave tells no secrets. I hope he will leave England when he is released. That will probably be to-day, since the real murderer has been found."

He turned away from the window, and smiled complacently as he dropped into a big chair.

"Yes, I will do it," he resolved. "I shall ask Madge to marry me within a fortnight or three weeks, and we will go down to Nice or Monte Carlo-I'll risk taking half of that thousand pounds. I dare say my uncle will be a bit cut up when he hears the news; but I won't tell him for a time, and after he sees my wife he will be only too eager to congratulate me. Any man might be proud of such-"

Soft footsteps interrupted his musing, and the next instant the door opened. Madge entered the room, holding in one white hand a crumpled letter. She wore a gown of lustrous rose-colored material, with filmy lace on the throat and bosom, and her splendid hair strayed coyly over her neck and temples. She had never looked more dazzlingly lovely, Nevill thought, and yet-

He rose quickly from the chair, and then the words of greeting died on his lips. He recoiled like a man who sees a ghost, and a sharp and sudden fear stabbed him. In Madge's face, in her flushed cheeks and blazing, scornful eyes, he read the signs of a woman roused to supremest anger.

"How dared you come?" she cried, in a voice that he seemed never to have heard before. "How dared you? Have you no shame, no conscience? Go! Go!"

"Madge! What has happened?"

"Not that name from you! I forbid it; it dishonors me!"

"I will speak! What does this farce mean?"

"Need you ask? I know all, Victor Nevill! I know that you are a liar and a traitor-that you are everything wicked and vile, infamous and cowardly! Heaven has revealed the truth! I know that Diane Merode was never Jack's wife! It was you, his trusted friend, who stole her from him in Paris six years ago! You, who found her in London last spring, and persuaded her to play the false and wicked part that crushed the happiness out of two lives! That is not all; but it would be useless to recount the rest of your dastardly deeds. Oh, how I despise and hate you! Your presence is an insult-it is loathsome! Go! Leave me!"

Nevill had listened to this tirade with a madly throbbing heart, and a countenance that was almost livid. He was stunned and bewildered; he did not understand how it was possible for detection to have overtaken him. His first impulse was to brazen the thing out, on the chance that the girl's accusations were prompted more by surmise than knowledge.

"It is false!" he cried, striving to compose himself. "You will be sorry for what you have said. Has John Vernon told you these lies?"

"I have not seen him; he probably knows nothing as yet. But he will learn all, and if you are within his reach-"

"This is ridiculous nonsense," Nevill hoarsely interrupted. "It is the work of an enemy. Some one has been poisoning your mind against me. Who is my accuser?"

"Diane Merode!" cried Madge, hissing the words from her clenched teeth. "She accuses you from the grave! Here! Take this and read it-it is a copy of the original. And then deny the truth if you dare!"

Nevill clutched the proffered letter-the girl did not give him Jimmie's extra enclosure. He read quickly, merely scanning the written pages, and yet grasping their fateful import. He must have been more than human to hide his consternation. The blow fell like a thunderbolt: betrayal had come from the quarter whence he would have least expected it-from the grave. His lips quivered uncontrollably. The pages dropped to the floor.

"Now do you deny it?" Madge demanded. "Answer, and go!"

"I deny everything," he snarled hoarsely. "It is a forgery-a tissue of lies! Believe me, Madge! Don't spurn me! Don't cast me off! I will prove to you-"

"I say go!"

The girl's voice was as hard and cold as steel. She pointed to the door as Nevill made a step toward her. Her ravishing beauty, lost to him forever, maddened him. For an instant he was tempted to fly at her throat and bruise its loveliness. But just then a bell pealed loudly through the house. The front door was heard to open, and voices mingled with rapid steps. An elderly man burst unceremoniously into the room, and Nevill recognized Stephen Foster's clerk and shop assistant. Bad news was stamped on his agitated face.

"What is the matter, Hawkins?" Madge asked, breathlessly.

"Oh, how can I tell you, Miss Foster? It is terrible! Your father-"

"What of him?"

"He is dead! He shot himself in his office an hour ago. The police-"

The girl's cheeks turned to the whiteness of marble. She gave one cry of anguish, reeled, and fell unconscious to the floor. Mrs. Sedgewick rushed in, wringing her hands and wailing hysterically.

"See to your young mistress-she has fainted," Nevill said, hoarsely. "Fetch cold water at once."

He looked once at Madge's pale and lovely face-he felt that it was for the last time-and then he took Hawkins by the arm and pulled him half-forcibly into the hall.

"Tell me everything," he whispered, excitedly. "What has happened?"

"There isn't much to tell, Mr. Nevill," the man replied. "Two Scotland Yard men came to the shop at five o'clock. They arrested my employer for stealing that Rembrandt from Lamb and Drummond, and they found the picture in the safe.

Mr. Foster asked permission to make a statement in writing-he took things coolly:-and they let him do it. He wrote for half an hour, and then, before the police could stop him, he snatched a pistol from a drawer and shot himself through the head. I was so flustered I hardly knew what I was doing, but I thought first of Miss Madge, whom I knew from often bringing messages and parcels to the house-"

"The statement? What was in it?" Nevill interrupted.

"I don't know, sir!"

"Then I must find out! I am off to town-I can't stop! You will be needed here, Hawkins. Do all that you can for Miss Foster."

With those words, spoken incoherently, Nevill jammed on his hat and hurried from the house. He turned instinctively toward Grove Park, remembering that the nearest railway station was there. He was haunted by a terrible fear as he traversed the dark streets with an unsteady gait. Worse than ruin threatened him. He shuddered at the thought of arrest and punishment. He could not doubt that Stephen Foster had written a full confession.

"He would do it out of revenge-I put the screws on him too often!" he reflected. "I must get to my rooms before the police come; all my money is there. And I must cross the Channel to-night!"

All the past rose before him, and he cursed himself for his blind follies. He just missed a train at Chiswick station, and in desperation he took a cab to Gunnersbury and caught a Mansion House train. He got out at St. James' Park, and pulling his coat collar up he hastened across to Pall Mall. He chose the shortest cut to Jermyn street, and on the north side of St. James' Square, in the shadow of the railings, he suddenly encountered the last man he could have wished to meet.

"My God, my uncle!" he cried, staggering back.

"You!" exclaimed Sir Lucius, in a voice half-choked by anger. "Stop, you can't go to your rooms-the police are there. What do they want with you?"

"You will find out in the morning," Nevill huskily replied; he reeled against the railings.

"It can't be much worse-I know all about your dastardly conduct!" said Sir Lucius. "Hawker has given me the papers, and I have found poor Mary's son-the friend you betrayed. But there is no time for reproaches, nor could anything I might say add to your punishment. If you have a spark of conscience or shame left, spare me the further disgrace of reading of your arrest in the papers. Get out of England-"

"My money is in my rooms!" gasped Nevill. "I can't escape unless you help me!"

Sir Lucius took a handful of notes and gold from his pocket.

"Here are a hundred pounds-all I have with me," he said. "It will be more than sufficient. Don't lose a moment! Go to Dover, and cross by the night boat. And never let me see you or hear from you again! I disown you-you are no nephew of mine! Do you understand? You have ruined your life beyond redemption-you can't do better than finish it with a bullet!"

Nevill had no words to reply. He seized the money with a trembling hand, and crammed it into his pocket. Then he slunk away into the darkness and disappeared.

On the following day a new sensation thrilled the public, and it may be imagined with what surprise Sir Lucius Chesney and Jack Vernon-who had especial cause to be interested in the revelation-read the papers. The story was complete, for Mr. Shadrach, the Jew who managed business for the firm of Benjamin and Company, took fright and made a full confession. The Globe, after treating at length of the arrest and subsequent suicide of Stephen Foster, continued its account as follows:

"The history of the two Rembrandts forms one of the most curious and unique episodes in criminal annals, and not the least remarkable feature of the story is the manner in which it is pieced together by the statement of Stephen Foster and the confession of Noah Hawker. When Lamb and Drummond purchased the original Rembrandt from the collection of the late Martin Von Whele, and exhibited it in London, Stephen Foster and his confederate, Victor Nevill, laid clever plans to steal the picture. They knew that a duplicate Rembrandt, an admirable copy, was in the possession of Mr. John Vernon, the well-known artist, who was lately accused wrongfully of murder. By a cunning ruse Foster stole the duplicate, and on the night of the robbery he exchanged it for the real picture, while Nevill engaged the watchman in conversation in the Crown Court public-house. But two other men, Noah Hawker and a companion called the Spider, had designs on the same picture. Hawker, while prowling about, saw Stephen Foster emerge from Crown Court, but thought nothing of that circumstance until long afterward. So he and the Spider stole the false Rembrandt which Foster had substituted, believing it to be the real one.

"Hawker and his companion went abroad, and when they tried to dispose of their prize in Munich they learned that it was of little value. They sold it, however, for a trifling sum, and the dealer who bought it disposed of it as an original to Sir Lucius Chesney. On his return to England, hearing for the first time of the robbery, Sir Lucius took the painting to Lamb and Drummond and discovered how he had been tricked. Meanwhile Hawker and his companion quarreled and separated. Both had been under suspicion since a short time after the theft of the Rembrandt, and when the Spider was arrested in Belgium, for a crime committed in that country, he made some statements in regard to the Lamb and Drummond affair. Hawker, coming back to London, fell into the hands of the police. He had before this suspected Stephen Foster's crime, and when he found how strong the case was against himself, he told all that he knew. Scotland Yard took the matter up, and quickly discovered more evidence, which warranted them in arresting Foster yesterday. They found the original Rembrandt in his safe, and the unfortunate man, after writing a complete confession, committed suicide. His fellow-criminal, Victor Nevill, must have received timely warning. The police have not succeeded in apprehending him, and it is believed that he crossed to the Continent last night."

It was not until the middle of the day that the papers printed the complete story. Sir Lucius and Jack had a long talk about that and other matters, and in the afternoon they went together to the house at Strand-on-the-Green, and left messages of sympathy for Miss Foster; she was too prostrated to see any person, Mrs. Sedgewick informed them. Three days later, after the burial of Stephen Foster, Jack returned alone. He found the house closed, and a neighbor told him that Madge and Mrs. Sedgewick had gone away and left no address.

It was a bitter disappointment, and it proved the last straw to the burden of Jack's troubles. For a week he tried vainly to trace the girl, and then, at the earnest request of Sir Lucius, he went down to Priory Court. There fever gripped him, and he fell seriously ill.

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