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   Chapter 33 CONCLUSION.

In Friendship's Guise By William Murray Graydon Characters: 7512

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


For weeks Jack hovered between life and death, and when the crisis was finally passed, and he found himself well on the road to convalescence, the new year was a month old. His first thoughts were of Madge, whose disappearance was still a mystery; he learned this from Jimmie, who came down to Priory Court more than once to see his friend. He had decided to spend the winter in England, and since Jack's illness he had been trying to find the girl.

By medical advice the patient was sent off to Torquay, in Devonshire, to recuperate, and Sir Lucius, who was anxious to restore his nephew to perfect health again, accompanied him. Jimmie remained in London, determined to prosecute his search for Madge more vigorously than ever. Sir Lucius, who, of course, knew the whole story, himself begged Jimmie to spare no pains.

In the mild climate of Devon the days dragged along monotonously, and Jimmie's letters spoke only of failure. But Jack grew stronger and stouter, and in looks, at least, he was quite like his old self, with a fine bronze on his cheeks, when he returned with Sir Lucius to Priory Court in March. It was the close of the month, and many a nine days' wonder had replaced in the public interest the tragic death of Stephen Foster, the exposure of Benjamin and Company's nefarious transactions, and the solved mystery of the two Rembrandts. The world easily forgets, but not so with the actors concerned.

Jack had been at Priory Court two days, and was expecting a visit from Jimmie, when the latter wired to him to come up to town at once if he was able. Sir Lucius was not at home; he was riding over some distant property he had recently bought. So Jack left a note for him, drove to the station, and caught a London train. He reached Victoria station at noon, and the cab that whirled him to the Albany seemed to crawl. Jimmie greeted him gladly, with a ring of deep emotion in his mellow voice.

"By Jove, old fellow," he cried, "you are looking splendidly fit!"

"Have you succeeded?" Jack demanded, impatiently.

"Yes, I have found her," Jimmie replied. "It was by a mere fluke. I went to a solicitor on some business, and it turned out that he was acting for Miss Foster-you see her father left a good bit of money. He was close-mouthed at first, but when I partly explained how matters stood, he told me that the girl and her old servant, Mrs. Sedgewick, went off to a quiet place in the country-"

"And he gave you the address?"

"Yes; here it is!"

Jack took the piece of paper, and when he glanced at it his face flushed. He wrung his friend's hand silently, looking the gratitude that he could not utter, and then he made a bolt for the door.

"I'm off," he said, hoarsely. "God bless you, Jimmie-I'll never forget this!"

"Sure you feel fit enough?"

"Quite; don't worry about that."

"Well, good luck to you, old man!"

Jack shouted good-by, and made for Piccadilly. He sprang into the first cab that came along, and he reached Waterloo just in time to catch a Shepperton train. He longed to be at his destination, and alternate hopes and fears beset him, as he watched the landscape flit by. He drew a deep breath when he found himself on the platform of the rustic little station. It was a beautiful spring-like day, warm and sunny, with birds making merry song and the air sweet and fragrant. He started off at a rapid pace along the hedge-bordered road, and, traversing the length of the quaint old village street, he stopped finally at a cottage on the farther outskirts. It was a pretty, retired place, lying near the ancient church-tower, and isolated by a walled garden full of trees and shrubbery.

Jack's heart was beating wildly as he opened the gate. He walked up the graveled pat

h, between the rows of tall green boxwood, and suddenly a vision rose before him. It was Madge herself, as lovely and fair as the springtime, in a white frock with a pathetic touch of black at the throat and waist. She approached slowly, then lifted her eyes and saw him. And on the mad impulse of the moment he sprang forward and seized her. He held her tight against his heart, as though he intended never to release her.

"At last, darling!" he whispered passionately. "At last I have found you! Cruel one, why did you hide so long? Can you forgive me, Madge? Can you bring back the past?-the happiness that was yours and mine in the old days?"

At first the girl lay mutely in his arms, quivering like a fragile flower with emotions that he could not read. Then she tried to break from his embrace, looking at him with a flushed and tear-stained face.

"Let me go!" she pleaded. "Oh, Jack, why did you come? It was wrong of you! I have tried to forget-you know that the past is dead!"

"Hush! I love you, Madge, with a love that can never die. I won't lose you again. Be merciful! Don't send me away! Is the shadow of the past-the heavy punishment that fell upon me for boyish follies-to blast your life and mine? Have I not suffered enough?"

The girl slipped from his arms and confronted him sadly.

"It is not that," she said. "I am unworthy of you, Jack. What is your disgrace to mine? Would you marry the daughter of a man who-"

"Are you to blame for your father's sins?" Jack interrupted. "Let the dead rest! He would have wished you to be happy. You are mine, mine! Nothing shall part us, unless-But I won't believe that. Tell me, Madge, that you love me-that your feelings have not changed."

"I do love you, Jack, with all my heart, but-"

He stopped her lips with a kiss, and drew her to his arms again.

"There is no but," he whispered. "The shadows are gone, and the world is bright. Dearest, you will be my wife?"

He read his answer in her eloquent eyes, in the passion of the lips that met his. A joy too deep for words filled his heart, and he felt himself amply compensated for all that he had suffered.

* * *

The marriage took place in June, at old Shepperton church, and Jimmie was best man. Sir Lucius Chesney witnessed the quiet ceremony, and then considerately went off to Paris for a fortnight, while the happy pair traveled down to Priory Court, to spend their honeymoon in the ancestral mansion that would some day be their own. And, later, Jack took his wife abroad, intending to do the Continent thoroughly before buckling down in London to his art; he could not be persuaded to relinquish that, in spite of the sad memories that attached to it.

Jimmie took a sudden longing for his native heath, and returned to New York; but it is more than likely that he will spend a part of each year in England, as so many Americans are eager to do. Madge does not forget her father, unworthy though he was of such a daughter; and to Jack the memory of Diane is untempered by bitter feelings; for he knows that she repented at the last. The Honorable Bertie Raven has learned his hard lesson, and his present conduct gives reasonable assurance that he will run a straight course in the future, thanks to the friend who saved him. Noah Hawker is doing five years "hard," and Victor Nevill is an outcast and an exile in Australia, eking out a wretched existence on a small income that Sir Lucius kindly allows him.

As for the two Rembrandts, the original, of course, reverted to Lamb and Drummond. The duplicate hangs in the gallery at Priory Court, and Sir Lucius prizes it highly because it was the main link in the chain of circumstances that gave him a nephew worthy of his honored name.

THE END.

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