תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

while. Miss Nethersole would perhaps have one was worth, at compound interest, more than liked, could she be persuaded that it was a Chris- double the amount it represented. Say only tian thing, to have decorated Temple Bar with double. There was a sum of two thousand Anthony Hamblin in bits. I mean that her bit- pounds, at least, waiting for her. She had only terness was so savage, so deeply rooted, that she to ask it. That meant an increase to her income would have caught at any chance of satisfying of eighty pounds a year. Surely it would be a the hunger of her soul. She was a woman who, flying in the face of Providence, and a despising on this subject, was raging. This man had of gifts, were that sum suffered to be lost or robbed her of her sister, and of her money. thrown into the capacious coffers of the HamWorse than that, he had robbed her of her heart. blins. She was no older than he. When he came to And then, by going to the office of the firm, Newbury she was still young, two-and-thirty or by merely claiming it, she would be able to inso; he was handsome; he was gentle in his form the family of the deceased forger, what manmanner, courteous, and attentive; she had not ner of man the head of the House had been. had many opportunities of meeting such a gal " It is a Christian duty,” she said, persuading lant gentleman, this daughter of a successful herself. nonconformist tradesman: she mistook his po Perhaps it was; but it took her several weeks liteness for something more real; and because before she could resolve on actually carrying the he was deferent and courteous, she thought he project into execution. Finally, she arrived at was in love. She was not hard-featured in those the desired pitch of resolution, and came up to days, nor hard-minded; the honey in her nature town by herself, bringing her precious pièces de still predominated over the vinegar; and although conviction with her. her oval face was rather thin, and her chin a lit She consulted her solicitor, but more as a tle pointed, she was not yet without womanly matter of form, because she expected little of a charms. It was not absurd for her to suppose low-spirited caitiff who had refused to ask the that she might be loved by man—when is it so magistrates for a warrant because the criminal late as to be absurd ? She was deceived in the was dead. She was right. He behaved in the most cruel way, she said. The man began by meanest manner possible; there was nothing making love to her, and then came and asked for vigorous about the man. After all, as she found her sister-this chit of eighteen, more than a afterward, he was only a member of the Estabdozen years younger than himself. That wrong, lishment. What could be expected from a hangthough she did not say so, was harder to forgive er-on to that dry branch ? than the other two. Money she might be robbed “ The man is dead," said this creature of of; she might even lose her sister, and yet in compromises. “You can have no revenge out time get over both those losses. But the con- of him. You can not even prove after this lapse tempt of herself, the quiet way in which the man, of time that the papers are written by him. Even when he at length comprehended her interpreta- if the first part, the form of receipt, was writtion of his suit, put it aside courteously, and yet ten by him, you can not prove that the signature as if it were absurd—these were things which is his. To me the signature looks genuine. The could never be forgotten.

money was paid over the counter. Who is to Twenty years ago? Why, the whole scene say, after fourteen years, who received it? All was as fresh in her mind as if it had been yes- the good you will get, Miss Nethersole, by proterday. Twenty years ago ? Why, it seemed ceeding in this ungrateful and thankless business not a week since; when the man left her, she will be the character of a vindictive woman." locked the door, and gave way to that fit of de • What does that matter,” she replied, "prospairing wrath and sorrow which had been ever vided I can show him to the world as he was ?" afterward the great sin of her life to look back She looked thinner, harder, more determined upon, and yet it was not repented.

The death of the enemy, the solicitor Seeing, therefore, the manifest impossibility thought, had only intensified her desire for reof getting any pleasantness out of revenge upon venge. a dead man, Miss Nethersole at first collapsed “Just so," said the man of law. altogether : nor was it till many weeks afterward pose you only succeed in showing him to the that a thought came to her which went straight world as the world has always accepted him, and to her very heart and remained there, growing in showing yourself as a revengeful person endaily stronger, and taking every day more defi- deavoring by every means, fair or soul, to comnite shape. Why, she thought, should she lose pass the disgrace of an honorable name ?" the money she had paid on the forged receipts? She closed her thin lips more tightly togethThere were six of them. Their dates were twenty, nineteen, down to fifteen years old. Each “I am vindictive," she said ; “I am revenge

than ever.

“ But sup

er.

you?"

me."

ful, because I wish to vindicate the memory of Perhaps she is the sister of a young lady who my sister—"

disappeared thirty years ago, a mother-no By blackening the memory of her husband. that can hardly be.” Augustus glanced at the Pardon me, Miss Nethersole ; but I am unable card.—“Show her up, Jennings. Perhaps she is to enter into those curious subtilties, by which only a person connected with schools, or guilds, you distinguish the duty of a Christian from that or nunneries, or societies of some kind, in search of the avenger of a blood-feud. I can not act of donations which she shall not get.” for you in this matter. I must, I fear, request “Certainly not,” said William the Silent. you to find another solicitor. I wish you a good She was not, however, connected with any morning."

begging enterprise whatever, as she quickly Miss Nethersole closed her black bag with a showed. She entered the room, looked round, snap and went away. But she was not van- and glared upon the partners in silence. quished. A woman who has lived and acted "Pray, madam," asked Augustus, “will you herself for thirty years is not to be moved out of be kind enough to tell us how we can serve her course by the disapproval of a solicitor.

What did she want with a solicitor? She “You can not serve me." could very well act alone; she knew what she · Then will you be kind enough to tell us had to do, and she could do it, she thought, bet- what gives us the pleasure of seeing you here?" ter without a lawyer's aid than with one. Act "It is no pleasure at all, either for you or for ing alone, too, she could act quickly.

She was staying at the Queen's Hotel, St. “Really! Then will you please tell us, at Martin's le Grand, a central place well removed once, who you are?” from the soul-destroying gayeties of the West, “I am your late cousin Anthony Hamblin's and within access of several faithful chapels. sister-in-law.” She returned to the room, sat down for a while Both the partners started and gazed at her to collect her thoughts, and presently, after a with curiosity. cup of tea, which brought back her courage, to “His sister-in-law ? Then you must be gether with her vindictiveness, she made hard you must be the sister of his wife?” cried Auher upper lip, and set out for Great St. Simon gustus, considering rapidly the meaning of the Apostle. It was then five o'clock in the after relationship. “Permit us, my dear Miss Nether

The clerks were putting things together; sole, to make your acquaintance, to shake hands the porters and servants were yawning, expect- with you. This is my partner and cousin, Mr. Wilant of the close of day; the two partners, Au- liam Hamblin. Anthony's sister-in-law. Good gustus and William, were talking together in the Heavens! The very person, or next to the very room of the former, hats on and umbrellas in person, whom we have been trying to find for so hand ready to go, when Miss Nethersole's card long. Are you really aware, madam, how much was brought in by a clerk in waiting.

depends on the proof of this marriage? Really, “ Miss Rachel Nethersole, Olivet Lodge,” this is—this is—this is providential. Pray, pray, read Augustus. “Do you know her, Cousin Miss Nethersole, take a chair-pray sit down William ?

and let us converse! Most providential, I am The man of few words shook his head. sure." “Nor I.-Ask her, Jennings, what she wants, She obeyed and sat down.

But her eyes and whether to-morrow will do ?-Another of were not encouraging. They showed no inclinathe replies to our advertisements, I suppose, tion to respond to the friendly advances of her William, or perhaps a messenger from Mr. brother's cousins. Bragge. That man means work, mind you." “I do not understand compliments. I come

Miss Nethersole sent up word that to-morrow to" would not do, and that if the partners refused to “We have been hunting everywhere," Auhear what she had to say to them confidentially, gustus went on, “to find out whom Anthony she would send up the purport of her message married. I assure you, Miss Nethersole, we by word of mouth, a course which she advised have spared no trouble. May I ask, did you them not to adopt.

come in answer to our advertisements, or did “This is a very curious message," said Au- Mr. Bragge-" gustus. “It looks like threatening us, William. “Neither," she replied surlily; "and as for Is she a young woman, Jennings ?".

marriage, he married my sister Dora." “Oh, dear, sir, no! Not at all. She looks “He married her sister Dora!” echoed Aumore than fifty. A lady dressed in black, with a gustus ; "he married Miss Dora Nethersole, black bag."

Cousin William, of-of-of-what town, mad“ Very odd,” said Augustus, " extremely odd. am ? "

noon.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

“Of Newbury, in Wiltshire."

Augustus Hamblin made a note of the place, “Of Newbury, in Wiltshire,” he repeated. and waited for more information. “Of course, of Newbury, in Wiltshire-we are “As for the reasons why Anthony Hamblin getting on famously. Why, Miss Nethersole, concealed his marriage,” Miss Nethersole went you have been of more use to us in five minutes on, “I think I can find you at least six. They than all our advertisements, and circulars, and are here." secret-service people, in four months. Anthony She opened her bag, and drew forth a little Hamblin was married to Dora, Miss Dora Nether- bundle of papers, carefully tied up. sole, of Newbury, in Wiltshire. Were you your From the bundle she extracted half a dozen self present at the marriage, madam? But of documents, all written on half sheets of notecourse you were. No doubt you were a brides- paper, and on one side. She selected one and maid.”

handed it across the table to Augustus. “Of course I was not. Mr. Hamblin pre • Have the goodness to read that,” she said. ferred to elope with my sister. That was his Augustus read: idea of Christian wedlock. He carried her away with him. Naturally, I never saw her again." “ Received, this day, January the first, 18,

“But you know that they were married ? of Messrs. Child and Company, the sum of one You have proof that they were married ? You hundred and fifty pounds sterling. can tell us where they were married ?

“ £150 os. od. “Sir!" Her voice was more than severe.

" DORA HAMBLIN," “Do I know that they were married ? Know that they were married? You are speaking of The signature, in a sloping Italian hand, ran my sister—my sister, sir."

across a receipt-stamp. “That is the reason why I say that you have, * Very well,” said Augustus, returning the no doubt, proof of the marriage. You know paper, “there is nothing remarkable about a where it took place, for instance."

stamped and signed receipt." “That is not what I came to speak about,” “Read the next," she said. she replied. “It is clear to me that your cousin It was the same as the first, but dated a year Anthony Hamblin was even more wicked than I later. believed him to be. It seems now that he hid She gave him a third, a fourth, and up to an this marriage from you, his partners." She eighth. Augustus read them all, handed them looked as if this additional proof of wickedness to his cousin, who also read them, and gave them gratified her beyond measure.

back to Miss Nethersole. Pardon me," said Augustus, "he did tell us “ You looked at the dates ?" she asked, with later on of his marriage; he informed us that a wintry smile. The moment of her triumph, your sister, his wife, was dead. He did not wish such as it was, was about to begin. to speak of his wife, whose early death, doubt “ We did.” less, was too recent a sorrow, and we respected “ I paid that hundred and fifty pounds to my his silence. There is no wickedness there, so sister for eight long years," she said.

“ It was far as I can understand. You, of course, have my allowance to her. Her husband starved her, no reason to conceal the fact of the marriage. while he took the allowance.” Where did it take place ? "

“ Anthony Hamblin starved his wife?" “I do not know," said Miss Nethersole simply. “He neglected her, and starved her. He

“You do not know?Both partners stared was a murderer, because she died of his negblankly. “You do not know ?”

lect." "I do not !” She pulled the strings of her “Good Heavens!” cried Augustus, “ do you black bag impatiently. “They eloped." know what you are saying?”

“Oh!” cried Augustus. “They eloped, did “He was more than a murderer, because, they ?-Can you understand this, William?” while my sister died less than two years after her

The taciturn partner shook his head. An- marriage, these drafts were drawn by him, and thony Hamblin elope! As well expect an arch- the signatures forged, for six years later." bishop to elope.

“Let me look at them again,” said Augustus, “They eloped,” she went on, “and my sister with troubled face. wrote next day to say that she was married. It She handed them across the table, but one by was not my business to ask where or when. She one. They were all in the same handwriting, had left me, and was no more my sister." except the signature. After examining them Where did she write from?"

once more, with greater care, Augustus rose and “From a place called Lulworth, in Dorset- opened his private safe; from this he extracted a shire."

book, full of letters and papers pasted in, and

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

carefully indexed. He turned over the leaves, "Certainly: that the forger was Anthony found what he wanted, and laid it before his Hamblin." She nodded, and set her thin lips partner, and one of Miss Nethersole's receipts firm. beside it, without saying a word.

“ As you please. I think my partner agrees William looked, compared, nodded.

with me that we ought to buy back these reAugustus returned the receipt.

ceipts." “ Thank you, Miss Nethersole," he said ; “we · At compound interest,” said the lady. are satisfied that your statement is correct. The “At compound interest. We are ready to papers are forged.”

buy them of you to prevent a scandal. We can “ Anthony Hamblin was the forger.” not allow our late partner and cousin to be ac

“ Pardon me; that is quite another affair. cused or suspected of such a crime. Besides, How are you going to prove that?”

there are others to consider. We will buy these “How am I going to prove that?” She sat papers of you, Miss Nethersole.” bolt upright and stared him full in the face. “Did “ Thank you," she said. “Of course the I not pay the money?”

money will be useful to me. It is a large sum to " Doubtless it was paid for you—but who re- lose. At the same time, if I give up the papers, ceived it?"

I give up the proofs of that man's abominable “Who should, except Anthony Hamblin him- perfidy and wickedness." self?"

“ Not at all,” Augustus replied. “These pa“ But you forget, or perhaps you do not know, pers are not proofs at all. You would find it as that Anthony Hamblin at that time was in the impossible to prove that it was he who drew the enjoyment of at least twenty thousand pounds a money as that it was he who forged the signayear."

tures." Rachel Nethersole was staggered.

She was silent, but not convinced. She rose, “Twenty thousand pounds year? and he and put the papers back into her bag. refused my sister more than two pounds a week! “I will not sell them, then," she said. “I And when I saw him last, and taxed him with will keep them. You would not want to buy the crime, he did not deny it. I went to Clapham them unless it was to screen your late partner. on purpose to see him; it was the day before he You are deceiving me; I shall keep them. And was drowned. I showed him these papers. i I shall bide my time.” informed him that my purpose was to prosecute “We are not deceiving you, Miss Nethersole. him criminally. He did not, he could not, deny Remember, however, that our offer is always his guilt; he had not the impudence to deny it, open. We will buy the papers whenever you though he tried to brazen it out."

please to sell them." “He did not deny it?”

“ Then I will go,” she said, "as I came. At “No; on the contrary, he implored me to least, you know the truth.” pause. He said that consequences, of which I One moment,” said Augustus. “We may knew nothing, but which I should regret all my wish to correspond with you. Your address is on life, would follow if I persevered. I left him un- this card—Olivet Lodge, Newbury. That will repentant, yet troubled. In this awful attitude always find you? Thank you. It occurs to me of convicted guilt he was called away the next -perhaps a foolish doubt-that, while you were day.”

not informed of your sister's place of marriage, “This is the most extraordinary statement I you were wrongly informed of her death." ever heard,” said Augustus. “ We do not disbe No," said Miss Nethersole. There, at lieve you, Miss Nethersole, but we are convinced least, I am on firm ground. Because I have seen that you are mistaken. Anthony Hamblin could her

grave.

She is buried in Bournemouth cemenot have acknowledged his guilt."

tery. At her head is a cross with her initials, “He did not say, in so many words, I did D. H.,' and the date of her escape from the forge those signatures,' it is true,” said Miss Neth tyranny and neglect of a SEDUCER, a LIAR, a ersole; “but he acknowledged that he had done FORGER, and a THIEF!” it by implication. What did he mean by saying She shook all over with the vehemence of her that I did not understand the consequences which wrath. Then she gathered up her bag and would follow ?”

her umbrella, laid over her arm the black "I do not know," said Augustus. “Come, shawl which completed her costume, and which Miss Nethersole, you have clearly been defrauded she vays carried as if she were a waiter of this money. It matters nothing now whether and the shawl a napkin, and went away withthis dead man did the thing or not. We feel out a word of adieu, slamming the door after certain that he did not. You will keep your own her. conclusions."

“What a woman!" cried Augustus, with a

sigh of relief.—“And now, William, what are “Use your own judgment there as well,” he we to make of it?”

said at length; “ but she is to tell no one, not “No doubt about the handwriting," said Wil- even Mrs. Cridland.” liam.

This permission granted, Gilbert hastened to Clapham Common with his news. Here, indeed,

was a clew. Let Mr. Theodore Bragge follow CHAPTER XXVI.

up his clews; let Alderney Codd run down one HOW ALISON REMEMBERED A MANUSCRIPT.

Hamblin after another; he had the name of the

wife; he knew where she was buried. Alison's RACHEL NETHERSOLE was gone, and the mother was found. partners, left alone, held long and serious counsel. He found her in the garden among the flowIt seemed best, on the whole, to send for Gilbert ers. It was a quiet morning in very early June. Yorke and tell him everything, except one thing, The lilacs and laburnums were still in full bloswhich the cousins kept to themselves, the secret som; the earlier and old-fashioned flowers—the of the handwriting. Mr. Theodore Bragge was wallflowers, London pride, polyanthus, columbine busy “ following up a clew" of his own. In fact, were in their first pride and glory; the turf he was at the moment exchanging ideas on cur was crisp and fresh. The garden was quiet, rent politics with a friend in a Fleet Street tav- young Nick having not yet returned from school. ern. Alderney Codd, the most diligent of work- Not far off a man was sharpening something on ers, was hunting down strange Hamblins, no re a wheel, and the monotonous sound made one lations at all, into queer dens and cribs, where think of the roadside and the country. Overthey generally assailed him with demands of head larks sang; in the trees there was a blackbacksheesh. Gilbert Yorke was the most trust- bird, a thrush, and a chiff-chaff, besides all sorts worthy agent, and they sent for him and told of other songsters—a whole choir of songsters, him all that they had learned from Miss Nether- as Addison would have called them. sole.

“You here, and so early, Gilbert ?” Alison “What we have actually learned,” said Au- cried, as her lover sprang across the lawn to greet gustus, “is the name of Anthony's wife, the her. statement made by her of an actual marriage, “ Yes, Alison; I have news for you-good the place where she lived, and the place and date news, my dear—the best news—the news you of her death. It will be your duty to visit these have long wanted to hear.” places, to find out anything that can be learned “ Gilbert!”-she clutched his arm with her further, and if possible to ascertain the place of two hands; her cheek was very pale, but her lips marriage, whether under a false name or not. were firm—"you know what I want most. Is it Should you like Alderney Codd to go with you, is it that ?or instead of you ?"

• It is, Alison. Courage, dear; we have but The young man blushed ingenuously. Should one step to take, and all will be cleared up. he surrender to Alderney Codd any portion of Meantime, we are certain-mind, we are certain the glory and pride of recovering Alison's name? -for we have found your mother.”

“ There is another thing. Miss Nethersole “My mother,” she murmured, with a strange does not seem to know that there was any issue smile; “ what does not that mean to most girls ? of the marriage. You may call upon her, after But to me it means more—for it means my fayour investigations, and tell her of the child, of ther, too." Alison. You will find her bitter against the · We know," said Gilbert, “ that he was marmemory of Anthony, and she will show you some ried; we have his wife's statement to that effect, receipts.—I think that Yorke should know about the day after they eloped. Yes-one reason why the receipts ?” He turned to his partner, who your father wished to keep the marriage secret nodded.—“She gave her sister a sum of a hun- was, I suppose, because it was a runaway mardred and fifty pounds a year; the sister died two riage ; and why it was runaway I can not tell years after marriage; the money was drawn for you. I am going to-day to visit your mother's eight years."

grave." “But not by Mr. Hamblin."

• My mother's grave," she repeated, her dark Certainly not,” Augustus replied with deci- eyes filling with tears; “where is it. Gilbert ? sion—"certainly not. The receipts are forgeries, Surely I may go along with you." but the forging is not his; of that you may, if Why should she not? But it was at Bourneyou please—but use your own judgment in the mouth. matter-assure Miss Nethersole."

• Mrs. Duncombe will come with me,” Alison "I may tell Alison ?"

went on. “I can be ready in half an hour. Let Augustus Hamblin hesitated.

me go with you, Gilbert."

[ocr errors]
« הקודםהמשך »