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house. Lord ! if he knew! Shall I jump up excursion, how one of them eloped with a girl of and tell them all? I would if I thought that eighteen, named Dora Nethersole, and how she Anthony wouldn't go mad."
had died deserted and neglected at Bourne“I am here," said Stephen, who did indeed mouth. look black, “ without my solicitor. The course Stephen listened with an unmoved counteis unusual, but the interview must be considered nance. privileged. One thing, however, before we be- “This is the sort of information," he said, gin: if Mr. Billiter is going to revive old stories “which one gets from advertising, and church in his usual pleasant manner, I shall go away at registers, and that sort of thing. How does it once."
bear upon the case ?" “I have nothing to say at this interview," " You shall hear immediately, Stephen. The said the lawyer; " at least, I think I have nothing man who eloped with the girl, who was married to say."
to her at Hungerford, who lived with her at Lul“ The communication we have to make to worth, and who deserted her there, leaving her you, Stephen,” said Augustus, “is of so grave a to starve and die of neglect and sorrow, was nature, so important, and so unexpected, that not-Anthony at all. It was no other than we have invited Anthony's solicitor, your father's yourself, Stephen." solicitor, to be present. You will acknowledge “I allow you to put the case your own way," that we were right?".
said Stephen, “because I am anxious for you to “Important and unexpected? Then you get to the point, if any, which bears upon preshave, I suppose, found out that Anthony was ent business." never married ?"
" It was you, and not Anthony, who deserted These were brave words, but Stephen was Dora Hamblin ; it was Anthony, and not you, evidently ill at ease. In fact, he had passed an who soothed her last moments, and consoled her uneasy time. Alderney Codd's warning, which in the hour of death. Here is a copy of her last he had met with bravado, came back to him in journal, which you may take away and meditate. the dark hours. And after a sleepless night he upon.” kept his appointment with shaken nerves.
“I know all about her death,” said Stephen, “We have decided," Augustus continued, callously ; “ Anthony told me of that. It is an “on at once telling you everything."
old, old story; twenty years old, and forgotten. “That is so far candid. Probably you have what has it to do with the business in hand, and concluded between you that it will be to your the claims of that girl ?” advantage to tell me everything?"
“Everything; because you have been quite “You shall judge of that yourself, Cousin right all along-Anthony was never married—” Stephen.” Augustus was very grave, and spoke “Ah!” said Stephen, a sudden Aush of joy slowly. “We have known you all your life. It and relief crossing his face. was in this room that you received dismissal from “Was never married at all, and he left no the House in which you might even have become will." a partner."
“Then I am the heir of all.” He spoke as if no higher honor, no greater He raised himself upright, and looked round earthly happiness could befall any man than to with an air of mastership. become a partner in the House of Anthony “You are the heir of all,” repeated AugusHamblin and Company.
tus, solemnly. The boy, looking through the chink of the “Good. I give you notice that I will do nothscreen, shook his head solemnly.
ing for the girl-nothing at all." “D— the partnership, and the House too!” “Stop,” said Augustus; “more remains to said Stephen. “I told you that I would not lis- be told. When Anthony wrote to you that your ten to the revival of old stories. If that is all wife was dead, he did not inform you of what he that you have to say—"
thought you unworthy to know-that she left a He rose and seized his hat.
child." " It is not all ; pray sit down again. We have “A child !" to go back twenty years. Carry your memory “A girl. She became Anthony's care. He back for that time. Where are you ?”
brought her up to consider herself his daughter. "I am waiting to hear," said Stephen, sul- Alison Hamblin is the daughter of you, Stephen, lenly.
and of Dora your wife.” Then Augustus told Stephen the same story “My gum!” This was the whispered utterwhich Miss Nethersole had told Anthony; al- ance of the boy behind the screen. most, too, in the same words. He told how two Stephen's face became darker still. He gazed men had visited a little town when on a fishing with hard eyes at the speaker.
“My daughter!” he said slowly. “Alison is deed of gift in favor of your daughter. Never my daughter? Have you proof of this ?” return to England, and draw upon us for any “We have-we have ample proof.”
reasonable amount of annuity." "Mind, I will not accept her as my daughter Stephen was so dismayed by the prospect as without it. I want no daughter. I shall require presented by his cousin, that he made as if he the most exact corroboration of this extraordi- would accede to these terms. His face was not nary statement."
pretty to look at. “ You shall have it,” said Augustus.
"If I do not accede?" he asked.. “You are not worthy-” cried Gilbert, spring- “Then Miss Nethersole will find out-she ing to his feet at the same moment.
must be told—who it was that robbed her of so “Sit down, young man," said Mr. Billiter; much money; and she is a hard woman. It “there is more to say.”
seems to me, Stephen, that the choice is one “There is something very much more seri- which does not admit of much consideration. ous to say,” continued Augustus Hamblin. “Re- Fourteen years in a convict's prison is not to any member, Stephen, that Miss Nethersole, in an- man's taste; you would get small enjoyment out swering your wife's letter, offered her an allow- of your wealth, if it were to be purchased at ance of one hundred and fifty pounds a year, such a price. Disgrace and shame are before payable on the first day of every year. How you on the one hand; on the other, safety and often did you draw that money?"
silence. If you care to think of such a thing in Stephen started.
addition, you may consider that your daughter, “How often ? till she died.”
who would otherwise know nothing of this epi“We have here," he went on very slowly, sode in your career, would begin her new rela“ copies—they are copies only, and you can have tionship with the horror of such a crime, and the them to look at if you please—of eight receipts, disgrace of such a conviction.” all drawn by you. Two of them are signed by “My daughter," murmured the unhappy man. your wife; six of them are forgeries—by your- “Yes, I had forgotten; that is, I had not thought self.”
about my daughter." "It's a lie!” shouted Stephen, bringing his “It is in your daughter's interests that we fist down upon the table.
have told you the whole truth. Otherwise we “You did not, then, receive the money ?" might have been tempted to let things take their “ Certainly not.”
own course, in which case you would probably “Unfortunately,” said Augustus, " the clerk have been arrested in a few days, without receivwho honored the draft every year knows you by ing the slightest warning.” sight, and is ready to swear to you; the experts "I should, however," said Mr. Billiter, sweetwho have examined the signatures swear that ly, “suggest Spain. It is a country which, under they are all in your writing ; the lady who suf- all circumstances, is likely to prove attractive to fered the loss of the money is ready to prosecute you for a long time." criminally. You will be charged with the crime; Stephen grunted a response. you will be tried for the crime. You now know “All this,” murmured young Nick, behind why I reminded you, at the outset, of the cause the screen, “is real jam-blackberry jam. I of your dismissal from the House."
wouldn't have missed this for pounds. Wonder Stephen said nothing. He looked round him if they will find me out? Wonder if I am going stupidly. This was a blow, indeed, which he did to sneeze ?". not expect.
He held his nose tight to prevent such a fatal “We have anxiously considered whether we accident, and listened and peeped harder than should communicate these things to Alison, your ever. daughter. We would willingly have spared her “Mr. Augustus," he said, “ has got him in a all knowledge of them; but, out of respect for cleft stick. My! if he isn't the miserablest of the memory of the man whom she will always sinners. Some sense in going to church if you regard as her father, we must tell her that it was are such a sinner as Uncle Stephen. Looks it not he who killed his young wife by neglect and too, all over : every inch a sinner.” ill-treatment. We shall have to let her know “ It is absurd," said Stephen, “to deny a that it was the man who was always called her thing which you declare you can prove. If the uncle who did this thing. As regards the for- thing demanded it, if it were necessary, the geries, we think we have a simple means of charge would be met with a complete answer." keeping the matter in the background alto- “But it is not necessary," said Mr. Billiter. gether."
“As it is,” said Stephen, trying to smile, "all “What is that?" asked Stephen, eagerly. I have to say is that—you have won. I retire. “It is this: Go away at once. Execute a I am ready to renounce, in the interests of my
daughter-if she is my daughter-the-the- There was a note lying on his table: it was a bulk of this fortune to which I am now the second letter from Jack Baker, urging immediate undoubted heir. When can the papers be repayment of the money. Stephen threw it aside signed ?”
impatiently: Baker's troubles mattered little to “You can come to my office to-morrow him : he had other things to think of. morning,” said Mr. Billiter, cheerfully; “I will He sat down presently, and tried to think. promise to make no allusions to the past, and He could not arrange his thoughts. He could you can draw a check in advance to meet and not put things together in anything like sequence. pay any outstanding liabilities before you go They had discovered what he thought could
never be found out — the forgeries of the re“As I am going abroad,” said Stephen, with ceipts : they had found, too, what he never susa simplicity which did him great credit, “it pected or dreamed of—the existence of a daughwould be quite absurd to pay any of my debts." ter. Anthony told him that his wife was dead.
He put on his hat and walked out of the Anthony told him with cold voice, but without a room; his shoulders were bent, and, though he word of reproof, that his wife was buried in the tried to walk with his old swagger, he had some- cemetery of Bournemouth. Anthony had not thing of the appearance of the whipped hound. told him, nor had he suspected, that there was a This is inevitable under such disagreeable cir- child. cumstances.
Why had Dora kept that secret from him? The other four, left alone, congratulated each Why had Anthony kept that secret? He laughed other on the success of their diplomacy.
aloud as he recalled a thing long since forgotten Then they broke up and went away. Mr. —how Anthony had gone, himself, and spoken Billiter took up his hat without looking over the to Rachel Nethersole about her sister, while he screen, and the boy was left alone.
and Dora were actually. plotting and planning He remained there, not daring to move, for for their secret marriage at Hungerford. No five minutes; then he slowly got up, and danced doubt Anthony was in love, and remained in a little double shuffle round the chair in which love long after he, Stephen, had come out of it ; Stephen had sat.
no doubt he kept this child as a sort of souvenir “I'm the luckiest boy in all the world !” he of that dead and hopeless passion. Poor old cried, though his face was pale at the sudden Anthony ! he always was a soft-hearted sort of shock of this discovery. “I know all their little man: little better than a fool, when it came to secrets all round. But oh!"-he stopped dan- the commoner emotions of humanity. Why, he cing, and became very grave—"what an awful himself could always get round Anthony. example, to a future partner in the House, is the A daughter. history of Stephen Hamblin! If he wasn't Ali- Alison Hamblin, the girl whom he had been son's father-and there's another start of the accustomed to hate, to plot against, and to curse, very rummiest—if he wasn't Alison's father, and was his daughter; that was a very surprising so it had to be kept dark, I would write that his- circumstance. For his own part, he had never tory out fair for use in schools. It should be set felt in the slightest degree a paternal instinct to music-I mean, to Latin exercises and it toward her-quite the contrary. He had always would be a great deal more useful than the do- regarded her with sentiments of extreme dislike; ings of the impostor Balbus. “ The Wicked he hated her like sin, he said, untruthfully, beHamblin," it should be headed. Ahab and cause he was not one of those who hate sin. Ahaziah-both of them-were saints with rings She came between himself and a possible sucround their heads, compared to Uncle Stephen. cession. How could he avoid hating her ? Even And even—" he hesitated for another historical now, when he was told with one breath that she example—"even Jehoram was an angel of light." was his daughter, he was ordered with the other
to resign his rights in her favor, or else
That was it—or else— He turned this alter
native over and over in his mind. That, at least, CHAPTER XXXIV.
was clear enough. The documents were forged:
in his own chambers he could acknowledge so HOW STEPHEN DEFIED THEM ALL. much; he had himself-being pressed for money,
and being quite sure that his brother would never STEPHEN HAMBLIN went home to his cham- go to Newbury, where awkward inquiries might bers. The time was four o'clock. He bore with be made-written those papers, signed them, and him the manuscript which his cousin had given -most fatal error!- presented them himself. him. His step was weary, and the lines in his Why, if only he had observed the common predark face were heavily marked.
caution of getting another man to hand them in
across the counter-if only he had sent a clerk what he should start with. Two thousand a or some other irresponsible person! But to go year, say. That means more than a hundred himself—to forget that his name belonged to a and fifty a month, five thousand francs a month; great city House, and was sure to attract attention a great deal may be done with that. Then there -he must have been mad.
was still seven hundred or so left out of Jack To be sure it was not wise to forge the things Baker's thousand. Of course he was not going at all. But then he was so hard up at the time: to pay that away. Then there was the furniture he had private expenses which he could not well of his chambers, which was good, with the picexplain to Anthony; he had lost his own money: tures and statuettes, which were not good, hayhe wanted everything he could lay his hands on; ing been taken chiefly with money advances : that hundred and fifty every year seemed like a furniture and pictures could be sold by private little windfall, providentially sent. We need not contract; altogether, he would begin the new imagine that Stephen was at all repentant about life, outre mer, with a thousand pounds of capithe crime; he was only sorry that it had been tal, in addition to two thousand a year income. found out. Hardened persons, habitual crimi- That was better than in the old days. And, if nals, go off in two directions: they are very sorry things went wrong, there was always his daughwhen things are discovered, and they are angry ter, he thought, to fall back upon. when they think of the necessities of the moment Lastly, there was one thing more: he might which made the crime absolutely unavoidable. marry. A man of his means was an eligible But neither state of mind is at all akin to what parti ; there were plenty of widows with good the good chaplain of the prison means by a heart- incomes on the Continent; if their reputations felt repentance.
were a little cracked, what matter? so was “How much goes to a 'reasonable' annui- his. ty?” he thought, reflecting on the proposal ; “the It will be seen that this was the meditation of estate is worth twelve thousand a year, at the a perfectly selfish man. Stephen Hamblin rose very least. I shall be reasonable on two. Yes, to great heights of selfishness. He had divested two thousand will do for me.
himself as much, perhaps, as man can do so, who "As for that woman, Rachel Nethersole, she is not Cæsar, Kaiser, Czar, of any consideration must be five-and-fifty. Perhaps she will go off for any other human being whatever. He was suddenly: some of these old cats do when they unto himself a god. are not too venomous. Then I could get back H e laughed, thinking of matrimony. And to England.
then he remembered the manuscript which his “Things might be worse. Considering what cousin had placed in his hands. He opened it a tremendous pull they've got, things might be and read it. worse. I suppose that fighting is out of the “The Journal of a Deserted Wife.” question. A man can't fight, unless he is We have read this tearful document. We obliged, with the prospect of a4a-suit of yel- have seen how it affected a man of middle age, low and gray, and no tobacco, and no drink, and and a very young man, both of whom carried no companionship. Hang it all!
their hearts ever in the right place. This man “Gad !” he brightened up a little; "there was not affected at all, although he was the perare plenty of fellows knocking about the Conti- son chiefly interested in it. He read it right nent under a cloud : good fellows, too, who have through slowly and carefully, without betraying got hard up, and done something which has been the slightest emotion. When he had quite finfound out. One pull for me that I shall know ished it, he tossed the paper on the table. their little histories and they won't know mine. “That's done with," he said. “Hang it! it I know them all already. I shall meet the Hon- was done with twenty years ago. Rachel seems orable Major Guy Blackborde, who cheated at to have developed a fine thirst for revenge. Monaco when I was there, and was turned out Luckily, she thought it was Anthony ; luckier of the army: and Captain de Blewdeville, who still, that Anthony got drowned. I suppose it got into the little mess at the Burleigh Club when was this document that he was going to comI was a member, and had to go. By Gąd! Imunicate to me when he made that appointment shall enjoy it. And, with two thousand a year, which he never kept. It would have been deuone will be cock of the walk.
cedly unpleasant. I should have had to get “Of course I shall not stay in Spain: the away at once, while he informed the magistrate cookery is too disgusting. The old woman will that it was not he, but his brother, who had marforget all about me, or she will relent, or some- ried Dora Nethersole. thing, and then I shall go to Paris, and so back “ So Anthony took the child; and I never to London. And as to Alison, why—why—" knew there was a child at all. Just like Dora,
Here he stopped, then he went on to consider not to tell me. A little mystery; something to hide ; something to make her important. How the reverses of fortune with anger, not with deshe did exasperate me! And what a relief it spondency. was to feel free ! and what an almighty ass I “Did you get any notes ? " asked Jack. was not to let Anthony marry her at the very “What notes ?” beginning, when he wanted to ! That was my Stephen's mind was full of more important infernal conceit. I wanted to cut out the model things. brother; and the end of it is that I've got a “My notes of last night and this morning." daughter who turns up, after twenty years, and “Oh! yes-yes." He searched among the cuts me out.”
letters on the table. “Excuse me, I had forgotHe took up the manuscript again, and read ten them—ah! you asked me to pay into the the concluding paragraph.
bank the thousand pounds you advanced me, do “She knew she was going to die, and she you?" couldn't take the trouble to write and tell me so. “I did last night. This morning-Hamblin," Her husband wasn't to know it. Must needs breaking in with a sudden eagerness of manner, write to Anthony. It's all of a piece. That is "you haven't paid it into my bank yet, have you?” what she called wifely obedience. As for the “No, certainly not; I have been busy all day." letters she did write to me at that time, they “ Good-don't ; pay it to me in notes and were dismal enough, but not a word about gold.” dying.
“What is the matter, Jack?" For his voice “They hand me over this precious journal in and manner both betokened something disasorder to soften the hardness of my heart, I sup- trous. pose. Well, my heart is pretty tough by this Mr. Bunter Baker tried to laugh, but the eftime. The tears of a woman-especially if the fort was not successful. tears are twenty years old-are not likely to trou. “A check in the flow of prosperity,” he said ble it. What does soften a man's heart is to be _“just a slight check. As I said in my letter, caught in a cleft stick, as I have been caught, there has been a most unprecedented and most to have the ball in my hands, and be compelled sudden fall. All my calculations were upset, and to drop it. Good Heavens! here I am, the un- I had the biggest thing on, too. Hamblin, if it had doubted owner of a quarter of a million of money, turned up trumps, I might have gone out of busibesides all the land and houses, and I've got to ness to-day with a hundred thousand pounds. go away for life on an annuity, or else- or else As it is-well—as it is—all the trade know alwhy, it seems almost worth fighting for. One ready, and all the world will know to-morrow. might get off; these things are not easy to prove; I am for the moment only-compelled to susthe evidence would rest entirely on the clerk who pend—" knew me. But then there are the papers, they “Oh!” are in my handwriting ; and it would be a deuced So here was another man come to grief. uncomfortable thing to stand in the dock under Stephen stared unsympathetically. It was as such a charge, and, more uncomfortable still, to he thought. The thought crossed his mind that get quodded-hang it! one might be in for four- perhaps he might meet Mr. Bunter Baker on the teen-no-no-I can't fight. I must submit. I Continent in an extreme condition of shabbiness. will go to-morrow."
“ The Bank will have to meet the differences The idea of the convict garb made his hands this time," Jack went on. “Well! they have to tremble. He sought and found consolation in had a very pretty penny out of me, one way and a small glass of brandy neat.
another," “My last appearance to-night in the club, I “And what will you do?" suppose, or anywhere else. I feel as if I were The man of self-reliance tossed his head. going to die and be buried. Well, there are one "A man like me," he said, “falls light. I or two places I know of in Paris, and Naples, and shall lay by for a bit while the liquidators take Vienna. A man with a couple of thousand a year hold of the estate and get what they can for may get along anywhere."
themselves first, and the creditors next, out of it. He was interrupted by a knock at the door. When things have blown over, I shall come back It was his friend Jack Baker.
again and carry on the same old game. That The honest Jack looked down on his luck. thousand will come in mighty handy. I saw the He showed it by a red cheek, a twitching lip, an directors to-day, and had it out with them. They anxious eye, an apparel slightly disordered. Ste- said nasty things, but, as I told them, they phen, on the contrary, showed few outward and couldn't expect me to be a prophet. I wanted visible signs of discomfiture. His cheek was paler prices to go up. I always do. I did my little than usual, his eyes were hard and glittering, best to keep them up. And, after all, they've but he was not dismayed nor cast down; he met been paying sixteen per cent. for the last eight