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´╗┐Title: Blind Policy
Author: Fenn, George Manville, 1831-1909
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Blind Policy" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Blind Policy, by George Manville Fenn.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
BLIND POLICY, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.



CHAPTER ONE.

IN RAYBECK SQUARE.

"Oh, you wicked old woman!  Ah, you dare to cry, and I'll send you to
bed."

"No, no, auntie, don't, please.  What will dear Isabel think?  You're
not going to spoil a delightful evening?"

"Of course she is not.  Here, old lady; have another glass of claret--
medicinally."

Dr Chester jumped up, gave his sister and the visitor a merry look,
took the claret to the head of the table and refilled his own glass.

But the lady shook her grey sausage curls slowly, and elaborately began
to unfold a large bordered pocket-handkerchief, puckered up her plump
countenance, gazed piteously at the sweet face on her right, bent her
head over to her charming niece on the left, and then proceeded to up a
few tears.

"No, no, no, Fred; not a drop more.  It only makes me worse; I can't
help it, my love."

"Yes, you can, old lady.  Come, try and stop it.  You'll make Bel cry
too."

"I wish she would, Fred, and repent before it's too late."

"What!" cried the doctor.

"Don't shout at me, my dear.  I want to see her repent.  It's very nice
to see the carriages come trooping, and to know what a famous doctor you
are; but you don't understand my complaint, Fred."

"Oh yes, I do, old lady.  Grumps, eh, Laury?"

"No, no, my dear.  It's heart.  I've suffered too much, and the sight of
Isabel Lee, here, coming and playing recklessly on the very brink of
such a precipice, is too much for me."

The tears now began to fall fast, and the two girls rose from their
seats simultaneously to try and comfort the sufferer.

"Playing?  Precipice?" cried the young doctor.  "Step back, Bel dear;
you shouldn't.  Auntie, what do you mean?"

"Marriage, my dear, marriage," wailed the old lady.

"Fudge?" cried the doctor.  "Here, take your medicine.  No; I'll pour
you out a fresh glass.  You've poisoned that one with salt water."

"I haven't, Fred."

"You have, madam.  I saw two great drops fall in--plop.  Come, swallow
your physic.  Bel, give her one of those grapes to take after it."

"No, no, no!" cried the old lady, protesting.  "Don't, Laury;" but her
niece held the glass to her lips till she gulped the claret down, and it
made her cough, while the visitor exchange glances with the doctor.

"I--I didn't want it, Fred; and it's not fudge.  Oh, my dear Isabel, be
warned before it is too late.  Marriage is a delusion and a snare."

"Yes, and Bel's caught fast, auntie.  Just going to pop her finger into
the golden wire."

"Don't, my dear; be warned in time," cried the old lady, piteously.  "I
was once as young and beautiful as you are, and I said yes, and was
married, only to be forsaken at the end of ten years, to become a weary,
unhappy woman, with only three thousand four hundred and twenty-two
pounds left; and it's all melting slowly away, while when it's all gone
Heaven only knows what's to become of me."

"Poor old auntie!" said Laura Chester soothingly, taking the old lady's
head on her shoulder; but it would shake all the same.

"I had a house of my own, and now I have come down to keeping my
nephew's.  Don't you marry, my poor child: take warning by me.  Men are
so deceitful."

"Wrong, auntie.  Men were deceivers ever."

"I'm not wrong, Fred.  You've been a very good boy to me, but you're a
grown man now, and though I love you I couldn't trust you a bit."

"Thank you, aunt dear."

"I can't, my love, knowing what I do.  Human nature is human nature."

"Aunt dear, for shame!" cried Laura.

"No, my dear, it's no shame, but the simple truth, and I always told
your poor father it was a sin and a crime to expose a young man to such
temptation."

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the doctor, boisterously.  "Here, Bel dear, don't
you trust me."

The young people's eyes met, full of confidence, and the old lady shook
her head again.

"I know what the world is and what men are," she continued, "and nothing
shall make me believe that some of these fashionable patients have
anything the matter with them."

"Oh, you wicked old woman!" cried the doctor.

"I'm not, Fred," she cried angrily.

"Oh yes, you are, old lady.  You say I don't understand your complaint;
it's conscience."

"It is not, sir.  I've nothing on my conscience at all."

"I don't believe you, auntie," he cried banteringly.  "You must have
been a wicked old flirt."

"It is false, sir; and I don't hold with doctors being young and
handsome."

"No; I twig.  Repentance.  You used to go and see one when you were
young, and give him guineas to feel your pulse."

"How can you say such wicked things, Fred?" cried the old lady, turning
scarlet.  "But I will say it now.  I'm sure it's not right for you to be
seeing all these fine fashionable ladies, scores of them, every day."

"Do take her upstairs, Laury," said the doctor, merrily.  "Help her, Bel
dear.  You hear; I'm a horribly wicked man, and so fascinating that the
ladies of Society flock to see me.  Now, I appeal to you, dear.  Did you
ever hear such a wicked, suspicious old woman?"

"Don't, don't, don't, Fred," sobbed the lady in question.  "I only spoke
for your good.  But it can't last long now; and when I'm dead and gone
you'll be sorry for all you've said."

"Poor old darling!" said the doctor, affectionately; "she sha'n't have
her feelings hurt.  Now then, toddle up to the drawing-room.  Lie down a
bit; and have an early cup of tea, Laury."

"No, no, no," sobbed the old lady.  "I'm only a poor, worn-out, useless
creature, and the sooner the grave closes over me the better."

She was out at the foot of the stairs, leaning upon her niece's arm,
before she had finished her sentence, and Isabel Lee, half troubled,
half amused, was following through the door, which the doctor kept open,
but he let it go and held out his hands, as the girl looked tenderly up
a him.  Then the door swung to, and the next moment she was clasped in
his arms.

"My darling!" he whispered; and then in the silence which followed they
could hear faintly the voice of the old lady on the stairs.

"I'm so sorry, Bel dear," said the doctor tenderly.  "She has one of her
fits on to-day.  Poor old soul, she has had a great deal of trouble."

"I know, Fred dear.  I don't mind."

"But it's rather hard on our visitor, whom we want to entertain--queer
entertainment."

"Don't talk about it, Fred.  Let me go now."

"Without any balm for the suffering, deceitful wretch?  Just one."

"Well, only one.  Come up soon."

It was, as the doctor said, a very tiny one, and then the girl had
struggled free and hurried up to the drawing-room, while the giver went
back to his seat.

"Bless her!  I honestly believe she's the most amiable girl in the
world," said the doctor; as he sat sipping his claret.  "Only a
fortnight now, and then no more going away.  I do love her with all my
heart, and I say devoutly, thank God for giving me the chance of
possessing so good a partner for life."

He sat sipping thoughtfully.

"Bother the old woman!" he cried suddenly.  "To break out like that.
Suspicious as ever; but Bel took it the right way.  I didn't know I was
such a Lothario.  How absurd!  Now about to-morrow's engagements.  Let's
see."

He took out a memorandum book, wrinkled up his forehead, and the next
minute was deep in thought over first one and then another of the
serious cases in which he had to do battle with the grim Shade, ending
by getting up and pacing the room, forgetful of all social ties and the
presence of his betrothed overhead.

"Oh, Fred!" brought him back to the present.

"Eh?  What's the matter, dear?"

"Matter?  Well, if ever I have a lover I hope he'll be different to you.
There's auntie fast asleep, and poor Isabel sitting watching the door
with the tears in her eyes."

"Tut-tut-tut!" ejaculated the brother.  "Yes; too bad, but I have a very
serious case on hand, dear, and I am obliged to give it a great deal of
careful consideration."

"You're always like that now, Fred," said his sister, pettishly.  "I
hope you don't mean to see patients on your wedding-day."

"Oh, hang it! no, Laury.  Here, I'll come up and have some music; but
you needn't be so sharp, little one.  Gentlemen are allowed to sit over
their wine, and you haven't been gone five minutes."

"Monster!" cried Laura.  "It's over half an hour!"

"Oh!" ejaculated the doctor, "get out of the way."

He dashed by his sister, and went up the stair three at a time to enter
the back drawing-room where he was saluted by a snore from the sofa, and
then passed through the folding-doors, his steps inaudible upon the soft
carpet.  He stood gazing tenderly at the picture he saw in a great
mirror of a sweet, sad face resting upon its owner's hand; and his
conscience smote him as he saw that the eyes were indeed full of tears.

The next moment there was a faint cry of joy, and the face lit up, for
he had stolen behind, sunk upon one knee, passed his arm round the
slight waist, and was in the act of pressing his lips to those of his
betrothed, when there was a gentle cough, and they started apart, to
turn and see Laura's head between the nearly closed folding-doors, with
a mischievous look in her eyes.

"Oh, Bel!  For shame!" she whispered merrily.  "You don't seem to take
poor Aunt Grace's words a bit to heart."

"You come in and behave yourself," said the doctor.  "Don't you begin
making mischief."

"I'm not coming in, Fred," said the girl, saucily.  "I don't like to see
such goings-on.  Is that the way people make love?"

The doctor sprang up threateningly and made for the doors, but the head
disappeared.

"She'll never grow into a woman, Bel dear," said the doctor, turning to
her.

"Oh yes, I shall," came from the door, as the head was thrust in again.
"Now I'm going to sit with auntie till she wakes.  Go on with your
love-making, Daphnis and Chloe.  Oh, I shall be so glad when you've both
come to your senses again."

This time the door closed with a click, and the doctor sank on his knee
again by Isabel, and drew her to him fondly.

"Been thinking of what poor old aunt said, Bel?" he whispered, as her
head sank upon his shoulder.

"No, not at all I only wanted you to come."

"And you trust me fully?"

"Of course, Fred.  You know I do."

"And always will?"

"How can you ask me?"

"It is so pleasant to be told that you have the fullest confidence in
your husband to be.  Tell me you trust me."

"It is insulting you, Fred," said the girl gently as she gazed in his
eyes.  "How could I accept you if I did not know you to be the truest,
bravest--Oh, Fred!"

"I was obliged to stop those flattering lips," he said.  "I'm vain
enough of having won my darling, and--Oh, hang it!"

"I beg pardon, sir; I did knock," said the servant.  "Urgent, sir.  A
lady in your consulting-room."

"All right; down directly," said the doctor, who had started up.  "I
say, Bel darling, I must be more professional.  You mustn't lock me in
your dear arms like this without you turn the key.  I sha'n't be long."

Isabel Lee uttered a low sigh as her betrothed made for the door, and as
he passed out there was the sound of voices in the back drawing-room,
Aunt Grace having finished her nap.

"Who is it, Laury?"

"I don't know, aunt dear; something urgent.  Smith said a lady."

"Another lady? and at this time of night?"

"People fall ill at all times, aunt dear," said the girl, coldly.
"Hush! don't say any more please; Isabel will hear you."

"But I can't help it, my dear," said the lady in a peevish whisper,
every word of which reached the visitor's ears.  "Oh dear me, I wish
Fred was not so good-looking.  Well, it's only another fortnight.  I
begin to think he ought to be married at once."



CHAPTER TWO.

A STRANGE CASE.

Two gloveless hands caught Dr Chester's as he entered his
consulting-room, and a strange thrill ran through him as a beautiful
face, wild-eyed and agitated, was thrust close to his.

"Dr Chester?  Oh, at last!  Come--quickly! before it is too late."

"Pray be calm," he said, motioning his visitor to a seat, but she threw
back her head.

"Come!" she cried imperiously.  "The brougham is at the door.  Quick!
He is dying."

"Pray explain yourself, madam," said the doctor.

"Oh, how can you be so cold-blooded?  Man, I tell you that Robert is
dying.  He must not--he shall not die.  Come--come!"

"But, my dear madam!"

"I'll explain everything as we go," cried the visitor, passionately, as
she drew him towards the door.  "A terrible accident.  Come and save his
life."

At another time Fred Chester might have hesitated, but there was a
strange magnetism in the eyes of his beautiful visitor--an appeal in the
quivering lip.  Every feature was drawn by the agitation from which she
suffered.  It was his profession to help in emergencies--evidently some
terrible crisis had arisen, and he felt it impossible to resist.

He threw open the door, there was a faint gasp of satisfaction as he
caught up his hat, and the next moment, with his visitor holding still
tightly by his hand, he was descending the broad steps, perfectly
ignorant of the fact that Aunt Grace was standing at the top of the
first flight of stairs, watching intently.

By the light of the gas lamps Chester saw a handsomely-appointed
brougham drawn up at the kerb.  His companion said the one word "Home,"
then stepped quickly into the carriage, the doctor followed, and they
were driven off at a rapid pace.

The night was dark, and it was by flashes of the lamps they passed that
he had glimpses of the beautiful, quivering face leaning earnestly
toward his.  He was conscious of the delicate scent emanating from the
dress; the warm perfumed breath reached his face, and there was, as it
were, a magic in the contact with her rustling robe, as they sped along
the streets.  A wild intoxication seemed to have seized upon him in
those moments, before he could master himself sufficiently to say--

"Will you explain the accident?"

"Yes, yes, as soon as I can speak," was panted out.  "I--I--ah--h--ah!"

The speaker lurched toward him, and he caught her, fainting, in his
arms.  But her strong will mastered the weakness, and she struggled
free.

"Better now," she panted.  "Doctor, we had heard of you, I came myself.
He is dying.  Oh, faster--faster!" she cried, and leaning forward she
beat upon the front window, there was a quick movement on the part of
the driver, and the horses seemed to fly.

"It was like this.  We were at dessert.  Robert was examining a pistol.
It went off, and he is horribly wounded.  Dr Chester, oh, for Heaven's
sake, save my poor boy's life!"

"With Heaven's help, madam, I will," said the doctor, earnestly, "if we
are not too late."

"Too late--too late?  Oh no, no, no, we cannot be too late!  Quicker!
Quicker!  These horses seem to crawl.  Oh, it is too horrible--too
horrible!  I cannot bear it!"

By a quick, impulsive movement the speaker threw herself forward, to
sink upon her knees in the bottom of the brougham, pressing her hands to
her mouth, and resting her face upon them against the padded cushion by
the front window; while, feeling strangely moved, Chester leaned
slightly over her with his hands half raised, in the desire he dared not
gratify, to raise her to her seat and whisper gentle words of comfort.
At that time it did not occur to him that it seemed strange for a
gentleman--he must be a gentleman; everything suggested it--to be
handling a pistol at dessert.  All he could think of was the terrible
suffering of his companion, and his attention was centred upon her as he
saw the agony she suffered, while as yet he could do nothing.

She sprang up as suddenly as she had thrown herself down, and her voice
and look thrilled him again as she said sharply--

"I can't pray: it is too horrible.  Don't notice me; don't speak to me,
please, doctor.  I am half mad."

She flung herself back in the corner and covered her face with her
hands, while, totally oblivious of the direction taken by the driver,
Chester sat back in his own place, gazing at his companion, and weaving
a romance.

It was some story of love, he told himself--love and jealousy--for the
woman at his side was beautiful enough to tempt a saint.  That was it,
he was sure, and the distracted husband had attempted to or had
committed suicide.

"What is it to me?" he said to himself, fiercely, and he wondered now
that he should have been so strangely moved.  His professional instincts
had the mastery again, and for the first time he looked out through the
drawn-up glass to try and see what street they were in.  But at that
moment his companion started again.

"Shall we never be there?" she cried in her agony.  "Ah! at last!"

For the horses were pulled up suddenly, there was a flash of light from
an open hall, and a gentleman ran down and tore open the brougham door.

"Brought him?"

"Yes, yes!" cried the lady, springing out and turning to snatch at the
doctor's wrist and hurry him up the steps.

Once more the strange thrill ran through Fred Chester's nerves and his
heart throbbed heavily.  Then they were inside a handsome entry, and he
saw statuary, pictures, a cluster of electric lights, in rapid sequence,
as he hurried over soft carpets to the back of the house, and into a
handsome dining-room in which some eight or nine ladies and gentlemen in
evening dress were clustered about a couch drawn up near a table covered
with glass and plate, flowers, fruit, and the signs of the interrupted
dessert, seen by a bouquet of soft incandescent lights.

The sight of the figure on the couch was enough, and Chester was fully
himself as his companion ran to the sufferer, threw herself on her
knees, and kissed the white face there.

"Be my own brave boy," she whispered hoarsely.  "The doctor is here."

"Be kind enough to leave the room, all but two of you gentlemen," said
Chester, sternly.

"No; I shall stay," cried the lady, firmly, as she threw off the thick
mantilla and fur-lined cloak, to stand there bare-armed and palpitating.
"I will not leave you, Rob," she cooed over the wounded man.  "Doctor,
I will be nurse."

The doctor bowed his head, and as all left the room but two of the
gentlemen, he hurriedly made his examination, and probed in vain for the
bullet, which had passed in under the left shoulder-blade, inflicting a
dangerous wound, against which, at intervals, the lady pressed her
handkerchief.

The patient bore all with remarkable fortitude, and in the moments of
his greatest agony set his teeth and held on by his nurse's hand, while
she bent down from time to time from watching every movement of the
doctor, and pressed her trembling lips to the sufferer's hand.

At last the examination was over, and the wounded man lay very white and
still; while Chester made use of a finger-glass and napkin to remove the
ugly marks from the white hands.

"Drink this, doctor," whispered one of the gentlemen who had waited upon
him, no servant having been seen.

Chester, who had had eyes only for his patient, turned sharply, and took
a tumbler of Burgundy from the well-bred man who offered it, drank a few
mouthfuls, and set the glass down close by the weapon which had caused
the wound, and which lay near a dish containing a large pine.

Chester raised his brows a little as he now saw the richness of the
table appointments, and at the same time grasped the fact that he was in
some wealthy home.  Then this was endorsed as he turned and his eyes lit
upon the lady kneeling on the other side of the couch, pale and
beautiful, for he noted that she had magnificent diamonds in her hair,
about her neck, and clasped upon her soft white wrists.

"Say something, doctor," she whispered pleadingly.

"I cannot, madam, yet."

"But he will live?" she wailed.

"Please God, madam.  Gentlemen, the case is serious," he said, turning
to those who were watching him.  "I should like someone else called in
for consultation."

"No," said one of the gentlemen, decisively.  "If you cannot save him,
no one can."

"Jem," said the other, hoarsely, "it's murder not to--"

"Silence!" said the first speaker, sternly.  "Dr Chester will save him
if he is to be saved."

"Oh, Jem, Jem!" moaned the lady.

"Be quiet, Marion.  He is in the right hands.  No, doctor, we will have
no one else called in."

A low moan from the wounded man took Chester's attention, and he knelt
down again to bathe his face and lips with brandy, while the two
gentlemen went to a door at the other end, passed out, and a low,
hurried dispute arose, all in whispers.

Chester heard a word or two--angry words--and grasped the fact that
there must have been some desperate quarrel, ending in the unfortunate
man before him being shot down.  A chair was overturned, and glasses and
decanters upset, as if from a struggle.  But the patient was apparently
slipping away, and for hour after hour through that night Chester fought
the grim Spectre, striving to tear the victim from his hands, seeing
nothing, nothing, nothing, forgetting everything--home, Isabel, the
anxious woman at his side.  His every nerve was strung to the fight, and
at last he felt that he had won.

His face showed it as he rose, uttering a sigh of relief, and his
fellow-watcher at the other side of the couch sprang from her knees,
caught his hands in hers, and kissed them passionately, while the rest
of the company came slowly back into the room.

"Then he'll live, doctor?" whispered the gentleman the others had
addressed as Jem.

"I hope so.  He is sleeping easily now.  I will come back about nine.
There is not likely to be any change.  If there is, of course I must be
fetched."

"Have some refreshment, doctor," said the gentleman he addressed.  "You
must not leave him."

Wearied out as he was, this was enough to irritate Chester.

"I am the best judge of that, sir," he said coldly.  "Of course the
patient must not be left."

"That is what we all feel, doctor.  Ask what fee you please, but you
must stay."

"Yes, yes; pray, pray stay, doctor," cried the lady in a pleading voice
which went to his heart.

"It is impossible, madam.  I have others to think of as well as your--
friend."

He could not for the life of him say husband.

"I will be back about nine."

"Sir, we beg of you to stay," said the gentleman who took the lead,
earnestly.

"I have told you, sir, that I cannot.  I must leave you now."

"No, no, doctor!" whispered the lady.

"Madam, it is not necessary for me to stay now.  Silence, I beg.  The
patient must be kept quiet."

"Yes--quiet," said the chief speaker.  "Doctor, we have asked you not to
leave us; now we must insist."

"What!  Why?"

"Because we decline to let you go till your patient is quite out of
danger."

"What!" cried Chester, sharply, over-excited by what he had gone
through.  "Am I to be kept a prisoner?"

"If you like to call it so.  Everything you desire you can have, but you
cannot leave here yet."

"Absurd!" said Chester, angrily, and as he spoke he saw that two of the
gentlemen present moved to the door by which he had entered.  "I insist
upon going at once."

"You cannot, sir."

"Stand aside, sir, and let me pass!" cried Chester, sternly, as his
opponent moved between him and the door.

"Jem, for pity's sake"--whispered the lady.  "Doctor, I beg, I pray you
to stay."

"It is impossible, madam, now.  Let me pass, sir."  There was a fierce
motion made towards the patient, but Chester did not heed it.  He saw
that the other occupants of the room were closing him in, in answer to a
gesture made by the gentleman in front.

The spirit within him was roused now, and in his resentment he stepped
fiercely forward with extended hand, when his opponent thrust his hand
into his breast with a menacing gesture.

Quick as thought, Chester stepped back and caught up the revolver he had
seen lying upon the table.

There was a faint cry, and two white hands were laid upon his breast.

"Stand aside, Marion!" and there was a click from the lock of another
pistol.

"Doctor! for his sake!--pray!"

Chester turned from her sharply, as if to avoid her eyes.  Then flashed
his own upon the man who barred his way.

"Is this the rehearsal of some drama, sir?" he said scoffingly.  "I
refuse all part in it.  Now have the goodness to let me pass, for pass I
will."

He threw the pistol he held upon the carpet, and once more advanced
toward the door, braving the weapon pointed at his head.

"Bah!" he cried; "do you think to frighten me with that theatrical
nonsense?"

"Keep back, sir, or I fire."

At that moment a white hand pressed the electric button by the side of
the heavy mantelpiece, the room was suddenly darkened, and a sharp crack
and rattling sound announced the locking of the door and withdrawing of
the key.

"Then there has been foul play," muttered Chester.  "Into what trap have
I fallen here?"



CHAPTER THREE.

TWO HUNDRED GUINEAS.

Chester took a couple of steps to his right, for there was a faint sound
in the pitchy darkness which he interpreted to mean the advance of an
enemy.  Then in the perturbation of spirit and nervousness of the
moment, he moved a step or two cautiously in what he believed to be the
direction of the other door, and stopped short, half-dazed by the
feeling of confusion which comes upon one in a dense fog.

"Who did that?" said the voice he recognised.  "You, Marion, of course.
Here, you go to your room."

There was no reply.

"Do you hear me?  It is no time for fooling now."

"Yes, I hear you, but I will not leave his side.  You cowards! do you
want to kill me too?"

"Hold your tongue.  Di--Paddy--all of you, get hold of the mad fool
before worse comes of it."

There was a faint cry, a panting and scuffling, the word "Help!" blurred
and stifled as if a hand had been suddenly clapped over the speaker's
lips, and Chester mentally saw his beautiful companion of the brougham
struggling violently as she was being half carried from the room.

Stirred by excitement to the deepest depths, Chester rushed to her help,
and was brought up sharp by the dining table, while the scuffling
continued upon the other side.

He felt his way along the edge, to pass round it in the darkness, but
the noise he made betrayed his whereabouts, and his next step took him
into the grasp of a pair of strong hands, which held him firmly, and
before he could free himself, there was the sound of a door opening, a
faint light showed for a moment, and before it was shut off he dimly saw
the actors in the struggle; then the door was closed, and the voice of
him addressed as Jem said sharply--

"Light up, Paddy."

A glass was knocked from the table; someone stumbled against a chair; an
angry oath followed; and then came the rattle of massive fire-irons.

"Are you drunk, man?" came in the same voice.

"Drunk? no! but I'm not an owl," was growled.  "Ah! that's it."

The cluster of incandescent lights glowed golden, and then brightened,
showing the doctor that the dining table was between him and the couch
where his patient lay, white and motionless; the tall, decisive man
standing where he had last seen him, close to the door; a heavy-featured
young fellow with a family likeness close by the mantelpiece; another,
the one who had held him, close by.

"Well, doctor," said the chief spokesman, cynically, "the storm has
passed over.  All unexpected only a few hours ago, and we were seated
happily after our coffee and cigarettes, when that idiot began to play
the fool with his revolver, and shot himself.  Troubles never come
alone.  Now, my dear sir, let me apologise for what has happened since
we all lost our tempers and behaved so foolishly."

Chester looked at him sternly and remained silent.

"You will excuse my hastiness.  I was excited in my anxiety about the
poor fool there, and you see now how imperative it is that you should
not leave him till he is safe."

"Will you be good enough to unlock that door, sir, and let me pass
through?" said Chester, coldly.

"To be perfectly plain, doctor--no, I will not.  Let us understand one
another at once.  You will have to stay and make the best of it."

"I shall not stay, sir, and as soon as I leave here I shall take what
steps seem, after due thought, to be correct over what has been an
outrage toward me; and without doubt a murderous attack upon that
unfortunate man."

"Murderous attack?  Absurd, doctor!  An accident."

"Do you take me for a child, sir?  He could not have shot himself.  Now,
if you please, unlock that door."

"When I unlock it, doctor, it will be to go out and lock you in," said
the other, grimly.  "There, sir, it is of no use to struggle, so make
the best of it.  You are in for a week, but we'll make it as comfortable
for you as we can.  Like to send home a telegram?"

"Will you have the goodness to understand me, sir!" said Chester,
firmly.

"I do, my dear doctor, but you will not understand me.  A week with your
patient will not hurt you, and a fee of a couple of hundred guineas
shall be paid--now, if you like.  There, I will be plain with you, as a
man of the world.  It was a family quarrel, and two hot-headed fools
drew their revolvers--Yankee fashion.  Here, Paddy, see that we have
some coffee and liqueurs.  Cigar or cigarette, doctor?  Sit down, and
let's chat it over like sensible men."

"I do not wish to come to a struggle and blows again, sir," said
Chester, firmly.  "Please understand that you are wasting words.  I mean
to leave this house at once."

"We often mean to do things that are impossible, doctor.  You cannot.
So act sensibly.  Take some refreshment, and attend to your patient.
Will you have the goodness to look round this room?"

Chester made no reply.

"You will not smoke?  I will.  My nerves want soothing."

The speaker lit a large cigar, and left the gold-mounted case open upon
the table.

"Better take one," he said as he exhaled the fragrant fumes; "they are
rather fine.  Now, doctor; that door communicates with the back the
hall, and it is locked; that other one with a lobby from which the upper
and lower parts of the house are reached; and it, too, is locked.  You
naturally intend to communicate with the outside.  Well, you cannot.
This dining-room has no windows, and is lit up night and day.  You are a
prisoner, my dear sir, and you will not communicate with the servants,
for you will see none.  These gentlemen will help me as your gaolers; an
eminently respectable old housekeeper--lady-like I may say, eh, Paddy?"

The young man addressed nodded and grinned.

"A lady-like body will see that all your animal wants are provided for;
a chair-bed will be brought in; and to make your stay more pleasant two
or three of us will take you to the billiard-room overhead and have a
game with you--by the way, that place has only skylights.  Where we
stand used to be a sooty cat-walk of a garden till we built these rooms
over.  A great improvement to the house."

"Who are you?  What house is this?" said Chester, sharply.

"Your host, sir; and the house is ours--at your service.  Better have a
cigar.  `Needs must when the devil drives.'  That is your position now--
I playing the devil."

A low moan from the wounded man changed the current of the doctor's
thoughts; and with the others watching him curiously, he went straight
to his patient's side to place a cushion behind him and relieve the
pressure upon his wound, after which the patient seemed to sink once
more into a state of repose.

As Chester left him he received an approving nod.

"We fellows would not have thought of that.  Ah, here's the coffee.
Come, doctor, accept your position.  It is folly to beat against the
bars of a prison when they are too strong."

For at that moment the heavy-faced young man, who seemed to be a
thorough athlete, came back into the room from the other end, bearing a
silver tray with handsome fittings; and Chester started slightly, for he
had not seen him go, and he realised now that he must have been occupied
for some little time with his patient.

Just then he saw that the leader of the little party whispered something
which he interpreted to mean, "Let him alone; he'll come to his senses;"
and he began to think out his position.

Everything seemed in accordance with what had been told him: he was
alone, one man against four--gentlemen, evidently, but plainly enough
strongly-built, athletic fellows, who looked to be lovers of out-door
sports, and each of them in a struggle more than his match.

His rage had cooled down somewhat, and his common-sense began to
prevail.  It was hard to master his resentment, and he could not make
out what was at the back of it all, more than what was evidently plain--
a terrible family quarrel, the participators in which were anxious to
keep out of the papers, and possibly from the police courts.  He did not
know who they were, nor, as he realised now, in what street he was; but
that, he felt, he could soon make out.  It was awkward.  They would be
anxious in Raybeck Square, but he would send a message and set them at
rest.

"I wonder whether they kept Bel all night," he said to himself; and at
this thought others came, and among them a strange feeling of annoyance
with himself as he recalled his feelings, during the little journey,
towards his summoner.

Then he hurriedly cast these thoughts aside, and began once more to
ponder on his position, walking slowly to and fro, close to the couch,
while the little party, who had lit up cigars, now began to sip their
coffee.

The next minute the heavy-faced young fellow known as "Paddy" approached
him with a cup and the cigar-case.

"I put a liqueur of brandy in it, doctor," he said in a low voice.  "I
say, do you think the poor chap will get over it?"

"I hope so," replied Chester, shortly.

"Thank God!" said the young man, warmly.  "I say, doctor, don't cut up
rough.  You're in a hole, but I'll see you're all right.  You'll take a
cigar?"

He said the last words so reproachfully that Chester could hardly
forbear to smile; and he took a cigar, lit it, and then, feeling utterly
exhausted, tossed off the coffee and brandy, after which he resumed his
walk up and down by the couch.

"`Needs must when the devil drives,'" he said to himself.  "It's of no
use to fight.  I must pull this poor fellow through, but I'll make them
pay for it.  Seems like a dream.  I suppose I am awake."

The coffee and cigar were having their effect, and at the end of an
hour, during which the party at the end of the table had been conversing
in a low voice, a moan or two from the sufferer finished the tendency
towards submission, and Chester busied himself for some time about the
couch.  Then, rising once more, "Pen and ink," he said shortly, and the
heavy-featured young fellow fetched him a blotting-case and inkstand.

"A telegraph form, too."

"Plenty there, doctor."

Chester wrote quickly for a few minutes, and then handed a couple of
papers to the young fellow, who had stopped close at hand.

"I want this prescription made up at the chemist's, and the telegram
sent respecting a substitute to see my patients."

"All right, doctor," and the recipient took both to the end of the
table, and gave them to the man who seemed to be his brother.

The latter took the papers and rose to cross to Chester.

"Thank you, doctor," he said quietly.  "You will do your best, I see.
Please bear in mind that money is no object to us here.  Our cousin's
life is."

He went out of the room directly, returned soon after, and brought with
him a quiet, sedate-looking old lady in black silk and white apron.

She was very pale, and her eyes looked wild and strange, as she went
straight to the couch, leaned over and kissed the patient's forehead,
and then set to work and cleared the disordered table, almost without a
sound, two of the young men joining her and helping to carry the dessert
things out by the farther door.

Chester's face must have told tales, for he started round in surprise to
find that he had been carefully watched by the leader of the little plot
to detain him.

"You could not get out that way, doctor," he said quietly.  "We are a
very united family here, and the housekeeper is devoted to us."

Chester frowned with annoyance.

"I understand you," he said; "but mind this: every dog has his day, sir,
and mine will come, unless revolvers are brought into play and an
awkward witness silenced."

"My dear doctor, you are romantic," was the sarcastic reply.  "Don't be
alarmed; we shall not shoot and bury you on the premises, for sanitary
reasons.  It might affect the nerves of our ladies, too.  There, all we
want of you is your skill to set that poor fellow right, and then you
can return home, better paid than seeing ordinary patients.  How does he
seem?"

An angry retort was at Chester's lips, but he did not utter it.  He
accepted his position, for the time being, and replied quietly--

"Going on well, but he will be the better for a sedative.  Feverish, of
course.  Have you sent that prescription?"

"Yes, it has been taken, and the chemist will be rung up to dispense it.
I say, doctor; no fear of a bad ending?"

"And no thanks to the man who fired at him from behind," said Chester,
looking straight at his questioner as he spoke.  "Fortunately the bullet
passed diagonally by his ribs, an inch to the right--"

"Yes, yes, the old story, doctor; but I did not fire the shot."

"Pray don't excuse yourself, sir," said Chester, coldly.  "I am not a
magistrate; only a medical man with the customary knowledge of surgery."

"And a little more, too," was the reply, with a smile.  "There, doctor,
we will not quarrel this morning, and you will not introduce the matter
to the police.  It will pay you better to be silent; but if you
preferred to talk about it I'm afraid you would not be believed."

The speaker smiled cynically as he saw the effect of his words, and
walked away, leaving Chester thinking deeply, and, in spite of his anger
and annoyance, beginning more and more to feel that he had better accept
his position.

"It is a strange experience," he said to himself, as he sank back in an
easy-chair by the couch; "but a fee of two hundred guineas!  Bel shall
have it in the shape of a present.  She will not fidget when she has had
my wire."



CHAPTER FOUR.

THE STRANGE ATTRACTION PROVES TOO STRONG.

"There, I promise I will be quiet and say nothing, if you let me stay.
If you do not, I'll give the alarm in spite of you all."

"Pat!  He's waking up."

With the tones of the sweet, rich voice thrilling his nerves, Fred
Chester opened his eyes as he sat back in his chair, and gazed up at the
cluster of soft lights glowing by the ceiling; but they did not take his
attention.  He was dwelling wonderingly upon the words he had heard as
if in a dream.

His head was heavy and confused, and it was some moments before he could
grasp his position.  "Who's waking up?" he thought.  Then his eyes fell,
and he looked sharply down, and the blood rushed surging to his temples
as he saw his beautiful visitor of the night before, then all came back
in a moment.

She was kneeling beside the wounded man's couch, holding his hand, and
she gazed at Chester with an appealing, wistful look in her eyes which
again sent a thrill through him, and a feeling of misery and despair
such as he had never before felt made his heart sink.  He shivered
slightly as he turned away, to glance round the room and note that four
of those whom he had previously seen were still present.

"You've had a good nap, doctor," said a familiar voice.

"Have--have I been asleep?" said Chester, involuntarily.

"Beautifully.  What a delightfully clear conscience you must have,
doctor!" said the speaker, banteringly, "that is, if you did not take a
chloral pill on the sly.  Six hours right off."

"Impossible!" cried Chester, angrily.

"Then my watch is a most awful liar, and the clock on the chimney-piece
there has joined in the conspiracy."

Chester hurriedly took out his watch, to find that the hands stood at
two, as he bent down over his patient, who was sleeping calmly.

"We gave him a dose of the drops as soon as the bottle came, doctor, for
we did not like to wake you after your hard night.  He has slept like a
lamb ever since."

Chester took no notice of the words, as he busied himself about his
patient, the lady drawing back and going to a chair, waiting impatiently
till he ceased.

"How is he?" she said then excitedly.

"He could not be doing better, madam," said Chester, trying to speak
coldly, and avoiding for a moment the eyes which seemed to plunge
searchingly into his; and at his words he saw that they suddenly grew
dim, and that she clapped her hands to her lips to keep back a piteous
sob or two.

"Hush, hush, my dearest," whispered the old housekeeper in a motherly
way, and Chester saw that a strong effort was made, and the face from
which he could not tear his eyes grew calm.

"Well, doctor, if ever I am in a bad fix, I shall know where to apply."

Chester turned sharply to the speaker, and read from the cynical smile
that he had seen the impression made upon him by the agitated face which
possessed so strange a fascination.

"You prove yourself quite worthy of your reputation, which has often
reached us."

"Any surgeon could have done what I have, sir," replied Chester,
shortly, and then mastering himself, he continued, as he thought of home
and all he had at stake, "I presume that now you are at rest about your
cousin's state, this sorry farce is at an end."

"Very nearly a tragedy, my dear sir," said the other, lightly.

"You mistake me, sir.  I mean this enforced detention."

"Oh, tut, tut, doctor!  I thought we had settled this.  Surely after
your telegram, taken to the chief office, madam, your wife, will not be
uneasy."

As he spoke he gave the lady by the couch a mocking look, and Chester
saw her turn angrily away.

It was on the doctor's lips to say sharply, "I am not married, sir," and
he felt startled as he checked himself.

Why should he have been so eager to say that? he thought, and a peculiar
feeling of resentment grew within, as a strange conscience-pricking
began to startle him.  Of what folly had he been guilty in thought?

"Come, doctor, we have been waiting till you woke before having some
breakfast."

The speaker rose and touched the electric bell-push, then led the way
toward a small table at the far end of the room, the others waiting for
the doctor to follow; but he stood irresolute.

"You will join us at breakfast, doctor?" said a low, sweet voice at his
side, making him start slightly, and then follow to the table, to take
the place pointed out by his companion on her right, as she took the
head of the table.

"As his wife," thought Chester; then trying hard to be perfectly cool,
and assuming to be treating his position lightly, he partook of the meal
placed before him, and joined in the general conversation, a great deal
of which dealt with the popular out-door life of the day--Lord's, Ascot,
the promises of sport in August and September, and the ordinary topics
of the hour, all lightly traversed by a party of gentlemen who had ample
incomes for their needs, and enjoyed life.

The ladies were increased to three when they took their seats at the
table, and Chester soon found that two were the young wives of "Jem" and
"Paddy," the bluff, manly fellow; and all seemed so intent now upon
ignoring the trouble and setting their prisoner guest at his ease, that
Chester's manner softened, and before they rose from the table he found
himself listening with increasing interest to his neighbour's remarks.

The excellent meal came at last to an end, and after a few words with
Chester's companion, two of the ladies retired while the housekeeper
quietly cleared the table; and as Marion, as they all called her, went
to the side of the couch, Jem approached Chester.

"The papers," he said in the most matter-of-fact way.  "Cigars and
cigarettes on that table.  Spirits and soda or seltzer in the
cellarette.  Pray make yourself at home, my dear doctor, and name
anything you want.  It shall be obtained directly--everything, that is,
but liberty.  Won't you light up now?  My cousin there will not mind; we
all smoke.  Eh, Marion?"

"I beg that Dr Chester will not hesitate," said the lady addressed, and
Chester drew a deep breath as he saw her cross to the table and fetch a
cigarette-box and matches.

"It would be ungracious to refuse," he said coldly, as he took one, and
then the lighted match from the white fingers which offered it, their
eyes meeting as he lit his cigarette, and as a slight flush mantled the
lady's cheeks, Chester's heart gave one heavy throb.

The rest of that night-like day passed in a dream, or a time in which
Chester felt as if he were suffering from some form of enchantment.  He
fought hard against the strange, new, mystic influence, and strove to
raise like a shield to protect him, his honour, his word; and again and
again as he busied himself with his patient he told himself that he
dearly loved Isabel, his betrothed, but this feeling was all as new as
it was masterful, and often when he met the eyes of her who never left
the couch in her assiduous attentions as nurse, he felt that he was
drifting fast into a state of slavery, and that this woman was his fate.

"She is another's wife," he kept telling himself; "and I am an utter
scoundrel to give way to such thoughts.  Heaven help me!  I must go
before it is too late.  Have I been drugged, and has the potent
medicament sapped me to the very core?"

But he felt that he could not go as yet, for though it was unnoticed by
the others, he saw that a change for the worse had taken place toward
evening, at a time when all had left the room but the big, athletic
fellow and Marion, they being evidently left on guard while a short rest
was taken.

Paddy was sitting back smoking, with his eyes half-closed; but he
suddenly roused himself up and came across to the couch.

"How is he getting on?" he whispered.

Chester was silent, and after glancing at him, Marion spoke--

"He is better; sleeping well, and in less pain."

"Don't look better," grunted the young man, and he glanced at his watch.
"Dinner at eight.  Like to go and lie down, Marion?"

"No," was the quiet reply.

"All right," said the young man, and he walked back to his seat, while
Marion waited for a few moments, and then, gazing wistfully at Chester,
said in a low whisper--

"You did not speak.  He is better, is he not?"

The young doctor made no reply, but sat there breathing hard, as if
fascinated.

"I cannot tell you how grateful I feel to you," she continued.  "Your
coming here has saved poor dear Robert's life.  I know how strange it
all must seem to you, but I--we dare not let you go.  It is such a
terrible emergency."

"Yes," he said softly, "and I have done my best."

"But I cannot help reading it in your eyes, doctor--you are thinking of
leaving."

He started slightly, and then turned his eyes to his patient so as to
avoid the gaze which held him in spite of the mental struggle against
what seemed to be fate.

"Well," he said, as he laid his hand upon the sufferer's brow, "I am.
Is it not natural?  Yes," he whispered hoarsely, "by some means I must
and will leave this house to-night."

Her face grew convulsed, and for a few moments she was silent.  Then in
a low, impassioned whisper, she reached across the couch to lay her hand
upon his arm, the contact seeming to send a hot flush through every
nerve, and he turned to gaze at her with a look half horror, half
delight.

"And you hold his life in your hands," she murmured piteously.  "What
can I say?--what can I do to move you?  Doctor, he is everything to me
in this world.  If he--died, I could not live."

"For Heaven's sake, don't look at me--don't speak to me like that!" he
whispered back, and he took her hand to remove it from his arm,
shivering as if it were some venomous thing; but it turned and clung to
his fast, and was joined by the other.  "Madam, I have done, and am
doing, everything I can to save your husband's life, and--"

He ceased speaking, for he saw her lips part in a smile, and her wild
eyes grew soft and humid, as, with a little laugh, she said--

"Dearest Rob!  My husband!"  Then she loosed the hand she held, laid
hers upon the head of the couch, and bending down she softly pressed her
lips against the patient's brow, while a feeling of bitter jealousy sent
the blood surging through Chester's brain, till the eyes were turned
again to his, and, with a look that sent every forming manly intention
flying to the winds, she said softly--

"Why did you think that?  Doctor, for a poor, pleading woman's sake,
give up all thought of going.  I could not bear it.  There--look--his
face is growing convulsed," she whispered in a quick, agitated tone,
"And you talk of going!  He is dying.  Robert!  Robert!  Oh, doctor, do
you not see?"



CHAPTER FIVE.

AUNT GRACE SOWS THE SEED OF DISCONTENT.

Laura Chester possessed what her aunt termed a bad habit.

"You are so restless, my dear," said that lady.  "Why can't you stay in
your bed of a morning, and then come down at a Christian-like hour?"

"Nine o'clock, aunt dear," said the girl, smiling.

"Well, say a quarter to, my dear, because that gives ample time to ring
for the urn and make the tea, though nine is really a very nice hour.
It is not right for a young lady to be racing downstairs before seven
o'clock and dusting; and I do not really like for you to be going out
for walks at such early hours."

"London is at its best before breakfast, aunt; everything looks so fresh
and bright."

"What nonsense, my dear!  Nothing of the kind.  The steps are not
cleaned, and there is nobody about but sweeps and dustmen, and milk
carts."

"Oh yes, aunt dear," cried Laura, merrily.  "London is very busy then,
and I wish I could get you to come.  Covent Garden is lovely quite early
with the flowers and fruit."

"My dear Laura, to hear you talk anyone would think your poor dear papa
had been a greengrocer.  Pray, do, my dear, try and give up the bad
habit.  I really don't know what Isabel must think."

But the habit only grew stronger, and on the morning after her brother's
sudden call, Laura slipped out while cook was cleaning the steps and
went off to Covent Garden to return with a bunch of roses and a basket
of strawberries which had been picked that morning nine miles down the
western road.

The breakfast was ready, and she was giving the last touches to her
arrangement of flowers and fruit upon the table when Isabel joined her,
looking as fresh as the flowers in the little shallow bowl.

"Oh, Laury, I am so ashamed at being so late," she cried, after an
affectionate kiss had been exchanged.  "I was afraid I was last."

"Oh no, dear; auntie is not down," said Laura, glancing at the clock.
"She'll be ten minutes yet."

"Is she always so punctual?"

"Yes.  She does not leave her room till the church clock begins to
strike.  She is very proud of being so exact."

"Is--is--"

"Fred down?  No, dear.  There! don't blush, goosey.  I expect he was
kept late last night, and he loses so much rest, that we never disturb
him.  He has his breakfast at all sorts of times, but it will be at nine
this morning."

This was accompanied by an arch look.

"Oh, how sweet the flowers are!" cried Isabel, turning away to hide the
heightened colour in her cheeks.

"Yes, dear," said Laura, banteringly, "and life now is all roses and
sweets, and the sky was never so blue, and the London sparrows'
`chiswick, chiswick' sounds like the song of nightingales, doesn't it?
Heigho!  I wish I were in love, and someone loved me, and put his arm
round my waist and took me for walks along the primrose path of
dalliance."

There was a light step behind her, two arms were passed about her waist,
a soft, white chin rested upon her shoulder, and a rounded cheek was
pressed to hers.

"Don't tease me, Laury darling," was whispered.  "I can't help feeling
all you say, and looking very weak and stupid now."

"Tease you, my own sweet!" cried Laura, swinging round to embrace in
turn.  "No, of course I won't.  It's only my nasty envy, hatred and
malice, because I can't be as happy as you.  There--and there--and
there!"

Three kisses, and Isabel started away.

"Fred's coming!" she whispered.

"No.  That's auntie's soft, pudgy step.  Fred comes down thump, thump,
like a wooden-legged man."

"Laury!"

"Oh, well, he doesn't notice where he's going.  He's always thinking of
operations and that sort of thing.  Good-morning, aunt dear."

"Good-morning, Isabel, my child--morning, Laura."

"Aren't you well, dear?  You look so serious."

"Yes, Laura, I look serious.  It's a sad world."

The girls exchanged glances, and with melancholy mien the old lady rang
the bell for breakfast, and then dropped into her seat with a weary
sigh.

"No letters, Laura?"

"No, aunt dear.  There's a lovely rose instead."

"Thank you, Laura.  Dear, dear! no one writes to me now.  I don't know
why one should go on living when one grows old."

"Because Fred and I want you, dear," cried Laura, merrily, "and Bel too.
Put two more spoonfuls in the pot, aunt dear.  A hot cup of tea will do
you good."

"Nothing will ever do me good again," sighed the old lady, shaking her
head mournfully.

"Oh yes, it will, dear; and Fred likes his tea strong."

"Yes, yes, very strong, my dear; and always preaches at me if I take it
only just coloured.  I sometimes think it's because he thinks I cost too
much."

"Now, auntie, how can you?" cried Laura.  "Don't you believe her, Bel."

"I do not," said the girl, smiling.  "Poor aunt is not well this
morning."

"How can I be, my child, knowing as I do that my little bit of property
is slowly wasting away, and--"

"Here's the urn, aunt," cried Laura.  "Shall I make the tea?"

"Certainly not, my dear.  Let me, pray, enjoy the last few privileges of
my age while I am here.  I do not mean in this house, Isabel, my child,
but living out my last weary span."

"Auntie darling," said Laura, tenderly, getting up as soon as the maid
had placed tea-urn and covered dishes upon the table, "don't be so
miserable this morning now that dear Bel is here," and she kissed the
old lady lovingly.

"How can I help it, my child?  It is her being here makes me feel so
bad."

"Oh, my dear Mrs Crane!" cried Isabel.

"Worse and worse!" sobbed the old lady, melting into tears.  "I did
think you were softening to me, and would end by loving me and always
calling me aunt--Mrs Crane!"

"Aunt--auntie!  There!" cried Isabel, running to her and kissing her.
"But I think it is I who ought to complain."

"Yes, my dear, you ought."

"You shouldn't say I make you bad."

"But you do, my dear.  It's all on your account.  It's dreadful, and I
lay awake nearly all the night pitying you."

"Pitying me when I am so happy, auntie?" cried Isabel.

"Ah, my child! you don't know.  All men are full of evil, but doctors
are the worst of all."

"There, Bel; you are going to marry a horrid wretch," cried Laura.

"Don't scoff, my dear," continued the old lady.  "It is too serious.
They are always away from home--called at the most unearthly hours."

"Yes, to do good, auntie," said Isabel, smiling.

"And auntie won't do good when she might Aunt, Isabel and I are dying
for some tea."

"Yes, yes, my dear; I'll pour it out directly."

"Wait a moment, aunt," cried Laura.  "I'll go and ask Fred if he is
coming down."

"Go and ask Fred, my dear?  He is not at home."

"What!" cried the two girls in a breath.

"He has not come back yet.  I lay awake hour after hour listening, with
my door a little way open--I can hear the latch-key then--but--he did
not come."

Laura glanced at her visitor, and saw trouble coming in her face like a
cloud.  "Oh, well, aunt, dear, it is not the first time."

"No, my dear," said the old lady, tightening her lips as she dropped a
lump of sugar outside a cup; "it is not the first time by a long way,
and I don't like it."

"Neither does Fred, I'm sure, poor fellow!" cried Laura, helping the ham
and eggs.  "It is some serious case, Bel dear, and he'll come back tired
out for you to comfort him up.  You'll often have it to do, for, poor
boy, he is called out a great deal."

At that moment Aunt Grace let the sugar-tongs fell with a clatter among
the cups, and burst into a fit of sobbing.

"Aunt dear!" cried Laura, jumping up to go to her side again; "what is
the matter?"

"I don't like it, my dear.  His being out like that."

"Well, Fred doesn't either."

"Ah, but that's it.  He does, and it's horrible; and I will not sit
still and see him deceive this poor, dear lamb."

"Mrs Crane!" cried Isabel, sitting up flushed with indignation.

"I can't help it, my dear.  I should be a wicked woman if I did not
speak.  I watched last night, and I saw her.  One of those horridly
handsome, fashionable-looking ladies, and she carried him off just as if
she were leading him by a chain.  I can't help it!  I had a presentiment
then, and I'm obliged to speak.  He hasn't come back, and I felt he
would not, and as sure as I'm alive he'll never come back again."

"Aunt!" cried Laura, passionately.  "Shame--Bel dear, don't take any
notice of her."

But her words had no effect.  Isabel had risen with her face scarlet,
then turning white as her lips parted to utter an indignant rebuke.

No words came, and covering her face with her hand she hurried out of
the room.

"Auntie!" cried Laura, passionately.  "See what you've done.  You're
right.  It's quite time you made up your mind to die."



CHAPTER SIX.

IN DANGER.

As Chester turned and gazed in his patient's face, he felt that all was
over: and at that moment Paddy, startled by Marion's excited words,
rushed across and caught his arm.

"Is he going?"

"Yes," cried Marion, passionately, "and he has been murdered.  Rob, Rob,
my own darling, don't, don't leave me here to this!  Rob!  I cannot bear
it!  Dr Chester! for pity's sake!  Oh, do something!  Help!"

"Hush!  You are hindering me," said Chester, sternly--himself once more.
"The brandy!  You--you--madam, use your fan rapidly.  Is there no air
to be got into this wretched prison?  That's right.  Raise his head a
little more.  That's better.  Be calm, both of you.  Everything depends
upon that."

"But he is dying--he is dying!" wailed Marion.

"Be silent, madam, and obey my orders," whispered Chester, angrily, and
the desperate fight went on.  Desperate indeed it seemed to the doctor,
and he fought as he had never fought before.  But for some time every
breath the poor fellow drew, feebly and painfully, seemed to her who
watched him, with staring eyes, his very last.

They were alone with him for quite an hour, before the old housekeeper
came in, to grasp at once what was wrong, and hurry to the couch.

"Oh, my child, why did you not ring for me?" she cried.

"Hush!  Silence!" said the doctor, sternly.  "The paroxysm has exhausted
itself.  With perfect quiet he may yet live."

His hand was caught by Marion and passionately kissed, before she sank,
half-fainting, in the old housekeeper's arms.

Paddy went in and out on tip-toe, his action suggesting always that he
was doing something in silence for a wager; and twice over his brother
came in as the hours slipped past, but only to be sternly ordered to go
by the doctor, who was then alone with Marion and the wounded man.

"But hang it all, sir!" he protested, "am I not to do what I like in my
own house?"

"No, not while I am in charge of my patient."

"But--"

"Look here, sir, I will not be answerable for his life if you stay,"
whispered Chester, sharply.

The intruder bit his lips and glanced at Marion, then at the doctor and
back.  There was a world of meaning in his eyes, but Chester was too
dreamy then to interpret it, and the man went away, but only for the far
door to be re-opened and Paddy to make his appearance.

Marion uttered a sign of annoyance, and hurried to meet him.

"You must not stay, Paddy," she whispered.  "It is so important that
Robert should be kept quiet."

"All right," he said.  "I didn't want to come, but Jem sent me.  He
doesn't like your being alone with the doctor."

An angry frown darkened Marion's face.

"Go," she said firmly.  "Paddy, I think he will live now."

"Thank God!" cried the young fellow, fervently.  "But, I say, if I go
I'm pretty sure that Jem will come himself.  He as good as said so."

"Stop him, then, and tell him to go to his wife."

Paddy shrugged his shoulders.

"You know what he is."

"Yes," said Marion, bitterly, "I know what he is," and she pointed
towards the couch.  "We know what he is.  Now go."

"All right; but you want something.  They've got some dinner or supper
yonder; come and have a bit."

"No."

"Then I'll have some sent in."

"I don't want anything.  Tell them to send something for the doctor."

But almost as she spoke the door was softly opened, and the old
housekeeper appeared with a tray.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

One long dream, in a strangely protracted night, as it appeared to
Chester--a night in which the world seemed to be halting during a
singular delirium.  Time stood still apparently for both nurse and
doctor, who hardly left the room, but were waited on by the housekeeper
and the two ladies, who came in and out softly, each offering to take
Marion's place; but she invariably refused.

Nature grew stern at times towards the watchers at the wounded man's
side, and sometimes one, sometimes the other, sank suddenly into a deep
sleep, during which, whether it were one hour or many, the other
remained perfectly awake and watchful.

And day after day, night after night, the dual fight went on--the fight
with death and that with honour.  There were times when Fred Chester
seemed to be winning in both encounters, but as often he felt that his
patient was slowly slipping away from him, as he himself was lapsing
from all that he ought to have held dear.

Everything was, in the latter case, against him.  Forced into close
contact with the woman who had so strangely influenced him from the
first moment of their meeting, with her eyes constantly seeking his
appealingly as the sufferer's life rose and fell--flickering like the
flame of an expiring candle, he felt that his position was too hard for
man to bear.  He owned himself weak, pitiful and contemptible, but as he
struggled on he felt himself drifting hopelessly away, and that, come
what might, he was to become this woman's slave.

One day was like that which followed, in its wild delirium and
strangeness.  Chester had almost lost count of the time which had
elapsed, and grew startled at last as the feeling was impressed upon him
that the precautions taken by those around had grown unnecessary and
that if the door had stood open he would not now have attempted to
escape.  A strange thrall held him more than locks and bars, and he was
ready to sacrifice everything to stay there by Marion's side and fight
the grim Shade till it was defeated and he had won her gratitude and
love.

The great trouble Chester had to fight was the succession of strange
convulsive fits which attacked his patient, each of which seemed to have
snapped the frail thread which held the wounded man to life; but as they
passed off the flame flickered up again, and the struggle recommenced.

At last came the day when, hopeless and despondent, Chester bent over to
dress the wound, feeling that the struggle had been all in vain, and
that his skill was far less than he had believed.

The old housekeeper was waiting upon him, and Marion had, at his
request, gone to the other end of the room.

"You unnerve me," he whispered.

She looked at him reproachfully, and went away without a word, to seat
herself with her arm on the side of a chair, her hand supporting her
brow.

As a rule, the sufferer had made no sign during the opening and
rebandaging, but this time he winced sharply at every touch, and the old
housekeeper looked up questioningly.

"Is that a bad sign?" she whispered, with her face all drawn and ghastly
with fear.

"No; a sign of greater vitality," said Chester, quickly, and the next
minute he uttered a curious sibilation, for in removing the inner
bandage, his fingers came in contact with something angular and hard,
which he held up to the light and examined carefully.

A quick, sharp breathing at his ear made him start round, to find that
his every movement had been watched between the fingers of the hand
which covered the watcher's face, and she had hurried to his side.

"Worse?" she whispered faintly, too much exhausted now to display the
intense agony and excitement of the earlier days of their intercourse.

"No," he cried triumphantly.  "Here is the cause--the enemy which has
been fighting against us so long, and produced, I believe, those
terrible convulsive attacks."

Marion looked at him wonderingly, and her lips parted, but no words
came.  He read the question, though, in her eyes.

"I ought to have known, and found it out sooner," Chester said bitterly,
"and I feel that I am only a miserable pretender, after all.  This piece
of jagged lead, broken from the conical bullet by the explosion; it has
remained behind causing all the trouble."

"Ah!  Then he will recover now?"

"Yes," he said, as his eyes met hers; and if was some moments before
they were withdrawn, both, in the pre-eminence of self at that moment,
having taken no thought of the old housekeeper, who involuntarily made
her presence known by uttering a deep sigh; and as Marion started and
met her gaze, the old woman shook her head at her reproachfully.

"Oh, my dear! my dear!" she said softly; "pray, pray think."

Marion's brow contracted, and she walked slowly away, to take up her
former position; while Chester winced and gave the old woman an angry
look, as she now shook her head sadly at him.

"No, doctor, no," she said softly; "that could never be.  Please think
only of your patient and your position of trust."

"How dare you, woman!" he whispered angrily; for her words had gone
home, and stung him more deeply than she could have realised.

"Because I am not like an ordinary servant, doctor," she said, meeting
his eyes unflinchingly.  "I nursed her when she was a little child, and
I have watched over her ever since.  Yes, she is very beautiful, but
that could never be."

Chester bent over his patient with knitted brow and tightly-compressed
lips, feeling the truth of the old woman's words, and ready to repeat
them again mentally--that could never be.

His hands were busy with his task, and his brain was more active than
ever, as he felt now that he had won this victory, and that the effort
to bring the poor fellow back to life and strength would now be an easy
one; little more than good nursing would suffice.  Why, then, could he
not win in that other fight?  She was right; that could never be; and he
seemed now to be suffering a rude awakening from the strange, dreamy
time through which he had passed--awakening to the fact that he had
lapsed into a faithless scoundrel, he who had believed himself all that
was manly and true.

An hour before, he had felt that nothing could drag him from Marion's
side.  He loved her more than he could have believed possible, but it
could never be.  He was awake once more, and now that the peril was past
he must go.

"Hah!" he said softly, as he finished his task and the old housekeeper
rose to bear away sponge, basin and towel, "head cooler, more
susceptible of touch.  A hard fight, but I win.  An error of judgment?
No; I did all possible.  The probe revealed nothing.  I saw no bullet,
or I might have known."

Everything else had passed away for the moment in the pride of his
satisfaction--the triumph of life over death--and he stood with one hand
resting on the back of the couch, the other upon his left hip, as he
bent over his patient, whose breath came softly, and there was a restful
look in the thin white face.

Then he started round, for there was a light touch upon his arm, and he
was face to face with Marion once more, her head bent forward, her wild
eyes searching his.

"Is--is it true?" she whispered excitedly.  "She told me as she went
out--you did not speak."

"Yes; quite true," cried Chester.  "No wonder, poor fellow, that he made
no advance.  But there, we have won, and a day or two's nursing will be
all he wants.  Now you can feel at rest."

"Feel--at rest?"

"Of course; there is no disease.  Weakness is the only trouble now."

"Weakness the only trouble now!  Rob--Rob--my own dear boy!"

She sank upon her knees, and as he saw her action, Chester tried to
check her.  But she gave him a reproachful glance, and passed her soft
white arms about the patient's head, but without touching him; and the
loving kiss she breathed, as it were, upon his lips.  Then she rose,
sobbing gently, with all the strength of her mind and force of action
seeming to have passed away, as with outstretched hands she caught at
the nearest object to save herself from falling.

That nearest object was Chester; and the next moment she was weeping in
his arms.

"You have given him back to me," she sobbed, her voice little above a
whisper.  "You have saved him.  How can I ever repay you for what you
have done?"

The minute before he had been strong; now as he felt the sobs rising
from the labouring breast, and clasped her throbbing, palpitating form
closer and--closer,--"Marion!"

Her name--nothing more; but he felt her tremble in his arms and hang
more heavily as her head sank slowly back, bringing her lips nearer his;
and the next moment she uttered a low sigh, breathed in their lengthened
kiss.

"Out of what comedy is this, doctor?" said a harsh, familiar voice; and
as they started angrily apart, Jem, as they called him, advanced quickly
from the silently opened door, straight towards Marion, upon whom he
fixed his fierce eyes, as he spoke to her companion.  "French, I
suppose--a translation.  I congratulate you, doctor--both of you.  It
was so real--so passionately grand.  And you," he literally hissed now,
"most loving sister!  _Pour passer le temps_, of course.  The _ennui_ of
long nursing.  Curse you!" he whispered savagely, as he stopped before
her, and with a quick movement caught her by the wrist.

The next moment he uttered a hoarse cry of rage, for, stung to madness
by the brutal act, Chester sprang at him, forcing him back over the
table before which he stood, while Marion was flung aside.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

A BLACK CLOUD BEHIND.

"Where am I?"

Head throbbing horribly, a nauseous taste in the mouth, throat
constricted and painful upon an attempt to swallow, and a strange mental
confusion which provoked the above question.

The answer came at once.

In a miserable, musty-smelling, four-wheeled cab, whose windows were
drawn up, and so spattered with mud and the heavy rain which fell upon
the roof that the gleam from the street lamps only produced a dim, hazy
light within, as the vehicle jangled slowly along, with wheels and some
loose piece of iron rattling loudly in concert with the beat of the
horse's feet.

"Whatever am I doing here?" was Fred Chester's next question.

Lying back in the corner, in an awkward position, as if in a state of
collapse, and only saved from subsiding into the bottom of the cab by
his feet being propped up on the front cushion, the doctor kept
perfectly still trying to think, but every retrogressive attempt gave
the idea that he was gazing at a vast black cloud which completely shut
out the past.

He uttered a faint groan, for he felt startled; but after lying back
listening to the beating rain and the jarring of the ill-fitting
glasses, he recovered somewhat.

"How absurd!" he muttered.  "Where am I going?  Ask the driver."

He drew up his legs and let his feet drop into the cab, as he tried to
sit up, but the effort gave him the sensation of molten lead running
from one of his temples to the other, and he lay perfectly still while
the agonising pain passed slowly away, trying hard to think what had
happened, but in vain.  There was the black cloud before him mentally,
though he could see the gleaming of a lamp he passed through the blurred
panes of glass.

At last, feeling more and more startled by his condition, he made a
brave effort, raised himself upright, and reached out for the strap, so
as to lower the front window; but at the first movement he was seized
with a sickening giddiness, lurched forward, and thrust himself back to
recline in the corner again till the molten lead had ceased to flow from
side to side of his head.

At last, very slowly and cautiously, bit by bit, he edged himself
forward till his knees rested against the front cushion, and then,
thrusting one hand into the left corner, he reached out for the strap,
raised the window, and let it glide sharply and loudly down.

"Hi!  Cabby!" he cried hoarsely.

"Right, sir!" came back, and the cab was drawn up by the kerb beneath
the next street lamp.

Then the driver got down and opened the door, to stand with the rain
streaming off his waterproof hat and cape.

"Mornin', sir," he said in a husky voice, closely following a chuckle.
"Feel better now?"

"No, I am horribly ill.  Where am I?"

"Why, here, sir," said the man, chuckling.  "My word, it's a wet 'un
outside."

"But what street's this?"

"Halkin Street, Belgrave Square, sir."

"What?  But how came I in your cab?--I can't remember."

"S'pose not, sir," said the man, good-humouredly.  "Does make yer feel a
bit muzzy till yer've had another snooze.  Shall I try and find one o'
the early purlers where the market-garden chaps goes?"

"What?  What do you mean?"

"Drop o' somethin' to clear your head, sir--and keep some o' the wet out
o' me."

"But--but I don't understand you," cried Chester, whose head still
throbbed so that he dreaded losing his senses again.

"Oh, it's all right, sir.  Have a drop o' something; you'll be better
then."

"But how came I in your cab?"

"Your friend and me put you there, sir."

"My friend?"

"Yes, him as you'd been dining with, sir; on'y you don't seem to ha'
heat much."

"My friend?"

"Yes, sir; that's right."

"Where was it?"

"Pickydilly Circus; 'bout three hours ago."

"Yes--yes.  Well?"

"And he says, `Take care of him, kebby,' he says, `and drive him home.
Bad cham,' he says, `and he ain't used to it.'"

"Then why didn't you drive me home?" cried Chester, angrily.

"S'elp me!  I like that!--I did; and no one was sittin' up for yer; I
knocked and rung for 'bout arf an hour before the old chap shoved up the
winder and began a-cussin' and a-swearin' at me awful."

"What old chap?" faltered Chester in his amaze.

"Your old guv'nor, I s'pose; and he wouldn't come down, and told me to
drive you to the `oh no, we never mentions him!' for you warn't coming
in there.  Then he bangs down the winder, and I waited ten minutes for
him to get cool, and then knocks and rings again.  This time he shoves
up the winder and swears he'd shoot at me if I warn't off; and as I got
set agen 'orspittles ever since I was there for two months, I got up on
the box again and drove off, for there was a bobby coming up; and I've
been driving you about ever since."

"Driving me about ever since?"

"That's so, sir.  We've been round Belgrave Square about a dozen times,
and I was just going to drive you back to our stables, where it ain't
quite so wet, when you downed the window."

"I can't grasp it," said Chester, hoarsely.

"Oh, never you mind about that, sir; you'll be all right soon.  You see,
beggin' your pardon, you was precious tight, and your friend had all he
could do to hold you up.  `Just like a jelly, kebby,' he says; and you
was, sir.  Your legs doubled up like a two-foot rule with a weak jynte."

"My friend!" cried Chester, snatching at that as something to cling to.
"Who was that?"

"That's what I'm a-telling you, sir.  Your friend--"

"But what sort of a person was it?"

"Big, stout young fellow, like a Lifeguardsman, but a real gent.  Very
jovial sort.  `Take great keer of him, kebby,' he says, and he tipped me
a quid.  `Help him up the steps when you get him home.'  `Right you are,
sir,' I says, as soon as I'd shut you up.  `But wheer to?'
`Thirty-three Chrissal Square, Chelsea,' he says, and there I drove you,
and there you'd be, only your guv'nor cut up so rough."

"Chrissal Square, Chelsea?" cried Chester, eagerly.

"That's it, sir."

"Why didn't he tell you Raybeck Square?"

"Dunno, I'm sure, sir.  That's where all the doctors is."

"Yes, of course."

"Didn't think you was bad enough, I s'pose, sir.  And you ain't.  You
on'y want a drop to clear your head a bit."

"Drive me to Raybeck Square, thirty-four, at once."

"Won't you have a drop of something first, sir?  Do you more good than
going to a doctor's, and me, too."

"No, no, absurd.  But one moment.  You said Piccadilly Circus?"

"That's right, sir."

"And my friend helped me into the cab, and paid you to drive me home?"

"That's it, sir.  You're getting it now--all by heart."

"A tall, stout gentleman?"

"Well, not exactly that, sir.  I don't mean a fat 'un with a big weskit.
A reg'lar strong-built un."

"I can't grasp it," muttered Chester.  Then aloud,--"But why did he tell
you to drive me to the wrong house?"

"Bit on too, sir.  Arter dinner.  Did it for a lark, p'ra'ps."

"Drive me home," said Chester, sinking back.  "I can't recollect a bit."

"Course you can't, sir.  Better have a hair o' the dog as bit you."

"No, no.  There, I'll give you a glass of brandy when we get back."

"Suppose your guv'nor won't let you in, sir?"

"Nonsense, man.  I have a latch-key."

"Wish I'd ha' knowed it," muttered the man, as he tried to close the
door; "blessed if I wouldn't ha' picked your pocket of it and risked it
I'd ha' carried you into the passage, and chanced it.  Blister the door,
how it sticks!" he growled, as he banged it to, the jerk raising the
glass, and it dropped down.  "Chrissal Square, sir?"

"No, no, Raybeck Square; and make haste out of the rain."

"Oh, I'm as wet as I can be, sir, and it don't matter now," grumbled the
man, as he ascended to the box, and once more the maddening rattle and
jangle began.

Chester's head was as blank as ever with regard to the past when the cab
drew up at his home, but it was perfectly clear as to the present, and
he was still hard at work trying to make out where he had been dining,
with whom, and how it was possible for him to have so far forgotten
himself as to have drunk till he was absolutely imbecile, when the man
opened the door.

"One moment; my latch-key.  Yes; all right, I said I'd give you a glass
of brandy."

"You did, sir, and welkum it'll be as the flowers o' May.  Jump out
quick, sir, and run up the steps, for it's all one big shower bath."

"Can you leave your horse?"

"Leave him, sir?" said the man, with a chuckle; "for a month.  He's got
hoofs like hanchors.  But I will hitch his nose-bag on, and let him see
if he can find that there oat he was a-'untin' for in the chaff last
time he had it on."

The next minute Chester was inside, with his head throbbing; but he was
not so giddy, and his first glance was at the hall clock, illumined by
the half turned down gas.

"Four o'clock," he muttered.  "How strange!"

"May I come inside, sir?  Horse'll be all right if there don't come a
bobby prowling round.  If he ain't a fool he'll be under someone's
doorway, for there ain't likely to be no burgling a time like this."

"Shut the door, and come in here," said Chester, shortly; and he led the
way into his consulting-room, turned up the gas, and from a closet took
a decanter and glass, filled the latter for the cabman, who was making a
pool on the thick carpet, and then poured himself out a few drops from a
small-stoppered bottle, added some water from a table filter, and tossed
off the mixture.

"Thank you, sir, and hope that there'll do you as much good as this
here's done me a'ready.  Didn't know you was a doctor."

"Here's a crown for you," said Chester, taking the money from a little
drawer.

"Five bob!  Oh, thank ye, sir," said the man, with a grin.  "Makes a
fellow feel quite dry.  Sorry for your carpet, sir.  Good-mornin'.  I
don't think I want another fare."

As the door was closed after the man, the potent drops Chester had taken
began to have some effect, and it seemed as if the dawn was coming
through the black cloud which separated him mentally from what had taken
place overnight.

"The man's right," he muttered.  "I must sleep.  Good heavens!  What a
state my brain is in!"

"Is that you, Fred?"

He started as if he had been stung, and the dawn brightened as he
replied sharply--

"Yes, aunt; all right.  Go to bed.  Why are you up?"

There was no reply, and he turned the hall light nearly out again, and
went into his consulting-room to serve the gas jet there the same, and
sank into an easy-chair instead; but he had hardly allowed himself to
sink back when he sprang up again, for there, in the open doorway, stood
the grotesque figure of Aunt Grace, in broad-frilled, old-fashioned
night-cap and dressing-gown, a flat candlestick in her hand, and a
portentous frown upon her brow, as she walked straight to him, wincing
sharply as one slippered foot was planted in the pool left by the
cabman, but continuing her slow, important march till she was about a
yard away from her nephew, when she stopped.

"Why, aunt," he cried, "what's the matter?  Surely you are not walking
in your sleep!"

"Matter?" she cried in a low, deep voice, full of the emotion which
nearly choked her.  "Oh, you vile, wicked, degraded boy!  How dare you
treat your poor sister and me like this?"

"Pooh!  Hush!  Nonsense, old lady.  It's all right.  I've been dining
with a friend."

"With a friend!" she said, with cutting sarcasm.

"Yes, at his club.  There, I must have been unwell.  I was a little
overdone.  What a terrible night."

"Terrible indeed, sir, when my nephew stoops to lie to me like that.  A
friend--at his club!  Do you think me such a baby that I do not know you
have been with that abandoned woman?"

"Hush!  Silence!" he whispered angrily.  "For your dear, dead father's
and mother's sake, sir, I will not be silenced."

"But you will arouse Laura."

"She wants no arousing.  She is lying ill in bed, sleepless in her
misery, sir, with her wretched brother staying out like this."

"Confound you for a silly old woman!" he cried angrily.  "Is a man to
live the life of a hermit?  If I had been away to a patient till
breakfast-time nobody would have said a word.  Poor little Laury!  But
how absurd!"

"Absurd, sir!" cried the old lady, who was scarlet with indignation.
"Then I suppose it was absurd for poor Isabel Lee to have gone home
broken-hearted because of your conduct."

"What!" he cried, springing up, with a glimmer of memory coming back.
"Why, surely you two did not canvass my being out one night till the
poor girl was so upset that she--that she--went back--yes, she was
stopping here.  Oh, aunt, your foolish, suspicious ways are disgraceful.
What have you done?"

"I done, you wretched boy?  It's what have you done?  She was with us
for a whole week after you had gone, fighting against me, and insisting
that there was a reason for your being away, or that you had had an
accident."

"Here, aunt, are you going to be ill?" he cried, catching at her wrist;
but she snatched it away.

"Don't touch me, sir!" she cried.  "Oh, Fred, Fred!  I'd have given the
world not to know that you were so wicked.  And just when you were about
to marry her, poor girl, to go away as you did."

"_Go_ away--as I did?" he faltered, gazing at her blankly.

"Yes, I knew something was wrong when I saw that wretched woman's face.
I felt it; but I could not have believed you would be so base.  A whole
fortnight too; and to think that this was to have been your
wedding-day!"

He caught her by the shoulders, and she uttered a faint cry and dropped
the candlestick, as he stood swaying to and fro, staring at the doorway,
through which his sister hesitatingly passed, and came slowly toward
him.

"A fortnight!" he stammered--"Isabel gone!"

"Yes, gone--gone for ever," said Laura, sadly.  "Oh, Fred, how could
you?"

"Stop!  Don't touch me," he cried angrily.  "Don't speak to me.  Let me
try to think."

He threw his head back and shook it violently in his effort to clear it,
but the confusion and mental darkness began to close in once more, while
the throbbing in his brain grew agonising.  It was as if his head were
opening and shutting--letting the light in a little and then blotting it
out; till he felt his senses reeling--the present mingling with the
darkness of the past he strove so vainly to grasp.

"I can't think.  Am I going mad?" he groaned, as he staggered to a
chair.

"Mad, indeed," said his aunt, bitterly.  "Come away, Laura, and leave
him to his conscience.  Better if it had been as you and poor Isabel
thought--that he had met with some accident, and was dead."

She caught her niece by the arm, but Laura shook herself free and took a
step or two towards where, in his utter despair, Chester sat bent down
with his head resting in his hands.  But he made no movement, and with a
bitter sob she turned and followed her aunt from the room.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

"WHITHER?"

It was a good forty-eight hours before Chester could think clearly.  His
aunt had sternly avoided his room, and he had been dependent upon Laura,
who attended him as he lay quite prostrated by the agonising pains in
his head.  She hardly spoke, but saw to his wants as a sisterly duty,
and felt that silent reproach was better than words to one who had
proved himself such a profligate.

"I can't understand it," she said to herself again and again.  "It is so
unlike him.  If he would only repent, poor Bel might forgive him--in
time.  No; I cannot speak to him yet."

She little thought how her brother blessed her for her silence, as he
lay struggling to get behind that black curtain; but all in vain.

He was sleeping heavily on the third night, when he suddenly woke up
with the mental congestion gone.  The pain had passed away, and his
brain felt clear and bright once more.

He remembered perfectly now.  The scene with Marion after his triumphant
declaration of all danger being past.  Their embrace.  The interruption
by the coming of the saturnine head of the house, and the struggle, all
came back vividly clear, and with photographic minuteness.  He recalled,
too, how in the encounter when he had forced his adversary back over the
edge of the table, he felt that an effort was being made to get at some
weapon.

Then the great athletic brother came and separated them, remonstrating
on the folly of the encounter at such a time.

"How strange that I can remember it all so clearly now," muttered
Chester.  "Yes, he said that it was over a dispute.  He would not
acknowledge the real cause, and she did not speak.  The scoundrel; he
had been persecuting her with his addresses.  I see now; that must have
been the cause of the first trouble.  Her brother was defending her from
him."

Then he recalled how the pair went away, and that the old housekeeper
stayed, while Marion sat by the patient's side, avoiding his gaze, and
as if repenting that she had given way to her feelings.

A tray was brought in by Paddy, so that the housekeeper should not leave
the room; and he stopped, talking good-temperedly enough, for some
little time, and almost playing the part of servant to them, till they
had all partaken scantily of the excellent meal; but he did not have
another opportunity of speaking to Marion alone.

Chester lay for some minutes trembling then, for he had been growing
excited by the recollections, and a strange dread had come over him that
he was about to lose his memory again; but the adventures of that night
came back, and he recalled the coming of Paddy once more.  This time he
brought in a tray with coffee and four cups, which he filled and handed
to each of those present.  Yes, Chester remembered how the housekeeper
refused, and Paddy spoke--

"Nonsense, old lady! take it; we can't stand on ceremony now, you may
have to be up for hours."

Then the old housekeeper took the cup, and the young man sugared his own
coffee very liberally, and added plenty of cream.

"Bad taste, doctor," he said good-humouredly, "but I like it sweet.  So
you feel now that poor Bob will be all right?"

"Yes, I have no doubt of it."

"Thanks to you," said the young man, and he advanced and took Chester's
emptied cup, and then Marion's, soon after leaving the room with the
tray.

Chester recalled feeling a little drowsy after this, and then in a
dreamy way seeing Marion with her brow resting upon the patient's
pillow.

No more--try how he would, Chester could recollect nothing else, but
consideration filled up the gap.  The elder brother, satisfied that the
patient's life was saved, was desirous of ridding the house of the
doctor's presence, the more so now that he had discovered the relations
which had sprung up between him and Marion.

"The scoundrel!" thought Chester.  "That must have been it: he was
pursuing her, and the brother was shot down in defending his sister."

Chester shivered now, and his brain grew hot, as he saw clearly enough
all that remained.  The cups had been prepared, two of them containing a
drug, and Paddy had taken care that they should go to those for whom
they were intended.  It was all plain enough.  Paddy was working in his
brother's interest, and he was the big friend who had taken him first to
the Circus, and then placed him in another cab, with instructions to the
man.

"Well," muttered Chester, "I see my way now, and I am not going to sit
down calmly over the matter.  I must--I will see her again."

Then he trembled, and the hot burning sensation came once more.  But it
passed off, and he felt that he must be calm and wait till he had
another long sleep, when he hoped to be quite restored.

He lay trying now to forget all that had passed, so as to rest for a
while; but sleep would not come, and he could do nothing but dwell upon
his adventures at that mysterious house.  It was so strange.  The
servants had evidently been sent away, so that they might know nothing
of what threatened for long enough to prove a murder.  He wanted to know
of none other cause for the quarrel.  His patient must have been shot
down while defending his sister from some insult offered by the clever,
overbearing, unprincipled scoundrel who seemed to lord it over all.

And as Chester lay thinking, an intense desire came over him to learn
more of the family who had literally imprisoned him, and kept him there
all those days.  When there, it had seemed for the most part like some
romantic dream; and as he lay now at home thinking, the vague
intangibility of those nights and days appeared to him more fanciful and
strange than ever; so much so, that there were moments when he was ready
to ask himself whether, after all, it was not the result of imagination.

He recalled all the actors in the little social drama--the men whom he
had seen on the first night, and who dropped out of sight afterwards;
the two ladies--the wives of the brothers--both quiet, startled-looking
women, of the type that would be seen exhibiting the latest fashions at
some race, at Lord's, or at a meeting of the Four-in-Hand Club, and
evidently slaves of their husbands--and he recalled now how the wife of
the elder brother seemed to hold her lord in dread.

"There's something more about that place than one knows," Chester
thought to himself as he turned from side to side, "and I cannot--I will
not, sit down and patiently bear such treatment.  To-morrow I'll go and
demand an explanation.  I have a good excuse," he said half aloud and
with a bitter laugh; "there is my promised fee, and--Pish!" he exclaimed
savagely.  "If I am to prove a scoundrel, I will be an honest one.  I
will ferret out who and what they are.  I behaved like a child in not
having some explanation earlier--in yielding passively as I did without
reason--no, not without reason.  I could not help it.  Heaven help me!
I will--I must see her again.  It is fate!"

He jumped up in bed, for a sudden thought now sent a chill of horror
through him, as for the first time the drugging which had taken place
showed itself in another light.

"To get rid of me," he muttered, as the great drops of sweat gathered on
his face, "and--the last thing I remember--Marion--her head fallen upon
the couch beside her brother, helpless now to protect her--drugged,
insensible, at the mercy of that villain; and I here without stirring or
raising a hand."

Some little time later, feeling weak and faint, he was standing in the
hall reaching down his hat, and for a moment he had a feeling of
compunction.  Isabel--his sister--what would they think of his strange,
base infatuation?

"What they will," he said between his teeth.  "Placed in such
circumstances, no man could be master of himself.  I must save her, even
if we never meet again;" and the door closed after him loudly, as, half
mad now with excitement, Marion's eyes seeming to lure him on, he
stepped out into the darkness of the night.

"Whither?" he muttered, as he hurried across the Square.  "Heaven help
me! it is my fate."



CHAPTER NINE.

A BLACKER CLOUD IN FRONT.

The nearest church clock was striking three as Chester passed into the
great west-end artery, which was almost deserted, and he had been
walking rapidly, under the influence of his strange excitement, for some
minutes before, clear as his head was now, he found himself brought up
short by a mental cloud as black and dense as that from which he had
suffered when he began to recover from the influence of the drug he had
taken.

But there was this difference: the dense obscurity then was relating to
the past--this was connected with the future.

"Good heavens!" he muttered.  "Whatever he gave me must be acting still;
I am half delirious.  I am no longer master of my actions.  Why am I
here?  What am I going to do?--To try to save her, for she is at his
mercy.  But how?"

He stopped short, literally aghast at the horror which encompassed him
as he felt that he was utterly helpless.

How was he to save Marion?  How take the place of the brother who had
defended her and fallen?  Where was she?

In the great wilderness of houses which made up the overgrown city in
which he dwelt, where was the one he sought?

Utterly dazed, he stood trying to think out in which direction it lay,
and moment by moment his feeling of utter helplessness increased.

He had not taken the slightest note of the direction in which the
carriage was driven that night, for he had sat listening to his excited
companion, half wondering at the way in which he was influenced by her
presence.

The carriage, he did remember, was driven very fast, but it must have
been at least a quarter of an hour before it was drawn up at the kerb
before the old-fashioned mansion.

Yes, he did note that old-fashioned mansion, in a wide street, too--it
must have been a wide street to have allowed for so great a distance
between the kerb and the two steps up from the pavement; and the house
stood back, too, some distance.

That was something, but a chill of despair came over him as he felt that
these features applied to thousands of houses.

Still, it was old-fashioned, and the hall was wide, just such a house as
he would find in Bloomsbury.

"Or Westminster," he muttered.  "But the cabman was told to drive to
Chelsea.  A blind to confuse me, on the chance that I did not notice
when I was brought there that night.

"Bloomsbury or Westminster," he said to himself; "and chance or instinct
may help me," he mused, as, feeble as was the clue, he felt that it was
something to act upon, something to give him work that might deaden the
wild excitement.  He set off at once in the direction of the
old-fashioned, grim-looking streets half a mile east of where he had
stood thinking, ending by taking a passing cab, for he felt faint and
bathed in a cold perspiration, and being driven slowly through street
and square till long after daylight, and then home, sick at heart in the
despondent feeling which came over him.

"It's hopeless--impossible," he said to himself, as he wearily let
himself in with his latch-key, while the cabman drove slowly off,
saying--

"Not bad, as things go.  Talk about seeing life, I think we kebbies do.
Why, that chap must be about cracked."

As Chester threw his overcoat on a chair in the hall, a slight rustling
on the stairs took his attention.

"Watched!" he said to himself, while turning into his consulting-room,
feeling convinced that either Laura or his aunt had been listening for
his return.

"They must think me mad," he said, and after a pause, "are they right?"

He was calmer now, and his mind running in this direction, he could not
help feeling there was a strange dash of insanity mingled with his
actions since the night when he was called out, and that this last act
of hunting through the streets for a house of whose location he was
utterly ignorant seemed nearly the culminating point.

"Yes, the height of folly," he said softly.  "I must try and devise some
means of finding her.  Chance may help me.  I can do no more now."

He rose with the intention of going up to his bedroom, but the sun was
now shining brightly, and he opened the shutters before returning to his
seat to try and think out some clue which he could follow up.

The light which flooded the room seemed to brighten his intellect, and
in spite of the use to which he had put the latter part of the past
night, his head felt cool and clear.

"Let's look the position fairly in the face," he said to himself.
"After all, I have done Isabel no substantial wrong; I was not a free
agent.  I could not return; and that course is open, to go to her and to
her people, frankly explain, and make up to her by my future for the
weak lapse of which I have been guilty.  For what are these people to
me?"

He sat back with his brow knit, feeling, though, that such a course was
impossible--that he could not go and humble himself before his
betrothed, and that it would be an act of base and cruel hypocrisy to
resume their old relations when his heart seemed to have but one
desire--to see Marion again.

"No, it is impossible!" he cried angrily.  "It was not love.  I never
could have loved her.  Heaven help me!  What shall I do?  Some clue--
some clue!"

He started mentally again from the moment when he was called down to see
his visitor, and he seemed to see her once more, standing close by the
table--just there!  Then he once more entered the brougham with her and
tried to get some gleam of the direction they took, but he could only
recall that the horses were standing with their heads toward the east.
No more.  The result was precisely the same as it had been at other
times, utterly negative.  He had thought of nothing but his companion
till they reached the house, and he had not even the clue of the family
name.

Then a thought struck him, and he brightened up.  Those moments when,
after his vain search for the bullet, he had dressed the wound.  She had
prepared bandages for him, and with eager fingers now he thrust his hand
into his breast-pocket for his pocket-book, opened it, and took out a
closely-folded, very fine cambric handkerchief, deeply stained with
blood.  She had given it to him, and he held it to the wound for a few
minutes, while a bandage was torn, and had afterwards thrust it into his
breast, only in his ecstasy to later on, unseen, take it out, carefully
fold it, and place it in one of the pockets of his little Russia case.

His hands trembled as he opened it out and examined the corners, the
fourth showing, carefully embroidered, the letters M.E.C.

He had hoped for the full name in marking ink, and with a faint sigh he
refolded the delicate piece of fabric, and replaced it in his
pocket-book, to sit thinking once more, with the new cloud growing
blacker.

There was one way, he thought--the police.  Some shrewd officer might
make something out of this narrative and trace the house; but he felt
that it was doubtful, and shrank from laying bare a mystery which he
felt sure Marion was eager to keep hidden.  Finally he came to the
conclusion that he would know no rest until he had discovered the place
of his strange imprisonment himself, and in despair, to relieve the
pressure of his brain, he turned to the writing-table, which was pretty
well covered with letters from patients, complaining that they had come
up to find him away; from others asking him to make appointments; and
again others of a tendency which showed him that he was injuring his
practice.

Lastly, he picked up a letter which he had put aside, unwilling to open
it; and he held it for some minutes, gazing straight before him,
thinking deeply, and seeming to lack the resolution to read.

At last with a sigh he tore it open.

It was from Isabel's mother, telling him that her child was
heart-broken, and asking him to give some explanation of the cruel
treatment to which they had been subjected.

"Let them think the truth," he cried passionately as he tore the letter
into tiny fragments.  "Let them think me half mad, I cannot--I dare not
write."

There were two or three packets on the table, even then, and he winced
as he turned them over.  One was a bundle of proofs of an article he had
written for a medical paper; the next was a carefully-sealed box,
registered, and he threw it into a drawer with an angry ejaculation.  It
was from a jeweller, and contained a pearl bracelet he had bought as a
present for his betrothed.

The other was also a box that had come by post, registered, and it was
heavy.  He did not know what that was; he had ordered no other present,
and his curiosity being excited, he cut the green tape, tore off the
great seals, and was in the act of opening the cartridge paper in which
it was folded, when he stopped and snatched up the tape to which the
sealing-wax adhered.

There were three seals, two the coarse splotches of common wax used by
postal authorities; the other was fine and had been sealed with arms and
crest, but a drop from the coarse postal wax had half covered it and
Chester could make nothing of the sender.

The box within was fastened down with brads, and he forced it open with
some curiosity, to find a heavy packet of what seemed to be short, thick
pieces of pipe, and with a vague idea that they were connected with some
surgical instrument sent to him from the maker on trial, he pushed it
aside impatiently, and threw himself back in his chair.

The next minute the thought occurred to him that a surgical instrument
maker would not seal the packet with armorial bearings, and he would
have sent some communication, so, catching up the box, he drew out the
carefully-done-up packet within, tore it open, and then let his hands
fall on the table, for the contents were rouleaux of sovereigns, all
bright and fresh from the mint, the number written upon the packet--"210
pounds."  Two hundred guineas--the fee promised to him for his services.

"Gentlemanly and honourable in this, after all," he said to himself; and
he eagerly searched the papers to see if there was a note.

None, and with an ejaculation of disappointment he unlocked the table
drawer, thrust in the rouleaux, locked them up, and then caught up the
pieces of green tape again, to examine the blurred red seal.

"Eureka!" he muttered; "then here is the clue."  He carefully cut off
the seal and placed it in his pocket-book, after satisfying himself that
the crest over the shield of armorial bearings was a mailed arm bent,
the elbow only being clear.  With this to guide him, he went to a
book-case, and took down a Peerage, in the faint hope of finding the
arms of some great family there; and he was still vainly searching when
the servant knocked at the door to tell him that breakfast was ready.

Laura and his aunt were waiting in the dining-room, and their salute was
a formal "Good-morning," after which the breakfast was partaken of in
silence, and he rose to go back to his room.

"Will you see your patients this morning, Frederick?" said his aunt, as
he reached the door.

He looked back at her sharply, and then glanced at his sister, who was
watching him too.

"No," he said sharply.  "I have important business--I am going out."

"But--"

Chester closed the door and hurried to his room.  He knew what was about
to be said, and he was in such an intense state of irritation, that he
could not trust himself to reply, but took hat and coat directly, went
out, and jumping into the first cab was driven to his club, where he
spent the morning in the library, examining books on landed gentry,
peerages, baronetages, everything he could find relating to armorial
bearings, and finding crest after crest of mailed arms holding swords,
daggers, spears, flowers, plumes, hearts, and arrows, but nothing which
quite answered to the seal.

After a hasty lunch he went out to resume his search for the house, and
for the next fortnight this was his life, seeking, and seeking in vain,
for he found hundreds, each of which might very well have been that
which he sought, till one afternoon he was walking down formal old
streets of gloomy mansions, when his eyes lit upon a house, one of fifty
almost alike, double-fronted with a broad entrance, and exactly what he
felt the place must be that he sought.  He had passed it a dozen times
before, but it had never impressed him, and with a strange feeling of
elation, as he noted its gloomy aspect, uncleaned windows, and air of
neglect, he grew certain that he had made the discovery at last.

The next thing was to note the number and examine a Directory, and
walking rapidly on without daring to look for fear of being observed, he
went to the end of the street, crossed over, and returned, read the
half-obliterated number on the time-worn door as he rapidly passed, and
once more had himself driven to his club.

"Found at last," he muttered, as he opened the great Directory and found
the number, and name, "Westcott."

Not much, but something within him made him feel that he was right, and
he closed the book, drawing a deep breath, and went straight to the
great grim street.

He had made no plans, but had determined upon a bold attack as the
likeliest way of obtaining entrance.  The old housekeeper would answer
the door, and threats, cajoling, or bribery he was determined should be
his pass-key, for see Marion and be assured of her safety he would,
even, he told himself, if he had to use force.

For one moment only he hesitated before he plunged into the lion's jaws,
as it were--should he speak to a policeman and tell him how to act if he
did not soon return?

"No," he said; "it would be too cowardly, and I might injure her."

The next minute he had given a heavy peal on knocker and bell, listened
to the hollow echoes raised within the forbidding place, and stood
waiting for the opening of the door.



CHAPTER TEN.

THE BOOKWORM AT HOME.

As Chester waited for an answer to his summons the thought of the
awkwardness of his position struck him, but he was strung up and
determined to go on with his quest at all hazards.  At the end of a
minute there was no reply, and he knocked and rang again, with the hope
rising that he was on the right tack at last, for the silence accorded
with the mystery of the place he sought.

It was not until he had roused the echoes within the house for the third
time that he heard the rattle of a chain being taken down; then the door
was opened slowly, and Chester's heart sank as he found himself face to
face with a dim-eyed, sleepy-looking old man, thin, stooping, and untidy
of aspect, in his long, dusty dressing-gown and slippers.  He was
wearing an old-fashioned pair of round glass, silver-rimmed spectacles,
whose ends were secured by a piece of black ribbon; and these he pushed
up on his forehead as he turned his head side-wise and peered at the
visitor.

"I'm afraid you knocked before, sir," he said in a quiet, dreamy tone.

"Yes--yes.  I ought not to have come in this unceremonious way."

"Pray do not apologise," said the old gentleman, mildly.  "I was busy
reading, and did not hear."

He pushed his glasses a little higher and smiled in a pleasant,
benevolent fashion, while at the first glance Chester saw that he was
quite off the scent.  For he gazed past the old man into the great hall
whose walls were covered with book-shelves, while parcels and piles of
volumes were heaped up in every available corner.

"I see that I have made a mistake," said Chester, hastily.

"Indeed?"

"I have come to the wrong house.  I am very sorry.  I am trying to find
some people here."

"Yes?  Well, houses are very much alike.  Will you step in?  I can
perhaps help you.  I think I have a Directory somewhere--somewhere, if I
can lay my hand upon it, for I seldom use such a work, and I have so
many books."

The old gentleman, whose appearance branded him as a dreamy, absorbed
bookworm, drew back, and Chester involuntarily entered the hall, to note
that with the book-cases away it would be such a place as he had
visited; but while that was magnificently furnished, and pervaded by the
soft glow of electric light, here all was dust and mouldering knowledge,
the entrance suggesting that the rest of the house must be the same.

"Pray come in," said the old man, after closing the door; and he led the
way into what had been intended for a large dining-room, but had been
turned by its occupant into a library, packed with books from floor to
ceiling; piles were upon the tables and chairs, and heaps here and there
upon the dusty old Turkey carpet.

"Directory--Directory," said the old man, looking slowly round.  "Books,
books, books, but not the one we want."

"You seem to have a large and valuable library," Chester ventured to
observe.

"Eh?  Yes, I suppose so.  The work of a long life, sir.  But very dusty
all over the house.  What did you say was the name of the people you
wanted?"

"I--that is," stammered Chester, confusedly, "I do not know their name.
Some patients whom I want to find out."

"Are you a doctor, sir?" said the old man, looking at his visitor with a
benevolent smile.  "Grand profession.  I should have liked to have been
a doctor.  But is not that a very vague description?  Names are so
useful for distinguishing one person, place, or thing, from another.
But it was in this street, you say?"

"Well--er--no, I am not sure," said Chester, hurriedly.

"Dear me! that is rather perplexing," said the old man, taking off his
spectacles and beginning to wipe them upon the tail of his
dressing-gown.  "But," he added, as if relieved, "the Directory would be
of no use if you do not know the name."

"None whatever," said Chester, who was smarting with the thought that
this pleasant old gentleman must take him for a lunatic.  "Pray forgive
me for troubling you in this unceremonious way."

"Oh, not at all, my dear sir, not at all.  I have so few visitors,
though," he added, "as you see I am surrounded by old friends."

"The same style of house--the same sort of hall," thought Chester, as he
went out after a few more words had been exchanged.  "Could it have been
in this street?"

He looked up sharply at a heavy-faced butler and a tall, smart,
powdered-headed footman, who were standing at the door of the next
house, doing nothing, with the air of two men whose employers were out.

Chester looked eagerly at them and passed by, but the door was nearly
closed, and he could not see inside.

His sharp look was returned with interest, the two men evidently
expecting him to come up the steps and address them, but he went on for
a short distance in an undecided way, thinking deeply, and trying hard
to see through the mental mist which shut him in.  But a short time
before he had felt convinced that he had found the house and been
disappointed; now he felt quite as sure that the mansion where the two
servants were standing must be the place.  He had no special reason for
coming to the conclusion, but all the same a curious feeling of
attraction made him slacken his pace, angry and annoyed the while that
he had not stopped and spoken to the men.

"Great heavens!  What a vacillating moral coward I have grown," he said
to himself.  "What would have been easier?"

He said this but felt that the task was terribly hard, for it seemed
such a childish thing to do--to go about asking folk if that was the
house where some people lived who had fetched him to attend a man who
had been shot, and kept him a prisoner for days and days before drugging
him and having him shut up in a cab to be driven about in the middle of
the night.

"Why, if I could explain all this to them," he said to himself at last,
"they'd think I was a harmless kind of madman, troubled with memories of
the Arabian Nights Entertainments, which I was trying to drag into
everyday life like a Barber's hundredth brother, or a one-eyed Calendar.
Come, come, old fellow," he continued, as he mentally apostrophised
himself; "go back home and prescribe for yourself, and then begin to
show someone that you have been suffering from a strange mental vagary,
brought about by over-excitement.  She will believe it in time, and all
may come right again.  Ah! how like."

He started and hurried after an open carriage in which two ladies were
seated.  He only saw the profile of one of them very slightly, and her
back as she passed, but there was a turn of the figure--a particularly
graceful air, as she leaned forward to give some instruction to the
coachman--which struck him as being exactly similar to attitudes he had
seen Marion assume again and again when attending upon her brother.

He jumped into a cab and told the man to follow the victoria, with the
result that the latter came to a standstill in front of one of the
fashionable West-End drapery establishments.

Chester was close up as the lady alighted, and he sprang out excitedly
to go and speak to her.

There was every opportunity, for the carriage drove on with her
companion, and she crossed the pavement alone, to walk a few steps alone
in front of the great plate-glass window, gazing carelessly in at the
various costumes displayed.

"A woman after all," he said to himself, bitterly annoyed at what he
considered her frivolity in thinking of dress at a time when her brother
was in all probability suffering still.

"But it is their nature, or the result of their education," he said the
next minute, as he went close up behind her, and saw her face reflected
clearly in the long series of mirrors at the back.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

MR ROACH LOWERS HIMSELF.

"Bah!" ejaculated Chester in his rage and despair, as he swung round and
hurried away.  "Fool, idiot!  No more like her than that miserable
flower-seller is.  Am I suffering from the shock of the drug they gave
me?  Well, if I am, she must be found all the same, for I cannot go on
like this and live!"

He hurried along, without heeding which way he went, and as if by
instinct made for his own house, reached it, started as if in surprise,
and then turned to enter, but altered his mind after a pause, and drew
the door to, after which he walked swiftly away in the direction of
Westminster.

For the meeting had raised thoughts which he felt that he would only
obliterate by plunging once more into the mazes of his wild search.

He was not long in reaching the old street which had so taken up his
attention before, and he looked long and attentively at the mansion
adjoining that occupied by the collector.  The contrast was curious, the
one with bright, well-curtained windows, the door glistening in its
fresh graining and varnish, the other dim, unpainted, looking as if it
were quite unoccupied, the very steps as if they had not been cleaned
for years.

Chester went and studied a Directory, and with the name Clareborough
upon his lips, he determined, after passing through the street two or
three times, to risk making a call.

"Why should I mind?" he muttered.  "If I am wrong, I have only made a
mistake."

He walked on till he reached the house, perfectly unconscious that the
footman was standing a little back from one of the narrow windows, and
after having his attention drawn to the vacillating, rather haggard
personage who had been taking so much interest in the house, was ready
to look upon him with suspicion.

"Begging letter dodges, or something to sell," said the footman to
himself, as the visitors' bell was rung, and after waiting a sufficient
time to suggest that he had come from downstairs, the fellow opened the
door, to receive Chester with a calm stare.

"Mr Clareborough in?"

"Not at home, sir."

"Mr Robert is, of course?"

"Out of town, sir."

"Well, I must see somebody," said Chester, who had been checked for the
moment by the announcement that Mr Robert was out of town, but
encouraged by the fact that two shots went home.  "Ask Mr Paddy if he
will see me."

The nickname made the footman raise his eyebrows, but he replied
coolly--

"Not at home, sir."

"Well, then, one of the ladies."

"On the Continent, sir."

"Tut, tut, how tiresome!" cried Chester, impatiently.  "Look here, my
man; how is Mr Robert?"

"Quite well, thank you, sir," said the man, superciliously.

Chester stared at the man.  He had evidently been schooled what to say,
and for the moment the visitor hesitated, but recovering his
_sang-froid_ the next moment, he said--

"Rather strange that, after so serious an accident."

At that moment the butler came forward from the back of the hall,
pulling the door a little more open, and Chester drew a deep breath full
of satisfaction, as he caught sight of one of the statues and a chair,
on the back of which was emblazoned the same crest as he had seen upon
the seal.

"What is it, Orthur," said the butler in a deep, mellow voice suggestive
of port wine.

"Gentleman asking to see Mr Robert, sir."

"Yes, I particularly wish to see him," said Chester.  "I am the medical
man who attended him after his accident."

"I beg pardon, sir."

"I say I am the medical man who attended him after his late accident,
and I wish to see my patient again."

The butler glared at the speaker in a heavy, solemn way, and then turned
slowly to his subordinate, who raised his eyebrows and drew down the
corners of his lips.

"I beg pardon, sir," said the butler, turning his eyes again on the
visitor, who was beginning to lose temper.  "There is a Mr Robert
here--Mr Robert Clareborough.  You must mean some other gentleman.  Our
Mr Robert is quite well, and on the Continent just now."

"Impossible!" cried Chester, angrily.  "Look here, my man, take this for
yourself and my card in to Mr Robert.  Say I beg that he will give me a
few minutes' conversation."

The butler glanced at the card and the coin held out, but took neither.

"Beg pardon, sir.  I told you that Mr Robert is on the Continent."

"Yes; and I tell you that you are not speaking the truth.  Do as I tell
you.  I will wait till he sees me."

Chester took a couple of steps forward as he spoke, with the intention
of entering the hall, but the butler stood firm, and the footman closed
up to his side, the pair effectually barring the way.  Chester stopped,
feeling that he could do no more, for the servants must have been
instructed to deny everybody to him.  He thought, too, of his position;
he had attended his patient and retained the heavy fee paid him, having,
had he so wished, been debarred from returning it by his ignorance of
the sender's address.

While he was musing the butler said haughtily--

"If you like to leave your card, sir, I'll lay it on the 'all table, and
if one of the gentlemen wishes to see you, I daresay he'll write or
call."

"No," said Chester, irritably.  "Tell Mr Robert that I came, and--no,
say nothing; I daresay I can find Mr Robert Clareborough at his club,
or I shall meet him somewhere else."

He turned upon his heel, and walked sharply away, satisfied now that he
had found the house, and feeling more eager than ever to obtain an
interview with his patient, who would, he felt sure, have his sister by
his side.

The thought of her position sent the hot blood coursing to the doctor's
head, and a chill of horror and anxiety ran through him once more.  But
he felt that he must wait a little longer and devise some way of
obtaining speech with Marion, life being unendurable till he had seen
her once again.

"New dodge, Mr Roach, sir?" said the footman, when Chester had
disappeared.

"I don't quite know what to make of it, Orthur," replied the butler,
solemnly.  "It does seem like a new way of raising the wind.  It ain't
books nor engravings."

"What about being Mr Robert's medical man, though.  What do you make of
that?"

"Well, Orthur, putting that and that together--his quick, jerky, excited
way, and his fierce-looking eyes, and his ignorance of Society etiquette
as to strangers calling, and wanting to see everybody, just as if he was
one of the oldest friends of the family--I should say that he's one of
those chaps who get a few names o' people out o' Directories, and then
goes and calls."

"For swindling and picking up anything as is not out of his reach, sir,
or about money?"

"Well, say a bit touched in the head, Orthur."  The butler put his hand
to his throat to try whether the tie of his white cravat was in its
place, and looked up the street and down, acts imitated exactly by his
lieutenant, and for some minutes nothing more was said.  Then the
footman in very respectful tones--

"Ever try your 'and, Mr Roach, sir, at any of those gambling shops
abroad?"

"Well, once or twice, Orthur," said the butler, relaxing a little to his
junior.  "I was with a young nobleman out at Homburg and Baden and one
or two other places."

"And how did you get on, sir?"

"Oh, I made a few louis, Orthur, and I should have made more if we had
stopped, I daresay."

"Lor'!  How I should like to have a bit of a try there, sir," said the
footman, eagerly.

"You would, Orthur, eh?  You mean it?"

"Mean it, sir?  I should just think I should.  That's what Mr Robert's
after now, I'll bet; and look at the money, Mr Dennis--Mr Paddy--
pockets over his flutters there, let alone over every race and event
coming off.  Ah, it's fine to be them."

"Well, yes, Orthur, my good lad, I suppose they do pretty well.  You
see, if I or you were disposed to put a sov'rin or two on the next
event--"

"Half-a-crown's 'bout my figure, sir."

"Ah, well, say half-a-crown, Orthur; it may turn up a pound, or two
pound, or three pound.  It might even be a fiver.  But with them when
they win, it's hundreds or thousands."

"Ah!" ejaculated the footman, smacking his lips.

"By the way, there's Newmarket coming again next week."

"Yes, sir; got anything on?"

"Well, no, not yet, Orthur; perhaps I may."

"Do, sir, and I will, too.  Mr Roach, sir," whispered the young man
behind his hand, as the butler turned upon him with a look of reproof
for his assumption, "Black Pepper, sir."

"What, my good boy!  Why, that horse is at fifty to one."

"That's it, sir; and I'm going half-a-crown on him."

"Better keep it in your pocket, my lad," said the butler, blandly.

"No, sir; I think not.  I've got the tip."

"Eh?" said the butler, eagerly.  "Where from?"

"I heered Mr Paddy tell Mr James, sir, that it was a sure thing, and
Mr James gave him gold out of his cash-box in the lib'ry--little rolls
out of that big tin box of his.  I didn't hear no more, but that was
quite enough for me."

"Eh?  Yes," said the butler, dropping his superior way of speaking to
whisper confidentially, "it will do for me too, Orthur.  I'll give you
half-a-sovereign to put on at the same time.  Let me see, Orthur, we're
not very busy this afternoon, and I shall be about to answer the door.
Come down to the pantry, and I'll give you the money, and you can go and
make the bets before they get to a different price."

"All right, sir, I will," said the footman excitedly.  "Beg pardon,
sir," he continued, as the door closed and they stood together in the
elaborately-furnished hall.  "Yes, Orthur, what is it?"

"Could you oblige me with half-a-crown, sir, till I get my wages?"

"Humph!  Well, my lad, I do make it a rule never to lend money, but
seeing that it is you, Orthur, a lad that I can trust--"

"Oh, yes, sir, you may trust me."

"I will let you have the money."

"Thank ye, sir, and I'll go at once."



CHAPTER TWELVE.

A FATAL ATTRACTION.

"You, Isabel dear!" cried Laura one day, as the visitor whom she had
looked upon as a sister was shown into the room.

"Yes, dear, I felt obliged to come.  Don't, pray don't be ashamed of me
and think me weak," pleaded the poor girl, as they embraced and then sat
down together upon the couch.

"How can you say such things!" cried Laura, warmly, as she passed her
arm about her friend's waist.

"Because I feel that I deserve it, dear.  I know how weak and foolish I
am.  I have been watching for an hour till I saw him go out."

"You have been watching, Bel?"

"Yes, dear; from a brougham with the blinds partly drawn down.  We are
in town now.  Papa says I must have a change, and we are staying here
for a few days before they take me over to Paris.  Laura dear, I was
obliged to come.  Don't betray me, please, to anyone.  They would be so
angry if they knew, and say that I was shameless.  I suppose I am, dear,
but I hope you can sympathise with me a little."

"Not a little, Bel dear," cried Laura, warmly, and Isabel flung her arms
about her friend's neck, buried her face in her breast and sobbed
violently for a few minutes before she raised her thin white face and
said quite calmly, with a piteous smile on her lip--

"There, I told you how weak I was.  I feel so much better now.  I would
have given anything for days and days to cry like that, but I could not.
My head has been hot, and my brain seemed dry and burnt up.  Now I can
talk.  But tell me, is--is he likely to come back?"

"No," said Laura, shaking her head.  "He will not be back till night,
and even if he did return he would not come here, but go straight to his
room and shut himself in."

"Has--has he told you anything?"

"No, dear; he hardly ever speaks either to me or aunt.  He did say that
he was kept away to attend an important patient."

"Yes, yes, of course.  That must be it."

Laura was silent.  Aunt Grace had sown a seed in her heart which had
begun to grow rapidly, in spite of her sisterly efforts to check it as a
noxious weed.

"Well, why don't you speak?" cried the visitor, sharply.

"Because I have nothing to say."

Isabel flushed up, and Laura stared at her, wondering whether this was
the placid, gentle girl whom she had known so long.

"Then why have you nothing to say?" cried Isabel, angrily.  "He is your
brother, and if all the world is turning against him, is it not your
duty to defend--to try and find excuses for his conduct?"

"Isabel!"

"Well, I mean what I say.  It is quite enough that I turn against him
and that everything between us is at an end.  I hate him now, for he has
used me cruelly, and it seems to have changed my nature; but I cannot
forget the past, and would not be malignant and cruel too."

Laura took the hand that was resigned to her, and the pair sat in
silence for some minutes.

Isabel's lips moved several times, as if she were about to speak, but no
words came, till, with a desperate effort, she said in a husky whisper--

"Have you seen her, Laura?"

"I?  No!" cried the girl, who was startled by the question.

"But you know she is beautiful, and rich, and aristocratic?"

"I only know what aunt has said, dear; but if she were the most
beautiful woman that ever breathed, it is no excuse for Fred treating
you as he did."

"I don't know," said Isabel, sadly.  "He is wise and clever, while I
have often felt that it was more than I could expect for a man like him
to care for me, so simple and homely as I am."

"Fred ought to have been only too proud to have won such a girl," cried
Laura, sharply, but her visitor shook her head.

"It was only a brief fancy of his, dear, and as soon as the right woman
came across his path he forgot me.  Well, I am patient if I am not
proud, for I cannot resent it, dear, only try to bear it, for I loved
him very dearly; but it is very hard for the little romance of one's
poor homely life to be so soon brought to an end."

"It was cruel--cruel in the extreme," cried Laura, angrily.  "I would
not have believed that my brother, whom I almost worshipped, could have
behaved so ill."

"These things are a mystery," said Isabel, gently; "and perhaps it is
better that it should have happened now than later on when we were
married.  But tell me about him, dear.  Has he settled down to seeing
his patients again?  You wrote to me saying that he was neglecting
everything."

"So he is, nearly everything, now.  Bel dear, I will not be so hard upon
him any more.  You must be right, that he cannot help himself, or he
would never have behaved so ill.  He must be mad."

Isabel clung to her with a startled look in her eyes.

"It is the only way in which I can account for the change," continued
Laura, "for I will not believe what Aunt Grace says, that all men are
bad at heart.  If they are, women must be as wicked too."

Isabel shivered slightly.

"Tell me about what he does now."

"I can't, dear," cried Laura, piteously.  "I seem to know so little.
Only that he goes out soon after breakfast, and does not come back till
dinner-time, and so wet sometimes that he must have been walking about
the streets for hours."

Isabel sighed.

"I've tried--oh, how I've tried!--to win his confidence; but he says
nothing, only turns away, and goes out.  It is just as if he had lost
something of which he is always in search, and every day he grows more
moody and strange."

"Then he is ill--mentally ill," cried Isabel, excitedly.  "I knew that
there must be some excuse for his strange behaviour.  Laura dear, my
heart has misgiven me from the first.  It is all so directly opposed to
his nature and character.  I will not believe that he could be so false
to everything that he has said to me."

Laura was silent again, and Isabel's careworn face flushed once more.

"You are not sisterly and true," she cried.  "The world is censorious
enough without those who are nearest and dearest to us turning away and
becoming our enemies."

"I am not Fred's enemy, Bel," said Laura, gently.

"Then why are you so hard against him?"

"Because I feel that by his conduct he has put us all to shame."

"Yes, all to shame--all to shame, my dear," cried Aunt Grace, who had
entered the room unnoticed.  "It's a wicked, wicked world; but it's very
good of you to come and see us, my dear, heart-broken as we are.  You
have come to stop a few days, of course?"

"I?  Oh, no no, no.  We are staying in town," said Isabel, hurriedly,
"and I must go directly."

"I am sorry to hear that," said Aunt Grace in rather an offended tone.
"I did not think you would turn away from us in our trouble, Isabel; I
thought better of you."

"I turn away from you and Laura, Aunt Grace?  Oh no, no, no."

"I'm glad to hear it, my dear, because if you would stay we should be
very glad."

"Oh, auntie!" whispered Laura, "impossible."

"It is not impossible, Laura," cried the old lady; "and I beg that you
will not interfere.  Isabel, my child, I shall be very glad indeed if
you will stay, and you need not be at all afraid of meeting that
dissolute, dissipated young man."

"Mrs Crane"--began Isabel, agitatedly, but she was interrupted at once.

"No, no, no, my dear; pray don't apologise and make excuses.  Laura and
I would be very pleased, and we see nothing whatever of Frederick now
from breakfast-time to dinner.  I don't know where he spends his days,
but he is after no good."

"Aunt dear, I really must interfere once more," cried Laura, warmly.
"It is, as I said, impossible for Isabel to stoop to meet Fred again;
and as to staying in the house--my dear aunt, of what can you be
thinking?"

"That we are beginning to live in evil times, Laura," cried the old
lady, indignantly, "when little girls so far forget the respect due to
their elders as to speak as you did just now.  I ought to be the best
judge, miss, of what is correct, if you please."

"Pray say no more, Mrs Crane," cried Isabel, earnestly.  "I must go
back to the hotel where we are staying.  It would indeed be impossible
for me to visit here now."

"Oh, very well, my dear, very well," cried the old lady, drawing herself
up.  "I can see very plainly that you have allowed yourself to be
impressed by what Laura has said.  Young people will hold together, and
think that they are wiser than their elders.  There is one comfort,
though, for us old folk: you all find out your mistake."

"Good-bye, dear Mrs Crane," said Isabel, advancing with open hands.

"Good-day, Miss Lee," said the old lady, frigidly, as she held out her
fingers limply.

But Isabel did not take them.  She laid her hands upon her shoulders,
and, with tears in her eyes, kissed her affectionately twice.

There was magic in the touch, for in an instant she was snatched to the
old lady's breast and kissed passionately again and again.

"Oh, my dear, my dear!" was sobbed; "I didn't think I was such an
ill-tempered, wicked old woman.  Pray, pray forgive me.  I don't know
what comes to me sometimes.  And you in such sorrow and pain!  Oh, that
wicked, miserable, faithless boy!  Something will come upon him some day
like a judgment."

"Oh no, no, no!" cried Isabel, wildly.  "Don't--pray don't say that."

"But I have said it, my dear.  Ah, well, I won't think it, then, any
more, for I don't see what greater judgment could fall upon him than
losing you."

Isabel could not trust herself to speak, but hurried out of the room and
downstairs with Laura.

"Don't speak to me, dear; let me go now," whispered the poor girl,
faintly.  "I am weak and ill, and can bear no more now.  I ought not to
have come, but the impulse was too strong.  Good-bye, dear sister,
good-bye!"

The two girls were locked in a loving embrace, and then, with Isabel
turning sick with dread, they sprang apart, for there was the rattle of
a latch-key at the door, it was thrown open, and Chester strode in.

He stood for a few moments aghast, as he saw Isabel recoil from him.
Then, drawing down her veil, she tottered out, and was half-way to the
brougham, drawn up by the kerb, before he recollected himself and sprang
after her to open the door and try to hand her in.  But she shrank from
him as if in dread, and gathering her veil closely over her white, drawn
face, she sank back in the carriage, and her betrothed stood gazing
after her as she was rapidly driven away.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

WORKERS AT A TRAIN.

"Of course, Orthur, the different grades in this service have to be kept
distinct, and the inferiors have to look up to their superiors just as
it is in the army."

"Oh yes, sir, of course," said the gentleman addressed, squeezing his
left eyelids together slightly, unseen by the pompous individual
addressing him; "but you can't say as I haven't always been respectful
and kept my place."

"Always, Orthur, always, and that's why I come down a little to you and
meet you on equal terms when we are alone, for I have always found you a
very respectable, intelligent young man.  What's that chap staring at?"

"Us, seemingly, Mr Roach, sir," said the younger man, with a grin.
"Book canvasser, that's what he is; been taking orders of the old chap
next door, but didn't like the look of us, and didn't try it on.  I had
a peep through the open door there one day, and it was packed full o'
books like a warehouse, sir."

"Yes, yes, but never mind that," said the butler, impatiently.  "But as
I was saying, I've always found you a very respectable young man,
Orthur, and I'm disposed to trust you.  Service is all very well,
Orthur, but there's no saving money; and when one sees these
bookmakers--coarse, beefy-faced butcher or publican sort of fellows--
keeping their broughams and driving their phe-aytons, it is tempting."

"Tempting, Mr Roach," said the young footman in a quick whisper; "it
gives me the agonies.  Look at the guv'nors.  Why, I met a young chap as
I used to know when he was a page in buttons--he's a six-footer now.
Well, he says he knowed our people ten years ago when they were regular
hard up.  His people used to visit 'em.  And now look at 'em.  They're
on with some of the knowing ones, and putting money on all the good
things.  Always winning, they must be.  Why, if you and me, Mr Roach,
was to put the pot on as they do we should be rich men in five years."

"Don't talk so loud, Orthur; some of the women may be up at the
windows."

"All right, sir.  But don't you see?"

"Yes, I see; it's right enough, Orthur, when you win; but I look at the
risks."

"Warn't much risk over that last flutter, sir.  Put down five shillings
a-piece and took up each of us a tenner."

"Yes, Orthur, that was very nice; but it mightn't always happen so."

"Why not, sir?  They always win, and all we have to do is to back the
same as they do--take their tips, and it's as safe as safe."

"H'm!  Well, they do always seem to win, Orthur," said the butler,
slowly, and he indulged in a pinch of snuff as he stood on the step.

"Seem, sir?  They do.  I believe if it warn't for the odds they'd be as
poor as church mice."

"But how are we to get the tips, my son?"

"Keep our ears open when we're waiting table, sir, or another way."

"The same as you got that last one?"

"That's it, sir.  Don't do them any harm, and if a gent leaves his
betting-book in the breast-pocket of the coat as has to go down to be
brushed, I don't see anything in it.  'Tain't robbery."

"H'm!" coughed the butler, glancing behind him; "no, it isn't robbery,
Orthur."

"Lor'!  Mr Roach, sir; it's as easy as easy," whispered the footman,
eagerly.  "I can't think what we've been about--I beg pardon, sir--what
I've been about all these months not to have put a little money on here
and there.  Want o' capital mostly, sir, but with all doo respect to my
superiors, sir, if you and me was to make a sort o' Co. of it, and I was
to tell you all I heard and found out by accident like, and you was to
do the same with me, then we could talk it over together in the pantry,
and settle how much we'd put on the race."

The butler frowned, shook his head, and looked dissatisfied.

"I know it's asking a deal of you, Mr Roach, sir, but it would only be
like business and I should never presume, you know."

"I must think about it, Orthur; I must think about it," said the butler,
importantly.

"Do, sir; and I wouldn't lose no time about it.  You see, we can't do
much when we're down at The Towers, and the Randan Stakes is on next
week."

"H'm, yes," said the butler, relaxing a little, and condescending to a
smile.  "Orthur, I've got a sovereign on the favourite."

"You have, sir?  What! on Ajax?"

"That's right, my lad; and I advise you to put half-a-crown or five
shillings on 'im too.  There's a tip for you."

"Yah!" ejaculated the footman in disgust.  "I wouldn't put the price of
a glass of ale on that 'orse."

"Eh, why?" cried the butler, looking startled.

"'Cause Ajax won't run."

"What?  How do you know?"

"I heard the guv'nor tell the little 'un so last night, and that he was
to back Ducrow."

"Phew!" whistled the butler.

"Put two quids on Ducrow, sir, and it'll be all right.  I've got ten
shillings on, and I'd have made it two tens if I'd had a friend who'd
ha' lent me the coin."

"Orthur," whispered the butler, effusively; "you're a good lad, and I'll
lend you the money."

"You will, sir?  And go on as I said?"

The butler nodded.

"Carriage, sir," said the footman, sharply, and they both drew back into
the hall ready for the brougham which was driven up, and from which two
ladies descended.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

FACE TO FACE AGAIN.

"That's the house," said Chester to himself; "I can swear to it.
Highcombe Street, Number 44."

He laughed in his excitement--an unpleasant, harsh laugh which startled
him; for as a doctor he had had to deal with strange patients beside the
one at the mysterious house, and he knew pretty well how a man acted who
had been overwrought and whose nerves were in that state which borders
upon insanity.

"This will not do," he muttered.  "I must be careful," and, trying to
pull himself together and make his plans in a matter-of-fact way, his
startled feeling grew into a sensation of alarm, and he awakened fully
now to the fact that the strain from which he had suffered had been too
great.

"I must pull up short," he said to himself.  "This last month I have
been acting like a madman.  Well, love--the real passion--is a kind of
madness, and I could not have acted otherwise with the horror of the
position in which I left her upon my mind."

As he walked home, though, he grew cooler, and made up his mind to watch
the house until he obtained an interview with Marion.

He shrugged his shoulders as he entered his own door, and shut himself
in his consulting-room, to sit for an hour trying to grow calmer; but
there was a wild throbbing in his excited brain which he could not
master, and try how he would, even to the extent of taking a sedative,
he could not keep down the feeling of mad exultation at having at last
discovered the place.

"I shall see her again," he muttered; "I shall see her again!"

A pair of soft dark eyes in a sweet, pale face seemed to rise
reproachfully before him, but he mentally turned from the piteous look.

"I cannot help it.  Fate--fate," he muttered; and at last, after
mastering the intense desire to rush off and try and bribe the servants
into speaking, he grew calmer, and obeyed the summons sent by the maid,
joining his aunt and sister in the drawing-room, and afterwards formally
taking the old lady down to the silent meal.

Poor Aunt Grace's plan was not succeeding.

"Don't speak to him, Laura," she had said.  "It will show how we despise
him for his disgraceful conduct, and make him the sooner come creeping
to our knees in sackcloth and ashes."

But the days had glided on, and Chester had bought no sackcloth and had
not told the cook to sift him any ashes.  For the perfect silence with
which he was treated was the one great satisfaction now of his life.

That night he found his sister watching him once, and as he met her eyes
there was for the moment a feeling of uneasiness akin to remorse; but it
passed off directly, swept away by the exciting thought that he had at
last attained the goal of his desires, and must now sooner or later
encounter Marion.

A week then passed, and he was still no farther, when one evening as he
turned into Highcombe Street, he saw a carriage at the door; and a
minute later three ladies in evening dress came and stepped in, the
footman mounted to his place, and the horses sprang off.

"The brougham I was fetched in," muttered Chester, and hailing a cab he
said sharply, "Follow that carriage at a short distance till I tell you
to stop."

He was not surprised at the direction taken by the carriage in front,
which was kept just in sight till it turned into Bow Street, when
Chester signed to his driver to stop, and sprang out, turning the corner
just in time to see the carriage slowly passing in its turn through the
gateway leading under the portico of the opera.

He followed to find that the occupants had alighted, and upon entering
the lobby he caught sight of the back of Marion's dress as she swept
through one of the great baize-covered doors.

Here there was a check.  The door-keeper held out his hand for the
customary ticket, and Chester turned impatiently away, to go to the
box-office, when for the first time it struck him that he was not in
evening dress, and could not pass into the stalls.

He stood biting his lips, and hesitating as to whether he should take a
cab back home, to dress, and return, but he felt that he could not do
that.  A dozen things might happen to prevent his catching sight of
Marion again; and snatching at the first idea that came, he took a
ticket for the upper part of the house, hired an opera-glass and then
climbed nearly to the top.

Here upon taking a seat he came out again in despair.  Even with the aid
of the glass he found he could not get a glimpse of a third of the
house, and feeling that at all costs he must get into the stalls in as
central a position as possible, he descended again to the box-office,
and secured a stall nearly in the centre of the third row.

Having made sure of his seat, he hurried back to Raybeck Square
calculating that he could be back within an hour.

Bidding the cabman wait, he sprang up to his room, conscious of the fact
that Aunt Grace was watching; and after his hurried change he knew by
the ajar door of the drawing-room that she was there watching still.

But this passed almost unnoticed in the excitement, and once more he was
in the cab, eager and with his imagination running riot.

"What an idiot I was not to ask the number of their box," he said to
himself.

He did ask as soon as he reached the opera house, and found it was
almost central on the grand tier; but after taking his place he had no
opportunity for turning round till the end of the act in progress, and
he sat trembling with excitement and wondering whether Marion had
recognised him as he entered.

The stage, the music, the house crowded with a fashionable assembly,
were non-existent to Chester, as he sat there gazing in imagination at a
face--the face of the woman who from their first encounter seemed to
have taken entire possession of his faculties, enchaining his spirit so
that he seemed to live and breathe for her alone.

"Will this wretched singing never end?" he said to himself, as one of
the great Italian singers filled the vast place with the clear,
vibrating tones of her voice.  "The fools!  The idiots!" he muttered
angrily as the plaudits rang out at the end of the scene; and then he
sat waiting till at last the drop scene descended and, lorgnette in
hand, he rose and, to avoid the air of being too sudden, he slowly swept
the grand tier of boxes, beginning on his right near the stage, feeling
that Marion must be watching him, and profoundly unconscious of the fact
that scores to right and left were doing the same.

When the field of his glass drew nearer to the box upon which he sought
to focus it, he grew slower in his movements, as if desirous of delaying
the supreme delight for a few moments longer, but at last he stopped
short, gazing with every fibre thrilling at the beautiful, imperious
face which held him as if fascinated.

The faces of her companions were to right and left, each occupying a
corner of the box, while Marion was seated a little back, looking dull
and preoccupied, while she slowly waved a large black fan, which threw
her face into partial shadow from time to time.

For the first minute, as he drank in the various beauties of the
countenance which seemed to be so near, Chester felt that she must be
seeing him, but directly after he knew that she was looking dull and
listless, and as if she felt the scene before her wearisome in the
extreme.

There could be no mistake.  It was she.  There was not such another face
in the wide world; and yet he hesitated to go round to the box, asking
himself whether he could--whether he had any right to force himself upon
the notice of those who had plainly enough their reasons for wishing to
cut all connection with him as soon as his patient was out of danger.

"They may wish to, but she cannot.  It is impossible.  She must be ready
to place her hand in mine.  Perhaps even now that dull, weary look may
be connected with our sudden parting.  Who knows?  Yes, come what may, I
will go."

Chester passed slowly along the row and out into the entry, went up the
broad stairs, and with his heart increasing its pulsations rapidly, he
stopped at last at the door of a box, drew a deep breath, and then
tapped lightly.

There was no reply and he tapped again.

This time there was a movement within, the catch was drawn back, the
door thrown open, and a deep voice exclaimed--

"How late you are!  Hallo!"

Chester had been in the act of stepping in, but paused on the threshold,
completely taken aback at finding a gentleman in the box, while the
speaker, who had not risen, but leaned back, balancing himself on two
legs of his chair, fell over side-wise in his astonishment, but saved
himself by catching at the partition.

He sprang up the next moment, as Chester recovered himself and advanced,
but neither of the three ladies, who had turned, made the slightest
movement towards acknowledging him, and left it to their companion to
speak.

"May I ask whom you wish to see, sir?"

"Certainly," replied Chester, quietly, "Mrs James, Mrs Dennis, Miss
Clareborough--"

No one moved.  He might have been addressing so many statues, as he went
on--

"And Mr Dennis Clareborough."

"You seem to have our names right, sir," said the stalwart young fellow,
shortly, "but I have not the pleasure of knowing you."

"Indeed!" said Chester.  "Is your memory so short, sir?  May I ask after
your cousin's wound?"

"Certainly, if you like, sir," replied the young man, with a little
laugh, "but I'm afraid I can't tell you."

Chester felt nettled and turned to the lady in the centre, who sat
looking over the back of her chair.

"Perhaps Miss Marion Clareborough will tell me how her brother is
progressing?"

"Dennis," said one of the ladies, before any reply could be made, "is
this a friend of yours?  If so, introduce us."

"Friend of mine?  Hang it, no!  Gentleman has got into the wrong box.
Never saw him before in my life.  What number did you want, sir?"

"This," said Chester, sternly, as he looked the young man fiercely in
the eyes.  "Perhaps Miss Clareborough will speak.  Believe me, I took
great interest in your brother's case.  Can I see him again?"

The lady he addressed turned to one of her companions and whispered a
few words, whereupon Mrs James said coldly--

"Will you help this gentleman to find the box he is in search of,
Dennis?  The place is so dark now the curtain is down, and he does not
see the mistake he has made."

"No, that's it," said the young man.  "Ah, here you are, then, at last,"
he cried, as the entrance was darkened by another figure.  "Come in.
This gentleman wants to find some friends of his, and he has come to
this box by mistake."

"Indeed!" and Chester at that one word felt the blood surge up to his
temples, and a fierce sensation of passion began to make his nerves
tingle.

"Well," continued the speaker, "it's very easy, dear boy.  Places are so
confoundedly dark.  Couldn't get here sooner, girls; man detained me at
the club--I beg pardon, sir; the box-keeper could no doubt help you."

The cool, contemptuous manner of the man took away Chester's breath, and
he felt himself almost compelled to give place.

"Thanks, much," said the newcomer, drawing slightly aside for Chester to
back out.  "Don't apologise.  They ought to light up the house more when
the curtain is down."

The next moment the door was thrust to, the catch snapped, and as
Chester stood there, undecided what to do, he could hear the voices
within carrying on a conversation which sounded so calm and
matter-of-fact that in his excited state the listener asked himself
whether he was in his right senses, and at last hurried away, to pause
in the refreshment-room and drink off a glass of brandy to steady his
nerves.

He did not return to his seat in the stalls, but stopped in the entry,
where, invisible in the gloom, partially hidden by one of the curtains,
he stood using his glass upon the occupants of the box he had so lately
quitted.

As he stood there, feeling half stunned, he went over the words that had
passed and the action of the inmates, forgetting that all was quite
consistent with the conduct he might have expected from people whose
whole behaviour had been mysterious and strange.

At last he saw a movement among those he was watching, and, desperate
almost with rage and despair, he hurried round to station himself in the
lobby, where he felt certain that the party must pass.  But they were so
long in coming that he was about to seek another doorway.

Then he saw that he was right, for the big, bluff-looking brother and
cousin came by without seeing him, spoke to the footman Chester had seen
at the house, and then returned, as if to join their party.

A few minutes later they came out slowly amongst the crowd, the tide
turning them quite to the outside, so that they were close to him who
watched them intently, as if in doubt of his own sanity, wondering
whether he could have made any mistake.

"No," he whispered to himself, as he fixed his eyes on the beautiful
woman, upon whose arm he could have laid his hand, so close was she to
him as she passed.

It was as if his steady gaze influenced her, for when she was just
abreast she turned her head quickly, and her eyes met his full as she
rested her hand upon the stalwart young fellow's arm.

Chester's look seemed to fascinate her, for her eyes were fixed and
strange in those brief moments.  Then she passed on, gazing straight
before her.  There was no start, no sign of the slightest emotion.  It
was simply the inquiring look of one who seemed to fancy he was the
personage who had made his appearance in their box, otherwise one whom
she had never before seen.

The impulse was strong upon Chester to follow, but for quite a minute he
stood feeling as if he had been stunned.

Then, with a strange, harsh utterance, he forced himself roughly through
the well-dressed crowd in his endeavours to follow the party, but weeks
of anxiety and abnormal excitement were taking their toll at last; a
sudden giddiness attacked him, and with a heavy groan he reeled and fell
in the midst of the pleasure-seeking throng.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

AUNT GRACE'S CURE.

Chester was borne into the box-office, and a medical man sent for, under
whose ministrations he recovered consciousness, and soon after was able
to declare who he was and his ability to return home unaided.

In the short conversation, the doctor, upon learning that his patient
was a fellow-practitioner, took upon himself to utter a few words of
warning.

"Mustn't trifle with this sort of thing, my friend," he said.  "You know
that as well as I can tell you, eh?"

"Yes, yes," said Chester, irritably; "I'll take more care.  I have been
over-doing it lately, but," he added, with a curious laugh, "you see I
was taking a little relaxation to-night."

"Humph!  Yes, I see," said the doctor, watching him curiously.  "Well,
you feel that you can go home alone?"

"Oh yes; see me into a cab, please.  Thanks for all you have done.  Only
a touch of vertigo."

"`Only a touch of vertigo,'" said the strange doctor, as he saw the
hansom driven off.  "`Only a touch of vertigo' means sometimes the first
step towards a lunatic asylum."

"Ah!" muttered Chester, while being driven homewards, "people look at me
as if I were going wrong in my head.  I wonder whether I am."

He laughed as he let himself in and heard a rustle on the stairs.
"Watching again," he said to himself.  "And they think I'm going wrong,
I suppose.  But how strange!  That utter denial of all knowledge of me.
Even she!"

He went into his room, and sat thinking of the incidents of the day and
evening for some hours before throwing himself upon his bed, but was
down at the usual time in the morning, partook of the unsocial breakfast
and rose almost without saying a word.

"Yes, what is it?" said Chester, sharply, for Laura hurried to his side
and laid her hand upon his arm.  "Money for housekeeping?"

"No--no!" cried his sister, angrily, and there she paused.

"Well, speak, then; don't stop me.  I am busy this morning."

"I must stop you, Fred," cried Laura, passionately.  "We cannot go on
like this."

"Why?" he said calmly.  "Because we are brother and sister.  We have
always been as one together.  You have had no secrets from me.  I have
had none from you.  I have always been so proud of my brother's love for
me, but now all at once everything comes to an end.  You withhold your
confidence."

"No; my confidence, perhaps, for the time being," he said gravely; "not
my love from you.  God forbid."

"But you do, Fred."

"No; it is more the other way on," he replied.  "You have withheld your
love from me, and checked any disposition I might have felt to confide
in you."

"Fred!"

"Don't deny it," he said quietly.  "Since I was called away so
strangely, and kept away against my will--"

"Against your will!" cried Laura, scornfully.

"Hah!" he cried, "it is of no use to argue with you, my child.  Poor old
aunt has so thoroughly imbued you with her doctrines of suspicion that
everything I say will be in vain."

"Imbued me with her suspicions!" cried Laura, angrily.  "That is it;
because I am quite a girl still you treat me as if I were a child.  Do
you--oh, I cannot say it!--yes, I will; I am your sister, and it is my
duty to try and save you from something which will cause you regret to
the end of your days.  Do you dare to deny that you have got into some
wretched entanglement--something which has suddenly turned you half
mad?"

"No," he said quietly.  "That is so."

"Then how can you go on like this?  You have broken poor Isabel's heart,
estranged everybody's love from you, and are running headlong to ruin.
Fred--brother, for all our sakes, stop before it is too late."

He looked at her mournfully, took her hand and kissed it, and with a
passionate burst of sobbing she flung her arms about his neck and clung
there.

"Then you do repent, Fred?  You will go there no more.  Listen, dear; I
forgive you everything now, because you are going to be my true, brave,
noble brother again, and after a time--some day--Isabel will forgive you
too; for she does love you still, Fred, in spite of all.  There--there,"
she cried, kissing him again and again, "it is all over now."

Chester loosened her hands from his neck and shook his head sadly.

"No, Laury," he said, "it is not all over now."

"What!" she cried quickly.  "You will not--you cannot go back now."

"Yes," he said, "even if you do not forgive me, I must."

"Fred!"

"Look here, little one," he said wearily; "you have grown to think and
act like a woman, and you complain that I do not confide in you.  Well,
I will be frank with you to some extent.  Laura dear, I am not my own
master.  I cannot do as you wish."

"Fred, you must."

"Say that to some poor creature who is smitten with a terrible mental
complaint; tell him he must be ill no longer, but cast off the ailment.
What will he reply?"

He paused for an answer, but his sister stood gazing at him without a
word.

"He will tell you that he would do so gladly, but that it is
impossible."

"But this is not impossible, Fred," cried Laura; "and you are again
treating me like a child.  Yes, I have begun to think like a woman, and
though it may sound shameless I will speak out.  Do you think that we do
not know that all this is wicked dissipation?"

He laughed bitterly, as he pressed his hand to his weary head.

"You do not know--you do not know."

"Yes," cried Laura, embracing him again; "I know that my poor brother
has yielded to some temptation, but I know, too, that it only needs a
strong, brave, manly effort to throw it all off; and then we might be
happy once more."

He took her face between his hands and looked down at her lovingly for a
few minutes, then kissed her brow tenderly.

"No," he said; "you do not understand, my child.  I am not master of my
actions now."

He hurried from the room.  Then she heard the door close, and his
footsteps hurrying up the stairs followed by the banging of his door.

"Lost, lost!" she wailed; and she threw herself sobbing upon the couch.

"Well!" said a sharp voice, and the girl started up and tried hard to
remove all traces of her tears.

"I did not hear you come in, aunt dear."

"Perhaps not, my love, but I have been waiting and listening.  Well,
what does he say about coming home in that state last night?  I'm sure,
my dear, that was wine!  Is he going to be a good boy now?"

Laura uttered a passionate sob.

"Oh no, aunt, oh no!" she cried.

"Because if he is and will repent very seriously, I may some day,
perhaps, forgive him.  But I must have full assurance that he is really
sorry for all his wickedness.  What did he say, child?"

"Nothing, aunt.  It is hopeless--hopeless."

"Then I was right at first.  He has gone quite out of his mind, and I
fully believe that it is our duty to have him put under restraint."

"Aunt!" cried Laura, wildly.

"Yes, my dear.  That is the only cure for such a complaint as his.  A
private asylum, Laury dear."

"Oh, aunt, impossible!  How can you say anything so horrible?"

"My dearest child, nothing can be horrible that is to do a person good.
It is quite evident to me that he can no longer control his actions."

"No, he said so," sobbed Laura.

"Hah!  I knew I was right.  Well, then, my dear, we must think it over
seriously.  You see, the weakness must have come on suddenly.  How, he
and somebody else best know," said the lady, with asperity.  "You see,
attacks like that are only temporary, and his would, I am sure, yield to
proper treatment.  Now let me see what ought to be the first steps?
This is a valuable practice, if he has not completely wrecked it by his
wicked dissipation, and I think it ought to be our first duty, my dear,
to get a permanent _locum tenens_--a man of some eminence, who might be
induced to come if some hope were held out to him of a future
partnership.  Then we could consult him about what to do, for I believe
certificates have to be obtained before a patient is sent to an asylum."

"Aunt!  Are you going mad too?" cried Laura, angrily.

"Laura! my child!"

"Well, then, you should not say such horrid things about Fred.  Consult
a perfect stranger about putting him into a lunatic asylum!  Oh, shame!"

"Shame to you, Laura, for daring to speak to me as you do.  Do you want
him to have one of those what-do-you-call-thems?--Para-para-para-dox--
no, no, paroxysms; and then do as mad people always do, turn against
those they love best?  Do you want him to come some night and murder us
both in our beds?"

"No, aunt, of course not," said Laura, growing more cool and
matter-of-fact now.

"Then do not from any false sentiment begin to oppose me.  A few months
under proper treatment in a good private asylum, and he would come back
completely strengthened and cured.  Now, let me see; I think under the
circumstances that we ought first of all, my dear, to take poor dear
Isabel into our confidences."

"Aunt!" cried Laura; "if you dare to tell Isabel that you think such a
dreadful thing of poor Fred I don't know what I will not do."

"Dare, Laura, dare?" said Aunt Grace, sternly.

"Yes, aunt, dare!" cried the girl.  "If you do I'll tell poor Bel that
it is one of your hallucinations, and that you have got softening of the
brain."

"Laura!" shrieked the old lady, as she sank back in the nearest chair.
"Oh, that I should live to hear such words!  You horrible, abandoned
child!"

"I'm very sorry, auntie," said Laura, coolly, "but you always impressed
upon me that I should tell the truth.  You must be getting imbecile, or
you would never have proposed such a dreadful thing."

"Laura!"

"Yes, aunt; it is a sign, too, that you know it is coming on.  You must
have been thinking of madhouses, and that made you speak."

"Worse and worse!" wailed the old lady.  "You must be getting as bad as
your brother.  Actually siding with him now!"

"No, aunt, only pitying him, for I am beginning to believe that he is
suffering worse than we are."



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

A DANGEROUS CASE.

"It's all over," said Chester to himself.  "That doctor's correct, and I
must not trifle or I shall be laid by with something wrong in the head.
That drugging began it, and I'm not right.  I won't give up the quest,
but I must get square first, and I can't do so here.  I'll pack up and
go on the Continent for a bit.  Change may make me able to think
consistently.  Now my brain is in a whirl."

He tried to reason calmly, and at last, not feeling in the humour to see
and explain to his sister, he wrote to her briefly, telling her that the
anxiety and worry of the case to which he had been called that night had
completely unhinged him, and he found that the only thing he could do to
recover his tone was to get right away for a time.  He was going, he
said, to see a colleague that morning, who would come and take charge of
the practice, and he would write again from abroad.

This done, he fastened down the envelope and left the letter upon the
table, after which he went to his room, threw a few necessaries into a
portmanteau, brought it down, with Aunt Grace carefully watching from
the top of the staircase, and sent the servant for a cab.

Five minutes later he was on his way to his club to consult the
time-tables and guide-book as to the route to take.

He was not long in deciding upon Tyrol as the starting-place for a long
mountain tramp.  There was a train at night, and without returning home
he would dine at the club and start from there.

He followed out the earlier portion of his programme, even to dining at
the club, but afterwards, upon entering the smoking-room and taking a
cigar, he found the place half full, and, longing for solitude, he went
out to stroll down the steps and into the Park for an hour, ending by
taking one of the seats under an old elm in the Mall and sitting back
thinking of all that had happened during the past few weeks.

He was once more going over the scenes by the wounded man's couch, and
seeing again the every movement and look of his anxious sister, when he
shrank back against the trunk of the great tree and let his chin sink
upon his breast, for there were steps just to the right, and two
gentlemen strolled by, one of them talking aloud angrily, and the
following words smote like blows upon the listener's ears--

"Look here, if you want to quarrel, say so, Paddy.  But you're no saint,
so don't you begin preaching morality.  I repeat I have taken a
tremendous fancy to her; what then?  As for Rob, curse him for a
miserable prig!  If it were not for the consequences I'm ready to wish
that the shot had ended it, and I swear I'll--"

The last words died out into the night air, and, save for the
preternaturally excited state of his brain, Chester would not have heard
so much.

He sat up, and saw the figures of the brothers, who had passed him,
growing indistinct as they went beyond the next lamp; and then he rose
and followed.

"`And I swear I'll--' what?" said Chester to himself.  "Shoot me?  Well,
let him.  There, it's all over.  I can't go away; I must see this out to
the very end."

Chester followed the pair with the full intention of demanding an
explanation and having a scene with the elder brother, for his
resentment seemed to be making the blood bubble up through his veins.
They were walking through the Palace Yard, and directly after they
crossed the road and went up St James's Street, talking angrily; and he
was just about to join them when he saw the younger turn angrily off
into the road, as if about to separate, but in an instant the elder had
him by the arm and after a faint resistance led him back on to the
pavement, where Chester was awaiting them.

"Mr Clareborough," he said sharply, and both brothers turned upon him
in surprise.

"Yes; what is it?" cried the elder.  "Oh, the man in the wrong box!
Come along, boy."

He turned short off, and before Chester could recover from his surprise,
the brothers had passed through the swinging doors of one of the
clubhouses and disappeared in the great hall.

Chester was about to follow, but checked himself upon the threshold as
the question arose in his mind, What for?

To demand an explanation of their conduct toward him.

Well, he felt that he might demand it, but he knew that they would
preserve the same attitude as before, and treat him with contempt--treat
him as if he were some half-witted being who claimed acquaintance; and
how could he get people to believe in his strange story--how could he
advance his position with respect to Marion?

He calmed down as quickly as he had grown excited and began to feel that
to force a quarrel in the club to which these men belonged could have
but one ending, that of the police being called in and his being
ejected.

"And what then?" he asked himself.  "Possibly the whole business would
be dragged into the police court, then into the daily papers, and if
Marion were ready to continue her intimacy with the man who had saved
her brother's life, would she not be hurt and annoyed with him for
forcing into publicity an affair which the conduct of all concerned
showed them to be eager to keep hushed up?"

Chester walked down St James's Street again, with the intention of
cooling his burning head in the quiet gloom of the Park; but he altered
his mind and turned off to his left, along Pall Mall, re-entered his
club and went up to the smoking-room, which proved to be a little more
full than before, but this did not trouble him now.  He sat down and
took a cigar and began smoking, thinking, trying to argue out the reason
for the strange behaviour of these Clareboroughs.  He could understand
that there had been a desperate quarrel, resulting in the use of the
revolver, and he was ready to grant that the elder brother's conduct
toward Marion had been the moving cause for that.  But he felt convinced
that there was something more behind; else why all the secrecy?

Here they were, a wealthy family, evidently moving in good society, and
living in a magnificently-appointed mansion; but during all the days of
his enforced stay, with the exception of the old housekeeper, he had not
seen a single servant, and nothing to suggest that any were in the
place.  That they kept domestics was plain enough, for he had since seen
the butler and footman.  Then, too, there had been the coachman who
drove the carriage that night, though he, as an out-door servant, might
easily have been kept in ignorance of all that took place in the house.
But where were the others, the staff which would be necessary for
carrying on such an establishment?

There was no answer to the question, even at the finishing of a second
cigar, and he gave it up, and then smiled to himself as he rose.

"How absurd!" he muttered.  "Everything else passed out of my head.  I
meant to cross to-night.  Well, it is not too late, is it?  Pish!  Two
hours.  Oh, impossible!  I cannot leave town.  How could I go knowing
that even now she may be praying for my help?"

Chester passed out again into the cool night, and involuntarily turned
in the direction of the Park, crossed it, and walked slowly toward
Highcombe Street, where, he hardly knew why, he began to promenade the
pavement on the opposite side of the road, stopping at last just inside
a doorway when a cab came sharply along; and his nerves began to thrill
as he saw it pulled up at the door of the mansion.

Two gentlemen sprang out, and while one paid the driver, the other
strolled up the steps, there was the rattle of the latch-key, the door
was flung wide, and from where he stood Chester had a glimpse of the
handsome hall, now looking sombre and strange with the lights half
turned down.

Directly after the door was closed, and the chimes of the Palace clock
rang out four times, followed by two deep, booming strokes on the great
cracked bell.

"Two o'clock!" thought Chester, as he walked along past the house,
fancying that there was a face at the open window of a room on the
second floor, but he could not be sure, and as he turned back it was
gone.

"Go abroad!" he said to himself.  "At such a time.  It would be
madness."

Then giving way to a sudden impulse, he hurried back to the front of the
house, went up to the door and rang the bell sharply.

"Fool!" he muttered.  "Why did I not speak to them then?  I will have an
explanation.  I have a right, and it is evident that I have the
whip-hand of them, or they would not act their parts like this."

He knew that he was wildly excited and doing a foolish thing, but his
actions were beyond his control now, and he was ready for Marion's sake
to take the maddest steps on her behalf, or he would not have stood at
that moment where he did.

"Too late," he muttered, as there was no reply.  "I've let my
opportunity slip."

But all the same he dragged sharply at the bell again, and as his hand
fell to his side the door was opened and he found himself face to face
with the man he sought.

"Yes, what is it?" cried James Clareborough, sharply.  "What! you again?
Here, what the devil--Who are you?  What do you want?"

"You," said Chester, firmly, "you and your brother.  I will have an
explanation with you both.  I will see--I will not be put off like
this."

"Confound him!" muttered James Clareborough between his teeth.

"Here, I say, old chap," growled his brother, who now appeared, "have
you been dining somewhere and over-doing it a bit?  Hadn't you better go
home quietly?  We don't want to whistle for a policeman and have you
locked up."

"You hold your tongue!" cried James Clareborough.  "I'll soon settle
with this gentleman.  Now then, my tipsy individual, you want a few
words with me--an explanation?"

"Yes and at once," cried Chester, beside himself with rage at the very
sight of the man whose conduct toward Marion absolutely maddened him.

As he spoke he pressed forward to enter, but the brothers barred the
way.

"No, no," said the elder, "none of that.  We're not going to have the
house disturbed by your ravings.  It's only a few minutes to the Park--
come on there and we'll have it out, and done with it."

"No; we won't," growled the younger brother, fiercely, and, placing his
hands suddenly upon Chester's breast, he gave him a heavy thrust, drove
him staggering back, and almost in the one effort snatched his brother
aside and banged to the door.

"What the devil do you mean by that?" cried James Clareborough,
savagely, as he tried to reopen the door, but his brother placed his
back to it and held him off.

"To keep you cool, old man," growled the younger.  "Get him in the Park
at this time, with no one near!  What did you mean to do?"

"Do what I'll do now."

"Got something in your pocket, old chap?"

"Yes, I have.  Let me go out."

"And have a paragraph in the papers to-morrow morning about a discovery
in the Park?"

"Yes.  Curse him! he's getting dangerous.  If he is not silenced, what's
to happen next?  Let me go, boy.  There, he's ringing again.  Let me
go."

"Not if I can stop it, old man.  We've got risks enough as it is."

"Curse you, Paddy, for a fool!" cried the other; and he seized his
brother and tried to drag him away, while the great fellow reached down
and drew a pistol from his brother's pocket.

"Got your sting, Jem," he cried.  "You don't use that to-night."

"Wrong!" cried the other, snatching it away; and as the bell was rung
violently again he made for the door.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

ASSAULTING THE CASTLE.

Chester stood on the doorstep for some minutes, thinking, in perfect
ignorance of what was taking place inside, and twice over he rang the
bell, in the determination to enter and confront these men.

But reason stepped in.

"No," he thought, "I could do nothing.  For Marion's sake I must bring
subtlety to bear, not brute force.  And this is leaving England, to try
and forget everything," he added, with a mocking laugh.  "No; I must
stay and unravel it all."

He went home, had recourse to a drug again, and slept heavily till
morning, and then, with his brain throbbing painfully from his anxious
thoughts, he had left the house, determined to make another effort to
obtain speech of Marion.  That she was completely under the influence of
her friends he felt sure, but if, he told himself, he could only obtain
an interview, all might be well.

To this end and full of a fresh project, he took a four-wheeled cab and
had himself driven to the end of Highcombe Street, where he bade the
driver draw up and wait.

Here he threw himself back in one corner of the vehicle, opened a
newspaper so as to screen his face and at the same time enable him to
keep a strict watch upon the house.

Fortune favoured him.  At the end of an hour he saw the carriage drawn
up, and soon after the brothers and their wives came out and were driven
off; then the butler stood airing himself upon the step for a time, and
finally went in and closed the door.

Chester's heart beat high with hope, and he waited for a few minutes,
which seemed to be an hour.  Then, telling the man to wait, he was going
down the street, when a shout brought him back.

"Beg pardon, sir; you didn't take my number," said the driver, with a
grin.

"No, why should I?" said Chester, wonderingly.

"So as to be able to find me agin if you forgets to come back, sir."

"Oh, I see," said Chester, smiling, and then placing a couple of coins
in the man's hand.  "Don't be afraid; I shall return."

The opportunity had come, and without hesitation Chester went straight
to the door and rang.

The butler answered the bell, after keeping him waiting some minutes,
for it was not visiting time; and as soon as the man saw who it was he
reddened a little and looked indignant.

"Take my card up to Miss Clareborough," said Chester, quietly.

"Not at home, sir."

"Look here, my man, I particularly wish to see your young lady, so have
the goodness to take up my card."

"Not at home, sir," repeated the butler, pompously.

"To ordinary visitors, perhaps," said Chester, whose temper was rising
at the man's manner; "but she will see me."

"I told you twice over that our young lady wasn't at home, sir," said
the butler, more offensive in speech and manner than ever.

"Yes," said Chester, still quietly, "and I know perfectly well that this
is only the customary formal reply to ordinary callers.  My business is
important, and I tell you that Miss Clareborough will see me, so take my
card up at once."

"Look here, sir," said the man, insolently; "I have had my orders, and I
know what to do.  Once more: not at home."

"Am I to understand that you refuse to take up my card?"

"Yes, sir; that's it.  They've seen your card, and master said he didn't
know you, and if you came again the family was not at home."

"I have nothing to do with your master or his brother, my good fellow.
My business is with Miss Clareborough, and I insist on seeing her."

"Not at home," said the man, shortly; and he drew back to close the
door.

But firmly convinced that the lady he desired to see was a prisoner,
Chester in his excitement stepped forward, and, to the man's
astonishment, entered the hall.

"Now," he said angrily, "no more of this insolence, sir; take or send my
card in to Miss Clareborough."

"I say, look here," cried the the butler, whose face grew ruddy and then
white, "haven't I told you she isn't at home?"

"Yes, more than once, my good fellow, and I tell you now that she is,
and that I will not stir from here until I have seen her."

"Then look here, sir," cried the butler; "I shall send for the police."

"Do--at once," retorted Chester.

The butler's jaw dropped in his astonishment, but he recovered himself,
closed the door, and took a few steps further into the hall, Chester
following.

"Come, none of that," cried the man.  "You'll stop there, and--"

"What's the meaning of this, Mr Roach?" said a familiar voice, and
Chester eagerly pressed forward.

"Ah, the housekeeper," he cried quickly.  "This man has refused again
and again to bear my card to Miss Marion.  Will you have the goodness to
take it to her, and say that I beg she will see me for a few minutes at
once?"

The old lady's white forehead puckered up beneath her grey hair, as she
looked in a startled way at the speaker, and then turned to the butler,
who was holding Chester's card between his first and second fingers.

"Who is this gentleman?" she said rather sternly, and for me moment
Chester was so completely taken aback that the butler had time to speak.

"Here's his card, ma'am.  He's been before wanting to see Miss
Clareborough.  Master's seen it, ma'am, and says he don't know anything
about the gentleman, and that if he had business he was to write."

The housekeeper turned to Chester, raising her eyebrows a little, and he
had by this time recovered his balance.

"Of course," he said, "I can quite understand Mr James's action after
his treatment of me, madam."

"I beg your pardon, sir?"

"Let me speak to you alone," he continued.  "I can say nothing before
this man."

"Had you not better write to Mr Clareborough, sir, if you have business
with the family?"

"No, certainly not," said Chester.  "My business is with Miss
Clareborough, and I insist upon seeing her."

"Excuse me, sir," said the housekeeper, calmly; "as a gentleman, you
must know that one of the ladies would decline to see a stranger on
business unless she knew what that business was."

"A stranger--on business!" cried Chester, angrily.  "My good woman, why
do you talk like this to me?"

"Really, sir, I do not understand you," said the housekeeper, with
dignity.

"Let me see you alone," said Chester, earnestly.

"Certainly not, sir.  Have the goodness to say what is your business
here."

"You know it is impossible," cried Chester.  "See me alone--send this
man away."

"Stay where you are, Mr Roach," said the housekeeper, who might, from
her calm, dignified manner, have been the mistress of the house.  "Are
you not making some mistake, sir?  Mr Clareborough evidently does not
know you."

"Nor you either?" said Chester, sarcastically.

"I, sir?  Certainly not," replied the housekeeper.

Chester stared at her angrily.

"Do you dare to tell me this?" he cried.

"Come, sir, none of that, please," said the butler, interfering.  "We
can't have you always coming here and asking to see people who don't
want to see you."

"Stand back, you insolent scoundrel!" cried Chester, turning upon the
butler fiercely; and the man obeyed on the instant.

"There is no occasion to make a scene, sir," said the housekeeper,
gently.  "Pray be calm.  You have, I see, made a mistake.  Had you not
better go home and write to Mr Clareborough?  If your business is
important, he will, no doubt, make an appointment to meet you."

"But you!" cried Chester, returning to the attack, "you deny that you
know me?"

"Certainly, sir, I do not know you," replied the housekeeper.

"Had you not better dismiss this man?"

"No, no," said the housekeeper, smiling; and there was a very sweet look
on her handsome old face.  "There is no occasion for that.  Pray take my
advice; go back home and write what you wish to say."

"After what has passed, madam, I can hold no communication with Mr
Clareborough."

"Indeed!  Well, sir, of course all you say is foreign to me, but I must
tell you that it seems the only course open; so much can be done by
letter."

"Then, as I understand," said Chester, more quietly, "you refuse to give
me a few words alone?"

"Yes, sir; you can have nothing to say to me that Mr Roach, the butler,
may not hear."

Chester looked at the woman fixedly, but she met his gaze in the calmest
way--not a muscle moved, not a nerve quivered.

"Very well," he said at last, "I see you are determined to ignore the
past entirely."

The housekeeper made a slight deprecatory movement toward him, and then
signed the butler to open the door, which he did with alacrity, but
Chester stood fast, looking past the housekeeper toward the end of the
hall, where there was the opening into the great dining-room, the scene
of the strange adventure when he first came to the house.

"Very well," he said at last, as he mastered a wild desire to rush
upstairs and call Marion by name until she replied; and he spoke now in
a subdued tone of voice which the butler could not hear, "of course you
are in the plot, but I shall not let matters rest here.  It would have
been better if you had met me as a friend--as I believed you to be--of
Miss Marion and Mr Robert, but I see that you are bound up with the
others.  And mind this: I was disposed to assist in hushing up that
trouble, but as I am convinced that Miss Marion is receiving foul play,
I shall leave no stone unturned to obtain speech with her, even going so
far, if necessary, as to call in the aid of the police."

There was a calm, grave, pitying look upon the housekeeper's countenance
which literally staggered Chester, and he went out quickly and turned to
the right, the butler closing the door with a bang.

"He's a regular lunatic, ma'am," said the butler.  "Got hold of the
names from the Directory or the tradesfolk; but I'm very glad you were
there."

"Poor gentleman," said the housekeeper, gravely, "there seems to be some
strange hallucination in his brain."



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

THE BOOKWORM TRIES TO BORE.

As it happened, Chester was musing as he went down the steps.

"They treat me as if I were mad.  Have I got some strange notion in my
head?  No woman could possibly meet one with such a--Ah! good-day!" he
cried quickly, for, as he was passing the next door, the grey,
dreamy-looking old occupant was in the act of inserting the latch-key.

He turned slowly, pushed back his rather broad-brimmed hat, and blinked
at the speaker through his spectacles.

"I beg your pardon," he said, rather wonderingly; "I--can't see; yes, to
be sure, I remember now;" and the old man's face lit up.  "I remember
now.  My young friend who was making inquiries.  Will you step in, sir?
I do not have many visitors."

He threw open the door and stood smiling holding it back, giving Chester
a smile of invitation which made him enter--that, in combination with
the sudden thought that he might perhaps learn something about the
next-door neighbours.

"Really," he said frankly, "as a perfect stranger, this is somewhat of
an intrusion."

"Not at all, my dear young friend, not at all.  Glad to see you.  I lead
such an old-world, lost kind of life.  I am very glad to have a caller.
Come in, my dear young friend, come in.  No, no; don't set your hat down
there; it will be covered with dust.  Let me put it here.  Now, then,
come in."

He led the way into the room on their left, and took a couple of very
old folios off a chair.

"A dusty place--a very dusty place; but I dare not trust servants.  They
have no idea of the value of books, my dear sir.  I found one had torn
out some pages from a very rare specimen of Wynkyn de Worde to burn
under some damp fire-wood.  Can't trust them--can't trust them.  I've
just had a very serious disappointment.  Been down to an auction."

"Indeed?" said Chester, looking at the old man curiously and wondering
where he had seen a face something like his before.

"Yes.  One of the big sales.  There was a priceless copy of one of Marie
de Medici's books in the list, and I fancy it was with a Grolier
binding--just his style; but two other people wanted it.  I bid up to
four hundred and then stopped.  A bit of a bibliomaniac, my dear sir,
but not book-mad enough to go higher; couldn't afford it, even for a
unique, tall copy.  Knocked down for se-ven hun-dred and forty-nine
pounds, sir.  A fact.  Well, did you find your friends whom you were
looking for?"

"Yes--no," said Chester.

"Dear me; but is not that rather contradictory, my dear sir?" said the
old man, smiling.

"Perhaps so, but there is a little mystery about the matter, sir,"
replied Chester.  "By the way, though, can you tell me anything about
your next-door neighbours?"

"My next-door neighbours, my dear sir," said the old man, smiling and
rubbing his thin hands together softly; "well, not much, I am so
unsociable a body; and here in London one can be so isolated.  Let me
see, he is something in the House of Commons--a clerk, or
master-at-arms, or usher, or something."

"Mr Clareborough is?" cried Chester, sharply.

"No--no!  That is on the other side.  Quite a large family party.  Very
gay people who have plenty of fashionable callers, and carriages, and
parties.  I fancy they go a great deal to operas and theatres.  The
confectioner's people come sometimes, and musicians, and rout seats.
Not in my way, my young friend--not in my way," continued the old
gentleman in his quiet, amiable manner, as he took down the great bulky
London Directory.  "Yes, yes, yes; here we are--Highcombe Street,
Clareborough.  There's the name.  Very wealthy, gay family, I believe.
Clareborough.  That's it, and I think I've heard somehow--I don't quite
know how it was, unless one of the tradespeople told me--that they have
a fine place somewhere in Kent--The Towers, I think they call it, and
they are often down there, and this place is shut up.  I like it to be,
because it is so much more quiet for a man busy with his books."

"Have you--have you noticed anything peculiar about the family?" said
Chester in a hesitating way.

The old man beamed upon him through his glasses, then took them off
deliberately, and wiped each carefully with an old silk handkerchief,
gazing at his questioner with his face wrinkled up as if he were
puzzled.

"Anything peculiar?" he said at last.  "Well, no, I think not, unless it
is that they seem to spend a great deal of money in ephemeral pleasures.
Yes, I remember now thinking that they must waste a great deal, and
that with so much at their command they might accumulate a grand
collection of books."

"Anything more?" said Chester.

"N-no, my dear sir.  I think, now you mention it, that I have taken more
notice of my neighbour on the other side.  Yes, I am sure I have.  I
remember thinking how bad it must be for his health."

"Indeed?" said Chester, inquiringly, but with the intention of leading
the old man back into talking about his other neighbours.

"Oh yes.  You see, I often hear him coming home extremely late in the
night.  Twelve, one, and two o'clock, sometimes even by broad daylight.
Not that I was watching him, but I often lie awake for hours, musing
about some particular book that I have not obtained.  I'm afraid I shall
not sleep to-night for thinking of that book I missed at the sale
to-day.  But I put it to you, my dear sir; it was too much to give, was
it not?"

"Certainly," said Chester, smiling, as he seized the opportunity to turn
back the conversation to the other side; "but I suppose, according to
your showing, the sum named would have been a trifle to your other
neighbours."

"Hah!  Yes, I suppose it would--yes, I suppose it would.  But are you a
collector?"

"I?  Oh no," said Chester, smiling, "only a very ignorant body."

"No, no, no, no," said the old man, smiling pleasantly.  "I know better
than that.  One gets to know what a person is more or less by his
conversation, my dear sir, and I could vouch for it that you are a
student."

"Well, I must own to that, more or less, as to medicine and surgery."

"I thought so, I thought so," said the old man, bending down to clasp
his hands about one knee and sit as if thinking deeply over something,
while Chester gladly availed himself of the silence to give free rein to
his own thoughts.

For an idea had suddenly occurred to him which lit up his troubled brain
like a flash of light.

He was in the next house--the old man leading his solitary life seemed
pleased to have found someone ready to converse with him.  Why should he
not try and cultivate the old fellow's acquaintance, and take advantage
of the opportunities it would afford him of watching his neighbours?

He had hardly thought this when the old man looked up, smiling at him in
a child-like, pleasant way.

"How strange--how very strange it all is, my dear sir.  Now, you will
hardly credit me when I tell you that for some time past I have been
suffering from little symptoms which at their frequent and more frequent
recurrence suggest to me that I ought to consult a medical man."

"Indeed?" said Chester.

"Yes, my dear sir, indeed; but you see, I am a very old man now, and I
fear that I have grown weak and vacillating; I may add cowardly too.  I
have shrunk from going to a doctor for fear that he should tell me that
I must give up my studies--that I am failing and coming very near to the
end of my span."

"Oh, surely not," said Chester.  "You look a very healthy subject, sir."

"I--I don't know, my dear sir, but I have been afraid to go; and here,
all at once, in the most casual way, I suddenly make the acquaintance of
a medical man, and find him seated opposite to me, talking in a friendly
way which quite invites my confidence.  It is strange, is it not?"

"Very strange, indeed," said Chester, gazing hard in the pleasant, bland
old countenance before him.  "But really, my dear sir, I do not think
you require medical advice."

The old man returned the fixed gaze and then said appealingly--

"I hope, my dear sir, you are speaking sincerely."

"Of course," replied Chester.

"Not as doctors sometimes do, to encourage their patients?"

"Certainly not," cried Chester.  "There is every sign of a vigorous,
green old age about you."

"That is very pleasant to hear, my dear sir," said the old man, "very
pleasant.  I don't think I am one ready to repine, or one who would seek
to live for selfish considerations--love of pleasure or the like--but I
have so much to do.  I want years yet to complete my collection, and I
may have to go over to Leyden, Leipsic, Nuremberg, Florence, and several
of the other Continental towns which were the birthplaces of many of
these old tomes which you see upon my shelves."

"I see no reason why you should not live for years yet, sir," said
Chester, encouragingly.

"But my head--my brain.  I find I grow forgetful, my dear sir.  I put
away books and forget their places.  All little symptoms, are they not,
of failing powers?"

"To be perfectly candid, certainly they are," said Chester; "but in a
healthy old age these failings come very, very gradually, and nature
suggests so many ways of palliating them.  For instance, a clever young
secretary with a methodical turn of mind would relieve you of a trouble
like this.  Really I do not think that you have any occasion to trouble
yourself about such a symptom as that, any more than you have about the
failing powers of sight which compelled you to take to glasses."

"My dear young friend!" cried the old man, leaning forward to catch at
his visitor's hand, "I cannot find words to express my gratitude.  You
do not know what a relief your words have been to me.  It is wonderful,
and upon such a casual acquaintanceship.  But I sincerely hope that you
will let me see more of you--er--that is, if I am not troublesome to
you; such a wearisome old bookworm as I fear I must be.  But the mouse
helped the lion, you know, and who knows but what I may be able to help
you with some information about your friends next door--let me see, I
think you said it was the people next door whom you had been trying to
find."

"I did not say so," said Chester, quietly.

"I beg your pardon; but you do wish to know something about them."

"Well, frankly, yes, I do," said Chester.

"Hah!  And who knows but what I may be able to help you?  I may remember
something that does not occur to me now--a trifle or two perhaps, but
which may be of importance from your point of view.  Come and see me
sometimes.  Let me show you my library.  I think you might be interested
in some of my books."

"I have no doubt but that I should be."

"To be sure, yes.  I have an old copy of Hippocrates on surgery and
medicine, and I daresay many others which do not occur to me now.  Yes,
of course, I have Boerhaave.  You will come?"

"I shall be very glad to," said Chester, warmly, though his conscience
smote him for what he felt to be a false pretence.

"I am very, very glad," said the old man, rising, going to an old
cabinet and pulling out a drawer, from which he took a key and at the
same time something short and black which he cleverly thrust into the
breast of his loosely-made, old-fashioned tail-coat.  "Now I am about to
ask a favour of you, doctor," he said, turning with a pleasant, genial
smile upon his countenance.  "I have other treasures here down below,
besides books.  Stored up and rarely brought out, bin after bin of very
fine old wine.  I am going to ask you to drink a glass of exceedingly
old port with me."

"No, no," said Chester, "you must excuse me.  I never drink wine at this
time of day.  Let me dine with you some time or other, and then--"

"Yes, of course, my dear young friend; I hope many times; but just one
glass now.  Don't say no.  I feel to need it a little myself, for--don't
think me a feeble old dotard--the fact of telling you of my weakness, of
confessing to a doctor my fears of coming to an end, have upset my
nerves a little, and I can't help fancying that a glass of good old wine
would do me good."

"I am sure it would, sir," said Chester, warmly.  "Well, there!  I will
break a rule, and join you in one glass."

"Hah!" cried the old man, brightening up; "that is very good of you,
doctor--very good.  I feel better already in anticipation.  Now, let me
see--let me see."

He opened the library table drawer and took out a box of matches and an
old-fashioned, curled-up twist of wax taper, such as was the
accompaniment of a writing-table in sealing-wax days, fifty years or so
ago.  This latter he lit, and then hung a large old key upon his little
finger.

"The library next time you come, doctor; the cellar this time.  A very
fine cellar of wines, my dear sir, but wasted upon me.  Just a glass now
and then as a medicine.  This way.  I hope you will not mind the dust
and cobwebs.  An old-fashioned notion, but books seem to need the dust
of ages, and it is precious upon them, just as old port ought to have
its cobwebs and its crust.  You will come with me to get a bottle?"

"Oh yes," said Chester, and he followed the old man out of the room into
the book-encumbered hall, and along to the back, past chest and shelf,
to where there was the glass door opening on the stone flight leading
down into the basement.

"This way, my dear sir.  One moment; there should be a basket here.
Yes, here we are; would you mind lighting me?  Thank you."

Chester took the wax taper and lighted the old man, while he took down
from behind the glass door, where it hung upon a hook, one of those
cradle-like baskets in which a bottle of rich old wine can recline
without destroying its fineness.

"You see," said the old man, "I am a bit of a connoisseur.  I like to
keep my wine as it has lain in the bin.  No decanting for me.  Straight
on down, my dear sir."

Chester did not hesitate, but led on down the stone stairs, holding the
light on high, the tiny taper shining back upon a pair of flashing eyes
and the wrinkles of a now wonderfully wrinkled face, while in the
shadows behind a thin, claw-like hand glided to the breast-pocket of the
old-fashioned coat, to draw out one of those misnamed weapons formed of
twisted whalebone, ending in a weighty leaden knob.

Chester bore the light; behind him seemed to hover upon the dingy walls
the Shadow of Death.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

BY THE SKIN OF HIS TEETH.

The Shadow passed away.

In another moment a crushing blow from a life-preserver, delivered by a
vigorous arm, would have fallen upon the back of Chester's skull, and
sent him headlong down the flight of stairs; but the deadly weapon was
thrust back into its owner's breast, and the fierce, vindictive
expression passed from his face as there was a violent ringing of the
largest of the row of bells hanging to their right, and Chester turned
sharply round, taper in hand, to look questioningly at the old man.

"Dear me!" he said, smiling, "how tiresome!  This is one of the troubles
of living quite alone, my dear young friend.  I always have to answer my
own door.  I'm afraid that I must ask you to come back to the front
room.  Would you mind bringing the light?  Thank you; I will take it."

He blew out the clear little flame as they reached the glass door, and
then set down the basket, before leading the way back into the library,
where he glanced from the window.

"Dear me!" he said.  "More books.  So very late in the day too.  They
always come at awkward times.  Pray sit down or look at some of my
works.  You'll find something to interest you, I feel sure.  Yes--yes;
I'm coming," he said, as the bell rang loudly again.  "Don't be so
impatient, my good men, don't be so impatient."

"One moment; if you have business, I will go now," said Chester.

"Oh, by no means," said the old man.  "I shall not be many moments.
Pray take a book and my chair, there.  It is only the railway men.  I
shall soon be done."

Chester did not take the chair, but began to inspect the dusty shelves,
while he heard the front door open and after a time the sound of heavy
feet upon the steps, and then the bump down of what sounded like a heavy
chest.  Then more steps outside, the rattle of a chain belonging to the
tail-board of a van, and the steps again.

Then he ceased to hear anything that was going on, for his thoughts had
run to the adjoining house and his experiences there, but only to be
succeeded by an indescribable sensation of dread--a singular feeling of
malaise which troubled his faculties.  It was like a portent of
something hanging over him, or over her who occupied so much of his
thoughts.

"I can't stay here," he said to himself.  "I must get out into the open
air.  This place makes me feel sick and faint."

He picked up one of the many books lying about, and threw it down again
impatiently, to walk to the door, where he could hear the old student
directing the men who had brought the consignment; while from the sounds
it was evident that they were carrying the chests or whatever they were,
down into the basement.

Feeling that it would be rude to interrupt his host then, he went back
to the table.

"What is the matter with me?" he muttered, as he shivered involuntarily.
"Is it from cold, or from over-thought and worry?  Not going to be ill,
am I, and at such a time?"

"I know," he thought, at the end of a few minutes; "it is this place.
The air is close and mephitic.  I don't believe the windows are ever
open.  I cannot stay here.  I feel as if I should faint.  Rude or not, I
must go."

He had sunk into a chair, and now started up, just as the old man
re-entered.

"Just done," he said cheerfully.  "One moment.  Heavy boxes, and these
men like to have a glass.  Not my old port, though.  They would not
appreciate it.  A little of this--a little of this brandy."

He kept on talking softly as he took out a bottle and glasses from a
cellarette, filled a couple, set the bottle down again, and carried the
glasses out; and as the door swung to, Chester caught up the bottle
quickly, held it to his lips, and gulped down a mouthful.

"Hah!" he muttered, as he set the brandy down and sank back in the
chair; "that is stimulating.  But how strange that I should feel like
this.  Ugh!"

He shuddered, for a cold chill ran through him, and the sensation of
fear increased.

"Can it be something threatening her?" he muttered.  "How strange!  I
have not felt like this since I lost my first patient," and the chill of
coming dissolution seemed to hang in the air.

"Pooh!  Fancy.  It is a slight chill.  That brandy will soon take it
off."

The voices reached him again, and the steps were heard outside; then the
front door was closed, and the old man came in smiling.

"Always at such inconvenient times," he said.  "Generally when I am
studying some intricate passage by an old author; but to-day when I have
had my first visitor for months.  I'm afraid you have found me very
long."

"Oh no, don't name it," said Chester, hurriedly, "but--"

"Ah! your kindness of heart makes you speak thus," said the old man,
hastily.  "Two heavy chests of books, and I was obliged to make the men
take them downstairs, or they would block the passage.  But now for the
glass of wine and our chat."

"I'm afraid that I shall be obliged to ask you to excuse me to-day,"
said Chester, who had risen.

"Oh, surely not," cried the old man in a disappointed tone.  "I was
reckoning so upon asking your opinion, my dear sir.  Like liquid rubies.
It will not take long."

"No, it would not take long," replied Chester, who now spoke rather
excitedly, while the old man's eyes glittered strangely behind his
glasses; "but I have been here some time now, and I must get back."

"But, my dear sir--"

"Don't press me, please.  I, am rather unwell."

"You are not offended at my leaving you?"

"No, absurd!" cried Chester, hastily.  "I have had a good deal of
trouble lately, and my nerves have been shaken."

"Your nerves have been shaken?" said the old man, gazing at him in a
peculiar way.

"Yes," said Chester; "but another day you must let me come; and perhaps
you can tell me a little more about your neighbours."

The old man smiled sadly.

"Ah!" he said, "I am growing old and garrulous, and I have bored you, as
you young people call it.  You will not come again."

"Indeed, I will," cried Chester, holding out his hand to take his
host's, which was extended unwillingly, and felt like ice.  "Oh yes, I
will come to-morrow or the next day.  This is no paltry excuse.  You may
trust me."

"Ah, well, I will," said the old man, who seemed to be satisfied with
his scrutiny.  "Pray come, then, and put up with my strange, unworldly
ways; and you must give me some more hints about my health.  In the
meantime I will look out some of the old medical and surgical works.
You will find them interesting."

"Yes, I hope we shall spend many hours together," said Chester, frankly,
as he moved toward the door, the old man walking by his side with his
hands under the tails of his coat, where a looker-on would have seen
that they were crooked and opening and shutting spasmodically.

It was very dim now in the book-burdened room, the evening light having
hard work to pierce the uncleaned panes of the windows; but there was
light enough to show that, and also that the old bookworm's claw-like
right hand went into the coat-pocket and half drew from it something
small and hard.

But nothing followed as they walked into the gloomy hall and away to the
front door, where, after a friendly shake of the hand, Chester uttered a
sigh of relief as he turned away from the house, seeming to breathe more
freely as he walked briskly along.

"Pah! the old place felt like a sepulchre," he muttered.  "It was just
as if the hand of death were clutching at me.  I believe that if I had
not taken that brandy I should have fainted.  What a state my nerves
must be in.  Why, it is the most fortunate thing that could have
happened.  Once gain the old man's confidence, I can stay there and
watch the next house as long as I like."

There was something ominous about the old bookworm's act as he went
softly back into his half-dark, dusty room, evidently thinking deeply,
till he stopped short in the middle to stand gazing down at the floor.

"Yes, he said he was ill; he looked ill when he came up to the door--
half mad.  He will come back again, perhaps to-morrow--perhaps
to-morrow.  Hah! it was very near."

He raised his head now, went to the drawer from which he had taken the
key, and placed back in it the heavy life-preserver, and then taking
from the tail of the coat one of the short, old-fashioned pocket pistols
which were loaded by unscrewing the little barrel by means of a key.
This he examined, taking off the cap, after raising the hammer and
putting a fresh one in its place.  After this he closed the drawer and
sat down to think.

"Yes," he said, half aloud, "it was very near.  The next time he comes
perhaps he'll stay.  He is getting to be a nuisance, and a dangerous
one, as well."



CHAPTER TWENTY.

STRANGELY MYSTERIOUS PROCEEDINGS.

The Clareboroughs' carriage was at the door, and the well-matched,
handsome pair of horses were impatiently pawing the ground, in spite of
sundry admonitions from the plump coachman of the faultless turn-out to
be "steady there!" "hold still!" and the like.

Mr Roach, the butler, had appeared for a minute on the step, looking
very pompous and important, exchanged nods with the coachman, and gone
in again to wait for the descent of their people, bound for one of Lord
Gale's dinner-parties in Grosvenor Place.

All was still in the hall as the door was closed, and the marble statues
and bodiless busts did not move upon their pedestals, nor their blank
faces display the slightest wonder at the proceedings which followed,
even though they were enough to startle them out of their equanimity.

For all at once the pompous, stolid butler and the stiff,
military-looking footman, in his good, refined livery, suddenly seemed
to have been stricken with a kind of delirious attack.  The expression
upon their faces changed from its customary social diplomatic calm to
one of wild delight, and they both broke into a spasmodic dance, a
combination of the wildest step of the _can-can_ and the mad angulations
of a nigger breakdown, with the accompaniment of snapping of fingers at
each other and the final kick-up and flop of the right foot upon the
floor.

Then they rushed at each other and embraced--the solemn, middle-aged
butler and the tall young footman--theatrically, after which they seemed
to come to their normal senses, and quietly shook hands.

"'Bliged to let some of the steam off, old man?" whispered the footman.

"Yes, Orthur, my boy, had to open the safety valve," replied the butler.
"We're made men, eh?"

"Not quite," said the footman, grinning, "but getting into shape.  Three
hundred a-piece.  I say, ain't it grand?"

"Splendid," said the butler, with a broad smile.  "But steady now."

"I say; wasn't the idea right?"

"Right as right, my boy."

"Ah," said the footman, with a knowing wink, "who'd be without a good
only uncle to tip you when you want a few pounds to invest?  I say,
though, you'll go and pay the old boy as soon as we're gone?"

"Won't be time."

"Oh yes; you'll be all right.  Get it done.  Make it easy if we want to
do it again, eh?"

"All right; I'll go.  I say, Orthur, ain't I like a father to you?"

"Dear old man!" whispered the gentleman addressed, with a grin.  "Me
long-lost forther!"

"Steady!" said the butler, sternly, and their masks of servitude were on
their faces again, with the elder stern and pompous, the younger
respectful and steady as a rock.  "Yes; I'll go and put that right.
Must take a cab.  You'll pay half?"

"Of course; that's all right, sir.  Fair shares in everything.  I say,
Bob's got something else on.  Hadn't a chance to tell you before."

"Eh?  What is that?"

"Goodwood.  He's had a letter.  I say, shall we be on there?  Oh no, not
at all."

"Pst! coming down," whispered the butler; and the footman opened the
door and went out to the carriage, which soon after dashed off, while
the butler, after the regular glance up street and down, closed the
door.  He descended to his pantry, where he drew a glossy hat from a
box, took an empty Gladstone bag from a cupboard and went out to hail
the first hansom round the corner.  This rattled him away in the
direction of Bloomsbury, where he descended close to the great grim
portico of the church, and told the man to wait.

The driver gave a glance at him, but the butler looked too respectable
for a bilker, and he settled down for a quiet smoke, muttering, "Grapes
or pears."

But cabby was wrong.  Mr Roach was not the class of domestic to lower
his dignity by engaging in a kind of commerce which could be properly
carried on by the fruiterer.  He made for a quiet street, turned up a
narrow court, and passed in through a glazed swing door upon whose
embossed pane appeared the blazon of the Medici family--the three golden
pills--the crest of the generous relative--"mine uncle" of the borrower
high and low, and the minute after he stood in darkness in a narrow box.

A sharp-faced young man with a pen behind his ear came from the right
and stretched out his hand across the broad counter.

"Send the guv'nor," said Roach, importantly.

A sharp look was the answer, the shopman went away, and his place was
taken directly by a keen, dark man, with a gaslight complexion, and to
him Roach handed a little white ticket.

"Hullo!  So soon!" said the man, showing his teeth, which matched his
skin.

"Well, didn't I tell you so?" said Roach, importantly.

"Yes, but I don't quite believe everything my clients say."

"No, and you were precious uppish and hold-offish the other day," said
Roach, shortly.

"Obliged to be careful, Mr Smith, in my profession," said the
pawnbroker, with a peculiar smile.  "There's a law against receiving
stolen goods, and one don't want to get into trouble."

"Well, you needn't begin to suspect everybody who wants money, if there
is.  Do you suppose gentry don't run short of money sometimes?"

"Oh no.  I know they do, Mr Smith.  I could show you some jewellery
that would open your eyes."

"And I dessay I could show you something that would open yours.  May
have to bring it to you some day.  Who knows?"

"Glad to do business on the square any time, Mr Smith," said the
pawnbroker.

"Of course you are; so's lots more.  People thinks there's no
card-playing going on now, and gents and ladies running short."

"We don't think so, Mr Smith."

"No, I suppose not," said Roach.  "I did make up my mind I wouldn't come
here again after what passed."

"Only business caution, Mr Smith."

"Oh, well, if that's all, perhaps I may.  This was a commission; hundred
pound wanted on the nail, and security worth five offered.  Money's come
in again, and my people want the security.  Here's the cash and
interest, and the sooner I'm off the better."

"Soon done, Mr Smith," said the pawnbroker, "and I shall be happy to do
business with you again any time."  The man made some memoranda on the
card, and went into a back room to a safe, from which he brought a
carefully-done-up packet.

"Rather I hadn't fetched it, eh?" said Roach, after having the packet
opened and satisfied himself that the gold contents were intact.

"Don't you make that mistake, Mr Smith," said the pawnbroker.  "We
don't want unredeemed pledges to sell, but to have them taken out and
receive our interest.  That's the way money is made, sir."

"I dessay," said the butler, paying over the sum needed in notes and
gold, and then packing the security in the Gladstone bag; "but it's a
free country, and people have a right to believe what they like."

"Of course, my dear sir, of course."

"Now look here," whispered Roach; "if there happens to be an emergency,
mister, and I'm disposed to come here again with something for an
advance, is it to be prompt business, or a lot of humbugging questions?"

"Prompt business, Mr Smith, with approved customers, and to any
amount."

"That will do then.  I'll come.  Private and confidential, eh?"

"Private and confidential, sir.  Good-evening.--Jobson, shut up."

"Yes, and I shut him up," muttered Roach, as he went out with his
Gladstone bag feeling weighty, and sought his cab, but not without
looking back once or twice and choosing another way for his return.

But he saw nothing to excite his suspicions of being followed, for it
was not likely that the homely-looking woman with a thickish umbrella
had come from the pawnbroker's.  But somehow she had.

An hour later, Roach's carefully-done-up parcel was denuded of its
wrappings, and its golden glories were hidden in the iron plate-closet
at the back of his pantry.  And then he came upon Arthur, not long
returned from setting down their people at Grosvenor Place.

"Hullo!  Didn't know you'd come back.  Got it?" said the footman.

The butler nodded.

"Shut the door," he said; and as soon as they were alone in the pantry,
Roach unlocked the iron closet which contained the plate under his
charge, and pointed to a handsome centre-piece standing on the shelf.

Then it was that the younger man so far forgot the respect due to his
elder as to slap him on the back, an act not in the least resented, but
responded to by a playful dig in the ribs.

"But I say, my boy," whispered the butler, "it won't do, you know.  I've
funked horribly for fear that they should ask for it."

"Likely!" said the footman, scornfully.  "It's never been used but
once."

"More likely to be asked for to be put away with the rest in the vault.
Jemmy's safe to remember it some day."

The footman was thoughtful as the butler locked up the iron closet.

"We ought to put away something not likely to be asked for, eh?"

"Yes," said the butler, shaking his head sagely; "but what is there?  We
may have a dinner-party any day, and everything have to be shown."

"Must be lots of things in the vault."

"Course there is."

"I say, ain't it rum that they don't send the things to their bankers?"

"Not a bit, when they've got a strong closet of their own, Orthur, my
boy.  I heard 'em talking about it one day at dinner, and Jemmy said
something about their old bank breaking, and a lot of the family plate
and jewels being lost.  The rogues had been hard up for long enough and
sold it."

"Ah! there's a sight o' rogues in the world," said Arthur, quietly.

"We've got some capital now."

"Yes, but let's think of a rainy day.  Now, look here, there must be no
end of things in the vault as they're never like to ask for."

"No end," said the butler.

"Never been in it?"

"Never."

"Well, couldn't we have a look in, and pick out something small and
handy?--say jools.  They do lock them there when they go down to The
Towers.  I do know that."

"Yes, my lad, they do; and I believe there's a lot of old gold, family
plate and diamonds as they never do want."

"That's the stuff for us--in case we want it, of course.  Don't hurt
them to borrow it, and it finds us the capital to do us good."

"Yes, but how are we to get at it?"

"Keys."

"Where are they kept?"

"Oh, we could soon find out that."

"Well, I can't.  I've been on the look-out this two years, and I believe
Jemmy keeps 'em somewhere, but I never could find out where."

"Then you had thought of that plan, old man?"

"Of course I had.  Where you ain't trusted it sets you thinking.
They're well-bred, but somehow the Clareboroughs ain't real gentlemen.
They trust me with some of the plate, and I'm supposed to be butler, but
what about the wine?  Do they ever let me have the key of the cellar?"

"No, that's Bob's job," said the footman, thoughtfully.

"Yes, and a couple of paltry dozen at a time.  How am I to know if the
wine's keeping sound or not?  But there are ways, Orthur," continued
Roach, with a wink, and he rose slowly, went to a chest of drawers,
unlocked it, took out a box, unlocked that, and drew forth a couple of
new-looking keys.

"Hullo!" said the footman in a whisper; "cellar?"

"That one is," replied the butler, as his companion turned over the big
bright key he had taken up.

"Good.  And what's this?"

"One I got made to try the vault."

"Phe-ew!" whistled Arthur, excitedly.  "Then you have been in?"

"No, my lad; that only opens the wooden door at the end of the passage.
Then you're in a bit of a lobby, with a big iron door on one side."

"Well, didn't you get a key made for that?"

"No, my lad.  I couldn't.  It's a rum one.  I don't believe you could
get one made by anybody but them as sold the safe."

"Don't believe it," cried the footman, contemptuously, "Let me have a
look."

"Nay, nay, you'd better not."

"Gammon.  Where's the old woman?"

"In her room, up atop."

"Who's in the kitchen?"

"Only the scullery-maid.  T'others are all gone out."

"Then let's go and have a look," cried Arthur.  "I want to be a man.
I'm sick of being a mouse."

The butler seemed disposed to sit still, but the energy of his young
companion stirred him to action, and he placed the keys in his pocket
and stood hesitating.

"Go and see first what that gal's doing," he whispered, "while I make
sure the old woman's up in her room."

The footman nodded, and both went their ways, to meet again with a nod
indicating that all was right, and then the butler led on along one of
the passages of the extensive basement to where another struck off at
right angles, ending in an ordinary stout oak-grained door.  This
readily yielded to the key the butler brought, and after lighting a bit
of candle the pair stepped into a little stone-walled room of about ten
feet square, with a closely-fitting drab-painted door on their right,
standing flush with the iron frame which filled up the centre.

"That's a tight one, Orthur, lad," said the butler.

"Yes, to them as has no key," said the footman, quietly, after going
down on one knee and examining the key-hole by holding the loose cover
on one side.  "I'm a-going to have a key to fit that lock, old man,
afore long."

"You are, my boy?"

"I am, guv'nor.  You and I's got together and we've got to stick
together and make our fortunes.  There's horses and carriages and plate
chests and cellars o' wine for them as likes to be enterprising, and
we're enterprising now."

"But we mustn't do anything shady, Orthur."

"Shady, guv'nor!" cried the footman, contemptuously; "not us.  It's to
be sunshiny.  Don't you be afraid o' that.  We sha'n't do nothing to
make us afraid to look a bobby in the face.  Only a bit of
speckylation--a bit o' borrowing now and then to raise the wind, and
paying of it back.  Give us your hand on it, old man.  We sticks
together through thick and thin."

There were vinous tears in the butler's eyes as he extended his plump
white hand to be grasped hard, and the two speculators looked each in
the other's face, seeing a gilded future before them, the glare of which
hid everything else.

"That'll do for the present, guv'nor," said Arthur.

He drew open the door, and was about to pass out, when a short cough
came echoing along the passage, and he pushed the door close again.

"Hist!" he whispered, as he blew out the light; "the old woman's coming
down."

"Quick! take out the key, and lock it from inside," whispered the
butler.  "She's always coming along here to see if this place is all
right and try the door."

The footman obeyed, making a faint rattle with the key, after which he
closed the door, leaving them in darkness.

"Have you locked it?"

"No, there ain't no key-hole on this side.  Hist! she's coming straight
here."

The next moment the footman's shoulder was placed against the door to
keep it fast.

The men stood holding their breath and feeling the perspiration gather
upon their faces like a heavy dew, as they waited, hearing nothing now
but the throbbing of their own hearts for what seemed to be an
interminable time, before there came the sound as of something soft
being dabbed against the door, followed by a sudden heavy push which, in
spite of his strength, sent a jarring thrill through every nerve of the
footman's body.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

GOING SHARES.

Mr Roach confessed to being an admirer of the fair sex; and consequent
upon his position, not from any special attraction of mind or person,
the butler's advances were in more than one instance favourably
received; but he also confessed, in the strictest personal confidence,
to a feeling of jealousy against Arthur.

"He's big, and he's not bad-looking, but he's very weak and young, and
there's a want of manly tone about him.  I can't see why they should
make so much fuss over the fellow."

"They" embraced the lady members of the Clareborough household staff;
and in spite of what the butler might say, Arthur was distinctly high in
favour and enjoyed his popularity.

There were reasons, of course, more than the great display of
affability, and one day Mr Roach took his fellow-servant seriously to
task.

"Look here, Orthur, my lad," he said confidentially; "you're having a
fine old time of it just now, but recollect this: the sex is soft, and
smooth, and pleasant, and as you may say sweet, but don't you make a
mistake and think that girls are fools."

"I don't," said Arthur, complacently--"Old boy's a bit jealous," he
added to himself.

"Then don't act as if you did.  They're sharp enough, and before long
they'll begin talking.  One of 'em 'll be jealous of you taking out
another, and then out'll come the claw from the soft paws, and there'll
be a row."

"Well, they must settle it among themselves if there is."

"But don't you see that the disappointed one that you've made an enemy
'll begin to talk nasty-like and she'll know what your wages are."

"Eh?"

"That's it, my boy; she'll be wanting to know how you can be treating
some of 'em to music-halls, and paying for cabs and railway fares, and
supper afterwards, on five pound a quarter."

"Dash it!" cried Arthur.

"Yes, that's it, my lad.  You and me's doing very nicely just now; don't
spoil a good thing.  See what I mean?"

"Yes, I see what you mean, old chap," said Arthur, who had suddenly
become sobered.

"That's right.  You see, you gave Maria Blay a gold watch."

"Only a second-'and 'un, and I bought the pawn-ticket cheap."

"Maybe, but there's a big sound about a gold watch.  Then you gave cook
a brooch, and Betsy Dellow a gold ring, and it ain't wise, my lad, it
ain't wise.  We're on the road to fortune, so don't you get looking back
for the sake of a bit of nonsense, or you and me may have to part.
Don't do foolish things."

"No, Mr Roach, I won't, sir.  I'm very sorry, and I'll be a bit more
careful."

"That's right, Orthur," said the butler, importantly.  "I shouldn't like
for anything to come between us two."

"Of course not, sir.  It wouldn't do," cried the footman, eagerly.

"Got anything new?"

"Well, no, Mr Roach, sir.  I haven't seen the chance of a tip lately."

The butler smiled triumphantly.

"You don't mean to say you have, sir?"

"But I do, Orthur," he replied in a hoarse whisper.  "It isn't Mr Rob's
or Mr Paddy's this time, but a put-up thing of the guv'nor's."

Arthur whistled in his excitement.

"It means a big stroke, Orthur.  I've got the tip, and if you and me's
got the pluck to do it we're made men."

"Oh, we've got the pluck," said the footman, huskily.  "What's the
'orse?"

"Not a horse at all, my lad.  It's a company.  They're working it to
rights, and I've found out all about it, Orthur.  I've seen the letters.
They're going to blow the thing up full of wind, and buy up all the
shares they can.  Then when the thing's at the height, they sell, and
make thousands."

"Phew!" whistled the footman.

"S'pose we make a couple o' thou, a-piece; that's better than backing
horses."

"Yes; but could we?"

"Don't they, my lad?  Isn't all this place run that way?  Why shouldn't
we do it as well as them?  They ain't so precious clever after all."

"Not as I see," said the younger man, contemptuously.

"Then what do you say?  Shall we venture?"

"I'm on," said Arthur, eagerly.  "How much does it want?"

"Two hundred a-piece.  How much have you got?"

The footman gave him a curious look, and then said drily--

"Nothing at all."

"Why, you don't mean to say you've spent all we've made, Arthur?"

"Every penny.  Haven't you?"

The butler was silent, and frowned; but his companion followed up his
question.

"Well, why don't you answer a fellow?"

"I haven't exactly spent it, Orthur," said the butler at last, coughing
to clear his voice.

"Well, what have you done with it?"

"'Orses."

"Without saying a word to me?"

"Well, I didn't know I was bound to tell you everything, Orthur."

"Well, I did; and it serves you right.  If you'd gone by my advice and
taken my tips you'd ha' won."

"Yes, it was a mistake," said the butler, humbly.  "I was tempted to
have just one little flutter on my own account, Orthur."

"Well, don't you do it again.  That's worse than giving the gals
presents, old man.  Then I suppose it will have to be your uncle again?"

"Yes, Orthur; but it's a pity we couldn't manage about a key for that
door."

"Ah! it is; but it ain't to be done, only with a big hammer and wedges,
I'm afraid.  I'm trying still, though, to get a key made, and it may
turn up trumps.  Never mind; raise something on what you can take."

"But it won't be enough, my boy."

"Never mind; let's do what we can.  A little's more than none.  Half a
loaf's better than no bread, old man."

"Very well, my boy; I'll take what I can to-night."

"I say, you're sure this'll turn out all right?"

"Certain.  It's as safe as safe.  I'll make him let me have a little
more--put something else up--and then we'll take all the shares we can
get."

"And about selling out at the right time?"

"You leave that to me," said the butler, smiling confidently.  "Look
here."

He took out a letter and held it to his companion, who read it with his
face lighting up, and clapped it back in the butler's hands.

"That's right, isn't it?" said Roach.

"Splendid, old man.  But stop; why, that's your writing."

"Of course it is; I copied it."

"Oh, I see.  Well, then, that's all right.  Go on ahead."

"But I wish it wasn't that centre-piece again.  I'm always afraid of its
being wanted."

"Oh, it won't be wanted," said the footman, impatiently.

"If you could only have managed about that key."

"Well, give me time.  I say, that was a narrow squeak, when the old
woman nearly caught us."

"Yes, it was horrible," said the butler, wiping his forehead.  "Fancy
her telling Jemmy, and him sending for us to come up in the lib'ry afore
the lot of them!"

"Easy enough for him to send," said the footman, with a grin, "but it
would have taken a lot of pulling to get us there."

"Yes, Orthur, my boy, the game would have been up."

"And before we'd made our pile, old man.  There, you want a glass of
wine to pull you together.  You mustn't go and see our dear old relative
looking like that."

"No," said Roach, brightening up; "that would not do, Orthur.  The old
woman did not find us out."

"I held the door too fast for her, and a miss is as good as a mile, eh,
guv'nor?  I say, old man, don't you think we might wet it?"

The butler smiled blandly.

"Well, just one glass wouldn't be amiss, my boy.  What shall it be?"

"Can't beat a glass o' port, old man.  What do you say?"

"I say ditto, my dear boy," and the butler, smiling, drew out his keys,
unlocked a cupboard, lifted out a cobwebby bottle with a dab of
whitewash on its end, and with a great deal of ceremony drew the cork,
while Arthur fetched and gave a finishing touch to a couple of glasses
as the cork was presented to him.

But it was only to smell, and Arthur inhaled the fragrance and sighed.
Then the rich wine came gurgling out into the glasses, and these latter
were raised.

"Well, old man, here's success to speculation," said Arthur.

"Suck-cess to speculation," said the butler, and the glasses were slowly
drained.  Lips were smacked and the glasses refilled.  "A very fine
wine, Orthur."

"Tip-top.  How much is there of it?"

"Over six hundred dozen, my lad."

"Well, we'll help 'em drink it, old man.  It's fine.  Sets a fellow
thinking.  Now, look here.  We're not going to stand still, eh?"

"Not a bit of it, dear boy.  We'll make our hay while the sun shines."

"Ah, yes," said the butler, filling another glass of the port; "and some
people shoot a long time before folks get hit, eh, Orthur?"

"That's so, guv'nor; you've only to keep going, and the chances are that
they can't hit you at all."

The result of the emptying of that bottle of wine was that the gold
epergne and several other pieces of plate went into the charge of the
none too particular descendant of the Medici, a gentleman who, having
been exceedingly unfortunate in carrying on what he called a square
trade, had of late gone in for the risky and round, with the result that
he was making money fast, and calming his conscience by chuckling to
himself and saying--

"What harm is there, so long as you're not found out?"

That evening Mr Roach returned with a sufficient amount to dip slightly
into the new speculation in which the Clareboroughs were engaged, but he
did not sleep any better for that.  He dreamed about brokers who dealt
in stock, and by a steady descent of thought he went on to brokers who
put executions into houses.  They suggested debtors' prisons--debtors'
prisons brought up Holloway, and Holloway the criminal side--the
criminal side, penal Portland, with irons, and costumes ornamented with
broad arrows, shortcut hair, chain-gangs, and an awakening in a violent
perspiration.

Mr Roach had no appetite next morning, but on behalf of footman Arthur
and himself, a couple of hundred pounds were invested in the shares of
the gaseous company which had nothing whatever to do with gas.



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

MAN MASTERS.

"At last!" muttered Chester, as he stood, pale and careworn, leaning
upon the iron rail in the Row, watching the carriages slowly filing by,
or stopping from time to time.

For after days and days of watching, he was once more about to give up
in despair and venture, in spite of all rebuffs, upon another call at
the house, when in the distance he caught sight of the Clareborough's
light victoria approaching, and to his great delight he found that it
only contained one occupant.

He hesitated for a few moments as to what he should do--wait, or advance
to meet it, and decided now upon a bold attack, for every nerve was on
the strain.

"I will not be put off this time," he said to himself.  "She shall
acknowledge me."

As he approached his heart began to beat fast and he gazed upon the
elegantly-dressed figure leaning carelessly back with her face shaded by
the tinted parasol she held, and, as yet unobserved, Chester saw that
she looked pale, troubled and weary, her half-closed eyes dreamy and
thoughtful.

Fate favoured him, for there was a block somewhere ahead, and the horses
were stopped only a few yards away.

He passed under the rail, walked up quickly, still unobserved, till his
hand was upon the carriage door.

"Marion!" he whispered.

She gave a violent start, the blood suffused her cheeks, and then fled,
leaving her deadly pale, as she gazed at him with dilating eyes.

"I beg your pardon," she said coldly, "you addressed me?"

"Yes," he said in a low voice which trembled a little from the excess of
his emotion, "but we are alone now, Marion.  For pity's sake let there
be an end to this."

"Ah, I remember," she said in her low, musical tones, "you are the
strange gentleman who addressed me before.  You are repeating your
mistake, sir."

"Indeed!" he said reproachfully, as he fixed her eyes with his.  "Do you
think I could ever be mistaken?"

She bowed slightly and drew a little back, glancing hurriedly at the
driver, and then looking ahead as if eager for the carriage to proceed.

"How can you be so cruel?" he whispered.  "Marion, you are maddening
me!"

He saw her wince, but with wonderful self-command she sat rigid as she
said slowly--

"I beg, sir, that there may be an end of this.  Can you not see that you
are making a mistake, and are insulting an unprotected woman?"

She looked him fully in the eyes now with a calm air of wonderment, and
for the moment he was in doubt.

But the next moment his heart said no, and his pulses increased their
beat.  No accidental resemblance could have produced that effect upon
him.  He knew that there was something which he could not explain--a
strange vitality or occult force which bound him to her, and, though his
eyes might have erred, his nature could have made no such blunder, and
he was eager to continue the attack now the opportunity was there.

"Mistaken?" he said in a low, impassioned tone; "how could I be
mistaken?  From the first moment you came to me, your looks, the tones
of your voice in your appeal to me for help, awoke something which till
then had slumbered within me.  I had lived in ignorance of the reality
of such a passion, one which has gone on growing like a torrent ever
since.  It has swept all before it since the hour I knew that I had
found my fate."

"My good sir," she said firmly and gently; "indeed you are taking me for
someone else."

He smiled as he gazed at her intently.

"For whom?" he said.

"I cannot say; some friend.  It is an accidental resemblance, and once
more--I appeal to you as a gentleman to cease this persecution."

He shook his head sadly.

"Accidental resemblance?  No.  There is but one Marion on earth.  No
woman ever resembled you in any way.  This is impossible.  Marion, be
merciful.  After the night on which I saw you last, what must you think
of me?  Of what manner of man could I be if, after striving so hard to
gain an interview like this, I could let you throw me over in so cruel a
way?  Marion, for pity's sake.  There must be stronger reasons than I
already know of to make you act like this."

She glanced round wildly for a moment or two, as if in dread that they
were being observed and his words were taking the attention of the
people around, then up at the coachman, but he sat erect and stolid, too
well schooled in his duties to have a thought or eyes for anything but
the beautiful pair of horses under his charge.  Then, as she realised
the fact that they were perfectly unobserved by the busy throng around,
she recovered her passing composure, and said quite calmly, and with a
suggestion of pity in her tone for one who seemed to her to be suffering
from some slight mental aberration--

"Can you not see that you are mistaken?"

"No," he said, smiling sadly; "only that it is impossible."

There was a faint quiver of the lips, but it passed off, and her
beautiful eyes flashed, and the colour rose in her cheeks, as she made a
strong effort to be firm.  Then there was a touch of anger in her voice
as she said coldly--

"Must I appeal to someone passing, sir, or to one of the police?"

Her words stung him to the quick, "No," he whispered huskily; "there is
no need.  If you are made of steel and can act to me like this, I must
suffer; but do not insult me by treating me as if I were insane.  I
could bear it from your brother; not from you, Miss Clareborough."

She winced slightly at the utterance of her name, and he fancied that
there was the light of compassion for one brief moment in her eyes.

His own face hardened now in the bitterness and despair of the moment as
he took out his pocket-book, and in spite of her self-command she
watched his action narrowly as he drew out the carefully-folded
handkerchief stained with blood.

"I saved this inadvertently," he continued.  "Yours; marked with your
initials."

He looked her full in the eyes as he spoke, bitterly now.

"When I found it where I had hurriedly thrust it into my pocket that
night, it seemed to offer itself as an excellent clue for the police to
track out the mystery of the house to which I was taken."

She leaned forward quickly and caught at the handkerchief to cover it
with her hand, while he still retained his hold.

"For God's sake, no!" she whispered, and her face convulsed with fear.
"Don't do that--the police!"

The stained scrap of cambric formed a bond between them as he gazed
deeply in her eyes now, while a faint smile dawned upon his lip.

"I checked the thought at once," he said softly.  "I told myself that
such an act might hurt you--might give you pain; and I set to and tried
to track you without, all through the months of agony and dread for what
you might have to fear from him.  Take it, to destroy or save, as you
will.  It is yours; but do not do me the injustice to think I would
retain it to hold over you in terrorem.  Marion, I love you too well."

He breathed these words in the faintest tones, but he could read that
they fell heavily upon her ears, for in spite of her rigid position he
saw that her eyes looked wildly and imploringly into his.

"For Heaven's sake be silent!" she whispered faintly.

"I am your slave," he said softly.  "Take the handkerchief."

"No, no; I trust you," she whispered back.  "I will not try to
dissimulate any longer.  It is impossible; but you must never speak to
me again--never recognise me.  I cannot explain--I am not my own
mistress.  It would injure others.  Be merciful to me, for I have
suffered deeply.  Think of all that has passed as some dream.  I
cannot--must never see you more."

The carriage began to move on, but he walked by the side as she
continued--

"Spare me--spare those I love.  I ask it of you.  Now, farewell for
ever, for your own sake--for mine."

"No," he said softly, as he walked on, unnoticed by the many they
passed, for it was a commonplace thing enough to see a gentleman by a
carriage door talking to its occupant.  "No.  You have made me more
happy then I can express.  The dense black cloud that has been over my
life has passed away, for I know now that you have been wearing this
mask for the sake of others whom you wish to spare.  But you have let me
see behind it; just one glimpse, but enough to show me the true nature
of the woman I love."

"Oh, hush!" she whispered.  "Believe me, that is impossible.  Now leave
me, pray."

"Nothing is impossible to a man who loves as I love you," he whispered.

"No, no; once more, I tell you that we must never meet again."

"And I tell you," he whispered back, "that you are part of my life, and
that while my heart beats I will never give you up.  Marion, we must
meet again sooner or later; I live for nothing else.  Your hand one
moment."

"No, no!" she moaned.

"Your hand--life of my life," he whispered softly; and as she gazed at
him wildly, her hand, as if drawn by the magnetism of his nature, glided
slowly into his, and was clasped in his nervous grasp.

"I am going to wait."

"No," she said more firmly.  "This for the last time.  They would kill
me--they would kill you."

"No," he said.  "An hour ago I would have welcomed death; now life opens
before me in its fullest sunshine of joy.  They shall not kill you; they
shall not kill me, for I know you love me and have suffered, and it has
made me strong."

"Impossible, impossible," she whispered, with her eyes fixed upon his.

Then he loosed his hold of her gloved hand, dropping back and raising
his hat as the carriage rolled on.

He stood and watched it for a few minutes till it had passed out of
sight, and then drawing himself up, feeling that a breach of
invigorating life had run through his being, he turned to walk back
across the path, and found himself nearly confronting the man who had
occupied so much of his waking thoughts, and whose eyes now seemed to
flash as they gazed fiercely in his.

"Well," said Chester to himself, as he set his teeth hard, "I am ready
for the worst.  Am I to learn the mystery of the big house now?"  And he
took a step forward to meet the man he felt to be the great enemy of
both their lives.



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

THE GAME IS UP.

To Chester's surprise James Clareborough's face hardened and grew stony
as they approached, and the next moment he had passed him without a word
or the slightest sign of recognition, and when, stung by jealous
solicitude for the woman he loved, Chester turned and followed, he saw
his enemy take another direction to that in which Marion was being
driven.

Then days passed--then weeks; and in spite of constant watchfulness
Chester could not get a glimpse of her who filled his thoughts.  The
reason was patent--the family had left town, and he had once more to
track them out.  But this was easy, and in a day or two he was down at
the nearest spot where he could unobserved obtain lodgings, ostensibly
trout fishing the stream that meandered by The Towers, the
Clareboroughs' Kentish estate.

Still he could not obtain a second interview.  He knew, though, that
which filled him with exultation and patience to wait--he was loved.

There were troubles at The Towers in the lower stratum, all connected
with speculation; and, though money was worthless in these days in
Chester's eyes, the speculation affected his fate.

It was in this wise:--

Roach looked puffy, and especially so beneath the eyes, where a couple
of pendulous bags disfigured his important-looking countenance.

Unkind people would have said that the flushed aspect was due to
drinking, but he was perfectly steady as he got out of a hansom cab, in
company with Arthur, after a short run up to town, where they had
arrived by a fast train that afternoon, and taking the two small, light
portmanteaus which the driver handed down, each threw his overcoat
across his arm, and they walked together round the corner into Highcombe
Street, made for the Clareboroughs' town house, tried the area gate,
which, as they expected, was locked, and went up the steps to the front
door.

"How do you feel, Arthur?" whispered Roach.

"Right as the mail, old man.  Now then, no gammon.  You keep your pecker
up, and do the talking, and I'll do the business.  There's nothing to
mind."

"Nothing to mind?" said Roach, as he raised his hand towards the
servants' bell, but did not ring.

"Only the handcuffs if we don't do what we want and clear off."

Roach groaned.

"Don't be a fool, old man," whispered the footman.  "As I told you, we
must do it now.  The game's up, and you know what Jemmy is.  There'll be
no mercy, so let's make our hay while the sun shines.  Pull the bell."

With trembling hand Roach rang the servants' bell, and then drew a deep
breath.

"That's right, old man, pull yourself together.  Think it's going to be
a lark, and after it a fortune for us both."

"Yes, I'm going to be firm now," growled Roach, hoarsely.  "It's our
only chance, Orthur, so stand by me."

"Like an iron post, old man.  That's the way, jolly's the style.  Here
she comes."

They caught a glimpse of the housekeeper at the side window, and
directly after the door was open.

"Good-morning, ma'am," began the butler.

"Good-morning, Mrs Barron, ma'am," said Arthur.

She looked sternly from one to the other, without making way for them to
enter.

"Why are you two men up in town?" she said harshly.

"Well, the fact is, ma'am, I had a little bit o' business to do about my
savings in the sweet threes, and as the gentlemen were all in Paris, and
the ladies were not expecting any company, I made so bold as to ask Mrs
James Clareborough to spare me till to-morrow night and let Orthur come
with me, for I don't like going through money matters without a
witness."

"Oh," said the housekeeper, speaking with her lips very close together,
but without drawing back.  "Then why have you both come here?  This is
not a broker's."

"No, ma'am, of course not," said Arthur, with a little laugh.

"I was not speaking to you, sir," said the housekeeper, turning upon him
suddenly.  "Have the goodness to keep your place."

"Certainly, ma'am.  Beg pardon, ma'am."

"Now, Mr Roach; what do you want here?"

"Want here, ma'am?" stammered the butler; "want here?  Why, I can't go
to my broker without my warrants."

The housekeeper's pale face looked more pinched than ever as she gazed
searchingly at the other, who looked completely taken aback; and then
she darted a sharp glance at Arthur, who evidently expected it and did
not look, but busied himself in bringing a little bit of vanity well
into sight, the said piece of vanity taking the shape of a couple of
bronze fox-head cuff studs, which he drew beyond the sleeves of his
coat.

"You can go down into your pantry and get what you require," said the
housekeeper, coldly, and she made way for the butler to enter.  Arthur
was about to follow.  "No," she said sharply, "you can wait."

"Wait--here, ma'am?"

"Yes," said the housekeeper, decisively, and she made as if to shut the
door.  "Or, no; you can sit down inside."

Arthur brightened up, and stepped in jauntily, the housekeeper closing
the door.

"You need not take your portmanteau down with you, Roach."

"No, ma'am, of course not," said the butler, respectfully.

"Here, I'll mind that, Mr Roach, sir," said the footman, stepping
forward to take the valise, after standing his own on end.

The butler was a few steps in the hall, the housekeeper between them,
and a little on Arthur's right, as he took a step forward, taking his
overcoat from his arm and shaking it out the while, as if about to
double it afresh.  Then, quick as thought, he stepped aside, threw it
over the woman's head, and twisted it together.  "Now, old man; her
legs, sharp!"

Roach stood for a moment as if bewildered.  Then at an oath from his
companion, he stepped forward, threw his arms round the struggling
woman's legs, lifted her up, and in spite of her smothered cries bore
her right to the end of the passage.

"Down with her; pantry," said the footman, sharply, and they carried her
quickly down the basement to the butler's pantry, where they laid her on
the table.

"Fetch the trunks, old man," said Arthur, loudly.  "I can manage.
Quiet, you old cat, or I'll choke you!"

He tightened the coat with a couple, of twists as he spoke, but the
faint cry continued.

"Bah! let her squeak; she might howl for a month, and no one could
hear."

This, for the butler looked unnerved.  He went up directly, though, and
as soon as he was gone Arthur put his face to the coat, close to the old
lady's ear.

"You just listen," he said.  "You've had your innings, and led me a
pretty devil of a life with your nasty ways.  It's my turn now.  Quiet,
curse you!  Stop that row, or as sure as you're a living woman now,
you'll want a coffin to-morrow."

"What--what is it you want.  Money?" came faintly.

"Never you mind what we want, old girl.  There, you needn't kick and
struggle; we don't want to carry you off and marry you by force, so lie
still.  Ah, that's right; look sharp.  My Gladstone, not yours.  Get out
the rope."

The butler, whose face was now mottled with white patches, opened one of
the portmanteaus and took out a cord.

"Now come here and lay hold.  If she begins to squeal again, tighten
your grip a bit."

But the woman lay perfectly still now, and she did not even wince when
the footman twisted the rope tightly round her ankles and knotted it
fast.

"Now then, over on her face, guv'nor.  I must have these wrists tied
behind, or she may begin to scratch."

The helpless woman was turned over, her wrists firmly secured, and she
was then laid on her side and the coat taken off, to reveal her wide,
staring eyes, and teeth set, with the lips drawn right away.

"You've killed her, my boy," whispered the butler in a hoarse voice.

"Bah!  Old cats like that have got nine lives," said the man,
contemptuously.  "Here, give me a clean glass cloth, and I'll shove a
gag in her mouth."

"No, no.  She's bad enough as it is," whispered the butler.  "Let her
be."

The footman looked at the old housekeeper dubiously, and then
unwillingly gave up his project.

"Shall we put her in the plate-closet?  I have the key."

Arthur laughed.

"Why, that would smother her in half an hour.  No; help me to lay her
down on the hearth-rug.  We can come and look at her now and then.  But
she won't move.  We've pretty well frightened her to death."

Judging from appearances, this was the case, and after laying the
unfortunate woman on the hearth-rug, they took portmanteaus and coats
and hurried out into the main passage, then into that which went off at
right angles, to stop in front of the lobby door.



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

AND GROWS DANGEROUS.

The key the men possessed admitted them at once and the other
portmanteau was opened, ready for use--a use which soon became plain.

"Think it'll be all right this time?" said Roach, who was in an intense
state of excitement.

"Dunno till I try," was the reply.  "Light up and look sharp."

Roach turned to the second portmanteau, which stood inside the door, and
took out a dark lantern.  Then striking a match, he lit it, and in
obedience to a word from his young companion, he held up the cover of
the iron door key-hole with one hand, and directed the full glare of the
bull's-eye on the opening with the other.

Arthur had not been idle.  Hastily doubling his overcoat, he made of it
a pad to kneel upon, and then taking a bright new key from out of a
piece of tissue paper, he began to try if it would fit.

"All right," he whispered, "it goes splendidly."

"Well done," panted Roach.  "But be quick."

"Quick be blowed!  Don't you be so jolly nervous; there's no one to
interrupt us now."

"Well, turn the key."

"Won't turn--sticks.  Oil."

Roach handed a little oil tin from the portmanteau, the key was
withdrawn and lubricated and once more thrust in, to evidently act upon
a part of the mechanism of the great lock, but that was all.

"Bah!" ejaculated Arthur.  "I know the beggar.  It's one of that sort
you see at the safe shops.  When you turn the key you shoot bolts, top,
bottom and both sides.  It nearly does.  He made it quite to the wax
pattern, and it only wants a touch or two.  Here, give us the file."

"Stop a minute."

"What's the matter?"

"I want to see if old Mrs Barron's safe."

"Look alive then.  No, no; give me the file first."

The tool was handed and the active young fellow held the key close to
the light and began filing away where it seemed to him the wards of the
key wanted opening; and he was still busy when Roach returned.  "She's
all right," he panted, his breath coming short as if he had been
running.

"Oh yes, she won't get clear of those knots--an old cat!--I know.  You
take it easy, old man; we're as safe as safe."

"But suppose the guv'nors come back from Paris, my dear boy?"

"Won't be back for a fortnight.  You know as well as I do.  Lor' 'a'
mussy! on'y think of our taking up a game like this, old man!"

"It's awful--it's awful, Orthur."

"Yah! we can't help it.  How were we to know that everything we backed
would go wrong and leave us in such a hole?" said Arthur, as he filed
away.

"But it seems like burglary," whispered the butler.

"Burglary be blowed!  Look here, if you're going to whine I shall cut
it, and my stick too, and you may face it out with the guv'nors.  What
are you going to say when they ask after that gold centre-piece, and the
rest of the plate you've lent my uncle?"

"We've lent my uncle!" said the butler, reproachfully.

"Oh, well, we then.  I'm ready to take my share.  It was their fault,
and we're driven to this to get money to take out all you've pledged."

"We've pledged."

"We be hanged!  You did the pledging, but I don't want to back out of
it.  I'm going to stand by you.  Only, you see, circumstances are
against us, old man.  We meant to come quietly and get enough out of
here to square us and make us able to make a fresh start on our own
hook--I'm sick of their tips--but as soon as we come to do it quietly,
meaning to sleep here for the night, that old cat cuts up rough, and we
have to quiet her.  Consequence is, old man, we've got to go the whole
thing and make ourselves rich men all at once.  Don't matter.  Just as
well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, so I mean to make it two sheep if I
can--two sheep a-piece, old chap.  There, that ought to do it now."

He ceased filing and applied the key again, to find that he could turn
it a little more.

"Almost," he said.  "Oil again."

But the fresh oil sent it no farther, and the butler wiped his dripping
brow and ejaculated--

"Tut-tut-tut-tut!"

"Look here, old chap, if you can do it better come and try yourself,"
cried Arthur in an ill-used tone.

"No, no, my dear boy, I can't.  You are cleverer at such things than I
am, but it's such fidgeting work to stand here holding the light and
doing nothing."

"Never mind, it's worth it," said Arthur, laughing.  "Think of the
pearls and diamonds in here, old fellow.  Now for another try.  We shall
be as rich as Rothschilds when we've done, and across the water before
they can put a hand upon us.  Bah!  Blister the key!  It's as near as
near.  But I'll do it, if I try till to-morrow morning.  Here, go and
see how the old girl's getting on.  Got your keys?"

"Yes, my boy, but they are no good for this."

"Pah! who said they were?  They're good for a bottle of wine, though,
ain't they?"

"Oh yes--yes!"

"Then bring one with the cork out, and never mind a glass; and don't
stop to decant it, old chap, for I want a drink horrid bad.  This is
warm work."

The butler went away on tip-toe.  As he walked along the passage he
heard the sharp grating of the file, and shivered with dread.  But upon
reaching the pantry he felt relieved, for the housekeeper seemed to be
asleep.

Not content with this, Roach went up to the hall and listened.  But all
was perfectly still in the great solemn mansion, and he went down again,
to be conscious of the scrap, scrap of the file, before he reached the
pantry, where the old lady still lay unmoved.

Hastily getting a bottle of wine from the cupboard, and uncorking it, he
went back, to find Arthur still filing away.

"Oh, there you are then," he grumbled.  "I was just a-coming to see if
you were finishing the bottle all to your own cheek.  Here, give us
hold."

He took a deep draught, and recommenced filing with renewed vigour for
some minutes.

"Now," he said, "this is the last time of trying.  If it won't do it we
must do the other thing."

He tried the key, and it turned half-way, but it was forced upon them
that there was something wanting.  The key did not touch some portion of
the ingeniously-made lock, and the young man thrust it in his pocket.

"Better have tried the hammering at first," he said.

"No, no!  The noise," cried Roach.

"Bah!  Who's going to take any notice of a bit of knocking?" said the
young man, contemptuously.  "The sound can't reach them there."

"But suppose a policeman heard it as he passed?"

"Well, he'd hear it and say to himself, `They've got the workpeople
in.'"

"But--"

"Oh, blow your buts, old man!  Did the police come to see what was the
matter when the men took out the kitchener and put in a new one?"

"No, but--"

"But you're in a stew.  That's what's the matter.  Give us hold.
Thinnest wedge, and the hammer, and you hold the light.  That piece of
leather will stop the sound."

The butler sighed, but obeyed his companion, handing him a steel wedge
with an edge as fine as the blade of a knife.  Then he held the light
close while his companion gently tapped it in between the door and
frame.

Another followed, and another--quite a dozen, of increasing sizes,
having been brought; and the leather-covered hammer deadened the sound
greatly, while the crack grew larger, and it seemed pretty certain that
the steel wedges would sooner or later force open the door.

"See this?" said the operator, triumphantly.

"Oh yes, I see, but I'm in a bath o' perspiration."

"With doing nothing but hold a candle!" said Arthur, with a chuckle, as
he drove in another wedge as far as it would go and released two more
thinner ones.  "Now I'm going to have a moment's rest and a drink while
you go and see how dear old Mrs Barron is.  Whistle if you want help."

The butler went off, and the young man drank and examined the progress
he had made, and he was still examining so as to find where he could
drive in the next wedge with the most effect when the butler came back.

"She hasn't stirred," he said.

"She can't," said his companion, with a laugh, and he began tapping
again vigorously, but at the end of half a dozen strokes, as his hammer
was poised to deliver another, there was a dull clang, and the young
fellow leaped back.

"Hear that?" he said in a whisper full of triumph.

"Yes, it was like the banging to of another iron door."

"Banging to of an iron grandmother!" cried Arthur, contemptuously; "it's
the whole front splitting away, and another wedge in will fetch it right
off."

"I hope so," said Roach, piteously.  "Do you think it will take much
longer?"

"I don't care if it takes two days," said the other, coolly.  "Don't
matter so long as we get the door open."

Roach sighed.

"There, hold the light, and don't do that.  You are a cheerful mate,
'pon my sivvy.  Here goes."

The speaker began again, keeping a sharp lookout, so as to spring back
and not be crushed by the falling door; and to this end he made Roach
stand in the entrance and direct the light from there, giving him plenty
of room.  But the door did not fall, and at the end of an hour the
hammer was thrown down.

"It's no go."

"Do you give it up?" cried Roach, eagerly.

"No, I don't give it up, but I'm not going to work all the flesh off my
bones when one stroke will do the work."

"What!  The powder?"

"That's it, old chap.  Go and see how the old woman is."

Roach sighed, and went away, to return shivering.

"She looks horrible," he whispered; "but you mustn't think of powder, my
lad.  You'll bring the people in from both sides to see what's the
matter."

"Won't make noise enough for that, and I sha'n't use enough," said
Arthur, coolly.  "Don't talk.  That door's got to come open, and I wish
I'd tried this plan at first."

"But it's too dangerous."

"No, it isn't.  You keep quiet, and make that light shine well on the
key-hole."

As he spoke the young man took a pound canister of fine gun-powder from
the portmanteau pushing the latter afterwards outside into the passage.
Then with a small funnel, also provided in the portmanteau, and fitted
with a curved piece of pipe, to fill the interior of the lock with the
fine black dust, which ran away down the funnel and pipe as easily as
sand from one side to another of an hour-glass.

"This is the way," said Arthur, eagerly.  "I shall get pretty well half
a pound in."

It seemed quite probable, for the powder ran trickling on, every
stoppage being overcome by a shake or a tap or two, till at last, no
matter how the door was rapped, no more would go down.

"Doesn't matter; there's plenty," said the young man, quietly, thrusting
in a piece of ready prepared slow match, which hung down the front of
the door and half a yard over the floor, where the powder sprinkled
about was carefully dusted away.

Then by means of a wedge some scraps of rag were driven in tightly to
fill up the key-hole, and the young man rose up.

"There we are, old chap," he said.  "All we've got to do is to open the
lantern, touch the end of that slow match in the light, let it go down--
stop a minute, let's blow away a little more of the powder--then
there'll be plenty of time to shut and lock the door, wait for the
blow-out of the lock, and go in after and pick up the best pieces, fill
our Gladstones as we like and be off."

He went down on his knees, and, trembling violently, Roach held up the
lantern, as he stood quiet outside now.

"Here!  How am I to see?" cried his companion, angrily.

"But it isn't safe to bring a light near the powder."

"Bosh!  How can a light behind glass do any harm?  Come closer, I
mustn't leave any powder near the slow match.  That's better; I can see
now, and--Ah! take care."

For all at once the butler fell over him with a crash, the lantern
struck against the opposite wall and came open, the lamp portion falling
out and firing some of the scattered powder, while at the same moment
the lobby door was banged to, shut, and they heard the shooting of the
lock.



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

THE COLLECTOR WAKES UP.

Professor Westcott, next door, had another consignment that morning.
The London and North Western Railway Company's men called with their van
and a way-bill to deliver two chests from Birmingham, weighing over two
hundredweight each, both strongly screwed up and roped, and a smaller
line round them, carefully-sealed:--"Books; with great care.  To be kept
dry."

There were two men with the van, and a boy, the former making very light
of the heavy chests as they lifted them off the tail-board of the
vehicle, while the professor stood blinking on the steps in his big
spectacles, his grey hair hanging down long from beneath a black velvet
skull-cap, and his rusty dressing-gown, tied on anyhow, reaching nearly
to his heels.

"Rum old owl, Joe," said one of the men.  "This makes six chesties I've
delivered since Christmas."

"Books?" said the other.  "Yes, books.  The old buffer's got his house
chock-full of 'em from top to bottom, I should say.  You'll see when we
get in; he'll ask us to carry 'em downstairs."

"All right, mate; I don't mind if its anywheres near the beer cellar."

"Well, it ain't, Tom, and so I tell you.  I've delivered boxes o' books
to him for years now, and I never see a glass o' ale yet."

"Stingy old hunks!  I say, we ain't 'bliged to carry 'em farther then
the front door.  That's delivering."

"Yes, that's delivering, mate, but you're allus in such a hurry.  I was
going to say you get no beer, but he'll be as civil as treacle, and
stand rubbing his hands and telling yer to mind and not break the glass
in the book-cases as you passes; and when you've done he twinkles at you
through them Chinee-looking specs of his, and crooks his finger, and
beckons you to follow him into the front room, as is full of books.
Then he brings out a little glass and a bottle of the most heavenly old
sperrets you ever tasted.  Tlat!  I can taste it yet.  Talk about
cordial--why, it's enough to make you say you'll never have a glass in a
pub. again."

"Well, lay hold," said Tom, sharply; "look alive!  Can't you see the
gentleman's a-waiting?"

The head van-man chuckled, and together they lifted in chest Number 1,
the professor smiling and looking deeply interested.

"On the mat, if you please," he said, "and when you have carried in the
other, I should be very much obliged if you would take them both
downstairs, where I can open them without making a mess."

"Suttunly, sir," said Tom, and they set down Number 1 and went after
Number 2, upon which the boy sat, drumming the side with his heels.

"Right, Tommy?"

"Right you are, mate."  And the men went on with their task muttering--

"Don't see how it would make a mess if they were opened in the front
passage.  Long time since there's been a broom there."

"See the spiders too?"

"No, but I saw the webs."

"But what does he do with all these books?  He can't read 'em all."

"Collects 'em, I should say.  Steady!  Got it?"

"Right!" and the second chest was carried in.  "One moment while I shut
the door," said the professor, rubbing his hands; "then I'll show you
the way.  Now then, please; mind the book-cases as you pass.  It is
rather dark.  Very heavy, I suppose?"

"Oh, tidy, sir.  Nothing to signify.  Books is heavy things."

"Yes, very heavy, my good man.  That's right, through this door, and
down these stone stairs.  I'm afraid you find it very heavy."

"Oh, we're all right, sir.  Used to it," grunted Tom.  "We're always
lifting things in or out; but we has a good rest between, sir, and rides
about in the company's carriage."

"Down there, please, under that window, where I can see to unpack them.
Thank you."

The two men went up the stone staircase again, noting the empty chests
and book-cases with which the walls were lined, and above all the dust
of years collected thickly.  Then the second chest was carried down, and
the quaint-looking old gentleman smiled and made his round-glassed
spectacles twinkle as they reached the hall.

"I must sign the paper and pay you, my men," he said; and then in a
drily comical way he crooked his right index finger, and beckoned to
them to follow him into the gloomy book-lined dining-room, where he
signed the delivery book, paid the carriage, and then took a bottle from
a cellarette and a glass from a closet under a book-case, and poured out
for the men, while they tossed off the rich spirit in turn.

"That's prime, sir," said the first man.

"'Eavenly," sighed Tom.

"Old and good, my men.  I'm glad you like it.  It's soft and mellow, and
will not hurt you.  Have another glass?"

"Hurt yer, sir!" said the second man, with a sigh; "that stuff wouldn't
hurt a babby."

It did not hurt him when it came to his turn.  To use his own figurative
way of speaking, he only made one bite at it, and then glanced at the
black bottle as if it were a little idol which ought to be worshipped,
before following his leader out into the hall, the old professor closing
the door after them and immediately after, drawing himself up straight,
taking off his goggle glasses and thrusting them into his pocket,
looking now a keen-eyed, elderly man, with the sharp, yellow-tinged face
of a New Englander.

Going back with a firm step into the dining-room, and with the weak old
stooping manner entirely wanting, he took a fresh glass from the closet,
filled it and tossed off the contents.

"Hah! yes, that is a good glass of brandy," he muttered; and taking a
cigar from the same receptacle he lit up and began to smoke, as he
seated himself at a table, drew forward a blotter, and spent some time
reading and writing letters, before throwing himself upon an old
well-worn couch and going off into sleep which lasted a couple of hours.

He woke and in the most business-like way went downstairs into the
basement, where from a cupboard he took a large screw-driver, walked to
the chests, cut the ropes, and carefully examined the seals attached to
the lesser cords before disturbing them.  Then, apparently satisfied, he
cut these in turn, and began to take out the screws from the lid of the
first chest.

He had reached the last screw when he suddenly stopped short and stood
listening.  The next minute he had walked to the end of the passage, to
stand listening again, till apparently satisfied, he went into a dark
corner and pulled at a knob as if ringing a bell.  Then he went sharply
back to the chests, laid down the screw-driver, and hurried up the
stairs to the dining-room with all the activity of a man of forty.

Here he went to a book-case and took down an ancient-looking massive
tome, laid it upon the table, lifted the cover, and showed that it was
only an imitation book, the cover proving to be the lid of a box in
which lay a mahogany case, from which he drew out a small revolver, and
after examining its six chambers to see if they were loaded, he
carefully concealed it in the breast of the vest he wore beneath the old
dressing-gown.

Then the spectacles were resumed, and the slow, stooping, aged aspect
came over him, as he went into the hall, threw off his dressing-gown and
took an old-fashioned coat from a peg, donned it, and then completed his
old-world aspect with a quaint broad-brimmed hat.

He looked the most peaceable of elderly gentlemen as he took a baggy
umbrella from the stand, went out, closed the door after him, walked
slowly along by the area railings for a few steps, and then turned up
the steps to the Clareboroughs' door, passing into the hall so quickly
that it seemed as if the door was opened from the inside, though anyone
who had watched would have seen that there was a very quick, clever
application of a latch-key.

His movements now were slow, deliberate and silent.  He laid down
umbrella and hat upon a table, and, apparently quite at home, went from
room to room on the ground floor before ascending to the drawing-rooms;
but finding no one, he went a floor higher and then descended to the
hall, where from the top of the stairs he stood listening to the
hammering going on below.

For some time he seemed undecided how to act, but at last he was in the
act of descending, when steps below made him retreat, and he stepped
back, listening, and hearing Roach go into the pantry.  The next minute
the man began to ascend, and as actively as a cat, and with as silent a
step, the professor ran to the foot of the grand staircase and bounded
up to the drawing-room floor, ensconced himself behind a heavy curtain
which draped one of the doors, and made out that whoever it was reached
the hall and went into dining-room, library, study, lobby and
morning-room, before he went back to the stairs and descended once more
to the basement.

The professor was after him directly, and at the head of the stairs in
time to hear Roach come out of the pantry again, and the chink of a
glass against a bottle.

He descended the gloomy stairs by slow degrees, listening the while to
the work going on, and hearing the sound of tools, the whisperings, and
after a long period of waiting and another forced retreat when Roach
went again to the pantry to make sure the housekeeper was safe, he
finally stood thinking.

"Someone who knows the place well," he said to himself.  "Quite at home.
Where can the old woman be?  They can't have killed her."

He raised one hand quickly to his breast, as the thought sent a thrill
through him, and taking advantage of a busy time when tools clinked and
voices whispering were heard, he stole right down, stepped cautiously
along the passage, and then darted into the first open doorway, for
there was an impatient utterance from somewhere ahead, and he felt that
he was on the point of being discovered.  But the work went on again,
and he glanced round, found that he was in the butler's pantry, and saw
at the same instant more--the tightly-bound woman upon the table.

He was at her side in an instant, and as he bent over her the wild eyes
were opened and gazed intently in his.

There was no occasion for him to raise his finger to his lips, for the
old housekeeper, as the tapping went on, gave him a meaning look and
jerked her head side-wise, before lying perfectly still again.

The professor nodded sharply, tapped his breast, and then drew a
pen-knife from his pocket, with whose keen blade he quickly divided the
rope which bound hands and feet.  Then, pressing his finger to his lips
once more, he went silently out of the pantry, followed by the
housekeeper's eyes, as breathing hard she watched him and then lay
perfectly still with her face contracted by pain and dread, waiting for
the denouement.

It was long in coming, for the professor's movements were slow and
cautious in the extreme.  But there was to be no more retreat.  He did
not know who were there for some time, but he was ready to meet the
enemy, whoever it might be.

At last he was in a position from which he could peer round the angle
where the passage turned sharply, and as he gazed into the lobby a few
yards off, where Roach directed the light of the bull's-eye lantern with
quivering hand, his own trembled and the revolver he held shook when it
was raised again and again to take aim.

At last a grim smile of satisfaction tightened his lips into a line, for
he saw his opportunity.

In the very nick of time, after stealing close up, he threw himself
forward, and with one heavy thrust drove the butler forward over his
companion, banged to the door and locked it, bringing out the key,
before he retreated and turned the corner to listen for the explosion
which did not come.

"Light went out, I suppose," he muttered.  "Pity too.  Pleasanter for
others, and it would have been accidental."

He thrust back the revolver, placed the key in his pocket, and without
stopping hurried into the pantry.

"Got them--safe," he said, and ran upstairs to the handsome library,
where he unlocked a cabinet, touched a button and waited for a minute,
before a little weird voice answered--

"Who is it?"

He gave his number to the questioner, and asked to be switched on to
X987654321.

In a few minutes, in obedience to the modern magic of the telephone,
there came another signal and question and satisfactory proof of
identity, before the professor said sharply--

"Krakatoa.  Come quick."

"Hah!" sighed the operator, as he closed the little cabinet; "now for
the old lady.  Is the danger scotched or killed?"

He hurried down to the pantry, to find that the housekeeper had not
moved; and as soon as he reached her side, he took her in his arms,
while hers feebly clasped his neck.

"My poor old darling!" he whispered tenderly.  "In much pain?"

"A good deal.  My ankles are numbed.  Is there any danger now?"

"Not for us, I think," he said grimly.  "There, hold still, and I'll
carry you up to the library;" and lifting her from the table as easily
as if she had been a mere girl, he bore her up the stairs and laid her
upon a couch, kneeling afterwards by her side to chafe her ankles and
wrists in turn, while she told him all that he did not know.

"What will you do now?" she said anxiously at last.

"Go on chafing my poor old darling's ankles," he said quietly.

"No, no; you know what I mean--those two men."

"Did anyone see them come, dear?"

"Not that I am aware of," she replied.

"Humph!"

"Well, you do not speak."

"Why should I?  It is not your business--not entirely mine.  We must see
what they say."

"You have sent for them?"

"Of course; directly.  It is a vital question."

"For us?"

"For them, I fear."

The old woman shuddered.

"Why that?" he said quietly.  "Ought we to sympathise so much with
burglars who stand at nothing?"

"But it is so horrible," she whispered.

"It would be as horrible for us," he said sharply; "and we are of more
consequence than they."

"But surely they will not--"

"Kill them?  Possibly.  Something must be done to silence them.  It is
their own doing, the scoundrels!  We cannot go to the wall."

The old woman closed her eyes and sighed.

"God help us!" she said softly.  "Harry, I am getting very weary of my
life now; it is so near the end."

"Hush!" said the professor, gently.  "There are things which you ought
not to see or know.  You are weak from the shock and injuries you have
received."

"But listen, dear."

"My dear old wifie," he said tenderly, "it is of no use to look in that
imploring way at me.  You know what Jem is, and I am too old now to set
myself in antagonism with him.  There, be at rest; I will do all I can.
Don't think me so bloodthirsty as to desire their end.  Still, so many
interests are at stake.  It is a case of burglar against housekeeper.
The scoundrels came armed."

"Armed?"

"Yes, I saw a revolver in the trunk with their burgling tools.  If I had
come upon them suddenly, and they had had time, they would have fired at
me."

"Oh, surely not!"

"Humph!  You are a woman, my dear, with a woman's gentle heart, ready to
defend and palliate.  After the way in which I found you, I do not feel
so merciful.  Let me ask you one question; If there was nothing to fear
from them, why did they come armed?"

The old housekeeper made no reply, but lay back upon the couch weak and
trembling, while the professor slowly paced the room, till she opened
her eyes wildly, and signed to him to come to her side.

"I am more upset than I thought for," she said feebly.  "Help me up to
my room; I think I can walk now."

The professor's brow lightened, for it was a relief to him to hear the
old woman's words; but she noted the change and sighed as she rose
painfully.

"You will wait until they come?" she said, trembling at the thought of
that which she dreaded.

"Need you ask?" said the professor, gravely.  "Come, you will be better
after lying down for a few hours.  Try to forget everything in the
remembrance that I am doing all for you that I can."

"Yes, Harry," she said softly; "I have never had cause to complain of
your want of love for me in these forty years; but for my sake, dear,
let there be no more crime."

"For your sake I will do everything I can," said the professor, gravely,
as he bent down and kissed her while leading her to the door and then
slowly up to a bedroom on the third floor, where he left her at the end
of a few minutes, apparently sinking into a doze.

As he stole out softly he silently removed the key, replaced it on the
other side, and locked her in, before descending quickly to the hall,
where he stood listening for a few minutes, and then went down into the
basement and stepped softly forward to listen at the outer door of the
plate vault.

A faint muttering of voices could be heard as he placed his ear to the
key-hole, but all else was still; there was no sound of an effort being
made to escape, and he went back to the hall, where he took out and
re-examined his revolver.

"I wonder," he said to himself, "whether a shot or two could be heard in
the street.  Pish!  Absurd!  No one heard the reports when poor Bob went
down.  Ah, here they are.  They haven't been long."

For there was a faint rattle of a latch-key in the door, and Robert
Clareborough entered, in company with the brothers, the former looking
excited and anxious, the two latter stern and as if prepared for the
worst.



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

GRIM DEATH.

As the door banged to and was locked, Roach uttered a wild cry and threw
himself upon the floor, covering the back of his head with his hands, as
he thrust it into the corner farthest from where the powder was
sputtering and sending up tiny clouds of smoke.

Arthur shrank away against the wall for a moment, glancing wildly at the
broken lantern and the lamp-wick, burning still in a little pool of oil,
while the powder kept flashing out, darting from grain to grain, where
they had been scattered about the floor.  Then the tiny flames divided,
one set running towards the portmanteau, in which the partially-emptied
tin had been thrown, the other going by fits and starts in the direction
of the iron entry.

This nerved the younger man to desperation, and he made a dash at the
grains upon the floor, to sweep them away before they reached the loaded
door, feeling convinced, in his agony of fear, that the little burning
train would somehow communicate with the powder with which he had
charged the lock.  But in spite of his efforts the fire was too quick,
the flame running swiftly along by the bottom of the frame, and with a
yell of despair he dashed to the other corner of the far side of the
lobby, to imitate the butler, expecting to hear the charge explode, and
then the iron door driven back to crush them to death.

It seemed long minutes to the two wretched men as they crouched there
with their eyes shut, but it was only the matter of a few seconds'
suspense before the little chamber was in total darkness, and filled
with the dull, dank reek of the burnt powder.

At last the footman raised his head cautiously, with hope reviving.  The
charge had not gone off and the tin had not been reached.

He looked in the direction of the great safe, but all was black, and,
rising slowly, he felt his way to the door to try if it were really
fast; while as his hands glided over it he found that it fitted so
closely that he could hardly make out the crack between door and frame.
The main object of his search, though, was for the lock, in the hope
that he should be able to force it off with one of the wedges, and then,
armed as they were, he and his companion might escape.

But there was no lock to attack, no key-hole.  That which he sought was
of the mortice pattern, buried in the heavy lining, and wherever he
passed his hands, the surface was perfectly smooth.

"Curse the old Jezebel!" he muttered.  "Here, Roach, old man, rouse up.
We're done, but we can't stay here--we must get out somehow.  Did you
see her?  I wish I'd tied her up a little tighter."

"No, no, no," groaned Roach.  "I did not see her.  She must have got
free somehow.  I only felt her hands as she jumped upon me from behind
and drove me forward on to you.  Is--is the powder going off?"

"No!  Get up.  There isn't a spark now.  Phew! it's enough to stifle a
fellow.  Where's that wine?"

"I put it somewhere in this corner.  Yes, here."

"Give us hold.  Be sharp."

There was a clicking noise in the utter darkness and after feeling about
for a few moments, the younger man grasped the bottle, drank heavily,
and passed it to his trembling companion, who snatched at it and drank
deeply in turn.

"That's better," cried Arthur, sharply.  "Now then, the matches."

"No, no, don't strike a light.  Are you mad?"

"Pretty nigh, but we must risk it or we can never get out."

"We never shall get out alive," groaned Roach.

"Well, I mean to," said his companion; "so here goes.  I can't use the
hammer and chisels and wedges in this blessed darkness."

There was the crackle of a match, and the elder man uttered a cry of
horror as he shrank into his corner again, but as the wax taper burned
up steadily in Arthur's fingers, and no explosion followed, he obeyed
his companion's order and picked up the lamp, which proved not to be
utterly drained of oil, and after a little patient effort began to burn
again as it was replaced in the broken lantern.

"Now, then, sharp's the word," said Arthur.  "Hold the light while I
chisel out the wood till I can get at the lock.  Mustn't use the hammer,
or it will put her on her guard.  Wonder whether she's outside
listening."

There was not a sound to be heard, and with Roach tremblingly holding
the light, Arthur worked away with the sharpest-edged wedge, but made
little progress, for a few cuts were sufficient to prove that the door
was of the hardest oak, and when the man had been carving away for
nearly an hour, with the perspiration streaming down his face, it was to
throw down the chisel in despair, for the wood proved to be only the
casing of an iron door of great strength.

"Give me the bottle," said Arthur, panting.  "Can't you do something
beside shivering there?"

Roach groaned as he handed the bottle.

"Man wants a bit o' Dutch courage over a job like this."

"We shall never get out," groaned Roach.

"Not if it's left to you, old man.  You'd turn it into a tomb at once.
Here, I've left you a drop.  Tip it off, and see if it'll put some pluck
into you.  There, I've tried fair play and quiet; now it's got to be
foul play and noise.  Give me hold of the hammer and let's see what a
wedge'll do."

"Hist!  What's that?"

Arthur needed no telling to be silent.  Snatching the light from his
companion, he reached over to the portmanteau and took out the two small
revolvers, handed one to his companion, and whispered to him--

"It was the lock.  Someone coming.  Don't fire without you're obliged.
I'll try the hammer first."

As he spoke he blew out the little lamp, and set it down, before
standing facing the door with his hand raised, ready to strike down the
first who entered.

Some minutes must have elapsed without further alarm, and the two men
were ready to believe that the sharp snap they had heard must have come
from the iron door of the closet, the frame springing back after being
strained by the application of the wedges that had been driven in.

All at once, just as an attack was about to be made once more upon the
way by which they had entered, and Arthur had taken a fresh match from
his box, a soft light began to dawn, grew rapidly, and dazzled their
eyes, as they strove to make out whence it came, and stood ready once
more to strike.

It was not from the passage door, but from the ceiling just over the
great safe, and as the men stood trembling with fear and excitement,
there was a spurt of smoke from the great iron safe, a dull concussion,
and the footman fell back.  While as the butler stood staring upward,
his face ashy grey in the soft light, as the smoke curled about a
glowing bulk, there was a second spurt of smoke, and concussion, the
wretched man fell forward across his companion, and the light grew
dimmer in the heavy clinging vapour, slowly dying out into utter
darkness, while the silence was as that of the tomb.



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

UNDER THE BEECHES.

It was a lovely morning in the sylvan solitude by The Towers, and
leaving Mrs James and Mrs Dennis Clareborough in the drawing-room,
Marion took her sunshade and a book, to wander away across the lawn to
the gate in the ring fence, and then along the path at the edge of the
beech wood, ostensibly to find a seat in the shade of one of the great
spreading trees, and have a calm, quiet read.

But ere she had gone a couple of hundred yards the fever in her blood
and the throbbing of her temples told her that the idea of calm and rest
was the merest farce.

She had hailed the departure of the gentlemen for Paris, as they had
said, as a relief from the quiet, insidious siege laid to her by James
Clareborough, who rarely spoke but on the most commonplace topics, and
was always coldly polite; but there were moments when she met his eyes
and read plainly enough that his intentions were unaltered, and that
sooner of later he would again begin to make protestations of his love.

Her position seemed harder than she could bear.  His wife hated her with
a bitter, jealous hatred, but she was too much crushed down and afraid
of her fierce lord to show her dislike more openly, though there were
times when she seemed ready to break out into open reproach.

"Oh, if I could only end it all!" thought Marion again and again.  "Will
Rob never break with them?

"Never," she said to herself, despairingly; "they would never let him
go.  And yet surely the world is wide enough, and somewhere surely he
might find peace.

"No, he would never settle down to another life.  It is fate.  There is
neither peace nor happiness now for me."

She had wandered on for quite a mile before, feeling hot and wearied,
she seated herself on one of the great gnarled mossy buttresses of a
beech and leaned her head upon her hand, thinking of him whom she could
not keep out of her thoughts, but still only in despair.  Then her
thoughts turned once more to James Clareborough, and, brave and firm as
she was, a thrill of horror ran through her at the dread which oppressed
her and set her heart throbbing wildly.

What if this Parisian journey was only a ruse and James Clareborough
were back on purpose to try and gain a meeting with her while her
brother was not by her side?

The thought was horrible, and it grew more intense, her cheeks flushing
and then growing ghastly white from her emotion.

"What madness to come out here alone!" she thought.  "He would have been
watching for me, and be ready to read it as an invitation."

She looked round wildly, and started as a sharp tap was heard close at
hand.

"Am I growing such a nervous, feeble coward," she said, "that I am
afraid of a rabbit?  What have I to fear from him?"

She laughed at her weak folly, and to prove to herself that she was no
longer under the influence of dread she took her book and opened it at
random, but did not read a word, for her musings began again.

"It is excusable," she thought.  "All these years of dread of discovery,
of some end coming to their plans, and for the sake of what?  A
miserable gilded life of luxury that is hateful to me and makes me
shiver when I look into his pleading eyes.  He loves me and would marry
me to-morrow in his ignorance; and then what would he say when he knew
the truth?  I cannot bear it; there must--there shall be an end.  It is
not life; it is one miserable nightmare of fear."

She sprang to her feet, uttering a faint cry of horror, and turned to
run.  For there was some truth in her suspicions; she had been followed.
There was a quick step behind, and she had run some little distance
before, glancing back, she saw that it was not James Clareborough, but
Chester, standing beneath the trees which had sheltered her, and now
gazing after her with a look of anger and despair.

She stopped, and he came up to her side.

"Have I grown so hateful to your sight?" he said bitterly.

"No, no!" she cried, holding out her trembling hand, which he seized and
pressed passionately to his lips.  "I thought it was James
Clareborough."

"Then he has dared to insult you again?" said Chester, angrily.

"No, no; indeed, no," she cried.

"But you live in fear of him.  Oh, Marion, Marion, how long is this
weary life to last?  Once more let me plead.  Would not a quiet life
with my devotion be a happier one than this miserable luxury, where you
are constantly persecuted by a scoundrel?"

"Oh, hush, hush!" she murmured.  "I have told you it can never be."

"Yes, but these are words.  Your woman's honour forbids you to stay."

"Hush, for pity's sake!  You torture me," she cried.  "Must I explain,
but you must see and know that I am tied down to it, that I cannot leave
my brother--that he would never let me go."

"I cannot--I will not believe but that all this is imaginary," said
Chester, firmly.  "Will you not trust me?  Will you not tell me what it
all means, and let me, a man, be the judge?"

"No," she said, mastering her emotion and speaking calmly now.  "Once
more, I cannot, I will not explain.  Why have you come down here?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"You know," he said.  "Where should I be but near the woman who is my
very life?"

"But it is madness--it is misery and torture to me."

"Poor wretch that I am," he said bitterly.  "Still, I cannot help it."

"But," she cried imploringly, "your life would not be safe if they knew
of your being here."

"Indeed?  Well, what of it?  My presence is a torture to you.  I am a
torture and misery to myself.  They would not dare to kill me.  I don't
know, though," he said, with a mocking laugh, "by accident, perhaps."

"Dr Chester," cried Marion, appealingly, "does it please you to inflict
this agony upon me?"

"No, no," he said, snatching at her hand.  "I would give my life to save
you pain."

"Then go.  Leave me and forget me.  I am not the true, innocent woman
you think.  I am not fit to be your wife."

"What!" he cried, turning ghastly pale, while as she saw his agony her
face grew convulsed and she half raised her hands to him pleadingly, but
let them fall.

He saw the movement and snatched them to his breast.

"It is not true," he cried proudly.  "Some false sentiment makes you say
this.  I will not believe it of the woman I love."

She did not resist until he tried to take her to his heart.  Then she
shrank away.

"No," she said.  "You must not touch me like that.  Once more, believe
me, all this must end.  You must think of me no more--you must go at
once, and we must never meet again."

"You have told me that before," he said, "but I am not a free agent.  I
was obliged to come.  I have been here these three days past, watching
for an opportunity to speak to you; and when I do you once more cast me
off--you drive me away.  Well, I have borne it so long; I can go on
bearing it till you relent, or--I die," he added softly.

She looked at him wildly for a moment, and his hopes rose, for the
relenting seemed close at hand, but she was stern and cold again
directly.

"And your betrothed wife," she said.  "What of her?"

He was silent for a few moments, and then he made a deprecating sign
with his hands.

"What do you know of her?" he said.

"Everything," she replied.  "How basely and cruelly you have behaved to
her.  Is this your honour as a man?"

He heard a deep sigh.

"I have only one thing to say in my defence," he said slowly.  "I
believed that I loved her; but then I had not seen you.  I was not under
this spell."

"It is no spell," she said firmly.  "Go to her, and forget me.  I tell
you that I am not worthy to be your wife, and that such a union is
impossible for reasons which I dare not explain.  You hear me?"

"Yes," he said sadly, "I hear you."

"Then good-bye for ever."

She turned from him, but a piteous moan escaped her lips, and the next
moment he had clasped her to his heart.

"Marion, my own!" he whispered, as he pressed his lips to hers; "then
you do love me!"

"Yes," she said, as she clung to him, and for a moment or two returned
his embrace.  "You know I love you and shall never love another, but go
now, for Heaven's sake!  I tell you it is impossible.  Good-bye--
good-bye."

She tore herself from his grasp and fled through the wood, not daring to
turn her head to see if he followed, lest in her woman's weakness she
should give way and dare everything for his sake.



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

CAUGHT ONCE MORE.

Marion did not check her pace till, hot and breathless, she was forced
to rest for a few minutes.  Her brain was in a state of bewildering
confusion, and had Chester been there then to plead his cause, her heart
would have made but a poor defence.  She would have been his, and his
alone.

But in a few minutes she began to grow calmer; the dangers of such a
course were more and more apparent, and at last, as she walked on
towards The Towers, her thoughts of the future assumed their wonted
current, and she began to plan.

She was not long in deciding what to do.  Chester was evidently staying
somewhere near at hand; he would grow more and more persistent, and she
could see nothing in the future but his presence being discovered by
James Clareborough or his brother, and then some terrible mischief would
arise, and fresh misery ensue.

There seemed to be but one course open, and that was to escape from
Chester's pursuit and to this end she went quietly into her own room to
try and grow more composed, joined the others at lunch, and then in the
most quiet, matter-of-fact way ordered the pony carriage to be round
directly after for a drive.

"You will not go with me, I suppose, Di?" she said to James's wife.

"I?  No, thank you, Marion.  I am not well to-day," said the lady,
flushing.

"Will you come, Hester?" she continued.

"I can't; I am going over to the Ellistons' to tennis," was the reply.

"Then I'll have my little drive alone," said Marion, smiling; and
shortly afterwards she stepped into the phaeton, the boy groom sprang up
behind, and the spirited little ponies started off along the park drive
at a rapid pace.

"How nice Marion always looks," said Mrs Dennis, "and how well she
drives."

"Yes," said her sister-in-law, bitterly; "everyone admires her.  It is
always Marion, Marion!  Why did he not marry her?  He would if I died.
How long does it take, Hester, to break a woman's heart?"

"Oh, hush, hush, dear!" whispered her sister-in-law, soothingly.  "I
know how sad it is, but you ought not to be so cold to poor Marion.  I
honestly believe that she absolutely hates James."

"Hates? when she does all that she can to lure him on?"

"That is not true, dear," said Mrs Dennis, gravely.  "I know Marion
better than you do, because you have always shut your heart against
her."

"Well, can you wonder?"

"Yes and no.  It is a terrible position, and I pity you, dear; but
believe me, James's advances fill Marion with disgust and shame, and
some day you will find this out."

"I'd give the world to believe it," sobbed the wretched woman, "but I
cannot, and I am certain that she has gone to keep some appointment with
him now."

"You are unjust, Di dear," said Mrs Dennis, kissing her lovingly.

"I am a miserable, unhappy woman, ill-treated and scorned by the man who
swore to love me.  What else can you expect?  Why did I ever enter this
wretched family?"

"Dazzled as I was by the wealth and show, I suppose," said Mrs Dennis,
coldly.  "But we are their wives, and must bear our lot."

"It is easy for you, Hester," said Mrs James, clinging to her
sister-in-law now.  "Paddy is always manly and kind.  He is never like
James."

"No," said the lady addressed.  "I could not--No, no, don't let's talk
about that.  There, there, dear; believe me, it would be best to try and
wean him from her.  Some day there may be a great change.  I believe
that sooner or later Rob and Marion will break away."

"Or James and Marion," said her sister-in-law, bitterly.

"No, no.  Try and be just, dear, and do all you can to win Jem from his
wretched madness.  We want no more terrible quarrels.  Next time someone
else might suffer from a pistol shot, and then--"

"You mean James," cried his wife, with a spasmodic movement of her hand
to her breast.

"Yes," said Mrs Dennis, "I mean James.  Rob would certainly resent it
fiercely."

The unhappy wife turned pale, and shivered as she walked away.
Meanwhile, in accordance with her plans, Marion drove by a cross road to
the pleasant little Kentish town half a dozen miles away, pulled up at
the station, and on alighting handed the reins to the young groom, told
him to wait for an hour, and if she were not back by the next train to
drive home.

Then entering the station she took a ticket for London, too deeply
intent upon her own thoughts to notice who followed her into the office;
and as soon as the train drew up, she stepped into an empty compartment
and drew up the glasses, to go on thinking out her further proceedings,
for her mind was now made up.

She had ample means, her brother having well provided her with a banking
account of her own, and her intention was to go straight to the town
house, pack up a couple of trunks, and take the night boat for Dieppe,
and thence go on to Switzerland, where she could extend her projects,
though where she went mattered little so long as she could avoid another
meeting with her pursuer.

The train was gathering speed for its straight run on to the terminus,
and she was congratulating herself upon her decision, and then thinking
that there was only one difficulty in her way--the opposition which
might arise on the part of the old housekeeper.  But she concluded that
a little firmness would suffice; if not, a frank avowal of the dangers
she foresaw would win the old woman to her side, and then, once free
from the trammels which surrounded her, she would perhaps regain her
peace of mind, so broken since that terrible night when she fetched
Chester to her brother.

"And he will soon forget me and return to her who is his by right, and
then--"

She uttered a wild cry of alarm and shrank back for a moment or two in
the corner of the compartment, for, in spite of the great speed at which
they were going, the carriage window on her left was suddenly darkened,
the door thrown open, and a man climbed in, fastening the door again,
and then sinking panting upon the opposite seat.

"You here?" she cried wildly.  "Oh! what madness!"

"Yes, hardly the work of a sane man, with a train going at express
speed."

"You might have been killed!" cried Marion, trying hard to be firm, and
descending to commonplaces.

"Yes, it seemed very likely once, for the carriages were a good way
apart; but if I had been, what then?  Not the first man who has died for
a woman's sake."

"Why have you come?" she said hurriedly.

"Why have I come?" he replied contemptuously.  "You ask that!  Well, let
me tell you; because I knew that sooner or later you would try to elude
me; and I have watched night and day to prevent that.  Correct me if I
am wrong; my heart tells me that you are going up to town to avoid me,
and are then going further to be where I cannot find you.  Am I
correct?"

"Yes, quite," she replied gravely.  "I did not know that I was so weak.
I know it now, and, as I have told you, we must never meet again."

"I will not argue with you," he said, "only tell you once more that you
take a woman's view of imaginary danger.  I take that of a man
determined to sacrifice life sooner than lose sight of you again--a poor
stake, perhaps, for without you it is a worthless thing, but it is all I
have."

She sighed and he saw that her face grew harder, as she avoided his gaze
and sat looking out of the window in silence.

"Do I understand you," she said at last, "that you mean to follow me?"

"To the world's end," he cried.

"Is his manly, to force yourself upon a helpless woman?"

"No; it is despicable perhaps, but I am lost now to reason.  You are
everything to me; to be near you is to live--to lose sight of you is to
die.  You are my fate, and you draw me to your side."

"To your ruin, perhaps to your death," she said wildly.  "You must have
grasped what kind of men my relatives are.  You must have seen what risk
you run."

"Yes, I have seen and thought out all this, but it is as nothing to your
love."

"And would you see me suffer through your folly and imprudence?"

"I would give anything to spare you suffering."

"Then leave me before my agony becomes too great to bear."

"I--can--not!" he cried.  "Drive me from you, and when I find that all
hope is gone, then I will seek for rest."

"What!" she cried.

He shrugged his shoulders.

"I am no boasting boy," he said sadly.  "Everything to make life worth
living will be gone, and an easy painless death beckoning me on.  I am a
doctor, I have but to go home, and there it is, to my hand."

She said nothing, but sank back in the corner of the carriage, covering
her face with her hands; and he saw that her breast was heaving with the
painful sobs struggling for exit.

He bent over towards her, and touched her arm.

"Marion," he whispered.

She started from him as if she had been stung, and her eyes flashed as
her hands fell into her lap.

"Don't touch me!" she said wildly.  "You are mad."

The train sped on rapidly, taking them nearer and nearer to their fate,
as both sat back in silence now--she trembling, battling with her heart
in her struggle to devise some means of escaping him, he sinking into a
dull, stolid state of determination, for, come what might, he was
resolved never to leave her now.

At last the train slowed up to the station where the tickets were taken,
and Marion handed hers.

"I have no ticket," said Chester, quietly, handing the man a sovereign.
"I had not time to go to the booking-office.  I got in at Bineleigh.
This lady will bear me out."

The man quickly wrote a receipt and handed it with the change.  Then the
train glided on once more, and in a few minutes they were in the great
terminus.

"You have no carriage waiting?"  Chester asked.

"No," she said quietly; "I'll take a cab."

Chester summoned one, and handed her in.

"Where do you wish to be driven?" he said.

"Home."

"May I come with you, or must I follow in another cab?" he asked.

"I am at your mercy, Dr Chester," she replied sadly.

He hesitated for a moment, then told the driver the name and number of
the street, and sprang in.

Marion drew a deep catching breath as he took his seat by her side, and
then remained silent till they reached the familiar doorway.  Here, in
the most matter-of-fact way, Chester alighted and handed out his
companion and they walked up to the door together, Chester reaching out
to pull the bell.

"No," she said, speaking in a quick, startled tone of voice, and he
looked at her wonderingly, for she opened the door with a latch-key,
stepped in, holding the door with one hand and extending the other.

"Now," she said firmly, "good-bye."

For answer he stepped forward with a smile, but not to take her hand.
He pressed the door gently, but with sufficient force to make her give
way, and his foot was on the step.

"No, no, for pity's sake!" she almost moaned; "it may mean your death."

"Well, better that than an empty life," he cried, as she slowly gave
way, mastered by the force that held her in its strange power.  The next
minute the door was closed, and they stood together in the great, dim
hall.

He saw that she was struggling to be firm, but a wave of triumphant joy
carried him on, for he knew that he had won.

"My own!" he whispered passionately; "at last! at last!" and he clasped
her in his arms.

"No, no!" she cried, making one last effort for the supremacy; and,
thrusting him violently away, she turned and fled towards the end of the
hall, darted through the open doorway into the great darkened
dining-room and tried to shut the door.

But he was too close, and this time he caught her in his arms, raised
her from the carpet, to bear her to the couch that had borne her wounded
brother for so long, and there, letting her sink down, dropped upon his
knees at her feet.

The room was very dim, the electric light being only slightly raised,
but he could see her half-closed eyes and trembling lips, as she bent
over towards him now till her brow rested upon his shoulder.

"This is not death, but life," he whispered passionately.  "Tell me, you
were going to escape from me?"

"Yes."

"Where were you going?"

"Abroad--Switzerland."

"When?"

"To-night."

"Yes, to-night," he said softly, "and I with you, dearest.  Your slave--
yourself--one with you always.  Marion, we must never part again."

"Never part again," she whispered back, as his lips sought hers.  "You
have mastered.  I can resist no more; take me, dearest--I am yours.  But
we must go at once.  At any moment they may return."

"Who may?  Your brother and James Clareborough?"

"Yes.  Come away."

"To the world's end with you," he whispered, but she uttered a cry and
sprang to her feet.

"What is it?" he whispered.

"Didn't you hear?  Come."

She led the way quickly into the hall, and the voices her
preternaturally sharpened hearing had detected came from below.

Marion caught Chester's hand and ran with him towards the great front
door, which they had almost reached, when there was a sharp, quick
rattling sound before them and the dull movement of feet upon the stone
step.

The next moment the door was opening towards them.

Hemmed in, with peril on either hand.



CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

LIGHT IN DARKNESS.

As Chester turned to face what he knew must prove to be a desperate
encounter, Marion snatched at his wrist.

"Quick!" she whispered, and hurried with him through a door on their
right, which led into a library with two windows facing the street; but
the shutters were closed and the place was dimly lit by four
diamond-shaped holes cut in their top panels, each of which sent a broad
white ray across the room, to strike upon the end nearest the door, and
to avoid their light Marion led him quickly close up into one corner by
the window curtain.

They had hardly taken refuge there, to stand close together, when a hand
struck the panel a sharp pat, and gave the door, which had gently swung
to, a thrust which sent it back against the stop.

"Come in here," said James Clareborough in a low, surly voice; and
Chester felt his companion shiver, and the blood surged to his brain as
he dimly saw the shadowy figures of four men enter the room, three of
whom took chairs and threw themselves into them, the other standing
against a book-case with a dull patch of light from the window shutters
striking full upon his breast, about which his hand kept on playing
nervously.

It seemed to Chester that it was only a matter of moments before they
would be seen; but so far the party were unconscious of their presence,
and a couple of dull red spots of light waxed and waned as the aromatic
fumes of cigar smoke began to pervade the room.

"Throw open one of the shutters, uncle," cried James Clareborough,
hoarsely.

"No, no," half shouted a voice which Chester recognised at once as that
of his old patient.

"What!  Why?" cried James Clareborough, and the violent throbbing of
Chester's heart grew less painful as he heard Robert Clareborough's
reply--

"Because if ever men wanted the darkness it is now."

It was a respite, for no one uttered a word for a few moments.  Then in
a low, angry voice, James Clareborough spoke again, and, with his every
nerve on the strain, Chester noted that he took his glowing cigar from
his lips and held it down between his knees.

"Curse them!  Who would ever have thought of the fools attempting that?"

"Where's your wife, uncle?" said a voice which made the hand with which
Marion clung to Chester's wrist give a slight twitch.

"Upstairs, lying down, my boy," said another voice, and it was Chester's
turn to start as he recognised it as one he had heard before, though he
could not make out where.

"Is she much hurt?" said Robert Clareborough.

"More frightened than hurt," said the same voice.  "Of course it is a
terrible shock."

"Horrible!  Here, this must be the end of it.  What do you say, Paddy?"

"Confound it! yes.  I'm sick."

"Will you stop this cursed preaching, Rob?" snarled James Clareborough.
"You fools!  You know there can be no end to it.  What are you talking
about?  It was their own fault."

"Ah!" ejaculated Rob in a tone which made his sister shiver.

"Look here," continued James Clareborough; "are you two going to show
the white feather?  Take the case fairly, Paddy.  Suppose this had been
at The Towers in the night, and we came upon a couple of scoundrels--
with revolvers, mind!--carrying off the girls' jewellery, would either
of you have hesitated about firing?"

"I suppose not," said Dennis, heavily, "but it seemed such cold-blooded
work."

"Been more cold-blooded if they had dropped us two.  Now, then, no
nonsense; let's look the matter straight in the face.  One thing is
enough at a time.  We can discuss Rob's ideas of a dissolution of
partnership later on," was added, with a sneer.  "Now, uncle; what about
their coming?  We had better have the old lady down."

"No, let her be; she can tell you no more than I can.  They must have
asked for leave to come up as you were all away, and come straight here
ready to pitch some tale, and your aunt unsuspectingly let them in.
They must have set upon her, tied her fast, and carried her down."

"Must, must, must!" cried James Clareborough, impatiently.  "You were
not here."

"No, boy, but it tells its own tale.  Arthur was dressed as if for a
holiday, and the other fool too."

"But what did it mean?" said Rob, hoarsely; "suspicion--an effort to
find out--or robbery?"

"Robbery, my boy, for certain.  They thought that they would get at the
girls' jewellery."

"Yes, that's it," said James Clareborough, sharply; "an interrupted
burglary.  Curse them!  They had all the professional tools.  Well, they
won't want them any more."

Marion started, and Chester passed his arm round her as he felt her
trembling violently.  For something like light was beginning to dawn
upon her--a light which grew clearer as the thought of the butler asking
leave for him and the footman to have a day in town, to see to some
business, as the gentlemen were away.  That morning at breakfast, and
now--

The light was growing hard, clear and ghastly.

"Now, then," said James Clareborough, sharply, "let's look the position
in the face.  Everything turns upon whether anyone knows beside
ourselves that the hounds came here."

"Yes, everything," assented the voice which puzzled Chester still.
"Would anyone know?"

"Is it likely?" said James, cynically.  "They were coming on a
burglarious expedition; they began by half killing the poor old aunt,
and they were trapped trying to blow open the iron door.  Is it probable
that they would tell anyone they were coming here?"

"No; absurd," said Dennis, shortly.

"But still--"

"Will you hold your tongue, Rob?" cried his cousin.  "Do you think they
would have spoken?"

"No."

"Then we're safe in that direction," continued James Clareborough.  "The
next question is, then, did anyone who knew them see them come to the
house?  The odds are a million to one that no one did, for they would
take pretty good care that their faces were not seen as they stood
waiting.  Besides, where does the inquiry begin?  Down yonder.  We were
away; they ask for a holiday of my wife; she gives them leave; and they
come away and do not return.  Their relatives, if the poor devils have
any, may make inquiry, but it is doubtful.  I daresay we shall find that
the scoundrels have been plundering us, and at the worst we could prove
this.  There it is in a nut-shell.  They have disappeared like hundreds
more, and the world will never be any wiser."

A chill of horror ran through Chester as he listened to all this, and he
was conscious that his companion hung more heavily upon his arm, as if
about to faint.

The pale, ghastly light was growing broader and clearer now, and as he
grasped the fact that he was being made the recipient of the
acknowledgment of a terrible deed, he felt strongly, knowing as he did
the character of one of the men present, how perilous his position was
growing.  A few minutes more, he had strung himself up for a sharp
encounter with the relatives who had, as it were, surprised them in a
secret meeting.  There would, he felt, be angry words, there might be
blows, but the Clareboroughs would not dare to proceed farther.  Now
matters had assumed a dangerous shape, and his thoughts went towards the
fireplace as he felt that the necessity might arise for him to defend
himself and his companion--one against four.

His heart beat fast, but mingled with the feelings of alarm which would
assail the stoutest in such a position, he felt thrill after thrill of
delight.  For Marion clung more tightly to him, as if trusting to his
protection, and he mentally swore that he would protect her, come what
might.

His thoughts came fast, but he had little time for musing; and as his
arm tightened round his companion he listened eagerly for the next
utterances of those who were grouped together some twenty feet away.

"Well," said James Clareborough, after a pause, "what have you all to
say to that?"



CHAPTER THIRTY.

LOVE IS MASTER.

There was another pause, as if each of the other three waited for his
companions to begin.

"James has spoken very well," said the owner of the hands which Chester
could see playing about his breast; and as he uttered these words he too
sank into a chair, and the ray of light struck across his face for a
brief space, one, though, sufficiently long for Chester to recognise the
features of the quaint old bookworm upon whom he had called during his
search for the house which had been the scene of such strange
adventures.

"Uncle!" he thought to himself, as the old man went on--

"It seems to me that we have nothing to fear.  It is our own secret.
What do you say, Dennis, my dear boy?"

"It looks all right, curse it!" said the young man, slowly.  "I can't
see how anyone can find it out.  All we have to do is to go on as we
have before--take care that everything is kept dark.  What do you think,
Rob, old man?"

"Think?" cried the latter, sharply; and as he spoke Chester felt a
quiver of excitement run through her whom he clasped.  "I think it is
impossible to keep such a thing as this is quiet.  Say what you like--
that it was in your own defence you fired, there are the men's pistols
to prove it lying with their burgling tools; say that they were
surprised in the act--the marks on the iron door and their false keys
will speak for that--but we can't go on with it in the way you propose;
the police must be called in."

"You cursed fool!" snarled James Clareborough.  "Bah! you always were an
idiot and a hindrance to our enterprise.  You could spend your share
readily enough, but you were always like a log to drag at our heels."

"My dear boy!" cried the old professor, quickly, "hush, please; there
must be no quarrelling now; we have too much at stake."

"Yes, hang it all, Jem! do keep that vitriol tongue of yours quiet,"
cried Dennis.

"Who is to keep quiet when he listens to such idiotic drivel?  Bring the
police in--set their detectives to examine the iron safe that they were
trying to force--to look at the jewels and plate stored up inside.
Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!" he laughed discordantly.  "Has Rob any brains at all?"

"Yes, yes; he spoke without thinking," said the old man, eagerly.  "Rob,
my dear lad, you see it is impossible."

"Yes, Rob, old man, don't you see?" growled Dennis.  "You can't say to
the hounds of the law, `You must stop your scent here.'  Why, it would,
as they say, be blowing the whole gaff."

"Well, let it," cried Robert, bitterly; "let them find it out.  I'm sick
of it all, and have been for years."

"Then you must get well again," said James Clareborough, fiercely.

"Yes, yes, he is upset," said the old man, quickly.  "Robert's never
been himself since you fired at him, Jem.  It was a mad act on your
part; but there, there! don't let's open old sores.  Let me speak.  Rob,
my dear boy, this is not a position in which a man can study self.  We
are all linked together in this business, and the one who talks of
throwing it up talks of throwing his partners over.  Think, my lad, of
what it means.  You cannot draw back.  It is impossible.  This is a most
unhappy business, but the poor wretches brought their fate upon
themselves.  They have fallen in our battle of life, and there is that
something to be done for all our sakes--our wives' and your sister's
sake.  They must not know of this."

"That's right, uncle; that's right," growled Dennis.  "Come, Rob, old
man, you must feel that this is good sound sense."

"Yes," said Rob, with a groan; "I suppose it is.  There, uncle, go on."

"Yes, yes, my dear boy," cried the old man.  "Well, here is our
position, to finish up what Jem has said.  It would be easier and better
for us if we could call in the police and go through the inquest, but
you know it is impossible.  Now then, has either of you anything to
propose over what must be done at once?"

There was utter silence, and Chester, as he stood there with a cold
perspiration making his hair cling to his temples, wondered that those
present did not detect the beating of his and his companion's hearts.

"No one speaks," said the old man, quietly; "well then, the old inventor
has to come to the front again, as he always has since we held the first
meeting, and had to look starvation in the face.  Hark ye here, boys,"
he continued in a low, deep whisper; "I have turned it all over in my
mind, and there is only one thing to be done.  I am not going to be
troubled about the disposal of what is, after all--speaking as a
chemist--so much matter which has to be resolved rapidly into its
primary constituents.  There is the far cellar beneath the other house;
we must dig there.  Then a few bags of cement, and a carboy of acid,
etcetera, and the matter is at an end."

Dennis drew a deep breath, and a low, hissing sound arose, which Chester
felt must have come from between Robert Clareborough's teeth.

"Well, have I spoken rightly?" said the old man.

"Yes, that's right," said James Clareborough.

"You others are silent, but of course you acquiesce.  You must keep the
women down at The Towers, or take them to the Riviera for a month, and
your aunt will know nothing more.  There, the administrative has spoken;
it is for the executive to go to work."

"The executive has done its work," said James Clareborough, sharply,
"while you two stood behind a door and listened."

Chester felt a spasm run through Marion as these words were spoken.

"Well, well," said the old man; "you two are young and strong, and have
steady hands.  I do not wish to hang back from anything for ensuring the
safety and prosperity of all.  Robert, my boy, my muscles are not what
they were; I shall be obliged to ask you to help me."

Another spasm ran through Marion, and Chester, as they stood there in
the darkness, felt her crane forward as if to hear her brother's answer.

It came on the instant, in sharp, fierce tones,--"No, uncle.  I wash my
hands of it all.  I cannot help what has passed, and I will be silent
for the benefit of all, but help further in this--no, I would sooner
die!"

"What!" cried James Clareborough, savagely.  "Curse you, then, die, and
rid us of our miserable clog.  Look here, all of you--I will not stand
by and let him sneak out of the business in this cursed cowardly way.
You, Rob--you have got to help the old man over this, or--"

"Or what?" cried Rob, as fiercely.  Marion made a movement as if to rush
to her brother's help, but Chester tightened his grasp.

"My dear Jem!  My dear Rob! for Heaven's sake!" cried the professor,
interposing.

"You hold your tongue, old man," cried James Clareborough, springing up;
"I've had enough of this.  For a year past now I've had to put up with
his cursed objections, and hanging back from nearly everything, like the
coward he is, and I'll have no more of it.  Paddy and I have done our
bit of work to save the family from utter ruin and destruction, and now
he is asked to help you in necessary work he begins to ride the high
horse and dictate.  I say he shall help you, and at once, or, if I hang
for it, I'll make him."

"You make me, you cowardly, treacherous beast!" cried Robert, fiercely.
"I defy you to.  You two know that our quarrel has not been on account
of my shrinking from the work.  I always hated it, but I have still done
my part.  Why did he fire at me that night but because I struck him down
for his cowardly, brutal insults to my poor sister, whose honour ought
to have been sacred and the object of his defence?"

"You miserable hound!" growled James Clareborough.  "Go with the old man
at once, or you sha'n't live another day!"

"Go yourself, beast, and keep your hand from that pistol, or I'll fire,
I swear!"

The utter silence in the room after these words were spoken was broken
by the sharp clicking of two pistols, and half stunned for the moment,
as he listened for the reports, Chester, recalling what must have
happened on the night when he was first called in, threw himself before
Marion to screen her from any bullet which might come there.

The act necessitated the loosening of his grasp, and with a wild cry
Marion sprang from him, to rush in the direction of her brother's voice.

"The door!" shouted the professor, and it was banged to and bolted by
Dennis, as the old man sprang to his side, touched the stud, and the
room was suffused with the soft electric light, showing the two
adversaries, not a couple of yards apart, and Marion clinging to her
brother's arm, Chester just behind.

James Clareborough burst into a yell of mocking laughter.

"Picture--tableau--curtain!" he roared.  "End of Act the Second,
gentlemen.  Loud cries for author and heroine.  A success--a success!
Marion, my charming, sweet, chaste, innocent cousin, I congratulate you.
Beautifully done.  Doctor, I salute you.  Brave, honourable, noble,
frank, winner of the heroine's love--what a happy combination of
gallantry and business!  I presume that, vulture-like, you scented
carrion, and came for another job; but sweet, innocent Marion here was
premature.  Marion, beloved one; caught here in the dark!  Oh, fie!"

"Curse you! hold your mocking tongue!" cried Robert, fiercely.  "You,
Chester, how came you here?"

"Ha-ha-ha!" cried James Clareborough, "what a question!  Our sweet
Marion."

"Hound!  Speak of my sister in that way again, and I'll fire."

"Bah!" retorted his cousin, contemptuously, and, without heeding him, he
turned to Chester, covered him with his pistol, and in a low, fierce
growl bade him sit down in the nearest chair.

Chester did not stir.

"Once more, you meddling idiot, sit down!" cried James Clareborough,
menacingly, and Marion sprang from her brother's side to stand between
them.

"Very well, I can wait.  Now, all of you, our plans are known.  Like a
set of idiots, we have sat smoking and babbling before this fool, who
could not be content with his last visit, but must intrude again, play
the spy, and suffer for his knowledge.  Uncle--Dennis, my lad, you agree
with me?"

No one spoke, but the three others stood gazing fiercely at the
interloper.

"Now, Rob," continued James Clareborough, "our quarrels can keep.  Act
the man.  You see how we stand--you know what is at stake for all.  Dr
Chester, you are our prisoner again.  Now--quick!"

Pistol in hand, he took a step forward, the others following his
example, and Chester sprang towards the fireplace to seize the poker,
while Marion tried to throw herself between him and his enemies.

The efforts of both were in vain.  The professor baulked the brave
woman's effort.  He swung her lightly towards the window and joined the
others, who, in spite of a brave struggle, easily mastered Chester and
got him down, after they had swayed here and there close by the locked
door.

"Now," said James Clareborough, pistol in hand, as Dennis knelt upon the
prostrate man's chest, Robert and the professor each holding an arm.
"You will lie still, doctor, or you will force me to prescribe.  You see
that the situation is critical--Ha!  Marion!  Come away!"

He pointed his weapon at the window, but Marion did not stir.  She had
sprung to it while they were occupied with their prisoner, swung open
the heavy shutters, and the window had yielded silently, leaving the
room open to the street.  Then she had reached out, holding on by the
lower bar of the sash, but turned her head to look back.

"Now," she cried wildly, "fire if you dare!  Fred Chester!  Here.  Rob,
help him, for my sake.  Ah! keep back, or I shriek for the police."



CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

"SAUVE QUI PEUT."

Marion, in her desperation, thoroughly now at bay and fierce in her
reckless determination to save her lover's life, uttered her warning
words to James Clareborough, who had been stealing round the table to
spring at her.

"What's the matter, ma'am?" cried a gruff voice at the area railings,
and Marion turned to see, to her horror, the sturdy figure of a helmeted
constable.  "Fight?  Pistols?  All right."  A piercing whistle rang out,
and the man signalled with his arm, while the passers-by began to stop
and collect.

"Curse her! she has done it," cried James Clareborough, savagely, and he
was in the act of taking aim at the trembling woman, when the pistol was
struck up by Robert.

"All right," said the scoundrel, without resenting the act, and
thrusting the pistol into his pocket.  "The game's up, gentlemen--sauve
qui peut."

Robert had passed him by this time, caught his sister's hand, and
meeting with no resistance, he drew her from the window, shut and
fastened it, and closed the shutters again, just as a loud peal was
heard at the door bell.

The next minute Chester was at her side, the library door unlocked, and
his other assailants gone.

"He's right," said Robert, hoarsely; "the game is up, Marion, and it is
sauve qui peut."

"You villain!" cried Chester, excitedly.

"That will do, doctor," said Robert, coolly.  "She's fainting; help me
to get her away.  Poor old girl! she loved me," he continued, kissing
his sister's ghastly face, "and she did it to save you, not to hand me
over to the police.  One moment.  Hold her; I'll be back directly."

Chester caught the half-fainting burden willingly, and glanced after the
young man as he darted from the room.

"Gone," muttered Chester.  "Marion, look up, love; we are safe.  They
have escaped."

"Now then," cried Robert Clareborough, returning; "I have slipped the
bolts, and it will take them an hour to break in.  Come!"

"Come!  Where?" cried Chester angrily.

"Where you will, doctor, only we must escape from here.  The others are
off, and I must go and help save the rest.  You don't wish to see her in
the hands of the police, appearing against her brother and his
confederates?"

"God help me, no!" cried Chester.

"Come along, then, man.  It's all over now.  I knew it must come.
Doctor, you saved my life.  I must trust you.  I know you love her, and
that she loves you.  I trust her to your honour as a gentleman."

"You may," said Chester, "and--"

"Don't talk, man.  Come while the way is open.  They'll break in, as
sure as we are here.  Come."

Chester lifted Marion in his arms and bore her toward the door, Robert
Clareborough having caught up the doctor's hat, and led the way into the
hall, where the police were thundering at the door; and then downstairs,
where sounds were heard from the area, as if someone was trying the door
there.

"Shall I take her?" said Robert, as they reached the lower passage.

"No; I can carry her easily."

"This way, then," and to Chester's astonishment he turned into the short
passage at the end of which was the ordinary-looking door.

"Humph! shut," he said, with a bitter laugh.  "Jem's parting act of
kindness; he must have been the last."

"Where does that door lead?" cried Chester, as Marion uttered a sigh
indicative of recovery.

"To safety, doctor," said the young man, sadly.  "Foxes always have a
second hole, and a way of using it."

He drew a key from his pocket, flung open the door, and made room for
his companion to bear his sister into the square lobby, which was
littered with wedges, the powder tin, pistols, keys, hammer, and the
other contents of the portmanteau standing in one corner, while in one
spot a quantity of sawdust seemed to have been spilled.

All was plainly seen by a bright reflected light which shone out from
the small glass bulb in the ceiling, shedding a strange glow, while the
odour of exploded powder struck on Chester's nostrils at once.

As soon as they were inside, Robert calmly drew the door close, and just
then Marion opened her eyes and looked wildly from one to the other.

"Where am I?" she said faintly.

"Where you have never been before, sis, but quite safe," replied her
brother.  "There, don't look like that; the doctor and I are friends."

"Ah, I remember now," she cried wildly, and she struggled to her feet,
and seized her brother's arms.  "Oh, Rob, what have I done?"

"The best thing you ever did in your life.  I am glad it has come to an
end; but I must be off.  I can't face the dock.  Too great a coward, I
suppose, dear.  There, God bless you!  I hope you'll be very happy now."

"No, no, Rob!  I cannot leave you."

"Eh?" he said, smiling bitterly, as he took out another key.  "Yes; he
has promised me, dear, and he is as true as steel.  There, I trust him,
and you feel as if you can.  Take her somewhere, doctor, where the
police cannot find her out.  She's innocent enough, but no one would
believe.  Come, we may as well get right away, though I suppose it would
be hours before they could get through here.  I never thought I should
some day be showing you our secrets, sis," he continued lightly;
"certainly not to Dr Chester.  There we are."

He had thrust the small bright key he had held into the lock of the iron
door, and turned it, the bolts yielding easily in spite of the grit of
powder still left in; and clinging now to Chester's arm as the door was
swung open, Marion, at a word from her brother, stepped forward into the
iron-floored receptacle, then he followed and closed the door behind him
with a sharp metallic clang.

In the demoralisation which had ensued it had been undoubtedly sauve qui
peut, only one of the party seeming to think of anyone else.  This was
the old professor, who hurried upstairs, unlocked the chamber door, and
brought down his wife, who proved well enough to follow him.

The result was that when Robert Clareborough, to Chester's wonderment,
hurried his companions through passage and crypt, and up again into the
book-cumbered house, all was perfectly still, the dusty place looking as
if it had not had a soul therein for years.

"This way, Marion," said Robert, coolly.  "Poor old uncle! he will break
his heart about leaving his books; pretty choice, too, some of them."

There was no reply, and he led sister and doctor out through the back
door, down a weed-grown, desolate-looking garden, and into the stables
at the bottom, the entrance being open.

"Now then," he said, "you must lose no time.  Once out in the mews, make
for the street, and you are safe.  Good-bye, Marion dear."

"No, no, Robert!" cried Marion, flinging her arms about his neck; "you
are still weak and ill.  I cannot leave you."

"You prefer to go with me?" said the young man, smiling.

"Yes."

"Ah, well, it's very good of you, old darling, but you can't; perhaps in
an hour I shall be in a police cell."

"Rob!"

"True enough, old girl; and if I am, with the knowledge that you are
arrested too, I shall make an end of myself."

"Oh no, no, no!"

"But I shall.  You know me.  I don't make empty threats.  Listen: you
must escape.  Jem and Paddy are on the way to the station by now, to
fetch those two away from The Towers.  Be sensible, and we shall all get
away.  You will obey me, dear?"

"I always have, Rob."

"Then go with the doctor.  We'll trust him.  Now, not a word.  If you
keep me still talking, we shall have the police round here at the back,
and be all taken before we can get away.  Chester, I trust you, even if
I am a scoundrel.  Now then, out in the mews, and walk together.  Take
no notice of me, and don't think I am forsaking you, Marion.  I must go,
or you will be taken too."

Chester took Marion's hand and drew it through his arm, as he stepped
out into the mews, and making a desperate effort to preserve her
calmness, the trembling girl walked steadily by his side as they made
for the end of the place, Robert Clareborough passing them coolly enough
on the other side, lighting a cigar as he walked on fairly fast.

Just as Robert reached the end of the mews, a dozen yards in front of
them, Marion started as if a sudden spasm had shot through her, for a
couple of policemen suddenly turned the corner, hesitated as they saw
him and seemed about to stop, but the young man's coolness saved him.
For just as they were hesitating he turned off the narrow pavement into
the road and crossed diagonally toward them.

"Can you direct me to Vincent Square?" he said.

One of the constables gave the route, with the firsts and seconds to
right and left, and as Chester and Marion were passing, the young man
said shortly--"Thanks, I see," and they heard his step behind, while the
police continued their way down the mews.

"I'll take a cab as soon as we get a little farther away.  Try and be
calm," whispered Chester.  "Your brother has escaped."

"Is--is he followed?" said Marion, faintly.

"No; his coolness saved him.  The police have gone on down the mews, but
I dare not look round to see if they are on our track."

She made no reply, but hung more heavily upon his arm, while he tried
hard to recover his own composure and think out what was best to be done
under the circumstances.

His first thought had been to take a cab, but feeling that they might
still be watched, or, if not, that the various cabmen about would be
questioned as to whom they took up close to the mews, or else, upon the
matter getting into the papers, that they might volunteer the
information, he decided to make first for the railway, and with Marion
hanging more and more heavily upon his arm he led her out into the main
street, nodded to the first passing cab-driver, and said, "Victoria."

"Where are you taking me?" said Marion, faintly, as he sank back beside
her.

"Where you will be safe," he replied, pressing her hand.  "You have
promised to trust me, so sit still and take no heed of the way I take
you.  I don't think we are watched, but it is impossible to say."

He heard her draw her breath painfully, and as he glanced sideways he
could read in her face the effort she was making.

She saw that he was watching her, and met his eyes firmly.

"Do you think Rob will escape?" she asked.

"I feel sure that he will.  The police did not know him by sight.  But
he was only just in time.  A few seconds more, and he--we--must have
been taken."

She was silent for a time, and then she said bitterly, "I ought not to
have left him, poor fellow!  It was cowardly at such a time."

"You did quite right," said Chester, firmly.  "Your presence would have
been a hindrance to him in his endeavours to escape, and for your sake,
horrible as all this is, I hope he will get right away."

"But I ought not to have left him," sighed Marion, and further
conversation ceased, for the cab stopped and they entered the station.

Here Chester took tickets for Kensington.  Then he crossed to the other
side of the line, and took tickets back right to the City, and leaving
the station there, plunged with his companion amongst the busy throng
which filled the streets, and finally, feeling pretty confident that
they were not followed, he ended by taking a cab to Raybeck Square.

Marion started as she heard the address given, and there was a look of
reproach in her eyes as she said once more--

"Where are you taking me?"

"Where I believe you will be safe," he said gravely; "to my aunt and
sister, who will welcome you as the lady who will be my wife."

"Your wife!  Oh no, no, no!" she said sadly.  "That is impossible now."

"Why?" he whispered tenderly.

"Why?" she cried.  "Did you hear?  Can you not see how I am linked with
those who are flying from justice?  Heaven help me!  I ought to be with
them still."

"Hush!" he said gently; "you are wildly excited now.  Your brain is not
in a condition to think calmly and dispassionately of your position.  It
may be days before it recovers its balance.  Till then, Marion, try and
think this one thing--that you are watched over by one to whom your
honour and safety are more than his own life.  Marion, my own--my very
own--let the past be dead; the future shall be my care."

She sighed piteously and shivered, as she lay back in the corner of the
cab, and, startled by her manner, he hurriedly took her hand.

She shrank back, looking wildly at him, till she fully realised his
object, and then with a weary smile upon her lip she resigned her hand.

"You are utterly prostrated by the shock of what you have gone through,"
he said gravely.  "We shall not be long now.  Try--try hard to be calm.
The distance is very short, and then you will feel safe and soon grow
composed."

She gave him a grateful look, and then closed her eyes, lying back with
her face ghastly pale, and the nerves at the sides of her temples and
the corners of her lips twitching sharply at times, as if she were in
pain.

But she sat up when the cab stopped, and gave Chester her hand as she
alighted, and walked with him up the steps and into the house.

As the door closed she turned to him wildly and tottered slightly, but
when he made a movement to catch her in his arms, she shrank away, and
he drew back and offered his hand.

She laid hers within it, and his first thought was to take her into his
consulting-room, but he led her upstairs towards the drawing-room, and
she walked firmly enough till they were nearly at the landing, when he
felt her swerve, and but for his quick action she would have fallen
back.

"My poor darling!" he whispered, as he lifted her in his arms.  "You
have done most bravely.  It has been too much for any woman to go
through."

It was but a few steps, and then he paused upon the landing while he
threw open the drawing-room door and bore her in, quite insensible now
to all that passed.

For as he entered the room Chester found himself face to face with his
sister; but she was not, as he had anticipated, alone.  Isabel was with
her, and they stood gazing at him as if stunned by the sudden intrusion.



CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

SOMETHING IN THE SAWDUST.

Highcombe Street gradually became blocked by the eager crowd always
ready to gather, discuss and microscopically magnify the event that has
been the attraction, and in a very short time it was current that a
dreadful deed had been perpetrated in open daylight at the window of the
ground floor room on the left of the front door.  The victim was said to
have been seen shrieking wildly for help, till a man had dragged her
away, closing the window afterward and shutting the shutters, so that,
with the blinds of the upstairs windows drawn down, the whole of the
mansion had a strangely-mysterious aspect which, to the over-heated
brains of many of the lookers-on, exactly suggested the place where, a
murder might have been committed.

It did not occur to the wonder-gulpers that there were several houses in
the same street presenting precisely the same aspect consequent upon
their owners being out of town, and that the mansion next door, with its
gloomy, unkempt aspect and soot-coated windows, was much more
forbidding; but then it had no policeman stationed at the area gate and
two more at the front door, who objected vigorously to boys climbing
over the railings and others trying to peer through the long, slit-like
windows on either side of the entrance.

An Englishman's house is said to be his castle, and serious steps
generally have to be taken by the police before they break in, the great
exception to the rule being in the case of firemen, who as soon as they
are convinced that their enemy is in the place, make no scruple about
using their axes against door or window, setting up a ladder, and
climbing in.

In this case, in despite of the excitement, matters moved slowly, the
principal steps taken being upon the arrival of more police, the
stationing of these at the back where there was the mews, and an attempt
to get in through the garden; but here a difficulty presented itself at
once; there was no garden, the space existing between the houses and
stables at the bottom being built entirely over, and the stables swept
away.  There was no back exit, but constables were stationed in the mews
all the same so as to keep an eye upon the stabling to right and left.

Soon after, while the superintendent and sergeant were discussing
proceedings, an occupant of the opposite house pointed out the fact that
one of the drawing-room window blinds was flapping to and fro,
suggesting that a French window in the balcony was a little way open.

The suggestion was acted upon at once.  A ladder from the nearest fire
station was brought, and the police were watched with breathless
interest and cheered as they mounted and reached the balcony, another
cheer following as half a dozen entered the great mansion and
disappeared to commence searching the house, the excitement increasing
as they were seen to throw open the shutters of the library windows, in
which room not so much as an overturned chair caught their attention.

It due course the magnificently-furnished place was searched, the only
thing peculiar there being that the bed in a quiet-looking chamber on
the third floor had been evidently made that morning, but lain upon
since, while the key of the door was outside.

No way out at the back was discovered from the ground floor, and after a
careful search for the missing occupants in every room, the police
descended to the basement, everything above being in so quiet and
orderly a state that the whole affair began to assume the aspect of
imagination on the part of the constable who had given the alarm.

"Didn't dream you'd got a case on, Dick, did you?" said the
superintendent, banteringly, as the pantry was entered.

"Don't look like it, do it, sir?" replied the man, triumphantly pointing
to the table, on which lay the freshly-cut rope which had bound the
housekeeper.

"Humph!  Don't see much in that," said the superintendent.  "There's the
plate-closet.  Well, that's all right.  Someone's been having wine.
Nothing to wonder at in that when there's plenty.  Splendid place; but
the case begins to look to me like a flam."

"Why, there's plenty outside saw the lady, too, sir," grumbled the
constable.

"Then where is she?"

There was no answer, and the various domestic offices were examined,
everything being in perfect order, and the only exit apparent being
through the area door, which was locked, bolted and barred, as were all
the windows.

"Where does this lead?" said the superintendent, as he entered the
passage farther back.  "Another cellar, perhaps."  They followed to the
end, one of the men striking a match or two, for the extreme part was
dark.  "Humph! locked.  Well, that can't be a way out, for there is no
mat."  Sniff, sniff!  "What's that--powder? and what's that empty
Gladstone doing there?"

Just then the constable who had given the alarm suddenly stepped forward
and stooped down.

"What is it, Dick?  One of the straws out of the mare's nest?" said the
superintendent.

For answer, the man drew at something quite low down by the floor, and
it came away in his hand, to prove, on being held to the light of a wax
match, a mere scrap of a handsomely-braided silk dress.

"Ah!" cried the superintendent, showing the first signs of excitement,
"smell of powder--that bit of silk!"

He thumped with his knuckles on the panel of the door, and exclaimed--

"There's an iron inside; dress caught as they passed through, and as the
door was shut the edge cut that off like a pair of shears.  There's a
way out here, my lads, and we've got hold of the clue."

It seemed easier to point out the clue than to follow it, for the door
was strong, and it was not until suitable implements had been fetched,
to further excite the crowd, and a sturdy attack made at the end of the
passage, that the outer door gave way, the bolts of the strongly-made
lock being broken right off.

"By George! you've got hold of a case this time, my lad," cried the
superintendent; "but it's an attempt at a big burglary.  This isn't a
way out; it's the principal plate-closet, and they've been trying to get
it open, and failed.  Hammer leather-covered, wedges, pistols, dark
lantern smashed, tin of powder, and marks on the front of the safe door
where the wedges have been.  Powder smells quite strong here.  They must
have tried to blast the door open.  Out, all of you; they're hiding
somewhere.  They can't have got away."

The men turned back, all but the one who had given the alarm, and he had
struck a fresh match, for the bulb in the ceiling gave forth no light,
and was stooping down to sweep away some of the sawdust on the floor.

"Come along, Dick," cried the superintendent.  "What have you got
there?"

"Look, sir," said the man, holding out a handful of the sawdust he had
scraped up.  "There's a bottle yonder that's had port wine in it, but
this looks to me like blood."



CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.

TOM TIDDLER'S GROUND.

"Blood of the grape!" cried the superintendent, contemptuously.  "Where
were you brought up?  Never in a gentleman's wine cellar before?  You
should go down to the docks and see the floors there.  By Jingo! but it
is blood!"

More of the sawdust was scraped aside, and the truth was plain enough; a
broad patch had lain there, and the granulated wood had been thrown over
to soak it up.

But the constable was not satisfied yet; he kept peering about, made his
way to the iron door, and then dropped upon his knees.

"Here you are, sir," he cried.  "They've put the body in here, it seems
to me, for there's a tiny smutch just against the edge.  There's been
murder done."

"You're right, Joe," cried the superintendent, sharply; "but where are
the men?  You stay here, I'll have the place searched again."

Every nook and corner of the basement was examined without result, and
then the rest of the house was carefully gone over once more, but the
place proved to be empty, and the superintendent returned to where his
sentry was on duty.

"Made anything out, sir?"

"No."

"What about the roof?  Must be a trap, and they've got through there."

"There is a trap, my lad, but the cobwebs over it show that it can't
have been opened to-day."

"What about the cellar, sir?"

"I have searched all but the wine cellars, and we can't break in there.
I've sent orders to find out who lives here and telegraph to the family
to come up."

"But you won't wait, sir, before getting this iron door open?"

"No, I sha'n't wait for that."

"That's right, sir.  They've killed the poor lady I saw, I'm afraid, and
she's lying in there.  That must be a bit of her dress."

There was no further hesitation.  Suitable workmen were obtained, and
after many hours' toil the great iron door was drilled and prised off,
the police stepping forward at once to raise the body they expected to
find, and then standing dumbfounded at seeing that there were a couple
of shelves upon one side.  The rest of the iron closet was perfectly
empty.

A little further investigation by the aid of lights soon showed, though,
that the supposed strong-room full of costly jewels and plate was only
the entrance to another place, one side forming a door.

This was attacked in turn, and after a long resistance was forced off by
the workmen, and once more the police advanced on the tip-toe of
expectation, to find themselves in a passage leading into a crypt-like
chamber which had evidently been carefully elaborated out of the old
cellarage, traces of which still remained.  But there was no sign of
occupation, and for a few moments the police hesitated as to which of
the two closed doors they should attack.  These were both of iron,
which, like those of the safe they had passed through, were evidently of
Belgian manufacture, from the name embossed thereon.

But the hesitation soon passed away, for while one proved to be locked
the other was unfastened, and after leaving a couple of men on guard,
the superintendent passed on, leading the way through the farther door.
Beyond was a dark passage cumbered with packing-cases, stacked on one
side from floor to ceiling, while on turning into another passage which
ran at right angles, they came upon a couple of heavy chests in the
course of being unpacked, a heap of old books standing upon the corner
of one.

They examined the place, the basement of a mansion with double kitchens,
servants' hall, pantry, and the like, and the cursory glance obtained
showed them that the crypt-like vaults through which they had passed
must be beneath the garden at the back of the house.

But after satisfying themselves that no one was there they ascended a
flight of stone steps, to find themselves in the book-encumbered hall of
the professor's home.  Then followed a quick search through the chambers
of what proved to be an enormous library, room after room being covered
with dusty book-shelves, the home of spiders innumerable, while only one
chamber on the second floor proved to be a bedroom.

Still, there was no trace of those they sought, and a little further
examination showed that they must have passed out into the garden,
entered the stabling at the bottom, and gone out into the mews at the
back, and without doubt before the men were sent round to watch.

"No capture yet," said the superintendent, grimly; "but it seems to me,
Dick, that you'll get your promotion over this bit of mystery, for a
nice game of some kind has been carried on, and we haven't got to the
bottom of it yet I want that other door open now."

They descended to the crypt again, and paused before the locked iron
door, which, thanks to the experience gained in opening the others of
the same make, the workmen forced in the course of an hour, and at the
first flash in of a bull's-eye lantern a suppressed hiss of excitement
escaped from the officer's lips.

"At last!" he muttered.  "It's murder, then, after all, but where's the
girl?"

For there, just as they had been carried in, ready for future disposal,
lay side by side, in the bottom of the roomy iron closet, the bodies of
the two servants, each with a bullet wound in the head, such an one as
would produce almost instant death.

They were carried out and laid upon a broad table of massive make, and
as soon as this was done the superintendent examined the iron closet,
whose back was covered with a perfect nest of drawers, one of which on
being opened proved to be full of carefully-done-up rouleaux, the
greater part of the rest being similarly filled.

One of the rouleaux was torn open, and a portion of its contents poured
into the officer's hand.

"Sovereigns," he said.  "Why, they must have had to do with some bank.
Eh, what?"

"Duffers," said the constable addressed as Dick.  "A gang of smashers."

"It isn't a time for making jokes," said another of the men, who was
handling a couple of sovereigns, "or I'd say you was a duffer.  Look at
that; hark at this."

He handed one coin to the man, and rang another on the heavy table, for
it to give out the true sound of sterling gold.

"No smashing here," said the superintendent.

"Then what does all this mean?" said Dick, directing the light of the
lantern he carried across to the far end of the vault.  "There's all the
tackle--rolling mill, die stamps, and the rest of it."

"Bah! coiners melt their stuff and electro-gild it.  These are right
enough, and there's a big sum of money in there.  Here, to work at once;
I must have that door back in its place and the front sealed up."

His man shook his head, and while the superintendent was busy directing
the workmen, the constable carefully examined the elaborate machinery,
and came upon a couple of chests full of little ingots which seemed to
be of the right size for rolling out and stamping into coin.

"I know!" he muttered at last.

"What do you know?" said the superintendent.

"They must be South Africa people with a gold mine of their own, and to
save trouble make up their own stuff into sovereigns.  Here, I want to
look at those poor chaps again."

The superintendent seemed disposed to bid him let them be, but he was
beginning to feel more and more confidence in his subordinate's brains,
and together they flashed the light over the ghastly faces.

"That's right," said the constable.  "I know 'em well.  It's the butler
and footman from next door.  I've often seen 'em."

"Then I've got a theory now," said the superintendent, clapping his
subordinate on the shoulder.  "You're right, I think, about their
coining their own gold, and they came back to town--you see, Dick, the
people of the house were out of town."

"Yes, been out some time.  I know that."

"Well, they came back, and caught these two chaps breaking into the way
to their underground bank, and they treated them like burglars, and shot
them.  Then there was a row; that lady you talk about wouldn't stand it;
you raised the alarm."

"And they've sloped.  Ah, we ought to have had them, sir."

"Oh, we'll do it yet.  They can't get away very far, my lad.  Now then,
what are you thinking about now?"

"All those quids, sir.  I'm sure I'm right now.  Big swells like they
were, as I've often seen, with tip-top carriages and horses, wouldn't
coin their own gold even if they'd got a mine.  They're a gang of
coiners, sir, and so you'll see.  Got one of the sovs., sir?"

"No."

"Then take one of those little bars, and have that examined."

The superintendent picked up one of the ingots, looked at it intently
and shook his head.

"Ah, you can't tell by that, sir," said his subordinate.  "I say, look,
sir; they've had the electric light.  I wonder where they turn it on."

The place was soon found, the stud pressed, and about a dozen glass
bulbs shed a beautifully soft light through the arched place.

"Good gold; a big sum of money in ingots, my lad," said the inspector,
jingling two bars together and producing a musical sound.  "Here, stop!
I must have all these in that strong closet before we go--and double my
sentries," he muttered.  "Why, there must be thousands of pounds' worth
lying here."



CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.

A SHARP SHOCK.

As Chester entered the room, and found himself face to face with the
woman he had so cruelly used, he involuntarily caught Marion's arm,
placed it beneath his own, and drew a deep breath as if prepared to
defend her against any attack.

Marion shivered slightly and pressed to his side, while Isabel gazed at
her wildly and fixedly, before letting her lids drop over her eyes, and
standing there breathing painfully, with one hand resting over her
heart.

Chester glanced at her with a feeling of despair and misery rising in
his breast, but he turned his pitying gaze away and spoke to his sister,
who stood drawn up to her full height, frowning, and as defiant as the
brother upon whom she fixed her eyes as he spoke.

"Laura," he said gently, "I have brought this lady here as a man brings
one who seeks sanctuary--safety from a terrible peril."

"Well?" she said coldly.

"I bring her to you, my sister, asking you--to let her find the refuge
and safety of which I have spoken.  You will do this for my sake?"

"No!" cried a sharp voice from the door--a voice which sank from time to
time in its owner's excited state, so that her words were only half
audible--"No, she will do nothing of the kind.  How dare you bring her
here to insult the lady to whom you were betrothed?"

Chester turned upon the speaker angrily, but after the first word or two
his voice softened down, and he spoke as one suffering deeply from his
emotion.

"Aunt, you have no right to speak to me like this.  Remember, please,
that something is due to me; far more to the lady for whom I ask
protection and a welcome."

"No, no," whispered Marion.  "For pity's sake take me away from here."

"No," said Chester, firmly.  "This is my house, and you will stay here.
Laura, you heard what I said?"

"Yes, Fred; I heard what you said," she replied in a cold, unemotional
way.

"Then give Miss Clareborough the welcome I ask of my own sister."

"No!" cried Aunt Grace, angrily.

"Aunt," said Laura, coldly, "have the goodness to be silent.  No, Fred,
I cannot do what you say.  It is an insult to Isabel and to me to make
such a request."

"Have you no pity for me?" whispered Marion, reproachfully.  "How can
you expose me to this?"

He passed an arm round her waist and led her to a chair.

"Isabel," he said gently, and she started and raised her eyes, to gaze
at him fully, "you must know I could; not dream that you would be here.
You will forgive me, too, for what I am compelled to say."

She bowed her head gently and once more veiled her eyes, while Chester
stood by the chair holding Marion's hand.

"Aunt Grace, I insist upon your being silent.  You have no voice in this
matter.  Laura, I tell you again that this lady is in grievous peril and
needs all a sister's help.  I ask that help of you; will you give it?"

Laura was silent for a few moments; then she turned and gazed at Isabel,
ending by throwing her arms about her, and then facing her brother once
more.

"Well?" he said bitterly.

"It is impossible, Fred.  If you have forgotten all that was due to
Isabel, I cannot.  No; and if aunt leaves this house I go with her."

"I insist then," cried Chester, angrily.

"No," said Marion, rising.  "I must go.  It is not right."

"I am the best judge of that," said Chester, firmly, and he retained her
hand.  "Isabel, I never thought that we could ever stand in such a
position as this; but now, face to face, I feel bound to say once more,
forgive me, and to ask you to believe the simple truth--that I should
have been doing you a greater wrong in holding to our engagement and
making you my wife."

She looked up at him firmly, and his heart throbbed with pity for her
innocence and suffering, but there was no reproach in her clear,
steadfast gaze.  He read in it that she unquestioningly yielded to her
fate; and at the end of a few moments her eyes fell towards the floor.

"You see," whispered Marion, faintly, "it is impossible.  Let me go and
join them."

"And leave me?" he whispered.  "Here, water--quick!  Oh, if there is an
unfeeling creature upon the face of the earth, it is a woman at a time
like this.  Can you not see that she is fainting after the most cruel
sufferings, and you all stand aside as if she were some leprous thing!
Hah!  Isabel!"

"Yes, Fred," she said softly.

She went down on one knee and tenderly raised the fainting woman's head
till it rested upon her shoulder.

The touch seemed to revive Marion, and in a few moments she opened her
eyes and gazed wonderingly at the face so close to hers.

"You?" she said softly.

"Yes; I.  He says you are suffering and in great peril.  I am alone now
here in London, and if you will come with me, for his sake I will be to
you as a sister till the danger, whatever it may be, has passed."

"Ah!" sighed Marion, the spasm seeming to tear itself from her breast,
and she lay still for some moments with her eyes closed.

"Come--sister," whispered Isabel, and she bent down and pressed her lips
to the forehead so near her.

Marion's colour flushed to her temples, and she looked up wildly and
flung her arms about Isabel's neck, kissing her passionately.

"Yes," she said.  "I will come."

There was a tap at the door, and Chester hurried across the room to
prevent the maid from entering.

"Yes," he said excitedly; "what is it?"

"If you please, sir, it is the police; two of them, and they say they
must see you directly."

"Great heavens!" cried Chester, wildly, as he turned and gazed at where
Marion had started to her feet and stood pale and ghastly, for she had
heard the words.  "Too late--too late!  Yes; I know.  Marion, that
hound! that fiend!  He is taken, and in his cowardly revenge he has sent
them here."

In the full belief that the police would be coming up to the room,
Chester ran to the door.

"Where are they?" he whispered sharply to the maid, who was wondering at
the undue excitement displayed.

"In the hall, sir."

Chester's mind was made up on the instant, and he turned to Isabel.

"Heaven bless you for this!" he cried passionately.  "I cannot explain
now, only that it is a case of great emergency.  Take Miss Clareborough
with you, and keep her until I write or come.  I do not deserve this at
your hands, but your presence here is like that of some good angel.  You
will take her home?"

"Yes," she said softly, as she avoided his eyes.

"Listen, then," he whispered anxiously.

"These people below have come in search of her, and she must not fall
into their hands.  I will go and keep, them in conversation, while you
get her away at once."

"I will," replied Isabel, calmly.

"Heaven bless you!" he cried passionately, and then he turned to Marion,
who looked quite exhausted.

"Go with her," he said--"at once.  You will be safe there until I come."

"No," she replied despairingly.  "It would be better for you--for her--
that we never meet again."

He caught her hand in his.

"Refuse this, and I will not answer for the consequence," he whispered
angrily.  "Remember you are mine."

He hurried out, trying to be perfectly calm, met the representatives of
the law in the hall, and signed to them to come into the
consulting-room, and closed the door.



CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.

THE CLIMAX OF A MADNESS.

"One minute.  Sit down while I attend to this."

The inspector took a chair, but his follower, evidently a plain clothes'
officer, remained standing by the door; while, as if bound to make a
memorandum of some important case, Chester took ink and paper and began
writing rapidly for a few minutes, listening intently the while for the
sound of steps upon the stairs, every nerve on the strain, as he
wondered at the patience with which the two men waited.

At last, with his heart throbbing painfully, Chester heard a faint
rustling sound outside, and the front door close, just as the inspector
broke the silence.

"Beg pardon, sir," he said, "but this is a case of emergency.  I should
be glad if you can come at once."

"Come at once?"

"Yes," said the inspector, coolly.  "Only in the next street.  Case of
attempted suicide.  Doctor with the party wants a second opinion."

Chester drew a deep breath, wrote another line of incoherent words, and
then, having hard work to speak composedly, he rose and said--

"I am at your service now."

He followed the inspector to the door, and feeling half stunned at what
seemed like so strange an escape, he went to the house where, in a mad
fit, the occupant had taken desperate measures to rid himself of a life
which had grown hateful; and while Chester aided his colleagues for the
next hour in the difficult task of trying to combat the poison taken, he
could not help feeling that this might have been his own case if matters
had gone otherwise, for despair would have prompted him also to take a
life that had become horrible--an existence that he could not have
borne.

He went back home at last, but he made no attempt to see sister or aunt,
his anger for the time being was too hot against them, and he was in no
disposition to make any excuse.  His next step was, he felt, to set
Marion's mind at rest regarding the police, and he was about to start
for Isabel's temporary London home, when he hesitated, shrinking from
meeting her again.  He felt that his position was despicable, and now
the danger was past he mentally writhed at the obligation which he had
so eagerly embraced.

"What a poor, pitiful, contemptible object I must seem in her eyes," he
muttered as he paced the room.

But he grew cooler after a time.  Marion's happiness must stand first.
She was prostrate with horror and despair, and at any cost he felt that
he must preserve her from danger, and set her mind at rest.

"But I cannot go," he muttered--"I cannot face her again."  Then, half
mad with himself for his miserable cowardice, he cast aside the pen with
which he was about to write, and determined to go.

"She will forgive me," he said; and he hurried into the hall, took up
his hat, and then stopped short, aghast at his helplessness.

Where was he going?  He had not the most remote idea as to where Isabel
was staying, and maddened by his position, he forced himself to go up to
the drawing-room and ask his sister for the address.

"I must be half mad," he muttered.

He threw open the drawing-room door and, strode in, determined to insist
upon the address being given him if Laura should refuse.

But the room was empty, and, staggered by this fresh surprise and with
ominous thoughts beginning to arise, he went out on to the landing to
call his sister by name.  Then he called aloud to his aunt, with the
result that an answer to his shouts came from below in the servant's
voice--

"Beg pardon, sir; Miss Laura and Mrs Crane went out more than an hour
ago."

"What!  Where did they go?"

"I don't know, sir.  I had to whistle for a cab, and they each took a
travelling bag."

Chester went down to his consulting-room, checkmated, and feeling
completely stunned at his position.

What was he to do?  He might set a detective to try and find the cabman
who took them away, but it would be days before he could have the man
traced.

Then came a bright idea.

The hotel where Isabel had been staying--the manager there would know
where she and her father and mother went on leaving.

He took a cab there, but the manager did not know.  He thought the old
people went abroad, and the young lady went into private apartments.

"But their letters--where were their letters to be addressed?"

"To their country house, sir."

Chester hurried away again.  Perhaps something might be made of that,
and he went to the first post-office and telegraphed down to the person
in charge of the house, paying for a reply to be sent to Raybeck Square,
to which place he returned, and paced his room for two hours before he
obtained the brief reply:--

"Address not known.  They have not written yet.--Susan."

"Was any poor wretch ever so tortured by fate?" he muttered; and he
threw himself into a chair to try and think out some way of finding out
the address to which he had sent Marion.

At last, faint, and with his brain in a whirl, he sought for temporary
release from his sufferings in one of the bottles of drugs in his
consulting-room.

But the ordinary dose seemed to have no effect, and he repeated it at
intervals twice before he sank into a state of lethargy from which he
did not awaken till morning, to find himself lying back in a corner of
the couch, with the three servants gathered in consultation.

"Yes," he cried wildly, "what is it?--what is the matter?"

"Nothing, sir, only that you frightened us.  It's past eleven o'clock,
and we were going to send for a doctor," said the parlour-maid.

"No, nothing the matter.  I was tired out, and overslept myself.  Here,
stop!  Has--has Miss Laura come back?"

"No, sir."

"That will do.  Go away."

"Hadn't you better have a cup o' tea, sir?" said the cook, suggesting
the universal panacea.

"No, no!" he cried, so fiercely that the servants backed out, and the
wretched man let his burning, confused head sink into his hands while he
tried to collect his thoughts.

But it was in vain.  He bathed his temples, went into the breakfast-room
and tried to partake of food, but gave it up in disgust, and finally
turned to the drug again.

"This can't go on," he muttered; "the human brain cannot stand it.
Months of strain now, and my position worse than ever.  And even now the
police may have traced her, and she be looking vainly to me for help."

He did not hear a ring at the front door, for he went back to his
consulting-room, to sit with his head in his hands; neither did he hear
the conversation going on after the closely-veiled lady who rang had
been admitted.

"Gone!  You think Miss Laura will not return?"

"I don't think so miss."  There was a few moments' thoughtful silence.
"Where is your master?"

"In his consulting-room, miss, in a dreadful state.  Oughtn't a doctor
to be fetched to him?  He looks so awful; his eyes roll at you as if he
was going mad."

There was another thoughtful pause, and then the visitor said firmly,
"Go and ask Mr Chester if he will see me for a few moments."

"Please, miss--ma'am--I really daren't," said the maid, pitifully.  "He
frightened me so last time I went into the room that I'd sooner leave at
once than go in."

There was a third period of hesitation, and then without a word the
visitor went straight to the consulting-room, entered, and closed the
door.

Chester did not stir, but sat there in the gloomy place with his head
bent, the image of utterly abased despair; and the visitor stood looking
down pityingly at him for some moments before she spoke.

Her voice seemed to galvanise him into life, and he started up and gazed
at her wonderingly.  "Isabel?" he cried.  "Yes, Fred; I have come."

"Hah! and Marion?  How is she?"  There was no reply for a few moments;
then in a low, compassionate voice, "She was very, very ill last night,
but later on she dropped asleep, and I left her about three, perfectly
calm and peaceful."

Chester gazed at her wildly.

"Yes," he cried, "go on."

"I went in to see her at intervals of an hour, and she was still
sleeping calmly."

"And you have left her!" he cried angrily.  "You should not have done
this."

"No; I ought not to have done this," said Isabel, sadly.  "You placed
her in my charge, and I have betrayed your trust."

"What!  What do you mean?"

"I went to her room about nine, and--"

"Yes," he cried, springing up and catching her arm so fiercely that her
pale, sad face grew full of suffering.

"Tell me; you are keeping something back."

"Must I tell you?" she said faintly.

"Yes, yes!" he cried.  "Why do you torture me?"

"Fred, I was to blame," she said piteously.  "I would have done anything
for your sake.  I could not foresee it all.  She has gone!"

"Gone?" he gasped.

She held out a letter addressed to him, and he snatched at it and tore
it open, to read with burning eyes:--

"Good-bye for ever.  I love you too well to come between you and the
happiness that may some day be yours.  Do not seek for me: my love would
prove a curse.  I know it--I feel it.  Forgive me the suffering I have
caused to you and the gentle woman who has tended me.  She will forgive
you the past as I have prayed her to; and she will forgive me, knowing
as she does that it was in all innocency I did her that wrong.  Think of
me as one who was not to blame for her position.  I did not know
everything; they kept it from us weak women.  I did know, though, that
they were engaged in some unlawful scheme, and prayed my brother to take
me away; but he could not shake off his bonds--I could not leave him.
Good-bye: think of me kindly.  We shall never meet again."

Chester read to the last word, then turned half round and fell heavily
to the floor.

It was as if the tie which bound him to life had snapped in twain.



CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.

WHY AND WHEREFORE.

The customary inquest followed, and after careful examination of the
various witnesses, and a visit to the place, the jury, by the coroner's
direction, returned a verdict of "wilful murder."  Then the strange
affair passed into the hands of the police.  The hounds of the law were
laid upon the scent, and they were active enough in their efforts to run
the Clareborough family down, but without success: for they had suddenly
disappeared from The Towers, as completely as they had from their town
mansion, but what direction they had taken was not discovered.

They were "wanted" for the clearing up of the death of their two
servants, whose bodies were identified by the domestics brought up from
the country house; but the witness particularly sought for was the old
housekeeper, who, it was presumed, would be able to give a pretty good
account of the doings at the great mansion.  But she could not be found,
and the suspicion at once arose that she had been murdered by the men
who made the attack upon the safe after obtaining leave to go up to town
on business.

Search was therefore made in the town mansion, and also in the adjoining
house with the curious underground works, but without result, and the
disappearance of the old lady's body added to the mystery.

The family were wanted, too, soon after, upon another charge--that of
coining, for upon further investigation of the supposed wealth banked in
the strong-room, it was found that the coins were base.

But it required a far more than superficial examination to prove this,
official after official from the Mint declaring them to be genuine
according to the ordinary tests.  Their weight was absolutely correct,
the workmanship was perfect, and they gave forth a true ring, but upon
every sovereign being broken in half, though there was nothing to see,
the coin appearing to be of gold with the proper amount of hardening
metal added, the application of the acid test showed that something was
wrong.

The examination of the bars of metal supposed to be gold, and discovered
in the underground place beneath the old professor's house, gave the
explanation, the two chests delivered by the railway company helping the
matter, for after the police had removed a layer or two of old books,
they came upon small oaken boxes containing ingots of the base metal
used in the manufacture of the coin, these being of an ingeniously
compounded alloy, whose constituents, after metallurgical analysis, the
Mint authorities kept secret.

Examination of the cellarage proved quite startling, from the perfection
of the dies, presses, and rolling mills, all of great power, beautifully
made, but of foreign production.

There was a small furnace, too, with crucibles, and other paraphernalia,
the most interesting find being the small ribbons of metal from which
the round counter-like flats had been punched, and some pieces in a box
ready for being pressed.

These last ribbons of metal proved to have been made from the base metal
ingots, after the old fashion of producing silver plate--before the
introduction of the cheap electro-plating system--by which the pure
metal is deposited upon the base.

Old silver-plated goods were made by taking a bar of copper and placing
at top and bottom a thin slip of pure silver, which was made to adhere
to the copper by heat.  Then the silvered copper bar was passed through
rolling mills till it was flattened to the necessary thickness, and came
out with its due proportion of silver on both sides, ready for working
up into shape, with the addition of pure silver finishings to the parts
likely to be most worn.

The Clareboroughs' sovereigns were, then, thus made, careful analysis
proving that each ingot of alloy was prepared with the addition of
one-half of pure gold, that is to say, one fourth part at top and
bottom.  This was fixed in the furnace; then the ingots were rolled to
the right thickness, the flats punched out, and afterwards passed
through the die press, to come out so perfect that for years these coins
ran current by thousands, even the banking companies receiving them
without demur, and it was not till long after that Chester discovered
that his two-hundred-guinea fee was all perfectly base.

The learned said the production of such coin was an impossibility, but
the Clareboroughs proved to them that it was not, and the Mint
authorities were puzzled by the perfection attained.  But at last it was
remembered that about twenty years before, a very clever metallurgist
and chemist, who had held a high position at the Mint, was discovered in
an offence against the rules of the establishment, which resulted in his
immediate discharge and degradation, he having escaped a criminal
prosecution by the skin or his teeth.

This official had married a lady of the name of Clareborough, and it was
suggested by an ingenious personage as being possible that to this man
was due the manufacture of the base coinage.

The right nail was hit upon the head, for at the time when, some seven
or eight years earlier, the Clareborough family were, through their wild
expenditure, utterly penniless and hopelessly in debt, this man, after
many experiments, so advanced his project that he laid it before James
Clareborough, who jumped at the idea; his brother Dennis and cousin
Robert, both helplessly aground and forced to enlist in cavalry
regiments, eagerly joined, and in a very small way the coining was
begun, but they were terribly crippled by the cost of each piece.  James
Clareborough was for producing something cheap, saying that it was
absurd to be making imitation sovereigns the material for each of which
cost ten shillings; but his uncle's theory was that only by the great
perfection of the coins could success and immunity from discovery be
assured.

The uncle had the support of the two younger men, and after a while the
skill begotten from practice enabled them to produce the coins more
rapidly; improved machinery was obtained from Belgium; four more
impecunious members of the family were sworn in to join in the secret of
what they called their private bank; and at the end of three years the
mansion in Highcombe Street was taken, fitted up by foreign workmen, and
by degrees the machinery brought in through the book-collector's house,
and all done without a suspicion being raised.

The generally-accepted idea in fashionable sporting circles was that the
wealth of the Clareboroughs came from their clever gambling
transactions, and many a speculator was ruined by trying to imitate
them, notably their two servants.

The various difficulties in the Clareboroughs' way dissolved upon being
attacked; wealth rolled in as fast as they liked to make it, working
hard under the guidance of their uncle, the professor, who kept the
position of captain over them, for in spite of James Clareborough's
overbearing ways, he gave up, as did the others, feeling that everything
depended upon their being united.  The old man's occupancy of the
adjoining house, where he made his genuine love for collecting old works
act as a blind for the receiving of heavy cases of metal, served them
well, and the servants never once had a suspicion that there was a
communication between the two buildings, or that the stern old
housekeeper was the professor's wife.

Her part was well played, too.  She never left the town mansion when all
the servants went down to The Towers.  And it was at these times that
the young men came up frequently, ostensibly to visit Paris or attend
meetings, but really to work hard in the well-fitted vaults to replenish
the strong-room, whose contents they wasted fast.

Self-interest, as well as clannishness, held the family together.  Use
had made the labour of production familiar, and they might have gone on
for years in their life of luxury unchecked, but for the one weak link
in their chain--the strongest and most overbearing man among them.  His
plainly-displayed passion for his cousin had been the cause or quarrel
after quarrel with Robert Clareborough, one of which culminated in
blows, the use of the revolver, and Marion rushing off, believing her
brother dying, for the aid of the surgeon with whose name a recent case
had made her familiar.

Of the further career of the family nothing more was known in England.
The police were indefatigable, but they had keen, shrewd men to deal
with, and the culprits completely disappeared.  Suspicions were
entertained that they might have had something to do with the
distribution of a great deal of base coin in Germany, but it was never
traced home to them, and to all intents and purposes the name of
Clareborough soon died out and the mysterious business in Highcombe
Street was forgotten.



CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.

CHESTER AWAKENS FROM HIS DREAM.

It was not until after many days of wild delirium that Fred Chester
unclosed his eyes with the light of reason to make things clear once
more.  He was in his own room, and he lay wondering why he was unable to
raise a hand or turn his head without difficulty.

He lay for some time trying to think out what had happened in an
untroubled way, for a restful sensation pervaded his being, and it did
not seem to matter much till he became conscious of a peculiar, soft,
clicking sound, which he knew at last to be caused by a needle coming in
contact with a thimble.

It came from somewhere to his left behind the curtain, which was drawn
to keep the sunshine which came through the open window from his face.

This afforded him fresh food for thought, and by degrees he turned his
head a little, till he could lie and watch the curtain, and wonder who
was beyond.

That was all.  He felt no temptation to try and speak, for it seemed, in
a pleasant, dreamy way, that sooner or later he would know.

It was sooner.  For all at once, as he lay watching, the sewer bent
forward a little, so that she could gaze at the face upon the pillow,
and their eyes met, those of the nurse turning wild and dilated as she
started up and hurried from the room.

"Isabel--you!" he said, in a mere whisper of a voice, but she did not
stay, and the next minute, as the sick man still lay wondering, the door
was opened again and Laura entered.

"Oh, Fred, Fred, my own brother!" she cried, as she sank upon her knees
by the bedside and pressed her lips to the thin white hand lying outside
the sheet.

"Laury," he said, feebly; "you, dear?  Wasn't that Bel?"

"Yes, yes; but you must not talk.  Oh, thank God! thank God, you know us
once again!"

"Know you?" he said, smiling, "of course.  Where's aunt?"

"Downstairs, dear, asleep.  She is so worn-out with watching you."

"Watching me?" he said, with a little child-like laugh.  "Yes, of
course, she is always watching."

He gently raised his hand, to place it upon his sister's head, and it
lay there passive for some time, till Laura realised that her brother
was fast asleep; and then she stole away to join Isabel in the next
room.

The next day Chester was a little stronger, but it was as if his mind
was passing through the early stages once more, he was so child-like and
weak; and it was not until the third day of his recovering his senses
after the terrible brain fever through which he had passed that he
remembered Isabel again, and asked if he had not seen her there.

Laura told him yes, that she had been there, and he asked no more; but
as the days went on he learned all.  That his sister had returned to
town with his aunt and written to the servant from their hotel to pack
up the clothes and books they had left behind, and received an answer
back that Chester was dying of brain fever.

This brought sister and aunt to his side, to find that Isabel had been
with him from the first, watching him night and day.  Then they shared
the task with her, till the first rays of reason began to shine out of
his eyes.

"But where is she now?  Why does she not come?" he said rather
fretfully.

"She left directly you seemed to be out of danger, Fred."

"But how unkind.  Why should she do that?"

"Why, Fred--why?" said his sister gazing at him wonderingly.  "Oh,
brother, brother, you do not grasp all yet."

Laura Chester was wrong; he did grasp it at that moment, for the past
came back like a flash, and he uttered a low groan as he recalled the
contents of that letter, the words seeming to stand out vividly before
his eyes.

From that hour his progress towards recovery was slower than before, and
he lay thinking that the words contained in that letter were true--that
it was good-bye for ever and that his life was hopelessly wrecked.

The return of health and strength contradicted that, though, as a year
passed away, and then another year, in the course of which time he
learned that the discoveries in Highcombe Street had been forgotten by
the crowd, other social sensations having blurred them out.

His own troubles had grown fainter, too, as the time wore on; but for
two years he did not see Isabel again.  Then they met one day by
accident and another day not by accident, and by slow degrees, while
tortured by shame and remorse at having, as he told himself, thrown
everything worth living for away, he learned what a weak, foolish
creature a woman who has once truly loved a man can be, and said, as
many of us say--

"What a miserable desert this world would be if there was no forgiveness
for such a sin as mine!"

The End.





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