Clutha Leader, Volume XVII, Issue 848, 17 October 1890, Page 7
CONCLUSION. The hour was a little after 2 in the morning a perfect silence, broken at intervals by the roll of some passing carriage, or faint echo of distant music, reigned in the streets of- Vanity Fair. Vere Dene swept down the marble steps, with their coating of crimson cloth, which lay before the Marchioness of Hurlingham's residence in Park Lane, her head drawn up, the Vere diamonds flashing in the lamplight under her thin gossamer wrap. There had been some faint surprise, a little well-bred expostulation at her early departure ancl Lord Bearhaven, standing at the carriage door bare-headed and regretful, murmured against the fates. 'Your presence is absolutely necessary V he asked.
Absolutely. You understand everything, ancl besides, I should be so miserably anxious all the time. Goodnight.'
1 Good-night, Miss Dene or, rather, let us say au revoirS
The carriage rolled away into the darkness, carrying with it no delicious whirl of thought, no sweet consciousness of a night of triumph. Lord Bearhaven threw a coat over his evening dress and hailed an empty cab crawling down the street. A moment later, he, too, was hurrying Arlington street way.
There was a fitful gleam of light in some of the windows at No. 281 as the carriage drew up and the door opened. A few feet farther on was a hackney coacii with the outline of a policeman on the box with the cabman, the conveyance from Starr and Fortiter's, in Which their confidential agent had arrived to convey the Vere diamonds to safe custody.
linder tbe subdued light of the shaded lamps, Vere, waited, but fbr what she scarcely knew. The ancient butler, a faithful old servant of Vavasour Dene's, came forward with a j poor attempt to conceal his agitation. Some one. has been inquiring; for yon, Miss/, he said. 'I did not know what j to do. I had* -'to hide him -in the) library. But
Who is up, Semmes Are all the servants in bed V j c Every' one except myself and Miss Ashton, Miss. Your maid said you left orders for her not to wait foi* you. Mr Winchester has been here some tim e but where he is now I know no r more than
And the agent from Starr's, where is hef. 'In the breakfast-room. He has been' here half-an-hour.' Vere's heart was beating fast enough now a curious choking m her throat .checked her ready flow of speech for a. moment. Then all the-»donunaht courage of her nature seemed to come again, strengthening every nerve and limb, till she felt almost exulting in her audacity of purpose. She swept up the stairs leading to her dressingroom, her. face calm"-" and 'placid,^ as if she had no consciousness of danger, a profusion of soft wax-lights flashing upon the living fire. of jewels gleaming on her dusky hair and round the full white; throat. For a moment she stood contemplating her own perfect- loveliness, then she removed the glittering jewels from her wrists and throat and bosom and placed them one by one in their leathern cases. Taking the cases from the table, she Avalked down the stairs again. At the foot of the stairs I stood Ashton, a smile of uneasy meaning upon his neat handsome face, a smile of uncertainty as to his welcome. They made a strange picture as they stood thus, this brother ancl sister, after a parting nearly five years old, as different now as light from darkness, as wide asunder as tbe poles. Oome with me,' Vere whispered, conscious of the clanger of being overheard, at the same time leading the way into a small room half-concealed behind a bank of gardenias and tuberoses, and where one dim light was burning. You have chosen a strange time for your visit,« Chris. You might have selected a more appropriate hour.' Her eyes wandered over him from head to foot, over all the signs of pitiless poverty he bore, till her heart melted, and all the pure sisterly love cameYto the surface. Chris, Chris, what have I done that you should treat me like this? Why do you keep away from me as you have clone, when all mine is yours, and I would have sacrificed it all to help you.' Ashton turned away his face as if the words had been tbe lashes of a whip even the thickening folds of selfpity which the years of trouble ancl misfortune had wrapped around him were penetrable to one touch of Nature. 'Do not grudge 'me the last embers of my manhood/ said he with an imploring gesture. Don't make io any harder, Vere.' I hate to hear you talk like this/ Vere answered, ber voice trembling. 'You, a young man, with all the years before you time enough to wipe out the stain and regain your honorable name.' 'An honorable name for me, witb the recollection of the cowardly part I, am playing at tbis moment Bub cost j what it will, I play the hypocrite no longer. Do you guess what brings me here to-night 1 Yes, Chris I know only too well what brings you here to-night V So utterly surprised was Ashton hy the unexpected reply, that he could only cling to the back of the chair against which he was standing and regard the speaker with starting eyes. That Vere had been taken into Winchester's confidence he hacl not had the smallest conception. I •Is it possible you can really know 1 And if you have discovered everything, why clo you not ring the bell ancl order your servants to thrust me out into the street j What can you gain by keeping tne here.' Much tbat I want much that you need also. Chris, it is folly for you and 'me to stand here wasting bitter word p. You came here because there was no help for it you imagine yourself to be deserted. Even now, we are all doing our best to save you.' Ashton laughed mirthlessly, 'To save me/ he cried. Ancl how V j How, another hour wiil prove. For the present, I am merely an instrument in cleverer hands than my own. Only wait and see.' Your patience will be tried no i longer. Vere, are you ready V j The suddenness of the interruption caused brother and sister to turn uneasily. In the dim light, Winchester's tall -figure was faintly visible, though j the lamp shining on his face showed it illuminated by a smile of hope and pleasurable expectation. His very presence seemed to give them a fresh meed of comfort. Vere would have spoken, only that he laid a finger on her lip and pointed silently to, the door. !For a moment Vere hesitated, as if half afraid but gathering up her,courage, somewhat shaken by the unexpected interview, without another word itook up the jewel cases and left the room. A bright light was burning, in the breakfast room as she entered. There was still the consciousness of unseen danger, till beyond, in the darkness of an inner apartment, she discerned the Outline of Winchester's figure as he pame in noiselessly by another door. There was only one other person present, a tall, slim individual, with a small black moustache, and gleaming eyes, but little dimmed by the pince 7 nez he bore. -He bowed, and brightened Visibly as Vere laid the leathern cases upon tho table. i You co'riie from Starr and Fortiter's,' I presume?' she asked. y i I have the honor to be their confidential clerk, madam/ replied the agent
smoothly. 'If you will be good enough to read this letter, „you.. will/se.e„that/I am what I represent. In such "matters we usually take. every precaution.'.
Vere glanced through' the letter carelessly after which, at the/ clerk's direction, she initialled it. With almost suspicious alacrity he took up/the 'cases', and with another profound bbw,. walked towards the door. As he did so, Winchester came out of the inner -apart-, ment and stopped- him with a gesture. 'I hardly think this is quite forriial/' he: said. 'Perhaps Miss Dene has no objection to my asking a few question/?. And you, sir, pray, be seated. If Miss Dene will do me the favor to retire; for a moment
Vere wanted ,no second bidding. .Already her courage, high as it was, 'began to ;fail. It hacl been a trying 'iiight, /and the sense of danger overpowering. Moreover, the evil had not been seen, but rather implied. WithoutYwaiting to hear more, she left the aparment, and stepped across tb a little room "opposite, fearful lest Ashton might in a moment of rashness betray himself;
Directly the last sound of her; footsteps had died away, the patent politeness of Winchester's manner underwent a change, Now, you scoundrel/ he said grimly, -givo me those jewels.'
'My good sir, I am quite at a loss to know who you are but, representing as I .do one of the first houses in town
'Yon are at no loss to know who I am/ Winchester, returned, approaching the agent, and with a dexterous movement, removing wig, moustache, ancl glasses from tbe other's face. 'My name is Winchester, ancl yours is Wingata There is riot the least occasion to deny the fact.' Wingate, for, he it was, dropped the cases and staggered into a seat. Por a moment he measured his antagonist with his eye, and despairingly gave up the wild idpa of a strufjsde as at once hopeless and perilous. An instant of wild baffled rage was followed by a cold trembling of the limbs. There remained only a last effort for freedom to.be made, and as the detected thief remembered the forged acceptance in his pocket, his spirits rose to the encounter. Perhaps you will be good enough to prove what my name is/ he answered doggedly. Prove it Winchester echoed contemptuously 'yes, before a jury, if you like. Do Starr ancl Fortiter's agents generally clo tlieir bur.in.ess in disguise, with a cab waiting for them outside with a pantomine policeman alongside the driver The scheme was a very neat one but unfortunately for you, I happen to know everything.' 'En apres,' said Wingate with all the. cool insolence at his command. Upon my word, you carry matters with- a high hand. Perhaps you forget that 1 hold an open sesame that, will allow me to depart whether you like t or -not.' Pon my word, I am greatly obliged to you for mentioning it/ Winchester returned. You are naturally alluding to tbe acceptance you stole from my studio Bearing the forged name of Lord Bearhaven.' Bearing the forged name of Lord Bearhaven. Exactly. For that reminder also allow me to tender you my most sincere thanks. Yon are an audacious rascal, Mr Wingate, a truism we both appreciate. If that bill was in my pocket, you would not feel so easy as you do.' Certainly. That, as you are perfectly aware, is my sheet anchor. Come what may, you dare not prosecute me and so far as I am concerned, 1 shall walk out of this room as freely as I came in.' That is very likely/ Winchester returned dryly. 'But if E may venture to prophesy, not without paying something for your freedom. You may rest assured of one thing, that unless that bill is in my posession, your exit will be accompanied by an official not altogether unconnected with Scotland Yard.' You would force it from me/ Wingate cried, tbe first real feeling of alarm getting- the: better, of his matchless audacity. 'You would never dare V— I would dare. anything. Can't you see that you are completely in my power..? However, I do not desire to use force' it would be bad for me, and a great deal vyqrse for you. You are counting upon Lord Bearhaven's character for severity, and also how. you can be revenged upon Ashton for betraying/you. 'Upon my word,, when I think of everything, the cool villainy of this, plot, now T have you in arm's lengtb, I, caii scarcely /refrain from thrashing you' Mfithin an. inch of your life and I should do so with the liveliest satisfaction.' You will treat me as a gentleman/ Wingate faltered, shrinking back with blanched Tips and chattering teeth. He was completely cowed but the malignant cunning of his nature did not fail him /quite yet. 'I l could do a lot of harm. If I sent to Lord Bearhaven and said to him j Shorild you like to see him Winchester!"askecf abruptly. j Wingate's dark eyes- blazed with the intensity of impotent malice. Like for £cc him!' he cried. I would give anything, five years of my life, if- I ••pould, for the opportunity of 10 minutes' conversation at this moment.'
Winchester touched, the little.. silver JjelLon.i;he table. 'Lam delighted to be in a'position to, accommodate you/ he replied cheerfully, as Senimes entered. Will you be kind enough to ask Lord Bearhaven to step this! way A moment later, Bearhaven entered, /palm, cool, and slightly contemptuous, "hi/his immaculate evening dress, ancl looking down from his superior height upon „the thoroughly bewildered Wiu• gate,; while Winchester, content to 'leave the. matter in such competent hands,, discreetly vanished. -You wished to speak to me,' said the newcomer after a long pause. 'I would advise you to be brief in your confidence, Mr- Wingate/ Captain Wingate, if yon have no objection/ responded the discomfited rascal, with a fair assumption of ease. 'Let us preserve the ordinary courtesies.' 'Pooh, my. good fellow, a jury would not recognise so fine a distinction. I am sorry to disappoint you of your promised treat, but everything' is known to me. Your confederate Chivers— Benjamin Chivers, to be correc has disclosed everything We know how you ingratiated yourself into the good graces of Starr and Fortiter's agent, how you stole his credentials from him, and where he lies drugged at this .moment. What you are most desirous of mentioning is that forced bill bearing my signature. Will you be surprised to hear that knew all; about. that three years ago V A 1 But'if T liked" to disclose the facts, my lord/ broke in Wingate, now thoroughly alarmed, 'if I am presssd! to clo so 'You dare not/ Lord Bearhaven sternly replied. I nra not going to argue with you one way or another. Let me bring myself down to your level. Try it and I will bo prepared to acknowledge the signature, ancl Mr Winchester will be prepared to swear' you stole the bill from his studio. Ancl 1 think/ concluded the speaker, with stinging contempt I think you will be a long while in persuading a jury to give credence to your story. Lord Bea rh a ven's testimony, I presume, will go further than that of a well-known sharper and blackleg.' Wingate's head fell lower and lower, till his face rested on his hands. The struggle, long and severe, hacl been too much for even his temerity. I am quite in your power,' he said. I think, I bope you will not be hard upon me. Tell me what I must clo, and it shall.be done.'' 'The acceptance you have at this moment in your possession nay, do not prevaricate it is your last chance so you may expect little mercy from me. Place it in my hands and trust to my discretion. 5 And supposing T agree what then? I will make terms You will do nothing of the kind it is I who will make terms. Hand it over without- another word ancl you leave here a free man. I say no more.' Slowly, grudgingly, Wingate drew from his breast-pocket a worn leather case, and taking therefrom a narrow slip of paper, handed it to Lord Bearhaven, as if it had been some precious treasure at which his soul recoiled from parting with. After a hasty glance at its contents, Lord Bearhaven held it over the flame of a lamp till nothing but a few blackened ashes remained in his fingers. Now you may go/ he said, with a motion towards the door. Allow me to see you safely off the premises. Your cab is still at the door, I think. You must make your own peace with the cabman and the artificial policeman.' Winchester was standing in the hall somewhat impatiently waiting for the termination of tho interview. One glance at the detected scoundrel's face was sufficient evidence of the successful issup. As Wingate disappeared in the darknpss, Bearhaven turned to the artist ancl held out his hand. 'I think we can congratulate ourselves,' he said. 'The paper we spoke of no longer exists.: And now I will retire, if you have no objection. Miss Dene will, not care to see nic again to-night, especially as you understand Winchester nodded; it would have been impossible to express his feelings in words. Once alone, he ran lightly upstairs to the drawing-room, 'where Chris and Vere together with Miss Ashton were awaiting^ him. As he entered, the light was falling, full upon Vere's face, from which all the/pride and haughtiness had 'gone,' 'leaving it soft and tearful. There was a tremor of her limbs, her lips 1 worked unsteadily as she tried to smile, in return for his bright face. For a moment all were silent, Ashton watching them without daring to speak. *It is done/ he said "gently, noting the dumb piteous appeal in Y.QJxris's eyes. 'Thank Heaven, you are frse at last.' There was another silence, at the end of which he told them all. Miss Ashton, weeping quietly, hung on every word with breathless adriiiration. To Winchester she firmly believed there was. nothing impossible this favorite erring nephew had always been the delight and terror of her simple life. /Now the tale was told, the. play was ericled. With a passionate sigh, Winchester turned to go. 'This Is no longer any place for us/
he said.'— 'Chris, are you coming with me?', 'You will dp nothing of the kind/ cried Miss Ashtonj firm for the only time in her amiable existence. 1 will give Semmes orders to lock every door and bring, me the keys. Jack, you ought to be ashamed of yourself Winchester sighed again wistfully as Aunt Lucy bustled out of the room. He held out his hand to Vere, but she could not, or' would not, see. Atthe door he lingered for a moment with a backward glance; and Vere, looking up at length, their eyes met, each telling their own tale in the same mute language He was at her side in a moment. What dare I say V he asked.
What dare you say 1 Rather, what dare you not say 1 What did you promise years ago, and how have you fulfilled that promise? Do you think that I forget so easily; that, because riches and prosperity have come tp me Oh can't you see 1 Can't you say something I may not f
Is it that you care for me, darling tbat ybu still love mcV
I am weak and foolish but I cannot help it, Jack/ Vere cried with hey face aflame, Oh, how blind you have been, and how unhappy I 1 Of course it is.— What will people say 1 What clo T care what people say, when I am the happiest girl in England But/ Jack, there is one thing 1 would not havo them say, that I had actually to ask a man to to marry me.'
There was a great glow of happiness upon Winchester's face, reflected in a: measure on Ash ton's pallid cheek. For a few moments he, dared not trust himself to utter the words trembling on his lips.
You always had my love/ he said presently. 'Fate has been very good to me in spite of myself. My darling, if you are willing to brave the world, you shall nevor regret it so long as God gives me health ancl strength to shield you. Chris, have you nothing to say V
Only, that you may be as happy as you deserve to be. And what you have done for mo to-night, with God's help, you shall be repaid for, all the clays of your life. Ancl now, Vere may perhaps be persuaded to let us go.'
I will/ she whispered, for I know you will come again to-morrow. Tomorro rather to-day for, see, the sun has risen, and daylight has come at last Fred. M. White.