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while. Miss Nethersole would perhaps have liked, could she be persuaded that it was a Christian thing, to have decorated Temple Bar with Anthony Hamblin in bits. I mean that her bitterness was so savage, so deeply rooted, that she would have caught at any chance of satisfying the hunger of her soul. She was a woman who, on this subject, was raging. This man had robbed her of her sister, and of her money. Worse than that, he had robbed her of her heart. She was no older than he. When he came to Newbury she was still young, two-and-thirty or so; he was handsome; he was gentle in his manner, courteous, and attentive; she had not had many opportunities of meeting such a gallant gentleman, this daughter of a successful nonconformist tradesman: she mistook his politeness for something more real; and because he was deferent and courteous, she thought he was in love. She was not hard-featured in those days, nor hard-minded; the honey in her nature still predominated over the vinegar; and although her oval face was rather thin, and her chin a little pointed, she was not yet without womanly charms. It was not absurd for her to suppose that she might be loved by man-when is it so late as to be absurd? She was deceived in the most cruel way, she said. The man began by making love to her, and then came and asked for her sister-this chit of eighteen, more than a dozen years younger than himself. That wrong, though she did not say so, was harder to forgive than the other two. Money she might be robbed of; she might even lose her sister, and yet in time get over both those losses. But the contempt of herself, the quiet way in which the man, when he at length comprehended her interpretation of his suit, put it aside courteously, and yet as if it were absurd-these were things which could never be forgotten.
Twenty years ago? Why, the whole scene was as fresh in her mind as if it had been yesterday. Twenty years ago? Why, it seemed not a week since; when the man left her, she locked the door, and gave way to that fit of despairing wrath and sorrow which had been ever afterward the great sin of her life to look back upon, and yet it was not repented.
Seeing, therefore, the manifest impossibility of getting any pleasantness out of revenge upon a dead man, Miss Nethersole at first collapsed altogether: nor was it till many weeks afterward that a thought came to her which went straight to her very heart and remained there, growing daily stronger, and taking every day more definite shape. Why, she thought, should she lose the money she had paid on the forged receipts? There were six of them. Their dates were twenty, nineteen, down to fifteen years old. Each
one was worth, at compound interest, more than double the amount it represented. Say only double. There was a sum of two thousand pounds, at least, waiting for her. She had only to ask it. That meant an increase to her income of eighty pounds a year. Surely it would be a flying in the face of Providence, and a despising of gifts, were that sum suffered to be lost or thrown into the capacious coffers of the Hamblins.
And then, by going to the office of the firm, by merely claiming it, she would be able to inform the family of the deceased forger, what manner of man the head of the House had been. "It is a Christian duty," she said, persuading herself.
Perhaps it was; but it took her several weeks before she could resolve on actually carrying the project into execution. Finally, she arrived at the desired pitch of resolution, and came up to town by herself, bringing her precious pièces de conviction with her.
She consulted her solicitor, but more as a matter of form, because she expected little of a low-spirited caitiff who had refused to ask the magistrates for a warrant because the criminal was dead. She was right. He behaved in the meanest manner possible; there was nothing vigorous about the man. After all, as she found afterward, he was only a member of the Establishment. What could be expected from a hanger-on to that dry branch?
"The man is dead," said this creature of compromises. You can have no revenge out of him. You can not even prove after this lapse of time that the papers are written by him. Even if the first part, the form of receipt, was written by him, you can not prove that the signature is his. To me the signature looks genuine. The money was paid over the counter. Who is to say, after fourteen years, who received it? All the good you will get, Miss Nethersole, by proceeding in this ungrateful and thankless business will be the character of a vindictive woman."
"What does that matter," she replied, "provided I can show him to the world as he was?"
She looked thinner, harder, more determined than ever. The death of the enemy, the solicitor thought, had only intensified her desire for revenge. "Just so," said the man of law. "But suppose you only succeed in showing him to the world as the world has always accepted him, and in showing yourself as a revengeful person endeavoring by every means, fair or foul, to compass the disgrace of an honorable name?"
She closed her thin lips more tightly togeth
"I am vindictive," she said; "I am revenge
ful, because I wish to vindicate the memory of Perhaps she is the sister of a young lady who my sister-" disappeared thirty years ago, a mother-nothat can hardly be." Augustus glanced at the card.-" Show her up, Jennings. Perhaps she is only a person connected with schools, or guilds, or nunneries, or societies of some kind, in search of donations which she shall not get."
"By blackening the memory of her husband. Pardon me, Miss Nethersole; but I am unable to enter into those curious subtilties, by which you distinguish the duty of a Christian from that of the avenger of a blood-feud. I can not act for you in this matter. I must, I fear, request you to find another solicitor. I wish you a good morning."
Miss Nethersole closed her black bag with a snap and went away. But she was not vanquished. A woman who has lived and acted herself for thirty years is not to be moved out of her course by the disapproval of a solicitor.
What did she want with a solicitor? She could very well act alone; she knew what she had to do, and she could do it, she thought, better without a lawyer's aid than with one. Acting alone, too, she could act quickly.
She was staying at the Queen's Hotel, St. Martin's le Grand, a central place well removed from the soul-destroying gayeties of the West, and within access of several faithful chapels. She returned to the room, sat down for a while to collect her thoughts, and presently, after a cup of tea, which brought back her courage, together with her vindictiveness, she made hard her upper lip, and set out for Great St. Simon Apostle. It was then five o'clock in the afterThe clerks were putting things together; the porters and servants were yawning, expectant of the close of day; the two partners, Augustus and William, were talking together in the room of the former, hats on and umbrellas in hand ready to go, when Miss Nethersole's card was brought in by a clerk in waiting.
"Miss Rachel Nethersole, Olivet Lodge," read Augustus. "Do you know her, Cousin William ?"
The man of few words shook his head.
"Nor I.—Ask her, Jennings, what she wants, and whether to-morrow will do?-Another of the replies to our advertisements, I suppose, William, or perhaps a messenger from Mr. Bragge. That man means work, mind you."
Miss Nethersole sent up word that to-morrow would not do, and that if the partners refused to hear what she had to say to them confidentially, she would send up the purport of her message by word of mouth, a course which she advised them not to adopt.
"This is a very curious message," said Augustus. "It looks like threatening us, William. Is she a young woman, Jennings?"
'Oh, dear, sir, no! Not at all. She looks more than fifty. A lady dressed in black, with a black bag."
"Certainly not," said William the Silent.
She was not, however, connected with any begging enterprise whatever, as she quickly showed. She entered the room, looked round, and glared upon the partners in silence.
"Pray, madam," asked Augustus, “will you be kind enough to tell us how we can serve you?"
"You can not serve me."
"Then will you be kind enough to tell us what gives us the pleasure of seeing you here?" It is no pleasure at all, either for you or for
"Really! Then will you please tell us, at once, who you are?”
"I am your late cousin Anthony Hamblin's sister-in-law."
Both the partners started and gazed at her with curiosity.
"His sister-in-law? Then you must beyou must be the sister of his wife?" cried Augustus, considering rapidly the meaning of the relationship. "Permit us, my dear Miss Nethersole, to make your acquaintance, to shake hands with you. This is my partner and cousin, Mr. William Hamblin. Anthony's sister-in-law. Good Heavens! The very person, or next to the very person, whom we have been trying to find for so long. Are you really aware, madam, how much depends on the proof of this marriage? Really, this is-this is-this is providential. Pray, pray, Miss Nethersole, take a chair-pray sit down and let us converse! Most providential, I am sure."
She obeyed and sat down. But her eyes were not encouraging. They showed no inclination to respond to the friendly advances of her brother's cousins.
"I do not understand compliments. I come
"We have been hunting everywhere," Augustus went on, "to find out whom Anthony married. I assure you, Miss Nethersole, we have spared no trouble. May I ask, did you come in answer to our advertisements, or did Mr. Bragge—”
"Neither," she replied surlily; "and as for marriage, he married my sister Dora."
"He married her sister Dora!" echoed Augustus; "he married Miss Dora Nethersole, Cousin William, of-of-of-what town, mad
"Very odd," said Augustus, "extremely odd. am?"
"Of Newbury, in Wiltshire."
Of Newbury, in Wiltshire," he repeated. "Of course, of Newbury, in Wiltshire-we are getting on famously. Why, Miss Nethersole, you have been of more use to us in five minutes than all our advertisements, and circulars, and secret-service people, in four months. Anthony Hamblin was married to Dora, Miss Dora Nethersole, of Newbury, in Wiltshire. Were you yourself present at the marriage, madam? But of course you were. No doubt you were a bridesmaid."
"Of course I was not. Mr. Hamblin preferred to elope with my sister. That was his idea of Christian wedlock. He carried her away with him. Naturally, I never saw her again."
But you know that they were married? You have proof that they were married? You can tell us where they were married?
"Sir!" Her voice was more than severe. "Do I know that they were married? Know that they were married? You are speaking of my sister-my sister, sir."
"That is the reason why I say that you have, no doubt, proof of the marriage. You know where it took place, for instance."
"That is not what I came to speak about," she replied. "It is clear to me that your cousin Anthony Hamblin was even more wicked than I believed him to be. It seems now that he hid this marriage from you, his partners." She looked as if this additional proof of wickedness gratified her beyond measure.
"Pardon me," said Augustus, "he did tell us later on of his marriage; he informed us that your sister, his wife, was dead. He did not wish to speak of his wife, whose early death, doubtless, was too recent a sorrow, and we respected his silence. There is no wickedness there, so far as I can understand. You, of course, have no reason to conceal the fact of the marriage. Where did it take place?"
'I do not know," said Miss Nethersole simply. "You do not know?" Both partners stared blankly. "You do not know?”
"I do not!" She pulled the strings of her black bag impatiently. "They eloped."
"Oh!" cried Augustus. "They eloped, did they? Can you understand this, William ?"
The taciturn partner shook his head. Anthony Hamblin elope! As well expect an archbishop to elope.
They eloped," she went on, "and my sister wrote next day to say that she was married. was not my business to ask where or when. had left me, and was no more my sister." "Where did she write from?"
Augustus Hamblin made a note of the place, and waited for more information.
"As for the reasons why Anthony Hamblin concealed his marriage," Miss Nethersole went on, "I think I can find you at least six. They are here."
She opened her bag, and drew forth a little bundle of papers, carefully tied up.
From the bundle she extracted half a dozen documents, all written on half sheets of notepaper, and on one side. She selected one and handed it across the table to Augustus.
"Have the goodness to read that,” she said. Augustus read:
'He was more than a murderer, because, while my sister died less than two years after her marriage, these drafts were drawn by him, and the signatures forged, for six years later."
'Let me look at them again," said Augustus, with troubled face.
She handed them across the table, but one by one. They were all in the same handwriting, except the signature. After examining them once more, with greater care, Augustus rose and "From a place called Lulworth, in Dorset- opened his private safe; from this he extracted a book, full of letters and papers pasted in, and
At compound interest," said the lady.
"At compound interest. We are ready to buy them of you to prevent a scandal. We can not allow our late partner and cousin to be ac
"Pardon me; that is quite another affair. cused or suspected of such a crime. Besides, How are you going to prove that?"
"How am I going to prove that?" She sat bolt upright and stared him full in the face. “Did I not pay the money?"
there are others to consider. We will buy these papers of you, Miss Nethersole."
"Thank you," she said. "Of course the money will be useful to me. It is a large sum to "Doubtless it was paid for you-but who re- lose. At the same time, if I give up the papers, ceived it?" I give up the proofs of that man's abominable
"Who should, except Anthony Hamblin him- perfidy and wickedness." self?"
"But you forget, or perhaps you do not know, that Anthony Hamblin at that time was in the enjoyment of at least twenty thousand pounds a year."
Rachel Nethersole was staggered.
Twenty thousand pounds a year? and he refused my sister more than two pounds a week! And when I saw him last, and taxed him with the crime, he did not deny it. I went to Clapham on purpose to see him; it was the day before he was drowned. I showed him these papers. I informed him that my purpose was to prosecute him criminally. He did not, he could not, deny his guilt; he had not the impudence to deny it, though he tried to brazen it out."
"He did not deny it?"
"No; on the contrary, he implored me to pause. He said that consequences, of which I knew nothing, but which I should regret all my life, would follow if I persevered. I left him unrepentant, yet troubled. In this awful attitude of convicted guilt he was called away the next day."
"This is the most extraordinary statement I ever heard," said Augustus. "We do not disbelieve you, Miss Nethersole, but we are convinced that you are mistaken. Anthony Hamblin could not have acknowledged his guilt."
"He did not say, in so many words, I did forge those signatures,' it is true," said Miss Nethersole; "but he acknowledged that he had done it by implication. What did he mean by saying that I did not understand the consequences which would follow?"
"I do not know," said Augustus. "Come, Miss Nethersole, you have clearly been defrauded of this money. It matters nothing now whether this dead man did the thing or not. We feel certain that he did not. You will keep your own conclusions."
"Not at all," Augustus replied. “These papers are not proofs at all. You would find it as impossible to prove that it was he who drew the money as that it was he who forged the signatures."
She was silent, but not convinced. She rose, and put the papers back into her bag.
"I will not sell them, then," she said. “I will keep them. You would not want to buy them unless it was to screen your late partner. You are deceiving me; I shall keep them. And I shall bide my time."
"We are not deceiving you, Miss Nethersole. Remember, however, that our offer is always open. We will buy the papers whenever you please to sell them."
"One moment," said Augustus. "We may wish to correspond with you. Your address is on this card-Olivet Lodge, Newbury. That will always find you? Thank you. It occurs to me -perhaps a foolish doubt—that, while you were not informed of your sister's place of marriage, you were wrongly informed of her death.”
"No," said Miss Nethersole. "There, at least, I am on firm ground. Because I have seen her grave. She is buried in Bournemouth cemetery. At her head is a cross with her initials, D. H.,' and the date of her escape from the tyranny and neglect of a SEDUCER, a LIAR, a FORGER, and a THIEF!"
She shook all over with the vehemence of her wrath. Then she gathered up her bag and her umbrella, laid over her arm the black shawl which completed her costume, and which she always carried as if she were a waiter and the shawl a napkin, and went away without a word of adieu, slamming the door after her.
"What a woman!" cried Augustus, with a
sigh of relief." And now, William, what are we to make of it?"
"Use your own judgment there as well," he said at length; "but she is to tell no one, not
"No doubt about the handwriting," said Wil- even Mrs. Cridland." liam.
HOW ALISON REMEMBERED A MANUSCRIPT.
RACHEL NETHERSOLE was gone, and the partners, left alone, held long and serious counsel. It seemed best, on the whole, to send for Gilbert Yorke and tell him everything, except one thing, which the cousins kept to themselves, the secret of the handwriting. Mr. Theodore Bragge was busy "following up a clew" of his own. In fact, he was at the moment exchanging ideas on current politics with a friend in a Fleet Street tavern. Alderney Codd, the most diligent of workers, was hunting down strange Hamblins, no relations at all, into queer dens and cribs, where they generally assailed him with demands of backsheesh. Gilbert Yorke was the most trustworthy agent, and they sent for him and told him all that they had learned from Miss Nethersole.
"What we have actually learned," said Augustus, "is the name of Anthony's wife, the statement made by her of an actual marriage, the place where she lived, and the place and date of her death. It will be your duty to visit these places, to find out anything that can be learned further, and if possible to ascertain the place of marriage, whether under a false name or not. Should you like Alderney Codd to go with you, or instead of you?"
The young man blushed ingenuously. Should he surrender to Alderney Codd any portion of the glory and pride of recovering Alison's name?
"There is another thing. Miss Nethersole does not seem to know that there was any issue of the marriage. You may call upon her, after your investigations, and tell her of the child, of Alison. You will find her bitter against the memory of Anthony, and she will show you some receipts. I think that Yorke should know about the receipts?" He turned to his partner, who nodded." She gave her sister a sum of a hundred and fifty pounds a year; the sister died two years after marriage; the money was drawn for eight years."
"But not by Mr. Hamblin."
Certainly not," Augustus replied with decision-" certainly not. The receipts are forgeries, but the forging is not his; of that you may, if you please—but use your own judgment in the matter-assure Miss Nethersole."
"I may tell Alison ?"
This permission granted, Gilbert hastened to Clapham Common with his news. Here, indeed, was a clew. Let Mr. Theodore Bragge follow up his clews; let Alderney Codd run down one Hamblin after another; he had the name of the wife; he knew where she was buried. Alison's mother was found.
He found her in the garden among the flowers. It was a quiet morning in very early June. The lilacs and laburnums were still in full blossom; the earlier and old-fashioned flowers-the wallflowers, London pride, polyanthus, columbine -were in their first pride and glory; the turf was crisp and fresh. The garden was quiet, young Nick having not yet returned from school. Not far off a man was sharpening something on a wheel, and the monotonous sound made one think of the roadside and the country. Overhead larks sang; in the trees there was a blackbird, a thrush, and a chiff-chaff, besides all sorts of other songsters-a whole choir of songsters, as Addison would have called them.
"You here, and so early, Gilbert?" Alison cried, as her lover sprang across the lawn to greet her.
"Yes, Alison; I have news for you-good news, my dear-the best news-the news you have long wanted to hear."
"Gilbert!"-she clutched his arm with her two hands; her cheek was very pale, but her lips were firm-" you know what I want most. Is it is it that?"
'It is, Alison. Courage, dear; we have but one step to take, and all will be cleared up. Meantime, we are certain-mind, we are certain -for we have found your mother."
"My mother," she murmured, with a strange smile; "what does not that mean to most girls? But to me it means more-for it means my father, too."
"We know," said Gilbert, "that he was married; we have his wife's statement to that effect, the day after they eloped. Yes-one reason why your father wished to keep the marriage secret was, I suppose, because it was a runaway marriage; and why it was runaway I can not tell you. I am going to-day to visit your mother's grave."
"My mother's grave," she repeated, her dark eyes filling with tears; "where is it, Gilbert? Surely I may go along with you."
Why should she not? But it was at Bournemouth.
"Mrs. Duncombe will come with me," Alison went on. "I can be ready in half an hour. Let me go with you, Gilbert."