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mmŒmm 9 [ALL RIGHTS E.XSSBVSU.] S I A Master of Deception | .1 i,) R3 m By RICHARD MARSH, 93 I Author of The Beetle," Twin Sisters," &c. ^S3 E Ailthor of "The Beetle," "Twin Sisters, "? CHAPTER XXV. I STELLA'3 BETROTHAL FEAST. I That evening- Rodney Elmore was at a dinner given at a famous restaurant in lionour of his engagement to Stella Austin, quite a different sort of meal from that at which he had assisted at the Misses Claugh- ton's house in Kensington. If in his manner there was an unusual touch of nervousness, it was not unbecoming; the bride that was to be was not entirely herself. He met her as, with her father and mother, she entered the ball. She said to him, as he fell in by her side: "T did hope, Rodney, that you would have eom-e to fetch me." My dear, it's only by the akin of my teetn that I've got here myself!. Do you think that I wouldn't have come if I could?" She said nothing in reply, but as he passed towards the lady's cloak-room there was a look on her face which almost sug- gested tears. Her mother's manner, as she greeted him, was not too genial: So you are here? Well, I suppose that's something! Mr. Austin, as he deposited his hat and coat with the attendant, seemed very much in th, same key. Wo should have been here some minutes a go, only Stella would have it you were coming to fetch her; we should have been waiting for you still if she had had her way. How was it you didn't come?" Rodney drew the gentleman aside. "I take it, Mr. Austin, that you haven't heard the news ? "To what news do you refer?" "It is now stated that my uncle did not commit suicide, but was murdered." "But I thought the coroner's jury had returned a verdict of suicide." "That is so; but this afternoon a man named Parker gave himself up to the police, on his own confession, as having murdered my uncle. You will understand that I—I have had rather a trying day." "On his confession? Is the man a luna- tic. P "That's just it; he is, yet it seems only too likely that-lie did what ho says he did." "Do you know the man?" "Not I; he's an entire stranger to mè; but I'll tell you all about it later. I don't want you to say anything to the ladies or anyone; I only mention it to you because I want you to understand how it is that I am not in such—such good fettle as I might be for an occasion of this kind; and also because I want you, if needs be, to help me with Stella. "My dear boy, of course I will. It is only natural that, at a time like this. a girl should think that there's nothing of mitoh consequence except her own affairs; but I'll etand by you, never fear. I rather wish that the whole thing had been postponed, but Stella wouldn't hear of it. There's Tom not at 8.11 himself; he wanted Mary Carmichael to come, and Stella wanted her to come in fact. we all wanted her to come, but she ihasn't. I've been told nothing, but I can flee there's some trouble there. Altogether the evening doesn't look as if it were going to be quite such a merry one as I had hoped it would have been; however, we must make the best of it. Cheer up, lad; put your troubles behind you for this night only." That was a prescription which at any rate the p:'cscriber's son did not seem at all dis- posed to follow, as Rodney quickly learnt when Tom appeared a little tardily. Tom's naturally good-humoured face wore an ex- pression of unwonted glooin, and there was that in his air and general bearizi- which accorded ill with a time of feasting and making merry. "You know, old chap, I oughtn't to be here, I really didn't. I shall queer the wh&le show. Unless I drink too much, and put my spirits up that way, I shall give everyone the hump; and when I start on that lay I'm apt to get my spirits up a bit too much, so I don't know that that will have a good effect either." Rodney laughed as he put his hand on the -speaker's shoulder. "Wll;, Tom, what's wrong?" I don't know what's wrong, but some- thing's wrong. I do know that. When the governor told me about this kick-up to- night, I wrote to Mary and told her all about it, and asked her to come up, and so on. and said I'd run down to Brighton this morning to bring her up, and told her the train I a come by, and asked her to meet me at the station. She didn't meet me at the station—that was shock number one; and then 'wnen I got to the house, if you please, the servant didn't want to let me inhe wanted to make me believe that Mary was out. I wasn't taking that; I would go in, and I saw her old aunt—she's an old dear, she is. After a while she owned up that Mary was in all the time. She was up in her bedrom, and had given word that if I called she wouldn't see me. You might have bowled me over with an old oork." "The lady wasn't well." Her health was all right; the old girl owned as much. She said Mary was per- fectlv well, but beyond that she wouirn't say anything; and she made out that she couldn't; and she wouldn't send a message up, or a note, or anything. She said that she knew her niece well enough to be sure that that would be no use. But when she saw that I was set, she said that if I chose I might go up and try my luck. So, if you please, up I went, and rapped at her bed- room door." Summoned her to surrender, quite in the good old style; and she did?" Not much she didn't. I spoke to her through the bedroom door, I called out to her, I as nearly as possible howled; I dare- ,say I rapped as many as twenty times—I 'know I made my knuckles sore. But she took not the slightest notice, not a sound came from the other side; she might have 3been stone deaf or dead. I came back from Brighton all alone, and the wonder is I didn't start to drink and keep on at it; only I had a sort of feeling that if I began by being squiffy when I got here things wouldn't be so very much brighter; besides, there a always time to start that sort of ,thing ? ?" arc set on it." My dear old chap, l"ou'Te dome eome- tbiyag to upset the lady? apple-cart; you'll 14,e a letter telling you all about it in the morning." ? hope so, but I doubt it; I might have ,?known Te was feeling too much bucked up. You know she never said exactly yes; she f of let TOE take it for granted, and per-    ? a little too much for granted; ?i ? teet t ♦ £ perhaps that's how it is. But r. „ With me, I'm done--dean. She .r e a ?0 of me, even the kind of i fia! «°Ve^or thinks a man; but no o,n e else. ?<1. If she won't have me, I 6hall ?'f?. that's what I shall do; I 8hall srn to one of those cheerv spots where YOU ø-et 1 i "? ? kicked out by blackwater fever. or ?y?P? ?, E;out by blackwater fever, or se I,, or something nice of that sort, ttree inf_)ntb,9 after yo?'ve landed." Noti 'E" being Iliv4Lya that dmner ? r ?"v, Rodny.. L ?ila cheerfully enough, into ?  a,te roozn ? which it was to be Sd bestowing ? her admiring glan?. ^rvedw, hispering ii,? ,V2r« £ f iur* thigs  her p?tfy ear as they went. The ina?id's 11114,"Lr t i6  h P? /?!v??1 shed?  ?? ? a?/pri? she plaiD '11 a Jitt' l"'n to understand that she 'W" at aa. ? htt.e o? with him. He smiled at her.  "I don't know -what  1 h'" t ?W??  \y?? aug mg .? .ri4ed?" "? '!????'' 1'om ?", like ?in? 't.t tr"I,C"'e e.s éo. ?n'.t ? strafe ?ry ? coming, and send. ing no ? '?ythin? g?-nothing to ex- pjamu? Have ?.u hca? lxow treaty 'Tom' They h? r._??d the dinner-table, and weie setth? t.)c?]ve. ? lticir places. -.t 11  I "St?Ua, ? ?'R? M to understand, once for all, }a ?'? o?Iy or? subject to- night, and t"'Lt's All ?ther subject are taboo- "Rodney, I m pad you are going to talk to me at .-t. I don't suppose you Have thought 01 me once all d-iv Shall I fell you what I've been looking for ever smce I came?" 1 expect fcr somewhere to smoke "I've been loosing for-ay. a curtained nook, where I e.)i have you alone for about fivo minutes, and hare a few of those kisses of which I have been dreaming this livelong day." If you 3:ad come and fetched me you mieht have had one kiss—in the cab." "I'll have one kiss when I take you back "Oh, you are to take me back?" "I --in and I'm going to cat you 0:1 the v,-av then you'll undersand what you escaped by mv not fetching you." The feast passed off bolter than, at one time, it had promised to do. There were about twenty people present. Mr. Austin had whipped up, at a moment's notice, vari- ous relations, and also certain persons who were intimately connected with the firm of which he was head; he desired to introduce to them not only his future son-in-law, but also the probable partner in his busi- ness. Most of these people were very willing to be entertained, simple souls, easily vlensed. and the dinner was a good one. Even Tom, who found himself next to a girl with mischievous eyes and a saucy tongue, wac inclined to shed some of his melancholy before the menu was half-way through. "I n-ever did meet a girl who says such things as you do," he told her, with a frank- ness which was perhaps meant for laudation. "You see," she said, with her eyes fixed demurely on her plate, it doesn't matter what one does say to some people, does itt" "What do you mean by that?" Of course, some people don't count, do they?" "By that I suppose you mean that I'm a" She did not wait for him to finish. "Oh, not at all." She looked at him with innocence in her glance, which was too perfect to be real. "How many times have you been ploughed? "Who's been telling you tales about me?" "I was only thinking that it doesn't matter if one hasn't brains so long as one has looks, and you have got those, haven't you? Tom's face, as the minx said this, in a voice which was just loud enough to reach his ears, would have made a good photo- graphic study. Beyond a doubt he was in a fair way to lose some of his sadness, at least for the time. When the cloth had been removed tho giver of the feast, getting on to his feet, made the usual half jovial, half sentimental re- ferences to the occasion which had brought them together; and, in wishing the young couple well, made special allusion to the fact that he wa.s not only welcoming a son, but also a colleague. The toast he ended by pro-posing could not have been better received. Then, while the young maiden sat blushing, the young man stood up, and, in a brief yet deft little speech, told how happy they all had made him, how the hopes which he had cherished for years had at last been realised, how dear those hopes had been to him, how unworthy he was of all the good gifts which had descended on him. But of this they might be sure, that if he had health and strength—and at present he was very well and pretty strong, thanking them very much—he would do his very best in the years to come to prove that he could at least appreciate those things which provi- dence had bestowed on him. Then there were other speeches, and all sorts of kind things were said, which, at such times, one takes it for granted should be said. The young man was made much of, and the maiden, if possible, even more. And when the feast was really ended, and all the good wishes had been wished again and again, and there came the time of part- ing, even Mr. Austin was obliged to confesa to himself that everything could scarcely have gone off better. His wife was radiant, some of the shadows had gone from Tom's face; apparently the young lady with the mischievous eyes had in some subtle way, the secret of which she only possessed, acted the part of the sun in dispelling the clouds; Stella could not by any possibility have looked happier or Rodney prouder. Tom, it is believed, saw the young lady with the mischievous eyes home in one cab, and it is certain that Rodnev was with Stella in another. What took place during that journey in the cab between the restaurant and Kensington it is not perhaps easy to determine precisely, but beyond a doubt Rod- ney had that one kiss which had been spoken of, and probably others; for when the house in Kensington was reached,, and the young lady ran up the steps to the front door, she was in a state of the most delightful agita- tion. And in the house there was the final parting, which occupied a considerably long time, for they had to say to each other the things which they had already said more than once, and which Rodney at least could eay so well and to which the girl so loved to listen. "I think that, after all, to-night has made up for to-day. Do you know, Rodney," and she looked up into his face with some- thing shining in her pretty eyes, "that to- day I have nad the most curious fancies? I was actually frightened; I don't know at what, but I do know that somehow it was because of you. Wasn't it Billy? I am not sure that it's ever silly for you to be frightened because of me; I'm in the most delicious terror all day, and some- times all night, because of you; but you are a goose. Then he held her perhaps a little closer, and whispered: "It has been something of a night, hasn't it? For the first time in my life I feel as if I were a person of some importance. You couldn't have your betrothal feast again to-morrow, could you? She smiled. I doubt it; but we might have a silver betrothal feast as well as a silver wedding. Hasn't that sort of thing ever been done? He laughed at the conceit, and when the parting really did come she was looking for- ward as through a dim mist, towards that silver time at which he had hinted; and when she went upstairs she prayed that after fivc-and-twcaiy years of married life ehe might be as happy as she was then. And all night she slept sweetly, dreaming the happiest dreams of all that took place dur- ing the passage of the years, through which telle walked with the husband whom she loved so dearly, ever heart in heart and hand in hand. That night was to her a halcyon time. CHAPTER XXVI. I I GOOD-NIGHT. I When Rodney Elmore went home, as his cab drew up in front of his lodgings a man came quickly across the road and stood so that he was between him and the entrance to the housie. "Mr. Rodney Elinore? "That is mÿ nameI am Rodney Elmore; but you, sir—pray, who are you? 11 INIV name is Edward Giles. But I don't think that • can mean much to you, Mr. Elihore. "t am very pleased to -meet you, Mr. Giles, but, as you say, your namev does.con, vey absolutely nothing to me. What is it that 1 can; have the pleasure -of doing for you at this latish hour?" The man was silent for a moment. Then a curious smile flitted across his face as he Mine a half-step nearer. "Think, Mr. Elmore. I shouldn't be sur- prised if you had rather a good memory, you remember me? "Not the least in the world, Mr. Giles." "It isn't so very loug" ago since you saw Jpoe. 0 "Indeed! I presume it was on rather r. special occasion, Mr. Giles, since you ap- pear to be rather auxiou3 to recall it to my recollection." "It was rather a special occasion for you, Mr. Elmore; and a still more special ocea- eion for Mr. Patterson." "My uncle? "Yea, Mr. Elmore, your uncle. Don't you remember last Sunday evening at Brighton station ?" hesitated. Why do you tts:c, J ou do remember, Mr. Elmore, ard go- do I. I can Gte vou still, coming sauntering* down the platform smoking a cigarette and loolng hi to the first-class earri'igea to see Which of them would suit vou best. Then you got into the carriage, and took the seal at the farther end, facing the engine. You thought you were going to journey up all alone, but just as the train was starting a etcut, elderly gentlemnn came bustling along. Yours was the only carriage door that was open, and I helped him in. I shut the door, and you went out of the station together. Don't you remember that? Look at me carefully. Don't you remember that I was the party who helped your uncle into your carriage? Just, look at me and think." Again Rodney hesitated, and seemed to tliink. Then he said, in a tone the indiffer- ence of which was perhaps a trifle studied: Really, Mr. Giles, I don't quite know what it is you expect me to say." The man gave a little laugh. "Anyhow, Mr. Elmore, you've said it." Without an attempt at a farewell grect- ing, he walked quickly back across the street, to where, as Rodney had been aware, another person had been waiting. The pair walked briskly off together side by side, and Rodney went up the steps into the house. He knew that, as he had ex- pected, the presence of that platform inspec- tor was going to prove awkward for him more awkward than he cared to think. But he did think, as he turned into his sitting- room and still stood thinking as the door was gently opened and Mabel Joyce came in. Her agitation was almost unpleasantly evi- dent. One could see that her hands were trembling, that her lips were twitching, and that, indeed, it was all she could do to keep her whole body from shaking. She came quickly towards the table, and leaned upon the edge :■ plainly it was a very real assist- ance in aiding her to stand. And her voice was as tremulous as her person. "Did—did you see him?" "My dear Mabel, did I see whom?" She seemed to clutch the table still more tightly. "Rodney, don't! It's no good. Do you think I don't know? What's the good of pretending with me, when you know—I know? What cock-and-bull story is this about some man, some fool, some lunatic, who says—he did it? Do you think that I don't know, that Mr. Dale doesn't know, that they all don't know? Rodney," and her voice trembled so that it was with pain she spoke at all, "there'll—there'll—be a warrant—out—in the morning." And the girl threw herseif forward on the table, crying and trembling as if on the verge of a convulsion. What on earth, Mabel, is the use of spoiling your pretty face like this? I am a little worried to-night, and that's the truth. If there's anything you want to say to me, old girl, say it, and have done with it." He sighed. She raised herself from the tabic, and looked across at him. Rodney, it won't be any use our marry- ing." There was a big sob. "That won't save you—now. God knows what wiU. This —this fool, whoever he is, who pretends he did it, has only made them all the keener. They—they mean to have you now." "They? And w ho are tiiey?" There's Dale, and Giles, and Harlow, and—and don't ask me who besides. They're all wild because—because you tricked them; because they made such idiots of themselves at the inquest." Rodney raited his arms above his head, and stretched himself, and yawned, as if lit were a little weary. "They were a "trifle premature; coroner, and jury, an eminent specialist, and Harlow, and all—the whole jolly lot of them. I don't wonder they feel a trifle wild. But why with me?" wh'y ? You know, Rodney-you know! You know Oh, don't—don't pretend On my word of honour-if it's any use employing that pretty figure of speech with vou-I am not pretending. I've still another trick in the bag; that's all. And that's what you don't give me credit for, my dear." "What—what trick's that? You've too tricks—you're all tricks! It's-Rod- ney, it's-it's too late for tricks!" But not fbr this prdtty trick of mine. Mabel, it's such a pretty one! But now you listen to me for a moment. Pull yourself together. Stand up; let me see your face." She did as he bade her, and stood leaning on the table with both her hands, looking at him with eyes from which the tears were streaming. Mabel, you asked me to marry you. I said I would, and I will." But—what's the use of it now Yon don't understand." Oh, yes, I do; I don't know if I can get you to believe me, but I do understand much better than you suppose; and, indeed, I rather fancy even better than you do. Any- how, the supposition is that we're to be bride and bridegroom, dear, to-morrow; let's for goodness' sake be friends to-night." He held out his hands to her with a little gesture of appeal. "Lady, talking will do no good, so let's say pretty things. Sweetheart, I'll be shot if I won't call you sweetheart, look you never so sourly at me He still held out his hands to her. As she looked at him with straining eyes, she eeemed to waver. Rodney! Good-night. Come here and say it—or ehall we meet half-way? He moved towards her round the table, and she, as if she could not help it, moved towards him. And they said good-night. (To be concluded.)









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