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993?E [?"L BIGHTS BESBRVBDj \U) ? XHB MAM HUMXI nil By TOM GALLON, 1(11 M Author of "Tatterley," "The Great Gay Road," &c. A> CHAPTER IV. THE SUBSTITUTE. Heater Wake sat up in bed, listening to the echoes of a sound familiar enough, and yet vaguely disturbing, that had just gone thundering through the house in Wedgwood Square. Even while she listened to the echoes of that postman's knock, she found herself wondering why there should be any- thing specially significant about it. The household always rose late in Wedg- wood Square; Mr. Litchfield was a man of leisure, and had no concern with the catch- ing of {rains to vulgar City haunts; he was seldom seen before mid-day. So that Hester Wake, creeping downstairs in her dressing- gown; was only seen by a maid crossing the hall on some small errand. Hester gained the hall table, and rapidly thrust aside the various letters until she discovered the one of which she was in search. It was from Manners. She knew the writing perfectly well, and she took up the letter and turned it over and over, looking at it on both sides as though she would pene- trate its contents. She noticed that it was the only letter addressed to Miss Grace Litchfield. At last, with a sigh, she dropped it back on the table, and went up to her room. In due course, after she was dressed, it became her duty to go to Grace's room to ascertain if that young lady required any services at her hands. This morning she tapped twice before permission was given somewhat sharply for her to enter. Grace made a beautiful picture, sitting be- fore her dressing-table, with her maid ar- ranging her hair. The dressing-table was in such a position that Grace, looking with in- scrutable eyes into it, was able to see Heeter Wake coming in quickly, with that curiously Btartled look in her eyes which they so often wore. "Good morning, Hetty," said Grace lan- guidly. "Good morning/' breathed Hetty. She was looking about for the letter, which was nowhere to be seen. So eager was that look that the other woman caught it in the glass, and spoke a little querulously. ,Vhat's the matter with you?" asked Grace. "Have ou lost anything? N o—no," stammered the other. And in her anxiety asked the question that had been on her lips all the time. "Did you have your letterr" Grace Litchfield twisted her head away from the touch of the maid's hands, bent forward over the dressing-table, and began moving the dainty silver things about. Her face was hidden. "Letter?" she asked, with forced carelessness. "What letter?" "There was a letter for you this morn- ing." faltered Hester. "Oh, ves, so there was," replied Grace, raisin her head with a little laugh. "Nctg ning of importance—only a wretched bill." Hester drew a quick breath and turned away, for she knew that Grace was lying. For some reason or other she desired to hide the fact that she had had a letter at all from Rodney Manners; and what reason could there be for that? Hester made an excuse, and went out of the room. Half an hour later Mr. Boyd Litchfield, in great excitement and a dressing-gown, thun- dered at his daughter's door, demanding to be admitted. He carried a newspaper in his hand, and be gan at once, after that exciting entrance, to assure her that there was nothing the matter. ""ow. my dear child, I beg that you will, pontile yourself, and that you will remain he said, flourishing the newspaper over l);s head, and walking up and down the rOO'/1 in a sort of jog-trot of excitement. All these things can be easily explained, no doubt; in any case, we've got to make the bes' of them. Ah—here's your mother," he exclaiined, as Deborah Litchfield came hur- riedly into the room, so T suppose that will save a double explanation. In these cases I always believe in coming to the point at once." Grace Litchfield still watched the glass be- fore her, and did not turn her head; Mrs. Litchfield sank down limply into an easy chair and looked with round eyes at her hus- band. Boyd Litchfield .twisted the ends of his moustache, smoothed out his news- paper between his hands, and cleared his throat. "You can both prepare for a very great surprise," ho said importantly. "It concerns you, Grace, intimately; but you are your father's daughter, and will bear yourself accordingly, I am sure. Rodney Manners is a ruined man That sense of the theatrical that was never absent from Grace demanded that at this point she should turn her head sharply and stare in some bewilderment at her father; demanded also that she should give a little gasp, and should exclaim with half a laugh and half a Bob: "Why, father dear, what are you talking ai,- Boyd Litchfield proceeded to details. London had wakened to the fact that that young financier who had astonished it for so long had turned out, to be nothing more nor less than a cheat and a swindler. His lia- bilities were enormous, and it was known that he had nothing wherewith to meet them. The companies he had floated"that were to have made the fortunes of all those con- nected with them, were mere bubbles, pricked by the newspapers this morning. It was already rumoured that Mr. Rodney Manners had fled from his responsibilities, and vas not to be found. A special inter- viewer had been to his house the previous evening, and had been informed by his man- servant that he had gone away, and had left no message. "It's exactly what I expected from the verv first," said Boyd Litchfield, banging the paper with the flat of his hand. "I never trusted the fellow; I never liked him. There -tias something about him that seemed to me to be not altogether trustworthy." "My dear Boyd—you've never said this before about poor Rodney," murmured Mrs. Litchfield. "My love-I am not in the habit of ex- fressing opinions concerning anything until I am asked for those opinions,v said Boyd Litchfield quickly. "I have not expressed an opinion, but I have alwayff felt in my own mind that Manners was not a man to be trusted." "We must not judge him too harshly, father," said Grace calmly. "You know what these newspaper people are, and how much they will make of mere rumour." "I suppose, my dear, you had no inkling c.f this at all?" suggested her father. "H? has not confided in you in any way ?" "I have not heard a word from him con- cerning his business—nor anything else. answered Grace quietly. I thought perhaps he might have written to you, my dear," suggested Mrs. Litchfield. "I have heard nothing from him, said Grace. "And now, if you two dears will just run away, the maid can come back again, and I can finish dressing. Please don't worry about it all," she went on, turning impul- sively to her father, we shall be sure to heurv something from Rodney before long." It was of course perfectlv natural that Murdoch Slade, as a friend of the family, should come that evening to the house in Wedgwood Square, to offer his most sincere condolences and to discuss the very painful matter. By that time the newspapers were alive with the thing, and Rumour, many tongued, was extremely busy. And then towards evening a new sensation had been added to the first one. A boy had been found brutally done to death in a mean street in Lambeth. There was no clue to his murderer; the body of the lad had been accidentally discovered by his landlady when, after repeated knockings, she had innocently decided that he must have overslept himself, and had done what she might have done hours before-opened the door of his room. And then, to crown it all, came the amaz- ing statement in an evening paper—-in the "stop press" column-—-that this supposedly •unknown lad was an office boy, or junior I clerk, in the office of the man with whose name all London was ringing. Mr. Murdoch Slade listened patiently and ceremoniously to Boyd' Litchfield as that gentleman paced up and down the room and twisted his grey moustache; listened pati- ently also to Mrs. Litchfield, droning on about human nature, and how little you could be sure of anyone in this world. But at last they went away, and the man and Grace faced each other. "Well?" asked Slade, jerking his chair towards her quickly, "what do you know?" "What do you want me to know?" she asked, with a little toss of her head, as she looked at him defiantly. He sprang up, and, as she had risen too, they stood for a moment looking at each other; then the man with a fierce gesture caught her in his arms and held her close. "I want to know—everything," he an- swered in a whisper. "I want to know any- thing—anything that shall set you free from that fellow. I shall not have worked in vain then." "What do you mean?" she asked, a little frightened. "Never mind that," he said. "What do you know? "Let me go, and I'll show you," she answered. He drew her closer, and kissed her fiercely on the lips before he let her go. She laughed a little, and drew away from him; searched for a moment with deft fingers in the sleeve of her dress, and drew out a folded letter. It was that mad letter written by Rodney Manners, and posted so unex- pectedly by his man-servant. He took the letter from her, and pulled it out of the envelope and read it. He read it through a second time, before quietly and thoughtfully putting it back into the enve- lope, and holding it out to her. "Well? she asked. "Has anyone seen that? was his counter question. "No one," she answered quickly. "What shall I do?" He laughed, and shrugged his shoulders. "A policy of masterly inactivity is your game, my dear," he said. "Let the fellow rot in the river for a day or two that letter may be delayed in the post, you know." It was at that moment that Hester Wake opened the door, and walked quickly into the room. She stopped in apparent confusion on seeing the two, and drew back with a mur- mured apology; but her bright eyes had glanced from one to the other with a lock that was half searching and half contemp- tous before she went out of the room, closing the door behind her. "I'm afraid of that girl." said Grace, with a little shudder. There's something strange about her I seem to feel her eyes watching me always. "Nothing to be afraid of in a humble de- pendent like that," answered the man, with a little laugh. "By the way," he added, "this seems a terrible business about this boy being killed—doesn't it? I wonder if it has any connection with the disappearance of Manners? "No; merely a coincidence, I should think," answered the girl. She drew closer to him, and looked over her shoulder at the door, and shuddered slightly. "Do you think—do you really think that they will find his body there!" she whispered. J There's not much doubt about it," an- I swered Slade. I'll say this for Rad.j Manners; he wasn't the sort of man to swear} to do a thing and then leave it undone." But the man who had sworn to do this thing lay that night in the half-ruined bun- galow at Charnley Weir. with his purpose still unformed. More than ever now he re- cognised how the thing had been bungled; saw that there was but the barest chance that anyone knowing him would declare that the tramp floating about in the river in Rodney Manners' clothes was Rodney Man- ners himself. There was no real likeness between them each was simply a fairly tall, fair man with a beard; there the resem- blance ended. There being no other course open to him, Manners had dressed himself in the tramp's shabby clothes-shuddering a little at the mere idea of touching them. The fact of putting them on brought to his recollection keenly the fact that everything of value he now possessed in the world lay at the bottom cf the river, in the clothes the tramp had stolen; he plunged his hands into doubtful pockets, and discovered, by great good Itick, a solitary shilling. When darkness had fallen he crept to an outlying public-house, and there bought bread and cheese went back to the bungalow, and made a meal; and after- wards slept. I The following morning saw him on the road to London. A train fare was not to be thought of; he must cover the distance on foot. It was a new experience to Rodney Manners, who had scarcely ever walked five miles at one time in his later life there was about it a new sense of freedom. And while he walked he wondered what was happening or had happened in London, and in what way the man in the river would come to be con- nected with it. He had started so early that he reached London in time to breakfast, for a matter of two or three pence, at a little coffee-house, and there, for the first time, in a stained newspaper of the previous day lie read what had occurred. Of his own disappearance, and the hue and crv after him of the piurder of the boy Arthur Brr.dsliaw, together with much more of fact and fiction touching the whole business. One thing only puzzled him, and he sat for a long time, glad of the rest and poor comfort of the place, ponder- ing over it. What had become of the letter? Here was Tuesday morning, and there was no mention anywhere of the fact that it was known that Rodney Manners contemplated suiide, and that his body would be found at Charnley Weir. The thing he had dreaded had not come to pass, after all; yet for what reason had the information been suppressed? If he knew anything of Grace Litchfield, she would be the first, on receiving that letter, to cry out her news to others; it was cer- tainly out of no consideration for him, or the memory of him, that she held it back. He could not understand it at all. He came out of the coffee-house, and stood in the street-a shabby, forlorn figure, with his cap pulled over his eyes, looking about him. More than ever he felt that he had dropped out from the world of ordinary men and things. A newspaper placard caught his attention, and while for a moment or two he looked at it as though it were something that did not concern himself, he pre.sently found the words dancing before his eyes, and burning themselves into, his brain. "The Lambeth Murder. A Clue." Even halfpence were growing short, but Manners bought a paper. He turned it over eagerly, and came to a paragraph that held his attention at once- "It has been discovered that the mm- dered youth was visited occasionally by a young girl, with whom he appeared to be on very friendly terms. It is declared that this girl was seen in the neighbourhood on the night of the murder. Active search is being made for her, and the police are said to have a clue." Instantly there leapt into his mind the thought of Hester Wake. She had been there on the night of the murder to whom else could the paragraph refer? He won- dered what she would do, and if by any chance she would step forward into the light of day, and make some effort to help to a solution of the mystery. is he stood there, looking at the paper, a man passing him glanced sharply at him, and then glanced again; Rodney Manners, startled, turned away. He wond-crd what would happen if by chance he was dis- covered now in London in an apparent dis- guise ho began to cast about in his mind what he had better do. A little shabby sign in the window of a house, the front room of which had been converted into a tiny barber's shop, seemed to answer the question one of 'he few coins he had left should be spent oci L --have. He was shabby even for that place, and the man who shaved him evidently regarded him with some suspicion that he should be willing to lose his beard and moustache. But in a little time he emerged from the place, feel- ing pretty confident that there was no one now likely to clap a hand upon his shoulder and say, You are Rodney Manners So you have to imagine the man as being for two more days lost in London. As so many others have done, he simply disap- peared among the great army of the sub- merged and was lost. Inl his own mind he knew that he was waiting and watching, until presently a declaration should be made, and that body ;be discovered; that was the one point he did not understand. He learnt one, the first time that public reading-rooms may be of use when one wants to discover news without paying for it; a little con- temptuously he followed bit by bit the meagre information given each day concern- ing himself. He read of the inquest on Arthur Bradshaw, and the verdict returned: "Wilful murder against some person or per- sons unknown." Scarcely knowing how he had got there, and feeling faint and sick and ill, he found himself on that third day on a country road leading to Charnley Weir. The desperate anxiety within him prompted him to go there again, in the frantic hope that some- thing had happened-something which would mean a winding-up of this business with which he was concerned. Setting his face straight towards that destination he went on and on, determined that if the worst came to the worst he would pluck out of the river that which it held. Meanwhile, Hester Wake had been watch- ful. Moving silently about the house, carry- ing her secret with her, she had watched Grace Litchfield and the man Slade at every opportunity. And, above all things, she was searching at every available chance for a letter. She found it at last, thrust away at the bottom of a drawer—a tragic thing among laces and gloves and ribbons. Stealthily she drew it out and pulled it from the envelope, and read what was written there, word by word, seeing in it all the tragedy she had not understood before. She let it fall at last with a little cry, and crouched on her knees and hid her face in her hands. For Rodney Manners was dead. In that place and in that attitude Grace Litchfield came upon her unawares. For a moment or two Grace stood there, taking in the picture; then the sight of the open drawer and of the letter in Hester's hand roused her; she sprang forward and snatched the letter. "What do you mean by this? she de- manded quickly. "Why do you spy upon me 5 Hester Wake had got to her feet; her eyes were blazing even through her tears. Why do you hide away such a letter as this, that tells us all what has become of him?" she de- manded. "Why do you leave idle people to chatter about him; why do you leave even his poor body in the river? Grace was slowly folding and unfolding the letter; she laughed a little at the other's wrath. "Would you like me to tell the world all that is written here? she asked. "Would you like everyone to know that he is dis- graced and has taken his own life? "They will know sooner or later," retorted Hester. You seem to take a great interest in him," sneered Grace. "How does it all concern you?" "In no way whatever," answered Hester in a lower tone. "Only he—he was kind to me; and there are so few people kind to ona in this world." "I suppose you'd suggest that you were in love with him?" "I might even suggest that," answered Hester with a sudden colouring of her face. The letter could, of course, no longer be kept secret; half an hour after that Grace ran, with admirably simulated terror and distress, to her mother and displayed it. In some unaccountable fashion the letter had got mixed up with others, and had lain un- opened until that moment. Did her mother think that poor Rodney could have carried out his threat? Mrs. Litchfield, trembling, was quite cer- tain that he had done so; this accounted for his complete disappearance. It was, how- ever, obviously a matter in which the aid of a man was needed; the good lady sent in a great hurry to fetch Boyd Litchfield from his club. As she gave a hint in her note that there was news concerning Rodney Manners, Mr. Boyd Litchfield, before start- ing, promptly telephoned to Murdoch Slade in the City, begging him to come with all speed to Wedgwood Square. So that quite a little conclave met to discuss that bus i- ness of the missing man. Murdoch Slade played his part admirably. He looked with a troubled face at that letter, the contents of which he already knew; he shook his head over it, and murmured that this was exactly what, he had exnected in the case of a man w ho, like Rodney Manners, had plunged so desperately, and had come such a heavy fall. "Well, what are we to do now? asked Boyd Litchfield nervously, when Grace had retired, weeping, with her mother. "Some- thing has to be done, you know." "We must go down to this place, and must hive the river dragged, and must find our man," replied Murdoch Slade. "It's a strange thing that nothing has been heard of him yet. Four days have gone by-I sup- pose there's no possibility that that letter is a hoax, and that he has got out of the country under the cloak of it?" "I shouldn't think so; Manners was always a fellow to keep his word," replied Mr. Litchfield fingering the end of his mous- tache. This will make a difference to you, Slade," he added, in a lower voice. Slade laughed. It'll make a difference to all of us, I fancy," he retorted, with a sly look at the other man. There are cer- tain things you and I will have to discuss; we can talk about them on our journey. Are you ready to start now?" (To be Continued.)


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