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Cuddio Rhestr Erthyglau

14 erthygl ar y dudalen hon



Mrs. HARRINGTON'S SECRET. BY HENRY FRITH. AUTHOR OF T he Mystery of Moor Farm" The Skeleton Cupboard;" The Black Shaft" The Cruise of the Wasp;" The Huntiny of the Hydra;" "The Lost Trader;" II Search for the Talisman;" The Opal Mountain;" The Red Spectre;" The Lock-Keeper's Secret;" g-c., g-e. [ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.] CHAPTER XIII. A WHISPER OP GUILT. NEXT morning Mrs. Harrington proceeded betimes to her husband's room and found him better. He had rallied since the day before, and ap- peared extremely anxious for the solicitor's arrival. As soon as possible, Mrs. Harrington per- suaded him to sign the cheque, which she declared she urgently required, but which took some time to obtain—for Mr. Harrington was peculiar in the matter of cheques, and had a bank signature quite impossible to imitate. This elaborate proceed- ing occupied some few minutes. There was the filling up of the cheque and the counter-foil, the crossing of the document, and finally the wonderful compilation which the banker's clerks knew represented AARON HAIUUKGSTON, but which no ordinary or uninformed mortal would have suspected to be anything but the straight "track" after a race of spiders had come f)ff upon the paper. Armed with this valuable signature, which she scarcely glanced at, Mrs. Harrington continued to converse pleasantly with her husband who com- plained of having been much disturbed during the night by an incursion of cockroaches or mice, which kept rustling and running about the fireplace. The nurse, being absent, was not questioned concerning these fancies, but the very devoted wife procured a strong poison in a phial and painted the small aper- ture, and some pieces of bread, with the mixture, using the first object that came to hand for the purpose. This—as it proved to be-very important attention paid to her husband, she left the invalid for a while to attend to her household duties, and locked up the cheque. Her mind was fully made up. Had she striven all these years-she asked herself as she closed her jewel-case, and gazed at her still handsome face in the mirror on her toilette-table-ha,d she striven all these years, seared her heart, relinquished a true love for wealth, declined an affectionate second marriage in favour of Aaron Harrington and his money-bags, to see their principal contents dissolve before her eyes? No, a thousand times no! Her children should be rich, and then she would be happy. But her husband ? Her husband-he would die. She could see he was ill, and not likely to recover. He would die; his will would be produced. Yes, but her later will would also be produced, reversing the legacy to that girl," and leaving her own children as rich as John Harriugton. Then he should marrylice, who really admired him, and all would be well. A splendid casil > in the air, indeed Mr. Faithfull and the doctor in attendance upon Aaron Harrington arrived together, and the latter, in virtue of his office, proceeded to the sick man's room first. He found the patient seated as usual at his writing-table, nibbling his pen, and ap- Jjarently not deriving much nourishment from it—at east, the doctor seemed to think so, for he gazed curiously at the patient's eyes, and asked him some searching questions. Aaron Harrington answered pettishly to such un- usual queries, and the nurse also seemed surprised and shocked. The doctor questioned her about her attendance, and after recommending what the nurse thought an extraordinary medicine, the medical man, not being able to see Mrs. Harrington, who was out, stated his intention to call again in the evening. You do not think he is in any immediate danger, do you," inquired the solicitor. There are some curious symptoms," replied the doctor, on which I will not express a definite opinion until I have seen him again. There is something almost suspicious of-. Well, good morning!" Suspicious!" muttered the solicitor, when his friend bad quitted the room. We shall soon see. Has Mrs. Harrington returned yet ?" lie asked of the servant, who was waiting to conduct him to the sick man's room. No, sir; she will be back almost immediately, I expect. Will you wait, sir?" No; I will go up at once, please. My time is limited.' All the better," he thought, as he followed the servant. She did not expect me so early." Mr. Faithfull, carrying a bag, was then ushered into Aaron Harrington's room, and was at once struck with the sudden change which the last few days had wrought. The eyes were glassy, and yet shone with a curious light. The features were more pinched, and traces of suffering were plainly visible. An un- easiness in the manner and tone of the sick man struck Mr. Faithfull particularly a suspicious manner had taken possession of his client. All these things impressed the lawyer. There is something curious, he thought, but he only said: "Good morning, Mr. Harrington, How do Jor. feel to-day ? Up to business?" Of course," replied the old man. Never more inclined for it. I am quite well—eh, Faithfull ?" What does the doctor say ? You speak clearly enough, but you look tired. Haven t you slept well ?" "No; for the last two nights I have been much disturbed by rats and mice and blackbeetles. But Mrs. Harrington will destroy them, she says. Now let us to business. Mr. Faithfull kept his eyes fixed upon his client as he unfastened the papers which he had withdrawn from the leather bag, and now submitted for the old man's signature. It's all right, is it, Faithfull ?" Yes the legacies are all as you wished. "Is Lilian's money—the twenty thousand pounds -settled on herself ?" Yes, absolutely," replied the solicitor. Right! And Alice and Donald, are they left as directed ?" persisted the old man. Shall I read the clause? We need not go through all the document." No; you are an honest man-Faithfull by name and faithful by nature. Mrs. Harrington's settle- ment is quite clear, I suppose ? John will be my heir, but only on one condition-he must marry Lilian." You didn't tell me that before," said Faithfull. It is not in the provisions of the will." Well, add it. He will have to allow Mrs. Har- rington one thousand pounds a year, and pay Alice and Donald their legacies as well. But if he does not marry Lilian he will forfeit the estate, which I bought with her money, and have to content himself with two thousand a year, unless she absolutely de- clines to marry him, in which case, after three years, he will succeed to the whole." I have divided the residue, in the event of his death before your own, between Mrs. Harrington and Miss Manville, as you said." "Yes—yes! Now get the clause in and bring it to me to-morrow." b <■ *nsei"t it now," said the lawyer, and he entered the necessary words. Then, sending for the attested" 18 C was initialed, signed, and These formalities had scarcely been concluded, and the important document deposited in the black bag, Ug unceremoniously entered the Well," she said; "so vou hn™ „ i •< your arrangements without my Jss £ 6 c.omPjeted sorrv I was not at home to receive you°Mr Faith" full." Do not mention it, madam," said the lawyer as politely as possible. We have quite finished our business now. The will is signed." e our I suppose I may know the contents ?" asked Mrs Harrington, as carelessly as she could. s. j Presently, my dear," said the old man, "pre- sently. There is nothing you need not know." Mr. Harrington has made ample provision for all, as you will find. Good-day, madam." You will surely stop to luncheon ?" she said. You can catch the three o'clock train afterwards." Thank you, I must return at once." He seized his black bag as he spoke. I must be HI .London by two o'clock. Good-day." Pause, pause, Mr. Faithfull, if you have any pre- sentiment. Did nothing just, then whisper to you to .;add to vour remark, "all being well "? Dad no feel- ing of uncertainty -clog your steps as you and your clerk, Lionel Eliott, proceeded to the station ? You would not hurry, you did not hurry, and, notwith- standing your appointment, you felt inclined to turn back. Why did not you accept the invitation,? Why, in fear of some voice telling you to pause, did you not stay ? You will never tell us why. You proceeded, as we know, with your most unwilling clerk, who carried the bag. The train waited for you a moment. You entered a carriage near the engine the train started. You and your companion dozed in the compartment. and you never woke again. The engine left the metals and dashed down the embankment, carrying with it three coaches; and the kind-hearted solicitor and his clerk lay, one fearfully mangled, the clerk insensible, at the foot of the slope, with others killed and wounded. Help was at hand. Many men were glad to assist, and some were base enough to attempt to plundei and to steal. One of these ghouls, in assisting, came upon a small leather bag full of papers. In the bag also wns a cheque-book, and some notes in a pocket-book. An excellent 'find' this for a poor man," thought the individual. This will be advertised, and then I'll find it!" So he hid the bag in the furze and rendered some assistance, keeping a good look-out for himself. When the line had been partially cleared, the individual took up his plunder as darkness set in, and made li i- way to Walton-on-Thames, where near the bridge he found a lodging. Meanwhile, Donald Mackenzie, in pursuance of instructions, had been engrossing a new document, and waiting anxiously for Mr. Faithfull's return. Urged to quit the office, young Mackenzie pleaded orders and work, for no intelligence concerning the accident, or at any rate any details, had reached Soho at five o'clock. So Donald worked, idled, and waited. At length, thinking something was wrong, he hurried to the train, which was greatly delayed in consequence of the accident, and it was quite mid- night when he reached home. Here a new and terrible surprise awaited him, and the news made his blood run cold. Aaron Harrington had had words with his wife, the servant said, and when in the evening the nurse went into the room to settle him for the night she found him seated at his table, the feather of the quill pen in his mouth-dead. The doctor, hastily summoned, looked very grave, and when his partner came in they both shook their heads, and formed their lips into the one word Poison 1" ———— I CHAPTER XIV. I I AT,ICE MACKENZIE SEES SOMETHING. 1 oisour! it, had an ugly sound, that word, when muttered between the doctors in the sick man's room; and even the household, to whom no such suspicions had been hinted, had some uneasy feelings with regard to the master's" death. Mrs. Harrington herself was deeply affected. The end had come so suddenly that it had quite upset all her self-control, and she wept bitterly. Had her conscience pricked her so deeply in consequence of her behaviour to her dead husband, or was she more guilty still ? No one could ascertain, for no one, except her son, was admitted to her room—not even Alice, who more than once attempted to solace her mother, and was immediately repulsed. When Donald reached Ivy Lodge he at once went up to his mother's room in response to her request. He found her seated by the dressing-table in tears, and in demi-toilette—she had not changed her dinner dress. Mother," said the young man, gravely, this is awful. When and how did it happen ?" Your father's—Mr. Harrington's—death do you mean? Not long after dinner—about nine o'clock. Oh, Donald after all we have 1 mean, how dreadful it all is. You have the document quite safe, I suppose?" Yes; but it was not signed, was it ?" I wanted to manage that this afternoon. Tht other will was carried away by Mr. Faithfull ?" "Poor Faithful was in that train, and I have heard he is killed or mortally hurt? Is that true ?" I am afraid it is. But, Donald, yon will not be- tray me ?" Betray you, mother How do you mean—about our little agreement ? Certainly not. It cannot matter now, can it ? The document is no use, I sup- pose, is it ?" Never mind now, dear. This is no time to discuss such matters," replied his mother, who had been turning all the circumstances over in her mind for hours. "That is all over now. We must face the future as we can." Donald kissed his mother, and said I will see about things for you to-morrow. The doctors are coming here in the morning." What for ?" inquired Mrs. Harrington, suddenly rousing herself. To pass a certificate. They must make an exami- nation. Good-night, mother." Good-nigbt, dearest. Come to me as early as you can. Good-night." Donald Mackenzie shut the door, and went to his own room. His sister came out from her chamber to meet him. "What, not in bed, Alice It is very late." "How could I sleep after all these terrible things have happened ? Donald, don't you think we ought to send for Jack ?" No! certainly not, particularly after the manner in which be treated vou. You must be very fond of him indeed!" Treated me exclaimed Alice, not noticing the sneer which accompanied her brother's words. "What do you mean? He always treated me as a gentleman should. I do not understand you. Donald." Well, I know all about it, as it happens, and if that fellow comes here I'll give him my opinion, and tell him to go where he is wanted." You forgot that he is the heir to the property. Indeed, I may say the owner now," replied Alice, and will perhaps turn us all out." Is he retorted Donald. We shall see some- thing about that too when the time comes. Good- night go to sleep, and forget John, I advise you." Alice deigned no reply to this fraternal advice. She contented herself with a pretty little toss of her head, and disappeared into her room again, wonder- ing what Donald meant, and who could have so misrepresented John Harrington. She undressed slowly, being too much excited to sleep, and wishing to see her mother, late as it was. She sat down before her glass and brushed out her long, fair hair, which, with her pretty face and blue eyes, made her appear almost fairy-like. As she brushed, she fancied sho heard a footstep in the passage. She ceased, and listened. Yes, she was certain somebody was very cautiously moving along the corridor--a light, careful step, not pausing long on the floor; but still, apparently, the person, whoever it was, was endeavouring to move without noise. Alice was not afraid of thieves, and at once con- cluded that one of the servants was wandering about, so she quickly put her candle aside, and, gently opening the door, looked out. A tall figure, which she immediately recognised as her mother, was at the end of the passage carrying a lamp, and on the point of entering the room wherein the dead man lay. Mrs. Harrington did not per- ceive her daughter, and Alice made no sound, but watched intently. The clock struck one as the figure entered the chamber of death. Alice Mackenzie wondered. She, in common with all the household, was quite aware that Mrs. Har- rington had ruled her husband rigidly, and, when off her guard, treated him with scant ceremony. re Her mother had never made much parade of affection towards anyone except Donald, and this tribute to the dead man—this apparently loving desire to see him alone in the dead of night, to pray, perhaps, by his bedside-gave Alice a shock. She forgave her mother the harshness she had displayed, and her eyes filled with tears. Suddenly the impulse to become reconciled to her mother rushed into the girl's mind. Since the day before she and Mrs. Harrington had not been oil good terms, as her mother had deemed her wanting in her duty towards her. She would become recon- ciled to her mother at the death-bed of the kind old man who had passed away. So, attired in slippers and dressing-wrapper, Alice Mackenzie tripped lightly along the corridor. The door of the chamber was ajar, and the girl was about to open it, when through the chink between the hinges and the frame Alice perceived her mother standing at the writing-table—what was she about tc do A piece of black paper was in her hand, a deed or j document was on the table. A slip of paper which looked like a cheque was also between Mrs. Harrington's fingers, and she was comparing the ¡ documents. For a few moments she stood thus, and then, seating herself, took up the pen again, and held it up to her face as she leaned back in a thoughtful attitude. In the adjoining chamber which opened into the writing-room lay all that remained of Aaron Harrington, and yet his wife was seated within a few feet of him bent on business already! Alice felt ashamed thus to play the spy, but having come with such different feelings, and attributed them also to her mother, she was uncertain what to do, and she feared to stir just then, as she might be heard retreating. What was her mother about ? Suddenly Mrs. Harrington started up. Her face and manner betokened the utmost alarm. The pen in her hand was violently thrown down her gaze rested upon the mantel-shelf, and then searched everywhere within the lamp-light. Frightened at this expression of terror and horror, Alice remained like a statue. Her mother recovered herself, and, placing the pen on the table with the others, put the large document in a drawer and locked it up. Then step she crossed the room, and paused at the door of the inner chamber. She turned the handle, and, with the lamp held &bove her head, gently, half timidly, passed into the room tenanted only by the dead, and disappeared. What was she seeking? Alice Mackenzie stepped forward, and at length breathed more freely. She returned to her bed- room for her candle, with the intention to follow her mother and be reconciled to her, comfort her, if need be, for Alice was at heart a good and affectionate girl. But just as she reached her room a fearful shriek emanated from the room where her mother was, and, ere she could grasp the candle and hurry out, the silence was again fearfully broken by a second scream from the chamber of death. I CHAPTER XV. I I MR. JONAS KEDGE HEARS SOMETHING. I MR. JONAS KEDGE was a person who gained his living in the" marine-store" line-or, rather, had he been able to appreciate the nice distinctions of the English language., the Riparian Store "was the proper term. The waifs and strays of still-life upon the Thames banks were his more immediate aim. To call him a tradesman would be insulting our worthy shop- keepers. To call him a tramp were equally deroga- tory to his own importance. There ie a medium in all things. Mr. Kedge was a medium, a receiver, occasionally a thief, and in either capacity he was as bad as in the other. Jonas Kedge was short of stature, hairy as to his appearance, from the cap, down his face, to his rabbit-skin waistcoat. His tie was red, his face was dark, his eyes piercing. He had thin, bony hands, with developments under the little fingers, which, with certain other signs, would have ensured his making his fortune as a defaulting cashier had he been brought up to the vocation of banker. He could read and write, was quick at calculations, bold, yet not disrespectful, delighting in Nature and all her works, but with very confused ideas as to theology, and the terms meum and tuum. The latter he re- garded as convertible. When Jonas Kedge seized the bag, which Mr. Faithfull's clerk had been holding at the time the accident occurred, he had formed but a misty idsaof its contents. The owners were apparently dead— one of the pair was, at any rate-and no one noticed the abstraction of the article. Hidden in the bushes, Jonas considered what he would do. The papers, he perceived, were legal documents, which to his poor, untutored understanding appeared somewhat confused, and couched in much needless redundancy of language. We must remember Jonas was almost self-educated, for in his days the School Board had not commenced to teach aspiring youth for twopence a week. "Money [' d's' he called it], no doubt; with this here, and my savin's, and a little more added, my departure for the Anti-poddies is a fixed fact. Gold is lying about there, I'm told, to be picked up by any- body. Plenty and tig spare. Let me see, Will'— Testament' (that's a Bible I thought), all this rubbish of words; 'aforesaid, and hereinbefore men- tioned' Donald Mackenzie'—ah Donald Mac- kenzie, of Ivy Lodge. Manville'—who's she ? Ho, ho! there's money in this. 'My nephew, John Edward Harrington'—I've seen him afore now- my dear wife Sarah and her children, Alice' (hum !) and Donald Mackenzie.' Blest if it ain't old Aaron's last will and testament!' Oh, Moses! here's a find! But I don't see the testament any- where. Lucky I came across the fields instead of keepin' by the river. I might ha' missed this. Bee-utifui! Nothin' less than a hundred quid' will suit me on this. Jonas, my boy, your fortune's made." Then Mr. Kedge struck into the road again, and pursued his solitary way in the closing evening, the papers and money carefully concealed in his ample pockets, which seemed capable of containing any- thing, from a ferret to a hare, or from a silk hand- kerchief to a silver teapot. Donald Mackenzie. I know him, the varmint; tried to have me took for fishin' his father's pond, he did! As if nature didn't make fish to be caught and ute Ah, never mind I'll investigate this here will, and get the reward. Then, Jonas, I think you'll give the old land leg-bail. There's too many interfer- ences with the liberty of the subject in this blessed old country. Give me freedom and the Anti- poddies ?" Soliloquising thus half aloud, Mr. Kedge reached his usual resting-place. This was a small hut or cottage standing a little back from the road which leads over Walton-bridge—it was the old bridge then —from Weybridge and Sunburv, &c. The cottage has long since been removed, and the new bridge replaces the older structure, which was partly swept away. I'll just have a look round," said Jonas aloud (he had acquired the habit of talking to himself), and then I'll call at the Anglers;' maybe there will be something going on; and to-morrow I'll try and see Mr. Donald Mackenzie and make a bargain. It might be worth his while to buy my property." So saying, Mr. Kedge entered his cabin and care- fullv shut the door behind him. The interior of the'little cottage harmonised with the character and appearance of its owner. Careless- ness, not uncleanliness, was apparent in the arrange- ments. The furniture was scanty. A gun, some rods, nets, and other fishing-tackle, indicated the occupant's fondness for sport. A small terrier lay blinking on the floor. He wagged his tail when his master came in, but evinced no other mark of approval or welcome. A. few cupboards, a book-shelf half filled with torn volumes, some pipes and candles on the mantel-piece, with a general flavour of smoke and mustiness, were apparent at once. In an inner room, Jonas kept his important papers, money, and private documents. A little bed stood in one corner. In a shed outside was a miscel- laneous collection of goods, which constituted the dealer's stock-in-trade. Enough has been said to indicate the tastes and pursuits of Jonas Kedge with- out going into further description of him or his im- mediate surroundings. When that worthy had made sure that. all was safe, and had hidden his newly "found" property in a hole in the floor-only to be discovered by removing a knot in the plank, and pulling up a false board-lie left the dog in charge, and sauntered down in the gathering gloom to the Anglers public-house. Here a number of riverside characters had assembled: men who worked in the barges-men who let boats occasionally, or assisted their occupants with the remains of pic-nics, and whose wives, as gipsies, told fortunes according to the information they re- ceived. By these Kedge was welcomed, and the usual questions as to Any news, mate ?" were put. "Hear there's been a accident on the railway," remarked Jonas, carelessly. "Some pore fellows has bin killed, I'm told." True enough," replied another. I see it." "Did ye?" inquired Jonas, quickly, for he was interested in how far the other's observation had led him. "Was it bad?" Ay, four killed dead, and a lot injured. Bless them railways! they're always murdering someone, in or out." "None of the people at the Lodge, I suppose?" inquired the landlord; Harringtons ? No. They had a visitor to- day-lawyer. I drove him over. They sent him back, and done me out of the job. Old man's very bad." Ay, ay!" said Jonas, interrogatively. Dyin' is he?" "Don't know-very bad, I hear-think there's something queer myself." Queer—how queer ? Foul play, do ye mean ?" Depends on what ye calls fowl's play," retorted the man, with a grin. It ain't chicken-hazard, is it?" Dry up; none of that," laughed the other. But it is curious, now you mention it-the doctor was there to-day, and Ben told my son he looked precious solemn when he come out." He's made his will, I s'pose," said another, and the lady will have the property ?" Oh, yes, he's made a will," began Kedge, and then suddenly checked himself. "How do you know that?" inquired the other speaker. Why, nuyfool could tell that, when a lawyer has been there all the mornin' and the old man dyin'. Of course he's made his will, and Mr. John is hif heir. no dowbt." The missus will get it, depend on it. I'll lay five shillings to a penny the old woman will take the tricks!" Maybe so. She's pretty 'cute, is Mrs. H. She's too polite for me-too oily-like—clings to your palate too much, she does. We shall hear more to-morrow, daresay." So Mr. Harrington is 'queer, muttered Jonas, as he walked home at ten o'clock. I keep my eyes around. Perhaps Mr. John would be my best card to play after all. But I'll have a deal with young Mackenzie first, anyhow." n As he gained the main road a horseman passed him at full speed. Jonas turned to look at him. Livery, buff! Looks like the groom up at the Lodge. Ha! old Aaron is dying, perhaps, after all. I'll just stroll up and find out." Curiosity was at once Mr. Kedge's weakness and his strong point. Never lose nothing for want of obser- vation," was his general motto, and be acted upon that principle. So he continued his way up to the Lodge. The numerous lights which flitted to and fro, the bustle that was evident within, confirmed Mr. Kedge in his surmise that old Aaron was goin' down the hill without the break on." "May as well take an'observation, muttered Jonas. Somethin' may fall my way after all." He crept up near the house under the shade of the evergreens and waited. Nothing rewarded his "observation," and after a while he was about to turn away when he heard a window open cautiously. He looked up—a hand and arm were visible. Something fell on the earth through the leaves, and then the window was again cautiously closed. I heard somethm' fall," said Jonas to himself. I'll just have a look to-morrow. Business is busi- ness." With this unquestionably wise remark the marine- store dealer made his way cautiously down the avenue, and encountered the doctor's carriage at the entrance gate. Last will and testament," thought the wanderer. Ah, much good all his money will do him where he's a-goin' to! I suspect he'd change places with me now if his money would buy the swop. At least, that's the result of my observation." (To be continued.)






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