As We Forgive Them - William Le Queux - ebook

As We Forgive Them ebook

William Le Queux

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Opis

To allow so young and delicate a girl to tramp England aimlessly in search of some vague and secret information which seemed to be her erratic father’s object, was, we decided, an utter impossibility; therefore, following that night of our first meeting at Helpstone, Burton and his daughter remained our guests for a week, and, after many consultations and some little economies, we were at last successful in placing Mabel at school, a service for which we later received her heartfelt thanks

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Liczba stron: 330

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Contents

FROM THE AUTHOR TO THE READER

I. THE STRANGER IN MANCHESTER.

II. CONTAINS CERTAIN MYSTERIOUS FACTS.

III. IN WHICH A STRANGE STORY IS TOLD.

IV. WHICH TRAVERSES DANGEROUS GROUND.

V. IN WHICH THE MYSTERY BECOMES CONSIDERABLY INCREASED.

VI. CONCERNS THREE CAPITAL A'S.

VII. THE MYSTERIOUS FOREIGNER.

VIII. IN WHICH THE TRUTH IS SPOKEN.

IX. THE HOUSE OF SILENCE.

X. THE MAN OF SECRETS.

XI. WHICH EXPLAINS THE PERIL OF MABEL BLAIR.

XII. MR. RICHARD DAWSON.

XIII. BURTON BLAIR'S SECRET IS REVEALED.

XIV. GIVES AN EXPERT OPINION.

XV. CERTAIN THINGS WE FOUND AT MAYVILL.

XVI. IN WHICH TWO CURIOUS FACTS ARE ESTABLISHED.

XVII. MERELY CONCERNS A STRANGER.

XVIII. THE CROSSWAYS AT OWSTON.

XIX. WHICH CONTAINS A CLUE.

XX. THE READING OF THE RECORD.

XXI. "WORSE THAN DEATH."

XXII. THE MYSTERY OF A NIGHT'S ADVENTURE.

XXIII. WHICH IS IN MANY WAYS AMAZING.

XXIV. CONTAINS A TERRIBLE DISCLOSURE.

XXV. THE SACRED NAME.

XXVI. FACE TO FACE.

XXVII. THE DIRECTIONS OF HIS EMINENCE.

XXVIII. DESCRIBES A STARTLING DISCOVERY.

XXIX. IN WHICH A STRANGE TALE IS TOLD.

XXX. THE MOTIVE AND THE MORAL.

XXXI. CONCLUSION.

I. THE STRANGER IN MANCHESTER.

“DEAD! And he’s carried his secret with him to his grave!”

“Never!”

“But he has. Look! His jaw has dropped. Can’t you see the change, man!”

“Then he’s carried out his threat after all!”

“By Heaven, he has! We’ve been fools, Reggie–utter idiots!” I whispered.

“So it seems. I confess that I fully expected he’d tell us the truth when he knew that the end had really come.”

“Ah! you didn’t know him as I did,” I remarked bitterly. “He had a will of iron and a nerve of steel.”

“Combined with the constitution of a horse, or he’d been dead long ago. But we’ve been outwitted–cleanly outwitted by a dying man. He defied us, laughed at our ignorance to the very last.”

“Blair was no fool. He knew what knowledge of the truth meant to us–a huge fortune. So he simply kept his secret.”

“And left us in penniless chagrin. Well, although we’ve lost thousands, Gilbert, I can’t help admiring his dogged determination. He went through a lot, recollect, and he’s been a good friend to us–very good– so I suppose we really oughtn’t to abuse him, however much we regret that he didn’t let us into his secret.”

“Ah, if only those white lips could speak! One word, and we’d both be rich men,” I said in regret, gazing upon the dead, white face, with its closed eyes and closely clipped beard, lying there upon the pillow.

“He intended to hold his secret from the very first,” remarked my tall friend, Reginald Seton, folding his arms as he stood on the opposite side of the bed. “It isn’t given to every man to make such a discovery as he made. It took him years to solve the problem, whatever it was; but that he really succeeded in doing so we can’t for a moment doubt.”

“And his profit was over a million sterling,” I remarked.

“More like two, at the very lowest estimate. Recollect how, when we first knew him, he was in dire want of a sovereign–and now? Why, only last week he gave twenty thousand to the Hospital Fund. And all as the result of solving the enigma which for so long we have tried to discover in vain. No, Gilbert, he hasn’t played the square game by us. We assisted him, put him on his legs, and all that, and instead of revealing to us the key to the secret which he discovered, and which placed him among the wealthiest men of London, he point-blank refused, even though he knew that he must die. We lent him money in the old days, financed him, kept Mab at school when he had no funds, and–”

“And he repaid us every penny–with interest,” I interposed. “Come; don’t let’s discuss him here. The secret is lost for ever, that’s enough.” And I drew the sheet over the poor dead face–the countenance of Burton Blair, the man who, during the past five years, had been one of London’s mysteries.

A strange, adventurous life, a career more remarkable, perhaps, than half those imagined by writers of romance, had been brought abruptly to an end, while the secret of the source of his enormous wealth–the secret which we both had for the past five years longed to share, because we were in a sense justly entitled to participate in its advantages–had gone with him to that bourne whence none return.

The apartment in which we stood was a small, rather well-furnished bedroom in the Queen’s Hotel, Manchester. The window looked out upon the dark facade of the Infirmary, while to that chamber of the dead there came the roar and bustle of the traffic and trams in Piccadilly. His story was assuredly one of the strangest that any man has ever told. Its mystery, as will be seen, was absolutely bewildering.

The light of the cheerless February afternoon was quickly fading, and as we turned softly to descend and inform the hotel manager of the fatal termination of the seizure, I noticed that the dead man’s suit-case stood in the corner, and that his keys were still in it.

“We had better take possession of these,” I remarked, locking the bag and transferring the small bunch to my pocket. “His executors will want them.”

Then we closed the door behind us, and going to the office imparted the unwelcome intelligence that a death had occurred in the hotel. The manager was, however, quite prepared to learn such news, for, half an hour before, the doctor had declared that the stranger could not live. His case had been hopeless from the very first.

Briefly, the facts were as follows. Burton Blair had bidden his daughter Mabel farewell, left his house in Grosvenor Square on the previous morning, and had taken the ten-thirty express from Euston to Manchester, where he had said he had some private business to transact. Just before the train arrived at Crewe, he suddenly became unwell, and was discovered by one of the luncheon-car attendants in a state of collapse in one of the first-class compartments. Brandy and restoratives being administered, he revived sufficiently to travel on to Manchester, being assisted out of the train at London Road, and two porters had helped him into a cab and accompanied him to the hotel, where, on being put to bed, he again lapsed into unconsciousness. A doctor was called, but he could not diagnose the ailment, except that the patient’s heart was seriously affected and, that being so, a fatal termination of the seizure might ensue. Towards two o’clock next morning, Blair, who had neither given his name nor told the hotel people who he was, asked that both Seton and I should be telegraphed for, and the result was that in anxious surprise we had both travelled up to Manchester, where on arrival, an hour before, we had discovered our friend to be in an utterly hopeless condition.

On entering the room we found the doctor, a young and rather pleasant man named Glenn, in attendance. Blair was conscious, and listened to the medical opinion without flinching. Indeed, he seemed rather to welcome death than to dread it, for, when he heard that he was in such a very critical condition, a faint smile crossed his pale, drawn features, and he remarked–

“Every man must die, so it may as well be to-day as to-morrow.” Then, turning to me, he added, “Gilbert, you are very good to come just to say good-bye,” and he put out his thin cold hand and grasped mine, while his eyes fixed upon me with that strange, intent look that only comes into a man’s gaze when he is on the brink of the grave.

“It is a friend’s duty, Burton,” I answered, deeply in earnest. “But you must still hope. Doctors are often mistaken. Why, you’ve a splendid constitution, haven’t you?”

“Hardly ever had a day’s illness since I was a kid,” was the millionaire’s reply in a low, weak voice; “but this fit has bowled me completely over.”

We endeavoured to ascertain exactly how he was seized, but neither Reggie not the doctor could gather anything tangible.

“I became faint all of a sudden, and I know nothing more,” was all the dying man would reply. “But,” he added, turning again to me, “don’t tell Mab till it’s all over. Poor girl! My only regret is to leave her. You two fellows were so very good to her back in the old days, you won’t abandon her now, will you?” he implored, speaking slowly and with very great difficulty, tears standing in his eyes.

“Certainly not, old chap,” was my answer. “If left alone she’ll want some one to advise her and to look after her interests.”

“The scoundrelly lawyer chaps will do that,” he snapped, with a strange hardness in his voice, as though he entertained no love for his solicitors. “No, I want you to see that no man marries her for her money–you understand? Dozens of fellows are after her at this moment, I know, but I’d rather see her dead than she should marry one of them. She must marry for love–love, you hear? Promise me, Gilbert, that that you’ll look after her, won’t you?”

Still holding his hand, I promised.

That was the last word he uttered. His pale lips twitched again, but no sound came from them. His glassy eyes were fixed upon me with a stony, terrible stare, as though he were endeavouring to tell me something.

Perhaps he was revealing to me the great secret–the secret of how he had solved the mystery of fortune and become worth over a million sterling–perhaps he was speaking of Mab. Which we knew not. His tongue refused to articulate, the silence of death was upon him.

Thus he passed away; and thus did I find myself bound to a promise which I intended to fulfil, even though he had not revealed to us his secret, as we confidently expected. We believed that, knowing himself to be dying, he had summoned us there to impart that knowledge which would render us both rich beyond the dreams of avarice. But in this we had been most bitterly disappointed. For five years, I confess, we had waited, expecting that he would some day share some of his wealth with us in return for those services we had rendered him in the past. Yet now it seemed he had coolly disregarded his indebtedness to us, and at the same time imposed upon me a duty by no means easy–the guardianship of his only daughter Mabel.

II. CONTAINS CERTAIN MYSTERIOUS FACTS.

I OUGHT here to declare that, having regard to all the curious and mysterious circumstances of the past, the situation was, to me, far from satisfactory. As we strolled together along Market Street that cold night discussing the affair, rather than remain in the public room of the hotel, Reggie suggested that the secret might be written somewhere and sealed up among the dead man’s effects. But in that case, unless it were addressed to us, it would be opened by the persons the dying man had designated as “those scoundrelly lawyer chaps,” and in all probability be turned by them to profitable account.

His solicitors were, we knew, Messrs. Leighton, Brown and Leighton, an eminently respectable firm in Bedford Row; therefore we sent a telegram from the Central Office informing them of their client’s sudden death, and requesting that one of the firm should at once come to Manchester to attend the inquest which Doctor Glenn had declared would be necessary. As the deceased man had expressed a wish that Mabel should, for the present, remain in ignorance, we did not inform her of the tragic occurrence.

Curiosity prompted us to ascend again to the dead man’s chamber and examine the contents of his kit-bag and suit-case, but, beyond his clothes, a cheque-book and about ten pounds in gold, we found nothing. I think that we both half expected to discover the key to that remarkable secret which he had somehow obtained, yet it was hardly to be imagined that he would carry such a valuable asset about with him in his luggage.

In the pocket of a small writing-book which formed part of the fittings of the suit-case I discovered several letters, all of which I examined and found them to be of no importance–save one, a dirty, ill-written note in uneducated Italian, which contained some passages which struck me as curious.

Indeed, so strange was the tenor of the whole communication that, with Reggie’s connivance, I resolved to take possession of it and make further inquiry.

There were many things about Burton Blair that had puzzled us for years, therefore we were both determined, if possible, to elucidate the curious mystery that had surrounded him, even if he had carried to his grave the secret of his enormous fortune.

We alone in all the world knew the existence of the secret, only we were in ignorance of the necessary key by which the source of riches could be opened. The manner in which he had gained his great wealth was a mystery to every one, even to his daughter Mabel. In the City and in Society he was vaguely believed by some to possess large interests in mines, and to be a successful speculator in stocks, while others declared that he was the ground-landlord of at least two large cities in America, and yet others were positive that certain concessions from the Ottoman Government had brought him his gold.

All were, however, mistaken in their surmises. Burton Blair possessed not an acre of land; he had not a shilling in any public company; he was not interested in either Government concessions or industrial enterprises. No. The source of the great wealth by which he had, in five years, been able to purchase, decorate and furnish in princely manner one of the finest houses in Grosvenor Square, keep three of the most expensive Panhards, motoring being his hobby, and rent that fine old Jacobean mansion Mayvill Court, in Herefordshire, came from a source which nobody knew or even suspected. His were mysterious millions.

“I wonder if anything will come out at the inquest?” queried Reggie, later that evening. “His lawyers undoubtedly know nothing.”

“He may have left some paper which reveals the truth,” I answered. “Men who are silent in life often commit their secrets to paper.”

“I don’t think Burton ever did.”

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