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AN OCTAVE OF SHORT STORIES

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AN OCTAVE OF SHORT STORIES BY FAMOUS NOVELISTS. No. I. MY TWO WIVES. 4" BY GEORGE R. SIMS, Author of Tales of To-day," Dramas of Life," "English Rose/' Lights o' Lon- don," How the Poor Live," "Hogues and Vagabonds," &c. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. — NOW FIRST PUBLISHED. CHAPTER II, fS soon as I had re- covered from the shock which the sight of my own name upon our family grave at High- gate caused me, my iirst thought was for She was waiting for me on the gravel path some little dis- tance away. I deter- mined to go to her at once and make some excuse for not show- ing her my mother's My brain was in a whirl. Even after flftO/' the first shock of horror and surprise Had passed away I could hardly realise that I Was not dreaming. But there before me was the inscription. It could not mean anyone else but myself. I was the only child of William and Jane Smith, and my name was William Hengist Smith. At first I imagined that some story of my death had reached England, and someone had placed my name upon the tombstone as a memorial. 13u t the words "and is here interred" made that theory untenable. I Was alive, alive and looking at the place where my lifeless body was supposed to be resting. Someone, therefore, must have been buried who was supposed to be me. But who had supposed such a thing, and I el. who was the dead man who had my name upon his coffin lid ? With my mind full of this strange and avrful mystery I mechanically made my way through the tombs until I came to the place where Cora, my wife, was patiently waiting for me. Well, have you found it, dear?" she said. I had not been able to make up my mind what I should say to her. I was too confused, too excited to invent a plausible story, and so I told a deliberate lie. No, my dear, 1 said. I must have mis- taken the part of the ground. Lei's go away now and come on a brighter day. The sight of all these tombs has upset and depressed me." I don't think in her heart of hearts Cora bad ever relished the idea of a visit to the cemetery, and she very readily fell in with my views, The dnve back to the hotel was a long one, but I scarcely spoke a word. Cora saw that I was thoughtful and depressed. She fancied It was the cemetery which had upset me, and she tried to lead my thoughts to other sub- jects. JJut all her efforts were in vain. I replied to her only in monosyllables. Do what I would I could think but of one thing, the fact that I, William Ilengist Smith, was buried in the family grave at Iiighgate. The idea haunted me. "We had arranged to go to the theatre that evening, and we went; but I saw and understood very little of the piece. I looked at the stage mechanically, but right through the paintd scenery there rose up before me a monument to the dead, and upon it in great black letters in bold relief stood out the name of William Hengist Smith. I slept very little that night. I lay with wide opened eyes, and -let my mind grope blindly in the darkness for some clue to the great mystery. I determined that at all risks and hazards I Would investigate the matter. I absolutely declined to be buried alive. On the following morning I told Cora that I had some important business which would take me to the City and detain me there for the greater part of the day, and I went to Somerset House in order to get a copy of my death certificate. J filled in the form, paid the fee, and after a short time the book was brought to me. To describe my feelings as 1 saw my name among the registered deaths would be impossible. My blood ran cold, my knees trembled I felt as if I should fall to the ground. But by a violent effort I pulled myself together, and read as in a dream the meagre details given. I had been found drowned. A coroner's inquest had been held upon my body. The certificate of my death, registered at Somerset House, had been received from the coroner, and I had been buried by his authority. That was all the information. I procured a copy of the certificate, and thus armed with the dates I went out into the Strand, wondering what I had better do next. I was determined to fathom the mystery and know the truth. I wanted someone to help me, and yet I was afraid to trust anyone with my secret. 1 did not want to identify myself too closely with the deceased gentleman. I was naturally nervous, seeing that I was staying in London with a lady whom I had married. According to the certificate I bad been dead about six years. It was four years ago since I married Cora. At the time of my marriage, therefore, I had been dead two years. Horrible as the whole business was, I could hardly repress a smile when 1 thought of the extraordinary complication in which I found myself involved. One thing was certain. I could walk about now without fear, and hold my head high. Nobody could punish me for bigamy, because I was dead before I contracted the second marriage—dead and buried. Still, I felt far from comfortable. I remem- bered that inscription on the grave at High- gate. I felt that there was an intruder in the tomb of my ancestors, that an impostor was lying under false colours by the side of my lather and mother. The first thing I had to find out was under what circumstances my body had been iden- tified. To do that I should have to make inquiries; to find an account of the inquest, perhaps to make inquiries at the coroner's oflice, or of the police. Ididn't relish doing that myself. I had a strange fear that I might in some way or other betray myaelf, or be accidentally recog- nised. I should have to give my name and address—to furnish proof, perhaps, of my right to investigate the matter, and this was exactly what I didn't want to do. I could hardly go to an office and say, I want to find out under what circumstances Mr. William Ilengist Smith died and was buried, because I am Mr. "William Hengist Smith." The man who has something to oonceal is always loath to start inquiries concerning himself, and I had a good deal to conoeal. In this dilemma I determined to go to a professional inquiry agent—to tell him nothing about myself, but offer him a substantial sum for the information I required. He could make the inquiries, and that would save me going to an official source. I went into a restaurant to get some lunch, and asked for a Daily Telegraph, I looked down the advertisements of the private de- tectives, and selected a firm whose offices were in the Strand. To them I went, and, giving no name, asked to see the priucipal. I was ushered into a small room, and a tall, thin, middle-aged man rose, bowed to me, and motioned me to take a chair. I stated the object of my visit in a few words. I handed Mr. Dash the certificate of my death. I want you to get me a full account of the inquest held on this gentleman if you can," I said, it is a very simple matter, I expect, but I am leaving England in a day or two, and I want it at once." The agent looked at the certificate and began to say that it would take a little time. I stopped him. I knew enough of these agencies to know that the longer a job tiilies the greater the profit, because the expenses and fees are run up, so I replied that I would give a lump sum, to be agreed upon, directly the information was in my possession. Eventually Mr. Dash agreed that for the sum of twenty-five pounds he would get me full particulars in a couple of days. He asked me my name and address. I told him that for private reasons I preferred not to give them, but that I would call personally and hand him the £ 2o in return for his written report. Very good," he said, and, leaving the certi- ficate with him, I took my departure. As I went out of the room he touched a bell on the table. 1 had to pass through the outer office. As I did so one of the clerks rose. I though be was going to answer his employer's bell, but he put on his hat and went down the stairs in front of me. I at once jumped to the conclusion that the touching of the bell was a signal to the outer office that I was to be followed. I had declined to give my name, and the private inquiry agent was anxious to know it. Once outside in the street 1 crossed the road and pretended to look in a show window. I wanted to see if the clerk was watching me. 1 gave a furtive glance to the left and to the right—he was nowhere to be seen. Then I looked across the road and saw him calling to a paper boy for a Globe. He bought the paper and went back up- stairs. I had been over suspicious. I was not to be followed, so 1 went straight back to my hotel. Cora was very glad to see me. It was the first time since we arrived in London that I had left her for so long a time. Now that I had put matters in train I felt'a little relieved in my mind, so I determined to forget the mystery as much as possible and wait for the denouement, Cora found me quite my old self that afternoon, and the next day, in order to distract my mind, I devoted to her and a round of sight-seeing. On the morning after that, at twelve o'clock, I went to the oflice of Messrs. Dash and Co. and bad to wait for some time, as Mr. Dash was engaged. When I was shown into him my first ques- tion was Have you got the information ?" "Yes," was the reply, and unlocking a drawer in his writing-table he took out a big envelope and handed it to me. You had better read it here," he said. You may have some questions to ask me on it." I opened the envelope and read the follow- ing statement:— On the 28th of May, 188-, the body of a well-dressed gentleman, aged about 23, was found floating in the Thames, near the Temple Stairs, by the River police. It was taken to the pulice-station and examined by a medical man. No marks of violence were found on the body, and no papers. In the waistcoat pocket were two sovereigns, and in the trousers pocket some loose silver. There were no initials on the clothes. A full description of the body and the clothing were given in the daily papers, and the police issued the usual notices. Several people came to see the body, but failed to identify it until a Mr. Garstin, a merchant in the city, called one day and said that, the de- scription answering that of a clerk lately in his employ, he would like to see the body. He said it was very like a clerk formerly in his service named "William Hengist Smith, but he had not seen him for twelve months, and could not swear to the remains. This statement appeared in the papers, and the following day a lady called and stated that she was the wife of William Hengist Smith, but was separated from him. He had inherited a small sum at his mother's death, which she believed he had spent in dissipa- tion. He had often threatened to commit suicide. Confronted with the body she at once identified it as that of her husband and claimed it. At the coroner's inquest she gave evidence to this effect, and swore positively that it was her husband. Mr. Garstin also gave evidence thatahe was struck by the similarity, and thought there was no doubt it was his late clerk. The medical evidence went to show that there were no marks of violence, and eventually a verdict of "Found drowned" was returned. The widow claimed the body, and it was buried at Highgate. There were other details in the reporf, but they were not important. I had read suffi- cient to understand how it was I came to be buried with my father and mother. For the first time a ray of light dawned upon me. But I could not understand why my wife—my legal wife, who had resumed her maiden name at our separation—had suddenly re-assumed the status of a married woman in order to identify a drowned man as her husband. As soon as I had read the report I folded it up and put in my pooket. I then handed, Mr. Dash five and twenty pounds in bank notes. He gave me a receipt for the money. I took it and glanced at it mechanically and then uttered an exclamation of astonishment. The receipt ran as follows Received of Mr. William Smith the sum of £ 25 for particulars of the death and the inquest held on William Hengist Smith. How did you know my name ? I ex- claimed angrily, the hot blood rushing to my face. The agent shrugged his shoulders. I found it out," he said, quietly we can never work well in the dark, you know. Then, noting my confusion, he smiled, and said, There is no necessity for you to be alarmed. 1 always like to know the name of my clients. Once we start an inquiry we often come upon information which may some day be of great value to them. If we didn't know who they were we oouldn't communicate with them." I accepted his explanation. It would'nt have done for me to appear alarmed or seriously angry. That would Derhaps have aroused the agent's suspioions. I was about to leave, when the agent called me back. You are sure this is all the information you want ?" he said. Quite sure, thank you." I suppose the subsequent career of the widow of Mr. William Hengist Smith is of no interest to you ?" I hesitated. Well, 1-er-1 should like to know Avhat had become of her." I can tell you, but not, of course, for the R25, Thinking you might like the inquiry completed, I followed the case up, and I can tell you a little about the lady. Is it worth another £ 25 ?" Yes." Very good!" He unlocked his desk again and took out a blue envelope and handed it to me. I opened it and read the report. "Marion Smith, widow of "William Hengist Smith, was married at St. Mary's Church, Kensington, on 188-, to Sir Henry Lascel!es, Bart. Sir Henry and Lady Lascelles are now residing at Canning House, Kensington." My wife had married one month after my drowned body had been identified by her, and she was now Lady Lascelles. I had not the k25 with me, so I told the agent I would go to my hotel and fetch it. There is no hurry," he said. Any time that you are passing to-day or to-morrow will do—or you can send me a cheque." I folded the paper up, put it in my pocket, and went out into the street. Here WHS a pretty kettle of fish. My wife had buried me and had married another man. I felt convinced that it was to marry the other man she had buried me. She had seen the report of the finding of the body in the papers. The published statements of my former employer had put the idea into her bead of playing a ghastly comedy and making herself safe in case I ever turned up and threatened proceedings. She knew that I had left the country. She knew that I was going to the Colonies when we signed the deed of separation. Still I was dead. She had certainly killed me in a very effective way, and I should have some trouble in proving that I was alive. And to do that would be to proclaim myself William Hengist Smith, the husband of Lady Lascelles, To do that would be to betray the woman I loved better than all else in the world, my dear Cora. William Hengist Smith," I said to myself, as T walked back to my hotel, "you are dead and buired. Your wife has made herselfltfe in contracting a second marriage, and she has made you safe at the same time. A dead man oan't commit bigamy." I felt the hot blood rush to my checks and fade again," I was rather relieved for Cora's sake that I was dead, but I didn't like the idea of that unknown suicide lying in my family grave among my people and using my name on the tombstone. But how was I to g'et him out. He was there, and there he Avould have to stop til] the day of judgment. Satisfied at least that I was now safe, and that my wife could never interfere with me again, I began to breathe more freely. had no fear now of anybody, so I walked about London holding my head high, and I lost the terror which had once or twice come upon me when I met women in the street who looked at the first glance something like my wife. Relieved in my feelings, I determined to stay on through the London season, instead of going abroad and returning from Venice to Australia. One night at the opera we met an old friend of Cora's, a rich Australian lady, who had been in England some two years. She insisted that we should come and see her, and we went to dinner a few days afterwards. Then came an invitation to a ball, and for Cora's sake I accepted it. It was a grand ball, and a great many tip top people were there, for our Australian friend's husband was an important public personage. We arrived early-too early, not being used to sooiety ways, and so we saw nearly all the people arrive, and were able to learn who they were. Cora was delighted. She danced several times, and everybody admired her. I didn't dance, but sat quietly in a corner and looked on. An hour later, when I was Avatching the dancers, I heard someone say, that's Sir Henry Lascellea." And is that dark woman his wife? Yes," was the reply. That is Lady Las- celles. Poor old chap, I'm afraid he has any- thing but a good time." My cheeks went deadly white, aud then flushed crimson. Lady L&scelles! 1 turned and found myself face to face with my first wife. Uur eyes met. She knew me, I am oertain of that; but for all outward and visible signs I might have been a total stranger whose face her eyes had accidentally rested upon in the street. I had not such complete command of my- self. I felt the hot blood rush to my cheeks and fade away again. My heart almost stood still, and a faint sick feeling crept over me. Sir Henry Lascelles, her husband—a tall military-looking old man, a faded dandy Arainly endeavouring to appear a young buck-was standing near her. While my eyes were still fixed upon her.- I could not look away, though I tried—she turned to Sir Henry, and said in a voice loud enough for me to hear "My dear, will you Fetch me my fan. I have left it on tho seat yonder by ihe Australian Jady-Mrs. introduced us to just now—Mrs. Smith." She had been introduced to my m ife, and she intended me to know it. It was a marvellous performance on her part-this sudden and totally unexpected meeting with a husband she had comfortably buried in Higbgate Cemetery utterly failed to disconcert her. She had evidently fore- seen that it might happen some day, and had carefully rehearsed the business of the scene so far as she was concerned. She had been introduced to a Mrs. Smith. Directly she saw me she jumped to the con- clusion that I was the Mr. Smith who was Mrs. Smith's husband. She fired the shot in the hope of bitting the mark, and in a moment she saw that her airm had been a good one. I dropped my eyes and turned away to hide my confusion. I felt that my guilty face would attract attention. I talked with the people about me at random. Heaven only knows what I said. I fancy some of them must have thought that I bad had too much to drink. At last I went on the landing and wan- dered into a conservatory, and sat down in a quiet corner to try and recover my scattered senses. A few moments' thought re-assured me. Lady Lascelles could do nothing. She had buried me and married again. Feeling a little braver I went back into the ball-room. Our hostess came towards me- "Ah, Mr. Smith, I have been looking for you everywhere. I want to introduce you to a lady who is charmed with your wife and wishes to make your acquaintance." She led me to a corner of the room, and there I found my wife and Lady Lascelles laughing and talking together. H Mr. Smith—this is Lady Lascelles," said our hostess, and then with a few words left me alone with my two wives. By a desperate effort I rose to the situa- tion, and joined in the conversation but I felt supreinely uncomfortable, and I had the greatest difliculty in concealing my uneasi- ness. Lady Lascelles was charming. She asked me about Australia, and inquired if I was a native, or if i had gone out there from Eng- land. Then she turned to my wife, and asked her what she thought of London, and how long we were going to stay, and said that she hoped to see more of us, and was so nice and agreeable that Cora was quite charmed with her, and told me afterwards that she thought her quite the nicest person she had ever met. Presently Sir Henry Lascelles came up, and Lady Lascelles introduced us to him, and he sat down and joined in the conversation. It was all sheer devilry on the woman's part, but I could not help admiring it. It was an extraordinary situation. Lady Le.scelles and myself were husband and wife, and she was introducing her husband to me, and my wife sat beside her. Soon after I asked Cora if she was not tired. I wanted to go. The comedy to me was growing hateful. L had begun to realise what it meant. Every word we two ex- changed was really an insult to our two victims. I began also to resent the look of triumph which I detected in Lady Lascelles' eyes. Her look plainly said, "1 have played my cards well; you dare not interfere with me or betray me. You cannot take a single step without ruining yourself." I wanted to let her know that the secret of the cemetery was mine. I wanted to say that I had seen my own grave, and that I thoroughly appreciated the daring scheme which she had carried out with such daring effrontery. But 1 had no opportunity of speaking with her alone, and so 1 left the explanation for a more favourable opportunity. Cora expressed her readiness to leave at once if 1 was tired, and bidding Sir Henry and Lady Lascel.es good night we went back to our hotel. Shortly afterwards we left London and went back to Australia. \Ye went to Venice in order that we might visit some of the famous places of France and Italy. Before we left we received an at home card from Lady Lascelles. Cora was anxious to go, but I persuaded her that she had better not. I said I had heard a something about Lady Lascelles—I was very vague about it. but Cora, who had the greatest confidence in my superior knowledge of the world, yielded at once. To say that I was afraid of meeting Lady Lascelles again would not be true. I knew that I was safe, but in her presence I felt un- happy. She was the flaming sword out- stretched between me and Eden. I loved Cora with all my heart and soul, and I knew that I bad bitterly wronged her, and that while the other woman lived it was impossi- ble for me to atone for that wrong. In Australia I had brought myself to for- get the past; in Eugland it all came back to me, and from the hour I saw my first wife I was never able to dismiss it from my mind. In the knowledge that she lived and that she knew I had married again, even the shock of my false death and burial was forgotten. Do what I would I could not help remember- ing that there was a woman in England who knew what Cora's real position was, and that woman, a daring, heartless, and unscrupulous adventuress, was my lawful wife. Three years later we came to Europe again. During the three years I had heard nothing of Lady Lascelles. Once in an English sooiety paper Cora had shown me her name among the list of guests at a grand enter- tainment. but I had studiously avoided talk- ing about her. Our second visit to Europe was intended to be a long one. We spent the winter in Italy and the South of France, and came to England in May, about the commencement of the London season. While we were in Italy Cora had told me something which, though it had at first de- lighted me, afterwards seriously alarmed me. She hoped to become a mother before the summer. A mother And the child. I did not like to think of it. The wickedness of my conduct in marrying again came home to me now as it had never done before. My child would be really illegitimate, and some day, in spite of all my care, its mother might learn the terrible truth. Soon after we arrived in London I began quietly to make inquiries about Lady Las- celles. For some time past, I ascertained, she had not been much in society. It was understood that she was seriously ill, so ill that her life was despaired of. Terrible as the truth is, I only confess it: from the hour that 1. knew Lady Lascelles was in danger I only hoped one thing, and that was that she might die in time to save my unborn child from a heritage of shame. My position was a fearful one. I oannot, perhaps, hope to justify my eagerness for the death of the woman who stood between me and happiness, but at least I have said enough to make it understood. It was early sping when we came to Lon- don. I.had five months' grace- five months in which one woman could die, and another woman be saved from a shame which might one day, when she learnt the truth, kill her. With wicked eagerness I inquired every day how Lady Lascelles was going on. I managed to make the acquaint&ce of a gentle- man who knew Sir Henry intimately, and b. assured me there was no hope. One day I opened the Times in the hotel reading-room, and dropped it with a little cry of joy. Lady Lasoelles was dead And I was free-free to make my union with Cora a legal one-free to save my un- born child from the consequences of hia father's sin. How should I break it to Cora ? What should I say to her ? Tell her the truth, I dare not and so, after some hesitation. I told her that I had a strange fancy-we had been married in Australia—I wanted to be married again in England. Cora looked at mp. in blank surprise. I hastened to re-afsure her. I think at first she thought I bad gone suddenly mad. It was purely a little piece of sentiment on, my part. It should be a very quiet weddingj not even in a chnrch-just before a registrar. It was an odd fancy of mine, that was all, but it would please me very much if she would consent. Like the good dutiful little woman that she always was, she did consent, and though I am sure that she still looks back upon it as a piece of sudden insanity on my part, she went bravely through tho ceremony before the registrar. • It never once crossed her mind. thank Go that she was being legally married to me for the first time, and God forbid that she should ever learn it. In due time our boy was born, and when they laid him in my arms and I pressed my lips to his sweet baby face, I thanked God for His mercy in sending light where hitherto all had been darkness. When our boy was a year old we went back to Australia, and now we have quite settled down there. It is our home, and we are happy. Some day when the boy is grown up we may all come to Europe again together, but I hope to die and be buried in Australia, which is now my home. It is this hope which reconciles me to the fact that another man has taken my plaoe in the family grave at Highgate. I am afraid he will have to stop there, for it is impossible for me to take any steps to remove him without drawing attention to the fact that I had a wife when I married Cora. So to all intents and purposes I am still a dead man in England, but as some compensa- tion for that I am the happiest man alvt i LTIIE bm.) NEXT WKKK: trite 11 rst Instalment of a New Story BY FLORENCE WARDEN, ENTITLED THE DOVER EXPRESS.

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