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LAGDEN'S LUCK: A STRANGE LOVE STORY. By TOM G-ALLON OP TATTEELET," THE M YSTERY OF JOHN PEPPERCORN," &c.). CHAPTER IX. ^1_THE BRIDEGROOM'S RETURN. Jtr. o °n evening of that day on which F^e yfoe destined to make so an appearance as a gentleman-at- in a °ld man came out of a little house a 10 In Kilburn. A very old man, with «yep ^ite heard; a man who bent heavily as though enfeebled with age; er^"s^ricken old man, in that his clothes Cabbyand worn and weather-stained; °ld man, apparently, because, while 6 °ther little houses in the same road hotts., V showed lights in their windows, the froln which he had emerged remained apparently tenantless. ^Iki a *n a '^us occas'oaall3r' anc* «anjeD8 a Sreat deal, the old man presently 4^ntt0- *)il)r0se"s(luare' And there he waited S; 111 lhe summer evening, fof quite a ''11' time. t.eb.a to 8^ arrived so early that he Vas m time 'Cig r. George Frith sally forth, smoking t Vr. ;r.ette, towards that public-house wherein little 111 CowIe was presently to find him A ti)6 la,ter> and Miss Jane Nndds came up ^a. steps, shook out her skirts precisely, »«Vlng a glance down as much of her *°f 8^6 could see, set off at a brisk walk *fter unknown destination. Five minutes ards the old man suddenly crossed the ^hicjj ^nd mounted the three or four steps 0q6 to the front door, *Uo<>^ ^'Sht have expected the visitor to ^a,t\or ring, in the usual way. Instead of the n°w ever, he quietly inserted a key in m na and the next moment had glided into 5r°w little hail, closing the door behind Ntf. Once inside he seemed to know his way eetl Mi-t the ly, and, after listening for a moment ftlietj dodr of one of the lower rooms, he It "a Glided upstairs. IJD-, was the custom of Mr. Clement Frith to tairB lars;e part of the day in his room up- II the evening he would often be emoking a cheap cigar and °ra evening glass, and, in most cases, with him. The younger children ?eraMy sent away at that time, to ^emselves elsewhere; Mr. <T!emeut Da tiiat they disturbed him. On ^rg^j r^cul&r evening he was so deeply im- ^ifl *Q his paper that he did not hear a ^estion addressed to him more than At daughter. tv. turned impatiently towards her, *{>01^. Paper fiercely with his hands, and '1t' ka8 a, very singular thing that a man who f°r his family, as I have done, Wa<s6 • all these years, and given them a quite aQ *^e world—actually placed them in sinetov,0 aristocratic part of London—in Ken- 4ill fact—should still not be able to <l°He ^a-ce when the labours of the day are fciy B" fiave I not told you, Dora, that I, with itig j knowledge of the world, am act- Vt^y°u in a difficult matter, and acting "^t; have I not assured you that you things y°ur poor father through all anc* fear nothing?" 8tone ^ather, dear," she urged quietly, "the 1 0QiyWae given to me—entrusted to my care. "Yq, ^ant to know where it is." 8hat-J trust me?" he asked, with a sad ••J? <* the head. -7zay I, Ido; only I am afra.id of all that th0tl ?aPPen. The threat of that man we >wra;to a doctor; the strange people 8 ca^ed at the house; the value and 10" tlte of this diamond; the disappearance e. Dlan Lagden-all these things frighten -tout are Playing with fire; we are play- -jf death itself." ifar Dora, I decline to say anything ,re ,bout the matter. The diamond is in ^ble when I produce it, you will be kank me, and you will, I think, feel *e8aM-SOrrow f°r your unjust suspicions Vu, nie. Let us say no more, I beg." riluch dignity, Mr. Clement Frith lesgj his paper, and Dora sat down hope- lOtitgjj ear him, striving to work. The man !t1ided 6. the door, when presently he arrived, t\v0 vj ln 80 noiselessly that for a moment or Was able to stand there unobserved ^JUeViZ? watched them. It was only when he 6&ra widdenly that Dora started and "Y»b up* aQd Mr. Frith let his paper fall. '^6 jv,^r 6.ervrant, sir—and yours, lady," 6aid ""Vya, ln a deep voice. Jtr,$Vx, does this intrusion mean?" asked i to his feet. "How d* you '"A here?" hi," Young party was going out as I came l)y' eaid the man, with, a eudden remem- °f the departure of Miss Nudde. "I her where I could find you; she told *fr' -atld I walked up. There's nothing to be of; it's only a little matter of busi- •K '\y both stood staring at the man. He ijjg off his hat, and stood there finger- brim of it, glancing furtively at them, 8|0„ then at the door alternately. Very Dora came round the table, so as to a«arer jjim. then, as he raised his gave a sudden, sharp cry, and away do you want?" she asked, in a quick "I know you now." ''eavy ^an laaghed, slowly pulled off the *rig and whiskers he wore, revealing his *t osely-cropped, grey hair, and showing who he was. It was her husband— W? Lagden ^tly Mr. Clement Frith started for- ^a.(j sternly. The situation was one which gripjyed, and he saw that his only was in a splendid game of bluff. Lag- in the aet of taking off his long, t%war^g°^rcoat, and jerked his head quickly 4ri don't want you to speak," he said w dly. "It's the little girl I've come to see to o You. I may have a word or two to say later. Don't disturb yourself on my 11:(\ Sit down." OLte ed to take off his overcoat. They \)ne a e d him, fascinated. When he had got r 111 out of the sleeve, he reached that '»°at, °UQd to the breast pocket of the over- thijj' Qd took something from it. That some- 'he taK35 a revolver. He laid this slowly on 4nn Ie; and then, in an unconcerned H 0n ~r, finished taking off the coat, tossing ?? a chair. He picked up the revolver, «* 'PPed it somewhere inside his inner ♦ 8 to n 8at down, and leisurely wiped to^e.head of the heavy drops of perspira- h covered>it. Vaiti ^0r^» my dear," he said, with a smile, tgbt ng through the streets on a summer's ^rapped up like this. Hair weighs ."Usjjj^^nd that coat; however, let's get to })r6 ^ore Mr. Clement Frith endeavoured ak in. "If you think, sir, that you are t g here, disguised and armed, to threaten ;t1t III. can assure you that there is a law in "I) d- t), O't talk to me about the law," said Lag- cause the law and me ain't very ,itb 1.Y. And I don't threaten," he added, steady eyes fixed on the shifting ones ^>i„dement Frith; "at least, not yet." y°u—will you take anything?" Mr. ^t«p + ^rith evidently felt that it would be "l gain time. b.islt HI take," said Lagden slowly, "a little it y and water-provided the lady mixes ♦ ^°ra do 'Averting her face from his, proceeded "11(\ what he asked. He watched her quietly, n she had set it down before him glass towards her, and drank v> A moment later he put the erlass p PPed his hand inside his coat, and oing to the door, he opened it, and I 7* at ^n.tside; came back in a moment, look- f^rith suspiciously. pCffcj,,6 ain't anyone else in the house, is asked, still standing with his hand fti ^tilv e°at. y°nn?€r children," said Mr. *Mrei, ^rith. "Why do you ask?" •IfSe Z1, it wouldn't be healthy for anyone he here to-night," replied the man, a« f himself, after first shifting bis chair W° eet a view of the door- "Yon dust now about the law; here's my rSheij tapped the breast of his coat and ^ur« I had no intention to offend in said Mr. Clement Frith hurriedly. ja »retorted the man. "You, who sit your quiet home, and go abroad into *?v°Ur when you like, without fear or i r, do you know of the likes of me? every policeman is ready to stretch ♦ da^g^Hni; for me every police-station flares Qd af eignal against the sky; for me men 'tv1* *o^epless nights, and hunt and plot, »11 try any dodge to get me. And It talk to me about the law!" »always when he turned to Mr. J Frith that the real nature of the Pt out. Even now, though he had ^ltterly, fiercely, and sullenly, his v Pa- Tinged when he looked towards wistfully, he stretched out a J wards her, although he did not touch C? to say anything rough while tl> here," he said. "You're all right; e'*°rt that's made for good men— fQnr me. You needn't turn away r the 1^.? wouldn't harm you, if I died for "I a!n minute." ^PHed. a„5ltu'e sure you would not," she ''When j at him folly. one in jnst now about there being 2*ch house. I meant for your sake as my own. I'm -wanted—badly; "■wtmg in all the old plaoee for me,, t. I passed one of the best of 'em to-night on the way here; he didn't know me from Adam. With luck, I'll clear out of the country to- morrow; but you know what I want first." "Pray help yourself to a little more whisky," said Mr. Clement Frith genially. "I've enough here," said Lagden. "What I want first is something from the little girl. When I-wènt away-I had made up my mind to work the business on different lines; I was dead, or so they thought, and I meant to come to life again, after it had all blown over." "Mr. Lagden," began Dora desperately, "T really want to talk to you; I must. I was married to you because I thought- "You needn't mind mentioning it," broke in the man, a little bittc-ly. "You thought I was dying; it didn't matter much, taking my name for an hour or two, and then letting me go. You were quite right," he added hurriedly. "It was a trick, a lie. I never meant to do anything but just use you as a blind; only things have turned out diffe- rently." He seemed to have forgotten the diamond for a moment; he sat there, drumming with his fingers softly on the table, a curioup. smile about his lips. When at last he spoke, it was almost as though he told the story over to himself rather than to any listener. "It wasn't quite fair, perhaps; but I saw no other way. It would be no use telling you all I know about the diamond; I shouldn't gain anything, or explain anything, if I told you where it came from or how I first heard of it. I made a run with it for London—hard pressed, and without any time to lose; I came here; as you know, they were knocking at the door for me almost at once. You stood by me, little girl; you held 'em at bay. I think it was that which first put the idea into my head. I thought you'd be the kind of woman to fight, if need be, small and quiet' though you looked." "I didn't understand," said Dora, in a whisper. "I know you didn't," replied Lagden, look- ing at her. "That was the unfair part of it. But they meant murder, and I had to get out somehow. I didn't know you, and you didn't know me; but it seemed to me that if I could once hold you, so that you were afraid of me and knew that you must do as I said, I should stand a better chance. I thought that if I gave you the stone to hold and slipped away myself, and then some other fellow came along, and liked those bright eyes of yours, and married you, you might tell him about it all; and no man ever looked on that diamond yet that didn't want it. I couldn't risk that. 'No,' I said to myself, 'I'll tie her to me; "What do you want?" she aeked in a quick whisper. "1 know you now." then she must be silent, because of me.' And that's what I did." He drank, and looked again at the girl; she sat in a hopeless attitude, with her head dropped into her hands. Mr. Clement Frith was trying to look at hie ease; but his cheap cigar had gone out, and he was merely mechanically chewing the end of it. "Don't you tako on, my dear," said Lagden softly. "I'm sorry I made use of you; but I didn't think of myself only. I sanjv you-hard- worked and struggling-and I thought I might give you a lift; I would have gone right out of your life, and you should have had some- thing sent you from time to time, and wouldn't have known where it came from. Whenever I made a bit, you should have shared it; when- ever Lagden's luck was in, you'd have been a rich woman; and I'd never have come near you, except just the once, to get the diamond." "But you don't understand," she exclaimed, starting to her feet, and facing him with tear-streaming eyes. "How could I possibly have taken from you what you-" "That's it," he said slowly, seeing that she paused on the word, "what I stole. I was wrong; I never thought of that. Only, you see, you wouldn't have known; I was going to do it all in secret. While I was hunted into prison-and in again-I should have known that there was a little girl who carried my name in secret, and lived, without know- ing it, on what I sent her." "What are your plans now?" asked Mr. Clement Frith, after a pause. "My plans are changed," said Lagden. "I meant to slip away, for six months or so, while it was given out all round that I was dead. Then I was coming back, after all the bother was done, to get the stone, and clear out once more. Who did it, I don't know; I expect it was the man who helped me by pretending to be a doctor; I mean the man Sime. Anyhow, it soon got abroad that Josiah Lagden was very much alive; Josiah Lagden being wanted, London is a little too hot to hold him. So I have to clear out earlier than I thought. Now, if you can give me the stone, my dear (for, being a woman, I'm afraid you've looked into the parcel by this time), I'll say good- bye. And you needn't be afraid," he added impressively, "that I shall ever trouble you any more. So far as you're concerned, Josiah Lagden is dead, and you are his widow." "And that, my dear, is really a very com- forting reflection," said Mr. Clement Frith, with a laugh. "Many a man in the position of Mr. Lagden might make himself very dis- agreeable your husband is quite prepared to go away, and forget the little episode of your marriage. Very considerate, my dear Lag- den; very considerate, indeed. When do you start?" "I start within a few minutes," said Lag- den slowly. "I'm only waiting for that little packet." There was a dead silence. After a moment or two Mr. Clement Frith began to whistle quietly. The girl stood still, with drooping head, and her eyes fixed upon the shabby carpet at her feet. Mr. Lagden's mouth be. came a straight line; something hard glittered and burnt in his eyes. "I'm afraid you didn't hear," he said, slowly and painfully. "The packet, my dear —the packet!" She spoke then, in a voice so low that he could scarcely catch the words. "I—I haven't got it." Lagden started and drew a deep breath, and then leaned forward over the table towards her. "You—haven't got it?" he said, in a hoarse whisper. ,nen, more appealingly, and with a little quiet laugh, he went on: "You mustn't make game of me, my dear. I've gone through a bit too much for,-that. Come, now-won't you speak? Won't you tell me what you mean?" "It's a very curious thing," said Mr. Clement Frith, with another little laugh, "how very careless women can be. I remember my grandmother-" "D your grandmother," said Lagden, in a low voice. "What game is this? I'll trust the little girl; I wouldn't trust you any- where. Where's the stone?" "AB a matter of fact, my dear Mr. Lagden, it was this way," began Mr. Clement Frith, desperately. "My daughter, for the sake of security, carried the stone about with her, and on one occasion-" "Stop!" exclaimed Dora quietly. "I will tell you all I know about it, Mr. Lagden. I put the diamond, wrapped up as it was, among some odd litter in a. drawer in my room. I felt that no one wouid look for it there; I did not like to carry it about with me. It is not there now." Lagden drew a long breath, and nodded quietly. His voice, gruff though it was. had in it again that note of tenderness which it always had when he spoke to Dora. "I begin to understand, my dear," he said. i' "When you tell a thing, it's just as good as I if you laid your hand on the Bible, and stood before a judge and jury. With you, Mr. Frith"-he swung round on Mr. Clement Frith, and his voice hardened—"the matter is diffe- rent." "My dear Lagden—I may say, my dear son- in-law—you are labouring under a wrong im- "My dear Lagden-I may say, my dear son- in-law-you a.re labouring under a wrong im- I pression. Those who know me will tell you-" "I don't want to refer to anyone," said Lag- den. "If you know nothing about this matter, why tell me a lie? You tell me that your daughter here has lost it; she tells me it was stolen. I believe her; therefore, you must have some reason for telling me that parti- cular lie. Now-where's the stone?" "I absolutely refuse to tell you," said Mr Clement Frith, with sudden and unexpected bravery. "That diamond was placed in my daughter's possession; I am the guardian of my daughter, and I have a right to act in the matter." "And that is your answer?" asked Lagden slowly. "That is my answer," said Mr. Clement Frith, white to the lips, but standing fairly firm, for all that. "Then—see here." Josiah Lagden leant for- ward over the table, and put his hard- knuckled fist heavily down upon it. "You've mixed yourself in a business you don't under- stand, and are too weak to tackle. It wants a man for this game of life and death-" "Death!" ejaculated Mr. Clement Frith, falteringly. I "Ay-death," went on the other, with grow- ing fierceness. "The man I got that stone from killed another man for it (don't be frightened, my dear; this doesn't touch you," he added quickly to the girl). "And then my turn came, and I-I killed that man." His hard, callous eyes faced Clement Frith; < he dared not look towards the girl. He had a dim notion that she had got as far as possible away from him, to the other side of the room. "Do you think that a man who has done that and faced all that it means is to be checked by such a creature as you?" he went on savagely. "Why do you think I came here to-night disguised; why do you think I'm hiding, as I am doing? Because the thing has got about; because there's a price on my head. The man I trusted has given the game away; the story I thought to concoct is use- less. They know that Lagden's alive; they know that he won't be alive long it they get him." "Really, my dear sir," began Clement Frith, almost whimpering, "I had no desire at all to interfere in the matter. But I was pressed; I was in urgent need of money, for the sake of a young family who were depen- dent upon me. The claims of humanity, and of my own humanity in particular, have always appealed to me far beyond any abstruse question of morality or right. The stone was not yours; you had already- appropriated it. Mine was a higher and a nobler right; and so I took it." "And sold it? Come—let's have no more beating about the bush; where is it?" "I absolutely decline 11 Mr. Clement Frith began vaJorously with these words, but stopped with a jerk. The hand of Lagden that rested on the table held the gleaming little revolver they had seen him transfer to his pocket; the eyes of the man were deadly. Dora, made a sudden movement, as if she would throw herself before her father; Lag- den's voice rang out in a, warning. "Stay where you are! If I harm you by an accident, there'll be more than one go under ion your account. I won't hurt him; but he must tell me where it is. He's not strong enough for this game; he doesn't understand that I have everything to gain and everything to lose. The stake in my case is my life against the stone; and I mean to win." "I will tell you everything; I never intended that anyone should be harmed in any way," said Mr. Clement Frith hastily. "But would you mind turning that-that thing the other way?" he asked, pointing with a shaking htnd to the revolver. 'It won't go off, unless I mean that it shall," sai& Lagden quietly. "Go on." "We—we were in desperate need; I dared not delay an instant when my children cried for bread," said Mr. Clement Frith, furtively dabbing his eyes with his finger tips. "So I took it away-and raised a little money on it —as a temporary measure." I "Yes, yes; but where?" exclaimed Lagden, m a low, suppressed voice. "Who has it now?" "I took it to a man with whom I was acquainted, a dealer. His name's Pipe, and he lives in a small etreet in Notting Dale." "I know the man; I've dealt with him," said Lagden shortly. "Deals in anything and everything. Now, how are you going to get it?" "Me?" exclaimed Mr. Clement Frith, with a gasp. "You surely don't mean that I—41 "I mean that you must get the stone and bring it to me," said Lagden slowly. "Every place a.t which I'm known is closely watched; I should be caught like a rat in a trap if I even attempted to go near the place. Why, this man Pipe got into trouble once with ine over a matter of stolen goods, but managed to slip out of it. You must get the stonejand bring it to me." Dora's one idea, even amid the horror of the thing that had fallen upon her, was to save her father; that he should be mixed up in the trouble was the worst thing of all. With the calm, cool courage of desperation, she spiang into the breach, and spoke quickly. "Mr. Lagden, yon shall have the stone," she said. "I can't tell you how; I don't know; but if it is possible to get it you shall have it. I have a friend—a very dear friend—who is rich and who will help me. You shall have the stone." Lagden looked at her for a long time in silence. "Will you bring it to me yourself?" he asked. "I will, if it be possible." "Your father knows it's possible," was the reply. "If he won't take my warning, perhaps he'll take yours. There's been blood enough shed over this business already; but I've gone too decfo to turn back. To-morrow night you will find me, unless anything happens in the meantime, at this address. I don't want to write it; it might be dangerous. Have you a good memory?" "Yes, I will remember," replied Dora quietly. "No. 43, Jubilee-terrace, Kilburn," said the man slowly. "The house has been standing empty for a long time; I got the key by a trick. I shan't be there many hours; I'll be out of the country so soon as I get the diamond. Do you understand?" Lagden paused at the door after he had got on his disguise and his long, shabby overcoat, and looked back at her. Of Mr. Clement Frith he took not the faintest notice. "I'm glad I'll see you again," he said to Dora. "After that, don't be afraid; you'll n-aver set eyes on me again, and I'll never drag your name into the mud in which I walk. Don't forget the address, and come at night." He went out of the room and down the stairs. They heard the outer door close sharply, while they looked at eaeh other in I silence. (To be continued.)














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