CAUGHT AT LAST; OR, THE FELON'S BRAND. (ALL RIGHTS RESERVED,! j4 j CHAPTER XVII. A MYSTERIOUS FRIEND. A tETTKit for you, Vhite, my poy," said Kleckser 1;0 Raymond, one day as they reached the office at the Close, and turned over the voluminous budget delivered every morning to Fabian van Flewker's address. A iady's riand, too de seal a' tove mifc a ring in her peak. Hulloa Vhite. Is de pest • beloved ot our susceptible heart appointing a rendea- YOUS ?"' Nonsense, man. Give it here," said Raymond, -with a laugh. Vhat'll you'l I -pet I haven't guess right ?" asked the German, provokingly, holding back his hand. ""Oh, I forgot. You ton't pet. Veil, I'll toss you vhether you or I read de letter. No ? Vhat an im- practicable fellow! Dere, take your property. Mind, I voirt promise to give away de pride, but 'shall ex- pcct a pig ollic:' at de sake." Rajjiiond turned the letter over. London post- SBid'to himself. "A. female hand cer- -IstjPBfefepd not v*me-«&hat'I know—but thee all wormsTwrite alike now-a-days, Come, let us solve tlxe riddle." Yeu and I may look over his shoulder in spirit, though we might net play the spy in the flesh. We 1 read this Mr. "White will recollect having a dispute a few days ago with M. I'arlancVet, about a missing letter, after^rds found. The contents of this letter are known to others besides the person "to whom it was addressed. 1 hey think it of importance to contents of this letter are known to others besides the person to whom it was addressed. 1 hey think it of importance to Mr. White that ]10 should learn them to.. A copy of the original i;, therefol e added here The writer of tlie»e lines desires to caution Mr. White against any attempt to discover from whoin tlieykome. Mich an attempt could only ewJ. in failure, but might cause much annoyance in a quarter where it is thought Mr. White desires create an interest.. Upon this subject the •writer will only say three words—Patienve aml Hope. No si^u^cure—no date; but the postmark upon the envelope bore the date, February 6. Next followed the copy of M. Parlandet's letter in French—French, also, of the vilest and most un- grammatical kind, abounding with slang and coarse expressions, winding up with a dash of blasphemy. Its purport, rendered decent, was to the effect) that the writer had received his dear friend's latest mis- sive, with its welcome enclosure. Was charmed to learn that a little professional assistance was required, which he should be most happy to give. A very .short time now would end the present disagreeable stat > of affairs, as measures which had been long in • preparation were nearly completed and must infal- libly succeed. The writer would then hasten upon the wings of friendship to his old comrade's arms, and cheerfully execute the desired service. Unfor- tunately it was, if he understood M. I'arlandet rightly, only too easy of accomplishment. To put a meddle- some puppy out of the way was a light and facile taslc. He would have been glad if his dear friend bad required something more arduous, as he could thereby have given better proof of his devotion. However, it should be done. Let M. Parlandet lay his head upon his pillow and repose in peace, secure that Providence, aided by friendship, would execute his desires. After that the grand scheme could be carried out at leisure. The letter was signed Poing- qui-frappe." [" Fist that strikes."] Raymond leant his head upon his hand after read- ing this extraordinary effusion, and meditated. Two questions in particular occupied his thoughts: Who was his friendly correspondent ? and next, Did the letter of this man, with the slang name of an escaped convict, in truth refer to him ? He took these questions in succession, and was un- able to answer either to his mind. His circle of female acquaintances was not large his mother, Ruth, Gertrude van Fiewker, and Mademoiselle Lagrange comprised the whole of those who were aware of the circumstances attending M. Parlandet's letter. The warning clearly did not come from the two first. Row about the others ? Internal evi- dence plainly showed that Gertrude was not the writer. Besides, an anonymous letter was utterly at variance with her frank and open character. Was it the governess? He could not believe this either. The hand-writing was English, the spelling was cor- rect, the diction was good. Natalie spoke the lan- guage fairly, but further Raymond did not believe her knowledge of it to extend. None of these four, he thought, could be his unknown friend. Stop! he might be mistaken in the sex. The writer might be a man. But here, again, a still greater difficulty interposed, for among his male acquaintances Ray- mond felt certain no one possessed the requisite know- ledge of his private affairs. The more he reflected, the deeper he plunged into the quagmire of uncertainty and doubt. chap 17 Dismissing this question for a time, he fell to the -consideration of the second. Was he in reality the person referred to in the letter of M. Parlandet's cor- ? respondent ? Upon this point he felt almost greater doubt than upon the foregoing. It seemed to him simply impossible that Pari could have entertained an enmity towards him—an hostility, indeed, so rooted, as to have tampered with a bravo to remove him from his path. Why should he? Unaware of the actual reason of his engagement by Van Fiewker, Raymond imagined he had been really hired as an aid to Parl. He knew the latter's influence over the merchant's mind, and supposed that he had teased his patron into procuring an assistant to assume his minor duties, upon the plea of his great intellect being VJeffc entirely free to ponder day and night upon schemes for that patron's service. Now, perhaps, the Case was altered, after what had transpired between Parl and "Raymond a few days before. But that which might have caused the change did not take place until the letter had arrived. It was possible, again, that he might have misin- terpreted the meaning of the writer, or that some '-other "puppy" might be aimed at who also stood in M. Parlandet's devious path. A man like this must f have many ugly secrets in his wicked life. Accident had led to the discovery of one, and was it likely this had not many brethren ? Next came the consideration whether he should talte any precautions against the possible case of M. Parlandet's really assuming the offensive, and he determined that he would not. Raymond had all the disbelief of Young England in the existence of a secret under-current of villainy and crime beneath the apparently smooth and glossy surface of civilised society at large. Thoughts like these occupied the mind of Raymond White for full an hour after the receipt -of his anorrmous letter. They circled through hia -brain as fie mechanically went through his ordinary
Printing of every Description
0 Executed at the Chronicle Office, Penartli. I
iiinwiii—ami——————a—■aiinri—i»w— duties in silent abstraction, which at last brought down upon his head the ponderous witticisms of Kleckser. Having spoken to Raymond several times without obtaining an answer, Kleckser tried the expe- dient of speaking at him as a last resort. 11 Gvillim, my poy," he said to the Welshman, seated opposite at the oblong sloping desk where the four clerks usually worked, "vere you ever in love ? chap 17 In I-love, Mr. Kleckser ?" repeated Gwillim, with suddan enthusiasm. Sc-sc-sc-scores of times Veil den, of course you can speak from expe- rience. I can't. Vhat are de symptoms of de malady ? Is de batient hot, flushed, feverish, light- headed sometimes, very apstracted, toesn't know j vhen he's spoken to ? I ask pecause I'm afraid a friend for whom I entertain a high regard seems sud- denly to have taken de tisease very padly." Ah! Mr. Kleckser," responded Gwillim, with a sigh, "don't te-te-talk of the' sweet me-me-madness,' as the po-po-po-et calls it in that tr-tr-trivial way. A real p-p-passion of the heart is a se-se-serious matter." "Vhat? Even vhen a man's had it scores of times ? Vliy, I should have tought he got quite used to it, and caught it regularly, like a cold after vet feet," observed Kleckser. "That's ju-ju-just it," replied Gwillim. "You fo-fo-foreigners never can understand it. You're so used to marriages of ke-ke-convenience, and all that sort of thing, that you don't know what genuine affection really is. The happy homes of England, sir, are fa-fa-a-mous throughout the world." Veil, my tear GwilUm, I'm not goinsr to argue the kvestion just now," said Kleckser. "You haven't told me yet vhat are de symptoms of de tesease. As you have had it so many times, you must be veil acquainted mit them. Just feel Vhite's pulse, and see if dat displays any correspontence." The buzz of conversation between the two, con- ducted upon Kleckser's side, at least, in a tone ¡ designedly loud enough to attract his attention, had i at last roused Raymond from his abstraction, and he was able at this point to join in. "Thanks, Kleckser," he observed; "but I won't trouble Mr. Gwillim's skill." "De statue speaks!" exclaimed Kleckser. "My poy, I was tinking your letter had turned you into a modern etition of de Commendatore in Don Gio- vanni.' You looked as stony, and now you're as sententious. Gentlemen, join mit me in congratu- lating Mr. Vhite upon de recovery of his faculty of speech." CHAPTER XVIII. A FAMILY PICTURE. The day passed, as days have always passed, and will yet pass until time is at an end. The mysterious letter, with its more mysterious enclosure, occupied Raymond's mind to the exclusion of almost every other thought, until the evening; they danced before his eyes across the pages he wrote; their phrases mingled in strange .confusion with the commercial jargon by which he was surrounded. He was glad when night came to be able to stroll away from the bustle and hurry of the City to the quiet suburb where his mother and sister had set up their London dwelling. Unwilling to alarm their anxious affection, he de- cided to withhold all mention of the warning he had received. It might, he thought, all terminate in nothing; and why bring needless care into thiir peaceful home ? Meditating thus, Raymond floated quietly with the, human stream ebbing in all directions from the City, to gather fresh strength and vigour for its backward flow, nqon the morrow. He sauntered on until he react-d the northern suburb; then striking to the le-ft, l.e passed across a rai!ed enclosure-merry with the voices of children at play on summer evenings, silent and deserted now -and entered a quiet street of little cottages, arranged in pairs. Dimly, through the dusk of the winter evening, the light from a distant lamp fell upon the scarlet berries, glistening under snow of a small-leaved cotoneaster, trained against, a trellis, a.nd enclosing the parlour window in green. He unlatched the garden gate, and walked up the path. A leelmg of quiet peace stole into his breast as he pictured the welcome he would receive within—his mother's proud and satisfied air as she surveyed her manly son, his sister's ready smile and hearty kiss, his little Christine's happy chirp and chiidish 5 Ice. For Ileiu er Mrs. White nor Raymond had for- gotten their promise to the dying girl in Liverpool gaol, nor had they compromised with conscience by half tuliiimen^. It would have Oeen easy enough to have fed and clothed the child, to have given it a IittM education, p*rh.tp>, and then turned it out to service, to earn lrl; living in some humble way. But this was not what Raymond and his mother had meant. Christine Marris had been adopted as a member of their family by the Wh t>s, ii.s fullv (IS if she had be "ned to them by bj.xi i. And t hey had their reward. The child of the outcast DOt only repaid her heiiet'actois' charity with affection, but with the sunshine a healthy chd.iiah presence brings into a house. Her cheerTul little m hie carolled music through the cottage, which gladene.i all their hearts. Her pretty infant wHy. her lisping words, her warm and innocent caresses endeared her to Raymond especially, and between the two grew up a strong and hearty love. The little one had already learnt to know and watch for the com'ng of Cnky Yay," which was the near- est approach to his name the vocabulary of babydom coulct afford, while Raymond found a simple delight in the artless kisses of his little Chrissy. But ail this time we have left him in the garden path. -1 Run, f hvissy," said Ruth to the child, ns Ray- mond's latch-key rattled in the door. There's liwcle Forth sallied the little bhieeyed figure with its fair curls and shoulder ri' bona fluttering as it ran, and sprang with a cry of joy into Raymond out- stretched arms. '• Well, Chrinsy, dear," said Raymond, lifting up the child, and kissing her teiidei-ly'. I- Waiting for uncle as usual, eh ? Have wo been very good to- day ?" The child nodded, and nestled closer to his breast. That's famous. Jump down, dear, until uncle takes oiT his coat, and then we'll see if we can't find some pretty pictures to look at after tea." "Pictures, picture!" cried Chrissy, clapping her hands, and running off with the importa.nt news to Kuth. Oh Aunt Ooth! Unky Yay dot pitty pictures Has he, really, Chrissy ?" said Ruth, lifting up her hands in affected amazement. "Well, that is wonderful! There's a kind uncle to baing little Chrissy pictures. Come in, dear Raymond, tea is ready."
If the mental picture Kayrsyind had formed, as b walked along, of the pleasant aspect of jiis home, had been so charming, how much more vividly did 15 strike upon his grateful sense when he found his fancy realised. You might have looked far, and not have found a more graceful or happy party than that assembled beneath this modest roof-tree. Mrs. White, sedately dressed in black, and wearing the widow's cap which she had never laid aside since her husband's death, leant calmly back in her chair as she surveyed her children. The sober beauty of a well spent life shone from her stiU comely features. Heading the table sat Ruth, whose countenance was a young and blooming reproduction of her moth r's face. Raymond, favouring his father, was fair; Ruth, following her mother, presented the rarer beauty of blue eyes and a fair complexion, with jetty brows and hair. Regular features and a well-shaped mouth, with a smile not very frequent, but of kind and tender softness—such was Ruth. One little blemish—so slight, indeed, as scarcely to deserve the name, yet sufficiently peculiar to excite attention—marked her face. A small mole above the right lip, thickly covered with short, dark dowa, standing out from the exceeding fairness of her com- plexion had all the effect of an international beauty patch was thought to be so, indeed, by those who did not know Ruth. As it was, the mole afforded Raymond much good-humoured joke with covert allusions to the spread of the beard movement; and comment on their personal appearance, I am credibly informed and believe, is as severe a best of temper as woman can sweetly bear. Ruth's main characteristic was a kindness of heart that was never exhausted—a sweetness of disposition that never tired. Neat-handed, and methodical in her habits, ready and clever in ail she undertook, dis- cordant elements arranged themselves into order at her touch. She was the genius of comfort in that comfortable home. chap 18 There was another member of the household who has not yet been introduced—a dog of no particular breed, and more remarkable for strength of character than for suavity. Rather an ill-conditioned brute, in fact than otherwise, with pink eyes and muzzle to match, and a quantity of white fur sticking up all over him in spikes. A dog of a contemplative turn of mind when his temper didn't get the better of him given to basking for hours blinking at the fire, and growling ominously whe-n anyone suggested he was rather in the way. He followed Raymond home one miserable, drizzling night, slipped into the house before he was observed, and decliued ejectment. He was so wretchedly thin and starved, his gaunt ribs alnost penetrating through his staring hide, that Ruth's kind heart could not bear to send the poor brute adritt again upon the waste of London streets. His contemplative appearance had induced Raymond to call him Plato. When the philosopher began to- wax fat again and full of meat, he drew distinctions in his behaviour towards the inmates of the house. He was polite and grateful to Ruth, indifferent to, Mrs. White, siightly hostile to Raymond, enthusi- astically attached to Chrissy. In fact, his affection for the child was the ledeeming point in his character. His chief enemy was the servant, Sarah. The. philosopher and domestic could not in any wise agree. Sarah was a stout Wiltshire lass, whose con- viction it was, that dogs warn't in their place in the house," and upon that belief she acted. Plato, again, was thoroughly convinced he had got into very comfortable quarters, such as a far-sighted dog would do well to make the most of. Whereupon issue was joined. Sarah dratted Plato, and broomed him whenever she could find an opportunity; Plato snapped at Sarah, and tore the skirts of her gowns into many ribbons. The final appeal in all cases of difference lay to Ruth who played the part of peace- maker. I was near bringing home a visitor, mother, this evening," said Raymond, during tea. Indeed, my son Who was that p" Oh, a friend of Ruth's," returned Raymond, with a sly glance at his sister; rather a favourite of her's, indeed, I believe." A favourite of mine, Raymond!" exclaimed Ruth. Who can you mean ?" "A gentleman who has a very high opinion of your perfections, Ruthy dear," returned Raymond though how he can mistake such a little pepper-pot as you are for perfection, puzzles me." Naughty boy said Ruth, with a pleasant smile, striking Raymond lightly upon the arm. But who do you mean ? Ah I know at least, I guess. That funny Mr. Kleckser, with his queer, squeaky voice and comical English. Am I right ?" Profoundly correct, my little sage." Why didn t you bring him ?" Because he was prevented from coming by a prior engagement," answered Raymond. I asked him to come home with me to tea, but he replied politely that enchanted as he should have been to lay his respectful homage at your feet upon any other occasion, he was unfortunately prevented doing so to-night by—what do you think now ? Guess ?" I have not the slighest idea. How can I tell where his tastes may carry him ?" asked Ruth with —must I confess it ?—just the faintest suspicion of a pout. His music lesson! Think of that, Ruthy! Kleckser has taken to practising the flute, of all in- struments in the world. If it were anything else I shouldn't ob Vet to it. He might learn the harp, or the kettle-drum, or even the banjo, if he liked; but the flute Fancy a fellcw expending valuable breath in learning how to tcotle-too Hem said Ruth. I don't know. The flute is a pretty accompaniment to the piano, nicely played. lr e might have pleasant musical evenings occasionally, if Mr. Kleckser likes." 11 Come, Ruthy," said Raymond, I'll let you into a secret. It's my opinion Kleckser's only learning the flute in order to accompany you." Up rose a scarlet flush over Ruth's neck and brow. To accompany me. brother Surely you must be mistaken," quoth the dissembler. We shall see," answered Raymond. But I prophesy it won't be very long before Kleckser will put up his humble petition to you just to try this, th:tt, or t'other little o upt -1 such a sweet thing,' &c., with all the rest of the usual musical company slang." Ray," said Ruth, "you Icnom you're a horrid old cynic. I don't believe you care one bit more about music than—than Plato does. There's not a chord in your composition—is there, Plato ?" she added to the dog, who wagged his tail lavily, came to her side, and looked up into her face. < Gosddog !"saidRuth,parting him. Sensible dog, to agree with his mistress. What are you all laughing at ?" Now thpre was one temptation against which even the virtuo of Plato waa not proof. Though passing