CAUGHT AT LAST; OR, THE FELON'S BRAND. Tui KiflHTe xaanTB.] CHAPTER XXVIII. V A VISIT. Tsscs months had now passed since the mysterious disappearance of Raymond White. Not the remotest elue had been obtained to his fate. The indefatigable Inquiries of Kleckser had been entirely without suc- cess. From the moment when Raymond parted from Gertrude van Flewker at the gate of his employer's Cottage, not a single person of those who loved him bad set eyes upon his face. Was he alive or dead ? oone could tell; and the doubt was almost more grievous than certainty of the worst. This August afternoon Natalie Lagrange and Ger- trude were sitting at work beneath the shelter of the trees bordering the lawn of the cottage. A melan- choly change had come over the countenance of the girJ. Formerly frank and open, her clear eyes looked into yours with a pleasant, bright, and cheerful gaze How they were dim and heavy, like the eyes of a person slowly recovering from severe illness. The fhadow of recent sorrow rested upon her. The high Complexion she had worn was faded her cheeks were thinner; the bones of the face were more prominent. A general air of dullness and depression hung about her figure, and showed itself in unac- customed languor. When she spoke her voice was fuller and deeper. It had not lost its musical ring, but had gained a tone of greater feeling. Heart Sounded in it. The girl had become a woman. At times her hands dropped involuntarily into her lap, and she looked thoughtfully out upon the river, gliding at her feet towards the sea. Then, roused by remark from her companion, she seemed to recover with a start, but, after plying her needle briskly for a time, relapsed into listlessness. Cheerful and active Natalie felt this would not do. Her pupil must be roused. She started a topic which She knew would instantly attract Gertrude's eager attention. "Your father left early this morning, my little one," jhe remarked. He is not usually so hasty to run ..way. Affairs must be important that take him up to town before the business hour." Have you not noticed how ill he looks lately, cousin ?" asked the girl. "Our living here does not seem to have done him the slightest good. When be comes home he shuts himself up after dinner in the study, writes and calculates all the evening, often late into the night. Sometimes I do not hear his step coming wearily up the stairs until after daylight, and I cannot sleep until I know he is at rest. In the jnorning it is almost worse. His haste and anxiety to get to business are pitiable. Oh! I wish, I wish I could prevail upon him to give up the pursuit of this wretched money, and pass his life in peace." Dear child, your wish is loving, but futile. Two things I know. First, M. van Flewker will never re- linquish business while he lives second, if he did, the result would be even worse than now." How can that be ?" asked Gertrude. Surely, if he were freed from this incessant work, he would be tranquil and at ease." Not he," returned the governess, nodding saga- ciously. Men like your father are not of those con- tent with little. He must be paramount. Such men fre bom to rule, to guide their fellows. He must be 0, or nothing." j But haven't you seen how his absorption has latterly increased ?" asked Gertrude, again. What Can be the cause ?" 41 If there is any trouble upon his mind connected with the affairs of his business, depend upon it, the trouble is one created by a man we both distrust." "Ah! that M. Parlandet!" exclaimed Gertrude, a repugnant expression flitting over her face as she spoke the name. chap 28, Precisely, my little one, the very man. That oily smooth, and plausible M. Parlandet, whom I believe, upon good grounds now, to be as false and wicked as » fiend. Nothing will remove from my mind the strong impression that some new rascality of his weighs upon your father's spirits. Nothing will in- duce me to think that a recent misfortune, which we both deplore, does not owe the misery it contains to bim. Stay, little one, see-who comes here ?" An elderly person, dressed in black, wearing a widow's cap, had just appeared at the gate opening upon the path which led to the cottage. She un- latched the gate as Natalie spoke, and was going on towards the house when her eye caught the two figures geated beneath the trees. She stopped, hesitated an instant, looked at the two again, then turned off ftcross the lawn, and walked straight up to Natalie ftnd Gertrude. Miss van Flewker, I presume," said the stranger, addressing Gertrude. Gertrude bowed. It You do not know me, young lady, but I have beard much about you from my son. My name is White." 114 Mrs. White!" exclaimed Gertrude, springing up In happy surprise. Oh how glad I am to see you! pray, sit down. This lady is Mademoiselle Lagrange, py governess and dear friend." cc I imagined as much," returned the widow. I ftm happy to make mademoiselle's acquaintauce; my 'OD has spoken to me of hqr, also." w One moment, Madam White!" exclaimed Natalie, eagerly. Your son-it is of his return you come to tell us ?" The widow sadly shook her head. No ? Then, Gerty, dear, the belief I just expressed becomes a certainty. Tltat wretcll ParTandetfs the ma.n!" asserted Natalie, solemnly, though with some absence of logic, "It is upon this subject that I have taken'the noerty of calling," recommenced Mrs. White. I out i Bfegin to see my way, and we shall tia-P the arch-dissembler yet. Only a little patience. Continue, dear Madam White, continue, if you please." chap 28 And Mrs. White went on until she had completed her account. The only part that she suppressed was the impression made upon Parlandet by the sight of Chrissy. Thi; was evidently not important, and would bave been unintelligible without her acquainting her bearers with the nature of Parlandet's secret. What this was, a feeling of true womanly delicacy rendered 1 her unwilling to reveal. „.§hs_ jjad^ kept it from her
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own daughter. Why should she not feel equal respect for the virgin mind that listened now to what she had to tell ? When I repeated this to M. Kleckser," she con- cluded, he scouted indignantly the notion of the story containing a particle of truth. His belief was the same that you have just expressed-that the tale was invented by M. Parlandet to avert suspicion from himself. We should have been convinced at once if we had known then that M. van Flewker was not the last person who saw my boy." Ah, M. Kleckser is also our colleague!" exclaimed the governess. That is fortunate. We shall require a male assistant in what we have to do. What pity that he is not at the moment here." She had scarcely spoken the words, when, by one of those singular coincidences that happen occasionally in real life as well as in fiction, the German's figure appeared at the garden gate. He carried a large, black leather bag, and raised his hat when he observed the ladies. But that is charming!" ejaculated Natalie, ex- ultingly. as she perceived their new ally. "See, little one, heaven smiles upon our endeavours. Could any omen be more propitious for success M. Kleckser," she called across the lawn, "we shall be glad of your company here when you have got rid of your load." Kleckser nodded. He had been despatched by Van Flewker to bring down some books and papers which the merchant intended to examine, and was to remain at the cottage during the evening, to afford any assistance or explanation that might be required. He delivered his bag to a servant, with directions to take it into the study, and joined the group upon the lawn. A few words made Kleckser well-informed as to the points in discussion; and Mademoiselle Lagrange con- tinued :— chap 28 We have now to consider by what motive, further than that of averting suspicion, this man could have been actuated. I confess that, to my mind, the motive dues not appear sufficiently strong. The step is at once too hazardous and too daring for him to have adopted it without some more powerful reasons." chap 28 I am of de same opinion now as Mademoiselle Lagrange," said Klecksw. Pari— as Vp call dis in. tivitual in de office —is too prent a, coward, morally as vel! as physically, to venture upon suck a risk mitout goot grounts." You must recollect," observed Mrs. White, "that he attempted to dissuade me from asking anexplana- tion from the person he accused." Still, mithout he metitated some polder stroke, he vould not v-n: ure," returned Kleckser. I know de fellow petter dan you, dear Mrs. Vhite, and I am sure he has some burbose in view, vJiich, at present, ve do not see. His accusation vas bart of a deep-laidblan. You vill agree mit me vhen you hear vhat I have to ted." Kleckser proceeded to narrate the conversation which had taken place between himself and M. Par- landet at the Elephant's Tusk," and concluded— All dis, you see, boints 1o some vily scheme." We are clearly agreed, then," said Mademoiselle Lagrange, about the oharacter of M. Parlandet at this present time. Before we continue our consulta- tion, I will keep the promise I made just now, of telling what I know about this man's previous career." Her hearers looked at one another in surprise. The interest which Natalie had manifested in the conver- sation from the moment it commenced had grown and increased, until it had entirely divested her manner of its habitual self-imposed calm. By degrees, as you have seen, she took the lead in all that passed. Gradually even her voice had changed, losing all traces of its ordinary foreign accent. The idioms in which she usually spoke had given place to pure and fluent English. It seemed almost as if the latter were her native tongue, casting off the bonds of years and custom, and breaking its way to the surface with un. concious but irresistible force. Natalie paused a moment, as if to collect hei thoughts, and then began. CHAPTER XXIX. THE STOBY OF NATALIE LAGRANGE. "Myemployer and this dear child, my pupil," began the governess, have always considered me to be a Frenchwoman. My Gerty will learn now, for the first time, that I am a countrywoman of Madam White. My father, Gustave Lagrange, was a Swiss, born in the neighbourhood of Geneva. He was the son of the pastor of the commune, and was intended by his father to succeed him in his office. But he was a youth of an adventurous turn of mind, eager to see the world and to travel. He had received a good education, and determined to make it the means upon which he would depend. He travelled through Germany, -teaching French and Italian. Thence, after a few years, he went to Paris, where he gave lessons in German. When his restless spirit would no longer allow him to remain in France, he came to England, and obtained a situation as teacher of foreign languages in a boarding school of good repute for boys, at Kewick, in Cumberland. "The head-master of the school was a Mr. Walton." Who ?" exclaimed Mrs. White, with a start. What name did you say, mademoiselle ?" Walton, Madam White," replied Natalie. Did you know him ?" Mrs. White seemed strangely moved. I—I think I have heard the name," she said. Go on-I will tell you presently what startled me." "Mr. Walton," continued Mademoiselle Lagrange, was a widower; but his house was kept by two daughters, Lydia. and Mabel, sixteen and nineteen years of age. The school required the services of several masters, who all lived in the principal's house. They took it by turns to keep order at the meals of the pupils, those not engaged in this duty sharing Mr. Walton's table. Of an evening, after the boys had retired, the principal, with his daughters and the masters, formed a family circle. My father, who was still young and impression- able soon conceived an attachment for the younger sister, Mabel. His passion was returned by the lady; but when represented to Mr. Walton, its avowal was unfavourably received. My father wrote to Mabel, urging upon her the arguments love has always urged against opposition, proposing to her to leave her father's house with him, and they would share the joys and face the troubles of life together Mabel yielded to her lover's prayer so far as to arrange an interview, though, as I firmly believe, with the intention of trying to persuade him to abandon his design. Vain hope! My father bore down her arguments and prayers, to wait ia patience,
ana trust ror nappier nmes. t'rs rrvs prws ovat Mabel's scruples, and she consented to unite her fate with his. She fled with my father, and the two arrived in Lorn on. There they were married." Mrs. White had followed the progress of the nar- rative with a strained attention, painful to behold. v An exclamation of hearty thankfulness burst from her lips when Natalie spoke the last few words. AU turned towards her in surprise. She signed to the governess to continue her story. When the irrevocable step was taken, Mabel wrote to her father, entreating his forgiveness. Her letter was returned unopened, wrapped in a slip of paper which contained these words: When Mabel Walton abused her father's confidence, and clandestinely left his house, his heart closed itsoif against her. He can only acknowledge as his daughter an obedient :hild. My mother never forgot this cruel taunt. It burnt itself in upon her heart as if it had been of glowing steel. Often and often, wHe telling me the story of her life, and of her firf, acquaintance with my father, she has wept bitter ten cs at the recol- lection that from the hour in which she r rad those lines she heard no syllable from home. For, foiled in her afforts to obtain her father's pardon, she wrote to her sister, but an answer never came. "My parents lived in London several years. Within twelve months from the time of their marriage I was born. My father succeeded in obtaining some en- gagements to teach at schools, which, together with the income derived from a few private pupils, formed our sole resource. We were poor, but we were happy, though it was a laborious life. The affection subsist- ing between my parents was so genuine and true, that it carried them in triumph over the pressure of narrow means. When I was about twelve years old, my father, who was an enthusiastic politician, became connected with a number of French refugees. These men were mostly old Bonapartists who had served in the wars of the empire, and had fled to England after their master's fall. They introduced my father to a club which held its meetings in the neighbourhood of Leicester Square; they managed to enlist his sym- pathies in peir cause, and, finally, wanting a trusty agent to pursue their schemes in France persuaded him to removerfo Paris. To Paris, therefore, towards the end of 1828, w& accordingly went. The letters with which my father was furnished procured him introductions to abundant employment in his old profession in the French capital, and within a short period his time was fully occupied, and to far greater profit than he had ever known. "Gratitude to his exiled friends, as well as his own ardent sympathy with their political views, caused my father to devote all his energips to the revolutionary cause. There wererumours, fven then, that Charles X. would not die monarch of the French. One of the most devoted workers to hurl him from his uneasy throne was my father. Early and late, among all classes and conditions ot men,'he laboured to gain adherents. His efforts were crowned with fatal success. At length the long-waited-for day arrived. The insurrection of July broke out. My father, enthu- siastic and brave, was one of the first to man a barri- cade—one of the first, alas! to pour forth the life- blood of his generous heart! chap 29 The head of our household gone, our short-lived prosperity died with him. For a few months we subsisted upon the little savings my parents had laid, by. This exhausted, we lived a few months longer upon the sale of our furniture. But the day came when this resource, too, was at an end, and famine stared us in the face. What should we do ? My mother took to the distressed woman's resort-that tiny bar of steel which is, like fire, so excellent a servant, so cruel and relentless a taskmistress-and tried to earn a pittance as a seamstress. God help the widow and the orphan A slender needle was all that stood between us and starvation. "I aided my mother all I could in her desperate fight for bread. But labour as hard as we would, we failed. We worked incessantly, and yet we almost starved. Still, we struggled on-we two poor feeble creatures-for how long do you think ? For nine years-nine wretched, weary, monotonous, kill- ing years. I learnt from this how much misery even the weakest can endure and live. One gloomy evening late in Novembpr-it was the 19th; I shall never forget the date-my mother sent'me to the milliner's with work upon which we had been employed unceasingly for twenty hours. It must be delivered that evening, for we wanted bread. I gave in the sewing, received the payment, hastened to buy what we required, and hurried home. I should have mentioned that we lived in the topmost story of a high house in a poor neighbour- hood. There was another room opposite to ours upon the same landing, but it was not inhabited, and its door was secured by a padlock. Unless coming from or going to our apartment, no one was likely to ascend so high. Judge, therefore of my surprise when, as I was half-way up the last stair- case a man descending, brushed rudely past me. The evening was dark, and the stairs were faintly lighted by a single lamp, that waned and flickered in the constant draught. I had only a very im- perfect glimpse of the person who came down the stairs, but there are states of body in which a glimpse photographs a figure or a countenance upon the mind as clearly as years. That man's face is before me while I speak. He was young, of dark com- plexion, beardless, with black eyes and hair. He passed me hastily, and was out of sight in an in- stant. What could bave been his e?|and to our humble home. chap 29 "Filled with curiosity and vague misgiving, I hurried up and burst into our room. It was dark and silent. I held my breath and listened. Not a sound broke the stillness. What new misfortune could have occurred ? I called my mother. No one answered. I felt around the room. My touch en- countered the familiar articles of furniture, but not a living form. I groped my way to the mantelpiece, where I found materials to kindle a light. With shaking hands I managed to procure a blaze, and casting a fearful gaze around beheld my darling mother, wounded and bleeding, lying senseless atmy feet. chap 29 I raised her up, and got her, somehow, on the bed. Despair must have lent me strength, or I could never have moved even her wasted form. I used every means I could think of to restore her senses, stanched the blood still flowing freely from that cruel wound, and was at last rewarded by seeing a faint smile steal to her lips as she recognised my face. Before I had time to ask what had happened, a noise behind made me suddenly turn. I saw then that the window, opening on to the roof, was