George Fenn.

Blind Policy





Dazzled as I was by the wealth and show, I suppose, said Mrs Dennis, coldly. But we are their wives, and must bear our lot.

It is easy for you, Hester, said Mrs James, clinging to her sister-in-law now. Paddy is always manly and kind. He is never like James.

No, said the lady addressed. I could not No, no, dont lets talk about that. There, there, dear; believe me, it would be best to try and wean him from her. Some day there may be a great change. I believe that sooner or later Rob and Marion will break away.

Or James and Marion, said her sister-in-law, bitterly.

No, no. Try and be just, dear, and do all you can to win Jem from his wretched madness. We want no more terrible quarrels. Next time someone else might suffer from a pistol shot, and then

You mean James, cried his wife, with a spasmodic movement of her hand to her breast.

Yes, said Mrs Dennis, I mean James. Rob would certainly resent it fiercely.

The unhappy wife turned pale, and shivered as she walked away. Meanwhile, in accordance with her plans, Marion drove by a cross road to the pleasant little Kentish town half a dozen miles away, pulled up at the station, and on alighting handed the reins to the young groom, told him to wait for an hour, and if she were not back by the next train to drive home.

Then entering the station she took a ticket for London, too deeply intent upon her own thoughts to notice who followed her into the office; and as soon as the train drew up, she stepped into an empty compartment and drew up the glasses, to go on thinking out her further proceedings, for her mind was now made up.

She had ample means, her brother having well provided her with a banking account of her own, and her intention was to go straight to the town house, pack up a couple of trunks, and take the night boat for Dieppe, and thence go on to Switzerland, where she could extend her projects, though where she went mattered little so long as she could avoid another meeting with her pursuer.

The train was gathering speed for its straight run on to the terminus, and she was congratulating herself upon her decision, and then thinking that there was only one difficulty in her way the opposition which might arise on the part of the old housekeeper. But she concluded that a little firmness would suffice; if not, a frank avowal of the dangers she foresaw would win the old woman to her side, and then, once free from the trammels which surrounded her, she would perhaps regain her peace of mind, so broken since that terrible night when she fetched Chester to her brother.

And he will soon forget me and return to her who is his by right, and then

She uttered a wild cry of alarm and shrank back for a moment or two in the corner of the compartment, for, in spite of the great speed at which they were going, the carriage window on her left was suddenly darkened, the door thrown open, and a man climbed in, fastening the door again, and then sinking panting upon the opposite seat.

You here? she cried wildly.

Oh! what madness!

Yes, hardly the work of a sane man, with a train going at express speed.

You might have been killed! cried Marion, trying hard to be firm, and descending to commonplaces.

Yes, it seemed very likely once, for the carriages were a good way apart; but if I had been, what then? Not the first man who has died for a womans sake.

Why have you come? she said hurriedly.

Why have I come? he replied contemptuously. You ask that! Well, let me tell you; because I knew that sooner or later you would try to elude me; and I have watched night and day to prevent that. Correct me if I am wrong; my heart tells me that you are going up to town to avoid me, and are then going further to be where I cannot find you. Am I correct?

Yes, quite, she replied gravely. I did not know that I was so weak. I know it now, and, as I have told you, we must never meet again.

I will not argue with you, he said, only tell you once more that you take a womans view of imaginary danger. I take that of a man determined to sacrifice life sooner than lose sight of you again a poor stake, perhaps, for without you it is a worthless thing, but it is all I have.

She sighed and he saw that her face grew harder, as she avoided his gaze and sat looking out of the window in silence.

Do I understand you, she said at last, that you mean to follow me?

To the worlds end, he cried.

Is his manly, to force yourself upon a helpless woman?

No; it is despicable perhaps, but I am lost now to reason. You are everything to me; to be near you is to live to lose sight of you is to die. You are my fate, and you draw me to your side.

To your ruin, perhaps to your death, she said wildly. You must have grasped what kind of men my relatives are. You must have seen what risk you run.

Yes, I have seen and thought out all this, but it is as nothing to your love.

And would you see me suffer through your folly and imprudence?

I would give anything to spare you suffering.

Then leave me before my agony becomes too great to bear.

I can not! he cried. Drive me from you, and when I find that all hope is gone, then I will seek for rest.

What! she cried.

He shrugged his shoulders.

I am no boasting boy, he said sadly. Everything to make life worth living will be gone, and an easy painless death beckoning me on. I am a doctor, I have but to go home, and there it is, to my hand.

She said nothing, but sank back in the corner of the carriage, covering her face with her hands; and he saw that her breast was heaving with the painful sobs struggling for exit.

He bent over towards her, and touched her arm.

Marion, he whispered.

She started from him as if she had been stung, and her eyes flashed as her hands fell into her lap.

Dont touch me! she said wildly. You are mad.

The train sped on rapidly, taking them nearer and nearer to their fate, as both sat back in silence now she trembling, battling with her heart in her struggle to devise some means of escaping him, he sinking into a dull, stolid state of determination, for, come what might, he was resolved never to leave her now.

At last the train slowed up to the station where the tickets were taken, and Marion handed hers.

I have no ticket, said Chester, quietly, handing the man a sovereign. I had not time to go to the booking-office. I got in at Bineleigh. This lady will bear me out.

The man quickly wrote a receipt and handed it with the change. Then the train glided on once more, and in a few minutes they were in the great terminus.

You have no carriage waiting? Chester asked.

No, she said quietly; Ill take a cab.

Chester summoned one, and handed her in.

Where do you wish to be driven? he said.

Home.

May I come with you, or must I follow in another cab? he asked.

I am at your mercy, Dr Chester, she replied sadly.

He hesitated for a moment, then told the driver the name and number of the street, and sprang in.

Marion drew a deep catching breath as he took his seat by her side, and then remained silent till they reached the familiar doorway. Here, in the most matter-of-fact way, Chester alighted and handed out his companion and they walked up to the door together, Chester reaching out to pull the bell.

No, she said, speaking in a quick, startled tone of voice, and he looked at her wonderingly, for she opened the door with a latch-key, stepped in, holding the door with one hand and extending the other.

Now, she said firmly, good-bye.

For answer he stepped forward with a smile, but not to take her hand. He pressed the door gently, but with sufficient force to make her give way, and his foot was on the step.

No, no, for pitys sake! she almost moaned; it may mean your death.

Well, better that than an empty life, he cried, as she slowly gave way, mastered by the force that held her in its strange power. The next minute the door was closed, and they stood together in the great, dim hall.

He saw that she was struggling to be firm, but a wave of triumphant joy carried him on, for he knew that he had won.

My own! he whispered passionately; at last! at last! and he clasped her in his arms.

No, no! she cried, making one last effort for the supremacy; and, thrusting him violently away, she turned and fled towards the end of the hall, darted through the open doorway into the great darkened dining-room and tried to shut the door.

But he was too close, and this time he caught her in his arms, raised her from the carpet, to bear her to the couch that had borne her wounded brother for so long, and there, letting her sink down, dropped upon his knees at her feet.

The room was very dim, the electric light being only slightly raised, but he could see her half-closed eyes and trembling lips, as she bent over towards him now till her brow rested upon his shoulder.

This is not death, but life, he whispered passionately. Tell me, you were going to escape from me?

Yes.

Where were you going?

Abroad Switzerland.

When?

To-night.

Yes, to-night, he said softly, and I with you, dearest. Your slave yourself one with you always. Marion, we must never part again.

Never part again, she whispered back, as his lips sought hers. You have mastered. I can resist no more; take me, dearest I am yours. But we must go at once. At any moment they may return.

Who may? Your brother and James Clareborough?

Yes. Come away.

To the worlds end with you, he whispered, but she uttered a cry and sprang to her feet.

What is it? he whispered.

Didnt you hear? Come.

She led the way quickly into the hall, and the voices her preternaturally sharpened hearing had detected came from below.

Marion caught Chesters hand and ran with him towards the great front door, which they had almost reached, when there was a sharp, quick rattling sound before them and the dull movement of feet upon the stone step.

The next moment the door was opening towards them.

Hemmed in, with peril on either hand.

Chapter Twenty Nine.
Light in Darkness

As Chester turned to face what he knew must prove to be a desperate encounter, Marion snatched at his wrist.

Quick! she whispered, and hurried with him through a door on their right, which led into a library with two windows facing the street; but the shutters were closed and the place was dimly lit by four diamond-shaped holes cut in their top panels, each of which sent a broad white ray across the room, to strike upon the end nearest the door, and to avoid their light Marion led him quickly close up into one corner by the window curtain.

They had hardly taken refuge there, to stand close together, when a hand struck the panel a sharp pat, and gave the door, which had gently swung to, a thrust which sent it back against the stop.

Come in here, said James Clareborough in a low, surly voice; and Chester felt his companion shiver, and the blood surged to his brain as he dimly saw the shadowy figures of four men enter the room, three of whom took chairs and threw themselves into them, the other standing against a book-case with a dull patch of light from the window shutters striking full upon his breast, about which his hand kept on playing nervously.

It seemed to Chester that it was only a matter of moments before they would be seen; but so far the party were unconscious of their presence, and a couple of dull red spots of light waxed and waned as the aromatic fumes of cigar smoke began to pervade the room.

Throw open one of the shutters, uncle, cried James Clareborough, hoarsely.

No, no, half shouted a voice which Chester recognised at once as that of his old patient.

What! Why? cried James Clareborough, and the violent throbbing of Chesters heart grew less painful as he heard Robert Clareboroughs reply

Because if ever men wanted the darkness it is now.

It was a respite, for no one uttered a word for a few moments. Then in a low, angry voice, James Clareborough spoke again, and, with his every nerve on the strain, Chester noted that he took his glowing cigar from his lips and held it down between his knees.

Curse them! Who would ever have thought of the fools attempting that?

Wheres your wife, uncle? said a voice which made the hand with which Marion clung to Chesters wrist give a slight twitch.

Upstairs, lying down, my boy, said another voice, and it was Chesters turn to start as he recognised it as one he had heard before, though he could not make out where.

Is she much hurt? said Robert Clareborough.

More frightened than hurt, said the same voice. Of course it is a terrible shock.

Horrible! Here, this must be the end of it. What do you say, Paddy?

Confound it! yes. Im sick.

Will you stop this cursed preaching, Rob? snarled James Clareborough. You fools! You know there can be no end to it. What are you talking about? It was their own fault.

Ah! ejaculated Rob in a tone which made his sister shiver.

Look here, continued James Clareborough; are you two going to show the white feather? Take the case fairly, Paddy. Suppose this had been at The Towers in the night, and we came upon a couple of scoundrels with revolvers, mind! carrying off the girls jewellery, would either of you have hesitated about firing?

I suppose not, said Dennis, heavily, but it seemed such cold-blooded work.

Been more cold-blooded if they had dropped us two. Now, then, no nonsense; lets look the matter straight in the face. One thing is enough at a time. We can discuss Robs ideas of a dissolution of partnership later on, was added, with a sneer. Now, uncle; what about their coming? We had better have the old lady down.

No, let her be; she can tell you no more than I can. They must have asked for leave to come up as you were all away, and come straight here ready to pitch some tale, and your aunt unsuspectingly let them in. They must have set upon her, tied her fast, and carried her down.

Must, must, must! cried James Clareborough, impatiently. You were not here.

No, boy, but it tells its own tale. Arthur was dressed as if for a holiday, and the other fool too.

But what did it mean? said Rob, hoarsely; suspicion an effort to find out or robbery?

Robbery, my boy, for certain. They thought that they would get at the girls jewellery.

Yes, thats it, said James Clareborough, sharply; an interrupted burglary. Curse them! They had all the professional tools. Well, they wont want them any more.

Marion started, and Chester passed his arm round her as he felt her trembling violently. For something like light was beginning to dawn upon her a light which grew clearer as the thought of the butler asking leave for him and the footman to have a day in town, to see to some business, as the gentlemen were away. That morning at breakfast, and now

The light was growing hard, clear and ghastly.

Now, then, said James Clareborough, sharply, lets look the position in the face. Everything turns upon whether anyone knows beside ourselves that the hounds came here.

Yes, everything, assented the voice which puzzled Chester still. Would anyone know?

Is it likely? said James, cynically. They were coming on a burglarious expedition; they began by half killing the poor old aunt, and they were trapped trying to blow open the iron door. Is it probable that they would tell anyone they were coming here?

No; absurd, said Dennis, shortly.

But still

Will you hold your tongue, Rob? cried his cousin. Do you think they would have spoken?

No.

Then were safe in that direction, continued James Clareborough. The next question is, then, did anyone who knew them see them come to the house? The odds are a million to one that no one did, for they would take pretty good care that their faces were not seen as they stood waiting. Besides, where does the inquiry begin? Down yonder. We were away; they ask for a holiday of my wife; she gives them leave; and they come away and do not return. Their relatives, if the poor devils have any, may make inquiry, but it is doubtful. I daresay we shall find that the scoundrels have been plundering us, and at the worst we could prove this. There it is in a nut-shell. They have disappeared like hundreds more, and the world will never be any wiser.

A chill of horror ran through Chester as he listened to all this, and he was conscious that his companion hung more heavily upon his arm, as if about to faint.

The pale, ghastly light was growing broader and clearer now, and as he grasped the fact that he was being made the recipient of the acknowledgment of a terrible deed, he felt strongly, knowing as he did the character of one of the men present, how perilous his position was growing. A few minutes more, he had strung himself up for a sharp encounter with the relatives who had, as it were, surprised them in a secret meeting. There would, he felt, be angry words, there might be blows, but the Clareboroughs would not dare to proceed farther. Now matters had assumed a dangerous shape, and his thoughts went towards the fireplace as he felt that the necessity might arise for him to defend himself and his companion one against four.

His heart beat fast, but mingled with the feelings of alarm which would assail the stoutest in such a position, he felt thrill after thrill of delight. For Marion clung more tightly to him, as if trusting to his protection, and he mentally swore that he would protect her, come what might.

His thoughts came fast, but he had little time for musing; and as his arm tightened round his companion he listened eagerly for the next utterances of those who were grouped together some twenty feet away.

Well, said James Clareborough, after a pause, what have you all to say to that?

Chapter Thirty.
Love is Master

There was another pause, as if each of the other three waited for his companions to begin.

James has spoken very well, said the owner of the hands which Chester could see playing about his breast; and as he uttered these words he too sank into a chair, and the ray of light struck across his face for a brief space, one, though, sufficiently long for Chester to recognise the features of the quaint old bookworm upon whom he had called during his search for the house which had been the scene of such strange adventures.

Uncle! he thought to himself, as the old man went on

It seems to me that we have nothing to fear. It is our own secret. What do you say, Dennis, my dear boy?

It looks all right, curse it! said the young man, slowly. I cant see how anyone can find it out. All we have to do is to go on as we have before take care that everything is kept dark. What do you think, Rob, old man?

Think? cried the latter, sharply; and as he spoke Chester felt a quiver of excitement run through her whom he clasped. I think it is impossible to keep such a thing as this is quiet. Say what you like that it was in your own defence you fired, there are the mens pistols to prove it lying with their burgling tools; say that they were surprised in the act the marks on the iron door and their false keys will speak for that but we cant go on with it in the way you propose; the police must be called in.

You cursed fool! snarled James Clareborough. Bah! you always were an idiot and a hindrance to our enterprise. You could spend your share readily enough, but you were always like a log to drag at our heels.

My dear boy! cried the old professor, quickly, hush, please; there must be no quarrelling now; we have too much at stake.

Yes, hang it all, Jem! do keep that vitriol tongue of yours quiet, cried Dennis.

Who is to keep quiet when he listens to such idiotic drivel? Bring the police in set their detectives to examine the iron safe that they were trying to force to look at the jewels and plate stored up inside. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! he laughed discordantly. Has Rob any brains at all?

Yes, yes; he spoke without thinking, said the old man, eagerly. Rob, my dear lad, you see it is impossible.

Yes, Rob, old man, dont you see? growled Dennis. You cant say to the hounds of the law, You must stop your scent here. Why, it would, as they say, be blowing the whole gaff.

Well, let it, cried Robert, bitterly; let them find it out. Im sick of it all, and have been for years.

Then you must get well again, said James Clareborough, fiercely.

Yes, yes, he is upset, said the old man, quickly. Roberts never been himself since you fired at him, Jem. It was a mad act on your part; but there, there! dont lets open old sores. Let me speak. Rob, my dear boy, this is not a position in which a man can study self. We are all linked together in this business, and the one who talks of throwing it up talks of throwing his partners over. Think, my lad, of what it means. You cannot draw back. It is impossible. This is a most unhappy business, but the poor wretches brought their fate upon themselves. They have fallen in our battle of life, and there is that something to be done for all our sakes our wives and your sisters sake. They must not know of this.





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