Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival Detectives
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Up to that moment the name of Arthur Pearson, and that long-ago tragedy of the prairies, had not been mentioned, and Papa believed that the killing of Siebel, with, perhaps, the stealing of little Daisy, were, in the eyes of the law, his only crimes. But when Walter Parks stood forth and pierced him through and through with his searching eyes, Papa recognized him at once, and fairly shrieked with fear.
And when he learned from Richard Stanhope, how Franz Francoise met his death, and that it was his sonТs dying words which condemned him, he threw himself before his accusers in a paroxysm of abject terror, and confessed himself the murderer they already knew him to be.
But Mamma was made of other timber. When consigned to her cell, she was silent and sullen until, in compliance with StanhopeТs instructions, they attempted to take from her the belt she wore. Then her rage was terrible, and her resistance damaging to the countenances and garments of those who sought to control her.
She received Richard Stanhope with such a burst of fury, that restraint became necessary; and even when she sat bound and helpless before her accusers, her struggles were furious, and her imprecations, shrieked out between frothing lips, were horrible to hear.
When she saw Walter Parks, she seemed to guess why he was there. And when she knew all: that Franz Francoise was surely dead, and how he died; that Papa had confessed everything; that John Ainsworth had come back to claim his daughter, and lavish upon her his love and fortune Ц her ravings broke out afresh. She was frightful to see, and dangerous to all who ventured to approach. So they treated her as a mad woman, and for many days Mamma hurled unheard imprecations at her cowardly spouse, and cursed Richard Stanhope, arrayed in a strait-jacket.
But she was non-committal, baffling, from first to last. She would admit nothing, explain nothing, confess nothing. She defied them all.
On the following morning, at the Warburton Mansion, a happy group assembled to hear, from Mr. Follingsbee, all that was not already known to them of StanhopeТs story.
How it was told, let the reader, who knows all, and knows Mr. Follingsbee, imagine.
Leslie was there, fair and pale, robed once more in the soft, rich garments that so well became her. Alan was there, handsome and humble. He had made, so far as he could in words, manly amends to Leslie, and she had forgiven him freely at last. Winnie too, was there, obstinately avoiding AlanТs glance, and keeping close to Leslie. Mrs. French was there, smiling and motherly. And little Daisy was there, the centre of their loving glances.
In her childish way, the little one had told all that she could of her captivity.
She had gone to sleep upon the balcony of her PapaТs house and in the arms of УMother Goose.Ф She had awakened in a big, dark room, whose windows were tightly shuttered, and where she could see nothing but a tiny bit of sky.A negress, who frightened her very much, had brought her food, and sat in the room sometimes. She had been lonely, terrified, desolate.
The little that she could tell threw no light upon the mystery of her hiding-place, but it was all that they ever knew.
УI used to pray and pray,Ф said Daisy, Уbut God didnТt seem to hear me at all. And when I woke in that little room that smelled so bad Ц it was worse than the other Ц I just felt I must make God hear, so I prayed, oh, so loud, and then the door broke in, and that nice, funny man picked me up, and there was Mamma; and only think! God might have let me out long before if I had only prayed loud enough.Ф
When Leslie learned her own story, and was brought face to face with her father, her cup of joy was full indeed. She was at anchor at last, with some one to love her beyond all others; with some one to love and to render happy.
УOh,Ф she said, Уto know that my dear adopted parents were after all my own kindred; my uncle and my aunt! What caprice of their evil natures prompted those wretches to do me this one kindness?Ф
УThey knew where to find the Ulimans,Ф said her father, Уand knew that they were wealthy. It was the easiest way to dispose of you.Ф
УI suppose so,Ф she assented, sighing as she thought of those dear ones dead; smiling again as she looked in the face of her new-found father.
In the present confidence, the happiness and peace, that surrounded her, Winnie French could not continue her perverse role, nor, indeed, was Alan the man to permit it. She had let him see into her heart, in that moment when he had seemed in such deadly peril, and he smiled down her pretty after-defiance.
УYou shall not recant,Ф he said laughingly; Уfor your own sake, I dare not allow it. A young woman who so rashly espouses the cause of a swain, simply because he has the prospect of a pair of handcuffs staring him in the face, is unreliable, sadly out of balance. She needs a guardian and I Ц Ф
УNeed an occupation,Ф retorted Winnie, maliciously. УDonТt doom yourself to gray hairs, sir; repent.Ф
УItТs too late,Ф he declared; and they ceased to argue the question.
They would have feted Stanhope and made much of him at Warburton Place, for Alan did not hesitate to pronounce such a man the peer of any. But the young detective was perversely shy.
He came one day, and received LeslieТs thanks and praises, blushing furiously the while, and conducting himself in anything but a courageous manner. Once he accepted AlanТs invitation to a dinner, in which the Follingsbees, Mr. Parks and Mr. Ainsworth participated. But he took no further advantages of their cordially-extended hospitality, and he went about his duties, not quite the same Dick Stanhope as of yore.
On her part, Leslie was very reticent when Stanhope and his exploits were the subject of discussion, although, when she spoke of him, it was always as the best and bravest of men.
УParks talks of returning to England,Ф said her father one day at luncheon, Уand he wants Stanhope to go with him.Ф
УWill he go?Ф asked Alan, in a tone of interest.
УI hope not; at least not until I have time to bring him to his senses.Ф
УWhy, Papa!Ф ejaculates Leslie.
УHas our Mr. Stanhope lost his senses, uncle?Ф queries little Daisy anxiously.
УYou shall judge, my dear. He has refused, with unyielding firmness, to accept from me anything in token of my gratitude for the magnificent service he has rendered us.Ф
УAnd,Ф added Alan, Уhe has refused my overtures with equal stubbornness.Ф
УBut he has accepted the splendid reward promise by Mr. Parks, has he not?Ф queries Mrs. French.
УThat, of course; he was bound to do that,Ф said Mr. Ainsworth, discontentedly. УAnd in some way I must make him accept something from me. Leslie, my dear, canТt you manage him?Ф
УI fear not, Papa.Ф And Leslie blushed as she caught WinnieТs laughing eye fixed upon her. УI donТt think Mr. Stanhope is a man to be managed.Ф
УNonsense, Leslie,Ф cries Winnie. УHeТs afraid of a woman; he blushes when you speak to him.Ф
УDid he blush,Ф queried Leslie maliciously, Уwhen you embraced him that night of the masquerade?Ф
In the midst of their laughter, Winnie was mute.
One day, some weeks after the denouement, Stanhope, sauntering down a quiet street, met Van Vernet.
УStop, Van,Ф he said, as the other was about to pass; УdonТt go by me in this unfriendly fashion, if only for appearanceТs sake. How do you get on?Ф
УAs usual,Ф replied Vernet indifferently, and looking Stanhope steadily in the face. УAnd you? somehow you look too sober for a man who holds all the winning-cards.Ф
УI donТt hold all the winning-cards, Van. Indeed, IТm inclined to think that IТve lost more than IТve won.Ф
Vernet continued to regard him steadily and after a moment of silence, he said quietly:
УLook here, Dick, IТm not prepared to say that I quite forgive you for outwitting me Ц I donТt forgive myself for being beaten Ц but one good turn deserves another, and you did me a very good turn at the end. YouТve won a great game, but IТm afraid you are going to close it with a blunder.Ф
УA blunder, Van?Ф
УYes, a blunder. You have devoted yourself, heart and soul, to a pretty woman, and you are just the man to fall in love with her.Ф
УTake care, Van.Ф
УOh, I know what I am saying. On the day of our meeting at Warburton Place Ц the last meeting, I mean, when you figured as Franz Francoise Ц I saw what you missed. You may think that I was hardly in a state of mind for taking observations, but, in truth, my senses were never more intensely alert than while I stood there dumbly realizing the overthrow of all my plans. And I saw love, unmistakable love, shining upon you from a womanТs eyes.Ф
УVan, you are mad!Ф
УNot at all. ItТs a natural termination to such an affair. Why, man, you are deservedly a hero in her eyes. DonТt be overmodest, Dick. If you care for this woman, you can win her.Ф
He turned with these words, passed his amazed listener, and walked on. And Stanhope resumed his saunter, looking like a man in a dream.
That evening he made his first voluntary call at Warburton place.
Alan and Winnie, two months later, were married, and Stanhope was among the wedding-guests.
УWarburton Place will have a new mistress, Mr. Stanhope,Ф Leslie said to him. УI am going to abdicate in WinnieТs favor.Ф
УEntirely, Mrs. Warburton?Ф
УEntirely; I have fought it out, and I have conquered, after a hard struggle. Alan and Winnie, when they return, will reign here. Papa and I are already preparing our new home. We shall not be far away, and we will divide Daisy between us.Ф
Later in the evening, Mrs. Follingsbee captured him and inquired:
УHave you heard LeslieТs last bit of Quixotism?Ф
УShe has made this house over to Winnie as a bridal gift. And every dollar of her husbandТs legacy she has set aside for Daisy Warburton.Ф
УIТm glad of it,Ф blurted out Stanhope; and then he colored hotly and bit his lips.
When Alan and his fair little bride were installed as master and mistress of Warburton Place, Leslie and her father received their friends in a new home. It was not so large as the mansion Leslie had Уabdicated;Ф not so grand and stately; but it was elegant, dainty, homelike.
УIt suits me better,Ф said Leslie to Stanhope. УThe other was too grand. Winnie can throw upon her mother the burden of its stateliness, and Mrs. French will make a charming dowager. I am going to leave my past behind in the old home; and begin a new life in this.Ф
УAre you going to leave me behind, with the rest of your past?Ф he asked.
УNo,Ф she said smilingly, Уyou have not lost your value; and if I should turn you out, fresh troubles would arise. I should have to contend with Daisy, and Papa too.Ф
And indeed Daisy had given him a prominent place in her affections.
УSome of my friends,Ф he said after a pause, Уare advising me to abandon the Agency, and embark in some quieter enterprise.Ф
УDo you mean that they wish you to give up your profession? to cease to be a detective?Ф
УAnd what did you answer?Ф
УI am seeking advice; give it me.Ф
УAny man may be a tradesman,Ф she said slowly. УNine tenths of mankind can be or are doctors, lawyers, clergymen. The men who possess the skill, the sagacity, and the courage to do what you have done, what you can do again, are very few. To restore lost little ones; to reunite families; to bring criminals to justice, and to defeat injustice,†Ц what occupation can be nobler! If I were such a detective as you, I would never cease to exercise my best gifts.Ф
УI never will,Ф he said, taking her hand in his.
Months passed on; winter went and summer came. Walter Parks lingered in America, his society dearly valued by John Ainsworth and Mr. Follingsbee, his presence always a welcome one in LeslieТs dainty parlors, and at Warburton Place. Winnie, who had been a saucy sweetheart and piquant bride, had become a sweetly winsome wife. John Ainsworth was renewing his youth; and Leslie, having passed the period of her widowhood, once more opened her doors to society.
Richard Stanhope had become a frequent and welcome guest at LeslieТs home, and all his visits little Daisy appropriated at once to herself. Indeed she and Stanhope stood upon a wondrously confidential footing.
УNext month comes MammaТs birthday,Ф said Daisy to him one day, when she sat upon his knee in LeslieТs pretty flower-decked room. УWeТre going to have a festival, and give her lots of presents. Are you going to give her a present, Mr. Stanhope?Ф
УI donТt know,Ф he said, looking over at Leslie; Уyour Mamma is such a very particular lady, Daisy, that she might be too proud to accept my offering.Ф
УWhy,Ф cried the child, УthatТs just what Uncle Ainsworth says about you: that you are too proud to take a gift from him, and it vexes him, too.Ф
УDaisy, Daisy!Ф cried Leslie, holding up a warning finger.
УYour uncle is a very unreasonable man, Daisy,Ф laughed Stanhope. УNow tell me, do you think I had better offer your Mamma a birthday present?Ф
УWhyФ Ц and Daisy opened wide her blue eyes Ц УUncle Alan says that everybody who loves Mamma will remember her birthday. DonТt you love my Mamma?Ф
УYes,Ф said Stanhope slowly, and fixing his eyes upon LeslieТs face, УI love her very much.Ф
LeslieТs cheeks were suffused with blushes, and she sat quite silent, with downcast eyes.
УDaisy,Ф said Stanhope, putting the child down quickly, Уgo to your uncle Ainsworth, and tell him that I have changed my mind; that I want the best part of his fortune. Run, dear.Ф
And as the child flew from the room, he rose and stood before Leslie.
УIf your father yields to my demand,Ф he said softly, Уwhat will be your verdict?Ф
A moment of stillness. Then she lifts her brown eyes to his, a smile breaking through her blushes.
УA man of your calling,Ф she said, Уshould have guessed that long ago!Ф
Papa Francoise never came to trial. His terror overcame his reason, and in his insanity he did what he never would have found the courage to do had he retained his senses. He hanged himself in his prison cell.
But Mamma lived on. Through her trial she raved and cursed; and she went to a life-long imprisonment raving and cursing still. Her viciousness increased with her length of days. She was the black sheep of the prison. Nothing could break her temper or curb her tongue. She was feared and hated even there. Hard labor, solitary confinement, severe punishment, all failed, and she was at last confined in a solitary cell, to rave out her life there and fret the walls with her impotent rage.
Millie, the faithful incompetent, remained in LeslieТs service until she went to a home of her own, bestowed upon her by a good-looking and industrious young mechanic.
Nance, the one-time drunkard, became the object of LeslieТs pitying care, and did not relapse into her former poverty and evil habits.
The Follingsbees, the Warburtons Ц all these who had been drawn together by trials and afflictions Ц remained an unbroken coterie of friends, who never ceased to chant StanhopeТs praises.
And little Daisy passed the years of her childhood in the firm belief that,
УGod will do anything you want him to, if you only pray loud enough.Ф
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