Chapter XXIV.

Brought to Bay.

As the Superintendent had truly said, the effect of his intelligence upon the Earl was simply paralysing. In an hour the proud old man had become in appearance years older; his step, once firm and elastic, was hesitating and heavy, the brightness of his eye had dimmed, his head was bowed, and lines about his mouth and eyes were deeply graven, never to be effaced.

He had that morning risen with the intention of making preparations for the reception of the man who, he thought, was his lawful son. He had gone with that purpose to the apartments of Viscount Morleigh​—​the first time, indeed, he had visited them since the arrest of the young man. Here it was, in that room which has been before described as like an armoury, he received the paralysing news brought by Mr. Parkinson, and here he remained, after the departure of the official, motionless and silent, as if stunned by the blow.

Five minutes had passed, during which he sat with his head bent on his chest, and his eyes fixed on the floor. A slight tapping at the door failed to arouse him, and the visitor at length turned the handle and walked into the room.

It was Gerald Delanne.

The young man advanced within three feet of the Earl before the latter looked up. When he did so a change instantaneously spread itself over his features, and springing to his feet, his form as erect as ever, his eye flushing with its old fire, he cried in a loud voice​—​


Gerald involuntarily recoiled, but directly afterwards recovered his self-possession.

“My lord!” he exclaimed in a surprised tone.

“Scoundrel, I repeat. By heaven, come not a step further lest I be tempted to do you harm.”

There was a dead silence, during which the two men looked at each other with an intensity of expression which can only be imagined, not described.

Gerald was the first to break the spell.

“You speak in riddles, my lord,” said he in a cool voice. “Either you are mad or the victim of a gross deception.”

The Earl drew back a step, and darted a look of furious passion at the young man.

“Liar, murderer,” he hissed, “I am neither mad not have I been deceived, except by you. Have the kindness to read that document,” and he held out the paper left with him at his request by the Superintendent.

“I have no desire to waste time over such a childish concoction,” returned Gerald, contemptuously. “I am only surprised that a man of your lordship’s perception should be taken in by——”

“Silence,” interrupted the Earl sternly. “Within this hour I have been made acquainted with facts which show you to be as black-hearted a villain as ever trod the earth.”

“I am the son of your lordship,” he returned, a mocking smile wreathing his thin lips, which, by the way, during the last two minutes had become perfectly bloodless.

“Unhappily, yes,” rejoined the Earl quickly. “It did not need your insolence to remind me of it. Listen. To secure your brother’s birthright you concocted this devilish scheme. You first murdered this miserable woman, you trusted with diabolical ingenuity to fix the guilt on an innocent man, you were the cause of your own mother’s death, and you would have foisted yourself, an imposter and an assassin, upon me.”

Delanne’s face during the Earl’s recital underwent a marvellous change, the muscles quivered, the complexion turned livid, and the perspiration stood like beads upon his forehead. With an extraordinary effort, however, he preserved his calmness of tone, and he answered without a tremor in his voice​—​

“And what then, my lord?”

“That within an hour you will be arrested, and placed in the felon’s prison you so richly deserve.”

Delanne started violently, and clenching his fist he advanced a step.

“Then, my lord,” he said, his eyes glistening as he spoke, “I shall have to thank you​—​my father​—​for my death. It will be a pretty piece of scandal​—​the son of the proud Earl of Annesley, whose escutcheon has not a stain upon it, to be hanged by the common hangman.”

The Earl was pierced in the weakest part of his armour​—​his pride. For a moment he shielded his eyes, as if ashamed to show his weakness before Delanne. Then removing his hand, he said sternly​—​

“For a man of honour there is no way to wash out so deep a stain but by his own blood. Bravery alone can atone for the crime of which you have been guilty,” and he pointed to a side table on which stood an open case containing a pair of pistols.

“I understand you,” returned Delanne significantly, “and I may tell you at once that I have no intention of making such a fool of myself. My lord, it is useless beating about the bush any longer. I am a desperate man, and with the bloodhounds of the law at my heels I have no time to waste in recriminations. Let us understand each other. I have done all that you say. It was a bold stroke, but it has failed. Be it so. The question is, what is the result of the failure? My brother, of course, will be released, but you will gain nothing but dishonour by my death. Give me sufficient money, and in half-an-hour I disappear, never again to trouble you.”

He spoke with a concentrated energy which had its effect upon the Earl. But between his pride and his abhorrence of the cool villainy of Delanne there was a violent struggle, and the old nobleman naturally hesitated.

“How much will content you?” he asked at last, in a feeble tone.

“Not less than £5,000.”

The largeness of the amount staggered the Earl.

“I see you hesitate,” said Delanne, with a sardonic smile. “’Tis but a third of one year’s income​—​a liberal sum truly to save one’s son from the hangman.”

The word seemed to inspire the Earl with horror.

“Say no more,” he returned in a hoarse voice. “You shall have the money.”

He sat down to the table, took out his cheque book, and wrote a cheque.

“Here,” said he, with his face averted (he could not bear to look upon the miserable man), “is a cheque for £1,000; the rest shall be made payable at any place you choose to name on the Continent.”

“That will do,” returned Delanne, coolly folding up the cheque. “Say Paris.”

The Earl wrote a few words on a piece of paper, and handed it to Delanne.

“Present that at the agents of my bankers within a week, and the money will be paid.”

Delanne’s face wore a triumphant expression as he placed the cheque and the order within his pocket book.

“I can now defy the police,” he muttered with exultation. “Adieu, my lord,” he added sarcastically. “I have to thank you for my birth; it is only due to this,” and he tapped the pocket book, “that I have not to thank you also for my death,” and with an elaborate bow he quitted the room.

As he shut the door he heard the sound within as of a heavy fall, but his swift step never paused, and he hurried down the staircase, and the next moment was in the street.

The fresh air and the reaction had a curious effect upon him, and on getting outside he reeled for a moment or two like a drunken man.

“Bah,” he muttered, “I am a fool.”

He put his hand to his head and tried to think.

“Yes, the cheque. I must get it changed at once. That is the first thing.”

He hailed a passing cab, managed to crawl in somehow, cursing the driver meanwhile for having so high a step, and told him to drive at the top of his speed to Pall Mall, where were the offices of the Earl’s bankers.

The ride seemed to steady his nerves, and when he alighted he walked into the bank with tolerable steadiness. The money was paid without demur, and, with a thousand pounds in gold and notes, he once more stepped into the road.

Had any of his friends met him just now they would hardly have recognised him. It was as if a mask had dropped from his face. The ascetic look, the expression of cold superiority, had gone, leaving only blank despair and utter helplessness. The fever of the last fortnight which had sustained him had fled, and the sense of guilt and of complete failure was too much even for his stony heart. With his eyes glaring wildly, and as one in a dream, he walked towards Charing Cross, unconscious whither he was going, and it was only when he came in front of a public-house that he at all recovered himself.

He went in, and called for sixpennyworth of brandy, which he drank without any water, much to the astonishment of the barmaid, and throwing down the money boisterously, passed again into the street. The brandy to some extent strengthened him, but he still retained his trance-like state. He saw everything through the medium of his own distorted imagination. He shook with terror as a stolid-faced policemen passed him; he fancied every person he met glared meaningly at him; a harmless boy who asked him the time ran off with affright at the torrent of oaths he poured out; every moment he expected a hand to be laid upon his shoulder for his arrest.

And then the frenzy passed. He stopped, muttered something incoherently, and slowly the light of reason dawned in his eye.

“Let me think,” he murmured; “let me think.”

His mind was like to a man groping in the dark. Full of apprehension, nay, of terror, it was yet of a vague, of a nameless kind, and he could not summon the smallest idea to assist him to find the clue to that which haunted him.

A ghastly smile passed over his face.

“Ah, I have it now. I must disguise myself.”

This thought having possessed him, he searched the shops to find among them a hairdresser’s; but, with a strange contradiction, when he found one he dared not enter.

“No, no; they will be sure to think I should put on a false beard. I am better as I am.”

He retraced his steps towards Charing Cross, and at last mustered up sufficient courage to enter a tailor’s. He bought here a greatcoat and a travelling cap, and directed his hat to be packed and sent to an out-of-the-way country station on the Great Northern line, “to be left till called for;” and then, arrayed in his purchase, he sallied forth, feeling a little more secure now that he had changed his costume.

But he was still uncertain where to go, what to do. He bought a Bradshaw, and looked out the time when the night mail would start. The figures had a strange fascination for him, and he found himself looking out the times of starting for all kinds of places, to none of which, of course, he had the least intention of going.

So the afternoon passed. As the evening approached he grew calmer, for the darkness seemed to him in some sort to be a security. At intervals during the day, in the midst of his most horrible thoughts, and even when his terrors most impressed him, he had seen one face, syren-like, smiling at him, and, as it were, drawing him on with her glance. While it was light, and while he had a kind of companionship in the moving throng, he had resisted the impulse which would have led him to her who had been his ruin, but now that the day was fading he felt an intense abhorrence of his own presence. He could not pass the long hours of the night alone, and, heedless that he had resolved to go by the night mail to Paris, he determined to set out to Devonshire Road at all hazards, and, if possible, prevail upon Lucie to fly with him.

“She likes Paris better than London,” he thought. “She will go with me, I am certain. What matter if she does not love me? I love her. I cannot live without her.”

But in the midst of his passion came the reflection that to travel with a woman, and with a woman young and handsome, added greatly to the risk of capture.

“What does it matter? If I am taken I have one card left to play,” and he smiled grimly. “I already risk too much to be particular about risking any more. Was it not for her that I made myself mad? Was it not for her that I——”

But he could not finish the sentence, for the horrors of that night at Ivy Cottage were too much for his excited brain.

Yes, a vicious passion which had overpowered his better self, which had absorbed all his thoughts, all his being, had been his ruin. To gratify a frivolous and selfish woman he had plunged himself overhead and ears in debt. Reckless, and not knowing which way to turn, chance had thrown in his way the correspondence which seemed to show he was the legitimate son of the Earl of Annesley. He believed that this really was the case, but his mother had undeceived him, and, in addition to her own statement, had produced several letters from Matilda Rennett which confirmed her words beyond a doubt. At first he had tried to persuade his mother to maintain the deception, and to assist him in asserting his rights, but she absolutely refused, and then it was he conceived the diabolical scheme of murdering Matilda Rennett, confident that his mother, even if she suspected, would never betray him. Previous to carrying out his plot he had burnt several letters from the Earl to his mother, written after, and preserved those which were written previous to the supposed substitution, so that in the event of the matter being inquired into it should throw more suspicion upon the Viscount. That it would have been so is evident, since the substitution being in doubt, it would naturally be inferred that this doubt had instigated the Viscount to take advantage of it. The train thus laid, he hesitated not to apply the torch. All succeeded according to his calculations, and, indeed, beyond his wildest hopes, since he could never have contemplated the illness and death of his mother, the most important actor in the affair. But while she lay unconscious he was full of uneasiness, lest by a word in delirium she might betray him, and for this reason he took Kraker into his confidence. He was aware, though Kraker did not know that he knew, of the little man’s connection with the police, and he effectually led him on a false scent.

All the scenes in the frightful tragedy, all his hopes, fears, and struggles presented themselves in all their vividness as he sat within the cab which conveyed him to Devonshire Road. It would have seemed to him like a hideous nightmare did not every now and then come the sickening consciousness that all was true to the very letter.

When the cab stopped at the house he jumped quickly out, told the man to wait, and bounded up the steps and knocked loudly.

The door was opened almost immediately.

“Oh, sir!” exclaimed the servant, when she saw who it was, “I’m so glad you have come. Mistress has been so anxious about you.”

Anxious about him! Why should she be anxious? Had anything happened? At the suspicion of a real danger his natural wit immediately asserted itself.

“Jane,” said he, “give the cabman this shilling, and tell him he need not wait. And, mind you, if anyone knocks do not open the door.”

He had noticed that the shutters of the house were closed, and not a gleam of light could be seen anywhere.

As he entered the room Lucie ran to him, and was about to put her arms around his neck when she suddenly stopped and uttered a loud cry of fear.

“Good heavens, Gerald!” she exclaimed, “what is the matter with you?”

For his face had so changed that in its haggardness, its bloodshot eyes, and blackened and cracked lips, she could scarcely recognise her lover.

Delanne did not reply, but he took both her hands, and looked her in the face.

“Lucie,” he said, in a voice of intense passion, “do you love me?”

“What a curious question! You quite frighten me​—​you look so strange. Isn’t it some trick, now? I do believe I shall really have to be angry with you.”

“Chut!” he exclaimed, fiercely, “this is no time for fooling. I repeat​—​Do you love me? Yes or no?”

“Yes, yes, of course I love you,” replied the girl, alarmed at his vehemence. “Let go my hand please, you are hurting me.”

He never heeded her appeal, but went on​—​

“If you love me, then you will come with me.”

“Come with you!” she returned, growing still more frightened.

“Yes; quick​—​this instant. Every second we wait but increases the danger.”

“The danger!” said she, drawing her hands away, and recoiling from him.

“Aye, you may not know it​—​a woman rarely does until too late​—​but I have loved you too much. Time, prospects, money, all have gone for you. Somewhat involved in difficulties, and seeing no way to turn, put me under strong temptations. I​—​but no matter what I did; I swear it was for your sake.”

The girl looked at him for a moment, and read in his haggard looks and bleared eyes that he spoke the truth. Perhaps there was something in this that appealed strongly to her vanity, or it may be that her better nature, now that the man who loved her was in trouble, peeped out. She did not know what crime he had committed; she did not know the danger that pursued him; and she came up softly, placed her arm around his neck, and whispered​—​

“I will go with you, Gerald.”

A ghastly smile for a moment illumined the young man’s features, but it slowly lifted, and left them livid as before.

“Go,” he whispered hoarsely. “Pack a few things together, and we will be off. I give you five minutes.”

Lucie hastened out of the room, and flew up the stairs. He walked up and down with the watch in his hand, his eye fixed on the second hand, his ear on the alert. Three minutes, four minutes passed, and Lucie was still in her room.

He muttered an oath, and went impatiently into the passage.

“Are you ready?” he called out.

“In one minute,” was the answer.

More restless pacing to and fro, more anxious glances at the watch. Two minutes more, and yet she had not appeared.

“I can wait no longer,” he shouted.

He was about to run up the stairs when she appeared at the top, her face flushed with the haste she had made.

Just as she reached him she uttered a cry​—​

“My jewels,” she exclaimed; “I cannot go without them;” and before he could prevent her she had run up stairs once more.

He was about to pursue her when a loud knock at the street door sounded through the house. His frame seemed, as it were, to turn to stone, and for a time he was incapable of motion.

The servant came running from the lower passage.

“Oh sir,” she cried, “there are three men outside the door! Shall I let them in?”

Her words brought back the life into his paralysed brain.

“No, let them break the door in first!” he hissed. He glared wildly round, and ran to the staircase window which looked out into the garden. He had scarcely given one glance ere he uttered a cry of despair. By the dim twilight he could see two or three dark forms moving stealthily about. The house was surrounded!

He turned like an animal at bay.

“Jane!” he exclaimed fiercely, “tell your mistress not to hurry. There is but one way,” he muttered to himself.

He ran quickly into the room and closed the door. The frightened girl ran upstairs, gasping for breath, and told her mistress what had happened, the knocking at the street door meanwhile becoming louder and more persistent.

Whatever vices Mademoiselle Lucie had she was no coward.

“It is the police,” she thought. “They have come after him. Where is Mr. Delanne?” she asked, rapidly.

“In the drawing room,” returned Jane, with chattering teeth.

Lucie instantly ran down the stairs and opened the door. She did not at first see him, owing to the gloom. The next moment she bounded across the floor as if impelled by some supernatural power towards the fire-place, where he was standing, his right arm uplifted and his hand towards his chest.

It was too late. A loud report shook the house from its foundations to its rafters, and Gerald Delanne fell to the ground shot by his own hand.

With a piercing shriek the girl flung herself by his side, and almost at the same moment two policemen, accompanied by Matthew Kraker, entered the room.

At first they thought the girl was shot, but she soon undeceived them by entreating them to send for a doctor. Despatching one of the men for this purpose, Kraker knelt down and looked at the corpse-like features of him who had once been his friend. The blood was oozing from a deep wound in his chest, but he was yet alive, although the eyes were glassy, and the damp moisture of death was on his brow. Presently the pallid lips moved.

“Kraker,” he gasped, “it is all over. It was​—​I who murdered​—​Matilda Rennett. Forgive​—​oh, God!”

And with this confession of his guilt trembling upon his dying breath, the spirit of the wretched man fled.


Is there need to say much more? I fancy not. The release of Viscount Morleigh and his marriage with Florence are but foregone conclusions, and it is of not much consequence to tell how Lady Dorrington suffered herself to be gradually persuaded into accepting the young nobleman as her son-in-law. The Earl never recovered from the shock which the events of that terrible month inflicted on him. After that last interview with Delanne he was found lying on the floor, his features distorted, and with one side totally paralysed. He regained the use of his limbs to a certain extent, but never his reason, and he did not live long after the Viscount’s marriage. Of Mademoiselle Lucie there is no necessity to say anything, as she is fully capable of taking care of herself, while Matthew Kraker​—​well, he has had many a difficult problem to solve, but none more so than the startling secret he dragged from the dark.