Chapter VIII.

In Which Kraker Comes to the Rescue.

A minute afterwards Gerald returned. Nothing, to judge from his demeanour, had passed between him and Mrs. Delanne of an exciting character. He was calm and undisturbed as ever.

“Well,” asked Mr. Kraker, “how did you find her?”

“Very bad indeed. She has become delirious, and had called for me. The servant, not being aware that she knew not what she said, of course, came at once. I have sent for the doctor, and in the meantime Jane is with her.”

Thus speaking, Gerald sat down at the table, and began sorting the letters according to their dates. He was evidently disinclined for further conversation, for he returned but laconic answers to Matthew’s remarks, and appeared to be wholly engaged upon his occupation. This, however, did not at all suit the detective, who wanted to satisfy himself on several points in the extraordinary revelations which had just been made to him.

“The more I hear of your extraordinary story,” said Kraker, “the more it puzzles me. To tell you the truth, if I were in your position I should be puzzled how to act.”

“Very likely,” returned the young man. “My experience of life has been large, very large, but this has entirely confounded me.”

The amateur detective repressed with difficulty a smile. “I confess humbly,” said he, taking a gentle pleasure in being by inference taxed with comparative inexperience, “that your knowledge of life may be larger than mine; but to return to our subject​—​your first step, of course, was to ask an explanation of Mrs. Delanne?”

“Exactly,” replied Gerald.

“And what did she say?”

“What could she say​—​was she not already proved guilty?”

“What? Did she not try to defend herself?”

“It was impossible. She pretended to explain the correspondence, and she said​—​how can I remember what she said?” exclaimed Gerald passionately. “She took refuge in subterfuge​—​in lies.”

The young man rose from his seat excitedly, and collecting his letters without noticing that Kraker had abstracted one of the number, tied them up carefully, and replaced them in the secret drawer of his desk.

“Yes,” he continued, pacing up and down the room, as if the exercise allayed the agitation, “yes, she promised to explain the matter, but how could she with the proofs I hold? She loves her own offspring, and the idea that he should be made to restore what he has​—​unconsciously, if you like​—​stolen from me, is incoherent to her. And I, fool that I was, fancied she loved me, and once thought of keeping the whole matter secret. She love me! No, that she never did. She would see me suffer the most horrible tortures rather than that her son should come to the slightest harm.”

“Do you think she has warned the Earl?” said Matthew Kraker.

“It is quite possible; but I do not think it would be of any use. The Earl has been out of town a month, and is not expected before the end of the week.”

“How did you find this out?”

“I went to see him​—​to speak to him.”

“The deuce you did!”

“Yes, do you think I could be silent? Do you imagine I, robbed, defrauded, betrayed, even from my birth, would not open my mouth? Why should I hold my tongue? Who is to prevent me from speaking? The right is mine, and does it surprise you that I should seek the Earl?”

“Not at all, my friend. Well, you went to see your father?”

“I did not come to this resolution immediately,” said Gerald, “for, to tell you the truth, the discovery had almost made me lose my head, and I wanted time to reflect. A thousand thoughts disturbed​—​passion blinded me. I desired my birthright, wealth, power, and position, but I felt pity for those who would suffer, and tried to find some way out of the difficulty, by which it could be arranged without noise, and without any scandal.”

“And did you decide upon anything?”

“Yes, after a fortnight of mental agony I came to a conclusion that I must put an end to this miserable state of suspense, and I went direct to the town residence of the Earl in Chester Square.”

“And when you arrived there?”

“I asked to see the Earl. A servant told me that he was out of town, but that the Viscount Morleigh was at home. This did not answer my purpose. However, there I was, and I determined, somehow, to go through with the business. The servant had some hesitation in sending up my name, as I had not arrived in a carriage, and he had, indeed, seen me get out of a hansom; but, on my insisting, he eventually complied, and in a few minutes I was committed to the care of the Viscount’s valet. He wished to know who I was, where I came from, what I wanted and so forth. I simply replied that, although absolutely unknown to the Viscount, I wanted five minutes’ conversation with him on an important matter. After some hesitation he asked me to sit down and wait till he returned, and about ten minutes he came back with the information that his master had consented to see me.”

It was easy to see that this cool reception had rankled in the heart of Gerald, who had taken what was a mere matter of course under the circumstances as a personal affront.

“He conducted me,” continued Gerald, after a pause, “into a small room, the walls of which were hung with a number of boxing gloves, dumb bells, pistols, guns, and foils. I had never seen so many weapons in so small a space. There were enough to stock a small armoury.”

There was something in this speech peculiarly interesting to Kraker. The word “foils” naturally recalled to his mind the weapon with which Mrs. Rennett has been assassinated.

“The Viscount,” Gerald went on to say, “was lounging on a couch when I entered. I am bound to confess that he is a gentlemanly fellow, fairly good-looking, and not likely, from his appearance, to disgrace the name he bears. He is about my height, dark, like myself, and his features would resemble mine if he did not wear his beard. Apart from this he seems to be younger than I am by five or six years; but, no doubt, this is due to the fact that he has lived an easy life.”

Gerald paused for a moment, as if choked with envious bitterness.

“As I entered,” he resumed, “the Viscount half rose and saluted me politely. ‘You do not know me, my lord,’ I said. ‘Can’t say I do, my dear fellow,’ he replied carelessly. I took no notice of his observation,” remarked Gerald, “but continued​—​‘I have to speak to you on a most serious matter, and one which concerns the honour of the name you bear.’ Of course, he did not believe me, for he replied in a very off-hand tone, ‘Will it take long?’ ‘I am afraid it will,’ I replied, quietly.”

“I beg your pardon,” interrupted Kraker, “but I take rather an interest in this affair, and if you would be kind enough to tell me everything that took place in the course of the interview, not omitting a single detail, I shall be obliged.”

“The Viscount,” continued Gerald, somewhat with the air of a schoolboy repeating a lesson by heart, “resumed his former lounging attitude with the manner of a man who has made up his mind to endure an undeserved infliction. ‘If you will be kind enough to be as quick as you can,’ he said, ‘I shall take it as a favour; for I shall very shortly have to leave to keep an important engagement.’ My reply to this was to take out of my pocket the correspondence, and give to the Viscount one of the letters. I at once saw, by the expression of his face, that he recognised the writing.”

“One word,” interrupted Kraker, “did he appear at all concerned on seeing these letters?”

“He showed not the last concern in the world.”

“He did not seem in any hurry to take the letter out of the envelope?”

“Certainly not; and, seeing this, I determined to hasten matters, and told him my mission was a very painful one. He looked at me with an air of surprise, and replied, ‘Have the kindness to speak out at once. What is it you have to say?’ ‘It is simply this,’ said I, speaking in as calm a voice as I could assume, ‘that you are not the legitimate son of the Earl of Annesley. The letters that I have brought with me, and whose handwriting you doubtless recognise, will show that I speak the truth; and, moreover, the legitimate son now exists in the person of him who is now addressing you.’ I looked at him steadily while I said these words,” continued Gerald, “and saw that his features became convulsed with passion. At first I thought he would have knocked me down, but he controlled himself by a violent effort, and asked to see the remainder of the letters.”

“You did not give them to him?” said Kraker.

“Indeed I did. Why not?”

“Oh, nothing; only it seemed to me a rash display of confidence.”

“Not at all,” returned the young man, in a tone of concentrated and fierce determination; “there was no danger, I promise you, of his destroying them while I was with him. What I did with you, Kraker, this evening, I did with Viscount Morleigh. I gave him the letters, and bade him read those only marked with a cross, and to pay especial attention to those underlined in red. He took them silently, and, opening them one after the other, read their contents as if unwilling to lose a word. Meanwhile I amused myself with walking about the room, but, nevertheless, kept a careful watch on every movement that my brother made. Never in my life did I see anything that impressed me more than his face, and if I live for a thousand years I shall not forget it. In less than five minutes his countenance had so altered that his own valet would never have recognised him. After a while, he took out his handkerchief, and held it over the lower part of his face, as if to conceal his emotion. His working features were whiter than the handkerchief, great drops of perspiration stood upon his forehead, and his eyes seemed to be starting from their sockets. But not a word, not an exclamation, not a sigh escaped him. At one moment I felt so much pity for his wretchedness that I was half tempted to take the letters from his hands and throw them into the fire.”

Gerald paused for a moment, overcome as it appeared, by the memory of the scene.

“In about half-an-hour,” he continued, “the Viscount had finished the perusal of the letters, and, with more calmness that I should have believed possible, he placed them once more in my hands, looking at me steadily the while.”

“‘You are right,’ he said to me, in a low voice; ‘if these letters are my father’s​—​and I feel that they are​—​they go to prove that I am not the son of the Countess of Annesley.’”

“I did not reply; what, under such circumstances, could I say?”

“‘However,’ he continued, ‘this is only presumptive evidence; have you any other proofs?’”

“‘Richard Taplow,’ said I, ‘possibly might tell you more.’”

“‘Taplow has been dead for many years,’ he replied.”

“Then I spoke of the nurse, Mrs. Rennett. I told him it would be easy to find her and get her evidence, as she lived at Hammersmith.”

“And what reply did he make to your last statement?” inquired the amateur detective somewhat eagerly.

“He did not reply at all at first, and seemed to be lost in thought. Then, suddenly, he exclaimed that he must know her; that he could remember going with his father to her house, at least three times; he also had some indistinct recollection of the Earl giving her money.”

“I told him that to my mind that was an additional proof. He did not reply, and, after a long silence, I asked him if he had anything further to say.”

“‘I expect my father here in eight or ten days,’ he replied; ‘you must give me, at least, this time. Immediately upon his return I will open the whole matter to him, and if what you say be true, I give you my word of honour that justice will be done. Take your letters, and leave me, for I am too bewildered, too confused, to say another word at this moment.’”

“And did he really say that?” demanded Kraker, half incredulously.

“Really​—​almost word for word, in fact.”

“Scoundrel!” said the amateur detective, grinding the words out between his teeth.

Gerald heard that he was speaking, but could not catch the expression.

“What did you say?” he enquired.

“I say he is a brave fellow,” returned Kraker, “and I should be only too delighted to make his acquaintance.”

“I did not show the Viscount the letter breaking off my father’s intimacy with Mrs. Delanne,” remarked Gerald, “I would keep the proof to myself if possible, rather than humiliate him still further.”

“But that letter is of the utmost importance. How can you keep it secret?”

“As I have told you, I shall wait the Earl’s return. If he should refuse to do me justice, I shall demand an examination of Mrs. Rennett’s letters. If those letters bearing on the subject are found the cause is saved; if not​—​ah! who will advise me what to do?”

“A good deal of reflection is wanted to give a little counsel​—​that is, if the counsel is worth giving,” replied Kraker sententiously; “but, my poor boy, what a hard life yours is just now.”

“Frightfully hard; and my money difficulties make it worse and worse.”

“Money difficulties! How is that? You live quietly, and spend little.”

“I have entered into arrangements which will, no doubt, prove profitable eventually, but in the meantime they are a constant drain upon my purse; and, to tell the truth, just now, I don’t know where to look for money.”

“I’m very glad you told me that. My dear boy, you have done me a good turn.”

“Eh,what? I really don’t understand you,” said Gerald, looking, as he certainly felt, completely bewildered.

“Fancy that I have in my desk at home some £500 or £600 that I don’t know what to do with,” replied Kraker, just a little embarrassed in his turn; “you understand me. I am getting old, my habits are inexpensive, and the money is really useless in my hands.”

“I fear that you would rob yourself on my account,” said Gerald; “my dear old friend, I could never allow that.”

“Nonsense,” returned Kraker, “don’t say another word, and to-morrow you shall have money.”

“But, remember, if the money once passes into my hands it will soon pass out of them, and I may not be able to call it up if you should suddenly want it.”

“Now, I think of it,” said Kraker, “you shall have the money not to-morrow, but this very evening. I will not have it lying idle, tempting one in a thousand ways any longer.”

Saying this he hastily left the room, and in less than half-an-hour returned with a triumphant smile upon his face.

“There,” he said, pressing into Gerald’s hand ten £50 Bank of England notes, “there, and if that is not enough, I have some more in the place they came from.”

“I won’t try to thank you,” said Gerald, “except in the way you will understand best​—​my accepting your kindness. In one moment I will give you a receipt for the amount.”

“What is the use of being in such a hurry?” returned Kraker, “it will be in time enough to-morrow, I suppose.”

“Between ourselves, yes; but if I should die to-night?”

“Well, in case of that,” said Kraker, with a smile, “make your will at once, and leave me the money. Good-bye for the present. You have asked my advice, and I must sleep upon it. I have an idea that everything will come right. But I will take a walk before going to bed, or I shall have a horrible nightmare. Meantime, dear boy, have patience and courage; who knows whether Providence is not working for you at this very moment.”

With these words he took his departure. Gerald, who attended him to the door, listened till his footsteps died away in the distance, and then returned to his apartment. He now took a little parcel from one of his drawers, carefully placed in his purse the bank notes which his old friend had given him; and all this done, left the room, double-locking the door behind him. He listened on the staircase for a moment or so, but all was silent. He stole down the stairs on tiptoe, opened the door quietly, and the next instant was in the street.