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(The University of Chicago Library)
T. W. SPEIGHT
AUTHOR OF "BACK TO LIFE," "HOODWINKED," ETC.
J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
|I.||YOUNG MAN ABOUT TOWN.|
|II.||CAPTAIN CUSDEN'S REPORT.|
|V.||A HUMBLE FRIEND.|
|VI.||A LAST INTERVIEW.|
|VII.||BURGO IN A NEW CHARACTER.|
|VIII.||UNCLE AND NEPHEW.|
|X.||A SLEEP AND AN AWAKING.|
|XIV.||IN DURANCE VILE.|
|XVII.||A DOOR BETWEEN.|
|XVIII.||IN WHICH THE UNEXPECTED COMES TO PASS.|
|XIX.||THE CAPTAIN OF THE "NAIAD."|
|XXI.||A SURPRISE FOR BURGO.|
|XXII.||A MYSTERY SOLVED.|
A YOUNG MAN ABOUT TOWN.
A dark handsome face bent close to a fair and glowing one, a tremblingwhite hand clasped in a sinewy brown one, two black eyes aflame withthe light of love, two blue eyes cast down in a sweet confusion andshaded by long brown lashes.
The scene was the conservatory at the back of Mrs. Mordaunt's Londonhouse. It was a wilderness--that is to say, a wilderness where artreigned supreme--of shrubs, ferns, mosses, and sweet-smelling tropicalflowers. Here and there a shaded lamp glowed with chastened radiancethrough the greenery; here and there a Chinese lantern hung suspendedin mid-air like some huge transparent insect of many colours; here andthere a statue gleamed snow-white through the leafage. Some one in thedrawing-room was playing a dreamy waltz; in the breaks of the musicthe low silvery plash of a hidden fountain made music of another kind.
Time and the place conspired. The dark, handsome face bent closer, thelean brown fingers tightened their grasp, two hearts fluttered as theyhad never fluttered before. Then the words which one was dying to sayand the other one dying to hear, broke forth in accents low, eager,and impassioned:
"Clara, darling, you must know that I love you. You must know that Ihave loved you ever since that day when----"
In smooth, clear accents a voice behind them broke in:
"Clara, love, I have been looking for you everywhere. I want youparticularly. Mr. Brabazon, will you kindly open that slide a fewinches? I can't think what Stevens has been about; the temperature isperfectly unbearable."
Burgo Brabazon was brought back to mundane matters with a shock asthough a stream of ice-cold water had been poured down his back. Hedropped Miss Leslie's trembling fingers and turned in some confusionto obey Mrs. Mordaunt's behest. Before doing so however, he contrivedto whisper the one word "To-morrow."
By the time he had arranged the slide, Mrs. Mordaunt and her niece haddisappeared. He muttered an execration under his breath, for Mr.Brabazon was by no means an exemplary young man.
Ten minutes later he left the house without saying "Good-night" toanybody.
As he made his way through the drawing-room he saw Miss Leslie sittinga little apart from the general company in a recessed window. By herside, and playing with her fan, sat young vacuous-faced LordPenwhistle--vacuous-faced, but enormously rich. "Ah-ha! chŤremadame, so that's your little game, is it?" muttered Burgo tohimself.
A group of three or four men with whom he was slightly acquainted weretalking on the stairs. They became suddenly silent when they saw himcoming down, and each of them greeted him with a solemn nod as hepassed. Burgo felt vaguely uncomfortable, he hardly knew why.
A hansom took him quickly to his club, and there, over a cigarette anda bottle of Apollinaris, he sat down to meditate.
Burgo Brabazon at this time was within a month of his twenty-sixthbirthday. He might have been a lineal descendant of Coleridge'sAncient Mariner, seeing that, like him, he was "long and lank andbrown"; but his was the lankiness of perfect health, of a frametrained to the fineness of a greyhound's, which had not an ounce ofsuperfluous flesh about it. He had a long oval face and clear-cutaquiline features; he had dark, steadfast-looking eyes, with a finepenetrative faculty about them which gave you the impression that hewas a man who would not be easily imposed upon; his hair and his smallmoustache were jet black. He was seldom languid, and still more rarelysupercilious, while occasionally inclined to be cynical andpessimistic (in which respect he was by no means singular); but thosewere qualities of which he could disembarrass himself as easily as hecould of his overcoat. He dressed fastidiously, but had nothingwhatever of the latter-day "masher" about him, he was far too manlyfor that. Finally, no one could have had a more frank and pleasantsmile than Burgo Brabazon, so that it was almost a pity he was notless chary of it.
It is certainly unpleasant when, after much effort and inwardperturbation, a man has succeeded in screwing up his courage to ask acertain question which has been trembling on his lips for weeks, tofind himself baulked at the very outset--to be, as it were, draggedignominiously back to earth when another moment would have seen himsoaring into the empyrean. It is more than unpleasant--it isconfoundedly annoying.
Till this evening Burgo had had no reason to suppose that Mrs.Mordaunt regarded him with unfavourable eyes. His evident liking forher niece had certainly not escaped the observation of that vigilantmatron, and if she had not openly encouraged him, she had certainlygiven him no reason to suppose that any advances he might choose tomake would meet with an unfavourable reception at her hands.
Miss Leslie was no heiress; her sweet face was her only fortune. Herfather had been a country rector, and had bequeathed her an incomewhich just sufficed to save her from the necessity of joining thegreat army of governesses. For a young lady so slenderly endowed withthe good things of this world Burgo Brabazon might be looked upon as avery fair catch in the matrimonial fishpond--for was he not hisuncle's heir?
"It's all that confounded little Penwhistle," he muttered to himself."He's evidently entÍtť with Clara, and Mrs. M. will do her best tohook him. But I flatter myself I'm first favourite there, and if thatis so, by Jove! no other man shall rob me of my prize. I'll callto-morrow, and again and again, till I can get five minutes alone withher. I never cared for any one as I care for that girl."
He was still deep in thought when some one touched him on theshoulder. It was Tighe, a club friend, to whom he had lost a hundredor so at cards during the course of their acquaintance.
"You have heard the news, of course?" said the latter.
"No; what is it?" asked Burgo languidly, with a half-smothered yawn.Just then he did not care greatly about either Tighe or his news.
For reply Tighe handed him an evening paper, his thumb marking acertain passage. The passage in question ran as under:
"At Nice, on the 12th inst., Sir Everard Clinton, Bart., to Giulia,relict of the late Colonel Innes."
Burgo stared at the paper for some moments as if his mind were unableto take in the announcement.
Then he gave it back to Tighe. "What an ancient idiot!" he said in hisusual impassive tone. "He'll never see his sixtieth birthday again.But he always was eccentric." And Burgo lighted another cigarette.
But truth to tell, although he took the matter so coolly, he was muchperturbed inwardly. The two lines he had just read announced a factwhich might have the effect of altering all his prospects in life.
"I wonder whether Mrs. Mordaunt had heard the news when she carriedoff Clara?" was one of the first questions he asked himself. "Andthose fellows on the stairs?" Already he began to feel in someindefinable sort of way that he was no longer quite the same BurgoBrabazon in the eyes of the world that he had been a couple of hourspreviously.
All his life he had been led to believe that he would be his uncle'sheir. The title, together with such portion of the property as wasentailed, would go to his other uncle, Denis Clinton, the baronet'syounger brother. He, Burgo, was the only son of Sir Everard'sfavourite sister. Both his parents dying when he was a child, hisuncle had at once adopted him, and from that time to the present hadtreated him as if he were his own son. When his education wasfinished, and Burgo hinted to his uncle that the time had now arrivedfor deciding upon his future profession in life, Sir Everard had onlylaughed in his quiet way and put the question aside as a piece ofharmless pleasantry; and when Burgo had ventured to broach the subjecton two or three subsequent occasions, it had met with no response fromthe elder man.
Burgo, who had no wish to lead an idle life, would fain have gone intothe army, but his uncle was unaccountably prejudiced against amilitary career, and there had been no hope in that direction.
Thus it fell out that month after month had drifted by withoutanything being finally arranged, till Burgo had gradually settled downinto the groove of a young man about town, with no more seriousemployment in life than to contrive how his liberal quarterlyallowance could be made productive of the greatest amount ofenjoyment. And that he did enjoy himself there could be no reasonabledoubt. He belonged to two or three pleasant clubs; he knew no end ofnice people who were glad to see him, or professed themselves to beso; and when the shooting season began he had the pick and choice of adozen country houses. In short, Burgo was one of the spoiled darlingsof Society, and he was quite aware of the fact, although how much ofthe favour accorded him was due to his own merits and how much to thereflected radiance of his uncle's prospective thousands, was one ofthose problems of which it would be invidious to attempt the solution.
Of his uncle during these latter years Burgo had seen but little. TheEnglish climate disagreed with the baronet's health, or so he averred,and three-fourths of his time was spent abroad. He was a confirmednumismatist and an inveterate bric-ŗ-brac hunter. He was said tohave one of the finest collections of coins in the three kingdoms, andhis house at Oaklands overflowed with curios picked up from everycountry under the sun. That such a man at the mature age ofsixty-three should fall a victim to the shafts of Dan Cupid was one ofthe last things which any one who was acquainted with Sir EverardClinton would have predicated of him.
CAPTAIN CUSDEN'S REPORT.
In the Times newspaper of the following morning Burgo read aconfirmation of his uncle's marriage. "There's a suspiciously Italianflavour about the bride's baptismal name," he muttered to himself;"but who was the late Colonel Innes, I wonder?"
In the course of the afternoon he knocked at Mrs. Mordaunt's door.
"Not at home, sir."
Many an afternoon had he called there, but never before had such amissile been flung at his head. His face flushed a little when he sawLord Penwhistle's miniature brougham being driven slowly up and downthe street.
Two days later he called again, only to be repulsed with the samepolite fiction.
Each afternoon he lingered in the Park till the last moment, in thehope of catching a glimpse of Clara's sunny face; but all hislingering was in vain. A week later he heard through a mutualacquaintance that Mrs. Mordaunt and Miss Leslie had started for theContinent.
But before this took place the cards of the newly-wedded pair hadreached Burgo. He tore them up in a pet and threw them into the fire.The same day, in sheer recklessness, he drove down to Richmond withsome club acquaintances who belonged to a faster set than hehabitually consorted with. There he drank more champagne and smokedmore cigars than was good for him, and awoke next morning with asplitting headache.
It has been remarked before that he was by no means an exemplary youngman.
It was during these days he got the notion into his head that theworld was already beginning to look askance at him, that the greetingsof his acquaintances were scarcely so cordial as they used to be, thatthere was a chilliness in the social atmosphere such as he had neverexperienced before.
All this was probably due to some touch of morbid fancy on his