|Chapter Title||A DUEL OF WORDS.|
|Newspaper Title||Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||The Third Volume|
A DUEL OF WOHD3.
A longieh pause ensued between the two men. Hilliston seemed to be in 110 hurry to oontinuo the conversation, and Claude, with hie eyes fixed absently on his glass, pondered over the faotathat Mrs. Hilliston had an aver sion to Horriston and that the lawver bad tiakon the third volume of the novel out of the house. The two facts seemed to have some oonnootiou with eaoh other, but what the connection might be Claude could not rightly oonolude.
From his frequent talks with Tait he knew that the third volume contained the episode of th8 Roarf-pin whioh was instrumental iu bringing the fiotitious murderer to justice. The assassin in the novel was meant for Kil liston, and remenbering this Oiaude won dered whether there might not be some reason for his removal of the book. Mrs. Hilhetoa had quailed at the mention of Horriston, and the explanation given by her husband did not satisfy Laroher. What reason oould she have for taking more than a passing interest in the tragic story? Why, after ten yearn, should she pale at the mention of the neighbourhood ? Claude asked himself these two questions, but could find no satisfaotory answer to either of them.
He was toying with his wineglass whilo thinking, when a sudden thought made him grip the Blender etem with spaemodio foroo. Was it possible that Mrs. Hilliston oould have been in the neighbourhood five-and-twenty years before; that she oould have heard some talk of that eeorf-pin whioh wasnotmentiousd at the trial, but whioh Tait insisted was an aotual fact, and no figment of the novelist's brain ; and, finally, oould it be that Hilliston had purposely removed the third volume of "A Whim of Fate." so that his wife should not have her memory refreshed by a relation of the incident? It was very strange.
Thus thinking, Claude glanced stealthily at his guardian, who was musiugly smoking his oigar and drinking bis wins. He looked oalm, and oentent, aud prosperous. Nevertheless, Claude was by no means so sure of his inno cenoe as he had been. Hilliston's oonfusion, his hesitation, bis evasion, instilled doubts
into the young man's mind. He determined j to gain a knowledge of the truth by questions, and mentally arranged these as follows :—
- First, he would try and learn eomewhnt of the past of Mrs. Qilliaton, for beyond the foot that she was an Amerioan, he knew nothing of it. Seoond, he would lead Hillis ton to talk of the soarf-pin, and see if the referenoe annoyed him ; and, third, he would endeavour to diaoover if the lawyer was averse to his wife reading the novel. With hie plana thus out and dried, ho spoke abruptly to hie guardian.
" I am sorry Mrs. Hilliston's health is en
"It ia not bad, my dear fellow," replied the lawyer, lifting his head. "She ia a very stroug woman ; but, of course, the fatigue of a London season telle on the healthiest con stitution. That is why I wish her to go to
" Why not take her to Horriston ?"
" Why should It She oonneota the place with the atory of your father, about whom I was forced to apeak ten years ago ; and, speak ing personally, I have no desire to return there, and reoall the horrors of the past."
" You were greatly affected by my fathor'
"Naturally. He was my dearest friend. I would havo given anything to discover tho
"Did Mrs. Hilliston gire yon her opinion ae to who was guilty?"
"No! I told her at little as loould of bo ' painful a eubjeot. She is not in possession of all the faots."
" At that rate, why let her read * A Whim
of Pate J'" '
"I don't wish her to read it," answered 1 Hilliston, quietly; "but I felt the novel
lying about, and she read the £rst two ; volumes. If I oan help it she shall not finish i theetory." i
" Why objeot to her reading the third j volume?"
" Because it would reoall the past too vividly
to hor mind."
"I hardly follow you there,"said Claude, with a keen look. ''The faotto whioh you refer cannot exist for your wife. To her the novel oan only be a seoond telling of the story related by you when she wished to know who I was."
" That is very true. Nevertheless it made so painful au impression on her excitable nature that I am unwilling that her memory should be reireahed. Take another glass of wine, my boy."
liillieton evidently fished to turn the con versation, but Olaude/was too determined on learning the truth to deviate from bis oounie. Slowly tilling bis glaBs with claret, he pushed the jug towarde HillistOD, and pursued his questioning." _
"The A.merioan nature is rather excitable, isn't it? By-tho-way, is Mrs. llilliston a pure
" Yes," said Hilliston, with suspicious promptitude. "She was a Chicago belle,aud ?named a millionaire in the porlt line .-ailed Derrick, lie died eoan after the marriage, eo eneuame to England and married me."
"It was hor first visit to England, no doubt."
" Hor first visit," replied liillieton, gravely. "All her former life was passed in Now York, Boston,'and Chicago. But what odd ques tions you ask," added the lawyer, in a vexed tone. "Sorely you do not think that iny wife was at Horriston twenty-live years ago,or that ebe knows aught of this crime eav'e what I bavo told her."
"Ol course X think nothing of the sort,
said L&rcher, hastily, and, what is more, be believed what he said. It was impossible that Airs. Hilliston, Amerioau born and bred, who had only been in England twelve years, ehuuld know anything of ail obscure oriuie committed in a dull provincial town thirteen years before the date of ner arrival. Hitherto his questionings hud eventuated in little, so he turned Che coo vernation into another groove, nud tried to learn if lidliston know anything qf Jenny Pay 11 tou.
" What do you think of John Tar vert'1
" He seemed an intelligent young fellow. Is that his real name
" N.i. His name is Prank Lincoln, the son of the Vicar of Thurston."
" What I He belongs to the place whither you go with Tait," exchanged Hilliston, with a startled aw; "that is strange. Yon may learn there whenae he obtained tbe materials for his novel."
"I know that. He obtainedthein from Miss Payntou."
" Who is she?"
" -v. literary young lady who lives at Thnraton with her folks. Bub I fancy Linron mentioned that he bad told you about her."
" Well, he did and lie didn't," said Hillis ton, in Bomo confusion; " that is, ha admitted that the story was founded on faot, but he did not tell me whence he obtained suoh faotB. I suppose it is your intention to question this young lady."
" Yes. I want to know bow she heard of the inattor."
" Pooh 1 Read it in a provincial newspaper,
" L think not," replied Olaule, with some point. " It is next to impossible that she should come across a paper containing an aooount of the trial. People don't keep such gruesome matters by them, unlets they have an interest in doing so,"
" -Veil, this young lady cannot be one of those persons. How old is she?"
"Ah 1" said Hilliston, with a sigh of relief, "she was not born when your father was mur dered. You must see that she oan know nothing positive of the matter."
"Then how did she supply Linton with the materials for this book ?"
" I can only answer that question by reverting to my theory of the newspaper."
"Well, even granting that it is so," said Livelier quickly, "she knows details of the case which are not set forth in the news paper."
" How do you know this?" aelted Hilliston, biting his lip to oontrol his feelings?
" Because in the third volume"
"Nonsense! nonsense 1" interrupted Hillis ton, violently, " you seem to forgot that the hard facts of the case-hare been twisted and turned by the novelist's brain. We do not know who slew your father, but the novelist had to end his story—he had to solve the mystery—and he has done so after his own fashion."
Rising from his seat, he paced hurriedly to and fro, talking the while with an agita tion strange in eo hard and self-controlled a
" For instance, the character of Michael Dece is ohviously taken off me. Ib is not a hit like me, of course, either is Bpoech, or looks, or dress. All the novelist knew was that I had given cvidenoe at the trial, and that the dead man had been my dearest friend. The circumstances suggested a striking dramatio situation—that the dear friend had oommittnd the crime for the base love of the wife. Miohael Hano is guilty in the novel— hut the man in real life, myself—you know all I know of the case. I would give ten years of my life, short as the span now is, to find the man who killed George Laroher."
Tins wan strong speaking, and carried oon vietion to the heartof Claude, the moreao when llilliston further explained himself.
" On the night of the murder I was at the ball three milea off. I knew nothing of the matter till I was called upon to identify the ourpie of your fAther. It was hardly recog nisable, and the faoe was muoh disfigured, but I recognised him by the colour of his hair and the seal on his finger,"
"How was it that my father was dressed as Darnley!"
"John Parver explains that," said Hilliston, sharply. " Jeringham—I forget his name in the novel—was dressed as Darnley, and I believe, as is set forth in the book, that George Laroher assumed the dresa so that under his mask your mother might mistake him for •Teriogham. Evidently she did so, as he learned that she loved ,Teringham"
" One moment," interposed Olsude, quickly, "my mother denies that Jeringham was her lover."
, " Your mother !"
" Mrs. Bezel."
"True. I forgot for the moment that you knew she was alive. No doubt she is right, and Jeringham was only her friend ; but in the novel ho is her lover, hliehnel Dene, drawn from myself, is her lover. You see faot and fiction aro so mixed up that there is no get ting at the truth."
"X shall get at the truth," said Olaude, quietly,
"Never. After auoh a lapte of time you oau discover nothing. 'Better let the''dead past bur; tit dead. I advised you before, I advise you now. You will only torture your life, oumber it with a useless task. George LaroliBr is dead and buried, and dust by this time. No one knows who killed him, no one
ever shall know."
" I am determined to learn the truth."
" I hope you may, but be advised. Leave this matter alone. You do not know what misery you may be laying up for yourself. Why you have not even a olue to atart from, unless,"added Hilliston with a sneer, "you follow the example of the novelist, and eluoidate the mystery by means of the eoarf pin."
Again Tait was right. Hilliston had him self introduced tbe subjoot of the soarf-pin. Olaude immediately took advantage ot the opnning.
" I suppose that episode is Gotion ?"
"Of uourse is is. No soarf-pin was found in the garden. Nothing was found but tbe dagger. You know that Miohael Dene is supposed to drop that scarf-pin on the spot. .Well, I am the living representative of Miohael Dene, and I assure you I never owued a garnec-oross with a central diamond."
" Is that the desoripton of the soarf-pin."
" Yos. Do you not remember a Bmali Mal tese oross of garoots with a diamond in the centre. Tue description sounds fictitious. Whoever saw such an ornaineut in real life.
But in ddteotive novels the solution of the , mystery turns on such gewgaws. A scarf-pin, a stud, a link, a brooch—all these go to hang a man—in novels."
This assertion that the episode of the soarf pin was fiction was iu direct ooutradiotion to that of Tait, who declared it to be true.
Claude was torn by ouuil cting doubts, but ? ultimately put the matter out of bis thoughts, Miss Payur.ou alono could give a correct opinion as to whether it had emanated from her fertile brain or was really a link in the actual
case. Judging from toe epeeoh of Hiliston, i and tbe silenoo of tho newspaper reports,
Olaude believed that Tait was wrong. j
The lawyer and his guest did rot go to the ; drawing-room, as Mrs. Hilliston seut word j that she was going to bed with a bad head ache. Under tbe oiroumstancoB Claude took
his leave, having, as ho thought, extracted all 1 necessary information from Hilliston. More over lis was anxious to get bask to Tail's chambers, and hsar what the little man had to cell him about Mrs. Bezel. Hilliston said
good-by to him at tho door. |
" I shall seo you at Eastbourne, I suppose," j he said, genially. i ' " Yes 1 I will drive over and tell you what Miss Payntou says."
The dour closed, and Hilliston with a frown j on his face stood looking at the floor. He waB by no moans satisfied with tbe result of the
"I wish I oould stop him," he muttered, | olonohing his fist; "stop him at any prioa. j
If he goes on he will le irn the truth, and if he i learns the truth—ah" j
Ho drew a long breath, and went upstairs j
to his wife. As ho ascended the etairs it , seemed to him as though he heard the halting t step of NemesiB following stealthily behind.