|Newspaper Title||Fitzroy City Press (Vic. : 1881 - 1920)|
|Trove Title||The Rival Claimants|
The Rival Claimants, tl By MRns. HARRIET LEWIS. it Aulber of "'Te Sundered Hearf ,' "T ia Bsiih 's Sc?hece," " Thee Double Life," OHAIXTEIt XXIL--(Continued.) The park was, properly, a grand old qt wood, with trees th?t had atotd for tnany generations. These had been judicitiusly Ia thinned, their branches had been pruned, and the undergrowth had been zealously cleared away as fast as it had showitd it self. 'The straight, columnar stems tof the trees uprose from a turf such as can p be found nowhere but in ,oland.: : This park, with its soft. umbrageous shades, was interaected by drives, and by secluded footpaths, along which rustic x seats were placed. B sesantyne hurried into ono of these paths, plunging into the de-pths of the park. Presently, in a secludhd spot, where the shadows were thickest, he came upon the object of hii dearch. B She was sitting upon a low bench, her hands folded on her knee, her face pallid lii with a hopeless, despairing expreasioa li which ought ti have smitten the villain at who called himself her husband to the heart. h She was not thinking of herself, but of her young step-sister. The letter of Nora's tmaid had aroused her deepest anxieties, and site was now considering a hi project of proceeding to Dublin to inquire personally into this amazing story of n Nora'a disappearance. a Bassantyne approached lher swiftly and noiselessly, stepping on the thick, asprtang -: "Lamenting your faeas rUal, ath leenl" he sneered, as he catie near. - i The-Lady Kathleen started, looking v lp. You here ?" she ejaculoited, malde; a anvement to arise and depart. "Yes, I am sure. Sit down. I hivwe .ought you out for a private corivelsa- 1 tion-" ' "In this place ?"' said the Lady Kath teen. looking around her. "Why not? It is as private as that very pretty sitting-room of yours which I have just visited in search of you. No one can overhear us."o. "Very well," said the Lady Kathleen, resumilg her seat. "I will hear you." Bassantyne fiing himself carelessly at hor feet, looking up into her face with his haggard, mocking eyes. " You don't seem t3 hear of LordTres- p ham now-a-days 1" he remarked. "Is it to talk about him you have come t hIe'ri'?" emanded 'the Lady Kathleen, tusthing with indignation. S"No-no--not exactly. But I admire • nabit of confidence between busb.nda and wives, and it is pleasant for me to discuss in a himurous spirit these disap pointed lovers of yours." The snowy brdow of Lady Kathleen con tracted suddenly. Her face grew stern and angry. "Do not remind me of the treachery t that made you my husband in place of Lord Tresham !" she commanded. . " Ah! The question is, would he have he-n your husband if I had stood outside the old kirk door and let the ceremony u ol'" asked "Basautyne, carelessly. "Suppose old Mr. Cowan had declared you and Lord Tresham t man and wife. would you not have been worse off then than now " The Lady Kathleen's cheeks flushed. and she shuddered as with a sudden ter ror. ' That would have been worse. she said, in a shivering voice. "'Oh, a i thousand times worse It is tatter as it is." Baesantyne regarded his bride for some minutes in silence. Then he said, gravely and abruptly: ."?_! Kathlleon,.you loved ea-aonce--" 't: :.-Never r ! CMease to reains me of a girl ish.folly, which, God known, I have re pented in bitterness of anguish. Loved , you I As much as the bird loves the ser pent that charns it. You must not taunt me again with that wretched past. I will not bear it." "I was not taunting you," returned Bassantyne, seriously. " I love you still, Kathleen, or I would do so if you would but encourage me to'do so. I admire your grand and stately womanhood far more thtan admire the arch and lovely girl. I am willing to try to become worthy of you. If you will only look kindly upon tne-" "Let us talk sensibly, or not at all." interrupted the Lady Kathleen, coldly. "You have not cone out here to talk of love. You are troubled. What has hap pened ?" "Nothing. Only this absence of Bolrple annoys tm. He should have been here a week or ten days ago." I"'Uan he have betrayed you 1" "I don'tknow. 1 have fears. Buthow could he betray me without betraying himself ? A reward haos been offered for his capture as for mite. sod he would be
running his own neck into danger in be. traying me-"' I understand that yours is by far the greater offence against the laws," said the i Lady, athleen. "Cannot this Murple make some bargain for his own safety and obtain the reward also for betraying you " "He might. Understand one thing, Kathleen, 1 will never be taken alive. Capturemeans for me a disgraceful death," sid Bassantyne, gloomily. " I do not think they would look for me in Ireland, least of all in this secluded valley and in this guise. I do not intend to abandon this place until my doubts have become certainties. I have been awretched fugi tive too long not to appreciate such a haven as this. But I intend to be pre pared for flight at a moment's notice. You must give me money. It is for that I have come out in search of you." "I thought so. How much money do you want ?" "As much as I can get. Themore the better I" "b 1 have my pocket-book with me,' said the Lady Kathleen. "I have just had a business interview with Delaney, and he has paid me a small portion of the rents. I have not been up to my room since, and have it in my pocket. The amount is three hundred pounds." Bassantyne's black eyes sparkled. " Give it to me I" he said, extending his hand. "With that amount I can fly any where, and at any moment. Give me the money, KSathleen I" The Lady Kathleen obeyed, giving him her purse. He took it greedily, and deliberately counted out its contents. Then he put it in his pocket, with a smile expressive of his deep satisfaction. "I may not need it for flight," he ob served. "It's a small sum, after all, for the husband of the Lady Kathleen Connor! What is your income, Kath leen?" " About seven thousand a year." " Ah I that is better than I thought. We shall share it equally, Kathleen. Of that we can speak hereafter. You must agree to settle a certain sum upon "m.-, and it would be well for you to make a will, so that I may be provided for in the event of your death." The Lady Kathleen arose as she said, quietly : "I have already made my will." " But not since our marriage in Scot land?" " I made it a week ago, since we came to Ballyconnor. MIy lawyer came to see me while you were out riding. The will, properly signed and.witnessed, is in his po session." las" santyne's face changed. "Of course you left your property to mel" lhe. questioned, with visible an xiety. " The estati not being entailed, I could leave it to whom I chose," returned the Lady Kathleen. " And Ihavechosen to leave it, in the event of my death, to my young step-sister, the Lady Nora IKidare! I know you too wvll, Nicol BIassantyne, to leave my fortune to you. I know you too well to leave my own life unguarded at any point. While I live I will in a manner provide for you," she added, with a marked emphasis, "but my death' will never benefit you. Now I hope we diderstand each other I" Blasantyne reddened with anger. But as to have, quarrelled with the Lady Kathleen would have been like hurling himself against a polished rock, hurting no one but himself, he controlled his pas sion and held his peace. The Lady Kathleen, without another word, turned and swept into the nearest path, preoeirdigswtftly:.towae& the Hll.' Braveo as she was, she did not care to trust herself alone in that dusk solitude longer with that dark-browed, sinister villain. Bassantyne continued to recline upon the grass, and knitted his brows in un pleasant thought. : " She suspected that I would do any thing to possess myself of her property," he said to himself. "Perhaps she was right.' But, by Jove I how sharp she is I How she has changed in the lastifew years I She has grown as prompt and keep and decisive as a man of business. Aid as she has the whip-hand, she will never give me the half, nor the fourth of her income. She intends to dole out to me liall sums at a time. I wonder how musch her jewels are worthi" He took out a cigar-case from his pocket, drew a match on his boot-sole and lit a cigar, while he ?egan to puff tranquilly, still lying on the grass. " I could ' loot' enough out of the Hall any night to make me independently rich," he thought, with half-shut eyes. " And the best of it would be, that my lady would never dare have her own hus band arrested for therobbery I I believe I'll do it, seeing that it offers so fine an opening for my peculiar talents I" He continued to puff his cigar lazily. The breeze went whistling through the trees above him. The soft sunlight stole down in specks, like golden shadows, and danced and trembled on the grass be side him. The crash of boughs now and then told of the proximity of some tall antlered deer, and occasionally a hare went scurrying by to some secluded covert. But these were not all of the sounds and sights in the dusky shadows of the grand old park. There were stealthy steps creeping over the turf toward the little hall where Bas santyne lay smoking, the tread of a man whl is afraid of being heard. They came nearer and nearer, and halted at last he "hind the trunk of a giant tree, where their proprietor, screening himself, peeped out with stealthy gaze at the unconscious B.assantyne. This man was no other than the object sf Mlurples terrors, sand the cause of lIurple'e flioht-Lome Bill I He glared at Bassantyne with the stare of a basilisk. He had searched Dublin for some trace t of Iturple. otherwise Fogarty, but in vain. He had made an excursion up into county Antrim on a false scent, but of course also in vain. And at last, in ac cordanco with the resolution he had avowed a fertnight and more before, he had come down to Ballyconnor in searchl of thie absconding valet. He had arrived in the village that Smorning, and had made cautious isquirie. n concerning Murple, but no one had been able to give hims any information. iHe Ihad then walked out to Conner Hall, and coming upon Deleney, the stewaird, had c asked if Mrs. Bassantyne's valet had yet - arrived, to which question he had re ceived a negative reply. To his interreo c gatoriesin regard to MIurple's whereabouts hlie had been referred to Mir. lBassantyne himself, who was, he was informed, strol ling in the park. S Lame Bill had hurried in quest of the I nevw "master " of the Hall, and had cone r upon him in tlhe manner we have stated. HIidden there behind tle tree, he con'
.tinned to hurvey and ittidy the cousten- h! ance of the Lady Kathleen'as husband, c without positive suspicion as to his identity, and yet vaguely reminded of his w resemblance to the escaped convict whom he had formerly known and now hated D with all the bitterness of a revengeful nature. As it was his habit to do nothing in a straightforward manner, but to move secretly and furtively, in obedience to his cat-like instincts, Lame Bill crouched iu t the shadow, watching every turn of Bas' c santyne's head, every movement of his big, bulky figure, with a gaze that had in I it something of fascination. "A regular swell " he thought. "A b nob of the first waterl Queer how he re mindedmeofGentlemanBob! Inmust have been clean crazy to have thought that a great lady would have married a convict ! How am I going to ask this high-flying I chap about his vally? Perhaps the best' way would be to apply for the astiva tion." Atthis moment Bassantynelazilyturned his head in the opposite direction. Somethingin the outlines of his features, of his movements, brought an eager glow i to Lame Bill's cheeks and a strange light to his eyes. " That there flip of his fingers alongside his nose was Gentleman Bob's trick all over," he thought, peering at the recum beat figure with the gaze of a ferret. " It can't be, in course; but if I could only hear him speak I'd know certain. If it's Gentleman Bob--and it ain't, in course he'd know me at the firsta look, and wouild betray himself. What a blessed str. ak i of luck it would be if this here nob should turn out to be Gentleman Bob I bIy for- I tune would be made! It's all gammoni i this swell's being a fugitive convict, but I mean to try him." Quitting his concealment boldly, he stepped into the dell. " Who's there ?" asked Bassantyne, leisurely looking around. The next moment, with an ejaculation of terror and horror, he leaped to his feet and glared around him, as if uncertain which way to escape. A strange, exultant smile glowed on Lame Bill's face. " It is Gentleman Bob, sure enough 1" he cried. "Gentleman Bob, the escaped convict, in disguise l" CHAPTER XXIII. Al OINOrus DISAPPEARANCL ,'The two men-Bassantyne and Lame Bill-faced each other; the one horrified, maddened,'deasperate, with a haunted ex pression in his black eyes; the other smiling, and glowing with sinister exolta tion. It was a strange scene. The lonely, shaded doll of Connor Park, the sunlight drifting down between the leaves and branches in little dancing shaldows, the twitter of birds, the music of running water, and, so incongruous with these in nocent sights and sounds, these two tour derous faces glaring through the shadows at:each other. Slowly and stealthily, withs the motion of a cat, the hand of Bassantyne crept to the breast pocket in which were hidden the pistols. As his hand came in contact with the cold, ivory-mounted weapons. he seemed to feel that he had not yet lost control of his future. His self-possession came back to him. He remembered that he had not yet betrayed his identity to his enemy, and be began to think it possible that he might yet carry matters with a high hand and put to route Lame- Bill's suspiciona. The reflection brought with it a thrill of:hope. The color came back to his sal low cheeks, and he assumed a tu'ghty, supercilious manner, such as lie deemed appropriate to the lord of Connor Hall. "Stand back, fellow !" he ejaculated, hoarsely and menacingly. " How, dare you intrude like this into private grounds 1 This is no place for footpads, as you" will find to your cost!" f This address, and the domineering air with which it was delivered, after the re cent evident panic of Bassantyne, was like a blow in the face of the intruder. He gave a great gasp of astonishment, and opened his small eyes to their widest extent, while an expression of utter bewilderment convulsed his vis: age. Then he forced a hoarse laugh, and ex claimed . 'i" Ha, ha l Pretty well done, Gentle man Bob! Youalways was good at act ing, but this here was good enough for the Tlieayter Royal I" " Gentleman Bob I" repeated Bassan tyno hoarsely. "What do you mean, fellow? But it is evident what you mean; Leave my grounds, thief, or I will have you scourged from them." Lame Bill crept a few paces nearer, his keen eyes fixed in puzzled scrutiny upon the dark and sinister face of the Lady Kathleen's husband. " Your grounds!" he sneered. "You need not put on none of your airs to me, Gentleman Bob All your highfaluting don't impose on me. I didn't pass so long a time with you out in Australy for nothing. No crinkly beard can de ceive me. Your disguise ain't deep enough-" " Scoundrel I Do you know to whom you are talking? I am Nicol Bassantyne, the husband of the Lady Kathleen Con nor-" " Of Ballyconnor, and so on ! I know all that. And I know. too, that you are my old pal, Gentleman Bob, and that I can make my foitune a-giving on you up. You've been everything by turns, Geutle wran Bob--count, lord, gentleman of leisure, gambler, forger, thief, convict and fugitive ! And fugitive you are now, althuagh you have fooled one of the noblest ladies in Ireland'to make a run-' away inatch with you ! There will be a fine come-down to the-pride of my lady when the beaks lag you. You've been keen to get yourself into this fine nest, but when you come to find yourself in a prison the change will be too great to be agreeable!" Tih expression of Bassantyno's face chaned slightly, yet enough to be per ceptible to his enemy. "' That shot told Iobserved Lame Bill, with a gleam of satisfaction in his sullen eyes. " You won't go on to deny that you are my old pal, Gentleiman Bob, will "I will no longer parley words withll d you, wretch. Begone !' cried Bassnutyne, threaleningly. " Not yet. I called here to inquire after your valley, Neaville, or MIurplle, or whatever he calls hlmself thiayear. tie Shasn't got home yet, I underataud l" S Bassanty'ne was nearly choking with -rage and fury. Helonged to throttlethe impudent wretch who dared to linger in ir lis grounds when he had bidden himn be goioe. And yet there was a dangerus . fascination in Lame Bill's presence. and . he desired to prolong the intrrview until
hibsenuntiy;iauiud be disnpsae.aed ' tie couvictuni, of his identity with Gentie- - blan B.b." He forced i.imself to may, calmly': "My valet? I discharged him in Dublin. He was an impudent follow, whom I had had in my service but a few weeks, aind whom I did not care to bring down to Ballyconnor. If you want him, you will probably find him in Dublin." "'A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,'" auid Lame Bill. "I don't care so much about the rvally now. Exa t cuse the annoyance I've made you, Mr. t Bassantyne. And good morning." He raised his worn hat in a mocking I bow, and sidled away, as if bent on instant retreat. Bansantyne took the alarm. " Stay," he said, in a conciliating tone. "It is evident, my good fellow,.toat you have mistaken me; for some one else. These resemblances are frequent, and merely accidental." "Oh, yes," said Lame Bill. "Merely accidental, of course. Excuse my im pudence, sir.- Good morning." Again he made a amovemnent to de part. Baceantyne's alarm increased. The man's apologies and haste to get away were more menacing than the loudest threats. He believed all his blustering to have been of no effect. Evidently the man knew him beyond the shadow of a doubt. And then a sickening sensation assailed Baosantyne's heart. How long had Lame Bill been hidden'in the shadows surround ing the little dell? Had he been there during the interview with the Lady Kath leen ? Had he studied Bassantyne' features when the latter was alone and unguarded l Was all this disguise of beard and stained complexion, changed name and high position, bhut the merest flimsy veil to this ancient enemy, and had he already loo,,ked beneath them and seen under them all his old comrade and fel low-convict? It mast be so. The cold sweat started on Bassantyne's dark forehead. A convulsive trembling seized him. "Don'the in such a hurry, my good man," he said, in a husky voice. "There's no harm done by your singular conduct. I took you for a footpad at first, but your abrupt appearance will account for that. No doubt you are a worthy fellow. But about my valet. Were you about to apply for hl situation ?" Lame Bill grinned. "Well, no," he said. "I have no call to be vally. My talent lies in the way of being master. I've got my eye on a prize that's offered for reward for the re covery of a great criminal--the one I took you for, begging your pardon, Mr. Bas santyne; and if:l should get that, or them-for there's two men wanted, and two rewards-I should be a rich man." "Yea ; but you might make more by holding your tongue," suggested Bassan tyne, cautiously. , A quick. gleam lit up the eyes of Lame Bill. A scheming look appeared oU his face. Appealed to in his weak'point, hie desire for'gain, even his revengefulness sank' into thi back ground. Greed first, revenge afterwards, was his motto. He neoer allowed his personal feelings to stand in the way of his making money. "If you've got anything to say," he ex claimed, abruptly, " we won't beat around the bush. You know you are Gentleman Bob, and I know it I I've been looking out of the shade here at you until I knew you beyond the shadow of a doubt. If you want to play off, you will \deceive no one but yourself. If you come out flat-footed we may come to an under stmndlng." ..- - Bassantyne's face paled to a sickly yellow. He looked about him with glar mg eyes. " You are alone r' he said. "This time, yes. Yet not alone; for I am armed." . . "`Well, what.will you take to' keep silent?"' A swift glow reddened' Lamne Bill's face. A? swift gleam'nhot ' into. his eyes. " You own up, then, do you?" he de-. manded. ""I own nothing in so many words," said Bassantyne, doggedly. "I merely ask, what is your price ?" Lame Bill reflected, sending sidelong glances around him, into the park, and at the burly figure of his enemy. Evi. dently he was estimating Bassantyne's resources. "Let me see," he mused. " You are a rich man, the husband of an heiress. Her ladyship loves you to distraction, or she would never have eloped to Scotland with you. Romantic, proud as Lucifer, high-bred and dainty, she would sacrifice all she had rather than to live under the shadow of a terrible disgrace. The reward offered by government and the colonial authorities for your capture is three thousand pounds. I bear you no love, Gentleman Bob, and my revenge is worth at least as much more. To forego it I should want at least three thousand pounds. And then by way of premium and so on--well, we can call the whole amount ten thousand pounds. Give me that sum down and a thlousand a year, and I'll be as dumb as the effigy on the Lord Lieutenant's tomb." "Ten thousand pounds I Are yoU crazy ?" " By no means. If you haven't got it yourself, your romantic and ardent young bride will give it to you. Not a penny less, Gentleinan Bob. If you don't like my offer you nec,dn't accept it." A dangerous glitter shone in Bansan. tyne'o eyes. " I haven't got the money," he said. "AndI can't getit. You will lhae to moderate your demands-" "Not farthing. A mtn will give a good deal ratlitrr-thai--rtvn--ph' kiseh splendor as this," and again Lance Bill' glanced around him. " A real park, an old mansion, horses and carriage, seor vants, and best of all,a fine lady bride, are not to be lightly thrown away. And a man won't swing for the sak" of saving a few pounds to his wife. And thatbringa me to the point. You must pay my de. mands, or swing I" (TO rE CONTn.UED.) A cUlsEum lcctC olings oratory as ths I adienco in his fashion : " This, ladies and gentlemen. is Cingaler, the sword and spike I walker. Bhe is a native of Luoaknow, India, and walks with her bare, naked and tender flesh upon the glietening, keen cuttling, bristling, incisive, penetratinig, naeedlelike, horrible edges of quivering, wavering, trembling swords, and the jagged, pointed, tearing, terrible, crosscutting, fearful, fright Iul, horrifying, pearrifioed, tri-pointed, gash ing, deep.sinking, death-woaunding, feet ruining spikees, dancing and rolling on a bed of bare and pointed carpet tacks, and run ning a race on glistening cimeters." Pa.nrnr o sleep is conducine to beauty. d ven a garment looks waorn when it teaso i ts nap. "~Well Pat," said a Scotchlman toon l ish i man taking dawn the shutterr ore lornina, "Are you letting in the light?" "N?o,"eays "aI Pt, "I'm letting out the dark."