What Happened At Warburton Place
There is unusual stir and life in the Warburton Mansion, for Alan Warburton has returned, as suddenly and strangely as he went away.
He has made Mrs. French and Winnie such explanations as he could, and has promised them one more full and complete when he shall be able, himself, to understand, in all its details, the mystery which surrounds him.
After listening to the little that Alan has to tell--of course that part of his story which concerns Leslie is entirely ignored, as being another's secret rather than his--Mrs. French and Winnie are more than ever mystified, and they hold a long consultation in their private sitting-room.
Acting upon Alan's suggestion--he refuses to issue an order--Mrs. French has bidden the servants throw open the closed drawing-rooms, and give to the house a more cheerful aspect.
Wonderingly, the servants go about their task, and at noon all is done. Warburton Place stands open to the sunlight, a cheerful, tasteful, luxurious home once more.
"I don't see what it's all about," Winnie French says petulantly. "One would think Alan were giving himself an ovation."
They lunched together, Alan, Mrs. French and Winnie. It was a silent meal, and very unsatisfactory to Alan. When they rose from the table, Mrs. French desired a few words with him, and Winnie favored him with a chilling salute and withdrew.
When she had gone, Mrs. French came straight to the point. She was a serious, practical woman, and she wasted no words.
They had discussed the situation, her daughter and herself, and they had decided. Winnie was feeling more and more the embarrassment of their present position. They had complied with the wishes expressed in Leslie's farewell note, as well as by himself and Mr. Follingsbee. But this strangeness and air of mystery by which they were surrounded was wearing upon Winnie. She went out so seldom, and she grieved and pined for Leslie and the little one so constantly, that Mrs. French had decided to send her away.
She had talked of this before, but Winnie had been reluctant to go. To-day, however, she had admitted that she wished to go; that she needed and must have the change.
It was not their intention to withdraw their confidence from Leslie, or from him, or to desert their friends. Mrs. French would stay at her post, but Winnie, for a time at least, should go away. Her relatives in the country were anxious to receive her, and Winnie was ready and impatient to set out.
And what could Alan say? While his heart rebelled against this decision, his reason endorsed it, and his pride held all protestation in check.
He offered a few courteous commonplaces in a constrained and embarrassed manner.
He was aware that their unhappy complications must place himself and his sister-in-law in an unfavorable light. He realized that they had already overtaxed the friendship and endurance of Mrs. French and her daughter. In his present situation, he dared not remonstrate against this decision; he was already too deeply their debtor. He should regret the departure of Miss French, and he should be deeply grateful to Mrs. French for the sacrifice she must make in remaining.
All the same, he felt an inward pang as he left Mrs. French, and went slowly down to the drawing-room. Winnie had gone in that direction, and he was now in search of her, for, in spite of her scorn and his own pride, he felt that he must speak with her once more before she went away. She had decided to go this day, the day of his home-coming. That meant simply that she was leaving because of him.
Winnie was seated in a cavernous chair, looking extremely comfortable, and, apparently, occupied with a late magazine. She glanced up as Alan entered, then hastily resumed her reading.
Seeing her so deeply absorbed, he crossed the room, and looked out upon the street for a moment, then slowly turned his back upon the window and began a steady march up and down the drawing-room, keeping to the end farthest from that occupied by Winnie, and casting upon her, when his march brought her within view, long, earnest glances.
That she was wilfully feigning unconsciousness of his presence, he felt assured. That she should finally recognize that presence, he was obstinately determined.
But Winnie is not as composed as she seems, and his steady march up and down becomes very irritating. Lowering her book suddenly, she turns sharply in her chair.
"Mr. Warburton, allow me to mention that your boots creak," she says tartly.
"I beg your pardon, Winnie."
"No, you do not! I can't see why you must needs choose this room for your tramping, when all the house is quite at your disposal."
Alan stops and stands directly before her.
"I came, Winnie, because you were here," he says gently.
"Well," taking up her book and turning her shoulder towards him, "if you can't make yourself less disagreeable, I shall leave, presently, because you
Paying no heed to her petulant words, he draws forward a chair and seats himself before her.
"Winnie," he says gravely, "what is this that I hear from your mother: you wish to leave Warburton Place?"
"I intend to leave Warburton Place."
"Pray don't make my name the introduction or climax to all your sentences, Mr. Warburton; I quite comprehend that you are addressing me. Why do I leave Warburton Place? Because I have staid long enough. I have staid on, for Leslie's sake, until I'm discouraged with waiting." There is a flush upon her cheeks and a hysterical quiver in her voice. "I have remained because it was her
home, and at her
request. Now that her absence makes you master here, I will stay no longer. It was you who drove her away with your base, false suspicions. I will never forgive you; I will never--"
There is a sound behind her. She has risen to her feet, and she sees that Alan is not heeding her words; his eyes are turned toward the door; they light up strangely, and as he springs forward, Winnie hastily turns.
Standing in the doorway, pale and careworn but slightly smiling, is Leslie Warburton, and she holds little Daisy tightly clasped in her arms; Daisy Warburton surely, though so pallid, and clad in rags!
As Alan springs forward, she holds out the child.
"Alan, I have kept my word," she says gently, wearily; "I have brought back little Daisy."
It is the end of her wonderful endurance. As Alan snatches the child to his breast, she sinks forward and again, as on that last day of her presence here, she lies senseless at his feet.
But now his looks are not cold; he does not call a servant; but turning swiftly he puts the child in Winnie's arms, and kneels beside Leslie.
As he kneels, he notes the presence of a man in sombre attire, and behind him, the peering face of a servant.
"Call Mrs. French," he says, chafing the lifeless hands. "Bring restoratives--quick!"
And he lifts her tenderly, and carries her to a divan.
Then for a time all is confusion. There is talking, laughing, crying; Mrs. French is here, and Millie, and presently every other servant of the household.
For a moment, Winnie seems about to drop her clinging burden. Then suddenly her face lights up; she clasps Daisy closer, and drawing near, she watches those who minister to the unconscious one.
Leslie revives slowly and looks about her, making a weak effort to rise.
"Be quiet," says the stranger in the priestly garments, who has "kept his head" while all the others seem dazed; "be quiet, madam. Let me explain to your friends."
As he speaks, Alan stoops over Winnie, and kisses the little one tenderly, but he does not offer to take her from Winnie's clasp. He turns instead and bends over Leslie.
"Obey him, Leslie," he says softly. "We will tell you how glad we are by and by."
She looks wonderingly into his face, then closes her eyes wearily.
"He can tell you," she whispers; "I--I cannot."
And then there is silence, while Alan, in compliance with a hint from the seeming Priest, motions the servants out of the room, all but Millie. Daisy has seized her hand and clings to it obstinately.
"Let her stay," whispers Winnie. And of course Millie stays.
When they have filed out, Alan moves forward, his hand extended to close the door, and then he stops short, his attitude unchanged, and listens.
There are voices outside, and approaching feet. He hears the remonstrance of a servant, and an impatient tone of command. And then a man strides into their presence, closely followed by two officers.
It is Van Vernet, his eyes flashing, his face triumphant; Van Vernet in propia personne
, and wearing the dress of a gentleman.
He pauses before Alan, and delivers a mocking salute.
"Alan Warburton, you are my prisoner!"
With a cry of alarm, Leslie lifts herself from the couch. She
knows what these words mean.
Alan starts as he hears this cry, and moving a pace nearer Vernet, says, in a low tone:
"I will go with you, sir; but withdraw yourself and men from this room; I--"
"Alan, I have kept my word; I have brought back little Daisy."
Something touches his arm.
He turns to see Winnie close beside him, her face flushing and paling, her breath coming in quick gasps.
"Alan," she whispers, "what does he mean?"
Alan takes her quivering hand in his, and tenderly seeks to draw her back.
"He means what he says, Winnie. He is an officer of the law."
"A prisoner! you!
Oh, Alan, why, why?"
The tone of anguish, and the look in Alan's eyes, reveal to Vernet the situation. This is the woman beloved by Alan Warburton; now his triumph over the haughty aristocrat will be sweet indeed. Now he can strike through her. Stepping forward, he lays a hand upon Alan's arm.
"Mr. Warburton," he says sternly, "I must do my duty. Bob, bring the handcuffs."
As the officer thus addressed moves forward, Winnie French utters a cry of anguish, and flings herself before Alan.
"You shall not!" she cries wildly. "You dare not! What has he done?"
Vernet looks straight at his prisoner, and smiles triumphantly.
"Mr. Warburton is accused of murder," he says impressively.
"Murder!" Winnie turns and looks up into Alan's face. "Alan, oh, Alan, it is not true?"
"I am accused of murder, Winnie, but it is not
"Oh, Alan! Alan! Alan!" She flings her arms about him clinging with passionate despair, sobbing and moaning pitifully.
And Alan clasps her close and a glad light leaps into his eyes. For one moment he remembers nothing, save that, after all her assumed coldness, Winnie French loves him.
Still folding her in his arms, he half leads, half carries her to the divan where Leslie sits trembling and wringing her hands.
"Winnie, darling," he whispers, "do you really care?"
Then as Mrs. French extends her arms, he withdrew his clasp and turns once more toward Vernet.
"End this scene at once," he says haughtily. "I ask nothing at your hands, Van Vernet. Secure me at once; I am dangerous to you."
He extends his hands, and casts upon Vernet a look full of contempt. It causes the latter to feel that, somehow, his triumph is not quite complete after all. But he will not lose one single privilege, not abate one jot of his power. He takes the manacles from the hands of his assistant, and steps forward. No one else shall adjust them upon these white, slender wrists.
At that instant, as Leslie rises to her feet, uttering a cry of terror, there is a sudden commotion at the door; one of the officers is flung out of the way, and a strong hand strikes the handcuffs from Vernet's grasp.
He utters an imprecation and turning swiftly is face to face with Franz Francoise!
"You!" he exclaims hoarsely. "How came you here? Boys--"
The two officers move forward. But the seeming Priest, who has stood in the back ground a silent spectator, now steps before them.
"Hold on!" he says; "don't burn your fingers, boys."
"Answer me," vociferates Vernet; "who brought you here, fellow? What--"
"Oh, it ain't the first time I've slipped through your fingers, Van Vernet," the new-comer says mockingly.
Then seeing the terror in Leslie's eyes, he snatches the wig and moustache from his head and face, and turns toward Alan.
"Mr. Warburton," he says courteously, "I see that I am here in time. I trust that you have suffered nothing at the hands of my colleague, save his impertinence. Van, your game is ended. You've played it like a man, but you were in the wrong and you have failed. Thank your stars that your final blunder has been nipped in the bud. Alan Warburton is an innocent man. The murderer, if you choose to call him such, is safely lodged in jail by now."
But Van Vernet says never a word. He only gazes at the transformed ex-convict as if fascinated.
Another gaze is riveted upon him also. Leslie Warburton leans forward, her lips parted, her face eager; she seems listening rather than seeing. Slowly a look of relieved intelligence creeps into her face, and swiftly the red blood suffuses cheek and brow. Then she comes forward, her hands extended.
"Mr. Stanhope, is it--was it you
"It is and was myself, Mrs. Warburton. There is no other Franz Francoise in existence. The part I assumed was a hideous one, but it was necessary."
"Stanhope!" At the name, Alan Warburton starts forward. "Are you Richard Stanhope?"
"Vernet utters an imprecation, and turning swiftly, is face to face with Franz Francoise!"
"I am." And then, as he catches the reflection of his half disguised self in a mirror, he gives vent to a short laugh. "We form quite a contrast, my friend Vernet and I," he says with a downward glance at his uncouth garments. "Mr. Warburton, we--for your brother's wife has done more than I--have brought back your little one. And I have managed to keep you out of the clutches of this mistaken Expert, or at least to prevent his 'grip' from doing you any serious damage. Of course you are anxious to hear all about it, but I am waited for at head-quarters; my story, to make it comprehensible, must needs be a long one, and I have asked Mr. Follingsbee to meet me there. He can soon put you in possession of the facts. Now a word of suggestion: This lady," glancing towards Leslie, "has been very ill; she is still weak. She has fought a brave fight, and but for her your little girl might still be missing. She needs rest. Do not press her to tell her story now. When you have heard my report from Mr. Follingsbee, you will comprehend everything."
Leslie sinks back upon the divan, for she is indeed weak. Her face flushes and pales, her hands tremble, and her eyes follow the movements of the detective with strange fixedness. Then she catches little Daisy in her arms, and holding her thus, looks again at their rescuer.
Meantime, Van Vernet has seemed like a man dazed; has stood gazing from one to the other, listening, wondering, gnawing his thin under lip. But now he turns slowly and makes a signal to his two assistants, who, like himself, have been stunned into automatons by the sudden change of events.
"Stop, Vernet!" says Stanhope, noting the sign. "Just one word with you: Our difference, not to call it by a harsher name, our active difference began in this house, when, on the night of a certain masquerade, you contrived to delay me here while you stepped into my shoes. I discovered your scheme that night, and since then I have not scrupled to thwart you in every way; how, and by what means, it will give me pleasure to explain later. For the present, here, where our feud began, let it end. I shall give a full history of our exploits, yours and mine, to our Chief, to Mr. Follingsbee, and of course to these now present. This much is in justice to myself, and to you. I think that I have influence enough at head-quarters to keep the story from going further, and--don't fancy me too magnanimous--I shall do this for the sake of Mrs. Warburton, and of Mr. Alan Warburton, whom you have persecuted so persistently and mistakenly. As you have not succeeded in dragging their names into a public scandal, I shall withhold yours from public derision; and believe me when I say that our feud ends here. In the beginning, you took up the cudgel against me, to decide which is the better man. Put on the defensive, I have done my level best, and stand ready to be judged by my works. For the rest; I am saying too much here. I do not wish nor intend to humiliate you unnecessarily. If you will wait for me outside, I can suggest something which you may profit by, if you choose."
There is nothing that Van Vernet can say in reply. He is conquered, and he knows it well. No scornful retort rises to his tongue, and there is little of his accustomed haughty grace in his step, as he turns silently and leaves the room, followed by his overawed, astounded and silent assistants.
At least he has the merit of knowing when he is defeated, and he accepts the inevitable in sullen silence.
Then Richard Stanhope turns again to Leslie.
"Madam," he says, with hesitating deference, "I have kept my word as best I could, and I leave you in the hands of your friends. Forgive me for any rudeness of mine, for any unpleasant moments I may have caused you, while I was playing the part of Franz Francoise. We could have won our battle in no other way. To-morrow, I will place in your hands, through Mr. Follingsbee, some papers which will, I believe, prove most valuable. I trust that you will never again have need of the aid of a detective. Still, should you ever require a service which I can render, I am always at your command."
With a hasty movement, as if in defiance of that which sought to hold her back, Leslie rises and extends both her hands.
"I cannot thank you," she says earnestly; "words are too weak. But no man will ever stand above you in my esteem. In time of trouble or danger, I could turn to you with fullest trust, not as a detective only, but as a friend, as a man; the truest of men, the bravest of the brave!"
Something in her voice vibrated pitifully, then choked her utterance. She trembled violently, and all the life went out of her face.
As she sank back, Stanhope gently released her hands, and stepping aside to make way for Mrs. French and Winnie, said in a low tone to Alan:
"She has been terribly tried; do not let her talk until she is stronger. She needs a physician's care."
"She shall have it," returned Alan, moving with Stanhope toward the door. "Mr. Stanhope, I--I know, through Mr. Follingsbee, of the interest you have taken in my welfare, but I realize to-day, as I could not before, how much your protection has been worth. I see what would have been the result of my remaining here. Vernet would have dragged me before the public, as a felon. But you are eager to go. I will not attempt to express my gratitude now; I expect and intend to see you again, here and elsewhere."
He extended his hand and clasped that of Stanhope with a hearty pressure.
And then, with a sign to the sham Priest who had been his silent abettor, Stanhope hurried from the room and from the house.
Vernet was standing alone on the pavement. His two assistants, having been dismissed, were already some distance away.
"I have waited," he said, turning his face at Stanhope's approach, but without changing his position of body, "because I would not gratify you by running away. Have you anything further to add to your triumph?"
For a moment Stanhope's eyes seemed piercing him through and through. Then he smiled.
"When our Chief told me, Van," he said slowly, "that you had determined to try your strength against mine, I felt hurt, but not angry. That was a disappointment; it was the game you played at the masquerade which has cost you this present humiliation. But for that night, I swear to you, I should never have interfered, never laid a straw in your way. Let us move on, Van, and talk as we go."
He made a signal to the disguised officer standing near him, and that individual, accepting his dismissal by a quick nod, moved down the street with an alacrity quite unbecoming to his clerical garb.
Then Stanhope and Vernet, Victor and Vanquished, turned their steps in the opposite direction.
For some moments Vernet paced on in silence, savagely gnawing at his under lip. Then professional curiosity broke through his chagrin.
"I should like to know how you did it," he said, his face flushing.
Stanhope shrugged his shoulders and favored his interlocutor with an uncouth grimace.
"Easy 'nuff," he said; "Hoop la!"
Vernet started and stared. "Silly Charlie!" he ejaculated.
"That's the ticket; how did I do the role
Vernet ground his teeth, and pondered over this startling bit of intelligence. At last:
"I understand why the Raid failed," he said, "but I don't comprehend--"
"Let me clear it up," broke in Stanhope. "You see, I had often explored those alleys, disguised as Silly Charlie; the character was one that admitted me everywhere. Before going to the masquerade, I had prepared for the night's work by putting my toilet articles in a carriage, and stationing it near the festive mansion. This I did to insure myself against possible delay, my programme being to drive to the agency, start my men, and then go on ahead of them, assuming my disguise as I went, for the purpose of reconnoitring the grounds for the last time, before leading the men into the alleys. You delayed me a little, and I had to deal with your 'Chinaman' in such a way as to leave in his mind a very unfavorable opinion of 'Hail Columbia.' But I was there ahead of you after all; for particulars--ahem! consult your memory."
His eyes twinkled merrily at the recollection of Vernet in the cellar trap, and he suppressed a laugh with difficulty.
Again Vernet reddened and bit his under lip.
"Oh, you have outwitted me," he said bitterly, "but you will never be able to prove it was not Warburton who personated the Sailor that night."
"I won't try, for it was Warburton. I shall not explain his presence there, however; it was a mistake on his part, but he meant well. It was not he who did the killing."
"You are bent on clearing Warburton, but how will you prove his innocence?"
"By a witness who saw Papa Francoise strike the blow."
"A girl known as Rag-picker Nance. She was in the custody of the Francoises when I made my appearance among them, in the character of Franz. They were afraid of her and kept her drugged and drunk constantly. They wanted to be rid of her, and I took her off their hands one dark night--the same night, by the by, that came so near being your last, in that burning tenement. Heavens! but that old woman is a tigress! In spite of me, she managed to fire the building. It came near being the end of you."
Vernet turned and eyed him sharply.
"Was it you," he asked, "who brought me out?"
Stanhope blushed, and then laughed carelessly to conceal his embarrassment.
"Well, yes," he admitted; "I'm sorry to say that it was. It was a great piece of impertinence on my part; but, you see, I had the advantage over the others of knowing that you were up there."
Vernet wore the look of a man who sees what he cannot comprehend.
"You're a riddle to me," he said. "You upset a man's plans and boast of it openly. You do him a monstrous favor, you save his life, and admit it with the sheepishness of a chicken-thief."
"Well, you see, I feel sheepish," confessed Stanhope flippantly. "I blush for so such Sunday-school sentiment. This habit of putting in my oar to interfere with the designs of Providence, is a weakness in a man of my cloth. Don't give me away, Van; I'll
never tell of it."
Light as were the words, Vernet well understood their meaning. The episode of the blazing tenement--his burnt-cork essay, with its ludicrous beginning and its almost tragical end--was to be kept a secret between them. When he could, in justice to others, Stanhope would spare his defeated rival.
Vernet's is not the only mind that would find it difficult to comprehend this generous nature, turning, for the sake of a less fortunate companion, his own brave deeds into a jest.
For some moments they walked on in silence. Then Vernet said:
"Of course, I see that there is a mystery between Alan Warburton and these Francoises, and that you intend to keep the mystery from publicity. But I don't see how you can prosecute this case without bringing Warburton into court."
"Papa Francoise, for the murder of the Jew."
"Say, the killing of the Jew; it was only manslaughter. We shall not press that case."
"There is an older charge against Papa Francoise, and a weightier one."
"What is that?"
"It's the end of your search and mine, Van. When I arrested Papa Francoise to-day, I arrested the murderer of Arthur Pearson
Van Vernet stopped short and faced his companion, his face growing ashen white.
"When I arrested Papa Francoise to-day, I arrested the murderer of Arthur Pearson
"It's true, Van. In trying to relieve the sufferings of a dying man, I stumbled upon the clue I might have sought after, and failed to find, for an hundred years."
They had halted at a street corner, and Van Vernet wheeled sharply about and made a step forward.
"Vernet, where are you going?"
"Nowhere; never mind me; we part here."
"Not yet, Van, I want to say--"
"Not now," broke in Vernet huskily. "You--have said enough--for once."
And he strode hurriedly down the side street.
"Poor Van," soliloquized Stanhope, as he gazed after the retreating figure. "Poor fellow; defeat and loss of fortune are too much for him."
And he turned and went thoughtfully on toward his own abode.