"If I can hear a voice, before seeing the face, I can usually measure its truth or falsity. Now, I had not seen Mr. Frank Lamotte, but his voice told me that he was rehearsing a well studied part; and, furthermore, I was assured that Belknap knew this, and purposely helped him on.
"By and by Miss Wardour withdrew, and Mrs. Aliston fulfilled her mission. Then I was more than ever convinced of the fellow's insincerity. I heard how he received the news of his sister's flight; and when Mrs. Aliston went, in a panic, to call her niece, I heard him, when he fancied himself alone.
"It seems he had been the bearer of a note from his sister to Miss Wardour, and he was now intent upon learning if that note had contained any thing damaging to himself. This much I learned from his solitary mutterings, and then Miss Wardour re-entered the room. He was half wild, until she had assured him that the note contained nothing that could injure him; and then he became calmer, and went out into the air to recover his breath.
"Miss Wardour made haste to release me, and I came out of my concealment congratulating myself that I had been so lucky.
"And now I found myself compelled to leave W—— just as things were growing very interesting; I had made my flying visit in a moment of leisure, but my vacation had run out; duty, honor and interest, alike impelled me in another direction.
"I left my address with Miss Wardour, and I promised myself that at the first opportunity I would return to W—— and take up my abode here for a time.
"I had been in W—— not quite three days. I had not seen Jasper Lamotte, I had barely seen Frank, and I had added to my deductions made on the night of my arrival, until the case stood like this in my mind:
"1st. The robbers were familiar with Wardour, outside and in.
"2d. They knew Miss Wardour, and her sensitiveness to the effects of chloroform.
"3d. One of them was a man of gentlemanly propensities, and probably young.
"4th. They or a part of their number approached by the river, using a boat with muffled oars.
"So much for my deductions. Now for some coincidences.
"It was a coincidence that the handkerchief I got from Sir Clifford should bear Frank Lamotte's initials, and should be precisely like the one left behind by the robbers.
"It was a coincidence that Frank Lamotte should be a student of medicine, who might have been quite as capable of administering chloroform as was the burglar himself.
"It was a coincidence that Miss Sybil Lamotte should have eloped on the very day when her best friend was robbed, and that father, mother, and brother were all absent in behalf of the robbed friend, thus leaving the way open to the fugitives, and giving them plenty of time to escape.
"Now for some facts that looked strange.
"It was strange that Sybil Lamotte should leave her home to marry a man like John Burrill, when she was known to have bestowed her heart elsewhere.
"It was strange that Jasper Lamotte, going to the city to employ a detective, should so soon have stumbled upon Jerry Belknap, who was identified with no agency, and could only be reached through private means.
"It was strange that Frank Lamotte should set himself up as an amateur detective, and should bring back a report that tallied so perfectly with the deductions of Jerry Belknap.
"It was strange that Miss Wardour, having just been robbed of jewels to the amount of fifty thousand dollars, should be so little distressed, so little agitated by her loss.
"From deductions, coincidences and strange facts, I evolved the following theory, which certainly looked well from my standpoint, but might not hold water. You will see, that from the first I connected the Wardour robbery and the Lamotte elopement.
"Now, Sybil Lamotte's strange flight gave proof that there was a skeleton in the Lamotte closet. I said:
"If this unseen Mr. Lamotte had planned this robbery, and if for some reason it seemed good that his daughter should elope, how well all was arranged.
"His son assisting him, they could drop down from Mapleton in their row boat; come up from the river, and, with their plans all laid, and knowing their ground, could make quick headway. Frank Lamotte's boot heel would leave just such a print, as one of the robbers left in the loose dirt beside the garden fence. Frank Lamotte would know just how to administer the chloroform. Then, Mr. Lamotte, in going to the city, ostensibly to procure the services of a detective, could easily take the spoils along; and his wife also, that she might be well out of his daughter's way. Such a man would naturally select a fellow like Jerry Belknap, who would keep up a farce of investigation, and keep away all who might, perhaps, stumble upon the truth. Frank's eagerness to be absent on this day of his sister's flight, and to assist in the search for the robbers, would be thus explained; and his anxiety concerning the contents of his sister's letter might be easily traced to a guilty conscience.
"But my theories were doomed to be laid aside for a time. Other duties claimed me and it was four weeks before I could turn so much as a thought toward W——.
"Before leaving the city, however, I had placed my wax cast of the chloroform bottle in the hands of one of my best men, and had also given him a clue upon which to work.
"My agent was wonderfully successful. He found the counterparts to the chloroform bottle, and then he began shadowing the owner of said vials. It proved to be a young woman who had formerly lived in W——, as a factory hand, but who had been transplanted to the city by Frank Lamotte.
"It is not necessary to enlarge upon the story of this girl as connected with Lamotte; but this must be borne in mind. During the time that my agent had this girl under surveillance, Frank Lamotte visited her, and, it is supposed that he removed the remaining bottles of the set, for one was afterward exhumed, in fragments, from Doctor Heath's ash heap, by the industrious Jerry Belknap, and the others have disappeared."
At the mention of this factory girl Mrs. Aliston turned her face toward Constance, its expression saying as plainly as any language could, "I told you so." But Mr. Bathurst took no notice of this, and hurried on with his story.
THE STORY OF LUCKY JIM.
"From the moment when I appeared among you as Brooks, my work was double. I was bent upon posting myself thoroughly in regard to Jasper Lamotte, and day by day I became more interested in the career of this remarkable man.
"Step by step, I trod backward the path of his history, since his advent in W——, gathering my information from many sources.
"It would be tedious to enter into details; suffice it to say that while I worked here, two others, trained to such research, were beating up the past I was so anxious to become familiar with. And a third, across the water, was gathering up the history of John Burrill, another object of interest to me at that time.
"And now I will reverse the order in which we made our search, and, beginning where my men left off, give you, in brief, the history of a remarkable man.
"The man we know as Jasper Lamotte figured in various cities, twenty-five years ago, and still earlier, as Lucky Jim, a handsome, well educated, sharp witted, confidence man.
"He seldom gambled, and made his swindling operations of various sorts reap him a rich harvest; and, by his unvarying good luck, in escaping the dragons of the law, as well as because of his lucky ventures, he became known to his intimates as Lucky Jim.
"In these days, Miss Sybil Schuyler, the daughter of a wealthy old Maryland aristocrat, came to the city to reside with an aunt, while she completed her musical education. Lucky Jim saw her, and fell in love with her beautiful, haughty face.
"He contrived to make her acquaintance, and the rest was easy; it was a repetition of the old story; he was handsome and fascinating, she young and unsophisticated, with plenty of headstrong Southern blood and self will.
"After a brief courtship, Lucky Jim married the Maryland heiress. Her father, as may be supposed, repudiated the marriage, but she clung to her scamp, and so the old Maryland aristocrat sent her a small fortune, which was hers, inherited from her mother's mother, and beyond his control; and bade her consider herself no more a Schuyler, of the Schuylers.
"For a time, Lucky Jim rode smoothly on the top wave of prosperity; his wife easily duped, believed him a Wall street operator. Frank was born, and then Sybil, and the Maryland beauty queened it in an elegant and secluded little home.
"But the crisis came. The silver cloud turned its dark side.
"Lucky Jim played a losing game, one day, and his wife suddenly found herself face to face with the truth.
"They lived through stormy times, but Jim had, in his palmy days, left his wife's fortune intact, and now it proved an anchor to windward.
"They absented themselves from this country for more than two years; then they came back, and Lucky Jim brought his family, which now included Evan, to W——. The Maryland fortune enabled them to set up as aristocrats, and Lucky Jim seems to have aspired to become a power in the community.
"I don't think he often attempted any of his old confidence and swindling games; but, during his absences from home, which were frequent, during his earlier residence here, he made a study of fine burglary.
"I can fancy how carefully he put his new schemes in practice, and how he passed himself off upon W—— as a rising speculator.
"He probably spent years in gathering together that select society, known as the Diamond Coterie.
"At first, it consisted of four; himself, a city pawn-broker, known as Ezras, who received and negotiated the sale of the stolen goods, and who is as keen a rascal as ever escaped justice, and two noted cracksmen, who had headquarters in the city, and were famous in their day, but who were compelled to withdraw in the midst of their high career, one dying of a malignant fever, the other being killed by a woman.
"To replace these departed worthies, Ezras, who was always on the alert for pals, and who had had various crooked dealings with Jerry Belknap, brought this gentleman and Mr. Lamotte, or Lucky Jim together.
"Belknap proved the right man in the right place, and was soon admitted into the Coterie. Next to come under the favorable notice of Ezras, was John Burrill, who had come over from England, bringing with him some ill-gotten gains, and who set himself up in New York as a swell cracksman.
"Now, Burrill, the English boor, had an ambition. In this easy-going America, he hoped in some way to build himself into an aristocrat, and to shine as one of the lords of the land. To this end he hoarded his share of all the spoils, and, adding it to the sum brought from England, he began to find himself a rich man.
"Meantime, Mr. Lamotte had speculated a little too freely; he had built a mansion, and built his factories. He had been living like a prince, and some of his late ventures had failed. Something must be done. And then his eye fell upon Burrill; he coveted the Englishman's hoarded dollars.
"He found it easy to persuade Burrill to come to W——, ostensibly to take the position of overseer at the factories; really to be more readily duped by Lucky Jim. Burrill came; he saw how his comrade was respected and bowed down to by all W——. He had always admired Lucky Jim for his gentlemanly polish and his aristocratic manners; and he now concocted a scheme for his own aggrandisement. The Lamottes had made themselves aristocrats, they should make an aristocrat of him.
"You all know the result; John Burrill divorced his wife; Jasper Lamotte sold his daughter.
"While Frank Lamotte felt tolerably sanguine of winning the heiress of Wardour, the Wardour jewels were left unmolested. But when a rival came into the field, they determined to have the jewels, even if they lost the heiress.
"Accordingly they planned the robbery and the elopement, and you all know the afterpart.
"Miss Wardour, you once offered a reward for the arrest of the robbers who invaded Wardour Place, not to recover your diamonds, but for the sake of justice. It is for the sake of justice and for the future safety of peaceable citizens that I have run the Diamond Coterie to earth. For, be it known to you, ladies and gentlemen, that Miss Constance Wardour, like the wise young lady she is, took her jewels to an expert, one fine day, long ago, and had them all duplicated in paste; and while Jasper Lamotte and his clique were industriously carrying into safe hiding these paste diamonds, the real Wardour jewels were reposing safely in the vaults of a city bank, and they repose there safely still!
"When Jasper Lamotte went to the city, two days before the killing of Burrill, he went to dispose of some of those paste jewels; and, not until then, did he learn how the heiress of Wardour had outwitted him.
"Miss Wardour, the career of the Diamond Coterie is at an end.
"Old Ezras has long been under our eye. Last night I sent a telegram, which will cause his instant arrest; and there are enough charges against him to insure him a life sentence, had he yet seventy years to live.
"John Burrill has passed beyond our reach. The news of his murder frustrated my nicely laid plans for his arrest, and turned my mind for some time from the Diamond Coterie to the task of clearing Sir Clifford.
"Frank Lamotte, too, with all his sin and selfishness, has passed before a higher tribunal.
"There remains only Jerry Belknap and Jasper Lamotte.
"To Jerry Belknap, I have promised protection—not because he deserves the same, but because in no other way could I avail myself of his services; and, to make my chain of evidence complete, I needed his testimony. He will go out to the frontier, and never appear again in New York.
"And now, perhaps, you can comprehend why I brought that charge of perjury against Jasper Lamotte. For his wife's sake, for his unhappy daughter's sake, for the sake of Evan Lamotte, who implored me, while going to give himself up to save another, that I would not let further disgrace bow his mother's head to the dust. For the sake of these unfortunate victims, I would let Jasper Lamotte go free, so far as we are concerned. The charge of perjury is enough for W——. The officers have chosen not to place him in confinement, so, if Jasper Lamotte is suddenly missed from among us, who can be questioned or blamed?
"I have acted in this matter solely on my own responsibility.
"I have seen Jasper Lamotte, and I gave him two alternatives to choose from. He could remain and be arrested as the head and front of the Diamond Coterie, or he could take passage on board the first ship bound for Australia, to remain there the rest of his natural life. He chose the latter, and I have appointed my agent, 'Smith, the book peddler,' as his guardian, to see that he carries out his contract to the letter.
"And now there is one thing more:
"After Burrill's death, Jasper and Frank Lamotte made a search for certain papers supposed to have been upon the person of the dead man; they never found them, for the reason that I, as Brooks, had relieved Burrill of the care of these same papers, weeks before, substituting for them blanks, which no doubt, Burrill had hidden somewhere, in one of his fits of drunken caution.
"These papers define distinctly such portions of the Lamotte property as in reality belonged to Burrill; and if I am not mistaken in Mrs. Lamotte and her daughter, they will wish no share in it. I will put these papers into your hands, Mr. O'Meara, to be held for future action."
AFTER THE DRAMA ENDED.
"Clifford," says the heiress of Wardour, standing beside her lover, one winter day, not long after the extinction of the Diamond Coterie, "Clifford I have been to Mapleton to-day, for the first time since—"
She pauses abruptly, and her lover draws her closer to his side, with all his olden assurance shining in the eyes he bends down upon her.
"Since the drama ended," he finishes. "You have been to Mapleton, beloved! tell me about it."
"There's something I wish to tell you, Clifford; something that in full, Mr. Bathurst generously kept out of his story when he told us the rest; something that is known as it is only to Mrs. Lamotte, Sybil, Evan, Mr. Belknap, Mr. Bathurst, and myself, but which I think I had better tell you now."
"I am listening Conny."
"Well, you see when the robbers made off with my paste diamonds—think of its being the Lamottes, Clifford—when they robbed me of nothing, I felt quite relieved, for those diamonds had been a burden. I made up my mind to make the most of the business, and let everybody think me a loser, hoping thus to possess myself and my diamonds in peace and safety. But your Mr. Bathurst—"
"My Mr. Bathurst!"
"Well, my Mr. Bathurst, then; only you very well know that he has a wife. When my Mr. Bathurst had talked to me a second time—I believe that man can see straight through people—he had my secret at his tongue's end; and he warned me to be very cautious and not to tell any one the truth concerning the diamonds. In spite of this, one evening, when some imp possessed me, I told Sybil Lamotte; I shall never forget her strange manner, nor her wild words. Clifford, that awful mistake of mine almost made Sybil a murderess."
"Listen, dear! Sybil had brooded over what I had told her. Trouble was unsettling her mind. She had some valuable jewels; she went with her mother to the city, and while there, had the real stones replaced by paste, as I had done, and received two thousand dollars for her diamonds.
"In some way she had found out that Jerry Belknap was a man to be bought; she obtained an interview with him, and offered him two thousand dollars if he would get John Burrill out of her way!"
"Don't interrupt me. Belknap agreed to remove Burrill, and received five hundred dollars in advance. He sent to the city for a ruffian, one of his tools. The man came, but Mr. Bathurst had his eye upon him. On the night of the murder, this ruffian was hidden outside of the saloon, waiting to follow and waylay John Burrill when he should go home. The boy detective, George, was hidden and watching the ruffian. Do you follow?"
"When Burrill came out of the saloon, the ruffian, supposing of course that he was going home, hurried on ahead, crossed the bridge, and secreted himself in the hedge. The boy, George, was far enough behind to see that Burrill was not going home, but he was acting as directed by Mr. Bathurst, and so followed the ruffian. Think of it, Clifford! While Sybil's paid assassin lay in wait for his victim, Sybil's brother was saving her soul from guilt, by taking a crime upon his own. But for Evan's knife, poor half crazed Sybil would have been a murderess, and this I knew in part from the first, and that is why I said, that the true slayer must not be punished; until they brought Evan Lamotte into court, I believed that Sybil was the guilty one."
"And you could not betray your unfortunate friend? My true hearted Constance!"
"I had promised Mrs. Lamotte not to betray her, but was nerving myself to dare all and save you, when poor Evan threw himself into the breach, and saved us, all three. You must know, Clifford, that Mr. Belknap made a full confession to Mr. Bathurst, when he found he could do no better. And Mr. Bathurst, knowing that I was aware of Sybil's dealings with Belknap, told me everything."
"And this is what Bathurst meant when he said that Sybil believed herself guilty. I thought he referred to some of her insane ravings."
"So they all thought. But it is best as it is. There is no need to tell this sad story, unless—"
"Unless it seems best that Ray Vandyck should know it."
"Poor Ray. Conny, if the time ever comes when Ray and Sybil meet again, she will tell him her own story."
Constance bent over the glowing coals a moment, and then lifting her face, she said in a hushed voice:
"I saw Evan."
"He is just fading out of life. Oh! it was so fortunate that there was no resistance to the humane ones who sought to help him out of that gloomy prison. Sybil never leaves him for a moment. Oh, what must her feelings have been, when she learned that Evan had saved her from a life time of remorse. I could see by her face, oh, such a poor, pale, sad, utterly changed face! that she knew all; everything. She greeted me; so timidly, yet, with so much of thankfulness. But, she had eyes and ears for no one but Evan, although she is too weak to do more than sit beside him and hold his hand. But, Mrs. Lamotte's courage is wonderful. Old Mr. Schuyler, Sybil's grandfather, is dead; and he has left Mrs. Lamotte his property; but, so tied up that Mr. Lamotte could never touch a dollar. Mrs. Lamotte says that when it is over—Evan's life you know—she shall take Sybil and go to live in her old Maryland home. They will not touch a penny of John Burrill's money; it is all to be transferred to his first wife, to be held in trust for her little boy. The woman is going back to England as soon as the transfer is made. Mrs. Lamotte said to me to-day:
"'After all these years, Constance, I am to have an old age of peace, I trust. Mr. Lamotte and I have parted forever. My love for him died long since, so this gives me no pain. My keenest sorrow is that I never gave my poor Evan his full share of my mother love. He came with my sorrow, and bears the impress of my despair and madness. If we could only save and keep him! But it is best as it is. Mind and body seem dying together, and it is better so. When all is over, I shall take Sybil away, where there will be nothing to recall her wretched past; and there I shall trust her to Time, the Healer.'
"She never mentioned Frank's name, Clifford," bending forward to look in his face. "Do you know what I see in the future? I see poor Evan laid away under the snows; I see the memory of John Burrill sunk in oblivion. I see Sybil Lamotte coming slowly back to life and hope and happiness, under the kind blue Maryland skies. I see Mrs. Lamotte, her pride softened and chastened, and a look of serene content upon her face. And I see Ray Vandyck making his way southward some day, and standing before Sybil with his heart in his eyes. I see—"
"You see enough. Leave Ray and Sybil face to face; you and I can guess the rest. Do you see Doctor Clifford Heathercliffe resuming his practice in W——, as if nothing had happened? For that's what his newly appointed tyrant has bidden him do. Do you see a certain fair lady, transformed into Lady Heathercliffe by and by, and sailing away over the seas to bewilder the dwellers of Heathercliffe Towers, with the brightness of her eyes and, in spite of the Diamond Coterie, to blaze forth upon the 'nobility and gentry' of Hampshire, in all the splendor of the Wardour diamonds? All this shall come to pass, beloved; and, since it has gained me the fairest, bravest, truest wife in Christendom, I can even rejoice in the persecutions and the hatred of the Diamond Coterie.
"If John Burrill had not mistaken me for Herbert, on the night when the feud began, he might now be living, perhaps, and you and I be far apart; so, at the last, Herbert Heathercliffe, in his grave, has done me a service. I do look like him, Conny, and it's small wonder Burrill knew me for a Heathercliffe, and made capital out of my altered name. But all that is past. My darling, we have learned our hard lesson, now we have only to forgive the dead and the erring, to forget the shadows and sorrows of the past, and to say, 'God bless our friends in need; God bless Bathurst, king of his kind; God bless the O'Mearas—God bless the beautiful darling who outwitted the diamond Coterie, and who wears the Wardour diamonds, and the Wardour honor with regal grace.'"