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wards, when I introduced you to my mother; I gave you the name Luttrell, without ever dreaming —”
“Was Luttrell not your mother's name?” I asked, perplexed.
“That is the name by which she is always called now; and I am always called Claire; in fact, it is my name, but I have another, and I ought to have told you."
“Why, as Claire I know you, and as Claire I shall always love you. What does it matter if your real name be Lambert? You will change it, love, soon, I trust.”.
But my poor little jest woke no mirth in her eyes.
“No, it is not Lambert. This is only the name I took when I went on the stage. Nor am I called Luttrell. It is a sad story; but let me tell it now, and put an end to all deception. I meant to do so long ago; but lately I thought I would wait until after you had seen me on the stage; I thought I would explain all together, not knowing that he — but it has all gone wrong. Jasper, I know you will pity poor mother, even though she had allowed you to be deceived. She has been so unhappy. But let me tell it first, and then you will judge. She calls herself Luttrell to avoid persecution; to avoid a man who is — ”
“A villain, I am sure.”
“A villain, yes; but worse. He is her husband; not my father, but a second husband. My father died when I was quite a little child, and she married again. Ever since that day she has been miserable. I remember her face- oh, so well! when she first discovered the real character of the man. For years she suffered — we were abroad then — until at last she could bear it no longer, so she fled — fled back to England, and took me with her. I think, but I am not sure, that her husband did not dare to follow her to England, because he had done something against the laws. I only guess this, for I never dare to ask mother about him. I did so once, and shall never forget the look of terror that came into her eyes. I only guess he has some strong reason for avoiding England, for I remember we went abroad hastily, almost directly after that night when mother first discovered that she had been deceived. However that may be, we came to England, mother and I, and changed our name to Luttrell, which was her maiden name. After this, our life became one perpetual dread of discovery. We were miserably poor, of course, and I was unable to do anything to help for many years. Mother was so careful; why, she even called me by my second name, so desperately anxious was she to hide all traces from that man. Then suddenly we were discovered — not by him, but by his mother, whom he set to search for us, and she — for she was not wholly bad — promised to make my fortune on the single condition that half my earnings were sent to him. Otherwise, she threatened that mother should have no rest. What could I do? It was the only way to save ourselves. Well, I promised to go upon the stage, for this woman fancied she discovered some talent in me. Why, Jasper, how strangely you are looking!”
“Tell me — tell me,” I cried, “who is this woman?”
“You ought to know that, for you were in the box with her during most of the first night of Francesca.'”
A horrible, paralyzing dread had seized me.
“ Colliver. He is called Simon Colliver. But, Jasper, what is it? What – ”
I took the chain and Golden Clasp and handed them to Claire without speech.
“Why, what is this?” she cried. “He has a piece exactly like this, the fellow to it; I remember seeing it when I was quite small. Oh, speak! what new mystery, what new trouble is this?”
“Claire, Colliver is here in London, or was but a week
“Yes, Claire; and it was he that murdered Thomas Loveday."
“Murdered Thomas Loveday! I do not understand.” She had turned a deathly white, and spread out her hands as if for support. “Tell me — "
“Yes, Claire,” I said, as I stepped to her, and put my arm about her; “it is truth, as I stand here. Colliver, your mother's husband, foully murdered my innocent friend for the sake of that piece of gold; and more, Simon Colliver, for the sake of this same accursed token, murdered my father!”
“ Your father!”
She shook off my arm, and stood facing me there, by Tom's grave, with a look of utter horror that froze my blood.
“Yes, my father; or stay, I am wrong. Though Colliver prompted, his was not the hand that did the deed. That he left to a poor wretch whom he afterwards slew himself - one Railton - John Railton."
Twenty-four hours had passed and left me as they found me, in torture. Despite my doubt, I swore she should not cast me off; then knelt and prayed as I had never prayed before, that Heaven would deny some of its cruelty to my darling. In the abandonment of my supplication, I was ready to fing the secret from me and forgive all, to forgive my father's murderer, my life-long enemy, and let him go unsought, rather than give up Claire. Yet as I prayed, my entreaties and my tears went up to no compassionate God, but beat themselves upon the adamantine face of Dead Man's Rock that still rose inexorable between me and Heaven.
That night the crowd that gathered in the Coliseum to see the new play went away angry and disappointed; for Clarissa Lambert was not acting. Another actress took her part — but how differently! And all the while she, for whose sake they had come, was on her knees wrestling with a grimmer tragedy than “Francesca," with no other audience than the angels of pity.
Twenty-four hours had passed, and found me hastening towards Old Kensington; for in my pocket lay a note bearing only the words “Come at 3.30 — Claire," and on my heart rested a load of suspense unbearable. For many minutes beforehand, I paced up and down outside the house in an agony, and as my watch pointed to the half-hour, knocked and was admitted.
Mrs. Luttrell met me in the passage. She seemed most terribly white and worn, so that I was astonished when she simply said, “ Claire is slightly unwell, and in fact could not act last night, but she wishes to see you for some reason."
Wondering why Claire's mother should look so strangely if she guessed nothing of what had happened, but supposing illness to be the reason, I stopped for an instant to ask.
“Am I pale ?” she answered. “It is nothing — nothing do not take any notice of it. I am rather weaker than usual to-day, that is all — a mere nothing. You will find Claire in the drawing-room there.” And so she left me.
I knocked at the drawing-room door, and hearing a faint voice inside, entered. As I did so, Claire rose to meet me. She was very pale, and the dark circles around her eyes told of a long vigil; but her manner at first was composed and even cold.
“Claire !” I cried, and stretched out my hands.
“Not yet,” she said, and motioned me to a chair. “I sent for you because I have been thinking of -- of — what happened yesterday, and I want you to tell me all; the whole story from beginning to end."
“ There is no 'but’in the case, Jasper. I am Janet Rail. ton, and you say that my father killed yours. Tell me how it was.”
Her manner was so calm that I hesitated at first, bewil. dered. Then, finding that she waited for me to speak, I sat down facing her and began my story.
I told it through, without suppression or concealment, from the time when my father started to seek the treasure, down to the cowardly blow that had taken my friend's life. During the whole narrative she never took her eyes from my face for more than a moment. Her very lips were bloodless, but her manner was as quiet as though I were reading her some story of people who had never lived. Once only she interrupted me. I was repeating the conversation between her father and Simon Colliver upon Dead Man's Rock.
“You are quite sure,” she asked, “ of the words? You are positive he said, Captain, it was your knife'?”
“Certain,” I answered sadly.
“As well as I can remember, and I have cause for a good memory.”
“Go on,” she replied simply.
So I unrolled the whole chronicle of our unhappy fates, and even read to her Lucy Railton's letter which I had brought with me. Then, as I ceased, for full a minute we sat in absolute silence, reading each other's gaze.
“Let me see the letter,” she said, and held out her hand for it.
I gave it to her. She read it slowly through and handed it back.
“Yes, it is my mother's letter,” she said, slowly.
Then again silence fell upon us. I could hear the clock tick slowly on the mantel-piece, and the beating of my own heart that raced and outstripped it. That was all; until at length the slow, measured footfall of the timepiece grew mad. dening to hear; it seemed a symbol of the unrelenting doom pursuing us, and I longed to rise and break it to atoms.
I could stand it no longer.
“Claire, tell me that this will not — cannot alter you - that you are mine yet, as you were before.”
“This is impossible,” she said, very gravely and quietly.
“Impossible ? Oh, no, no; do not say that! You cannot, you must not say that!”
“Yes, Jasper,” she repeated, and her face was pallid as snow; “it is impossible.”
But as I heard my doom, 1 arose and fought it with blind despair.
“Claire, you do not know what you are saying. You love me, Claire; you have told me so, and I love you as my very soul. Surely, then, you will not say this thing. How were we to know? How could you have told ? Oh, Claire! is it that you do not love me?”
Her eyes were full of infinite compassion and tenderness, but her lips were firm and cold.
“You know that I love you.”
“Then, oh, my love! how can this come between us ? What does it matter that our fathers fought and killed each other, if only we love? Surely, surely Heaven cannot fix the seal of this crime upon us forever? Speak, Claire, and tell me that you will be mine in spite of all!”
“It cannot be,” she answered, very gently.
“Cannot be !” I echoed. “Then I was right, and you do not love, but fancied that you did for a while. Love, love, was that fair? No power on earth — no, nor in heaven — should have made me cast you off so.”
My rage died out before the mute reproach of those lovely eyes. I caught the white hand. “Forgive me, Claire; I was desperate, and knew not what I was saying. I know you love me — you have said so, and you are truth itself; truth and all goodness. But if you have loved, then you can love me still. Remember our text, Claire, ' Love is strong as death.' Strong as death, and can it be overcome so easily ?”
She was trembling terribly, and from the little hand within mine I could feel her agitation. But though the soft eyes spoke appealingly as they were raised in answer, I could see, behind all their anguish, an immutable resolve.