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The Lone Inn

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VIA COPyR.QHTE.P.094 Br TMCAUTHOR CHAPTER II. It was close on 0 o'clock when I awoke next morning. My long tramp of the previeras day had tired me more than I thought. Nevertheless I was annoyed at oversleeping myself aud astondshed that Francis had not cal led me earlier. I knew how anxious he was about the proposed meeting with his brother and fancied that his impatieuce would have drawn him to my room at dawn. Apparently he was less curious concerning the interview than I thought. Yet, leaving him out of the question, I ought certainly to have been roused by Strent or his daughter and determined to reprove them for such neglect. After all, an inu is an inn, and one has a right to attentions for which oue pays. Judging from the landlord's looks, I did not think my bill would err on the side of cheapness. These thonghts passed through rny anind as I hastily dressed myself. Opening the window, I looked out on the marshes golden in the snushine. A keen -wind was blowing from the sta, and the smell of brinestruck into the heavy atmospher of my bedroom. An absolute gtillness prevailed both inside and out. I feit as fchough I had awakened in the spellbound palacj cf the sleeping beauty. Au inn of all places should be full of bustle and uoise, but there was something uncanny in the silence which reigned in this marsh locked hosteL It hinted trouble, and I feit uneasy. In no very good temper I descended to the dining room, with the intention ! of apologizing to Francis for my tardy j appearance and of rating the landlord for his negligence. To my astonishment, neither Francis nor any one else was to be seen, and the room was in precisely the same condition as on the previous night. The fire was unlighted, the table not set out for breakfast; even the window blinds were down. For the moment I was sick with apprehension, as it was impossible to conjecture the reason of this neglect and absence of human life. The stillness was as absolute as had prevailed up stairs, and when I rang the bell it echoed through the house as thouarh mockin? mv efforfcs tn snmmnn landlord, maid or friend. Twice, thrice, I pulled the bellrope without result; then, somewhat unnerved by the silence in which I fouud myself, went to the back part of the premises. Here tho condition of things was the same as in the dining room. The kitchen was empty, nor were there any signs of flre or of food. I explored the whole of the groimd iioor and found aobody. The conclusión forced itself upon me that Strent and his daughter had left the inn during the night. What was the meaning of this sudden flight? What reason could be sufficientïy powerful to forcé them to vacate the premises? Asking myself these questions, I entered room after room, but in none of them did I tind any answer. The front door was bolted and barred, the back eutrance was in the same condition, and there was no key in either lock. I considored the features of the case and saw that the air was full of mystery, perhaps of - but, no; in that lonely house I could not bring myself to ntter the terrible word. I knew not what had happened dnring my sleep, but feit cortain that some event had taken plaue. Othervrisa there oould be no reason for this state of things. Almost against my will I searched the house again, but could discover ueither Strent nor his daughter Rose. I was alone in the house. But Francis "Francis, " said I, repeating my j thoughts aloud, "aye, Francis. I i ■der if he has left the iim also or whether j he has overslept himself and is still in his room. ' ' To make sure I went up stairs to his bedroom. Pray observe that all this time I had not conuected these things with crime. It is true I had a faint suspicion that there mightpossibly be some foul play, but as there was nothing to confirm such a belief I abandoned the idea. 1 declare that when I knocked at the door of Briarfield's room I had no more idea of the horrible truth than the babe unborn. My premonitions pointed to mystery, but not to murder. Yet from the couversation of the previous night I might have guessed what had happened. The house was as accursed as the palace of the Artidae, and Ate bided on the threshold stone. Not until I had thrice knocked without receiving any answer did my suspicions begin to form. Then they took shape in an instant. I tried the door. It was locked. The ominous silence still hinted at unspeakable horrors. My knocking echoed jarringly through the stillness. At that moment there flashed before my eyes the picture of two figures flying across a red horizon against which blackened the beams of a gallows. It was the shadow of the future. I knocked, I called his name, and finally in desperation at the continued silence sot my shoulder against the crazy door. It yielded with a tearing sound, and I entered the room amid a cloud of fine dust. He was lying on the bed stiff and cold. I had no need to cali, to touch his shoulder, to place my hand on his heart. He was dead. With the clothes drawn up smoothly to his chin lay the man with whorn I had conversed the previous night. The right arm lay outside the counterpane. On the hand glistened a pearl ring. I looked at that bauble. I glanced at the waxen face. The matter was beyoud all doubt. Francis field was dead. Bef ore I could f nrther examine th( body or the room I was forced to rur f or my brandy flask. For the moment ] was deadly sick, and it needed a lonj; I draft of the fiery spirit to speed the stag nating blood throngh my veins. The strange circumstauee was a sufficienl apology for such qaalmishuess. This lonely inn set on a handbreadth of living ground amid quaking boga, this dëad body of what had once been a friend, this solitnde by which I found myself environed, these were sufficieiit to shake the strougest nerve. It looks in a manner prosaic on black and wúite, but think of the horror of the actual ex' perience. For the moment I conld formúlate no ideas on the subject. That my friend should be dead was suffiAint to stun me. When reason came back, I asked myself how he died and who was responsib'.e for the crime. The landlord, the maid, the brother, one of these three had murdered Fraucis Briarfield. But in what way? I examined the body. It was clothed in a nightgown, and the clothes lay folded up on the chair by the bedside. The face was calm; there wereno marks jf violeuce on the throat or on the frame. Only on the violet lips lingered a slight curl of foam. The smooth bedclothes drawn up to the chin forbade the idea of a struggle. I looked at the right arm lyiug on the counterpane, at the hand, and there in the palm was a ragged wound from thumb to little finger. It was discolored at the edges and looked green and unwholesome. This livid appearance made me think of poison, but I was not sufficiently a doctor to diagnoae the case correctly. Yet I was certain of one thing - that Francis Briarfield had come by his death in some f oul fashion, and that at the hands of - whom? Aye, there was the rub ! So f ar as I knew, the landlord had no motive to commit such a crime. Suspicion pointed toward the maid who had wished to 3peak with the dead man after snpper. Yet why should she desire his death? From the lips of Francis himself I had beard that he knew neither Strent nor I Uose, nor indeed anght of the Fen inn. Hither he had been brought by his brother's letter to keep an appointment j and was as ignorant of the iuu, of its inmates, of its surroundings as I. Could Felix have committed this crime? True, if my theory were correct ! and he had passed himself off to Olivia I Bellin as Francis, there were some grounds for believing he wished his brother out of the way. Francis would undoubtedly refuse to perruit the decepj tion to be carried on, so it was just pos: sible that Felix, iu a frenzy of wrath and terror at the idea of his treachery being exposed, might have slain his I brother. Yet all this fine theory was upset by the fact that Felix had not arrived on the previous night to keep the appointment. He therefore mnst be guiltless. j If so, what of the landlord and his i daughter? Certainly they had no rea son to slay a stranger who had fcered uuder their root' for the night. Yet their flight looke;! suspicious. If they wera innocent, why did they leave the inn? Auother question preguant with nieaning was the reason of their beiug alone in the inn. I had seen no servants either indoors or out. Father and daughter appeared to do all the work, yet it was beyoud all reason that they should have no assistance. Where was the cook, the waiter, the hostler, the chambermaid? The house was a large one. Two people with all the will in the world conld not thoroughly attend to the domestio economy of so great a mansión. Moreover, the girl had looked unused to work. That in itself was suspicious. "Can it be?" thought L "Can it be that these two hired this inn to compass the death of Francis Briarfleld, and that he was drawn here as into a snare by his brother's letter? On the face of it, it looks absurd, and yet in what other way can I explain the absence of servanta, the mildswed aspect of the rooms? Now Francis is dead, and they, without a word to me, have departed. ' ' I could not solve the mystery. Far from doing so, the more I thought, the more I examined the surroundings, the deeper grew the mystery. The door had been locked, and I could find no key. The window also was locked, and even had it not been no one could have entered thereby, so considerable was the height from the grocuid. How, then, had the assassiu gained admittance? Yet sure was I that Briarfleld had been murdered, but by whom it was hard to say - nay, impossible. I did indeed think that he had committed suicide, but this was too wild an idea to entertain even for a momen' When I parted froin him ou the previous night, he was in the best of health, looking forward to meeting Miss Bellin, and was passably content with his life. There was no hint of self destrucción ei .er in speech or action. The thought that his brother had deceived him would not have engendered snch an idea. Rather was he determined to unmask the traitor and regain his promised wife by forcé. Morder it might be. Suicide was out of the question. Thus far I thrashed out the matter, yet arrived at no logical conclusión. As there seemed no signs of landlord and tnaid, it behooved me to consider what I Should do. AcnnrHinc fn Francii hia brother was due at the meeting place that morning, so I deemed it advisable i to wait until he arrived and tben ex1 plaiu the circumstances to him. If he [ was in league witb Strent to murder his brother, he would hardly be able to disi guiso his joy at hearing the success of his plot. I therefore determined to watcL his face during the interview, and if I saw therein any signs of guilt to there and then, in that lonely inn, accuse him as a seco' ' "ain. Bythusterrorizing his soul , such accusation andwith thesightor hisvictim I might force him into confession. If he were guilty, I guessed the plea behind which he would shelter himself - that he had not been near the place on the previous night. This I wonld counter by the accusation that his emissaries had carried out his orders and then sought safety in flight. It might be íhat I suspected Félix wrongly, yet after the story told me by Francis I could not bufc think he was conn cted in soms unseen way with the death of the latter. But, after all, these suspicions were yet vague and aimless. All I knew for certain was that Francis Briarfield was dead. I swore on the instant to devote myself to finding out and punishing his detestable assassin. Having come to this resolution, I propped up the open door, so as to close the entrance to the chamber of death, and descended to the lower regions. Finding victuals and f nel in the kitchen, I cooked myself a meal and made a suffi - ciently good breakfast. Then I lighted my pipe and took my seat at the front door to watch for the coming of Felix btiarfield. Whether my suspicions would bewiispelled or confirmed by his demeanor I was of course unable to say until the interview took place. But I was most anxious to kuow. All that morning I looked down the winding road to Marshminster, but saw no one coming therefrom. Not a soul was in sight, and if I did for a moment think that Strent and his daughter might return and declare themselves innocent the thought was banished by a few hours' outlook. The inn, as I said before, was on a slight ris", and I could sea far and wide. No human being was to be seen, and as the hours passed I grew almost horrified at the grewaome solitude. To be alone with a dead body in a lonely house in a lonely moor is hardlv healthv for the mind Toward noou I took a resolution. "If, "said I, "the mouutain won't i-ome to Mohammed, why, then, Mohammed must go to the mountain. " The interpretaron of this was that I intended to see Felix Briarfleld at Bellin Hall, Marshminster. Face to face with hiin, and I would foroe him to explain why he had not kept the appointment. It seemed to me a suspicious circumstance. Perhaps Strent had told him Francis was dead, and therefore it would be useless for hiin to ride to the Fen inn. If this were so, it would go a long way toward implicating him in the crime. I re-entered the house, locked np everything, and strapping on my knapsack took ray departure toward Marshminster. Some way down the road ] looked back at the ruin and saw it loom more grim and ghastly than ever. Even in the bright sunshine it could not appear otherwise than eerie, and it was with great pleasure that I left it behind. Yet under those sloping roofs Francis Briarfleld lay dead, and it was to discover his assassin and avenge his death that I set my face toward Marshmiuster. CHAPTER III. Late in the afternoon I tramped into Marshminster. It was by no means iny first visit to that sleepy provincial town. Under the shadow of the cathedral tower dwelt relatives with whoui I had aforetiine spent school and college holidays. Their house was the goal of my pilgrimage, and a week's rest was to recoup me for the toils of the walking tour. The tragic occurrence at the Fen inu altered all my plans. With an assassiu to be tracked there was no time for coml'ortable idleness. Francis Briarfield had been my friend, and I owed it to his meinory to avenge his death. It was no easy task I had set myself. I recognized that from the first. In place, therefore, of seeking the center of the town and my maiden aunt's I turned off at the outskirts and made for Bellin Hall. According to the story of Francis, his brother was staying with the Bellins, and it was necessary that I should see him at once about the matter. My acquaintance with Mrs. Bellin and her daughter was confined to casual conversation at crowded "at homes" during the season. Ihadhardly the right to thrust myself on them uninvited, but my business brooked no delay. The sooner Felix knew the truth the better it would be for him. If he ■were guilty, I could puuish him for his crime by denounciug him at once to the authorities; if innocent, he need lose no time in hunting down those who had slain his brother. Besides I wished to put Olivia on her guard against the man masquerading as Francis Briarfield. That I iutended to do in any case, whether he was innocent or guilty. Bellin Hall was a grotesque specimen of architecture, built by Jeremiah Bellin, who had made his money out of blacking. It was uucommonly like a factory, but perhaps the deceased Jeremiah liked something to remiud him of the origin of his fortune and keep him from thinking hia ancestors carne over witfi WüTiam the Couqueror. He the danghterof a baronet and theu took his departure to the next world, leaving his widow well provided for and his daughter an heiress in her own right. Mrs. Bellin was a pretty woman, with no brains and a giggling langh. Her daughter had the beauty of her mother aud the brains of her father, so she was altogether a charmiug girl. How she conhi tolérate her silly dolly of a mother I could never undêrstand. Perhaps 23yearsof constant forbearance had inured her to the triaL Ou arriving at the front door I learned that Mr. Briarfleld was within aud sent up my card, reqnestiuar a ürivate ( view. For the present I did not wish to see Olivia, as it was iny iutention to j warn Félix that I was coguizaut of kis , trickery. My theory was proved correct by the following dialogue: Myself- Is Mr. Briarfield within? Footman - Yes, sir. Mr. Francis Briarfield has just returued from town. After which questiou and answer I was showu into a room. Observe that I had said "Mr. Briarfiold, " and the foottnan auswered "Mr. Francis Briarfield. " Now, as I well knew that the man bearing that name was lying dead at the Feu inn, it was conolusive proof that Felix, to gaiu the hand of Olivia, waa tnasquerading as his brother. I had just wrgued this out to my complete satisf action wheu Felix made his appearance. The resemblance between the brothers was estraordinary. I had some difficulty in persuading myself that the man before me was not he whom I had seen dead that morning, the same palé face, dark hair and jaunty mustache, the same gestares, the same gravity of demeanor and actually the same tones in the voice. There was not the slightest difference between Felix and Francis. The oue duplicated the other. I no longer wondered that Olivia was deceived. Despite my acquaintance with the brothers, I should have been tricked myself. As it was, I stared open mouthed at the young man. "This is a pleasant surprise, Denham," he said, looking anxiously at me. "I did not know you wws in this part of the world. " "Nor was I until yesterday. Iamoi a walking tour and last night slept al táe Fen inn." "The Fen inn," he repeated, with e Blight start. "What took you to that out of the way place?" "I carne by the marshes, and as I was belated had to take the shelter that oflfered." "But, man alive, "said Felix, raising his eyebrows, "the inn is emptyl" This time it was my turn to be astonished. If Felix thought the inn wa9 empty, why did he appoint it as a meeting place for his brother? He either knew too much or too little, so it behooved me to conduct the conversation with the utmost dexterity. "It was not empty last night at all ijvents, "I retorted, keeping my eyea lixed on his face. "Indeed! Are gypsies eacamped there?' ' he said coolly. "Well, not exactly, " I answered, emulating his calm. "It was in charge oí' a man called Strent and his daughter. " "This is nevvs to me. I was always under the irnpression that the Feu inn was quite deserted. " "You have not been near it lately?" "No. Nobody goes near it. They say it is haunted. " "Pshaw, " I answered angrily, "an oíd wife's tale! And yet, " I added af ter a moment's thought, "it may well be haunted af ter what took place there last night. " "This begins to grow interesting, " said Felix. "Had you an adventure?" "Yes. I met with your brother. " "Impossible! My brother Felix is in Paris." "I am talking of Francis. " "Francis, " he repeated, with a disagreeable smile, "Francis? Well, Denham, I am Francis." "I think you are making a mistake, Briarfield, " saidlcoldly. "Your brother Francis slept at the Fen inn last night." "I slept in this house. " "I quite bolieve that But you are Felix!" "Oh," said Briarfield, bursting into a harsh laugh, "I see you are making the inevitable mistake of mixing me up with my brother. It is pardonable under the circumstances; otherwise I might resent your plaiu speaking. " The assurauce of the man was so complete that I wondered if he knew that his secret was safe by the death of his brother. Such knowledge would account for his complacency. Yet it was quite impossible that he could know of the death, as he certaiuly had not been to the inu. I knew that from my own knowledge. "If you are Francis," said I slowly, "you are engagod to Miss Bellin. " "I am," he answered haughtily, "but by what right you" "One moment. Mr. Briarfield. Miss Bellin gave her lover Francis a pearl ring. I do not see it on your finger. " He glanced down at his hand and grew confused. "I lost it, " he muttered - "I lost it some time ago. " "That is not true!" "Do you dare to" "I dare anything in connection with what I know to be a fraud. You are passing yourself off as your brother Francis. ' ' "By what right do you make this mad assertion?" "From what Francis told me last night." "But I teil you I am Francis," he said savagely. "Don't I know my own name?" "If you are the man you assert yourself to be, where is the pearl ring?' ' "I lost it. " "You did not. You never had it. 1 saw it on the finger of Francis no later thau last night." "I you are mad, Denham!" said Felix, white with passion, "orelse you must be talking of Felix, who is in Paris." "That untrnth will not serve," I said coldly. "Felix is before me, and Francis is lying dead at the Feu iua. " "Whatl Fraueis dead?" he üried unguardedly. "Ah, you admit it is Francis?" "No, I don 't, " he retor ted quickly. "I only re-echoed your words. What do you mean by sayiug such a thing?' ' For answer I rose from my seat and made for the door. The farce wearied ma "Where are you going, Denham?" he asked, following me up. "For the pólice, " I auswered, facing him. "Yes, I am determined to find out the mystery of Fraucis Briarfield's death. You, his brother, decline to help me, so I shall place the matter in the hauds of the authorities. ' ' "Upon my soul, Deuham, " said Felix, detaining me, "you are either mad or drunk. I declare most solemnly that I am Francis Briarfleld. From this story of yours I should think it was my brother Felix who is dead, did I not kuow he is in Paris?" "A fine story, but it does not impose on me, " I auswered scoffiugly. "Listen to me, Briarfield. Your brother Fraucis went out to South America some six months ago. Before he went he was eugaged to Miss Bellin. The mother would not hear of the marriage, so the ingagenient was kept quiet. Yon alone hiew of it and took advautage of such inowledge to suppress the letters sent to Miss Bellin Üirough you by Francis and represent yourself to Olivia as ler lover returned three months before lis time. You, I quite believe, are suposed to be in Paris, so that you may ;he more easily carry out the game. " "This is mere raviug. " "It is the truth, aud you kuow it. As Miss Bellin did not auswer hiá letters, Francis thought something was wroug aud returned home. Afraid lest ie should find out your plot, you asked ïim to meet you at the Feu iun, and :here either iutended to throw yourself on his mercy or - to uiurder him. " "Murder him!" he repeated fiercely 'It is false!" "That will be for the pólice to determine. " "But surely, Denham, you don 't iutend to inform the pólice?" "I aui going to do so now. " Felix sa;yd me by the arm and dragg x3 m s Laci to my seat. He was now much agitated, but made everyeffort to restraiu his emotion. "Sit dowu, " he said in a hoarse tone. "You do me wroug, Deuhain- on my soul you do me wroug. I was eugaged, I am eugaged, to Olivia Bellin. Her mother consented to our engagement af ter I returned to Euglaud three months ago. Félix, I believe, Í3 in Paria. I don't know whoru you met at the inn last night. It was not I - it could not have been Felix. There was no appointment betweeu us. I am uot masqueradiug as Fraucis because I ani Francis. ' ' "I dou't believe you. " "You must! I eau briiig forward witnesses to prove rny identi-r!" "They ruay be misled irYmrusemblance. Remember, youaud . .ancia are twins. " "I said bef ore, aud I say it agaiu, you are madl" he cried, roughly casting me off. "Whoever heard of anappointment being made at a ruined inn'í No one has lived there for inonths. Ask any one in Marshininster, and they will teil you so." "Strent and his daughter Rose" - I began, when he cut me short. "Who are they? I never heard of them. They are figments of some dream. You went into that ruined inn laat night and dreamed all this." " You don't believe my story?" "Not one -word, " said Felii coolly, looking me straight in the face. "Then I don't believe one word of yours, " I cried, jumping up. "Let na place the matter in the hands of the authorities and see who will be believed." "What are you going to say, Denham?" "Say? That Francis Briarfleld haa died in the Fen inn. " "You won't believe that I am Francis?' ' he said, evidently making some resolve. "No. You are Felix I" "Ouc moment, " ha said, gqing to the door. "I shall prove my identity and in a manuor that will admit of uo deniaL " With that he vauished, and I waited to see what further evidence he would briug forward to back up his impostare. (Tobecontinued.)


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