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The Bond of Black

William Le Queux

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  The Bond of BlackBy William Le QueuxPublished by F.V. White and Co, 14 Bedford Street, Strand, London WC.This edition dated 1899.

  The Bond of Black, by William Le Queux.


  ________________________________________________________________________THE BOND OF BLACK, BY WILLIAM LE QUEUX.



  In this story I have dealt with an extraordinary phase of modern life inLondon, which to the majority will come as a startling revelation.

  Some will, perhaps, declare that no such amazing state of things existsin this, the most enlightened age the world has known. To such, I canonly assert that in this decadent civilisation of ours the things whichI have described actually take place in secret, as certain facts in mypossession indisputably show.

  It is no unhealthy problem of sex, or of the ethics of divorce; no storyof woman's faithlessness or man's misplaced confidence, but a subjectupon which I believe no English author has yet touched, and one which Ianticipate will prove interesting, and point a wholesome moral. It maynot be out of place to add that I have been compelled to touch thesubject with as light a hand as the purpose of the story will allow, inrespect for the susceptibilities of the reader, and because it isfurthest from my intention to sow evil broadcast.



  It is a remarkable sequence of events, a story which in these days ofhigh civilisation is so extraordinary as to almost stagger belief. Yetthe higher the civilisation the more refined are its evil-doers, themore ingenious is the innate devilry of man, the more skilful are thosewho act with malice aforethought.

  In replacing this strange drama of present-day life before the reader--adrama of love, of self-sacrifice, of evil passions, and of alluncharitableness--I, Clifton Cleeve, am compelled to speak of myself; torecount the strange adventures which befell me, and to expose to thepublic gaze the undercurrents of a curious phase of society, of theexistence of which few dream. If, therefore, I am forced to theconstant use of the first person singular, it is in no egotisticalsense, but merely in order that my strange story should be properlyunderstood, and that the blame which rightly attaches to me should notbe borne by others. In this narrative of curious circumstances arefacts that will astound, perhaps even terrify; nevertheless be itrecollected that I myself was an unwilling actor in this drama, and thatI only relate that which. I saw with my own eyes and heard with my ownears.

  Even now, as I recall the past, there are scenes before me as vivid inevery detail as though the events occurred but an hour ago; scenes whichcould not fail to leave a life-long impression upon the mind of any man,so unusual, so striking, so utterly extraordinary were they.

  A little more than two years have now elapsed since that well-rememberednight when the prologue was enacted. Yet the months that have gone byhave seemed a veritable century of time, for have I not trodden the pathof life overburdened by a weight of weariness, my youth sapped by vainlongings and heart-sickening disappointment, my natural desire forexistence blunted by an ever-recurring sorrow, and a constant,irritating, soul-maddening mystery, which lay unsolved, a barrierbetween myself and happiness. I am no faint-heart, yet as I live againthose breathless months of anxiety, of fascination and of terror, I amagain seized by that same fear which two years ago consumed me, and heldme dumbfounded.

  I was not feeling well. Having risen late after a dance, I had spentthe afternoon over a book, dined at home in my chambers in Charing CrossMansions, and had afterwards gone out for an idle stroll acrossLeicester Square and up Piccadilly. The night was moonless, butbrilliant for October, yet the atmosphere was of that artificialclearness which in London renders the street-lamps unusually bright, andis always precursory of rain. At the corner of Park Lane I turned back,hesitating whether to turn into the Naval and Military for a gossip, orspend an hour at a theatre.

  London had finished its long and toilsome day. Tired Hammersmith andjaded Notting Hill crowded into the omnibuses, eager to get to theirhomes without a moment's delay, while gay Belgravia and Kensington werestarting forth upon their night of delight, to be spent within thatlittle area of half a mile around Charing Cross, wherein centres all thelife and diversion of the giant metropolis. Gay London is veryconcentrated.

  A brazen-lunged man pushed the special _Standard_ under my nose,saying--

  "'Ere y'are, sir. All the winners!"

  But I uttered one word, expressive though not polite, and strode on;for, truth to tell, I had read the paper an hour before, and by itdiscovered to my chagrin that I had been rather hard hit over a race.Therefore, a list of the winners being pushed into my face by this manwas an unintentional insult. Yes, I was decidedly out of sorts.

  Self-absorbed, a trifle melancholy, and undecided where to spend theevening, I was passing the corner of Bond Street, when I felt a handupon my arm, as a voice exclaimed--

  "Hullo, Clifton, old fellow! You in town? How long have you been backfrom Tixover?"

  I looked up quickly and saw one of my oldest and closest friends, RoddyMorgan, or, to be more exact, the Honourable Roderick Morgan, a tall,smart, good-looking man about my own age, thirty, or perhaps a couple ofyears my senior, with dark eyes and hair, well-cut features and a merry,amused expression which did not belie his natural temperament. Roddywas a younger son who had gone the pace as rapidly as most men, until hehad suddenly found himself with a sufficient quantity of writs andjudgment summonses to paper his room with, and in a very fair way tobecoming a bankrupt. But of judgment summonses the ever-merry Roddy hadonce laughingly declared that "no home was complete without them;" andat the critical juncture a generous maternal uncle, who was likewise aDuke, had very considerately placed the easy-going Roddy on his legsagain. And not only this, but he had induced Roddy, who was anexcellent speaker, to stand for a county constituency, and paid hiselection expenses, with the result that he now found himselfrepresenting the important division of South-West Sussex in the House.

  We clasped hands heartily, and as I explained how three days ago I hadcome up from Tixover, my father's place in the country, he strode on atmy side, gossiping about our mutual friends, and telling me the latestamusing story from the House.

  "Ah! my dear fellow," he said, "a chap in Parliament has a pretty hardtime of it in these days when the Opposition papers in his constituencykeep their eye upon him, ready at any moment to fling mud, to charge himwith negligence if he refuses to ask some ridiculous question of theGovernment, or to comment sarcastically if he chances to miss adivision."

  "But you like it," I said. "At Oxford you were always to the forefrontat the Union. Everybody, from the `Honourable George Nathaniel'downwards, prophesied that you'd some day place your silk hat on a benchin the House."

  "I know, I know," he answered, rather impatiently, "but the truth is Ionly allowed myself to be put up because my old uncle pressed me. Hemade me a present of a neat ten thou', so what could I do? I was simplyled as a lamb to the slaughter, and nowadays I get deputations waitingupon me, headed by the butcher of Little Twaddlington, and consisting ofthe inn-keeper and the tinker of that rural centre of civilisation. I'mcivil to them, of course, but hang it, old man, I can't promise to askall their foolish questions. I'm not built that way. When I make apromise, I keep it. Members nowadays, however, will promise anything onearth, from obtaining an autograph for the butcher's wife's collectionto the bringing down of manna from above."

  I saw that Roddy was discontented, and was considerably surprised. HisParliamentary honours weighed heavily upon him. He had joined the StStephen's Club in the manner of all staunch Con
servative members, and Iattributed some of his dissatisfaction to the fact that he was nightlycompelled to dine with the old fogies there, so as to be within reachfor divisions. The Club is only across the road from the House,standing at the corner of the Embankment, and connected with Palace Yardby a subterranean passage. When the division-bell rings in the House italso rings in the club dining-room, and anxious members leave theirsoup, dash through the tunnel and vote, and come back to finish it.Indeed, it is no uncommon thing for this to be repeated several times inthe course of dinner, causing much puffing and grumbling on the part ofthe stout and gouty members who, overtaken in this helter-skelter tovote, are very often shut out and find they have had their scramble fornothing. Then on returning to table they have to withstand the chaff ofthe younger and more active legislators, of whom Roddy was a very fairspecimen.

  "Going down to the House to-night?" I inquired.

  "No. It's Wednesday, thank Heaven! I've been down there thisafternoon, but we rose at six. Where are you toddling?"

  "Anywhere," I answered. "I want to look in at the Naval and Militaryfor a letter first."

  "From a charmer, eh?" he asked, with a merry twinkle.

  "No," I answered briefly.

  "You're a rum chap, Clifton," he said. "You never seem to take girls upthe river, to the theatre, or to the races, as other men do. I'mbeginning to think that you don't like womankind."

  "Well, I don't know. I fancy I've had as many little affairs of theheart as most men," I answered.

  "Somebody was saying the other day that you were likely to be engaged toMay Symonds. Is it true?"

  "Whoever said so is certainly premature," I laughed. "Then you don'tdeny it, old chap?"

  I shrugged my shoulders, smiled, and together we ascended the clubsteps.

  After a drink we lit cigars and went forth again, strolling along to theEmpire, where in the lounge we idled about, chatting with many men weknew, watching the acrobats, the conjurors, the eccentric singers, theballet, and the other variety items which went to make up the attractiveprogramme.

  Leaning upon the plush-covered backs of the circle seats, we smoked andchatted as we watched the ballet, and subsequently entered the bar,where there had congregated about a dozen men all more or less known tome. We joined them, my friend the irrepressible young Tory Member beinghailed by a youthful sprig of the Stock Exchange as "The PrimeMinister," whereat there was a round of hearty laughter.

  We had chatted for some moments when suddenly Roddy started as if he hadencountered some one whose presence was disagreeable in the extreme, andturning to me, said in a hurried half-whisper--

  "I'm off, old chap. Forgot I have another engagement. Good night."

  And ere I could reply he had slipped away, and was lost in thechattering crowd.

  At the time it struck me that this action was strange, for I felt surehe had seen somebody he did not wish to meet, and reflected that perhapsit was some unwelcome creditor or other. I continued chatting with theother men, until some twenty minutes later I left them and crossed tothe little bar where cigars are sold, in order to get something tosmoke. The lounge was then so crowded that locomotion was difficult. Iwas forced to elbow my way to the end of the promenade.

  The curtain had fallen upon the ballet, the orchestra was playing theNational Anthem, and the place was congested by people coming from theirseats in the grand circle, and making their way to the exit. The airwas heavy with tobacco-smoke mingled with the odour of a thousandperfumes, for the chiffons of each woman who passed seemed to exhale adifferent scent, from the nauseous patchouli to the latest patent of theingenious Parisian perfumer.

  Having bought my cigar and lit it, I stood chatting with another man Iknew while the theatre emptied, then parting from him, I returned to thebar, only to find my group of friends had dispersed.

  I wandered out to the vestibule, and as I stood glancing round, thinkingit unusual that Roddy should have left in so mysterious a manner, mygaze encountered that of an extraordinarily pretty girl.

  A pair of wistful blue eyes with a half-frightened expression gazed outof a face which was beautiful in its every line, a face saintly in itsexpression of innocence and youth. As far as I could judge she wasabout twenty, the paleness of her cheeks showing that no artificialcolouring had been added to tinge them, like those of the women abouther, while from beneath her hat a mass of fair hair strayed upon herbrow, imparting an almost childlike softness to her face; her blue eyeswere clear and wide-open, as if in wonder, and her mouth half-partedshowed an even row of perfect teeth, while her dimpled chin was pointedand altogether charming.

  About her figure was a grace of outline too seldom seen in London women,a suppleness of the hips that seemed almost foreign; yet the face waspure, sweet and winning, an altogether typical English face, refined,with a complexion perfect. In her dress was nothing startling, nothingcalculated to arrest the attention of the sterner sex, nothing vulgarnor loud, for it was of dead black grenadine, relieved by a little whitelace at the throat and cuffs--an almost funereal robe in contrast withthe gay-coloured silks and daring ornamentation of the loud-tonguedwomen who swept past her with inquiring glance and chattering gaily asthey made their way out.

  I looked at her a second time, for I confess to being attracted by herquietness of dress, her natural dignity, and the agitation within herwhich she was trying in vain to conceal. Demure and unaffected, she wasso utterly out of place in that centre of, London gaiety that I couldnot help pausing to watch her. Those of her sex who passed lookedsomewhat askance at her and smiled among themselves, while more than oneman ogled her through his monocle. But not a single glance did shebestow upon any in return save myself.

  In dismay she looked slowly around the well-lit vestibule and out intothe street, where cabs and carriages were driving off. Then she gazedabout her, evidently hesitating how to act. There was a hard curl atthe corners of her mouth, and a contraction of the eyelids which showedme that tears were ready to start. Yes, there was no doubt whateverthat she was in distress, and needed assistance.

  She was speaking earnestly with one of the uniformed doorkeepers, anelderly attendant whom I knew quite well, a highly-respectable pensionerin whom the management reposed the greatest confidence.

  Noticing me standing there, he came forward with a military salute,saying--

  "Excuse me, sir. But I have a lady here who's in a rather curiousdifficulty. You know London well, sir?"

  "I think so," I answered, smiling.

  "Well, will you speak with her a moment, sir?"

  "What's her trouble?" I inquired, somewhat surprised, neverthelesscrossing with him to where she stood, and raising my hat. I confessthat she was so eminently beautiful, her face so absolutely flawless inits contour and innocent in its expression, that she had fascinated me.I was beneath the spell of her marvellous beauty.

  Many women had smiled upon me, women who were more than passing fair;but never had my eyes fallen upon one whose purity of soul was somirrored in her eyes, or whose face was so childlike and so perfect.Those tendrils, soft as floss silk, were of that delicate gold which themajority of women lose with their teens; those eyes possessed the trueclearness which innocence alone can impart.

  "If I can render you any assistance I will do so with pleasure," I said,addressing her, adding, "I noticed a moment ago that you appeared to bein distress."

  "You are extremely kind," she answered, raising her eyes to mine for aninstant. Her glance was steady and searching, and I saw that she wasundecided whether to trust me. "You were quite correct in thinking I amin distress, and if you really could help me I should be so muchobliged."

  "Then what troubles you?" I inquired, well satisfied with her answer,and anxious that she should make me her confidant.

  "I have been separated from my friends, and am a stranger to London,"she replied. "You will laugh," she added, "but I am really lost, for Idon't know my way back to my friends' house."

  "You know th
e address, I suppose?" I laughed, for to me the idea of onebeing thus lost in London was amusing.

  "Yes: Ellerdale Street."


  "I don't know," she answered, "except that it's a long way from here;somewhere on the other side of London. We came by train."

  "Ellerdale Street," I repeated reflectively. "I've never heard of it."There are, of course, thousands of streets in the suburbs of whichnobody ever hears, save when somebody commits a crime of more thanordinary violence, and papers give the unknown thoroughfare undueprominence.

  "But the strange thing is that my friends, two ladies, should havedisappeared so quickly," she went on, pausing on the pavement before thetheatre as we went out and gazing blankly about her. "They must surelyhave missed me, and if so, one would think they would remain tilleverybody had gone, and then search for me."

  "Yes," I said, "it is certainly rather remarkable," and together wewalked to the corner of Leicester Street, where there is another exit ofthe theatre, but my pretty companion could discover neither of theladies who had accompanied her.

  Her voice was low and refined, her well-gloved hands small; yet hersevere style of dress seemed to speak of poverty which she would fainconceal. She wore no jewellery, not even a brooch; and I fell towondering whether she might be a governess, or perhaps a shop-assistantwho had come from a provincial town to "better herself" in London.

  For fully a quarter of an hour we strolled together, backwards andforwards before the railings of the Empire, which soon became dark anddeserted, until we were practically the only loiterers. It certainlystruck me as more than