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As We Forgive Them

William Le Queux

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  As We Forgive Them, by William Le Queux.


  ________________________________________________________________________AS WE FORGIVE THEM, BY WILLIAM LE QUEUX.



  "Dead! And he's carried his secret with him to his grave!"


  "But he has. Look! His jaw has dropped. Can't you see the change,man!"

  "Then he's carried out his threat after all!"

  "By Heaven, he has! We've been fools, Reggie--utter idiots!" Iwhispered.

  "So it seems. I confess that I fully expected he'd tell us the truthwhen he knew that the end had really come."

  "Ah! you didn't know him as I did," I remarked bitterly. "He had a willof iron and a nerve of steel."

  "Combined with the constitution of a horse, or he'd been dead long ago.But we've been outwitted--cleanly outwitted by a dying man. He defiedus, laughed at our ignorance to the very last."

  "Blair was no fool. He knew what knowledge of the truth meant to us--ahuge fortune. So he simply kept his secret."

  "And left us in penniless chagrin. Well, although we've lost thousands,Gilbert, I can't help admiring his dogged determination. He wentthrough a lot, recollect, and he's been a good friend to us--very good--so I suppose we really oughtn't to abuse him, however much we regretthat he didn't let us into his secret."

  "Ah, if only those white lips could speak! One word, and we'd both berich men," I said in regret, gazing upon the dead, white face, with itsclosed eyes and closely clipped beard, lying there upon the pillow.

  "He intended to hold his secret from the very first," remarked my tallfriend, Reginald Seton, folding his arms as he stood on the oppositeside of the bed. "It isn't given to every man to make such a discoveryas he made. It took him years to solve the problem, whatever it was;but that he really succeeded in doing so we can't for a moment doubt."

  "And his profit was over a million sterling," I remarked.

  "More like two, at the very lowest estimate. Recollect how, when wefirst knew him, he was in dire want of a sovereign--and now? Why, onlylast week he gave twenty thousand to the Hospital Fund. And all as theresult of solving the enigma which for so long we have tried to discoverin vain. No, Gilbert, he hasn't played the square game by us. Weassisted him, put him on his legs, and all that, and instead ofrevealing to us the key to the secret which he discovered, and whichplaced him among the wealthiest men of London, he point-blank refused,even though he knew that he must die. We lent him money in the olddays, financed him, kept Mab at school when he had no funds, and--"

  "And he repaid us every penny--with interest," I interposed. "Come;don't let's discuss him here. The secret is lost for ever, that'senough." And I drew the sheet over the poor dead face--the countenanceof Burton Blair, the man who, during the past five years, had been oneof London's mysteries.

  A strange, adventurous life, a career more remarkable, perhaps, thanhalf those imagined by writers of romance, had been brought abruptly toan end, while the secret of the source of his enormous wealth--thesecret which we both had for the past five years longed to share,because we were in a sense justly entitled to participate in itsadvantages--had gone with him to that bourne whence none return.

  The apartment in which we stood was a small, rather well-furnishedbedroom in the _Queen's Hotel_, Manchester. The window looked out uponthe dark facade of the Infirmary, while to that chamber of the deadthere came the roar and bustle of the traffic and trams in Piccadilly.His story was assuredly one of the strangest that any man has ever told.Its mystery, as will be seen, was absolutely bewildering.

  The light of the cheerless February afternoon was quickly fading, and aswe turned softly to descend and inform the hotel manager of the fataltermination of the seizure, I noticed that the dead man's suit-casestood in the corner, and that his keys were still in it.

  "We had better take possession of these," I remarked, locking the bagand transferring the small bunch to my pocket. "His executors will wantthem."

  Then we closed the door behind us, and going to the office imparted theunwelcome intelligence that a death had occurred in the hotel. Themanager was, however, quite prepared to learn such news, for, half anhour before, the doctor had declared that the stranger could not live.His case had been hopeless from the very first.

  Briefly, the facts were as follows. Burton Blair had bidden hisdaughter Mabel farewell, left his house in Grosvenor Square on theprevious morning, and had taken the ten-thirty express from Euston toManchester, where he had said he had some private business to transact.Just before the train arrived at Crewe, he suddenly became unwell, andwas discovered by one of the luncheon-car attendants in a state ofcollapse in one of the first-class compartments. Brandy andrestoratives being administered, he revived sufficiently to travel on toManchester, being assisted out of the train at London Road, and twoporters had helped him into a cab and accompanied him to the hotel,where, on being put to bed, he again lapsed into unconsciousness. Adoctor was called, but he could not diagnose the ailment, except thatthe patient's heart was seriously affected and, that being so, a fataltermination of the seizure might ensue. Towards two o'clock nextmorning, Blair, who had neither given his name nor told the hotel peoplewho he was, asked that both Seton and I should be telegraphed for, andthe result was that in anxious surprise we had both travelled up toManchester, where on arrival, an hour before, we had discovered ourfriend to be in an utterly hopeless condition.

  On entering the room we found the doctor, a young and rather pleasantman named Glenn, in attendance. Blair was conscious, and listened tothe medical opinion without flinching. Indeed, he seemed rather towelcome death than to dread it, for, when he heard that he was in such avery critical condition, a faint smile crossed his pale, drawn features,and he remarked--

  "Every man must die, so it may as well be to-day as to-morrow." Then,turning to me, he added, "Gilbert, you are very good to come just to saygood-bye," and he put out his thin cold hand and grasped mine, while hiseyes fixed upon me with that strange, intent look that only comes into aman's gaze when he is on the brink of the grave.

  "It is a friend's duty, Burton," I answered, deeply in earnest. "Butyou must still hope. Doctors are often mistaken. Why, you've asplendid constitution, haven't you?"

  "Hardly ever had a day's illness since I was a kid," was themillionaire's reply in a low, weak voice; "but this fit has bowled mecompletely over."

  We endeavoured to ascertain exactly how he was seized, but neitherReggie not the doctor could gather anything tangible.

  "I became faint all of a sudden, and I know nothing more," was all thedying man would reply. "But," he added, turning again to me, "don'ttell Mab till it's all over. Poor girl! My only regret is to leaveher. You two fellows were so very good to her back in the old days, youwon't abandon her now, will you?" he implored, speaking slowly and withvery great difficulty, tears standing in his eyes.

  "Certainly not, old chap," was my answer. "If left alone she'll wantsome one to advise her and to look after her interests."

  "The scoundrelly lawyer chaps will do that," he snapped, with a strangehardness in his voice, as though he entertained no love for hissolicitors. "No, I want you to see that no man marries her for hermoney--you understand? Dozens of fellows are after her at this moment,I know, but I'd rather see her dead than she should marry one of them.She must marry for love--love, you hear? Promise me, Gilbert, that thatyou'll look after her, won't you?"

  Still holding his hand, I promised.

  That was the last word he uttered. His pale lips twit
ched again, but nosound came from them. His glassy eyes were fixed upon me with a stony,terrible stare, as though he were endeavouring to tell me something.

  Perhaps he was revealing to me the great secret--the secret of how hehad solved the mystery of fortune and become worth over a millionsterling--perhaps he was speaking of Mab. Which we knew not. Histongue refused to articulate, the silence of death was upon him.

  Thus he passed away; and thus did I find myself bound to a promise whichI intended to fulfil, even though he had not revealed to us his secret,as we confidently expected. We believed that, knowing himself to bedying, he had summoned us there to impart that knowledge