“Judge for yourself,” replied the vicar, as he sat down and settled back in his chair. “I will state the facts, distinctly and briefly. That will not be hard to do. To begin, I have been in this parish for thirty years, and I am familiar with its history. I remember when Diane Merode’s father came home with his young bride. He was a doctor, with some small means of his own, and he lived in the second house beyond the church. His wife was a French girl, well educated and beautiful, and he met and married her while on a visit to France; his name was George Hammersley. They settled here in the village, but I do not think that they lived very happily together. Their one child, christened Diane, was born two years after the marriage. She inherited her mother’s vivacious disposition and love of the world, and I always felt misgivings about her future. She spent five years at a school in Paris, and returned at the age of sixteen. Within less than two years her parents died within a week of each other, of a malignant fever that attacked our village. A friend of George Hammersley’s took Diane to his home—it appeared that she had no relatives—and nine months later she married a man, nearly twenty years her senior, who had fallen passionately in love with her.”
“By Jove, so she was really married before!” cried Jimmie. “But I beg your pardon, Mr. Chalfont, for interrupting you.”
“This man, Gilbert Morris, was comparatively well-to-do,” resumed the vicar. “He owned a couple of ships, and when at home he lived in Dunwold; but he was away the greater part of his time, sailing one or the other of his vessels to foreign ports. Six months after the marriage he started on such a voyage, leaving his youthful bride with an old housekeeper, and just three weeks later Diane disappeared. Every effort was made to trace her, but in vain, and it was believed that she had gone to London. Before the end of the winter our village squire returned from abroad, and declared that he had recognized Diane in Paris, and that she was a popular dancer under the name of Merode. About the same time it was reported in the papers that the vessel on which Gilbert Morris had set sail, the Nautilus, had been lost in a storm, with all hands on board. There was every reason to credit the report—”
“But it was not true,” exclaimed Jimmie. “I can read as much in your eyes, Mr. Chalfont. What became of Gilbert Morris?”
RUN TO EARTH.
The vicar hesitated for a moment, and then looked his companion straight in the face.