“You are too merciful—too kind-hearted,” said Jimmie. “But it is useless to argue with you. Come, we’ll talk of something more cheerful and forget the past. What are you going to do with yourself? Go back to the art?”
“I have no plans,” Jack replied, bitterly, “except that I shall get away from London as speedily as possible. I can’t live down my disgrace here. I shall probably return to India. I have lost faith in human nature, Jimmie, and learned the mockery of friendship—no, by heavens, I shouldn’t say that! I have found out what true friendship is. I can never forget what you did for me—how you worked to prove my innocence!”
“It was a pleasure, old fellow. I would have done a hundred times as much. But don’t talk blooming nonsense about leaving London. Many an innocent man falls under suspicion—there is not a shadow of disgrace attached to it. Stay here and work! Go back to your studio! And marry the woman you love. Why shouldn’t you, now that you are free in every sense? I’ll bet anything you like that she cares for you as much as ever—”
“Stop; don’t speak of her!” cried Jack. “I can’t bear it!—the memory of Madge brings torments! It is too late, too late! She can never be mine!”
“That’s where you’re wrong, old chap,” said Jimmie. “I know how you feel about it, but do listen to reason—”
He broke off at the sound of a couple of sharp raps, and jumping up he opened the door. Into the room strode Sir Lucius Chesney, with a bewildered, agitated look on his face that had been there when he drove away from Pentonville Prison an hour before, after a lengthy and most startling interview with Major Wyatt and Noah Hawker.
“I hope you will excuse my abrupt intrusion,” he said quickly. “I went to Tenby’s office, and he told me where you had gone. I have something very important to say—I will come to it presently. Mr. Vernon, I congratulate you! No one can rejoice more sincerely than myself that this black cloud has passed away from your life. You have paid dearly for your youthful folly—your boyish infatuation with a French dancer.”
“You are very kind, sir,” said Jack, as he accepted the proffered hand. “I hear that I owe very much to you.”
“Thank God that I have found you—that I am not left desolate in my old age!” exclaimed Sir Lucius, to the wonder of his companions. “Prepare for a great surprise! Your name is not Vernon, but Clare?”
“John Clare is my real name, sir.”
“And your father was Ralph Vernon Clare?”
“I knew as much—it was needless to ask,” replied Sir Lucius, in tremulous tones; something glistened in his eye. He rested an arm on Jack’s shoulder and looked into his face. “My dear boy, your mother was my youngest sister,” he added. “And you are my nephew!”
A rush of color dyed Jack’s cheeks, and he stared in amazement; he could not grasp the meaning of what he had just heard.