‘I beg your pardon for this intrusion,’ I began nervously, for I saw I was not recognised; ’but I have followed you from Heathfield to tell you the good news. Mr. Hamilton, it is all found out; Miss Darrell stole that cheque.’
I had blurted it out, fearing that he might start away from me even then: he must know that his name was cleared, and then I could persuade him to listen to me. I was right in my surmise, for as I said his name he put his hand on the door, but my next words made him drop the handle.
‘What?’ he exclaimed, turning deadly pale, and I could see how his lips quivered under his moustache. ‘Say that again: I do not understand.’
‘Mr. Hamilton,’ I repeated slowly, ’you need not have rushed past your poor brother in that way at Victoria, for he is breaking his heart, and so is Gladys, with the longing to find you. Your name is cleared: they only want to ask your forgiveness for all you have suffered. It was a foul conspiracy of two women to save themselves by ruining you. Leah has made full confession. Your cousin Etta took the cheque out of your brother’s desk.’
‘Oh, my God!’ he gasped, and, sitting down, he hid his face in his hands. The little fox-terrier jumped on his knee and began licking his hands. ‘Don’t, Jenny: let me be,’ he said, in a fretful, boyish voice that made me smile. ‘I must think, for my brain seems dizzy.’
I left him quiet for a few minutes, and Jenny, after this rebuke, curled herself up at his feet and went to sleep. Then I took the chair beside him, and asked him, very quietly, if he could listen to me. He was frightfully pale, and his features were working, but he nodded assent and held his head between his hands again, but I know he heard every word.
I told him as briefly as I could how Gladys had languished and pined all these years, how she had clung to the notion of his innocence and would not believe that he was dead. He started at that, and asked what I meant. Had Giles really believed he was dead?
‘He had reason to fear so,’ I returned gravely; and I told him how his watch and scarf had been found on the beach at Brighton, and how the hotel-keeper had brought them to Mr. Hamilton.
He seemed shocked at this. ‘I had been bathing,’ he said, in rather an ashamed voice: ’some boy must have stolen them, and then dropped his booty for fear of the police. I missed them when I came out of the water, and I hunted about for them a long time. As I was leaving the beach I saw one of Giles’s friends coming down towards me, and I got it into my head that I was recognised. I dared not go back to the hotel. Besides, my money was running short. I took a third-class ticket up to London, and on my way fell in with a house-painter, who gave me lodging for a few nights.’
‘Yes, and then—’ for he hesitated here.
’Well, you see, I was just mad with them at home. I thought I could never forgive Giles that last insult. My character and honour were gone. Etta had been my secret enemy all along, because she knew I read her truly. Leah had given in her false evidence. My word was nothing. I was looked upon as a common thief. I swore that I would never cross the threshold of Gladwyn again until my name was cleared. They should not hear of me; if they thought me dead, so much the better!’