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The Master of Silence: A Romance, a novel by Irving Bacheller

Chapter 17

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After that midnight parting the first thing I can recall was the touch of a gentle hand upon my face. When my eyes opened I saw Hester bending over me.

"You are at home now, Kendric," said she. Such a feeling of weakness came over me that I could not speak. I thought a nail had been driven into my brain, but the tears that began rolling down my cheeks and the moans that broke from my lips seemed to loosen it.

Many days passed before I was able to reflect upon this last tragic episode in my life or to take any thought of the morrow. One evening I awoke from a deep sleep feeling a new interest in life. There were people sitting in the room and talking in low tones.

"Has he asked for Rayel yet?" said one of them.

"Not yet," was the answer.

"Better not let him know about it yet. There's time enough. He'll be around soon."

I called to them and they came quickly to my bedside. There were Hester and Mr. Earl and his good wife, all looking down upon me with smiling faces.

"You need not be afraid to tell me now. I know that Rayel is dead."

They made no answer.

"I know he is dead, but tell me how it happened," I said. "There is no danger; I am quite strong now."

Mr. Earl took my hand and told me in a low, calm voice, all he knew of the tragedy. He only knew, however, that the lamp had exploded and that Rayel had been horribly burned by the oil.

"I suppose," said he, "that the lamp was on a table near his bed when it exploded. In a moment the whole room was afire, and you, no doubt, being asleep at the time, he lifted you up and ran with you down the stairway and out of the open door. But in the meantime he had been horribly burned, and he fell in a faint as soon as he reached the pavement. Strangely enough you were unconscious for some moments, although you were not badly burned. Probably it was the smoke."

Then no one knows, thought I, what really did happen that night. The lamp must have fallen almost directly upon Rayel's head, and the oil had no doubt saturated his hair and clothing.

"And the house?" I asked. "Is that--"

"In ashes," he replied.

Then every trace of that strange event, which no eye save mine had witnessed, was wiped out forever. The hideous secret had better never be told.

"If I was not badly burned, tell me why I have been lying ill."

"Brain fever, my boy," said he. "Too much excitement, I presume--but you're out of danger now, and will be on your feet again in a few days."

Fortunately the latter assurance was rightly spoken. The first day that brought me strength enough to put on my clothes and walk about the house, Mr. Earl invited me into the library to talk business. We were no sooner seated than he unlocked a drawer and handed me a document to read.

It was a deed of all my father's real and personal property.

"They have both confessed," said he.

"Confessed what?" I asked, wondering if the secret of my father's death had come out.

"The conspiracy against your life. There were two accomplices--one Count de Montalle, formerly a servant of Cobb, and now a convict in America, and the other a man named Fenlon, who is under arrest. These were the men who tried to take your life. Fenlon came over on the steamer with you, I believe."

"And my stepmother--where is she?"

"Gone to answer for her sins at a higher court," said he. "Her last deposition is annexed to the deed. The old hussy ran into the fire like a miller, and stood there screaming, 'Look at that picture on the wall! Oh, God! do you see it?' she shouted to the fellow who found her standing in the smoke and flames. The chap was so excited he really thought that he did see the picture of a woman holding a knife."

"That is strange, isn't it?" said I. "Who was the man?"

"A detective," said he, "whom I hired to watch the house that night. He heard some disturbance, it seems, and, fearing mischief, he immediately forced the door open and ran pell-mell into your cousin, noble fellow, who was then bringing you down-stairs. If he had been one moment later the woman would have been burned to death, and we would never have got this deposition. Cobb wouldn't have been the first to weaken, you may be sure of that. But after she had told the whole story, why, there was no use in holding out. Badly burned? No, strange to say, she was not badly burned, but frightened out of her wits. The nervous shock was too much for her and soon led to fatal results. Cobb will go to prison."

I made no reply. I could not have found words to express the thoughts that came trooping through my brain.

"I have to tell you," he continued, "that your cousin left a will bequeathing to you his father's house and a number of valuable paintings."

I turned away and burning tears of sorrow came to my eyes. It was indeed a sad inheritance--the earthly part of his great riches--and of little moment to me. I could not bear to think or speak of it then, and I begged my friend to hide the will from my sight until time might give me strength to read it with composure.

One evening in early spring Hester and I were walking along the shore of the Mediterranean at Marseilles. I had been traveling through southern Europe since my recovery, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Earl. Hester had recently joined us in this ancient city of Provence. The sun was sinking below the distant horizon of water, and his shafts, glancing from the western edge of the sea, shot far into the immeasurable reaches above us. We stood in silence while the great wall of night loomed into the zenith, and then fell westward through the luminous slope of heaven. The broad terrace from which we viewed the scene was quite deserted.

"If it is a hopeless love I cherish, let me know it now, Hester," I said as we turned to go. "I cannot wait any longer."

"You can wait half an hour longer, I am sure," she said, hurrying me along. "We will be at home, then."

Some months after Hester had become my wife we received a call in London from our old friend, Mr. Murmurtot.

"You have been playing in a great life drama," said he to Hester, "and I, too, have had a part in it. Lest you may think that it was the fool's part, let me tell you that I am the man who arrested the Count de Montalle."

"And the man who brought Fenlon to justice?" I asked.

"The same. He confessed within three hours after you were introduced to him."

* * * * * * *

Every week my wife and I visit Rayel's grave and strew fresh flowers upon it. A tall shaft of marble marks the spot where he lies at rest. His name is graven in the stone, and underneath it are these words: "He was a man without selfishness or vanity."

Irving Bacheller's Novel: Master of Silence: A Romance


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