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"I netted the fish! what fish?"
"The man who forged the promissory note."
"Oh, Mr. Burt!"
"The same man that forged the newspaper extracts to deceive you forged the promissory note years ago, and the man who is setting spies on you is the man who forged those extracts; so we are sure to nail him. He is in the net; and very much to your credit. Leave the rest to me. I'll tell you more about it to-morrow. You must order your carriage at one o'clock tomorrow and drive down to Scotland Yard; go into the Yard, and you will see me; follow me without a word. When you go back, the other spies will be so frightened they will go off to their employer, and so we shall nail him."
Helen complied with these instructions strictly, and then returned home, leaving Mr. Burt to work. She had been home about half an hour, when the servant brought her up a message saying that a man wanted to speak to her. "Admit him," said Helen.
"He is dressed very poor, miss."
"Never mind; send him to me."
She was afraid to reject anybody now, lest she might turn her back on information.
A man presented himself in well-worn clothes, with a wash-leather face and close-shaven chin; a little of his forehead was also shaven.
"Madam, my name is Hand." Helen started. "I have already had the honor of writing to you."
"Yes, sir," said Helen, eying him with fear and aversion.
"Madam, I am come"--(he hesitated)--"I am an unfortunate man. Weighed down by remorse for a thoughtless act that has ruined an innocent man, and nearly cost my worthy employer his life, I come to expiate as far as in me lies. But let me be brief and hurry over the tale of shame. I was a clerk at Wardlaw's office. A bill-broker called Adams was talking to me and my fellow-clerks, and boasting that nobody could take him in with a feigned signature. Bets were laid; our vanity was irritated by his pretension. It was my fortune to overhear my young master and his friend Robert Penfold speak about a loan of two thousand pounds. In an evil hour I listened to the tempter and wrote a forged note for that amount. I took it to Mr. Penfold; he presented it to Adams, and it was cashed. I intended, of course, to call next day, and tell Mr. Penfold, and take him to Adams, and restore the money and get back the note. It was not due for three months. Alas! that very day it fell under suspicion. Mr. Penfold was arrested. My young master was struck down with illness at his friend's guilt, though he never could be quite got to believe it; and I--miserable coward!--dared not tell the truth. Ever since that day I have been a miserable man. The other day I came into money, and left Wardlaw's service. But I carry my remorse with me. Madam, I am come to tell the truth. I dare not tell it to Mr. Wardlaw; I think he would kill me. But I will tell it to you, and you can tell it to him; ay, tell it to all the world. Let my shame be as public as his whom I have injured so deeply, but, Heaven knows, unintentionally. I--I--I--"
Mr. Hand sank all in a heap where he sat, and could say no more.
Helen's flesh crawled at this confession, and at the sight of this reptile who owned that he had destroyed Robert Penfold in fear and cowardice. For a long time her wrath so overpowered all sense of pity that she sat trembling; and, if eyes could kill, Mr. Hand would not have outlived his confession.
At last she contrived to speak. She turned her head away not to see the wretch and said, sternly:
"Are you prepared to make this statement on paper, if called on?"
Mr. Hand hesitated, but said, "Yes."
"Then write down that Robert Penfold was innocent, and you are ready to prove it whenever you may be called upon."
"Write that down?" said Hand.
"Unless your penitence is feigned, you will."
"Sooner than that should be added to my crime I will avow all." He wrote the few lines she required.
"Now your address, that I may know where to find you at a moment's notice." He wrote, "J. Hand, 11 Warwick Street, Pimlico."
Helen then dismissed him, and wept bitterly. In that condition she was found by Arthur Wardlaw, who comforted her, and, on hearing her report of Hand's confession, burst out into triumph, and reminded her he had always said Robert Penfold was innocent. "My father," said he, "must yield to this evidence, and we will lay it before the Secretary of State and get his pardon."
"His pardon! when he is innocent!"
"Oh, that is the form--the only form. The rest must be done by the warm reception of his friends. I, for one, who all these years have maintained his innocence, will be the first to welcome him to my house an honored guest. What am I saying? Can I? dare I? ought I? when my wife-- Ah! I am more to be pitied than my poor friend is; my friend, my rival. Well, I leave it to you whether he can come into your husband's house."
"But, at least, I can send the Springbok out, and bring him home; and that I will do without one day's delay."
"Oh, Arthur!" cried Helen, "you set me an example of unselfishness."
"I do what I can," said Arthur. "I am no saint. I hope for a reward."
Helen sighed. "What shall I do?"
"Have pity on me! your faithful lover, and to whom your faith was plighted before ever you saw or knew my unhappy friend. What can I do or suffer more than I have done and suffered for you? My sweet Helen, have pity on me, and be my wife."
"I will, some day."
"Bless you. Bless you. One effort more. What day?"
"I can't. I can't. My heart is dead."
"This day fortnight. Let me speak to your father. Let him name the day."
As she made no reply, he kissed her hand devotedly, and did speak to her father. Sir Edward, meaning all for the best, said, "This day fortnight."
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