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A STORY OF THE PAST
This communication was so extraordinary and unexpected that Giles thought the Princess must be out of her mind. But although overcome with emotion, she was sane enough, and seeing his astonishment repeated her statement that Anne Denham was her daughter. The young man sat down to collect his thoughts.
"Do you mean to say that she is Mademoiselle Olga's sister?"
"Her half-sister," corrected the Princess, sobbing. "I never thought I should find her again, and like this. It's too dreadful!" And in strange contrast to her usual indolent demeanor, she wrung her hands.
Giles was still bewildered. "And you--were you the wife of Walter Franklin?" he stammered helplessly.
"There is no Walter Franklin," replied the woman, drying her eyes and sitting up. "George Franklin is Anne's father. He was my husband."
"But you are the wife of Prince Karacsay."
"Certainly. I eloped with him from Kingstown in Jamaica, and George divorced me. I afterwards married the Prince."
"Then the man at the Priory is your first husband?"
"No!" cried she vigorously. "He is not George Franklin."
"He calls himself so," muttered Ware, quite puzzled.
"Only to keep hold of the money left by Mr. Powell," explained the Princess. "He is really Alfred Denham, who caused all the misery of my married life with George."
"No. I tell you he is not Anne's father. George was the father of Anne. He is dead. He died shortly after divorcing me."
Giles felt his heart swell with gratitude to learn that Anne was not connected with----Here he paused, more bewildered than ever. "I don't quite understand, Princess," he said, trying to arrive in his own mind at some solution of this complicated mystery. "Had not your husband a brother called Walter?"
"No. George was an only son."
"Then did Alfred Denham have a brother of that name?"
"No. Don't you understand, Mr. Ware. You have been deceived. Denham, who calls himself by my husband's name pretends to be Anne's father, was the man who went down to Rickwell."
"The man whom Anne helped to escape."
"Yes. Under the belief that he is her father, poor child."
"Then there is no Walter Franklin. He is a myth?" The Princess nodded.
"Invented to throw you off the scent."
"And Denham, who calls himself George Franklin, really killed Daisy?"
"I believe he did," declared the Princess fiercely. "That man is one of the most wicked creatures born. He is capable of any crime."
Ware said nothing. His brain refused to take in the explanation. That he should have been so deceived seemed incredible, yet deceived he had been. All this time he had been following a phantom, while the real person was tricking him with masterly ingenuity. "But Anne told me herself that she had an uncle called Walter," said he suddenly.
"Of course! To save the man she believed to be her father."
"Wait! Wait! I can't grasp it yet." Giles buried his face in his hands and tried to think the matter out.
The Princess went to the window and drew aside the curtain. "I see nothing of Anne and Olga," she murmured. "Where can they have got to. Oh, am I to lose her after all?" She paused and came back to the couch. "Mr. Ware," she said, "I will tell you all my sad story, and then you can judge what is best to be done."
"That is best," said Giles, lifting up his worn face. "I am quite in the dark so far. The thing seems to be incredible."
"Truth is stranger than fiction," said the Princess quietly. "That is a truism, but no other saying can apply to what I am about to tell you."
"One moment, Princess. Who found out that Denham was masquerading as your late husband?"
"Olga found it out. I don't know how. She refuses to tell me."
"And she asked you to come over to identify the man?"
"Yes. That was why I went with her to Rickwell. I called on Denham, and saw that he was not my husband."
"I see!" murmured Giles, remembering what the gardener had told Mrs. Parry about the pallor of the so-called Franklin when he came to the door with his visitor. "I am beginning to gather some information out of all this. But if you will tell me the whole story----"
"At once, Mr. Ware. I want your advice and assistance. First you must have some whiskey."
"Not in the morning, thank you."
"You must have it!" she replied, ringing the bell. "What I have said already has upset you, and you will require all your courage to hear the rest."
"Anne," said Giles anxiously.
"My poor child. I fear for her greatly. No! Don't ask me more. So long as Olga is with her I hope that all will be well. Otherwise----" She made a quick gesture to silence him, for the servant entered to receive orders.
So Giles was provided with some whiskey and water, which the Princess made him drink at once. She had thrown off her languor, and was as quick in her movements as he usually was himself. The discovery of Denham's masquerade, the doubts about Anne's safety had roused her from her indolence, and she had braced herself to act. A more wonderful transformation Giles could scarcely have imagined. Shortly he was ordered to smoke. The Princess lighted a cigarette herself, and began abruptly to tell her tale. It was quite worthy of a melodramatic novelist.
"I was born in Jamaica," she said, speaking slowly and distinctly, so that Giles should fully understand. "My father, Colonel Shaw, had retired from the army. Having been stationed at Kingstown, he had contracted a love for the island, and so stopped there. He went into the interior and bought an estate. Shortly afterwards he married my mother. She was a quadroon."
Giles uttered an ejaculation. He remembered that Anne had stated she had negro blood in her veins, and now saw why Princess Karacsay and her daughter had such a love for barbaric coloring. Also he guessed that Olga's fierce temperament was the outcome of her African blood.
The Princess nodded. She quite understood his interruption.
"You can see the negro in me," she said quietly. "In Jamaica that was considered disgraceful, but in Vienna no one knows about the taint."
"It is not a taint in England, Princess--or in the Old World."
"No! Perhaps not. But then"--she waved her delicate hand impatiently--"there is no need to discuss that, Mr. Ware. Let me proceed with what I have to tell you. When I was eighteen I married George Franklin. He was a young planter of good birth, and very handsome in looks."
"Anything like Denham?" asked Ware quickly.
The Princess blew a contemptuous cloud of smoke. "Not in the least, Mr. Ware. George was good-looking. What Denham is, you can see for yourself. Denham was George's foster-brother," she explained.
"And his evil genius," added Giles. "I am beginning to understand."
The Princess flushed crimson, and her whole body trembled with passion. "He ruined my life," she cried, trying to restrain her emotion. "If I could see him hanged, I should be pleased. But such a death would fall far short of the punishment he deserves."
"Has Denham negro blood in him?"
"Yes. He is a degree nearer the negro than I am. George was a native of Jamaica, and very rich. When his mother died he was quite a baby, and Denham's mother nursed him. Thus he became Denham's foster-brother, and the two boys grew up together. Powell tried all he could to neutralize the bad influence of Denham, but it was useless. George was quite under Denham's thumb."
"Powell! The man who left the money to Daisy? Was he in Jamaica?"
The Princess nodded. "For a time," she said, "George was at an English public school--Rugby, I fancy. He met Powell there, and the two became much attached. There was also another boy called Kent."
"Yes. George, Powell, and Kent were inseparable. They were called the Three Musketeers at school. Afterwards George lost sight of Kent, but Powell came out to Jamaica to stop with George. That was before and after my marriage. Denham was ruining my husband body and soul, and in pocket. Powell tried to remonstrate with George, but it was no use. Denham was the overseer, and George would not dismiss him. Then Powell returned to England. Afterwards when he heard from me that George was completely ruined, he wrote about the money."
"Did he say he would leave the money to George?"
"Not exactly that. He said that Kent was ruined also, and explained that if he could make a fortune he would leave it equally divided between George and Kent, as he did not intend to marry himself."
"But he did not leave his money equally divided," said Giles.
"No. But at that time Kent was not married, and Powell had not gone to Australia to make his money. Whether he liked Kent better than George I don't know, but, as you are aware, he left the money first to Daisy--knowing that Kent was dead--and afterwards, should she die, to George and his descendants."
"Then the money which Denham holds as Franklin is rightfully Anne's?"
"Yes. Now you are beginning to see. But don't be in too much of a hurry. I want to tell you how my elopement came about."
Ware nodded, and composed himself to listen. The Princess resumed.
"I was happy at first with George. I really was in love with him, and for two years we were devoted to one another. Anne was born, and she drew us still closer together. Then Denham chose to fall in love with me. I repelled him with scorn, but did not tell my husband, as I dreaded lest George, who had a fiery temper, should kill the man. I simply kept Denham at his distance. He vowed to be revenged, and gradually ruined George. He made him neglect the plantation, and spend more money than he could afford. He induced him to drink, and then George, who had not a very strong will, began to run after other women. I was furious, and told him about Denham. He was so besotted with the creature that he refused to listen to me. Powell tried to stop George's downward course, but without result. Then he was called back to England, and I was left to battle against my enemy alone. My father and mother were both dead, and I could do nothing. Denham constantly inflamed George against me. Our house was like hell."
Here she stopped to draw a long breath and control her emotion. Giles pitied her profoundly, as he guessed how she had suffered. However, he did not interrupt her, and she continued in a few moments.
"Prince Karacsay came to the island. He was travelling for pleasure, and in his own yacht. He fell in love with me. Seeing how miserable I was, he implored me to fly with him. But I would not. I had lost much of my love for George, who, under the bad influence of Denham, treated me so cruelly. But there was my child--my little Anne--to consider. I declined to fly. Our plantation was not far from the seashore. In a creek the Prince had anchored his yacht. Denham was making my husband jealous, and my life became unbearable. Oh!"--she threw up her arms--"not even the years of peace that I have had can obliterate the memory of that terrible time." And she wept.
Still, Ware did not interrupt, thinking it best that she should not be questioned too much. With a great effort she controlled herself, and resumed her pitiful story.
"One night," she went on in a low voice, "the climax came. The Prince had been to dinner. He had to go, because George was so violent. Denham had got my husband to drink, and his paroxysms of anger became terrible. The Prince wanted to stop to protect me, but I asked him to go. It was a rainy night, a violent thunderstorm was going on. I locked myself in the nursery, to protect myself from the fury of George. He came to the door and broke it down." She paused, and her voice leaped an octave. "George turned me out into the rain."
"Great God! Did he go that far?"
She was on her feet by this time pacing the room.
"He turned me out into the stormy night. I fled from his fury, drenched with rain. At the gates of the gardens round the house I met with the Prince. He had been hanging round the place fearful for my life. He implored me to come on board the yacht and stop the night. I was almost distracted with terror and anger. I went." She paused again. "From that moment I was lost."
"It was not your fault," Giles assured her.
"No; it was not my husband's fault either, but the fault of that wicked wretch Denham. He came the next morning, guessing where I had gone in my distress. He brought a note from George, who bade me go with my lover, the Prince. It was a lie. The Prince was no lover of mine then. I demanded to see my child, but George refused. It was all Denham--Denham. George was under the thumb of the wretch. The Prince behaved like an honorable gentleman, and spoke up for me. But it was all of no use. George was determined to have a divorce."
"You mean Denham was determined to have one," corrected Giles.
"Yes, yes. He was the one who ruined me. Then the Prince said he would make me his wife as soon as the decree was pronounced. I agreed. What else could I do? My child was refused to me. I was blamed by every one, and the whole island was against me. I sailed for Europe in Prince Karacsay's yacht. A few months later the decree was pronounced, and he made me his wife. Since then I have been happy--that is as happy as I could be, knowing that my child was lost."
"Did you make inquiries about her?"
"Some years later I did. Then I learned that George, with the child and Denham, had sailed for Europe. The vessel was wrecked. The report said that George Franklin and his child were saved. Denham's name was given as one who was drowned. I rejoiced when I saw that punishment had overtaken my enemy."
"But Denham was not drowned."
"No; it was George who met with that death. Denham, to get what little money remained, took the name of George Franklin. I do not know how he managed to deceive the people of the ship; but he must have done so in some way, to get the false report put in the paper."
"Did Denham not tell you when you unmasked him at Rickwell?"
"He made some sort of explanation, but I think much of it was very false."
"How did you come to discover him?"
"Olga did so. She knew a part of my story. That was why--as perhaps you saw--she was always uneasy when I touched on Jamaica."
"Yes; I remember that, Princess. Well, I must get Mademoiselle Olga to tell me how she discovered all this. But on what terms did you leave Denham?"
"I told him that I would give him a month to make restitution to my daughter Anne, and then if he did not I would inform the police."
"Did he agree?"
"No; the wretch defied me. He told me that Anne had murdered Daisy Kent out of jealousy, and said that if I moved a finger against him he would have her arrested."
"He could not do that without harming himself."
"I don't know," said the Princess wearily; "he is so clever that he seems to do what he likes. I have taken no steps, because I wished to get some advice as to how I should act under the circumstances. For this reason I tell you."
"I will do my best, Princess. But how was it Anne came with you?"
"Olga managed that. She knew Anne was at the Priory. I don't know how. Olga knows much. I wish she and Anne would come back again. I hope nothing has happened."
Even as she spoke the door opened, and Olga entered the room looking haggard and worn out. "Anne!" cried her mother. "Where is Anne?"
"Lost!" replied Olga, dropping exhausted into a chair, "lost!"
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