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LATE on the following day, Mr. Markland arrived from New York. Eager as all had been for his return, there was something of embarrassment in the meeting. The light-hearted gladness with which every one welcomed him, even after the briefest absence, was not apparent now. In the deep, calm eyes of his wife, as he looked lovingly into them, he saw the shadow of an unquiet spirit. And the tears which no effort of self-control could keep back from Fanny's cheeks, as she caught his hand eagerly, and hid her face on his breast, answered too surely the question he most desired to ask. It was plain to him that Mr. Lyon's letter had found its way into her hands.
"I wish it had not been so!" was the involuntary mental ejaculation. A sigh parted his lips--a sigh that only the quick ears of his wife perceived, and only her heart echoed.
During the short time the family were together that evening, Mr. Markland noticed in Fanny something that gave him concern. Her eyes always fell instantly when he looked at her, and she seemed sedulously to avoid his gaze. If he spoke to her, the colour mounted to her face, and she seemed strangely embarrassed. The fact of her having received a letter from Mr. Lyon, the contents of which he knew, as it came open in one received by himself from that gentleman, was not a sufficient explanation of so entire a change in her deportment.
Mr. Markland sought the earliest opportunity to confer with his wife on the subject of Fanny's altered state of mind, and the causes leading thereto; but the conference did not result in much that was satisfactory to either of them.
"Have you said any thing to her about Mr. Lyon?" asked Mr. Markland.
"Very little," was answered. "She thought it would only be courteous to reply to his letter; but I told her that, if he were a true man, and had a genuine respect for her, he would not wish to draw her into a correspondence on so slight an acquaintance; and that the only right manner of response was through you."
Yes. Your acknowledgment, in Fanny's name, when you are writing to Mr. Lyon, will be all that he has a right to expect, and all that our daughter should be permitted to give."
"But if we restrict her to so cold a response, and that by second-hand, may she not be tempted to write to him without our knowledge?"
"No, Edward. I will trust her for that," was the unhesitating answer.
"She is very young," said Mr. Markland, as if speaking to himself.
"Oh, yes!" quickly returned his wife. "Years too young for an experience--or, I might say, a temptation--like this. I cannot but feel that, in writing to our child, Mr. Lyon abused the hospitality we extended to him."
"Is not that a harsh judgment, Agnes?"
"No, Edward. Fanny is but a child, and Mr. Lyon a man of mature experience. He knew that she was too young to be approached as he approached her."
"He left it with us, you know, Agnes; and with a manly delicacy that we ought neither to forget nor fail to appreciate."
The remark silenced, but in no respect changed the views of Mrs. Markland; and the conference on Fanny's state of mind closed without any satisfactory result.
The appearance of his daughter on the next morning caused Mr. Markland to feel a deeper concern. The colour had faded from her cheeks; her eyes were heavy, as if she had been weeping; and if she did not steadily avoid his gaze, she was, he could see, uneasy under it.
As soon as Mr. Markland had finished his light breakfast he ordered the carriage.
"You are not going to the city?" his wife said, with surprise and disappointment in her voice.
"Yes, Agnes, I must be in town to-day. I expect letters on business that will require immediate attention."
"Business, Edward! What business?"
The question appeared slightly to annoy Mr. Markland. But with a forced smile, and in his usual pleasant voice, he answered:
"Oh, nothing of very great importance, but still requiring my presence. Business is business, you know, and ought never to be neglected."
"Will you be home early?"
Mr. Markland walked out into the ample porch, and let his eyes range slowly over the objects that surrounded his dwelling. His wife stood by his side. The absence of a few days, amid other and less attractive scenes, had prepared his mind for a better appreciation of the higher beauties of "Woodbine Lodge." Something of the old feeling came over him; and as he stood silently gazing around, he could not but say, within himself, "If I do not find happiness here, I may look for it through the world in vain."
The carriage was driven round to the door, while he stood there. Fanny came out at the moment, and seeing her father about to step into it, sprang forward, and exclaimed--
"Why, father, you are not going away again?"
"Only to the city, love," he answered, as he turned to receive her kiss.
"To the city again? Why, you are away nearly all the time. Now I wish you wouldn't go so often."
"I will be home early in the afternoon. But come, Fanny, won't you go with me, to spend the day in town? It will be a pleasant change for you."
Fanny shook her head, and answered, "No."
Mr. Markland entered the carriage, waved his hand, and was soon gliding away toward the city. As soon as he was beyond the observation of his family, his whole manner underwent a change. An expression of deep thought settled over his face; and he remained in a state of profound abstraction during his whole ride to the city. On arriving there, he went to the office of an individual well known in the community as possessing ample means, and bearing the reputation of a most liberal, intelligent, and enterprising citizen.
"Good morning, Mr. Brainard," said Markland, with a blending of respect and familiarity in his voice.
"Ah, Mr. Markland!" returned the other, rising, and shaking the hand of his visitor cordially. "When did you get back from New York?"
"Yesterday afternoon. I called after my arrival, but you had left your office."
"Well, what news do you bring home? Is every thing to your mind?"
"Entirely so, Mr. Brainard."
"That's clever--that's right. I was sure you would find it so. Lyon is shrewd and sharp-sighted as an eagle. We have not mistaken our man, depend on it."
"I think not."
"I know we have not," was the confident rejoinder.
"Any further word from him, since I left?"
"I had a letter yesterday. He was about leaving for Mexico."
"Are you speaking of Mr. Lyon, the young Englishman whom I saw in your office frequently, a short time since?" inquired a gentleman who sat reading the morning paper.
"The same," replied Mr. Brainard.
"Did you say he had gone to Mexico?"
"Yes, or was about leaving for that country. So he informed me in a letter I received from him yesterday."
"In a letter?" The man's voice expressed surprise.
"Yes. But why do you seem to question the statement?"
"Because I saw him in the city day before yesterday."
"In the city!"
"Yes, sir. Either him or his ghost."
"Oh! you're mistaken."
"I think not. It is rarely that I'm mistaken in the identity of any one."
"You are, assuredly, too certain in the present instance," said Mr. Markland, turning to the gentleman who had last spoken, "for, it's only a few days since I received letters from him written at Savannah."
Still the man was positive.
"He has a hair-mole on his cheek, I believe."
Mr. Brainard and Mr. Markland looked at each other doubtingly.
"He has," was admitted by the latter.
"But that doesn't make identity," said Mr. Brainard, with an incredulous smile. "I've seen many men, in my day, with moles on their faces."
"True enough," was answered; "but you never saw two Mr. Lyons."
"You are very positive," said Mr. Brainard, growing serious. "Now, as we believe him to be at the South, and you say that he was here on the day before yesterday, the matter assumes rather a perplexing shape. If he really was here, it is of the first importance that we should know it; for we are about trusting important interests to his hands. Where, then, and under what circumstances, did you see him?"
"I saw him twice."
"The first time, I saw him alighting from a carriage, at the City Hotel. He had, apparently, just arrived, as there was a trunk behind the carriage."
"Singular!" remarked Mr. Brainard, with a slightly disturbed manner.
"You are mistaken in the person," said Mr. Markland, positively.
"It may be so," returned the gentleman.
"Where did you next see him?" inquired Mr. Brainard.
"In the neighbourhood of the--Railroad Depot. Being aware that he had spent several days with Mr. Markland, it occurred to me that he was going out to call upon him."
"Very surprising. I don't just comprehend this," said Mr. Markland, with a perplexed manner.
"The question is easily settled," remarked Mr. Brainard. "Sit here a few moments, and I will step around to the City Hotel."
And as he spoke, he arose and went quickly from his office. In about ten minutes he returned.
"Well, what is the result?" was the rather anxious inquiry of Mr. Markland.
"Can't make it out," sententiously answered Mr. Brainard.
"What did you learn?"
"Of course, Mr. Lyon has not been there?"
"I don't know about that. He certainly was not there as Mr. Lyon."
"Was any one there answering to his description?"
"From the South?"
"Yes. From Richmond--so the register has it; and the name recorded is Melville."
"You asked about him particularly?"
"I did, and the description given, both by the landlord and his clerk, corresponded in a singular manner with the appearance of Mr. Lyon. He arrived by the southern line, and appeared hurried in manner. Almost as soon as his name was registered, he inquired at what hour the cars started on the--road. He went out in an hour after his arrival, and did not return until late in the evening. Yesterday morning he left in the first southern train."
"Well, friends, you see that I was not so very far out of the way," said the individual who had surprised the gentlemen by asserting that Mr. Lyon was in the city only two days before.
"I can't believe that it was Mr. Lyon." Firmly Mr. Markland took this position.
"I would not be sworn to it--but my eyes have certainly played me false, if he were not in the city at the time referred to," said the gentleman; "and let me say to you, that if you have important interests in his hands, which you would regard as likely to suffer were he really in our city at the time alleged, it will be wise for you to look after them a little narrowly, for, if he were not here, then was I never more mistaken in my life."
The man spoke with a seriousness that produced no very pleasing effect upon the minds of his auditors, who were, to say the least, very considerably perplexed by what he alleged.
"The best course, in doubtful cases, is always a prudent one," said Mr. Markland, as soon as the gentleman had retired.
"Unquestionably. And now, what steps shall we take, under this singular aspect of affairs?"
"That requires our first attention. If we could only be certain that Mr. Lyon had returned to the city."
"Ah, yes--if we could only be certain. That he was not here, reason and common sense tell me. Opposed to this is the very positive belief of Mr. Lamar that he saw him on the day before yesterday, twice."
"What had better be done under these circumstances?" queried Mr. Brainard.
"I wish that I could answer that question both to your satisfaction and my own," was the perplexed answer.
"What was done in New York?"
"I had several long conferences with Mr. Fenwick, whom I found a man of extensive views. He is very sanguine, and says that he has already invested some forty thousand dollars."
"Ah! So largely?"
"Yes; and will not hesitate to double the sum, if required."
"His confidence is strong."
"It is--very strong. He thinks that the fewer parties engage in the matter, the better it will be for all, if they can furnish the aggregate capital required."
"The fewer persons interested, the more concert of action there will be, and the larger individual dividend on the business."
"If there should come a dividend," said Mr. Brainard.
"That is certain," replied Mr. Markland, in a very confident manner. "I am quite inclined to the opinion of Mr. Fenwick, that one of the most magnificent fortunes will be built up that the present generation has seen."
"What is his opinion of Mr. Lyon?"
"He expresses the most unbounded confidence. Has known him, and all about him, for over ten years; and says that a man of better capacity, or stricter honour, is not to be found. The parties in London, who have intrusted large interests in his hands, are not the men to confide such interests to any but the tried and proved."
"How much will we be expected to invest at the beginning?"
"Not less than twenty thousand dollars apiece."
"Yes. Only two parties in this city are to be in the Company, and we have the first offer."
"You intend to accept?"
"Of course. In fact, I have accepted. At the same time, I assured Mr. Fenwick that he might depend on you."
"But for this strange story about Mr. Lyon's return to the city--a death's-head at our banquet--there would not be, in my mind, the slightest hesitation."
"It is only a shadow," said Mr. Markland.
"Shadows do not create themselves," replied Mr. Brainard.
"No; but mental shadows do not always indicate the proximity of material substance. If Mr. Lyon wrote to you that he was about starting for Mexico, depend upon it, he is now speeding away in that direction. He is not so sorry a trifler as Mr Lamar's hasty conclusion would indicate."
"A few days for reflection and closer scrutiny will not in the smallest degree affect the general issue, and may develope facts that will show the way clear before us," said Mr. Brainard. "Let us wait until we hear again from Mr. Lyon, before we become involved in large responsibilities."
"I do not see how I can well hold back," replied Mr. Markland. "I have, at least, honourably bound myself to Mr. Fenwick."
"A few days can make no difference, so far as that is concerned," said Mr. Brainard, "and may develope facts of the most serious importance. Suppose it should really prove true that Mr. Lyon returned, in a secret manner, from the South, would you feel yourself under obligation to go forward without the clearest explanation of the fact?"
"No," was the unhesitating answer.
"Very well. Wait for a few days. Time will make all this clearer."
"It will, no doubt, be wisest," said Mr. Markland, in a voice that showed a slight depression of feeling.
"According to Mr. Lamar, if the man he saw was Lyon, he evidently wished to have a private interview with yourself."
"Certainly. Both Mr. Lamar and the hotel-keeper refer to his going to, or being in, the neighbourhood of the cars that run in the direction of 'Woodbine Lodge.' It will be well for you to question the various members of your household. Something may be developed in this way."
"If he had visited Woodbine Lodge, of course I would have known about it," said Mr. Markland, with a slightly touched manner, as if there were something more implied by Mr. Brainard than was clearly apparent.
"No harm can grow out of a few inquiries," was answered. "They may lead to the truth we so much desire to elucidate, and identify the person seen by Mr. Lamar as a very different individual from Mr. Lyon."
Under the existing position of things, no further steps in the very important business they had in progress could be taken that day. After an hour's further conference, the two men parted, under arrangement to meet again in the morning.
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