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" At all hazards, then, you shall know the truth,” replied the wool. len-draper, in a tone of affected solicitude, -" but, are you really prepared ?''
"Quite-quite !" replied Winifred. “ This suspense is worse than torture.”
“I am almost afraid to utter it,” said Kneebone ; “but Thames Darrell is murdered.”
“ Murdered !” ejaculated Winifred.
“Basely and inhumanly murdered by Jack Sheppard and Blueskin," continued Kneebone.
“Oh! no-no-n0," cried Winifred, “I cannot believe it. You must be misinformed, Mr. Kneebone. Jack may be capable of much that is wicked, but he would never lift his hand against his friend,--of that I am assured."
" Generous girl!” cried Jack from behind the skreen.
“I have proofs to the contrary,” replied Kneebone. “ The murder was committed after the robbery of my house by Sheppard and his accomplices. I did not choose to mention my knowledge of this fact to your worthy father, but you may rely on its correctness.”
“ You were right not to mention it to him," rejoined Winifred, “ for he is in such a state of distress at the mysterious disappearance of Mrs. Sheppard, that I fear any further anxiety might prove fatal to him. And yet I know not-for the object of his visit here tonight was to serve Jack, who, if your statement is correct, which I cannot, however, for a moment believe,-does not deserve his assistance.
“You may rest assured he does not,” rejoined Kneebone, emphati. cally ; " but I am at a loss to understand in what way your father proposes to assist him."
"Mr. Bird, the turner, who is an old friend of ours, has some ac. quaintance with the turnkeys of Newgate," replied Winifred, “and by his means my father hoped to convey some implements to Jack, by which he might effect another escape.
“I see,” remarked Kneebone. “ This must be prevented,” he added to himself.
“Heaven grant you may have been wrongly informed with respect to Thames !” exclaimed Winifred; " but I beseech you on no account to mention what you have told me to my poor father. He is not in a state of mind to bear it."
“Rely on me,” rejoined Kneebone. o One word before we part, adorable girl-only one,” he continued, detaining her. “I would not venture to renew my suit while Thames lived, because I well knew your affections were fixed upon him. But now that this bar is removed, I trust I may, without impropriety, urge it.”.
“ No more of this,” said Winifred, angrily. “Is this a season to speak on such a subject ?"
"Perhaps not,” rejoined the woollen-draper ; " but the uncontrollable violence of my passion must plead my excuse. My whole life shall be devoted to you, beloved girl. And when you reflect how much at heart your poor mother,—whose loss we must ever deplore, --had our union, you will, I am persuaded, no longer refuse me.”
“ Sir!” exclaimed Winifred. “ You will make me the happiest of mankind,” cried the woollen
draper, falling on his knees, and seizing her hand, which he devoured with kisses.
“Let me go,” cried Winifred. “I disbelieve the whole story you have told me.
“By heaven!” cried Kneebone, with increasing fervour, “it is true -as true as my affection for you."
“I do not doubt it,” retorted Winifred, scornfully; 66 because I at. tach credit neither to one nor the other. If Thames is murdered, you are his assassin. Let me go, sir.”
The woollen-draper made no answer, but hastily starting up, bolted the door.
“ What do you mean?” cried Winifred, in alarm.
“ Nothing more than to obtain a favourable answer to my suit,” replied Kneebone.
“ This is not the way to obtain it,” said Winifred, endeavouring to reach the door.
"You shall not go, adorable girl!" cried Kneebone, catching her in his arms, “till you have answered me. You must—you shall be mine!"
“Never!" replied Winifred. “Release me instantly, or I will call my father.” “Do so," replied Kneebone; “ but remember the door is locked." • Monster!" cried Winifred. "Help! help!" “ You call in vain," returned Kneebone.
“ Not so," replied Jack, throwing down the skreen. “Release her instantly, villain!"
Both Winifred and her suitor started at this sudden apparition. Jack, whose clothes were covered with dust, and whose face was deathly pale from his recent exertion, looked more like a phantom than a living person.
“In the devil's name, is that you, Jack ?" ejaculated Kneebone.
“It is,” replied Sheppard. You have uttered a wilful and delibe. rate falsehood in asserting that I have murdered Thames, for whom you well know I would lay down my life. Retract your words instantly, or take the consequences.'
" What should I retract, villain?” cried the woollen-draper, who, at the sound of Jack's voice, had regained his confidence. - To the best of my belief, Thames Darrell has been murdered by you."
“ A lie!" exclaimed Jack, in a terrible tone. And before Kneebone could draw his sword he felled him to the ground with the iron bar. “ You have killed him!” cried Winifred in alarm.
No," answered Jack, approaching her, “ though, if I had done so, he would have merited his fate. You do not believe his state.
“I do not,” replied Winifred. “I could not believe you capable of so foul a deed.
But oh! by what wonderful chance have you come hither so seasonably ?"
" I have just escaped from Newgate,” replied Jack ; "and am more than repaid for the severe toil I have undergone, in being able to save you. But tell me,” he added with much anxiety, “has nothing been heard of Thames since the night of my former escape ?"
“ Nothing whatever,” answered Winifred. “He left Dollis Hill at ten o'clock on that night, and has not since returned. My father has made every possible inquiry, and offered large rewards, but has
not been able to discover the slightest trace of him. His suspicions at first fell upon you.
But he has since acquitted you of any share in it.”
“Oh, heaven!” exclaimed Jack.
“ He has been indefatigable in his search,” continued Winifred, " and has even journeyed to Manchester. But, though he visited Sir Rowland Trenchard's seat, Asheton Hall, he could gain no tidings of him, or of his uncle, Sir Rowland, who, it seems, has left the country.” “Never to return,” remarked Jack, gloomily.
6 Before to-morrow morning I will ascertain what has become of Thames, or perish in the attempt.
And now tell me what has happened to my poor mother!"
"Ever since your last capture, and Thames' mysterious disappearance, she has been dreadfully ill,” replied Winifred ; “so ill, that each day was expected to be her last. She has also been afflicted with occa. sional returns of her terrible malady. On Tuesday night she was rather better, and I had left her for a short time, as I thought, asleep on the sofa in the little parlour of which she is so fond
6 Well!” exclaimed Jack.
“ On my return I found the window open, and the room vacant. She was gone.'
“ Did you discover any trace of footsteps ?"' inquired Jack ea. gerly.
“ There were some marks near the window; but whether recently made or not could not be ascertained,” replied Winifred.
"Oh God!” exclaimed Jack, in a tone of the bitterest anguish. My worst fears are realized. She is in Wild's power."
“I ought to add,” continued Winifred, “that one of her shoes was picked up in the garden, and that prints of her feet were discovered along the soft mould; whether made in flying from any one or from rushing forth in distracted terror, it is impossible to say. My father thought the latter. He has had the whole country searched; but hitherto without success.”
" I know where she will be found, and how," rejoined Jack, with a shudder.
“ I have something further to tell you,” pursued Winifred. “Shortly after your
last visit to Dollis Hill, my father was one evening waylaid by a man, who informed him that he had something to communicate respecting Thames, and had a large sum of money, and some important documents to deliver 10 him, which would be given up, provided he would undertake to procure your liberation.”
“ li was Blueskin," observed Jack.
“So my father thought,” replied Winifred; "and he therefore instantly fired
him. But though the shot took effect, as was evident from the stains on the ground, the villain escaped.”
“ Your father did right," replied Jack, with some bitterness. if he had not fired thai shot, he might have saved Thames, and possessed himself of papers which would have established his birth, and his right to the estates of the Trenchard family.”
“Would you have had him spare my mother's murderer ?” cried Winifred.
“No, no,” replied Jack. “And yet--but it is only part of the chain of ill-luck that seems wound around me. Listen to me, Winifred.”
And he hastily related the occurrences in Jonathan Wild's house.
The account of the discovery of Sir Rowland's murder filled Winifred with alarm; but when she learnt what had befallen Thames-how he had been stricken down by the thieftaker's bludgeon, and left for dead, she uttered a piercing scream, fainted, and would have fallen, if Jack had not caught her in his arms.
Jack had well-nigh fallen too. The idea that he held in his arms the girl whom he had once so passionately loved, and for whom he still retained an ardent but hopeless attachment, almost overcame him. Gazing at her with eyes blinded with tears, he imprinted one brotherly kiss upon her lips. It was the first-and the last!
At this juncture the handle of the door was tried, and the voice of Mr. Wood was heard without, angrily demanding admittance.
" What's the matter ?” he cried. “ I thought I heard a scream. Why is the door fastened ? Open it directly !"
“ Are you alone ?” asked Jack, mimicking the voice of Kneebone. "What for ?" demanded Wood. "Open the door, I say, or I 'll burst
Carefully depositing Winifred on a sofa, Jack then extinguished the light, and, as he unfastened the door, crept behind it. In rushed Mr. Wood, with a candle in his hand, which Jack instantly blew out, and darted down stairs. He upset some one-probably Mr. Bird,—who was rushing up-stairs, alarmed by Mr. Wood's cries: but regardless of this, he darted along a passage, gained the shop, and passed through an open door into the street.
And thus he was once more free, having effected one of the most won. derful escapes ever planned or accomplished.
FAST AND LOOSE.
About seven o'clock on the same night, Jonathan Wild's two janizaries, who had been for some time in attendance in the ball of his dwelling in the Old Bailey, were summoned to the audience. chamber, A long and secret conference then took place between the thieftaker and his myrmidons, after which they were severally dismissed.
Left alone, Jonathan lighted a lamp, and opening the trap-door, de. scended the secret stairs. Taking the opposite course from that which he had hitherto pursued when it had been necessary to attend him in his visits to the lower part of his premises, he struck into a narrow passage on the right, which he tracked till he came to a small door, like the approach to a vault. Unlocking it, he entered the chamber, which by no means belied its external appearance.
On a pallet in one corner lay a pale emaciated female. Holding the lamp over her rigid but beautiful features, Jonathan, with some anxiety, placed his hand upon her breast to ascertain whether the heart still beat. Satisfied with his scrutiny, he produced a pocketflask, and, taking off the silver cup with which it was mounted, filled it with the contents of the flask, and then seizing the thin arm of the sleeper, rudely shook it. Opening her large black eyes, she fixed them upon him for a moment with a mixture of terror and loathing, and then
averted her gaze.
“ Drink this,” cried Jonathan, handing her the cup. “You'll feel better after it."
Mechanically raising the potion to her lips, the poor creature swal. lowed it without hesitation.
"Is it poison ?" she asked.
· No," replied Jonathan, with a brutal laugh. “I'm not going to get rid of you just yet. It's gin-a liquor you used to like. You'll find the benefit of it by and by. You've a good deal to go through to-night.”
“ Ah!" exclaimed Mrs. Sheppard, “are you come to renew your terrible proposals ?”
" I'm come to execute my threats,” replied Wild. To.night you shall be my wedded wife."
"I will die first,” replied Mrs. Sheppard.
“ You may die afterwards as soon as you please,” retorted Jonathan; “but live till then you shall. I've sent for the priest.”
“ Mercy !” cried Mrs. Sheppard, vainly trying to discover a gleam of compassion in the thief-taker's inexorable countenance,—“ Mercy!
“ Pshaw!" rejoined Jonathan. “You should be glad to be made an honest woman.
“Oh! let me die,” groaned the widow. “I have not many days, perhaps not many hours to live. But kill me rather than commit' this outrage."
“ That wouldn't answer my purpose,” replied Jonathan, savagely, “I didn't carry you off from old wood to kill you, but to wed you."
“ What motive can you have for so vile a deed ?” asked Mrs. Sheppard.
“You know my motive well enough," answered Jonathan. “ How. ever, I'll refresh your memory. I once might have married you for your beauty,—now I marry you for your wealth.”
“My wealth,” replied Mrs. Sheppard. “I have nothing." “ You are heiress to the Trenchard property,” rejoined Jonathan, one of the largest estates in Lancashire.” “ Not while Thames Darrell and Sir Rowland live.”
“Sir Rowland is dead," replied Jonathan, gloomily. " Thames Darrell only waits my mandate to follow him. Before our marriage there will be no life between you and the estates."
“Ah!” exclaimed Mrs. Sheppard.
“ Look here," cried Jonathan, stooping down, and taking hold of a ring in the floor, with which by a great effort he raised up a flag. “In this pit,” he added, pointing to the chasm below, "your brother is buried. Here your nephew will speedily be thrown." “ Horrible !" cried Mrs. Sheppard, shuddering violently.
" But your dreadful projects will recoil on your own head. Heaven will not permit the continuance of such wickedness as you practise.”
" I'll take my chance," replied Jonathan, with a sinister smile. “My schemes have succeeded tolerably well hitherto.”
"A day of retribution will assuredly arrive,” rejoined Mrs. Sheppard.
“ Till then, I shall remain content,” returned Wild. Mrs. Sheppard, attend to what I'm about to say to you. when you were a girl, and in the bloom of your beauty, I loved you.'
o Loved me! You !"
4 And now, Years ago,