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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Survivor - Chapter 30. David And Joan
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The Survivor - Chapter 30. David And Joan Post by :erikhj Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :953

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The Survivor - Chapter 30. David And Joan

CHAPTER XXX. DAVID AND JOAN

"Joan."

"Well, David?"

"You have had your way with me. I have suffered you to bring me here, to make me eat and drink. Now I am ready to go.

"But where? You do not look as though you had any settled lodging. We can find you a room here for awhile. You have not told me yet how it is that you are alive after all."

He pushed back a mass of tangled hair and looked at her grimly.

"So it was Father who told you that I was dead, eh?"

"Four years ago, David; ay, and more than that."

"He was a very hard man," David Strong said. "Four years ago I wrote to him--I had a chance--I wanted a few pounds only, to make a decent appearance. That was his answer. To me there came none."

"He did what he believed to be right," Joan said. "You disobeyed him in going away."

"It is true," he answered.

The man began to move about the room, glancing every now and then towards the door with a certain restlessness. He had come once more under the influence of the one person who in his earlier life had always dominated him. She had brought him along, unwilling and feebly protesting. He began to wonder how he should get away.

"You will stay here, David," she said. "You have not yet seen Cicely."

He shook his head.

"No. I am not fit for the company of respectable people. You do not know how low I have fallen. I have lost my caste. I live only for one purpose. When that is accomplished I mean to die."

"That is very foolish talk for a man," she remarked calmly. "I, too, have a purpose in life, but when it is accomplished I mean to live on, to live more fully."

He smiled mockingly.

"There is yet nothing of kinship between us," he said, "for between your purpose and mine there could be no more comparison than between a street puddle and Feldwick Farm. It is a life I seek."

"I would to God, David," she cried fiercely, "that it were the same life. For at the end of my purpose is death."

He gazed at her speechless. For the first time the change in her was brought home to him. The stern lines in her face had become rigid and cruel, a new light shone in her eyes. Joan, the domineering, had become Joan the tragical. He listened to her fascinated--and his limbs shook with fear.

"Can you wonder what it is, David? You have tasted the bitterness of strange happenings, and you have almost forgotten your name and whence you came. It is your task which I have made mine. Yet it is not too late for you, if you will help."

"Speak out," he whispered, hoarsely.

"You knew of Father's death?"

"You knew that he was robbed and murdered?"

The man who was lurking so far as he could in the shadows of the room said nothing--but his eyes seemed to become like balls of red fire, and his livid cheeks were horrible to look upon. Even Joan was startled.

"You knew of these things, David?" she cried.

"Ay," he answered, "I knew. What of it?"

"Can you ask? You have drifted far away from us, David, yet you, too, are a Strong and the last of our race. He was murdered, and as yet the man who slew him goes unpunished. Can you ask me then what should be the purpose of my life? It is to see him hang."

She had risen to her feet, a grim, threatening figure in the unshaded lamplight. The yellow glare fell upon her hard, set face, her tightly compressed lips and black eyebrows. Of a sudden David realised her strange and wonderful likeness to the dead man. His own bloodless lips parted, and the room rang with horrid laughter, surely the laughter of a lunatic.

"Oh, it is a wonderful purpose that," he cried. "To see him hang--hang by the neck. Bah! What concern of yours, Joan, is it, I wonder?"

"I am his daughter."

"And I his son. And, listen, my sister, here is news for you. It was no living man at whose door his death lies, but at a woman's. A woman's, I tell you. You understand? I swear it."

She looked at him doubtfully. Surely he was raving.

"A woman's, David?"

"Ay, a woman's. And there are others too--her victims. Look at me. I myself am one. Her victim, body and soul corrupt. If one could only reach her throat."

Even Joan shuddered at the look which seemed to her devilish, Joan, whose nerves were of iron, and in whom herself the lust for vengeance was as the cry for blood. Yet this was not possible.

"I think that you are raving," she said. "Did you not know that Douglas Guest disappeared that night, and was never more heard of--ay, that there was money missing?"

"Douglas Guest took but his own," he answered. "It is the woman who is guilty."

She was bewildered.

"Woman, David? Why, there was none who would have harmed a hair of his head."

Again he laughed, and again she turned pale with the horror of that unearthly merriment.

"You see but a little way, sister Joan," he said, "and the vengeance you cry for is in other hands. As for Douglas Guest, leave him alone. He is as guiltless as you are."

"You have told me so much," she said firmly, "you must tell me more. How comes it that you know these things?"

He shuddered. His lips moved but she did not catch the sound of words. He was apparently in a state of collapse. She reached brandy from a cupboard and forced some between his teeth.

"Be strong, David," she whispered, "and tell me of these things."

He sat up, and with his incoherent words came the birth to her of a new and horrible suspicion.

"I had to have money," he muttered. "She drove me to it. She turned me away. I was in rags, an ill-looking object. But I never meant that. Douglas was before me, and he knows it."

His head fell back, he was unconscious. Joan rang the bell, and sent the maid for a doctor. Yet when he recovered and learnt what she had done he refused flatly to see him.

"A doctor" he muttered, "would feel my forehead and ask me questions. Their madhouses are full enough without me. I've work to do yet."

She spoke to him soothingly as to a child.

"David," she said, "we have a little money--not much, but such as it is you must share. I cannot have you go about starved or in rags."

He staggered up.

"I'm off. Keep your money. I've no use for it."

She stood in front of the door, her jaws were set and there was a bright, hard light in her eyes.

"You'll not go yet," she said. "You've a secret you're keeping from me. It's my concern as well as yours. We'll talk of it together, David."

"I'll talk of it with no living soul," he answered thickly. "Out of my way."

But Joan neither moved nor quailed.

"They will have it that Douglas Guest was killed," she said. "I have never believed it. I do not believe it now. He is keeping out of the way because of what he did that night."

"Ay," he muttered. "Likely enough."

"We must find him," she continued. "Day by day we have searched. You shall help. If he be not guilty he knows the truth, and he hides. So I say that if he lives we must find him."

"Guilty enough," he muttered. "He is in her toils. Let me pass, sister Joan."

"You have seen him?" she cried. "You know that he is alive?"

"Ay, alive," he answered. "He's alive."

"You have seen him?"

"Yes."

"Tell me where and when." "By chance," he said hesitating--"in the streets."

She wrung her hands.

"Have I not walked the streets," she moaned, "till my feet have been sore with blisters and my head dizzy! Yet I have never met him."

He stood with his hand upon his chin, thinking as well as he might. What did he owe to Douglas Guest, the friend of Emily de Reuss, successful where he had failed? Had he not seen their hands joined? He drew a breath which sounded like a hiss.

"I thought," he muttered, "that it had been a woman, yet--who knows? It may have been Douglas Guest--and Joan, there was truth in your thought. He lives. I cannot tell you where. I cannot help you find him, for I have another task. Yet he lives. I tell you that. Now let me go."

Her eyes flashed with something which was like joy. She had forgotten David's wandering words. All the time her instincts had been true.

"Let me go, Joan."

She laid her hands upon his shoulders.

"We are brother and sister," she said, "and what is mine is yours. Stay and share with me. Share the little we have, and let Cissy nurse you--ay, and share our vengeance."

She was flung on one side. Off her guard for a moment, he had pushed past her with unexpected strength.

"David!" she cried. "David!"

But she heard only his footsteps upon the stairs, swift and stealthy. In the hall he turned and looked up at her. She was leaning over the banisters.

"Take some money, at least," she said. "See, I have dropped my purse."

He watched it where it lay within a few feet of him, burst open with the drop, and with the gleam of gold showing from one of the compartments. He made no movement to pick it up. It seemed to her that as he passed out he shrank from it. From the window she watched him turn the corner of the street and vanish in the shadows.

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