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Title:      The Judas Kiss
Author:     Herbert Adams
eBook No.:  0500781.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
Character set encoding:     Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit
Date first posted:          August 2005
Date most recently updated: October 2007

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Title:      The Judas Kiss
Author:     Herbert Adams





1: Surprising News

THE young clergyman cleared his throat.

"As we are all met together," he began, "I will read you a letter I have
received from our father."

"Listen, girls," said Jasper flippantly, "our reverend brother has
apparently had a message from On High. It may be important."

"Where is he, Garnie?" enquired Emerald, the older sister.

"Does he say when he will be back?" asked Pearl, the youngest of them
all.

Garnet replied to their questions in what they called his parson voice.

"I will read the letter," he repeated. "It will tell you all I know."

Again he cleared his throat, and holding his missive in front of him, he
started--

'My dear Garnet,

It is nearly three months since I left you, to convalesce after that bout
of 'flu. It was good of you all to offer to accompany me, but I thought
it best to be alone, especially as I did not know exactly where I meant
to go and wished to be free to wander as I felt inclined. I have always
tried to make you independent, so that you could carve your own careers.
I trust I have in some measure succeeded. It would not have helped for
you to be tied to me.

I sincerely hope that no one of you will feel there is any measure of
reproach in what I have to tell you. When your Mother died, four years
ago, you shared my grief but you imagined that the radio, cross-word
puzzles and an occasional game of bowls or golf would satisfy and fill my
life for such years as might be left me. But you were wrong! The natural
urges of life do not end at fifty!'

"What is he getting at?" Emerald injected. "He is fifty-seven."

Garnet ignored her. He proceeded--'As my occasional postcards will have
shown you, I have wandered far and wide. I have had many interesting
experiences and think I can say I am as fit as ever I was. I have now met
a lady who I am sure can make me happy. I am about to marry her--'

Jasper whistled.

Emerald echoed, "To marry her!"

Garnet went on:

'I will not attempt to describe her to you, as you will so soon see her
for yourselves. We plan to be home in about a fortnight. I will wire the
day of our arrival as soon as it is settled. I hope you will love her for
my sake and am confident, when you know her, you will love her still
better for her own.

Naturally I have told her about you and she is anxious to meet you all.
We want you to carry on the home just as in the past--until any of you
have other plans. We discussed what you should call her. I fully realise
no one can ever be to you what your dear Mother was, and we agreed it
would be best for you to call her by her first name, Adelaide.

We send our love, assured that a warm welcome awaits us.

Your affectionate father,

GEORGE MICHELMORE.'

The silence that followed the conclusion of the letter lasted for several
moments. It was broken by Jasper.

"Oughtn't we to send a telegram of congratulations and good wishes, or
something?"

"He gives no address," Garnet said. "The postmark on the envelope is St.
Malo."

"Is he married or is he about to be married?" Emerald asked, rather
indignantly. "He might have given us the chance to be there. Why not
bring her home and marry here?"

"It would be unusual for a man to marry his father," Garnet remarked,
"but I would have liked at least to attend the ceremony."

"Poor Daddy!" Pearl murmured. "I had no idea he was so lonely. I often
sat with him and watched the TV. I would have done anything he asked, but
he never would."

"Perhaps he wanted something a daughter could not give," Jasper said.

"I hope she will make him happy," Pearl replied.

The door of the room opened and a slight figure dressed in black entered.

"I will bring the coffee, if you're ready," she said. "I didn't 'ear the
bell."

"We have had rather a shock, Nan," Emerald explained. "Father has just
written that he has married again."

Nan was nearing sixty. She had been nurse to all of them and had stayed
on as housekeeper. She prided herself on never showing surprise at
anything any member of the family might do.

"Indeed. May I ask who to?" Her tone was quite unemotional.

"He does not tell us," Garnet answered. "He wishes it to be a pleasant
surprise. We are to expect them in about a fortnight."

"Then p'raps I shall not be wanted no more?"

"Don't say that, Nan!" Pearl cried impetuously. "We can not do without
you. We may need you more than ever."

"He says they wish us to carry on as before," Jasper added.

"Then I'll get the coffee."

She left the room and there was silence until she returned with it.
Emerald had picked up the letter to read it through again.

They were a good-looking group of young people. Sitting each at one side
of a small table, they had just finished their evening meal, though
Jasper forked half a tinned peach from the heavily cut glass dish, and
poured the last few drops of cream from a silver ewer over it. Garnet,
the oldest of them, aged twenty-seven, had dark eyes and well-formed
features. He looked earnest and his spare form suggested that he observed
all the recognised fasts of the church and enjoyed doing it. Jasper, on
his left, had similar dark eyes, but there was a twinkle of mischief in
them. Emerald, who faced her elder brother and was next in age to him,
would have been beautiful had it not been for a rather hard mouth and a
look of discontent. Pearl, the baby of the family, just twenty-two, was
definitely pretty, of the Greuze type. She had wide dark-blue eyes but
there was more life and laughter in them than that artist generally
showed in his charming maidens.

The flat was barely furnished but everything in it was good. The chairs
and sideboard were Chippendale, or by an early disciple of his. The
well-polished table was of dark mahogany and the lace table mats
excellent of their kind. There were few ornaments and the only picture,
hanging over the mantelpiece, was of a beautiful woman, the mother of
them all.

Garnet wore clerical attire with a short black coat. The girls had light,
short-sleeved frocks, but Jasper showed up in a tweed jacket, a coloured
shirt and blue corduroy trousers. In the opinion of many he could have
done with a hair-cut.

Nan brought the coffee and left it without saying a word.

"It is most extraordinary," Emerald remarked when they were again alone.
"That bit about not blaming us looks as though he wanted an excuse. And
surely he might have sent a photograph. There is no hint as to whether
she is young or old, single or a widow."

"What intrigues me," said Jasper, "is the reference to natural urges. Do
you think our venerable parent has thoughts of rearing another family?"

"Heavens, no!" Emerald exclaimed. "It would hardly be decent."

"A baby in the house would be rather fun," Pearl said.

"Or maybe Adelaide already has a family," Jasper suggested.

"He would have said so were that the case," Garnet assured them. "I mean
if there were more than themselves to prepare for. I think you can take
it she is about his own age."

"How do you get that?" Emerald asked.

"From the name--Adelaide. Names, as the christenings show, have a way of
dating people. At present Jacqueline, Jill, Elizabeth and Margaret are
most popular. Twenty years or so ago Pamela, Patricia and Phyllis had a
great vogue. Before that it was Dorothy or Doris, taken, I believe, from
the title of a play. Clarissa, Agnes and Amelia were earlier, but
Adelaide probably preceded them. There was once a Queen Adelaide."

"The wife of William the Fourth. She died about a hundred years ago,"
Emerald said. History was her strong point.

"So you reckon our Adelaide--or rather our parent's Adelaide--is probably
fat, fair and forty-to-fiftyish," Jasper observed.

"That is as I see it," Garnet nodded.

"I fear I find the reasoning unconvincing," the younger brother said. "We
of course bow to your experience. I believe you have christened six--or
is it seven?--muling infants, not all female; but you overlook the fact
that many are named after an elderly maiden aunt from whom there are
expectations, or even after an aged grandmother. So the generation idea
does not hold the baptismal water."

"I have studied the subject," Garnet said loftily.

"But we do not know that she is English," Emerald pointed out. "If he met
her in St. Malo she might be French. Queen Adelaide was German."

"And you cannot rule out the possibility that you will have an American
stepmother," Jasper added. "Believe it or not a dealer in St. Malo sold
one of my pictures to an American."

"What are we to tell people?" Emerald demanded. "We shall look such utter
fools if we cannot answer the simplest questions."

"Why tell people anything?" Pearl asked. "We shall know when we see her
and can truly say it was a big surprise. He is Daddy and I shall love him
just the same."

"Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings," Jasper murmured. "I think the
child is right."

"Thank you, old hoary head," Pearl retorted.

"I agree with that," Garnet said. "You had to tell Nan, as she must
prepare for them, but ask her to be silent about it until we know more."

2: The Arrival

IF the Michelmores were an unusual family, their home was also out of the
ordinary. A comparatively small abode when George Michelmore bought it,
it had been enlarged by the addition of a wing at either side, projecting
at an angle from the main building. As it faced south it thus earned its
name, "Sunbay."

Each wing formed two flats and each flat was given up to one of his
children, so that all possessed a self-contained home of their own, with
a sitting-room, a bedroom, a bath room and a tiny kitchenette. Every flat
had its own front door, the upper ones being approached by a narrow
staircase.

The dining-room and lounge in the main building were shared by all, when
they so chose, but they could entertain their own friends in their own
way in their own apartment. They could also work undisturbed in the
particular line they elected to adopt. The older son, Garnet, having
entered the Church, the arrangement suited him very well. He had a ground
floor flat. Jasper, with artistic ambitions, occupied the one over it,
his sitting-room or studio boasting a north light.

As for the girls, Emerald had the upper flat on the other side. She was a
writer, though so far little of her work had  found a publisher. When
Pearl became of age, she had been presented with the key of the remaining
suite. She was proud of it but, having domestic rather than professional
inclinations, she spent much of her time with her father or, when he was
away, with Nan, whose real name, if anyone remembered it, was Hannah
Wood. Pearl also had a Cairn terrier, Sandy--her faithful guardian and
companion.

It was part of the arrangement that each flat owner was responsible for
the care and cleanliness of his or her own apartment. That was admirable
for the girls, but Garnet and Jasper paid a few shillings occasionally
for a "do" by Mrs. Hopkins, the daily helper in the house. Their father
had made them all an allowance. As food, light and fuel were provided, it
was adequate for their needs but not enough to keep them in perpetual
idleness. He wished them to be independent, but wanted them to follow the
calling that appealed to them and to make a success of it.

If it was suggested to him that their semi-detached mode of existence
might lead them into trouble, he would say such a thing was less likely
than if they went off by them selves into some big town. "Sunbay" was one
of the few larger houses in the village of Beckford, a mile or so from
the sea and about midway between Felixstowe and Aideburgh on the Suffolk
coast. He was proud of his arrangement. He pointed out that the day of
big residences was past, but there would never be any difficulty in
finding tenants for his sectional homes.

The news of his second marriage had come as a shock to his children.
While their mother had been alive she had been keenly interested in the
Church and all the local activities. When she died their father had
gradually dropped them. But it had never occurred to them that he might
start a new life of his own. Perhaps they did not realise that his
theories of independence might apply to himself as well as to them.

When they met at meal-times, which they generally did, though a message
to Nan always brought them a breakfast tray if they wished it, they
discussed the matter over and over again. But it was several days before
they heard any thing further. Then came a telegram from Paris--'Returning
Friday for dinner. Love. George and Adelaide.'

"Hardly calls for the fatted calf," Jasper commented. "What is the
appropriate dish for the prodigal father, Garnie?"

"Ewe mutton," Emerald answered for him.

"Being Friday I would prefer fish," Garnet said, "but I realise it is a
special occasion."

"Indeed it is!" Pearl cried. "We must get something jolly good. Let us
ask Nan."

When summoned and informed of the impending arrival, Nan told them in her
unemotional way she could secure a goose.

"I do not like that idea at all," Jasper said. "It is too suggestive. A
pair of ducks would be far more appropriate. Besides, the parent likes
duck almost as much as I do."

So that was settled. Pearl busied herself with special flowers and
decorations and conspired with Nan to make a cake with almond icing and
much sugar ornamentation. Jasper thought champagne the most essential
thing and was pleased to find his father's cellar possessed a few
bottles. Emerald kept aloof as though disapproving of the whole affair.

At length the great day arrived. They were all excited and a new point
arose.

"Where and how do we receive them?" Garnet asked.

"We shall be in the lounge and Nan will announce them," Emerald said.

"The Dad announced in his own home!" Jasper objected. "Don't be daft. He
will just walk in."

"I do not know what you others will do," Pearl declared. "I shall be
waiting for them at the gate."

In the end that is what they all did. And they got the surprise of their
life. The newly-weds arrived from London by car. When it pulled tip,
their father sprang out, bronzed and far fitter than when they had last
seen him. He turned to assist his companion to alight. A young woman,
little older than themselves, and more lovely than anyone they had ever
before beheld.

"This is Adelaide," he said.

There was a moment's pause. She was so unlike anything they had expected.
Then Pearl sprang forward and threw her arms round his neck and kissed
him.

"Welcome home, Daddy. I hope you will both be very happy."

"Thank you," he laughed. "Adelaide, this is Pearl, our baby."

Adelaide took her hands, drew her forward and kissed her. "I thank you
too," she said softly.

The ice thus broken, Emerald kissed her father and turned a cold cheek
for her stepmother's caress.

"This is Garnet," said the father, gripping the hand of his first-born.
"He is a shining light and an example for all of us.

"I do not think I have ever kissed a clergyman," Adelaide smiled. "May
I?" She did.

"Jasper, our artistic hope."

Jasper did not wait to be asked. He pressed a kiss on each cheek.

"Welcome indeed!" he said.

Then, chatting and laughing, they passed into the house. Emerald,
asserting her position as hostess--was it for the last time?--said:
"Dinner will be ready in half an hour. Will you have a drink and then do
any changing you want to?"

Jasper came forward with the sherry and proposed an appropriate toast.

It was not until they were seated at the table that they were really able
to take stock of the new arrival. She was every bit as beautiful as they
had at first thought. She had real golden hair, with delightful waves the
girls could appreciate, a flawless skin, eyes of the deepest grey, small
features and a pretty mouth that enclosed perfect teeth. The only notable
sign of make-up was the vivid lip-stick that gave an air of
sophistication to an expression otherwise almost incredibly innocent. A
pearl necklace and a diamond bracelet were her only ornaments, other than
her wedding ring.

Nan was introduced when she brought in the food. Adelaide got up and
shook hands with her, saying she had heard how good she was to all of
them.

After some delicious soup there were fried fillets of sole done to a
turn. Conversation was at first spasmodic and trivial, but when Jasper
got busy with the champagne their tongues were loosened.

"Where did you get married?" Emerald enquired. "Why did you not ask us to
the wedding?"

"It was all rather hurried," Adelaide smiled. "You see, George was
impatient to get home and we wanted to spend a few days in Paris."

"Where was it?" the girl repeated.

"In the Cathedral at St. Malo, but it was very quiet. I have few
relations."

"I know an art dealer in St. Malo," Jasper said. "He must be a genius; he
sold a picture of mine." It was a fact he liked to proclaim.

"An appreciative genius," was the reply. "Who is he?"

"His name is Lanier., He has a little shop near the Cathedral."

"I do not know him, though I worked for a time in St. Malo. Before that I
was in Dinard."

"That is a spot you should see, my boy," his father said. "There is a
service of little boats they call videttes between the two places. It is
well-named the Emerald Coast because the sea is such a clear and
wonderful green. You ought to have eyes like that, my dear," he added to
his older daughter. "But I prefer them as they are. Jasper might do some
good pictures there."

"Is that your line?" Adelaide asked.

"Definitely not," Jasper said. "I do figures, but I am experimenting in
what you might call abstract subjects."

"You must let me see them," she said. "You all seem so wonderfully clever
to me. You, I believe, are a writer," she added to Emerald.

"So far, unlike Jasper, without a patron--or a publisher," was the reply.

"She has had a lot of jolly good articles and stories in local papers,"
Pearl said, speaking up for her. "And her book, when she finishes it,
ought to be a winner."

"I am writing it in collaboration with a friend," Emerald said, "so if it
does appear the credit will be partly his."

"I always wonder how collaborators work," Adelaide commented. "Do they
write alternate chapters or does one do the descriptions and the other
the dialogue?"

"It is a matter of arrangement," Emerald replied rather coldly.

Garnet had been very silent. He hardly dared to look at his astonishing
stepmother. He felt he ought to show his disapproval of that daring neck
line. But she did not spare him.

"Is this your parish?" she asked him.

"No," he said. "I am an assistant priest at Torbury, the next village."

"The vicar," Pearl added, "Mr. Forbes Fortescue, ought really to retire.
He leaves all the work to Garnie."

"Except the preaching," Jasper added silly. "The old boy still likes to
talk on Sundays, doesn't he, Garnie? The same sermons he has used for
years."

Garnet looked embarrassed, but his father gave the talk a new turn.

"Who made that gorgeous cake?" he asked, indicating the elaborate
confection in the centre of the table.

"I did," Pearl blushed.

"It looks more than tempting, but after all we have had I doubt if we can
tackle it." The ducks had been appreciated.

"But you and--and Adelaide--must cut it, even if you only eat a crumb.
Nan helped with the mixture, so it should be all right."

"Of course we will," Adelaide laughed. "I said it was a wonderful family.
A clergyman, a writer, an artist and a sculptor in sugar. How I envy you
all!"

One of her decidedly lesser charms was her quaint way of licking her
lips, poking out her pointed little tongue after she had made a remark.
Her comment on their talents gave Emerald a chance for which she had been
waiting.

"What did you do before you married?" she asked.

"Me? I hope you will not be ashamed of me. I worked in a perfumier's
shop. That is where George found me."

"What was he doing in a perfumier's shop?" Jasper grinned.

"I went to get a hair-cut," his father said. "When I left the execution
chair I saw the loveliest--I saw Adelaide. I could not think what to say
to her, but I had to say some thing. I asked her if she thought I would
look better with a beard."

"I said decidedly not," she smiled, "and I sold him some lotion to use
after shaving."

"Which I still have, unused," he chuckled. "But I went back every day for
something. And that is how it happened."

They all laughed. "Modern love potions," Jasper murmured.

Emerald asked "Were you born in France? Your English is perfect."

"I was born in England but my mother was French. My father was killed in
the Normandy landing and after that we went to live there. My mother
died, but my English was useful in getting a job where most of the
visitors are English or American."

Taken altogether it was a happy meal. It concluded with the cutting of
the cake by the bridal pair with a large knife. Pearl was deservedly
congratulated on her achievement.

After that, they adjourned to the lounge. Emerald asked Adelaide if she
could sing, hoping perhaps to find a fault somewhere.

"I would not be so unkind," was the smiling reply. "I do play a little."

They pressed her to do so. They had a good piano and she rendered some
pieces by Grieg and Chopin really well. Pearl, who had a pleasing voice,
sang a couple of songs and then George insisted that he and Adelaide must
retire as they had had a very long day.

"Well, what do you think of her?" Emerald asked, when the four were at
last alone.

"The parent has picked a perfect peach," Jasper said. "Can't think how he
managed it. I must paint her."

"A peach from a barber's shop!" Emerald sneered. "What do you say,
Garnie?"

"I pass no judgment till we know her better," the curate replied.

"I think she is lovely," Pearl said. "I like her."

"You would," commented her sister. "Look at the vulgar way she puts out
her tongue!"

"Probably she was nervous," Pearl suggested. "I would be in such
circumstances."

"Nervous--not a bit of it! She saw her chance and grabbed it. I would bet
there is plenty in her past we will never know. Poor Dad! I do not see a
very happy future for him with her in a dead-alive place like this!"

"Give her a chance," Jasper grinned. "Not afraid she will run away with
your boy friend, are you?"

"Don't be a fool!" Emerald said angrily, and she left the room, slamming
the door after her.

3: Pearl and Jasper

THE next morning George and Adelaide had their breakfast in bed. If they
dallied over it, who shall blame them?

"Well, my love," he asked teasingly, "what do you think of your little
brood?"

"Is it not more important what they think of me?"

"Dumb with admiration. Was it wise to tell them all you did?"

"They were bound to be curious. I only hope they were satisfied. I shall
try to make them like me. It will not be easy with Emerald and I am not
sure about Garnet."

Adelaide was no fool and she had summed up their feelings with remarkable
accuracy. After a little more banter George decided to dress. He was
definitely handsome and looked younger than his years. The holiday with
its surprising ending had undoubtedly done him good. Now he was anxious
to see how his garden, some two acres in all, had fared in his absence
and whether Teague, his gardener, had carried out certain alterations he
had suggested.

Left to herself Adelaide made a leisurely toilet. She thought she had
made a fairly favourable impression on her "step-children" but wanted to
see them separately to establish as friendly an atmosphere as was
possible.

When she went down she was wearing a tweed skirt and a knitted pullover
that was discreet in every way, even if it could not conceal the shapely
lines of her figure. The first of the family she met was Pearl, which was
as she would have wished. It should be an easy start.

She kissed her and after a few words as to a good night's rest, asked if
she might see her flat. Pearl was pleased to show it to her. They went to
the entrance door on the ground level which the young girl with some
pride opened with her own latchkey.

"You are not afraid to sleep down here by yourself?" Adelaide asked.

"Not a bit. Emerald is just above and there is a bell to the house. Sandy
takes care of me." She introduced her little dog who sniffed approvingly
at the newcomer.

The rooms were small but very daintily appointed. After a peep at the
bedroom and bathroom, they sat in the two easy-chairs in the
sitting-room.

"You know, Pearl, I was terribly afraid of you all."

"Of us?" asked the girl. "Why?"

"George told me how clever you all were and I thought you would suppose I
had trapped him in some way because I am rather younger than he is. That
was a surprise? You thought I would be about his own age?"

"Well--he didn't tell us very much."

"I know. I wanted him to, but he thought it best to do things his way. I
love him and I think I can make him happy, especially if you will help
me. I want to be one of yourselves. Will Nan regard me as an intruder?"

Pearl hesitated. "She may be a little difficult at first, till she gets
used to things. You see we have grown up with her, and she was devoted to
Mummie."

"I understand. Will you please tell her from me that I want her to carry
on as she has always done. I shall tell her so myself, but you may help
to make her believe it. I am really a dreadfully lazy person, only too
glad to be able to rely on her. I shall devote myself to George."

"You will not take him away from us?"

"Of course not, darling. But he told me you were all so full of your own
affairs."

"I am not."

"But the others are? What do you do?"

"Nothing much. I am just the plain domestic type. I enjoy having a home
and making it look nice. When Daddy did not want me I spent a good deal
of my time with Nan. For one thing, I love cooking;"

"How splendid--though a little bit lonely? But you are not plain, you are
very pretty. Have you any boy friends?"

Pearl blushed. "I have some friends."

"Of course you have. Please remember, darling, I want to help you in
every way I can, if you will let me. I wish I had a little sister like
you. I was lonely when my mother and father died. If George takes me
about, as he talks of doing, you must come, too, sometimes."

"If he wants me."

"I am sure he will. It was a terrible shock to him when your mother died,
but he had talked a lot about your independence and he rather felt he was
no use to anyone. You and I must cure him of that."

They talked intimately for some time. Then Adelaide said she wanted to
see Jasper. Did Pearl think he would mind?

"I am sure not," was the reply. "He has the top flat on the other side.
Would you like me to tell him?"

"No. I will take my chance."

The open door to Jasper's private staircase proclaimed that he was at
home. Adelaide mounted the stairs and tapped at what she knew must be his
sitting-room door.

"Come in!"

She entered and found him in an easy-chair with a block on his knee,
drawing.

"Am I disturbing anything?" she asked.

"Not at all," he said, rising to find her a seat. "As a matter of fact I
was trying to do you. But it is no good." He tore it off and threw it
into the fireplace.

"May I not see it?"

"Certainly not. We do not show our first impressions to our victims. I
hope you will let me paint you properly."

"I should be honoured," she smiled.

The studio was untidy, as studios often are. On an easel stood a
semi-nude almost completed and two or three canvases rested against the
wall, only their backs being visible. On a throne lay a portfolio,
presumably of sketches. Paints, palettes and brushes were strewn on table
and shelves.

"What did you think of us last night?" Jasper asked.

"As someone once said, not half had been told me."

"Rather enigmatic. We might say the same. We were expecting someone--how
shall I put it?--rather more mature?"

"Hence your disappointment?"

Jasper grinned. He thought they should get on well together. "Fishing?"
he asked.

"Not at all. You needed mothering and I did not look equal to the task."

"You can but try. I had a wonderful idea before I got up how I would like
to paint you."

"Tell me."

"It would be called 'Good Morning.' You are sitting up in bed, your arms
stretched above your head--"

"And my mouth open in a big yawn?"

"Oh, no; just a sweet smile. Your nightie is slipping from your
shoulder--"

"The further it slips the better, I suppose?"

"Yes," Jasper said eagerly. "Down to your waist, if you do not mind."

"I am afraid I do mind. What would your father say about it?"

"Dad appreciates art and beauty."

"That takes us both for granted, doesn't it?"

"He knows my work. As for you, I saw enough last night--"

"You mean my frock was too revealing? I am sorry about that. I put it on
in your honour as it is the prettiest I possess."

"Let me paint you in that."

"If he agrees, I would love it." She glanced at the figure on the easel.
"What do you generally do about models?"

"That is rather a snag. Plenty at the art schools, of course, but a
devilish expense to get them down here."

"I hope you do not make love to them."

"No, Mamma," he mocked. "One soon grows out of that. You are interested
in your job and the two things don't mix. A model--that is a professional
model--is a shape without a soul. You pose her as you want her and don't
think about her as a person. Pearl has helped me a lot. She sat for
that."

He indicated the figure on the easel.

"She does not mind?"

"Why should she? I am her brother. She has nice limbs and is a good
sport. Of course I put other faces to them."

Adelaide rose and examined the picture more closely. He was certainly
good at his work; colour and drawing were excellent.

"Tell me about what you call your abstracts," she said.

"If you wanted to paint a picture of Grief," he replied, "how would you
do it?"

"I might show a child crying over a broken toy. Or possibly a woman,
utterly miserable, with a letter in her hand."

"You probably would. But they are examples of grief, not the thing
itself."

"But how can you--?"

"Look."

He took one of the canvases from the wall and put it on the easel in
place of the nude. At first it seemed a formless mess of colour, blotches
and spirals. But considering it more carefully, Adelaide saw that the
lower portion was a blend of crimson and gold which grew more dim as it
rose and then blended into a dull grey and finally black. It was some
thing like an inverted bonfire.

"You mean," she said slowly, "the sunshine and gladness of life die away
and give place to gloom and despair."

"Good! I thought you would understand. Anyone can paint a weeping infant,
but to portray Grief you must think it out for yourself."

"The other way up you could call it Joy."

"Perhaps." Jasper was not quite so pleased. "I should work out something
fresh for that."

"I think it is terribly clever," she assured him. "I hope they will be
very successful. You must do a set--Love, Hatred, Malice, and things like
that. Of course I am old-fashioned, but I do see what you mean. I will
help you if I can."

"I will promise not to paint you with three square legs and eyes in odd
places," he laughed. "I am not all that mad."

"I am sure you are not," she said. "What does Garnet think about them?"

"Works of the devil! He believes only in photography; landscapes or
well-clad humans."

"I want to see him. Do you think I might?"

"He is downstairs. I expect you will find him in, preparing an address
for a mothers' meeting or something of the sort. You might help him."

"I could try. Thank you, Jasper, for what you have shown me. I do wish
you the greatest possible luck."

"Thank you, Mamma. Don't you kiss the child goodbye?"

"This is not goodbye," she laughed. "Only au revoir."

4: Garnet and Emerald

As she went down the stairs Garnet emerged from the lower flat. He was
surprised to see her leaving his brother's rooms and seemed a little
embarrassed.

"Oh--er--good morning," he muttered.

"Good morning, Garnet," she said. "I am trying to do a little in your
line."

"In my line?"

"Calling on my parishioners in their own homes. I was coming to see you."

"I am going to Torbury."

"Is it far?"

"Four miles over the fields. Further by road."

"Walking?"

"Yes."

"Perhaps I could come part of the way with you."

"Rather rough going." She could see he did not want her, but she
persevered.

"I have stout shoes," she said, raising her skirt a little higher that he
might clearly see her neat, well-shod feet, not to mention her shapely
ankles. "I want to talk to you. I am so interested in your work."

"I am rather late."

"Then we must walk quickly."

He did not reply and they crossed the garden which looked beautiful with
the fresh colouring of spring. Not all of it was under cultivation, but
the trees had been chosen for their foliage and the prunellas gave a fine
display of colour. They did not speak until they reached a gate that
opened on to a meadow rented by a neighbouring farmer.

"Is it a very beautiful church?" Adelaide asked.

"Indeed it is," he said. "There are many wonderful churches in this part
of the country, far too big for the population of the villages. But
things have changed."

"In what way?"

"At one time East Anglia was the centre of the wool industry. There were
more people and the churches were alive." He stopped abruptly. Then he
said, "I have been thinking about you. Are you a Roman Catholic?"

"Why do you ask?" Adelaide was defensive.

"You were married in that Cathedral."

"My mother was a Catholic."

"My father is not."

"Your father is a very wonderful man, Garnet," she said after a moment of
hesitation. "He holds that religion is largely a matter of geography. If
you are born in England you are probably brought up a Protestant. In
France you are a Catholic. In Scotland a Presbyterian, and so on. He says
God knows all about that and will not worry over creeds as we do. Is he
not right?"

"It is a big subject--"

"Are you preaching to-morrow?"

"I do not think so."

"I must come and hear you when you do. If my ideas are wrong, you must
tell me. Is it true that your vicar is old and leaves everything to you
except the preaching?"

She had expertly changed the conversation and Garnet responded eagerly.

"There is truth in it," he said. "When I joined him the congregation had
dwindled to a handful of old people. The place was dead! Practically no
choir, no Sunday School, no parochial work of any kind. I want to make it
live! A real live centre of Christian worship. The attendance is already
better. We have a choir and are starting a Sunday School and Mothers'
Meetings. But it is only a beginning."

He was speaking with more animation than he had ever shown before. The
light of a zealot was in his eye.

"Does not Mr. Fortescue help you?" Adelaide asked.

"I will not say anything against him. He is old, he is tired, perhaps
disheartened. But what use is it to get people to the church unless you
have a message to give them when they come? Everything wants stirring up!
We need a parish room, we need a new organ, we need surplices, we
need--What is the good of talking? I talk to him but he just nods and
says it cannot be done; he tried it years ago. It is like saying we
should not repair the roof because he did it twenty years before I came."

"Does it leak badly?"

"Not now. I saw to that. My stipend is small but I spend it all there.
Living at home and having a little money of my own, I do not need it."

"Won't he retire? Cannot he be made to?"

"He owns the living and provided services are held nothing can be done
about it."

"What is his preaching like?"

"Dead! Mumbling and rambling. I am no orator but sometimes it is all I
can do to prevent myself shouting. I got him to let me choose the hymns.
That helps a little."

"Could you not go to another church where there is more life, more
scope?"

"And leave these people to slip back to what they were before I came? No!
I feel this is the work God has given me to do and I must do it with such
power as I possess."

"I think you are splendid, Garnet," Adelaide said. "Thank you for what
you have told me. I believe you will succeed. If I can help you I will.
Now I must be going back or you may be late."

"Oh--thank you for listening. I don't know what made me say all I did.
I--I don't often do it. But--but you seemed to understand."

His manner had changed. The fire had died down and he spoke with his
usual hesitancy.

"I am on your side," she said. She held out her hand and he shook it. So
they parted.

She thought of him as she made her way back to the house. She admired his
earnestness, but no doubt it was difficult for him to show to advantage
in his own home, with a brother and sisters who had known him all their
lives and could not take him as seriously as they should. She must not
fall into that error, but how different he was from Jasper. Jasper would
flirt with anyone--even his stepmother!

When she reached the garden gate she met her husband, who had been
looking for her.

"There you are, my dear," he said. "Been exploring on your own account?"

"No, darling. I walked a little way with Garnet. He does not seem very
happy. Could you help him?"

"He is a queer fellow," George replied. "He would hate to have things
made too easy. He believes in bearing his cross and finding it heavy. I
hope he is not heading for a breakdown like he had once before."

"How was that?"

"Working for some exam. He thought it would be too awful if he failed.
Actually he passed quite well. I will have a talk with him. But I must
show you the new water lily pond."

"I rather want to see Emerald. I believe she is going out for lunch."

"This will not take long."

He led her through the trees to an opening where the pond had been
cunningly contrived. It was irregular in shape and some stepping-stones
led to a mound in the centre that would no doubt be a blaze of colour
later on. A gnarled old man was waiting for them. With his bent legs,
stooping shoulders, ugly features and three days' growth of stubbly
beard, he might have been a gnome from a fairy tale.

"Ah, Teague," Mr. Michelmore said, "this is your new mistress."

"Marnin', Mum," he muttered, touching his cap. His ferrety eyes took
stock of her, not altogether with approval, Adelaide thought.

"Good morning," she said. "You have made a good job of this. Will you
stock it with goldfish?"

"Maybe," he muttered.

"You like it?" George asked.

"It is lovely. So is everything else I have seen, but you must show me
round properly. I think the great thing about a garden is that you do not
see all its beauty at once. New joys at every turning. I wonder if those
trees over there would do with a bit of pruning; rather overshadow the
flower-bed, don't they?"

She spoke innocently enough, only meaning to show interest. She did not
realise that gardeners are in the main of two kinds, those who are too
handy with axe and clippers, and those who hate to cut anything down.
Both kinds like suggestions to come from themselves and want to do things
in their own way.

"Some plants wants shade and some wants sunshine," Teague said, almost
malevolently.

"How true that is," she responded gaily. "I shall have so much to learn.
I must run in now."

She hurried to the house, and passing Pearl's private door, pressed the
bell of the one that adjoined it. A minute later it opened and Emerald
stood at the top of the stairs. She had a cord that pulled back the latch
without her having to come down.

"Oh--you," she said. "What do you want?"

"Good morning," Adelaide replied. "I have seen the others and I thought I
would like to see your little home. It is such a wonderful idea."

"All right," Emerald responded, not too graciously. "Come up, but I
haven't much time. If you have seen one you have seen them all."

That was not quite true. In size and shape the apartments might be
identical but in appointment they were very different. Pearl's
living-room was cosy and dainty; Jasper's was an artist's work-room; the
one she now entered was more of a library. There was a big desk in the
window, with a typewriter on it. Shelves ran round the walls, filled with
books of reference and works of fiction of all kinds. The easy-chairs
were leather covered.

"How business-like it looks," Adelaide said. "I hope I did not interrupt
you."

"I have just finished a chapter."

"I am glad. May I ask what it is about?"

"It is an historical romance."

"How interesting! What period have you chosen?"

"William and Mary," Emerald said shortly.

"What a clever idea. So many people have written of Charles II and Henry
VIII. Both so fatal to women. I have read quite a lot of Regency tales
but I cannot recall any of William and Mary."

"There have been some."

"I expect there have. I always think it should have been called Mary and
William. She was really the queen, being the daughter of James II. It was
only through her that William became king."

"You know quite a lot." The comment was ironical.

"Not really," Adelaide said, "but I did go to a decent school before my
father died."

"What was his rank?"

"He was a captain in the Tank regiment."

"I suppose you get a pension?"

"My mother did, but it died with her. They do not give pensions to
able-bodied young women, though it is not too easy to get a job without
special training. Oh--Emerald! Do you smoke a pipe?"

Again an adroit change of conversation. Her quick eyes had seen a
well-bitten briar partly hidden by a photograph on the mantelshelf.
Emerald turned an angry red, vexed that she had not concealed it.

"I do not," she said. "It belongs to Victor Gore-Black. He is forgetful
and keeps it here in case he has not brought one."

Adelaide also saw a pair of man's slippers under a chair, but she did not
mention them. It was of course possible that a writer might have a spare
pipe and slippers in a room where he worked, but was there more to it
than that? Had Emerald some sort of affair with her co-worker? Did that
account for her resentment at the arrival of George's wife? Was she
fearing discovery?

"Victor Gore-Black," Adelaide said. "Is he your collaborator?"

"He is."

"I believe I have heard the name. Has he written much?"

"Some successful novels. He is attached to an Ipswich paper. He also does
some free-lance work."

"How interesting! He must be very clever. I hope I shall meet him some
day."

"You probably will."

"He must think a lot of you, too, to want you to help him."

Emerald did not reply. Adelaide got up.

"I must not keep you," she said. "I know you are in a hurry. Do you
cycle?"

"I have my own car."

"How jolly! One of them said something about cycling."

"The others do. I lend them my car sometimes."

"Very good of you. If I can ever help you in any way, please let me
know."

"In what way?"

"Well--reading proofs, looking up dates or quotations. I know it takes a
long time."

"Thank you, but I prefer to do such things myself. And--I hope it does
not sound rude--should you think of coming again, would you use the
house-telephone? I might be busy."

"Of course," Adelaide said. "I did not know you had one."

5: The Diamond Star

As the weeks went by Adelaide appeared to settle down happily in her
fresh surroundings. She had little reason not to. Nan was efficient in
the house and Teague did his duty outside, so, although they remained
slightly resentful of the newcomer, things worked smoothly. George adored
her and she did her duty by him. He took her to see many interesting
places in Suffolk and Norfolk and not infrequently Pearl accompanied
them, to her no little delight. Pearl became really fond of Adelaide and
was always her champion in any family discussions. Yet the young
stepmother realised she did not enjoy the girl's entire confidence;
perhaps it was too soon to expect it.

She perceived that Pearl, young as she was, had two admirers. One, Peter
Skelton, the son of the local doctor, had just qualified and joined his
father in the practice. He was a big fellow, good-natured if not
particularly good-looking. Pearl liked him well enough, but she had known
him all her life and there would be no thrill in marrying him. He on the
other hand had always regarded her as his destined mate and was content
to wait. His allegiance never wandered.

About the other admirer, Arthur Dixon, there was too much thrill. A
little older than Peter, he was more assured in his manner, more adroit
in his wooing and he had plenty of money. But--it is a very big But--he
was married. He and his wife Esme had been separated for nearly two
years. There had been no grounds for a divorce; she had just left him. He
was romantically handsome, of the Byron type, and possessed a pleasant
voice and a persuasive manner. It is possible that in her father's
absence Pearl saw more of him than was good for her.

As the summer approached, the Michelmores had frequent tennis parties and
the two young men came to most of them. Adelaide watched the affair with
regret but felt she must not interfere. She hoped Pearl would trust her
and come to her before it was too late.

There was little doubt about Emerald's affair; the girl practically
admitted it. Victor Gore-Black also played tennis and so was introduced
to the new hostess. How often he called in connection with the literary
work--or how late he stayed--no one knew. Adelaide did not like him but
she realised he was of a type that would attract some women--what is
called the he-man type. Rather short, with a big head and long hair, he
was, she imagined, arrogant, aggressive and sensuous. No doubt he had
ability and a girl like Emerald might pay heavily to get her name linked
with his and so see her work in print. He was obviously surprised by
Adelaide's youth and beauty and she realised she must keep him at a
distance if she wished to continue on reason ably good terms with his
fellow-worker.

"You and Emerald are writing a novel of the time of William and Mary?"
she remarked when he was presented.

"That is so," he said, eyeing her boldly.

"Lucky for her to have so notable a partner."

"I don't know about that, but I generally succeed in what I undertake."
His tone was complacent. "Do you write at all?"

"Never," Adelaide replied. "Not even letters if I can avoid it. But I am
interested in your period. I have always wondered how it worked. A king
and a queen. If they wanted different things, whose will prevailed?"

"Which will do you think should prevail?" he challenged, with an assured
smile.

"Hers. She was the rightful queen."

"Have you never heard of the gallant husband who told his bride that
married happiness was a matter of give and take? So when they agreed they
would always have her way; when they differed, his."

"All take and no give "

"But a good working arrangement," he smiled. "Our story, however,
concerns the times rather than the persons of their majesties."

"Victor, are you ready? They have just finished." It was Emerald
returning to claim him for a set.

It was later that Adelaide put her question to the girl.

"Are you thinking of marrying Mr. Gore-Black?"

"No," Emerald said. "Victor does not believe in marriage. Neither do I."

"Why not?"

"I do not suppose you will understand. A writer must not be bound. He
must be free to enjoy all the experiences and emotions life has to
offer."

"The woman too?"

"Of course."

"Suppose one of them tired of the experience before the other did?"

"That is the advantage of freedom."

"A dangerous doctrine, my dear."

"Would you expect a creative genius to observe the rules of a
domesticated clerk or shop-keeper?"

"I believe many a creative genius has been glad of a good wife to see to
his creature comforts," Adelaide said.

"When genius has to obey the dinner-gong, creation dies," Emerald
retorted.

Adelaide saw that Emerald loved Victor and accepted him on his own terms.
That he would be constant to her was extremely unlikely. She might have
put the problems of both his daughters to their father, but that would
assuredly lead to trouble, possibly a family break-up. He had taught
independence and she must wait. She did not want the trouble to be
ascribed to her.

With the sons things were less difficult. Jasper started on her portrait
in the frock she had worn on the first evening. He made more demands on
her time than she could grant and that led to an indiscretion on her
part. If indiscretion it really was.

When a morning sitting ended she told him she could not come again for a
few days but she would leave the frock and he could get on with that.

"I will slip it off," she said. "I brought a coat to go back in. Don't
look."

She expertly undid some fastenings and stepped clear of the garment. He
did look. He saw her in her flimsy but alluring underwear. He dashed at
her, seized her in his arms and kissed her shoulders.

"You are beautiful, Adelaide," he whispered. "A beautiful devil."

"Don't be silly," she said coolly, pushing him away. "You told me your
model was only an empty shape. I trusted you. If I cannot I will never
come again."

She picked up her coat, slipped her arms into it and left him. She did
come again but that episode was never repeated. If she had to change her
attire she did it in the adjoining room.

Of Garnet she saw but little; he was absorbed in his work. She and George
gave him money to help with the new surplices and she went twice to his
church. On the first occasion the vicar preached, the second time he did.

The Rev. Forbes Fortesque was a remarkable-looking man. He must have been
nearly eighty years of age; his hair was white but his clean-shaven
cheeks were fresh and shiny like a well-polished apple. It was not true
that he mumbled. His voice was soft and it was probably only audible in
the front pews. But his discourses did ramble. He preached ex tempore and
it was no unusual thing for him to start on one text and finish on
another quite different.

On the morning Adelaide heard him he started with the River of Life. He
drew a vivid picture of the rower striving against the tide and showed
the importance of his keeping to the main stream lest he got lost in one
of its branches. Talking of branches reminded him of trees and in the
trees, God's gracious gift, the birds of the air made their nests. But
not all birds were good birds. There were the birds that swallowed the
seed that fell by the wayside. And some fell in stony places. So
naturally he concluded with the parable of the sower.

Adelaide could see that his inconsequence made his curate restive, but he
was a dear old man and his parishioners respected him, even if they
thought he lived in a different world from theirs. She had brought Garnet
over in the little car George had given her and she waited to take him
back.

"What did you think of it?" he asked as they started.

"It was all good, but rather muddled," she said. "Like having three
excellent recipes for puddings and cooking them all together."

"And what is the effect on the congregation?"

"Did it have any?" she enquired.

"Probably not. That is the tragedy of it. The wasted opportunity. I
strive to get them to the church and they are sent empty away."

Garnet's own methods were certainly different. He preached in the evening
and his words rang through the church. He told of the Love of God and the
Sinfulness of Man. His earnestness made Adelaide--and perhaps others--a
little uncomfortable.

Adelaide's arrival did not only affect the Michelmore household, it
created no little sensation in the village and the surrounding country.
The women for the most part disapproved. George might wish to marry
again, that was natural, but for him to bring home a bride of the same
age as his children was entirely wrong. How could she guide and help them
in the problems of life as an older woman would have done?

The men, however, when they saw how beautiful Adelaide  was, did not
blame him at all. Possibly they envied him. One lecherously remarked that
for an old man to marry a young wife was the pleasantest form of suicide.

But George was not an old man. All agreed that he seemed to be enjoying a
new lease of life. As was natural there were many tea parties and a few
dinners at which he and Adelaide were the guests of honour. They returned
the hospitality received and there was more entertaining than the small
community had known for several years. Many of the ladies were curious
about her, but the family told no one of their father's fatal hair-cut.
They merely said the two had met abroad.

At one party given in the garden of the Vicarage (the vicar, Dr. Aitken,
not to be confused with the Rev. Forbes Fortescue of the adjoining
parish), an old soldier, Colonel Vatchell, managed to secure a cosy chat
with Adelaide.

"You may not be aware of it," he said, "but I am your nearest neighbour.
Your garden and mine adjoin."

"I think I have seen you," she replied.

"Had I seen you sooner," he said gallantly, "I do not think I should have
done the foolish thing of which I have unfortunately been guilty."

"What is that?" she smiled.

"I have let my house. I generally do for the summer."

"But you will be coming back?"

"As soon as I can. Meanwhile be kind--but not too kind--to my tenants."

"Who are they?"

"Ever heard of Major Roger Bennion?"

"I don't think so."

"He has a wife and a baby of about a year old. Very charming people. At
one time Bennion was quite famous as a sleuth."

"What is a sleuth?" Adelaide asked.

"A sort of amateur detective. He brought to justice a lot of criminals
who dodged the police."

"He sounds rather frightening."

"He has given it up now, but don't start any mischief!"

"Do you think I am likely to?" she laughed.

"I don't know," he said, trying to look roguish, "but not perhaps in his
line. Anyway I want him to enjoy himself. Tell him I said so and he
certainly will."

Adelaide promised to do her best.

Another episode has to be recorded that did not turn out quite so well
and it seriously threatened Pearl's devotion for her. Dr. and Mrs.
Skelton, Peter's parents, asked George and his bride and Pearl to have
dinner with them. The invitation was accepted and to Pearl's
consternation her stepmother wore the costliest gown in which she had
ever seen her, set off by a pair of diamond ear-rings and a handsome
diamond star hanging from her neck on two fine gold chains.

What hurt was that they had been her mother's diamonds. It came as a
shock to see them on someone else.

Mrs. Skelton was a kindly, homely woman and it was just a neighbourly
meal. Surely, Pearl thought, apart from anything else, Adelaide might
have known such splendour was uncalled for. But Mrs. Skelton was not
disturbed.

"You look lovely, my dear," she said. "The grandest visitor we have ever
had, isn't she, Peter? I am afraid you have to take us as you find us. We
did have two maids when we first married, but on the whole we are happier
without them. Never contented and always wanting more time off. Now if
you'll excuse me, I'll dish up."

Peter Junior assisted her and so did Pearl. Everything was excellent of
its kind, and the talk was amusing. The doctor had some good stories to
tell and Adelaide, unconscious of her offence, responded gaily. George
and Mrs. Skelton did their part but Pearl and Peter were rather silent.
Pearl because of that star and Peter because he had little to say, since
they were not alone.

When they had finished, Mrs. Skelton told them to go along the other room
and she would bring the coffee there. Pearl insisted that she must help
with the washing-up and Peter went with them.

"Do you know Arthur Dixon and his wife Esme?" Adelaide asked the doctor
when she and George were alone with him.

"Of course I do. I saw him into the world. A pity he and Esme don't get
on, but it is an instance of the sort of thing my wife was talking about.
He loves the country, has a pleasant enough place with some shooting and
fishing. Esme is a pleasant girl but they could get no domestic help. She
has a little money of her own and said why should she become a maid of
all work when she can afford to live in a London hotel, having everything
done for her and enjoying the sort of life she likes?"

"No very deep affection," George remarked.

"She suffers from what is all too common in these days," Skelton
shrugged; "sinkophobia."

"A disease without a remedy?" George asked.

"None that I can prescribe."

"Is there likely to be a divorce?" Adelaide enquired.

"No cause for it so far as I know," the doctor said. "If either of them
can find a married couple or a decent working housekeeper, Esme will
probably come back."

Pearl and Peter brought in the coffee and the subject was dropped. It was
not until she got home that Pearl had a chance to speak to her father
about the thing that was troubling her. Adelaide had gone up to her room.
Pearl perched herself on the arm of his easy-chair, as she had often done
in the past.

"I am fond of Adelaide," she said, "but was it necessary to give her
those things?"

"What things, my dear?"

"Mummie's star and the ear-rings."

"What else should I have done with them?"

"I suppose you did not know what they meant to us. That star was Mummie.
We grew up used to seeing it on her and we loved it."

"You want it?"

"No, Daddy. Don't say that. I would like Emerald to have it; or Garnet's
wife, if he marries. Someone who knows how we felt about it. Someone
Mummie would like to see wearing it."

"Well, my dear, I did not realise you regarded it like that and I am sure
Adelaide did not. Your mother was not fond of jewellery. That was my
first and almost my only present to her of real value. She refused other
things. I must think it over and see what can be done about it."

Pearl kissed him and it was left at that.

6: The Bennions

How often it is true that the tail wags the dog. Penelope Ann had not
benefitted as much as had been hoped by her stay in Cornwall. Roger had
gone to Northumberland by himself to play his part in the amazing affair
of "Slippery Dick." For Ruth the rest had been good, but little Penny had
not gained much in strength. She was healthy enough but a bit below
weight. A long wet spell had not helped. So it was for her sake her
parents decided to spend part of the summer in the bracing air of
Suffolk. Colonel Vatchell was an old friend and the chance to take his
house at Beckford was too good to lose.

Ben and Bessie Orgles arrived a little in advance to get things ready and
Roger, Ruth and Penny, with the faithful Nannie soon followed. They were
pleased with the house and all its surroundings. A few minutes' run would
take them to the sea or to one of several golf courses. They anticipated
a quiet, health-giving holiday. How little they knew!

Ruth and Roger were sitting on the verandah one sunny morning, two days
after their arrival, when they saw the garden gate open. A slim, elegant
figure approached them. That she was young and very good-looking was at
once apparent. Roger rose as she joined them.

"Is it Major Bennion?"

"It is."

"I am from next door. Mrs. Michelmore. I hope I am not being a nuisance
coming so early. Colonel Vatchell told us you had taken the house and
said we must do all we could to make your stay comfortable. I do not
suppose there is anything, but please let us know if there is. We shall
be glad to help in any way we can."

Adelaide was not wearing a hat and her pleasant smile could not have
failed to make a good impression.

"Very kind of Colonel Vatchell and of you," Roger said. "Won't you sit
down? This is my wife."

The two young women murmured words of polite greeting and Adelaide took
the seat by her.

"I expect you know a lot more of housekeeping than I do," she said, "but
I could tell you about the local tradespeople."

"You are very good," Ruth answered, "but Colonel Vatchell left us a
list."

"That's all right. We mostly have the same as he does. Oh--is that your
baby? What a darling!"

She dropped her voice to a whisper. Nannie was pushing the pram past them
and its little inmate was fast asleep. They did not speak again until
there was no risk of rousing her.

"Your only one?" Adelaide asked.

Ruth nodded.

"I have four," the visitor said. "My youngest is twenty-two."

"And your oldest?" Roger smiled.

"About my own age. I am Mr. Michelmore's second wife. I have only been
here a few weeks. That is partly why I rushed in on you so soon. Everyone
has been very kind, but I thought how wonderful it would be to have a
friend of my very own."

"Lucky for us, too," Ruth said, liking her straightforward way of
speaking.

"We are having a small tennis party on Saturday," Adelaide went on.
"Could you possibly come?"

"I expect you would be far too good for us. I was never up to much. Roger
has played in first-class matches, but it was years ago."

"Oh, do say you will come, Major Bennion."

"Charming of you to ask us," Roger replied. "I am sure it would be very
pleasant, even if we only looked on."

"Oh, thank you," Adelaide said. "And of course you must play. I do not,
and the others are not terribly good. They will be thrilled when I tell
them. You know, Major Bennion, Colonel Vatchell made me rather frightened
of you."

"Very wrong of him. How did he do it?"

"He said you had caught a lot of criminals that the police let slip
through their fingers."

"That is done with," Ruth said.

"Yes," Roger agreed. "Please do not talk about it. In a peaceful spot
like this we want to forget there is such a thing as crime. Do any of you
play golf?"

"My husband. He would love to play you sometime. He wants to teach me,
but I didn't start young enough."

They chatted for quite a time. When Adelaide rose to go she handed a
small parcel to Ruth.

"A few eggs. I know you have no hens and ours lay more than we need. They
are really fresh as I took them from the nests this morning. Now I shall
have to face Teague, the gardener, and confess. He rules us with a rod of
iron."

They all laughed and there were appropriate words of thanks. Roger walked
with her to the gate.

"Saturday at three," were her parting words.

"That is neighbourly," Roger said when he returned to the verandah. "What
do you think of her?"

"I don't quite know," Ruth answered. "She is very pretty, almost
beautiful, but it must be rather a queer household with four stepchildren
of about her own age. I wonder what the husband is like? Did you notice
the way she puts her tongue out and licks her lips?"

"Costly in lipstick," Roger laughed. "That is an idea for a fortune. Let
us produce a new lipstick. You not only select your shade but your
flavour. Cherry, raspberry, whatever you like. Would it take on?"

"You are not supposed to swallow it," Ruth said. "But many women do;
otherwise it would not want renewing so often. It is worth thinking
about."

At lunch Adelaide told the family of her new acquaintances and of the
match arranged for Saturday. On the whole they were pleased; new blood is
always welcome.

"1 hope they are reasonably good," Emerald remarked. We don't want more
pat-ball!" She was thinking of some of their friends whose efforts were
very third-rate.

"Major Bennion won county championships when he was younger," Adelaide
told her. "He may be as good as Mr. Gore-Black."

"Did you say Bennion?" her husband asked her. "There was a Major Bennion
who made a stir in these parts years ago. He cleared up a remarkable
murder case and ended by marrying one of the daughters of the Dean of
Fenchester. Ruth, I think her name was."

"That is right," Adelaide nodded. "Colonel Vatchell told me something
about it, but Major Bennion says he has given up such things."

"Just as well," her husband agreed. "He must be a very interesting man,
but murders don't happen here."

"We will hope not," Jasper said, "though it would be rather a thrill to
have a Sherlock Holmes as our next-door neighbour. What is his wife
like?"

"Charming in every way," Adelaide replied. "You might get a commission to
paint her. She would make a lovely picture. So would their baby."

"I must see the baby," Pearl said.

"It sounds all right," Emerald commented, "but we do not want snoopers
here."

"He is no snooper," Adelaide declared. "Wait till you meet him."

Sunbay boasted two tennis courts, and whatever his failings in other
respects, Teague kept them in good order. George still liked an
occasional set and as all the family were playing, that meant five in the
home team. Adelaide cried off as she would have to see to the teas.
Pearl's admirers, Peter Skelton and Arthur Dixon arrived as usual, as did
Emerald's collaborator, Victor Gore-Black. To help balance the sexes
Pamela and Mary Aitken, two girls from the Vicarage, were invited.

All the girls and most of the men wore the modern one-piece linen
costumes with bare legs, the hairy limbs of Gore-Black being specially
notable. Ruth and Roger were exceptions as she had a skirt and he white
trousers with a silk shirt. Naturally the regular players knew one
another's form and Gore-Black ranked as their Number One.

To make a start, Ruth and Roger were invited to play Emerald and
Gore-Black on one court, while Pearl and Peter took on one of the
Vicarage girls and Arthur Dixon on the other. Victor Gore-Black liked to
live up to his name and monopolised as much of the game as he could. He
directed all his attack on Ruth who had played very little since her baby
was born. Although golf was Roger's game, he played squash and badminton
to keep himself active. It took him a little time to find his form but he
was satisfied that he had the measure of Victor and was content at losing
6--4.

"You played jolly well, my dear," he said to Ruth. "We will take them on
again presently and beat them, if you like."

"It might do them good, but I want to talk to Adelaide." The sets were
made up again and again, with various changes of partner and with
intervals for tea. It would be tedious to detail them. Victor was very
pleased at beating Roger, whose bygone glories had been told him. To rub
it in he suggested a men's four, he and Dixon taking on Roger and Garnet.
Roger, whose touch had been getting more sure readily agreed.

The curate, though not brilliant, was quite a useful partner, perhaps a
shade better than the good-looking Dixon. Gore-Black tried to excel
himself. Roger was faster and more accurate and that was bound to tell.

When he and Garnet led by 3--1 there was an incident that amused the
onlookers. Roger was serving and had scored two aces. At the third Victor
called "Fault!" Garnet protested, "I saw the chalk fly."

"Never mind," Roger said, "call it a fault." There was no umpire.

For his second service he sent over a ball popular years ago but now
little used. A sort of backhand googlie with a lot of spin. It was
necessarily slow. Victor ran forward to smash it back but it broke at
least a yard in the opposite direction to that expected and he missed it
completely. Everyone laughed. Roger and Garnet eventually won by 6--2.

"That was an extraordinary ball," Garnet said afterwards. "How did you do
it?"

"It came from America," Roger smiled. "It was devastating at first but
our players soon got the hang of it and killed it."

He asked Ruth if she would like their return but she declined. She had
played two other sets and said he had done mischief enough for one
afternoon. It had really been a pleasant affair. She and Roger chatted
with all their neighbours. Adelaide was delighted with their success and
she and George asked them to come in for a game when ever they wished.

"I believe you play golf?" Roger said.

"Of a sort," George replied.

"So do I. Much nicer to have a ball that sits up and waits instead of
running away from you."

"Especially when it runs the wrong way," George chuckled.

The party broke up and Ruth and Roger returned to their own abode. When
they were well out of earshot Ruth said--"I like them all, especially
Adelaide and Pearl. I told you it was a queer household and so it is."

"I saw Adelaide telling you her life-story," Roger answered. "What is so
queer about it?"

"Not her life-story but that of everyone else. George must be rather a
remarkable man. He retired when he was about thirty with a fortune of
over a hundred thousand pounds."

"How did he make it?"

"He inherited from his father a number of shops in the Midlands called
Michelmore's Markets. Something in the Woolworth line. He opened more and
then one of the big combines bought him out."

"A shrewd fellow."

"Yes, indeed," Ruth said, "and his wife had ideas too. As each child was
born she made him buy an insurance policy so that it received five
thousand pounds when it became twenty-one. Would that cost a lot?"

"It would depend on the terms of the policy. If he took the chance and
the money was lost if the child did not reach twenty-one, it would be
much cheaper than if there was a surrender value at death."

"Adelaide says he took the chance and in due course they each got their
money. He invested it for them in his old firm, and they each have about
three hundred a year free of tax. Not a great deal in these days. They
could use the capital if they wished, but she doesn't think they did so.
The idea was that they should be independent but not too well off to
work. And they all have their own little flat, rent free, part of the
house."

"Certainly a novel idea. Does it answer?"

Ruth hesitated. "Adelaide is not quite sure. She says Emerald and the
Gore-Black man profess to believe in free-love. They are writing a book
together and may practise what they preach."

"Is Adelaide doing anything about it?"

"She is afraid to. She also says one of the two men who appear devoted to
Pearl already has a wife."

"Independence run riot. What about the sons?"

"Garnet, the curate, is a model of pious endeavour. She is not so sure
about Jasper, the artist. What queer names they all have. Chosen, she
says, by their mother."

"As the mother of the Gracchi proclaimed, these are my jewels."

"Is Jasper a jewel?" Ruth asked. "It used to be the name of the villain
of the piece."

"Rather difficult, I imagine, to get male names from gems. Plenty of
female ones; Ruby, Coral, Beryl and so on. Jasper is a semi-precious
stone, very Biblical, as you, a Dean's daughter, should know."

"Adelaide hopes we will have a good influence on them."

"A bit late in the day, if what she says is true," Roger remarked.

7: Temptation

Contact between the occupants of Sunbay and their new neighbours grew
apace. There was frequent tennis and George Michelmore had two rounds of
golf with Roger Bennion. Pleasant enough, but there was little
inclination to repeat them as George was no match for Roger and preferred
to reserve his energies for bowls, a game Roger had not so far attempted.
Few days passed without Adelaide looking in to see Ruth, and Pearl made
great friends with little Penny. Emerald remained aloof. Jasper, having
been promised that he should try his hand on Ruth and her infant, was
well occupied in finishing the work he had already begun.

The curious thing was the friendship between Garnet and Roger. Friendship
may not be the right word for it. When he had a free evening the curate
would call and ask for Roger, but the latter found him rather tongue-tied
and could not quite see why he came. He tried various themes of
conversation without much success.

"Is Garnet coming to-night?" Ruth asked him.

"I hope not," Roger said. "He doesn't smoke, he doesn't drink, he doesn't
play cards and he cannot talk!"

"Perhaps he has something on his mind."

"Then I wish he would get it out of his system. Why bring it to me?"

"He may be lonely."

"Can it help him to sit and brood? I would sooner spend the time with
you."

"I have plenty to do," Ruth said. "Does he play chess?"

"More likely Tiddleywinks! I could ask him. But what about you?"

"Nannie and I enjoy the wireless."

The next time he came Roger made the suggestion and the curate said he
would like a game. The pieces were set out. Roger had never really had
much time for chess, there were other things he preferred, but in less
than a quarter of an hour he had mated his opponent.

The pieces were replaced in silence and another game started. But it was
soon evident that Garnet, although he knew the moves, was not really
giving proper attention to it. Roger was naturally patient, but this was
sheer waste of time. He purposely made an atrocious move that should
have led to the capture of his queen. Garn took a long time to play and
then missed his opportunity.

"Something worrying you?" Roger enquired.

"Why--why do you ask?" Garnet replied.

"You could have taken my queen and in the last game you missed some
chances."

"I--I am not very good."

"Not as bad as that, I think."

Garnet was silent for some moments. Then he said--"Yes. I am worried. I
have wanted to tell you, but--but I don't know how to begin."

"It is generally the start that is difficult," Roger said kindly. "I will
help you if I can, but am I the right person to come to?"

"I--I think so. There is no one else."

"Well?"

"A young woman--a girl--wants to marry me." Roger looked at him for a
moment or two. He was undoubtedly good-looking, though there was an
expression in his eyes that called for sympathy.

"Most men have had that experience," Roger said with a slight smile.
"Perhaps clergymen are more subject to it than others; I don't know. I
take it you do not wish to marry her. Have you ever given her reason to
think otherwise?"

"No! Before heaven, never!" Garnet spoke with sudden vehemence. "I
believe in a celibate clergy."

A parson had to be polite to the members of his congregation and a
determined woman is difficult to escape. Roger knew that. Perhaps
unmarried curates are less sought after than they used to be but no doubt
there are still those who feel their fascination--a tribute possibly to
their virtue.

"Need you meet her?"

"I do my best not to," Garnet said.

"Then surely the matter will die a natural death--unless there are
special circumstances in the case."

"There are."

The young man got up from the table. Perspiration stood on his brow and
the look of misery was intensified.

"There are special circumstances," he muttered, walking restlessly across
the room.

"You are sure you wish to tell them to me?" Roger said. "You would not
prefer to ask the advice of your father or perhaps your vicar?"

"They would not understand. You are a man of the world. You have had much
experience."

"In some matters I have. Whether they will help you I cannot say."

"I need someone to confide in. Someone with an open mind."

"A lawyer perhaps?"

Garnet shuddered. "A lawyer would see it all wrong. He might not believe
me."

"Well--start at the beginning. I will do what I can."

Perhaps a little reassured at having broken the ice, Garnet returned to
his seat. He brushed the chessmen on to the table and closed the board.

"When I went to help Mr. Fortescue at Torbury I found the work at the
church neglected."

"So I have heard."

"Mr. Fortescue is old but I am young. I saw a field white unto harvest
and with such energy as I possess I threw my self into the work. One of
the things that shocked me was the neglect of the service of Holy
Communion. It was only held once a month and then only two or three
elderly people attended it."

He paused. For a moment the misery in his eyes gave place to the light of
the zealot.

"I talked to the people about it and slowly our number grew. Then I found
there had been no Confirmation classes for two or three years; no attempt
to reach the young people. I was horrified. I asked the Vicar and he said
he had no objection to my holding such classes if I could get anyone to
attend them.

"He evidently thought my effort was doomed to failure, but I spoke to the
young people and I called to see their parents. Eventually a dozen
promised to come."

"Of what ages?" Roger asked.

"Fifteen to eighteen. There was no suitable place in Torbury for them to
meet and I decided to hold the classes here in my own room. At first I
thought of having them all together, but I decided against it. You know
how it is with a mixed class. You try to make them think of sacred
things; then they go off, perhaps in pairs, and the temptation for fun
and flirting may be too strong for them."

Again he paused. Roger realised he was getting to the more difficult part
of his story.

"I arranged for the lads to come one evening and the girls another. I
think some at least of them meant to become real members of the Church of
Christ. Then one evening, when I had been talking to the girls, one of
them said there was something she wished to ask me in private. So I let
the others go. I took them to the door and said good-night to them, but
suggested they might wait for their friend. I would not keep her long."

He stopped. The signs of agitation were again visible. He rose from his
chair and walked to the window and back again.

"I returned to my room. She was not there. I could not understand it;
there was no other way out. I thought perhaps she had wanted to go to the
cloakroom and had been too shy to say so. But it was not that; the door
was open. Then I heard a sort of muffled laugh from the inner room--my
bedroom. I went there. She was in my bed . . . She sat up and held out
her arms to me. She was naked! I--I have never been more shocked in my
life."

Another pause. He was finding it difficult to speak. The moisture on his
face told of his suffering. Roger made no comment.

"I--I told her to get up and dress immediately. She said it was all
right. She loved me--did I not love her? I cannot describe how I felt. I
had been talking of the love of God and then--that. I do not remember all
we said but I told her unless she was up and dressed in five minutes I
would telephone her father informing him of what she had done and asking
him to fetch her away. She said I must not do that or he would use the
strap on her."

"How old is she?" Roger asked.

"Seventeen-eighteen."

"A bit old for such treatment."

"Mr. Howes--I did not mean to give names, but that is it--Mr. Howes is a
fierce old man. He is our churchwarden; a farmer. He has two daughters,
no sons, and Binnie is the elder. He is very strict in an old-fashioned
way. I have heard that he beats them, but do not know if it is true. I
threatened to fetch him and I went outside for her to dress. I meant to
tell her friends she was just coming. But they had gone. They had
bicycles and had not waited. Then she came. I started to say a few words
but she was too angry. She muttered she did not believe I was a man at
all and she rode off."

"That ended it?"

"I wish to God it had! When I went back to the room I saw she had left a
garment behind. The thing they wear--up here."

He did not like to mention the breasts but made a motion to indicate
them.

"A brassiere?" Roger suggested.

"I think they call it a bra." Garnet nodded. "I made a parcel of it and
posted it to her the next day. I put no message inside. Then I had to
consider what I should do about the classes. Of course I could never have
her again, but I persuaded a Mrs. Stokes, a faithful old soul, to let me
have the others in her home, she being present. The lads came to me as
before. Then a few days ago I met her--that is Binnie."

Again he paused. He was still finding words difficult.

"I would have passed by, but she stopped and said she must speak to me. I
thought she wished to express contrition for what she had done, but--it
was not that at all. She said she thought I had better marry her. I
started to walk away. She caught hold of my arm. 'Listen!' she said. 'I
have only to say a word and what will people think of you? The girls all
know I stayed that night with you and I have that bra'--I think she
called it that--'addressed to me in your writing. Who is to know what you
did to me? I love you. Why should we not be happy together?' I told her
she was a wicked girl and must not think or talk of such things. She
laughed. 'What will Dad and the Vicar say when I tell them?' she asked. I
shook her arm off and left her."

"Anything more?"

"I met her again a day or two later. 'Made up your mind?' she said. 'I'd
be a good wife."

Garnet stopped abruptly. He leant over the table, his head in his hands.

"Why does God let this happen to me?" he murmured brokenly. "Have I been
unfaithful? How can I carry on? O God, what must I do?"

Roger was sorry for him, but he felt that a few firm words might be
helpful.

"You are not the first man to be tempted," he said. "Was not St. Anthony
tempted by the devil in the shape of a woman? I once heard a preacher say
he pitied the man who was never tempted. It could only be because the
devil knew he had already got him. A farmer does not shoot the birds in
his chicken run."

Garnet looked up. "He said that?"

"Indeed he did. But tell me this, were there any endearments, a kiss or
anything like that the girl could have misconstrued?"

"No. Never. Unless--"

"Unless what?"

"Last Christmas the Howes gave a party. I was asked and I went. I want to
know the people and be one of themselves. We played games. One of them
was a game with forfeits. I forget what it was, but I made a mistake. For
my forfeit I was told I must kneel to the wittiest, bow to the prettiest
and kiss the one I loved the best."

Roger remembered playing such a game in his childhood. "What did you do?"

"I knelt to Mrs. Howes, she was my hostess; I bowed to her mother, a
wonderful old lady, who was also there. Then I said I could not do the
last part as I loved them all equally well, as it was my duty to do."

"Very neat. Then?"

"One of the girls--I think it was Binnie, but am not sure--cried, 'Come
on! We won't let him off like that!' And five or six of them rushed at me
and tried to kiss me. Of course it was only high spirits, but I did not
like it. Mr. Howes told them to stop it. 'Remember who he is.' he said."

"That was all?"

"Yes. There was to be dancing. I do not dance and I came away."

"Were others of your family there?"

"No. They do not know the Howes. They go to this church--if they go at
all."

"Just a little free and easy fun," Roger said. "Nothing in that, but what
you now tell me is more serious. I think I have seen Binnie. A girl with
a fresh colour, rather on the buxom side?"

Garnet nodded.

"Judging by her type I see three possible explanations of what she did.
Old perhaps for her years, she was attracted by you and thought you
needed encouragement. Primitive in her ideas, she offered herself to you
in that shameless way."

The curate shuddered.

"Another possibility is blackmail. Has she mentioned money to you?"

"Never."

"I did not expect it. It would be the trick of a woman of the town, not a
country girl. Her father is fairly well off?"

"I believe so."

"Has she, or has she had, a sweetheart?"

"I don't know."

"I have been told," Roger said slowly, "there is more immorality in the
country than in the cities. Young people live closer to nature; the
breeding of animals is part of their life. It may or may not be true, but
many a girl has found herself in trouble. The man may not be willing to
marry her and she has to find someone on whom to foist her child. Could
it be so with Binnie?"

The curate trembled. "I hope to God it is not!"

"Those seem to me the possibilities. If it is the first--infatuation--it
will probably pass if you show you wish to have nothing to do with her.
Blackmail we dismiss in the monetary sense but the other is more serious.
Should she renew her attack, you must take a bold stand. Say you will see
her father the next day and let him have the whole story. Tell her you
will bring your doctor with you and he will probably wish to examine
her."

"Will--will that help?"

"The doctor will be able to say if she is Virgo intacta. If she is not,
if she is with child, he will possibly give some idea of the time period.
If it pre-dates that unhappy night it will show the truth of your story.
She will perhaps be afraid to face the doctor--"

He stopped. Garnet had collapsed over the table in a faint. Roger got
some brandy and, as soon as he was able to swallow, forced a little
between his lips. Being unaccustomed it had the quicker effect. The young
man coughed and pulled himself together.

"Oh," he mumbled, "it is so horrible."

Roger believed his story, just as he had told it. Like many another young
parson he talked glibly of sin but had little experience of it in its
cruder forms.

"Remember," he said, "what Robert Browning told us. We must face
temptation in order that we may triumph. If you do what I say I believe
you will triumph. Should it be necessary, send for me. I will also see
Mr. Howes and let him know what you have told me. You would hardly have
done that were it not true."

"Thank you, thank you," Garnet whispered. "It has helped me a lot to talk
to you. I will try and follow your advice."

He got up and Roger saw him out. As the door closed, Ruth appeared.

"Did you play chess?" she asked.

"We did. But you were right; he is worried. I talked to him like a
father. He is a curiously sensitive soul. Perhaps saints need thick
skins!"

8: "The End of Life Beginneth Strife."

The sudden death of George Michelmore had a profound effect on the
parties concerned in this story. Naturally so, though there was no
mystery about his demise. It was, in fact, just one of those things that
happen and are accepted as unavoidable in the modern world.

He was slain by a motor car. So are nearly a hundred others every week of
the year. In the Boer War, lasting about three years, there were 5,774
killed and 22,000 injured. We are approaching that number of deaths on
the road annually, while the injured are already ten times as great. What
are we doing about it? Making new and better roads? Very slowly--if at
all. Reducing the number of cars and limiting more stringently their
speed? By no means. The output of the engines of destruction increases
rapidly and so does their velocity.

Had George been killed with perhaps a dozen others in a railway accident
or a plane crash, there would have been big newspaper headlines and
probably a public enquiry. But as one of the year's toll of five thousand
road deaths, he hardly deserved mention.

It was his own fault too. He went out to post a letter. His home, Sunbay,
abutted on the village street. He had enjoyed his tea and he thought to
stroll to the post office, which was a couple of hundred yards away on
the other side of the road. He walked a short distance and then glanced
behind him. There was no vehicle of any kind in sight. He took a few more
paces and stepped on to the road.

Those few paces were fatal. A car had turned the corner and was almost
level with him when he stepped in front of it. The luckless driver could
not help hitting him. He was travelling at a legitimate pace and there
were onlookers who saw it happen. George was known to them. A stretcher
was improvised and he was carried back to the house he had left a few
minutes before.

Dr. Skelton was soon in attendance. He decided that nothing would be
gained by taking him to a hospital.  There were multiple injuries and he
knew the case was hopeless. All that was possible was done. A nurse was
installed. Adelaide was by his side day and night and Pearl and Emerald
were anxious to help. On the third day he died.

An inquest was of course held. The eye-witnesses told their story. The
motorist expressed his sorrow but showed he had had no time to hoot or to
alter his course. A verdict of Accidental Death was recorded.

The funeral was largely attended and the floral tributes were numerous.
Adelaide, in deep mourning, looked pale and pathetic, though a drooping
hat hid her features. The sons and daughters were by her side. There were
no other relations.

The Vicar, the Rev. Dr. Aitken, paid a tribute to a friend and neighbour
who had supported all good causes in the parish. His exemplary career had
been abruptly ended by the Moloch of the Road at a time when he had only
just started a new and happy life. He expressed his deep sympathy with
his widow and his family.

After the interment the little party walked slowly back to their home,
Adelaide leaning on the arm of Garnet, the older son. Ruth and Roger
Bennion were among those in the church, but neither they nor older
friends intruded on the sorrowing group who were accompanied by one man
only, a Mr. Watson, who, as Mr. Michelmore's solicitor, had been present
at the inquest.

Nan had attended the service, but she hurried back to see that Mrs.
Hopkins had prepared lunch in accordance with her instructions. It was
for the most part a silent meal, Adelaide remaining in her room.

When it was over, Mr. Watson said he had brought Mr. Michelmore's will
with him; would they ask if Mrs. Michelmore felt able to come down while
he read it or would she prefer it left until another day. Pearl went to
make the enquiry and after a brief delay returned with the pale but
outwardly composed young widow.

They sat in the lounge and Mr. Watson, adjusting his horn-rimmed
spectacles, took the document from his pocket. Lawyers as a class are
thin men. It is sometimes held that mental activity wars against obesity.
If that be so, Mr. Watson was an exception to the rule. He was decidedly
corpulent and his smooth poker face gave no indication of his thoughts.

"Mr. Michelmore's will," he began, "is in effect very simple. I think it
would be best if I explained its general outline and I can have copies
made and sent to each of you if you so wish."

He paused. Silence appeared to give consent.

"He sent me written instructions from Paris to prepare it, and he called
and executed it at my office in London on his way here. I may perhaps say
I disapprove of it in certain respects, but he insisted on my carrying
out his instructions. He appoints his bank manager and myself his
trustees and executors. He leaves all his real and personal estate to his
wife--" Mr. Watson glanced at the deed to refresh his memory--"to his
wife Adelaide Michelmore, formerly Adelaide Bidaut, nee Pelmore, for her
life. On her death it is to be divided equally between his four children,
Garnet, Emerald, Jasper and Pearl, or the survivors of them. Should
however any of them have died and left issue such share or shares shall
pass to their children."

It was indeed simple, but some of them could hardly believe their ears.
It was outrageous. They glared furiously at Adelaide, who sat with
downcast eyes as though she was hardly listening. No one interrupted and
the solicitor went on--"There are certain provisions affecting you all
more immediately and these I had better read in detail.

"I would wish my house, Sunbay, to be carried on as far as possible as it
has been in the past, that is as a residence for my said children until
they marry, free from all charge, and I give to each of them the contents
of the rooms or flats they occupy if they are in residence at the time of
my death. I have already made some provision for them but I authorise my
Trustees to pay to each of them any further sum up to five thousand
pounds as may be directed in writing by my wife, the said Adelaide
Michelmore, should they marry, or should other circumstances arise that
in her opinion justify it. Such sums to be deducted from their eventual
shares in my estate."

Mr. Watson raised his eyes from the document.

"There are legacies of five hundred pounds to the housekeeper, Hannah
Wood, and of one hundred pounds to the gardener, Saul Teague, but that is
all. I shall be happy to answer any questions you may care to ask me and,
as I said, if you wish it I will let you each have a copy that you may
consider at your leisure."

He stopped. There was silence for some moments. They all looked serious
and the heightened colour in Emerald's cheeks told of suppressed anger.
Jasper was the first to speak and his tone was normal, almost casual.

"Can you give us any idea of the amount of the estate?"

"That," Mr. Watson said, "is fortunately easy. Your father's investments
were almost without exception in gilt-edged securities or good-class
industrials. After paying duties there would be not less than eighty
thousand pounds."

"Twenty thousand each. Could we realise anything on it, should we wish to
do so?"

The solicitor shook his bead. "Other than the five thousand provided for,
it would be difficult. The bequest is to the survivors at the time of
Mrs. Michelmore's death."

"Do you mean?" Emerald's voice hardly concealed her rage, "do you mean we
get nothing while Adelaide lives?"

"That is so, subject to the proviso as to marriage I read you."

"But we cannot marry without her consent!"

"Not quite that“ was the smooth reply. "Your marriage is no one's affair
but your own, but you have to get her written consent if you wish to
anticipate part of the money that may eventually be yours."

"It amounts to the same thing," the girl retorted hotly. "It is
monstrous. She is little older than we are and is practically a stranger.
Why should she dictate to us?"

"You told me you did not believe in marriage," Adelaide said gently.

"Perhaps I did," Emerald flushed, "but circumstances alter cases."
Possibly she thought that would apply to Victor Gore-Black.

Mr. Watson did not answer and Jasper had something further to say in his
more easy friendly manner.

"The will, if I heard you correctly, alluded to other circumstances.
That, I take it, would apply to things that might affect the
opportunities and advancement of the party concerned?"

"That could well be so," Mr. Watson nodded.

"Well, I have no thought of being married, at any rate at present, but I
do wish to pursue my career as an artist. I feel it would be invaluable
for me to be able to go to Paris, Rome and elsewhere to learn all I can
of modern art, and to study the old Masters. I suppose a thousand or two
would last me quite a time and be most valuable. What about it,
Adelaide?"

She hesitated before she replied.

"I will pay you the fifty guineas your father owed you for my portrait,
and a further fifty as he promised, if it is accepted for the Royal
Academy. That is all I can say at present."

Pearl said nothing. Perhaps she had no immediate wants, perhaps her mind
did not grapple so swiftly with such matters. Garnet took up the cry.

"I ask nothing for myself, but I have great opportunities in my Church
for five thousand pounds or any lesser sum. I would see there was a
worthy memorial to my father. I cannot think of a better."

"This is horrible, horrible!" Adelaide said, bursting into tears as
though she could stand no more. "I loved George and would try to carry
out what I believe would have been his wishes when I have time to think
them over. But almost before the breath is out of his body, you are
badgering me about money! I cannot endure it. I will go back to my room."

She got up and, with her handkerchief to her eyes, walked slowly to the
door. Garnet opened it for her. Pearl went too, to ask if she would like
her to be with her. Adelaide declined.

"A very good act," Emerald muttered scornfully. "Believe you me, she will
stick to every penny she can for as long as she can."

"That is not fair!" Pearl said hotly.

"We know you toady to her," Emerald retorted. "Much good may it do you!
There are one or two things I want to know."

"Yes?" murmured Mr. Watson.

"Can the will be contested?"

"On what grounds?"

"What are the usual grounds?" she demanded. "Such cases are common
enough."

"There are normally three grounds for such cases," the solicitor replied
looking at her through his heavy spectacles. "The first would be because
of some irregularity in the execution of the will. As in this case it
follows his written instructions and was duly signed and attested in my
office, I do not think that arises. The second would be that the deceased
was of unsound mind when he made the will, and the third undue influence
by some party concerned. I do not think any of you would suggest
insanity. Your father was in possession of all his faculties and lived a
normal life."

"He did," Pearl said, and Garnet nodded.

"Undue influence," Emerald muttered. "Hers!"

"I saw no sign of it. He came alone to my office and his great wish was
to provide adequately for her. He was obviously deeply attached. You must
remember that his tragic end was as little foreseen by him as it was by
you. He might reasonably have hoped to live for many years to come."

"Did you know she was about the same age as we are?" Jasper asked.

"I did not--nor did I see her--or my remonstrance would have been
stronger. I imagined her to be about his own age. I did point out that
any or all of you might wish to marry in his lifetime. He said he saw
little sign of it, but in such a case he would do his duty by you. It
would be simple to amend the will."

"You realise she was some sort of shopgirl?" Emerald said warmly. "The
marriage lasted only these few weeks. Is it right for her to be put over
us?"

"I would rather not discuss that. He had made some provision for you in
the past and had supplemented it in the manner shown."

"Are you acting for us or for her?" the girl demanded bluntly.

"Strictly speaking, for none of you," Mr. Watson answered. "As executor I
am acting for the will; that is, for my late client's expressed wishes.
But I hope you will believe me when I say my opinions are sincere,
however much I may regret them."

"You consider," Garnet said, "the will must be accepted?"

"Undoubtedly. Should any of you marry and should Mrs. Michelmore decline
to authorise the Trustees to pay the sum provided, you could apply to the
Courts to compel her to do so. I cannot say with what result but, unless
she had valid reasons for her refusal, such application might well be
successful. But why anticipate such trouble? Mrs. Michelmore is suffering
from severe shock. Give her time to recover from it, show her your
sympathy, and I do not doubt she will act as your father would have
wished."

He then left them, glad perhaps to escape from a situation that he felt
did him no great credit.

9: Jasper's Discovery

THERE was little opportunity for them to show sympathy or any other
emotion in the days that followed. Adelaide had her meals in her room and
they rarely saw her. She occasionally went for motor rides, driven by
Pearl who was expert at the wheel. Letters of condolence and gifts of
flowers called for acknowledgement but Garnet undertook to deal with
them.

The only person who seemed to enjoy the young widow's confidence was Ruth
Bennion. Almost every day Adelaide would slip into the next-door house
with her problems. Ruth was naturally sympathetic and felt really sorry
for her--with no friends or relations of her own and surrounded by those
who, with the possible exception of Pearl, made no pretence of affection.

Adelaide told her of the clauses in the will and asked what she thought
should be done about them.

"I think," said Ruth slowly, "I should let them each have their five
thousand pounds as soon as you can."

"And lose a quarter of my income?"

"There is plenty left, isn't there?"

"I don't really know. Mr. Watson said the will had to be proved, whatever
that may mean. But why should I let them have it?"

"If you are to live happily with them, it seems the only way."

"But suppose George would not have approved?"

"Was it not his wish? They are his children."

"Then what do you think of this?" Adelaide asked. "Yesterday I wanted to
speak to Emerald about it. She and Victor Gore-Black had both said they
did not believe in marriage. I used the special house telephone. There
was no reply, but I heard them talking. They must have left off the
receiver. They were in bed together."

"How do you know that?" Ruth spoke coldly.

"They must have been. The 'phone is on the table beside the bed. She
keeps it there so that she can ask for her breakfast to be brought up. I
heard them distinctly."

"They were no doubt in the room. You cannot say more than that."

"Does it matter? Emerald asked him when should they announce their
engagement? He said, 'Five thousand pounds is a useful sum; it wants
thinking over.' 'There is another fifteen thousand when she dies,'
Emerald told him. 'When she dies,' he repeated; 'she may outlive us
both.' 'But we can get the five thousand now we are engaged; the lawyer
told us so. If he is wrong, we can call it off if you want to.'

"I don't mean I heard it all clearly, word for word like that," Adelaide
added, "but that was the effect of it and they went over it again and
again. What do you think of it?"

"He does not sound very pleasant, but she is clearly in love with him.
You must help her all you can."

"But I do not like him. I do not believe he would be faithful to her,"
Adelaide objected.

"She knows him well if your suspicions are correct," Ruth said. "If he
will make an honest woman of her, as the old stories used to put it, it
is up to her, not to you."

"She has always been beastly to me."

"Then let her have her money provided they marry and go away and leave
you in peace."

Adelaide, like many another, wanted advice but was not pleased when it
was not the advice she wanted.

Through the agency of Pearl, Jasper got the money for his picture. He told
his sister mysteriously a client wanted to see him. He did not say who or
where. Adelaide drew the cheque, although she said it was not really her
debt, but George's. She would keep her promise.

Jasper dashed off for St. Malo. He had heard from the picture dealer, M.
Lanier, who had sold a previous effort and thought he might place others.
He took with him several sketches and a few canvases, including his
conception of Grief. He booked a room in a small hotel near the Cathedral
and after a satisfying déjeuner made his way to the dealer's shop.

The interview was fairly satisfactory. Lanier bought three of his works
outright--for what sounded a lot of money until one remembered a franc
was worth less than a farthing--and kept Grief and some others for
further consideration. In the evening Jasper found his way to an
attractive café.

There was music inside but the more interesting seats were those on the
street where one could watch the passers-by. All the tables appeared to
be taken. He was about to turn away when a man by himself beckoned him
and said he was welcome to sit there if he cared to do so. In his rather
halting French Jasper thanked him and took the seat.

"Monsieur is English perhaps?" the man said, in that tongue.

Jasper admitted he was and regretted his poor French had given him away
so quickly.

"Mais non, Monsieur. Your French is excellent, but I speak some English
and am lucky to be able to practise it." He shrugged in Gallic fashion as
he spoke. He was middle-aged, rather stout, and smartly dressed; his dark
curly hair and his short pointed beard made his skin seem pale, though
his eyes were alert. A waiter came up and Jasper invited his companion to
join him in a drink.

"As a visitor you should be my guest," the man said.

"As an artist who has actually sold a picture, the drinks are on me,"
Jasper returned, glad perhaps to get in his little boast.

A shrug. "Eh bien alors, my congratulations. Another Dubonnet."

Jasper gave the order and asked for a café and cognac for himself.

"So Monsieur is an artist. I hope the pictures sell well."

"Not too badly," Jasper smiled. "Perhaps you know Emile Lanier?"

"I know of him. A fair man. Of course he has to make his profit."

"He is welcome to it. He bought three little things and is considering
others."

"Good fortune." The drinks were brought and they raised their glasses to
one another. They chatted for some time, Jasper saying he had only
arrived that day and talking with him about himself. Then another man
joined them, a big, rather untidy person. He had a glass of beer with
him.

"Ah, Bidaut," he said, "in your usual place with your usual drink. I
trust I do not disturb you."

He spoke in French. Jasper understood it better than he talked it.

"I thought you were not coming," Bidaut replied in the same tongue. "My
friend is an artist from England."

The man nodded. Then he went on, "The Government--think you it will
fall?"

"Tout est possible, Henri."

"Possible! Mon Dieu, it is certain." He proceeded volubly to tell of the
parties who would or would not support it. Jasper guessed he was a
politician or a journalist, or both.

His torrent of words continued for a considerable time. Then he turned to
Jasper. "Vous comprenez, Monsieur?"

"I am afraid not," Jasper owned. "You have so many parties. I do not know
what they stand for."

"And in England you have but two. How foolish! Call them black and white.
But there are many shades between black and white! We represent them all,
so we are the more truly democratic. Is it not so?"

"It is arguable," Jasper admitted, "but it makes it difficult for a
Government to carry on."

Then he got up. He felt he had taken this Henri's place and he was not at
all interested in his talk. His friend pressed him to have another cognac
but with polite remarks on both sides he got away.

"Bidaut, Bidaut," he muttered as he approached his hotel. He had a
feeling it ought to ring a bell, yet somehow it did not. It was not until
he got inside that he remembered. He had been meaning to enquire if there
was a night show worth seeing but now decided against the idea.

Bidaut--My wife Adelaide Michelmore, formerly Adelaide Bidaut neé
Pelmore. That was the line in his father's will. Adelaide had come from
St. Malo. They had been married in the Cathedral. She had said she had no
relations. It was odd that the first stranger he met in the town was a
Bidaut. It might be quite a common name but he had a feeling that his new
acquaintance might be able to tell him something about Adelaide's past
life. He must see him again.

Early the next morning he called on the art dealer. Lanier, very
apologetic, said he had been unable to contact his patron but he might
have news on the morrow. Jasper said he could easily stay a little
longer, and remarked that he had met a friend of his, Lanier's, the night
before--a M. Bidaut, a man with a short dark beard.

"Gaston Bidaut--the hairdresser?"

"He looked like it," Jasper said. "Where is his shop?"

He was told and he made his way in the direction indicated. Then he saw
it. A fine shop with the wax busts of incredibly lovely ladies in the
window, showing the latest styles of coiffeur. Hair could be waved,
curled, tinted or treated in other ways. Various cosmetics were
displayed, fancy soaps and toilet accessories. There was also an
inconspicuous notice in English for the benefit of foreign visitors that
Gentlemen could be shaved and have their hair cut. Over the shop in bold
letters he read Maison Bidaut.

So it was here his father had had the hair-cut that led to the temporary
disinheritance of his family! Yet Adelaide asserted she had no relatives.
It was very odd, for she had made no secret of the fact that she had
worked in such a shop.

Jasper decided not to enter. He gathered that Gaston had his usual table
at the café where they had met the night before. He would be there in
time and perhaps enjoy a little conversation before the loquacious Henri
arrived.

In the afternoon he crossed on the smart vidette to Dinard and saw the
sparkling green water and the beautiful coast line his father had talked
about. He returned in time for an early dinner and found the table in the
café unoccupied when he reached it. Bidaut soon arrived. Jasper hoped he
did not mind his being there and ordered him a Dubonnet.

"Sold another picture?" was the reply.

"I hope so. A little thing called Faith, but I may not know for a day or
two. Artists must be patient."

"How true!" Bidaut said. "I also am an artist in my way."

"I know it. Lanier told me of your beautiful shop. I went and admired it.
I but paint, you create."

“Perhaps we both improve on nature," Bidaut smiled.

"We try to, but what perfect English you speak!" Jasper thought a little
flattery would create a good impression.

"I tell you a secret," was the reply in a lowered voice. "By birth I am
English."

"Yet you are the perfect Frenchman too!"

Gaston shrugged, not displeased. "My father was English, my mother
French. She taught me all I know. When I started my business I used her
name. I became Gaston Bidaut. Could I, as Arthur Smith, create the mode
Parisienne?"

"Very difficult," Jasper agreed. "Curiously enough, I know a lady whose
name also was Bidaut."

"Ah, who was she?"

"Adelaide Bidaut. Did you ever hear of her? I believe she lived here."

Gaston drew back as though he had been struck.

"My wife!" he muttered.

Jasper was utterly surprised. "Perhaps we talk of different ladies," he
said. "The one I know has golden hair, is very beautiful and about
twenty-seven years of age. She once worked in an establishment like
yours, but she married an Englishman."

"My wife!" Gaston said again. "She had eyes of the Madonna but a false
heart."

"You divorced her?"

"Mon Dieu, no! She did not marry your Englishman. He was rich and he
stole her from me. Yes, she was beautiful. She was the Beauty Queen of
Dinard. Then I married her. In less than two years this monster, this
Michelmore, enticed her away. Where did you see her?"

Jasper's thoughts were in turmoil. He did not doubt what he heard; it
must be true. It was a shock to hear of his father's deception but might
it not turn to his own advantage? He was glad he had never mentioned his
name. He must be cautious.

"I met her with Mr. Michelmore," he said. "She told me they were married
in your Cathedral."

"She lied. She married me there. She could not marry again."

"Would you wish to have her back?"

Gaston hesitated. He passed his hand over his heated brow. This sudden
rebound from the tragedy of his life shook him deeply.

"Would she come? She was beautiful, yes. In bed she was all a man could
desire, but she would not get up! She was lazy. One wants a wife to help
in one's business. Some times she would sit in the window while I dressed
her hair. Everyone watched. Sometimes she would attend in the shop. But
often she would refuse. 'I am not a servant,' she said. This reptile
came. She left me a little note; she was tired of it."

"Perhaps you have consoled yourself?"

"A man is a man. But Adelaide--" He did not finish the sentence.

"You want her back?"

"I--I do not know. Why do you ask?"

"I ask," Jasper said slowly, "because Mr. Michelmore is dead. He was
killed a short while ago in a motor accident."

"Mon Dieu! Where can I find her?"

"I may have the address somewhere in the hotel. If not, I can send it
you. I may be leaving to-morrow."

"You will not forget?"

"I will not forget."

With a quick gesture Gaston pushed his hand into his pocket and pulled
out his wallet.

"See," he said, "I still have her photograph."

Jasper glanced at it. Adelaide without a doubt, in the minimum of a
bathing costume she had probably worn as the Beauty Queen.

"Yes," he said, handing it back. "It is the same."

"She was not hurt? Not disfigured?"

"No. He was knocked down on the road. She was not with him."

"I shall hear from you?"

"Surely."

"And your name is?"

"Jasper."

"Thank you, Monsieur Jasper. She is well?"

Before he could reply the ugly bulk of M. Henri loomed up. Gaston hastily
put his wallet out of sight. Jasper rose.

"Your seat, monsieur," he said, and he escaped.

When he had come to St. Malo his mind had been full of his pictures. He
had not thought of tracing the shop where Adelaide said she had worked.
Why should he? But now, thanks to his meeting with Gaston, the
extraordinary truth had come to light. His father's behaviour astonished
him. He had always been popular with ladies but had never seemed to give
a thought to any other woman while his wife lived. Then after his illness
he had met Adelaide. He could not marry her but he could run off with her
and say they were married. Who in their Suffolk home would doubt it?

Much of what Adelaide had said had been true. She had been married in
that Cathedral--but to someone else. He again recalled the curious line
in the will--my wife Adelaide Michelmore, formerly Adelaide Bidaut, nee
Pelmore. He had not given it much thought before, there had been so much
else that seemed important. Emerald had noticed it.

"So she was a widow," she had said to him.

'Doesn't make much difference," he had replied. "Perhaps she specialises
in old men."

But it might make a big difference! She was not his father's wife; she
never had been. Did the will hold good? He must hurry home and find out.
Bidaut could wait!

In the morning he again saw M. Lanier.

"Good news for you," the dealer said. "My client does not care for Grief.
He thinks that style is already old-fashioned, but he likes this."

He held up the picture that Jasper called Faith. Dimly in the background
one saw a cross or the shadow of a cross. In the foreground were two
hands stretching towards it. The long sensitive fingers painted with
delicate detail, were striving, straining, but were grasping nothing.

"Cynical," Lanier commented, "but that is the mood of to-day. It has an
idea behind it. I can give you 70,000 francs for it. If you accept, he
will try to exhibit it in Paris. He says the hands are after Rembrandt."

Jasper took the money and dashed for the boat.

10: Turning the Tables

"NAN, your hands brought me luck. I sold the picture." He took each hand
and kissed it.

"Don't make fun of me, Master Jasper. Who would want to buy my hands? And
you showed 'em worse than what they are."

Nan's voice was a little softer than usual. If she had a tender spot in
her heart for one of the family more than the others, it was for the
young artist.

"It is all true, my Nan. I will buy you the nicest pair of gloves you can
find to prove it. What has been happening here while I have been away?"

It was nearing lunch time and he had just arrived home from his trip to
France.

"Mostly nothing," said Nan. "She still keeps herself to herself.
Posterated with grief she pretends, but I don't believe it, seeing that
according to all accounts she only knew the Master for a few weeks."

"Still it was a shock for her."

"Maybe it was, but is it true, as Miss Emerald says, she is trying to hold
on to the money that should go to all of you?"

"That seemed the idea when I went away," Jasper said.

"Then I call it a downright wicked shame. I don't say anything against
the Master. She bewitched him. But he would have done different if he had
lived a little longer. I'd put it right myself if I could."

"Good of you, Nan, but perhaps we shall be able to persuade her to be
more reasonable. Who will be in to lunch?"

"All of 'em. She of course has it upstairs. Posterated but still got a
good appetite. Don't think I can carry on much longer. And if I go Teague
goes too."

"Love's young dream?" Jasper smiled. "How appropriate! But wait a bit; we
may be able to arrange it and you both stay here. I want to see the
others."

"Lunch is nearly ready."

They all welcomed him, especially when they heard of his success with
some of his pictures.

"You are now the rich man of the family," Emerald remarked.

"For a week or two," he grinned.

"I congratulate you," said Garnet, who had seen his picture of Faith. "It
is good work but I do not like the title. You might have called it
Despair, seeing that the hands grasp nothing."

"It is jolly well painted," Pearl declared. "I hope it is shown in Paris.
More orders may follow."

"Get on with your food, mes enfants," the artist said complacently. "I
have big news for you when you have finished."

It was a simple but satisfying meal. Possibly Nan would have made it more
elaborate had she known he would be back. No one had much to say; the
domestic tension was not without its effect on all of them.

"Any of you made any fresh approach to Adelaide?" he asked when they had
finished.

"No," Emerald said. "She doesn't give us much chance. But I soon may."

"Wait till you have heard what I have to tell you," he said, conscious of
his coming triumph. He proceeded to relate the story of his strange
meeting with Gaston Bidaut and all that he had learned from him, doing
full justice to his own adroitness in the matter. They listened and made
exclamations but did not interrupt.

"Good for you, Jasper," Emerald said when he stopped. "I always felt
there was something crooked about it. Always."

"The story of the marriage at the Cathedral bothered me," Garnet
observed.

"How could Daddy do it?" Pearl murmured.

"We must not blame the parent too much," Jasper said. "Adelaide is a real
good-looker, there is no getting away from that. She was Beauty Queen at
Dinard and they know what beauty is there. He wanted her and that was the
only way to get her. She jumped at the chance of an easy life. But the
thing is this, what are we to do about it? In his will he called her his
wife, which she is not. How does that affect things?"

"Of course it washes it all out," Emerald cried exultantly. "We get what
is ours."

"It would certainly appear so," Garnet said.

Jasper smiled. "I thought that at first, but it seems I was wrong. I
decided not to go to old Watson just yet, but on my way here I went to a
solicitor chap I know and put the case to him. Using imaginary names, of
course. You know the line in the will--Adelaide Michelmore formerly
Adelaide Bidaut nee Pelmore. He said if the will was contested on those
lines we should not stand an earthly. In law the point is who was meant?
The description leaves no doubt as to that. Had our parent died intestate
it would have been another matter, but the will is so explicit."

"You mean we are helpless?" Emerald said. "It is damnably wrong."

"Wrong as hell," Jasper declared, "but she may not know the will would
stand and she may not like the truth to be blazoned abroad. The sooner we
have a show-down the better. I suggest we send for her and you leave it
to me. If I cannot squeeze something out of her I'll eat my hat--all our
hats!"

"Does Watson know this?" Garnet asked.

"That they were not married? I feel sure not. I cannot see the parent
telling him. My friend said that in these cases the woman sometimes takes
the man's name by deed poll. Whether or not that was done I don't know,
but it would not affect us. Let us go into the sitting-room and Pearl
might invite her to join us."

"Me?" Pearl said.

"Certainly, my dear. You would be best. Just tell her I am back from St.
Malo and would like to see her. I think that will work the trick."

Rather reluctantly Pearl went on her errand and returned to say Adelaide
would join them in a few minutes.

"What will you say to her?" Emerald asked.

"Depends on how she takes it. I shall be friendly at first and then work
it up. I have an idea what is fair and should satisfy her."

Adelaide entered the room. She had taken some trouble over her appearance
and had seldom looked more beautiful. She was wearing a plain black satin
frock sufficiently low in the neck to show the diamond star that had been
their mother's. Pearl did not know if her father had said or done
anything about it. She had not seen it since the night she had told him
of her feelings. She wondered if Adelaide had put it on as a gesture of
defiance.

"A family party," Adelaide said. She seemed a little surprised but was
quite composed. "All to welcome Jasper."

"Not quite all," Jasper smiled. "We want to have a business talk."

"I cannot stop you, but I fear you will be wasting your time."

"I hope not. You see, Adelaide, I am just back from St. Malo."

"So Pearl told me. And you sold a picture. I congratulate you.

"Thank you. I also met--shall I say a very intimate friend of yours."

"Indeed? Who was it?"

They were all watching her. Did she lose a little colour or did they
imagine it? Jasper, enjoying his big moment, did not hurry.

"It was quite by chance. We met at a café and over a drink he told me his
name."

"Well?"

"He said he was Gaston Bidaut, though that was an assumed name for
business purposes. By birth he was Arthur Smith."

"How interesting!" Her self-control was unshaken.

"I will not beat about the bush. Adelaide Bidaut was his wife. You
assisted in his shop and there our father met you. You ran away with him.
You did not marry, for if you had, it would have been bigamy. Neither of
you wished to risk that."

She made no answer.

"You do not deny it. It would be useless to do so when I have such ample
proof. Well, Adelaide, we do not want to be hard on you. In his will our
father described you as his wife, but you were not. We would not wish to
expose you and we have his good name to think of as well as yours. I
suggest, and the others agree, some little re-arrangement of our affairs
is called for."

Still she made no reply. Her hands were clenched and she bit her lips. It
may be what he said was not entirely unexpected, but no words came.

"I take it you also will agree," Jasper said.

"What--what re-arrangement do you suggest?"

"In the first place you let us each have as soon as possible the five
thousand pounds that is due to us."

She hesitated a moment. "I might do that."

"Good! Then I think for your own sake, as well as ours, you should vacate
the house and surrender all claim to it. I am sure you will realise we
cannot continue the pretence that you are our stepmother."

"Anything else?" She spoke with ominous calmness.

"Only one thing. We want to be fair and, if I may say so, generous. I
propose that you execute a deed by which half the remaining income is
made over to us. That will still leave you twelve or fifteen hundred a
year as a reward for the brief period for which you were our father's
mistress."

Then Garnet broke in. He had restrained himself so far with difficulty.

"I cannot live under the roof of a harlot!" he exclaimed.

Emerald, too, had her say.

"You will certainly have done well for yourself, Madame Bidaut--or should
it be Mrs. Smith?" She put all the venom of which she was capable into
the words.

Adelaide's manner suddenly changed. Her eyes, Madonna-like no longer,
blazed with fury and red spots of anger showed in her cheeks.

"You brood of bastards!" she cried. "Now I will tell you something.
George and I were not married, but neither did George marry your mother!
What have you to say to that?"

"It is a lie!" Garnet said hoarsely.

"A lie?" she jeered. "How little you knew him! Where did they marry?
When? Can you name a witness who was present at the wedding? Search the
records, the registers, and produce a marriage certificate. I defy you to
do it."

They were silent. For some moments they were too startled, too outraged,
for words. Children never question their parents' marriage. They were
trying to think back for some fact, some evidence, that would confute the
vile assertion.

"Their wedding day was March 25th," Pearl said quickly.

"They had to celebrate it sometime!"

"The marriage was in Birmingham about twenty-eight years ago," Jasper
asserted.

"Or in Wolverhampton," Emerald added.

"Both perhaps," Adelaide jeered. "I will tell you the truth as George
told me. I promised him never to say a word of it unless you forced me to
do so. Now you have. I say nothing against your mother. She was a good
mother. She had been George's secretary and when he sold his business
concerns he arranged for her to meet him in Cornwall, Falmouth I think it
was. They wrote to their friends they had been quietly married and were
going to Italy for their honeymoon. No one doubted it. They returned and
were accepted without question."

She was speaking in a cooler, derisive manner. The others said nothing.

"Your father was a remarkable man, more virtuous perhaps than most. So
far as I know he never wavered in his loyalty, but he had seen many
marriages break up. He hated the words till death us do part. He liked
freedom and independence. Your mother may have protested, but she loved
him and she yielded. She made one curious condition. It was that if and
when children were born, he should immediately take out an irrevocable
fully-paid policy for five thousand pounds for each of them, payable at
the age of twenty-one. So whatever happened, if anything came between her
and him, the children would be provided for. George was a fair man and
the idea appealed to his creed of independence. He agreed, and I
understand you have all benefited by your mother's foresight. There is no
occasion for you to apply evil names to her, even if you dare to do so to
me."

She stopped. There was a strange stillness in the room. Each of the
family had the feeling that what she said might be true, yet was entirely
unwilling to accept it.

"That is your story," Jasper said at last. "It remains to be proved."

"Or disproved," Adelaide retorted. "You have only to find a record of the
marriage and it will show your father lied to me. That I decline to
believe."

"Our mother was a good woman," Garnet declared.

"I have always said so. It is the loyalty that counts, not the vows."

"Our mother never left her real husband."

These words, very softly spoken, were from Pearl. While Adelaide had
been, speaking, she had been watching that diamond star, to her the
symbol of motherhood, sparkling as it rose and fell with the agitation of
the argument. She felt she hated Adelaide. She had loved both her mother
and her father and she would not believe ill of either of them. Yet--

"She had no real husband," Adelaide said.

"I refuse to believe it!" the curate cried.

"So I should expect," Adelaide returned, in her calmer manner. "You will
no doubt make your enquiries in Birmingham and Wolverhampton and perhaps
Falmouth. Also, I suppose, at Somerset House. I hope for your parents'
sake and for your own you will do it discreetly. Being illegitimate you
have no claim. I do not propose to press that point but remember the text
as to who should cast the first stone."

Garnet was silent. She looked at Emerald.

"As for you," she said, "I think we all know of your affair with
Gore-Black, so I will not comment on it. If you are fool enough to marry
him, I shall probably give you your money. You will need it."

Then it was Jasper's turn.

"I agree with you in one respect, Jasper. I am not going to blame you for
prying into my affairs and trying to use the whip when you thought you
held it. Your father was a wiser man than you will ever be, but there is
this. It would be distasteful for me to live here with you. I shall move
into the hotel in the town and will wait there while you make your
searches. Then I shall probably go abroad. You will all have the money
George meant you to have when I am convinced you deserve it. Not a penny
before."

She stood up, facing a mirror, and with tantalising deliberation applied
colour to her lips. Then in silence she walked from the room.

11: Pearl

IT was three days later. Adelaide was still in the house but was to leave
after lunch the next day. The Crompton Arms, the only hotel in the
village, had not many guest rooms and they were generally let in the
summer, but there would be a vacancy on the morrow. People might be
curious as to why she left the family home but Adelaide decided it was
for others to deal with that. She was busy packing with the grim
assistance of old Nan.

Pearl was miserable, depressed and very much alone. She did not even go
next door to see Penelope Ann. Ruth would undoubtedly have come to her
had she had any idea of her unhappiness, but neither she nor Roger had
heard of their neighbours' troubles. Jasper had already left. He had
looked in at Oldways but had merely said he had to go to London on
business and hoped he might start on the picture of Ruth and Penny
directly he got back. He, of course, told of the sale of his works in
France, but said nothing of the domestic complications.

Victor Gore-Black saw Emerald every day. Their book should be
progressing! Garnet remained moody and aloof. When Pearl saw him he
seemed hardly aware of her presence and did not speak.

That morning a letter had arrived from Jasper. It did not surprise her
that he had written to her rather than the others as, although the
youngest, she was most in the confidence of them all, so far as they were
confidential. He wrote from an hotel in the Strand.

'No luck so far. I have already made some searches at Somerset House, but
without result. I find it is no use going elsewhere. In the olden days
people searched parish registers to find what they wanted, but that is
all done away with now. Every marriage, whether in church or register
office has been recorded at S.H. for many years. If I knew the precise
day and year it would be easier. I have not yet given up hope.

'One has to recognise the fact that Adelaide's story may be true. She may
have invented it to save her own face, but it may be true. What if it is?
It does not really affect us. I mean it makes matters no worse. If we
could not contest the will against her because it is so clear who was
meant, we are equally safe. We, too, were meant as our father's children;
no one can dispute that. But it is damnable that we should be dependent
in any way on her.

'Chins up, my dear. Drop me a line if anything fresh happens and I will
write you at once if I have good news. Here's hoping. Love.

'JASPER.

After she received that letter Pearl met Garnet. He would have passed
without speaking, but she stopped him.

"I have heard from Jasper. Would you like to see what he says?"

He held out his hand and she gave him the note. He read it and handed it
back.

"I knew he would find nothing. I felt it in my soul. They were not
married. Ought we to keep the money?"

He spoke in a queer, toneless way, unlike his usual voice.

"What money?" Pearl asked.

"The price of our mother's prostitution."

Pearl flushed. "Jasper is not certain. It is the duty of parents to
provide for their children, whether a priest joins their hands or not.
You are ill, Garnie. You ought to see Dr. Skelton."

"There is nothing he can cure." He strode away.

Pearl had had one talk with Adelaide. She met her in the garden the day
before she got Jasper's letter. She spoke on impulse.

"Was what you told us about our father and mother really true?"

Adelaide did not seem vexed as to the doubt of her veracity. "Sit here
with me," she said, pointing to a seat in the shade. "I will tell you all
I can."

Pearl sat down and soon had her answer.

"I told you exactly what your father told me, but not all of it. Perhaps
you do not know that when he was young he had a sister who married and
was very unhappy. The husband drank and ill-treated her. After three
years he left her for another woman. George urged his sister to get a
divorce, but she said she could not; she was his wife until death. Then
she was ill and took a fatal overdose of sleeping pills. It was called an
accident but George was not convinced. That started his objection to the
marriage vows. I thought you would like to know."

"Thank you for telling me," Pearl said quietly. "It does make it easier
to understand."

"I think that too," Adelaide went on. "I suppose to you I am a wicked
woman; I should never have agreed to what he wanted." She too was
speaking quietly and without any of the heat she had shown when they had
accused her. "You have never known what it means to be moneyless and
alone. Even to be a Beauty Queen may not help you. It sounds rather
wonderful, but what happens to all of them? Some marry, but the rest? You
are far prettier than many. It did not do me much good. It brought me
offers of many kinds I will not describe, but Gaston Bidaut was the only
man to offer marriage. I did not love him, but I accepted. I meant to do
my duty until I found his idea of a wife was a sort of unpaid slave. I do
not think I could have stayed with him and when your father came along,
that settled it. I did love George and I did all I could to make him
happy."

At that moment Teague the gardener passed them. He touched his hat to
Pearl but gave one of his malignant glances to his mistress. She waited
until he was out of earshot.

"Your father could not marry me and he could not bring me to his home
unless we pretended we were married. You understand that?"

"Yes," Pearl murmured a little unwillingly.

"When he told me of his grown-up family I said you would hate me. He did
not think you would, but he would make things so that you should not. I
had not seen or heard his will until Mr. Watson read it. It was intended
to protect me and in a way it did; yet in another way it made things
worse. I wanted you all to like me, but it was difficult."

She paused, but Pearl said nothing. Her mind was too full of conflicting
emotions.

"I am not saying your father was right or that I was right. Marriage is
necessary or life could not go on as it should. But I do not want you to
think ill of him, or worse of me than you must. I was sorry afterwards
that I lost my temper at what the others said of me. It would have been
better if I had not told you about your mother. But no one else need
know. I am going away and I will never mention it again."

She looked at Pearl as though hoping for some friendly response. None
came.

"I am going away," she repeated. "Will you come with me? It will cost you
nothing. You are the only one who was ever really friendly and I would
try to make you happy. We could visit all the places we have never seen.
Venice, Rome, Florence, Vienna or anywhere you liked better--Africa,
America, Australia, Ceylon--where we can forget. Will you come?"

"I--I don't know," Pearl stammered pitifully. "It is--it is very kind of
you--but--I don't know. I must think." With something of a sob she got up
and ran away.

To travel had always been one of Pearl's ambitions, but could she go like
this? Which was the real Adelaide--the friendly one who had just been
talking to her, loved by her father? Or the greedy, grasping one as seen
by her brothers and sister, who had gloated in telling of their mother's
unhappy story, who flaunted her diamond star? To go with her would mean
breaking with the family.

Taking Sandy, her Cairn, with her, she wandered across the fields behind
the house. She wanted to think, but it was difficult. She no longer
doubted the truth of Adelaide's story. She did not mind so much about her
and her father. That was their affair. It was the revelation about her
mother that hurt. The mother she had thought so perfect. Yet if her
parents truly loved one another, as she knew they did, and if she loved
them, did it really matter so much? Garnet she knew was deeply
distressed, but Jasper and Emerald, apart from the question of money,
were very little concerned. Who was right?

Then a voice came.

"Pearl, darling, I have been hoping to find you."

She had not heard the sound of hooves on the grass. Arthur Dixon had seen
her and followed her. More than once in the past he had told her he loved
her and had hinted that she should go away with him. She had been
conscious of his fascination but had not taken his suggestion very
seriously. They had not met since her father's funeral, although he had
sent messages of condolence and devotion.

He jumped from his horse and held out his hand. Pearl took it. He drew
her to him and kissed her. She did not resist. Perhaps at that moment any
show of affection would have been welcome. Was this the answer to her
problem?

"I have heard that Mrs. Michelmore is leaving you to go to the hotel. A
family quarrel, they say. You have lost your father; you are almost
alone. You are unhappy. I can see it in your dear eyes. Come with me,
darling, as I asked you before. I can make you happy and I swear I will.
I have never loved anyone as I love you."

'But Esme--"

"That is just it! Esme has written that she is coming back. We must go
before she does!"

"She still loves you."

"No! She never did or she could not have left me for so long. She is
tired of London and wants a change. She has found a woman who will work
for her for a time. But if she returns and I receive her, it wipes out
two years' desertion. It would have to start all over again. We should
never be happy together. Come with me, precious Pearl. Trust me. We will
soon make everything all right."

He dropped the bridle he was holding and put both his hands on her
shoulders.

"I love you, darling. Can you look in my eyes and say you do not love
me?"

She could not look in his eyes. She knew how compelling they were, how
handsome his clear-cut features. Would this end her troubles? Were all
the ideals shattered? Did nothing matter?

The answer came in an unexpected manner. Sandy did not like Mr. Dixon and
he objected to anyone he disliked taking hold of his beloved mistress. He
growled and then barked furiously. The sudden noise at his heels startled
the free horse. He moved off and being unchecked began to bolt.

"Your horse!" Pearl cried.

Dixon swore and dashed after it. Pearl watched for a moment.

"Come on, Sandy," she said. She hastened to the gap in the hedge and was
lost to sight.

She got home and lunched alone, though Sandy had some choice pieces that
gave him great satisfaction. Emerald had gone somewhere with Gore-Black
and Garnet did not appear. She had little appetite for what old Nan put
before her.

"Eat it up, dearie. Do you good. You're looking peaky. It'll be all
right. She will soon be gone now."

"I'm all right, Nan. Thank you."

But her mind was in turmoil. Did she love Arthur Dixon? Did she love him
well enough to do what her father and mother had done? Yet they had been
free; neither was pledged to another. And they had been faithful. Could
it make for happiness to ruin a home--even if the home was already
broken? Should she go with Arthur--or with Adelaide? It would be
wonderful to see the world. How she wished she had a mother to whom she
could go for comfort and advice. Yet her mother--After lunch she tried to
read. Her head ached. She tried to sleep, but it was useless. At four
o'clock she went to old Nan and had a cup of tea. Then she thought
another walk with Sandy would be good for them both. As she left the
house a car entered the drive and a strange man looked out.

"Pardon me," he said, raising his hat, "does Mrs. Michelmore, Mrs.
Adelaide Michelmore, live here?" He was foreign-looking, with a pale
face, dark hair and a short pointed beard.

"She lives here," Pearl replied, "but I do not know if she can see you. I
will ask her maid to enquire. What name shall I say?"

"Gaston Bidaut. She knows me."

Adelaide's husband! She had already half guessed it. What did it mean?
How and why had he come?

Actually Jasper had not been so clever as he thought. He had imagined he
could slip away and Gaston would be left high and dry until he was
wanted. He forgot he had mentioned, the art dealer. Gaston had called on
M. Lanier and had learned that "Monsieur Jasper" was in fact Jasper
Michelmore. The address had also been forthcoming and the hairdresser had
decided to trace his erring wife himself.

Pearl summoned Nan and gave her the name. Gaston got out of the car, a
short man, stout, rather restless. He did not speak; neither did Pearl.
She waited to know what Adelaide's reply would be. Nan soon returned. She
said Mrs. Michelmore would see him. He followed her into the house.

What now? Would their tangled affairs have a fresh complication? Or would
this simplify them? Pearl went back to her little flat and stood in the
window that faced the drive to see what would happen. Would Adelaide go
with him? Did he want her to? Would he try force? She waited. She did not
know how long; it seemed the best part of an hour.

Then she saw him. He emerged from the house--alone. He looked angry. He
caught sight of her at her window as he approached his car. He again
raised his hat, took his seat and drove away.

She followed him swiftly to the road, perhaps to resume her walk, perhaps
to see which way he went. Possibly with the vague hope that he would see
her and speak. But he was out of sight when she reached the gates. What
had happened? She could not ask Adelaide. It would be prying into her
affairs. She must leave it to her to mention it if she wished to do so.
Ought she to write and tell Jasper?

She stood at the gates for a few moments, Sandy jumping impatiently at
her feet. Then the young doctor, Peter Skelton, came up, bareheaded and
smiling.

"I was hoping to see you, Pearl," he said. "Big news! I had to come to
tell you. The Dad has decided to have a second surgery in Torbury. He has
taken a nice little house and I am to live there. You know what I am
hoping? It's not much to start with, but it will grow. I will make it
grow! I know it is sudden and I don't expect you to say anything
immediately, but--"

"Oh, Peter, please not now!"

She burst into tears and ran back to the house. Had any girl ever had
such a day!

12: Another Tragedy

"ADELAIDE is dead!"

Ruth Bennion came to Roger with the startling news. They had finished
breakfast and he was writing a letter. He put down his pen and looked at
her with astonishment.

"Adelaide dead? Who told you? Another accident? I thought I saw her in
her car yesterday afternoon in the village."

"Teague has just told Nannie. There seems to have been some family upset.
She took a room in the Crompton Arms and went there yesterday. Perhaps
that was when you saw her. She did not come down for dinner and after a
time they went to her room. She was lying on the floor and died a few
minutes later. What ought we to do?"

Roger frowned. "It sounds incredible. Is that all he said? What was the
cause of death?"

"Teague did not know. It seems they had some difficulty in getting into
the room, as it was locked on the inside. She was fully dressed; ready to
go down to dinner. They telephoned to the house and also to Dr. Skelton.
Emerald and Pearl went round at once and Dr. Skelton a minute or two
later. He said nothing could be done and sent them home. Teague thinks he
telephoned the police and the body was removed after dark. Isn't it
terrible? And so soon after her husband's death! I liked her; she was so
beautiful."

There was no doubt Ruth was much upset. Roger's frown deepened.

"I do not like the sound of it," he said. "A young woman, perfectly
healthy. I suppose Teague cannot have made a mistake?"

"It hardly seems possible. What can I do? Shall I go to the girls?"

"It might be better if we 'phoned the doctor first. We do not want to
rush in until we are sure of the facts."

He knew Dr. Skelton slightly and had played tennis with Peter, his son.
He rang through and it was Peter who answered the call. His father was
out. Roger told him what they had heard and asked if it was true.

"I am afraid it is," Peter said. "My father is very worried about it. So
far as we know Mrs. Michelmore had never been attended by a doctor since
she came here. A post mortem will be necessary."

"Will your father see to that?" Roger asked.

"No," Peter answered reluctantly. "He thought it best to hand it over to
the police. She was not his patient, though he attended her husband after
his accident."

"Did he express any opinion to you as to the probable cause of death--or
would you rather not tell me?"

"I think, sir, it is better for me not to say anything. I am so terribly
sorry for them all."

"I quite understand. My wife and I are going next door to see if there is
anything we can do. There was no other case of illness there?"

"No, sir. My father specially asked that. If--if you should see Pearl,
would you say I am on surgery this morning but would come round any
moment she wanted me."

"I will."

When they entered Sunbay, Pearl saw them and came to meet them.

"You have heard?" she said dully.

"We have," Roger replied.

Ruth kissed her. "We are so very sorry. Is there anything at all we can
do?"

"I don't think so. Will you come in and see Emerald?"

"Where are your brothers?" Roger asked.

"Jasper is in London. We telephoned him and he said he would come back at
once. Garnet is out at the moment."

They entered the house and Emerald joined them. If Pearl appeared
distressed, her sister certainly did not. She was cool and practical.

"Of course it is very shocking," she said, in reply to their words of
sympathy. "I think they will find she poisoned herself, though why she
did it I cannot imagine."

"Have you any reason for thinking it was poison?" Roger asked.

"What else could it be? Of course I know nothing about medicine but Pearl
and I arrived just before she died. There were no wounds or injuries of
any kind, no weapon. They had put her on the bed and her eyes looked as
they describe them in books. She used to say she had never had a day's
illness in her life."

"No heart trouble?"

"Never a sign of it."

"If it was poison, you suggest it was self-administered?"

"I think it must have been," Emerald said. "At first I wondered about
food poisoning, but no one else has been ill. She had lunch here and tea
at the hotel. She had just dressed for dinner, but had not had any. I
suppose there will be an inquest; they may discover something."

"She was not taking medicines of any kind; I mean slimming tablets or
things of that sort?"

"I don't think so. She enjoyed her food."

"You cannot suggest any reason, other than an accident, for her ending
her life? Please do not think I want to intrude. I am only anxious to
help if it is possible."

"You are very kind. You mean had she any motive? I confess it puzzles me.
Two things suggested themselves, but neither is very convincing."

"What are they? The police and the Coroner will want to know, provided of
course your surmise is right."

"Our father's death was a shock to her, but she was getting over it. I
cannot think that would account for her doing away with herself. She had
been left remarkably well off." There was a vicious tone in the last
words.

"What is the other thing?"

"Well--I suppose it is bound to come out now, so I may as well tell you.
The fact is she and my father were not married at all. She entrapped him
in some way. They ran off together and just said they were married.
Naturally we never doubted it."

She seemed to find some vindictive pleasure in being first with the news.
Ruth and Roger were surprised and shocked.

Pearl was silent. After a few moments Roger said--"You are sure of
it--they were not married?"

"Quite sure. Jasper by chance met the husband she had left. There was no
divorce or anything like that. No time for it. A clean bolt. The husband
was a hairdresser in St. Malo. We charged her with it and she admitted
it. Didn't she, Pearl?"

Pearl nodded.

This again was considered for a while in silence.

"She told my wife of your father's will," Roger said. "Do you mean, as
there was no marriage, she forfeited all interest under it?"

"Very much the reverse," Emerald replied. "Father had worded his will so
that she got as much as if she had really been his wife. Possibly more.
She had sometimes made hints of propriety to me. I confess I was angry at
that when I knew the truth about her."

Ruth remembered her talks with Adelaide about the girls and her
reluctance to mention her doubts to their father. In the circumstances
that was understandable. An unmarried "step-mother" could not criticise
others. Nor could the father have much to say about it. But she was
silent. Emerald went on.

"She, of course, was furious at what we had discovered. It might have
upset her mental balance; I don't say I believe it. She was not all that
sensitive, but I cannot think of anything else."

"Had you, or any of you, threatened to make it known?" Roger asked.

"Certainly not. We had our father's good name to think of. We told her
so. We promised that no one should know about it. She did not really care
so much about that. What annoyed her was our suggestion that she should
at once pay us the money our father said we were to have."

"Did she agree?"

"No. She said she would prefer to be by herself. She would go to the
hotel and think it over. Then this happened."

Pearl had been listening but not speaking. She noticed how Emerald had
told the truth, but not all of it. She had said nothing about Adelaide's
revelation as to their father and mother. Pearl was glad about that. She
too would keep the secret.

Before anything more was said the door opened and Garnet came in. He
paused; he had not known there were visitors. He looked haggard, as
though he had not been sleeping for nights. Roger got up and shook his
hand, expressing sympathy at this new tragedy.

"The wages of sin is death," the curate said in a hollow tone. He turned
and left the room as abruptly as he had entered it.

The others remained in startled silence for some moments. Then Ruth and
Roger thought they had better go.

"Remember we are close at hand," the latter said, "and will only be too
glad to help if we can. Of course every thing may be cleared up without
trouble, but there may be some unpleasantness for you all, though I hope
not."

"I am glad it happened there and not here," Emerald said. Roger did not
reply and he and Ruth made their way up the drive. Then Pearl came
running after them.

"May I tell you something?"

"Of course, my dear," Ruth said. "Come in with us." She led the way to
her sitting-room and insisted that the girl, who looked worn and
strained, should have a biscuit and a glass of sherry.

"Now tell us in your own way. There is no hurry."

"I don't believe Adelaide committed suicide," Pearl said. "If she did, it
was for reasons Emerald knows nothing about."

"You were on rather better terms with her than the others?" Ruth asked.

"I think I was. She was kind to me and she and Daddy took me for drives
with them. But it is not that. The day before yesterday she told me she
was going abroad, to places like Vienna and Rome, and asked if I would go
with her. She would not have done that if--if she meant to kill herself,
would she?"

"It would certainly appear not," Roger said. "What was your reply?"

"I didn't really make one. I wanted time to think about it. But something
happened after that, something that surprised me very much."

"Yes?"

"Her husband arrived and asked if he could see her."

"Her husband--the man from St. Malo?"

"Yes. He didn't say he was her husband, but he gave his name, Gaston
Bidaut. He was just as Jasper had described. We were alone in the house
with Nan. Adelaide said she would see him."

"What happened?"

"I don't know. I waited in case I was wanted. After a time he came out
alone and drove away. I did not go to Adelaide. I did not want to seem
prying. I thought perhaps she would send for me. But I did not see her
again until--until she was dying."

"She did not say goodbye?" Ruth asked.

"No. She was only going down the street. I rather kept out of her way
because I did not think I wanted to leave everybody and travel with her.
I could have seen her at any time but I was a little hurt she did not ask
for me. Could her husband have said or done anything to her to make her
take her life?"

"I should not think so," Roger said, "though this certainly introduces a
new factor into the case. He could offer to take her back; he could
threaten an action for the restitution of conjugal rights if she refused,
or a divorce. But as she had independent means that would not have much
effect. How did she receive him?"

"I do not know. Nan took him to her."

"Let me get it clear. What time was this?"

"After tea. He left her about five o'clock."

"You did not meet her at dinner?"

"No. After the trouble over the will on the day of Daddy's funeral, she
had all her meals in her own room."

"And lunch the next day?"

"Yes."

"She had tea at the hotel and died about dinner-time--more than
twenty-four hours after her husband left her?"

"Yes. I didn't tell anyone about him. Garnet was out and I thought of
writing to Jasper. Then--then she died and I telephoned, just telling him
that."

"You did not see her during the day, but, so far as you know, she was her
normal self?"

"So far as I know. Nan said she seemed pleased to get away and they told
us at the hotel she had tea in the lounge and talked to one or two people
there."

"I do not think her husband could have said or done any thing to her to
account for what happened.” Roger said thoughtfully. "Of course she could
have promised to go back to him later on, though it does not seem likely.
It is a queer story and there may still be things we do not know. Why did
you not tell your sister about that call?"

"I was so muddled. I wanted to get it clear in my own mind. Emerald and I
do not talk much."

"Well, my dear, the police will probably question you. If they do, you
must tell them all you have told us."

"I will," Pearl promised.

"I was sorry to see how ill Garnet looked," Ruth remarked. "He seemed
very distressed."

"He is," Pearl said. But she thought his distress was from a different
cause. Not the unhappy fate of Adelaide, but her story about the parents
they had loved so much. Emerald had not mentioned it. Neither would she,
not even to these kind friends. But later she was to wish she had.

"I had a message for you from Peter," Roger said. "He was very sorry for
you and would come at once if you wanted him."

"Peter. Yes," Pearl murmured. "Thank you."

Then she left them.

13: The Mystery Deepens

THE inquest was fixed for three days later. In the meantime the searches
and questionings by the police were painstaking and persistent. Everyone
it was thought might throw any light on the matter was interrogated again
and again, and all Adelaide's possessions were scrutinised, analysed and
expertly overhauled. No statement was issued as to the results achieved.

The Bennions were not approached; they were regarded as strangers in the
district. They had no official information as to the progress of the
investigations but Roger had his own "grapevine" that kept him fairly
well in the know of things. He had no reason to offer his help to the
police, and Ruth, although willing to assist their neighbours, hoped he
would not become in any way involved. It was bad luck if he could not
have a holiday without grim tragedy rearing its ugly head!

Ben Orgles who, with his wife Bessie, had served them for years, had been
an airman and a police constable in his earlier days. He had helped Roger
in some tough cases and it was hardly likely, when an affair of this sort
happened on their threshold, that his interest would not be stimulated.

He had some special qualifications for a case centred round the village
inn. He could quaff a quart more quickly than most men and could throw a
dart with the best. The saloon bar in the Crompton Arms was the
recognised meeting place for the village worthies: it was, in fact, the
mainstay of the establishment as the hotel season was so short. Ben had
located it directly he arrived and had soon been accepted as a welcome
member of its most select circle.

Little happened in the village that was not known and discussed there and
he was able to keep Roger informed of the latest reports and rumours.
Even the landlord seemed to confide in him.

"You have got friendly very quickly," Roger remarked.

"Yes, sir," Ben said with his usual broad grin. "I started a little
competition. They like it and it is good for the 'ouse."

"What is it?"

"Quick ones, sir. Not what you might mean by a quick one though. Everyone
who likes can enter by putting a bob in the kitty. Each starts fair with
a quart and the one who finishes first, without spilling a drop, takes
the pool and another quart on the 'ouse. The barman has a stop-watch and
you bang your pot on the table when you're done."

"Who generally wins?"

"Well, sir, I can when I want to, but it wouldn't do not to let the
others have a look in sometimes. We don't do it every night but some of
'em like to keep in practice and that 'elps."

"I doubt if our temperance friends would approve. You are putting on
weight, Ben."

"So Bessie tells me. She says it is the Suffolk air."

"I don't think the air would do it if you took it neat. What is the
verdict of your very special jury?"

"About the poor lady, sir? All of 'em thinks it is murder, 'arf say it
is suicide, and the rest--"

"The rest?"

"Well, sir, Joe Collett the barman. He says she was struck. He told us
his old grandfather was struck just like it, except that he was in his
bath. They didn't find him till after supper and he had never missed a
meal before."

"Murder, suicide and struck covers most of the possibilities. Any real
news?"

"They've called in the Yard, sir. The room was examined again and
everything in it. Of course they questioned the staff and the visitors.
Did anyone know her before she came, and such like. Complete stranger,
they said. And old Teague the gardener, he comes in sometimes, he told us
they did the same next door and gave everyone a rare twistin'."

"What is Teague's verdict?"

"He's all for suicide. Now they say the poor lady's things can be taken
back there. The landlord's not half sorry to see 'em go. Wouldn't do the
'ouse no good."

"Who has come from the Yard?"

"No one I know, sir. I asked young Gellett, he's the local cop, but he
either didn't know or wouldn't say. He never opens his mouth much
'ceptin' when there's a pot at it. Of course I didn't tell 'em who you
really are, that you could clear things up a sight quicker than the Yard.
The Missus told me not to." Ben had a vast belief in Roger's
capabilities.

"Just as well you said nothing of the sort. I admit I am interested but
it is best left to the right authority, especially when friends are
concerned. Did you learn anything else?"

"Well, sir," Ben grinned, "Rosie, the chambermaid what looked after the
poor lady, is a tidy piece and I 'appened to meet her on her afternoon
out. She is as sure as sure it wasn't no case of suicide. She helped Mrs.
M. to unpack one of her bags. Found her most friendly, said she was going
abroad as soon as things was settled. The other bag could wait. If she
wanted to do 'erself in, why should she trouble to pack and come to the
Arms at all?"

"That bothers me," Roger said.

"Yes, sir. Some womenfolk we know wants to look lovely when they're dead.
They lay 'emselves pretty on the bed with flowers round 'em and a bunch
o' lilies in their 'and. But this poor lady 'ad dressed for dinner and
was lying all of an untidy 'eap on the floor."

"Rosie found her?"

"That's right, sir. She went to do the room, thinkin' she had gone down
to dinner, but the door was locked. She waited a bit and knocked and got
no answer. Then she told 'em downstairs. She couldn't use the master-key
as the other key was in the lock on the inside. The porter came up and
twisted the key and poked it out. Then Rosie opened the door--and there
she was."

"They sent for the family and the doctor?"

"Yes, sir. The doctor saw it was all up and told the young ladies to go
'ome. Then he 'anded over to the police."

"Very complicated," Roger said. "Let me know if you hear more."

Jasper called as soon as he got back from London. He said he would prefer
to let the picture wait for a few days; he was too upset to concentrate
on it. Ruth said she quite understood.

"It is a terrible thing to happen while one is away," Jasper added "I
cannot think why she did it. A lot of awkward questions arise."

"What in particular?" Roger asked.

"The police want the funeral to take place as soon as possible after the
inquest. Where is she to be buried and under what name? Emerald says she
told you that Adelaide and our father were never really married. We
cannot keep it secret. In any case we could not put her in his grave with
our mother. And if it is suicide there is some rule about consecrated
ground, isn't there?"

"Perhaps you should discuss that with the Vicar."

"I suppose we must. It would be humbug to pretend we are deeply grieved
about her death, though it is a shock. But we want everything to be done
decently and in order, as our father would have wished. Emerald is in
favour of cremation, but there is another difficulty. She has a husband,
legally I mean. Pearl saw him come to the house. She says she told you.
Ought we to communicate with him and find out what he wants to do?"

"It might be a good thing to get your lawyer to see to that," Roger
suggested. "Undoubtedly the police will want a word with him."

"Old Watson. That's an idea. I hadn't thought of it. Rather a startler
for him when he knows the truth, but I think we had better leave it all
to him. That is what lawyers are for, isn't it?"

Roger had another caller from next door on the eve of the inquest. This
time it was Pearl. She had got over the worst of the shock though she was
still pathetically pale; very different from the bright and happy girl
they met when they arrived. And it was a new worry she came about.

"Do you remember Adelaide wearing a diamond star at her neck with
ear-rings to match?" she asked Ruth.

"I never saw her wear them but she once showed me the star. She had it in
her handbag. She said her husband--that is Mr. Michelmore--gave it her.
It was beautiful."

"It is missing," Pearl said. "I looked for it among her things when they
came back from the hotel and it was not there. Emerald and I also
searched in her room but we could not find it. She had some other
jewellery which was there all right, but that was gone."

"When did you last see it?" Roger asked.

"She was wearing it the day she told us she was going to the hotel."

"It was very valuable?"

"Yes, but it isn't that. It was my mother's. I loved it. One day, the
first time I saw Adelaide with it, I asked Daddy why he gave it to her. I
suppose it was natural for him to do so, but I felt it ought to go to one
of us. Emerald, perhaps, or the wife of one of the boys if they marry;
Daddy said he did not know we felt like that about it. She didn't wear it
again until that last day. And now it has gone."

Tears were in her eyes as she spoke of it. It recalled so many happy days
that were gone too. Roger and Ruth regarded her with real sympathy.

"If it is sure it has been taken," the former said, "you must tell the
police about it at once. It could have been stolen in the hotel--"

"She was not wearing it when we went to her and Dr. Skelton came so
soon."

"The servants who found her could have taken it, though I think that
improbable."

"She was wearing a band of black velvet with a small brooch when we saw
her," Pearl whispered.

"The star could have been a motive for murder," Roger said gravely. "Can
you describe it?"

"I can draw it."

He handed her a piece of paper and with swift certain fingers she made a
sketch; a large central stone with others not quite so big surrounding it
to form a five-cornered star.

"That size?"

"I think so."

"I think so too," Ruth said. "Adelaide told me it cost three thousand
pounds."

"You must tell the police at once," Roger repeated, "and let them have
the sketch. It may be an important clue."

The inquest was held in a hail insufficient in size to hold all who would
have liked to attend. Roger was present, although he did not expect much
more than evidence of identity and of the cause of death to be given.
Arthur Dixon was there and so was Peter Skelton. Pearl was not. Mr.
Watson had a seat near the front.

Jasper was the first witness and his evidence created some sensation
among all, but the few who were aware of the facts. Roger was a little
surprised that he and not Garnet, the elder brother, was called. He
looked round but the curate was not there. Possibly the nature of the
evidence explained the choice of witness.

Having taken the oath Jasper was asked if he had seen the body and could
state positively who it was. "I have seen her," was the reply, with
obvious reluctance. "It is the lady we thought was my father's second
wife, Adelaide Michelmore, but we now know they were not married."

There was a hum of astonishment. When it had subsided the Coroner asked:
"Who then is she?"

"Adelaide Bidaut."

"How do you know that?"

"I went to St. Malo on quite another matter, the sale of some of my
pictures, and I chanced to meet a man who called himself Gaston Bidaut.
He told me his wife Adelaide had run off with an Englishman, a Mr.
Michelmore. He showed me her photograph and there was no doubt it was the
same. On my return I asked her about it and she admitted it was true. It
is painful to say this about my own father but I should like to add that
I am sure he intended to marry her if it became possible and had not his
own life ended so tragically."

"Have you seen this Gaston Bidaut since?"

"No, sir. I understand he called on his wife the day before she left our
home, but I was away in London. I believe the police were informed."

The Coroner turned to the local police superintendent. "Have you been
able to contact Gaston Bidaut?"

"Not yet, sir."

"Did this woman leave your home by her own choice?" The question was to
Jasper.

He hesitated. "She did. I suggested it would be unpleasant for us to live
together. My father had left her well provided for and the house was hers
for life, but we also had the right to live in it. She decided to go to
the hotel while she made future plans."

"There was no suggestion that she might end her life?"

"No, sir."

Jasper left the box and Emerald took his place. She was wearing black but
looked calm and determined. She briefly confirmed all that her brother
had said.

"Had you and this woman lived together in amity?"

"While my father lived, yes. It was a shock when he introduced someone so
young as his wife, but on the whole we got on well enough."

"And when you learned she was not his wife--or his widow?"

"We were naturally much upset. But as she said she was going away, that
seemed the best thing."

The next in the box was Rose Chappell, the chamber maid, who told of the
locked door and the discovery of the dying lady. The porter and the
landlord of the hotel corroborated her story and said how they had lifted
the body onto the bed and sent for the doctor and the family. Asked if
they had removed anything from the room, a cup or bottle or a container
of any sort, they all said No.

Then Hannah Wood was called. Old Nan looked a queer figure with her wispy
grey hair, her sharp eyes, her wrinkled face and her tight lips. But she
was very self-possessed.

"You are the cook-housekeeper to the Michelmore family?"

"I am."

"You were previously nurse to the young children?"

"I was."

"I believe you helped your mistress to pack before she left her home?"

"I did."

"What did she take with her?"

"Two big suitcases and a fitted dressing-case."

"You packed them all?"

"No. Only the suitcase. With dresses and underwear."

"Did those cases take all her possessions?"

"Most of 'em."

"What about the remainder?"

"She said if she wanted 'em she would send for 'em."

"She meant to send for them?"

"It sounded like it. She didn't give much away."

"Now as to the dressing-case you did not pack. Could you see what was in
it?"

"It was open, but I weren't interested."

"It contained a number of bottles, didn't it?"

Old Nan nodded. "With silver tops. She said Mr. Michelmore gave it to
her."

"You do not know what the bottles contained?"

"I weren't interested. She had all sorts of things for her face and her
eyes and her finger-nails." Old Nan spoke as one who scorned such aids to
beauty.

"Anything else in the case?"

"Brushes and combs fixed inside the lid."

"What about jewellery?"

"There was a special compartment for that with a separate key."

"Was it open?"

"No."

"Your mistress had, I believe, a valuable diamond star with ear-rings to
match. Did you see them?"

"No."

"But you had seen her wearing them?"

"Yes. They were family jools. She shouldn't have had ‘em."

"So far as you know, they were locked in that special compartment?"

"I don't know."

"You were on good terms with her?"

"I did my duty." Old Nan spoke primly.

"Did she say anything to make you think you would never see her alive
again?" The Coroner uttered the words solemnly and Nan for a moment
considered her reply.

"Can't say she did. Not in so many words. She said she was not sorry to
go. The house had unhappy memories."

"I believe that the afternoon before she went away you took a visitor,
Gaston Bidaut, to see her?"

"I did."

"Were you aware that he was her husband?"

"I was not. I thought Mr. Michelmore was."

"Did you hear what passed between them?"

"I was not interested."

"You did not hear anything?"

"No."

"How long did he stay?"

"About an hour."

"And did your mistress refer in any way to his call or who he was?"

"Not a word."

There were a few more questions but nothing of importance was elicited,
though it was clear Nan had little to say that was good of her late
employer. Then Dr. Skelton took the stand.

He described how he had come directly he received the summons. He found
Emerald and Pearl had arrived a few minutes before him. He advised them
to go home as life was practically extinct. He tried certain restorative
measures but with no satisfactory result. The lady died just as the
police arrived. He had asked for them to come at once.

"Did you form any opinion, doctor, as to the cause of death?"

"I suspected poison, but I made no real examination."

The police doctor confirmed this. He said he found cyanide of potassium
in the body in sufficient quantity to cause death. He gave some details
as to a fatal dose and the rapidity of its action.

"Did you see any bottle or other vessel or article that might have
contained the cyanide?" he was asked.

"I did not," he replied.

"Did you examine the bottles or other contents of the dressing-case?"

"I was requested later by the police to do so and I made thorough tests."

"Did you find any trace of cyanide in any of them?"

"None whatever."

Further witnesses testified that the deceased had tea in the lounge with
the other guests and appeared in good spirits. No food or indeed anything
else had been taken to her room at any time.

The Coroner had a whispered colloquy with the superintendent and then
announced that the hearing would be adjourned for ten days.

During the proceedings Roger had noticed a burly man in a front seat whom
he thought he knew. When the Court rose this man came across to him.

"Major Bennion, isn't it?" he asked.

"It is. Unless I am mistaken, you are Inspector Grimsby of the C.I.D.?"

"Chief Inspector to be precise. We met over that Spectre in Brown
business, as they called it. You put in some pretty smart work there."

"Thanks for the compliment." Roger smiled. "And congratulations on the
promotion. How is my old friend Warren?"

"Just retired. I expect soon we shall hear he has got a new job at twice
the pay, like so many who have left us. But may I ask how you come in on
this?"

"I don't," Roger said. "I am here on holiday and the house I took happens
to be next door to the Michelmores."

"Good heavens! They never told me! You must know the parties in the
case."

"I have met most of them."

"I wonder if you would let me talk it over with you? It is a hell of a
business, and the first of the sort I have had to tackle on my own. I
don't want to fall down on it. Warren always said you saw further through
a brick wall than most people, and I reckon he was right."

"Come home with me," Roger said, "and I will introduce you to my wife."
He thought the big Londoner had improved with responsibility, but was not
sure that Ruth would be pleased with her visitor!

14: Roger's Theory

"This, my dear, is Chief Inspector Grimsby from London. He wants to
discuss that trouble next door."

Ruth glanced reproachfully at her husband and pleasantly at their visitor
at the same time and in a way only a woman can.

"I am sure Roger will be pleased to help you," she said acid-sweetly.

"We think a lot of him at the Yard," the burly detective assured her.

"If you are to talk I expect some beer would be acceptable."

"Well, m'm, I do think better with a glass at my elbow. Inquests are dry
affairs."

"I will send it in."

She vanished and a few minutes later Ben Orgles appeared with a tray
bearing bottles and glasses. Roger introduced him. "He was once in the
Force," he added.

"A long time since Grimmie and Orgles pounded the pavements in 'Olloway,"
Ben grinned.

"Some of us have moved on since then," the Chief Inspector replied, not
too pleased at being greeted in such a manner by a companion of his
humbler days.

"We moved others on then, didn't we?" smiled the ex-constable.

"All right, Ben," Roger said. "I will see to the drinks." He knew his man
would get in a sly dig if he could, and he did not wish it.

"I suppose you have no idea who did the dirty work?" Grimsby began, when
they were alone and had lighted their pipes and sampled the liquor.

"Not the least," Roger said. "I do not even know for certain that there
has been any dirty work."

"Not much doubt of that," Grimsby replied gloomily, taking his notebook
from his pocket. "A few points I would like to go through with you. It is
like a sum that adds up differently every time you try it and none of the
answers may be right."

Roger did not reply. The detective turned a few leaves and continued.

"First, what do we know? The woman died from cyanide poisoning. That's
sure enough. There's a bottle in Teague's potting shed with sufficient
cyanide crystals in it to poison half the village. Did it come from
there? Apparently all the parties in the case, including the woman
herself, could have had access to it."

"I did not know that. What did Teague want it for?"

"Usual thing. Said there was a plague of wasps last summer and it was the
best way of getting rid of 'em."

"I thought the liquid soaked in rag and put in the nest was more
general."

"I asked him that. He said the crystals kept better and he never knew
when he would want it again."

"That then does not preclude the possibility of suicide?"

"It does not," Grimsby agreed. "It would be a dam' sight simpler if we
could say it was suicide and leave it at that. But I don't believe it.
Why should she kill herself? Why pack up and leave home to do it? Why
change for dinner?"

Again Roger did not reply.

"Of course she was alone in the locked room. No way in. Windows fastened,
and all the front visible from the street. No getting in or out. But I
believe you showed us once before how to manage the locked door."

"How was that?" Roger smiled.

"Pass a pencil, or a bit of wood that fits, into the ring of the key,
pointing upwards. Tie a string to it and pass it under the door. Close
the door and pull the string. The lock is turned, the pencil falls out
and you pull it away."

"As good a method as any," Roger said, "and I do not claim the copyright.
But how does the person before leaving the room get the victim to swallow
the poison?"

"There you have me. I don't think it was done that way. Of course I
thought of the other usual dodges, chocolates with cyanide in them and
that sort of thing, but there were no chocolates and no trace of 'em in
the body. They all say she did not eat sweets. Slimming and all that; a
pound of chocolates makes two pounds of girl. She was proud of her
figure. I doubt if any room was ever combed like we went through that
room. Not a glass or a bottle or a screw of paper that could have
contained the stuff. We tested every dam' thing, including toothpaste and
toothbrushes. And no fingerprints except her own and those of the maid."

"It could hardly have been an accident?"

"Accidents leave traces," Grimsby grunted, "and it is a dam' queer
accident that puts cyanide in a person's bedroom!"

"Very puzzling."

"I'll say it is. No suicide, no accident, so we come to murder and the
question of motive. Why should a healthy young woman who has just been
left a fortune for life kill herself? No reason at all. Why should anyone
else kill her? Plenty of reasons. I have seen the will."

"I understand on her death everything is divided equally between the four
sons and daughters," Roger remarked. "Any special points to one more than
another?"

"They share equally," Grimsby agreed, "and they might have planned it
between them. Any one of 'em, any pair of 'em, or the whole lot of 'em
could have done it, so far as motive is concerned. But, as you just said,
how did they manage to get her to swallow the stuff when she was all
dolled up for dinner?"

"Any other suspects?" Roger asked.

"I'll say there are! Best clear them up first."

Grimsby glanced at his notebook.

"There is the real husband, this Gaston Bidaut. The younger sister came
to me with the story: said you told her to. She mentioned the name of a
neighbour, Bennion, but I didn't connect it with you until I saw you in
Court. Bidaut suddenly appears from nowhere, spends an hour with his
unfaithful wife, and the next day she is poisoned. Plenty of motive but
how the devil does he do it? I could understand it if he had shot or
choked her, or given her a dam' good hiding. But he leaves her smiling
and then the next day--the poison! Cyanide acts quick."

"I expected you to put the girl in the witness box, but was rather glad
you did not find it necessary."

"May do later. We got it all from others and she begged me not to. She
will keep. Meanwhile we have broadcast a request for Gaston Bidaut
believed to be on holiday in England to communicate, as we think he may
be able to help us. We 'phoned the police in St. Malo and they found he
was still away, gone it was though a week. They will let us know directly
he returns. I shall probably fly over."

"The family want him, too, for the funeral. But, apart from him, who
else?"

Grimsby frowned and took a long drink before he replied. There was no
doubt he was a very worried man. A good deal might depend on his handling
of his first case of this magnitude.

"The servants at the hotel. I would not suspect them so much of the
murder if the diamonds were not missing. That girl told me about them
too. But they did not have much time to do it all. If the diamonds were
lying loose when they found the body they might have pinched them. We
have sent out a description of 'em and may hear something, though I don't
bank on it. Besides she wasn't dead when they found her and for all they
knew she might have recovered. They wouldn't have risked it. Then there
is Teague, the gardener, and Hannah Wood."

"Old Nan, the housekeeper? What is there against them?"

"I dunno. Only a hunch. They both hated her from the day she came, so far
as I can understand. Teague has the cyanide and Old Nan did the packing.
It is also said they talk of getting married."

"Who told you that?"

"Jasper said they might if the home broke up."

"What do they gain by her death?"

"A nice nest-egg if they got the diamonds."

"Nothing in her will, I suppose? She had no reason to love them."

"So far as we know she never made a will. Hardly had time. The family
might have rewarded them though. Or Old Nan might have done it for their
sake. They were almost like her own sucklings, looked after 'em since
they were babies. Women do queer things for those they love."

"Old Nan might be the avenging angel or the self-sacrificing type," Roger
said thoughtfully. "Women have been known to do such things, or to
confess to crimes of which they are innocent."

"Don't we know it? But they never get away with it; their tales don't
hold water."

"We will hope not. Anyone else?"

"Only the family."

"Anything definite against any of them, except that they benefit by the
death?"

"That's a pretty big thing when you remember how young she was--might
have outlived them all. And it was a case of now or never for them. If
she went away they might never get another chance. Take the parson first,
the Reverend Garnet. We don't suspect the clergy as a rule, but they are
pretty much as other men when you get down to brass tacks. I had a talk
with him. He gave me a lot of texts but not much help. He said two or
three times that the soul that sinneth it shall die. I asked whose soul,
but he looked a bit wild and couldn't say. Is he quite all right?"
Grimsby touched his head meaningly.

"He is highly strung," Roger said. "He was probably referring to the fact
there had been no marriage and therefore Adelaide had been living in sin.
I thought you might have put him in the box."

"I meant to, but he disappeared."

"Disappeared?"

"I told him I should want him and took it for granted he would be there.
He didn't show up and we couldn't find him. We will make sure of him next
time. That is why we called the sister, Emerald."

"To confirm Jasper's identification?"

"That's right. We always want two."

"What of Jasper?"

"He was more helpful. Of course we are always suspicious of alibis but
his was sound enough. Said he had gone to London on business and had sold
a picture. Told us where he had stayed. We checked that and found he had
all his meals in the hotel as well as sleeping there. No time to get here
and back; away four days in all, covering the whole time. We also saw the
people in Bond Street who bought his picture. He called there three
times."

"Had he any bright ideas?"

"Not really. He could only suggest it was suicide because her secret had
been discovered, but admitted he would not have expected her to mind all
that badly. He told me more about the husband; thought he was still fond
of her. He did not know at the time he had turned up; that happened
afterwards. Said he was not really French, but he might be jealous."

"The man he had reason to be jealous of was already dead," Roger
remarked, "but Jasper had, I believe, told him that. What of the girls,
Emerald and Pearl?"

Grimsby shrugged. "Could be either of 'em or both. A stepmother of their
own age and a lot better looking. If you talk of jealousy, that is as
good a cause as I ever heard of, and where women are concerned jealousy
is eldest-born of hell. I was taught that at school. Then there is the
money; both girls get their share of that. Another point is they were the
first in the room after the body was found and so had the best chance of
removing the poison or any trace of it."

"Were they alone in the room?"

"Apparently not, but it is easy enough to slip a little bottle in your
pocket if you know what you are after. Emerald admits she disliked the
so-called wife from the first, but says she kept out of her way as much
as she could. Pearl professes to have been rather fond of her, at any
rate for a time. Both girls, according to local gossip, have been keeping
company with men of doubtful character."

"Who would they be?" Roger asked.

"I am only telling you what I have heard," Grimsby replied. "Emerald is
very taken with a fellow called Gore-Black and he spends a good deal of
time in her rooms. He writes detective stories."

"Nothing necessarily criminal in that," Roger commented. "Police study
crime, but it does not make them criminals, anyway not all of them. I am
told Emerald and Gore-Black are writing a book in collaboration, not a
crime story. You do not seriously suspect the younger sister, Pearl?"

"Why not? She looks the picture of innocence, yet she comes into the
thing all the time. She saw the husband arrive and she brought us the
story of the missing diamonds. Suppose she took 'em herself and told us
that to cover up? Being the most friendly with the woman she had the best
chance of giving her the fatal dose. I questioned her closely. She
admitted nothing, but I got the impression she was holding something
back."

"You might be right there, but it could be her fears rather than anything
she knows."

"What fears?"

"Possibly for others in the family. When a thing like this happens it
makes the people concerned afraid for one another. Who is her young man
of doubtful character?"

"A fellow called Arthur Dixon. Ever heard of him?"

Roger was not surprised that in a small place like Beckford the girls'
companionships were noted and talked about.

"I have met him," he said, "but do not know much about him."

"He is married but his wife has left him. Another woman talked of
bringing a paternity charge against him, but the child died and it was
all settled out of court."

"Was that before or after his wife went away?"

"After, I believe. Nothing was proved, but he is not the sort of man an
innocent girl goes about with."

"Pearl has been too much alone," Roger said. "Her father was to blame for
the way they were brought up after the death of their mother.
Independence he called it, but it may not be good for young women."

"Well, there you have it," Grimsby commented. "Both open to suspicion. If
the father wanted to remarry, why didn't he do it in the right way and
with a woman old enough to look after 'em? Then all this would not have
happened."

"Then you would have lost a job and the chance for fame," Roger remarked,
"but it did happen. Apart from general suspicions there seems no definite
clue as to who was responsible for the crime. Anyone else on your list?"

"Isn't that enough? There is the woman who works in the house, Mrs.
Hopkins. I learned a good deal from her, but she never had much contact
with her mistress. So there you have it. The locked room, possible
suicide, eight suspects for murder, four in the family, Teague and Old
Nan, the missing husband and someone in the hotel. The whole thing a dam'
mystery. What do you make of it?" Grimsby drained his glass and leant
back in his chair. His attitude seemed to say 'it beats me and I'll bet
it beats you too.'

"You have set it out very clearly," Roger said, "but there is one thing
you have not mentioned."

"What is that?"

"The lady's handbag. All women carry them."

"But they don't need help to pack 'em. Of course this woman had one and I
have a list of the contents. Everything was examined and tested where
possible. No help there."

"May I ask what the contents were?"

Grimsby consulted his book.

"Just the sort of things every woman carries. An affair to powder the
nose, a compact or a flapjack they call it. A bit of lipstick, a
handkerchief; some keys, including the one of the jewel box in the
dressing-case; some visiting cards, an engagement book, a nail file, a
little loose money and a note case containing twenty pounds. The money
rather lets out the hotel servants. The bag was open on the
dressing-table. They would hardly have left the cash if they took the
diamonds. Nor would anyone else."

"Possibly the diamonds were taken before she arrived at the hotel?"

"It would not surprise me," Grimsby shrugged.

Both men puffed at their pipes for some little while in silence. Then
Roger put his down.

"I cannot help you about the diamonds," he said, "and I cannot say who
was the murderer, but I can give you a theory that may explain everything
else; how the murder was done in the locked room after she had dressed
for dinner."

"That should help." The Inspector sounded sceptical.

"It is only a theory and I can put it in one word."

"What is that?"

"Lipstick."

"Lipstick? You say she poisoned herself with her own lipstick? If that
stuff was poisonous half the women in England would be dead and a fair
sprinkling of the men!" There was now no doubt of the scepticism.

"You never met Adelaide Michelmore--or Bidaut," Roger said. "She was in
many ways a very charming young woman, a former Beauty Queen, but she had
one habit that was not charming. She was fond of licking her lips. It was
so noticeable that no one who talked with her could fail to observe it.
She had frequently to touch them up in consequence and must have absorbed
a good deal of the stuff."

"What does it taste like?"

"It may be to your credit if you do not know," Roger replied, "or perhaps
your misfortune. Based on lanolin, it is almost tasteless, just a little
sweet and greasy. Cyanide also has little taste and the sweetness would
mask it."

"You suggest that the bit of lipstick in her bag killed her?"

"Not necessarily. A woman generally has more than one such stick. It is
probable that a nearly new one was used. Every one of the suspects you
mentioned must have noticed her lip-licking habit. My wife and I did the
first time we met her."

Grimsby sat up more alertly. "Bidaut, the husband, deals in such things.
He brought her a present. As she would not go with him, he left it for
her! How did he work it?"

"Bidaut--or anyone else--could get new lipstick, remove it from the
holder and bore a hole from the base and mix what came out with powdered
cyanide and replace it. It would be rather like the lead in an ordinary
pencil, a bit thicker probably but the same in colour. Or the whole of it
could have been impregnated except perhaps the top cone. The victim uses
it in the ordinary way until she comes to the part that is deadly."

"It sounds possible," Grimsby said. "Devilish clever; but how can we
tell?"

"When your doctor makes his test for poison, does he wash the face?"

"I guess he is more concerned with the innards," was the reply.

"That is just the one chance. If there is enough of the colour on the
mouth, let him test it. If it contains cyanide, there is the answer. If
it does not, my theory goes west."

"I will tell him what you say and he shall certainly test any traces that
remain--if there are any. But there is another snag. Unless it is that
bit of the stuff still in the bag, how is it we did not find it?"

"I cannot answer that yet," Roger said. "If it was done in the way I
suggest, the person who was clever enough to fix it may also have been
clever enough to remove it. It may have been in the open handbag. But
first make the test. If the idea is right you must commandeer all the
lipsticks you can find and test them. There is just a chance it was not
thrown away."

"A pretty poor chance," Grimsby muttered. "I have now to find a diamond
star and a poisoned lipstick!"

"Trifles for a man of your ability," Roger assured him. "But the test
comes first."

15: Garnet Missing

Ruth was naturally anxious to hear what had passed between Roger and the
unwelcome visitor. Over their evening meal he told her of Grimsby's
general suspicions and of his own theory of the lipstick. He asked what
she thought of it.

"I do not know much about poisons," she said. "It sounds possible if she
could swallow enough that way."

"It does not take much. There are several cases on record of a man
concealing a fatal dose in a signet ring. I have never heard of poisoned
lipstick. Rather a Borgia idea, but it seems to me quite possible for a
confirmed licker like Adelaide."

"But she might have kissed someone else."

"A Judas kiss, though Judas ran no risk."

"If you are right and it was the lipstick, it might lead other women to
give it up."

"I doubt it," Roger laughed. "Beauty cult is the oldest of feminine
vanities. Egyptian women practised it about 3000 B.C. and we know Jezebel
painted her eyes. It is said cosmetics were brought to Europe by the
Crusaders. They were freely used in Elizabeth's reign. Cromwell, of
course, banned them but they came back with Charles II. Their most
extravagant use was by the Beauties and the Bucks of the Georgian era."

"Men as well as women?"

"Only the more foppish of men. In 1770 a bill was introduced into
Parliament to enact that any woman who seduced and betrayed a man into
matrimony by the use of scents, paints, cosmetics, false teeth or hair,
bolstered hips or other such deceptions should suffer the same penalties
as for witchcraft, and the marriage be null and void. I do not think the
law was passed, but we all know that in the Victorian age a shiny nose
was a beacon of respectability and rouge the hall-mark of sin. In the
First World War, when women took to smoking and joined the services and
also to working in offices, the use of beauty aids in all classes became
popular and has gone on increasing ever since. Some advanced schools for
young ladies now have classes for it and it is encouraged in women's
prisons. You see, my dear, I have been studying the subject."

"It seems to have interested you quite a lot," Ruth said, "but unless the
lipstick in Adelaide's bag was poisoned, how was the fatal one got to her
and how was it removed?"

"Practical questions," Roger admitted. "I could discourse further on the
subject. Lanolin, the oil from sheepskin, is the basis of many
preparations for the face and the lips. Someone started a scare that it
encouraged the growth of hair--see what it does for sheep! But we had
better consider our own problem. Would any women have one lipstick only?"

"Very unlikely. Especially such a woman as Adelaide."

"So I thought. I am inclined to discard the one in the handbag, so the
one we want is missing."

"But it was used in the room," Ruth said. "It must have been if your
theory is correct. Who had the chance of getting it away?"

"That is the real point. So far as our information goes the only people
who were in the room before the police took over were the chambermaid,
the porter, the hotel manager, the girls Emerald and Pearl and Dr.
Skelton. We can certainly acquit Skelton and I cannot see any motive for
murder by the hotel people. That leaves only Emerald and Pearl."

"It is horrible!" Ruth exclaimed. "I do wish you did not get concerned in
these cases."

"Well, my dear," Roger said, "it was a grisly business that introduced me
to the Dean's Daughter and I have never regretted it. But I admit a
holiday without crime would be pleasant."

"I should think it would! Do you really believe that either of those
girls poisoned Adelaide? I am sure it was not Pearl."

"In these cases it is not safe to rely on our likes or dislikes, but I am
inclined to agree with you. We may find the lipstick Adelaide used was
innocuous and then we must start all over again. Or there may not be
enough to test. Absolute proof may never be forthcoming."

At that moment Ben Orgles announced a caller, Jasper Michelmore. The
young man came in, looking more than a little worried.

"Sorry to bother you," he said, "but have you by any chance seen or heard
anything of our revered brother Garnet?"

"Not for some days," Ruth replied.

"Neither have I," Roger said, "but Grimsby told me he interviewed him
yesterday morning and expected him to attend the inquest. He did not
come."

"That is the trouble," Jasper told them. "He was questioned by Grimsby
and none of us has seen him since. He did not sleep at home last night.
We would not think a lot of that. He has friends at Torbury and if some
Parish Council goes on to a late hour he sometimes stays with them. When
he has a new idea he will sit up half the night to talk about it. But he
was not back in the morning and I have just had a telephone call from one
of his earnest supporters that he was to have conducted some sort of a
service or meeting there this evening and he has not turned up. What are
they to do? Apparently he was not there yesterday. He has never missed a
meeting before."

"Certainly strange," Roger said. "What did you advise them?"

"I told them to get the Vicar, Forbes Fortescue. Won't do him any harm to
put in a spot of work. But I have a feeling old Garnie may be wandering
somewhere, suffering from loss of memory or something like that. This
Adelaide business has been grim for all of us, but he may have taken it
more to heart."

"He may be ill," Ruth suggested. "I know he has been working very hard."

"Have you told the police?" Roger asked.

"The Inspector sent round at dinner-time to see if he was back. Of course
we had to say he was not; we would telephone them when he got in. But
that was before we got the call from Torbury."

"You must all be terribly anxious," Ruth said sympathetically. "If he met
with an accident, is there a hospital to which he would be taken?"

"Depends, I suppose, where the accident was," Jasper replied, "and I
imagine they would let us know. I looked for his bicycle but apparently
he went out on it. Of course he is--how shall I put it?--a bit eccentric
and he may have had some sudden impulse to go somewhere. We all want him
and so does old Watson, the solicitor. There are so many things to
settle--the funeral, the estate and all that."

"I should let the police know about the meeting," Roger said, "and that
you have been unable to trace him."

"I will. I saw you at the inquest. There was a bit of a shindy
afterwards."

"What was that?"

"I did not see it but I was told about it. A good many of those present
adjourned to the Crompton Arms and started discussing all they had heard.
Someone said it was lucky for the family that Adelaide passed away so
quickly. Victor Gore-Black was there and someone else said if it was
lucky for the family it might be lucky for him, too. 'What do you mean by
that?' our Victor demanded. 'You know best,' the other man sneered.
Victor called him a dirty swine and they might have come to blows, but
the barman intervened."

"Who was the other man?" Roger asked.

"The fellow who told me about it said he was a rival journalist, named
Inglis or Ingram. But you see how foul it is for us, people already
talking like that. I still believe Adelaide did it herself, though I
cannot tell why. Perhaps she took something wrong by mistake."

"It is horrible," Ruth said again. "I do hope they will soon get at the
truth."

"You cannot hope it more than we do," Jasper assured her.

Pearl had not attended the inquest. The whole affair distressed and
frightened her, yet she was to have in a way a more exciting day--and
night--than anyone else. She spent most of her time indoors, wondering
what was happening in the Court and wondering too why they had heard
nothing from Garnet. Later on, followed by the faithful Sandy, she went
for a walk and she met both her lovers.

The first to greet her was Arthur Dixon. He was looking as handsome as
ever and as determined.

"I was hoping to see you, Pearl darling," he said.

"You were not at the inquest?"

"Much better out of it. It did not really get very far, but Jasper
blurted out something that astounded everyone. He had to. He said
Adelaide and your father were never really married. She had left her
husband to be with him. You knew that?"

Pearl nodded.

"Then think, my beloved, how it helps us. People do these things in these
days. Your father did; why should not we? It is love that matters,
nothing else. I doubt if anyone was ever loved more than I love you. You
are unhappy here. I know you are. Come with me and I will make you happy.
We will forget all this and be just everything to each other."

He spoke persuasively, passionately, almost commandingly. A weaker girl
might have yielded. He stretched out his arms to her. Sandy barked and he
dropped them.

"But Esme--" Pearl murmured.

"I have written to Esme. The letter is in my pocket now. I only wait your
word to post it. I have told her how things are with us and have asked
her to do all that is necessary to enable us to get married as soon as
possible."

"Don't post it. You must not. I cannot think properly--I cannot decide
anything--until all this trouble is cleared up. It is worse than you
know."

"If you loved me as I love you--"

"Perhaps I don't."

"You do--you know you do!" he whispered tensely. "Let me come home with
you and talk it over. I will show you the letter."

"No." She knew if she yielded she might be unable to resist him.

"Yes."

She drew back, but he seized her arm . . . and Sandy bit his leg.

"Down, Sandy, down!" she cried. "Come away!" With that she escaped. It
was not much of a bite, only a torn trouser, but it served.

It was quite different when she met Peter Skelton. He had been at the
inquest because it concerned so many of his friends. She had returned
from her walk and was at the garden gate when he saw her.

"I was looking for you, Pearl," he said very seriously. "I want you to
forget what I told you about the house and practice in Torbury."

"Has it fallen through?" she asked.

"No. It is all settled and I start there in three weeks' time. You know I
was hoping you would be there with me."

"And now you don't? You--you heard about Daddy and Adelaide?"

"It is not that in the very least. We are ourselves and what other people
did, or did not, cannot matter to us. But it would not be fair to you. I
had a talk with Mr. Watson. He is Dad's solicitor as well as yours. He
told me of the very considerable fortune that will now come to you. A
doctor's wife has a pretty hard time. In addition to running the home,
she is continually wanted on the telephone or by patients calling out of
hours. She helps with the accounts and with the endless forms that have
to be filled up. I know what my mother has had to do. I thought in a way
you would do the same, but I see now how selfish I was. You are worthy of
something so much better and are in a position to get it. I cannot put it
properly but I hope you understand what I mean."

"You do not love me--" Pearl began.

"Don't say that," he cried. "I shall never love anyone else."

"How can you tell? I was going to say you do not love me and I was not
sure if I loved you. Work does not frighten me but it would only be
possible with love on both sides. I am not sure--oh, of so many things.
It is all so muddled. Perhaps it is for the best that you see you can get
on without me."

"I see I must. It is not what I want but what is fair to you."

She was silent for some moments. Then she said: "Thank you, Peter. I
think I understand. But you may find someone far better than me."

She entered the house and he turned away. Sandy had made no
demonstration. He liked the young doctor.

She had dinner with Emerald and Jasper. They had a good deal to say about
the inquest but she was very silent.

"You rather enjoyed your bit about Adelaide," Emerald remarked to her
brother.

"Enjoyed? Not in the least. I had to swear to her identity and how could
I say she was Adelaide Michelmore when I knew she was nothing of the
sort?"

"I thought you relished the sensation it caused. I wonder what happened
to Bidaut after he left here."

"So do I. I had told him our father was dead, but I did not tell him I
was related or where we lived. Having tracked her down, why did he
disappear?"

"He may turn up again," Emerald suggested.

"Not unless the police catch him. If it were not that the death is
attributed to cyanide, which is so rapid in its action, I should say he
was responsible for it. There are poisons which are slow. I wonder if the
doctors could have made a mistake."

"Not a hope. Why did he follow her? Did he want her back or was he out
for revenge?"

"Difficult to say. He called her some pretty strong names but he was
still carrying her photograph. He knew nothing of the will that left her
so well off and may have thought she would be glad to crawl back. She was
an asset in his business. What do you say, Pearl? You saw him."

"And you were very silent about it," Emerald added.

Pearl had not been listening very attentively. She had much else on her
mind. "I--I hardly spoke to him," she said. "I handed him over to Nan. I
have no idea why he came."

"It leaves us all very much in the air," Jasper muttered. "If it is not
cleared up we shall never be rid of the stink. People are already
talking. Even if it is cleared up, we shall always be the family where
the parent played such a trick and fooled us. In my opinion we shall have
to sell the place and clear out. I wonder what Garnet wants to do."

"Like him to hide when there is trouble around," Emerald commented.

"That is not fair," Pearl said warmly. "Garnie is no coward. You have
never known him not face things, even when they are unpleasant."

"Then where is he now?" her sister retorted.

"He might prefer to live at Torbury," Jasper said. "Better for his work.
I know I want to go abroad. You mean to marry Victor, I suppose, Emerald,
though I cannot imagine why. What about you, Pearl?"

"I--" she hesitated. "I may go away too."

It was then that the constable called and asked if Garnet had returned.
They had to say he had not.

"Let us know when he does," was the stolid reply.

"Not much facing the music about that," Emerald said spitefully when he
had gone.

They talked of their brother for some time and then came the telephone
enquiry from Torbury asking for him. Jasper decided to go next door to
consult the Bennions and the girls went to their own quarters.

16: A Tap at the Window

PEARL hardly knew how she got through the evening. She was restless and
upset. For a considerable time she stood by the window, hoping she would
see Garnet return. Not for one moment did she believe that he had in any
way been concerned in Adelaide's death, yet she could think of no
explanation for his disappearance. But perhaps it was absurd to be
apprehensive. Two days, after all, is not a long time. He was bound to be
back soon.

Her own affairs also worried her. Was Arthur Dixon right? Her father had
not married Adelaide--would that excuse her going away unmarried with
him? If her father and her own mother had not married--Arthur did not
know that, but it would not be wronging him--did it show that love was
all that really mattered? Life with him would be thrilling. Would they be
able to forget the past? Would she forget Esme? She had not known her
well, but Esme had always been pleasant to her. Arthur must have loved
her once.

She thought how it had all begun. She had admired Arthur the first time
she saw him. His good looks and his easy manner appealed to her, but she
did not suppose he even noticed her. She admired Esme, too. Then when she
heard Esme had gone, she told him how sorry she was, she was sure she
would soon return. He thanked her and said her sympathy was a great help.

After that they met often. One day he kissed her and told her she meant
more to him than Esme had ever done. She was rather frightened, but his
love-making grew more ardent. He kissed her whenever they met and
whispered that she must go away with him. She said it was impossible and
tried to avoid him. Or did she really try. ..?

Her mind turned to Peter--poor dear reliable Peter. Never had she been
nearer loving him than she was that afternoon. Not fair to her, he had
said. How little he knew! It would not be fair to him. The work did not
matter. She might enjoy doing something real. The money did not matter:
it would make life easier. But the stink, as Jasper had called it, that
did matter. Should a young doctor have a wife whose family history would
not bear enquiry?

It grew dark. She took Sandy for a walk in the garden, then she came in
and drew the curtain across the window. She did not immediately go to
bed. She sat for a time and listened, still hoping to hear Garnet's
returning footsteps.

Then she heard something. A tap on the window. Sandy growled. Could it be
Garnie at last? She jumped up and pulled aside the curtain.

It was not Garnie. She saw a strange face pressed close to the glass.

"Let me in," a voice said. "I have something for you."

She could hear clearly for the casement was not quite closed at the top.
She hesitated. Then the man took some thing from his pocket and held it
close to the window. It glittered and sparkled as it caught the light
from the room.

She recognised it in a moment. It was her mother's diamond star. And then
she recognised the man. He was Gaston Bidaut, Adelaide's husband. He had
shaved off his beard.

"I want to tell you about it," he said.

Sandy was out of his basket barking. She picked him up to quieten him.
Should she let the man in? He could hardly mean her harm. She had Sandy
and close at hand was the bell that would summon help. She was no coward.
She nodded and moved to the door. Then she opened the outer door and he
slipped in. He went straight to the table and put the star and the
ear-rings on it.

"She gave them to me," he said.

"Tell me." She spoke for the first time and no vestige of fear remained.

"You are Pearl, the one she liked. I saw you at your window the day I
came here."

She nodded and with a wave of the hand invited him to sit down. She sat
too, Sandy in her arms. What ought she to do? These were the gems they
were looking for; this was the man they wanted to question.

"I know they are seeking me," he said, as though reading her thoughts. "I
heard the wireless. They think I might help them, but I can't. And if
they found those diamonds on me it would be proof I killed her. I know
the police--just laying a trap." With his beard he seemed to have shed
his French mannerisms. A help no doubt if he was in hiding.

"Why did you come to her?" she asked.

"She was my wife. I wanted her. That Jasper tried to trick me, but my
friend the picture dealer gave me his address. I found her and asked her
to come back. She refused. She said she had money and she preferred to be
alone. I said I would open a shop in Paris and she should have everything
she wanted. Still she refused. We argued, but it was no use. Then, as I
was going, she put the diamonds in my hands. 'Take these,' she said,
'they have brought me bad luck. They will pay you for what you lost on
me.' I did not want them, but she insisted. Now they would bring me bad
luck."

Pearl was silent for some moments. Then she said--"Why not take them to
the police and tell them what you have told me?"

He gave a short, bitter laugh. "Mon Dieu! would they believe me?"

"But they will catch you."

"If they can! I have friends. And anyway the diamonds are not on me. I
have returned them."

"I must take them to the police."

"But why? They were hers, she gave them to me. They are mine; I give them
to you. They are yours."

"I do not know that I want them." That was true. She had loved that star,
but the charm was gone. "I must take them to the police," she repeated.

"I cannot prevent you."

"And that means telling them you brought them."

"I cannot prevent you," he said again. "Perhaps in the morning, and you
will tell them all I have told you."

What must she do? Pearl was almost too tired to think. It was all so
unbelievable; yet she believed him.

"Tell me," she said slowly, "did you do anything either by actions or by
threats to bring about her death?"

"Mon Dieu! No! I swear it. At one moment I was tempted to seize her and
choke the life out of her. But what good would that do? No! I said,
'Think it over, Adelaide. Your home is with me. I will wait for you.' She
was well when I left her. They said she was well all the next day. She
gave me the diamonds of her own free will. I did not know she had them. I
did not want them. His gift! But I thought perhaps she would come back
for them. Now she never will."

He stood up.

"I did not touch her and I pray that God will punish the devil who killed
her. I ask for no promise; you must do as you see right. Goodbye, little
friend."

He strode to the door and passed into the night. She felt utterly
exhausted. What ought she to do? Should she--could she--tell or telephone
anyone? It would mean more and more questioning. She could not face it.
Not yet. She must try to sleep.

17: Garnet's Return

NEITHER Ruth nor Roger was addicted to the vice of unnecessary early
rising. They liked the infant Penny to be brought to them before they got
up in the morning. They played with her and her toys and heard the eight
o'clock news on the radio. They tried to judge the effect on her of the
various brands of music the B.B.C. put over, but were as yet unable to
decide as to her preferences. Thus it happened that they had only started
their breakfast when Chief Inspector Grimsby got through on the 'phone.

"Rather startling news," he said. "I thought I would let you know."

"The lipstick been analysed?" Roger asked.

"Not yet. The doctor was away yesterday but I can tell you there is
enough on the mouth to make a test possible. We may, however, not need
it. Things have taken a new turn. We have found Garnet Michelmore."

"Is he home?"

"He never will be. He is dead."

"Dead? How did he die?"

"Suicide. Not a doubt of it. And in my opinion that clears up the other
matter too. He poisoned Adelaide and was then overcome with remorse and
took his own life. Such things have happened before. It accounts for the
queer way he talked when I was interrogating him. The soul that sinneth
shall die--that sort of thing. Being a parson it got him down. I daresay
my questions made him think a bit too."

Grimsby spoke with some complacency. He had reached a conclusion that
satisfied him. Roger was deeply shocked. He had quite a liking for the
young curate and was far from thinking the matter could be as simple as
the detective supposed.

"Why do you think he poisoned Adelaide?" he asked.

"For the money, of course. His share would be about twenty thousand,
wouldn't it? Parsons are pretty much as other men when it comes to
handling the cash."

"Yet you say he killed himself immediately after, before he touched a
penny."

"Remorse. He was crackers."

"Doesn't sound very convincing," Roger said. "Can you give me any
details?"

"He drowned himself. There is a deep pond halfway between here and
Torbury. Fender's Pool they call it. A bit off the ordinary track. Early
this morning one of our men passing that way saw a bicycle leaning
against a hedge, near the water. He examined the bicycle and found it
belonged to the Reverend. We had a description of it. He also noticed
footmarks from the bike to the water's edge."

"One set of footmarks?"

"Only one set of footmarks. Being a sensible fellow he didn't disturb
anything but got help. The pond was dragged and the body pulled out.
Heavy stones in the pockets to make sure!"

"No head injuries or anything like that?"

"Nothing of the sort. No marks of foul play. Just suicide."

"Any papers on him giving a reason?"

"Not a thing. Nor is there anything in his rooms. We reckon he had been
in the water for the best part of forty-eight hours, but that is up to
the doctor. No need to worry now about lipsticks!"

Again Grimsby sounded pleased with himself. He was probably not more
callous than others of his calling but he would not be sorry to clear
things up without outside help.

"I do not agree," Roger said firmly. "It may be suicide. It no doubt is
if what you say is correct. He was a neurotic man and had much to upset
him. There is no evidence he was a murderer. It will take a lot to
convince me of that. You would have to show not only why he did it, but
how. Failing the lipstick I see no other explanation. That test is more
than ever necessary."

"You shall have your test," Grimsby said, not too graciously. "But it is
more important to know who did it than how. I reckon this is as good as a
confession."

"Knowing the man and without further evidence I definitely disagree,"
Roger replied.

They rang off. Having heard part of the conversation Ruth wanted to know
the rest. He told her. She, too, was shocked and distressed.

"What a series of tragedies," she said. "First Mr. Michelmore, then
Adelaide and now Garnet. I can believe Garnet killed himself but not that
he killed anyone else."

"I feel that way too," Roger said. "What ought we to do about it? I
suppose the body has been taken to the mortuary. I wonder if the family
have been informed. I expect they have, as Grimsby said there had been a
search in his rooms and no papers were found that threw any light on the
matter."

"Poor little Pearl!" Ruth murmured.

"Yes. I am sorriest for her. It is difficult to see how we can help but I
think we should go in and offer."

Ruth agreed, but before they could do anything they saw Pearl enter their
garden and come to the front door. They both went to meet her. She was
looking woefully pale and unhappy. She had slept little that night and
the morning had brought tidings of the new tragedy. Ruth held out her
arms to her.

"You have heard?" Pearl faltered.

"We have," Ruth said, as she kissed her. "We are so very sorry for you.
Is there anything we can possibly do? Would you care to stay with us here
for a little while?"

The girl did not answer her.

"I have a letter from Garnie," she said to Roger, finding it difficult to
control her sobs. "He asks me to show it to you."

She produced a letter bearing a Norwich postmark and handed it to him.

"Does Inspector Grimsby know of it?" he enquired as he took it.

"No. He had gone before the postman came and Garnie does not say anything
about letting him see it."

"Let us go in," Ruth said. "I do not believe you have had any breakfast.
Some hot coffee will do you good."

They went back to the breakfast table. Pearl would not eat anything but
she did drink some of the fragrant coffee. Roger opened and read the
letter. It was dated two days before.

'You will probably know what has happened to me before you get this,’ it
began abruptly. ‘I am sending it a friend to post to delay it for a day or
two. I write it to you, little sister, as I think you are the only one
who will understand. You knew my hopes and ambitions, though ambitions is
perhaps the wrong word as I sought to attain them in all humility. I
thought I was chosen to be God's instrument, to do good work for Him. But
I was wrong and I cannot go on. It would be impossible for me to tell,
others how to live when I am a thing of evil myself. In sin did my mother
conceive me. Can I preach to others when I myself should be a castaway?
The wages of sin is death. How true that is! First our father, then
Adelaide. When lust hath conceived it bringeth forth sin and sin when it
is finished bringeth forth death. These are the words of Holy Scripture
and we are told the iniquity of the fathers may be visited upon the
children.

'At first I thought I might continue my work, but how could such a one as
I teach morality and godliness to others? The spirit of a man will
sustain his infirmity, but a wounded spirit who can bear? It is better
that I should see my Maker face to face and He in His mercy may set me a
task not beyond my strength, perhaps in some other happier world.

'Do not think I blame others, but there is a curse on me. I am sorry to
add to your sorrow, little Pearl. My last words shall be a prayer for
your happiness. Show this to Major Bennion and if you think well tell him
all our story. He may understand. I have written to Mr. Watson with my
Will. Half of what I possess or shall possess I leave to the Church where
I worked, that someone else may perhaps reap where I tried to sow. The
other half I give to you.

'Your loving brother,

'G.'

Roger read the strange letter through twice. Was it the raving of a
madman? Hardly that. It was the coherent writing of a man obsessed with a
wrong idea. An apt pupil of the Bible could give text for text to show
how wrong he was. Garnet had seen things only from a distorted angle. The
balance of his mind was upset, there was no doubt of that.

"You have read this?" he asked Pearl.

"Yes," she said.

"Do you understand it?"

"I think I do," and the tears again began to flow.

"He says you may tell me all the story." Roger spoke very gently.
"Perhaps you would rather leave it to some other time. We know how
distressed he was when he knew your father and Adelaide were not married,
and then there was the shock of her death. He was a man unusually
sensitive and the strain of it was too much for him. It calls for our
deepest sympathy, both for him and for you. That sympathy you have."

"But--but it was not that," she whispered.

Roger did not reply. If she had more to tell it must come from her
voluntarily. Ruth thought the same.

"Tell us later, dear," she said, "when you are feeling better."

"I--I must tell you now, because there is something--something I want to
ask you."

Neither of them replied. In a few moments there came the secret she had
hoped to keep, the secret which had weighed so heavily on her brother and
which, in part at least, explained his letter. But first Ruth said:
"Would you rather I went away and you told Roger?"

"No, please stay. It is the same if I tell you both."

"Not entirely. We do not always tell one another everything, do we,
Roger?"

"Not where other people may be concerned," he said.

"It--it is just this. Daddy and Mummy were never married either. That is
what Garnet means."

The words were only just audible. For some moments no one spoke. It
seemed hardly credible, yet she would not have said it unless convinced
of its truth.

Then Roger asked: "How long have you known this--about your father and
mother?"

"Only a few days. When Jasper told us about Daddy and Adelaide we said
some unkind things to her. Garnie said he could not live in--in a house
of sin. She was very angry and told us we were worse than she as we
were--were illegitimate. Daddy had told her so."

"Do you believe it?"

Pearl nodded. "We knew nothing about their marriage. We never thought
about it. We supposed they were like everyone else. But that was why
Jasper went to London--to search the records. There was no record of a
marriage but he did find something else. She had assumed his name. Daddy
had settled money on each of us to make us safe. Adelaide told me
afterwards he did not marry because his sister had--and it broke her
heart. But Daddy was good; Mummy was almost perfect. Which is more
important, love and loyalty or a church service?"

"The church service is the best way we know to ensure love and loyalty,"
Ruth said softly.

"But is Garnie right? Is there a curse on the children if--if their
parents are not married? Is it wrong to live together in love and unity
without marriage, but right to marry and change husband and wives every
few years as some people do?"

She was speaking more easily now that her secret was told and she could
reveal her heart-searchings. Ruth glanced meaningly at Roger. She was
thinking of what Adelaide had told her of Pearl's own problem: of her two
suitors, one of whom was married. Roger understood; he had not been
entirely unobservant.

"Those are not easy questions to answer," he said. "Marriage is ordained
both by the law of God and man. But I think you are chiefly concerned
with Garnet's idea of a curse on the children of unmarried parents. Are
they more likely to go astray than others?"

Pearl nodded. "Would it matter if they did? Might it not be expected of
them?"

"A lot would depend on how they had been brought up, and how and when
they knew the truth. A psychiatrist might give a better answer than I
can. I believe it was your mother's wish that Garnet should go into the
Church?"

"Yes, she wished it very much."

"We do not know a lot about pre-natal influences, but I can imagine that
a woman like your mother would grieve, perhaps secretly, that her baby
should be born out of wedlock. That grieving might have an influence on
the child. I imagine her desire that he should go into the Church was in
a way an act of expiation on her part. There is little doubt that Garnet
was morally more sensitive than most people and that undoubtedly led to
his unhappy end."

"Then there is a curse on us?"

"I would not say that at all. If there is the influence I suggest it
would probably be strongest in the case of the first-born. But if a child
born in that way also had an illicit union, and had children, their moral
sense might get less and less with each generation. I would rather put it
that the child is blameless, but it should be more than ever on its guard
to marry honestly and with someone equally clean and honest."

"Thank you," Pearl said slowly. "I think I understand."

"There is something I want to see to," Roger said in a different tone.
"Why not stop for a while with Ruth? She can help you more than I can and
Penny has been missing you."

"I would love to see her," Pearl replied, with a faint approach to a
smile.

"But there is another thing," Roger remembered. "What are we to do about
this letter?"

"How do you mean? I thought after you had read it I would burn it."

"That you must not do. There will be an enquiry into the cause of your
brother's death. This letter may throw light on it."

"You mean--the whole story--will have to be told?"

"Not necessarily. If the Coroner sees the letter that may be enough. He
does not cause pain to others if it can be avoided. The trouble is that
at the moment Inspector Grimsby thinks Garnet may have killed Adelaide
and destroyed himself in a fit of remorse."

"That is wicked, impossible!" Pearl cried. "He didn't, he couldn't!"

"I agree with you," Roger said gravely, "yet the letter by itself might
lend colour to the idea. The fact that his father did not marry Adelaide
would not explain his utter abasement and his curious language. We might
have to explain what he meant by the whole story. The truth about his own
parentage is the clue to his mental distress."

The girl sat silent.

"The letter is yours," Roger went on. "I would do all I could to prevent
it being published in any way, but it might be out of our power. You must
decide."

Still she made no sign.

"We see how deeply the truth has grieved you and we know its terrible
effect on your brother. How did Emerald and Jasper regard it?"

"We must think of Garnie," she sobbed. "No one must imagine such awful
things of him. You must do what is right."

"I will. You are a brave girl and I think your secret will be safe."

Pearl opened her bag for another handkerchief. "Oh," she said, "I had
forgotten. I was meaning to bring you this before the letter came."

She placed the something on the table. They gazed at it with
astonishment.

"The star and the ear-rings!" Ruth said.

"Where did you find them?" Roger asked.

"I did not find them. Adelaide's husband brought them to me last night."

She repeated as exactly as she could all that Gaston Bidaut had said to
her in their strange conversation.

"You do not know where he came from or where he went?" Roger asked.

"No. He said he was with friends. He looks different without his beard.
Ought I to have done anything?"

"The police might have, though I doubt it. He would probably have been
well away before they could have got much of a move on. I think he was
very foolish."

"You do not believe his story?" asked Ruth.

"It is quite possibly true. What do you say, Pearl?"

"I believed him," she answered. "He thought having the diamonds would
look suspicious, so he gave them to me."

"That is why I say he was foolish. The police are bound to get him,
either here or as soon as he reaches home. The diamonds do not prove much
one way or the other, except that he was frightened. But it is rather
odd--"

"What is?" Ruth enquired, as he paused.

"It has only just occurred to me. They would probably have been his,
whether Adelaide gave them to him or not--assuming of course that he was
not responsible for her death."

"How so?"

"We are told she made no will. I do not suppose she did. She remained
Bidaut's wife although she went off with another man. Bidaut would be her
next of kin and so would inherit all her personal belongings."

"But Mr. Michelmore's will--" his wife began.

"He would get nothing under that; but her personal effects, things she
owned, things he gave her, would pass to her husband. It may seem
ludicrous but unless I am much mistaken that is the law."

"I do not want his diamonds," Pearl said.

"They were his. It is a perfectly valid gift."

"If I had them I would pay the others for their share. And I do not want
Garnie's money. Money can be a curse."

"No need to settle anything in a hurry. We must let Grimsby know the
diamond chase is over. Now I must be off. Goodbye, little Pearl." He
stooped and kissed her. "You have had a very very sad time, but better
days will come."

He waved to Ruth and was gone.

18: Love Tangles

ROGER strode briskly across the fields to Torbury. He was not looking for
Pender's Pool where Garnet Michelmore's body had been found. There would
be no point in that. The bald fact as stated by Chief Inspector Grimsby
and confirmed by the letter Pearl had received left little room for
doubt that the unhappy curate had destroyed himself. But the question why
he had done so was still open to possible discussion.

That it was an act of remorse for having poisoned Adelaide Roger did not
for one moment believe. It seemed beyond contradiction that the shock of
hearing of his own illegitimacy was the main cause of his untimely end,
not entirely surprising in a man of his temperament. Had he discussed the
matter with some older, more clear-minded person, the tragedy might have
been averted. Being what he was he might have felt impelled to leave the
Church, but after a time and a change of scene he could probably have
found other useful work to do.

The problem Roger wanted to clear up was whether that was the only cause
for what he had done. That he might be subject to mental torture and
remorse was all too probable, but a crime for the sake of the money was
quite out of character. Adelaide was the only person who knew of his
parents' shame (as he would regard it) other than the members of the
family. If he silenced her, no one else could become aware of it. Would
he destroy her and then do away with himself for that reason? It might be
remorse, or it might be all of a set plan. Sacrificing himself for the
good name of the parents and their children.

But there might be a reason of a totally different character. He
remembered the strange story Garnet had told him about Binnie Howes. Some
men might have been indignant at the offer of the girl's charms, some
amused, some might have taken advantage of it. The young curate, intent
on his spiritual work, had been seriously upset. Had the episode, with
its implication of failure in his high purpose, contributed to his mental
disturbance?

Roger had given him the best advice he could, but he had heard no more on
the matter. Had the temptation been repeated? Had it been yielded to?
Were that the case bitter remorse might indeed have followed. There have
been many instances where indulgence in wrong-doing has brought swift and
direful penitence. Satiated desire followed by self-loathing. The wording
of the letter could have such an interpretation. That was the problem he
wanted to dispose of.

The only person who could answer the question was Binnie herself. It was
not an easy one to ask, but Roger thought if he saw the girl he might be
satisfied on the point. He meant to keep his promise to Pearl and do his
utmost to prevent the family secret being published, but he wanted to be
sure the case he might put to the Coroner was entirely true.

He took the shortest way to her father's farm and by good fortune he met
her in one of the fields. She was carrying a basket containing
vegetables.

"Miss Binnie Howes?" he asked, raising his hat.

"That's me," she said, eyeing him curiously. She was fresh-coloured and
plump, of the type well described by the old-fashioned phrase, a buxom
wench. Rather fully developed for her years.

"I want to ask you one or two questions and hope you will not mind
answering them."

"Oh--and who may you be?"

"My name is Bennion. I live in Beckford, but only for the holiday season.
I do not suppose you have heard of me. Mr. Garnet Michelmore was a friend
of mine."

"Oh--indeed!" Her tone was defensive. "What about him?"

"I believe at one time you had--shall we say--a little trouble with him?"

"I don't know what you mean." Her rising colour belied her words. She
tossed her head and turned as though to leave him.

"Don't go, Binnie. I may have news of him for you."

"What news?"

"I fear it is bad news. He is dead."

She faced him again. "Dead? Is that true?" She had a pleasant voice with
something of the accent of the county, though she had been to a good
school. There had been no time for the ill-tidings to spread and she was
obviously startled by what he said. At first she seemed hardly to realise
its full significance. "Is that why he didn't come to the meeting last
night?"

"I am afraid it is. His body was found in Pender's Pool early this
morning."

"He--he fell in?"

"Or he threw himself in. The police believe it was that."

The words appeared to stun her. For some moments she was silent. Then she
whispered incredulously, "Why should he do it?"

"There will of course be an enquiry. He told me what happened one night
when you were at his rooms."

"I don't know what you mean," she muttered again, staring at him but
making no move to go away.

"I think you do, Binnie. It was that night when you remained after the
other girls left. I do not suggest it had anything to do with the death,
but I want to be sure."

"How could it?"

"I do not like asking the questions and I know it is unpleasant for you.
But he came to me for advice and I want you to tell me the truth. Did
anything of the same sort happen again? Did he take advantage of it?"

The warm colour still flushed her cheeks. He would not have approached an
ordinary girl in such a way, but if Garnet's story was true she was an
exceptional case. She was hesitating. He could read her thoughts. Should
she tell the truth or should she still assert she did not understand what
he meant?

"If I tell you," she said at last, "who else will know about it?"

"No one," Roger replied. "It may make it easier for me to clear his name,
that is all."

"No need to clear his name. He was as near a saint as no matters. I
admired him a lot, but I was daft. I had fallen out with Jim Abbott and I
thought if I could get Mr. Garnet, Jim would feel small."

"Jim Abbott being your boy friend?"

"That's right. His father has the farm next ours. Mr. Garnet had been
talking of loving one another and I thought any man--But I was wrong. He
was different. I was angry at first and meant to get my way. But it never
happened again and I made it up with Jim."

"It never happened again?"

"Never. We hardly spoke. Jim and I made it up and we are getting married
in a few weeks. Dad is pleased and meant to tell Mr. Garnet last night
and arrange about our being called in church. I hoped he would marry us.
But he didn't come. If--if he drowned himself, why did he do it?"

"He had many worries that people do not know about. I am glad that was
not one of them. If you have told me the truth you have nothing more to
distress yourself about."

"It is the truth. Honest."

"I am glad. I hope you and Jim will be very happy. I am sure that would
have been his wish too. There was no other young lady he was interested
in?"

"None at all. Some were interested in him, but he thought parsons should
not marry."

"You did not agree with him?"

"Well, parsons are men, aren't they? But he was different." As Roger
walked home he thought over what she had told him. She was really a
simple girl, primitive perhaps in her instincts, and he was satisfied her
story was to be believed. She would probably be a good wife; what her
people might call a good breeder. He could picture her surrounded by a
family of young children, getting stouter but enjoying life.

When he reached Oldways, Ruth told him Pearl had just left. They had had a
real heart to heart talk and she thought she had been able to comfort her
a little.

"She is very distressed about Garnet," Ruth said. "She thinks he set
himself a standard of life it was hard to live up to and the news of his
parentage made him despair of doing it."

"She is probably right. Has she any ideas as to Adelaide's death?"

"No. That worries her too, but we talked most of the time about herself.
I am glad you said what you did about a clean marriage. I believe she
loves Peter Skelton but Arthur Dixon rather fascinates her and wants her
to go away with him. She was more inclined to listen to him when she knew
of her father's irregular life. But I told her if a man deserted his wife
for another woman, there was no surety he would not desert her too, after
a time. The trouble is, Peter is not assertive enough, and there is the
question of her money. He is rather quixotic about that, while she thinks
the Adelaide trouble and Garnet's unhappy end make her unfit to marry a
doctor in a place where the people know about it."

"Let them marry and practise somewhere else," Roger said. "The money will
make that easy. Peter is a good fellow. I must ginger him up a bit next
time I see him."

19: Battle Royal

ROGER was to get the chance of gingering Peter Skelton sooner than he
expected. While he and Ruth were at lunch a message came through that
Grimsby was to be at the police station about three that afternoon and
would be glad if Major Bennion could meet him there.

Before he set out Roger had a talk with Ben Orgles.

"Care to do a bit of sleuthing, Ben?" he asked.

"Rather out of practise," Ben grinned, "but I'll do my best. I try to
keep my wits sharp by reading detective stories."

"Find them a help?"

"Not at first, sir. They riled me; the cops were always such mugs. But
then I got the hang of it. I read the last chapter first and that puts me
upsides with the Colonel."

"What Colonel?"

"Colonel Doyle. His Shylock 'Olmes is still the best of 'em, but they
know from the start who dunnit. Now I know too, so we start fair."

"Something in that," Roger said, "though I do not commend it. But this is
rather different. A man named Victor Gore-Black is courting Miss Emerald,
next door. Perhaps you have seen him. I want you to find out all you can
about him and whether he is the sort of fellow a decent girl should
marry. He writes detective stories and he also works for the East Anglian
Weekly Recorder. Another man, working for the same paper, apparently has
no very high opinion of Gore-Black. His name is Inglis or Ingram. If you
could get hold of him you might learn something. I cannot tell you much
more; it is up to you. All expenses paid, but don't get into mischief."

"Trust me, sir," Ben said with his usual beaming smile. "It's as good as
a holiday. I'll start first thing in the morning."

Roger set out for the police station. He had not gone far when he met
Peter Skelton.

"Hullo, Peter. Where are you off to?"

"I have just heard about Garnet Michelmore," the young doctor said
soberly. "I was going to the house to say how sorry I am."

"Particularly for Pearl?"

"Well, yes."

"You are in love with her?"

"I always have been, but I know it is hopeless."

"Don't be such a dumb fool," Roger did say dumb though it might have
sounded like something else. "I know about the money, but if a girl loves
a man that does not count."

"But--" Peter began.

"I know. You want your silly pride to drive her into the arms of Arthur
Dixon."

"Heavens, no!"

"That is what you are doing. Be a man. Stand up to Dixon and tell Pearl
you mean to marry her. Go in and win."

Roger walked on, little thinking how soon his words would have effect or
how that effect would be brought about. When Peter arrived at Sunbay he
found Dixon just in front of him, perhaps on a similar errand of
condolence. He was making for the door of Pearl's flat. The sight was
infuriating. For getting all ideas of professional decorum and
remembering only Roger's words, Peter seized him by the arm and pulled
him back.

"What the hell are you doing?" Dixon demanded.

"If you are calling on Pearl," Peter said, "I will not allow it."

"You will not allow it! You can damn well mind your own business."

"It is my business I hope to marry her and I will not let you try to
seduce her."

"Who the blazes do you think you are? Go and choke yourself with your own
pills."

Dixon stretched out his hand to the bell. Peter pulled him back by the
collar of his coat.

"Blast your impudence!" Dixon cried. Lashing out with his fist he caught
the doctor squarely on the mouth and, slightly off his balance, Peter
fell to the ground. But in a moment he was up again and had seized his
rival round the waist to drag him from the door.

There was a tough struggle. They rolled on the gravel but were soon on
their feet, fighting with their fists. Both were possessed with fury and
all thoughts of propriety were forgotten. Dixon was perhaps the more
scientific boxer but Peter had played rugger and was physically fit. He
rained blows on his adversary, disregarding the punishment he received.

In weight and height there was little between them and each was out to
win. Their battle was not unobserved, though they did not know it. Teague
the gardener, bringing something to the house, watched them from over a
hedge, his wicked little eyes dancing with glee. Never before had he had
a ringside view of such a fight. Old Nan, coming to meet him, saw it from
the other side of the drive. She tried to keep out of sight and had no
intention of interfering.

That was not all. Pearl saw it too. She had heard the voices and had gone
to the window. Through the lace blind she watched every blow that was
struck. She hated fighting, yet she felt powerless to stop them. Perhaps
in some dim way she realised the battle was for her, not only for her
body but for her soul.

Peter was down again and Dixon rushed at him for a knockout blow. But
with a low tackle Peter threw him. They both were soon up and with a
common impulse they threw off their coats for more freedom of action.
Then they were at it more fiercely than before.

Dixon was trying to keep at a distance, to avoid a clinch and to get in
his blows with effect. He landed a heavy one on Peter's eye, but that was
his last success. The young doctor knew what he was after. He retaliated
with a tremendous right, left, the latter on the point of the chin. It
would have felled any man. Dixon was down and out. It would be a longer
count than ten before he knew what had happened.

"Peter, are you hurt?"

Pearl, running towards them, put the question. Peter's mouth was bleeding
and his eye puffed up. His knuckles, too, were the worse for wear.

"Not much," he said. He turned to examine his fallen foe. "He will soon
come round." He saw the gardener approaching. "Let Teague pour a bucket
of water over him and tell him to go home. Pearl, I want to talk to you."

"Come in," she said. "I will bathe your face."

Roger Bennion, unconscious of the breach of the peace for which he was
largely responsible, had continued his way to the police station,
arriving at almost the same moment as Chief Inspector Grimsby and his
assistant, Detective Sergeant Allenby, whom Roger had not met before.

"You were right, Major Bennion," Grimsby said. "The doctor finds the
lipstick contained cyanide and is satisfied that it was the cause of
death. Knowing her licking habit, the woman no doubt put it on thick. Of
course if I had been aware of that I should have tumbled to it."

"Quite so," Roger smiled. Grimsby had to appear infallible to his young
helper, a College man of whom he was secretly a little jealous.

"So the thing now," Grimsby proceeded, "is to discover how the Reverend
Garnet got it and how he conveyed it to her."

"Also how it disappeared after she had used it," Roger added.

"That doesn't matter so much. As to getting it, the stuff is on sale at
all the chemist's and hairdressers' shops. The poison was waiting for him
in the gardener's shed and no doubt he mixed it the way you suggested. At
some time he got a chance to slip it into her bag."

"That is surmise," Roger said. "There is no proof for any of it. It could
equally well be charged against any of the other suspects on your list.
You are arguing that because Garnet committed suicide, therefore he
killed Adelaide. I do not believe it, though it would be a nice let-out
for the actual murderer. I happen to know that Garnet was deeply
distressed from entirely different causes which may well explain his
unhappy state of mind."

"You are not suggesting a young parson drowned himself because his father
took a woman without marrying her?" Grimsby asked sarcastically.

"I am not. It is something deeper than that."

"May I ask what?"

"I will, if necessary, tell the Coroner," Roger said, "but it will not
help you."

"I think Major Bennion is right," Allenby ventured. "We have no proof
against the clergyman that any prosecuting counsel would accept."

Grimsby turned on him angrily. "I know more about prosecuting counsel
than you do, my lad. They don't prosecute dead men!"

"But they, or the commissioner, may want to be satisfied that you are not
just taking an easy way out," Roger remarked, "and letting the actual
criminal escape."

Grimsby resented the suggestion, but recognised the risk. He must not
trip up on the case. "What do you think we ought to do?" he demanded,
still considerably ruffled.

"As I suggested at first, I should search for all the lipstick on the
premises where the family lived, and have it tested. I suppose your
warrants justify that. It is only a chance that it has not been
destroyed, but it should be done. If the murderer managed to get it away
from the room where Adelaide died, he--or she--may think the trick would
never be suspected and so may have kept it."

"Must be a woman. No man would have the stuff."

"We ought to swoop at once before anyone knows what we are after,"
Allenby ventured. "It must be something of the same colour, not the pale
pink kind."

Before Grimsby could snub him, as he no doubt deserved, Roger
said--"Something else I have to tell you. The diamonds have been
returned."

"Who by? Who to? Where are they?"

Roger gave him the story of Gaston Bidaut's night visit just as Pearl
told it.

"Well, I'm damned!" the Inspector exploded. "She had the man we wanted
and she did nothing about it! She did not even mention it to me when I
saw her this morning."

"You told her of her brother's death," Roger pointed out, "and the shock
of that put everything else out of her mind. If Bidaut's story is true,
and there is a good deal to support it, you have nothing against him.
Anyway you are sure to get him if you want him."

"You bet I'll get him! And I will see the girl. I don't like the way she
comes into it all the time. As I said before, she might have pinched the
diamonds in the first place and made up this story as an excuse for
keeping them."

"When you get Bidaut," Roger said, "I think he will confirm her story.
Meanwhile get her lipstick and that of everyone else, including Old Nan's
if she uses it!"

20: The Marmalade Murder

BEN Orgles had assisted Roger Bennion in several of his cases and was
never happier than when called on to do a bit of investigation to assist
his master. Although a born Cockney he fancied himself most as a
Yorkshireman. In a broad check suit and with a heavy (imitation) gold
watch chain across his ample waistcoat, he exuded genial prosperity, with
just a touch of canny caution when the occasion demanded it. It is true
his broad accents borrowed a little from Scotland and Somerset as well as
his adopted county, and sometimes he forgot them altogether, but few were
critical of trifles like that. His rich treacly voice was a help. He set
out for Ipswich full of confidence, though the result of his efforts was
to surpass his expectations.

He made a lucky beginning. Having located the office of the Weekly
Recorder, he looked for an adjacent tavern likely to enjoy the patronage
of the staff. Round the nearest corner, not far from the Butter Market,
he espied the Rising Hope. It was an encouraging name and he decided to
put it to the test.

He entered a bar where at the moment there was only one customer. The
customer was in conversation with a haughty and somewhat florid lady in
charge of the taps. Apparently the talk was not going as the customer
would have wished.

"I am sorry, Mr. Inglis," she was saying very coldly, "the boss says no
more chalking up." That was good enough for Ben.

"Scuse me," he murmured with his beaming smile, "couldn't 'elp 'earing
the name. Be you THE Mr. Inglis?"

The man regarded him hopefully. "I am Bob Inglis," he said. "There may be
others."

"Aye, but not workin' for the Recorder."

"That is true."

"Ain't that marvellous! Same paper as Victor Gore-Black. Or be I
mistaken?"

"You are quite right."

"Eh, that's fine. What'll you 'ave? Maybe you can tell me summat about
him in a friendly way?"

Mr. Inglis promptly asked for a double whisky and Ben echoed the call. As
he took a note from a wallet filled with many more, the haughty lady
promptly supplied their requirements. Mr. Inglis added a little soda and
tossed his off as if it had been water.

"I needed that," he explained. "Had a bit of trouble."

"Then you'll do with another," Ben said genially, not having touched his
own. "Poor stuff these days."

Mr. Inglis almost protested, but he believed in taking his chances. At
Ben's suggestion they moved to a well-worn bench in the corner near the
fireplace, though no fire was burning.

"S'pose you know Gore-Black pretty well," the tempter began.

"I'll say I do," Mr. Inglis replied. "At one time Black and me was like
that." He interlocked the fingers of his two hands to indicate complete
intimacy. "But that was before he wrote his crime stories. Then he got
too big for his old pal."

"Did 'e now?" Ben said. "I've read a few crime stories myself; don't
think I know his."

"Not much miss," was the bitter comment. "In the old days he was Vic
Black and I was Bob Inglis, but when he blossomed out as an author he
became Victor Gore-Black and, you'd hardly believe it, he got the idea of
his first book from me. His best book too."

"Be that a fact? I 'ope 'e paid you well?" Ben said.

"Not a blasted penny, not so much as a thank-you. Put on side and hardly
knew me. Before that we shared the jobs between us. Then he became Our
Special Correspondent and he wrote Our London Letter. I got the odd jobs
I could find for myself."

Ben was a shrewd judge of character. One man had gone up and one had gone
under. Inglis was shabbily attired and his linen none too clean. His
bloodshot eyes told their own story. His enmity for his successful rival
was equally obvious.

"Works in Lunnon, does 'e?"

"Not he. Uses the telephone and sneaks bits from the London papers.
That's the way with most of 'em."

"But his book made brass? Reckon I ought to read it."

"My book really," Inglis said. "‘The Marmalade Murder.’ Sold all over the
world."

"Aye. I must get it. I always read the last chapter first. But maybe you
could tell me."

"That is cheating and it spoils the fun. You should work out the solution
yourself and see if you are right. But I'll tell you if you like."

"Sure I would."

"It was like this. I had an old aunt, a real terror she was, and one day
I saw her making strawberry jam. She poured it into the pots and let it
stand for a bit to cool before she put papers on top and tied 'em with
string. I thought if someone put poison in one of the jars, while she
wasn't looking, it would go on the shelf with the rest and weeks or
perhaps months afterwards she would eat it and pass out. Serve her right
too. The fellow who did it might be hundreds of miles away when it
happened."

"What a plot!" Ben said admiringly. "Why didn't you write it yourself?"

"I might have done," Inglis said gloomily. "He was too quick."

"A wicked shame! How did it end?"

"The hero was suspected because he was staying in the house."

"Aye, they allus are. Go on!"

"A smart young female 'tee was in love with him and she noticed that the
old woman always wrote on the paper cover what it was and when she made
it. Strawberry Jam, April 16, 1954--that sort of thing. She asked who was
there in April that year and so they got him."

"Gradely work," said Ben. He did not quite know what “gradely” meant but
it sounded Yorkshire. "I thought you said it were the Marmalade Murder?"

"He altered it to that and worked out the ending. So I never got a bean."

"Dirty work. But you want another drink."

"Well--if you insist."

Ben went to the bar and brought it back. But Inglis, who had imbibed a
little before his new friend arrived, was sober enough to wonder why this
miracle was happening.

"You want Black?" he asked. "What for?" Could there be anything in it for
him?

"Oop Hooddersfield way an old lady name o' Black died leavin' no will.
Not much brass neither, but it's a question o' findin' who it should go
to. Someone suggested Victor Gore-Black and I coom to make enquiries.
P'r'aps you could tell me where I could find 'im."

Ben believed in the truth, but to hear the truth it was sometimes
necessary to be inventive.

"Worth anything to me if I did?" Inglis asked.

"Nowt," said Ben. "I could get 'im at the office. Did 'e ever mention
Hooddersfield?"

"Never. He is seldom at the office. He has two addresses."

"Two, 'as 'e? Might be worth a quid to save time and get home quick."

"It's like this," said Inglis artfully. "What you might call his official
address is a flat in Prettyman Walk, highly respectable. That's the one
the office knows. But I happen to know he has a little bungalow just
outside the town. No one but me is aware of that and you can draw what
conclusion you like." He winked. "You might learn more there, a lot
more."

"Aye," said Ben slowly; "write down both addresses and the quid's yours."

"A quid each."

"Naw, lad. I can allus go to office And maybe 'e's not the man I want."

Inglis hoped he was not. He did not think he could be, as his former
associate always boasted of his west-country family. Why should he get a
legacy? But a quid is a quid. He wrote down the addresses.

Ben thought his story would have sounded thin to a more intelligent and a
less thirsty man, but he decided to try the bungalow first. Inglis cadged
for another drink but Ben would not be responsible for that. He had Major
Bennion's car for the expedition and made his way towards The Beeches,
Ivybrook Avenue, beside the gentle Orwell. He had little difficulty in
finding it and left the car a short distance away while he went to
reconnoitre.

At first he thought he had come on a fool's errand. The Beeches was
apparently a four-roomed shack like many another and showed no sign of
occupation. The blinds were drawn; no smoke from the chimneys; no milk
bottles on the doorstep. There was a small, well-kept garden in the
front, so it had not been long empty. It did occur to him that Inglis
might have given a false address in the hope of more payment and more
drinks. The whole story might be untrue, or the tenant might be out.
Other bungalows were not far away; he could make enquiries there. Before
ringing the bell he decided to have a look at the back.

Walking softly for so heavy a man, he followed the path to the rear. The
windows there were also curtained, but a light was burning in one of the
rooms. Odd at that time of day.

He went to the casement where there was a chink he could just peep
through. What he saw astonished him.

A girl was in the room. She was still in her dressing gown, another odd
thing. She was probably not ill-looking but the hard, set expression on
her face made it difficult to judge. It was her actions that surprised
him.

She had a cushion in her hand. She opened the door of the gas stove and
put the cushion beside it. She crossed to the table and wrote a few words
on a sheet of paper. She placed it on some pound notes that were plainly
visible under the electric light burning, above them. She went back to
the stove and turned on all the taps. Then, pulling her dressing-gown
around her, she lay on the floor with her head on the cushion.

Ben was not slow to action. Beside the window was a door. He hurled all
his weight against it. The fastenings were flimsy and yielded at the
first impact. He staggered into the room, almost falling. The girl sat
up; she had taken little of the fatal fumes.

"What do you want?" she demanded. "Go away!"

"What do you think you are doing?" he asked at the same moment. "Get up!"

He turned off the gas taps and seized her in his arms and carried her to
the door.

"Who are you?" she asked weakly. "Why have you come?"

His eye had already seen the message on the table. It told him nearly all
he wanted to know. Beside it there was an unused railway ticket for
London.

'I am going, Victor, as you wished. Further than you thought. I shall not
want your money..--Joy.'

Joy! What a name for a girl driven to so desperate an act!

"Listen to me," he said, and he spoke gently when he had a mind to. "I
came to see Mr. Black. I suppose you are Mrs. Black?"

She did not reply. Nor did she struggle. Struggling would not have
availed much in his mighty grasp.

"I came to ask Mr. Black some questions, but you can tell me the answers.
And I think I can help you. You need not be afraid of me."

Satisfied that she was little the worse for what she had thought to do,
he put her in a chair.

"I guess you could do with a cup of tea. Young women generally can most
times of the day."

She sat limply where he had put her and watched him. The reaction was so
sudden, she seemed incapable of word or movement. With unerring instinct
he found the things he wanted; the teapot, the kettle, the tea, the milk
and a cup and saucer. The little place was tidily kept and everything was
where it should be. He filled the kettle and lit the ring on the gas
stove.

All the while he kept an eye on her and he was talking. He had dropped
his Yorkshire.

"You must never give up 'ope," he said. "Never. There was a niece o' mine
about your age. Niece o' the wife's really." (He thought it well to let
her know he was a married man.) "Trouble, my word, she 'ad a peck of it.
Her young man treated her cruel and she thought life weren't worth
livin'. 'The sun is shinin' behind every cloud,' I told her, 'you must
give it time to shine through'. 'S'pose you think you're a guardian angel
or something,' she said. 'Not likely, Peggy,' I told her. 'I'm only yer
silly Uncle Ben, but I can't let a smart young lass like you make a fool
o' yerself over a bit o' trash like 'im.' She began to listen and she
pulled 'erself together. Within a year she was married to as nice a boy
as you'd ever wish to see. Now they 'ave a little nipper o' their own and
are as 'appy as the royal family itself."

Then the tea was made and he added the milk. "Sugar?" he asked as
casually as if it was a normal tea party. She shook her head but he made
her drink.

His story, his niece and the nipper, were entirely mythical, but it was
the best he could do on the spur of the moment to get her attention and
her confidence. He could see she really was pretty now that the drawn
expression had relaxed.

"Who are you?" she asked in a low voice. "Are you from the office?"

"Me a newspaper man?" he said, with his natural beaming smile. "Do I look
like it? Just imagine I'm your Uncle Ben. Or a guardian angel if you like
that better, though I doubt angels are quite my shape. Just tell me yer
trouble and I think I can help. I suppose it's all about this
Gore-Black?"

She nodded. "You know him?"

"Can't say that, but I know of him."

Slowly she seemed to melt, to become more natural. Perhaps after being a
lot alone she was glad to have someone to talk to, someone who seemed to
understand. Her story, told in short jerky sentences, was unhappily all
too similar to many another.

She had been employed as a typist and general assistant in a shop. She
met Victor and he had taken her to cinemas and dances. Then he had told
her he was an author and wanted a typist. He would pay her more than she
had been getting and he had a cottage where she could live and work for
him. After a time he lived with her. She thought he loved her and she was
happy. Then--then he told her he was getting married and she must clear
out.

"The scoundrel!" Ben said. "How long had you been with him?"

"Six months."

"And you not more than twenty?"

"I'll be twenty-one next January. He said he would marry me then, but he
never meant it. He had had other girls--"

She was not weeping. Ben was glad of that. Perhaps her tears had all been
shed.

"Have you any people you could go to?"

"No. He knew that. My mother is dead. I never knew my father. Vic said I
must go today. He gave me--he gave me ten pounds and told me to go to
London. If I was not gone before to-morrow he--he would put me out and I
would get nothing. So I thought--"

"Never mind that. What is your right name?"

"Joy. Joy Austin."

"Now listen to me, Joy. I am not really a guardian angel but I'm not a
blackguard neither. I am what is sometimes called a gentleman's
gentleman. Not much of a gent meself, but he's the real thing. He is
interested in this Black. I will take you to him and if he and his wife
cannot help you, it'll be the first time they've failed. Of course it
means you've got to trust me. Can you do it?"

She looked at him for some moments. Then she nodded. His friendly manner
had not been without effect.

"My wife, she's the best wife in the world, she will help too. Ever been
up in an aeroplane?"

She shook her head.

"It doesn't matter. I was in the Air Force for a time and it teaches you
one thing. Clouds are mostly sham. You fly through 'em and over 'em, and
there is the blessed sun shinin' as bright as ever. Don't forget that.
Now this is my idea: if you think it daft it is better anyway than your
idea."

She was listening and seemed to be taking in what he said. He went
on--"Go and dress yourself proper. Give yer hair a do, but don't be too
long about it. Then pack everything that is yours--only yours, nothing of
his--and we clear out as he said. I've a car round the corner, the
Major's car, not mine, and I'll take you to him and his wife. How quick
can you be?"

"I won't be long."

"Good! And no tricks?"

"No tricks." She almost smiled.

"Good again, and take the money. I don't suppose he paid what he
promised?"

"No. You see--"

"Of course I see. I know his sort." He thrust the notes in her hand and
she went into the bedroom. It had been in his mind to tell her he was
taking her to the house next the one where the girl lived that her Victor
was to marry and where he so frequently called. It presented dramatic
possibilities and appealed to his sense of mischief. But he decided
against it. It might frighten her from coming and in any case it would be
up to the Major. He busied himself repairing the broken door.

She was ready sooner than he expected. She was wearing a neat dark
costume and a long coat. She really was pretty and there was a new light
in her eyes. She carried two suitcases.

"I'll take the bags," he said, "and I've got that note you wrote. Nothing
else you want to write?"

"Nothing."

"Then we'll be off. I s'pose he has a key, but it don't matter."

They were soon in the car, heading for Beckford. They did not speak much.
Joy felt she was starting on a new adventure and she kept saying to
herself, the clouds are a sham; the sun is still shining above them. Ben
was wondering how Major Bennion would accept this new responsibility, but
he did not doubt he had done right.

When they reached Oldways he drove straight in. Roger was in the garden.

"That's him," Ben said to the girl. "Wait a minute; I'd best tell him."

"Had a good time, Ben?" Roger asked.

"Yes, sir," Ben said softly. "You told me to find out all I could about
Gore-Black. I've a little bit of goods in the car that'll tell you more
than you imagine. If it don't stop the weddin' nothin' would."

He gave the essentials of Joy Austin's story. "I 'ope I did right, sir. I
couldn't leave her like she was."

"You were quite right," Roger said. Then he went to the car and spoke to
the girl. "Come in and I will introduce you to my wife. Ben will see to
your bags."

A little later he had another talk with his faithful handyman.

"Congratulations, Ben. It is the first I have heard of your niece and the
little nipper."

Ben grinned a little sheepishly. "Told you that, did she, sir? I had to
say something. It was the best I could think of."

"It has given us a useful idea. The girl must be looked after for a day
or two, but people may see or hear of her. So she is your niece come to
pay you a visit. I have spoken to Bessie and she is quite willing. We
will see what we can do for her."

"Thank you, sit. I believe she is a decent girl really. It is devils like
Black that make 'em go wrong."

"You did so well, Ben, that I have another little job for you."

"What's that, sir?"

"More sleuthing. Jasper Michelmore, as you know, was away in London for
four days when Adelaide died. In fact he did not return until he heard
she was dead. The police checked his alibi and there seems no doubt he
was there all the time. He went to discover the date of a wedding.
Somerset House has these things so carefully tabbed that you can
generally cover all the ground necessary in a morning. Why was he away so
long? He sold a picture too, but that would hardly account for it."

"You mean, sir," Ben said slowly, "it might have been a marmalade
murder?"

"What is a marmalade murder?"

"Delayed action, sir." Ben told of the plot Inglis claimed to have
suggested to Gore-Black.

"It could be that," Roger said, "or there may be nothing in it. He stayed
away until he heard of the lady's death. I want to know why. I will give
you the address of the hotel and other details. It is strictly hush-hush.
And don't bring back any more of your female relations. Our accommodation
is limited."

15: "Can't Harm Him Now."

The death of Garnet Michelmore created a profound sensation both in
Beckford and Torbury, especially coming as it did so soon after the
unexplained mystery of the death of Adelaide Bidaut, to give her her
correct name. But no one except Chief Inspector Grimsby appeared to see
any connection between the two tragic happenings. The young curate had
been highly esteemed and the general view was that overwork, together
with the shock of his reputed stepmother's fate, accounted for his mental
breakdown.

The inquest on the day after Ben Orgles' return with Joy Austin was soon
over. Roger had seen the Coroner in his private rooms. A Mr. Gilbert
Reeves, he had both legal and medical qualifications. He had heard of
Roger Bennion's successes in other cases and was aware that he had
discovered that lipstick was the cause of Adelaide's death, though it had
not yet come before him in his official capacity.

"I want you to read this, sir," Roger said, handing him a letter.

"What is it?"

"It was written by Garnet Michelmore to his sister Pearl just before his
death. She was meaning to destroy it after she had shown it to me. I said
she must not do that, though I hoped it would not be necessary for it to
be read in public."

"H'm. We will see."

Mr. Reeves put on his glasses and perused it carefully.

"Certainly suggests an unbalanced state of mind. What does he mean by
telling you the whole story?"

"That," Roger said, "is the real explanation of the unhappy affair. A few
days before she left for the hotel Adelaide told the family their father
had never married their mother. It was a terrible shock to all of them,
especially to Garnet. In sin had his mother conceived him, as he puts it.
He took his duties as a clergyman very seriously and felt it made it
impossible for him to carry on. He was of course in a highly emotional
state."

"Is the story of the illegitimacy true?"

"I am afraid it is."

"Has Inspector Grimsby seen this letter?"

"No, sir. I was hoping it would be unnecessary for him to do so."

"You know his view of the case?"

"I do. He suggested to me that Garnet poisoned Adelaide to get the money
that under his father's will would be his on her death, and he then
destroyed himself in a fit of remorse. I said the idea was preposterous."

"Why so?" Mr. Reeves looked shrewdly at him.

"Does a man plan a cunning murder for such a reason and the moment it is
successful suffer such remorse? There is absolutely no shred of evidence
to support the suggestion. No doubt Garnet could get lipstick, though no
one can show how or where. The poison was accessible to him as well as to
others, but he had no contact of any kind with Adelaide after he heard
her story. The idea is at utter variance with his character. Another
point--"

"Yes?"

"Is it conceivable that such a man, having committed so foul a crime and
suffering such remorse that he decided to do away with himself, would
have written the letter he did and not have confessed his guilt to save
his brother and sisters as well as others from suspicion?"

"Something in that," Reeves said. "The family do not want their
illegitimacy to become known?"

"Naturally they do not. The parents are dead after a long and happy life.
It would be cruel and could serve no useful purpose."

They discussed the matter at some length. A Coroner has wide discretion
in his own Court and Mr. Reeves had already formed an unfavourable
opinion of Grimsby who, at the previous inquest, had tried to instruct
him in his duties.

"Of course if there is any real evidence put forward," Roger said, "it
will be another matter, but I am convinced there will not be. There are
enquiries afoot that seem likely to establish the guilt for Adelaide's
murder in quite a different quarter."

"I hope you are right. I think the girl, the sister, must produce the
letter in Court. I shall then read it in the light of such evidence as we
shall hear. So far as I can see, it will not be necessary to make it
public. Of course I make no promise."

Roger thanked him and withdrew, taking the letter with him to return to
Pearl.

The Court was crowded when the hearing commenced, the Coroner sitting
without a jury. Evidence of identity was again given by Jasper and
Emerald. Asked if their brother had ever said or hinted that he might do
away with himself, Emerald said no, although he had appeared very
depressed. Jasper hesitated.

"Not definitely," he said.

"What do you mean by not definitely?"

"He was upset when he knew that Adelaide and my father were not married.
He declared he could not live in the house of a harlot. Extravagant
words, of course, but not I think to be construed in that way, especially
as she said she would leave us."

"Did he and Adelaide meet again?"

"So far as I am aware, they did not."

The police described the finding of the body and the doctor gave his
report. Death from drowning, and no external injuries.

The Reverend Forbes Fortescue, the Vicar of Torbury, then entered the
box. The testimony of the white-haired old clergyman carried conviction.
Garnet Michelmore, he said, had assisted him in his work for about two
years. He was admirable in every way but he was impatient to see the
results of his labours. He tried to do too much and to do it too quickly.
His loss would be deeply regretted by his flock.

"I had to warn him," he went on, "that he was doing too much and was
heading for a breakdown. But he would not spare himself. 'The zeal of thy
house hath eaten me up,' the Psalmist said, and that can be very true.
Any additional emotional strain might certainly have been too great for
him."

He wiped his eyes. The Coroner thanked him and Pearl was called.

She was dressed in black and looked a sad little figure as she faced her
ordeal. She answered questions in a low but clear voice.

"I believe you had a letter from your brother?" the Coroner said.

"I did."

"Will you let me see it?" It was handed to him. "When did you receive
it?"

"About an hour after--after I heard of his death."

"You are sure it is in his handwriting?"

"Quite sure."

There was a tense silence in the court while he read it, for the second
time.

"It is not necessary for me to read this aloud," he pronounced at last.
"It is the writing of a mind distraught. Are there any other witnesses?"

The question was to the local superintendent of police who was in charge
of the proceedings.

"No, sir," was the reply.

"Then I find that the deceased, Garnet Michelmore, drowned himself while
the balance of his mind was upset."

The letter was handed back to Pearl and the court slowly emptied.

Peter Skelton had been sitting by Pearl and went out with her. Roger
Bennion joined them. Pearl tried to thank him for his help. She asked him
to keep the letter and said the coroner had been very kind. He waved the
subject aside.

"The only possible verdict." Then in lighter vein, he said to Peter. "You
look as if you had been in the wars. Patients refractory?"

"Not patients exactly, sir."

"No. From what I heard Teague was anxious to push a fallen foe home in a
wheelbarrow. A sensation for the street, but you stopped him."

"I couldn't let him do that, sir. We got him a taxi."

"Kind of you. I have also heard that his wife is expected home in a day
or two. So all is well that ends well."

"I hope so," Peter said.

"I can congratulate you both?"

"Not yet, please," Pearl murmured. "Peter understands. We must wait till
all this trouble is cleared up. Then--"

"Then you will settle down happily, somewhere else if not here?"

"I hope so." Pearl said it this time.

"I feel sure your hopes will come true, especially as you both hope for
the same thing. Take care of her, Peter."

"I will, sir."

Roger left them together. Love is the best, sometimes the only antidote
for grief. When he reached Sunbay he met Jasper who appeared very angry.

"Do you know that we are practically turned out of our home?" the young
artist asked.

"By whom?" Roger countered.

"Grimsby and his nit-wits. A swarm of them. They are in my rooms and they
even want to see the girls' handbags. They have done it all before. What
is the big idea?"

"You would wish the person responsible for Adelaide's death detected?"

"Would I? He did us a pretty good turn. But even if I would, how will it
help to ransack our things again and again?"

"They may think there is some clue they have overlooked."

"That would not surprise me, but they will not find it here. We are sick
of it. I know we are all under suspicion in a way, except myself. Lucky I
was in London at the time. Grimsby even suggested Garnet might be
responsible for it all."

"You would not agree with that?"

Jasper shrugged. "Can't harm him now. What was in the letter he wrote to
Pearl?"

"The coroner called it the writing of a distraught mind."

"I know that, but what was in it? She showed it to you, didn't she?"

"Garnet asked her to."

"Why did she not show it to Emerald and me?"

"He did not ask her to do that. She would have destroyed it but I
persuaded her to let the coroner see it. By the way, you were in London
rather a long time, weren't you?"

"What do you mean by that?" Jasper demanded sharply. "I had business to
attend to. I came back directly I heard of Adelaide's death."

"And that lets you out?"

"Doesn't it? Even Grimsby seems satisfied about that. Of course he is too
big for his shoes--and they must be size twelve. I thought it was the
great Major Bennion who would solve all our mysteries for us."

The tone was offensive but Roger answered in his usual quiet way. "I yet
may."

"Then I wish you would hurry up about it. It was beastly enough before. I
had no reason to rush back, had I? Now it is worse. No one really trusts
anyone. Even Pearl hiding that letter. But I may get it from her."

"You cannot do that. She gave it back to me. What did you do with the key
of your flat while you were away?"

"I left it with Emerald in case I had to write for anything. Why?"

"Just curiosity," Roger said.

With that they parted. Roger entered his own house, where Ruth was
waiting for him.

"I have had another long talk with Joy Austin," she said. "I like her and
I am sorry for her. Some girls seem to have such a difficult time from
the start, with others it is easy all the way. It does not seem fair. Her
mother was betrayed by a man under promise of marriage and Joy was the
result. Then the man disappeared. The mother was clever with her needle
and worked very hard to keep them both. They were often hungry, but she
had Joy taught shorthand and typing, then things were easier. When the
mother died Joy got a job but had the misfortune to meet Gore-Black. She
fell for the same old story. I think there must be something in your
theory."

"What theory, my dear?"

"That children born out of wedlock have a weakened moral sense."

"I do not know that I would call it a definite theory," Roger said,
"though we do seem to have come up against a lot that points that way. I
must have a talk with her. What do you propose to do with her?"

"She must stay with us until we go back to London and then I'll see that
she gets a decent job. But I shall keep in touch with her. It is lack of
friends that makes it so hard for such girls. You agree?"

"Of course I agree, my love. You are a real good sort."

"I try to do what I can. I was lucky. Nothing new at the inquest, I
suppose?"

"No. The coroner was very decent. Suicide while mentally upset. But I
think all will go well with your other protégés, Pearl and Peter, though
the engagement will not be announced until the Adelaide mystery is
solved."

"Will it ever be?"

"I hope so. It is a tangle but I am getting some ideas. The proof may
depend on what Jasper calls the ransacking of the home. Of course he does
not know what they are looking for. At least he professes not to."

"You mean unless the lipstick is traced to a particular person, the
villain may escape?"

"One needs a very definite proof to satisfy a jury. It is its
disappearance after use that worries me most."

Later that evening Roger went for a stroll. He could see no lights in the
next door house. Probably Pearl was with the Skeltons. Both the doctor
and his wife were fond of her and would welcome Peter's engagement.
Emerald might be out with Gore-Black and Jasper would no doubt be meeting
congenial spirits. Roger decided to see if old Nan was at home.

He went to the trade entrance where there was a light and was admitted by
the housekeeper herself. He explained there were one or two questions he
wished to ask her. Rather reluctantly he was taken to her very
comfortable kitchen. Teague, sitting cosily by the fireside, his pipe in
his mouth and a cup of tea at his side, started to rise from his chair.

"Don't get up," Roger said. "This is only a quiet little chat. I believe
you have had rather a worrying day?" This was to old Nan.

"Worrying ain't the word for it," she replied. "Those police, a whole
gang of 'em, all over the place. And never a thought for poor Mr.
Garnet."

"They are gone now?"

"Time enough too. The questions they asked! Wanted to know if I used
lipstick! Such impidence. I told 'em I never had. But they wasn't content
till they'd looked in my drawers and searched my 'andbag. I asked 'em if
this was a free country or Russia! I said I was old enough to be their
mother and if I 'ad been they'd 'ave been across my knees learning
manners in a way they wouldn't 'ave for gotten."

Old Nan's indignation was still strong enough to make her unusually
voluble.

"Did they find what they wanted? I don't mean here but in the other
rooms?"

"What did they want, that's the question. They never told me."

"Did they search you for lipstick, Teague?"

The gardener's face cracked into a sort of grin. "I weren't 'ere," he
said. "I don't like the p'lice."

"They are not always popular," Roger remarked, "but we could not manage
without them. When Mr. Jasper was away, did anyone use his rooms?"

The two looked at one another.

"They were locked up," Nan said.

"No sign of life at all?"

"That first night--" Teague began.

"Me and Teague noticed a light up there from the garden," old Nan went
on. "Miss Emerald had the key. She would look round to see all was
right."

"How long was she there?"

"Couldn't say. We went a little way. No lights when I came back."

"That no doubt explains it. I must not interrupt your quiet evening."

"May I ask if you think them p'lice will find out any thing?" Teague
enquired.

"You mean about Mrs. Adelaide's death? It is their job and they do not
often fail."

"I reckon they will this time," old Nan muttered. "My lipstick indeed!"

22: A Small Hole

RUTH and Roger were again at breakfast. She was still faithful to her
illustrated daily, though she regretted its increasing concern with the
divorces of film stars and crime in general. Roger had a more sedate
journal in front of him but his thoughts were elsewhere. He was wondering
when he would hear from Grimsby and what the Chief Inspector and his
assistants might be doing. He hoped they would not rush into action on
insufficient evidence. Grimsby's zeal was not in question but his
judgment might be. He wanted to arrest Adelaide's murderer, and to arrest
him (or her) soon, but it would be a pity if he acted prematurely.

"I see that unpleasant clergyman is again attacking the Queen," Ruth
remarked. "I wonder if in his whole life he will do a quarter of the good
she has already done."

Roger knew to whom she referred and he knew her intense admiration for
Her Majesty.

"What is the trouble now?" he asked.

"The same old story; she owns horses and goes to race meetings. Also she
looks on when the Duke plays polo on Sunday afternoons. Daddy used to say
if people went to morning service it was good for them to get fresh air
and exercise in the afternoon."

"The Reverend Dean was right. Exercise is more godly than a heavy lunch
followed by a long snore. I suppose these dour ministers would be
flattered if one called them obnoxious. They think it bold to attack
royalty; actually it is cowardly."

"I know about John Knox," Ruth said, "but why cowardly?"

"Because, my dear, although we pride ourselves on our right of freedom of
speech, there is one family that has no freedom of speech. That, oddly
enough, is the Royal Family. The tub-thumpers know they cannot answer
back. They may not even express opinions on party politics. They--"

Then the telephone bell rang. Roger ran to answer it. "Chief Inspector
Grimsby here. Can you come round at once? I think I have something that
will surprise you!" He sounded complacent, almost triumphant.

"Right away," Roger said. He repeated the brief message to Ruth. "It
sounds as though we are nearing the end."

"I hope so," she replied. "Yet I am rather frightened at what it may
mean. It is all so terrible."

"Most terrible of all for killers to go free," Roger said.

Grimsby greeted him with a nod of satisfaction on his arrival at the
police station.

"I won't give you the details now," he said. "You will soon hear them.
Bring her in."

Only the Chief Inspector, a shorthand writer and two constables were in
the room. Sergeant Allenby was not present. One of the constables slipped
out, to return a few moments later with Emerald Michelmore.

The girl was bare-headed, wearing an indoor costume. It looked as though
she had walked in from her home, though not voluntarily.

"What is this all about?" she demanded angrily, taking no notice of Roger
Bennion. "I have been questioned again and again. I have signed a written
statement; you have turned the house upside down. Is there no end to it?"

"I think this will be the end," was the detective's grim reply. "Please
sit down. I have to warn you that what you say will be taken down and may
be used as evidence. You can if you wish send for your solicitor."

"What--old Watson?" she said, as she took a chair facing the window.
"What can he know about it?"

"I have asked Major Bennion to be present," Grimsby went on, "as I
believe he is to some extent a friend of the family."

"Are you on my side or his?" Emerald demanded, turning to Roger.

"I would rather say on neither," he replied. "I do not know exactly why
we are here, but I can assure you I am on the side of justice."

"That at least is something," she returned scornfully.

"Miss Michelmore," Grimsby proceeded in his most impressive manner, "I am
dealing with the death of Adelaide Bidaut, known to you as Adelaide
Michelmore. I do not want to go into every detail covered by your
previous statements. I will only repeat that from the first you disliked
the young woman your father introduced as his wife. That is so?"

"We all did."

"You were very angry when, on your father's death, it was discovered she
was not his wife and yet you got no material benefit under his will until
she died?"

"Was it not natural, seeing that she was little older than I am? We all
felt the same." Emerald spoke coolly and in the same scornful manner.
Haughtiness suited her type of beauty. "You have surely been through that
often enough?"

"You were particularly anxious to get your share of the money as you were
thinking of getting married?"

"That is no business of yours," she snapped.

"It well may be. You were in court when it was stated that cyanide was
the cause of Adelaide Bidaut's death?"

"I was; but I know nothing of cyanide. Are you paid by the hour?"

He disregarded the taunt. His turn would come.

"Your supposed step-mother had, I believe, a curious habit of licking her
lips when eating or speaking?"

This from him was new. She did not immediately reply. Did she realise its
possible implications? She seemed to be giving more attention to what he
was saying.

"She certainly had. It was a disgusting habit. Like lizards or snakes."

"So that she would swallow or imbibe some considerable quantity of the
lipstick?"

"I am not concerned with her taste, but it seems highly probable."

"It has now been discovered," Grimsby was most impressive and he slowly
repeated the words. "It has now been discovered and proved beyond doubt
by the most careful analysis that her lipstick was impregnated with
cyanide."

There was a weighty pause. If he was expecting her to show alarm he was
disappointed. She regarded him with the same scornful look as before.

"Are you telling me she committed suicide after all? Or was it accidental
death? Why all this ceremony about it?"

"The poisoned lipstick has been traced to you."

"That is a damned lie!" She turned to the shorthand writer. "You can
underline that. It is a damned lie!"

Then she looked at Roger.

"Do you say nothing when he makes these wicked assertions?"

"I am waiting for the reasons for them," Roger replied.

"I will give them," Grimsby said. "We made a most minute search of the
room where the body was found and we examined everything in it. Our first
thought was of suicide, as it was no doubt meant to be. But we found no
poison. Only two people entered that room after the body was discovered
and before the doctor and the police took charge. Those two people were
your sister Pearl and yourself."

"Trying to drag Pearl into it too!" she exclaimed. "What about the hotel
servants? You permit this, Major Bennion?"

He did not reply. Grimsby picked up a brown-paper parcel lying on the
floor by his side and took from it a long, dark-blue coat.

"You recognise this as your coat?"

She glanced at it. "I do. Where did you get it?"

"It was in your room. You wore it when you left your home and went to the
hotel on being informed of Adelaide Bidaut's illness?"

Emerald's manner was possibly less assured.

"We were in evening frocks," she said. "I believe we put on coats."

"This has been recognised by the hotel staff as the one you were wearing.
Would you deny it?"

"No. I believe it is."

"In that coat," Grimsby said solemnly, "we found this."

From a drawer he took out a small packet and rolled from it the golden
case of a lipstick.

Emerald seemed to recognise for the first time the full seriousness of
the situation. But she remained defiant.

"If you found it in my coat--who put it there? Did you?"

"I did not," was the grim reply, "but I found it. It bears your
fingerprints and its contents on analysis prove to be identical with the
smears on the dead woman's lips, both impregnated with cyanide. Have you
any explanation to offer?"

Emerald was silent. Her face had lost its colour. Every one was watching
her, waiting for her reply.

"A frame-up," she muttered. "Is not that what you call it?"

Then Roger Bennion spoke, taking for the first time a hand in the
proceedings. "You wore that coat that evening?"

"I have said I did."

"Have you worn it since?"

"I generally wear it when motoring."

"Do you use the pockets?"

"Of course I do. For a handkerchief and all sorts of things."

"You never felt that article in it?"

"Certainly not. It was not there."

Grimsby listened sardonically. "I never said I found it in her pocket.
Possibly she is unaware that there is a small hole in her pocket.
Possibly not. It slipped through into the lining where I and my assistant
found it. Either she thought that was a safe hiding-place or she supposed
she had lost it. But there it remained for me to find!"

He looked at Roger triumphantly. He had credited the latter with little
or no help in the matter, which possibly was as well if the girl was to
regard him as impartial. But that no longer mattered. There was the proof
and he, Grimsby, had found it. Roger said nothing. He recognised the full
gravity of the situation.

Emerald looked from one of them to the other. Not so much in anger or
fear but as a fighter counting risks and chances.

Suddenly she gave a cry that put the matter in a new light--or might do
so.

"I withdraw what I said. Now I remember. I did find that lipstick. It was
on the floor. I put it in my pocket as I thought someone might tread on
it. It was done on the spur of the moment and I forgot all about it. That
is the truth."

"Or it is your story till you can think of a better one," Grimsby said
sarcastically.

"It is the truth. This is the first time I have been told it was lipstick
that caused Adelaide's death or I might have remembered sooner. I have
never heard of such a thing before."

"Rather late to think of it now," Grimsby rejoined.

"Not at all," Emerald retorted. "Had you told us what you were looking
for, instead of being so mysterious, I might have helped you."

At that moment the door opened and Detective Sergeant Allenby looked in.

"May I have a word in private with you, sir, and Major Bennion?" he said
to his Chief.

Grimsby was annoyed at the interruption but he knew Allenby must have
some good reason for his intrusion.

"I will send for you in a few minutes," he said. Then he turned again to
Emerald. "That is the best explanation you can offer? You denied all
knowledge of it. You called it a damned lie. Then when you saw that was
useless you had this sudden rush of memory. You pocketed the woman's
lipstick in all innocence and then forgot about it. Do you expect me--or
a jury--to believe that?"

"It is the truth," Emerald replied a little shakily. "As I did not know
there was a hole in the pocket it should not be so hard to believe."

"Take her away," Grimsby said to the constable. "I will see her again
later. You others can go too."

"Have you nothing to say, Major Bennion?" the girl asked, as she was led
from the room. She had appreciated his brief intervention on her behalf
as to the use of her pocket, but it had not helped her much.

"Nothing at present," Roger replied. A few moments later he was alone
with the Chief Inspector.

"Well, what do you think of that?" Grimsby demanded.

"I congratulate you. You have cleared up the point that worried us and
which we might never have solved--how the poison disappeared from the
room."

"I have cleared that up all right," Grimsby said, still taking all the
credit to himself, "but what about her story? Did she think the lining of
her coat was the best place to hide the thing, or was she really ignorant
of the hole in the pocket and thought she had lost it?"

"Either could be true," Roger answered thoughtfully, "or her own story
might be true. I wonder what Allenby has got hold of."

"Nothing that will change my conviction that Emerald Michelmore is the
murderer," Grimsby said emphatically. "I will see him."

23: The Crimson Splash

DETECTIVE-SERGEANT ALLENBY was a smart man with curly hair and a
disarming smile. What he thought of his superior officer was a secret
locked in his own bosom. He knew he must be content to do his job and let
his Chief take the credit for anything achieved. But that is no
peculiarity of the police service. He entered the room, carrying a small
box in his hand. He had an air of satisfaction about him.

"You interrupted at a very unfortunate moment," Grimsby said curtly. "I
had the guilty party, and I might have got a confession, but I thought I
had better hear what you have to say before I charged her. What is it?"

"On the suggestion of Major Bennion, sir, I made a special search of the
rooms of Jasper Michelmore."

"Am I in charge of this affair or am I not? I do not like these things
being done behind my back and without my authority."

"It was hardly that," Roger said. "I chanced to see Allenby and although
I knew you were looking for the lipstick, which you so cleverly found, I
made a certain suggestion to him."

"Go on." Grimsby, slightly mollified, nodded to his subordinate.

"Jasper Michelmore is an artist and Major Bennion thought it might be a
good thing if I examined his palettes."

"Palettes. What are they?"

"Generally made of wood, sir. He squeezes the paint on them and holds one
in his hand and his brush in the other."

"Artists sometimes mix the paint on the palette to get the exact shade
desired," Roger added.

"Well?"

"I went to the studio and at first I could not see any palettes. He has,
of course, been away and apparently has done no painting since he came
back. But I opened a cupboard and saw several of them. At the back,
hidden behind the others, I found this." He opened the box he had brought
and from it he very carefully lifted a piece of wood almost circular in
shape with the usual hole for the thumb. Near the centre was what looked
like a thick spot of paint, crimson in colour.

"I could see it was very like the lipstick we were after," Allenby went
on, "but, of course, it might have been ordinary paint. I tried to find
you, sir, to ask what I should do about it but you were away at the
moment. I knew time was important, so I took it to be analysed. I came
back directly I got the report."

"Well?"

"It is the stuff we are after. The lipstick mixed with cyanide. The same
as on the woman's mouth. Here is the report."

He handed it to them and they read it at a glance. All three of them
stared at the crimson splash.

"This is the actual poison mixture," Grimsby asked, "found in Jasper's
studio?" He was evidently vexed at some of his thunder being stolen but
the importance of the discovery could not be questioned.

"The actual mixture," Allenby said. "No doubt about it."

"The centre of the lipstick had to be removed, mixed with the poison and
then replaced," Roger remarked. "It could have been done anywhere but it
occurred to me an artist's palette would be useful for the job."

"And an artist the man to do it," Grimsby interjected. "You may as well
know, Allenby, that I found the lipstick itself on Emerald. This means
that she and Jasper fixed it between them."

"Certainly looks that way," his assistant agreed. Each was disappointed
that his own great discovery was not the only one, but both could well
contribute to the essential result.

"This discovery is highly important," Roger said, "but something may
depend on when the mixture was made. We know when Jasper left home. Did
he do it before he went away?"

"Sure he did," Grimsby replied. "He mixed it and left the rest to her. He
stayed away until he heard of the death. He could not tell how soon it
would be used."

"It wants a little thinking out," Roger commented. "Your investigations
have established two remarkable facts. The first is that someone mixed
the poison on Jasper's pallet and the second that Emerald picked up the
lipstick on the floor of Adelaide's room. What does it prove?"

"That they worked it together, as I said," Grimsby answered sharply.

"But if Jasper made the mixture, would he have left that tell-tale
splodge on his palette?"

"Why not? Who would think of analysing the dried paint in an artist's
studio? Do you suggest that Emerald did it single-handed?"

"Consider her story. She now admits that she found the lipstick but says
she forgot about it. She could not have foreseen that she and her sister
would be practically the first to enter the room. If she knew it was
poisoned it was a wonderful piece of luck for her to be able to remove
it. But one would have expected her to be more careful with it and to
have made sure it was destroyed."

"You forget the hole in the pocket!" Grimsby exclaimed. "I found it in
the lining. She thought she had lost it and she would not dare to make
enquiries about it."

"I think that too, sir," Allenby added to Roger, glad to support his
Chief. "We have to remember that both parties, if there were two of them,
thought they had hit on a foolproof trick for doing the dirty work. Using
a woman's own lipstick! I have never heard of that being done before."

"Devilishly ingenious," Roger agreed, "whoever did it. May I see the
lipstick? I do not want to handle it."

Grimsby produced it again from the soft paper roll in which he had kept
it. It was encased in the usual gold-coloured metal container. For a
moment they gazed at the apparently innocent object that still had such
deadly possibilities It had taken one woman's life and it might be the
means of bringing another to justice.

"No name or trade-mark on it, unless this means anything," Roger pointed
to an incomplete circle on the rim at the base.

"The letter C," Allenby suggested.

"Looks like it. I am not very familiar with these things but there is of
course the outer case or cover and the inner holder. On which did you
find Emerald's prints?"

"On the outer case," Grimsby said.

"Not on the actual holder?"

"No. On that there were Adelaide's prints. Plenty of 'em. It all adds up.
Jasper prepared the poison, cleaned the case and gave it to Emerald, who
passed it to Adelaide. She used it and Emerald had the good luck to find
it. She knew what it was and would not need to take the case off. Her bad
luck was in losing it."

"And in your finding her prints on it," Roger added. "Would that be usual
after it had been in her coat for some days?"

"They were faint but identifiable," Grimsby replied. "An ideal surface
for taking them."

"I did not know you had them."

"Nor did they," the Inspector said grimly. "Not difficult when they all
had separate rooms; prints everywhere."

"It could support Emerald's story," Roger said thought fully. "She picked
it up with the case on, so Adelaide re-capped it after using it. Emerald
never opened it."

"Good reason not to," Grimsby grunted. "One does not play about with
cyanide. She put it in her pocket and it went through the hole into the
lining. There is no more to say about it."

He was getting a little impatient. There was an indisputable case; why
was Bennion so slow in the uptake, so fussy about details that did not
matter?

Roger sensed his annoyance. He turned to Allenby. "Any prints on this?"
He pointed to the palette.

"Not tried it yet, sir. Brought it straight from tests. Of course we will
have a go at it."

"Jasper's won't help you; you would expect them. If you find others--or
none at all--it will be interesting."

"Why none?"

"You could hardly use a smooth bit of wood for a messy job like this and
not leave finger-marks, could you? If you do not find Jasper's, it may
mean more than if you do."

"You have helped a lot, Major Bennion," Grimsby said testily. "Do you
agree it is either Emerald or Jasper or both of them who are responsible
for the killing?"

"I agree there is evidence, strong evidence, against either or both."

"And remember the motive. That woman stood between them and a fortune."

"I do not forget it. How did they, or either of them, convey the thing to
her, seeing they were not on speaking terms and she kept herself to her
own rooms?"

"Need we go into that?" Grimsby crossly demanded. "When anyone is shot or
stabbed, you seldom get an eye witness!"

"True," Roger said, "but in a case like this you want a reasonable
theory."

"Nothing easier. Emerald could slip into Adelaide's room when she was
asleep. Or perhaps she left her bag about. And there was old Nan. She
hated Adelaide. It would not take much to bribe her to put it on the
dressing-table. I have always suspected Nan had a finger in it. She did
the packing too."

"If Jasper had the poison before the death and Emerald after it," Allenby
remarked, "that seems good enough. I doubt if we can fill in every detail
between. Old Nan denies everything, but of course she would."

"What will you do?" Roger asked. "Send for Jasper and confront him with
the new evidence?"

Grimsby considered this for some moments. It was what he had intended to
do, but he was not sure he did not see a better way. He was annoyed with
Roger's obstinacy but he saw there was a gap and he must try to get over
it.

"I might confront the two of them with one another," he said. "When they
see what we know we may squeeze the truth from them."

"You might have old Nan, too," Roger suggested. "She is the obvious link,
as you said. In fact you might have the whole party: Jasper, the two
girls and their boy friends and Nan and Teague. It would be rather like
taking a hint from the crime stories where the detective assembles every
body and makes them shiver in their shoes, until he finally pounces on
the guilty party--generally with far less evidence than you will be able
to produce."

"That is a good idea," Grimsby said. He rather fancied himself
accomplishing such a tour de force. "It might, be difficult to get them
all here. Arrange it for to-morrow, Allenby, in their own home and have
the palette tried for prints. Meanwhile I will let that girl go, telling
her we have fresh evidence for to-morrow. Give her something to think
about!"

24: Grimsby's Great Hour

IT looked as though the strange and tragic events that started in Sunbay
when George Michelmore introduced his alleged bride were also to end
there. In addition to those whom Roger had mentioned for Chief Inspector
Grimsby's inquisition, two others were present.

All were assembled in the lounge. Pearl and Peter Skelton sat together on
one of the settees, Emerald and Victor Gore Black had another. Both the
girls wore mourning for their brother. Jasper in his corduroy trousers
and tweed jacket sprawled in an easy chair. Old Nan and Teague sat
gingerly on high-backed seats near the window. One of the additional two,
known to them all, was the family solicitor, Mr. Watson.

It had been Roger's idea to ask him. Grimsby at first demurred, but Roger
pointed out that some might refuse to speak in the lawyer's absence and
in any case he would have to hear sooner or later what the evidence was.
If he saw any flaw in it, they might as well know. Roger may have made
the suggestion for his own sake; it should help him to preserve his
attitude of neutrality. Mr. Watson sat at a table with his brief-case and
some paper in front of him for notes.

The other unexpected arrival, a short, stout, clean-shaven, middle-aged
man, was a stranger to most of them. When Pearl went across and shook
hands with him, Roger guessed he was the elusive Gaston Bidaut,
Adelaide's lawful husband. How Grimsby had managed to produce him he had
no idea, but they were soon to hear.

The Chief Inspector sat at the head of the table, looking very
formidable. A shorthand-writer was beside him, opposite to the solicitor.
Detective-Sergeant Allenby was near Teague by the window. Roger had a
seat between the two settees.

"I suppose we can smoke," Jasper drawled, as he lit a cigarette. He
offered his case to his sisters, but they declined. Grimsby looked his
disapproval but he could hardly object to a man smoking in his own home.

"You know why we are here," Grimsby began. "We are concerned with the
death by poisoning of Adelaide Bidaut, better known to you as Adelaide
Michelmore. Since the inquest was adjourned fresh evidence has come into
our hands that will I think clear the matter up. First, however, I will
introduce to you M. Gaston Bidaut, the dead woman's legal husband."

He indicated the stranger, at whom they all looked with interest and
curiosity. If Jasper had recognised him he made no sign of it. Bidaut did
not quite know what he ought to do, whether to rise and bow, or not. He
shuffled a bit in his chair but remained seated, and silent.

"I am making no charge against M. Bidaut. He was apprehended at
Southampton as he was about to leave the country, and was brought here to
assist my investigations. He would have saved himself and us a good deal
of trouble if he had come forward when asked to do so. His presence,
however, is useful as it enables us to clear up one of the complications
of the case. I refer to the missing diamonds, the star and ear-rings,
belonging to his wife."

They were not all aware of what had happened to them and listened
intently. It was perhaps a respite from more serious things. Grimsby
addressed himself to Bidaut.

"I believe you called on your wife on the day before she left her home
for the hotel where she died. Will you tell us about that?"

Bidaut looked a little uncertainly round the room. Perhaps a kind smile
from Pearl reassured him.

"I knew the man she went away with was dead," he began. "Monsieur Jasper
told me that, though he did not say the man was his father. I came to
find her, to take her home with me. I still loved her and would have
forgiven her. She refused to come."

He spoke slowly but naturally, with little gesture. Possibly his brief
stay in his native land, where he had to pass as an Englishman, had
helped in that.

"And the diamonds?" Grimsby prompted.

"She asked me to take them. She said Mr. Michelmore had left her much
money and the diamonds had brought her bad luck. She pressed them on me.
I did not want them but I took them, thinking they might bring her back
to me."

"And then you heard she was dead and we wanted the diamonds--and you,
what did you do?"

"I was frightened. I thought if you found me with them you might think I
had killed her. I live in France and I do not understand your ways. I
decided to give them back to M'selle Pearl, who had been friendly to her.
She will tell you that is true."

He looked at Pearl. So did they all.

"Quite true," she said. "I took them to Mr. Grimsby and told him so."

"Have you anything else to say?" Grimsby asked.

Bidaut shrugged. "I hope you will catch the wicked person who caused
Adelaide's death. I thought I could get home. You caught me. I know
nothing more."

Then Mr. Watson thought it was time he spoke up for a client. "Those
diamonds," he said, "are a free and unconditional gift to Miss Pearl?"

"You have my word. If my wife had any more jewels, they were not from me.
I do not want them. I give them all to M'selle Pearl."

"Deceitful cat!" Emerald whispered to Gore-Black.

Pearl did not hear her. Possibly only Roger Bennion, who knew something
of lip-reading, was aware of the venomous remark.

"I thank Monsieur Bidaut," Pearl said, "but I do not wish to have them.
It would be better if they went to some charity. The diamonds are
different; they were our mother's."

"That settles that," Grimsby said briskly. "I think Monsieur Bidaut
should hear what is to follow, as we now come to the question of his
wife's death and who is responsible for it."

A quiver of tension seemed to pass through the room. It was broken only
by the snap of a lighter as Jasper lit another cigarette.

"As you know," the detective began, particularly addressing Mr. Watson,
"it was shown at the inquest that the death was caused by cyanide
poisoning. There seemed no reason to suspect suicide and there were
several people who gained very substantially by this woman's death. Yet
for some time we could not discover how the poison had been administered.
Now we know. I will ask you to believe that there is ample proof for what
I am about to say, which proof will be duly produced when the Court
re-assembles."

"This is somewhat irregular," Mr. Watson remarked, as he paused. "But I
am listening."

"I think Monsieur Bidaut will confirm the evidence of other witnesses,
that his wife had a habit of licking her lips when she spoke or ate?"

Bidaut looked surprised. "Ma foi, it is true," he said.

"The murderer noticed it too," the detective said grimly. "There is now
no doubt it was murder. Madame Bidaut's lipstick was poisoned and that
brought about her death. Traces of the poison still remained on her
lips."

"For that, proof will be forthcoming?" Mr. Watson enquired.

"It certainly will," Grimsby replied. "Certified analyses by two
doctors." He paused a moment and then, glancing at the two in the window,
he went on: "My suspicions fell at first on Teague, the gardener, and
Hannah Wood, the house keeper, known to most of you as Nan. Teague had
the cyanide in his shed--"

"Everyone knowed that," the gardener muttered.

"Perhaps so, but it may not have been easy for them to get it without
your knowledge. Hannah Wood packed Madame Bidaut's bags for her. She was
the only link between her and the family. She prepared and brought her
food. It is obvious she and Teague, who were on more than ordinary
friendly terms, seeing that they contemplated marrying one another, were
in a position to effect the crime. Have you anything to say about that?"

He glared at them, but neither made reply.

"Very well. From further investigations I am of opinion that your concern
was as agents and accessories rather than principals. But I would remind
you that accessories to crime, especially such a crime as murder, share
the guilt and are liable to very severe penalties."

He paused. Old Nan's lips were pressed in a hard line and her eyes stared
straight in front of her. Teague also was silent. Mr. Watson nodded his
head in a non-committal way. The others were waiting for what was yet to
come.

"I will not pursue that at the moment. We knew that the lipstick was the
cause of death but we did not know who had poisoned it or what had
happened to it after the lady had used it. We now have evidence on both
points. We found the actual lipstick. I myself found it in the presence
of a witness." He paused to give his words more effect. "It was in the
pocket, or rather the lining, of the coat that Miss Emerald Michelmore
was wearing on the night of the murder."

Every eye turned to Emerald. Pale and rigid, she sat stiffly on the
settee, her hands tightly clenched. But she also said nothing.

"As you may know, she and her sister were the only persons who entered
the room where the body lay, other than the hotel servants, before the
doctor and the police arrived."

Victor Gore-Black sprang to his feet.

"I am about to marry Miss Emerald Michelmore," he said warmly, "and I
strongly resent and deny the suggestion that she had anything whatsoever
to do with this affair."

"She does not deny it," Grimsby retorted icily. "She admits it. Here is
the lipstick." He put it on the table. "I can tell you her exact words,
or if she likes she can tell you herself."

Emerald remained silent.

"Say he is lying," Victor urged her.

"She has already said that," Grimsby remarked caustically, "but she
thought better of it."

Then Emerald spoke, a little hysterically perhaps, but she repeated her
previous statement.

"I did pick up the lipstick. It was lying on the bedroom floor. I did it
automatically lest it should get trodden on.

“There is a hole in my pocket and it slipped through. I forgot all about
it. I might have remembered it sooner if I had known what they were
looking for. I had nothing to do with Adelaide's death. Whether you
believe me or not, that is the truth."

She looked with some defiance at the detective. Victor put his hand
reassuringly on hers. Gaston Bidaut watched her with an angry scowl.

"That is her story," Grimsby commented to Mr. Watson. "In her previous
statement she also said she would not have carried the thing about with
her until I found it. But in fact she did not know she was doing so. The
reasonable assumption is that she thought she had lost it. You will note
how fortunate it was for the murderer that the means of the crime, the
weapon so to speak, should disappear from the scene and we should be left
to assume it was a case of suicide. We will leave that aspect of the case
for the moment. Mr. Jasper Michelmore, do you recognise this?"

From its case he lifted out the palette that Sergeant Allenby had found
in the studio, but he held it the reverse way up, so that the red smears
were not visible. All eyes now were on Jasper, wondering what was to
follow. He, however, appeared unperturbed.

"I cannot say I do," he drawled. "I have one rather like it."

"Do you recognise it now?" Grimsby demanded as he turned it over and
showed the deadly stain.

"No better than before," Jasper replied.

"It has your fingerprints on it."

"Then it seems fair to assume it is mine."

"It is your palette," the detective said solemnly, "hidden in your
cabinet in your studio. This paint on it is lipstick mixed with cyanide;
the precise mixture that killed Adelaide Bidaut. We have absolute proof
of that. What have you to say about that?"

"Am I to take this seriously?" Jasper asked, but less flippantly than
before.

"Very seriously, and I warn you that what you say is being taken down and
may be used as evidence."

"All I can say is that I know nothing about it. I was away."

"I suggest it was prepared before you went. You stayed away until you had
the message that it had been effective."

Jasper made no reply. Innocent or guilty he realised the gravity of his
position.

"Where was the key of your studio while you were away?" Grimsby proceeded
ruthlessly.

Jasper hesitated for a moment. He glanced at Emerald. Then he
said--"Naturally I had it with me."

"That may be a very important point," Roger Bennion remarked, speaking
for the first time. "You are not on oath but I hope you will tell the
truth. I put that question to you and you told me you left it with your
sister."

"He did," Emerald said.

"And you returned it to him when he got back?" Grimsby asked quickly.

"Certainly," she replied.

"If she says so, it is no doubt true," Jasper shrugged. "I had
forgotten."

"She did it!" Gaston cried suddenly. "I see it all! Adelaide told me--"

"What Adelaide told you is not evidence," Mr. Watson interrupted coldly.
"She did not know what was going to happen."

"Mr. Watson is of course right," Grimsby said. "Now, Miss Emerald, you
held the key during your brother's absence. How often did you enter the
studio while he was away?"

"Never. I had no occasion to do so."

"Did you prepare the poison that caused Adelaide Bidaut's death?"

"I did not." Emerald spoke more firmly, despite Gaston's blunt
accusation. She realised she did not stand alone, although she had
refused to accept her brother's suggestion that he had retained the key.

"Did anyone hand you that lipstick?" Grimsby persisted.

"They did not. I had never seen it until I found it on the bedroom
floor."

"You admit that you then removed it and so made the detection of the
crime more difficult?"

"I admit I removed it. I was unaware there had been a crime."

"What more do you want?" Gore-Black demanded. "She is obviously entirely
innocent."

"You, Jasper," Grimsby went on, disregarding the interruption, "you admit
that the poison was prepared on your palette?"

"I admit nothing of the sort," Jasper replied. "I said I had a palette
like that and if it came from my studio and bears my fingerprints, I
agree it must be mine. But I know nothing of any poison."

The detective turned suddenly to the woman in the window. "Hannah Wood,
who handed you that lipstick so that you might convey it to your
mistress?"

"No one," she said.

"You packed her cases when she left home; did you put that lipstick in
one of them?"

"No."

"Did you place it anywhere where she might find it?"

"No."

"Very well. I have warned you of the guilt of an accessory." He then
addressed the solicitor, whether or not he was satisfied with his
probings it was hard to tell.

"I think, Mr. Watson, you will appreciate the position. These two,
brother and sister, had a strong motive for desiring the death of the
woman who, while she lived, stood between them and the money they were to
get from their father. Only her intimates would be aware of her
lip-licking habit, which her husband confirms. The poison that killed
her, the filling for the lipstick, was prepared in the brother's studio
on his palette. He then went away to create an alibi until such time as
he heard of her death. The sister, almost the first on the scene after
the death, removed and hid the ingenious but devilish contrivance that
caused it. These facts, together with the analysts' reports and other
evidence, will be produced when the inquest is reopened. I might arrest
them now on suspicion, but I prefer to leave the matter to the jury.
Should either of them attempt to get away, they will be immediately
apprehended. I do not know if you have any comments to make?"

Mr. Watson looked very disturbed. He could not deny the gravity of the
implied charges and could only make a non-committal reply. Perhaps to
demand private interviews with his clients. It would be a matter for
Counsel's advice. But he did not have to decide what he would say. Before
he could speak, Roger Bennion intervened.

"There is another witness I would like to call."

25: The Final Witness

IT was a surprise to them all when Roger said he had another witness.
Some perhaps were relieved. Grimsby was annoyed. He had not achieved all
he had hoped, but he felt he had done his job well and was not anxious
for its effect to be spoilt.

"Who is it?" he asked.

"She will tell you," Roger replied.

He went to the door. Ben Orgles had been waiting out side and departed
quickly when given the word.

"You have brought out many salient features of the case," Roger said to
the Chief Inspector. "I think we may now be able to link them up and
perhaps add a few more."

"Why did you not tell me?" Grimsby demanded. "There is not much we do not
know."

"There is something I only learned to-day."

They had not long to wait. Ben returned, bringing with him Joy Austin.
Ruth had seen to it that Joy looked her best. She was wearing a neat dark
costume, her hair had been carefully attended to and, although she was
pale, her dark eyes and good features would have created a favourable
impression anywhere.

Who was she? What had she to do with the case? All in the room were
asking themselves those questions--all but one. Roger was watching him.
Recognition, anger and fear showed plainly on the countenance of Victor
Gore-Black. He half rose from his seat, then thought better of it and sat
down again. Roger gave the newcomer a chair and stood beside the table.

"Will you tell us your name?" he said gently.

"Joy Austin." She spoke softly but clearly. She was evidently nervous.

"And your address?"

"I have no address."

"But your recent address?"

"The Beeches, Ivybrook Lane, Ipswich."

"Were you living alone?"

"No. With him."

She pointed to Victor, who jumped to his feet.

"I object to this," he cried. "You bring a girl I befriended, a loose
girl, and you want to pry into my private affairs that have nothing to do
with the case. It is monstrous. I call on the Inspector to stop it."

"If you interrupt," Roger said coldly, "I shall have to ask that you be
removed from the room. I thought you might prefer to hear what she has to
tell us, and you can give us your own story afterwards if you wish to do
so."

The tension in the room increased. Grimsby looked undecided but said
nothing. Muttering something about listening to lies Victor sat down.

"How long had you been living with him?" Roger asked the girl.

"Six months," she whispered.

"He had promised you marriage and you were known as Mrs. Black?"

"Yes."

Again a tense silence. Emerald was white with mortification and anger.
She could stand a good deal, but this was too much. The man by her side
had been living with this girl most of the time he had been making love
to her. She edged away from him as far as the settee permitted. She would
have liked to cry out that the girl's story was false, but she felt
forced to believe her and Victor's manner left her no doubt.

"Why did you leave him?"

"He told me to go. He said he was getting married and if I was not gone
in two days he would throw me out, penniless."

"That is a lie!" Victor cried. "I gave her ten pounds." It was a hasty,
foolish remark, for it admitted the truth of their relations.

"I know all about the ten pounds," Roger said, "and I also know about the
ticket for London you bought her. I have it here. My man found her in a
state of despair and brought her to me. But that is not the story with
which we are concerned."

While he was speaking, Emerald got up and moved to the other settee
beside Pearl and Peter.

"Miss Austin, did he tell you whom he was to marry?"

"No. I understood it was a lady with money."

"Let us go back a bit. What were you doing when you met him?"

"I was working for Messrs. Taylor."

"I apologise for asking it, but had you ever lived with any other man?"

"Never." She flushed a little. "I lived with my mother till she died;
then I was able to keep myself."

"What is Messrs. Taylor's business?"

"They are chemists."

"They also deal in toilet preparations, aids to beauty, and so on?"

"Yes."

"Did Mr. Black make rather an odd request to you a fortnight or so ago?"

"He asked me to give him a lipstick."

"Which you did?"

"Yes."

"Can you describe it?"

"It was like many others, but Taylors made it themselves. They called it
Caress. It had a big C on the bottom of the holder. I had some of them
and gave him one."

"Is this it?"

The question came suddenly from Grimsby. He had listened to most of what
had been said with little interest. He was not concerned in these
people's love affairs. Had it been anyone but Major Bennion, he would
probably have interrupted. But when it came to lipstick he began to
realise what it was all about. He produced his own exhibit of the kind
showing the C on the base.

"It was like that," the girl said.

"Did you ask him why he wanted it?" Roger resumed.

"Yes. He laughed and said it was for an old lady friend of his."

"Can you tell us any more about it?"

"I asked him if he had given it to her and he said he thought he would
send it by post."

"Did he do so?"

"Not for some days. He asked if I had any paper with Taylors' heading on
it. I had not, but I gave him the leaflet that is inside the box they
sell them in."

"Did he use it?"

"He asked me to write on the side, 'We hope you will accept this free
sample.' I said I thought he was to give it to her but he said it would
be more fun to post it and tease her about it."

"Then he did post it?"

"I don't know. I suppose he did."

By post! That explained a lot. Grimsby was beginning to see the light,
but would this fit in with the facts he had discovered? Black's face was
black indeed.

"A concoction of lies," he muttered. "No proof for any of it."

Roger disregarded him. He spoke again to the girl.

"Am I right in supposing that this lipstick episode happened some days
before he told you he wanted to get rid of you and bought you that ticket
for London?"

"Yes," she said.

"Thank you, Miss Austin." To the general surprise he added, "I do not
think I have to trouble you any more now. It has been brave of you to
tell us so much. I want to ask Nan a question or two, if she will let me
call her that."

He smiled at the old housekeeper, who made no reply, "Now, Nan," he said,
"I suppose you generally get the letters when the postman leaves them?"

"That's right."

"Can you remember a letter coming for Mrs. Michelmore that contained a
small, hard object that might have been a lipstick, although you of
course did not know what it was?"

"I can."

"What makes you remember it?"

"She hardly ever got letters. She had no friends. It was the only one for
days."

"Which day did she get it?"

"The day before she went to the hotel."

"You are quite sure of that?"

"I wouldn't say so otherwise."

"You never actually knew what it did contain?"

"How could I? She was one to keep things to herself."

"What would have happened to the envelope or any leaflet it may have
contained?"

Nan shrugged. "We burn rubbish most days, or use it to light fires."

"You never told me this," Grimsby interrupted.

"You asked me if she had received a box of chocolates or some such thing.
I said she hadn't."

"Thank you, Nan," Roger said. "That is all for the moment." He turned to
Emerald. "You told us that Jasper left his key with you?"

"He did," he replied.

"And you did not use it to go into his rooms?"

"I had no occasion to."

"Did you part with possession of it at all?"

Emerald hesitated. "I did," she said after a long pause.

"Will you tell us to whom and in what circumstances?"

Again the hesitation. "It was on the day Jasper went away. He put it on
the mantelshelf. Later--in the evening--Victor called and he asked what
it was--"

"This is not true!" Victor cried.

"Be quiet " Roger said sternly. Then to Emerald: "You told him what it
was?"

"I did. He said he had lent Jasper a book. As he had gone away he would
like to get it."

"So he took the key. Did he return it?"

"The next day."

 "You do not know how long he was in the flat?"

"I do not."

Jasper sprang to his feet. "That must be true," he said. "He lent me a
thing called 'The Marmalade Murder.' It was gone when I came back."

"Thank you," Roger said. "I have one more question for Nan. You told me
that on the evening of the day Mr. Jasper left, you went for a walk with
Teague and you saw a light go up in his studio?"

"That's right."

"You thought it might be Miss Emerald, who had the key?"

"But she was wrong," Teague interrupted before she could reply. "I looked
back agen and saw it was 'im." He pointed to Victor. "The curtain were
drawed but not quite close. 'E pulled it back to give it a good swish and
then I see'd 'im. I didn't think no more about it--'im or Miss Emerald,
it were all the same."

"This is a conspiracy of lies," Gore-Black muttered, his face wet with
perspiration. "I deny it all. A conspiracy of lies."

"I think that is almost as far as I can or need take it," Roger said,
disregarding him and addressing the Chief Inspector. "I can leave it with
you. You have a fair and conclusive picture of the whole case, starting
with the acquisition of the lipstick and on to the preparation of the
fatal mixture in the studio and its dispatch by post to the intended
victim. There has been corroboration of details stronger than I expected.
I might add I never suspected Jasper. Whether or not he is tidy in his
habits I do not know, but I could not believe that anyone mixing a deadly
poison on his palette would leave a considerable portion of it there. On
the other hand, another man"--he glanced at Gore-Black--"another man,
taking some risks but relying on the novelty of the fiendish idea, might
think it prudent to leave traces that, if suspicions were aroused, would
incriminate someone else."

"The dirty devil!" Jasper cried.

"It seemed odd," Roger went on, "that you went to town when you did and
remained for so long, returning when you heard of the death. It might
have looked like the creation of an alibi. But I know why you went and I
ascertained that you met old friends of both sexes."

"Things being as they were," Jasper said, "I had no reason to hurry
back."

"Quite so. For somewhat similar reasons I believed the story Emerald told
us. Her removal of the means of death undoubtedly made detection more
difficult, but had she been aware of its deadly nature and been a party
to its use, I am sure that coat of hers would have been so thoroughly
searched that she would have found it and destroyed it."

Then he again addressed Grimsby.

"As to the motive for the crime, you realised that the members of the
family benefited by it, but you possibly overlooked that one outside the
family anticipated an equally large benefit by marrying into it. A
marriage that I trust will not and cannot take place."

"It never will!" Emerald muttered.

"I am glad of it. To some it may have seemed chivalrous when Victor
Gore-Black protested your innocence and affirmed his intention to marry
you. To me it had the reverse effect. Your guilt would have forfeited
your inheritance and all his plotting would have been in vain. He did not
mind Jasper being suspected but not you."

Roger paused a moment.

"There is one further bit of evidence. As I told you, I only received it
this morning and its value has yet to be established. I will ask Ben
Orgles to produce it."

Ben moved to the table, looking more serious than he usually did.

"In accordance with instructions from the Major, I went to The Beeches in
the early hours of this morning to see if all was safe and in order. It
was empty, for Mr. Black 'as another 'ome near the newspaper office. I
leant against the back door and it burst open. I 'ad noticed when I was
there before that the fastening was weak. I looked round and at the back
of a drawer I found a pair of gloves. They was Mr. Black's gloves as
thoughtful-like 'e 'ad marked 'em inside with 'is initials. I also
noticed two of the fingers 'ad red smudges on 'em. It weren't paint, it
looked like lipstick to me. We know criminals like to use gloves to
prevent finger-marks and it would be curious if this was the same
lipstick as killed the poor lady. I brought 'em along, thinkin' the Chief
Inspector would like to 'ave 'em tested."

As he spoke he took a small parcel from his pocket and displayed a pair
of chamois-leather gloves. He indicated the marks and everyone bent
forward to look at them. Every one, that is, except the owner of the
gloves.

He saw his chance and made a sudden dash for the door. He succeeded in
reaching it and in turning the key which was on the outside, before
anyone could stop him. With his car in the garden he might make a bolt
for it. But he reckoned without Allenby. The sergeant rushed for the
window, threw it open and leapt out just in time to tackle the man
escaping from the front door. There was a brief struggle but Victor
Gore-Black was no match for his trained attacker.

"Take him to the station," Grimsby shouted from the window. "Holmes shall
help you. I will come along and charge him there."

Holmes was the constable who had been taking down all the evidence. He
was no longer wanted for that job. He jumped through the window and
assisted in fixing the hand cuffs.

There was silence in the room. Grimsby felt it was up to him to say
something, but for some moments he was at a loss for words His tour de
force had ended in a way very different from what he had expected. He
would have liked to criticise or to blame, but who and how?

"I appreciate," he said slowly, "the help Major Bennion has afforded me
in this matter. All the evidence you have given has been taken down and
will be written out for you each to sign, so far as it bears on the case.
You will be required to repeat it on oath when the court re-assembles. I
must now return to the station." With that he strode from the room.

Then Jasper spoke. "It is my opinion," he said, "if we are strong enough,
we ought to chair Major Bennion home."

Roger laughed. "No, since Grimsby has gone, if you want to chair anyone,
let it be Ben Orgles. He deserves it. I will carry Joy Austin; she
deserves it, too."

"I could do that," Jasper said.

They all laughed. The tension was over. Everyone, including Gaston
Bidaut, had something to say. Pearl went to Joy and shook her hand.

"Thank you very much," she said. "It was a wonderful help to all of us."

"I have much to be thankful for too," Joy replied.

Then Roger drew Pearl aside. "Happy now?" he asked. "Indeed I am," she
said, her eyes sparkling with the old light. "I have been so frightened,
but now Peter and I can do just what we planned."

"What is that?"

"Marry quickly, go round the world for six months and decide where he
shall work when we get back."

"Then I ought to kiss the bride-to-be?"

"A hundred times if you like!"

"No," he smiled. "Never over-pay anyone. And Peter is already impatient."

26: Ruth's Moral

THREE days later Ruth and Roger sat once again at breakfast. Little Penny
on a large cushion was showing signs of being an expert crawler; perhaps
later on to become a player of hockey or a climber of mountains. Life and
meal times soon resume their normal routine.

"Well, my dear," Roger said, as he tapped his egg, "we are back to the
role of Darby and Joan. I am afraid you will find it dull."

"It is the sort of dullness I like, with you and Penny," Ruth replied.
"But having had a little finger in it, I can understand how you itch to
see a thing through to the end, with the innocent vindicated and the
villain exposed."

"We also have the satisfaction of knowing we have helped to arrange a
happy marriage and of stopping one that could only have ended in
disaster."

"There is a moral in it," Ruth said. "I wish it could be shouted from the
housetops."

"What is the moral?"

"The danger of loose living. Many women think their life is their own and
they can do what they like with it. They are wrong. They may pass on that
life to others. If they have a child, they may in some mysterious way sow
in it the seeds of the evil they have done. The thought of that might
keep them straight."

"You are thinking of poor Garnet," Roger said. "He was rather an
exceptional case. Idealism, unless blended with a practical view of life,
must cause distress."

"It is not only Garnet. Pearl had a narrow escape, and what of Emerald?"

"What of her?" Roger returned. "I have not seen her since our big
show-down."

"I had a talk with her. She tells me she has burnt every page of the book
she and Victor wrote together. At present she is suffering from an
anti-man complex. If she writes again, it will be a very modern story,
exposing him as the monster he is."

"That will get it out of her system. Then she will marry; she is made
that way."

For a while they ate in silence. Ruth said: "I suppose Inspector Grimsby
will get the credit for all you did?"

"He will certainly do his best in that direction. He had the politeness
to admit that I had helped. When he said it, Ben winked at me in a way
that was definitely subversive of discipline. But I do not mind. Really I
was rather lucky."

"In what way?" asked Ruth. "That the lipstick caused the death was
entirely your idea."

"That is true. It was called Caress, a tempting name, Sent by Victor
Gore-Black, it was indeed a Judas kiss."

"And Grimsby will get the credit? I do not like him."

"He is not the best type of policeman, but he has his living to make. It
was also my idea to send Ben to investigate the life of Gore-Black and
very well he did it. But it was luck, or if you prefer it, Providence
that took him to the bungalow in time to save Joy Austin's life. It was
luck that the rascal Teague got his glimpse of the villain when he was in
Jasper's studio. I did not know that till he blurted it out, though the
evidence that he was there was fairly strong. It was luck that I sent Ben
back again to the bungalow--"

"Or Providence, or your own good sense," his wife amended.

"Call it what you will," Roger laughed. "It was Ben's good sense that led
him to find those gloves, though I had suggested something of the sort.
The stain on them, by the way, was made by lipstick and cyanide. That
will provide the crowning proof."

"I cannot think why he kept them," Ruth said.

"Providence, my dear. His plans were carefully made. He never thought we
should discover the lipstick trick. That perhaps made him over-confident.
He also did not imagine we should know about the bungalow. We have to
thank Ben and Bob Inglis for that."

"You give everyone the credit but yourself," his wife remarked.

"I only pulled a few strings to set things in motion. Shakespeare might
have said of the wicked there is a Divinity that foils their ends
conceive them how they may. Had Joy gone to London as Victor intended, we
might never have discovered the truth. You like her?"

"Very much. It puzzles me how she came to fall for that repulsive man."

"As Emerald and apparently some others did. There is a virile,
aggressive, masculine type that has a peculiar appeal for some young
women. Have you any further plans for our Joy?"

"That may not be necessary," Ruth said.

"How do you mean?"

"I think Jasper is taking a very lively interest in her. He has been in
twice every day since he first saw her. He can not take his eyes off her.
He has asked her for a motor run this morning."

"I hope his intentions are honourable."

"I am sure they are," Ruth declared. "He has seen too much of the other
sort of thing. He told me so. And Joy has learned her lesson too."

"She will make a sweet, domesticated little wife," Roger said. "Jasper
has much to thank her for. No doubt he will be an average good husband
for a girl who understands him. She may even cure him of painting
abstractions. I too have an idea."

"What is that?"

"No abstraction, a very practical one. If your notion comes true, we will
stand them the wedding, and who do you think shall give away the bride?"

"You?" Ruth suggested.

"Better than that. Uncle Ben!"



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