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Title: Redburn Castle
Author: Fred M White
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Language: English
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THE MASTER CRIMINAL

IX. - REDBURN CASTLE

by

Fred M White

ILLUSTRATED BY PAUL HARDY

First published in The Ludgate, London, Feb 1898


Felix Gryde - Master Criminal


CHAPTER I

QUITE a nice little sensation was caused early last season by what was known at the time as the Angela Love incident. Miss Love was a lady who had speedily distinguished herself upon the stage for her remarkable beauty, the daintiness of her pose, and the exceeding sweetness of her smile. Captain Love had been a prominent figure in his time, and when Angela found herself a penniless orphan, she took to the boards as the quickest and easiest way of making a living.

That she was absolutely no actress made no difference to her ultimate success. For the rest she was a brainless, utterly selfish little doll, with a fine talent for the pleading-pathetic branch of flirtation, and ere three months were over a dozen men were ready to cut each other's throats for her sake.

Conspicuous amongst Angela Love's admirers stood the young Duke of Redburn. Up to his twentieth year this young sprig of nobility had been nourished under the wing of a Puritanic grandmother in the seclusion of Redburn Castle, one of the finest and most picturesque residences on the Yorkshire coast. There was a fine vein of the ancient chivalry in Redburn's blood; he was raw and romantic, and once he made the acquaintance of Miss Love, he fell into her toils directly.

According to the quidnuncs, there was only one thing that prevented the lady from becoming Duchess of Redburn instanter. Redburn was poor for a duke, and the pretty actress had a fine eye for the substantial. Also, there was another keen admirer in the person of Wellington Mills, a young millionaire whose parental millions had been dug out somewhere in the coaly North.

Meanwhile it was a little difficult for Angela Love to make up her mind. By way of making matters secure, she hit upon the happy expedient of becoming engaged to both men at the same time— a profound secret, of course.

And equally, of course, the inevitable happened. A very pretty quarrel took place at the Flaneurs' Club without damaging the lady in the eyes of the two swains, the upshot of the whole business being a duel a day or two later with pistols on the sands at Trouville, in which fray Redburn lost his left arm.


ON THE SANDS AT TROUVILLE

The next post after this Homeric contest brought letters to each of the combatants from Angela Love. She was very much annoyed, she said, at what had taken place, and being unable to decide between the two fiery knights, had solved the Gordian knot by marrying Prince Doddlekin, who, incidentally, is one of the richest men in Europe. Princess Doddlekin is to-day a prominent figure in society and adores her Tartar husband, who, it is said, beats her upon times. Angela is the class of woman who always admires that kind of man.

Wellington Mills swore by all his gods to abjure the sex henceforward, and six months later led to the altar Lady Amelia Bulfinch, only daughter of Lord Lockland. On the other hand, Redburn took the thing far more to heart. He started without delay for the far West of America on a hunting expedition, leaving strict orders behind him that no letters or papers of any kind were to be forwarded for a year.

All this was accordingly set out at length in The Lyre and The Universe, and for seven subsequent numbers the rival editors quarrelled over petty details, and agreeing upon one fact only—that the Duke of Redburn had really gone.

Few people followed this little romance with more interest than Felix Gryde. He had read something of it in a New York paper, and it had been his privilege to see on a Western-going express his Grace of Redburn with a small arsenal in charge of his man. Gryde had met with a nasty accident and was proceeding homewards to recuperate. With a swift change of plans, he at once joined the Western train and contrived to spend a day or two in Redburn's company. The upshot of this will be seen presently. Before finally leaving New York, Gryde posted to England a couple of letters copied from a specimen of handwriting in his possession which caused him infinite pains and trouble.

Nine days later he astonished and delighted Cora Coventry by a call. Most people were out of town by this time. Cora pined, neglected, scarcely knowing where to go. And now Gryde had changed the whole aspect of affairs.

"You are looking wretchedly ill," said Cora.

"I am ill," Gryde responded. "I want a thorough change—a big comfortable country house, a little shooting, and a bracing sea air. But all my capital is out ground-baiting at present, and I have no money to spare. Still, I can see a way."

"You always can," Cora murmured admiringly.

"A way to a few months in a grand old castle where we can fare on the best at no expense whatever to ourselves. You have a very pretty talent for playing a part, Cora, and you have also spent a year or two in America. Are you ready?"

"Am I ready!" Cora cried. "I am ready for anything to vary this monotony, and I can always rely upon you where there is any real danger. What is your plan, Paul?"

As may be remembered, Gryde was Paul Manners to Cora Coventry.

"Extremely simple," Gryde exclaimed.

"I am a wealthy American, Cyrus B. Coventry. I have of late made my pile in the States, and I have come over to see my sister. You may have a rich brother in the States for anything one knows to the contrary. So, on the whole, you had better remain as you are—if danger arises it will make the escape all the easier for you, as I will explain presently. Cyrus Coventry will call upon you to-morrow, properly dressed for the part, and you will receive him with open arms."

"Good !" Cora cried. "What fun it will be! And where are we going?"

"We are going to take Redburn Castle for six months," Gryde said gravely. "To-morrow you and I will go together to call upon the agents. Everything is arranged, and you will find the whole thing as easy as possible. What time shall you be ready?"

Cora announced that eleven o'clock would suit her perfectly, and Gryde departed. When he made his appearance the following morning Cora scarcely recognised him. He was American of the best type to the life; even his expression of face had changed.

"Guess you are ready," he said with a slight drawl. "And you're coming along with me to fix up things with the Duke's agent. I've got a car outside."


'GUESS YOU ARE READY'

Cora allowed herself to go with the tide, and a little later she and Gryde found themselves in Cheapside. In Ironmonger Lane were situated the offices of Messrs. Sutton and Co., in whose hands, more or less, all the property in England is manipulated. In a careless, off-hand kind of way Gryde produced a neat card bearing the legend, "Cyrus B. Coventry, Langham Hotel." After a slight delay, he and Cora found themselves ushered up the stairs into the office of one of the partners.

"I expect you know my business?" said Gryde.

Mr. Martin Sutton took up a letter from his table.

"O, yes," he said. "I have been expecting you, Mr. Coventry. As you may have guessed, we have heard from the Duke."

"Guess I saw the letter written," Gryde responded.

"Quite so; therefore I need not read the same to you. His Grace tells me that he had made your acquaintance in New York, that you intended coming to England for some months, and further that you required a large house for the term. I rather gather that you agreed to take Redburn Castle on the spot."

"Well, I guess I'm a business man," Gryde observed. "And I've heard of the Castle from one who has been a guest there. I made the Duke an offer for six months, and passed the cheque there and then. If I continue for another six months, I am to let you know, and pay the next cheque over to you."

"Absolutely correct," Sutton smiled. "You will like to take possession at once?"

"Just so. In consideration of the amount paid I am to have the run of everything: the cellar, the stables, in fact, the whole show. The staff of servants will remain, but they are to look to you for their wages, you also defraying the expenses of the house, minus legitimate housekeeping. Am I right, Mr.Sutton?"

"Absolutely, my dear sir, absolutely. I will see that you have no trouble this way. And when should you like to take possession?"

"Next Monday, if you can manage matters?"

"Nothing could be easier. I will send one of our staff to Redburn, and he shall explain everything to the steward, and housekeeper. If there is nothing else"

"There is nothing else, and I am wasting your valuable time. Good-day."

Cora thrilled with excitement. Swift has said that every woman is a rake at heart, and Cora possessed a native love for adventure. She knew perfectly well that she would have all the fun of an illicit incident capable of many opportunities without much risk so far as she was concerned. Also she had perfect faith in Gryde. Whatever happened he would see her safely through. Her eyes danced with fun as she met Gryde's gaze.

"It will be splendid," she said. "Paul, what shall we do next?"

"Lunch," Gryde said laconically. "I told the man to drive to Verrey's. In the next few days you will have plenty to do getting your traps ready."

A dainty luncheon was ordered and dispatched. Over the champagne Cora dilated upon the fun and enjoyment she meant to have. Doubtless, the county would call, and for once in her life she could play the great lady.

"I have fallen in love with your scheme, Paul," she said. "What a wonderful man you are!"

"More wonderful than you think," Gryde said with truth.

"Never mind that. There is one thing that puzzles me. Without paying, how did you get the Duke to write that letter?"

"I didn't get him to do it," Gryde smiled.

"Then how did you come to know it was there?"

Gryde smiled again as he refilled his glass. He paused a moment or two before he proceeded to gratify Cora's curiosity.

"These things are always so easy when you know how they are done," he said. "I knew all about that letter for the very good, simple and sufficient reason that I wrote it myself. Some people might call it forgery—we'll say manipulation."

CHAPTER II

CORA COVENTRY'S sanguine expectations were not doomed to disappointment. The Lyre and The Universe proclaimed to all and sundry that the wealthy American, Cyrus B. Coventry, had taken Redburn Castle for a term, and then proceeded to quarrel, as usual, as to whether Coventry's pile had been made in hogs or oil. On one point they both agreed—that Coventry was both extremely rich and lavishly hospitable. This being accepted on all hands, it became no matter of surprise that the world of the North Riding of Yorkshire called upon the Coventrys.

Naturally, Cora enjoyed herself to the full. Being possessed of both brains and talent, she had no difficulty in passing with the real sovereign ring. Never before had the gates of Redburn Castle been thrown open so widely; never had such lavish hospitality been known. The Coventrys lived en prince—as indeed they might do, seeing that the whole thing was costing practically nothing. Needless to say, the millionaire tenant of Redburn Castle had the most unlimited credit so far as Metropolitan tradesmen were concerned. Then there were the Redburn cellars, gardens, and stables to fall back upon. By the time Christmas arrived, no more popular couple existed in Yorkshire than the Coventrys.

And now the whole county was agog with excitement. As if to crown their stay in the shire of broad acres, invitations for a dance had been sent out broadcast. At least a thousand guests were bidden; the great banqueting hall had been specially decorated for the occasion; a special train was to bring the supper from London. Gryde rather grudged this train; it was the one item of importance that required good money.

"Never mind," Cora laughed; "I don't suppose we have laid out two hundred pounds in cash all the time we have been here. Upon my word, when I look at the wonderful things here—the plate and the pictures—I wonder at your moderation."

Gryde laughed in his turn.

"So do I," he responded grimly. "Anyway, there is time enough for that. What a dramatic thing if the Duke were to turn up this evening."

Cora protested against any such awful suggestion.

"I should find a way out," Gryde said.

"In fact, I am prepared for any emergency. The stage has been set for weeks past."

A large party of guests dined at the Castle, and about ten the rest of the fortunate ones began to arrive. In the grand old hall, as the clock struck twelve, they all sat down to supper. It would have been hard to imagine a more brilliant or artistic spectacle. It will be a long time before Yorkshire ceases to discuss the night of the Coventry dance at Redburn.

A veritable picture in black lace and diamonds, Cora moved amongst her guests. Her mind was far removed from trouble or danger. As she sailed past an excited group standing in the great hall a chance word fell on her ear and held her to the spot. Just for an instant she swayed and would have fallen. Then she took her courage in both hands. The danger was horribly real and tangible.

In the centre of the little group before her stood a brown, grim-faced man in evening dress. There was nothing terrible about him save the fact that his left sleeve, which was empty, was pinned to his coat. Cora's wits were sharpened; she knew without anyone telling her that this was the Duke of Redburn.

"Miss Coventry," said a gay voice, "will you come here? We have a surprise for you."

"Indeed, that is very kind of you," Cora responded with a gaiety wonderful under the circumstances. "I will be with you in one moment."

Like light Cora flew along the corridor towards the smoking-room. Then she literally fell into the arms of the man she was seeking.

"Cora," Gryde exclaimed, "what on earth is the matter?"

"The Duke," Cora whispered; "he is in the ballroom at this moment."

Gryde smiled. No muscle quivered. He betrayed no emotion whatever.

"Is that really so," he said. "Strange how perverse people are. He might have had the good taste to wait till tomorrow. Cora, can I trust you?"

"Where you are in danger," Cora replied.

"The danger is far less than you think, child. Did I not tell you that I had made special preparations for a contingency like this? And in any case, I have specially arranged it that you shall appear to have been an innocent victim. Go back to the Duke and profess to be delighted to see him. As so many of his own personal friends are here, he will not make a scene—indeed, he is far too much of a gentleman for that. The scene will be with me. And when he asks to see me. tell him as naturally as possible that I have been called away for a little time on business, and that he will find me in the small library writing a letter."

Cora nodded. Her faith in the speaker was implicit.

"Very well," she said; "but there will be no violence?"

"O, dear no. I have always, at least nearly always, avoided that kind of thing. Run along, Cora; time is precious now."

As Cora passed along the corridor, Gryde darted upstairs towards his own room. The Duke of Redburn was still standing talking to his friends when Cora came up. There was a flush on her cheeks, a sparkle in her eyes; otherwise she betrayed no fear.

"Can you guess who this is ?" a guest asked Cora.

There came a puzzled pucker in the white forehead, then Cora smiled and held out her hand.

"Our landlord, the Duke," she said, cordially. "What a pleasant surprise! And how nice of you to come at such a time, and in so friendly a way!"


'OUR LANDLORD, THE DUKE'

Redburn was too astonished to reply. Was the woman mad to carry her audacity to such a length? Otherwise, her acting was superb.

"I am sorry I did not come before," Redburn at length said, grimly.

"Indeed, so am I," Cora replied. "My brother will be delighted to see you."

"And I can assure you, Miss—er— Coventry, the pleasure will be mutual. I have met your brother before, and shall have no difficulty in recognising him. If you will tell me where I am likely to find him, I will"

"O, a little bit of business has detained him," Cora said, innocently. "You will find him at present in the small library, writing a letter. Don't stand on ceremony."

Redburn responded that he would not do anything of the kind. He was still utterly puzzled by Cora's free and engaging manner.

"She's innocent enough," he muttered to himself as he took his way to the library; "anyone can see that from her face. Probably that scoundrel took her in as he did everybody else. It's lucky I got hold of that stray number of The Lyre."

Redburn opened the library door and closed it behind him. At a table sat a man who appeared to be busily engaged over a letter. The envelope, ready directed, was alongside. The Duke saw the same was addressed to Scotland Yard.

"Well, you scoundrel!" he said, "so I have found you out."

A handsome, clean-shaven face was raised to Redburn's.

"I beg your pardon," came the reply; "did you speak, sir?"

Again Redburn paused. This was not Coventry, or indeed anything like him.

"I beg your pardon," he stammered;

"I took you for Coventry. I am the Duke of—"

The writer rose to his feet with a cry.

"So your Grace has come back," he said. "That accounts for Coventry quitting the Castle so hurriedly just now. He must have seen you."

"But who the deuce are you?" Redburn demanded.

"Well, your Grace," was the reply, " I am known here as James Malcolm, Coventry's new secretary, but as a matter of fact I am a detective from Scotland Yard, and at their instigation I obtained this situation. The suggestion was inspired from New York, for the police there fancy Coventry is a man they want. As to that I cannot say—but I do know the man to be a great scoundrel. We had to proceed quietly, you understand. I trust your Grace has not betrayed the truth."

"I have betrayed nothing," Redburn said impatiently. "When I found this thing out, entirely by accident, I turned back as quickly as possible. My idea was to take the rascal red-handed and give him a sound thrashing before the police appeared. Is Miss Coventry as cool and unscrupulous as her brother?"

"Your Grace may make certain of one thing," Malcolm said earnestly.

"Of this swindle Miss Coventry knows nothing. She really believes her brother to be a millionaire. He left England fourteen years ago and until recently she had never seen him. I am immensely sorry for the poor girl."

"Well, I'm glad to hear that," Redburn muttered. "But don't you think we are wasting time here? If the culprit has spotted me there is no further occasion for diplomacy on your part. The great question now is, where is he?"

"And as it happens I can solve the problem," said Malcolm. "He has hidden himself in the old Smugglers' Cave. There is a full tide by this time, and his escape is cut off for the present. Coventry is quite safe till the morning."

"That won't do for me, Mr. Malcolm. Is there a boat down by the cliffs?"

"There is a boat there, as your Grace is aware."

"Then come on. I shan't rest satisfied until I lay my hands on that scoundrel, who has doubtless some cunning scheme on hand. If you'll come with me now, Mr. Malcolm, I'll make it worth your while."

Malcolm rose with alacrity.

"I will do anything your Grace requires," he said. "Shall we go this way so as to avoid any gossip amongst the guests. Fortunately the night is warm. I will row you to the cave. I know that Coventry is unarmed."

The pair passed out into the garden and along the cliffs. There was only one path down there and no cottage for miles. An intense desolation reigned on the sands. A dozen murders might have been committed there with impunity. A boat lay close to the water's edge, for the tide was fast ebbing.

"Coventry must have swum out," Malcolm suggested. "Will your Grace get in? I can easily shove the boat off."

Malcolm pushed off, and steered with the one scull astern rudder fashion. A grey mist lay over the sea, a crescent moon gave a faint, watery light For some time the craft proceeded, but keeping within a hundred yards of the shore.

"Upon my word," Redburn remarked presently, "out of my many adventures lately I have had none stranger than this. Perhaps you can tell me why Coventry prefers to hide in the Smugglers' Cave?"

"The answer is quite easy," Malcolm smiled. "I can assure you that Coventry is a man of infinite resources. You may be certain that he was prepared for this contingency. He has a steam yacht lying off the roads yonder, and a signal at daybreak would mean that a boat has to be sent off. Can you swim?"

Redburn pointed to his left, vacant sleeve with a smile.

"I once attempted to after losing my arm, and nearly paid the penalty of my over-confidence with my life," he said.

"Why do you ask?"

"Because the scull has slipped from my hand, and we are drifting helplessly out to sea with the tide," Malcolm responded. "If you can't leave I must."

To Redburn's intense astonishment Malcolm promptly plunged overboard.


PROMPTLY PLUNGED OVERBOARD

After a time Redburn saw him emerge on the rocks.

"What are you going to do?" shouted the latter.

"Return to the Castle," came the reply, in a voice that caused Redburn to start. "Good-night, your Grace. Fortunately the night is mild and the sea calm, and no doubt you will be picked up in a few hours. You may yell and scream as loud as you like, for nobody is likely to hear you."

"The scoundrel Coventry!" Redburn roared. "If I could only swim!"

"Lucky you can't," Gryde—otherwise Malcolm—said, grimly. "If you had replied in the affirmative I should have been under the painful necessity of putting a bullet through your head. Good-night."

Leaving the Duke foaming with impotent rage Gryde proceeded leisurely up the cliffs towards the Castle. Outside the main windows he halted. In one of them overhead—his dressing-room—was one lighted up. From the casement depended a knotted rope. Gryde swarmed up like a cat.

To strip off and hide his wet clothing was the work of a moment. In less time than one could believe Gryde was serene and calm in the ballroom again. Smiling, yet with a world of anxiety in her eyes, Cora came towards him.

"Where is the Duke?" she asked aloud.

"I regret to say he has gone," Gryde replied. "He did not come to stay; indeed, but for some business matter he would not have been here at all. He bade me to say everything that was polite to his friends."

Cora drew Gryde on one side. Her lips were pale as ashes.

"Paul," she whispered, "Paul, you have not—"

"Redburn is absolutely safe," Gryde responded. "Not so much as a hair of his head has been injured. He is perfectly safe in more senses than one. Meanwhile you can resume the gaiety necessary to the occasion."

The first faint streaks of dawn were in the sky when the last guest departed. Not till then did Cora and Gryde find themselves free to talk.

"I am to speak and you are to listen, said the latter. "Within half an hour I must be clear of this house, child. Never mind how I go and in what guise, because that is my secret. I am going to leave you here, presumably to stand the brunt of the fray, but really to shield you from danger. Understand that you are simply the tool in the hands of a rascally brother. You have been cruelly deceived. On my dressing-table is a letter to you confessing my fault and imploring your forgiveness. A consummate actress like you can carry off the thing perfectly. Besides, you have had a really good time of it, and now you must pay the piper. When Redburn does turn up, your cue is not to know I have really gone. Au revoir."

With a careless wave of his hand, Gryde turned away. A little later a figure stole from the house in the grey of the dawn and disappeared along the cliffs. And it is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that Cyrus B. Coventry is still at large.


* * * * *

IT is hardly necessary either to state that Redburn turned up in due course. Cora received him smilingly. Where was her brother? Why, in bed still. Cora's astonishment to find this a mistake was artistic, her grief when she came to read the fatal letter a study. Redburn, whose nature is sentimental, was profoundly moved at this distress. He blamed himself. Cora he did not doubt for a moment. And when she departed for London later in the day he saw her to the station in his own car. riage. Was there anything he could do?

"Nothing," Cora said faintly. "All I want is to be alone."

Once alone she speedily dried her tears. A queer smile was on her face.

"If I liked," she said to herself, "and if I cared for Paul a little less, it is just possible I might end my life as a respectable humdrum duchess!"


Felix Gryde - Master Criminal


THE END

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