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Title: The White Room Author: Fergus Hume * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1700701h.html Language: English Date first posted: August 2017 Most recent update: August 2017 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Chapter 1. - The Policeman’s Discovery
Chapter 2. - Another Mystery
Chapter 3. - The Baldwins
Chapter 4. - The Missing Motor-Car
Chapter 5. - Public Opinion
Chapter 6. - A Strange Discovery
Chapter 7. - The Other White Room
Chapter 8. - Professor Bocaros
Chapter 9. - Mrs. Brand’s Will
Chapter 10. - What The Cook Found
Chapter 11. - The Inquiry-Agent
Chapter 12. - Arnold And Laura
Chapter 13. - On The Track
Chapter 14. - The New Tenant
Chapter 15. - The Professor’s Courting
Chapter 16. - A Surprise
Chapter 17. - The Professor’s Trump Card
Chapter 18. - A Story Of The Past
Chapter 19. - Still A Mystery
Chapter 20. - The House In The Fields
Chapter 21. - The Truth
Chapter 22. - The Wind-Up
“Eleven o’clock and a windy night!” might have been the cry of a mediæval watchman at that hour on the 24th July 19—. Constable Mulligan was more reticent, as it formed no part of his duties to intimate publicly the time or the state of the weather. Nevertheless the bells of the Anglican Church, Troy, London, S.W., chimed the hour through the clamour of a high wind; and those people who were not in bed must have decided to retire. Not that any one appeared to be stirring. The lights were extinguished in all windows within the range of Mulligan’s vision, and the flashing of his lantern on the doors and gates in Achilles Avenue showed that they were discreetly closed. Not even a tramp or a cat enlivened the roadway. Mulligan was apparently the sole waking person in a sleeping world.
Troy was a bran-new suburb, built by a jerry-builder, who knew Greek history through the medium of Lempriere’s Dictionary. This pseudo-scholar had erected classic villas with classic names in roads, avenues, and streets designated by Hellenic appellations. The rents in this anachronistic suburb were rather high, and the houses were inhabited mostly by stockbrokers, prosperous or not, according to their wits or the state of the money-market. There was also a sprinkling of schoolmasters, professors, and students, attracted by the phraseology of the place, which promised cultured surroundings. The drainage was perfect and the morals were unexceptional So new was the suburb, that not even a slum had been evolved to mar its cleanliness. The police, having little to do in so genteel a neighbourhood, were individually and collectively more for ornament than use. The ten years’ history of the locality was one of order, intense respectability, and consequent dulness. Only in a rogues’ purlieus is life picturesque and exciting.
Mulligan was a black-haired giant, somewhat dull, but possessed of a dogged sense of duty, eminently useful when taken in conjunction with brute force. He paced his beat in a ruminative frame of mind, thinking, not unpleasantly, of a certain pretty housemaid, with whom he intended to walk out on Sunday. Being as talkative as Bunyan’s character of that name, Mulligan would not have been displeased to meet a brother-officer, or even a stray reveller, with whom to converse. But his fellows were in other neighbourhoods, and revellers were unknown in the respectable streets of Troy; so Mulligan, for the sake of hearing his own voice, hummed a little song in a deep bass growl. He passed Hector Villa, Agamemnon Villa, Paris Villa, and Priam Villa, all of which were in darkness, enshrined in leafy gardens. At the gate of Ajax Villa he halted. A light in a first-floor window over the classic porch showed that the inmates had not yet retired. Also a woman was singing. Constable Mulligan, being fond of music, waited to hear the song.
“Kathleen Mavourneen;” thought he, recognising the melody, “and a fine pipe she has who sings it. It’s a party they’ll be having within, with the tongues clapping and the whisky flowing. Begorra, it’s myself that’s wishing I had some of that same,” and he wiped his mouth with a longing air.
As he stood at the gate, looking up the wide path which ran straightly to the shallow steps of the porch through a short avenue of elms in full leaf, he became aware that some one was coming out of the front door. The constable put it to himself in this way, as he heard the sound of opening and shutting, but no stream of light, as he expected, poured from the hall. With such darkness there could scarcely be a party in progress. Also—as Mulligan’s quick ears detected—the door was opened with unusual caution and closed with equal care. The person who had emerged—whether it was a man or a woman the policeman could not guess—hesitated on the steps for a few minutes. Apparently the officer’s form bulked blackly against the light of the opposite street-lamp, and the stranger was undecided whether to re-enter the house, or to come down the path. Mulligan was too dense to be suspicious, and merely wondered why the person in question did not fulfil his or her original intention. Meanwhile the song flowed an smoothly, and Mulligan half unconsciously noted that although the words were sung slowly, the piano music between each verse was played hurriedly.
Finally, thinking that the stranger on the steps would not approve of a policeman leaning on the gate, Mulligan turned away with the airy grace of an elephant. Hardly had he taken a few steps when a young man came quickly down the path with a light, springy step. In a pleasant tenor voice he called to the constable. “Anything wrong, officer?” he asked, and the gate clicked behind him as he uttered the words.
Mulligan, halting under a street-lamp, saluted good-humouredly. “No, sir,” he declared. “I was just listening to your good lady singing.”
“My sister,” corrected the man, also pausing under the lamp, but in such a position that the light did not reveal his countenance. “You ought to like that song, constable.”
“An’ for why, sir?”
“It’s Irish, as you are.”
“Augh! An’ is it me, sir, you’d be calling Irish?”
“The way in which you turn that sentence would stamp your nationality, even if the brogue didn’t,” retorted the young man, taking out a silver cigarette-case. “You smoke, officer?”
“Mostly a pipe, sir,” rejoined Mulligan, accepting the little roll of tobacco. “Is it a light you’ll be wanting?”
“Thanks,” said the other, and bent down to ignite his cigarette at the match provided by the policeman. But he still kept his face in shadow. Not that Mulligan had any desire or reason to see it. He merely thought that the gentleman was a departing guest, although he could not account for the dark hall, which set aside the idea of a party. Moreover, the stranger was arrayed in a light tweed suit, which was not exactly appropriate for a party. Also he wore a loose overcoat of bluish-black cloth, with a deep velvet collar and velvet cuffs made in the latest fashion. On so warm a night, this garment was quite unnecessary. Still, Mulligan had no reason to be suspicious, and was the last man to be inquisitive. He had the politeness if not the keen wit of the Celt.
After lighting his cigarette the gentleman strolled away towards the ancient village which formed the nucleus of modern Troy. Unwilling to lose the chance of a pleasant conversation, and perhaps a kindly shilling, Mulligan followed, and beside the light active form of his companion looked like a bear lumbering in the company of an antelope. The gentleman did not appear anxious to talk, so Mulligan made the first remark.
“The song’s done,” said he, as they walked on.
“It isn’t a long song,” replied the other carelessly. “I dare say she’ll start another soon, and you can listen at the gate half the night, if you have a mind to.”
“It’s a party you’ll be having then, sir?”
“Party! No! Can’t people sit up till midnight without having the house full of dancers?”
“Augh,” grunted Mulligan; “there being no light in the hall, I might have guessed there was no party.”
The other man started slightly and laughed uneasily. “My sister asked me to turn out the light when I went,” said he. “I did so before I opened the door.”
“You’ll be going home then, sir?”
“Yes—to the other end of London. Is there a hansom about?”
“Near the station, sir. That’ll be half a mile away.”
“I know—I know,” retorted the other quickly. “I often come here to see my sister.” He paused, then added anxiously: “I suppose you know most of the people who live in these villas?”
“None, sir. I’ve only been on this beat a week.”
“You’ll get to know them soon, I expect. A quiet place, officer.”
“It is that, sir,” assented Mulligan, as they turned down a narrow and lonely street. “Never a robbery or an accident or a murder to make things happy.”
“Why should there be a murder?” asked the man angrily. “Murders are not so common.”
“More common than you think, sir, but the most of them aren’t found out. It is I who’d like a really fine crime with my name in the papers, and a printed recommendation as an efficient officer. None of your poker murders and plain sailing you’ll understand, sir, but a mystery, as you read of in them little books written by gentry as don’t know the law.”
“Ah! Incidents in detective novels rarely occur in real life,” said the other, with a more tranquil laugh. “Providence is too original to borrow in that way. But live in hope, officer, a crime may come your way sooner than you expect.”
“Not hereabouts, sir.” Mulligan shook his head gloomily. “It’s too clean a neighbourhood.”
“The very place where a crime is likely to occur. Have you another light, constable?”
Mulligan struck another match, and this time he saw the face of the speaker clearly. It was a handsome face, rather worried-looking. But as the stranger wore a moustache and a small pointed beard, and as his Homberg hat—it was grey with a black band—was pressed down over his eyes, Mulligan could not determine if he were more than usually worried. Not that he minded. He fancied after some reflection that this handsome young gentleman was—as he put it—out on the spree, and therefore took the marks of worry for those of dissipation. He did not even examine the face closely, but when the match was extinguished he halted. “There’s the half-hour, sir. I must get back to my beat.”
“And I must race for a cab,” said the stranger, pressing a half-crown into a not unwilling hand. “Thanks for coming so far with me, officer. I wonder if my watch is right,” he added, pulling it out. “It’s half-past eleven.” Something fell at the moment, chipped against the curb with a tinkling sound, and rebounded into the road. “You’ve dropped something, sir,” said Mulligan, flashing his lantern towards the middle of the street.
The other felt his pockets. “No, I don’t think so. Can you see anything? Oh, no matter. I dare say—what can I have dropped?”
The two searched for a time without success. At length the stranger shook his head positively, and felt his pockets again. “You must be mistaken,” he remarked. “I don’t think anything is missing. However, if you do find anything, you can give it to me when you see me next. You are usually on this beat?”
“For the next three nights, sir.”
“Ah then, we are sure to meet. I often come here. Good night.” And with a wave of his hand the gentleman walked rapidly away. At the turn of the street he looked back and again waved his hand. It might have been that he was anxious to see if the constable was watching him. But no such suspicion occurred to Mulligan. He was too pleased with the half-crown.
“A fine upstanding young gentleman,” was the policeman’s verdict; “free with his money”—he here produced the cigarette—“and his tobacco, good luck go with him.”
As the inspector was not within sight, and indeed would not be until Mulligan returned to the fixed point in Achilles Avenue, the policeman decided to solace himself with a smoke. After lighting up he threw away the match. It fell almost in the middle of the road, and flamed up brightly in a pause of the wind. Although it went out with the next gust, Mulligan, in the short time, caught with his keen eye the glitter of steel. Striking another match, he searched round, and picked up a latch-key, long and slim and with scarcely projecting wards. “He’ll not get to his bed this night,” said Mulligan, looking towards the corner. “If I was to run after him now——”
But this, he decided, was impossible. The gentleman, walking at an unusually rapid pace, would be some distance away, and also in the meantime he might have met with a hansom. Also Mulligan had to return to the fixed point, as failure to meet his superior officer would meet with a sharp reprimand. “Ah well,” said the philosophic policeman, “the young gentleman will be here to-morrow night, or maybe his sister will be still up, and I can give the key to her.”
On the chance of securing another half-crown, Mulligan decided that this latter course would be the more diplomatic. Astutely adopting it, he walked smartly to Achilles Avenue. A consultation of his Waterbury watch assured him that he had nearly twenty minutes to spare before the arrival of the inspector. He therefore sought out Ajax Villa, being guided thereto by the fact that the light was still burning on the first floor. But he heard no singing. However, the light showed that the lady was still in the room, though doubtless the servants—as was shown plainly by the stranger’s conversation—were in bed. Mulligan walked up to the door and rang. With some foresight he argued the lady would come herself to the door, whereby he would be more certain of his money.
The wind was dying down, now that it was close upon midnight, and everything in the house and garden was absolutely still. Walking up the path under the umbrageous shelter of the elms, Mulligan saw the colours of the flowers in neutral tints under a faint starry sky. There was no moon, but a kind of luminous twilight pervaded the atmosphere. Mulligan, being a Celt, was not impervious to the charm of the place which might have been Juliet’s garden, so strangely had the magic of night transmuted its commonplace into romance. But his housemaid was expensive, and he hurried to the door, anxious to obtain a reward for the return of the key.
Several times did he ring, and although he heard the shrill vibration of the bell echo through the house, no one appeared in answer to its imperative summons. Thinking he might have made a mistake, the constable stepped back into the garden. But he was right. This was the villa out of which the young man had issued, for there burned the guiding light on the first floor. Mulligan felt puzzled by the inexplicable silence and rang the bell again. Indeed he pressed his great thumb on the ivory button for nearly one minute. The bell shrilled continuously and imperiously. Still no one came. Mulligan scratched his head and considered. “Something’s wrong,” thought he. “If I’d the key I’d enter and see if the lady is ill. Queer, the bell don’t waken the servants. Augh! The lazy beasts.”
It occurred to him that in his hand he held the key dropped by the young gentleman. Almost without thinking he fumbled for the hole and slipped in the key. To his surprise it turned under his involuntary pressure, and the door swung open noiselessly. Again the constable scratched his head. Things—so he assured himself—were becoming mysterious, and he scented an adventure. It was strange that this key should open the door. “Unless this is his home, and he’s running away for some devilment. Maybe the lady isn’t his sister; perhaps his wife or his sweetheart. Augh! But she’d not let him go at this hour. Catch her.”
However he might argue, it was foolish to stand before an open door without doing something. The inspector would be round soon, and might—probably would—demand an explanation. Now that he had got this far, Mulligan naturally decided to see the adventure through. As yet he had no suspicion that anything was wrong, though he certainly thought the whole affair mysterious. Walking into the dark hall, at the end of which, by the light of his lantern, he saw the glimmer of a marble staircase, he called gently up into the blackness. “Is there any one there?” demanded Mulligan. “If so, come down, for I’m in want of an explanation.”
He paused and listened. There came no reply. The dense silence held the house. Not even a clock ticked. Mulligan suppressed his breath and listened with all his ears. No sound filled them save the drumming of his heart. Again he ran into the garden and again assured himself that the light was burning overhead. He began to conclude that the position called for the intervention of the law. Assuming an official air, he tramped up the stairs, flashing the light right and left as he ascended. He did not know the position of the room, save that it was in the front of the house. But thus indicated, he thought there would be little difficulty in finding it and solving the mystery.
From the glimpses he caught, the house appeared to be richly furnished. He saw pictures, velvet curtains, marble statues, and all the paraphernalia of a wealthy man’s mansion. The stairs were draped with scarlet hangings, contrasting vividly with the whiteness of the polished marble. On the landing, curtains of the same flamboyant hue were parted before another dark hall. Mulligan crossed this, for he saw—or thought he saw—a thread of light beneath a door. The hall was of marble and filled with tropical plants. A glass roof overhead revealed the starry night and the grotesque forms of the plants. The flooring was of mosaic, and here and there stood velvet-cushioned chairs, deep and restful. Evidently the house was owned by rich and artistic people. And the fitful gleams from his lantern exaggerated the wealth and splendour around.
In spite of the noise made by his boots—which were anything but light—no one appeared to demand the reason of his intrusion. He began to feel an eerie feeling creeping over him. This silent, lordly house, the darkness, the stillness, the loneliness: it was all calculated to appeal strongly—as it did—to the Celtic imagination of the policeman.
Towards the thin stream of light flowing, as it seemed, from under the door, Mulligan took his cautious way. Knocking softly, he waited. No reply came. Again he knocked, and again the silence which struck a chill to his heart ensued. At length he took his courage in both hands and flung open the door. It was not locked. A gush of light nearly blinded him. He staggered back, and placed his hands across his dazzled eyes. Then he looked in bewilderment at a remarkable scene. The room was square and rather large, unbroken by pillar or arch, and contained only one window. Walls and roof and flooring and furniture and hangings were absolutely white. There was not a spot or speck of colour in the place. The walls were of white enamel studded with silver fleur-de-lis; the floor of polished marble strewn with white skins of long-haired animals. The curtains, drawn aside from the window, were of milky velvet. The furniture was of white polished wood cushioned with pearly silks. Everywhere the room was like snow, and the milky globes of the lamps shed an argent radiance over the whole. It looked cold and cheerless but eminently beautiful. An artistic room, but not one that had a homely look about it. The white glow, the dazzling expanse, colourless and severe, made the man shiver, rough though he was. “It’s like a cold winter’s day,” said the imaginative Celt.
Suddenly he uttered an exclamation. On moving cautiously into the room, he saw a piano of polished white wood in a recess, concealed by a white velvet curtain from the door. Before the piano lay a white bearskin; on this, face downward; the body of a woman. She was dressed in black, the one spot of colour in that pale room. But there was another colour—a vivid red, staining the skin. Mulligan touched the body—it was cold and limp. “Dead,” said Mulligan. From under the left shoulder-blade trickled a thin stream of blood, and his voice, strong as it was, used as he had been to scenes of terror, faltered in the dead silence of that death-chamber.
Not a sound. Even the wind had died away. Only the strong man looking down at that still corpse, only the blackness of her dress; the redness of her life-blood soaking into the white bearskin, and all around the wan desolation of that white, mysterious room, Arctic and silent.
Mulligan stared at the dead woman, but beyond touching her to see if life remained, he did not attempt to alter the position of the corpse. For corpse it was. The woman was as dead as a stone, and Mulligan knew his duty too well to take any authority upon himself The inspector was the man to issue orders, and the inspector would be at the head of Achilles Avenue when the clock struck twelve. As this thought passed slowly through the policeman’s mind—for the unexpectedness of the tragedy had somewhat dazed him—he heard the midnight chimes. With a sudden start he recovered his wits and wheeled round. In a few minutes he was out of the house, and had closed the door. Only when in the roadway did his brain begin to work at its normal speed.
“It’s that young gentleman,” thought Mulligan. “He said I’d come across a crime sooner than I expected. And the key is his. Mary, be good to us; but he must have killed the poor creature before he joined me. Augh!” He stopped and considered. “But if that’s so, what about the singing. She was at the piano, and the song wasn’t done when the gentleman joined me. Augh!”
At this moment of his reflection, and while he was looking anxiously down the road for the inspector, a man came walking rapidly along, and suddenly emerged from a side-street that ran at right angles to Achilles Avenue. He almost dashed into the arms of Mulligan, who brought up short under a lamp. “Where are ye going?” asked the policeman, rendered suspicious by his recent discovery and by the manifest haste of the man.
“Going, confound you!” snapped the man, who seemed to be in a very bad temper. “I’m looking for my motor-car.”
“For your what?”
“Motor-car! Automobile! Can’t you understand English? I’ve lost it. Some one’s bolted with the whole kit. Have you seen my car? It’s painted yellow picked out with black, and——”
“Here’s the inspector,” chipped in Mulligan, recognising with relief the rigid form of his superior. “You can tell him, and if you’re the man, anything you may say will be used in evidence against you. That’s the law. Augh!”
The man stared at this speech, but Mulligan wiped his heated brow and glared at him in a resentful manner, not at all sure but what this might be the criminal. There was no ground for such a supposition, especially as the key belonged to another man. But Mulligan was not in a position to weigh his words, and therefore said the first thing that came into his mind. So the man stared, Mulligan scowled, and the inspector drew near.
“You’ve been drinking, bobby,” said the man at length. “My name is Luther Tracey. I manufacture motor-cars, and some beast has bolted with one of the best I’ve ever turned out. Such a flier. I guess you police hereabouts ain’t worth a cent.”
“You’re American,” said Mulligan.
“And you’re several kinds of ass, I reckon. See here, about this car of mine.”
Mr. Tracey would have gone on to explain at length, but that he was interrupted by the arrival of the inspector, who was tall and thin, military and sharp. He glanced keenly at Tracey, and inquiringly at Mulligan. The engineer would have begun talking at once, as he appeared to have a considerable fund of what his countrymen call “chin-music”; but Mulligan waved him aside, and reported hurriedly to Inspector Derrick what he had discovered. Although Derrick was manifestly surprised and excited by the strange recital, he made no remark; but when in possession of Mulligan’s facts—which ranged from his meeting with the young gentleman to his leaving the dead body in the house—he turned to Tracey. That man was listening eagerly, and seemed quite interested.
“Well, I surmise that’s a queer case,” said he, smacking his leg. “What do you make of it, inspector? If you want to know my opinion, the man as laid out that lady corpse has bolted with my motor-car.”
“No,” said Mulligan; “he walked with me for a— When did you miss your car, sir?”
“You might call it a few minutes after eleven.”
“He was with me then,” said the policeman; “‘twasn’t him. No!”
Derrick, who had preserved silence, chimed in “Who are you, sir?”
“My name’s Tracey,” replied the American smartly; “here’s my card. I manufacture motor-cars, and came to see some friends of mine this night in one of my latest. I left her humming at the gate, and at ten minutes after eleven I went out to start her for the factory. Nary a sign of the car, sir, and I’ve been chasing round these lanes for the last hour. This lunatic”—he pointed to Mulligan—“seems to think I have to do with the murder. Don’t you think you’d better run me in? It ‘ull be an advertisement and a smart action for false imprisonment.”
Derrick smiled under his heavy moustache, and took a long look at Mr. Tracey. The American was fair and handsome, active in his movements and compact in his frame. He wore fashionable evening-dress, and looked a shrewd, pleasant man of the world, who had travelled much and had his wits about him. The mention he made of arrest showed Derrick that the man was innocent. Not even a Yankee’s passion for advertising his goods would hurry a man into the grip of the law if he were in any way guilty. The inspector, however, did not think it wise to lose sight of Tracey, and being diplomatic he behaved towards him in quite an affable way. “You might come with me and see into this matter,” he said, moving on.
“Rather,” rejoined Tracey with alacrity. “I’m dead gone on adventures, and this is a ripper. Wonder if I can get an advertisement out of it? What do you think, sir?”
“Well, if your car is missing——”
“‘Course. The man’s raced off with it.”
“No,” denied Mulligan again; “he was with me at the time your car was lost.”
“Do you think the man you talked to, killed this woman?” asked the inspector, turning sharply on Mulligan.
“I do and I don’t, sir.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Mulligan scratched his head. “He had the key, and he came out of the house sure enough. But she was singing when he talked to me at the gate. She wasn’t dead then.”
“Then he must be innocent,” said Derrick sharply. “Do you know to whom the villa belongs?”
“No, sir. Here it is, and you can see that the light’s still burning as I left it. I haven’t touched the body, sir.”
“You did right,” approved Derrick, swinging open the gate. “Wait, we must look at the name. Your lantern, Mulligan.”
The light illuminated the black letters on the gate, but before the inspector could pronounce the name, Tracey did it for him. “Ajax Villa—Ajax Villa,” said he, stopping; “sakes, it’s Fane’s house. Don’t tell me it’s Mrs. Fane—such a fine woman. But it can’t be.”
“Why not?” said Derrick, looking at him suspiciously.
“Because the whole family are at the seaside—all except Miss Mason.”
“Where is she, and who is she?”
“Miss Mason is the sister of Mrs. Fane, and she’s stopping with the friends I was seeing when my car was stolen.”
This was a strange discovery, and Derrick looked puzzled. Tracey spoke in all good faith, and seemed quite willing to enter the house. All the same it was queer he should know so much about the matter. As the constable opened the door Derrick asked a question. “You heard Mulligan describe the man who came out of this house,” he said; “can you tell me who he is?”
“No,” confessed Tracey. “I know very little of Mr. Fane and his family. I’ve never been in this house. But Miss Mason is the bosom friend of the girl I’m going to engineer into the position of Mrs. Tracey. She’s Gerty Baldwin at present, and lives at No. 20 Meadow Lane along with her mother and the kids. Now, is there anything else you want, to know, Mr. Inspector?”
“Not at present. But later on.” Derrick nodded and walked into the house, followed by the two men.
“Oh, anything you like,” called out Tracey, not at all damped by the fact of death being in the house, “anything for an advertisement. I guess I’ll sell that car at a big figure. Tussaud’s will buy it if the murderer’s skipped in it.”
“He hasn’t,” said Mulligan, still confused.
“He has,” insisted the American. “Why should an honest man yank off my car? Some one wanted to get out of the way in a hurry, and he took my flier. I guess he’s out of London by this time. She can skim a bit. Oh, I reckon she’s no slouch.”
“Hush,” said Derrick sharply, and removed his cap. Tracey did the same, for the presence of death—the immediate presence—began to sober him. Mulligan stood rigidly at the door while Derrick examined the body. “Is it Mrs. Fane?” he asked.
“No,” said Tracey, staring at a girlish face, still and white and waxen. “Mrs. Fane would make two of this poor thing. She’s a Junoesque sort of woman, about the size of the Venus of Milo, and the same shape, too. This is a slip of a girl.”
“A married woman,” said Derrick, pointing to a ring on the hand. He walked slowly round the room. “Mulligan,” said he, “go and see if any one else is in the house——”
“I tell you Fane and family are at the seaside,” said Tracey.
“Never mind. There may be a caretaker. Look round, Mulligan, and see if any windows or doors are unlocked or open. Mr. Tracey, please sit still and silent. I wish to make an examination.”
Mulligan departed promptly, and the American sat comfortably in a deep armchair watching the inspector. That gentleman prowled round like a sleuth-hound. He examined the window, then scrambled along the floor, shook various curtains, shifted several cushions, and finally knelt beside the body after a glance at the piano. He interrupted his examination to point out the music. “According to Mulligan, she was singing ‘Kathleen Mavourneen,’“ said he. “There’s the song. Poor soul. She was evidently struck down when singing.”
“Then the man met by Mulligan is innocent, since he was outside while the song was still being sung.”
“He might be an accessory before the fact, Mr. Tracey.”
“In other words, an accomplice. But he didn’t nick my car. No, sir. The real murderer did that, and I guess that car’s worth money at the boss waxwork show of this metropolis. They can fire it into the chamber of horrors along with Napoleon’s cart and the baby’s pram. What figure would you ask now, inspector?”
“You go too fast, Mr. Tracey. We don’t know yet that the criminal has stolen your car. Is the house you were visiting far from here?”
“Oh, I guess not. Mrs. Baldwin hangs out No. 20——”
“Yes,” interrupted Derrick, “you told me. That’s no distance. Meadow Lane—to be sure—part of Old Troy.”
“No,” contradicted Tracey. “The village is called Cloverhead.”
“And round the village Troy has been built, so the lesser name is merged in the larger.”
“Sounds legal, and not quite right, Mr. Inspector. Say, your name’s——”
“Derrick. Inspector Derrick. I am in charge of the Troy police, and this is the first crime of any sort I have stumbled across here.”
“Slow lot,” commented the American. “In our country we’d have filled the boneyard in six months.”
“We don’t murder on that gigantic scale here, Mr. Tracey,” Derrick answered, somewhat dryly. Then he looked steadily and keenly at the man. “I’m going to trust you,” he declared.
Tracey whistled, and stared doubtfully at the body. “Shouldn’t if I were you, sir. Here’s a crime, and I know a lot——”
“Oh, you do! What do you know?”
“What I’ve told you. I might be an accomplice too, you see, along with the other man.”
“No. The rooster who skipped with my car. He didn’t stick that poor girl there. Not he. Guess he kept your copper employed in jaw while the real murderer polished off the female. That’s how I size up things. Well, sir, and what do you want me to do?”
“Fetch a doctor.”
“Don’t know any hereabouts My knowledge of this township is limited to Meadow Lane, and Miss Baldwin’s favourite walk across the fields. ‘Sides”—he cast a quizzical look at the officer—“I might not come back.”
“Oh yes, you will. I shouldn’t let you go if I wasn’t sure you’d return, if only for the sake of your car and the advertisement.”
Tracey laughed. “Well, where’s the medicine man?”
Derrick scribbled a few lines on his card, and passed it along. “Go there, and ask Dr. Geason to come here—the sooner the better.”
“Right, sir!” Tracey rose and looked wistfully down at the dead. “I guess the man who did that would be lynched in our country.”
“He’ll be hanged in this when found,” retorted Derrick. “Go, please.”
When the American was out of the room the inspector resumed his examination. Mulligan returned when he was in the middle of a brown study. “There’s nothing to be seen, sir,” he reported. “No one in the house. Doors and windows all bolted and barred. Not a sign.”
“Strange,” mused Derrick. “You are sure that the man who came out of the house was speaking with you while the singing was going on?”
“I’ll take my oath on it, sir. He can’t be guilty.”
“Did he strike you as being confused?”
“Not very, sir. He didn’t want his face to be seen, though, and kept his hat down on his eyes. He said the lady who was singing was his sister, and that he often came to see her.”
“H’m! Why should he come to a house which is shut up?”
“He had the latch-key.”
“Hand it over to me,” said Derrick, and when in possession of it, took a long look at the size and shape. “New,” said he, rapping it on his knuckles. “Hasn’t been used much.”
“Might be polished from too much use, sir,” ventured Mulligan.
“The edges wouldn’t be so rough if it wasn’t new.” Derrick pointed this fact out. “You don’t know the man’s name?”
“Nor where he lives?”
“No, sir; I had no reason to ask him anything.”
“Well, I suppose you couldn’t foresee that we should want him. I don’t expect he’ll turn up in this neighbourhood again.”
“What’s your theory, sir?”
“It’s early to form one, Mulligan. I fancy two men killed this woman. The one you saw kept you in conversation, while the other murdered the woman, and then cleared, while his accomplice led you away. Did you hear a scream?”
“No, sir. The song ended as we left the gate, and in a few minutes we were too far away to hear any cry.”
“As I thought. The man was an accomplice sent out to lure you away.”
“It might be, sir,” confessed Mulligan. “I was leaning over the gate when the young gentleman came out.”
“The men saw you from the window, and as they couldn’t kill the woman while you were there, Number One went out to draw you away, while Number Two remained behind to commit the crime. At what hour did you part with Number One?”
“Half-past eleven, sir. I was with him thirty minutes.”
“Time enough for Number Two to murder the woman and make off. He escaped by the front door, since you say the back premises are locked up. Ah! there’s the doctor. Go to the station and send on—” Here Derrick named two of his most trusted subordinates.
When Mulligan left, the inspector resumed his examination. Already he had looked over the clothing of the deceased. She was plainly but tastefully dressed in black, but wore no ornaments. Everything was of good quality, but made without trimmings. The under-linen was equally fine, but on it the inspector could find no mark or initials likely to indicate the name. Apparently she had been seated at the piano when stabbed, and had fallen dead on the bearskin almost without a cry. The assassin had assured himself that she was dead, then had turned her face downward, so as to avoid the horrified stare of those wide-open eyes. At least this was the inspector’s view.
“A pretty woman,” said Derrick musingly. “Fair, slender, blue eyes, delicate hands. I should think she was a lady. Married”—he touched the ring—“but not rich, since she wears no ornaments. Careful in her dress, but, not mean, and not fashionable either. Hullo!”
This exclamation was drawn from him by the sight of a hat and cloak thrown over a chair on the further side of the piano. These were also fine, but neat and unpretentious. The woman must have come to the house on a visit, since she certainly would not have placed her out-of-door things in such a place and have sat down had she a bedroom in the house. But what was she doing in a mansion, the owner of which was at the seaside? Had the first man let her in with his latch-key, and if so, how did he come to be in possession of the latch-key? These were questions which the inspector was trying to answer when the doctor arrived.
Geason was an ambitious young medical man who had set up in Troy a year previously, and was trying hard to scrape a practice together. He was well aware that such a case as this would give him a much-desired publicity, and consequently expressed himself profoundly grateful to Derrick for the job. Then he knelt beside the body and made an examination, while Tracey, who had returned, questioned the inspector. “Found out anything?” he asked.
“Only that the woman was a visitor to this house,” and Derrick pointed out the cloak and hat.
“Strange,” said the American. “Wonder what she meant making free with a man’s house in his absence?”
“Are you sure Mr. Fane’s at the seaside?”
“Certain. Miss Baldwin was told by Miss Mason—and she’s Mrs. Fane’s sister—that they would stay a month. Westcliff-on-Sea is the place. Miss Mason got a letter yesterday. Fane was there then.”
“It is an easy run from Westcliff-on-Sea to this place,” responded Derrick dryly. “A man can fetch this house from there in a couple of hours. But I don’t suspect Mr. Fane.”
“He might be the man with the latch-key.”
“No.” Derrick thought of the key being new. “I don’t think so. Did any young man stay in this house?”
“Not that I know of. You’d better ask Miss Mason. I know nothing about this ranche. Well, doctor?”
“She’s been dead nearly five hours,” said Geason, rising.
“Nonsense,” said Derrick. “She was alive at eleven, and it’s not one o’clock yet.”
“I don’t know about that,” persisted Geason, “but from the condition of the body and the lack of warmth, I say she has been dead five hours.”
Derrick and Tracey looked at one another perplexed. If the doctor was right—and he seemed positive—this unknown person could not have been the woman who sang “Kathleen Mavourneen.”
“There’s four of them,” said Tracey; “two women and two men.”
Derrick shook his head. The case was too mysterious for him to venture an opinion.
“Maryanneliza, do keep the children quiet. The bad twins are fighting with the good twins, and the odd ones are making such a noise that I can’t finish this story.”
“Well, ma’am, there’s so much to be done. The breakfast’s to clear away, and the washing to be counted, and—”
“Oh, don’t trouble me,” cried Mrs. Baldwin, settling herself on the sofa. “It’s one of my bad days. What Miss Mason will think of the way this house is kept, I don’t know. What do I pay you wages for?”
“It’s little enough I get,” said Mary Ann Eliza, firing up.
“More than you’re worth,” retorted her mistress. “If you were a mother, with seven orphans to keep, you might talk. Where’s Miss Gerty?”
“Gone to see Mr. Tracey at the factory.”
“So like her,” lamented the mother; “no consideration for my feelings. What I feel only the doctor knows. There!” as several wild screams rent the air to tatters, “that’s blood. If any one of my darlings die, I’ll hold you responsible, Maryanneliza!” Mrs. Baldwin ran the three names into one as the children did, and shrieked out to stop the servant from going. But Maryanneliza knew better. If she stopped to listen to Mrs. Baldwin’s complaints, there would be no work done. She simply bolted to see which child was being tormented to death, and Mrs. Baldwin, after calling in vain, subsided into her book, and solaced herself with a lump of Turkish delight.
She was not unlike a Turkish odalisque herself, if rumour speaks truly of their fatness and flabbiness. A more shapeless woman it would have been hard to discover, and she usually wore a tea-gown as the least troublesome garment to assume. From one week’s end to the other, Mrs. Baldwin never went out, save for a stroll in the garden. Not even the delights of shopping could tempt her into making any exertion, and she had long since ceased to care for the preservation of her figure or good looks. At one time of her life she had been handsome, but the production of seven children, including two sets of twins, had proved too much for her. Also her second husband had deserted her, and as he had been responsible for six children, she complained bitterly of his absence. He was supposed to be alive, but kept carefully away from his too prolific wife. For eight years she had not heard from him, but never ceased to expect him back.
Mrs. Baldwin’s first husband had been a gentleman, and she was the pretty daughter of a lodging-house keeper, who had ensnared him when he was not on his guard. His family disowned him, and after the birth of a daughter, the young man broke his neck when hunting. He left Mrs. Harrow, as she was then, with the child and five hundred a year. Afterwards a man called Rufus Baldwin, attracted by the money, married the pretty young widow. Luckily, owing to the will, Mr. Baldwin was not able to seize the principal of the income. But he lived on his wife till six children came to lessen the money, and then finding he could get nothing more luxurious, he ran away. Mrs. Baldwin then removed to Cloverhead, and occupied an old manor-house at a small rent. It was a pleasant, rambling old mansion in a quiet street, and here she lived very comfortably on her five hundred a year.
“Do you remember Gerty Harrow with whom we were at school?” wrote Laura Mason to an old friend. “She lives here, near the place of my brother-in-law, and is now about twenty-two years of age. Such a nice girl—pretty and clever, and engaged to a most amusing American called Luther Tracey. He manufactures motor-cars, and Gerty Baldwin drives them. Whenever a car is sold, Gerty goes down and stops for a week or so with the people who buy it, to show them how it works. Being pretty she gets plenty to do. Mrs. Baldwin objected to Gerty doing this for a livelihood, and only consented when Gerty agreed to drop her father’s name. She is Miss Baldwin now, and I like her more than ever. The mother—”
Here followed several marks of exclamation, as though Laura’s powers of writing failed her, as they assuredly did. It would have taken the pen of Dickens to describe this lazy, self-indulgent, querulous woman, who lay on a sofa all day reading novels. At the present moment, she was deep in a Family Herald story called “Only an Earl,” in which a governess with a single rose in her hair marries, with great self-abnegation, a mere earl, after refusing two dukes and a foreign prince. Mrs. Baldwin, basking like a cat in the sunshine that poured through the window, read each page slowly, and ate a lump of Turkish delight every time she turned a page.
The sitting-room was most untidy. Children’s toys were strewn about; the carpet was raggedy the pictures hung askew, the red plush table-cloth—it was a most abominable covering—was stained, the blind was torn, and a broken window-pane had been filled up with brown paper. Yet the room had a comfortable, homely look, and if it had not been so disorderly, would have been pleasant to live in. But Mrs. Baldwin, quite undisturbed by the confusion, read on with great enjoyment. She only lifted her eyes when Laura Mason entered the room, and then her first words were querulous.
“How you can bear to stop here with Getty when your own home is so beautiful, I really don’t know,” moaned Mrs. Baldwin, keeping her place in the tale by bending the book backward. “Just look at this room. I may toil from morning to night, and it never will look tidy.”
“It’s comfortable, at all events,” said Laura, sitting down. “Do you feel well this morning, Mrs. Baldwin.”
“Just alive. I could hardly get out of bed. Not a wink of sleep, and dreadful dreams.”
Mrs. Baldwin did not explain how she could dream without sleeping, but she was such a wonderful woman that she could do anything. For instance, she could be idle throughout the day, and keep up the fiction that she worked like a slave. She could enjoy her life in laziness and dirt and selfishness, posing as a martyr to every one. Laura saw through her as most people did; but as Laura was a guest, and Gerty’s friend, she did not explain herself at length, as she would have liked to do. Besides, Mrs. Baldwin was a good-natured old dormouse, and no one could be angry with her long.
“I have been out with Gerty,” said Laura, sitting near the window; “she has gone to the factory to see Mr. Tracey.”
“She never thinks of me slaving from morning till night,” moaned the mother. “I’m skin and bone.”
Miss Mason nearly laughed outright, for Mrs. Baldwin was as fat as butter, and quite as soft. “You should take more care of yourself.”
“No, Miss Mason,” said the heroic woman. “I must deny myself all pleasures for the sake of my babes. Ah, they will never know what a mother they have.”
It certainly would not be for the want of telling, for Mrs. Baldwin was always recounting her virtues at length. She did so now. “When I was young and gay, and truly lovely, and lived with ma in Soho Square,” she rambled on, “I little thought that life would be so hard. When Mr. Harrow led me to the altar, all was sunshine, but now penury and disgrace are my portion.”
“Oh, not so bad as that, Mrs. Baldwin,” protested Laura.
“Penury, disgrace, and desertion, Miss Mason. Rufus Baldwin has left me with six pledges of his affection, and but for the forethought of my first husband—who must have foreseen the twins—I would have starved in chains and miry clay.”
Having thus placed herself in the lowest position she could think of, in order to extort sympathy, Mrs. Baldwin ate more Turkish delight—she was too selfish to offer Laura any—and stated that her heart was broken. “Though I don’t show it, being trained by ma to bear my woes in silence,” she finished.
Laura said a few words of comfort in order to stop further complaints, and then stated that she was going to Westcliff-on-Sea in two days. “My sister Julia is expecting me,” she said, “and I have been with you for over a week. It is so good of you to have me.”
“Not at all. I’ve done my best to make you comfortable, Miss Mason, though heaven knows I can hardly keep on my feet.” Here Mrs. Baldwin closed her eyes as a token of extreme exhaustion. “But we must do our duty in the world, as I always tell Horry, who is to be a parson, if he can pass the examinations, which I doubt. Of course Gerty will marry Mr. Tracey, who is well off, and leave her poor ma, who has done so much for her. But I am determined that my babes shall occupy the best places in society. Totty, Dolly, and Sally shall marry money. Jimmy and Dickey must win renown to repay me for my lifelong agonies. You don’t look well, Miss Mason?”
The suddenness of this question, coming so quickly after the rambling discourse, made Laura start and colour. She was a fair, pretty girl, with yellow hair and a creamy complexion. Her eyes were dark, her mouth delightful, and her nose was “tip-tilted like the petal of a flower,” to quote her favourite poet. Not a particularly original girl either in looks or character, but charming and sympathetic. Laura had a wide circle of friends who all loved her, but no one could call her clever. But she was so womanly that men liked her. “I am quite well, Mrs. Baldwin,” she declared; “only I did not sleep much last night.”
“Dreams! dreams!” moaned Mrs. Baldwin. “I had horrible dreams about you. I fancied I saw you eating bananas. Every one knows that means trouble. But pine-apples growing in ice are the worst,” said Mrs. Baldwin. “I have never dreamed that. Trouble is coming to you.”
“Don’t!” cried Laura, starting to her feet, and with an anxious air; “please don’t! I think dreams are nonsense.”
“No,” said Mrs. Baldwin, producing a small book from under her sofa pillow. “Read this, and see what it means to dream of sparrows pecking cats to death.”
Laura laughed. “I should rather think the cats would eat the birds.”
“Not in a dream. Everything goes by contraries in dreams. Before John Baldwin ran away, I dreamed he was rushing into my arms, crowned with honeysuckle. But that day he went. Didn’t your walk last night do you good?”
“No,” said Laura shortly, then went on with some hesitation. “I was away only for half an hour.”
“Where did you go?”
“Across the fields.”
“Thinking of Mr. Calvert, no doubt,” said Mrs. Baldwin playfully.
Laura grew red, and on another occasion would have resented this remark about the young gentleman mentioned by Mrs. Baldwin. But at this moment she appeared to be rather glad of the suggestion. “I was thinking of him,” she assented.
“A very nice young man, though he is an actor.”
“Why shouldn’t he be an actor?” demanded Laura angrily.
“There! there!” said Mrs. Baldwin soothingly; and aggravatingly, “We know that love levels all ranks.”
“Arnold Calvert is a gentleman.”
“Your sister, Mrs. Fane, doesn’t think so. She expressed herself much annoyed that he should pay his addresses to you.”
“Julia can mind her own business,” said Laura angrily. “She married Mr. Fane, and he wasn’t a very good match.”
“No indeed. Your sister had the money.”
“And I have money also. Quite enough for Arnold and I to live on, as you—” Here Laura held her tongue. She really did not see why she should tell Mrs. Baldwin all her private affairs. But when the heart is very full, the tongue will speak out. Luckily at this moment there was another outburst of noise overhead, and Mrs. Baldwin moaned three times.
“The bad twins are persecuting the good ones, and the odd ones are looking on,” she lamented. “Do go up and see, Miss Mason.”
Laura, glad of an excuse to leave the room, saw Mrs. Baldwin with another lump of delight in her mouth, and another page turned, and flew up the stairs. Here she found a general rebellion. The bad twins, Totty and Dickey, aged ten, were pinching the good twins, Jimmy and Sally, aged twelve. Horry and Dolly, who, not being twins, were called the odd ones, looked on complacently. Laura darted into the middle of the fray, and parted the fighters.
“Horry! Dolly! You ought to be ashamed of yourselves to see these children fight so. Horry, you are fourteen, and you, Dolly, are seventeen. Why don’t you behave?”
“We are behaving,” said Dolly, a girl in the stage of long legs, short frocks, and inky fingers. “We haven’t touched them. I can’t study my French lesson for the noise.”
“And I’ve got my algebra to do.”
“You shouldn’t learn lessons on Sunday,” said Laura.
“Why not? Gerty’s gone to business.”
“She has not. She only went to see if Mr. Tracey found his motor-car that was lost last night.”
“Ah! And I’m glad of it,” cried Horry triumphantly. “He wouldn’t let me sit in it to watch.”
“And a good thing to,” said Dolly, pensively picking a hole in her stocking; “you started it last time.”
“And nearly ran us over,” said one of the good twins.
“I wish he had,” said the bad twins in chorus. “Come and play, Miss Mason. Bible games!”
“I have no time. Gerty will be back soon. Now, be good children, and don’t disturb your mother. She has a headache. Besides, you must get ready for church.”
“I hate church,” growled Horry. “And if mother thinks I’m going to be a parson, I ain’t. So there now.”
“You’ll never go to heaven then,” said Sally, who was the most pious of the good twins.
“Oh, mon Dieu, quel dommage!” said Dolly.
“Dolly!” cried Laura, shocked.
“I’m only swearing in French. It doesn’t sound so bad as using bad words in English.”
“No,” chimed in a bad twin. “I heard the gardener say—”
“Hold your tongue, Jimmy; you needn’t say the word!”
But Jimmy, being bad by nature and training, had made up his mind to say the word, and did so very distinctly. An uproar ensued, which ended by the entrance of Mary Anne Eliza. “Come and be washed.” There was a chorus of protests, in the midst of which Laura escaped. Not being inclined to talk further to Mrs. Baldwin, she went out in the garden, which was large and as ill-kept as the house within. At the gate she paused, and leaning over, looked up the lane. It was a beautiful morning, and the air was as balmy as the sky was blue. But the exquisite weather did not banish the dark look from Laura’s face. She gazed up the road with compressed lips, and then taking a letter out of her pocket, she read it hurriedly. Thus engaged, she did not see a tall brunette flying down the lane, with a flushed face, and an air of excitement.
“O Laura!” cried the newcomer; “O Laura! Such news—dreadful news.”
Miss Mason started, and her face grew pale. Hastily thrusting the letter into her pocket, she looked at the girl. “What is it, Gerty? Nothing is wrong with Arnold?”
“No! no! What a timid thing you are,” said Gerty, opening the gate. “But I have just seen Luther. He hasn’t found his car. But he told me that a murder had been committed in your sister’s house.”
“A murder!” Laura grasped her friend’s arm. “Not Arnold?”
“No. It’s a woman.”
“Who is she?”
“No one knows. She was found lying dead in the White Room. Stabbed in the back, and quite dead. Such a pretty woman, Luther says, and quite young. Luther thinks the murderer ran away with his car, and that’s how it’s missing. He’s coming round here this morning to see you.”
“To see me? Why should he see me? I know nothing.”
Laura spoke sharply, and her face was in a glow of colour. At the same time it expressed bewilderment. “How did the woman enter the house?” she asked; “and who is she?”
“I tell you no one knows,” said Gerty impatiently. “You’ll hear all from Luther, when he comes. But don’t say anything to mother. She’ll only moan and make a fuss. Besides, Luther says it had better be kept quiet till your brother-in-law comes up. He has been telegraphed for by the police.”
“The police. O Gerty, will they bring the police into the matter?”
“Of course. It was a policeman who found the body last night.”
“How did the policeman enter the house?” asked Laura. “It’s shut up, and not even a caretaker was left.”
“I don’t know the whole story. Luther would not tell me much.” Here Gerty looked at her friend. “Laura, I thought you went to the house last night.”
“No,” said Laura, after a moment’s hesitation. “I told you that I was going to meet Arnold. You know that I have to meet him by stealth, since Julia objects to our engagement. It is not likely we would meet at the house—especially as it is locked up.”
“Did you meet him?” asked Gerty persistently and curiously.
“I didn’t. I went into the fields by the Nightingale’s Tree, and waited till nearly a quarter to ten. But Arnold never came.”
“Did he promise to come?”
“No. I only went on the chance. He thought that he might be able to get away if his understudy could take his part in the piece.”
“I expect he couldn’t get away,” said Gerty. “How awful this murder is. I wonder who the woman can be, and how she came to be killed.”
“It’s very strange,” said Laura, who was pale but composed. “Gerty, did you tell Luther I was out last night?”
“No. We were too busy talking of the crime.”
“Then say nothing. I should only get into trouble with Julia.”
It was not from Tracey that Laura learned the details of the Ajax Villa tragedy. Leaving Gerty in the garden with her lover, Miss Mason walked round to the house, eager to hear all that had taken place. A rumour about the murder had crept round Troy, and a few curious people were staring at the windows. But no policeman was to be seen. The inspector kept his officers on guard inside the villa, thinking, and very rightly, that the sight of a constable in the garden would provoke inquiry, and bring onlookers. Derrick wished the matter kept as quiet as possible until the arrival of Mr. Fane. The body of the unfortunate woman had been removed to one of the bedrooms, and a policeman watched at the door. Everything in the house was in the same order as it had been when entered by Mulligan, and Derrick himself took up his quarters in the White Room. Here he issued orders.
“If a young lady calls to see me, let her in,” he said; “but no one else is to be admitted.”
“Mr. Tracey, sir?” asked Mulligan, who was full of official pride.
“Yes; certainly. I except him. But no one else, mind.”
“What about the wire to Mr. Fane, sir?”
“I’ll send it as soon as I get his address from the lady. Ah”—he nodded as a ring came to the door—“there she is.”
Laura entered the room, looking pale and discomposed, evidences of emotion of which Derrick took note. To be sure, it was natural that a girl of this tender age should be unstrung by the tragedy which had taken place, and Derrick scarcely expected to see her other than moved. But having regard to the crime, he was suspicious of all the Fane family. He admired Laura’s fresh beauty, and placed a chair for her, apologising meanwhile for the disagreeable duty he had to perform.
“But I am sure you will excuse me, Miss Mason,” said the gallant Derrick. “I will ask as few questions as possible.”
“I really don’t know what questions you can ask me,” said Laura.
“Oh, that is an easy matter, Miss Mason. However, we had better clear the ground, so that we may understand one another. It was Mr. Tracey who told me that you are the sister-in-law of Mr. Fane, and I requested him to bring you round. Is he below?”
“No; I preferred to come myself. Mr. Tracey is of a very inquiring nature, and I don’t want him to hear all I may have to tell you.”
Derrick shook his head. “I fear you will be obliged to let the whole of London hear, Miss Mason. There will be an inquest.”
“Must I appear at that?”
“Certainly. You may be able to identify the woman.”
“I fear not, from the description Mr. Tracey gave of her.”
Derrick looked at her sharply as she said this. Her eyes met his fairly, and she did not flinch from his scrutiny. But her bosom rose and fell hurriedly, her cheeks flushed, she passed her tongue over her dry lips. All these things gave evidence of inward discomposure. Whether she knew anything, Derrick was not prepared to say. But if she did, he was sure it would be difficult to make her speak out. Laura was innocent and young, but in spite of her delicate appearance, she had a strong will. Derrick guessed as much from the way in which she tightened her lips. But he could not conceive that she could hold out against his examination. “Have you anything to conceal?” he asked abruptly and rashly.
Laura coloured still more and glanced at him indignantly. “How can you speak to me like that?” she said; “do you suspect me?”
“No. Certainly not. But the affair is strange, Miss Mason.”
“From the little I gathered from Mr. Tracey, it is,” she assented.
“Here is a house shut up,” said Derrick, pursuing his own train of thought; “left without even a caretaker—”
“There was no need for one to be left,” interposed the girl. “My sister, Mrs. Fane, thinks that Troy is a safe suburb. There have been no burglaries hereabouts, so she merely asked the police to keep an eye on the house. Besides, she is away only for three weeks.”
“When do Mrs. Fane and family return?”
“In six days.”
“You remained behind?”
Laura bowed. “My sister and I are not on very good terms,” she began, “and I thought it best to remain with my friend, Miss Baldwin, while the house was shut up. But you were saying something.”
“Merely that it is queer this woman—this stranger—if she is a stranger, should obtain admittance into the house while those who own it are away. She came on Saturday evening—at what time we are not as yet able to learn. No one saw her come. We do not know if she came alone or in the company of any one. But come she did, and entered the house. How did she get in?”
“I am as puzzled as you are, sir. But if you will let me see the body, I may be able to tell you if it is that of a stranger to me.”
“We can do that later,” said Derrick. “Meanwhile I wish to put a few questions. And even if this woman were not a stranger is it likely that she could enter the house?”
“No. So far as I know, my brother-in-law alone has a latch-key.”
“Is there not another possessed by a young man?”
Laura looked out of the window while answering this question. “Not that I know of,” she said faintly.
Derrick appeared satisfied with this reply, and took out his note-book. “Answer my questions, please,” he began. “Who is Mr. Fane?”
“My brother-in-law. He is the second partner in the shipping firm of Mason, Son, and Mason.”
“Oh! And why does not his name appear?”
Laura explained. “The firm is an old one,” she said; “there are two partners, my brother and Walter Fane. When my father died, the firm was Mason, Son, and Mason, and as it is an old-established one, my brother did not change the name when Mr. Fane became a partner.”
“When did Mr. Fane become a partner?”
“Three years ago, when he married my sister Julia!”
“Did Mr. Fane bring any money into the business?” asked Derrick; then seeing Laura’s look of surprise, he continued apologetically, “Excuse me, Miss Mason, but I must know everything.”
“I believe Mr. Fane brought very little money into the business. It was my sister Julia who had the money, and she paid sufficient to my brother to buy Walter a share. But I have no right to tell you these things,” said Laura, flushing. “If you wish to know anything further you must ask Mr. Fane himself.”
“I intend to. Will you give me his address?”
“Ocean View, Wandle Road, Westcliff-on-Sea.”
Derrick noted this in his book. “I’ll send a wire to him,” he said, “as the inquest takes place to-morrow and we must have him present. By the way, do you know a young man with a pointed beard and slim figure? Is he a visitor at this house?”
“Not that I know of,” said Miss Mason promptly. “I know no one of that type—with a pointed beard, I mean.”
“Yet such a young man came out of the house, and held the policeman in talk while his accomplice murdered this woman.”
“Were there two men, then?”
“We think so,” answered Derrick cautiously. “I presume, Miss Mason,” he added, “you have been to this house since Mrs. Fane left it?”
“But living so near—Meadow Lane is but a stone-throw away.”
“Quite so. All the same I had no reason to return here.”
“You live in this house?”
“With my sister. Yes.”
“Then your things are here?”
Laura looked hard at Derrick, trying to fathom his meaning. “I took all needful things with me, as though I were going on a long journey, Mr. Inspector. For nearly two weeks I have lived with Mrs. Baldwin, and have not been in Achilles Avenue.”
“Have you not passed the house?”
“I said that I had not been in Achilles Avenue,” replied Laura.
“Then you know nothing,” said Derrick, obviously disappointed with the result of his examination.
The inspector nursed his chin, and thought with his eyes on the ground. There was nothing else he could ask. Mr. Fane was the owner of Ajax Villa, and as this unknown woman had been murdered therein, Mr. Fane alone would be able to say how she had come by her death. In his past life might be found the reason that the poor creature should be so slain. “What did Mr. Fane do before he joined the firm?”
“Nothing,” replied Laura, rousing herself from her own thoughts; “he is possessed of independent means and travelled a great deal. I suppose he grew weary of so aimless a life. However, my sister persuaded him to become a partner, which he did, after he married her.”
“Hum!” said Derrick, not finding this reply threw any light on the subject. Then he cast his eyes round the room. “This is a queer place, Miss Mason. Mrs. Fane’s idea?”
“No. Mr. Fane furnished the house. My sister does not like this room. It is too cold in its looks for her. Mr. Fane is fond of it. But the whole house was furnished before Mr. Fane married.”
“For the marriage, I presume.”
“No. Mr. Fane lived here as a bachelor for six months before he married my sister.”
“But no doubt the engagement lasted six months, and Mr. Fane furnished the house as he thought your sister would like it.”
“He did not. Mr. Fane married my sister at the end of three months, and before that he furnished the house according to his own taste.”
Derrick thought this strange. However, he did not ask any more questions, as he felt that he had rather exceeded the limits of an even official courtesy. “I am much obliged to you for replying so frankly to my questions, Miss Mason,” he said. “If I have been too curious, the strange nature of this case must be my excuse. We will now inspect the body.”
Laura’s cheeks grew even paler than they were. But she made no objection. Silently she followed the inspector, moving indifferently through the house. Only when they arrived at the door of the death-chamber did she draw back. “You have put the body into my room,” she said resentfully.
“I am sorry,” said Derrick, opening the door, “but of course I was quite in ignorance.”
“I shall never be able to sleep in the room again,” murmured Laura, and passed through the door which Derrick held open.
Out of delicacy the inspector did not enter with her. He remained outside, thinking over what she had said. It seemed to him that Mr. Fane had married very suddenly, and had taken his bride to a house which had not been furnished for her. The house was too large for a bachelor, and must have been intended for two. What if Fane had been engaged to some one else, for whom the house was furnished, but the engagement being broken, and married Miss Julia Mason so hurriedly. If this were so, the house with its strange White Room which was not to the present Mrs. Fane’s taste must have been furnished for the unknown woman. And perhaps the unknown woman was the poor soul who lay dead within. Only Fane had the latch-key, only Fane could have admitted her, and then—here Derrick broke off. He felt that he was taking too much for granted; that he was building up a theory on unsubstantial foundations. Until he saw Fane, and learned what kind of a man he was, it was impossible to formulate any theory. Still, for his own satisfaction, Derrick determined to ask Laura a few more questions. It was at this moment she emerged, pale but composed.
“I do not know the woman at all,” she said, before he could speak.
“You are quite sure?”
“Perfectly. I never set eyes on her before. A pretty woman,” added Laura sadly, “and with quite a girlish face. I wonder what brought her here to meet her death.”
“I wonder,” said Derrick; “and who could have killed her?”
“That is the mystery,” sighed Laura, turning to go away.
“It will not remain one long. Mr. Fane must know her, since only he had the latch-key.”
“Yes. Only he has—” here Laura broke off and flashed an inquiring look on the inspector. “Do you mean to say that my brother-in-law knows something about this crime?”
“If only he has the latch-key—”
“You stated that this young man with a pointed beard met by your policeman had a latch-key.”
“Yes. But has Mr. Fane a beard?”
“A beard? No. He is clean-shaven.”
“He might have assumed a disguise.”
“How dare you hint at such a thing?” said Laura indignantly. “I am quite sure that Mr. Fane knows nothing. Last night he was at Westcliff-on-Sea, ill in bed. I can show you a wire. My sister knew that I was going to her to-morrow, and she wired last night at five o’clock saying that Walter was ill and that I had better not come.”
“Oh!” This statement took the inspector aback. If Fane had been ill at Westcliff-on-Sea, he certainly could not be the man met by Mulligan. “Can you show me the wire?” he asked.
“I will send it round to you. And I am quite sure that when you see Mr. Fane you will not suspect him of this crime. A better and more kindly man does not live. However this woman came to enter the house, however she was killed, and for what reason, Mr. Fane can know nothing of the matter. How was she killed?”
“Stabbed under the left shoulder-blade while she was singing.”
“Singing! What was she singing, and why in a strange house?”
“She was singing ‘Kathleen Mavourneen.’“
Laura looked surprised. “My sister’s favourite song.”
“Oh indeed,” said Derrick sharply. He hesitated. “Your sister is also at Westcliff-on-Sea?”
“Are you about to accuse her?” asked Laura disdainfully.
“I accuse no one,” replied Derrick, nettled. “I am only trying in all directions to learn facts upon which to build up a theory.”
“Then why don’t you look for real evidence?”
“Such as what, Miss Mason?”
“Such as the weapon with which this woman was killed.”
“We have looked. It cannot be found. The murderer took it away. He would not be such a fool as to leave that lying about. The doctor fancies from the nature of the wound that it must be a long slim dagger—a kind of stiletto.”
“Such as a foreigner might use,” said Laura involuntarily.
“What do you mean?” asked the inspector sharply.
Laura flushed. “Nothing, nothing,” she responded; “but foreigners usually make use of such a weapon, don’t they? An Englishman would not kill a person with a stiletto.”
“It’s not British, certainly,” said Derrick, with insular prejudice; “but a woman might use such a thing. Still, we do not know that the assassin is a man or”—he looked straight at her—“a woman.”
Laura could not quite understand his meaning, since it never struck her that he meant to incriminate her in the matter. She took no notice, being anxious to learn what Derrick thought. “What is your theory on existing facts?” she asked coldly.
Derrick reflected. “I hardly know what to say. Let us suppose that the woman admitted herself into the house. How she got the latch-key I am not prepared to say. She came to meet some one—possibly the two people who killed her.”
“The two people?” interrupted Laura abruptly.
“There was the young man who kept Mulligan in talk,” explained the officer, “and the one who presumably killed her. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that this woman met these two men. Seeing a policeman at the gate, Number One goes out to lure him away. Left alone with Number Two, the woman sits at the piano to sing. On the music-stand is ‘Kathleen Mavourneen.’ She knows that song and sings it. The assassin, standing behind her, watches his opportunity and stabs her. Then he goes.”
“You forget that the song was being sung, according to your own account, before Number One left the gate with the policeman.”
“Certainly. But the woman might have begun to sing immediately after Number One left.”
“Before,” insisted Laura. “The policeman listened while Number One was in the room. It was the song that made him stop. I am only going by what you told me. Your theory doesn’t fit together.”
Derrick frowned. “It is hard to put the pieces of the puzzle together, Miss Mason. Only in detective fiction does the heaven-born genius put this and that together in a flash. I—a mere mortal—am groping in the dark. I may discuss a hundred theories before I hit on the right solution. Nothing more can be done till I see Mr. Fane. As the woman was in his house, he must know—”
“He knows nothing,” interrupted Laura imperiously; “he can’t know. The man is ill at the seaside and—”
Derrick interrupted in his turn. “I’ll wait till I hear what Mr. Fane has to say,” he declared abruptly.
He rose to terminate the interview. As he opened the door Tracey entered hurriedly. “My car’s found,” he burst out.
“Where?” asked Derrick and Laura together.
“Stranded in the yard of Charing Cross Station.”
Laura turned quickly on Derrick. “I beg you to observe, Mr. Inspector, that you cannot get to Westcliff-on-Sea from Charing Cross.”
“I have not yet accused Mr. Fane,” retorted the inspector.
Naturally there was great excitement over “The White Room Crime,” as it soon came to be called. The inhabitants of Troy were shocked, as such a thing had never before happened in their locality. They found their holy quiet invaded by a host of reporters, detectives, policemen, idlers, and morbid folk who wished for new sensations. Mr. and Mrs. Fane left their child at the seaside and came up for the inquest, which was held at a quiet public-house in the neighbourhood. Fane insisted that the body should be taken away from Ajax Villa.
“It should have been removed at once,” he declared. “I don’t know the woman. I never set eyes on her. My wife doesn’t know her, and I can’t conceive how she came to die in my place.”
“Do you alone own the latch-key?”
It was Derrick who asked this question, and he eyed Fane sharply as the reply came.
“I alone own the latch-key of my house,” said Fane; “it is a peculiar lock. No other key but mine will fit it. See!” He produced a long slim key, upon which Derrick, unlocking a drawer, took out of it the key picked up by Mulligan. The two were identical in all respects. “You see,” said Derrick in his turn, “a duplicate has been made. I noticed that the strange key was new when Mulligan showed it.”
“Where did you get this key?”
“The young man who lured Mulligan away from the gate dropped it.”
“Very strange,” said Fane in a puzzled tone. “I can’t understand. I don’t think the locksmith who made me my key can have made two, as I especially agreed with him that he was not to do so.”
“Have you his address?”
“Yes. It is at my office in the city. I will give it to you. But I am sure the man is to be trusted. A most respectable tradesman.”
“Hum,” said Derrick, scratching his chin. “Respectable tradesmen do queer things for money at times.”
“But why should this strange woman have been brought to this house—my house—to be murdered?”
“I can’t say. That is what we have to find out. You don’t know this woman?” asked Derrick doubtfully.
Fane was a smart, cheery-faced fellow with rather a weak mouth. He looked rather haggard, as he had practically risen from a sick-bed to obey the summons of the law. For the moment he appeared puzzled when Derrick spoke. Then he flashed an indignant look on him, and grew red. “Do you mean to insinuate that I did something underhand, Mr. Inspector?” he inquired excitedly.
“Men admire pretty women,” said Derrick dryly.
“I do, like all men. At the same time I am faithful to my wife, whom I love very dearly. We are a most attached couple. And if you hint at anything wrong, sir, let me tell you that I was ill with a cold at the seaside when this crime was perpetrated. Also, had I been in town—had I known this woman—I certainly should not have brought her to my own house.”
“No! no! quite so,” said Derrick soothingly. “I don’t mean to hint for a moment that your character is not spotless. But this key, sir. Has it ever been out of your possession?”
“Never! I carry it, as you see, on a steel chain. It comes off at night and goes on in the morning. Only my wife could have had it in her possession. You are not going to accuse her of taking an impression, are you?” asked Fane scathingly.
“Does Mrs. Fane know the woman?” asked Derrick, passing over this ironical speech.
“No. She never set eyes on her. No one knows who the woman is.”
“Strange! Strange! I wonder why she should be killed in your house?”
“Don’t you know her name?” asked Fane.
“No. There is no mark on her linen; no cards or letters in her pocket. She came out of the darkness into your house, and has been swallowed up by the darkness of the grave. We know no more. At the inquest something may transpire.”
“I sincerely hope so,” said Fane bluntly. “The whole thing is most disagreeable. I shall have to give up Ajax Villa. My wife is quite upset. The affair will put me to great expense. Good-day.”
“One moment. Do you know a young man with a pointed beard?”
“Not that I can recall,” replied Fane after a pause. “But of course I may have met such a person.”
“Well”—Derrick gave up his questions in despair—“we must wait for the inquest.”
But here a fresh disappointment awaited him. Nothing came to light at the inquest likely to throw light on the mystery. Geason proved that the unknown woman had been stabbed from behind and had died almost immediately. He was positive that she had been dead five hours when he was called in. If this were so, the woman who sang the song could not be the dead one. Nor could the young man who entered into conversation with Mulligan have been sent to lure him away so that the murder might take place. When the young man came out of the house the woman must have been dead three hours. The doctor firmly held to this opinion, and thereby perplexed the jury and upset the theories of Derrick.
Various were the opinions given by those present during the interview. Some thought this, some that, and every one had his own pet solution of the mystery. But the evidence was scanty. Both Mr. and Mrs. Fane stated that they knew nothing of the woman. The husband insisted that the latch-key had never been out of his possession, and the wife asserted that he had been sick in bed miles away at the time the crime was committed. Mulligan described his meeting with the strange young man and the conversation which had ensued; also his discovery of the body, and how he had entered the house. All inquiries on the part of the police failed to prove the identity of the dead. Tracey stated how he had missed his motor-car, and evidence was forthcoming to show that it had been left in the Charing Cross yard. But no one seemed to know who had brought it there. The result of this crop of scanty facts was obvious. The jury brought in a verdict against some person or persons unknown.
“It’s the only thing to be said,” said Derrick to Fane when the crowd dispersed. “The woman is dead, and she must be buried. That cost will fall on the parish.”
“No,” replied Fane, who did not seem to be an unkindly man. “The poor creature died in my house, so I will charge myself with her burial. I have consulted Mrs. Fane, and she thinks as I do.”
“But you know nothing about her.”
“That is true. However, if you make inquiries, you may learn.”
The inspector shook his head. “I fear not; I don’t know where to look. It is a kind thought of you to bury her, Mr. Fane. Not many men would do that in your place after the trouble you have had.”
“It’s the least I can do, seeing she was murdered under my roof. But you may hear who she is. Why not advertise?”
“That has been done. Handbills have been placed round describing her looks, and with a picture. Orders have been sent throughout London to the police to keep their eyes open. I doubt if anything will come of the hunt though.”
“Surely,” said Fane, wrinkling his brows, “a woman can’t disappear like this in London?”
“London is the very place where people disappear,” retorted Derrick. “Those who live in this big city never know how many people vanish yearly and are never heard of again. In this case we have the body of the woman, but who she was, where she came from, and why she was murdered in your house, will probably never be known.”
“Well,” said Fane, with the air of a man dismissing the subject, “if you do intend to make inquiries, please keep me advised of your discoveries. I should like to know how the woman entered the house. I believe you saw my locksmith?”
“I did. He swears positively that he did not make a duplicate key. More than that, he has not a duplicate of the one he made you.”
Fane looked doubtful. “I should have thought he would have retained a copy for trade purposes. Suppose I lost the key—”
“He would not have been able to make you another, Mr. Fane. However, I am keeping an eye on him. He may be lying for his own ends. One never knows, and I always mistrust respectable men.”
“From what my sister-in-law told me, Mr. Derrick, you were inclined to mistrust me.”
Derrick coughed. “The case is so strange,” said he; “but I am now quite sure that you had nothing to do with the matter.”
“Thank you for nothing,” said Fane dryly. “It is lucky that with the assistance of my wife I was able to prove an alibi.”
“Very lucky indeed,” replied the inspector cheerfully. “Had you been in town that night, and unable to explain your comings and goings, it might have gone hard with you.”
“Do you mean to say—”
“Nothing—absolutely nothing. But see here, Mr. Fane; put yourself in my place, in the place of any man. A woman gains admittance to your house and there is murdered. You alone have the key. On the face of it, does not that look as though you alone killed her, else, why the use of your key to let her enter the house? It is lucky for you, as you say, that in full open court, and in the ears of all men, you were able to prove an alibi, else nine out of ten would have suspected you of knowing more than you stated.”
“I said all I knew.”
“I am sure of that, sir; and you proved—with the assistance of Mrs. Fane—your innocence. As they say, you leave the court without a stain. All the same, the case is strange. For my part, pending the discovery of the young man who dropped the key, I shall hunt for the woman. In her past life will be found the explanation of her death. I shall let you know how I get on, but I must ask you to also keep me advised of what you see and hear.”
Fane shrugged his shoulders and took out a cigar. “I shall take no further steps in the matter. Once this woman is buried, and I have left Ajax Villa, the thing will be relegated to obscurity so far as I am concerned.”
“Well,” said Derrick, with a side look, “perhaps that’s natural.”
He then said good-bye to Fane, and went away thoughtfully. Derrick was not a particularly brilliant mortal, as his conduct of the case shows. As the saying goes, he could not see further than his nose. But he certainly wondered in his own mind, if despite the evidence of Mrs. Fane, her husband might not have something to do with the matter. To save his life, to keep him from shame, she might have kept silence. “But it’s impossible,” said Derrick aloud. “If he was guilty, she would not lie. If the victim had been a man now. But as it was a woman, a jealous creature like Mrs. Fane would certainly not sacrifice herself to save a man who deceived her. No; Fane is guiltless. But who is the culprit? That’s the question.” And it was a question which Derrick could not answer, though he tried to do so in his blundering way.
So the unknown woman was duly buried. Tracey and Fane went to the funeral, and the body was followed by a large concourse of those who wished to see the last of the victim of this mysterious tragedy. Every one agreed that Fane was behaving very well in thus giving the poor wretch decent burial. Fane looked white and worn when the grave was being filled in, and the rumour went round of how ill he had been, and how he had come up from a sick-bed to see this matter through. Several people shook hands with him as he left the cemetery, and he was congratulated on all hands. Then the gates of the burial-ground were closed, and the grave was left to the rain and the sunshine. For all any one present knew, its secret would not be delivered up until the Judgment-day.
It was the press that said the last word on the subject. The Daily Budget, always in search of the sensational, thought the affair strange enough to give it the honour of a leading article. As many people may remember the perplexity of police and public in connection with this murder, it may not be uninteresting to give an extract or two from the article.
“The inexplicable murder in Troy is one of those crimes which at once startle and shock the public. That a woman should be done to death in this manner is bad enough, but that with our wonderful police organisation, her identity should remain a mystery is nothing less than a scandal and a shame. If the houses of law-abiding citizens are to be made the shambles for unknown assassins, the sooner the police force is reorganised the better. And again, is it not disgraceful that nothing can be found likely to prove who this poor creature is? Have we not newspapers and agents and handbills and all the paraphernalia of civilisation for the detection of the unknown? Search should be made in the most minute manner in order to prove who this dead woman is. Once her name is discovered, in her past life may be found the reason of her untimely and tragic death. This is the opinion of Inspector Derrick, who has handled the case, with all its strange elements of mystery, with but an indifferent degree of success. Not but what we are prepared to admit that the case is remarkably difficult and would tax the intellect of a Vidocq to unravel.
“It would seem that the woman went to the house between eight and nine o’clock, and was murdered shortly after she entered the door. Certainly she was seated at the piano, and certainly the song of ‘Kathleen Mavourneen’ was open before her. But we are sure that she never sang the song. While waiting for some one—perhaps the assassin who struck her down—she may have played for a time. But the woman who sang the song did so some three hours after the death of the unfortunate creature. Mulligan swore that he heard the song about eleven; the doctor declares that the woman was murdered before nine o’clock. On the face of it, it is impossible to reconcile this conflicting evidence.
“No one saw the woman enter the house, although many people were about Achilles Avenue during the evening. But in the multitude of people—especially on a Saturday night—would lie the chance of the woman not being observed. Few people knew that Mr. Fane and his family—one little girl—were at the seaside; so even if any one had noticed the woman enter the gate of Ajax Villa such a thing would not be fixed in the mind of the observer. All inquiries have been made, but no one appears to have noted the woman’s coming. It is therefore impossible to say if she entered the house alone or in the company of the assassin.
“And with regard to the assassin. We are inclined to think he is a man—and that man who spoke to the policeman at eleven o’clock. It might be, that gaining admittance by his latch-key with the woman, he killed her almost immediately he entered, and then watched his chance of escape. That he entered the house with the woman appears clear. We stated above that it is impossible to say if the woman entered the house alone. By this we mean that the man may have come earlier, and may have admitted her before nine o’clock. The poor creature walked into a death-trap. Taking her to the White Room, he lured her to sit down at the piano, which would give him an opportunity of standing behind her to stab her unawares. Then when she was dead, he probably looked out of the window to see how he could escape. Fear evidently kept him within till nearly eleven o’clock. Then he saw the policeman passing, and then he sang the song to make the man believe a woman was singing. Afterwards, when he had lulled any suspicions the policeman may have entertained, he came out and escaped in the manner described. This is our theory. The singer is described by Mulligan—a remarkably intelligent officer—as having a deep contralto voice; so it is probable the assassin sang in falsetto. That the man killed the woman and thus escaped, we are sure; for only he having the latch-key could have admitted her, and only he could have a reason to lure her into the house. What that reason may be, must remain for ever a mystery.”
So far the Daily Budget with its gimcrack theory. A rival newspaper promptly set to work to pick holes in the case as presented by the paper. This rival journal, the Star of Morning, commented as follows:
“Our respected contemporary goes too fast. Evidence was given clearly by Mulligan that the song was being sung while the presumed assassin—in the Daily Budget’s opinion—was in conversation with him at the gate. Therefore the young man with the pointed beard could not have sung ‘Kathleen Mavourneen’ in falsetto. The theory is amusing, but it won’t hold water. Our belief is quite different, and we think more real.
“In the first place, we think that the young man was the person who admitted the women into the house. So far we agree with our contemporary. We say ‘women,’ because we believe there were two people, the victim and another woman. These two women came to the house either in the company of the young man or by themselves. In any case, he admitted them, since, however he obtained it, he alone possessed the latch-key, and was thus enabled to enter the deserted house. Once in the White Room, and the victim lured to the piano—again we agree—she was murdered. The two assassins—for both the man and the woman are equally guilty, though we are not prepared to say who actually struck the blow—then watched their opportunity to escape. It is a marvel that they should have remained three hours in the house, perhaps in the room, after the crime was committed. They arrived unseen along with their victim, so it is natural to think that they would have escaped from the house as soon as possible, positive that they would not be suspected. But guilt makes cowards of every one, and it made cowards of these two. They waited in the room, watching the gradual desertion of Achilles Avenue. About eleven they decided to venture. Then the policeman appears. Doubtless to save appearances, the woman sang. The man looking out, went away to lure the policeman. He did so, and then the woman escaped. She saw Mr. Tracey’s motor-car standing unwatched at a gate, and forthwith used it to fly, fearful lest she should be followed. If she went straight to Charing Cross she must have arrived about half-past eleven. In the crowd in the yard on a Saturday night, with cabs and other vehicles coming and going, she would easily be able to draw up her car in a quiet corner. No one seems to have noticed her, and women driving motors is such a common spectacle now that no one would remark on the circumstance. We think that the woman then entered the station and left London. She may have escaped to the continent; she may have gone merely to a suburb. At all events, all trace of her is lost, and the deserted car was noted some hours later.
“This is our theory, and we think it is a more feasible one than that offered by our contemporary. As Mr. Fane is ignorant of the name of the deceased, it is inexplicable how she came to meet with her tragic death in his house. All the servants of Mr. Fane were at the seaside along with their master and mistress, so no blame can possibly be attached to them. Mr. Fane himself was ill in bed at Westcliff-on-Sea, so he can know nothing. He positively asserts that he alone possessed the latch-key, and the locksmith from whom he obtained it, declares that no duplicate was made. This is not the least strange element in this case. One thing we would draw our readers’ attention to—the decoration of the room in which the murder was perpetrated. It was all white, and the black dress of the corpse must have formed a strange contrast to the snowy desert around when the poor creature was discovered by Mulligan. Quite a picturesque murder! Mr. Fane seems to be a gentleman with an original turn for furnishing to possess such a room, and the crime adds to its romance. And the secret of this murder will never be discovered. Why the woman should be stabbed, why she should have been lured to that strange room to be killed, how the assassins obtained possession of the latch-key—these things must remain for ever a mystery. But we are convinced that the crime was committed by a man and a woman, and we have given our reason.”
To this statement—a purely theoretical one—the Daily Budget retorted in a short paragraph.
“We will merely ask our clever contemporary one question. ‘If the woman assassin thus invented was singing at the piano before the policeman leaned over the gate, what opportunity had she and the young man to concert their scheme of escape?’“
To this demand there came no reply, and the press ceased to comment on the crime. The murder at Ajax Villa was relegated to the catalogue of unknown crimes for quite two weeks. Then a strange thing came to light.
“You will have to make up your mind what you intend to do, my dear,” said Mrs. Fane to her sister, “for I may tell you that Walter and I have arranged to make a change.”
“In what way?” asked Laura, looking up from her sewing.
Mrs. Fane did not answer directly. She looked round the cosy morning-room, with rather a wistful expression. It was a very charming room, decorated in the fashion of a quaint, old parlour. In such an apartment might Jane Austen’s heroines have sat, and the two ladies in modern dresses looked rather out of place. Mrs. Fane was tall and statuesque, with a placid, firm face, beautiful but cold. Her eyes were calm; she had none of those wrinkles which show the indulgence of emotion, and an earthquake would have failed to upset her eternal self-possession. Occupied in knitting a fleecy shawl, she scarcely lifted her eyes as she spoke, but continued to work placidly, never dropping a single stitch. There never was a woman who had herself so much under control as Mrs. Fane. Laura often wondered how she came to marry an excitable, vivacious man like Walter. But perhaps the exception to the law that like draws to like drew them together, and Mrs. Fane found in her husband, whose nature was so totally opposed to her own, the complement of herself.
The sisters resembled one another very little: Mrs. Fane was dark and tall, Laura slight and fair. Laura laughed when she was amused, showed anger when she felt it, and indulged unrestrained in her emotions, though she never exceeded them. She was as open in her disposition as Mrs. Fane was secretive. A glance would reveal Laura’s thoughts, but no scrutiny would show what Mrs. Fane had in her mind. Both of them were plainly dressed, but Laura indulged in a few more trimmings than her sister. Mrs. Fane might have been a lady abbess, from the severity of her black garb. And a very good abbess she would have made, only the nuns under her charge would have been controlled with a rod of iron. She had no weaknesses herself, and had no patience with them in others. Not even pain appealed to her, for she had never been ill. Toothache was unknown to her; headaches she had never experienced; and she seemed to move amongst less favoured mortals like a goddess, majestic, unfeeling, and far removed from the engaging weaknesses of human nature. Mrs. Fane, by reason of this abnormal severity, was not popular.
To make a happy marriage, either the man or the woman must rule. If both have strong wills, separation or divorce is the only remedy to avert an unhappy life. If the man is strong, he controls the woman; if the woman has the will, she guides the man; and thus with no divided kingdom, the domestic life can be fairly happy, in some cases completely so.
When Mrs. Fane—Julia Mason she was then—determined to marry Walter, she also determined to have her own way. He was as weak as she was strong, therefore he did exactly as she ordered him. But she always gave him the outward rule, and, so to speak, only instructed him behind the scenes how he was to act on the stage of the world. People said that Mr. and Mrs. Fane were a happy pair, but they never knew the real reason of such happiness. Mrs. Fane concealed the iron hand in a velvet glove. Occasionally Walter proved restive, but she always managed by a quiet determination to bring him again into subjection. It may also be stated that she cherished a secret contempt that he should thus give in to her, although such yielding formed the basis of her ideal marriage. Only Laura knew how Mrs. Fane despised her husband; but since she was living with the pair, she was wise enough to keep this knowledge secret. Otherwise, Mrs. Fane would have made herself disagreeable, and she had a large capacity for rendering the house too hot for any one she disliked. Witness the expulsion of two servants who had served Fane when he was a bachelor, and who were discharged in the most polite way two months after Mrs. Fane came to live at Ajax Villa.
This domestic Boadicea looked round the room vaguely, and then brought her eyes back to the pretty, anxious face of Laura. She had a poor opinion of Laura, and always strove to impose her will on her. But Laura had her own ideas of life, and resented Julia’s interference. There was but little love between the sisters, and this was entirely due to Julia’s domineering temper. Not that the two ever fought. Mrs. Fane would not fight. She simply held out till she got her own way, and thus was usually successful with Walter. But Laura, made of sterner stuff, managed to hold her own, a firm quality which annoyed Julia, who liked people to grovel at her feet. She was a domestic tyrant of the worst.
Outside the sun was shining, and its rays penetrated even into the room. Mrs. Fane sat in a flood of gold, but was as unwarmed thereby as the statue of a goddess. Even the tragedy which had happened lately left but few traces of annoyance on her placid brow. Now that the unknown woman was buried, and the papers had ceased to interest themselves in the matter, she apparently dismissed it from her mind. Secretly she was annoyed with Laura because the girl had insisted on changing her bedroom. “I am not going to sleep in a room in which that body was laid out,” said Laura. And it was on this hint that Mrs. Fane framed her reply.
“I wonder at you asking in what way we intend to make a change,” she said in her cold voice, “seeing that you changed your room.”
“Oh; you find the villa disagreeable after this tragedy?”
“I do not. So far as I am concerned, I should not mind living here for the rest of my days. I like the house and the neighbourhood, and especially do I like the White Room—”
“The very place where the poor creature was killed said Laura, with a shudder, which made Mrs. Fane smile.
“My dear, what does that matter? Death is death, however it comes, as you ought to know. If a murder took place in every room in the house I should not mind.”
“Would you like it to take place in the nursery?” asked Laura.
Here she touched Mrs. Fane on a raw spot. If there was one thing the self-possessed woman loved it was her little daughter. That she was annoyed showed itself by the slight flush which crimsoned her face.
“You shouldn’t say such things, my dear,” she said in icy tones; “of course I except the nursery. An atmosphere of crime would not be conducive to the health of Minnie. But as I was saying, Walter wishes to give up the house.”
“You said nothing of the sort,” said Laura, irritated.
“I say it now, then. Walter wishes to go abroad.”
“What about the business?”
Mrs. Fane raised her perfectly marked eyebrows. “Well, what about it, Laura? You know Walter is often away for weeks yachting. Times and seasons make no difference to him, so far as his love of the sea is concerned. Frederick says”—Frederick Mason was her brother—“that Walter is of very little use in the office.”
“I wonder he keeps him, then,” said Laura.
“There is no question of keeping,” replied Mrs. Fane serenely; “you speak of Walter as though he were an office-boy. He is a partner, remember, and I do his business for him.”
“I don’t quite understand.”
“It’s very simple, Laura. Walter, as you know, brought very little money into the business. He seems to have spent what he had, or the greater part, in furnishing this house for me.”
“It was furnished before you and he became engaged.”
“That is true. But I saw what was coming a long time before Walter asked me to be his wife. He hinted that he was furnishing a house here, and how he was spending money on it. I then knew that he intended to make me his wife, and I determined to accept him. Not that I loved him over much,” added Mrs. Fane quietly, “but I was anxious to have a say in the business. Frederick is a fool; and unless the business is looked after, it will go to ruin. As the wife of one of the partners, I am able to take a part in the conduct of the business.”
“You could have done so without marrying,” said Laura.
Mrs. Fane shook her head.
“No. Father left you an income of five hundred a year, but he left me much more, because he knew that I would make good use of it. The money which came to me, and your principal, were not invested in the business. I asked Frederick to let me become his partner. He refused. Then I engaged myself to Walter, who became a partner with my money. Frederick is willing, seeing that Walter is not a good business man, to let me act for my husband. I dare say he could have permitted this without the marriage, but he would not for some reason. However, you know now why I married Walter. Besides, Walter is a fool, and I wished to have a weak husband, so that I might control him.”
“Was there no love at all in the marriage?”
“Well, my dear”—Mrs. Fane laughed—“I must confess that Walter is very good-looking, and that I should be jealous of his attention to any other woman. Are you answered?”
“Yes—so far as the love is concerned. But I don’t understand how Walter can go abroad and leave the business.”
“He is not much use. I can look after it for him, as I have always done. Do you think I should let Walter go away yachting if I did not like a free hand? He is happy on the sea, and I am happy in the counting-house, so all is well. This villa has become objectionable to Walter on account of the murder, so we intend to give it up. Probably we shall move to a French watering-place or to Switzerland. Walter can enjoy himself in his usual way, and I can run over when needful to attend to the business.”
“I understand. But if you make your home in Switzerland, you will be far from London. Also, Walter will not be able to yacht.”
“True enough. We shall see. I must be near England, so that I can run across rapidly, and Walter must be near the sea, for his beloved boat. If I allow Frederick to conduct the business without help, I am sure he will ruin it and me too.”
“I wonder you like Walter to remain away for so long, Julia.”
“My dear, I have perfect confidence in him.”
“But if you loved him—”
“I would keep him by me. Well, I do love him in a way, though he is too weak to command my respect. But Walter is one of those demonstrative men who are a nuisance to a woman of my temperament. He wants to kiss and caress all day long. I find that trying, so I prefer him to go away occasionally. And now you know what we intend to do, what about yourself?”
“Am I not to go with you?”
“If you like. But you are getting older, and, I must confess, that as you have an income of your own, I think you should have a home.”
“I see”—Laura looked directly at her sister—“you wish to get rid of me.”
“Oh no,” replied Mrs. Fane in quite a conventional way; “you are a very good companion for Walter, and he is fond of you in his weak way. As you don’t trouble me, I shall be pleased to have you with us abroad. But I think it right to give you the choice.”
“Of going with you as the fifth wheel on the chariot—”
“Or marrying,” said Mrs. Fane calmly—“yes. That is what I mean.”
“Suppose I do neither. I have my own money. I might go and live with Gerty Baldwin.”
“You might,” assented the elder sister, “if you like to live in a pig-sty with that lymphatic woman, who is more like a jelly than a human being.”
“There’s no harm in her,” protested Laura.
“Nor is there in a pig. But I don’t care to live with a pig. As to Gerty Baldwin, she is a fast young minx, engaged to a vulgarian.”
“Mr. Tracey is a kindhearted man.”
“But vulgar. And Gerty?”
“The dearest girl in the world.”
Mrs. Fane again lifted her eyebrows.
“I confess I don’t care for people of that sort.”
“Do you care for any one but yourself?” asked Laura bitterly.
“I care for Minnie, and a little for Walter,” said Mrs. Fane, “but the ordinary human being does not seem worthy of being liked.”
“You condemn the world as though you were its judge and not its denizen,” said Laura, with a curled lip and flashing eyes. “Julia, you were always a hard woman. Your nature is like our father’s.”
“Quite so, and for that reason he left me most of the money. You and Frederick take after our late mother. A kind woman, but so weak! Oh, dear me,” sighed Mrs. Fane; “how very weak!”
Laura felt inclined to walk out of the room. But she knew that such behaviour would result in nothing. Mrs. Fane would show no anger, but would simply attack Laura on the subject uppermost in her mind when they again met. The subject was Laura’s future, so the girl thought it best to bring the matter to an issue.
“Does all this mean that you withdraw your opposition to my marriage with Arnold?”
“No. I still think the match is a bad one. But if you are determined to commit social suicide, I will not hinder you. Down at Westcliff I considered the matter, and resolved to tell you this when I returned. Of course this murder brings the matter still more to the front, since it makes us give up the villa. You must decide whether to come with us, or to marry Mr. Calvert, and take your own life on your own shoulders.”
“We can settle that later. When do you go?”
“In three or four months. We have to get rid of the lease of the villa, you see, and there are other things to be considered. Have you accepted Mr. Calvert’s hand?”
“Yes. We are engaged.”
Mrs. Fane shrugged her ample shoulders.
“Fancy marrying an actor, and a mediocre actor at that! Why, the man can’t keep you.”
“I have money enough for us both.”
“Oh, I am quite sure that he will live on you, my dear. Why hasn’t he been to see you lately?”
Laura rose to her feet.
“Because I asked him not to come,” she said distinctly. “You have been so disagreeable to him that, for the sake of peace, I thought it best he should not visit me.”
“You saw him when you were at the Baldwins’?”
“Oh indeed!” sneered Mrs. Fane; “and when do you marry?”
“When we choose. Arnold is an actor and—”
“A perfect stick,” said Mrs. Fane derisively.
“A fine actor, as every one acknowledges. He will make his mark.”
“There are few signs of it at present. Just now he is acting in this new play at the Frivolity Theatre. A secondary part!”
“He has the leading comedy part,” said Laura angrily. “Julia, why will you annoy me?”
“My dear, I don’t. It’s your own bad temper. You never will face the truth. However, I have placed matters before you, so you can take time and decide your future course.”
“I won’t go abroad with you, Julia. We should only quarrel.”
“Oh dear me, no! I never quarrel. People—you included—are too weak to quarrel with. However, it’s decided you won’t come?”
“Yes. I shall live with the Baldwins.”
“I wish you joy! But recollect, if you marry this actor, I refuse to come to the wedding.”
“You had better wait till you are asked,” said Laura rather weakly, and left the room, fearful what she might say next. The last words she heard from Julia were an admonition to keep her temper.
At first Laura intended to go to her own room, but hearing voices in the White Room she peered in. To her surprise, she saw Arnold seated with Walter Fane. When they saw her, Arnold rose quickly and came forward.
“My dearest, how glad I am you have come!”
“Why didn’t you send for me?” said Laura, as he kissed her.
“I asked him not to,” interposed Walter uneasily. “Julia was with you, and she would have come also. I don’t feel well enough for Julia’s preaching at present,” he said, passing his hand across his brow; “this murder has upset me.”
“Have you heard about it, Arnold?” asked Laura, looking at her lover in a searching manner.
“Yes,” he replied calmly, and evidently prepared for the question. “And I should have come before to see you, but that you told me not to.”
“You haven’t been here for a long time,” said Walter wearily.
“Not since you left for the seaside. But I saw Laura at the Baldwins’ a week ago. Laura, you are not going?”
Miss Mason, who had changed colour while her lover was speaking, and had not taken her eyes from his face, was by this time half-way to the door.
“I must go,” she said rapidly. “I have something to do. I shall see you again.”
“When?” asked Calvert, detaining her at the door.
“I shall write and let you know,” said Laura, and abruptly withdrawing her hand from his, she escaped.
Arnold returned to his seat near Fane with a puzzled expression.
“What is the matter?” he asked, and there was an apprehensive look in his eyes.
Fane also looked nervous, but that was scarcely to be wondered at, considering the late events.
“I suppose Julia has been going on at her about you,” he said fretfully. “I wish you’d marry her right away and take her from Julia. Poor Laura has a bad time.”
“I am not in a position to do so now,” said Calvert gloomily; “things are bad with me. This play has not been a success, and I’ll be out of an engagement soon.”
“Laura has money for you both,” said Fane.
Arnold flushed to the roots of his fair hair.
“I do not intend to live on my wife,” he said sharply. “Until I can keep her in the style to which she has been accustomed, I will not marry her.”
Fane laughed rather weakly.
“As things stand at present there is not much chance of your becoming a wealthy man,” he said.
“Perhaps. And yet I don’t know. I may come in for money.”
“Really!” said Walter with interest; “some relative?”
Arnold nodded. “A cousin on my mother’s side. A man called Brand.”
Fane, who had been listening quietly, started from his seat.
“A man called Brand. He lives in Australia, and is very rich. I think the money will come to me, or to a cousin of mine—a woman.”
Fane was quiet again by this time. “I knew a man called Brand once. He was a scoundrel who cheated me out of a lot of money. A young man he was, with green eyes.”
“Can’t be any relative of mine,” said Calvert. “I never saw my cousin in Australia, but he looks a kindly man from his portrait. Not at all the sort to have green eyes. As to Flora’s eyes, they are brown.”
“Flora,” said Fane idly; “what a pretty name! Who is she?”
“The cousin I told you of. The money may come to her. She lives at Hampstead, but I have never been to her house.”
“How is that?”
“I only became aware of her existence some months ago,” said Arnold lightly. “We met by chance, and—but it’s a long story. But we learned that we were relations, and I promised to call.”
“But you didn’t?”
“No. Something always came in the way. But I dare say if Flora came in for the money she would help me. I might chuck the stage, and get a start—read for the bar, perhaps. Then I could marry Laura.”
“Have you any capabilities for the bar?” asked Fane. “For instance, what do you think of this murder?”
Arnold threw up his hand.
“Don’t ask me,” he said abruptly; “I have heard nothing else discussed but that murder for days. I am perfectly sick of it. What is your opinion?”
“I don’t know—I haven’t one. The whole thing is a mystery to me. All I know is that the death in this room has so sickened me, that I intend to give up the villa and go abroad to Switzerland.”
“An inland place. That will rather interfere with your yachting.”
Before Fane could answer, the door opened, and Mrs. Fane, serene as ever, entered with an evening paper in her hand. She started a trifle when she saw Arnold, but bowed gracefully.
“So pleased to see you,” she said with conventional falseness. “I must send Laura to you. She is dying to see you.”
“I have seen her, Mrs. Fane. I am now going away.”
“Oh!” Mrs. Fane smiled agreeably. “You have quarrelled.”
“Never mind—never mind!” interrupted Walter irritably. “What is the matter, Julia?”
She laid her cool hand on his head.
“How hot your brow is,” she said soothingly. “You have never been yourself since this horrid murder.”
“We agreed not to talk of it again,” said Fane, moving his head from under her hand.
“I fear we must,” said his wife, sitting down. “Don’t go, Mr. Calvert. This is no secret. Merely a paragraph in the paper.”
“Have they found out anything?” asked Arnold quietly.
“Well, it seems to be a sort of a clue. This room, you know—”
“This room!” Both men looked round the White Room, and then at one another. Finally both pairs of eyes were fixed on Mrs. Fane’s face.
“Yes,” she said calmly. “I need not read the paragraph. The gist of it is that the police have received a letter stating that there is a room like this in a house at Hampstead.”
“At Hampstead?” said Calvert, advancing a step.
“Yes. It belongs to a Mr. Brand.”
“Brand!” said Fane, looking at Calvert. “Why, that is the name you mentioned just now!”
“Yes,” said the young man with an effort. “I have a cousin called Flora Brand.”
“Dear me,” said Mrs. Fane in her cold way. “I wonder if she can be the miserable creature who was murdered in this room.”
“Julia!” Fane started to his feet. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t grow excited, my dear,” she replied in her soothing tones. “But it seems that Mrs. Brand has disappeared. The writer of the letter doesn’t describe her to the police; but inquiries are being made. Perhaps she may be the dead woman. How strange that she should have died in this room, when she has one of her own furnished exactly the same. This room was your own idea, Walter?”
“Yes,” he replied, looking puzzled, “my own idea. And I don’t know Mrs. Brand. How came she to have a similar room?”
Arnold took up his hat.
“I’ll find that out,” he said.
When he left the room, husband and wife looked at one another.
Coleridge Lane, Hampstead, was named after the great poet, who had once resided in the neighbourhood. If he lived in this special locality, he could not have found it congenial to his Muse, for the crooked, winding, sloping passage could hardly be called a lane, much less a road. Also, it was damp by reason of the ancient trees that nearly met overhead. On either side were small cottages standing amidst weedy gardens, the survivals of a far-off age, when a wide view and careful drainage were not considered as necessary to any human habitation. An air of melancholy hung over the place, and only because the rents were low did the cottages contain tenants.
Before the gate of one of these cottages stood Inspector Derrick one summer’s morning. He was in private clothes, and looked, as usual, smart and alert. With a sharp look on his stern face he stared at the damp, discoloured walls of the cottage, which matched with a moss-grown thatched roof. Yet, in spite of the apparent decay of the house, there was evidence that the occupier had some idea of tidiness and comfort. The garden was well weeded, and filled with homely cottage flowers now in full bloom. A green-painted fence divided the garden from the lane, and there was a narrow gate which bore the name “Fairy Lodge.” The windows were draped with lace curtains tied with smart pink ribbons. The brass door-knocker was well polished, and the step thoroughly whitewashed. Apparently the landlord would not, and the tenant could not, renovate the cottage, but much had been done to render it a little less melancholy than the neighbouring houses.
Derrick stood enjoying the cool breeze and sunshine on that bright morning, and wondering if the person he had appointed to meet him there would come. It was already five minutes past the hour of eleven, so the person was late. But even while the inspector looked at his watch, the individual appeared. He was an old man, thin and weather-worn, dressed in shabby clothes, and looking as though he had not enough to eat. He appeared to be almost as shabby as the neighbourhood, and hobbled towards Derrick coughing, and limping with the aid of a stout stick. As soon as he came within eyeshot—for his sight did not seem to be good—he halted mistrustfully. Derrick, guessing that he was the man who was to meet him, advanced. “You are Mr. Webb?” said he briskly.
“I might be,” returned the old fellow cautiously, “if you are Mr. Derrick I wrote to at a certain place.”
“I am Inspector Derrick, and I come in answer to your letter about Mrs. Brand and the White Room.”
“Will there be any reward for my setting the police on the track?” asked Webb cunningly.
“Well, I can hardly say. Mr. Fane, in whose house this woman was murdered, promised to recompense me should I discover anything likely to lead to the detection of the assassin. I dare say he will give me a hundred pounds.”
“Halves,” said the old man, coughing, “or I don’t let you in.”
“I fear you won’t be able to stop me,” said Derrick, smiling. “On the strength of your letter I procured a search-warrant. I represent the law, you see. You should have made a bargain before you wrote the letter, Mr. Webb.”
“Rogues, thieves, and liars, the lot of you,” said the old man, striking the ground violently with his stick. “What about my rent?”
“I don’t owe you any. Did this woman?”
“No. She’s paid me up to date. But here’s my cottage without a tenant. I’ll find it difficult to let it again, if she was done to death as the papers said.”
“We don’t know that Mrs. Brand is the same woman.”
“Well, Mrs. Brand hasn’t been seen since the day that crime took place,” retorted Webb, “and then there’s the room, you know.”
“Ah! I want to see the room. It is strange she should have been killed in a room similar to that occupied by herself. I can’t understand it.”
“If you made it worth my while I might assist you. I am poor; oh! how poor I am. Look at my clothes. You wouldn’t pick them off a dunghill—not you. And I live on sausages. They’re cheap, but not filling. Do you know of anything that taken at one meal would keep me going for a week?”
“No,” said Derrick abruptly, and thinking the old man a queer character. “Show me the house.”
“All in good time,” said the ancient, hobbling to the gate. “Ah!” He wheeled round and shook his fist at a butcher’s boy. “Hear that brat. Why don’t you run him in for insulting language?”
“Miser! miser!” chanted the boy, leering across the lane at the old creature, who shook his fist in impotent rage. “Golly, what clothes. Say, mister”—this was to Derrick—“if I come across to deliver the meat, will you stop the old cove from pitching into me?”
“I’ll bash your head, you imp,” yelled Webb, quivering with rage.
“Leave him alone,” said Derrick good-humouredly. “Boys will be boys. Now then, young shaver, come along!”
But the boy declined. He darted across the road, thrust a chop into the inspector’s hand, and darted back. “You give it to Mrs. Brand, governor,” said the boy, grinning; “the old cove’s got his bleary eye on yours truly.”
“Beast of a boy,” said Webb, and entering the gate he hobbled up to the door.
Derrick lingered behind, and produced a shilling. “See here, boy,” he remarked persuasively, “do you deliver meat to Mrs. Brand every day?”
“Every second day,” said the boy advancing, lured by the shilling.
“Has the meat been taken in as usual?”
“No, it ain’t. Not for over a week. Nearly a fortnight, you might say. I brings them though—the chops, I mean—and puts them in the meat-safe at the back of the house. There’s lots there, but she ain’t bin home to eat them.”
“When did you last see her?”
“Over a fortnight ago,” said the boy, counting on his fingers, and apparently not very sure as to his dates. “On a Thursday that was. She took the chop in as usual. On Saturday I brought a steak late—somewhere about six—so that it might be quite fresh for Sunday, and she wasn’t in. Ain’t seen her since. Say, mister, if y’ know her, say as master ‘ull charge her for the meat. It’s her own fault she ain’t eaten it.”
“Why didn’t she leave a servant in charge?”
“Too poor,” said the boy, taking the shilling and spitting on it for luck. “She always did the housework herself. But she was a real lady for all that. Say, mister”—the boy stared—“nothing ain’t gone wrong with her?”
“No. I merely called to see her.”
“Well, she ain’t at home as I can see. There ain’t no smoke coming from the chimney, though to be sure she may be saving the coals. I thought the miser might have done away with her. He’s an old rip as ought to be in gaol. I saw him making eyes at her.”
“Ah! Then Mrs. Brand is a pretty woman?”
“Yes, in a kind of delicate sort of way. Brown hair and blue eyes and pale and little. Looked like a widder,” said the boy confidentially, “but she wasn’t. Bless you, no! Her husband’s a commercial gent as comes home every now and then. But he’s away for the most part of the time.”
“Have you ever seen him?”
“In the dark I did. A tall gent. But I can’t tell you his looks.”
“You are a smart boy,” said Derrick, taking out his note-book. “I should like to see more of you.”
“My name’s Potter,” said the boy, grinning at this praise. “I work for old Rams the butcher.”
“Ah, I know the shop,” said Derrick, noting this. “I once lived in Hampstead, and dealt with Mr. Rams.”
“My, ain’t he sharp over the money. But Mrs. Brand always paid up like a lady. Guess the miser got his rent.”
Webb hailed Derrick at this moment. “Are you going to talk to that brat all day, officer?” he inquired shrilly, peering out of the open door.
At the word “officer” Potter backed with a look of apprehension. “I say, you’re a peeler. Lor! Anything wrong?”
“No,” said Derrick, vexed at being thus betrayed. “Hold your tongue about this conversation. I’ll make it worth your while.”
“I’m fly,” said Master Potter, with a whistle and an easier look. He showed a disposition to linger at the gate; but Derrick ordered him away sharply, and he departed, casting looks over his shoulder, too amazed at his discovery of Derrick’s profession to call old Webb bad names. Derrick went inside.
“If Mr. Brand arrives I can show him this as my authority for entering the cottage,” said Derrick, displaying a search-warrant.
“Brand! Mrs. Brand?”
“Mister! The husband.”
“Never saw him,” grumbled Webb. “Mrs. Brand said she had one, but she paid the rent and looked after the house, and kept very much to herself. I never set eyes on him.”
“He’s a commercial traveller,” the boy said.
“The boy’s a liar,” retorted the agreeable Mr. Webb. “Mrs. Brand was too much the lady to marry a commercial. She used to talk of her husband, but she never let on his employment.”
“Did she rent the cottage in her own name?”
“Yes. I don’t believe she had a husband.”
“What reference did she give.”
“Six months’ rent in advance. Stop! She did refer me to a schoolmaster.”
“A schoolmaster? What is his name?”
“A professor—of what?”
“Lord,” said Webb testily, “how do I know? Any one can call themselves professors if they’ve a mind to—especially foreigners.”
Derrick, who was standing in the small hall, started, and remembered what Miss Mason had said when he mentioned the stiletto. “Is this professor a foreigner?” he asked eagerly.
“A Greek. Bocaros means bull’s head or bull’s tail—at least it did when I was at school. Ah! I’ve been educated, though you mightn’t think so, Mister Inspector.”
Derrick passed over this remark. “Did you see this man?”
“No. My time’s too valuable to run after foreigners. I wrote to him at the address given by Mrs. Brand. She said he was a cousin of hers. He wrote back saying that she was a respectable person. I dare say she was, but I don’t believe she had a husband. If she had, why didn’t he show? A commercial gent! Bah! Don’t tell me.”
“What address did Mrs. Brand give you?”
“Now that’s queer. She gave me Ulysses Street, Troy!”
This time Derrick could not suppress an exclamation. “Why, that is only a stone-throw from Achilles Avenue. It’s near Meadow Lane.”
“I said it was queer,” remarked Webb, nodding. “Perhaps he did her to death. What do you think?”
“I think you may have put a clue into my hand,” said the inspector, noting the address in his useful little book. “Don’t speak of this to any one. I’ll make it worth your while.”
“Halves,” said the miser again; “though it’s only fifty pounds. I think Mr.—what’s his name?—Fane should give me the whole hundred.”
“Oh, indeed.” Derrick put the book into his pocket. “And what about me, Mr. Webb, if you please?”
“You’re paid for finding criminals, I ain’t,” said Webb, entering a side door. “Come and look at the room. My time’s valuable. I can’t stand talking to you all day. The drawing-room this is.”
“Ha!” Derrick stood at the door, and looked at the small room, which was furnished in the same fashion as the larger one in Ajax Villa, though not in so costly a manner. The walls and hangings were white, the carpet and furniture also, and even the piano was cased in white wood. In all respects, save in the way of luxury, the room was the same. It was strange that Mrs. Brand should have been killed in a room similar to her drawing-room, and in a house situated at the other end of London. “Though we don’t know if the dead woman is Mrs. Brand,” said Derrick, looking round.
“That’s easily settled,” said Webb, who had taken up his position in a cane chair. “There’s her portrait.”
On the mantel-piece were two silver frames, one on either side of a gimcrack French clock. The frame to the left contained the photograph of a pretty slight woman, in whom Derrick immediately recognised the dead unknown. “That’s her sure enough,” said he, taking a long look. “I wonder how she came to die in a room similar to this,” and he glanced around again. “The mystery is growing deeper every discovery I make. What of the other silver frame?”
“It’s got the photograph of a man—the husband, I suppose.”
“No.” Derrick took down the frame. “The photograph has been removed.”
“Lord!” said Webb, when a close examination assured him of this fact. “Why, so it has. But she showed it to me one day when I asked about Mr. Brand, and said it was his picture.”
“Do you remember what the man was like in looks?” said the inspector, replacing the frame, much disappointed.
“No,” replied the old man; “my eyesight’s that bad as I can hardly tell A from B. It was the picture of a bearded man.”
“A pointed beard?”
“I can’t say. He had a beard, that’s all I know. Mrs. Brand said that his business took him away a good deal. But she didn’t say he was a commercial gent.”
“Did Mrs. Brand, go out much?”
“Not at all. I told you so before. She kept very much to herself, in a haughty kind of way. Thought herself a fine lady, I suppose, and there’s no denying she was a lady. She has been my tenant for over five years, and always paid regular, but she knew no one, and when any one called she never would let them in. I only got to know of this room because I came for my rent.”
“Did she pay her bills regularly?”
“Yes. I asked that, being fearful for my rent. She always paid up like a lady. Not that she took much in. Generally she lived by herself, so didn’t eat much, keeping no servant either.”
“Did she ever go out to concerts or theatres or anywhere?”
“When her husband came home she used to enjoy herself. I believe she went to the opera, or to concerts, being fond of music.”
“Ah!” Derrick recalled the song. “Did she sing?”
“Not that I ever heard of. She told me very little about herself, and what I know I had to drag out of her. She came five years ago and took this cottage by herself. Afterwards her husband, as she called him, came. I never saw him, and she always paid her rent regularly. That’s all I know.”
“Why do you think Mr. Brand was not her husband?”
“I never said he wasn’t. I don’t know. She seemed a respectable person, and was very quiet in her living and dress. Sometimes she shut up the cottage and went away for a week.”
“Always for a week?”
“Yes. She never was absent long. I suppose she and her husband had a jaunt all to themselves. She had no children. But ain’t you going to look at the rest of the house?”
“Yes.” Derrick cast his eyes round the room again. On the round white wood table was a photograph album bound in white leather. He opened this, and found that all the portraits therein—the book was only half full—were those of women. Several were of Mrs. Brand as child and girl and woman. Spaces showed that five or six portraits had been removed. Derrick noted this, and then left the drawing-room thoughtfully. It seemed to him as though all the male portraits had been removed on purpose. And the chances were that in an album belonging to the wife, portraits of the husband might be found. At the door of the white room he cast his eyes on the ground. “Has it been raining?” he asked.
Webb, who was already in the passage, came back, and stared at the footmarks—muddy footmarks which were printed on the white carpet. “It’s not been raining for over a week,” he said. “Strange that there should be this mess. Mrs. Brand was always a particularly tidy woman. She never let a spot of dirt remain in this room.”
“We’ve had a dry summer,” said Derrick, pinching his lip.
“Very dry,” assented Webb. “To be sure, there was that big thunderstorm eight days ago.”
“And before that we had three weeks of sunshine.”
“Yes.” The old man stared. “What of that?”
“It seems to me—” said Derrick; then he paused, and shook his head. “Let us examine the rest of the house.”
Webb, not knowing what was passing in the officer’s mind, stared again and hobbled round as cicerone. They went to the small kitchen, to the one bedroom, to the tiny dining-room, and examined the small conservatory opening out of this last. At the back of the house there was a small garden filled with gaudy sunflowers and tall hollyhocks. The red brick walls which enclosed the plot of ground scarcely larger than a handkerchief were draped with ivy, carefully trimmed and tended. The conservatory was filled with cheap flowers neatly ranged. Apparently Mrs. Brand, judging by the conservatory and the back and front gardens, was fond of flowers, and made it the pleasure of her life to tend them.
The kitchen and the dining-room were plainly furnished. In the meat-safe outside the back door were the chops and steaks left by the butcher’s boy, and also loaves of bread. A milk-can was on the ground and empty, showing that probably all the cats in the place had been enjoying themselves. Derrick found that a narrow passage between the enclosing wall and the house led from the front garden to the back. Having assured himself of this, he re-entered the house, and examined the bedroom.
This was better furnished than the rest of the house. There was a smart dressing-table decked with muslin and pink ribbons. On it were articles of female toilette. Several dresses (plain for the most part) were hanging up in the wardrobe, and there was a warm but untrimmed dressing-gown in the bathroom. But Derrick could not see any male apparel, and pointed this out to Webb.
“Perhaps Mr. Brand wasn’t her husband after all,” said the old man. “He may have been a friend of hers, and came here occasionally. But he didn’t live here.”
“The boy said he did sometimes.”
“The boy’s a liar,” said Webb vindictively.
“Hum! I don’t know that. I have an idea.”
“I’ll tell you directly.” Derrick opened all the drawers in the bedroom. He found linen, hats, handkerchiefs, ribbons—all articles of female attire, but again nothing appertaining to a man’s dress.
“Where’s her desk?” he asked abruptly.
“In the white room. I was sitting near it.”
The inspector, having searched the bedroom again to see if he could find any papers, led the way back to the drawing-room. The desk was near the window, and unlocked; that is, it opened easily enough, and Derrick thought it was unlocked. But a glance showed him that the lock was broken. “The desk has been forced,” he said, and threw wide the lid, “and the contents have been removed,” he added.
Webb stared at the empty desk. There were a few bundles of receipted bills, some writing-paper and envelopes, and a stick or two of red sealing-wax. But no scrap of writing was there to reveal anything about Mrs. Brand. Yet on a knowledge of her past depended the discovery of the reason she had been stabbed in Troy. The inspector looked at the desk, at the floor, and drew his own conclusions. “Some one has been here eight days ago, and has removed all papers and pictures likely to give a clue to the past of this woman and to the identity of the husband.”
“How do you know?” asked Webb, startled.
Derrick pointed to the muddy marks on the carpet. “The fact that the carpet is white betrays the truth,” said he. “For the last month or so, that is, before and since the murder, we have had only one storm—that was eight days ago. The person who removed the portraits from the album and from the silver frame, who forced the desk and destroyed the papers, came on that day—”
“The thunderstorm was at night,” interrupted Webb.
“Then at night, which would be the better concealment of his purpose. He came here with mud on his boots, as is proved by these marks. He wished to remove all evidence of Mr. Brand’s identity. Therefore—”
“Well,” said Webb, seeing that Derrick hesitated. “I believe that Brand himself did so, and that Brand is the man who killed his wife in Ajax Villa.”
Mrs. Baldwin always called herself an unlucky woman, and lamented that she had to undergo misfortunes heavier than those of other people. But in truth she was better off than her laziness and grumbling deserved. Her income was small but sure, and if she lived unhappily, with her second husband the fault was hers. The man grew weary of her inattention to domestic comfort, and to her constant lamentations. It said a great deal for the absent Mr. Baldwin that he had lived with this slattern for so many years. The most sensible thing he ever did in his life was when he left her.
On losing him Mrs. Baldwin had taken up her abode in Cloverhead Manor House, and obtained it at a low rent. She would not have got it so cheap, but that in those days Troy was only beginning to gather round the ancient village. Mrs. Baldwin, in spite of her laziness, was clever enough to foresee that land would increase in value, and bought the acres upon which the manor stood. The former owner, the last member of a decayed family, had sold the land gladly enough, as he obtained from Mrs. Baldwin a larger price than was offered by the classic jerry-builder, who was responsible for the modern suburb. Since then the value of the land—as was anticipated by Mrs. Baldwin—had increased, and many speculators offered large sums to buy it. But Mrs. Baldwin was too lazy to make another move. She enjoyed pigging it in the large roomy house, and quite resolved not to move until the children were settled in life. She then proposed to sell the land, and use the money “to take her proper station in society,” whatever that meant. And she was cunning enough to know that the land would increase still more in value. There were the makings of a business woman in Mrs. Baldwin had she not been so incorrigibly lazy.
“But I really can’t move,” sighed Mrs. Baldwin when approached on the subject by Gerty, who was businesslike and speculative. “Heaven knows I can hardly get through the day’s work with my bad health. Besides, there is the professor to be considered. Such a nice man. If I were only sure that Rufus was dead I might consent to take him.”
This was sheer vanity on the part of the lazy fat woman, as the professor had no intention of asking her to become Mrs. Bocaros. He was a bachelor by nature, and passed his life in study. Holding a small post in a suburban college where he taught foreign languages, he just managed to keep his head above water. For the sake of peace, and because he hated a boarding-house, the professor wanted a home to himself. When Mrs. Baldwin came to Cloverhead she had a tiny cottage on her estate at the foot of the meadow at the back of the manor-house. It was surrounded by pines, and lying near a small stream which overflowed whenever there was rain, being therefore extremely damp. She had no idea of letting it, but on meeting Bocaros at a scholastic “At Home” she learned of his desire, and offered him the place. He accepted it eagerly, and for some years had been Mrs. Baldwin’s tenant.
The professor was a quiet neighbour. He kept no servant, and did the work himself. The cottage possessed but two rooms, one of which was used as a kitchen, and the other as a dining-room, a bedroom, a study, and a reception-room. This last was large and airy and damp, but the professor loved it because of the solitude. He cherished a tranquil life above all things, and certainly found it in “The Refuge,” as he called his tiny domicile. Through the pines he could see the country dotted with red brick villas, the outposts of London, for Troy was one of the last additions to the great city, and its surroundings were almost rural. Beside the stream grew stunted alders and tall poplars. There was no fence round the place. It was clapped down on the verge of the meadow, and girdled with the pines. A more isolated hermitage it is impossible to conceive. Tracey, who sometimes came to see Bocaros, for whose learning he had a great respect, advised draining the place, but Bocaros was obstinate. “It will last my time,” he said in his rather precise way; “and I may not live here for many years.”
“Do you intend to leave then?” asked Tracey.
“I might. There is a chance I may inherit money, and then I would live in Switzerland.”
“That’s where the anarchists dwell,” said Tracey, wondering if this queer-looking foreigner was a member of some secret society.
Professor Bocaros—he obtained his title from a Greek College, as he stated—was certainly odd in his appearance. He was tall and lean and lank, apparently made of nothing but bones. Rheumatism in this damp spot would have had a fine field to rack Bocaros, but he never seemed to be ill. Always dressed in black broadcloth, rather worn, he looked like an undertaker, and moved with quite a funereal step. His face was of the fine Greek type, but so emaciated that it looked like a death’s-head. With his hollow cheeks, his thin red lips, his high bald forehead, and the absence of beard and moustache, Bocaros was most unattractive. The most remarkable feature of his face was his eyes. These, under shaggy black brows, seemed to blaze like lamps. However weak and ill the man looked, his blazing eyes showed that he was full of vitality. Also, his lean hands could grip firmly, and his long legs took him over the ground at a surprising rate. Yet he ate little, and appeared to be badly nourished. Tracey, to whom Bocaros was always a source of wonder and constant speculation, confided to Gerty that he believed the professor was possessed of some restorative which served instead of food. On the whole, there was an air of mystery about the man which provoked the curiosity of the lively, inquisitive American. It would have inspired curiosity with many people also, had not Bocaros lived so retired a life. The Baldwin children called his house “Ogre Castle,” and invented weird tales of the professor eating little children.
“I shouldn’t wonder if he was a vampire of sorts,” said Tracey. “He don’t live on air, and the food in that Mother Hubbard’s cupboard of his wouldn’t keep a flea in condition.”
“I don’t believe in much eating myself,” Mrs. Baldwin responded, although she never gave her inside a rest, and was always-chewing like a cow. “Abstinence keeps the brain clear.”
“And over-abstinence kills the body,” retorted Tracey.
Whatever Bocaros may have thought of the murder, he said very little about it. He never took in a paper himself, but was accustomed to borrow the Daily Budget from Mrs. Baldwin when that lady had finished the court news, the only part of the paper she took any interest in. Usually after his return from the school where he taught, Bocaros came across the meadows by a well-defined path, and asked for the journal. This was usually between four and five o’clock, and then he would have a chat with Mrs. Baldwin. But two or three weeks after the Ajax Villa tragedy, when the professor tore along the path—he always walked as though he were hurrying for a doctor—he met Tracey half-way. The American had the newspaper in his hand.
“Coming for this, I guess,” said Tracey, handing over the journal. “I was just bringing it to you. There’s a question or two I wish to ask. You don’t mind, do you?”
Bocaros fixed his brilliant eyes on the other. “What is the question, my friend?” he demanded in English, which hardly bore a trace of foreign accent.
The American did not reply directly. “You’re a clever sort of smart all-round go-ahead colleger,” said Tracey, taking the thin arm of the man, an attention which Bocaros did not appreciate, “and I want to ask your opinion about this murder.”
“I know nothing about murders, my friend. Why not go to the police?”
“The police!” Tracey made a gesture of disgust. “They ain’t worth a cent. Why, about three weeks have gone by since that poor girl was stabbed, and they don’t seem any nearer the truth than they were.”
“We discussed this before,” said Bocaros, as they approached the belt of pines, “and I told you that I could form no theory. My work lies amidst languages. I am a philologist, my friend, and no detective.”
“I guess you’d pan out better than the rest of them if you were.”
“You flatter me.” Bocaros removed his arm, and inserted a large key into the lock of his door. “Will you come in?”
“You don’t seem very set on chin-music, but I’ll come,” said Tracey, who, when bent on obtaining anything, never rested till he achieved his purpose.
Bocaros gave a gentle sigh, which a more sensitive man might have taken as a sign that his company was not wanted at that precise moment. But Tracey would not go, so he had to be admitted. He entered the room, which was lined with books, and furnished otherwise in a poor manner, and threw himself into the one armchair. Then he took out a cigarette-case. “Have one,” he said, extending this.
“A pipe, my friend, will please me better,” replied Bocaros, and filled a large china pipe, which he must have obtained when he was a German student. He then took a seat with his back towards the window, and intimated that he was ready.
“See here!” said Tracey, opening the newspaper and pointing to a paragraph; “read that!”
“Is it about the murder?” asked Bocaros, puffing gently at his pipe.
“Yes. That fool of a Derrick has made a discovery of some value.”
“In that case he cannot be a fool, my friend,” replied Bocaros, leaning back his head and inhaling the smoke luxuriously. “Tell me what the paper says. I can’t read while you talk, and I am sure you will not be silent for five minutes.”
“That’s a fact,” said Tracey coolly. “I’ve got a long tongue and an inquiring mind. I shan’t read the paragraph. But it seems that he—Derrick, I mean—has found out the woman’s name.”
“How interesting!” said Bocaros, unmoved and in rather a bored tone. “How did he find it out?”
“Well, some one wrote from Hampstead,” said Tracey, throwing the paper aside, and giving the gist of his information, “and let out there was a woman who lived in Coleridge Lane who had a white room, same as that she was murdered in.”
“Coleridge Lane!” repeated Bocaros, opening his eyes. “I know some one living there. What is this woman’s name?”
“The inspector,” continued Tracey, taking no notice of this direct question, “went to see this room. He found the house shut up. The landlord had the key, and with the landlord he entered. He found, as was stated, a room similar in all respects to the one in Ajax Villa, though the furniture was poor. More than that, there was a portrait on the mantel-piece of the woman who was murdered.”
“You can give me the details afterwards,” said Bocaros hastily. “At present I want to know the woman’s name.”
“Keep your hair on, professor. Her name is Brand.”
Bocaros rose from his chair and, dropping his pipe, threw up his hands with a foreign ejaculation. “Brand! Flora Brand?”
“Yes. How do you come to know her front name?”
“She is my cousin,” said the professor, and sat down to cover his face with his hands.
Tracey whistled, and stared. In making the communication to the man, he was far from expecting that this announcement would be made. “I guess you know who killed her then?” he observed coolly. Bocaros leaped to his feet. “Man,” he cried fiercely, “what is that you say? How should I know who killed her?”
“You’re her cousin, and Derrick says in the woman’s past life will be found the motive for the crime.”
“I know very little of my cousin’s past life,” said Bocaros, walking rapidly to and fro, and apparently much moved. “What I do know I shall tell to the police.”
“Tell it to me now,” suggested the American.
The professor looked at him mistrustfully. “I don’t know if you are a good person to make a confidant of.”
“Bless you, there’s no confidence about this, professor. You’ll have to tell the police what you know, and they’ll put it all in print.”
“True! True!” Bocaros took a turn up and down the room, then passed his lean hand through his long hair. “Mr. Tracey, you are a clever man. I can rely on you to help me.”
“Help you!” Tracey looked sharply at the professor. “What’s that?”
“I mean help me with the police. I am not accustomed to deal with these matters. They will ask me questions.”
“Well, what if they do? You can answer them, I reckon.”
“Yes, yes. But you know how suspicious the police are.”
“They may be in foreign lands where you hail from. But I guess they’re too pig-headed here to think much.”
“This woman—Flora—was murdered in Ajax Villa. It is only a short distance from my house. They may think—”
“That you killed her? That’s rubbish. It’s queer, certainly, that she should have come to end her life in that way so near to your shanty, but there’s not much chance of the police accusing you. Did you know Fane in any way?”
“I never even heard of him.”
“Not from Miss Mason? You know her?”
“I have only spoken half a dozen words to her,” said Bocaros, twisting his hands together. “You know how shy I am. Your lady—”
“Gerty B.,” put in Tracey.
“Yes, Miss Baldwin. She introduced me to Miss Mason. But we had little speech together. Your young lady might have mentioned the name of Fane, but I forget—I forget.” And Bocaros passed his hand over his brow again. “You know how absent I am.”
“Yes, yes,” said Luther Tracey soothingly, for he saw that the man was growing excited. “You lie down and go slow. Tell me about this cousin of yours.”
“She is my first cousin,” explained Bocaros, sitting down, and keeping himself down by the strongest of efforts. “My father’s sister married a man called Calvert, and—”
“Calvert! Why, that’s the name of the man Miss Mason’s going to be married to!”
“Is it?” The professor stared. “I never knew. Flora told me that her father’s brother had a son called Arnold.”
“That’s the name. He’s an actor at one of the big shows. Arnold Calvert. You must have heard of him.”
“Never as an actor.”
“Well, I guess he’s not got much of a reputation. Just now he’s acting in a piece at the Frivolity Theatre. The Third Man is the name of the piece. I don’t think much of it myself, or of him as—”
Bocaros threw up a protesting hand. “We have more important things to talk about than this young man.”
“Well, I don’t know. It’s queer that he should be the cousin of the woman who was killed in the house of the brother-in-law of the girl he’s engaged to. Do you know Calvert?”
“No; I never met him. Listen, Mr. Tracey. I came to England some five or six years ago very poor, as I am now.” Here Bocaros looked round his study with a dreary air. “I have heard my father talk of his sister who married a man called Calvert, and I had the address. I found my aunt dead, and her daughter Flora just preparing to move from the house where they had lived for a long time. She had very little money, and told me she was going to be married.”
“To a man called Brand?”
“Yes. I never saw her husband. Flora told me of our other relatives. She gave me a little money, and then dismissed me. I did not see her again. But she wrote to me from Coleridge Lane asking me to give my name as a reference for her respectability. She wanted to take a house there—‘Fairy Lodge’ I think it is called.”
“That’s the house,” said Tracey, with a glance at the paper. “Well?”
“Well, I sent the reference, and she never wrote again. Then over a month ago I received a letter from some lawyers. They stated that Mrs. Brand had come in for a large fortune, and that she intended next year to allow me an income.”
“So you’ve lost by her death?”
Bocaros sprang to his feet with a wild look. “That’s just where it is,” he exclaimed. “I don’t know that I haven’t gained.”
“As how?” asked Tracey, looking puzzled.
“When I got the lawyers’ letter,” proceeded Bocaros,—“the name of the firm is Laing and Merry—I wrote to Flora, thanking her. She asked me to call. I did so—”
“Hallo!” interrupted Tracey; “you said just now you never saw her again after your interview years ago.”
“I meant at that time. Four or five years elapsed between the time I saw her. I am not good at dates, but I never saw her for years. All my life I have only had two interviews. One was when I came to this country; the other when, shortly before her death, I called to see her at Coleridge Lane. She received me very kindly, and stated that she intended to leave me the money. In fact that she had made a will in my favour.”
Tracey stared. Here was a motive for the murder, seeing that Bocaros was desperately poor. Yet he could not see how the professor came to be mixed up with the actual crime. “How much is the property?” he asked, after an awkward pause.
“Ten thousand a year.”
“Great Scott! How lucky for you, professor—her death, I mean.”
“I would rather she had not died,” burst out the man passionately. “It’s horrible to think that she should have been murdered in so barbarous a fashion. You see my position. I live near the house where the crime was committed. I inherit ten thousand a year, and I am much in need of money. How do I know but what your police may accuse me of killing Flora?”
“They’ll have to prove how you got into the house first,” said the American, rather ashamed of his momentary suspicions, since the man looked at the matter in this fashion. “You lie low, professor. You’re all right, I guess. There’s a long difference between inheriting a large fortune and killing the person to get it.”
“I would not have touched Flora for the universe,” cried the professor. “I saw little of her, but what I saw I liked very much. She was a gentle, kind little lady, and though so poor she always dressed well. A most charming lady.”
“Where did she get the ten thousand a year?”
“From a relative who died in Australia. At our first interview she stated that she had such a relative, and that it was probable she would inherit the money. Then she promised to assist me. She remembered her promise when she came in for the money a month or two ago. Not only did she promise me an income, but made the will in my favour. I asked her not to, saying I would be content with a small annuity. But she said she had already made the will.”
“Why didn’t she leave it to her husband?”
“I can’t say. She spoke very little about her husband. He is a commercial traveller, and was often away. From what I saw in her manner and looks she was not happy; but she did not complain.”
“Well,” said Tracey, rising, “if the husband turns up he’ll fight you for the property, though I don’t think he’ll show.”
“Why not? He won’t give up ten thousand a year.”
“No. But Derrick thinks, as you will see in the paper, that Mrs. Brand was killed by her husband.”
Bocaros started back. “Horrible! Horrible!” Then piteously, “My friend, what am I to do?”
“Take my advice, and go right along to see Laing and Merry. They’ll help you through.” And this Bocaros agreed to do.
“And I will spend the money in hunting for the assassin,” said he.
The office of Laing and Merry was in Milton Street, on the ground floor of a dingy pile of buildings. There was only one representative of the firm, as Laing was dead, and his executors had disposed of the business to Merry. This gentleman carried on the office work with three clerks, of which one was his son. At a future date the younger Merry was to be admitted into the business, and at present was serving his articles. Merry retained the name of Laing on the office door-plate, as that gentleman had been a much-respected member of the profession, and his name inspired confidence.
Regarding Merry’s own name, which was certainly odd, it fitted him extremely well. He was a stout and rubicund lawyer, not at all resembling the accepted type. There was nothing dry and solemn about Merry. He seemed to be a simple sort of person, and clients sometimes doubted his abilities. But all this cheerfulness was assumed. He really was as deep as a well, but it was a well wherein Truth did not reside. Not that Merry did anything likely to get himself struck off the Rolls. He was far too clever for that. But he was certainly unscrupulous, and more than a match for the majority of rascals. He always looked for the worst in a man, but his smile and complacent fatness disarmed all suspicion of his talents. Many a sharper had cause to rue trusting to the deceitful appearance of the lawyer.
Mr. Merry sat alone in a dingy room, the window of which looked out on to a blank wall. The room was surrounded by black-painted deed-boxes, and was remarkably dusty. Before the lawyer was a pile of letters which he intended to answer shortly. But at the present moment he was looking at yesterday’s copy of the Daily Budget. It belonged to Merry junior, and his father had taken it in to read the paragraph pointed out by his son. It was that which dealt with the finding of Fairy Lodge, and the identification of Flora Brand with the woman who had been murdered in Ajax Villa. After mastering the article, Merry rang the bell, and raised his eyes when his son appeared at the door.
“Come and sit down, and close the door,” said the father. “I wish to speak about this.”
Merry junior was a stout young man of twenty-one, quite as cheerful-looking as his respected progenitor. But he had a pair of sharp grey eyes which always set people on their guard. For this reason he was not so successful as his father in dealing with suspicious clients. In a year Merry hoped to be a full-fledged solicitor, and then intended to become his father’s partner. Meanwhile, as he was remarkably sharp, and had the firm’s interest at heart, Merry senior frequently consulted him. At the present moment he intended to discuss the death of Mrs. Brand.
“I can’t understand why you did not show me this yesterday,” he said.
“I never saw it,” explained the son. “The fact is, I don’t take in that rag.” He pointed disdainfully to the paper. “But I picked it up in a railway carriage while going home last night, and wrapped a bag of fruit in it. This morning I happened to use some of the paper while shaving, and my eyes caught the paragraph. I would have shown it to you at once, but you had already started for the office. I therefore saved the torn pieces, and brought it in as soon as I arrived.”
“There’s nothing about this death in the other papers,” said his father.
“No. I remember the case though. The woman was murdered at Ajax Villa, Troy, and there was a great deal of fuss made over the matter, owing to the strangeness of the affair. It’s queer that the similarity of the rooms should prove to be the means of identification.”
“You think there can be no doubt about the woman?”
“Oh, it must be Mrs. Brand. You see, the detective—or is he an inspector?—identified her by the photograph. There’s something behind all this which I can’t understand.”
“You mean about the murder?”
“Well—yes,” said the son. “And about the search made in the house by this man—what’s his name?—Derrick. I wonder he did not find our letters to Mrs. Brand, and come at once to see us.”
“He has not had time, perhaps.”
“The police do not usually lose time. An hour makes a great difference to a case of this sort. I wonder who murdered her.”
“I can’t say. I merely read the inquest in a casual manner. Had I known it was Mrs. Brand, I should have come forward,” added Merry senior. “The publicity of the case would have done us good.”
The son reflected. “There’s time yet to make a fuss,” he said. “We are responsible for the will of Mrs. Brand. I dare say we can get the heir to offer a reward. What about the will, father?”
“I must see after it.” Merry senior nodded towards a box. “It’s in there. Queer she didn’t leave her money to her husband, Sammy.”
“I don’t think she and her husband got on well,” said Sammy; “he was always away.”
“Well, as a commercial traveller—”
“No, father,” interrupted Sammy, with vivacity. “I don’t believe he was. Mrs. Brand didn’t strike me as a woman who would marry a commercial traveller. Did you ever see Mr. Brand?”
“No,” replied the lawyer, without raising his eyes. “Did you?”
“I never did, although you sent me twice to Mrs. Brand’s house on business. I remember the white room. I wonder it didn’t strike me when I saw the report of the crime. By the way, father, how did Mrs. Brand come to be our client? It was before I entered the office that she became our client.”
“Yes.” Merry rose and looked out of the window at the blank wall, which was not an alluring prospect. “Her distant cousin, Arthur Brand of Australia, sent home money to support Mrs. Brand’s mother. When the mother died, he continued the income to the daughter. What always struck me as strange,” added Merry musingly, “was that Mrs. Brand should marry a man of the same name as that of her cousin.”
“A coincidence merely, father. Then Arthur Brand died and left the money to this woman?”
“Yes. A few months ago. I wrote and asked her to call. When informed of her good fortune she almost fainted. Then I suggested that she should bring her husband to me, so that he could attend to the matter on her behalf. But it seemed that Mr. Brand had departed a month previously to Australia, for the purpose of looking up Arthur. Mrs. Brand appeared to think that her husband was some connection, and wished to make sure.”
“There is another cousin, isn’t there?”
“Yes. Arnold Calvert, an actor.” Merry’s eyes travelled to the tin box. “I must write him at once.”
“Why? Has he anything to do with the will?”
Merry opened his mouth to reply, when a clerk entered with a card. “Professor Bocaros,” read the solicitor, and smiled. “Ah! This is Mrs. Brand’s cousin. He has come to see about the will. You can leave me, Sammy. And I say, just drop a note to Mr. Calvert at the Frivolity Theatre asking him to call.”
Sammy nodded, and passed out. As he did so Professor Bocaros stood aside. Young Merry looked at the lean figure and solemn face of the Greek, and then at the blazing eyes. He gave his opinion to himself as the door closed on the client. “I shouldn’t like to be in your power,” said Sammy. “I wonder if you inherit.”
Merry shook hands warmly with the professor, and placed a chair for him. “It’s a fine day. I am glad to see you, sir. Your cousin, poor woman, often spoke of you to us.”
“Did she?” said Bocaros, looking keenly at the genial face of the lawyer. “That is strange, considering we saw so little of one another. By the way, your phrase—poor woman—leads me to believe that you have heard from the police.”
“No. I have read in this paper of the identification of Mrs. Brand with the woman who was murdered in Troy;” and Merry laid his hand on the Daily Budget. “I suppose you have come to see me about the matter. How did you learn the news?”
“In the same way. A friend of mine brought the paper to me.”
“Oh!” Merry looked sharply in his turn. “Did this friend know that you were Mrs. Brand’s cousin?”
“He did not. I usually get the paper every day from my landlady, Mrs. Baldwin. I occupy a small house on her estate in Cloverhead—”
“Where is that, sir?”
“Near Troy. In fact it is the village around which Troy is built.”
“Oh!” Merry looked surprised. “Do you mean to say you live in Troy?”
“I do. And not a stone-throw away from the house where poor Flora was murdered.”
“Flora—ah, Mrs. Brand. I forgot her Christian name for the moment. So you live there—a strange coincidence,” said Merry cautiously.
“So strange that I have come to ask you what I am to do,” said the professor, in his agitated way. “You will believe me, sir, that I know nothing of the murder. All I know about it I read in the papers, and gathered from Mr. Tracey.”
“Who is he?”
“The engineer whose motor-car was stolen and found in Charing Cross yard,” said Bocaros. “The police said—”
“I remember. Their theory was that the murderer escaped in the car. But they didn’t prove that at the inquest. Some one else might have taken the car, though, to be sure, its abandonment in the station yard looks as though the person merely wished to make use of it for escape. However, that’s not the point. You heard about the crime from Mr. Tracey?”
“Yes. And of course I read of it in the papers. But I never knew it was my cousin till Mr. Tracey brought me the Daily Budget yesterday. Then I made up my mind to come to you.”
“Why?” asked Merry calmly.
Bocaros looked surprised. “Why, you wrote to me stating that Mrs. Brand intended to leave me an annuity.”
“She did intend to do so, but she changed her mind.”
“Yes, I know,” said Bocaros, feeling his way carefully, for he was surprised by Merry’s attitude. “When she wrote to me, I went and saw her. She said she would see that I wanted for nothing, and then she told me that she had made a will in my favour.”
Merry looked up suddenly. He had been drawing figures on the blotting-paper, apparently inattentive. But in reality he had lost nothing of the conversation. Now he looked as though he would read the heart of the man before him. “Mrs. Brand did make a will in your favour,” he said, “about a week before she died, but—”
“What do you mean?” asked Bocaros. He was usually pale, but owing to the significant looks of Mr. Merry, he flushed a deep red. “She told me about the will, and I want to know—seeing that I live in Troy, and benefit by her death—if there is any chance of the police suspecting me?”
“No,” said Merry smoothly. “There is no chance. You don’t benefit under the will.”
Bocaros leaned back in his chair, and changed from red to white. “I—I confess, sir, I do not understand,” he stammered.
“Mrs. Brand,” went on the lawyer smoothly, “came and made a will, leaving all her money to you. It amounts to ten thousand a year. She also mentioned the annuity, but after some thought, she said we could write to you saying she would allow you an income, but privately we advised her not to bind herself. She did so. We wrote as you know. She then said that she would pay you the income, as we stated in our letter, and resolved to leave you her money. In fact we made a will out to that effect.”
“So she told me,” stammered the professor, “and then—”
“Then she changed her mind like women do. In a few days she came back, revoked the former will, and made a new one in favour of Arnold Calvert, if you know who he is.”
“Arnold Calvert!” cried the professor, rising. “The actor?”
“Yes. I have never seen him act myself; but I hear he is a very good fellow, and I have no doubt, seeing how you have been disappointed, he will let you have enough to live on. We have written to Mr. Calvert, and expect him to call.”
Bocaros sat quite still, though in this speech he saw the downfall of his hopes. Merry thought that being a foreigner he would break out into a rage. But Bocaros did nothing of the sort. His face was white, and he appeared to breathe with difficulty. Then he smiled, and drew a long breath of relief. “So she has left me nothing,” he said. “I am glad of it.”
“Glad of it!” echoed Merry.
“Yes. I was fearful lest the police should suspect me of having a hand in poor Flora’s death. Now that she has left me nothing, they can never think I had any motive to kill her.”
“That’s true enough,” said Merry, puzzled; “but in any case I don’t see how the police can suspect you. It is true that you live near the house where Mrs. Brand was murdered. But you no doubt can account for your actions on that night.”
“No,” said Bocaros unhesitatingly; “that’s just where the difficulty comes in. I live alone, and from five o’clock on that day I saw no one. So far as the police are concerned, it would have been perfectly easy for me to have killed Mrs. Brand, and have returned to my lonely house without raising suspicion.”
“There’s no need to incriminate yourself,” said the lawyer, thinking Bocaros was slightly touched. “I am quite sure that the police will think as I do.”
“What is that?”
“That if you were guilty, you would not be in such a hurry to put yourself in the wrong.”
“I am not in the wrong; I am innocent.”
“Quite so. Well, there is no good discussing the matter. I suppose you can throw no light on this strange death?”
“None. I have told you all I know. But I trust that Mr. Calvert, seeing he has inherited the money, will take up the matter, and hunt down the assassin. Thinking I would inherit, I decided to do so myself.”
“What do you mean?” asked the lawyer coldly, and jealous that the man should trench upon his province.
Bocaros looked surprised. “Can’t you understand?” he said. “It is my desire that the assassin of my poor cousin should be caught. I saw the advertisement of a private inquiry office in the paper, and I went there before coming to you.”
“Oh indeed,” said Merry ironically. “And what did you say?”
“I told the man I saw—his name is Jasher—of my cousin’s death, and of all the circumstances connected with it. I arranged with him that he should take up the case. I asked him to see you.”
Merry shook his head. “That might do very well if you were the heir, professor. But as matters stand, I do not see how you can pay.”
“No,” said Bocaros dolefully; “yet I think Calvert should employ this man, and see what can be done.”
“We will select the man who is to be employed,” said Merry sharply.
“In that case I’ll hunt out the matter myself,” declared the Greek, taking up his hat. “I am determined to solve this mystery. Calvert—”
“You may be sure that we will advise Mr. Calvert to do the right thing,” said Merry, rising in his turn. “He inherits ten thousand a year, and I expect he will see that the assassin is brought to justice, if such a thing is possible.”
“It is possible,” said Bocaros determinedly. “My poor cousin must have had some reason to go to that house. I don’t know Fane, and I don’t know Brand. But one of these two men killed her.”
“What makes you say that?” asked Merry quickly.
“It is Jasher’s opinion on hearing the case.”
Merry reflected. “Send Jasher to me,” he said. “If I approve of the man, and Mr. Calvert is satisfied, we will employ him to take up the case. I intend also to write to Inspector Derrick. By the way, can you tell us of any circumstances in your cousin’s life which may hint at the reason for the committal of this crime?”
“No. My cousin was a good, pure woman. I know of nothing. But her death must be avenged. The assassin must be found—”
“Lest you should be suspected,” interposed Merry.
“That amongst other things,” said Bocaros, with dignity. “I am a poor man, Mr. Merry, but I would give all I possess, which is not much, to learn the truth.”
“If money can discover the truth, you may be sure the death of Mrs. Brand will be avenged,” said Merry, and held open the door for the professor to pass through. “By the way, we will speak to Mr. Calvert about an annuity.”
“No,” said Bocaros, colouring, and with an indignant look. “Calvert is a stranger to me. I do not accept money from strangers. Let him spend it in learning who killed Flora. The only boon I ask of him is that he should employ Jasher, seeing that I have given the case to the man under a misapprehension.”
“Is Jasher a clever man?”
“Very—so far as I can judge.”
“He seems rather given to jumping to conclusions,” said Merry dryly, “seeing that he accuses Mr. Fane, who proved an alibi at the inquest, and Mr. Brand, who is away in Australia. If his methods are like that, I fear he will not do much good.”
“In that case you can employ another man. Here is my address,” said the professor, taking a card from his pocket. “Ask Mr. Calvert to call. He is sure to be in my neighbourhood, as he is engaged to the sister-in-law of Mr. Fane.”
He departed, leaving Merry quite stunned by this last piece of intelligence.
Mrs. Fane was seated in the White Room waiting for visitors. As usual she was knitting, and every now and then glanced at her little girl, who, washed and dressed and curled and bedecked with ribbons, played with her doll. The child was very like her father, having the same pink and white face and weak mouth. She was a pretty, pale creature, with fair hair, almost white—what the Scots call linty—locks. Never was there such a contrast as that between mother and child. The mother firm, majestic, strong, composed; the child weak, restless, delicate, and undersized. As Mrs. Fane looked at Minnie, she uttered a sigh, being alone. Had any one been present, she would not have condescended to such weakness.
“Just like her father,” thought Mrs. Fane, her firm, shapely hands busy with the needles; “delicate, weak, irresponsible. I almost wish I had married a strong man. I would have at least had healthy children. No”—here she shook her head—“it’s better as it is. I am my own mistress and Walter’s master. Better as it is.”
This complimentary train of thought was interrupted by its object. Walter Fane, looking sleepy and dishevelled, entered the room. His wife, who was richly and carefully dressed, looked at him with a serene air, not without a touch of contempt.
“I am expecting visitors,” said she, in her calm way. “Don’t you think you had better brush yourself up?”
“I don’t intend to stop,” replied Walter, listlessly staring out of the window.
“All the better. I don’t care for tame cats,” said Mrs. Fane. “A man should be out in the open air, or at business.”
“You won’t let me attend to the business,” said Walter, shrugging.
“If you were a man you would attend to it without my sanction. But some one in this house must see to things, and if you won’t the burden must devolve on my shoulders.”
“As you please,” said Fane, and sat down on the floor beside Minnie. “It’s pleasant enough playing with this darling.”
“I believe your brain is softening,” said his wife, with a shadow of anxiety. “Why don’t you go for a yachting tour?”
“I shall never yacht again, Julia. You will no longer have to complain of my long absences. When is the house to be sold?”
“In a month. I am arranging the business now. We will then go to Switzerland.”
“I hate Switzerland.”
“Since you have decided to yacht no more, it doesn’t matter if you live there,” said Mrs. Fane. “But you can choose your own place of residence. It’s all one to me, so long as I can see after the business.”
“I don’t see that we need go abroad at all,” said Fane sullenly.
“I see the necessity, and a very great one,” retorted Mrs. Fane, with a flash of her eyes. “Be guided by me, Walter. I know what is good for you. And do get up from the floor. Laura will be in soon.”
Fane rose reluctantly. “I was sleeping this afternoon,” he said, and yet feel tired. “I think I’ll dine at the club and go to the theatre.”
“As you please,” said Mrs. Fane quietly, “so long as you don’t trouble me. And don’t make love to any other woman,” she added.
“Julia,” said Fane, pausing at the door, “do you really care for me as much as that?”
“My dear, every one has a weakness; pride is mine. I like you. I have an affection for you, else I should not have married you. So long as you look handsome and are well dressed, and show me the deference of a chivalrous man to his lawful wife, I have no complaint to make. But if you go after other women, and make me a laughing-stock amongst my friends,” added Mrs. Fane, drawing a deep breath, “I should not spare you.”
Fane laughed, though rather uneasily. “One would think you would do me an injury,” he said, with another shrug.
Mrs. Fane raised her eyes and looked at him steadily. “I might even do that,” she replied. “Don’t hurt my pride, whatever you do. And if you desert me in favour of—”
“There’s no chance of my doing that,” said Walter irritably. “I declare to heaven that I’m fond of you, Julia.”
“That is as it should be,” retorted Mrs. Fane.
Before her husband could reply there came a knock at the door, and immediately afterwards a stolid young man in livery entered. Walter slipped past him and got out of the room, while the man waited for his mistress to address him. “Yes?” said Mrs. Fane interrogatively.
“If you please, ma’am, the cook have gone mad,” said the stolid man.
“Really?” rejoined Mrs. Fane, letting her knitting fall on her lap, but otherwise undisturbed. “And what form does her madness take?”
“She says she’s going to retire on a fortune, and insists, ma’am, on coming upstairs to tell you. I think, ma’am—” The man hesitated.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Fane calmly; “I quite understand. This is the third time she has indulged, and after assuring me that she had taken the pledge. Send her up.”
“You will excuse me, ma’am, but cook really have found jewels.”
“What do you mean?” This time Mrs. Fane really was amazed.
“She have found jewels in the dust-hole,” stammered the man, and would have gone on to explain, but that he was roughly brushed aside by a large female clothed in purple silk of a cheap sort, with a black velvet cloak trimmed with beads, and a bonnet profusely trimmed with flowers. Her face was red, and her air was that of an excited person. This was due partly to drink and partly to excitement, and partly to a sense of fear at thus braving her mistress, of whom she had a great dread. The moment she entered the room the footman departed hastily, thinking there would be a row. He went down to the kitchen, and found the rest of the servants much excited. It seemed that the cook really had some cause for her behaviour. At the present moment she was explaining herself to Mrs. Fane.
“If you please, mum, I wish to leave this day—this hour—this minute,” panted the cook all in a breath; “my boxes being packed and my best clothes being on.”
“Indeed!” Mrs. Fane eyed the splendour with a look which made the cook wince. “I am afraid you can’t leave. You get no wages if you do. Go downstairs.”
“But I don’t care for my wages. Far be it from me to rob you, mum. I am as rich as you, having found a forting in the dust-hole.”
“Really! May I ask what it is?”
“You’ll take it from me, mum,” said the cook mistrustfully.
“If you don’t show it to me at once, Gander—” this was the cook’s unusual name—“I shall send for the police.”
“O mum, think of the scandal. I won’t—” then Gander caught the steady eyes fixed on her. The drink and the excitement were dying out under the chilling influence of Mrs. Fane’s calmness, and the cook collapsed.
“It’s this, mum,” and from under the cloak she brought forth a dagger with a slim steel blade and a hilt of gold richly encrusted with jewels. These flashed red and blue and green and yellow in the stream of sunlight that shone through the window. Minnie caught a sight of the glitter and clapped her hands. “Yes, my pretty,” said the cook proudly, “it’s lovely, ain’t it. And all my own, having been found by me in the dust-hole.”
“May I look at it, Gander?” asked Mrs. Fane.
The cook, still under the influence of those cold eyes, handed it over at once, talking while she did so. But she kept her treasure-trove in sight, and despite her awe would have fought Mrs. Fane, had that lady shown any signs of annexing the property. “It’s jewels rich and rare with gold, mum,” said Gander poetically; “emerald and sappers and dimings and them things you read of in the book of Revelations. I shall sell it to a jeweller as I knows, and with the money I shall become a lady. I don’t know as I’ll marry,” pursued the cook meditatively; “but I’ll have a little house of my own, and sit all day in the parlour in white muslin reading novels and—”
“You really must not take so much to drink, Gander,” said Mrs. Fane.
The cook bristled up. “Ho, indeed!” she snorted. “I’m accused of drink, am I, when my emotions is natural, having come in for a forting. I read it in the candle last night, and in the tea-leaves two weeks previous, and then I—”
“Cook, don’t be a fool! This is by no means so costly as you think.”
“It’s worth a thousand, if I’m a judge of stones.”
“Ah! but you see you are not,” said Mrs. Fane cruelly. “This dagger belongs to me. It is only imitation gold and bits of glass.”
Gander dropped into a chair. “Lor!” Then with an enraged screech, “Don’t tell me deceptions, whatever you do, mum. My nerves won’t stand deceptions nohow.” Here Gander put a large fat hand on her ample bosom, and observed pathetically, “I feel all of a wabble, as you might say.”
“I wore this,” said Mrs. Fane, fingering the dagger, “at a fancy ball, and threw it away along with some other rubbish. I suppose that is how it got into the dust-hole.”
Had the cook been quite herself, and observant, she might have doubted this explanation, which was certainly weak. Mrs. Fane’s maid would never have carried such a dazzling object to the dust-hole, had she seen it amidst any rubbish her mistress might have cast aside. But Gander, deceived by fortune, broke down sobbing at the disappointment of her hopes. “To think my ‘eart should be cast up to be likewise cast down,” she gurgled. “When I went with the ashbucket I sawr that objict aglittering like anything, being stuck in the side of the dust-hole, as it were.” Mrs. Fane listened attentively. “The ‘andle showed beautiful under some cabbige stalks, and I thought as I was made for life. O mum”—she clasped her hands, which were encased in green gloves—“let me take it to my jeweller, and see if he don’t think them stones of price.”
Mrs. Fane, shaking her head, quietly slipped the dagger into her pocket. “It’s only rubbish,” she insisted, “so I’ll keep it here, as it seems to upset you. Go downstairs, Gander, and see after the dinner. I shall overlook your conduct this time, but don’t let this sort of thing occur again. And you might look at your pledge while you’re about it.”
The cook rose quite crushed, but made one last effort to regain possession of the dagger. “Findings is keepings,” she observed.
“Not in this house. And even had the jewels been real you would not have been able to keep them, seeing they were found on Mr. Fane’s premises. You can tell the other servants that the dagger belongs to me, and is merely a theatrical article. Leave the room, Gander.”
“I’ave been hurt in my tender part,” sobbed the cook, “and now I have to go back and be a slave. All flesh is grass, mum, and—” Here she saw from the glitter in Mrs. Fane’s eyes that the patience of her mistress was giving out, so she hastily retreated, and made things disagreeable in the kitchen. Mrs. Fane’s explanation about the weapon was readily accepted in the kitchen, as none of the servants were intelligent, and Gander was well laughed at for her disappointment. That night the dinner was unusually good at Ajax Villa, as Gander, fearful of losing her place, wished to make amends.
When the cook departed Mrs. Fane reproduced the dagger, and looked at it musingly. While she was daintily feeling the point, Minnie came up and asked for the pretty thing to play with. “No, dear,” said Mrs. Fane, putting the child aside, with a shade passing over her face, “it’s mother’s; and say nothing to Aunt Laura about it.” This she repeated rapidly as she heard Laura’s step in the winter-garden. Then kissing the child, she replaced the weapon in her pocket.
Laura, looking quiet and subdued, entered, dressed for the reception.
“No one here yet, Julia?” she asked, looking round.
“No. Did you expect Mr. Calvert?”
Laura looked annoyed. “I did not. He is not likely to come here.”
“So you said the other day. Yet I found him with Walter in this room when I came to tell him about the name of the woman being discovered.” Mrs. Fane cast a long look at Laura, who took no notice.
“I think we may as well drop the subject, Julia,” said the younger sister. “You will never do Arnold justice.”
“I would with pleasure were he rich,” said Julia blandly. “But as he is poor I wish to discourage your infatuation by all the means in my power. Then again, Laura, you know very little about him.”
“What I do know is good,” retorted Laura, sitting down.
“Ah, but there may be some bad in him for all that. Has he told you all his life?”
“Yes. His father and mother died when he was a child, and he was brought up by a guardian. He has a small property, and went on the stage to make a name.”
“You have seen him act in this new piece?” asked Mrs. Fane, keeping her eyes on the knitting, but listening with all her ears for the answer. “I think you said something about going to the Frivolity with that Baldwin girl.”
“I went with Gerty, and liked the play,” said Laura coldly.
“Is it a modern play?” asked Mrs. Fane.
“Yes,” answered Miss Mason, rather surprised at this interest being taken in the drama, for which Julia had no great love. “It is a three-act modern comedy, The Third Man.”
“I read the notice of it, Laura dear. I fancy I remember that in the second act there is a fancy dress ball. I suppose Mr. Calvert wears a fancy dress in that act.”
“He is dressed as a Venetian. Why do you ask that?”
Mrs. Fane evaded the question. “My dear,” she said gravely, “when I found Mr. Calvert with Walter, I came to read about the two rooms, at Hampstead and this house—being similar, you know. The paper said that the other house—in Coleridge Lane, I believe—was owned by a Mrs. Brand. Mr. Calvert admitted that he had a cousin called Flora Brand, and I have a suspicion—no facts though—that this Flora Brand is the woman who was murdered here.”
“You have no right to say that, Julia,” said Laura quickly.
“I have no ground to go on, certainly,” admitted Mrs. Fane in a most provokingly calm manner, “but I am certain that the woman was murdered here, and that she is Flora Brand, Mr. Calvert’s cousin.”
Laura, who was changing from red to white and from white to red, looked straightly at Julia. “What do you mean?”
“Mr. Calvert,” said Mrs. Fane, “is dressed as a Venetian in the second act of this play. Probably he would wear a dagger—as a Venetian he would certainly wear a dagger—a stage dagger.”
“He does. What of that?”
“Merely this.” Mrs. Fane produced the dagger from her pocket. “This is a stage weapon. The handle is tinsel and glass. It was found by Gander in the dust-hole.”
Laura took the weapon and examined it with a pale face. “Go on.”
“Really, my dear, there is no more to say. I leave you to draw your own inferences.”
“I understand,” said Laura rapidly and in a low voice. “You think that Arnold killed the woman?”
“She was his cousin—the dagger is a stage weapon—Mr. Calvert often came to this house. Put two and two together, my dear, and—”
“Stop!” cried Laura furiously. “I don’t believe it. Why should Arnold come here and kill his cousin—if she is his cousin?”
“He admitted she was.”
“He admitted, according to your own showing, that Flora Brand was. We cannot yet be certain that the dead woman is Flora Brand.”
“Going by the similarity of the rooms—”
“That may be a coincidence.”
“A very strange one, taken in conjunction with that dagger and the relationship, of which I am fully convinced. Did you give Mr. Calvert the latch-key?” asked Julia suddenly.
“How dare you say that! Do you accuse me of aiding Arnold to kill the woman?”
“Ah! you admit that he killed her then?” said Mrs. Fane quickly.
“No! no! you confuse me. The idea is ridiculous. I am losing my head over your talk.” Laura walked to and fro in an agitated manner. “He did not—he did not. What motive could he have for killing—”
“Laura”—Mrs. Fane rose with a determined air—“you know something, I am sure. Walter noticed that you are not such good friends with this man as you used to be. What do you know?”
“Nothing!” panted Laura, as Mrs. Fane seized both her elbows and looked into her eyes. “Let me go, Julia!”
“Not until you tell me—”
“Mrs. Baldwin,” said the voice of the footman, and he threw open the door. In a moment Mrs. Fane was her conventional self, and was holding out her hand to the visitor. “How good of you to come,” she said in her sweetest tones. “Laura and I were acting a scene in a play she is going to appear in. Amateur theatricals, you know,” said Mrs. Fane, giving the old lady no time to speak. “She takes the part of a girl who is rather tragic. Do sit down, Mrs. Baldwin. The tea will be up soon. How well you are looking.”
Bewildered under this torrent of words Mrs. Baldwin, whose brain never moved very fast, sat down on the sofa and tried to recover herself.
Laura, thankful to Julia for once in her life, concealed the dagger in her pocket and retired to the window to recover her calmness. The accusation of Julia had taken her by surprise, and she had been thrown off her guard. As a matter of fact she did know something, but Julia with her unsympathetic manner was the last person in whom she felt inclined to confide. The two sisters in dispositions and tastes were as far asunder as the poles.
Mrs. Baldwin looked like a bird of paradise that had been out all night in the rain. She was dressed in an ill-assorted assemblage of colours. Some of her clothes were bran-new; others quite ancient. Her gloves were different in size and colour, so evidently she had snatched up one of Gerty’s in a hurry. In fact, she seemed to have dressed hastily, so uneasy was the set of her clothes. And from the very candid confession that followed it appeared that she had, as she put it, “taken the first things that came to hand.”
“If I had waited, I never should have made up my mind to come,” said Mrs. Baldwin in her complacent voice. “But after the professor told me, I felt it was my duty to be the first to congratulate Miss Mason. Such a change in the young man’s prospects, ain’t it?”
“Are you talking of Mr. Calvert?” asked Mrs. Fane quickly, and with a side-glance at Laura.
“Of whom else?” responded Mrs. Baldwin genially. “My girl—Gerty’s her name—told me of the affection between Miss Mason and Mr.—”
“Don’t speak of it,” interposed Laura, annoyed that this gossiping woman should interfere in so delicate an affair.
“Oh yes, do, Mrs. Baldwin,” said Julia sweetly. “We were just talking about Mr. Calvert when you came in.”
“I thought you were acting a play.”
“Quite so,” rejoined Mrs. Fane, still sweetly. “And Mr. Calvert is to act the lover. I was supposed to be the lover at rehearsal,” she added playfully.
Laura did not contradict these enormous lies, as she would only have had an unpleasant quarter of an hour with Julia when the visitor left. “Who is the professor?” she asked, to change the conversation.
“Why, my dear, you know him. The dark gentleman who occupies the damp little house at the end of the meadow.”
“Yes, I believe he did speak to me once. But we had little conversation. What did he tell you about Arnold—Mr. Calvert?”
“Never be ashamed of speaking his Christian name, my dear,” advised Mrs. Baldwin. “Lovers will be lovers; eh, Mrs. Fane?”
“It would seem so,” said Julia serenely. “I dislike demonstrative affection myself. But what did this professor say?”
“Professor Bocaros is his name,” said Mrs. Baldwin, who would tell her story in her own slow way. “He told me that Mr. Calvert had come into a fortune.”
“Into a fortune?” gasped Laura, turning even paler than she was.
“Of course, my dear, you know all about it,” said Mrs. Baldwin playfully. “He told you that this poor woman who was killed here was his cousin.”
Laura uttered an ejaculation and stared, but Julia interposed. “We did hear something about it,” she said. “Has this woman left Mr. Calvert a fortune?”
“So Professor Bocaros says,” replied the other woman. “Ten thousand a year. I suppose he’ll spend some in finding how the poor soul came by her death in this very room,” said Mrs. Baldwin, with a shudder.
“I suppose he will. Let us hope so,” said Julia. “Laura, you are not looking well. Had you not better lie down?”
“Thank you,” said Laura mechanically, and without a word left the room. But Julia, with a hasty apology to the astonished Mrs. Baldwin, followed, and outside the door caught her sister by the arm. “You wanted to find a motive for Arnold Calvert committing this crime,” she said. “It was for the money.”
Arnold Calvert occupied rooms in Bloomsbury; pleasant old rooms in a house which had been fashioned in Georgian times. It stood in a quiet street undisturbed by the noise of traffic or the shrieking of children at play. Even organ-grinders rarely came that way, as the neighbourhood was not remunerative. Consequently the house was mostly occupied by people of delicate health who disliked noise. Mrs. Varney, the landlady, was a motherly old person with rather a hard eye. At one time she had been on the stage, and traces of that period appeared in her deliberate movements and slow voice. She always seemed as though she were reciting Shakespeare with appropriate gestures, although she had played but minor parts in the dramas of the bard.
Arnold was Mrs. Varney’s pet lodger. As he was on the stage she frequently gave him the benefit of her advice, and Calvert always received her stale instruction with good humour and attention. This obedience made her love him, and he benefited by having his rooms better looked after and his food better cooked than any of the other lodgers. Calvert had two rooms on the second floor, a bedroom and a pleasant sitting-room, the window of which afforded a view round the corner of the square out of which the street led. It was an oak-panelled room with a painted ceiling, and furnished in very good taste. Arnold detested the frippery with which many young men of the present day cram their rooms, and his apartment was essentially masculine. The carpet and hangings were of dull red, the chairs and sofa were upholstered in leather, and on two sides of the room were dwarf book-cases containing a well-selected library. Calvert was fond of reading—a taste he had contracted at college, and kept well abreast of the literature of the day. In one corner of the room stood a small piano. Over the mantel-piece was a collection of boxing-gloves, foils, masks, and suchlike things. Portraits of Magdalen College—which had been Calvert’s Alma Mater—and of those men who had been his contemporaries, adorned the walls. Then there were many portraits of Calvert in cricketing costume, in boating dress, in cap and gown, and in some of his stage characters. Altogether a manly, pleasant room, quite the place for a studious man to dream and work in. And as Arnold lived a quiet life, he indulged in literary pursuits, as the loose papers on his desk and the presence of a typewriter demonstrated.
He was fair and handsome, with a lean clean-shaven face of the classic type. His hair was curly, and well brushed back from a high white forehead, and his eyes were blue and deep. Most people have shallow eyes like those of a bird, but there was a depth in those of Calvert which betokened a man who thought. A handsome intellectual face on the whole, and usually bright with good health, good humour, and contentment. At present, however, it was rather clouded.
The cause of this dismal expression was to be found in the presence of two men who were seated near the window. Arnold himself, in riding-dress, stood on the hearth-rug with his hands in his pockets. He had come back from a ride that morning to find two gentlemen waiting for him. “Professor Bocaros,” said Mrs. Varney in the hall, when she admitted him; “he’s a gentleman though shabby. But the other, called Jasher, is as vulgar as his vulgar name.”
“This was rather hard on Mr. Jasher, who was not so vulgar as the landlady made out. He was as stout as Bocaros was lean—a fair, complacent, well-fed, elderly man of the Falstaff tribe. Mr. Jasher looked as though he knew a good dinner when he sat down to one, and was quite able to appreciate delicate cookery and good wines. His round fat face was red and freckled, with rather full lips, twinkling grey eyes, humorous in expression, and his hair was plentiful if rather grey. With his fat hands folded sleepily on his rotund stomach, Mr. Jasher looked anything but an inquiry-agent. Yet that was his profession, as announced by Professor Bocaros. Arnold had received the intimation calmly, though with some astonishment.
“Why do you bring this man to me?” he asked curtly.
“Do you know who I am?” asked Bocaros in his turn.
Arnold nodded. “I do. There was a certain relative of ours who sometimes spoke of you.”
Arnold nodded again. “Mrs. Brand,” said he; “she was Flora Calvert, the daughter of my uncle. Your aunt, professor, was, I understand, her mother. But you doubtless know of the relationship, since she told me that you had seen her.”
“Twice,” interposed Bocaros quickly, and then wiped his mouth. “I saw her five or six years ago, and then shortly before her murder.”
Jasher looked directly at Calvert as the professor made this statement, hoping to discern some emotion. But Arnold’s face, doubtless owing to his stage training, betrayed nothing of his feelings. It looked as cold as the face of a Greek god, which he rather resembled in his looks. “I am aware that Mrs. Brand was murdered,” he said; “my lawyers, Messrs. Laing and Merry, told me so the other day.”
“Did they tell you about the money?” asked Bocaros, his big black eyes fastened eagerly on the face of his cousin.
This time Calvert coloured a trifle, and shifted his rather direct gaze. “Yes,” he answered; “though I do not know by what right you ask me such a question.”
“I am your cousin—”
“Even that does not entitle you to take such a liberty.”
“Bocaros looked annoyed. I am the last man to take a liberty with any one,” said he coldly, while Jasher’s twinkling eyes watched his face and the face of Calvert alternately; “but Flora, when I saw her a week before she was murdered, told me that she had made a will in my favour. When I went to see Merry I was informed that she had changed her mind and had constituted you her heir.”
“Quite so,” assented the young man. “Mr. Merry told me all this, and of your visit. I rather expected a visit from you, professor. You want me to help you with money—”
“I want you to offer a reward in order to learn who killed your—our cousin,” burst out Bocaros swiftly.
Calvert bit his lip, and the blood rushed to his fair face. “You may be sure that I will leave no stone unturned to learn the truth,” he said, and walked in a rather agitated manner up and down the room. At length he came to a halt opposite Jasher. “You are a private inquiry-agent,” said he. “Mr. Merry informed me that the professor, under the impression that he had inherited the money, employed you to hunt for the assassin of poor Mrs. Brand.”
“Yes—yes,” cried Bocaros, shifting his chair in great excitement. “And I bring him to you that you may employ him. I am poor—yes, I am very poor, but I do not want money. Spend what you would give me in paying Jasher to discover the assassin.”
“Is this why you bring Mr. Jasher to me?” asked Arnold.
“What else?” said Bocaros. “I only saw Flora twice, but I liked her—she was good to me. I want to know who killed her.”
“All the world wants to know that, professor.”
“Pardon me,” said Jasher, in his unctuous voice. “I do not think the world in general cares very much, Mr. Calvert. The world has grown tired of its nine days’ wonder, and now is occupying itself in other matters. I pointed this out to the professor, and proposed that you should remunerate me for what I have done, seeing that he cannot pay me, and let sleeping dogs lie.”
Arnold looked up sharply. “What do you mean by that expression?” he asked quickly. “Have you discovered anything?”
Jasher produced a small note-book. “I have set down one or two things. At present I am collecting evidence. When I have sufficient I will know how to move. But”—he closed the book—“if you would like me to destroy these pages—”
“Why the devil should I, man?” demanded Calvert, frowning. “As the cousin and the legatee of Mrs. Brand, I am doubly concerned in learning the truth. I agree to what the professor suggests. You shall search out this matter, and find out who killed the poor woman. I will bear all the expense. And if you bring the guilty person to justice, I will pay you five hundred pounds.”
“Consider it done,” said Jasher, nodding. “I’ll engage to get at the truth. Five hundred pounds is worth earning.”
“Are you satisfied?” asked Calvert, turning to Bocaros.
The professor, strangely enough, seeing that his errand had not been in vain, looked rather disappointed. “Yes,” he replied hesitatingly; “it is good of you. I am very pleased.” He rose. “Now we will go.”
“No,” said Arnold, touching him on the breast, sit down. “As I pay the piper, I call the tune. Mr. Jasher has passed from your employment into mine. I should like to know”—he turned to Jasher—“what you have discovered so far.”
“Nothing easier,” said Jasher, again opening his little book. “I have learned details from the papers, from observation, from Professor Bocaros, and from Mr. Tracey.”
“Tracey!” said Calvert, starting. “I remember. He was the American whose car was stolen.”
“You know him better than that, Mr. Calvert,” burst in the professor. “He is engaged to Miss Baldwin, the great friend of the young lady whom you are to marry.”
Arnold turned on the Greek sharply. “How do you know that?”
“I live in a house near Mrs. Baldwin. She is my landlady. I know Tracey and Miss Baldwin. I have met Miss Mason, and—”
“And Miss Mason told you,” interposed Arnold.
“No. Mr. Tracey, informed by Miss Baldwin, told me. And it struck me as strange,” added Bocaros, in rather a venomous tone, “that you should be engaged to the girl in whose house Flora was murdered.”
“It belongs to her brother-in-law,” said Calvert coldly. “Do you mean to hint, professor, that I know anything about this crime?”
“No,” interposed Jasher, making a sign to Bocaros to hold his tongue, “he doesn’t mean anything of the sort. Merely a coincidence, Mr. Calvert, such as will occur in real life.”
“Of course.” Bocaros nodded and spoke with less significance. “I mean that it is merely a coincidence.”
Calvert looked from one to the other suspiciously, but set a mask on his face so that they should not guess what was passing in his mind. “We may as well understand one another,” he said coolly. “If you, professor, or you, Mr. Jasher, are under the impression that I have anything to do with this crime—and you may think so from the fact that being notoriously hard up and notoriously anxious to marry Miss Mason I wanted this money—you are quite mistaken. I am engaged at the Frivolity Theatre from seven till close on midnight every night. I can prove what the law calls an alibi, and if you will apply to the stage manager of the theatre, you may convince yourself of the fact.”
“My dear sir,” said Jasher deprecatingly, since Calvert was now his employer, “no one suspects you.”
“I thought from what Bocaros hinted—”
“No! no! I said it was merely a coincidence,” said the professor quickly. “The very fact that you are willing to employ Jasher, and offer so large a reward, proclaims your innocence.”
“I have no need to resort to such things,” said Calvert angrily. “I only learned that the dead woman was my cousin from the fact of the White Room—”
“But how did that lead to your identification of Flora with the dead woman?” asked Bocaros shrewdly.
Arnold seemed confused. “I saw in the paper that the White Room had been remarked by a man called Webb, who had communicated with the police. It was then found by Inspector Derrick that Mrs. Brand had been missing. I fancied that she might be the unknown woman. I was informed that this was the truth by Merry, who has communicated with the police. I did not see the body or I would have been able to identify it. But Derrick found a portrait of my cousin, and says it is that of the dead woman.”
This was rather a roundabout explanation, and Bocaros curled his lip. In spite of his denial he seemed to suspect Arnold. But that Jasher touched his arm he would have asked a question. As it was he allowed the agent to speak. “You knew that your cousin had such a room?” asked Jasher.
“Yes. Certainly I knew.”
“Then you have sometimes visited her?”
“I have. My cousin and I were good friends. I did not see much of her certainly, but I have been in her house.”
“Did you know that Mr. Fane had a similar white room?”
“Yes. He told me it was his own idea. I said that some one else had been beforehand. That I had a cousin who had such a room.”
“Did you mention your cousin’s name?”
“Not at the time. Flora said that the White Room was her own idea, and Fane insisted that the idea was original, emanating from his brain. I thought it was a coincidence.”
“There appear to be a great many coincidences about this case in connection with you,” murmured Bocaros, but of this remark Calvert for his own reasons took no notice.
“Seeing that your cousin was killed in the White Room in Ajax Villa, Mr. Calvert,” pursued Jasher, “did it not strike you that it would be wise to draw the attention of the police to the other White Room?”
“Certainly not. Why should I have connected Flora with the dead woman? I never knew she was missing until the man Webb of Hampstead drew attention to her disappearance, and by that time the White Room at Hampstead had become known to the police. In fact, the room there, taken in connection with Mrs. Brand’s disappearance, made Webb write to the police. I don’t see how you can blame me.”
“I do not,” said the agent patiently. “I am only trying to get at the truth.”
“I don’t know it.”
“You know Miss Mason, and she is the sister-in-law of Fane—”
“What of that? Do you mean to hint that she—”
“No! no!” said Jasher hastily; “but it was stated at the inquest that Fane alone had the latch-key, that it was never out of his possession, that the man who made it—invented that particular latch-key I may say—never made another. How then did Mrs. Brand enter the house, and how did she know that the family were at the seaside?”
“I cannot tell you. Why do you ask me?”
“I thought Miss Mason—seeing that you are engaged to her—might have spoken out.”
Arnold’s face grew red. “I forbid you to bring Miss Mason’s name into the matter,” he cried imperiously; “she has nothing to do with this affair. She was stopping with Mrs. Baldwin on that night, and never went near Ajax Villa when her sister was absent. Fane and his wife were at the seaside—so were the servants. How can you implicate any of these people?”
“I don’t say that I can,” retorted Jasher. “I am simply groping in the dark. But the fact remains that Mr. Fane alone had the latch-key. It must have been out of his possession so that some one could take an impression and have a duplicate made, or—”
“Well, or what?”
“I’ll tell you,” said Bocaros coming away from the window, “or Mr. Fane must have been the young man who spoke to the officer and who killed the woman—poor Flora.”
“You forget,” said Arnold coolly, “it was proved that the woman was alive when the young man in question was talking to the policeman.”
“On the contrary,” said the professor smoothly, “it was proved that the woman—poor Flora—was dead three hours when the woman was singing and the young man luring the policeman away.”
“How dare you say that the man lured the policeman away!” cried Arnold furiously; “your ignorance of English law, professor, excuses your loose talk. But you are accusing every one without any basis of fact. What is your opinion, Jasher?”
“I haven’t got one as yet,” said Jasher, putting his book away and rising; “so far I can’t see light. But I will go away and search, and then come back to tell you if I have discovered anything.”
“In what direction will you search?” asked Calvert uneasily.
“I shall search in the direction of the latch-key. Fane alone had it, so I want to learn Fane’s doings on that night.”
“He was at the seaside.”
“So he says,” said Jasher significantly.
“And so Mrs. Fane says,” said Bocaros quickly. “Better look for the young man with the pointed beard.”
“The police have looked everywhere and he has not been found,” said Arnold calmly, “and I don’t think he will be found.”
The professor was about to speak when Jasher pulled him to the door. When there he spoke. “By the way, Mr. Calvert, did you ever see Mr. Brand?” he asked.
“No. I never did.”
“Did you ever see his portrait?”
“No”—but this time Calvert’s denial was not so emphatic—“I didn’t.”
Jasher nodded. “That’s all right,” said he. “I’ll come back in a few days and tell you about the latch-key.”
When the two withdrew, Calvert sat down in an armchair and buried his face in his hands. His head was whirling, and his mind was much troubled. So buried was he in his reflections that he did not hear the door open. He was not conscious that any one was in the room till a hand was laid on his shoulders. With a start he sprang to his feet. He looked and saw Laura Mason.
The lovers looked at one another in terror. Calvert, surprised by Laura’s sudden entrance, had no time to compose his features. She, seeing his face, and coming to him already filled with suspicions against which she strove vainly to fight, reflected the paleness and haggard looks which startled her. For the moment both masks had dropped, and these human beings, devoured by terror, stared at one another as though the fabled Gorgon had changed them into stone. Arnold was the first to recover himself. He smoothed his face to a smile, and held out his hands, which she took in a passive manner. “I did not expect to see you here, dearest,” he said, leading her to a chair. “But how ill you look. Nothing is wrong, I hope.”
Laura sat down still gazing at him, but did not reply. “How does my sister’s maid come to be in this house?” she asked abruptly.
“Your sister’s maid?” he repeated, staring.
“Yes; Emily Doon. I saw her in the hall as the landlady let me in. As soon as she caught sight of me she vanished down the stairs to the basement. And those two men—”
“One question at a time, dear,” said Arnold calmly. He had now quite recovered his composure, and was prepared to deal with the situation. “And I shall answer the last first. The men who left me are a Mr. Jasher and Professor—”
“Bocaros,” cried Laura, striking her gloved hands together. “I thought I knew his face. I saw him once at Mrs. Baldwin’s. He lives in a cottage across the meadow, and sometimes comes to borrow her paper. What a horrid face—what a detestable man!”
Arnold looked rather surprised at her vehemence. “I certainly do not like the professor, and I met him to-day for the first time. It happens oddly enough that we are connected.”
“Connected?” echoed Laura. “Wait; I have some sort of idea. The professor told Mr. Tracey that he was a cousin of this woman who was killed at Ajax Villa—”
“Her mother was the aunt of Bocaros,” explained Calvert.
“And you are a cousin of the dead woman?”
“She was Flora Calvert before she married Brand, the daughter of my uncle. Bocaros and I are connected in a way by marriage. As to Mrs. Fane’s maid being here—we shall soon learn the reason,” and he touched the button of the electric bell.
Mrs. Varney, with her majestic air and false smile, answered so rapidly that it would seem she had been watching, if such a stately female would descend so low. She smiled ingratiatingly on Laura, who, without waiting for Arnold to speak, put the question. “I saw my sister’s maid, Emily Doon, as I entered,” she said; “what is she doing here?”
“What eyes you have, miss, I declare,” said Mrs. Varney in her deep voice. “Yes, miss, it is Emily. She is my younger sister. I was a Miss Doon before I became Mrs. Varney. Your sister kindly gave Emily permission to spend a happy day with me, and this afternoon we are going to a matinée—Hamlet,” said the landlady in her most serious voice, “the whole of it—lasting five hours.”
Having thus stated her case, Mrs. Varney waited in the attitude of a startled fawn for a reply. Laura apologised. “I beg your pardon for asking,” she said colouring; “it is, of course, none of my business, but I was naturally surprised at seeing Emily here.”
“Ah,” Mrs. Varney cast a look at Arnold, “we know all, miss. Emily has told me. Juliet’s garden—and the Forest of Arden—”
“We are engaged, Mrs. Varney,” said Arnold, enraged by the impertinence of the landlady.
With her false smile she turned to the door. “Certainly, sir, but as Miss Mason is in the Forest of Arden I would like her to know that Emily is likewise there. That was why she was in the hall. She has an eye to Professor Bocaros,” burst out Mrs. Varney with pride; “he admiring her greatly, and living in the vicinity of Ajax Villa. Good-day, miss, and—” the landlady looked as though she would have liked to add, “Bless you!” but an imperious glance from Arnold sent her rapidly out of the room. Stately as Mrs. Varney was, she loved to be bullied as all women in their hearts do. Arnold’s imperious manner only made her admire him the more. Had he been a bully in addition, she would doubtless have adored him.
“I don’t like it, Arnold,” said Laura, starting to her feet when the door closed. “Professor Bocaros, in spite of his looks and poverty, is a gentleman. Why should he take notice of Emily, who is merely a servant? And she is here—oh, what does it mean?”
Arnold, amazed by this outburst, looked at her in surprise. “My dear, what does it matter?” he said, pressing her to resume her seat. “I don’t care if Bocaros marries a laundress. He has nothing to do with me.”
“He is a dangerous man, and you are in his way.”
“Am I? What do you mean?”
“Can’t you understand, Arnold? He told Mr. Tracey that his cousin and yours, Mrs. Brand, intended to leave him the money. I learned from Mrs. Baldwin, who heard it from the professor himself, that you have got the ten thousand a year. The professor is poor—from what Mrs. Baldwin told me he is wretchedly poor. Do you think such a man will tamely submit to the loss of a fortune? No, Arnold, no. He is dangerous. Take care. If Emily Doon has an eye to marrying the professor, she is not in this house for nothing.”
Calvert tried to soothe the excited girl. “My dear, you are unduly suspicious. Mrs. Varney has given us the reason for the maid’s being here. Bocaros cannot harm me in any way—”
“Are you so sure?” asked Laura sharply.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I mean that you will not be open with me. I love you. Have I not proved how I love you. Julia is against our marriage: but in spite of what she says I have remained true to you. Yet you will not trust me?”
“With what? I am quite in the dark.”
He may have been. Yet there was a deep colour in his cheeks, and he looked uneasy. Laura saw these symptoms of emotion, and placed her hands on his shoulders. “Arnold,” she said earnestly, “if you have any love for me you will speak out. Look at this!” she hastily drew from her pocket the stage dagger. “This is yours?”
“It is,” he admitted readily, and with a look of great surprise. “If you remember it was bought by me for the second act of this play. I showed it to you and—”
“You did. You showed it to me before the murder!”
Arnold looked at her in silence. “Perhaps you will permit me to explain,” he said coldly, “as I really do not understand what you mean by such a speech. I lost that dagger—”
“You threw it into the dustbin after killing that poor woman!”
“Laura!” Calvert rose to his feet pale and trembling. From being a calm and resolute man he suddenly seemed to change into a coward. With white lips and a drooping figure, he stood in the middle of the room. “You will never say anything more cruel than that to me,” he said in a low voice, and covered his face.
Laura looked with sudden joy overspreading her face. “You are innocent,” she cried, running to throw her arms round his neck. “I knew it. I was certain. Dearest, I never believed—never. I said what I did say only to try you. But I know now that you did not kill this woman. I feel it in my heart. You forgive me—you forgive me—come, kiss me, Arnold—kiss me and make friends.”
In a lifeless manner he kissed her, and then submitted to be taken to his former seat. “Now that we understand one another,” said Laura, sitting down and keeping his hand imprisoned within her own, “we must have a long talk. You are innocent—”
“How can you be sure of that?”
“Because I am,” she replied determinedly. “No, Arnold. Even if you swore that you were guilty I would not believe it. I tried you by making what you truthfully call a cruel speech, and your reply, although it may sound nothing to other people, brought conviction into my heart. But if I trust you, other people don’t. This dagger!”
“Where was it found?” asked Calvert, examining it, but still pale.
“In the dustbin. The cook found it. She brought it to Julia, who pretended that it was one she had worn at a fancy ball. Then Julia hinted at your guilt, from the fact that you must have worn such a dagger in the second act of the play. I denied that this was so, and came to see you. Arnold, you must be plain with me. For some time, since the murder in fact, you must have seen how I have avoided you—how I have kept out of your way.”
“Yes,” he said with bitterness, “I saw that. When I called at the house on that day a week or so ago, you avoided me. You have hardly replied to my letters save in the coldest way. You suspect me—”
“No,” answered Laura quickly; “I do not, though I have cause to.”
Arnold looked at her keenly. “What do you mean?” he asked quietly.
“Surely you remember the appointment you made with me?”
“What appointment?” he said, still eyeing her, and the colour again ebbing from his face.
“For the night of the 24th July at half-past nine—on the very night that poor creature was killed.”
“Laura!” his voice was firmer now, and his looks expressed amazement; “it was you who made the appointment. You sent me—”
“Wait, Arnold. One thing at a time. There is something terrible and mysterious about this. I suspect pitfalls and snares likely to bring us into danger. I say, and I can prove it, that you made the appointment. I have your letter in my pocket asking me to meet you at half-past nine on that night. I would have destroyed it so as to put away all evidence of your having been at Ajax Villa on that night, but I kept it, as I wished to show it to you, and to ask how you came to gain possession of Walter’s latch-key!”
“You sent it to me!” he said, much astonished. “I have your letter also. The key was lost.”
“You dropped it in the road when you spoke to the policeman?”
Arnold nodded. “But how did you guess that I was the man who left the house—the man for whom the police are searching?”
“Mulligan described your dress and said you had a pointed beard. You have such a suit and such a beard in the last act of the play. I knew then that you came later than I expected to keep the appointment, and in your hurry you had left the theatre without waiting to change your clothes or take off the false beard.”
“In that case,” said Arnold, very pale, “you must think me guilty of Flora’s death, seeing that I left the house when—”
“No,” interrupted Laura quickly; “you did not come, at half-past nine, for I was at the gate waiting for you. I rang the bell, since you said you would admit me in your letter. As you came finally in your stage clothes, you must have been unable to get away earlier from the theatre. Therefore, as Flora was murdered before nine o’clock you must be innocent. But I never thought you guilty,” she added tenderly, wreathing her arms round his neck, “and whatever any one said I would never believe you killed the woman. You are not the man to commit a brutal murder. Yet Arnold,” her arms dropped and she looked anxious, “the evidence is strong. This dagger is yours, you left the house, the police are looking for you and—”
“All that goes for nothing, seeing I was not at the house before nine o’clock.”
“You were not?” she exclaimed joyfully.
“No! Listen, Laura, and I will tell you the whole truth and you will see why I kept silent. Like yourself—seeing that you deny writing the letter—”
“Show it to me. We must have a clear ground before we can go further. Here is the letter I received. Look at it while I see if Mrs. Varney is lurking outside. I don’t trust that woman, and now that I know my sister’s maid, who loves Professor Bocaros, is here, I trust her less than ever. O Arnold, how I wish I had come to see you before!”
“It would have been better. Why did you not?”
“I was afraid. Arnold, how could I come to you and declare that the man I loved was guilty? I did not believe it—no—but I knew that you had the key—that you had been in the house on that night!”
“I can explain that,” said Calvert quickly; “see if all is safe and return to your seat.”
While Laura peered outside the door, he opened a cash-box and took therefrom a letter. This he laid open on the desk beside the letter given to him by Laura. When she returned, having ascertained that the coast was clear, he pointed to this last. “I never wrote that,” he said firmly; “it is a forgery.”
“And the letter you received is one also,” said Laura, staring at the document; “and oh, what a clumsy one! See—I do not separate my words like that. I often forget to dot my ‘i’s’ and cross my ‘t’s.’ The signature is excellent—exactly like mine, but the rest of the letter is very bad—not at all a good imitation.”
“But you will observe,” said Arnold, pointing again, “that you end ‘yours in haste.’ I thought the hurried writing was thereby accounted for. Although I never suspected but that the letter was yours, I certainly thought that the calligraphy was different to your usual neat handwriting.”
“I always write neatly,” she replied, “and this letter is one I should have been ashamed to send out. But I use this colour and texture of paper,” she sniffed it, “and the same kind of scent. I wonder how the person who forged this came to get my stationery. But, Arnold, your letter is written from the theatre—here is the printed name both on the envelope and inside sheet. How could I doubt but that the letter, was yours. It came to me by post at Mrs. Baldwin’s.”
“And yours containing the latch-key came on the afternoon of the 24th July. It was delivered by messenger to Mrs. Varney, who brought it to me.”
“What do you mean by containing the latch-key?”
“Let us examine the letter first. Then you will see!”
The letter to Arnold at his lodgings, written on perfumed, lavender-tinted paper, contained a few hurried lines asking him to meet Laura at Ajax Villa on the night of the 24th July at half-past nine. “I may be a little late,” the letter continued, “so I send you the latch-key, which I got from Walter who is at the seaside. You can let yourself in.” The letter ended with an admonition not to fail to keep the appointment, and was signed with what appeared unmistakably to be Laura Mason’s signature.
“I never wrote a line of it,” said Laura, very pale; “and I never sent the latch-key. Walter was at the seaside certainly, but he would not have given me the key out of fear of Julia. I stopped with the Baldwins and never went to the villa while Julia was away.”
“The letter to Laura at Mrs. Baldwin’s, written on paper belonging to the Frivolity Theatre, likewise contained a few hurried lines saying that the writer would be with her as asked, at half-past nine on the night of the 24th of July, that he would obey instructions if he was early and admit her into the house if she rang the bell. It also stated that his understudy would play his part in The Third Man so that the appointment could be kept.
“I never wrote a line of that,” said Arnold when Laura had finished reading the letter. “When did you get it?”
“On the afternoon of the 24th. I was astonished, as I knew I had not written you a letter about the villa, and I wondered how you would be able to let me in.”
“Now observe, Laura,” said Calvert, sitting down, “both these letters are delivered to you and I so late that there is no chance of our meeting for an explanation save at Ajax Villa. It seems to me like a trap—whether for you or for me I cannot say—perhaps for us both.”
“Did you really come to the villa?” asked Laura, knitting her brows.
“I did. You were right in your guess about my being the man who spoke to Mulligan. When I received your letter I asked the manager to let my understudy take the part. He made some objection, but finally he gave permission for the change. Then I came home, intending to keep the appointment at half-past nine, and wondering what you wished to say, seeing that we had met three days previously, and then you had given no hint of your possession of the latch-key.”
“I wondered in exactly the same way,” exclaimed the girl. “I said to Mrs. Baldwin on Saturday night—the night you know—that I would go out for a stroll, the evening being hot. Gerty was at the theatre with Mr. Tracey. I then went to the villa at half-past nine or a little later. I did not see you, and but few people were about. I slipped into the garden so as not to be seen waiting in the road. I was afraid lest any of Julia’s friends should see me. I then rang the bell somewhere near a quarter to ten, thinking you had arrived and were within. I rang and rang but no one appeared, so I fancied you had not been able to get away from the theatre, and returned to Mrs. Baldwin. I said I had been strolling in the Nightingales’ Walk.”
“Did you see a light in the room where the crime was committed?”
“No! Had I done so I should have waited. But the villa was quite in darkness,” said the girl decisively. “You did not come?”
“I did later. There was a chapter of accidents. I came home rather tired and lay down to sleep after dinner. When I awoke it was nine o’clock. How I came to oversleep myself I can’t say. I usually waken when I wish. Then a message came from the theatre just as I was getting ready to come—although I knew I would be late for the appointment. My understudy was taken ill, so I had to go back and finish the play. Afterwards, so eager was I to see if you were waiting, that I left the theatre without changing my clothes. I took a fast cab and reached Achilles Avenue about twenty or fifteen minutes to eleven.”
“Did you drive up to the door?” asked Laura.
“No; I thought, for your sake, it was best to keep my visit quiet. I left the cab in Circe Street, and walked to the villa. No one was about. I went into the garden, but did not see you. I then walked into the house, letting myself in by the front door. I knew that you must have gone away, but I opened the door, just to see if you had left a note. Also I saw a light on the second story and fancied you must have got in and were perhaps waiting for me. These things are rather contradictory,” added Arnold, passing his hand across his face, “but the mystery of your letter and the appointment rather worried me. However, I went in, and up to the White Room. There I saw a woman lying, dead face upwards on the mat before the piano. I saw that she was my cousin and was horrified. I turned the body over, and found the wound. She had been murdered. I was horrified. At first I intended to give the alarm. Then I thought that I might be accused of the crime—”
“But you had no motive,” said Laura, “unless you knew that the money would come to you in the event of her death.”
“I did not know that,” said Arnold quickly; “no one was more astonished than I when I heard of the will. But at the time I was overcome by the horror of the deed. I had not my wits about me. I wondered how Flora came there. Then, my being her cousin and having the latch-key. O Laura, can you not guess that I lost my head! waited to see how I could escape. I went down the stairs, and then opened the door. Mulligan was leaning over the gate. I went and spoke to him, and escaped in the way the papers stated. I lost the latch-key and so I was connected with the matter. Thanks to my stage dress and make-up, no one thought I was the man mentioned in the papers. I did not come forward at the inquest. Now that the money has come to me, I dare not come forward. Here is the motive for the commission of the crime,”—Arnold walked up and down the room feverishly—“no one will believe me guiltless. Laura, don’t ask me any more. The peril of my position overwhelms me.”
“Darling.” Laura rose to embrace him. “I believe in your innocence. We will find out who killed the woman. Do you suspect any one?”
“No,” said Arnold after a pause, and with an effort; “how can I suspect any one? I know very little of my cousin. But now that I have the money, I intend to learn the truth. Laura, Professor Bocaros seems to suspect me. I can’t say why he should. He cannot possibly know I was at the villa on that night. He brought Jasher to me, and to avert all suspicion, I engaged Jasher to hunt for the assassin.”
“O Arnold, have you laid that bloodhound on your own track?”
“Yes; it seems foolish, but it is wise. Even if Jasher does learn that I was at the villa, he will say nothing if I pay him well. He is a venal creature, as I gathered this morning. He may find the real criminal, and take this horror out of my life. If he does not, he will never hurt me if I pay. It is the professor I fear.”
“We must keep the professor quiet, Arnold. Let Mr. Jasher hunt. He may learn the truth, and that is better than this suspense. But what of the dagger I brought you?”
“It is mine. But after showing it to you I went to see my cousin. I left it there, I fancy, and it must have been Flora who took it to Ajax Villa—Heaven knows why! Laura, what is to be done?”
“Wait! wait!” she said, with her arms round him. “You are innocent, and your innocence will be proved. You employ Jasher. I shall ask Mr. Tracey to help me.”
Mr. Jasher was a man who in his time had played many parts on the stage of the world. He loved money, and the ease and comfort which a judicious expenditure of money would procure. But he was not sufficiently successful in making an income. Several ventures had turned out badly before he opened his private inquiry-office, and hitherto that had not seemed likely to be a triumph. The work was hard and the pay not very good, and for some months Mr. Jasher had been contemplating the wisdom of giving up the business and starting as a theatrical manager. He was fond of the stage, and in the United States he had produced several dramas at a dead loss. But the English people being less clever than the Yankees, Jasher thought he would again venture on a theatrical agency.
It was about this time that Professor Bocaros called to see him. A chance of making a great deal of money out of the simple scholar presented itself to Jasher, and he took up the matter himself. It was so difficult that the detective—for so he was in fact—did not think it wise to trust the elucidation of the mystery to meaner hands. He resolved to attend to it personally, and charge accordingly. The discovery that the money had passed to Calvert was not pleasing to Jasher, as he had now to deal with a man more shrewd and less inclined to pay largely. However, supported by Bocaros, Jasher called at the Bloomsbury lodgings of the actor, and ended, as has been seen, in getting the business of hunting down the assassin of Flora Brand. It was not an easy mystery to unravel.
“But the first thing to be done,” said Mr. Jasher to himself in the solitude of his office, “is to find out what sort of a cove Calvert is. If he’s what I call a stinger, I’ll have to go straight. If he ain’t, I’ll buckle to and do my best. But in any way I’ll get all the money I can out of him.”
In pursuance of this amiable resolve, Jasher sought out several theatrical folk whom he knew well. The report of Calvert was that he had a strong will, but was very good-natured. It was considered that he would never be an actor, and old-fashioned stagers believed that it was merely through his good looks and his fashionable clothes he obtained engagements. But Jasher knew the jealousy of those connected with the green-room, and determined to see Calvert act with his own eyes. According to the force and talent displayed by the young man, he might be able to estimate the depth of his character.
Having thus made up his mind, Jasher treated himself to a seat in the pit of the Frivolity Theatre. The audience was small as the play was not a great success. “It’s a good thing he’s got this fortune,” was the agent’s reflection, “as this piece won’t run long; and being out of an engagement, he wouldn’t have much chance of marrying that girl he’s sweet on, according to old Bocaros.”
The play was not a good one; the best scene being in the middle act, wherein a masked ball took place. Calvert was dressed as a Venetian, and looked remarkably handsome in black velvet and gold. During the scene he had to draw his dagger, and this drew Jasher’s attention to the fact that he wore such a weapon. But he did not give the matter much thought. It was only when Arnold came on in the last act in a tweed suit with a reddish pointed beard that he started. It occurred to him that he had heard from a friend in the police of how the young man met by Mulligan had been thus attired. A description of the young man, save in a vague way, had not been put into the papers. And probably Jasher, but that his mind was full of the murder, would not have noticed the dress and general appearance. As it was, the remembrance of the dagger and the fact of the tweed suit and pointed beard made him reflect. Also the fact that Arnold was engaged to the sister-in-law of the man to whom the villa belonged made him lay unusual stress on the matter.
“Blest if I don’t think he’s got something to do with the matter, professor,” he said to Bocaros that same evening.
The Greek, anxious to know how matters were proceeding, had made an appointment with Jasher at a Soho restaurant after the theatre, and was now at the supper-table looking more haggard and lean than ever with his blazing eyes and funereal looks. Disappointed at being deprived of Mrs. Brand’s fortune, Bocaros—as Laura surmised rightly—was angry with Arnold for having obtained it. The remarks he had made in the young man’s presence were mere fault-finding words, as he had no reason, on the face of it, to suspect him of being connected with the crime. Moreover, Arnold’s ready acceptance of Jasher as an agent to search out the matter must have done away with all idea that he was guilty. No man would be such a fool as to put a bloodhound of the law on his own track, and when he had succeeded in gaining his end without danger. But when Jasher made the above remark Bocaros looked at him eagerly.
“That is my idea,” he declared quickly. “I have no grounds to go upon. But Calvert is engaged to Miss Mason. In her brother-in-law’s house Flora was killed, so he must know something.”
“Oh, I don’t see that,” mused Jasher; “you go too fast, professor. Of course those facts, and the fact that he gets a large income, may seem suspicious, but being engaged at the theatre every night puts his guilt out of the question. But to learn all I can about Calvert, I have asked his understudy to come to supper.” Jasher glanced at his watch. “He’ll be here soon, and then we can talk.”
“From your description,” said Bocaros, who stuck to his point, “Calvert is the young man who spoke to Mulligan.”
“I think that. He has the clothes and the beard described by the officer. But if he was the man, he would hardly be such a fool as to retain such a make-up.”
“Yes, he would,” persisted Bocaros; “safety often lies in danger. If Calvert had changed his make-up and a description had appeared in the papers, suspicion would have been excited.”
“True; but no description appeared, or only a vague one.”
“Calvert did not know that. He thought it best to keep to his make-up, trusting that people—who are generally stupid—would never connect his stage appearance with that of the man in real life. He is the man, I am sure, and he came out of the house.”
“But it doesn’t say he killed Mrs. Brand.”
“He had ten thousand a year to gain by doing so.”
“Quite right. But the woman was killed before nine, and during that hour Calvert was engaged at the theatre.”
“That’s true enough,” said the professor gloomily, “all the same it seems queer. I believe he is guilty.”
“Hush!” said Jasher, looking round uneasily; “don’t talk so loud. You never know who may hear. Keep to generalities. Ah, here is Hart.”
The young man who came to the supper-table was a languid and fashionable youth, who, having run through his money, had gone on the stage to delight the public. As yet he had not made a success, and, judging from his looks, never would. Having got into trouble over some gambling debt, he had enlisted the services of Jasher. That astute gentleman had managed to settle the affair, and Hart was consequently willing to be friendly. He sat down with a bored air, and declared that he was almost dead. He acknowledged his introduction to Bocaros with a slight and supercilious nod.
“You work too hard,” said Jasher, when Mr. Hart was engaged in eating.
“It’s hard work hanging round the theatre waiting for a chance,” said the other.
“You have got one,” said the detective; “ain’t you engaged at the Frivolity Theatre?”
“Only as Calvert’s understudy,” said the discontented youth. “I have to be at the theatre waiting for my chance should he fall ill. He’s too clever to let me go on, and he can’t act a bit. I could make a magnificent part of the one he spoils.” And Hart began to explain the lines upon which he would—as he put it—create the part.
“Have you never had an opportunity of playing?” asked the professor, piling up little bits of bread in a listless manner.
“I had once,” said Hart frankly, “but just my bad luck. I messed up the chance.”
“Ah,” said Jasher quickly, “how was that?”
“Well, don’t you say anything,” said Hart, glancing round, “as it would do me harm with the profession. Nobody will take much notice so long as it ain’t talked about. It’s only known in the theatre, and Calvert, who is a good-natured sort of chap, promised to hold his tongue.”
“Oh,” said Bocaros, meaningly, and looking up with eagerness, “he promised to hold his tongue, did he? About what?”
“My messing up my chance. You see Calvert didn’t feel well one night, and I went on. I did act A1, and was scoring all round, when I got so excited that I fell ill. My heart ain’t very strong,” added the youth, “and that’s why I can’t take Turkish baths.”
“Well, well,” said Jasher, looking a very benevolent stout gentleman, and sipping his wine with relish, “what happened when you fell ill?”
“Why, they had to send for Calvert. Luckily he was at his lodgings.”
“Also ill?” put in the professor.
“No. He said he was ill, but he wasn’t. He came and took my place for the last act, and they said he never acted better in his life.”
“About what time does the third act commence?”
“And Calvert came to the theatre at that time?”
“A few minutes before,” said Hart, attacking some cheese.
“So he was disengaged on that evening up to that time. Ill at home?”
“He was away from the theatre, if that is what you mean,” said the young man, “but he wasn’t ill, so far as I know, in spite of what he said. It was a fake of some sort. I guess there was a girl in it.”
“What do you mean?” asked Bocaros excitedly.
Hart started. “Why, nothing. Only some of our chaps were ragging him about getting away that evening to meet a girl.”
“Did he deny that he was going to do so?”
“No. He laughed and coloured. A shy chap is Calvert.”
Bocaros intervened. “Can you tell me what night this was?”
“What do you want to know for?” asked Hart suspiciously.
“It’s merely curiosity,” said Jasher smoothly; “you needn’t trouble about the matter, if you don’t like.”
“I don’t care two straws,” said Hart, with a good-natured laugh, “but I can’t understand what you fellows are driving at. Catch me forgetting the night I got my chance. It was the 24th of July.”
Jasher and Bocaros looked significantly at one another, but the interchange was lost on Hart, who was attending to his wine. The conversation then drifted into subjects connected with Mr. Hart’s career, and he finally departed quite unaware that he had been made use of.
“What do you think now?” asked Bocaros triumphantly.
“Well, Calvert was absent on that night, and he resembles the young man who lured Mulligan away. Also he wears a dagger in the second act of the play which he might have used.”
“He did use it,” said the professor positively; “the wound was made by a stiletto, according to the medical evidence. It is a stiletto he wears. And he was absent between six and half-past nine, the very time the doctor said the woman was killed. Besides,” went on Bocaros excitedly, “Calvert knows Fane very well. He might have thus obtained possession of the key.”
“Fane swore it was never out of his possession.
“He may have done that to shield Calvert, seeing the man is going to marry Miss Mason.”
“True enough,” said Jasher, rising. “Well, Calvert himself has given me the funds to prosecute the search. It will be queer if I run him down. I guess he’ll be willing to let sleeping dogs lie if I do run him to earth.”
“No,” said the professor determinedly; “if Calvert is guilty he must be punished.”
“You leave matters in my hands,” retorted Jasher, his good-natured face growing black. “I’m going to make money out of this.”
Bocaros changed the subject, for no apparent reason. “How did you get money to prosecute your inquiries?”
“Calvert told his solicitors to give me what I wanted. I saw Merry, and obtained a cheque for fifty. That’s enough to go on with.”
“What do you intend to do now?”
“Go to his lodgings and see what his landlady knows.”
Bocaros thought. “There’s another thing you might do,” said he. “I know that Emily Doon is the sister of Calvert’s landlady. You might question her. She will be with her sister to-morrow, and, as you know, she is Mrs. Fane’s maid.”
Jasher looked keenly at the professor. “That’s the girl you are sweet on,” he said smiling.
“What if I am?” returned Bocaros sharply; “she is a nice, good girl, and handsome. She adores me,” cried Bocaros, on whose head the unaccustomed champagne had taken effect, “and I will marry her when I am rich.”
“Will you ever be rich?”
“If Calvert is the man who killed Flora Brand, yes,” said Bocaros, and with a grim smile he departed. Jasher looked after him and shrugged his shoulders.
“I must keep you in order,” said he to himself, “or you will spoil the whole thing.”
But however little the detective may have trusted Bocaros, he made use of the information he had received. At three o’clock the next day he went to ask if Calvert was at home. But he did not make the inquiry until he saw Calvert drive away in a cab. Mrs. Varney appeared with her ingratiating smile, and assured him that the young man was out. “He has gone to Troy,” said Mrs. Varney, “but of course we know what that means. A handsome young lady, Mr. Jasher.”
“Hullo!” said the detective, starting; “and how do you come to know my name, ma’am?”
“Oh,”—Mrs. Varney tossed her head in a light-comedy way—“my sister knows the professor, and the professor knows you. The fact is—”
“Oh, that’s all right. The professor (and a nice gentleman he is, though but a foreigner) told me of his weakness.”
“Weakness, indeed!” This time Mrs. Varney frowned as a tragedy-queen. “Professor Bocaros ought to be proud of having a handsome young lady like my sister admiring him.”
“Well,” said Jasher, who wished to get an interview with Miss Doon, and guessed the right way to go about the matter, “he is a man who will be able to give her a good position.”
“Do you know everything about him?” asked the landlady eagerly.
“Everything. I am his man of business,” lied Mr. Jasher.
“Oh!” She looked longingly at the detective, not suspecting his real profession. “Won’t you come inside for a few minutes. My sister is with me, and I am sure she would be pleased to meet Mr. Bocaros’s man of business. When she marries him she will naturally be brought much into contact with you.”
“I fear I am too busy, ma’am,” said the man, playing his fish.
“Oh, but do come in,” pleaded Mrs. Varney.
“Well, then, for five minutes,” said Jasher, and this was how he came in a short time to be seated in a cosy parlour opposite to a tall, bold-looking young woman, with a hard mouth and big eyes almost as large and black as the professor’s own. She resembled her sister in looks, and was scarcely less theatrical. After expressing her pleasure at seeing Jasher, and being determined—as he soon saw—not to let him go until she knew everything about Bocaros, she invited him to a cup of tea. Mrs. Varney went out to get the tea, and Jasher found himself being pumped by Miss Doon.
“I met the professor quite casually,” she said, “having been insulted by a man one evening in the Nightingales’ Walk. I cried for help, and the professor smote the ruffian to the earth. Then he asked me into his rustic home, and was quite the gentleman. We have been quite the best of friends for over a year,” sighed Miss Doon sentimentally, “and lately he has given me to understand that he desires a nearer and dearer tie.”
“Why don’t you marry him, then?”
Miss Doon smiled and looked significantly at the detective. “I do not care about living in so damp a house as ‘The Refuge,’“ she said. “I will marry the professor when he can give me a better home. I suppose he is not well off?”
“At present he isn’t,” said the professor’s man of business, “but some day he may come in for a few thousands a year.”
“Oh!” Miss Doon gasped, “how delicious. I would certainly marry him then and leave my present place. Not that I have anything to complain of,” she added graciously, “but I have always felt that it was my high lot to be a lady of rank.”
“Quite so. And if the professor gets this money he can resume his rank, which is that of a Greek baron.”
“Oh, good gracious!” Miss Doon gasped again; “then I would be the Baroness Bocaros.”
“Certainly. But you had better stop in your place for a time till the professor gets his money. I suppose you get on well with Mrs. Fane?”
“We are like sisters,” said the fair Emily; “she entrusts me with all her secrets.”
“Has she secrets?” asked Jasher quickly.
Miss Doon coloured, tossed her head, and bit her lip. She saw that she had said too much. “I am true to my mistress, sir,” said she loftily, “and what she asked me to do, I did, without betraying her.”
Jasher was puzzled. He thought the girl was a fool to talk thus, and wondered what Mrs. Fane could have asked her to do. However, it was not a propitious moment to get the truth out of the maid as she was now more or less on her guard, so he deftly changed the conversation. “I suppose you find Ajax Villa unpleasant after the murder?” he suggested.
Miss Doon closed her eyes. “Don’t speak of it. My nerves are shattered. It’s awful. And to think no one ever knew who killed the poor soul.”
“I suppose you don’t?”
“Certainly not,” replied Miss Doon violently, “I was at the seaside with the other servants. I know nothing.”
“Are the other servants pleasant?” asked Jasher, baffled again.
Emily shrugged her ample shoulders. “Oh yes,” she said; “Gander, the cook, is the most amusing.” Here she began to laugh. “We had such a joke the other day,” she added. “I intended to tell the professor.”
“What was that?” asked the detective carelessly. Miss Doon recounted the episode of the dagger. “It was in the dustbin, and Gander thought the jewels were real. She gave notice, only to find that the dagger was a stage jewel that had been worn by Mrs. Fane at a fancy ball.”
“You knew that, I suppose?” said Jasher, much interested.
“No. She has not been to a fancy ball since I was with her, and that is three years. But she said the dagger was hers, and Gander was in a great state.”
Jasher asked for a description of the dagger, which she gave. Then Mrs. Varney returned with the tea, and the conversation became more general. But the detective left with a firm conviction that Calvert had left the dagger in the dust-hole after killing the woman.
Arnold one day received a note from Luther Tracey asking him to call at Fairy Lodge, Coleridge Lane, Hampstead. Wondering what the American was doing in that house, Calvert lost no time in obeying the summons. He knew Tracey very slightly, having only met him when paying a visit to the Baldwins, when Laura was stopping there. But he was aware that Tracey was a smart man, and long-headed. It struck Calvert as possible that Laura might have consulted with the American about the matter of the murder, and that this invitation might be the outcome of a consultation between them. And it was creditable to Calvert’s sagacity that this is precisely what had happened.
On arriving at Fairy Lodge, Arnold saw the engineer in the garden with his inevitable cigarette in his mouth.
“Well, I guess you’re a smart chap,” said Tracey, shaking hands heartily. “You don’t let the grass grow under your feet like the majority of these English. No!”
“I think curiosity brings me up so quickly,” said Arnold as they strolled up to the door. “I was wondering what you were doing in this galley.”
“All in good time, sir,” replied the imperturbable Luther. “Just slide your eye round the ranch before you go in. Not a bad shanty? No; I surmise that poor woman was death on flowers, and hadn’t the dollars to start an orchid-house.”
“She was poor,” said Arnold, a trifle sadly. “Her husband did not allow her much money, she told me; but perhaps he didn’t make much.”
“Well, a drummer in our land generally can rake in the dollars. Did you ever see this Brand?”
“No,” replied Calvert emphatically, “I never did.”
Luther looked sideways out of the corner of his eye, and saw that the colour was rising in the young man’s face. “Know something about him, maybe. Yes?”
“I know very little,” answered Arnold coldly. “Only what Mrs. Brand told me, and she was rather reserved on the subject. Brand, as I learned from her, was a commercial traveller.”
“What line did he travel in?”
“I don’t know; I never asked. But his business took him away a great deal, and my cousin was left a lot to herself.”
“None. They had been married five or six years, I believe. The fact is,” he added, “Mrs. Brand did not speak very kindly of her husband. She seemed to think he was keeping something from her.”
Luther pitched away his cigarette and lighted another. “Well, now, I guess that’s my idea right along. There’s a mystery about Brand, and not a very straight one, seeing he couldn’t tell the woman he swore to love, honour, and obey. There ain’t nothing about leaving for long periods in the marriage service, I reckon. And it’s strange he’s not turned up, seeing she’s murdered.”
“Well,” said Arnold slowly, and following the American into the room, “I believe Brand went to Australia to see if he was related to the man who left Flora this fortune.”
“Yes. It’s queer his name should be Brand also. A woman generally marries out of her name. It’s a fact. Well, if he’s in Australia I expect he won’t turn up for some time. When he does—”
“What will happen?” asked Calvert, with a troubled look.
“The truth will come to light.”
“Do you mean to say that the man killed her?”
“I guess I don’t mean to say anything,” returned Tracey coolly, and stretching his long limbs on a couch. “But now we’re tiled in—you ain’t a mason, I suppose? No. But we’re private here, so fire along.”
“I want to know—”
“So do I,” broke in Arnold. “I want to know what you are doing here?”
“Oh, there’s nothing low about me, sir. I had a yarn with that young lady who is as sweet as a daisy, and she told me enough to make me take root in this place. Such a time I had with the old hermit who owns the shanty. I had to give references and pay rent in advance, and do all kinds of things to fix up matters. But yesterday I moved in, and wrote you straight away. And here I stay till I learn the truth. And a mighty long time that’ll be, anyhow.”
Arnold, who was sitting in the chair with his face turned to the light, stared. “I don’t quite understand!”
“No! Ah, that’s the fault of you English. You want a heap of explanations, like that Old Methuselah who let me the ranch. It’s this way. I’m engaged to Gerty B., and she’s a friend of Miss Mason. Now I’ve cottoned to Miss Mason, and I’ve sized you up as a decent sort of old horse, so I’m going to see if I can pull you out of this mess. Yes, sir. Luther Tracey don’t go back on a friend. I guess I stop here till the husband comes home from Australia and drops in here to see his loving wife. And he don’t leave that front door until I get the truth out of him. I’m a clean shot, too,” added Mr. Tracey, musingly. “There ain’t no flies on me. No!”
Arnold was puzzled. “What do you know about me, that you talk so?”
“All that Miss Mason could tell me. She landed round to see Gerty B. in a devil of a state. That stuck-up sister had been lathering into her, I guess. She wouldn’t tell Gerty B., and just howled. So I came along and sent Gerty B. to look after old momma Baldwin—to keep her on the tiles. Yes, sir. Then I sat down and extracted the truth out of Miss Mason.”
“What?” the blood rushed violently to Mr. Calvert’s face. “Did Laura tell you—”
“Everything. You bet she did, and I wiped her pretty eyes with my silk handkerchief. There ain’t no call to fire up. I’m engaged to Gerty B., and I don’t loot another man’s shanty. No, sir. I’m square and straight. Miss Mason told me everything about your going to the villa, and the dagger and all that poppy-cock. I told her to go slow and lie down, and then lighted out for this rookery. Now I’ve got you here I want you to tell me everything I don’t know.”
Arnold, reserved like all Englishmen, was annoyed that this inquisitive Yankee should interfere in his affairs. But the face of the man was so genial, and displayed such interest, that he could not help laughing. “It’s very kind of you, Tracey,” he admitted, “and there is no one whose help I would like better. But I have already engaged a detective to look after the matter.”
“Right enough,” responded Luther, lighting another cigarette. “But I work for the love of Gerty B., who’s death on seeing you and Miss Mason hitched in double harness. I’ll do better than your ‘tec, I guess. Now come along and put your soul into the matter.”
“But I’ve got nothing more to say, man. Miss Mason has apparently told you everything.”
“In the way women do tell—generally and without the detail I want, sir. But Miss Mason was crying so, and I was consoling her so, that I didn’t catch on to everything, Calvert.” Here Tracey’s voice became more earnest. “Just you trust me to the hilt. I’m your friend, right away through, and God knows you need one.”
“Do you think I am in danger?”
“On the face of it, I do.”
“But I can produce an alibi.”
“Good again. What’s that, anyhow?”
“Just this. I was asleep in my lodgings up till nine o’clock on that night, and only went down to the theatre half an hour later. I believe that the woman was killed between eight and nine.”
“That’s all right enough,” assented the American, looking at the ash of his cigarette. “But you were in the house later, and you’ve come in for the money, and the dagger was yours. There may be a way of the prosecution getting out of the woman having been killed so early, and then you get left.”
“Tracey, I swear when I saw the body it was almost cold.”
“Then why didn’t you call in the police?”
“Because I lost my head,” said Arnold, much distressed.
Luther shook his head. “The very time when you should have kept it. If you had called in the police and explained how you came to be at the villa, all would have been well.”
“But the money being left to me,” expostulated Calvert.
“You didn’t know that at the time?”
“No. I only knew when Merry wrote me.”
“Then there’s no motive, though the prosecution might try to prove you knew from Mrs. Brand beforehand.”
“Tracey, why do you talk about prosecution? There’s no chance of—”
“Of arrest,” finished the American, neatly. “There just is, and don’t you make any mistake about it. That professor chap won’t give up the money without a try to get some.”
“You mistrust him?”
“Oh, I reckon so. When he kept to his studies he was a harmless sort of cuss, but now he’s taken a hand in this game with the chance of a fortune if he wins, why, he’ll stick at nothing to land his stake. You go ahead, Calvert, and tell me what you told Miss Mason. Then I’ll smooth it out and tot up.”
Seeing that the American really wished to be a friend, and having considerable belief in his cleverness, Arnold related all that had taken place from the time he received the forged letter. When he ended, Tracey expressed a desire to see the letters. But Arnold, unprepared for this conversation, had not brought them with him.
“Can you remember the dates?” asked Tracey. “Both were written on the twenty-third.”
“Hum! And posted on the twenty-fourth. Close running, that.”
“Only one was posted. That supposed to be an answer from me to Laura.”
“And the other was brought by a messenger?” asked Tracey.
“Did you reply to the forged letter?”
“No. Remember I only received it late in the afternoon. Believing it really came from Laura, I thought I would see her quicker than a letter could be delivered.”
“Did Miss Mason look at the post-mark?”
“No. She burnt the envelope too.”
“That’s a pity. We might have found in what district the letter was posted. However, we may learn from the district telegraph office, who gave in the letter to be delivered on the twenty-fourth.”
“We don’t know the office.”
“I’ll find it,” said Luther coolly, “if I hunt through every office of that sort in London. By the way, when you were in the house did you hear any one about?”
“No. Not a soul. And yet—” he hesitated.
“Who was singing while you talked to Mulligan?”
Arnold jumped up and shuddered. “Tracey, I declare that was the most horrible thing about the business. I don’t know.”
“Yet you were in the room.”
“I was, and I saw the dead body, which I recognised as that of my cousin. I saw the policeman pass and repass out of the window. Then, thinking he was gone, I went out.”
“Wait a bit. You told Miss Mason, that you saw him leaning over the gate? Don’t make any mistake. This is important.”
Arnold coloured. “I am telling you the exact truth. I was so confused over the whole business that I mix up things. I left the room before the singing commenced. I waited in the hall for ten minutes, hoping the policeman would not come back. Then I opened the door—”
“Hold on a shake. Why didn’t you go up and see who was singing?”
“Tracey, I couldn’t. My nerve was already shaken when I left the room with the dead in it. I recognised my peril, seeing I knew who she was—the dead woman, I mean. In the darkness of the hall I was waiting when I heard a woman’s voice singing ‘Kathleen Mavourneen.’ I was so shaken that I scarcely knew what to do. All my desire was to get away from that horrible house. I opened the door, and saw the policeman at the gate. I hesitated and then faced him—the rest you know.”
Tracey looked at his pointed boots and considered. “What a fool you were not to steal upstairs and see who was singing. You might have found the murderess.”
“Yes,” said Tracey, getting off the couch, “from the fact of the singing I guess it was a woman who killed Mrs. Brand.”
“No,” said Arnold decidedly; “if a woman had done so, she certainly would not have risked my return.”
“Oh, I guess she knew you were scared to death. And perhaps she believed you had cleared out.”
“She would have heard the door close.”
“Not she. You closed it quietly, I reckon.”
“So quietly that Mulligan did not hear.”
“There you see.” Luther took a turn up and down the room. “See here, I’m going to camp out here and search.”
“For what?” asked Calvert, puzzled.
“For letters, pictures, diaries, and all that sort of thing.”
“You won’t find any. Derrick discovered that everything had been removed, by the murderer no doubt, so that the reason for the crime would not be discovered.”
“That’s so. And you hang on to the fact that it was a woman who engineered this job. A man wouldn’t be so ‘cute. She came right along when all was quiet and looted the house. But I guess Derrick’s a fool. There may be all kinds of papers hanging round. And he didn’t examine the dustbin. Now, I did, and I found a torn photo—”
“Of Brand?” asked Calvert breathlessly.
“No; of Mrs. Brand.”
Calvert looked disappointed.
“Derrick has one already.”
“I guess so, and he don’t know what use to make of it. I find on the photograph, very naturally, the name of the photographer.”
“Well, what of that?”
“You make me tired,” said Tracey impatiently. “I’m going to see if that man’s got a photograph of the husband. Married people sometimes get taken together. If Mrs. Brand had a photo taken at this man’s place, she would probably, when she wanted another, or to be photographed with her husband, go there. Don’t you catch on? Besides, the husband may have gone with her without being taken. Oh, I’ll get his picture.”
“But what good will that do?”
“Well, it might put a clue into our hands. He may have loved the woman who stabbed his wife.”
“It’s all theory,” said Arnold impatiently.
“And I guess it will be, till we get down to the bed-rock of the business,” said the American dryly. “However—hullo Snakes, what’s that row?”
“It’s a ring at the bell,” said Arnold, peering out of the window. He then drew back with a look of surprise. “It’s Jasher.”
“Great Scot! What’s he come here for? All the better: we’ll interview him. I’d like to see the sort of man you have running the biz. We might syndicate. Yes—oh I guess so.”
In a few minutes Jasher, round and rosy and fat and short of breath, was in the room, expressing his surprise at the sight of his employer.
“I just came up to have a look at the house,” said he; “and never expected to see you here, or Mr. Tracey either.”
“What’s that?” queried Tracey, “you know my name?”
Jasher sat down and wiped his bald forehead.
“I had the pleasure of seeing you out of the window of Professor Bocaros’s house. You were walking with a young lady. He told me your name and—”
“That’s all right. Well, sir, I’m hanging out here, looking after this case. Yes, you bet I’ve taken a hand.”
Jasher looked annoyed, and turned to Calvert.
“You gave the case into my hands, sir,” he said in an aggrieved tone.
“That’s as right as a pie,” said Tracey coolly, and before Arnold could speak; “but I guess you’re paid, and I’m an amateur. There’s no law against my joining in this old country, is there?”
“No,” said Jasher stiffly; “but I prefer to work alone.”
“Right you are. I’ll swing on my own peg. Well”—Tracey lighted his sixth cigarette—“what’s doing?”
Jasher, with marked annoyance, turned his broad back on the man who was meddling—as he considered it—with his business, and addressed himself to Arnold.
“Do you wish me to report, sir?”
“If you please,” said Calvert, amused by the detective’s anger.
“I would rather do it alone.”
Tracey lifted his shoulders.
“I’ll take a hand at patience in another room,” said he, sauntering to the door. “Call me when the pow-pow’s over, Calvert,” and he went out singing, with Jasher looking after him distrustfully.
“Well, Jasher, what is it?” asked Calvert, sitting down again.
The detective took a seat, and looked sadly at his employer. The two could hear Tracey singing in the back garden, so they talked in their ordinary tones. Shortly the singing stopped, but then Jasher was too much engrossed to think Tracey might be listening. However, he set the door of the room ajar so that the American’s ear should not be at the keyhole. Having taken this precaution, he sat down, and as above stated looked sadly at his employer.
“Why don’t you trust me, sir?” he asked reproachfully.
“In what way?” asked Calvert, turning cold.
“Well, sir, you mayn’t know it, but Professor Bocaros grudges you this fortune, and wants to get up a case against you.”
“I fancy he’ll find that difficult. Has he been troubling you?”
“He wanted me to play low down,” said Jasher gloomily; “but as you are my employer, and have the money—I must be frank,” he broke off in a burst of confidence—“you have the cash and Bocaros hasn’t, so I stick to you.”
“Thanks!” said Arnold dryly. “Well?”
“I am still friends with Bocaros,” went on Jasher calmly, “as I don’t want him to suspect, and I must keep an eye on him. However, he’s found out several things.” Here Jasher stopped and looked at Arnold firmly. “You, sir, were the man with the pointed beard who spoke to Mulligan, and had the latch-key.”
“How can you prove that?” asked Calvert quietly.
“Well, sir, I went to the theatre and saw that your make-up was the same as that described by Mulligan; also the clothes. Then Bocaros and I found out from your understudy that you were away from the theatre till after nine, and the woman was killed about that time. Finally, Mrs. Fane’s maid told me that a stage dagger of the sort you wear in the second act of the play was found in the dustbin of Ajax Villa. You inherit the fortune, sir, and that taken in conjunction with these circumstances makes Bocaros think you killed the poor woman yourself. I’m afraid I wasn’t so careful with the professor as I should have been,” said Jasher apologetically; “but, now I know he is your enemy, I will keep my eye on him.”
“The professor knows all this?”
“Yes. He learned something of it from Mrs. Fane’s maid, and he was at supper with me, when we spoke to your understudy, Hart. Bocaros wanted to go to Derrick with the information; but I persuaded him not to do so for the present. But there’s no denying that you are in a difficult position, and the professor is dangerous.”
Calvert pitched his cigarette on the floor and glanced out of the window. He was not so surprised as Jasher expected him to be, as he had always mistrusted Bocaros. But he recognised his danger, and spoke frankly.
“What do you think, Jasher?”
“I don’t think you did it, sir, if that’s what you ask me.”
“Why not. I was the young man who spoke to Mulligan. I went to Troy in my make-up. I was in the house, and I recognised the body. And the dagger found in the dustbin is mine. Now, what do you say?”
“I say that I’m more certain than ever you ain’t guilty,” said Jasher doggedly; “you wouldn’t put your neck into the noose if you were the man wanted. And you wouldn’t have engaged me to hunt you down to get hanged.”
“You are very clever, Jasher,” said Calvert, with a nervous laugh. “I am innocent, as you say. This woman was killed before nine.”
“So the doctor said at the inquest, sir.”
“Then, if you will ask my landlady you will find that I was asleep in my room at that time. A messenger came from the theatre asking me to finish the piece as—”
“As Hart was ill. I know that. But did you go later?”
“Yes. I went to keep an appointment with Miss Mason. It was made for half-past nine, and when I got to the villa she wasn’t there. I entered the house, and after seeing the dead body I came out, dreading lest I should be accused of killing my cousin. The dagger I left in this house by mistake, so I have no doubt she took it with her to Ajax Villa for some purpose, and was killed with it. Who killed her I am not in a position to say. So you see, Jasher, I can prove an alibi.”
Jasher nodded and seemed relieved.
“I’m glad you have so clear a defence, sir,” said he heartily. “I should not like to have been the means of hunting you down. But what was Mrs. Brand doing at the villa?”
“Ah! that I can’t tell you.”
Jasher asked a great many questions, mostly of the sort which Luther had asked, and seemed quite puzzled. Calvert told Jasher that the American suspected a woman of having killed Mrs. Brand. This, however, Jasher shook his head at.
“A woman wouldn’t have the nerve,” he said. “However, I’ll think over that. There’s Mrs. Fane, of course.”
“What about her?” asked Arnold angrily.
“Well, sir, she (as I learn from the professor, who heard it from Miss Baldwin) hates you, and doesn’t want you to marry her sister. The song sung was hers. So she might have—”
“Rubbish!” said Arnold, jumping up. “I am surprised at you, man. Mrs. Fane was at Westcliff-on-Sea.”
“Yes; and I guess she ran away with my car,” cried Tracey.
“What!” said Jasher, pink to the ears. “Have you been listening?”
“You bet,” said Luther coolly; “had my ear to the wall the whole time. This house is a shell. Now the conversation’s come round to my way of thinking, I’ve come to sail in. You’re a smart man,” said Luther, wringing the detective’s hand. “I agree with you. A woman did the trick, and Mrs. Fane’s the woman.”
Jasher felt complimented. “Well, sir, now you are in and know all, I don’t mind your remaining. Mrs. Fane—”
“I won’t hear it,” cried Arnold; “it is ridiculous!”
“Don’t see it,” argued Tracey. “She’s one of these tall women who could easily overpower a little woman like Mrs. Brand.”
“But what reason had she to kill Mrs. Brand?”
“She wanted to lay the blame on you and stop your marriage.”
“Stuff and nonsense! Why should she kill Mrs. Brand for that? She did not know the woman was my cousin, or that money was coming to me; I didn’t know myself till the lawyers wrote after the death.”
“It’s a rum case altogether,” said Jasher, nursing his chin on his fat hand. “I can’t see my way.”
“I can,” said Luther briskly; “you go right along and make inquiries about Mrs. Fane, and I’ll go on my own. Then come here and we’ll size the business up when we pool the notes.”
“But Mrs. Fane was at Westcliff-on-Sea,” said Arnold distracted.
“And she took my motor-car to get back.”
“To Charing Cross?” asked Jasher disbelievingly.
“You bet. That was a blind. There’s a late train to Westcliff-on-Sea on Saturday night. Mrs. Fane could leave this house when you, Calvert, left it about eleven. She could rip along in my flier to Charing Cross in twenty minutes, and then leaving the car there, she could take the underground to Bishopsgate to catch the late train. That’s what she did. Oh, I’ve worked it out.”
“Jasher seemed struck with this speech. I’ll make inquiries at Liverpool Street station,” he said. “But, sir,” he added, turning to Calvert, “seeing that there is a danger of your being arrested, will you go on with this case?”
“Why not? I am innocent!”
Jasher shrugged his shoulders. “Oh, it’s none of my business,” said he. “I know you are innocent, as you can prove the alibi, or it would be my duty to arrest you. But unless you can close the mouth of Bocaros, he will tell Derrick, and then—”
“Then I’ll face the business out,” said Arnold proudly. “I have been a fool; but I am not a knave or a murderer. What do you say, Tracey?”
“I’m with you,” said the American; “go through with the biz.”
“Jasher shrugged his shoulders. It would be better to bribe the professor to silence,” he said. “However, I have my orders, and I’ll go on.”
Disappointed of the fortune, Bocaros had to keep on teaching at the suburban school. He disliked the drudgery of the task, and hated the boys who did not always treat him respectfully. The poor man had a miserable time, and the loneliness of his life at the Refuge did not tend to cheer him. What with his disappointment, the dampness of his house, his straitened circumstances, let alone the fact that he was in love, Professor Bocaros found life very hard.
He really adored Emily Doon. As she had told Jasher, Bocaros had rescued her from the insults of a ruffian, and since then she had been kind to the old man. At first it did not enter her head to marry him, as she knew how desperately poor he was. But Bocaros was a gentleman, and Emily warmly desired to marry above her rank. She was a handsome, ambitious girl with some education, and from reading novels such as Mrs. Baldwin loved, she became imbued with the idea that she was destined for a romantic life. Her visions included a title, a large income, beautiful dresses, and the envy of every one she knew. She painted a picture of her calling as a countess on Mrs. Fane and of crushing that stately lady with patronage. Emily did not like Mrs. Fane very much, as she found her a somewhat severe mistress. Therefore she was anxious to marry as soon as possible. But those who sought her hand were in trade, and Bocaros was the only gentleman who seemed to admire her in a genteel and respectful way.
The conversation with Jasher put a different complexion on the affair. According to the professor’s man of business, who certainly must know what he was talking about, Bocaros was a baron, and was likely to come in for money. It was true that no details had been given, but the mere hint was sufficient for Emily. She at once decided to encourage the professor instead of snubbing him, and to this end, having dressed herself in her best things, she went to pay a visit shortly after five o’clock, an hour when she knew Bocaros would be within.
The professor was seated over a small fire, staring darkly into its red heart, with folded arms. Outside, the twilight was darkening to night and the wind was rising. But Bocaros did not pay any attention to the doings of nature. He was wrapped up in the contemplation of his own troubles. Already he had finished his frugal meal and had put away the dishes as was his custom. Usually, having lighted his big pipe, he would read, but on this evening the book lay unopened and the pipe was laid aside. He began to feel keenly his poverty now that he was in love. There seemed to be no chance of his marrying Emily, and so far as he could see, unless he could bend his pride to accept money from Calvert he would have to pass the rest of his days in that damp house until too old to earn his bread. Then the wolf would rush in at the door and drive him to the workhouse. No wonder the poor man was angered by the good fortune of Arnold.
When a sharp knock came to the door, Bocaros, wrapped in his gloomy thoughts, took no notice. Again came the knock in a still more peremptory manner. This time he heard, and wondering who was calling on such a recluse as himself, he went to the door. Here he expected to find Tracey or Mrs. Baldwin, who were the only people who ever came to the dull little house in the fields. But when he saw Emily fashionably arrayed, smirking at the door and flashing her great eyes on him, the poor man was so amazed that he fell back a step and gasped.
“I hope I’m not unwelcome,” said Miss Doon, with dignity.
“Ah, my dear young lady, enter my humble home,” gasped the professor, wondering if this was all a beautiful dream. “How can you think but what I am honoured far beyond my worth.”
“The foreign style of compliment,” simpered Emily entering, “is what I would expect from one of the nobility.”
Bocaros did not hear. He conducted her to the study and made her sit in the big armchair. Then he heaped on coals and wood in reckless profusion, and volunteered to make his fair visitor a cup of tea.
“The English love tea,” said the professor, hastening to the kitchen. “In a moment you shall have some, mademoiselle.”
“How sweet,” sighed Emily, who liked the foreign title. But when alone she cast her eyes round the room, and mentally decided that Bocaros was even harder up than she expected to find him. Emily was a shrewd girl where her vanity was not concerned, and had no notion of throwing herself away. Unless she knew for certain that Bocaros was a baron and that the money would really come to him, she decided that she would never permit him to make her his wife. She was fond of fine dress, in which her wages did not permit her to indulge. Already she was in debt, and should the professor propose she knew not how she would be able to get a trousseau together worthy of the occasion. “But I can get Fanny to help,” thought the astute Emily. Fanny was Mrs. Varney. “She will do anything when she hears I have decided to marry a foreign nobleman like Count Fosco in the Woman in White!” which comparison was rather hard on the guileless Bocaros.
Shortly he returned with a cup of tea. Emily accepted the attention graciously. But the tea was inferior, the china was thick, so she made a wry face and drank very little of the comforting beverage. The professor did not notice her distaste. He closed the window, drew the threadbare curtains and lighted the lamp. Having made the room as comfortable as was possible he sat down and poked the fire into a brighter blaze, then smiled cheerfully at Miss Doon. She was secretly amazed at the result produced by her visit in the man’s looks. He appeared to be years younger—there was a colour in his face, a softer light in his aggressive eyes, and his demeanour was almost gay. She thought that if he were better dressed and had more flesh on his poor bones, he might be a handsome man after a sort. She might do worse than marry him, always presuming that he really had a title, and was possessed—in the near future—of money.
“You have no idea what pleasure it gives me to see you seated at my poor hearth,” said Bocaros, smiling brightly.
“It’s very nice,” replied Emily, also smiling. “But I suppose some day you will be able to afford a better house?”
“I might. One never knows, as you English say. And were I rich, do you know what I should do?”
“Marry, I suppose. When a gentleman has a house he always looks for a lady to share it.”
“The difficulty is to get the lady.”
“Oh, really, sir, in your case there should be no difficulty.”
Bocaros brightened still more. “Do you really think so, mademoiselle? I am old, I am poor, I have no position, and—”
“But a baron has a position!”
“Who told you I was a baron?” asked Bocaros suspiciously.
“Mr. Jasher, your man of business. Isn’t it true?”
“Yes,” said the Greek slowly, and with his eyes on the fire, “it is strictly true. I am a baron in my country, as I come of a noble family. But I dropped the title when I came to teach in England. Yes! I told Jasher I was a baron. How did he come to tell you?”
There was no need for Bocaros to ask this question. Jasher had reported the conversation to him, and had advised him to resume his title if he wished to make an impression on Miss Doon’s worldly heart. As a matter of fact Bocaros was really entitled to the title he claimed. He belonged to a decayed family and the title was all that remained. As it was out of keeping in his position, and the man was proud, he never gave any one to understand that he had this rank, and was contented with the appellation of professor. Unused to the ways of women, it had never struck him that the title would be of value in Miss Doon’s eyes when it was not gilded with money. But he saw from her looks that she really thought a great deal of it, and mentally thanked Jasher for having supplied him with this bird-lime to lure his fowl.
“How delightful!” said Miss Doon. “And your wife will be a baroness?”
“Oh yes. But where am I to find a wife?”
Emily’s eyes told him, but with the ineradicable coquetry of a woman her tongue contradicted her glances. “Good gracious me, baron”—she rolled the sweet morsel on her tongue—“how should I know? Really I wish you would not look at me like that. It’s hardly proper for a young lady to call on a foreign nobleman. I believe they are not to be trusted. The noblemen, you know—so gay and dashing they are.”
Bocaros laughed a little sadly. “I fear I am anything but that,” he said. “Not at all the bridegroom for you.”
“Really, professor—I must call you by the dear old name—I hope you are not making a proposal.”
“Does it offend you?” asked Bocaros timidly.
“I’m sure I don’t know. I have never been proposed to before, as I have always been hard to suit.”
“Would I suit you?”
Miss Doon having extracted a direct question got to business at once, but veiled her common-sense under a delightful confusion. “I really don’t know, baron—I must call you by that name, it sounds so high-class—really I don’t know. Of course I was born for a coronet.”
“It would look well on that delicate head.”
“I’m sure it would,” replied Miss Doon, with conviction. “But you see, baron, I must have a gold coronet, and you”—she looked round the room.
“Yes,” said Bocaros sadly. “I am poor—miserably poor. But,” his eyes blazed so suddenly that she drew back startled, “you may be able to make me rich.”
“Baron, I do not grasp your meaning.”
Bocaros looked at her doubtfully. “Are you a strong-minded woman?” he asked; “are you willing to do something for money?”
Emily grew nervous. “What do you mean, professor?”
“I mean that I can obtain an income of some thousands a year if you will help me to get it.”
The bait was too tempting for Miss Doon to resist, so she nibbled.
“So long as it is anything a lady can do,” she observed modestly. “And I am confident, baron, that you would not like the future bearer of your noble coronet to do anything wrong.”
“You could never do wrong in my eyes.”
“Ah, but there are other eyes one has to consider,” said Emily in a shrewd manner. “You had better speak plainly.”
“I will, if you promise to hold your tongue. If what I am about to say gets abroad, farewell to the money and to my resuming my title.”
“It’s nothing wrong, I hope,” faltered Emily, rather taken aback by this earnestness. “Although I am not a prude I should never think of doing anything to—”
“No, no! All I ask you to do is to give me some information.”
“Information! Good gracious! what information can I give you?”
Bocaros rose and began to walk with his hands in his pockets. I suppose you remember the White Room crime,” he said slowly.
Miss Doon shrieked. “Oh, don’t talk of it, baron. It has ruined my nerves. I can’t—”
The professor interrupted ruthlessly. “Has it ruined the nerves of your mistress?” he asked sharply.
Emily sat up and became more of a servant and an artful woman. “What’s that?”
“Must I put the matter plainly?” sneered the professor?
“Yes,” she replied quietly, “if you wish me to understand.”
“Then I will. The woman who was murdered was my cousin. She left me ten thousand a year—hush, don’t interrupt. Arnold Calvert, however, got round her in some way and she altered her will, leaving the money, which was rightfully mine, to him. I hate him, and I want half the money at least. I have reason to believe that he killed this woman—hush, don’t interrupt—and if I can bring the crime home to him, I can make him hush it up by his giving me five thousand a year. If you will help me to prove his guilt, I will marry you and make you a baroness as soon as the income is safe.”
“Emily stared, and in her clever mind calculated the chances of benefiting by this confidence. I don’t see how I can help,” she said, to gain time.
“I do. Did you read the case as reported in the papers?”
“Yes. But it said nothing about Mr. Calvert.”
“He was the young man who spoke to the constable. Now, when he left the house my cousin was lying dead in the White Room, and a woman, to distract the attention of the police, was singing. The song that she sung is a favourite of Mrs. Fane’s.”
Emily now began to see whither these remarks tended. “Yes?”
“Yes!” repeated the professor impatiently. “Is that all you have to say? Do you not understand?”
“No, I don’t, really, I don’t.”
“Bah!” he turned his back roughly on her. “You are of no use to me.”
“But I may be,” said Miss Doon meaningly.
“Yes. If you like. Do you know what I want?”
“You want to make out that Mrs. Fane was singing in the room.”
Bocaros nodded. “I know Mrs. Fane was supposed to be at the seaside. But you told Jasher that you did something for Mrs. Fane, and would not betray her. What was it you did?”
“I said I would not betray her,” said Emily, not seeing how the affair would turn out to her advantage.
“Then you will never be my wife.”
“If you loved me—”
“It is not a question of love,” he interrupted imperiously. “How can I marry you and bring you to this hovel?”
“I should not come. Give me a good home and—”
“Well,” he interrupted again impatiently, “the chance of obtaining a good home lies in your hands. I swear I will make you a baroness if you will help me to get the money.”
Emily fenced. “Do you think Mr. Calvert is guilty?” she asked.
“Yes, decidedly. I am as sure of that, as I am that Mrs. Fane was in the room assisting him to escape.”
“But why should she do that?”
“Because she loves him—”
“Oh, good gracious!” Miss Doon started from her seat. “Really, that is impossible.”
“I tell you she loves him,” repeated Bocaros grimly, “and that is why she is so averse to her sister marrying him. Calvert got to know that the will was made in his favour, and lured Flora to the White Room. There Calvert or Mrs. Fane killed her—don’t shriek.”
“I must,” said Miss Doon excitedly. “Do you think that Mrs. Fane—Oh, I can’t believe—And yet—”
“Ah! Then she was up in town on that night?”
“I never said so,” retorted Emily promptly.
“What is the use of fencing in this way?” cried Bocaros roughly. “I am sure that my guess is correct. I was certain after what you let slip to Jasher, and—”
“She has been a good mistress to me,” said Emily, crying.
“Because she chose to. But she is a hard and cruel woman!”
“She’s all that. She would kill me, did she know that I told.”
“Bah! Once in the hands of the law she can do nothing. Come, Emily, my dear wife that is to be, tell me. She was in town.”
“Yes,” confessed Emily. Then, having taken the leap, she hurried on: “I will tell you all now, but mind you keep your promise. If you don’t, I will deny everything; and you can’t do without me.”
The professor kissed her hand gravely. “I have no wish to do without you, my dear,” he said. “Go on; tell me all.”
“When we were at the seaside,” said Miss Doon, sitting down again, “I noticed that the mistress was worried. She got worse and worse, and always quarrelled with her husband.”
“Was he with her all the time?”
“Yes. On the twenty-fourth—”
“The time of the murder,” said Bocaros, under his breath.
“Mr. Fane received a letter which made him turn pale. I took the letters up to him in the morning-room, as the man asked me to. When he opened the letter he turned pale, and put it into his pocket. Mrs. Fane was in the room. She looked sharply at him, but said nothing. But when I left they had a quarrel. At all events, Mrs. Fane looked furious all the day. Mr. Fane said he was ill with a cold—”
“Was he really ill?” asked the professor suspiciously.
“Well, he had a cold, but not a bad enough one to make him go to bed as he did. He took to his room, and Mrs. Fane attended to him herself. All day she was with him. Just before six she came out of his room, and told his man that he was asleep and was not to be disturbed. She then called me into her room, and told me that she had to go away on business. She did not want it to be known that she was out of the house, and asked me to put on one of her dresses and sit all the evening in the drawing-room till she came back.”
“Did she explain why she went to town?”
“No. Nor did I ask. I never thought that anything was wrong. I fancied she might have gone up to see Mr. Frederick Mason, as she was always calling on him. She had quarrelled with her husband, so I thought the letter he received was about some business that was wrong—”
“The business of Mason & Son. Mr. Fane is a partner with Mr. Mason, but Mrs. Fane attends to matters. As I say, she often went to see her brother, and I thought she did so on this night unbeknown to Mr. Fane. For that reason, as I supposed, she wanted me to pretend to be her, so that neither he nor the servants would think she had been out of the house. I said Mr. Fane might want me, but she said he would not, as she had given him a sleeping-draught, and he would not awaken till the morning. Well, she paid me so well that I agreed. I put on her dress and sat in the drawing-room. She told the servants to go to bed when they liked, as she would require nothing more. So all the evening I was not disturbed, and the servants, thinking I had gone out—I made up a story for them,” said Emily artfully—“never came near me. My mistress caught the six train up.”
“At what time did she come back?”
“After midnight. She caught the last train down.”
“Did she seem disturbed?”
“Not at all. She simply came in and said that she had done her business. Then she paid me the money and sent me to bed, after hearing that all was well, and that the other servants suspected nothing. Then she remained in the drawing-room looking over some papers.”
“You suspected nothing wrong?”
“I did not,” replied Miss Doon, with assurance. “Not until you spoke of her singing the song did I think anything wrong.”
“Yet you read the report at the inquest.”
“I did. But it never struck me that—”
“I see,” interrupted Bocaros, rubbing his hands. “Well, you can be quite sure, Emily, that Mrs. Fane came to Ajax Villa on that night. Can she drive a motor-car?”
“Yes. She had one down at Westcliff-on-Sea.”
“Then it’s her, without a doubt. She stole Tracey’s motor-car, and leaving it in Charing Cross station-yard, went along by the underground to Liverpool Street, where she caught the last train. Jasher told me that Tracey’s own idea is, that a woman did this, and that a woman killed Mrs. Brand. Ah! with your evidence we’ll have her.”
“What will you do?”
“Do?” said the professor. “I’ll get five thousand a year from Calvert, or have both him and Mrs. Fane arrested. Your evidence will hang her and give him a life-sentence.”
Tracey, in the interests of the lovers, continued to live in the cottage at Hampstead. Webb had let him the house furnished, and Luther made himself comfortable in a bachelor fashion. He cooked his own meals, and made his own bed, and kept the house as neat as a new pin. One day Gerty came to see him, accompanied by her mother. How she induced that lymphatic woman to come was a mystery. Tracey was not easily astonished, but he was fairly taken aback when he saw stout Mrs. Baldwin being towed up the path by Gerty. It was like a breathless steam-tug conducting a three-decker out of port.
“What I’ve suffered,” said Mrs. Baldwin, sinking into a basket-chair which almost collapsed under her weight, “no one can understand.”
“Oh come, mother,” said Gerty cheerfully, “you had a cab to the top of the hill, and my arm to the door.”
“You are nothing to lean upon,” sighed Mrs. Baldwin. “If it was Rufus, now. He had an arm like a blacksmith, and the soul of a poet.”
Tracey giggled. He was amused by Mrs. Baldwin’s whimsical ways. “Will you tell me what brought you here?” he asked, with his arm round Gerty.
“You may well ask that,” said Mrs. Baldwin, fanning herself with her handkerchief; “and if you have such a thing as wine—”
“Only whisky—old Bourbon,” snapped Luther, and supplied Mrs. Baldwin with a brimming glass in spite of her asseveration that she never took such strong drink. If not, she appreciated it, and finished the glass while talking.
“Gerty must tell you what I want,” she said, nursing the glass.
Luther turned to his fiancée with an inquiring look. Something very strange must have occurred to bring Mrs. Baldwin so far.
“Mother is upset,” said Gerty: “she fancies she saw her husband.”
“My second,” explained Mrs. Baldwin. “Not Gerty’s father, who was a gentleman, but Rufus.”
“The man with the blacksmith’s arm and poet’s soul,” said Luther. “I thought he was dead and buried long ago.”
“No,” said the old lady. “I have never seen any announcement of his death. He is alive, and I saw him. Two nights ago I was reclining in the parlour, trying to soothe my nerves with a novel. Rufus appeared at the window, which was open, the night being warm. I shrieked aloud at the sight of his face. He ran away,” finished Mrs. Baldwin, sighing.
“Didn’t you light out after him?”
“I went out to rebuke him for his desertion of the twins. But he was gone like a dream. I have come to you to ask if you will advertise for Rufus. Assure him that all will be forgotten.”
“Is there anything to forget?” asked Gerty.
Mrs. Baldwin suddenly sat up with energy, and her eyes glittered. No one would have thought that she possessed such spirit. “Yes,” she said, in a hard voice, “there is much to forget. Rufus treated me like a brute. He always was a brute.”
“Then why do you wish to forgive him?”
“Because I do,” said Mrs. Baldwin doggedly.
“Were I you,” said Luther, after a pause, “I would leave the cuss alone. Think of your children.”
“I want him back,” said Mrs. Baldwin, and softened her tone. “All will be forgiven and forgotten.”
But, even as she said this, Tracey saw a nasty glitter in her eye. He was not so sure that Mrs. Baldwin was actuated by Christian intentions in wanting her lost husband back. In spite of her apparent good-nature, she was petty and spiteful. It might be, that she wished her husband back to make things hot for him. “Tell me really why you wish him to return?” said Luther.
Mrs. Baldwin breathed hard, and looked at her daughter. “Send Gerty out of the room,” she said suddenly, and forthwith this was done. When alone with Tracey, who was more puzzled than ever, Mrs. Baldwin again became energetic. “There was a diamond necklace,” she said.
“Ah,” replied the American, whistling; “I see, Rufus nabbed it?”
Mrs. Baldwin took no notice. “I want my necklace back,” she said; “it was given to me by Gerty’s father, and I intend to present her with it on her wedding-day. You are to marry her, Mr. Tracey; so if you want Gerty to look a lady, as she always is, you will catch Rufus, and make him give up the necklace.”
Tracey smiled, and shook his head. “It’s not to be done, Mrs. Baldwin. Your husband’s been gone for years, and the necklace has long ago been sold. Besides, you would have to prosecute him. Think of the children, ma’am.”
“I want back my diamond necklace,” said Mrs. Baldwin, who was like a very obstinate child. “Oh, how I hated that man!” In her rage she forgot her pretended weakness. “Mr. Tracey,” she rose to her feet in a kind of cold fury, worthy of Mrs. Fane, “Rufus was a brute. Why I married him I don’t know. He said he had money, and he hadn’t. I found out that at one time he had been in gaol for burglary. No wonder he took my diamond necklace. I want him caught and punished. I have always spoken well of him all these years for the children’s sake, but I have never forgotten his brutal ways, Mr. Tracey.” In real earnest, she laid her fat hand on his arm. “That man struck me. He spent my money; he made love to the servants. He was all that was bad—a thief, a liar, a profligate, a—”
“That’s all right,” said Luther soothingly, and led her back to her seat, where she sat and sobbed. “The man was a bad egg. In that case let him alone, for the children’s sake. Can he touch your money?”
“No. Gerty’s father left it all in my own name. I am free of him in every way.”
“Then you let him alone. He has deserted you for over seven years, so he can’t come back to make things unpleasant, and—”
“Let him come,” said Mrs. Baldwin viciously. “I want him to come. I’ll make things unpleasant for him—the brute.”
“But you never said anything of this before, ma’am?”
“No,” replied the woman heavily. “Because he passed out of my memory, so to speak. But when I saw his face at the window, it all came back to me—all—all. I want him caught and punished;” she caught Tracey’s arm. “He is a burglar, mind, and he may break into my house and kill me. You don’t know what a scoundrel he is.”
“Yet you always gave us to understand that he was a good sort.”
“For the children’s sake. That’s why I sent Gerty out of the room. I don’t want her to know, although he is no kith or kin of hers.”
“Then you leave things as they are, ma’am, for the children’s sake.”
“No,” said Mrs. Baldwin, between her teeth. “If I catch him, and the law won’t punish him, I’ll do so myself. I’ll keep a pistol by me. I’ll shoot him if he attempts to enter my house! Yes, I will.”
Tracey was amazed at the change in the woman. The lazy, good-natured creature he knew was gone, and in her place stood a woman as vindictive as the adventuress of an Adelphi drama. He asked for a description of Rufus Baldwin, but by this time Mrs. Baldwin had changed her mind.
“No, I shan’t tell you any more,” she said quietly. “You forget what I have said. Don’t advertise. The law won’t punish him, and I dare say my diamond necklace has gone to pieces by this time. I’ll keep a pistol beside me, and shoot him if he comes.”
“No! no! He won’t come again.”
“Yes he will. He came the other night. I saw him at the window. I cried out at the sight of his wicked face. But I won’t scare him away next time. No, I’ll wait and let him come near me, then I’ll kill him. That’s what I’ll do,” and then she began gradually to relapse into the lazy woman who had entered. “How hot it is.”
In compliance with her request Tracey went out to call Gerty. He was astonished by the sudden changes in Mrs. Baldwin’s demeanour, and asked Gerty a question. “Say, does your momma drink?”
“No. Certainly not, Luther. Why do you ask?”
“Well, she’s that queer.”
“Something has upset her, I know,” said Gerty quickly; “what is it?”
Mrs. Baldwin appeared at the door and answered that question. “Don’t tell her,” she said sharply. “Gerty dear, you are too inquisitive. I am upset by the appearance of Rufus—that’s all.”
“Is Luther to advertise?” asked Gerty, wondering.
“No,” Mrs. Baldwin walked to the gate, “I have a better way than that—a much better way,” and she opened the gate.
“Say,” Tracey detained Gerty, “do you sleep in your mother’s room?”
“No. Why do you ask?”
“Because she’s got a kind of craze about that husband of hers. You make some excuse and sleep in her room for a week or so till she forgets that the man came back. And if you see anything queer wire me, I’ll be down in a shake. You catch on, Gerty B.?”
“No. What do you—”
Before Tracey could reply Mrs. Baldwin hailed them. “Here’s Mr. Calvert. Gerty, come away,” so the girl reluctantly had to go to her mother, but not before she whispered Tracey to write and explain.
“Can’t, my dear,” he whispered back uneasily. “I promised to hold my tongue. But keep an eye on your mother. Now do.”
“There was no time to say any more, as Mrs. Baldwin was coming up the path with Arnold. She was telling him of her sufferings at great length, and nothing remained of the virago who had displayed such fierceness in the white room, save an unusually high colour. Tracey nodded to Calvert, who looked rather excited. Then came the toil of getting Mrs. Baldwin away, which took as long a time as it usually does to launch a ship. At last the cab drove off, and Gerty waved a farewell handkerchief to Tracey. Then the young men went into the house.
“I don’t envy you Mrs. Baldwin, Tracey,” said Calvert.
“I guess you’ve hit the bull’s-eye,” replied the American gloomily; “she’s not such a fool as she looks, that old ma’am.”
“Oh, she doesn’t look a fool,” said Arnold easily, “only lazy.”
“And she ain’t that neither. I guess there’s spirit in the old party. You could have knocked me down flat when she rose on her hind legs.”
“Was she—er—on her hind legs?” inquired Calvert delicately.
“Considerable! But it’s private business. Only I hope I won’t be mixed up with another murder case. One’s good enough for me, anyhow!”
“Do you mean to say—” began Arnold startled.
“That she knows anything to the circus we’re running? No, I don’t. She’s got her own little Sheol—sulphur, match, and all. Let her slide. I dare say it’s all bunkum.”
“Calvert, if you ask any more questions I’ll chuck the case.”
“Oh, beg pardon,” said Arnold, astonished at seeing the usually good-tempered man so roused, “don’t mind my asking questions. I forgot the business was private.”
“Won’t be long,” said Tracey savagely, “if she’s on the kind of job she’s trying to carry out. Well,” he raised his voice, “what’s the best news with you?”
“This,” replied Calvert quietly, and from his pocket produced a scrap of paper. Tracey without displaying any wonder looked at it. It was half a sheet of pink writing-paper and contained only one line written across lengthways. “If you get the money look under the coffee stain!” Tracey read and re-read this, then raised his puzzled eyes. “What’s this, Calvert?”
“That,” replied the young man calmly, “is a piece of paper which I received from Merry this morning!”
“Was it enclosed in an envelope?”
“Arnold handed the envelope which he was holding. It was addressed to ‘Arnold Calvert’ in a woman’s hand of the sloping Italian kind. The writing on the paper was also in the same handwriting. I guess as Merry gave you this, and it’s a woman’s hand, that it comes from your dead cousin,” said Tracey.
“I thought so!”
“Didn’t she give it to Merry?”
“No, I went to the office this morning to look at some deeds connected with the property. They had to turn out the deed-box. It is large and hadn’t been turned out to the very bottom for some time. As we searched, Merry picked up that envelope which was closed. He gave it to me. Merry says he never saw it before, so I expect poor Flora slipped it into the box one day when he was out of the room.”
“But why should she do that?”
“I am as puzzled to account for her reason as I am to know what the message means.”
“Can’t Merry enlighten you?”
“No. I tell you he never saw the envelope till he handed it to me.”
“Hold on a shake,” said Tracey, handing Calvert a cigarette; “smoke this while I get my thinking-machine into order.”
“You’ll find it difficult to guess what it is,” said Calvert, lighting up. “Merry and I were an hour over it this morning. He doesn’t know what it means, and I’m sure I don’t.”
“You must be a couple of thick-heads,” snapped Tracey, whose temper was not improved by Mrs. Baldwin’s visit; “the way it’s worded shows that Mrs. Brand expected to be killed.”
Arnold started to his feet. “What do you say?”
“Mrs. Brand expected to be killed,” said the American, with great distinctness; “she says, ‘if you get the money’—well, you couldn’t get the money till she was dead.”
“No, but what does the message mean?”
Tracey laid the paper on his knees and looked across Calvert’s shoulder with his bright eyes dancing. “Oh, I guess it’s panning out all square,” said he quietly; “I came here as you know in the hope of finding some papers overlooked by that man—or woman—I guess it was a woman—who made hay while the house was deserted. Evidently the idea was to destroy all trace of your cousin’s past life. Well, sir, I hunted everywhere without success. Now we’ll look for the coffee stain, and under it we will find some papers which will give the whole show away. We’re on the verge of learning the truth, sir.”
“Then you think that, expecting to be murdered, she hid certain papers giving a clue to her probable assassin?”
“Yes I do, and the poor soul dared not put the message plainer, lest it should fall into other hands than yours.”
“Whose hands, seeing that I am the heir?”
“You forget that Bocaros was the heir for a time. He might have got hold of the deed-box, and then”—Tracey shrugged his shoulders—“It’s as plain as day to me!”
“But do you suspect Bocaros of knowing anything of this crime?”
“No. He talked too much nonsense at the outset for that. He gave himself away—always supposing he was guilty. Said that he lived in the neighbourhood—that the money was coming to him—that he could easily have gone to the villa and killed Mrs. Brand and would not be able to prove an alibi by reason of living alone. No! A man who is guilty doesn’t give himself away like that. But Bocaros, had he found this message, might have torn it up so as to let sleeping dogs lie.”
“Still I don’t understand.”
“Well, you see he might have fancied—as I do—that a discovery of the papers may lead to the implication of the husband in this matter.”
“You think Brand killed his wife?”
“No. It was a woman, and I believe Mrs. Fane for choice. But Brand may have loved Mrs. Fane and so the whole trouble may have arisen. I guess Mrs. Brand was glad to see her husband start for Australia, for I’m certain from this message that he threatened to kill her. Bocaros having got the money, and thinking of his living near Ajax Villa, might have torn it up. Now Mrs. Brand if she was murdered—as she was—wished the assassin to be brought to justice. The concealed papers will give the clue.” Tracey rose and looked round the room. “Where the deuce are they, anyhow?”
“Under the coffee stain,” said Arnold, not rising, “and I think instead of hunting we had better reason the matter out. A coffee-stain would naturally be on a table-cloth.”
“A white dinner table-cloth,” assented Tracey sitting, “but she couldn’t conceal papers there. I’ve lifted every cloth in the house white and otherwise—there’s white ones here as you see—but I couldn’t find anything. You needn’t look at the roof, Calvert. The coffee-stain won’t be there.”
“No,” said Arnold looking down, “it may be on the wall.
“Not unless Brand threw a cup at her head.” Tracey glanced round the walls; they were all spotless and white. “Maybe on the carpet.”
“Have you examined the carpets?”
“I haven’t lifted them, if that’s what you mean.”
“Then I dare say the papers are hidden under the carpet of this room.”
“Why here? It may be the dining-room, or—”
“No,” replied Arnold rising, “a coffee-stain would show only on a white carpet, and it was the peculiar furnishing of this room which gave her the idea of the hiding-place”—he looked carefully at the floor—“but I can’t see any stain.”
“A woman like Mrs. Brand,” suggested Tracey, “proud of the smartness of this room, would hide any stain. Let’s move all mats and furniture.”
Calvert thought this was a good suggestion, and they set to work. The piano was moved, but needless to say nothing was found there. The various draperies were pulled aside. A book-case was shifted. All the mats were flung out of the door. When they moved everything, still no stain appeared. Then they came to a thick wooden pedestal bearing a plaster-of-paris Venus. It was screwed to the floor near the window and surrounded by mats. “This is the last chance,” said Tracey.
A few minutes’ work sufficed to overturn the column. There, beneath it, and concealed by the base, was the coffee-stain spoiling the purity of the carpet. Tracey produced a large knife, and ripped up the carpet. Thrusting in his hand he pulled out a slim green book rather large in size, and thereon in gilt letters were the words “My Diary!”
“This solves the mystery,” said Tracey quietly, “now we’ll learn the truth.”
Inspector Derrick called to see Fane with rather a downcast expression of countenance. The meaning of this was explained in his conversation.
“I’ve done my best, sir, and there’s nothing to be discovered.”
“You mean as regards the murder of this woman Brand?” asked Walter.
“What else would I mean!” replied Derrick dismally. “I have no call to see you about anything else, sir!”
“The two men were seated in the morning-room where Mrs. Fane had conversed with Laura. Walter, seated near the window, did not look well. There were dark circles under his pale eyes, which hinted at sleepless nights. Also there was a smell of ether in the room as though he had been taking drugs. Derrick delicately ascribed his looks to the fact of the unpleasant occurrence which had taken place in the house.
“I suppose you’ve come to think it haunted, sir?” he suggested.
“No, I don’t like the idea of living in a house in which a murder has been committed. But I don’t believe in the supernatural. For the sake of my wife and child I am giving up the villa, and we intend to live abroad for a time. But I should like the mystery solved, and the assassin of that poor woman brought to justice before I go.”
“Derrick shook his head. It’s not to be done, sir.”
“Suppose I offer a reward?”
“Not even then, Mr. Fane. I can’t find a single clue. When I discovered that white room in the Hampstead house, I thought something would come of it. But the assassin was clever enough to go there and remove all evidence of the past life of Mrs. Brand—books, papers, photographs, and those sort of things. It is true I found a photograph of the dead woman, but we knew her looks already. Now had it been a portrait of the husband—”
“Ah! Do you suspect the husband?”
“Yes and no,” replied Derrick thoughtfully. “Certainly I learned that the man went to Australia some time before the death. I found his name in a passenger-list of an Orient liner.”
“Then he can have nothing to do with the crime.”
“Well, I don’t know. A man may start for another country to make things safe for himself, and then can come back secretly. Besides, if it was not the husband who removed the things, how did he enter the cottage? and why should he make such a point of destroying his own photographs had he no aim?”
“I can’t guess. But it is equally mysterious how the woman managed to enter this house.”
“Yes. I can’t learn anything about the key being duplicated. Yet it must have been, seeing we have the second key which was dropped by the man who talked to Mulligan.”
“Have you found him?”
“No; nor am I likely to. I tell you, Mr. Fane, the case is hopeless. I believe Mr. Calvert, who came in for the money, has placed the matter in the hands of a private inquiry-agent called Jasher. But if I can’t learn the truth, Jasher can’t.”
“Is he a clever man?”
“Well, he is. I did work with him at one time, and he appears to have his wits about him. But this case will be beyond his wits as it is beyond mine. I dare say Mr. Calvert would offer a reward, and I should like to earn it. But”—Derrick rose and shook his head—“there’s nothing to be done.”
Fane thought for a few minutes, his eyes on the ground. Then he went to his wife’s desk and wrote out a cheque. “You deserve something for your trouble,” said he, handing this to Derrick. “All I ask in return is that you should give me the photograph of the dead woman. I have a fancy to try and learn the truth myself.”
“Oh, I’ll do that,” replied the Inspector, taking the cheque with thanks; “and I’m sorry, sir, that nothing can be done. But you’ll hear no more of the case. The woman is dead and buried, and the thing is forgotten. There is only one chance.”
“What is that?” asked Fane curiously.
“The husband may return to the Hampstead house from Australia. If so, we may learn something of Mrs. Brand’s past, and in her past will be found some clue leading to the detection of the assassin.”
“But if the husband is guilty, as you think, he will not return.”
“True enough. Should he return, I will take it as a proof of his innocence. Well, good-day, sir.”
“Wait,” said Fane, passing through the door along with his visitor, “I will walk a little way with you. Tell me if you intend to have the house watched.”
“The house at Hampstead, sir?”
“Yes. Brand will come back there if he comes at all.”
“If you like I can have it watched, Mr. Fane; but it will cost money.”
“You can rely on me for the expense,” said Fane eagerly. “I am most anxious that no stone should be left unturned. Watch the house, and when the man returns there let me know.”
“You can depend upon my doing that, Mr. Fane.”
“The two men were by this time at the door. As Fane opened it, he found a man on the step just raising his hand to ring the bell. The stranger was tall and dark, and unknown to Fane. Is there anything I can do for you?” asked the master of the house.
“I wish to see Mrs. Fane on business,” said Bocaros, for it was he.
“Ah! something to do with the office, no doubt,” replied Fane, and beckoned to the footman, who now stood ready to close the door. “Take this gentleman’s card to your mistress. She is in the White Room.”
The footman did as he was bidden, and Bocaros waited in the hall. Fane went out with the Inspector, and walked along Achilles Avenue talking eagerly. Bocaros sat down with rather a bewildered look, and passed his lean hand across his face. It seemed to him that he knew Fane’s face, yet he was unaware of having met him before.
“But his face seems familiar,” muttered Bocaros. “Where can I have seen him?” And he searched his memory vainly.
Before his brain would respond to the demand on it, the footman returned with an intimation that Mrs. Fane would see him. Bocaros followed the man upstairs and into the White Room. Here sat Mrs. Fane, cold and statuesque as usual, and alone. Minnie was out with her nurse, and Laura was paying a visit to Gerty. Beside Mrs. Fane stood a small wicker table on which a book lay open. But she was as usual engaged in knitting, and apparently preferred her own thoughts to those of the popular author whose book was beside her. When the professor entered, she rose gracefully, and looked at him keenly.
“May I ask what you have to see me about?” said Mrs. Fane, putting her remark purposely in this way, so as to impress Bocaros with an idea that he was favoured.
The professor bowed, and took the chair she pointed to. He had never seen Mrs. Fane before, and thought her a singularly lovely woman, as she decidedly was. Also from her stern lips and piercing eyes he judged that she was a woman who would ruthlessly carry out any scheme which she had formed, and would press forward dauntlessly in the face of all dangers. A clever woman, a dangerous woman, and a foe worthy to be met and conquered. That he would conquer even this Amazon the professor did not doubt. He knew too much for her to deny, and since his interview with Emily Doon he had spent the time in getting certain proofs together.
Mrs. Fane might be clever, but she would not be able to defend herself in the face of the facts he proposed to place before her.
Bocaros, feeling his way carefully, did not reply at once to her question. “You will see my name on the card,” he said quietly.
“Professor Bocaros,” read Mrs. Fane. “I never heard of you.”
“Did not Miss Mason mention me?”
“I don’t recall her having done so.”
“Strange,” said the man. “I am a tenant of Mrs. Baldwin.”
“My sister is a friend of Mrs. Baldwin,” replied Mrs. Fane, “but it is not to be thought that she interests herself in Mrs. Baldwin’s private affairs.”
“I live in the little house across the fields.”
“That is very interesting,” said Mrs. Fane sarcastically, and wondering why the man kept telling her things of no note; “and you are a foreigner—a Greek. Bocaros—”
“Constantine Bocaros.” Then the Professor, feeling nettled by this behaviour, resolved to startle her. “I am the cousin of the woman who was murdered in this room,” he said abruptly.
But Mrs. Fane merely raised her eyebrows. “And you have no doubt come to gratify your morbid curiosity by seeing the place where she was struck down. Yonder it is, near the piano. Pray look, sir, and then leave me. I do not show my house for this purpose to chance visitors.”
Bocaros, meeting her on her own ground, sauntered to the piano with a kind of cool insolence that made Mrs. Fane observe him attentively.
“I suppose you know that Mr. Calvert comes in for ten thousand a year by the death of Mrs. Brand?” said Bocaros, returning to his seat.
“I have heard so.”
“And he is engaged to marry your sister?”
Mrs. Fane could not stand any more of this intrusion into her private affairs, and rose. “Will you please to state your business and go!”
“There is no need to speak to me like that, madame,” said Bocaros, keeping his seat. “My cousin left me the money—afterwards she changed her mind and made a new will, leaving it to Calvert.”
“Well, sir, and what has this to do with me?”
“A great deal, as you will find. I want to learn who killed this woman, Mrs. Fane.”
“And you come to me. I fear I cannot assist you.”
“Oh yes, I think you can.”
“Sir, you are insolent!” Mrs. Fane, drawing herself up to her full height, was about to press the button of the bell. Bocaros stopped her.
“Wait a little,” he said; “you can help me by explaining how you came to be in this room on the night of the murder.”
Mrs. Fane’s hand fell, and she stared at the man. “I was not.”
“You were! Your voice was heard—you sang a favourite song.”
“Indeed!” Mrs. Fane thought for a moment, but without losing her colour or self-possession in the face of this accusation. Then she returned to her seat, resolved to give this strange man a hearing. “I was at the seaside when the crime was committed.”
“So I believe—your husband also?”
“My husband also,” said Mrs. Fane calmly. “Will you be so kind as to tell me what you mean by these questions?”
“I want to prove the guilt of Calvert.”
“I cannot help you to do so,” she said impatiently.
“Yes, you can,” persisted Bocaros. “Calvert was the young man who left this house while you were singing. You assisted him to escape. You met him here. He used the dagger to kill Flora Brand!”
“The stage weapon which the cook found in the dustbin, and which you said belonged to you.”
Mrs. Fane leaned her chin on the tips of her fingers, thinking. “You are a gentleman,” said she gravely.
“I am, madame. I am a Greek noble—the Baron Bocaros.”
The curled lip of Mrs. Fane showed that she thought very little of a foreign title, but she went on quietly, watching the man all the time like a cat. And, indeed, she did not look unlike a magnificent white cat, sleek and feline and treacherous. Bocaros, hard as he was, winced at the regard of her narrow eyes. “Well, then, Baron Bocaros,” said Mrs. Fane in her low sweet voice, “I will be plain with you. I said that the dagger was mine, to shield Mr. Calvert—”
“I know. You are in love with him,” burst out the professor.
“What do you mean, sir?” demanded the woman, a tide of crimson flushing her face. “I detest the man.”
“But I thought—”
“Then do not think, if your thoughts lead you into such follies. What? I love Arnold Calvert—that doll of a man who—”
“Madame,” interrupted Bocaros, wondering if this indignation was feigned. “Calvert is my enemy, yet I say he is a manly and handsome young gentleman. Be just!”
“Just! I am indignant. Are you not aware I am a married woman—that I have a child? How dare you. But that I insist upon an explanation, I would have you turned out of the house!”
Bocaros arose. “There is no need; I will go.”
“No. You will speak out,” said she imperiously.
“I will go,” insisted the professor, “and I will take my information to the police.”
“It is a pity you were not earlier,” sneered Mrs. Fane. “Inspector Derrick, who had charge of the case, was with my husband.”
“I met them going out of the door,” replied Bocaros serenely. “Had I known the gentleman with Mr. Fane was a police officer, I might have been tempted to speak. But I was resolved to give you a chance to exculpate yourself.”
“From what?” demanded Mrs. Fane angrily.
“From participation in the murder of this poor—”
“How dare you come and accuse me,” she burst out furiously. “You must be mad!”
“I have proofs which will prove my sanity,” said Bocaros, moving to the door. “But I can show them to Derrick.”
Mrs. Fane intercepted him. “Stop where you are,” she said sharply. “This matter must be sifted to the bottom. Afterwards I shall go with you myself to the police-station. If you cannot prove what you have said, I shall have you arrested for threatening language.”
“Oh, I can prove everything,” said Bocaros, returning to his seat. “And since we now understand one another, we can proceed.”
“You will proceed,” retorted Mrs. Fane, sitting down also, to answer my questions, “or you will get into trouble, my good man. You say that Mr. Calvert was in this room on the night of the murder?”
Bocaros nodded, sure of his ground. “He left this house at eleven. He was in his stage dress and spoke to the policeman. He dropped the latch-key, and murdered—”
“Stop. You can’t be sure that he did. The woman was murdered earlier. During the evening Mr. Calvert was at the theatre.”
“No. His part was played by his understudy up till half-past nine. He then played in the last act and came here. He came here earlier,” insisted the professor, “and murdered the woman to get the money.”
“It might be so,” muttered Mrs. Fane. “The dagger was a stage one, and I knew from Laura that he wore one in the second act of the play.”
“He used the dagger and then threw it away into the dustbin.”
“Nonsense,” said Mrs. Fane, with a shrug. “How could he get to the dustbin when the back of the house was locked up?”
This was a puzzle to Bocaros, but he faced it boldly. “Calvert entered the house by your connivance, and could easily have unbarred the back door to conceal his weapon.”
“Oh!” Mrs. Fane looked sharply at her visitor. “So you accuse me of admitting the man?”
“I do. You had your husband’s latch-key, or had a copy made. You expected Calvert, and admitted him. Afterwards you gave him the key to let himself out while you averted suspicion by singing.”
“Indeed! And how did I escape?”
“You had plenty of time. You can drive a motor-car, madame, as I know, so you took Mr. Tracey’s and went to Charing-Cross Station—”
“On the way to Westcliff-on-Sea. Rather a roundabout way.”
“Madame, you are very clever, and wished to avert suspicion. You left the car in the station yard, and then took the underground to Liverpool Street Station, where you caught the midnight express to Southend.”
Mrs. Fane changed colour at this explicit relation, and rose to her feet. “You seem to know a great deal about my movements,” said she coolly.
“I have satisfied myself in every respect,” said Bocaros, bowing.
“And you say I was in this room on that night—that I sang?”
“Yes, you sang ‘Kathleen Mavourneen.’“
“Then let me tell you, Professor Bocaros, or baron, if you call yourself so, that you are quite wrong. I was at Westcliff-on-Sea in my drawing-room all the evening, miles away from this house. I never came to London, I did not admit Mr. Calvert into this house, and I never sang.”
Bocaros shrugged his shoulders and spread out his hands apologetically. “You will compel me to go to the police if you deny these things.”
Mrs. Fane turned on him in a cold fury. “You fool,” she snarled, “do you think I would deny unless I could prove all I say? You declare that I sang on that night. Well, you shall hear the song.”
So speaking, she crossed over the room and went behind a white velvet curtain that hung over a kind of alcove. Wondering what she intended to do, Bocaros sat and waited. He was astonished at her courage and resolution, and began to think she might escape him after all. If she did, he would not be able to prove the guilt of Arnold, since Mrs. Fane alone could testify to his presence in the house. As he considered, notes of music were heard behind the curtain. Mrs. Fane’s voice—a splendid contralto—rose in song. With great power and expression she sang “Kathleen Mavourneen.” Suddenly the curtain was drawn aside and she appeared. But the song still continued, although she was not singing. “Is that the song?” she asked, mockingly.
“Madame—” stammered Bocaros, quite astounded and rising.
“And is this the singer?” she asked, pointing to herself. “See.” With a quick movement she tore the curtain completely aside, and Bocaros beheld a large phonograph pouring out the song. He gasped and staggered back overwhelmed. Mrs. Fane advanced, smiling scornfully. “I think you understand now,” she said, seating herself, “how it was that my voice was heard on that night in this room. Several of my songs are registered in that instrument. I amuse my child with them. It seems that I managed to deceive the police and you also, you fool. I wonder, seeing how hurriedly the accompaniment is played between the verses, that the police did not guess the truth. Well, what now?”
The song had stopped, and the phonograph was silent. Bocaros recovered his wits. “I still maintain that you were in London and in this house, Mrs. Fane,” he said. “You may not have sung save by that instrument, but as for the rest I am sure. You left your house at Westcliff-on-Sea at half-past five; you caught the six train to town; you came here—”
“Prove these accusations,” she interrupted.
“I have the evidence of the booking-clerk and a porter at the Southend station to prove how you were dressed and—”
“Who can say how I was dressed?”
“Your maid, Emily Doon!”
“Ah!” Mrs. Fane turned grey to the lips. “She—she—”
“You see it at last. Yes, madame, you made her sit in the drawing-room at Westcliff-on-Sea, acting as yourself. You dressed quietly, and she described your dress to me. It was the same as that of the lady seen by the porter and the booking-clerk. You returned by the midnight train, and you were here meanwhile between six and half-past eleven.”
“No! no! no!” said Mrs. Fane fiercely. “You are clever, sir, and you have found out much that I wished concealed. But not for the reason you give me. I did not kill this woman. I had no cause to kill the woman. I never saw her—I did not know her. I was not in this house—”
“But I tell you—”
“And I tell you,” she cried, advancing and seizing the man’s arm in a fierce grasp, “that you are wrong. Listen—to defend myself I must tell you what I had rather kept quiet. I suspected my husband of being in love with another woman. He received a letter on the morning of the twenty-fourth from her. I accused him—he denied. I was furious with rage. He said he was ill, and retired to bed. I did not see him all the day. When I went in the evening he was gone. I guessed he had gone to town to see this woman. It was after five. I guessed he would take the six train. I persuaded Emily to impersonate me. I went to town. On the Southend platform I saw my husband. I went in another carriage. At the Liverpool Street Station I missed him and—”
“And you came on here?”
“No, I did not. I never thought he would dare to bring any woman here—nor do I believe that he did so. Where he went I cannot say. But I waited at the Liverpool Street Station throughout that long evening. He came late and caught the midnight train. I went down also. He never saw me, and as I had discovered nothing I said nothing. He never thought that I had followed him: he never knew I was out of the house. When I saw the death in the papers I never suspected him. I do not suspect him now. Walter is too great a coward to commit a crime. And he certainly would not have got rid of his victim in his own house, thus bringing down the temple on his own head.”
“You believe him to be innocent?” asked Bocaros, puzzled.
“I do. Would any man be such a fool as to act this way in his own house? Had he known this woman, had he desired to get rid of her, he would have taken her to the other end of London, as far away from our home as possible.”
“I can see that. And, madame, I ask your pardon for my unjust suspicions. You are innocent.” And he bent to kiss her hand.
Mrs. Fane snatched it away fiercely. “Innocent,—of course I am. I can prove that I was at the Liverpool Street Station all that evening. I was in the ladies’ waiting-room. You can understand how the phonograph deceived the police. As to this woman, I never heard of her—I don’t know her.”
“She is my cousin.”
“Then how did she come to enter my house?”
“I thought that you secured the key and—”
“And admitted Arnold. No, I didn’t. My sister—” Mrs. Fane suddenly clutched her hair, moved out of her usual self. “Great heavens!” she muttered. “Can Laura have got an impression of the key and—”
“No, no said Bocaros. I am sure Miss Mason has nothing to do with the matter. But Calvert—”
“If he is guilty hang him.”
“But I thought—”
“You thought wrongly. I detest the man. I do not want him to marry my sister. Professor, do what you like about the man. I will tell all to the police I have told you if—”
“I do not wish to speak to the police,” said Bocaros, shivering.
“Then hold your tongue and leave the matter in my hands. I will avenge you. I will be able to deal with the matter. Leave it to me.”
Bocaros looked at her steadily. “Madame,” he said, bowing, “I leave it to you. Calvert is in your hands.”
“He shall never marry my sister,” said Mrs. Fane feverishly. “Never.”
Fane and Derrick parted at the top of Achilles Avenue, the latter heartily thanking the former for the very handsome cheque. “And if that husband returns, sir,” said Derrick, shaking hands, “you may be sure that I’ll let you know straight off. By the way”—he drew near confidentially—“do you know that the motor-car in which the assassin is supposed to have escaped is in Madame Tussaud’s?”
“No”—Fane laughed—“what possible interest can it have?”
“Well, sir, you see the mystery of the case makes it interesting. A lot of people will go there and look at it, and talk about the case.”
“I hope they may stumble upon some evidence likely to give a clue to the assassin.”
“Bless you, no one will do that, sir. The case has baffled me, so I do not think there’s much chance of any one else getting at the truth. I think that American gentleman’s a smart man of business, though. He sold the car to Tussaud’s at a long price.”
“H’m!” said Fane, pondering, “do you think he had anything to do with the crime?”
“No, sir. He missed his motor-car sure enough. Had he killed the woman, he would have escaped in it and proved an alibi.”
“I think it was better what he did do. He met Mulligan and you, and with you surveyed the corpse. That daring would avert any suspicion.”
“Have you an idea yourself, sir, that he might—”
“No, no!” interrupted Fane hurriedly; “it’s simply an idea. But I have learned from Mr. Calvert that Tracey—that’s his name, isn’t it?—has taken the Hampstead house.”
“I wonder what’s that for?” asked Derrick, startled. “I want to find out. And I’ll ask Mr. Calvert this very day.”
“Are you seeing him to-day, sir?”
“Yes; I am going there now. He wrote asking me to call this afternoon. When I leave you I’ll take a cab to his lodgings.”
Derrick mused. “I’d like to come along with you,” he said.
“No,” replied Fane decisively, “better not just now. I am sure of nothing. I only fancy Tracey may have had something to do with the matter. Should I learn anything I shall let you know.”
“Thank you, sir. I fancy the case is finished myself; but of course something unexpected may turn up. Good-day.”
“Good-day,” replied Fane, and hailed a cab.
Owing to his long conversation with Derrick, there was not much time to be lost if he wished to be punctual. Wondering if Arnold desired to see him about Laura, Fane told the cabman to drive as fast as possible to Bloomsbury. “I expect now that he has the money, Calvert will want to marry Laura at once,” thought Fane, leaning back in the cab. “I’m sure Julia ought to be satisfied with such a match. But she is an impossible woman to deal with. I wish I hadn’t married her. I shall never be my own master now.”
It was lucky that things were as they were, for Fane was the last man in the world to take the initiative. He always required to be governed and guided, scolded and petted. The slack character of the man could be seen from his mouth, which was constantly half-open. A pleasant, handsome, kindhearted man was Fane, but his very good qualities added to his weakness. His languid good-nature was always getting him into trouble, and he was kindly not so much from a genuine feeling of the sort as from a desire not to be troubled. It is much easier to be yielding in this world than to hold one’s own. But those who thus give way, always have constant troubles. The only way in this best of possible worlds to keep peace, is to be prepared for war. Human beings invariably take advantage of one another, and a kind heart is looked upon as a sign of weakness.
On arriving at the Bloomsbury lodgings, Fane saw Arnold looking out of the window, evidently on the watch for his arrival. After dismissing the cab Fane went up stairs, and on entering Calvert’s sitting-room was greeted by its occupant with signs of restraint. Behind Arnold stood Tracey, whom Fane recognised from having seen him at the inquest. The American was also grave, and Fane wondered what was to be the subject of conversation. It could not be Arnold’s engagement to Laura, or both the men would not look so serious as they did.
“I am glad to see you, Fane,” said Calvert, pushing forward a chair. “Sit down. I hope you don’t mind Mr. Tracey being present? You met him at the inquest, I believe?”
“We saw one another,” said Fane. “I hope you are well, Mr. Tracey?”
“I thank you, sir,” said Luther gravely, “I am well. And you?”
“Pretty well,” said Fane fretfully; “but this murder has given me a lot of anxiety. Not a pleasant thing to happen in one’s house.”
“By no means, sir,” replied Tracey, with a puzzled glance at Calvert. “Is it true that you are moving, as I have been informed by Miss Gerty B., the lady I’m engaged to?”
“Yes; I suppose Miss Mason told her. My wife doesn’t like the place now that it has such a bad reputation. We intend to go abroad for a time to Switzerland.”
“You’ll miss your yachting,” said Arnold, who was taking some papers out of his desk.
“I don’t think I’ll yacht any more,” said Fane gloomily; “my sea days are over.”
“Did you yacht much?” asked Tracey.
“A lot. I sometimes stopped away for a couple of months.”
“What did Mrs. Fane say?”
Fane laughed. “Oh, she didn’t mind. She never cared for the sea herself. Between you and me, Mr. Tracey, my wife is fonder of business than pleasure. I am the reverse.”
“All the same, Fane, you must attend to business now.”
“What, Calvert, do you call your engagement to Laura business?”
Arnold looked surprised. “I did not ask you here to talk about that,” he replied still seriously.
“Oh,” answered Fane carelessly, and taking out a cigarette, “I thought you wanted me to make things square with Julia.”
“Laura and I understand one another,” said Arnold, returning to his seat with a green-covered book in his hand. “I am now well off, and there is no bar to our marriage.”
“I am glad of that. A lucky thing for you, the death of that woman.”
“I would rather she had lived, poor soul,” said Calvert with emotion.
Fane shrugged his shoulders. “We all have to die some time.”
“But not by the knife,” put in Tracey sharply. “The poor soul, as Calvert calls her, met with a terrible death.”
“I know, I know,” said Fane irritably. “I wish you wouldn’t dwell on the matter, Mr. Tracey. It is excessively unpleasant for me, seeing I live in the house where she was killed. Why don’t you offer a reward to clear up the mystery, Calvert?”
“I don’t think there will be any need now,” said Arnold with emphasis.
“What do you mean?” Fane sat up suddenly. “Because Tracey and I have reason to believe we have found the assassin.”
“What!” Fane sprang to his feet much excited. “Who is it? Tell me his name.”
“What would you do if you knew it?” asked Tracey, who was looking at Fane with great wonderment.
“Do,” said the other, clenching his fist, “I would hang the man.”
“How do you know it was a man? It may have been a woman.”
“Why do you say that, Mr. Tracey?”
“Well, there was the singing, you know.”
“Nonsense! I never thought of it at the time, but now I know that the singing proceeded from a phonograph.”
“Phonograph!” cried both men, much astonished.
“Yes. Julia had an idea of getting records of her songs. She sings very well, you know, Calvert. She has had a phonograph for a long time, and amuses the child with it. That song, ‘Kathleen Mavourneen,’ is a favourite with my wife, and I wondered afterwards how it came to be sung, seeing she was at Westcliff-on-Sea. Then, when a description was given of the kind of voice, I knew it was the phonograph.”
“Why didn’t you say so at the inquest?” asked the American sharply.
“Because it never struck me till later. But that’s enough about the matter. I’m weary of the murder. Let us talk of other things.”
“I am afraid we cannot,” said Arnold, holding up the book! “Do you know what this is, Fane?”
“No,” said the other, staring; “what is it?”
“The diary of Mrs. Brand.”
“How strange,” said Fane, but his voice sounded nervously uncertain; “where did you find it?”
“It was concealed,” said Tracey, with emphasis; “the man who removed all evidence of Mrs. Brand’s past life could not find it. And by means of that diary, Mr. Fane, we are enabled to prove a lot.”
“If you can prove who murdered the woman I shall be glad to hear.”
“You really mean that?” asked Tracey, staring in his turn.
“Of course.” Fane stared at Tracey in return, and then looked at Arnold. “I’m glad you sent for me, Calvert. Let us hear everything.”
“It is the story of Mrs. Brand’s life—”
“Oh! And has it to do with the murder?”
“I think so.”
“Does it point to the assassin?”
“It may even do that. But we can’t be sure.”
Fane threw back his head and closed his eyes. “Read on,” he said; “I will give you my opinion.”
Tracey and Calvert glanced at one another again, and then the latter opened the book. Fane, hearing the rustle of the leaves, sat up.
“I say, you needn’t read all that,” he said; “I can’t stand reading at any time, not even from an actor. Tell me the gist of the matter.”
“From the beginning?” asked Arnold, closing the book.
“Certainly—from the very beginning.”
“As you please,” replied Calvert, and handed the book to Tracey. Fane, still smoking, again leaned back his head and closed his eyes. After a pause, Arnold commenced the story. But after a few words, he broke down irritably—
“I can’t tell you the thing if you don’t look at me.”
“Thanks,” said Fane lazily, “I can hear better with my eyes closed.”
“Oh, don’t bother!” cried Tracey roughly to Calvert. “Get along. The thing’s getting on my nerves.”
“I hope it won’t get on mine,” said Fane, with a sigh; “go on.”
“Mrs. Brand,” commenced Arnold, without further preamble, “was the daughter of my uncle—”
“Yes,” murmured Fane, “I heard she was your cousin.”
“I suppose you heard that from Laura,” replied Arnold calmly. “Yes, she was my cousin, and left her fortune to me, although I saw very little of her. She is also—or rather, seeing she is dead, was also—the cousin of Professor Bocaros, whose aunt married my uncle.”
“Never heard of him,” said Fane.
“You will hear of him now,” said Calvert tartly; “do not interrupt, please. Well, Flora—”
“Who is Flora?” asked Fane again.
“My cousin, Mrs. Brand. She was Flora Calvert. She kept a diary all these years, as she led a rather lonely life. The man she married was a commercial traveller, and was frequently away. His name was Brand, and with his wife he lived at Hampstead.”
“In Coleridge Lane. I know.”
Tracey muttered something uncomplimentary, and went to the window. Fane’s constant interruptions got on his nerves. During the rest of the story he occupied a chair, and amused himself with looking out. All the same he lost nothing of what passed. For such observation had he been asked by Arnold to be present at the interview.
“From the diary, which begins with her married life, it appears that Mrs. Brand was very happy with her husband,” went on Calvert. “She met him at some open-air entertainment, where she was in danger of being crushed by the crowd. Brand rescued her, and afterwards called on Flora, who was then living with her mother. He called himself Adolphus Brand.”
“Was that not his name?”
“It is hard to say. When he first came to see Flora he told her his name was Wentworth. She related her life, and how she expected to inherit a fortune from an uncle called Arthur Brand who lived in Australia. Wentworth thereupon said that he also had a cousin called Brand, from whom he expected money. It was probable, he said, that if he did get this money he would have to change his name. A few months later he proposed to marry Flora, but could not do so until he got the money.”
“Was it a large fortune?” asked Fane.
“Not very large—a few thousand pounds. One day Brand stated that his cousin was dead, and that he had the money on condition that he changed his name. Now you see, Fane, how Wentworth came to be called Brand. It was curious that he should have the same name as the uncle from whom Flora hoped to get money.”
“A coincidence,” said Fane coolly; “these things happen in real life. It is only in fiction that coincidences appear to be absurd.”
“Well, to continue the story,” said Arnold, stealing a glance at the American, “Brand married my cousin after the death of her mother. He took her to live at Gunnersbury.”
“I thought you said they lived at Hampstead.”
“Later on they did, but not when they first married. Brand—as he said—was a commercial traveller.”
“As he said; you doubt his statement then?”
“I have reason to,” responded Calvert gravely. “Please let me tell the story in my own way. You can comment on it when it is done. Brand being, as he said, a commercial traveller, was often away for months at a time. Flora, suspecting nothing wrong—”
“Why should she?” asked Fane.
“Wait,” said Arnold. “Flora, suspecting nothing wrong, was quite happy. Her husband was fond of her, and they lived in complete harmony. He had banked the money he received from his cousin, and proposed later, when his business affairs were more prosperous, to furnish a house for her. Especially did he promise to furnish a White Room.”
Fane sat up, with a lively expression on his face. “Ah, now, this is becoming interesting. I have a White Room in my house.”
“Yes. And poor Flora was murdered there.”
“By whom?” asked Fane innocently.
“You’ll hear that later. To resume the story. Things were arranged in this way, and husband and wife lived very comfortably, although neither had money. But Flora expected to get a large fortune from her Australian relative. He had promised to leave it to her, and corresponded constantly with her. Afterwards finding Gunnersbury inconvenient for his business, Brand removed to Hampstead. Flora took Fairy Lodge, and furnished it and attended to all that. The husband should have done that work,” said Arnold with emphasis, “but for some reason he rarely showed himself. Flora’s landlord, for instance, never set eyes on Mr. Brand.”
“He seems to have been a mysterious person,” said Fane coolly. “Go on, please. The story is becoming exciting.”
“It will be so before it is finished. Well, Flora settled down in Fairy Lodge. Her husband stayed away a great deal.”
“On business?” interrupted Fane.
“So he said,” replied Calvert calmly; “but he was away months at a time. Flora never suspected anything to be wrong. But after a time she noticed that Brand was not so loving as he had been. He tried to make it up to her by promising to furnish the grand house they had often talked about. But Flora would not let him do this until the money came from the Australian relative. Then news came that the old man was ill. He wrote and told Flora that a will had been made in her favour, leaving her all his money, which amounted to some thousands a year.”
“The money you have now?”
“Yes,” assented the young man; “the money I have now. On hearing the news Brand would not be restrained any longer. He told Flora that he would furnish the house, but that he must be allowed to do it in his own way. He did not tell her where the new house was, nor did he consult her about the furnishing.”
“What about the White Room then?”
“He knew how to furnish that,” said Arnold quickly; “the White Room was a freak on the part of my cousin. She always had a fancy to have a room entirely white, and she had one at Hampstead.
“I had one at Troy,” said Fane coolly; “what of that?”
“Nothing. Only it is strange that you should have had the same idea of furnishing an odd room as Flora. Well, then, things were thus a year or two ago when news came that the Australian Brand had married his housekeeper, and that the money would likely be left to her.”
“What a blow to your cousin,” said Fane ironically.
“Yes; a great blow. From the moment the news arrived Brand grew colder than ever, and stayed away for longer periods. Husband and wife began to quarrel, as Flora fancied herself neglected. Life grew more and more unhappy, as I find from the unfortunate woman’s diary, until she was thoroughly miserable about the beginning of the present year. It was shortly before July that she received a visit from her Greek cousin Bocaros.”
“What did he come to see her for?”
“To find a friend,” said Arnold gravely. “The man was lonely and unhappy. So was Flora. The two got on well, but Bocaros never saw Brand. He had gone to Australia.”
“Why did he go there?”
“He thought he might be related to Brand, seeing that his cousin who had left him the money bore that name. He fancied that if this were so he might induce old Brand in Australia to give Flora some of the money, and so went to Australia. While he was away Flora received a letter stating that Brand was dead, and that the money was hers.”
“What about the marriage?”
“That was a strange thing, Fane. Of course Brand’s marriage invalidated the will leaving Flora the money. He did marry his housekeeper, but he refused to make a new will, as it seems she had trapped the old man into the marriage. When Brand died, it was found that the woman had been married before. Therefore—”
“The marriage was no marriage, and the will in Mrs. Brand’s favour stood firm,” said Fane. “Is that what you mean?”
“It is. The marriage being no marriage gave the property to Flora. She saw Laing and Merry, and learned that she inherited about ten thousand a year.”
Fane gave a kind of groan. “Ten thousand a year,” he repeated, “and you have this money—lucky fellow!”
“I would rather it had not come to me, Fane, than in such a way.”
“What do you mean?”
“By the tragic death of my cousin.”
“Yes, yes,” said Fane irritably; “how you harp on that murder. Go on.”
“Well, then, Mrs. Brand had the money. It was then that Bocaros told her that Brand was false.”
“How do you mean false?”
“Brand,” said Arnold, keeping his eyes on the other man’s face, “was married to another woman and under another name—probably his real name. Bocaros found this out.”
“How do you prove that?”
“By the diary, which is kept up to the very day my miserable cousin went to the house where her husband posed as a married man.”
“Go on,” said Fane very calm.
“It was at this time Brand came back.”
“I thought you said he had gone to Australia.”
“So he had,” explained Arnold; “but he told Flora that he had heard of Brand’s death, and had not thought it worth while to go on. Flora told him she had the money, and then accused him of being married. He denied this. There was a great row, and Brand left the house. Bocaros came back. He insisted that what he said about the second marriage was true, but he refused to tell Flora the real name of her husband. He said, however, that he would take her to the house. He advised her to obtain an impression of the key in Brand’s pocket, so that she might prove to herself by the key fitting that the house was her husband’s. The plan commended itself to Flora. When Brand returned she pretended to believe his lies, and took an impression of the key when he was asleep. This she gave to Bocaros, who got a duplicate key made. He gave her this. Brand then thinking all was right with Flora, departed. Flora arranged to meet Bocaros at the house of Brand on the night of the 24th of July.”
Fane rose with a white face, and began to walk to and fro. “Go on,” he said harshly; “what more?”
“Is there anything more to tell?” said Arnold, also rising. “Flora went to your house. Whether she met Bocaros there or not I cannot say. Her diary is written up to the time she set out on that last journey. Before leaving, and thinking she might be in danger, she hid the diary, and left a note for me in the deed-box at Laing and Merry’s, the lawyers. But she went to the house before nine, she admitted herself with the duplicate latch-key, and in the White Room, which really and truly had been furnished for her, she met with—”
“Stop cried Fane, his lips grey and his face drawn and white; am I to understand that you accuse me of being the husband of Mrs. Brand?”
“Yes, Mr. Brand, I do. Your name is Fane, but you called yourself Brand to marry Flora. Your first marriage is a real one, your second false. You are a bigamist and—”
“And a murderer. Why not say the word?”
“I do say it. You are the man who stabbed that poor woman when she was at the piano. You set the phonograph going so that the police might be deceived. The dagger you used was one left by me at Flora’s by accident. She took it with her, poor soul, perhaps to kill you for having treated her so. Heaven only knows to what lengths her misery might not have carried her and—”
“Lies! Lies! All lies!” said Fane furiously. “I am not the man. I don’t believe this cock-and-bull story. Julia Mason is my true wife.”
“Julia Mason is Julia Mason still,” said Arnold.
“No. I know nothing of your cousin. I dare you to prove that I am the husband of Flora Brand.”
“I guess I can do that,” said Tracey, stepping forward and producing a photograph from his pocket. “I remained in that Hampstead house, Mr. Brand-Fane, to search and see what I could find in order to set things square. I found an old photograph of Mrs. Brand. I went to the photographer’s and learned that she had been taken at one time some years ago along with her husband. Here’s the photograph, and you will see that you are the man.”
Fane nervously snatched the photograph, and looked at it. There he was in the company of Flora Brand. With a groan he dropped the photograph, staggered to a chair, and covered his face. “It has come out at last,” he groaned.
The two men stood in silence, looking down on the wretched creature shivering in the chair. Walter Fane had never been much of a man, and now that his guilt had been brought home to him, he looked more of a craven than ever. A rat would have showed a braver front, for when in a corner that animal will fight. But Fane did not even show his teeth. He lay in the chair, huddled up, with his face covered, and moaned like a rabbit taken in a trap.
There seemed no doubt as to his guilt, and none was in the mind of the two men who had hunted him down. The evidence was without a flaw, and if Fane escaped the gallows, he so richly-deserved, it would be more a miracle than by any natural occurrence. The diary of his wife, identified him with the husband who had grown weary of her. The evidence of the key showed how she had entered the house, which had originally been furnished for her, and it only remained to learn from the lips of the assassin precisely how the crime had been committed. Fane made no attempt to defend himself. He did not even state that he had been at Westcliff-on-Sea on the night, and at the very time of the murder. He simply lay there crushed, and in spite of the horror of the cold-blooded crime he had committed, in spite of his cowardliness, the two men pitied a human being who could fall so low, and behave so basely. Even the courage of a rogue can be admired, but there was nothing worthy of admiration in the conduct of the man who had thus been caught.
Arnold spoke first, and even though he pitied in some ways the man, he could not render his voice other than cold and harsh. “Well, Fane,” he said sharply, “and what is to be done?”
Fane did not reply. He only moaned. Tracey answered for him. “There’s only one thing to be done, I guess,” said he; “hand him over to the police. He deserves it.”
The miserable man sprang to his feet with a shrill cry. “No! no! I will kill myself first. You shall not—you shall not”; and he glared at them with dishevelled hair and bloodshot eyes, his face white, his lips grey in an extremity of fear. Calvert took no notice but turned to the American.
“I am unwilling to do that,” he said. “After all I am to marry Laura, and there is her sister to be considered. Should the whole truth be made public, Mrs. Fane will suffer. She is not this man’s wife. I must think of her and the child, Tracey.”
“That’s true,” assented the other, pondering. Then he looked up in a brisk manner. “I reckon the best thing is for Fane here to tell us the whole story.”
“You have heard the story,” moaned Fane, still hiding his shameful face.
“Not your version of it,” said Tracey. “I dare say you’ll try and make black appear white, and swear you didn’t kill your wife.”
Fane looked up. “I’ll swear to that certainly,” he said solemnly. “I did not kill her.”
Arnold turned from him in disgust, thinking to save his neck he was lying, but Walter caught him by the coat. “Calvert! Calvert! listen to me only a moment—only a moment. I swear by all that’s holy that I did not lay a finger on Flora.”
“You acknowledge that she was your wife?”
“I do—I do.”
“And that she came to the house?”
“And that you saw her there?”
“Not alive—not alive. She was dead when I set eyes on her.”
“That’s a lie, anyhow,” said Tracey.
“It is not a lie.”
“It is. You want to save your neck. Hang it man, confess, and die like a man. You killed this poor woman to rid yourself of her.”
“No! I didn’t. I swear I didn’t. Oh, why won’t you believe me?”
“You are such a liar,” said Tracey. “But I don’t want to be hard on you. Take a drink of brandy. It will pull you together. Calvert, with your permission—”
The American went to the side-board and filled a glass. While he was thus occupied, Calvert touched the man on the shoulder. Fane, who had again sunk into the chair, trembling and white, looked up. “Take the brandy,” said Calvert quietly, “and then tell us your story. Until I am absolutely convinced of your guilt, I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.”
“Oh bless you—bless you!” Fane seized Arnold’s hand, and tried to kiss it, but the young man drew it away, with an ejaculation of disgust, and wiped it.
“Be a man,” he said angrily. “If you had nerve enough to kill poor Flora in that brutal manner, surely you can face the result.”
“I didn’t kill her, I tell you,” cried Fane in an hysterical manner. “I am as innocent as you are. Give me the brandy—give—ah!”
He had it to his lips by this time, and drained the glass of neat spirits at a draught. Then he coughed, placed the glass on the table, and sat down. The spirit give him the courage he lacked, and after a few moments he looked up, more composed.
“Sit down, Calvert, and you, Mr. Tracey. I’m going to make a clean breast of it. But you will not find me so bad as you think.”
“Whatever you may say, the case is bad enough,” growled Tracey, and took a seat. Calvert did the same, and both pair of eyes were turned expectantly on the culprit. Fane began in a hurry, as though he was afraid lest the effect of the spirit should die out, and leave him powerless to finish his gruesome recital.
“I am the husband of Flora Brand,” he declared in a low voice, and with a flushed face, induced by shame at his position. “I met her five or six years ago—I forget the exact time—and married her.”
“Why did you call yourself Wentworth?” asked Arnold.
Fane wriggled and looked down. “I hardly know,” he said faintly. “I wanted—” he paused, then out came the truth with a violent effort. “I wanted two strings to my bow.”
“As how?” asked Tracey, watching him.
“In this way. I met Flora in a crowd at some fireworks. She was in danger of being crushed. I rescued her. She was pretty, and I admired her. I followed up the acquaintance, and called on her mother.”
“Yes! I—I—” here Fane wriggled again, and made an effort as though swallowing a lie. “I called myself Wentworth, because I didn’t wish her to know my real name. For the same reason I said I was a commercial traveller.”
“I don’t see the reason.”
“You will soon,” said Fane, with a cynical look, for, as the brandy took more effect on him, he became bolder. “I had a small sum of money, and no occupation. If I wanted to be at ease, it was necessary that I should marry a rich woman. I wanted to leave a way of escape.”
“I see,” said Tracey, in a tone of disgust. “You intended to marry Flora under your false name, so that should occasion offer, you might marry a wealthy woman under your real one.”
“Yes,” said Fane calmly; “that was my intention. But I did not intend to marry Flora at all at first. Then I fell so deeply in love with her that I decided to ask her to be my wife. She told me of the money she expected from Brand in Australia, and of course that made me eager to marry her.”
“Then why did you take the name of Brand?”
“One of my friends saw me in the neighbourhood, and I could no longer assume the name of Wentworth. Flora’s mother was just dead, so I told her that I expected money from a man called Brand, who had the same name as the man in Australia.”
“You got the name from him?”
“Well,” said Calvert, “I don’t see your reason for the change of name. Wentworth would have served quite as well to hide your contemplated villainy. I suppose you know, Mr. Fane, that even though you married Flora under a false name, the marriage holds good.”
Fane shivered. “Yes, I learned that from my lawyer when I went to see him about my marriage with Julia. I had no intention of committing bigamy. Circumstances were so strong—”
“Oh, chuck that,” said Tracey roughly; “get along with the yarn.”
Fane looked angrily at the indignant face of the American, and obeyed. He had no alternative.
“I took the name of Brand, and married Flora. We lived at Gunnersbury, and were always talking what we should do, when we got the Brand money. I intended to furnish a house with the money I had.”
“What about the White Room?”
“That was a favourite fancy of Flora’s. She loved a white room. I promised to furnish one in the new house.”
“Then you did not furnish Ajax Villa for Miss Mason?”
“No; for Flora. News came that the old man was very ill—probably dying. The money had been left to Flora. On the strength of that, I spent my money in furnishing the villa, so that when we inherited the fortune I might take Flora there.”
“It seems to me you counted your chickens before they were hatched, Fane,” said Calvert; “but it’s just the sort of thing a weak man like you would do. I suppose you loved Flora in a way.”
“I did love her. I loved her very dearly. Had I not done so I would have severed myself from her when I married Julia. As it was—”
“You betrayed both women,” finished Calvert. “Yes?”
Fane hung his head, for the scorn in Calvert’s voice was hard to bear with patience.
“I knew Julia for some time, and knew she was rich. She took a fancy to me, and I saw that I would only have to ask her to be my wife, and she would consent. Then came the news that old Brand had married his housekeeper. I thought it was all up with the chance of getting the money, so I married Julia. As a commercial traveller (as Flora believed me to be) I could stop away for a long time. I induced her to take the Hampstead house, and did not appear in the matter. I acted—”
“Like a mean hound!” cried the American wrathfully. “In our country you’d have been tarred and feathered, and lynched on the top of it.”
“There’s no need to call names,” said Fane cynically. “I am at your mercy, so—”
“You deserve none.”
“Calvert, I appeal to you,” said Fane, turning to the other.
“You shall have strict justice, and no more,” said Arnold, in an icy tone; “anything I do will be for the sake of your wife and child.”
Fane shrugged his shoulders, and sneered. “Virtuous men,” he said; “oh, what virtuous men! But had you been in a dilemma, as I was, you would have acted as I did. I had little money, having foolishly spent a lot on the furnishing of Ajax Villa. Also, I had to pay the rent. And you know, Calvert, how magnificently it is furnished.”
“White Room and all,” said Calvert, coldly and unsmilingly.
“Yes, I arranged that to surprise Flora. But after we learned that the money of Brand would not come to us, we did not get on well together.”
“I guess you made her suffer,” said Tracey savagely.
“No. The fault was with Flora. She thought I was in love with other women, and was jealous.”
“She had cause to be. Go on.”
“Not so, as far as she knew,” replied Fane coolly. “Well, we did not get on harmoniously. Then, finding matters were desperate with me, I proposed to Julia, and married her.”
“And you took her to the villa you had prepared for Flora?”
“Yes, I did,” said Fane defiantly. “Julia’s money could keep up that house, and Flora had none. I told Julia I was fond of yachting, and she allowed me to go away for months at a time. She did not mind so long as I left her control of the business, as I did. I bought into the firm with a little of my money, and a good deal of hers. The business rightfully belonged to her, so she did the work.”
“And you went away yachting?”
“I never yachted at all—or very little,” said Fane in a contradictory manner. “I spent the time when away from Julia with Flora.”
“And the time you indulged yourself as a commercial traveller, you spent at Ajax Villa,” said Calvert.
“Yes. I managed to keep both wives, and both households.”
Calvert and Tracey, amazed by the utter shamelessness of the man, stared at one another. But they could not help admiring the cleverness which he had employed to live this double life. “How long did it last?” asked Calvert.
“For three years more or less. At last things became so bad that I wanted to be away from Flora for a long time. I suggested that I might be a relative of Brand and that I should go to Australia. Flora believed that I went.”
“And all the time you were posing as Fane at Ajax Villa?”
“I was—I told Julia I was tired of yachting. I remained at home—”
“One of your homes.”
“In my own home,” said Fane, with emphasis, “under my own name. I suppose this man Bocaros—although I don’t know him—must have seen me and have put two and two together.”
“Yes,” chimed in Tracey, “and no doubt he heard of you from Miss Mason, who is a friend of Gerty B. She is the daughter of Bocaros’s landlady, Mrs. Baldwin, and he was frequently at her house.”
Fane groaned. “To think I should have been given away like that,” he said in a melancholy tone, “and I never knew the danger. I wonder why Bocaros told Flora?”
“For the money, I guess,” said Tracey, “seeing she made a will in his favour. But that needs clearing up; the professor shall do it. You get along with your story.”
“There’s little more to tell.”
“Oh yes, there’s a lot. What about the crime?”
“I am innocent,” protested Fane solemnly; “I came back to Flora while Bocaros was poisoning her mind. She accused me of being married but I denied it. She never mentioned Bocaros, or I should have been placed on my guard. I remained a time in the Hampstead house, and I suppose while I was there Flora, under the direction of Bocaros, managed to take an impression of my key. I always wore my latch-key on a chain, but Flora could easily have taken an impression while I was asleep. Then I went away for the last time, thinking that her jealous fears were at rest. She told me about the money, and I was enraged to think how I was done out of it. Julia has not ten thousand a year,” said Fane sadly, “or anything like it. I would have done better to stick to Flora.”
“Go on,” said Arnold impatiently, “for heaven’s sake spare us these remarks. You left the Hampstead house, thinking all was well.”
“Yes,” replied Fane, with a sullen glance at the man who rebuked him, “and all would have been well but for that interfering Greek. I went down to Westcliff-on-Sea, and stopped with my wife.”
“With Miss Julia Mason?”
“With my wife,” said Fane savagely; “I look upon her as my wife.”
“Does she know you were married before?”
“No. She knows a lot and about the death of Flora. But she thinks—”
Arnold rose. The man sickened him. “Don’t say anything more. I can understand what lies you told her. Come to the point. Why did you come up on that night to Ajax Villa?”
Fane gave Arnold a second ugly look. “I came, because on the morning of the twenty-fourth I received a letter from Flora saying she had found out my house and was going there on that night to see my wife. She insisted I should be there also so that she might learn the exact truth.”
“As though a low-down cuss like you was capable of telling it,” said Tracey, in disgust; “but how did the letter come to the seaside? Did Mrs. Brand know your address there?”
“No. The letter was addressed to Ajax Villa, and sent on. It had been written on the previous day, and had I received it earlier, I should have gone to Hampstead and seen Flora. As it was, I had no time, and could see her only at the villa.”
“You had the whole day,” said Arnold dryly, “seeing that you received her letter in the morning.”
“Yes. But Mrs. Fane was in the room when I received it. She became angry, for she is a very jealous woman. I swore it was not from a woman. She would not believe me, and all that day kept a watch on me. I could not get away, yet I felt, to put things straight and to persuade Flora to hold her tongue, I must. I then pretended to be ill and went to bed. After five I slipped out and took the six train to town. I have reason to believe that my wife followed—”
“We’ll come to that later,” said Calvert quickly. “Did you go at once to the villa?”
“No. Flora said she would not be there till between eight and nine. I waited in town. Then I met a friend and he detained me till nearly nine. I got away at last, and went to the villa. It was in darkness. I could not find Flora in the garden where I expected she would be.”
“You didn’t know she had a key?”
“No. She said nothing about it in her letter. I wondered where she was, then concluded that as I was late she had gone away. I intended going to the Hampstead house, but thought I would go into my own for a time. I opened the door, and went upstairs. I entered the White Room, and there I found Flora, dead.”
“Dead!” it was Arnold who spoke; “you swear she was dead?”
“Yes, I swear it,” said Fane, striking his breast in a somewhat theatrical manner. “She was lying dead on the mat before the piano, and had apparently been struck from behind. I looked at my watch;—it was a quarter past nine. I was horrified and wondered how she had come by her end. I searched the house. There was no one about, and all the doors were barred. About half-past nine, while I was searching in the back, I heard a ring at the door. I was terrified, and thought if I were found in the house with the dead that I would be arrested.”
“And it’s a pity you were not,” said Tracey.
“A ring at the door at half-past nine,” said Arnold thoughtfully; “I expect that was Laura. She promised to meet me there then. But after a time, as no one came to the door, she went away.”
Fane stared at Calvert. “What was Laura doing there?” he asked. “I knew you came, but Laura—”
“How did you know I came?” said Arnold sharply.
“I saw you.”
“In the White Room when you looked at the body.”
“Then you remained in the house?”
“I was afraid to go,” said Fane, with a shudder; “I thought some one would see me coming out of the house, and that I would be arrested when the crime came to light. I had an idea of disposing of the body, but I could not. After the ring at the door I waited for a time. Then I stole back to the White Room, and took the dagger which was lying by the body.”
“A stage dagger?”
“Yes. Though I didn’t know it was so at the time. I went to the back and thrust it into the dustbin out of sight. I was afraid to take it away with me lest it should be found on me, for that with the dead body and my relations with the dead woman, would have been evidence enough to hang me. I hid the dagger in the bin. Then I was coming back to the room, when I heard footsteps.”
“I don’t know. I was too afraid to venture out. I remained in the back part of the house almost mad with terror. Calvert,” cried Fane, clasping his hands, “I assure you I thought my brain would give way. I fancied that the police were in the house and that the body had been discovered. I made up my mind to be arrested. Had I but had the nerve I would have gone back for the dagger and killed myself.”
Tracey sneered. “People of your sort don’t kill themselves. Well, how long did you hide?”
“I can’t say. Till some time after ten. Then I heard the front door close and stole out. I went up to the White Room. The body was still undisturbed. I wondered how I could get away and down to Southend so as to establish an alibi. Then I waited and heard you come in. Yes, I heard the door open. I concealed myself behind the hangings of the room. I saw you enter. You started when you saw the dead and recognised the body, to my surprise. Arnold, how was it you never knew me as Flora’s husband?”
“I saw very little of my cousin,” said Arnold, “and she scarcely spoke of you.”
“But the photographs?”
“I never saw any of you.”
“Yet there were several. Afterwards, when all was quiet, and after the body was buried, I went to the Hampstead house and removed all papers and photographs so that my connection with Flora might not be known.”
“You forgot a photograph that Derrick found, and one that I picked up,” said Tracey; “then there was a diary.”
“I never thought of the diary,” said Fane, passing his hand across his face, “yet I should have. Flora told me she kept one, and I might have guessed she would set down everything. But I was in such terror at being discovered in the Hampstead house that I forgot.”
“You were a coward right through,” said Arnold coldly; “however, go on. What happened after you saw me?”
“I waited. You went down the stairs evidently in a great fright. As you recognised the body I knew you would not call in the police, as you apparently fancied you might be accused. When you left I went to the window to see you go out. I saw the officer passing, and then to make him think that people were in the house, and to drive you away, I set the phonograph going.”
“I heard it—I was in the hall,” said Arnold, “and I was afraid. I admit it, Fane, I was terribly afraid.”
“I guessed you would be. You left the house. I saw the policeman lean over the gate to listen. I saw you join him. I saw you walk away. Then I thought I would escape. When you were gone with the officer, I stole out. I passed along a by-street. I saw a motor—”
“My car,” said Tracey, “and you took it to Charing Cross.”
“I did,” nodded Fane, “then I left it there and caught the underground railway to Liverpool Street, where I took the express to Southend. The rest you know.”
“Not who killed Mrs. Brand,” said Arnold.
Fane considered. “I can’t tell you who did,” he said; “she was dead before I came, so those who came into the house after ten could not have killed her.”
“Do you know who they were?”
“No! I heard footsteps.”
“How do you know there were two?”
“I only think so. There might have been only one person. I can’t say, I was not in a state to think. I hid, and then all happened as I say. I don’t know who killed my wife. I got back to Southend and afterwards heard the body had been discovered. I came to town and bluffed out the whole matter with that fool of a Derrick. When I heard about the Hampstead house being found I went there before Derrick came, and removed everything, as I said.”
“Did you find nothing to lead you to think who killed Mrs. Brand?”
Fane hesitated. “I can hardly say,” he said, feeling in his watchpocket, “but as you know so much you may as well know all.”
“We must know all for your safety.”
“You believe I am guiltless?”
“Yes,” said Arnold slowly, “I think you are, seeing that your story is consistent. But we’ll see. I will do nothing publicly for the sake of your wife and Laura. What did you find?”
Fane took out his watch-chain and produced an old-fashioned, small round locket of pale gold. “That was in the hand of Flora,” he said. “I expect she grasped at it when the murderer struck at her.”
“There was a struggle, then,” said Calvert, and opened the locket. He gave a cry: “Calvert, it’s Mrs. Baldwin’s face!”
Tracey started also. Sure enough it was the face of Mrs. Baldwin only much younger-looking. “I said a woman did it,” murmured Tracey heavily, “but I never thought it would be that woman. Yet she might be the one.”
While these events were taking place, Professor Bocaros was having rather an unpleasant time with Emily Doon. One morning she came crying to him, with the information that Mrs. Fane had dismissed her for her treachery. “And it’s all your fault,” said Emily.
“I am very sorry,” began the professor.
“What’s the use of sorrow?” lamented Miss Doon. “Will sorrow keep bread and butter in my mouth? I have been dismissed without a character, and where am I to go?”
“There’s your sister—”
“Oh, thank you, baron,” flamed up the girl; “but I can arrange my own affairs. You had no business telling Mrs. Fane. Had I known you intended to play me so dirty a trick I should not have spoken.”
“It was necessary that I should do so, for my schemes.”
“Well, and what are your schemes coming to? Here am I without a situation, and with hardly a penny. I shan’t go to Fanny’s. She would keep me toiling and moiling in her horrid lodging-house from morning to night. I am not used to hard work. Keep your promise and marry me.”
“I am only too glad to do that,” said Bocaros quickly. “You know that I love you very dearly.”
“You wouldn’t treat me so badly if you did. What about the money?”
Bocaros frowned. “I can’t say yet,” he said. “But get that money I will. As to your dismissal, I shall see Mrs. Fane and put it right.”
“Not with her,” said Emily, rising. “She’s a hard one, she is, and I shan’t go back to be sneered at. Money or no money, I marry you.”
“But if I don’t get the money,” said Bocaros doubtfully.
“I’ll still have the title, and one can do so much with the title.”
The professor seized her wrist. “When you marry me you will have to behave yourself,” he said. “I am not going to give you my honoured name for you to drag in the mud.”
“I’ll do as I like,” gasped Emily defiantly.
“You will not. Become my wife if you choose, for I love you too well to give you up, money or no money. But once you are the Baroness Bocaros, you will be above suspicion. Play me false, soil my name, and I’ll kill you.”
“You look just the sort to kill a woman,” said Miss Doon, wrenching her hand away. “For all I know, you killed that cousin of yours to get the money.”
The professor shook her hard. “How dare you say that!” he exclaimed furiously. “I do not know who killed my cousin. But I more than suspect Arnold Calvert. I spoke to your mistress. She can prove much, and she will. The money—the money—” Bocaros convulsively opened and shut his hand. “I must have that money.”
“Well,” said Emily, rising to go, “you hear me. I’m going to Fanny for a week, and I shall expect to hear from you. I’ll marry you as soon as you can get the licence, and I’ll behave as I like.”
“No,” said Bocaros savagely.
“Yes,” she retorted. “Don’t you think I’m a fool, baron, because I’m not. I can play my own game. If you don’t marry me, I’ll tell the police what I told you.”
“You’ll ruin your mistress if you do.”
“She’s ruined me,” retorted Miss Doon, her hand on the door, “and I always pay my debts. I don’t know what game you are playing, but, as I say, I can play my own.”
Bocaros made a dash at her, but she was too quick for him. With wonderful dexterity she whipped through the door, and was outside, walking rapidly away, before he had time to recover from his rage. He went back to his chair, and flung himself down with a curse. Mrs. Fane had evidently played him false, since she had behaved so with her maid. Bocaros had thought she was in his power, but the dismissal of Emily showed that Mrs. Fane was quite prepared to make the matter public. If this were the case, she might not be ready to assist him in punishing Arnold, since she would not care to be mixed up with a murder case. And the whole chance of getting the money out of Calvert lay in the fact of the matter being kept quiet. From Arnold’s demeanour Bocaros did not think he was guilty, but he fancied he could frighten him, and so gain his ends. But if Mrs. Fane made the whole affair public, Calvert might—and probably would—face the worst. No money would be forthcoming then. So Bocaros sat gnawing his fingers, filled with perplexing thoughts and looking old and worn.
“I’ll see Jasher,” he said to himself, “and tell him all. He may see a way out of the matter. I’ll write to him to come here this evening.”
So saying, the professor sat down and wrote a letter, which he directed to the Private Inquiry-Office. He closed the envelope and stamped it, and then returned to his seat. Hardly had he sat down when a sharp knock came to the door. Glancing through the window, the professor saw Calvert and Tracey on the step. Here was the very man he was wishing to circumvent putting his head into the lion’s mouth. But Bocaros did not like the presence of Tracey, as the American was so sharp. He could deal with Arnold, but Tracey was beyond him. At first he decided to remain quiet in the hope that the two men would depart, but his curiosity got the better of his prudence, and he opened the door, to be met by the smile of Luther.
“Well, professor, and how are you?” said Luther, stepping inside without an invitation. “I have brought Mr. Calvert to see you. We want to say a few words.”
“I am delighted to see you, Mr. Calvert,” said Bocaros, very much on his guard from this polite demeanour of Tracey. “Come in. I hope you will excuse my humble abode. With your money, you are used to palaces.”
“Only to Bloomsbury lodgings,” said Arnold, taking a seat. “You forget I have only come into my kingdom lately. By the way, was not that Mrs. Fane’s maid I saw leaving your house?”
“It was. She came on an errand.”
Arnold glanced curiously at the man. He did not know the truth, nor could he guess what errand had brought Miss Doon to this lonely house. He was seated near the window, and the professor went to get another chair. Tracey, who was walking about, spied the letter to Jasher on the desk. Taking it up, he looked at the address, then without a moment’s hesitation slipped it into his pocket. Arnold did not see this proceeding, or he might have objected. But Luther had considered the matter. He suspected Bocaros, and wondered what devilry he was up to in corresponding with Jasher. He therefore took the letter to read at his leisure, and should it be harmless he would send it on. But Tracey was unscrupulous, and thinking he was dealing with a rogue, resolved—as in the present instance—to beat him with his own weapons. Having thus accomplished his purpose, he returned to his seat, when Bocaros, with an extra chair, entered the room.
“Well, gentlemen,” said the professor when seated, “what can I do?”
“That’s rather a difficult question to answer, professor,” said Calvert, signing to Tracey to hold his too fluent tongue. “Mr. Tracey and I have come to see you about this murder.”
“What have I to do with it?” asked Bocaros coldly.
“Well, you asked me to search for the criminal, and said if I did not, you would do so yourself. Have you?”
“Yes,” replied Bocaros, “I have searched with Jasher. From all I have learned, sir—since we are to speak plainly—I think you are the guilty person.”
“And if I am, professor, what will you do?”
Bocaros rose. “I don’t exactly know. I hate you for killing Flora, who was a charming woman; but since you are a relative of mine—”
“Only a relative by marriage,” interrupted Calvert. “That hardly counts, I think.”
“Still, you are a relative,” persisted the professor, “so I am willing to hush the matter up.”
“For money, I guess,” said Tracey, who had not lost a word.
“Certainly, for money,” said Bocaros dryly. “The fortune of my cousin should be mine. She changed her mind and left it to you. I claim half.”
“And you will hold your tongue if I give you five thousand a year?”
“Yes; I will certainly do that,” said the professor, thinking he was getting on capitally.
“What about the detective?” asked Luther.
“Jasher? Well, you will have to settle with him also. He will require money also.”
“And if I refuse to pay you or Jasher?” asked Arnold.
“I shall ask Jasher to see Inspector Derrick and tell what we know.”
Arnold looked curiously at Bocaros, and wondered at the hardihood of his threat. “Merely out of curiosity, professor, I should like to know what evidence you have against me.”
“That is easy,” said Bocaros promptly. “You were not at the theatre till after nine, and Flora was killed before then. The money you wanted very badly. I heard about the stage dagger from Mrs. Fane’s maid, and I know you used it, and—”
“Wait,” said Arnold quickly. “All these things I can disprove by an alibi. I was at my rooms till nearly half-past nine, as my landlady, Mrs. Varney, can prove. I then went down and finished acting the part, when Hart was unexpectedly taken ill.”
“But you were at the house,” said Bocaros savagely. “Yes; later. But Mrs. Brand was murdered before nine by your own showing, professor, so you can prove nothing against me.”
“I can make your doings on that night public,” said the other, feeling the money slipping away from him.
“Hardly, unless you want to find yourself in a very unpleasant position, my good man.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that Mrs. Brand left a diary behind her, which was discovered by me and Mr. Tracey. In it, she relates your visits to her—and you paid more than two, professor.”
“What if I did visit her?” said Bocaros, the perspiration rising on his forehead. “She was my cousin, and—”
“And you had every right to do so. Quite so. But had you a right to tell her about Fane?”
“Fane?” stammered the Greek, completely taken aback.
“Yes. You knew before July that Fane and Brand were one and the same.”
“I did not—I did not.”
“I guess you did,” said Tracey; “see here, professor, what’s the use of slinging lies? I guess we’ve got the bulge on you this trip. Mrs. B.’s diary gave away the whole thing, and now we have come to ask what you were doing in the house on the night of the murder?”
“Or, to put it plainly,” said Arnold quietly, “why you killed Flora?”
Bocaros, as Fane had done before him, leaped to his feet. “I did not kill the woman! I swear I did not.”
“Fane said the same thing.”
“But Fane did. He was in the house.”
“How do you know that?” asked Luther; and Bocaros, seeing he had gone too far, was silent. “I reckon,” went on the American, “that this is what the law calls a conspiracy. You’ve been building up card-castles to get that money, and they’ve tumbled. Now it’s our turn to threaten to make things public, professor, and if you don’t speak out you will be arrested.”
“I arrested!” gasped Bocaros, stepping back a pace.
“Yes—for murder,” said Arnold solemnly.
“I did not kill her.”
“We have yet to be sure that you did not. At all events, you wrote letters to me and to Miss Mason, so that you might bring us to the house on that night, so as to implicate us in the matter. It was very clever, Bocaros, and, but that I overslept myself on that night, I would have been at Ajax Villa. Then, I grant you, my position would have been awkward, seeing I inherit the money. As it is I can prove that I had nothing to do with the matter. If you did not kill the woman, who did?”
“Fane,” said Bocaros, with dry lips. “Yes, Fane came up from Southend, and Fane struck the blow to rid himself of an encumbrance.”
“He says he didn’t,” said Tracey; “we’ve put him through his paces, and, although he’s a mean white, I guess he’s not a murderer. How did you know he came up from Southend? Did you write the letter to lure him there also?”
“No; Flora wrote it herself.”
“Under your direction?”
“I shan’t say.”
“You’ll have to say,” said Arnold quickly; “we will have you arrested otherwise. What has become of the locket Mrs. Baldwin gave you?”
Bocaros looked up doggedly. “She gave me no locket.”
“She did,” insisted Calvert. “A small round locket, with her photograph inside. You wore it on your watch-chain; and when Flora was struck, she turned round and tore it off in her death-agony. It was found in her clenched hand by Fane.”
“I never had any locket,” said Bocaros, with dry lips. “I am innocent.”
“You’ll find that hard to prove. However, both myself and Tracey are willing to give you a hearing.”
“What will you do if I confess?”
“I will send you out of the country.”
“I guess that’s so. We don’t want your sort dumped here,” said Tracey.
“Will you give me money, so that I may not starve?” said Bocaros, taking no notice of this speech, and addressing himself to Arnold.
“I don’t think you deserve a penny, seeing how you proposed to blackmail me. However, if you can prove your innocence, and can tell us who is the real criminal, I will help you.”
“I don’t know who killed Flora, unless it was Fane.”
“Well then, Fane didn’t,” said Luther sharply. “Now, fire ahead and reel out your yarn. No lies, mind, or there’ll be trouble.”
“Sir,” said Bocaros, with a dignity which never deserted him throughout this very trying interview, “you forget I am a nobleman.”
“I know. They sell your sort at a penny a bunch abroad,” retorted Tracey. “Go on. Talk away. I want to hear of this conspiracy.”
“There is no conspiracy,” protested Bocaros. “I merely wished to get back my own.”
“Ah, you look upon the ten thousand a year as your own,” said Arnold; “may I ask how you make that out?”
“Flora left the money to me.”
“She did, and changed her mind. How did you induce her to make a will in your favour?”
“It was her own good heart.”
“Rubbish!” said Arnold roughly; “if you tell lies, professor, I won’t help you. Come—the truth now.”
Bocaros meditated. He wanted money badly, and if he went abroad—and Calvert had the power to force him to take such a course—he would certainly starve. The school, small as the salary was, kept him alive; but even this slender means of subsistence would be taken from him should he be banished from England. And by the stern faces of the two men, he saw very well that he would be judged with justice. He therefore made up his mind to earn the money by telling the truth. Anything was better than starvation, even loss of dignity. But for all that, and although he was fallen from his high estate, Bocaros kept up a dignified appearance, and spoke in his best style.
“I met my cousin, as I told you before,” he said, “and I frequently went to see her.”
“Why did you say you only paid three visits?” asked Calvert.
“For obvious reasons,” said Tracey; “he wanted to keep his cards under the table.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” said the professor quietly; “but I admit that I did not wish you to learn the part I had taken in this matter. I visited my cousin frequently. I saw a portrait of her husband, and recognised Mr. Fane.”
“Where did you see him?”
“One day—no, on two occasions, I saw him walking with Miss Mason. I asked who he was. She told me her brother-in-law. When I saw Fane while calling on Mrs. Fane the other day I remembered his face again. But for the moment I forgot where I had seen him.”
“Come now,” cried Luther, “you couldn’t forget a face like that—especially the face of a man whom you were trying to ruin.”
“Bocaros put his hand to his head. My brain is not very clear at times,” he faltered. “I often think I will take leave of my senses. I assure you, gentlemen, that I forgot where I had seen Mr. Fane when we came face to face the other day.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter,” said Tracey, seeing that the man spoke truly; “go on, and tell us what you did.”
“I said nothing to Mrs. Brand for a time, although I knew that her husband was married to another woman. She and her husband did not get on well together, and I did not want to make them more unhappy. Then she inherited the money, and before that Brand went presumably to Australia.”
“He was here under the name of Fane,” said Arnold.
“He was. I saw him at times. Well, Flora got the money. I wanted some. She talked of making a will in her husband’s favour, for she still loved him. I then hinted that he was married. She nearly went out of her mind. I refused to tell her the truth until she made a will in my favour. She did. And she treated me very badly,” burst out Bocaros, warm with the memory of his wrongs; “she changed the will after she got the truth out of me. When I heard of her death, I quite thought the money would come to me. Instead of that—”
“It was a case of the biter bit,” said Arnold. “I think Flora did quite right. You had no right to levy blackmail.”
“It was not blackmail,” said Bocaros indignantly, and really he seemed to believe what he said. “I made her leave the money to me, and then I told her the truth.”
“The whole truth?”
“Not then. I did not wish her to make trouble at once. I told her that her husband’s real name was Fane, and that he had a wife and child. But I did not say where the house was.”
“Well, what happened?”
“Fane came back as Brand, saying he had changed his mind about going to Australia. I advised Flora to take an impression of his latch-key, so that she could prove the house was Fane’s, by its opening the door. She thought this a good idea. Also, she wished to get inside to see the White Room about which I had told her. She took the impression when Fane was asleep. I had the keys made.”
“How many?” asked Arnold quickly; “one was sent to me by you.”
“No; I did not send that. Three keys were made. One Flora kept herself, and two she gave me. I used one to enter the house myself—”
“Oh, you acknowledge you were in the house?”
“I do. I lost the other key.”
“Where?” demanded Arnold, looking keenly at the man who seemed to speak in all good faith.
Bocaros again looked bewildered. “I hardly know. I left it in this room, and I never found it again.”
“Did you not send the key to me?”
“No; I swear I did not.”
“Then who did?”
“I can’t say. The key was left here, and lost. I used the other.”
“H’m!” said Arnold, after a pause. “Go on, and tell us about your doings on that night. We can talk of the missing key later. What happened?”
“I appointed to meet Mrs. Brand in the garden. She had the key, and so had I. She told me that she had written asking her husband to come up. She sent the letter to Ajax Villa, and thought it would be sent on. I was annoyed at this.”
“Did she tell you this when you met?”
“No; because we did not meet on that night.”
“How was that?”
“I was kept till late at the school and could not get away. It was ten o’clock before I left, as I could not get away earlier although I pleaded an engagement. I thought Flora would enter the house and wait. I arrived a few minutes after ten, and saw the light burning, I then thought she was waiting. I entered with my own key, and went upstairs to where the light was. It was the White Room. There I saw Flora dead—stabbed under the left shoulder-blade. On seeing this I grew afraid, and came away at once.”
“Oh!” said Arnold, after another pause; “so it was you Fane heard in the house after ten o’clock?”
“I was there after ten, and I went away early at half-past.”
“Who was with you?” asked Tracey; “Fane said there were two men.”
“I was alone,” said Bocaros; “there was no one with me. All happened as I say. I grew afraid, seeing that I was Flora’s cousin, and that it was I who had brought her to the house. Also, I had got the keys for her, and she had made a will in my favour. I fancied if I were found I would be arrested and hanged.”
“There was certainly enough evidence to hang you,” said Calvert. “I also was afraid when I found the body; I fled also. We all seemed to have lost our heads.”
“I don’t think you did, Calvert,” said Tracey, “considering the slim way you lured that policeman away. Well, professor, did you see any one in the house?”
“Not a soul. I was there only for a quarter of an hour or so.”
Luther nodded. “Yes; Fane said he heard you go out. But Fane fancied there were two men.”
“I was alone,” said the professor positively, and the others believed him. He had no reason to tell lies, seeing the position in which he was placed. His only chance of safety lay in telling the truth—the exact truth, and he appeared to be doing so.
“Now then,” said Calvert, when he and Tracey had digested this information, “what about the forged letters?”
“I did not write them. Why should I?”
“Well, you might have made up your mind to kill Flora, and then have arranged for me to be lured there, so that I might be accused.”
“But I did not kill her; and had I written the letter to lure you, I should not have sent one to Miss Mason also. I could not accuse her.”
“That’s true enough,” said Arnold perplexed; “so the key was lost in this room. Have you many visitors, professor?”
“Very few,” said Bocaros, glancing at Tracey. “You often come,” this was to the American.
“I do,” assented that gentleman; “are you going to accuse me of taking the key?”
“The key has gone.”
“That is as much as to say I took it, and killed Mrs. Brand,” said the other, with a shrug; “but who else comes? That maid?”
“She only paid me a visit after the murder.”
“Well, she can’t be guilty. Who else?”
Bocaros reluctantly admitted that Mrs. Baldwin sometimes came.
On hearing this, Tracey looked disturbed. “Can she have taken the key?”
“Nonsense!” said Arnold decisively—“a fat, lazy woman like that? Besides, the person who had the key would write the letters, seeing that the key came in one. Why should Mrs. Baldwin desire to get me and Laura into trouble?”
“I don’t know,” murmured Tracey anxiously, and recalling Mrs. Baldwin’s behaviour at the Hampstead cottage. “She’s a queer fish. Then that locket with her picture—”
“I have seen Mrs. Baldwin with such a locket,” said Bocaros.
“Oh, you have.” Tracey, much alarmed, looked at Calvert. “I say, you don’t think she killed Mrs. Brand?”
Grave as the situation was, Calvert smiled at the idea of Mrs. Baldwin in the character of Lady Macbeth. “I would as soon think of my having done it myself,” he declared. “There is some mystery about all this. Can you solve it, professor?”
“No,” said Bocaros. “I have told you all. What will you do?”
“Interview Mrs. Baldwin, and ask her about the locket,” said Arnold, rising. “By the way, I must see Jasher. He may have made some discovery.”
“He will be here this evening,” said Bocaros. “I have written to him.”
Tracey tapped his coat. “I have the letter, and will post it. In fact, now I have his address, I will send a wire.”
“But how dare you take my letters?”
“Go slow, professor. I’m running this show now. We’ll come here to meet Jasher this evening, and thresh out the matter. You take it lying down, or you won’t get any money. And now, Arnold Calvert, Esquire?”
“We will see Mrs. Baldwin about the locket,” said Arnold.
Mrs. Baldwin had been much disturbed since the appearance of her husband. In her secret soul she dreaded the return of the man who had treated her so badly. All these years she had kept her fears to herself, but sometimes she suffered agonies. For some time these had grown less keen, as Rufus not appearing she fancied he must be dead. But the head of Rufus had been seen at the window: she had distinctly seen his face, and she knew she was no longer safe. He could not touch her money which was safely tied up, nor could he deal with the land she owned. But he had a way of terrorising her which would make her give him whatever he wanted. He would spend the money, treat his children badly, leave her next door to a pauper, and on the whole make things as unpleasant as he knew how.
There is nothing makes a man bolder than fear. This is paradoxical but true. Under the influence of supreme fear, the most cowardly person will become brave to rid himself of the cause of terror. Balzac acutely observes that “The rebellion of a sheep is terrible,” and in this way Mrs. Baldwin felt. She was a timid woman in reality and had given in to the will of the brute she had unfortunately married. When he went away—not being able to get more money out of her—she breathed freely. But now that there was a chance of his coming into her life again, Mrs. Baldwin felt all her old terrors revive. But she determined if he did come she would kill him. To this extent had her fear driven her. She was scared to death, and therefore was the more dangerous.
Had she been wise, she would have seen her lawyers and told them everything. As Rufus had deserted her for so many years, the law would put things right for her. As he had treated her with brutality her evidence would enable the law to arrange matters so that she would no longer live in a state of terrorism. She could get a separation, even a divorce. But Mrs. Baldwin was not wise. She was a slow-thinking woman, and the mere presence of the man terrified. If he came to rule her again, she would not have the will to go to her lawyers and tell the truth. She therefore took matters into her own hands and bought a pistol which she kept under her bed-pillow in the night and under the sofa-pillow in the day. She made up her mind that if he came secretly to the house, as he had done, and would likely do again, she would shoot him. She would give the man no chance of exerting his influence over her. But of all this she said nothing, not even to Gerty, who could not understand why her mother grew thinner and more silent. Instead of reading and eating Turkish-delight as usual, Mrs. Baldwin wandered about the house feeling every now and then for the weapon in her pocket which she always took when she left the sofa.
“I’m all right, dear,” said Mrs. Baldwin fretfully when Gerty made remarks; “I have a little worry, but it will pass away.”
Things were in this state when Tracey arrived in the company of Arnold. The two entered the room, being introduced by one of the twins. Gerty was away teaching an old gentleman to manage a motor-car, and Mrs. Baldwin was alone. As usual she was lying on the sofa, but no longer reading or eating sweets. She lay there a shapeless mass in her tawdry tea-gown staring at the roof. When Tracey entered she started and thrust her hand under the pillow. But when she saw it was merely her future son-in-law she sank back with a smile. However, the sudden start made her face white, and Tracey noted it.
“You haven’t been troubled by Rufus, have you?” he asked.
“No,” said Mrs. Baldwin, with a faint smile, “he has never been near me since. When he does come,” her eyes gleamed, “I am ready for him—I am no longer the timid weak woman I was. How are you, Mr. Calvert?”
“Very well, Mrs. Baldwin. You do not look well.”
“I have trouble. We all have our troubles.”
“Say,” observed Tracey, “I’ve brought Calvert here to ask a question about a piece of jewellery of yours.”
Mrs. Baldwin sat up. “My diamond necklace,” she cried, “where is it?”
Arnold looked puzzled and Tracey held his tongue. “I know nothing about a diamond necklace,” said Calvert; “this is what I wish you to see—” As he spoke he extended his hand in the palm of which lay the round locket of pale gold which Fane had produced. Arnold did not get a chance of finishing his sentence, for the moment Mrs. Baldwin set eyes on the unpretending piece of jewellery she gave a loud cry, opened her eyes, and sitting up grasped Calvert by the arm:
“Where is he?” she asked; “is he outside? If he is—” she released Arnold and pulled out the pistol.
“What do you mean?” asked Calvert, drawing back.
“I guess I know,” said Tracey, recalling the previous interview; “this locket belongs to Rufus.”
“Yes it does,” admitted Mrs. Baldwin, casting apprehensive glances at the door and window, and still grasping the pistol; “where is he?”
“Not here,” said Tracey, and strove to take the pistol away. But Mrs. Baldwin resisted.
“He will come,” she said, “and I must be ready,” and with that she replaced the pistol under the pillow.
“What does she mean?” asked Calvert in a whisper.
“Never mind,” returned the American much discomposed, “ask her about the locket. She’s queer, that’s all.”
“The locket—the locket,” murmured Mrs. Baldwin, beginning to weep; “I gave it to Rufus when I thought he wasn’t a brute. My portrait is in it. I was a young girl—”
“Will you look at it?” said Calvert, passing the locket.
Mrs. Baldwin shrank back as though she had been asked to handle a snake. “No, I dare not. He has worn it. Did he give it to you; or,” she asked vindictively, “was it taken from his dead body?”
“It was taken from a dead hand.”
“From the hand of Rufus. Is he dead? Am I free? Oh, great heavens, am I free?” and Mrs. Baldwin clapped her hands hysterically.
“No. It was taken from the hands of the woman who was killed at Ajax Villa. Evidently the man who wore it—”
“Rufus,” whispered Mrs. Baldwin—
“Had a struggle with his victim. She might have seen the blow coming, and putting out her hand to ward it off, must have clutched the locket as it hung to the watch-chain.”
“Rufus wore it on his watch-chain,” said Mrs. Baldwin; “it is his locket. I gave it to him. He is a burglar. Now he is a murderer. He will come and kill me. Where’s the pistol?” and she fumbled under the sofa-pillow, grey with fear.
“We don’t know that he’s a murderer yet,” said Tracey soothingly; “you go slow, ma’am.”
“I tell you if that locket was found in the dead woman’s hand, Rufus killed her,” said Mrs. Baldwin, crushing her hands together.
“What is Rufus like in looks?” asked Tracey.
“Fat and red-faced, with grey hair. Always smiling—always smiling—a kind-looking man—with a black heart. A criminal—a brute, a—”
“Tracey,” interrupted Arnold, rising, “she is describing Jasher.”
“That’s so,” said the American, without surprise; “ever since Bocaros confessed that Jasher was his friend I have suspected. Well, now we know at last who killed Mrs. Brand.”
“Another woman—another woman,” moaned Mrs. Baldwin, “another victim.”
“It will be his last,” said Tracey grimly; “thank God he’s not Gerty’s poppa. I’m sorry for the children, though.”
Mrs. Baldwin rose. “They must never know—never!”
“If Jasher, or Rufus as you call him, is caught he’ll speak out, and the whole business will come to light,” said Tracey.
“I don’t know about that,” said Arnold, with a troubled look; “let us see what we can do. Perhaps Jasher may be innocent.”
“If there was murder to be done he did it,” said Mrs. Baldwin, in a sharp manner; “do what you like, but keep the man out of my life. I’m dangerous. Quite as dangerous as he is.”
“It’s all right. You say nothing,” said Tracey, and thereupon made Mrs. Baldwin lie down. Then he sent Arnold to wait for him outside, and soothed the woman. When he came out, he walked in silence to the gate. “I’ve mailed that letter,” he said, “and sent a wire also. You bet Jasher, not suspecting anything wrong, will be at the little house yonder to-night.”
“Will we get in the police?”
“Not just yet,” said Tracey hesitatingly; “you see, he’s Gerty’s step-father after all. I guess we’ll make him confess, and then chuck him out of the country. I don’t want him to be arrested.”
“We can’t be sure of his guilt yet, either.”
“No. That’s a fact. Bocaros is keeping something back.”
“What about Mrs. Baldwin?”
“She’s all right. I’ve got her quiet. So long as this man doesn’t cross her track she’ll lie still. If he does—”
“Well. What if he does?”
“She’ll drop him with that pistol of hers.”
“Nonsense. She can’t shoot!”
“She’ll get the bullet into the heart of Jasher somehow, if he is her husband, as seems likely. The woman is mad with fear, and she’ll get him out of her life somehow. I say, Calvert, don’t say anything to any one of the rubbish she talks.”
“No I won’t—not if she shoots Jasher. And if he’s the murderer, it would be about the best thing that could happen. For the sake of Mrs. Fane and the child, for Laura’s sake, I want things hushed up.”
“Same here,” assented Tracey, “for the sake of Gerty and the kids. And for Momma Baldwin’s sake also,” he added; “I’m real sorry for her. She’s a good sort, and will sleep better when Jasher’s caught.”
“But, I say, Tracey, why should Jasher have killed Flora Brand?”
“Can’t say, unless it has to do with the money. But you go slow, we’ll get at the truth this night.”
Nothing more was said at the time, and with Luther, Calvert drove back to town. The play had ceased to run, so his evenings were now his own. He and the American had a meal in a Soho restaurant, but neither ate very much. When the meal was ended Tracey proposed to start for the professor’s house at once. But Arnold, calling a cab, first drove to his lodgings. When there he produced two Derringers, and giving one to Tracey, put the other into his pocket.
“But what’s this for?” asked Tracey.
“I think there’s going to be a row,” said Arnold, leading the way downstairs. “Jasher will show fight if he is the villain Mrs. Baldwin makes him out to be. Then there’s Bocaros. I do not trust Bocaros.”
“Oh, he’s all right,” said Luther, as they entered a hansom; “he’s on the money tack, and so long as you give him the dollars he’ll make it hot for Jasher.”
“Do you think Bocaros knows the truth?”
“I’m sure of it. He only told so much as he was obliged to this afternoon. A deep cuss is the professor. I say, it’s raining!”
“Worse,” said Arnold, drawing up the collar of his coat, “a mist is coming on. We’ll get lost in those fields.”
“Don’t mind, so long as Jasher don’t get lost.”
The cab drove on. The fog was not very thick in town, but as they neared Troy it became more dense. By the time they turned down Achilles Avenue a dense white pall lay over the earth, and the air was as cold as a December day. The cabman professed his inability to drive them further. On hearing this Tracey hopped out, followed by Calvert. “It’s just as well,” said the latter; “we don’t want to make the thing too public.”
He paid the cabman lavishly, and then the two men set off down the side-road which ran through the ancient village of Cloverhead. They passed along the lane which led to the stile on the verge of the fields, and at the back of the manor saw a light on the ground floor. “Mrs. Baldwin’s bedroom,” said Tracey as they jumped the stile; “she’s in bed early—it’s just eight o’clock. I guess her nerves have given way.”
“I wonder she isn’t afraid to sleep on the ground floor,” said Arnold.
“Oh, she’s only lost her nerve lately. She didn’t mind before. I guess she’ll change her bedroom soon and get up to the garret. Say, what a fog.”
It was indeed a thick white fog, and to make things more uncomfortable it was raining steadily. The low-lying meadows underfoot were slushy, muddy, and slippery. The two men toiled through the dense curtain of mist more by instinct than by sight. Tracey knew the path to the little house well, as he had often passed over the fields to see Bocaros. By the feel of their boots they managed to keep to the somewhat irregular path which ran from the stile, and so by devious ways they succeeded in making their way across the waste. At last they came to gorse bushes looming out of the fog, and beyond this was a dim yellow light.
“I guess the professor hasn’t disappointed us,” said Tracey, as they felt their way to the door; “he’s in there.”
“Alone, probably,” said Calvert.
Tracey shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe. It’s not the night to tempt a cat out let alone a comfortable scoundrel like Jasher, who hates, I bet, to get his feet wet. But the business is urgent, else Bocaros would not send for him, so fog or no fog, he’s there.”
But Tracey was wrong. When they entered the warm study and took off their coats they formed a trio with the professor. He explained that Jasher had not arrived. Then they sat down and talked over the matter. The Greek had by this time turned King’s evidence to save his own skin, and to get money out of Calvert.
“But you didn’t tell us everything this afternoon?” said Arnold.
“What else there is to be told will be explained when Jasher is here,” replied the Greek grimly; “it won’t be pleasant for him.”
“Guess there’s no honour amongst thieves,” muttered Tracey, toasting his steaming feet. “Say, professor,” he added aloud, “why do you call that low-down cuss Jasher?”
“Has he another name?” asked Bocaros.
“He’s bad enough to have a dozen names,” growled Tracey, who did not intend to give away Mrs. Baldwin’s secret, for Bocaros was just the man to make capital out of it. He had only made a tentative attempt to see if Bocaros knew anything of the matter. Apparently he did not, and to him Jasher was simply the private inquiry-agent he represented himself to be.
While they were thus talking a soft knock came to the window. The Greek put his finger to his lips and nodded silently. Evidently this was Jasher’s private signal. When Bocaros left the room to admit his confederate—for Jasher was nothing more and nothing less—the young men felt for their revolvers. It was not likely that Jasher would give in without a struggle, and a show of force might be necessary. Arnold’s heart thrilled at the coming fight, and Tracey’s eyes glittered. “It might be a clearing out West,” he whispered Calvert, “with judge Lynch holding his court.”
Jasher, round and ruddy and as complacent as ever, entered in the wake of Bocaros. He had no idea that the Greek had betrayed him, for he shook hands—he insisted on shaking hands—with much gusto. “I am glad you are here, Mr. Calvert,” said he, sitting down. “I have much to say. But what brings you to this quarter?”
“We have made a few discoveries ourselves,” said Calvert, “and we came to talk them over with the professor.”
“Why, the professor knows nothing,” said Jasher, still quite unsuspicious. “Let me hear what you have found out.”
“On the contrary, I should like to hear of your discoveries.”
“Well,” said Jasher, gazing into the fire, “it seems to me that Fane committed the crime. He came up from Southend, and he was at the villa on that night. I’ve an idea he knew this woman.”
“What was she to him?” asked Arnold calmly.
“I have heard it said she was his wife.”
“Why don’t you say straight out what you know?” broke in Tracey; “I guess you knew the truth from Bocaros.”
“Bocaros!” Jasher, with sudden suspicion, leaped to his feet, and his little eyes glittered. “What’s that?”
“This much,” said the Greek, also rising, “I have told these gentlemen all I know. Ah—”
“No you don’t,” said Tracey, catching Jasher as he hurled himself forward. “Go slow.”
Jasher tried to recover his calm. “This is some joke, gentlemen,” he said, wiping his face and looking at the watchful faces before him. “What does Professor Bocaros know?”
“He knows,” said the Greek, keeping well behind Calvert, “that it was you who suggested the idea of getting Mrs. Brand to make the will in my favour. It was you who put me up to getting the key stolen and duplicated. It was you who wrote those letters luring Mr. Calvert and Miss Mason to the villa so that you might put the blame on them. I never knew you meant murder, Jasher,” said Bocaros, stepping forward, “or I should not have joined with you.”
“This is all lies,” said Jasher faintly.
“It is true. And it was arranged when we found that the woman was dead that I should engage you as a detective so that you might be able to manipulate the case at your will. Owing to the change which Mrs. Brand made in her will, Calvert stood in my way and in yours. It was then that you proposed to fix the guilt of the murder on him.”
“And had I not overslept myself,” said Calvert, his eyes on Jasher, “I should have fallen into your trap.”
“Let me out of this,” said the detected scoundrel, and made a dash for the door. He was met by Tracey, revolver in hand. With an oath he slipped round his hand for his own weapon.
“Hold up your hands or I shoot!” said the Yankee. “Now get back to your seat and tell the truth if it’s in you.”
Sullenly and with all his surface good-nature gone, Jasher, with his hands held over his head, sat down. “It’s a lie—a lie!” he said vehemently, finding his voice in the extremity of his danger. “Bocaros lured the woman to the villa. I came later—a few minutes after ten. I was admitted by him.”
“That’s a lie!” said Bocaros. “You told me you let yourself in with the key of Mrs. Brand.”
“I didn’t. I was not at the villa till after ten—the woman was killed before. I found you standing by the dead body. You killed her.”
“I did not. From the fact that you had the key to enter, I guessed you must have seen Mrs. Brand earlier. You met her, I swear—not I. It was you who stabbed her, and with the dagger which she brought with her to threaten Fane. You arranged all these plans so that you could lay the blame on others. If I did not pay up, you arranged—as you told me—to hunt me down in your character of detective. It was you who killed the woman to get control of the money.”
Jasher had kept his eyes steadily on the face of the professor. When the man finished, he flung up his hands with a wild cry and pointed to the window. “Look! Look! A face!” he shrieked.
The others involuntarily turned. In a moment Jasher whipped out his revolver and dashed out of the door. As he passed Bocaros he fired, and the Greek fell to the floor. “Judas! Judas!” cried the other man, and fled into the darkness.
Calvert remained behind to attend to the wounded man, but Tracey, whose blood was up because of the stratagem of which he had been the victim, dashed after Jasher, revolver in hand. He plunged into the cold mist, running wildly. His foot caught in the stump of a tree, and he fell at full length. In the blinding fog it was useless to attempt pursuit, but Jasher, without coat and hat, could not run far without being questioned by a policeman. The recent crime in Troy had made the police wary, and Jasher would certainly be detained. With this idea, Tracey rose and limped back to the house.
Meanwhile Jasher, who knew the ground well, turned to the left and ran across the meadow. He slipped his weapon into his pocket, and raced hard through the mist. By chance he came against the fence at the back of the manor-house, and saw above the yellow light of Mrs. Baldwin’s bedroom. Jasher knew that she slept there, as for reasons of his own he had made himself acquainted with all that went on in the house. He had heard that his wife was rich because of the rise of land, and had intended to come back with an apology for having taken the diamond necklace. But the chance offered by the murder of Mrs. Brand to get a large sum of money out of Bocaros proved too tempting, and thus Jasher had remained away. Now that he was a fugitive and with—so far as he knew—Calvert and Tracey on his track, he thought he would take refuge with the wife he had treated so badly. He also knew that without hat and coat he would be stopped by the police, and when he dashed out of the professor’s house it was his intention to make for the abode of his wife.
After listening intently and hearing nothing but the steady rain, Jasher, cursing his bad luck, climbed over the fence. He walked up the lawn and mounted the terrace which ran before the windows of Mrs. Baldwin’s bedroom. At the middle window he knocked softly. He heard a cry within, and applying his eyes to a hole in the blind, he saw that his wife was alone, reading in bed. She had half-started up, and had her hand under the pillow.
“Who is there?” asked Mrs. Baldwin sharply.
“Maria. It’s me—Rufus. Let me in. I am in danger!”
“Never! Never! Go away, or I’ll alarm the house.”
Jasher pleaded, and swore, and did all he knew to make her alter her decision. But she would not. He was drenched by the rain, shivering, and hatless. The bloodhounds were on his track. He lost his head, and with a furious oath dashed his whole weight against the window. The frail structure broke inward, and, half blinded, he burst through the curtain. As in a dream he saw his wife wild with terror start from the bed. She raised her hand, and the next moment there came a stunning report. With a yell Jasher threw up his hands and fell. Mrs. Baldwin’s shrieks aroused her daughter, the children, and the servants. They rushed into the room, and found the dead man and the frantic woman.
“A burglar—a burglar,” cried Mrs. Baldwin. “I’ve killed him.” Then she threw up her hands wildly. “Out of my life at last—out of my life!”
The next moment she was lying senseless by the side of the husband she had shot.
So this was the end of the case which so perplexed London and London’s police. But neither the police nor the public came to know the truth, as will appear from a conversation held between Laura and her lover a fortnight after the death of Jasher. As they were to be married, and there were to be no secrets between them, Arnold told her the whole truth, suppressing nothing. Laura wept.
“O Arnold, how terrible it is for Julia! What will she do?”
“She has already made up her mind what to do, and I think she has taken the wisest course.”
“What is that?”
“She will marry Walter Fane quietly and go abroad for a time. Then no one will ever know the truth.”
“But it might come out in other ways.”
“No. I have taken care of that. Derrick, as you know, gave up the case some weeks ago, as he could discover nothing. The only thing he is doing now is watching the Hampstead house for the return of the dead woman’s husband. Of course your brother-in-law will never return there, and so Derrick will grow weary.”
“But did not Jasher confess when he died?”
“Only to me and Tracey, dear. When Mrs. Baldwin shot him under the impression that he was a burglar, he did not die immediately. He was taken to the hospital, but died a few days later. In the interval he sent for me and Tracey, and knowing everything was ended for him, he confessed.”
“Did he exonerate the professor?”
“Arnold did not reply immediately to the question. He was thinking what he should say. Finally he resolved to tell the truth.
“The best thing, Laura, is to say what Jasher told us. We wrote it down, and he signed it in our presence lest any one else should be accused of the crime. I don’t think any one will be, as the murder has been relegated to obscurity. Still, it is best to be on the safe side. I have the confession here. I will read it to you.”
Laura assenting eagerly, Arnold took a sheet or two of foolscap from his pocket and read the confession. It ran as follows:—
“I, Rufus Baldwin, better known as John Jasher, Private Inquiry-Agent, swear as follows, and take my dying oath that what is here set down is true.
“I met Professor Bocaros when I was haunting the place where my wife lived. I got into his confidence, and used to come to his place and talk to him. He never knew that I was Mrs. Baldwin’s husband, as I did not think it was necessary to trust him so far. He told me of his difficulties, and of Mrs. Brand getting the fortune. One night he told me how he had discovered that Brand and Fane were the same. I saw a chance of making money. I told him to hint to Mrs. Brand that her husband was deceiving her, and said that if we could bring them together in Ajax Villa, we could make money out of the affair. Bocaros never thought that murder was intended. He merely fancied that I would come to the villa when the two were together and swear to expose the matter to Mrs. Fane and have Fane prosecuted for bigamy if Mrs. Brand did not pay a large sum. He therefore agreed to my plan.
“Now, my idea was to get Mrs. Brand to make a will in favour of the professor and then murder her, so that I might share the money with him. Also to inveigle him to the villa, so that there might be a chance through circumstantial evidence of proving him to be the guilty person. In order to make things safe for myself in case there should be trouble, I arranged in my own mind that Arnold Calvert, a cousin of Mrs. Brand, and Miss Mason, the girl he was engaged to, should be at the villa. Then, of course, Fane would be there. So I resolved that if necessary the crime should be fixed on Mr. Calvert, on Fane, and on Bocaros. Afterwards, had I thought fit, I could have brought home the crime to Mrs. Fane in my character of detective. I was anxious to make a lot of money and to return to the United States, the only place worth living in, to my mind.
“Bocaros, thinking I meant to act straight, did what I told him. He got Mrs. Brand to take an impression of the latch-key belonging to Fane when—as Brand—he slept in the Hampstead house. She did so, and I got Bocaros to have three keys made—one for himself, one for Mrs. Brand, and one extra. He gave one duplicate key to Mrs. Brand, and kept the other. The third key he left in his room. One day I stole it, and then when he asked denied that I had done so. This key I sent to Calvert in the name of Miss Mason, and asked him to be at the villa at half-past nine or thereabouts. I also sent a letter purporting to be from Calvert to Miss Mason, asking her to be at the house at the same hour. Then I got Bocaros to tell Mrs. Brand to write to her husband asking him to come to Ajax Villa on the night of the twenty-fourth of July. My plans were thus arranged to trap the lot, and I could have added Mrs. Fane, as I found she followed her husband to town on that same night. Had she not lost him at Liverpool Street Station, she would have also been implicated in the matter.
“All being thus arranged, I called for Mrs. Brand on the night in question, and took her to the villa. Bocaros was to have met us, but he, being detained at his school, was late. I entered into the villa with Mrs. Brand, using the latch-key. No one saw us. We went to the White Room, and I told her of her husband’s villainy. I may here mention that it was the professor who introduced me to Mrs. Brand as the man who knew all about the matter. He did this at my request. I had to manage the matter myself, as I intended murder, and the professor was too squeamish.
“I was in the White Room with Mrs. Brand. She was much disturbed over the matter. Drawing a dagger she had in her pocket, she declared she would kill Fane. I suppose she indulged in this theatrical attitude because she was half a Greek and excitable. The dagger, as she said, was one which had been bought by Mr. Calvert for stage purposes. He left it in her house by mistake. I managed to calm Mrs. Brand, and took the dagger from her. She sat at the piano. I came behind her, and lifted my arm to strike. As the stiletto struck her she gave a cry and turned desperately on me. She clutched at my watch-chain and tore therefrom a locket I wore, which contained a portrait of my wife. I did not discover my loss till afterwards. Then she died. I left her there and went away. Afterwards Fane came and found her dead. He concealed the dagger in the dustbin. While doing this Miss Mason came to the door. Finding that Mr. Calvert was not there she went away. Then the professor, being late, came. I had taken the key from the body of the dead woman, and entered after him. There was no one about. I went upstairs and found Bocaros looking at the dead. I accused him of the deed. He denied it, and indeed was innocent. However, it suited my purpose to accuse him, as it gave me more power. I led him away. Afterwards Calvert came and went away, afraid lest he should be accused. Fane finally escaped by using Tracey’s motor-car. So all were out of the house when the body was discovered by Mulligan.
“These are the true facts of the case. Afterwards Bocaros, on his way to see about the will, came to my office and engaged me to look after the case. He did this at my desire, so that I could turn the evidence as I chose. Then Bocaros found that Mrs. Brand had cheated him, and had given the money to Calvert. Why she did so I do not know, unless it was that she liked Calvert the best. However, the money being gone, I wanted to get it. I therefore arranged that the blame of the crime should fall on Calvert. He, quite unsuspicious of my ends, engaged me to hunt down the assassin. I was hunting down him. Had he not overslept himself he would have been at the villa at the time of the commission of the crime, and I would have caught him in my net. Then I would have made a lot of money.
“As it was, Tracey’s discovery of the diary led to the detection of Fane, and Fane’s confession led to the production of the locket which Mrs. Brand held in her dead hand. Then Bocaros grew frightened and told the truth. The result was that I was in danger of arrest, and, with the locket, the crime would most certainly have been brought home to me.
“I sought shelter with my wife, but she shot me. She said she thought I was a burglar. I suppose she did, and—”
Here Laura interrupted the reading. “Surely Mrs. Baldwin did think he was a burglar,” she said indignantly.
“Of course,” said Arnold quickly; “for certain she did, Laura. Had she known he was her husband, little as she loved him, she would not have fired the shot. And you remember the jury brought in a verdict exonerating Mrs. Baldwin.”
“I’m glad of that,” said Laura thoughtfully. “Read on, dear.”
“There’s no more,” said Arnold, returning the confession to his pocket. “I shall put this in the deed-box at Laing and Merry’s, to be used should occasion arise, though I don’t think it ever will. So that ends the whole matter. We can get married as soon as possible, Laura, and thank heaven our troubles are over.”
While Laura and Arnold were thus talking in one room, Mrs. Fane was having a conversation with her husband in another. Walter Fane, bowed with shame, was half lying on the sofa, and Mrs. Fane was pacing the room. He had just confessed all, and his wife’s cheeks were crimson with anger.
“O you coward—you mean, pitiful coward!” she said fiercely, “how dare you marry me, to bring me to this shame! I thought you were only a fool. But you are a knave and worse than a knave. That poor creature’s death lies at your door.”
“I did not kill her,” moaned Fane, burying his face in the cushions.
“Not in fact, but otherwise you did. Had you not led this double life the tragedy would never have happened.”
“Well, it has happened and everything’s at an end,” said Fane, sitting up sullenly. “Calvert has stifled all inquiry. Nothing will ever be known, unless you give the thing away.”
“What do you take me for?” cried Mrs. Fane, turning on him. “Do you think I am going to pose as a disgraced woman with your friends and mine? I made you confess something of this when you came back to Southend. I shielded you in my interview with Bocaros, so that you should not be suspected. But I never thought Mrs. Brand was your wife—you liar!”
“What’s the use of calling names?” said Fane, still sulky.
“None—none. I have a good mind to leave you for good and all.”
“Why don’t you, then?”
“Because, after all, you are my child’s father. Besides, you are a poor miserable creature, who can’t look after yourself. I shall still continue to be your wife. We must be married again quietly and go abroad for a time, as was our original intention. Then we will come back, and I shall get a farm down the country near London, so that I can come up to look after the business. After this I shall manage the whole business myself You will be a cipher.”
“I always have been,” muttered Walter.
“Well, that is arranged, so we need say nothing more about the matter. Let us be friends. I can’t love you—I can’t respect you; but for the child’s sake let us be friends.”
“You’ll only bully me,” said Walter hopelessly. “No,” said Mrs. Fane, in a softer voice. “You poor creature, God forbid I should be hard on you. I am a strong-minded woman, but I am not a tyrant. I will look after you, since you are so weak, and do my best.”
“Thank you,” said Walter, “you are very good.” And he meant what he said, for the woman’s superior will and mind enforced respect.
Mrs. Fane looked at him in silence; then—a rare thing with her—she moved towards him and kissed him. “Let us talk no more about the matter,” she said. “The old life is ended—the new has begun. Let us talk of other things.”
“The marriage of Calvert, for instance.”
“I owe Mr. Calvert an apology,” said Mrs. Fane slowly. “I did not like him, but he has behaved nobly. But for his discretion the whole affair might have come out in the papers, to my lasting disgrace. I give my consent to the marriage with all my heart, and I hope that Laura will prove herself worthy of such a good man.”
So things were arranged in this quarter, and Walter Fane got off much easier than he deserved, considering his behaviour. Mrs. Fane told Arnold of her intentions, and then thanked him for his kindness. After Laura’s marriage, which took place in a couple of months, they became the best of friends.
And it was at the marriage that Mrs. Tracey appeared so beautiful in the character of a bride.
“She’s a clipper, is Gerty T.,” said the happy bridegroom. “I’m going to take her to the States to show what a beauty she is. The business is humming and the money pouring in, so off we go to the U.S.A.”
“I wish you joy with all my heart, Laura,” said Gerty, embracing the bride. “And Arnold’s such a nice fellow, and you are so rich.”
“Yes, we are. We intend to take a place in the country, and be quiet people. Arnold and I like a rural life.”
“I hear Mrs. and Mr. Fane have gone abroad.”
“Yes. They will be back in a few months, and then they will take a place down the country also.”
“I suppose they couldn’t stand the villa, after the tragedy?”
“Who could? Since they left it no one has taken it, and the landlord intends to pull it down to exorcise the ghost. How is your mother, Gerty dear?”
“Oh, she’s happier than ever she has been. She seems to have grown younger since she shot the burglar.”
And then the two brides went on to talk of other things. Meantime, Luther Tracey drew aside Calvert into a corner. “Say,” was his remark, “I haven’t seen you for a time since I’ve been away on my honeymoon. What of the professor?”
“Oh, he has gone back to Greece, quite recovered from his wound. I allow him an income sufficient to keep him alive.”
“He shouldn’t have had anything. You’re too good.”
“He did act badly; but, after all, I don’t think the poor creature is quite sane. He is married also—yes—Mrs. Fane’s maid, Emily Doon.”
“Hum!” said the American. “I guess he was sane enough to get a handsome bride, though. I never trusted that girl. She had something to do with the case.”
“Don’t talk of the case,” said Arnold, shuddering. “When I think how near we all were getting into the most terrible trouble through that scoundrel—No, he’s dead, let us not call him names. His evil is buried with him. But one thing, Tracey. Did Mrs. Baldwin really know it was her husband she killed? I know she recognised him afterwards; but when she fired did she know?”
“Rufus said she did, but out of consideration for the children he had the decency not to put that into the confession. I believe she knew all the time, and is glad she killed him.”
“Does she ever allude to him?”
“No. She’s settled down to her old lazy life, eating sweets and reading novels. I don’t think she’ll ever mention his name till her dying day. And Gerty T. knows nothing about it. I hear Mrs. Baldwin’s going to sell her land and move further into town; but she never will. When Gerty T. and I return from the States we’ll find her in the old shanty. By the way, she’s pulled down the professor’s house.”
“To get rid of all memories connected with the case, I suppose. Well, I’m glad it’s ended. It was terrible.”
“Arnold, are you coming?”
This was from the bride. Afterwards the happy pair departed for a honeymoon on the Continent, and discussed their future plans. “You must let me furnish the house, dear,” said Laura; “I have such taste.”
“You have; you chose me to be your husband. But don’t have a White Room.”
“I never will,” said Laura. “Arnold, never mention that place again.”
And Arnold never did. So after all the trouble came the peace and calm, and the two, happy in one another, soon forgot the terrible case. The public also forgot it, and the White Room itself has disappeared.
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