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Title: The Red-Headed Man Author: Fergus Hume * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1700811h.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. - An Extraordinary Crime
Chapter 2. - The Blonde Lady
Chapter 3. - Mr. Torry’s Theory
Chapter 4. - The Dead Man’s Name
Chapter 5. - “De Mortius Nil Nisi Bonum”
Chapter 6. - The Secretary
Chapter 7. - Evidence At The Inquest
Chapter 8. - The Robbery
Chapter 9. - Captain Manuel
Chapter 10. - Donna Maria
Chapter 11. - Unexpected Evidence
Chapter 12. - A Chance Meeting
Chapter 13. - A Soldier Of Fortune
Chapter 14. - The Secret Society
Chapter 15. - A Woman Scorned
Chapter 16. - The Turquoise Ring
Chapter 17. - More Mysteries
Chapter 18. - A Strange Occurrence
Chapter 19. - Another Puzzle
Chapter 20. - The Unexpected Happens
Chapter 21. - Donna Maria Explains
Chapter 22. - The Locket
Chapter 23. - A Confession
Chapter 24. - A Queer Message
Chapter 25. - The Meeting In Hyde Park
Chapter 26. - Conclusion
Frank Darrel was a young man of twenty-five, with a sufficiency of good looks, and a comfortable income of five hundred a year. Also by way of employing his spare time, he was a realistic novelist of a particularly new school, founded on the axiom that fact invariably poaches on the domain of fiction. He neither conceived nor adopted, but set down actual details of the life around him, with so rigid an adherence to the truth that his published works read like police reports re-written in decent English. In a word, he held the mirror up to nature, and presented the reflection, beautiful or ugly, to the criticism of the British public.
To preach thoroughly his gospel of art, as he conceived it, Darrel lived in London, that microcosm of life in all its phases, good, bad, and indifferent. Usually he worked in the morning, slept in the afternoon, amused himself in the evening, and devoted the night from twelve to five to exploring the deeps of the metropolitan ocean. In a disguise of decent poverty more threadbare than ragged, this enthusiast would exploit the dark corners of the Strand, penetrate into Whitechapel slums, and explore the least-known recesses of the City. On occasion he would view the West End and its civilised vices by gaslight, make expeditions into suburbs of known respectability, and, when weary of observing middle class virtue, would haunt less reputable districts in search of character and adventure. All his gleanings were then transmuted into vigorous prose, and figured, under picturesque titles, as novels of fact improved into fiction. This method of shifting the commonplace into romance was adopted by one Honoré de Balzac, with a result known to all the intellectual world. Darrel, with less genius than persevering observation, was a disciple of that great man.
One evening late in the summer of last year, Darrel, disguised as a respectable mechanic, found himself observing humanity within the narrow limits of Drury-lane. The hour of midnight had just boomed in twelve strokes from the towers of near churches, and the ragged, hoarse-voiced crowd was beginning to thin into scattered groups. Vendors of various wares had extinguished their flaring lights, and had wheeled home their barrows. Playgoers, chattering about their evening’s pleasure, were disappearing into side streets; shops were being closed; hotel-keepers were driving forth late customers more or less intoxicated; and the whole machinery of the quarter’s civilisation was running down rapidly, to stop altogether somewhere about the small hours of the morning. Frank, with a short pipe in his mouth, and a keen eye in his head, stood observingly at a corner, and took note of this slackening. It was at this moment that his attention was attracted to a red-headed man.
This individual was tall and stout. He was dressed in a seedy suit of greasy broadcloth; and his hair and beard were a violent red. He seemed restless and ill at ease, passed and re-passed young Darrel, looked into the window of a still open shop, glanced at a near policeman with obvious nervousness, and conducted himself so uncomfortably that the novelist began to watch him.
“That fellow wants to do something,” he thought, “and can’t make up his mind to take the first step. I’ll bet a criminal matter occupies his thoughts. I’ll keep my eye on him.”
Shortly the red-headed man walked past Frank with a resolute air, and disappeared down a dark lane to the left. Darrel, after some hesitation was about to follow, when the creature returned, and again, began his restless wanderings in the more populated lane. Once or twice he paused near the policeman, as though wishing to ask him some question, and once or twice his heart so failed him that he turned away, with a look of anxiety. Then he caught sight of Darrel, and advanced directly towards him; but again flinched and wilted away. At once interested and puzzled, Frank turned to observe the shop window, but in the meantime watched the red-headed man out of the corner of his eye. His appearance and behaviour promised an adventure.
For the third time this vacillating individual stepped up to the policeman and almost opened his mouth to speak; but before he could utter a word he shrank away, and placed himself at the shop-window next to Frank. The young man, apparently indifferent, out of diplomacy, became aware that he was being scrutinised; and judged that the man was debating the advisability of speaking to him. The next moment, his judgment proved correct.
“I beg your pardon,” whispered the red-haired man in husky tones, “but could you tell me the whereabouts of Mortality-lane?”
“It is close at hand,” replied Frank readily. “I’ll take you there if you like.”
“Thank you, no,” said the other hurriedly; “just tell me where—”
“I can’t explain,” answered Darrel, cutting him short. “You would not be able to find it in this network of streets. If you don’t trust me, ask that policeman to guide you.”
The man winced and drew a quick breath, then looked again at Frank. “You are an educated man,” said he—“a gentleman.”
“I might say the same of you,” rejoined Darrel, who had noted the refined accent of the man, “but that is neither here nor there. Mortality-lane is to the left. Good-night, sir.”
“Stay, stay!” cried the red-headed man as Darrel moved away. “I trust you; please guide me to the place.”
Ever sparing of words, Frank nodded and turned down a side street, followed by his companion, who walked beside him in a cat-like way. In the narrow street there was but scant light, as the gas lamps were few and far between; still, the luminosity of the summer night revealed to Darrel that his companion kept at a respectful distance and had his right hand in the breast of his seedy coat. Evidently he was nervous of his guide, and feared a sudden assault in some dark corner. From this obvious fear Darrel concluded that his companion was not a criminal; and, moreover, carried some valuables about him which he dreaded might be stolen. On further reflection, the novelist decided that the red-headed man was a disguised gentleman, who was venturing into strange places and stranger company on some disreputable errand. Darrel wondered what his purpose might be, but did not think it advisable to ask questions; nor, as he mentally admitted, had he the right to do so.
The two men walked onward in silence. The one a little in advance of the other. Turning down one street, crossing a second, walking up a third, they at length emerged into a small open space in which stood three four-wheeled cabs. Opposite the first of these, on the further side of the square, as it might be called, there was a narrow alley, and to this Darrel pointed.
“Yonder is Mortality-lane,” he said, “but it is not a very safe place for a single person. If you like, I’ll go down—”
“No—no,” interrupted the red-headed man eagerly, “you have shewn me where it is; that is all I wish to know.”
“Are you not going down the lane?” asked Darrel in surprise.
“On the contrary, I am going home,” replied the man; then adding in an abrupt tone, “Good-night,” he walked towards the first cab and spoke a few words to the driver. Darrel saw that he gave the cabman some money, then disappeared into the cab, closing the door after him. For two or three minutes the driver occupied himself in taking the blanket off his horse and adjusting the harness. Then he mounted the box and drove off slowly in the direction of the Strand.
At once a wild desire came on Darrel to ascertain the reason of the red-headed man’s strange behaviour. Almost without thinking he crossed over to the second cab and opened the door.
“Follow that first cab,” said he to the driver, “and I’ll give you half a sovereign.”
“Hullo!” replied the man, noting suspiciously the dress of his fare, “wot’s yer little game?”
“Police business worth half a sovereign,” was Darrel’s diplomatic reply.
“Blimme, that’s all right, sir,” said the driver, accepting this explanation with alacrity. “Jump in, an’ I’ll ketch up t’other keb in two shakes!”
Confident that the driver would earn his money, Darrel lay back on the cushions, and wondered what would be the outcome of his pursuit. That the red-headed man should have turned away at the very goal towards which he had requested guidance was most extraordinary. If he had no special business in Mortality-lane, why had he inquired for it? and if he had a reason for going, and his reason was an innocent one, why did he not ask the policeman in Drury-lane instead of applying to a complete stranger? Frank, ever on the alert for romance, asked himself these questions, but could find no answer to them. However, he hoped to gratify his curiosity when he caught up with the stranger who was the cause of it—provided the stranger was willing to afford an explanation.
The cab—presumably following the other vehicle—drove down Bell-street, and turned into the Strand, now almost emptied of traffic. It rolled along the thoroughfare as far as Trafalgar-square, then turned down Northumberland-avenue, passed along the Embankment, and up Arundel-street into the Strand again. Darrel was greatly puzzled by this circular route—the more so when he found his cab driving up Drury-lane. Then a sudden thought struck him.
“The red-headed man fancied I was watching him,” he said to himself, “and drove away to get rid of me. I should not be surprised if the first cab, with him inside, returns to the entrance to Mortality-lane.”
This proved to be the case, for following almost the same route as he had conducted the stranger, the first four-wheeler drove into the little square and took up its old station at the mouth of the lane. But by this time the third cab left behind had disappeared.
“‘Ere y’are, sir!” said Darrel’s driver, opening the door. “We’ve both come back ‘ome an’ never stopped the whole bloomin’ time. Carn’t mek out wot ‘Enry’s fare’s bin arter.”
Frank, as puzzled as the cabman, jumped out, and, walking to the first vehicle, looked inside. To his surprise, the red-headed man had vanished.
“Wot’s wrong with moy keb, mister,” said the gruff voice of the driver.
“The man—the man with the red hair?” inquired the amazed Darrel.
“Oh, ‘e’s all right. Don’t y’ fret yerself about ‘im. Wot y’ poll-pryin’ ‘ere for, eh?”
“Y’d best taike care, ‘Enry,” remarked the other cabman, sauntering up. “This gent’s to do with the perlice.”
The insolence of Henry gave place at once to respect. “Didn’t know you was a ‘tec, sir. Might the cove with carrots be wanted?”
“He might be,” said Darrel, not thinking it wise to disclaim the profession attributed to him by the two cabmen. “When did he get out?”
“Well, y’ see, sir, he were never in, so to speak.”
“What do you mean?”
“‘Twas this way, sir. The carrots cove comes ‘ere, an’ sez: ‘A man’—you, sir—’’e’s follerin’ me. I’ll give y’ five bob to let me pass through yer keb an’ down thet there lane. Then,’ sez he, ‘jes y’ drive orf an’ drive back, an’ y’ can pick me up and taike me ‘ome.’ So while I was talking the blannkit orf he whips in at one door, an’ out of t’other, and down thet lane like mad. I drives orf, an’ larfs when I sees you was follerin’. So ‘ere I am back agin t’ pick ‘im up; but I don’t see the bloomin’ cove,” concluded Henry, with a glance round.
It was with great amazement that Darrel listened to the story of the cabman. Strange indeed must have been the errand of the red-haired man to Mortality-lane, when he was so suspicious of a stranger and took such elaborate precautions against discovery. The word discovery no sooner flashed into Darrel’s brain than he repeated it aloud. Discovery of what? With, perhaps, unpardonable curiosity, Frank made up his mind to acquaint himself with the reason of the man’s strange conduct.
“Well,” said he in reply to Henry, “I’ll wait here with you until this man reappears.”
“Y’ll wait by yerself, then,” said Henry, getting on his box. “It’s past one o’clock, an’, fare or no fare, I ain’t a-goin to stay all night.”
When he drove off Darrel was left alone with the other cabman, and turned towards him in some perplexity. “Are you going too?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. Moy missus’ll be expecting me,” replied the man; “But,” he added, taking down one of the cab lamps, “If y’ think the gent’s in that lane I’ll go down with yer, an’ look him up. Then I can drive y’ both t’ Bow-street.”
With great alacrity Frank assented to this, and they went down the middle of the lane. As the gas lamps were few, the cabman flashed the light he carried from right to left. Mortality-lane is not very long, and they were soon close to the end where it opens into Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Here the cabman uttered an oath as he stumbled over a body. Darrel looked, and, in the circle of the light cast by the carriage candle, beheld the red-haired man stone dead, with an ugly wound over the heart.
On Monday morning Darrel lingered over his breakfast, considering the woful issue of his Saturday night’s adventure. The alarm having been given by Bike, the cabman, the police had taken charge of the body and of the case and had requested Darrel to hold himself in readiness to be called as a witness. But the novelist, although willing to give evidence, wished to take a more active part in the matter. He desired to learn the motive for the crime, to discover the criminal, and ascertain by what means the murdered man had been lured to his death in Mortality-lane. In a word, Darrel wanted to change from spectator into actor, and to turn detective for the unriddling of this extraordinary enigma. To him the experience as he conceived, would be a liberal education in literary work.
While thus meditating, a card was brought to him inscribed, rather abruptly, with the curt name, “Torry.” Who he might be Darrel could not guess, but the owner of this baronial appellation seemed to think that it was sufficient to introduce him, as one not unknown to renown. Somewhat amused by this hinted vanity, Darrel gave orders that the visitor should be admitted, and speedily found himself face to face with a short little man, smiling and voluble. Mr. Torry was extremely stout, with a plump, red-cheeked face, clean-shaven; very white teeth, and a fringe of scanty brown hair encircling a polished bald head. At first sight he looked a kindly, frivolous creature, but a closer inspection shewed that his eyes contradicted this opinion. These were of a greyish-blue, keen and penetrating, and changed colour in accordance with the emotions in their owner’s mind. A man with such eyes could not be a fool, and, with characteristic caution, Darrel held his peace until the visitor should explain his business.
This was done in a moment.
“I have called,” said Mr. Torry, taking a chair uninvited, “to see you about this Mortality-lane affair.”
“From Scotland Yard?”
“From New Scotland Yard, to be precise. I am Torry the detective, and the case I spoke of has been placed in my hands for elucidation.”
“I am very glad to see you, Mr. Torry,” cried Darrel eagerly, “and any evidence I can give is at your disposal. But I have a favour to ask of you.”
“A favour!” cried Mr. Torry, in his turn, “Granted. I love doing favours.”
“Then do me this one,” said Frank. “Let me assist you in the conduct of this case.”
Mr. Torry’s eyes flashed like steel, and his mouth shut with a snap on the curt query: “Why?”
“Well,” said Darrel slowly, “you see, I am a novelist who tries to set forth things as they are, for the benefit of the B. P. I have written one or two detective novels, and have explained the mysteries of divers crimes, simply because, in the first instance, I invented those crimes. To parody Gilbert’s song, I made the crime fit the discovery, and, so to speak, built up a house of cards, to be knocked down in the final chapter. Now here, Mr. Torry,” pursued the young man with uplifted finger, “here is a crime in actual life, of chance’s own making, which I, not having conceived, cannot elucidate. I, therefore, wish to set my wits to work, in order to learn if they will serve me as well in fact as they have done in fiction. I desire to take an active part in the working out of this real problem, to see if my literary method of detective analysis is correct. On these grounds—purely selfish ones, I fear—I ask you to let me assist you.”
Mr. Torry, who had listened to this long speech with his head on one side like an elderly bird, nodded at its conclusion. “I need not take time to consider your request,” said he briskly; “you shall be my right hand if you will; but”—more gravely—“on one condition.”
“And that is?—”
“That you let me guide you in every way, and that you take no step without consulting me.”
“Surely! I am only too glad to bow to your experience and judgment.”
“Then that settles it; we are partners. Your hand, Mr. Darrel,” and novelist and detective shook hands on their agreement.
After coming to this conclusion, they settled themselves to discuss the important matter which had brought them together.
“Our task is to find out who killed this red-haired man, I suppose?” said Darrel slowly.
“Well, not exactly, sir. You see, I know who killed him,” replied the detective, nodding.
Frank jumped to his feet. “You know who killed him?” he cried in amazement.
“Yes. A lady with fair hair.”
“Are you sure?”
“Going by circumstantial evidence, I am.
“But are you sure? How do you know? Is she arrested?” The questions poured out of Darrel’s mouth until Torry stopped him with a gesture.
“She is beyond the power of the law,” said he.
“Dead!” cried Darrel, recoiling.
“Precisely; and committed within an hour of the other. Red-hair was murdered, presumably, between the hours of twelve and one o’clock. Fair-hair was stabbed between one and two, also presumably.”
“It seems all presumption, Mr. Torry.”
“Naturally,” replied the detective, “and must continue so, until the post-mortem examination, which takes place to-morrow at three.”
“Where was the woman’s body found?”
“On the Embankment, to be precise,” added Torry using his favourite phrase. “The corpse was discovered on the steps of Cleopatra’s Needle leading down to the water.”
“Oh!” said Darrel thoughtfully; “then the presumption is that the assassin tried to throw the body of his victim into the river?”
“I think so; but probably he was interrupted while dragging it down the steps and was forced to fly.”
“Who found the body?”
“A tramp who went to wash his hands in the river at six o’clock in the morning. I was busy examining the clothes of the red-haired man, when I heard of this new murder. Learning that it was a woman, I hurried off to view the body.”
“Had you any particular reason for this haste?” asked Frank.
“I had a theory,” rejoined Torry reflectively. “Rather far-fetched, to be sure; still a feasible theory. See here!”
From his breast the detective produced a narrow strip of black lace much torn, and threw it on the white cloth of the breakfast-table. Darrel looked at it casually, and then glanced inquiringly at Torry.
“That lace,” explained Torry, “was in the left hand of the red-haired man; therefore I judged that when stabbed by the assassin he put out his hand to ward off the blow and mechanically clutched at the garments of his assailant. Now men do not wear lace, so I naturally concluded that the person who killed him was a woman. You follow me?”
Darrel nodded. “Yes, your theory is a natural one. But how did you connect the one woman with the other?”
“Well,” said Torry, smoothing his bald head in a puzzled manner, “you have me there, for I don’t exactly know how I can explain my idea. It was a flash of genius, I suppose. I thought it peculiar that a man should have been murdered by a woman, and then, on the same night, that a woman should have been killed also. The man was stabbed to the heart; the woman was stabbed to the heart. The first was killed in Mortality-lane; the second on the Embankment, no very great distance away. All these facts made me fancy that the one crime might be the outcome of the other.”
“I don’t wonder at your fancy,” said Darrel; “with coincidences the same thought would have occurred to me. So you went to look at the woman’s body?”
“Yes; and I found lace on her mantle similar to that; also half a yard torn off the front. There is about half a yard there,” said Torry, pointing to the lace on the table; “in fact, I have no doubt but that the woman murdered the man.”
“It seems like it,” assented Darrel; “but who murdered the woman?”
“Ah! that is the problem we have to solve, Mr. Darrel. There is no mark on the woman’s linen, no letter in her pocket, no name on her handkerchief. She seems to have been a well-to-do woman, in easy circumstances, as her clothes are of good material and well made. How to establish her identity I really do not know; there is absolutely no point whence one can start.”
“Why not start from the red-headed man?” suggested Frank.
“Why,” said Torry, pinching his chin between thumb and forefinger, “I might do that if he had not been disguised.”
“Yes; the red hair is a wig, the red beard is false. The deceased is a gentleman of some age nearer sixty than fifty. He has a plump face and a bald head with a fringe of white hair—something like me,” said Mr. Torry in parenthesis, “only my hair is brown. The man is clean-shaven and has several teeth stopped with gold.”
“You think he is—or rather was—a gentleman?”
“I’m sure of it. His hands and feet are carefully attended to, and his linen is beyond reproach.”
“Ha! His linen. Is there no mark on it?”
“There is. He changed his outward garments, but not his linen or socks—which shows that he was an amateur in disguising himself. A man who was in the habit of masquerading for evil purposes would have changed from top to toe. But this poor creature, not expecting to be murdered, never thought it was necessary to change anything but his outward aspect.”
“Is there a name on his shirt, then?”
“No; there are initials. On his shirt, his undershirt, his pants, and on his socks are two letters, ‘J.G.’ ”
“The initials of his name.”
“I should think so,” replied Torry. “All his underclothes are in good taste and of an expensive quality. I judge him to be a rich man.”
“You speak of him in the present instead of the past,” said Darrel grimly. “He is not a man now, but a thing. Well, Mr. Torry, can’t you trace his identity by those initials?”
“Doubtless; especially as the name of the firm who made the shirt is stamped on the neck of it—Harcot and Harcot, of Bond-street. Oh, I don’t think there will be any difficulty in identifying the man; but it will be more difficult to discover the name of the woman.”
“I don’t think so,” argued Darrel. “The one crime includes the other. Find out the motive of the woman in killing the man, and you will doubtless be led to discover the reason she was killed herself. I should begin from the clue of the initials.”
“Perhaps I will,” said Torry thoughtfully; “and failing that clue, I’ll try the other.”
“The other! What other?”
“Why,” said the detective, looking directly at his companion, “the clue of the Blue Mummy.”
“The Blue Mummy,” repeated Darrel wonderingly; “what do you mean?”
“Why!” said the detective, “I should rather say, the clue of the two Blue Mummies. Here they are.”
Out of his pocket, Torry produced two little clay images in the shape of mummies, each six inches in length, and coloured a deep blue. The lifeless faces, the swathings and bandages of the rigid forms, were perfectly modelled in clay, and on the breast of each was a representation of the sun rayed round with spiral flames. These idols—as they doubtless were—appeared to be of great antiquity, and were, undoubtedly, fine specimens of ceramic art. That the relics of a dead and gone civilisation should be connected with a modern criminal case, amazed Frank not a little.
“Egyptian workmanship without doubt,” said he, examining one of the little figures, “although I am not learned in such matters. Where did you get them?”
“One was found in the pocket of the dead woman, the other on the ground near the body of the man. Another proof, to my mind, that there is a connection between the two crimes.”
“Curious,” murmured Darrel, his eyes fixed on one of the images. “I wonder what they symbolise. If we could learn we might discover the motive for this double crime.”
“You don’t know the meaning of these idols, I suppose, sir?”
Darrel shook his head. “No,” said he, “but I am acquainted with an Egyptologist who might tell us all about them. I’ll take them to him if you like, Mr. Torry.”
“Take one, as they are precisely the same,” replied the prudent detective, “and ask your friend what it represents; some god no doubt. But look here, Mr. Darrel,” added Torry in a livelier tone, “I have answered all your questions, now you must reply to some of mine.”
“Willingly. What is it you wish to know?”
“Tell me all that took place, from the time you saw the red-headed man in Drury-lane until the moment you discovered his dead body.”
To this natural request Darrel assented at once, and narrated his Saturday night, or rather Sunday morning, adventure in Drury-lane. The detective listened in silence, his keen eyes fixed on the narrator, and when Darrel ceased he put a series of questions to him, noting the replies to the same in a little book. It may be here remarked that Mr. Torry used a cypher known to no one but himself; so, even if he lost his pocket-book, there was no chance of its contents becoming known.
“You say that this man spoke like an educated gentleman?”
“Certainly; his accent was most refined.”
“At what time did he address you first?”
“Shortly after twelve o’clock.”
“How long did it take you to walk to Mortality-lane?”
“Ten minutes, more or less, I should think. Altogether it was twenty minutes past midnight when he left me.”
“The drive to throw you off the scent took some time, I suppose?”
Darrel calculated. “About forty minutes, more or less,” he said. “We got back to Mortality-lane shortly after the clock struck one. Then I had some talk with the cabman who had misled me, according to instructions, and I remember him saying he was going home, because it was after one o’clock.”
“Then the murder must have been committed between half-past twelve and one o’clock in the morning?”
“Yes, I am sure it was. Bike and myself found the corpse shortly after one o’clock. It was still warm,” said Darrel, with a shudder.
“The red-haired man was not at his ease with you, I suppose?”
“On the contrary, he kept a safe distance between us, and all the time he had his right hand in the breast of his coat.”
“Oh, that was a revolver,” said Torry indifferently, “we found it when the body was searched. But,” added the detective with emphasis, “we did not find the valuables he carried.”
“Valuables! What valuables?”
“I can’t say. Papers, or jewels, or money; one of the three, I am certain!”
“But what reason have you to think that he carried valuables?” asked Darrel becoming the questioner in his turn.
Torry shrugged his plump shoulders. “He wouldn’t have carried a revolver else,” he remarked.
“That might have been to protect himself against bad characters, such as he suspected me to be,” objected Frank captiously.
“No,” replied Torry decisively, “I don’t think so. He purposely assumed shabby clothes so that there would be nothing in his appearance to suggest that he was worth robbing. A threadbare vagrant slinking through the midnight streets, would attract no notice save that of a policeman, and he would not dare to use his revolver in that case.”
“Why not?” asked Darrel rather obtusely.
“Because he would have run the risk of arrest, and his real name—which, obviously, he was anxious to conceal—would have come out. No, Mr. Darrel, the dead man had some valuable object, or perhaps, some money, in his possession, and carried the revolver to protect himself against possible robbery; and that supposition,” concluded the detective, rubbing his plump knees “brings me to my theory.”
“To your theory?”
Torry pointed to the image held by Darrel, “To be precise I should say to my clue—the clue of the Blue Mummy.”
“I don’t quite see how you bring this into the matter.”
“Well,” said Torry, “it is all theory, I admit; but my belief is this: The red-haired man carried some valuables, money, jewels, or papers, to the woman in Mortality-lane. When he delivered up the jewel—for the sake of clearness we’ll say jewel—she gave him the Blue Mummy.”
“As a kind of receipt, I suppose. Red-hair took the image in his right hand intending to put it into his pocket. At that moment, having the jewel in her possession, the woman struck at him with the knife she carried, and he, thrusting out his left hand to protect himself, caught at and tore the lace of her mantle. Naturally, as he had received his death-wound—he was stabbed to the heart, you know—the Blue Mummy fell from his clasp and was found on the ground near his body.”
“Very ingenious,” admitted Darrel sceptically, “But pure theory.”
“No doubt. Every detective must theorise to some extent, in order to have a basis to work on. But you must admit that my theory is a feasible one.”
“Certainly, but as regards this second Blue Mummy.”
“Oh! I believe that, after committing the murder, this woman went off to meet her assassin near Cleopatra’s Needle. She gave him the jewels which he doubtless expected to receive, and he gave her, also as a receipt, the image of the second mummy. This she put in her pocket, and was turning away when he stabbed her. Then he tried to throw the body into the water, but, being interrupted, fled, leaving the work undone.”
“But,” objected Darrel, finding flaws with the true instinct of criticism, “why do you suppose that the assassin gave this image to his victim? in the other case when she was the assassin, she gave the mummy to red-hair; it is possible, therefore, that she had this second one in her pocket.”
“Not if my theory is correct,” retorted Torry, nettled. “The woman gave the mummy to red-hair as a receipt for the jewel; in her turn she received the second figure on delivering up the jewel to her assassin.
“Well, admitting as much, why having obtained what he wanted, should he have killed her?”
“Find out that and I’ll find the murderer,” said Torry grimly. “Well, Mr. Darrel, here is your detective novel in real life. What do you think of the plot provided by chance?”
“Plot!” echoed Darrel. “I should rather call it a riddle—and one quite impossible to guess.”
“Ah, sir, you’ll never make a detective if this mystery discourages you so early.”
“But I don’t see how you intend to begin.”
“Well,” said Torry, “in the first place there is the clue of the initials. I’ll go to that shop in Bond-street and find out what the letters ‘J.G.,’ stand for. Thus I may arrive at the identity of the man, and thereby be able to learn about his past life. In his past life I may discover the motive for the crime. In itself the marked shirt is a good starting point, but there is also the clue of the four-wheeler.”
“The four-wheeler?” repeated Frank. “The one driven by Henry which the red-haired man used as a blind, or the second owned by Bike in which I followed?”
“Neither. I am alluding to the third cab which was not on the stand when you returned at one o’clock.”
“I don’t see what that cab has to do with the business.”
“Mr. Darrel! Mr. Darrel!” cried Torry gently. “You may be a good novelist, but, if you’ll pardon my saying so, sir, you are a very bad detective. Is it not reasonable to suppose that the woman, anxious to get as far as possible from the scene of her crime would come up Mortality-lane and jump into the third cab? Also you must not forget that she had a rendezvous at Cleopatra’s Needle, and, perhaps had to drive quickly to be in time.”
“Yes; but coming into contact with a cabman she ran the risk of being—recognised. She must have known that when the murder was discovered the police would probably guess her flight in the four-wheeler, and inquire about her from the driver. He would give her description and—”
“Oh, that is very well!” said Torry, dismissing this objection with a wave of his plump hand, “but the woman never guessed for a moment that chance would intervene; and that by means of her death we should obtain evidence of her crime. She thought she would escape scot-free; also I daresay she was disguised. Or it might be that she was too agitated to pay attention to the risk she ran.
“Anyhow, I am certain that she used the third cab to get away; and I am going to look up the driver.”
“How will you find him?”
“By questioning Henry and Bike. Moreover, he may be on the cab-stand himself. I tell you what. Mr. Darrel,” cried Torry, getting on his short legs, “let us make a division of labour. You go to Harcot and Harcot in Bond-street to find out what is the name attached to the letters, ‘J.G.,’ and I’ll see to the cabman.”
“Very good, Mr. Torry. When and where am I to see you?”
The detective pencilled an address on his card, and threw it across the table. “My private office, where we won’t be disturbed,” said he. “Eighty Craven-street, Strand. Come at four o’clock this afternoon. By the way, you might then be able to give me some information about the idol there.”
“I’ll try,” said Darrel. “My friend lives near the British Museum, so I shall have time to run up and see him. But there is one thing you are not certain of yet.”
“Sir,” replied Mr. Torry drily, “there are many things of which I am not certain. But this special thing—”
“You don’t know if the individual who killed the woman at Cleopatra’s Needle is male or female.”
“A male—a man, I’ll stake my professional reputation on it.”
“Why are you so sure?”
“Why?” echoed the detective, “because the woman ran too great a risk in committing the murder—she would only risk so much for a man.”
Doing is better than dreaming; and a year of experience is worth a century of theorising. All his life Darrel had sat in his study laboriously weaving romances out of such material as he had collected in his wanderings. Now, by a happy chance of fortune, he was about to step out of his ideal world into actual life, and take an active part in a real story. Already fate had laid the foundation of an intricate plot; and it was his business to work out to a fit conclusion the criminal problem presented to him. In his own mind Darrel considered the task impossible.
Conceive the difficulties of the case. A man—name unknown—meets with, and is murdered by, a woman. This woman—also unknown—goes to keep tryst with an individual—either male or female—and is killed by him, or her. This was all the material upon which Darrel had to work, and it may be guessed that his heart failed him at the meagre detail afforded by the affair. The sole clues were two clay images coloured blue; the initials ‘J.G.’ marked on the murdered man’s linen; and the possible chance of extracting useful information from a cabman. Yet starting from these three points, Torry hoped to arrive at the goal he aimed at, viz.: to capture, and condemn, and hang, the guilty individual. Darrel could not with-hold his admiration at the determination of the little man.
“Detective fiction is easier to follow than detective fact,” said Darrel to himself as he prepared to go out. “With the materials supplied by this Mortality-lane case, I could work out a very fair novel. Fate, Fortune, Destiny, or whosoever is designing this actual romance will develop it in quite a different way, no doubt. Well”—he put on his hat—“I am one of the actors in the drama, and it is my turn to step on to the stage. Here goes for an elucidation of the Blue Mummy Mystery.”
Rather amused by his own ideas, Darrel stepped into a hansom, and drove to his friend’s rooms near the British Museum. In his pocket he carried the grotesque little image from which he hoped to learn so much. Luckily the Egyptologist—Patron was his name—proved to be at home, a long, lean savant with grizzled hair and spectacles. He received Darrel very amiably, for they were old friends, and had been fellow-students at Oxford. Frank looked still young and blooming, as was natural at the age of five-and-twenty; but Patron, though barely thirty, was already aged by hard study and a misanthropic temperament. In the hands of this prematurely old individual Darrel placed the image.
“Look at the Egyptian mummy, old fellow,” said he taking a seat, “and tell me what you think of it.”
Mr. Patron stroked his cheek and chin; examined the azure idol through his learned spectacles, and contradicted Frank in a clear, calm voice. “As usual, my dear Darrel, you speak without thinking,” said he, “the image is not Egyptian at all.”
“It is the representation of a mummy,” protested Frank, “and I always understood that the Egyptians were the only people who salted and dried their dead.”
“Then you understood wrongly,” contradicted Patron. “The ancient Peruvians also embalmed their dead. This is the image of a Peruvian mummy.”
“How do you know?” asked Darrel, rather amazed at this remark.
“Don’t you see the representation of the sun on its breast?” snapped the other. “The ancient Peruvians were sun-worshippers. Judging from the solar symbol, I should say that this mummy comes from the tomb of some Inca. It is—what we call—a tomb image.”
“What is that?” questioned the visitor.
Patron cleared his throat, adjusted his spectacles, and prepared for a long historical lecture. “In common with certain Asiatic nations,” said he, “the ancient Peruvians practised the barbarous custom of immolating victims at the obsequies of great men. Sometimes—according to Prescott—a thousand attendants and favourite concubines would be slaughtered, so that they might accompany the dead Inca to his bright mansion in the sun. On occasions, however, the actual slaughter was dispensed with, and images of clay in the form of mummies, such as we see here,” said the savant, pointing to the blue figure, “were substituted for human beings. For every counsellor, or slave, or wife, or attendant, a clay image was placed in the sepulchre of the dead; so that, in such instance, there would be many hundreds of these fictitious mummies arranged round the corpse. The figure we have here is an example of a tomb image. I hope I make myself clear?”
“Perfectly,” rejoined Darrel, slipping the image into his pocket. “But your lecture does not help me in the least.”
“In what way? Where did you get the mummy?” questioned Patron disconnectedly.
“Out of a murdered woman’s pocket.”
“Bless me! how strange! Why was she murdered? And how did she become possessed of so unique a curiosity as a Peruvian tomb-image?
“Patron, my friend, those are two questions to which I am trying to obtain an answer.”
“If I can help you, Darrel—”
“Thank you; Patron; but I fear you can help me no further. Good-day.”
“Good-day, good-day,” replied the Egyptologist hastily; for his mind was already reverting to his own particular work, and he was becoming oblivious to the story told by his visitor. “Good-day;” after which he soared into cloudland.
Darrel went away little satisfied with his visit. He had obtained certain historical information, but none likely to throw any light on the mystery of the double crime. The Blue Mummy was connected with the murders in some concealed way, independent of its archæological merits; and it was this hidden connection which Darrel desired to discover. At present, however, he could not see the slightest chance of gaining the necessary information; therefore, this especial clue was absolutely useless—at all events for the time being. Later on its value might be discovered and utilised; but in the meantime, Frank dismissed it, to follow up the clue of the initials on the linen of the dead man. To accomplish this he drove directly to Bond-street.
The mere fact that the red-haired man—as in the absence of an actual name it is convenient to call him—was in the habit of dealing with Harcot and Harcot, shewed that he must have been, if not rich, at least fairly well off. The shop, as Darrel knew, was a very expensive one, and the goods it supplied were sold at much above their market value, from the fact that they were supposed to be particularly fashionable. Darrel carried with him the shirt of the dead man which had been confided to him by Torry; and this he displayed to the eyes of the senior partner. Mr. Harcot was a tall, stately-looking man, more like a Duke than a shopkeeper, and after examining the shirt through his pince-nez, he inquired loftily what it was Mr. Darrel desired to know. Darrel promptly supplied the information.
“I wish to learn what those initials stand for,” said he, laying his forefinger on the letters ‘J.G.’
“May I ask why!”
Darrel reflected. “I see no reason why you should not know,” he remarked; “but you must respect my confidence.”
“Certainly, sir, certainly,” replied Harcot, whose curiosity was now excited. “Please come this way where we shall not be disturbed.”
The tradesman led the way into a small room partitioned off from the shop by a glass screen and on closing the door of this, he handed Darrel a chair with great politeness.
“I await your explanation, sir,” he said, smoothing out the shirt on the table.
“One moment,” said Frank quickly. “If I tell you my reason for asking this question, and you agree to answer it, can I rely on your being able to give me the desired information?”
“Assuredly, sir. You will observe that under these letters ‘J.G.’ there is a number, one thousand four hundred and twenty. Well, sir, we index, so to speak, all shirts of our manufacture in that way; and—should your reason for seeking information satisfy me—I have only to look up that number in our books to learn for whom this shirt was made.”
“Then you had better do so at once, Mr. Harcot; for thereby you may be able to capture a criminal.”
The tradesman looked amazed. “Capture a criminal?” he repeated.
“Yes. On Sunday morning last, after one o’clock, the man to whom that shirt belonged was murdered.”
“Yes; stabbed to the heart in Mortality-lane.”
“Dear, dear!” cried Mr. Harcot in much agitation. “You don’t say so! I noticed an account of the tragedy in the Star—an early issue, Mr. Darrel, published at two o’clock; but I did not think that a customer of ours was the victim. How very dreadful! Who is the unfortunate gentleman?”
“That is what I wish you to tell me, Mr. Harcot.”
“With pleasure, with pleasure; but if you will excuse my saying so, sir, I did not know that you were an officer of the law.”
“Nor am I,” rejoined Darrel drily. “I am a novelist; but the detective in charge of this case has permitted me to assist him.”
“Oh, indeed, sir,” replied Mr. Harcot, considerably astonished. “If you will permit me, sir, I will look up our books.”
Washing his hands with invisible soap, and bowing politely, Mr. Harcot vanished, leaving Darrel to his own thoughts. In about ten minutes he returned, looking very pale and concerned. Frank was a trifle surprised at this agitation.
“Dear, dear!” gasped the man, sitting down with an air of consternation. “I am shocked, really. Such a respectable gentleman! so old a customer!”
“What is the name?” cried Darrel anxiously.
“Grent, sir; Jesse Grent, of Wray House, Wraybridge.”
“Grent—Grent!” muttered Darrel thoughtfully. “I seem to know the name.”
“Everybody does, Mr. Darrel. Grent and Leighbourne, of Fleet-street.”
“What! the bankers?”
“Yes, sir, yes. Mr. Jesse Grent was the head of the firm and now he is an angel. I hope so, for he was a good man, sir, who paid his bills most regul—”
“Thank you, Mr. Harcot,” said Frank, cutting short these lamentations, which were a trifle mercenary. “You have told me all I wish to know. Mr. Jesse Grent, banker. H’m!—so he was the red-haired man.”
Mr. Harcot was about to protest that the late Mr. Grent had white hair, but that Frank, with a curt nod, walked smartly out of the shop. Whereupon Harcot senior went to inform Harcot junior of the loss of a good customer, and to suggest an immediate sending in of the bill to the executors.
It was now too late to call at Torry’s private office, as it was long after six o’clock before Frank terminated his inquiries; so he went back to his rooms and pondered over his discovery. He had heard of Mr. Grent, who was a rich banker and much respected. That he should be found dead in a disreputable neighborhood, in disguise, added to the mystery of the case. Frank thought over the matter all night, until his brain was on fire; and he was glad when the morning came that he could see Torry. Just as he was considering the advisability of paying a visit, the detective himself made his appearance and looked considerably disturbed.
“I say, Mr. Darrel,” he burst out, “there are two murderers!”
“Yes—a man and a woman!”
“A man and a woman!” repeated Darrel thoughtfully. “Who told you that, Mr. Torry?”
“The third, cabman,” replied the detective. “Main is his name. I found him along with Henry and Bike on the cab-stand near Mortality-lane.”
“Had you any difficulty in making him speak?”
“No, not the least. He was quite willing to give information and assist the police in every way. Why do you suggest a difficulty?”
“Why,” said Darrel, “if this man and woman were actually the assassins it is possible they might have bribed Main to silence.”
“And hereby roused his suspicions,” retorted Torry sharply. “Nothing of the sort. Main did not know what lay down the lane, so there was no need for the pair to purchase his silence.”
“They came out of Mortality-lane?”
“Yes. Main says that after the other two cabs drove away, he almost decided to go home himself as he despaired of getting a fare at so late an hour. However, on the chance he waited for twenty minutes or so, and his patience was rewarded shortly before one o’clock. A man and a woman came out of Mortality-lane, and got into the cab which drove off.”
“Then it left just before our cabs came back?”
“No doubt; the assassins ran the thing very fine. Well the woman told Main to drive to Northumberland-avenue near the theatre. There the two alighted and dismissed the cab.”
“What did they do next? I suppose Main noticed in which direction they went?”
“No, indeed,” replied Mr. Torry with a vexed air.”He got his money and went straight home, leaving the man and woman standing on the pavement in front of the Avenue Theatre.”
“What route did he take from Mortality-lane to Northumberland-avenue?”
“Down Arundel-street and along the Embankment,” replied Torry promptly.
“I suppose,” said Darrel reflectively, “that he did not notice any one near Cleopatra’s Needle as he drove along?
“No, I asked him if he did, but he declared that he was too much taken up with managing his horse, which was rather unruly, to cast a look to right or left. He drove to his destination, then returned home by going up the Avenue.”
“Can he describe the pair?”
“H’m!” said Torry dubiously, “not very clearly. The woman was tall, fair-haired, dressed in black and veiled. I know all that, as I have seen her dead body and dress. The man was not so tall as the woman, with a black beard, and wore a soft hat and a long overcoat almost to his heels. He was slender and silent, leaving the woman to give the directions and pay the fare.”
“Were they agitated?”
“The man seemed more agitated than the woman.”
“Perhaps he killed Mr. Grent.”
“Perhaps he did; we have no evidence to shew who struck the blow. But who is Mr. Grent?”
“The dead man. He is, or rather was, Mr. Jesse Grent, the banker.”
“Oh!” said Torry, rubbing his plump hands with much satisfaction “you have found out that much. This case is becoming important, for Mr. Jesse Grent is well known, I can tell you. He is very rich, very philanthropic, and two years ago stood for Parliament in the Conservative interest. Now I wonder what took so respectable a man into so disreputable a neighbourhood. In disguise, too. H’m it looks queer. Mr. Grent is not so good as I thought him.”
“You may as well speak in the past, Torry; the man is dead.”
“Dead! Murdered!” said the detective, thoughtfully. “A sad ending for a virtuous man. Tell me all that you learnt from Harcot.”
“I have told you all,” replied Darrel. “The shirt was made for Jesse Grent, of Waybridge, and of Grent and Leighbourne, Bankers, Fleet-street.”
“Quite so,” said Torry, getting on his feet. “Well, where Harcot’s information ends Mr. Leighbourne’s may begin. Come along, Mr. Darrel, let us pay a visit to Fleet-street.”
“Very good. Wait till I put on my coat.”
While Frank was getting ready for the visit Torry employed his time in making notes in his secretive little book. Incidentally he inquired about the Blue Mummy, and on receiving an explanation about the ancient Peruvians and their customs, evinced some disgust at the unsatisfactory result of Darrel’s visit to the archæologist. Still, he thought the information worth noting.
“Doesn’t seem to bear much on the case,” he said philosophically. “Still, there is no knowing how important it may be.”
“I agree with you there,” said Frank taking up hat and gloves. “That Blue Mummy, to my mind, symbolises something which may elucidate the whole mystery.”
“It sounds too romantic to have any practical value,” grumbled Torry, as they went out. “It is a far cry from London to Peru.”
Notwithstanding the diversion of opinion, the subject seemed to be of so little importance that both novelist and detective dropped the discussion. In a few moments they found themselves in a hansom, and rattled quickly eastward until they descended before the unpretentious building, which was one of the most famous private banks in the City of London. The firm of Grent and Leighbourne was nearly one hundred years old, having been established shortly after the French Revolution and was much patronised by county families. It had been founded by Mr. Ebenezer Grent, who had afterwards taken his chief clerk, Leighbourne, into partnership. It was the grandsons of this pair who were now the representatives of the bank, and one of these, Jesse Grent, had been barbarously assassinated in Mortality-lane. As yet, to all appearances, the catastrophe of his death was unknown.
“They would have the shutters up else,” said Torry who had commented on this fact to his companion. “Depend upon it, Mr. Darrel, you and I are about to startle the firm of Grent and Leighbourne.”
In answer to the detective’s inquiries the visitors were requested to give their cards, which were taken into Mr. Leighbourne. In a few minutes his bell rang and they were shown into a soberly-furnished room, which was occupied by a handsome young man. He was about thirty years of age with curly black hair and a small black moustache smartly pointed so as to give him quite a jaunty air. Elegantly dressed he seemed rather like a West End dandy than a sedate, methodical banker. With all the composure of a man of the world he received his visitors, but there was an uneasy look about him which did not escape the vigilant eyes of Torry.
“Be seated, gentlemen,” said he, waving his hand towards two chairs. “I understand you wish to see me?”
“Are you Mr. Leighbourne?” asked Darrel, who could not conceal his astonishment at the age and appearance of the banker.
“I am Mr. Frederick Leighbourne, sir. Perhaps it is my father you wish to see. In that case I must inform you that he is now in Paris, where he has been for some weeks. In his absence, and in the absence of our other partner, Mr. Grent, I act as the representative of the firm.”
“Mr. Grent!” repeated Torry slowly. “He is absent also, then?”
“Yes. He left for Italy last Saturday.”
“Are you sure?” asked the detective, meaningly.
“Certainly. Mr. Grent told me he was going. No doubt he is in Milan by this time.”
“I am afraid he is not, Mr. Leighbourne.”
The young man turned pale and looked from one to the other of his visitors. “What do you mean?” he asked anxiously.
“I mean,” said Torry, “that Mr. Grent has taken a longer journey than you are aware of.”
“A longer journey? How do you know?”
“Because I am a detective.”
Leighbourne became even paler than before, and pushed back his chair with a quick, nervous movement. “A detective!” he muttered faintly. “Why—why does a detective call on me?”
“To inform you of Mr. Grent’s death,” interposed Darrel, astonished at this unnecessary display of emotion.
“Dead! Mr. Grent dead!” Frederick Leighbourne rose in an indescribable state of emotion. “Why, on Friday last, when he said good-bye to me, he was in excellent health.”
“Health has nothing to do with the death,” said Torry drily. “Have you heard of this Mortality-lane murder?”
“Yes, yes; that is, I saw—I saw something about it in the evening papers,” stammered the banker hurriedly; “but it has nothing—nothing—”
“It has everything to do with Mr. Grent, if that is what you mean,” said Darrel. “On Sunday morning last, shortly before one o’clock, your partner was murdered!”
“Murdered!” Leighbourne’s voice leaped an octave. “Oh my God!”
“Stabbed to the heart!”
“But by whom—by whom?”
“By an unknown woman.”
Leighbourne’s face, which had changed from white to red, and then back again, assumed an expression of profound astonishment. “A woman!” he repeated. “Murdered by a woman! Impossible! I thought—” Here he checked himself on observing the attentive attitude of his auditors. “Is the woman in custody,” he asked calmly.
“No,” replied Torry, who had noted the hesitation of the young man. “She is dead also.”
“Dead also,” repeated Leighbourne—“but not murdered?”
“Yes; she was stabbed to the heart by some unknown man.”
“Has he been arrested?”
Darrel could not forbear a dry laugh. “If he had been arrested, Mr. Leighbourne, he would not be unknown. No; the murderer escaped, and we have come to ask you to assist us to find him.”
Leighbourne resumed his seat with what appeared to be an air of relief. “I!” he murmured. “Good Heavens, gentlemen, how can I possibly assist you?”
“Oh,” said Torry, looking keenly at the young man, “that is very easy. You may know of something in Mr. Grent’s past life which may supply the motive for this crime.”
“I know nothing of Mr. Grent’s past life but what is good and honest,” the banker answered.
“My dear sir,” said the detective, “you know that when there is any trouble, one must always look for a woman. Now—”
“There is no woman in this case,” interrupted Leighbourne sharply.
“Oh, pardon me, sir. Mr. Grent was killed by a woman. And a short time ago you were beginning to make some remark thereon, when you stopped and changed the subject.”
Leighbourne coloured, and looked embarrassed. “I did so because I thought it impossible that Mr. Grent could have met his death at the hands of a woman. So far as I know, he was never connected with one.
“Was he not married?” asked Frank.
“Oh, yes; but of course I mean, with any other woman than his wife. Donna Inez is different.”
“Donna Inez? Who is she?”
“Mrs. Grent; but as she is a Spanish-American, she prefers to be called so.”
“A Spanish-American,” repeated Darrel, “from South America?”
“Yes, she is a native of Lima.”
“And Lima is in Peru. Strange!”
Darrel looked at Torry and Torry gazed at Darrel. Mrs. Grent came from Peru; and the Blue Mummy had been obtained from a Peruvian tomb. The coincidence—if it was one—was strange.
Quite unaware of the clue his chance remark had given to his visitors, the banker touched an electric bell.
“Send Mr. Vass to me,” he said when the clerk appeared; then turning towards Torry, he added: “Mr. Grent’s private secretary will be here in a few minutes, he will be able to answer your questions better than I.”
“Was Mr. Vass in the confidence of the deceased, sir?”
“Entirely. He was Mr. Grant’s right hand. I may inform you as a proof of the confidence my poor friend put in him that Mr. Vass had, and has, the key of Mr. Grent’s private safe. I will leave you alone with Vass, while I send a wire to my father in Paris, advising him of this tragedy.” He paused a moment, then continued: “I may also add that Mr. Vass has been ill, and since Saturday has been confined to his bed; he returned only this morning to his work.”
“Oh!” thought Mr. Torry, smiling blankly to conceal his real thoughts; “so Mr. Vass the confidential secretary, has been ill and absent, has he? Now I wonder what is the meaning of that.”
Perhaps Mr. Torry was too suspicious, as he saw a meaning—an evil meaning—in everything. Leighbourne’s explanation was a perfectly reasonable one; still, as Torry considered, it was uncalled for. Why should he take the trouble to explain the absence of the secretary? There was no need to do so. Darrel was also struck by the needless explanation, and thought that there was something doubtful about the affair. Altogether, the detective and his helper were both prejudiced against the secretary by that very innocent remark of Mr. Leighbourne’s, made probably in all good faith.
Vass made his appearance in a few minutes, and proved to be a pale clean-shaven fellow of about twenty-eight. He wore spectacles, and had rather a dry, pedantic air, as one given to study and—comparative—seclusion.
“Mr. Vass,” said Leighbourne when the clerk entered the room, “I have sent for you to give these gentlemen all information about poor Mr. Grent.”
“Why poor Mr. Grent?” asked Vass, with mild surprise.
“I forgot you do not know. Well, I shall leave these gentlemen to explain. I must send the telegram recalling my father.”
“You will come back?” said Torry, as the banker walked towards the door.
“If you wish me to,” replied Leighbourne with frowning reluctance.
“I do wish it,” said the detective decisively. “You must come with me to identify the body; and it is possible that you may be required to give your evidence at the inquest.”
“Evidence—evidence!” cried the young man, passing his tongue over his dry lips. “What evidence can I give? I—I—I do not want to attend the inquest.”
“You must, sir.”
Leighbourne looked defiantly at the detective, and for a moment or so the pair eyed one another in silence, then the weaker of the two yielded. “If I must I must,” said Leighbourne, sullenly. “I shall come back;” and he passed out, closing the door behind him with such unnecessary violence that it was plain he had departed in a bad temper.
While this dialogue was proceeding Darrel had kept his eye on the face of Vass. Although he had heard all that was said—and the words “body” and “inquest” must have piqued his curiosity—his expression was one of absolute unconcern. Only once did he betray any emotion, and that was when Leighbourne left him alone with the two strangers; but when Torry turned towards him, his face was again calm and composed. Frank wondered what could be the meaning of this well-acted comedy.
“Mr. Vass,” said Torry, intent upon trying the effect of a sudden surprise. “I have to inform you that your master has been murdered.”
Mr. Vass stepped back and threw up his hands. “Grent murdered!” he cried in a voice rendered shrill by excitement. “Great Heavens! When? Where?”
“In Mortality-lane near the Strand, on Sunday morning between twelve and one o’clock. He was stabbed to the heart.”
The secretary received this news with unfeigned horror, and evidently having some womanish vein in his nature, burst into a fit of hysterical weeping.
In spite of what he had beheld, Darrel felt his suspicions melt away before this undeniable sorrow. In his own mind he decided that whatever Vass might know, the intelligence of his master’s death was new to him, and had taken him completely by surprise.
Torry said nothing, but smiled approvingly when he beheld the outbreak of Vass. Perhaps the secretary perceived the composure with which his emotion was received by the strangers, and regained his nerve out of pride; but whatever was the cause, he shortly became calm, and expressed himself willing to answer any questions which might be put to him. With a sign to Darrel not to speak, Torry promptly availed himself of the offer.
“The cause of Mr. Grent’s death,” said he, “may be found in his past life; so I wish you to tell me all you know about him. Have you been his secretary long?”
“For over five years. He was the best and kindest and most generous of masters,” replied Vass with much emotion.
“Hm’!” said Torry, who did not put much faith in this posthumous praise: “Your master was much respected?”
“Certainly. I never heard a word against him.”
“He was married, I believe?”
“He was—to Donna Inez Sandoval, a Spanish-American lady; a native of Peru.”
“How was it that Mr. Grent met her?”
“Ten years ago he voyaged to Peru for the sake of his health,” rejoined Vass: “and I understand he met with Donna Inez at Lima. They were married there.”
“In a Romish Church?”
“Certainly. Mr. Grent was a Roman Catholic, and his wife also.”
“Are there any children?”
“No,” said Vass, then added with some hesitation: “But Mr. Grent, finding himself childless, adopted the niece of his wife, Donna Maria Sandoval.”
“How old is this lady?”
“Twenty years of age,” replied the secretary, colouring—“and very beautiful.”
Darrel noted the expression of his face, and the enthusiasm of his reply, which was rather in the tones of his voice than the substance of his remark. “Oh!” thought the novelist, “can this be the proverbial woman who has caused the trouble?”
“How long has Donna Maria been with Mr. Grent?”
“Two years, more or less.”
“Of course, she speaks English?”
“Extremely well,” answered Vass promptly. “She was taught by Miss Lydia Hargone, who was quite like a daughter of the house, and left only six weeks ago.”
The nature of this reply seemed to strike Torry, for he made a note of this last name, but without comment, resumed his inquiries. “Mr. Grent lived at Wraybridge?”
“Yes. In Wray House, a large mansion on the banks of the Thames.”
“Did he entertain much?”
“Largely. He was fond of company, and so was Donna Inez.”
“Mrs. Grent, you mean?”
“I do,” replied Vass tartly. “But she prefers to be addressed in the Spanish style.”
“Do you know if Mr. Grent had any very intimate friends.”
“One or two,” said the secretary, with some little hesitation.
“Can you give me the names of the one or two?” asked Torry politely.
“Well, Mr. Roderick Blake for one. He is an Irishman.”
“So I should judge from the name,” said the detective drily! “and another friend, Mr. Vass?”
The man hesitated and finally came out with another Spanish name. “If you insist upon knowing,” said he, with reluctance, “there was Captain Manuel?”
“Captain Manuel? Oh, indeed. Also from Peru?”
“Yes, he came over to see Donna Inez, who is a relative of his, and, for the last three months, has been a constant visitor at Wray House.”
“May I ask a question?” said Darrel at this moment.
Torry threw an inquiring glance in the direction of his friend and nodded. “If you like,” he said graciously, wondering at Darrel’s meaning.
“In that case,” said Frank, looking at the secretary, “I shall ask Mr. Vass if there are any love affairs at Wray House.”
“Love affairs?” stammered Vass plainly taken aback. “I do not quite catch your meaning.”
“Oh, that is your romance,” cried Torry with a sly hit at Darrel’s imagination.
The novelist shook his head. “Two young men—two young women,” said he, solemnly. “It is not in nature that there should not be some love spring up between the four.”
“Well, sir,” said Vass, smiling a little, “I don’t say but what you are not right. Captain Manuel is paying his address to Donna Maria, and I must admit that Miss Hargone is greatly admired by Mr. Blake.”
“I thought so,” said Darrel triumphantly, and signed to Torry to continue his examination, which the detective did without further remark.
“Do you know if Mr. Grent had any enemies?” he asked the secretary.
“So far as I know he had not one,” replied Vass promptly. “Mr. Grent was singularly popular.”
“When did you see him last?”
“On Friday at four o’clock. He then said good-bye to me as he was going to Italy the next day for four months. That was the reason no one was alarmed at his absence.”
“Probably, so far as the bank was concerned,” replied Torry thoughtfully, “but in his own house?”
“Oh, I can explain that,” said Vass, easily.
“Mr. Grent had chambers in town. Probably he took leave of his wife on Friday, and purposed to stay at his chambers until he left for the South. I dare say Donna Inez thinks that her husband is in Milan by now.”
“Where are these chambers?”
“In Duke-street, St. James’s, Mr. Grent lived there by himself, so there is no one likely to be alarmed at his absence.”
“Had he not a valet?”
“No; the butler who kept the house attended to him, and as Mr. Grent came and went as the fit seized him, the man would think nothing of his not coming back to his rooms.”
“H’m,” said Torry, “I quite see all that. Did Mr. Grent take much money with him?”
“He drew a cheque for twenty pounds for immediate expenses, but when abroad he always used his cheque-book as more convenient than circular notes.”
Torry was disappointed with the result of his inquiries. Certainly he had learnt a great deal relative to the social position and daily habit of the dead man, but he had discovered nothing likely to throw light on the mystery of the crime. He was to dismiss Vass with some discontent, when Darrel rose to his feet, and, for reasons of his own, produced the image of the Mummy. This he held towards Vass.
“Perhaps you can explain this?” he said imperatively.
To the surprise of both men the secretary gasped and turned pale, then quietly fainted away.
As may be guessed, the double tragedy caused a great sensation in London. That a respected banker should be murdered by an unknown woman, and she in her turn should be assassinated by an unknown man, was such an unusual occurrence that for quite a week nothing else was talked of. The newspapers had leading articles on the subject pointing out how negligent the police must be, when such terrible events could happen in the heart of the most civilised capital in the world. People of the busy-body type wrote letters to different editors suggesting various courses to be adopted to discover and capture the unknown assassin; and in street, drawing-room and club, discussion on the same subject waxed hot and furious. However, nothing tangible resulted from this storm in the teapot. “Words, words, words!” Hamlet’s remark applies peculiarly to newspapers.
The inquest was held on the two bodies on Tuesday afternoon, three days after the committal of the crime. Torry, as having the conduct of the case in hand, had summoned the three cabmen as witnesses; also he had called upon Darrel to tell his story; had subpœnaed Leighbourne to identify the body; and had requested Vass to give evidence relative to the behaviour of the deceased before his final departure from the Fleet-street office. In fact, the detective did all he could to reveal the truth to the jury, but in spite of every effort the assassin of the unknown woman could not be discovered, or even indicated. Never was there so mysterious a case.
The most important piece of evidence brought forward at the inquest was the production of the weapon with which the crime had been committed. On the steps of Cleopatra’s Needle a long, cruel-looking Spanish knife, which was kept open by a strong spring for the safer delivery of the blow, had been found by the tramp who had discovered the body. At first he had kept the weapon to himself; but on the chance of making some money out of it, he had taken the knife to Torry, who gave him ten shillings for it; and later on it figured before the eyes of an intelligent jury, along with the clothes of the victims and the two Blue Mummies.
These last excited a great deal of curiosity, as they lifted the murders from a commonplace tragedy up to the level of romance. All sorts of wild ideas were afloat as to the reasons for their presence about the bodies of the victims; but not one person was able to give a feasible explanation. On the whole, all the evidence collected was sparse and unsatisfactory; so that the jury, directed by the coroner, were only able to arrive at the commonplace verdict that the dead man and woman had been killed by some person or persons unknown. The public and press were both furious at this tame verdict, but on consideration confessed that they could think of no better one. Afterwards the arrival of an Eastern potentate in London attracted the notice of the fickle public, and the Blue Mummy Case was quite forgotten. After the inquest people said that the truth would never be known, and tacitly relegated the double tragedy to the shelf kept for undiscovered crimes. The mystery which had begun in Mortality-lane was a greater mystery than ever.
“You might as well look for a needle in a haystack as try to find out the truth of this affair,” grumbled Darrel, when matters were in this position.
“If that is your opinion, sir, you had better climb down,” replied Torry drily. “You came into the case at your own request, so it is quite reasonable for you to withdraw if you feel inclined.”
“Do you intend to go on with the matter?” asked Frank, surveying the little man with amazement.
“Of course. It is not play with me as it is with you, but work; and I have to earn my bread and butter. Guided by the evidence we have in hand, I intend to proceed immediately. The victims are dead and buried; but the truth about them is not known. It is my duty to find out and punish the wrongdoers.”
“The wrongdoer, you mean,” said Darrel, speaking in the singular. “We know who killed Mr. Grent.”
“Pardon me, Mr. Darrel, but that is just what we do not know.”
“The woman who was murdered—”
“Did not kill the banker. No, I am sure of it. A female of her slight build would not have had the muscular energy to drive a weapon through cloth and wool straight into the heart of a strong man so as to kill him at the first stroke. A pistol, yes—for that weapon is as fatal in the hands of a woman as in those of a man; but a strong, long, steady stroke, involving unusual muscular exertion—to say nothing of the nerve power necessary. No, Mr. Darrel; I decline to believe the woman guilty. Depend upon it she was a victim, not an assassin.”
“Well,” said Darrel quietly, “victim, or not, she was certainly an accomplice, else she would not have emerged from Mortality-lane with that man. You must admit that he must have killed Grent.”
“Of course,” assented Torry calmly. “I thought as much from the time I heard the evidence of the third cabman. But what I wish to learn is, why the man required the woman to be present; and why did he permit her to interview her assassin by herself?”
“How do you intend to obtain an answer to these questions?”
“By finding out the name of the dead woman.”
“That is impossible!” declared Darrel emphatically.
“By no means,” replied Torry coolly. “In fact, I have done something already towards discovering the name; and my discovery narrows still more the ground which we are exploring. To be precise Mr. Darrel, everything points to the motive for the crime being discovered in Wray House.”
“In what way?” asked Frank, much astonished.
“I’ll answer your question by asking another, sir. Do you remember how we traced the name of Grent by means of the initials on his shirt?”
“Yes. I remember quite well.”
“I resolved to apply that method to discover the dead woman’s name.”
“But there were no marks on her linen,” cried Darrel.
“I know that,” said Torry, rubbing his plump hands together, “but there was the name of a fashionable milliner stamped on the lining of the hat the dead woman wore. I went to see that milliner—Madame Vert, of Regent-street—and I discovered that the hat was made for Miss Sandoval.”
“For Donna Maria,” said Darrel; then, on receiving a nod from the detective, he asked: “How did her hat come to be worn by the dead woman?”
“I must find that out from the lady herself,” replied Torry; “but you can see for yourself that this discovery connects Wray House with the crime.”
“Possibly. But does it never strike you that the Bank in Fleet-street may have some connection also? For my part, I mistrust Leighbourne.”
“You have no cause to do so; there is absolutely nothing to connect him with the crime.”
“What about his agitated demeanour?”
“Pooh, pooh!” cried Torry briskly. “Of course the man was agitated on hearing of Grent’s terrible death. You can’t judge a man in such circumstances. Now, to my mind, the fainting of Vass at the sight of the mummy is more suspicious.”
“I thought he explained that?”
“He does—and in a way likely to upset my theory. Vass declares that he saw the Blue Mummy on Grent’s table; and it was the sight of it again in connection with the crime which made him faint. The explanation is rather feeble. Still, if Grent had the mummy in his possession, he could not have received it from his assassin; and if he did not, how was it found beside his dead body.”
“I can’t say,” admitted Darrel thoughtfully; “but of one thing I am certain: that the Blue Mummy is the clue to the whole mystery. What about Captain Manuel?”
“Why do you mention him?” asked Torry abruptly.
“Well,” said Frank slowly, “it seems to me that the double tragedy has to do with Peru. Everywhere we turn we are met by Peru. In the first place, the mummy is a tomb image from the sepulchre of some Inca of Peru. In the second, the knife discovered was a Spanish-American bowie, which could only have come from the New World. In the third, Grent’s wife and adopted child are Spanish ladies from Lima. Finally, Captain Manuel is from Peru, and is the confidential friend of the dead man. What do you make of all this?”
“That Grent was murdered by Manuel?” sneered Torry.
“No; but that we must look in South America—in Peru—in Lima for the motive of the crime. Grent was there many years ago; he brought home a Spanish wife; so who knows but what he might have made some enemies there who swore to kill him, and accomplished the tragedy of the other night.”
“That might explain Grent’s death,” said Torry, nursing his chin in his hand, “but it does not reveal why this unknown woman should have been killed. Yet I am sure that the same motive will account for both deaths. Oh!” cried the detective, in despair, “If I could only find out that motive.”
“Question Donna Inez,” suggested Darrel. “She, if anyone, will explain the reason.”
“Because if my theory is correct she may remember if her husband made enemies in Peru.”
“Peru! Peru! You have that Peru on the brain. No,” said Torry, “I may see Donna Inez later, but first I intend to search the rooms of Grent.”
“The chambers in Duke-street?”
“Yes. Leighbourne is going to meet me there this afternoon, and we are going all through Grent’s private papers in search of a possible clue.”
“I wonder you did not search there before.”
“There was no time,” replied Torry tartly. “I have had a lot to do in getting evidence for the inquest. Now that is over, and the victims are buried, I can go forward.”
“It is a week since the murder,” said Frank, “and someone may have been in Grent’s chambers to remove all incriminating papers.”
“The assassin you mean?”
“Well,” said the detective, “there is something in that; but I doubt it, as the butler who keeps the rooms would not be likely to let anyone into them during the absence of his tenant. However, I’ll see. Will you come?”
“No, thank you,” replied Darrel. “I find my detective fever has passed away.”
Torry uttered a prophecy. “On the first discovery of any note you’ll get that fever again,” said he.
The rooms which belonged to Jesse Grent were in Duke street, St. James’s, and were very comfortably furnished, in a plain and unpretentious manner. Evidently the dead man had been simple in his tastes, and, notwithstanding his wealth, had refrained from indulging in luxury. These chambers were looked after by the landlord of the house, a retired butler, who appeared dignified enough to be a bishop, yet who was plainly afraid of the law as personified by Torry. He answered the many questions of the detective with anxious humility, but the information he gave was worth little.
Mr. Grent was a good tenant, he said, but capricious in his comings and goings which, in the butler’s opinion, might be due to the fact that his house at Wraybridge was no very great distance from town. It was only when Mr. Grent was very late, that he remained all night at his chambers. On the day of the murder—it was a Saturday—Mr. Grent had notified that he was going to Italy, and would probably be away two weeks. It was at five o’clock that he had said this; then he had dined at his club, and evidently had gone to the theatre. The butler saw him when he returned at 10.30 in the evening. That was the last he saw of him, and he did not know if Mr. Grent had gone out that night.
“But he did go out,” said Torry, “and never returned. Could you not see in the morning that his bed had not been slept in.”
“Beg pardon,” replied the butler—Meek was his name and Meek his nature—“but Mr. Grent was a very peculiar gentleman, sir. He told me never to go into his rooms unless he rang the bell, so, as he did not ring the bell, I did not venture into his rooms. When I heard that he was murdered I did.”
“And found the bed unslept in?”
“Yes, sir. He must have gone out about eleven, but I did not hear him.”
“Did Mr. Grent ever receive visitors here?”
“Sometimes, sir,” replied Meek. “He had one in the afternoon of the Saturday—a tall dark gentleman who looked like a foreigner. He was in some foreign army, too,” added garrulous Mr. Meek, “for when I took up his card to Mr. Grent I saw he was a Captain.”
“It was Captain something sir, but I really can’t remember the exact name.”
“H’m,” said Torry thoughtfully, “I have no doubt it is the same person I have in my mind. Any other visitor?”
“A lady came sometimes, sir. She came shortly after the Captain on that Saturday.”
“And what was her name?”
“I can’t say. She never gave her card, and always wore a heavy veil.”
“You could not identify her in any way?”
“Not by her personal appearance, sir; but she did wear a peculiar ring. On Saturday she was paying her cab, and took off her right-hand glove to find a piece of gold which had slipped into a corner of her purse. I then noticed that on the third finger she wore a silver ring set with three blue stones.”
“Turquoise stones, no doubt,” said Torry. “I’ll make a note of that, as I should like to know who this woman is.”
“But, sir!” cried Meek in dismay, “you don’t think this lady has had anything to do with the murder?”
Torry shrugged his shoulders. “As to that,” he remarked tritely, “I can only say that a woman is at the bottom of every trouble. This may be the woman concerned in this especial affair.”
At this moment Mr. Leighbourne arrived according to appointment, and, with Torry, he was conducted up stairs into the chambers of the late Mr. Grent. These had a damp musty smell as though they had been uninhabited for some time, and both bedroom and sitting-room were in a state of great confusion. Travelling-rugs, dressing-bags, and portmanteaux were scattered about the sitting-room, and in the bedroom there were piles of shirts, heaps of clothes, and all the impedimenta of a man bound on a long journey. What particularly struck Torry was the presence of a large American trunk, half full of wearing apparel.
“That is a big box to take on a short journey,” said he thoughtfully.
“I don’t call a journey to Italy a short one,” replied Leighbourne, who looked worried and ill, and spoke sharply. “It takes two days and two nights to reach Florence.”
“Maybe, sir. But Mr. Grent intended to stay only two weeks according to Meek, here.”
“Yes, sir,” chimed in the deferential butler, “Only two weeks.”
“In which case,” continued the detective, “he would hardly need so many clothes. A portmanteau of that size and a dressing-bag would have contained ample, unless,” added Torry, looking at Leighbourne, “Mr. Grent was a masher.”
The young banker laughed. “No, indeed,” said he, with assumed lightness, “my poor friend cared nothing for dress.”
“Then,” said Torry decisively, “you may be sure, he intended to take a much longer journey than you suppose.”
“But he said he was going to Italy.”
“He might have said so as a blind, but he certainly did not intend to go there, or,” added Torry, with emphasis, “if he did it was to reach Naples or Brindisi and catch an out-going liner to Australia. Ha!” Torry stopped speaking and slapped his thigh.
“What’s the matter, sir?” asked the butler nervously.
“Oh, you are there,” said Torry turning sharply on him. “Then you can go downstairs. If I need you I’ll ring.”
“But can’t I be of service here sir,” urged Meek who was filled with curiosity.
“If I need you I’ll ring,” repeated Torry, and pointed towards the door. The butler was obliged to go, and withdrew with manifest unwillingness. Torry saw him descend the stairs, and locked the outer door of the chambers, after which he returned to Leighbourne, who watched this conduct with ill-concealed nervousness.
“Why do you send Meek away?” he asked with some hesitation.
“Because I wish to speak to you privately,” replied Torry promptly. “You are not open with me Mr. Leighbourne.”
“What do you mean?” demanded the young man, flushing.
“Is your bank solvent?” asked Torry, in his turn.
The other jumped to his feet in a violent rage. “Solvent!” he cried, “of course it is solvent. How dare you hint that anything is wrong with our business.”
“I hint,” replied Torry, “because I wish to know the reason Mr. Grent intended to run off to South America.”
“To South America!” repeated Leighbourne, in a stupified tone. “How do you know he thought of going there?”
“Because I believe Mr. Grent intended to go to Genoa, and take the first boat to Peru.”
“Oh, that is a fancy of mine,” rejoined Torry with a shrug. “Mr. Grent has a Spanish wife; the murder was committed with a Spanish knife; and two tomb images from Peru are mixed up in the matter; therefore I believe that if Mr. Grent chose any place to fly to, he would go to Lima.”
“But why should he fly?”
“This is what I ask you,” said the detective coolly.
“I am sure you will be able to supply the reason; so to give you time to make up your mind, I’ll look for the ticket to Italy.”
Leaving Leighbourne sitting much astonished in the chair, Torry crossed the room to a writing-table placed directly under the window, so as to get all available light. On this lay many papers tossed about in confusion; and through these Torry looked rapidly, but without finding any ticket to Italy. The middle drawer was not locked, and in this the detective discovered a bunch of keys, one of which fitted all the drawers of the escritoire. Within were letters and bills and memoranda; but none of these did Torry examine very closely, as, at the present moment he was bent on discovering the ticket to Genoa or Naples. All his search proved futile, so he desisted with a lowering race and glanced round the room. Leighbourne, who had been biting his fingers, brightened up at this failure, and sneered.
“You see, things are not as you think,” he said in a tone of relief.
“One moment,” returned Torry. “I am not yet at the end of my resources.”
His keen eye had caught sight of a fur travelling-coat hanging up in a distant corner; and towards this he walked. On purchasing the ticket, he thought, Mr. Grent would probably put it in the breast pocket of his travelling-coat, so as to run no risk of leaving it behind. As he had been disguised on the night of his murder, it was improbable that he would have taken it with him.
“If anywhere,” said Torry, putting his hand into the breast-pocket of the fur coat, “it will be here. Hullo!”
The exclamation was drawn from him in sheer astonishment. He had found not one ticket, but two; and both were made out by Cook, from London to Genoa.
“Two tickets!” cried Torry in amazement. “Then he intended to take someone with him.”
Leighbourne jumped up and looked at the two tickets over Torry’s shoulder. “It is very strange,” said he at length. “You are right, Mr. Torry; Mr. Grent intended to go away. But why to Genoa?”
“To catch the boat to Lima, of course.”
“There is no line to Lima from Italy.”
“There is a line of steamers to Buenos Ayres, however,” said Torry briskly. “I know that for a fact. I wonder who the woman is?”
“Yes. You needn’t tell me Mr. Grent intended to take a male companion. I have it!” cried Torry suddenly. “He intended to bolt with the woman he met.”
“With the woman who killed him? Impossible.”
“Bah! the woman did not kill him. It was the man who struck the blow. Yes, yes,” murmured the detective, his eyes lighting up with joy. “I see it all. Grent met this woman in order to bring her back here and fly with her. While they were talking in Mortality-lane they were interrupted by the man—probably the lover or the husband of the woman—and out of jealousy he killed Grent. It is as plain as day.”
“But it is impossible, I tell you!” cried Leighbourne furiously. “Mr. Grent was devotedly attached to his wife; he would not leave her for another woman.”
“Then he must have contemplated bolting because of money troubles,” said the detective promptly. “Own the truth, Mr. Leighbourne. Was Grent in difficulties?”
Before the banker could reply, there came a furious knocking at the outer door, and the two men looked at one another in a startled manner. Torry recovered himself at once, and without a word and ran to the door and threw it open. To his surprise, Vass, the secretary, looking much agitated, ran past him into the room. He was followed at a more leisurely pace by a tall, dark man, who looked like a foreigner; and who was also agitated; but in a lesser degree than Vass.
“Captain Manuel!” cried Leighbourne quickly. “Mr. Vass, what is the matter?”
“Robbery!” gasped the secretary. “Robbery!”
“What are you saying?” said the banker, while Torry listened attentively.
“Mr. Grent’s private safe has been robbed!” cried Vass—“robbed of ten thousand pounds in notes!”
“Yes,” said Captain Manuel in very good English, “and that money belongs to me.”
The Spaniard was even darker than is usual with people of his race; also he had an eagle nose and hair very straight, glossy and black. His eyes were large and brilliant, his mouth rather full and a trifle sensual, and his lean, alert figure was peculiarly straight and upright. Added to these advantages he wore a heavy black moustache, which he twirled at times with an insolent air; so that on the whole he was a remarkably handsome man. But there was something uncivilised about him—a strange, wild look, which suggested the soldier of fortune. Probably he was what he represented himself to be—a Peruvian gentleman serving as a captain in the army of the Republic; but to Torry—who was well read for a man of his position—he seemed like a buccaneer or filibuster. It was Captain Kidd in a frock-coat.
At the present moment he seemed much agitated, and, leaning on his stick with both hands, challenged the regard of Leighbourne and Torry. Vass had thrown himself into a chair, and, as his pale face testified, seemed to be overcome with consternation. On the unexpected surprise of this sudden arrival there ensued a short silence; so finding that no one spoke, Captain Manuel addressed himself to all three on the subject of the robbery.
“I gave Mr. Grent ten thousand pounds some three weeks ago,” said he, his foreign accent becoming more pronounced in his excitement, “and I went to your bank this day to obtain it. Dios! what do I find!”
“You find that Mr. Grent is dead,” said Torry smoothly.
“Yes sir; and my money gone, sir!” to Leighbourne. “I know you are a master in this bank. You will return to me my money.”
“That entirely depends on the circumstances of the case, Señor Manuel,” replied the banker, who looked pale but composed. “Vass, perhaps you can throw some light on this subject?”
“On my soul I can’t, sir,” cried Vass, starting to his feet. “I only know that Mr. Grent told me he had received in bank notes the sum of ten thousand pounds from Captain Manuel some three weeks ago. He kept the money for some time down at Wray House; but as he was going to Italy, he did not think it would be safe to leave it there; so he brought it up to the bank and told me to place it in his private safe. I did so in his presence, and he locked the door. Afterwards he went away, and I heard nothing more of him until the news of the murder came.”
“If this is true, my money should be right,” said Manuel sharply.
“It is not in the safe!” cried Vass wildly. “When Captain Manuel came to-day to ask for his money, I told him that I could not give it to him as I had no authority to do so. He wished then to see if it was all right, so in his presence I opened the safe, only to find that the notes were gone.”
“Well Mr. Grent could not have taken them,” said Leighbourne.
“No, no,” said Vass; “He did not. I tell you he locked the safe in my presence.”
“Could he not have returned?” asked Torry.
“Not without someone in the bank seeing him.”
“But after office hours?”
“Even then the porter would have seen him,” groaned Vass, who seemed very wretched. “There are only two entrances to the bank, and James, the porter has the keys of both. No one can go or come without passing him; he is bound to see all who enter.”
“Did you ask him if Mr. Grent returned?”
“Yes—but he says no! Like myself, he saw Mr. Grent last on Friday.”
Here Captain Manuel interposed sharply. “All this is well, sirs, but to me unnecessary. My money is what I wish. You give it to me.”
“I’ll speak to my father about it,” said Leighbourne quickly. “You shall not lose your money if I can help it. But I would point out to you, sir, that the bank is not responsible for the amount.”
“Not responsible?” echoed Manuel, striking his stick furiously on the floor.
“No!” answered the banker firmly. “Your money was not deposited with our firm, but placed by you in the keeping of Mr. Grent. He, therefore, was responsible for its safety.”
“But he is dead; and cannot repay me.”
“His estate is no doubt large enough to repay you. I shall speak to my father, as I said before. He is one of the executors; and I have no doubt he will refund this ten thousand pounds out of the property left by Mr. Grent, on receiving proof that you paid the money.”
“I have a paper signed by Mr. Grent stating that he received the money,” said Manuel sullenly, “and this gentleman,” waving his stick towards Vass, “was told by Mr. Grent that the money was mine.”
Vass looked up eagerly. “Mr. Grent said that the money belonged to some society,” said he.
“It does. To a society of which I am the representative.”
“Oh! oh! oh!” cried Torry, in three different keys; he was struck by a new idea, and looked directly at Manuel. “Has your society anything to do with Peru?”
“Possibly,” returned Manuel superciliously; “but my society, sir, has nothing to do with you.”
“Ah!” said the detective ironically; “I am not a Blue Mummy!”
This time Captain Manuel was fairly taken by surprise. Evidently the random shot of the detective had unexpectedly hit the mark. The Spaniard flushed a dusky red; stepped forward; on second thoughts stepped back; and recovered his former serenity with an effort.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he said sullenly. Torry whistled softly, but said nothing. The attitude of the Spaniard confirmed the suspicions he entertained concerning the Blue Mummy. Evidently it was the badge of some secret society to which Manuel belonged. If so, as the token of the Blue Mummy had been found near both the victims, they must have been murdered by order of the association. But for what reason? Plainly because the ten thousand pounds which represented the funds of the society had been stolen. But who was the thief? Here Torry came to a pause, as his reason or imagination could lead him no further. However, to discover more, he determined to have Manuel watched; but in the meantime he was wise enough to hold his tongue.
Seeing that the detective made no reply, Manuel turned his back on him with a shrug of contempt, and walked smartly towards the door. There he turned and addressed Leighbourne.
“I shall expect repayment of that money within a fortnight,” he said coldly. “Otherwise—”
“Well,” cried the banker defiantly, “otherwise?”
“You will have to deal with the society,” replied Manuel with grim significance, and disappeared as suddenly as he had entered. The three men left behind looked at one another.
“What does he mean by that threat?” asked Leighbourne uneasily.
“He means assassination, I fancy,” said Torry coolly.
“Assassination!” cried Vass, staring up. “You mean—?
“Well,” said the detective thoughtfully, “of course I may be wrong; but it strikes me that this secret society to which Manuel refers, and of which he apparently is the treasurer, is an association somewhat after the fashion of the Italian Carbonari. That society was founded for patriotic purposes tempered by assassination. Probably Manuel’s association is formed to overturn the present Government of his beloved country. To do so funds are needed, and the ten thousand pounds given to Mr. Grent are doubtless the moneys of the society. Failing Mr. Grent, who is dead, the society represented by Manuel will no doubt hold the bank responsible; and if the moneys are not refunded, may attempt to kill those who represent the bank. Stay you, Mr. Leighbourne, and Mr. Vass here.”
“Bah!” cried Leighbourne, with a forced laugh. “You are trying to frighten us. People don’t do such things nowadays.”
“Don’t they?” rejoined Torry drily. “What about the Anarchists? But I’ll tell you one thing, gentlemen: whichever one of you is killed, the image of a Blue Mummy will be found beside him.”
“What?” cried Vass aghast—“do you think that this society you speak of killed Mr. Grent?”
“Going by circumstantial evidence, I do.”
“But for what reason?”
“Because I fancy Mr. Grent stole that money, and intended to bolt to America with it.”
“Impossible!” said Vass. “I tell you I saw the money in the safe after he left.”
“Well, if he did not take it himself, someone who had the key of the safe must have done so, by his order.”
The secretary rose with a very red face. “Do you mean to say that I took the money?”
“I was not aware that I accused you, Mr. Vass,” said Torry.
“But you do accuse me. Only Mr. Grent and myself can open that safe, which is in his private room. I swear he did not take the money, and on my oath I declare that I am guiltless. Don’t you believe me, sir?” cried Vass, turning appealingly towards Leighbourne.
“Yes, I believe you,” replied the banker emphatically. “I am sure you never took the money out of the safe.”
“Would I be such a fool?” said Vass, turning again towards Torry. “The money was in bank-notes, in two bundles of five thousand pounds each. Twenty notes of five hundred pounds each—ten in one bundle, the same number in the other. Manuel has the numbers of these notes, so is it unlikely that I could do anything with bank-notes of such value of which the numbers are known to their owner. I could not change a single one without being found out, and then what benefit would the theft do me. I am neither a fool nor a criminal, Mr. Torry.”
The detective could not but be struck by this reasoning, which was feasible enough. In the face of the known value and known numbers of the notes, it was ridiculous to suspect Vass. To steal the money under the circumstances would have been simply to court arrest, and the detective, taking a common-sense view of the question, acquitted Vass of the robbery.
“I believe you to be innocent,” he said genially; “but who is guilty?”
“I do not know,” said the secretary gloomily, “other than myself and Mr. Grent, no one could have stolen these notes. Mr. Grent did not, I did not; so I can’t see how they have disappeared.”
“Might not the key of the safe have been stolen?”
Vass produced a bunch of keys out of his pocket and selected one. “Here is my key,” said he holding it up. “It is never off this chain, or out of my possession.”
Torry nodded and crossed over to the desk on which Mr. Grent’s bunch of keys still lay. Amongst them he found a key similar in all respects to that shown by Vass.
“So here is Mr. Grent’s key,” he said, comparing it with the secretary’s, “and safe on his chain, in his rooms which no one could have entered since the murder. It is very strange. I don’t exactly see my way,” he scratched his chin thoughtfully, then cried: “The hat!”
“What hat?” asked Leighbourne, amazed at the irrelevancy of the remark.
“The hat of the dead woman which was made for Donna Maria Sandoval. I must question her at once about that, and then, and then—well, we’ll see.”
Wray House was a charming villa on the banks of the Thames. The view of the mansion from the river was singularly picturesque. From the banks a smooth green lawn of closely shorn turf, diversified by oval flower-beds, brilliant with scarlet geranium, sloped gently up to a terrace, bordered by a balustrade of white marble. On this plateau rose the house, a fairy edifice of two storeys, the upper smaller than the lower. A colonnade ran round the house, and supported an upper balcony, broad and spacious, on which opened the French windows of the bedrooms. French windows also gave access to the colonnade, which was liberally sprinkled with small tables and lounging chairs. The whole building painted a brilliant white had, in appearance and design, a tropical look, more suited to equatorial regions than to the cool green misty island of England. This miniature paradise was encircled by a belt of trees.
This particular summer, however, had proved particularly hot, so that Wray House was a perfect residence, during the sultry months of June and August. Used to the ardent heats of South America Donna Inez, as Mrs. Grent loved to be called, found the warmth delightful, and basked like a snake in the golden sunshine. In a large degree her niece was charmed with the unusual splendour of the summer, and the two Spanish women passed most of their time lounging in the colonnade, or swinging in silken hammock suspended from the branches of convenient trees. To them house and life and summer recalled the languid lazy existence of far distant Lima. There laziness is an art, and idleness has been reduced to a silence.
When the news came of Grent’s tragic death, Donna Inez, a weak lymphatic woman, had given way to intolerable grief, and had shut herself up to indulge in it. The domestic economy of the house was thus upset for the moment, but was speedily restored to order by Maria Sandoval, who had much more character and self-control than her aunt. Mr. Leighbourne, senior, came hastily over from Paris on receiving the news of his partner’s death, and at once paid a visit to Wray House. He could do nothing with Donna Inez, who was hysterical from grief, so he insisted that Donna Maria should take command of the household. This the young girl, not without misgiving, agreed to do, and satisfied on this point, Mr. Leighbourne returned to London in order to arrange the affairs of the dead man. So far as the will was concerned he, as one of the executors, took all the trouble on his shoulders, but at Wray house the responsibility of looking after her aunt and managing the servants devolved on Maria. Shortly she found that the task was too difficult, the more so as she was a foreigner, and a comparative stranger to English way, so she requested Lydia Hargone to come down and assist her.
Miss Hargone was a woman of twenty-seven, good-looking and extremely clever. She had been engaged to teach Maria English when the young girl first arrived from Lima, and had stayed nearly two years at Wray House. Then she had announced that Maria spoke the Anglo-Saxon tongue excellently well, and that, as there was no necessity for further teaching, she Miss Hargone, would seek another situation. Everyone in the house had protested against this, for Lydia was a general favourite and Maria was quite overcome with grief at the thought of losing her. However, Miss Hargone had her own way, as usual, and had departed some three months before the death of Grent, when the tragic circumstance and the urgent message of her former pupil recalled her to Wray House. It is to Miss Hargone’s credit that she accepted the invitation at once, and strove in every way to pacify Donna Inez, and lighten the domestic burdens of Donna Maria. Things were in this position when Torry, accompanied by Darrel, paid a visit to the house of the dead man. And that visit was the first step in the dark and tortuous path which led to the discovery of the truth.
At first Darrel had been unwilling to come, or even to continue his partnership with the detective in following up the various clues now in their possession. He excused himself on the ground of incapabilities.
“I cannot assist you in any way,” he urged. “I see now that the unravelling of an actual criminal problem is far more difficult and complex than I thought. I have not your indomitable perseverance, and the rebuffs which never daunt you, make me nervous and doubtful.”
“Nonsense! nonsense!” cried Torry cheerfully.
“I’ve set my heart on your going through with this. After all, why should you be discouraged; we have found out a good deal.”
“Have we?” said Darrel sceptically.
“Of course. We have learnt that the dead man’s name was Jesse Grent; that he was attempting to fly with a woman and ten thousand pounds, and that he was killed, probably by the lover of the woman whose name we have yet to discover. Also, we have learnt that the stolen money belongs to a secret society who use the image of a Blue Mummy as a token. Come now, I think all these discoveries are very encouraging.”
“They would be if you could prove them,” replied Darrel, “but you are mingling fact and fancy. You cannot prove that Grent stole the money, and, indeed, on the face of it—if Vass is to be believed—he is innocent. Also you cannot say for certain if Grent intended to fly with a woman, or that he was killed by her lover. Finally, although I admit on the authority of Manuel that a secret society exists we don’t know its aims, nor do we know that the Blue Mummy has anything to do with it.”
“So there, now,” cried Torry smiling, “you knock down my fine castle of cards with your relentless logic. Never mind, build it up with future discoveries, stronger than ever. Come and help me to lay the first card.”
“The first card?”
“The first brick, if you are so particular,” said the detective testily. “In plain English, come down to Wray House and assist me to question this young lady about the hat.”
“She won’t tell you the truth.”
“Yes she will, provided she is not implicated in the matter, and I hardly think that likely. Though to be sure,” added Torry to himself, “it is strange that her hat should be on the dead woman’s head.”
“I should like to know the truth of that, certainly,” said Darrel, fired by sudden curiosity, “Yes, I’ll go with you. When do we start?”
“In an hour. We take the mid-day train from Waterloo, I am not fanciful, you know,” remarked the detective, nodding, “but I have an idea that this journey will be a lucky one.”
Frank laughed, “We’ll do our best to make it so,” said he.
This being arranged they drove to Waterloo Station, and after a hasty luncheon in the restaurant, departed for Wraybridge by the 12.30 train. In a surprisingly short time considering the distance from town, they arrived at Wraybridge, and hiring a fly, drove at once to Wray House. The road which led, thereto, was singularly beautiful, as it passed through a small forest of pine and fir trees. Here and there were villas and mansions and cottages, and occasionally, through intervening trees, a glimpse could be caught of the smoothly-flowing Thames, winding its silvery way through flowery meadows. In twenty minutes the travellers arrived at Wraybridge village, a quaint and picturesque hamlet with old-fashioned houses, peaked roofed and many gabled. Through the narrow crooked thoroughfare, misnamed the High-street, they passed; emerged again into a stretch of open country marching with the river, and ultimately stopped before a pair of elaborate iron gates which gave admission to Wray House. Having arrived at their destination Torry paid off the cabman and, followed by Darrel, entered the grounds.
It must be confessed that Frank did not feel altogether easy in his mind. To visit unsuspecting people with the idea of worming secrets out of their inexperience seemed to him like getting into the house under false pretences. Torry not being a gentleman, was not troubled by these fine scruples. And indeed there was no need that he should be. He was an officer of the law; he was acting entirely in the interests of justice; and it was only natural that he should attempt by every means in his power to bring the wrongdoer to the gallows. Darrel mentally tried to assure himself of this, for the salving of his own conscience; but all the same, he felt uncomfortable, and devoutly wished that he had not embarked on a career which dealt with life in so underhanded a way. However, he had gone too far to retreat; so with some philosophy, he made the best of a bad bargain, and followed Torry up to the house. Here they found some difficulty in entering.
The servant brought back Torry’s card, and announced that his mistress was too ill to receive anyone. Thereupon the detective requested permission to see Donna Maria; who also sent back a message that she was not to be seen. On this second refusal Torry lost his smiling demeanour, and at once became the stern officer of justice—sharp-tongued and peremptory.
“Tell your mistress,” said he to the servant, “that if she will not see me herself, she must permit me to converse with Donna Maria Sandoval. I am a detective from New Scotland-yard, and have been charged to discover, if possible, the assassin of Mr. Grent. In my official character Donna Maria dare not refuse to see me.”
Apparently this peremptory speech carried weight, for in a few minutes the servant returned and shewed the two men into a small room.
Here they waited, and Torry amused himself by admiring the beauty of the apartment, which was luxuriously furnished; and in contemplating the exquisite view from the open French windows which led on to the colonnade. The scene was worthy of his praise.
At the foot of the emerald lawn ran the great river flashing diamonds in the strong sunlight. On the further bank were a row of tall poplars, slender and stately in their leafy pride; beyond were smooth green meadows dotted with grazing cattle; lines of rugged hedges, clumps of trees, and occasionally a cluster of red-roofed houses, and the square tower of some village church. It was all very pastoral and peaceful; but Torry’s eyes left the scene to gaze upon two people—a man and woman—who were walking to and fro on the gravelled path beside the river. Both were young, both were handsome, and both were deeply engaged in conversation.
“Wonder who they are?” speculated Torry
“Can’t guess who the man is, but I daresay the lady is Donna Maria.”
“Donna Maria is here,” said a sweet voice behind him.
Torry and Darrel rose to their feet to behold a beautiful woman in the first blush of girlish beauty. Donna Maria was not very tall, but her figure was perfect; and she walked with the graceful, undulating gait peculiar to Spanish women. Her hair and eyes were as black as midnight; and she had a pale oval, olive-hued face, a charming mouth, and when she smiled, displayed a row of pearly teeth. Her air was haughty and imperious, and she looked at the visitors like a queen whose privacy has been intruded upon.
“I am Donna Maria,” said she coldly. “May I ask, sir, why you insisted upon seeing me?”
She looked at Darrel, who did not respond, so amazed he was by her beauty; so after a glance of disapproval, the lady turned towards Torry, and repeated the question. The detective immediately unwrapped the parcel he carried, and held the hat out towards her.
“Is this hat yours?” he asked.
Donna Maria looked at it closely, then bowed. “It was mine,” she admitted, “but some weeks ago I gave it to my maid.”
“What was her name?”
“Julia Brawn; but you say, ‘what was her name?’ Why?”
“Because,” replied Torry, looking steadily at her, “Julia Brawn has been murdered.”
When Torry stated so coldly that Julia Braw was dead, Donna Maria turned pale, trembled violently, and would have fallen but that Darrel, noticing her fainting condition, sprang forward in time to catch her in his arms. In a moment, however, she hastily withdrew herself from his embrace, and recovered her self-composure. Seating herself on a sofa, she remained silent for a few moments, but the pallor of her face, and the trembling of her lips, shewed how difficult it was for her to command her feelings. When she found her voice again, it was to explain the reason of her emotion.
“After the death of my uncle,” she said, in low tones, “anything of the same nature frightens me. That poor girl! It seems terrible that she should have met with the same tragic end as Mr. Grent.”
Donna Maria spoke excellent English, with but a slight foreign accent, so it was evident that her teacher, Miss Hargone, had instructed her thoroughly well. Darrel, who, as a writer, had some claim to be a judge, was amazed by the fluency of her speech and the extent of her vocabulary. Apparently the young girl was a born linguist since she spoke, almost faultlessly, a tongue other than her own; but, perhaps, her undeniable beauty affected the heart of Darrel sufficiently to render him enthusiastic in his judgment. Torry, less susceptible, paid little attention to the girl’s beauty or intelligence. He saw in her merely a witness to be interrogated, not a woman to be wooed, and forthwith proceeded to examine her in a cold-blooded manner, sufficiently exasperating to his ardent companion.
“Will you permit me, miss, to ask you a few questions?” he said politely.
“On what subject?” asked Donna Maria, with haughty astonishment.
“On the subject of this murder.”
“I know nothing about it.”
“You know the name of the dead woman?”
“If she wore that hat, which I gave her only a fortnight ago, I believe her to be my maid, Julia Brawn. But, on the other hand, sir, she may have given the hat to someone else.”
“That is very true,” replied Torry, gravely, while Darrel sat silently admiring the beauty of Maria Sandoval; “but this woman was tall and fair, with blue eyes and a scar on her right temple.”
“That is her; that is Julia,” cried Maria quickly. “She got that scar from falling from a tree when she was a girl. Poor creature! When was she killed?”
“A little over a week ago.”
Donna Maria started and fixed her black eyes on Torry. “A week ago?” she repeated. “On what day?”
“On a Sunday morning; half an hour, more or less, after Mr. Grent was murdered.”
“Holy Virgin!” cried the girl, half rising. “Where?”
“Near Cleopatra’s Needle on the Thames Embankment.”
“I read in the newspapers that a crime had been committed there,” said Maria hurriedly, “but I did not think—”
“That there was a connection between her murder and that of Mr. Grent,” finished Torry, with significance.
This time Maria fairly rose to her feet, and seemed much agitated. “Connection?” she stammered. “Impossible; what could Julia have to do with Mr. Grent?”
“That is what I wish to find out, miss. Julia Brawn met Mr. Grent in Mortality-lane and—”
“No; but she was accompanied by some unknown man, who did. Afterwards she and her confederate went to Cleopatra’s Needle, and there she was killed.”
“By her confederate?”
Darrel uttered an ejaculation. “That is a new idea,” he said approvingly. “It might be so.”
“Impossible,” said Torry roughly. “If Julia was killed by her accomplice there would have been no need for the second Blue Mummy. Eh?”
The query was drawn from the detective by a sudden start on the part of Maria when he mentioned the Blue Mummy. “What do you know about it, miss?” he asked brusquely.
“About—about what?” she said nervously.
Ever confident in the power of a surprise to extort the truth, by unexpectedly startling the nerves. Torry drew the Blue Mummy, which he always carried with him, from his pocket, and tossed it lightly into the lap of Maria. “About that,” he said abruptly.
The girl gave a faint cry, and looked down into her lap as though a snake were coiled in it, then quietly swooned away.
“Ah!” said Torry unmoved, “a guilty conscience!”
“You brute!” cried Darrel, starting to his feet, “don’t you see the poor girl has fainted? Ring the bell? call the servants.”
“Do neither,” shouted the detective savagely; “Leave the matter to me. Get water out of that vase of flowers, and sprinkle it on her face. I have smelling salts here, which I always carry for cases of this kind. Oh, it is not the first time I have seen ladies faint when brought into contact with the law.”
“What do you mean?” asked Darrel angrily, as he sprinkled the white face with water.
“I mean,” said Torry, holding a bottle under Maria’s nostrils, “That we shall have some strange revelations when this lady recovers.”
“She is recovering now,” cried Frank eagerly, “Thank God.”
Donna Maria heaved a long sigh, and the colour began to come back slowly to her cheeks. Then she opened her eyes languidly and sat up with an effort. Torry had been judicious enough to put the image into his pocket again, and, at the first moments of her recovery, Maria could not collect her scattered senses sufficiently to remember what had occurred. All at once the memory came back, and, flushing a deep crimson, she staggered to her feet, and made as if to leave the room. Torry placed himself in her way.
“No, madam,” said he, sternly, “you do not leave until you explain.”
“Excuse me, sir, I am not well,” faltered Maria appealingly.
But the detective was not to be moved by such feminine wiles, “You must remain and answer my questions,” he said coldly.
“Torry,” cried Frank, who was moved by the obvious distress of the girl, “this lady is ill. You can question her another time.”
“I intend to question her now.”
“You shall not do so unless she consents.”
“Oh,” said Torry, sneering, “of course, if Miss Sandoval is afraid—”
“I afraid?” interrupted Maria, her courage and coolness coming back at the contemptuous word. “Enough, sir. I shall remain and answer any questions you choose to put to me.”
She seated herself like a queen about to receive the homage of courtiers, but found time to flash a glance of gratitude on Darrel for his championship. The young man felt his pulses thrill at the look in those glorious dark eyes, and sat down with rapidly-beating pulses. Torry the cold-blooded, long past the age of sentiment, merely nodded in dry approval of the lady’s sense, and produced his notebook in order to set down her replies.
“Why did you faint at the sight of the Blue Mummy, miss?”
“Because it is connected in my mind with Mr. Grent, and the memory of his tragic death was too much for my nerves.”
“What had Mr. Grent to do with the mummy?”
“I don’t know. One day I saw an image, such as the one you shewed me, on his desk. I asked him what it was, and he explained that it was the symbol of a society.”
“Of a secret society?”
“Let us say of a Peruvian secret society.”
Maria hesitated. “Mr. Grent said that the image came from Peru, but he did not explain that the society belonged to the same place.”
“What do you know about this society?”
“Nothing more than I have told you.”
“But you are a native of Peru, miss?”
“I am; the daughter of Mrs. Grent’s brother, and born in Lima. I came over to England to be a companion to my aunt.”
“Then you must have heard about this secret society in your native land?”
“You mistake, sir,” replied Donna Maria coldly. “I heard nothing.”
“Was no mention made of the Blue Mummy?”
“Not in my hearing. My sole knowledge of the image you speak of was gained from Mr. Grent.”
“You have told me everything?” he said.
Torry reflected. “Do you know if Mr. Grent was mixed up with this society in any way?”
“He never said so. I cannot say.”
“Well,” said Torry, rather disappointed at the failure of his efforts, “let us return to the subject of your maid. Her name was Julia Brawn?”
“How long was she in your service?”
“Close on a year.”
“When did she leave you?”
“About a week before the murder of Mr. Grent.”
“You dismissed her?”
“No,” said Maria calmly; “She was an excellent servant, and I was sorry to lose her. She left me of her own free will.”
“For what reason?”
“I understood she was about to be married.”
“Aha!” murmured Torry, “so there was a lover after all, and I daresay he killed Grent out of jealousy. Perhaps Julia is not so much an accomplice as a victim.” He thought for a few moments, then continued his examination. “Do you know the name of the man she intended to marry?”
“No; I never heard her mention his name.”
“Do you know if any man called to walk out with her?”
“Sir!” cried Maria indignantly. “I do not take sufficient interest in my servants to spy on them.”
“Beg pardon—beg pardon,” said Torry hastily, “Quite right. I should not have asked that question. So Julia Brawn left you?”
“Yes; and I gave her that hat when she went away.”
“Did Mr. Grent take any notice of her while she was in the house?”
“Not that I know of,” replied Donna Sandoval coldly. “I do not think he was even aware of her existence.”
“Strange! Yet he met her in Mortality-lane.”
“You say so,” said Maria scornfully.
“Oh, it is true! I can prove it. She—”
“Don’t trouble yourself to explain, sir. If Julia met Mr. Grent, she must have had some motive; but I tell you, he quite overlooked her here. I can think of no reason why a gentleman of my uncle’s position should make an appointment with a servant.”
“About as much reason as he had for disguising himself.”
Maria sighed and shook her head. “It is a mystery,” she declared. “I cannot understand it at all. Do you wish to ask me further questions, sir?”
“Yes. Did you visit Mr. Grent’s rooms in Duke-street on the day of his death?”
The girl bit her lip and clenched her hands. “No,” she said coldly. “No.”
“Humph!” thought Torry. “That is a lie.”
Although Torry doubted the truth of Donna Maria’s answer he was too clever to let his face and tongue betray him. To contradict so high-spirited a woman would be to reduce her to haughty silence; perhaps to send her out of the room, with no chance of resuming the conversation. The detective desired to learn all she knew, while she was in the humour to speak; therefore he held his peace in the face of her doubtful statement. He then recollected that Meek had declared that the lady who had visited the Duke street chambers on that fatal Saturday had worn a peculiar ring—a silver hoop set with three turquoise stones. Incidentally he looked at Maria’s hands, and noted with some chagrin that she wore no rings at all. This discovery made him doubt his own perspicuity, and he half-believed that she might have spoken the truth after all.
“The last time I saw Mr. Grent,” said Maria, seeing that the man did not speak, “was on Friday evening. He dined here, and afterwards said good-bye to his wife and myself, as he intended to leave for Italy on Sunday. A few days afterwards we heard that he was dead.”
“Who informed you?”
“Mr. Leighbourne and Mr. Vass; they came down to break the news as gently as possible to my aunt.”
“I suppose these two young gentlemen were often here?” said Darrel, with an afterthought that one or both might love the beautiful Creole.
“Naturally,” she replied coldly. “Especially Mr. Vass, who was secretary to my uncle. His duties brought him often to Wray House.”
“Miss,” said Torry, looking sharply at the lady, “have you any idea who murdered Mr. Grent?”
“No!” she exclaimed passionately. “I swear by all the saints I do not know.”
“Had he any enemies?”
“None that I know of.”
“Did Julia Brawn ever speak ill of him?”
“Certainly not; she would not have dared to do so to me, under pain of instant dismissal. But you surely don’t suspect her.”
“No,” confessed Torry dismally, “I do not. It was a man’s arm which dealt the fatal blow. But what was your maid doing in Mortality-lane?”
“Are you sure it was Julia?”
“Certain! We found her dead near the Needle on the Embankment, and the lace of her mantle was torn. A portion of it was in the death-grip of her former master. Oh, it is the same woman without a doubt.”
“How was she dressed?” said Maria with feminine curiosity.
“In that hat, a fawn-coloured mantle trimmed with black lace—why—why! what is the matter?”
“A fawn-coloured mantle,” stammered Maria, who had half risen from her chair, and was staring at Torry with horrified eyes—“with lace, and—and black braid?”
“Yes, yes; do you know it?”
“I do—I do! Mother of Sorrows have pity on me!” She crossed herself rapidly, and walking to the window, looked out, quivering with emotion. The two men stared at one another; then Torry walked forward and touched the girl’s arm. She shrank away with a cry.
“What do you know of that mantle?” he asked softly.
Maria hesitated and shook her head; then, evidently making up her mind, she turned to face Torry. “I have to ask your pardon,” said she in low tones. “I doubted if the woman who met my uncle was Julia. Now I know that it was her. I gave her that mantle. Ah, God! to think she should be so evil!”
“We do not know that,” replied Torry, accepting the explanation as sufficient. “She may have been more sinned against than sinning. In any case, she has paid for all her follies with her life.”
“Poor wretch! And who killed her?”
“I don’t know; but I am sure her lover—the man she went away to marry—killed Mr. Grent. If I could only learn that fellow’s personal appearance! He must have done his courting here, as Julia was in your service for so long. You never saw him, Miss?”
“No; but the servants might have done so.”
“An excellent idea!” cried Torry, rubbing his hands. “Mr. Darrel, will you be so kind as to remain here? Miss Sandoval, please take me to see your butler; he, if anyone, will know the truth. Failing him, I’ll try the housekeeper.”
“Very well, sir,” said Donna Maria, rising and walking towards the door. “I hope you’ll be able to discover the truth.”
“You wish to punish the assassin of your uncle?” said Darrel, more for the sake of asking a last question than because he needed a reply.
“Punish him!” cried the girl, drawing herself up to her stately height. “I would give ten years of my life to see a rope round his cowardly neck!”
After which passionate speech she passed out of the room.
“Spice of temper there,” chuckled Torry, and went after her, leaving Darrel alone in the room.
The young man walked up and down to calm his spirit and quiet his brain. Always of a passionate and sensuous nature, he had hitherto curbed his instincts by a strong will, and subdued his love of pleasure in order to serve his art the more faithfully. He had never been in love, and in a somewhat cold-blooded fashion had regarded the other sex more or less as object-studies, to be analysed mercilessly for the creation of types in fiction. But the god of love, who will not be denied, and who sooner or later, asserts his empire over all born of the flesh, had come to Frank Darrel, in all his might, and the heart-free man of an hour since was now in danger of becoming the slave of a woman. It was incredible, Darrel argued, that he could have fallen in love with one whom he had known scarcely an hour, who had entered into his life only on that day. Yet, how otherwise was he able to account for the strange excitement which possessed him? He was hot one moment, cold the next; burning as with fever, chilled as with ague; and ever before his eyes appeared that lovely face with the glorious eyes and rich colouring. Donna Maria was a tropical flower, burning and gorgeous; and the splendour of her beauty, the passion of the spirit which flamed in her eyes, and governed the inflexions of her voice, moved the heart of Darrel strangely. The miracle of the man’s life had occurred; and—although he scarcely knew it—he was in love. And why should not love be born of a glance? The improbable is always the possible.
Taken up with his own thoughts, Darrel did not observe that the man and woman who had been walking in the garden were entering the room through one of the French windows. An exclamation of astonishment from the lady roused him from his brown study, and he turned to explain his presence. As he did so, the man, a light-haired, fresh-coloured young fellow of thirty, ran forward with a smile and outstretched hand.
“Darrel, my dear boy, is this you?” he cried heartily.
“Roderick Mortimer!” said Darrel, clasping the stranger’s hand.
“Not now. I am Roderick Blake. An Irish uncle left me property on the condition that I took his name. The property has gone, but the name remains. No wonder you didn’t recognise your old schoolfellow by it.”
“I should know you anywhere; you are not altered at all.”
“Faith! that’s a compliment,” said Blake angrily; “but it’s my manners I’m forgetting. Lydia, my dear, let me present to you an old friend and schoolfellow, Mr. Frank Darrel, barrister and novelist, which means that he has left the law and taken to the profits. Darrel, my boy, Miss Lydia Hargone, who will very shortly be changed into Mrs. Roderick Blake, of Rainbow Castle, Cloud-cuckoo Land.”
“Roderick, how you do rattle on!” said Lydia, smilingly. “I am very glad to see you, Mr. Darrel.”
The governess was a fair-haired, bland woman, with grey eyes and a rather hard mouth. She was not beautiful, but possessed an attractive manner, and was dressed with a quiet perfection that shewed excellent taste. In spite of her lack of good looks, there was that about her—what the Italians call simpatica—which would attract at least eight men out of ten. As she pressed Frank’s hand and smiled at him with her grey eyes, he felt that here was a woman who could have made him love her. But Miss Hargone, as Frank judged, needed to employ the arts of Vivien to capture hearts; whereas, as in his own case, these same hearts were thrown at the feet of Donna Maria merely because of her splendid beauty. Each woman was attractive in her own way.
“And what are you doing down here?” said Blake, throwing himself into a chair. “I did not know you knew Mrs. Grent.”
“Nor do I,” replied Darrel flushing a little. “I came down here with a detective.”
Lydia started, and with a little shudder raised her hands in dismay. “Not about that dreadful murder?”
“Yes, Miss Hargone about that dreadful murder. I am assisting the detective in charge of the case to investigate it.”
“Are you, now?” cried Blake, whose brogue became marked when he grew excited. “Sure, it’s not thief-catching you’ve taken up?”
“Oh, no; I am merely investigating the case in an amateur way.”
“Have you discovered anything, Mr. Darrel,” asked Lydia softly.
Frank shrugged his shoulders. “A few things,” he said, “but nothing likely to lead to the detection of the assassin.”
“But there are two of them, they say,” remarked Blake. “It’s in the papers. One man killed poor old Grent; the other murdered that wretched woman.”
“Well,” said Darrel deliberately, “for my part I believe that both crimes were committed by the same man.”
“Really!” cried Lydia, much astonished, “How do you know?”
“It is too long to explain the theory upon which my belief is founded,” said Frank; “but I am sure that the man who killed Grent also assassinated Julia Brawn.”
“Julia Brawn!” said Blake, starting up; “why, that is the name of Donna Maria’s maid!”
“So it is; the maid who left to get married a fortnight ago,” said Lydia.
“And the maid who was murdered a week since,” remarked Frank, much amused at the astonishment of the pair.
“Well!” cried Blake, slapping his thigh, “If that doesn’t beat Bannagher; and Bannagher beats the devil! Two people from the one house! Begad, Darrel, I’d like to help you myself! It’s fine work, man-hunting.”
“You’ll have to ask Mr. Torry’s permission first Blake.”
“Torry—who is he?”
“The detective in charge of the case,” said Frank. “At present he is with Donna Maria, examining the servants. Ah! here he comes.”
At this remark quite in the style of the old transpontine drama, the door opened and Donna Maria, followed by Torry, entered the room. Darrel explained to the lady that he had discovered an old schoolfellow in Mr. Roderick Blake, and presented the detective to his friend and to Miss Hargone. This accomplished, he asked Torry if he had been successful.
“No,” said the detective dismally. “I’ve found out nothing. Not one of the servants have seen the fellow.”
As he spoke Torry mechanically looked at Miss Hargone’s face. She was staring at him hard; therefore, with some embarrassment, his eyes dropped to her hands. Then he made a discovery, for on the third finger of her right hand was a silver ring set with three blue stones.
Having garnered all obtainable evidence, for the time being at Wray House; the detective and his coadjutor returned to town. Before their departure, however, Blake noted the address of his old schoolfellow, and promised to pay him a visit at an early date. Darrel, knowing that Roderick wished to assist in finding out the mystery, resolved to ask Torry if he would permit him to do so. This request he made when they were in the train on their way back to Waterloo.
“What do you think of my friend Blake?” he asked, abruptly.
“A nice fellow, but flippant,” replied Torry. “Not much earnestness of purpose there.”
“I am sorry you think so, as Blake is anxious to assist us in this matter. It seems that he was a great friend of Mr. Grent’s, and is naturally angered by his cowardly assassination; also, he has nothing to do, and wishes to employ his time. What do you say?”
“Humph! Mr. Blake is the lover of Miss Hargone?”
“Yes he is engaged to marry her. Is that any bar to your utilising his services?”
“It may be, sir. You see, this Lydia Hargone is the woman who called at Grent’s chambers on that Saturday.”
“Are you sure?” said Frank, somewhat startled.
“As sure as one can be, in this world of mistakes,” replied Torry drily. “At all events, she wears on the third finger of her right hand a silver ring set with three turquoise stones, Meek noticed that ring as worn by the veiled lady who visited Grent. At first, owing to the confused manner of Donna Maria, I fancied she might be the individual. However I was wrong. The evidence of the ring assures me that Lydia Hargone paid that visit. Why?”
“There is nothing peculiar in her paying a visit to her employer.”
“Grent was not her employer then. She had left his service some time. Now, Donna Maria is—”
“I won’t hear a word against that lady,” interrupted Darrel hotly.
“Because she is beautiful; your romance again. Well as you please; but you must admit that it was strange she should faint at the sight of the Blue Mummy.”
“Vass fainted in the same way.”
“I know he did, and Miss Sandoval gives the same explanation for her fainting as he did. Both of them saw the Blue Mummy on Grent’s desk, and its connection with his murder came so forcibly to their memories that they fainted. Now, I said before, and I say again that the explanation is feeble and untrue.”
“But surely you don’t think Donna Maria guilty of the crime?”
“No; don’t jump to conclusions. I think both she and Vass are innocent enough, but I fancy they know something likely to clear up the mystery of the death, if they would but speak.”
“Torry,” cried Darrel earnestly, “I am sure Donna Maria wishes to discover the assassin of her uncle. You heard her say so?”
“Oh, yes I heard her say so. Words! words! words Why does she not own up?”
“Own up what?” inquired Frank obstinately.
“She doesn’t know it.”
“She may not know all of it, but she knows half, and Vass knows the other half. If those two would only put their halves together we might arrest this mysterious assassin.”
“But why should they not speak out?” argued Darrel.
“Because they are shielding someone.”
Torry looked straight at the young man. “Let us say Donna Inez.”
“You are mad!”
“Bah! I am only theoretical,” retorted Torry coolly. “Listen. So far as I can see by the imperfect and scattered evidence we have collected, there is a choice of two motives to account for this crime One is that Grent was murdered for the sake of that ten thousand pounds.”
“But you can’t prove that he had the money. Vass says—”
“I know what Vass says—that the money was in the safe after Grent went. Well, that seems to dispose of the robbery motive. All the same, I would have you remember that when you met Grent he had on him some valuable which he fancied you might take from him. I suggested at our first conversation that it might be a jewel.”
“Now, I know that if he carried anything to the rendezvous with Julia Brawn it was that stolen money.”
“Rubbish! I say again that you can’t prove how it came into Grent’s possession.”
“Vass might have taken it out of the safe and given it to his master next day.”
“Torry,” said Darrel gravely, “when Vass left the bank on Friday night the money was in the safe.”
“Are you certain of that?”
“I am. Leighbourne told me that he saw it there before he left the office. Vass left the bank along with Leighbourne. The next day he was ill.”
“Who was—Vass or Leighbourne?”
“The former. Don’t you remember Leighbourne told us so?”
“Ah, yes,” cried Torry, with a recollection of the conversation with the banker. “And I thought it was an unnecessary piece of information. Leighbourne said that Vass had been absent from the bank from Saturday till the day we called—that was Tuesday.”
“Then,” said Frank gravely, “you see how unjust your suspicions are. Vass could not have given Grent the money, since he—Grent—was murdered on Sunday morning.”
“H’m! that disposes of the robbery theory. Still,” cried Torry, striking his knee with open hand, “I am content to believe that Grent had the money on that night. However, let that pass, and let us come to the second motive—jealousy.”
“Jealousy!” repeated Frank contemptuously; “surely you don’t believe that Donna Inez was jealous of Julia Brawn?”
“No; but she might have been jealous of Lydia Hargone.”
“Why, so far as I can see, Grent had nothing to do with the governess.”
“So far as you can see,” said Torry significantly. “Nevertheless, on the evidence of the ring, Miss Hargone paid a visit to Grent’s chambers on the day, so to speak, of his murder.”
“That doesn’t prove that there was love between them.”
“It proves that there was communication and understanding,” retorted Torry tartly.
“Well,” said Frank, wearied of the discussion, “we are only spinning ropes of sand in talking theory. What about Blake? Can I tell him the case, and say you’ll let him assist?”
“Yes,” replied Torry promptly. “He may help us by revealing the secret doings of Lydia Hargone.”
“He’ll never do that,” rejoined Darrel coldly. “Blake is a gentleman, and is engaged to Miss Hargone.”
“I dare say. I don’t say that he’ll assist us purposely in that way; but, my dear sir, your friend is a chatterbox and can’t keep a secret. He’ll say things he shouldn’t say, and will regret revealing them afterwards. Tell him all, enlist his services, and,” added Torry significantly, “let him talk.”
“It seems rather a shabby thing to do,” said Darrel reluctantly.
“All is fair in love and war and detective work, sir. Your conscience is too fine-spun.”
“I am afraid it is,” replied Darrel gloomily. “However, I promised to help you and I shall keep my promise.”
That evening, as Torry was off on a man-hunt of his own, and did not require Darrel’s assistance, the young man sat down, as usual, to his work. But, in spite of his resolution to write, he was unable to do so, for the beautiful face of Maria was constantly before his eyes, and her deep rich voice sounded always in his ears. Her image was indelibly impressed on his mind, and, notwithstanding all endeavours, he could not rid himself of that charming phantom. In place of scribbling realistic prose, he felt more inclined to compose amorous poetry, for he had entered into the kingdom of love, lured thither by a woman’s loveliness, and was enduring, in no very patient spirit, the torments which are there inflicted on new-comers. A woman’s face, a woman’s voice, a woman’s absence: of such parts were his torments composed.
Darrel recognised that it was impossible to write while in this vein, so he threw down his pen in despair, and wandered forth on his nightly quest for adventures. But the spirit to seek them did not move him, and in place of observing the life around him, he turned his eyes inward to contemplate the loved image of Maria Sandoval. Disappointed, worried, and racked with a thousand doubts, this lover of a day turned homeward, where he retired to bed and did his best to sleep. For the most part of the night he courted slumber in vain, but towards morning exhausted nature claimed her rights, and Darrel slept heavily until ten o’clock. While he was idling over his breakfast, with a tired face and no appetite, Roderick Blake was announced, and entered fresh as a rose to greet his friend.
“How are you my boy?” said the Irishman, who was in exuberant spirits. “You see, I haven’t lost much time in looking you up. Breakfast, is it? Ham, eggs, and fish; a mighty good notion of a meal it is. Faith, I don’t mind assisting you to clear the table.”
“Sit down and welcome. I haven’t got any appetite myself,” said Darrel.
Blake required no second invitation, but, taking off his gloves, drew a chair up to the table and did wonders as a trencherman. The food melted like snow before his healthy appetite, and all the time he was chatting and laughing and making himself generally agreeable. His sunny clean-shaven face twinkled all over with humour, and his incessant flow of conversation, more or less trivial, did much to raise Darrel’s spirits. He even acknowledged the service Blake had done him in banishing care.
“And I’m glad to see,” he added, “that you have not lost the appetite for which you were renowned at school.”
“Faith, no! but it’s little chance I’ve had of satisfying that appetite,” replied Blake airily.
“What! have you been hard up?”
“No; but I’m hard up now.”
“Yet you talk of marrying,” said Frank reprovingly.
“Not at present. Lydia will wait till I am rich,” replied the other. “We are both young and can wait.”
“How do you intend to become rich?”
“Not by working, my dear boy,” rejoined Blake lighting his pipe, “but by inheritance.”
“Another Irish uncle!”
“Faith, no; a grand aunt, who is mighty ill at present. I’ll come in for her money when she takes the last vacancy for an angel.”
Darrel could not help laughing at the oddity of the remark, the more especially as it was accompanied by a sly wink. Then he became grave.
“I’m afraid you are an awful scamp, Blake.”
“Just so,” said Roderick complacently. “I’m a rolling stone; and, faith, I’ve been rolling all over the world these ten years.”
“Oh!” remarked Frank, with a recollection of the case; “have you been in South America?”
“You bet, sir; in every part of it.”
“Rather; for two years.”
“You know a good deal about the place, I suppose?”
Blake shrugged his shoulders. “I knew more than was good for me,” he said with a gloomy look.
“Have you ever come across this sort of thing?” asked Darrel, and produced the Blue Mummy.
“Heaven and earth!” cried Blake, his florid face growing white. “Where did you get that accursed image?”
Frank was amazed by the look on Blake’s face. He was quite livid, and an expression of horror was in his eyes. His brow was wet with perspiration, his strong frame trembled, and he seemed to be overcome with terror at the sight of the tomb image. Recollecting the behavior of Vass and Maria, the novelist began to think that the Blue Mummy was of the nature of a basilisk and rendered insane all who looked at it. From being gay and composed, Blake was now terror-stricken and nervous; that fatal image had transformed the bold, confident Irishman into a trembling and abject coward. So astonished was Darrel that he could not speak; and it was Roderick who broke the silence.
“You—you,” he said in a hesitating manner—“you are not a member of that infernal society?”
“What society?” asked Darrel, pretending ignorance to learn the more.
“The Society of the Blue Mummy.”
“Set your mind at rest, Blake. I know nothing about the society.”
The strain on Roderick’s nerves relaxed, and he fell back on his chair with an exhausted look. “Have you any brandy?” he murmured faintly; “the sight of that devilish idol has given me a turn.”
Still greatly amazed by Roderick’s speech and manner, Darrel hastened to the side-board and brought thence a small glass of cognac. On drinking this the courage of Blake revived; the blood came back to his cheeks, the strength to his limbs; and he sat up briskly, with an apology for his momentary weakness.
“But you put the fear of God into me, my dear fellow,” said he with a shudder; “indeed you did. I thought I was done for.”
“How do you mean—done for?”
“Well I fancied that you produced that Blue Mummy as a sign of my death.”
“Oh, is it usually a sign of death.”
“Invariably. How it came into your possession, and you still alive, is more than I can make out.”
“The explanation is very simple,” replied Darrel.
“This image was found beside the body of Grent.”
Blake opened his eyes and whistled. “So that explains the mystery of his death,” he said under his breath. “The society killed him.”
“Oh, I don’t know the reason,” replied Blake. “How can you expect me to? But if he hadn’t been killed by that society the Blue Mummy would not have been left by his corpse as a symbol of its vengeance.”
“But what is this society which kills people in this barbarous way?”
“I’ll tell you all I know,” said Roderick gravely, “and you can judge for yourself. One moment.”
He looked into Frank’s bedroom, glanced out of the sitting-room windows, and opened the outside door to assure himself that no one was on the stairs. Then he returned to his seat, and found Frank’s eyes fixed on him with an expression of amused contempt.
“Why are you making all this theatrical display?” said he sarcastically. “You are quite safe here, I assure you. I suspect this society of yours is only a bogey to scare weak-minded people.”
“It did more than scare Grent,” retorted Blake significantly.
Darrel shrugged his shoulders. “I shall reserve my opinion until I hear your story,” he said good-humouredly. “But first, where does this society you talk of exist?”
“In Peru—in Lima.”
“Then how is it Grent has fallen a victim in London?”
“I don’t know. Hear my story, and judge for yourself. But I must tell you, Darrel, that this is no fairy tale I relate, but a stubborn fact. People—yourself, for instance—might not believe it, because it is not in the newspapers; but it is true for all that—terribly true, as I have reason to know.”
He glanced round the room again, and passed his handkerchief over his dry lips. Then he began his tale, in a hurried, nervous fashion, as though he half repented of his resolution to tell it.
“I was in Peru some two years ago,” he said, “very hard up, and quite alone, without friend or foe in the whole country. I managed to get a billet as clerk in the office of a Scotch merchant; and although the pay was not large, still it was sufficient to keep me alive. In my own way, I managed to enjoy myself, and to gain a fair knowledge of the Spanish tongue. As you may guess, I was by no means satisfied with my position, and I wished to improve it. Hearing much about gold and silver mines, and the unexpectedness with which they were discovered, I used to lurk about the low quarters of Lima in the hope of gathering information regarding these discoveries from stray Indians. I knew that these peons frequently knew about mines of great riches, but from detestation of the Spaniards would never reveal their whereabouts.”
“And you fancied you might learn the locality of some rich mine?”
“Precisely. For that purpose I haunted the native portion of the town, and, as you may guess, met with many adventures, more or less perilous. One of these bore on the mystery of the Blue Mummy.”
“Let us hear your mystery,” said Frank; “it may explain mine.”
“Possibly it may, Darrel. Well, one night when I was returning at a late hour to my poor lodgings, I had to take my way through some rather lonely streets. The night was dark, few people were about, and the streets were badly lighted; so, recollecting these things, I walked carefully and vigilantly, lest I should be attacked by footpads. Suddenly, as I was nearing my lodgings, I heard a terrible cry for help, and dashed round the corner of a street, to find a man lying in the middle of it. Two other men ran away at the sound of my footsteps; and I found that their victim was seriously wounded. Still, he was sufficiently conscious to speak, and asked me in a faint whisper to look for the Blue Mummy.”
“Ah! the two men had left it as a token?”
“Yes; I found the image on the ground, and shewed it to the wounded man. He gazed at it with terror, and swooned from dread and loss of blood. I was bent on saving him, if only to learn about the Blue Mummy, for I own that so strange an object piqued my curiosity. As the man was small and light, and I was, as I am still, very strong, I picked him up in my arms, and carried him to my lodgings, which were no great distance away. Then I sent for a doctor, who, after an examination, told me that the poor devil was dying. And die he did, on that very night, four hours after I rescued him; but out of gratitude for my interference he told me the secret of the Blue Mummy.”
“Good,” said Frank, much excited. “Let us hear it.”
“The man’s name,” resumed Blake, wiping the perspiration from his forehead, “was Pablo Mendoza, and he had been a person of some position and wealth. As he was, therefore, a desirable personage, likely to be useful, he had been induced to join the secret society of the P.P.’s.”
“Who are the P.P.’s?”
“The Society of the Patriotic Peruvians,” explained Blake. “So far as I can understand, it is formed mostly of Indians, who desire to restore the empire of the Incas, and of Spanish adventurers disaffected towards the Republic of Peru. The symbol of this society is a tomb image, Now these images—”
“I know all about them,” interrupted Frank. “They are substitutes for living people, placed in ancient Peruvian tombs.”
“Exactly. Well, this society was shewn one of these Inca sepulchres by an old Indian, and found therein over a thousand blue images placed on shelves round the embalmed body, one for each member of the dead man’s household. On this discovery the society took the Blue Mummy as its symbol. Whenever a man hostile to the society was to die an image was sent to him; when a man was killed an image was placed beside his body.”
“In that case I should think the supply would soon be exhausted.”
“Oh no; for after the image had done its mission, which was to intimate who had slain the victim, it was recovered in some way, and restored to the society. For instance, when Mendoza died—by the way, he had been killed for betraying some secrets of the society—well, sir,” pursued Blake, “when he died I kept the Blue Mummy, and it nearly cost me my life.”
“After the death of Mendoza the society became aware—I don’t know how—that I, who had rescued him, was possessed of the symbol of death. Henceforth I was nearly always in danger of death, and several times I ran the risk of stabbing, drowning, poisoning, and many other ways of being got rid of. A friend of mine, who knew about the society, advised me to get rid of the Blue Mummy, so one night I placed it in a niche outside my door. It disappeared within an hour, so after that I had no further trouble.”
“But what is the object of this society?”
“To restore native Indian rule; and, like the Anarchists, it works by secret assassination, in order to startle and intimidate those in power.”
“Has the society any money?”
“Oh, yes; I believe it is well supplied with funds. You see, the Indians know of many buried and hidden treasures, concealed at the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru; so I suppose they devote those riches to the plots for reconstructing the Empire of the Incas.”
“All this is very clear and plausible so far as Peru is concerned,” said Frank after a pause, “but I don’t see how this system of political plotting and wholesale murder comes to exist in England.”
“I can tell you, Darrel. About a year ago the Peruvian Government resolved to put an end to the society, and many people were arrested. They tried to get hold of the money owned by the society, but those who had charge of it fled with it to England and took up their abode in London.”
“Is Captain Manuel one of these people?”
“I can’t say for certain, but I am pretty sure he is.”
“Has he the funds of the society in his possession?”
“A portion of them, maybe,” replied Blake. “The society is too clever to put all its eggs into one basket or in one country. In France, Italy, Germany, and Spain there are representatives, who look after and have in their possession a portion of the funds; so if one man proves a traitor and embezzles the money, the others will, probably, remain staunch. I don’t know much about Captain Manuel, save that I have met him once or twice at Wray House, but it is my opinion that he is the treasurer of the society in London.”
“I quite believe that, Blake; and the amount of his funds is ten thousand pounds.”
“Really!” cried Roderick, much astonished. “But how do you know?”
“Because Captain Manuel had that amount, and before Grent’s death placed it in his hands.”
“But Grent is dead; so where is the money now?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” echoed Blake, jumping up. “What do you mean?”
“What I say,” rejoined Darrel drily, “The money has been stolen.”
“Stolen! Good Lord! and by whom?”
Frank shrugged his shoulders. “I am as ignorant of that as I am of the man’s name who killed Grent. Listen. I have Torry’s permission to tell you the case.”
“I am all attention,” said Blake, resuming his seat.
At once Frank began his story, and narrated all details of the affair from the time he met Mr. Grent disguised in Drury-lane down to Vass’s announcement of the robbery. For obvious reasons he did not speak of Torry’s discovery of the turquoise ring on Lydia Hargone’s finger. Blake listened with profound attention, and, when the narrative was ended, sprang to his feet.
“After what you have told me I see it all,” he cried. “Surely, putting my story and yours together, you can guess who killed Grent and Julia Brawn?”
“No, I cannot. Who do you think is the murderer?”
“Who? Why, Captain Manuel, to be sure. He murdered them both.”
It cannot be said that Torry had been particularly lucky hitherto in elucidating the mystery of the double tragedy. Certainly he had collected a quantity of evidence, but none likely to indicate directly the names of the assassins. He suspected that Vass and Donna Maria, for reasons of their own, were shielding Mrs. Grent; but this belief had no real foundation in fact. It was incredible that Donna Inez could have had anything to do with the murder of a husband to whom she was fondly attached; yet Torry could not explain the conduct of Maria and Vass on any other grounds than that they knew of something which implicated the elder woman in the affair. Putting Vass out of the question, there was no one, save her aunt, whom Maria had an interest in screening; and Torry was confident that the Spanish girl was screening someone. She knew the truth, he believed, but kept silent for the sake of a certain person. Was that person Donna Inez? He could not, so far as the known evidence went, answer that question.
Darrel had been careful to inform the detective of his interview with Blake and all that the Irishman had told him. He related the story of the Blue Mummy Society, and ended with an account of Roderick’s denunciation of Captain Manuel. Torry believed the first, but disputed the second, although Blake, with red-hot enthusiasm, made out a very ingenious case against the Spaniard. He declared that Grent must have taken the ten thousand pounds to deliver to Julia Brawn in Mortality-lane; that when he had given her the money he had been attacked and killed by Manuel as having stolen the funds of the society; that Manuel, not finding the money on his dead body, had surmised that it was in the possession of Julia Brawn, and, having followed her to the Embankment, had killed her near Cleopatra’s Needle. Then he had taken the money off her, and had sent it to Paris. Afterwards, to conceal his crime and gain for himself or the society an additional ten thousand pounds, he had applied to Grent’s bank for the missing money. “It is as clear as day,” said Roderick, “that Captain Manuel is the assassin.”
“Rubbish!” said Torry when the details of this accusation were submitted to him by Darrel. “Clear as day, indeed! Clear as mud, he means. In the first place, we have absolutely no proof that Grent was in possession of the money on the night of his death; in the second, as the theft was not discovered until three or four days after the murder, Manuel could not have known beforehand that the funds of his society were missing; therefore he had no motive to commit the crime. Again, it has been clearly proved by the evidence of the third cabman that Julia Brawn, with an unknown man, drove to the Embankment in the most leisurely manner, and as there were no fourth cab near Mortality-lane at that time, Manuel, even presuming him to have been present, could not have followed sufficiently rapidly to have caught her. Finally,” concluded Torry, “the man who was with Julia might have let Manuel kill Grent, but he would not have permitted him to assassinate Julia.”
“But the man might have been Manuel himself,” urged Frank.
“He might have been, if you go by the evidence of the two blue images which Manuel, as a representative of the society, might have placed by the bodies. But, ignorant of the loss of the money, Manuel had no motive to kill Grent. No, Mr. Darrel, whosoever killed these unlucky people, it was not this Spanish gentleman.”
“Yet if you go by the story of Blake, the two victims undoubtedly were killed by order of the society.”
“I grant you that,” admitted Torry quickly, “and as Manuel represents this cut-throat association, I’ll have him watched.”
“Why not have him arrested?”
“Because I have not sufficient evidence to obtain a warrant for his arrest,” said Torry. “Also,” he added with emphasis, “I prefer to play a waiting game.”
From this position Torry was not to be moved. Nothing could convince him of Captain Manuel’s guilt; and certainly the Spaniard acted in every way like an innocent man. He came daily to see the detective and ask after the case. He offered to submit himself to the authorities for examination, and this offer having been accepted, gave an account of the Patriotic Peruvian Society. His story was similar to that of Blake, but he denied that the members of the society were in the habit of assassinating people. They were actuated, he declared, by the purest of motives, and sought to gain their ends by upright methods. Manuel also confessed that several of the tomb images had been stolen, and might have been placed by the assassin near the body to implicate the society in the crimes. The Spaniard also explained that he had passed the evening of the murder, first at the theatre, and afterwards at the house of an acquaintance, where he was playing cards until a late hour. This account was corroborated by several witnesses, and it was conclusively proved that Manuel could not have killed Grent or Julia Brawn. Torry was triumphant at this confirmation of his opinion.
“You see, Mr. Darrel, I was right,” he said, rubbing his hands.
“So far as Manuel is concerned, you are, Torry; but I believe that the society had the murders committed. Manuel may not have done the deeds himself, but he instructed the murderers.”
“Nonsense! I believe jealousy was the motive of the double crime.”
“And I believe the motive was robbery! Grent stole the ten thousand, and was murdered for the sake of it.”
“In that case, the society, as represented by Manuel, could not have killed him, as he did not know that the money was lost.”
Darrel groaned. “You are beginning the argument all over again, my good fellow,” he said, stopping his ears. “For my part, I do not believe that the truth will ever be discovered.”
And, indeed, it seemed as though Frank spoke with the spirit of prophecy; for three or four days passed without anything of importance being discovered. Torry tried in vain to ascertain the whereabouts of the stolen notes, the numbers of which he obtained from Manuel. Not a single one could be traced; so it seemed as though the assassin, fearful of the outcry which had followed the committal of the double crime, had hesitated to put them into circulation. At the time of the inquest the robbery had not been mentioned, as the loss had not been discovered until afterwards. Torry therefore carefully kept the fact of the theft from the reporters.
“It is foolish to put everything in the newspapers,” said he shrewdly, “as details of our doings only reveal our plans, and when in print may put the assassin on his guard. He would learn our hand, but we should not know his. For my part, in these sorts of cases I would not allow a single detail to be published until the criminal had been secured. The Press oftentimes does more harm than good.”
While Torry was thus fuming and fretting, and wondering what step it would be best to take a lady called to see him at his private office. She was tall and majestic, dressed in black and deeply veiled, and refused to give her name save to the detective himself. When alone with him in his room, the unknown raised her veil and revealed the countenance of an elderly woman; she was long past her youth, but looked still beautiful, and there was a fire in her large dark eyes which shewed that she possessed a haughty and fiery spirit.
“I am Mrs. Grent,” she said in a low voice, with a strong foreign accent.
“Donna Inez?” said Torry, thrown off his guard by the announcement.
The lady bowed. “I look for you at the police-yard,” she said quickly, “but you not there; they tell me you here, so I come. Have you in your hands that assassin?”
“No, ma’am, not yet. I regret to say that we cannot find him.”
“Why you say him?” demanded Donna Inez abruptly.
“Why!” echoed Mr. Torry in astonishment, “because I believe the assassin to be a man.”
“It is wrong, sir. A woman killed my husband.”
“Yes, one known. Miss Lydia Hargone! Ah! the base wretch!”
“You are not serious, Mrs. Grent?” cried the detective, much amazed.
“By our Saints, I talk true!” retorted the Spanish woman, her eyes flashing brilliantly.
“Sir, I will speak! They are against me; Maria and this Lydia.”
“Ah!” muttered Torry quickly, “I wonder if it is Miss Hargone who is being screened by Donna Maria and Vass.” He raised his voice and addressed Mrs. Grent: “Why should they be against you, madam?”
“Lydia for her wickedness; Maria being governed by that evil one. I did not speak at Wray House; I saw you not as they would have told me—’Ah how foolish! Ah! how wrong!’ So, sir here I come to tell you that my husband was killed by Lydia Hargone. Smiling traitress!”
“How do you know?” asked Torry sharply.
“I am sure, I swear!” Donna Inez crossed herself rapidly. “By the Holy Mother, I swear!”
“Have you any proof?”
“No; but listen. I will tell. I love my husband, he loves me. We were happy as angels in Paradise till came that evil Lydia. Then she make the eyes, the smiles at my husband. Oh, yes; for why—because she poor, she wish money, much money. My husband, poor fool, he smile on her, he angry with me, yet good wife I was this long time—ah, sir, ten year. This old man, he love her, and I—ah, it so suffocates me to speak it—I am thought not of, I am neglected. Yes, yes, it is true. I—I—I—Inez Sandoval, was left for her—perfiding one,” and in her rage Mrs. Grent shook her two fists in the air.
“Why did you not turn her out of the house?” asked Torry.
“I? Who am I?” replied Donna Inez with a bitter laugh. “No one—a wife not loved. I rage, I speak, I implore for her to go; but no, no, no. My husband he say: ‘Stay! stay!’ and the accursed one stops. Then I say: You go, or I depart for Peru. Ah!’ ”
“So Miss Hargone left Wray House?” said Torry, seeing that Donna Inez was too overcome by passion to speak further.
“Yes, she leave,” continued Mrs. Grent, when she recovered her speech. “I say: ‘you go, or I go,’ so she go. But I know she met my fool husband in this city.”
“Ha!” exclaimed Torry, recollecting the visit of Lydia to the Duke-street rooms on the fatal Saturday.
“Yes, yes; and I swear she fly with him. He say: ‘I go to Italy.’ Oh, yes, I know that, but not alone; she go also. My husband meet her to fly. Then she see he too old and kill him by her lover.”
“No, no; she say she love him, but that one big lie. She love young Leighbourne.”
“Impossible!” cried Torry, utterly taken aback.
“I tell you, yes. Blake think she love him; but no, she love Mister Leighbourne. Oh, yes, I swear it. You see that wretch and speak.”
“Yes, I’ll see her, madam; but whether she loved your husband, or loves Leighbourne or Blake, I’m sure she did not commit the murder.”
“Ki! Ki Ki!” cried Donna Inez derisively, and took her leave.
Here, then, was a new complication, and one entirely unforeseen. The dead man, false to his reputed character for uprightness and loyalty to his wife, had been in love with Lydia Hargone, and she, according to Donna Inez, while pretending an affection for Blake, was devoted to Frederick Leighbourne. Torry was so perplexed over the matter that he determined to adopt a frank and open policy, and visit Lydia and Leighbourne in turn. From one or the other he hoped to get at the truth of the accusations directed against them by Mrs. Grent.
With this idea the detective drove to Fleet-street the next morning and sent in his card to Frederick Leighbourne, with a request for an immediate interview. The young banker was annoyed by the visit, and very unskilfully shewed his annoyance when Torry was admitted into his room. For this peevishness, however, the detective cared little, so long as he secured an interview, and he seated himself near Frederick with a smiling face.
“It’s a fine morning, sir,” he said, cheerfully.
“Very,” replied Frederick drily, “but I hardly presume that you came to tell me so.”
“No, sir, that’s very true. I came to have an interview with you about this case.”
“I am at your service, sir. Go on.”
“Well, sir,” said Torry abruptly. “I saw Mrs. Grent yesterday.”
Frederick started nervously, and looked anxiously at Torry. “And what did she say?” he asked, with an attempt at light conversation.
“That her husband was in love with Miss Hargone.”
“That’s a lie!” exclaimed Leighbourne loudly; then, checking his passion, he added: “It is the idle talk of a jealous woman. Mr. Grent was devoted to his wife, but she suspected him to be in love with every woman he spoke to. What else did she say?”
“That Miss Hargone was in love with you.”
Leighbourne turned pale and then flushed a violent red, after which he jumped up in a furious rage. “Did you come here to insult me, Mr. Torry?” he inquired in a strangled voice.
“I?” ejaculated the detective with well-feigned surprise. “My good sir, what puts such an idea into your head. I know that Miss Hargone does not love you, for—”
“Why do you suppose so?” demanded Frederick angrily.
“Because she is engaged to Mr. Blake,” said Torry, pleased with the success of his manœuvre.
Leighbourne muttered something under his breath not exactly complimentary to Blake, and took a turn up and down the apartment.
“Are you in love with Miss Hargone?” asked Torry demurely.
“Mind your own business?” cried Frederick, turning savagely on the man.
“I am minding it,” answered the detective sharply. “I wish to know all about Miss Hargone, as it is my impression she is implicated in this murder.”
“It is not true! It is not true! Miss Hargone is a good, true, pure girl.”
“Oh,” sneered Torry, “yet she paid a visit to Grent’s chambers on the day he was killed. Hullo!”
He uttered this exclamation in sheer astonishment; for Frederick, in a frenzy of rage, had flung himself violently forward and was clutching at his throat. Torry, though fat and short, was stronger than his assailant, and, in a few minutes, forced back Leighbourne into his chair. While the young man sat there panting and furious he wiped his forehead, and spoke to him sharply.
“You have told me all I wish to know, Mr. Leighbourne, and without words. You love Miss Hargone.”
“Yes, I do,” said Frederick sullenly, “and it is a lie that she visited Grent.”
“It is true,” retorted Torry, “and I’ll prove it to you in a few days, sir. More, I believe that she was about to elope with Grent to Italy when his death put an end to her schemes.
“No, No; I’ll not believe it. She did not love Grent, she does not love Blake. I am the only one she cares for.”
“It is my opinion that she cares only for herself.”
“At any rate, she has nothing to do with this crime,” muttered Frederick.
“That is just what I am going to find out.”
“What; Do you intend to call on Miss Hargone and repeat this infamous conversation?”
“I do,” replied Torry, and, with a short nod, left the room.
Leighbourne remained seated for some moments with a mixed expression of dismay and anger on his face. Then he seized his hat, and, leaving the bank, jumped into the first hansom, telling the cabman to drive to Waterloo Station. Here he found that a train was leaving for Wraybridge in fifteen minutes, and at once purchased a ticket. Thinking that Torry might be about, the young man kept himself in the background, and watched the entrance to the station. Soon he saw the detective drive up, buy a ticket, and take his seat in the train. Plainly it was no use to go to Wraybridge by the same train, as his presence might rouse the suspicions of Torry, so Mr. Leighbourne tore up his ticket and ran to the telegraph office. Here he sent a wire. It was addressed to “Hargone, Wray House, Wraybridge.”
In the meantime Torry, not suspecting Frederick’s prompt action, was spinning along to his destination, and wondering over the new features presented by the case. Especially did he wonder that Donna Inez, who manifested such hatred towards Lydia Hargone, should tolerate her in the house. This complaisance almost made Torry doubt the truth of Mrs. Grent’s accusation. However, he resolved to force a confession out of Lydia by using cunning, as he had done in the case of Leighbourne.
On arriving at Wraybridge, Torry dispensed with a fly, as he had so much to think about in connection with this very puzzling case that he concluded to walk. The distance from the railway station was considerable, and it took quite half an hour for Torry, plump and short-winded, to walk to Wray House. At the great iron gates he found a telegraph boy, just about to mount his bicycle on the return journey to the office. In a moment Torry’s thoughts flew back to Leighbourne’s demeanour, and he spoke at once to the telegraph boy.
“Hullo, my young friend!” said he, artfully. “Do you know if there is a lady called Hargone living hereabouts?”
The boy grinned and pointed to the gates. “She lives inside there,” he said. “I’ve just taken a telegram to her.”
“That’s queer!” replied Torry with a chuckle. “You’re a smart lad; here’s a shilling for you.”
“Thankee, sir,” said the boy jubilantly, and mounting his bicycle went off in a cloud of dust.
“Ah!” thought the detective as he walked up to the mansion, “so you have been forewarned, have you, Miss Hargone? That young rascal is smarter than I thought. I should have seen you first. Well, miss, we’ll see who is the sharper—you or I.”
Torry had not the same difficulty in entering the house as on the previous occasion, for the footman, knowing that he was the detective in charge of the Grent murder case, received him with respect and awe. He showed him into the same pleasant room in which he had conversed with Donna Maria, and took his card to Miss Hargone. In a short time that lady, suspiciously calm and alarmingly sweet, made her appearance, and welcomed Torry with much cordiality. This, as the sagacious detective guessed, was the effect of the telegram, which had advised her of his visit and probable questions. Miss Hargone had been forewarned; consequently, to Torry’s grim amusement, she was forearmed.
“Good day, Mr. Torry,” said she glibly. “I hope you have come to tell us that the assassin of poor Mr. Grent has been found.”
“Well, no, miss,” replied Torry, with feigned simplicity. “I came down to ask if you knew anything about it. That is, do you know anyone whom Mr. Grent regarded as his enemy?”
“I, sir?” cried Lydia indignantly, but with a slight tremour in her voice. “How can I possibly know such a thing? I was not in Mr. Grent’s confidence.”
“Yet you knew him well enough to visit him at his chambers in Duke-street.”
Lydia’s eyes flashed. “How dare you! how dare you!” she gasped. “Do you come here to blacken my character?”
“I come here to ask you why you visited Mr. Grent on the Saturday of his death.”
“I did not! I deny that I visited him!
“Spare me these denials,” said Torry contemptuously. “You went to Duke-street veiled, and thought to escape recognition; but that silver ring on your finger was recognised.”
“This ring?” said Lydia, with a look of surprise, “Ah! now I see it all.”
“All what?” asked Torry, wondering at her composure.
“One moment,” said Miss Hargone, and touched the bell. When the servant appeared she gave him some instructions in a low voice; and when he withdrew returned to Torry. “I deny that I visited Mr. Grent,” she said coolly; “and I can prove that what I say is true. You go by the evidence that I wore this ring on that day?”
“Yes; it is a peculiar ring, and was recognised when you removed your glove to pay the cabman.”
“Well, we shall see. Here is Donna Maria.”
The Spanish girl entered the room with a sad expression. She started when she saw Torry, but recovering herself, came forward with an air of composure, and bowed gravely. Then she turned to Lydia. “You sent for me, I believe,” said she coldly.
“Yes, dear,” replied the other, holding out the disputed ring in the palm of her hand. “I wish you to tell Mr. Torry how I lost this ring.”
“How can that possibly interest him,” said Maria, arching her brows.
“Pardon me, it does interest me,” said Torry eagerly. “I should like to know.”
“In that case I shall explain,” answered Maria gravely. “Two months ago Miss Hargone lost her ring in the garden. We searched for it, but could not find it. A week before the death of my uncle, I picked it up in a flower bed, and slipped it on my finger, intending to return it. As you can see, I have done so. That is all.”
“When did you return it?”
“When Miss Hargone came down here after the death of my uncle.”
“And you wore it previously?”
“On the third finger of the right hand?”
“Yes; but why do you—”
“I ask these questions, miss, because that ring was seen on your finger on the Saturday you visited your uncle’s chambers.”
Donna Maria turned pale. “I—I did—” she faltered.
“You told me a falsehood before,” said Torry coldly. “Do you intend to tell me another?”
“No!” cried Maria, raising her head proudly. “I did visit those rooms.”
It was with a triumphant smile on her lips that Lydia heard what Maria said about the ring and visit. When Torry was assured of the truth, she spoke to him with composure and some insolence.
“You see, sir,” said she, “I did not wear my ring on that day, nor did I visit Mr. Ghent’s chambers. You owe me an apology for your doubts.”
“It would seem so,” replied Torry with affected humility. “Do you think I owe Mr. Leighbourne one also?”
“Mr. Leighbourne?” echoed Miss Hargone coolly. “You mean the elder?”
“I mean the younger, the one from whom you received a telegram.”
The unexpectedness of this query threw Lydia off her guard. “How do you know I received a telegram from him?” she asked.
“I met the telegraph boy and he told me.”
“Told you that I had received a telegram?”
“Yes,” said Torry truthfully.
“From Mr. Leighbourne, junior?”
“Yes,” said Torry falsely. “Of course, you’ll deny it?”
“No,” said Lydia with brazen assurance; “why should I deny it?”
“Why indeed, miss, seeing that Mr. Frederick Leighbourne loves you.”
“Does he, indeed? That is news to me.”
“Ah!” sneered the detective, “will it be news to Mr. Blake?”
“Sir!” cried Miss Hargone, rising, with a flush of anger, “you are insolent!”
“No,” said Torry, who wished to make her lose her temper that she might speak incautiously, “I am only candid. Donna Maria will agree with me, miss, that you are a very lucky young lady to be loved by three men. To be sure,” added Torry, as to himself, “there are only two now.”
Donna Maria, who had sat pale, calm, and silent during their conversation, darted a flaming glance at Lydia but said nothing. The look made the governess quail, but retaining her self-command, she pretended ignorance. She had a difficult part to play, but she played it well.
“I do not quite understand,” said she quietly. “Perhaps, sir, you will explain. Who are my lovers?”
“Mr. Blake to whom you are engaged; Mr. Frederick Leighbourne, with whom you have some understanding; and the late Mr. Grent.”
Lydia grew red. “I am engaged to Roderick Blake,” she said, “and he trusts me too much to believe your insinuations. With Mr. Leighbourne I have nothing to do.”
“Save in the way of telegrams,” put in Torry drily.
“That telegram contained an intimation that Mr. Leighbourne had found a situation for me,” cried Lydia hotly. “I asked him to interest himself on my behalf.”
“In that case you will not mind shewing me the telegram, miss?”
“I cannot; I tore it up.”
“You can collect the pieces, and—”
“I cannot; I threw the pieces into the fire.”
“Really? A fire in summer time—how strange.”
At this last thrust Miss Hargone lost her temper. “Understand, Mr. Torry,” she cried, “that the telegram concerns me and no one else. I decline to shew it to you.”
“I quite believe that, as it has to do with this murder.”
“You dare to accuse me of that?” gasped Lydia, jumping up.
Torry shrugged his shoulders. “No,” he said coolly, “I don’t think you killed the man yourself; but you know who did.”
“It is a lie,” said the governess in a passionate voice, and sat down again.
“It is the truth,” said Donna Maria gravely, and when Lydia turned an amazed face towards her she repeated solemnly: “It is the truth.”
“Oh, oh,” chuckled the detective, rubbing his hands at the idea of a quarrel between the two women, “now we shall hear something amusing.”
At first Lydia could not believe that her friend was in earnest, and stammered out something about not understanding. To this Maria made a prompt and sharp reply.
“You understand well enough. My aunt complained of your conduct with Mr. Grent. I did not believe that you would behave so with a married man old enough to be your father. It was to show that I believed in your innocence that I asked you down here. My aunt objected to the invitation, but I insisted upon its being sent. You accepted; you came; you are here.”
“Here, to save you trouble,” cried Lydia venomously. “You would not have asked me had it not been to get something out of me.”
“You judge me by yourself,” said Donna Sandoval coldly. “I asked you here to reconcile you, if possible, with my aunt, but she refuses to be reconciled, as she believes that you let Mr. Grent make love to you.”
“It is not true; It is not true. Remember,” said Lydia with a sneer, “it was not I who called at Mr. Grent’s chambers.”
“I know it; but it was you who sent my maid Julia to see Mr. Grent in Mortality-lane.”
“Ha!” cried Torry, much surprised. “Are you sure of that?”
“I am. I can prove it.”
Lydia was pale and uneasy, and avoided the eye of the detective. Nevertheless, as the situation was awkward, and even dangerous, she assumed a defiant air to mask the fear she felt.
“How can you prove it?” she demanded.
“By means of that fawn-coloured mantle trimmed with black lace.”
“Your mantle?” said Torry, recollecting a previous conversation with Maria.
“No, not mine; it belongs to Miss Hargone.”
“But you said—”
“I know what I said,” interrupted Maria, reddening slightly—“that the mantle was mine. I lied in order to shield Lydia. Yes,” she continued, addressing Miss Hargone directly, “I was your friend, and as such defended you against the aspersions of my aunt, but now, as I find that you trapped me by that ring into confessing that I visited my uncle in London; when I see that, to save yourself, you are willing to sacrifice me, I renounce your friendship, and I order you to leave this house. Never dare to show your face here again.”
Lydia, who had turned red and pale by turns, now rose to her feet, with a malignant expression on her face. “I shall go,” said she slowly “and only too willingly; but first—”
“First,” interrupted Torry, “you must explain how Julia Brawn became possessed of your mantle.”
“I gave it to her, in the same way that Donna Maria presented her with the hat. If,” she continued insolently, “articles of cast-off clothing are to be taken as evidence of my connection with the crime, Donna Maria is as guilty as I am.”
“Not so,” corrected the Spanish girl. “I gave the hat to Julia a long time ago—in fact, a week before she left my service, and she left that quite seven days before the murder. But as to your mantle, when I was up in London, on the day when the crime was committed—Saturday—”
“Pardon, the murder, took place on Sunday morning after midnight,” said Torry precisely.
“Well on the day before the murder I saw Miss Hargone in Piccadilly. She wore that mantle.”
“I did not!” contradicted Lydia very pale.
“You did. Mr. Vass was with me, and can prove it. I believe you gave that mantle to Julia, so that she might meet Mr. Grent and delude him into the belief that she was you.”
“Ah!” cried Torry, recollecting the double ticket. “Then you, Miss, were the woman with whom Mr. Grent intended to travel to Genoa?”
“No! no! no!” cried Lydia in her turn. “I utterly deny it. Why should I have met Mr. Grent? I swear I did not meet him.”
“No,” sneered Maria, “you sent Julia in your mantle.”
“I did not. Julia came to my lodgings that day and told me she was going to be married the next. As a wedding present I gave her the mantle, for which I had no further use. Julia said nothing about meeting anyone. When I heard of her death I was as astonished as anyone. But I shall no longer remain to be insulted here,” she cried in a fury. “I shall pack my box and leave at once.”
“The best thing you can do,” said Torry, who was scribbling in his notebook.
“But before I go,” said Lydia, turning at the door with a venomous look, “I should advise you, Mr. Torry, to ask Donna Maria why she visited her uncle—secretly!” And, spitting out the last word like an angry cat, the fair Lydia, disgraced but impenitent, left the room.
“All in good time,” remarked Torry, tearing a leaf out of his book. “Will you kindly send a servant with this to the telegraph office, miss?”
Donna Maria touched the bell, a servant appeared, and to him Torry delivered the leaf which he had scribbled on.
“Send someone with this to the telegraph office at Wraybridge Railway Station?” he said. “If anyone of you can ride a bicycle, make him the messenger. I wish this wire despatched as promptly as possible.”
When the servant retired Donna Maria asked with some curiosity for details of the important message which was to be sent off in such haste. Torry replied to her prompt and frankly:
“It is a message to my friend, Mr. Darrel, miss, telling him to take a detective with him and await Miss Hargone’s arrival at Waterloo Station.”
“What! do you intend to have her arrested?”
“Not yet,” replied Torry with significance. “I intend to have her watched. The detective will not lose sight of her, so, if she is really concerned in this murder, she will sooner or later betray herself by some indiscreet action. But now, miss,” added the detective cheerfully, “You must answer me a few questions.”
“Certainly,” replied Donna Maria with an embarrassed look. “You know I am only too happy to assist you in every way.”
“H’m!” said Torry doubtfully. “What about Mr. Vass? You met him on that day?”
“Yes; in Piccadilly.”
“Was it by appointment?”
“No, by accident.”
“Did he see your uncle?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Then what was he doing in the West End so far from the bank?”
“He casually mentioned that he was executing a commission for Mr. Frederick Leighbourne.”
“Do you know what the commission was?”
“No,” replied Maria haughtily, “I do not.”
“You saw Mr. Grent, I believe?”
“Yes; for some ten minutes or so.”
“On private business,” said Maria with emphasis.
“H’m! Would you mind explaining what that private business was about?”
“I mind very much.”
“You refuse to explain?”
“Yes!” said Miss Sandoval. “I refuse—absolutely.”
Educated by experience and the necessities of his profession, Torry was not a man who lost his temper easily; but when he left Wray House he was in as great a rage as he well could be. Never had he met with so obstinate a woman as Donna Maria, or one who knew better how to keep a secret. She steadily refused to explain the reason of her visit to Grent, or to reveal the conversation which had taken place between them. Threats she laughed at, persuasion she smiled at; and Torry, who flattered himself on his cunning, was forced to take his departure without gaining her confidence. He went as wise as he came. On arriving in town, he first had something to eat, after which he drove off to Darrel. The novelist informed him that Lydia had duly arrived, with a small box, and he had pointed her out to a detective procured from Scotland Yard. The man had followed her at once, and Darrel having discharged his mission, had returned home.
In return for this news Torry, not without some display of ill-temper, detailed his unsuccessful attempts to make Donna Maria confess. Darrel commiserated the detective, but could not forbear eulogising the girl, much to Torry’s disgust.
“Upon my soul,” said he grumbling, “I believe your sympathies are with her, merely because she has a pretty face.”
“Pretty!” echoed Frank, indignantly. “If there is one word in English tongue which does not apply to Donna Maria Sandoval, that word is ‘pretty.’ Why, man, she is one of the most beautiful women in the world!”
“She is certainly the most obstinate,” said Torry drily. “I am satisfied she knows something likely to lead to the detection of the criminal.”
“Bah! that is your fancy!”
“It is my belief,” insisted Torry seriously. “Also, I am certain that there is some connection between her and Vass.”
“What do you mean?” cried Darrel, indignant that the slightest slur should be cast on the character of the woman he worshipped.
“Oh! you needn’t get so angry,” said Torry with a shrug. “I am convinced there is no love affair between them. I’m not so sure in your case.”
“Never mind me,” said the novelist, blushing; “go on with your explanation.”
“It is very simple. Donna Maria and Vass have an understanding relative to this murder.”
“You don’t believe they know the assassin?” cried Darrel, aghast.
“I haven’t got so far as that; but, they know something of the Blue Mummy Society, for the sight of the tomb-image had the same effect—even a worse one—on them as it had on Blake. And the society according to Blake, is responsible for the Grent and Brawn murders.”
“By the hand of Manuel,” said Frank, “and you deny his guilt?”
“Yes, I do,” retorted the detective energetically. “But we argued that point before. Let it pass. To return to Vass and Donna Maria: it is strange that they should have met in the West End on the very day, so to speak of the murder.”
“Bah! I don’t believe in these sort of accidents. Well, I have failed to extort the truth from the lady; perhaps the gentleman may be more amenable to reason. I shall see Vass to-morrow.”
There was a short silence during which Darrel reflected seriously about the aspect of the case. In a moment or so he raised his head. “It seems to me,” said he, “that while suspecting Donna Maria and Vass over-much you don’t suspect Lydia Hargone sufficiently.”
“I don’t know so much about that,” said Torry with a dry smile. “I am having her watched. She does not know that, and acting in fancy security, may betray herself. I explained this to Donna Maria.”
“What do you think of this mantle affair?”
“Why, I incline to Miss Sandoval’s views. I believe that Grent was in love with Lydia, and that for her own purposes—whatever they may be—she encouraged his folly so openly as to incur the suspicions of Donna Inez. Also, I believe that she promised to elope to Italy with Grent, but instead of going herself sent Julia. Grent, recognising the mantle, and not seeing the face, which—if you remember the cabman’s evidence—was veiled, thought it was Lydia’s. Then—” Torry stopped.
“Then?” queried Darrel impatiently.
“Faith, as Blake would say, you’ll have to supply the rest of the story from your imagination; mine won’t carry me further.”
“Well,” said Frank, humouring his fancy, “say that Julia had a lover, who followed her by stealth to this rendezvous, and killed Grent out of jealousy.”
Torry shook his head. “That explains one death, but not the other. Besides,” he added gravely, “I have questioned all the servants at Wray House, and I cannot find that Julia had any lover. No, no, this mystery is not to be explained by such simple means. What does Blake say?”
“He insists that Manuel is guilty, even in the face of your argument.”
“He’s a fool. What about Manuel?”
“I saw him to-day, and he declares that if the lost money is not found and restored there will be trouble from the society.”
“He’s a fool also. Does he think this is Peru, to assassinate innocent people with impunity? We have had enough of mysterious murders and enigmatic Blue Mummies. Well, good night, Mr. Darrel. I’ll see Vass to-morrow and find out what he knows.”
Torry went off briskly, confident that he would succeed easier with Vass than he had with Donna Maria. The secretary was a weak-minded man, the Spanish lady a strong-minded woman; so if the pair were confederates, as the detective suspected them to be, he determined to learn the secret of their partnership by examining the most easily terrified of the two. This was Vass, who was an effeminate, hysterical creature, hardly worthy to be called a man. He, if anyone, could be coerced into revealing the truth of the conspiracy.
Next day, shortly before twelve o’clock, Torry called at the Fleet-street bank, and requested an interview with Vass. The secretary appeared unwilling to grant one, but as he had no option in the face of the detective’s authority, he was reluctantly compelled to accede to the request, and conducted his unwelcome visitor, into the private room of Mr. Grent. Torry, who had a retentive memory, recognised this famous apartment.
“Ah,” said he playfully, “yonder is the private safe. What a pity it cannot speak and tell us the truth!”
“The truth?” repeated Vass unsteadily.
“About the stolen notes. Don’t look so pale, sir; I know you did not steal them. But I wish I knew who did. The numbers have not been traced by any of your people?”
Vass shook his head. “No. We have made all inquiries, but we can learn nothing. Did you come to speak about the notes!”
“Not exactly. I came to ask you what you were doing in Piccadilly on the day Mr. Grent was murdered.”
“He was murdered on Sunday. I was not in the West End on that day.”
“Oh,” said Torry noting the quibble, “you need not be so accurate as to time, my dear sir. I know as well as you do that Grent was murdered on Sunday morning after midnight, but for the sake of convenience I’ll say Saturday. You were in the West End on Saturday.”
“Who says I was?”
“Yes; she met you in Piccadilly on the afternoon of Saturday.”
“And why not, Mr. Torry. It was after office hours, and I have a right to go where I like. But if you wish me to explain I am quite willing to do so. I was in Piccadilly executing some business for Mr. Frederick Leighbourne.”
This explanation was the same as that given by Donna Maria, so Torry deemed it to be the true one. He therefore abandoned this point, to take up another one, and introduced the latter by glancing round the room.
“You have a comfortable apartment here, Mr. Vass.”
“It is the late Mr. Grent’s private office,” replied the secretary sullenly, “and I remain in it by the order of Mr. Leighbourne, senior, to sort out the papers of his dead partner.”
“Did you sit here when Mr. Grent was away?”
“Then, on the Saturday we speak of, you were sitting here?”
“Aha,” said Torry, with a satisfied nod. “Now, who came into the room when you were here?”
“Connected with the bank?”
“Mostly connected with the bank.”
“Did Donna Maria Sandoval call?” asked Torry suddenly.
“Yes,” said Vass quietly “She did. I see no reason to deny her visit; it was made openly and for a purpose.”
Vass wriggled uneasily in his seat. “Am I obliged to answer that question, Mr. Torry?”
“Not unless you like; not unless Donna Maria came here for a purpose of which she was ashamed.”
The detective said this purposely to insult Donna Maria, so that he might discover if Vass loved her, but the secretary never changed colour or lost his temper; so Torry was convinced that he had not given his heart to the beautiful Spaniard.
“Donna Maria never does anything to be ashamed of,” he replied in calm tones. “If you wish to know the reason of her visit I can tell you. She came at the request of Mr. Grent, to get his travelling tickets.”
“Oh, the tickets, the two tickets for Italy?”
“Yes. Mr. Grent left them here by mistake, and Donna Maria called for them. I found them, gave them to her, and I believe she visited her uncle in Duke-street to deliver them to him.”
This, then, explained Miss Sandoval’s visit to Duke-street, and the reason was apparently an innocent one; so innocent, indeed, that Torry wondered why the girl had not confessed it. “Unless,” thought he, “This is a lying explanation arranged for between Donna Maria and Vass to quiet my suspicions.”
He was about to ask a few questions with a view to discover if his suspicions were correct, when there was a knock at the door, and almost immediately it opened to admit Manuel. The Spaniard seemed greatly excited, and advanced towards Vass, but stopped short when he saw Torry.
“The policeman!” he said. “Aha, very good; so much the better. I wish to see you.”
“What is the matter?” asked Torry and Vass together.
“Yes, the ten thousand pounds.”
Captain Manuel placed a package on the table. “Here are the bank-notes.” he said in excited tones, “returned to me last night.”
Decidedly, this case was full of surprises; and Torry, with all his life-long experience, could recall no affair in connection with which so many unexpected things had happened. The reappearance of the long-lost bank notes was not the least of these strange occurrences. Both detective and secretary were so startled that they could only stare stupidly at the parcel lying before them on the table, and wait to hear what Captain Manuel had to say. The Spaniard sat down, and lost no time in detailing how the lost property had come again into his possession.
“Yes,” said he, twisting his moustache, “it is really strange. I stay, as you know, Mr. Policeman, at the Guelph Hotel, Jermyn-street. Well, last night, on nine of the clock, a parcel—that parcel—was given to the porter of the house by a stranger, with a word to give it to me. I was amusing myself at the theatre, and not until midnight did I return to find this”—he pointed to the package—“in my room, on the table. I open it, I find the money of my society, so I am much astonished. All night I sleep not, but I wonder. This morning, I go to the office of Mr. Policeman, but he is out. Then I come to tell Mr. Vass that the lost money is with me, and I find Mr. Policeman is here. I enter, I tell my story, and—voilà tout, finished Manuel, with a French expression and French grace.”
“How strange,” said Vass, who appeared to be fascinated by Manuel’s recital.
“Most extraordinary,” chimed in Torry, with his eyes fixed on the parcel of bank notes. He was trying to fathom the meaning of this restoration of stolen property, but could not. The thought crossed his mind that Manuel might have stolen the money himself, and was playing the comedy of restoration to save himself from figuring as a corpse with a tomb-image beside him. But, then, the Captain had no need to become a thief, since the money continued always in his possession; and, if he had risked his neck to get it, he certainly would not thus tamely surrender his plunder. No! it was not Manuel who was the thief; but Torry could not conjecture who was. Nor could he fathom the motive of the thief in thus making restitution. It was inexplicable.
“What do you make of it, sir?” asked Manuel, looking at Torry’s thoughtful face.
“I don’t know what to make of it!” responded the detective.
“At all events,” cried Vass eagerly, “this restitution shows that Mr. Grent did not take the money. As he is dead he could not have restored it.”
“That is true,” said Torry ironically; “but Grent might have been robbed of the money, and then his assassin, feeling compunction, might thus give it up.”
Manuel sneered. “If that is all you have to say I think it foolish,” he said. “A man would not commit two murders for money, and then give up what had cost him so dearly to gain.”
“True again,” said the detective thoughtfully. “Well, we must find some other explanation. We may arrive at one by making a few inquiries. You did not see the man who brought back the notes, Captain?”
“No! I amused myself as I remarked,” said the Spaniard; “but to the porter I spoke of him.”
“What did the porter say?”
“That this man possessed red hair and beard.”
“Aha!” cried Torry, cracking his fingers, “the same disguise as that assumed by Grent. Was this man a gentleman?”
Manuel shrugged his shoulders. “But who can say,” he replied, “this man had on a large coat, and a hat on his eyes. Only the beard and hair did the porter see.”
“Still, his mode of speech?”
“Mr. Policeman, he said but four words. What could be known of his rank by four words?”
“What were the four words?”
“For Captain Manuel, this,” repeated the Spaniard. “And then sir, this man gave the packet and departed.”
“Humph! I wonder if he was the assassin.”
“No!” cried Vass with energy. “The murderer would not run the risk of arrest. For my part,” added the secretary emphatically, “I do not believe that the two crimes have anything to do with one another.”
“In that case, it is strange that they should occur almost simultaneously.”
“That may be, Mr. Vass,” said Manuel unrolling the parcel and shewing the notes. “But here we have something which is not a coincidence, and which I can explain not. These notes!”
“Well, sir!” asked Torry. “What about them? They are your bank notes.”
“Not really; the numbers are different.”
“Oh! oh! oh!” murmured the detective with interest, “it would seem that this assassin is a very ingenious fellow in hiding his trail. So the numbers are different!”
“Yes, every number I have a list here of the numbers marked on the bank notes I bestowed on Mr. Grent. Look for yourself, Mr. Policeman, there is no number in the notes equal to the numbers in the list. It is strange!”
“It is maddening!” cried Torry with vexation. “I do not believe we shall ever unravel this mystery. Let me see.”
He took the list presented by Manuel, and compared the numbers on it with those of the bank notes; but not in one instance were they the same. There were twenty notes, each for five hundred pounds, in all ten thousand; but the numbers in every case were different.
“It is strange, as you say, Captain Manuel,” observed Torry, frowning. “Five hundred pound bank notes are not easily changed; yet the assassin has changed twenty of them, and we cannot trace any one of the transactions.”
“Why do you insist that the assassin changed the notes?” asked Vass, a trifle pettishly.
“Because I believe that these notes were the motive of this murder of Mr. Grent.”
“In that case he would have had them in his possession on the night he was murdered; whereas—”
“Whereas, my dear Mr. Vass, you deny that he took them out of the private safe.”
“I do,” replied Vass stoutly. “They were there after Mr. Grent departed.”
“Then whosoever took them must have possessed the key, since the safe was not broken open.”
“I suppose so. But you can’t suspect me, sir, Mr. Leighbourne saw, with me, that the notes were in the safe on Friday; and as I was ill for two or three days and absent from the bank, I could not have taken them. Also,” continued Vass, defending himself with vigour. “If I had stolen them, I should have put Captain Manuel off with some excuse, and not having jeopardised my character and liberty by confessing that the money was gone.”
“Quite so,” assented Torry sweetly—he had been employed in copying the list of Captain Manuel, and the numbers of the notes into his pocket-book—“but permit me to observe, Mr. Vass that you talk too much. No one, so far as I know, has accused you of theft!”
The secretary turned red, and, with some confusion, sat down. Manuel, who had been listening with ill-concealed impatience, restored the notes and list to his pocket.
“So for as I am concerned,” said he, putting on his hat, “my connection with these matters is at an end. The money of the society has been recovered, and I have no further interest in Mr. Grent or his death.”
“Have you any interest in his niece, Captain?”
“Dios!” swore the Spaniard, reddening, “what has that to do with you?”
“Oh, nothing; but I understand that you are in love with Donna Maria.”
“I may be, or I may not be,” returned Manuel, in a haughty and offensive tone. “In any case it is not for common people to criticise the private affairs of their superiors;” and with a scathing glance the Captain strode out of the room.
“I owe you one for that, my good sir,” thought Torry, rather mortified, the more so as Vass was smiling. However, his annoyance did not betray itself in his face, which was as suave and bland as ever. He turned sharply on the still smiling secretary.
“Is Mr. Leighbourne in his office?” he asked.
“Both of the Mr. Leighbournes are here. Which one do you inquire for?”
“The father. I wish to see him.”
“What about?” stammered Vass nervously.
“That is my business. Go and ask if I can see him.”
Vass did not like to be ordered about in this fashion, especially by an inferior, but as he was secretly afraid of the detective, he obeyed him without argument. The result was that in five minutes Torry found himself alone with Mr. Leighbourne, senior.
“You wish to see me, I believe,” said the banker.
Torry looked at the portly old man, who resembled so closely his son, Frederick, and replied with all promptness. “Yes; I desire to ask you a few questions.”
“You are the detective charged with the discovery of my late partner’s murderer?”
“I am, and to assist me in doing so I wish to question you.”
“By all means,” replied Leighbourne graciously. “I am most anxious that the scoundrel should be caught and punished. He killed a good man.”
“Ah! Do you consider that the late Mr. Grent was a good man, sir?”
“Most certainly; an excellent and upright gentleman.”
“Had he no faults?”
“We all have faults,” said Leighbourne enigmatically. “But are these the questions you wish to put to me?”
“Some of them. If you will permit me to conduct this examination in my own way I may arrive at some result.”
“Very well, sir,” said the banker with some stiffness, “I am at your service.”
“Then tell me what you consider was Mr. Grent’s gravest fault?”
“To my mind he was too speculative.”
“Aha; he speculated!”
“Yes, and not in the safest way.”
“He lost money?”
Leighbourne hesitated. “Yes he lost money,” was his reply; “but I do not—”
“In fact,” interrupted Torry sharply, “if Mr. Grent had lived he would have been a ruined man.”
“How dare you say so?” cried Leighbourne, much agitated.
“Because it is true.”
“I do not say so.”
“Oh, I can guess the truth from what you don’t say. Mr. Grent was ruined, and, seeing no way of recovering himself in England resolved to fly. In some way—I don’t know how—he became possessed of ten thousand pounds which was in his private safe, and was prepared to fly with Miss Hargone to South America, when he was killed. Now, what do you say?”
“Say?” echoed Leighbourne, “that every word you have uttered is false.”
If Torry had found that Donna Maria was an obstinate woman he speedily discovered that Mr. Leighbourne was a fool. Old, narrow-minded, and egotistical, the banker was one of those pig-headed men who are the despair of reasonable mortals. Once an idea was put into his head it could not be got out again, and he constantly referred to his age and worldly experience as legitimate reasons for his entertaining the most preposterous ideas. He resembled closely those dogged, mulish Kings, Charles I. and Louis XVI., and was as bad to deal with as the two of them rolled into one. Never was there a man less open to conviction.
This unpleasant old person regarded his late partner as a martyr, and beyond a tendency to rash speculation, he could not be got to see that Grent had any faults. He denied that Grent could, by any possibility, have taken the money; he declined to believe that the good man had contemplated eloping with Lydia Hargone, and pointedly insulted Torry for daring to make such statements. The end of the interview was that Torry left in a rage, and vowed that he would not see Mr. Leighbourne again until he could prove the truth of his declarations. He might have saved himself the trouble, for the banker was determined to canonise his partner, and in the true spirit of bigotry, would rather have suffered death than believe any single statement detrimental to his intention. By the time the conversation with Leighbourne was ended Torry felt inclined to commit murder himself, and regretted that this patriarchal ass had not been killed instead of Grent.
In the hope of finding some consolation after his late trying interview, Torry flew as hard as a hansom could take him, to Darrel’s rooms. But here he fell out of the frying-pan into the fire, for Blake was with the novelist, and appeared to be in a great rage. He was quarrelling with Darrel, who was trying to pacify him, but on seeing the detective he immediately left his friend to attack the newcomer.
“Here is the man himself,” cried Roderick furiously. “Come, sir, what have you to say to the scandalous way in which you have behaved towards Miss Hargone?”
“Oh, oh!” said Torry, leisurely taking a seat, “so she has set you on to me has she?”
“No she hasn’t,” almost shouted Blake; “but she complained that you insulted her.”
“If I did, Mr. Blake, it was in the exercise of my duty. I asked Miss Hargone for certain information which I knew she possessed, and she declined to give it to me. As to insulting the lady I did no such thing.”
“There Blake,” said Darrel, soothingly, “that is a very reasonable and polite explanation; so instead of bawling at the pitch of your voice, suppose you sit down and discuss the matter like a Christian.”
Still looking red and angry the Irishman flung himself petulantly into a chair. “I am willing to hear what you have to say, Mr. Torry,” he growled sulkily, but with the dignified air of one who awaits an explanation.
“I—I have nothing to say. I have rather something to ask.”
“What is that?”
“Why did Miss Hargone send Julia to meet Grent in her mantle?”
“She did not. The mantle she gave to the girl as a wedding gift.”
“Strange that she should give it to her on the very day of the murder.”
“Not at all. It seems to me Mr. Torry, that you suspect Miss Hargone of complicity in this crime?”
“I fancy she knows something about it.”
“Then permit me to tell you, sir, that she does not. That old scamp of a Grent tried to make love to her, and she repulsed him. Why, then, should she have agreed to go away with him, and leave me, to whom she was engaged—and is engaged,” finished Blake.
“Oh!” said Torry sarcastically, “you have no money.”
“What of that. Grent was ruined by speculation when he died. He had no money.”
“I beg your pardon; he had ten thousand pounds!”
“The money of the society; you can’t prove that he had it!”
“I hope to do so soon,” retorted Torry, nettled by the sneer.
Blake rose to his feet, and put on his hat. “I shall argue no more,” he said wrathfully. “You believe that the lady, who is to be my wife, is connected with these crimes; so, to me, they become a personal matter. I wanted to assist in finding the assassin out of sheer idleness; now I intend to discover the truth, in order to clear the character of Miss Hargone.”
“I hope you will be successful,” murmured Darrel.
“Certainly I shall be successful,” retorted Blake, pausing at the door. “I am convinced that the Blue Mummy Society killed these two wretched people: and, I tell you, Manuel is the criminal. When you see me again, Mr. Torry, I shall bring you such proofs of his guilt that even you will be convinced. In the meantime, I wish you every success; but I warn you that you are working on wrong lines. Leave off suspecting ladies who are innocent, and devote yourself, as I intend to do, to hunting down the iniquitous Association of the Mummy. Then you will learn the truth. Good-day!”—and, finishing thus abruptly, Blake put on his hat, and took himself off, leaving Torry and Darrel looking at each other in some doubt.
“There is a good deal of sense in what he says,” remarked Darrel. “After all, the Blue Mummy is the main clue.”
“Clue or not,” said Torry, “I know that Manuel is innocent.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because the ten thousand pounds has been brought back.”
“You don’t say so!” cried Frank, greatly surprised. “Well, fact does beat fiction in realising impossibilities. The same bank notes brought back. Well, well! it is most extraordinary.”
“Not the same bank notes,” corrected Torry, cautiously. “The same amount of money, but the numbers of the notes are different. Whosoever stole the notes has changed them all, and returned others. But, you see, Manuel cannot have killed Grent for the sake of that money; as, in that case, he would not restore his plunder. He is innocent, as I said before.”
“Then who is guilty?”
“The man who restored those notes,” said Torry promptly.
“How were they restored?”
“A red-haired, red-bearded man called at Manuel’s hotel last night and gave them to the porter.”
“A red wig again! the same as Grent wore,” said Frank, musingly. “That is strange. There is no possibility of the man being traced?”
“No! He came out of the darkness fulfilled his mission, and vanished again into the night. Nothing is known of him. Still, you may find him.”
“I!” exclaimed Frank amazed. “You jest!”
“Indeed, I am quite in earnest!” protested Torry. “Listen! I left the tracing of the numbers of the stolen notes to Grent’s bank, but all these weeks the bank has failed to obtain information. I fear, therefore, that they have bungled the matter, and I wish to place it in more capable hands—yours, for instance.”
“I fear I can do little, Torry!”
“A man with brains can do anything,” retorted the detective. “See here, Mr. Darrel, this is a list of the numbers of the original notes which were stolen from the private safe; and here is another with the numbers of the restored notes. Now, you take these two lists, and go round to every bank in the United Kingdom until you find the changed notes. Then discover who changed them. If you are successful—”
“Well!” said Darrel, taking the lists, “if I am successful?”
“In that case,” finished Torry, “the mystery, which has perplexed us so long, will be at an end.”
“You mean, we shall catch the assassin?”
“Yes; the assassin who changed these notes.”
“But, I say,” said Darrel doubtfully, “you have yet to prove that Grent had the ten thousand pounds on him when he was murdered.”
“I’ll prove that when you find out who changed the notes.”
“By forcing the assassin to confess?”
“No! In another way. I am beginning to see light in all this darkness.”
“Well, yes; but one which will shortly be changed into fact. You go, Mr. Darrel, and fulfil your mission; I shall remain here to work at the case in my own way. But for the satisfactory solution of this criminal problem, I depend upon one thing.”
“And that one thing, Mr. Torry?”
“It’s chance! Chance, sir, which solves nine riddles out of ten.”
“That is not very complimentary to the detective profession.”
“Detectives,” said Torry with a shrug, “only work miracles—in novels.”
After making this statement Torry walked to the door; but there pausing for a moment or so, turned towards Darrel.
“By the way,” said he, “the restoration of those bank notes is known only to four people—yourself, Vass, myself and Manuel. You need not mention the fact to anyone else. It would be wiser not to do so.”
“Why?” asked Frank looking up.
“Because the person who restored them may inadvertently hint at the restitution; and if nothing is said about it openly, he will thus condemn himself.”
“Perhaps so Torry; but there is one person I should like to mention the matter to.”
“Who is that?”
“Donna Maria. Like yourself, I fancy she knows something, and is shielding someone. Should I trace the person who changed these notes, he may turn out to be the individual she is shielding. If I tell her the name, and assure her that restitution has been made, she may tell all she knows.”
Torry nodded his head approvingly. “There is something in that,” said he. “I give you leave to make a confidant of Donna Maria; but let me tell you, sir, if you succeed in getting a confession out of her, you will be the cleverest man in the world.”
“I’ll take my chance of that!” replied Darrel, and they parted.
For the next week Torry was engaged in advertising for the tramp who had found the body of Julia Brawn. It struck him that Julia might have worn some jewellery—a brooch, a ring, or a locket—of which the tramp had probably robbed her. Could he see such jewellery, he might find some trace of her supposed lover; since lovers usually make such gifts to those they adore. Of course, the idea was purely theoretical, and it might probably turn out to be worth nothing. Still, Torry was like a drowning man clutching at a straw. The advertising for the lost tramp was the straw he grasped at.
While thus engaged, Darrel made his appearance in a state of great excitement, and announced that he had been successful. In a suburban bank he had discovered traces of two of the original notes which had been exchanged for two others which bore the numbers of those restored.
“Evidently,” he said, “the man changed them before the date of the murder, and substituted the second lot so that they could not be traced by Manuel’s list.”
“That is a truism,” cried Torry impatiently.
“I know the notes were changed, and the reason for changing them. But who is the man who did so?”
“Can’t you guess his name?” asked Darrel.
“No,” retorted Torry sharply, “I can’t!”
“It was Frederick Leighbourne.”
For once in his life Torry was dumbfounded. He sat with staring eyes, his mouth open, and his face red, gasping like a fish out of water. Of all the names connected with the Grent case Frederick Leighbourne was the last he expected to hear.
“It is impossible,” said he, on recovering his speech.
“It is the truth; the manager of the Hampstead bank told me so. He knows Leighbourne, and said that Leighbourne had no wish to deny who he was.”
Torry jumped up and made for the door, dragging Darrel along with him. “Come on,” said he quickly; “we must see Leighbourne at once.”
“Do you intend to arrest him?”
“If I see cause to.”
“You’ll see no cause of his shewing,” retorted Darrel, as they went downstairs and hailed a cab.
“The man will lie freely.”
“Naturally, to save his own neck.”
“What! You don’t think Leighbourne killed Grent?”
“I don’t think anything about it,” was Torry’s impatient response. “I am not capable of thinking, as the news has taken me by surprise. Oh, what ignorant fools the best of us are! Well, we will see if Leighbourne, junior, has an explanation.”
As it turned out young Frederick had an explanation on the tip of his tongue, and a very feasible one it proved to be. In place of shrinking from an inquiry into the motives of his conduct, he assumed an attitude of outraged virtue, and courted Torry’s questions. By his own explanation there was never so upright and badly treated a gentleman as Frederick Leighbourne, Esquire.
“You dare to connect me with the committal of this crime because I changed the notes!” he cried, white with suppressed fury. “What right have you, or either one of you, to make so scandalous a statement?”
“You changed the notes,” said Torry feebly, wondering if he was wrong in suspecting the man.
“Yes, sir I did. I changed the notes at the request of Mr. Grent.”
“At the request of Mr. Grent?” repeated Darrel.
“Because Captain Manuel, who gave Grent the notes, wished it.”
“That isn’t true!” cried Torry. “Manuel was as astonished as I, that the notes had been changed.”
“I don’t know about that,” retorted Leighbourne sullenly. “All I know is that a fortnight before his murder, Mr. Grent asked me down to Wray House and told me that he wanted my assistance in some rather delicate business. As he was my partner and my father’s, I of course, professed my willingness to serve him. Do you blame me?”
“No; quite right, quite natural. But what was the business?”
“Mr. Grent explained that when in Peru he had become mixed up with some native society. This year the Government of the Republic tried to break it up and seize the funds, so the members fled to other countries with the moneys of the society. One of these members was Captain Manuel, who brought to England the sum of ten thousand pounds, which he changed into English bank-notes valued at five hundred pounds each. As he knew that Grent sympathised with the aims of the society—”
“What were the aims of the society?” interrupted Darrel.
“Some patriotic rubbish of restoring the Inca rule,” said Leighbourne crossly. “But at all events, Grent sympathised with this aim, so Manuel asked him to take charge of the money, and it was kept down in Wray House. Then, according to Grent’s story, Manuel came to him, and said he was afraid that the Peruvian Government might discover the numbers of the notes and render them valueless by explaining to the English Government that they were forfeited moneys. To prevent this he asked Grent to change the notes for others of a like value but different numbers. Grent, being so well known in the banking world, was unwilling to change the notes personally, so he asked me to do so. I agreed and I did so.”
“Why did you not change them at the bank of England?”
“Manuel objected to that being done, on account of the Peruvian Government, so by Grent’s directions, I went round to several suburban banks and so explained the matter that I got all the notes changed without difficulty. I gave them all back to Grent, who kept them at Wray House; then, on the Friday before he intended to start for Italy, he brought them up here and gave them to Vass to put in the safe. That is all I know.”
“And quite sufficient,” said Torry wrathfully. “Why did you not tell us all this before?”
“For two reasons. One was that Grent asked me to hold my tongue; the other because I was afraid lest you should accuse me of being concerned in this murder, as you have done,” finished Leighbourne, with a scowl.
“Well, well,” said Torry good-humouredly, “you have defended yourself very well against the implied accusation.”
“Implied accusation!” echoed Frederick, with scorn.
“My very words,” retorted Torry drily. “I did not accuse you of being an accessory to the crime or the criminal himself. I did not even ask you if you had stolen the notes. I merely asked how it came about that you changed them.”
“Well, now you know,” said Leighbourne insolently; “and as I have explained myself, perhaps you and your friend will take yourself off.”
Deeming this rude speech unworthy of reply, Darrel left the room without taking leave of the banker, but Torry halted at the door to fire a parting shot.
“Young man,” said he, wagging an admonitory forefinger at Leighbourne, “pride goes before a fall; remember that,” and leaving the young man to digest this unpalatable proverb at his leisure, Torry followed the novelist.
“What are you going to do?” asked the latter, when they were in the street.
“I am going to see Captain Manuel, and see if he really countenanced the changing of the bank-notes,” replied Torry; “and you?”
“I intend to go at once to Wray House and see Miss Sandoval.”
“You wish to find out what she knows?”
“Yes. I’ll try and persuade her to tell me the truth.”
“You’ll be a clever man if you do that, sir. Well, good-bye and good luck,” and Torry turned away. “I say!” he called out.
“Yes,” said Darrel, with his foot on the step of a hansom.
The detective retraced his steps, and spoke in a low tone. “I am convinced of one thing,” he said hastily. “Grent had those notes changed so that he could bolt with them. I don’t believe Manuel asked him to change them.
“Leighbourne says he did.”
“Yes, because Grent told him to say so. That good man deceived both Manuel and Leighbourne. He had the notes on him when he was murdered.”
“Oh,” sighed Darrel, with a groan, “how you hold to that theory!”
“Because it is a true one,” said Torry sharply, “and sooner or later I am sure we shall be able to prove it is a fact. Good-bye.”
Frank shrugged his shoulders and drove off to Waterloo Station, where in half an hour he took a fast train to Wraybridge. He had not much faith in Torry’s theory, as, with his trained sense of logical argument, he could not see how Grent, in the face of Vass’s assertion, could have become possessed of the money. He tried to think about the matter, but love, as usual, interfered with business, and when he recollected that he would soon see Donna Maria he surrendered himself to delicious fancies about the coming interview. She—Frank had got the length of calling Donna Maria “she”—she would be cold, she would be amicable, she would smile, she would frown, she would do a hundred and one contradictory things not likely to occur. Truly Frank Darrel was a very foolish young gentleman to indulge in so confused a reverie. But he was only twenty-five and he was in love—two excuses that cover the follies of the majority of mortals.
Shewn into the presence of his goddess, the worshipper grew red and confused, rather to the surprise of Donna Maria as she had no notion of the inflamed state of his heart. To put him at his ease, she sought to induce speech by asking him what he wished to see her about. Then Frank became more confused than ever, for he did not very well know how to begin. However, as a beginning had to be made, he spoke to the point and in a brusque way, by reason of his modesty.
“I have come to tell you how the case is getting on,” he said hurriedly.
“That is very kind of you,” replied Donna Maria, half smiling at his humour, although she secretly wondered what could be the cause of it. “Has anything been discovered about my poor uncle’s murder?”
“Not so much that, as about the bank-notes.”
“The bank-notes?” Donna Maria turned pale and spoke nervously.
“Yes, the ten thousand pounds which was stolen from the safe. The money has been returned to Captain Manuel.”
Donna Maria rose suddenly. “It can’t be!” she cried, making a step towards the astonished Frank. “I tell you it can’t be!”
“But it is, Miss Sandoval. Captain Manuel has the money now in his possession.”
“Then the assassin of my uncle has been arrested?”
“No, I’m sorry to say he has—”
“Not arrested?” cried Donna Maria, her colour rising and her eyes sparkling, “and the money returned?”
“The money was returned by an unknown man,” said Frank, “and he went away after delivering the parcel of notes at Captain Manuel’s hotel.”
“Then that was the assassin. He took the money from my uncle’s dead body. In fact, I believe he killed Mr. Grent in order to rob him.”
“But how can that be?” cried Darrel, much perplexed. “Mr. Grent left the money in his private safe, and did not come back to get it. How could he have been in possession of the money on that night?”
Maria passed her hand across her forehead and sighed. “True! True! What am I to do? Oh,”—she wrung her hands—“If I could only speak!”
“You must speak,” said Frank, seizing his opportunity, “or else condemn an innocent man.”
“An innocent man? Who?”
“Mr. Frederick Leighbourne. We have found out that he changed some of the notes, so it is just possibly that he may be accused of the robbery.”
“No, no,” cried Maria, much agitated, “it cannot be. Mr. Leighbourne did not take that money out of the safe, I can prove it.”
“Then do so, and save him from possible arrest.”
The girl looked wildly round the room, then she ran to the window, sprang back to open the door and close it again; finally she paused before Frank and seized his hand. The touch thrilled him.
“Mr. Darrel,” she said hurriedly, “you are a gentleman, and I will trust you. I have kept silent out of fear of the Blue Mummy Society, but I shall do so no longer. Mr. Leighbourne did not take the money out of the safe, but I can tell you who did.”
“Captain Manuel?” asked Darrel with a start.
“No,” she said slowly. “Maria Sandoval!”
“I—I took the money and gave it to Mr. Grent.”
The information was so unexpected and terrible that Frank felt the blood leave his cheeks. Pale as a ghost, he rose from his chair, and looked at Donna Maria with dilated eyes. From her confession he fancied that she must be implicated in the double crime, and a feeling of terror seized him at the idea of the woman he loved having brought herself within the reach of the law. Donna Maria saw his expression, and with the swift instinct of a woman, guessed his thoughts. With a haughty gesture she hung back her head, and her eyes sparkled like stars on a frosty night as she spoke to him.
“Oh, don’t think I have done anything wrong!” she cried defiantly. “What I did was at the request of my uncle. Sit down, Mr. Darrel, and I’ll tell you the story in detail.”
She pointed to his chair with a regal gesture, and when he resumed his seat faced him with a wonderfully composed look. She began her confession—as it may be called—tamely enough; but as the story became more dramatic she warmed to her work, and finished with all the fire, and fury, and gesticulation of her Southern nature. Frank, sympathising with her quick spirit, was enthralled by her beauty, moved by her eloquence, and felt that here was a woman to die for.
“When my uncle took leave of us here to go to Italy,” she said, “He called me into his study, and, after asking me not to reveal what he was about to tell me, made a confession. That I reveal it now is to save an innocent man from arrest.”
“True enough, Miss Sandoval. But the confession?”
“Was that when in Lima ten years ago—at which time he married my aunt—he had become entangled with a certain association called—”
“The Peruvian Patriots,” interrupted Frank. “I know all about that society and it’s blue mummies. Go on, please.”
“Well, Mr. Grent was bound in some way—I don’t know how—to assist this society, under penalty of death. He married, and came to England, and thought he would hear no more about the matter. But this year, Captain Manuel, with that ten thousand pounds which belonged to the Peruvian Patriots, came to London, and called to see my uncle. In his hands—after reminding him of his connection with the society—Manuel placed the money, and told him to look after it. My uncle did so, and kept it in this house. A week before his murder he found on this table a Blue Mummy.”
“Ah! a Blue Mummy—the sign of death.”
“Precisely; and with it a letter stating that the money was to be paid by my uncle to another member of the society, called Centa—a man whom my uncle had never seen. Failing this, the letter said that Mr. Grent would be killed. Now,” continued Maria, “My uncle was so terrified at the thought of being secretly assassinated—for he knew the power and recklessness of the society—that he resolved to obey this letter.”
“How did he know that the letter was authentic?”
“By the Blue Mummy. Only members of the Peruvian Patriots possess these tomb-images, and they are not obtainable in England, or, for the matter of that, in Peru either.”
“H’m! I suppose he was right to believe in the letter? Well, so he resolved to obey it, and hand the money over to this mysterious Centa?”
“Yes; but he wished to do so without letting Manuel know, as he was afraid lest Manuel, enraged at the want of faith shewn to him by the society, might take the law into his own hands, and assassinate him.”
Darrel could not help laughing. “My dear lady,” said he, “I am afraid Mr. Grent must have been a very credulous man. The law does not countenance wholesale murder in this country, whatever it may do in Peru.”
“But you forget!” cried Donna Maria angrily. “My uncle’s foreboding came true. He was murdered by the society, as the token of the Blue Mummy left beside him proves; but whether by Manuel or Centa I cannot say.”
“Why,” said Frank thoughtfully, “there is something in that; but we’ll discuss the point later. Please continue.”
“Well, Mr. Darrel, my uncle determined to take the money up to the bank in Fleet-Street, and put it in his private safe. Then he intended to write a letter to Manuel, asking him to call at his rooms in Duke-Street on Saturday afternoon. He designed to tell Manuel that the money was in the bank, and that if he wanted to see it there, he could ask Mr. Vass to show it to him. In the meantime I was to go to the bank on Saturday morning, on the pretence of getting the tickets for the journey, which had been purposely left behind, and get the money.”
“But how were you to open the safe?”
“Why, Mr. Grent gave me his private key.”
“Oh, I understand; but,” added Darrel, “if you were to take away the money, and Captain Manuel was to be told in the afternoon that he could see it in the safe, the whole thing would come out, as the money would not be there for him to see.”
“Not at all. You forget that it was Saturday, and Captain Manuel could not look into the safe before Monday morning. Now, my uncle intended to give the money to Centa on Saturday night, and then go off to Italy; so, you see, there was absolutely no danger.”
“A very pretty plot,” said Darrel drily. “So you agreed to assist in it?”
Donna Maria flushed red, and responded rather haughtily: “I am from Lima, and I know how terrible is the vengeance of the Peruvian Patriots when they are betrayed. I assisted my uncle to save his life.”
“So it all fell out as planned?”
“Yes! Mr. Grent took the money up on Friday, and placed it in the safe, with Mr. Vass as a witness. Then he went to his rooms, and telegraphed to me to do my part. I went up on Saturday morning on the pretence of getting the tickets, and saw Mr. Vass in my uncle’s private room. To get rid of him, I asked him for a glass of water. He left the room, and I at once opened the safe with the key given to me by my uncle. When Mr. Vass returned with the water the safe was locked again, and I had the notes in my pocket. In the afternoon I went to Mr. Grent’s rooms, and gave him the money; then I said good-bye, and came away: My uncle told me that he had seen Captain Manuel.”
“Yes, I know Manuel called; Meek said so; and I suppose Grent told him to look into the safe on Monday. As a matter of fact, he did not do so until Tuesday or Wednesday, and then Vass discovered the loss. But tell me, how did Mr. Grent hope to pacify Manuel?”
“By absence. He intended to write from Italy, and tell him that he had given the money to Centa; and, as he proposed to remain abroad for some time, he thought that Manuel’s anger would abate, and he would not wish to harm him when he returned.”
“I see,” said Frank thoughtfully. “I must say that Mr. Grent provided for his own safety remarkably well.”
“And all in vain, poor man,” sighed Maria, “since he was killed by the society!”
“I don’t believe he was,” said Darrel bluntly.
“But the Mummy—the Blue Mummy?”
“What about the returned money, Miss Sandoval? Why should the society instruct Manuel, or Centa, to kill Grent and rob his body, then give back the money to itself? That’s robbing Peter to pay Paul with a vengeance.”
“So it is. I can’t understand it at all.”
“Then again,” said Frank warming, “did you not take two tickets from the bank?”
“I don’t know. Mr. Grent mentioned only one ticket, and it was in an envelope. But now you mention it, Mr. Darrel, the envelope was rather thick; there might have been two tickets.”
“There were; one for Mr. Grent, the other for Miss Hargone. She had arranged to elope with Grent; at least, she fooled him into believing so, but instead of going she sent Julia Brawn, disguised in that fawn-coloured mantle. Then Grent was killed.”
“By whom?” asked Maria, much agitated.
“I can’t say. Perhaps that Centa you speak of got wind that Grent was bolting with the money to Italy, and followed to kill him. But who can tell? It is all a mystery.”
“I don’t wish to speak ill of the dead,” said Maria, with a sigh, “but it seems to me that my uncle was acting very badly. That he should deceive my poor aunt, who loved him so!” And a tear trickled down her face.
Darrel said nothing, but he was quite satisfied that he knew the extent of Grent’s villainy. He had stolen the ten thousand pounds in such a way as to throw the blame on Vass, and he had intended to fly to South America with Lydia Hargone, deserting his wife for a woman who had deceived him at last. But Providence, which rules all things, had thwarted his evil plans, and instead of getting away with the fruits of his iniquity he had met with a cruel death at the hands of an unknown man. As he had sown, so had he reaped.
“Let me ask you one thing,” said Darrel, as he took his leave: “why did you not tell us this before?”
“Because, in the first place, I promised my uncle to keep silent; and in the second, he told me that if I spoke the society—since he hoped to escape it—might kill my aunt. It was for her sake that I kept silent.”
“Lies! Lies! Lies!” thought Darrel. “What a liar Grent was.”
When he got back to town he saw Torry and told him the whole story, whereat the detective was much pleased.
“Didn’t I say Grent had the money!” said he, slapping his thigh. “What a plot to get it, the cunning old fox! I’m almost loth to catch and hang the man who killed him.”
“The hare runs yet on the mountains,” said Darrel drily, and took his leave of the jubilant detective to go home and dream of Maria. The interview with her had left him more in love than ever.
Next morning he was hardly awake when Torry, wildly excited, burst into his bedroom, and executed a kind of war-dance. “I’ve found the tramp who robbed the dead body of Julia Brawn,” he cried, “and he gave up this locket, which he took from her neck. See, see! It is of gold, with the letters ‘G.V. to J.B.’ That is the lover to the lass.”
“The lover of Julia Brawn?” said Darrel, jumping out of bed.
“Yes, yes; the man who was with her on that night. The man who killed Grent.”
“But his name—his name?”
“Look at the initials, G.V.—Gustavus Vass. He is the murderer!”
Here was a discovery. Of all men Torry had least suspected Vass, as he had doubted the courage and nerve of so effeminate a creature. Yet if according to the evidence of the locket, he was the lover of Julia Brawn; and if he had followed her out of jealousy on that fatal night, there was no doubt that he had killed Grent. Torry explained all this to Darrel, as that young gentleman was dressing.
“If this, if that, if the other thing,” said Frank doubtfully; “much virtue in if, as Shakspere says. Admitting that Vass was Julia’s lover—which certainly seems probable, judging from the initials on the locket—you cannot prove that he was with Julia on that night. She alone could give evidence, and she is dead.”
Torry nodded. “I admit there are links wanting,” he said; “but as I am absolutely certain that Vass is the man we want, it only remains to force a confession out of him by sheer terror.”
“How can you do that?”
The detective smiled meaningly, and from his breast-pocket produced a warrant against Vass.
“I got this an hour ago,” he said, “as soon as I learnt the truth from the locket, I have sent a note asking Vass to come here and see you. Then, by means of this warrant, I shall so play on his fears that he will confess the truth.”
“And so fall out of the frying-pan into the fire,” said Darrel cynically. “If he holds his tongue, you arrest him on suspicion; if he confesses, you arrest him on certainty. So, in either case, he is bound to go to gaol. Silence is golden in his case, Torry; he won’t confess.”
“He might not if he was a hardened criminal,” said the detective coolly. “But the man is a weak, hysterical fool, alive with nerves. He wept at the news of Grent’s death; he fainted on seeing the Blue Mummy. A man who has so little command over himself will not be difficult to coerce into confession.”
“When is he to be here?”
Torry glanced at his watch. “Ten thirty,” he said, “and it is almost that now. I say, Mr. Darrel, it was a lucky thought of mine that the tramp might have robbed the dead body.”
“It was! What made you think of it?”
“Well, he stole the knife in the first place, so I judged he would help himself to whatever valuables he could find. It seems he did and pawned the locket he stole. Then he saw one of my handbills offering a reward, and turned up last night to tell me the truth. I went with him to the pawn-shop, redeemed the locket, paid my friend two pounds and congratulated myself that the initials on the locket implicated Vass.”
“Are you sure the initials are his?”
“Quite sure. When I first met him I ascertained that his name was Gustavus, so G.V. can stand for nothing else than Gustavus Vass; the name is an uncommon one. Besides, he must have guessed that the unexpected visit of Donna Maria had to do with the transference of the money to Grent.”
“Oh, oh!” said Frank, turning round from the mirror at which he was brushing his hair. “So you think the motive of the crime is robbery, not jealousy.”
“Both! The motive of the first crime was robbery, of the second jealousy—and perhaps a trifle of vengeance.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It is not difficult,” replied Torry with a shrug. “Listen! In some way, I can’t say how—Vass became aware that Julia, at the instigation of Miss Hargone, was to meet Grent in Mortality-lane. He watched and followed, witnessed the interview, and when Grent gave the money to Julia, sprang forward in a fit of jealous rage and killed him. Then he forced Julia into the cab, and drove to the end of Northumberland-Avenue. He took her down to Cleopatra’s Needle on some pretence, killed her out of revenge for her betraying him, and robbed her of the money. Then he tried to throw her body into the river, but was interrupted and fled. That is my theory, and a very nice one it is.”
“It would be better,” responded Darrel drily, “if it were not so full of flaws.”
“Yes. You omit the Blue Mummy altogether; you make Vass decoy Julia to the Embankment without the shadow of an excuse—why you can’t even invent an impossible one. Finally, you forget that the money was returned; so it is ridiculous to suppose that Vass would act so honestly after committing two crimes to gain it. Also, a nervous idiot like Vass couldn’t kill two people in cold blood. He hadn’t the spunk to do it.”
Torry laughed at these so-called flaws, which he regarded as puerile; but out of sheer contradiction was about to contest them, when a faint and timid knock sounded on the outside door.
“Vass!” said Torry promptly. “Even in his knock I recognise his sneaking, vacillating nature. Now to try my game of bluff.”
With a nod to Frank he went to the door, and shortly returned with Vass at his heels. The secretary was smartly dressed, and looked cool and composed, never thinking that his sin had found him out, and that the smiling little detective had set a trap for him into which he had walked blindly. There was something ironical in the situation.
“I got your note,” said Vass, addressing Frank, when they were seated. “And I came on here at once. Has anything new been discovered?”
“Oh, yes,” replied the detective politely, “something quite new, which will interest you very much.”
“Really; relative to the robbery?”
“No; relative to the murder. Not to keep you in suspense Mr. Vass,” said Torry slowly, “I may tell you that we know who committed this double crime.”
Vass turned the colour of chalk. “Captain Manuel?” said he faintly.
“No, the man whose name is in this warrant of arrest.”
The secretary put out a shaking hand towards the warrant displayed by Torry, then drew it back with a start. “A warrant of arrest,” he repeated.
“Yes, and for you!”
“For me—me?” His eyes almost started from his head as he pushed back his chair, and stared terror-stricken at the detective.
“For you—Gustavus Vass, who murdered your master and your sweetheart.”
“It is a lie!” cried the young man, trying to rise, “I killed neither.”
“You murdered both,” said Torry sternly, “and I intend to arrest you. In ten minutes you leave this room for prison.”
“But I am innocent!—innocent I tell you,” screamed Vass, his brow beaded with perspiration.
“I—I—I can—I can explain.”
In a moment Torry whipped out the locket, and held it out on the palm of his hand. “Then explain that.”
“Ah!” murmured Vass, falling back in his chair, “I am lost.”
“I thought so; you confess your guilt.”
The accusation seemed to galvanise the wretched creature into life. “Confess, confess!” he shrieked.
“No, no! I am innocent! I swear it.”
“You’d swear anything to save your neck,” said Torry coolly. “Come, sir, I am tired of this, let me put the darbies on.”
As in a dream Vass sat limply in his chair while Torry approached with the handcuffs. But at the first touch of the cold iron on his wrists he leaped up, and plunging past the detective fell on his knees before Frank.
“Mr. Darrel! Mr. Darrel!” he implored with the tears streaming down his face, “help me, for God’s sake! Oh, my poor mother. In heaven’s name I am innocent! Don’t let him drag me to prison.”
“What can I do?” said Darrel moved by this abasement. “I am not above the law. If you are guilty you must pay for your wickedness.”
“But I am innocent.”
“Then prove your innocence,” cried Torry with a sneer. “I am always open to conviction.”
“I can’t speak, I dare not speak!” moaned Vass, hiding his miserable face in his hands.
“Then keep silence and hang.”
The poor wretch shuddered convulsively at the ominous word, and wept loudly. He cried like a woman, and lay on the floor moaning and groaning as in pain. Even Darrel was disgusted at this unmanly conduct, and advised him sharply to leave off whimpering. Torry went further.
“Get up, you milk-sop, or I’ll kick you,” he cried. “This is not the way to meet your troubles. You say you can explain; do so, and save your neck, if you can.”
Finding all his howling did no good, Vass rose to his feet and dried his eyes. Driven like a rat into a corner, he turned to shew fight.
“Give me a glass of water,” said he, “and I’ll tell you the truth.”
“How you killed Grent,” said Torry, while Darrel got the water.
“I did not kill Grent. I never saw him on that night.”
“Bah! you are a liar.”
“You had better hear what I have to say before you call me that,” said the secretary with some spirit. Then he drank the water, arranged his disordered clothes, and with more composure than might have been expected from his former agitation made a strange confession. The details startled his two hearers not a little.
“Gentlemen,” he said, in rather an oratorical way, “I was, as you know, secretary to the late Mr. Grent, and frequently went down to see him at Wray House. Sometimes I stayed there for days, and, therefore, saw a great deal of the household. About a year ago, I fell in love with Julia Brawn, a handsome girl, who was Donna Maria’s maid. I gave her that locket you showed me, and promised to marry her as soon as I was rich enough to keep a wife.”
“Did you really intend to marry her?” questioned Darrel suspiciously, “or were you only fooling the girl.”
“I intended to make her my wife,” said Vass, with dignity. “She was a good girl, and a beautiful girl, whom I loved very much. When we met we naturally conversed about those we knew, and Julia was in the habit of telling me all that went on in the house, I learnt from her that Grent was in love with Miss Hargone, the governess. Now, at this time, I knew that he was nearly ruined by speculation; so when he told me one day that he had ten thousand pounds I doubted him, until he showed it to me at Wray House. He explained that the money belonged to a society called the Peruvian Patriots, and explained to me all about their symbol of the Blue Mummy. Once or twice he said to me that he wished the ten thousand pounds was his own. Then Miss Hargone made a confidant of Julia.”
“But Miss Hargone had left the house some weeks before Manuel paid the money to Grent.”
“I know that, Mr. Torry, but Julia used to call on Miss Hargone in London. The governess told Julia that Grent intended to fly to America with the ten thousand pounds, and had asked her to go with him. She said she had promised to go if Grent could show her the money in his possession, and to see it, she had made an appointment with him in Mortality-lane. Both were to be disguised.”
“Because Grent was terribly afraid of the society and had made Miss Hargone afraid also. They thought it better to meet in some out-of-the-way spot, where there would be no chance of their being disturbed. That was why Mortality-lane was chosen. When Miss Hargone was convinced that Grent had the money she was to return home to her lodgings in Bloomsbury, and meet Grent the next morning at Victoria Station. They were to go to Genoa and sail for South America.”
“A very nice plot,” said Darrel. “But how about Julia going in place of Lydia?”
Vass paused before answering this question and drank some more water. Now that he had commenced his confession he was much more at his ease, and seemed disposed to tell all he had hitherto kept back. He smiled faintly and repeated Darrel’s remark before making any reply.
“How about going in place of Lydia?” he said. “Well that was because Miss Hargone never intended to go to Italy or South America with Grent.”
“But he bought double tickets for Genoa,” exclaimed Torry.
“I know he did. I looked into the envelope which contained them when it was left in Grent’s private office. But Lydia was only fooling the old man.”
“In that case why did she make the Mortality-lane appointment?”
“Because she wanted the ten thousand pounds. Yes; her fear of the society was all feigned, and she suggested the meeting-place and disguise to Grent so that in the event of any trouble over the loss of the money, he might be accused by reason of his suspicious conduct.”
“The loss of the money,” echoed Darrel. “Then she intended to rob him on that night?”
“She did; but I don’t believe she intended murder. On the Friday night, when all was arranged with Grent, she refused to meet him in Mortality-lane, and asked Julia to go in her place.”
“But why did Julia consent to undertake so dangerous a task?”
“Oh, that was my doing,” said the secretary complacently.
“Yes. Julia called at the bank next day at noon to acquaint me with Miss Hargone’s proposal. I saw a chance of getting the ten thousand into my own hands without suspicion, so I urged her to go. I knew from Mr. Leighbourne that he had changed the notes at Grent’s request, so that they could not be traced by the numbers kept by Captain Manuel. Grent arranged that to benefit himself. When I heard Julia’s story of Miss Hargone’s proposal, I decided that they should benefit me. I told Julia to go to the rendezvous and get the money from Grent, then meet me at Cleopatra’s Needle and give it to me. The next day I intended to send a note to the office feigning illness, and in the meantime, leave England for Australia with Julia and the money.”
“You are a scoundrel, I must say.”
“No, I am not,” cried Vass, flushing. “If Grent had been true to me I should have been true to him. But he deceived me; he tried to get me into trouble. I saw him place the notes in the safe on Friday night, and, remembering that he was to shew them to Miss Hargone at Mortality-lane, I wondered how he was going to steal them. Donna Maria came the next day before Julia paid me her visit, and I suspected something, as it was unusual for her to come to the bank. She asked me to bring her a glass of water so as to get me out of the room. Suspecting the trick I watched her through a crack in the door, and saw her rob the safe. Then I guessed that Grent intended, like the scoundrel he was, that I should be accused of the robbery. I was so enraged that I wished to thwart him, and when Julia came with her story, I advised her to get the money for our mutual benefit. Since by Grent’s cunning scheme to save his own reputation, I was to be accused as a thief; I did not see why I should not have the money. I felt that I might as well be killed for a sheep as a lamb, so I do not see that can blame me.”
“Well, well,” said Torry, impatient at this moralising; “let it pass. When one is soaked through, rain does not matter. How about Julia?”
“She obeyed me. The rendezvous with Grent was at midnight in Mortality-lane, so I arranged to meet her at Cleopatra’s Needle at one o’clock on Sunday morning.”
“Why not at your own lodgings?”
“Because it is not wise to leave a trail to one’s own door,” retorted Vass, with a cunning look. “Well, Julia went to the rendezvous disguised as Miss Hargone, in a fawn-coloured mantle which Grent knew well. She got the money.”
“How? By murdering Grent?”
“No; he gave it to her thinking she was Miss Hargone. Then—”
“Well, well; then—”
“I don’t know what happened,” said Vass helplessly. “Julia had not time to tell me all, when she was murdered.”
“By whom?” cried Torry eagerly.
“By a man I don’t know. It was this way. I was at the Needle at one o’clock, but she did not come. I waited for half an hour and then she came running to me.”
“From which direction?”
“H’m; that agrees with the cabman’s story,” muttered Torry. “Go on.”
“She came up to me at once,” continued Vass rapidly, “and thrust the notes into my hands. I put them into my pocket, and she began to talk about Grent being dead. I had no time to ask her what she meant, for a man in a long coat came running along from Northumberland-avenue direction, and threw himself on her with an open knife. I saw it flash in the faint starlight. Julia turned to face him with a cry, and the knife went right into her heart. I was so terrified and amazed that, as she fell, I took to my heels and ran along in the direction of the Strand.”
“Did the man follow you?”
“Not immediately. From a backward glance I saw that he was bending over Julia’s body, looking for the notes, I suppose. I ran on as hard as ever I could, but when I was racing up into the Strand I fancied my haste would look suspicious, so I walked as quickly as I could. In the Strand I picked up a cab and drove to Hyde Park corner, then I walked to Victoria Station and took a cab home to my lodgings in Westminster. I was too terrified to do anything but fly.”
“You are sure you were not followed?”
“I fancied I heard the man running after me on the Embankment, but I am not sure. All I wished to do, since Julia was dead, was to save myself.”
“What was the man like?”
“He had a long coat, a soft hat, and a black beard; but the whole thing passed so suddenly that I had no time to notice anything.”
“Soft hat, long coat, black beard,” said Torry; “exactly what Main described. There is no doubt that the man who killed Grent killed Julia. Well,” he added, turning to Vass, with a grim look, “is that all you have to say?”
“Yes, all; except that I returned the money to Captain Manuel at his hotel.”
“Oh,” cried Darrel, “so you were the red-haired man.”
“Yes. I was afraid to go without a disguise lest I should meet Manuel and be questioned by him.”
“Why did you return the money?” asked Torry sharply.
“Because I had no use for it, If Julia had lived I should have taken her and the money to Australia as I said before, but as that villain killed her I had no heart to keep it.”
“What villain do you mean?”
“The man who killed her.”
“Don’t you know who it was?”
“If I did,” cried Vass, with a light flashing into his usually cold eyes, “I’d murder him.”
“You have no suspicion?”
“No; I can think of no one. Julia might have told me the name. I daresay she would have done so, but that the wretch killed her.”
“Just in time to save himself from being betrayed,” said Torry. “And now, Mr. Vass, why did you not tell us this before?”
“I was afraid of being accused of the murder, so I held my tongue.”
“More fool you. You might have saved us a deal of trouble had you been more open. As it is, I believe your story. You stole the notes, but you restored them; and I know you are innocent of the other crime. Well, sir, I won’t execute this warrant so you can go back to your work on one condition.”
“What is it?” said Vass, anxiously.
“That you hold your tongue.”
“Oh, I’ll do that,” said the secretary joyfully, and departed in all haste, glad to have got off so easily in that terrible interview.
“Do you believe his story?” asked Darrel, when the door closed.
“Every word of it,” was Torry’s prompt reply. “That creature hasn’t the spirit of a rabbit. Catch him committing one murder, let alone two. Not he; I expect the poor devil has been in torture with this on his mind. No doubt he is glad I made him confess.”
“I don’t like him; he’s a sneak.”
“So he is, and a coward, sir; but,” added Torry with emphasis, “he is not a murderer.”
After this conversation the detective went away to seek for more evidence, and Darrel remained to muse over all that had been obtained. In spite of all that was known, the case seemed as complicated as ever, and the mystery as deep. If Darrel had been writing this criminal matter as a fiction, his ingenuity would have suggested a fitting ending; but he could not see how Fate intended to work it out. Perhaps Fate designed to leave her matter-of-fact romance unfinished. Perplexed by the problem and the apparent impossibility of its solution, Frank left Fate to conclude her own story, and turned to continue one of his own. In a few moments he was oblivious to all but the words which were rapidly filling the paper before him under the influence of brain and hand.
But it seemed that he was doomed to be interrupted. Just as he was warming to his work, Blake entered to make a morning call; and as there was no chance of writing while this rattle-pated Irishman was in the room, Darrel put away his papers with some vexation.
“Well,” said Blake, after the first greeting had passed, “how is the case getting on?”
“We have found some new evidence,” replied Darrel; “but none likely to please you.”
“Because it proves beyond all doubt that Miss Hargone sent Julia to that rendezvous.”
“Prove it by telling me the evidence,” cried Blake flushing.
Darrel was nothing loth. Suppressing the fact that the money had been returned—a fact which Torry did not want known—he told Blake all that Donna Maria had said, and all that Vass had confessed. Roderick listened in silence, but his brow grew black as the story proceeded. When Darrel ended, he said:
“So Vass has the money; I hope he’ll be punished for stealing it. As to the black-bearded man, I say now, as I said before, that he is Manuel. That Spaniard, and no other, killed those poor wretches.”
“Do you think, from what I have told you, that Miss Hargone knows who went with Julia to Mortality-lane?”
“She might know,” said Roderick scowling. “I’ll ask her. Darrel, I am not at all satisfied with Lydia. If she played fast and loose with Grent, she will some day do the same with me. She seems to know more of this black business than she should do, and I’ll marry no woman who is under such a cloud. I’ll ask her to explain all about this Mortality-lane business, and if she can’t explain to my satisfaction, I’ll give her up.”
“Indeed, I think you will be wise to do so, Roderick. I don’t think she is a good woman. But if she confesses, you must tell me what she says.”
“I’ll come and see you as soon as I get the truth out of her. I hope she is innocent, for I love her, Darrel. But my heart misgives me; God help me, it misgives me slowly.” And Blake, quite changed from his usual merry self, walked out of the room with hanging head. Darrel was quite sorry for the poor fellow, but found a morsel of philosophy in his grief.
“Ah, well,” thought he, “Blake isn’t the first man who has been deceived by a woman. It is better to find out a woman’s character before marriage than after. I hope he’ll escape Lydia Hargone’s clutches. She’s a snake in the grass, if ever there was one.”
Two day’s afterwards, Torry reappeared in Darrel’s room, accompanied by Vass. Both men were very much excited, and laid before Frank a letter.
“There,” said Torry smoothing out the envelope, “what do you think that is?”
“A letter to Mr. Vass,” replied Frank, looking at the address.
“More than that,” cried the secretary in his high, thin voice. “It is a letter from the man who killed Grent and Julia Brawn.”
Startled by this intelligence, Frank hastily took the open letter which Torry handed to him. It was written, or rather hand-printed, on a small sheet of notepaper, and read as follows:
“If G.V. will meet the writer of this letter near the Achilles Statue in Hyde Park at eleven o’clock on Friday night, he will be delivered out of his troubles in connection with the Cleopatra Needle murder. Come alone, and wait for a stranger to ask for a cigarette light. “
“An anonymous letter,” said Darrel, when he finished reading the epistle, “but nothing to show from whom it comes.”
“It was written by the assassin,” cried Vass eagerly. “I am sure of it.”
“How can you be sure of it?”
“Hush,” said Torry, as the secretary was about to speak, “let me explain. I believe it is from the murderer,” he continued, addressing Frank directly, “as he is the only one of the general public who knows that Vass is in trouble over this affair. Evidently he recognised Vass when he murdered Julia, and now wants to see him privately to ask about the money.”
“The money—the ten thousand pounds?”
“Exactly. This man murdered Grent for that money, and when he fancied that Julia was giving it to Vass he killed her out of revenge. He did not find the notes on Julia’s body, so he followed Vass, who, as you heard, managed to escape him. Now he thinks that Vass still has the money, and knows in some way, I can’t say how, that he is in trouble over it. He wants to meet Vass and demand half of the money or perhaps more; then he will leave England and write a letter to the police saying that he is the criminal and that Vass is innocent. I am certain,” cried Torry emphatically, “that such is the plot of this scoundrel.”
“It sounds feasible enough. You are going to meet this man, Vass?”
“We are all going to meet him,” said the detective promptly; “you can come too, if you like.”
“Certainly. As I saw the beginning of this tragedy, I should like to see the end.”
“It is now Thursday,” remarked Torry, “so to-morrow night at half-past ten, I, you, and a couple of policemen will post ourselves out of sight near the Achilles Statue. At eleven Vass will come along and wait to be asked for a cigarette light. Then we will give the scoundrel rope enough to hang himself, and pounce out to arrest him when he has given himself away. There has been enough plotting on the part of criminals,” added Torry, rubbing his hands, “so it is time honest men had their turn to counter-plot.”
“What do you think of it all Mr. Darrel?” asked Vass in high glee.
Frank shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know what to say,” said he, doubtfully. “You may be right, you may be wrong, but we have had so many failures that I fear to hope for success.”
“Oh, we won’t fail this time,” said Vass, cheerfully. “Well, Mr. Torry, if you will excuse me I’ll go back to my work. I’ll be with you to-morrow at five as you desire. Good-day, sir; good-day, Mr. Darrel.”
The novelist nodded without smiling, for he had no great liking for the slippery secretary. When the door closed on him he turned an ironical look on Torry.
“There goes a blackguard who thinks he is an honest man,” was his remark.
“Let him think what he likes so long as he assists us,” replied Torry carelessly. “I know he stole the notes, but he returned them again.”
“Returned them out of fear, and in disguise,” said Darrel. “The fellow is a white-livered cur. He hadn’t even the pluck to defend that poor girl Julia.”
“Come now, sir; he couldn’t. The assassin was too quick for him. But I agree with you that he’s a contemptible hound; but justice must work with dirty tools on occasion. This sneak—
“Bah! he is not worth talking about,” interrupted Darrel contemptuously; “let’s leave him in his native mud. What about the letter? Have you any idea who wrote it?”
“I told you the assassin of Grent and Julia.”
“Have you any idea of his name?”
“I have a suspicion that it may turn out to be someone we know.”
“Ha; I guess your idea. Manuel?”
Torry shook his head. “No. Manuel proved an alibi, and has cleared himself in my eyes. I suspect Frederick Leighbourne.”
“No!” exclaimed Darrel with genuine surprise. “Why he is the last man in the world I should suspect.”
“All the more reason for suspecting him,” replied the experienced officer. “I have been making a few inquiries about that good young man, and I have found out that he leads a double life. With his respectable ass of a father he is all that is worthy and decent, but under this pious surface he is a scamp and a debauched spendthrift. Money runs through his hands like sand, and he is in debt to half the tradesmen in London. Wine, women, cards and racing, Frederick Leighbourne indulges in them all, and is now at his wits’ end to conceal his iniquities from his father. If that virtuous dunderhead knew the truth he would kick Master Frederick out of the business, cut him off with a shilling, and solace his pious soul with texts out of the family Bible. Oh, I know the creed of the British hypocrite—cant, cant, and cant again.”
“But all this does not prove that Frederick Leighbourne killed Grent.”
“Don’t you remember our first interview with him,” cried Torry impatiently, “how afraid and nervous he was in how extraordinary a manner he took the news of Grent’s murder? He had changed the notes for Grent, and knew that there was little danger of them being traced by Manuel’s list. He found out that Grent was going to bolt with the money—”
“From whom?” interrupted Frank.
“From Lydia Hargone. Oh, you may look surprised, but that woman has acted like a traitress to all. She deceived Donna Maria for Blake, she deceived Blake for Grent, she sold Grent for Leighbourne, and I shouldn’t be surprised if she ended in selling him to the gallows. But to continue. I fancy Leighbourne was the man who went with Julia at the instigation of the perfidious Lydia. He hoped to make ten thousand pounds at one haul, and killed Grent to get it. Then Julia, to whom the money had been given, ran off with it to Vass. Leighbourne followed and murdered her, but found, too late, that his crime was useless—that Vass had bolted with the money. What does he do? He waits a reasonable time, and acts a part to avert suspicion, then he writes this letter to Vass asking for an appointment. He means to get that money out of Vass or kill him.”
“But Vass has not the money.”
“Of course not; but who knows that he returned it? You, I, Manuel, Vass, and Donna Maria, not Leighbourne. Depend upon it, Mr. Darrel, we’ll have Leighbourne in gaol to-morrow night, and this mystery which has baffled us for so long, will be at an end.”
“Well,” said Darrel thoughtfully, “your argument is ingenious. Let us hope it will prove true.”
“Wait till to-morrow night,” said Torry drily, and took his leave, satisfied that he was the smartest detective in London, and the cleverest man in the wide world.
Darrel passed the rest of that day, and most of the next, in speculating on the probable result of this expedition. He could not deny that Torry’s theory was ingenious and feasible, but thought that he was too sanguine. It seemed madness that a man guilty of a double crime should thrust himself willingly in the way of danger and risk betrayal. To be sure, he knew that Vass had stolen the money, and believed that he still had it in his possession, so he, no doubt, believed that terror of arrest and the desire to keep his spoil, might influence the secretary in holding his tongue. If the assassin knew that the money had been returned, and that Vass had repented of his iniquity, he might have been chary of risking a meeting; but he was ignorant, and therefore, rash, and there was every probability that he would be arrested. With arrest would come confession, and so the mystery of the dual crime would be solved. Still, the truth had evaded detection so many times, that Darrel could hardly bring himself to believe that it was about to be brought to light. He thought it possible but improbable.
The next night, shortly after ten o’clock, he met Torry, who was accompanied by two constables in plain clothes, and the four men walked to Hyde Park. The night was moonless, but there was a faint glitter of starlight, and a certain luminosity in the atmosphere. There were a great many people in the streets, but when they turned into the Park itself, they found it almost deserted—at all events, in the vicinity of the Achilles Statue.
“I wonder that the man appointed a meeting with Vass in so public a place,” whispered Darrel to Torry, as they took up their position in the blackness under the trees.
“The more public the place, the safer it is,” replied Torry oracularly. “Hush, there is Vass.”
In the luminous light the four watchers could see the tall, thin form of the secretary. He walked to and fro, and circulated round the statue in a deliberate manner. Several people entered the gates and passed down the Row, others walked in the direction of the Marble Arch, still the man who had made this appointment did not come. Vass looked at the dial of his watch by the glow of his cigarette, and as he did so the bell of a near church chimed eleven. At once Vass stepped back, and walked up to a point near the watchers, where they could overhear the conversation which was likely to take place, and seize the stranger promptly.
Hardly had he done this, and while the last vibration of the bell still quivered in the atmosphere, than the figure of a man sauntered aimlessly across the open space. As he came nearer, Vass saw that he wore a long overcoat and a soft hat. The man passed and re-passed him, glancing carelessly in his direction; then he asked, in a pleasant voice, for a cigarette light, which Vass obliged him with in silence. As the match spurted and flared, Vass noted that the stranger had a black beard, and, with a chill, realised that he was in the presence of the double assassin.
“You received my letter?” said the man abruptly, with a glance round.
“Yes. I am here to answer it; but I don’t know why you wish to see me.”
“I’ll tell you; come and sit here.” And the man walked towards two chairs, which were almost directly in front of the trees behind which Torry and his assistants were hiding. By the very irony of Fate, the wretch had walked directly into the trap set for him by the law.
“Isn’t it rather public here,” said Vass, sitting down beside the stranger.
“No. Who can suspect two people sitting quietly together—not the most suspicious policeman. But now for business. I want that money.”
“What money?” said Vass, pretending ignorance.
“You know; the money given to you by the woman at Cleopatra’s Needle.”
“The murdered woman?”
“Shut up,” growled the man between his teeth, “or you’ll be in the same box. I want that money. I perilled my life to get it, and I intend to have it.”
“Suppose I don’t give it up.”
“Then I’ll accuse you as having killed the man and woman. You cannot defend yourself against my evidence.”
“But, you wretch, it is you who are the assassin.”
“I may admit as much to you,” sneered the man, “as you don’t know who I am, and never will.”
“Won’t I!” Vass flung himself on top of the miscreant and overset him, chair and all, on the ground. The man muttered an oath, and pulled out a long knife; but before he could use it Torry had rushed forward with his two men and Darrel. In the twinkling of an eye the man was disarmed and prone on his back. He cursed horribly, and whimpered between his curses.
“Fetch a light here,” cried Torry, “and we’ll learn who this murderer is.”
Darrel slipped the slide back of a dark lantern, and turned the blaze full on their prisoner. He was dark-haired and black-bearded, and looked more like a shaggy wild bear than a man.
“I don’t know him,” said Frank to Torry.
“You will in a moment,” cried Torry. “I’ll swear it is Leighbourne.”
“Leighbourne!” repeated Vass, trembling violently.
“Himself—see!” Torry dexterously whipped off a false beard and wig. Then he sprang to his feet with a wild cry of amazement. In the white-faced and baffled scoundrel, who was now in the clutches of the law, he saw not Frederick Leighbourne as he had expected, but—of all men—Roderick Blake!
So the last man in the world whom Torry suspected turned out to be the criminal. Blake was arrested, brought up before a magistrate, and on the evidence given by Vass, committed, for trial. He pleaded not guilty, and reserved his defence; but while in prison, bail being refused, his nerve gave way. Seeing that he could not escape in the face of the secretary’s recognition, and his own admission in the hearing of Torry, Vass, Darrel, and the two constables, he resolved to make a clean breast of it. Having been supplied with writing materials at his own request, he wrote out and signed a confession acknowledging himself guilty, and describing how he had committed the crimes, This he handed to the gaol chaplain, and that night, not being closely watched, hanged himself in his cell by means of his braces. The murderer died as a suicide—and that was the end of Roderick Blake.
“I hereby declare,” so ran the confession, “that I alone killed Jesse Grent and Julia Brawn. I knew from Lydia Hargone, to whom I was engaged, that Grent wished to fly to Italy with her and ten thousand pounds, the property of the Patriotic Peruvians. I wanted to get the money for myself, but I was afraid to rob Grent openly, lest the society should trace and kill me. I therefore suggested to Lydia that she should make an appointment with Grent in a quiet place, ask him to shew her the money, and then rob him. Thus Grent, as having been paid the money by Manuel, would be suspected, and Lydia and myself would escape the vengeance of the society. Lydia made an appointment in Mortality-Lane, and promised—to gull Grent—that she would elope with him to Italy the next morning. At the last moment she turned weak, and refused to go. She proposed that Julia Brawn should disguise herself as Lydia Hargone in a fawn-coloured mantle, and meet Grent. For some reason Julia agreed to go at once; but I did not quite trust her, so I said that I would go also. In case there might be any difficulty, I wished to receive the money personally; but as Grent would give it up to no one but Lydia, I resolved to wear her clothes. I was not very tall, I was clean shaven, and could soften my voice to a feminine drawl; so it was easy for me to disguise myself as a woman. At first I determined not to take Julia, but she was so eager to go—I don’t know why—that I resolved to make use of her. To confuse the police, should there be any trouble about the robbery, I made Julia disguise herself as a man. She only wore a pair of trousers above her underclothes, a long great coat, a soft hat, and a black wig and beard. I put on her dress and petticoat, wore her hat, and Lydia’s fawn-coloured mantle, for Grent to recognise, and a veil. We dressed thus simply as I intended, to further confuse the police, that we should change in some obscure spot as soon as the robbery was accomplished. When we went to keep the appointment I took with me my Spanish bowie-knife, but only for protection. I swear, by all I hold most sacred, that I had no murderous intention at the time.
“We arrived in Mortality-lane shortly after midnight, and a few minutes later Grent appeared in disguise to keep his appointment. At first he was alarmed at seeing two of us, but I explained—mimicking the voice of Lydia, which I could imitate very well—that Julia was the son of my landlady, whom I had brought to protect me in the midnight streets. Mr. Grent was pacified, and shewed me the notes done up in one bundle. I wanted to look at them, but he refused to give them into my hands. I then tried to take them, but did it too strongly, and Grent suspected something. He snatched at my veil, it came off, and in the light of a near gas-lamp he recognised me. I was furious and lost my temper. Grent began to run with the notes. As I was determined to have them I followed, and threw myself on him. For his own sake he was afraid to cry out, but struggled with me in silence. He tore the lace off my cloak; so finding him bent on resistance, I drew my knife and, watching my opportunity, I stabbed him to the heart. He fell with a low cry, and when I examined him I found him stone dead.
“Julia was in a great state; she cried and wrung her hands, until I thought someone would come. I made her be quiet, and took the packet of notes off Grent’s dead body; these I slipped into the pocket of the dress I wore. Then I took Julia’s arm, and was going away with her, when it struck me that, to save myself and the girl from suspicion, it would be a good thing to lay the blame on the secret society. Before I left home I had put two tomb-images in my pocket, as I thought if Grent did not give up the money I might produce one, say I represented the society, and thus terrify him into giving me the ten thousand pounds. I would have tried this trick if he had not torn off my veil and recognised me. As it was, in a moment of passion, I killed him. To avert suspicion and cast it on Manuel, I placed a Blue Mummy on the ground beside the corpse. Then I took Julia up the lane, we found a cab and got into it. I told the man to drive to Northumberland-avenue, near the theatre, as Julia wanted to get out there, saying it was near her lodgings.
“In the cab we changed our clothes. Julia reassumed her petticoat and dress, also the fawn-coloured mantle of Lydia, and the hat given to her by Donna Maria. I put on the coat and hat and black beard. When we alighted from the cab near the Avenue Theatre and dismissed it, I went down to the Embankment with Julia, and threw the trousers she had worn into the river. As I did so, she ran off down the Embankment. Then I recollected that the bank-notes were in the pocket of the dress I had worn, and which she now had on. I followed her as quickly as I could, and found her talking to a man near Cleopatra’s Needle. I did not know who the man was, but, thinking she was betraying the fact that I had murdered Grent, I became mad with rage. I ran at her with my knife open, she turned, and I stabbed her to the heart. The man ran off. I waited to search Julia’s clothes for the notes, but could not find them, so I concluded that she had given them to the man. I resolved to follow, but first tried to throw the body into the river, so as to conceal my crime. I dragged it as far as the steps, when I heard someone coming, and ran off to save myself.
“I went after the unknown man, but could not trace him. I wanted to know who he was, and get the money back. That was why I wished to assist in the investigation of the case. As Julia was dead and Lydia staunch, I thought I would never be discovered. But I fell by my own folly. Finding out from Darrel that Vass was the man who had taken the notes from Julia, I wrote a note asking him to meet me, intending to force him to give them up. He came, and he betrayed me; so now I am in gaol. I cannot defend myself at the trial, as Vass recognised me; so it is certain that I shall be condemned to death. I have confessed my crime, and I have nothing more to do but sign myself as a double murderer. God have mercy on all who give way to their passions.
A week after this precious confession, Torry was seated in Darrel’s chambers talking over the matter. The detective was rather downcast, and Frank was trying to cheer him up.
“After all, you found out who committed the crimes,” said he, “and that wretched Blake has committed suicide.”
“Yes; but I expected to find Leighbourne and discovered Blake. Yet I feel sure that Leighbourne is mixed up in the case.”
“And you are right,” said Frank soothingly, “perfectly right.”
“Right, am I! How so?”
“Well, Vass came to see me this morning in a great state of mind. He had been kicked out of his billet, because of his connection with this case.”
“By old Leighbourne?”
“Yes; but he is not so furious with that old ass as with his son. Do you know who returned those notes to Manuel?”
“Why, Vass, of course.”
“No. It was Frederick Leighbourne. That young man had a speculation one which threatened to fail for want of money. Vass, who was devoted to him heart and soul, got the money for him from Julia. Leighbourne gave the notes to a stockbroker as security, on condition that they were not to be put into circulation unless the speculation failed. It did not fail, and Leighbourne got back the notes, which he sent Vass to return to Manuel. So you see it was Leighbourne who restored the notes.”
“The deuce!” said Torry. “Why doesn’t Vass tell old Leighbourne?”
“He has done so out of revenge, and I heard from Vass that Master Frederick had bolted this morning to the Continent. Vass intends to follow him, and, I suppose, make it hot for him for not helping him to keep his situation.”
“The jackal after the lion. I daresay they’ll make it up again.”
“Not if Lydia can help it.”
“Why, what about that beauty?”
“She eloped with Frederick, and, I suppose intends to become Mrs. Leighbourne. She’ll soon send Vass to the right about.”
“H’m! A nice couple! She never loved Grent.”
“No, nor Blake either; she only loves herself. By the way,” added Frank, “do you think that the story told by Grent to Donna Maria was true?”
“Not all of it. He lied about the society, and that man he called Centa. For my part, I don’t believe Centa exists. No, Darrel; all Grent’s lies were invented to enable him to clear off with the money.
“Well, Nemesis overtook him.”
“Yes; as it overtook Blake. It is no use trying to escape Fate. But both those men were scoundrels. The only one I pity is Julia, who only sinned out of love for Vass. She is the true victim. But I was going to ask you, what about Donna Maria?”
Darrel grew red and confused, as a lover should. “She is going back to Lima with her aunt. Poor Donna Inez, she has been terribly upset by all this public scandal and the discovery of her husband’s perfidy.”
“Pooh, pooh! she is better without the old libertine; but women never know when they are well off. It is a pity, though, she has lost all her money.
“Not all. Old Leighbourne says he can save her a thousand a year out of the general wreck.”
“And that is opulence in Peru,” said Torry. “Are you going to Peru also?”
“Why do you ask?” said Frank, blushing again.
“Because since the discovery of Blake’s guilt you have been down to Wray House every day.”
“Donna Maria wanted things explained to her.”
“Oh, and it took three weeks to explain them. Well when is the marriage to be?”
“Bosh! I haven’t spoken of that yet. In a month Donna Maria goes out to Lima. I stay at home and work hard.”
“To make a home for the future Mrs. Darrel, I suppose. Why don’t you write a novel on this case?”
“Because if I did no one would believe it.”
“But it is all true, even to the fact that Manuel remains in London as the agent for a society of assassins misnamed Patriots.”
“I know; but the truth is always improbable in print. But some day I may soften its improbable truth into my probable fiction.”
“With yourself as hero and Donna Maria as the heroine; and a marriage between you to end the book.”
“Well, there’s many a true word spoken in jest,” said Frank smiling; “and I think Maria likes me a little.”
“Maria! Ah, that settles it. You’ll follow her to Lima and marry her there.”
“Well, Torry, why not?”
“Why not, indeed. She is a charming girl. I anticipated as much, and so I brought with me a wedding present for you.”
“Where is it? What is it?”
Torry smiled and placed in Darrel’s hands—a Blue Mummy.
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