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Title: Sir Penn Carlyll's Engagement
Author: L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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Sir Penn Carlyll's Engagement


L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace

First published in Pearson's Magazine, December 1902

The third of the Sensational Experiences of Diana Marburg, the Oracle of Maddox Street; Related by Herself.

SIR PENN CARYLL'S engagement was the talk of all his friends. He was a man of about forty, of good family, fairly rich, and boasting of two nice country seats. He also kept a racing stable and added thereby considerably to his income. Sir Penn was so good looking, so cheery and gay of heart, that he was a great favourite, and more than one eager mother thought of him as an excellent husband for her daughter, and more than one pretty girl looked at him with eyes of favour.

Nevertheless Sir Penn had proved himself impervious to the charms of all fair women, until a certain day when a bright-eyed, Tasmanian girl, who went by the name of Esther Haldane, brought him to her feet. The girl in question was only nineteen, was to all appearances poor, and seemed to have no relations in London, except a brother, who was considered by those who knew best to be a somewhat questionable possession. Karl Haldane was a man without apparent profession, and with no certain income, and there was little doubt that he and his sister lived, before the engagement, more or less as adventurers.

After Sir Penn declared his attachment to Miss Haldane, however, he placed his country seat in Sussex at her disposal, putting her under the charge of his aunt, a certain Mrs. Percival, and going there himself at intervals. The wedding was to take place early in July. Sir Penn received the congratulations of his friends, and Miss Haldane was thought one of the luckiest girls of the day.

The time was the fourth of May. I was dining alone and was somewhat surprised when Sir Penn's card was brought to me with a request scribbled in writing that I would see him without a moment's delay. I hurried at once into his presence. His face was as a rule remarkable for its serenity, and I was startled when I observed the change in it.

"I fear you are not well," I said. "I hope there is nothing wrong."

"I am afraid there is," he replied. "May I tell you the object of my visit?"

I asked him to seat himself, and prepared to listen with attention.

"I have decided to ask you to help me," he said abruptly. "An ordinary detective would be worse than useless. I have been brought into contact lately with the most extraordinary and uncanny phenomenon, and unless matters are put right without delay, I shall find myself in a serious financial difficulty. You may be certain I would not say these things to you without grave reason, and I must ask for the utmost secrecy on your part."

"Of course," I replied.

He bent forward and looked at me keenly.

"Have you ever, in all your experience of occult matters, come across a case of thought-reading in which you were satisfied that imposture was absolutely excluded, and that the thoughts of one person were really conveyed to the brain of another? Do such things exist in this world of reality?"

I paused before replying.

"You ask me a strange question, Sir Penn, and if you want my true opinion I do think such things possible."

"You think so? Who, then, can be safe? Now listen to my own personal experience. You know, of course, that I am the owner of a number of racehorses. Horse-racing is an expensive game, and my expenses are principally met by successful speculation on my horses. Now, of course, there are many secrets in a stable, such as which is the best horse for a certain race, or the capacity of any other horse. These things have to be kept from the outside world. The most important of all our secrets are obtained by what we call 'trials.'

"I will briefly explain. We have, say, half-a-dozen horses, and we wish to know which is the best for a certain distance. The horses are led out and mounted, and the trial gallop takes place. Now the horse that wins the race may not by any means be the best of the half-dozen horses that we wish to prove, for if such were the case anyone watching the trial would at once know our secret. So to keep the matter dark the various saddles are weighted with different weights, giving heavier loads for some horses to carry than others. In this manner we can not only calculate which is the best horse, but can keep the information from outsiders. For a slightly weighted bad horse will beat a heavily weighted good one.

"No one but the trainer and myself know what weights are applied to the saddles, and the whole thing is done just at the last moment before the horses start. After the trial only my trainer and myself know which is the best horse. We then discuss what we will do and which horse I shall support in the betting market. Is that clear to you?"

"Perfectly," I replied.

"You doubtless also comprehend that if these matters were known to an outsider, he could profit immensely by backing my best horse, and could prevent me getting my money on at a good price."

"I understand."

"Then pray listen. For some time I have been certain that secrets with regard to the weights in the saddles have eked out, to my own immense loss and to the great gain of someone else. On looking carefully into the matter, I find that the bookmakers in London, through whom the fiend who is trying to ruin me must execute his commissions, have information with regard to the horses almost immediately after the trial takes place at Lewes.

"Now I will tell you of the last case. A trial took place of my horses on the twentieth of April on the Downs at eleven o'clock in the morning. On that occasion even my trainer did not know the weights that they carried. In order to make things quite safe I kept the knowledge altogether to myself. The people who witnessed the race were my aunt, Mrs. Percival, Miss Esther Haldane, the young lady to whom I have the honour of being engaged, I myself and my trainer. My bay horse Victor won the trial, though he was not first by any means in the race. We four talked the matter over on the Downs; we then walked home quietly all together. On reaching home at twelve o'clock I wired to my agent in cipher to invest heavily on Victor, whose price was twenty to one.

"That same afternoon I received the astounding information that he was first favourite at three to one, a large commission already having been executed. Now this commission was executed at Tattersall's, in London, at half-past eleven, actually within half-an-hour after the trial was known, and also half-an-hour before any of us reached home from the Downs. The thing is astounding, for even if anyone did secretly watch the trial it would be impossible, without knowing the weights, to tell which was the best horse. That knowledge was only known to us four, and to no one else in the world. You have, therefore, this fact to face. >A certain piece of information is known to four people on an open Down in Sussex at ten minutes past eleven, and yet that information is acted on in London twenty minutes later. There is no question of my trainer playing me false, as he could not possibly communicate the information in the time I have mentioned, and I have come to the conclusion that some extraordinary thought-transference is the only thing to fall back upon."

I was silent for a moment, then I said suddenly:

"Do you happen to remember, Sir Penn, if the sun was shining on that last occasion?"

"Why?" he asked, in some surprise.

"Because there would be just the possibility of your trainer heliographing the information."

"That is a clever suggestion," he exclaimed, "but it won't do. It happened to be a cloudy day."

"Then for the moment I see no solution," I replied. "May I ask if you know anyone who has ever threatened to read your thoughts?"

"Certainly I do. Karl Haldane, my future wife's brother, who calls himself a clairvoyant. To be plain with you, Miss Marburg, I have no particular fancy for Mr. Karl Haldane; but there is no doubt he is extremely clever, and Esther is devotedly attached to him. He certainly would be the last man who would try to ruin me. We must try to get at the solution in some other way."

"Nevertheless, may I ask you a question or two?" I said. "Was Mr. Haldane at your house when the affair you have just mentioned took place?"

"No, he had been staying with us, but he left early that morning."

"I should like to see him," I said, after a pause.

Sir Penn's eyes brightened.

"You are wrong in suspecting for a moment that Haldane has anything to do with the matter," he said. "Nevertheless if you like to meet him, you can: I am particularly anxious to introduce you to Esther. I have a big party down at Lewes just now. A trial of my horses for the Derby takes place early next week. Will you come to my place and be present at the trial? Can you do so?"

"Of course I will come. I would throw over any engagement for such an important, and I must say, to me, interesting case."

"Will you come to-morrow? I will meet you by the four o'clock train."

I promised to do so, and after thanking me warmly Sir Penn took his leave. Truly a queer case had now been put into my hands. Sir Penn was regarded amongst all his friends as a practical man; nevertheless, in his difficulties he consulted me, the occultist and believer in thought reading. One thing certainly was evident, either what had happened was a genuine case of thought transference, or a very subtle form of fraud. The latter seemed truly to be impossible.

When I reached Lewes the next day Sir Penn was waiting for me. On arriving at Court Prospect, the name of his beautiful house, I found a large party assembled in the hall. Mrs. Percival, Sir Penn's aunt, was present, and was dispensing tea. I had met her before, and she came forward now and greeted me kindly.

"It is very good of you to come. Miss Marburg," she said, "and I have delighted more than one person present by saying I am sure you will give a sťance while you are with us. Oh! of course I quite believe in palmistry, and Mr. Haldane, one of the best clairvoyants I have ever known, will arrive this evening. We shall doubtless have a most interesting time. Have you yet met Mr. Haldane?"


"Then I shall have the pleasure of introducing two kindred spirits. Ah! Esther, my dear, come here."

A slim, remarkably graceful girl rose from her seat at a little distance. She strolled leisurely towards us. I am tall, but Miss Haldane was half a head taller. Mrs. Percival made the necessary introduction. Miss Haldane looked at me slowly. All her movements were slow. She then opened her magnificent eyes a trifle wider than their wont and held out her hand.

"I am glad to see you," she said in a cordial tone.

She did not utter another word, but went back to her seat. I stood silent where she had left me. I no longer wondered at Sir Penn's infatuation. It was not the beauty of the girl that so impressed me; she was beautiful, for all her features were good; but from a strict standpoint there were prettier girls in the room. No, Miss Haldane's beauty lay in the extraordinary and almost wicked magnetism of her eyes. Those eyes knew too much. I did not think they looked good--they saw too deeply beneath the surface. Even I, callous to most things of that sort, felt my heart beat uncomfortably fast after Miss Haldane's extraordinary and penetrating glance.

"You look tired, Miss Marburg," said Mrs. Percival. "Won't you have some tea?"

She handed me a cup which I took mechanically. I was still thinking of Miss Haldane and her eyes. I felt quite sure that no one could see her without thinking of her eyes alone, the rest of her beautifully moulded face, graceful pose and slim young figure being all forgotten in the effect that the eyes produced.

In the drawing-room just before dinner I was introduced to Miss Haldane's brother. To my astonishment he was in every respect her opposite. He was a fair haired, stoutly built, ugly man. He was not only ugly but his expression was absolutely unpleasant. Nevertheless, he too had his charms. When he spoke you forgot the ugly features, the sunken eyes, the leer round the mouth. His voice was good, nay, beautiful. His intellect was undoubtedly powerful, and he had a sympathising manner which appealed more or less to all those to whom he spoke. He happened to be my neighbour at dinner on that first evening, and before the meal came to an end I had arrived at the conclusion that he was a most remarkable and most interesting man.

On the next day several of the guests took their departure, and Esther Haldane and I found ourselves alone. We went for a walk together on the Downs and afterwards sat in the cosy boudoir where she made tea for me.

"You must allow me to congatulate you," I said suddenly. "You are a very lucky girl."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Need you ask? You have won the affections of Sir Penn Caryll. You are about to marry him. I have known him since I was a child. You are in luck, Miss Haldane. You are going to marry a good man."

She fixed her eyes on me, the pupils dilating until they looked black; then very slowly the lovely eyes filled with tears. She dropped on her knees beside me.

"You are a clairvoyante," she said; "so, for that matter, is Karl. I am afraid of Karl, and very little would make me afraid of you. Will you look at my hand?"

She held it out as she spoke. I examined it attentively. I saw, to my regret, many bad points. The Mount of Mercury was sunken, the heart-line was chained, and Jupiter was remarkable for his absence. All these things proclaimed this girl, according to my creed, to be unscrupulous, even cruel. She did not look cruel, and I had no reason up to the present to doubt her honour. Nevertheless, I dropped her hand with a sigh. It was quite an unusual one for a girl to possess.

"What is the matter?" she asked. "Am I so very bad?"

"I have seen more promising hands," I answered.

"Tell me what you see?"

"Do you really wish to know?"


"Forewarned is forearmed," I said, after a moment's pause. "Your circumstances are happy. Miss Haldane, and there is no reason why you should not lead a good and honourable life to the end of the chapter. Nevertheless, your hand points to a certain unscrupulousness in your character. For instance, I should not care to submit you to a very great money temptation."

"Oh, you are horrible!" she cried. Her face grew very white. "You frighten me; you talk nonsense, and yet, and yet it is nonsense that Karl believes in."

She began to rub the offending palm.

"I am going to my room," she said. "Your words have worried me."

Her manner was somewhat that of a spoilt child. I smiled to myself, but an unaccountable weight of suspicion and dread was hanging over me. Why should I believe anything evil of a beautiful girl like Esther Haldane? What object could she have in injuring the man whom she was about to marry? I felt ashamed of my own suspicions; nevertheless they would not quite go away.

On the next day the trial of Sir Penn's horses would take place, and on that evening just when dinner was coming to an end, Miss Haldane raised her voice and called across to her brother, who was sitting at the other end of the table.

"Karl," she cried, "Sir Penn has been asking if you will not give us a sťance this evening. You have been very disagreeable not to do so before. You will oblige, I think I may say, all the company. Will you not consent on this occasion?"

The ladies bowed and smiled, and the men bent forward to watch what Haldane would do. I thought, or was I mistaken? that he gave his sister a sudden glance of understanding. Then he said with that slow sort of drawl which now and then characterised him:

"I shall have much pleasure in doing what the company wish."

Sir Penn expressed his satisfaction, and there was a chorus of approval from one and all.

When we met in the drawing-room Haldane came to the front.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "I have been asked to give to-night a demonstration of thought transference. This I am willing to do on a condition. I want you all to be absolutely satisfied that there is no deception. I will therefore leave the room in company with someone now present, who shall remain with me until I return.

"While I am away, a certain sentence employing intelligible words shall be decided upon by two persons in the room. All the company may know the sentence if they so will, but it is essential that two should do so in order that there may be a witness that my interpretation of the said sentence is correct. The two persons who know the sentence will stand with their backs towards me at one end of the room; I will stand with my back towards them at the other. And if those two people faithfully think of that sentence, and of that sentence alone, I promise to read their thoughts and to sav what it is. Do you all consider that fair?"

"Certainly," said Sir Penn, "and I will bet you ten pounds, Haldane, that you fail."

"Done, Sir Penn," was the answer.

A discussion as to who should be the person to accompany Mr. Haldane outside the room, and to choose the sentence within the room, immediately ensued.

"In view of my wager, ladies and gentlemen," cried Sir Penn, "I think I may claim the right to be one of those to choose the sentence. As to my partner, I will leave the choice to yourselves."

I could see by Sir Penn's manner that he was determined to clear up the terrible suspicion that was haunting him.

"I will be yiur partner, if I may," said Miss Haldane, and she went up to Sir Penn, and laid her hand on his arm.

He seemed to hesitate for a minute; then he looked into her eyes, and said softly:

"As you wish."

Sir Penn then turned to me.

"Miss Marburg," he said, "may I ask you to accompany Mr. Haldane from the room?"

"With pleasure," I replied. I felt interested and excited, and was determined that no trickery should be played if I could prevent it.

Karl Haldane and I repaired to the library, and in exactly ten minutes' time returned to the drawing-room. There was a dead silence. Sir Penn and Miss Haldane stood at the further end of the room. Karl Haldane at once took up his position, with his back towards them. Being, as it were, in the position of umpire, I determined to watch the experiment with the utmost vigilance, and accordingly I crossed the room to where Sir Penn and Miss Haldane were standing. I stood near them and took care to watch them both. They were absolutely still. Miss Haldane's hands were locked in front of her, her features were as quiet as though she were sitting for her photograph; her face was whiter than usual, and her strange eyes had a staring look. I thought the expression of the eyes unnatural--she looked as though she were about to cry.

Fully five minutes passed, and then Mr. Haldane called out in a clear, musical voice--

"I have received the impression. Judge, please, if I am correct. I presume I must thank Sir Penn for this copybook sentence. It is as follows:--

"'If you are using your powers for fraudulent purposes, beware!'

"Am I right, Sir Penn?"

The Baronet's reply was to come forward, open his pocket-book and hand the clairvoyant a bank-note for ten pounds. There was quite a sensation in the room.

Later that same evening Sir Penn found an opportunity of seeing me alone.

"What do you think of this affair?" he asked.

"I cannot tell you what I think of it at present," was my answer. "I am certain there is an explanatory cause, although what it is I cannot say. Let me think over everything most carefully. Mr. Haldane leaves to-morrow, does he not?"

"Yes, thank goodness, by an early train. I don't like the man and I cannot pretend that I do. I wish with all my heart he were not Esther's brother. But let us turn to something more important. To-morrow the trial of my horses takes place. I propose that you and Mrs. Percival and Miss Haldane and myself go to see it. I have a colt named Fritz, who is in for the Derby, and I think I know what he can do. If the trial goes as I expect, Fritz will be the winner. The result of to-morrow's trial must be kept absolutely a secret until I can operate in the market. If I find that the information again gets out--well, I shall cease to keep racehorses."

"I will do mv very best for you, Sir Penn," I answered.

When he had left me I went to my room--there I sat down and prepared to think out the enigma. Hour after hour went by, and my busy brain felt on fire. Each moment I became more and more certain that some fraud was being worked by Mr. Haldane, but he could scarcely manage this without an accomplice, and terrible as the idea was, if there really was foul play, his sister must stand in that position towards him. Her hand betrayed her. What her motive was it was impossible to tell, but her hand made crime a contingency not too remote to contemplate.

As I thought and thought I became certain that if only I could discover the key to that evening's performance, I should have also the key to the entire position. I recalled the scene vividly. Miss Haldane's curious and rigid attitude; the peculiar expression in her eyes. I thought of all the ordinary methods of communication--hand language--lip language. Both were out of the question. Yet the means must have been very sure in order to communicate the exact wording of the sentence.

Through what channel of the senses could it have passed? Was there any movement? I fixed my memory again, centring my whole thoughts upon it. The eyes! Esther Haldane's eyes had always struck me as wonderful--nay. more, as odd. They looked very odd as I gazed at them while the clairvoyant at the other end of the room was thinking out the sentence. She had blinked several times, too, as if about to cry.

I arose from my chair. A strange idea had struck me. I lit my candle and went down through the silent house. I entered the drawing-room. When I got there I quickly examined the exact places where Haldane and his sister had stood. From the place where Miss Haldane stood her eyes by means of a big mirror could be seen by Haldane. As I thought over this fact the dim outline of a terrible plot began to reveal itself. The human eyes are always naturally winking. Only a code, such as the Morse Telegraphic Code, was necessary. A long closing of the lids for a dash, a short one for a dot, and any communication was possible and could not be detected by the closest observer.

I left the drawing-room, and crossing over to the library took down a volume of the "Encyclopaedia Britannica," and carefully copied the letter signs of the Morse Telegraphic Code. I then returned to my room.

During breakfast I watched Miss Haldane, and as I did so the simplicity of the wicked scheme, evidently evolved both by her brother and herself, was borne in upon me. She looked particularly handsome this morning, but also nervous and anxious.

The guests who were still staying in the house took their departure after breakfast, amongst those to leave being Karl Haldane. I saw him go up to his sister and kiss her. As he was leaving the room she turned very white, so white that I wondered if she were going to faint.

"Are you ill?" I said. "Does it trouble you so much to part from your brother?"

"We are very much attached," she said, her lips quivering.

"I have remarked that," I answered.

She flashed an excited glance at me.

"Who would not be?" she continued. "Has he not fascinated you? There is no woman who comes in contact with him who does not love him."

At that instant Sir Penn came into the room. He went up to her, and laid his hand affectionately on her shoulder.

"We are due on the Downs at eleven," he said. "Miss Marburg is coming with us."

"Are you?" asked Miss Haldane.

The information certainly gave her no pleasure.

"I should like to see the horses," was my answer.

Nothing more was said. Mrs. Percival came into the room, the conversation became general, and at about a quarter to eleven we four started for our walk. It was a glorious morning, sunny and warm. Nevertheless, our conversation flagged, and we walked on for some time in silence.

At length we reached the racing ground, and Sir Penn showed us a good position to witness the trial, in which some dozen horses were to take part. Mr. Martin, the trainer, and our four selves took up our position at the intended winning post on a little rise amongst some furze bushes. Sir Penn drew out his watch.

"It is exactly mid-day," he said.

"Here they come!" cried Miss Haldane excitedly, and in a few moments, with a thunder of hoofs, the animals galloped past.

"Just what I thought, Martin," said the baronet. "If Fritz doesn't bring home the Blue Riband this year he is certain to be in the first three."

"And if he is, you will be richer than ever," said Miss Haldane, laying her hand on his arm. "Do go, Miss Marburg, to look at the probable winner of the Derby. Take Miss Marburg to see Fritz, won't you, Penn?"

Sir Penn and the trainer moved up to where the horses were being pulled up. As Sir Penn did so he turned to me.

"Will you come?" he asked. "Won't you come too, Esther?"

"No,"' she replied. "I am feeling tired. I will stay with Mrs. Percival."

"Do, my dear," said the elder lady. "We will both sit down on this knoll of grass and wait for you, Penn, and for Miss Marburg."

I slowly followed Sir Penn, but when I had gone a few steps, I turned aside and pretended to be plucking some small flowers that grew on the edge of the common. My heart was beating almost to suffocation. I feared that Miss Haldane would observe me, and that I should lose a possible opportunity. But she had evidently forgotten my existence. Mrs. Percival had opened a newspaper and was beginning to read. Sir Penn and the trainer were more than a hundred yards away. I stood on her left. She rose slowly to her feet and gazed out steadily across the Down in the direction of an old ruined barn some six hundred yards off. I quickly took out pencil and paper and, keeping my eyes fixed on hers, marked the movement of the long and short closure of her lids. That slip of paper I have still, and this is the copy as I took it down:


Without a moment's pause or giving myself time to think I rushed up to her side.

"What are you doing?" I cried.

My voice startled her. She flashed round, fury in her eyes.

"Fritz won trial," I said, as I deciphered the dots and dashes from the code.

She stared wildly at me for one moment, then suddenly falling on her knees she burst into a passion of tears. At this insiant Sir Penn came up.

"Esther!" he cried. "Miss Marburg, whatever is the matter?"

I turned to him.

"This is the matter," I answered. "The plot is discovered. Send a couple of stable lads to prevent anyone from leaving that barn, and bring whoever is there here at once."

In a moment the word was given, and Sir Penn turned to Miss Haldane. She still knelt on the grass, her face covered, the tears flowing between her fingers. Sir Penn's face turned white as death. I saw that he guessed the worst. The girl to whom he was engaged, and whom he loved with all his heart, had betrayed him. Nothing else greatly mattered at that moment.

"Look!" I cried.

Two boys on their horses had just headed off the figure of a man who was running with all his might towards the railway station. It was, I could see at a glance, Mr. Karl Haldane. A moment later he was brought to the spot where we stood. His face was also white, but very hard and determined-looking.

"Come, Esther, old girl," he said, speaking in an almost rough tone, and pulling the weeping girl to her feet. "You did your best. We must all fail at times. I presume," he added, "that Esther and I have failed, but will you explain why you sent two men to interfere with my liberty, Sir Penn?"

"I think I can best explain," was my answer.

I then proceeded, in the presence of Esther and Karl Haldane, to give step by step the means I had taken to discover their secret. When I had finished speaking there was silence. After a pause, which was the most impressive I ever endured, Esther Haldane approached Sir Penn.

"You can, of course, arrest both me and my husband," she said.

"Good heavens!" he exclaimed. "Your husband?"

"Yes, Karl Haldane is my husband. I have played you the meanest trick a woman can play a man. I tried first to win your love, secondly to win your money. I succeeded in the first. I failed in the latter. All that I have done I have done for my husband, the only man on God's earth whom I really love. I love him so well that I can even go under for him. You can take what steps you please to punish us both. Come, Karl, our game is up."


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