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Title:  The Disappearing Eye
Author: Fergus Hume
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Language: English
Date first posted:  May 2018
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The Disappearing Eye

by
Fergus Hume

CONTENTS

Chapter 1. - A Weird Discovery
Chapter 2. - The Beginning Of A Mystery
Chapter 3. - After Events
Chapter 4. - Facts
Chapter 5. - An Important Discovery
Chapter 6. - My Rival
Chapter 7. - A Friend In Need
Chapter 8. - The Beauty Of The World
Chapter 9. - Gertrude’s Father
Chapter 10. - A Surprise
Chapter 11. - Miss Destiny Speaks
Chapter 12. - Gertrude’s Defence
Chapter 13. - Love
Chapter 14. - The Unforeseen Happens
Chapter 15. - An Explanation
Chapter 16. - Striver’s Threat
Chapter 17. - Lady Mabel’s Visit
Chapter 18. - An Alarming Message
Chapter 19. - A Dangerous Position
Chapter 20. - The Cipher
Chapter 21. - The Airship
Chapter 22. - The Whole Truth

 

Chapter 1
A Weird Discovery

“Adventures are to the adventurous,” said Cannington, with the air of a man who believes that he is saying something undeniably smart.

“Good Lord!” I retorted, twisting the motor car round a corner. “Since when has the British subaltern given up his leisure to reading Beaconsfield’s novels?”

Cannington serenely puffed his cigarette into a brighter glow. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, old chap,” said he indifferently.

“I talk of ‘Ixion in Heaven,’ or—if you prefer it—of ‘Coningsby.’ Beaconsfield was so enamoured of his apothegm that he inserted it in both tales.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Cannington again, and his puzzled look proved that he spoke the truth. “A chap called Marr wrote that in my sister’s album, and told her it was his own.”

“I daresay; more ideas are stolen than pocket-handkerchiefs, according to Balzac. And, after all, Beaconsfield may have cribbed the saying.”

“Oh! I see what you are driving at: Marr copied it out of a book.”

“Undoubtedly, unless he lived before ‘Coningsby’ and ‘Ixion’ were written—somewhere about the beginning of the nineteenth century.”

“Oh! Marr isn’t so old as that,” protested the boy, chuckling; “although he isn’t a spring chicken, by any means. What Mabel sees in him, I can’t for the life of me imagine.”

“Humph! You were never renowned for imagination, Cannington,” I said kindly, “and in your particular case it doesn’t much matter. You’re the man behind the gun, and all you have to do is to fire against the seen enemy.”

“Huh! Why, half the firing is against the unseen enemy. If I haven’t got your rotten imagination, Vance, I’ve got common-sense, and that’s what you jolly well need.”

“Rash youth, to speak thus to the man at the wheel. Don’t you know that, with a little dexterity, I could shoot you into yonder ditch?”

“You’d travel with me,” he sniggered.

“Why not? It would be an excellent advertisement for a popular playwright.”

“Playwright be hanged! You only write beastly melodramas.”

“Precisely; that is why I am popular. And if I’m not a playwright, what am I?”

“A carpenter. You collar other people’s ideas—”

“Like your friend Marr,” I interpolated.

“And knock them into weird shapes for second-rate theatres.”

“Not at all,” I rejoined tartly, for the criticism piqued me. “I scour the country in search of flesh and blood tragedies, and improve them into moral lessons for the British Public. But you’re talking all round the shop, my lad. Who is this Marr, of whom your sister approves, and why does he write down other people’s ideas in her album?”

“Wentworth Marr.” Cannington lighted another cigarette, and explained: “He’s a well-preserved old buck of—I should say—fifty, and looks forty. Unmarried, with heaps of tin and no family. Mabel likes him.”

“And he likes Lady Mabel, or loves her. Which is it?”

“Well”—Cannington drawled this out reluctantly—“he’s in love with her, sure enough. And, of course, Mabel is as poor as I am, and Marr having no end of shekels, you see—”

“What about Dick Weston?” I broke in abruptly.

“Oh, he’s too much taken up with his inventions to bother about love. Poor Mab feels it,” sighed Cannington, “so she flirts with Marr.”

“To keep her hand in, I suppose. She’ll burn her fingers. Tell me all about it, boy, if it will relieve your mind.”

“I have told you all. Mabel wants to marry Dick Weston, and I think he wants to marry her, only he’s too much taken up with his airship to trouble about proposing. Wentworth Marr is wealthy and a gentleman and all that, and wants to make Mabel his wife. She likes him, but she doesn’t love him. Still there’s the money, you see, Vance.”

“Weston is also rich,” I suggested.

“Well, I know that,” snapped Cannington testily, “but he’s an absent-minded beggar, who lives in the clouds along with his bally airship, and won’t come up to the scratch. I say,” he broke off, “don’t secure a paragraph for your confounded transpontine plays by running over that child.”

“Little beast!” The child in question was playing “Who’s across first,” and I had considerable difficulty in dodging him. However, I just managed to avoid a Coroner’s Inquest and swung the machine along the straight Roman road, while the escaped infant shouted insultingly behind.

Cannington giggled, but I was too much taken up with steering the Rippler through a somewhat crowded village street to tell him that he was several kinds of ass. I had known the boy since he was a forward brat at Eton, and we were intimate friends, as can be judged from the way in which he confided in me. At the present moment I was conveying him from Gattlingsands to Murchester, as he had been stopping at the former place for some days and now sought his own Mess. Previously I had motored from London to remain the night at Tarhaven, which is four miles from Gattlingsands, and thus was enabled to save Cannington a train fare. Considering that he and Lady Mabel Watton had about sixpence between them, he was duly grateful, although pointedly saucy. I was always sorry for Cannington’s poverty, as he was a thoroughly healthy-minded sporting boy, who keenly enjoyed such good things of this life as he could lay hands on. A pauper commoner is an object to be met with everywhere; but a pauper lord is a more unusual spectacle. Certainly the boy was not yet knocking at the workhouse door, but, for his position, he was assuredly desperately hard-up. And thinking of these things, I made a remark when clear of the village.

“You must marry a dollar heiress, Cannington.”

“O Lord! what rot. Who’d marry a pauper with a tumbledown family mansion, next to nothing a year, and several hundred waste acres?”

“You have forgotten one asset,” I said dryly; “your title.”

“Huh! Who cares for that in these democratic days?”

“Heaps of rich spinsters, American, Colonial, and otherwise. Besides, you’re not altogether as ugly as sin, though you might be better-looking.”

“Thanks, awfully. But would you mind being less personal?”

I kicked his ankles. “If I am to advise you I must quote your looks, your title, your qualities, and all the rest of it. You’ve got precious little money, and as a gunner subaltern it will be ages before you get promotion. Why not use what advantages you have and exchange them for an income? A rich wife—”

“Not much,” interrupted the boy, with a flush. “I fancy I see myself living on a woman. Besides, I’m having a jolly time now, and see no reason to tie myself up. When I do, it will be a girl I can love, no end.”

“Didn’t know you had got that far.”

“Well, I haven’t. But one never knows.”

“I agree. At four and twenty one never knows.”

“Oh, stop your rotting, Vance,” said he crossly. “I haven’t been through the Shop and out in the cold world for nothing. One would think I was an idiot, which I certainly am not. Don’t you bother your silly head about me. It’s Mab I’m thinking about. She wants money, as I do; but I should hate to see her marry a fellow old enough to be her grandfather, just because he’s rich. I wish you’d see her and drop a hint,” he ended hesitatingly.

“My dear Cannington, I know you better than I do your sister. She might resent my hints. If you really don’t want her to marry this man Marr—I never heard of him, for my part—shake Dick Weston into a proposal and he can take his wife in his new airship for the honeymoon.”

“It would end in a funeral,” grinned Cannington cheerfully. “Dicky’s always having smashes. I don’t want him to experiment with Mabel, you know, old chap. Hi! Here’s Murchester, and yonder’s a policeman. Slow down, Vance, you can’t romp up the High Street at thirty miles an hour.”

“I don’t see why not,” I retorted, obeying orders, for the policeman really looked a suspicious character. “There! We’re crawling along like a condemned snail, if that’s what you want.”

“I want my tea,” said Cannington irrelevantly, “don’t you?”

“No! I’ll drop you at the Barracks and travel on to Clankton. There I put up for the night, and go up Norfolk way to-morrow.”

“What’s your objective?”

“I haven’t got one. That is, I am simply looking round to see if I can poach on real life for a melodramatic plot. ‘Adventures to the adventurous.’“

Cannington nodded. “I thought old Marr wasn’t clever enough to have made that up out of his own blessed head. But, I say, how do you expect to find your plot in a motor car?”

“The latter-day vehicle of romance, my boy. Formerly your knight rode a horse, and went into the Unknown in search of the unexpected. Now he—that’s me, you know—takes out his machine and looks for the expected in the Known. You understand?”

“No, confound you. What do you hope to run across?”

“An adventure.”

“What sort of one?”

“How the Charles Dickens can I tell?”

“Yet you said that the Known—”

“Cannington, you wish me to spoil my epigrams by explanation. I decline to satisfy your morbid curiosity. All I know is, that the fountains of my imagination are dried up, and that I can’t write a play which ought to be written if I am to earn enough to keep this car in petrol. I am, therefore—like Balzac—chasing my genius, and who knows upon what glorious adventure I may stumble.”

Cannington laughed scornfully. “All the adventure you’ll drop across will be in running over some old woman, or in exceeding the speed-limit.”

“I care not,” was my reckless reply. “I am prepared for anything.”

“Don’t be an ass,” urged the boy politely, as we spun through the Barrack gates. “Stop here for the night, and I’ll put you up. Then we can go to London to-morrow and have a ripping time. . . . What?”

“It’s good of you, Cannington, and if I hadn’t an income to earn I should accept with pleasure. As things are”—I stopped the car before the Mess door—“you can get down and send out a man to carry in your portmanteau.”

“Have a cup of tea, anyhow,” said Cannington, slipping to the ground.

I looked at my watch. “No, thanks. It’s nearing six, and I have some distance to go. Don’t delay me, boy.”

“Oh, very well, confound you. Wait till I get my baggage and then you can buzz off. When am I to see you again?”

“The Fates will arrange that. I’ll turn up sooner or later.”

“If you aren’t smashed up, or locked up, meanwhile,” said the boy, swinging his portmanteau off the back of the car. “I’ll keep an eye on the police news for the next few days. I daresay I’ll have to bail you out. Well,” he gave my hand a grip, “thanks awfully, old son, for bringing me over.”

“Only too pleased,” I muttered, beginning to move away. “Good-bye.”

I had been to Murchester before, and knew the locality moderately well. Therefore, after leaving Cannington I spun through the Barrack grounds and emerged on to a somewhat suburban road, which led towards the outskirts of the town. A dampish August twilight filled the air with rapidly darkening shadows, and a marked chill in the warmth hinted at the coming night. The sun had already withdrawn behind a bank of western clouds, before vanishing over the verge of the world. I drove the machine at half speed, as there were many country carts about, and ran down a lengthy sloping hill towards a distant glimpse of green. Clankton, which is a fishing village rapidly rising into notoriety as a seaside resort, was over thirty miles away, so if I wished to be seated at my dinner by seven o’clock, it behooved me to use all the power of which the Rippler was capable. Hunger forced me to increase the pace.

Motoring was the one form of amusement which I truly enjoyed, and which a somewhat limited income earned by hard brain-work enabled me to indulge in. But the indulgence precluded my partaking in many other pleasures of this luxurious age, for the Rippler had cost much to buy and cost a considerable sum monthly to keep going. But motoring is less expensive than horse-racing and doctors’ bills; and the fresh air, after enforced sedentary deskwork, swept away possible illness. As a moderately popular playwright I made a tolerably good income, although less than I was credited with earning. Still by devoting myself to two machines, a motor and a type-writer, one for play and the other for work, I managed to keep out of debt and keep my Rippler at the same time. But because the machine was a smart one, and because I was constantly on the move between whiles of manufacturing melodramas, people declared that I was a literary millionaire. As though any writer ever became a Crœsus.

I must say that I had greater ambitions than to write cheap sensational plays, and that I did write them at all was due—as it would seem—to mere chance. After I left Oxford my parents died, and—owing to their extravagances—everything was sold. I came to London with an income of fifty pounds a year. I could not exactly starve on one pound a week, but I had a sufficiently bad time, and tried to supplement my income by writing for the papers. An old actor, boarding at a house wherein I had taken up my abode, suggested that I should attempt a melodrama. I did so with his assistance, and between us we managed to get it staged at a small theatre in the East End. To my surprise, the play was a great success, being sufficiently lurid to capture the tastes of the somewhat rough audience. Since that time I had been committed to this particular form of entertainment, and try as I might I could not escape from the memory of my first hit.

But I did not surrender my earlier ambitions, as I have before stated. I worked hard at the cheap sensational plays, which were produced at second-class theatres, and saved all the money I could, in the hope of gathering together sufficient principal to give me an assured income of five hundred a year. When independent, I determined to devote myself to writing really good plays—high-class comedies and poetic dramas for choice—but meanwhile served my apprenticeship to the writing craft under the eye of the public. On the whole, I had very little to complain about, and my portion of the viands at Life’s Banquet was moderately tempting, if not superlatively delicate.

I do not think there is anything more to explain about myself, save that I was not handsome, that I had never been in love, and that I occupied a tiny flat in West Kensington, where the rents are moderate. As a rule I wrote furiously every day until a play was completed, then attended to the rehearsing and saw the production. Afterwards I took to my motor, and scoured the country, partly to get fresh air, and partly because I had a chance of stumbling across incidents in real life which afforded me material for plots, situations, scenes, and characters.

At the present moment I was in search of the new and the real, intending to weave actual facts into the sort of melodrama for which Cyrus Vance was famous, or shall we say notorious, as the penny-dreadful success I had won could scarcely be dignified by an adjective applicable only to the career of Napoleon or Cæsar. But I little thought when leaving Murchester, that I was also leaving the long lane of petty success down which I had plodded so soberly, and that the new road opening out before me was one which led to—but I really cannot say just now what it led to. And in this last sentence you will see the cunning of the story-teller, who desires to keep the solution of his mystery until the last chapter. But I am a playwright and not a novelist—two very different beings. Destiny is writing this tale, and I am simply the amanuensis. Therefore you will see how infinitely more ingenious is the goddess than the mere mortal, in constructing an intricate scheme of life and in dealing with the puppets entangled therein.

So in this life-story, which starts in the middle, as it were, and travels both ways to beginning and end, blame Destiny for whatever does not please. I merely recount what happened—simply describe the various scenic backgrounds and rough out the characters. But Destiny weaves the happenings, brings about the unexpected, and solves the mystery, which is of her ingenious contrivance. And throughout I am only the clay which she, the potter, moulds at her will.

In a motor car it is much easier to go wrong on the outskirts of a town than amidst any other surroundings that I know of. When in the open, one can rise in the car and see one’s way; but bewildered by streets and houses and traffic and wary policemen, and misled by those who do not know their own locality over-well, one finds a town somewhat perplexing. Making for the west, you get twisted round and emerge into open country towards the east. A single wrong road in the suburbs will lead the complete motorist astray, and will introduce him to a new country of whose geography he is entirely ignorant. Therefore some miles beyond perplexing Murchester I became aware, by questioning an intelligent rustic, that I was going away from Clankton. After some swearing and a close examination of the map, I lighted the lamps and turned on my tracks. Having gone so far out of my way, I had unnecessarily used up a lot of power, and then the inevitable happened—I discovered, to my dismay, that I was short of petrol in the tank. I had no further supply, worse luck! and unless I could obtain some, I began to see that I should have to camp in the fields, or at all events in the nearest village. But, thanks to motoring, petrol is fairly plentiful in unexpected places. If I could discover some village, I made sure of chancing upon a shop wherein to purchase petrol, and therefore was hopeful.

But as I drove the machine slowly on—for the motive power was dwindling rapidly—I found that the necessary village was conspicuous by its absence. I crawled up narrow lanes, the twists and turns of which necessitated careful steering; I dropped down the inclines of wide roads; I skirted stagnant ponds, weedy under dank boughs; and worked my slow way past mouldering brick walls, which shut in lordly parks. It grew darker every minute and was long after six o’clock, so I soon became unpleasantly aware that I needed food as much as the Rippler needed petrol. I seemed to be in for some kind of adventure, and as I had come out to look for one in the interests of the British Public, I had no reason to be dissatisfied. But I sincerely trusted that it would be a romantic one, out of which I could weave a sufficiently good plot to recompense me for the damnable circumstances in which I found myself.

The Rippler feeling hungry, as I did, groaned complainingly up a gentle ascent, topped the rise, and stopped dead after proceeding a few yards. And now mark the cunning of Destiny. If she had not brought me to my goal, she had at least led me to a place where I could obtain motive power, for in front of me I beheld a tiny old-fashioned house of weather-board walls shaded by a mellow red-tiled roof. It stood directly on the road, and was backed by a circle of high trees—elms, I fancy they were; a quaint, odd, dreary-looking cottage, which had been awkwardly converted into a shop. Taking one of the lamps I flashed the light on to a narrow door, which stood open, on to a small window to the left of the door, and on to a right-handed wider one, behind the glass of which were displayed the various goods which one usually finds in these village stores. But the sight amazed me, especially when I saw the name of Anne Caldershaw inscribed on a broad board over the window, for I could espy no village. Why did Anne Caldershaw set up her stall here, where there was no one to buy; and why was her shop not lighted up, seeing that the door was open for any chance customer? I could not answer these questions, and became aware that here was the start of a promising adventure. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, for such a shop in such a lonely woody locality was just such a thing as Alice would have chanced upon.

However I had no time to bother over the romance of things, for I wanted petrol, and luckily saw a red board on which it was announced in black lettering that petrol was for sale. Stepping into the dark shop with my brilliant lamp, I rapped on the mean little counter. No one came. Although I called out as loudly as I could, there was still an eerie silence, so I walked towards a small door set in the inside wall and knocked. As there was still no answer I tried to open the door, and found that it was locked. A flight of steps, narrow and rude, ran up the side of the wall to some upstairs rooms, and I sang up the stairs. As this final shout produced no better result than the others, I made up my mind to waste no further time, but to fill my tank with petrol and leave the money on the counter. But even as I searched for the liquid, I kept marvelling at the strange silence of Anne Caldershaw’s shop. There was not only no one to buy, but there was not even anyone to sell. The circumstances were odd in the extreme, and I scented the unexpected in the damp air.

My part of the adventure—as it seemed—was to fill my tank and get the Rippler ready to start. Whether Destiny, who was arranging details, would permit her to get under way, or me to reach Clankton in time for dinner, was quite another matter. However I was actor and not author, so I fulfilled my part—my appointed part, I presumed—by searching for the petrol. I soon discovered the orthodox red case, and having unscrewed it with some difficulty, I walked back to the car, which stood, some little distance away, directly in front of Anne Caldershaw’s shop. It took me some minutes to fill up, but during that time I did not hear a single sound. And yet, as I conjectured, while replacing the cap of the tank, there must be some house or houses about, since the shop argued customers. Perhaps when I turned the corner—for the shop stood just on the angle of the road—I would find a collection of cottages, not likely to be so deserted as Anne Caldershaw’s emporium.

Shortly the tank was filled, and after seeing that all was ready to start, I took the empty can back to the dark house and placed the necessary money on the counter. I would have shouted again, but that it seemed useless, as apparently no one was about, for my former cries would have awakened the dead. For one or two minutes I stood in the darkness listening for some sound in the house, and stared through the open door at the streams of light from the acetylene lamps of the Rippler. There was something very weird about the situation.

Suddenly I heard a soft faint moan, which seemed to come from behind the locked door at the back of the shop. On the impulse of the moment and with rather a grue—as the Scotch call it, for the sound was sinister and unexpected—I sprang forward and gripped the handle of the door. To my surprise, the moment I twisted it the door opened at once, and yet I swear that it was locked when I had last tried it. I looked into a dark room, and could see faintly to the right a barred window, which showed against the fast darkening evening sky. No further moan could I hear, although I listened with all my ears. Wondering if I had been mistaken, and yet uneasy about the now unlocked door, I stepped into the back room, holding on to the inside handle. As it afterwards turned out the floor of the room was lower than that of the shop, and reached by three shallow steps. I therefore stumbled, and pulling the door after me with some violence, so that it clicked to, I fell sprawling, and bruised my elbow somewhat painfully.

Still I heard no sound, but seated on the floor to collect my senses—somewhat dazed by the unexpected fall—I put out my hand to explore the darkness. It fell on soft flesh, warm to the touch, and on rough tangled hair. Thoroughly startled, and with every excuse, I withdrew my hand, and fumbled in my pockets for a match, regretting that I had not brought one of the lamps. I had half a mind to go out and fetch it, but my curiosity was so great and—to be plain—my nerves were so unstrung, that I struck the lucifer, anxious to know the best or the worst at once.

As the pale tiny light grew stronger, I beheld the form of a woman lying on the stone floor, face uppermost. And that face—I shuddered as I looked, for it was distorted into an expression of pain, with a twisted mouth and glassy, expressionless eyes. Framed in loose masses of iron-grey hair, it glimmered milky white, and bore the stamp of death on every feature. The woman was dead, and judging from the moan I had heard and the still warm flesh, she had just died. While I stared the match-light went out, and I fancied that I heard a faint click. I lighted another match hastily looking towards the door leading to the shop. It was still closed, and I turned again to gaze at the dead woman, who was old, ill-favoured, and eminently plebeian.

At that moment I heard the buzz of the Rippler. At once, in astonishment and alarm, I sprang towards the door. It was locked, and I was a prisoner. While I was still trying to grasp this astounding fact, the drone of my motor car died away in the distance.

Chapter 2
The Beginning Of A Mystery

Here indeed was an adventure, less romantic than tragical. I was locked up in the back room of a village shop in company with the corpse of a dead woman, and some thief had gone off with my motor car. Undoubtedly the person who had stolen the Rippler, was the one who had locked the door. Indeed it would seem that the person had laid a trap, for in the first instance the door had been locked; in the second, it had been open; and in the third, it had been locked again. But the individual who had gone off with the car—as presumably was the case—had not lured me into the trap, since the moan of the now dead woman had led me on to exploring the back premises. But the unknown might have counted upon that. If such was the case, why, then—here in the darkness fumbling for the handle of the locked door a terrible thought flashed into my mind, a vague elusive thought, which I could not put into words. With a sudden terror knocking at my heart, I shook the door and cried for help.

“Hi! what’s that?” asked a rough, uncultured voice in the shop; “what’s wrong wi’ ye, Mrs. Caldershaw?”

“Open the door!” I shook the flimsy boards again. “Open the door!”

There was a grunt of astonishment, and I heard the key turn in the lock. A moment later and the door opened, when at once I flung out past a burly man, who was blocking the way. He gripped me before I could pass him, and I heard hard breathing in the darkness. “Not so fast,” said the man harshly. “What are you doing here in Mrs. Caldershaw’s shop? and—”

“Don’t stop me; don’t, confound you!” I interrupted, and wrenching myself away I ran to the door of the shop, crying out explanations. “Someone’s gone off with my motor car. There’s a dead woman in there, and—”

This time it was the man who interrupted and with something more than words. As I dashed into the deserted road, looking up and down in the darkness for my Rippler, my liberator plunged after me and gripped me again. Before I could say a word or make a movement, he had borne me to the ground by sheer strength of muscle, and holding me down hard and fast, bellowed at the pitch of his voice an ominous word. “Murder! murder! murder!” shouted the man with surprising volume of tone.

Again the fear knocked at my heart, for now the elusive thought had been put into concrete form by this yokel, as I took him to be from his roughness and accent. Anne Caldershaw—I believed the body to be hers—had been murdered by the assassin, who had escaped with my motor car. He—I naturally thought of the assassin as a “he”—had waited until I was bending over the corpse of his victim, and then locking me in, had made use of the Rippler. By this time he would be beyond any chance of recapture, and here was I placed unexpectedly in a compromising situation, with the chance—and upon very good circumstantial evidence—of being accused of the crime. And yet, as even then I thought confusedly, there was nothing to show that the woman had really been murdered, as I had seen neither wound nor blood.

“Let me up!” I gasped, striving to throw off the dead weight of the big man.

But he only continued to roar for help, gripping my arms and pressing his knee into my chest. Had not the villagers arrived, I verily believe that there would have been a second, if unconscious murder, so brutally did the fellow bear on my prone body. But I heard distant cries, and shortly there came the flash of lanterns borne by men and women running round the corner of the road. As by magic, I was surrounded by an alarmed crowd all asking questions at once and turning their many lights on to my face. My captor gave a breathless explanation.

“Murder! murder!” he shouted, still dwelling on a top note. “I found the devil locked in the back room without a light, and the shop,” he pointed across the way, “is without a light also. He comes out yelling that there was a dead woman left behind. It’s Mrs. Caldershaw for sure, and he’s done for her. Murder! murder! Where’s the police?”

Almost before he finished his explanation, which was not quite a full one, since he gave no account of my motor car being stolen, the men and women were running into the shop. My captor jerked me roughly to my feet, on which I could scarcely stand, so roughly had he handled me, and so sore were my bones. “Come along,” he shouted, much excited, and dragged me across the road and into the shop. “Look on her as you’ve done for.”

“Don’t be a fool,” I protested; “I’m a gentleman.”

“But a murderer none the less,” he retorted, and pushed me furiously down the three steps into the back room, which was now filled with men and women.

Some of the latter were on their knees examining the body, which I now saw to be that of an elderly person, plainly clothed in a maroon-coloured wincey dress, with a belt round her waist, whence dangled a bunch of keys and a cheap lace collar fastened with a gaudy cairngorm brooch. What with the disconcerting way in which my captor handled me—it seemed vain to resist—and the restless light of the lanterns, I could not see much more. One of the men looked up.

“Why did you cry out murder, Giles?” he asked the rough-looking man who held me. “There isn’t a wound on her body. It’s a fit, I believe.”

The man Giles loosened me. “If I’ve been mistaken,” he began, when a cry from a little woman cut his speech short.

“Her eye’s out; her eye’s out—the left one. Look! look!” and she seized a bystander’s arm in terror.

Sure enough the left eye was missing, and I wondered why I had not noticed that such was the case when I examined the body by the light of the lucifer-match. I remembered distinctly the glassy, expressionless eyes, and yet, now there was only one, as I now saw plainly enough. Doubtless in the flickering light of the match and in my agitation, I had omitted to see that there was but one eye. Even at so critical a moment I began to wonder how I could have overlooked so obvious a fact, and then recalled the story a friend had told me of a man he had met with in the States, and to whom he spoke for five minutes, thinking there was something odd about his appearance, before he saw that both ears were missing. So easily, as I considered, even when placid can we fail to notice what is plainly apparent, much less when unnerved as I was when examining that dead face in the match-light. It was an odd thought at the time, considering that I stood in such peril. Had this cottage been in America I daresay I should have been lynched by the rough crowd of villagers around me.

“It’s not murder maybe,” growled Giles, seizing me again. “But this devil has torn her eye out, so—”

“There’s no blood,” said another man wisely. “If the eye had been torn out—”

“It was a glass eye,” breathed a stout, dark woman with a heavy face. “Anne told me as much when we had tea together. She didn’t like it to be known, poor soul, being proud like, and took great pains to get the best eye she could. But it’s gone, sure enough.” She peered into the dead face and then at me. “Perhaps this gentleman will tell us why he took it.”

By this time, since apparently Anne Caldershaw had not been murdered and the eye was merely glass, the current of popular feeling was running more in my favour. I might be a thief, with the eye in my pocket, but I was not a murderer, so the villagers gave me time for explanation.

“I quite understand that things look black against me,” I said hastily, “but I know nothing about the matter. I arrived in front of this shop in my motor car and stopped to get petrol. After I filled up and left the money—you will find it on the counter, if you look—I heard a moan and stepped into this room to see what was wrong. While looking at the body, after lighting a match, someone locked me in and ran off with my motor car.”

The villagers looked at one another, and apparently thought that my explanation was a lame one. But Giles, who had treated me so roughly, grudgingly admitted that he had seen the motor car.

“I came round the corner to get a pound of bacon for supper,” said Giles reflectively, “and I saw the engine”—so he phrased it—“before the door. A lady was stepping in—”

“A lady!” I interrupted. “Are you certain?”

“Yes—sir,” he said, giving me the polite address doubtfully. “I saw her plain enough in the light of them bright lamps. She had a long white sort of gown on, and a cap with a veil flying behind on her head. I just caught a glimpse of her, when she went off as hard as she could.”

“In what direction?”

“Murchester way, if you want a good big town to go by,” said Giles.

“Then send for the police and tell them to telegraph to Murchester to stop the car. It’s a Rippler, No. 14539 Z, and belongs to me. The woman has stolen it, I tell you. Where are the police?”

“There’s no policeman until we get one from Arkleigh, and the telegraph office is there also. Now you, sir, must wait until the police come.”

“Of course,” I assented readily. “I quite understand that you look upon me as a doubtful character. Lock up this house until the police arrive and take me to your inn if you have one. I want something to eat and drink.”

“But the eye,” said the heavy dark woman; “give back the eye.”

“I haven’t got the eye,” I snapped, for with hunger and thirst and excitement, and the unpleasantness of being unjustly suspected, I was not in the best of tempers. “You can search me if you like.”

The dark woman would have done so readily, being evidently of a meddlesome nature. But Giles interposed. “Let the gentleman alone, Mrs. Faith,” he said gruffly; “I caught him, and I’ll keep him till Warshaw comes. I daresay it’s a mistake on my part, and I’m sorry if—”

“Oh, I don’t blame you, Mr. Giles,” I interposed easily, and lighted a cigarette to show my nonchalance. “I should have acted in the same way myself. So come along and take me to gaol.”

A relieved smile made the man’s rugged face quite pleasant to look at, as my exculpation of himself, and my ready offer to be searched, evidently reassured him greatly. In his eyes, at all events, I was not the desperate criminal he had taken me to be. But his fellow-villagers still looked dubious. “Mrs. Caldershaw had heaps of money hidden away,” ventured one little rat of a man with a squeaky voice.

“Search my pockets then,” I said again with open impatience. “All I have told you is correct. My name is Cyrus Vance, and if you send to the Artillery Barracks at Murchester, my friend Lord Cannington will have no difficulty in identifying me.”

As I thought it would, the title acted like a charm, and the tension somewhat slackened. Giles, who appeared to be the most sensible of the lot, beckoned me into the dark shop, leaving his friends to guard the house and look after the corpse of the unfortunate woman. I walked beside him round the corner, and sure enough—as I expected—came upon the twinkling lights of quite a dozen houses. The late Mrs. Caldershaw had customers after all, it would seem.

“What’s the name of this place?” I asked abruptly.

“Mootley,” replied Giles, now less suspicious and more human. “It ain’t a very large village, but we’ve more cottages than these here scattered along the road up yonder,” and he jerked his thumb to the left where a lane ran from the high-road towards a woodland.

“It’s too dark to see anything,” I said idly, “but to-morrow you can show me round. I daresay I shall have to pass the night at your house, Mr. Giles, unless you think that I may rise in the night to kill you. By the way,” I added with a bantering air, “you don’t hold my arm. Aren’t you afraid I’ll bolt?”

“No, sir,” said the man, now perfectly polite. “I see that I have made a mistake. I know your name, if you’re the Mr. Vance who writes plays.”

“I am; but that is odd knowledge for a villager in these out-of-the-way parts to possess.”

“Oh, I haven’t lived at Mootley all my life, sir, although I was born here forty years ago. I went to London, and stopped in Southwark for years. I’d a greengrocer’s shop there, and did fairly well. But London didn’t suit my wife’s health, sir, so I sold up some time back, and bought a cottage and an acre of land here with my savings. I know your name, sir, because I’ve seen one or two plays of yours at The Elephant and Castle Theatre. And very good plays they were, sir, too.”

“Humph! It seems to me, Mr. Giles, that I am now the wrongly suspected hero of a much more mysterious and lurid melodrama than any I have written.”

“It is strange,” admitted Giles, with a side glance. I saw the glance by the light which gleamed from a cottage window.

“My murdering Mrs. Caldershaw?” I inquired coolly.

“We don’t know yet that she has been murdered,” he replied quickly.

“Then my stealing that glass eye of hers?”

“No, sir. But your being locked up in the dark with the corpse.”

“She wasn’t a corpse when I entered, Mr. Giles. Her moans attracted me into the room. While I was seeing by match-light what was the matter, someone locked the door, and bolted with my motor.”

“The lady I saw, sir.”

“No doubt, since I did not bring a lady with me.”

“I wonder if she got the eye,” muttered Giles half to himself.

“She must have got something that wasn’t hers, else she would not have made use of my car to escape.”

“Then she must have taken the eye,” Giles muttered again.

“What the deuce are you talking about? Why should she steal a glass eye?”

“That’s what I’d like to know, sir. It’s an odd thing to steal. And I never knew that Mrs. Caldershaw’s left eye was a glass one, though she told Mrs. Faith about it. Well, it’s gone—”

“And the lady who stole my motor car took it. At least it seems so. But I tell you what, Mr. Giles, I’m too hungry to discuss the matter just now. The whole business is a mystery to me, and Destiny has dragged me into it in a most unpleasant way.”

Giles nodded. “It’s easy seen you’re innocent, sir,” he said with an air of relief. “You wouldn’t talk so, if you weren’t.”

“I don’t know so much about that. Guilt can wear a mask of brazen innocence if necessary. How do you know I haven’t murdered Mrs. Caldershaw, and at this moment may not have the celebrated glass eye in my trouser pocket?”

“We don’t know yet that she’s been murdered, Mr. Vance. There was no wound—”

“Pooh! She might have been poisoned.”

“Why do you think so, sir?” asked Giles quickly.

“Because I write melodramas, and always look on the most dramatic side. Oh, this is your cottage, is it? Quite a stage cottage, with plenty of greenery about the porch.”

Giles did not know what to make of my chatter.

“You’re a funny gent, sir.”

“A hungry one, at all events, my friend. Is this your wife? How are you, Mrs. Giles? I am your husband’s prisoner, and for the time being your cottage is a gaol. Mrs. Caldershaw’s dead, and I’ve stolen her glass eye.”

“Mrs. Caldershaw dead!” gasped Mrs. Giles, a rosy-faced little woman, who turned pale at the sudden announcement. “What does the gentleman mean, Sam?”

“Sit down, sir,” said Giles, pushing forward a chair, then turned towards his astonished and somewhat terrified wife to explain. In a few minutes Mrs. Giles was in full possession of the facts which had led me to her abode. She listened in silence, her face now quite white and drawn. “What does it all mean, Sam?” she asked under her breath.

“That’s what we’ve got to find out, Sarah. Warshaw has been sent for from Arkleigh, and when he comes, we’ll see what is to be done.”

“Warshaw and Caldershaw,” I murmured; “rather similar names. I hope your policeman friend will wire to Murchester about my car.”

“There’s no telegraph office hereabout, sir. I expect he’ll send in a messenger to Murchester for the Inspector, and for your friend, sir.”

“Lord Cannington? Oh, yes. He can identify me as Cyrus Vance.”

“What!” said Mrs. Giles, who was recovering her colour, “the gentleman who wrote them lovely plays?”

“The same,” I assented, “and the gentleman’s very hungry.”

“You shall have supper in a few minutes,” cried Mrs. Giles, much impressed with the angel she had hitherto entertained unawares. “Sam, did you bring back that bacon?”

“Nor I didn’t, my dear, ‘cos there wasn’t anyone to sell the bacon, Mrs. Caldershaw being dead.”

“Ugh!” shuddered the little woman. “I’ll never be able to eat another thing out of that shop. A murder—”

“We don’t know that it’s a murder,” interposed her husband hastily.

I laughed. “You shouted murder lustily enough when you had me down, Giles.”

The man looked sheepish. “I made a mistake and thought you was a robber, until I saw you were a gent.”

“Well a gent can be a robber, you know. Many gents are.”

“They steal something more valuable than glass eyes, sir.”

I rather liked Giles, who was a burly, heavy-faced animal man, with, as I said before, a most engaging smile. His jaw was of the bull-dog order, but his eyes were extremely intelligent, so I judged that his native wits had been considerably sharpened by his sojourn in the Borough of Southwark. Such a man could easily master the less travelled villagers, and I found that such was the case. Giles acted as a kind of headman of Mootley, and his opinion carried great weight in the village councils. It was just as well that I had fallen into the hands of such a man, otherwise, unable to see that I was innocent of assault and robbery, I should have been less hospitably treated. As it was, I found myself extremely comfortable.

Mrs. Giles bustled about in a cheery way, although the news of Mrs. Caldershaw’s death seemed to have somewhat scared her. While getting the supper and laying the cloth and attending to the kettle she would frequently pause to consider her husband’s story. “I rather think she expected it,” said Mrs. Giles, putting a pot of jam on the table.

“Expected what, Sarah?” asked her husband, guessing what she alluded to.

“Death, Sam, death. She told me once that she was sure she would not die in her bed.”

“Then you think that she has been murdered?” I questioned.

“Yes, I do think so, sir; else why should she speak in that way? And in church she always said that part of the Litany about being saved from battle, murder, and sudden death louder than any.”

“There was no blood and no wound,” muttered Giles, turning this speech over in his mind. “Frampton said he thought it was a fit. But come and draw your chair, in, sir. We’re humble folk, but what we have is at your service.”

“You’re very kind folk,” I said, obeying the invitation. “Frampton and Mrs. Faith would have tied me up and starved me.”

“Ignorant people, sir, who don’t know any better. Bread, sir? jam, sir? yes, sir.”

He was really most polite for a greengrocer, and I grew to like him more and more, as I did his busy, bright-faced little wife. The supper was homely but very nourishing, and I drank tea and devoured bread and jam, until my hunger was quite satisfied. During the meal the husband and wife told me that Mrs. Caldershaw had kept the corner shop—so they called it—for the last five years, and had never been popular amongst her neighbours. It was believed that she had miserly tendencies and had much money tucked away in a stocking. Her age was sixty, but she was an active woman for her years and lived entirely alone. It seemed that she had been born in Mootley, but had been absent for many years out at service—so she said, although she spoke very little about her past. With her savings—again this was the story of Mrs. Caldershaw—she had returned to die in her native village and, for the sake of something to do, had opened the corner shop.

“Did she have many callers?” I asked, mentally noting details.

“She never said so,” remarked Mrs. Giles, who being somewhat of a gossip took the lead in the conversation. “She was a close one, she was. And the shop being round the corner, sir, we”—I presume she meant herself and the other gossips—“could never see who came or went. She lived quite outside our lives, sir, owing to the position of the shop and her own way of keeping to herself. Once she did say she’d never die in her bed, and that’s what makes me think as she may have been done away with. But I never knew, Sam, that she’d a glass eye.”

“I didn’t know either,” said Sam, who was devouring huge slices of bread and butter. “She told Mrs. Faith, though. I’ve seen her heaps of times, but I never spotted that one eye was living and the other dead. And why it should have been stolen by that lady who went off with your motor, Mr. Vance, sends me fair silly.”

“What was the lady like, Sam?”

“I can’t exactly tell you, Sarah, as it was growing so dark. She was tall, with a long white cloak, a cap, and a veil. That’s all I know. Hullo!”

He started from his seat, as the sound of excited voices was heard. A moment later and the cottage door was violently flung open to admit the stout, dark-faced woman, whom Giles had addressed as Mrs. Faith. She was half leading, half supporting another woman, small and wizen and weak-looking. Behind came a disorderly crowd of women and men. Evidently Mootley, unused to sensational happenings, was making the most of this one.

“It’s a lady as come in a cart, sir,” began Mrs. Faith excitedly, when Frampton, looking over her shoulder, interrupted.

“A trap, sir; a trap driven by another woman.”

“O dear me,” moaned the little creature, who had now been deposited in a capacious chair. “Where am I now?”

“With friends, dear, with friends,” said Mrs. Giles, stroking her hands. “Sam get the whisky; it’s in the cupboard near the fire. And all you people clear out. She’ll never get well if you stop here upsetting her.”

“I’ll see to it,” cried Mrs. Faith, and forthwith in a most masterful way bundled the crowd out-of-doors. They would not have gone so easily, had not the magnet of the shop containing the corpse drawn them; but go they did, and Mrs. Faith closed the door.

“Warshaw has arrived,” she explained dramatically, “and is examining all the place. He’ll be along here soon, sir, to take you in charge. This lady,” she waved her large hands towards the little half-unconscious woman, “came along in a cart with another one driving—”

“Another lady?” I asked curiously.

“Another woman,” snorted Mrs. Faith contemptuously, “and only one horse the cart had; for cart it was, though Frampton called it a trap. But she came along, sir,” she continued officiously, “and said as she saw your motor engine run into a field. It smashed a gate, it did, and—”

“Stop,” cried the little lady, opening her eyes and half rising. “I’ll tell the gentleman all about it. Miss Destiny; sir, Miss Destiny—my name,” and she curtsied.

Chapter 3
After Events

Here was a freakish thing. I had talked about Destiny as a dea ex machina, and the goddess personally had come to superintend the drama in which I was supposed—as I shrewdly suspected by this time—to take a leading part. However, as open confession is good for the soul, I may as well state, and at the eleventh hour, that this story was written when the mystery was solved and justice had been done—I threw it, as it were, into a fictional form. Thus, as I knew the odd name of the little lady when writing I played upon its oddity, and saw in her the incarnation of the goddess who maps out the future. You can take this explanation with or without the proverbial grain of salt, as you choose. Meanwhile, here we are on the threshold of a mystery, and a flesh and blood creature, with the significant name of Destiny appears on the scene.

When the new-comer stood up and turned her face to the light I had a better view of her. She was even smaller than Mrs. Giles—what one would call a tiny woman—and was perfectly shaped. Not quite a dwarf, but very nearly one, and her face, pointed, wrinkled, and of a parchment hue, looked as old as the Pyramids. The most youthful thing about her was the undimmed brilliancy of her eyes. These, dark, piercing, unwinking, and marvellously steady, blazed—I use the word advisedly—under a Marie Antoinette arrangement of wonderfully white hair, like spun silk. Her hat had been removed by the officious Mrs. Faith, so I could take in her looks very easily. She wore a shabby black silk dress, much worn, an equally shabby black velvet mantle, old-fashioned and trimmed sparsely with beads, and had cotton gloves—black ones—on her skinny hands, with cloth boots on her tiny feet. From her general appearance she might have stepped out of a child’s fairy-book, as a representation of Cinderella’s godmother. As her first faintness had passed away—thanks to Mrs. Giles’ whisky—she was now wonderfully composed, and stood before me dropping elfish curtseys without a tremor of the face, or a blink of the eye.

“Miss Destiny,” she said again; “and you, sir?”

“Cyrus Vance,” I answered, “at present in custody as a suspected robber.”

Giles murmured something incoherent to the effect that this was not so, but Miss Destiny paid no attention to him. “Robber of what, sir?”

“Of Mrs. Caldershaw’s glass eye.”

“O dear me!” The little lady sat down promptly. “Do you mean to say that she has lost it at last, and that you took it?”

“I did not take it, madam, although I am credited with the theft, but it is assuredly lost. But why—at last?”

Miss Destiny moved her hands in the shabby black cotton gloves nervously and swallowed something—possibly the truth, although I had, on the face of it, no reason to suspect her of lying. “I was on my way to see Anne Caldershaw,” she said timidly.

“What?” Mrs. Faith’s dark countenance lighted up with curiosity. “You knew her—you knew her.”

“Intimately,” replied Miss Destiny, somewhat primly. “She was my brother’s housekeeper at Burwain for years. Then he died, and Anne came here. Burwain, which is between Gattlingsands and Tarhaven, is subject to fogs,” explained the little lady, “and Anne believed that clear inland air would suit her chest better.”

I knew Burwain as a somnolent hamlet set in a flat country and muffled with woods and tall hedges. This very day had I passed it in the Rippler, when conveying Cannington to Murchester. It was odd that this little woman should mention it of all places.

“You know that Mrs. Caldershaw is dead,” I ventured to remark.

Miss Destiny threw up her hands. “The shock of it,” she whimpered. “I was coming to see her and remain for the night. My servant, Lucinda, drove me from Burwain in my trap.”

“Cart,” struck in Mrs. Faith vehemently, while Giles and his wife, standing near the fire, held their peace.

“It is a cart,” admitted Miss Destiny, “which I have turned into a trap, as I am very, very, very poor.” Her voice ascended to the last word. “Yesterday morning I started, and stayed last night with a friend at Saxham, which is half way to Murchester. This morning we drove on again, and were approaching Mootley when the motor car nearly smashed my trap.”

“My motor car?” I asked quickly.

“I heard something about its belonging to a gentleman,” said Miss Destiny; “it was, however, driven by a woman in a long white cloak—”

“The lady I saw,” murmured Giles, of whom Miss Destiny took no notice.

“She drove headlong down a steep incline, and came within a handbreadth of the trap, Mr. Vance. Then she swerved round and went smashing through a wooden gate, not too securely fashioned, into a field. I was very much upset, and Lucinda—always mindful of my comfort—drove on to Mootley as quickly as possible. There”—Miss Destiny rose and became quite dramatic—“I was met with the news that Anne Caldershaw had been found dead. The news upset me so that I nearly fainted. But this good woman,” she indicated Mrs. Faith with a gracious bend of the head, “brought me here; and I am obliged to these honest people,” she nodded towards Giles and his wife, “for reviving me. Where I am to stop the night I don’t know, as Anne informed me in her letter that there is no inn here.”

“There’s a public-house,” put in Giles reflectively, “but it isn’t fit for a lady like you. If you will stay here, ma’am, for the night—”

“If it’s not very expensive,” interrupted Miss Destiny.

“It will cost nothing, ma’am,” said Giles curtly. “I’m none so poor, but what I can’t give a bite and a bed to a stranger.”

“Then I accept with pleasure,” replied Miss Destiny, and really seemed delighted at the idea of getting bed and breakfast for nothing. Either she was very poor, or she was avaricious. I could not decide which, but gave her the benefit of the doubt, and looked upon her as a reduced gentlewoman.

“What about me, Giles?” I asked when this was settled.

“It’s early yet, sir, so if you will wait here until Lord Cannington comes from Murchester, you can go back with him, after seeing Warshaw.”

“Oh, I don’t want to go back. I am anxious to see the end of this tragedy.”

“In that case, sir, the missus can put you up too, if you don’t mind a shake-down. There’s room enough for all.”

“I can make you comfortable in the parlour,” said Mrs. Giles, thinking of ways and means, “the lady can sleep in the spare bedroom.”

“With Lucinda,” put in Miss Destiny. “She is outside with the trap, and if you will see that the horse is put into some stable and that Lucinda is brought in to have supper, you will be conferring a great favour on me. I really couldn’t sleep without Lucinda, as my nerves are not what they ought to be, and this dreadful occurrence has upset them greatly.”

Giles, who seemed to be singularly generous and hospitable, nodded and went out to see after Lucinda and the trap, while Mrs. Giles boiled a couple of eggs for the visitor who had so unexpectedly appeared. Mrs. Faith, with her hands on her hips, and her dark face alive with curiosity, stared hard at the frail figure of the shabby little lady. “About the glass eye,” she asked eagerly, with a side glance at me, “which this gentleman took?”

“I didn’t take it,” I said sharply, for the way in which the woman assumed me to be guilty was unbearable. “So far as I remember, Mrs. Caldershaw had two eyes when I saw her body, though, to be sure, I might have been mistaken, seeing I had only a match. And I was mistaken,” I added vigorously, “for if the woman who stole my motor car took the eye, she must have done so before I saw the corpse. But why should the eye be stolen?” I looked at Miss Destiny for an answer.

The little old lady shook her head. “It’s the oddest thing,” she said at length and in a lively manner. “When Anne was my brother’s housekeeper, it was well known that she had a glass eye to which she appeared to attach a ridiculous value. She often declared that she would not lose it for a fortune. What she meant I can’t say; but since the eye has been stolen, she must have meant something.”

“It’s remarkably strange,” I muttered, for the mystery of the eye was beginning to attract me. “Have you no idea—”

“I know nothing more than I have told you,” said Miss Destiny sharply. “By the way, how did Anne die?”

“No one knows,” said Mrs. Faith, determined to join in the conversation and restless at having kept silence for so long. “Frampton declared that she had a fit.”

“Nonsense. Anne, so far as I know, never had fits. A lean, spare woman such as Anne was, could not have a fit.”

“Lean people may have fits as well as fat ones,” said I wisely.

“I am not doctor enough to say,” said Miss Destiny wearily, “and I am very tired with the journey and the news I have received. Poor Anne, she was a good and faithful servant.”

“She wasn’t popular here,” said Mrs. Faith tartly.

“She kept very much to herself,” said Mrs. Giles, placing the eggs before Miss Destiny; “a very close woman.”

“Anne never was one for gossip,” observed Miss Destiny, sipping a cup of hot tea. “None knew her better than I.”

“Tell us all about her,” said Mrs. Faith curiously.

Miss Destiny shook her head. “I am too tired,” she confessed, “and after I have had my supper I shall go to bed, if this honest woman permits. To-morrow I shall tell the police all I know.”

“The police,” said Mrs. Giles, with a start.

“Certainly.” Miss Destiny looked hard at the greengrocer’s wife. “As Anne is so mysteriously dead, and as her glass eye is missing, and as this gentleman’s motor car has been carried off—so they told me at the shop—the police will certainly ask questions. I shall answer them.”

Mrs. Faith struck in again. “But can you give any reason?”

“I shall say nothing at present,” interrupted Miss Destiny, with quite a grand air of rebuke. “Oh, Lucinda!”

The door had opened while she spoke and a gigantic figure, whether of man or woman, stepped cumbrously into the room. I doubted the sex, because although Lucinda wore petticoats, she also wore a distinct moustache, and displayed a rugged flat face, masculine in contour. With a man’s cap on her scanty drab-hued hair and a man’s pea-jacket clothing her spare body, with large driving-gloves and a red muffler, and nothing feminine about her save a short dress of light blue, beneath which appeared a pair of large lace-up boots, I may be excused for my doubts. Her eyes were grey and small and tired-looking, but they lighted with tender love when she beheld her mistress. Miss Destiny, looked smaller than ever, as the huge woman strode towards her to speak in one of the sweetest voices I have ever heard. These nightingale notes, proceeding from a kind of female Blunderbore, were scarcely in keeping with the coarse exterior.

“Are you rested, mistress? have you eaten? is your head bad? are your feet cold?” demanded Lucinda in a breath and with a voice of an archangel.

“I am much better, Lucinda,” said Miss Destiny wearily, “but I should like to go to my room,” and she closed her bright black eyes.

“I’ll take you there, mistress,” said the Amazon, and picked up the little woman like a feather, turning to address Mrs. Giles as she did so. “Where’s the bedroom, mum?”

“I’ll show you,” said Mrs. Giles, and conducted the odd couple into an inner room with an air of amazement, which showed that Lucinda had startled her also by the mixed sexual appearance she presented. I could not help thinking that Giles and his wife were a singularly good-natured couple to allow the house to be stormed in this fashion.

“What do you think of it all?” asked Mrs. Faith when we were alone. I was beginning to dislike the woman for her unwarrantable curiosity.

“It is amusing.”

“Amusing!” She stared aghast.

“The unexpected is always amusing,” said I. “But come outside and we’ll see Giles. I want him to take me to Mrs. Caldershaw’s shop again. It is necessary for me to see Warshaw and tell him my story. I don’t want a garbled version to reach him, as it is hard to remove first impressions.”

Mrs. Faith, keeping a jealous eye on me—I verily believe that she still credited me with knowing more about the death that I would confess—shepherded me round the cottage into a small stable, where Giles was attending to the horse. After delivering me into his charge with the air of a police officer, she remarked that she would go home and drink a cup of tea. I was glad to see the back of the inquisitive woman, and said as much to Giles.

“Ay,” he remarked, smiling quietly, “she’s a rare one for other people’s business is Mrs. Faith. Well, sir, what’s to be done now?”

“I want you to come with me to Mrs. Caldershaw’s shop, as I must see the policeman. And I say, Giles,” I added, as we turned out of the yard and walked along the dark, damp road, “it’s ridiculous all of us using your cottage as a hotel in this fashion. If Miss Destiny doesn’t pay you I shall do so, and in any case, I shall pay for myself.”

“You’re of a forgiving nature, Mr. Vance, seeing how nearly I broke your neck, sir,” said Giles, smiling again.

“Pooh! I would have done the same myself, seeing that I was taken, as it were, red-handed. By the way, you heard of the way in which this strange woman has run my motor into a field?”

“Yes, sir. Lucinda—she told me her name—explained what had happened.”

“I hope my car isn’t smashed up,” I grumbled, turning up my coat collar, for the night was growing chilly. “I don’t suppose that thief of a woman could drive for nuts. Well, well, it’s a queer business altogether. I wonder how it will all end?”

“We must wait and see, Mr. Vance. These things are in the hands of Providence, you know,” said Giles soberly, and then I gathered that the retired greengrocer had a strong religious vein—evangelistical for choice.

“Or in the hands of Miss Destiny,” I murmured, for I still held to the fantastical belief that the shabby little woman had come from Olympus.

During the two hours which had elapsed since Giles took me into custody, law and order had been established in and about the tragic shop. Warshaw—as I afterwards learned—had come post-haste from Arkleigh, which was no very great distance away, and had brought with him a brother constable. This last was on guard at the shop door, before which a group of people were chattering excitedly, and Warshaw himself attended to the inside of the house. A few words to the Cerebus gained Giles and myself admission, and we were informed incidentally that a messenger on bicycle had been sent to the Murchester Inspector with details of the death and of the loot of the motor car. Shortly, said the policeman at the door, the Inspector would arrive to take charge of the case.

Warshaw proved to be a lean, red-haired, sedate young constable, who had been in the army and who knew a gentleman when he saw one. He was therefore extremely civil to me, and heard my story with great gravity. Afterwards he questioned Giles, and then logged both tales in his pocket-book. He did not seem to suspect that I was guilty of assault or robbery, but intimated politely that it would be just as well if I remained in his company until Inspector Dredge arrived from Murchester. Then I offered him a cigarette and we began to chat.

“What do you think of the case?” I asked, lighting up.

“I don’t know what to think of it, sir,” he replied with a doubtful air. “The deceased is dead, but, not being a doctor, I can’t see how she came by her death. Her left eye—which I believe was a glass one—is missing, and a man said it was in her head at five o’clock when she attended to him in the shop. Yes,” he shook his closely cropped hair, “it’s a queer case.”

“Do you think she was assaulted and rendered insensible for the sake of this glass eye?”

“I can’t say, sir, and if I might suggest to you, sir, it will be best to ask no questions and to say nothing on your part until Inspector Dredge arrives.”

“I shall only ask one question, Warshaw. Has anything been stolen?”

“No, sir. It isn’t a case of burglary, I swear.”

After Warshaw’s hint, of course, I held my tongue. We were in the back room, and the corpse of Mrs. Caldershaw was still lying on the floor with a rug over it. Until Dredge and a doctor arrived the local policeman wisely decided to leave it as it had been found. I shuddered a trifle at the cold clay of the unfortunate woman, which I knew lay under the gaudy rug, and glanced round the room. It was of no great size and furnished in a plain way—comfortable enough, but not luxurious. The walls were adorned with a flamboyant red paper, scrolled aggressively with some unnatural green vegetation; and on the floor a diapered black and white linoleum lay under a white-washed ceiling. The furniture consisted of an Early Victorian horsehair mahogany suite, adorned with vividly tinted antimacassars; a sticky-looking varnished side-board, upon which stood a decayed wedding-cake top under a glass shade; a moderately sized round table covered with a blue cloth, and over it a home-made swing bookcase, containing antique and uninviting volumes, chiefly concerned, as I discovered, with religion. Also there was an old-fashioned grate in which a diminutive fire smouldered, a grandfather clock—now indicating the hour of nine—and finally, on the glaringly covered walls a few cheap oleographs, apparently taken from the Christmas numbers of illustrated papers. A tall brass-pillared lamp, giving out an exceedingly bad light, stood on the round table, and but faintly illuminated the homely apartment.

Later my attention was attracted by a photograph on the mantelpiece—a sumptuous photograph by an artistic London firm, set in an ornate silver frame, far too expensive for the late Mrs. Caldershaw to have purchased herself. I struck a match to examine it. Out of the semi-darkness flashed a truly lovely face, with the sweetest smile I had ever beheld. In the flickering light, I saw the head and shoulders and bust of a girl—a lady, a goddess I might say. She was arrayed in an evening dress of the simplest kind, untrimmed and unadorned in any way. Not even a necklace appeared on the swan-like grace of the neck, and no bracelets accentuated the outline of the finely-moulded arms. And the face—I fell in love with it at sight—with its haunting eyes and grave, tender, wishful smile. The hair was dressed in the plain Greek fashion, and the head, being turned a trifle to one side, ravished me with its chaste loveliness. Doubtless the picture represented a modern young lady, but to me it gleamed forth from the darkness as a revelation of Diana, but not of the Ephesians. No! here was the virginal huntress, who slew Actæn, who solaced the dying Hippolytus, and who came to Endymion in dreams on Mount Latmus. I was no raw boy, and—I have confessed it before—I had never been in love; but this exquisite face captured my heart, my fancy, my psychic senses, and all that there was in me to respond to the mystery of sex. Love at first sight was a mighty truth after all. Here was—my wife.

“Nonsense,” said I aloud at this point, and the match went out after burning my fingers. The men looked up inquiringly, and keeping well back in the gloom I coloured warmly. “It’s nothing. An idle thought passed through my mind. I wonder,”—here I hesitated, as I was on the verge of asking the two what they knew about the portrait. But an inexplicable sense of nervous shame kept me silent on this point and I finished my sentence in another way. “I wonder when the Inspector will arrive,” said I with a yawn.

At that moment, as if in answer to my question, the sound of approaching wheels was heard, and we sharply walked into the shop to see a trap halting before the door. A tall, military-looking man descended and stalked forward, followed by a policeman and a cheerful red-faced individual, who looked what he was—a country practitioner. A carefully cultivated habit of observation—invaluable to playwright or novelist—has quickened my comprehension, so I guessed the doctor’s profession the moment he entered the shop. Dredge was grim and hard-mouthed and steady-eyed, and sparing of words on all occasions. He listened to Warshaw’s report without committing himself to speech, and then tersely asked the doctor—Scoot was his queer name—to inspect the corpse in his presence. I remained with Giles in the shop, as I had no desire to participate in the gruesome examination. The policeman who had come from Murchester, took up his station at the door along with his comrade, and to him I addressed myself.

“Do you know if the messenger who came to see Inspector Dredge went on to the Barracks?” I asked, for I was wondering why Cannington had not arrived.

“Yes, sir,” said the officer saluting. “As soon as the Inspector heard of the murder he sent him on, and then we drove here.”

“Strange!” I murmured, for I knew that Cannington was not the boy to let grass grow under his feet when a friend was in trouble. As it was still early he would not be in bed, and as some hours had elapsed, there was ample time for him to arrive. Indeed I had expected him to precede the police.

Giles frowned and shook his head. “I think Ashley was sent,” he said in his rough voice, “and he’s but a wastrel. I only hope he has gone to the Barracks, and is not drinking in some public-house. News of a murder will get him many free drinks.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “That may be the case, Giles. However, it doesn’t matter. I can stay with you, and to-morrow we can send a more reliable messenger to Lord Cannington.”

“Oh, his lordship may arrive yet,” ventured the ex-greengrocer.

“Perhaps. But I doubt it. He would have arrived before had he heard of my dilemma. Ah, here’s the Inspector.”

Dredge looked more gloomy and forbidding than ever. I understood, although he did not inform me, that Dr. Scoot was still examining the dead body, and that Dredge had come to ask questions. I was right in my latter surmise, at all events, for he examined me thoroughly and set down my replies in a book. Then he gave me a piece of information.

“Your motor car, sir, is standing in a field some distance from Murchester, abandoned. We saw it through the broken gate, when we drove past. A hasty examination showed us that it has not been much injured.”

Before I could reply, the agitated voice of Scoot was heard calling for the Inspector. I followed Dredge into the back room. The doctor had opened the dead woman’s bodice and was pointing to a gleam of blue glass.

“See! see!” he said loudly, “the head of a hat-pin!” He drew it out. “Yes, this poor wretched woman has been murdered by having a hat-pin thrust into her heart.”

I thought of the white-cloaked female who had stolen my car, but said nothing.

Chapter 4
Facts

Next morning brought Cannington in a towering rage to Mootley. He arrived in a motor while I was breakfasting at nine o’clock, and explained with many apologies that he had become aware of my difficulties only one hour previously.

“That silly blighter you sent,” said the boy volubly, “never came to the Barracks last night. After telling the police what had happened, he started to come to me—this is his story, remember—but on the way dropped into a pub. There he talked about the murder, and was supplied with so many free drinks that he wasn’t in a fit state to leave.”

“Humph!” said I, going on with my breakfast, “Giles was right it seems. This Ashley animal is a wastrel. Well?”

“Well,” echoed Cannington, fuming, “there is no well about it. The intoxicated beast only turned up this morning at nine o’clock. I was in bed when my servant brought in the message, and when I saw him I told him off, confound him for a silly ape. Then I got Trent to loan me his car and came along here as soon as I could bathe and dress.”

“Have you had breakfast?”

“Oh, damn breakfast! No.”

“Well, sit down and have some, if Mrs. Giles,” glanced at the little woman, who was hovering round the fire, “permits.”

“I’ll set another cup and plate at once, sir,” she said, evidently fluttered at the idea of entertaining a real live lord, “but I’m afraid, sir, that eggs and bacon and tea ain’t what the young gentleman’s used to.”

“I don’t know anything better,” said Cannington graciously, and soon was occupied industriously in filling up. “And I do call it beastly,” he said between mouthfuls, “that I should have been out of all the fun. If I’d only come along with you, Vance—”

“You’d have been arrested, as I am,” I finished.

“Oh, come now, that’s a bit too thick. You didn’t rob this woman, or murder her for one of your melodramas, did you?”

“Who said she was murdered?” I asked, taking another cup of tea.

“That blighter who came this morning.”

“How the deuce does he know? The murder was only found out after he went to Murchester. Everyone—myself included—thought that it was merely robbery of a glass eye.”

“A glass eye!” Cannington stared. “Who the deuce would steal a glass eye?”

“The woman who annexed my motor car, and who murdered Mrs. Caldershaw by sticking a hat-pin into her heart, stole it.”

“Whose glass eye was it?”

“Mrs. Caldershaw’s.”

“Who is she?”

“The dead woman.”

Cannington gulped down a cup of tea and requested particulars. “You see I was in such a rage that I heard very little from the messenger,” he explained apologetically. “All I gathered was that some woman had been murdered and robbed, and that you were suspected. I hurried along to tell the police that they were idiots, and—”

“Oh, not such idiots,” said I, pushing back my chair and lighting a cigarette. “You see I was caught red-handed by Mrs. Giles’ husband.”

“Oh, sir,” put in the greengrocer’s wife deprecatingly.

“Begin at the beginning,” commanded Cannington, who was still eating with the healthy appetite of a young animal, “and go on to the end. I’m not clever enough to make up a story out of scraps.”

Thus adjured I detailed all that had taken place from the time I had left him at the Mess-room door on the previous day. He became so interested that he ceased to eat, and at the conclusion of my narrative jumped up from his chair with an ejaculation. “By Jove,” said he, recalling our conversation in the Rippler, “adventures are to the adventurous, aren’t they? This real life business beats any of your melodramas.”

“I agree. Truth is always more impossible than fiction.”

“An epigram doesn’t meet the case,” snapped Cannington.

“It sums it up, my boy. Who could ever invent such a situation—I speak as a playwright, you understand. I could never have imagined the tragedy of an old woman killed by a hat-pin for the sake of her glass eye, much less the implicating of an inoffensive stranger, and the theft of his motor by the murderess.”

“You are sure she is guilty?”

“Certainly! Who but a woman would use a hat-pin to slay, and who but a woman would have a hat-pin to use?”

“But why should she kill the old woman?”

“That question can only be answered when we know more about the lady in the white cloak, who bolted with my car.”

“Who is she?”

“Helen of Troy, for all I know. What silly questions you ask, Cannington.”

“I’m not Sherlock Holmes,” he retorted, “and I did come on straight to help you through this business.”

“Forgive me, boy; you’re a brick. What about your duties?”

“I got leave from the adjutant. That’s all right. What’s to be done now?”

“We must see Inspector Dredge, and look after my motor, which is still piled up in the field where the lady left it. Clever woman that. She knew that she might be traced by the number, and so got rid of the car. I daresay she footed it to Murchester, and went on to London by the night train.”

“In a white cloak she’d be traced.”

“If she was fool enough to wear it,” said I dryly, “but I daresay we’ll find that white cloak packed away in the car.”

“Come along and let us see,” cried Cannington, greatly excited.

“One moment. Mrs. Giles, what about Miss Destiny and her servant?”

“She’s not up yet, sir, and Lucinda has taken in her breakfast.”

“Is she returning to Burwain to-day?”

“I think so, sir. But Sam told Inspector Dredge of what she said last night, and he wishes to ask her questions about Mrs. Caldershaw’s past.”

I nodded. “No doubt. In Mrs. Caldershaw’s past will be found the motive for the committal of this strange crime. That glass eye was a dangerous possession, Mrs. Giles.”

“Lor’, sir, do you think that has anything to do with it?”

“Everything, if you remember what Miss Destiny said about the value Mrs. Caldershaw attached to that glass eye. She is dead, and evidently—since the eye is missing—was murdered for its possession. Depend upon it, Mrs. Giles, when Inspector Dredge learns the history of that eye, he will be able to lay his hand on this lady who so ingeniously escaped.”

“But after all,” said Cannington, looking back from the door, “you really aren’t arrested, Vance, are you?”

“You can put it that I am under surveillance, boy.”

“What rot.”

“Come and tell Dredge so,” said I, taking his arm. “I’ll be back soon, Mrs. Giles, so tell your husband,” and with a nod I went out.

We found Cannington’s—or rather Trent’s—motor at the door, and got into it to proceed to the shop round the corner. Here we found Inspector Dredge, surrounded by his myrmidons, and I explained to him that my friend had come to vouch for my respectability; also that I desired to go in search of my Rippler. The Inspector, although as grim-faced, was less taciturn than on the previous night, and received my explanation most kindly, assuring me that there was little need for Lord Cannington to state my honourable qualities. “Although,” he added, “his lordship is welcome to depose to your position, as a matter of form.”

“Oh, Mr. Vance is all right,” said Cannington cheerily, “he only commits murders on the stage.”

“I don’t think even on the stage I ever committed so ingenious a murder as this one seems to be,” I retorted.

Dredge nodded. “Yes. This unknown woman is singularly clever.”

“Then you think she is guilty?”

“What else can I think, Mr. Vance?” said Dredge, raising his eyebrows. “From what you tell me, I am inclined to think that she was hiding in an upstairs room—there are two—when you entered the shop. Possibly the sound and appearance of your car drove her there after she had murdered the unfortunate Mrs. Caldershaw. You did not enter the shop immediately?”

“Well, no, I was a few minutes looking into things connected with the car.”

“And the shop was in darkness?”

“Complete darkness.”

“I thought so. This woman heard your car coming, and later on saw it. She doubtless slipped out of the back room, where she had just stabbed her victim, and had the eye—this seems to be the motive for the commission of the crime—in her pocket. She could not walk into the road without running a chance of meeting you, so she sprang up the stairs yonder”—he pointed to the steps, which clung to the wall on one side and had a light railing on the other—“and took refuge in the bedroom. When she heard you enter the back room, she came down turned the key, and ran away with your car.”

“Humph!” said I, after a pause, “permit me to put you right on one point, Mr. Inspector. I believe that the woman was in the back room when I entered the shop, for when I tried the door in order to find someone, it was locked.”

“Really!” Dredge made a hasty note. “Was the key on the outside?”

“I don’t remember. All I know was that I could not pull open the door.”

“She would not have had time to change the key from the inside to the outside,” mused the Inspector. “I daresay the key all along was on the outside, as it is now.” He glanced at the door leading into the back room, and sure enough there was the key. “Possibly, she shot the bolt—there is one on the hither side of the door, as I noticed. Well?”

“Well, while I was filling the tank of my car with petrol she must have emerged, and—as you say—unable to escape without observation by the road, she must have slipped upstairs. When I found the door open on trying it for the second time, I entered the back room, attracted by the last moan of the dying woman. Then she—the murderess, I mean—must have come down, and after softly turning the key, have gone off in my car.”

“But why should she leave the car in a field?” asked Cannington.

“To the more easily escape,” said Dredge, raising his eyebrows. “A car with a number could easily be traced. She took it as near Murchester as she dared, then abandoned it, and walked to the town. That is my theory, and then she could either remain in Murchester or take the train to some other place. It will be a hard matter to find her, as she has concealed her trail very successfully.”

“She might have left some evidence behind in the car,” I suggested.

Dredge shook his head. “I examined the car myself this morning,” he remarked. “There is not a vestige to show that any woman occupied it. She has not left even so much as a pin behind.”

“Pardon me; she left a hat-pin!”

“Yes,” said the Inspector grimly, “in the heart of the unfortunate Mrs. Caldershaw. But your car is still in that field near Murchester, Mr. Vance, and I shall leave you to take it away. I don’t know how much it is injured.”

“Last night you said that it wasn’t much hurt,” I said hastily.

“Quite so, sir,” said Dredge imperturbably. “But last night my examination was necessarily perfunctory, as I was in a hurry to reach the scene of the crime. This morning I examined the car more carefully, and I am not sufficiently an expert to see what damage has been done. Remember, it was driven violently through a wooden gate.”

“On purpose?” asked Cannington quickly.

The Inspector cast a side glance at his fresh-coloured face. “I can’t say, my lord. I think not. The woman, driving down the incline, nearly ran into Miss Destiny’s trap. To avoid a complete collision, she may have turned the steering-wheel too completely round, and so probably dashed by mischance through the gate. Indeed, I think that is the true explanation.”

“Then, but for this accident,” said Cannington pertinaciously, “she would have driven the car to Murchester.”

“I really can’t offer an opinion on that point, my lord. We are working in the dark just now, and all I have said is mere theory founded upon circumstantial evidence. However, Mr. Vance,” he turned to me, “you can go and see after your car, and tell me what you think. That is,” he glanced at his watch sharply, “after I have examined Miss Destiny. I am told by Giles that she knew Mrs. Caldershaw, and was coming here to pass the night.”

“You want me to be present?”

“If you will so far oblige me.”

“I shall be delighted. I wish to hear of everything connected with this most interesting case. Do you mind if Lord Cannington is present also?”

“Not at all,” said Dredge graciously, and shuffled his notes, which were lying on the counter. “Miss Destiny will be here in a few minutes, and we can go into the back room where the crime was committed.”

“Where is the body?” asked Cannington abruptly.

“It has been laid out in one of the bedrooms upstairs. Do you wish to view it, my lord?”

“Oh, hang it, certainly not,” gasped Cannington hastily, and with all the repugnance which the upper classes exhibit towards such morbid sights. “I was only asking, as I don’t wish to sit in the room with a corpse.”

The Inspector threw open the door to display the back premises. “You see,” he said, inviting us by a gesture to enter, “the body has been removed.”

In the grey daylight, for there was no sun to graciously soften crudities, the room looked forlorn and chill and lonely. Cannington stepped at my heels with a nervous shiver, for he was somewhat impressionable. I now noticed that there were two windows in the outer wall, which looked on to a kind of fenced clearing, sown with cabbages, potatoes and leeks. These jostled each other in a disorderly fashion, and the paths between the beds were so grass-grown that it was apparent but little interest had been taken in her garden by the late owner of the corner shop. The paling fence, unpainted and broken, which surrounded the oblong of the cultivated ground, seemed to push back the encircling elms, forming a small untidy wood behind. There was no gate in the fence, so the sole means of egress was through the shop. Between the windows was a door, leading into this dismal garden, standing cheek by jowl with a cumbersome chimney. The back door was locked. “We found it like that last night,” exclaimed Dredge, now more communicative and less grim. “The odd thing is that the key is missing.”

“Perhaps Mrs. Caldershaw never went into her garden,” I remarked. “It does not look inviting.”

“Oh, she must have gone out of that door sometimes,” insisted the Inspector. “For there is a small shed filled with coals and wood outside; she must have replenished her fire occasionally, you know, Mr. Vance.”

“Well then, she probably had locked the door for the night, when she was murdered by this white-cloaked woman.”

“I daresay; but why should the key be missing?”

Cannington made a suggestion. “The woman locked it when she escaped.”

“She escaped through the shop, after locking Mr. Vance in,” retorted Dredge, “so why should she have troubled to steal the back-door key, which, on the face of it, she did not require?”

“Huh,” said the boy, “she seems to have a weakness for taking queer things, Mr. Inspector. Witness the glass eye.”

Dredge nodded. “I hear Miss Destiny knows something about that.”

At this moment, as if in answer to her name, the little old lady stepped daintily into the back room. She looked as shabby and frail as ever, but she undoubtedly was a gentlewoman, and her eyes still revealed a strong vitality. With a curtsey to me and to Cannington, she addressed herself graciously to Inspector Dredge.

“My trap is at the door, sir, and I am anxious to return to my home at Burwain, since this poor woman I came to see is unfortunately dead.”

“Murdered,” said Dredge laconically.

Miss Destiny blinked with her wonderfully youthful eyes, and recoiled with a nervous gesture of her hand. “Murdered,” she whispered, half to herself. “They did not tell me that.”

“Who did not tell you, ma’am?” demanded the Inspector brusquely.

“Lucinda, my servant, Mr. Giles and his wife,” she replied brokenly. “How was she murdered, sir?”

“An ordinary hat-pin with a blue glass bead for a head was thrust into her heart, ma’am. She must have died immediately.”

“How dreadful. But why should she be murdered, poor soul?”

“So far as I can gather, on account of her glass eye, which is missing. I should like to hear what you have to say on that point, ma’am?” and Dredge fixed his stern eyes inquisitively on the little old lady.

Miss Destiny sat down quietly, and appeared to make an effort to recover her composure, which had been sorely shaken, and very naturally, by the news of the strange murder. “All I can say is, that Anne had a glass eye to which she appeared to attach a ridiculous value”—at this point I became aware that she was repeating word for word her speech of the previous night, and certain of it, when she continued. “Anne often declared that she would not lose it for a fortune. Now it is lost, and she is dead. Dear me!”

“It has been stolen, and she has been murdered,” corrected the Inspector smartly. “I should like to know why Mrs. Caldershaw attached such value to the eye?”

“I can’t tell you that, Mr. Inspector, because I do not know. Anne was always very close and kept her business to herself.”

“Who is the woman?” asked Dredge impatiently.

“Who was the woman, you mean, sir,” corrected Miss Destiny smartly in her turn. “I can tell you that. She was my brother’s housekeeper at Burwain for many years. When he died five years ago, more or less,” added Miss Destiny precisely, “she retired with her savings to this place, which was her native village, and here set up this shop.”

“Have you seen her since she came to live here?”

“At intervals, sir. Anne was a valued old servant, whom I respected, and at times—say once a year, I came over to stay the night with her.”

“Had she any enemies?”

“Not to my knowledge, sir.”

“Was she happy here?”

“As happy as a grumbler like Anne could be. For there is no denying, poor soul, that she was a grumbler,” ended the little old lady regretfully.

“What was your brother’s name, ma’am?” said Dredge, producing his note-book.

“Gabriel Monk, sir. He was a bachelor, and lived at The Lodge, Burwain. I kept house for him with Anne as our servant until he died. Then Anne came here and I took a small cottage in the village, where I now am.”

“And The Lodge?” asked Dredge, somewhat irrelevantly I thought.

“His brother, Walter Monk, inherited The Lodge and the money of his deceased relative. He lives there now with my niece.”

“Oh!” The inspector here saw a point which in my opinion he ought to have noticed before. “Then Gabriel Monk was not exactly your brother?”

“I called him so, because I looked after his house for him, but he really was not, sir.”

“Your brother-in-law, then?”

“Not even that, Mr. Inspector. Let me explain. My sister married Walter Monk, the brother of Gabriel, and became a widower with one child, a girl. Gabriel took Gertrude, the girl, to live with him, when she was a small child, and asked me to take charge of her. I did so, and therefore fell into the habit of calling Gabriel my brother; but, as you see, he was no relation. And pardon me, Mr. Inspector, but I do not see what all this private business has to do with the murder of Anne Caldershaw.”

Dredge snapped the elastic band on his closed pocket-book. “I wish to learn all I can about the dead woman’s past,” he said gruffly, “and so ask you to tell me all you know.”

“I have told you all I know,” said Miss Destiny, rising. “And now may I take my departure, as I have a long way to drive?”

Dredge nodded. “You may have to return for the inquest,” he said abruptly, “and in any case, I shall come over to Burwain to ask questions.”

“By all means. Anyone will tell you where I live,” said Miss Destiny with dignity, “and I trust that my expenses will be paid, should I be required as a witness at the inquest.” Here I noted she again revealed a miserly tendency.

“Oh, yes, that’s all right,” said Dredge, and Miss Destiny, again making her queer little curtsey to Cannington and myself, was about to depart, when I stopped her with a question.

“Will you please tell me the name of this lady?” I asked, indicating the photograph in the silver frame.

Miss Destiny’s eyes were too keen to require glasses, and she recognised the face at once. “Dear me, it is a photograph of Gertrude.”

“Your niece?”

“Certainly. Anne nursed her, you know, and Gertrude was always greatly attached to her. She will be distressed when she hears of this tragedy. Dear me, I never knew Gertrude had given Anne her portrait, and in such a very expensive frame. Waste! waste! But why do you ask about it, sir?”

I coloured. “I thought the face was so lovely,” was my reply, made in a low and somewhat awkward voice.

Miss Destiny gave me a piercing glance, and nodded in a friendly manner, evidently amused by my embarrassment. “Gertrude is as good as she is beautiful,” she said smiling. “Good-day, gentlemen,” and she left the shop to mount the trap. Lucinda wrapped the rug carefully round her knees and the oddly assorted pair drove away.

Meanwhile Cannington—who was always much too clever when dulness would have been more diplomatic—laughed meaningly, and whispered.

“Adventures are to the adventurous,” said Cannington wickedly.

“So you said before, and the remark isn’t original in any case,” I answered tartly. “What you mean—”

“Oh, of course,” he chaffed softly. “I haven’t got eyes in my head, and you’re a Joseph where a pretty girl is concerned. And she is pretty”—he turned to look at my goddess—“she is—”

“Oh, shut up!” I interrupted crossly. “Mr. Inspector, I am going to look after my motor car. And the inquest?”

“Will be held in this house to-morrow at ten o’clock.”

This settled matters for the time being and I departed with the boy, who still chaffed me, like the silly young ass he was. “Old Vance in love. Ho, ho!” said this annoying boy.

Chapter 5
An Important Discovery

On examination, the Rippler appeared to have suffered but trifling hurt. Either by accident, or design, the flying lady had driven the machine straight through an ancient five-barred gate, which fortunately was much too decayed to present any serious obstacle. Across a stubbled field—as the ripping and ploughing of the grounds showed—the car had reeled drunkenly, until by its own weight it was bogged in the friable furrows. Here it had been deserted, with smashed lamps, a slightly damaged front, and with a considerable amount of paint scraped off. But an immediate test showed that the machinery was in excellent working order.

It was no easy task to restore the derelict to the hard levels of the high-road. But Cannington collected a gang of agriculturals from unknown quarters and we set to work. With spades and crowbars, broad weather-boards from an adjacent incomplete building as temporary tram-lines, and a tow-rope from Trent’s machine to mine, we managed the job fairly expeditiously, considering the environment. With water from the nearest pond for the outside of the car, and oil and petrol for the interior, I managed to get the Rippler into working order, although she was more or less shaken, and did not run very smoothly. Fortunately the lady had abandoned her loot within half a mile of Murchester, so with careful driving I contrived to get over that distance in safety. After storing the Rippler in a convenient garage, to be repaired and overhauled, I went on to the Barracks with Cannington in Trent’s motor. Here I proposed to put up until the inquest was at an end and I was free to leave the neighbourhood. It was rather a nuisance to be thus publicly housed, as one might put it, for everyone, from the Colonel to the latest-joined subaltern, asked questions and aired impossible theories. My intimate connection with the affair made me an object of interest to one and all. And small wonder that it should be so, for the mystery of the affair was most enthralling.

On the way to his quarters, Cannington—perhaps to distract my thoughts from more immediate troubles—mentioned casually that Wentworth Marr had left a card for him at Mess, just before we had arrived on the day of the murder. I did not take any interest in Marr, as I had never seen him, so it was a matter of indifference to me whether he had called or not. But the boy fidgeted over the matter, as he made sure he was about to be asked a knotty question officially, as the head of the Wotton family.

“I am certain that Marr wishes to know if I will agree to his marrying my sister,” said Cannington irritably. “And I don’t know what to say.”

“Refer him to the lady,” I suggested absently.

“I sha’nt. He’s too old for Mabel, and I don’t want her to marry him in any case. I wish Weston would come up to the scratch, for he told me that he loved Mabel, and I was quite pleased. Weston’s no end of a good sort, and we—that is Mabel and I—have known him almost as long as we have you, Vance. Marr’s all right, and deuced rich from all one hears. But I don’t want such an old chap as a brother-in-law, for all his thousands of pounds.”

“Oh, very well then,” said I ungraciously. “Tell him to keep off the grass, or you’ll punch his head. Is he stopping at Murchester?”

“I suppose so. His card has the Lion’s Head—that’s the best hotel here—pencilled on it. He called somewhere about three yesterday, before we arrived, and he said he’d turn up again. I expect to find him waiting for me now, and I’m hanged,” lamented Cannington, “if I know what to say.”

But, as after events proved, the boy was worrying himself needlessly, for Wentworth Marr did not reappear at the Barracks. On inquiry, we learned that he stayed only the one night in Murchester, and then went back to London in his motor—for he also travelled in the latest vehicle of transit. I only mention these apparently trivial facts, because they form certain links in the chain of evidence which led up to the discovery of the amazing truth. Meanwhile, not foreseeing the importance of trifles, I was rather annoyed with Cannington for babbling. My mind was far too much taken up with the mystery of Mrs. Caldershaw’s murder, and with—I must confess it—the face of Gertrude Monk, to permit me to think of Lady Mabel Wotton and her wooers, elderly or otherwise.

Lady Mabel herself appeared a day or so later, and at an inopportune moment, for her brother and I were greatly fatigued with what had occurred during the interval. However, we returned from Mootley in my renovated Rippler on the third day, and found her waiting impatiently for afternoon tea in Cannington’s quarters. She was a tall, fresh-coloured, dashing girl, amazingly like her brother, and if he had worn her tailor-made dress instead of his khaki, I do not think anyone, unless a very close observer, would have been the wiser. I had known the family for more years that I cared to remember, and liked Lady Mabel immensely, as she was outspoken and companionable, and did not want a man to be always telling her that she was a goddess. All the same, she could flirt when inclined, although she never did so with me. It could not have been my age, for I was younger than this confounded Marr she came to talk about; so I presume she looked upon me as Cannington’s elder brother. At all events, our friendship was always prosaic and matter of fact.

We had tea, while Lady Mabel presided and told us that she had just come down for an hour, and that she was very miserable, and that Cannington ought to have written her, and that she did not know what to do, though Cyrus—that was me—might give some advice and—

“I never give advice,” I interrupted hastily. “I’m not clever enough.”

“I never said you were,” she retorted. “But you are slow and sure.”

“Thanks, Lady Mabel.”

“I think you’re just horrid, and why you should be so stiff with me I don’t know, seeing that you knew Cannington and myself since we could toddle.”

“Oh, come now, I’m not so old as all that.”

“You are, and ever so much older, you—you bachelor.”

“I can’t help that, since you refuse to marry me,” I said smiling.

“You’ve never asked me to—not that I would accept you,” she replied promptly. “All the same, you needn’t call me Lady Mabel, as if you were keeping me off with a pitchfork.”

“Well, then—Mabel.”

“That’s better.” She gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder. “You know that I look on you as a good sort, Cyrus, and the oldest friend we have.”

I wriggled. “Why do you emphasise age so much?”

Cannington laughed, and I knew that he was thinking of my admiration of Miss Monk’s photograph. “Vance doesn’t like to be reminded of his age—now.”

“Why now?” questioned Lady Mabel suspiciously.

“Oh, never mind,” I said crossly. “What do you want my advice about?”

Our fair companion put down her cup in despair. “Haven’t I been telling you for the last half hour. Mr. Marr wants to marry me. He asked me four days ago, and then came down to enlist Cannington on his side.”

“Huh,” said the boy, sagaciously, “that sounds as though you had refused him.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Then you accepted him.”

“No, I didn’t,” she said again. “I left it an open question, until I consulted you and Cyrus. After all he is rich, and not bad-looking.”

“Oh, Mabel,” cried Cannington, rising to perambulate the narrow room, “you know very well that you love Dickey Weston.”

“What’s the use of loving a man who won’t speak his mind? Dickey always lives in the moon, and I only love him from habit.

“You never loved me from habit,” I remarked lazily.

Mabel put her head on one side, and surveyed me critically. “No, I never did,” she said candidly, “and yet you’re better-looking than Dickey. But he’s got a way with him—I don’t know what it is.”

“Absent-mindedness,” suggested Cannington. “May we smoke, Mab?”

“Oh, yes, and you can give me a cigarette also, if they’re Egyptian. Thanks awfully.” She accepted one, and I struck a match for the lighting. “Of course, Dickey Weston is absent-minded and selfish,” she continued frankly. “All the same, I love him and I don’t mind anyone knowing it.”

“Every one does, except Dickey,” said I with a shrug.

“I suppose you think that’s clever.”

“It’s the truth. After all, I don’t see why you need be shy with a man you have known for centuries. Why not go to Dickey and tell him that you want to marry him and go trips in his airship?”

“Dickey would agree, and never know what had happened until he found me breakfasting opposite to him without a chaperon. Well, what’s to be done?” She leaned back, and placed her hands behind her head. “Dickey won’t ask me to be his wife, and Mr. Marr—who is rich—wants me to marry him right away.”

“Do you love Marr, Mabel?” asked Cannington seriously.

“No,” she said promptly.

“Then refuse him.”

“He’s too rich to refuse.”

“Mabel”—I spoke this time and severely—“you are much too nice a girl to make such a sordid match, and with a man who might be your father. Chuck him, and chuck it, and make Dickey Weston do his duty.”

“Which Dickey will be quite willing to do,” said Cannington amiably, “especially as he told me that he loved you, Mab.”

“Oh,” the girl jumped up and with a fine blush threw the half-finished cigarette into the fireplace. “Why didn’t you tell me that before, Cannington? I know what I’ll do.” She reflected for three seconds. “I’ll tell Mr. Marr that he shall have his answer as a Christmas box, and meanwhile I’ll see if I can’t make Dickey jealous. Cannington, you are sure that Dickey said what you say he said?”

“Quite sure. He said it twice.”

“Then he must mean it,” cried Mabel energetically. “So I can hold off Mr. Marr and make Dickey jealous by pretending to flirt with him. After all I love Dickey and Dickey loves me, so why shouldn’t we marry?”

“I am sure,” said I cynically, “that if you put the position clearly to Weston in that way he would do his duty.”

“I don’t want him to do his duty, just as if I was driving him to the altar,” she said, much exasperated. “I wouldn’t marry Dickey if I didn’t love him, not if he were twice as rich.”

“What about Marr?”

She wilfully chose to ignore my hint. “He can remain as a second string to my bow, Cyrus. After all I must marry money. Aunt Lucy”—this was Lady Denham, the late earl’s sister—“is always grumbling about my dresses. And—and—and—oh, well, then, never mind, I must be getting back to town.” She looked at her bracelet watch. “There’s a theatre party and supper at the Ritz to-night, so I haven’t much time.

“And the situation?” asked Cannington, helping her on with her cloak.

“I’ll temporise and give Dickey a chance.”

“Which means that Marr will have none,” I said gravely, “that’s not fair.”

Mabel shrugged her shoulders, and made the truly feminine answer. “You’re a man and don’t understand. Oh,” she stopped at the door suddenly, “by the way, Aunt Lucy told me that your name was in the papers, Cyrus, about some murder. I’ve just thought about it. Aren’t you accused of sticking pins into some one? Tell me all about it on the way to the station; it will amuse me, you know.”

This refreshing candour made me laugh right out, as we descended the stairs. “I am glad that you have even an afterthought of my amusing position,” said I, very drily.

She had the grace to colour. “Oh, I didn’t quite mean that, Cyrus; but after all, I can’t think of everything at once.”

“Cannington did that, Mabel. He has been a brick, and but for his assistance I should never have pulled through.”

“What rot,” muttered the boy, but he was secretly pleased.

“Then you are in danger?” cried Mabel, startled.

“I have been,” I replied with emphasis, “as I discovered the body. But my own spotless reputation and Cannington’s asseverations of my honesty, prevented my being arrested.”

“I’m so glad, Cyrus. Such a horrid thing for one’s friend being arrested for a nasty pin-sticking crime.”

“Horrid indeed—for the friend.”

“Where did you hear of the murder, Mab?” questioned her brother.

“Oh, the papers yesterday and this morning were full of it. Aunt Lucy drew my attention to them, as she knew that I knew you,” said Mabel incoherently. “You were at the inquest, weren’t you, Cyrus, and gave evidence? Tell me all about it, as I only read scraps.”

“There’s very little to tell,” I answered, yawning, for really I felt extremely tired. “I found Mrs. Caldershaw dead in the back room, and a woman in a white cloak, presumably her murderess, ran off with my motor car.”

“I read all that. What else?”

“Nothing else, save that we found the car and not the woman. A jury of twelve good and lawful yokels brought in a verdict of murder against some person or persons unknown.”

“But I thought you said this woman was guilty?”

“It is presumed so, since she bolted with my car and hasn’t turned up. Her name is unknown, so the verdict is quite right.”

“But persons,” persisted Lady Mabel inquisitively.

“A mere graceful addition to round off the sentence. I believe that this woman stabbed Mrs. Caldershaw with a sapphire-headed hat-pin.”

“Sapphire-headed; she must have been rich.”

“Oh, Vance is drawing on his theatrical imagination,” struck in Cannington impatiently, “the sapphire he talks of was only blue glass.”

“Oh, that reminds me that the papers said something about a glass eye.”

“I expect they said a very great deal about it,” I assented gravely. “Catch your journalist missing a chance of hinting at mystery.”

“Is it a mystery?” asked Mabel, walking before us into the station.

“More or less—possibly more. Mrs. Caldershaw was murdered by this unknown woman, presumably for the sake of her glass eye.”

“But why?”

Cannington laughed. “That’s what the police are trying to learn; not that they ever will. I believe the truth will never be discovered.”

“Are there no letters, no papers? Is there no gossip likely to—”

I interrupted, impatiently, for the absence of circumstantial evidence bothered me greatly. “Inspector Dredge looked over all the papers and letters of the dead woman, and found nothing likely to lead to the discovery of the guilty person’s name. As to gossip, it appears that Mrs. Caldershaw kept to herself in the corner shop, and little was known about her. She came to Mootley five years ago with her savings, having been the housekeeper of Gabriel Monk of Burwain, near Gattlingsands. There she started a shop, and at times received a visit from Miss Gertrude Monk, whom she nursed, and from Miss Destiny, who is the young lady’s aunt.”

“Two women,” breathed Mabel, facing me; “do you think—”

“That either one is guilty?” I interrupted again and somewhat sharply. “No, I certainly do not. Miss Destiny was on her way to stay the night with Mrs. Caldershaw when the crime was committed; and at the inquest she stated that she left her niece behind at The Lodge, Burwain.”

“You needn’t be so cross about it,” said Mabel, staring at my acrid tone. “I only suggested possibilities. What are you laughing at, Cannington?”

“Nothing,” said the boy untruthfully, and looked hard at me. The fact of my admiration for Miss Monk’s pictured face—we had discussed her several times before and after the inquest—was in his mind, as I well knew. But he had grace enough to keep this to himself, and not set Lady Mabel’s too ready tongue chattering.

“I wish you wouldn’t giggle, Cannington,” she said, accepting the excuse, “it’s growing on you. Well,” she faced me, “and what are you going to do?”

“About what, if you please?”

“About this murder?”

“What the deuce should he do?” cried Cannington, openly surprised. “He’s well out of an awkward situation, so there’s no more to be said. I daresay he’ll write a melodrama on the case and solve the mystery in the wrong way.”

“I am not so sure,” said I pointedly, “that I won’t try to solve it the right way.”

“What do you mean by that?” asked my friend, staring.

“I mean that the mystery of Mrs. Caldershaw’s glass eye fascinates me, and that I intend to follow up what clues there are.”

“There aren’t any,” said Cannington promptly. “You heard what Inspector Dredge remarked at the inquest.”

“He admitted that he could find no evidence, it is true, but that doesn’t mean to say that evidence is not to be found.”

“Are you about to turn an amateur detective?”

“Why not? Now why are you laughing?”

“Oh, he’s crazy,” said Mabel disdainfully. “Here comes my train. I’ll have a rush to reach town and dress. Aunt Lucy is always so punctual, I’m sure to get into hot water.”

“Ask Mr. Wentworth Marr to get you out of it,” said I jokingly.

“He could,” she replied seriously, leaning out of the carriage window. “Aunt Lucy thinks no end of him, and would be glad to see me his wife.”

“Don’t you do anything in a hurry, Mabel,”—began Cannington, when his expostulations were cut short by the departure of the train. When the ruddy tail light of the guard’s van disappeared, he took my arm with a friendly hug. “I didn’t give you away, did I, Vance?”

“There’s nothing to give away,” I said gruffly.

“Oh! oh! oh!” said Cannington, in three distinct keys. “What about love at first sight, old man? You intend to follow up this case, so as to get into touch with the original of that photograph.”

“Rubbish! You are jumping in the dark.”

“Don’t you jump,” advised the boy shrewdly. “Your fancy has evidently been caught by Miss Monk’s face, and if you meet her, there’s no telling but that you may be a married man before Christmas.”

I denied this hotly, and proceeded to show that my interest in the case was more or less official. “Mystery piques every man,” said I insistently, “so I mean to learn why Mrs. Caldershaw was murdered, and why she attached such value to that glass eye of hers.”

Cannington laughed and declined to believe, but being a thoroughly good fellow, ceased to chaff me when he saw that I looked annoyed. “All the same,” he remarked, as we strolled back to his quarters, “I shall keep an eye on you, Vance. You’re too inflammable, and I don’t want you to marry in haste and repent at leisure.”

Of course I laughed, uneasily maybe, for Cannington was right in the main. I certainly was anxious to solve the mystery, but I doubted if my zeal would have been equal to so arduous a task, had not the memory of that lovely face lured me onward, like a will-o’-the-wisp. I had long since wished to secure the photograph, so as to have the image of my divinity constantly before my eyes, but Dredge very reasonably declined to permit the illegal annexation. Mrs. Caldershaw’s will, which had been found by the Inspector amongst her shop accounts, left all she died possessed of to her nephew, Joseph Striver. He proved on inquiry to be a Burwain gardener in the employment of Mr. Walter Monk. “If Striver will give, or sell you the portrait,” said Dredge, with official phlegm, “I have no objection; it isn’t my property.”

The police-officer was much too grim and unromantic to guess why I sought to possess the photograph, and needless to say, I did not tell him. Also he was considerably annoyed by his failure to solve the mystery of Mrs. Caldershaw’s murder, since its solution would have procured him both praise and promotion. So no one but Cannington guessed my silly infatuation, which assuredly was silly, for who but an idiot would fall in love with a pictured face on the instant. But there was no denying it, that I was in the toils of Venus, so, although angered by such unaccountable weakness, I was bent upon meeting the original. Then,—ah, well, the future is on the knees of the gods.

However, since I was minded to trace out the truth of the crime, it was necessary to find some clue to start the trail. All that evening after dinner, and later in the billiard-room, where I played snooker with sundry young officers, I inwardly wondered how I could and should begin. The hat-pin revealed nothing, as every woman uses hat-pins, and such with blue-glass heads were probably common enough. The missing eye might have thrown some light on the darkness, but that was safe in the pocket of the assassin. It will be noticed that, in spite of the open verdict of the jury, I clung to the idea that the white-cloaked woman was guilty. Not only had she fled with my car, but she had locked me in with her victim to prevent immediate pursuit. Also the abandonment of the motor pointed to guilt. She had been seen by Giles, by Miss Destiny, and by Lucinda, but from the time my machine had been sent crashing through the five-barred gate by her reckless, or intendedly reckless, driving, she had vanished as completely as though the earth had opened to swallow her up. Yet she might have guessed that the aggressively striking white cloak would betray her. In my opinion, a woman who had so cleverly engineered her escape would scarcely be foolish enough to risk detection by her dress, so I conjectured that she must have got rid of the cloak as she had got rid of the Rippler. With this idea in my head, I settled, without telling Cannington, to explore the field wherein the machine had been abandoned.

When at rest for the night, I remembered that Mrs. Giles, who had not been called as a witness, had stated how Mrs. Caldershaw entertained the idea that she would not die in her bed. I had questioned the greengrocer’s wife on this point, but she could tell me nothing more. Mrs. Caldershaw gave no hint of any enemy, or even of the possibility of a tragic death. All she had done was to make the above statement to Mrs. Giles in a burst of confidence, and to shiver when the Litany mentioned “murder and sudden death.” Mrs. Giles was particular about this point. “I was sitting next to her in the same pew,” said Mrs. Giles insistently, “and she shivered and shook and looked over her shoulder, apprehensive like. It happened three times, and that was what made me observe it. I’m sure she was frightened of something or of someone.”

This might have been the case, but Mrs. Caldershaw never explained, and carried the reason of her fright in silence to her untimely grave. Connecting Mrs. Giles’ story with the remark of Miss Destiny as to the value set on the glass eye by the woman, and with the sinister fact that the glass eye was missing, I felt certain that the way to begin the search was to take the eye itself as a clue. Local gossip in Mootley revealed few useful facts, as Mrs. Faith appeared to be the sole person who had been told about the eye by its owner, and none of the villagers seemed to know that one eye had been different to the other. But in Burwain, where Mrs. Caldershaw had lived for years as Gabriel Monk’s housekeeper, and as nurse to his niece, the truth might be found by careful inquiry. If I could learn where the unfortunate woman got her glass eye, and what accident had brought about the necessity for a glass eye, the chances were that I might learn something which would enable me to trace the truth. Therefore I determined to go to Burwain and hunt out all information about Mrs. Caldershaw’s past. Meanwhile there remained the field near Murchester to be explored.

Next morning Cannington was engaged on some court-martial so I was left to my own devices, although he wanted to hand me over for entertainment to a less busy brother officer. I excused myself on the plea that I wished to walk off a headache, and so contrived to leave the Barracks unhindered. It was nine o’clock when I set out, and the morning was wonderfully clear for misty August. The field, as I stated before, was only half a mile from Murchester, so I speedily arrived therein. I left the middle of it, where the Rippler had been stranded, severely alone, and skirted round the sides to examine the hedges. These were ragged and untrimmed, with deep ditches on their inner sides, and consisted of holly, bramble, hawthorn, and various saplings. I scratched myself more or less severely for quite one hour, but without discovering any sign of the white cloak. Perhaps, I thought, much discouraged, the woman had risked wearing it after all. Yet I could not believe that she had been such a fool, seeing how cleverly she had manipulated her escape.

Then I noticed that there were two gates to the field, one with the broken bars, through which she had entered from the high-road in the car, and the other on the far side, to the right-hand looking from the road. It then occurred to me that the flying lady, scared by meeting Miss Destiny’s trap, and perhaps afraid lest she had injured it and would be stopped for damages, might have left the field by this last gate. I immediately walked towards it and found that it opened on to a narrow lane, which in winter must have become a stream of mud. The hedges were very ragged and tangled here, and the gate was nearly hidden, a common five-barred, unpainted gate, in a worse condition than that opening on to the road.

I knew that I had struck on the flying woman’s trail, almost as soon as I arrived at this hidden gate. On one of the brambles a filmy scrap of gauze fluttered in the wind. Apparently while getting over the gate in her hurried flight, the woman’s veil had caught in the thorns and she had twitched it irritably away, leaving the scrap unthinkingly behind as evidence. I secured the same and placed it in my pocket-book, then made a thorough examination of the gate on both sides. No further evidence was forthcoming until I searched the ditch, which in this instance was on the farther side of the hedge. There, hidden amongst the dank weeds, thrust into a convenient rabbit-hole in the crumbling clay bank, was the cloak itself. I drew it out with a sensation of triumph, and from it was wafted the torn veil. I had the outfit complete, save for the motoring cap.

Evidently the rending of the veil had drawn the woman’s attention to the eccentricity of a white cloak worn on a chilly autumnal evening. Acting promptly, as was her custom—I guessed that from the theft of my car—she had concealed cloak and veil, and then had vanished down the muddy lane, heaven only knows whither. But I had now the evidence.

It was a white cloak, of good and even expensive material. Round the neck, down the front, and along the hem, two letters were embroidered repeatedly in blue silk so as to form a pattern. They were G. M. I dropped the cloak and gasped with dismay. G. M., in twisted fanciful letters, formed the running adornment of the cloak worn by the woman who had stolen my car and who had, to all appearances, murdered Mrs. Anne Caldershaw. And the name of the child she had nursed, of the woman with whose portrait I had fallen so unexpectedly in love, was Gertrude Monk.

“It’s a lie,” I said aloud to nobody in particular. “I don’t believe it.”

All the same, the accusing initials were there, G. M.—Gertrude Monk.

Chapter 6
My Rival

Had I not been in love—and with a face, instead of the flesh and blood woman—I suppose I would have gone off at once to Dredge to announce my discovery and show what I had found. But, in spite of evidence to the very strong contrary, I could not believe that Gertrude Monk was guilty of her old nurse’s murder. She might have locked me in, she might have run off with my car and practically wrecked it, and she might have hidden in the hedge these incriminating garments: but she assuredly had not—in my now terribly biassed opinion—thrust the hat-pin into Mrs. Caldershaw’s heart. Unless she confessed her guilt to my face, I resolutely declined to believe that she had perpetrated a sordid crime.

However, it was useless to stand in that chilly field weighing pros and cons, when I knew nothing of the woman, save that she was exquisitely lovely, and had captured my fancy against my will, as it were. I had a natural revulsion of doubt; then believed in her more than ever, even to the extent of vowing, that if by chance she were guilty, she should never go to the scaffold through me. But if I wished to prevent that, there was no time to be lost in getting rid of that infernal cloak and veil, for Inspector Dredge with unexpected insight might come nosing about the field. Not that I credited him with such perspicuity, but—as I swiftly determined—it was just as well to be on the safe side. I therefore rolled up veil and cloak into as small a compass as possible, and thrusting them under my overcoat—I wore one as the morning was breezy—I regained the road and hastened my return to Murchester Barracks. I felt that I was compounding a crime one minute, and exulted the next that I was saving the life of an innocent woman. And yet, on the face of it, she was surely guilty.

Luckily, when I arrived at Cannington’s quarters he was still absent on duty, so I unpacked a portmanteau, which had been sent down from London, and stowed away the incriminating evidence at the bottom of some books, manuscripts, shirts, and pyjamas. Then I strapped and locked the portmanteau, so that Cannington’s soldier servant should not officiously wish to pack my belongings. He could use the other portmanteau, I thought. Just as I completed my task, Cannington entered unbuckling his sword.

“Ouf! I am tired,” said he pitching himself into a chair. “What a bore it is sitting on court-martials.”

“What was the punishment?” I asked, lighting my pipe, and asked more for the sake of regaining my self-control, shaken by my discovery, than because I took any interest in Private Tommy Atkins.

“Five days C. B. It was only a drunken fight. Throw me over the cigarettes, Vance. Thanks, awfully.” He fielded the case deftly. “Wait till I change, and we’ll go to luncheon. I’m shockingly hungry. Where have you been? Fighting with the Barracks cat I should say, from the scratches.”

But I did not intend to say too much even to Cannington. “I went for a cross-country walk,” I answered carelessly, “and met some brambles on the way. What are you doing after luncheon?”

“Well, I was just coming to that,” said the boy, who was now busy changing his kit, smoking the while. “I have to run up to town for three or four hours, as my lawyer wants to see me. I’m trying to raise some cash for a Christmas spree.” He grinned. “Hope you won’t mind my leaving you. But there’s Trent, of course, who can look after you.”

“Oh, hang it, I’m not a child to require a nurse,” I snapped, for my nerves were worn thin with the situation. “You leave me alone, Cannington, and I’ll attend to myself.”

“All right old son, don’t get your hair off. I believe this murder case has got on your nerves.”

“It has,” I confessed, very truthfully. “Sorry I spoke like a fractious brat. To make amends I’ll let you take the Rippler to town.”

“Oh, that will be frabjious,” said Cannington, who had lately been reading, “Alice through the Looking-glass.” “Won’t you come too?”

“Thanks, no. I’m walking out to Mootley this afternoon.”

“Huh! I should think you had enough of walking. What’s on?”

“Mrs. Caldershaw’s funeral.”

“They aren’t losing much time in planting her,” said Cannington, with a shrug. “It’s only five days since the death. But I say, old son, don’t you think you might give this business a rest? It’s getting on your nerves, you know, and isn’t good goods at the best.”

“Oh, that’s all right, I only want to see the last of the poor woman.”

“And then?” Cannington’s tone was highly suspicious.

“I’ll go over to Burwain.”

“After that girl?”

I scratched my chin and eyed him severely. “See here, I’m not quite the infant you take me to be. Miss Monk’s face attracted me, I admit, but that doesn’t mean I am in love with her.”

“You talked enough about her anyhow.”

“All the more reason that you shouldn’t talk,” I retorted. “I can say all I want to say for myself. Do stop rotting.”

Cannington nodded with an air of resignation. “I shan’t say another word, Vance. Didn’t think you were in earnest.”

“I am in earnest about searching out this mystery, if that is what you mean, and I go over to Burwain to-morrow to make a start.”

“With Miss Monk?”

“Yes,” I replied, feeling qualmish. “She was Mrs. Caldershaw’s nursling, and may be able to throw some light on that glass eye. I feel convinced that therein lies the solution of the mystery.”

“The worst of you literary men,” said Cannington, addressing the ceiling, “is that you talk too much like a book. Touched wood! touched wood!” He fled for the door, as I swung up a chair cushion. “Don’t disarrange my hair, but come along to luncheon.”

I obeyed. “But don’t tell anyone that I am going to Mootley,” said I hastily.

“Right oh. I’ll take the Rippler and light out for town at two o’clock. I shall meet you at dinner, and then you can tell me all about the funeral.”

So it was arranged, and we made a very good meal. At least the boy did, being unworried with secret disagreeables; but I did not eat much myself. The knowledge of what was hidden in my second portmanteau lay heavily on my mind, and I fear I betrayed my discomfort, for Cannington remarked it. It occurred to me that a murderer would have to possess amazing nerve to conduct himself as an ordinary human being, seeing that I, with no crime on my mind, was so easily discomfited. . . . Of course, under the circumstances, I should have thought of a guilty “she” rather than of a guilty “he”; but I really could not bring myself to believe that Diana of the Ephesians had murdered her old nurse.

Cannington did not waste the Rippler on himself. He invited a cheery subaltern to join him, and the two boys went off in the highest spirits, with his lordship spanchelled between the seat and the wheel. I resisted a kindly-meant invitation of Trent to play stickey, and turned my face in the direction of Mootley, thankful to be by myself. During the few miles to that village I had ample to think about, and could not help wondering at the strange whirl of circumstances which had gathered round me during the last week. I had come out to seek an adventure and had found one with a vengeance. How it would end I could not tell.

The sun came out during the afternoon, so I found the walk—but for disturbing thoughts—extremely pleasant. On passing the field, I congratulated myself that I had emptied it of its incriminating contents. Whatever inquiries Dredge made, on the face of it he could learn nothing, as I alone possessed a tangible clue. And as that clue, so far, led to Miss Gertrude Monk, and a thorough explanation would have to be forthcoming before it could go past her, it was just as well for her own peace of mind, and mine also, that she should give it to a friendly-disposed inquirer. Thinking of this, and wondering how she would explain her flight from the corner shop in my motor car, I drew near the outskirts of Mootley. The famous shop, which had appeared in several illustrated daily papers, was closed, so I did not pause but went on. Directly round the corner I met Mr. Sam Giles, the ex-greengrocer, who greeted me in a most friendly manner.

“You’re just too late, sir!” said he, touching his hat, and quite ready to give all information, “she’s planted.”

“Mrs. Caldershaw?”

“Yes, sir. It was quite a pretty funeral, with plenty of mourners and wreaths for the coffin. We made a holiday of it this morning, and I don’t think, sir, that there’s much doing this afternoon, as the excitement was too great.” I could not help smiling, in spite of the gravity of my errand, at the idea of the villagers extracting pleasure from such a dismal affair as the funeral of a murdered woman. But Giles apparently had the morbid love of his class for such things, and went on supplying information in high spirits.

“A heap of gentlemen of the press came from London,” he said importantly, “and they photographed the grave. What with motor cars and bicycles and traps and carts, the place was like a fair. It will advertise Mootley a lot, and I shouldn’t wonder if land went up in value hereabouts.”

I nodded. “Mrs. Caldershaw has been quite a benefactress to the village, Mr. Giles. By the way, did Miss Monk and Miss Destiny appear at the funeral?”

“No, sir, and none of Mrs. Caldershaw’s Burwain friends came to see the last of her, poor soul, which was unkind, I take it. Only Mr. Striver put in an appearance. But to be sure he could not do less,” added Giles thoughtfully, “since she left him all her property.”

“Striver! Striver! That’s the nephew?”

“Yes, Mr. Vance, and a handsome young man he is. A gardener, I believe, who works for Mr. Walter Monk at Burwain. Not that he’ll do much work now, for I daresay his aunt has left him enough to live like a gentleman. Her lawyer—he’s a Murchester man in a small way of business—told me that there was over five hundred pounds in the bank; besides there’s the lease of the shop for two years and its contents.”

“Lucky Mr. Striver, and it’s all left to him,” I bantered.

“Yes, sir, along with the glass eye.”

I had set my face towards the village, but wheeled at the last word. “Why the dickens did she leave him the glass eye?”

“Goodness only knows, Mr. Vance, but leave it she did. Mr. Striver’s quite annoyed he hasn’t got it and intends to offer a reward for it.”

“He’ll have to find the guilty person first,” I said grimly.

“The white-cloaked lady, sir?”

I winced. “She may not be the guilty person, after all. There! there!” I went on hastily, as Giles showed a disposition to argue. “I know nothing more about the matter than you do”—this was an absolutely necessary white lie considering the circumstances—“but tell me, Mr. Giles, does this young man know why his aunt valued her glass eye so greatly?”

“No, sir. He told me that he couldn’t guess why it was left to him. He is all on fire to find out, and that is why he intends to offer the reward. At present he’s in the shop looking over things.”

“Does he intend to give up his gardening and turn shopkeeper?” I asked.

“I don’t know, sir; nothing has been settled. But he returns to Burwain—so he told me—this evening. I’m going to Murchester myself, sir, on an errand for the wife, so if you will excuse me—”

“One moment, Giles. Has anything fresh been discovered?”

“No, sir; and you mark my words, sir, nothing more ever will be discovered. The woman in the white cloak has vanished entirely, glass eye and all. You are taking an interest in the case, Mr. Vance.”

“Can you wonder at it, seeing how I am mixed up in the business. I want to solve the mystery if I can, out of sheer curiosity. Here’s my address, Mr. Giles,” I hastily scribbled it on a card, “and if you hear of anything new, let me know at once.”

Giles took the pasteboard, and promised faithfully to keep his ears and eyes open and his mind on the alert. Then he moved away down the road to Murchester, with a parting advice that I should inspect the grave. “It’s a pretty grave,” said Giles cheerfully, “with a lovely view!”

But I did not go to look at the grave, or at the view, which the corpse—I presume—was supposed by Giles to appreciate, for it struck me that Striver being in the corner shop it would be an excellent opportunity for me to gain possession of the photograph. I therefore turned back, and in a few minutes was knocking smartly at the closed door. Shortly it was thrown open, and on the threshold appeared one of the handsomest young men I had ever seen. There were signs of good breeding about him also, and in his navy-blue serge, with a tweed cap and brown boots—rather an odd dress for a funeral, I thought—he looked less like a gardener and more like a smart city clerk. And yet in his bearing there was a smack of the West-End.

Mr. Joseph Striver was moderately tall and perfectly made—slim in figure, with the alert poise of an athlete. His hands and feet certainly betrayed the plebeian, but no one could deny the beauty of his clean-shaven face. I say “beauty” advisedly, although it is an odd adjective to apply to a man. It was a Greek face and a Greek head, clean-cut and virile, of the fair, golden Saxon type, yet more intellectual than the same generally is. A fashionable lady might have envied his transparent complexion, his blue eyes, and the curve of his lips. His form also was irreproachable, and his small head, set proudly on the white column of his throat, possessed a snake-like grace. On the whole, Mrs. Caldershaw’s heir was a singularly handsome young fellow, and with her small fortune added to his personal advantages would be certain to succeed in life. It seemed quite a pity that so splendid a youth should be a mere gardener. Yet the employment is eminently respectable, since Father Adam originally took up the profession.

He looked inquiringly at me, so I opened the conversation. “My name is Vance, Mr. Striver, and—”

“Oh,” he interrupted, in a very pleasant and somewhat cultured voice. “You are the gentleman who gave evidence at the inquest. Come in please.” He stepped aside to let me past. “I am very glad to see you, as I wish to ask you some questions.”

I proceeded him into the shop, while he closed the door. “I said all I had to say at the inquest,” I answered quickly.

“I read all about it in the papers, Mr. Vance.”

“You did not come to the inquest then?”

“No, you might have guessed that, seeing you were present. I only came over to the funeral, when I heard that my aunt had left me her money—not in very appropriate clothes, I fear, though; but I had no time to get an outfit, you see. Now I am looking into things.”

We were in the back room by this time, and a heap of letters and papers lay untidily on the floor. Miss Monk’s photograph still smiled from the mantelpiece, and I stole a glance at it, which left me more enthralled than ever. “You won’t mind my going on with my sorting,” said Striver, placing a chair for me, and dropping on his knees; “but I want to get things straight before dark, as I have to return to Burwain for a few days.”

He was so amazingly cheerful, that I could not help saying so. He looked up smiling. “You can’t expect a poor man who has come in for money to be miserable,” said Striver, with much truth. “Besides my aunt never did care for me, and I was quite surprised to learn that I was her heir. Had we been at all attached to one another I should have come to the inquest, and even before, seeing she met with so dreadful a death. But there wasn’t much love lost between us, Mr. Vance, so only as her heir did I come to the funeral. I can’t pretend to feel very sorry.”

“That sounds rather heartless, seeing how you have benefited by her death.”

Striver shrugged. “I daresay; but I never was a hypocrite. Put yourself in my place. If a disagreeable old woman left you the money she could no longer use, would you break your heart?”

I laughed. “No, I can’t say that I would.”

“Very well, then,” he reiterated coolly, “put yourself in my place. I’m sorry, of course, as I would be for any human being who was murdered. Otherwise,” he shrugged again, “well, there’s no more to be said.”

There came a pause. “I believe you hinted that you wished to ask me some questions?”

Striver straightened himself. “Well, yes. Have you any idea who murdered my unfortunate aunt?”

“Not in the least.”

“What about the lady in the white cloak?”

“Appearances are against her. All the same, she may be innocent.”

The young man’s blue eyes flashed like sapphires. “I doubt that; else why should she run off with your motor car and lock you in?”

“Well,” I drawled, not very sure of my ground, “she may have found your aunt dead, and in a fright—”

“Oh, that won’t wash,” he interrupted in a somewhat common way. “You swore at the inquest, that you were attracted into this room by a groan from my aunt, in which case she could not have been dead when this lady went up the stairs.”

“That is true,” I admitted, “but I don’t hold a brief for the escaped lady, remember.”

“You speak as though you did,” he retorted and went on with his sorting. “Has anything been heard of her?”

“Nothing. I found my motor car in the field; but the lady has vanished.”

“Don’t you think,” Striver raised himself up to ask this question, “that she could be traced by means of that white cloak?”

I shrugged in my turn and fenced, as I was not going to admit the truth. “I daresay the cloak was noticeable enough. All the same, she has not been traced. Now, she never will be. I should not be surprised if the police gave up the case.”

The young man rose quickly. “No,” he said promptly, “I intend to offer a reward.”

“Ah! You wish to have this lady hanged.”

“If she is guilty, why not?” he asked bluntly, “But if you will have the truth, Mr. Vance, I don’t care either one way or the other about a possible hanging. I want to find the glass eye.”

“And you think the lady has it?”

“I—I—I suppose so,” he muttered in a hesitating manner, then burst out: “Yes, indeed, I do want to find the glass eye. There’s a fortune connected with it, Mr. Vance—a large fortune.”

“Oh!” I could not help betraying surprise. “So this was why Mrs. Caldershaw attached such value to it?”

“Exactly. In some way—I don’t exactly know how—that eye reveals the whereabouts of the fortune I speak of.”

“Humph. Do you mean to say that Mrs. Caldershaw concealed her money and concealed its whereabouts in her glass eye?”

“Yes, I do, in a way. That is, this fortune does not consist of my aunt’s savings. I have those and the shop also. But when she lived at Burwain, she talked of a large fortune—some fifty thousand pounds, she mentioned on one occasion—which was concealed somewhere.”

“Whose fortune was it?”

“I can’t say. But my father, her brother—he’s dead now—was always bothering her about the money. She never would tell him anything, but said that when she died he could learn all he wanted to know from the glass eye. As my father has passed over, of course the glass eye along with the money comes to me,—the fortune also. Fifty thousand pounds!” He raised his arms with an ecstatic expression. “What couldn’t I do with such a heap of coin, Mr. Vance. Why I could marry—” He halted, cast an uneasy look on me, and again began to sort the letters.

“Oh, you’re in love,” I said smiling.

“A man of my age is always in love,” he remarked curtly. “But never mind about that, I want to find some clue to the glass eye,” and he tossed over the papers feverishly.

“To its whereabouts?”

“No, I know that much. The person who murdered my aunt has the eye, and killed her for the sake of learning the secret. But my aunt may have left some letter, or paper, or description, saying how the eye can reveal the whereabouts of the fifty thousand pounds. Can you imagine,” he sat back on his hams, “how the eye can be the clue?”

“No,” I said, after a pause, “unless there is a piece of paper hidden in it.”

“Oh, that’s impossible. Do you know what a glass eye is like?”

“Well, no, I have never seen one, unless fixed in a person’s head.”

Striver laughed. “I had the same idea about a piece of paper,” he explained carefully, “and went to an optician in Tarhaven to examine an eye. I suppose you think—as I did—that an artificial eye is the shape and size and the fatness of an almond.”

“Something like that,” I admitted, “with the paper enclosed within.”

Striver laughed again. “It’s shaped exactly like a small sea-shell: simply a curve of thin glass, convex and concave, and fits into the socket like a—a—what shall I say?—like a cupping-glass.”

“Humph! In that case, it would be impossible to conceal a piece of paper behind it without damage.”

“Of course, taking also into consideration the smallness of the eye. The only thing I can think of,” he added, half to himself, “is that there is a plan or some writing on the back part, which reveals the whereabouts of this money.”

“But there’s no space to write in,” I objected, considerably interested.

“Why not. Writing done with a magnifying-glass, you know. I have seen the Lord’s Prayer written on a sixpence.”

I nodded. “There may be something in what you say,” I admitted, “and, as it appears that Mrs. Caldershaw was murdered for the sake of the eye, it must have some value. Perhaps,” I added with a brilliant afterthought, “she hid a diamond behind it.”

“It would have to be a very large diamond to bring in fifty thousand pounds,” said Striver, seriously. “No, I believe that the eye is simply a clue to this treasure.”

“Treasure?”

“Well, money, jewels, gold, bank-notes, what not. All I know is that my aunt certainly mentioned fifty thousand pounds to my father.”

“Why didn’t she secure the treasure herself?”

“Perhaps she did and has buried it somewhere. Well, never mind,” he turned over the papers again, “come what may, I must find the eye.”

“You won’t find it there,” I said, rising to take my leave, and with one eye on Miss Monk’s photograph. “Better get the police to trace the white-cloaked lady, since you believe she has taken it.”

“I don’t see who else could have committed the murder and have stolen the glass eye,” said Striver decisively. “In one way or another, she must be found, somehow.”

“And then—?”

“Then she must deliver up the glass eye.”

“And be hanged.”

“I don’t want to go so far as that,” he muttered nervously. “Of course, she is a woman.”

“And being so, is clever enough not to be caught. I daresay she will learn the secret of Mrs. Caldershaw, procure the fortune, and bolt to America.” I moved towards the door, and Striver straightened himself to show me out. Then with an apparent afterthought I drew his attention to the smiling face of Miss Monk. “I admire that,” said I, pointing.

The effect was somewhat unexpected. “Why?” he asked roughly, and flushed scarlet through his fair skin, looking more handsome than ever.

“Why?” I stared at him in surprise. “Why not? you should ask. It is a very lovely face, and I admire it as a work of art.”

“Oh, as a work of art. That’s all right,” he retorted quickly, “but it happens to be the photograph of a real person.”

“Miss Gertrude Monk.”

“How do you know that?” demanded the young man, again flushing angrily.

“Miss Destiny told me that the photograph was one of her niece. I suppose, Mr. Striver, you would not mind my buying it.”

“I’ll see you hanged first,” he retorted vehemently, and clenched his fists. “What is Miss Monk to you?”

“I have never met her, Mr. Striver, so calm yourself. But you display such heat at my apparently simple question, that I must ask, what is she to you?”

Striver stared at me and his eyes were as hard as a piece of jade. “I love her,” he said defiantly.

I was taken aback by this statement, and flushed in my turn, making the not very polite reply, “Nonsense!”

“And why nonsense,” shouted Striver, who had by this time completely lost his temper, “how dare you say that? Even though I am a gardener I have the feelings of a human being.”

“But your difference in rank,” I exclaimed hotly.

“Love levels all ranks.”

“Indeed. Then I take it that Miss Monk favors your suit?”

“Mind your own business, Mr. Vance.”

“I intend to make it my business,” I snapped, now as angry as he was, for it did seem ridiculous that this Claud Melnotte, handsome as he was, should aspire to the apple on the topmost bough.

“You’re talking damned rot and damned insolence. If you have never seen Miss Monk, you can’t possibly be in love with her,” he raged furiously.

“I said nothing about love. But that photograph took my fancy, and I wish to buy it if possible.”

Striver snatched the photograph, silver frame and all, off the mantelpiece to cram it roughly into his pocket. “There,” he cried vehemently, “that’s all you’ll ever see of it.”

“Then I must seek out the original,” said I, walking into the shop.

He was after me in a moment. “If you dare to come interfering,” he growled in a voice thick with passion, “I’ll break your neck.”

“That is easier said than done,” I jeered, now being content that the young man was my rival and a dangerous one at that. “Let me pass.”

Striver paused irresolutely, then did as he was asked. I left the shop leisurely, and glanced back when some distance down the road. Mr. Joseph Striver drew the photograph out of his pocket and insolently kissed it, apparently to intimate that I was odd man out.

Chapter 7
A Friend In Need

I returned to Murchester, rather annoyed to find that I had a rival, even though he was but a gardener. There was no denying that the fellow was uncommonly handsome, and thus might captivate the affections of a woman above him in stations. As I have said before, I can lay no claim to good looks, so if Miss Monk was a young lady whose heart was in her eye, as the saying goes, I stood rather a poor chance. Certainly Striver, while professing that he loved her, had not ventured to say that there was any response to his daring. Still, for all I knew, the romance might be a reversal of King Cophetua and the beggar-maid, in which not unlikely case, a journey to Burwain would certainly destroy my peace of mind. If I loved the picture of the goddess, how much more would I love the goddess herself, when she became flesh and blood to my hungry eyes. When searching for an adventure, I had not counted upon this entanglement.

However, on reflection, I did not see why I should not stand as good a chance as the gardener. He assuredly was better-looking and younger, possessing a certain amount of money, if not a man of any exalted rank. I was a gentleman, in the prime of life, and well on the way to make a comfortable income, if not exactly a fortune. Also I possessed a recognised position as a rising dramatist, and I had a large circle of pleasant, well-to-do friends to whom I could introduce my wife. So I made up my mind to stick to my guns, or in other words, to see Miss Monk, and learn how the land lay. Of course if she loved young Striver, there was nothing more to be said; but if she did not, and the love was all on his part, I could then try my luck. And at this point I recalled the memory of that infernal glass eye.

If good looks did not tempt the lady, fifty thousand pounds might do so, and should Striver become possessed of the glass eye he stood a remarkably good chance of securing that fortune. So far we were equal, for I knew as much about the case as he did. Nay, I knew more, since I had found the famous cloak with the initial embroidery. I wondered whether it would be better to tell Miss Monk nothing about my discovery, or dare the utmost, and show her that she was in my power. She certainly was, as the mere production of the cloak would result in her arrest. With regard to possession of the goddess, I was therefore in a stronger position that Mr. Striver, and yet I did not see how I could make use of the weapon I had in my hand. A man could not very well force a lady to marry him because he could hang her if she did not. Moreover she might be able to exonerate herself completely, although I did not see how, and then would scornfully refuse to have anything more to do with—let me put it plainly—such a blackmailing ruffian.

No! Come what might, I decided to play the game fair. Not only that, but I decided to use my information, as best I could, to protect Miss Monk from the gardener. In making inquiries, he might possibly chance upon a clue which would reveal the fact that Miss Monk was the heroine of the missing motor car. In that case, it might be that he would use his knowledge to insist upon the unequal marriage. I could then intervene,—I did not see very plainly at the moment to what purpose,—but at any rate I could offer myself as the lady’s champion. But then—here was the crux of the matter—for all I knew Miss Monk might be as much in love with Striver as he apparently was with her. Only a visit to Burwain and a personal interview with my goddess would prove the truth of that.

Then another thing occurred to me while I slowly dressed for dinner. If Miss Monk had stolen the motor car and had locked me in the back room along with the dead Mrs. Caldershaw, she must necessarily be the possessor of the glass eye. On the face of it, she appeared to be guilty, but I could not bring myself to condemn her. Yet she could scarcely have the glass eye unless she had murdered her old nurse with that damned hat-pin, which was so grave a proof that the assassin was a woman. But the eye was the clue to some concealed treasure—this appeared to be plain enough from what Striver had said of his late aunt’s babble—so if Miss Monk became unexpectedly wealthy, it would prove that she was a thief, if not a murderess. It seemed to be that there was nothing to be done but to take up my abode in Burwain, meet the lady if possible, and then play a waiting game. Whether Mr. Striver or his master’s daughter got the fifty thousand pounds, her guilt would be manifest, since he could only get the glass eye from her, to learn the clue to the treasure. And if she had the glass eye, she must have—

“No no! no!” I said aloud at this point, and startled Cannington’s servant, who was valeting me. “It’s nothing, Johnston,” I said, and went on mentally with my defence of Miss Monk, although I could not deduce a single particle of evidence in her favor. “She can’t be guilty,” my thoughts ran furiously, “she is much too lovely to be guilty. There must be some mistake. She undoubtedly will be able to explain. And yet—and yet—oh, hang it, I’ll not decide the question either one way or the other until I see her.”

This being settled so far—although I unsettled my mind again and again through the long night—I went to mess and made a pretence of eating. Cannington and his friend had not yet returned, which made me believe that the two featherheads had smashed my car. If so it was a great nuisance, as I wanted the Rippler to drive over to Burwain on the morrow. However, the two arrived about midnight with a long account of a police trap which had detained them, and I went off to bed, leaving them to their supper. Cannington came to my bedside to relate his London adventures, but I used such bad language that he retreated promptly. Next morning I departed immediately after breakfast, more puzzled than ever over the problem I was setting out to solve. Had Miss Monk the glass eye? If so, was she guilty? If she had not the glass eye, who had? Did she love Joseph Striver? Would he find the glass eye, and consequently the fortune? If he did, would he marry Miss Monk, etc. etc. etc.: my brain was an absolute chaos.

“Well, good-bye, old chap,” said Cannington, taking leave, and looking very spic and span in his uniform. “Tell me all about it in London.”

“Tell you what?”

“I may not mention her name,” he said, and winked solemnly.

“Don’t be an ass,” I retorted, leaning down to whisper, “things are much more serious than you guess.”

“What? Have you learned anything about—”

“Shut up! When I return from Burwain to town I may need your assistance.”

“Right oh,” said Cannington, looking grave, for he saw I was in deadly earnest.

“And don’t tell anyone where I am going.”

“No. You’re supposed to be on your way to London. But, I say—”

“Oh, I can’t stop to chatter. Hold your tongue and wait until I see you again, boy. Understand?”

“Yes, that is—”

He would have detained me for I had, very cruelly perhaps, raised his curiosity immensely. But I gave the steering-wheel a twist, and the machinery being in motion, glided away before he could ask further questions. I glanced back to see him shake his fist at me, and then spun rapidly through the gritty square of the Barracks, down the road, into the street, and finally emerged through a steep lane into the country proper. A long smooth Roman road without twists or turns lay before me, and as there was no policeman in sight I let the Rippler go up to her full speed of forty miles an hour. The motion somewhat relieved my mind, which was considerably worried. I wondered if I was held up for exceeding the speed limit, and if my second portmanteau was examined, what the police would say. I knew very well what they would do, that is, lodge me in the nearest jail as an accomplice of the lady in the white cloak. Fortunately the luck held, and I got through safely.

I can’t say that my drive was over-pleasant, as the rain came on, just after I left Murchester and it poured steadily throughout the day. Then as the wheels would not bite in particularly soaked and slippery places, the car skidded considerably; also the gear jammed on two occasions, and once I ran short of petrol. Never was there such a series of accidents, and my temper was none of the best when I struck Tarhaven. Here I halted for luncheon, and went to the post-office to see if any letters awaited me. I found only one from my agent, but as that contained two weeks’ fees for my new melodrama it proved to be most acceptable. A visit to the haberdasher’s took up some of my time, and it was late in the afternoon when I turned the Rippler in the direction of Burwain. However, the distance from Tarhaven was but a short one, and I soon slowed down before the one hotel of the village. I call it an hotel, but it was really a tumbledown inn, quaint, old-fashioned, and comfortable, with a robin red-breast for its sign.

Burwain is an isolated little place, lying low in a hollow depression of the land, some distance from the sea. On its outskirts the road ran through levels of stunted shrubs not big enough to be called trees, and there were also tall hedges, which muffled the village as though it were wrapped in cotton-wool. By reason of this the place is stuffy, and the air seems to be twice breathed. The streets stretch to the four quarters in the form of a crooked cross, and there was a tolerably wide green in the centre, which is faced by the Robin Redbreast Inn. I pulled up, and jumped out to meet the landlady in the passage and receive a great surprise.

“Cuckoo!” I said, halting in much astonishment. “Well, I’m blest.”

“Mrs. Gilfin now, Master Cyrus,” said the old lady, as amazed as I was. “Well, well to think that you of all gentlemen should come here.”

“It’s fate,” said I, for I knew that from Mrs. Gilfin, if anyone, I could obtain all necessary news, unless she had changed her gossiping habits, which I did not think at all likely.

Still exclaiming at our unexpected meeting, Mrs. Gilfin led the way to a small sitting-room, and we faced one another to talk over the past. Mrs. Gilfin had been my mother’s cook when I was a schoolboy, and then we had been the greatest of friends. As a child I had always called her Cuckoo, from some dim association with her employment, and many a time had I been indebted to her for tit-bits. When the home was broken up she had vanished into the unknown, but now reappeared in the character of a married woman and the landlady, of this old-world inn. She was a fat little woman, with a pudding-face, who wore spectacles, behind which sharp little pig’s eyes twinkled knowingly. In old days she had always been a great talker, and did not seem to have changed in this respect: a cause of rejoicing to me, since I hoped to learn all I could about Miss Monk and her dead nurse.

“What brought you to Burwain, Master Cyrus?” asked Mrs. Gilfin, when we had complimented each other on the gentle way in which time had dealt with our looks.

I had already arranged what to say, as, if I wanted Mrs. Gilfin’s assistance, it was necessary to take her, in some degree, into my confidence. Moreover, I knew of old that she was a very worthy and silent—when it suited her—woman. “Love brings me here, Cuckoo,” I replied, “and love will keep me here for at least a week, if not longer. So give me a sitting-room and a bedroom and recall the special dishes I like. Don’t ask questions just yet. I shall tell you all when I have had dinner, but just now I am much too hungry to talk. Have you been long here?” I asked, contradicting my last assertion.

“Ten years, Master Cyrus. First as cook, and afterwards as mistress. My husband had this inn from his father, but was letting it go to wreck and ruin when I arrived, owing to his being fat. So he married me, so that I could look after it. I would only stay when I saw the wedding-ring.”

“Owing to his being fat?” I questioned, rather puzzled.

“Come Master Cyrus and see?” said Mrs. Gilfin, and led me into a low-ceiling bar of the Dickens epoch, all white-wash and smoky oaken beams. Here I beheld a pre-historic ingle-nook in which was placed a capacious armchair, and in it was seated the fattest man I had ever set eyes on. He smoked a churchwarden pipe and drank beer from a huge tankard placed on a small table beside him. “This is my husband,” said Mrs. Gilfin and introduced me.

Mr. Gilfin, who smoked with his eyes closed, opened them sleepily! “Glad to see you sir. I hope you’ll be comfortable. The missus will look after you. It’s fine weather for this time of the year, although I ain’t been out to see!” and having made these original remarks, he closed his eyes again and pulled at his pipe, a large mass of adipose, contented and purely animal.

“He doesn’t talk much,” explained Mrs. Gilfin, beaming through her spectacles on her Daniel Lambert, “but folk come for miles to see his size. He don’t go out of doors either, Master Cyrus, but sits there smoking and eating and drinking so as to keep himself in good condition to be a draw.”

“To be a draw?” I echoed, while Mr. Gilfin blinked drowsily.

“Customers come to look at him, and wish they were like him, Master Cyrus. I look after things, but John is the attraction. The Burly Beast of Burwain they call him, and though it ain’t polite, it makes people curious to call. And you can see, Master Cyrus,” added Mrs. Gilfin, as she left her husband to his pipe and beer, “how the inn, with such a man, was going to wreck and ruin. It was a good job he married me, not but what I’m thankful to be the mistress of the Robin Redbreast. It’s poor work being a cook at my age, and under mistresses who don’t know their place ain’t in the kitchen. Your poor dear ma, now, Master Cyrus, always stopped in the doring-room, as a lady should.”

I assented, as there was little use in arguing with Mrs. Gilfin, who—as I knew of old—always had an answer to the most pertinent objections. Although not so fat as her spouse, she was still very stout, and her looks, along with those of John, said a good deal for the style of living obtainable at the inn. I engaged the sitting-room in which we had our first conversation and a bedroom immediately over head. Then I had my traps taken into the house, and having stowed away the Rippler in a convenient outhouse, sat down to besiege Burwain in due form. After dinner—and a very good dinner it was too—I told Mrs. Gilfin as much as I thought necessary, which did not include any reference to the discovery of the cloak.

“Dear! dear!” said Mrs. Gilfin, who had frequently raised her fat hands at intervals, during my narrative, “to think of the young gentleman, who was so fond of my custards, being in love, and with Miss Gertrude, of all young ladies. Well, she’s the beauty of the world, and no mistake, Master Cyrus.”

“So I thought from the photograph, Cuckoo. By the way, did you not know this poor woman who was murdered?”

“Do I know the nose on my face?” asked Mrs. Gilfin, severely. “Of course I knew her well, when she was housekeeper to Mr. Miser Monk.”

“Miser Monk—you mean Gabriel Monk?”

“No I don’t, Master Cyrus, if you’ll excuse me for contradicting you. Gabriel he was christened, I daresay, but Miser he was called by them who knew how he hoarded up money.”

“He was a genuine miser then?”

“Genuine.” Mrs. Gilfin’s fat hands flew up, and her pigs’ eyes twinkled, “he would skin a flea for its hide and squeeze blood out of a stone, and take the trousers off a Highlandman, Master Cyrus. A nasty stooping lean old man, with a black-velvet skull-cap and a stick and a suit of clothes you wouldn’t have picked up off the dung-hill. Of good family too,” added Mrs. Gilfin, nodding, until her cap-ribbons quivered. “The Monks are an old Essex family, who used to own Burwain and all the land from Gattlingsands to Tarhaven. But they came down in the world, and only The Lodge remained to Mr. Miser Monk, as his father was a spendthrift, and scattered everything. But the miser invested what was left, Master Cyrus, and I believe had an income of five hundred golden pounds a year, although he never spent a penny of it. He never repaired The Lodge, or attended to the garden, or gave a farthing to the poor, but saved and saved. As he lived for eighty years, Master Cyrus, you may guess that his savings came to a pretty penny. He died five years ago, when Anne Caldershaw took her savings and herself to live at Mootley.”

“What became of his money?” I asked, anxiously.

“Ask me something I know, Master Cyrus? The Lodge and the few acres round it and the five hundred a year, which was so tied up that it couldn’t be touched, went to Mr. Walter Monk. Miss Destiny didn’t like that, though why she should have expected to be remembered in the will, when she was only Mr. Miser Monk’s brother’s sister-in-law, I can’t make out.”

“She lived with Mr. Monk, didn’t she?”

Mrs. Gilfin nodded. “For years and years, and so got into his misery habits.”

“Ah,” said I, recalling certain traits of the little old lady at Mootley, “so I should imagine. Miss Monk lived with her uncle also, it seems.”

Mrs. Gilfin nodded again. “Mr. Miser Monk loved his niece: she was the only person he ever loved. Mr. Walter Monk was always away, as he is now, and being a widower, there was no one to look after the child. Mr. Miser Monk took Miss Gertrude to live with him, when she was quite a baby, and asked Miss Destiny to come to him also. Anne looked after the house, and the four lived together in that tumbledown old place like rats in a cheese. If Miss Gertrude hadn’t gone for years to a boarding-school at Hampstead and got good food there, she never would have grown into the handsome young lady she is.”

“Ah,” I exclaimed, greatly interested, “then she is handsome?”

“As paint, Master Cyrus, and the sweetest young lady you ever met. Takes after her pa, she does, who is nice enough, though he’s selfish I don’t deny.”

“In what way?”

“Why,” said Mrs. Gilfin, casting about in her mind for an explanation, “he’s hardly ever at home, being always in London, on business he says, though I think he’s too lazy to do much, especially,” added Mrs. Gilfin with emphasis, “as he has five hundred a year sure. But he only comes down here once in a blue moon, as you might say, and leaves that poor young lady to live the life of a nun at The Lodge along with one servant to do all the housework.”

“Why doesn’t Miss Destiny continue to live with her niece?” I asked.

“Ah!” Mrs. Gilfin nodded vigorously, “she’d be glad to do so, as being a miser like the late Mr. Gabriel Monk, it would save her living expenses. But the fact is, Master Cyrus, that Miss Destiny don’t like Miss Gertrude, and Miss Gertrude don’t like Miss Destiny: nor does Mr. Walter Monk, for the matter of that. The five hundred a year being left to him is a sore point with Miss Destiny, so she cleared out when Mr. Miser Monk died, and now lives at the end of the village in a small cottage along with that half-mad creature, Lucinda Tyke, she picked up in the Rochford workhouse, and don’t pay no wages to.”

I was playing with the poker as Mrs. Gilfin spoke. “Then I take it that Mr. Walter Monk has five hundred a year, and no more?”

“Except The Lodge and the three or four acres round about, Master Cyrus. He spends most of the money on himself too, and Miss Gertrude has enough to do to make both ends meet, though from her looks she should be a queen and sit on a throne.”

“But if the late Mr. Gabriel Monk was a miser, what became of his savings?”

“Ah!” said Mrs. Gilfin, significantly, “now you’re growing hot, Master Cyrus, as the children say. The will left the money and the property to Mr. Walter Monk, and the savings—he didn’t mention the amount—to Miss Gertrude with her uncle’s dear love. But search as they might, they could not find out where the money was hidden. And as Mr. Miser Monk saved nearly five hundred a year for eighty years more or less, he must have hidden away a heap of gold. Forty thousand pounds I daresay,” ended Mrs. Gilfin with relish.

“Or fifty thousand,” I mused, recalling the sum mentioned by the gardener, and beginning to see light. “Have they searched everywhere?”

“Everywhere,” echoed Mrs. Gilfin, nodding again. “Miss Gertrude’s an innocent, who believes that her pa’s an angel, which he ain’t, though nice enough in his ways. She’d give him her head if he asked her and never complains of him keeping her short and being always away spending his five hundred a year. He knew if he found his brother’s savings—forty thousand pounds, I’m certain,” added Mrs. Gilfin decidedly, “that, though lawfully Miss Gertrude’s, she’d hand them over to him. So he turned the house upside down, and even dug up the garden, to say nothing of searching the meadows. He wanted the spending of the money, you see, Master Cyrus. But they couldn’t find even as much as a shilling. What’s become of all the money, no one knows, unless Mr. Miser Monk gambled and lost. He certainly went up to London every now and then,” mused the landlady, “and them old men can’t be trusted any more than the young ones, saving your presence, Master Cyrus, But there it is, sir,” she spread out her pudgy hands and shrugged her fat shoulders, “plenty of money, belonging to that poor young lady hidden away, and she with scarcely enough to dress on, let alone keep the bread in her mouth, though to be sure she hasn’t got to pay rent, and her pa gives the servant her wages regular. Ah,” Mrs. Gilfin sighed, “and such a beauty. I wonder she ain’t been married ages ago.”

“Does her father love her?”

“Yes and no. He loves her when she don’t cross his path, and thinks her a bother when she do. Some times he takes her to London for a treat, being free with his money, when he spends it on himself. He got her picture taken by a swell photographer once, but I daresay that was to show her to one of his rich friends and get her married off well, so that he could live on his son-in-law.”

“That must have been one of the photographs I saw on the mantlepiece in the Mootley corner shop,” I exclaimed.

“Like enough, Master Cyrus. And I daresay her pa gave her the silver frame when he was feeling generous-like, as he do on occasions. Queer,” said Mrs. Gilfin rubbing her nose, “one brother a miser, and the other taking after his father is a spendthrift. Luckily the five hundred a year’s so tied up that he can’t get at the principal, and it comes to Miss Gertrude when her pa joins Mr. Miser Monk in the graveyard. So she’s all right, the dear sweet young lady she is.”

“Have you ever seen the photograph, Cuckoo?”

“Oh yes, Master Cyrus. Mr. Joseph Striver’s got one. Begged it off her, and she being an angel gave it to him, though he’s only the gardener.”

“Does she love him?” I asked tremulously.

“No, she don’t,” said Mrs. Gilfin shortly.

“Does he love her?” I persisted.

“He do: the impertinence! him only being a gardener, though handsome, I will say. Mr. Walter Monk don’t pay him much for gardening at The Lodge, yet he stays on there because he loves Miss Gertrude, as if she’d look on such dirt as Anne Caldershaw’s nephew. His father left him with fifty pounds a year so that’s why he can afford to stop on, and now I hear he’s come in for money from his aunt. But if he dares to raise his eyes to Miss Gertrude, Master Cyrus, you break his neck,” advised Mrs. Gilfin.

“But if she loves him—”

“How can she, when he ain’t a gentleman born,” snapped Mrs. Gilfin, “she don’t love anybody but a dog she have, and lives in that shabby old house like a nun in a convent, or a toad in a stone. Where the young men’s eyes are I don’t know,” ended Mrs. Gilfin, virtuously indignant.

My spirits rose as she spoke. “I’m glad she’s fancy free,” I said, rejoicingly, “there’s a chance for me then?”

“You being well-looking, I should think so, Master Cyrus,” said Mrs. Gilfin.

Chapter 8
The Beauty Of The World

I usually invent my plots, arrange my business and consider my circumstances when in bed, which is by far the best place for such thought-work. Alone in the darkness of the silent hours, there is no external influence to prevent concentration, therefore conclusions of the best can be reached speedier than in the daytime. On the night of my arrival at Burwain, I took advantage of the opportunity to think hard and long. It was necessary that matters should be adjusted clearly in my own mind before I could hope to deal with the situation. After Mrs. Gilfin’s report, I desired more than ever to make Gertrude Monk my wife, but there were obstacles in the way, which only deliberate and continuous action could remove. A clear understanding of the position was decidedly imperative.

I now began to see that Anne Caldershaw’s hint to her brother had reference to the missing monies of Gabriel Monk. Certainly, even if he had saved every penny of his income for eighty years, he would not have accumulated fifty thousand pounds: but it was more than probable that his visits to London were connected with various investments, and that in one way or another he had gained the fortune mentioned by Mrs. Caldershaw. But—as I asked myself frequently—if Monk had invested the money, why was it not discoverable, since investments cannot very well be concealed. On reflection I decided that the man being a genuine miser, loving the color and weight and feel of gold, had probably turned his investments, whatever they might be, into hard cash, and had hidden this carefully away. In some way Mrs. Caldershaw had learned the whereabouts of the specie, and the missing eye indicated the hiding-place. The money, by Gabriel Monk’s will, belonged to Gertrude Monk, but the ex-housekeeper wished her nephew to get it, and so had left him the clue to the place where it was concealed. Perhaps she knew that Striver loved her young mistress, and thought that if he married her, after acquiring the fortune, that justice would be done. She wished, as the saying is, to kill two birds with one stone.

But two things puzzled me greatly in connection with the matter. In the first place it was odd that Mrs. Caldershaw, aware of the whereabouts of the money, should not have laid hands on it, and in the second it was difficult to understand how she could arrange that her glass eye should be a clue to its possession. Then I began to believe that the dead woman had removed the coin from where the miser had hidden it, and had drawn a plan of its new resting-place, which she had concealed behind the eye. But having regard to the shell-like shape of the eye, as described by Joseph Striver, the plan could not be delineated on a piece of paper however small, as there was no shield at the back of the artificial eyes to protect it from wear and tear. The plan, I fancied, as did Mr. Striver, was drawn on the inward curve of the eye itself, although it was difficult to imagine that the details had not been obliterated by the moisture of the flesh. But this last conjecture was for the moment beside the matter. What I knew was that Mrs. Caldershaw’s glass eye indicated the whereabouts of fifty thousand pounds belonging by will to Gertrude Monk. To find that treasure and marry the girl was what I determined to do. And to manage this, it was necessary to prevent the fortune from falling into Striver’s hands, by getting the glass eye into my own possession. That was no easy task, on account of the obscurity which involved the murder and the theft which had led to the murder.

Of course Gertrude Monk knew that she was legally entitled to her uncle’s money, so it was possible, that having learned Mrs. Caldershaw’s secret, she had gone to Mootley to insist upon the eye being given up, for the purpose of obtaining her rights. But in that case, she would scarcely have murdered the woman, since all she had to do was to compel Mrs. Caldershaw by law to confess the truth. It might be that she had quarrelled with the old woman, who would not be inclined to disarrange her plans for the well-being of her nephew; but I did not think that a girl with so lovely a face and so high a character—as Mrs. Gilfin avouched for—would have stooped to committing a crime. Had she done so and had obtained the money, her conscience would not permit her to rest. Therefore I acquitted the young lady of homicide, and cast about in my mind to think, who could possibly have slain Mrs. Caldershaw for the sake of the fortune.

Miss Destiny certainly grudged her niece the money, and being a miser would have been glad to acquire it, but she was too frail a little woman to commit the murder. Also, at the time, she was driving to Mootley, and had not yet reached the place, as the story of her encounter with my looted motor car clearly proved. She had established an indefeasible alibi. Mr. Walter Monk was in London at the time of the murder: Mr. Joseph Striver was at Burwain, and I could think of no other person who would be driven to murder Mrs. Caldershaw for her secret. The more I thought of the matter the more complex did it become. All I could do—I decided this about three o’clock in the morning—was to revert to my original decision and play a waiting game. Then I fell asleep and woke at nine o’clock with a headache, the result of over-thinking.

However, a cold bath, a good breakfast, and a half-hour’s gossip with the landlady banished my pains, and somewhere about eleven I walked forth to spy out the land. I wished to call on Miss Destiny, and through her, to gain an introduction to her niece. Once in touch with Miss Monk, I might learn in some cautious way, how her cloak came to be in the field. Certainly on the fact of it, I fancied she had worn it herself and had stolen my Rippler, but it was just possible that she had given it to Mrs. Caldershaw, and had not been near Mootley at all. In which case, I, began to wonder more than ever, who was the clever woman who had taken possession of it. But such wondering was futile, as I had no certain facts to go upon. Gertrude Monk alone could give the clue, seeing that the cloak, whether worn by herself or not, was her property.

There was little difficulty in finding the abode of Miss Destiny who appeared to be as well-known in Burwain as St. Paul’s Cathedral is in the metropolis. Her miserly character appeared to be common talk, and when I reached the end of the village and sighted her cottage I could well understand why it was no secret. A gentlewoman with a certain amount of money, however small, would never have dwelt in such a hovel, unless she grudged every farthing to render it sightly and comfortable. For Miss Destiny had her abode in a tiny house of galvanized tin, standing some distance from the main road, and almost hidden by a dank growth of tall weeds, and shrubs and neglected trees. A sod fence fringed the roadway, and therein was placed midway a rickety wooden gate with a broken hinge. From this a crooked pathway made by feet and worn by feet and preserved as an entrance by feet, meandered to the green-painted front door. On either side docks and darnells and brambles and coarse grasses and weeds flourished in profusion breast-high. And overhanging the tin shed—it could scarcely be called a cottage—were two gigantic elms, which dropped their decayed branches on the roof and round the walls, where they lay to add to the sordid confusion of the place. Viewing this desolation, I could only think of the chateau of the Yellow Dwarf, as described by Madame D’Aulnoy.

I walked up the sodden path—the tin shed seemed to have been built in a swamp, so oozy was the ground—and rapped smartly at the narrow front door. On either side were two small windows, through the glass of which I caught a glimpse of iron bars, which proved that Miss Destiny had made necessary provision against burglars. What struck me as odd was the absence of a chimney, but I had no time to consider this, for shortly I heard the rattle of a chain and the sound of bolts being drawn back. Then the door was opened an inch or two to reveal the dull eyes and mustached lip of Lucinda. The expression of her face was aggressive and watchful.

“What do you want?” she demanded in her beautiful voice, which struck me anew as singularly sympathetic despite her rough greeting.

“I am Mr. Cyrus Vance, who was at Mootley,” I explained elaborately, “and I wish to see Miss Destiny.”

Before I ended my request I heard a little, low, fluttering laugh, and Lucinda, opening the door widely, moved aside to show the tiny figure of her mistress with outstretched hands. “Prince Charming come in search of the Sleeping Beauty,” cried Miss Destiny, romantically, “and all because he saw a portrait of the lady. Come in, Mr. Vance, come in. I can promise you flesh and blood this time, my dear adventurer.”

There was little change about the old lady. She still wore the threadbare black silk dress, though without the velvet mantle, and her snow-white hair was still piled up after the fashion of Louis XVI’s ill-fated queen.

I thrilled when I heard her words, as I guessed that I had arrived in a happy moment, and that Miss Destiny’s niece, the goddess of my dreams, was seated within that pauper house. Even Lucinda grinned in a friendly way, as she saw the color come and go in my face. With all my self-control I could not suppress that sign of emotion.

“Prince Charming,” said Miss Destiny, introducing me directly into a bare sitting-room, for there was no passage in the cottage, “let me present you to The Sleeping Beauty,” and she looked more like a fairy godmother than ever as she clapped her skinny hands.

Gertrude Monk was seated in a well-worn horsehair armchair, near the oil stove which did duty as a fireplace to warm the bleak room. She was plainly dressed in blue serge, with a toque of the same on her dark head, and had a muff and boa of silver-fox fur. Nothing could have been more Puritanic than her array, but the close-fitting frock showed off her fine figure to advantage, and she looked uncommonly handsome. I have already described her from her photograph, so there is no need to go over old ground, but she was even more beautiful and unapproachable than I had believed her to be, and looked more like the goddess Diana than ever. The sole thing I found lacking to complete her perfection was color, for her face was the hue of old ivory, and even her lips looked pale. Also there was a troubled look in her large dark eyes, and she welcomed me with some embarrassment. But this last probably was due to the oddity of our introduction, since Miss Destiny had evidently informed her of my admiration for her portrait.

“I am glad to meet you, Mr. Vance,” she said sedately and with a stately bow of her head, “my aunt informed me of your connection with the sad death of my old nurse.”

“I think my connection with the matter is public property, Miss Monk,” I said, nervously, “for my name has been in all the papers.”

“As a playwright that should please you,” she said coldly, “anything for an advertisement. Well, tell us what has been discovered?”

“Nothing as far as I know, Miss Monk.”

“Oh!” she raised her fine eyebrows. “I understood,” she glanced at Miss Destiny, “that you promised to come and inform my aunt of any new developments. As you are here, I thought that something had been discovered.”

“Nothing has been discovered, Miss Monk. I simply came here to see an old servant of my mother’s, who keeps The Robin Redbreast, and intend to stay for a few days.” Of course this was a white lie, but I had to make some excuse, for her troubled eyes were searching my face intently.

“Mrs. Gilfin,” said she, a smile relaxing the corners of her mouth and heaving what I took to be a sigh of relief, “I am fond of Mrs. Gilfin.”

“And she is fond of you, Miss Monk. Had she never spoken to you about me?”

“No,” was the reply, so my artful question, failed in its effect. Then the conversation languished, and Miss Destiny babbled to excuse her lack of hospitality. Lucinda had left the room.

“I should give you a cup of tea, Gertrude, and you also, Mr. Vance. But the kettle is not boiling, and the baker has not come, so you must excuse me.”

“I am not hungry, thank you, Miss Destiny. What a comfortable little place you have here.”

In my desperate desire to propitiate the little woman, I told a lie, and Miss Monk saw that I did, for her lip curled, so contemptuously, that the color came to my cheeks. I had been undiplomatic, for the word I had used did not apply in the least to the bare surroundings. The shed—it had originally been a shed, as I afterwards learned—was divided by frail partitions into four small rooms: two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a parlor. These were furnished with the flotsam and jetsam of auction rooms, in an insufficient manner. If Miss Destiny had contracted the vice of avarice from the late Gabriel Monk, she had done so very thoroughly. The bare wooden walls, the drugget on the floor, the four or five sticks of shaky furniture, and the evil-smelling oil stove, made up a picture of insistent penury. And Miss Destiny, lean-faced, keen-eyed and restless, looked like the hag Poverty herself, as she hovered about the bleak room. And even she saw through my lying remark.

“Comfortable, no indeed, Mr. Vance,” she tittered nervously, “comfort, to my mind, means laziness and self-indulgence. Lucinda and I live the simple life, and require only the bare necessities of civilization. And I’m so poor—”

Her niece intervened coldly. “Is it necessary to inform Mr. Vance of your private business, aunt?”

“Oh, my dear, he knows it. For instance, that I am your aunt only by courtesy.”

“What do you mean? You are my mother’s sister.”

“Yes. Poor dear Jane; what a bad marriage she made with that spendthrift.”

“Aunt! aunt! Leave my father alone.”

“My dear, I refuse to be contradicted. I never liked Walter, and I never will, so I disassociate myself from him in every way, as a sister-in-law, and look upon myself as your aunt by courtesy: merely by courtesy.”

Miss Monk rose with a flush. “This conversation cannot be interesting to Mr. Vance,” she said, quietly. “If you have any business with him, I shall leave you together.”

“No, no, I have no business with him, my dear. Merely I should like to know if Anne’s will really leaves all her property to Joseph.”

“If you mean Mr. Striver, I understand that he had got the money and the lease of the corner shop to say nothing of the contents,” said I, in detail.

“Merely I should like to know if Anne’s will really did think Anne would have remembered me. We were such friends. And with a little money I could have made myself more comfortable. The garden for instance: I’m sure I live in a kind of jungle. Gertrude, I wish you could let Joseph come and put it right. Then we could talk about his good fortune.”

“Joseph takes odd jobs at times,” said Miss Monk, trying to speak calmly, for really her aunt was very trying with her unnecessary frankness, “if you offer him a good wage, he will come with pleasure.”

“Oh, I can’t afford to pay money,” said Miss Destiny hurriedly, “it is not to be expected, especially since Gabriel left me nothing. Ah! Gertrude, you are the lucky one. Fifty thousand pounds,” Miss Destiny smacked her lips, “oh, if it only could be found.’

“It is not likely to be found.”

“Mr. Striver intends to find it,” I said incautiously, and could have bitten out my tongue the moment afterwards for so crude a remark.

Both the women turned to face me: Miss Destiny with vulture-like eagerness, and Miss Monk with an expression of astonishment. “What has Joseph to do with my money?” asked the latter, pointedly.

“Perhaps he doesn’t know that it is your money, Miss Monk.”

“What do you mean, exactly?”

“Simply that Striver is searching for the sum of fifty-thousand pounds. That being the amount of some money belonging to you which is missing, as Miss Destiny said just now, I apprehend that it is the same.”

“It must be: it must be,” cried the little old lady clapping her skinny hands, “for Anne never could have saved so much out of her wages. Gertrude I always declared that Anne knew where the money of Gabriel was hidden. Now, it seems, she told Joseph about it.”

“She did not inform him of its whereabouts,” I struck in, eager to enlist Miss Monk’s attention, “but he hopes to trace it by means of the glass eye.”

“The glass eye,” echoed Miss Monk, very much amazed. “I know that Anne had a glass eye, and that it is missing. But—”

“I see: I understand,” said Miss Destiny feverishly, “don’t interrupt me, Gertrude, for I see it all. Anne always attached a great value to that glass eye, so in some way—from what Mr. Vance says—it is connected with the hiding-place of Gabriel’s money. Perhaps Gabriel got Anne to assist him in hiding it. Dear me, and the eye is missing. If it could only be found, Gertrude, you would be quite an heiress.”

“I don’t believe that the eye or the money will ever be found,” said Miss Monk impatiently, and walked towards the door. “Are you returning to the village, Mr. Vance?”

The hint was unmistakable, and I was only too glad to take advantage of it, since it meant a tête-à-fête with my goddess. “Mrs. Gilfin will wonder what has become of me,” I said, glancing at my watch.

“Oh, don’t go, don’t go,” implored Miss Destiny, grasping my arm. “I do so want to learn all about this glass eye and the money.”

“Ask Joseph Striver then,” I replied, disengaging myself, “he knows all that I know, and more,” I ended significantly.

“Really and truly. Oh, I must tell Lucinda,” and Miss Destiny vanished into the back room crying for her handmaid. Miss Monk seized the opportunity to open the front door and slip out, raising her eyebrows at me meanwhile. I took the hint at once.

We walked down the meandering path between the weeds, and out on to the high road. Miss Monk kept silence for some distance, but I was so taken up with admiring her face, and was so delighted to be in her presence, that I did not mind her lack of speech. With compressed lips she stared straight in front of her, then spoke abruptly.

“You seem to know a great deal about our family affairs, Mr. Vance.”

“Nothing more than has to do with the murder of Mrs. Caldershaw,” I replied, quietly, “and I am so mixed up in that—”

“Yes! yes!” she interrupted impatiently. “I understand so far. But my aunt has been talking to you.”

“Well, yes and no. I have not gathered much information from Miss Destiny.”

“Why should you wish to gather any information at all?” asked the girl with some sharpness.

“My dear young lady. This murder interests me, and I wish to learn the truth. Naturally I seek for information.”

“Oh! And you have come here to question my aunt.”

“No, indeed. I don’t see what she can tell me.”

“She can tell you nothing,” said Miss Monk, with decision, “my aunt is not quite sane, as you can easily see. She has a moderately good income, yet prefers to live in that miserable place, which you”—she was sarcastic here—“called comfortable, Mr. Vance.”

“I wished to put Miss Destiny in a good humor,” said I uneasily.

“Why?”

She was so very direct that I nearly came out with the truth. But it was absurd, on the face of it, to confess a crazy love for one I had known only half an hour: she would take so sudden a declaration as an insult. I therefore held my peace and fenced. “Miss Destiny, from what she said at Mootley, seems to know something about that glass eye, which was stolen from Mrs. Caldershaw’s head when she was dead. I wish to learn all about it, so as to discover why the eye was stolen and the woman murdered.”

“Then you did come here to question my aunt, in spite of your denial?”

“Well, if I must confess it, I came to ask about the glass eye.”

Miss Monk walked on in silence, and then again spoke abruptly. “You should be honest with me, Mr. Vance.”

“I am honest.”

“Pardon me, you are not, since you said that you did not see what my aunt could tell you.” And she looked like an offended goddess.

This was brutally true: I had equivocated. “I throw myself on your mercy.”

She turned a pair of surprised eyes in my direction. “Why on mine?”

“I appear to have offended you,” I hesitated.

“What does that matter? we are strangers.”

“I wish we were not,” said my rash tongue, and Miss Monk stopped.

“I really don’t understand you, Mr. Vance. Why should it matter to me whether we are strangers or not?”

“Your aunt’s words when she introduced me—”

Miss Monk flushed and cut me short. “That is my aunt’s nonsense,” she said hastily. “You don’t expect me to believe that you followed me here because you admired my photograph.”

That was exactly what I had done, but it did not do to tell her so, for she looked more like an offended goddess than ever. “I came here about the eye,” was my cautious answer.

“You think that a true knowledge of why Anne Caldershaw attached a value to that eye would enable you to trace her assassin?”

“Yes, I do think so. Do you, Miss Monk?” I spoke with the cloak in my mind. “Do you wish me to trace her assassin?”

“Why not. She should certainly be captured and punished and the eye recovered, especially, as you seem to think it can indicate where the money left to me by Uncle Gabriel is hidden.”

“She! she! she!” I positively gasped.

“Of course.” Again she looked surprised. “I understand from the report in the papers, that the woman who ran off with your motor car is the assassin.”

It was with some difficulty that I commanded my voice. Miss Monk, I thought, must be very sure that she had hidden her trail successfully, else she would scarcely dare to speak in this way. But, of course, as I remembered, she did not yet know that I had found her cloak. “You would like to have the woman traced?”

“Yes,” she said coolly, “and the eye recovered, if it means the recovery of my money. I inherit fifty thousand pounds by—”

“I know: I know,” said I hastily, “Mrs. Gilfin told me.”

Miss Monk’s face clouded. “I daresay,” she remarked bitterly, “the story of the missing money is common property. No doubt Mrs. Gilfin told you that my uncle Gabriel was a miser.”

“Yes. She told me a good deal.”

“You asked her?” questioned the girl, suddenly.

“I admit it: in the interests of the case.”

“Of course,” she said, whether ironically or not I could not determine, and then walked on in silence.

Shortly we were abreast of a mouldering red-brick wall on the outskirts of the village. Beyond could be seen the mellow-tiled roofs of a large mansion.

Miss Monk stopped abruptly. “I live here,” she said, with some coldness, “and must go in. Good-day, Mr. Vance.”

She vanished through a heavy green gate, and left me staring down the deserted road. To me, the sun seemed to have vanished from the sky.

Chapter 9
Gertrude’s Father

Hitherto I have explained everything in detail, from the time I adventured out to seek romance and found tragedy instead. Now I must be more or less exact, as it is well nigh impossible to set down everything. For an indefinite period I lodged at The Robin Redbreast, and met Miss Monk frequently here, there, and everywhere. The moth had come to the candle, and was hovering round the flame with dangerous pertinacity. Not that the lady accepted me straight away, for the most romantic of women have their practical side. Miss Monk, at first acquaintance, apparently liked me: but I puzzled her, and she questioned Mrs. Gilfin about me, so as to be sure of her ground. A very necessary precaution in the face of circumstances.

“You seem to have made quite an impression on that sweet young lady, Master Cyrus,” said the landlady, a day or so after I had visited Miss Destiny, “she met me by chance last night and asked me to tell her all about you.”

“I hope you gave me a good character,” said I anxiously, and very pleased to think that my interest in Diana of the Ephesians was reciprocated.

“I told her that you were always the best of boys Master Cyrus, and that fond of my custards, as I had always to give you one every day when you was little and sweet-toothed.”

I reddened. “Oh, nonsense! Miss Monk doesn’t wish to hear tales of my childish greed, Cuckoo.”

“She wished to hear everything,” said Mrs. Gilfin, phlegmatically, “being wonderfully took up with your pleasant ways. And I don’t blame her,” said the ex-cook, beaming through her spectacles, “seeing as you’re a gentleman grown, Master Cyrus, and handsomer than I ever thought you’d become. Not that Miss Gertrude cares for good looks without good birth, and good manners, or she’d have run off with Joseph ages ago.”

“Is he back?” I asked, starting, for I had to reckon with the gardener.

“Oh, yes, he’s back,” grunted Mrs. Gilfin, disgusted, “and always hanging about that house picking weeds. So he says, but it’s to look at what he’ll never get, as I’ll tell him some fine day. Such sauce!”

“He hasn’t had the insolence to speak to Miss Monk on the subject of his confounded feelings?” I asked, anxiously, for there was no denying that the man’s aggressive good looks constituted him a dangerous rival.

“Not he, and if he did she’d soon send him to the right about with a flea in his ear. Good looks ain’t good manners, Master Cyrus, say what you will.”

“Well,” I laughed. “I hope you told her that I was the best-mannered and most good-natured man in the universe, Cuckoo.”

“I told the truth, you may be sure, Master Cyrus,” rebuked Mrs. Gilfin, “saying you was that honorable and clever and thoughtful and kindhearted, as I’d trust you with my very own heart to do what you liked with. Not that you want my heart, bless you,” ended Mrs. Gilfin, beaming again and becoming one vast substantial smile like Mrs. Fezziwig in “The Christmas Carol.”

“You want Miss Gertrude’s.”

“Good heavens, Cuckoo! you didn’t tell her that I hope?”

“Not in so many words, Master Cyrus. But bless you,” added Mrs. Gilfin significantly, “women in these matters ain’t fools, sir.”

I was rather perturbed over this, as it was not impossible that the maidenly modesty of Gertrude might take offence, if she guessed my undeclared sentiments. And in any case, the slightest hint of such an attitude might embarrass our conversation. By this time, it was useless to deny that I was fathoms deep in love. I suppose I had brooded so long over the beauty of the pictured face, that when the original proved to be even more attractive, the egg of love was promptly hatched into the actual chick. From the moment my eyes met those of Gertrude, and soul read soul, I adored her with a headstrong passion, which I should have scouted in another man. If ever there was an impulsive being who aptly illustrated Marlow’s dictum, as to love at first sight, I was that uncommon individual. For I take it that sudden passions of this unthinking sort, are unusual in an age, when lovers—a most unsuitable name for such cautious creatures—wish to inspect the lady’s check-book before proposing.

But I need not have worried my mind over any possible embarrassment on Miss Monk’s part. She was more composed than I was when we next met; and that was in the village store, whither I had gone to procure some stationery. It was necessary to write Cannington and advise him of my actual whereabouts, if only to keep him out of the way. I did not wish him to come down and spoil my wooing, as an inconvenient third. Besides, as a feather-headed boy, he might be indiscreet with regard to the Mootley murder, and I wished to supply all information on that matter, by word of mouth. It was the sole excuse, which I had for seeking the society of my goddess, and I did not wish it to be staled by other people’s repetitions.

While I was purchasing blotting-paper, ink and pens and stationery from a genial old woman in a mob-cap, Miss Monk entered the shop. She was dressed as she had been when I last saw her, but this time carried a dog-whip in place of a sunshade. Gamboling round her was a large ungainly Newfoundland year-old puppy, who answered to the odd name of Puddles. At least that was his pet name, as Miss Monk afterwards told me that he was registered as Ion, after the hero of Judge Talfourd’s famous play. Puddles lounged against me with exuberant friendliness, and had to be corrected with the whip. When the commotion subsided, his mistress found time to speak and apologize, looking handsomer than ever, with the color of exercise in her cheeks.

“You mustn’t mind the dog,” she said gravely, “he won’t bite you.”

“I hope not,” I replied with equal gravity, “I am extremely timid, you know.”

She smiled at this. “I think I would trust you in a moment of danger, Mr. Vance. But to be friends with me, you must be friends with Puddles.”

“I quite understand. Love me, love my dog.”

“I didn’t say anything about love,” she laughed, her color deepening. “But in any case, you have put the cart before the horse. Love my dog and love me, you should say.”

“Certainly! Puddles!” I dropped on one knee, and held out a caressing hand, “try and love me—as a beginning.”

“A beginning to what?” asked Miss Monk, smiling and crimson.

“Puddles knows, Puddles understands: see, he gives me his paw. Good dog.” I shook the huge paw, patted the huge head, and rose to be conventional. “It is a beautiful day, isn’t it, Miss Monk.”

“Of course, and the horse is the noblest of all animals,” she replied with up-lifted eyebrows. “I thought you were more original, Mr. Vance.”

“I assure you that is a mistake. I am that harmless, and necessary person, the repeater of platitudes.”

She shuddered. “Don’t repeat them to me, please, I hate copy-book phrases.”

“Yet what good sense they contain. Your remark about the horse is one, and is absolutely true.”

“So true,” she mocked, “as to make the statement unnecessary.” She turned to purchase a bag of dog-biscuits. “Are we fighting a verbal duel, Mr. Vance?”

“It would seem so, Miss Monk, but the buttons are on our foils.”

With the bag in her arms, she wheeled nervously. “Why do you say that?” and there was apprehension in her dark eyes.

“I speak for the sake of speaking.”

“No,” her anxious eyes searched my face, “you are not that kind of man. If you—” she stopped and bit her lip, and with a curt nod walked rapidly out of the shop followed by Puddles. I did not attempt to follow, as I saw that my cryptic speech had interested her, and wished to give her time to think over my personality. While I remained in her thoughts, there was every hope that she would seek me again. Better that she should be afraid of me, than indifferent to me.

And as I sauntered back to The Robin Redbreast, I felt convinced that she was afraid of me: my dark sayings had made her afraid. At our first meeting under the tin roof of Miss Destiny’s hovel, I had seen the fear in her eyes, and at this second meeting I saw it again, more apparent. But, what could she be afraid of in connection with me? There was only one common-sense answer: Gertrude Monk was the lady who had stolen my motor-car, and who had—but no; I could not bring myself to believe the worst, even in the face of the obvious certainty that she was concealing something, which had to do with the weird circumstances at Mootley. She would explain when the time came, and that would be when she was sufficiently well acquainted with me to regard Mrs. Gilfin’s eulogy as justified. Then—well I would wait until then, for in the pursuit of the impossible, I was developing a fine quality of patience.

During the next few days, I occasionally met Miss Destiny and her servant in the village. They went shopping together, and the little old lady beat down the prices of everyone, however cheap the goods she wanted might originally be. I believe she enjoyed the squabble, and certainly her tongue clacked from morning to night in the endeavor to get her own sordid way. She was a miser, pure and simple, and had contracted the disease—for that it was—from the late Gabriel Monk. Everyone hated Miss Destiny, for in addition to being avaricious, she had a desperately evil tongue, and dealt with one and all from the point of view of a misanthrope. That is, she never said a good word of anyone, but babbled out many bad ones, so that she set people by the ears constantly. She might have abused me, for all I knew, but if she did, her demeanor to my face was extremely pleasant. When we met, she always hinted roguishly at my love for her niece, and chaffed me about the same. At times I wondered if she discussed my presence at Burwain with Gertrude. I thought not, as my meetings with the goddess were always marked by a perfectly unembarrassed manner on her part. Moreover, aunt and niece did not get on well together, and only exchanged formal visits. Miss Destiny—as I gathered from Mrs. Gilfin’s ready tongue—had never forgiven Gertrude for inheriting the missing fortune, and always expressed herself pleased that it could not be found.

Although I had been over a fortnight at Burwain, Mr. Walter Monk was still absent from the old Jacobean mansion, and Gertrude lived there with one servant in nun-like seclusion. She read a great deal, and played the piano and attended to Puddles—a great stand-by against loneliness. Joseph also was frequently about the garden, but I don’t think she ever gave him a word—on Mrs. Gilfin’s authority I can say this—unless it had to do with his duties. But he hung round the place like a stray dog, satisfied if he could catch only a glimpse of Gertrude, and was in the seventh heaven if she addressed a word to him. Miss Destiny spoke to me of the gardener’s infatuation, which was apparent to everyone.

“You have met Joseph?” she asked me one day in her mincing manner.

“At Mootley, when he was setting his aunt’s house in order,” I informed her genially. I was always genial with Miss Destiny, as for my own purposes I wished to keep on good terms with her.

“Ah, yes. He inherited Anne’s savings. Quite a nice little sum, I believe. And the lease of the shop also,” added Miss Destiny musingly, “Gertrude might do worse.”

“What do you mean?” I asked sharply, and, I fear, angrily.

The little old lady raised her twinkling sharp eyes to my annoyed face. “I forgot,” she said impishly, “you are the other one.”

“The other what, Miss Destiny?”

“Lover—the second Prince Charming; though I think,” she remarked in a very spiteful tone, “that the first Prince is the handsomer.”

I went straight to the point. “Miss Destiny, I don’t for one moment suppose that you would like to see Miss Monk become Striver’s wife.”

“Why not. He has looks, if not birth; and money, if not position.”

“The thing’s absurd. A lady marry a gardener.”

“Other ladies have done so and have been happy,” she persisted. “Besides Gertrude may not be able to help herself.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Nothing and everything,” she replied enigmatically. “Mr. Striver is in possession of all Anne’s private papers,” she hesitated.

“Well? well? well?” I said impatiently.

“Ask Gertrude,” she snapped out.

“Ask what?”

Miss Destiny winced, and her black eyes twinkled again. “Ask her to be your wife, Mr. Vance, else you will find her Mrs. Striver before six months are ended. Now don’t ask questions here,” she pointed to her flat bosom, “ask them of Gertrude. Again I say, Joseph has Anne Caldershaw’s private papers.”

“Well?” I was more bewildered than ever.

“That is all,” said Miss Destiny, and dropping one of her old-fashioned curtseys, she trotted off, laughing malignantly like a wicked fairy.

What the terrible old woman meant I could not imagine, but I determined to take her advice and ask questions in the right quarter. I had now been some time at Burwain, and, as yet, had learned nothing likely to throw light on the darkness of the Mootley murder. Striver evidently had made up his mind to stay where he was as gardener at The Lodge, and although we never spoke, he always eyed me savagely when I paid a visit to the mansion. It is true that Gertrude did not invite me into the house, and always saw me in the garden; but that I should dare to come and worship at his private shrine was quite enough to make Striver desperately angry.

And in his working clothes the fellow looked handsomer than ever. I really wondered that Gertrude did not fall in love with him, as he was by way of being a rustic Apollo, and was possessed of some education. But she was always extremely cool to him, and scarcely displayed more warmth towards me. A most inscrutable girl. I could not make her out, for try as I would the secret of her noli-me-tangere attitude baffled and disconcerted me.

“My father is returning for a few days this evening,” said Gertrude to me when we met by chance on the village green.

“I should like to meet him,” I said promptly.

“Why?” she demanded with her usual directness.

It was a difficult question to answer. “I admire his daughter,” was my lame reply. “Surely you can understand—”

“That you are talking nonsense,” she interrupted quickly. “Yes I can,” she stopped for a moment, then went on impetuously, “I wish you would go away.”

“I see no reason why I should,” I remonstrated.

“I do. I do. You are not hot; you are not cold; you are neither fowl, fish, nor good red-herring. Go away,” and turning on her heel she walked away so swiftly that I had no time to ask further questions.

What did she mean? I could not understand. Later I met with Miss Destiny, and could understand the aunt no more than I understood the niece. The first told me to go away in a most peremptory manner, while the second hinted that because Joseph possessed Mrs. Caldershaw’s private papers, Gertrude was likely to become Mrs. Striver within six months. It was really all very perplexing, and the sole way to end such perplexity was to show Miss Monk her cloak and demand explanations. But this I did not wish to do, until I was more certain of my ground: until I understood her feelings towards myself better. For by this time, what with Striver’s persistence, her own dismissal of myself, and Miss Destiny’s strange hints, I was beginning to believe that she favored my handsome, humble attentive rival.

“I sha’n’t stand it any longer,” I thought, turning my steps towards the inn. “This very evening, I shall call and see her. We must have an explanation straight away!” And this resolution I adhered to so firmly that I found myself at the door of the Jacobean mansion one hour after dinner—that is, seeing I dined early in the country—at seven o’clock.

The grounds of The Lodge—thanks to Striver’s love-lorn devotion—were most beautifully kept. The flower-beds had no weeds, the lawns were smoothly clipped and rolled, and the whole place had an orderly trim look, which contrasted oddly with the tumbledown appearance of the house itself. This, of mellow red brick, overgrown with ivy, stood on a slight rise, and a wide terrace of stone with shallow steps descending to the lawns, ran round three sides of it. Some Vandal had put French windows into the drawing-room, and these looked quite out of keeping with the old-world air of the mansion. It was a very ancient house, and I verily believe that only the ivy held the mouldering bricks together. The porch was large and chilly, and when I pulled the bell, its jangling echoes, followed by the baying of Puddles, added to the lonely impression produced by the place. Miss Destiny called her niece “The Sleeping Beauty!” so this dismal dwelling might well have been her palace. Only Mr. Striver’s trim garden looked modern and well-cared for: the house itself was a slight improvement on the ruins of Carthage.

The one servant of the Lodge—a white-capped, sober, sedate old creature called Trumble—came to the door, and seemed doubtful about admitting me. The place was like a convent and evidently Trumble did not wish any male to enter. But while I argued with her, Miss Monk appeared, and intimated that I could come in. I would have thanked her, but that her beauty took my breath away. Even in the dim light of the hall lamp, she shone like a star; but it was not until we were in the drawing-room that the full perfection of her loveliness burst upon me. I stared like an oaf, or like the misnamed Cortez in Keats’s sonnet.

She was in a pale-blue evening dress, which displayed her beautiful neck and arms to perfection. As in the photograph, she wore no necklace, or bracelets, or rings, or brooches, or indeed ornaments of any description. The dress also was plain and devoid of trimming, so that it revealed fully the noble lines of her figure. As usual her hair was bunched at the back of her shapely head in ancient Greek fashion, and she more than ever reminded me of Diana. I did not look at a mere picture this time, but at the flesh and blood divinity, who had descended in gracious splendor from high Olympus. Though indeed, her somewhat stern face did not look very gracious at the moment.

Owing to my intention of calling, I had arrayed myself in a dress suit for the occasion, although I did not usually prepare myself for dinner in this way at The Robin Redbreast. But, manlike, I had a feeling of vanity that I also was ultra-civilized. Had I come in tweeds I should have been ashamed to face this gracious vision. And yet I am not a vain man, though, as the somewhat unworthy sentiment flashed into my mind, I thought what a conceited ass I was. And all because I loved a woman and wished to appear at my best before her. Truly human nature is strange and—as in the present personal instance—trifling.

“Well,” asked Miss Monk, a slight smile breaking the severe curve of her lips, as she saw how persistently I stared, “why have you called, Mr. Vance?”

“Is it a crime?” I asked, somewhat annoyed.

“In my eyes it is, because I asked you to go away.”

“Ah, I came here to seek for an explanation.”

“I have none to give. Still, as you are here, you may as well sit down. I cannot see you for more than half an hour, as my father is returning.”

I sat down on the chair she indicated, and she placed herself on the opposite sofa which stretched diagonally before the fire. There were three lamps with rosy shades in the large low-ceilinged room, and we sat in a kind of Paphian twilight, eminently suited to a proposal. What with the subdued light amidst which she glimmered like an exquisite star, and my own tumultuous feelings, I wonder that I did not take her in my arms, then and there to kiss her into consenting to be my dear wife. But prudence came to my aid and I was spared the necessity of a refusal, which certainly would have been forthcoming had I acted as I felt inclined to do.

She was silent, and I was silent, and the only sound in the room was the crackling of the fire and the ticking of the French clock on the mantelpiece. Then, as Gertrude did not speak, I was forced to begin the conversation, else my half-hour would be wasted.

“You puzzle me, Miss Monk,” I said bluntly, and purposely said it, so as to enchain her attention.

“Do I? Why?”

“Your aunt also puzzles me,” I went on, ignoring her question.

“Why?” she asked again, and the uneasy troubled look came into her eyes.

“She declares that you will become Mrs. Striver within six months—”

“Mr. Vance!” She rose impulsively, and looked highly indignant.

“Because,” I continued remorselessly, and repeating Miss Destiny’s exact words, “Joseph has Anne Caldershaw’s private papers.”

Miss Monk turned white, gasped, and sank back nervously into her seat. “My aunt is mad to say such a thing,” she stammered.

“Possibly,” said I dryly. “I have no very great idea of Miss Destiny’s sanity myself. But, it may be that you can explain the madness.”

Gertrude looked round the room, as if in search of help, and placed both hands on her breast as though to still the beating of her heart. “I would explain—to a friend,” she muttered, and her face was whiter than the statue of Parian marble on the bracket by the fireplace.

“I am a friend, Miss Monk.”

“A true friend?”

“Test me and find me so.” I bent over her. “Can you not understand?”

She put out her hand and pushed me back slightly. “My friend—not yet.”

I retreated. “Friend—so cold a word.”

“It is sufficient for the present,” and then I saw that her whiteness was drowned in a rising tide of crimson. I would have spoken, for a sudden leap of my heart told me that her feelings were not so indifferent as I had imagined them to be. But again she put over her hand. “No, say nothing; let us remain friends until—”

“Until when?” I asked eagerly.

Pressing her hands between her knees she stared into the fire, then spoke in a low steady voice. “I never had a friend, either man or woman, and I have always wanted one. When you came I thought—it was foolish on my part perhaps—but I thought that you might help me.”

“I wish to help you in every way.”

She went on without heeding my impetuous speech. “I doubted: one always doubts a man. I asked Mrs. Gilfin about you. What she told me, confirmed the impression I had gained from your looks. I felt certain from many times we have met that Mrs. Gilfin spoke truly. You are a man I can trust.”

“Yes! yes! But am I a man you can love?”

“Let it remain as trust for the time being. I still had doubts, and to-day I told you to go away.”

“Why?”

“Because you said nothing, you did nothing. You were neither hot nor—ah well, remember what I said to-day when we met. I could not make a friend of anyone who was indifferent. But now, as I see you mean to be my friend, I may trust you. I need sympathy: I need help: I need”—she started to her feet and held up an anxious finger. “Hark! hark! Not a word to him.”

To him? I wondered what she meant, until the door opened and a man walked delicately into the room.

“Here I am, daughterling,” said the man gaily.

Chapter 10
A Surprise

I was decidedly disappointed by the inopportune arrival of Mr. Walter Monk. His daughter was just about to tell me much that I greatly desired to know, and his abrupt entrance had prevented her from speaking freely. It was most provoking, as I might not easily find her again in a confidential mood. However, as things were, it only remained to accept the situation philosophically, so I dismissed the lost opportunity with a shrug and turned to examine the new-comer. Already he was embracing the girl, whom he rather effectedly called “daughterling.” I summed up his character from his use of that exotic word.

Mr. Monk presented himself, as a dapper, small-sized man, with a clean-shaven face, smooth grey hair parted accurately in the middle of his small head, and a pince-nez, which usually concealed two shallow brown eyes. On removing an expensive travelling-coat, lined with sable, he appeared in an admirably-cut tweed suit, with smart brown shoes, dark-blue socks, and a silk scarf of the same hue knotted neatly under an immaculately white collar. He struck me as a lap-dog man: a dandy, a petit-mâitre, too precisely dressed, too finicky—that’s the exact word—in his manner: too effeminate in his way of speaking. There was a suggestion of Miss Destiny’s mincing ways in his whole attitude. How such a doll-like piece of humanity came to have so tall and stately a daughter was a question I could not answer, until it struck me that Gertrude might take after her deceased mother. Then I wondered afresh how such a woman could have married such a manikin.

“I am glad to see you, dear,” said Gertrude, kissing him in such a motherly way, “but I did not hear the bell.”

“I let myself in by using my latch-key,” replied Mr. Monk, disengaging himself from an embrace which somewhat disarranged his careful attire, “and this gentleman, Gerty dear?”

“Mr. Vance—Mr. Cyrus Vance, the dramatist.”

“How are you, Mr. Vance. I think,” Mr. Monk put his finger reflectively to his forehead, “I think I have heard the name.”

“I doubt it,” was my reply, for the disparaging insolence of the little man somewhat amused me, “my fame has not travelled very far towards the West.”

“Oh, I am sure it deserves to,” said Mr. Monk politely. “Gerty, dear, can you give me a cup of coffee.”

“Dinner will be ready soon, father.”

“I do not want any, daughterling, as I dined in town. Rather early, to be sure, but the food was better than I could get here. Coffee, my love, coffee, and a cigarette, if you will permit smoking in your drawing-room.”

This unnecessary politeness was a further revelation of Mr. Monk’s character. Under the mask of courtesy, he secured his selfish ends, and imposed upon everyone by a heartless good breeding, which passed for amiability. I judged that in looks and manner and dress and inclinations he resembled Harold Skimpole, Esquire, and was quite as homeward-bound as that gentleman. I could have kicked myself for accepting a cigarette from a man of so mean a nature. But then he was Gertrude’s father, after all, and it was necessary to secure his good will if I desired to marry her. She seemed to be fond of him, and treated him with playful love. Filial affections evidently warped her judgment, a state of things of which I am sure Mr. Monk took every advantage.

While Gertrude ran for the coffee, he lighted my cigarette—which he had just handed me—insisted that I should be seated, and then took possession of the best chair, which he selected with unerring judgment. “I was not aware that my daughter knew you, Mr. Vance,” he said, gracefully examining his manicured nails. “Have we acquaintances in common?”

“Miss Destiny,” I rejoined, laconically.

“My sister-in-law. Strange, since she is quite a home-bird—so attached to her modest little nest. Where did you meet her may I ask?”

“At Mootley, when Anne Caldershaw was murdered.”

The cigarette fell from Mr. Monk’s white fingers, and he shuddered. “Oh pray don’t speak of that horrid thing,” he cried, holding up a protesting hand, “it has cost me many sleepless nights. So old and valued a servant, as Anne was. I shall never get over it: never. I was in London and when I read the news in the papers, I nearly fainted, really I did, I assure you.”

“Don’t speak of it, papa, if it annoys you,” said Gertrude, coming behind his chair to kiss the top of his head.

“No, my dear, I won’t.” He picked up the cigarette and waved his hand. “I banish the disagreeable vision. To a man of refinement, these crimes suggest painful thoughts, such as make one grow old. It is my aim in life, Mr. Vance,” he added, turning to me, “to avoid the unpleasant. Beauty is my desire—beauty and peace. I cannot bear the poor and the sordid: I shrink from the great unwashed. Very estimable people, no doubt, but,” he shuddered in his mincing way, “let them keep out of my sight.”

“You are not a philanthropist, Mr. Monk?”

“Certainly not. Why should I trouble about the poor. They are quite happy in their own disagreeable way, and to meddle with them only makes them discontented. Yes, Mr. Vance”—he stopped suddenly and again applied the reflective forefinger. “Ah, yes, I remember now. I saw your name as one of the witnesses at the absurd inquest. That was why it sounded familiar.”

“Why do you call the inquest absurd, papa?” asked Gertrude, handing him a cup of coffee, for while he was speaking it had been brought into the room.

“Such unnecessary trouble over a common woman,” murmured Mr. Monk gracefully; “with a glass eye too—an incomplete woman. And so very ugly. Her one redeeming feature was that she could cook, though with my late brother she had small opportunity of exercising that great art. But let us change the subject, my child, lest horrid dreams should come to us all from contemplating the crimson theme of murder. You are staying here, Mr. Vance?” he asked, dropping his grandiloquent manner, and speaking alertly.

“At The Robin Redbreast.”

“For some time?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “It depends upon my fancy.”

“I should not think Burwain had many attractions for a young man,” said Mr. Monk, still alert, and decidedly inquisitive.

“Oh, I am not very young, sir, and after the turmoil of London, a change of scene to this restful place is agreeable.”

“Quite so, quite so,” he nodded an assent, but his eyes behind the pince-nez were still watchful. “But after this Mootley tragedy I should have thought you would have sickened of the country. By the way,” he stirred his coffee negligently, “is there any chance that the assassin will be found?”

“I can’t say; I mean to try,” said I grimly, and wondered why Mr. Monk harped on the crimson theme he so much disliked.

You meant to try,” he stared and sat up quickly. “Why, may I ask?”

“I have the vice of curiosity,” was my answer. “And the circumstances of the case are so odd, that I wish to solve the mystery.”

“I don’t see where the mystery comes into the matter, Mr. Vance, if you will pardon my having a contrary opinion to yourself. The woman who ran off with your motor car,—I remember what you had to do with the matter quite well now,—stabbed Anne with a hat-pin. Where is your mystery there?”

“Dear papa,” said Gertrude, who was perched on the arm of his chair, “don’t talk about the matter, as I see it agitates you greatly.”

I glanced at her when she said this, as it struck me that if she was the woman who had taken my car, she naturally would not like the matter to be spoken about. But she appeared to be perfectly calm, and her color did not change when our eyes met. Mr. Monk was far more discomposed than she was. “My dear,” he said in answer to her remonstrance, “I must steel myself to hear all about our old servant—at least about Gabriel’s old servant. Where, I ask again, is the mystery?”

“In the fact that Mrs. Caldershaw’s glass eye was stolen,” I asserted.

“Well,” admitted Mr. Monk reluctantly, “that is a strange article to steal I agree. Do you know why it was stolen, Mr. Vance?”

“I have a theory.”

“What is your theory?” he pursued eagerly.

“Your late brother left fifty thousand pounds to Miss Monk here,” I explained, “and that money cannot be found. I believe that Mrs. Caldershaw in some way knew of the whereabouts of this fortune and indicated the hiding-place in some way by means of the glass eye. It was stolen by the person who desired to gain that fortune.”

“Dear me.” Mr. Monk sat up briskly, and then rose to his feet, “have you any grounds for this strange belief?”

“None that would satisfy you, Mr. Monk.”

“What do you think, my child?”

“There may be something in the idea,” admitted Gertrude cautiously, “it may be worth Mr. Vance’s while to search the matter out. I admit that I should be glad if he could find the money.”

If she was the woman who had taken the car, this speech was strangely daring, and while she made it, her eyes were fixed very straightly on mine. In fact, it was my eyes that fell first before hers. I must say that she puzzled me, in the face of what I knew, and more than ever I regretted the inopportune entrance of Mr. Monk, when she had been on the eve of making an explanation, which might have solved the mystery of her behavior.

“Yes, yes,” said Mr. Monk, trotting up and down the room, “I should be glad of the money myself,” and again I noted that in his selfishness he did not appear to remember that his daughter owned the missing fortune, “well, well, well, well, well, it is a strange theory, and—if you will pardon my saying so, Mr. Vance—somewhat incredible.”

“Theories are usually more or less incredible,” said I, dryly. “However, if the glass eye can be found, we may prove the improbable to be the possible.”

“The glass eye: h’m, the glass eye of Anne Caldershaw,” Mr. Monk halted near my chair, and placed me—so to speak—in the witness-box. He questioned me most precisely concerning my theory, weighed my replies, made suggestion of his own, and appealed several times to Gertrude, to learn what she thought about the matter. Finally he concluded that there might be something in the matter, although he confessed that he saw no chance of recovering the missing eye, which was the clue to the missing money. “Always presuming,” was Mr. Monk’s final remark, “that you are correct, there is no doubt that the fortune is missing, and that we—my daughter and I—would be glad to obtain it. But the chances of finding the key—if it be the key—to the mystery of the hiding-place are very, very remote. Never mind, go on.”

“I have explained everything I know, Mr. Monk.”

“I don’t mean that, sir. What I mean is, that I desire you to go on with the search for the glass eye, and for the criminal who slaughtered Anne. How do you propose to proceed, may I ask?”

“I haven’t the least idea,” I replied, despondently.

“No matter; do not despair. Nil desperandum is a most excellent motto for the young and ambitious. It has been my motto through life—” This came excellently from a man, who had done nothing but indulge himself throughout his fifty years of existence. But he made the statement in a light and airy manner, then turned to his daughter: “My dear, don’t you think that after this very criminal conversation, we might have a little music to soothe and charm our weary souls?”

Gertrude, whom the examination had made thoughtful, excused herself on the plea of fatigue, so Mr. Monk took possession of the piano himself. He played gracefully, if not convincingly, and sang little songs in a pleasant voice of no great power. I would much rather have chatted with Gertrude, who was now staring meditatively into the fire, but Mr. Monk demanded my entire attention. He was jealous of applause, and I was obliged to watch him sitting at the piano like an enlarged white rabbit. I thought privately that he was an infernal nuisance, but as the father of Gertrude, he had to be treated diplomatically.

“Come daughterling,” said Monk, when he had exhausted his stock of amiable ditties, “you are looking tired. Go to bed, my child, and leave Mr. Vance and myself to cigarettes in the smoking-room.”

“There is no fire in the smoking-room, papa,” said Gertrude, rising.

“Order the servant to light one at once, my love.”

“It is not worth while,” expostulated his daughter, and then I heard her say something in low tones regarding the price of coals. But Mr. Monk would take no denial, and—as usual—proceeded to gratify his selfish inclinations. However, as it turned out when we sought the smoking-room, the fire was not laid, so Mr. Monk, after a few severe words about the criminal negligence of servants, relinquished his point. “And I regret to see that you are not so excellent a housekeeper as I should wish you to be, Gertrude,” he finished with chill dignity. “However,—let it pass. And before leaving this room, Mr. Vance, pray examine it carefully.”

This was easy, as on entering he had lighted two powerful lamps—or rather he had ordered Gertrude to light them with my assistance—so the room was seen to the greatest advantage in the mellow radiance.

“It is the oldest portion of this old house,” explained Mr. Monk, waving his delicate hand, “built by an ancestor of mine two hundred years ago in order to live a monastic life—quite like a Monk, ha! ha!” he ended, laughing at his small jest. “My late brother Gabriel always lived in this cell—I call it a cell, Mr. Vance. Rather dull you know, but the beam is extremely fine as you can see.”

The apartment was of no great size with one narrow window opposite to one narrow door. Both of these were draped with faded crimson curtains to exclude light and draughts. The wide and spacious fireplace was decorated with reddish Dutch tiles, and at present was filled with ferns and grasses, as it doubtless had been throughout the summer. The floor was covered with a richly-hued crimson carpet from a Cairien loom, and the furniture—what there was of it—consisted of black oak. It really resembled a monastic cell in its severe looks, and the atmosphere was chill and deathlike, as though no human being ever dwelt in it. Gertrude shivered. “Come back to the drawing-room, papa,” she said, impatiently, “you can’t smoke in this ice-house.”

“All the fault of your doubtful housekeeping, my dear. One moment. I wish Mr. Vance to admire this beam to which I called his attention some time ago. See the device and lettering, Mr. Vance. An odd motto and an odd device. My ancestor chose both, and had the beam carved. A very fine piece of work.”

The beam, to which he so persistently drew my attention was a massive length of dark oak stretched across the ceiling immediately below the flat panels of black wood. In the powerful radiance of the two lamps I saw that an eagle was carved on the beam, and round him swarmed a cloud of winged insects. Beneath ran the motto in Gothic letters, and in Latin: Aquila non capit muscas!

“An eagle does not catch flies,” translated Mr. Monk, with a shrewd glance in my direction. “A quaint saying for any man to choose. There is a story attached to it, I am certain. Perhaps Gertrude—”

“I don’t know of any story, father,” she interrupted quickly, anticipating a long conversation in this vault-like room. “Do return to the drawing-room, or you will catch cold.”

This hint of possible danger to his precious person lured Mr. Monk away at once. I remained behind and extinguished the lamps for Gertrude, trying meanwhile to let her understand that I desired to resume our interrupted conversation. But she seemed to be absent-minded, and when we left the chill smoking-room, did not ask me to follow her father. I therefore assumed my overcoat and took my leave. At the last moment, Mr. Monk appeared with hospitable offers.

“A glass of wine: a slice of cake: a cigarette?” said he, graciously. “Ah, you will have nothing. Very good. Let us say good-night,” he shook my hand with a royal air, “remember while you are here to come and see us. I may be away, but my daughter will always be charmed to show you the house. So pleased to have met you: so very, very pleased.”

I finally tore myself from Mr. Monk’s blandishments, and secured a friendly smile from Gertrude as I stepped out into the darkness. On the way back to the inn, through the unlighted village streets, I meditated on the position. Mr. Monk for his own selfish ends evidently desired me to find the criminal; less to avenge Mrs. Caldershaw than to secure the glass eye, which I believed to be the clue to the hiding-place of the fifty thousand pounds. If I could manage to be successful, it was probable that out of gratitude, he would permit me to marry his daughter. And Gertrude herself, judging from our interrupted conversation, was not averse to me. She was ready to take me for a friend, at all events, and from a friend to a lover is not a far remove; it only needed time and perseverance to accomplish.

It seemed to me that my best plan was to cultivate Mr. Monk’s society while he remained at The Lodge, and between whiles, to secure, if possible, a private interview with the girl. Apparently there was something on her mind, which might, or might not have to do with the Mootley murder. But in any case if she were only frank with me, I could gage her attitude more accurately. Once I gained her confidence, and she knew me to be a true friend, if not a lover, she might explain to me how her cloak came to be in the possession of the eloping lady. Of course—although, as I have said before—I persistently declined to believe this, she might be the eloping lady herself. But in any case, it was apparent that I could not move a single step with the clue of the cloak until I learned all about it from the woman I now so devotedly loved.

Having more or less roughed out my plans, which were to see as much of Gertrude and her father as possible, I retired to bed and dreamed that I was a married man with a famous name and a large fortune. But the pleasant vision was rendered uncomfortable by the constant presence of a gigantic eye, which glared malignantly on me and on my schemes. I was glad when the morning broke.

For the next two or three days I was pretty constantly at The Lodge, and became intimate with Mr. Monk, although I did not see so much of Gertrude as I desired. Her father, in his selfishness, would not leave us alone, and moreover, learning that I had a motor car, requisitioned the same to pay visits to surrounding friends. He went to Gattlingsands, to Tarhaven, and even proposed a visit to Mootley in order to inspect the scene of the crime. I was quite willing to go.

“We can stop at Murchester and see my friend, Lord Cannington, who is in the gunners,” I suggested.

Mr. Monk started, and turned to ask questions. “You know Lord Cannington?”

“Very well. I have known him for years. And you?”

“Some friend of mine knows him,” said Mr. Monk, quietly, although I fancied that he was secretly perturbed. “The name struck me as familiar. A charming young man, I believe. I wish Gertrude knew him. Should this money be recovered, I wish her to marry a title if possible.”

This suggestion did not suit me at all. Cannington was just the kind of inflammable youth to fall at Gertrude’s feet, quite independent of the fortune. Much as I liked the boy, I did not see why I should search out fifty thousand pounds for him and allow him to marry the woman I loved. I therefore determined—selfishly perhaps—to keep Mr. Monk and Lord Cannington apart, and threw cold water on the journey to Murchester. And as Mr. Monk himself did not seem very keen about the visit, we did not go.

But he did take me to see Miss Destiny, and asked her graciously to The Lodge, rather to the annoyance of Gertrude, who had not much love for her miserly aunt. In fact while Monk remained in Burwain—which he did for quite a week—Miss Destiny hovered round the house like a bee round a flower. Once or twice I met her driving in her so-called trap—I agreed with Mrs. Faith that it was a cart—in the company of Lucinda, and she behaved pleasantly to me, although she could not deny herself the impish delight of hinting at my devotion to Gertrude.

“Not that you’ll ever marry her, Mr. Vance. Walter has other plans. She is to be used to forward his fortunes, as he wants money.”

I said nothing, but privately determined that the girl should not be sacrificed like a modern Iphigenia on the altar of selfish paternal desires. I kept my counsel, and let Monk talk as he pleased, and was unobtrusively agreeable to Gertrude. Miss Destiny I saw very little of.

On the sixth day of Mr. Monk’s stay in Burwain, I went one afternoon to The Lodge and found the little old lady in conversation with Striver. The handsome gardener was trying to evade the pertinacity of Miss Destiny, who insisted that he should look after her domain for nothing. “I am sure that my brother,” so she spoke of Mr. Monk, “pays you well Joseph, so you can easily give a couple of hours a day to my little place.”

“I have my duties here,” said Striver, scowling as I approached. “But if Mr. Monk gives me orders, I can arrange, for a certain sum.”

“Oh, I can’t pay you a single penny,” cried Miss Destiny shrilly. “It’s not to be expected. But, if you come, you will find me a friend.”

“In what way?” asked the gardener, sharply, and not too politely.

Miss Destiny did not answer in words. She looked at Striver, then looked at me, and finally glanced towards the house, where Gertrude was standing in the doorway. My rival flushed crimson, and I did also, as we both knew exactly what she meant. On seeing the tell-tale color, she burst into a roguish laugh, and walked towards the porch. A moment later, and she disappeared with her niece into the house. Striver and I looked at one another.

“You have no right to come here,” said the gardener, who looked handsomer than ever in his rough working clothes.

“What do you mean, man?”

“Oh, it’s all very well calling me man in that lordly way,” he said violently, “but I know quite well that you are in love with—”

“There is no need to mention names,” I interrupted, throwing up my hand, “and I forbid you to speak to me in this way.”

You forbid me,” cried my rival, laughing bitterly, “as if I feared you, Mr. Cyrus Vance. You have more need to fear me. Yes. After all, I believe you know more about my aunt’s death than you chose to say.”

I did not deign to reply to this absurd remark, but moved towards the house in the hope of meeting Mr. Monk. Usually he was in the drawing-room, and as the French windows were open, all three, I advanced towards the middle one, while Striver, leaning on his spade looked after me enviously. He grudged that I should be able to enter the house while he was chained to the garden and to his work. However, I had no time to consider his feelings and was about to step into the room, when I saw on a small table near it a glittering object. It was a glass eye.

Chapter 11
Miss Destiny Speaks

There it glared at me—the glass eye for which I sought. As Striver had said, it was a mere shell, on the outward curve of which was depicted the pupil and the iris of a gray eye, the white portion of the fabric being delicately streaked with thin red veins. Uttering an ejaculation I tipped it over with my finger, and just had time to see that there was a piece of silver the size of a threepenny bit—and perhaps indeed a threepenny bit—fastened inside the concave, when I heard Mr. Monk’s voice calling me on the terrace. It flashed across me in an instant that he must not see the eye, which apparently Gertrude had carelessly left lying on the table. I should have picked it up to slip into my pocket, but the sight was so very unexpected that I had not my presence of mind and stepped back again on to the terrace, leaving the sinister object on the table. At the same moment Mr. Monk coming round the corner of the terrace, slipped his arm within my own. “I heard your voice,” he said gently and it guided me towards the corner, “come and see the green-house. There are some orchids there I should like you to examine. I am fond of these weird plants. Such a well-bred taste, too,” added Mr. Monk, languidly. “The love of a man for orchids is like the love of a woman for lace.”

I replied mechanically, for my head was in a whirl, and submitted to be led to a far distant corner of the garden where the greenhouses nestled under the red brick wall. Here, while Mr. Monk discoursed learnedly on flowers,—about which he knew less than nothing,—I wondered in my own mind what might be the meaning of my discovery. The glass eye could have been left in the drawing-room by no one but Gertrude, since I already possessed her cloak to show—what I had hitherto shrunk from acknowledging even to myself—that she was the lady who had stolen my motor-car. Then again, she was the one person who had a right to the fifty thousand pounds when found. I groaned. It really seemed that my pearl amongst woman was guilty of theft and murder. And yet, even at the eleventh hour, I could not make up my mind to believe that she was guilty.

Mr. Monk mistook my groan for weariness, and became offended. “I fear you don’t take much interest in flowers, Mr. Vance,” he said, glaring at me through his pince-nez.

“Oh, yes; they interest me; pray proceed,” I said, hastily.

“No. The air of this place is so dense that it gives me a headache. The day is uncommonly warm for this season of the year. Let us return to the house. I have a new song I should like to show you. To-morrow I return to London, and shall not see you for some time.”

“Oh, I can call on you when I go back to town,” I said idly, for my brain was still preoccupied with the glass eye problem.

“No! No! Pardon me, no,” said Mr. Monk decidedly and hastily. “I am going away for a few weeks to the Continent—on business of course.”

“Business,” I echoed, “I thought you were free, Mr. Monk.”

He sighed and shrugged his shoulders, as we slowly walked across the lawn towards the shallow steps of the terrace. “I have five hundred a year,” he declared, “and what is that, a mere pittance. I have to allow Gertrude something and have this house to keep up. Also my flat in London has to be rented. I can’t do that on ten pounds a week.”

It was on the tip of my tongue to ask him why he did not remain at Burwain and play the part of a country gentleman, to reduce his expenditure, when he proceeded. “Yes, I am in business of a sort, connected with commissions on loans. That is, you will understand, Mr. Vance, I am not a money lender—far from it. I simply find people who have no money and who want it and agree to procure them money from those who possess it, on condition that I have a ten per cent commission. In a word I induce my many friends to benefit each other and so benefit myself. Come Mr. Vance, you are a rising dramatist who should be better known in the West End. Suppose you allow me—at ten per cent—to arrange a loan for you to produce one of your better class plays.”

“I have no security,” I objected.

“I can arrange that,” said Mr. Monk with an airy wave of his hand, “and if you can find that eye,” I started violently, but he did not appear to notice, “and get the fifty thousand pounds, I shall let you have the money myself at the same percentage. I shall not charge any commission,” he ended generously, quite forgetting that he was proposing to gamble with his daughter’s money. But that obtuseness was Mr. Monk all over.

“If I could see you in town,”—

“Later on: later on,” he said hastily mounting the steps, “say in three or four months when I return from the Continent. Then we can have a talk.”

“Your address is?”—

He interrupted again. “I shall see you here: I shall see you here. It will be much more convenient for me,” and he passed through the French window into the drawing-room.

Mr. Monk puzzled me, as I did not understand why he should refuse to see me on his—so to speak—business premises, seeing he desired to speak with me on a business matter. However, all his froth and small talk were driven out of my head by my discovery that the glass eye had disappeared from the small table. I suppose Gertrude had put it into her pocket, as she was in the room arranging some flowers in a vase. I glanced at her keenly, but she appeared to be perfectly cool.

“Where is your aunt?” asked Monk, looking around.

“She has gone home again: she only came to see if she could get Joseph to attend to her place,” said Gertrude, busy with her flowers, “good-morning, Mr. Vance.”

“Good-morning,” I answered looking hard at her—so hard that she blushed becomingly, but certainly not guiltily.

“What is the matter?” she asked, putting her hand to her head, “is my hair out of order?”

“No—o—o—o,” I said hesitatingly, for her coolness amazed me. “I was only delighted to see you looking so well.”

She blushed again. “Thank you,” was her laughing reply, “for that compliment you shall have a flower,” and she actually handed me a late rosebud.

I placed it in my button-hole, feeling quite bewildered. It was impossible that she could be guilty, and yet the eye had certainly been on the table, and perhaps had found a place in her pocket.

Meanwhile Mr. Monk was fuming with injured egotism at being left out of the conversation. “Attend to me, Gertrude, if you please,” he said sharply. “I wish you would tell your aunt that I disapprove of her trying to get Joseph to attend to her garden. She will not pay him, and the man can’t work for nothing.”

“Oh, I think he can,” said Miss Monk, putting the vase of now-arranged flowers on the mantelpiece. “Mrs. Caldershaw left him quite a fortune for a man in his station of life. But why don’t you speak to my aunt yourself.”

“No! no! no! She upsets my nerves. We always quarrel.”

“Exactly what happens when I speak to her” rejoined Gertrude with a shrug; “so I am never pleased when she comes here. It’s your fault, papa; when you are away she never calls. I really think she must be in love with you, dear. You had better take care, papa. Since the Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Bill is law now, aunty may wish to marry you.”

Monk laughed, and smiled, not ill-pleased by this tribute to his looks. “I shall chose a younger wife than your aunt, my dear. The stepmother I may give you will be young and charming.”

His daughter looked at him in dismay. “Papa, are you thinking of marrying again?” she demanded quickly.

“No, my love. I am too poor to marry; but if I met a rich woman, well—” he stopped, pulled up his collar, glanced in a near mirror and adjusted his tie, apparently thinking he was worthy to be wooed by an heiress.

Gertrude laughed, more at ease in her mind. “It would be foolish to marry at your age, papa. You have a comfortable house and a good income, so why not enjoy yourself as you are doing now.”

But it appeared that she had said the wrong thing, since her father was excessively touchy. “At my age, Gertrude,” he remarked in an offended tone, “you forget that I am still comparatively young, and that when you marry I shall be very solitary. As to my income, it is a mere pittance to a man of my artistic tastes.”

His daughter might have reminded him that he spent most of his income on himself, and kept her on next to nothing. But she passed over the whole speech save one remark: “I shall never marry, papa,” she said quietly.

“Why not? why not?” fumed Mr. Monk, startled.

“No one will have me,” she said demurely.

“Oh,” her father laughed, “that is all right; I haven’t been unmindful of you, my child, when in town. There are one or two men to whom I must introduce you with a view to matrimony. I shall arrange—”

“Please don’t, papa; I prefer to arrange the question of marriage myself.”

“Foolish, foolish child,” said Monk, his touchy temper again getting the better of him, “you shall do as I tell you else you will place me in the disagreeable position of Lear,” and he walked out of the room just like a child, annoyed because the bad naughty table has hurt it.

“Oh, dear me, how easily papa is offended,” sighed Gertrude, shrugging when he banged the door, “this must be unpleasant for you, Mr. Vance.”

“What must be?”

“These family jars.”

“Oh, dear, no, don’t think that,” I answered easily. “I see you have to humor your father.”

“He’s a dear father, Mr. Vance, but sometimes he is difficult to deal with; I offend him without meaning to, he is so sensitive.”

I thought the man selfish myself, but it was none of my business to say so, therefore I dropped the subject and asked Miss Monk to grant me a favor.

“I wish you to come to tea to-morrow at the inn. Mrs. Gilfin will play the part of chaperon, if your father can’t come.”

“I don’t think papa can, as he is going back to London in the morning. I accept with pleasure.”

“Shall I ask your aunt.”

“Oh, no, please don’t. I would rather Mrs. Gilfin were present. Not that it needs anyone to play propriety, as I am sure you can behave yourself. At what time do you want me to come?”

“Four o’clock, unless you like to come earlier and go for a drive in my motor.”

“No. I shall come to The Robin Redbreast at four. I wish to ask your advice on a very important subject.”

“To renew our conversation of the night when your father entered so unexpectedly?”

“Yes. As I said then, I want a friend.”

“And I said—”

“I know what you said. If you say it again, I shall begin to think I must have a chaperon for your proposed tea after all. Now you must go. I have heaps and heaps of housework to do. Also I must pack papa’s portmanteau.”

I internally blessed Mr. Monk and his confounded portmanteau, then took my departure, as I had entered, by the middle window. As I passed out I could not help glancing again at the table whereon I had seen the glass eye. Miss Monk saw my inquiring gaze and came forward. “Have you lost anything?”

I was more confounded than ever. “No—nothing,” I said hurriedly. “Good-day,” and I departed at top speed, entirely at sea as regards the true state of affairs. And yet, apart from the evidence of the cloak, the presence of the glass eye at The Lodge seemed conclusively to prove the guilt of Gertrude.

On my way back to the inn I wondered if by any chance Miss Destiny had seen the eye. On reaching the house, it was not impossible that after my capture by Mr. Monk, she might have entered the drawing-room; in which case, being—as I had frequently found—of an inquisitive turn of mind, it was certain that she had caught sight of the object. It was even possible that she had taken the eye in order to find the secret hiding-place of the fortune. Miss Destiny was a miser; Miss Destiny had no great love for her niece, so the theft of the eye would appeal to her avarice and love of making herself disagreeable. And of course, she would know very well, that her niece could say nothing without getting herself into trouble.

No sooner had this idea entered my mind, than I wheeled about and took the road to Miss Destiny’s hovel, with the intention of asking questions. But these were not easy to formulate. If she possessed the eye, she certainly would not acknowledge the theft: if she did not, I might reveal my suspicions of Gertrude and thus would place a weapon in the little old lady’s hand, which she would undoubtedly make use of. But in my hurried walk to my destination, there was no time to arrange what to say, so I determined to trust more or less to chance. And in this doubtful state of mind I arrived at the tin house.

Miss Destiny herself opened the door, and explained that Lucinda was shopping in the village. She appeared to be her usual mincing self, and betrayed no uneasiness. I was invited into her sordid, shabby sitting-room, and she entered into a long complaint about her brother-in-law’s treatment. “Walter is so very mean,” lamented Miss Destiny, sitting down, “I believe he grudges Joseph coming to work for me.”

“Mr. Monk has engaged Joseph to attend to his own garden,” I reminded her.

“The Lodge garden is in good order,” she snapped, “whereas mine needs a lot of attention. Walter might send the man along.”

“If you pay Joseph, Miss Destiny—”

“Pay him,” she interrupted with a shriek, and throwing up her hands, “my dear Mr. Vance, it is as much as I can do to keep bread in my mouth. I am reduced to this”—she glanced round—“which is by no means the abode of a gentlewoman. But Gertrude and her father would let me starve sooner than behave as relatives should.”

“Oh, no, no,” I protested. “Miss Monk is extremely kind.”

“Have you found her so?” demanded the vindictive aunt.

“I have found her charming,” was my cautious reply.

“Charms don’t pay taxes, Mr. Vance. I suppose,” she added abruptly, “that you intend to marry her. Oh, don’t look so astonished, young man. I remember how you admired her photograph in Anne’s house, and you didn’t come here for nothing. Oh dear me, no.”

“I came here to learn all I could about the glass eye, so that I might trace the assassin of Anne Caldershaw.”

“Oh, indeed,” Miss Destiny’s sharp eyes twinkled wickedly, “and you haunt my niece in order to ask questions?”

“Why not?” I ventured cautiously.

Miss Destiny laughed significantly. “Why not indeed,” she echoed, “it’s my opinion that Gertrude knows much more about the glass eye than she dares to tell you, or anyone else.”

My blood ran cold, for the moment. Apparently this disagreeable old woman had seen the eye on the drawing-room table, and thence had drawn the very worst conclusions. I ventured on a bold stroke. “Do you mean to say that Miss Monk has the glass eye?”

“I don’t say that.”

“Then she has not the glass eye,” I said impatiently, and drawing a breath of great relief.

“I don’t say that either.”

“Then what do you say, Miss Destiny.”

“Nothing, except that you will be wise to go away from Burwain and give up all idea of marrying my niece.”

“Why?” I asked very directly.

“Because—as I said—Gertrude knows something about the murder.”

“That is a serious thing to say, Miss Destiny. On what grounds do you make such an accusation?”

She made no direct reply, but rocked to and fro, “I know, I know,” she said, with a cunning look, and a malicious chuckle.

I ventured still further on the dangerous ground upon which I was treading. “Have you seen the glass eye in Miss Monk’s possession?”

“No,” she said, and her reply startled me, for I had made sure that she dared to speak thus freely from having espied the object on the drawing-room table, “I never said that she had the glass eye.”

“Then on what grounds—”

“Oh, I don’t wish to say anything,” she interrupted.

“Having said so much, you must say more,” was my firm reply, “you have no right to make dangerous accusations without proof.”

“Gertrude herself can supply the proof.”

“I would not insult her by asking her to.”

“No,” screeched Miss Destiny, jumping to her feet like a small fury, “because you are a fool. Every man who loves is a fool. And you love Gertrude. Heaven only knows what you see in her.”

“I see a lovely girl and an accomplished lady, a good daughter and an honorable gentlewoman.”

“Four people rolled into one,” sneered the spiteful little creature, quivering with wrath. “She may be lovely in your eyes—I know what fools men are—but, good and honorable she is not.”

“Prove what you say,” I cried, but she only trotted about the room, tremulous with anger and jealousy. I determined to enrage her still further, as if she completely lost her temper she might unexpectedly come out with all she knew. I was therefore pointedly rude. “The fact is, Miss Destiny, you are jealous of your niece’s beauty.”

“Me!” she quavered, and her eyes flamed, “me jealous?”

“Yes, you are also annoyed because your niece has Gabriel Monk’s money.”

“Has she? If she has, she committed murder to get it.”

“That’s a lie.”

“You forget, sir, that you speak to a lady.”

“I do not,” I retorted, still carrying out my plan, “I am speaking to a jealous old woman who is trying to harm an innocent girl.”

This last speech brought about the desired result. “Innocent!” she cried, and stamped her foot, “if she is innocent, what was she doing at Anne Caldershaw’s on the night of the murder.”

“She was not there.”

“Yes she was; yes she was; yes she was,” chattered Miss Destiny, thrusting her angry face close up to mine. “I said nothing about it at the inquest, as I did not wish to get her into trouble. But now that you dare to say I am jealous of that—that minx”—she brought out the word with a gasp. “I shall speak out, and I dare Gertrude to contradict me. I arranged to meet her at Anne’s house at five o’clock. I started on the previous day in the trap with Lucinda, and stopped the night with a friend at Saxham. Next day I went on, but owing to the state of the roads and the slowness of the horse I did not reach Anne’s house until after the crime was committed. But Gertrude intended to go to Murchester, and thence walk to Anne’s house on the day when the murder took place. I am sure that she was at Mootley at five o’clock to keep the appointment. And it was after that time that Anne was stabbed with the hat-pin. A hat-pin with a blue glass head,” cried Miss Destiny triumphantly. “I gave Gertrude three pins like that myself as a Christmas present last year. Now you see, she is guilty.”

It certainly looked like it, but I declined to admit even the shadow of a suspicion. “I don’t see,” said I, tartly, and controlling myself with an effort. “Miss Monk may have called at five o’clock and not finding you there may have returned to Burwain by the evening train.”

“Oh, did she,” mocked Miss Destiny cruelly, “then what about the blue glass-headed hat-pin? What about her presence at Mootley about the time Anne was killed? What about the lady who stole your motor car?”

“You can’t prove the lady was Miss Monk?”

“Yes I can. That man Giles said the lady wore a white cloak. I saw her with the white cloak myself. And Gertrude had such a white cloak.”

“Really,” I said bantering, although these proofs of guilt made me tremble; “perhaps you recognized Miss Monk when the motor car nearly collided with your cart—I beg pardon—your trap.”

“No, I didn’t recognize her,” said Miss Destiny, sitting down sullenly, “It was darkish, and Gertrude was the last person I expected to see in a motor car. I saw that the lady had a white cloak, and knew my niece possessed one; but it never struck me that Gertrude was the driver, until I came to Mootley and heard that Anne had been murdered. The information about the glass-headed pin made me certain.”

“All this has to be proved,” said I, after a nervous pause, for there was no denying that Miss Monk’s position was perilous, “have you accused her?”

“No, I haven’t. I asked her why she didn’t meet me at Mootley, and she said that she had decided not to go. A lie—a lie,” cried Miss Destiny, leaping to her feet again, “she was there, and she murdered Anne.”

“And stole the eye, perhaps?”

“I can’t say that for certain. I only speak of what I know. But, as Anne was murdered for the sake of the eye—everyone seems to think that—I have no doubt that Gertrude has it.”

“Have you seen it in her possession?”

“You asked me that before. I have not seen it in her possession. I only speak of what I know,” she said again and looked dogged.

There was a few minutes’ silence. Putting together Miss Destiny’s statements and what I knew about the eye and the cloak, it would seem that the proofs of guilt against Gertrude were overwhelming. Prejudiced as I was in her favor, and blinded, more or less by love, I could not help acknowledging that the evidence was dead against her. If Miss Destiny spoke out, and Gertrude was arrested, she would be hard put to prove her innocence. Only one thing remained to be done: to silence Miss Destiny, until Gertrude could explain herself.

“Of course you will say nothing,” I said sternly.

Miss Destiny looked at me sulkily. “Of course,” she asserted. “I don’t love Gertrude; all the same I don’t wish to see her hanged.”

“Not that word,” I rose and put out my hand, wincing.

“Hanged! hanged! hanged!” screamed the furious old woman, “you are so blinded by love, you fool, that you can’t see her wickedness—the murderess.”

“She is not.”

“The thief.”

“She is not.” I turned on my heel and flung open the door. Miss Destiny leaped to my side.

“What are you going to do?”

“I intend to see Miss Monk, and ask her to disprove your accusations.”

“She can’t; she daren’t.”

“We shall see,” I snapped, and left the house, while Miss Destiny jeered and made mouths after me like a wicked foul old witch.

Chapter 12
Gertrude’s Defence

As may be guessed, I passed a very perturbed four and twenty hours until my arranged interview with Miss Monk. Miss Destiny had not seen the glass eye in the drawing-room, and so far could prove nothing against her niece. I believe that, so far, she was speaking the truth, as if she had seen the eye, she would have only been too pleased to adduce its presence as a proof of Gertrude’s guilt. But, as things were, what she knew was damning enough. She could swear to the girl’s presence at Mootley on the evening of the murder, and to the ownership of the white cloak, worn by the lady who had stolen my motor car. Fortunately, from sheer shame, since Miss Monk was her niece, Miss Destiny promised to hold her tongue.

In the face of what the old woman had said and that I already knew, it seemed certain that Gertrude was guilty. Miss Destiny could even declare that her niece had possessed certain blue glass-headed hat-pins, with one of which the crime had been committed. Then again Gertrude wished to get the money, which, after all, was rightfully her own. It seemed probable—on the face of it—that while waiting with Anne Caldershaw for Miss Destiny’s arrival, she had tried to learn what the ex-housekeeper knew as to the whereabouts of the money. Anne may have boasted that the secret was locked up in her glass eye, and then—well, I shuddered to think of what took place. Nine people out of ten would have pronounced Gertrude guilty with the greatest promptitude: but I happened to be the tenth, and I hesitated to give an opinion. But then I was in love, and my decision was biassed.

But I really could not believe that so lovely a girl was guilty. Besides, her demeanor was not that of a brazen criminal, and she had seemed really puzzled by my over-attentive gaze. Tossing and turning on my bed, I tried to see some ray of light, but all was utter darkness. The evidence was dead against Gertrude Monk, and her fate was in the hands of her vindictive aunt. Miss Destiny might hold her tongue for the time being, but it would take very little to set it wagging. And being a miser, she might try to blackmail her niece. My brain ached with trying to get at the truth. To Inspector Dredge it would have have been readily apparent; but in the face of stern facts I refused to believe the girl to be guilty.

Then there was Giles. During the night I thought a good deal of Giles, whom I had met that very evening when I returned to the Robin Redbreast. He was remaining there for the night, and informed me that he had come over to Burwain that day in order to see Striver about the lease of the corner shop.

“You see, Mr. Vance,” said Giles, shortly before I retired to bed, and while we were in the bar, “my wife wants to have a shop of her own, so I thought I would get Mr. Striver to make over the lease of Mrs. Caldershaw’s shop to me. My wife is set on having it, and I think Mr. Striver will agree to the terms I propose.”

“You have seen him, then?”

“Yes, sir. I went to his house to-day and found he was at the Lodge, working in the garden. I sought him out there and we had a talk, just before Miss Destiny came to bother him. I went away then, and afterwards you came.”

“Oh,” my mind swiftly ran over the events of the day, “then you were in the grounds of the Lodge before I arrived?”

“Yes, Mr. Vance,” said Giles, readily enough. “Mr. Striver wasn’t in the garden at the time, as he had gone round to the back of the house. I walked up to the front door and asked for him. The servant sent a message, and we were talking over our deal when the little old lady arrived. She spoilt the business, for the time being; but I saw Mr. Striver this evening, and we have arranged about the matter. My wife will have the shop.”

I thought a good deal about this conversation when in bed. Giles had been alone in the grounds of The Lodge and had gone up to the house to seek for Striver. Might he not have placed the eye on the table, since he could easily do so, when the middle French window was open. But then I had absolutely no reason to suspect Giles, as the glass eye would be meaningless to him. But stop! Would it indeed be meaningless? Certainly Mrs. Giles had denied that she knew about Mrs. Caldershaw’s glass eye, but then she had admitted that the ex-housekeeper had said she would never die in her bed. In one way or another Mrs. Giles may have learned the secret of the hidden money, and thus Giles might have killed Mrs. Caldershaw to obtain the glass eye which was the clue. But after reflection I dismissed this theory as utterly ridiculous. Giles could not have gained possession of the hat-pin belonging—according to Miss Destiny—to Gertrude Monk; and certainly, having the eye, would not come over to Burwain to leave it in the drawing-room of The Lodge. Giles, on the face of it, was utterly innocent. Yet it was strange that he should have been in the grounds of the Jacobean house nearly at the time I had seen the glass eye, and that it had disappeared. If Giles had not placed it there, he might have taken it.

“No! no! no! no!” I muttered in drowsy tones; “it’s absurd. Giles has nothing to do with the matter. He merely came over to arrange about the shop. He did not place the glass eye there: nor did Striver. If Striver had possessed the eye he would have gained possession of the money. Besides, he was not at Mootley until the funeral took place. Mr. Monk! He’s innocent enough, as he was in London when the crime was committed. Moreover, if he possessed the eye, he also would be in possession of the fortune. Gertrude is the only person to whom suspicion points. I shall insist upon a full explanation to-morrow. I alone can save her if she is guilty.” And then I fell into a troubled sleep, reproaching myself for daring to doubt my divinity.

Giles departed next morning before I arose, and I did not see him again. Haunted still by undefined suspicions, I regretted his departure, and determined later to look him up at Mootley. Of course, the mere idea of thinking that the respectable sturdy greengrocer was guilty seemed ridiculous, but in my anxiety to save Gertrude from danger I was willing to sacrifice anyone and everyone. To such a state does love bring the most just of mankind.

By the midday post I received an impetuous letter from Cannington, who informed me that he had snaffled—the word is his own—a couple of weeks’ leave. For the present he was staying with his aunt, Lady Denham, because Mabel wished it, but proposed, when I came up, to take rooms at a hotel, where he would—as he put it—be less tied by the leg. Then he went on to say that I had remained long enough at Burwain, and that if I did not come to him he would come to me, like Mahomet and the proverbial mountain. Bearing in mind Mr. Monk’s aspirations for a titled son-in-law, this was the last thing I desired, so I arranged promptly in my own mind to accept his invitation. Besides, after my interview with Gertrude, in which I hoped to come to an understanding, there would be no need for me to remain at Burwain. Her story might send me farther afield in search of new clues.

Reading between the lines of Cannington’s letter, I saw that he was devoured with curiosity concerning Miss Monk. He knew that I had fallen in love with the portrait, and as he had always regarded me as a particularly staid, sedate personage, he naturally doubted if I would carry on so fantastic a romance. However, he evidently had his suspicions, since I chose to linger in a dull country village, and therefore was desperately anxious to see the lady who could thus move my elderly heart. As Cannington was a most pertinacious mortal, I wrote by the next post that I would be in London next week, and then would have much to tell him about the case. And as a matter of fact I did wish to have some safe person with whom to discuss matters. I could always rely on Cannington to hold his tongue, even if his advice did not prove to be particularly good. At all events the boy could always be relied upon to keep silent, which was more than I could say for many people I know. So to Cannington I resolved to confide the full tale of my discoveries, and—in the interests of my wooing—I ended my letter with a repetition of the fact that I was coming to see him. Had I not emphasized this the boy might have appeared the next day to make inquiries.

After posting this letter I consulted with Mrs. Gilfin about afternoon tea, and that able old creature bustled about to some purpose. She arranged flowers in my sitting room, stoked the fire, dusted the furniture unnecessarily, and spread a truly gorgeous tea for my visitor. I protested that neither one of us could eat so many cakes and buns and jam and bread as loaded the table. Mrs. Gilfin—who had some idea of my state of mind—admitted with a beaming smile that love did spoil the appetite. But she objected to the presence of my second portmanteau in the sitting-room.

“It do spile the looks of things,” said Mrs. Gilfin; “why not put it in the bedroom, Master Cyrus?”

“I have use for it here, Cuckoo,” I answered, and so I had, for in it was snugly folded the celebrated cloak, which I proposed to show to Gertrude when the time came for explanations.

At four o’clock all was spic and span, as the room was as comfortable as the afternoon tea was tempting. Miss Monk duly arrived—this time without Puddles as an escort—and looked more beautiful than ever in her plain dress. Poor girl, she nearly always wore the same frock, which showed how very short in cash Mr. Monk kept her. She should have been arrayed in silk attire, and I inwardly swore, when establishing her in a deep-seated armchair by the fire, that some day she should be, at my expense. Meantime I handed her a cup of tea, and piled her with thin bread and butter, much to Mrs. Gilfin’s satisfaction. That good lady had looked in to see that we were comfortable. “Eat all you can, miss,” urged Mrs. Gilfin, “you don’t look as fat as you ought to be.”

Gertrude shuddered. “I don’t want to grow fat,” said she, laughing.

“There’s worse things than fat,” said Mrs. Gilfin sensibly. “Lean people with wrinkles are never so nice as them without. If Miss Destiny had more flesh on her bones she would be more popular,” and after delivering herself of this dictum the landlady departed with a fat chuckle.

Gertrude’s face clouded when her aunt was mentioned. I noticed this and commented thereon. “You are not fond of Miss Destiny,” I remarked.

“I have little reason to be,” she replied with a nervous air. “Aunt Julia—”

“Is that her name?”

“Yes. Julia Destiny—a strange name, isn’t it? Well, then, she has always behaved harshly to me. Even when I was a child she never liked me, and since Uncle Gabriel left me this fortune she has scarcely been able to bear the sight of me. Then this morning—”

“What about this morning?” I asked, seeing her hesitation.

“Aunt Julia came to me and said all manner of dreadful things. Even if you had not arranged this afternoon tea, Mr. Vance, I should have come to see you. I need a friend more than ever.”

I privately thought—and I was right in thinking so—that Miss Destiny had been making herself disagreeable over the visit to Mootley, and perhaps had added threats. However I said nothing for the moment, as I wished Gertrude to tell her story in her own way. “Take some cake and another cup of tea,” I murmured sympathetically, “then we can talk.”

Gertrude handed me her cup. “I can’t eat or drink anything more, thank you, Mr. Vance. I want to speak seriously to you. No one can hear us, I hope?”

I glanced at the door and window; both were closed. “No one can hear us,” I assented, taking the chair opposite to her, “and you can depend upon my being secret about whatever you choose to tell me; you know that.”

“Yes.” She looked straightly at me, and her royal beauty impressed me anew. “I have studied your character closely, so that I might be certain of making no mistake.”

“And you are satisfied?”

“Perfectly.” She glanced round again, then leaned back in her chair. “Listen, Mr. Vance, and don’t interrupt me more than you can help, as it is difficult for me to tell my story clearly.”

“I am all attention,” said I, leaning forward.

“You know that I told you of the fifty thousand pound, which my Uncle Gabriel left me.”

“Yes, the fortune which is missing.”

Gertrude nodded. “Uncle Gabriel was a miser, and concealed his riches. My father has inherited the income and the property, but the fifty thousand pounds has been hidden away. When the will was read I learned that such a sum had been left to me, but its whereabouts could not be discovered. I searched through all my late uncle’s papers without result. Then, about the end of July, I came across an old box in the attic filled with foolscap sheets covered with figures. Also there was some writing in the form of a diary, two or three loose sheets pinned together.”

“Have you the diary and the other papers?”

“Yes; you can see them when you come to The Lodge. Meanwhile it is easier for me to tell you the contents, as the writing is extremely. crabbed. I learned that Uncle Gabriel had for years used the family income of five hundred per annum in purchasing diamonds.”

“Really! He could buy many valuable stones at such a price.”

“You forget that he had the income for forty years or thereabouts and lived like a pauper. He was always saving money and buying diamonds. At times—as the diary said—he went to London and Amsterdam and Paris and traded in stones. He turned over what he had bought, as a matter of fact, and in one way and another managed to accumulate fifty thousand pounds’ worth of jewels.”

“Then the fortune, which is hidden, consists of diamonds?”

“Exactly. In the diary Uncle Gabriel hinted that the jewels were for me, but that he mistrusted my father, and would put them safely away.”

“Why did he mistrust your father?” I asked, although I had a very shrewd suspicion of what the answer would be.

The girl flushed. “Uncle Gabriel was never just to my father,” she said in a low voice. “Oh, I know that papa has his faults, but his heart is in the right place. Papa has no idea of money: he is like a child; so Uncle Gabriel thought that if papa secured the diamonds he might squander their value.”

“What!” said I, significantly, “when they belonged to you?”

She colored again. “I think papa believes what is mine is his. You see Uncle Gabriel died when I was about sixteen—five years ago—and he thought that if papa could lay hands on the jewels then that they would not come to me. He mistrusted papa.”

“And with very good reason,” I murmured, too low for Gertrude to hear. Walter Monk, as I truly believed; would act exactly in the way his brother suspected he would.

“What’s that you say?”

“Never mind. I understand that the diamonds were concealed so that your father might not be tempted. But surely your uncle intended them to come into your hands sooner or later.”

“Yes. The diary said that the jewels were hidden in a certain place.”

“What place?” I asked abruptly.

“Ah, that was kept secret. But Uncle Gabriel talked about trusting Anne—”

“Ah!” I said, rubbing my hands with satisfaction, “now we are coming to the gist of the matter. Any mention of the eye?”

“No. You see, in the diary—it can hardly be called one—Uncle Gabriel only jotted down scraps of the scheme in his head. To make a long story short, I gathered that he had entrusted the secret of the whereabouts of the diamonds to Anne Caldershaw, as he had known her for years and esteemed her an honest woman.”

“I see; and she was not honest.”

“Don’t you think so?”

“No. Evidently she intended to tell Striver the secret, since she left him the glass eye in the will. He was to get the money, and then—I daresay—he could ask you to marry him.”

“Ridiculous,” said Miss Monk, coloring.

“Perhaps. Nevertheless I believe that such was the scheme of Mrs. Caldershaw, for she intended to enrich her nephew at your expense, hoping that you would marry him, and thus gain the benefit of what was rightfully your own. The idea of a marriage salved her conscience, as it were.”

“The idea is absurd. I would never marry a man like Joseph, although he is handsome and fairly well educated.”

“You know that he loves you.”

“Yes, I know,” she replied, blushing, but in a somewhat cold tone. “Never mind: the thing—as I say—is absurd. But it might be as you say, Mr. Vance, that Anne had such a scheme in her head. However, you understand that I gathered from the so-called diary that she knew of the whereabouts of the jewels.”

“Yes. I know that. What did you do?”

“I determined to go over and see Anne Caldershaw.”

“And did you?”

“Yes.” She looked at me nervously.

“You were at Mootley then, when—when—”

“No,” she burst out fiercely. “Not though Aunt Julia swears I was.”

“Oh. You did not go to Mootley at all?”

“Yes I did. I arranged to meet Aunt Julia at Anne’s house at five o’clock. I got there before that time.”

“Then you were at Mootley on the evening of the murder.”

“I have never denied it,” she said, cresting her head like a snake and looking haughty, “but I do deny that I was in the house when the crime was committed. I was not the woman who ran away with your motor car, whatever Aunt Julia may say.”

“Who was the woman, then?”

“I don’t know. I never set eyes on her.”

“Ah!” said I thoughtfully, “talking of eyes, was Mrs. Caldershaw’s glass optic in her head when you spoke to her?”

“Yes, it was. And remember, please, that I never knew—as it appears from your ingenious theory—that the secret was hidden in that eye. I came at half-past four, and went into the back room, where I talked with Anne. I related to her what I had discovered, and asked her to tell me where the diamonds were. She said she did not know.”

“She did not know,” I echoed in utter astonishment.

“So she said. She declared that Uncle Gabriel had given her a cipher, in which he had concealed the whereabouts of the diamonds. Anne could not read it herself, so she had no idea of where the jewels were.”

“Did you ask her for the cipher?”

“Yes, I did. She refused to give it to me.”

“On what grounds?”

Gertrude grew red and looked nervously into the fire. “I may as well be quite frank,” she said, with an outburst of candor. “Anne really did wish me to marry her nephew, and said she would give me the cipher if I promised to marry Joseph. I refused, and then—”

“Well, what then?” I asked impatiently, and indignant at the plot between the dead woman and the gardener to force Miss Monk into unwilling matrimony.

“Then I heard a voice in the shop calling for Mrs. Caldershaw. She went away, and shortly afterwards returned to ask me to leave at once. There was someone who wished to speak to her, and she did not wish me to meet this person. Therefore she asked me to leave at once.”

“Did you know who this person was?”

Gertrude hesitated. “I could answer you that frankly,” she said, after a pause, “as I caught a glimpse of the person through the half-open shop door. The mere sight of this person sent me away, as I did not wish to meet—” Here she hesitated.

“Him or her?” I asked inquisitively.

“I would rather not say just now,” she replied with reserve.

“But you must say,” I insisted. “Don’t you see that this person, whether man or woman, may have been the one who murdered Mrs. Caldershaw.”

She grew pale. “I have thought of that myself,” she said hurriedly, “therefore I refuse to tell you who the person was. If a certain contingency happens I shall speak out.”

“You won’t tell me now?” I said, somewhat wounded.

“No. Don’t ask me to. Perhaps later on.” She seemed greatly distressed. “You see it’s a terrible thing for me to give the name of a person who might be accused of the crime. If this person was hanged, even if guilty, I should not be able to rest in my bed.” She shuddered and burst into tears. “My position is very hard,” she wailed.

“But I can assist you if you will speak plainly.”

She shook her head. “I cannot speak plainer than I am doing. Later on, yes, later on, I may tell you, but just now I dare not—I dare not,” and again she began to weep.

As it was evident that she had some strong reason to conceal the name of this mysterious person I did not press her further, although I was most anxious to learn all about the matter. Instead, I asked another question in soothing tones. “How did you leave?”

“By the back door,” said Gertrude, drying her eyes. “In that way I escaped coming face to face with the person in question.”

“But there is no gate out of the back yard by which you could escape. I examined the fence myself.”

“You did not examine it carefully enough. The gate is at the side of the house, and is exactly like the fence. When it is closed no one could tell that there was a gate. I expect that is why you overlooked it. Outside the gate, a path led amongst those elm-trees some little distance, until it came out on to the high road some distance down the slope. I went along the path, and on gaining the road I walked to Murchester, where I caught the half-past six train. So you see that I had nothing to do with the murder. I was horrified when I heard of it, and seeing the danger I was in of being suspected, I held my peace. I even denied to Aunt Julia that I had been to Mootley at all, saying that I had changed my mind.”

I recalled the conversation with Miss Destiny, and recognized that Gertrude was speaking the exact truth. “Mrs. Caldershaw was alive and well when you left her?” I asked, rising to drag out my portmanteau.

“Quite well. What are you doing?”

“I’ll show you in one moment. Mrs. Caldershaw did not appear to be afraid of being killed?”

“No; she was quite her usual self.”

“Did you take your cloak with you?”

“My cloak?” She rose, much agitated. “How do you know that I wore a cloak?”

“You must have had one to take such a journey,” I said evasively.

“Yes,” replied Gertrude, somewhat reassured; “but—oh!” she gasped, as I displayed the garment I had produced from the portmanteau.

“Yes,” I said, unfolding it, “this is the cloak worn by the lady who took my motor car. I found it concealed in the field. And it is your cloak?”

“Yes,” she admitted with white lips, “it is my cloak.”

Chapter 13
Love

We stared at one another for quite sixty seconds: she standing white-faced and tongue-tied near her chair, I kneeling by the open portmanteau to display the cloak. When I would have spoken, she flung up a protesting hand to silence me.

“How do you know it is my cloak?”

“The embroidery in blue silk repeats the initials of your name.”

“And you found it in the field, where the motor car was stranded?”

“I did, concealed in a hedge.”

“Where I concealed it?”

“I don’t say that.”

Gertrude stepped back and clutched at her breast. “Don’t you believe that I am the woman who stole your car?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Don’t you believe that I murdered Anne for the sake of the eye?”

“No, I don’t.”

“But on what ground”—she flung abroad her arms—“do you believe me to be innocent?”

“I love you.”

“You love me,” she repeated mechanically.

I rose, still holding the cloak in my arms, and spoke vehemently. “Of course you must have seen for days that I love you. I came here because I fell in love with your photograph, and because I found this.” I shook the cloak. “Yes! Can you not understand that I desired to save you.”

“To save me. From what?”

“From arrest. Had anyone but myself found the cloak you would have been in prison long, long ago. But I told no one about my discovery. I hid the cloak in my portmanteau and came here to seek an explanation. I knew that you would be able to exculpate yourself.”

“Then you needed an explanation?” she asked in low tones.

“Only that I might learn how to save you. I needed no explanation to assure me that you are innocent. For a moment I had my doubts, when Miss Destiny spoke to me, yesterday—”

Gertrude interrupted with a cry and the scarlet blood flushed her cheeks swiftly. “Aunt Julia has been speaking to you?”

“I have been speaking to Aunt Julia. Listen. I saw long ago that your aunt was not your friend, and I feared lest she should make mischief. I therefore called to see her yesterday, so that I might learn how much she knows. She told me—”

“I know what she told you,” interrupted Gertrude again, and flung back her head; “she came to me this morning, as I explained, and said all manner of dreadful things.”

“Such as—?”

“I shall tell you, so that you may see I place myself entirely in your hands, Mr. Vance. Aunt Julia declared that I was at Mootley on the evening of the murder; that the hat-pin with which Anne was stabbed belonged to me; and that she saw my white cloak on the lady who drove the motor car, whom she believed to be myself escaping. She threatened to tell the police all these things unless I gave her half of the fifty thousand pounds. As if I could—as if I could!” wailed Gertrude, dropping into her seat. “I do not know where it is.”

“Why not learn from the glass eye?”

She looked up astonished. “I have not got the glass eye.”

I stared in my turn. “Listen, Miss Monk. In the face of what you have told me, and of what your aunt has said, I believe that you are innocent.”

“Thank God for that,” she muttered. “I could not have endured an accusation from you.”

On hearing this it was with the greatest difficulty that I prevented myself from taking her in my arms to kiss away the tears. But there was much to be cleared up before I could do that, as I wished her to understand my entire belief in her innocence. “But,” I went on with emphasis, “while I know that your account of the interview with Mrs. Caldershaw is correct, I ask you to trust me—as I am your firm friend—fully.”

“I have trusted you fully,” she said plaintively.

“What about the glass eye? Are you sure that Mrs. Caldershaw did not allow you to carry it away when you left by the back door to escape meeting this mysterious person you speak of.”

“I am quite sure,” said Gertrude, rising with great dignity, “that Mrs. Caldershaw’s glass eye was in her head when I ran from her house. I was in such a hurry to escape meeting the person I mentioned that I left my cloak behind me, and also one of the blue glass-headed pins which fastened my hat. I can guess what happened. The assassin killed Anne with the hat-pin, stole the glass eye, and then assumed my cloak to escape, and perhaps,” she added, with an afterthought, “to throw the blame of the crime on me.”

“And the assassin was this person whom you did not wish to meet?”

Her hands trembled. “I think not: I hope not. I—I—I can’t answer your questions, Mr. Vance. But why,” she continued hurriedly, “why do you mention the glass eye in connection with my not having—as you declare—trusted you fully?”

“Because I saw the very eye on the small table near the middle window of the drawing-room at The Lodge.”

She rose quickly and looked aghast. “You—saw—the—glass eye there?” she said slowly. “When?”

“Yesterday.” And I rapidly explained the circumstance. “I thought that you had the eye in your pocket when I came afterwards into the room with your father,” I said, “and because I fancied Miss Destiny might have seen it, I went along, in your interest, to interview her. But from what she said I am convinced that you had concealed it before she could set eyes on it.”

“Stop!” cried Gertrude. “I did not conceal it. I never saw the glass eye save in Anne’s head. If I had that eye you must think me guilty.” And her eyes searched my face.

“No,” I said firmly; “I only thought that perhaps, not quite trusting me, you did not say that Anne Caldershaw had given it to you.”

“But she did not. I have told everything. You know the reason why I went to Mootley, and all that took place. I left Anne in good health and walked to Murchester to catch the train. Don’t you believe me?”

“Oh,” I advanced towards her anxiously, “can’t you see that I believe you entirely. Nothing will ever persuade me that you are guilty. All I ask is for absolute confidence, so that I can find the true assassin and free you from the danger of being denounced by your vindictive aunt.”

“I have given you my absolute confidence,” she said with dignity, yet not unmoved by my declaration.

“Not entirely. I do not know the sex or the name of the person from whom you fled at the corner shop.”

Gertrude turned swiftly towards the window. “I can answer no question on that point,” she said in low tones.

“Do you think this person had possession of the eye?” I persisted.

“No! no! no! Ask me no more, I have told you all that I can tell you.”

“I will only ask one question, which—if I am to learn the truth about this case, and save you from arrest—I must have answered. Do you believe that the person in question is guilty?”

She turned with a pearly-white face. “No, the person is not guilty. Do you wish me to swear it?”

Her question was sarcastic, and I winced. “I believe your bare word,” I said somewhat coldly; “have I not proved my belief?”

“Forgive me.” In her turn she moved towards me, and laid a beseeching hand on my arm. “You are my best friend and indeed my only friend. I have no one but you to trust.”

“And love?” I asked, trying to catch her hands.

“No! no!” she drew away; “not yet.”

“Yes, now. We must understand one another. I am not content with friendship, Gertrude, I want your love.”

“But—but it is so sudden!” she stammered.

“Sudden. When I have been eating my heart out ever since I set eyes on your portrait? Oh, my dear, you can’t believe that.”

“But—but,” she made another objection. “There is so much to talk about.”

“We can talk all the easier when we understand one another. Surely you can see how devoted I am to you.”

“I know that; oh yes, I know that; indeed I do.”

“Then—” I held out my hands.

“Mr. Vance?”

“Call me by my name.”

“Indeed I can’t—oh no—oh no.”

“Gertrude!” this time I became masterful and possessed myself of her unwilling hands, “is there anyone else?”

“No; certainly there is not.”

“You don’t love Striver.”

“The idea! I never heard such nonsense.”

“You are about to hear a good deal of nonsense. When a sensible man such as I am is in love, he talks his heart out.”

She did not draw away her hands, but laughed softly in spite of her fears and insistent troubles. “What you say can never be nonsense.”

“Then you love me?” I demanded persistently.

“Yes; it’s no use my denying it, I do love you.”

“Gertrude!” I caught her fully in my arms and, before she could turn her head aside, had pressed my lips to her own. She bore the embrace for one moment, then pushed me away, and retreating to the armchair sat down to cry softly. I followed. “Gertrude darling!”

“Oh, what is the use of talking? How can we behave in this way, when all things are wrong? I do love you: it is useless to say that I do not. But my heart aches with pain.”

“Darling,” I knelt beside her, “I am here to help you.”

“I know. I accept your help gladly, and I thank God for having sent a good man to help me.”

“Dear, don’t think of me as good, I have no end of faults.”

“You would not be human otherwise, and for those faults I love you all the more, Mr.—”

“Gertrude?”

“Well then, Cyrus.”

“Dearest, my own; you will marry me?”

“Some day, when—” She suddenly rose, and assumed a resolute air. “Cyrus, we must not fiddle while our Rome is burning. Tell me how the glass eye came to be at The Lodge?”

I fell into her humor, as I saw that she regarded the position of things as far too serious to permit simple love dalliance. “My dear, I can’t tell you unless—”

“I never saw the eye,” she interrupted impatiently. “Don’t you believe me.”

“Yes. You never saw the eye. Was Miss Destiny in the drawing-room?”

“No; we both went up to my bedroom when she came into the house, and I saw her out of the gate just before I returned to the house to meet you and my father. Why do you ask that question? Do you think my aunt—?”

“Oh no. Miss Destiny did not arrive at Mootley until the crime was committed. She could not have got possession of the glass eye. I only wished to be sure that she had not seen it. As she did not enter the drawing-room, and as I have cross-questioned her, it is evident that she knows nothing on that point. Then there’s Giles?”

“Who is Giles?”

“He is a man who lives at Mootley, and who caught me in the back room with Mrs. Caldershaw’s dead body. He came over to see Striver about the lease of the corner shop, and was in the garden of The Lodge. I wondered if he might have placed the glass eye on the table.”

“Why should he? Does he know anything of the secret?”

“I don’t think so, and indeed he is an honest man, who would not harm anyone, my dear. I don’t think Giles had the eye. Then Striver—”

“Oh, Cyrus, he did not go to Mootley until the funeral. Do you suspect him?”

“Not of the murder. But it is just possible that the eye was not taken by the assassin, and that Striver found it when he was in the shop hunting amongst the papers of his late aunt.”

“That is a new idea, since you have always believed that the murder was committed for the sake of the eye.”

“I don’t know what to believe,” I said wearily, passing my hand across my forehead. “Still someone must have placed the eye on the table, and why not Striver, who was working in the garden?”

“I don’t see—supposing your theory of the murder is true—how he could have got possession of the eye. It might be another one?”

“I don’t think so, Gertrude, for in the concave of the eye I saw a piece of white metal—silver, I fancy. On that, I truly believe, the hiding-place of the diamonds is indicated.”

“But if Joseph had the eye,” she persisted, “although I do not see how he could have got it, he would use it to find the diamonds, and thus would not have placed it on the table.”

“You forget,” I said quickly, “that the hiding place of the eye is indicated in cipher, according to Mrs. Caldershaw. Joseph might have found the eye in the corner house—I don’t accuse him of murder—and, being unable to read the cipher, might have placed the eye on the table to implicate you.”

“Why should he, when he says that he loves me?”

“For that very reason. He is jealous of me, and knows that you will never marry him. If by implicating you he could secure your arrest, and then could save you by confessing that he found the eye and placed it on the table, he might think you would marry him out of gratitude.”

“Oh, the idea is absurd,” said Gertrude petulantly. “It’s such a roundabout way of going to work. Let us ask Joseph?”

“No,” I said cautiously; “after all what I say is merely theoretical. If Joseph did not place the eye on the table, it is no use our letting him know that it was there. It would supply him with a weapon.”

“Then you don’t think he—”

“I can’t say what I think; as I said before,” I muttered, rising to pace the room, “if I were a born detective I might unravel this mystery. As it is I can’t see my way to the truth.”

“If the truth is never known,” remarked Gertrude, after a pause, “what does it matter?”

“This much. You will always be in danger of being denounced by your aunt.”

“Not if I give her half the fifty thousand pounds.”

“Quite so, my dear, but there again, the truth must be discovered, as you can’t gain possession of the money otherwise. Can you trust your servant?”

“Eliza? Oh yes. She has been with us for years. She could not have placed the eye on the drawing-room table. What time did you see it?”

“About three o’clock. I was about to enter the room through the middle window, which was open, and saw it suddenly. Then your father called me. When I returned in half-an-hour you were in the room and the eye was gone.”

“I had just entered the drawing-room a few moments before you came with papa,” said Gertrude thoughtfully; “and I entered through the window, as I had been seeing my aunt out of the gate. The eye certainly was not on the table then. I should have seen it otherwise, as you did.”

“Well then, it was gone just before half-past three,” I remarked, “and I saw it at the hour. When you were in the drawing-room before that time did you see anything?”

“No,” replied Gertrude impatiently, “I told you I never saw the eye at all, Cyrus. I did not enter the drawing-room after luncheon until half-past three o’clock. In the morning I certainly saw nothing.”

“Was your father in the drawing-room after luncheon?”

“Not to my knowledge. He was pottering round the greenhouses. Surely you don’t suspect papa?” and her color rose.

“No; certainly not. Only I wondered if he had seen it.”

“He could not have seen it, else he would have picked it up to show me.”

“Well,” I said, with a long-drawn sigh, for the mystery of the thing perplexed me, “I don’t know who placed it there, or who took it away. Perhaps Striver removed it,” I added with an afterthought.

“Why should he?”

“Why shouldn’t he?” I echoed. “It’s the very thing he wanted, since when I saw him at Mootley he was hunting for the eye to secure the money.”

“But you said—”

“I know what I said,” was my cross interruption. “So far as I can see there is no chance of learning the truth, as I dare not risk speaking to Striver lest I place a weapon in his hand. I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, dear,” said Gertrude, rising to take her departure “if you ask my opinion, I think it is best to leave matters alone.”

“But you will be in danger from your aunt’s tongue.”

“I don’t think so. I have promised to give her half the money when it is found, and she won’t risk losing that, since she is such a miser. Anne is dead and buried, so let sleeping dogs lie.”

“And marry you?” I asked tenderly.

“Yes, and marry me.” She came forward, threw her arms round my neck and whispered: “Cyrus let us think of ourselves and our happiness, and leave this mystery alone.”

“Well,” I shrugged my shoulders and slipped my arm round her waist, “I only wished to learn the truth in order to shield you, although I don’t deny that the mystery of the case appeals to me. But if you are content to leave it alone and marry me, so am I. Let us relegate the murder of Mrs. Caldershaw to the already long list of undiscovered crimes.”

“And the cloak?” asked Gertrude, her eyes falling on it.

“I’ll wrap it up in a parcel, and you can take it back to hang in your wardrobe. Eliza knows that you have a white cloak, and will never connect it with the Mootley murder, even though she read an account of the case.”

“She has not,” said Gertrude shaking her head; “she never reads any of the newspapers, and only knows that Anne is murdered. She may hear talk, of course, but I don’t fancy she’ll trouble her head.”

“Does she know that you went to Mootley on that day?”

“No; I told her that I was going to London, for you see I did not wish my father to know that I had been to see Anne.”

“Why not?”

“Can you ask, knowing what I said about my uncle’s mistrust of my father. If papa knew what I had found out about the diamonds, and had gone to see Anne about the matter, he would—at the time—had I been successful, have insisted on my giving him the jewels. For that reason I kept my visit secret from everyone, save my aunt. I was forced to let her know, as she had arranged to see Anne on that day, and we were bound to meet.”

“Did you tell Miss Destiny about the diary?”

“Yes. It was necessary for me to ask her if she thought that Anne would be honest enough to give me the cipher. She told me that she believed there would be no difficulty in getting it, as Anne, having nursed me, was devoted to my interest. But you see,” ended Gertrude with a sigh, “Anne would only help me on condition that I agreed to marry Joseph.”

“Then you don’t intend to let your father have the diamonds when they are found?” I asked, wrapping up the cloak in brown paper.

“No, dear. Papa is the best of men, but he does not know the value of money, and if he gained possession of fifty thousand pounds would only squander it. The five hundred a year he has settled on me after his death, and he can’t spend the capital. I shall give papa plenty of money within reason when he asks for it, and when the jewels are mine.”

“Oh, he’ll ask for it right enough,” I muttered cynically. “However, Gertrude, you must first catch your hare. We must search for the diamonds. It may be that they are hidden in the house.”

“No. It has been turned upside down without result.”

“I wish I had found time to glance at the cipher, which certainly must have been written on that piece of silver attached to the eye,” I muttered regretfully. “However, it’s too late now, nothing can be done.”

“Nothing,” echoed Gertrude, taking the parcel from me and advancing towards the door. “Leave the matter alone, Cyrus, and let us be happy.”

I flew after her. “Gertrude, you are going without—”

“Dear, I forgot.” She paused to kiss me fondly, and then departed.

After that I cared very little if the mystery were solved or not.

Chapter 14
The Unforeseen Happens

So here I had reached the goal of my desires in a surprisingly short space of time. Truly the gods had been good to me, and in the most unexpected manner I had won the love of the sweetest woman in the world. And the mysterious murder of Anne Caldershaw—gruesome as it may seem—had been the main circumstance to bring about my triumph. But for the crime I should not have seen the portrait of my beloved, and but for her innocent connection with the same—whereby I was enabled to prove my honesty and good faith—I should never have gained her confidence. But to trust me she had to study my character closely, and having done so, had unconsciously fallen in love. When I offered to come forward as her champion my conquest was complete, and therefore Gertrude yielded. Truly an odd wooing.

For the next two or three days we were completely happy. Mr. Monk, having departed, could no longer interrupt us at inauspicious moments, so we had all the golden hours to ourselves. Also the weather unexpectedly changed from autumnal greyness to a springlike delicacy of sunshine in a blue sky. It was more like May than the end of September, and the singing of the birds was echoed by our joyful hearts. We scarcely said a word about the Mootley crime, as we had tacitly agreed to abandon any search for the criminal. And indeed there remained no clue to lead to the discovery of the assassin. At times I had doubts about the mysterious person whose name Gertrude had so steadily refused to tell me. I felt sure that she was shielding someone, and could not think of any reason strong enough to make her do so. But I put the doubt from me when she smiled into my eyes and surrendered myself entirely to the happiness of the magic hour.

Whether Miss Destiny guessed the truth I cannot say. She never came near The Lodge, as she only haunted it when Mr. Monk appeared on the scene, and then merely for the sake of getting what she could out of him. But as Lucinda was always shopping in the village, and the dwellers in Burwain were born gossips, Miss Destiny must have heard that her niece was receiving me at all hours and in all places. Knowing my infatuation, she would put two and two together, and the resultant four would prove to her suspicious mind that we had come to an understanding. But if she did arrive at this knowledge she made no sign. Perhaps she was content to wait events so long as her half of the fifty thousand pounds was safe. At all events she lay snug in the jungle which surrounded her tin hovel, like the malignant fairy she was.

But the golden days came to an end, as golden days will, since an everlasting Paradise is impossible on earth. I was forced to keep my promise to Cannington and seek London, else he would certainly have put in an inopportune appearance. Of course in spite of his title and looks, and the possible support of Mr. Walter Monk—always supposing the two met—he could do nothing now, as Gertrude had solemnly promised to be my wife. All the same I did not want Cannington to come stumbling into Love’s garden. Later on, when the first ecstasy of delight had passed away, I promised myself that he should be formally presented to my newly-captured Diana. But at the moment a duet was better than a trio, so I explained matters to Gertrude and put the Rippler in order for a spin to London.

“But you won’t remain long away, dear?” she asked me. “Promise me, promise me.”

I did promise her, with many a kiss, on the bare road between Burwain and Tarhaven. So far I had taken her in my car, and now it was necessary that she should return. Only the birds and sheep, the sailing clouds and the all-beholding sun, saw our embrace, so we gave ourselves up fully to the delight. The parting indeed was “sweet sorrow,” as Shakespeare says, and only at the golden moment did I fully understand the feelings of Romeo.

The day was balmy and sunny, the roads were dry, and the Rippler was on her best behavior, so the journey to London was extremely pleasant. I reached my West Kensington flat early in the afternoon. As I had telegraphed the probable time of my arrival to the caretaker’s wife, who usually looked after my rooms, I found everything in good order. There was a brisk fire, a good meal, and a warm bath awaiting me, so I spent the next hour very pleasantly. Cannington had already been informed that I would call at Lady Denham’s Grosvenor Square house about five o’clock, therefore I had ample time to get ready for the visit.

After writing a few letters, and looking into my bankbook, I arrayed myself in the purple and fine linen of the West End—that is, I assumed a frock coat, grey trousers, patent leather boots, and all the paraphernalia of society. Then I sallied forth, and—giving the Rippler a rest—jumped into a taxi-cab. After the perfect quietness of the country the bustle and roar of the many-colored life in London streets rather appealed to me. I was quite sorry when the vehicle stopped at my destination.

A stately footman took my hat and gloves, and showed me into the smoking-room, where Lord Cannington awaited me. The boy sprang to his feet and rushed forward to shake hands.

“I’m so glad to see you, Vance,” he said breathlessly; “how jolly well you look. I suppose”—He began to laugh, and could get no further.

“Well,” said I, sitting down and accepting a cigarette, “I presume your laugh means that I am engaged.”

“Good Lord, no! I don’t go so far as that. But you went in search of the original of the photograph, and having found her, I can see that love has proved to be the elixir of life.”

“You are quite poetical, Cannington, and excessively complimentary.”

“Oh, rot! I’m only speaking the truth. You looked as hard as nails.”

I laughed. “I don’t know, but what I am as soft as butter, so far as the heart is concerned.”

“Ah, that’s the effect of love,” said Cannington wisely; “that is, if you really are in love. I say, old chap, are you in earnest?”

“So much so that I am engaged.”

“Engaged! Good Lord!”

“Engaged to Gertrude Monk, who loves me as much as I love her.”

“Good Lord!” said Cannington again, and rose to his feet to say it. “I say, you haven’t lost much time, have you?”

“No. Circumstances precipitated matters.”

“But are you sure that you are wise, Vance. Remember. ‘Marry in haste and repent at leisure.’“

I laughed again. It seemed so strange that the boy should advise an elderly person such as I was. “It’s all right, Cannington, I know what I’m about. You shall be best man.”

“Delighted, and—I say—you don’t mind me having said what I did say. We’re old friends, you know.”

“That’s all right, boy. Sit down, and I’ll tell you everything that has taken place since we parted at Murchester. But I must ask you to be secret.”

Cannington flushed. “As if I’d be such a bounder as to talk of your love affairs,” he growled.

“The love affairs in this case are merely a side issue, although important enough to me, boy. What I wish to explain is what I have discovered with regard to Mrs. Caldershaw’s death.”

“Oh!” Cannington jumped up again, greatly excited. “Are you prying into that still?”

“Yes. It is that case which led me into the engagement with Gertrude. But I have given up searching further.”

“Why?”

“Because I see no clue to follow. Moreover, Gertrude wishes me to stop looking into the matter. And after all, it is no use sullying our love with the sordid details of this crime. Yet, yet”—I rose in my earnestness—“Cannington, although you are years younger than I am, I intend to ask your advice.”

“Yes—that’s all right. What is it?”

“I shall tell you all I know, and then you can judge what I mean.”

The boy looked puzzled, but sat down again and lent an attentive ear to my recital. I walked up and down the room, telling everything in detail, for I really did wish to hear what he thought. Cannington was young, but shrewd, and took a common-sense view of things. Gertrude’s refusal to tell me the name of the person who had driven her from the shop lingered in my mind, as I knew we could never be completely happy if there were secrets between us. Nevertheless, I could not reveal what she had said on this point to Cannington, as it was a matter entirely between ourselves. But I intended to tell him everything else, and then ask him what he thought of the position of affairs. He waited with a grave face.

I therefore related all that I had discovered, beginning with the finding of the white cloak in the field, and ending with an account of the interview between Gertrude and myself, suppressing, as I have said, the fact that she withheld the name of the mysterious person. Cannington, with his eyes on my face, listened intently, and without interruption. He was acute enough to put his finger on the weak spot.

“Who was the person who entered the shop when Miss Monk went away?”

“I don’t know,” said truthfully, and glided into an easy explanation to preserve my secret. “Mrs. Caldershaw wished Miss Monk to leave without seeing the person, and therefore sent her out by the back door so hurriedly that she forgot the cloak and one of her hat-pins.”

“That’s unfortunate,” muttered Cannington, his eyes on the carpet; “perhaps this person killed Mrs. Caldershaw.”

I had Gertrude’s assertion that this was not the case, but for obvious reasons could not impart the information to Cannington. “We can’t be sure of that,” I said smoothly.

“We can’t be sure of anything,” insisted the boy thoughtfully, “still Miss Monk evidently left someone with Mrs. Caldershaw, and when you arrived on the scene Mrs. Caldershaw was dead. It seems to be that the lady killed her.”

“The lady? Why do you think that this person was a lady?”

“Well, a woman, a female, what you will,” he said impatiently. “She assumed the white cloak which was left behind in the kitchen, and ran off with your motor car.”

“And with the eye?”

“Ah, I can’t say I’m sure on that point,” said Cannington musingly. “You see the eye turned up—so you say—at the Burwain house. I think—” He paused.

“Yes; go on,” said I encouragingly.

He shook his head. “I don’t know what to think, Vance. The whole matter is most mysterious and perplexing. Give me a night to think about the matter. It is strange,” he said suddenly, “that Miss Monk wants you to leave the matter alone.”

“It is strange,” I assented, and winced; “but there it is.”

“Well, let it remain so until to-morrow,” said Cannington hastily. “To-morrow, when I’ve had a good think, I’ll give you my opinion.”

I guessed what was in his mind, although delicacy prevented him from speaking plainly to me. Gertrude’s conduct was suspicious, and he, not being in love with her saw the position more clearly than I did. I don’t say he suspected her, but he apparently believed that she knew more than she chose to tell, and thus desired me to leave the case alone. In point of fact, Cannington fancied that Gertrude feared what I might discover if I pried further into the matter. Had he known, as I did, that she was withholding the name of the person who had called to see Mrs. Caldershaw, he might even have taken a blacker view of the matter. Of course, being Gertrude’s devoted lover, and believing in her absolutely, I said nothing. All the same I felt a trifle uneasy myself, especially when I guessed what Cannington was thinking about. “The Queen of Hearts can do no wrong”: so I amended the old saying. Nevertheless I fervently wished that Gertrude would be more frank with me. Only on perfect confidence would perfect love and perfect peace be established, to say nothing of perfect happiness.

After a pause Cannington, having promised to give me his opinion to-morrow, said no more, but began to talk of Lady Mabel. It seemed that Mr. Wentworth Marr had returned to London, and was more attentive than ever. “He’s coming here to-day to afternoon tea,” said Cannington, glancing at his watch, “in half-an-hour, I expect he’ll turn up. Aunt Lucy and Mab will be here also, and Dicky Weston.”

“Oh, Weston is attentive also?”

“Well, he is. In some way he got an inkling that Marr was paying court to Mabel, so he suddenly appeared, and has been here morning, noon, and night. I shouldn’t be surprised if he proposed soon.”

“Will Lady Mabel accept him?”

“Oh Lord! who knows what girls will do? I think she will, and yet Marr is a fascinating sort of tame-cat man, with heaps of money, so you may be inclined to go ‘nap’ on him.”

“I shouldn’t think a tame-cat man would suit your sister,” I said dryly.

“Wait till you see him,” said Cannington with a yawn; “he’s not my style, I must confess. By the way, Dicky’s getting on splendidly with his airship and wants some quiet place to put it together.”

“To put it together. What do you mean, boy?”

“It’s in bits,” explained Cannington, “and he wishes to cart the several parts to some peaceful part of the country where the putting together won’t be overlooked. What about Burwain?”

“Oh, you know it, Cannington. It’s a dull little village between Gattlingsands and Tarhaven. Weston will find all the quiet he wants there. I suppose, like all inventors, he fears lest his especial secret for flying should be discovered.”

“Something like that. And yet he told me heaps about his airship. It seems to be a clever sort of business, although it has a gas bag. I believe in the heavier-than-air business myself.”

“What the dickens do you mean?”

“Aeroplanes, you know!” and Cannington entered into a long disquisition on the difference between navigable balloons and those machines which strive to fly, birdlike, by power of wing alone. In the middle of his lecture—which I confess bored me—the footman entered to announce that we were wanted in the drawing-room. Thither we repaired, and were welcomed by Mabel, Lady Denham, and by a dark, untidy little man, in whom I recognized Dick Weston.

Lady Denham was a stout, fair-haired, phlegmatic-looking person, who never troubled herself about anyone if she could help it. Therefore she allowed her niece to pour out the tea, and allowed Cannington and myself to hand round the bread and butter, which latter business, of course, was right enough. She aroused herself so far as to say that I was looking well, and reminded her of my poor dear mother. After that she relapsed into meditation, and devoted herself to making a regular substantial meal. There was nothing fairylike about Lady Denham.

Weston was quiet also, and sat near Mabel, haunched up in his chair like a little gnome, but with eyes full of intelligence. He was not handsome, and being devoted to science—I suppose one would call airships science, although I can’t be sure—his manner was preoccupied and dry. I wondered that a lively girl like Mabel could love such an uninteresting personage, but she did. I saw the flash of her eyes when they rested on his uncomely face and figure. But Weston was a decent little fellow, in spite of his exterior, and there was something in his dark face which always attracted animals and children. Nevertheless Lady Mabel, handsome, titled, and lively, seemed to be the last person to make him a desirable wife. I managed to get her into a corner after we had eaten and drunk sufficient. “Mabel, tell me, which one of your suitors do you intend to take?”

“I can’t say,” she whispered back, and her lively face grew sad. “Of course I have known Dicky all my life, and he’s a dear. But Mr. Marr is really a charming man. He will be here soon, and then you can judge for yourself.”

“Marry Dicky, Mabel. I’m sure you love him,” I advised.

“Yes, I do, and I really believe that he loves me. But I can’t accept him unless he proposes. He’s always in the clouds. Just look at him talking airships to Cannington instead of amiable nonsense to me.”

“Do you think you will be happy with him?”

“Certainly. We get on capitally together.”

“But he’s a solitary inventor, and you are fond of society. Isn’t it rather the coupling of the quick and the dead.”

“What horrid things you say!” she retorted heatedly. “Of course, if I marry Dicky I shall shake him into a more companionable person. He’s got plenty of money, and I daresay when he finishes this airship he’ll come out of his shell. The only way I can make him talk is by making him jealous, so I am waiting for Mr. Marr to flirt with.”

“Then you are really using Mr. Marr as a stalking-horse to secure Dicky?”

“Well, I am, in a way. But if Dicky will go on being so silly, and sitting as mum as an owl, I shall marry the stalking horse.”

“No, Mabel, don’t do that; marry for love.”

“I can’t afford to, you silly man. Cannington and I haven’t sixpence between us. And what do you know about love?”

“I know all about it,” I whispered proudly. “I’m engaged.”

“Oh, Cyrus!” Her eyes shone like stars, and she gasped. “Who is she?”

“A lady called Miss Gertrude Monk, who lives at Burwain.”

Before Mabel could ask further questions, Cannington’s sharp ear caught the name, and he called out to me. “Vance, I have just been talking to Dicky here about Burwain, and he thinks it will be the very place to establish his workshop. Come and tell him all about it.”

“Bother!” murmured Lady Mabel “when I want to hear all about your love affair. Is she pretty?”

“More than pretty. She is an angel.”

“Oh, all men say that of a girl before marriage: all except Dicky, that is. I have never managed to get him enthusiastic enough to call me an angel.”

“Perhaps he thinks it goes without speaking, Mabel, and—”

“Vance! Vance!” called out Cannington impatiently, and I had to obey the summons. Lady Mabel pouted and betook herself to the tea-table as Lady Denham requested, at the eleventh hour, a fresh cup.

“Tell me all about Burwain, Vance,” commanded Dicky in his pleasant voice.

I did my best, and drew as vivid a word picture as I was able. When Weston heard of the absence of a railway station, of large tracts of common, and of the sparsity of population, he rubbed his hands. “It’s capital,” he remarked. “I shall go down next week and lease a portion of the common, outside the village. Then I shall run up a high fence, and take down by rail all the parts of my machine. It won’t take long to put together. Then we can all take a fly to the moon.”

“Not me,” said Mabel firmly. “I don’t want to be smashed up.”

“That isn’t a compliment to my invention,” said Dicky hotly, “but I suppose you’ll come down and see me start?”

“That means I shall come down to say good-bye,” she replied smiling. “Oh, Dicky, you’re a dear boy when you are sensible: but this airship rubbish—”

“Mabel, I thought you admired my airship?” he expostulated indignantly.

“How can I, when I have never seen it. Besides, a woman never admires anything that takes the attention of a man off herself.”

“What nonsense! I’m always thinking of you.” Mabel blushed and laughed skeptically. “Am I to believe that, Dicky?”

“Of course,” and then Dicky, in spite of the presence of three other people, might have gone on to say much more—for he really seemed to be warming to a proposal—when Lady Denham sat up and sighed.

“You boys will have to go away,” she said in her soft, slow voice; “we have to go out to dinner to-night and to the theatre afterwards, and then to an At Home. I’m sure I would much rather rest in my bed.”

“Then why don’t you, Aunt Lucy?” asked Cannington bluntly.

“My dear boy,” she said reprovingly, “I must take Mabel out and give her some entertainment. Besides, I have made up my mind to get her married.”

“Married,” cried Dicky indignantly.

“Of course. Mabel isn’t cut out for an old maid.”

“Perhaps Dicky thinks that I am,” said Mabel, looking slyly at the untidy inventor; “that is, if he ever thinks of anything but airships.”

“I think of no end of things,” said Weston rather crossly, “and I don’t see why you are in such a hurry to get married.”

“I am not in a hurry.”

“Really,” said Cannington uneasily, “this conversation is growing personal.”

“We all belong to the family here,” said Lady Denham wearily. “I look on Cyrus as a son. His mother and I were at school together. A very charming girl she was, too.”

“Is Dicky one of the family?” asked Mabel, with a glance at the inventor.

“Of course I am,” he said hotly, for Mabel seemed to be rousing him out of his absent-mindedness, “haven’t I known you and Cannington for years?”

“I don’t think we have ever known you,” said Cannington with a laugh, “you are always in the clouds.”

“As an airship inventor should be,” said I pointedly.

“Airship,” said Lady Mabel teasingly, “it’s nothing but a gas balloon.”

“It isn’t,” snapped Dicky, jumping up, greatly excited by this insult to his pet invention; “when the works are established at Burwain you come down and you will see exactly what I mean.”

“Oh, I shall come to Burwain with pleasure,” said Mabel, sending a look in my direction. “I am very anxious to go to Burwain.”

“Really,” said Weston, and his cheeks flushed. After all, it appeared as though Cannington had overrated Dicky’s absent-mindedness, for he was singularly alert and watchful. In my opinion he looked upon Lady Mabel Wotton as his own especial property, and therefore was not troubling himself to make a too impulsive proposal. Perhaps he was waiting to launch his airship before launching himself on the sea of matrimonial troubles. But he said no more, although the flush spoke volumes, for Lady Denham struck in quietly, in her placid voice.

“I thought Mr. Marr was coming to tea,” she said, looking round slowly.

“I believe he’s entering the house now,” said Cannington, with the air of a listener. “I heard a motor drive up.”

“A charming man,” said Lady Denham lazily, “and devoted to Mabel.”

“Oh, is he?” growled Weston, darting an angry look at the girl, which she sustained with a sweetly unconscious air. “He must—”

Weston appeared to be doomed to interruption, for just as he was beginning a diatribe on his rival, the door opened and a footman announced: “Mr. Wentworth Marr” in grandiloquent tones.

A man entered, and I gasped, as well I might. Mr. Wentworth Marr of London was none other than Mr. Walter Monk of Burwain.

Chapter 15
An Explanation

The little gentleman minced into the room, smiling and bowing. As I stood in the shadow, removed from the strong light of the electrics, he did not catch sight of me when he first entered. Exactly as he behaved at Burwain, so did he behave in London—that is, as a specious humbug. Of course he looked as though he had just been taken out of a bandbox, and his petit-mâitre air was more pronounced than ever. With the assurance of a man accustomed to attention, he made a tour of the circle.

“Lady Denham, you are looking more charming than ever. Lady Mabel, the good wine of your beauty needs no bush to advertise its perfection. Cannington, I am delighted to see you again. Mr. Weston “—this last name was pronounced less effusively—“I trust the airship stocks are rising. Ha! ha!” then he tittered at his small joke, made a comprehensive bow, and looked at me.

I quite expected to see him turn pale: I half expected to see him fly from the house where he was sailing under false colors. But I had yet to learn the complete self-possession of Mr. Walter Monk, alias Mr. Wentworth Marr. He might have foreseen the meeting, so coolly did he eye me through his pince-nez. The tables were turned with a vengeance, for I felt more like the culprit than did Mr. Monk.

“This is our oldest friend,” said Mabel, and unless she had spoken I do not know how the little traitor would have acted, “Mr. Cyrus Vance.”

“The dramatic author, I believe,” remarked Mr. Monk—it is just as well to call him by his true name to prevent confusion—and bowed politely.

“Yes,” said I, with a cool smile. There was no reason at that moment why I should denounce the little man, and he played his comedy so deliciously that, from sheer admiration of his impudence, I felt compelled to take a judicious part in the same. “I am happy to meet you Mr.—er—er—”

“Marr, old chap,” put in Cannington, quite unaware that anything was wrong.

“Yes, of course, Mr. Marr.”

“Thank you,” observed the fraud with a bow, “you flatter me, Mr. Vance.”

He was—as I have said—as cool as a cucumber, to all outward appearances. Nevertheless, as he turned sideways to answer a question put by Lady Denham, I saw the perspiration bead his forehead. I knew that he was controlling himself with a great effort, although he never turned a hair. He was evidently taken aback by my complete calmness, yet it relieved his mind when he saw that I did not intend to make a scene. Yet, had I denounced him he undoubtedly would have been prepared with a crafty explanation, for he was too clever a schemer to leave anything to chance. And as I guessed, my chance observation that I knew Cannington had placed him to a certain degree on his guard.

With wonderful self-control he spoke to Lady Denham, and laughed with Mabel, and deftly led the conversation on to theatrical topics. When it became general he strolled over to me in a light and airy manner, until he was at my elbow. “And when are we to see a play at the West End by Mr. Cyrus Vance?” he asked gaily, dropping his voice immediately at the end of the question to whisper: “Explanations when we leave.”

“Oh,” said I loudly, and replying to his public inquiry, “I hope next year will see me successful as the author of a comedy.” Then I in turn dropped my voice: “Count on my silence.”

Monk drew a long breath of relief, but went on with his comedy. “I hope you will put me down for a box,” he said effusively; “I am a great admirer of the drama.”

“You shall be on the free list, Mr. Marr,” I said, with ostentatious gush.

The whispered words had not been heard by anyone in the room, so Mr. Marr and I understood one another thoroughly without anyone being the wiser. I half fancied Cannington’s observant eyes might have seen our byplay and his sharp ears might have overheard: but for once he seemed to have missed his opportunity. Shortly Mr. Monk, more at ease, was conversing gaily on the news of the day. Lady Denham seemed to favour him, but Mabel had a contemptuous look on her face several times when he addressed her. I felt certain that only his supposed wealth attracted her, and that she had no respect for his tame-cat antics. And the cream of the joke was, that Mr. Walter Monk, passing himself off as Mr. Wentworth Marr, had only five hundred a year. I could not help giving vent to an audible laugh as the humour of the situation struck me.

“Why do you laugh, Cyrus?” asked Mabel, turning suddenly.

“I have thought of a good joke for a comic scene in a drama” said I grimly.

“May we hear it?” asked Mr. Monk audaciously, for he must have guessed the reason of my unseasonable merriment.

“Certainly not, sir. When you pay your money in the stalls you shall hear the joke delivered on the stage.”

“I hope it’s a good one,” said Cannington scoffingly.

“It’s as funny a joke as I ever heard of,” I replied cheerfully, and my eyes sought those of Mr. Monk significantly.

“I shall look forward to hearing it,” he said, bowing politely, “and perhaps—as I know several of the managers—I may be able to assist you in getting your masterpiece staged. My card,” and he passed along a piece of pasteboard, which was inscribed: “Mr. Wentworth Marr, 3 Stratford Street, St. James’s.” “I am in rooms there, Mr. Vance, as I don’t intend to take a house until I can find a lady to preside at my dinner-table.”

Weston scowled at this, and Lady Denham smiled benignly. “Oh, you millionaires are so modest,” she said, in her slow, cool voice, “why, you have a country house in Essex, a shooting-box in Scotland, and a villa at Nice.”

With tremendous audacity the fraud bowed as each place was mentioned. “I hope to receive you in them all, dear lady. Mr. Vance also, I trust, will honor me with his company.”

“Oh, I’ll come and see you with pleasure,” said I grimly. Mr. Monk impressed me as a kind of Casanova, so matchless was his impertinence. I wondered how an honorable girl such as Gertrude undoubtedly was, came to have so scheming an adventurer as a father. I was also puzzled to think why Mr. Monk, whom I knew to be almost penniless, should wish to marry a pauper aristocrat like Lady Mabel Wotton. But as yet I was not in a position to fit the pieces of the puzzle together, and had to await enlightenment from the arch-rogue himself.

“I just looked in, my dear ladies,” said Mr. Monk, accepting the title of millionaire quite complacently, “to invite you to a box at the Curtain theatre early next week—Tuesday is the day, to be quite precise. There is a new play, which I think you will enjoy, Lady Denham.”

“Delighted,” she yawned. “I like going to the theatre. One can sit still all the time and say nothing.”

“The performers on the stage say all that is to be said,” replied Mr. Monk, smiling suavely. “Lady Mabel, may I count on you?”

“Certainly,” she answered swiftly, with a sly glance at the scowling Weston.

“And perhaps Lord Cannington—?”

“Thanks, no, Mr. Marr, I have to go back to Murchester. Leave’s up.”

“That’s a pity. Mr. Vance?”

“If I am in town I shall be delighted,” I answered mildly, and wondered more than ever at the audacity of the little man. He knew that I could expose him as a fraud, and must have been puzzled to know why I did not, yet he had the hardihood to drag me into his schemes of posing as a millionaire.

“Then that is all settled. And now,” he added, making a comprehensive bow, “really and truly I must take my leave. Perhaps Mr. Vance, I can give you a lift in my motor?”

“You are really too good,” I replied, accepting promptly, and with scarcely a repressed chuckle.

“But I say, Vance, I want you to go to dinner at the Savoy with me, and afterwards to the Empire,” cried Cannington, catching my arm, while Mr. Monk was shaking hands and taking his leave.

“My dear boy, in any case I must go home and dress. Let us change the dinner into a supper at the Savoy, and I’ll come here at nine o’clock to accompany you to the Empire.”

Cannington was satisfied with this alteration, and nodded. Then, in my turn, I took leave of the ladies and departed in the company of my proposed father-in-law. At the door a really magnificent motor, far surpassing my machine, was waiting, a brougham motor, with a chauffeur and a liveried footman. How Mr. Monk contrived to live in this style on five hundred a year I could not conceive: the machine alone must have cost three times the amount of his entire income. Then, with indignation, I thought of my dear, uncomplaining girl at Burwain, with her one poor frock and her touching belief in the honesty and kind-heartedness of this little villain.

When we were safe in the motor and the footman had received his orders to take the vehicle “Home!”—to Strafford Street, no doubt—Mr. Monk made himself comfortable, then patted my knee in a most amiable manner. “Very good indeed, my dear sir, very good indeed,” he said suavely, and in a most self-controlled manner, “you kept my little secret in a way worthy of a man of the world.”

“Thank you. I am waiting for an explanation now,” I said dryly.

“Do you think I owe you one?”

“I am of that opinion, Mr. Monk.”

“Hush!” He glanced anxiously through the glass at the backs of the footmen and chauffeur. “Here, in London; I am Mr. Marr.”

“Mr. Wentworth Marr,” I said mockingly. “May I ask why?”

“I do not see,” he said smoothly, “that you have any right to ask questions concerning my private business.”

“I must correct you there,” I answered hotly. “Lady Mabel Wotton, her brother, and Lady Denham are friends of mine. I do not wish to see them deceived, Mr.—er—er—Wentworth Marr.”

“That is very creditable to your heart, Mr. Vance. But I fail to see how I am deceiving them.”

“You wish to marry Lady Mabel?”

“Is that a crime? I am a widower, and am free to take another wife.”

“Not under the pretence that you are a wealthy man.”

“How do you know?” asked Mr. Monk, smiling politely, “that I am not a wealthy man, Mr. Vance?”

“Pshaw, man!” I rejoined heatedly, for his cool insolence was getting on my nerves. “You have a life interest in five hundred a year and a tumbledown house with a few acres of land at Burwain.”

“So far as you know, Mr. Vance, those are all my possessions, but when we reach my rooms,” he leaned forward and peered through the misty glass, “we are nearly there now, I am glad to say, you will have an explanation which will astonish you. Had you recognized me when at Lady Denham’s—”

“I did recognize you.”

“Had you denounced me, I should have said,” he went on pleasantly, “I should have made the explanation then and there.”

“Ah!” said I meaningly, “I thought my chance mention of Cannington’s name at Burwain forearmed you.”

He nodded, and chuckled in his infernally oily manner. “It was just possible, seeing that Lord Cannington and Lady Mabel, to say nothing of Lady Denham, were our mutual friends, that we might meet, so I made ready. I certainly did not expect to meet you quite so soon, however. Tell me,” he glanced sideways at me curiously, “why did you not address me by my real name?”

“I remembered that you were Gertrude’s father.”

“How lucky—for me,” said Mr. Monk sarcastically. “Julia Destiny hinted that you were in love with my daughter.”

“She didn’t hint enough. I am engaged to your daughter.”

“Without my consent.”

“I ask it now.”

“Then you shall not have it.”

I laughed. “Your consent matters very little, Mr. Monk.”

“Marr, I tell you, Marr. And Gertrude will never marry you without my permission. You may be sure of that.”

“I am not at all sure of it. She loves you better than you deserve, but when she finds that you are keeping her in poverty at Burwain, while you live in splendor in London, and under another name, which looks fishy, will she continue to regard you as the perfect father?”

Mr. Monk moved uneasily in his seat. “Here we are,” he said, when the car stopped in a somewhat dark street; “in my rooms I can explain. And in any case I am obliged to you for carrying off the situation so well. Not that I was unprepared, had you driven me into a corner. But as a gentleman, I do not like stage melodrama in private life.”

“Yet you make ready for every opportunity to exercise it,” I retorted, as the footman opened the door. “Your explanation—”

“Will take place in private,” he said sharply, and we alighted. The motor departed hastily—to the nearest garage, I suppose—and Mr. Monk ushered me up a flight of well-lighted stairs. “These are my quarters,” he said complacently, and I was shown into a really splendid hall, perfectly decorated.

It is useless to describe the rooms in detail, but Mr. Monk had done himself full justice in the way of art and comfort. We went into a Moorish smoking-room, which reminded me of Cairo, and I accepted coffee and cigarettes. Perhaps Mr. Monk had some hazy idea connected with the Eastern decorations that, having partaken of his bread and salt, I would not betray him, for he pressed tobacco and Mocha on me very assiduously. I took all he offered, but reserved my private right of judgment. To save Lady Mabel from this fraudulent adventurer by denouncing him was not a betrayal in my eyes. The sole thing that had prevented me stripping him of his fine feathers hitherto had been the undoubted fact that he was Gertrude’s father. And so I had told him in the motor.

“You see that I am comfortable here,” said Mr. Monk, who was smoking a very fine cigar, “but I beg leave to contradict you when you say that I do not give my daughter sufficient money. Gertrude has whatever she asks for, and, being fond of the simple life, is quite content.”

“Pardon my contradicting you, but, thinking that you have but five hundred a year, and knowing your luxurious tastes, Miss Monk denies herself all, save the necessaries of life, so that you may have more money to spend. Did she know you were a millionaire—”

“I am not a millionaire,” said Monk, snapping for the first time, as hitherto he had kept his temper in a most aggravating manner.

“I understood Lady Denham to say that you were,” I reminded him politely.

“Like all women, Lady Denham exaggerates. I have a good many thousands, but I cannot call myself a millionaire.”

“And the house in the country—”

“In Essex, remember. That is true enough.”

“Oh, yes, though it can hardly be called an estate. But the shooting-box in Scotland?”

“I rented one last year for a time.”

“I see, you saved the situation in that way. And the villa at Nice?”

“A friend of mine lends me his. I can ask anyone there.”

“And apparently intend to pass it off as your own.”

“No,” he said, smiling graciously, “you are mistaken. It is true that I asked Lady Denham and Lady Mabel to Nice. I mentioned the villa, but I did not declare it was mine. They hastily concluded that it was.”

“From what you left unsaid, I presume. Well, and your change of name?”

“That has to do with my money. A distant cousin of mine died three or four years ago in Australia and left me nearly one hundred thousand pounds on condition that I took his name. I complied with the necessity in a legal manner, without letting my daughter know, and now enjoy the money. I am quite rich enough to marry Lady Mabel if she will have me.”

“That may be. But when she learns that you have a daughter as old as she is, I doubt if she will accept you. Particularly, as—”

“I know what you would say. Particularly as that Weston man loves her.”

“Not quite that, Mr. Marr. Particularly as she loves the Weston man. But may I ask why you keep your daughter in ignorance of your change of name and your possession of wealth?”

“Listen,” he said, throwing away his cigarette. “I inherit five hundred a year from my late brother—that is, as you say, I have a life interest in it. After my death it goes to Gertrude. As a matter of fact she enjoys it now, as it goes to keep up The Lodge at Burwain, and pay for her necessary needs. That she chooses to dress plainly and live plainly is not my fault. The money is to her hand when she wants it. Under these circumstances, since she has all she requires, I do not see why she need know that I live a different life in London, as she would not join me here if I offered to take her. On my part, I am a man still young, and I wish to marry again, since I am well off. Why, then, should I encumber myself with a grown-up daughter?”

“I can’t answer that question, as I don’t quite follow your eminently selfish reasoning. But as it is I propose to take charge of your grown-up daughter. Then you can do what you like, so long as you don’t marry Lady Mabel under false pretences.”

“You will tell Lady Mabel?”

“Yes, and Cannington also. I should not be surprised if he horsewhipped you.”

Mr. Monk winced. “I shall take my chance of that,” he said bravely enough, and to do him the justice he was no coward so far as flesh and blood was concerned. “But suppose I get ahead of you and explain myself.”

“In that case Lady Mabel will not marry you.”

“It’s probable, although, beyond the fact that I forgot to tell her of my change of name, I have done nothing wrong.”

“Nothing wrong, when you masquerade—”

“I tell you I don’t masquerade,” he cried, with sudden heat, and springing to his feet; “my name has been legally changed and the money is mine by right. I really am, under an Act of Parliament, Mr. Wentworth Marr. I daresay it was vanity on my part to lessen my years by not confessing to having a daughter of Gertrude’s age, but that is not a crime. But you are not going to blackmail me, Mr. Vance, so don’t think it.’

“I don’t propose to. I simply intend to tell Cannington and Lady Mabel the truth. Then they can deal with the situation.”

Monk snapped his delicate fingers. “Tell them the truth by all means,” he said derisively; “it’s bound to come out sooner or later. Striver knows that I appear in London as Marr.”

“Striver, the gardener. How did he learn?” I asked, taken aback.

“Ah,” sneered the little man, “you don’t feel quite so certain that you hold the keys of the situation, do you, Mr. Vance? Yes, Striver knows. He saw me in Piccadilly when I was getting out of my motor, and went to ask my chauffeur questions?”

“What sort of questions?”

“About my possessing a motor, I suppose. Striver knows my income, and didn’t see how I could afford such a machine. Also he has the impudence of old Nick himself. At all events, he learned from my chauffeur that I was Marr, and, thinking something was wrong, as you did, he learned my address and had an interview. To prevent his telling Gertrude I was obliged to shut his mouth and confess all.”

“How did you shut his mouth?” I asked hastily.

“I intimated,” said Monk coolly, “that if he could get money enough, and went to school to improve his education, he could marry Gertrude.”

“What!” this time I sprang to my feet, and a fine rage I was in, “you dared to make a bargain with that fellow.”

“I had to shut his mouth,” said Monk sullenly, and sat down.

“So he lives in a fool’s paradise. You don’t suppose that Gertrude would marry Striver?”

“I never thought so for one moment, no more than she would marry you.”

“She is going to marry me,” I insisted, at white heat.

“Nothing of the sort,” said the little man obstinately; “now that you have learned the truth, I am not going to be under your thumb. I shall give up any idea of marrying Lady Mabel. I shall bring Gertrude to London and I shall marry her to Lord Cannington.”

“You’ll do nothing of the sort.”

“Who will stop me?”

“There is no stoppage in the matter of the kind you mean. Whether I or your own self tell Lady Mabel the facts of the case matters very little. But when the truth becomes known, she will not marry you, and Cannington, who is my best friend, will not marry Gertrude. He would not even admire her, unless I gave him permission, since he knows that she is my promised wife.”

“Who told him that?” asked Monk wrathfully.

“I did. It is true. Gertrude is going to marry me, and you can do your best to prevent it. And another thing, Mr. Monk, or Marr, or whatever you choose to call yourself, you had better confess the truth at once. Weston is going to set up his airship factory at Burwain, and Lady Mabel is bound to go down and see him. You will understand the necessity to retreat gracefully from your position before you are kicked out. As to Striver—”

“What about Striver?” sneered the little villain, who was desperately pale by this time, for my words had gone home. “He won’t give in. You have got the better of me, but Striver will get the better of you.”

I snapped my fingers, as Mr. Monk had done himself a few minutes previously. “That for Mr. Striver!” I said contemptuously. “Do you think I care for a country bumpkin such as he is. Gertrude has promised to be my wife, so the rest matters little.”

Monk nursed his chin on his hand, and looked remarkably sullen. After a couple of minutes’ silence he looked up. “See here, I shall make a bargain with you. If I withdraw from Lady Mabel’s society and court her no more, will you hold your tongue?”

“No. Lady Denham must learn the truth. You are at her house under false pretences.”

“As you choose!” he shrugged, but his eyes glittered wickedly behind the pince-nez, “but if you will hold your tongue, for, say a fortnight, until I can retreat gracefully from my position by feigning to make a trip to the Continent, I will offer no opposition to your marriage with Gertrude.”

“Oh, I have no wish to be hard on you, Mr. Monk. Your opposition to my marriage doesn’t matter, since Gertrude will think very little of you when she learns the truth. I shall hold my tongue for a fortnight, and you must give up Lady Denham’s acquaintance altogether: also Lady Mabel’s and Lord Cannington’s acquaintance.”

“And you’ll let me tell Gertrude myself,” he entreated, now beaten.

“Yes,” said I, after a pause, “I shall let you tell Gertrude yourself.”

“Thank you,” said Monk in a low tone, “and in return I advise you to beware of Striver. You have conquered me: you won’t conquer him,” and he smiled in a most evil manner.

Chapter 16
Striver’s Threat

I was having my fill of surprises by this time, and was beginning to wish that the matter should end. By the matter I mean this Mootley crime, the present cause of all these happenings. By stumbling on that fine adventure, I had become engaged to Gertrude, and, to keep Cannington from plundering my preserves, I had come to London. Here, at his aunt’s house, I had met Gertrude’s father masquerading as a millionaire. There was no use his denying this. His change of name may have been legal, and he may have acquired a competency by the death of his Australian cousin: but he certainly could not rank with the Park Lane fraternity. Yet Lady Denham believed him to be one, and he encouraged the idea.

I took my leave of the smooth-faced little man with the resolve to keep my promise. So long as he abstained from calling on Lady Denham, and withdrew his pretentions to Lady Mabel’s hand, there was no need for me to strip him of his peacock’s feathers. There was no need even to tell Gertrude, as the revelation would not change her feelings towards me in any way. Certainly the ingenious Mr. Striver knew, and I wondered that he had not made use of his information before, to force Monk’s hand. But Striver was a patient man and perhaps had waited until he had acquired his aunt’s wealth before pressing his suit. Then, if Gertrude refused, he could threaten to tell her of Monk’s secret doings, unless that gentleman exercised his parental authority so far as to insist upon the unequal marriage. But—and the reflection made me chuckle—they were both a day after the fair, for Gertrude had promised to be my wife and I was equal to Striver in the knowledge of which he hoped to make use. It was a poor lookout for the handsome Joseph, and, in spite of Monk’s warning, I had no fears that the man could harm myself or my darling in any way.

I remained a week in London, and enjoyed myself along with Cannington—that is, I went to the theatres, to various At Homes, to certain small dances, and to suppers, dinners, motor drives, and all the rest of it, including bridge drives, although I had no particular regard for that fashionable game. But my heart was far away with Gertrude, and I felt very much bored in spite of the boy’s lively society. I think he noticed my abstracted condition at times, for he proposed that I should leave him and return to Burwain. I refused, since I had arranged to remain a week. I heard from Gertrude every day, and replied at length, so that somewhat ameliorated my desperate situation. Moreover, I wished to remain in London to see if Mr. Monk intended to keep his promise.

One day—the last of my stay in town, as a matter of fact—Cannington turned up at my club with two pieces of news. He delivered both over a brandy and soda and a cigar.

“Weston has been to Burwain, and has got his land lease for a few months,” said Cannington, “and to-morrow he is taking down a gang of men to erect fences. Within a week—so he says—the fences will be up, and in a fortnight the sheds will be erected. Then he can take down the various parts of his airship to put the beastly thing together.”

“But to get fences and sheds rigged up in such a hurry will take a very great number of men.”

“Of course. However, Dicky has thirty thousand pounds a year—”

“So much as that? Why doesn’t Mabel marry him, then? She wants money and love. Weston can give her both.”

“Do you think so, really, old chap?”

“I am certain of it. He was dreadfully jealous of our friend, Mr. Marr.”

“Well, I think he is. You see Dicky looks on Mabel as his own property, and hates anyone to poach. I wish he would adjust the situation, but hang him, he won’t—that is, he has done his best, and can’t.”

“Why don’t you ask him his intentions? You are the head of the family.”

Cannington grew red. “Oh, hang it, I can’t. It would look as though I were shying Mabel at the chap’s head. It will all come right in time.”

“Unless Mabel, in a fit of pique, accepts Marr.”

“She won’t do that. He’s bunked out of the business.”

“Really!” said I, with feigned surprise, “and why?”

“Lord only knows,” said Cannington indifferently. “Aunt Lucy is in a fine state about his clearing. He wrote and said he had a sudden call on business to South America—something to do with a silver mine, I fancy—and would be away for a year. Aunt Lucy says this means he has given up any idea of making Mab his wife, and she blames poor Mab, and says it was her flirting with Dicky that sent old Marr off.”

“It’s just as well, Cannington. Weston is a much better match for your sister, and is quite rich enough, besides being younger. But has Marr really gone away?”

“I suppose so. I haven’t seen him about town lately, and he said that he was sailing soon for New York. I’m sure I don’t care: he can go hang for me.” He laughed. “Aunt Lucy said I ought to thrash him for compromising Mabel. But that’s all bosh. Mab’s quite able to look after herself, and I can’t lay hands on a man old enough to be my father. What do you think? Ought I to thrash him?”

Privately I thought that it would do Mr. Marr-Monk good to have a trifle of physical pain, and when Cannington knew the whole truth I was not at all sure but what he would reconsider his position and thrash the scoundrel. But since Monk had kept his promise I had to keep mine, so I merely shrugged my shoulders. “He’s too old, boy. Besides, your sister never cared for him. When the airship is floated—is that the correct term—Weston is sure to propose.”

“And you expect Mab to take him with a ‘Thank you,’ ” flashed out the boy, growing red and haughty.

“Well,” said I, with a look of surprise, “she loves him.”

“That’s true enough, but she’s not going to be at the beck and call of Master Dick, as I told him.”

“When?”

“When he came grumbling to me that Mab had refused him.”

“He asked her to marry him?” I exclaimed.

Cannington nodded. “Dicky got so mad with the way in which Aunt Lucy talked that evening you were there, and with the way in which Marr seemed to be so sure of his ground, that he proposed the next day. Mab refused him at once, as he seemed to think he only had to ask and to have. I told him it served him jolly well right, and that I admired Mab’s spirit.”

“So do I,” was my hearty reply, “but I don’t think Weston meant his offer to be taken in that light. He’s a absent-minded man and—”

“Oh, hang it! a refusal will do him good,” said Cannington crossly, “and perhaps he’ll drop being such an ass. Of course he wants me to persuade Mab, but I told him I wouldn’t lift a finger. Well, then, Vance, you see that Mab has lost both her lovers at once. Marr has sheered off—like his impudence, although I’m glad—and Dicky has been sent away with a flea in his ear, and serve him jolly well right.”

“And how is Mabel?”

“As jolly as a sandboy, bless her, in spite of Aunt Lucy’s nagging. I have asked her to come down to Murchester for a week. She can take rooms at the Lion Hotel, and collar some old woman as a chaperon. Then we can have a good time together. Come down also.”

“No, boy. I must return to Burwain to-morrow.”

“And when am I to be asked down to see Miss Monk?”

“Very shortly, as soon as I have her father’s consent.”

“Oh, she has a father?”

“Yes, but no mother. By the way,” I said swiftly, to avert further questions, “you didn’t give me your opinion of the case I put to you.”

“I don’t know what sort of opinion to give,” said Cannington testily; “the best thing to be done is to find out who it was entered the shop when Miss Monk went away. I can think of nothing else.”

Cannington’s opinion was mine also. But if Gertrude refused to speak I did not see what I could do. Besides, she was anxious for me to abandon the case. I felt inclined to do so myself, much as the mystery piqued me. However, I ceased to discuss it with Cannington—who really took very little interest in intricacies—and we spent the evening at theatre. Next day I furbished up the Rippler and departed at top speed for Burwain.

I flew, so to speak, on the wings of love, as I was desperately anxious to reach the side of my darling. It was a wet day and the roads were in a very bad condition. Nevertheless I broke every rule with regard to speed and defied the police traps. I broke through three, I know, and managed to escape having the number of my car taken. By the time I reached Burwain I had accumulated a tidy sum in fines. I did not care. I would have paid three times as much to reach Gertrude. But the fun of it was that, owing to my desperate haste, there was no chance of my being made to pay the money, as I had flown past with the speed of a kingfisher. “More haste, less speed” was not a true proverb in this instance.

So anxious was I to hold Gertrude in my arms that I halted the Rippler before the gate of The Lodge and proposed, dripping as I was, to have an interview before driving on to the Robin Redbreast. I soon made my way to the door, and rang the bell. The house looked forlorn and dismal in the misty rain, and there was a chill in the atmosphere. But love cares very little for such discomforts, so I smiled gaily at Eliza when she appeared at the door. She was a sour-faced, elderly woman, with a silent tongue, and usually never opened her mouth, even to me, although I was a constant visitor. But on this occasion, with a somewhat disturbed face, she spoke eagerly and seemed pleased to see me.

“Thank goodness you have come, sir,” she whispered, with a backward glance, “I know you’ll make him clear out.”

“Make who clear out, Eliza?” I asked, staring.

“That Joseph, sir.”

“The gardener?”

“Yes, sir. Ever since you have been away, he’s been haunting the house. It’s sheer lunacy, sir, but he’s in love with Miss Gertrude, and follows her like a dog. An hour ago he forced himself into the house, and is now talking with her in the drawing-room, and—oh, sir,” she caught hold of me, as I compressed my lips and strode past her, “don’t anger him: he’s a desperate man.”

“I’ll break his neck,” said I drily; “let me go, woman,” and wrenching my sleeve from her grasp, I walked to the drawing-room door, and flung it open.

“Cyrus!” Gertrude saw me at once, and flung herself across the long room to nestle in my arms, “I am so glad you are here. He—he”—she pointed to the gardener—“he’s quite mad.”

Striver, dressed much the same as he had been when I interviewed him in the Mootley corner shop, stood sullenly at the end of the room. Apparently he had pinned Gertrude in a corner, but his turning to see who was entering had given her the chance, and now she was safe by my side. The fellow looked as handsome as ever, but his face was scarlet with anger, and his fists hung clenched by his side. Feeling myself to be the master of the situation I was comparatively cool.

“What the devil do you mean, man?” I said, with pointed and intended insolence.

“He is mad: he is mad,” cried Gertrude, clinging to me, and replying for the man, who still kept a sullen silence. “He forced his way into the house and has been saying dreadful things.”

“Things you cannot deny,” said Striver, moistening his dry lips with his tongue. “Mr. Vance, you had better keep out of this, or it will be the worse for her,” and he pointed to Gertrude.

I removed her arms from my neck and walked straight across the room. Before Striver was aware of my intention I had my hands on his throat and was shaking him as a terrier does a rat. With desperate efforts he tried to tear away my grasp, but could not do so, and his face was rapidly turning black with strangulation, when Gertrude ran to my side. “Don’t kill him, for God’s sake, Cyrus.”

I loosened my grip, and Striver, staggering back, fell into a chair. Then, somewhat unjustly, I turned on Gertrude. “Are you thinking of him?” I demanded in a thick voice, for at the moment I was not master of myself.

“I am thinking of you,” she replied, clasping her hands, “who else would I think of? I don’t wish to see you hanged for murder.”

“You would hang together,” gasped the gardener, recovering his breath with a gigantic effort; “with my dying breath I would tell the truth.”

“What truth?” I asked fiercely.

Gertrude clung to me. “Don’t listen to him; don’t listen to him.”

“Ah,” Striver sneered with pale lips, “she’s afraid, you see.”

“I am not afraid,” cried Gertrude, her eyes flashing, and drawing herself up to her full height. “Cyrus knows everything. I only asked him not to listen because I wish you to go away and rid me of your hateful presence—your hateful presence,” she repeated incoherently.

Striver gave a sob. “If you knew how I loved you!”

“Stop!” I had control of my feelings by this time. “It is no use your saying these things, Miss Monk is engaged to me.”

“She’ll never marry you, never,” said the man between his teeth. “I shall denounce her to the police.”

“As what—be quiet, Gertrude—as what, Mr. Striver?”

“As the woman who murdered my aunt,” he cried, staggering to his feet.

I laughed, and the two stared at me in astonishment. The sound of merriment at such a tragic moment startled them. But I saw swiftly that it was useless to act a melodramatic scene, and was half sorry that I had so nearly strangled the gardener. Now I was cool and composed and, before proceeding to act, wished to know where I stood. “Sit down, Striver; sit down, Gertrude.” They did as I asked them in sheer amazement. “Now then,” I took a seat myself, “perhaps you will explain.”

“He forced his way—” began Gertrude, when I stopped her.

“I know that much. Mr. Striver is in love with you. I don’t blame him for that, since no man can help his feelings. He has forced his way into this house to compel you by threats to be his wife. I condemn him on those grounds, for no human being has a right to coerce another. Now then, the situation being plain, perhaps, Striver, you will speak out.”

If I had been violent the man could have met me more easily. But my perfect fairness and coolness confounded him, and he stared stupidly at me. I grew impatient. “Come, Striver, speak up. I don’t wish to condemn you unheard. On what grounds do you accuse Miss Monk of this crime?”

“She was at my aunt’s house on that evening.”

“I know as much from her own lips. I also know that she left her white cloak behind and a certain hat-pin. Well?”

He was more confounded than ever. “She stabbed my aunt,” he muttered.

“I never did, I never did,” cried Gertrude breathlessly.

“My dear,” said I, patting her hand, “there is no need for you to deny that, I am aware of your innocence. But I wish to know upon what grounds Mr. Striver bases his accusation.”

“I shall tell them to the police,” said the gardener, rising.

“You can’t do that,” struck in Gertrude, “without incriminating yourself.”

“Oh, indeed,” said I lightly; “perhaps you will explain, Striver. You see, I am treating you with all justice.”

“I don’t want your justice,” he said rudely.

“Ah!” I retorted meaningly, “perhaps you want the justice of a British jury, Striver. Come, out with it.”

The young man clenched his fists. “If I ruin myself, I shall ruin her. You shan’t have her if I can’t.”

“Allow me to tell you, Striver,” I said, repressing Gertrude, “that all this bombast has no effect on me. Prove your accusation.”

“You can’t without incriminating yourself,” repeated Gertrude, drawing a breath. “Cyrus, he told me that—”

“I’ll tell him,” interrupted the gardener fiercely. “I know that I run the risk of standing in the dock. But you, Miss Monk, will be by my side. It’s my love for you which makes me risk my neck.”

“So that you can put a rope round the neck of the woman you love,” I said cheerfully, although I confess that the man’s decisive tone made me uneasy. “That is an affectionate way of acting. “Well, are you going to confess?”

“I am not afraid to confess,” said Striver, in thick tones, but more composed. “You can’t make use of my confession without proving her”—he pointed to Gertrude—“to be a murderess and a thief.”

“A lie, a lie,” moaned the girl.

“I have been very patient with you, Striver,” I said, suppressing my anger with an effort, “but if you call Miss Monk names I’ll knock your teeth down your throat.”

“I’m not afraid of you, Mr. Vance.”

“No; you’re afraid of the police.”

“And so is she,” he pointed again.

“I am not,” denied Gertrude, and stood up calm and unflinching to deny it.

“Oh, damn your fencing, come to the point. Forgive me for swearing, Gertrude, but this long-winded ass would provoke a saint.”

Striver took no notice of the insult. He plunged, with a gasp, directly into the middle of his story, and I soon saw how it was that he did not dare to denounce Gertrude. “My aunt wished me to marry Miss Monk,” he said rapidly, and with his eyes on the carpet—he was standing up, by the way—“and as I loved her I wished for nothing better. My aunt said that she could give me Gabriel Monk’s money after her death, as she had concealed its whereabouts in her glass eye.”

“Oh,” I said, half to myself, “so I was right.”

“Yes, you were right,” assented Striver quickly. “I wanted my aunt to show me the eye when she was alive, but she always refused and said that it would remain in her head until she died.”

“A violent death, Mr. Striver.”

“Yes. She always declared that because of this secret she would not die in her bed. She was afraid that Miss Monk would kill her.”

“Oh, rubbish!” I interrupted impatiently. “Miss Monk would not kill a fly, as you well know. Mrs. Caldershaw must have been mad.”

“I think she was,” murmured Gertrude, clinging to me.

“She was not mad enough to give away the secret of the eye to me,” said Striver savagely. “I heard from Miss Destiny that Miss Monk had learned from some diary of Gabriel Monk’s that my aunt knew the secret of the money.”

“Yes,” interrupted Gertrude, looking up, “but not of the eye.”

“Seeing that you murdered my aunt, I believe you did,” contradicted the gardener bluntly. “Miss Destiny said that you were going over to Mootley to see my aunt. I went over also.”

“On that evening?” I asked, startled.

“Yes, and some time before Miss Monk arrived. I saw my aunt and asked her to tell me the secret. She refused, as she only wished me to have the money after her death. Then Miss Monk arrived, and my aunt smuggled me up the stairs into a bedroom. From above I saw Miss Monk enter the back room with my aunt. I returned to the bedroom to wait, and fell asleep. When I awoke it was quite dark. I stole down the stairs into the back room, and found it in darkness. Also I found my aunt’s body and the eye missing. My aunt was not quite dead, as she moaned. While I was wondering what to do, I heard a motor arrive.”

“My motor?” I asked swiftly.

“Yes. I then saw in a flash that being found with my aunt dying I might be accused of murder and of stealing her eye, seeing that I wanted it so much. I could not risk anyone entering the back room, so I fumbled for the key. It was on the outside, and you entered the shop, Mr. Vance, before I could get it. But there was a bolt on the inside of the door, and this I slipped. When you tried the door you could not get in. Afterwards, when you were filling your tank with petrol, I came out softly and stole up the stairs with the white cloak.”

“Why did you take the white cloak?”

“I knew that it belonged to Miss Monk, as I had frequently seen her wearing it. I wished to keep it as evidence that she had murdered my aunt in the back room.”

“I left the cloak, when I had to depart in a hurry,” said Gertrude defiantly.

“So you say,” sneered Striver, “but I believe differently. However, I managed to get safely back to the bedroom, and wondered how I could escape. It then struck me that I could assume the cloak as a disguise. I found a veil also, and put that round my cap. In the dusk, with the long cloak and the veil, I thought I would look like a woman, and could steal out.”

“Oh,” I said, with a gasp, “then you ran away with my car.”

“Yes, I did,” he said with a sort of triumph. “I waited my chance to get out of the place, as I was afraid lest I should be accused of the murder. When you entered the back room—”

“Attracted by the moan of the dying woman. Yes, go on.”

“Well, then I stole down the stairs and turned the key, which, I already knew, was on the outside. You had set your motor going, so I ran out and leaped in. That man Giles saw me—although I did not know his name at the time—and I put on all speed to escape. Luckily you had turned the motor round in the Murchester direction. I spun along and met Miss Destiny in her trap, as you know. At the time I didn’t think it was her. Then it struck me that she—a stranger, as I believed—might say how she had seen the motor and I would be traced. I therefore slewed the machine into the field through the gate. I left it stranded there, and concealed the cloak—”

“Which I found, along with the veil,” I put in. “Go on, Mr. Striver.”

“There’s nothing more to tell,” he said sulkily. “I walked to Murchester and caught a train. As I had not the motor or the white cloak, I felt that I was safe. And so I was.”

“You are not very safe now,” I remarked, rising to stretch myself. “Suppose I tell the police?”

“Then I denounce Miss Monk as guilty; she was in the back room—”

“I had left long, long before,” interposed Gertrude, very pale.

“I was in the back room also, Striver, yet I am innocent. However, I can see that if I talk you can talk, so, for the present, in any event, I shall say nothing about the matter. You can go.” I pointed to the door.

He stood his ground and looked at Gertrude. “You are in my power,” said he.

“And you are in ours,” I retorted cheerfully, “it won’t do, Striver, things shall remain as they are for the present. Miss Monk is not for you.”

“I shall tell the police,” he threatened.

“By all means, and cut your own throat. Go!” I flung open the door.

He looked with deadly hatred at Gertrude and myself, then departed in silence.

When I turned towards my darling, she had fainted.

Chapter 17
Lady Mabel’s Visit

Of course in daring Striver to do his worst I knew that I was running considerable risk. The man was crazy with love, and might be sufficiently reckless of consequences to himself to tell the police all that he had confessed to us. Then Gertrude would certainly be arrested on his evidence. Striver, as an accomplice after the fact would be arrested also: and then Justice would have to remove the bandage from her eyes to learn which of the two was guilty. In my own mind I had no doubt of Gertrude’s innocence, but an unbiassed jury might take, and probably would take, on the declarations of Striver, a very different view. I had dared much on the spur of the moment, and had defied a jealous man. Therefore for the next two or three days I was uneasy.

But I did not permit Gertrude to see that I was doubtful of Striver’s silence. When she recovered from her faint she expressed herself afraid lest he should speak out, and, in point of fact, voiced my sentiments. But in order to pacify her I made light of her fears.

“My dear, much as the man loves you, he certainly will not place his neck in a noose to be revenged on you,” I said again and again. “He is too deeply implicated, by running away with my car and with your cloak, and with being in the house when the crime was actually committed, to dare to tell the police the truth. Even if he did go with his story I doubt if you would be arrested, as on the face of it he looks much more guilty.”

“Do you think he is guilty, Cyrus?” she asked tremulously.

“Well,” I spoke doubtfully, “some such thought struck me once or twice. He was in the house, he wanted the eye to learn the secret of the hiding-place, and he knew that you had paid a visit. He might have murdered the old lady with your hat-pin so as to throw the blame on you, and then might have hoped to implicate you still further by using your cloak as a disguise. That Giles mistook him for a woman—which he counted upon—would, of course, aid him to entangle you yet more in the snare. But I can’t be sure if he is actually guilty.”

“I hope not, I hope not,” murmured Gertrude anxiously, “it would be such a terrible thing for him to murder his relative. I don’t mind Joseph at all if he would only get rid of this crazy affection he has for me. I don’t know why he loves me so?”

“Look in the glass, and you’ll see,” I said, kissing her.

“Oh, nonsense, Cyrus,” said Gertrude impatiently, “how can you joke when things are so serious. I am a very ordinary girl, and Joseph is half mad, I really believe. Oh”—she stopped short and looked at me—“that eye.”

I saw what she meant. “Yes,” I nodded, “that struck me also. Joseph might have been the one who placed it on that drawing-room table to implicate you. In that case—if we can only force him to confess as much—he must be guilty of the murder.”

“I hope not—I hope not,” she said again shiveringly, “and yet”—then she went off on a new line of thought—“if he placed the eye there, why should he take it away again?”

“He may not have done so. Do you know, Gertrude, I should not be surprised if your Aunt Julia had it. She wanted the eye, as we know, because she desires to handle the money. Apparently she told Joseph of your visit to Mootley, so that he might go there on the same day and anticipate your learning the secret from Mrs. Caldershaw.”

“But what would she gain by that?”

“She would be able to make Joseph give her part of the money when he found it,” I replied quickly.

“Then you think she anticipated the murder?”

“Not for one moment, my dear. With all her faults, your aunt is not wicked enough to deliberately urge a man to commit murder. But she sent Joseph ahead first, trusting that Mrs. Caldershaw would tell him the secret before you arrived. Then he could return with the cipher and they could understand it together—solve it, that it. But, as things turned out—all this is pure theory mind—Joseph did not show her the eye.”

“But he could not have had it, by his own confession,” insisted Gertrude.

“Quite so. But who else could have placed the eye on the drawing-room table, my dearest? I suspected Giles; I suspected you; and, I think, in a way, I suspected Striver, since he was working in the garden. Now I am sure. He put it there, because he was unable to read the cipher and so made use of it to implicate you. Miss Destiny found it and probably now it is in her possession. That glass eye has a trick of disappearing.”

“The Disappearing Eye,” said Gertrude, with a wan smile, “but you are wrong about Aunt Julia, Cyrus. She was with me all the time when you saw the eye, and I walked with her to the gate myself. We were not in the drawing-room.”

I was disappointed when I heard this. “In that case, she could not have taken it,” I mused. “Mr. Monk, could not, as he was with me all the time.”

“Cyrus, how can you think that papa would do such a thing?”

I smiled covertly. My experience of Mr. Monk showed me that he could act in an extremely underhanded and mean way when it suited his own tricky ends to do so. But, bearing my promise in mind, I did not dare to explain myself to the girl. I merely said that perhaps, after all, Striver took the eye back again, as he had every opportunity of doing so.

“But he would have produced it when we talked,” insisted Gertrude again.

“No. That would incriminate him too deeply. However, this eye, as I have said, seems to have a trick of appearing and disappearing, so it will turn up again. Meanwhile we will give Mr. Striver the benefit of the doubt and assume him to be innocent, although I’m hanged if his actions look like it. He won’t say anything, you may depend upon that.”

Striver did not, and evidently my policy of daring him to do his worst had proved successful. He remained a week in Burwain, but did not come near the house. Then he disappeared. Mrs. Gilfin told me the news. Striver had given his cottage into the charge of some cousin and had gone away for an indefinite period.

“Didn’t say where he was going,” chatted Mrs. Gilfin. “I asked John to find out from the gossip in the bar, but he couldn’t. But, knowing men as I do, I know where he’s gone.”

“Where, Cuckoo?” I asked anxiously, for, bearing in mind what the gardener knew, I was eager to know his whereabouts.

“To London town,” said Mrs. Gilfin solemnly, “young men with money always go there to have a spree. And since you’ve caught the eye of Miss Gertrude, Master Cyrus, dear, that young man’s given up trying. With his aunt’s money he’s gone to enjoy himself.”

I doubted it. Striver was too deeply in love to get rid of his crazy passion so easily. Still it was possible that he had gone to London to drown his disappointment in an orgy, so I took the news of his departure to Gertrude, although I did not tell her of Mrs. Gilfin’s belief. I found the girl puzzling over a letter from her father.

“He’s going to New York on business,” she said, handing me the letter; “now I wonder what his business can be, Cyrus. And why did he go away without coming down to tell me personally and say good-bye?”

I read Mr. Monk’s precise handwriting carefully. He had kept to my agreement with him, and had left the country. He would be away, he wrote to his daughter, for an indefinite period, and hoped to return a wealthy man. I guessed that such a mean creature would probably stay in America and marry there, leaving his daughter to look after herself. Luckily there was a postscript stating that if Gertrude wanted money she was to apply to a lawyer whose address was given. I handed back the letter with a shrug. Since Mr. Monk had departed there was no reason for me to say anything at all, although I had limited my silence to a fortnight.

“I expect he’s found some business which will make him rich, and has had to go off in a hurry. You can’t miss him very much, Gertrude, darling, for he is never here.”

“No, that is true,” she said thoughtfully, folding up the letter, “and since you have come into my life, Cyrus, I miss my father very little, still he might have come to say good-bye. I am afraid,” she ended, sighing, “that papa is a little selfish.”

“Well, never mind. He’ll return with wealth, as he says.”

“Do you think he will?”

“I am sure of it,” I replied, kissing her, for if Mr. Monk did appear in Burwain again, a contingency I could not be sure would take place, he would doubtless admit his possession of the Australian cousin’s money to his daughter. Meanwhile, as I pointed out, he was gone, and Striver was gone, so all we had to do was to enjoy ourselves.

“Then there’s no danger of Joseph seeing the police?”

I kissed her again. “No. Set your mind at rest!” And truly, when day after day went past and no news came I began to believe that Mr. Striver and his suggested revenge had passed away altogether. The murder of Mrs. Caldershaw—unless the gardener was guilty—still remained a mystery, but so long as Gertrude was not troubled I cared very little if it were never solved.

September passed into October, and that damp month gave place to foggy November. I remained very comfortably lodged at the Robin Redbreast, and saw Gertrude every day. The lawyer sent her a weekly sum, so all was well financially, and for the rest, she no longer felt lonely, since she had my company to an unlimited extent. We motored a great deal, we sometimes visited the Tarhaven theatre, and we spent long evenings together over the piano, for Gertrude was a very good musician. If ever a man had an opportunity of knowing what kind of wife he was marrying, I was that lucky individual. Our wooing was odd and unconventional, to say the least of it, and I was known in Burwain village as “Miss Gerty’s young man.” Only Puddles acted as chaperon, although Miss Destiny sometimes assumed that office.

The little old lady was extremely gracious to me, and actually asked me to afternoon tea in her tin house, an unprecedented favour, considering her avaricious nature. Gertrude privately informed me that her aunt did not again refer to the hidden money, and evidently was quite ready to wait until it was found. If it was, and she did not receive her half, I had no doubt that she would show her teeth, but meanwhile she was bland and smiling and agreeable. I disliked her myself, as I knew she was holding a whip over Gertrude. Still, so long as she did not use it, I had no cause to complain. Gertrude’s position—owing to circumstances over which she had no control—was an extremely delicate one, and Miss Destiny, as a possible scandalmaker, had to be propitiated. I was therefore as amiable to her as she was to me, but I fancy she hated me under her feigned mask of friendship, as several times I caught sly glances revealing the smouldering fires of her suppressed feelings.

I had, through those damp months, a companion at the Robin Redbreast in the small person of Dicky Weston. True to his intention, he had leased a few acres of waste land outside the village and, having enclosed it with a high tin fence, had erected sheds for his three or four workmen—in the construction of his airship he did not retain more—and for the housing of the vessel (as I presume it may be called). The various parts were brought from London, and Weston spent his days in putting them together. Meanwhile he lived along with me at the inn, and we had a common table. I rather liked Weston, although he was confoundedly absent-minded. He told me—for we grew confidential—that he had proposed to Mabel and that she had refused him.

“I believe she’s in love with that Marr fellow,” said Weston savagely.

“She is in love with you, my dear chap,” I assured him; “anyone but a half-blinded inventor could see that.”

“Then why didn’t she accept me?”

“Do you expect a girl to drop into your mouth like a ripe apple, just because between the intervals of what you regard as more important business you propose to her. Women need to be wooed in order to be won, Weston, and Lady Mabel—very rightly, declined to be considered a side issue of your life interest.”

“But I love her no end, Vance.”

“Pooh! You would sacrifice her and a dozen like her to your Moloch of an airship,” I said lightly.

“I wouldn’t,” he insisted; “but Mabel couldn’t expect me to throw over everything to dance at her heels.”

“She could expect it, and she did expect it. Weston, you don’t know the sex.”

“I know Mabel, and I love Mabel,” he muttered, “but since she won’t have me there is no more to be said. I expect to hear she has married Marr.”

“You expect wrongly then,” said I with a shrug; “Marr has gone to America for an indefinite period, and is out of the running.”

“Then there’s a chance for me,” he said, his dark face lightening up.

“If you play your cards properly.”

“Show me how to play, then,” he asked me, and I laughed.

“Good Lord man, you aren’t a child, to be shown what to do. Make a fuss with Mabel, and show her—as she deserves to be shown—that she is the one woman in the world for you.”

“So she is, so she is. I love her no end. Upon my soul I do.”

“You have not shown that by your actions,” I replied dryly; “if your love was so ardent you certainly would not be daunted by a single refusal.”

Weston sighed. “I don’t understand girls,” he confessed.

“You certainly don’t, my friend. However, if you are willing to make another attempt, ask Mabel down to see your airship.”

“She won’t come: she can’t come.”

“Why not? It isn’t a long journey.”

“From Italy it is,” he said dolefully. “Lady Denham and her niece have been in Florence for some weeks. Lady Denham wrote and told me they were going.”

“Oh, she wrote you, did she? That shows that, now Marr is off the scene, Lady Denham will favor your suit. Cannington’s at Florence also. I got a letter from him a few days ago. The whole party are coming back to England for Christmas, as Lady Denham virtuously intends to spend the festive season at her country house in the good old English fashion.”

“It’s a fortnight to Christmas,” ruminated Weston anxiously. “I wonder if Lady Denham would ask me down.”

“I am quite sure she would. Men with thirty thousand a year are not easily picked up. Marr, the millionaire,” I laughed when I said this, “having sheered off, Lady Denham will be delighted if her niece will marry you.”

“But Mabel doesn’t love me for my money, I hope.”

“No. She’s too decent a girl. You will be a lucky man if you win her. Lord knows what she can see in you, Weston. You’re not handsome, not entertaining, and your mind generally floats in the clouds with your blessed airship.”

Weston laughed, in no wise offended. “I’ll tell you what,” he said after a pause, “I’ll wire Cannington asking him to bring his sister down here when they return to England.”

“Won’t a letter do? Why are you in such a hurry?”

“I haven’t time to write a letter,” confessed Weston candidly, “a wire is just as good, if more expensive. But if they come down I can then show Mabel the airship and ask her to use it with me for the honeymoon. She can’t mistake that offer.”

“It’s an odd one, but she certainly can’t,” I answered laughing.

The consequence of this conversation was that Weston sent his telegram, and then promptly forgot all about it in the interest of his infernal aerial tramp. Cannington did not reply, so I wrote him a long letter, detailing my conversation with the inventor, and pointing out that Lady Mabel was the dream of the little man’s life. So she was, in a way, although Weston had a queer method of showing it. My letter crossed another one from Cannington, and I learned that the party had returned to England sooner than was expected. Thus Weston’s wire to Florence had not reached Lady Mabel. I posted another explanation to Cannington, and Weston, during the course of the week before Christmas, received a hasty note from the boy, saying that he was bringing down his sister to see—me. This made Dicky furious.

“Good Lord!” he grumbled, “are you in love with Mabel?”

“Considering that I have introduced you to my future wife, how can I be?”

“Then why does Cannington bring her to see you, confound you?”

“Because you have behaved badly to his sister.”

“I haven’t. I asked her to marry and she—”

“Very rightly refused to have you. Weston, you are a complete ass. Leave me to arrange this matter, and when you get the chance throw yourself at Mabel’s feet and let her trample on you.”

“I’ll do whatever you like,” said Weston, who was about as much in love as a man divided between science and humanity well could be.

The result of my efforts came about in due course. Cannington appeared on the scene in a walking kit, along with his sister, and announced that they were stopping at the Buckingham Hotel, Tarhaven, for a few days. The boy looked very well after his foreign tour, and Lady Mabel was as blooming as a rose. Weston being as usual in his yard attending to his darling airship, I gave Cannington and the girl afternoon tea, and we had a long chat, which included news on both sides.

“Mabel got an offer from an Italian count,” said Cannington gaily.

“And I refused,” replied Mabel. “I have made up my mind to be an old maid.”

“You look like the sort that become old maids,” I retorted, admiring her fresh comeliness, “and Weston will have a word to say to that.”

Mabel set her mouth obstinately. “I sha’n’t accept Dicky,” she said, with a fine access of color; “he seems to think he has only to ask and to have.”

“Well, then, he found that he asked and didn’t get,” I said teasingly; “he has been punished enough, Mabel, and loves you desperately. He can’t get on with his work for thinking of you. Accept him, my dear girl, and then, the matter being settled, he can attend to his work.”

“If I accept him I shall have to be his work,” said Mabel wrathfully. “I am not going to be neglected for his airship. But let us leave Dicky alone for the present. If he asks me again, I might—mind you, I don’t say that I will—but I might box his ears and accept him. Meanwhile, what about Miss Monk? I am dying to see her.”

“So am I,” chimed in Cannington, pushing back his chair.

“One at a time, boy. Mabel, you come along with me to The Lodge and we shall see Gertrude. Then you can give me your opinion on my extremely good taste. As to Cannington, he had better look up Dicky in his yard.”

“I’d rather come and see Gertrude—I mean Miss Monk.”

“No. To-morrow you shall be presented. Go and talk to Dicky like a Dutch uncle—he deserves it—while Mabel and I call on Gertrude.”

Cannington nodded, although I could see that he was not very well pleased with the arrangement. On the way out of the inn he tugged at my sleeve while Mabel was speaking to Mrs. Gilfin. “I say, have you learned anything more about the Mootley business?”

“Not lately,” I replied in low tones. “I’ll tell you all I know when we have more time. Go and see Dicky. By the way,” I caught his sleeve this time, “have you heard anything of Marr?”

“Not a word. Why?” He stared wonderingly.

“Oh, nothing. Never mind.”

“Mabel,” I turned to the girl, “I am at your service.”

Cannington shrugged his square shoulders and the three of us walked to The Lodge. Weston’s yard was farther on, quite beyond the village, so I directed Cannington to go straight on, telling him that he could not miss the workshop. Then I took Mabel inside the grounds of The Lodge and up to the door. Eliza opened the door and conducted us to the drawing-room. While she went to inform her young mistress of our arrival, Mabel glanced round admiringly.

“What a charming old room!” she said delightedly; “it must have been built by William the Conqueror: all except the horrid windows.”

“They are rather out of place,” I admitted; “some Vandal of a Monk, put them there during the Albert period, when everything was ugly.”

“I shall get Dicky to give me a room like this—without the French windows, of course,” chatted Mabel.

“Oh! then you intend to marry him.”

“Certainly not. I intend to box his ears if he has the cheek to speak to me again. The idea!”

“What shall I give you for a wedding present, Mabel?” I asked, laughing.

“Dicky’s head on a charger,” she replied promptly.

“In that case there would be no wedding. Come, Mabel, you know you love Weston and intend to marry him.”

“Well, I do, on one condition.”

“What is that?”

“He must burn or smash his horrid airship before my very eyes.”

“Well,” said I, thoughtfully and with intent, “he loves you so much that I believe he’ll even do that.”

“Oh, Cyrus, would he”—her eyes sparkled—“does he really love me?”

“Desperately. He’s been miserable since you refused him.”

“Oh, poor Dicky—” she began, but got no further, for Gertrude entered as the words left her lips and came forward with a smile.

“Lady Mabel,” she said, holding out her hand, “I have no need to ask your name, as Cyrus has described you to me so often.”

“Oh, we’ve known each other for ages,” said Mabel warmly. “Cyrus is just like my elder brother. I am so glad to meet you. Cyrus told me—well, I daren’t tell you what he told me, it would make him blush.”

“I have not blushed since I was a baby,” I retorted. “Gertrude, Lady Mabel is stopping at Tarhaven with her brother and—”

“Don’t call me Lady Mabel. It’s very rude. Miss Monk, why don’t you keep him in better order?”

“Don’t call me Miss Monk,” said Gertrude, smiling. “I know you quite well from what Cyrus has told me, and, indeed, Mr. Weston.”

“Oh, Dicky,” Mabel blushed, “he’s such a silly man, Miss—well then, Gertrude.”

“Hurrah, Gertrude! you are received into the family circle,” said I.

“Not until she meets Cannington,” said Mabel, rising. “What a lovely, lovely room you have, Gertrude,” she moved from one point to another; “it’s as lovely as—you are.”

“What a nice speech, Mabel.”

“Yes, isn’t it? I always make nice speeches, and—and—oh!” she stopped short.

“What’s the matter?” asked Gertrude, seeing that her visitor was staring at a photograph in a silver frame, “that is my father.”

“Your father,” repeated Mabel, and my blood ran chill, for I guessed what was coming. “Why, it’s a photograph of Mr. Wentworth Marr, who wished to marry me.”

Chapter 18
An Alarming Message

I sat and shivered in my brown shoes. In bringing Lady Mabel to The Lodge I had quite overlooked the possibility that she might espy the photograph of Monk which stood always, as I very well knew, on the piano in the drawing-room, and the worst of it was that the photograph had only been taken a few months, so there was no possibility of mistaking the face. It was certain that Mabel would appeal to me for confirmation of her assertion, since I had met Marr in her presence, so what could I do? While the two girls stared alternatively at one another and at the photograph, I tried to make up my mind what course it would be best to pursue.

“I think you must be mistaken,” said Gertrude, who looked puzzled, “the photograph is certainly one that my father had taken early this year.”

“Then your father is Wentworth Marr,” insisted Mabel, examining the photograph more closely.

“Walter Monk is my father’s name,” said Gertrude with some stiffness, “there is no need for him to change it.”

Mabel looked round at me, and I shivered again. The heavens were falling. “I ask you, Cyrus,” she cried imperatively, “isn’t this,” she touched the photograph, “Mr. Marr.”

“There is a likeness,” I admitted cautiously.

“Nonsense! it’s Mr. Marr himself. You met him at Aunt Lucy’s. You must know.”

“Know what?” I asked doggedly and uneasily.

“That this,” she touched the photograph again, “is Mr. Marr.”

I was silent, and looked at my toes, wondering what was best to say. Certainly I had made a promise to Monk to be silent, provided he fulfilled certain conditions. He had done so, and therefore my lips were sealed. Then I recalled the fact that I had limited the time of concealment to a fortnight and thus, in all honor, I was now free to tell the truth. It seemed necessary to do so at the moment, as no other course was open to me. Mabel was a most pertinacious young woman, and would never leave things alone until her doubts were set at rest. Moreover, Gertrude was looking at me inquiringly, as she had noticed my obvious embarrassment.

“Cyrus,” she asked, and I raised my eyes, “what does this mean?”

“It’s a long story,” I said weakly.

“Oh,” Mabel walked up to me, “then there is a story. Just you tell it.” She sat down with a determined air. “I don’t move from here until I know how Mr. Marr’s photograph comes to be here under the name of Mr. Monk.”

There was no help for it. I had to speak out and make the best I could of a most uncomfortable situation. “Mr. Walter Monk goes by that name in Burwain,” I blurted out, “but in London he is known as Mr. Wentworth Marr.”

“Well I never!” Mabel drew a long breath and looked at Gertrude, who had sat down, and was staring hard at me.

“Why has my father two names?” she asked apprehensively.

“Oh, there’s nothing wrong,” I said hastily, “he is Wentworth Marr by Act of Parliament.”

“Perhaps he is a millionaire also by Act of Parliament,” said Mabel sarcastically. “Can you say that he is, Cyrus?”

“Papa is not a millionaire,” put in Gertrude hastily. “All he has is this house and five hundred a year.”

“Oh,” Mabel drew another long breath, “and he gave Aunt Lucy to understand that he was a rich man.”

“Did he give her to understand that he was actually a millionaire?” I asked.

“Well no, not exactly. Aunt Lucy exaggerates. But he did say that he had no end of money and asked her permission to pay his addresses to me.”

“To you!” cried Gertrude, her color coming and going; “why, I thought that you were engaged to Mr. Weston.”

“I am in love with Mr. Weston,” said Mabel straightforwardly, “but I am not engaged to him, although I may be. I refused him once, and my aunt wished me to marry you—that is, Mr. Marr!” She paused, then spread out her hands in a foreign fashion, “I can’t understand what it means.”

“Cyrus understands,” said Gertrude, and her voice sounded cold. “Perhaps you will explain, Cyrus.”

“Willingly,” I said, nerved to desperate coolness, “but you will understand in your turn that I was bound by a promise made to your father not to say anything if certain conditions were fulfilled.

“Was that fair to me?” asked Mabel angrily.

“Perfectly fair,” I snapped. “I learned the truth when I met Mr. Marr at Lady Denham’s house. Then I recognized him as Mr. Monk, and afterwards I had an explanation with him.”

“Why didn’t you tell us his real name when you set eyes on him?” demanded Lady Mabel crossly.

“I did not wish to make a scene. It was only fair to await an explanation.”

“What?” cried the girl, her color rising, “when Mr. Marr was calling on my aunt under a false name—”

“He has a perfect legal right to the name.”

“And under the pretence of being a rich man.”

“He is a rich man,” I assured her, “to the extent of one hundred thousand pounds.”

Gertrude looked at me in astonishment. “That isn’t true,” she denied.

“My dear girl, I have the word of your father for the amount.”

“It’s all very strange,” said Mabel, calming somewhat, and hiding a covert smile. “Oh, great heavens! I wonder what Aunt Lucy will say!” She laughed outright. “It’s like a play: to think that a man with a daughter as old as I am should wish to marry me.”

Gertrude colored, and I saw that her mind was tormented to think that her father should act in this underhand way. To lessen her anguish I hastened to relate all I knew—this is, I explained about the Australian cousin, the legal change of name and reason for the suppression of the Burwain household, and the conditions upon which I had held my peace. The two girls listened quietly, Mabel with astonishment and Gertrude with pain. Certainly Walter Monk, alias Wentworth Marr, had not committed a crime, but he had scarcely acted straightforwardly.

“Well,” said Mabel, drawing a long breath as usual when I had ended, “I never heard of such a thing. Why on earth didn’t Mr. Marr, or Mr. Monk—I’m sure I don’t know what to call him—tell me the whole truth? There was no reason to keep quiet that I can see.”

“I was the reason, evidently,” said Gertrude, with crimson cheeks, for she was heartily ashamed of her father. “Papa did not think you would marry him if you saw me.”

For answer, Mabel, who was an extremely kindhearted girl, jumped up and kissed those same flushed cheeks. “My dear, I liked your father well enough, and would have no objection to you as a step-daughter.” She laughed merrily at the idea. “But the fact is, I never intended to marry Mr. Marr, whatever Aunt Lucy said. I always loved Dicky Weston and I always shall, although he’s so horrid.”

“I’m glad of that,” said Gertrude quickly, “for now I can see that my father is not the man to make any woman happy. I always thought that he was a kindhearted, harmless man, a trifle frivolous, perhaps, but quite honest. Now I understand that I have been deceived—in more ways than one,” she added half to herself, and I could not understand what she meant. I did later.

“Do you blame me, Gertrude?” I asked, rising to take her hand.

“Of course she doesn’t,” said Mabel very rapidly; “you made a promise on certain conditions to keep quiet for an agreed time, and you have done so. No blame can possibly attach itself to you.”

“Gertrude?” I said anxiously, taking no notice of Mabel’s defence.

She pressed my hand. “I wish you could have told me,” she said, in a low voice, “but my father was too clever for you. I understand.”

“And you forgive me?” I pleaded.

“There is nothing to forgive.”

“Of course there isn’t,” cried Mabel, kissing Gertrude again, “and don’t let this make any difference to our friendship, dear. You will marry Cyrus and I shall marry Dicky—if he goes down on his knees to apologize for daring to ask me again—and everything will be well. But when I meet your father,” ended Mabel wrathfully, “I shall speak my mind.”

“I don’t think that you will see him again,” said Gertrude quietly. “He has gone to America, and went without a word of farewell or explanation to me. I think he will stop there. I see now that my affection was wasted on him, since he apparently cares for no one but himself.”

“Never mind.” Mabel caressed her. “You have Cyrus.”

“Yes; thank God for an honest man,” and she threw herself on my breast.

Mabel looked at us, and walked to the door. “I’ll leave you together and go after Cannington. If Dicky’s anything of a lover he’ll meet me on the road—in his airship, if possible”—and with a laugh to relax the tension of the situation she vanished. Shortly, we heard her open the front door and pass out. Then only did I speak.

“Don’t worry, Gertrude. He isn’t worth it.”

“He’s my father, after all,” she moaned; “it’s terrible to think that he should deceive me so.”

“Well, he hasn’t done any real harm. He told me that he gave you the whole five hundred a year to yourself, more or less.”

“That is not true. He has kept me very short.”

“Hang him, he—” I stopped. After all, as she said, the man was her father, and I could not very well speak what was in my mind to his daughter. “Don’t think of him any more, Gertrude,” I whispered coaxingly. “I have you and you have me. Let us forget him.”

“It will be best,” she said, drying her eyes, for the ready tears had filled them, and small blame to her. “Do you think papa will come back?”

“No. He will probably stop in the States and marry an heiress.”

“Thank God he will not come back,” she muttered, half to herself. “I never want to see him in England again.”

I thought that this was rather a strained view to take of Monk’s delinquencies, seeing how fond Gertrude had been of him until she discovered his true character. But that is the way with true affection: it is all or nothing. Gertrude, a truthful, honest girl, could never trust her father again.

“No, I could never trust him,” she said, speaking exactly what was in my mind. “He would only deceive me when it suited him. I always knew that my father was more or less selfish, but I looked upon him as a child. His character is not a deep one.”

“It is deeper than we supposed,” I said grimly.

“I can see that now, and—and—oh!” she rose and pushed me away—“I must go to my room to think matters over.”

“What matters?”

“What you have told me and—and—others,” she stammered.

I caught her hands. “Gertrude, what is it?”

She wrenched away her hands and glided towards the door. “I daren’t tell you, I daren’t tell you,” she whispered, and her lips were as white as her face as she waved me back. “Wait, wait,” she muttered, “when I can make up my mind, you shall know all.” And she disappeared.

“All what?” That was the question I asked myself as I returned to the inn. Apparently Gertrude knew something more about her father than what I had told her. But what could it be that could so move her to tears? Of course the discovery of her father’s doubtful behavior had given her a shock, but it scarcely explained her uncontrolled emotion. I began to wonder if Mr. Monk had any connection with the Mootley murder. But, on reflection I could find no connecting link. Until Gertrude gave me her entire confidence, I could not explain anything.

“Her entire confidence!” I stopped short when the two words flashed into my mind. I remembered that Gertrude had refused to give me the name of the mysterious person who had driven her out of the back door by the mere sight of him. Yes—him, for I truly believed that the person in question, although she had kept me in ignorance of the sex, was Walter Monk. On this assumption it was easy to guess why the poor girl had refused to speak the name. She dreaded lest her father should be implicated in the crime, and so, in the face of the danger to herself, had held her peace even to me, her staunch friend and devoted lover. This was what had brought her tears so readily. Notwithstanding she had seen him in the shop—as I now believed—she had hitherto refused to credit him with the murder. But the sudden discovery of the duplicity of which he was capable had aroused in her breast the latent doubt to active life. She now wished to be alone in order to consider if her father was guilty of murder as he had been guilty of deception. At least that was my belief, although I had little grounds to go upon. But Gertrude, as I had always thought, was shielding someone whom she had seen in Mrs. Caldershaw’s shop. Who could that someone be but her father, since that relationship alone would be a powerful motive for her to hold her tongue, even at the risk of losing her liberty? But, try as I might, I could not see how Walter Monk could be connected with the death of Anne Caldershaw.

That same evening after dinner, Weston and I walked back to Tarhaven with the brother and sister. The sky was clear, and the atmosphere was not too chilly: also we walked along the cliffs under a full wintry moon. Naturally Weston and the girl he loved were together, and seemed to be quarreling pretty freely. In fact, Dicky told me that night, when we walked back, that several times he had attempted to propose again, but that Mabel had always laughed at him, so that he could not get the words out. She teased him and tantalized him, and drew him on and repulsed him like a true daughter of Eve, so that his cold, scientific blood—to put it picturesquely—began to warm. Perhaps this was what the young minx desired. At all events, Dicky Weston understood her after that walk to Tarhaven much better than he had ever understood her before, and began to think that there were other things in the world than airships.

Cannington and I walked behind, chatting and smoking. Mabel either had not found time to tell him of her discovery, or had thought it best to leave the explanation to me. At all events Cannington knew nothing, so, to be beforehand, I judged it well to relate what I knew.

“Boy,” I said abruptly, when we had settled well into our swing, “I have something to tell you: something you should have known before. And would have known,” I added emphatically, “had I not been bound to hold my tongue for a certain period.”

“What are you talking about, Vance?” asked Cannington, turning a surprised and youthful face to mine.

“Listen, and don’t get your hair off!” said I, then rapidly and clearly told him of my recognition of Marr as Monk: of the conversation I had enjoyed with him in the London chambers, and finally detailed how Mabel had seen the photograph in The Lodge drawing-room which had proved the two men to be one. The boy listened quietly enough, although once or twice I heard him swear under his breath. “Well,” said I, when I had finished, “do you blame me?”

“No,” he said promptly, “since you arranged that the man should drop Aunt Lucy’s acquaintance, and should drop courting Mab, I don’t blame you. But I wish you had told me when the fortnight was up.”

“My dear boy, how could I? You were going to Italy, and it was useless to communicate the news by letter. Especially,” I added, “when Monk went to America, and intends apparently to stop there.”

“Yes, yes. I suppose you acted for the best. But what a beast!”

“Come, that’s a trifle hard,” I protested. “Monk has a legal right to the name of Marr and has plenty of money. He is not a bad match for Mabel.”

“I never liked him,” said Cannington truculently, “and I am glad Mabel did not listen to him.”

“She said that she never intended to listen to him, and now you may be sure that she will be Lady Mabel Weston very shortly.”

“That depends upon Dicky’s behavior,” said Cannington sharply; “unless he is all that I can desire he sha’n’t marry my sister.”

“You leave things in the hands of Mabel, my son. She’ll manage the affair all right. But Marr—”

“Damn him! I should like to give him a thrashing.”

“I don’t see upon what grounds you could, Cannington. It is true that he suppressed the fact that he had a grown-up daughter, but that is not a crime, and the suppression was due only to vanity. I daresay he intended to tell the truth if Mabel had accepted him.”

“I daresay,” muttered the boy, still wrathful, “but I wouldn’t give the little beast the benefit of the doubt. I can’t exactly call him to account either legally or socially, I suppose, but if he dares to speak to me again—” Cannington’s fist clenched itself in his deerskin glove.

“I don’t think you will set eyes on him for many a long day,” I said carelessly; “he’ll stop in the States and marry.”

“What does his daughter say?”

“She is very much cut up at the way in which he has behaved. Fancy his having all that money—one hundred thousand pounds—and keeping his daughter down to the simple necessaries of life.”

“Perhaps he hasn’t the money at all,” said Cannington abruptly.

“He must have,” I insisted; “look at the motor car he drove in: and then his rooms are beautifully furnished.”

“He might have got all that by swindling.”

“In that case, you certainly are justified in thrashing him, since he obtained an introduction to Lady Denham under false pretences. But I don’t think Mr. Monk has the nerve to swindle.”

Cannington laughed grimly. I had never seen the easy-going boy so angry. “I think he has the nerve for anything, after what he has done—even for murder, Vance.”

I started, remembering my belief that Gertrude was shielding her father. “I don’t understand.”

“He might have murdered Anne Caldershaw.”

“Oh, nonsense. Mr. Monk wasn’t even in the neighborhood.”

“Mr. Walter Monk, under his real name, wasn’t: but Mr. Wentworth Marr was!”

“Cannington?”

“Don’t you remember how I told you that Marr called on that mess shortly before we arrived. He was stopping at the Lion Hotel in Murchester, and went off without seeing me again.”

“Then you think that he went to Mootley to see Anne Caldershaw and murdered her straight away?”

“I can’t be sure that he murdered her,” said Cannington doubtfully, “but you can see for yourself that the man is game for anything. According to what you tell me, Mrs. Caldershaw was murdered for the sake of that glass eye, which contains the clue to a fortune. Monk or Marr, or whatever you like to call the beast, might have murdered the woman and stolen the eye and have got the money. I daresay,” added Cannington, with a grim laugh, “he is really wealthy.”

“I can’t believe it,” said I, desperately hoping against hope, for it was unpleasant to think that Gertrude might be the daughter of a criminal. “Long before the Mootley murder, he was courting your sister as a rich man.”

“I daresay: he might have anticipated the fortune. However, that is my opinion, Vance, so you can take it or leave it. I don’t want to hear the man’s name again. I only hope he’ll have the good sense to stay in the States, as I sha’n’t answer for my temper when we meet.”

“All right, boy, don’t get your hair off with me.”

“I haven’t,” said Cannington stiffly, “but the whole affair is unpleasant.”

“If it is for you, think what it must be for me, when I am going to marry the daughter of such a rotter.”

“You will keep to your engagement, then?”

“Of course,” I returned indignantly. “What do you take me for?”

“A jolly good chap,” said the boy, giving me a friendly dig. “I expect she—the lady, I mean—is worth it. Mabel says that she is no end of a beauty.”

“Mabel is one of the few girls who can praise beauty in another. For that pretty speech she shall have the best wedding present I can procure.”

“It may not be wanted,” grunted Cannington.

I laughed and looked ahead at the pair quarreling in the moonlight. “On the contrary, I shall have to see to the matter at once,” said I lightly.

On that night when I got back to the inn and retired to bed I thought long and deeply. Cannington’s chance remark about Marr being in the neighborhood during the time the crime was committed convinced me that the man had been to Mootley. Gertrude had caught sight of him when she was in the back room, and had fled. For this reason she had declined to tell me the name of the mysterious person. And again, the presence of the glass eye on the drawing-room table was explained in a reasonable way. Monk had left it there, and apparently by chance, since, knowing, he would never have allowed such evidence of his guilt to remain there. How he had recovered it again I could not say, as he had been with me all the time until we re-entered the drawing-room together. It might be that Gertrude, in spite of her denial, had chanced on the eye, and, remembering her father’s presence in the shop, had concealed it, thinking—and with good reason—that he was guilty. Even to me, under the circumstances, she would deny the truth, so I did not blame her overmuch. But I arranged in my own mind to see her the next day and learn for certain if she really believed her father to be guilty. On the grounds set forth he assuredly seemed to be.

But when the next day came, I did not call on Gertrude, for—as the saying goes—I had other fish to fry. At ten o’clock I received a telegram, asking me to be in London that afternoon at three o’clock. And the wire was from Mr. Walter Monk, or, as it was signed, Wentworth Marr. “Come up to my rooms at three to-day,” ran the wording, “S. threatens. I want you to deal with him. WENTWORTH MARR.”

There was a prepaid reply, so I sent an answer saying I would be in Stratford Street at the appointed time. Then I sat down to consider the meaning of the summons.

“‘S. threatens.’ That is, Striver is on the old man’s trail. Humph! So Mr. Monk has returned from the States, where he had intended to remain. I daresay Striver followed him there and forced him to return. Now I wonder if Striver accuses Monk or Gertrude? That is the question. He may be threatening Monk with his daughter’s disgrace so as to force him to get her to marry himself—Striver, that is. Or else he suspects Monk and can prove his guilt. Or else—” I stopped, and put the telegram into my pocket. “The crisis seems to be approaching,” said I very prophetically. And I was right.

Chapter 19
A Dangerous Position

I could have seen Gertrude before leaving for London, but I did not think it wise to do so. She would certainly ask questions, and if, by chance, I let slip that my visit was to her father, trouble would ensue. When had he returned from America? Why had he returned from America? For what reason did he wish to see me? Where was the letter or telegram, which I had received? These questions Gertrude would assuredly ask, and if I answered them truthfully, she would probably insist upon coming with me. That would be impossible, as her presence would only complicate matters. And Heaven knows they were sufficiently complicated as it was.

For this reason I simply sent a note saying that I had been called to London on business, and drove over to Tarhaven in Mrs. Gilfin’s trap to catch the midday train. I just managed to escape Cannington, whom I saw in the street, as I drove up to the station, and was glad that he had not noticed me. I did not wish to enter into further explanations, and invent theories, and conjecture possibilities. So many lies were being told and so many secrets were being kept, that it was difficult to understand the actual position of affairs. The corner shop at Mootley seemed to have been a kind of rendezvous for all manner of people, and on that fatal evening Mrs. Caldershaw appeared to have held quite a reception. Gertrude, her father, Striver, and Miss Destiny had all been making for that goal, and the consequence of their presence—in a broad sense I speak—had been the death of the old woman. The sole person whose innocence could be proved beyond all doubt was Miss Destiny, as she had not arrived until I had discovered the body of Mrs. Caldershaw. Of course I truly believed that Gertrude was innocent, but the police might have taken a different view. For this reason I was anxious to learn the exact state of things with regard to Striver and Monk. In my opinion one of the two was guilty, and I anxiously waited for three o’clock to learn the absolute truth. Then, being enlightened, I should know how to act.

At three o’clock I drove in a taxi to Stratford Street, and was admitted by a demure-looking man in black—Monk’s valet, I suppose—to the flat. Apparently the servant expected my arrival, for he led me directly into the Moorish smoking-room where I had previously been. Striver and Mr. Monk were both present, seated in opposite chairs and glowering—as the Scotch say—at one another. They resembled a couple of ill-tempered dogs chained together. Monk, I thought, looked haggard and worn and anxious, quite different to his usual complacent self. But Striver’s handsome face wore a determined, confident expression. I judged that he was master of the situation. This augured ill for Monk’s innocence. As soon as I entered the elder man, quivering with nervousness, rose quickly to his feet and rushed forward to clasp my hand. “I am so glad you have come, Vance,” he said, dropping his affected speech. “I need your assistance in dealing with this—this— blackmailer.”

“That’s a lie,” growled Striver, who looked dangerous, and probably was; “why don’t you introduce me as your secretary?”

“Yes,” cried Monk, his under lip twitching, “that’s what he calls himself, Vance—my secretary. He followed after me to New York, and has been in my company ever since. To explain his presence I called him my secretary. But he is a blackguard—a blackmailer.”

“I have never asked you for a shilling,” retorted Striver with a shrug.

“No, you ask me for what I value more—the hand of my child.”

I sat down and laughed outright, in spite of the seriousness of the situation. “Hasn’t Mr. Striver given up hope in that quarter?”

“No, I haven’t,” snarled the gardener, “nor shall I. I intend to marry Gertrude.”

“Miss Monk, to you, if you please. As to your marrying her, that is out of the question. She is engaged to me, and I don’t intend to give her up. Now, Mr. Striver, I haven’t come here to listen to bombast and froth, but to hear facts. For what reason do you persecute Mr. Monk?”

“I don’t persecute him. I just followed him to New York to ask his help in marrying Ger—well, Miss Monk, if you will have it so.”

“Mr. Monk can’t help you there,” I said calmly.

“We’ll see about that,” said Striver, with an evil look.

“Of course. That is why I am here. Mr. Monk, would you mind giving me a cigar, please? I recommend one to you also, Striver. Smoking may soothe your nerves.”

“Mind your own business.”

“Oh, your nerves are my business, since they may lead you into making mischief. Thank you, Mr. Monk,” I said, taking the cigar he passed me. “A light, please.” I struck a match. “Now,” I ended, when comfortably smoking, “let me hear all about it.”

“All about what?” demanded Striver, annoyed by my coolness.

“About the means you propose to use in forcing Mr. Monk into supporting your preposterous desire to marry his daughter.”

“He is guilty of my aunt’s murder.”

“It is a lie, a lie,” cried Monk, sitting down and clasping his hands.

“Last time we had the pleasure of speaking together, Mr. Striver,” I said easily, “you accused Miss Monk; now you assert her father to be the guilty person. On what grounds do you base your last accusation? I know those on which you base your first, and I told you to tell them to the police. Instead of doing this you attempt to coerce an old man. I had some sympathy with you, because you loved in vain; now I have none, as I think you are simply a scoundrel, using illegal means to accomplish the impossible.”

“How dare you!”—he sprang to his feet with flashing eyes—“how—”

“That will do, my man,” I interrupted coldly, “sit down, and speak when I ask you questions.”

“I’ll break your head,” he muttered between his teeth, but obeyed.

I laughed. “I think we tried physical conclusions at The Lodge, and you got the worst of it. Hold your tongue, confound you,” I commanded sternly. “Mr. Monk!” I turned to my future father-in-law, who was shivering with apprehension, “you say that this person accuses you of murdering Anne Caldershaw?”

“Yes, he does. He came here and learned that I had gone to America and followed. He has never left me since.”

“Why didn’t you kick him out?”

“I couldn’t, I couldn’t,” said Monk, shivering again, while Striver sneered. “He threatened to tell the police. I kept him near me as my supposed secretary, and have been compelled to pay his expenses.”

“Oh, you can easily do that, Mr. Wentworth Marr,” scoffed Striver, “seeing that you have secured the fifty thousand pounds which rightfully belongs to your daughter, Miss Gertrude.”

“What?” I cried, alive with curiosity.

“It’s not true,” said Monk hastily, and his face grew red with anger, “the money I have comes from my Australian cousin, whose name I took in accordance with the conditions laid down in the will. I told you so.”

“Yes, and I did not believe you.” “Mr. Vance—” Striver shifted his position so as to face me—“I truly believed when I left Burwain that Miss Gertrude was guilty, on the grounds I explained to you at The Lodge. I came to London to see Mr. Monk, whom I knew to be masquerading as Marr—”

“I did not masquerade,” broke in Monk indignantly.

“Shut up,” said Striver contemptuously, “and let me tell my story in my own way or it will be the worse for you.”

“No threats, Striver. Tell me the story without side issues; I am aware that you learned about Mr. Monk’s change of name. You doubtless came here to say that if he didn’t help you to marry Miss Gertrude you would denounce her to the police.”

“Yes, I did,” said Striver sullenly, “but I learned from the caretaker of these rooms that Mr. Monk—Marr, the man called him—had gone to New York, and had left an address to which his letters were to be forwarded. I got that address—”

“The caretaker had no right to give it to you,” cried Monk indignantly.

“Oh, a little money soon makes that sort of person speak,” sneered the gardener. “However, I had no difficulty in learning where Mr. Monk was stopping in New York. I had plenty of cash, with my aunt’s legacy and my own income, to say nothing of the sale of the corner shop lease to Giles, so I determined to follow. I reached New York in due course, and compelled Mr. Monk to take me as his secretary, so that I could keep him under my eye.”

Monk groaned. “I have had a cruel time with you; a cruel time.”

“Better than you deserve. I swear,” added Striver, turning again to me, “that I never believed Mr. Monk to be guilty until I found the eye.”

“What?” I sprang to my feet in sheer astonishment. “You found the eye?”

Monk, changing alternately from white to red with nervous fear, would have burst out into emphatic denial, but Striver cast such a black look in his direction that the words died on his lips. Then the gardener took out of his pocket a small morocco case, such as jewellers use to enclose watches, and passed it along to me. I opened it silently, and there, on the puffy white silk, lay a glass eye. “I found that,” said Striver slowly, “while searching the luggage of Mr. Monk.”

“You had no right to search my luggage,” whimpered Monk, “it was most unfair.”

“Unfair be hanged! You were so certain that Miss Gertrude was innocent, and talked so much about defending her with your life that I began to suspect you of the deed. I hunted, when you were out, amongst your luggage and papers for some proof of your guilt. I found my aunt’s glass eye.”

“I never saw it before,” cried Monk, rising in his excitement; “you placed it amongst my papers to incriminate me.”

“Mr. Vance,” said Striver coldly, “look at the initials on the outside of that case. You will see they are Wentworth Marr’s initials—W. M. They also stand for Walter Monk,” ended Striver with a sneer, and when I glanced at the case I saw that he spoke the truth.

“The case is mine, I admit,” said Monk, trying to speak calmly, “it was in my dressing-case—”

“Where I found it, containing the eye,” put in Striver sharply.

“You did not, you did not. The case was empty, as I was wearing the watch—this watch.” Monk jerked a golden chronometer out of his waistcoat pocket. “The jeweller, whose address is inside the case, can prove that the watch was in it when he sold it to me.”

“I daresay,” sneered Striver quietly, “but you wore the watch and placed the eye in the empty case. Yes, and with that eye you learned the secret of the whereabouts of Miss Gertrude’s fifty thousand pounds, and you have been living on it under the name of Wentworth Marr. The story of your Australian legacy and Australian cousin is a mere invention.”

“I tell you I have spoken the truth. I deny everything.”

“Do you deny that you were in Mrs. Caldershaw’s shop?” I asked, preventing Striver from speaking by a gesture.

Monk stared and winced. “How do you know that?”

“Mr. Wentworth Marr was at Murchester on the day when the crime was committed. He came down in his motor and stopped at the Lion Hotel. He left a card for Lord Cannington at Murchester Barracks. He also went to Mootley to see Anne Caldershaw.”

“You can’t prove that,” said Monk, and wiped the perspiration from his brow nervously. “I admit that I did motor down to Murchester to ask Cannington to influence his sister in my favor. I called in the afternoon and left a card. Then I stopped the night at the Lion Hotel, and returned to town the next morning.”

“And after you found that Cannington was absent—about three o’clock, that was—you went to Mootley to see Anne Caldershaw.”

“Prove it, prove it.”

“I daresay Mr. Striver can prove it. He was concealed upstairs.”

“I was asleep for a time,” said Striver abruptly, “but I woke in time to see Mr. Monk. I peered down the stairs and saw him talking to my aunt in the shop. The sound of their voices raised high woke me up. They were quarrelling.”

“I don’t deny that I was there,” said Monk, wiping his face again, “but I want to know how Vance learned my whereabouts. It’s a guess based on my leaving the card on Cannington.”

“It is not,” I said sharply; “your daughter was in the back room and saw you through the open door. She refused to tell me this, but as she said that the sight of a certain person drove her hastily out of the back door, so hastily that she left her cloak behind her, I believe that person was you, Mr. Monk.”

“I was simply calling on Mrs. Caldershaw. There was no reason why Gertrude should not say so, although I did not know that she was there.”

“She believed that you were guilty because of your presence there, and did not tell me, even though I pressed her. You are the sole person she would shield at the risk of losing her liberty, though you aren’t worth it, Mr. Monk. Am I not right?”

“I admitted that you were right. Striver saw me, and Gertrude saw me. I cannot deny my presence in the shop. But that does not prove me to be guilty of murder.”

“How, then,” asked Striver, “did you become possessed of the eye?”

“The last time that I saw the eye was in Mrs. Caldershaw’s head,” snapped Monk, whose nerves were entirely giving way under the strain of cross-examination. “You pretended to find it amongst my baggage and slipped it into that case, which is really mine. It’s part of your plan of blackmail.”

“There may be some truth in that,” I remarked, for, knowing what I did, I had not much belief in Striver’s story.

“How can you talk such damned nonsense?” cried Striver roughly, “when you know that Mr. Monk has been posing in London as a rich man under the name of Wentworth Marr. He has five hundred a year under his brother’s will, and that house with the acres surrounding it. Where did he get his money?”

“My Australian cousin—”

“Oh, hang your Australian cousin. I don’t believe he ever existed. Mr. Vance, I swear that I found that eye amongst Mr. Monk’s luggage. You must believe, in the face of that,” he pointed to the case, which was still open in my hand, “that Mr. Monk is guilty.”

“No, I don’t, if this”—I shook the case—“is all the evidence you can bring.”

Monk heaved a sigh of relief, and Striver stared uneasily. “On what grounds do you say that?” he asked grimly.

“On the grounds of common-sense, Mr. Striver. I saw the eye on a small table in the drawing-room of The Lodge, near the middle French window.”

“Mr. Monk placed it there: it only proves his guilt more conclusively.”

“I think not. In the first place, if Mr. Monk had been possessed of the eye he would scarcely be such a fool as to leave it about. In the second case, when I re-entered the drawing-room the eye had disappeared, and all the time from when I saw it to when I returned to the room Mr. Monk was with me. He could not have secured it again, even though—according to you—he placed it there, which I don’t believe. You took the eye from the table.”

“How dare you say that!” cried the man, but his color changed, and I guessed that my chance remark asserted the truth. “On what grounds—”

“You have supplied the grounds yourself,” I said quickly, “by saying that you found the eye in Mr. Monk’s dressing-bag. You found the watch case, but you certainly brought the eye to place in it, for the furtherance of your infernal plans. You were working in the garden, Striver, and saw by my face, when I came out to meet Mr. Monk, that I was startled. Out of curiosity and jealousy you went up to the window, saw the eye, and secured it. Finding that I supported Miss Monk, and you could not incriminate her, you made use of the eye to incriminate Mr. Monk.”

“I do not,” he stuttered, changing color again and again.

“You did, and by your own showing. For all I know, you may have placed the eye on the table, since it was easy to do so with the window open.”

“How could I get the eye? Do you accuse me of murder?”

“The police might if they knew all that we know. But I shall give you the benefit of the doubt, and say that you found the eye in the shop after the murder was committed.”

“But according to the police,” said Monk doubtfully, “the murder was committed for the sake of the eye.”

“Of course it was,” insisted Striver, “and by you.”

“I am perfectly innocent.”

“In that case, how did you get your money unless by—”

“Stop!” I interrupted impulsively, “there also I can defend Mr. Monk. Long before the murder, he was living as wealthy Mr. Wentworth Marr in London, as Lord Cannington informed me. If he did not get the money until the eye was found—and by your own showing, Mr. Striver, he could only find the hidden treasure in that way—how could he pose long before as a rich man? Answer me that, Mr. Striver.”

The gardener, seeing that I could beat him on every point, maintained a sullen silence. Mr. Monk, cheered by my several defences of his actions, leaned forward eagerly. “No doubt this is a false clue,” he said, pointing to the case; “it may not be the real eye. Striver would never allow me to examine it, in case,” he smiled bitterly, “I should destroy it.”

“Which you would have done,” said the other bluntly. “I wouldn’t trust you a single inch, Mr. Monk. The eye is the one worn by my aunt right enough, and contains the cipher of which she spoke. Look at the back?”

Remembering the glimpse I had seen of the concave of the eye when it was on The Lodge table, I delicately turned over the object of the case. It may seem odd that I had not examined it before, but the interest of the conversation between Striver and Monk had held me spellbound. It was imperative, as is obvious, that I should lose no single word of the ill-assorted pair.

However I did now what I should have done before, and tilted the eye, to behold in the hollow the piece of silver I had seen before. There it lay, and looked more than ever like a threepenny bit. Monk bent forward curiously and stared.

“It’s a silver coin—a threepenny bit,” he explained, half to himself. “Gabriel told me that he had engraved the cipher on a threepenny bit, but he would never tell me where it was hidden. A very ingenious idea to hide it in Mrs. Caldershaw’s eye. See, it is fastened by a piece of gold wire to the center of the pupil.”

It was as he said, the coin was so fastened and in the dense black of the pupil appeared the glint of a tiny piece of gold. In no other way could the coin have been kept in its place. But as it was sunken a good way into the concave of the artificial eye, the same, when worn, could not produce any irritation to the wearer. It was, as Monk said, a very ingenious idea.

“I never saw it before,” he murmured, and I believed that he was speaking the truth; “so this is how Gabriel concealed his secret?”

I tried to read what was on the coin, but failed, as the engraving was so very small. “Have you a magnifying glass, Mr. Monk?” I asked.

“Not to my knowledge,” he said promptly; “however, I’ll look for one,” and he rose to make a search.

I examined the eye again; then closed the case, and placed it on the table, intending to pocket it when I had used the magnifying glass. “Though I daresay,” said I to Striver, who was seated in his chair looking very dejected, “you can tell me what the cipher consists of.”

He did not answer my question, but leaned forward and buried his face in his hands. To my surprise I saw the tears forcing themselves between his fingers. I hate to see a man cry, but on this occasion I was glad, for these tears showed that Striver had broken down. He was not cut out by nature for a villain, and now that I had thwarted his schemes he could contrive no new ones. He was beaten, and he knew that he was beaten. I felt quite sorry for him, badly as he had behaved.

“Striver!” I placed my hand on his bowed shoulders.

“Don’t touch me,” he said in a choking voice, and rising to his feet he walked rapidly to the end of the room, where there was an ottoman. Here he flung himself down at full length, sobbing bitterly. I followed, and waited until the paroxysm passed away. Then, finding him in a gentler mood, I hoped to get at the truth, which I felt convinced he knew. And indeed, seeing that he had been concealed in the house during the commission of the crime, he must know who had stabbed his aunt. Unless—

“Striver,” I said sharply, “pull yourself together and answer me. Did you murder this unfortunate woman?”

“No,” he sobbed in a stifled voice, “I did not. I was hidden in the bedroom, and came down to find her dead. The rest, as to taking your car and escaping, I have told you.”

“What’s to be done, then?” I muttered, much perplexed.

“This is to be done,” he said, sitting up, with his handsome face tear-stained and his hair dishevelled, “you have won and I have lost. I surrender all claim to the hand of Miss Monk.”

“You never had any claim,” I reminded him sharply.

“Perhaps not,” was his dejected reply, “but I am a man and I cannot help my feelings. Gertrude is the only woman I have ever loved, and the only woman I shall ever love. She is lost to me, because she loves you. Well, I daresay it is better that she should marry a gentleman. But I wish—I wish—” He broke down again.

“Striver,” I said, for the third time, and placed my hand on his shoulder, “I am very sorry for you, although you have not acted well.”

“All is fair in love and war,” he said, sitting up again.

“There are some things a gentleman cannot do, even to win the woman he loves, Striver,” I said gently, “so all is not fair in love and war.”

“I am not a gentleman: I never pretended to be a gentleman.”

“Then be one now,” I urged, “you know the truth of this murder since you were in the house all the time. I believe myself that you are innocent.”

“Why should you think that?” he asked in a curious voice and with a curious look.

“Because I believe you to be a good fellow, Striver. Your nature has been warped by the influence of this mad love and by the influence of your dead aunt. She always promised you Miss Monk as a bride and this fifty thousand pounds for yourself.”

“Yes, she did,” he said, his bright blue eyes steadily fixed on me.

“Well, then, these things have drawn you into wrongdoing. You love Miss Monk. Prove your love by preventing her from getting into trouble about this murder. Until the truth is discovered, she is in danger of arrest because of her unfortunate visit to Mootley and because of the cloak left behind.”

“Perhaps! perhaps. But her father will say nothing, he dare not.”

“No, but Miss Destiny might. She knows that her niece was at Mootley on that night, and threatens to betray her unless she receives half the fifty thousand pounds when it is found.”

“Miss Destiny threatens,” said Striver rising, “and for the sake of money. Ah! that old lady always was a miser. Well?”

“Well, can’t you show your love for Miss Monk and thwart the aunt by telling the truth.”

“Why, do you think I know the truth?”

“You were in the house all the time. I feel certain that you can unravel the mystery.”

Striver looked away, and became very silent. At this moment Monk entered, and began to bustle about. “Hunter,” this was his valet, I afterwards heard, “says that there is a magnifying glass in the desk here.”

I paid no attention to him as I was looking at Striver. After a long silence the gardener spoke. “I do know the truth,” he said slowly, “and I shall save Gertrude’s good name. Marry her, and may you be happy.”

“But—” I cried, following him as he was walking towards the door.

“I have nothing more to say,” said Striver, and disappeared. I wondered if he was guilty after all, and whether he intended to confess. Before I could think out the matter, Monk touched my elbow.

“I can’t find the magnifying glass,” he said, handing me the case, which he had picked up off the table; “better go to a jeweller and borrow one.”

“Thanks,” I said, slipping the case into my pocket and reaching for my hat and coat. “Good-day, Mr. Monk.”

“Don’t go,” he urged me. “I have much to say, and much to thank you for.”

I put on my coat and made for the door. “I decline to remain in your company, Mr. Monk,” I said, “because you are a scoundrel, and if you were not Gertrude’s father I would thrash you willingly, old as you are. For her sake only have I saved you.”

“How dare you speak to me in this way!” he cried furiously, and followed me into the hall, plucking at my sleeve.

“Because it is just as well someone should tell you the truth,” I retorted heatedly; “you have acted in the most cruel manner towards your daughter.”

“I have not. I deny it,” he panted, looking white and wicked.

“You have lived in luxury in London while she has been practically starving down at Burwain. She knows that you are Marr.”

“You told her?” he cried, falling back a pace.

“Yes, I was forced to tell her, because Lady Mabel recognized your photograph in the drawing-room. I warned you that Lady Mabel was going down to Burwain to see Mr. Weston’s airship.”

“You had no right to tell; you promised, if I went away, to hold your tongue.”

“So I did for a fortnight.”

“Not with regard to Gertrude. I was to tell her myself.”

“You never came back to tell her, but bolted to America. You never intended to return, and would not have done so had not Striver forced you to defend yourself. I can’t say if you are guilty, or if he is guilty, but I am quite sure that one of you is guilty. However, you have money from your Australian cousin, Mr. Monk, a new name and a secretary who knows what a blackguard you are, so I wish you joy for the future. My advice to you is to go to America, and never return. Gertrude is done with you.”

This struck him to the heart. “My little child—my own child.”

“Exactly, and you deserve your fate entirely. Good-day and good-bye,” and I walked out of the chamber and down the stairs. That was the last I ever saw of Mr. Walter Monk, alias Mr. Wentworth Marr.

On the way back to Tarhaven, and in the train, I opened the case to again examine the famous glass eye. It was gone: the case was empty.

Chapter 20
The Cipher

Here was a discovery! Well might I talk about the disappearing eye, for it vanished every time it was found. It had disappeared out of Mrs. Caldershaw’s head when she was murdered; it had disappeared from the drawing-room table, and now it had disappeared from the watch case of Mr. Walter Monk. And this final vanishing seemed to be the strangest of all. I could not understand how it had taken place since I was in the room and the closed case was on the table all the time. Striver could not have secured the eye, for I had held him in conversation.

Then I remembered that Mr. Monk had been hunting the smoking-room for a magnifying glass in order to decipher the inscription. Engaged with the repentant gardener, I had paid very little attention to his movements, so it was probable that when my back was turned he had taken the opportunity to slip the incriminating eye into his pocket. Also I recalled the fact that he had handed me the closed case himself, recommending me to get a magnifying glass from a jeweller. Had I been clever enough to mistrust him—as I had every reason to—I should there and then have opened the case to see that the eye was safe. But I had not done so, and now, in the train, when Monk was out of reach, I discovered the loss.

Of course I guessed that he had taken it, so as to obviate any accusation being brought against himself, and probably by this time he had got rid of it for ever. It was useless for me to do what I settled on the spur of the moment to do, and return by the next train to London from one of the intermediate stations. Monk would only lie, and I could not force him to surrender the eye—always presuming that he had not destroyed it—by threatening to tell the police. The fulfilment of such a threat meant danger to Gertrude, and he would simply laugh in my face. There was nothing for it but to continue my journey to Burwain and consult with Gertrude. If I placed the matter before her, she might see a way out of the dilemma.

And it was a dilemma, for I had not found time to decipher what was on the threepenny bit, and so could not hope to find the hidden money. If I only knew what kind of a cryptogram Gabriel Monk had engraved on that piece of silver, I felt certain that in one way or another I could read the same. Failing my own capability, I knew a man in London who possessed a Poe-like talent for unravelling such puzzles. And for Gertrude’s sake I desired to find her fortune, since Mr. Monk—now that he had nothing to gain, and knew that his daughter loved him no longer—might withdraw the money he allowed her. He might even sell the house and grounds, for though the income was entailed the property was not. Then Gertrude would be homeless and penniless until her father died and the five hundred a year by the entail reverted to her. No wonder I was vexed at the loss of the eye.

On arriving at Burwain, Mrs. Gilfin informed me that Lord Cannington had been inquiring for me, and, failing my company, had passed the day in Weston’s yard. I did not get to the inn until seven o’clock, so Weston, always working late, had not put in an appearance. Then I found—and to my great satisfaction—that Dicky had gone in his motor to Tarhaven with Cannington to dine and sleep at the Buckingham Hotel. The boy had left a note asking me to come over also when I returned, but I sent a wire from the village post-office, excusing myself on the ground of fatigue, and sat down to my dinner. Afterwards—about eight o’clock, in fact—I walked to The Lodge to explain my absence to Gertrude.

She was in the quaint drawing-room, arrayed in a dinner dress of some soft, white, clinging material, and looked almost as pale as her frock. There were dark rings round her eyes, and a weary look on her face. Without a word she came forward to kiss me, and sighed as she laid her head on my breast.

“What is the matter, my own?” I asked, kissing the soft dark hair.

“I am so tired,” she whispered. “I have had a white night, as the French call it, and all day I have been longing to talk to you. Why have you not been to see me, Cyrus? What took you to London? I was so disappointed when I received your note. I wanted you so much—so very, very much.”

“What for, dear?”

“I made up my mind last night to tell you everything.”

“What if I know everything already?”

Gertrude withdrew from my arms and looked at me in a frightened way. “What do you know? What have you learned?”

“Dear,” I took her hand and led her to a chair near the fire, “sit down, for I have much to tell you. I have been to London in answer to a telegram from your father.”

She rose from the seat in which I had placed her. “Oh,” she exclaimed in a fright, “has he returned to England? How foolish, when—” She stopped.

“When what, Gertrude?” I asked, looking at her keenly.

“If you know all, you must know why I wish my father to remain absent from England,” she replied, sinking to the chair with a white face.

“Never mind what I know, tell me.”

“My father,” she began, and then her voice died away in her throat and she cast a frightened look at the door.

I knelt at her feet and took her cold hands within my own. “We are quite safe, dearest. Tell me, tell me, trust me fully.” I knew pretty well what she was about to say, but wished her to voluntarily give me her full confidence.

“It was my father I saw through the door,” she whispered, bending over me anxiously, “he called to see Anne on that day. She came back and told me he was there. I did not wish to meet him, as already I had caught a glimpse of his face. Therefore I ran out of the back door, leaving my cloak behind me.”

“Why did you not wish to meet him?”

“Because he would have insisted upon knowing why I had come to Mootley. If he had learned what I had found in the diary he would have got the secret from Anne, and then the money would have passed into his possession, to make bad use of. I thought it better to go, and I fled on the impulse of the moment. I had no time to think.”

“Dear, I believe that your father knew Mrs. Caldershaw possessed the secret, else why should he have come to see her.”

“Then you guessed that I was shielding him?”

“Yes, I guessed, and now I know for certain.”

“Who told you, Cyrus?”

“Your father himself.”

Gertrude rose unsteadily to her feet, grasping my arm. “But—but,” she stammered, “has he confessed that he is guilty.”

I rose also and at the same moment. “No, dear. He is the last man to confess anything that would get him into trouble. He swears that he is innocent.”

“Oh, I hope so—I think he must be.” She clasped her hands and her eyes shone in her pale face like twin stars. “Papa is foolish and—as I see now—selfish. But he would never commit so cruel a murder.”

“I think he would do anything, provided he was not found out,” I said in a cynical manner. “Of course you left before the termination of his interview with Mrs. Caldershaw, so you can’t say for certain if he is innocent or guilty. But Striver accuses him.”

“Striver,” she grasped my arm again in her fright, “and he was concealed in the bedroom, but he was asleep. He said that he was asleep.”

“He woke—according to his story—at the sound of voices, and saw your father in the shop. He accuses him of the murder because he found the glass eye amongst your father’s luggage in America.”

“In America. Has Joseph been to America?”

“Yes. He followed your father there to force him to insist upon the marriage—which he apparently intended to bring about by threatening you. Then he found—so he says—the glass eye in your father’s dressing-bag and accused him. To keep Striver quiet, your father made him his secretary and brought him back to England. This morning I received a wire from your father asking for my assistance. I went up and”—I shrugged—“that is all.”

“It is only the beginning,” said Gertrude quickly. “Sit down and tell me all about your interview. First—to set my mind at rest—is my father guilty?”

I reflected. “I really can’t say. Sometimes I think he is and again I think he is not. There is much to be said for both opinions. Striver—if anyone—knows the truth, and yet he only bases his accusation on the finding of the glass eye.”

“But surely,” said Gertrude, in great agitation, “that is strong evidence.”

“Yes,” I assented dryly, “if it were true. But I believe that Striver stole the glass eye from yonder table and took it to America to frighten your father into helping with the marriage. If he had real, true evidence against Mr. Monk, he would not have resorted to faked evidence with the glass eye. On those grounds I believe that your father is innocent.”

“Oh, what a relief!” She sighed and sat down.

“On the other hand,” I continued quietly, “your father has made me change my opinion by stealing the eye again.”

“What do you mean, Cyrus?”

I took my seat beside her and gained possession of her hands. Then I related all that had taken place in the Stratford Street rooms. She interrupted me frequently with ejaculations. When I had finished, she appeared more struck with Striver’s sudden collapse than with any other portion of my narrative.

“He knows the truth and he will save my good name,” she said slowly to herself, “that would seem as though Joseph knows for certain that my father is innocent, since his name is my name.”

“Not exactly, my dear. His name, by Act of Parliament, is Marr, and yours is Monk. But when you change it to Vance,” I gathered her into my arms to kiss her fondly, “there will be no need for Striver to bother.”

“There will always be a need until the truth becomes known,” murmured Gertrude anxiously. “I shall never be safe from my aunt’s threats until the assassin of Anne is found.”

“Well, then, let us leave it to Striver,” I said cheerfully. “He is ready to behave decently, now that he finds you will never be his wife. Meanwhile, I want you to go to London to-morrow and see your father.”

Gertrude shrank from the suggestion. “Oh, I don’t want to see him again after he has treated me so badly. Besides, he must be angry with me.”

“Never mind. You are strong enough to face his anger, which is sure to be of a puny kind. I wish you to see him, so that you may regain the glass eye, which I feel certain he took out of the case when my back was turned.”

“Why do you want the glass eye?”

“To read the cipher, and find the money.”

Gertrude shook her head. “I feel as though that money would bring us a curse, Cyrus. Already it has caused a murder and no end of unhappiness. Besides, you can never read the cipher.”

“I should try, dear, and if I fail there is a clever friend of mine who can unravel anything. As to the money, or rather the diamonds, they are rightfully yours and ought to be in your hands. Get the eye and—”

I did not finish the sentence. Eliza suddenly opened the drawing-room door to deliver a letter to me. “It came by express,” said Eliza, “and the boy is waiting at the door.”

“Take him into the kitchen and feed him,” I said, glancing at the superscription. I did not recognize the writing. “You can go, Eliza,” for she still lingered—out of curiosity, I expect.

I opened the envelope, and besides the letter—a long one written on foolscap—there was a folded paper, which fell to the floor. Gertrude picked it up, while I turned instantly to the signature. “Joseph Striver!” I read in wonderment. “What can he be writing about to me in such a hurry that it requires an express delivery?”

“Read! read!” cried Gertrude, with bright eyes, and crushing up the folded paper in her hands without looking at it. “He said that he would save my good name. Perhaps that letter contains the truth.”

I hastily skimmed the contents, then walked towards the door. Gertrude very impatiently followed me. “Where are you going? Why don’t you read me the letter?” she inquired imperatively.

“I shall read it when I have dismissed the messenger. It’s all right,” and at once I went to the kitchen. Here I gave the boy a shilling and sent him off. On my return to the drawing-room I found Gertrude looking at the folded paper, which she had smoothed out.

“What does this mean?” she asked bewildered, and I looked also.

The paper contained a rude drawing representing a kind of bird. Whether kite or owl or barn-door fowl I could not say. Around were a number of spots, and beneath were two large letters: an “A” reversed, and an “S” twisted in the wrong direction. “What does it mean?” asked Gertrude.

“Let us read the letter,” said I, sitting down, and we did so together, she looking over my shoulder.

Striver wrote that by this time no doubt I had found out the disappearance of the glass eye. Mr. Monk had taken it, he said, when my back had been turned, and had destroyed it. The glass portion he had smashed up, and had afterwards gone out to throw the silver coin with the inscribed cipher into the Thames. Thus wrote the gardener: “You can never learn the cipher from the eye itself. But I enclose a drawing I made of what was on the threepenny bit while it was in my possession. What it means I can’t say, or I should have found the treasure for myself. You were right, Mr. Vance, in thinking that I had taken the eye from the drawing-room table. I did. When you left the window I saw that you were disturbed, and, moreover, was very jealous, as I fancied you had just exchanged a word with Gertrude. On the spur of the moment I ran to the window when you turned the corner of the terrace with Mr. Monk, and saw the eye. I was greatly amazed, as I could not think how it came to be there, and I was still more amazed to think you had not secured it—”

“I was a fool,” I interjected, “but I had not my wits about me.”

The letter went on to say that, finding he would make no impression on Gertrude with me beside her, Striver had taken the eye to America in order to lay a trap for Monk. But he swore solemnly that Monk did not possess the eye, “unless,” wrote Striver, “he placed it on the drawing-room table. I think myself that he is innocent, as I watched him all the time he was talking to my aunt. He did not leave the shop, but after a quarter of an hour he went away down the road. I believe he left his motor car at Murchester and walked over. Hence—as no one came to the corner shop on that afternoon—his visit was not noticed. After he departed I went back to the bedroom to lie down, and told my aunt I was weary. She did not come up the stairs and I did not go down them. She went into the back room, and I lay down again in the bedroom. Then—but I shall not tell you the truth now. When the time comes you shall know all, and Gertrude need have no fear that she will ever be troubled again by the Mootley murder.”

“Thank God for that,” said Gertrude; “but who is guilty?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “We must wait until Striver speaks out. Perhaps he killed his aunt himself, and wished to escape abroad before confessing. But let us read the rest of his letter,” and I continued.

The writer went on to say that he intended to leave England, as he had plenty of money. He could not return to Burwain to see Gertrude the wife of another, so probably he would go to Australia.

“Very foolish of him to tell us that, seeing he may be guilty,” I said.

“Cyrus, he knows that he can trust us,” she said rebukingly. “I am sorry for the poor man. He is making amends.”

“I shall say so when I hear that he has told the truth about the murder,” I remarked grimly. “How he intends to do so I can’t say. But, look, Gertrude, do you see how he finishes? Your father, after getting rid of the cipher coin in the river, came back and took all his things away. He told Striver—here it is—that he was returning to America and would never come to England again. Well”—I paused.

“Poor papa,” sighed Gertrude, “why could he not have come down and asked me to help him? After all, he is my father, and I could never be hard on him.”

“I don’t think he is worthy of your regrets,” I said, for really Mr. Walter Monk’s behavior sickened me, “but, as he has departed, there is no use your going up to see him to-morrow about the eye.”

“Especially as the eye is now destroyed,” said Gertrude, taking up the paper, “and the cipher is set down here. What do you make of it, Cyrus?”

I put Striver’s letter into my pocket—there was no more writing after the information of Mr. Monk’s departure for America—and bent over the paper. “It’s a bird in the middle of a lot of dust,” I said.

“Dust.” Gertrude pointed out two of the specks. “Then dust has wings.”

“Oh, then it’s a bird midst a cloud of insects.”

“And these odd signs?”

“An ‘A’ reversed, and an ‘S’ turned in the wrong direction.”

Gertrude thought for a moment: then her face brightened. “Cyrus, what kind of a bird is this?” and she pointed.

“It might be a peacock,” I said ironically. “Mr. Striver has not much notion of drawing.”

“Do you think it is an eagle?” she asked in an excited tone.

“Good heavens, no!” I retorted. “Did you ever see an eagle like that?”

“Joseph is not an artist.” said Gertrude impatiently.

“He certainly is not clever.”

“Neither are you, Cyrus, for all your talent. Oh, to think that the secret hiding-place should be in this very house.”

“What?” I stared alternately at Gertrude and at the paper.

“Can’t you see? Don’t you understand,” she cried, greatly excited, “an eagle amidst a cloud of flies—Aquila non capit muscas.”

I stared at her. “I have heard that sentence before.”

“And you have seen the drawing better executed in carving. Cyrus, what is the first letter of the motto?”

“‘A’—for Aquila—eagle. Yes?”

“And the last letter?”

“‘S,’ the terminal for muscas for flies. Well?” She caught me by the hand. “Come into the smoking-room and light the lamps.”

“Oh, by Jove!” I saw her meaning now. She referred to the heavy beam across the smoking-room to which Mr. Monk had drawn my attention. We ran, hand in hand, like children, into the dark room. Gertrude struck a match and I, taking the box from her hand—and a shaking hand it was—struck another. In a few moments the powerful oil lamps were illuminating the room brilliantly. We both looked at the beam.

“An eagle catching flies,” cried Gertrude, pointing—“ Aquila non capit muscas. My ancestors’ queer old motto. The diamonds are there.”

“Hidden in the beam?”

“Of course. Come and get a ladder from the outhouse. No; that won’t do, as Eliza is so filled with curiosity. I don’t want her to suspect anything. What are we to do?”

“I can place this chair on the table, and as I am tall I can easily reach up to the beam,” I said, suiting my actions to my words. “Close the door, Gertrude, so that Eliza can’t come spying.”

Gertrude, who was all excitement, promptly locked the door. “But how are you to get the beam open? Shall I get an axe?”

“Nonsense,” I said, consulting the paper of Striver; “this is the hiding-place right enough. The beam must open in some way, but how?”

“What about the reversed letters?” questioned Gertrude, “they are not reversed on the beam.”

“No; but they are on the paper. I know, Gertrude, these letters on the beam are raised so as to give one a grip. Get a candle, will you, or hand up a lamp.”

So as to lose no time she stretched with the lamp. I held it close to the raised carving of the beam, and particularly examined the first and last letters, “A” and “S.” Circular lines appeared faintly round these, which were not visible round the other letters. I handed the lamp back.

“What are you going to do?” asked Gertrude, replacing the lamp on its stand.

“Twist these first and last letters into the position indicated by the cipher. Then we shall see what will happen.”

I put forth my strength to the “A,” and found that with an effort it twisted with considerable ease. “Hurrah!” I cried, “this is the secret.”

The final “S” was more difficult to move, but at last I contrived to get it twisted completely round. Gertrude’s bright face looked up anxiously. “Stand away; stand away,” I cried hastily.

It was just as well that I had warned her, for suddenly the whole broad board containing the motto clattered to the floor before I could save it.

“The diamonds! the diamonds!” cried Gertrude excitedly.

A cavity was revealed, and I passed my hand along. It was empty. “Gertrude, the diamonds are gone!” I cried in dismay, and our spirits fell to zero.

Chapter 21
The Airship

Who had removed the diamonds? That was my thought for the next twenty-four hours, but I could not answer my own question. I certainly remembered how Striver insisted that Mr. Monk had secured possession of the fortune. But only by getting possession of the eye could he learn where the jewels were hidden; and by Striver’s own showing he had not been thus fortunate. Only when destroying the eye had he had it in his hands, and then, instead of reading the cipher, he had thrown the coin upon which it was written into the Thames. Moreover, for many months Monk had been masquerading as Wentworth Marr, and had possessed the money to keep up the farce. Undoubtedly—as I thought, after much reflection—the story of Australian legacy must be true. Mr. Monk, on the face of it, could not have looted the beam of its valuable contents.

But what astonished me was that Monk should have thrown away the coin, although it was natural enough that he should have destroyed the eye. But why did he not at least attempt to read the cipher? It seemed to be an extremely easy one, as the repetition of the beam’s carving on the coin suggested the Latin motto. The reversed letters suggested a little hard thinking, but presented no great obstacle. The late Gabriel Monk had cut away the inscribed board, and behind had hollowed out a place for the reception of the diamonds—in a bag, I presume. Also he had cut out the first and last letters of the saying in circular form, and to these had attached pieces of iron. When the letters were placed straightly these pieces of iron caught on to the inner part of the beam, and so held the inscribed board; when reversed, they released the same. It was ingenious but not difficult of solution, and I wondered that Monk had not read the cipher. If he had, he certainly would have guessed that the beam in The Lodge smoking-room held the jewels, and in that event would have searched. On this assumption I thought that the man could not have examined the cipher. But why he should not have done so puzzled me considerably.

However, the case stood thus: Monk had returned to America, or at all events had left England; Striver also had taken his departure, and the jewels which belonged to Gertrude had disappeared. The gardener intended—so he said—to tell the truth and unmask the assassin of his aunt, but unless he intended to denounce himself when at a safe distance, I could not imagine what he intended to say. So far as I could see there was nothing to do but to wait some communication from Striver. Meanwhile I urged Gertrude to marry me during the first month of the New Year.

“But I am afraid to marry you until the truth about Anne’s murder is known, Cyrus,” she objected. “Aunt Julia still threatens me.”

“Let us go and see your aunt now,” I said. It was next morning that this conversation took place. “We can explain matters to her, and she will be forced to see that you are innocent. After all, she only desires the half share of the fortune. When she learns it is lost she will hold her tongue, having nothing to gain by talking.”

Anxious to end all suspense, Gertrude agreed, and we paid an early visit to Miss Destiny. In the cold greyness of the day her tin house looked more dismal than usual, and as we walked through the jungle path I wondered how a lady bred and born could live in so miserable a place. She was not rich, certainly, but she could have afforded a better dwelling. Yet I daresay she was happy enough in her sordid home, since all she cared for was money, and, so long as she possessed actual gold to gloat over, cared little for the comforts it could bring. It was a strange way of finding happiness.

Miss Destiny opened the door herself, as Lucinda—it appeared, from what she said—had gone to buy some food in the village. The little old lady was dressed in her usual threadbare black silk, with the addition of a knitted woollen shawl over her spare shoulders. She looked extremely shabby: also pinched and haggard. But her black eyes were as bright as ever, and she seemed to possess considerable vitality in her wiry frame.

“The lovers,” she said, with a shrill laugh, and inviting us to enter. “So it is not to be Joseph after all, my dear Gertrude.”

“It never was Joseph,” replied her niece quietly. “Aunt Julia, I have asked Cyrus to come and see you about this threat you used to me.”

“Threat!” Miss Destiny raised her eyebrows. “My dear child, I used no threat.”

“You said that if Gertrude did not give you half of her fifty thousand pounds when found, that you would tell the police she had been to Mootley.”

“Oh, I really didn’t mean that, Mr. Vance,” said Miss Destiny, cringing. “It was only a joke on my part.”

“Then you don’t accuse me of murder?” asked Gertrude, bluntly.

“No, dear. Certainly not.”

“And you don’t want half Gertrude’s fortune?” I questioned.

Miss Destiny’s eyes narrowed and she looked venomous. “I certainly should have half the money. Gabriel said that he would leave me a legacy, and he did not. Yet I slaved for many years looking after his house.”

“You got board and lodging for your services,” said Gertrude coldly.

“I ought to have got a legacy,” insisted Miss Destiny. “Gabriel promised me some money. But he left his income and the property to Walter and the rest of his savings to you. You owe me half, and I mean to have half. I don’t say, dear,” added Miss Destiny significantly, “that you murdered Anne. But if the police knew that you had paid her a visit to ask about the eye you might be asked unpleasant questions.”

“I did not ask about the eye, because I did not know until later that the eye contained the cipher,” said Gertrude calmly, “but after reading the diary I certainly went to ask Anne to give me the cipher, so that I might find what rightfully belonged to me.”

“Half of it only,” snapped Miss Destiny, “and you certainly ran away with Mr. Vance’s motor car, because I saw you myself in your white cloak. If you are innocent—mind, I don’t accuse you of murder—but if you are innocent, why did you run away so strangely?—a guilty conscience: a guilty conscience, my dear.”

“Miss Destiny,” I said indignantly, for the malice of the little creature annoyed me, “it was Joseph Striver who wore Gertrude’s cloak and ran off with my car. He told us so himself.”

“So you say,” she sneered.

“And I say more. Listen,” and forthwith I related all that had been discovered, down to the destruction of the glass eye and the throwing away of the silver coin by Walter Monk. Miss Destiny listened unbelievingly, and with a sneer. Apparently she did not credit a single word of what I was saying. But when I came to the end she interrupted me with a scream.

“The eye destroyed, the eye destroyed!” she cried, starting to her feet with surprising activity. “Oh, what a fool, what a fool! Now the fortune can never be discovered.”

“It has been discovered,” put in Gertrude.

“What!” Miss Destiny wheeled round venomously and eagerly. “You have found the diamonds you told me that Gabriel mentioned in his diary?”

“We have found the hiding-place,” I said sharply. “Striver sent me a copy of the cipher, which he took when the eye—as I have told you—was in his possession.”

“Then give me half, give me half!” shrieked Miss Destiny. “If you don’t I’ll go to the police. I swear I’ll go to the police. I don’t believe this young man’s lies. You were in the house and you—you—you—” She choked with anger.

Gertrude arose, revolted by this exhibition of sordid greed, and could not speak. I answered for her. “The jewels are gone, Miss Destiny,” I said quietly.

“Gone!” Her shrill voice fell to a mere whisper, and the wild light of avarice died out of her black eyes. “Gone! impossible!” then her face lighted up again fiercely. “This is a lie to cheat me of my share!” she shouted.

“Even if the jewels had been found,” I remarked, in a cool, level voice, “you would have had none of them, since they belonged to Gertrude. I am strong enough to save her from your malice. Either Striver or Walter Monk is guilty. If you go to the police I shall go also, and tell what I have told you—”

Gertrude caught my arm. “No, Cyrus, no. My father—”

“Dear, this is not the time for half measures. You did your best to save your father by refusing to tell me. But if he is guilty he must be brought to book, if only to thwart this woman’s evil intentions.”

“Oh, have done with your chatter,” cried Miss Destiny, stamping like a small fury. “Tell me the truth. Are the jewels indeed gone?”

“Yes. You will never see them again.”

“Who took them? I insist upon knowing who took them?”

“I don’t know. If I did I would get them back again.”

“Then hunt for Joseph Striver,” said Miss Destiny furiously, “he is the thief.”

“Impossible. He sent me the cipher.”

“Yes,” she sneered, “after he had stolen the jewels he could easily send you the cipher. But he had the eye, by your own showing. He must have read the cipher. He had taken the fortune. Oh,” she shook her fists in the air, “I wish these two hands were at his throat.”

The little creature looked so evil, as she shook and quivered in the sordid room, that I touched Gertrude’s shoulder. “Go away, dear. This is no sight for you.” Then, when she obeyed me and passed outside, I turned to Miss Destiny. “You will understand that the jewels are lost for ever.”

“I’ll hunt the thief down; I’ll hunt him down,” she breathed savagely.

“Even if you do, the half share will not come to you. I will look after Gertrude’s interest.”

Miss Destiny laughed shrilly. “Ah, you marry her for her money. What love!”

“Gertrude at present has no money, nor do I want any money with her. But if Striver has the jewels he shall be forced to give them up. Meanwhile, if you say a word to anyone against Gertrude I shall tell my story.”

“I’ll say no word until the jewels are in Gertrude’s possession. It is not worth my while to say anything until then. But when she has the fortune I shall have my half, or she shall hang.”

“You are mad,” I said, recoiling from her venomous looks.

“Yes; mad at being tricked and cheated by Joseph Striver. Oh, I know the man. I might have guessed that he would not keep faith with me. The fortune is gone, the fortune is gone,” and she dropped into a chair.

“Yes,” I said, with my hand on the door; “therefore hold your tongue.”

Miss Destiny only crouched in the chair rocking herself to and fro. “The fortune is gone,” she moaned; “twenty-five thousand pounds was to have been my share. I have lost twenty-five thousand pounds. Oh me! oh me!” And leaving her still weeping and wailing over the loss I departed.

Whether Miss Destiny was right or wrong regarding Striver’s possession of the diamonds I could not say. Day after day went by and the gardener did not appear to denounce the assassin of his aunt as he had arranged to do. Nor could he be found anywhere, although I employed a detective to search for him. We discovered that Mr. Monk had given up the lease of his chambers and had sold his furniture. He had disappeared to America, and evidently had no intention of returning. But his lawyer still continued to pay Gertrude enough to keep The Lodge going and herself in clothes. But Striver had vanished like a water bubble; he had dissolved into thin air, and all we could do was to wait until he chose to reappear. I pointed out to Gertrude that, Miss Destiny’s mouth being closed—she would not speak until the jewels were recovered, a very remote contingency—and her father along with the gardener having passed out of our lives, it would be best to get married. Then we could leave Burwain and settle in London. As Mrs. Vance she would forget all the storms of the past, and with me as her companion could journey under brighter skies. But Gertrude refused steadily.

“Until my name is absolutely cleared by the assassin of Anne Caldershaw being brought to justice, I shall remain as I am, at The Lodge.”

“And what if the assassin is your father, Gertrude?” I asked.

“I don’t believe it,” she replied firmly. “Papa is weak and selfish, but he would never murder an old woman so cruelly. I believe that Striver is guilty, and has got my fortune, as Aunt Julia says.”

“In that case he’ll never tell the truth.”

“He said that he would save my good name, and I believe that he loves me enough to do so. Wait, Cyrus, wait; the end will come and the truth will come to light. Only then can I marry you.”

With this promise I was forced to be content, and remained at the Robin Redbreast, which seemed likely to become my permanent home. With Gertrude I spent a quiet Christmas, as Cannington had to return to his duties at Murchester, and Weston was invited to spend the festive season at Lady Denham’s country house. There he saw a great deal of Mabel, and she relented from her attitude of snubbing him, for he came back during the first week of the New Year with a joyful light in his eyes.

“Congratulate me, Vance. Mabel has accepted me as her husband.”

“Oh,” I shook his hand warmly, “I congratulate you with all my heart, since you have secured a charming wife. But can I congratulate Mabel on the possession of an absent-minded husband?”

“Oh, I am not so bad as I was,” said Weston, with quite a new ring in his voice. “I have had my lesson, Vance, and see that Mabel requires some attention: in fact, a very great deal. When we marry she shall do as she pleases, and have all the money she wishes to spend.”

“I think she would rather have love,” I said gravely.

“I give her love,” he snapped rather crossly. “I’ll be with her morn, noon, and night if she wishes. All I have to do is to launch my airship, and then I shall marry Mabel and be happy ever afterwards.”

“Having solved the problem of flying?” I queried.

“I really believe that I shall do so,” he said, his face lighting up. “Come and see my airship, Vance. Next week I intend to try a flight. It’s nearly ready. I have asked a reporter down from London, and will admit the public into the yard, and we shall have a great day.”

“Is Mabel coming?”

His face fell. “No; she says she is jealous of my airship. But she will come down to take a trip in it when I make a successful flight. I asked Cannington, but he can’t get away from Murchester. Never mind. You will be there, and you can bring Miss Monk.”

“Thanks, but we sha’n’t trust ourselves in your confounded balloon.”

“It’s not a balloon,” flared up Dicky angrily, and for the rest of the evening he explained his ideas. I was not sufficiently an engineer to appreciate the cleverness of them.

During the week before Weston’s trial flight, a rumor ran through the village, which surprised everyone. It was said that Miss Destiny intended to go away from Burwain. As she had lived in the village all her life and seemed to be as deeply rooted as a tree, it appeared strange that in her old age she should venture to seek fresh fields and pastures new. But I guessed that she intended to go in search of Striver, whom she believed had possession of the jewels. I tried to get speech with her, but she would not admit me into her house, nor would she come to The Lodge in response to an invitation from Gertrude. I wished to learn if she knew the whereabouts of the ex-gardener, since I guessed she was bent upon finding him. But I could not learn where she was going, although Lucinda set the rumor afloat in the village that her mistress intended to leave Burwain. But I could guess the devouring flame of avarice in Miss Destiny’s heart which made her thus uproot herself. She would go through fire and water to get the jewels, which she believed Striver possessed, and I found myself pitying the man, guilty as I believed him to be, when I thought of that halting Nemesis of a witch coming up to his side. Miss Destiny was starting on the chase, and she would never stop hunting until she pulled down her quarry. Death alone would end her pursuit.

However, the days passed by and she still lingered in her miserable home. Burwain began to wear quite a festive air during those early January weeks, for reporters came from London to inspect the airship, and many idle people gathered outside the yard to pick up chance information. Dicky showed me his craft at a private view, and explained the mechanism to me, with certain reservations touching upon his particular method of flying. His secrets, I understood, had to do with the steering of the vessel, and with some way he had of driving her forward in the teeth of the wind. I am so ignorant of technical terms that I cannot explain much that he told me: nor would it be fair, since inventors do not wish their ideas to be stolen. But I grew almost as excited as Dicky when the great day arrived.

It was a Tuesday morning, fine and sunny, with scarcely a breath of wind, and the inventor could have secured no finer weather for his attempt. A crowd of people from Tarhaven and Gattlingsands and other places came to see the experiment, and quite a number of reporters had appeared, representing the most popular London journals. The gates of the yard were thrown open, and a considerable crowd gathered within the hitherto inviolated precincts. Amongst them I walked, with Gertrude beside me. Everyone in the village was there, I verily believe, to see the novelty of an airship taking flight. Even fat John Gilfin, with his nearly as stout wife, waddled along, looking at the queer machine bulking largely in the middle of the yard.

The airship consisted of a slim, cigar-shaped bag, netted over. From this a long narrow trough of basketwork was slung, at each end of which was a propeller. The light machinery to drive this was in the middle, but this being hidden under a bonnet of tin, I could not see what was used to set the wheels working. That was one of Weston’s secrets. The inventor himself was busy in the trough adjusting various parts of the gear, and shouting out orders to different workmen. The whole ship itself was bound to earth by sundry ropes and was tugging and straining at them like a thing of life. When those ropes were loosened the ship would flash up into the air like a released bird, and then Dicky, seated behind his machine in the basketwork cradle, would show his skill in steering it this way and the other. As the wind was extremely faint, he would have every advantage. I forgot to say that there were steering vans like wings spreading from the trough, and these could be raised or lowered at will. But, wanting technical knowledge, as I have explained, I fear my description of the famous craft is not particularly good. It was an airship, that was all I knew, and I was curious to see it climb the sky.

Amongst the crowd I unexpectedly saw the quaint little figure of Miss Destiny, dressed in black as usual. I pointed her out to Gertrude, and we tried to get near her, as I was still curious to learn if she had any idea of Striver’s whereabouts. But she kept her keen eyes on our every movement and dodged us with such success that we never could approach her.

“What can she be afraid of?” asked Gertrude, perplexed.

“She’s afraid of being asked questions,” I replied.

“I believe she knows where that man is to be found—though Lord only knows how she can have learned his whereabouts. She intends to run him down and get the jewels all to herself.”

“But what will she do with them?” asked Gertrude, bewildered.

“Gloat over them,” I replied shortly, “but see, the airship will soon be on the point of starting. Six ropes,” I added, pressing forward, “if it needs that strength to hold down yon huge bag of gas, I wonder how Weston proposes to reach earth again. He’ll have to remain a sky bird for ever.”

The interest of the crowd became intense as four of the ropes were loosened and the airship strained desperately at the remaining two. Weston, as he afterwards informed me, had a method of releasing, or separating the gas in some way, whereby he could descend if he chose. Then, by connecting up the gas again in the cigar-shaped bag, he could ascend. I do not exactly understand how it was managed, but it had to do with the transmission of gas from the upper bag to a lower one under the trough, which I only noticed when the four ropes let the ship float a trifle high.

Although interested in the airship I was much more taken up with the movements of Miss Destiny. She likewise became absorbed in the start of the strange craft, and forgot for the moment to keep her eyes on us. I drew Gertrude’s arm within my own and stole forward to where she was pressing gently through the watching crowd. Gertrude uttered an ejaculation, and pointed towards the gate.

“There is Lucinda,” she said, in startled tones, “and two policemen with her.”

I looked, and sure enough Lucinda walked beside a stern-faced man in plain clothes, whom I knew. He was none other than my old friend, Inspector Dredge of Murchester. Behind walked two burly policemen, and they all four came steadily towards the crowd gathered round the airship.

“What can be the matter?” whispered Gertrude agitated.

I thrilled, as a premonition of what the presence of Dredge meant, flashed into my mind. However I had little time for consideration, as the second rope was released from the ground and Weston curled it up within the car. Only one rope remained to be loosened. As Weston laid his hand on it to draw it up, giving the signal to the men below to let go, Lucinda’s cry, wild and shrill arose.

“Fly, mistress, fly! They’re after you: they’ll get you: they’ll—” a policeman’s hand on her mouth stopped her further speech.

Miss Destiny, who was immediately in front of me, turned quickly at the sound of the girl’s voice. Her face grew deathly white when she saw the Inspector forcing his way towards her, and she looked round like a trapped animal. Heedless of the roaring of the crowd, excited by the sight, Dredge came up to Miss Destiny and laid a heavy hand on her shoulder. “I arrest you in the name of the King for the murder of Anne—”

He got no further. Miss Destiny with a sudden snarl twisted out of his grip, at the very moment Weston gave the signal for the men below to loosen the last rope. Being in the fore front of the crowd, she sprang into the open space and ran forward.

“Take me with you, take me with you,” she screamed, and, as the men let go of the rope, she grabbed hold of it with desperate and inconceivable quickness.

The next moment the airship shot up into the radiant sky, and at the end of the rope, which dangled from the car under Weston’s hands, Miss Destiny spun like a spider. She uttered no sound, she made no movement, but hung on desperately while the ship soared. I caught a glimpse of the amazement on Weston’s face as it lessened before my eyes. A shout of terror at the little woman’s terrible position came from the crowd. Dredge stood where he was, paralyzed, and Gertrude screamed with fright. Lucinda beat her hands in despair.

The ship soared and swung to the right, and that black figure still clung to the rope. Weston—as we could see—was making preparations to descend, but owing to some difficulty could not get his gear to work. By this time the ship was at a considerable height, and everyone was watching with terror the happening of this midair tragedy. How Miss Destiny hung on so long I could not guess: she seemed to have the strength of a fiend. Suddenly a gust of wind caught the ship, as she receded, and the rope, with the little figure twisting at the end, swung towards the rear of the car. In a second it was in the grip of the stern propeller, and we saw the sudden jerk of the rope upward. A moment later and it was jerked out of the gripping hands of Anne Caldershaw’s murderess. She fell, a speck through the blue sky, and a groan went up from the crowd at the sight of that terrible death.

Chapter 22
The Whole Truth

So Miss Destiny was the criminal after all, and her confession alone revealed what had taken place in Anne Caldershaw’s back room, shortly before I had arrived in my motor car to search for adventure. Inspector Dredge came to The Lodge that same evening to relate all that had taken place, and to inform us how he had come to Burwain. The little woman’s body was found broken in pieces on the outskirts of Tarhaven, and small wonder, considering the terrible height from which she had fallen. We did not hear until the next day what Weston thought, as his airship proved to be unmanageable, and drifted over toward the island of Grain, where he managed to descend. There he remained for the night, and came back by train to Burwain in the afternoon of the ensuing day. But neither Gertrude nor I troubled about Weston’s failure or absence. We were far too much taken up with the story told by Inspector Dredge.

“As you were so much connected with the matter, Mr. Vance,” said the stern-faced man, when he appeared at four o’clock in the drawing-room of The Lodge, “it is only fair that you should know the truth.”

“I also am connected with the matter, Mr. Inspector,” said Gertrude, “for I—”

He interrupted her with a grave bow. “I know what you would say, miss. You were in the back room, and left your cloak there, which was afterwards worn by Joseph Striver when he escaped in Mr. Vance’s motor car. No blame attaches to you, miss, and I quite understand that you did not care to incriminate yourself by coming to explain to me. Yet, if you had done so,” he ended, with rebukeful emphasis, “we might have arrived earlier at the truth.”

“Who told you all this?” I asked curiously.

“Striver himself—by letter, that is,” said Dredge, bringing out some papers from the pocket of his overcoat. “He is an accomplice after the fact. Miss Destiny, who actually committed the crime is dead, and her body—or what remains of it—lies at Tarhaven waiting the inquest, which will be held to-morrow. But Joseph will be searched for and arrested, as he knew the truth all along.”

“Why did he not tell it?” asked Gertrude anxiously.

“I think you are to blame, Miss, or rather your sweet looks, Miss. Striver wished to use what he had learned in order to marry you.”

“But what did he learn?” I asked, while Gertrude blushed at the complimentary tone of the officer.

“I am coming to that,” said Dredge calmly, “all in good time, Mr. Vance. Two days ago I received a letter from Joseph Striver. It stated that he was sailing from a certain port to some foreign land, which he refused to name.”

“Where is the letter written from?”

“There is no address given, Mr. Vance, but the postmark is that of London. It was posted at the General Post Office, so Striver has covered up his tracks very carefully. By this time he is doubtless on the high seas, and it will be difficult to trace him.”

“Well?” I demanded impatiently, “and what did he say in his letter?”

Dredge took out an epistle—written on foolscap, as had been the one to me—and spread it out on the table. “There is no need to read it,” he said gravely, “as I know the contents by heart.”

“Yes; go on.” Gertrude and myself were all attention.

“Striver writes that he came to see his aunt, knowing that Miss Monk was due for a visit. He was informed of this fact by Miss Destiny. Striver went up to the bedroom, while his aunt talked to Miss Monk who then arrived. Afterwards, Walter Monk entered the shop, and his daughter—you Miss,” said the Inspector with a dry nod, “departed by the back door.”

“I did not wish to meet my father,” said Gertrude in low tones.

“So I understand from Striver’s letter,” said Dredge still dryly. “Well then, it appears that Mr. Monk also knew of his daughter’s visit to Mrs. Caldershaw through Miss Destiny—”

“But why should she have told everyone that I was going?” asked Gertrude in an indignant voice.

“Can’t you guess, Miss?” asked Dredge pityingly. “Miss Destiny went over to Mootley with the intention of murdering the woman.”

“For what reason,” I asked, anxious to be fully satisfied.

The Inspector heaved a sigh at my apparent stupidity. “You, Miss,” he said to Gertrude, “had told Miss Destiny of your discovery of the diary and of your intention to ask Mrs. Caldershaw for the cipher. Your aunt, Miss, then guessed from sundry remarks that Mrs. Caldershaw had let fall, that the cipher was contained in the false eye worn by the woman. Miss Destiny determined to get that eye even at the cost of murder, and so told several people of your proposed visit, so that she might throw the blame on them.”

“Do you mean to say,” questioned Gertrude horrified, “that my aunt deliberately intended to have me accused of murder?”

“You, or Striver, or your father,” assented Dredge coolly, “she had to save her own skin somehow you see, Miss, but to continue, Striver was wakened from sleep by a quarrel between Mrs. Caldershaw and Mr. Monk, as he waited the cipher, which she refused to give up—”

“Did he know that it was hidden in the eye?” I interrupted.

“I don’t think so. He did not say so, from what Striver overheard. But he could not get what he wanted, and therefore went away, and walked back to Murchester as he had come. He called himself”—Dredge referred to the letter—“Mr. Wentworth Marr.”

“Yes, yes, we know that,” I said hastily.

“It seems to me, Mr. Vance, that you know much which you have not told me.”

“I had my reasons, and very good ones,” said I stiffly.

“No reasons should prevent your helping the police in the execution of their duty,” said Dredge, with an official air. “However, as things have turned out for the best, we can let that pass. When Mr. Monk departed,” he continued, taking up the thread of his narrative, “Striver told his aunt that he wanted to sleep, and returned to the bedroom. There he really did fall asleep, but before doing so he heard the voice of Miss Destiny.”

“But she did not arrive until after the murder,” I exclaimed.

“She arrived long before, as you will read in her confession,” said Dredge grimly. “Let me proceed in due order, if you please. Striver stole down the stairs, as he was anxious to learn what Miss Destiny had to say to his aunt. He heard her ask for the cipher. Mrs. Caldershaw refused to give it up, saying she had it hidden in her false left eye, which would never leave her head until she was dead.”

“Ah!” said Gertrude, “so that is how Aunt Julia learned about the eye.”

“I think she knew it before,” replied Dredge with a shrug. “However, when Striver learned about the eye, he retreated to the bedroom and threw himself on the bed to think how he could get it. Then he fell asleep. When he awoke it was quite dark and—”

“We know the rest,” I interposed quickly; “he came downstairs and found his aunt dead. Then he heard me coming, and managed to lock me in and escape with my car.”

Dredge nodded, glancing meanwhile at the letter. “Yes, Mr. Vance, it is as you say. Of course Striver knew that Miss Destiny had murdered his aunt, so when she returned to Burwain he taxed her with the crime. She denied it and tried to throw the blame on her niece and on Mr. Monk. But Striver threatened to tell the police, and the woman confessed. She said that she would find the money and give half to Striver: also that she would aid him to marry Miss Monk.”

“The idea!” cried Gertrude angrily; “as if she could.”

“She hoped to force you, by implicating you in the murder. For that reason, according to Striver, she left the eye on the table in this drawing-room.”

“What!” I started to my feet. “Was it Miss Destiny who—?”

“Herself,” said Dredge coolly. “She talked to Striver in the garden, then went to the window—that one yonder,” said Dredge, pointing to the middle French window—“and placed the eye on the table, hoping that you, Miss, would find it. Then she trusted that you would not be able to account for its possession and would be accused of the crime.”

“What a wicked woman; oh, what a wicked woman!”

“I think she was, Miss. However, she has paid for her wickedness by a most terrible death; if you had seen the body”—He stopped and, iron-nerved as he was, shuddered. After a pause he continued: “When Miss Destiny placed the eye on the table she went back to talk to Striver, and you, Mr. Vance, found them together.”

“Yes, I did. But why did Striver go to the window. Did he know?”

“I can’t be sure. Since he loved Miss Monk, I don’t think he would have lent himself to such a wicked plot even to marry her. But he did go and secure the eye. Then he—”

“Used it to frighten Mr. Monk, who afterwards destroyed it. Go on.”

Dredge shrugged his shoulders. “It seems to me that there is little chance of my telling you anything you don’t know,” he said, folding up the letter and replacing it in his breast pocket. “And that is all Striver has to say. I got out a warrant on the confession which he enclosed, and came here this morning. With two policemen I called at Miss Destiny’s house, which was pointed out to me. She was away, and the girl Lucinda tried to escape to give her mistress warning.”

“Did Lucinda know the truth?”

“Yes; she drove her mistress on that evening.” Dredge stopped and waved his hands. “You’ll hear that in the confession.”

“Whose confession?”

“Miss Destiny’s. Striver did not trust her, and moreover was fearful lest he should be accused of the deed. He swore to tell the police and give evidence against her unless she wrote out clearly what had occurred and signed it. Forced to do so, she did as she was bid, and Striver held this confession over her head so as to compel her to do his bidding. Lucinda would have warned her mistress, but—guessing that Miss Destiny would witness the trial flight of the airship—I took the girl with me and went to Mr. Weston’s yard. You heard how she gave voice and saw how the mistress escaped. So”—he wiped his face with a shiver—“that is ended. God have mercy on the black soul of that woman.”

“Amen to that,” I said, while Gertrude wept silently. “But Striver seems to have behaved like a scoundrel.”

“Never mind, Cyrus, he has made amends,” whispered Gertrude through her tears—tears of which Miss Destiny was unworthy.

“Here,” said Dredge, spreading out another document, “is the confession of Julia Destiny, signed by her in the presence of Striver. I need not read it,” he added, folding up the precious paper and putting it away, “as I can give you a hasty précis of the contents. My time is short,” he glanced at his watch, “I have to catch a train in an hour at Tarhaven. I must be brief.”

“Yes, go on, and make the telling as short as you can,” I said anxiously, “for Miss Monk cannot bear much more.”

While I fondled Gertrude’s hand within my own, the Inspector related what Miss Destiny had written. The wicked little woman had intended to get the eye, even if she had to kill Anne Caldershaw to force it out of the woman’s head. She had arranged to bring Striver, Gertrude, and Walter Monk to Mootley so as to implicate them, if possible, and save herself from being accused of murder. She therefore arranged with Lucinda, who was bound body and soul to her service, to drive over early to Mootley on the second day of her journey thither. Lucinda, with the trap, remained behind a hedge near Murchester, and Miss Destiny, evading notice, crept through the fields to the corner shop. Striver was up stairs, but she did not know that, as Mrs. Caldershaw said nothing. But she learned that Gertrude had been, and saw the white cloak left behind in the kitchen, along with one of the blue glass-headed pins. She also learned that Monk had paid a visit, so she was quite prepared to fasten the blame of her contemplated deed on anyone of them.

“Oh, what a devil!” I murmured at this point of Dredge’s narrative.

“Indeed you may so,” he said, somewhat moved, for the recital was really terrible. “Well, then, while seated in the back kitchen Miss Destiny, failing to get the eye from Mrs. Caldershaw, watched her chance to murder her. She took up the blue glass-headed pin, which she knew belonged to Miss here—”

“She gave it to me herself,” said Gertrude in a choked voice.

“Of course,” Dredge nodded, “and so was certain that when used the blame would fall on you. Now how she managed exactly to kill Mrs. Caldershaw she does not say,” went on the Inspector, wrinkling his brow in perplexity. “I think myself she playfully touched Mrs. Caldershaw every now and then with the pin to emphasize what she was saying. Certainly Mrs. Caldershaw would suspect nothing, until Miss Destiny, placing the pin directly over the heart, drove it home with a sudden thrust. The woman fell—”

“Dead! dead!” wailed Gertrude.

“Not quite dead,” said the precise Dredge: “she was bleeding from internal hemorrhage, for she lived for sometime afterwards. Striver found her still alive—”

“And so did I,” I interposed: “I heard her last moan.”

“She bled inwardly to death,” said Dredge, rising and buttoning his coat. “I must go now, if you will excuse me.”

“But the rest of the confession. How did she get the eye?” I asked.

“Pulled it out of Mrs. Caldershaw’s head,” said the Inspector brutally “she then escaped by the back door and went along a path leading through the wood of elms. She knew of that, having been to Mrs. Caldershaw’s before.”

“Mrs. Caldershaw told me how to go by that path,” said Gertrude.

“One question before you go, Mr. Inspector,” said I, following him to the door: “If Miss Destiny had the eye for so long in her possession, why did she not discover the secret?”

“She could not read the cipher.”

“Strange. It is not a particularly difficult one.”

“Have you read it?” asked Dredge. “Striver said that he had sent a drawing of it to you.”

“Yes; we discovered the hiding-place of the jewels and found it empty. Now I wonder if Miss Destiny did read the cipher and steal the jewels.”

“She says she did not, and—” Here Dredge looked again at his watch. “I really have no time to say more: you must excuse me,” and he hurried away rapidly.

I turned to Gertrude when we heard the door close behind him. “Well,” said I, with a half smile, “now that the truth has been discovered we can marry.”

She sobbed. “Oh, Cyrus, can you marry the niece of a murderess?”

“I would marry you, if you committed the crime yourself,” I said, kissing her fondly.

And marry her I did two months later. Owing to the terrible death of Miss Destiny the story of her crime was not made public. There was some talk of Lucinda being brought in as an accomplice after the fact, but as she apparently was a half-witted creature she was left alone. She confessed, however, that after committing the crime Miss Destiny had rejoined her, and then the two had driven later to Mootley to meet Striver—who Miss Destiny thought was a woman—driving my motor car. I have often wondered since at the extraordinary nerve displayed by Miss Destiny on that fatal evening. She arrived fresh from the commission of a brutal crime and played her part as a startled lady admirably. All the time we were talking in Giles’ house she had the eye in her pocket and knew the whole truth of the affair. I was amazed at the strength of character displayed by the frail little creature. It was extraordinary that avarice should have driven her to so desperate a course. But having taken it, she had managed wonderfully. But for the unguessed-of presence of Striver in the house her wickedness would never have been discovered. She was buried in Tarhaven, in an unhonoured grave, and Gertrude and I strove to forget her and her crimes as speedily as possible.

Lucinda vanished when she found that the police intended to leave her alone, and I never learned what became of her. Striver also had disappeared, and we did not hear that he had been caught, although I believe Dredge made several attempts to find out his whereabouts, but without success. But of one person we did hear. That was Mr. Walter Monk, or as he still continued to call himself, Mr. Wentworth Marr.

On the night before my marriage to Gertrude I was with her at The Lodge, and Cannington, who had come down to be my best man, was also present. He was in great spirits, and had been much impressed by the story of Miss Destiny’s wickedness, which I had told him in detail.

“Adventures are to the adventurous,” said he gravely. “You certainly found a very good one, with a happy termination,” and he glanced at Gertrude.

“It was strange,” I remarked musingly, “that you should have made that quotation as being by Wentworth Marr.”

“Yes. And at the time when we did not know who Wentworth Marr was.”

“Don’t speak of him,” cried Gertrude with a shudder. “Oh, dear me, I never would have believed that my father would act so wickedly.”

“Oh, I don’t think he acted so very wickedly,” said Cannington generously, and to set her at her ease; “he changed his name legally enough, and was a wealthy man, as we know. All he did was to suppress—for obvious reasons—the fact that he possessed so charming a daughter.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter now,” I broke in impatiently, for every mention of her father brought sorrow to Gertrude’s face. “Monk or Marr, or whatever he chooses to call himself, is over the seas, and won’t come back. Gertrude to-morrow takes my name and my good fortune. Also Mabel is to marry Dicky in three months, so that ends everything.”

“Except Dicky’s desire to conquer the air,” said Cannington, smiling. “He is awfully cut up over the failure of his last attempt. He wants to begin and build another vessel straight away. But Mab swears she will not marry him if he doesn’t promise to leave airships alone for at least twelve months after she becomes his wife.”

“That,” said I gravely, “will give Dicky time to invent something worth talking about. I thought his airship was rotten myself. It failed in every point. Much better for him to keep his money and not waste it.”

“Oh, Mab will see to that,” said Cannington lightly. “But see, Miss Monk wishes to speak to you, Vance. What’s up?”

“Cyrus,” said Gertrude quietly, and producing a letter, “and you, Lord Cannington, I received this,” she tapped the letter, “from my father by this morning’s post.”

“Oh, my sainted aunt!” cried Cannington vivaciously, “what’s it about. But perhaps,” he rose to his feet, “you don’t want to tell me. I’ll go to the smoking-room while you talk to Vance here.”

Gertrude put out a detaining hand. “No, don’t go, Lord Cannington. I know that Cyrus has no secrets from you. I wish both of you to hear what became of the diamonds which caused all the trouble.”

“I believe that Striver has them,” I said firmly.

“I believe that Miss Destiny got them,” said Cannington, nodding.

“You are both wrong,” replied Gertrude with strange composure, “my father possessed the diamonds.”

“Your father! Never!” we exclaimed, quite amazed by the speech.

“My father,” went on Gertrude with a firmness of which I had not deemed her capable, considering what she had come through, “found a copy of the drawing on the silver piece in Mrs. Caldershaw’s false eye amongst the papers of his brother shortly after Uncle Gabriel’s death. He soon discovered the secret, which I wonder Aunt Julia did not find out, so easy did it appear to be.”

“She was less clever than wicked,” I said quickly. “Does your father tell you that in the letter, Gertrude?”

“Yes,” she said, with a heavy sigh. “He heard from his lawyers, to whom I gave notice that I was to marry you, Cyrus, and he writes,” she shivered, “to send me his blessing.”

“Oh, Lord!” This was from Cannington, who apologized.

“You need not make excuses to me,” said Gertrude, rather bitterly, “for indeed, as you do, Lord Cannington I wonder at the man. He robbed me of my fortune; he allowed me to get into trouble; he scarcely gave me enough to live on. Yet all the time,” her voice rose indignantly, “he was using my money as Wentworth Marr. What do you think of such a man?”

Cannington’s fist clenched itself, and I bit my lip to prevent an oath. If Monk had been there, I fear he would have had a sorry time between us. And Gertrude, whose affections had been cast aside by her tricky father, was an indignant as we were. “Then the Australian cousin—” I began.

She cut me short. “There never was any Australian cousin, nor any legal change of name. You can read here what he says,” and she passed me the letter.

I read that amazing document, which revealed the depths of Walter Monk’s heart. He did not appear to be ashamed of himself, but confessed that he had found the diamonds, and had lived on the sale of them, with a most appalling jocularity. He seemed to exult in his cleverness, and declared that he had done his daughter no wrong, since the money coming from the sale of the jewels rightfully belonged to him.

Then came another odd trait in the man’s character. He still, he said, had much of the fifty thousand pounds in his possession and therefore did not wish to keep the income left by Gabriel. “If my brother,” wrote Mr. Monk, “had given me the diamonds, and you the income, all would have been well and I should not have been forced to stoop to concealment which my soul abhors.”

“Good Lord!” muttered Cannington again, “what a man!”

Therefore, as I continued to read, Mr. Monk had made a gift of deed to his dear daughter of the house and grounds, and also of the five hundred a year. He never intended to return to England, he said, as he had an opportunity of marrying the daughter of a wealthy Chicago merchant. He ended his letter—and a remarkable human document it was—by wishing Gertrude and myself all happiness, and bidding the girl remember how kindly her father had behaved in thus settling her for life. Finally, in a postscript, he asked his darling child to remember him in her prayers.

This last piece of impudence was too much for both Cannington and myself. We burst into peals of laughter, and then felt ashamed when Gertrude rose suddenly and left the room. I followed hastily.

“My own,” I caught her as she was springing up the stairs, “forgive us both. We didn’t mean it. But the letter—?”

“Yes, yes, I know.” By this time she was sobbing on my breast. “But oh, Cyrus, to think that I should be the daughter of such a man.”

“Never mind. It is said in Scripture that a woman shall leave her father and mother and cling to her husband. To-morrow you will be Mrs. Vance, and enter upon a life of unclouded happiness.”

“Oh, I hope so, I hope so,” she murmured, “but the past has been so dreadful that I am afraid of the future.”

“You need not be,” I said stoutly. “I am by your side now to defend you. All things connected with the Mootley murder are at an end. Miss Destiny is dead; your father will probably marry his Chicago heiress and remain for ever in the States. Striver has vanished with Lucinda, and neither of them will ever be heard of again. And best of all, the eye has been destroyed.”

“Best of all,” whispered Gertrude, clinging to me fondly, “we are together, my darling, never to part.”

“Never! never! never!” and I kissed her once, twice and again.

“I can’t go back to the drawing-room,” said Gertrude, “let me retire, and take the boy back to the inn. To-morrow, when Mabel comes down to be my bridesmaid, we shall see one another again.”

“Never to part any more!”

She sped up the stairs, and I took Cannington, still almost suffocated with laughter, to the inn. “Did you ever read such a letter, Vance?” he asked me. “I am sorry I laughed, but the cheek, the damned coolness—”

“Never mind,” I said, taking his arm; “I’m glad for Gertrude’s sake that she has got the money. We’ll repair the house and live in it, and be happy for evermore.”

“I’m sure you deserve to be,” said the boy thoughtfully. “Well, I can only say one thing, which I said when this romance of yours began.”

“Don’t say it, confound you!”

“Yes, I shall. Adventures are to the adventurous. There!”

I laughed from sheer light-heartedness. I could not help it, so strange did it seem that my love story should end where it had begun, in the quotation of the saying.


THE END

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