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Title: The Yellow Hunchback Author: Fergus Hume * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1800441h.html Language: English Date first posted: June 2018 Most recent update: June 2018 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Chapter 1. - Love’s Young Dream
Chapter 2. - The Winding-Sheet of the Snow
Chapter 3. - The Inquest
Chapter 4. - The Will
Chapter 5. - Out of the Depths
Chapter 6. - An Accusation
Chapter 7. - Bad News
Chapter 8. - Rupert’s Confession
Chapter 9. - A Story of the Past
Chapter 10. - Why Rupert Was Struck
Chapter 11. - What Polly Had to Say
Chapter 12. - More Evidence
Chapter 13. - Mrs. Berrow
Chapter 14. - Cleopatra’s Testimony
Chapter 15. - Cleopatra Has the Laugh
Chapter 16. - In the Slums
Chapter 17. - Ruth’s Grandmother
Chapter 18. - The Rival Lawyers
Chapter 19. - Diamond Cut Diamond
Chapter 20. - The Manor House Ghost
Chapter 21. - Attempting the Impossible
Chapter 22. - The Meeting with Mrs. Berrow
Chapter 23. - Mr. Felton’s News
Chapter 24. - The Second Will
Chapter 25. - What Captain Tait Did
Chapter 26. - An Amazing Discovery
Chapter 27. - The Story of Evan and Ben
Chapter 28. - Cleopatra’s Revenge
Chapter 29. - A Catastrophe
Chapter 30. - Justice
“So you love me still?”
“I have always loved you, dearest and best, since that moment in London when you came into my life.”
“Yet we have been parted for months and months.”
“Circumstances parted us, not our wills, my darling Alice.”
“I know; but absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say.”
“They say; what say they; let them say.” The young man was quoting a family motto. “In my case the proverb is untrue. Whether absent or present my heart could grow no fonder of you, my darling.”
Alice sighed. “You think too well of me.”
“That,” said Treffry, decisively, “is entirely impossible.”
It was a poor room in which the lovers sat, but a bower of bliss to them, since they coloured it with their own vivid imaginations. A jerry-built suburban villa, at twenty pounds a year, is not exactly a palace, and Alice’s father, out of his poor pay as managing clerk to Mason Clyde, the local lawyer, could afford no higher rent. Only himself and his daughter dwelt in the shoddy, common-place house, for the wife of the one and the mother of the other had long ago left this work-a-day world for a welcome grave. For fifteen years Marvel had reared his little girl without the assistance of womankind; and now, at the age of twenty, she was able to help the devoted father who had helped her. Since a perfect affection existed between them, she was not unhappy in her toil. And to teach singing to unimaginative girls is a toil.
Certainly her happiness was superlative now, seeing that Rupert Treffry embraced her at the moment, with his honest blue eyes almost constantly seeking the light of her true brown ones. Fate had parted them for six months, and Fate had brought them together again in a somewhat unexpected manner. Left alone by Marvel for the last hour, it seemed but one minute since his departure. Time did not exist for two ardent lovers who dreamt of a brilliant and prosperous future, which included fame for Rupert the artist and money for Alice the singer, not to speak of a near marriage for bachelor and maid. No wonder the shabby room was to them as the Groves of Paphos.
The apartment was small, square and low-ceilinged, furnished clumsily with the heavy chairs, table, sofa and sideboard of the Early Victorian epoch, when beauty was obliterated by smug ugliness. The carpet was worn and faded, the china ornaments were chipped, the wall-paper revealed an aggressive pattern, and the hangings were of dingy red rep. Alice, by draping this and polishing that, and rearranging the furniture, had done her best to make the room more endurable; but the result was a failure. Yet it was comfortable after a fashion, and looked especially so at the moment. The lovers had wisely dispensed with the cheap paraffin lamp, and renewed their vows by the cheerful illumination of a brisk coal fire.
In a horse-hair armchair, drawn up beside the cheap grate, lounged Rupert Treffry, tall, straight, clean-limbed and athletic, with a bold, bronzed face, thoughtful blue eyes, and a sensitive mouth almost concealed by a light moustache. He looked like a soldier, and, indeed, had surrendered a commission to take up the artistic life, which presented more attractions to him than a military career. Alice nestled beside him, seated on a footstool, her head leaning on his knee, and his arm encircling her neck. The firelight flickered on her delicate face, on her smooth brown hair and youthfully graceful figure, and in her pensive brown eyes. She was not exactly a pretty girl, but there was a quiet beauty about her which grew on the observer. She reminded one of a pale primrose, of a still summer eve, of a sleeping mere.
One striking object in the ugly room has yet to be mentioned—a fine grand piano, which was much too bulky for the apartment. As the firelight winked in the rich dark rosewood, Rupert’s eyes, which had hitherto been exclusively devoted to satisfied contemplation of Alice’s serene beauty, caught sight of the instrument. Assuredly he had noted it before, but mechanically. Now in the half-light he recognised that it was both incongruous and expensive, and wondered how hard-up Lawrence Marvel had come by so costly a thing.
“It must be a present,” he remarked, thinking aloud.
“What?” Alice looked round; then added, indifferently: “The piano. Yes, it is a present.”
“How did you guess that I meant the piano?” he asked, playfully.
“Because it looks so out of place amongst this ugly furniture inherited by father from his parents. And you know well that we could never afford such a Broadwood.”
“Well, dear, of course, your father is a musician as well as a solicitor, and he might have treated himself to—”
“No! Poor father”—she sighed again—“Mr. Clyde pays him so badly that it takes all my time to make both ends meet. With all his love for music he could never have scraped together to buy that piano. It is, as I said, a present.”
Rupert looked jealously down at the averted face. “Not to you?”
The girl did not reply immediately, but clasping her knees with two slender hands, stared into the ruddy coals. “It might be,” she admitted, in a reluctant voice.
She looked up smiling. “Don’t get angry, Rupert. I love you, and you alone, my dear Othello.”
“But—the other fellow?”
“What fellow?” she asked, provokingly.
“The man who gave you the piano.”
“He gave it to father; and yet”—she hesitated once more—“I think it was really meant for me. You see, he—he—he—”
“Oh, yes, I can guess, hang him!”
“Poor soul!” Alice rose slowly, and moved to the round table to light the lamp. “He would be a light weight to hang.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Treffry, shortly, and by no means pleased at the pathetic note in her voice.
As she applied the match to the wick a dim blue flame glimmered on her pensive face. “His name is Evan Berrow,” said she, putting on chimney and globe. “He is twenty-five years of age, four feet three inches in height, and the only son of the man who built this house. Would you like further particulars?”
“A dwarf!” remarked Rupert, passing over the sarcasm of the question.
“I suppose so—but a perfectly made dwarf. There is nothing deformed about Evan, poor creature.”
“You call him by his Christian name, I see.”
“If you saw him you would not object to my doing so,” said Alice, placing the lamp on a wool mat in the centre of the table. “He is in love with me,” she finished, serenely.
“I certainly object to that,” replied Treffry, drawing his brows together. “Do you mean to say that this dwarf dares to—”
“He does. I told him as gently as possible that it could not be.”
“And that you were engaged to me, I hope?”
“Of course. He knows that, even though I were free, I could never love him. Poor Evan,” she said, softly; “he has many good qualities, and far too much money.”
“Can anyone have too much money, Alice?”
“I think so, if unable to look after it. Dear”—she came, and, seating herself beside her suspicious lover, took his hand—“banish that ugly frown, and I’ll tell you how I have been sought in marriage.”
“Humph! A queer way you take to banish my frown. But there!”—his arm crept round her waist, and he drew her caressingly towards him—“do not look upon me as an ogre. I can’t possibly be jealous of this deformed creature.”
“He is not deformed, I tell you,” insisted Alice, rather annoyed. “He is perfectly made, although very small. With his dark hair, melancholy eyes and wizened appearance, he really might be a changeling from fairyland.”
“Strange,” murmured Rupert, his eyes on the fire. “I saw a creature like that on my way here!”
“Then you must have seen Evan Berrow.”
“Not if he is rich, as you say. This was a crossing-sweeper in that crooked street—”
“I know; the one near the railway station. It is the High Street of Chadston village, which forms the nucleus of this suburb; in fact, the suburb is merely an expansion of the original village, and was built by Evan’s father, who owned nearly all the land. So you may guess that, as Evan has inherited all the property for the last three years, he is very, wealthy. He is quite the king of Chadston, and lives in the Manor House which belonged to the old estate on which these villas are built.”
Rupert nodded. “I understand. The Tait family sold the estate to old Berrow. Clyde told me something about the matter, months ago.”
“Do you know Mr. Clyde very well, Rupert?”
Treffry shrugged his shoulders.
“In a way—yes,” he admitted. “He is doing some business for me, and on my way here this evening I called to have a consultation. He had gone home, however, but I understood that he would be again at his office at nine o’clock.” The young man glanced at his watch. “By Jove! I’ll have to go and see him soon. Will your father be at the office also?”
“No.” Alice hesitated, then continued to speak with something of an effort. “I see no reason why I should conceal our poverty from you, Rupert. Mr. Clyde, as I told you, pays father only a small salary.”
“Why doesn’t Mr. Marvel seek a better situation, then?”
“I don’t know; he refuses to leave Mr. Clyde, with whom he has been for twenty years. And, indeed,” added Alice, half to herself, “I think that Mr. Clyde has some hold over father, who seems to dread him, yet will not throw up his post. Well, then,” she went on, as though fearful of an interruption, “father, being a clever pianist, sometimes goes out to play at dances. Mr. Clyde does not object.”
“I should think not, seeing that he gives Mr. Marvel—as I understand you to say—starvation wages. Well?”
“Well,” she echoed, “an entertainment of Animated Pictures has come here for this evening, and father, hearing that the pianist had fallen ill, went out when you came in, to offer himself as a substitute. I expect father is playing at The Builders’ Hall, since he has not come back. I shall go at ten o’clock to fetch him home.”
“You—and on a stormy, snowy December night?” asked Treffry, sharply.
“Father is sometimes—” Alice turned aside her face, but he could see a nervous flush redden her fair neck. “He is sometimes weak, and—and, Rupert, don’t ask me any questions, but tell me about this dwarf you saw. It could not have been Mr. Berrow, and yet I cannot think poor Evan can have a duplicate.”
Treffry knew as certainly as though she had put the knowledge into words that Lawrence Marvel indulged overmuch in alcohol, and with sudden resentment he was minded then and there to insist that Alice should marry him at once, so as to be removed from such uncomfortable companionship. But the thought of his poverty prevented his speaking openly, since it would not do to ask her to jump from the frying-pan into the fire. With a commendable effort he controlled the impulse, and replied to her direct question. “The hunchback,” he began, with affected carelessness, when she interrupted him—
“Mr. Berrow—l mean Evan—is not a hunchback.”
“This crossing-sweeper is then, my dear. A little yellow hunchback, as small as your wealthy friend, with a dark, pinched, wizened face. I thought at the moment I gave him sixpence that he looked like a fairy changeling, and it was your same remark that made me speak of the creature. No, I don’t suppose it was your millionaire dwarf, who has the insolence to love you; but the sweeper must be his twin brother, in spite of the hunch.”
Alice shook her head vehemently. “Evan has no twin,” she said, “and why yellow, Rupert?”
“What do you mean?—oh! the crossing-sweeper. Well, he wore a yellow sou’-wester hat and an oilskin coat, such as sailors wear in times of storm, my dear. And I don’t wonder, on such a night.” He rose, and crossing to the one window of the room, pulled aside the curtain, to look out at the whirling eddies of snow, scattering in the high wind. “What weather—very seasonable, seeing that this is Christmas week, but decidedly disagreeable to me, after Jamaican summers. Let me go for your father, Alice.”
“No.” She rose, flushing painfully. “He might be—oh, don’t speak of it—don’t speak of it!”
Rupert swiftly replaced the curtain, and moved towards her, to clasp her in his strong arms. “Let me share the burden, dear.”
“There is no burden.” She removed his arms, and changed the subject quickly. “Poor little Evan; he has a miserable life. His step-mother hates him and I detest, her; a quiet, dangerous, lady-like woman, with a pale face and a false smile.”
“Has she any children of her own?”
“None. She married Mr. Berrow, who built the suburb, for his money, and he died within six months of the marriage. He left only a small income to her, and Evan has about ten thousand a year. She hates him for that, I think.”
“Ten thousand a year,” echoed Treffry, with a, bitter smile, “and I have nothing. If this dwarf loves you, Alice, why not—”
She placed a white hand on his mouth. “Oh, never say it—never say it, dear,” she cried. “I like Evan, but even did I not love you, I could never marry him. He is not repulsive,” she added, eagerly “believe me, he is shapely, if small, and he is very kind.” Her eyes wandered to the piano. “Oh, very kind. But to marry him—” She shuddered. “I could never do that, not even though father insisted I should.”
“Does your father wish to force you to marry him?”
“Don’t be angry, Rupert.” She laid a caressing hand on his shoulder. “Poor papa; you know how fond he is of luxury, and how unable we are to live as he desires. Evan is kind to papa, and sometimes has him to play at the Manor. He pays him well—oh! Evan has a heart of gold. But, oh, the poor soul”—Alice struck her hands together—“he is most unhappy—most lonely.”
“But why should he be unhappy, Alice?”
“He feels the smallness of his stature, and then he is rich, and his step-mother hates him. I wish I could have loved him—”
“Alice—when you love me.”
“Dear, do not be angry,” she said again. “If you saw the poor soul, with his worn face and mournful eyes—oh! I wish he could find someone to love him.”
“Has he no friends?” asked Treffry.
“None—oh, yes, Mason Clyde is fond of him. He is the executor of the late Mr. Berrow’s will. But, Mrs. Berrow—ah! how she hates her step-son, and because he has the money. Being young, I expect she would like to marry again, and would do so were she rich, or could get a wealthy husband. But Evan has the fortune and the Manor House, and Mrs. Berrow lives with him, surrounded by luxury, yet hating the hand that feeds her. But you must go, Rupert,” she broke off, suddenly. “I have to copy some music for father, and then call for him at The Builders’ Hall. It is just nine.”
“I’ll go and see Clyde at his office,” said Rupert, putting on his overcoat reluctantly. “But I would rather stop and talk with you, my darling. This business with Clyde may lead to my getting sufficient money to allow us to marry. I want to take you away from these sordid surroundings. And then your father—”
“Not a word against him,” said Alice, quickly. “He is weak, but the very soul of honour and kindness. Good-night, dear. To-morrow we can talk again. Be here at eleven.”
Treffry kissed her tenderly, and they went into the hall. Alice opened the door, to reveal a wild night. On the doorstep stood a small figure, and the light from the hall lamp showed a dark, mournful face, pinched and bloodless.
“The yellow hunchback,” said Rupert, under his breath, and stared.
Low as the words were spoken the visitor caught their purport, and stepped into the hall, with a sudden movement of surprise, and perhaps anger.
“The yellow hunchback!” he repeated, in a soft, musical voice, and stared in his turn.
“I beg your pardon,” remarked Treffry, ceremoniously. “You will excuse my involuntary remark, I trust.”
“But its meaning, Mr. Treffry?”
Rupert replied to one question by asking another. “How do you know my name, Mr. Berrow?”
“You know mine, it seems,” flashed the other, swiftly.
“I recognised you, and—”
“By my stature.” The dwarf’s small frame shook with rage. “Oh, how you well-made brutes look down upon the unfortunate.”
“Evan! Evan!” remonstrated Alice, and laid her hand on the little man’s sleeve to draw him away. Treffry saw that Berrow was a bundle of nerves, and had small control over his feelings. Unwilling, for Alice’s sake, to risk a scene, and, moreover, feeling that his adversary’s strength lay in his manifest weakness, Rupert bowed, and stepped into the snow.
“Good-night, Mr. Berrow,” he said, stiffly. “Alice, I shall see you in the morning”—and with a glance at the squat figure and the tall gracious lady beside it, he disappeared behind the curtain of the ever-falling snow. Alice, with a shiver, shut the door, and turned to her new visitor, who stood with clenched hands, looking sullenly at the ground.
“Evan!” she said, you are cold. “Come into the sitting-room.”
Berrow did not immediately reply, but lifted his bloodless face and looked at her steadily with his mournful eyes. He was short, but, as Alice had said, perfectly made, and his hands and feet were irreproachable. Slender and tiny, exquisitely dressed in evening costume (which could be seen when he removed his gable-lined coat), he had the look of a doll unexpectedly endowed with life. There was something uncanny and freakish in his looks.
“So that is your lover,” he said, with a choking sigh.
“That is Rupert,” replied Alice, pausing at the sitting-room door.
“A fine, tall bully.”
“Evan, how dare you?”
Berrow dragged off his overcoat and walked like an automaton into the room, where he flung himself into an armchair, and was swallowed up in its large embrace. “How dare I?” said he, looking defiantly at Alice’s flushed face; “because I love you.”
The girl frowned. “Why will you talk of that?”
“I am a man,” cried the dwarf, passionately. “Yes, I am a man, although I have not the stature of one.”
“Nonsense. You are small, but not deformed.”
“Yet he called me a hunchback—a yellow hunchback.”
“Oh!” Alice coloured again. “Rupert did not mean you to hear him say that. He was thinking of some crossing-sweeper he saw in Chadston High Street.”
“He saw a crossing-sweeper,” echoed Berrow, his pale face looking angry, and—strangely enough—apprehensive. “Like—me.”
“Of your height and looks, Rupert said.”
“Impossible,” Berrow brought out the word with an effort. “There can be no other person in the world so small and miserable as I—unless in a caravan,” he scoffed. “And such a one certainly would not be wasted as a sweeper while humanity loves to gaze on the abnormal, as I know to my cost it does.”
“Evan,” she reproved him gently, “why will you torment yourself?”
The little man sprang to his feet. “Because I am a freak, a dwarf, an abortion. Heaven help me!” he cried, in the musical voice which seemed to be habitual to him. “Oh, to feel like a man, and yet know one is not a man. Could any affliction be worse? And I dare to love you, who are made in beauty and stature for that handsome coward who went out just now.”
“Rupert is not a coward,” said Alice, sharply. “I won’t have you talk in this way. You know that I like you.”
“Liking is not love.”
“And never will be between you and me, Mr. Berrow. I met Rupert in London a year ago, when I was studying singing at the Academy, and we loved one another at first sight. Since then he had to go to Jamaica to see after some business connected with his uncle’s money, to which he is heir. We were engaged before he left, and now we have come together again. As soon as Rupert gets his inheritance we shall marry.”
“And I shall be left to die.”
“Nonsense,” said the girl, impatiently; “you will not die.”
“Yes. I am marked for the slaughter. Mrs. Berrow would gladly see me dead, in order to get my money.”
“You exaggerate, Evan. I confess that I do not like Mrs. Berrow, but she would not go so far as to suggest murder.”
Evan paced the room. “I can see murder in her eyes every time they rest upon me,” he declared, vehemently. “She would poison me, stab me, strangle me—anything to get my ten thousand a year to herself.”
“Still, the money is yours,” said Alice, quickly.
Berrow resumed his seat languidly. “It is certainly left to me unconditionally,” said he, “but my step-mother, at the time my father died, was trying to induce him to make a new will. The will leaving all to her was drawn up, but father died before he could sign it. Yet with his last breath he instructed me to keep the money for my life, and leave it to Mrs. Berrow when I died. You see, Alice, he did not think a miserable little creature like myself would live long. Mrs. Berrow was in the room when father died, and heard this speech. She worried me shortly after the death, three years ago, to make such a will in her favour. In accordance with the express wish of my father, I made it.”
“Leaving all the money to her?”
“Yes. When I die she takes everything. The will is in her possession, and she is simply waiting for me to die to get it.”
“If you mistrust her you should not have placed such a temptation before her, Evan.”
“I trusted her at the time. Only lately have I learnt how she wishes me to die.”
Alice considered a moment. “I should do this,” she said, after a thoughtful pause: “Make a new will, leaving the money to a charity, and tell Mrs. Berrow. Then she will not have cause to plot your death. More, she will try and keep you alive, since your death would mean her leaving the Manor House to live on the small income left to her by your father.”
“I have made such a will,” said Berrow, unexpectedly. “Only my step-mother does not know of its existence.”
“You have made a new will?”
“Yes. The same idea, which you have put into words, crossed my mind, and I made a new will, witnessed by your father. It leaves my money to you, Alice.”
The girl started to her feet with a cry. “To me! Impossible.”
“Why? You are the only being I have ever loved, and I have no relative to leave the money to.”
“Cannot this yellow hunchback mentioned by Rupert be a relative?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Rupert said that the sweeper resembled you, and—”
“And I am of such an odd make that the resemblance hints at relationship? No, Alice; I know nothing of this yellow hunchback, and I don’t suppose he is any relation. I am alone in the world, and when I die you will get the money.”
“I won’t take it.”
“You must,” insisted the dwarf. “I got your father and another person, who is now dead, to witness the will.”
“Who holds it, Evan?”
“I shan’t tell you that,” said Berrow, cunningly. “It is put away, to be produced when necessary. Mrs. Berrow might find it, unless it was well concealed.”
“If she did find it it would be just as well, Evan. She would then wish you to live. Not that I think she desires your death. That is exaggeration on your part.”
“No! It is the truth,” he replied, gloomily. “But you are right. To-morrow I’ll tell her about the new will, and give it to Mason Clyde, who is my lawyer. At least my life will be safe then; otherwise, do not be surprised if you find me dead.”
Alice shuddered. “Don’t talk like that,” she said, irritably. “And I wish you’d leave your money to someone else.”
“To Captain Tait, the present head of the impoverished family, who sold Chadston to my father?” asked Evan, with a sneer.
“It would be just,” said Alice, promptly, “for they say, Evan—”
“I know what they say—that my father cheated Tait over the property five-and-twenty years ago. That may be, and I know how Tait hates me, even though I pay his daughter Polly a good wage to act as a secretary I do not require. No, Alice, I would never leave the money to Tait, who is a drunkard and a bad lot. He would squander the fortune. Better, if you will not take it, to let Polly Tait and her lover, Teddy Smith, have the money.”
“You might do worse,” Alice told him.
Evan Berrow rose impatiently. “This is ridiculous,” he cried, in a pettish rage. “Do you hate me so much that you can’t take money from me?”
“I have no right to—”
“I know you have not,” he interrupted; “but you can gain the right by marrying me. I promise to make you my widow very soon.”
“Don’t talk like that,” cried Alice, sharply.
“I shall—I must. Oh, you cruel girl, can you not see how I suffer from your coldness? Marry me, Alice. Oh! my dear, marry me.”
She put him aside, as one would sweep away a fly. “I am engaged to Rupert,” she said, decisively. “Evan, unless you behave yourself you must go.”
Berrow rushed from the room, and she followed to see him struggling into his fur-lined coat.
“I shall go away,” he cried, in a strangled voice; “I shall go away to die.”
“Go home, and ask the doctor to give you a sedative,” said Alice, angered at his want of self-control.
“Or poison,” he added, with a wild look, and tugging with his puny strength at the door. “Mrs. Berrow would thank you for that.”
“I have already told you how you can counterplot Mrs. Berrow, if, indeed, she is plotting at all, which I doubt.”
“Alice! Alice!” The little man’s voice boomed like a gong. “Is there no hope? Can you not love me? Oh, my dear—my darling, marry me, and we will go away to some South Sea island, where I shall no longer be insulted by my fellow-creatures. I’ll pension your father. I’ll make over all the money to you. I’ll be your slave, your plaything; only have pity—have pity on me. I have suffered so much.”
“Evan”—she was moved by his appeal, yet saw the egotism of it—“I cannot marry you—I cannot love you.”
“Love may come—oh, darling heart, love may come.”
Alice was tender and delicate in her feelings. She would not have wounded the poor little man for the world, and yet, when he spoke as he did, and as a tall, stalwart man would have spoken, her eyes involuntarily wandered over his puny frame, and rested on his pinched, wizen, fairy face. That part of the feminine which loves the genuine, brutal man, which desires to be mastered, came to the surface, and her eyes became almost contemptuous for the moment, as she thought of Rupert’s inches and surveyed those of the dwarf. Berrow was swift to see her flitting contempt, for he had in his nature a strong feminine vein which made him as quick as she to read half-concealed thoughts. With the cry of a wounded animal he shrank away, and stumbled blindly down the steps into the wild storm. “Oh, Heaven, why have you so made me?” came the sorrowful cry, and he was gone before she could make a remark, and explain her regret for the momentary cruelty. She ran out into the night, but could not see the tiny figure amidst the fast-falling snow.
“Oh, cruel! cruel!” she murmured to herself, and returned to the house—to the warm, ugly sitting-room, there to take down a roll of manuscript music. Placing it on the table, she glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. It was a quarter past nine, and at ten, or a trifle later, she would have to seek her father.
With an effort she began to copy the music, but after a time her thoughts interfered with her work, and she flung down the pen to think over those two interviews with two lovers. What a difference between them—Rupert, so tall and handsome, with the frame of an athlete and the face of a sunny Greek god; and the poor dwarf, so puny and pinched, and wrinkled and miserable.
“I would rather starve with Rupert than be rich with Evan,” thought Alice, her chin in the cup of her hand and her elbow on her knee. “But I wish I had not let Evan see that. Poor little creature; how he winced and shrank away. When next I see him I must explain that my look meant nothing. But I don’t expect that he’ll believe me; he is as sensitive and clear-sighted as one of ourselves. But Rupert—oh, my darling Rupert.”
And then her thoughts ceased to busy themselves with the dwarf, and strayed towards her handsome lover. He was poor, but there was a chance that when a lawsuit ended, he might inherit a fine estate in Jamaica. But, even if he did not, she would marry him; better a hut with Rupert than a palace with another man. Yet Alice was fond of pleasant, surroundings and fine clothes, and refined society. She might have to give up on these, unless she chose to stifle her feelings and marry Evan Berrow. And here her thoughts came back to the little man, and she winced, as he had winced lately.
“Impossible! Impossible!” she said, aloud. “I could never marry him.”
With an effort she dismissed the image of the rich dwarf from her mind, and sat building castles in the air; castles which were inhabited by herself and her artist. So rapidly passed the time that the clock struck ten before she was aware that the hour was so late. With an exclamation she rose, and put away the unfinished music. Then she assumed a warm cloak, and tied on her hat with a veil, since the wind was high. Turning out the lamp, and with a glance at the fire to see that it was safe, she went out of the villa; locking the door behind her. A few steps took her down the road and into the storm.
It was a wild night, thick with snow. Overhead lowered a leaden-hued sky, with occasional gleams of moonlight. The clouds were flying before the high wind, and sometimes the face of the moon, pallid and tormented, looked down on the white earth. Everywhere was a winding-sheet of snow, and the flakes, with occasional lulls, fell thickly from the sky. Chadston was almost blotted out by the white fleece, or drifting feathers, which sank continuously to the ground. The gods were certainly shearing celestial sheep or plucking celestial geese, and Alice smiled at the childish fancy as she ploughed her way through the drifts.
Guided by glimmering street lamps, the girl struggled from the outskirts of the suburb towards the more populous part, where the shops usually glittered. But, as it was now ten fifteen, these were closed, and no radiant gaslights gleamed across the snowy, narrow streets. And here they were narrow, as she was now on the outskirts of Chadston village, and near the crooked High Street, of which she had spoken to Rupert. The Builders’ Hall, erected by the late Mr. Berrow for entertainments, stood near here, and she passed many people well wrapped up, who were coming from the evening’s amusement. Apparently it was over, and Alice, fearful lest she should miss her father, and more fearful, poor girl, lest he should go into one of the still-open public houses, hurried quickly along. At the hall she asked the old doorkeeper, with whom she was acquainted, if Mr. Marvel was within, and learnt that he had not been there for long that evening. The regular pianist of the entertainment had recovered to permit of his returning to his duty, and on hearing this Mr. Marvel had departed. Wondering where her father had gone, and dreading lest he should appear drunk at the villa, Alice turned disconsolately away, and thought that she would seek the lawyer’s office. Rupert had told her that Mr. Clyde would be working late, and it was just possible that Marvel had gone there. Then fortune favoured her, for at the entrance to the crooked High Street she met a tall, thin man, with a white face, looking woefully worn and haggard in the moonlight. “Father,” cried Alice, and caught him by the arm.
The man started with a terrified exclamation, and swayed so much that she feared he would fall. At first she fancied he had been drinking, as usual, but this especial fear proved to be groundless, for Marvel straightened himself into a perfectly erect and steady position, and explained that he had gone to the office, as she surmised. “I could not get the engagement at the Animated Pictures,” he explained, with laboured breath, “as the pianist recovered. Not wishing to disturb you and Treffry, I went to the office, and did some work with Mr. Clyde.”
“Is he still there?” asked Alice.
“Yes. By the way,” Marvel drew her down the street, which was in the opposite direction to their homeward way, “I have forgotten my spectacles, and must go back for them.”
“To-morrow will do,” said Alice, shivering, and wishing to get home.
“To-night! To-night!” said Marvel, vehemently. By this time they were midway down the quaint street, and the moon peered out from flying clouds at the tumble-down houses to gleam along the pearly pathway. Unexpectedly Marvel shied like a frightened horse. “Oh! What is that?” he gasped, pointing a shaking finger at a dark mass.
“Some poor woman has fainted, probably,” suggested his daughter, and hurried towards the prostrate figure.
“Don’t go—don’t go,” shivered Marvel, catching her arm. “There may be—danger.”
“Danger!” echoed Alice, surprised. “What do you mean, father? We can’t leave the poor creature to freeze to death.”
She gently extricated her arm from his grasp, and walked lightly towards the dark figure. It lay half on the pavement and half in the frozen gutter, and at the entrance to a dark, narrow lane which wound deviously through the ancient cottages of old Chadston village. The moon was obscured for one moment by a hurrying cloud, but sufficient light remained to reveal that the figure was that of a boy, lying face downward in the snow, and wrapped in a long coat. The girl stooped, and suddenly drew away her hand with a cry.
“What is it?” asked her father, in a grating voice.
“Blood,” cried Alice. Bending again, she felt the heart, and with an effort turned over the body.
“Stone dead,” she breathed; then, putting two and two together, her lips formed the ominous word “Murder.”
“Hush! Hush!” whispered her father; “that is dangerous talk.”
“Murder! Murder!” Alice’s voice pealed down the quiet street and echoed through the stormy air. “Police! Murder!”
The moon shone out brilliantly, and she stooped with a beating heart and white face to look at the countenance of the dead. “Evan Berrow,” she wailed, staggering back. “Evan Berrow, and murdered!”
Naturally enough, an immense sensation was caused by the violent death of Evan Berrow. Had the victim been a tramp, or a workman, or a pauper, everyone would still have been excited, since in so quiet and respectable a neighbourhood, crime of any kind was of rare occurrence. But that the son of the man who had surrounded old Chadston village with resplendent villas, who was himself virtual king of the suburb by reason of his wealth, should be done to death in so mysterious a manner sent a thrill through the community. The news was all over the place early next day, and many were the inquiries made at the Manor House, where the body lay.
Like a flock of vultures the London reporters descended on the suburb, and permeated the place, asking questions and suggesting answers. But the inspector of police who had charge of the case was grimly silent, and no one else seemed to know anything. The sole information procurable was that Berrow had left his home after dinner, and had been found dead at half-past ten in the High Street of Chadston village. Also it was ascertained that a stab under the left shoulder blade had caused the death; whereupon one smart young reporter suggested that the poor little man had been taken by surprise and killed before he could cry out or turn on his assailant. And then the smart young reporter went in search of Polly Tait, the secretary of the dead dwarf.
He had no right to do this, for his name was Teddy Smith and he was engaged to the pretty girl, who formed part of the Berrow household. It was possible, thought Teddy, that Polly might know something, and she would certainly tell him everything, so that he might concoct sensational paragraphs. But an inquiry at the Manor House led to the discovery that Miss Tait had gone to see Miss Marvel. Smith recollected that this was the young lady who had found the body, and therefore thanked his stars that, on the plea of seeing Polly, he might be able to question one so intimately concerned in the case.
Alice knew that Teddy was a reporter on the Daily Gossip, and admitted him at once to share the conversation of herself and Polly. The latter damsel, who was a demure brunette, with merry black eyes and a coy manner, thanked Alice for allowing Teddy the opportunity of gathering information. But Polly did not know that Alice’s true reason was concerned with the desire to place before the public a true, unvarnished tale of the doings of her father on the previous night, lest he should be implicated.
It was not that Alice thought her father had killed the man; but he had taken her down the High Street, where the body was found, on the plea that he had left his spectacles at the office. On his return home, however, she noted that he produced his spectacles, and guessed that the excuse was a false one. Also the man, highly strung and weak, had betrayed such agitation, when the crime came to light, that Alice could not but suspect that he had seen the corpse before he met her at the top of the High Street. She had questioned him on this point, but Marvel, with the cunning of the weak, had refused to explain. All he said was, that he knew nothing, and had never seen the body until he chanced on it with Alice. Nevertheless, his daughter shivered with apprehension lest the police, discovering too much, should arrest Marvel. And if that was done, so foolish a man would certainly get himself into trouble, even though he was perfectly innocent, as Alice believed him to be. For this reason she welcomed Teddy Smith, and admitted him to the ugly sitting-room, where Polly already sat comfortably by the fire.
Teddy, who was slight and fair-haired, with the innocent blue eyes of a child and the self-confidence of a minor poet, saluted Polly in a hasty manner, which drew forth a remonstrance.
“Well, I’m sure, Teddy,” she said, straightening herself indignantly; “you might be more polite.”
“I’m on business now, Polly. Business is never polite. And you must understand,” he eyed both young ladies sternly, “that if I can find out the truth of this murder it means promotion to me, and an increase of salary. Then, Polly, we can marry.”
“On blood-money,” pouted Polly, with a shiver.
“Nonsense, my dear. There is no reward offered, but if Mrs. Berrow does offer one I’ll do my best to earn it. Now then, Miss Marvel,” he took out a large notebook, and moistened his pencil, “will you answer me a few questions?”
“Certainly,” began Alice, smiling faintly, although she looked white and worried. “Mr. Berrow came here at nine o’clock—”
“Where was he previously?” demanded Teddy, imperatively.
“I can tell you that,” put in Polly, quickly. “He dined with Mrs. Berrow and myself at half-past seven, and went out at eight.”
“A short meal, my dear Polly.”
“He was worried, and ate very little.”
“Humph! He was worried. What about?”
“I don’t know. It wasn’t my business to question my employer.”
“Worried, eh?” Teddy noted this. “And he left the Manor House at eight. From there to this villa is but a short distance. He could walk it in a quarter of an hour. He did not come here until nine. Now then,” he looked sternly at his listeners, “what was Mr. Berrow doing during the remaining three-quarters of an hour?”
“I don’t know,” pouted Polly.
Teddy turned to Alice. “Did he tell you, Miss Marvel?”
“No,” replied Alice, perfectly composed, and knowing well what to say. “Mr. Berrow came here at nine, and asked me to marry him. I refused, and he went away at a quarter past nine. At ten I went out to fetch home my father, whom I thought was at The Builders’ Hall. However, I met him at the top of the High Street, coming from the office.”
“Why from the office, when you expected to find him in the hall?”
Alice explained about the pianist who had recovered, and how Marvel had gone to work at the office. “Then my father found that he had forgotten his spectacles,” she continued, “and we were going back for them when we found the body. The police came when I called out for help, and took charge of the corpse. Then my father and I came home.”
“Is that all?” asked Teddy, noting this evidence carefully.
Alice met his keen look steadily. “That is all,” she said, calmly. “Mr. Berrow never mentioned where he had been previous to his coming here, nor did he say where he was going.”
Teddy turned so suddenly on Polly that she jumped. “Did Mr. Berrow say when he would be home?”
“Oh, how you frightened me,” cried Polly, angrily. “Don’t be so sudden, Teddy. No. He simply rose from the table and went out. Mrs. Berrow and I went into the drawing-room, and I retired to bed at half-past eight with a headache.”
“And you’ll bring it on again,” snapped Miss Tait, “so inconsiderate as you are, Edward.”
“Don’t be cross, Polly. This is business.” He rose to go, and bowed to Alice. “Thank you, Miss Marvel, you have given me enough material to make an excellent paragraph. The idea that Mr. Berrow asked you to marry him is most romantic.”
“Don’t put that in,” cried Alice, quickly, and a vivid colour flushed her face.
“Why not? It adds so much to the interest of the crime. Berrow may have killed himself for love—no—it was murder, and not suicide. But someone who loved you may have murdered him, and—”
“Oh!” Alice clenched her hands. “How can you rattle on so, Mr. Smith? I am sorry I told you anything now. I don’t want that proposal of marriage put in, because Mr. Treffry would be angry.”
“Mr. Treffry?” said Polly. “Who is he, Alice?”
“The man I am engaged to be married to.”
“Oh!” Polly stared. “I knew that you were engaged, for poor Mr. Berrow told me. But this is the first time I have heard the name. Oh,” she looked wounded, “and we are such friends.”
“Never mind, dear,” said Alice, wearily. “I’ll tell you my romance later. Meanwhile, Mr. Smith, you can see my objection to having this proposal of marriage put in the papers, especially as Rupert—that is, Mr. Treffry—was with me last night, just before Mr. Berrow came.”
“Oh!” Out came Teddy’s notebook again. “Did Mr. Treffry meet with Mr. Berrow?”
“Yes. Just for a moment. Then Mr. Treffry went to see Mr. Mason Clyde about some business.”
“Humph!” said Smith, under his breath; “and Clyde’s office is in the High Street, where the body was found.”
Alice caught the words, low as they were uttered, and she rose in a royal rage. “How dare you speak like that?” she flamed out. “Do you dare to suggest that Mr. Treffry had anything to do with—”
“No! No; I am only thinking of a picturesque paragraph, and—”
“You shall not make up picturesque paragraphs at my expense,” interrupted Alice, regretting that she had been so open; “and please to consider this conversation private. What I say at the inquest will be what you will say in your paper.”
“Quite so,” protested Teddy. “But it will be in all the papers. Now, with this conversation with you I have got the inside track, and—”
“You can say as little as possible,” said Alice, relenting.
“Then I’ll leave out all about the proposal and the meeting of Mr. Treffry and Mr. Berrow, and—”
“That will do.” Alice rose, having gained her point. “And now you can take Polly away. You are not looking well, Polly,” she added, as she kissed the girl.
“I am quite well,” replied Miss Tait, with unnecessary vehemence. “It is only that my father is bothering me, as usual. He is hoping, now that Mr. Berrow is dead, that some money is left to him by the will.”
“Well, he was treated badly by Mr. Berrow’s father,” said Alice, reflectively, “and perhaps Evan, poor boy, has made amends. When is the will to be read?”
“On the day after the funeral,” said Polly, “Will you be there?”
Alice gave her one swift glance, and wondered if by chance Polly had heard of the latest will, from Evan Berrow. “Why should I be there?” she asked, coldly and cautiously.
“Mr. Berrow loved you, and he might have left you something.”
“I don’t think it is at all likely,” rejoined Alice. “Good-bye, dear.”
While this conversation was going on, Teddy Smith’s keen eyes were alternately glancing from one pretty face to the other. He saw that both Alice and Polly were confused, and concluded that they knew more than they chose to tell. Alice, he saw, would not talk any more, but he tried vainly to get some further information out of Miss Tait as they walked into Chadston. Polly, however, burst into tears when he pressed her, and declined to reply. This exhibition of weakness was so contrary to her usual character that Teddy became more suspicious than ever. Polly cut short further questioning by running away, and Mr. Smith went to the nearest hotel to drown his annoyance in whisky, and write his picturesque paragraph. It seemed absurd to him that Polly should know of anything connected with the case likely to cause a sensation, yet refuse to permit him to use it. The more early and startling information he could get before the public, the better would he be appreciated by his editor; therefore, Teddy was annoyed. Since Polly was to marry him, it seemed that she was—vulgarly speaking—cutting off her nose to spite her face. “I wonder what she knows?” reflected Mr. Smith, but could find no answer to the question.
He hoped that it would be answered at the inquest, which took place next day, but Polly said much the same as she had in the presence of Miss Marvel. Also Miss Marvel—suppressing the fact of the proposal—gave much the same evidence as she had done to Teddy. The facts elicited from the several witnesses by the Coroner were of the barest description. Evan Berrow had left his own house at eight, and had appeared at the villa at nine. He left there at a quarter past, and the next seen of him, he was lying dead at half-past ten in the High Street. There was absolutely no motive to be found why he should have been murdered.
The doctor who had examined the body deposed that the death had been caused by a large wound under the left shoulder blade. The man had been struck from behind, and must have died almost without a sound. No weapon could be found. The doctor also said that, as he examined the corpse fifteen minutes after its discovery by Miss Marvel, the man must have been killed three-quarters of an hour previously—say, at ten o’clock.
Marvel, who had steadied his nerves with several glasses of brandy, gave his evidence composedly enough. On leaving Clyde’s office, a few minutes after ten o’clock, he had walked up the High Street on his way home, but on the opposite side to that on which the body had been found. A blinding snowstorm prevailed at the time, therefore he saw nothing, and, in fact—as he stated emphatically—could not even see across the narrow road. He met his daughter, and returned to find his spectacles, which he had left on his desk. It was then that Miss Marvel and himself had chanced on the body, as she had stated.
Alice, with a pale face and a beating heart, looked steadily at her father, as he deliberately told what she knew to be a lie. He glanced stealthily in her direction, and a faint colour crept into his cheeks and his shifty eyes fell. But this momentary confusion passed unnoticed, and his evidence was accepted readily enough. It was with a sigh of relief that Alice saw him dismissed. Yet her heart was heavy, even though the immediate danger had passed. She could not help fearing that there was trouble ahead.
Mrs. Berrow, looking wonderfully young and pretty, appeared dressed in deep mourning. It would almost seem as though she had expected the death of her step-son, so accurately was she arrayed in the garb of woe. Her evidence was to the effect that Evan had no enemies, and had left the house in a calm, untroubled state of mind. He did not anticipate being killed, and she never heard him hint at any possibility of meeting with an early death. Mason Clyde also stated very frankly that his client was most popular, and was not likely to be murdered. He deposed that he had not set eyes on Evan Berrow on the night in question. He was working at his office late, and had been summoned therefrom by the police. Marvel, his clerk, had also staggered in with a report of the tragedy. Then witness had assisted the police to remove the body to the Manor House. He broke the news as gently as possible to Mrs. Berrow, who was—said Mason Clyde—sincerely attached to the dead man.
There were no other witnesses, and the Coroner summed up the evidence, which, as can be seen, was scanty enough. Berrow had been found dead, and there was nothing to show how he had come by his death. Alice Marvel apparently was the last person to see him, and there was nothing in what she said likely to reveal the truth. Perhaps if Alice had detailed Berrow’s wild talk of his step-mother’s desire to inherit the fortune the jury might have taken another and more decided attitude. As it was, the verdict given was to the effect that Evan Berrow had met his death at the hands of “some person or persons unknown.” The twelve good and lawful men could say no more and no less, on the evidence before them. And so the inquest ended, leaving the mystery of the murder as unfathomable as when the proceedings opened. Everyone left the Manor House, where the inquest had been held, in a dissatisfied state of mind. Yet no one could suggest the advisability of any other verdict being delivered.
As Alice stood at the door, while her father exchanged a few words with Clyde relative to business, she felt a touch on her arm. Mrs. Berrow was by her side, calm and composed, although her eyes showed traces of weeping.
“Evan will be buried to-morrow,” said Mrs. Berrow. “And afterwards the reading of the will takes place. I want you to be present.”
“Why?” asked Alice, abruptly.
Mrs. Berrow smiled significantly. “You may hear of something to your advantage.”
Alice was surprised at the request, and all the way home she wondered what possible advantage she was likely to obtain from hearing the will read. The second will, which left the money to her, was hidden away, and, according to Evan, Mrs. Berrow did not know of its existence. He had intended—as he told her at the villa—to tell his step-mother, but death had prevented his doing so. The will, then, which would be read would be that made three years ago in accordance with the instructions of the dwarf’s father, and Mrs. Berrow would inherit everything. Why, then, should she wish Alice to be present, since she had frequently shown that she had no love for the girl? Alice asked herself this question in vain.
Twice it was on the tip of her tongue to question her father about the second will, since he was one of the witnesses, and would be able to tell her the contents. It might be that he would know where it was to be found. But her knowledge of the lie told by Marvel prevented her speaking. Having an imaginative mind, Alice speedily built up a whole story of which the lie about the spectacles was the germ. Her father, knowing she would inherit, had killed Berrow, and had taken her down the High Street to find the corpse, so that all suspicion might be diverted from him. No one would ever think that a murderer would dare to act so boldly; and in the very boldness of taking anyone to the body of the victim would lie the safety. Then Alice rebuked herself for such fancies. Her father had assuredly spoken falsely, but he might have another reason than the one which so readily presented itself to her imagination. Lawrence Marvel was weak and easily led; he was fond of luxury, and would do much to gain money so as to gratify his artistic tastes. But Alice, when calmly considering the matter, could not think that he would wilfully murder one who had shown him kindness. Moreover, all these years since the death of her mother, Marvel had been kind and thoughtful, and in every way was devoted to his beautiful daughter. No! He could not be guilty, and yet—the doubt would ever present itself. It was then that Alice wished to have Rupert by her side, that she might ask what he thought.
But Rupert never appeared. He had promised to call at the villa the next morning, but had not presented himself. More, he had not written to explain the reason for his non-appearance. Even on the third day he still remained absent and silent. Alice could bear the strain no longer. She wanted someone to advise her, and Treffry, whom she loved, was the sole person in whom she could safely confide. While walking to the Manor House, to hear the will read, she called in at the Railway Hotel, where Rupert had been staying, and there learnt that he had left for London at seven in the morning.
“This morning?” she asked the waiter.
“No, miss. Yesterday morning. He took a cup of coffee, and caught the early train, saying he had important business in town.”
It was apparent that Rupert had left Chadston on the morning after the murder. And yet he had promised to call and see her. It was very strange.
“What time did Mr. Treffry come in on the previous night?” she asked, after a pause.
“About eleven o’clock, miss. I let him in myself.”
“Had he heard of Mr. Berrow’s murder?”
“I don’t think so, miss. He never said anything about it. And I didn’t hear of it myself, miss,” added the chatty waiter, “until nine next day, while Mr. Treffry left at seven.”
“Did he leave any note for me—for Miss Marvel?”
“No, miss. He was in too great a hurry to write.”
Alice gave the friendly waiter a shilling out of her lean purse, and walked on to the Manor House in a perplexed state of mind. The strange behaviour of Treffry puzzled her as much as did the action of her father; and the politeness of Mrs. Berrow, requesting her to be present at the reading of the will puzzled her still more. She seemed to be involved in a web of mysteries, and felt as helpless as an entangled fly. The more she thought the more puzzled she became; so very wisely she resolved to think no more, but to wait, as calmly as she could for the development of events. The reason why Mrs. Berrow wished her to be present would soon be made manifest, and Rupert would either return to explain, or write and account for his unforeseen absence. These two mysteries being solved, the reason for her father’s behaviour might be arrived at.
As though Mrs. Berrow wished to rid herself of Evan at once, no time had been lost in placing him in the vault where his father and mother reposed. The poor little man had been murdered on Monday, the inquest had been held on Tuesday, and by three o’clock on Wednesday the door of the vault was closed on the tiny body, which he had so hated. When Alice arrived at the Manor House the blinds were up, the butler who admitted her seemed sufficiently cheerful, and there were no signs of mourning in the great house. The king was dead, and the queen reigned, or was about to reign. The change from the old to the new had taken place with miraculous swiftness.
At the door Alice paused to look at the expanse of snow-covered park, where the gaunt, leafless trees stood up bleak and weird. She glanced up at the grey stone house, so ancient, yet beautiful in its antiquity. The walls were covered with ivy, and over the door was the escutcheon of the Tait family, which had been driven from a mansion wherein they and their ancestors had dwelt since the reign of Henry the Seventh. It was hard on Polly Tait that she should be a dependent in the very house where she ought to have been queen. No wonder Captain Tait, who alone represented the old family, was morose and savage at his exclusion from this paradise.
“I am so glad to see you, dear,” said Mrs. Berrow, when Alice entered the drawing-room. “Do sit down. Mr. Clyde will be here soon with the will.”
Miss Marvel’s brown eyes lingered searchingly on the fresh face of the lady who thus endearingly addressed her. Mrs. Berrow was a hard woman, and not given to terms of politeness, especially towards those members of her own sex who were pretty. Yet she was sufficiently pretty herself to prevent any petty jealousies of this kind. Tall and slim, extremely graceful, with small feet and slender white hands, she looked very aristocratic. Her hair was black, and carefully dressed; her skin a pale olive, and her lips vividly red. The worst part about her were her eyes, which were small, black, and hard in expression. But she carried herself well, and was almost constantly smiling. Her age was thirty, but she looked much younger, as she was a woman whose aim in life was to keep herself juvenile. A casual spectator would have thought her to be of a cold nature, and possessed of little affection. But Alice, with the shrewdness of one woman judging another, fancied that Mrs. Berrow was a slumbering volcano, and when aroused, either to love or hate, could be extremely demonstrative and violent.
“It is very kind of you to ask me here,” replied Alice, as Mrs. Berrow’s small dark eyes fell before her steady gaze; “and, indeed, I think it is rather unnecessary. There can be nothing in the will likely to interest me.”
“Oh, but indeed there is, Miss Marvel. Mr. Clyde hinted that it would be as well you should be present. Evan, poor boy, was fond of you, and I fancy he has not forgotten you in his will. He certainly said nothing to me, but I only obeyed the instructions of Mr. Clyde in asking you to be present. I really don’t know what form Evan’s legacy will take. You know Captain Tait, do you not?”
Mrs. Berrow seemed to break off at this point, to avoid entering into further explanations, and pointed towards a well-preserved man of fifty, who rose and bowed stiffly. Captain Tait looked a thorough gentleman, and was dressed to perfection, in a quiet and unassuming manner. His hair and moustache were white, and he wore the first cut extremely short and the latter twirled up smartly in military fashion. In the distance he looked about forty, and it was only when one was near that the myriad wrinkles which seamed his pale skin could be seen. He was stiff and haughty in manner, and apparently regarded everyone else as dirt beneath his feet. Yet Alice was sorry for him, as he stood under the roof which should have been his. It was hard, she thought, that he should be driven from his ancestral home.
Polly was with him, looking pretty and demure as usual, but hardly as aristocratic as her father. She took after her mother, who was the plebeian daughter of a wealthy grocer, and one who had brought money to the handsome, penniless Captain. Tait, in his usual manner, had soon got rid of the money, and his neglected wife shortly sought the next world, as more preferable to this one where she had to put up with the whims and fancies of a selfish husband. Tait was different from Lawrence Marvel, also left a widower, with one child. He had never troubled about Polly, and was perfectly willing that she should earn her own living by acting as Evan Berrow’s secretary. Also, as soon as Teddy Smith could support her, he was ready to hand her over in marriage. The man cared only for himself, and so long as he had the luxuries which he termed necessities, troubled very little about anyone. At the present moment he was living on what odd sums of money he could borrow from more wealthy relatives, and had come to hear the will read, in the hope of receiving a legacy. Considering how Berrow the elder had swindled him over the transfer of the Chadston estate, it would only be justice for Berrow the younger to make amends.
There were also present one or two friends of the family, but no relative of either the Berrow family or the step-mother. Evan had no relations, and Mrs. Berrow’s parents had long since been dead. She moved amongst the friends on this occasion, talking in low voice about her step-son’s many virtues. That she had never discovered these, or commented upon them, during his life did not trouble her. To praise the dead was part of the business connected with the funeral, and Mrs. Berrow was great at observing the rules of society. She played her sorrowing part well enough to deceive many, but Alice saw through the shallow pretence. That conversation with Evan previous to his death had opened her eyes to Mrs. Berrow’s real character.
Mason Clyde duly arrived with the will in his pocket. He was a tall, bulky man, with a round, fat face, and china-blue eyes, like those of a Persian cat. His red lips—and they were extremely red—always wore a smile, and he had soft, white hands, which he constantly rubbed together in an obsequious way. Bland, smiling, with a slow, heavy, rich voice, and a deferential manner, Clyde impressed people with the idea that he was all heart and generosity. But some clients could have told a different tale.
“The will is very short,” he said, opening out the document, and glancing towards the end of the room, where the servants had now assembled. “My late client, in deference to the express wishes of his deceased father, instructed me to draw up this will three years ago, and did not see fit to alter it. I shall now proceed to read it. But I may add,” continued Clyde, clearing his throat, “that Mr. Berrow made a codicil two months ago, which will prove of interest to some one here.”
Captain Tait brightened. Had Berrow remembered what was due to him, and would he receive a sum of money? In his selfishness he never thought that the codicil could refer to any one but himself. Had he been more observant he would have noted the look which Mrs. Berrow shot at Alice Marvel. The girl herself caught it, and knew as well as though the matter had been explained that the codicil concerned herself.
Clyde read the will slowly, and in a dramatic manner. It was very short, as he had stated. A few legacies were left to those servants who had been long in the Berrow family, and some small bequests were given to intimate friends. But the whole of the property was left unreservedly to Mrs. Berrow. Every one looked enviously towards that lady, who was now the undisputed mistress of ten thousand a year. She smiled faintly when Clyde ended, and murmured something about making good use of the money. Alice smiled contemptuously. She knew very well that Mrs. Berrow was no philanthropist, and would spend every penny upon herself.
“We now come to the codicil,” said Clyde, “which concerns Miss Alice Marvel—”
“And me,” broke in Captain Tait.
Clyde looked towards the man blandly. “I do not see your name, sir,” he said, without emotion. “My client mentions that of Miss Marvel only. He leaves her an income of three hundred a year, on condition that she and her father go to Australia within six months. The wording of this codicil is as follows—”
But, Alice did not allow him to proceed. “Why did Evan—I mean Mr. Berrow—wish me to go to Australia?”
“I cannot say,” replied Clyde, blandly; “but the codicil is plain, my dear young lady. If you and Mr. Marvel go to Australia within six months, you will receive three hundred a year for the rest of your life.”
“And when can we return?” she demanded.
“Never,” answered the lawyer, and again Alice caught the gleam of Mrs. Berrow’s eyes. Clyde hurriedly read the codicil, which set forth the condition he mentioned, and then looked at Alice. “Do you consent?”
“I must have time to think,” she said, faintly. “It was good of Mr. Berrow to remember me, but—”
“But he should have remembered me also,” broke in Tait, indignantly. “There is nothing left either to me or to my daughter. Yet you know, Clyde, how Berrow’s father treated me. Shameful!”
He rose to denounce the dead, and doubtless would have said more than was decent but that an interruption came. The door of the room opened, and on the threshold stood the small figure of a man, arrayed in a yellow oilskin coat, with a sou’-wester hat. It might have been Evan Berrow returned to hear the reading of his own will.
“This is the heir to the property,” said a loud, domineering voice, and from behind the yellow hunchback stepped a strange figure.
At first those within the room took the figure which loomed up suddenly behind the hunchback to be that of a man, but a second glance at its gaudy skirts showed that it could only be that of a woman. The lady in question bulked a veritable giantess, over six feet in height and stout in proportion, with a large, full-moon face. At one time this must have been handsome, but a network of wrinkles covered the smooth texture of the skin, and wind, rain, sun and fogs had spoilt the complexion. The mouth of this extraordinary person was hard, and drooped at the corners, to indicate a superlatively bad temper. She also had searing black eyes, aggressive and unwinking, and rough quantities of coarse, black hair, scarcely touched with grey, although she was by no means young.
“Miss Tudor-Stuart, of the Principal London Theatres,” announced the Amazon, in capital letters. No one answered, but the eyes of all wandered from the speaker to her tiny companion. Dwarf and giantess, strangely garbed, pathetically lean, they looked a queer couple, and quite alien to their surroundings.
Miss Tudor-Stuart, as she called herself, was arrayed in a bright green skirt, made short so as to show neat brown shoes and open-work stockings quite unsuited to the severe December weather. She wore an old scarlet jacket, probably the cast-off wear of a soldier, and this was bound with a brown leather belt. To add to the military looks of the jacket, several medals were displayed on the ample bosom of the wearer. The lady also wore white kid gloves, decidedly dirty, a pair of ear-rings set with turquoise stones, innumerable rings, and bangles and necklaces and cheap jewelled combs. Carrying herself very erect, with her head flung back and her dark eyes snapping fire, she marched into the centre of the drawing-room, driving before her the odd little man in yellow. Behind stole, with the step of a cat, a slim, red-haired girl, freckled-faced, white-faced, with greenish eyes, and a humble, fawning manner. The dwarf himself, but that he was dressed in his seaman’s rough-weather costume, looked exactly like the little creature who had but a few hours before been safely sealed in the family vault. The looks of the trio were so uncanny, and their appearance was so sudden, that every one gasped and silently stared. Mrs. Berrow was the first to recover her tongue, and she addressed herself to no one in particular. “Who are these creatures?” demanded the mistress of the house.
“Creature yourself,” snapped Miss Tudor-Stuart, with the fierceness of a grenadier. “Don’t you insult one who has been the favourite of the West End, and who has known dukes and earls and baronets by the dozen.”
“What do you want?” asked Clyde, and signing to the angry Mrs. Berrow to hold her somewhat rash tongue. It was useless to provoke so gigantic a female to show her physical strength, and she did not appear to possess much self-control.
“The money that Evan has left to his cousin,” retorted Miss Tudor-Stuart, with a defiant air.
“Cousin!” cried Mrs. Berrow, the blood suddenly leaving her cheeks, in spite of her anger. “Evan had no cousin.”
“What do you call this?” said the Amazon, and pushed forward the timid, unwilling dwarf, who shifted uneasily from one leg to the other.
“I should say it was Evan Berrow returned to life,” murmured Alice, amazed by the resemblance to the dead. Then, remembering what Rupert had said, added, aloud: “Are you not the yellow hunchback?”
“Don’t you call him names, miss,” growled the giantess. “Ben, find a seat for yourself. I’ll have this,” and she dropped into the most comfortable armchair which was within reach. “Ruth,” she nodded to the freckled girl, who watched the scene through the down-drooping, white eyelids over observant emerald eyes, “stand behind me. Mamma is going to see this thing through.”
“Where are the servants?” said Mrs. Berrow becoming red again, and quite taken aback by the extraordinary behaviour of this queer female. “I protest—”
“Protest as much as you like,” snapped the ogress, and reaching forward she caught the dwarf by the scruff of the neck, to drop him into a near chair. There he sat dangling a pair of helpless legs, and flushing painfully. “Now,” added Miss Tudor-Stuart, crossing her long legs in a gentlemanly way, “do justice, Mr. Lawyer.”
“The police should be called in,” said Captain Tait, indignantly, and examining the trio through his eye-glass.
Miss Tudor-Stuart flung a disdainful glance at him over the shoulder of her military coat. “To arrest you?” she queried. “Don’t be alarmed; you’ll be arrested soon enough.”
“What does the woman mean?” asked the angry Captain, fiercely.
“What, indeed?” was the enigmatic reply. “Ben, state your case, and make no mistake, or I’ll take the skin off you.”
The dwarf shot an angry glance at the maker of this polite speech, and winced under the direct gaze of Alice Marvel. All the same, he obeyed the Amazon’s instructions, and rose to speak. Mrs. Berrow, who had been talking rapidly to the lawyer, turned towards the group of amazed and amused servants at the door, and waved her hand. “Turn that woman out,” she commanded.
Miss Tudor-Stuart sent one fiery glance at the first person who moved, and he immediately retreated, with the look of a man who had been asked to shift a bulldog. Then she turned her head, and stared Mrs. Berrow up and down. “Here I am, and here I stay, my good lady,” she said, coolly, “until I know what money has been left to me and Ben.”
“What claim have you?” began Mason Clyde, when the large lady cut him short by nodding towards the hunchback.
“State your case, Ben,” she said, vigorously. “When you fail, mamma will come in.”
Again the dwarf essayed to speak, and again Mrs. Berrow interrupted, sharply. “Worthing,” she cried to the butler, “you had no right to allow these creatures in.”
“Keep that false hair of yours on, ma’am,” said Miss Tudor-Stuart, aggravatingly, “and don’t blame the flunkey for what he didn’t do. All the servants were in this room, and we found the hall door open. So we walked in, and we sat down, and we don’t move till mamma, which is me, my dear, gives the word. And that won’t be, in spite of your glares and airs, until we learn all about the money.”
Mrs. Berrow would have spoken, but that Clyde, seeing it was best to deal quietly with this domineering female, bent forward. “Pardon me, my dear lady,” he said, in his unctuous voice, and addressing his hostess, “but it will be better to let these people speak.”
“Much better,” snorted the Amazon, grimly.
“I confess,” went on Mason Clyde, waving his eyeglass, “that I am amazed at the resemblance borne by this—this—”
“Crossing-sweeper,” put in Alice, quietly, whereupon Miss Tudor-Stuart turned on her sharply.
“How do you know that, miss?”
“A friend of mine, Mr. Treffry, saw this sweeper, near the railway station, on the evening when Mr. Berrow was murdered, and gave him some money. Am I not right?” she added, looking at the hunchback.
He nodded, with a curious smile, and Alice started, so close was the likeness between the living and the dead. “You are right, miss,” said the hunchback, in a harsh, croaking voice. “A gentleman did give me money on that evening. I remember, because he gave me half-a-crown. As I mostly get pennies, you can’t wonder that I remember a gentleman so liberal. A tall, fair gentleman, miss, with blue eyes, and—”
“This,” interrupted Miss Tudor-Stuart, impatiently, “is not cricket.”
“What does the creature mean?” asked Captain Tait.
“Creature!” shouted the giantess, starting up, tall and angry. “If you call me names, I’ll shake all the false teeth out of your lean jaw, you shoddy Methuselah!”
The Captain spluttered with rage, and Polly looked as though she were inclined to defend her father. But Clyde, anxious to end the scene, interfered. “Send the servants away, Mrs. Berrow,” he entreated, “and then we may arrive at some understanding as to what these people want.”
“People is better,” grunted the giantess, “but still rude. Suburban manners, I suppose. I belong to the West End myself.”
Mrs. Berrow took no notice of this speech, but nodded towards Worthing, the butler, who at once removed the deeply-interested servants from the room. When the door was closed she turned towards the uninvited guest and spoke sharply. “Say what you have to say, and leave!”
Miss Tudor-Stuart laughed insolently. “You may have to leave yourself, my dear. Ben, give her a shock.”
Obediently the dwarf slipped off his chair. He seemed to be completely under the dominion of the lady who called herself “Mamma,” and frequently looked towards her, as though for guidance. “I am the cousin of the late Mr. Evan Berrow,” he declared, in his harsh voice. “My father is dead, and this is my mother. I am Benjamin Berrow, and the heir to the property.”
“Which you will get, my love, if mamma can manage it,” said the ogress; “and you may mention that this,” she tugged at the girl’s arm, “is your foster-sister, Ruth, which mamma adopted out of sheer compassion.”
“This is ridiculous,” said Mrs. Berrow.
The dwarf turned on her with a determined air, which contrasted strongly with his previous timidity. “I speak the truth,” he declared. “Evan was my cousin. When I was sweeping a crossing in Whitechapel he came to see me, about three weeks ago, and—”
“Had he ever seen you before?” asked the lawyer, quickly.
“No. We never met, nor had I ever heard of him before. I never knew that I had a cousin. But Evan came—he told me to call him Evan—as we were cousins—and wanted me to come to Chadston, where he promised to look after me. But mamma would not let me go.”
“Certainly not,” said Miss Tudor-Stuart, with a snort, “because Evan Berrow refused to let me have a pension if I dispensed with the earnings of Ben here. I go round with Ruth and an organ,” she explained, graciously, to her hearers, “and what with my earnings and Ben’s crossing-sweeping money, we get on fairly well, though not sufficiently wealthy to live in the style to which I was accustomed in my glorious youth. I am a lady, and—”
“Here, come to the point,” interrupted Clyde, losing his habitual politeness. “What do you know of Evan Berrow?”
“Nothing. I never heard of him until three weeks ago,” retorted the woman alertly. “He came to our humble home in Whitechapel, and wanted Ben to leave me, and live at Chadston—as his poor relation, I suppose. Being Ben’s mother, I naturally wanted a pension to enable me to live as I was used to live when supping with dukes and earls. But Evan Berrow refused, and went away. The day before he was killed—I know the date from the papers, which I read to improve my mind—a letter came from him asking Ben to meet him near the Chadston railway station. No money was sent, but I thought that something might come of the matter, so I let Ben go. He had to walk all the way, which was not agreeable, seeing the poor beast is a hunchback.”
Ben winced at this cruel speech, and turned pale. But at a pitying glance from Alice the colour returned to his face, and he took up the story in a defiant manner. “I carried my broom,” he said, “just to earn money on the way by sweeping people’s doorsteps. I got to Chadston early in the evening on Monday—about five—and waited near the railway station, as directed. There I swept the crossing free of snow, and Mr. Treffry,” he glanced towards Alice, “gave me half-a-crown. I waited for Mr. Berrow, but he did not come, so I went to sleep at Ruth’s grandmother’s, who lives in Chadston. Early next morning I went back to Whitechapel—about seven. I took the train back, as I had made money in Chadston.”
“Then you did not see Mr. Berrow?” asked Clyde, anxiously.
“No. He never kept his promise. I don’t know why he asked me to come here.”
“I do,” snorted Miss Tudor-Stuart, folding her arms tightly. “Evan knew he would die, and intended to make you his heir.”
“How do you know that Mr. Berrow knew he would die?” asked Mrs. Berrow.
“Because he told me when at Whitechapel that he had enemies,” and the Amazon eyed Mrs. Berrow so significantly that the lady coloured, and did not ask further questions.
Mason Clyde thought for a few moments before replying. “I do not know what Mr. Berrow’s intentions may have been,” he said, after a deliberate pause, “but it was out of his power to make this person,” he indicated the dwarf with a disdainful wave of the hand, “his heir. By the wish of the late Mr. Berrow’s father, the money was left to Mrs. Berrow,” he bowed to that lady, “and the will was made some three years ago, before Mr. Evan Berrow—as I understand—was aware of the existence of a cousin.”
“He is a cousin,” said Miss Tudor-Stuart, sharply. “I married a relative of Evan’s father, and Ben is my son.”
“How can we be sure of that?” asked Clyde.
“Look at him,” Miss Tudor-Stuart pointed to the shrinking dwarf. “Is not he the image of the little man who came to see me in Whitechapel?”
“Yes, yes,” assented Mrs. Berrow, quickly, “but my husband never said to me that he had any relative. And, granting that he had a relative,” she added, emphatically, “are you the wife of that relative?”
“I can produce my marriage certificate,” said the Amazon, wrathfully. “Don’t you dare to say that I am what I am not. I have always been honest, in spite of dukes and earls, and the rest of them. I am Mrs. Berrow—Mrs. Arthur Berrow.”
“Ridiculous,” cried the other owner of the title.
“It’s you who are ridiculous,” shouted the Amazon, “you painted, dyed Jezebel!”
“If you talk like that I’ll call in the police.”
“Call them in. I’m used to them. I know the police, and the police know me.”
She threw herself back with a defiant laugh, and Clyde rose to his feet. “Whatever you are,” he said, sharply, “you are quite mistaken in thinking that you, or your son, will get any money. The property has been left by will to Mrs. Berrow here.”
“And I get nothing?” said Miss Tudor-Stuart, in dismay.
“Nothing. So I think you had better go.”
“Isn’t there a reward?” asked Mrs. Berrow, anticipating Clyde.
“For the discovery of the murderer.”
“I shall offer five hundred pounds, and—”
The Amazon jumped up with a shout of glee.
“It’s mine!” she said, slapping her pocket. “When I saw in the papers about the murder I came here, with Ben and Ruth, to see Ruth’s grandmother. The old woman found something near the scene of the crime in High Street. Ruth, produce what you have. Then we’ll get five hundred pounds, and I’ll take it. You shall have ten pounds to yourself, to share with your grandmother.”
The red-haired girl brought out of her pocket a long knife, with a barbarically carved handle, and threw it on a nearby table. “This!” said Miss Tudor-Stuart, dramatically, “is the knife which killed Evan Berrow!”
There was a dramatic pause, and every one eyed the knife as though it was a serpent. Alice, still fearful lest her father should know too much, leant forward to see it plainly. The weapon was very strange, and very dangerous—just the kind which would inflict the cruel wound which had killed the poor dwarf. A long, thin blade of shining steel; it had a queerly carved handle of white wood, on which meandered strange grotesque signs. These were filled in with pigments, red and blue and yellow and black, so that the whole handle was covered with a nightmare pattern. While every one stared, Miss Tudor-Stuart flourished her arms theatrically, and acted the part of show-woman.
“Granny Rayner,” she said, in her deep, harsh voice, “is Ruth’s grandmother, and lives in Chadston, where she is known locally as Mrs. Brandyface, from a partiality for the bottle. She gets her living by begging and picking up what she can get, and went out on Monday night—when the crime was committed—to see if she could get anything from people leaving the Animated Picture Show. She didn’t have much luck, but went home with enough to get her some drink. She went down the High Street, that being on the way to her home.”
“At what time?” asked the lawyer, who was listening intently.
“At a quarter past ten,” said Miss Tudor-Stuart. “Oh! I know how to ask questions, when there’s money in the case.”
“Why didn’t this old woman come forward, Mrs.—Mrs.—”
“Rayner, better known as Mrs. Brandyface,” said the Amazon. “She didn’t come forward because she fears the police. She saw the body in the snow, and the knife was lying near it. But she was afraid, lest she should be accused, and so took the knife home. Ruth found it in her grandmother’s bed. There’s blood on the handle, and on the blade, which is rusty,” said Miss Tudor-Stuart, with relish. “Oh, Evan Berrow was killed with that knife, sure enough.”
“It looks like a foreign knife,” said Alice musingly.
“African,” said the Amazon, who seemed determined that no one but herself should speak. “Here’s a native face carved on the handle, and a serpent, which is an African beast, and a—”
“Perhaps it’s a sacrificial knife,” said the lawyer, suddenly, and recoiling with repugnance from the uncanny weapon. “I have seen knives like that which came from the Gold Coast, and which were used in Voodoo worship.”
“Then this comes from the Gold Coast also,” said Miss Tudor-Stuart, clapping her huge hands. “Find the man who brought it, and you find the murderer. I’ll take the five hundred in gold,” she ended, with an air of satisfaction.
“You go too fast,” said Mrs. Berrow, coldly. “We do not yet know how this knife from Africa—if it is from Africa—came to be in the High Street.”
“It was brought by the murderer.”
“But who would come from Africa to kill poor Evan?”
“That’s what we have to find out,” said Clyde, shaking his head, “and a very difficult thing it will be to do. I’ll take this”—he laid his hands with some shrinking on the knife—“to the police.”
Mrs. Berrow started up and winced. “No!”
“Yes! Yes!!” cried Miss Tudor-Stuart. “I want the money.”
Mrs. Berrow took no notice of the interruption, but went on addressing Clyde. “Don’t do anything rash,” she said, vehemently, and Alice Marvel was puzzled to see how moved she was. “Keep the knife beside you until we know the truth.”
“The police will find it better than we should.”
“No, I tell you no. Miss Marvel,” she turned to Alice, “do you not think it will be better to keep this discovery secret until we learn more?”
Alice was amazed at this appeal. “Really,” she stammered, “it is difficult to say. I can offer no advice.”
“You’ll be sorry that you said that,” panted Mrs. Berrow. “Mr. Clyde, I beg of you not to show this to the police yet.”
“Ha!” said Miss Tudor-Stuart, suddenly, and pointing a large finger at the widow. “Are you guilty?”
“You fool!” Mrs. Berrow turned on the giantess with a snarl. “Were I guilty I should keep silence! Don’t speak a word,” she made a quick gesture, “but leave the room.”
“Then I’ll not pay you the reward.”
Miss Tudor-Stuart quailed, strong woman as she was. The aim of her visit was to get money, and she did not care to offend the person who could give it to her. The will gave everything to Mrs. Berrow, therefore, Mrs. Berrow was the person to conciliate. The Amazon was a coarse, vulgar bully, but she knew how to play the slave as well as the tyrant. “Very well, ma’am,” she said, submissively, and rose to go. “Ben, Ruth, this isn’t any place for us. Come along, my dears. We will be found at Mrs. Brandyface’s flat in 6, Tooker’s Alley,” she ended, turning fawningly to Mrs. Berrow; and then reassuming the tyrant, turned to drive out the dwarf and the red-haired girl.
“One moment,” said Clyde, stopping the girl, who had been so silent and observant. “Who does your grandmother say she saw when she picked up the knife? Was any one near—did she catch sight of any person, man or woman, leaving the spot, and–––”
The girl shook her head, touched her mouth, and then crossed her slim hands on her breast. Unable to interpret this pantomime, Clyde looked at her in astonishment. Miss Tudor-Stuart came striding back, and laid her big hand on the slender shoulder of Ruth. “She’s a dumby,” said the Amazon.
“Dumb!” cried Alice, with a look of pity. “Oh, poor thing!”
“Not at all, miss. Ruth’s deafness and dumbness gets her many a penny when people with their rightful organs would starve.”
“Don’t be horrible,” said Mrs. Berrow.
“Certainly not, my lady,” said Miss Tudor-Stuart, meekly, but the flash in her eyes showed that, but for the money, she would be as insolent as she knew how. “Ben! Ruth! Don’t forget, my lady, that we stop at Mrs. Brandyface’s flat, 6, Tooker’s Alley, Chadston. I have the organ with me. Ruth works the music, and I dance like a fairy; so we intend to see what we can do in this suburb. Ben meanwhile can sweep the station crossing, which is a good pitch, and is going begging. Why, I don’t know, as there’s money in it. But there,” Miss Tudor-Stuart again became scornful, “these suburban people don’t know what’s good.”
“I’ll come and see you at 6, Tooker’s Alley,” said Clyde, as she drove the dwarf and the girl towards the door.
“And you’ll take the knife to the police, sir?”
“No,” said Clyde, hesitatingly. “I’ll keep it for a time. And you had better hold your tongue about it till I speak.”
“Of course,” said the Amazon. “I don’t care about talking to the police. Low fellows, who don’t know how to take a real lady to gaol!”
“Go away—go away—and don’t dare to come here again,” said Mrs. Berrow, vehemently.
“I’ll come for the five hundred,” said Miss Tudor-Stuart, again becoming her old self. “And if I don’t get it—” She shook a gigantic fist in the air, and pushed Ben and Ruth through the door. As suddenly as they had entered, so suddenly did they disappear, and the company left behind them might have thought the whole appearance of the trio a grotesque nightmare but for the undeniable presence of the cruel, barbaric knife. Captain Tait twirled his moustache, and turned to Polly.
“This will be a pleasant story for young Smith, my dear.”
Polly nodded. “Teddy will make a splendid article out of it.”
“Mr. Smith will do nothing of the sort,” broke in Mrs. Berrow, angrily. “If you want to stop on as my companion, Miss Tait, you had better hold your tongue. I can rely on the gentlemanly instinct of Captain Tait,” and she bowed graciously.
The Captain looked puzzled. Mrs. Berrow was not usually so gracious to him, and with the instinct of an old warrior he scented danger. However, he made no promise, but held his peace, thinking that silence was the best policy under such perplexing circumstances.
Alice rose to go, as did the Captain and his daughter. But Clyde, who had been thinking, made a sign that they should stay. “On the whole,” he said, heavily, “and after reflection, I agree with Mrs. Berrow that it will be best to suppress our knowledge of this discovery for the present. Should we warn the police, and hand over the knife, the police will be sure to blunder, and then the assassin may get away. Silence on our parts may make him careless, and he may thus betray himself. What do you think?”
“I agree with you,” chimed in Mrs. Berrow, eagerly, seemingly forgetting that he was simply placing her thoughts in other words. Alice glanced sideways at her, and wondered why she was so anxious to conceal this vital piece of evidence, which would undoubtedly go far to indicate the assassin of her step-son. Again she recalled Evan’s plain speaking regarding his step-mother’s desire for his death, so that she might enjoy the money. Could it be possible that Mrs. Berrow knew the truth, and was trying to screen the murderer? If so, who was the person she was screening? The thought, however, was so monstrous that Alice hastily rejected it. It seemed incredible that the smooth-faced, smiling, pretty woman could consent to so evil a crime. Moreover, Alice yet lingeringly thought—on the evidence of the spectacles which were never left at the office—that her father had something to do with the matter. The mere thought made her shudder, but she forced down the momentary feeling, and assented, as did Captain Tait and Polly, to Clyde’s suggestion. When the party separated it was fully agreed that no mention of the knife was to be made.
For some distance the ways of Tait and Alice were the same. Polly, of course, was left behind, as she still continued to live with Mrs. Berrow, and by a new arrangement had been transformed from the secretary of the dead man into the companion of the widow. Tait walked along, slim and well got up, extremely smart, and looking considerably younger than his years. He did not seem to be in a good temper, and replied shortly to Miss Marvel’s speeches. After a time, however, his face cleared, and he spoke his thoughts aloud. “By gad! I’ll marry her,” said the Captain, determinedly.
“Marry who?” asked Alice, wondering at the unexpectedness of the remark. “Of whom are you talking, Captain Tait?”
“Humph!” said Tait, somewhat disconcerted. “I didn’t know that I spoke aloud. Why, of Mrs. Berrow, of course. I don’t mind speaking plainly to you, Alice, as I have known you ever since you were a child, and a very pretty child you were, by George! I talk of Mrs. Berrow. She is rich, and possesses the ancestral home of my family. I don’t see why I shouldn’t marry her.”
“Well,” cried the Captain, offended. “I may be older than she is, but I don’t look my years, hang them! I’d make her a good husband.”
Alice had her own opinion on this score, as she had heard from Polly of the Captain’s married life. Also she knew he was selfish and vain, and quite unlikely to make any woman happy. Even the least exacting woman would have found it difficult to live in peace with such a slave-driver as Captain Tait.
“You can but ask her,” was all she could find to say.
“I shall ask her,” said Tait. “And between you and me, I have asked her. Yes! I knew she would get this money, so this morning, immediately before the funeral, I said that I should like to make her Mrs. Tait.”
“And her answer?”
“She said that if I found out who killed Evan she would consider the matter. You see, she doesn’t say yes; on the other hand, she certainly doesn’t say no. If that stupid Evan had only made me a decent recompense for the wrongdoing of his father I should not have bothered any more about the matter, as I am quite content to be a bachelor. But now that nothing is left to me, I shall see if I can’t fulfil Mrs. Berrow’s condition, and marry her. She has at least ten thousand a year, and I have as many pence.”
“How will you set about fulfilling the condition?”
“Humph! I can’t say yet. I never tried any detective business, and to hunt down this very clever assassin is no easy job. Certainly, the discovery of the knife by that awful female makes things easier. You see, the man who owns such a weapon must certainly have brought it from foreign parts. Now, that knife is certainly a fetish knife, such as is used to kill the victims of Obi. I’ll start from that point. If I can find any one who came from America or Africa, or the West Indies, I’ll see if I can fix the blame on him. By Jove!” grumbled the Captain, swaggering off after touching his hat to Alice, “it’s uncommon hard at my age to satisfy a woman’s whims. But if I want to marry the ten thousand a year I must. Wait till Mrs. Berrow is Mrs. Tait,” and with this ominous threat Tait walked away briskly, the ideal of a selfish man.
Alice stood where she was, at the corner of the street leading to her father’s villa. It was growing dusk, and the snow glimmered in a spectral manner. All at once it occurred to her that Rupert had come from the West Indies—from Jamaica. He had met Evan; he did not like Evan, and to be plain, was jealous of Evan. What if, in a fit of rage, he had— “But it is impossible,” she said aloud, and turned to go home.
A figure rose suddenly beside her. It was the yellow hunchback, who had approached noiselessly in the snow. He pointed a weird finger at her, and croaked out slowly: “You want to know who killed Evan Berrow. It was your lover, Rupert Treffry!”
How Alice reached home she scarcely knew. The sudden appearance of the hunchback was followed immediately by his disappearance. He had presented himself before her in the dusk, as unexpectedly and noiselessly as a ghost, and had vanished in an uncanny way. And his message, which fitted in so cruelly with her thoughts of the moment, had been one of doom and despair. Alice staggered into the ugly sitting-room, with but one horrible thought dominating her brain. Rupert Treffry had killed the dwarf.
“My dear child,” cried Lawrence Marvel, who was seated at the piano, “what is the matter?”
Alice waved him aside and sank into the very chair which had been occupied by her lover. Almost as she sat down she realised the fact, and with a smothered ejaculation, which further disturbed her father, hastily crossed to the sofa.
“It is nothing,” she said, faintly, pressing her handkerchief to her pale lips, “I am a trifle weary.”
“Is that all?”
Marvel appeared to be disappointed with the reply. She could not see his face very clearly, as he had been playing odds and ends of music with only the firelight for illumination, but she gathered from the tone of his voice that he had expected good news.
At once it flashed across her too suspicious mind how Evan had made a new will in her favour, and how—before the communication of the hunchback—she had suspected her father. What if Marvel had known of the new will? What if he expected to hear that she had inherited ten thousand a year? What if to gain the same he had—but, no, it was impossible. Rupert was the guilty person, and she had wrongly credited her father with a crime which he had not committed.
“What did you expect to hear?” she asked abruptly.
“That poor young Berrow had left you some money,” was the reply
“Why should he do that?”
Lawrence shrugged his spare shoulders, and busied himself with lighting the lamp. “Young Berrow loved you,” he explained, in his thin voice, “and he did not love his step-mother. I know from what Clyde said that the estate goes to Mrs. Berrow, by an arrangement with her late husband. But I fancied that young Berrow might have left you a trifle.”
Alice loosened her jacket and took off her hat. “I certainly was mentioned in the will,” she said, thoughtfully.
“Yes”; her father’s hands trembled as he placed the globe on the lamp; “you are mentioned in the will?”
“If you and I go to Australia within six months I receive three hundred a year for life.”
Marvel sat down and placed his slim hands on his knees, staring straight before him, but not at Alice. He was lean and haggard in looks, with a thin, white face, scanty fair hair and two watery blue eyes. He was not bad-looking, considering his years, and indulgence in alcohol, but his weak nature could be seen in his shifting eyes and slack, tremulous mouth. Alice resembled him somewhat; but where her father was weak she was firm, where he was excitable she was calm, and, of course, she possessed the beauty of youth to place against his premature age. For premature it was, owing to self-indulgence and pessimistic thoughts. Lawrence Marvel looked very old and weary as he sat huddled in the chair, staring through the murky atmosphere created by the yellow light of the smoky lamp. Alice, remorseful for her late thoughts, was seized with compassion for his age and frailty.
“Oh, father,” she breathed, with a weary sigh—“oh, father, what are we to do?”
“Whatever you like, my dear,” said Marvel, after a pause. “Heaven knows I am tired of this sordid life. But for that,” he pointed to the piano, “and but for you, my dear child, I should wish to die. Oh, my Alice, how I wish you had married young Berrow. Then you would have had all the money.”
“I did not love Evan, father, and you know that I am engaged to Rupert. I suppose,” she looked down at the hat on her knees, “I suppose there is no chance of my getting all the money now?”
She asked the question purposely, anxious to learn if her father was aware of the existence of the new will, of which Evan had informed her. His answer reassured her.
“Of course not,” he replied, readily enough. “Young Berrow made his will in accordance with the wishes of his late father, and thus Mrs. Berrow takes the estate and the ten thousand a year. But had you married young Berrow that will would have been rendered invalid, and he would have made a new one in your favour.” There was a pause, and then Marvel looked up with an inquiring expression.
“What is it?” she asked, rising to put away her jacket and hat.
“About this three hundred a year; will you accept?”
“It means our going to Australia and never returning,” Alice reminded him.
Marvel shrugged his shoulders. “One can die out there as easily as here,” he said, indifferently, “and with a lovely climate and an assured income we should certainly be more comfortable.”
“What about Rupert?” she demanded, in low tones.
“I quite forgot Rupert. Alice, my dear, I am sadly selfish. Settle the matter as you will. So long as you are happy I am satisfied.”
“Oh,” the girl clasped her hands, “shall I ever be happy again?”
“Certainly, when you marry the man you love.”
“Perhaps I may never marry him.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Marvel quickly, and stared.
Alice reflected. Would it be wise to tell her father what the hunchback had told her? She could not be quite sure. There still lingered in her mind the suspicion that her father knew more about the crime than he chose to confess. Perhaps he could tell her if Rupert was guilty. Yet, on the other hand, the dwarf might have merely made a statement without being able to substantiate the same, although she could guess no reason why he should so malign an innocent man. On the whole, after rapid reflection, Alice thought she would ask her father a plain question or two and confide in him. He might be able to throw light on what was certainly a very dark subject.
“Will you tell me something?” she asked, replying to one question by asking another.
Marvel started. “What is it?” he asked, uneasily.
“Why did you take me down the High Street?”
“I told you how I left my spectacles at the office.”
“Yes; and you told the Coroner that also. But you know, as I do, father, that your spectacles were in your pocket.”
“I assure you, my dear,” began the man, stuttering, when she interrupted—
“Father, I know that I am speaking the truth. When you staggered late that night into the office to tell Mr. Clyde that Evan was dead, I followed. I waited at the door, and I never saw you take up any article. You simply told him what had happened, and came out to join me. All the same,” she leant forward, “you produced your spectacles when you came home.”
“Yes. I found them in my pocket. But I really thought that I had left them at the office.”
“You might have done so when you met me,” she retorted, “but why did you repeat the lie to the Coroner when you knew the truth?”
Marvel grew red. “Alice, how dare you accuse your father of uttering a lie!” he demanded, indignantly; but his voice shook.
“Because it is one,” she said, quickly. “Father, you know that I love you very dearly, and you know also how anxious I am about your weakness. I thought that you might have been drinking on that night and might have—might have—”
“Killed the man!” he said, with a gasp.
“No, no! I never thought that. Whatever suspicion I may have had owing to the lie you told, I am perfectly sure now that you are innocent. But”—she leant forward again—“you might know something of the truth.”
With a fine assumption of anger Marvel arose. “And this is my child—my own child,” he cried, apostrophising the ceiling, “for whom I have slaved and worked ever since her mother died. She accuses me of murder.”
“No—no, I don’t accuse you. I know too much to accuse you.”
Marvel turned on her, shaking with anger. “Does that mean that you know who killed the poor creature?”
“I refuse to say,” she muttered, faintly.
“Oh, and you intend to let me be accused?”
“Can any one accuse you?” she asked, looking up fearfully.
“I have enemies, as all men have,” replied her father, gloomily, “and there is one man who will get me into trouble if he can.”
“Certainly not,” he replied, so violently that she knew she was right in so guessing. “Clyde is my best friend. Who told you that I had anything to do with the matter?”
“No one. I only thought, from the fact of your spectacles being in your pocket—”
“I made a mistake, I tell you.”
“In explaining to me on that night, perhaps; not when you gave evidence at the inquest.”
Marvel lost his temper again. “Will you please tell me if my own daughter accuses me of murder?” he demanded, icily.
“I have said before, and I say again, that I do not accuse you. But, father,” Alice rose with a firm face, “I am quite sure that you took me down that street in order that we both might discover the corpse of poor Evan.”
Her father took a turn up and down the room before replying. “You will have the truth, then?” he said, scowling.
“I want to know what you know,” she said, obstinately.
“Then you shall know. I took you down the street on the excuse of returning to the office for my spectacles, because I wanted to see the corpse and find any probable weapon.”
“Then you knew that Evan was dead?”
“I saw the body shortly before I met you. As I told the Coroner, I left the office a few minutes after ten o’clock, and went up the High Street, towards The Builders’ Hall, knowing you would come for me, and would meet me there, in all probability, seeing that you fancied I was playing the piano at the entertainment. I saw the body and crossed to look at it. I told the Coroner that I did not, for obvious reasons.”
“I can’t guess your reasons,” interrupted Alice, faintly.
“Girl!” cried her father, vehemently, “had I found the body alone my enemies might have accused me of being mixed up with the matter, although, as everyone knows, I was the best of friends with young Berrow. I wanted someone else to discover the body with me, and also I wanted to come again to the spot to look for any possible weapon. I said that before.”
“Could you not have searched when you first saw the corpse?”
“No; I was seized with fright, as at once I saw the capital that might be made out of being alone with the dead man. I simply recognised the face and then fled up the street. I met no one until I met you, and then—I admit the falsity of the plea—I went presumably to get my spectacles, but really that you might find the body along with me. While you looked at the dead creature I searched for the weapon. I could not find it.”
“Why did you wish to find it?”
“For your sake,” said Marvel, sullenly. “I wished to save Rupert.”
Alice sprang to her feet with a cry of terror. “Do you dare to tell me that—”
“I dare to tell you that I shrewdly suspect Treffry murdered the man. That was why I lied at the inquest about my not having seen the body until I met you. Had I admitted that I saw it earlier I should also have had to admit that I saw Treffry leaving the dead.”
Alice shrieked. This seemed to confirm the accusation of the yellow hunchback. “It’s a lie— a lie!” she wailed, and fell on her knees at her father’s feet. “Oh, say that it is a lie!”
“I told only one lie, and that was to save your lover,” said Marvel, roughly lifting her into a chair, “and you dared to speak to me as you did—to accuse me of murder!”
“I never did—I never did.”
“You did; but I am innocent. It was Rupert Treffry who killed young Berrow.”
“Prove it. I defy you to prove it.”
“I tell you I caught a glimpse of Treffry leaving the body. It was moonlight at the time, and the whiteness of the snow made things clear. I saw his face as I stepped off the opposite pavement to examine the body. He fled at my approach. Then, as I said, I was seized with panic, and also fled to meet you.”
“But why should Rupert have killed Evan?” wailed the girl.
“He was jealous. Listen, Alice. Rupert came to the office to see Mason Clyde on business connected with his late uncle’s estate in Jamaica. He brought home some things to Clyde which had to do with his uncle Reginald Boyde. After settling the business he spoke to me. I told him that I intended you should marry young Berrow.”
“How dare you!” panted Alice, angrily.
“Because I am your father, and know what is best for you. Treffry said that he would kill young Berrow rather than he should marry you, and in that murderous frame of mind he left the office. When next I saw him he was leaving the body of the man he killed. I am perfectly sure that he is guilty.”
“I don’t believe it. I can’t—I shan’t. Only when he tells me with his own lips that he stabbed Evan will I—and even then I won’t.”
“You are infatuated with him.”
“I love him,” cried Alice, drawing herself up; “with all my heart and soul I love him. I don’t believe that the man I love would commit so cowardly a murder.”
“Then why hasn’t he been here to see you and exonerate himself?”
“He doesn’t know that he is accused,” she replied, swiftly.
“No one accuses him,” said Marvel, just as quickly. “I am the only person who saw what I did see, and I not only have held my tongue, but, to shield him, I have told a falsehood. He is perfectly safe, and you can marry him when you choose. I am a good father to you, Alice, and my conduct in this instance proves that I am, as you must acknowledge.”
“I am sure you acted for the best,” she replied, in tones of anguish; “but you really can’t believe that the man I love killed a poor little atom like Evan.”
“Jealousy is capable of anything, my poor Alice.”
“No, Rupert is too brave for that—too noble to act in so cowardly a fashion notwithstanding any jealousy he may have entertained of Evan. I shall see him myself, and—ah—” She broke off with a shriek.
“It’s only the post,” said Marvel, snappishly, for he also had started at the sound of the rap-rap-rap at the door. “Wait here and compose yourself, I’ll get the letters.”
He went out of the room, leaving Alice to face her misery alone. Notwithstanding the accusations of her father and the yellow hunchback, she could not bring herself to believe that Rupert was guilty.
Marvel returned with a telegram. “For you,” he said, handing it over.
Alice opened the envelope, and read: “Come to 23, Kelly Street, Kensington, at once. Have met with an accident.—Rupert.”
“An accident!” This, then, was the reason why Rupert had not written to her before. But it did not explain why he had broken his appointment to call on the morning after the murder. He had left Chadston by the early train in good health, so far as she knew from the report of the waiter, and she could conjecture no reason why he had not paid his promised visit. Now he had met with an accident, but instead of writing to explain what had happened he had merely sent the few words of the telegram. Well, she would go up to Kelly Street and ask for a verbal explanation.
“An accident,” remarked Marvel, who had possessed himself of the telegram when it dropped from her nerveless hands. “I don’t believe it. He was all right when I saw him leave the corpse.”
“Oh,” Alice wailed again, “are you certain that the man was Rupert?”
“Quite certain. And the fact that he went to London instead of coming to see you as he promised shows that he has something to conceal. An innocent man would not have fled.”
“You appear to be very certain that he is guilty,” said Alice, bitterly, “and refuse to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I think you go too far.”
“Not so far as a jury would go were he arrested.”
The girl sprang up and seized her father by the arm. “He must never be arrested,” she panted, vehemently. “I don’t care what you saw; I don’t care how black appearances are against him; I’ll never believe that he is guilty—never—never—never.”
“Well,” said Marvel, with a shrug, “you can easily learn the truth by going to this address,” and he laid a finger on the telegram.
“I intend to,” said Alice, feverishly. “I’ll go up to-morrow by the twelve o’clock train. And you?”
She looked anxiously at her father.
“I’ll say nothing,” he answered, promptly, and, as it seemed to her, with an expression of relief. “Alice,” he added, after a short and embarrassed pause, “what will you do?”
“About the three hundred a year. You can’t marry Rupert and have that income also.”
“Why not? Rupert can come with me to Australia.”
“No,” said Marvel, unexpectedly and decidedly; “by the terms of his uncle’s will he has to return to Jamaica. Either you give up Rupert and come with me to Australia, where we can live on this money, or you must lose the money and marry a suspected murderer.”
Alice clenched her hands with indignation. “You have no right to say that,” she cried, angrily. “He may be innocent.”
“He may be innocent,” assented Marvel, coolly, “but appearances are very much against him.”
“You don’t want me to marry him, father?”
“I certainly would prefer you to have the three hundred a year. I want to leave England myself, as I am so weary of this sordid life and desperately hard work in Clyde’s office. He is my good friend, but he is also a slave-driver. But, as I said before, you can please yourself.”
The girl thought for a few minutes, then looked directly at her father. The man seemed to shrink and dwindle before the steadfast gaze.
“I don’t believe you think Rupert guilty,” she said, quietly; “if you did, you certainly would not let me marry him.”
“I don’t see how I can prevent you, Alice. You are over age, and your own mistress.”
Alice flamed out suddenly: “Why are you so mysterious, father?”
“I am not mysterious,” insisted Marvel, paling slightly.
“Yes, you are. You accuse Rupert and yet shield him. You don’t want me to marry him, and yet you make no effort to persuade me that he is not a fit husband for me. If he is guilty I shall never become his wife, much as I love him. If he is innocent you have no right to blacken his character to me.”
“So long as I do not blacken his character to anyone else it matters little,” snapped the man, sitting down with a fatigued air. “Well,” he added, resting his head wearily on his hand, “what is it to be? Will you stop in England and marry Treffry, or go to Australia and live with me on the income from young Berrow?”
“I shall go up to town and question Rupert,” said Alice, determinedly. “On that interview will depend my decision. You say that Rupert has to go back to Jamaica?”
“Yes. I heard all about the late Reginald Boyde’s will from Clyde. I should have thought that Treffry would have told you also.”
“He told me nothing, save that there was some difficulty about his inheriting his uncle’s estate.”
“This is the difficulty,” explained Marvel, settling himself comfortably. Boyde left two thousand a year to Rupert on condition that he found out who murdered him.”
Alice shrieked. “Another murder?”
“Yes. Boyde was a man with a past; in fact, a rascal. He always anticipated being murdered, and made his will accordingly. Well, he was stabbed some months ago and killed. Clyde went out, to see after the estate, and found by the will, which Clyde holds, that he inherits the Jamaica estates and the income, on condition that he remains on the island and learns who killed his uncle.”
“Rupert told me nothing of this,” said Alice, quietly.
“Perhaps he did not wish to frighten you. Also—” Marvel grew nervous and paler than ever. “I may as well be plain,” he burst out after an uneasy pause; “Rupert did not go out to Jamaica after the death of his uncle, but before it took place. In fact, he was in the house when Boyde was found dead in his bed in the morning, stabbed with an African sacrificial knife—”
Alice rose with a cry of alarm. She remembered what Clyde had said about the knife produced by the red-haired girl when the will was read.
“Go on,” she panted.
“I must put the matter very plainly,” continued Marvel, nervously, “as perhaps you will then see how foolish it would be of you to marry Treffry. The knife which killed Boyde was brought home by that young man and given to Clyde at his office on the very night young Berrow was murdered.”
“That was the business Rupert had to see Mr. Clyde about?”
“Yes, that was the business. Boyde, who was an old friend of Clyde’s, sent home the will, and also directed that any evidence of the murder should be taken also to Clyde for advice. Boyde set great store by Clyde’s advice. I was in the office when Treffry laid the knife on the table. Afterwards it disappeared, as Clyde told me that he missed it when Treffry had gone. Now,” said Marvel, leaning forward earnestly, “I saw Treffry leave the body of young Berrow, who died from a knife wound. What if Treffry took that knife and killed him out of jealousy? What if Treffry, with that same knife, murdered his uncle Reginald, so as to get the money and marry you?”
Alice, with a perfectly white face, sat appalled. She could not believe that Treffry was guilty of one murder, much less that he should be guilty of two. Her father, seeing the impression he had made, went, on, eagerly: “So you see that it will be better for you to give up all thought of this man and go to Australia.”
“I shall see Rupert first,” said Alice, faintly and rose to her feet, with an effort. “Don’t tell me any more, it’s too horrible.”
“My poor child—”
“Don’t—don’t!” She walked unsteadily to the door, then, with a sudden access of strength, turned as she laid her fingers on the handle. “You accuse Rupert of two crimes,” she said, vehemently. “I don’t believe that he committed either the one or the other. It is much more likely that, the yellow hunchback killed poor Evan, and has accused Rupert to save himself.”
“Did he accuse Rupert?” asked Marvel, eagerly.
Alice saw that she had revealed too much. “I refuse to tell you any more,” she said, with a gasp. “I’ll go to bed and think the matter over. But, Rupert is innocent—I am certain of that.”
She left the room, but outside in the passage had to lean against the wall, since her legs refused to carry her at once to her bedroom. As she waited there in the darkness she heard the clink of glasses, and knew that her father was taking out from its hiding-place some concealed bottle of brandy. With a great effort she reached her own room and threw herself on the bed.
What did it all mean? Alice asked herself this question a thousand times, while the slow hours plodded on towards the weary dawn. Rupert, whom she loved, and who loved her, was accused of being a murderer. Not only was he accused of a single crime by the hunchback, but her father declared that he had committed two murders. It was incredible that so open-faced and kindly-hearted a man should kill two fellow-creatures, either from jealousy or from love of money. Yet the sacrificial knife which had been used to stab Boyde in Jamaica had certainly been used to kill Evan, seeing that the red-haired girl’s grandmother had found it near the corpse. And, according to Marvel, the knife had been brought from Jamaica by Rupert to the office of Mason Clyde. Had Rupert, indeed, taken it again, spurred on to commit a cruel crime out of jealousy? Alice could not believe it of her brave young lover. Yet circumstances looked very black against him. There was sufficient evidence available to hang him, if it ever came to light. But, Alice knew that her father, for her sake, would not speak. It only remained to silence the hunchback. She determined to call on the little man at the home of Mrs. Brandyface in the Chadston slums.
“But first I’ll see Rupert,” thought the wretched girl, “he may be able to explain. Oh, my darling—my darling—you never acted in so wicked a way—never—never.”
Towards morning Nature would have her way, and the girl, quite worn out, fell into an uneasy sleep. She rose at ten o’clock, and found that her father had already gone to the office.
This was strange, as Marvel invariably waited until Alice came down to breakfast; and if she did not appear in time to allow him to start, always looked in to see that she was all right. Yet on this especial morning he never looked in, nor did he wait. There was something very strange about her father’s conduct, as Alice thought. She knew how weak he was, and how easily guided, either by fear or by the chance of getting money. It struck her that he was being dominated by someone, and thus had made such accusations against Treffry. Could it be that Clyde was at the back of all the mystery? Impossible, since Clyde could have no reason to get his client into trouble.
After a make-believe of a breakfast, Alice assumed her prettiest winter dress and went to the station to catch the midday train to town. On the way, she stopped at a telegraph office to send a wire telling Rupert that she was coming. Having written it out, she passed it over the counter to the girl, who, counting the words, read it out aloud. Thus it was that a woman who was stamping some letters near at hand heard the name of Alice Marvel. At once she turned and fixed a pair of inquiring black eyes on the girl.
“Alice Marvel,” repeated the woman. “Alice Marvel.”
The girl stared, as she had no acquaintance with the person who spoke. The woman was short and stout, and so dark as to betray very plainly a suspicion, and more than a suspicion, of African blood. The girl gazed at the somewhat gaudy dress, at the big turquoise earrings in the large ears, and at the fat, sensual face. “Who are you?” she asked, abruptly.
“Alice Marvel,” repeated the woman, slowly. “I am glad I have seen you. I shall remember you now. And perhaps some day you’ll remember Cleopatra. Alice Marvel. Ha! Ha! Ha!”
It was an unpleasant laugh, and this, coupled with the appearance of the woman, gave Alice a creepy sensation. She felt as though she had suddenly stepped on a snake. Mechanically she paid for the telegram, and walked away. The woman who called herself Cleopatra followed, and reached her as she stepped into the street. There she placed a brown hand on the girl’s shoulder.
“You love Rupert Treffry,” said the woman, in a guttural whisper, “and you think he loves you. Ask him about Mrs. Berrow!”
Alice was stunned. “Mrs. Berrow!” she repeated, blankly.
“Ask him what he was to Mrs. Berrow,” said Cleopatra; “ask what Mrs. Berrow is to him now,” and, with a smiling nod, she moved away. Before Miss Marvel could recover her wits the woman had disappeared round the corner of the street.
“Mrs. Berrow,” thought Alice, as she walked towards the Chadston railway station; “Rupert doesn’t know her.”
She was certain of this, as Treffry had never mentioned the name of Mrs. Berrow. Yet it was strange that this negress—should speak as she did. And the thought of the word negress suggested Jamaica, where the negro element is very prevalent. This woman—this Cleopatra—had she come from Jamaica? If so, did she know Treffry? It would seem that she did know him, and knew also of some connection he had with Mrs. Berrow.
Alice heaved a sigh of relief as she stood at the door of the house in Kelly Street, where Rupert had lodgings. It was a quiet-looking, red-brick house, and the door was opened by a smart maid with a smart cap. In reply to the question of Miss Marvel, she said that Mr. Treffry was within, and was expecting her, as the telegram had arrived. In a few minutes Alice was shown up to a comfortable sitting-room on the first floor. Here she found Rupert seated in an armchair by the fire, looking pale and ill. But his face grew bright when she entered.
“My darling,” he said, stretching his hands fondly towards her, “how good of you to come. I would have gone to Chadston, only I cannot rise.”
Alice looked at him coldly, and made no movement to meet that fond embrace. “What is the matter?” she asked, quietly.
“My leg has been hurt, and—Alice, what is the matter?” he asked in his turn.
“I will tell you, if you will answer me one question.”
“Certainly,” said Treffry. “What is it?”
“What are you to Mrs. Berrow; what is Mrs. Berrow to you?”
She used almost the same words as Cleopatra had used, and saw that Treffry’s face grew white as she spoke. Then he raised his head proudly, and looked at her straightly. “You have been told some of the truth, but not all,” he said, steadily. “Mrs. Berrow is the woman to whom I was once engaged.”
“Engaged!” Alice repeated the word with a long, indrawn breath.
“Yes,” assented Treffry, gloomily. “I never intended to tell you, especially as Mrs. Berrow was the woman I had to marry. Who can have told you, I don’t know; but the truth was bound to come out sooner or later.” He looked up with a bitter smile on his peaked, white face. “This is Helena’s revenge, I suppose.”
“Mrs. Berrow, if you prefer the married name. Alice, don’t stand there looking at me so sadly. Oh, my darling, trust me.”
“Trust you, after such a deception?”
“It was no deception. There was no need to tell you anything about that part of my past life, Alice.”
The girl, who had been standing as though carved out of stone, now sank into a chair, as she felt that her strength would no longer bear up.
“I shall give you every chance of explaining yourself, Rupert,” she said, gently. “You made the remark just now that Mrs. Berrow was the woman you had to marry.”
“I did, and I repeat it. The engagement was none of my seeking. It was made by my uncle, Reginald Boyde, as Helena Buckland was the daughter of an old friend of his. Who told you?”
Rupert bounded from his chair, and then fell back with a groan. “Oh, that fiend!” he murmured. “I might have guessed it was her work. I—I—ugh!” He winced with pain, and made a clutch at his right leg. “My dear, give me—the—the brandy—quick!”
Alice sprang to her feet. She saw that he was on the verge of a fainting fit, and hastily filled a small glass from a brandy-bottle which stood on a near table. The ardent spirit revived Rupert in a measure, and he lay back gasping for breath. The girl replaced the glass, and then resumed her seat, with a cold, white, steadfast face. Much as she loved Rupert, her sense of womanhood was outraged by his confession that he had been engaged. That is, she did not mind the engagement itself, as many a young man has been engaged before settling on a wife. But that the woman in this case should have been Mrs. Berrow, whom Rupert had pretended not to know, was a circumstance which made her doubt his honesty.
Treffry saw what she was thinking of, as her expression was eloquent. With an effort he summoned up his fortitude, and explained as best he could.
“Alice, Alice, don’t look at me like that! You are the only woman I ever loved—the only woman I ever shall love. Dear, bear with me, for I am the victim of circumstances. Ugh!”—he winced again—“this leg does hurt”; and he fondled it with an expression of pain.
Alice could no longer preserve her assumption of indifference, but sprang forward and knelt beside him. “Rupert,” she said, eagerly, taking him by the cold hand, “I understand nothing. I think you have not treated me fairly. You are accused of the most dreadful things. All the same, I love you. It is no use my saying that I do not, for I do. Oh!” she broke down, sobbing, “how contemptible you must think me.”
“I think you are the noblest woman on earth,” said Treffry, faintly. “Give me some more brandy, Alice. I feel weak—loss of blood, I expect.”
“Loss of blood,” she repeated, handing him another glass; “how have you lost blood?”
“I was stabbed in the leg,” he murmured, sipping the brandy.
Alice looked aghast. “When? Where?”
“On the night that poor little creature was murdered—at Chadston.”
“Who stabbed you?
“She is not a negress. Her mother was white. She is what you call a mulattress, and an incarnate fiend.”
“When did she stab you?”
“At a quarter to ten—just after I left Clyde’s office,” said Rupert, the colour coming back to his face.
“Are you sure?” asked Alice, springing to her feet.
“Perfectly sure. The quarter was chiming almost when she struck the blow, hang her!”
“Where were you at the time?” demanded Alice, quickly.
“In a dark alley, near the station. You know I was to stop at the Railway Hotel. I was going there after I left Clyde’s office, and met Cleopatra. She asked me to speak privately to her, and took me up an alley. There she suddenly stabbed me, after some conversation, and left me lying on the snow. I was insensible with loss of blood for a long time, but managed to crawl to the hotel about eleven. I also managed to leave for town the next morning, and kept my wound secret, as I did not wish anyone to frighten you about the matter.”
“I asked the waiter at the Railway Hotel,” said Alice, her eyes sparkling, “and he said that you had left for London by the early train; but he did not mention that you had hurt your leg.”
“No? I walked with a limp, though. It is strange that he did not notice that and tell you. Later, I shall explain why I came to town, and did not keep my promise of seeing you. But— Why, what is the matter?”
For Alice had seized his hand convulsively, and was looking into his face with an expression of relief. “The matter is this. That if you were lying wounded in the alley near the Railway Hotel before ten o’clock, you could not have killed poor Evan, who was stabbed in the High Street at ten.”
“Kill him?” said Rupert, indignantly; “of course I didn’t. Who says that I did?”
“My father, for one. He declares that he saw you walk away from the corpse, Rupert.”
“It is absolutely false,” declared the young man, sharply. “And the other person who accuses me?”
“The yellow hunchback; but I don’t know on what grounds he accuses you. Rupert, should any trouble arise, can you prove that you were lying insensible?”
“Cleopatra can prove it; but she won’t. She would rather see me hanged, unless—” Treffry hesitated.
“Unless I keep to the provision of my uncle Reginald’s will, and marry Mrs. Berrow.”
Alice withdrew her hand with a change of colour, but Rupert caught it eagerly again. “No,” he said, fondly, “you declared that you loved me, and I won’t let you go. Let me explain how it was that I came to be engaged to that woman, and why I kept the secret from you. I only ask,” be looked deeply into her eyes, “I only ask that you will repeat what you said just now.”
“What is that?” asked Alice, with a faint sigh, for the scene was wearing her out.
“You knew that I had been engaged to Mrs. Berrow; that I had kept the secret from you. You believed also, on the authority of your father and that yellow hunchback, that I was guilty of murder. Even crediting me with these things, you were brave enough to confess your love. Now, before I clear my character—which I can—tell me that you still trust me, that you still love me.”
“I do—I do.” She placed her arms round his neck and buried her face on his breast. “I know it is weak of me, since you must think me to be without pride. But I love you—I love you; nothing can change my love. Were you the wickedest man in the world, did you treat me like a dog, I should still love you. My love is stronger than my pride.”
“There will be no need to shame your pride, darling,” said Treffry, quietly. “Sit down on this footstool and let me hold your dear hand. I am not so wicked as you think.”
“I don’t think you wicked.”
“And I am quite innocent of Berrow’s murder.”
“I know you are innocent. You killed neither Evan nor your uncle.”
“What!” Rupert started. “Am I accused of that also?”
“Not exactly accused; but my father thought that, as you were in the house with your uncle, you might have killed him.”
“Your father seems to have a precious opinion of me, I must say,” said Treffry, grimly; “but I don’t believe he thinks in his heart what he said to you. Behind him are Mrs. Berrow and Cleopatra. It is they who accuse me of a double crime, not your weakminded father. Never mind”; he imposed silence on her with a quick gesture, “we can talk of this when you learn what I have to say. It is necessary that we should come to some understanding. Now is the time. But I thank heaven that, without knowing the truth, you still trust and love me.”
“Ah!” sighed Alice, softly, “how weak I am.”
“You mean how strong,” retorted the man, pressing her hand ardently. “My dear, what is love but the feeling that will believe nothing against the being it loves. Yours is true love, and I hope that heaven will enable me to show throughout my life how deeply I feel your staunch and brave affection. I don’t deserve it, my dear. But, then, no man ever does wholly deserve a true woman’s love.”
There was an eloquent silence for a moment or so, and Alice leant her cheek against the hand she held within her own. Rupert, now looking much stronger, and with more colour in his wan cheeks, drew his hand meditatively across his brow, and began to speak very quietly, and without any trace of his previous excitement. He seemed to be keeping all his powers to tell the story without faltering or breaking down.
“My father was Colonel Treffry,” he began, abruptly, “and my mother Miss Boyde, the sister of Reginald Boyde, of whom you have heard. Both my father and my mother died while I was still young, and placed me in the care of my Uncle Reginald. He was not a good man, but to me he was always kind in his own selfish way. My parents left me a moderate income, and after being educated at a public school I went to Sandhurst. Afterwards I entered the Army, but left it for two reasons. One was that I preferred an artistic life, and the other that my income proved to be insufficient to support me as a gentleman in the regiment I had entered. I fear that last reason was due to Uncle Reginald, who squandered my money. He was my trustee, remember.”
Alice lifted her eyebrows. “Rupert,” she exclaimed in astonishment, “why should you say that? I understood you to say that your uncle was very rich?”
“Only towards the latter part of his life,” corrected the young man. “For many years he was poor, and, to put it plainly, he was forced to live on his wits. As my trustee, he had charge of my money, and used much of it for his own enjoyment.”
“How dishonourable. How can you say that he loved you when he behaved so badly?”
“I don’t think he ever thought of what he was doing. The money was there and he took it. I expect, even when I attained my majority, that he would have got rid of everything. But it so happened that an old friend of his left him an estate in Jamaica, and about two thousand a year. He thereupon handed over to me what was left of my money and went to the West Indies. I therefore have still sufficient to live on, in a quiet way.”
“Your uncle should have repaid what he had taken,” cried Alice, indignantly.
“I thought so also, and mentioned it to him. But he said that I should have all at his death. In fact, he made me his heir, and as the capital was tied up he could only spend the interest. Consequently, my dear, I inherit two thousand a year and a fine estate—on certain conditions.”
“One of which is that you should marry Mrs. Berrow?”
“Yes, that is one; and the other is that I should learn who killed him. He always expected to be killed, and invariably said that he would die a violent death. His fears came true, for he was found one morning dead in bed with his throat cut.”
“But, Rupert, seeing that your uncle expected to be killed, he must have had some idea as to who would kill him. In that event it seems easy for you to discover the murderer.”
“Not so easy as you think, Alice,” explained the young man, settling himself in an easier position, but still retaining his hold on her hand. “My uncle’s death is connected with my uncle’s past life, and I fear that his past life was disreputable. Long years ago he was stopping in Jamaica along with the friend who left him the estate, and then he managed to offend Obi.”
“Obi? What do you mean by Obi?”
“Voodoo, witchcraft, sorcery, devil-worship. That woman Cleopatra is mixed up with such things.”
“Ugh!” Alice shuddered. “I thought she looked evil.”
“She is,” assented Rupert, quickly, “entirely evil. She was for a long time my uncle’s housekeeper, and had great power over him. Before that she was the nurse of Helena.”
“Of Mrs. Berrow.”
“Yes. Helena Buckland was the daughter of a planter who lived near at hand, and who was very poor. Cleopatra was Mrs. Berrow’s nurse. My uncle, I understand from so much as I can gather, was in love with Helena’s mother. He wanted her to elope with him, but she refused. Then she died, and my uncle transferred his affection to her little girl, who much resembled her mother. Thus it came about that when Helena’s father died, leaving her very poor, my uncle made his will, leaving me his estate and money on condition that I married her.”
“Why did you not?” asked Alice, her colour coming and going. “You knew her before you knew me, and she is beautiful.”
“I loved you, and I never loved her, and in my eyes you are more beautiful,” retorted Rupert, drawing her closer to him. “Are you answered?”
“Yes,” she whispered, softly. “But, oh! Rupert, can you bear to give up so much money—two thousand a year, is it not?—for me?”
“I can, and I have done so,” he answered, calmly. “My visit to Mason Clyde was connected, not alone with my uncle’s murder, but it was made to inform Mr. Clyde that I surrendered the estate to Mrs. Berrow, preferring to be poor with you rather than rich with her.”
“Does she get the money?”
“Yes; and as she has also inherited her step-son’s fortune, she must have twelve thousand a year.”
“But how was it that she married Mr. Berrow?”
“I shall explain. Helena went to England after the death of her father, to stop with an aunt. Berrow saw her, and loved her. Being a rich widower and elderly he did not appeal to Helena. And, besides, my dear,” added the young man, hesitating, “I may as well be frank, Helena is absurdly in love with me.”
“I don’t wonder at that,” said Alice, softly; then the genuine woman came out: “How dare she love you, when she knows that you are engaged to me?”
“Ah, but she looks upon me as still being engaged to her. You see, she declared that it was her aunt who forced her to marry Mr. Berrow, and this she explained to my uncle. Therefore, knowing that she loved me, and being fond of her, he let the will stand. When I went to Jamaica to expostulate with my uncle, and see if I could get the will altered, he was murdered. I brought the will home to Mason Clyde, and surrendered the property, which now belongs to Mrs. Berrow. So you see now, my love, why I came to Chadston on that particular night.”
“I see,” said Alice, pondering; “but what I don’t see is what this Cleopatra has to do with the matter.”
“She is devoted heart and soul to Helena,” explained Rupert, his face clouding. “When Uncle Reginald died she was the housekeeper at Mon Repose, as I said. But she was also Mrs. Berrow’s nurse, so when my uncle died she came home also to be with Helena. She came home before I did, and, I expect, told Helena that I had determined to surrender the estate. She could have learnt that, and probably did learn it, from my uncle before he died.”
“Does this Cleopatra know who killed your uncle?”
“She may or she may not,” said Treffry, musingly. “The death, so far as I can gather, was connected with Obi. Uncle Reginald offended some of the native people somehow. He knew that if he went back to Jamaica he ran a risk of being killed. Well, he was, and with a sacrificial knife.”
“Ugh!” Alice shuddered again. “I saw it.”
“You saw it?” exclaimed Treffry, starting up only to sink back with a groan. “Where—when?”
“At the Manor House on the day the will was read. A girl named Ruth, who came with the yellow hunchback, and a woman, who calls herself Miss Tudor-Stuart, produced the knife, and said that her grandmother had found it near the body.”
“That is strange. I gave it myself to Mason Clyde. You see, Alice dearest, Clyde was born in the West Indies, and lived there for a long time, near the estate of Helena’s father. Afterwards he came to England and started practice at Chadston. I think he knows about the trouble my uncle got into, which led to the murder, and it was for this reason that my uncle instructed me to take any evidence of his death home to Clyde. I did so, and left the knife at the office. Who could have taken it and killed that poor little creature?”
Alice shook her head, being quite unable to explain. “Unless it was Cleopatra,” she ventured to guess.
Rupert started. “I believe you are right,” he declared.
For a few moments Alice did not answer the remark, although she had suggested the same. Rising from the position at Treffry’s feet she procured him another glass of brandy, as she saw that talking had, in some degree, exhausted him. While he drank it she walked up and down the room, thinking over what he had told her. It was a very strange story, and, to her mind, there appeared to be some connection between the murder in Jamaica and the murder in England, but what that connection might be she could not fathom.
“Rupert,” she said, at length, standing before him with her hands clasped behind her back, “will you tell me exactly what you did on the night Evan was killed?”
“Certainly, dear. I came to Chadston in the afternoon, and left my luggage at the Railway Hotel. I called at Clyde’s office and found him absent. Leaving a message that I would return at nine, I went on to visit you. If you remember, I left you shortly after nine o’clock. I went down the High Street of Chadston to the office, and there found Clyde and your father.”
“Were you surprised to see my father there?” she asked, quickly.
“Well, I was,” confessed the young man. “But your father explained how the pianist had recovered. He was not wanted to play at the Animated Pictures, and so had come on to do a little overwork at the office, for which Clyde paid him extra money. By the way, I forgot to tell you that I went to the hotel before going to the office.”
“What for? I wish to know everything exactly, for we must take steps to clear your character.”
“I am not afraid,” said Rupert, coolly. “I can see the hands of Mrs. Berrow and her precious nurse at the back of all this, and they have apparently bribed your father to support them.”
“Rupert”—Alice uttered a cry of pain—“he would never do that.”
“My dear, he is weak, and easily led. Moreover, I believe that Mason Clyde has some power over him.”
“But would Mr. Clyde—”
“Mr. Clyde would do anything to harm me, if that is what you mean. He was in love, and still is in love with Helena, and, moreover, would not be averse to marrying her now that she has so much money. However, let me continue, and we can discuss points afterwards.”
Alice nodded and sat down wearily, for she felt somewhat tired. “Go on, I am all attention. Why did you go to the hotel?”
“To get the knife and the will, and some other things that had to do with my uncle. I took them to Clyde and handed them over, I told him the circumstances of my uncle’s death, and told him, also, to prepare a document, which I would sign, surrendering the estate to Mrs. Berrow.”
“For love of me?”
“For love of you, my heart. You see, I wished to be quit of everything, and never wanted to see Clyde again after signing the document. He promised to get it ready the next day. Then I was to sign it, and say good-bye to him for ever. I then intended to come and tell you all that I am telling you now, including my so-called engagement to Mrs. Berrow. Afterwards I desired to get you to fix a day to marry me, and then intended to pension your father and take you with me to St. Ives, in Cornwall. There is a colony of artists there, and living is cheap, so I wanted that we should live there on our small means and be happy.”
Alice nodded again. “I see,” she sighed. “And why did you change your mind?”
“I did not want you to know that I was wounded, and so came to London by the early train. I knew nothing about the murder until I saw the notices in the papers. Then I thought it just as well to send for you and explain.”
“It would have been better had you remained at the Railway Hotel and let me nurse you,” she said, reproachfully.
“No,” he insisted; “had I remained tied to a bed in Chadston Mrs. Berrow would have come and seen me, and perhaps Cleopatra.”
“Cleopatra would not have seen you, seeing that she was the cause of your wound.”
“You don’t know her, and you don’t know Mrs. Berrow,” said Rupert, raising his eyebrows. “You don’t know either of those women. Perhaps what I am about to tell you may reveal the character of at least one of them.”
“You mean Cleopatra?”
“Yes, I do. She always hated me, for some reason which I have never been able to discover. However, as Helena loved me, Cleopatra was willing to behave decently.”
“But she did not—on that night, at least.”
“Quite so. Because she learnt the truth. I left the office of Clyde, as I said, at quarter to ten o’clock. I gave him the knife with which my uncle was killed, the will, and several other things. When I got into the open air I ran against Cleopatra, who had evidently been watching the office.”
“How did she know that you were there?”
“Perhaps Clyde told her, or perhaps Mrs. Berrow was her informant. Clyde knew that I was coming, and Helena—”
“Tell me all, Rupert,” said Alice, quickly, and with a vivid flush of colour.
Treffry laughed in a somewhat embarrassed manner. “You must not be jealous,” he said, earnestly. “I assure you that I do not love Mrs. Berrow in the least. Did I not love you, would I give up two thousand a year for your sake?”
“I forgot.” She crossed quickly and kissed him. “But I love you so very dearly that I—I—I hate that woman.”
“Don’t trouble about her, love,” said Rupert, fondly, and with a caress. “She is now out of my life, and will never come into yours. But I may as well tell you that Helena came to see me here when I first came back from Jamaica a week ago. She learnt of my arrival from Cleopatra. Her errand was to insist that I should marry her and thus fulfil my uncle’s will. I refused, and said that I was engaged to you. Then she lost her temper, and we had a scene. However, I still refused, and she went away saying that she would make me pay for what I had done. And I believe,” added Treffry, earnestly, “that she intends to have me accused of the murder of the dwarf so as to revenge herself.”
“She will have to prove her case first,” said Alice, angrily, “and you can prove an alibi.”
“Only through Cleopatra, and she will see me hanged in earnest first.”
“But if she hates you she will not wish to see you marry Mrs. Berrow,” protested Alice, looking puzzled.
“My darling, I told you that Cleopatra loves Helena so much that she is willing to sink her hatred of me to secure Helena’s happiness. The wound I suffer from”—Rupert touched his leg—“was given by her simply because I refused to marry Helena.”
“Will you explain?”
“After I left the office I met Cleopatra. She came up behind me at the top of the High Street and touched me on the shoulder. I wheeled and saw her, in what moonlight there was. She declared that she wished to speak with me on an important subject, and drew me up a side alley near the Railway Hotel. There, as we were secure from interruption, she insisted that I should make Helena happy by marrying her. I refused, and Cleopatra lost her temper. She said that she would accuse me of murdering my uncle. I retorted that I was more likely to accuse her, as she has always been mixed up with the unholy practices of voodoo. Then, before I could get my breath, she produced a knife—”
“What knife?” interposed Alice, quickly. “The sacrificial knife?”
Rupert considered a moment, then he said: “No, it could not have been. I left that at the office.”
“Cleopatra might have taken it from there. Did she not come from the direction of the office?”
Rupert wrinkled his brows. “I really can’t say,” he said, slowly. “She came behind me and touched me on the shoulder. I started back when she struck at me with the knife, and in making the blow she reeled forward, stumbled, and lost her balance. I was moving past her, as I thought it was best to end the scene. She caught me by the leg, and jabbed the knife into the calf, making a ragged, wide wound. With the pain I fell to the ground, and the blood flowed at a great rate. Cleopatra made off at once. I expect she was frightened at what she had done. What with the excitement, the cold, and the loss of blood, I fainted. The last thing I remember was the clock chiming ten, and I have a cloudy recollection of Cleopatra flying down the alley. I was insensible, as I told you, for nearly an hour, then I managed to crawl to the hotel and get up to my room. I explained that I had fallen and sprained my ankle, as I didn’t want to bring Cleopatra into the matter.”
“She deserved to be punished.”
“Quite so, but had I brought the matter into the courts, she might have accused me of murdering Uncle Reginald; and you know how mud sticks, Alice. Also, I didn’t want my uncle’s history, of which this woman knows, to become public. I therefore made an excuse, and next morning, to avoid frightening you, and to get rid of any chance of Helena calling on me, and taking me at a disadvantage, I came up to town. Afterwards I saw about the murder, and finally, after some hesitation, I sent the wire to you. But I assure you, my dear, that it never entered my head that I should be accused of the crime.”
“You are innocent.”
“Of course. All the same, only Cleopatra can prove my innocence, but unless I marry Helena she will refuse to do so. I am in a very awkward position, Alice. What is best to be done?”
“We must wait and see what happens,” said Alice, hesitating; “but I think I’ll go back to Chadston and make that yellow hunchback—his name is Ben, I believe—explain why he accuses you. Also I shall insist on my father owning that he never saw you leave the corpse.”
“Quite so. I think that will be best, as I am chained here, and won’t be able, according to the doctor, to get about for at least a week, and then only with a stick. But the knife?”
“I have changed my mind,” said Alice, putting on her hat, and cloak slowly. “Cleopatra must have used another knife. If she struck at you at a quarter to ten, she must have used another knife; also she cannot have killed Evan, as he was murdered somewhere about ten o’clock.”
“Who says that?”
“The doctor said so at the inquest.”
“Humph!” said Rupert, doubtfully. “I don’t expect doctors can say to a minute when a crime takes place. Cleopatra is just the woman to kill anyone who stood in the way of Helena, and no doubt she was anxious that Mrs. Berrow should inherit the Berrow estates. But what was that dwarf doing out there at that hour? I left him with you.”
“He went away at a quarter past nine,” said Alice, quietly, “after he had asked me to marry him, and I had refused. I thought he would have gone home. But he did not. I next saw him dead in the snow, at half-past ten o’clock. Rupert, I have exhausted you. I am so sorry; but it was necessary to have an explanation.”
“You are quite satisfied?”
“Perfectly. Your engagement to Mrs. Berrow was a forced one; and the mere fact that you give up the money shows me that I am the woman you love. Rest quietly, dearest”—she bent and kissed him—“I’ll see that your good name does not suffer.”
Treffry caught her hand as she was moving away.
“Alice,” he said, in a weak voice, “why trouble about the matter? Your father will say nothing, and—”
“The hunchback may,” she reminded him.
“In that case, I’ll insist on Cleopatra speaking out, although it will be difficult to make her behave decently. But I think it would be best to leave the whole matter alone. Marry me, and let us go to St. Ives as I arranged. Helena has the money, so—”
“Yes, but Helena wants you,” said Alice, quickly; “she will not surrender you to me if she can help it. Besides—” Here she hesitated, as it was in her mind to tell Rupert about the second and lost will; but, seeing that he was not strong enough for further conversation, she closed her lips on this point. “Good-bye, darling,” she said, with a fond kiss. “I’ll come up and see you again.”
“Hush! You must not talk,” and, with a second kiss, which sealed his mouth, she glided out of the room.
Before leaving the house, Alice had a few words with the landlady, and arranged that Rupert should be well looked after. She would have remained herself, only she saw that it was necessary to look into matters and circumvent Rupert’s enemies. Mrs. Berrow was one, as she was a woman scorned. Cleopatra was another, because of Mrs. Berrow’s position. Also there was no doubt that Marvel was in some way implicated in the matter, since he was willing to tell a deliberate lie in order to get Treffry into trouble. Then the hunchback—Alice did not know exactly what to make of the hunchback. He apparently knew something about the murder, but not the truth, since he accused Rupert, who could prove an alibi.
On her way back to Chadston Alice thought over the position. It was a difficult one, and she was moving in the dark, surrounded by enemies in ambush. But that she loved Rupert so dearly the girl’s spirit would have quailed before the mysterious prospect. But the thought of her lover lying wounded and unable to defend his good name nerved her to face the worst. She could not understand why Reginald Boyde should have been murdered, or even why Evan Berrow should have been stabbed with the same weapon. But in some subtle way she was certain that the first crime had to do with the second. By Rupert’s showing, Cleopatra must be innocent; but, there was no way, so far as she could see, of hunting down the true criminal. Circumstances connected with Rupert and Evan and Mrs. Berrow were so involved that there seemed to be no possibility of sorting them out. Thus Alice Marvel went home, wondering what would be the best to do first. She was in a dark labyrinth, and could see no outlet.
On arriving at the villa she found that her father was not yet home, although it was close upon six o’clock. Doubtless, as she thought with a shudder, he was drinking in some public-house. Of late he had given way greatly to drink, and Alice connected this downfall in her own mind with the crime. Marvel undoubtedly knew much, and was being used as a tool by someone to injure Rupert. His remorse was driving him to the bottle, as he was not a bad man, and would not accuse anyone wrongfully unless he was being coerced.
These thoughts crossed the girl’s tired mind as she saw by the light of the hall lamp that her father’s stick and coat were absent. With a sigh of regret she entered the sitting-room and found it in darkness. Alice was rather annoyed that her small servant had not lighted the lamp, and was about to ring, when in the red gleam of the firelight she saw a figure seated in the armchair. The figure rose suddenly, and Alice, somewhat startled, drew back.
“Who is it?” she asked.
“It’s me—Polly,” sobbed a tired voice. “Oh! Alice, I have been waiting for you nearly all day. I am almost out of my mind.”
“Polly”—Alice took the girl in her arms, and tried to soothe her, as she seemed to be hysterical—“whatever is the matter?”
“Mrs. Berrow,” sobbed Polly—“Mrs. Berrow and my father.”
“Yes, what about them? Has your father proposed, as he said he would?”
“No,” said the girl, “but he intends to do so, and he says—what I told him—that Mrs. Berrow killed—killed poor little Evan.”
The statement of Polly, coming directly on top of the thought which had worried Alice on her way home, staggered the girl. She placed the sobbing Miss Tait in a chair, and drew back to light the lamp, which already stood on the table. Polly wriggled and twisted like on eel, apparently on the verge of hysterics.
“Alice,” she wailed, “why don’t you speak?”
“I want to see your face first,” replied Alice, lighting the lamp.
“You don’t believe me.”
“How can I? Your statement is too preposterous.”
“But it is true—true!” cried Polly, vehemently, as the light grew in the room and showed her tearstained face and dishevelled hair. “I am quite sure that Mrs. Berrow killed poor Evan—to get the money, I believe. And my father intends to make her marry him, or he will tell the police.”
“I did not think Captain Tait would descend to blackmail, Polly.”
The girl shrieked. “Not that word, Alice, if you love me. I know that father is not a good man. He is selfish and thinks only of himself. He has never been the parent to me that he should have been, and he never liked Teddy. But he is my father, after all, and I don’t want him to get into trouble.”
“He certainly will, if he tries to blackmail Mrs. Berrow,” said Alice, drily, “she isn’t a woman to be threatened with impunity. Then Cleopatra has to be reckoned with.”
“I know—I know,” wailed Polly, squeezing her hands between her knees, and looking the picture of woe; “it is Cleopatra that I am afraid of. I never liked her, the sly, slinking thing, ever since she came into the house a month ago. And she adores Mrs. Berrow. If father tries to harm Mrs. Berrow, Cleopatra will murder him, I am sure. And I shouldn’t like poor father to be killed as Evan was, Alice.”
“My dear child, Cleopatra may be wicked, but she is not a fool. She certainly would not kill your father, seeing that she knows she would be hanged.”
“I believe she would do anything,” declared Polly, throwing herself back in the chair. “Oh! how I wish I had said nothing. But I was so worried in keeping to myself what I knew. I would have told Teddy, only I thought that he would put it into the papers.”
“I saw, on the day Mr. Smith came here, that you had something on your mind,” said Alice, taking a seat in the armchair opposite to the miserable Polly.
“Yes. It was that—about Mrs. Berrow, you know. I had half a mind to tell you, and then I thought I wouldn’t. I never intended to tell father, only he guessed that I knew something from living at the Manor, and worried me until I told him all.”
“You told him—what?”
“That Mrs. Berrow killed Evan to get the money.”
“Polly, do you know what you are saying?”
“Of course I do,” said Miss Tait, snappishly, and drying her red eyes. “Would I say what I do say, unless I was certain of what I am saying? I tell you, Alice, that Mrs. Berrow is guilty. I didn’t like to accuse her, as, after all, she has been kind to me in her own way, and has kept me on as a companion, though she really doesn’t need me, seeing she has Cleopatra, whom she likes much better. I intended to hold my tongue, and I did so for ever so long, until father worried me. Oh, dear, what a wicked girl I feel!” and Polly, talking thus incoherently, threw herself back again, and wept in a way which made Alice fear she would choke.
“Here, dear,” said Alice, getting a glass of water, “drink this, and tell me why you accuse Mrs. Berrow.”
“You will tell the police,” murmured Polly, sipping the water, “and then there will be trouble. I don’t want Mrs. Berrow arrested, for she has been kind to—”
“I promise you that I’ll hold my tongue,” interrupted Alice, taking back the glass, “unless Mrs. Berrow threatens Rupert.”
“That’s another thing,” went on Miss Tait, in no way astonished by the remark. “Cleopatra tells me that Mr. Treffry is engaged to Mrs. Berrow, and will marry her shortly.”
“Mr. Treffry is engaged to me,” said Alice, sharply, “and you can rest assured, Polly, that no one but myself will be his wife. Now then, tell me what you know.”
Polly protested, and sobbed, and wriggled, and tried to hold her tongue. But she had let out sufficient to make Alice, in the interests of Rupert, desire to know all; and, with firm handling, she at last reluctantly consented to reveal what she knew. “But I do hope you won’t let it get into the papers,” she concluded, “for Teddy would only blame me for not having told him. He is so keen to get good paragraphs, and stand well with his editor.”
“We can talk of that later,” said Alice, impatiently; “meanwhile, I want to know what you know.”
“You remember the night on which Evan was murdered,” said Polly, in a more composed manner, but dabbing her eyes with a damp handkerchief, then, when her listener nodded, she continued, rapidly: “He went out about eight o’clock, immediately after dinner. I retired to the drawing-room with Mrs. Berrow. She was very restless, although she said very little. After a time I felt so miserable that I asked if I could go to bed.”
“If I remember,” put in Alice, “you told Mr. Smith and myself that you had a headache.”
“I had,” assented Polly, vigorously. “Evan did nothing but worry me about you, and was always asking questions. I do wish you had married him, Alice, and let Mrs. Berrow marry Mr. Treffry, then all this terrible trouble would have been avoided.”
Alice waived this speech. “Go on,” she said, sharply, and Polly meekly obeyed.
“I went to bed about half-past eight o’clock, leaving Mrs. Berrow in the drawing-room. I was doing my hair about nine.”
“Oh! then you did not go to bed at once?”
“I was doing my hair,” snapped Polly, “and mending some things.”
“Your headache could not have been very bad.”
“Well, it was and it wasn’t. When in the drawing-room I thought my head would split, as Mrs. Berrow would play the piano, and you know quite well that she plays atrociously. But in my own room the quietness soothed me, and I dawdled about, doing my hair and other things. My room is near Mrs. Berrow’s, and just after nine I heard her coming upstairs with Cleopatra. They were whispering together, but I could not hear what they said.”
“That’s a pity,” said Alice, curtly. “Had you overheard what they said it would solve a lot of puzzles.”
“Well, I didn’t,” snapped Polly again, for her nerves were evidently in a bad way. “I had no reason to listen, although I never liked Cleopatra. But I didn’t think anything was wrong. They went into Mrs. Berrow’s room, and then they reappeared, both dressed to go out.”
“How do you know that?”
“I saw them both. Yes! I wanted to go to the bathroom to get some hot water to bathe my head, and I had just opened the door softly so that Mrs. Berrow mightn’t hear and make a row, when I saw them at the head of the stairs, dressed to go out. I had just opened the bedroom door, and shut it again at once, so that Cleopatra might not see me. She is so cross and so sharp, you know,” explained Polly, with a sniff, “not the sort of nurse I should have in the house.”
“Never mind,” said Alice, impatiently, “go on.”
“My window,” continued Polly, meekly, “looks out on to the drive. It was covered with snow on that night. The storm had ceased for a time, and the moon was clear. I saw Mrs. Berrow and Cleopatra both going down the drive, and wondered what they were doing out at that time of the night. I then thought that something was wrong—you know how nervous I am—and I fancied that the house might be attacked by burglars in their absence.”
“Had they remained, they could not have done much,” retorted Alice, irritated by this ridiculous speech.
“I don’t know,” said Polly, obstinately, “they could have screamed, you know. But they were out, and Evan was out, and I was left all alone, which frightened me. I made up my mind to watch at the window for the return of one of the three; so I wrapped my dressing-gown round me—you know the one, Alice—blue, trimmed with—”
“Yes, yes! How long did you wait at the window?”
“Until half-past ten. I was quite sure of the time, for I kept looking at the watch Teddy gave me on my last birthday. Mrs. Berrow and Cleopatra came back about that time.”
“Did they see the light in your window?”
“No. I was afraid Mrs. Berrow would, and make trouble. She is a bully, you know. I put it out when I sat down to watch, and it was very disagreeable sitting there in the dark. Mrs. Berrow and Cleopatra came back, and entered the house, and came up the stairs,” said Polly, going into minute detail, “and went into Mrs. Berrow’s room. Mrs. Berrow was sobbing and crying awfully when she passed my door; I could hear her quite plain, and it frightened me, as I thought something was wrong. They remained in Mrs. Berrow’s room all night.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Alice, quickly.
“Cleopatra did, and you needn’t be so sharp with me. I expect Mrs. Berrow was upset about having killed Evan, and kept Cleopatra beside her so that she mightn’t see his ghost.”
“See here, Polly,” was the remark of Miss Marvel, “you say that you saw Mrs. Berrow and her nurse go out and come back. But their doing so doesn’t prove that Mrs. Berrow killed Evan. You talk nonsense.”
“Oh, do I,” cried Polly, bouncing up in a rage. “And was it nonsense that made me go into Mrs. Berrow’s room next morning, after she heard of the murder, to see what was up? She had got out of bed at an early hour and gone downstairs.”
“Well, and no wonder, considering she had learnt of the death a few hours previous, and the body of that poor creature was in the house.”
“You are quite wrong,” said Polly, earnestly. “Mrs. Berrow’s guilty conscience wouldn’t let her rest. Oh, I’m quite sure of it, Alice. I wanted to make sure that she had been out on the previous night, and I looked into the wardrobe to see the cloak she wore. I found it—a dark-green cloak, trimmed with fur, and I also found the white silk dinner-dress she wore on the previous night. You know, until Evan died, she always wore white in the evening, as she will think herself a girl, which she isn’t,” concluded Polly, spitefully.
“Well—well, what about the dinner-dress?”
“It was tossed into the bottom of the wardrobe instead of being hung up properly. I examined it to see if it was damp like the cloak, and on the breast—oh, Alice!”
“I found a lot of blood. It was spotted all over and smeared awful with dark red stains. I believe she killed Evan, and his blood was sprinkled on her dress.”
“Oh!” Alice drew a long breath, “but if she wore a cloak—”
“It flew open, I expect,” said Polly, who seemed to have quite a theory about the crime. “She stabbed him, and the cloak would become disarranged, and then his blood—oh—oh—oh!” Polly showed signs of going into hysterics.
Alice caught up the jug of water on the table and flung it into her face. The sharp shock made the girl gasp, and she subsided into quiet tears.
“You told your father this?” asked Miss Marvel.
“Yes,” gasped Polly. “I had to tell some one. Father says that he is sure Mrs. Berrow went out with that horrid Cleopatra to kill Evan, and that he will make her marry him, or tell the police. He made me swear to tell no one what I knew, and said if I did he would cut me off with a shilling, which he hasn’t got. But I don’t care. I felt so miserable that I had to come and tell you, and I’m glad I have told you. Isn’t it awful, to think that Mrs. Berrow—”
“Don’t be in a hurry, Polly. Mrs. Berrow may be innocent.”
“What! And with going out, and her dress stained, and—”
“I see that matters look very black against her but it is just as well to give her the benefit of the doubt. Polly, say nothing to your father about having told me.”
“No,” gasped Polly. “Father would—he would—oh, I don’t know what he would do. Stop my marrying Teddy, I believe.”
“That doesn’t matter. You earn your own money and can afford to defy your father.”
“Yes, but if father marries Mrs. Berrow he will give me money.”
“Mrs. Berrow’s money,” said Alice, drily, and wondering at the view taken by the girl, seeing on what ground Captain Tait proposed to make Mrs. Berrow his wife. “You needn’t fear, Polly. Your father will never marry Mrs. Berrow.”
“Father is very obstinate, and he thinks that he has been badly treated by the Berrows.”
“I daresay. But Captain Tait is the kind of man to think that everyone treats him badly. Hark!”
“There is my father. Go now, dear.” Alice wished to get the girl out of the house in case Marvel was not quite himself. “Say nothing, either to your father or to Mr. Smith. I’ll see that everything is made all right.”
“But, Alice, what can you do?”
“More than you think. Promise to hold your tongue.”
“I will, for father’s sake. Oh, Alice, don’t let him get into any trouble, will you?”
“I’ll do my best,” said Alice, and pushed the girl into the hall.
There stood Lawrence Marvel, apparently intoxicated, as he was swaying to and fro in a high state of enjoyment, singing to himself. Polly gave him one glance of disgust, and then fled through the door which was still open. Alice closed it, and took her father gently by the arm.
“You had better go to bed, father,” she said, in as steady a voice as she could command.
“Go—to—bed,” said Marvel, slowly and distinctly, for he could yet control his voice if not his legs, “when—I—am—enjoying—myself.”
“Come into the sitting-room, then,” said Alice, thinking it best to humour him, and knowing from long experience how obstinate he was when he got to this stage. “Come!”
Marvel staggered into the room and dropped like a lump of lead into the armchair. No sooner had he sat down than he began to show signs of sleepiness, as no doubt the liquor and the heat of the room combined induced drowsiness. All the same, he kept muttering and laughing in a disconnected manner. Alice was sad to her soul at the sight of this degradation.
“Father—father, you will ruin us!” she cried, painfully.
“Ruin,” muttered Marvel; “no chance of ruin. I have got them under my thumb. They must pay—pay.”
Alice could scarcely believe her ears. “Who have you got under your thumb?” she asked, sharply.
The loudness of the voice awoke Marvel’s sense of cunning. “Never you mind,” he said, sleepily, “only you needn’t be afraid of being ruined. I can always get money by holding my tongue. Mrs. Berrow will pay—Clyde will pay.”
“And Rupert?” asked Alice, softly.
“Oh, Rupert—oh, Treffry.” Marvel laughed in a foolish manner. “How she loves him! She’ll see him hanged before—” His voice died away into a drawl and his head sank back. Then came the sound of a snore, and in another moment he was fast asleep.
With one hand on the table and the other at her breast Alice Marvel stood thinking. Her father was being used by Clyde and Mrs. Berrow, after all, and he was being used to ruin Rupert Treffry!
In order to supplement her father’s income and keep the house going, Alice taught singing. Consequently, as money was an object, she could not give up her occupation, even though it was almost necessary to use every moment in finding out who had killed Evan. She would have much preferred to marry Rupert, and go to live with him at St. Ives, for she felt very weary of the sordid, anxious life which she now led. Small means, a drunken father, constant employment of a sort which grated on her artistic susceptibilities—it was scarcely surprising that the girl felt inclined to throw up the sponge.
But, as things stood, they were too serious for her to leave them as they were. From the story told by Rupert she saw very plainly that unless he would marry Mrs. Berrow that lady would stop at nothing to ruin him. And if Mrs. Berrow was not strong or wicked enough to bring about this ruin, Cleopatra certainly was. Also, Marvel was involved in disreputable matters connected with Clyde, and from his half-confession, made while under the influence of drink, Alice saw that he was being used as a tool by Clyde, and through him, presumably, by Mrs. Berrow and her dangerous nurse. To save Rupert, to save her father, it was necessary that Alice should examine into matters, at all events until such time as Treffry himself should be up and about, when he would doubtless take up the search for himself. When the true murderer of Evan Berrow was discovered, then Mrs. Berrow’s spite would be rendered harmless, and it would be possible for Rupert and Alice to marry. After that, there would only remain the question of the second will.
Alice Marvel was not fond of money, save that she desired to have enough to live on, and a superfluous amount at hand to assist other people. Therefore, she was by no means willing to permit Mrs. Berrow to enjoy ten thousand a year if by chance the second will could be found. Mrs. Berrow certainly did not deserve the money if she was guilty of causing the death, either directly or indirectly, of her step-son. Also, by the surrender of the Jamaica property by Rupert, she would be, in any case, possessed of two thousand a year. Alice, therefore, intended to seek out the will of which Evan had told her, and was resolved to enforce its provisions if the document was legal. Then she could pension her father and marry Rupert. She pictured to herself the surprise of the young man when he found that his wife was no pauper, but a well-endowed lady.
There was another thing which Alice considered as she took her way to the Manor House, and that was the codicil to the first will, which gave her three hundred a year. She was very sure that Mrs. Berrow, by working on Evan’s jealousy, had invented this idea of going to Australia in order that Rupert should be set free from the presence of the girl he loved, in which case Mrs. Berrow would be able to make headway in inducing Treffry to marry her. But, then, Rupert, if he truly loved her, as she was assured he did, by his giving up a large income, would follow her to Australia, and marry her there. The explanation of her father that Treffry would be forced to go to Jamaica, Alice did not believe. Either it was not true, or by surrendering his claim to the property Rupert was set free from this provision of his Uncle’s will. Therefore, clever as Mrs. Berrow had been in suggesting to the jealous dwarf a means of parting the lovers, Alice knew very well that she would not be able to succeed in her wicked endeavour. Finally the situation resolved itself into this: Alice, as she plainly saw, could either accept the three hundred a year and go to Australia, telling Rupert to follow her, which he assuredly would do; or she could surrender the money, and claim, by the provisions of the second will, the whole estate. But before moving in these matters she wished to discover the real criminal, so that she might rob Mrs. Berrow of her sting.
At the gate of the Manor House Alice met Captain Tait. He was marching gaily along, with his head very much in the air, swinging a light cane, and seemed to be thoroughly well satisfied with himself. He had, as Alice conceived, all the air of a fortunate wooer, and, undoubtedly, had managed to make Mrs. Berrow accept his offer. With a graceful sweep of his hat he acknowledged the girl’s bow.
“I am glad to see you, Miss Marvel,” he said, lightly; “a lovely day, is it not? There is a touch of spring in the air. I have just been to see Mrs. Berrow, and I have some news for you. Do you remember the conversation I had with you while walking down here after the reading of the will?”
“Yes,” replied Alice, knowing perfectly well why he led up to the subject, in this cunning way.
“I have done what I said I would do,” remarked Captain Tait, pompously, “and have made Mrs. Berrow—a charming lady—an offer of my heart and hand. She has accepted.”
“Indeed,” said the girl, coldly. “I should not have thought it possible that Mrs. Berrow would have done so.”
“And why not?” questioned Tait, indignantly. “I am a man of an old and famous family. Mrs. Berrow is living in my family mansion, which was wrongfully wrested from me by her late husband, and I admire the lady sufficiently to make her my wife.”
“In that case,” said Alice, deftly evading an argument, “I can only congratulate you on your good fortune in marrying money.”
“And can you not congratulate Mrs. Berrow also on becoming the wife of a member of the oldest family in Chadston?”
“If you make her a good husband, I can,” replied the girl, pointedly.
The blood rushed to Tait’s cheek. “I don’t exactly know what you mean, Miss Marvel,” he said, stiffly. “But, as I am a gentleman, I assuredly know what is due to a lady, especially as that lady to whom I allude is to be my wife.”
Alice thought of the late Mrs. Tait, and the way in which she had been neglected by the man before her. However, it was not her desire to interfere with Tait’s domestic affairs, therefore, with a cold bow, she was about to pass on, when he stopped her again. Apparently, what she had said rankled in his vain breast, and he wished to right himself in her eyes, so far as he could, without committing his dignity.
“And you ought to be very much obliged to me, Miss Marvel, seeing that I have removed an obstacle from your path.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” replied Alice, guessing very well what he was about to say, but resolved to give him no opening.
“Polly tells me,” pursued the Captain, “that you are engaged to a young gentleman, formerly in the Army, I believe, called Treffry.”
“Yes, I have been engaged for some time.”
“Perhaps you are not aware, as I discovered through our mutual friend, Mr. Clyde, the lawyer, that Mrs. Berrow at one time was engaged to the same young gentleman. She loves him still, and had I not insisted she should become Mrs. Tait she would certainly have married him. In which case, I need hardly point out, your life would have been different, and scarcely so happy as it promises to be.”
“That speech is injudicious, to say the least of it, Captain Tait,” said Alice, calmly, and with a flush. “Mrs. Berrow will scarcely thank you for making her private business public.”
“Not public, oh, not public,” protested Tait, annoyed at being put in the wrong, “considering that Treffry is engaged to you.”
“I am not prepared to discuss that with you, Captain Tait. Good-day,” and Alice walked on, leaving the speaker rather irritated.
“Minx!” said Tait to himself, as he looked after her. “High and mighty minx!” After which expression of annoyance, and a few more words scarcely fit for publication, he smoothed his ruffled plumage and strutted away like the vain jackdaw that he was.
Alice was angered at this interference with her private affairs, for if there was one thing she disliked it was the habit of people like Tait meddling with what did not concern them. Chadston was a hotbed of gossip, but, Miss Marvel had always held her peace and kept aloof from the chatterers. She knew that Polly was a gossip, but had not thought that she would so soon have informed Tait (also a spreader of news) that Treffry was the man she was engaged to. Moreover, Clyde had no reason to tell Tait, knowing what a long tongue he had, that Mrs. Berrow had been engaged, and, seeing that the lawyer was an astute person, it was probable that he had some reason for so telling the town-crier, as Tait was. On the whole, as Alice hurried up the avenue, she felt that there was some intrigue in progress which centred round Mrs. Berrow and Rupert, and which had to do with the violent death of Evan. More than ever did she feel the haunting sense of mystery, and of foes striking at her in the dark. But all she could do she was about to do, and that was to have an interview with the widow of Evan’s father. An exhaustive conversation might dispel the mists which hung over everything.
Mrs. Berrow was at home, and made no difficulty about seeing her visitor. Apparently her outward attitude towards Alice was one of suave friendship but, when necessary, she could throw off the mask and show herself, what she really was, an enemy of the worst kind. The solitary fact that Rupert loved Alice was enough to make Mrs. Berrow dangerous in the character of a woman scorned, and whenever the lady entered the room Miss Marvel felt that she was surrounded by a hostile atmosphere, and would have to be on her guard.
Mrs. Berrow looked more graceful and ladylike than ever. Her olive-complexioned face was calm, her eyes as hard as those of a cat in a rage. All the same, she smiled with her vividly-red lips as she moved forward to greet Alice, holding out a small white hand. Much as she disliked the woman, Alice could not but acknowledge that Mrs. Berrow looked wonderfully handsome in her deep mourning, which was of the richest and most pronounced.
“I am glad to see you, Miss Marvel,” said the widow, sinking into a chair, and at the same time her hard eyes were searching her visitor’s face in the hope of discovering at once what might be the reason for this intrusion. “I presume you have come to tell me that you will accept the three hundred a year which Evan, poor boy, left you. I hope so, as I know that you are not well off.”
“I think all Chadston must know my circumstances,” replied Alice, bitterly, “and I am quite sure that everything I do, or say, is discussed threadbare.”
“Not by me,” retorted Mrs. Berrow, quietly. “I take no interest in you, beyond the fact that Evan loved you. Oh, how I wish you had married him.”
“Instead of Rupert Treffry, I presume?”
The widow’s eyes flashed. She saw that Alice knew the truth, which had been kept from her for so long, and was prepared to do battle at once. In fact, she seemed glad of the chance of dropping her mask, as it was difficult, even for one of her training, to be agreeable to the girl whom Rupert loved.
“Cleopatra told me that she met you at the post-office, Miss Marvel, and that she had advised you to question the man who calls himself your lover.”
“The man who is my lover,” corrected Alice, shortly.
“Pardon me, he was mine before he cast eyes on you.”
“So I understand. But I should scarcely think, Mrs. Berrow, that a woman of your position and attractions would care to have a man forced to love you?”
“Forced!” Mrs. Berrow’s hands clenched. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that Rupert told me all about Helena Buckland.”
“My maiden name. Then you know that Rupert was engaged to marry me?”
“Quite so. His uncle threatened to leave the property to you unless Rupert made you his wife. But he never loved you, and—”
Mrs. Berrow sprang too her feet. “It is a lie! He did love me—he does love me. I defy you to deny that.”
Alice was on her feet also by this time, and the two women, forced into open hostility, faced one another fiercely. “I do deny it,” said Miss Marvel, angrily. “Rupert loves me and me only. In order to marry me he has voluntarily surrendered the Jamaican property to you. Yes, Mrs. Berrow, you have the money, but I have the love, and I would not change with you for all your two thousand a year.”
“Twelve thousand a year,” said Mrs. Berrow, sneering. “Let us be explicit, if you please. And I think that such a sum will buy even your so-called lover, who is truly mine.”
“If he is yours, why did you make me your friend?” asked Alice, in a hard tone. “You have known me for many months, yet you never, by word or deed, hinted that Rupert Treffry was anything to you.”
“Because I did not know the truth,” cried Mrs. Berrow, fiercely, and her hands clenched again. “Rupert was engaged to marry me, but my aunt—since you know so much from his own lips you must know this also—my aunt insisted that I should marry Mr. Berrow. Luckily he died, and I was free to marry Rupert. I quite expected that he would make me his wife when his uncle died. Mr. Boyde did die, some months ago, and then Rupert intended to marry me.”
“He never did. He has been engaged to me for a long time.”
“Like the false-hearted man he is. I gathered from what he wrote that he was in love with another woman, and I longed to meet that woman. I never in my wildest speculations thought that the woman was yourself. You never mentioned his name to me.”
“There was no need,” flashed out Miss Marvel. “I mind my own business, as I expect other people to mind theirs. My father knew the name of Rupert alone; no one else did. Then I told Polly Tait when Rupert came down a week or so ago, and—”
“And Polly told me. Yes, she came straight back with the news on the day after the murder. Then I knew that you were the woman who was my rival.”
“I believe you knew long ago,” said Alice, doubtfully, “else you would never have had that codicil made to the will.”
“I had nothing to do with that. Evan made the codicil, because he knew that you were in love.”
“But he did not know the name of the man I loved.”
“What of that? He guessed that the man must be in England, and so left you the money, contingent on your leaving this country. In that way he hoped to separate you, being jealous.”
“I don’t believe one word of what you say,” retorted Miss Marvel, in a heated manner. “By his uncle’s will Rupert had to return to Jamaica to search out the murderer. That would probably take him years. You thought that Rupert would not follow me to Australia, preferring the money to my love, and so got that codicil put in to part us.”
“One moment, Miss Marvel,” said Mrs. Berrow, with an evil smile and a chalky-white face. “I learnt that Rupert was your lover only the day after the death of poor Evan. In that case I hardly see how I could have induced him to make the codicil.”
“I believe you knew I was engaged to Rupert when you went up to town to see him shortly after his arrival. Ah!” Alice started, “now I remember what Rupert said yesterday. You did know, for he told you. You had plenty of time to get Evan to make a codicil, and—”
“You are talking rubbish,” interrupted Mrs. Berrow, enraged at being driven into a corner, “and what you say matters very little. I shall marry Rupert somehow.”
“And what about Captain Tait?”
Mrs. Berrow flushed, and then grew pale again. “Have you seen him?”
“Immediately before I saw you—half an hour since leaving this very house. He told me that—”
“It’s false! I am not engaged to him, and if he worries me I’ll soon put a stop to his pranks.”
“In what way?”
“In what way?” echoed Mrs. Berrow, sneering. “In this way. I can prove that Tait murdered my poor step-son.”
The accusation of Mrs. Berrow appeared to be so wild, in the face of what Captain Tait had said, that Alice, although startled for the moment, smiled disdainfully.
“I don’t believe that,” she remarked, with a shrug. “How can you expect me to?”
“Because I say so,” retorted the other woman, her eyes flashing like steel. “Captain Tait is guilty.”
“And you intend to marry him?”
“I do not. I told you that there was no engagement.”
“He says that there is.”
“Then I repeat what I said before—he is a liar!”
“Calling him so does not make him out to be one.”
“You insult me,” cried Mrs. Berrow, starting to her feet in a fine rage, and clearly at her wits’ end how to protect herself. “Why do you come here to insult me?”
“Pardon me,” replied Miss Marvel, icily, “I do not come here either to insult you or to bandy words. I came here to learn who killed your poor step-son.”
“Why to me?”
“Because you know.”
“I do not. You have no right—”
“You have just accused Captain Tait,” Alice reminded her.
Mrs. Berrow took the room, much in the same manner as a tragic actress takes the stage. Her hands were clenched, her brow knotted with thought, and she bit her lips to prevent a torrent of words flowing from them against her will. It would not do, she thought, to say too much, or to appear to know too much. Her visitor looked at her with hard eyes. She knew perfectly well that Mrs. Berrow was lying, and seeing that Rupert’s character, and perhaps his liberty, was at stake, she was resolved to show no mercy should she get the upper hand. It would be best; she thought in her turn, to let Mrs. Berrow spin her own rope to hang herself. For a few moments there was a dead silence. Alice sat like a rock, watching Mrs. Berrow sweeping tempestuously up and down the room, while the lady herself wondered what would be the best course to take in order to convince this very disagreeable and too-curious visitor.
“We don’t seem to understand one another,” said Mrs. Berrow, after a long time, and returning quietly to her seat. “Why have you come here? Answer me plainly.”
“To protect Rupert. I know well that you love him. I know well that you would rather see him hanged than yield him to me. I know his story—”
“And you do not know mine,” flashed out the other woman.
“I am waiting for you to tell it.”
“I shall tell you nothing.”
Alice rose quietly. “In that case, there is no use in my prolonging my visit. I have only to give you a last warning. If you dare to accuse Rupert of this crime, I shall accuse you.”
Mrs. Berrow gasped and grew pale. “Accuse me?”
“Yes. I don’t believe that Captain Tait has anything to do with the matter, and I believe that you have.”
“You—you—you dare to say that I killed Evan?”
“I don’t go so far as to say that; but I believe—I know,” Alice came forward and bent down, looking steadily into Mrs. Berrow’s eyes, and that lady shrank down into her chair with a shiver, “I know,” repeated Alice, “that you were out on that night. You and your nurse were out about the time of the murder. You returned late, crying and much terrified. Also, your dinner-dress was spotted with blood.”
“It’s a lie!” said a soft, low voice at the door, and with a gasp of relief Mrs. Berrow looked round. Alice also turned her eyes towards the door, and there saw Cleopatra standing with an evil smile on her dark face. She was dressed in a much more gaudy costume than any in which Alice had hitherto seen her, and wore the same flamboyant turquoise earrings which had been so noticeable on the day Miss Marvel had met her at the post-office.
“Nurse!” gasped Mrs. Berrow again, and held out her arms.
The mulattress walked with a swinging gait towards the chair, and, kneeling beside it, took Mrs. Berrow’s head on her breast. As she smoothed her mistress’s hair softly she looked, still smiling, at Alice, and her smile was extremely unpleasant.
“It is a lie!” repeated Cleopatra, very deliberately.
“What is a lie?” asked Alice, coldly.
“That you dare to—” Mrs. Berrow, raising herself, had got thus far, when Cleopatra forced her down.
“Hush! my dearest dear,” she said, in a crooning voice. “Let your old nurse deal with this matter,” then she looked up at the puzzled face of the visitor.
“I listened,” said Cleopatra, calmly, “yes, I have been outside that door all the time. I have heard everything.”
“You are a worthy servant of your mistress,” said Alice, with her lip curling. “I congratulate you both.”
Cleopatra laid Mrs. Berrow softly back in the chair, and rose with the lithe spring of a panther. Before Alice could draw back the woman was near her, so near that she could feel the hot breath on her cheek, and see, too closely to be pleasant, the gleam of a pair of wicked eyes.
“Not a word against my mistress,” said Cleopatra, in a hissing voice. “I shall defend my mistress, and the honour of my mistress, with the last drop of my blood. And you shall not cross the path of my mistress. If you dare to do so, you will deal with me—do you hear?—with ME!”
Alice pushed her back. “Keep your distance,” she said, imperiously, “and keep your heroics for some weaker woman. I am not afraid of you, or of a dozen like you. I know from Miss Tait that you went out with your mistress on the night of the murder, and returned late. I know also, that the dinner-dress—”
“Was spotted with blood,” finished Cleopatra; “quite so.”
“No, no,” moaned Mrs. Berrow: “it is false!”
“It is not false,” exclaimed Cleopatra. “I can explain.”
“I am quite certain you can,” remarked Alice, with delicate irony, “but if you harm Rupert, you shall explain to the police. Leave him alone, and I hold my tongue.”
“There is no need to talk like that,” said Cleopatra, coolly. “You cannot frighten me with words. Mrs. Berrow shall marry Mr. Treffry, and you will go to Australia.”
“It is beyond your power to bring about such a marriage, or to force me into exile.”
Cleopatra laughed insultingly. “You think so. I do not,” she said, with a defiant air. “Dearest dear,” she added, turning to Mrs. Berrow, who was now calmer, “wait, and you will hear the truth.”
“You also,” said Alice, swiftly; “and what is more, you shall hear the truth first. I have seen Treffry, and he told me that you had stabbed him in the leg.”
“I did,” said Cleopatra, insolently, “and let him take care that I do not stab him in the heart. But that my mistress loves him he would have been dead before now. And what you say”—she again looked at Alice with an evil smile—“what you say will only go to prove how my mistress’s dinner-dress came to be spotted with blood. It was—it is, and the blood is that of Mr. Treffry.”
A long sigh of relief came from the chair in which Mrs. Berrow was seated. She leant forward eagerly, and spoke huskily. “Yes, yes,” she said, feverishly; “it is true. Cleopatra will explain.”
“Because you cannot,” said Alice, believing, and with some reason, that the whole was a clever fabrication on the part of, Cleopatra. “You were frightened when I told you of the dress. Now you leave this woman”—she waved her hand contemptuously towards the nurse—“to explain what you cannot explain yourself.”
Cleopatra never moved, but kept her eyes steadily on the determined face of Alice Marvel. She saw that the girl was stronger than she had thought, and was not to be frightened into believing anything, as nine women out of ten might have been. “I can explain what I am about to explain, even to the police,” said Cleopatra, in a quiet tone; “that is, if you should choose to go to the police.”
“I shall do so, if you do not leave Rupert alone.”
“He shall be left alone, as regards his liberty and his life,” said Cleopatra, stolidly; “that is, if he will consent to leave you and marry my darling here.”
“He will never do that.”
“Then he must take the consequences. Now, you see how far I am prepared to go, Tell the police, if you will.”
Alice hesitated. The woman seemed to be very certain of exonerating both herself and her mistress. “I can’t see how you can harm Rupert,” she said, looking at Mrs. Berrow, “if it is true that Captain Tait is guilty.”
“He is and he is not,” chimed in Cleopatra, quickly; and, before Mrs. Berrow could speak, “that is as we determine. If Mr. Treffry marries my mistress, Captain Tait will suffer for the death of the young master. If he refuses, Mr. Treffry will be hanged. I can accuse either or both.”
“You lie!” flashed out Alice, panting. “Rupert was with you almost at the moment poor Evan was stabbed.”
“Yes; but who can prove that save myself?”
Alice was silent, seeing the dangerous position in which her lover stood. She remembered that he had said exactly what Cleopatra said now, and wondered what she could do to baffle the woman who might, and who surely would, hang him, if he refused to do that which he had not the slightest intention of doing. Cleopatra saw her advantage and seized it, while Mrs. Berrow, looking alternately from one face to another, watched the duel.
“Miss Tait said that I went out with my mistress on the night the master was murdered,” pursued Cleopatra, calmly, and calculating the effect of every word. “She is quite right. We did so go out, and to the office of Mr. Clyde.”
“You went to the office?” asked Alice, scarcely believing her ears.
“And why not? Mr. Clyde is my lawyer,” cried Mrs. Berrow.
“And your friend,” said Alice, remembering what Rupert had said about the solicitor being in love with the woman before her.
Mrs. Berrow would have spoken, but Cleopatra stopped her. She seemed anxious to do all the talking. “You are right,” she said, steadily. “Mr. Mason Clyde is indeed a friend of my mistress, and one on whose good offices she can rely. I learnt—it matters not how, perhaps from Mr. Clyde himself—that Mr. Treffry was to be at the office on that night to deliver up certain things which belonged to his dead uncle. I told my mistress, and she resolved to see Mr. Treffry at the office, since Mr. Treffry would not see her at this house.”
“Rupert never saw you,” cried Alice, turning to Mrs. Berrow.
“Rupert did see me,” retorted Mrs. Berrow, now quite herself, and smoothing her dark hair, “and I warned Rupert that if he did not give you up and marry me, that he would get into trouble. Well, that is true. If he does not obey me, he will be accused of the crime.”
“Which Captain Tait committed?”
“Perhaps Captain Tait did not commit it. Perhaps someone else I know of is guilty!”
“What do you mean by that?”
“You shall learn the meaning of these things in time,” struck in Cleopatra, impatiently; “meanwhile there is much to be said and very little time to say it in. My mistress went to the office of Mr. Clyde to make a last appeal to the man who is not worthy of her. I waited outside in the snow—and very cold it was. I saw Mr. Treffry come out, and I followed him. We spoke, and I insisted that he should marry my darling. He refused, and I struck at his false heart with a knife. He pushed me away, and I fell; but I managed to stick the knife into his leg,” finished the woman, with fiendish glee.
“I know that,” said Alice, coldly. “Go on.”
“The blood came, and he fainted. I fled away, leaving him to die if he liked, and returned to the office to tell my mistress. She was at the door with Mr. Clyde. I flung my arms round my darling’s neck to tell her that I had wounded the false man, who was unworthy of her beauty and her love. I still held the knife, and the blood naturally smeared the dinner-dress. We returned, with my mistress crying because I had wounded Mr. Treffry, as I had explained. Foolish one”—she glided to the chair and caressed Mrs. Berrow’s head—“he is not worthy of you; I punished him well for his faithlessness. I would punish him with the knife in his heart, but that you so foolishly love him. And now, you poor white woman,” she added, facing round resolutely, “what have you to say to my story?”
“That it sounds well, and that I do not believe one word.”
“You must—you shall!” cried Mrs. Berrow, vehemently.
“I shall not. Leave Rupert alone, or I tell the police what Miss Tait told me,” said Alice, fiercely.
“Go and tell the police,” said Cleopatra, coolly, and waving a many-ringed hand. “Take also with you Miss Tait, who will lose a good home for playing the spy. You know what I intend to do; what story I intend to tell. With Mr. Treffry I shall deal, as soon as I know if he intends to marry you or my mistress.”
“And Captain Tait?
“I can deal with him also.”
“He says that he is engaged to Mrs. Berrow.”
“It is false,” cried that lady.
“It is true—for the time being,” said Cleopatra; “my dearest dear, leave me to deal with everything. You shall have your Mr. Treffry, unworthy though he is, and that white woman,” she pointed with a sneer to Alice, “shall die in the mud.”
“You promise more than you can fulfil,” said Alice, moving towards the door. “I still hold to what I say. Touch Rupert and I call the police.”
“Good; we understand one another,” said the mulattress. “It is war.”
Alice looked at Mrs. Berrow helplessly. That lady was holding the hand of her nurse, and smiled defiantly. Both the bad creatures seemed certain that they would be able to do what they would. It was useless to appeal to either, and both looked at the solitary girl in the most insulting manner.
“Have you heart?” the girl asked Mrs. Berrow.
“No, Rupert has my heart.”
“If you love him, will you ruin him?”
“Yes, unless he marries me.”
“Then you hear me, you wicked creature!” cried Miss Marvel, desperately. “I shall do what I threatened to do. You shall never marry him—you shall never harm him.”
“It is two to one,” cried Cleopatra, smiling.
“The strength of Goliath of Gath against David the Shepherd,” said Alice, opening the door. “But David had right on his side, as I have, and he won, as I shall win. Do your worst, Mrs. Berrow, with the aid of your accomplice, but take care that your schemes do not recoil on your own head. Rupert is mine, and you shall never take him from me—never—never—never!”
“We shall see,” said Mrs. Berrow, and watched her rival leave the room.
The last sound heard by Alice was the ironical laughter of Cleopatra, who apparently thought that the girl was beaten and cowed. But the mulattress did not know what kind of a woman she had to deal with. The duel between them had only just commenced.
Poor Alice! It was really a very difficult position in which she found herself placed. Hitherto her life, though hard and poor, had been at least peaceful, save when her father had a drinking bout. But since the arrival of Rupert, and the replighting of their love, the girl had been plunged into difficulties. First, there was the death of Evan Berrow; second, the danger of Treffry; and third, the conspiracy of Mrs. Berrow and her nurse. Alice felt that both she and her lover were surrounded with hidden dangers, and only her cleverness could avert some catastrophe which might ruin their lives.
It was really hard to say who was guilty of the dwarf’s death. That Rupert was innocent, Alice knew very well, since he said so himself, and his statement was substantiated by Cleopatra. But the nurse would never give evidence in his favour unless he married Mrs. Berrow—a contingency which was out of the question. Captain Tait certainly had not committed the crime; and now that Miss Marvel came to think over the late conversation, Mrs. Berrow had given no reason why he should have done so, and had done nothing save make a bare accusation, which could be taken for what it was worth.
That she had some lying evidence Alice was sure, since, in the event of Treffry marrying Mrs. Berrow, Cleopatra proposed to save him by sacrificing Captain Tait. But the question was, could such evidence convict an innocent man of murder? Alice, although unaware of what the evidence might be, thought not, and made up her mind, with some reason, that the nurse was bluffing. Probably, were Treffry weak enough to yield to these threats, the nurse, when the marriage with Mrs. Berrow was an actual fact, would leave Tait severely alone.
Then there was her father. Alice did not believe that so weak and nervous a man had committed the crime, and, moreover, could not see why he should have killed Evan. Certainly, he knew about the second will, and, on the face of it, might rid himself of Berrow so that his daughter might inherit. On the other hand, were Marvel guilty, and for this reason had slain Evan, he assuredly would, before now, have taken steps for the discovery of the will, so as to gain, through Alice, the reward of his iniquity. That he had not done so proved his innocence. All the same, from the few words let drop by him during his drunken fit, Alice felt sure that he knew the truth, and could lay his finger on the criminal. Whether the individual was Mrs. Berrow or Mason Clyde the girl could not say, but she felt sure that one or the other was guilty. Cleopatra’s ingenious explanation as to how the blood came to be upon the dinner-dress did not impress Alice with a sense of belief. Mrs. Berrow might be guilty, as she had everything to gain by her stepson’s death. Again, the lawyer, who had been in possession of the sacrificial knife on the fatal night, might be the doer of the deed, since he loved Mrs. Berrow, and, were she wealthy, would assuredly marry her. If one or the other were guilty Marvel knew of the guilt, and, being unfettered by honourable scruples, was making capital out of the secret.
Things seemed very perplexing to the girl, and more than ever she felt helpless to deal with the matter. Being unaccustomed to the ways of detectives, she did not know exactly how to act. Were she to inform the police she could certainly place the matter in practised hands, but the question was, would not those hands arrest her father? Failing any proof against Tait, the nurse, to save her mistress, and perhaps herself, might accuse Lawrence Marvel, and Alice did not know but what Cleopatra, in such a contingency, might not make her case good. Both she and Mrs. Berrow were dishonourable, bad women, and, to gain their ends, would stop at nothing. Failing Rupert, they would accuse Tait; failing Tait, they would lay the blame on Marvel; and Alice did not know but what, with their tricks and dangerous cunning, they would not be able to make up a strong case against any one of the three. How, then, was this conspiracy to be met?
The girl thought over the matter for a long time, and at length very wisely decided to seek out the hunchback and the dumb girl. The hunchback accused Rupert of the crime, and Alice wished to know on what grounds he based his accusation. Ruth, the dumb girl, had given the knife to Clyde when the will was read, and Miss Tudor-Stuart had stated that Mrs. Rayner, alias Mrs. Brandyface, had picked it up near the scene of the murder. The question was, once more, how did the knife come to be taken from Clyde’s office? Once the person who took it therefrom was found, the mystery of the crime would be solved. Therefore, it seemed to be the best course to seek out Ruth and the hunchback and Mrs. Brandyface, in order to learn exactly what they knew about this very perplexing matter.
The next day, after her father had gone to the office, Alice put on her cloak, and postponed a music lesson. She had enough money in hand to last for a week, and it seemed more necessary to arrive at the solution of this mystery than to earn a few more shillings. Locking up the front rooms, and leaving the kitchen in charge of the small servant, Miss Marvel walked into Chadston, and went to the railway station in the hope of finding Ben, who there swept the crossing. Since he had been brought to Chadston by Evan he showed no disposition to return to Whitechapel, nor did Miss Tudor-Stuart, who was touring in the suburbs, as she put it, and incidentally reaping a fine harvest of coppers. Alice wished to find Ben, firstly, that she might learn on what grounds he accused Rupert, and, secondly, that she might find out where Mrs. Brandyface was to be found. A few words with the old woman might solve the mystery of the knife.
Ben, however, was not at his crossing, although the morning was wet, and he would have done well in the sweeping line. Alice, therefore, walked down the High Street, wondering how she was to find Mrs. Brandyface in the slums. Although Chadston was a new suburb, there were many slums, and some very undesirable people lived therein. But Alice did not think that anything could possibly happen to her if she went into this low neighbourhood in the daytime. Besides, she was so anxious to clear Rupert and save him from the machinations of Mrs. Berrow and her nurse that she did not care very much what risk she ran so long as she attained her ends.
Then fortune stood her friend. At the end of the High Street, and some distance away from Mason Clyde’s office, Miss Marvel came upon a small detachment of the Salvation Army holding a meeting. A scanty crowd was gathered round, while a pale-faced girl preached dramatically, her discourse being punctuated by pious ejaculations from her brother and sister officers. To Alice’s surprise, she saw the yellow hunchback standing near at hand, listening attentively, with the tears streaming down his worn, wizen face. He held his broom, and was dressed as usual in the sou’-wester and the oilskin coat, at once a pathetic and grotesque figure. The address of the pale-faced girl seemed to be pointed directly at the pauper dwarf, and he shook and trembled with sympathy as she hurled her fiery words at him. Miss Marvel was at his elbow before Ben was aware of her presence. She touched him lightly on the shoulder. He turned with a start, and retreated shuddering when he saw who it was.
“I wish to speak to you,” said Alice, in a low voice; but, softly as she spoke, the preacher heard her, and broke off her discourse to address a warning to the interrupter.
“Leave the brand alone, child of Satan!” cried the pale-faced girl; “do you not see that I am trying to snatch him from the burning?”
Alice, not wishing for a scene, but resolved to fulfil her errand, made no reply. She took Ben by the shoulder, and led him aside, while the preacher resumed her sermon, and denounced Alice again by the pleasant epithet which she had already applied. The yellow hunchback winced and shied as Miss Marvel led him away, and stood silently looking at her, when they paused down a side street. Alice saw that he was somewhat unstrung by the discourse, and resolved to make use of the passing mood.
“You wish to be converted?” she asked, looking severely at him.
“I am a sinner,” said the dwarf, in his harsh voice, and looked at her in his turn with mournful eyes. “Surely you do not wish me to refrain from finding what peace I can?”
He spoke, although harshly, in a cultivated manner, which made Alice wonder. She almost believed that Evan stood before her.
“Are you sure that you are not Evan Berrow, masquerading as a sweeper?”
The hunchback shook his head. “I am related to the late Mr. Berrow, Miss Marvel, and I deplore his death, as he would have done much for me. But perhaps it is best as it is, for had I been lapped in sinful luxury I should never have heard the blessed words of peace which I have listened to this day.”
“Can you gain peace when you accuse an innocent man of crime?”
“An innocent man?”
“Yes,” she replied, vehemently; “and you know it. Why do you say that Mr. Treffry killed your relative?”
“My cousin,” the little man informed her. “Evan was my cousin.”
“Why do you accuse Mr. Treffry?” insisted Alice, wrathfully.
“I have reason to believe that he is guilty.”
“He is not. He was lying wounded at the very time the crime was committed. I can prove that.”
“And Mrs. Rayner can prove that she saw him near the scene of the crime,” retorted the yellow hunchback.
Alice shivered as she thought of the similar statement that her father had made. Rupert undoubtedly had powerful enemies, who were weaving a rope for his neck.
“I can prove otherwise,” she declared, impetuously. “Did you see Mr. Treffry there yourself?”
“No,” said the hunchback, hurriedly, and with a glance towards the Salvation Army; “I was in bed and asleep at the time. But Mrs. Rayner was prowling about, picking up what she could, and told Miss Tudor-Stuart and Ruth that she saw Mr. Treffry.”
“Is Mrs. Rayner the woman you call Mrs. Brandyface?”
“Yes; Ruth’s grandmother.”
“How did she recognise Mr. Treffry, seeing he was a stranger in Chadston?”
“Ruth recognised him.”
“Ruth!” echoed Alice, in surprise. “Did she ever see him before?”
The hunchback again let his eyes wander towards the preacher. “I believe she did in Jamaica.”
“Jamaica! Did she come from that place?”
“I don’t know. I cannot say. Oh! hear the burning words which would change me from bad to good. Let us hear them!” and he made a movement to go.
Alice detained him resolutely.
“How can you act such a farce?” she said, angrily. “How can you go to be converted when you are committing a crime?”
“I am not—I am not!” The dwarf was agitated.
“You are. You accuse an innocent man of—”
“Mrs. Rayner does that.”
“Then tell me where she is, that I may learn the truth of the matter. You must, or I shall tell the police.”
The hunchback turned pale, and shook again, being, as Alice saw, a bundle of nerves. “I want to hear the burning words,” he said, in a piteous tone.
“First of all you must tell me where to find Mrs. Brandyface.”
“Tooker’s Alley, No. 6,” said the hunchback, hurriedly, and, shaking off her grasp, he ran back to the crowd round the preacher. Miss Marvel would have followed him, only that she saw the little man was rapidly being worked into a state of fanaticism by the words he heard. Also, she reflected that if the yellow hunchback was converted, as it seemed would be the case, he assuredly would do his best to prove the innocence of Rupert, since he had no reason to accuse him. Finally, she had the address of Mrs. Brandyface, and was anxious to interview that lady. It seemed strange that both her father and this woman in the slums should accuse Rupert, especially as the young man, by his own statement and the admission of Cleopatra, had not been near the body, and knew nothing about the crime until the next morning.
Alice therefore turned away, and proceeded in the direction of the alley mentioned by Ben. As she gave a backward glance, she saw that he was already drinking in the words of the preacher with a tearful face, deaf to everything save the words of love, which promised him peace in this world and glory in the next. She went away thoughtfully, wondering if what he said was true. Ruth, the dumb girl, had come from Jamaica, according to Ben. This seemed strange, seeing how closely Rupert was connected with that island, and how Cleopatra also had come from that place. More than ever was Alice convinced that some conspiracy was in progress to injure Rupert, she now guessed that the strange, red-haired girl had to do with the matter. Alice even began to doubt if she was dumb. It was at this moment, and while in a low, dirty street, that she saw the object of her thoughts. Ruth, looking more uncanny than ever, was turning the handle of an organ, and grinding out “Sweet Pansy Faces.” To this exhilarating tune, Miss Tudor-Stuart, in her gaudy dress, half-male, half-female, was gyrating like a teetotum. An admiring crowd of men, women and children stood around applauding at intervals. But when the dancer stopped to collect coppers, the crowd melted away, and Miss Tudor-Smith used an unlimited vocabulary to curse them as skinflints.
“Me, who have danced at the best London West-end theatres,” shouted the Amazon, shaking her fist, “and have dined with dukes and earls and Knights of the Garter. To think I should dance like a fairy for low creatures who won’t pay. If I were only—” Here she caught sight of Alice, quietly dressed, and looking extremely pretty. At once she stopped shouting, and, stepping up to the girl, made a curtsey.
“I believe I address Miss Marvel,” she said, in a mincing tone. “Pray excuse my eloquence, but you don’t know what a lady has to put up with in these parts. District visiting, I believe?”
“No,” said Alice, quickly, and coming to the point at once. “I have come to see Mrs. Brandyface.”
“Mrs. Rayner, if you please, ma’am,” said Miss Tudor-Stuart, sharply. “I am connected with that lady, and don’t like to hear her called names. And may I ask why you should wish to go to her flat?”
“To make inquiries about the murder of Evan Berrow.”
Miss Tudor-Stuart started back, and darted a glance at Ruth, who was standing stolidly beside the organ. “We don’t know anything about that,” she said, hurriedly, “and we don’t want to have anything to do with the p’lice, thank you. Low brutes, who don’t know how a lady should be treated.”
“I don’t know if you are really eccentric,” said Alice, speaking in a very determined tone, “or whether you affect this manner in order to make money. But I am quite certain that Mrs. Rayner—since you prefer her to be called so—knows about this crime. I intend to learn the truth.”
“And why?” asked the Amazon, in subdued tone.
“Because I am engaged to Mr. Treffry.”
The woman clapped her large hands, and skipped a step or two. “My dear,” she said, in a familiar way, “I like your spirit. You shall know all that Mrs. Rayner knows.”
“And all that Ruth knows?”
“Ruth! What has she to do with it?”
“She was present when Mrs. Rayner saw Mr. Treffry, as she says, leave the body.”
“A word in your ear, my dear,” said Miss Tudor-Stuart. “It’s a lie, my love. Ruth wasn’t there. She was put up to saying that by a woman called Cleopatra, who brought Ruth from Jamaica.”
“But who is Ruth?” asked Alice, startled by this news.
“The daughter of Mr. Boyde, Mr. Treffry’s cousin,” was the unexpected reply.
Mrs. Rayner’s flat, as Miss Tudor-Stuart grandiloquently called it, was a single room on a third storey of an unsightly pile of dwellings known as Tooker’s Rents. And Tooker’s Rents was number six in Tooker’s Alley, so that the whole place seemed to belong to Tooker, whosoever he was, and a very disreputable property Tooker possessed. The alley was narrow and dirty, and inhabited by pale-faced people, unwashed and unclean. The house in which Mrs. Rayner had her flat was gaunt and tall and narrow, and was divided into many little rooms, somewhat after the style of a glorified rabbit-hutch. Miserable creatures lived in these tiny apartments and paid a low rent for the sake of keeping even so horrible a roof over their wretched heads. Tooker’s agent was sharp, and made the lodgers pay up regularly, so that Tooker himself—who was a churchwarden on Sunday and a well-to-do draper on week-days—might swell his already plethoric income.
Guided by Miss Tudor-Stuart, who left Ruth to house the organ in one of Mr. Tooker’s cellars, Alice climbed up a staircase which more resembled a ladder, so steep it was. It led upwards, through dirty, unsightly walls, to the third floor, and here the Amazon knocked at the door of a front room. In Alice’s company she affected the lady, and minced and mowed in her best style. Miss Marvel, from casual observation, was sure that misfortune and the hardships of a wandering life had shaken the poor soul’s brain.
“Mrs. Rayner has a lovely view,” explained Miss Tudor-Stuart, “and has kindly consented to share her flat with me. Ruth already dwells with her, as is proper, and Ben sleeps in the cellar, which is extremely cool in summer. Oh, we are quite a happy party, Miss Marvel, I assure you.”
Here the door was slowly opened by a small, lean, shaking woman, who shaded her blear eyes with one skinny hand. Apparently she had just risen from an untidy truckle bed to receive the company, for she wore a faded red flannel dressing-gown, and the expression of her haggard face showed that she had only just awakened, probably in answer in Miss Tudor-Stuart’s knock.
“I have brought you company, Mrs. Rayner,” said the Amazon, graciously, stepping into the small apartment, and nearly filling it. “A young lady has come to afternoon tea. Be seated, Miss Marvel.” She pushed forward a broken cane chair, near a dirty window, and smiled largely. “You must take us as we are. While you converse with our amiable hostess”—she bowed towards the amazed and still shaking Mrs. Brandyface—“I shall skip”—and skip she did towards the door—“to get some tea and ham sandwiches.”
With a nod she disappeared, and Alice heard her plunging down the stairs like a young whale. Then the girl heard herself addressed in a piping voice, and turned to find Mrs. Brandyface also bent upon playing the part of one who has seen better days.
“You will excuse the untidy state of the drawing-room,” tittered Mrs. Rayner, drawing her flannel dressing-gown closer round her spare, small form, “but it is not my ‘at home’ day, you know. We are scarcely prepared to receive visitors.”
She moved into the light falling through the window as she spoke, and Alice saw her more clearly, saw her, too, with a sense of disgust. Mrs. Brandyface well deserved her name, as her skin was as red as a tomato, and she possessed a violet-coloured nose, which was unusual if not attractive. So lean and bent and small was she that it would seem she ate little, and from the tightness and redness of her skin it was certain that she drank a great deal. In the miserable room there was a small bed for Mrs. Brandyface, and a large bed, like that of the Great Bear, for Miss Tudor-Stuart and Ruth. Near the window stood a deal table covered with a dirty white cloth, and thereon was displayed all the crockery, which was chipped and worn. A pinch of fire in a rusty grate provided what was ironically called warmth, and the open cupboard to the left of the fireplace contained a loaf of bread and the heel of a Dutch cheese. Anything more penurious and sordid can scarcely be imagined, but Mrs. Brandyface smirked and curtseyed in the midst of her poverty as though she were presiding at a Park Lane function. And Alice noted, with a shock of pity, and a tendency to hysterical laughter, that on the mantelpiece was a broken vase of dead flowers, and a few visiting-cards. Where these came from, or whose they might be, heaven alone knew, for they looked as alien to their surroundings as a pig would in a mosque.
“Not expecting company,” said Mrs. Brandyface, in a deprecatory manner, and shut the cupboard door. “You will excuse me sitting on the ottoman”—it was an orange-box, over which she threw a faded and not over-clean rug—“my back is not all that I could wish in the way of strength. But, indeed, one feels one’s body at the age of sixty-eight; I long for my tea, I assure you.”
Alice thought that she longed for something stronger, so wolfish was the glance she threw towards an empty black bottle which stood near the truckle bed. The surroundings were so horrible, and the atmosphere so fetid, that the girl had to exercise all her strength of mind to prevent herself abandoning her errand, and hurrying down the steep stairs. As it was, she overcame her nausea with a strong effort, and plunged at once into the business which had brought her to that horrible den. It was necessary to learn all she could before Miss Tudor-Stuart returned to interfere.
“My name is Miss Marvel,” she said, bluntly, “and I am engaged to marry Mr. Treffry.”
“Oh, indeed,” smirked Mrs. Brandyface. “Then, when you marry, we will be relatives. My daughter married the late Mr. Boyde, of Jamaica, of whom you have heard.”
“I cannot believe that,” declared Alice, just as she had declared a quarter of an hour previously to Miss Tudor-Stuart.
“I am not accustomed,” said the creature on the orange-box, “to tell lies, having been brought up to regard a falsehood with abhorrence.”
“But it is incredible,” urged Alice, casting a look round the den. “If your daughter was Mr. Boyde’s wife, surely she would have provided you with a better home?”
“My daughter is dead these many years,” explained the lean woman, and her eyes lighted up tigerishly, “and through the machinations of enemies Mr. Boyde refused to assist me. He never even told anyone of his marriage, and my daughter would never inform me of the church where she was married. But she took an oath on the Bible that she was married, and Mr. Boyde said the same thing, without any oath. Ruth, who accompanies Miss Tudor-Stuart on the organ, is my granddaughter, and was brought home from Jamaica two years ago by a worthy woman called, strangely enough, Cleopatra.”
“So I heard. But does not Ruth inherit any money?”
Mrs. Brandyface shook her palsied head, and smoothed her dirty hands one over the other. “There was a misunderstanding,” she explained, in her mincing tones, and with a great affectation of gentility. “Mr. Boyde was very jealous and cruel. My daughter left him years ago, and took up a small business as a dressmaker at Kingston, in the prolific island of Jamaica. So cruelly did Mr. Boyde treat her that she refused to receive assistance from him, although he was very rich towards the latter part of his life. Yes,” cried Mrs. Brandyface, becoming more human, “my poor daughter bore with him in his poverty, although he neglected her cruelly. She was a sweet woman. But he went to Jamaica and pretended to be a bachelor, although Zoe, my daughter that is, had her marriage lines. She took the child with her when she left Mr. Boyde, and set up, under her maiden name, which was Rayner, as a dressmaker. Hard work wore her out”—Mrs. Brandyface let fall a genuine tear—“and she died, to be buried in a pauper’s grave. Mr. Boyde refused to receive his own child, and sent her home to me, in charge of Cleopatra. He certainly gave me a small sum of money, but not the annuity that I expected. So you see, Miss Marvel, that we have had to do as best we can. Ruth lives with me, and earns a few shillings as a musician, with Miss Tudor-Stuart, who is a most graceful and accomplished dancer.”
Alice said nothing for the moment. From all that Rupert had told her of the late Mr. Boyde, he was certainly capable of behaving in the worst possible way. It was quite probable that he had married Zoe Rayner and then had deserted her, and quite possible that he had rid himself of Ruth by sending her with a small sum of money to her disreputable grandmother. She resolved to speak to Treffry about the pair, and to see if the marriage could not be proved. Then, since Ruth was legitimately the child of Boyde, it would only be fair that she should be provided for, and an annuity given to Mrs. Brandyface. But how this was to be done, seeing that Rupert had surrendered the property to Mrs. Berrow, it was difficult to say. Alice did not think that Mrs. Berrow was a lady likely to be moved to a sense of justice, even though Ruth was the daughter of her benefactor. It was a puzzling situation; so, having adjusted her thoughts as above, she troubled no more.
“About this murder,” she ventured.
Mrs. Brandyface closed her eyes. “Dreadful! dreadful!” she murmured. “Who could have killed poor Mr. Berrow?”
“I understand that you say that Mr. Treffry is guilty.”
“Not at all.” Mrs. Brandyface drew up her spare form with great dignity. “Who dares to say that I accuse that young gentleman?”
“Ben says so.”
“Then Ben shall be spoken to. I was certainly out with Ruth, taking the air”—Mrs. Brandyface did not say she was prowling for what morsels of bread she could pick up—“and I wandered into High Street, being fond of shops—”
“After ten in the evening?” asked Alice, incredulously.
“One can guess what is behind the shutters, even when the shops are closed,” Mrs. Brandyface assured her with dignity, “and my wardrobe is not extensive enough, owing to the decline of stocks, to enable me to walk about in cheerful sunshine. I walk out at night by preference, and assuredly was in the High Street shortly after ten.”
“Can you give me the exact time?”
“I don’t think so. It was somewhere about a quarter past ten o’clock. I heard a loud cry, which was muffled, as I may say, by reason of the storm. I thought that some accident had occurred, and hurried towards the spot.”
“And you saw?”
“No one,” said Mrs. Rayner, impressively; “at least, no one alive. But I found a young gentleman in a fur coat lying dead on the pavement. Beside him, as I saw in the moonlight, there was a knife, with the blood”—Mrs. Brandyface shuddered—“still wet upon it. I took up the knife, and wondered whether I should call the police.”
“Why didn’t you?”
Mrs. Brandyface looked nervous. “Well, you see, miss,” she said, becoming more humble. “I am a poor body, and the police might have said that, driven by hunger, I had killed the gentleman. I tell you all I know, which is that I heard the cry and saw the knife, which I picked up. I might have called the constable, so angered was I at a poor young gentleman being stricken down in his prime, as you might say; but my granddaughter, Ruth, came up at that moment, and dragged me away. And I regretted being dragged away, I assure you, as it struck me that I might have taken the fur coat. It was a lovely coat, miss, and no use to anyone who was already cold, and who would nevermore be warm in this very chilly world.”
“Don’t!” Alice shuddered at the ghoulish speech. “Was Ruth with you all the time?”
“No. She had to meet Mrs. Berrow’s nurse—”
“Yes—a strange name, is it not? Cleopatra, knowing that Ruth is the daughter of her old master, Mr. Boyde, is always very kind, and brings us scraps from the well-provided table of Mrs. Berrow. On this night she had appointed to meet Ruth at the office of Mr. Clyde, where she had to go with her mistress—”
“Yes, I know. Well?”
“Ruth went to get the expectant dainties, but could not find Cleopatra, who was within.”
“Inside the office?” asked Alice, remembering Mrs. Berrow’s confession.
“I have said so. Ruth therefore returned to find me. I had left the street where I was, and the child had some difficulty in finding me. When she did, I was with the body. Ruth at once gave me to understand, in her dumb way, that there was danger from the police. I therefore went home with her; and afterwards Miss Tudor-Stuart took the knife to the Manor House, when she went to claim the property for her son. That is all I know, Miss Marvel,” and Mrs. Brandyface became genteel again and smirked politely, with another longing glance in the direction of the empty black bottle. Poor soul, her throat was dry after so long a conversation.
“Then you deny that you said Mr. Treffry killed Mr. Berrow?”
“You did not see him leave the corpse?”
“I saw no one leave the corpse. Ruth saw no one, either.”
“Ben says Ruth was with you, and Miss Tudor-Stuart says that she was not.”
“Both are right,” said Mrs. Brandyface, after some thought. “Ruth was with me for a time, then she went away to find Cleopatra, as I told you, miss. Afterwards she returned while I was deliberating whether to call the police, and, I must say,” added Mrs. Brandyface, politely, “whether to take the fur coat. Perhaps it is just as well that I did not, as the police might have suspected me, seeing that I had the knife. But I am innocent—and very—very thirsty,” she added, in a piteous tone.
Alice fished in her lean purse and produced a shilling, upon which the skinny hand of Mrs. Brandyface closed eagerly. “Bless you, my dear young lady,” she said, in a chirping manner. “May you never know what is it to be without a drop of comfort.”
Miss Marvel ignored this pleasant wish. “Why is Cleopatra making Ruth accuse Mr. Treffry?” she asked, rising to go.
Mrs. Brandyface shut her lips firmly, and, looking rather frightened, shook her head. Alice repeated her question, and Mrs. Brandyface again refused to answer. Apparently she was afraid of Cleopatra, and did not like to talk. Leaving this old woman, Miss Marvel went to the door to go down the steep stairs, in the hope of finding Ruth at the door, and questioning her first hand. As she left the room she saw Mrs. Brandyface assume some articles of finery with trembling hands, apparently anxious to spend the shilling at once in refilling the black bottle.
Ruth, however, was not at the door, nor was she in the street. Miss Tudor-Stuart, who might have supplied information, was likewise not in sight, and Alice, thinking it useless to again question the old drunkard above, was about to turn her steps homeward. She had just stepped into the frowsy, dingy street, when she heard a sob, so near that it made her spring to one side. The sob came from the yellow hunchback, who was seated just outside on the pavement, weeping as though his heart would break.
“What is the matter?” asked Alice, sorry for the poor, deformed creature, who was so like Evan.
The hunchback lifted his face. To her amazement it was shining with joy. “I have found peace,” he said, in a hoarse, broken voice. “Yes, I am richer than Solomon. I have found peace. These are joyful tears.”
“Help me to find peace also,” said Alice, quickly, “by telling me how to right Mr. Treffry.”
“He shall be righted, and you shall be happy,” said the hunchback. “I can save you both!”
After the visit to Mrs. Brandyface, Alice spent a week doing comparatively little. She had learnt nothing from the old woman likely to be of use in solving the mystery, as, beyond the fact that she had heard the dying cry of Evan Berrow and had picked up the knife, Mrs. Brandyface apparently knew absolutely nothing. Nor was it any use asking Ruth, who had been hanging around the office of Clyde in the hope of getting food from Cleopatra. It seemed to Alice that Cleopatra was the sole person who could solve the problem. In spite of what Mrs. Brandyface had said, Alice knew well that Cleopatra had not been inside the office at ten, as then she had been trying to force Rupert into a promise to marry her nursling. Treffry had also left the office, and Marvel had departed shortly after ten o’clock. It appeared, then, that Mrs. Berrow and Mason Clyde were alone in the office about the time Ruth was hovering round, and about the hour when the blow had been struck. From putting this and that together, Alice concluded that Evan had been killed between ten and a quarter past, and not exactly at the time the doctor had stated at the inquest.
But beyond these facts—and some of them were doubtful—she had nothing to go upon, whereby to bring about the capture of the criminal. She certainly might have applied to her father. But he would say nothing, if (as he gave her to understand while off his guard through drink), he was making money out of the mystery. Also, during that week, Marvel was sulky and morose. He did not even betake himself to his music, as he usually did when worried. As much as possible did he avoid his daughter, fearing, apparently, lest she should question him. Being a weak man, he would thus be compelled by the stronger will of Alice to speak out; and this he evidently was determined not to do. Alice, therefore, could gain nothing from Lawrence Marvel.
She assuredly might have questioned the hunchback more closely, in order to learn how he could save both her and Rupert, as he had promised to do. But the hunchback had disappeared. From the time Alice saw him on the doorstep of Tooker’s Rents, he had vanished as completely as though the earth had swallowed him up. Perhaps the police could have found him but, for obvious reasons connected with the plotting of Mrs. Berrow and her nurse, Alice did not wish to apply to the police. She saw Mrs. Brandyface and Miss Tudor-Stuart and the dumb girl; but none of them (and evidently in all good faith) could tell her what had become of Ben. This being so, Alice was at a standstill.
At one time during those seven days of suspense it was in her mind to see Mrs. Berrow and the nurse, and to question them regarding the marriage of Boyde to Mrs. Brandyface’s daughter. But, although information on this point would help Ruth, it certainly would not solve the mystery, and the mystery—for Rupert’s sake—was what Alice wished to solve. She wrote to Rupert and received a reply from him that he was getting rapidly better. She therefore determined to make no further move in the matter, but to wait until Rupert arrived. When he knew all that she knew, his masculine sense might see a way out of the labyrinth, which baffled her intellect. Having thus made up her mind, Alice continued to teach her pupils, and kept within doors as much as possible. It thus happened that Alice was within to receive an unexpected visit. The caller was none other than a lawyer, Felton by name, who was the rival of Mason Clyde for the fees likely to be extracted from the pockets of the inhabitants of Chadston. He, therefore, hated the man from Jamaica virulently, and would have done much to ruin him, so that he could get the entire legal business of the suburb into his own hands. Mr. Felton was a stout little man, who puffed and snorted like a pug dog—and he was not unlike one in appearance. He was arrayed respectably in dense black, even to his neck scarf and gloves, and looked more like an undertaker than a solicitor. That his face was round and red and cheerful and smiling did not detract from this sartorial resemblance, for undertakers are invariably the most cheerful of mortals, and bury their fellow-creatures with apparent pleasure.
“Miss Marvel,” said this gentleman, when he was shown into the shabby sitting-room by the small servant, “I trust that I see you well, Miss Marvel. I have had the pleasure of talking about you to my late esteemed client, Mr. Evan Berrow.”
Alice passed over part of this speech, and replied to the last words. “I understood that Mr. Clyde was Mr. Berrow’s lawyer.”
“Quite so. Oh, dear me, quite so.” Mr. Felton wiped his red face with a black-bordered handkerchief. “As a rule he went to Clyde, who, I fear, is not a sound lawyer. What can you expect,” cried Mr. Felton, with a burst of venom, “seeing that the man has had but Colonial training?”
“Did you come to tell me this?” asked Miss Marvel, slowly, and wondering what business Felton could have with her.
“I tell it to every one who is fool enough to go to Clyde,” said the solicitor, viciously; “but I really and truly pay this visit to ask after the late Mr. Berrow’s will.”
“The will was proved by Mr. Clyde, and is made in favour of Mrs. Berrow. I should think you knew that.”
“Quite so—quite so.” Mr. Felton wiped his perspiring face again. “I don’t allude to that will however. You are right in stating that the late Mr. Berrow was a client of Clyde, who doesn’t know enough law to cover sixpence. But Mr. Berrow, wishing, for some reason, to keep a portion of his business from Clyde, came to me, and made another will. Ha! That surprises you.”
“It does and it doesn’t,” said Alice, feeling her way carefully. “Mr. Berrow came to me on the very night he died, and told me he had made another will, in my favour. I urged him to destroy it.”
“Hum!” said Felton, biting a fat finger, thoughtfully. “I wonder if he took your advice? No, I cannot believe that. He wished to make you his wife, and also he desired to defeat the intrigues of Mrs. Berrow, who did not behave as a stepmother should. Though, to be sure,” added Felton, wandering from the subject, “if fairy tales are to be believed, stepmothers are not usually kind.”
“I don’t quite understand this,” said Alice, after a pause. “I don’t think that Mr. Berrow destroyed a second will, since he went from this house to his death, poor soul. And unless he called on you—”
“Called on me! Why should he call on me?”
“You having the will—”
“But I have not!” shouted Felton, becoming excited, and dabbing his face with the mourning pocket-handkerchief; “that is why I pay this visit. Mr. Berrow come to me and instructed me to draw up a will leaving all the property to you, my dear young lady. The witnesses were my clerk, who is dead, I regret to say, and also your father. Now, what I have called upon you to know is, why has not that will been proved instead of the earlier one, which gives the property to Mrs. Berrow, a most undeserving lady?”
“The will is lost,” said Alice, distinctly.
“Lost!” Mr. Felton started from his seat with every appearance of dismay. Apparently, he wished to get Miss Marvel as a client and was disappointed that the means of having her as one were not to hand. “But Mr. Berrow took it away with him. It must be amongst his papers, unless Mrs. Berrow has destroyed it.”
“I don’t think she has, Mr. Felton, for the simple reason that I do not believe that she ever saw it. Mr. Berrow, on the night he was murdered, informed me that he had made such a will in my favour, although he did not state where it was drawn up. But he declared that it was put away, and declined to say who held it.”
“I can understand that,” said the little man, thoughtfully, and resumed his chair. “Naturally, my late esteemed client would not leave a valuable document like that about, lest Mrs. Berrow—who had every reason to do so—should destroy it. Your father was one of the witnesses, the other, my clerk, being dead. Do you think your father owns—that is, holds the will?”
“No. If he did he would have mentioned it to me.”
“Quite so; and yet I cannot understand,” said the lawyer, with wrinkled forehead, “how it was that Mr. Berrow chose a clerk of Mr. Clyde’s to witness a will in direct opposition to that held by our Jamaican friend.”
“He was my father,” Alice reminded him.
“Yes, I can see it from that point of view. And yet—forgive me if I offend you, my dear young lady—but your father—” Mr. Felton made a motion as though drinking, and Alice coloured. “Yes, yes,” he continued, hurriedly, so as to give her no opportunity of speaking her mind, “I know that it is painful to have a father addicted to drink. But we must face these things. Miss Marvel, I have closely observed Mr. Marvel, and it has always struck me that Mr. Clyde has a hold over him. Of course, I speak in confidence.”
“Of course,” assented the girl, rising to end the painful interview; “but if my father possessed a will which would give me ten thousand a year, I do not think he would destroy it, if that is what you mean.”
“Did Mr. Clyde—a most inferior lawyer—know of the existence of the second will, he certainly would make Mr. Marvel destroy it.”
“Not if Mr. Marvel had the money to buy him off, and my father knows that he can always count on my help.”
“Yes, yes.” Felton wrinkled his brow again. “I see—that is, I quite understand—and yet—and yet—humph! It would be just as well for you to question your father.”
“I shall do so,” said Alice, promptly; “but if he is in Mr. Clyde’s power, as you say, it will be useless.”
“I can see that,” said Felton, briskly. “And then, again, Mr. Berrow, for the sake of safety, might have placed that will in a secure hiding-place beyond the reach of Mrs. Berrow. Will you not look for it, my dear young lady?”
“I don’t know where to find it, Mr. Felton,” said the girl, hopelessly. “It may be in the Manor House, and Mrs. Berrow dislikes me too heartily to permit me to enter into the place. I think it will be best to keep quiet until we discover who killed Evan Berrow. Then we may learn about the second will.”
“Humph!” Mr. Felton turned his bright eyes, like those of a robin, on to the girl’s perplexed face. “And you think that the murder may have to do with the will?”
“I don’t say that. But one thing at a time. Mr. Felton,” she added, suddenly, “do you come here as my friend?”
Felton wiped his face again and replied heartily: “As your very best friend, young lady. I don’t disguise from you that I wish to get the business of the late Mr. Berrow into my hands, as I don’t think that Mr. Clyde—a most inferior lawyer—is capable of dealing with it, and, incidentally, I wish to make money. If you will promise when you come into the estate to give me the business, I shall help you in every possible way.”
“It is a bargain,” said Miss Marvel, and held out her hand.
The lawyer shook it, and kissed it, and leant back in his chair with a most triumphant smile.
“Aha,” he said, jocularly, “we shall get the better of Mr. Clyde yet. He shall not keep you from your rights. We must hunt for the will, and get your father out of the clutches of Mr. Mason Clyde. Also, we must rescue the estate for you. Only give the business into my hands and you may command my services.”
Alice was profoundly thankful. Here was a shrewd, capable helper to hand, one who, for his own sake, would advise her. She saw perfectly well that his aims were purely sordid—that he would aid her in order to get a good business into his hands. But she did not wish the bargain to be struck on any other grounds. It was best that the agreement should be on a business footing.
“Well, then, Mr. Felton,” she said, opening her heart to him, “the first thing you have to do is to help Mr. Treffry.”
“Mr. Treffry? And who may he be?”
“My lover; the gentleman to whom I am engaged. Mrs. Berrow is in love with him, and she is trying to have him accused of this crime in order to force him into marriage with her.”
“Bless me”—the red face of the little lawyer was quite a study—“I never heard of such a thing. No wonder she hates you. I know very little about the murder save what I have seen in the papers, and what a stray policeman has told me. Let me hear all that you know, and then I shall be in a position to advise you. Well! Well!”
Alice was only too glad of the chance of unburdening her heart, and forthwith revealed all that she had discovered, beginning from the time Evan had left her in that very room to go forth to his death. The solicitor was much amazed at the recital, and frequently wiped his heated brow as the whole extraordinary story was poured into his ears. “So you see,” concluded Miss Marvel, “that unless he agrees to marry Mrs. Berrow he runs the risk of being arrested.”
“Not at all,” Felton assured her, vigorously. “Mrs. Berrow and this demon of a nurse—your pardon, my dear lady, but she really is a demon of the worst—may go to great, lengths, but they certainly will not call in the police. I defy either one of them, or the two in conjunction, to have Mr. Treffry arrested on such a cock-and-bull story as you have told me.”
“They are very determined.”
“So am I. My dear young lady, I am truly sorry that you have had no adviser in the matter. Your position, with your father in the state he frequently is, and Mr. Treffry ill in bed, is truly very hard to bear. I am glad that I called here to-day. I am glad that you have opened your heart to me. Bless my soul”—he trotted up and down the room like a sturdy Shetland pony—“the whole that you have told me is like a detective novel—astounding.”
“What is to be done?” asked Alice.
“I must think over matters. First, let us narrow down the probable people who are likely to have committed the crime. Mr. Treffry—”
“He is innocent,” cried Miss Marvel indignantly.
“I quite see that; and Cleopatra will find it difficult to build up a case against him. The woman herself is also innocent, as she was with Mr. Treffry at the time poor Mr. Berrow was being struck down with that knife. Mrs. Berrow—humph! It might be that the blood was that of Mr. Treffry’s on the dinner-dress; and certainly, bad as she is, I do not think she would risk killing her step-son, especially as she is getting two thousand a year from Mr. Treffry.”
“Oh! I am perfectly sure that he didn’t kill Mr. Berrow,” was the reassuring response. “Berrow was too kind to him, and always allowed him a stray fiver now and then. He could not be sure that my late esteemed client would mention him in the will—as he assuredly did not in either will—and so would prefer a certain present to a problematic future. Your father—no, I don’t think Mr. Marvel would have the nerve to kill a fly. Miss Tudor-Stuart—”
“Oh! she is half-mad, poor soul. She would have no reason to kill the poor creature.”
“I agree with you. Mrs. Rayner, whom you call Mrs. Brandyface, certainly is innocent also, and the girl Ruth was near the office, whereas the murder took place some distance away. My dear young lady, there is only one person who could have stabbed Mr. Berrow, and who had an inducement to do so.”
“Who is that?” asked Alice, rising, with great curiosity.
“Ben—the yellow hunchback; and I can prove it.”
Mr. Felton may have been able to prove the guilt of the yellow hunchback, since he insisted so emphatically that he could; but, on the face of it, he had not the necessary evidence to hand. Alice guessed as much, because he steadily refused to display his cards until, as he put it, the game was played out.
“Wait, my dear young lady, wait!” said the little man, when he took his leave, with a triumphant smile. “This is not an easy matter to bring home to the guilty person. Give me only a fortnight, and I promise you that the mystery of this death will be cleared up.”
“But can you be sure that the hunchback is guilty?”
“By putting this and that together, I am sure. It is not for nothing that I have watched the doings of Mr. Clyde, and very shady they are. I assure you, my dear young lady, his doings are connected with the guilt of this deformed person you call Ben. No, don’t ask me anything more. I refuse to speak. I have my suspicions, which may prove to be facts. I have my plans. Ah! Mr. Mason Clyde calls himself a lawyer, does he? Wait till he crosses swords with me!” and away Mr. Felton trotted, with his nose in the air, like a war-horse sniffing the coming battle.
With this scanty comfort Miss Marvel was forced to be content, and resolved to wait patiently until Mr. Felton should bring about the solution of the mystery. Now that the case was in his hands it was useless to interfere, lest she should make bad worse, and the only thing to be done was to trust to his cleverness. Assuredly he was clever, and to damage his hated rival would not stick at a trifle.
Meanwhile, the sole thing Alice could do was to question her father about the second will. She took the opportunity of doing so a few days later, when Mr. Marvel was playing his favourite sonata. It was an hour after dinner, and Alice, listening to the music, was seated by the fire, wondering how she could begin. The lamp was lighted, the shabby rep curtains were drawn, and the fire burnt briskly. Everything looked very comfortable and peaceful. But peace did not reign in the breast of the pale girl who lay back in the armchair staring into the burning coals, trying hard to read therein a bright future. Poor Alice! she was so desperately weary of trouble and penury and suspense.
“Father,” she said at length, and just as Marvel brought the slow movement of the piece to an end, “I wish to speak seriously with you about this three hundred a year, left by Evan’s will. What do you say about it?”
Marvel rose quickly from his seat, and came to the fire. Leaning one arm on the mantelpiece, he looked, not at his daughter, but into the fire. “I say, accept,” he said, in a low voice.
“But for what reason?”
Her father looked round the dingy, shabby room with a dreary smile, and glanced sideways at her face. “It seems to me that the reason is before you, my dear. We are desperately poor; and I may as well tell you that I may lose my situation.”
“I thought that you would never leave Mr. Clyde,” said Alice, sitting up, and wondering what her father was about to say.
“Mr. Clyde is about to leave me,” said Marvel, with a sigh. “Yes; he does not like the English climate, and, having given it a fair trial for ten years or thereabouts, he has made up his mind to dispose of his business—to Mr. Felton, I presume—and to return to Jamaica.”
“Will you not go with him?”
“No. We must part; and I am glad that the parting has come. Clyde has been a good friend to me in some ways and a bad friend in others. He wishes to retire to a warmer climate, and I desire to see the last of him. He has not treated me over well,” ended Marvel, moodily, and sat down to warm his thin hands at the fire.
“When does Mr. Clyde propose to go?” asked Alice, wondering if this sudden departure had anything to do with Mr. Felton’s suspicions regarding the murder.
“In a month or so, as soon as he can dispose of his business. So you see, Alice, that shortly I shall be without a situation. It is doubtful if anyone else will give a worn-out hack, such as I am, another engagement. Unless I can get money by playing at dances and at entertainments, I do not see how we can live, since you do not earn enough to keep even this poor house going. I think—he cast another glance at her—I think it will be best to accept the three hundred a year and go to Australia. Had you only been wise enough to marry Evan Berrow, you might have had all the money as his widow.”
“I might have all the money without being his widow!” said Alice, very distinctly.
Marvel started, and shrank back into his chair. “What’s that?”
“Evan told me he had made a will in my favour. It was drawn up by Mr. Felton, and witnessed by a clerk, who is dead, and by you.
Marvel hesitated, then faced the truth. “Yes,” he agreed, nodding; “I witnessed the will, and, at the request of Berrow, I held my tongue about it. By that will you inherit all the money.”
“Why did you not tell me this before?”
The old man moved uneasily.
“There are reasons,” he said, in a low, nervous tone; “and, of course, I promised Evan Berrow to hold my tongue. I should not move in the matter were I you,” he ended.
“Oh, but I shall!” cried Alice, raising herself in her chair. “Were the money given to anyone but Mrs. Berrow I might, perhaps, leave it alone. But Mrs. Berrow has tried, and is trying, to separate me from the man I love. She is a bad woman, and will make bad use of the money, I shall find the will, and prove the will, and become the owner of the estates.”
“Find the will!” echoed her father. “What do you mean?”
“I think you know,” retorted the girl, annoyed by this evasion. “The will is lost. Evan, as he told me, put it away, and it cannot be found. Certainly, no one has hitherto looked for it, as I expected you would speak out and see me established in my rights.”
“I could not do it,” protested Marvel, wriggling. “There are reasons why I should leave the matter alone.”
“Connected with Mr. Clyde?” asked Alice; then, when he did not make any reply, she continued, quickly: “Father, why will you not trust me? I know that Mr. Clyde has some hold over you, and—”
“He has not—he has not!” cried Marvel, fiercely.
“Yes, he has. You have been his puppet for years, and you are very much afraid of him.”
Marvel rose with a bitter laugh. “Afraid of him!” he echoed, with a sneer; “he has much more reason to be afraid of me.”
“On account of the murder?”
Almost before the words left her mouth, Marvel had flung himself forward, and Alice thought for the moment that he was about to strike her, so angry and ghastly pale did he look. “I know nothing of the murder,” he said, savagely. Hold your tongue, unless you want to get me into trouble!”
“With Mr. Clyde?” she said, valiantly, and determined, in spite of this fierceness, to learn the whole truth.
“This is neither here nor there,” muttered Marvel, his sudden passion dying out; “all I can tell you is that I am a miserable and misjudged man. Leave the second will alone, Alice, and accept this offer of three hundred a year. It will be best for us both.”
“For you, perhaps,” she said, rising with bitter scorn, as even in a lather it was difficult for the woman in her to overlook this weakness, “not for me. Rupert has given up his Jamaica property to Mrs. Berrow for my sake. She shall not have the rest of the money. I shall claim my rights, and marry Rupert. Then I shall give you an income, and you can go to Australia if you like.”
Marvel flung up his hands. “Oh, if you only could—if you only could, my dear child!” he wailed.
Alice caught his hands. “Father,” she urged, “be open with me. What hold has this man over you, that you should fear him so? What do you know about the murder of Evan that gives you the power to get money from Mrs. Berrow? Oh! you need not deny it,” she cried, seeing the lie on his lips. “When you took more than was good for you the other night, you let out sufficient to show me that in some way you were blackmailing—”
“Alice, how dare you use that word?”
“Is it not the right word? I love you, father, but you do not love me, for love means trust, and that you will not give.”
“Alice, I have brought you up since your mother died, to the very best of my power. I have not been a bad father.”
“No, but you have been a weak father; and I don’t know but what that is not worse. Tell me the truth now.”
Marvel made as though to speak. Then he put up his hand to his throat and something clicked. Twice he tried to speak, with the perspiration rolling off his pale face, and twice he failed. At length he braced himself to make a final effort, and flung aside the hand of his daughter. “I shall tell you nothing,” he declared, harshly. “I am your father. I know what is best, and—and—” At this moment there came a ring at the door. With a startled cry Marvel dropped back into the chair.
“Has it come?” he gasped. “Has it come?” and his face was terrible to look at in its frenzy of fear.
“Wait!” said Alice, resolved to know the worst at once, although she could not understand what he meant. She left the room, and ran to the front door. The visitor proved to be no one but the postman, who placed in her hand a letter addressed to herself.
Having closed the door, she returned to the room, and saw that the letter was from Rupert. Placing it in her pocket, she explained to her father that only the postman had called, and then faced him, as he lay, a ghastly heap, in the shabby chair. “What does all this mean?” she asked, in a sharp tone, and yet with a dread in the tone.
“I cannot tell you now,” gasped Marvel, rising and groping his way to the door; “give me time, and you shall know all. There is danger—danger; yet it is not my own fault. If you only knew all, you would pity me, and—and—and—” He gasped again, and fairly rushed from the room.
A moment later she heard the bedroom door close sharply. Alice did not follow him, although her blood was chill with apprehension. It was useless to question the man when he was unstrung with nervous fear, and all she could do was to wait till the next day, when he would have recovered himself. Then, in the broad daylight, she would learn what was this fear which haunted him and turned him into a coward.
The letter from Rupert proved to be more satisfactory than she had dared to hope. He wrote that he was ever so much better, and now could get about fairly well with the assistance of a stick. Gathering from her letters that she was much troubled over the mystery of Evan Berrow’s death, and aware that Mrs. Berrow and Cleopatra were in league to damage his reputation and threaten his liberty, Treffry said he was coming down the next day to relieve her of all trouble. When Alice made herself acquainted with this good news she fairly broke down, as her nerves were in anything but a good condition after the harassing time she had lately undergone. That night, for the first time for many days, she slept well. Rupert was coming down, and would aid her, so she felt that she could let her poor weary brain rest.
Lawrence Marvel left the house next morning before his daughter came into the dining-room, and left without his breakfast, so anxious was he to escape questioning. Alice let him go. She thought it was best to tell Treffry what she had heard, and explain to him the strange behaviour of her father. Alone she could not deal with such a man, but Rupert might be able to fathom the meaning of Marvel’s actions, or at least to force him to talk. Having thus made up her mind to a course of action, Alice made a fairly good meal, and with enforced patience, which was difficult, awaited the arrival of Treffry. He arrived, according to promise, by the eleven o’clock train, and was at the house some ten minutes later.
“Oh Rupert,” cried the girl, flinging herself into his arms, “how very glad I am to see you, and how pleased I am that you look so well.”
“Darling,” said Rupert, kissing her, and then sat down, while she looked at him in the searching daylight.
Treffry did indeed look well, and quite different from the haggard individual he had been when she had last set eyes on him. His face was smooth, his colour fresh, and he walked with only a slight limp. Also there were determined lines round his mouth, and a hard look in his blue eyes. The fact was, Treffry was very tired of the machinations of his enemies, and came down with the resolve to pay Mrs. Berrow out in her own coin. If she could play the game, he could also: and after hearing all that Alice had to say (for she gave him full details) he unfolded his scheme.
“It is useless meeting Mrs. Berrow in a straightforward and honourable way,” said the young man, when in possession of the facts. “She has made up her mind to go to any lengths to gain her ends, and Cleopatra will assuredly help her. I don’t agree with Felton that I am in no danger of arrest. Mrs. Berrow will do her best to force me into the position of defending myself, and Cleopatra is the only one who can prove the alibi. She will not do that unless I obey her. Therefore, my dearest Alice, it is necessary, so to speak, that we should hold a candle to these two fiends.”
“I don’t quite understand,” said Alice, in puzzled tones.
Treffry kissed her again. “My poor darling, how should you,” he said, fondly, “seeing that you are so good. Perhaps you may not approve of the course I mean to adopt, but it is the only one left.”
“What is it, Rupert?”
“I mean to let Helena think that I shall marry her. Now, don’t flush and colour. You know that you are the woman I love, and whom I intend to make my wife. But I cannot do that until all these difficulties created by Mrs. Berrow and her accomplice are smoothed away. To smooth them away I shall have to find out their plans, and I can only do that by being friends with Helena. She will not believe me unless I pander to her vanity. If she thinks that I have thrown you over and have returned to her, she will tell me everything that I want to know. Then, when I am in a position to defeat her plans, she will be ‘hoist with her own petard.’”
“But is it honourable to act in this way, Rupert?”
“My darling, when dealing with Helena Berrow it is best to leave honour out of the question. To beat her I must be at least as unscrupulous as herself, and that is saying a great deal. I really believe that poor Evan hid this second will in the Manor House, and to find it, it will be necessary for me to get into the house. If I make it up with Helena she will doubtless ask me to stop there, and then I shall search—where, I don’t know; but if the will is to be found, I shall find it. Helena will not be permitted to get another ten thousand a year, and will have to do the best she can on the two thousand.”
“And that, by rights, should go to Ruth.”
“A strange story that,” said Rupert, musingly. “I daresay it is a true one. Cleopatra, who was in all my uncle’s secrets, probably knows the name of the church where the marriage was celebrated. I’ll find out the truth from her; and this is an additional reason why I should go as a spy into the camp of the enemy. Don’t argue, Alice, if you love me. I must act as I say.”
Alice grew pale and nervous. “She may take you from me.”
Rupert laughed gaily, and took her in his strong arms. “My own heart’s love,” he said, kissing her again and again, “don’t let that trouble your heart. I go as a secret enemy if as an open lover. Mrs. Berrow shall find that I can defeat her by using her own unscrupulous means. It will simply be a case of diamond cut diamond.”
Having made up his mind how to act, Rupert lost no time in putting his scheme into force. He left Alice with a fresh assurance of love, and advised her to question her father no further until matters were settled. He thought it was useless to bring Marvel to task unless something tangible could be proved against him, as he would only tell lies. In some way—as Rupert Treffry saw very clearly—the man was under the thumb of Clyde, and until the pressure of that thumb was removed there was not the slightest chance of getting at the truth of the murder, presuming Marvel knew it. And Treffry thought that the man did. Otherwise his conduct was simply inexplicable and unguided by reason.
On the way to the Manor House Rupert met Polly Tait. She looked ill, poor girl, and her prettiness had faded under the storm and stress of worry, both at home and abroad. Captain Tait had by no means been pleased that his daughter had come home to be, as he put it in his kindly way, a burden on him, and he was making life very unpleasant for her. Polly would have married her Teddy at once had that youth only been in receipt of a sufficient income to support her, even in decent poverty. But Smith had not yet got a rise in his salary, and earned just sufficient to keep himself going.
Rupert knew Polly’s face, as he had seen her photograph in the album of Alice. He therefore stopped to speak to her, as he was anxious to learn the exact attitude, and, if possible, the exact position of Captain Tait. Polly, who knew of Treffry only by hearsay, was astonished when this handsome young man paused to speak.
“I don’t know you,” she said, timidly, when he uttered her name, “and yet you know me!”
“I know of you, at all events,” replied Treffry, smiling. “My name is Rupert—” He got no further, for a rosy blush overspread the girl’s wan face, and her eyes sparkled.
“You are Alice’s lover,” she said, eagerly. “I have heard her talk of you, Mr. Treffry, but I have never seen you before. And yet”—she looked at him thoughtfully—“I seem to know your face.”
Rupert guessed where she had seen it. “Mrs. Berrow is an old friend of mine,” he said, quickly, “and perhaps you have seen a photograph which she has of me?”
“Yes, yes, I remember. It is in a silver frame in her sitting-room.”
“Probably,” replied Treffry, drily. “I have known Mrs. Berrow all my life. I hear,” he added, digging his stick into the ground, “that she is to be married again.”
“Oh!” Polly flushed once more, and looked rather taken aback. “What, has Alice told you?”
“That your father is to marry Mrs. Berrow?”
“He says so,” replied the girl, cautiously; “but, of course, I cannot be sure of that. Mrs. Berrow certainly has quarrelled with me, and I have given up my situation as her companion.”
“I know all that,” Rupert assured her; “in fact, I know everything about matters at the Manor House, including the spotted dinner-dress.”
“Oh!” Polly’s eyes grew round, and she looked afraid. “Then you think—”
“I think that the murder of Evan Berrow is still a mystery. I am not prepared to say whether Mrs. Berrow is guilty. I am paying her a visit, however, and may learn a great deal. What I want to know, Miss Tait, and what I want you, in the interests of Alice, to tell me, is the attitude of your father.”
Polly was not fond of her father, who had given her no reason to love him. All the same, he was her father, although a bad one, and she was not prepared to tell a stranger anything likely to be detrimental to his well-being. “I don’t see what my father has to do with Alice,” she said, obstinately.
“He has a good deal to do, indirectly,” said Rupert, quickly. “Mrs. Berrow wants to spoil the happiness of Alice by implicating her father in the murder.” He was not quite sure of this statement, but made it coolly, so as to force plain speech from the girl.
“Oh!” said Polly again, and shivered. “Do you think—”
“I think,” interrupted the young man again, “that Mr. Marvel is perfectly innocent. All the same, Mrs. Berrow, who is, as you know, very unscrupulous, will do her best to implicate him.”
“But what reason can she have to do so?”
Rupert flushed a little, as he did not like to tell of the widow’s affection for him. “Mrs. Berrow has her reason,” he said, “but there is no reason that you should know. Still, I may as well tell you one thing, Miss Tait, that your father will never become her husband.”
“He says that she has promised!”
“She will promise anything to get her own way, and her own way, Miss Tait, means ruination to Alice and to me.”
“To you?” Polly looked at him much astonished.
“Yes. Mrs. Berrow has a strong reason to make me do something which I do not wish to do. She desires to separate me from Alice, and—”
“Ah!” Polly’s face became rosy again, and she looked at Rupert with shining eyes. “I know the reason now. Once I saw Mrs. Berrow kissing your photograph.”
“In that case,” said Treffry, drily, although his cheeks grew hot, “you may perhaps guess that Mrs. Berrow will stick at nothing to part us. I am trying to put things right. And as I have told you so much, and as you have guessed a lot, perhaps you will tell me the exact attitude of your father.”
“If I say anything, will it hurt father?”
“On the contrary, it may do him good.”
“Then I’ll trust you, said Polly, looking into Rupert’s honest, kind blue eyes. “Father is quite certain that Mrs. Berrow will marry him, as if she does not, he swears that he will accuse her of murder.”
“A pleasant way of securing a wife,” murmured Treffry, with a shrug. “Does your father know that Mrs. Berrow has a preference for me?”
“No. I never heard him say so.”
“Does your father know the whereabouts of the yellow hunchback?”
“No. He was kind to him in London.”
“In London!” Rupert was taken aback by this piece of news. “Did your father, then, know him before he came to Chadston?”
“Yes,” murmured Polly, doubtfully; “at least, I think he did. He one day said something about Evan having a double.”
“Strange!” thought Rupert, looking steadily at the girl, who was obviously speaking the truth. “I wonder if Tait is mixed up in this affair?” Then he added aloud; “Do you know if your father went to Clyde’s office on the night of the murder?”
“No,” replied Miss Tait, quickly; “I was at the Manor House, and don’t know of my father’s movements. I should think you should know if he had been at Mr. Clyde’s office on that night, though, as Alice said you were there.”
“Yes, I was, up to a quarter to ten. However—” Rupert checked himself. It would not do to tell her too much, for he knew from Alice that she talked a great deal. “Humph!” he went on, thoughtfully, and prepared to make a move, “it just comes to this, Miss Tait, your father is in danger—”
“Danger?” Polly uttered a sharp cry.
“Naturally, when he has Mrs. Berrow to deal with, to say nothing of Cleopatra. Your father should not have defied those women; but by threatening to harm Mrs. Berrow he has drawn on him the anger of Cleopatra, and she is not one to let a thing like that go unpunished. It will be best at present to hold your tongue. I shall come and see the Captain myself. His address is?”
“Twenty-three, Sordello Road,” whispered Miss Tait, looking scared; “but you don’t think—”
“I think nothing,” said Rupert, for the third time. “All I know is that there will be trouble with these two women. I am going to meet both, and perhaps may thwart their schemes. Do not mention our meeting and conversation, Miss Tait, if you don’t wish to make bad worse.”
“I shall say nothing,” whimpered Polly, more frightened than she cared to confess.
“Very good, and especially don’t tell that newspaper man that Alice tells me you are engaged to.”
“I won’t; but I wish I were married to Teddy, and away from all this trouble. I’m getting afraid.”
“That means danger also,” said Rupert, coolly, and pressing her hand; “to win, we must all be brave.”
“We?” Polly looked at him questioningly.
“Myself, Alice, yourself, and Mr. Marvel. I have your promise to be silent, Miss Tait?”
“Yes. But I don’t understand.”
“There is no reason that you should—as yet. Good-bye.”
Rupert limped away, and cast a look over his shoulder as he turned down the lane which led to the Manor House. Polly was still standing where he had left her, and was staring anxiously in his direction. It was hard on the girl that she should be involved in trouble at her age. But with an unscrupulous father, and no money, and a pauper lover, it was scarcely to be expected that she would be happy. Treffry was very glad that he had seen her. He now knew that the Captain must be innocent, since he would scarcely venture to threaten Mrs. Berrow as he did, or dare to make the accusation public, unless his hands were at least clean of blood. Treffry moved forward, wondering who had killed the dwarf. It was not the Captain; it was not himself; he could scarcely credit Marvel with the blow, and Felton’s declaration that the yellow hunchback was the murderer seemed ridiculous, seeing that the sweeper had no reason to rid himself of his benefactor. “I should not wonder if the guilty person turned out to be Mrs. Berrow, after all,” thought Rupert, as he entered the great gates; “and Cleopatra, knowing the truth, is shielding her with the invention of my blood being on the white dinner-dress. However, if I match guile against guile I shall soon learn the truth.”
All the same, he knew it was not easy to deceive two clever women, and he wished that he could see each one separately. Then he might be able—as the slang phrase goes—to draw wool over their eyes. Fortune favoured him in this matter, for when he asked for Mrs. Berrow he was informed by a pompous-looking butler that she was in town. This was good news, and Rupert asked if Cleopatra was within. It appeared that she was, and he entered the house. Hardly had he been five minutes in the drawing-room when Cleopatra appeared with a suspicious look.
“What do you want, Mr. Treffry?” she asked coldly.
“To see Mrs. Berrow.”
“For what reason?”
“One which you will scarcely believe.”
Cleopatra’s eyes flashed. “Do you mean—”
“Yes,” he said, wincing at the downright lie, “that is, if Mrs. Berrow can explain certain things.”
“I hear that she intends to accuse me of murder?”
“She can if she likes; and I alone can save you.”
“I know that,” replied Rupert, coolly, “and therefore I am consulting my own safety in coming to Helena. I am aware that my actions on that night may seem suspicious to the police. But you know that I am innocent.”
“I do,” and the woman crossed her hands on her ample bosom and smiled insolently, “and everyone will know that if—”
“Well,” interrupted Treffry, with calculated impatience, “I intend to agree to her terms. If she comes and sees me in London—”
Cleopatra placed herself before him, as he moved towards the door with a studiously careless look. “No,” she said, determinedly, “you shall stay here until Helena returns. She will be down to-morrow.”
“But if she comes to see me in London,” began Rupert, pretending hesitation to gain his end, which was to stop in the house.
“No,” said Cleopatra again, and very firmly, “now you are here, you shall stop. Helena loves you—why, I don’t know. But she wants to marry you. If you leave this house you may change your mind.”
“You can hardly detain me against my will.”
“I am not a fool, and I know the English law,” flashed out Cleopatra; “but if you go you will change your mind. I know that you are as fickle as your uncle.”
“Ah! I wish to speak about my uncle, and his child Ruth.”
“Oh!” Cleopatra smiled venomously, “you know of that, do you? Well, I can explain, and I will to-morrow morning if you will stay.”
“And if I do not?”
“I’ll tell the police that you took the knife from Mr. Clyde’s office and killed young Berrow.”
“You can’t prove that.”
“Yes, I can. Mr. Clyde will swear that you took the knife. I can swear that I followed you from the Office. Helena can swear also that you struck the blow. Three witnesses, Mr. Treffry—think of your danger.”
“And you would accuse me, knowing that I am innocent?”
“Yes, I would do anything for Helena’s sake. Come, we waste time. Do you agree to my terms?”
“What are they?”
“You must stop here, and tell Helena in the morning that you will marry her.”
“I don’t see what else is to be done,” grumbled Rupert, outwardly annoyed and inwardly delighted at the smooth way in which this woman had fallen into the trap. “You can send for my luggage. It is at the Railway Hotel; and to-night you can explain about Ruth.”
“I shall send for your luggage,” said Cleopatra, moving towards the door, “and you shall be treated like a king. But I explain nothing until to-morrow morning.”
Rupert saw no more of Cleopatra, but his luggage duly arrived, and, as she had promised, he was treated like a king. A splendidly-furnished bedroom was assigned to him, and a luncheon was sent in well cooked and appetising. Even then Rupert fancied Cleopatra did not trust him entirely. He drank some wine out of a decanter, and almost immediately after the meal fell sound asleep. His last thought as he lapsed into unconsciousness was that she had drugged the wine so as to prevent his leaving the house, and seeking an interview with Alice. Cleopatra was a born intriguer.
However, Rupert cared very little. He had got into the house, and that was all he wanted. Now it remained to play the game with Mrs. Berrow and her confederate. He fell asleep under the influence of the presumed drug in the library, a magnificently-furnished apartment in the east wing of the Manor House. As he dozed off to sleep on the sofa he felt Cleopatra place a rug over him, and heard her complacent chuckle as she left the room. Then, more than ever, he was convinced that she had drugged the wine. He was being held, as it were, as a kind of hostage.
When he awoke, with a headache and an evil taste in his mouth, he found it was almost dark. No lamps were lighted in the room, and any illumination came from the pale wintry light which filtered in through the three windows of the library opening on to the terrace. Rupert yawned, and sat up, stretching his arms. As he did so, he heard a movement, and saw a figure at the far end of the room.
“Who is there?” he demanded, quickly, and bending forward.
The person made no reply. It seemed to be busy with some book, and at the sound of his voice glided round the walls towards the middle window, which Rupert saw was open. He rose, and made a rush for the figure, thinking he (for the figure was that of a man) might be a robber. The figure evaded him dexterously, and glided along the wall towards the open window. As the faint light of the waning day fell on it Rupert, with a cry of amazement, saw that it was dressed in yellow.
“The yellow hunchback!” he cried, and ran to the window. It was at once sharply closed, and the little man, whom Rupert could now see very plainly, did something with the sash, almost on a level with the young man’s breast. Whatever he did, it certainly prevented the window being opened, and Treffry had the mortification of seeing the person he most wanted to speak to, disappear in the fast-fading twilight. The yellow hunchback had come and gone like a ghost, and Treffry was left vexed and dismayed at the fast-closed window.
The sudden appearance of the hunchback was exceedingly strange and exceedingly unexpected. According to Alice, he had been missing for more than a week, and, to all accounts, had left Chadston. Yet, here he presented himself again, and at the house of his dead cousin. Rupert quite believed that Ben was the cousin of Evan Berrow, since the two resembled one another so closely. It might be that the Berrow family had some hereditary curse, which produced a dwarf every few generations. From what Treffry knew, Mr. Berrow the elder had been a well-grown man, and doubtless the husband of Miss Tudor-Stuart had been the same. Yet these two fathers of normal size had begotten undersized, queer mortals, who looked, as Rupert had said to Alice long since, like changelings from Fairyland.
But he did not dwell on the physical deformities of the dead or the living. His mind was actively seeking a reason for the disappearance and reappearance of the surviving dwarf. Why had Ben gone away after those few hopeful words to Alice, and why had he returned to appear like a ghost at the Manor House? In common with many other old mansions the place was reputed haunted, and had not Rupert beheld the yellow garb of the unexpected visitor he might have believed that he had seen an apparition. The little man had entered the room so stealthily, and had disappeared so strangely, that he might well have been taken for a spectre. But Treffry, from his strange dress, knew him to be flesh and blood—the yellow hunchback, who rightly or wrongly was credited by Mr. Felton with putting his cousin out of the way.
What had the little man been doing in the library? Rupert asked himself this question several times, but could find no plausible answer. He examined the book-shelves where the dwarf had been busy, but could learn nothing. One book (as was apparent, from the misplaced dust) had been taken from the shelves. It was a volume of travels, and although Rupert turned over the leaves he could find nothing likely to interest so uneducated a person as Ben the crossing-sweeper. Replacing the book with a puzzled feeling, he rang the bell, and asked the footman who entered if he could see Cleopatra.
“Tell her that I must see her,” said Treffry, sharply, “and if she refuses to come I shall go away.”
The result of this message was that Cleopatra appeared with a frown. Evidently she had thought that the drug would keep Rupert asleep too late for him to leave the house, and was disappointed, as could be seen from her face, by the unexpected awakening. She knew well enough that the man could not be held prisoner, and, therefore, had obeyed his summons rather than lose him. It was needful, as she felt, that Treffry should be kept in the house until Mrs. Berrow (to whom Cleopatra had already sent a telegram) arrived, lest he should see Alice Marvel again, and change his mind once more regarding the projected marriage. Of course, there was the chance that he would be arrested, and he might not fear to risk it. But, as Cleopatra felt, it would be best to humour her dangerous visitor within bounds. Diplomacy rather than force was required in this instance. All the same, Cleopatra appeared very wrathful.
“I told you that I would not see you until the morning,” she said, in her deep voice, and crossing her arms tightly over her breast.
“And I take leave to behave as I choose,” replied Rupert, sharply. “What the relations between you and Mrs. Berrow may be I neither know nor care. But to me you are a servant, so behave like one.”
Cleopatra was evidently taken aback by this stern tone, for she unfolded her arms and became more meek.
“I am willing to do anything you wish, sir,” she said, with sullen submission, “but if my manner displeases you, remember that I am anxious about my mistress.”
“You have nothing to do with your mistress, Cleopatra. The marriage is her affair and mine. Had you not come, I should certainly have left the house. As you have chosen to obey my summons I will treat you openly and fairly, although you do not deserve such consideration at my hands. Now then,” he faced her squarely, “why have you hidden Ben, the yellow hunchback, in this house?”
The exclamation of surprise which burst from Cleopatra showed Rupert beyond all doubt, that he was accusing her wrongly.
“The yellow hunchback!” she said, staring at him with her piercing black eyes. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“The man was here a few minutes ago.”
“Here? Impossible! My mistress wished to see him, as it is her desire to do something for him, since he is poor Mr. Evan’s cousin. But he has left Chadston—at least, Miss Tudor-Stuart and Mrs. Rayner say so.”
“He may have left Chadston, as you say, and they say,” rejoined Rupert, quickly, “but he has returned. I saw him when I awoke from sleep. And, by the way, perhaps you will tell me why you drugged me, Cleopatra?”
“I never did, sir,” she answered, sullenly.
“Yes, you did. You put some of your cursed obeah drugs in the wine I drank at luncheon. I never sleep in the afternoon, and this time I could not keep awake. I have been asleep for hours, which shows me how unnatural the slumber was. Also, I have now a headache, and a bad taste in my mouth. All these things point to your use of a drug. Own up, or I shall go away.”
Cleopatra, forgetting again the fact that she was but a housekeeper, tossed her head and placed her hands defiantly on her hips.
“I don’t mind owning to you, Mr. Treffry; that I did drug you. You have found your senses, and have given up that miserable girl. I shan’t let you go away again until you see my mistress. Her beauty will soon subjugate you again.”
“That is questionable. And let me advise you not to speak of Miss Marvel in that disrespectful way. You need have no fear of my going away until I have seen Mrs. Berrow. There was no need of the drug.”
“I think otherwise,” replied Cleopatra, haughtily. “You might have gone back to that”—a flash from Rupert’s eyes made her change her speech—“to Miss Marvel, that is. Well, sir, now that you know I have drugged you what will you do?”
“Nothing,” replied Treffry, with a shrug and sitting down, for he found it painful standing on his still tender leg. “But I must, say that you are a dangerous woman to know. First you stab me, then you drug me. Supposing I told the police?”
“Oh,” said Cleopatra, smoothly, and with a wicked look, “if you choose to punish me for what I did out of affection to my mistress, I will go with you at once to the police-station, and then you can give me in charge.”
“You know very well that I cannot do that,” said Treffry, nettled by her sneer. “I want to keep all this very shady business quiet, for the sake of Mrs. Berrow.”
“And for the sake of Miss Marvel.”
“Leave Miss Marvel’s name out of the question,” he said, testily. “I have nothing to do with her—at present,” he added, as an after-thought, which did not appear to gratify Cleopatra.
“Nor will you ever again, unless you wish to stand in the dock.”
Rupert eyed her coldly, and wondered if in her heart she thought that he was such a coward as to be frightened by this stage thunder.
“We need not discuss that,” he said, sternly, “your mistress and I will settle the matter tomorrow. Meanwhile, what about this hunchback’s presence here. What was he doing?”
“I don’t know”—and she spoke with evident sincerity—“I don’t know why he should come here, or how he entered.”
“I was asleep when he came in, but he certainly entered through the middle window.”
“Impossible! It was locked. I saw to that when I placed the rug over you. I did not want you to go out, so made all safe.”
“I don’t think that the window would keep me in.”
“Ah! there you are wrong. It has a catch on both sides. Had you tried to escape by opening the inner catch you would not have been able to force it, as the outer catch would have kept you in, and you could not have guessed at its existence.”
“Ah!” Rupert moved to the window and examined the two catches, one of which was within and one without. This, then, accounted for the difficulty which he had found when trying to follow the man.
“Mr. Evan Berrow had the windows fastened in that way,” said Cleopatra, who was at his elbow, “as he thought it safer for thieves. I cannot say why, seeing the catch without is useless.”
“The hunchback must know the secret of these catches,” said Rupert, still examining the window, “for he fastened the outer one when he closed the window, and I could not follow. He must have entered by the same way.”
Cleopatra frowned, and her strongly-marked face showed considerable displeasure. “I cannot understand how he could know about the catches,” she said, in annoyed tones, “nor how he could have entered, seeing I saw to the fastening of the window when I left the room.”
“At all events, he came and went as I say,” rejoined Rupert, impatiently; “at least, he went by the window. I can only surmise that he entered by it.”
“No, no,” replied Cleopatra, still disconcerted. “And yet he could scarcely have entered the house in any other way. It is, of course, an old house, and full of queer passages and doors. But one would need to be well acquainted with the place before he could enter. I don’t understand it. Why did this man come?”
“That is what I am asking you.”
“What did he do?”
“Went to the bookcase there—at least, he was there when I awoke—and fiddled with a volume of travels. When I called out he bolted, but I cannot say what he was doing.”
The woman went to the portion of the bookcase pointed out by the young man and examined it, as he had done. Her inspection was as unsatisfactory as his had been, and she drew back disappointed.
“I must speak to Mrs. Berrow about this,” she muttered.
“You can save yourself the trouble,” Rupert assured her, coolly. “I shall speak myself.”
“Then you do intend to remain?”
“How many times do you want me to tell you so? And, now that you are here, Cleopatra, and it wants an hour to dinner, perhaps you will tell me about this girl Ruth?”
Cleopatra considered, and the evil look gradually faded from her face. She was obviously entirely taken in by Rupert’s ready acquiescence in her desire that he should remain, and she now regarded him as a friend and not as an enemy. This being the case, she was ready to speak out. Her change of attitude proved to Treffry how very diplomatic had been his determination to trick Mrs. Berrow as she was prepared to trick him.
“May I sit down?” she asked, in all humility then, when Rupert nodded, she continued, seated, and with a smile: “I am sorry I spoke in a way that I should not have done, Mr. Treffry; but my love for my mistress must be my excuse.”
“You are excused,” said Treffry coldly, and lighted a cigarette, “but please don’t try any more stabbing or drugging.”
“Oh!” with a flash of her old enmity, “are you afraid lest I should kill you?”
“No. You stabbed me in a rage, and it was not worth my while to have you arrested for obvious reasons which have to do with this murder and your mistress. As to your drugging, you also had a purpose in that. But you would neither stab me to the heart nor poison me, because Helena loves me.”
“That is perfectly true,” she assured him, “and you put the case clearly, Mr. Treffry. Had Helena not loved you, you would have been dead long ago.”
“As Evan is dead.”
“I never killed him,” said Cleopatra. “You know I was with you when he was stabbed.”
“Not at the exact moment,” said Rupert, swiftly. “He was killed, as I really believe, fifteen minutes later, or thereabouts.”
“The doctors said he was stabbed at ten, and somewhere about ten o’clock I was with you,” she said, doggedly.
“I don’t agree with the doctors.”
“Then you say that I killed young Mr. Berrow?”
“You had the knife with which you stabbed me in your hand when you ran away,” Rupert explained, with his eyes on her face, “and you might just as well have killed young Berrow a few minutes afterwards. He stood in the way of your mistress enjoying a large fortune, remember.”
“Faugh!” Cleopatra snapped her fingers. “Try as you may, sir, you will never bring home to me a crime of which I am perfectly innocent. I can tell you that my mistress was quite satisfied with the two thousand a year from Mr. Boyde which you surrendered. As to Evan Berrow, she was anxious to keep him alive that he might marry that—that—well, Miss Marvel, since I am to speak politely of her. I can prove your guilt, but you cannot prove mine.”
Rupert shrugged his shoulders, and whiffed away a curl of smoke. It was not worth while to argue with her, although he suspected she knew the truth. One thing had to be done at a time, and he wished to learn all about Ruth and her parentage.
“You allude to the two thousand a year which was left to me, or (if I surrendered it, by refusing to marry), to Mrs. Berrow. But you know well that Ruth, the dumb girl, should have the money.”
Cleopatra rather surprised him. “She certainly should, as she is the only daughter of Mrs. Boyde and Mr. Boyde.”
“Oh, then, there was a marriage?”
“Yes. I have the certificate, which I found amongst Mr. Boyde’s papers after his death. Ruth Boyde is the daughter of your uncle, and your own cousin.”
“Then why did my uncle treat her so badly?”
“He had reason to. Oh, I know well that you think your uncle was a bad man. He was, but he was not so wicked as you think. He fell in love with the pretty face of Mrs. Rayner’s daughter, and married her privately at a church I know of. She bore with him in his poverty, and the child Ruth was born deaf and dumb. When Mr. Boyde went to Jamaica to enjoy his luck Mrs. Boyde followed him, but he never acknowledged her or the child, and she set up a dressmaker’s establishment under her maiden name. When she died—of drink—Mr. Boyde sent me home with the child to Mrs. Rayner.”
“But why did he do this?”
“Because Mrs. Rayner is a noted criminal, as Mr. Boyde found out. A shoplifter and a thieves’ decoy. Her daughter was the same, and Ruth has also criminal instincts. That child stole all that she could lay her hands on, and also takes drugs.”
“Nonsense—a child like that!”
“Oh, you don’t know her wickedness,” Cleopatra assured him. “She would kill you or me—for she hates me although I have been kind to her—as soon as take a cup of tea. She is a criminal, and the mother also was a criminal. Mr. Boyde, for his own sake, had to keep the marriage secret and get rid of the child, as both, and the grandmother also, are criminals. I did what I could, but what’s bred in the bone will come out in the flesh.”
“My uncle might at least have given Mrs. Rayner an income to keep the child, even if he did not leave her the full two thousand.”
“Had you married my mistress I would have told you of the matter, and then you would have put it right,” Cleopatra assured him; “but my mistress will see that Ruth is looked after. And now that is all I shall say on the subject,” and not another word could Rupert learn.
Needless to say, Treffry tried his best to induce Cleopatra to open her mouth and further explain things. But she evidently thought that she had said enough, and resolutely refused to speak. When he became insistent, she retreated from the room, nor could he see her again that night, not even although he again sent a message that he would leave the house unless she appeared. For some reason this second similar message did not result so happily as the first had done; therefore Rupert, surrendering himself to the inevitable, went up to his room to dress for dinner.
While there, he thought over what had been said by Cleopatra. She certainly had been very frank as to the reasons which led Mr. Boyde to disown his wife and child. Mrs. Rayner, so far as he could learn from Alice (a particularly close observer) was of the criminal classes, and probably had been a dexterous thief until her brain had become weakened through constant drink. Mrs. Boyde, perhaps, had taken after her, and the child likewise. But it seemed ridiculous to credit such a small girl with murderous instincts. Rupert found himself wondering if Cleopatra had advisedly said this, so that, in the event of being accused of Evan’s murder, she could shift the blame on to Ruth. She was quite ready, for the sake of her mistress, to accuse Captain Tait of what he had not done; so to save herself (and Rupert was by no means sure whether he could not bring home the crime to her) she would not be at all averse to accusing Ruth, a dumb creature, who would have much difficulty in defending herself.
Treffry remembered that Mrs. Rayner had told Alice of Ruth’s wanderings on the night of the murder. She had been hovering round the door of Clyde’s office trying to see Cleopatra and get some food. Later, she had joined her grandmother, when the old woman had picked up the knife with which the deed had been committed. It was incredible that the girl could have killed Evan without the old woman seeing her, and Mrs. Brandyface’s nerves were too shaken with drink to make her refuse to give up the name of the assassin, even had the same been her own grand-daughter. The woman would do anything for money, as she belonged to the criminal class, and there was no honour amongst thieves in her case. But, then, Ruth could not have gained possession of the knife, as she had not been inside the office, and had not seen Cleopatra. It was also questionable whether Cleopatra had used the sacrificial knife. Certainly, she might have got it in some way, and yet, when Rupert remembered that she had not been in the office when he left it, and followed him at once, it seemed impossible that she should have secured the weapon. Yet Evan had undoubtedly been stabbed with the knife which had been used to assassinate Mr. Boyde, and it only remained to prove in whose possession it had been after leaving the office of Mason Clyde, to establish the guilt of a certain person. Who that person might be, Rupert could not guess. But of one thing he was certain, it could not be Ruth, in spite of Cleopatra’s clever hints.
“I wonder if Mason Clyde is in the business?” thought Rupert, as he descended to dinner. “He had the knife, and could easily have slipped out to kill Evan; and then he would assuredly place himself in the power of Lawrence Marvel, who would see him both leave the office and return. I fancy Marvel knew of the death, and advisedly took Alice down the High Street so that he and she might be the first to discover the corpse. Humph! Well, I can do nothing, as everything is so muddled. When I have a talk with Mrs. Berrow, I may be able to clear the air.”
He made a good dinner, for everything was of the best. Apparently, Cleopatra wanted to show Rupert how well Mrs. Berrow lived, in the hope that the flesh-pots of Egypt might induce him to still further make up his mind finally to marry the beautiful widow. Treffry was as fond of his food as most men, and certainly enjoyed the meal. All the same, he had no notion of selling himself for a mess of pottage. When he had finished and had adjourned again to the library for a superlatively good cigar and a cup of fragrant coffee, he sat down to consider whether his presence in the house, with the plan he had in his head, was honourable, notwithstanding the exigencies of the case.
Treffry was a gentleman, and, after much reflection, he came to the conclusion that he would stop the night at the Manor, since he could scarcely leave these quarters at so late an hour. But in place of tricking Mrs. Berrow, as she was prepared to trick him, he resolved to tell her the truth, namely, that he loved Alice Marvel, and intended to keep his word to her. Then Mrs. Berrow could do what she liked. If it came to his arrest, Rupert hoped that Cleopatra, in spite of her fierce determination to hang him, might be frightened into confessing the truth. Already he knew a great deal, and if Cleopatra showed her teeth, as she certainly would do, he could show his teeth also. On this resolve he went to bed, and slept what is called the sleep of the just, until nine o’clock the next morning.
On the breakfast-table he found a note from Mrs. Berrow. It seemed that she had arrived that very same morning at seven o’clock, and was now resting. At half-past ten she would meet him in the library. Rupert saw in this message the hand of Cleopatra.
“I expect Helena was sent for,” he said, laying aside the note and beginning his breakfast. “What a pity she loves me so much. I am quite right in telling her the truth, however disagreeable it may be to her. Not even in a case like this should one betray a woman’s affections, or make use of her feelings. Helena may be bad, but her love for me is certainly genuine.”
More than ever did he regret that he had taken up such a line, and, notwithstanding his sophistical arguments to Alice, he felt that he had behaved in a shabby manner. Such a thought should never have entered his head, and he was glad that his conscience had come to his aid, before it was too late, to show him his error. He would explain the truth to Helena calmly, and appeal to her generosity to put matters straight. If she was innocent—and he hoped that, in spite of appearances, she might be—surely she would not hesitate to give him up, and tell the true name of the assassin. He was sure that she knew it, and perhaps the name might be that of Cleopatra. In that case, Mrs. Berrow would hold her tongue, since she was bound by many ties to her old nurse. But if someone else had killed the poor little man Mrs. Berrow might be induced to act honourably for once in her shady life, and tell the truth. Then, when things were thus settled, Alice and he would marry. It will be seen that up till now Rupert had not given a single thought to the chief object for which he had penetrated into the guarded camp of the enemy, namely, the second will, which was to give Alice a fortune. Nor did he think of it at all when he found himself in the presence of Helena Berrow, who awaited him in the library. As he advanced into the splendid, well-lighted room he thought how wonderfully beautiful she looked in her mourning robes. Her figure was extremely graceful, and her dress well cut. The darkness of the garb suited her fair skin and transparent complexion, and the hope of regaining his love, which had already been instilled into her mind by the telegram of Cleopatra, had made her look younger than ever. She had a womanly, tender, loving expression on her lovely face as he walked forward, looking rather ashamed of himself. As he advanced she came forward a step and, snatching at his hand, caught it to her heart. He could feel how violently it was beating.
“Rupert,” she said, with a glad note in her voice, “at last!”
The man, feeling more ashamed than ever, and wishing himself elsewhere, withdrew his hand roughly. “No,” he said, and dropped into a chair, where he covered his face and groaned.
Mrs. Berrow stood dumbfounded. After Cleopatra’s telegram, and, later, her hurried verbal explanation, she had never doubted but that her old lover had come back to her. The colour deserted her face, and the glad light died out of her eyes. With loosely-hanging arms she stood silently before him. After a pause, Rupert looked up, and beheld, not the flushed, lovely woman of a few moments previously, but a marble Niobe, who could not even weep because of her great grief.
“Yes,” said Treffry, his face colouring, and feeling like a cur, “you may well look, Helena. I came here with the intention of deceiving you. I intended to make you love me, so as to beat you with the same weapons which you have used against me. But I cannot. I own that I am wrong. I have behaved like a cur. You are right to look at me in that way. I deserve all your reproaches.”
“You shall never be reproached by me,” she said, sobbing.
“In heaven’s name,” cried the man, irritably, and rising to give full vent to his irritation, “why cannot you love someone else? I should never make you a good husband. See now, how badly I have behaved. I came to steal your affection and use it against you.”
“You can never steal what you have always had,” said Helena, mournfully. “I know that I am a fool. All women are, over the man they love. If you came to trick me—”
“As you have tried to trick me,” he reminded her.
“No, I have not. You are engaged to me by your uncle’s will, and you shall marry me. Let this scene be as though it had never been. I shall never remember the shameful confession which you have made just now. I shall never talk of it. Only marry me. Oh!” she flung her arms round his neck, “can you not see that I am dying for your love? Kiss me—promise to be my husband.”
There was no weakness about Treffry now. Resolutely he removed her arms and faced her with a pale, set face. “I have been wrong to have deceived you,” he said sadly, “but it is not too late for me to express my sorrow.”
“It is! It is!”
“It is not. Did I marry you, I should be a loveless husband, whose heart is given to another.”
“To Alice Marvel?”
“Yes. I love her with all my heart. I intend to marry her.”
“You had better take care. It is too late now.”
“I care for nothing,” said Rupert, looking into her face, which was now evil exceedingly. “You can tell all the world what I have just now explained—that I intended to deceive you into loving me so that I might circumvent you. You can have me arrested—you can pursue all your tricks to ruin me—but it is not too late. No, I tell you it is not too late. I love Alice. I intend to remain true to Alice. If I have intended to trick you—and I admit with shame that I did—I now see my fault, and I am prepared to face the consequences. I know that it will be difficult for me to disprove this accusation you propose to bring against me, seeing that Cleopatra alone can tell where I was and how incapable I was of moving. But I shall face it all, for Alice’s sake.”
Mrs. Berrow’s face grew peaked and white, and her eyes flashed fire. After all, at the present moment she had some cause for complaint, seeing that she had been brought back to her home by means of a false belief, set afloat by the man before her. He was a villain, and so she told him. But she never thought for a moment of how (wrongly though he had acted) he was merely doing what she was prepared to do, and had already done. He accepted the name she gave him in silence, and turned to leave the room. Already his portmanteau was waiting in the hall, ready packed, as he had given notice. It was easy to carry, so all he had to do was to leave the house with his luggage and go back to Alice.
Mrs. Berrow saw this in his face as he walked towards the door, and she sprang forward like a pantheress leaping on her prey. “Rupert! Rupert! Don’t leave me!” she cried, in a voice of genuine agony. “I love you—I adore you—I worship you!”
“That is not for you to say, or for me to hear,” said Rupert, trying to shake her off.
Mrs. Berrow, still clinging, slipped down to the ground wailing: “Oh! my dear—my love—do not cast me off. Rupert, I have money, I am rich. Everything will be yours. See I am beautiful. I am more beautiful than this pauper you love.”
“Abusing Alice will not make me change my mind,” said Treffry, coldly, and accepting this scene as his deserved punishment; “she is the woman who will be my wife, and no other.”
“She will not. I swear she will not,” shrieked Mrs. Berrow, leaping to her feet. “I’ll see you in the dock first. I’ll see you on the gallows, you hound—you dog, you—” She stopped short from sheer inability to proceed further, so great was her anger.
“Call me what names you like,” said Rupert, calmly; “I deserve them all, seeing that I was shabby enough to try and use your own weapons. But I have done all I could to make amends.”
“You villain! What have you done?”
“I have told the truth, at the eleventh hour. Had I been a man of your nature, Mrs. Berrow, I should have played out the game and have won. But I have thrown up my hand. I leave all the cards in your hands. You may now win—if you can!”
“I shall win, and you shall die at the hands of the hangman.”
“There are two words to that, Helena. I shall fight for my life.”
Mrs. Berrow clasped and unclasped her hands viciously. “Oh heavens! what am I to do?” she demanded of the ceiling.
“Control yourself,” said Rupert, with genuine feeling. “Helena, why will you try and make an unwilling man love you? Believe me, we should never be happy. I am willing to give up the money, as I have done, to be true to Alice. I love her, as you love me.”
“I loved you first,” she panted. “You shall not go.”
Rupert moved her clinging hands again. “I tell you it can never be, Helena. I am going, and I’ll never see you again.”
“I shall kill myself.”
“Nonsense. That is merely an hysterical speech.”
“It is not—it is not!” she cried, wildly. “I am a woman scorned. You have refused my love; you shall feel my hate.”
Feeling that there was no reply possible to this very melodramatic speech Treffry opened the door, and before she could make another attempt to detain him he was out in the hall, and had taken up his portmanteau. Mrs. Berrow darted after him.
The cry was heard by the footman, who came in from the back of the hall, looking amazed at the sight of his mistress as, with streaming eyes, she followed Treffry to the door. It was also heard by Cleopatra, who came in from the opposite room. As soon as she saw her nursling she waved aside the footman, and putting her arms round the distracted woman drew her swiftly back into the library. As she closed the door she sent a vindictive look towards Rupert. In a flash Cleopatra had guessed the truth, and was now prepared to do murder to avenge the insult put on Helena Berrow. But her main object now was to protect Helena from public scandal.
As there was now no impediment to his exit, Rupert opened the door himself (the footman had not yet returned) and walked into the crisp morning air and down the avenue. He was glad that he had summoned up courage to tell the truth, and was glad also that he had thrown down the dishonourable cards with which he had proposed to play the game of diamond cut diamond. In a few minutes he was out of the Manor House grounds, and took his way through the town, intending to leave his portmanteau at the Railway Hotel, and then see Alice. But on going up the High Street he was caught by the arm, and found himself looking into the excited face of Felton the lawyer, who was without a hat.
“Saw you through the window,” panted Felton. “Come—come into my office. Miss Marvel is there. The second will has appeared!”
Sure enough, when Rupert entered the office of the excited lawyer, there sat Alice, looking excited also. Treffry put down his portmanteau and took her in his arms, notwithstanding the presence of Mr. Felton. Then he looked into her true brown eyes and confessed his fault.
“I could not do it, darling,” he said, softly.
“Do what?” she asked, in a puzzled whisper.
“Trick Mrs. Berrow. I tried to, but my conscience would not allow me.”
Alice kissed him in her turn. “I think your conscience was right,” she said, emphatically. “You seemed so certain that it was the best thing to do that I said nothing. All the same, I did not like the idea of your descending to the level of that woman. If she chooses to behave vilely, let her. But you, my hero—”
“No hero, love, no hero,” said Rupert, sadly; “only a man, and a weak man at that. But before it was too late, I told Mrs. Berrow the truth. She knows now she can never come between us two.”
“And what does she say?” asked Alice, apprehensively.
“Oh, she intends to do her worst. So, if I am arrested, my dear, do not be surprised. And I am quite sure that, in one way or another, I shall be able to clear my character.”
“I am certain of that, Rupert. As you have done what is right in the sight of heaven, God will see that you come to no harm.”
While this conversation was going on in whispers, Felton, at his desk, was standing impatiently with a legal-looking document in his hand. When Treffry turned from Alice, feeling comforted by her hearty approval, Felton waved the paper.
“This is the will,” he declared, exultantly, “the very will which I drew up, and which was witnessed by my clerk and Marvel. I congratulate you, Mr. Treffry; for Miss Marvel, by this,” he tapped the document, “inherits ten thousand a year. She will be rich.”
“She is rich already,” said Alice, taking Rupert’s arm, “in the love of a good man.”
“Darling,” said Rupert, kissing her, and then turned towards the still excited Felton: “Did Miss Marvel bring you this?”
“No, she did not. My clerk left his desk for a few minutes to come in here and speak to me. When he went again into the outer room—about an hour ago it was—he found a long envelope on the table, directed to me. He brought it in, and I discovered it was the missing will. Then I sent for Miss Marvel to tell her the good news. When you passed I saw you through the window and rushed out. The rest you know, Mr. Treffry.”
“Strange. Who could have brought, it?”
“I cannot say. My clerk was with me some ten minutes. In that space of time someone must have entered the outer office and have laid down the envelope on the desk.”
“Did you not see anyone, Mr. Felton?”
“No. Nor did we—I and my clerk, that is—hear anyone. The door of the outer office, as you see, opens directly into the street, so it was easy for the bearer of this,” he tapped the document again, “to step in and out without interruption.”
“Are you sure that it is the real will?”
“Sure!” echoed the solicitor, indignantly. “Of course I am sure. I know the writing of my dead clerk as well as I know my own. I know, also, the signature of my late esteemed client, Mr. Evan Berrow; and Miss Marvel, here, testifies to the signature of her father.”
Alice nodded. “It is certainly the genuine will, Rupert.”
“But who can have brought it?”
“That is what we cannot find out,” said Felton. “When will you take possession of the property, Miss Marvel?”
“Wait one minute,” said Treffry, sitting down, “we must think this over. I believe I have a clue.”
“To the finding of the will?” asked Alice, amazed.
“Yes. It must have been left by the yellow hunchback.”
“That crossing-sweeper,” cried Felton, mopping his perspiring brow. “Bless my soul! How could a scallywag like that get hold of so important a document?”
“He found it in the library of the Manor. It was in a book.”
“How did he know it was there? How do you know that he took it? Really,” Mr. Felton mopped his face again, “this is most extraordinary, and not at all businesslike.”
“Since we have the genuine document I think it is as businesslike as we can expect,” said Rupert, drily; and then he told the two all that had taken place in the library of the Manor House on the previous evening. “Undoubtedly,” he finished, “Ben must have come to find the document, and conveyed it to you, Mr. Felton, knowing that you would see Miss Marvel righted.”
“Oh, I’ll see to that,” said Felton, vigorously, “if only to spite Clyde, who is the very worst lawyer I know, and unscrupulous at that, Mr. Treffry. But how did this hunchback know that the will was in the library? How did he discover the hiding-place?”
“I expect Evan told him,” said Alice, unexpectedly. “Yes, Evan found Ben in Whitechapel, and brought him here to help him, as he was his cousin. No doubt Ben heard of the will from Evan.”
“I don’t see why Evan should tell a crossing-sweeper,” said Treffry.
“His cousin,” rejoined Alice, in a gentle tone of rebuke.
At this moment, Felton, who had been musing, roused himself. “His cousin,” he repeated, with his eyes on Alice. “My late esteemed client may have said so, but I doubt the truth of that statement. I knew the elder Mr. Berrow, and did some business for him. He once told me that he had been born in a workhouse, and had neither kith nor kin. Also that he had worked his way up to fortune without any help. He came here with a comparatively large sum of money, and bought the land cheap from Captain Tait, who was then squandering everything he could lay his hands on. When the Manor House went, Tait chose to assume that Berrow had robbed him, and vowed to be revenged. Then Berrow’s son Evan was born, and shortly afterwards his first wife died, so he had too much on his mind to pay any attention to Tait’s threats, though I daresay, as he has done nothing, these are all rubbish.”
“Ben must be Evan’s cousin,” said Alice, decisively. “Look at the wonderful likeness between them. Even now, one would think that the yellow hunchback was Evan Berrow returned to life.”
“There have been wonderful resemblances before.”
“I daresay. But when you think that Evan was a dwarf, and that this man is the same, it does appear to be remarkable. Also the wizen faces of the two dwarfs were strikingly similar.”
“Well,” said Mr. Felton, arranging some pens on his blotting-pad in a mechanical way, “it will be easy to learn exactly the relationship. Miss Tudor-Stuart, that brazen female who dances, may be able to explain.”
“She has explained,” protested Miss Marvel. “She says that she was the wife of a relative of Mr. Berrow, and claims to be Mrs. Berrow.”
“I’ll see her about the matter,” said Felton; then added, after a pause: “Why is she so friendly with Captain Tait?”
“Friendly?” said Rupert.
“Well, perhaps that is hardly the word. But I was collecting rents down Tooker’s Alley the other day for a client, and I entered Tooker’s Rents. I heard the voices of Captain Tait and Miss Tudor-Stuart in one of the rooms, raised in anger. They seemed to be going for one another hammer and tongs.”
“What were they saying?”
“I cannot tell you. I could only hear the voices.”
“They may have been those of others?”
“No,” said Felton, decisively, “for shortly the door of the room opened, and Tait came out with the woman. She was angry at him, and they quarrelled all the way down the stairs. It had something to do with money.”
Rupert reflected. “Mrs. Berrow says Captain Tait killed her step-son,” he remarked, quietly. “What if Miss Tudor-Stuart saw him commit the deed, and is blackmailing him?”
“She would not get much money out of the Captain,” said Felton, in his driest manner. “Tait has none to spare. Besides, as I mentioned to you, Miss Marvel, I don’t believe Tait killed my late esteemed client. Evan Berrow was more useful to him alive than dead.”
There was silence for a few moments, then Alice spoke. “Would it not be as well to question Captain Tait and learn the truth?”
“I shall do that,” said Rupert, quickly. “Since Mrs. Berrow has now quite decided to make things unpleasant for me, it will be necessary for me to defend myself. If Captain Tait knows anything he shall tell it to me.”
“And why not see Miss Tudor-Stuart while you’re about it?” said the solicitor, rising, and struggling into his overcoat. “If the Captain refuses to speak out, and he certainly will if I know anything of his nature, she may be induced to speak. You see, from the conversation I overheard, and the way in which she raged, I suspect that Tait has not kept up his payments to her. Therefore, if he will not fork out—a vulgar term, Miss Marvel, but expressive—she will, as the saying goes, let the cat out of the bag.”
“H’m!” said Rupert, taking up his portmanteau, “I am not so sure of that. Captain Tait has no money, but he intends to marry Mrs. Berrow. He may have told Miss Tudor-Stuart that, and may have arranged to pay her a large sum when he fingers Mrs. Berrow’s income.”
“He will not find it so large a one as he expects,” said Felton, putting on his tall hat, and assuming his black gloves. “Are you ready, Miss Marvel?”
“Ready?” Alice was on her feet and looked puzzled. “What for?”
“To call at the Manor House.”
“Oh!” She looked startled. “Do you wish me to—”
“I wish you to come with me, and personally interview Mrs. Berrow. I shall tell her of this will, and when she is assured that it is a genuine document she may be ready to hand over the property in a peaceable manner. Otherwise we must fight. At all events, it will be best to see her.”
“Yes, I suppose so, and yet—Rupert.”
“I shall call and see Captain Tait as soon as I place my luggage at the Railway Hotel. He lives in Sordello Road. Miss Tait gave me the address. Would you like me to come with you to the Manor House, Alice, my dear?”
She considered for a moment or two, and then shook her head. “After what occurred this morning I think it will be best for me to go with Mr. Felton. She would only insult you.”
“I fear she will behave badly in any case.”
“I don’t care,” said Miss Marvel, moving towards the door with her head in the air. “I am more than a match for Mrs. Berrow. I met her before, and she did not frighten me. Good-bye, Rupert. When shall we see you again?”
“I’ll call at the villa some time this afternoon. Then we can talk over things, after we learn Mrs. Berrow’s attitude regarding this second will. There is only one attitude possible for her,” said Felton, in a decisive tone, as he led the way through the outer office into the street; “she must surrender what is not hers.”
With this speech the three parted. Rupert went on his way to the Railway Hotel to get rid of his luggage and plan an interview with the valiant Captain Tait, while Felton escorted his pretty and wealthy client along the road which led to the Manor House. The lawyer was in high spirits at the recovery of the will.
“If that hunchback brought it back, as Mr. Treffry says,” he remarked to Miss Marvel, “we must certainly recompense him.”
“Now that he has come back we must see him, and get at the truth of his relationship to poor Evan,” was Alice’s reply. “If he can prove that he is Evan’s cousin, and I believe, from the likeness, that he is, I shall make him a liberal allowance.”
“You can easily do that out of ten thousand a year,” chuckled Felton, highly delighted, and rubbing his hands. “Ah, what will Mr. Clyde say, now that I have taken away his best client?”
“I was never his client,” said Alice, stiffly.
“The mistress of the Manor House was,” chuckled Felton again, “and she is my client now. See, my dear young lady, this is your domain.”
They were walking up the avenue, and the heart of Alice Marvel thrilled as she surveyed the broad lands which were now her property. She again felt the thrill when she came in sight of the grand old house, and found herself at the door, which she now entered as mistress. All the same, she thought that Mrs. Berrow would make a fight for the possession of her riches, particularly if she had won them, as Rupert hinted, by murder. And once more the heart of Alice Marvel thrilled—this time with horror.
Mrs. Berrow made no objection to seeing her visitors. In fact, she was rather glad Alice had called, as she had made up her mind, as she put it, to have it out with her. Notwithstanding Rupert’s uncompromising attitude, Mrs. Berrow had not given up all hope of winning him, and only wished to frighten Alice into giving him up, in order to make another attempt. But she was puzzled that Felton, whom she knew only slightly, should call with the girl, and wondered what the pair had come about. No thought of the real business crossed Mrs. Berrow’s mind.
“Good-day, Miss Marvel,” she said to her rival, and detesting the girl for looking so pretty and distinguished. “Good-day, Mr. Felton. You wish to see me?” she addressed herself directly to Alice.
“Mr. Felton wishes to see you more than I do,” said Alice, in a cold and distant tone.
“Indeed!” Mrs. Berrow raised her strongly-marked eyebrows. “And what may Mr. Felton have to say to me?”
Mr. Felton explained in a few words, and saw the colour leave the face of Mrs. Berrow, as she grasped the astounding fact that she was no longer the mistress of the Manor House. “It’s a conspiracy,” she cried, hardly able to command her voice. “I’ll bring the matter into court. I don’t intend to yield without a fight.”
“Bring it into court, by all means,” said Felton, smoothly. “You will find the will quite in order. It was drawn up by me, and signed by Mr. Evan Berrow, in the presence of competent witnesses.”
“It is a forgery.”
“Oh dear me, no. I am a respectable lawyer, whatever Mr. Clyde may be, Mrs. Berrow. I don’t deal in forgeries.”
Something in his tone made Mrs. Berrow see that he spoke the hard truth. She shifted her gaze from his exulting face to that of Miss Marvel’s, and her eyes flashed. “To think that you should have everything,” she muttered, clenching her fists—first my lover, then my money. Will you have my life next?”
“You can best answer that,” put in Felton, smoothly.
Mrs. Berrow laughed, but there was no merriment in her harsh tones as she rose. “Do you intend to accuse me of the crime?” she cried, drawing herself up. “You cannot prove that I struck the blow. I can prove your father is guilty.”
Alice uttered a cry, and her cheek blanched. This was what she had long feared. “My father?”
“Yes. Cleopatra can prove it. I can prove it. I could accuse Rupert if I chose, but I shall tell the truth, and ruin your father. Aha! Miss Marvel, do you think that Treffry—so proud and stainless in his nature—will marry the daughter of a murderer?”
“It is wholly false,” gasped Alice, placing her hand to steady herself on Felton’s shoulder.
“So I think,” chimed in the lawyer; “a piece of spite.”
“The truth—the actual truth,” almost shouted Mrs. Berrow.
“No,” said Felton, sharply, “only another accusation of the most baseless kind. You would accuse Mr. Treffry, as you said just now, because he will not marry you. You only accuse Mr. Marvel in the hope that Mr. Treffry will refuse to marry the daughter of a possible murderer. You are ready, also, I understand, to accuse Captain Tait, and—”
Mrs. Berrow bent forward, her face convulsed with anger. “Hold your tongue,” she said, furiously. “You have scored this time. You have given Rupert and my fortune to that—that woman—she pointed a scornful finger at Alice—now you can go. You have both done your worst. Now you shall see what I can do. First, show me the will!”
“Oh dear me, no,” said Felton, pausing at the door. “I mistrust you. You might destroy it. A copy shall be sent to your lawyer, in the regular way. And I hear,” he added, spitefully, “that you are to marry Mr. Clyde.”
“No! no!” said Alice, surprised. “Mrs. Berrow is to marry Captain Tait.”
“I marry neither,” cried the widow, still furious; “and in spite of your tricks, Miss Marvel, I shall marry Rupert and hang your father. I have not done with you yet.”
“That’s all right,” said Felton, easily, and in a tone calculated to still further infuriate her. “We shall finish with you, Mrs. Berrow, when you leave this house.”
“I shall never leave it.”
“Oh yes, you will—and, perhaps, Mrs. Berrow, for prison.”
The infuriated woman would have spoken, and flung herself forward. But Felton dexterously pushed Alice through the door, and himself followed.
Mrs. Berrow flung herself against the wood, and beat on it with her bare hands. “I could kill her!” she raged. “Kill her! Kill her!”
While Alice and her legal adviser were thus bringing Mrs. Berrow to book, Rupert was engaged in having a highly interesting conversation with Captain Tait. After he had deposited his portmanteau at the Railway Hotel, he took his way to Sordello Road, which was a kind of country lane on the outskirts of the suburb. Number twenty-three was a quaint old cottage; evidently the remnant that survived of the ancient village. As Rupert afterwards learnt, it was the habitation of an old servant of the Tait family, who had been the Captain’s nurse, and here, for the sake of old days, she gave him shelter in his decadence, at a low rental. The weekly sum which Tait paid for his board and lodging could not possibly recompense old Mrs. Waters. But that did not trouble the Captain, as he was used to preying on his fellow-creatures.
It was Mrs. Waters who opened the door, a quaint old person, in a neat print dress and a mob cap, spotlessly clean, and very wrinkled in countenance. She did not seem very willing to admit the visitor, as she explained, in a quavering voice, that the Captain was occupied with a lady.
“Though I do not call her one myself,” said Mrs. Waters, in her shaky voice; “but Master Walter,” which it appeared was Tait’s name, “must be humoured, else he’ll get into one of his tantrums.”
“But I must see him, and at once,” said Rupert, producing his card. “Will you please to give him that, and say that my business is important? Or,” he added, as an afterthought, “Miss Polly will do.”
“Miss Polly has gone to London on business for her father,” said Mrs. Waters, taking the pasteboard. “I’ll give this to Master Walter if you’ll wait here, sir.”
So Rupert lingered in the trellised porch under the ivy, and whistled, as he looked down the trim garden, which was kept in such thorough repair by the old lady’s grandson. The cottage was very pleasant and old-fashioned, and scrupulously clean. Tait had fallen on his feet in thus taking refuge with the old servant: but whether Mrs. Waters was quite so lucky entertaining a robber was quite another question. Only the prevailing reverence for the old family could have reconciled Mrs. Waters to the presence of its representative. At least Rupert judged so, from what he knew of Polly’s father. At this point of his meditations the old woman returned with an invitation to walk into the sitting-room.
“Master Walter,” she explained, leading the young man along dark passage, “has sent his lady visitor into my kitchen, so as to see you private like. I hope you won’t be long, sir, as I don’t hold with the person. She ain’t no lady,” quavered Mrs. Waters, opening a door, “no, not she”; then, raising her piping voice, she announced: “A gentleman to see you, Master Walter,” and closed the door, leaving Rupert inside.
Captain Tait, who was standing before a brisk fire, looked up as the tall figure of Rupert bulked largely in the small room.
And it was a very small room, quaint and old-fashioned, with a veritable lattice and a sill with potted plants thereon. The furniture was of the Albert period, very ugly and comfortable, and there were many wax flowers, and Berlin wool mats, and stuffed birds about. The whole place was choked with useless bric-à-brac of a cheap order, and the atmosphere was stuffy, to say the least of it. Apparently Tait was not an early riser, for the breakfast-table, a small round one near the casement, was yet covered with the débris of the meal.
“Well, sir,” said Tait, squaring his shoulders in a soldierly manner, and tightening the cord of the dressing-gown which he wore, “and what can I do for you?”
“You know my name,” said Rupert, quietly, and seeing very well that Tait was an enemy.
“Yes,” replied the Captain, sharply, “you are the young gentleman who is engaged to Miss Marvel. I have heard of you, and, what is more, I have seen your photograph in the house of Mrs. Berrow.”
“You seem to know all about me,” said Treffry, drily. “Have I your permission to be seated?”
“Certainly—certainly.” Tait appeared rather ashamed of his brusqueness, and pushed forward a horsehair-covered chair. “You will excuse my receiving you in a dressing-gown, but I am not yet dressed for the day. Also, I have been seeing someone who has upset me not a little. Well sir?”
Tait stood before the fire and warmed his back, spreading his legs wide apart as he did so. He certainly looked a wonderfully well-preserved man for his age, and quite handsome enough to win the affections of any woman to whom he paid his very shady addresses. Rupert judged him to be of the hawk species, but not with quite sufficient brains to go the entire length of the genus.
“You are no doubt surprised to see me?” he said, after a pause.
“Frankly, I am,” said Tait, bluffly. “We have not been introduced.”
“Oh, I never knew you were such a stickler for etiquette,” was Treffry’s response, “else I might have brought a letter of introduction from my friend, Mr. Felton.”
Tait waved his hand. “Say no more about it,” he announced, loftily. “Now that you are here I am ready to hear what you have to say.”
“I am glad to hear it,” said Treffry, nettled by the Captain’s behaviour, “as it concerns yourself and a lady.”
“What lady?” asked Tait, stolidly, but, as Rupert saw, intensely watchful.
He paid a tribute to the Captain’s powers of self-control, then proceeded, calmly: “Miss Tudor-Stuart.”
This time, not all Tait’s self-repression could prevent his starting, and he cast a hasty glance at the door before replying.
“Miss Tudor-Stuart?” he repeated. “I know no one of that name.”
“Come, Captain Tait, you were at Tooker’s Rents the other day talking to her; Mr. Felton saw you in her company.”
Tait swore between his teeth at Felton’s undesired presence at the Rents, then replied in an airy manner:
“Oh, that person. I remember now. A pensioner of mine—merely a pensioner. Yes, Mr. Treffry”—here the Captain stuck his hand in his breast and tried to look Napoleonic—“I come of an old family, and—”
“I know all about your family,” said Rupert, curtly, and, it must be confessed, rudely, “and about you, too.”
Tait grew red and hot. “You take a most unwarrantable liberty in addressing me in this way.”
Rupert waived the bluster of the speech. “Quite so. But, you see, Captain Tait, the better we understand one another the sooner will my business be ended.”
“What is your business? Come to the point, sir.”
“I’ll come to it soon enough,” said Treffry, “and perhaps sooner than you will like. In the first place, I want to know all that you know,” he emphasised the word, “about Ben.”
“Ben?” the Captain looked nervous, but tried to hide his feelings with bluster. “Who is Ben?”
“The yellow hunchback.”
“Oh, yes; the crossing-sweeper. Now that you mention his strange dress, I, of course, recognise the name. He is the son of the woman you referred to lately—Miss Tudor-Stuart.”
“Another pensioner, Captain?”
“What?” the Captain spluttered.
“That is my business, also,” retorted Rupert, for he saw from the scarcely concealed nervousness of Tait that he was master of the situation. “See here, sir, I have come to get certain information, and I do not leave until I learn what I want.”
“I refuse to tell you anything,” bellowed Tait, redder than ever. “By what right do you thrust yourself into my private business?”
“I’ll give you my reason later on. Meanwhile,” Rupert rose and picked up his hat, “since you refuse to speak, I shall go to the police-station.”
“To the police-station!” Tait’s gooseberry eyes almost started out of his head. “And why, may I ask?”
“Don’t ask me, Captain Tait. Ask Mrs. Berrow.”
“Mrs. Berrow? Ask her what?”
“Why she accuses you of murdering Evan Berrow.”
“It’s a lie. She never accused me.”
“She accuses you now. And why not, since you accuse her?”
“I can prove that she—but what is all that to do with you?”
Rupert explained smoothly, as he saw that Tait’s resistance was growing gradually weaker, and that he was beginning to see that it would be best to speak out.
“I am engaged to marry Miss Marvel, and I want to find out who killed Evan Berrow. Mrs. Berrow threatens to accuse Lawrence Marvel of the crime, also yourself, also me.”
“Bless my soul!” Tait dropped into a chair and stared at his cool visitor, “and she is guilty herself all the time.”
“Can you prove that?”
“Yes,” and Tait detailed the episode of the absence of Mrs. Berrow and Cleopatra from the Manor House on the night of the murder, and also the fact of the blood-spotted dinner-dress. Rupert heard him to the end without comment.
“Is that all you can tell me?”
“All. Isn’t that enough?”
“Not quite, since Mrs. Berrow can refute your accusation. Listen to me. Mrs. Berrow was out on that night, but at Clyde’s office, as Clyde can prove. Cleopatra stabbed me that night in the leg, and the blood remained on the knife she used. When she met Mrs. Berrow at the office she let some of the blood—my blood, Captain Tait—fall on the dinner-dress. She is quite ready to meet your accusation in open court.”
“I don’t propose to put her in court,” said Tait, loftily, but crestfallen. “I intend to make her my honoured wife.”
“She declines to marry you. She told me so.”
“She cannot decline, seeing what I know.”
“Pooh! Stage thunder merely, Captain Tait. I have already shown you the baselessness of your accusation. Mrs. Berrow will refuse to be your wife, and will rebut any accusation you may make against her. It won’t do, Captain Tait, and I advise you to gain a wife in a more honourable way than by blackmailing.”
Tait gasped. “You dare to say this to me?”
“I’ll say it to the police, if you like.”
The stern, sharp tone cowed the man, and he reflected. Then he began to speak in a wheedling tone.
“See here, Mr. Treffry, there is no use in our quarrelling. I have nothing to do with the death of Evan Berrow; I can swear that I have not. I can prove an alibi, and the person I was with can prove it also.”
“Who is the person?”
“The woman whom you call Miss Tudor-Stuart. I was at Tooker’s Rents on that night. Mrs. Rayner, and Ben, and Ruth were all out, and I stopped to see Miss Tudor-Stuart about some business. I did not leave till eleven.”
“Then to make her prove this, you have agreed to pay her money?”
“No,” said Tait, sharply, “there is no need for me to bribe her into proving my innocence. My business with her—I suppose Mr. Felton overheard too much—has nothing to do with the murder.”
“Mr. Felton heard you quarrelling over money, Captain,” said Rupert, rather puzzled, “but he did not know why you should pay her.”
Tait drew a long breath of relief. “He may know some day,” he said, “and then he will be considerably astonished.”
“Do you know who killed Evan?” asked Treffry, overlooking this remark, as he did not know what the Captain meant.
“No, unless it was Mrs. Berrow, on the grounds I speak of. I only heard of the death when Mrs. Rayner and Ruth came back to Tooker’s Rents before I left Miss Tudor-Stuart.”
“Do you know anything about Ben?”
“I know that he is Miss Tudor-Stuart’s son, and that he is a cousin of Evan Berrow.”
“Are you sure of that?”
“Look at the resemblance,” said Tait, calmly. “Why do you come and ask me these questions?”
“Because there is some secret between you and this woman Tudor-Stuart. She is Ben’s mother, and may know a great deal.”
“You cannot accuse her of the crime,” said Tait, angrily, “she was with me all the time.”
“Humph!” Rupert saw that the Captain was twisting and dodging, and would not speak unless forced into a corner. He resolved to play a bold stroke. “Do you know why Mrs. Berrow will not marry you?”
“No. And I may marry her yet,” snapped Tait.
“I fear not unless you put me out of the world. She is in love with me, and wants to marry me. For this reason she threatens to accuse me of the crime.”
The Captain turned grey. “I suspected something of this, seeing that your photograph is in her boudoir, and Polly told me that she caught Mrs. Berrow kissing it. But you are engaged to Miss Marvel.”
“I am, and I intend to marry Miss Marvel,” said Rupert, swiftly.
“But she has no money,” protested Tait.
“I don’t think that money is everything,” said Treffry, drily. “But, to set your mind at rest, and also to put you right about your desire to marry Mrs. Berrow, I may as well tell you that Miss Marvel inherits all the Berrow property.”
The Captain started to his feet with his face working. “Impossible!” he almost shouted. “Why, I heard the will read myself.”
“The first will, not the second. Evan left all the property to Miss Marvel. Felton has the will, and Mrs. Berrow will have to give up possession of the Manor House and ten thousand a year.”
“Then she has nothing!” gasped Tait, dropping back into his chair with a grey look on his face, and utterly crushed.
“Oh, yes; she has two thousand a year. That was, at one time, mine.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It is not necessary that you should. Still, so that you may know all, and perhaps may benefit by the knowledge, I may as well tell you that my uncle, Reginald Boyde, left me two thousand a year on condition that I married Mrs. Berrow. In case of my refusal she was to inherit. As I intend to make Miss Marvel my wife, Mrs. Berrow acquires the money, and Clyde, the other day, executed a deed of surrender on my part. But I can tell you one thing, Captain Tait, Mrs. Berrow will never marry you.”
“I have not given up hope, yet,” muttered Tait, uneasily.
“There is no hope, I tell you,” said Treffry, impatiently. “Mrs. Berrow will probably return to her home in Jamaica and live on the estate which she inherits from my uncle owing to my refusal to make her my wife. You will remain poor all your life I fear, Captain—that is, unless you will tell me the truth about Ben, the yellow hunchback.”
“I know nothing about him,” said Tait, “save that he is the cousin of Evan.”
“Mr. Felton says that the late Mr. Berrow, senior, had no relatives.”
Tait rose and twisted his hands. “I can tell you nothing,” he stuttered.
“Come,” said Rupert, rising also, “there is some secret that has to do with this hunchback between you and Miss Tudor-Stuart. By your telling me, it may lead to detection of the murderer of Evan. I am quite sure that Ben is in some way mixed up in the matter. Tell me all you know—if anything—and I’ll see that Miss Marvel pays you five hundred pounds.”
Before the Captain could reply the door burst open, and the ungainly figure of Miss Tudor-Stuart dashed into the room. “The money is mine—is mine!” she shouted, clapping her large hands. “I ain’t Ben’s mother. I was his nurse, and Ben is the elder brother of Evan Berrow as was murdered. He was kidnapped by him,” and she pointed a dramatic finger at the shivering Captain Tait.
But Captain Tait did not shiver long. He saw that he was in a tight place, and summoned up his resolution to extricate himself therefrom. Stumbling over Rupert’s long legs, which were somewhat in the way, he crossed to Miss Tudor-Stuart, and tried to place his hand over her tell-tale mouth.
“Be silent, woman!”
“Woman? Who do you call a woman, you dandy, padded, waxed-moustached idiot?” cried the Amazon; and, gripping Tait in her mighty arms, she swung him across the intervening table over to his former position. He fell with a crash, and put his hand to his head, feeling somewhat dazed, while the victor banged the door with unnecessary noise, and placed herself against it, with her brawny arms akimbo.
“I’ve lost one five hundred pounds,” she declared, alluding to the scene when Evan Berrow’s will was read, “but I’m not going to lose this one.”
“Gently! Gently!” urged Treffry, while Captain Tait gathered himself together and groaned, being somewhat bruised. “I am willing to hear what you have to say, although I fear you are making a wild statement, which you cannot substantiate.”
“Oh that’s all right if the money is,” growled Miss Tudor-Stuart, grimly. “There’s no flies on me, as an American gentleman, in my young days, told me. Look at him!” She pointed to the crestfallen Captain, who was now huddled up in a chair. “Don’t he look like a guilty prisoner in the dock? And that’s where he ought to be.”
“You also,” groaned the Captain, who had been severely shaken for a gentleman of his years. “You helped me.”
“I did,” said the Amazon, coolly, “being then an innocent gal in the toils of your oily tongue. You promised a lot and never kept a single promise. You thought you’d got rid of me and that poor kid, as you calls Ben, which he ain’t. I was to be his mother, and he was to be out of it altogether, until you could bring him forward to claim the money, which you can’t do,” shrieked Miss Tudor-Stuart, in a tone of triumph, “as I hear the money goes to Miss Marvel.”
“How do you know that?” asked Treffry, while Tait groaned again.
“I had my ear to the keyhole all the time you quarrelled,” said the lady, boldly. “I came here to see him”—she pointed to Tait—“and to hear his lies. He got me out of the room and into the kitchen with an old frump, when you come. But I’ve locked her in there, and I’ve been at the key. Oh, yes”—she gave an angry sniff—“I was to get a thousand pounds when he,” pointing to the Captain again, “married Mrs. Berrow. And when I listen, what do I hear? Why, that Mrs. Berrow’s a pauper!”
“She’s got two thousand a year left,” said Tait, anxiously, “and, if you hold your tongue, I’ll see that you get the money.”
“What do you say to that, sir?” asked Miss Tudor-Stuart, turning towards the puzzled Rupert.
“You won’t get one penny from Mrs. Berrow. She is not likely to give anything to Captain Tait.”
“Ho! then I’ll be left to grub along with the organ and Ruth, as I’ve been doing these many years. Me!—and after the suppers and dinners I’ve had with dukes and earls. Not but what I was quite respectable, mind you,” she said, pointing a finger at Rupert; “and if you dare to cast mud at me, I’ll make you so that your own mother won’t know you. Besides, my husband will have the law on you, though we haven’t been on speaking terms for years and years.”
“Shut up!” cried Tait, livid with rage and apprehension, “or it will be the worse for you. Do you hear?”
“Yes, I do; and I’m going to take my own way for once in my life, you oily, old, shoddy beast.”
“Is Captain Tait your husband, then?”
“That”—Miss Tudor-Stuart pointed a derisive finger—“that mass of false teeth and padding? No, thank you. Bad and silly and weak and drinking as my husband is, he’s better than that thing. And I’ll thank you,” cried the lady, violently, to Rupert, “to address me by my proper name.”
“What is it?” asked Treffry, soothingly, for she was so violent that he began to think that she had been drinking.
“Mrs. Lawrence Marvel.”
Rupert started to his feet, with an amazed look, while Tait groaned in despair. “You are mad,” said Treffry, sternly.
“As sane as you, mister, and not in drink either. He”—she again pointed to the Captain—“got me to marry Lawrence Marvel years and years ago, when I was young and weak—to settle me, he said. Ho! yes,” she sniffed and folded her arms, “settled I was, tied to a weak, drinking creature, who couldn’t say boo to a goose. But I left him sharp, I can tell you, and stopped on the stage where he found me. But for me losing the most wonderful singing voice, as was like an organ, I’d have been on it yet. But I’m in the mud, though, I hope,” she smirked at the still amazed Rupert, “as the five hundred will set me up.”
“You are the wife of Lawrence Marvel?” he said, blankly.
“Why, yes, bless the man,” she said, impatiently, “ain’t I been telling you so? I’m your future stepmother-in-law, if there’s such a thing. You’ll ask me to the wedding, won’t you?” and she laid a grimy finger on Rupert’s arm.
He shook her off as though she were a spider. “I don’t believe you.”
“Ho!” Miss Tudor-Stuart or Mrs. Berrow, or Mrs. Marvel, or whatever she called herself, gave a scream of rage. “Ask my husband, then. He’s frightened to death of me. Aye, and of Mr. Clyde, too—oh, Clyde and me know a thing or two about him as would put him in gaol quick enough, and to gaol he shall go, unless that step-daughter of mine gives up a lot of the money.”
“Your husband—if he is your husband—can support you,” said Rupert, sharply. “Don’t try any of those tricks on me. I am neither Marvel, nor Tait, to be browbeaten.”
“No; you’re a man,” said the Amazon, admiringly, “and a handsome one at that. You’ll excuse my speaking so familiarly, but you are to belong to the family, so to speak”; and she sniffed again.
There was silence for a few minutes, while Rupert collected his wits, which had been somewhat dispersed by the information of this terrible female. Miss Tudor-Stuart and the Captain glared at one another like thieves found out, and the look in the Captain’s eyes showed that he would willingly see his accomplice—for that she appeared to be—dead at his feet. As it was, he sat hunched up in his chair, not at all the jaunty gentleman who worked such havoc among female hearts in Chadston. He looked quite his age, and his hands trembled as he hid them under his dressing-gown.
“Captain Tait,” said Rupert, resuming his seat, “I must ask you to explain all this.”
“I shall explain nothing,” growled Tait, shivering.
“Then you!” Rupert turned to the Amazon who, grimly silent, stood with her back to the closed door.
“Oh, I’ll explain,” said Miss Tudor-Stuart, fiercely, “I’m about tired of being Tait’s instrument to hurt people. I want to be respectable, and have people bow to me, and to put money in the plate, and live a good, Christian life, sure,” she wept, breaking down, “I was a good, kind girl, and knew my manners as well as I know the organ, until he came along. Not that there was anything wrong. I have always been proper, in spite of supping with the West End folk in grand hotels.”
“Go on with what you have to say,” said Tait, looking up suddenly, and apparently resigning himself to the inevitable. “You have always been a respectable woman; I can vouch for that. Tell Mr. Treffry everything.”
“You want me to, sir? About the kidnapping?”
“Yes,” said Tait, gloomily. “Things are coming to a crisis, I see, so Mr. Treffry, who is a gentleman, may as well know all. I want money as badly as you do, Emma,” he was addressing the Amazon, “but our evil ways have not prospered. I throw up the sponge. Tell him all and drop that half-mad humour of yours. Sit down.”
“Yes, sir,” said Miss Tudor-Stuart, meekly, and took the largest chair she could find, while Rupert looked astonished at this change in her and in the truculent tone of Tait. “Where shall I begin?”
“From the time you went as housemaid to the Manor House.”
Miss Tudor-Stuart, still meek, turned her eyes towards Rupert, and told her story as shortly as she could, and without exhibiting any freakish behaviour. The recital astonished Rupert not a trifle.
“My name,” began the humbled Amazon, “is Emma Wale, and my father was a country policeman. I went out to service at the Manor House when the first Mrs. Berrow was alive. Mr. Berrow—the old gentleman, that is—was married then to a mealy-mouthed idiot with a white face, and the manners of a weasel.”
“You needn’t describe her personal appearance,” said Treffry, drily.
“Oh yes I need,” said Miss Tudor-Stuart, with a toss of her large head, “seeing as Ben and that dead thing are her sons. They’re the same white-faced cats as she was.”
“I never heard that the elder Berrow had a son kidnapped.”
“I dessay you didn’t, nor did anyone else. He never knew his sons were twins. He thought he had one, who was the cove they called Evan—the dead ’un, Mrs. Berrow—the first one—didn’t know either, as she died when them twins, Ben and Evan, was born, poor little chaps, and nice pair of half-and-halfs they were. But Mr. Berrow wasn’t surprised when he saw that Evan thing, as he said there had been dwarfs like that in his family before. His people kept a caravan, I ’spose,” added Miss Tudor-Stuart, with a scornful sniff, “which ain’t half so respectable as an organ, say what you like.”
“Go on with the story,” commanded Tait, in sharp tones.
“Story? Oh, it’s a nice story, I’m sure, Captain, being all about your villainy and my broken heart.” She placed a gigantic hand on the part where that organ might be supposed to be, then resumed, quickly; “I was housemaid, and my mother came to nurse Mrs. Berrow when she was expecting them twins, though twins she never hoped to have. My mother was in the plot also.”
“The plot?” queried Rupert, much interested in the recital.
“I don’t know what else you’d call it,” growled Miss Tudor-Stuart, restively. “The Captain there was making ducks and drakes of everything, and Berrow was buying his property off him as quickly as he could collar it, being artful like.”
“Being also a scoundrel,” cried Tait, turning red. “I owned nearly all Chadston, and Berrow got it from me for almost nothing. It was a most valuable property, and he bought it for a mere song.”
Miss Tudor-Stuart tossed her head again. “Come now,” she said, with ponderous playfulness, “it wasn’t valuable then, Captain, being but a village of no consequence. Mr. Berrow made it valuable by building houses, and getting gas, and suchlike.”
“For heaven’s sake go on,” said Rupert, annoyed by these digressions.
“Well, I’m going on, and I’ll tell my story in my own way, thank you, Mr. Treffry, if that’s your name: Captain Tait sold all the property, even to the Manor House, and took a spite at Berrow.”
“I had every right to,” grumbled Tait, angrily. “He robbed me.”
“Not at all,” contradicted the Amazon. “He did business fairly enough, and you was a fool, Captain. But, to go on,” she crossed her legs in a masculine way, “the Captain took a spite at Berrow, and, as the desire of Berrow’s heart was to have a son to inherit the property, the Captain there decided as Berrow shouldn’t have a son.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean kidnapping,” sniffed Miss Tudor-Stuart. “My mother was the nurse, so Tait spoke to me, and I spoke to mother, and we all three agreed to collar the kid when ’twas born, and hand it over to the Captain, to keep from Berrow.”
Treffry looked with disgust at Tait. “You are a scoundrel.”
“I am what Berrow made me,” replied the Captain gloomily. “He robbed me. I wished to keep him childless.”
“You didn’t manage it, anyhow,” said the woman coolly, “owing to twins. Well, sir,” she addressed herself to Treffry. “Mr. Berrow was away in London when the baby was born.”
“You mean babies?”
“One was born at a time,” snapped the Amazon, “so don’t contradict, or I sha’n’t say anything.”
“Remember the five hundred pounds,” hinted Rupert, artfully.
“Oh, I’m remembering it; and I’ll alter your looks, young man, if I don’t get it,” was the grim response. “Well, then; mother attended to Mrs. Berrow, and I acted as go-between. The Captain was outside and mother was indoors. When the first baby was born—and that was Ben—mother called me, and gave it to me wrapped up in a shawl. She then went back to Mrs. Berrow, and I took the baby away with the Captain. We took it out of Chadston to a distant village, and gave it to a nurse as the Captain had ready. He didn’t intend to kill it, you see,” ended the lady.
“I wonder you didn’t, considering your enmity to Berrow.”
“Ah,” said Tait, replying to this speech of Treffry’s, “I had a better plan than that. I intended to bring up the child, and then when Berrow wanted an heir, I would have given back the baby, on condition that Berrow restored the Manor House, and the most of my property. That was my plan.”
“A very awful one, at all events,” said Rupert, in disgust. “But what about the doctor. Was he in the plot?”
“No, he wasn’t,” interposed Miss Tudor-Stuart, “for Captain Tait arranged that the doctor—there was only one in Chadston then—should be called to a case in London. Well, then, sir”—here the Amazon resumed her story—“after I returned with a trifle of money—for the Captain never was what you might call generous—I saw mother. She was much excited. Another baby, as was the one they called Evan, was born, and the mother was dead. Mother talked about giving the new baby also to the Captain, but by that time the servants were about, so we thought it was dangerous. Then Mr. Berrow came home, and mother had to place the baby, as was Evan, in his arms. But he never knew that he was the father of two.”
“And what did you say when you heard Nature had tricked you?” said Rupert to the Captain.
“I said a good deal that need not be repeated,” said that gentleman, coolly, “but it was useless to cry over spilt milk. Mrs. Berrow was dead, however, and it was never known that there were two children instead of one.”
“But the doctor?”
“He was away, I tell you,” said Miss Tudor-Stuart, irritably, “and the case in town delayed him. As the mother was dead and the baby born, Mr. Berrow never sent for him. So she was buried, poor soul, and Mr. Berrow brought up Evan. Then he married again—married a minx, if ever there was a minx,” shouted the Amazon, “and no lady, by the way in which she treated me.”
“What became of the other child, Ben?” asked Rupert.
“He was brought up by this peasant woman,” said Tait gloomily: “and then this creature”—he indicated Miss Tudor-Stuart—“left her situation and went on the stage.”
“Don’t you call me a creature,” cried the lady, rising in a threatening manner, “or I’ll scratch you. Yes, I did go on the stage, as I had a lovely voice, and was beautiful beyond words. But my voice failed me, and I couldn’t get an engagement. Then I met the Captain, and threatened to split. But it wasn’t no use splitting,” confessed the Amazon, ingenuously, “for I was in the plot, too, and would have got into trouble. Mother was dead by that time and out of it; but I was alive, and didn’t want to go to gaol. Besides, he,” she pointed towards the Captain, “hadn’t no money, and could do nothing. But he gave me a trifle, and arranged for me to marry Lawrence Marvel.”
“But why did Lawrence Marvel marry you?” asked Rupert.
“I managed that. Marvel was poor then, and could scarcely keep body and soul together. He was not with Clyde then,” added Tait, “because Clyde had not set up in business. He made money to keep his little girl by playing in the orchestra at the theatre. At a third-rate one he met this lady, and married her. I gave them a sum of money. Then he could not put up with her temper—”
“And I couldn’t put up with his drinking,” said Miss Tudor-Stuart, “so we parted. He never told anyone in Chadston as he was married to a beautiful creature like me. Then, as the Captain couldn’t help me, I went round with the organ.”
“You forget,” said Tait, addressing her directly, “I gave you fifty pounds to take over Ben, and call yourself his mother.”
“Well, and didn’t I do so, and didn’t Ben, who was a small kid then, think I was his mother? Then I lived with Mrs. Rayner in Whitechapel until she came on here. Evan—the other baby—found out Ben, and I pitched a yarn of being Mrs. Berrow, and of Ben being his cousin.”
“But how did Evan find Ben?”
“I arranged that he should stumble across him in Whitechapel,” said Tait, “as I thought that some money might be made out of it. Then Evan brought Ben here with Miss Tudor-Stuart, and Ruth—”
“Not Ruth,” contradicted the Amazon; “she was then living with Mrs. Rayner, in Tooker’s Rents, where she had been brought to from Jamaica by Cleopatra.”
“But she was in Whitechapel also,” protested the Captain.
“She paid visits only,” acknowledged Miss Tudor-Stuart, reluctantly, “and fell in love with Ben, the silly fool.”
“With Ben?” said Rupert, who had risen, and was buttoning his gloves, “with that crippled hunchback?”
“He’s a beauty, ain’t he?” said Miss Tudor-Stuart. “Yes, Ruth did. She is a dangerous child, and knows more than is good for her. Flew on me like a cat, one day with a knife when I boxed Ben’s ears. She was fair crazy about the imp, so I wouldn’t let her come to Whitechapel, being respectable. But when Mr. Evan Berrow brought Ben and me here, of course, he fell in again with Ruth, and I took her round with the organ. So that’s the whole story, and much good may it do you.”
“What will you do now?” asked Tait, seeing that Rupert was silent, for the young man didn’t know how to act.
“I will do nothing at present,” he said, after a pause.
“Don’t you believe me?” asked the Amazon, threateningly. “Ain’t I to have the five hundred quid?”
“I believe you, and you shall have the money. In no other way than by being twins can the extraordinary relationship between Evan and Ben be accounted for. But you can never replace Ben in the property, for you can’t prove his birth.”
“I can prove more than that,” said Miss Tudor Stuart, significantly. “Oh yes, you may look and look, Captain Tait, but I know something that you don’t. Your second will,” she added, turning to Treffry, “ain’t worth the paper it’s written on.”
“Because the man as made it is alive.”
“Yes, Evan Berrow. It was Ben as was killed, not Evan. He and Ben changed clothes—so there,” and Miss Tudor-Stuart flounced out of the room, and immediately left the house, after sending this bolt from the blue.
Rupert did not talk much longer with Tait about what he had heard, interesting though it was. The behaviour of the man excited his disgust so greatly that he could scarcely keep a civil tongue. Moreover, Captain Tait did not appear to be at all sorry for what he had done, and regretted that the plot against Berrow senior had failed owing to the birth of twins. Like all selfish people, he pitied himself profoundly, and considered that he was badly treated by the whole world because he could not get his own way. Treffry therefore left him and walked meditatively to the Marvel villa.
Here he found the lawyer and Alice, both waiting for him. They detailed the exciting interview which had taken place with Mrs. Berrow, and then asked questions about the visit to Tait. Rupert, who had no reason to conceal the astonishing truth, told everything as it had been told to him. Alice frequently interrupted him with exclamations of surprise, but Felton, with his shrewd eyes on the young man’s face, kept silent till the end. Only when Rupert stated, on the authority of Miss Tudor-Stuart, that Evan was alive, did the lawyer’s self-control fail. Then he sprang to his feet in dismay.
“But it’s impossible,” he declared, turning fiery red. “If Evan is alive this second will is waste paper.”
“So Miss Tudor-Stuart assured me,” said Treffry, gloomily.
“What do you say, Miss Marvel?”
“I should not be at all surprised to learn that the woman had spoken the truth. I saw very little of the man whom we call the yellow hunchback, but what I did see certainly made me half-believe that he was Evan. Indeed, I said something of the sort to him, but he denied it. And then the mistake you made, Rupert, when you first saw Ben, made me doubtful as to whether I really might not have been misled, also, by the extraordinary likeness between the two.”
“The twinship accounts for the likeness,” said Felton, who was biting his nails in a vexed manner. “Fancy Tait behaving in that shady way.”
“Can he be punished?”
“No, Mr. Treffry, the statute of limitation, so to speak, works here. It is too long ago; and, then, Miss Tudor-Stuart’s mother, who engineered the most important part of the plot, is dead. She alone could prove that Ben and Evan were twins.”
“But the likeness?”
“I grant you that. Still, I doubt if any court of law would think that sufficient evidence without more detail.”
“Well,” said Alice, impatiently, “it really doesn’t matter, seeing that Ben is the dead person. If Evan is alive he must come back to his own.”
Rupert nursed his chin on his hand. “I really cannot understand why Evan remained out of his own. Apparently, for some reason, he went from here to Mrs. Rayner’s and changed clothes with Ben. But it would have been quite easy for him to have declared himself.”
“Unless he killed Ben himself,” ventured Felton, frowning.
“What do you mean by that, Mr. Felton?” asked Alice.
“I always said, if you will remember, that the yellow hunchback had to do with the murder, only I believed, as we all did, that Evan Berrow was the dead person. But, for some reason, Evan must have stabbed Ben, for only on that ground can I understand his keeping up the pretence of being the man he had killed.”
“I cannot see what reason Evan had to murder Ben,” said Rupert, in perplexity. “He certainly would not bring him here, all the way from Whitechapel, to kill him. It would have been easier and safer to have done so in London, had he really desired to get rid of his brother.”
“He did not know that Ben was his brother, Rupert.”
“No. And yet we don’t know but what Miss Tudor-Stuart, for her own ends, may not have told him. Also, Captain Tait may have guessed the truth, and have made use of the information. But no”—here Treffry contradicted himself—“the Captain was as surprised as I was when Miss Tudor-Stuart made that statement about Evan being alive.”
“It may not be true, after all,” said Felton, still frowning.
“I believe it is,” declared Alice. “However, the question is easily answered. Let us ask Evan.”
“Or Ben,” said the lawyer, still holding to his opinion. “But where are we to find him?”
Alice pondered. “I believe that he is with the Salvation Army.”
“Why do you believe that?”
“Because on that day when I went to Tooker’s Rents I saw him listening to the preaching, and he seemed much moved. Then I spoke to him on the doorstep, believing that he was Ben. He said that he had found grace, and more,” added Alice, excited, “he said that he would put things right. Now, were he Ben, he could not do so; as Evan he certainly can. Let him come to life and everything will be right.”
“Humph!” said Rupert, doubtfully. “It will assuredly dispose of the question of the second will, and make Mrs. Berrow give up possession of the Manor House. But will it solve the mystery of the crime?”
“Yes,” insisted Felton, “for I believe that Evan killed Ben.”
“I don’t,” said Alice, shaking her head. “Evan would not have hurt a fly, and it would have been downright silly for him to have murdered Ben without any reason.”
“Without any apparent reason,” Felton corrected, “but, as you say, the best thing will be to ask him right out, and insist that he shall reveal his identity. But, where is he to be found?”
“Perhaps at the Manor House,” said Rupert.
“What! In the very jaws of the lion?”
“That is usually the safest place,” answered Treffry. “Cleopatra told me that the Manor House was full of odd rooms and queer passages and doors that no one knew anything about. Evan, having been brought up there from childhood, would certainly know all the mysteries of the place, and could easily hide within. Not even Mrs. Berrow could find him, unless he chose to appear. And, if you remember,” added Treffry, quickly, “he did appear in the library to get that will and pass it along to you, Felton.”
“Then you believe that Evan placed the will in my office when the clerk was speaking to me?”
“Of course I do. For some reason he intended, and, no doubt, intends, to keep up the fiction that he is the crossing-sweeper, so he wished to get the property from Mrs. Berrow and give it to Alice, whom he loved. We decided before, from what I saw at the Manor, that the yellow hunchback took the will, and placed it in your office. Now we know that the hunchback is Evan himself, the thing appears even more feasible.”
“It might be so,” said Felton, doubtfully.
“I am sure it is so,” said Alice, decisively; “and remember, Mr. Felton, what Rupert said about the hunchback knowing about the outside catch. Only Evan could have known of that, and have made use of it to prevent pursuit.”
“Perhaps,” said Felton, still doubtfully. “But, then, the hunchback, Miss Marvel. We know that Mr. Evan Berrow had no hunch.”
“Pooh!” said Rupert, brushing aside this objection; “it would be perfectly easy for Evan to manufacture a hunch, with the aid of Miss Tudor-Stuart.”
“I wonder how she learnt the truth?” asked Alice, anxiously.
“Evan had to tell her. You saw him only once or twice and were suspicious, in spite of the plausibility of the likeness. This woman, then, being daily and hourly in his company, would certainly find out that an uneducated creature like Ben had been replaced by a gentleman, as Evan assuredly was. However, we can question her still further. But just now we must find Evan.”
“In that case,” said Felton, “we must go to the Manor House again.”
“I’ll go also,” said Rupert, quickly. “We must get to the bottom of this to-day, if possible.”
“I suggest,” said the lawyer, after a pause, “that we bring Tait and Miss Tudor-Stuart, and Mrs. Rayner and Ruth on to the scene. Let us appoint a meeting at the Manor House and when everyone is assembled the truth will surely come to light.”
Alice shook her head. “I don’t believe that Mrs. Berrow will let anyone enter the grounds.” It was at this moment that there occurred what unthinking people call a coincidence, but which can be explained by telepathy. Just as Alice ended her speech the small servant entered the room with a sealed letter, which she stated had been left at the back door by a boy from the Manor House. When the servant had gone—for she said there was no answer to the letter—Alice opened the missive and read it aloud with great surprise. It was written by Mrs. Berrow, and intimated that she was willing to hand over the Manor House and the property without taking the matter to court. “I believe that the will is genuine,” wrote the widow, “so there is no use my fighting it. I only ask you to come to me here at five o’clock, so that I can explain definitely why Rupert is bound to marry me. As I am willing to give up the property, I deserve this consideration at your hands.” The letter ended with a very affectionate word, and was signed Helena Berrow. Alice finished the missive, then looked at her two companions in amazement.
“It’s a dodge!” said Felton, thumping the table with his fist. “Mrs. Berrow means mischief.”
“Or Cleopatra does,” said Rupert, anxiously. “That woman would stick at nothing. She is just the kind of person who would throw vitriol, or stab in the dark, or damage her enemy, as she regards Alice, in some beastly way.”
“Judging from the glance she threw at me, I expect she would do the very worst things she could think of. The question is, will Miss Marvel accept the invitation?”
“No,” said Rupert.
“Yes,” said Alice, firmly; “this letter affords us a chance of getting into the house, which we may not get again. We’ll all go at five o’clock.”
“Who do you mean by all, Miss Marvel?”
“I mean to accept your proposal, Mr. Felton. Fetch Mrs. Rayner, and the rest of the people, and we’ll go to the Manor House. When in force like that Mrs. Berrow won’t be able to harm me.”
Felton jumped up briskly. “I’ll go and see them at once,” he said; “it’s no use waiting. Write an answer to that letter, Miss Marvel, and accept. I’ll be round here at half-past four, with a bus.”
“With a bus?” echoed Rupert, looking at the brisk little lawyer who literally danced towards the door.
“With an hotel bus, which I’ll borrow from the station,” said Felton, gravely, but with a wink. “I’ll bundle the whole lot into it, and Mrs. Berrow will have the pleasure of seeing her library full at five o’clock.”
The idea struck Rupert as odd, and he laughed as Felton dashed from the room. All the same, he felt a trifle anxious. But he knew that were he beside Alice nothing could possibly harm her, whatever might be the plan of Cleopatra. Comforting himself with this reflection, he took his mind off the subject by telling the girl what he had hitherto kept from her, namely, that Miss Tudor-Stuart was really her stepmother.
Alice could scarcely grasp the significance of the statement. “You must be mistaken, Rupert. Papa would never have married that woman.”
“My dear, when he met her she was pretty and clever, and had a position, although not a very high one, as an actress. He married her, I am quite sure, and, out of shame, kept the secret from you. I daresay Clyde knows, and this is why your father is so frightened of him.”
“Oh!” Alice simply gasped in dismay, “what is to be done?”
“Nothing at present. One thing at a time, my dear. After we have found Evan and disposed of Mrs. Berrow, we’ll question your father. I believe things are coming to a crisis, Alice, as Tait said, and that perhaps to-day everything will be put right, and the mystery of the death of Ben will be solved.”
Had Lawrence Marvel been within they would have asked him to tell the truth then and there. But he did not come home even after four, as was his usual custom, so there was nothing to be done. And at thirty minutes past four precisely a red bus from the Railway Hotel drew up before the gate of the villa. Alice, who was already cloaked and hatted, went out with Rupert, and found that the persons collected by Felton were within. Mrs. Rayner, looking bright in a new shawl and a smart bonnet, and who had been washed for the occasion, sat beside Ruth. That queer child appeared as uncanny as she could be, and fastened her eyes inquisitively on Alice and her handsome escort. Then there was Miss Tudor-Stuart, who wore a defiant air, and Captain Tait, who was smartly dressed, and who looked rather ashamed to find himself in such company. Felton, beaming with smiles, acted as showman.
“I tried to get Clyde and your father to come,” he explained, as he helped Alice into the bus, “but Clyde had gone out on business, and your father could not leave the office. However, I daresay Mrs. Berrow will be quite pleased with this party.”
But Mrs. Berrow was not pleased. Far from it. In order to lull her suspicions the occupants of the bus alighted some distance down the avenue, and walked to the front door. The footman opened his eyes when he saw Felton’s personally-conducted tourists, but made no objection to admitting them, as he had apparently not been warned of the number of the expected visitors. He led the party, headed by Felton, towards the library, and ushered them in. Mrs. Berrow, who was seated near the fire talking to Mason Clyde, rose in astonishment when she beheld the number of her visitors.
“What does all this mean?” she asked amazed.
“Permit me to explain, my dear madam,” said Felton, while everyone took seats. “We think it best to collect those who have to do with the crime, and with—er, several other things.”
“Leave the house!” cried Mrs. Berrow, furiously. “How dare you bring such ragtag and bobtail creatures into my house?”
“Creatures indeed,” scoffed Miss Tudor-Stuart, taking up the challenge with a sniff, “no more creatures than you are. Your house indeed! There’s the lady as it belongs to”—and she pointed to Alice, who was seated near the window beside her lover—“a real lady, mind you, and none of your foreigners.”
“This is the woman who was so troublesome before,” said the widow, disdainfully, and turning to Clyde: “turn her out!”
“My good woman, you must go,” said the lawyer, “at once.”
For answer, Miss Tudor-Stuart settled herself in the chair, and snapped her big fingers.
Felton answered for her. “Not so fast, Mr. Clyde. We have business to transact. In the first place, I wish to see Mr. Evan Berrow.”
Clyde’s pale face grew still whiter, and his china-blue eyes bulged like gooseberries. “He is dead. You know that.”
“No, he ain’t dead,” cried the Amazon. “He’s alive, and pretends to be Ben, which he ain’t. And Ben’s in the family vault, as he’s got every right to occupy.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Mrs. Berrow, flushing. “Is Evan really alive? If he is, I am glad of it. You won’t get the money,” she cried, turning vindictively towards Alice. “Evan wants to marry you, and if he’s still alive he will. Rupert will be mine after all.”
“I don’t think so, Mrs. Berrow,” said Treffry, coolly.
“And you are engaged to marry me,” said Tait, grimly.
“You!” scoffed Mrs. Berrow, driven into a corner. “I said that I would marry you so as to keep you quiet until I could arrange my plans to crush the lot of you. I am engaged to Treffry.”
“Pardon me,” said Clyde, rising, and much disturbed, “but you are engaged to me. It was arranged—”
“What do I care what was arranged,” shrieked Mrs. Berrow, furious at her machinations being exposed; “you are all against me. But you take care, Mr. Clyde, or I’ll make things hot for you. Cleopatra!”
As she raised her voice, and shrank back against the wall, like a pantheress at bay, Cleopatra glided in. She wore a loose cloak, for what reason no one could guess, since the room was warm. But perhaps, as Alice thought, she had just come in from a walk. Rupert was more suspicious. He saw that Cleopatra was keeping her hands under the loose cloak, and was holding something. With a sudden access of terror, he wondered if the desperate creature had a bottle of vitriol concealed, and rose to place himself more in a position to defend Alice. All eyes being fastened on Cleopatra, no one saw a small door at the end of the library open slightly. It was immediately behind Cleopatra.
“What is it?” asked Cleopatra.
“They’re all on me, nurse,” said Mrs. Berrow, like a complaining child. “This Captain Tait says that I am to marry him, and so does Mr. Clyde, and they want my money, and—”
“They shall have nothing,” snarled her nurse, suddenly interrupting: “you shall keep the property and your lover. There is the obstacle that is between you. I shall remove it,” and before Rupert could make a movement she flung herself forward, holding a dangerous-looking knife.
Alice was never nearer death than at that moment. In another instant she would have been struggling with the girl, but suddenly the small unnoticed door opened, and a tiny figure darted forward to grip the attacker.
He was Evan Berrow, the pretended hunchback!
All those present at this unexpected scene were so startled by the appearance of Evan that for the moment no one moved. Only Cleopatra, finding herself grasped round the waist, turned on her new assailant, and fought like the tigress she was. With the long, glittering knife in her hand she struck furiously at Evan, but he managed to clutch her wrist and ward off the blows.
Rupert, recovering his presence of mind, hastily snatched Alice away from so dangerous a neighbourhood, and called out to Clyde and Felton to interfere and help the poor, plucky little man. But neither one of the lawyers moved, and it was Captain Tait who advanced to the rescue. As for Mrs. Berrow, with starting eyes and a white face she blared at the returned dead as though she beheld a ghost. And, really believing that Evan was dead, she almost fancied that he was a spectre. But, then, ghosts could not fight with a woman, as this one was doing!
Cleopatra snarled venomously, and wrestled actively. Tait made a dart and caught her arm, at the same moment trying to drag Evan back; he thus gave her the chance she wanted. With a howl of rage she struck downward with the knife, and it slipped fairly into the exposed breast of the dwarf. Without a cry Evan Berrow fell on the carpet, the blood streaming from his wound; and Alice, forgetting her own peril in coming near so dangerous a lunatic, as Cleopatra seemed to be at that moment, ran forward, with exclamations of horror and pity, to kneel by the stricken man. Tait forced Cleopatra backward, and, by this time, Clyde and Felton, having found their senses, came to help him. The woman was borne down and rendered helpless. By this time she had ceased to howl, but spat at the three men like a wild cat. The knife, escaping from her hand after she had struck the blow, rolled towards the feet of Mrs. Berrow, who was still spellbound with horror.
Miss Tudor-Stuart, whose great strength might have been of some assistance at this moment, had not moved a finger to help in the fight, but, with folded arms and a cool face, sat calmly watching the deadly struggle.
“Get something to tie her up,” gasped Clyde.
“Send for the police!” shouted Felton.
“Ah-r-r-r!” growled Cleopatra, and by a superhuman effort she managed to fling the two men aside. Tait clutched at her as she darted past him, making for the window; but she eluded him, only to fall into the large and powerful grasp of the Amazon, who, for the first time, took part in the fight. Miss Tudor-Stuart lifted the spitting, scratching woman as though she had been a featherweight, flung her to the ground, and sat on her—a dead weight, which could not be moved.
“You’re killing me!” moaned Cleopatra, and gave in.
“Will you be quiet?” asked Miss Tudor-Stuart, grimly.
“Yes—yes—let me get up!”
She had no strength in her to fight longer, so Miss Tudor-Stuart, removing a weight which must have been like that of the Monument, rose and, gripping her prisoner, placed her in a chair. There she stood guard over her, and Felton ran out of the room to give orders to a servant that the police should be brought from the nearest station, which was some distance away. But, with the Amazon in the room there was no chance that the prisoner would do any more harm.
And all this time Alice had been trying to staunch the blood of the dwarf, oblivious to everything that was happening around her.
“Send for a doctor,” she cried, seeing that her efforts were futile. “He’ll die—he’ll die!”
“I have sent for Dr. Grant,” said Felton, entering the room at the moment, and mopping his brow. “Here, someone, lend a hand, and let us carry Mr. Berrow to some bedroom.”
The scared servants were gathered round the door looking in amazement at the master they had thought dead, and Mrs. Berrow, weeping hysterically, had sunk into a chair. The butler came forward with the footman, and they lifted the dwarf, who was insensible. In a few minutes they had taken him to the nearest bedroom to await the arrival of the doctor. Alice followed, but Rupert remained in the room to bring Cleopatra to task. Nothing more could be done, either with her or the dwarf, until the doctor and the police arrived, so Treffry thought that it would be just as well to learn what share Mrs. Berrow had in this assault. Of course, it was meant for Alice, and the girl he loved would have been killed but for the sudden entrance of the little man. This knowledge did not make Rupert feel more tender towards Mrs. Berrow, and not even the spectacle of her terror could move him in any way. As soon as the door was closed he walked up to her resolutely.
“What do you mean by plotting the murder of Miss Marvel?” he demanded, and there was no pity in his tone.
“I—I—I—didn’t,” sobbed Mrs. Berrow. “I—I—know—nothing. I—do—not—know—what—it—all—means.”
“You asked Alice here that Cleopatra might kill her.”
“Then why did you write that letter asking her to come here? If she had come alone, as you requested, I expect she would have been a dead woman by this time.”
“That she would,” cried Cleopatra, unexpectedly. “I intended to kill her, but my mistress knows nothing about the matter.”
“I don’t believe you,” said Treffry.
“You must,” insisted Cleopatra. “Let my mistress alone. She loved you, and her love has brought her to this.”
“Oh! ain’t it awful,” wept Mrs. Brandyface, who had been seated in a scared condition throughout the scene; “but I never did hold with foreigners. But for that woman there my poor daughter would have been a happy and loving wife.”
“Your daughter was a drunken thief,” said Cleopatra, contemptuously. “But for me Mr. Boyde would have divorced her. As it was, he merely left her, and gave you money to keep the child.”
“How dare you call me a thief?” shouted Mrs. Brandyface.
“You are one. The London police know you well. You tricked my old master into marrying your slut of a daughter, and that brat there”—she pointed to Ruth—“is as bad as you and your daughter rolled into one. I could tell a lot—”
Miss Tudor-Stuart gave her a hard poke in the ribs. “Shut up,” she said, “one of them gents is about to speak.”
The reference was to Mason Clyde. He did not address Cleopatra, but turned towards Rupert. “I hope, Mr. Treffry, that you will acquit me of any knowledge of this affair. I knew nothing about it. Mrs. Berrow asked me here to arrange about the transfer of the property to Miss Marvel, and the attack of this wretched woman was made unexpectedly. And, see,” added the lawyer, picking up the knife from the carpet, “she used the very weapon with which Mr. Boyde was killed!”
“And which killed Ben the hunchback also,” said Treffry, taking the knife from the solicitor’s hand. “What do you say to that, Mr. Clyde?”
Clyde started back. “Great heavens, Mr. Treffry, you don’t suppose that I know about this murder?”
“Ben was murdered within a short distance of your office, Mr. Clyde, and with this knife. I placed it on your table on that very night. If you are innocent, how comes it that this knife was found near the victim?”
“I declare,” cried Clyde, agitated, “I don’t know. I may have done wrong things in my life—everyone has—but I never committed murder.”
“You will have to tell a jury that,” said Felton.
“What! Would you have me arrested?”
“Yes. I believe you know who killed Ben.”
“I do not—that is, I cannot tell,” and his eyes rested on Miss Tudor-Stuart, who tossed her head, and gave Cleopatra another poke to keep her quiet.
“Ho!” said the Amazon, “do you say I’m the one as did it? If you do you’re a liar, and I’ll have the law on you. Beast!” and Miss Tudor-Stuart, who was not famous for good manners, spat.”
“I don’t say that,” stuttered Clyde; “but Mrs. Berrow—”
“I am innocent,” cried that woman starting to her feet, “I declare that I never knew how Evan came by his death.”
“Not Evan, but Ben,” corrected Rupert, having no pity for her fear, and, indeed, she deserved little; “but undoubtedly, since Ben was disguised in Evan’s clothes, and was so like him, the blow was intended for him. Where were you on that night, Mrs. Berrow?”
“At Mr. Clyde’s office. I told you.”
“You told me a great many things which were untrue.”
“She tells the truth now,” said Clyde, passing his handkerchief across his dry lips; “she was at my office.”
“I never saw her,” remarked Rupert, “although she told Miss Marvel that I did.”
“I was not in the room where you were,” cried Mrs. Berrow, making an attempt to defend herself. “I told Miss Marvel that I was, to arouse her jealousy.”
“Ah! you took her to be a woman such as you are?”
“She’ll never love you half so well as I,” said the widow, weeping; “but you may as well know the truth. I was at the office, and so was Cleopatra. When you left we came in, and saw Mr. Clyde. I wanted to know exactly if you would marry me or surrender the property.”
“If you were in the next room,” said Rupert, mercilessly, “you must have listened. You would not go there to waste your time.”
“I did listen,” confessed Mrs. Berrow, feebly, “but I could not overhear very well. And why should I not?” she cried, seeing the contempt written on his face. “I loved, you; all is fair in love and war. I wanted to hear what you would do after my appeal to you in London. But I could hear very little. Only when I asked Mr. Clyde immediately after you had gone did I learn that you were prepared to desert me.”
“Desert is a wrong word to employ, Mrs. Berrow,” said Treffry, quietly. “Remember that I never professed to love you. You were, then, with Mr. Clyde, about the time that Evan was supposed to have been killed. Where, then, was Cleopatra?”
“You know,” cried Cleopatra, perfectly cool and contemptuous, “I followed you with the knife, because I was so enraged that you should refuse to marry my darling.”
“With what knife?”
She pointed to the weapon in his hand. “With that knife. You left it on Mr. Clyde’s table, as your uncle desired. I took it away on the spur of the moment.”
“You intended to kill me, then?”
“I intended to hurt you, at all events. I stabbed you, and then lost the knife. It must have been picked up by the person who killed Ben in mistake for Evan Berrow.”
“Upon my word,” said Felton, forgetting how convinced he was of Evan’s guilt, “I believe you killed Ben yourself.”
“And for what reason?” demanded Cleopatra, sneering.
“In the changed clothes you took Ben for Evan, and killed him so that your mistress there should enjoy the money.”
“I did nothing of the sort,” said Cleopatra, sullenly.
“Well,” said Rupert, with a shrug, “it can be threshed out in the police-court. I shall give you in charge for murder, and Mrs. Berrow and Mr. Clyde for conspiracy.”
Mrs. Berrow gave a low cry of terror, and stared at her stern lover, as she asserted him to be, with a bloodless face. But Clyde, who was pale and defiant, spoke out.
“Stop!” he cried. “You cannot arrest me for anything; nor can you arrest Mrs. Berrow. That fiend there”—he pointed to Cleopatra, who laughed and hugged herself—“is the cause of all the trouble. Ever since she came to Chadston there has been nothing else but trouble. And I believe from my soul that she knows more about the murder of Mr. Boyde than she will confess.”
“But why should she kill Mr. Boyde?” asked Tait, who was listening eagerly.
“To prevent his making another will in favour of his child.”
“In favour of Ruth?” said Rupert, turning towards the red-haired, green-eyed child, who was looking on impassively, and, through her defects, ignorant of what was going on.
“Ah!” cried Miss Tudor-Stuart, starting to her feet, and advancing towards Ruth, thereby leaving Cleopatra unguarded, and in dangerous proximity to the window. “I knew it. Mrs. Rayner said something of this.”
“Yes,” piped the old woman, effusively. “Mr. Boyde did write and say that he would not visit the sins of the mother on the child. Though few sins did my daughter commit. Mr. Boyde, who always was a gent, I will say, told me he intended to make a will leaving everything to Ruth.”
“And a will was already in existence, leaving everything to Mrs. Berrow,” said Felton, rubbing his hands. “I see; so, to prevent the money going to Ruth, Cleopatra killed her master.”
“It’s a lie!” cried Cleopatra, sullenly.
“It is the truth,” said Miss Tudor-Stuart, who, having grasped the situation, had been explaining the same in deaf-and-dumb language to Ruth. “I have told Ruth here that the money should be hers, and that you robbed her. Listen.” She turned again to Ruth, and watched the dexterous manipulations of the girl, whose green eyes were now flaring with rage, as they rested on Cleopatra.
“She says,” translated the Amazon, “that she knows Cleopatra killed Mr. Boyde. She was in the house at the time, and heard Cleopatra rising in the night. Ruth slept in Cleopatra’s bedroom. She followed her and saw her kill Mr. Boyde. Then she left the knife by the bed, and returned to her own room. Ruth got back before her, and pretended to be asleep. Ruth did not know until now that Cleopatra killed Mr. Boyde, her father, to rob her, and so she held her peace. But now she swears, and will swear in a court of law, that Cleopatra and none other killed Boyde. Oh!”—Miss Tudor-Stuart shook her fist in the air—“and to think I’d have had two thousand a year through my own dear Ruth, and could have married her to Ben she was so fond of. Take her to gaol,” she shouted, pointing to Cleopatra, who, grey with fear and fretting with anger, had risen. “Take her away, and hang the wicked witch!”
Cleopatra sprang forward and spoke to Ruth in the deaf-and-dumb language. Miss Tudor-Stuart still translated. “She says that if Ruth tells, she will tell on Ruth.”
“Tell what?” cried Rupert, sharply.
Before the question could be answered a scene took place. Ruth, who was facing Cleopatra, just as angry as she was, glared like a furious beast at bay. The hands of both Cleopatra and the dumb girl worked furiously, and they appeared to be having a savage argument. Then Cleopatra struck the girl on the mouth and made it bleed. Ruth darted away towards the window, and sought refuge behind Miss Tudor-Stuart. Cleopatra, hardly able to speak, turned to catch her. Ruth half opened the window—the outside catch, it seemed, was not fastened—and stood ready to fly. The Amazon pushed back the furious woman.
“I’ll break your neck if you lay a finger on my pretty,” she said.
“The hangman will do that,” spluttered Cleopatra, raging, and tossing her arms. “You want to know who killed Ben? That girl did—that deaf and dumb brat! She has split on me, so I will split on her. It is true. I did kill Boyde. He would have left Ruth the money, and thus have robbed my darling. Heart of my heart”—she turned towards Mrs. Berrow with fierce tenderness—“for your sake did I kill him. Ruth killed Ben. I swear it!” she cried, facing round again.
“Impossible—that child!” cried Felton, dubiously.
“That fiend!” snarled Cleopatra. “Ruth loved Ben. Yes, child though she is, she loved the poor beast.”
“Why did she kill him, then?” asked Rupert, doubtfully.
“She thought she was killing Evan, and that Evan’s death would give the property to Ben. Mrs. Rayner—Mrs. Brandyface”—she pointed to that whimpering woman—“she told her that if Evan was out of the way Ben would be rich. She goaded her into getting rid of Evan, hoping that Ruth would marry Ben and get the money, and then she would finger it. When I left you, with the knife in my hand,” said Cleopatra, facing towards Treffry, “I went down the street. Ruth came to me, and dragged me near the office, where, in the moonlight, I saw, as I thought, Evan listening at the window. Ruth snatched the knife from me, and ran towards him. Ben—for it was Ben, as I learn from what Mr. Felton says—ran away in fear. But Ruth was quicker. She caught up with him, and killed him. Then she flung down the knife, and ran back to Mrs. Brandyface. The two went home, but I don’t know if Ruth told anything. I picked up the knife, and smeared the front of Mrs. Berrow’s dress with it, by chance, as she came out of the office. I told her of the death. I took her to the body; she saw it, and nearly fainted. Then I guessed there would be danger if I kept the knife. I therefore flung it down again, and Mrs. Brandyface, whom we saw stealing back, picked it up. I took my mistress home, and invented the story of the blood on the dinner-dress being that of her false love.” Here she shook her fist at Rupert in wild anger. “Mr. Clyde, there, got the knife, when Ruth gave it to him in this very room, when the will was read. He left it behind. I kept it. It is my knife—the knife with which I sacrificed victims to Obeah—aha!” she grinned ghoulishly, “the goat without horns—eh?—eh? I thought to use it again. I did, and have killed Evan. I hope so. Interfering between me and my revenge. My dearest,” she went on, and suddenly clutched Mrs. Berrow in a savage embrace, “I would have killed that woman, and then you would have had the money and the man. But I can do no more. They will hang me. I don’t care. You are safe.”
“Don’t touch me—you—you murderess!” sobbed Mrs. Berrow, pushing her away in a terrified manner.
Cleopatra stood for the moment as though turned to stone. Her face was grey, and her mouth worked with anguish. What she would have said it is impossible to say, for at that moment the door opened and two burly policemen entered the room. Cleopatra started and looked round wildly. She saw Ruth smiling scoffingly at the window, as apparently she did not care about being denounced by the woman. She must have guessed from Cleopatra’s furious gestures that the truth was being told. Cleopatra cast one tender, sorrowful glance at the shrinking Mrs. Berrow. “There is nothing left for me to live for now,” she wailed, tossing her arms; and as the officers approached to place the handcuffs on her wrists she evaded them. Before anyone in the room was aware of her intention she had passed like a flash through the window, and had gripped the red-haired girl in her strong arm. All those within, headed by Miss Tudor-Stuart, poured out on to the terrace. They saw Cleopatra racing rapidly across the lawn, and down the slope. With a cry Miss Tudor-Stuart started in pursuit. But even her long legs could not gain on the flying woman, in spite of her burden. The onlookers followed, and could see that Ruth was struggling. But Cleopatra held her as in a vice.
“She’s making for the pond!” yelled the Amazon; striving to catch up with the revengeful Cleopatra and her victim.
Everyone ran—officers, lawyers, visitors, women and all. But the flying form of Cleopatra still kept ahead. At the bottom of the last grassy slope lay the pond, a large body of water used in winter for skating. The dark waters gleamed like steel under the sullen sky, and the bank sloped perilously downward. Just as the pursuers topped the last rise they saw to their horror that Cleopatra was bounding down the slope. A cry of dismay burst from every throat as Cleopatra with her victim plunged in.
“Oh, Ruth! Ruth!” howled the Amazon, and tore down after the disappearing pair. She reached the edge of the pond, just as the splash announced that the two wore in. But Miss Tudor-Stuart could not swim, and ran up and down, wringing her hands, but afraid to venture into the deep water.
Twice Cleopatra rose, and each time she had still a grip of the now insensible Ruth. The police arrived, and so did Rupert Treffry. He sprang in, hoping to save the pair, unworthy though they were of saving. He was too late. With a cry of triumph, Cleopatra sank for the last time, with Ruth in her arms. The waters closed over the heads of both the woman and the girl who had taken life.
So this was the end of the Chadston mystery. Ruth on the evidence of Cleopatra, proved to be the guilty person, and she had murdered Ben in mistake for Evan Berrow, hoping that the money of the latter might be inherited by the former. This motive was more fully brought out later, when the police inquiring into the matter, questioned Mrs. Rayner, alias Mrs. Brandyface. The old woman was afraid and confused, and at first declined to speak; but on being threatened with the penalties of the law, as an accessory before the fact, she confessed that she had influenced Ruth in the way described by Cleopatra.
“But I never thought she’d do anything,” wept Mrs. Brandyface, “being my own granddaughter, and coming of a respectable family. I thought she might lead Mr. Berrow into doing justice to Ben, seeing as Mr. Berrow brought Ben to Chadston. But it wasn’t me altogether. I believe that Cleopatra made Ruth kill Ben, thinking he was Mr. Berrow, in order to get the money for her mistress.”
But this view of Mrs. Rayner’s was not borne out by the confession of Cleopatra, which was afterwards found concealed in her bedroom, when the police searched the Manor House. Evidently, Cleopatra, intending to kill Alice, and knowing that she would hang for the crime, was fearful lest, after her decease, Mrs. Berrow would be accused of bringing about the death of the yellow hunchback. She therefore wrote out a full confession, stating how she had murdered Mr. Boyde, to prevent his making a second will leaving the money to his daughter, and how Ruth, having snatched the knife from her, after she had left Rupert wounded in the alley, had stabbed the man in the clothes of Evan Berrow. But she certainly did not say that she had influenced Ruth in any way to commit the murder. After much argument, the police came to the conclusion that Ruth, being the child of one criminal and the granddaughter of another, to say nothing of being the daughter of a loose-living man, such as Reginald Boyde certainly was, had instincts in her which led her to think very little of taking human life. She may have contemplated the crime, spurred on to get rid of (as she thought) Evan by the talk of Mrs. Brandyface; but it was more probable that seeing the figure of the man close at hand, and having the weapon placed in front of her by Cleopatra, she had committed the murder on the impulse of the moment. But, whatever might be the reason, undoubtedly it was clearly proved that Cleopatra had killed Reginald Boyde, in Jamaica, and that the same weapon had been used by his daughter to kill Ben. Always, of course, remembering that Ruth had intended to kill Evan for the sake of the money.
But as both Cleopatra and Ruth were dead, their bodies were recovered from the pond and duly buried. An account of the crime was published in the papers, and everyone thus learnt who was the guilty person. No suspicions could henceforth rest on anyone, as the criminals had been found, and the mystery (which it assuredly was) had been solved.
But neither the police nor the public ever learnt the whole story of this strange case, for it was told to Alice and Rupert by the dying lips of Evan Berrow. This time he really did die, and a few days after his appearance in the library he was placed in the family vault beside the corpse of his unhappy elder brother, for whom he had been so long mistaken.
Leaving the police to drag the pond for the bodies, Rupert went back to the house, accompanied by Mrs. Berrow. The others remained behind to watch operations. Mrs. Berrow was still sobbing, as she was quite overcome by the horror of the late proceedings. Treffry, who looked upon as her fault most that had happened, was not disposed to spare her.
“Had you not been so foolishly bent upon marrying me,” he said, bitterly, when they arrived in the library, “all these terrible things would not have happened.”
“I don’t see how you can make it out to be my fault,” protested the widow, looking scared.
“But I can, and do. Cleopatra, knowing that you wished to marry me, and thinking Boyde’s will would be a powerful influence to bring about the marriage, killed him for your sake. Then, again, had she not come after me with that beastly knife to try and threaten me into marrying you, she would not have been able to give it to Ruth, and so bring about the second murder. Finally, Helena, you saw quite well that Cleopatra would have killed Alice had not Evan interfered. So now the poor creature lies dying in this, his own house, and you have sent him to his doom. You, and you alone, are the cause of all three murders.
“Ah!” said Mrs. Berrow, bitterly, “that is so like a man. I pay for everything, as a woman usually does. Remember, it was for love of you that I sinned. However, nothing matters now. Whether Evan lives or dies, you will have the money, and will marry Alice.”
“I am not so sure of that,” said Treffry, coldly, “seeing that Evan also loves Alice, and has saved her life.”
“Bah! He has been converted by the Salvation Army while he was masquerading as Ben the hunchback. He will think it his duty to leave the money to Alice, and die, so that she may marry you.”
“That is none of your business,” retorted Rupert, heatedly. “One thing is very certain, that I shall never marry you. What do you intend to do now, Helena?”
“I don’t see that my actions or doings can interest you very much, but if you want to know I will explain. With the two thousand a year which I possess, owing to my desertion by you, I shall live at my old home.”
“Oh! And I heard from Tait that Mason Clyde is also returning. Clyde, in this very room, said that you had promised to marry him. Is that so?”
“I shall never marry Clyde,” flashed out Mrs. Berrow; “and, seeing that he has betrayed my poor nurse, who loved him, I shall betray him. Do you know why he has had such an influence over Mr. Marvel?”
“No. Do you?”
“Yes. He confessed it to me, thinking I might use it to stop Alice Marvel from marrying you. Marvel was married to that terrible giantess.”
“I know that. But a man’s marriage is his own affair. I don’t see how that can have given Clyde influence over Marvel.”
“Stop a moment, I have not yet done. Miss Tudor-Stuart, as she called herself, was always bothering Marvel for money. He had kept the secret of his marriage, as he did not wish his daughter to know that she possessed such a stepmother. To keep the creature away he had to allow her money, and he earned very little. Therefore, on one occasion, he forged my name to a cheque. He could easily do that, seeing Clyde was my solicitor. Clyde found this out, and held the forgery over him.”
“Then Clyde is a scoundrel,” said Rupert, scowling, “and may I ask what he wanted Marvel to do?”
“He wished him to hold his tongue. I saw the body of Ben, as Cleopatra described, and I really thought it was that of Evan. Marvel saw the body also, and saw the blood on my dress. He thought that I was guilty, and so could have told the police.”
“But Cleopatra knew that you were innocent, since she had seen Ruth kill the dwarf.”
“Cleopatra,” said Mrs. Berrow, coldly, “kept that information from me for some reason. I can’t say what her reason was; but neither Clyde nor myself knew that Ruth was guilty. We believed that Cleopatra had killed Evan to help me to get the money and marry you. But Marvel, suspecting me, might have made trouble, as, had he told the police, he certainly would have caused an inquiry into the matter to be made; and I should have had much difficulty in defending myself. Therefore, Clyde told Marvel that he would have him arrested for forgery if he did not hold his tongue. The man was a coward, and did so. And I may add,” said Mrs. Berrow, “that I also gave him money, as did Mr. Clyde. So you see we treated him fairly.”
“Ah!” said Rupert, thoughtfully, “I now understand how Marvel, in his drunken fit, mentioned that he could get money, and that you were afraid of him. Poor fellow, you did treat him badly.”
“He was a bad man.”
“And you are a bad woman. I hope never to set eyes on you again.”
“Good-bye, then,” she said, turning away, but he could see her shoulders heave.
“One moment, Helena; tell me, did Evan really make that codicil to the will?”
“Yes, he did, at my suggestion. He was madly in love with Alice, and could not bear to think that if he died you should become her husband. I also hated the idea. The codicil is genuine enough.”
“Strange, then, that he should have made a second will in favour of Alice, and without restrictions,” said Treffry, looking at her searchingly. “Are you sure that codicil is not forged?”
“I can swear to it. I am not responsible for Evan’s changes of mind. Why not ask him?”
“I shall do so. But, Helena”—he advanced towards her, and took her reluctant hand—“you have behaved badly; but I cannot forget that it was love that made you sin. I freely forgive you for all the trouble that you have caused, and I hope we part as friends.”
Mrs. Berrow wrenched away her hands. “I shall always hate and detest you with all my soul,” cried Helena, her eyes flashing, “and I hope you will be miserable for the rest of your days. I hate you—I hate you—I—a-a-r-r-h—” Her voice died away in a kind of gurgle, and she broke down sobbing as she rushed from the room.
That was the last that Rupert saw of Helena Berrow. She shortly, when all police proceedings were ended, sailed for Jamaica, and within the year married Mason Clyde. So she passes out of the story, as her nurse and Ruth have done. Likewise Mrs. Brandyface, who was placed in an asylum, to be looked after in her old age.
Rupert shrugged his shoulders after Mrs. Berrow had made her exit, and took his way to the room where Evan was dying. Dr. Grant met him, and explained that he was just coming to search for him.
“Mr. Berrow cannot live long,” he said, “as the weapon has pierced the right lung. Miss Marvel is with him, and he wished to see you also.”
“Is he conscious?”
“Oh yes, and is likely to be until he dies, poor little creature. I should not be at all surprised if he died within the hour. He may as well talk to you and Miss Marvel, as he is desirous of doing, as it is useless his saving his strength. He must die, and the sooner the better.”
“Oh, doctor!” Rupert was shocked.
“Don’t make any mistake, Mr. Treffry. I am not balking brutally. Mr. Berrow has found peace, which means that he has become converted. He is quite ready and willing to die; and, as he cannot possibly recover, it is best, as you will acknowledge, that he should go now, when his mind is made up that he will go to heaven.”
Just then, and before Grant could explain further, Alice put her head out of the door, and beckoned to Rupert. Her eyes were swollen with tears. “Come to Evan, Rupert,” she said, drawing him within; “he cannot live much longer. Doctor!”
“I shall remain without,” said Grant, “as Mr. Berrow wishes to talk alone with you two. Call me in should any change take place.”
Alice nodded, and with Treffry went into the room. It was now quite dark, and a single candle near the bed illuminated the room in a ghostly manner, and shed a weird light on the small, pinched, white face of the tiny man in the large bed. He was smiling, however, and held out his hand as Rupert stole across the death-chamber. “Death ends all quarrels and pays all debts,” he said, in a quiet, pleasant voice. “Shake hands, Treffry.”
“I hope you will get better,” said Treffry, grasping the small hand as lightly as he could, and with some compunction.
“No, I shall never get better, as Grant must have assured you. Even now it is an effort for me to talk. But I must make everything right, as I told you I would, Alice, when we met on the doorstep of Tooker’s Rents.”
“I wonder that I did not recognise you then, Evan.”
“I don’t,” replied the dwarf, with a sigh. “Had you loved me, dear, you would, as the eyes of love are keen. But I was very like my poor brother, and—”
“Oh!” interrupted Treffry, with a start, “do you know that?”
“I have just been explaining it to him,” said Alice, arranging the pillow of the dying man.
“Yes,” assented Evan, sadly; “I never guessed that Ben was my elder brother when I saw him in Whitechapel, although I believed that he was a cousin, as Miss Tudor-Stuart stated. As he also was deformed and tormented by the world, I brought him to Chadston with the intention of helping him. I thought we two deformities could help one another. Had he lived, I should have made Ben my dearest and best friend, seeing that I could not gain your love, Alice. I was weary of my stepmother and her plotting. That was why I remained unknown for so long as the hunchback. There is no hunch on my back now, Treffry,” added the dwarf, with a faint smile; “that was false, like everything else.”
“But, Berrow,” said Rupert, anxiously, “why did you change clothes with Ben on that night?”
“To trap Mrs. Berrow. I suspected that she was making mischief, along with Mason Clyde, seeing that they both came from Jamaica. I was always suspicious of my stepmother, as I told you, Alice, and I thought that she might plot to get rid of me. When I left you, my dear Alice, I went to the High Street with the intention of seeing Clyde about Mrs. Berrow. When I saw her and her nurse entering the office, I suspected that they were up to no good, and so I decided to watch and see what their game was.”
“Mrs. Berrow only came to see me, and to make a last appeal,” was the reply of Treffry.
“So I know now,” came the quick response, “but I did not know then. I fancied that if I appeared as myself, Mrs. Berrow and the nurse, who was very sharp, would act a part, so I changed my clothes with Ben. While watching the office, I saw him at my elbow, as he was going to the miserable cellar in Tooker’s Rents, which he called his home. His presence suggested the disguise, so I went to the cellar, and we changed clothes. I came out as Ben, and Ben appeared as me. I made him watch the office, so as to prove an alibi should anything have gone wrong.”
“You did not expect murder?”
“I expected everything, seeing that Mrs. Berrow and Cleopatra were together, as I knew how unscrupulous and dangerous they were. I left Ben in my clothes in the High Street, and stole round by the alley to Clyde’s office. I looked in at the dusty window at the back, and saw Mrs. Berrow and the nurse listening at the door.”
“They were listening to my talking to Clyde,” explained Treffry.
“Yes. Well, I saw them leave the room, and I tried to get in at the window, as I thought I would listen to what they were saying to Clyde, whom I knew was in the next room. The window was hard to open, and I fumbled for some time with the catch. Then I heard a cry, and, climbing down, I ran into the High Street. I saw that Ben was lying on the ground. I never thought that he was dead, and I did not dare to go near him in my disguise. Then I saw Mrs. Berrow and Clyde and Marvel come out. They went to the body, and then I learnt that Ben had been stabbed.”
“Did you know by whom?”
“No. I fancied that Cleopatra might have stabbed him, thinking that he was me, so as to clear the way for her mistress in getting the estates. But I was not sure. I went to Tooker’s Rents, to Ben’s cellar, and thought over the matter. I knew that, as Ben, I could watch Mrs. Berrow, and unmask all her plots, so I decided to allow Ben to be buried as me, and to unmask Mrs. Berrow and her accomplice, as Cleopatra undoubtedly was. I thought it was best.”
“But why did you accuse Rupert?” asked Alice, curiously.
The little man put out his hand. “My dear,” he said, solemnly, “I was mad with love for you, and seeing that, as Ben, I could not marry you, I decided that Treffry should also be unlucky. I never saw Treffry leave the body—that was a lie. Marvel was made by Clyde to say the same thing, so as to inculpate Treffry and make him obedient to the will of Mrs. Berrow. Everything was wrong and false, but I have made amends. Do you know why I tell you all now, why I wish to make you happy? Because I have found peace in religion, because my eyes have been unsealed. Ah! it is worth while having suffered cold and hunger as the hunchback to gain the peace, I now have. I love you still, Alice, but I can bear to see you marry Treffry, to have my money, and to be happy. That is true love that seeks its outlet in sacrifice.”
There was a silence for a few minutes, while Alice’s hand stole into that of Rupert’s. Then she put a pertinent question. “Why did you make the will in my favour?”
“Because I wished to trick Mrs. Berrow.”
“And the codicil?” asked Treffry.
“That was to trick her also. Seeing that I had given Alice money to leave England, she would never have suspected the existence of the second will. Had she done so, she would have torn down the Manor House to find it. And it was in the Manor House!”
“In the library—”
“In a book,” finished Evan, faintly, for his strength was failing greatly. “Yes, when I decided to give you up, Alice—and that was after I found peace—I went to the library and got the will, and placed it on Felton’s table, disguised still as the yellow hunchback. Then I returned to the Manor House. No one suspected that I was there, as I know of several entrances which are unknown to the servants, and, indeed, to Mrs. Berrow also. I saw from the top window that you and Treffry and the others were coming, and wondered what was happening. I then stole downstairs, and listened behind the small door of the library, which led into my study. I had the key of it. There I heard all, and from that door I came to save you, Alice, from the death-blow which that woman would have dealt. That is all the story. Forgive me, Alice, and you, Treffry?”
“There is nothing to forgive,” Rupert assured him. “Live, Berrow, to be our friend.”
“No, I have given my life for Alice’s,” said the dwarf, in a drowsy manner, “good-bye! You will have the money and the house; only forgive your enemies, as the Lord tells us to. Forgive Tait!”
“I’ll allow him an income, and give Polly sufficient money to marry Teddy Smith,” said Alice, quickly.
“And Miss Tudor-Stuart and your misguided father.”
“I’ll send Miss Tudor-Stuart to London, with enough to live on, and my father will be pensioned off. And then— Oh, Rupert!” Alice uttered a cry as she saw the change coming over the face of the dying man. “He is going; call in the doctor!”
But it was already too late. Grant entered hastily with restoratives, only to find that Evan Berrow was dead. He heaved his last sigh with the hand of the woman he loved clasped in his own. He had fulfilled the task set to the greatest love, and had given his life for her he loved best.
* * * * * * * * *
There remains little more to add. Evan was duly buried, and Mrs. Berrow took her ill-omened shadow from the walls of the Manor House. An inquest was held on the bodies of Ruth and Cleopatra, and they were also buried, so that everyone speedily forgot the strange case which perplexed Chadston for so long.
Captain Tait, who was considerably shaken by the dilemma in which he had been placed by his greed, gladly accepted a yearly sum of money from Alice Marvel, and retired to Brighton, where he lived a quiet life, interspersed with various flirtations. He was glad, in his selfish way, to be rid of his daughter, for she married the young reporter, and, thanks to the influence of Rupert, a better post was procured for him. Also, Alice, with characteristic generosity, fitted up a cottage at Chadston for the young couple, and gave Polly a complete outfit for her wedding. So Polly, poor girl, was happy, after years of trouble and sorrow. But she and her father see very little of one another. Captain Tait thinks that Teddy is vulgar and that Polly has deteriorated, while the happy pair find that the Captain grows even more selfish as he grows older.
Miss Tudor-Stuart wished to live again with Marvel as his wife, but ultimately was persuaded to accept a yearly income and retire to London. She sometimes went to see Mrs. Rayner in the asylum, but managed to lead a happy enough life in a small cottage at Chiswick. She goes to the theatres, and sniffs at the performances, and dresses in the gayest of dresses and the brightest of colours. So she was another person whom Alice had made happy.
Marvel said very little when taxed with his iniquities. He moaned that Alice would be better without him, and that he had been misunderstood all his life, and that he would go to Australia to start a new life, if Alice would allow him three hundred a year. This she did, and went to Tilbury to see the last of the weak father who had at once been kind and good, and evil and harsh. As the vessel moved down stream, Rupert, who was beside his beloved, tucked her arm within his own.
“Now, my darling,” he said very resolutely, “dry those tears. You have wept enough, and have done enough for others. You must now consider your own happiness and mine.”
“After all, he is my father, Rupert.”
“I daresay. But you have done all that a daughter could do for him, so you have nothing to weep for. Let us go back to Chadston, and in a few months we will be married. Then we can live at the Manor House, and try to interest ourselves in doing good. We have had a bad and stormy time, Alice dear, but the clouds have passed away and the sun shines out once more.”
“Thanks to Evan.”
“Yes, dear. Poor little chap, I shall never forget his kindness. And to keep his memory green, Alice, we will hang up in the library that oilskin coat and sou’-wester. We must never forget in our happiness the yellow hunchback, who was our good fairy.”
And they never did.
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