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Title: A Midnight Mystery Author: Fergus Hume * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1800451h.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. - The Seagate Mystery
Chapter 2. - The Busybody
Chapter 3. - A Strange Discovery
Chapter 4. - Denial
Chapter 5. - What the Coastguard Said
Chapter 6. - What the Pocket-Book Contained
Chapter 7. - The Straw Hat
Chapter 8. - A Doubtful Explanation
Chapter 9. - In Quest of Evidence
Chapter 10. - The Triumph of a Scoundrel
In the month of May, a young man was walking slowly up and down the London, Chatham and Dover platform of the Victoria station. It was close on twelve and he glanced from the clock to the train, which was timed to leave for Margate at noon. This intended passenger was dressed in deep mourning and there was a haggard expression on his face which betrayed anxiety. Judging from his garb and ill-suppressed grief, he had but lately lost a near relative.
“Nearly twelve o’clock,” he uttered, looking at his watch to verify the station time, “and the train starts at five past. I am afraid Dillock will be late.”
Even as he spoke the man whom he expected emerged from the ticket office, and walked straight towards him. A tall, sober-looking individual was the newcomer, with a keen inquisitive look on his clean-shaven face. His appearance, smart and alert, was that of a barrister, and he was frequently mistaken for a member of the legal profession. As a matter of fact, if not a lawyer, he was closely connected with the law, for he was well known as Dillock, one of the cleverest of London detectives. Taken in conjunction with the mourning garb of the young man, his appearance on the spot was ominous of evil. It looked as though Dillock were engaged in the investigation of a possible crime.
“Just in time, Mr. Dillock.”
“Very sorry, Mr. Halston, couldn’t get here any sooner,” replied the detective smartly. “I came as quick as a hansom could bring me. After all I am in time, with five minutes to spare.”
“Well, about this case—” began Halston, when the other cut him short.
“You can tell me all about it in the train. Can we get a carriage to ourselves?”
“Here you are,” said Halston, beckoning to the guard. “I engaged one on purpose so that we should not be disturbed.”
Dillock jumped in, followed by Halston, the guard locked the door, and in a few minutes the train moved slowly out of the station. The two men settled themselves comfortably and proceeded to discuss the matter which had brought them together. Halston lighted a cigar and offered his case to the detective. Dillock declined the courtesy, and producing his pocket-book for the purpose of taking notes, plunged at once into business. He was a man who knew the value of time.
“I had no time to speak this morning, Mr. Halston,” he said, apologetically, “as I had to finish off another case, else I could not have got away to-day. Consequently, beyond a glimpse of the papers, I know nothing of this matter. You must tell me about it as minutely as possible.”
“I’ll tell you all I know,” said Halston, gloomily, “unfortunately, I was not at Seagate when my cousin was killed.”
“Rudolph Carrant is the name of the deceased,” observed Dillock, glancing at the newspaper, “your cousin!”
“Yes, My cousin! He was two years older than I, and engaged to be married to Miss Granville.”
“Oh, indeed!” said the detective, in a vague kind of way, as though such an engagement had no special interest for him, “He was to be married. Very sad! Very sad indeed. By the way,” he added, looking up from his paper, this report says he fell over the cliff and was killed. Is that correct?”
“Yes! It was supposed he fell over,” said Halston, with marked emphasis.
“Supposed! eh?” was the significant comment of Dillock
“I have my suspicions. They may be groundless; still, I can’t help suspecting that—”
“That he was pushed over,” finished Dillock, putting the idea into words.
“Precisely! That he was pushed over. It was not an accident, but a murder.”
“Have you any idea of the motive for the crime?” queried Dillock, looking keenly at the gloomy face of the other.
“I believe robbery was the motive. In fact, I am certain of it.”
“Robbery! Hm! Money? Jewels?”
“No, papers!” said the young man, with evident reluctance. “Yes, papers!”
“Papers! Have you any idea of their nature?”
“No. I have not the least idea. I know nothing of my cousin’s private affairs.”
“Then why do you suspect that your deceased cousin was robbed of papers, or why, Mr. Halston,” added Dillock, slowly, “why do you think there was any foul play in the matter. It might be, as the papers say, an accident.”
Cecil Halston had a fair and delicate complexion like that of a woman, and blushed with indignation at this speech. Knowing what he did, it seemed absurd that any one should hold a contrary opinion. He was prepared to substantiate his suspicions.
“It was not an accident,” he said, hurriedly. “My cousin was murdered and robbed. I do not agree with the jury. Their verdict is wrong.”
For answer, Dillock read aloud the description of the case reported in “The Morning Courier.” It was bald and unsatisfying.
“An inquest was held yesterday on the body of Mr. Rudolph Carrant, who fell over the cliff at Seagate on the fourteenth day of this month. The deceased was found on the morning of the fifteenth lying at the foot of the cliff with his neck broken. Dr. Maxwell said death must have been instantaneous. The unfortunate gentleman was engaged to be married to Miss Catherine Granville, daughter of Sir Algernon Granville, and was at his house on the night of the accident. He left there at ten o’clock for the purpose of going to his hotel, and it is supposed that he mistook the path and so fell over the cliff. The jury brought in a verdict of death by misadventure. Much sympathy is felt in the district for Miss Granville.”
When he finished reading this delectable report, Dillock laid the paper on the seat beside him, and proceeded to discuss the matter. Halston was prepared for this cross-examination.
“Is that report correct, Mr. Halston?” he asked, rubbing his chin.
“In the main it is perfectly correct,” replied the other, doubtfully.
“And the jury brought in a verdict of accidental death?”
“So it seems,” said Halston, coldly; “but I don’t agree with that verdict.”
“You believe Mr. Carrant was murdered?”
“I do! Murdered and robbed!”
“Robbed of papers, you say?” queried Dillock, looking down.
“Yes. At least, that is the only motive I can conjecture as reasonable.”
“You were not called as a witness at the inquest.”
“No. There was no reason that I should be called,” said Halston, promptly. “Besides, I was in Paris when the inquest was held. I was not subpœnaed.”
“What! Not when you guessed your cousin had been murdered?”
“I did not know that at the time,” responded the young man with some hesitation. “You see my cousin died on the fourteenth of this month. It is now the twentieth. The inquest, as you see, has been held, and he is now buried. I returned to England for the funeral. It was then that I fancied the cause of his death was other than accidental.”
“What made you think so?”
“A conversation I had with Sir Algernon Granville.”
“Oh!” said Dillock, suddenly. “Then this idea of foul play is not your own?”
“No. It is the idea of Sir Algernon.”
“But I don’t understand, Mr. Halston.”
“I will explain. On the night of the fourteenth, Rudolph was at Sir Algernon’s place at Seagate. There was some card playing and my cousin won ten pounds. Sir Algernon gave him a bank note for that amount and he placed it in his pocket-book. I know that pocket-book very well,” added Halston, speaking rapidly, “having often seen it in my cousin’s possession. It is of shagreen, with his crest and monogram in silver on the outside, and the corners are also bound with silver. You follow me?”
“Perfectly,” replied Dillock, scribbling this description in his note-book, “and Mr. Carrant had it in his possession on the night in question—Had it in his pocket.”
“So Sir Algernon says. He saw Rudolph place the ten-pound note therein. Then he went away and the next morning was found dead at the foot of the cliff. But the pocket-book was gone.”
“Ah! The pocket-book was gone,” said Dillock, in a casual kind of fashion.
“Yes. It had been abstracted from his breast-coat pocket.”
“Was he not in evening dress?”
“He was, certainly. But he had a breast pocket in his dress coat, an inner pocket, and it was there that Sir Algernon saw him place the book containing the note.
“So you think that Mr. Carrant was robbed and murdered for the sake of that ten-pound note?”
“I don’t see what other conclusion one can arrive at.”
“You said something about papers,” hinted Mr. Dillock, artfully.
“Well, he might have been robbed for papers, or for money, I don’t know which,” replied Halston, impatiently. “To tell you the truth, Mr. Dillock, my cousin was not a very reputable person. He knew many scamps, and it is just possible that his pocket-book may have contained papers likely to be of value to some of his disreputable acquaintances. You know from experience what these kind of people are.”
“It might be so, certainly,” said Dillock, thoughtfully, “it is more likely that a man would rob your cousin of papers which he knew were in his possession than of a ten-pound note of which he knew nothing.”
“He might have guessed Rudolph had money on him.”
“Possibly! But that special ten-pound note was only won off Sir Algernon at cards on the night in question. No one could have known Mr. Carrant had that in his possession when he left the house.”
“Except Sir Algernon,” said Halston, significantly.
Dillock played with his watch chain and did not answer this question directly.
“I don’t see how you can throw suspicion on him,” he said, at length, raising his eyebrows, “if he had anything to do with this matter he would have held his tongue about the robbery, particularly as the jury brought in a verdict of accidental death.”
“You then agree with me that my cousin was murdered?”
“The loss of that pocket-book is suspicious,” said Dillock, declining to commit himself to any opinion. “If your cousin had fallen accidentally over the cliff, it is probable that the pocketbook would still be in his possession—unless,” added the detective, after a momentary pause, “someone had a grudge against him and took away the pocket-book so as to foster the idea of robbery.”
“Certainly it might be that. A murder, and to avert suspicion, a pretended robbery.”
“Do you know anyone who had a grudge against him?” asked Dillock, seeing his companion answered somewhat absently and was in deep thought. Halston wriggled uncomfortably and dropped his eyes before the keen gaze of the detective which seemed to read his very soul.
“I don’t like to cast suspicion on anyone,” he said, at length, with a frown.
“Have you any suspicions?” asked Dillock, sharply.
“Yes and no.”
“What does that mean. You speak in riddles. Give me the key to them. You mean—”
“Simply this!” burst out Halston, rapidly. “I say that my cousin was robbed, if not of money, at least of some papers he carried in that shagreen pocket-book.”
“That is Sir Algernon’s idea,” corrected the detective, “not your own. I wish to know your own suspicions.”
“I have none. At least, I have no very definite suspicions of any consequence.”
“Oh, yes you have,” persisted Dillock. “Come, Mr. Halston, you have told me everything so far, why not continue to repose confidence in me.”
“I might say that Rudolph’s death was accidental.”
“You might, but you will not do so. Your story of the pocket-book gives the lie to that. Come, Mr. Halston,” he said, again in a persuasive manner. “You suspect some one. I can read your face like an open book. You suspect some one.”
“Well, I do,” responded Halston, with manifest reluctance.
“And his name?”
“Hugh Oliphant! He is the man I suspect, but I am by no means certain.”
“Who is he?” asked Dillock, taking no notice other than the name.
“A gentleman of independent fortune,” sneered Halston, “and a discarded lover of Miss Granville’s.”
“Indeed,” said Dillock, pricking up his ears, “then he was naturally jealous of Mr. Carrant.”
“Very jealous indeed. Of course, I don’t speak from personal knowledge, as I know Oliphant but slightly. I simply say what was told to me by Rudolph.”
“What did he tell you?”
“That Oliphant hated him because he was going to marry Miss Granville, and would gladly put him out of the way if he could.”
“Had Mr. Carrant any tangible reason for such an opinion?”
“Ah, that I cannot tell you,” responded Halston, frankly. “He said no more than that. My idea is that Oliphant met Rudolph on that fatal night and that in a quarrel which ensued my cousin fell over the cliff.”
“Put it in plain words, Mr. Halston,” said Dillock, quietly. “You mean that Oliphant pushed Carrant over the cliff.”
“I don’t say so,” answered Halston, fencing with his questioner.
“No, but you think so,” persisted the detective, looking at him steadily.
Halston bit his lips in an angry fashion and looked gloomily downward.
“You forced it out of me,” he declared, sullenly. “I did not wish to tell you. I have no grudge against Oliphant, but I really and truly believe that he knows more about my cousin’s death than anyone else.”
“I quite appreciate your reluctance, Mr. Halston,” said the detective, quietly, “it is very chivalrous but, if you will pardon me saying so, very foolish. It is your duty to discover the assassin of your cousin, and if you suspect Oliphant you are quite right to say so.”
“But he may be innocent,” demurred Halston, faintly.
“You may be sure I shall give him the benefit of every doubt,” responded Dillock, drily. “By the way, did Miss Granville love Oliphant?”
“I don’t know; as she was to marry Rudolph I suppose she did not.”
“She might have been engaged to your cousin against her will, hence the jealously between the two men. Was your cousin rich?”
“Very rich. He had twenty thousand a year. I am his heir.”
“I congratulate you,” said Dillock gravely, “and Sir Algernon?”
“Is as hard up as it is possible for any one to be.”
“Then he doubtless forced his daughter to marry Carrant on account of its being a good match.”
“I don’t know. I can’t say.”
Halston was growing restive under this prolonged examination which had now lasted over two hours. The train would soon be in at Seagate, so as Dillock had learned nearly all he wished to know, he desisted from further questioning, and permitted his companion to busy himself in a book. Meanwhile he glanced over his notes and did his best to think out the case.
It perplexed him greatly. There were two theories equally feasible. One that Carrant was killed to gain possession of certain valuable papers, and the other that Oliphant had deliberately murdered him in a frenzy of jealous passion. The former was the most probable, as it was scarcely likely Oliphant would be so foolish as to commit a crime for such a trivial cause as jealously. Certainly, it appeared trivial to the detective, but it might not be so to Oliphant, yet Dillock could not comprehend the state of mind which could drive a man into periling his neck for the sake of a woman. He was rather misogynistic.
“I must see this Oliphant,” he thought, as the train gradually slowed down; “from his demeanour I can tell plainly his attitude towards this girl and her dead lover. As to the pocket-book—if that has been stolen it will be a more difficult matter to trace it—unless,” he considered with an after-thought, “the note affords a clue.”
As soon as this idea entered his brain he asked Halston a question.
“Do you know if Sir Algernon has the number of that ten-pound note he gave to Carrant in payment of his loss at cards?”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” responded Halston, promptly. “He’s not the man to do anything in a business-like way. I shouldn’t think it likely. Why do you ask?”
“Because,” said Dillock, slowly, “if I can trace that note I’ll be able to lay my hand on the man who killed your cousin.”
Sir Algernon Granville could hardly be called an estimable personage. He was profoundly egotistical and deemed his fellow creatures were created for the purpose of ministering to his pleasures. Married at an early age when he had some thought for others, his wife had died after three years of married life leaving him a comfortable fortune and one daughter. She desired to settle the fortune on her child but Sir Algernon persuaded her from adopting this sensible course, and promised faithfully to hold the money in trust for Catherine.
As a matter of fact, he had no intention of exercising such self-denial. The child at that time was only two years of age and therefore had no necessity for money. Thus argued her father, and placing Catherine under the care of his only sister, Mrs. Devereaux, proceeded to enjoy himself. He did this so excellently well and showed such skill in spending money, that by the time Catherine was of age he had scarce a sixpence to bless himself with.
To make matters worse, Mrs. Devereaux died at this very critical time and Catherine was sent back to her father. Sir Algernon had hoped that his sister would leave the girl a second fortune of which he might have the spending, but such proved not to be the case. All Mrs. Devereaux possessed was an annuity and as this passed away when she died, Catherine was returned to her indignant parent as poor as when she left him.
The baronet was seriously angry and frequently asked himself how he was to support this young lady who required money, dresses and amusements. He quite forgot that he had spent the money which was rightfully hers and felt himself very much aggrieved at the prospect of taking charge of his child. Matters, however, could not be altered, so he made a virtue of necessity and took charge of Catherine with many protestations that he intended to be a model father.
His idea of the rôle was getting the girl married to a wealthy husband, and he set to work at once. Unfortunately, in his own set, a rather fast one, there was no very eligible suitor, so he looked round to see who was worthy, in point of income, to be his son-in-law. Ultimately he fixed upon Rudolph Carrant, who had a large fortune and no morals. This latter state of things mattered little to Sir Algernon so long as the money was safe, and having presented Carrant to his daughter as a suitor he commanded her to inveigle him into marriage by all the feminine arts at her command.
To his wrath and astonishment, Catherine, a handsome, high-spirited girl, absolutely refused to adopt this ignoble course. She did not like Carrant, who was a gambler and a profligate, and declined to sell herself for a comfortable home. Her own was miserable enough, what with straitened means and a cantankerous father, but she preferred even such misery to the degradation of becoming the wife of a man whom she knew to be an unconscionable blackguard. Moreover, this was the strongest reason of all, she was in love with Hugh Oliphant.
He was the scion of an old Scotch family with a long pedigree and a lean purse. Three hundred a year represented his entire income, and when he hinted to Sir Algernon that he loved Catherine and would gladly make her his wife, the baronet was filled with wrath at the idea of a pauper daring to aspire to the hand of his child. With furious words he turned Oliphant out of the house, and despite Catherine’s indignant tears, ordered her to marry Carrant at once. Furthermore, to make things safe and put an end to Oliphant’s foolish hopes, he took his daughter down to Seagate, at which place he hoped to marry her to Rudolph Carrant.
To do the latter justice, he was very much in love with Catherine, and swore if he married her, to give up his wild ways and bad companions. He came down to Seagate at the request of Sir Algernon, and there took up his abode at the nearest hotel. At this time he behaved himself excellently well and was most devoted in his attentions to the girl he adored. She did not want his attentions, she did not care about his promises of reformation; all she desired was to marry Hugh Oliphant, and this desire she was unable to gratify.
Her father watched her like a lynx. Carrant had promised to allow him a good income after the marriage, so Sir Algernon was quite prepared to sell his daughter in order to secure the same. He was determined to lose no opportunity of obtaining this settlement, and never let his daughter out of his sight. At all hours he was by her side, much to the admiration of the neighbourhood, who greatly admired such a devoted parent. The neighbourhood was quite unaware that the aforesaid devoted parent was on the eve of selling his child to a drunkard for the furthering of his own selfish ends.
Hugh Oliphant was left behind in town to forget Catherine as he best could, but not being a mild young man, declined to acquiesce in this infamous arrangement which, if carried through, would rob him of his promised wife, and devote her to life-long misery. He came down to Seagate, and despite the keen eyes of Sir Algernon, managed to have some conversation with Catherine.
In this interview he represented that she owed nothing to so selfish a parent and would assuredly be forced to marry Carrant if she stayed, therefore, he proposed that she should fly with him. It required but little persuasion to gain Catherine’s consent to this course, for she was herself heartily sick of her heartless father and debauched lover. To the joy of Oliphant she agreed to elope with him, and he made all preparations for flight, but, on the very eve of fulfilment, their house of cards was knocked down by the hand of Fate.
On the 16th of May they arranged to get married in London. On the 14th of May the obstacle to their union was removed by the death of Rudolph Carrant. Under these circumstances Catherine judged it best to wait, and if possible, persuade her father into a more reasonable frame of mind. Hugh consented to this course as there was no help for it, but he sorely grudged the postponement of the day which would turn Catherine Granville into Mrs. Hugh Oliphant. Sir Algernon was not to be trusted in any way.
After that untoward death of Carrant’s, the spirits of Sir Algernon fell to zero. He wanted money very badly, and it seemed hard to him to lose the big fish for which he so arduously angled. There was no one else to whom he could marry his daughter, yet he did not despair, and once more looked around for a wealthy and complaisant son-in-law. His daughter hinted at Oliphant, but Sir Algernon put his foot down on that with determination.
“Oliphant, indeed,” he said, angrily, “a beggarly younger son with a pauper’s income. I suppose he thinks because Carrant is dead that I’ll let you marry him. I’ll do no such thing. As you can’t marry poor Rudolph you must marry his cousin and heir-at-law, Cecil Halston.”
“What, that effeminate looking person,” cried Catherine, in dismay. “I shall do nothing of the sort, papa. I wish to marry a man like——”
“Like Oliphant, I suppose,” sneered her father. “You shall marry whom I choose, and that wretched Oliphant is not my choice. It is my duty as a father to look after your well-being, and I have decided that you shall marry Cecil Halston.”
“But I don’t love him.”
“That doesn’t matter. He can make good settlements.”
“But he doesn’t love me.”
“Well, perhaps he doesn’t love you yet,” said Sir Algernon, affably, “but he will do so soon. He told me that he admired you very much.”
With this prospect Catherine began to think she would ultimately be forced to revert to her old plan and fly with Hugh. But since Carrant’s funeral her father never let her out of his sight, and looked over all incoming and outgoing letters, so she was quite unable to either communicate with, or gain a sight of her lover.
Meanwhile Sir Algernon ingratiated himself with Halston, and gave his opinion regarding the death of Carrant. The heir was unwilling to take steps on so slender an assumption as robbery and was inclined to agree with the jury in the verdict ascribing the death to an accident. Nevertheless Sir Algernon was so certain that Carrant had met with foul play, that to quieten his scruples, Halston was forced to call in the aid of a detective. Hence his journey to London and his engagement of Dillock to find out the true cause of Rudolph Carrant’s death.
In his hints that Oliphant was mixed up in the crime, there was without doubt a suspicion of jealousy in the mind of Halston. He knew that Catherine loved Hugh and that Carrant stood in the way of their coming together, therefore he was by no means certain but that Oliphant might not have purposely killed his rival and so removed an obstacle from his path. These suspicions he imparted to Dillock, though he did so very unwillingly, as he had really no grounds for so base an accusation. What Dillock thought about the matter remains to be seen. He was not a man of many words, and valued his professional reputation too highly to commit himself to a rash opinion. On arriving at Seagate about three o’clock, Halston took the detective to his hotel, where they had something to eat, and then walked him along the parade to call on Sir Algernon Granville. The baronet’s house was at the extreme end of Seagate, so the detective and his companion had to walk the full length of the parade. Towards the termination of the asphalted walk, Halston touched Dillock on the arm.
“Do you see that fair man in the grey tweed suit?”
“Yes. Walking rapidly towards us. What about him?”
“That is Oliphant.”
“The man whom you suspect?”
“Don’t say that,” said Halston, angrily. “I don’t exactly suspect him. But this is the man who loves Miss Granville and who hated my unfortunate cousin.”
“Oh, indeed,” remarked Dillock, calmly, and kept his eye on the approaching figure.
Hugh was a handsome young fellow of thirty, with an open candid countenance. He was quietly dressed and wore no jewellery. With his shoulders well back he had the air of a soldier, and walked rapidly past Halston with a cold nod in answer to the stiff salutation of the latter. In that moment Dillock had rapidly taken in all the points of which he wished to be cognizant, and did not turn his head when Oliphant had passed them.
“Are you not going to look at him?” asked Halston in a vexed tone.
“I have looked,” responded Dillock, leisurely. “I saw him thoroughly.”
“He does not look like a man who would commit a base action.”
“It is to be hoped he is innocent,” said Halston, rather annoyed by this remark, “but things certainly look black against him.”
“I don’t see that, Mr. Halston. As yet we have no proof.”
“He has no doubt laid his plans excellently well,” said the other, with a sneer.
“Does he love Miss Granville very much?” asked Dillock, suddenly.
“Yes. Confound him!”
Dillock whistled. He saw now the reason why Halston was so bitter against the lover of Catherine. It was once more the inevitable woman.
“He’s jealous,” thought the detective, as they stopped before Sir Algernon’s house. “She must be a pretty girl, Miss Granville. Carrant, Oliphant, Halston, all in love with her. I hope she’ll be present during this interview.”
Unfortunately Dillock’s desire was not gratified. Only Sir Algernon was in the room when they entered. He was a fat little man with a perpetual simper, and a pair of shifty grey eyes that by no means ingratiated him with the detective. That individual was a keen reader of character and he disliked Sir Algernon the moment he set eyes on his face.
“It’s a bad face,” decided Dillock, as he acknowledged the baronet’s effusive greeting. “If the daughter is like the father, Carrant had a lucky escape even at the cost of his life.”
Sir Algernon made his visitors sit down, apologised for the non-appearance of his daughter, whom he said was lying down quite worn out with grief, and began at once to talk of the business which had brought Dillock to Seagate.
“Well, sir,” he said, rubbing his fat hands together, “and what do you think of this matter?”
“I can hardly form an opinion yet, Sir Algernon,” replied Dillock, coolly, “as I am not yet in possession of all the facts.”
“Didn’t Mr. Halston tell you?”
“I told him all I could,” interrupted Halston, “but of course my information is second hand. You tell your story, Sir Algernon.”
This was precisely what the baronet wanted. There was nothing he liked better than to hear himself talk. As an orator he was unsurpassable—in his own opinion.
“You are of course aware,” he said to Dillock, “that the late Mr. Carrant was engaged to my poor daughter, Miss Granville?”
“Yes. Mr. Halston informed me of that fact.”
“She feels the loss very deeply—very deeply indeed. Mr. Carrant was devotedly attached to her. He came down here at my request so as to be near her, and sometimes at night we played cards.”
“You were playing on the night of the fourteenth,” said Dillock, consulting his notes.
“We were. Not for high stakes. Oh dear no. But for just sufficient to add excitement to the game. I lost ten pounds and paid it to Mr. Carrant in a ten pound note.”
“Was anyone else playing?”
“No. My daughter had retired early with a bad headache and we were quite alone in the room. We merely played cards for a little distraction and I lost ten pounds. I gave Mr. Carrant a ten pound note as I have said, and he placed it in his pocket-book.”
“Have you the number of that note?”
“No. I regret to say that I have not. I am not a business man, my good sir,” said the baronet, lightly, “so did not trouble myself about such a small matter.”
“It won’t prove a small matter if I get the right number,” observed Dillock, grimly.
“Because you say Mr. Carrant placed that note in his pocket book.”
“Yes. In a shagreen pocket book with silver edges—also a silver crest and monogram. I admired the workmanship and examined the pocket book. Well?”
“Well,” repeated Dillock, calmly, “that book was in Mr. Carrant’s pocket when he left the house. It was not there when his body was found.”
“No. That’s true enough,” said Halston, approvingly.
“In the interval it must have been stolen. Now then,” said Dillock, raising his forefinger, “whomsoever stole that book probably murdered Mr. Carrant. He will try and get rid of the note—if I know the number I can nail him.”
“Dear! dear!” said Sir Algernon, much astonished at this view of the case, “what a pity I have not got the number.”
“Where did you get the note?”
“From my bank.”
“What is the name of your bank and what cheque did you draw?”
“The Liberty Bank; I drew a cheque for twenty pounds and sent it up to be cashed. They sent back two five pound and one ten pound note.”
“Good!” said Dillock, making a note. “I’ll get the numbers from your bank. Now one other question, Sir Algernon. Was Mr. Carrant sober when he left your house?”
“Well, not exactly,” hesitated Sir Algernon, glancing at Halston. “He was, I am afraid, a little elevated.”
“Not sufficient to make him fall over the cliff?”
“Oh, dear no! In fact, I wonder he went near the cliff at all. There was no necessity for him to do so. Along the road was his nearest way to the hotel.”
“You are well acquainted with the topography of this place, Sir Algernon,” said Dillock, rising, “so I think we will continue this conversation outside. I wish to see the place where Mr. Carrant is supposed to have fallen over.”
The baronet consented at once, and the three men went out to view the scene of the accident—or crime.
Seagate consists of a cluster of red-hued houses, built after a somewhat quaint fashion, which stand back some distance from the shore. Directly in front a garden with walks not unlike Devonshire lanes stretches the length of the sea front. On an equal level a gravelled path winds along, and below, at the foot of a steep bank, extends a broad asphalt parade verging on the ocean. At one end stands a many gabled house, at the other stretches a smooth green sward from the hedge which separates it from the road down to the white cliffs. It was at this point that Carrant met with his fatal accident.
The three men strolled down to the glass-box kind of erection which serves to keep the keen winds from invalid visitors, and stood on the edge of the cliffs looking towards Margate. In the bright sunshine they could see the pier running out to sea, the huddled mass of houses lying thick together on the hill after the fashion of San Remo, and high above all the square grey tower of the church. What with the sunshine, the blue water, the white cliffs and the gaily dressed throng on the parade the whole scene was eminently picturesque; but they had no time to admire the view. Hither they came to see the spot where Carrant met his death, and to find, if possible, some evidence of the crime. Leaving the glass shelter, Sir Algernon guided Halston and the detective along the coast-guard’s path.
“You see there is a notice warning people not to go beyond this low bank lest they fall over the cliff,” he said, pointing to a board. “Carrant, I presume, neglected that warning and so was doomed.”
“He could not very well read that notice at night,” objected Halston, ironically.
“No doubt, sir, but he frequently saw it during the day,” retorted Sir Algernon, in a rather heated tone. “I myself pointed it out to him.”
Here and there a chasm yawned inward from the sea, but was railed off by a stout fence so that no one with ordinary caution could possibly come to harm. At one portion the cliff ran out in a kind of platform and beyond this a kind of tall monolith stood alone and defiant. Between it and the cliff ran the currents when the tide was full, but now as they looked over the crumbling edge they saw but an expanse of evil smelling seaweed and greenish fungus.
“This is the place,” said Sir Algernon, pointing cheerfully downward with his stick. “The body was found between that pillar and the cliff. He was quite dead when discovered, as his neck had been broken by the fall.”
The baronet spoke calmly with no regret for the dead man. He sorrowed for him it is true, but merely in a selfish fashion as Carrant’s death had thwarted his aims. Now, with a prospect of marrying Halston to his daughter, Sir Algernon could afford to be cheerful and talk calmly of the tragedy. One son-in-law was the same as another to this model father, so long as he gained a large income. The egotistical old man gave no thought to his daughter’s feelings.
Perhaps Dillock, inured as he was to human selfishness, guessed this, for he turned away from his simpering guide with a look of disgust and examined the place carefully. How Rudolph Carrant had approached so near to the edge he could not conjecture, unless he had been led thither by his assassin, and then the latter must have given some powerful reason to have induced even a half-drunken man to place himself in so perilous a position. Therein lay the mystery of the crime. On viewing the spot, Dillock was quite convinced that Carrant’s fall was not the result of an accident. No man would have come so near the edge of the cliff, especially as the fact of the raised bank would have warned him of his dangerous proximity to the verge. Certainly Carrant, according to Granville’s evidence, was partially intoxicated, but even then he would not have been so foolhardy.
“Well, Mr. Dillock,” said Sir Algernon, impatiently, “do you think I am right?”
“I certainly think Carrant was murdered, if that’s what you mean,” said Dillock, looking around. “No man would be such a fool as to come beyond that path.”
“But even if someone was with him, how could he be induced to come?”
“Ah, that I don’t know, Mr. Halston, I have come here to find that out.”
Dillock knelt down on the coarse grass and looked over the edge of the cliff. The tide was out and he saw plainly where the body had lain. The margin whereon he rested was very loose and crumbly and he could easily understand how a man, standing on the extreme edge, could be pushed over before he had time to utter a cry.
While thus engaged he heard Sir Algernon utter an ejaculation of rage. Looking up in some surprise he saw the young man whom Halston had pointed out as Hugh Oliphant step over the bank and advance towards the baronet. Dillock rather congratulated himself on this unexpected meeting, as he wished to understand precisely the terms on which Oliphant stood with Catherine’s father.
“Sir Algernon,” said Hugh, looking very pale, “I must apologise for thus forcing my company on you, but I have called three times at your house and each time have been denied admission. You thus leave me no option but to speak to you when I have the opportunity—as now.”
The young man spoke in a perfectly quiet and courteous tone, but Sir Algernon’s smile had vanished and he looked very angry as he made answer:
“I really do not know why you thus intrude, sir. I have already intimated my desire that our acquaintance should cease. My daughter,” added the old man, pompously, “is of the same opinion.”
“That I can scarcely believe, Sir Algernon,” replied Oliphant, deliberately.
“You doubt me, sir?”
“I believe that your daughter loves me.”
The baronet looked apprehensively at Halston, who changed colour at this speech. If this sort of statement were to be permitted to go uncontradicted there would be a very good chance of the young man giving up any idea of courting Catherine. Sooner than this should occur, Sir Algernon sacrificed his dignity to his desire to keep Halston in leading strings.
“My daughter does not love you, Mr. Oliphant,” he said, with a faint attempt at dignity. “At one time I grant, there may have been something between you, but when she became engaged to Mr. Carrant her feelings underwent a change.”
Secure in his knowledge of the projected elopement, Oliphant merely smiled at this useless denial. Halston saw the look on his face and turned away with a muttered curse, while Dillock, lying full length on the grass with his nose over the cliff, apparently took no notice, but nevertheless did not lose a word of the dialogue.
“This place is hardly fitted to discuss such matters,” continued Sir Algernon, angry at the contempt expressed by Oliphant’s smile. “Pray, leave me, sir, and do not molest my daughter further.”
“Will you permit me to call at your house?”
“No, sir! Certainly not!”
“Then will you allow me to see Miss Granville?”
“No, I do not wish my daughter to have anything to do with you, Mr. Oliphant. She is grieving deeply for the death of her promised husband, and it is hardly the time for you to disturb her.”
“Very well, Sir Algernon. I have given you one warning, and the consequence of your ill-advised course must be on your own head.”
“Do you threaten me, sir?”
“I simply tell you that it is my intention to marry Miss Granville, with or without your consent.”
“You will not dare to do so.”
“I dare anything when you treat her and me so cruelly,” retorted Oliphant, coolly. “I regret having to speak to you in public, in the presence of these gentlemen, but the attitude you have taken up forces me to do so. Good day, sir.”
He took off his hat and walked away, leaving Sir Algernon white with suppressed fury. For a moment it looked as though he would burst out into a torrent of words, but a sense of shame restrained him from thus lowering his dignity before strangers. Halston was looking gloomily at the ground, and Dillock, now in a sitting position, was raking the coarse grass with his hand, more out of idleness than anything else.
“I am sorry we have been interrupted by that ill-bred young man,” said Sir Algernon, stiffly, “but now that he has departed let us resume our examination of this—What is the matter, sir?”
This last question was caused by a sudden ejaculation uttered by Dillock. He was looking at an object which he had just picked up out of the long grass.
“It’s a locket,” said Halston, bending down to look at it, “a locket on which is enamelled a monogram H.C.”
“H.C.” repeated Granville, aghast. “Hugh! Catherine! Why that locket must belong to my daughter or to Mr. Oliphant”
“It must be Oliphant,” said Halston, with a triumphant look in his eyes.
“He evidently dropped it here when he met my cousin and pushed him over the cliff.”
“Wait a moment, gentlemen,” remarked Dillock, now on his feet, “do not let us jump at conclusions. H and C may mean other names than Hugh and Catherine. It may not belong to Mr. Oliphant.”
“It certainly does not belong to my daughter,” said Sir Algernon, taking the locket from Dillock, “at least, I never saw it in her possession. Ah!” he added, sharply, as he touched a spring and the locket opened, “two portraits.”
“Miss Granville and Oliphant,” said Halston, who was looking over his shoulder.
There was a dead silence for a moment and the three men looked at one another. That this locket should be found on the very spot where the presumed struggle had taken place seemed to prove conclusively that Oliphant was guilty. That was if the locket were the property of Oliphant of which they were not certain.
“Ask Oliphant if it belongs to him,” said Halston, speaking for the three. Dillock acquiesced, and without saying a word, Sir Algernon walked over to the young man who had taken a seat not far away.
He seemed surprised when the baronet approached, and arose to his feet. A few words passed between them, and Oliphant making a gesture of surprise, walked swiftly across the grass to where Dillock stood still holding the locket open in his hand.
“You have found a locket,” said Oliphant, stopping short before the detective, “it belongs to me.”
“Is this your property?” exclaimed Dillock, unable to conceal his surprise at the frankness of the admission made by the young man.
“Yes! It is mine,” said Hugh, taking the locket. “See here are the letters of Miss Granville’s and my names intertwined. H for Hugh, C for Catherine. Miss Granville gave it to me.”
“Do you dare—” began Sir Algernon, when Dillock cut him short. There was a more important question to be discussed than the baronet’s offended dignity.
“How did this locket come here, Mr. Oliphant?” he asked, seriously.
“I don’t know. I cannot tell,” replied Hugh, frankly, then, catching sight of the expression on Halston’s face, he turned pale.
“Yes,” said Dillock, answering his unspoken question. “It was here that Mr. Carrant fell or was pushed over the cliff. This locket which you acknowledge to be your property is found here. What does it mean?”
“You don’t mean to say that you think I killed Carrant,” burst out Hugh, indignantly.
“It looks like it,” sneered Halston.
“Silence, sir,” cried Hugh, turning sharply on him. “I ask this gentleman, not you.”
“This gentleman,” said Sir Algernon, in a measured tone, “is a detective.”
“From Scotland Yard,” finished Dillock, looking keenly at the young man. “Now, sir, explain how this locket came here.”
“I cannot tell you,” said Hugh, in a faint voice. A sense of horror was slowly stealing over him as he saw in what a perilous position he had placed himself by his frank admission. “You knew Mr. Carrant was engaged to marry Miss Granville?”
“And you love Miss Granville yourself?”
“Naturally you looked upon Mr. Carrant as a rival and disliked him?”
“I hated him,” said Oliphant, with a dark look. “I hated him for insulting Catherine with his love. But why do you accuse me of murdering him. I understood he had fallen over the cliff.”
“So the jury said, so the world thought,” replied Dillock, still constituting himself spokesman, “but a pocketbook containing papers and money is missing from his possession. Consequently it is more than probable that he was robbed and thrown over the cliff.”
“But not by me—not by me? Why should I rob the man?”
“You might have done so as a blind,” said Halston, pointedly, “you admit that you hated Carrant, and now we find your locket here—the locket given to you by Miss Granville.”
“Can you explain this, Mr. Oliphant?” asked Dillock, in a stern tone.
Oliphant passed his hand across his brow. The abyss which had suddenly opened at his feet appalled him. He knew that Sir Algernon and Halston hated him, though he was unable to conceive the reason for the latter’s ill-concealed dislike. They would do all in their power to harm him, and a thousand trivial occurrences flashed across his brain, which might serve to weave the rope to hang him. He tottered with a momentary faintness and then drew himself up proudly to face his accusers.
“I can explain what I did with the locket,” he said, addressing himself to Dillock, “but I cannot tell how it came here.”
“Oh, of course,” sneered Halston, “I thought you would make that excuse.”
“At least, sir, permit me to defend myself,” said Oliphant, with great dignity. “My explanation can be substantiated by Miss Granville.”
“By my daughter!” cried Sir Algernon, furiously. “What has she to do with the matter?”
“Your daughter and I, Sir Algernon, arranged to elope together in order that she should not be forced into this marriage with Carrant.”
“Sir!” said the baronet, furiously, but calmed down as Dillock clutched him by the arm.
“Go on, sir,” he added, sarcastically, “let us hear your defence.”
“We were going to elope on the fifteenth,” said Hugh, quietly. “All had been arranged save the time she was to meet me. I could not send a letter for fear it should fall into your hands so I scratched the time on the back of that locket and sent it to Catherine by special messenger. Even had it fallen into your hands it would have told you nothing, therefore I adopted it as a means of communication in lieu of letter writing.”
“On the back of the locket are scratched three figures,” said Dillock, can you tell what they are?”
“Yes. The figures are 2-30, which means that she was to meet me for the half past two train.”
“That is correct,” replied Dillock, nodding his head.
“So you sent this locket to Miss Granville?”
“Yes, I did. The messenger I sent is at my hotel. He can prove my words.”
“Then how did the locket come here?”
“I haven’t the least idea,” said Hugh, quietly.
“Perhaps Miss Granville can tell,” suggested Dillock, wishing to aid the young man.
“Yes. She certainly can say if she received the locket.”
“Come, then,” said Dillock, turning to Sir Algernon, “let us go to your house and see Miss Granville. We will also send for the hotel messenger. The truth must be discovered.”
It must be confessed that Sir Algernon behaved very well at this juncture of affairs. Oliphant was no favourite of his, and on many occasions the baronet had insulted the young man grossly. Yet, much as he disliked him, he could not bring himself to believe that Oliphant was guilty of so base a crime. In spite of his pomposity and selfishness, there was a touch of good-breeding about Granville, and it came out strongly now that he discovered his enemy to be in danger of his life. As they left the cliffs, he spoke in a low voice to Hugh.
“Mr. Oliphant,” he said, seriously, “believe me, I am deeply sorry that this accusation should be brought against you. I am not prepossessed in your favour as you know, nevertheless, I do not believe you to be guilty of the crime laid to your charge.”
“I am obliged for your good opinion, Sir Algernon,” replied Hugh, astonished at this unexpected leniency of the baronet, “despite the fact that circumstances are against me, I hope to prove my innocence.”
“I shall do all in my power to help you.”
“In that case pray send to my hotel for the waiter who took the packet to Catherine on the fourteenth. His name is Whitson. Mr. Dillock,” he added, raising his voice, “have I your permission to send for the man by whom I forwarded the packet?”
“By all means, Mr. Oliphant. Call all witnesses likely to prove your innocence.”
Evidently the detective was well disposed towards Oliphant, and the young man felt grateful to him for his consideration. He hoped to clear himself of this charge if only to disappoint Halston, who was ill-disposed towards him. Why his attitude should be thus he could not conceive, as he had only met him once before, and had never to his knowledge done him any harm. Yet Halston disliked him and rejoiced that he was in danger of being arrested for the crime of murder. Either he was devoted to his cousin’s memory and wished to avenge his death, or he harboured some secret grudge against Oliphant. That Halston was an admirer of Catherine’s, Hugh was of course ignorant.
On their arrival at Sir Algernon’s house, the baronet at once despatched a messenger to the hotel for Whitson. Then, when they were all seated in his study, he requested his daughter to come down. Miss Granville, hearing from the servant that Hugh was with her father, felt very anxious as she thought that their projected slight had been discovered, and that there was likely to be trouble with her lover. Hastily adding a few touches to her toilette she obeyed Sir Algernon’s request and walked into the study.
Catherine Granville was a tall, handsome brunette, who carried herself in a very stately fashion. Though only twenty years of age she looked much older as her demeanour was so composed. Plainly dressed in black serge with white linen collar and cuffs, she entered the room in a hesitating manner. Her face was quite colourless, but flushed a rosy red when she beheld her lover. Without saying a word she walked towards him, despite the frown with which her father greeted this open exhibition of her preference. Indeed she would have kissed him boldly before them all but that a significant pressure of Hugh’s warned her that it beloved them to be on their guard.
“My dear Miss Granville,” said Oliphant, gravely, “your father has kindly permitted me to see you in the presence of these gentlemen in order that you may assist me to exculpate myself from a crime.”
“A crime,” repeated Catherine, in a bewildered fashion. “What do you mean?”
“I am accused of having murdered Rudolph Carrant.”
Catherine looked at him in a startled manner and appeared as though about to faint. Controlling herself with a powerful effort she burst into an angry laugh.
“Is this a jest?”
“It is no jest, Miss Granville,” said Dillock, smoothly. “Mr Oliphant is in danger of being arrested.”
“Who are you, sir?”
“My name is Dillock. I am a detective from Scotland Yard.”
“You are a detective?” repeated Catherine, turning pale with emotion, “and you have come here to arrest Mr. Oliphant?”
“Unless he can clear himself of the charge.”
“Who has dared to bring it against him? You, father? No! Not you! Even you would shrink from that,” she said, in so scornful a tone that Granville winced. After a pause she spoke again.
“Mr. Halston, are you Hugh’s accuser?”
“No. Why should I accuse Mr. Oliphant of so terrible a crime. I bear no ill-will towards him.”
“No one accuses me, Catherine,” said Hugh, quietly, “but on the spot where Carrant was murdered—”
“Murdered! This is news to me. I understood his death was the result of an accident.”
“No,” interposed Dillock, shaking his head, “he was murdered.”
“And by whom?”
“That is what I wish to find out.”
Catherine looked at him with a startled gaze, clasping her hands nervously together. Their eyes met and they stared steadily at one another for nearly a moment. She was the first to give way, and, dropping her eyes, addressed herself hastily to Hugh.
“You say Mr. Carrant was murdered and that you are accused of the crime. Yet you add that no one accuses you. What is the meaning of it all?”
“You know this locket?” said Hugh, taking it from Dillock.
“Yes. It is the locket I gave you last year.”
“Well! It was found on the spot where the struggle took place between Carrant and his assassin.”
“How did it get there?”
“I wish to discover how it got there,” he said, quietly. “On the fourteenth of this month I sent it to you.”
“Sent it to me,” she repeated, steadily. “Surely you are making some mistake. I never received it.”
“You are sure?”
“Quite sure. Had it been sent you may be certain I should have received it. Unless,” she added, turning round so as to face her father, “unless you stopped it coming to me, papa.”
“No, I did not,” replied Sir Algernon, decisively. “I never saw the locket before.”
“I certainly never received it,” said Catherine, passing her hand across her brow, “had I done so it would not have been discovered on the cliff. You were not on the cliff that night, were you?” she suddenly asked her lover.
“No,” replied Hugh, while Dillock pricked up his ears. “I did not leave my hotel after nine o’clock.”
“What time did you say Mr. Carrant left this house, Sir Algernon?” asked Dillock.
“A little after ten. I noted the time as the quarter struck just as he went out of the gate.”
“And you, Mr. Oliphant, did not leave your hotel after nine.”
“No. Whitson can prove that I stayed in.”
“Then you could not have seen Mr. Carrant on that night,” declared Catherine.
“I certainly did not. I saw him last at noon on the fourteenth.
“If this is so,” murmured Dillock, in a puzzled tone, “how did the locket come to be lost on the cliff. Can you give us any idea, Mr. Halston?”
“I!” said Halston, in astonishment, “certainly not. I was not in Seagate on the fourteenth. I was in Paris on that date and only returned in time to attend the funeral of my poor cousin.”
The whole affair was wrapt in mystery. If Hugh could prove an alibi, he certainly could not have lost the locket himself on the cliff. Yet someone must have taken it there perhaps to implicate him in the crime. But who would do such a dastardly act? Dillock was fairly puzzled, and sat nursing his chin in deep perplexity.
During the silence which ensued after the last remark of Halston, the door opened and Whitson entered. He had come at once to the house in response to Hugh’s message and stood waiting cap in hand to be addressed.
“Whitson,” said Hugh, quietly, “I wish you to answer this gentleman a few questions relative to my movements on the fourteenth.”
“Will you not examine him yourself, Oliphant,” said Sir Algernon, anxious that Hugh should have every opportunity of proving his innocence.
“No. I prefer that Mr. Dillock should do so. It will be more satisfactory to us both.”
“I will answer any questions you may ask, sir,” said Whitson, respectfully, addressing Dillock, of whose profession he was quite ignorant.
The ensuing conversation was entirely between the two men.
“Do you know this locket?” asked Dillock, holding it out.
“Yes, sir. It is the property of Mr. Oliphant.”
“When did you see it last?”
“On the fourteenth of this month. Mr. Oliphant called me up to his room and told me he wished me to deliver a packet at this house—a packet addressed to Miss Granville.”
“Yes. Go on.”
“I saw him wrap that locket up in a piece of paper, address it to Miss Granville, and then he handed it to me.”
“You are quite sure he then delivered this locket into your hand for transmission to Miss Granville?”
“Yes, sir.” I was looking at his actions the whole time.
“Well, and when he gave you the packet what did you do?”
“I came along to this house and according to my instructions tried to see Miss Granville, but she would not grant me an interview.”
“I was lying down with a bad headache,” interposed Catherine, promptly.
“Yes, miss, so the servant told me,” replied Whitson, respectfully. “Well, sir, as I could not see the lady, I gave the packet to the butler and told him to deliver it to her at once. Then I returned to the hotel and reported what I had done to Mr. Oliphant.”
“About what time was this?”
“Between eight and nine o’clock on the evening of the fourteenth.”
“Was Mr. Oliphant out when you returned?”
“No, sir. He was waiting for me on the verandah of the hotel. Then he went into the billiard room and played there till twelve o’clock.”
“He was in the whole time?”
“Yes, sir. I was marking, and he played with Mr. Scotson.”
“Scotson has gone back to town,” said Hugh, at this moment, “but he can prove that I was playing with him that evening.”
“This evidence is sufficient,” replied Dillock, with a grim smile. “Well, Whitson. What did Mr. Oliphant do when he stopped playing at twelve o’clock?”
“He went to bed.”
This evidence of Whitson proved conclusively that Hugh could have nothing to do with the crime. As he was not out of his hotel after nine o’clock he could not have been with Carrant on the cliffs at the time of the murder. Dillock was satisfied that Hugh was innocent, yet anxious to know how the locket had been found on the cliff, asked Sir Algernon to call his butler.
The man entered, looking rather pale. A rumour had spread through the house that Dillock was a detective and the butler felt nervous at being summoned so unexpectedly, the more so as he was quite unaware of what he was required for. No one as yet knew that Carrant had been murdered, and it was with considerable astonishment that the butler presented himself before the keen-eyed detective.
“Markham,” said Sir Algernon, addressing him kindly, “this gentleman wishes to ask you a few questions.”
“Yes, Sir Algernon,” replied Markham, bowing.
“This is the man to whom you delivered the packet,” said Dillock, turning to Whitson.
“Yes, sir. I gave in into the hands of Mr. Markham.”
“What packet?” asked Markham, apprehensively.
“The packet I delivered to you on the 14th to be given to Miss Granville.”
“Oh, yes, I remember that.”
“Did you deliver it as directed?” asked Dillock, sharply.
“No, sir, I did not. I placed it on the hall table, as just when I closed the door on Whitson the bell rang in the drawing-room. I came in to attend to Sir Algernon, and when I went back—”
“Well, sir?” said Dillock, seeing the man hesitate.
“The packet was gone!”
“Gone!” echoed everyone.
“Yes. I asked the servants if they had touched it but they said they had not, so as I was afraid of getting into trouble, I said nothing about it.”
“Your neglect to do so has placed me in a very dangerous position,” said Hugh, sternly.
“I hope not, sir,” said Markham, turning pale. “I swear it was as I say. I left the packet on the hall table and when I returned in ten minutes it was gone.”
“Did you suspect anyone of having taken it?”
“Well, sir,” said Markham, with some embarrassment, “I did think Mr. Carrant might have done so.”
“Carrant!” said Dillock, with lively interest. “Was he in the hall?”
“He was going down there, sir, as I entered the drawing-room.”
“Oh, yes, I remember that,” interposed Sir Algernon. “We were going to smoke and Carrant spoke of some fine cigars he had left in the pocket of his overcoat. He went down for the case when Markham answered the bell and returned with them to the smoking room in five minutes.”
“Did he say anything about the packet?”
“No. Not a word.”
“Yet he must have seen it there lying on the hall table,” said Dillock, in a perplexed tone.
“Of course he did,” observed Catherine, with feminine intuition. “It was he who took it. He knew I loved Hugh, and that papa had forbidden me to receive any letters or messages from him. Doubtless he recognised the writing on the packet and, thinking it was a message from Hugh to me, slipped it into his pocket.”
“In that case he would have spoken to Sir Algernon?”
“Perhaps he intended to do so,” said that gentleman, “and forgot all about it. We began playing cards directly he returned to the smoking room and I have no doubt he quite forgot the packet.”
“Why did you not ask Mr. Carrant if he had picked up the packet, Markham?”
“I intended to do so, sir, but next morning the poor gentleman was dead, so as it could do no good I held my tongue.”
“I think it is as you say, Miss Granville,” remarked Dillock, turning to Catherine. “Mr. Carrant recognised the writing and slipped the packet into his pocket intending to mention it to Sir Algernon. By the way, Mr. Oliphant, did he know your writing?”
“I am sure he did, I wrote him frequent letters telling him Miss Granville was engaged to me.”
“Then that is what took place, without a doubt,” said Dillock, decisively. “Actuated by jealousy he took the packet, forgot to speak about it to Sir Algernon, and when outside, suddenly recollected it. He might have opened the packet on the cliff when he was attacked and thus in the scuffle it fell on the grass.”
This certainly seemed to be the most feasible explanation and was readily accepted by all present. Sir Algernon shook hands with Hugh, almost the first time he had ever done so in his life,
“I congratulate you on having proved your innocence,” he said, in a hearty voice while Halston scowled at the favour thus shewn to his rival.
“Thank you very much, sir,” replied Hugh, returning his grasp warmly. “I am glad to have your good opinion. It is fortunate for me that I was able to show I had nothing to do with the murder.”
Catherine said nothing, but leading Hugh towards the door kissed him fervently, and left the room. Sir Algernon frowned as she did this and glanced at Halston. The young man was pale with fury. Dillock was thinking.
“We have proved your innocence, Mr. Oliphant,” he said, slowly, “but have not yet found the criminal. This is a more difficult case than I imagined it to be.”
After that episode of the locket Dillock felt somewhat perplexed. He could not see clearly ahead and was in doubt as to what would be the best course to pursue for the capture of this unknown criminal. Hugh had been proved innocent beyond all doubt therefore the suspicions of Halston were all wrong. No one so far as Dillock could learn had a grudge against the dead man, yet as his life had been evil there were grounds for thinking some of his profligate companions might have something to do with the crime.
After considering the questions, Dillock was half inclined to return to London and make himself acquainted with the past life of Carrant. There he might find the motive of the crime. Perhaps some of his scampish companions bore a secret hatred against the deceased, and had come down to Seagate to pay off the score by killing him. Yet after further thought Dillock abandoned this idea. He had his own suspicions as to who was guilty, but kept them strictly to himself, lest they might prove to be unfounded, and he would be blamed for being too hasty.
His principal reliance lay in the banknote which had been stolen. On learning from Sir Algernon that it had been obtained direct from the Liberty Bank, he sent a message to a brother detective, directing him to find out the number. This man, Jackson by name, had obtained this information, and, having transmitted it to Dillock, was now watching the bank to see when the note would be returned. Information had also been sent to the other banks, both London and Provincial, so Dillock, knowing the note would sooner or later pass into someone’s account, had great hopes of securing the criminal thereby. Jackson was a smart detective and Dillock knew he would do all in his power to help him, so easy on that score, he remained at Seagate to see if any further facts would turn up in connection with the crime.
After the finding of the locket, he made a thorough search both at the top and bottom of the cliff, with the idea that he might find some more evidence, but, notwithstanding the most minute examination, he was gratified with no further discoveries. His principal employment—if it could be called so, was sitting in the glass shelter at the end of the parade watching the spot from which the unhappy man had fallen.
Sometimes he paid a visit to Hugh with whom he had become very friendly. Oliphant spoke quite openly to the detective regarding his love for Catherine, as he was grateful to Dillock for having treated him so kindly while under suspicion. Sir Algernon was much more civil to the young man than formerly but still forbade him to visit the house or think of marrying Catherine. The admiration of Halston had become so unmistakable that the baronet cherished hopes that he would propose, and, knowing these hopes, Hugh became apprehensive lest Sir Algernon should force his daughter into the match against her will. These fears he confided to Dillock who consoled him to the best of his ability.
“Don’t you be afraid, Mr. Oliphant,” said the detective, sturdily, “she’ll never marry that fellow.”
“But if forced to do so by Sir Algernon?”
“Then run away with her as you intended to do before Carrant’s death. But I don’t think you need have any fear of Miss Granville. She may pretend to obey her father for the sake of peace, but from her looks I shouldn’t think she was the kind of young lady to be forced into a marriage against her will.”
“Not in an ordinary case,” said Hugh, with a sigh, “but she has some absurd ideas as to filial duties.”
“Considering the way in which her father neglected her it is strange that it should be so. Yet, if she has these ideas, why did she consent to thwart his plans regarding Carrant by eloping with you?”
“Because she detested the man.”
“I don’t wonder at it,” said Dillock, grimly, “from all I have heard of him he does not seem to have been a particularly engaging person. Nor do I think Mr. Halston is much better.”
“Both of them come of a bad stock. Yet Halston is certainly behaving well in pushing this inquiry about his cousin’s death.”
“He wouldn’t have done so but that Sir Algernon insisted. So long as he got the money Halston was quite content that his cousin’s death should be ascribed to—accident. All he furthers this inquiry for is to gratify Sir Algernon so that he may marry his daughter.”
“That he shall never do,” said Oliphant, emphatically. “She will elope with me before that takes place.”
“Unfortunately you told Sir Algernon that you contemplated that in the case of Carrant, therefore he’ll guard his daughter closer than ever.”
“Well, we’ll see,” responded Oliphant, with a smile. “I am quite content to wait, for Catherine will never marry anyone but me.”
“I wish you joy of your wooing, Mr. Oliphant. I hope you’ll be luckier in love than in this detective business.”
“What do you propose to do next?”
“I haven’t the least idea. I have been trying to find out if anyone saw Rudolph Carrant after he left Granville’s house.”
“Did anyone see him?”
“No. It was after ten and the respectable Seagate people had all retired into their houses. No one seems to have been out all night.”
“Except the coastguards.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” said Dillock, approvingly. “A coastguard would likely be walking along the cliffs by that path. The question is would he be near where the murder took place at that special time?”
“It’s improbable. Still you might enquire.”
“I’ll do so at once,” said Dillock, jumping up with great glee. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a coastguard had seen something. Chance has more to do with human life than people think.”
Taking a hasty leave of Hugh, the detective went off in search of his evidence. Frequently he had seen coastguards passing as he sat in the shelter but hitherto, strange to say, had not thought of asking them any question. Now, in accordance with the suggestion of Oliphant, he took his seat in the old place and kept a sharp look-out along the cliff. Meanwhile he considered what the chances were of his getting any information in this way bearing on the crime.
“These men are constantly on the alert,” he said, aloud, “and would be sharp to notice any suspicious characters. If they did not see Carrant himself they might at least have espied some tramp. After all I would not be surprised if this turned out to be a mere vulgar robbery. Some tramp saw a gentleman standing on the edge of the cliff, approached to rob him and in the struggle threw him over the cliff. Then he would descend and take away the pocket-book. If that is what has been done the note is bound to be changed sooner or later by the murderer. Then I’ll be able to lay my hands on him. It is either an ordinary crime of this sort or else—”
Mr. Dillock stopped short. He had another theory of which he was somewhat doubtful so did not care to utter his thoughts even to the empty air. There was no one in sight, yet he was on his guard and held his tongue. One never knew who might be lurking around and Mr. Dillock was a very cautious man. Just as he finished his soliloquy he saw a coastguard coming briskly along the path.
Dillock strolled towards him and speedily found himself face to face with a breezy-looking individual with a bright eye and ruddy countenance. He turned smartly as Dillock approached and politely offered his marine glass for the detective to observe a passing ship.
“It’s a fine boat,” said Dillock, gravely looking through the glass and returning it to its owner. “By the way, I’m a stranger here. Is it not near this place that a gentleman fell over the cliff?”
“Yes, sir, just over yonder. He came out for a stroll and by some chance got past the bank and fell over the cliff. There was an inquest held on the body and now he is buried. Poor Mr. Carrant.”
“Did you know him?
“As well as I know the nose on my face, sir. Why I spoke to him before he fell over that cliff.”
Dillock’s eye twinkled with delight. Not only was he in a fair way to obtain information concerning the crime, but he had chanced on the very man who had seen Carrant on that fatal night.
“Ah, indeed,” he said, with affected indifference, “and when was that?”
“About half-past ten, sir,” replied the coastguard. “He often used to speak to me and my mates when he was out for a breath of fresh air before going to bed. Many’s the half-crown he’s given me. A kind, liberal-hearted gentleman.”
This was evidently a hint, and Dillock profited thereby. Slipping five shillings into the horny palm of the mariner he waited for further information.
“Thankee, sir. Well, sir. On that night at half-past ten, or it may be a little later, Mr. Carrant comes up to me over yonder and he says—‘Have you seen a lady about here?’ ‘No, sir,’ says I. ‘There’s no lady about here at this time of the night.’ And with that he laughed and gave me half-a-crown. Then he went away.”
“In what direction?”
“To the left. In the opposite direction to the place where he fell over.”
“Was he sober?”
“Quite sober, sir, but very jolly. I expect he had had a glass or two, but nothing to speak of.”
“Well. When he went away what did you do?”
“I waited a bit to light my pipe in the glass shelter yonder, and then followed him at a distance along the path.”
“Was he on the path?”
“For a time, sir. And then he struck off towards one of those seats. A lady was sitting there, and as soon as she saw him she came towards him. I saw them meet, and then they walked back to the glass shelter, and I went on to attend to my duties.”
“Have you any idea who the lady was?”
“Not in the least, sir. But she couldn’t have been very respectable meeting a gentleman at that hour of the night.”
“Did you see them again?
“No. I came back there a few hours later and there was no one about. Yet, I daresay, sir, the poor gentleman fell over the cliff in the meantime and broke his neck. I might have seen him lying there had I looked over.”
“Why did you not tell all this at the inquest?”
“I wasn’t called as a witness, sir,” said the coastguard, in an amazed tone. “Besides he wasn’t murdered. He fell over by accident.”
“Ah, yes, of course,” replied Dillock, hastily, not wishing to raise his informant’s suspicions. “Quite right. A very interesting story. Good-day, my friend.”
“Good-day, sir,” said the coastguard. Then as Dillock walked away he added to himself. “Now, I wonder if there’s anything wrong about that chap. He’s been pumping me, and I’ve told him all I know—for five shillings. If I’d known he wanted to pump me I’d have asked ten.”
The information thus procured cost Dillock many an anxious thought. Could it be that a woman’s hand had thrust Carrant from the cliff. If so, who was the woman who had perilled her reputation by meeting this man of bad character at so late an hour and had crowned her folly by committing a crime. It might be that the papers referred to by Halston contained matters inimical to the fair fame of some woman, and she had adopted this desperate means of saving her reputation.
“If anyone knows about Carrant’s past life it will be Halston,” muttered Dillock, as he hurried towards that gentleman’s hotel. “He may know of some woman who hated Carrant and wished to rid herself of him. Yet it is inconceivable that a man engaged to Catherine Granville would be so mad as to meet another woman here. He might have guessed it would get to her ears and then she would have nothing more to say to him. Even her father would have broken off the match had he heard of so insulting a meeting. Who can the woman be?”
On arriving at the hotel he sent up his card to Halston and was at once conducted to the sitting-room of that gentleman. He found him lying on the sofa reading a French novel, but he sprang up when Dillock entered and advanced eagerly towards him.
“Have you discovered anything further?” he asked, anxiously, signing to Dillock to seat himself.
“Yes. I have discovered who was the companion of Carrant on that night.”
“Indeed. Who was it?”
“A woman. But I don’t know her name.”
“A woman!” repeated Halston, much bewildered. “Do you mean to say that a woman committed this crime?”
“Ah, that I cannot tell you, but it was a woman who met him near that place after he left Granville’s house.”
“Tell me all about it,” said Halston, eagerly, and seated himself close by Dillock so as not to lose a word of the discourse.
Thus adjured, Dillock narrated the story told to him by the coastguard and made frequent comments thereon. Halston listened in silence, and when the tale was ended sat staring at Dillock with much admiration.
“What a wonderful man you are,” he said, smiling, “it was a good idea to question the coastguard.”
“Nevertheless it was not my idea but Oliphant’s.”
“Oliphant!” repeated Halston, with a frown. “Oh, he suggested it, did he. Well, and what does he say to the information thus gained through his means?”
“I have not told him yet,” retorted Dillock, resenting the sneer. “I came first to you. What do you think of it?”
“What can I think of it save that my cousin was a scoundrel to be engaged to Catherine Granville and then to meet another woman in that underhand fashion.”
“Have you any idea who the woman can be?”
“Not in the least. I know that Rudolph was a profligate and was mixed up with queer people. But when he became engaged he promised to reform. It appears by your story that he was as bad as ever under the rose.”
“Might not some woman he knew in London have followed him down here?”
“It’s not improbable though I confess I do not see what reason any woman could have for doing so. Carrant was not a lovable man.
“She might have come down to get those papers.”
“What papers?” asked Halston, staring at the detective.
“The papers in the shagreen pocketbook which you said might have been the motive of the crime.”
“Yes, I remember; I did make that suggestion.”
“Have you any idea what those papers contained?”
“Not the slightest. Why do you ask?”
“Because they might have been letters jeopardizing the fair fame of a woman and she came down here to ask Carrant for them. Finding she could not get them by fair means she tried foul, so pushed him over the cliff and robbed him.”
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that were the case,” said Halston, coolly, “but how can you find this woman? Carrant loved so many that it will be like looking for a needle in a bundle of hay to seek this one.”
“Will you not help me?”
“Certainly, if I can, but I don’t see how I am to do so. I don’t know many of the ladies with whom Carrant was in love.”
“You know some?”
“Very well,” said Dillock, coolly, “then tell me if there is any special one whom you suspect.”
“I can’t do that right off,” replied Halston, with some hesitation, “but if you come and see me to-night I’ll do my best.”
“At what time?”
“About nine o’clock. I dine with the Granvilles but will come back to keep my appointment with you. Do you think this woman pushed Rudolph over the cliff?”
“I can’t say for certain,” said the detective, in a vexed tone. “I had quite another theory as to the murder, but this discovery has knocked it on the head. This is a queerer case than either you or I imagine, Mr. Halston.”
A week after that interview Dillock was still at Seagate. He learned nothing new from Halston regarding Carrant’s past life. To all appearance, the dead man had been a scoundrel and a profligate of the worst kind. His name mentioned with that of a woman however blameless she might be, was sufficient to sully her fair fame. When Halston revealed all he knew of Carrant’s past to Dillock, the detective wondered that Sir Algernon could think of giving his daughter to so iniquitous a villain.
“And he must have known Carrant’s record,” thought Dillock. “There are always plenty of scoundrels in the world to blight the fair fame of either man or woman.”
All this talk and conference led to nothing. Carrant had behaved badly to so many women that it was impossible to pick out any special one who would have committed the crime. Plenty of them had been wronged sufficiently to desire vengeance on the man who had betrayed them, yet it was a matter of great difficulty to name any particular woman who would have taken the law into her own hands. Dillock did not attempt to do this. He judged it best to wait until chance or Jackson placed the pocket-book in his hands. When he gained possession of that, when he learned what those papers contained, then he might be able to run his prey to earth.
“Yet, after all,” he said, disconsolately, there is but little chance of my getting that pocket-book. If the woman to whom those papers were valuable committed the crime she must have destroyed them. She would certainly do her best to reap the reward of her terrible deed by destroying the evidence which she had sacrificed so much to obtain. As to the ten-pound note, I daresay she threw that into the fire so as to obliterate every trace likely to connect her with Rudolph Carrant’s murder.”
As a matter of fact Dillock was beginning to weary of his sojourn at Seagate. Notwithstanding all his efforts, he was quite unable to obtain fresh evidence, and had serious thoughts of going to town and investigating Carrant’s past life on the chance of finding something likely to throw some light on the subject, when he received a letter from his coadjutor Jackson which made him change his mind.
“I have traced the note,” ran the letter, “and have captured the man who stole the pocket-book from Carrant after his death.”
Dillock shook his head over this sentence. If the coastguard’s evidence were true it was a woman who committed the crime. Yet Jackson hinted that a man was guilty of the murder, and asserted that he had him safe under lock and key. Could it be the man, in whose possession the note was found, had confessed his crime. If this were so then Dillock felt he was quite at sea.
He read the letter again. It went on to say that the writer would bring the man and the pocket-book to Seagate, there to show both to Dillock. “You will be surprised to hear who actually killed Carrant,” continued the letter, “and I fancy rather sorry.”
This also puzzled Dillock. He certainly did not see why he should be sorry that the murderer of Carrant was captured. Jackson’s letter irritated him by its very mystery. First it suggested that the captured man had committed the crime, then finished by stating that Dillock would be astonished when he heard who had killed Carrant. After several vain efforts to solve the mystery the detective gave it up in despair, and anxiously awaited the arrival of Jackson with the man about whom there were so many doubts.
The day after he received that letter, Jackson came down to Seagate escorting a truculent-looking man in charge of a policeman in plain clothes. A beetle-browed scoundrel of the tramp order who looked like a galley slave, and who saluted Dillock with a ferocious scowl. As advised by letter the detective had a carriage waiting for Jackson and his charge, and into this they bundled the tramp and themselves. During the short drive to the hotel, Jackson was anything but communicative.
“I’ll tell you from the beginning,” he said, in answer to Dillock’s questions, “wait till we are in your private rooms.”
“But why did you bring this man down here?” said Dillock, “it is most irregular. You should have wired me to come up to town.”
“I brought him down on purpose. It is necessary that all the people interested in the death of Carrant should be brought face to face with him. Now then Dillock, who are the people who are interested in this crime?”
“Four,” responded Dillock, promptly. “Sir Algernon, because he hoped his daughter would marry Carrant. Miss Granville, because she wished to escape from such a wretch. Mr. Oliphant, because he was Carrant’s rival; and Mr. Halston, because he is the dead man’s cousin and wishes to avenge his death.”
“Then you must ask all those people to call at your hotel this afternoon at—say three o’clock.”
“I can ask three. Sir Algernon, Miss Granville and Oliphant, but Mr. Halston went up to town yesterday and is not expected back till to-morrow night.”
“Well, we can do without him,” said Jackson, as he alighted. “Come, my man, get down. You needn’t look so tired as you have another railway journey before you to-night.”
“What, are you going back again?” asked Dillock.
“By the seven-thirty train. I have to lodge this scoundrel in gaol.”
“Lodge me in gaol, will you,” raged the tramp, with a few curses. “Didn’t you bring me down here to tell the truth and promise to let me go if I did.”
“I didn’t promise that, my friend,” remonstrated Jackson, sharply. “Here, Mitchell, you can watch him here while Mr. Dillock and myself go into the next room. I’ll ring when I want you to bring him in.”
The policeman placed the tramp in a chair and took up his position beside him much to his disgust. “A land of liberty,” said the tramp, indignantly, “and this is the way a gentleman is dragged about.”
Jackson laughed and went into the inner room with Dillock. When the door was closed, the latter, unable to restrain his impatience any longer, burst out in rapid speech.
“Upon my word, Jackson, this is a nice way to treat me,” he said, indignantly. “I’m just on tenterhooks to know the truth and you won’t tell me.”
“I’ll tell now, Dillock,” said the other, smiling. “We’ve worked in a good many queer cases together but this is the queerest of all. A nice job I had to trace that note.”
“How did you manage it?”
“I sent word to all the banks that a note bearing a certain number would be presented sooner or later. In due time, I got notice that it was paid into a branch of the Hibernian Bank at Whitechapel. I went down there and found the man who presented it was a Jew. He swore that he got it from a tallyman, so I went to him. In his turn he informed me that it had been given in payment of some clothes by the gentleman outside. His name is Levine—so he says.”
“But Levine didn’t buy ten pounds’ worth of clothes?”
“No. He bought the clothes he has on and took the change of the ten pound note. He also left the suit and hat he was wearing in the tally shop. Then he went to knock down the change of the note. I found him drunk in a low shanty in Whitechapel, and when he was sober got the truth out of him.”
“What did he say?” asked Dillock, eagerly.
“A good many things that were not true, but when I told him he might swing for the murder of Carrant, he came out with what I truly believe is the truth. At least, it is backed up by evidence like this.”
To illustrate the remark, Jackson placed on the table a straw hat, much tattered, and the shagreen pocket-book which had been stolen. Dillock laid his hand on the latter with an ejaculation of delight, and was about to open it when Jackson restrained him.
“Wait a minute, mate,” he said, rapidly, “that pocket-book comes on later in the tale. Listen to the tramp’s story first.”
“Go on,” said Dillock, laying down the pocket-book reluctantly. “I am all attention.”
“Levine was at one time a flash book-maker,” began Jackson, “though you would not think so now to look at him. He did fairly well for a time but ultimately took to welshing, which finished him off as regards the turf. Then he went from bad to worse till he ended in tramping the country and begging. It is a pity, as the man is fairly well educated and speaks decent English.”
“He looks a perfect ruffian,” declared Dillock, impatiently, “just the kind of man who would commit a murder.”
Jackson smiled and Dillock resented the smile. “I don’t say Levine committed this murder,” he said, resentfully, “but he’ll do one yet or I’m no reader of a man’s face. That scamp’s a born criminal.”
“He got his hand very well in as regards this robbery,” said Jackson, drily, “especially considering he is an amateur.”
“Oh, so it was he who robbed Carrant.”
“Yes. But he did not murder him. According to his story, he was on a begging tour and struck Seagate in May as likely to be full of soft-hearted people. It appears, however, that he did very bad business and was reduced to sleeping out on the night of the fourteenth of May. When all the people left the parade, which they did early, he made himself comfortable in that glass shelter.”
“That’s queer,” interrupted Dillock. “A coastguard lit his pipe there and yet did not see him.”
“Perhaps he got under the seat when the coastguard was there,” replied Jackson. “At all events he managed to escape detection as he was not anxious to be turned away from so comfortable a shelter. While he was lying there and wishing he had a pipe and a screw of tobacco—his own words, Dillock—he heard the sound of voices and, cautiously looking through the glass, saw two figures approaching—a man and a woman. The man was Rudolph Carrant—”
“And the woman?” questioned Dillock, breathlessly.
“I’ll tell you that later on,” replied Jackson, provokingly. “The contents of this pocket-book will tell you her name. Well, to continue Levine’s story. The couple came close to him and he heard the woman imploring the man to give her some papers. What these were of course he did not know, but she seemed very anxious about them. At length she lost her temper and ran to the edge of the cliff with the evident intention of throwing herself over.”
“Oh!” murmured Dillock, with raised eyebrows, “I see now how Carrant was inveigled over the bank.”
“Carrant followed the woman,” continued Jackson, taking no notice of this interruption, “and managed to get between her and the cliff. He was so near that the least touch would have sent him over. I wonder he did not see his danger.”
“He had liquor aboard,” explained Dillock, “and was in a foolhardy condition.”
“Evidently, or he would not have placed himself at such a disadvantage with an enraged woman.”
“Did Levine see her face?”
“No. She wore a thick veil. It was not quite dark you must remember—and he could see Carrant and the woman comparatively plainly as they were so near to where he was hiding.”
“Well, go on. Don’t keep me in suspense.”
“While they stood in this position, Carrant being between the woman and the cliff, Levine saw him produce a pocket-book and flourish it in the woman’s face. She made a snatch and seized it. In doing so, Carrant, forgetting he was so near the verge, slipped back and with a cry fell over.”
“Then she did not deliberately push him over?”
“No. According to Levine’s account it happened in that way. More of an accident than a murder.”
“And what did the woman do?”
“She appeared to be terrified and dropped the pocket-book. It fell over the cliff also and she threw herself down to see where it had gone. Of course there was nothing but darkness below. For some minutes she remained looking over the edge, and then, rising to her feet walked swiftly away.”
“Down to pick up the pocket-book I suppose?”
“Precisely. The tide was out so there was no difficulty in getting round the rocks.”
“How would she know the spot where Carrant’s body was lying?”
“By means of an isolated pillar which stands out from the cliff. Carrant fell between that and the cliff. There was no difficulty about that.”
“Well. She went down to find the body?”
“The pocket-book, rather. Wished to gain the reward of her crime no doubt. I must say she was an uncommonly plucky woman to dare so much. Levine followed her cautiously down to the parade and across the rocks. He hid himself behind the pillar and watched her as he best could in the gloom. She examined Carrant’s body, and evidently finding he was dead, hunted for the pocket-book. Notwithstanding all her efforts she was unable to find it, and in despair, desisting from her efforts, she cleared out.”
“And all this time she never saw Levine?”
“No. He was too clever at hiding himself. When she left he emerged from behind the pillar and in his turn examined the body. Carrant, he says, was quite dead, having broken his neck in the fall. Having assured himself of this fact he looked for the pocket-book. The woman could not find it because of the darkness, but Levine had a scrap of candle in his pocket and some matches. Lighting this he searched carefully and found the book.”
“Where was it?”
“Caught in a cleft of the cliff a little way over the body. That is why the woman could not find it. She looked on the ground, but it never struck her to examine the cliff.”
“I suppose not,” said Dillock, grimly. “I wonder she had the courage to do what she did. Her nerves must have been pretty strong. Well, when Levine found the pocket-book why did he not go up to town and give the alarm?”
“Because he was afraid of being accused of the murder,” replied Jackson. “I don’t wonder he feared that. A tramp in possession of a man’s pocket-book, and the man lying dead at the foot of a dangerous cliff, looks suspicious. Levine had not a clean past, so if he had told his story it might not have been believed and he might have been arrested for the murder.”
“I suppose it is only natural that he should look after his own skin,” said the other, philosophically, “but if he did not give the alarm he certainly took the pocket-book.”
“He did! Carrant was dead and he could not help him. Had he been alive I think Levine would have gone for assistance, for then Carrant could have told the truth about the woman. As it was, Levine thought discretion the better part of valour, and made off with the pocket-book. When he got to a safe place he examined it.”
“What did he find?”
“Some loose gold and silver—a ten pound note and a few papers. Among them a letter.”
“Yes. A letter written by the woman who met Carrant on the cliffs. A letter making the appointment for half-past ten on the fourteenth of May.”
“Is the letter in here?” asked Dillock, laying his hand on the pocket-book.
“Yes. But wait a moment before you look at it. I wish to finish Levine’s story. He walked to Margate during the night and with the loose silver procured a breakfast in the morning. Then he took the first train to town, lived on the gold for some time, and ultimately changed the ten pound note which led to his detection.”
“Did he hear of the inquest?”
“Yes. He looked in the papers for that. When he saw that the death was ascribed to accident, and nothing was said about the pocket-book, he thought himself safe, and changed the note. So this is his story. What do you think of it?”
“It sounds true,” said Dillock, picking up the pocket-book, “especially as the contents of this pocket-book bear him out. Where is the letter?”
“Here you are,” replied Jackson, taking it from the book and spreading it out before Dillock.
It was a letter written to Carrant, requesting him to be at the end of the parade near the glass shelter at half-past ten, as the writer wished to see him particularly. It was signed Catherine Granville.
“Catherine Granville,” repeated Dillock, in a startled voice. “She to whom he was engaged.”
“Yes. She is the woman who caused his death. It was Catherine Granville, and none other.”
After that discovery Dillock remained silent for a moment or so out of sheer astonishment. That the woman who was with Carrant on that fatal night should turn out to be Catherine Granville was almost incredible. There was certainly nothing in her speech or demeanour likely to lead to such a belief, and yet he could not disbelieve the evidence before him. Here was a letter written by her in which she invited Carrant to meet her at the very spot where he had fallen over the cliff. The evidence of the coastguard and the tramp proved conclusively that she had kept the appointment.
“And yet,” said Dillock, recovering from his bewilderment, “I cannot believe it. She had no motive to commit such a crime.”
Jackson shrugged his shoulders. He was quite convinced of Catherine’s guilt and did not like his word to be doubted.
“She hated Carrant, and was being forced into the marriage against her will,” he said, pointedly. “You told me so in the last letter you wrote me. I think that a sufficiently strong motive for her to desire his death.”
“I don’t,” retorted Dillock, promptly, “particularly when she did not intend to marry Carrant.”
“Her father insisted upon the marriage taking place.”
“True enough. But Miss Granville made up her mind to disobey her father and elope with Oliphant. If so, why should she depart from this arrangement to commit a useless crime. There is no sense in such a supposition.”
“She may not have killed him to get out of the marriage but—”
“In any case she did not kill him,” interrupted Dillock sharply, “according to the evidence of Levine, it was an accident.”
“Well, granted it was so, and putting the marriage out of the question,” said Jackson, impatiently, “you admit Miss Granville met Carrant on that night.”
“It looks like it.”
“Then she met him for the purpose of obtaining certain papers. They were in that pocket-book and when she snatched it from Carrant he fell over the cliff.”
“I admit all that.”
“Then her motive for seeing Carrant that night must be contained in that pocket-book.”
Dillock picked up the shagreen case and balanced it lightly in his hand. He looked thoughtful.
“I don’t see why Miss Granville should meet Carrant on the cliff when she could have seen him in her father’s house.”
“Perhaps she did not want her father to know of the meeting,” suggested Jackson.
“We are not certain of that.”
“You don’t seem to be certain of anything, Dillock.”
The detective brought down his fist on the table. A sudden idea had entered his brain.
“I don’t believe it was Miss Granville at all.”
“What about that letter in her own hand-writing?”
“It may be a forgery.”
“A forgery,” repeated Jackson, much astonished. “Who would take the trouble to forge a letter like that or who would be capable of doing so.”
“I don’t know but I’ll soon find out if it’s genuine or not.”
Dillock thereupon rang the bell, and when a waiter appeared, asked if Mr. Oliphant was in the hotel.
“Yes, sir,” said the man. “He is sitting on the verandah.”
“Give him my compliments, and ask him to come up here.”
When the man left the room, Dillock turned to Jackson.
“When Mr. Oliphant comes,” he said, coldly, “I shall ask him if that letter is genuine. If it is, we will seek Miss Granville and request an explanation of her movements on that night.”
“And if it is a forgery?”
“In that case I’ll follow up the theory I have had all along,” said Dillock, opening the pocket-book.
“What is your theory?”
“I’ll take a lesson from you, Jackson, and hold my tongue till I have everything all cut and dried. Then I’ll tell you, and it will be your turn to be astonished.”
Jackson showed plainly that he did not like this reticence. The fact was these detectives were rivals in an unacknowledged fashion. They worked together amicably enough, but one always tried to out-do the other, and show that he was the smarter of the two. This system of competition was good for business as both put their souls into the work and consequently performed wonders with the cases given into their charge. Dillock had been instructed to look after the Seagate case, and had deputed Jackson to look after the town part of it. Hitherto he had been the luckier and had discovered the most important facts. Naturally he showed his partner that he considered himself head of the firm. This self-glorification Dillock resented, and was prepared to do anything to get back his lost influence. He had a theory, but the discovery of the sex of the supposed criminal upset that theory. Nevertheless he was not going to acknowledge this to Jackson, so merely hinted that he would explain his theory at the right time. Jackson resented this but as he was being paid back in his own coin, sulkily acquiesced in Dillock’s determination.
“Just as you please,” he said, with an affectation of carelessness, “but whatever theory you may have formed you can’t go against facts.”
“That it was Catherine Granville who met Carrant in order to recover certain papers. The letter speaks for itself.”
“We’ll hear what Mr. Oliphant has to say about the letter,” said Dillock, drawing his chair up to the table. “Meanwhile let me examine the contents of the pocket-book.”
It contained nothing but some visiting cards, the letter of Catherine which Dillock asserted to be forged and a cheque drawn on the bank of Hibernia by Carrant made payable to Cecil Halston. So far, Dillock felt disappointed. The signature to this latter was scratched out, and it was punched with three holes. This showed that it had been duly honoured. If so, what was it doing in Carrant’s pocket-book?
For a brief moment Dillock considered this matter and then dismissed it as trivial. It had no connection with the meeting of Catherine and Carrant, always presuming such meeting had taken place—and he wanted to find out what possible reason she could have for writing the letter.
“There’s nothing here to show her motive,” he said, closing the pocketbook with an angry snap, “and yet you say Levine heard her asking Carrant for certain papers.”
“She did, and moreover snatched the pocket-bock from Carrant which indirectly led to the catastrophe. His flourishing it and her snatching it showed that the papers referred to were in that pocketbook.”
“They are certainly not here now,” said Dillock, in a vexed tone. “Do you think Levine stole them?”
“No. He used the money because it was of use to him. The papers, whatever they were, would have been of no value.”
“Call him in.”
Jackson opened the door and nodded to Mitchell, who thereupon marched the tramp into the room. The latter looked sulky and gave expression to his bad temper.
“How much longer is this sort of thing going on,” he growled. “I’ve told you all I know so why not let me go. There’s the pocket-book—there’s the hat. What more do you want. The money? Well it’s all spent and I haven’t got a penny. You can’t get blood out of a stone, so let me go.”
“Ah, the hat,” exclaimed Dillock, taking no notice of the latter part of this speech. “I forgot all about the hat. Is it yours?” he added, sharply, turning to Levine.
“Yes. I gave it to the tally-man with my old clothes. He,” pointing to Jackson, “got it from him and brought it down here.”
“I should rather think I did,” said Jackson, triumphantly, “seeing it is Miss Granville’s.”
“Do you mean to say that is Miss Granville’s hat,” asked Dillock, in astonishment.
“I don’t know her name,” retorted Levine, but it’s the hat that the young woman who was on the cliff lost. I hadn’t one of my own so it being a straw and suiting either a man or a woman I wore it until I sold it to the tally-man.”
Dillock picked up the hat with a frown. It seemed to confirm the guilt of Catherine Granville, and he winced under the triumphant glance darted at him by Jackson.
“Black straw,” said Dillock, “black straw with a blue ribbon with white spots. A kind of sailor hat such as ladies wear at the sea-side. How do you know it is Miss Granville’s,” he asked Jackson, sharply.
“Why. The wind blew it off her head while she was searching for the pocket-book and Levine picked it up. You can’t have better proof than that.”
“I am satisfied that this hat belonged to the woman who met Carrant,” retorted Dillock, “but I’m not satisfied that she was Miss Granville.”
“Then ask her yourself,” said Jackson, much nettled.
“I intend to; and if she denies that it is hers I’ll go to the shop where it was bought. See!” said Dillock, pointing to the inside of the hat, “it was purchased from Abraham & Co’s., Outfitters, of Oxford Street. And it’s a new hat,” he added, nodding his head with a satisfied air.
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“Never you mind, Jackson, I’ll tell you when the shop-keeper informs me of the name of the person who bought it. And that name,” continued Dillock, impressively, “won’t be Catherine Granville.”
“When are you going to let me go?” broke in Levine, impatiently.
“When your evidence is no longer necessary,” retorted Dillock, silencing Jackson by a gesture. “Look here Levine, or whatever your name is. What about this pocket-book?”
“I picked it up at the foot of the cliff.”
“What did it then contain?”
“A letter, some visiting cards, a cheque for two hundred pounds with the name scratched out and a ten pound note and three sovereigns in gold and eighteen shillings in silver.”
“Was that all?”
“Yes. I spent the money but the rest of the things are there as you see them.”
“Were there no other papers?”
“No. I’m blest if there were,” said Levine, staring blankly at his questioner. “I swear that there was nothing more but what you see there, barring the money which I spent.”
“I can’t understand it at all,” muttered Dillock, in a perplexed tone. “There is nothing here to connect Catherine Granville with the crime—”
“It wasn’t a crime,” interrupted Levine, “he fell over by accident.”
“Keep your evidence until it is asked for,” said the detective, angrily. He was beginning to lose his temper. For the life of him he could not see the reason why Catherine wished for this pocket-book.
Turning towards Levine he eyed him sternly.
“Now listen to me, my man,” he said, tapping the book. “This matter is very serious and you may get into trouble if you keep back any part of the truth.”
“I am telling the truth.”
“Will you swear that with the exception of the money the contents of this pocket-book are as you found them?”
“Yes. I’ll take my oath on the Bible that I’ve touched nothing but the money.”
The man was evidently in earnest, therefore Dillock was unwillingly forced to believe in him. With such lack of evidence to implicate Catherine Granville he began to be more hopeful of proving her innocence. After all she might not have met Carrant on that night. The letter was the sole evidence against her—very strong evidence it is true, yet it might be forged. It was doubtless an extreme view to take of the matter especially for Dillock who was an unusually suspicious man, but he could not bring himself to credit Catherine with such base conduct.
At this moment of his cogitations Hugh briskly entered the room. He looked quite happy as he had just concluded a stolen interview with Catherine on the parade. She told him that her father having lost Carrant was now trying to make her encourage Halston whose attentions were becoming very marked. On hearing this Hugh had seized the golden opportunity, and proposed that they should revert to their former intention and elope. After some persuasion Catherine had consented, as it seemed to be the only way of escaping Halston’s odious attentions, and filled with joy Hugh parted from her to make all necessary arrangements. He intended to see Dillock and tell him of his intention as he knew the detective was his firm friend. Hearing he was engaged he waited on the verandah of the hotel when the waiter delivered the message. He just paused for five minutes to write a letter to his banker to send him some money and then walked upstairs to see Dillock.
“Well, Dillock,” he said, gaily, glancing at the other two, “what is the matter now? Nothing wrong I hope,” added he, noting the grave face of the detective, “is it trouble?”
“It is and it is not,” replied Dillock, ambiguously. “Do you know whose writing this is, Mr. Oliphant?”
Hugh took up the letter with secret alarm and glanced at it without making himself master of the contents.
“It is Miss Granville’s,” he said, frankly, without a moment’s hesitation. “How did it come into your possession?”
“It was in this pocket-book,” interposed Jackson.
“That pocket-book. Whose is it?”
“Rudolph Carrant’s,” said Dillock, gravely.
“Rudolph Carrant’s,” repeated Hugh, in a shocked voice, snatching up the letter which he had laid down on the table. “A letter to Rudolph Carrant.”
There was an absolute silence while Hugh read the letter. As he did so his face grew pale and he bit his lip hard. In two minutes he laid the letter down again and looked at Dillock with a bloodless face.
“What does it mean?”
“It means that Miss Granville was with Carrant on the fourteenth of May at half past ten o’clock.”
The remark was made by Jackson and Oliphant without a word turned to look at him.
“She made the appointment and kept it,” continued Jackson, triumphantly.
Oliphant put his hand up to his throat as though he felt a choking sensation, and looked at Dillock.
The detective shook his head with a pitying smile.
“If that letter is in the handwriting of Miss Granville, I am afraid she met Carrant, as my friend says.”
“It’s a lie!” cried Oliphant, finding his voice for the first time. “It’s a foul lie! Who dares to say such a thing?”
“I do for one,” declared Jackson, insolently.
“Who are you?”
“He is a brother detective of mine, Mr. Oliphant,” said Dillock, quickly. “It was he who found the pocket-book on that man,” he added, pointing to Levine.
“And who is that man?”
“I’m the man who saw the lady meet Mr. Carrant when he went over the cliff.”
“Great Heavens, don’t say she murdered him!”
“I don’t say so,” growled Levine, casting down his eyes. “I only say she met him and he fell over the cliff by accident.”
“Even that is something,” muttered Hugh under his breath, “but it can’t be true. I tell you, Dillock, it is an infernal lie. Miss Granville went to bed early that night with a bad headache. Besides, why should she make an appointment with Mr. Carrant?”
“That’s just what I wish to find out,” said Dillock, impatiently. “It appears that this man, Levine, overheard her asking for some papers which were in this pocket-book. She snatched the pocket-book from him and afterwards lost it. Levine found it and says all the contents are intact with the exception of some money, but I cannot find any letters or papers likely to be of use to Miss Granville.”
“You surely don’t believe that she met this man?”
“I must,” said Dillock, pointing to the letter. “With that evidence I can do nothing else.”
Hugh covered his face with his hands and turned away with a groan. If this hitherto staunch friend turned on them, then indeed there might be some ground for believing this horrible story to be true.
“I think the best way would be to show the letter to Miss Granville and ask for an explanation,” suggested Jackson.
“Yes! Yes!” cried Oliphant, seizing Dillock by the arm. “You come with me and we will go at once to Miss Granville. These two men can stay here.”
“I don’t mind in the least,” said Jackson.
“I’m sure I hope the young lady will be able to clear herself. Take the hat also, Dillock.”
Dillock nodded and picked up the straw hat and pocket-book off the table. Then without a word he took Oliphant’s arm and led him out of the room.
On the way to Sir Algernon’s house Oliphant remained silent. This reticence rather astonished Dillock, who quite expected to be closely questioned by the young man. The fact is Hugh was afraid to ask further questions, lest Dillock should prove beyond doubt that Catherine was guilty. While he could, he wished to cling to the belief that she was innocent and could explain away the damning evidence of the letter. Dillock, guessing this desperate loyalty, respected his silence, and the pair walked side by side to their destination without exchanging a word.
When they arrived, the servant said that Sir Algernon was out but that Miss Granville was in the drawing room. Hugh sent up his name and was at once requested to walk up. They ascended the stairs rapidly and presented themselves before Miss Granville, who came eagerly forward to meet her lover. She looked pale and worn, but that might have been caused by the intense heat of the day.
“I am so glad to see you, Hugh,” she said, taking his hand with a fond smile. “Are you—Mr. Dillock,” she added, catching sight of the detective.
“Yes,” answered Hugh, hastily, leading her to a seat. “He has come with me, Catherine, to ask you a few questions.”
“I know nothing about Mr. Carrant,” she answered, sharply, “he was always hateful to me. I can give Mr. Dillock no information on the subject.”
Dillock opened his mouth to reply, when he caught sight of a photograph on an adjacent table. It was a portrait of Halston—an admirable representation of his smooth delicate countenance. A few words and his signature were scribbled thereon.
“Mr. Halston’s portrait, I see,” said Dillock, carelessly, picking it up.
“Yes. He gave it to my father yesterday,” replied Miss Granville, coolly.
“He is no favourite of yours, Miss Granville.”
“I hate him. A smooth-tongued piece of treachery.”
“You speak strongly.”
“No more strongly than Halston deserves,” said Hugh, suddenly. “He pesters Miss Granville with his attentions when she has shown him plainly that she does not want to have anything to do with him.”
Catherine frowned. She did not like her affairs to be discussed before a stranger, especially when that stranger was a detective. Touching Hugh’s hand to intimate silence, she turned towards Dillock and addressed herself directly to him.
“Mr. Oliphant says you wish to ask me some questions concerning Mr. Carrant.”
“Not exactly about Mr. Carrant,” replied Dillock, coming towards her in a leisurely manner, “but about this letter.”
The detective handed it to her without a word, and with some astonishment she read it slowly from beginning to end. At its conclusion she looked up with a flushed face and an indignant look in her eyes.
“What does this mean?” she demanded, looking from one man to the other.
“I have come to ask you that, Miss Granville. What does your letter mean?”
“It is not my letter.”
“Not your letter,” repeated Dillock, while Hugh uttered an ejaculation of delight, “but it is in your hand-writing, it is signed with your name.”
“It is not mine,” declared Miss Granville, earnestly. “I never wrote a letter to Mr. Carrant in my life. This,” tapping the paper, “is an impudent forgery.”
“I knew it. I knew it,” cried Oliphant, unable to repress his joy.
“A forgery,” repeated Dillock, slowly. “Ah! indeed, a forgery.”
He was evidently thinking of something, for he stared at Catherine with a far-away look in his eyes. “You are sure it’s a forgery,” he added, abruptly.
“Of course it is. It is not my writing. I don’t use this kind of note paper and I certainly should not have written to Mr. Carrant making an appointment on the cliff at half past ten—”
“On the fourteenth of May,” finished Dillock, significantly.
“The fourteenth of May,” she said, turning paler than ever. “Why, that is the night—the hour when Mr. Carrant met with his death. And this letter purporting to be written by me, seems to show that I was there when he was murdered.”
“It shows all that, Miss Granville.”
“Do you accuse me of this murder—do you—oh Hugh—Hugh. Say that you don’t believe this infamous lie.”
“No, No. I don’t believe it in the least,” said Hugh, taking her in his arms. “I quite believe that the letter is forged.”
“I swear it is. But who forged it. Who dared to make use of my name in this way?”
“We don’t know—yet.”
“Where did you find this letter?”
“In the pocket-book of Carrant.”
“That pocket-book mentioned by my father?”
Catherine passed her hand across her brow in a bewildered fashion. Catching sight of Oliphant’s perturbed countenance, she drew herself up with a proud gesture.
“I am not going to faint, Hugh. Tell me all about this letter and you will see how I shall repel this calumny.” She sat down on the sofa beside Oliphant and placed her hand within his. Dillock took a seat near them and told Levine’s story in as few words as possible. Catherine listened to every word, her face growing pale with horror as he proceeded. Before he ended she sprang to her feet and paced to and fro in an agitated manner. Neither of the men dared to make a remark.
“Oh it is infamous—infamous,” she muttered, angrily. “Who could have forged that letter? I have no enemies that I know of.”
“Whoever forged that letter must know your hand-writing well,” said Hugh.
“Very many people know my handwriting.”
“There is no one whom you suspect?” asked Dillock, thoughtfully.
“No one,” she answered, quickly, “if I did suspect anyone it would have to be a woman—according to your own showing. It was a woman who met Mr. Carrant and no doubt she also forged the letter. For what purpose I cannot conjecture. Why did she implicate me in the matter?”
“Levine said the woman asked Carrant for some papers.”
“Well. Are there any papers in that pocket-book likely to throw light on the subject?”
“No. Only a few visiting cards, a cheque and that letter.”
Miss Granville picked up the letter and looked at it in silence.
“I can easily understand that Mr. Carrant thought this letter came from me,” she said at length. “He was not well acquainted with my hand-writing and could easily mistake this bad imitation as my penmanship. But what I cannot understand,” she added, with great emphasis, “is why he should believe I desired to make such a ridiculous appointment. I could see him here every day without meeting him at night on the cliff.”
“He did not see you on that night?”
“No. I went to bed with a bad headache.”
“Had you really a headache?” questioned Dillock, looking at her, “or was it only an excuse?”
“Partly one, partly the other. Hugh arranged about our elopement in all ways save the time. I expected to hear from him—”
“And I sent you the time on that locket—half past two.”
“Well, you know I did not receive that locket. Mr. Carrant stole it as we heard the other day. I was determined not to see him on that night as I was anxious about you and feared to betray myself. Therefore, making the excuse of a bad headache—and I really had a slight one—I retired to bed.”
“Did you stay in your bed-room all that evening?”
Catherine hesitated and looked apprehensively at Dillock. He saw and at once interpreted her meaning.
“You can trust me, Miss Granville,” he said, quickly. “I am a friend both to you and to Mr. Oliphant.”
“Did I not know you were our friend I should not make the confession I now intend to make,” she replied, in a low voice.
The two men looked at one another. What possible confession could she make in connection with the events of that fatal night. Catherine saw the look which passed between them, and smiled a trifle scornfully.
“Oh, I am not going to confess myself guilty,” she said, quickly, “but simply tell you that I was out on that night.”
“You left the house?”
“Yes, and at the time mentioned in that letter.”
“What motive had you for leaving the house at that strange hour?” asked Dillock, sharply.
“I wished to see Mr. Oliphant.”
“But I did not see you on that night,” said Hugh, in dismay. “I was playing billiards up till midnight, and then went to bed. I did not hear that you came to the hotel.”
“Nor did I.”
“Well, what did you do, Miss Granville?”
“As I told you I expected a communication from Mr. Oliphant respecting the time I was to meet him at the station. He sent it marked on the locket so as to elude the vigilance of my father. Unfortunately, as you are aware, I did not receive the locket owing to Mr. Carrant’s jealous suspicion. All the evening I waited for news and became so anxious about ten o’clock that I dressed and veiled myself with the intention of seeing Hugh at his hotel.”
“What a mad freak,” said Oliphant.
“It was mad but I was so excited that I hardly knew what I was doing. Shortly after ten I was assisted by my maid to slip out of the house by the back door. As I went on to the road I saw Mr. Carrant leave the house and depart in the opposite direction.”
“I went along to Hugh’s hotel—to the Magpie Hotel. On arriving outside the grounds I saw a number of gentlemen sitting in the verandah and became afraid lest I should be recognised. It seemed impossible for me to see Hugh quietly with so many people about so I abandoned my intentions and returned to the house.”
“At what time?”
“At a quarter to eleven.”
“Altogether you were out of the house about three quarters of an hour?”
“Did you see anyone with Mr. Carrant?”
“Did you return by the parade?”
“No. I walked along the road. If Mr. Carrant met anyone it must have been near the cliffs, so I did not see him.”
“Did I not know you to be innocent of this affair, Miss Granville, I should regard this confession as a very perilous one.”
“I know it!” replied Catherine, looking frankly at Dillock, “but you say you are my friend so I thought it best to tell all.”
“I am glad you did so. Have you made this confession to anyone else?”
“Do any of the servants know that you were out of the house on that night?”
“Only my maid. I can trust her to keep silent.”
“She does not connect your absence with Carrant,” asked Hugh, anxiously.
“No. It is supposed Mr. Carrant met his death by accident. No one knows anyone was with him at the time of his death. I myself did not know till you told me to-day that it was a woman.”
“I’d very much like to know who this woman was,” said Oliphant, grimly.
“How was she dressed?” asked Miss Granville.
“In some dark garments,” said Dillock, taking up the hat, “and with this on her head. It blew off when she was searching for the pocket book. It is not yours I suppose?”
“No. But I have one exactly like it.”
“Yes. But that is nothing. A hat of this colour and trimming is very common this season. Plenty of women are wearing them, especially at the seaside.”
Dillock whistled softly and examined the label on the inside crown.
“Abrahams & Co., of Oxford Street,” he said, meditatively. “I know those people. I’ll go up to town and have a talk with them. They will be able to tell me to whom they sold this article.”
“Then I’ll be able to lay my hand on the woman who indirectly caused the death of Carrant.”
“But she did not thrust him over the cliff.”
“That’s true enough. I don’t think she intended to kill him, though she might have done so in the end had she not secured the pocket book.”
“Why did she want the pocketbook?”
“I can’t tell you now,” said Dillock. “I have an idea about the matter. Wait till I see Abrahams and one or two other people.”
“I hope I have completely exculpated myself,” said Catherine, anxiously.
“Yes. I am quite sure you had nothing to do with this affair. As to that rash visit to the Magpie Hotel,” continued Dillock with scorn, “some detectives, on that evidence alone, might swear that you wrote the letter.”
“But I did not write it.”
“Ah! It is to your interest to deny it. But don’t be afraid Miss Granville. I’m quite satisfied of your innocence. It’s a good thing you have me to deal with. I can see an inch further than other people.”
“Do you suspect anyone?” asked Hugh.
“I’ll tell you all about it in two days. Mr. Carrant’s sins came home to him on the fourteenth. The motive of the crime—for crime it is morally speaking—is to be found in London. I go up there by the half-past seven train to-night.”
“Can I help you in any way?” asked Catherine.
For a moment or two Dillock reflected, and then looked up with a grim smile.
“Yes. I think you can. Give me two things. First that portrait of Halston.”
“Take it,” said Catherine, slipping it out of its frame, “but you surely don’t suspect him?”
“What would be the use of that seeing it was a woman who met Carrant.”
“Well here is the portrait. What else?”
“A letter of Mr. Carrant’s. Two letters.”
“I can give you half a dozen if you like,” said Catherine, going to the door, “he wrote me a great many letters which were not answered.”
When she left the room to bring the letters, Hugh laid his hand on Dillock’s arm and looked at him curiously.
“What have you in your mind, Dillock?”
“A good many things,” responded the detective. “Look here, Mr. Oliphant, I have had my suspicions all along of this affair. To-day those suspicions became certainty. I go to London tonight. When I return I’ll tell you something likely to cause you considerable astonishment.”
“Won’t you tell me now?”
“No, because I haven’t completely worked out my case. By the way did you know anything of Carrant’s life in town?”
“Not very much, but what I did know was by no means creditable.”
“That was to be expected. Well, I’ll tell you this much, Mr. Oliphant. In Mr. Carrant’s past life is to be found the reason for his death. If he hadn’t died by accident, he would have been murdered in any case.”
“By this woman?”
“Yes, by this woman.”
At this moment Miss Granville re-entered the room with a bundle of letters and put a stop to further conversation between them. She placed the packet in the hands of Dillock.
“There are six letters there,” she said, smiling. “The rest I destroyed. Does it matter much?”
“No. These are quite sufficient for my object.”
“You leave for town to-night?”
“By the seven thirty train. Let me see if I have all my proofs. Straw hat one, portrait two, pocket-book three, bundle of letters four. Four pieces of evidence which will turn this mystery inside out. I’ll catch this woman but—”
“But what, Mr. Dillock?” asked Catherine, seeing he hesitated.
“I won’t be able to arrest her. The death was accidental, so I’m taking a lot of trouble for nothing. Nevertheless I wish to thrash the matter out for my own satisfaction.”
“And for mine,” said Catherine, taking Hugh’s hand. “I’ll not consider myself free from suspicion till you find this woman.”
“I’m quite satisfied, dear,” replied Hugh, kissing her. “I never suspected you for a moment.”
Dillock left the lovers alone and walked smartly to his hotel. Here he found Jackson impatiently waiting his return.
“Well,” said the latter, quickly. “What does she say?”
“She denies that she wrote the letter or met Carrant on the cliffs.”
“I thought she would do that,” scoffed Jackson, who had made up his mind to Catherine’s guilt. “But what proof has she?”
“No proof is needed,” replied Dillock, sharply. “The girl is perfectly innocent, Jackson. Surely you can rely on my judgment in this matter.”
“Then, if she is innocent, who is guilty?”
“That’s precisely what I want to talk about. I am going up to town tonight.”
“No. I wish you to stay here. I’ll see to Levine.”
“Why do you wish me to stay?” grumbled Jackson, who by no means relished the prospect.
“Listen, Jackson. I’ll tell you my idea and you’ll soon see my reason.”
For the next hour the two detectives were in deep conversation. At the end of that time Jackson willingly consented to stay at Seagate and carry out the behests of his superior officer. More than that he manifested the deepest admiration for Dillock’s skill and cuteness.
He for one had never dreamed that the solution of the case could be at once so simple and extraordinary.
“I haven’t any proofs yet,” said Dillock, in answer to this remark, “but I hope to have them to-morrow. All you have to do is to carry out my plans and keep your weather eye open.”
“You can trust me,” replied Jackson, confidently, and so they parted.
On the way to town, Dillock was thinking what would be the best thing to do with Levine. For reasons of his own he did not want the story of the robbery to come out in open court. As the death of Carrant was accidental there was no chance of punishing the woman who inadvertently caused it. There was another little matter in connection with the case which might probably lead to legal proceedings but this had nothing to do with Levine. After some consideration Dillock decided that it would be best to have Levine detained as a vagrant until he was sure of his facts in connection with his theory. Then he would take advice and decide what was best to be done.
Levine grumbled a great deal at having to be locked up. He had told all he knew and wanted to be free, quite ignoring the fact that he was answerable to the law for the stolen money. Dillock succeeded in quieting him with a promise that he would do his best to get him out of his trouble, so Levine went off quietly enough with Mitchell. This little matter being thus disposed of, Dillock went to his lodgings to think over matters, and lay his plans for the morrow.
Next morning he had his hands full. In the first place he reported himself at Scotland Yard, and having fulfilled this necessary duty, went off to see about the cheque found in Carrant’s pocket-book. A friend of his, called Flaxton, was an expert in comparing handwriting and signatures, and had frequently been called as a witness in forgery cases. To him Dillock submitted the letters of Rudolph Carrant, the letter purporting to be written by Catherine Granville and the cheque. Also a genuine letter of Catherine’s which he had obtained from Oliphant.
“Here, Flaxton,” said Dillock, placing these before him. “I wish your opinion on these matters.”
“What is it you wish to know?” asked Flaxton, looking at the four articles.
“First if the signature R. Carrant, signed to that cheque is genuine. You can find that out by comparing the signatures to these letters. Those are all right as the man wrote them himself. I suspect the cheque to be a forgery.”
“But it is paid. The signature is scratched out and it is perforated with three holes.”
“I know it is paid. Nevertheless, I have my doubts about it.”
“Well, I’ll see,” said Flaxton. “What else?”
“See if the handwriting in the body of the cheque bears any resemblance to the letter signed Catherine Granville.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes, I think so, except that you might compare this letter with the rest of the writing and give me your opinion on the lot.”
And Dillock laid on the desk a letter he had received from Halston requesting him to meet him at the Victoria Station. Flaxton took up the papers and nodded.
“Call in and see me this afternoon at three,” he said, with a yawn. “I’ll be able to tell you all about them by that time.”
Satisfied that the business would receive thorough attention at the hands of so capable a man as Flaxton, the detective went off to attend to other matters. This time he drove to Abrahams & Co., of Oxford Street. It was a large shop and did a considerable trade in cheap goods. People with limited means purchased whole costumes at Abrahams’ at a very moderate price. Abrahams could supply everything from a Highland costume to a Parisian made dress—or if it was not exactly Parisian made it was called so, which was a sufficient recommendation in the eyes of Abrahams’ customers. Most of the costumes in which male and female trippers disported themselves at Margate came from the shop of Abrahams, so it can be easily seen that this emporium was widely known and extensively patronised.
Dillock sent in his card to the head of the establishment, who, fortunately, happened to be in at that moment. Abrahams, learning that his visitor was a detective from Scotland Yard, treated him with all courtesy. It was not the first time detectives had paid him a visit, as some of Mr. Abrahams’ customers were rather shady and frequently repaired to his shop for the purpose of buying disguises after particularly nefarious purposes. It was the first time Dillock had been there, but knowing he was a detective, Abrahams scented a criminal case at once. He was a hook-nosed man of a pronounced Jewish type and was very deferential in his manner.
“Good-day, sir. Good-day,” he said, when Dillock was shown into his private sanctum. “And what can I do for you my dear sir?”
“I wish to know if you recognise this straw hat?” replied Dillock, going straight to the point and placing the article in question before him.
“It is one of our hats,” said Abrahams, looking inside. “There is our mark.”
“Do you know to whom you sold it?”
“My dear sir, I can’t tell that,” replied Abrahams, with an expansive smile. “We sell many of these hats to ladies. It is now the sea-side season and a great many customers get their summer clothes in this place. You will see dozens of these hats at Margate.”
“The same colour—trimmed the same?”
“Precisely the same in all respects.”
“I have reason to believe that the person who bought this purchased an entire costume to match.”
“Not unlikely. Many of our customers buy complete costumes. It is quite a speciality with us. We sell them cheap.”
“Does any special costume go with this hat?”
“Blue serge trimmed with white braid. A very natty costume indeed.”
“Well, I wish to find out who bought a costume of that kind about the eleventh, twelfth or thirteenth of May.”
Abrahams bowed, smiled, and touched a bell, when a clerk entered.
“Ask Mr. Brine to have the goodness to step this way,” said Abrahams. Then, when the clerk disappeared, he turned to Dillock and explained. “The head of the sea-side department. If anyone is likely to know, it will be Brine.”
As he finished speaking, Mr. Brine entered. A tall pompous looking personage who looked far more like the owner of the establishment than did his master.
“Brine,” said Abrahams, impressively, “this gentleman wants to know if you sold one of our serge sea-side costumes on the eleventh, twelfth or thirteenth?”
“I sold four, sir,” replied Brine, after a moment’s thought. “Three were to ladies on the eleventh, and one to a gentleman on the twelfth.”
“To a gentleman,” said Dillock, trying to repress an exultant smile.
“A young gentleman, sir. Aged I should think about thirty.”
“Never mind about the gentleman, Brine,” said Abrahams, with a magnificent sweep of his hand, “it is about the ladies we wish to know.”
“On the contrary, I wish a full description of the gentleman.”
Abrahams was crushed and Brine smiled.
“He was a little under the middle height, sir,” he said, addressing himself directly to Dillock. “Clean shaven with dark hair and eyes. A very juvenile looking gentleman.”
“Like a girl,” suggested Dillock, artfully.
“Now you mention it, sir, he had a feminine cast of countenance He didn’t look as though he indulged much in field sports with that complexion.”
“Afraid of sunburn, probably,” said Dillock, dryly. “Why did he buy this costume?”
“He said he wanted it for his wife, sir.”
“Indeed. Why didn’t she come to try it on?”
“She was ill in bed so he said.”
“Ill in bed and going to the seaside. That doesn’t look like the truth. Now tell me, Mr. Brine, did he look like a gentleman who would buy a ready made costume for his wife?”
“No, he didn’t, sir.”
“Brine,” said Abrahams, in an awful voice, “the best in the land buy their clothes here.”
“I know that, sir,” replied Brine, deferentially, “but I should think this gentleman’s wife would be of the Bond Street sort.”
“Did he take the dress with him?”
“No, sir. He ordered it to be packed and sent to Victoria Station addressed to Mr. Percy, to be called for. I packed the things myself.”
“The dress and hat and veil and other articles of ladies’ toilet, sir.”
“Would you recognise this gentleman if you saw him again?”
“Easily, sir, he was very handsome and his delicate complexion attracted my attention.”
Dillock laid the portrait of Halston before the man. He recognised it at once.
“That’s him, sir. That’s the very gentleman. I’d swear to him anywhere.”
“Good! You may be called on to do so,” replied Dillock, putting the portrait back into his pocket. “I am much obliged to you, Mr. Abrahams, yourself and Mr. Brine have done me a very good service.”
“I trust there is no trouble over this,” said Abrahams, anxiously, escorting Dillock to the door.
“Oh, no, I don’t think so. In fact, I question very much whether you will hear of it again. It is merely a question of identification.”
“I hope it has been successful.”
“Very successful,” replied Dillock, and took his leave.
The detective walked away with a feeling of elation. He had been more fortunate than he expected and now saw a chance of solving the Seagate mystery. It was nearly one o’clock, and he went back to his lodgings for some luncheon. Before doing so, he entered a telegraph office and sent a wire to Jackson. It referred to the identity of the man who called himself Percy, and so curiously resembled Halston.
After luncheon Mr. Dillock waited about for half an hour or so and then walked to Flaxton’s office. He arrived before the appointed time but Flaxton had already done his work and was quite willing to receive him.
“Well, Mr. Dillock,” he said, rubbing his hands and pointing to the documents spread out on the table before him. “I’ve found out all you wished to know.”
“Am I right or wrong, Flaxton?”
“You are perfectly right. The cheque is a forged one. Though how it comes to be paid beats me. I must admit, however, that the signature is admirably imitated. He must be a clever man.”
“This Mr. Halston.”
“Do you mean to say he forged the cheque?”
“Aye! He forged the cheque and wrote this letter signed Catherine Granville. I’ll stake my professional reputation that it is so.”
“You may be mistaken.”
“No, I’m not. As I say the forgeries are excellent, but I can prove that they were all written by the same man.”
“Why, look here,” said Flaxton, pointing to the cheque. “This C in Cecil is similar to the C in Carrant. The ‘n’ in each name is not unlike. Then look at the body of the cheque. ‘Pay Cecil Halston.’ It is almost like his own signature.”
“Yes, I see all that, but the letter signed Catherine Granville.”
“It is distinctly a masculine handwriting though a very good imitation of a woman’s. The forger took more care over the cheque than over the letter.”
“He didn’t need to trouble so much about the letter. The man to whom it was sent was very imperfectly acquainted with the lady’s handwriting.”
“So I should think. It is difficult to tell the cheque forgery. I don’t wonder the bank officials were deceived. But the letter. See here is the C in Catherine the same as in Cecil and Carrant—also the ‘a’ in Halston and Granville are like one another. I am quite satisfied that the man who forged that cheque forged the letter, and his name is Cecil Halston.”
Dillock snapped his fingers in the fulness of his joy.
“Hurrah,” he said, smacking Flaxton on the back. “I’ve got him.”
“Yes. He is a clever rogue as you say but I’ve run him to earth. But the worst of it is I can’t nail him.”
“For the forgery?”
“And for a murder.”
“Yes. It really wasn’t a murder but an accident. He was morally responsible, but that goes for nothing in the eyes of the law.”
“What about the forgery?”
“Well, you see, the bank paid the cheque and won’t acknowledge themselves to be in the wrong. The man Carrant is dead and didn’t say anything in his lifetime likely to prove that he knew his name was forged. And finally the scamp Halston has come in for Carrant’s money. Now you see, I can’t nail him.”
“No. I’m afraid not. Unless he confesses.”
“If I bluff him he may do so in the presence of witnesses, but I can’t be sure. He’s a clever rogue.”
“You might catch him in a trap.”
“You may be sure I’ll do my best. I suspected him from the first but didn’t think I’d be able to bring it home to him. And the queer part about it is that it was he who engaged me to investigate the crime.”
“What a fool.”
“Well, it wasn’t his wish. There was a prospective father-in-law mixed up in the business who would have taken the matter up for himself if Halston had not done so. Therefore, of two evils, he chose the least and did it himself. I’ve no doubt he thought he’d throw me off the scent.”
“Not complimentary to you.”
“No. It wasn’t. However, I’m even with him.”
“It’s hard,” said Flaxton, reflectively, “very hard. To engage you to run him to earth and he didn’t know you could do it.”
“It’s the irony of fate,” laughed Dillock, as he took his departure, “he was working for his own ends and all the time was assisting me. The irony of fate.”
Dillock had now all necessary evidence to bring the crime home to Halston, yet the coincidences of the case were so peculiar that he did not know very well how to proceed, so went to Scotland Yard and laid the whole matter before the Commissioner. That gentleman was very much astonished by the recital, and confessed himself to be as much perplexed as Dillock.
“I really don’t know what to say,” he observed, “the man is morally guilty, but that goes for nothing. Levine can prove that the death was accidental, so he can get off on that score. Despite the evidence of Flaxton, the Bank won’t be foolish enough to admit that they paid a forged cheque. It would do them too much harm. I really don’t see what can be done.”
“If I get him to confess that the cheque was forged in the presence of witnesses?”
“Ah, yes. Then you might get the Public Prosecutor to take it up. But I don’t think you’ll manage to trap this gentleman. He seems too clever for that. However you can try. But if you get the better of him I shall be very much astonished.”
“So shall I,” was Dillock’s comment as he walked away.
That evening he received a telegram from Jackson, which added the last link to the chain of evidence. Quite satisfied that all was well Dillock went to bed and started next morning for Seagate.
Meanwhile unconscious of the storm about to break over his head, Halston returned to Seagate with the intention of asking Catherine to be his wife. It was true that his cousin had not long been dead, but Halston considered that no obstacle. Catherine had never intended to marry him so there was no necessity why she should mourn for his memory. The young man spoke to Sir Algernon on the subject and received that gentleman’s permission to broach the subject to Catherine.
“Though I must say it is rather soon after the death of Carrant,” he said, in a hesitating manner.
“I don’t think that matters, Sir Algernon. She never cared for him.”
“I question very much whether she cares for you,” retorted the baronet, angrily. “I admit that it is my desire that this match should take place, but Catherine is deeply in love with Hugh Oliphant.”
“He hasn’t a sixpence and I am well off. I think she’ll see the difference between us. Besides,” added Halston, taking a case out of his pocket, “I have bought her a diamond necklace. No woman can refuse a man who offers her such jewels.”
Sir Algernon cast a careless glance at the necklace glittering on its blue velvet cushion and shrugged his shoulders.
“Ask her, if you choose, Halston, but I am afraid you won’t get the answer you desire.”
Halston merely laughed in a triumphant fashion and went off to the drawing-room to bribe Catherine into matrimony with honeyed words and jewels. Sir Algernon remained in his study thinking over the matter. He was by no means so anxious in thwarting Catherine’s love for Oliphant as he had been. By a side wind he heard that an elderly relative of the young man was on the point of death and likely to leave him a large fortune. Under these circumstances, if his daughter wished to marry Oliphant he would let her do so. Sir Algernon felt quite virtuous as he made this concession.
“And after all,” he soliloquised, “she has two strings to her bow. If she marries either it will be a good match. But I rather suspect she’ll refuse Halston and marry Oliphant. I don’t care which she takes so long as they can allow me a decent income to live on.”
Decidedly Sir Algernon had an eye to the main chance in all matters touching his own comfort. His selfishness and egotism almost amounted to mania.
On entering the drawing-room Halston found Miss Granville reading a letter which she hastily put away on hearing his footstep. He guessed it was from his rival from the flush on her face, and smiled covertly to think how poor a chance had Oliphant beside his own. No woman in her senses would refuse a man who could give her diamonds. So Halston thought, and his experience of the sex was not small. But then he had not yet met a woman like Catherine Granville. She was superior to bribery in that way, but Halston, wise in his own conceit, did not know this.
She did not receive him very warmly. There was no man of her acquaintance for whom she had a greater dislike. With cold civility, she bade him welcome and mentioned that she had thought he was in London. No reception could have been more frigid.
“So I was till last night,” replied Halston, his native impudence never deserting him for a moment, “but came down by the last train. I particularly wished to see you.”
“To see me, Mr. Halston?”
“Yes. I wish to ask you a question.”
“Pray do not ask it,” she said, putting up her hand quickly.
“I must. You can guess what I wish to ask you.”
“Your manner is so unmistakable that I cannot help guessing it,” she returned, with rising anger. “I would much rather you were wise in time and did not ask me any question.”
“But I love you.”
Miss Granville smiled, coldly. She hated the man and was determined not to spare him.
“Rather a sudden growth of affection is it not, Mr. Halston?”
“No. I loved you from the day I saw you with my cousin a year ago. Then he was paying his addresses, and I, pauper as I was, had no chance. I went away to the Continent in the vain endeavour to live down my mad passion. Then I heard of Carrant’s death and came back.”
“Came back to propose to me within three weeks of your cousin’s death.”
“What does it matter?” he asked, defiantly. “You never loved him.”
“No. I did not love him. Still a certain sense of decency might have restrained you from this insult.”
“Is it an insult for a man to ask a woman to be his wife?”
“Yes. When that woman shows plainly that she dislikes him.”
“You don’t love me?”
“No. You know I only love one man in the world—Hugh Oliphant.”
“He is a pauper.”
“No matter. I love him.”
“It is mad folly for you to throw yourself away on this beggar,” he said, angrily. “I can give you wealth and happiness.”
“No, no. Not happiness. No man can give me that but Hugh.”
“If it be happiness to starve, I’ve no doubt he can give it you,” he sneered.
Catherine arose from her seat and walked across the room.
“If you came here to insult me—”
“I do not insult you,” he interrupted, eagerly. “Nothing is farther from my thoughts. I love you. I wish to make you my wife.”
“I refuse. I do not wish to marry you. No man but Hugh shall be my husband.”
“He is a pauper, I tell you,” Halston repeated, angrily. “He cannot give you wealth, he cannot give you jewels like these.”
He opened the case and thrust it into her hands. For one moment she looked at the glittering gems and then placed the case quietly on the table beside her.
“I refuse you and your jewels. I am not to be bribed. Did you come here thinking I would be false to the man I love for the sake of a few shining stones? Learn sir, that I esteem Hugh Oliphant more than you or your wealth. I love him. I hate and despise you.”
Halston caught her hands with a passionate gesture of entreaty. He was terribly in earnest.
“But listen! listen!” he reiterated, over and over again.
“No, no. Go away, Mr. Halston.
“Leave me! Leave me!”
She strove to draw her hands from his clasp, but he held them firm. At that moment the door opened and Sir Algernon entered the room. But not alone; behind him came Oliphant, Dillock and Jackson. One look at their faces told Halston all. His game was up. With a muttered curse he dropped Catherine’s hands and turned to face and beat down the danger which menaced him. The man was not wanting in courage and held his own bravely; game to the last.
“What is the matter, papa?” asked Catherine, somewhat amazed by this invasion.
“Matter,” repeated Sir Algernon, who was white with anger. “Yes, a great deal is the matter. That fellow,” pointing at Halston, “has been found out.”
“What do you mean by speaking of me in this fashion?” demanded Halston, trying to steady his voice.
“I shall leave the explanation to Mr. Dillock,” sneered the baronet, “though I daresay you can guess what is coming.”
Halston looked at the three stern faces bent so threateningly on his own, and then at Hugh who had crossed to Catherine and taken her hand. He tried to assume a nonchalant demeanour, and laughed uneasily.
“Well, Mr. Dillock, I am waiting for your promised explanation.”
“I shall be delighted to give it to you,” replied Dillock, smoothly. “Will you not be seated?”
“By all means,” said Halston, taking a chair. “Now the sooner you put an end to this ridiculous scene the better.”
“It may not end in a ridiculous fashion for you, Mr. Halston.”
“I’ll take my chance of that. Pray give me the promised explanation.”
“When you engaged me to find out who had killed your cousin—”
“He was not killed,” interrupted Halston. “It was an accident.”
“By so saying that you condemn yourself. I did not say it was an accident.”
“No. But the jury said so. However, go on and let me hear this precious story.”
“Very well. I won’t take up your time with preliminaries,” said Dillock, feeling nettled by this treatment. “I have merely to say that it was indirectly through you that Mr. Carrant met with his death.”
Catherine uttered an exclamation of horror and drew closer to her lover. Halston shrugged his shoulders and signed to Dillock to continue. The other three men listened to the dialogue silence.
“Your cousin was rich, and you poor,” said Dillock, rapidly, so as to give Halston no chance of interrupting again. “He helped you a great many times in your extravagance, and at last declined to assist you further. In desperation you forged his name to a cheque for two hundred pounds.”
“That’s a lie,” said Halston, quietly.
“It is not a lie. I have the evidence of an expert to prove that the cheque is a forgery. It was so well done, however, that Carrant’s bankers cashed it without suspicion. As you know Mr. Halston—and none better, your cousin was very careless over money matters. He did not know that two hundred had been drawn out of his account till the paid cheque was sent to him along with others in the due course of banking business. Instead of proclaiming it a forgery, he sent for you and told you that if you dared to come near him again he would prosecute you.”
“I had no such conversation with Carrant.”
“Yes, you had, sir. He knew that you were an unscrupulous scoundrel, and so, to protect himself, held the forged cheque in terrorism over you. Enraged at this, and not being certain what Carrant would do, you were anxious to get the cheque back. He carried it as you knew in his pocket-book. Then you laid your plans. Going over to Paris you wrote to Carrant from there to make him think you intended to stay abroad and then returned secretly to England. Being a good mimic, and knowing the affection Carrant had for Miss Granville, you determined to disguise yourself as her and persuade him to give you up the cheque.”
“Oh!” cried Catherine, at this point, “then it was he who wrote that letter in my name.”
“Yes. He applied his talents in handwriting to forge a letter, making an appointment and signed it Catherine Granville.”
“You villain!” cried Miss Granville.
“Lies! Lies! All lies!” muttered Halston, whose face was livid with rage.
“To disguise yourself as a woman was a clever stroke, Mr. Halston,” continued Dillock, with a sneer. “You thought by that to throw the law off the scent or entangle Miss Granville in difficulties.”
“I did not disguise myself as a woman.”
“Yes you did, sir. You went to Abrahams & Co. in Oxford Street, and bought a ready made serge costume complete, had it sent to Victoria addressed to Mr. Percy, and then came down to Seagate. Here, as Jackson discovered, you took lodgings for one night—the fourteenth of May—as Mr. Percy; sent your forged letter to Carrant at his hotel inviting him to meet the supposed Miss Granville on the cliffs, and then, disguising yourself as a woman, went to meet him.”
“A perfect farce this is,” laughed Halston. “How could I disguise myself as a woman?”
“Ah, you are clever at amateur theatricals, and the night being dark aided your enterprise. Carrant, being half drunk, never suspected the truth, particularly as you were veiled. You asked for the cheque—the paper you called it—and when he would not give it to you, threatened to throw yourself over the cliff. Carrant, not being very clear-headed, and thinking you were Miss Granville, got between you and the cliff. To pacify you he produced the pocket book containing the cheque, with the intention of giving it to you. You snatched it from him, and he, forgetting he was on the edge of the cliff, stepped back and fell over.”
“I know it was an accident otherwise I would arrest you for murder,” retorted Dillock, coolly, “yet for the moment you were afraid. The pocket-book slipped from your hands and fell over me cliff. Notwithstanding your fear you went down—not to see if Carrant still lived—but to find the pocket-book. You thought you were alone. You were watched.”
“Watched, said Halston, with a slight start.
“Yes. A tramp called Levine overheard your conversation with Carrant and saw the accident. He followed you down the cliff and when your hat fell off picked it up. By that hat I found Mr. Percy and Mr. Halston were one and the same person.”
Halston muttered something indistinctly and arose to his feet.
“Is there any more of this?” he asked, sullenly.
“Very little. You couldn’t find the pocket-book but Levine did after you left the spot. It is now in my possession with the forged cheque and forged letter.”
“I forged neither cheque nor letter and I defy you to prove that I did so.”
“The expert Flaxton—”
Halston snapped his fingers and sneered.
“That for the expert,” he said, insolently, “he can say the cheque is forged if he likes but I say it is not. Carrant gave it to me. I presented it at the bank and it was duly honoured. Who is to say it is forged. Not the bank officials. They will not admit themselves to be in the wrong. Not Carrant. He is dead. You can’t touch me for the forgery.”
“Ah, you then admit it to be a forgery,” said Dillock, quickly.
“No, I don’t, I only put a supposititious case. I say the cheque is a good one and I defy you to prove it otherwise. As to the death of Carrant—it was caused by an accident so you can’t arrest me for that. In fact, my dear Dillock,” he added, strolling towards the door, “I go quite clear.”
“But it was you who disguised yourself as a woman and stole the pocketbook. Why did you take all that trouble if the cheque was a good one?”
“I deny your story altogether. I am not in the habit of disguising myself. I could have seen Carrant without all that elaborate scheming. In fact, I say that your story is a pack of lies. I admit nothing and go free.”
Dillock was unable to say more and turned away with a look of anger on his face. The man whom he had unmasked and who denied everything stood at the door looking at them all with a derisive smile.
“I have to thank you gentlemen for the trouble you have taken to hang me, but you see I have escaped. Miss Granville, I congratulate you on your engagement to that pauper. The diamonds I’ll take with me, and you and he can starve together.”
Irritated by this last insult Hugh rushed forward and caught him by the throat. Forcing him outside the door he threw him down the stairs.
“There you scoundrel,” he shouted after him, “you have at least that punishment.”
Halston picked himself up with a curse, shook his fist at his rival, and left the house expeditiously. Later on he left England and no one regretted his departure.
When Hugh returned to the drawing-room, he found his hand warmly shaken by Sir Algernon.
“Thank you, thank you, my boy,” said the baronet, in a gratified tone. “I am glad you did that. The scoundrel. To think he might have married Catherine.”
“Well, he will not do so now,” said Hugh, smiling.
“No. No. You shall be her husband. I withdraw all objections.”
“My dear Sir Algernon—”
“Not a word—not a word. Poor as you are she shall be your wife. Catherine, my dear child,” leading Hugh to his daughter, “you can kiss your future husband.”
After that Sir Algernon turned away with the conviction that he had yielded very gracefully. Catherine and Hugh were quite overwhelmed by this magnanimity, and even when Hugh became rich he never forgot Sir Algernon’s kindness in letting him marry Catherine when he was poor. Of course he knew nothing about the baronet’s private information regarding the elderly relation’s fortune, so Sir Algernon, like many other people, gained a reputation which he by no means deserved. Meanwhile Dillock and Jackson looked ruefully at one another.
“We’ve caught our man,” said Dillock, with a sigh, “but can’t nab him. Oh, he is an artful one that Halston. And the worst of it is that it is he who was to pay me.”
“Never mind about that,” said Hugh, overhearing this remark. “I’ll be responsible for the debt.”
“Oh, thank you, sir,” said Dillock and Jackson together.
“No thanks,” replied Oliphant, laughing. For indirectly through your removing a dangerous rival I have gained my wife. But tell me, Dillock, when did you first suspect Halston?”
Dillock smiled and looked wise.
“I suspected him from the time he explained things in the railway carriage, sir. I saw that he was trying to put me off the scent and kept my eye on him. When I heard Levine’s story of a woman I was rather put out of my reckoning. Then it struck me he might have disguised himself as he was rather feminine in appearance. I was certain of this when I saw the cheque and the forged letter. Then the evidence of Abrahams proved that I was right. The rest was easy.”
“You found it out very skilfully.”
“I should like to have punished him,” said Dillock, regretfully, “but the queer part is, sir, that he was working against himself the whole time and didn’t know it. The irony of fate I call it.”
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