a treasure-trove of literature
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Title: The Sealed Message Author: Fergus Hume * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1800761h.html Language: English Date first posted: September 2018 Most recent update: September 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. - A Queer Fish
Chapter 2. - The Message
Chapter 3. - Fairyland
Chapter 4. - The Fairy Princess
Chapter 5. - Golden Hours
Chapter 6. - The Past Of Adonis Geary
Chapter 7. - Love
Chapter 8. - Legal Advice
Chapter 9. - Mrs. Crosbie
Chapter 10. - The Amulet
Chapter 11. - The Other Girl
Chapter 12. - A Wonderful Discovery
Chapter 13. - The Tables Turned
Chapter 14. - The Unexpected Happens
Chapter 15. - A Tragedy
Chapter 16. - The Dwarf “Schaibar”
Chapter 17. - “As In A Looking-Glass”
Chapter 18. - The First Marriage
Chapter 19. - Signor Venosta
Chapter 20. - A Dark Mystery
Chapter 21. - Major Rebb At Bay
Chapter 22. - A Confession
Chapter 23. - Tod’s Discovery
Chapter 24. - The Second Marriage
Chapter 25. - Geary’s Accusation
Chapter 26. - The Gods Are Just
It was a sultry July afternoon, and in the azure arch of the firmament flamed an unclouded sun. The corn was ripening to a rich yellow in some meadows, and the newly mown hay in others was being piled on lumbering wains by perspiring laborers. The red earth of the sunken lanes was caked, and their blossoming hedges were burnt up by the merciless heat. Under spreading foliage, or knee-deep in rapidly drying pools, stood weary cattle, switching lazy tails to brush away the teasing flies. Honey-bees, ostentatiously industrious, buzzed noisily from flower to flower, and the sleepy birds twittered faintly midst the grateful shade of leaves. The land was parched for want of rain, and the languid hours dragged on slowly to the wished-for evening. On some such day, long ago, must Elijah have sent his servant up the mount to watch for the growing of the small black cloud.
Only by the trout stream was the weather endurable, for the overhanging trees made the atmosphere of translucent green deliciously cool. Yet here and there spears of dazzling light pierced through the emerald twilight to smite the waters. These moved smoothly in amber floods between the grassy banks, and in places swirled pearly-white round moss-grown stones. The stream brawled over pebbles, gushed through granite rifts, and gloomed mysteriously in deep and silent pools, gleaming mirror-like under exposed tree trunks. May-flies dipped to the waters, swallows darted through the warm air, and kingfishers glanced here and there, each a flash of blue fire. And ever the river talked to the voiceless woods as it babbled seawards. From the woods came no reply, for the wind had died away, and the tongues of multitudinous leaves could no longer speak. Had they been able even to whisper, they surely would have rebuked the gay spirits of the two young men who had invaded their sacred solitude.
“This is simply ripping,” murmured one, who lay on his back with a battered Panama over his eyes, “we are doing ourselves up to the top hole, I don’t think. Heavenly, ain’t it?”
“It would be, if you did not chatter,” retorted the other, fixing a fly on his line; “why do you desecrate this beauty with slang?”
“Because I’m not a poet like you to spout blank verse.”
“There is a medium between mutilation of the language and pedantic usage thereof.”
“Huh!” with scorn, “who’s pedantic now?”
“My dear Tod, as a lawyer, you should use better English.”
“It is only a barrister who requires a superfine jaw,” retorted Tod elegantly, “and I’m only a solicitor of sorts. Don’t worry, Haskins.”
Aware of the futility of argument, the other man merely shrugged his square shoulders and threw a skilful line in a pool wherein lurked a famous wary trout. The fly fell lightly on the water, and would have deceived any fish but the trout in question. There was no response to his dilly-duck-come-and-be-killed invitation, and the angler made another cast with still less success as the fly hit the stream heavily, scaring the trout into retreat. Haskins said one word under his breath, but Tod overheard and giggled. That was exactly like Tod Macandrew: he had no sense of the fitness of things.
“Silly ass!” commented his friend savagely, spinning up the line, “you frighten the fish.”
“Not on to your hook, anyhow,” chuckled Tod into the depths of his hat, “what a sinfully bad angler you are, Jerry.”
“As bad an angler as you are a lover, perhaps,” snapped Gerald, throwing his rod on the grass and squatting to manufacture a cigarette.
Tod sat up abruptly with a wounded air. “I call that beastly: to taunt a chap, because a girl won’t bite.”
“Won’t kiss, you mean.”
“I’m taking an illustration from your infernal angling,” said Tod, with aggressive dignity. “If you were a lover yourself you would understand.”
“Oh, I understand well enough,” replied the other lightly: he paused to run his tongue along the tissue paper, then added calmly: “I was in love with Charity Bird myself, before you came along, Tod.”
“Well, now that I have come along, perhaps you’ll call her Miss Bird.”
“Right oh! Miss Bird in the hand is worth two—”
“There are not two,” interrupted Macandrew indignantly, “but only one schoolgirl cousin. As if,” cried Tod to the woods, “I would sell myself.”
Gerald Haskins cast a sly look on Tod’s ungraceful figure. “I see: you present yourself to Miss Bird as a desirable gift?”
“Well, she wouldn’t have you as a gift, anyhow, for all your Family Herald good looks, and halfpenny journal fame.”
“Notoriety, Tod, notoriety only. A volume of verse, a book of stories and a dozen of essays do not give me the right to class myself along with the immortals. I’m a failure at thirty, Tod—in my own eyes, I mean. Think of that, Tod, a failure at thirty.”
“Don’t chuck it,” advised Macandrew politely, “you may be a success at forty.”
“That won’t compensate me for coming grey hairs and inevitable wrinkles,” said the other bitterly, and smoked in dour silence.
Tod crossed his legs and held forth.
“Gerald Wentworth Julian Haskins,” he remarked solemnly, “all the fairies came to your nasty little cradle with gifts save the one who could have endowed you with gratitude. Consider your beastly good looks, and abominably healthy constitution, and silly popularity, not to speak of your undeserved five hundred a year private income, and take shame to yourself. Why with half your advantages I could marry Charity to-morrow.”
“H’m! The advantages you mention were practically offered to her, but she didn’t seem to desire possession. I expect she prefers the last representative of an ancient Scots family with an embarrassed estate, a reputation as a rising solicitor, and a heart of gold enshrined in an agreeable-looking body.”
“Agreeable-looking!” Words failed Tod, and he sprang up to wreath a strong arm round Gerald’s neck. Haskins remonstrated as well as he could for laughter, but was forced to the very verge of the bank. Here Tod made him look into the mirror of the still pool below. “Caliban and Ferdinand: Apollo and Vulcan: Count D’Orsay and John Wilkes,” growled Macandrew. “Look at this picture and at that, you blighter.”
Almost choking, for Tod was powerful and none too gentle in his grip, Gerald humored his friend sufficiently to stare into the water glass, thinking meanwhile of a near revenge. He saw his own handsome brown face with bronze-colored hair and mustache of the same hue, curling under a straight Greek nose, which divided two hazel eyes. He saw also Macandrew’s round, ruddy countenance, devoid of hair on chin and lips and cheeks, but haloed with crisp red curls, suggestive of his foxy nickname. Tod assuredly could not be called good-looking, with freckles and wide mouth and aquiline nose, proof of high descent. But so much good humor and genuine honesty gleamed from his sea-blue eyes that he did himself a gross injustice in undervaluing a most ingratiating appearance. Tod was Tod, when all was said and done; the best fellow in the world, and the most unnecessarily modest. But Haskins was not going to pander to Tod’s desire for compliments.
“You footling idiot,” he breathed, possessed by a spirit of mischief, “as if you weren’t worth a dozen of me. Talk about ingratitude—you shall be punished, my friend—thus!” and souse into the pool they went. When Tod got his breath again, after some spluttering, he used it to a bad purpose. Gerald, keeping himself afloat, watched the stout little man climb the bank dripping like an insane river god, and heard him excel himself in language which he could scarcely have used in court.
“I’ll pay you out for this,” swore Tod, hastily stripping off his wet flannels, and Haskins, fearing his righteous wrath, swam upstream, clothes and all, with light easy strokes, laughing until the woods rang.
“What about your confounded fish?” sang out Macandrew, when his apparel was drying in the hot sun, and he was sitting unashamed amid the grass. “You won’t catch any more.”
“I haven’t caught any as it is,” shouted Gerald, swimming back. “I want to come ashore. Pax, Toddy, Pax, you—you unclothed biped.”
“Wait till I get you here,” cried Tod, shaking his fist.
“He is not wise who ventures into the enemy’s camp,” quoth Haskins, and crossed to the opposite bank of the stream. Owing to the heat he had earlier shed all his clothing save a silk shirt and a pair of flannel trousers, so there was not much left to dry. In a few minutes he also was sitting in Adamic simplicity on the farther shore, imploring Tod to throw over a tobacco pouch and a pipe. But Tod wouldn’t: and smoked, chuckling, on his side of the stream, while Haskins remonstrated. “I’ll sleep then,” announced Gerald, seeing that his efforts to soften Macandrew were unavailing.
“No, don’t,” shouted Tod. “I want to talk about her.”
“Not a word, unless I get my smoke.”
“Here you are then,” and Macandrew threw across the necessary materials for the pipe of peace. “Now then!” he cried, and the woods rang with his cry. “What am I to do about Charity?”
“Marry her,” cried back Haskins, lighting his briar; and after that introduction the conversation resolved itself into high-pitched talking from bank to bank, while the stream rippled between. It was lucky that no one was within hearing—as the young men well knew—for Tod shouted out his dearest secrets to the wide world.
“How can I marry her?” bellowed Macandrew, lying on his stomach in the attitude of Caliban reflecting on Setebos. “She hasn’t any money, and I have very little also; there is the Dowager to be considered.”
The Dowager was Lady Euphemia Macandrew, Tod’s highly respected grandmother, who had looked after him since his parents had died. She wanted Tod to marry an heiress cousin, who was still at school, and Tod wished for his wife a charming dancer who was absolutely proper and extremely pretty. Consequently Tod and Lady Euphemia were fighting with all the ardor of their fiery race, and the domestic peace of the House of Macandrew was a thing of the past.
“You should consider the Dowager,” sang out Haskins, who knew and approved of the grim old lady, “she’s your grandmother.”
“No one denies that,” yelled Tod crossly, “talk sense!”
“Hear then the sense of Gerald, son of his father,” shouted the other in a high tenor. “Mrs. Pelham Odin, who is—as you know—the clever old actress who looks after Charity, won’t let you marry her, seeing that you have no money. Lady Euphemia is equally opposed to the match, because Charity is not born, as the French say. If you marry against the wishes of these two Mrs. Pelham Odin won’t leave Charity her savings, which must be considerable, and Lady Euphemia won’t speak either to you or to your wife. Isn’t this the case?”
“Ancient history—ancient history,” roared Macandrew, like an angry bull, “but your advice, Jerry?”
“Chuck Charity and marry your cousin,” said Haskins tersely.
“Then why waste my time in asking for advice which you have no notion of taking? Go on your own silly way, Tod, and don’t blame me if you tumble into a quagmire of troubles.”
“I believe you want to marry Charity yourself,” shouted Tod angrily.
“No I don’t,” cried Haskins, feeling if his garments were dry. “She is all that one can desire in the way of beauty: but I want something more than a picture-wife. Marriages are made in heaven, and Charity’s soul does not respond to mine.”
Tod rose sulkily and dressed himself. When clothed again he took up the discarded rod to try his luck. “I love her,” he boomed, and cast his fly with the air of a man who has brought forward an unanswerable argument. Perhaps he had, for Macandrew was as obstinate as a battery-mule.
Seeing that Tod’s attention was taken up with a peaceful sport which precluded retaliation for the late ducking, Gerald made his trousers and shirt into a ball, and flung them deftly across the river. They hit Tod fairly, and made him stagger and swear. What he would have said or done, it is impossible to say, for at this moment he proclaimed with a triumphant yell that he had a bite. And at this moment Gerald slipped into the water again. “Hang it, don’t,” screamed Macandrew, “you’ll frighten the fish off the hook. Woosh! Come up!” and Tod tugged hard while the rod bent to an arc. “Mighty big fish,” breathed the angler.
“Don’t believe it’s a fish at all,” spluttered Haskins, seeing that the line remained stationary, “you’re making no play. Caught a weed maybe.”
He swam to the line, and dived under, while Macandrew danced and swore on the bank. “Leave it alone, leave it alone,” cried Tod, in high wrath, “it’s a big fish. Oh, beast; oh, animal: oh, jealous reptile,” he went on as the line slackened, “you’ve done it.”
Even as he spoke Gerald rose to the surface, spitting water from his mouth. In his right hand he held an object which he flung on to the bank, and then crawled up himself. “There’s your fish, Tod,” he said, rolling on the grass to dry himself, “your hook caught in that cylinder, which had got wedged between two big stones. Look at it while I dress.”
Tod handled the cylinder gingerly. It was made of tin, and had apparently been covered with brown paper, for the remains of this clung loose at either end from under splotches of red sealing-wax. Oddly enough, there was also a string tied to the cylinder, at the end of which dangled the remnant of a bladder. Evidently the bladder had borne up the somewhat heavy cylinder for a certain time, and then had burst, to drop it toward the big stones amid which it had been wedged when Tod’s hook had caught it. “Look’s like a parcel of dynamite,” said Tod, in a nervous tone; “poachers fishing by night with dynamite, O Lord!”
Haskins, who was slipping on his socks and shoes, looked up. “It’s been in the water a good time anyhow, judging from the rotten brown paper and that decayed bladder. There’s no chance of an explosion. If you are afraid to open it chuck it over.”
“No.” Macandrew dropped on to the grass beside his friend. “We’ll go to Kingdom Come together, if necessary. Lend me your knife!”
Between them, the young men prized off the lid of the cylinder, with some difficulty, for it fitted tightly. The contents proved to be as puzzling as the vessel itself, for Gerald drew out a moderately long roller covered with brown wax, and scored delicately with regular lines, almost invisible. There was nothing else in the cylinder but this roller, and Tod eyed it with wonderment. “What the deuce is it?” he asked, twirling it round.
Haskins pinched his nether lip and reflected. “It’s a phonograph record,” he ventured to suggest, “see the marking, Tod, and the wax, and here,” he tilted the cylinder end uppermost, “there’s a name engraved on the butt, plainly, for all the world to see.”
“Jekle & Co.,” read Tod, fitting in his eye-glass to see clearly. “H’m! I never heard of the firm.”
“That’s not improbable: your knowledge of many things being limited.”
“Oh, come now. Did you ever hear of the firm your own conceited self?”
“No. But it’s a firm that makes phonographs anyhow.” Gerald slipped the treasure trove into his pocket. “We’ll take this back to the inn, and see what it means.”
“We shall have to get a phonograph then.”
“That goes without the speaking, you bally ass. But when we do slip this roller into its parent machine these marks will talk.”
“But how can we get a parent machine? I suppose you mean a Jekle & Co. mechanism of sorts.”
“There must be a machine of that sort in the district, or this roller wouldn’t be here.”
Tod stared at the waters blinking in the sunshine. “I wonder how it got into the blessed river. By accident or by design?”
“By design assuredly,” said Haskins promptly. “It was wrapped in brown paper and sealed at both ends. The bladder was attached to keep it afloat. Then the bladder went bang and the cylinder sank until you fished it out, Toddy.”
“Queer fish and queer chance, anyhow.”
“There is no such thing as chance,” said Haskins slowly; “some cause we know not of, brought us to the stream to-day to get the cylinder.”
“Why, we only came holiday-making,” protested Tod; “you are always talking this infernal psychology.”
“Supernal psychology, you mean,” retorted the other, “seeing that I follow white magic and not black. This,” he patted his pocket, “has a meaning. We must learn that meaning.”
“And so get into trouble.”
“Perhaps.” Haskins shrugged his shoulders. “But trouble is the sole thing which urges us to rise.”
Tod groaned. He could not understand his friend’s mystical way of looking at the seen world through the unseen. Keeping the conversation on an ordinary level he inquired: “Why was the cylinder set afloat?”
“Why does the sun shine? Why does the fire burn? You ask too many questions, Tod.”
“I am not likely to get an answer from you,” snapped Macandrew, taking up the impedimenta which they had brought to the river bank.
“You will in this instance, my son. The record, when it talks through the Jekle & Co. machine, will tell us why the cylinder was sent downstream. Shipwrecked people throw bottles overboard with documents to tell of their danger, as you well know.”
“H’m! It’s the first time I ever heard of a phonograph record being used to convey news,” grunted Tod crossly.
“The person who floated the cylinder is evidently up-to-date.”
“Perhaps it’s a blessed joke.”
“Maybe. Anyhow, I’ll take it to the inn, and learn as much as is possible. Don’t chatter about it though.”
“Because—because—” Haskins hesitated, not being able to express himself with his usual decision. “I can’t say. Anyhow, hold your tongue until we know what the record has to say.”
Macandrew nodded, and the two walked homeward.
“The Devon Maid” was a tumbledown inn, and the center of Denleigh village, which lay, more or less concealed, among the folds of fertile hills. Down the valley prattled a shallow stream, and the comparatively few cottages, forming the secluded hamlet, were placed confusedly on either side, each having its own tiny garden. A broad stone bridge, of cyclopean build, spanned the brook in one low arch. Across this ran the highway, which gave access to the interior world, for it dipped down one hill and, after passing over the bridge, ascended the other on its way inland to even more remote villages. Near the bridge in question stood the two-story inn, built of rugged stone, hewn into huge blocks, and roofed with curved red tiles, the whole overgrown with ivy and wisteria and many-colored roses. With three narrow windows above and two narrow windows with a moderately wide door below, the house looked sullen and secretive. One could have an adventure at such a hostel: it breathed the spirit of romance, and cut-throat, trapdoor romance at that.
Before the inn stood a horse trough, in front of the door, the two rude benches under the windows. But those who frequented the Devon Maid preferred to take their beer mugs and bovine conversation on to the bridge. It was their Rialto, whereon they met in the cool of the evening to discuss the doings of their small world, and such news as might filter into the isolated villages through carriers and tourists and newspapers. The population of Denleigh consisted almost wholly of agricultural laborers and their wives, a slow-thinking lot, with infinitely more muscle than brains. Both men and women were of great stature, and even their children looked bulky and overgrown for their age. It seemed as though the children of Anak had gathered to design a new Tower of Babel.
The room in which Haskins and Macandrew sat at dinner was small, with a low ceiling, and one inefficient window smothered with curtains. It was crowded with Early Victorian furniture of the most cumbersome and inelegant description. Table and chairs, sofa and sideboard, bookcase and desk were all of solid mahogany, deposited on a flowery Kidderminster carpet, somewhat worn. Antimacassars adorned the horsehair chairs, wax fruit under a glass shade embellished the sideboard, and green glass ornaments, with dangling prisms, appeared on either side of the black marble clock which disfigured the mantelpiece. On the faded pattern of a Prussian blue wall-paper were steel engravings representing “The Death of Nelson” and the “Meeting of Wellington and Blucher after Waterloo,” together with colored hunting scenes and illustrations from “The Book of Beauty,” and “The Keepsake.” There were also samplers, and a fender-stool, and a canary in a gilt cage, and a cupboard of inferior china, and two screens of worsted-work representing parrots and macaws. The apartment was stuffy and unwholesome, and more like a curiosity-shop than a place to dine in.
The young men had changed to easy smoking suits, and were doing full justice to an admirable meal, consisting of roast beef with vegetables, superfine apple pie, Devonshire cream, and first-rate Stilton. They drank cider out of compliment to the county, and knew that when eating was at an end two fragrant cups of coffee would add to the enjoyment of their after-dinner pipes. And this satisfactory state of things was presided over by a stout and genial waiter, who was as black as the dress clothes he wore in honor of the guests.
A bull in a china-shop would not have seemed much more out of keeping than was this negro in the heart of the Devon hills. How he had drifted into such a locality heaven only knows, but he appeared exotic and strange, like some tropical bird which had flown from Equatorial Regions to make a nest in cool, gray, misty England. Adonis Geary was the incongruous name of the man, and he was at once landlord and waiter. Save that he possessed but one eye there was nothing unpleasant in his looks, and from his constant smiling and ready service he appeared to be of an amiable disposition. For over fifteen years—so he told his guests—he had owned the inn, and also had married a six-foot girl from Barnstaple, who was as meek as she was tall. This oddly-matched pair had five or six coffee-colored children, who tumbled about the small house and made it lively. The ménage was unusual, to say least of it, and like the inn itself. The presence of the negro hinted at romance and mystery.
As yet Haskins had said nothing about the phonograph. Some instinct told him to be silent about the discovery of the cylinder before this suave son of Ham, although he had absolutely no reason to mistrust the man. All the same he intended to use Geary’s wits to obtain a Jekle & Co. phonograph in such a way as would not arouse suspicion concerning the particular use he intended to put it to. Yet why suspicions should be aroused by frankness Gerald could not say, for, on the face of it, there was nothing to point out that the cylinder was dangerous. Nevertheless Haskins’ sixth sense made him hold his tongue and impose secrecy upon Tod. Consequently Macandrew held his peace while Gerald cautiously approached his aim of getting the machine. It seemed incredible that a phonograph of the special make required should be found in that unpretentious inn, or even in the village itself, seeing how buried both were. Still Haskins argued from the discovery of the roller, so marked, that a Jekle & Co. phonograph was to be had in the district. Being a novelist, Gerald had already spun a web of romance round the adventure, and was conducting the same to a close with constructive skill. Tod watched the progress of this real and tangible romance with careless interest. He thought that it was all moonshine and would end in smoke. “The Story of A Mare’s Nest,” Tod called it with fine irony, and giggled when Haskins stalked Mr. Adonis Geary.
“There is very little to do in the evening here,” began Gerald, finishing the last of his cheese, and addressing the landlord-waiter.
“Very little, sah,” replied Mr. Geary, who spoke moderately good Anglo-Saxon, yet betrayed his negro origin in an occasional word, and by a guttural intonation, “but you can walk to Silbury with the odder jemplem, for howlin’ fun, sah.”
“Howling fun in a country town? My eyes,” muttered Tod, still eating.
“Dere’s walking and de bicycle and fishin’ and—”
“Yes! yes! yes!” broke in Gerald artfully, “but I mean evening amusement—indoor doings. What you call—”
“Parlor tricks,” interpolated Macandrew.
“Exactly! Well, Mr. Geary, have you a piano, or a harmonium?”
“Dere’s a harmonium in de chapel whar I preach,” explained Adonis doubtfully, “but de instrument of de Lawd no good for debble’s singing.”
“I have no intention of going to the devil for my amusement,” said Gerald tartly, while Tod choked over his cider. “Have you any cards?”
“Dem’s de debble’s pictures, sah.”
“Then pass along a concertina,” remarked Tod, pushing back his chair with a sigh of repletion, “or even a Jew’s harp, or a—”
“Why not say a phonograph, while you’re about it, Macandrew?” said Haskins, with feigned crossness, “we’re as likely to find the one as the other in this place at the Back-of-Beyond.”
“With great respect, Mr. Haskins, sah,” said Geary, falling into the trap promptly, “dere’s my wife’s phonograph. My wife Hannah let you hab dat phonograph to hear de godly hymns.”
“Just what I want to hear,” said Gerald untruthfully, “but what on earth made you get a phonograph?”
Geary smiled expansively, displaying magnificent teeth. “Dere was a traveler who came dis way wid phonographs, and he stop here. He so pleased wid my wife Hannah’s cooking dat he gave her de phonograph, and den sell many, many, many all round—all round,” and the landlord stretched his arms to embrace the globe.
“What kind of a phonograph is it?” asked Gerald, with a triumphant look at Tod to bid him watch how Romance was working golden threads into the gray fabric of the commonplace. “I don’t want to hear a bad one.”
Before Geary could reply there sounded through the window an up-to-date note from the outer world. The “Toot! toot! toot!” of a motor horn brought the young men to their feet and to the window, which looked out on to the bridge. A motor car draws the attention of the grown-up as much as a military band attracts the notice of a child. Mr. Geary departed with dignified haste to see what new and aristocratic visitor was coming, and—since Tod’s bulky form filled in the whole small window—Gerald followed at his leisure. The coming of the motor car stirred up the same bustle in this lonely inn as did the mail coach in the days of old. Even Mrs. Geary emerged from the back-kitchen to view the spectacle with three small children clinging to her lengthy skirts, like the Lilliputians to Gulliver’s coat-tails.
“Toot! toot! toot!” The horn sounded cheerfully and close at hand. A magnificent Hadrian, scarlet as the sunset, swung down the long descent and hummed across the bridge with a powerful drone. There were two men in front, disguised in the orthodox goggles and caps and shapeless coats, but the body of the car was empty, save for a large portmanteau and some small parcels done up in brown paper. The rustics crowded round the car, to comment thereon, and to misname it “a steam-engine,” while the foremost man, who was handling the steering-gear, slipped from his seat to stretch himself and to salute Geary.
“Hello, Adonis, is that you?” he said, nodding brusquely. “I want a wash and a glass of brandy. Then I’m off again. I must reach Leegarth before sundown.”
“Come dis way, Major,” said the landlord obsequiously. He seemed to know the traveler extremely well, and from his concluding remark Gerald was positive that he did. “Dere’s a lil’ glass of your own pertic’ler brandy, Major. Dis way, sah. Glad to see you, Major.”
“Major!” From the title, and the tone of the arrival’s voice, Haskins had an idea that he also knew the owner of the motor car. When the goggles were shoved up over the cap, and the high collar of the coat was loosened, suspicion became certainty. “Major Rebb,” said Haskins, advancing a step. “I guessed it was you.”
“Oh—Haskins,” drawled the newcomer, and Gerald could have sworn that not only did he start, but that he darted an inquiring look at the negro landlord. It was Geary who replied:
“Dis jemplem and his friend, dey stop wid me for one, two week, Major.”
The Major recovered himself. “Yes, of course; what am I thinking about, Haskins? Mrs. Crosbie told me that you and Macandrew were on a walking tour in Devonshire. Why are you stationary here of all places?”
“Why not here, as well as anywhere else?” replied Gerald carelessly, “we struck this inn—Tod and I, that is—and intended only to stop a night or so, but the food is so good, and the fishing so capital, and the expenses so small, that we decided to remain. We’re off in a couple of days. Tod goes back to London, and I make for St. Ives to write a new book. But you, Major? What are you doing in this galley?”
“I have come down to see a relative at Leegarth—an elderly aunt!” Tod sniggered at the window. From what he knew of Major Rebb—and he knew a great deal from club gossip—that retired officer was not the man to waste his time in looking after elderly relatives, unless,—
“How much money has she got?” asked Tod impudently.
Rebb laughed, for Tod was a licensed jester, and said things without reproof for which other men would have been kicked. “Enough to make it worth my while to come down here,” said Rebb coolly, “but I won’t give the business into your hands, Tod, so there will be no pickings.”
“I’m jolly well sure of that, when you’re about,” retorted Macandrew, in a soft voice.
“Dis way, sah,” cried Geary, like a parrot, “dis way, Major.”
“You know Adonis then?” said Rebb, entering the inn followed by Haskins; “he’s a decent sort, isn’t he? I have put up here sometimes for a night. Where’s the brandy, Adonis? Hurry up; and give my man a glass of beer.”
Gerald had unconsciously led the way to the sitting-room occupied by himself and Tod. Here Rebb sat down, drawing off his gloves, while the brandy was brought. He was a tall, thin, upright man, eminently well-bred and somewhat stiff. His closely clipped hair and well-trimmed moustache were so dark, and his complexion was of such a deep olive color, that people declared that he had in him a touch of the tar-brush. And the scandal was emphasized by the significant fact that Major Rebb had commanded a West Indian regiment in Jamaica before retiring from the army. But whether tainted by the African or not, he certainly was a handsome man, and wonderfully well-preserved for his fifty years. Mrs. Crosbie, to whom Rebb had alluded when first addressing Haskins, was a wealthy widow who greatly admired the fascinating Major. Report hinted at a match between them, and report said that Mrs. Crosbie might do worse, for Rebb was well-off and much respected by the outside world. Those—of whom Tod was one—who knew more than the Major approved of declared that Rebb’s character was not without blemish, and that he gambled both on the turf and on the green table. But no one could positively say that the man was a rascal. He had the vices of his generation. That was all.
While Rebb drank his brandy he told Haskins and Macandrew the latest club gossip, and stated—not without a roguish glance at Tod—that Mrs. Pelham Odin wanted Charity to marry a titled fool, who had lately come into much money. Tod was very indignant at this, and said many things which Rebb had heard before, since the little man’s infatuation was an open secret. In the middle of his eloquence the Major went off to wash his hands and face, and Haskins dragged his friend out to see the start of the car. In five minutes Rebb was in his place and his chauffeur swung up alongside.
“Good-night, you fellows,” cried the Major amiably. “I’ll see you in London. Night, Adonis,” and then the car spun round the curve to mount the hill on its way to Leegarth, wherever that might be. Tod yawned and sauntered back into the inn, hinting that he would go to bed soon.
“Funny thing that we should meet Rebb, here,” said Gerald.
Tod raised his thick red eyebrows. “Upon my soul I don’t see it,” he remarked, “you don’t want the whole country to yourself.”
“He seemed to be startled when he saw me, and he knows Geary well.”
“He admitted that he knew Geary, and as to being startled, he well might be, dropping across a pal in these wilds.”
“I am not a pal of Rebb’s,” said Gerald stiffly. “I don’t like him, and I’m very sorry that such a jolly little woman as Mrs. Crosbie should think of marrying him. There’s something queer about him.”
“Bosh!” said Tod, lightly whiffing away his friend’s suspicions, which indeed had little foundation. “Rebb is no worse, nor no better, than any other man. We all have turned-down pages in our life’s book, which we should like no one to read.”
“That’s quite a high flight of oratory for you,” said Haskins dryly.
“Oh I can gas as well as most, when necessary,” retorted the other, “but you are asinine, seeing a bird in every bush.”
“H’m!” murmured Gerald, unconvinced. “All the same, I shall keep my eye on Major Rebb.”
“And so take a lot of trouble for nothing. So long as he does not cross your path I don’t see why you should worry. Hello!” Tod had entered the sitting-room by this time. “Here’s the phonograph.” He examined it narrowly in the failing light. “And Jekle & Co. at that. By gum!”
“What do you say now?” cried Haskins, pleased that his surmise had proved correct. “I’ll bet that we are on the verge of discovering a mystery. Wait until we hear a few hymns, and then we can experiment with our river record.”
“But why bother about the hymns?” grumbled Macandrew, who by this time was quite as curious as Haskins himself.
Gerald glanced at the door, and closed it. “I don’t want the nigger to think that anything unusual has happened.”
“More suspicion,” said Tod, and glanced in his turn, but at the window, “you needn’t fash yourself, as we say in Scotland. There’s Geary walking down to the village.”
It was indeed the negro strolling with a crony along the brookside, and when he had sauntered out of earshot Haskins did not worry about the hymn tunes. He slipped the cylinder record on to the machine, and set the thing going. Then, for the next minute, he and Tod listened in amazement to a message from Fairyland.
“This to the wide world,” babbled the machine in the sweetest and most melodious of voices. “This to the Fairy Prince, who will come and waken me from dreams. Come, dear Prince, to the Pixy’s House, and watch that the jealous ogress, who guards me, does not see you. I cannot read, I cannot write; but I talk my message to you, dear Prince. To the stream I commit the message on this first day of April in this year five. May the river bear the message to you, dear Prince. Come to me! Come to me! Come to me! and waken your Princess to life with a kiss.”
The machine still continued to work, but the voice became abruptly silent. There was no more of the message, so when the point of the phonograph reached the end of the inscribed wax Gerald removed it. When it was again in his pocket he turned toward the amazed Tod. “What do you think of that?” he demanded triumphantly.
“I think that the date explains the whole thing,” said Tod grimly. “See: the first of April. Five! That means, nineteen hundred and five, which is this very year. Some one’s having a joke.”
“I don’t believe it,” said Haskins, and began to scribble in his pocketbook what the machine had said. He had a good memory, and reproduced the message from the Fairy Princess very correctly. Later he determined to verify the same, but meanwhile kept the precious roller in his pocket and asserted his determination to search for the Pixy’s House.
“What bosh!” grumbled Tod, disdainfully. “Maybe there’s no such place. But if you will be a lunatic, ask Geary about the matter.”
“No,” said Gerald decidedly. “I shall not say a word to Geary, and I must ask you to say nothing either. This is the first piece of romance which has come my way, and I don’t want it spoiled by sharing it with other people.”
“My way,” echoed Macandrew, staring. “I like that. You forget that I found the cylinder, my son. I am the person who is supposed to have received the letter.”
“Toddy, you are not a Turk or a Mormon, so this delicious Princess, who speaks like a silver bell, is not for you. Keep to Charity Bird, and allow me a chance of finding a wife.”
“O Lord! Jerry, you ain’t serious?”
“Yes and no! After all I am young, and—as the cook said—of that ‘appy disposition that I can love any one. Why shouldn’t I seek in some Fairy Woods for the Sleeping Beauty?”
“Sleeping!” sniggered Tod, lighting his pipe, “then she must have written that silly message in her sleep. Or perhaps she talks in it,” he added, recollecting that the message was a spoken one. “A nice wife to have, upon my word. You won’t get a wink of sleep.”
“Toddy, you are of the earth, earthy, and an unimaginative beast. Romance doesn’t appeal to you. I shall search for the Pixy’s House!”
“In what direction?” jeered Macandrew.
“Up the stream. This Princess is apparently imprisoned in the house and must have flung the cylinder therefrom into the water. Ergo, the Pixy’s House must be near the water. I shall go to Exeter and bring back a canoe. Then I shall explore and find—”
“A mare’s nest! Don’t be an ass. It’s all bosh.”
“It’s romance! romance! romance! But not a word, Toddy, either to any one here, or to any one in London. Promise!”
“Oh, I promise. But—”
“Silence! you profane the Mysteries of Fairyland. I shall explore and learn the end of this adventure. And you, Tod Macandrew?”
“I’ll see what’s the best lunatic asylum for you to occupy,” said Tod caustically.
Notwithstanding his fantastical babble to Macandrew, Gerald was a shrewd young man. He prosecuted his search for the unknown sender of the message, less to find a wife than to see the end of the adventure. At the enjoyable age of thirty, he was not particularly keen on getting married, although his friends persistently advised him to do so. But, as Haskins pertinently observed, it was absurd to marry merely for marrying’s sake. “When I meet THE woman,” said Gerald wisely, “I shall ask her to be my wife. Otherwise—” And a shrug would complete the unfinished sentence.
Tod was quite ready to leave the conclusion of the fishing adventure to his friend. Being in love with a particular girl, he thought of her only, and had no wish to search for another girl, even though she were an illiterate princess, who fluted like a nightingale. What with earning his living, and fighting Lady Euphemia, and wooing Charity Bird, and tricking Mrs. Pelham Odin, who was strongly opposed to that wooing, Macandrew’s hands were quite full. Within two days he betook himself to London, keen upon seeing The Moon Fay ballet, in which Charity was dancing. But before his departure he unwittingly did Gerald a service by learning something about the Pixy’s House, and that same something was less romantic than unpleasant.
According to Tod the thing came about by accident; but Haskins, who believed that everything was designed, even to the winking of an eye, insisted that Macandrew had been purposely lured into conversation with the laborer, who had mentioned Leegarth, and the Pixy’s House. At a nine o’clock breakfast, on the very day of his departure, Tod mentioned to his friend that he had been taking a morning walk. “I had a beastly wakeful night last night,” grumbled Tod, while Geary brought in a dish of trout and some hot rolls, “it made me sick tumbling and tossing, so I dressed and strolled out at six o’clock.”
“Why didn’t you waken me?” asked Haskins. “I would have come also.”
“Not you. I’d have been cursed for an hour. Every one knows what an infernal sleepy-head you are, Jerry. However, I walked up the hill on to the moors, and had a glorious view of the surrounding country. I saw the stream where we fished, in the hollow two miles away—trees, and occasional glimpses of the water, you know. And ever so far away, there was a square-towered church with a cluster of red-roofed houses.”
“Quite poetical, my Toddy,” murmured Gerald, helping himself to eggs and ham, and rather bored by this geographical description.
“The morning made me poetical!” said Macandrew simply, “it was uncommonly ripping, you know. There was a laboring Johnny coming along, and I asked him the name of the church. He said it was Leegarth church, and Leegarth village.”
“H’m! That’s where Rebb’s wealthy relative lives?”
Todd nodded. “As it was early I had a mind to walk over and look about, but I first asked the man if there was anything of interest to see. He grinned, and told me that I might call at the Pixy’s House.”
Gerald looked up and was about to speak eagerly when Geary appeared again with a fresh supply of rolls. “Oh, the Pixy’s House,” said Haskins carelessly, “what’s that?”
“Why, you know—” began Tod foolishly, when he caught sight of a warning scowl on Haskins’ face, and a look of interest on that of Geary’s, “you know,” went on Tod artfully, “that I can’t talk if you interrupt.”
“But it’s all so dull,” objected Haskins, with a shrug.
“Not what I am about to tell. This laborer said that a lunatic lived in the Pixy’s House, looked after by another lunatic.”
“The blind leading the blind. Go on.”
“The first lunatic is a girl, and the second an old woman. The girl never comes out, and no one has ever seen her, but the old woman does shopping and all the rest of it. That’s all.”
“What infernal rubbish!” said Haskins crossly. He did not like his unknown princess to dwindle to a commonplace lunatic. And yet, when he remembered the spoken message, it did seem a trifle mad. “Well, and did you call at the Pixy’s House?”
“Not me. I walked in another direction, and came back to breakfast. I have no use for crazy people.”
“Wid all respect, jemplem,” remarked Mr. Geary unexpectedly, “de story ob dat man is all twisty-turney.”
“Oh!” said Haskins, apparently careless, but really with anxiety, “so you know of this queer business, Geary?”
“Berry lil’—oh, berry lil’, sah. Dat Pixy House ver’ ole, an’ ver’ tumbledown in heaps. Only one mad pusson dere, jemplem.”
“Which one—the old woman or the young one?” asked Tod abruptly.
“Oh, dey boff dere, jemplem, but de young lady is de mad pusson. She bin dere afore I come—years an’ years an’ years—oh, ebber so long ‘go. Dis pou’ lady, she want to kill peoples wid knives, and de ole womans, she watch her dat she no get out to kill. De ole woman’s not a mad pusson, jemplem; oh no, dat all wrong. She watch de odder. You no go near dat Pixy House, jemplem,” ended the landlord earnestly, “or dat young lady, she kill you boff, dead as coffin-lids.”
Haskins felt disgusted. He desired to find Fairyland, and it seemed as though his search would end in discovering a lunatic asylum. “What is the lunatic’s name?” he asked.
“Mavis Durham, I tink, an’ de ole womans, she called Bellaria!”
“Funny names,” mused Tod, “and rather pretty. Mavis means a thrush, I fancy. But Bellaria?”
Gerald recalled a charming book of Italian folklore, which he had read some months before. “Bellaria was the Etruscan dawn goddess, or the goddess of flowers, I forget which,” he remarked; “strange that any one in a secluded Devonshire village should be called so. H’m! Is this old woman an Italian, Geary?”
“I do not know, sah,” replied the man promptly. “I no go to dat Leegarth, no, never, never. And you no go too, jemplem. Dat Mavis lady hab de knife in you if you go dere.”
“Homicidal mania,” said Tod learnedly and cheerfully.
Haskins shuddered; it seemed terrible to think that the owner of that silvery voice, who had sent so delightfully quaint a message, should be a dangerous lunatic not responsible for her actions. When the landlord took his departure he made an observation, rather to himself than to his friend. “The message was sane enough,” he said, thereby contradicting his first impression, when Geary spoke of the lunacy.
“Well, I don’t know,” answered Macandrew doubtfully, “all that fairy business and talk of not being able to read or write seems queer. I suppose you’ll chuck the adventure, now that you know this?”
“Probably!” said Haskins evasively, so that Tod should not worry him. But in his heart he had a longing to probe the matter deeper.
Later in the day Gerald escorted Tod to Selbury, and saw him off to London. Macandrew left with the impression that Gerald would carry out his prearranged programme and travel to St. Ives on the ensuing day. But when Haskins walked back to Denleigh he was far from having made up his mind to such a course. It seemed incredible that the sender of the message should have homicidal tendencies. All the same, if she had not, the law would certainly have prevented her incarceration in the old Leegarth mansion known as the Pixy’s House. That she could not read or write was quite possible, since she had used the phonograph, and yet, in this age of education, it appeared improbable that anyone could be so ignorant. The wording of the message was that of an imaginative, but not of a weak, brain; and the spirit of poetry it breathed appealed to the young man, himself a poet of no mean order. “On the whole,” decided Gerald, “I shall go to Exeter to-morrow and get that canoe.”
On that same evening, when Geary went for his usual walk, Haskins again slipped the record into the machine, and again drank in the music of that perfect voice. Then, for the sake of hiding his secret, since the landlord unexpectedly returned, he set the phonograph to grind out the godly hymns which were Geary’s delight. These were dismal enough in words and tunes, but all through them sounded in Gerald’s charmed ears the silvery lilt of the Fairy Princess’ tones. The owner of such a voice could not possibly be crazy.
Haskins rather regretted that he had not asked Major Rebb about the Pixy’s House and its occupant. Rebb doubtless knew the village of Leegarth excellently well, since he came down occasionally to see his elderly relative. For the moment Haskins was tempted to write and ask questions, but on second thoughts he made up his mind to explore for himself. He was even glad that Tod had departed, for now the secret was entirely his own, and he wished to share it with no one. He therefore abstained from talking to Geary on the subject, for he had learned all that was possible from that source. And what he had learned was so decidedly unpleasant that he did not wish to hear more. As it afterward turned out his reticence was wise.
The next day Haskins informed Geary of his intention to remain in Denleigh for another week, and the negro expressed his delight at the decision. Adonis was a cheerful soul, who had traveled widely, in the humble capacity of a steward on board various liners. He therefore approached more intellectual society than he could obtain in lethargic Denleigh. Haskins, with an eye to copy, after the fashion of the literary man, found Geary’s experiences both entertaining and useful. As for the landlady, she was a nonentity, who worked like a horse, and was as dumb as one. She seemed to be somewhat afraid of her ever-smiling husband, and Gerald thought that there might be some cause for such dread. With all his suave manners, Geary’s one eye hinted at sinister doings. But, as yet, Haskins, knowing him only on the surface, had no fault to find with his personality.
There was some difficulty in finding a precisely suitable canoe in Exeter, but having made up his mind—a singularly obstinate one—Gerald never rested until he had attained his object. In a couple of days he returned to the Devon Maid with a light birchwood affair, which he had purchased from a returned Canadian emigrant. This the young man temporarily bestowed in an outside shed, and informed his landlord, casually, that he intended to explore the waters of the Ruddle, as the stream was called. The name evidently came from the streaky red banks between which it flowed. Geary advised his guest to travel downstream toward Silbury, as the canoe would there be impeded by fewer stones. Needless to say, as Leegarth was in precisely the opposite direction, Haskins had no intention of taking this well-meant advice. And, indeed, because of the very difficulty in navigating the upper reaches of the Ruddle, he had purchased the canoe, for he could carry so light a craft along the banks when stones and weeds blocked up the waterway.
When Gerald took his Indian coracle down to the river, next afternoon, he saw how wise he had been in not buying a heavier boat. As the little stream wound its devious way through the dense woods it grew yet more narrow, and, on the whole, somewhat shallow. Here and there deep pools were to be found, inshore, but as a rule the current flowed lightly over a shingly bed, foaming round gigantic stones or bubbling over the trunks of fallen trees. The distance to Leegarth, as the crow flies, could not have been more than three miles; but the stream twisted so oddly, and the difficulties of navigation were so great, that Gerald sometimes doubted if he would reach his journey’s end. Several times he was forced to climb the steep banks and drag his canoe through thickly growing saplings: but, on the whole, the tiny shallop behaved with the dexterity of an eel in slipping through dangerous places. Nevertheless his traveling was more like the exploration of unknown lands than like a civilized river trip in mapped-out England.
Late in the day—about six o’clock—and when the western sky was beginning to glow with the hues of a soapbubble, the adventurer found himself in a less toilsome position. After the choked stream, where the trees met overhead, it was a relief to float into an immense pool, fenced in by precipitous red cliffs draped with vividly green vegetation. Gerald emerged into this haven with a feeling of thankfulness, and laid down his paddle, both to rest his weary muscles and to examine his romantic surroundings. The pool was nearly circular, and, as the narrow Ruddle flowed in at one end, and out at the other, the whole resembled a bead on a string. On the placid waters, brimming like those of a mill-dam, the canoe floated idly until it touched the left bank. Haskins therefore saw, on the right hand, a tall cliff of ruddy earth, overgrown with bushes, and surmounted by a fringe of trees. Between these, he espied a ruinous gray stone wall, clothed thickly with ivy. As there were two or three small windows in this wall, Gerald guessed that it formed the side of a dwelling-place—and guessed moreover that from one of those same windows the sealed message had been thrown into the pool. It was, of, course, merely a surmise that the Pixy’s House was built on the top of this inland cliff, but, bearing in mind the cylinder with its attached bladder, Haskins felt certain that he was correct. The imprisoned Mavis Durham could only have launched her message from the cliff top.
Gerald had now practically arrived at his journey’s end, as he had discovered the palace of the Sleeping Beauty, shut in by Enchanted Woods. He therefore paddled swiftly under the cliff itself, to see how he could storm the castle. Tod would have called it a lunatic asylum, in his coarse way, but Gerald the poet preferred the more romantic appellation. Also, after hearing that wonderful voice, he made up his rash mind that he would not believe in the alleged insanity of Mavis Durham until he had seen her, and had spoken with her. If she were really a homicidal maniac he could return with some regrets to the workaday world; but if she was all that he hoped she would be,—well! Gerald drew a long breath as he thought thus. If she were as beautiful as her voice, as poetic as her message, he did not know what would happen. Yet, as a young man, dizzy with the wine of life, he should have known. But such things, for good or for evil, were yet on the knees of the most high gods.
At the upper end of the pool the adventurer found a stone landing stage, with an iron ring, to which he fastened the canoe. He leaped lightly on to the rugged platform, and climbed up a rude stair, to find himself facing an arched opening hewn in the face of the cliff. It was masked, more or less, by neglected bushes, and evidently had not been made use of many years. Still, it undoubtedly led upward to the battlements of the Enchanted Castle. So Haskins pushed his way through the trees, and clambered up a ruinous and twisting stair, in complete darkness. Here, indeed, was an adventure not often to be met with in this unromantic age, and the young man’s body thrilled as he experienced hitherto unknown emotions. He was Sir Galahad searching for the Grail; Columbus staring at a newly discovered world; a Calender from the Arabian Nights stumbling upon the magical Beauty of the World, a jinn’s daughter, lovely and unapproachable.
Up and up went the stair, twisting and turning like an eel, until Haskins, losing count of time, thought that he was mounting to the North Star. Finally the steps ceased to wind, and the explorer clambered up a straight flight which terminated in a small opening, out of which he emerged on to the top of the cliff, and immediately below the ivy-draped wall. The house stood about twenty yards from the verge of the cliff, and the space between was filled with long grass, with stunted bushes, and with tolerably tall trees, all in full summer foliage. On looking up Gerald saw pointed roofs of weatherworn red tiles, twisted stacks of chimneys, and gray stone turrets, the whole so overgrown with greenery that it looked as though the mansion were a portion of the earth itself. There was no door in the wall visible. If there had been one (as was probable to reach the landing stage) it had been blocked up, or was hidden by the darkly green ivy.
“Faint heart never won fair lady,” thought Gerald unoriginally, and began to swarm up the natural ladder afforded by the tough roots of the creeper. Out of breath he gained the top of the wall, and, flinging his leg over, sat astride to view this Jack-and-the-Beanstalk Country. Then he beheld—Charity Bird!
Seated on the wall, like Humpty-Dumpty, Gerald gasped, for two excellent reasons. Firstly, he was a trifle breathed with the arduous climb, and, secondly, the sight of the girl whom he believed to be Miss Bird amazed him out of all common-sense. She stood under the wall, arrayed in a plain white dress, without frills or trimmings or ornaments, and looked more like a Vestal of Rome than a young lady of the twentieth century. And to add to Haskins’ astonishment she did not appear to be the least startled, or even surprised.
“So you have come at last?” she said softly, and the voice had in it the same melody that Gerald had noted when the phonograph delivered its fantastical message.
“Charity! Miss Bird!” He could hardly get his tongue to move.
The girl looked puzzled. “My name is Mavis Durham,” she said simply.
Haskins knew that he was awake, for he had grazed his knee while climbing and the pain assured him of material existence. Otherwise, he would certainly have believed that the whole thing was a delicious dream. But on looking downward more intently he saw that, although the image of Charity in physical appearance, this girl who declared herself to be Mavis Durham had a more spiritual look on her face. Her eyes were turquoise-blue like the dancer’s: she possessed the same wonderful hair, the color of ripe corn, about which Miss Bird’s admirers raved, and her features were cast in the same classic mold; but she had a mystical, etherial, evanescent look about her, which hinted at more spirituality than was apparent in Charity’s pronouncedly material charms. It might have been the dying light of the evening, or the exalted state of mind consequent on emotion, that raised Gerald to a high plane, but the girl looked as though she would vanish like a wreath of mist under the influence of the newly risen sun.
The resemblance between Mavis and Charity was certainly marvelous, and Haskins could not account for the similarity; but after a long and searching look he became certain that the girls were two different flesh and blood human beings, and not one, as he had momentarily supposed. On acquiring this assurance in his innermost being the young man drew a breath of relief, since Charity was more or less engaged to Tod, and he did not wish to poach on Tod’s preserves. The question of the resemblance he determined swiftly to leave to a later date for answer, and meanwhile surrendered himself entirely to the incredible romance of the adventure. Surely no more poetic happening had taken place since King Cophetua had gone a-wooing his Beggar Maid.
But by the time his reflections had reached this point the Princess of Fairyland—for that she certainly was—betrayed excitement and uneasiness, waving her hands to intimate that he should hide behind the ruddy leaves of a copper beech, which over topped the wall and leaned against it. “Bellaria will catch you,” called up Mavis softly, “and then I’ll never see you again. Get behind the beech. I’ll return soon.”
She sped lightly away, while Haskins, still trying to assure himself that he was not dreaming, shuffled along the wall until he gained the covert of the spreading branches. Here he was safe from any espial, and while Mavis was absent he gently parted the leaves to view her enchanted palace, whither she had called him. A phonograph and Fairyland! it was an odd mixture of poetry and science. A page with a silken-bound parchment; a dragon-chariot to waft a mortal prince to a spellbound queen; these were natural in the circumstances. But to be summoned by a phonograph! Why, it linked the age of motor cars with that of King Arthur.
Haskins saw below him a moderately sized quadrangle, smoothly turfed in the center and bordered with beds of flowers stretching to moldering walls. To the right, and straight in front—somewhat after the shape of the letter “L”—were two ranges of a gray stone mansion clothed—as was the wall—with thickly growing ivy. There were two stories, and the architecture was Tudor, picturesque, and graceful. Along the lower story of the front wing were elaborate oriel windows, filled in with lattice-work and, as Gerald shrewdly suspected, with stained glass. An archway pierced this wing, and apparently led to another part of the grounds. The range of buildings on the right was less elaborate, as the windows above and below were square and modern in their looks. To the left were ruinous stables, and outhouses more or less tumbledown, and, of course, the fourth side of the quadrangle was closed in by the wall upon which the young man was seated. What with the gray wall, the beautifully shaped oriels, the peaked roofs of mellow red tiles, and the mantle of greenery which overspread all, the place looked like a picture from the Christmas Number of The Graphic.
Yet if the house was neglected, the garden and lawn certainly were not. The turf was as smooth as a billiard-table, and the beds of flowers were carefully tended, as he could see from the absence of weeds and the efflorescence of blossoms. These were chiefly those of humble cottage flowers. Tall hollyhocks, golden snapdragon, sweet-william, pansies, marigolds, ragged robin, and musk carnations: all these grew in artistic profusion and confusion, making the quadrangle a world of beauty and color and perfume. In the center of the lawn rose an antique sundial, supported by three battered female figures, and over all this dreamy, old-world haven of rest arched the shadowy sky, blending night and day in vapory blue and rosy flushings. Haskins felt that a new planet had “swam into his ken”—all that he had dreamed of, as too fair for earth, was here transmuted from the ideal into the real. “I must certainly be in Dreamland,” thought the young man, “or in Paradise, or in Prospero’s Enchanted Island, or in the Vale of Avilion, where it doth neither rain nor snow.”
But his poetic musings were cut short by a rustle among the coppery leaves of the beech. He looked down from his wall and saw a vision of loveliness rising from the foliage like Undine from the well. “I went to see what Bellaria was doing,” explained Mavis breathlessly, and perched on a sloping bough, so near to the wall that the young man could have embraced her without difficulty. He felt very much inclined to do so, for he was rapidly falling fathoms deep in love. But a feeling of respect for the unprotected girl restrained him, and he listened spellbound to the music of her voice. “Bellaria was cooking the supper, you know,” went on the girl prosaically, “so there is no chance of her coming to call me for half-an-hour.”
“And what then?” asked Gerald soberly.
“You must go away. Bellaria would be very angry if she knew that my fairy prince had come.”
“Am I the fairy prince?” asked Haskins softly.
Mavis raised her brows with a trill of heavenly laughter. “Of course you are, since you came over the wall. I have been watching here for months to see you arrive. You would not have come had you not got my message.”
“No,” acknowledged Haskins sensibly; “that is very certain. No one would look for a fairy princess in this tangle of woods. But,” he hesitated and smiled, “you are not sleeping.”
“Yes, I am! Not with my eyes closed, of course; but I am sleeping through life. All my days I have lived in this dull old place, and my guardian will not let me go out and see the world.”
“Who is your guardian?” asked Gerald, and received a shock.
“Good Lord! Major Rebb! Huh!” So this was the elderly relative whom the man had come to see. Haskins congratulated himself that he had not questioned the Major. Had he done so there would have been a speedy end to romance. The word “elderly” had apparently been used by Rebb to conceal the existence of this lovely girl from too inquiring youth. No young man would search for anything elderly. Haskins felt like Saul—as though he had gone to seek his father’s asses and had found a kingdom.
“Do you know my guardian?” asked Mavis, quickly noting his surprise.
“Well, yes! I have met him in London.”
“Oh, London! London!” The girl clapped her hands in a childish way. “How I wish to see London. My guardian says that he will take me there some day, and then—oh, and then, and then, and then—”
“I shall live. Just fancy,” she continued, swinging on the bough. “I am twenty years of age, and I have lived shut up here with Bellaria ever since I can remember. My guardian comes and sees me sometimes, and give me all kinds of presents. He is always very kind, but he will not let me leave the Pixy’s House. I’m not shut up, of course,” she added, contradicting herself, “the grounds are very large. There’s a big garden of fruit and flowers beyond that archway, and a park of trees with undergrowth just like a fairy wood. I have heaps and heaps to do, looking after my flowers, and embroidering, and cooking, and playing games, and listening to Bellaria’s stories. I am quite happy—and now,” she leaned forward until her face nearly touched that of Gerald, “I am happier than ever, because you are here.”
“Are you?” inquired Haskins, stupidly and thickly. He did not dare to move, or to follow his impulse, lest he should alarm her. She was as trusting as a tame bird, but a chance word or a too eloquent look might teach her that fear existed.
“Yes, of course I am. How silly you are. In Bellaria’s stories the prince always comes to the princess, in the end. Mine would not come, so I sent that message. And now—” She stretched a hand to caress his face: “Oh my prince! my prince!”
“I may not be your prince after all,” said Gerald weakly. He certainly felt unworthy of being so.
“But you are—you are!” cried Mavis, with conviction, “you would not have found my message otherwise. I flung it from one of the windows into the pool below. And you picked it up, so I know that you are my prince. And then,” she added, naively, “you are so very handsome.”
Haskins was pretty well hardened to admiration, since he knew more about women than was good for him. All the same the outspoken speech made him blush. “Who is Bellaria?” he asked abruptly, changing a too embarrassing subject.
“My nurse, who has looked after me all my life. I call her the Ogress, and my guardian the Ogre. Not but what they are both very kind. I have all I want, save liberty.”
“And why cannot you get that?”
“It is not the custom of the country.”
Haskins looked puzzled. “What do you mean, Mavis?”
She raised her clear truthful eyes. “Why, you know, don’t you? Major Rebb told me that all girls were brought up in seclusion until they reached the age of twenty-one, and then they were taken out to see the world. I wish ten months were past,” sighed imprisoned beauty, “for then I shall be one and twenty, and able to leave the Pixy’s House. Bellaria says that I won’t like the world; but I shall, I shall, I shall.”
It was both cunning and clever of Major Rebb to suggest such a reason for her seclusion to the girl herself, as it prevented her feeling that she was being detained against her will. But she was apparently unaware that he ascribed a more terrible reason to the world beyond the gates, and that she was looked upon as a homicidal maniac. Of course this was wholly and entirely absurd. No one with such steady eyes, and who spoke so artlessly, could be tainted in that way. She was limited from sheer ignorance, and innocent beyond belief of evil: a child of nature, as unsophisticated as Undine herself. Gerald doubted if she would know the meaning of the word “murder!”
“What is Bellaria’s other name?” he asked, after a pause.
“Dondi—Bellaria Dondi, who came from Florence, in Italy,” said Miss Durham easily. “She is ugly, and old, and very cross; but I love her all the same, for she loves me and means well. And, oh! she tells such lovely, lovely stories, and can repeat poetry by Dante and Ariosto and Leopardi, for ever so long. I can repeat poetry also,” she added hastily, with the complacency of a child. “I know lots of Homer, and of Shakespeare, and of Keats, and—”
“Stop! stop!” interrupted Gerald hastily. “How can you when—according to your message—you are unable to read?”
“Oh! Schaibar taught me.”
Mavis nodded with bright eyes. “You know—the Peri Banou’s brother in ‘The Arabian Nights.’ His real name is Arnold—Mr. Arnold: but I call him Schaibar because he is a dwarf, with a long beard and a short temper. He used to recite poetry, and I learned to recite also. But Schaibar has gone away,” she said, with a falling cadence. “Months ago he went to Australia, and promised to write, but he did not.”
“You could not read what he wrote, Mavis?”
“I could hear it! Schaibar should send me a record, in the same way as I sent you my message. But he has not done so, and yet he was so fond of me. I cannot understand it!” And Mavis sighed.
“From your mention of Australia, it seems that you know geography also.”
“Oh yes, of course I do! Schaibar drew the maps, and told me where cities, and mountains, and lakes, and rivers were. I carry it all in my head.”
“And you cannot read or write?” asked Gerald, with a passing recollection of “The Golden Butterfly” heroine.
“No; the Ogre said that my brain was not strong enough to learn!”
“The Ogre!” said Haskins, forgetting.
“My guardian—Major Rebb. He says that lots and lots of girls never learn to read or write.”
“Liar!” thought Haskins: but he suppressed the opprobrious name, and merely remarked anxiously: “But you don’t feel your brain weak?”
“Oh no! oh no! I could learn anything, I think. I have never had a day’s illness in my life.”
“Do you ever feel dizzy?”
“No! Why should I?”
“Do you ever get into a rage and want to strike Bellaria?”
Mavis laughed wonderingly. “I should be foolish to do that! Poor Bellaria doesn’t mean to be cross, and, if she cannot keep her temper, I must. I wouldn’t strike her or anyone, even if I were in a rage. Do you strike people when you are angry?”
Gerald coughed. He had a vivid recollection of schoolfights, and of horsewhipping a scandal-monger, much later in life. “It is necessary sometimes, Mavis,” he remarked: “the world is not inhabited entirely by agreeable people.”
“Oh, I know that!” she said quickly, “the old gardener, Matthew, who came to help me from Leegarth, is very disagreeable, and he seems to be a little afraid of me. I don’t know why, and I am very sorry. I want everyone to love me.”
“Doesn’t Major Rebb?”
“Yes! in a way. But he is cold. He never kisses me. If you like a person don’t you kiss her?”
“If she’s a very nice person I do,” said Haskins, bubbling over with laughter, “now you—” His eyes completed the sentence.
“You love me?”
“Yes, Mavis!” he answered unhesitatingly. Gerald scorned a lie.
“Then of course—” She bent forward, and, in spite of Gerald’s virtuous resolutions, their lips would have met, but that a deep contralto voice boomed from the quadrangle calling on Mavis angrily.
“Oh!” the girl flung back her head, “there is Bellaria calling me to supper. I must go or she may find you. But come again, and I’ll kiss you—you— Oh! what is your name?”
“Gerald!” he replied softly.
“Prince Gerald!” she said, smiling, and slipped down the tree rapidly, as Bellaria called again. Haskins, parting the leaves, saw her cross the lawn, and enter the house in the company of a tall, lean woman. But it was too dark to see Bellaria’s looks at that distance.
The adventurer slipped from the wall, and descended to “Mother Carey’s Peace Pool,” as he named the place. Paddling to the opposite side, he found a sloping bank and dragged his canoe into the undergrowth. Then, in the rosy twilight, he scrambled through the bushes to find some path or road leading to Denleigh.
How Haskins reached the Devon Maid that evening he could not tell, for his memory was occupied in recalling every word of that delightful conversation. But in some way he managed to strike a narrow path which led on to the high moors, and thence gained the highway, descending into Denleigh valley. It was rather late when he entered his sitting-room, and the rosy hues of the sunset had given place to the shadowy stillness of a summer night. Supper was waiting for him, and almost immediately the negro appeared with a hot dish.
“I thought you were lost, sah,” said Geary, looking closely at Gerald’s flannels, which were somewhat torn by brambles, and smeared with mud.
“Oh no,” answered the young man, ready with an explanation, since he wished to satisfy the negro’s curiosity without enlightening him. “I have been down the river and up the river in my canoe. But I got mixed up with stones and cross-currents, and blundered in the darkness. I therefore hid my canoe in the bushes, and came back.”
“And you like the river, sah?” asked Geary, lingering.
Haskins supped his soup and nodded. “A most charming river,” he said in a careless voice, “very quiet, very lonely. I shall explore it again to-morrow afternoon.”
The negro withdrew quietly, and Haskins reflected on the persistent way in which the man questioned him. More than ever did he mistrust Adonis, and now with stronger reason, for he felt certain that the negro was connected in some way with Major Rebb, who in his turn was assuredly connected with the Pixy’s House and its inmates. If Geary discovered that Gerald had met with the Enchanted Princess, he might officiously inform Rebb, when there would be trouble. Without doubt the Major was behaving illegally in shutting up a perfectly sane girl, and therefore would not create a public scandal. Nevertheless, if he knew that Haskins had penetrated his secret, he might remove Mavis to another hiding-place. Gerald could not risk that, until he knew more, and again had met the girl. He looked upon himself as the knight-errant of distressed beauty, and it behooved him to be wary in his dealings with a very difficult and somewhat dangerous matter.
After supper Haskins lighted his pipe and seated himself by the open window to think over matters. Mrs. Geary entered and removed the remnants of the meal in her dumb way. After placing a cup of coffee on a small table at her guest’s elbow she withdrew, and he was left to his reflections. These began with a consideration of Mavis’ beauty of person and charm of conversation. It can thus be guessed that Haskins was in love—genuinely in love, and for the first time in his life.
As Bulwer Lytton says: “There are many counterfeits, but only one Eros!” This was Haskins’ experience. He had loved in an earthly way many times in his time, and several times had mistaken the false for the true. A fastidious mind had saved him from the commercial passion of the ordinary man, and he had usually approached women in the belief that they were goddesses. This was hard on the sex, as the attitude exacts too much perfection in a world of temptation. Consequently Gerald had been deceived several times, and therefore had guarded himself carefully against the tender passion. Then he met with Charity Bird, and,—in common with many another man—fell in love with her physical charms. But in spite of her beauty, which he grew to admire as he would that of a picture, Haskins failed to find in her the wife and helpmate his exacting nature demanded. Outwardly Charity was all that he could desire, but inwardly she was less attractive, being matter-of-fact when she was not silly. She might suit Tod, but she did not match with Gerald, so he withdrew with little regret, and for some months, he had been heart-whole and fancy-free.
Now, in an unexpected and extraordinary way, the young man had met with another Charity Bird, more perfect than the original. Mavis was as beautiful in looks, and yet was higher in mind. From the strange upbringing to which she had subjected she looked at life—what little she knew of it—in a poetical way. Yet judging by her remarks on cooking and embroidering and gardening, she had a fund of common knowledge, directed by common-sense. It was too early as yet to pronounce authoritatively on her capabilities and trend of thought: but the spiritual power manifested in her personality appealed strongly to the lover who had loved her counterfeit. Here indeed was the true Eros; a deity, who could be worshiped without disappointment. Gerald, with less reflection than he usually gave to his decisions, determined to be a faithful attendant at the shrine of this divinity.
Having thus settled his attitude towards the girl, with the impetuosity of a young man and a true lover, Haskins began to think over Miss Durham’s position. In spite of the hideous rumor, reported by Geary, he believed, from personal observation, that the girl was quite sane. Rebb, who was her acknowledged guardian, had apparently set such gossip afloat so that no one might comment upon the seclusion of the girl. Guarded in this way by public fear, which had been erected by a lying tale. Mavis might continue to dwell for the rest of her life amidst the ruins of the Pixy’s House, closely watched by the Florentine and spied upon, in a less degree—as Gerald shrewdly suspected—by Geary, who was probably a creature of Major Rebb’s.
Now, the question was this: Why did Rebb shut up so pretty and unsophisticated a creature in conventual solitude? She had committed no crime, and, from what little Haskins had seen of her, she had no instinct which would make her commit one. There must be some other reason and a strong one for the odd behavior of Rebb. This reason Haskins determined to learn, howsoever much Geary and his employer might desire to conceal it.
Also there were other questions to which the young man desired answers. Why was Mavis so similar to Charity in looks? Why had she not been taught to read and write? Why was Geary—as Haskins verily believed,—posted at the Devon Maid to keep his one sinister eye on her? Gerald could not have sworn in a court of law that the negro was connected in any way with the Pixy’s House secret; but he had an intuitive feeling, from the man’s behavior towards Major Rebb, and by his eager statement of a false rumor, that in some manner the landlord had to do with the matter. Haskins, therefore, placed himself on his guard and by a careless demeanor, and apparent frankness he succeeded in lulling Geary’s suspicions as to his true reasons for postponing his journey to St. Ives. It was Geary who could answer, at least, some of the questions which vexed Gerald’s soul, and he lingered to hear them. Unfortunately he did not know how to inquire without betraying his secret visit to the Pixy’s House.
Two or three days went by, and Haskins regularly took his way to the river, to seek the fairy palace. After that first attempt to navigate so stubborn a stream as the Ruddle he used the canoe very little. It was easier and more expeditious to take the highway to the moors and then strike into the secret path which led to Mother Carey’s Peace Pool. This Haskins did, and then would paddle across to the landing place, whence he could gain the summit of the cliff. Here he would climb the wall to hide behind the beech-tree, and hither Mavis would come to chatter to her “Fairy Prince,” as she still continued to call him. But owing to the presence of Bellaria the young man did not dare to descend into the grounds. Any moment might have brought about discovery had he risked so much, for, according to Mavis, the Florentine was a keen and restless dragon.
“She’s afraid of something,” said Mavis, one day, when Gerald questioned her about the woman. “I don’t know what it is; but she is afraid.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Because she is always looking over her shoulder with a scared expression, and she never sleeps in the same bedroom.”
“Has she more than one then, Mavis?”
“Oh yes. There are many many bedrooms in the house, and Bellaria goes to a different one nightly. She’s afraid of the darkness, too, and remains always in the house after sundown. When she goes shopping in Leegarth she returns quite pale and nervous. I am quite sure that she is afraid of something, but she always gets angry with me, when I ask what is the matter.”
“Curious,” murmured Haskins, “here is another mystery!” then he asked aloud: “How often does your guardian come to you?”
“Not very often. Sometimes he is away for months and then will come twice in a week. He really is very kind, for he always brings me presents. I call him Santa Claus when he does that. But, oh! there is Bellaria. Stay here, Gerald; I’ll see what she wants.”
As it was early in the afternoon Haskins had an excellent view of the Florentine, who stalked across the lawn almost to the foot of the beech, drawn thither by her nursling’s answering cry. “You are always sitting on the high branches of that tree,” said the Italian crossly, and in most excellent English. “Why do you do that?”
“I can see the river and the pool,” said Mavis quickly. “Oh! Bellaria, I wish I was a nymph, that I could plunge into the cool water.”
“You can do that without being a nymph, cara mia. But not in the pool below—not outside the grounds. Your guardian would be angry. No English young lady leaves her home until she is twenty-one.”
Haskins smiled when he heard this frightful falsehood. Bellaria had been well trained by her master, and such was the simplicity of Mavis that she accepted the limitation of her liberty in all good faith. “But I shall be so glad when I am twenty-one,” she complained with a sigh.
“Si! si! si!” Bellaria placed her hands on her hips and nodded three times emphatically. “But you will not like the world. No, ah, Dio mio! the world is a dangerous and evil place.” And she looked in a scared manner over her shoulder, shivering in the warm air.
The Florentine had been a handsome woman, tall and dark, and of a commanding appearance. She was still remarkably straight at the age of fifty-six, and carried herself with a defiant air when forgetful of the danger that threatened her, whatsoever that might be. Then she would cringe and wince, as Gerald had just seen her do. Her eyes were large and black, but the pupils were dilated, and she looked like a terrified rabbit. Apparently the woman had cause to fear some enemy or some punishment, for not only were her eyes scared-looking, but her plentiful hair was absolutely snow-white. This might have been age, but fifty-six is not a very great age, and the hair might easily have been an iron-grey. There was certainly some shadow on her life which threatened disaster, and only when she forgot the danger, in conversation with Mavis, did Bellaria appear defiant and stately and tolerably young. But the very slightest reminder of that past—and the past apparently contained the danger referred to—and her form dwindled, her body bent, her eyes grew timid, and she aged to seventy, as though by enchantment. All this might have been fancy on Haskins’ part, for he was extremely imaginative, but he believed that he had read the woman rightly. Whatever might be the reason, Bellaria Dondi had been frightened into this lonely house; there to hide from some appalling danger.
It appeared that the fit of terror tormented her now, and that she had sought Mavis’ company from sheer dread of solitude. Quite ignorant of the man up the tree—or rather the lover who was seated on the wall—Bellaria sat near the trunk, talking to Mavis. Both the lovers were afraid lest their secret should be discovered, but Bellaria kept up so loud a conversation—and it seemed as though she spoke loudly to reassure herself—that the occasional movements of Haskins passed unheeded. Mavis proved herself to be a capable actress, despite her simplicity, for nothing could have been more artless than her demeanor. “Geary is coming to see me to-night,” said Bellaria, after a pause, and the observation startled the listener. “He sent a message by Matthew”—this was the aged, cross gardener, of whom Mavis had spoken.
“Why is he coming?” questioned Mavis.
“Major Rebb told him to come and see that the young man who is stopping at the Devon Maid has not been lurking about here.”
“What young man?” asked Mavis coolly.
“I have told you. A friend of the Major’s, who is stopping at Geary’s inn. He has taken to rowing on the river, and might find this place.”
“I wish he would,” said the girl, truthfully. “I should like to see a really young man.”
“You will some day,” Bellaria assured her, “and then you will be sorry, cara mia. Young men are all liars and villains. Geary wrote to Major Rebb in London telling about this Mr. Haskins—that is the name, I believe—so the Major says that Geary has to come over to-night to look round the place and ask me questions. So absurd,” Bellaria shrugged her thin shoulders! “As if anyone could come here unless I knew.”
“Why shouldn’t this Mr. Haskins come, Bellaria?”
“Because you may fall in love, and if you do you may want to marry this man. Major Rebb does not wish you to marry until you have seen the world, my dear.”
“But I have to wait for another ten months,” pouted Mavis.
“What is that? I—yes I, who speak, Bellaria Dondi—shall never never see the world again. Here I am shut up for ever and ever.”
“Why, Nanny? I have often asked, but you never will tell?”
“I tell no one the reason why I stop here,” said the woman sombrely. “I am dead to the world and to its people. For twenty years I have been dead, and it is as well that I should be thought to be dead. If they knew—if they guessed—ugh!” She looked round and shivered.
“If who knew?”
“No matter! no matter.” Bellaria leaped to her feet. “All is done with and over. I was famous once, cara mia. Yes—behold in me a great singer. But you know, you know. Often have I talked to you of my greatness. And it was blotted out in a night by— Hush! hush.” She cast a scared glance over her shoulder and darted into the middle of the lawn.
“Bellaria! Bellaria!” called out Mavis, “I’ll climb the beech again.” But the woman did not reply. She burst out into the Shadow Song from Dinorah, and Haskins realized at once what a magnificent voice she must have had. Even now many of the notes were true, though occasionally a high one was cracked and wheezy. Spreading her black skirts, she bowed and becked and swept and danced to her shadow in the strong sunlight, while her voice fluted high and birdlike through the air. Thus singing and dancing, she re-entered the house, her dark hour over for the time being. Haskins wondered what could be her secret. Here, indeed, was a woman with a past.
But by this time Mavis had climbed the tree again, and was hurriedly persuading him to go. “Bellaria suspects nothing,” she said eagerly, “and after Geary comes to-night he won’t come again. But you must be careful.”
“How can I be more careful than I am?” asked Gerald taking her hand.
“Come at night,” she urged, “come to-morrow night when the moon is high and the fairies come out to dance. I am often in the garden on these summer nights, for Bellaria will not come out, and I hate to be mewed up in stuffy rooms. She will not think that I am meeting anyone, and then we can talk without fear of discovery. I shall lead you into the other garden through the arch.”
“But if Bellaria sees me from a window?”
“Her bedroom is on the other side of the house, looking down on to the woods. She will not see us, and she will never suspect that anyone is with me. She knows that I love the moonlight, and, besides, she will not dare to come out because of her fear.”
“I wonder what that fear is,” said Gerald meditatively.
“I do not know. But go now, dear Prince, and come again to-morrow night at ten o’clock. To-night you must not come lest Geary see you.”
“And if he did?”
“Oh!” Mavis shivered. “I don’t know what he would do. He is a terrible black man, and has a horrid knife with a yellow handle—a big knife, oh! so dangerous. He brought it from Jamaica: he told Bellaria so. He would kill you, if he found you.”
“I quite believe that,” said Gerald grimly, and resolved to arm himself with a revolver when he next came to the Pixy’s House. He was resolved not to die without a fight. “But don’t worry, darling. I’ll be all right. Goodbye. To-morrow night, then.”
He dropped from the wall and departed, while Mavis wailed that he had not kissed her.
No; Gerald has not kissed her. He wished to very badly, but something in his heart—a strong sense of honor maybe—prevented his doing so until he had made his position clear to her. She was so simple, so innocent, so virginal that she knew nothing of passion, or of life, or of that world wherein women marry and are given in marriage. With an almost absurd particularity the young man desired that, before being kissed, she should learn that he was her true lover, that he wished to marry her, that he greatly desired to enter into a lifelong companionship with her. To act otherwise was to bind her unknowingly to him. When she understood what love meant, and was ready to accept him as her husband, then could he seal this acceptance with a kiss. For he knew full well that such a kiss would awaken the woman in her; would reveal life to her soul. A caress meant so much, that it was little wonder he restrained himself from following too hurriedly the desire of his heart.
And perhaps it was that he found her innocence and friendly acceptance of his presence too delightful to transmute with unconsidered haste friendship into love. Why spoil this idyll of lilies by presenting her with the red ripe roses of love? The romance was so charming, so dreamlike, that the poetic instinct of the poet forbade him to rouse her. Mavis was indeed the Sleeping Beauty, slumbering within her enchanted palace, and he, the fated Prince—as it would seem he was from his finding of the cylinder—would in time awaken her with a kiss. But the hour had not yet struck. When it did, many things would come to pass.
In the first place, Mavis would no longer be contented to live in the Pixy’s House, ignorant of life. She would wish to come out into the world, even before the age of twenty-one, and would not wait longer for her guardian’s permission. Such a desire would mean a meeting and an explanation with Rebb, and Gerald, as yet, did not see how to bring this about. He guessed that when he spoke to the Major he would be told of the homicidal mania with which Mavis was said to be tainted. It would be vain for him to decline to believe in such a taint. If Rebb insisted that it was so he could refuse to allow Haskins to marry his ward, particularly as she was under age. Then again, if Rebb guessed that the young man wished to marry the girl, he might very easily remove her secretly to a new hiding-place, and Gerald would lose her for ever. Hasty action was not to be thought of, and it would be best to wait until he could learn why Rebb secluded the girl in that ruinous house.
Haskins duly returned to the Devon Maid, and found Geary as cheerful and obsequious as usual. But now that Gerald was enlightened as to the connection of the negro with the Pixy’s House he found it difficult to tolerate these false smiles. Piercing the mask of Geary’s good humor he saw in him a dangerous man, gripping a yellow-handled knife which he was ready to use, should it be necessary. Haskins no longer wondered at the negro’s presence amongst these lonely hills. He knew that he had not drifted there, but had been made landlord of the inn to act as a dragon. And a very dangerous dragon he might prove to be, should he gain wind of Gerald’s philanderings with Mavis.
Geary, however, showed no signs that he suspected anything, but waited as usual on his guest. While at dinner Gerald seized the opportunity to tell his landlord that he contemplated stopping at Silbury on the ensuing night. “I have to run up to London on the day after to-morrow,” said Haskins, with feigned carelessness, “and if I sleep at Silbury I can catch the eight-o’clock train.”
“I could dribe you dere, sah, for dat train,” said Geary, beaming, and evidently pleased at Haskins’ announcement.
“No, my good fellow, that would mean my getting up at five in the morning. I prefer to sleep at Silbury—at the Prince’s Head Hotel.”
“Will you come back here, sah?”
“Oh yes, in two or three days, but only for a time, Geary. I have to go on to St. Ives, you know.”
“I shall be sorry to lose you, sah?”
“Thank you. I shall be sorry to go. This inn is comfortable, and the country all around is picturesque. I have left my canoe down on the river, and when I return I shall send it back to Exeter. I am tired of exploring that river—it is so lonely.”
“Berry lonely, sah,” assented Geary promptly, and went towards the door with the tray in his hands. There he stopped. “Will you want me dis ebenin’, sah. I go to see a frien’ in de Lawd at Leegarth, who wish to see me for de good ob his bressed soul.”
“No, I won’t want you,” rejoined Haskins, secretly disgusted at the fellow for using the cloak of religion to mask his Pixy’s House visit. “I shall go to bed early.”
“T’ank you, sah,” and Geary departed. Later, while Gerald at the window sipped his coffee, he saw the big negro walking up the hill which led on to the moors. For the moment it flashed across the young man that Geary might go to Mother Carey’s Peace Pool by taking the down path, and there might discover the canoe. But on second thoughts he dismissed his reflection. Geary, being quite ignorant of Haskins’ knowledge, had no reason to seek the pool, and so the canoe would be left undisturbed in the undergrowth.
Haskins had really intended to retire early, but, unable to rest quietly, he strolled out of the inn and on to the bridge. No one lingered there now, as the early birds of Denleigh had gone to roost. He had the Rialto of the village all to himself, as he thought, until he became aware that Mrs. Geary, with a blue shawl over her head, was leaning against the parapet. Wondering if he could learn anything about Adonis from his usually silent wife, Gerald moved alongside.
“A penny for your thoughts, Mrs. Geary,” he said cheerfully.
Mrs. Geary turned, and in the moonlight he saw that she was crying. “My thoughts have to do with funerals, sir,” she said, in a heavy voice, but with a much less use of the Devonshire dialect than he would have expected from a Barnstaple woman.
“I was thinking,” said Mrs. Geary, looking at the water flowing under the bridge, “if it wouldn’t be best for me to throw myself into yon stream.”
“Why on earth should you do that?” asked Haskins blankly. And it was then that he became conscious that she had been drinking, for she swayed against the stonework. Perhaps it was the drink which made her talk more than usual, added to the absence of her husband, but she certainly spoke very freely, and told him much that he wished to know.
“Why should I wish to do that, sir?” she repeated scornfully—“because I am the most miserable woman on God’s green earth.”
“Oh, surely not, Mrs. Geary. You have a good home, healthy children, and a capital husband.”
Again she laughed scornfully. “A capital husband, when it suits him. Oh, you don’t know what Geary is, Mr. Haskins. His soul is as black as his face, and that is saying a lot.”
“I wondered why you married a negro,” commented Haskins, leaning over the bridge, and leading her to confide in him.
“I married him because I was a greedy fool, sir. I was a housemaid, or at least a general servant, under Bellaria at the Pixy’s House.”
Gerald caught his breath. “That is where the mad girl lives, according to your husband.”
“Mad? She’s less mad than I am, sir. A poor, pretty, sweet young lady, who is kept a fast prisoner by Major Rebb.”
“Why is she kept prisoner?”
“I can’t tell you that, sir. All I know is that, sixteen long years ago, I was a servant there, and Miss Mavis liked me. I got on well with Bellaria too, although she had her fits of terror at times—why I can’t say, but she often seemed to be scared by her very shadow. Major Rebb was away then with his regiment in Jamaica.”
“Oh! And Miss Mavis lived at the Pixy’s House?”
“She was and is kept a prisoner there,” said Mrs. Geary, whose tongue seemed to be very loose with the drink, else she would scarcely have talked so boldly. “Major Rebb came home with Geary, who had been his servant in Jamaica. Geary stopped at the Pixy’s House, while his master went to London. He fell in love with me, and quarreled with Bellaria. They were like cat and dog, so when Major Rebb came down he said that if I would marry Geary he would keep my old mother out of the poorhouse. I didn’t dislike Geary then, and I wanted my mother to be comfortable for the rest of her life. I agreed, and married Geary. Major Rebb settled us in the Devon Maid fifteen years ago, and since then my life has been a hell, with that villain. Geary will kill me some day,” added the woman in a matter-of-fact tone, “unless I kill myself first.”
“But a big woman like you can manage him.”
“Not when he threatens with that yellow-handled knife he holds, sir. I fear that knife. Geary says that it was used in some African sacrifice in Jamaica, and the sight of it makes me sick. Because of Geary’s treatment I took to drink, and he’s always threatening to kill me, unless I leave it off. How can I,” cried Mrs. Geary, throwing open her arms, “when it is the only thing that makes me able to stand the brute?”
“Does he strike you?”
“He beats me and kicks me, and threatens me with the knife. Don’t tell him that I said so, sir,” cried Mrs. Geary, with sudden terror, for the drink was dying out of her, “if you do he’ll kill me. I am afraid of death,” she added, looking into the silver water, “if I were not I would end everything in yonder stream.”
“I won’t say a word, Mrs. Geary,” said Haskins soothingly, “your husband will never hear anything from me. Why does he live here?”
“To watch the Pixy’s House,” said Mrs. Geary, “to see that Miss Mavis don’t get away. If she did, and learned what she should learn, the Major wouldn’t be able to dash about in motor cars.”
“Is it money?” asked Gerald eagerly.
Mrs. Geary drew her shawl tightly round her massive form. “I don’t know rightly what it is,” she said, in her heavy voice. “Geary says very little, but what he does say shows that Major Rebb will never let Miss Mavis leave that house. And she’s not mad, poor lamb. She’s a poor innocent angel, the sport of villains. I’ll go now, Mr. Haskins, and mind, I have your word to say nothing.”
“You have,” said Gerald as she turned away, “but if you want to help Miss Mavis—”
“Only one man can help her,” interrupted the woman gruffly, “and he must be her lover, who will stand against these devils on her behalf. But she never sees a man, since Mr. Arnold went away, unless old Matthew counts, so what chance has she! There,” she ended abruptly, “I have told you more than I ought to. The drink! the drink! Geary would kill me if he knew. Curse Geary and curse the drink!” and she returned slowly to the inn, striking her forehead and repeating: “the drink, the drink, the drink!”
Haskins remained on the bridge for a few minutes and then retired to bed, not to sleep but to think deeply. He had enough to occupy his thoughts throughout that long summer night. Mrs. Geary, as the saying goes, had given the show away. From the remark about the motor car Gerald felt certain that Mrs. Geary had meant a loss of money. Apparently, if Mavis escaped from the Pixy’s House, Rebb would lose an income, which rightfully belonged to the girl. But of this the young man could not be sure, and until he had more information he could do nothing. Still his suspicions had certainly proved to be correct. The negro was Rebb’s creature, and had been posted in Denleigh village to guard the Pixy’s House and its occupants. Haskins felt that he was on the track of the mystery, but could not follow it up until he talked it over with another person. Two heads were better than one, in this instance, and Tod Macandrew was very shrewd. Therefore Haskins fell asleep with a resolution to explain matters to the lawyer when he went to London. Meanwhile he had to meet Mavis in the moonlight on the ensuing night, and that thought alone was sufficient to fill his mind to the exclusion of less romantic matters.
Next morning Geary was as suave and obedient as usual. Evidently he had neither found, nor had he heard, anything to awaken his suspicion while visiting the Pixy’s House. Haskins watched him closely, and weighed every look, every inflection of the voice; but in every case he was satisfied that the negro had not the slightest idea that his guest had stormed the Enchanted Castle. When the time came for Haskins to drive to Silbury the negro himself appeared on the box of the trap.
“Hullo,” said Gerald, climbing in, and seeing that his portmanteau was all right, “this is an honor. Geary.”
“Oh no, sah,” said the negro, showing his splendid teeth, “you ver’ good pusson, sah, to hab at de Devon Maid. I wish you to come here again an’—an’ tell odder jemplem ob dis place.”
“I’ll tell everyone,” said Gerald, when the trap started, “and I’ll be back soon.”
“To stay wid me, sah?”
“For a few days. I must then get on to St. Ives, as a friend is awaiting me there. What I miss about Denleigh, Geary,” added the young man, in a careless tone, “is, that there are no pretty girls.”
“No, sah, no. You hab to see Jamaica for de pretty gals, sah.”
“You come from Jamaica then?”
“Yes, sah. Me buckra nigger, sah, and servant to Major Rebb. Him was in command ob a fine black rig’m’t, sah.”
Geary was communicative indeed, and simply told what Gerald had gathered from the wife. However, to shield her, he expressed suitable surprise. “I wonder you don’t go back to Jamaica, Geary. After the Tropics this place must be chilly, and extremely dull in winter.”
“Yas, sah, it berry dull,” replied the negro unsuspiciously, “but I hab de inn and de wife and de family, so I getting on berry well. But some day I go back to Port Royal to lib, wid money, and den I a grand jemplem.”
In this way Adonis chattered all the long way to Silbury, and told Haskins quite a lot about his life with Major Rebb. The negro appeared to be quite devoted to his old master, alleging that Rebb had saved his life when it was in danger. “From what?” asked Gerald idly.
“Voodoo!” said Geary, scowling. “I lose one eye in Voodoo,” and after this remark he became silent.
Haskins had heard of Voodoo, of the terrible African witchcraft, and having an initiate in his company would have liked, from literary curiosity, to learn more. But by this time the trap was entering Silbury and descending the steep High Street, so Geary refused to say anything more. The loss of his eye was evidently a sore subject with him, and small wonder that he loved Rebb if the sight of the other eye had been saved by that military gentleman. When Geary drove away, leaving Haskins at the Prince’s Head, that individual thought deeply.
Haskins, being genuinely Anglo-Saxon, had not the plotting instincts of a conspirator, and was therefore somewhat rough and ready in arranging for a secret meeting with Mavis. However, love sharped his wits and he excused himself to the landlady of the Prince’s Head for being absent after midnight on the plea that he had to ride out and see an old friend. In the ordinary course of things there was no reason why he should explain at all; but to make matters entirely safe, should Mr. Geary play the spy—which was just what the creature would do—Haskins thus arranged for an explanation.
After dinner he called in Mrs. Jennings and ordered a horse, obtaining at the same time the key of a side door, so that he could admit himself when he returned, somewhere about one o’clock in the morning. Then he gave orders that he was to be called in time for the early morning train, and afterwards snatched forty winks, in order to prepare himself thoroughly for the fatigues of the night.
Owing to the excessive heat of the weather Haskins usually wore loose white flannels from morning until evening. But on this occasion, to escape the possible watchfulness of Bellaria, he donned a dark-hued riding-dress, with brown gaiters and a tweed cap. In this guise, and when shielded by the semi-gloom of the summer night, he would certainly avoid observation. And of course the chances were that the woman, tormented by her fears, would not venture out of the house after dark. Still, it was best to be on the safe side and dress as inconspicuously as possible.
The animal supplied by the stables of the Prince’s Head was not exactly a Derby Winner. He proved to be a wary quadruped, remarkably old and extraordinarily slow, but having the great merit of knowing every inch of the surrounding country, no mean qualification considering the rider’s comparative ignorance. However, Gerald had a fair idea of the five miles’ route to Leegarth, and in due time the horse got over the ground, although it must be admitted that he did not hurry himself. Haskins reached the village shortly after ten o’clock, and skirted round the houses, so that he should not be observed. An unknown stranger, arriving in so secluded a hamlet, would assuredly awaken the suspicions of the wary Geary, and news travels fast in country districts. So Gerald kept well out of the way, and after a somewhat circuitous route came to the banks of Mother Carey’s Peace Pool. Here he fastened his horse to the trunk of an ancient oak, with permission to crop the lush grass, and launched his faithful canoe. Shortly he was perched for the fourth or fifth time on the top of the wall.
The night was perfect. A Romeo and Juliet night, warm and still, with a cloudless sky, radiant with ivory moonlight. Gerald looked down on the quaint peaceful quadrangle sleeping in the chill whiteness, at the range of buildings with their fantastic architecture, and at the darkly solemn trees which girdled this Enchanted Palace. Then he became aware of a slight, white-clothed figure flitting across the shaven lawns, like a ghost of dead-and-gone beauty. A musical whisper stole through the warm stillness, and the adventurer, with a fast-throbbing heart, flung himself on to the boughs of the copper beech, to use it as a stair for descent. In a few minutes he found himself standing in the shadow of the tree, clasping a cool slender hand, and looking into two wonderful eyes which flashed like the stars overhead.
“Oh, you are not in white, Prince,” said Mavis, disappointed.
Gerald explained. “I thought it best to wear dark clothes, since Bellaria might be on the watch.”
“There is no chance of that. She is fast asleep, and would not leave her bed unless the house went on fire.”
“Then again,” went on Gerald, pressing her hand, “I had to ride here from Silbury. I could scarcely do that in flannels.”
“Well,” Mavis dragged him into the radiant moonlight and surveyed him critically, “it doesn’t matter. I like you in this suit of clothes. You look so tall and straight and slim, and—”
“Oh, my dear,” Gerald laughed, “you will make me vain.”
“But you are vain already,” she said naively. “Bellaria says that all young men are vain.”
“How can this particular young man be otherwise,” questioned the lover, “when the most charming girl in the world makes an appointment with him in the realms of romance?”
“Am I charming, Gerald; am I? Oh,” Mavis clapped her hands, “how delightful to be told that. Say it again.”
“You are charming, Mavis, and also rather reckless for laughing so loud.”
“Pooh! Everything is safe, for the gates are locked and Bellaria is asleep. In all these wide gardens only you and I are awake, unless,” added Mavis seriously, “you count the fairies.”
“And the nightingales, and the crickets,” ended Gerald, smiling.
Mavis smiled also, and they stood hand in hand like a couple of schoolchildren out on a frolic. Then “Come,” she cried, loosening her grip, “you must catch me, catch me, my Prince;” and like an arrow from the bow she shot across the turf towards the archway, followed rapidly by her lover. Haskins was swift of foot, but Mavis ran like Atalanta, and was flitting about the gardens on the other side of the archway before he could range alongside.
“You are the Fairy Queen,” panted Gerald, when he reached her. “I saw you spread large white wings.”
“Oh no,” said Mavis seriously and prosaically, “I used my legs.”
“The Queen of Spain has no legs,” quoted Haskins, laughing.
“Oh, how dreadful—how very, very dreadful!”
And he laughed again to see that she took him seriously.
The gardens were very lovely, and much less orderly than the quadrangle. Following Disraeli’s dictum, they had been cultivated to excess, and then Nature had been allowed to decivilize them. The result was charming, and wonderfully artistic. There were beds of brilliant flowers, wherein slim saplings grew at will; statues of god and goddess wreathed in greenery; ponds of placid water rimmed with stone, wherein white lilies slept on broad leaves, floating amidst slender reeds. The façade of the house, with its Tudor battlements and long ranges of latticed windows, rose picturesquely in the still, calm light of the moon, which rendered all things ethereal and fairylike. Before the mansion stretched a shallow terrace of gray stone, diapered with lichens and emerald moss. A wide flight of steps descended from this to meet a broad path, which melted imperceptibly into a jungle of tall bushes and wiry grasses. And all around the trees sprang like sentinels to guard this magic domain from the prose of the outside world. Everything was bathed in a luminous white radiance—and in this colorless world Mavis flitted here and there like a moth of snow.
“It is too lovely for mere words,” murmured Gerald, gazing at all this beauty, with his poetical feelings uppermost.
“Are you speaking of me?” asked Mavis joyfully.
He laughed. “In spite of your seclusion, my dear, you are a true woman, for you will not allow even the landscape to be complimented when you are present.”
“Human beings are so much nicer than landscape,” she pouted.
“One is, at least. I wonder who she can be.”
“Me,” said Mavis triumphantly.
“How clever of you to guess that, my angel.”
Mavis flung up her arms with a silvery laugh. “I am a fairy to-night, and no angel. They are stiff things with goose wings.”
“Rhyme and reason both together,” said Gerald, sitting down on a mossy stone fronting a smooth greensward. “Well, then, you are Titania, and I the rash mortal who has intruded on your privacy.”
“Take care that I do not enchant you, poor mortal.”
“You have done that already. Hark!” he raised a finger, “the wind is rising, your Majesty.”
“To play for my dancing.”
Then Gerald saw a wonderful thing. While the wind played with viewless fingers on the lyre of the surrounding woods, Mavis danced to the rhythm in exact unison with the gentle breaths which came and went. She bent her golden head to listen critically to the murmurings, and swung and swayed and floated to the melody of Nature. Her feet and arms scarcely moved, her slender body was almost still, yet by subtle movements she contrived to interpret the meaning of the hour. A low, low note from the tree-tops would send her floating across the grass: a pause would bring her to a statue stillness, and a dying sigh, as the wind lost heart, stirred her limbs to gentle movements, like the tremblings of a flower on its stalk. Poised gracefully in the radiant light, in her white garb, and with her mystical gestures timed to the Nature sounds, she looked like a spirit of the woods. Gerald faintly grasped for one fleeting moment the idea of the sacred dances of old, when every gesture and every pose was a sign of power to draw down the hierarchy of heaven to the physical plane.
Then the wind died away, and the golden notes of the nightingale fluted through the trees. One bird trilled wild music, and another replied with a scattering of liquid notes like falling rain. All the marvelous enchantment of the night was in that speechless song, and the young man’s heart beat in measure with the pulse of Nature. He rose abruptly to his feet, and when Mavis floated within the circle of his arms they went round her passionately. Like a tamed bird she rested on his heaving breast, and looked up smilingly into his brown eyes. Mavis read therein all that the wind and the nightingale had been trying to tell her, and when the man’s lips were pressed ardently to her own she felt as though she had stepped from the twilight of unformed things into the glory of sunlight and song.
“Oh,” she panted, nestling to his heart, “what does this mean?”
“Love!” he breathed, “love, which changes man into God,” and again his lips sought hers. With a thrill, she yielded to the first caress she had ever known. And the nightingale sang triumphantly in the thicket. But now the song was no longer wordless: she knew all that the bird could tell. “Which is love, love, and love again,” whispered the Fairy Prince.
Then Mavis began to weep, with a natural fear of the unknown, and Gerald consoled her, as a mother consoles a child. She clung to him in the shadow of the tree, silent and wondering, and with something of pain—the pain of the reborn, when the fire of love purifies the soul. A veil had fallen from her eyes, and, beholding the secret shrine of the god, she trembled, and wept, and joyed, all in a breath. “It is wonderful, wonderful, terrible,” she murmured. “Oh, Gerald, if you leave me I shall die. You are part of me: your soul is blended with mine. You love me: oh, say that you love me?”
“As I love Truth and Beauty and Wisdom, and all things that make up our conception of God.”
There was silence for a few minutes, and the two human beings, who were really one, felt that they were alone in this wonderful white world—alone with God. “And this is love?” murmured Mavis dreamily.
“Part of love,” said Gerald softly.
“What do you mean?”
“Dearest, the veil of love is beauty.”
“We must remove that veil: we must look behind it, to see what love really means in the innermost.”
“We are about to,” he drew her closer to his breast, “the inner meaning of love is sacrifice.”
“Sacrifice,” said Mavis, puzzled.
“And that sacrifice we must make, if we would know the real and true meaning of love.”
“Do you mean that we must part?” she gasped, withdrawing herself.
“For a time,” he assured her, “only for a time—say a week.”
“Oh,” Mavis stretched out her arms langorously, “how can I live through seven days without you?”
“By knowing that sacrifice is the soul of love.”
“But why must you go?” she entreated. “Oh, do not go, darling. Let us be always together in this garden.”
“I fear Bellaria will object,” said Haskins, smiling.
“She will never know?”
“Oh yes. We cannot always meet by stealth. Bellaria is a woman, and will sooner or later discover our secret. Then there is Geary, and your guardian.”
Mavis shivered. “I am afraid of Geary, with his big knife, but not of Bellaria or my guardian. She will be a little angry, but when I tell her how happy I am she will be glad. And my guardian is always kind. Oh, Gerald, tell him that you love me, and wish me to be your wife. Then he will stop Geary from coming here, and we can be happy.”
Haskins hugged her to his breast and smiled grimly in the darkness. He was very certain that, if he told Major Rebb, there would be no end of trouble. In order to arrive at some conclusion it was necessary to make inquiries as to why Rebb kept the girl in the Pixy’s House. When that was known, steps might be taken to release her, and when she was released she could be presented to the world as Mrs. Gerald Haskins. But to make inquiries it was necessary that he should go to London and consult Tod, who was sharp enough in professional matters, and a visit to London meant a seven days’ separation from Mavis. “I don’t think that the Major will be overpleased at my wooing you by stealth,” said Gerald, choosing his words, so as not to alarm her. “You see, I should have come openly and with his permission.”
“He would not have given it until I was twenty-one,” cried Mavis, “he said that I was to see no one for the next ten months.”
“Precisely! And that is why I have made love to you secretly,” explained Haskins cheerily. “Now, darling heart, I wish you to be brave and to help me.”
“Only tell me what you wish me to do, and I’ll do it,” said Mavis, with a little shudder. “Only I don’t like pain!”
“To love truly we must suffer pain, my sweetheart. Pain and sacrifice are the demands of love. Had we an eternity of pleasure, without any disagreeables, even you and I should grow weary.”
“Oh no, no!” She clung to him.
“Ah, my sweet,” he said sadly, “we are but flesh and blood, and so may grow weary of too perfect bliss. The flower that is always in the sun wilts and dies. And, after all, the delights of life lie in contrast.”
“What do you mean by that, Gerald?”
Haskins saw that he was speaking too highly for her comprehension, so talked on a lower plane, for the night was passing, and he had to ride back to Silbury. “My dear,” he said slowly, “I should like to stay here for ever with you, and then we would be as gods. But if we wish to know the true meaning of love, as I explained, we must sacrifice ourselves to the necessities of life. We must part for seven days. I have to go to London, Mavis, and search out matters.”
But Haskins wisely declined to explain in detail, lest he should alarm her, for she must never know the true character of Major Rebb. Gerald did not know it himself at the moment, but he suspected that when the past of Rebb was searched into there would be some things found which would not bear the light of day. “I have to go on private business,” he said evasively. “When I return you shall know what is necessary. In the meantime, my own brave girl, you must hold fast our secret, and not allow Bellaria to guess that we have even met, much less that we are engaged.”
Mavis stood up slim and strong with a brave light in her wonderful eyes. “I promise!” she said simply, “I promise!”
“Sweetheart!” He rose also and kissed her, and then they walked slowly up the path, through the archway, and stopped again under the beech. “I shall return in seven days,” said Gerald, anxious to go, yet loth to depart, “only be silent. Live as you have hitherto lived, and—”
“I can never do that, my dearest,” she said, flushing, “the world is all changed. You are my world! you are my— Oh!” she broke down.
Haskins folded her in his arms, and their lips met in one last long kiss. Then he left her, silently. That was true wisdom, for a single word might have detained him for ever in that enchanted garden.
“It’s nutty, but not what I call top hole straight!”
“Mr. Macandrew, I am consulting you professionally, so I must ask you to use the King’s English!”
“It can’t explain my feelings, Jerry—it can’t indeed. What am I to say when you tell me that you have fallen in love in five minutes.”
“You loved Charity when you first set eyes on her, Tod.”
“That’s different!” snapped the solicitor. “She’s an angel! It’s only right to love an angel like winking when you spot her.”
“I quite agree with you, and so I loved Mavis.”
“Is this girl pretty?”
Haskins smiled to himself, as he had not yet informed Tod of the marvelous resemblance between the dancer and the recluse. “Yes, she is pretty!” he said calmly.
“Huh!” from Tod, “that doesn’t sound enthusiastic.”
“If you wish me to give details—”
“No! No!” Macandrew looked alarmed. “None of your beastly blank verse. I understand that you wish to consult me professionally.”
“Well,” replied Haskins leisurely, “I have been trying to ram that into your thick head for the last ten minutes.”
“Clients,” retorted Tod, with dignity, “do not call their legal advisers silly cuckoo names!” He arranged his blotting-paper, flattened out a sheet of paper, and seized a pencil. “You have my best attention.”
Gerald grinned. Tod’s professional airs were too absurd. All the same he knew that he could not come to a better man for advice. Also, Tod, being in love himself, was likely to be more sympathetic than a regular dry-as-dust lawyer.
“One moment, Toddy,” said Haskins, taking out a silver case, “I want to light a cigarette first. Have one?”
“These,” said the outraged Tod significantly, “are business hours.”
“So I should think from your ridiculously serious face. Nature intended you for a chubby Bacchus without any clothes, Toddy; but circumstance has stuffed you into a stupid little office to mislead people on points of law.”
“The office is capital,” said Tod heatedly. “I pay a very high rent.”
“You are being cheated then.”
“I’ll—I’ll—I’ll have a cigarette,” ended Tod weakly. “It was too hot to argue.”
Haskins had come up on the previous day, and having slept on his business had repaired to the grimy office in Chancery Lane to consult his solicitor. Mr. James Ian Robert Roy Macandrew—which was the lawyer’s gorgeous name, usually shortened to Tod by his friends because of his ruddy hair—possessed two rooms, sparsely furnished. The outer room contained two lean clerks and an office boy, who labored to increase a gradually growing business, while the inner room was sacred to the master brain that was building up that same business. There was a green-painted safe, an important-looking escritoire with a sliding lid, three or four chairs, a battered bookcase containing Tod’s somewhat limited library, and piles of japaned deed-boxes in iron frames. Everything looked very legal and very dry and very dusty, with the exception of Tod himself, spick and span, and far too fashionably dressed for Chancery Lane. Tod should have been strolling in the Row—and if dead-and-gone Macandrews had not squandered their money he probably would have been—beside Charity Bird, if possible. As it was, Tod, looking fresh and well fed and well groomed and alert, dwelt for many hours daily in a dull room, which his ancestors would have scorned. But Tod had been compelled to lay down the ancestral claymore and take up the pen, which was hard on Tod, who much preferred a kilt to a lawyer’s wig.
However, it was useless to be dignified with Jerry Haskins, as Tod decided, so after a glance at the door to see that it was closed, he unbent. He lighted a cigarette and produced a bottle of whisky and two glasses and a syphon. Not wishing that his clerks should see him unbend to this bacchanalian extent Mr. Macandrew cast a second look at the door, and advised Gerald, in scarcely legal language, to “Fire away.” “You’ve been playing the high-kick-oh, houp-la, since I left you,” said Tod with a jolly grin.
“I’ve been doing nothing of the sort,” cried Haskins indignantly. “This is very serious.”
“Is it now?” bantered the lawyer. “Well, when a man decides to marry a girl whom he has only seen for five minutes I rather think it is infernally serious. How did she manage to hook you?”
“What a beastly low mind you have, Tod. H’m! Shut up, and hold yourself tight. I am going to startle you.”
“Startle away.” Tod gripped the arms of his sedate chair.
“Well then, this Mavis Durham is the living image of Charity Bird.”
Macandrew stared and glared. “You’re rotting, boy. There can only be one angel in the world, and—”
“There are two of this especial make,” insisted Gerald, leaning back. “I say, Toddy, do be serious.”
“But are you serious?”
“I am, confound you. Don’t I look it?”
Macandrew stared and glared again. “There is a change in you,” he admitted—“love, I suppose. It’s the same with myself.”
“Tod, you don’t know what love is.”
“Oh, don’t I? Hang your beastly conceit! Well then, I just do. I love my heavenly Charity, no end. So there. But aren’t you pulling my leg when you say that Charity is the image of this Mavis girl?”
“Don’t call her a Mavis girl. Miss Durham to you, Tod.”
“Very well then—Miss Bird to you.”
Haskins sighed resignedly. “We’ll never get on at this rate. I am really and truly in trouble, Macandrew. Do listen.”
Tod nodded, and his face grew serious. Haskins seized the fortunate moment and detailed everything from the finding of the sealed message—which was scarcely necessary, since Tod had hooked the cylinder—to the parting with Mavis on that enchanted night. “What do you think of it, Toddy?” questioned Haskins anxiously.
“It’s very rum,” murmured Tod, making pencil marks on his blotting-paper. “Why does Rebb keep this girl shut up?”
“That is what I wish to learn. You must help me.”
“I’m only too glad: but how?”
“Don’t you remember how Mrs. Geary said that if Mavis left the Pixy’s House the Major would not be able to dash about in his motor car?”
“Yes. What of that?”
“It hints at money belonging to Mavis, which the Major is using.”
“Oh, I say,” Tod fell back in his chair, “you go too far. I don’t hold a brief for Rebb, but he wouldn’t be such a blackguard as that. Besides, he has six thousand a year. I know that for a fact.”
“Who told you?”
“What! Mrs. Crosby’s mother?”
“Yes. A grim old lady, ain’t she? Rather like my grandmother. She is not very fond of Rebb, as he is not very polite to her. Still, she wants Mrs. Crosbie to marry him, because of the money. How she found out, I can’t say; but she certainly stated that Rebb had the income I mentioned.”
“But I thought that both Mrs. Berch and her daughter were well off?”
“They assume to be,” answered Tod, with a shrug and a wink—“that is, they have a slap-up flat, and go everywhere, and Mrs. Crosbie wears expensive frocks, although the old woman looks like a rag-shop at times.”
“That may not be lack of money, but indifference to dress.”
“Humph! As if any woman, old or young, could be indifferent to frocks. Anyhow Mrs. Crosbie is supposed to be a wealthy widow in the market; but if she wants to marry Major Rebb, who is not a nice man, and if Mrs. Berch wants to be Rebb’s mother-in-law, it strikes me that the two may not be so rich as they pretend.”
“Well! well! well!” cried Gerald impatiently, “we are wandering from the subject. Rebb, you say, has six thousand a year?”
“On the authority of Mrs. Crosbie’s mother—yes.”
“Well then, Tod, I want you to know how Rebb comes to be possessed of that six thousand a year. Can you find out?”
“Well, no. You might ask the Income Tax people.”
“I can’t help thinking,” said Haskins, staring at the dusty carpet, “that the money belongs to Mavis.”
“If you think that on the few words let slip by Mrs. Geary,” said Tod scornfully, “you haven’t got a leg to stand on.”
“I go by my intuitions also, Toddy. They rarely deceive me. Witness my distrust of Geary. I was right in thinking that he had to do with Rebb and the Pixy’s House.”
Macandrew nodded. “Yes. You were right so far, but you assume too much in accusing Major Rebb of taking Miss Durham’s money.”
“It is only a guess,” said Gerald impatiently. “I may be wrong of course, Tod. Still, you must see that there is something queer in Rebb keeping Mavis shut up, and in putting about this rumor of her being affected with a homicidal mania.”
“You are sure that isn’t true?” ventured Macandrew cautiously.
Haskins grew wrathful. “Good heavens, Toddy, do you take me for an ass, you silly blighter! I tell you the girl is as sane as I am, and a deal more sane than you are.
“Then why does Rebb shut her up?”
“I want to find that out, I tell you,” snapped the other savagely.
Tod reflected. “Perhaps this girl is Rebb’s daughter,” he guessed.
Haskins started, as well he might. “I can’t believe that,” he declared violently. “She hasn’t a drop of Rebb’s blood in her body. And even if she were his daughter,” he went on in a contradictory fashion, “that is no reason that he should shut her in that gaol, and set a beastly nigger to keep his eye on her.”
“N—o,” drawled Macandrew, his eye on the blotting-paper, “you say that this girl is like Charity?”
“The very image of her. That is partly why I fell in love so rapidly, Tod. Before you came along I did love Charity in a way; admired her beauty and all that. But somehow she never made my heart beat. Now Mavis is just as lovely as Charity, and more so.”
“No! no! no!” growled Tod, striking the desk.
“Yes! yes! yes!” insisted Haskins, “besides, there is something in her personality which Charity lacks. I feel my heart beat and my pulses thrill and my whole being raised to heaven when Mavis looks at me.”
“So do I when I look at Charity,” retorted the lawyer, “but for heaven’s sake, Jerry, don’t let us pit the girls against one another. Mavis suits you and Charity suits me: there’s no more to be said.”
“Save that the girls might be twins.”
“I never heard that Charity had a twin.”
“Nor did I. But then we don’t know Charity’s history.”
“I do, in part,” said Tod quickly. “When Mrs. Pelham Odin was traveling with her own comedy company in India, fifteen or sixteen years ago, she found Charity at Calcutta. The child was then five years of age, and belonged to a native woman of the juggler caste.”
“Native? Do you mean to say that Charity has nigger blood?”
“No,” snapped Tod sharply, “I don’t. You have only to look at her to see that she is purely European. The native woman confessed to Mrs. Pelham Odin that she had picked up the child from an ayah at Simla for a few rupees. The ayah had perhaps stolen the child from some English people, or perhaps the mother was dead. At any rate the native woman bought the child, and taught her to dance in the show she and her husband went round with. Mrs. Pelham Odin took a fancy to the child’s beauty, and bought her from this native woman, and adopted her as her daughter in a way. She called her Charity because of the way in which she was found, and Bird because of her silvery voice.”
“Ha!” Gerald started, “another point of resemblance. Mavis has a voice like a nightingale. Tod, I must learn Mavis’s past life; these two girls must be connected in some way; the resemblance is too wonderful.”
“There are chance likenesses,” hinted Tod slowly.
“I daresay, but Nature doesn’t turn out two girls line for line the same unless she sends them into the world as twins. Mavis was brought to the Pixy’s House when she was five years of age, but she doesn’t remember where she lived before that. She is twenty-one in ten months.”
“By Jupiter!” Tod hoisted himself up with a curious look, “that’s odd, for Charity told me that she would be twenty-one next year, and then could run away with me. Perhaps there is something in what you say, Jerry, after all. What’s to be done?”
Haskins pinched his chin. “Let us leave the question of the resemblance alone for the moment, Tod. What I want you to do is to go to Somerset House and look up the wills.”
“The wills? Whose will. What will?”
“Look up any will made by anyone called Durham. Go back fifteen or twenty years. Of course,” said Gerald apologetically, “it is only my fancy based upon the few words let drop by Mrs. Geary, but I feel somehow—in my bones, as the old women say—that Mavis is being kept a prisoner on account of money.”
Tod fidgeted. “It’s such a wild idea,” he protested.
“Wild or not, it is six and eightpence in your greedy, legal pocket.”
“Rebb might not like my prying into his private affairs.”
“I don’t see that Rebb need know anything about it,” said Gerald impatiently. “In fact, I want to keep my doings dark in the Rebb direction, for if there is anything in my belief the Major will do his best to queer my pitch. If you look up the will of a man or of a woman called Durham, Rebb cannot say anything, as neither you nor I are supposed to know anything about the Pixy’s House business. Well?”
Tod nodded, and made a note. “I’ll search,” he assented. “Any will by someone called Durham, man or woman, and dated some fifteen or twenty years ago. Suppose I find nothing?”
“And suppose you do,” retorted his friend, rising; “we are searching for a needle in a haystack, remember, Toddy, and must poke about in every direction. We’ll look into the money business first, and then we can question Mrs. Pelham Odin and Bellaria as to the possibility of there being any relationship between these two girls.”
“See here,” remarked Macandrew slowly, “all this talk is first rate if you were writing a story and knew the end. But it seems to me that, as we have to deal with real life, you are making circumstances to fit in with your theories.”
“Perhaps I am,” replied Haskins, with a shrug, “but I am so much in love with Mavis that I shall move heaven and earth to get her.”
“Why not be bold and ask Rebb straight out? Then he could tell you the story of the girl’s birth, and perhaps may explain why she is so like Charity. If Rebb dislikes this Mavis so much that he shuts her up he won’t mind your taking her off his hands.”
“Oh, yes, he will, if money goes with her,” said Gerald grimly. “I don’t want to make Rebb think that I am in love. The whole business is shady.”
“Do you mean your love-making?” asked Tod slyly.
“No, you rotter. My love-making is as straight as Rebb’s ways are crooked. Do what I say, and when we learn if there is a will—”
“We’ll know how to move next. Meanwhile I intend to tell the story that I have told you to Mrs. Crosbie.”
“But, I say, she’ll go straight and tell Rebb.”
“No,” said Haskins decisively. “I have known Mrs. Crosbie for years, and she is as honest and good a little woman as ever lived. Mrs. Berch is also a ripping sort, if somewhat funereal. If Major Rebb is a villain—and I really believe that he is—I don’t want Mrs. Crosbie’s life to be made miserable by marrying him—or Mrs. Berch’s either: you know how she adores her daughter.”
“All the same, Mrs. Crosbie may tell Rebb,” insisted Tod Macandrew.
“I don’t think so. I shall enlist her sympathies on my behalf. Every woman loves a love affair. Then my story will put her on her guard against Major Rebb, and she’ll probably contrive to find out the truth of the business without his knowing. Good-day, Toddy boy.”
Haskins shot out of the office rapidly, but Macandrew sat soberly at the desk shaking his red poll. It appeared to him that Gerald was about to climb the Hill Difficulty, and might not reach the top.
That same afternoon, when Mr. Haskins was arraying himself in a Bond Street kit to call on the fascinating widow, he was seized with a sudden qualm as to the wisdom of his intention. After all, as Tod very truly observed, Mrs. Crosbie was supposed to be engaged to Major Rebb, although no official announcement had appeared in The Morning Post. If then he related the secret which was connected with the Pixy’s House and with a pretty girl, Mrs. Crosbie, inspired by jealousy, might forthwith demand an explanation from Rebb. In that case—vulgarly speaking—the fat would be on the fire and there would be a fine blaze.
On the other hand, Gerald wished to enlist Mrs. Crosbie on his side for two reasons. Firstly, she had been the close friend of his mother, to whom he had been tenderly attached, and as a boy he had flirted with her in the calf-love stage. They now were what Tod would call “pals,” and Gerald usually took all his troubles to her, for she was a wise little woman. Of course there were nasty people who called Mrs. Crosbie an adventuress, and who said that she had nagged her late husband to death; but these were in the minority. So far as Haskins could read character—and he prided himself thereon—Mrs. Crosbie was a good woman, who certainly ought not to marry a rascal like Rebb. And that the Major was a rascal Gerald believed—perhaps on insufficient premises. For after all there might be an honest explanation of the Pixy’s House mystery.
In the second place Haskins wished to remove Mavis from her prison, and as some time would necessarily have to elapse before he could marry her he desired to place her under the wing of Mrs. Crosbie. Since the widow was connected with Rebb, this seemed rather like putting Mavis into the lion’s cage. But Mrs. Crosbie was the sole woman of Haskins acquaintance of whom he could ask the favor of chaperoning a young girl. Also, once Mavis was at the flat and practically beyond Rebb’s reach—since he then could not hide her again—there would be no necessity for further concealment, and the Major would have to account to Mrs. Crosbie for the detention of his ward in Devonshire. The explanation—which would have to precede the marriage of Mrs. Crosbie to Rebb—could then be detailed to Haskins, and all things would be made straight. Of course, there was always a chance that they might be too crooked to be straightened. If so, it was the more necessary that Mavis should be placed in Mrs. Crosbie’s guardianship, and that the little woman’s eyes should be opened.
Bearing these things in mind, Haskins descended into the street to call a hansom, and proceeded to visit Mrs. Crosbie. She dwelt along with her mother in a palatial block of mansions, known as Ladysmith Court, and which had been erected by a financier of South African fame. The mansions were situated near Marylebone Road, and although the address was not ultra-fashionable the rents were high. When Gerald paid his cab at the foot of the marble steps, and surveyed the huge pile of redbrick buildings he reflected that Tod must be wrong about the widow’s financial position. Only a rich woman could afford to live here, and there could be no money-grubbing idea in connection with the Rebb marriage, even though the Major had six thousand a year. Nevertheless it was strange that Mrs. Crosbie should marry Rebb, when he was so much disliked by Mrs. Berch, of whom her daughter was extraordinarily fond.
Mrs. Crosbie’s flat was on the second floor, and Gerald was shown into a small but smart drawing-room by a neat maid servant. It was a true woman’s room, luxuriously furnished, prettily decorated, and filled with all manner of useless knick-knacks and fancy china, and silver-framed photographs, and Japanese draperies, and finally with masses of flowers in many-hued vases. The scent of the blossoms and the perfume of a burning pastille made the atmosphere fragrant, but somewhat heavy, in spite of the rose-curtained French windows which opened on to a tiny balcony. Near one of the windows Mrs. Crosbie was seated, looking somewhat pale and disturbed, and facing her was an overdressed man, with white hair and moustache, who looked like a foreigner.
“How are you, Gerald?” asked Mrs. Crosbie, when Haskins was announced, and addressing him by his Christian name according to custom. “I have not seen you for ages.” She shook hands and looked at him. “How brown you are, my dear boy. Allow me to introduce you two men. Signor Venosta, Mr. Haskins. Mr. Haskins, Signor Venosta, who has been amusing me. Do sit down. Tea will be in presently.”
“Alas, madam, but I must depart,” said Signor Venosta, who was a stout, oily-looking Italian of the tenor type, dressed in too gaudy a style to satisfy Gerald’s fastidious taste. “I have been with you one hour.”
“You should add that it has seemed like one minute,” said Mrs. Crosbie, with a pretty little laugh, and waving a fan, for the heat was stifling. “Well, if you must go, you must!” She rose, and walked with her visitor to the door, glancing over her shoulder meanwhile. “Excuse me, Gerald, I shall return soon.” And she left the room with the Italian.
This marked courtesy was not usual with Mrs. Crosbie, as she was a spoilt beauty, who preferred that others should wait on her, rather than that she should trouble herself about others. Haskins wondered at her self-denial, and especially in the face of such heat: wondered also that she should look so pale and worried. Apparently something was wrong with Mrs. Crosbie, and he began to conjecture whether Tod was correct as to money matters. Gerald was not over-rich himself, but he determined to question his mother’s friend, and learn if possible what bothered her, so that he could proffer help.
His hostess returned after some minutes, and looked quite herself, but the renewed color might have been due to the reflection of the rose-hued curtains. She tripped across the olive-green carpet like a fairy, and resembled one, being delicate and tiny and beautifully formed. People said that Mrs. Crosbie’s blonde hair and pink and white complexion were due to art, since a woman of forty could not possibly look so young without artificial aids. But be this as it may, she certainly appeared wonderfully pretty in her white silk tea-gown, which was draped with expensive lace. Haskins complimented her on her looks when she sank again into her chair and took up the cigarette-case lying on the table at her elbow. “And yet, you know,” added Gerald thoughtfully, “I fancied that you looked worried and pale when I came.”
Mrs. Crosbie lighted her cigarette and shot a keen glance at him. “We all have our worries, my dear boy,” she said, blowing a wreath of smoke.
“You should not have any, Mrs. Crosbie. And if there is anything that I can put right, you know that I—”
“Yes! Yes! I know,” she interrupted hurriedly, “but you can’t. It really is nothing—oh, nothing at all. It is the heat that makes me look pale and washed out. Mother is lying down quite exhausted, but will be in to tea. I hope no one else will come, Gerald, and then we can have a nice long talk.”
“That is what I have come to have,” he said soberly, and produced his own cigarette-case, which he laid on the table. “Give me a match, please. Thank you!” he lighted up. “I am in trouble.”
“And you have come to me as usual.”
“Yes. I hope that I don’t carry coals to Newcastle.”
Mrs. Crosbie shrugged. “My troubles are only minor ones, such as come to every woman when she gets past her youth.”
“You are in the flower of it.”
“And you have known me for years. Gerald, you certainly must have Irish blood in you, to pay such extravagant compliments. Don’t think too well of me, my dear boy. I have my faults. Why not? Look at the upbringing that I have had,” she ended bitterly.
“Why, your mother is—”
“All that a mother can and should be,” interrupted the little woman. “I know that, Gerald. But her husband, my father, was a brute. My husband, whom he made me marry in my teens, was a brute. Both my mother and I have suffered poverty and nearly open shame.”
“Poverty!” Gerald glanced round the luxurious room, crowded with such splendid things.
Mrs. Crosbie shrugged again. “These are only necessities,” she said contemptuously; “fancy a woman of my tastes having to live in a flat, and being bothered by tradespeople! I want a town house, a country house, a yacht, a chance of traveling all over Europe like other rich people. In fact, I want thousands a year, and I have not got them.”
Gerald looked down meditatively. So Tod was right after all, and Mrs. Crosbie was hard up, even to the extent of being dunned by tradespeople. He wondered if he could help her. “You have known me long enough to accept a check,” he stammered.
She whiffed away the offer contemptuously. “Although I thank you very much for offering the money,” she said graciously, “you always were a dear boy. But the amount of money I want would ruin you, since I am aware that you have but the five hundred a year left by your dear mother. There! there!” she tapped him with her closed fan, “we won’t talk further of these disagreeable things. All will be well.”
“When you marry Major Rebb?” asked Haskins pointedly.
“Why not? The Major is not bad-looking, and has a good position, and at least five thousand a year.”
“Six, I believe,” corrected Gerald.
“Who told you that?”
“Tod Macandrew. He heard it from your mother.”
Mrs. Crosbie nodded. “Yes; I believe that my mother asked Mr. Macandrew some questions regarding settlements on the chance that I should marry Major Rebb. But Mr. Macandrew should not have spoken about this.”
“He did not,” said Gerald hastily, “you can still trust Macandrew as your legal adviser. He has not betrayed your confidence regarding settlements. He merely mentioned Major Rebb’s income.”
“How did you come to be talking of Major Rebb?”
Gerald flung the fag end of his cigarette into a silver ashtray, and rose to pace the room. He could always talk better when in motion. “I want you to help me, Madge,” he remarked.
“You mustn’t call me Madge,” said Mrs. Crosbie, with a look at the door. “Major Rebb would not like it.”
“Then you are engaged?”
“Well, yes. I want money and—”
“Are you quite sure that Rebb has money?”
Mrs. Crosbie started to her feet, and crossing the room gripped the young man by his arm. Her face was perfectly pale, and her voice sounded uncommonly hoarse. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t mean anything,” said Gerald, astonished by her emotion. “Rebb is no doubt as wealthy as King Solomon. I only meant that you should make sure of the settlement. As your friend, I could say nothing else.”
But Mrs. Crosbie was not satisfied. “You have heard no rumor to the effect that Major Rebb is poor, or is likely to lose his money?”
“No! no! no!” said Haskins in perfect good faith, “do sit down and compose yourself. If anything were wrong in that way I should speak out.”
He could say nothing else, as, of course, his idea regarding a possible will, and money having been taken from Mavis, was mere theory. Mrs. Crosbie looked at him piercingly, after which scrutiny she returned to her seat. Apparently she counted upon this marriage releasing her from terrible trouble, and dreaded lest it should fall through. “I wish you would not frighten me,” she said querulously, “my nerves are not strong. Mother and I are going away to Bognor next week for the change. We both need one very badly. Well,” she selected another cigarette and became more her bright self, which he knew so well, “so you wish me to help you?”
“Yes. And I wish you to keep what I say to yourself. Promise.”
She looked at him hard. “You are very mysterious.”
“I am very much in earnest,” he rejoined dryly.
Mrs. Crosbie shuffled. “I can’t promise until I know what you are going to say,” she observed irritably. Her nerves, as she had said, were certainly very bad.
“There is something in that,” replied Haskins; and felt inclined to withdraw without telling his story. But after some reflection he compromised. “At all events you must hold your tongue about my secret for at least a month,” and by naming this time he hoped to deliver Mavis from her imprisonment within three weeks.
“I promise,” said Mrs. Crosbie curiously, “but I know your secret. You are in love?”
Gerald was startled. “How could you tell that?” he demanded, astonished.
She laughed, “I am a woman, and observant, as well as intuitive. Look at your eyes in yonder mirror, at the expression of your face, at your whole bearing.”
“H’m,” said Haskins, but half satisfied; “every one is not so clever as you are, Madge.”
“Don’t call me Madge, I tell you.”
“Yes, I shall when we are alone. Hang it, I have known you for years, and besides, I wish you to do me a service. I have your promise to hold your tongue for a month?”
“Yes! yes! yes! Go on! go on. I am all ears.”
“My story concerns Major Rebb.”
“What? Then you did mean something, when you mentioned him last?”
“I meant nothing that will stop your marriage,” said Gerald crossly, “although I don’t know why a nice woman like you, Madge, should marry him.”
Mrs. Crosbie stared. “Major Rebb is supposed to be a delightful man.”
“He may be—to those who don’t know him.”
“I believe that you are jealous,” she said, with a nervous laugh, “well, and how does your secret affect the Major?”
“See here, Madge, you may think me mean, speaking about Rebb to you, and behind his back. But I am doing so at that risk, because I wish you to help some one in whom I am interested. Otherwise, I am quite ready to see Rebb personally and have it out with him. Later on—say in three weeks, more or less—I shall. For then I hope that Mavis will be with you here, and quite safe.”
“Mavis! Ah, the girl you are in love with. What is she to Major Rebb, may I ask?” Mrs. Crosbie’s voice rose when she put this question, and her eyes grew as hard as jade, while her face colored a deep red.
“Ah,” said Haskins, surprised, “then you love Rebb?”
“No! But he is rich and—I don’t see what right you have to ask me such questions. Go on. What have you to say?”
“If you love Rebb I can’t speak.”
“I don’t love Rebb. Go on. I’ll keep my promise.”
Gerald hesitated no longer. Rising to his feet he again began to pace the room, and related the same story as he had told Tod. Only in this especial instance he suppressed his theory regarding the will and the money. Mrs. Crosbie listened quietly, and with an expression of dismay; but she made no remark until he had finished. “You are telling me a fairy tale,” she said quietly.
“Yes, isn’t it?” cried Gerald, delighted with her quietness.
“I mean that it is untrue.”
“I swear it isn’t. Mavis is kept in that Pixy’s House, and I found her by means of the sealed message, as I have described. Now I want you to get her up here, and look after her until I can marry.”
“Who will bring her here?”
“I shall, and within three or four weeks.”
“Ah!” said Mrs. Crosbie quietly, “now I see why you asked me to hold my tongue for a month. Gerald, you are wrong to act in this way. As I have made a promise I shall keep it; but it will be better for you to release me from that promise. Then I could ask Major Rebb about his ward and persuade him to let me have her up here. In any case, when I marry Major Rebb, I shall have to do with this girl you love.”
“What you suggest, Madge, would certainly be better and, I may say, more straightforward. I hate acting in this way behind Rebb’s back, and I intend later to speak plainly to his face. But you forget how Rebb has put it about that Mavis is a homicidal maniac. That is untrue.”
“You can’t be sure of that, Gerald; you have not seen sufficient of her to judge. To take a girl, reputed mad, from her seclusion would be very wicked. Any crime which she might commit would be laid at your door.”
“But surely, Madge, the action of Major Rebb is not that—”
“He may have, and probably has, good grounds for shutting up the girl.”
Gerald bit his lip, beginning to see that, with all his caution, he had made a dire mistake. “Then you won’t help me?”
“No,” said Mrs. Crosbie firmly, “how can you expect me to help you against Major Rebb, when we are engaged to be married? And how can you ask me to take charge of a girl who is mad?”
“She is not mad, I tell you.”
“And I tell you that she is mad; otherwise Major Rebb certainly would not shut her up. What reason could he have to shut up a sane girl?”
It was on the point of Haskins’ tongue to explain his theory, but having made one mistake—as he plainly saw from Mrs. Crosbie’s attitude—he did not wish to make another. “You will keep your promise of silence?” he urged earnestly.
“Yes, on condition that you make no attempt to run away with the girl from that madhouse. I speak in your own interest. You will get into trouble if you take an insane woman from her lawful guardian.”
“You seem to be quite certain that Mavis is mad,” said Gerald bitterly, “however, as you know my secret, and I am at your mercy, I promise.”
“I think that you are very ungrateful,” cried Mrs. Crosbie, “many another woman would have declined to keep, what you call, the secret at all.”
“I have made a mistake,” confessed Gerald, and he could have kicked himself, that he, a man of the world, should be such a fool.
“Well,” said Mrs. Crosbie, as the door opened to admit the servant with afternoon tea, “let us say no more about it. I promise to hold my tongue for a month, and you promise to leave the girl alone meanwhile.”
Gerald waited until the tea-tray was arranged and the girl had departed. “No,” he said decisively. “I have been wrong, and you have shown me my duty. I shall call on Major Rebb to-morrow, and explain.”
“You cannot,” replied Mrs. Crosbie, “the Major is in Devonshire.”
This announcement complicated matters. “Then I follow Rebb to Devonshire,” said Gerald doggedly; “my mistake must be put right.”
It is admitted that Man as a whole is not infallible, but each individual man has a secret belief that he is. Haskins was no more complacent than other mortals—in fact, less so—yet he had an idea that his caution and common-sense invariably prevented his making mistakes. Assuredly, as a rule, he was rarely in error, but to every rule there is an exception, and Haskins’ ill-judged frankness to Mrs. Crosbie was the exception in this case. It said much for Gerald’s sane view of life that he recognized his mistake at once, and at the cost of some unpleasantness hastened to correct it. This entailed an interview with Major Rebb, which was likely to be a stormy one.
At the outset Gerald believed that he had read Mrs. Crosbie’s character all wrong, and that even after years of close companionship—since she had been so intimate with his mother—he knew very little about her. Had she really been that which he believed her to be, she would—he thought immediately on leaving Ladysmith Court—have readily helped him in his somewhat eccentric wooing. But on calmer reflection he arrived at the conclusion that he, himself, was in error.
His first mistake lay in overlooking the relationship existing between Rebb and the widow. Being engaged to him—as she had admitted—she certainly could not be expected to act against what she believed to be his interests. And his second mistake consisted in hoping that Mrs. Crosbie—who in many ways was particularly conventional—would take charge of a girl believed to be insane. It was only natural that Mrs. Crosbie should believe Mavis to be mad, as, being willing to accept the Major as her second husband, she could scarcely credit him with conspiracy. And if Mavis was not insane her detention in the Pixy’s House was certainly a conspiracy against her rights as a human being. Gerald took this view from personal observation, and because he mistrusted Rebb: but Mrs. Crosbie, as engaged to marry the Major, could not be expected to endorse a theory which would render Rebb unworthy of her hand, or indeed of her acquaintance.
It may be here mentioned that Haskins had not mentioned the wonderful likeness which existed between Charity and Mavis, since the thought had flashed across him, while speaking, that such a statement might implicate Tod in the mysterious business, which was not to be thought of. All Mrs. Crosbie practically knew was, that Gerald loved a reputedly insane ward of her promised husband, and desired her to side against that promised husband, so that he might marry the girl. It was impossible to expect that any woman would act in this way, and Gerald acknowledged to himself that Mrs. Crosbie had behaved in a perfectly reasonable manner in refusing to help him.
In fact, she had behaved extremely well in holding to her promise of one month’s secrecy, for many a woman would have told Rebb there and then what had been said about him. Therefore Mrs. Crosbie was not only right, but Gerald felt that he was entirely in the wrong; felt, indeed, that he had acted somewhat shabbily. The sole way in which he could right matters, and recover his self-respect, was to see Rebb, as soon as possible, and explain himself. Then, as man to man, they could thresh the matter out. With this idea Haskins drove back to his rooms in Frederick Street, Mayfair, intending to change and pack, and catch the midnight train from Paddington to Exeter.
But, while dressing, he reflected that it would be better to first assure himself that Mrs. Crosbie was correct in stating the Major’s whereabouts. Rebb’s rooms were also in Frederick Street, and only a few doors away, so it would be just as well to run in and to make inquiries. Rebb might return on the morrow, in which case it would hardly be worth while to journey to Denleigh so hurriedly. Also Mrs. Crosbie having promised to hold her tongue for one month, there was no necessity to act at once, since two or three, or even more, days would make very little difference. Finally, Gerald was unwilling to return to the Pixy’s House and to Mavis until he knew if his theory regarding a possible will was correct; otherwise he would have nothing to tell her.
While meditating on the desirability of calling at Rebb’s rooms, Gerald desired to smoke to aid his thoughts after the manner of men. He mechanically took his cigarette-case, but found some difficulty in opening it. As his case was usually easy to open, he looked down with awakened attention to see what was the matter, and found that he had brought away Mrs. Crosbie’s cigarette-case by mistake. Probably he had laid his own case on the small table alongside hers—and in fact he remembered doing so—and when departing had unconsciously taken the one which did not belong to him. He resolved to return it at once by post, but meanwhile took a cigarette therefrom to smoke, since there were no others in his rooms. This entailed opening the case, and when it was open a small object, which had been placed within, fell out.
This proved to be a tiny coral hand, clenched, and holding a dagger, something like those amulets which are sold in Naples to avert the evil eye. A little gold ring was screwed into the coral, so that the trinket could be attached to a watch chain or to a bracelet. After a careless glance, and a passing thought as to why Mrs. Crosbie should use her cigarette-case as a jewel-box, Haskins placed the coral hand on top of the cigarette-case, which he laid on the mantelpiece. Then he lighted up and walked out, to seek the Major’s rooms.
These, as has been said, were only a few doors distant, and Haskins speedily arrived on the first floor of the somewhat dingy house wherein they were situated. He found the door open, and a mild-looking valet talking to a veiled woman with a graceful figure. While waiting to address the man himself, Gerald heard him state to the lady that his master had gone to Devonshire on the previous day and would be back within four and twenty hours. The lady appeared annoyed, but declined to leave a card, or to give any message. However, she stepped aside, fuming—as Haskins guessed from the way in which she stamped her foot and clenched her hands—and permitted him to speak. Gerald asked the same question, as to the Major’s whereabouts, and received the same answer, upon which he produced his card.
“Tell Major Rebb, when he returns, that Mr. Haskins wishes to see him on a private matter. Mr. Gerald Haskins,” added the young man, handing the card. Then he turned away, wondering why the veiled woman should utter a muffled exclamation of surprise when she heard the Christian name.
But his wonder was still further increased when, on descending the stairs, he felt his arm grasped, and found that the strange lady was at his elbow. “You are Mr. Gerald?” she said in deep contralto tones, “may I call you—Prince Gerald?”
Haskins started. It was in this way that Mavis addressed him. But this woman could not be Mavis, for she was too thin and too tall, and her voice was too worn. Could she be— “Bellaria!” he said tentatively.
“Bellaria,” assented the woman softly—they were standing on the pavement by this time. “Take me somewhere safe. I wish to speak with you.”
“My rooms are close at hand,” said Haskins promptly, and wondering at this unexpected encounter with one whom he had believed to be miles away. “We can go there at once, Bell—”
“Hush!” she clutched his arm again, and looked over her shoulder, as she had looked when in the quadrangle. “Don’t say that name here. They may hear—they may hear.”
“Who may hear?”
“Never mind; never mind. Come inside; come inside. Oh, Dio! no mention of my name,” and she hurried into the doorway indicated by Gerald.
In a few minutes they were in Haskins’ sitting-room, and here again Bellaria’s nervousness betrayed itself.
“There is no one can hear us?” she asked, her veil up, and her eyes roving round the room.
“No, no,” replied the young man soothingly. “The man and his wife who attend to me in these chambers are below. You can talk freely. By the way,” he asked abruptly, “how did you know my name?”
Bellaria, looking more aged and haggard than ever, flung herself into an armchair, and laughed uncomfortably. “Prince Gerald. Who calls you Prince Gerald, Mr. Haskins?”
“Mavis does, but—”
“Then it is true, what she confessed to me: that you love her and she loves you?”
“Quite true,” rejoined Haskins quickly. “We met by chance, and—”
“By chance!” repeated Bellaria scornfully. “When you deliberately came where you had no business to come. I know all!”
“How did you find out?” Gerald was perfectly calm when he asked this question, as she did not seem to be hostile.
“I saw that Mavis was not herself, that she was disturbed, and guessed that she was keeping something secret from me. I watched, and saw her lead a man across the quadrangle. When she came in that night I told her what I had seen, and so—she confessed about the sealed message, and about her secret meetings with you. Also that you desired to marry her. Fool!” cried Bellaria pointing a scornful finger at her host, “would you marry a madwoman?”
“Not in making Mavis Durham my wife,” said Haskins coolly. “She is perfectly sane.”
“And I—Bellaria Dondi—say that she is not.”
“Are you sane yourself?” asked Haskins, turning the tables on her.
The woman reared herself in her chair, gripping the arms, and directed a fierce gaze at him. “What do you mean?” she demanded.
“Why did you not come out and face me when Mavis talked with me in the garden?” he remarked, meeting her gaze firmly and fairly.
“Because—because— Oh, there is no explanation.”
“I think there is. You dare not venture out after dark, so you waited until Mavis entered the house to question her.”
“How do you know that I dare not venture out after dark?” she asked, and her figure seemed to dwindle and shrink.
“Mavis told me.”
“Mavis knows nothing, nothing, do you hear? God forbid that she should ever know anything. But my business is my own business, and has nothing to do with you, Prince Gerald. Mavis is crazy: she would kill you as soon as look at you, at certain times.”
“I don’t believe that for one moment.”
“You must—you shall! If Mavis is not mad, why should her guardian shut her up in a lonely house?”
“That,” said Gerald very dryly, “is what I went to Major Rebb’s rooms to ask when I met you.”
Bellaria arose, much astonished. “You will dare to face the Major?”
Haskins laughed. “Do you take me for a schoolgirl? Of course I shall face the Major, and a dozen like him if necessary.”
“You are a brave man.”
“And Major Rebb? What is he?”
“The kindest and best friend that a miserable woman ever had,” retorted the woman fiercely, “not a word against the Major. I won’t hear a word, I tell you. What he does is right.”
“Not in shutting up Mavis.”
“She is mad, I tell you; mad and dangerous.” Bellaria came close to where Gerald was sitting and looked down into his face with a determined expression. “On learning what I did learn from Mavis I came up at once to tell Major Rebb, so that he might stop it.”
“I fear Major Rebb will find it somewhat difficult to stop it. He is not the Ruler of the Earth, so far as I know.”
“He is my ruler,” cried Bellaria grandiloquently.
“So I should think, when the mere wish to give him information makes you risk—”
“Risk what? Risk what?” she demanded, quivering.
Haskins shrugged his square shoulders. “Your life, for all I know.”
She stood looking at him with clenched hands, the expression on her worn face hovering between terror and defiance. “You talk of what you do not understand,” she said, breathing hard.
“Quite right: but I should like to understand.”
“Why Bellaria Dondi, who was a famous singer, should bury herself in a lonely Devonshire house, to keep a sane girl prisoner.”
“You have been listening!” she cried out in terror. “How do you know that I was a singer?”
“I heard you sing the Shadow Song from Dinorah during one of my visits; and, when hidden behind the beech-tree near the wall, I heard you say that you had been a great singer.”
Bellaria covered her face with two thin hands, and the tears fell through her fingers. “I was great! I was famous!” she sobbed. “I was happy until jealousy undid me. But,” she let her hands drop and flung back her queenly head, “I only did what any Italian woman would have done. He betrayed me, why should I not betray him?”
“No! Enrico Salviati, who swore that he loved me, yet left me for another. But I punished him. He died, and perhaps I shall die as he did, for all my care. They will find me, and then—Oh, what agonies I have suffered for many, many years! This face,” she struck it, “was handsome. Enrico loved it. These lips—Enrico kissed them—with the kiss of Judas. And what better am I? What better am I?” She rushed to the mirror over the mantelpiece to address herself. “Bellaria Dondi, you can hide in the depths of the sea, but they will find you. You can—Augh!” her eyes fell on the silver cigarette-case of Mrs. Crosbie, upon which lay, delicately, the clenched coral hand with the dagger. “Augh!” she repeated, and staggered back.
“What is the matter?” Gerald rose and came forward.
Bellaria repelled him with both hands, shaking with dread. “Keep back, you English spy! You have brought me here! You are one of them. But if you use the knife I shall scream. Keep back! Keep back!”
“I don’t understand,” gasped Haskins, amazed at this outburst.
“The hand, the sign, the token of death!” she groaned, then, keeping her terrified eyes on Gerald, stole stealthily to the door. “Tána! ahi Tána. Lasso me: si davvéro. Tána! Tána!” uttering these words rapidly, and almost in a scream, she made the sign of the cross on her breast and vanished. By the time that Haskins, in pursuit, had reached the top of the stairs she was at the foot. A moment later and she ran swiftly in to the street, holding her veil closely over her pallid face.
“What the deuce does it mean?” Gerald asked himself, as he returned to his sitting-room, and examined the coral hand. “This thing seems to have terrified her almost to death. ‘Tána! Tána!’ Humph! I must learn what that means. It is an Italian word, I expect. Now what”—He went on musing on the strange behavior of Signora Dondi, much perplexed, and did not notice that a lady was standing in the doorway. Her cough made him look round, and so unnerved was Haskins by his late experience that he fairly jumped.
“Mrs. Berch!” he said, recognizing the lady at once. “I apologize for not seeing you.”
“I apologize also,” said Mrs. Berch; in the stern voice habitual to her—“apologize that is, for entering unannounced. But the door was open, Gerald, so I took the privilege of old friendship and entered.”
“Delighted to see you, Mrs. Berch,” said Haskins, wondering why she had come, “won’t you sit down?”
“For one minute,” and she took a chair.
Mrs. Berch was a tall, thin woman, with a worn, white face, and hair as black as her eyes, notwithstanding her age, which was over sixty. She was dressed in some lustreless, dark material without any trimming, and carried herself very erect. In fact there was something of the Roman matron about her, so stern and proud did she appear. Gerald liked her, as she had always been kind to him. But Mrs. Berch was something of an enigma to him. He could not understand why so bold and determined a woman should have submitted to the brutality of her late husband. Yet Mrs. Crosbie’s father had behaved like a demon to his wife, as Gerald had learned from his mother. She adored her daughter, and—as the saying is—lived again in her child.
“You wonder why I have called,” said Mrs. Berch, in an unemotional voice, which always reminded Haskins of one talking in sleep, “especially when I was lying down with a headache when you came. But Madge asked me to bring you this,” and she produced Gerald’s cigarette-case.
“Thank you. I left it behind by mistake and took Madge’s. Here it is.”
Mrs. Berch arose and received the dainty trifle. “That is all I called about, Gerald. I shall take it back to Madge at once. She was much disturbed at losing it.”
“I don’t know why she should have been,” said Haskins; “she must have guessed that I had taken it, and would send it back. Oh, by the way, you may as well put this into it. I opened the case for a cigarette and found this. It fell out,” and he passed along the coral hand.
Mrs. Berch’s dead-white face flushed, and her black eyes glittered. “I am glad that is not lost,” she said eagerly. “It was this that Madge was anxious about.”
“What is it?”
“Some ornament to which Madge attaches some value, I fancy.”
“H’m. Is it the badge of any society?”
Mrs. Berch’s flush face faded to a chalky-white. “Why do you ask?”
Gerald asked a question in his turn. “Did Madge tell you what I came to see her about?”
“No. Madge never betrays anyone’s confidence. But I heard your story.”
“You heard it!” Haskins stepped back a pace in his astonishment.
“Yes!” said Mrs. Berch coldly, and slipping the case along with the coral hand into her pocket. “I was asleep on the sofa in the other room, which is, as you know, divided from the drawing-room by curtains. I woke to hear what you said about that girl and Major Rebb. In the interests of my daughter I listened.”
“And you intend to tell Major Rebb?”
“No. Madge asked me to hold my tongue. And indeed, Gerald, I would do so for your own sake. Major Rebb is an ill man to meddle with.”
Haskins threw back his head defiantly. “I am not afraid of Rebb,” he said, in a haughty tone. “I went to see him to-day to explain myself, but he is in Devonshire: gone to see his unfortunate ward, I expect. When he returns I shall demand an explanation.”
“He may not give it to you,” said Mrs. Berch, pursing up her mouth.
“He must. I love Mavis and I intend to marry her.”
“But if she is mad—”
“She is not mad, and—Well, Mrs. Berch, there is no use in my talking to you on the matter. I did wrong to speak to Madge about it, since she is to marry Major Rebb.”
“Madge will hold her tongue as she promised, and so shall I, Gerald.”
“Thank you both,” replied Gerald courteously, “but there will be no need after to-morrow. I intend to see Rebb, as I said.”
“To learn what?”
“To learn,” said Haskins, “why he shuts up his ward, seeing that she is not, in my opinion, insane. Also to learn why Bellaria, who watches Mavis, buries herself in the Pixy’s House.”
“I heard you talk of the woman,” said Mrs. Berch, in her chilliest manner, “and I presume that Bellaria stops in the Pixy’s House because she is Major Rebb’s servant.”
“There is more in it than that. Bellaria came to see Major Rebb this very day, and came also here to me, since she knows that I have visited Mavis. Bellaria is terrified out of her life because of some people who seek her life. When she saw that coral hand, which was lying by chance on the mantelpiece, she rushed away, accusing me of being in league with some society to kill her. At least, that was what I gathered from what she said. But it was sheer raving.”
“I think so, indeed,” said Mrs. Berch quietly, “this coral hand is merely an ornament, given by Signor Venosta, whom you met to-day, to Madge. It means nothing, Gerald, so think no more about it.”
But when she departed Gerald did think, and it was little wonder that he did so.
During the next three days Gerald found ample time to reflect upon the strange circumstances which environed him. Anxious to see the Major and place affairs on a proper basis, he called thrice at his rooms. On the first occasion he learned that Rebb had not returned to London; on the second, it appeared that he had come back, but was absent, visiting Mrs. Crosbie; while on the final occasion Haskins was told by the mild-looking valet that his master had gone again to Devonshire, and would not return for at least a week. He had left no message, said the man. From this circumstance Gerald inferred that Rebb was afraid of the interview. It then struck him, and very naturally, that, as the Major, during his hurried stay in town, had called upon Mrs. Crosbie, the widow had broken her promise. If this was the case Rebb had been placed on his guard, and so not only avoided Haskins, but had gone back to the Pixy’s House to make arrangements for thwarting the young man’s curiosity. Gerald therefore paid a visit to Ladysmith Court, only to learn that the widow and her mother had departed for Bognor on a month’s holiday. It was thus apparent that in these two quarters Gerald could do nothing for the moment.
And, indeed, the more Haskins thought about the matters the more difficult did it appear to set them straight. If he saw Rebb, and the Major held to the story of his ward’s madness—as he assuredly would—Gerald felt that, for some time at all events, he could do nothing. Of course, if his theory about the will proved to be correct, and if he could be certain that Rebb was shutting up Mavis in order to enjoy an income which should rightfully be hers, then he could take steps to have the matter inquired into. To make any beginning at all, it was necessary to see Tod Macandrew, so Gerald determined to look him up. Just as he did so, the morning post brought a Sunday supper invitation from Mrs. Pelham Odin. This was what Tod would have called a coincidence, but Gerald, believing that nothing happened by chance, saw in the incident a sign pointing to the path he should tread. Directed by the Unseen Powers, who were, he believed, about to unravel the mystery, he had not to see Rebb or Mrs. Crosbie immediately, nor had he to proceed at once to Denleigh. His duty was to visit Mrs. Pelham Odin’s flat and learn what he could about Charity Bird. If she was related in any way to Mavis Durham—and the marvelous likeness between the two girls hinted as much—he might learn from the old actress sufficient of her adopted daughter’s past to give him a clue to the intrigues of Major Rebb.
It will be seen that Gerald had not proceeded to inquire into the mystery of the coral hand, or Bellaria’s fear of the same. He could have learned somewhat about the matter of the trinket by seeing Signor Venosta, who, according to Mrs. Berch, had given the amulet to the widow. But Gerald did not know where Venosta lived, and could not make inquiries from Mrs. Crosbie without her wanting to know his reasons. Moreover, he desired to solve the mystery of Mavis and of her detention before searching into Bellaria’s past. Certainly he had a shrewd idea that Mavis’ detention, and Bellaria’s dread, and Major Rebb’s behavior, and Mrs. Crosbie’s possession of the coral hand, were all of a piece, but these were like the separate parts of a puzzle, and he could not fit them together. There was nothing for it but to see if he could find a clue into the labyrinth when visiting Mrs. Pelham Odin. He therefore dressed himself with great care, and proceeded in a hansom to Bloomsbury, where the old actress dwelt.
Her abode was scarcely a flat, in the accepted sense of the word, but rather a collection of rooms on the first floor of a fine old Georgian mansion in Caroline Street. A retired butler and his wife, who had been a cook, owned the house, and attended to the various people who dwelt therein. Mrs. Pelham Odin was thus spared the trouble of domestic details, for which—as she said herself—she had no head, and was very comfortably placed at a moderate charge. With the obstinacy of old age, she called her abode “my flat,” and no argument could persuade her that the name was wrongly applied.
Haskins entered the large square room with a painted ceiling which was Mrs. Pelham Odin’s drawing-room. Adjoining was the dining-room, equally spacious, while the two bedrooms occupied by the old lady and her adopted daughter were across the landing. The room looked pretty and picturesque, as Mrs. Pelham Odin had great taste, and did not cram her apartments with furniture, or indulge in a multiplicity of patterns on carpet or walls, or on the upholstery of the chairs. A great quantity of flowers adorned the room, deftly arranged by Charity, and it was lighted with rose-shaded lamps on tall wrought-iron pedestals. On entering the door from the staircase three narrow windows could be seen opposite, opening on to a small balcony, but, as the night was a trifle cold, these were closed, and the yellow curtains were drawn. The room looked comfortable, and Mrs. Pelham Odin was the most comfortable person in it. She fitted the apartment as a hermit-crab fits its shell.
The actress, with a great sense of the fitness of things, had grown old gracefully—that is, she had not resorted to dye and paint to improve her waning looks. She was a small woman, and very stout, but her dignity was tremendous. In a black velvet gown trimmed with lace, that might, or might not have been priceless, with her silvery hair worn in the regal style of Marie Antoinette, with a somewhat massive set of features irradiated by a gracious smile, Mrs. Pelham Odin received her guest as a queen might have done. From a long experience in playing aristocratic old dames in comedy, and imperious heroines in tragedy, dignity had become a second nature to the clever old actress. It is said that Gibbon was so long in writing “The Decline and Fall” that he ended in believing himself to be the Roman Empire. In a like manner Mrs. Pelham Odin believed herself to be the Marchioness in Caste, or Helen Macgregor, or Volumnia—perhaps a mixture of the three. She certainly was tremendously dignified, and no stage manager ever dare to take a liberty with her. She still appeared on the boards when she found a part worthy of her grandiose style.
“I am glad to see you, Mr. Haskins,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin, apparently suppressing an inclination to use the royal “we,” and proffered her hand to be shaken or kissed, as the visitor preferred.
Gerald, having something to gain from a little timely flattery, kissed the jeweled fingers. He knew that this old-world attention appealed to Mrs. Pelham Odin as nothing else did. “You are looking—like yourself,” he said politely, “I can pay you no higher compliment.”
Mrs. Pelham Odin laughed her celebrated silvery laugh, which critics always mentioned, and took the stage—that is, she walked the length of the drawing-room. “Ever a courtier, Mr. Haskins. Where did you—living in this present generation of hurry—learn such Versailles manners?”
“From the queen of the English stage, madam.”
“From me?” Mrs. Pelham Odin fell into her famous startled fawn attitude—also much noticed by critics. “Oh no, no; I am but a humble survivor of the past.”
“And you have survived to show us what grace and dignity once existed.”
The old actress fluttered her fan with a gracious smile, and bowed her head to the compliment. “Neither grace nor dignity are necessary in this age of motor cars,” she said, sighing. “However, we must take things as they are and be cheerful. You don’t ask after Charity?”
“I am too much taken up with you at present, madam.”
“Ah, you Irishmen, with your blarney. Well, Charity is in the dining-room with Mr. Macandrew. She is showing him some new photographs of herself, so will not be here for a few minutes, which is just as well.”
“Why?” asked Gerald, taking the seat she indicated.
Mrs. Pelham Odin throned herself queenlike on a sofa. “What do you think of Mr. Macandrew?” she asked abruptly.
“He is the best fellow in the world,” replied Haskins promptly, for he guessed why she asked the question, and was willing to act as Tod’s trumpeter, “also he is very clever, and some day will be wealthy.”
“Charity wants to marry him.”
“And he wants to marry Charity. My dear lady, I knew that years ago.”
Mrs. Pelham Odin nodded. “Of course, it is stale news. All the same, I asked you here to chat over the matter. Hitherto, I have set my face against such a marriage, as the match is not a good one for my girl.”
Gerald dissented. “If Miss Bird marries Macandrew she is a lucky young lady, to my mind. He is of good family; he is clever; he has a good profession; and he is an honest man. Certainly he has no money, but—”
“That’s just it,” interrupted the other, “he has come in lately for a legacy of two thousand pounds. That is something, but not much. Still, Charity is so bent upon this marriage, that—if you can really swear to all you say about Mr. Macandrew—I am willing to consent.”
“I certainly should do so. Come, Mrs. Pelham Odin, don’t part two hearts in this cruel way. Let your daughter marry Macandrew.”
The actress sighed. “I think I shall have to,” she said, after a pause, “circumstances and Charity’s will are too strong for me. It shall be as you say.” And she held out her hand.
Haskins kissed it again. “I am sure that you will have no cause to regret having taken my advice.”
“I hope not, Mr. Haskins. And after all this may be one of those marriages which are said to be made in heaven. But Mr. Macandrew wants to marry Charity at once, and she has yet to fulfil one month’s engagement at the Belver Theatre.”
“Macandrew can wait for one month, surely.”
“He must. Charity cannot break her engagement without paying forfeit, and the managers will be sorry to lose her. Certainly she has only one dance in The Moon-Fay, but she is a great favorite with the public, and when she retires from the stage she will be greatly missed. I assure you, Mr. Haskins, that Charity is giving up a very brilliant career to become the wife of an obscure solicitor.”
“Macandrew will not always be obscure. He will rise high in his profession, and will make plenty of money.”
“Of course Lady Euphemia is against the marriage.”
“What of that? Macandrew is the chief person to be considered.”
Mrs. Pelham Odin did not pay very strict attention to this speech. Her eyes were on the polished floor, and she was thinking deeply. “I can guess why Lady Euphemia Macandrew disapproves,” she said hesitatingly: “my girl is a dancer, for one thing; and she is also a waif.”
Haskins looked up suddenly. Mrs. Pelham Odin was touching on the very point which he wished to discuss. “You told Macandrew something about that?” he remarked eagerly.
“Yes. Because I wished Mr. Macandrew to know exactly what he was doing, and to tell you the truth, Mr. Haskins, as I did not wish the marriage to take place, I thought that the discovery of Charity’s birth might put him off, since he is well born himself.”
“Love laughs at rank,” said Gerald. “I thought you knew nothing of Miss Bird’s birth.”
“Nor do I, save that I bought her from a native woman in Calcutta for a small sum. It sounds quite like ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ doesn’t it?” And Mrs. Pelham Odin laughed again in her silvery manner.
“Didn’t the woman tell you where she got the child?”
“No—that is, she explained that she had taken over the child from an ayah at Simla. Charity was pretty, and I was sorry to see a European child with a juggler and his wife, so I took her with me, and have brought her up as my own daughter, although I did not give her my name.”
“Do you ever hope to learn about her parents?”
“No. That is impossible, I fear. It is quite fifteen or sixteen years since I took possession of her. The native woman and the ayah may be dead. Quite a romance, isn’t it?”
“I can tell you something even more romantic,” said Gerald, “if you will promise to hold your tongue.”
“How delightfully mysterious you are,” cried Mrs. Pelham Odin, in her lively comedy manner. “I promise, of course. Well?”
Haskins thereupon, and without further preamble, detailed the history of his love affair, and commented strongly on the wonderful likeness which existed between the two girls. Mrs. Pelham Odin interrupted him with little cries of astonishment, but gave no opinion until he finished his recital. “What do you think of it?” asked Haskins.
“It is like a play! like a melodrama. But of course there are casual resemblances such as you describe.”
“This is more than a casual resemblance,” interrupted Gerald quickly: “the two girls might be twins.”
“Oh, what a pity that Charity is leaving the stage,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin, her theatrical instinct uppermost, “a comedy with twin girls in it would draw all the town. And that gives me an idea. I can assist you, if you can swear,” she laid her hand on his arm, “that this Mavis Durham is not crazy.”
“I can swear, certainly. Would I wish to marry her if she were?”
“Love may laugh at lunatic asylums as well as at rank,” said the actress merrily, “but if you are certain that the girl is sane, why not let her take Charity’s place in The Moon-Fay?”
Haskins started to his feet. “Are you serious?”
“Of course I am. You want to run away with this girl. If you do, Major Rebb—I know him, and a nasty man he is—will follow you, and make himself unpleasant. What you want to do is to conceal the girl somewhere until you can prove that her guardian is shutting her up illegally. Well then, Major Rebb must know of the wonderful resemblance of Charity to Mavis. If Charity marries Mr. Macandrew quietly she can go with him to Switzerland for a month’s honeymoon, and even longer. I can teach Mavis the one dance which Charity performs in the ballet at the Belver Theatre, and she can take my girl’s place.”
“But the theatre people will guess.”
“Oh, dear me, no,” rejoined Mrs. Pelham Odin promptly. “I always go to the Belver myself to look after Charity. She scarcely speaks to a soul, my dear Mr. Haskins. I can take your Mavis there and back without anyone being the wiser, if the resemblance is as you say.”
Gerald caressed his chin. “It certainly is an excellent idea,” he murmured. “Major Rebb, not knowing of Miss Bird’s marriage, would not suspect the substitution. Thank you, Mrs. Pelham Odin, I shall think over the matter. I go down to Devonshire next week, or rather this week.”
“I know,” the actress nodded; “one always does get mixed up about Sunday being the first day of the week. Well then, go down and make what arrangements you like. If you run away with the girl—and I quite think you should, if only to spite Major Rebb, whom I detest—you cannot conceal her better than in the way I suggest. It is quite a variation of Poe’s ‘Purloined Letter.’ The scheme is so daring that it must succeed. But hush!” she made a dramatic pause, and raised her finger, “here comes Romeo and Juliet. Not a word.”
Before Haskins could reply Charity entered from the dining-room with Tod at her heels, and Gerald could not help starting when he saw how wonderfully she resembled the girl shut up in the Pixy’s House. She had the same figure, the same coloring, the same graceful way of walking. Only in the manner of speaking and in the personality was there a difference, and that would not be noticed by a casual spectator. Charity was more worldly, more material, and—as Gerald thought—less lovable. But then he was prejudiced in favor of the young lady whom he wished to marry: Tod’s opinion would have been quite the reverse.
“How are you, Mr. Haskins?” said Charity, offering her hand calmly, “you have not been to see us for years and years.”
“All the same, I have been hearing about you,” replied Gerald, glancing at Tod, who nodded gaily. “I have to offer my congratulations.”
“Well,” said Charity slowly, and looking at Mrs. Pelham Odin, “I am not so sure of that. My mother doesn’t—”
“Yes, she does,” interposed the actress quickly, and took the girl’s hand in her own. “Mr. Macandrew. I bestow upon you a priceless treasure,” and joining the hands of the two lovers she sank back on the sofa with a tiny lace handkerchief to her eyes. It was very neatly done, and only needed limelight and applause to form an effective curtain.
“Oh,” cried Tod, clasping Charity’s hand convulsively. “Do you mean to say that we can marry?”
“Now that you have enough to keep the wolf from the door I do, my dear Mr. Macandrew, or shall I say James, since you are to be my adopted son-in-law?”
“Not James. Call me Tod.”
“That is the Scottish for fox, and you are not foxy.”
“Never mind, mother,” cried Charity, whose eyes were dancing with delight, “the name of Tod suits him, and Toddy is the name of a Scottish drink.”
“Come now; come now,” protested Tod, “when I am so sober.”
“You ought to be drunk with happiness,” said Haskins, laughing.
“Perhaps the poor dear needs food,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin, leading the way to the dining-room, “let us see what the cook has done in the way of supper.”
“My marriage feast,” giggled Tod, taking his seat. “You’ll be best man, of course, Jerry.”
“We can talk of these things later,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin hurriedly, “in consequence of my age, I think the marriage will have to be a very quiet one.”
“Yes,” nodded Charity; “I don’t want Lady Euphemia to forbid the banns.”
“As if she could,” cried Macandrew, in the highest spirits.
It was a very merry supper, and Mrs. Pelham Odin drank the health of the future bride and bridegroom in foaming champagne. Also she winked in rather an undignified way at Gerald to intimate that she included himself and Mavis in the toast. Then she related various stage experiences connected with her own marriage, and eulogized the late Mr. Pelham Odin.
“He is an angel now,” said the widow, and wept, until Gerald made her laugh again.
Tod Macandrew was the happiest of men when he and Gerald left Mrs. Pelham Odin’s flat on that night. It was all that Haskins could do to keep Tod from executing a war dance on the street. “Remember that you are a solicitor,” warned Gerald, “surely you don’t want to appear in the police court, otherwise than in a professional capacity.”
“I am also a lover,” cried Tod fervently, “and I care nothing for the opinion of other people, legal, magisterial or otherwise.”
“Ass!” muttered his friend, and shook the arm he was holding. “Come out of your midsummer-night dream, and help me.”
“In what way?” asked Tod more soberly.
“I wish to marry Mavis Durham.”
“Oh!” Tod became more sober than ever. “Haven’t you forgotten her yet?”
Gerald stopped in surprise. “Why in heaven’s name should I forget her, you unsympathetic idiot? I love her—”
“And I love Charity,” interpolated Macandrew enthusiastically.
“Then show a trifle of it,” retorted Haskins, punning on the name, “by helping me, as I have helped you. If it had not been for me, Mr. Toddy, your future mother-in-law would not have consented to this marriage.”
Tod shook his friend’s hand vigorously. “You’re one of the best. Anything I can do—by the way, what am I to do?”
“Forget Charity for ten minutes in the first place, and get into this approaching hansom in the second. I intend to drive you to my rooms.”
“What!” Tod pulled out his watch to read the time by the light of the street lamp under which they were standing. “It’s past twelve.”
“James Ian Robert Roy Macandrew, are you or are you not my legal adviser?”
“Of course I am, and—oh—” Tod broke off hastily. “I knew that I had something to tell you—about that will, you know.”
“Will! Then there is a will?” gasped Gerald, signaling to a hansom.
“Yes. The will of Captain Julian Durham, who—”
“Get in, get in,” interrupted Haskins testily, as the cab drew up ‘longside, “we have much to say to one another.”
Tod jumped into the cab, and shortly Gerald slipped in beside him, after giving his address. When the hansom was spinning along, Gerald turned on Tod sharply. “Why didn’t you communicate with me about this will, when you knew how anxious I was?”
“I only learned the truth yesterday,” said Tod quickly; “and wrote a letter asking you to call. You should have received it this morning.”
“Well then I didn’t.”
“It’s that infernal office-boy. I’ll sack him. Probably he has never posted it. Well then, I searched for wills in the name of Durham, made about the time you mention. There are plenty of people of that name, and I had to read through a lot of documents. Finally I found that Captain Julian Durham was your man.”
“How do you know?”
“Because the property of Captain Julian Durham is left to his daughter, Mavis.”
Gerald uttered so loud an ejaculation that the cabman looked down through the trap, thinking that he was receiving an order. “No, no, cabby; it’s all serene. Drive on to Frederick Street.” When the trap was closed he addressed himself to Macandrew. “Then I was right?”
“Quite right,” assented Tod admiringly, “though how the deuce you knew—”
“I didn’t know. But I had an intuitive feeling.”
Tod groaned. “Some more of your confounded occult stuff.”
“Very good,” said Gerald dryly. “I accept the rebuke; but explain my intuition, if you please.”
“What is your intuition, exactly?”
“I believe,” said Haskins seriously, and choosing his words carefully, “that Mavis has been shut up by Rebb to keep her out of the way, while he enjoys her income.”
This time Tod uttered an ejaculation. “I believe that there is something in your occult rubbish after all,” he said, in a wondering manner, “for the situation is exactly as you say.”
“Ah!” Gerald was triumphant, and would have uttered an exultant speech, but that the cab stopped in Frederick Street. “Here we are, Tod. Get out. How much, cabby? Two shillings? There you are. Wait till I open the door, Macandrew. There! Run upstairs. I’ll follow.”
Rattling on in this way, Haskins and his friend went up the dimly lighted stairs, for the gas was not full on, and soon found themselves in Gerald’s comfortable sitting-room. Haskins lighted the lamp—he detested electric and gas—and passed along a box of cigars to his visitor. Tod was also accommodated with a glass of whisky and soda and a comfortable armchair. Gerald, being similarly provided, leaned forward eagerly. “Now, Toddy, tell me exactly what the will says.”
Tod’s eyes strayed to an adjacent table. “Why, there’s my letter after all. That infernal boy did post it. I daresay your man didn’t bring it up. You should row him, Jerry, and—”
“Oh, bother! Tell me about the will. I can read your letter later.”
“Well then,” said Macandrew deliberately, “Julian Durham made a will at Brighton, more than twenty years ago, disposing of six thousand a year.”
“Ha! Rebb’s exact income.”
“Yes. Only I think Rebb has five or six hundred a year of his own in addition. The income of Durham was left to his infant daughter, Mavis, and Michael Rebb was appointed her guardian.”
“And a pretty guardian he has been,” muttered Gerald savagely.
“You may well say that, Jerry. The will says that Rebb is to enjoy the whole income on condition that he educates and brings up the child in a proper way.”
“Which he has not done, since Mavis can neither read nor write. Couldn’t the will be upset by that, Tod?”
“We’ll come to that later. But I would point out that the will provides for Rebb only until Mavis marries. When she marries, the six thousand a year passes to her at once, on her wedding day, in fact, only Rebb is not forced to account for what he has used up to that date.”
Haskins jumped up and began to walk up and down, as he was accustomed to do when much excited. “Then I am to understand that, if I marry Mavis, Major Rebb loses six thousand a year?”
“Exactly. He reverts to his original five or six hundred, which apparently he possessed before getting his brother officer to make this preposterous will in his favor, as it practically is.”
“His brother officer?”
“Yes! Durham was in a Goorkha regiment, and so was Rebb. Later, I daresay, Rebb exchanged to the West Indies. I always heard that he came from that place.”
“Yes. Jamaica,” said Haskins mechanically, thinking of Geary. “So this is why Rebb has shut up the girl, and put about the rumor that she is crazy. The plotting beast!”
“He’s all that,” nodded the solicitor, emphatically, “in that way he prevents Mavis ever getting a husband, and so, while she remains unmarried, he can enjoy his income—or rather her income—in a legal way.”
“In a legal way,” echoed Gerald, disgusted. “Why, the man ought to be hanged and quartered.”
“You can punish him more by depriving him of his income.”
“Oh, I’ll do that. So far as I am personally concerned, I don’t care two straws for the income—”
“Oh, come now. Human nature—”
“I don’t go by human nature,” interrupted Haskins sharply; “I go by my own feelings. I would marry Mavis without one penny, since my five hundred a year and what I make by writing is enough to keep things going. But Rebb must be punished, and I shall do all I can to deprive him of this six thousand a year.”
“There is no necessity to bother,” said Tod soothingly, “the thing acts automatically, as you might say. When Mavis becomes your wife the money is paid over—or rather the income is transferred to her on the wedding day. The sole chance that Rebb has of keeping his money is to prevent the marriage.”
“Oh, he’ll do his best to do that,” said Gerald, with a frown, “I’ll tell you what, Tod, that man won’t stop short of murder.”
“Oh, you shouldn’t—”
“Yes, I should. Mavis is under the impression that all girls are brought up in conventual seclusion, and are not allowed to see young men. Rebb, for obvious reasons, told her so. But she understands that she is to be taken into the world when she is one and twenty. Her twenty-first birthday is only ten months distant—nine months, in fact. When that time arrives she will want to come out. If Rebb lets her out she will probably be asked in marriage, and then he would—”
“Murder her,” finished Macandrew. “Not at all. Rebb is too clever a man to place his precious neck in a noose. When her birthday came, and she turned restive, he would simply have called in a doctor to pronounce her insane and unfit for marriage.”
“No doctor would dare to say that: Mavis is quite sane.”
“Much can be done with money,” said Tod dryly, “and Rebb has six thousand a year at his command. Besides, even if he could find no doctor to swear to her insanity, the mere rumor of such a thing would prevent any man from marrying her.”
“I am not so certain of that,” said Gerald grimly. “As you said just now, much can be done with money. However, Rebb won’t have a chance of working out his rascally plot, whether he means murder or not. I shall go to Devonshire and interview him, and—”
“How do you know that he is there?” questioned Tod quickly.
The question recalled Haskins to a sense of his folly in trusting the widow with his secret. “I have made a fool of myself Macandrew,” he remarked soberly, and resumed his seat, “it is my belief that Mrs. Crosbie has put Rebb on his guard, and that Rebb has gone down to Denleigh to thwart my plans for carrying off Mavis.”
“Mrs. Crosbie! Jerry, I warned you.”
“I know that, and I wish I had taken your warning. Listen!” And Gerald related his interview with the widow, ending with an emphatic declaration that he did not believe she had kept her promise of secrecy.
Macandrew nodded, as he quite agreed with him. “As Mrs. Crosbie is engaged to Rebb, she will not wish him to lose his income, so—”
“Do you think she knows of Rebb’s position?”
“Of course. She may not have known it before you confided in her, but she certainly would demand an explanation from the Major, in spite of her promise, when she heard that he was keeping a pretty girl shut up. Mrs. Crosbie is a woman, and as a woman is jealous, Rebb would be forced to tell the truth—that is, how his income depends upon Mavis being imprisoned. When Mrs. Crosbie knew that, she certainly would do all she could to prevent you marrying the girl.”
“But Madge has always been my friend,” protested Haskins.
“Friendship goes when money is in question,” retorted Tod. “I told you that I suspected the widow of being hard up. If I am right, she is marrying Rebb for the money, and both she and he will do all they can to keep that six thousand a year. But,” added Tod slowly, “I do not think there will be any murder needed. The insanity rumor is enough to prevent a possible marriage.”
“Not with me,” raged Gerald, jumping up once more.
“Quite so. Therefore Rebb, on his guard, has gone to Devonshire to work against you.”
“I’ll follow by the first morning train.”
“Take care, Haskins,” warned the solicitor. “Rebb is dangerous. A man who would act as he has done will not stick at a trifle. If there is to be murder, you will be the victim.”
Gerald held his head very high. “I am not so easily got rid of,” he remarked quietly. “However, Mrs. Crosbie and her mother are at Bognor, so they are out of the way. Now I don’t like doing underhand things. Tod, as you know, but in this case it seems necessary that these two women should be watched to see if Rebb goes down to see them at Bognor.”
Macandrew nodded. “I can arrange that. I’ll send a confidential clerk down. It is dirty work, but when dealing with a rascal like Rebb one cannot be too careful. And you will take a revolver with you?”
“Yes; I may have to reckon with Geary, who is Rebb’s spy and bully. And then there is Bellaria, who— Tod,” broke off Haskins, “you have been in Italy and know something of Italian, so—”
“I know a great deal,” corrected Tod indignantly. “I am excellent at languages: you know that.”
“All right, old boy, don’t get your hair off. What is the meaning of the word Tána?”
“Tána? It means a den. Caverna, Tána, Antro—all mean a den,” he paused reflectively, and Tod threw up his hand before Gerald could answer. “Where have I heard that word? It seems familiar.”
“No doubt, when people speak in Italy—”
“I don’t mean that. I have heard the word used in a peculiar way.”
Haskins reflected, with his eyes on Macandrew. “Do you know anything in connection with the word about a red coral hand grasping a—”
“A dagger,” cried Tod, rising quickly. “Yes, of course. When I was in Naples there was some talk of a society—”
“I thought so—I thought so.”
“It is called the Tána Society—the Den Society, in English. I believe that it is a collection of cut-throats, who terrorize people with the symbol of the coral hand. The name comes from the idea of the society hiding in a den, and emerging to do justice. It is something like the Sicilian Mafia.”
“Quite so,” Haskins nodded. “I now understand Bellaria’s fear. She ran out of this room as though she were crazy, and indeed she was, for the time being. She apparently thought that I was an emissary of the Tána, appointed to kill her.”
“Was Bellaria in town?” cried Tod, astonished.
“Yes. She found out about myself and Mavis, and came up to tell Rebb. I called to see Rebb and we met. She came back with me, and we had a long talk. She hinted about betraying a man called Salviati, with whom she was in love, and talked about hiding from the vengeance of certain people. When she saw the coral hand she ran out crying, ‘Tána! Tána!—”
“But how did you get the coral hand?” asked Tod, open-mouthed.
Haskins described how he had taken away Mrs. Crosbie’s cigarette-case by accident, and how he had found the hand. In fact he told Macandrew everything, including the whole conversation with Bellaria, and the subsequent visit of Mrs. Berch to recover the amulet. “And this Signor Venosta gave the coral hand to Mrs. Crosbie?” ended Gerald. “What do you think of it, Tod?”
Macandrew sat down gasping. “It’s like a confounded penny dreadful,” he remarked, ruffling his ruddy hair. “Girls shut up—incomes stolen, and secret societies—oh, Lord! there is going to be trouble.”
“In what way?”
“Don’t ask me.” Tod rose and began to put on his overcoat. “If I were you, Jerry, I should chuck the whole business.”
“Yes—if you don’t want to get into a row. Rebb may be connected with this Tána Society and—”
“No,” interrupted Haskins decidedly, “on the contrary, he is protecting Bellaria from assassination by the Tána, and so is himself in danger of death. But why should Mrs. Crosbie possess this coral hand?”
“You had better ask Signor Venosta, who gave it to her. He is probably a Count Fosco of modern days. But if you insist upon marrying this girl you will involve yourself in heaps of trouble.”
“I intend to go down to Denleigh to-morrow and face Rebb,” said Gerald determinedly. “Mavis shall be my wife. Meanwhile you must have Mrs. Crosbie watched.” Gerald winced. “I don’t like it, but I must save the girl.”
“I’ll do all I can. But I tell you what, Jerry, if you don’t return to London in a week I’ll set the police on your track.”
“Very good! It’s a case of marriage or death!”
Haskins was gay, but Tod departed filled with forebodings.
Haskins departed for Devonshire by the eleven-fifty morning train from Paddington, with a great sense of exultation. The necessity of immediate action appealed to his active brain and to his craving for romance. That there was more than a spice of danger in the adventure to which he was committed added to his enjoyment. Notwithstanding his repudiation of Tod’s suggestion that murder might be the end of these things he took the precaution of carrying a revolver. After all, Major Rebb was being driven into a highly unpleasant corner, and—from what Gerald knew of him—he was not the kind of man to submit tamely to being beaten. Nor would he readily surrender six thousand a year. He had enjoyed the luxuries of life too long to be content with the mere necessities. And that was only human nature.
However, Haskins determined to beard the lion in his den, which for the moment was Geary’s village inn. Gerald himself decided to remain at the Prince’s Head, Silbury, since the negro, by Rebb’s orders, might make himself highly disagreeable should the young man live under the sinister roof of the Devon Maid. But Haskins was not easily intimidated, and, even though the Major and his underling joined forces to thwart him, he felt quite equal to dealing with them, collectively or separately. Right was on his side, and Gerald had an implicit belief that good was stronger than evil. Those who fought in the cause for which Geary and Rebb were fighting could not possibly triumph.
It was after four o’clock when Haskins arrived in Silbury, and he repaired at once to the Prince’s Head. Mrs. Jennings was glad to see him, and gave him his old room. He learned that Rebb in his motor car had gone two days previously to Denleigh, and had not returned to the little town. He was visiting an elderly relative at Leegarth, said the landlady, and Gerald smiled when he noticed how persistently the Major kept up the fiction, to account for his presence in the neighborhood. While he was having afternoon tea he asked questions, and learned to his surprise that Bellaria was the elderly relative.
“She is an Italian,” said Haskins, on hearing this.
“One of them nasty foreigners,” assented the plump hostess, “of course she is, sir, for I’ve seen her myself. At times she come to Silbury for marketing, and she went to London the other day, coming back in a broken-up condition, as you might say.”
Haskins smiled grimly. He knew well what had broken Bellaria up. “But she can’t be any relative of Major Rebb,” he expostulated, “he is quite English, Mrs. Jennings.”
“Irish, begging your pardon, sir, but it’s this way, as the Major told me himself when he stopped here for the night. This Miss Bellaria’s parents were Italian, and Major Rebb’s were Irish. But his father died and her mother; so her father married the Major’s mother, which makes them a kind of sister and brother.”
Gerald shrugged his shoulders at this somewhat confused description, and shook his head. “It may please Rebb to call Bellaria Dondi his elderly relative,” he said quietly, “but in reality there is no relationship between them.”
Mrs. Jennings nodded in her turn. “And he ain’t very kind to her,” she went on disapprovingly, “for she do look miserable when she comes out of that lunatic asylum, as you might call it.”
“Lunatic asylum!” Haskins received a shock. He had no idea that the rumor of Mavis’ insanity had spread so far as Silbury. But Mrs. Jennings seemed to know all about it.
“Oh yes, sir, don’t you know?” she remarked, earnestly. “Miss Bellaria is set to watch that poor girl, Mavis Durham, who is quite mad.”
“Who says that she is mad?” asked Gerald heatedly.
“Everyone,” replied the landlady vaguely. “Why, the Major himself told me that she was always wanting to kill people. That is why she is shut up and watched by Miss Bellaria. It would never do, sir, for a lunatic like that to come out. Why, we might all be murdered in our beds.”
It was on the tip of Haskins’ tongue to deny the insanity of Mavis, for which Mrs. Jennings vouched so staunchly. But to do so would have led to an admission of his secret visits to the Pixy’s House. Until he settled with Rebb he did not wish these to be known, therefore he contented himself with another question. “Have you ever seen Miss Durham?”
“Lord! no, sir, nor has anyone else. Miss Bellaria keeps her safely within the grounds of that tumbledown house, and a good thing too, say I.”
“Does the house belong to Major Rebb?”
“No, sir—to that poor girl herself. You see, sir, the Durhams were a great family hereabouts for years. But they all died out save one, who went soldiering to India. He was shot in the lungs some months after his marriage at Simla to an English lady, and came home to die. He lingered a year and died at Brighton.”
“And his wife?”
“Oh, she died in Bombay, when starting for England, long before Captain Durham was shot. That poor girl at the Pixy’s House was born when her mother died, so Major Rebb, who was a brother officer of Captain Durham, took charge of her.”
“Has Miss Durham any money?”
“I can’t tell you that, sir. What I say is only what I have heard from time to time. I believe that she has the old house of the Durhams, and enough money to keep her. Major Rebb is a good, kind gentleman to take such trouble over the poor thing. Many another gentleman would have shut her up in a lunatic asylum.”
Haskins smiled once more, very significantly. He quite believed that if Rebb could have shut up Mavis as a lunatic he would have done so long ago. But, in the first place, it would be difficult to get two doctors to certify to her insanity, and in the second, if the case became known, the use of the girl’s money by Rebb might be questioned. The Major had just made sufficient of the story public to save himself from awkward questions, and Gerald foresaw that to extricate Mavis from her false position was a more difficult task than, he had reckoned upon.
However, notwithstanding that things looked thus black, he held to his determination of having an explanation with Major Rebb, and as the evening was pleasant he walked to Denleigh at his leisure. There was more chance of catching the Major at this hour, since it was probable that he would always return to the Devon Maid for dinner. As he was starting, Mrs. Jennings came up to him at the door.
“If you see Major Rebb, sir,” she said, in a low voice, “you might tell him that Mr. Arnold has come back.”
“Who is he?” asked Gerald, forgetting what Mavis had said.
“A small clever gentleman, with a long beard, who looked after that poor girl for a time. He went away to some foreign port months ago but returned to this neighborhood during the last two or three days. I haven’t seen Mr. Arnold myself,” ended Mrs. Jennings, “but others have seen him, and I want the Major to know.”
“Why?” asked Haskins, looking at her keenly.
“Mr. Arnold behaved very badly to Major Rebb,” explained the landlady, “and went away without giving notice. Major Rebb wants to see him, and ask why he left him in the lurch, as you might say.”
“I’ll tell him,” said Haskins, nodding. “Where is this Mr. Arnold now?”
“I can’t say, sir, save that he is in the neighborhood.”
Haskins walked away, pondering over what had been said. He then remembered how Mavis had called this dwarf Arnold by the name of Schaibar, and said that he had gone to Australia. Apparently he had acted as a kind of companion to Mavis, and possibly as a tutor, although he had not been allowed by Rebb to teach his pupil reading or writing. It occurred to Gerald that the scholar was friendly to Mavis. In that case, he certainly would be hostile to her guardian, as he could not fail to know from personal observation that the girl was perfectly sane, and was illegally detained. The young man felt very certain that Rebb wished to see this Mr. Arnold, not to ask him questions as to the reason for his sudden departure, some months back, but to bribe him into silence regarding the truth. “I shall hunt up Arnold,” thought Gerald, as he mounted the rising road to Denleigh, “he may be able to help Mavis and myself. And heaven knows that we shall need all the help and friendship that we can obtain.”
The evening was warm, luminous, and intensely still. Haskins did not hurry himself, but sauntered through the lovely country, enjoying its beauty in spite of his anxious state of mind. In the depths of his heart he felt that everything would come right in the end, and that he would some day be able to make Mavis his dear wife. They would then live happily ever afterwards, just like a fairy tale.
Still, in fairy tales, the lovers always have to undergo much woe and sorrow and danger before the end is reached, and this fantasy of real life—as Gerald believed—was to proceed much on the same lines. Dragons had to be overcome, magicians thwarted, enchanted castles had to be stormed: but when these tasks laid upon the fated prince were accomplished he would awaken the princess to everyday life with a kiss, and all the fairies would come to the nuptials. The young man thought allegorically, but there was a bitter truth enshrined in the symbols. And fairy tales themselves are only fanciful pictures of life’s mystery: pain must be undergone before pleasure can be gained.
Geary was absent when the traveler arrived at the Devon Maid, and Haskins was not sorry to hear this from Mrs. Geary, who received him. The negro, having learned from Rebb and Bellaria that the castle he had guarded was discovered, would not be in the best of humors and would probably make himself disagreeable. Not that Gerald had any fear of the man; but he wished for an explanation with Rebb before any open quarrel took place. The Major, as a civilized being, would certainly be more reasonable than the negro.
“Is Major Rebb in?” questioned Gerald, when Mrs. Geary had told him of her husband’s absence—she did not say where he was, as she apparently did not know, and Geary was not the man to permit questions.
“Yes, sir. He is having dinner in your old room. I am sorry you can’t have the room, Mr. Haskins, but the Major—”
“Yes, yes! I understand,” said Haskins impatiently, “take my card to Major Rebb, and say that I have come down from London to see him.”
Mrs. Geary did this in her stolid way, and shortly returned to usher Haskins into the well-remembered sitting-room. Here he was received somewhat stiffly by the man he had come to see, and the landlady retired, closing the door carefully after her. Rebb looked thinner and more erect, and more reserved than ever. With a silent bow he pointed to a seat, and waited to hear what Gerald had to say. Considering the two men had already met frequently this reception was frigid; but Rebb apparently wished to make Haskins as uncomfortable as possible, so that he might get the better of him. If such was his object he failed to attain it, for Gerald, anticipating this demeanor, was quite cheerful, and very observant. The Major, having finished his meal, lighted a cigar, but did not offer one to Haskins. This was a sign of war, and Gerald accepted it as such.
“You are surprised to see me,” he remarked, keeping his eyes on Rebb’s dark high-bred face.
“Not exactly,” answered the other coolly, “my man told me that you wished to see me in London, and of course I found your card, when I returned. I regret that I could not see you then, but I had to come back here on business.”
“To see your elderly relative, no doubt.”
“Bellaria Dondi. Precisely. Well?”
“Why fence in this way, Rebb?” asked the young man, “you have heard from Bellaria that I—”
“Yes,” interrupted the Major, leaning forward and gripping the arms of his chair with an angry expression on his face, “Bellaria has told me of your secret visits to the Pixy’s House. I must say that you have behaved very badly, Haskins. This is not the kind of thing I expected from you.”
“Really,” Gerald raised his eyebrows, “we have not been intimate, that you should expect me to consider your feelings.”
“Since my future wife was your mother’s friend and is yours,” said Rebb, with dignity, “I was quite willing to admit you to a certain degree of intimacy. Now the case is altered.”
“Because I love your ward?”
“No. Because you went by stealth to see her. If you had come to me, I could have explained her unhappy condition.”
“I am quite certain that you could,” retorted Gerald, looking straight at his enemy, as he was convinced the Major was, “but is there any need of an explanation? Everyone hereabouts declares that Miss Durham is insane, and not responsible for her actions.”
A flash of pleasure came and went in Rebb’s dark eyes for the moment, and then he looked hypocritically sad. “Poor girl! It is only too true.”
“I don’t agree with you there,” said Haskins quietly.
“Indeed, and on what grounds?”
“I have had several interviews with Mavis, and I am quite certain that she is as sane as you or I.”
“If so, why should I shut her up?”
“Ask your own conscience.”
Rebb struck his hand fiercely on the table. “You go too far, Haskins, in saying that. I am not forced to account for my actions to you.”
“You may not think so,” said Gerald, feeling that they were coming to close quarters, “but I do. I love Mavis, and wish to marry her.”
“It is out of the question.”
“She is—as I declare—insane. If you married her, she would probably murder you in your sleep.”
“I am willing to take the risk,” said Haskins, with a contemptuous smile. He saw that Rebb was trying to make the best of his position.
“I am not willing that you should,” retorted the Major.
“Ah! but the decision lies with me. Mrs. Crosbie—”
Rebb looked furious. “What has Mrs. Crosbie to do with this matter?”
“Has she not told you?”
“Told me what? I have heard nothing from Mrs. Crosbie.”
Gerald privately apologized to himself for having doubted the little woman, but determined to have no further misunderstanding. He spoke out. “I saw Mrs. Crosbie when I was in London, and asked her to help me to marry Mavis.”
“Not even for Mrs. Crosbie’s sake can I consent to that. A marriage of that kind would be a sin. How dare you tell my private affairs to my future wife?” And Rebb again struck the table.
“Gently, Major, gently! I am not to be intimidated. I asked Mrs. Crosbie to help me, as she is my mother’s old friend, and I have known her much longer than you have. She refused to help me.”
“Ah!” cried Rebb, gratified. “I knew that she loved me.”
“But she agreed to keep what I had told her a secret from you, for at least a month, on condition that I took no steps meanwhile to run away with Mavis. From what you say, I understand that she has kept her promise, and I have done her an injustice. I fancied, from your sudden departure to this place, that she had told you.”
“Mrs. Crosbie has told me nothing,” said Rebb coldly. “I came down here because I heard that Bellaria had been up to see me. Also I had a line from Geary saying that something was wrong. I came down at once, and was informed that you had been spying out my private affairs.”
“Don’t call hard names, Major,” said Gerald coolly. “I admit that I was wrong to speak to Mrs. Crosbie, seeing that she is engaged to you. But I am putting that right by coming here for an explanation, and I absolve Mrs. Crosbie from her promise. But I was not wrong in obeying the invitation of the sealed message. Any young man in my position would have done the same.”
“Ah, the cylinder!” cried Rebb angrily, “Bellaria told me of that, as Mavis confessed to her what she had done. Who would have thought that the girl would have communicated with the world in that way?”
“Why should she not communicate with the world?” asked Gerald sharply.
Rebb saw that in his hurry he had made a mistake, and tried to get out of it. “Why? Because she is crazy!”
“And for that reason she has not been taught to read or write?”
“Exactly! The doctor said that if she were educated, or if her brain was subjected to any strain, her homicidal mania would be intensified. Out of sheer pity for the unfortunate girl, I have had her kept in ignorance.”
“I see!” said Haskins, thinking that the excuse was extremely skilful. “Then Mr. Arnold taught her nothing?”
Rebb started; the cigar fell from his fingers, and he turned pale. The mention of the name evidently worried him not a little. “What do you know of Mr. Arnold?” he demanded.
“Only that he is, or was, Mavis’ tutor in some sort of odd way. And that reminds me: Mrs. Jennings of the Prince’s Head gave me a message for you, Major. Mr. Arnold, she says, has returned from Australia, and is in the neighborhood.”
“Stale news, Haskins,” said Rebb, recovering his wits. “Geary found out, at least a week ago, that Arnold was traveling round the country, in a kind of gipsy caravan, selling books. It was about Arnold that Geary wrote to me. I came down to see into the matter, as Arnold is a rascal. But I also learned on my arrival, from Bellaria, that you had been taking an interest in my affairs!” And he sneered.
“In the affairs of the woman I hope to make my wife!” said Gerald imperturbably.
Rebb rose stiffly. “Mr. Haskins,” he said, in a most ceremonious manner, “had you come to me in the first place, and without acting in this underhand manner, I should have told you that such a marriage is impossible. I tell you so now, and beg to end this interview.”
Gerald rose also. “As you please, Major Rebb. After all,” he paused at the door, “six thousand a year is worth fighting for.”
Rebb gasped, again turned pale, and fell back into his chair.
“Do you still wish me to go?” inquired Gerald politely, and half opening the sitting-room door.
“No,” cried Rebb sharply. “Shut that door again and explain yourself.”
Haskins returned to his seat. “Does what I say need explanation?”
“Certainly. You insinuate that my income has to do with Mavis.”
“You place the matter in a nutshell, Major. It has.”
Rebb rose again, with the look of a man at bay. “You dare to—”
“I dare anything in the cause of Mavis,” interrupted Gerald imperiously. “Don’t make any mistake about my attitude, Major Rebb. If you act honestly, I am here as your friend; but if you declare war I am willing to accept your challenge.”
If a look could have slain the bold speaker, Haskins would have dropped dead where he stood; but he bore Rebb’s fierce gaze without flinching, and waited for him to speak. The Major made a gigantic effort, and gained control of himself sufficiently to open his mouth for a quiet question. “Where did you learn this?” he demanded.
“From the will of Captain Julian Durham at Somerset House.”
“Indeed! More spying!” sneered the other, but his lip quivered.
Haskins shrugged his shoulders, and took scarcely any notice of the insult. “That is a weak speech to make,” he remarked.
Rebb passed a handkerchief across his pale lips. “Who told you about the will?” he asked quietly.
“It was more an intuition than anything else,” said Haskins, anxious to shield Mrs. Geary, whose chance words had put him on the track. “I saw that Mavis was sane, and that you were shutting her up for some reason. Money was the reason that suggested itself.”
“And you searched in Somerset House?”
“Not personally. Macandrew did that, as my lawyer.”
“Great heavens!” stormed Rebb, growing darkly red, “is Macandrew in this affair also? Will you tell me, Mr. Haskins, how many people you have succeeded in interesting in my private business?”
“Only Tod and myself know about the matter so far—I refer to the will, of course. But others may come to know of it, unless—”
“Ah,” said Rebb quickly, “now we are coming to the gist of the matter, Mr. Haskins. Unless what?”
“Unless you give Mavis her proper position in the world—”
“And consent to your marriage with her, I suppose?”
Haskins bowed. “You save me the trouble of an explanation.”
“There is another explanation to be made,” said Rebb, trying to appear calm, “and one that in justice to myself I must make. The will—”
“Pardon me,” interrupted Gerald coolly, “but Mrs. Jennings knows all about your ward’s alleged insanity.”
“Her true insanity,” cried Rebb warmly, “everyone in Denleigh and Silbury and Leegarth knows about the poor girl, and that she is watched by Bellaria Dondi.”
“Your useful, elderly relative. Just so. And does all the neighborhood know about Julian Durham’s will?”
“Anyone who goes to Somerset House can learn what he wishes, as you have done,” retorted the Major. “I am not bound to make my private affairs public down here. You apparently are trying to do your best to provide gossip for the neighborhood.”
“Well, yes. I mean to get Mavis out of the Pixy’s House.”
Rebb jumped up and banged on the table furiously. “I defy you. Yes, I defy you,” he almost shouted, “and you shall not get her out of that house. She is well treated, and—”
“One moment. I never said that she was not well treated,” said Gerald swiftly, “but, badly as you are behaving, I presume your conscience does not allow you to ill-treat Mavis, seeing that you are enjoying her fortune.”
“Take care! Take care! I may strike you.”
“By all means. It will give me the chance to take you into court for assault and make the matter of the Pixy’s House public.”
“Ah,” Rebb looked scathingly at the bold speaker, “you are afraid.”
“Oh no. If you strike me, I shall probably give you a good thrashing, which, to my mind, you richly deserve. In an ordinary case I would thrash you and let you go: but my desire is to force you into taking up a public position of defence.”
“I am quite willing to do so,” said Rebb violently, “you can employ Macandrew or any lawyer you like. The will is in my favor, and I have carried out its provisions.”
“Pardon me, but that is just what you have not done. Mavis, by the will, was to be educated. She can neither read nor write.”
“The doctor said—”
“Produce your doctor who said that her brain could not understand, or could not bear teaching. It is no use, Major. Whatever you may say about Mavis, to suit your own ends, you are well aware that she is perfectly sane, and that you are keeping her shut up in the Pixy’s House to enjoy her money.”
“You dare—you dare—”
“I dare now, and I shall dare in open court,” retorted the young man.
“I wonder I don’t kill you,” muttered Rebb, in impotent fury.
“In the first place you can’t; in the second, if you did you would only be tried for murder instead of conspiracy.”
“Conspiracy? Conspiracy, damn you?”
“Yes, against the liberty of a subject.”
Rebb had proved himself to be a brave man in several South African engagements, so it was not fear that prevented him from falling upon the man who thus defied him and meddled with his most private affairs. But with all his fury—and he could scarcely articulate for rage—he was sufficiently master of himself to know that to strike Haskins would only force him into open court. Rebb had no wish that the will of Durham and his guardianship of Mavis should be a topic of conversation with his friends, or appear in print for the delectation of the public. He therefore kept his hands down by his sides, and subdued his wrath, as best he could. But the effort nearly choked him.
“You have said all that you can say, Mr. Haskins,” he growled, in a guttural voice filled with menace, “so you can go.”
“Certainly,” rejoined Gerald again. “And your attitude?”
“I stand by the will of my brother officer,” said Rebb, with suppressed fury, “I enjoy the Durham property until Mavis marries. She is not fit to marry, being insane, therefore—”
“You will enjoy the Durham property until the end of your life.”
“Yes!” said Rebb determinedly, “I do hold to that. Mavis has all she wants and is happy where she is.”
“Because you have filled her mind with lying tales of English girls all being brought up in seclusion as she is being brought up. But on Mavis’ twenty-first birthday, Rebb, when she hopes to come out into the world? What then? How will you restrain her? Will she be happy then?”
“I am not bound to tell you of my plans regarding my ward,” said the Major stiffly, “on her twenty-first birthday I shall know how to act.”
“Good-night!” said Gerald abruptly, and made for the door.
“Stop,” cried Rebb imperatively. “What about your attitude?”
Haskins wheeled at the door. “I love Mavis, and I intend to make her my wife. That is my attitude.”
“I see,” sneered the Major; “you are after her money.”
The insult was too contemptible to be noticed. “Think what you like, Major, only remember one thing. If you harm Mavis in any way, or transfer her to another hiding-place, I shall hold you accountable.”
“In what way?” questioned the other contemptuously.
“I shall find some relative of Mavis, and get him or her to contest the will. That will bring everything out.”
“Very probably, but Mavis has no relative. Julian Durham was the last of his race, and so, since his wife was dead, left his child for me to look after. Had he or she any relative I should not have been appointed guardian. I stand by the will. Good-night.”
Gerald hesitated, and wondered whether he would say anything more, but on second thoughts he decided to hold his peace, and abruptly left the room. After all, there was no more to be arranged. He knew the attitude which Rebb had taken up, and Rebb knew his attitude. It only remained to fight for possession of the girl.
As Haskins walked back to Silbury, in the rapidly gathering darkness, he admitted that Rebb’s position was a strong one. Mavis was perfectly happy, and had all she wanted. The loss of liberty did not trouble her, since she had the spacious grounds of the Pixy’s House for a playground, and, moreover, thought that all English girls were brought up in the same way. Had she known that this was a lie she might have fretted after liberty, and then there would have been some ground to go upon. But were she taken into court she could not deny but that her guardian had been kind, and had given her all she required. This reasoning was all in favor of Rebb.
Then again, since Rebb swore that Mavis was insane, he was quite justified in shutting her up, so long as she was treated kindly. Certainly could she be proved to be sane, his position would then be a very awkward one, as it would force him to explain why he had used the girl’s money all these years, while keeping her in durance vile. But, as Tod had said and Gerald had echoed, “much could be done with money,” and if things came to be made public Rebb might be able to bribe a couple of doctors to certify to Mavis’ insanity. In that case she would be shut up in a public asylum, and Rebb—after setting aside a certain sum for her maintenance—would enjoy the Durham income for the rest of his wicked life. The plot was very cunningly arranged, and in standing by the will Rebb took up an almost unassailable position.
Many another man would have been daunted by the difficulties thus presented by a survey of the position. But Gerald was in love, and to a lover nothing is impossible that stands in the way of his gaining his mistress. Haskins did not know for the moment exactly how to act, but in one way or another he determined to force Rebb’s strong hand. By warning Rebb he had certainly put him on his guard against any possible elopement: but he also had forced him to behave in a more or less straightforward manner. Knowing that he was watched the Major could not smuggle Mavis into another hiding-place.
During the conversation Gerald had intended to mention Bellaria’s dread of the coral hand, so that he might learn if it was really the Tána Society that she feared. But the chances were that Rebb would not have told him, and moreover the introduction of a new subject might have complicated matters. Haskins therefore congratulated himself that he had kept silence. Also, for the moment, it was unnecessary to draw Rebb’s attention to the wonderful likeness between Charity and Mavis. Doubtless Rebb was well aware of it, and it was more than likely that Rebb could explain it. Still, bearing in mind Mrs. Pelham Odin’s offer to pass off Mavis as Charity, should it be necessary, Gerald resolved to hold his peace. At one moment he was inclined to storm the Pixy’s House secretly and elope with Mavis, hiding her, as above, under the name of Charity, who would then be out of the way as Mrs. Macandrew. But Rebb would know who had taken Mavis away, and—standing by the will, which gave him the guardianship of Mavis until she was twenty-one—would make dire trouble. Gerald did not wish to be arrested, as he could do little good for Mavis if imprisoned.
It only remained then to return to London and to see Tod. In one way or another some start could be made towards extricating Mavis from the clutches of her guardian; and when the start was made the desired end would be reached sooner or later. Gerald therefore determined to leave Silbury next morning, and to begin his campaign forthwith, assisted by Tod. He felt very reluctant to leave the neighborhood without seeing Mavis, but he was forced to. Bellaria would now be on her guard, if he attempted to climb the wall. And Gerald was very certain that Geary had been sent to watch the Pixy’s House by his precious master. Haskins had a revolver, as opposed to the yellow-handled knife about which Mavis had talked, so he did not fear the encounter. But an open struggle would only damage the position of Mavis, and impede any plans made for her rescue. Knowing that Rebb had the will, and swore to the reported insanity of Mavis to strengthen his attitude, Gerald was extremely anxious to move cautiously. In sheer desperation Major Rebb might call in the assistance of the law. Much as Haskins wished to force the man’s hand, he did not want to do so by placing himself in the wrong. To take Mavis from the guardianship of a man appointed by her father’s will, would be a disobedience to the law of which Rebb would take full advantage.
As the night was warm, Gerald, having plenty of time, did not hurry himself. There was no moon, and the stars were covered with dun-hued clouds. Very little light, therefore, came from above. Nevertheless, the night was not entirely dark, as a faint luminous radiance was everywhere spread, and he could pick his way along the highroad very easily. Although, following Tod’s advice, he had his revolver in his hip-pocket, he never thought that it would be necessary to use it. Major Rebb, as a civilized being, had refrained from actual violence, much as he apparently desired to use it. But then, he would only have taken to his fists. It was far otherwise with Geary. That semi-civilized savage would undoubtedly have taken to his yellow-handled knife.
In the usual way in which intuitions came to Haskins, the thought of this knife unexpectedly flashed into his mind when he topped the last rise of the hills. Already he could see the glimmer of the Silbury lights, and paused a moment to watch them, shining like stars under the muggy canopy of the heavy sky. But the knife-thought remained, and he turned his head uneasily from side to side, scenting danger, by his sixth sense. The feeling passed, and then came again stronger than ever when he began to walk on once more. He glanced back, and then swerved to one side, just in time to avoid the rush of a big black form which hurled itself out of the shadows. It was Geary, who dashed towards him, missed, wheeled, and flung himself again on the young man.
Haskins had walked to Denleigh in his flannels, as the evening was so close, so he was a sufficiently easy mark in the semi-darkness, showing whitely like a negative against the gloom. Geary clutched him in his powerful arms before he could swerve again, or draw his revolver, and then Gerald realized with a shock of surprise that, save for a pair of dungaree trousers, the man was naked. Not only that, but the upper part of his body had been rubbed with oil, and he slipped about like an eel. Geary made no remark, nor did Gerald speak, but the two men, the one big and burly, the other lithe and wiry, wrestled together for mastery. Haskins believed that Geary wished to get him down and stab him, but could not see if he held a knife. He certainly did not in his huge hands, but he might have had it strapped, sailor fashion, in the small of his back.
Without a word the two men swung and swayed, Geary wriggling and pressing Gerald downward with his great weight. But Haskins had lately taken lessons in jiu-jutsu, of which the negro was apparently ignorant; so he suddenly gave way, with an unexpected relaxing of all the muscles. Geary uttered a guttural ejaculation of anger and surprise as he felt the looseness of the young man’s body and found a moment afterwards that his big arms were empty. By making himself small, so to speak, Gerald had slipped out of the negro’s grip, and darted back with lightning speed. When Geary swung round again to the assault he found himself facing a revolver.
Nothing daunted, his hand slipped round to the back of his dungaree trousers, and a moment later Gerald saw the steel glitter in the dim light, as Geary rushed forward with uplifted hand. Haskins did not wish to kill the man, as he was a necessary witness to save Mavis, so he winged him. The bullet struck the negro’s right arm, and the knife dropped, as he howled viciously. Apparently dreading another shot, he sprang aside and then backward, and vanished. For some minutes Gerald heard the pad-pad-pad of his bare feet on the highway, and became aware then, for the first time, that he had escaped a great danger.
Picking up the knife, he replaced his revolver in his hip-pocket and walked swiftly towards Silbury, wondering if Rebb had sent the man to kill him. If so, Geary had failed, and as there was no chance of another attempt being made on that night Gerald did not trouble himself on the way to the town. He swiftly resolved to say nothing of his adventure, especially as any publicity might lead to revelations being made at the moment, while Mavis’ fate swung in the balance. But later Gerald determined to bring Geary to justice. He had the evidence of the knife. At the first street lamp he stopped and looked at the weapon. It was a dangerous piece of steel—a bowie knife, but the handle was of black wood. What then had become of the yellow-handled knife which Mavis feared so greatly? Gerald was too weary, and ached too much with his late struggle, to think over this problem. He therefore postponed all consideration until next morning.
On reaching the Prince’s Head he sat down to an excellent meal, and held his peace about his adventures. After dinner he drank some coffee and smoked a couple of pipes. Then he went to bed about ten o’clock, or a trifle later. Shortly, in spite of the late excitement, he fell asleep.
When he awoke it was nine o’clock in the morning. Feeling somewhat bruised and stiff—for Geary’s grasp was like that of an octopus—he decided to remain in bed, instead of taking the morning train to London. The afternoon train would do, he decided, so he rang for his breakfast to be served, intending to rise at midday. The chambermaid took his orders for breakfast, and seemed to be flustered, but before he could make inquiries she ran out of the room.
Later, Mrs. Jennings herself arrived with the breakfast-tray, and looked excited as she placed it on the bed.
“Oh, Mr. Haskins,” she cried, with shining eyes, “such terrible news. That mad girl at the Pixy’s House has murdered Miss Bellaria, and has bolted.”
“It is impossible,” gasped Haskins, starting up in bed.
“The milkman from Leegarth has just brought the news, sir.”
Mrs. Jennings’ news was so startling that Gerald could only fall back on his pillow and stare at her excited face. Pleased with the effect which she produced, like all gossips, she continued rapidly to explain, breathlessly.
“The milkman’s master—Evans is his name—went at seven this morning with the milk to the Pixy’s House. Miss Bellaria always came to the gate and opened it to take the milk in. He found the gate wide open, and Miss Bellaria lying on the path within the grounds, stabbed to the heart, and as dead as a stone. Evans gave the alarm in the village, and many people went into the grounds and up to examine the house. They found no one there: that poor lunatic was gone. Evans sent on his man to tell the police here, and he came in for a drink. I had the whole story out of him. Isn’t it dreadful, sir? To think that we should have been talking of that crazy Meg only yesterday, and that she should commit so dreadful a crime.”
“Stop,” said Gerald sharply, and somewhat recovering himself, “you cannot say if Miss Durham is guilty.”
Mrs. Jennings gaped. “Not say she is guilty! Why, sir, if she isn’t, who can be? It’s well known that Miss Durham, as you call her, sir, always wanted to kill people, and that was why she was shut up. Not being able to get at another person, she has murdered poor Miss Bellaria, who watched her, and then ran away—to murder again, I suppose. Oh, how very dreadful it all is! When I said yesterday that we might be murdered in our beds, I little thought that we should be.”
“Begging your pardon, sir, but it’s gospel truth that I am speaking,” said the landlady, bristling, “with a lunatic at large one never knows what may happen. The police inspector—and a very nice man he is—has already sent to Denleigh asking Major Rebb to go to Leegarth. Everyone is talking about things with blood and slaughter in them. And I ask your pardon, sir, for having come into your bedroom, but I thought you would like to know. Oh, dear me! dear me!” Mrs. Jennings wrung her plump hands and retreated towards the door, in a flurried condition. “I’ll bolt and bar every window and door at sunset: no murders for me.”
Having babbled herself out of the room, she banged the door, and Haskins, sitting up in bed, placed his hands on either side of his head, to think matters over. He found it difficult to believe the news, and yet he might have expected to hear something of this sort. Of course he was absolutely certain that Mavis was innocent: but he could not understand why she had run away, nor could he guess who had slain the unfortunate Italian. Quite unable to eat his breakfast because of the intelligence, he jumped out of bed, and into the hip-bath which was in the centre of the room. The sooner he went downstairs and learned all that could be learned the better able would he be to see his way. If Mavis had been in danger from Major Rebb before, she was now in greater danger than ever, as he assuredly would use her assumed guilt to prevent her inheriting the money.
“Nothing will make anyone believe that Mavis is other than guilty,” was the young man’s soliloquy: “her crazy reputation is enough. If she is caught, they will shut her up in an asylum, notwithstanding the denial she is sure to make. Then Rebb will be able to keep the money, according to the strict letter of the will. And yet—and yet—” He clenched his fist. “I believe that Rebb himself is guilty of the crime.”
He had really no reason to make such an accusation: but the happening of the crime was so opportune for the Major that it did not seem entirely impossible for him to have had a hand in it. Assuredly he might not have struck the blow himself, but the unscrupulous Geary could easily have been employed to remove Bellaria. Not that Rebb, on the face of it, would wish to lose so useful a servant, but if it was necessary that Mavis should be accused of murder, to ensure her being placed in an asylum, Bellaria was the nearest and most natural victim.
But these arguments were futile, as Gerald reflected while dressing, for he did not know exactly what had taken place. It was necessary to learn when the crime had been committed; where the body had been found—the precise spot, that is—and, if possible, to discover the weapon which had been used. If the yellow-handled knife was picked up anywhere near the corpse the presumption would be that Geary had killed the woman, although Mrs. Jennings had made no report of this. But the thought recalled to Haskins’ mind the attack made upon him by the negro on the previous night. A knife had been used then, and he had it in the pocket of the suit he had worn. On looking at it again he saw what had struck him before, that the handle of this particular weapon was black, and not yellow. What then had become of the famous sacrificial knife, of which Mavis had spoken? Why should Geary not have used this when striving to murder Gerald? That question could only be answered when the yellow-handled knife was found.
Haskins could not wear the flannels in which he had been attacked, as they were smeared all over with oil from Geary’s body, He therefore flung this suit into his portmanteau, and, as the day promised to be extremely hot, dressed himself in white drill. Thus clothed, although far from being in his right mind, by reason of inward perturbation, he descended, to find the hotel seething with excitement.
Everyone was talking of the Leegarth tragedy, as such an event had never before startled the somnolent town. The bar was crowded with idlers, and Mr. Evans’ messenger was being supplied with as much drink as he could swallow. However, he was yet sober enough to answer the few questions which Haskins put to him. No weapon had been found; the police had gone to Leegarth; the guilt of Miss Durham was certain; she had vanished, and search was being made; wires had been sent far and wide ordering her arrest; policemen were scouring the countryside on bicycles; sooner or later the murderess would be captured and everyone would be relieved. So the man babbled on, and, having learned all that was possible, Gerald went to hire a bicycle in order to proceed to Leegarth.
He did not feel the least hungry, for obvious reasons, but as he had a long and exhausting day before him he was wise enough to force himself to eat and drink. Thus fortified he rode up the steep Silbury High Street, and into the surrounding country. So rapid was his pace, and so eager was he to learn the best or the worst at once, that in a marvelously short time he found himself before the high wall which girdled the Pixy’s House and its park. In this wall double gates of rough iron were set, but the grounds could not be seen from the lane as boards had been placed across the bars to prevent anyone looking in. This had been done—as Gerald learned from a chatty villager—many years before, when the crazy girl and her dead watcher had come to live there.
Policemen guarded the gates, and preserved order amongst the rapidly increasing crowd, which augmented every minute. The terrible news had traveled with lightning speed, and from far and wide came all who were possessed of morbid curiosity. The police were expected from Exeter, and in the meanwhile Inspector Morgan of Silbury was within the grounds, searching round. Major Rebb had not yet arrived.
On learning this latter fact, Haskins at once demanded admission, so that he might interview Morgan. When Rebb came, he knew well that it would not be possible to meddle with the case, as the Major would insist that he had nothing to do with it. But, in order to discover any evidence that might be suppressed by Rebb—should he or Geary be guilty—Haskins made up his mind to examine as much into the matter on the spot as would be permitted to him. After sending in his request he received a reply in a few minutes, and this led to his being conducted by a young constable through the jealously guarded gates, and into the presence of the inspector. Morgan was standing on the lawn, drawing a plan of the grounds, and several policemen were beating about the long grass, searching for something.
“Have they found the knife?” asked Gerald, coming up swiftly.
Morgan looked at him keenly. He was a tall and burly man, with a red face and white hair, apparently easygoing and tolerant, who would not be difficult to manage if treated diplomatically. Nevertheless he resented Haskins’ abrupt question with stiff official dignity. “May I ask who you are, sir?” he demanded.
Gerald pointed to the card which the inspector held. “My name is there, Mr. Inspector. I came here because I am interested in the case.”
“On what grounds? For what reason?” questioned Morgan, still stiffly.
Haskins did not hesitate. On the way hither he had resolved to be absolutely frank, if frankness were necessary. To deliver Mavis from her dangerous position he would have to give some reason for championing her, and—having regard to the searching examinations of the law—he deemed it best to tell the absolute truth. If he did not, Rebb might possibly make some use of his knowledge of the secret visits to get him into trouble. He therefore cast his bombshell boldly. “I am engaged to marry Miss Durham,” he stated slowly.
Morgan, in spite of official phlegm, dropped his pocketbook in sheer amazement, and two constables, who overheard, looked round with expressions of blank astonishment. “What do you mean, sir?” stuttered the inspector, growing redder than ever. “Are you making a fool of me? Miss Durham was mad: she could not be engaged to anyone.”
“Miss Durham was perfectly sane, as I am prepared to swear, and to prove my belief in her sanity I am willing to make her my wife.”
“She is not a murderess. Whomsoever killed that unfortunate Bellaria Dondi, the poor girl who was shut up here is at least innocent.”
“Dear! dear! dear!” Morgan scratched his head, and looked bewildered. “I never came across anything so extraordinary in my life. If Miss Durham was shut up here—and everyone knows that she was strictly guarded on account of her mania—how came you to see her?”
“In a rather peculiar way, Mr. Inspector, but what I tell you can be substantiated by my friend and legal adviser, Mr. Ian Roy Macandrew.” And after thus guarding himself from the tale being received with disbelief Gerald detailed the finding of the cylinder, and his subsequent dealings with the matter.
Morgan gaped and stared, not knowing what to make of so extraordinary a story. “Then this young lady was not crazy?”
“No,” said Gerald positively. “I am certain she was in complete possession of her senses.”
“Then why was she shut up?”
“You had better ask Major Rebb that,” said Haskins dryly, “he will be here soon. In proof of the truth of my story, you can look for the canoe, which is hidden in the undergrowth on the other side of the pool below the river wall.”
Morgan nodded, with his pale blue eyes fixed on the speaker. “Do you know anything of this murder?” he asked pointedly.
Gerald laughed shortly. “Are you going to accuse me?” he demanded.
“Certainly not, Mr. Haskins; certainly not. But, seeing that your canoe is near the house, and you confess to having paid secret visits.”
“I understand.” Gerald cut him short. “People will talk. Let them. I can prove an alibi with the help of Mrs. Jennings and three or four of her servants. I slept last night at the Prince’s Head, Silbury, and was in bed a few minutes after ten. By the way, can you tell me when this crime was committed?”
“The doctor who examined the poor woman’s body states that she was stabbed—so far as he can ascertain from the condition of the corpse—somewhere about twelve o’clock: say at midnight.”
Morgan indicated a spot, stained with blood—it had soaked into the graveled path—some little distance away. “Yonder, Mr. Haskins. I judge from this that Miss Bellaria, as she is called hereabouts, came to open the gate to someone—the assassin, no doubt—and then she was stabbed to the heart before she could make an outcry. The doctor declares that death must have taken place almost instantaneously.”
“Humph,” said Gerald swiftly. “I see then that you exonerate Miss Durham, seeing that you say Bellaria was summoned to the gate by the assassin.”
“Yes and no, Mr. Haskins,” said the inspector stolidly, “according to what you say, this young lady was sane: that has yet to be proved. It is quite likely that for once she may have gone out.”
“No, no; she had no wish to go out.”
“You seem to know a great deal about the young lady’s intentions,” said Inspector Morgan, a trifle dryly. “Well then, she may have followed Miss Bellaria into the garden, and, after stabbing her, may have opened the gates and got away.”
“Miss Bellaria never came into the garden at night,” said Gerald quickly; “she told me herself that she was afraid of something.”
“What was she afraid of?” asked Morgan sharply.
“I can’t exactly tell you,” replied the young man, who did not wish to say too much about the Tána Society, lest Mrs. Crosbie, who owned the coral pin, might be implicated, “but Bellaria hinted that she was afraid, and Miss Durham told me that her nurse would never venture out after dark. Why, then, should she have come to the gate?”
Morgan reflected, and pulled his white moustache. “Probably Miss Durham was seized with a mania for killing and chased her nurse through the house. Miss Bellaria would then run into the garden to escape, and so was struck down on the very threshold of yonder gate. I daresay she was trying to get out and summon assistance from the village.”
“You make out a very pretty case against Miss Durham, Mr. Inspector.”
Morgan would have replied, but at this moment one of the constables who had been hunting in the long grass on the left hand of the gate cried out triumphantly, and held up a knife. “Here it is, sir,” he said.
In another moment Morgan was holding in his hand a yellow-handled knife, of a very deadly description, which had bloodstains on the blade.
“I see,” said the officer gravely, “this is undoubtedly the weapon used. It seems to me that the woman was stabbed, and then the assassin—Miss Durham, for a thousand—flung the knife aside into that long grass, before running away. Very natural, very natural; she would not care to carry with her such evidence of her guilt.”
“Guilt which has yet to be proved,” said Gerald hotly.
An argument ensued, in which Haskins decidedly got the worst. The inspector, and indeed everyone else, scouted the idea of Mavis’ innocence. She had pursued Bellaria to the gates and, having killed her, had got rid of the knife by flinging it into the long grass. Then she had fled, not daring to face the consequences of her crime. “In which case,” cried Gerald furiously, “she must be sane. A madwoman would not be afraid to remain, being ignorant of the heinousness of the offence.”
Morgan shook his head, still unconvinced. And indeed Gerald saw that things looked very black indeed against the girl he loved. It was on the tip of his tongue to denounce Geary as the owner of the knife: but he could not prove this without the evidence of Mavis, and moreover he thought it wiser to keep silent as to his suspicions until he consulted Macandrew and could get legal advice. The situation was too dangerous to be dealt with hurriedly.
Later in the day Major Rebb arrived, and heard from Inspector Morgan all about the crime. He viewed the body of the poor woman and examined the knife, which he either failed to recognize or, if he did, decided to keep silence as to its ownership. He stated that he had seen his ward about four o’clock on the previous day, and that she was then in an excited condition. But, not thinking she would venture to commit a crime, he had gone back to the Devon Maid at Denleigh, and there had retired to rest at nine o’clock. Geary, the landlord of the inn, had also been with the Major nearly all the evening, and had likewise retired to bed early, as while handling a pistol he had managed to shoot himself in the right arm. The simple-minded inspector heard all this with an air of belief, and did not inquire—as he should have done—why Major Rebb should take such trouble to explain the movements of his landlord, or why that landlord had managed to shoot himself so dexterously in the right arm. And, while speaking, Rebb frequently glanced at Gerald, who was present, expecting contradiction, no doubt.
When Morgan had taken notes of the Major’s evidence, that military gentleman beckoned to Haskins, and together they went into the room which the missing girl had used. It was comfortably and even luxuriously furnished, and Gerald, casting swift glances around, never doubted but that the Major—either out of diplomacy, or because he was conscience-stricken—had treated his prisoner with every consideration. When the door was closed, Rebb looked searchingly at his unwelcome visitor.
“Well, Haskins,” he inquired, “and what do you mean to do now?”
“I shall let you know that later,” retorted Gerald quickly.
“You must be certain now, at all events,” pursued the Major calmly, “that Mavis is insane. No one but a madwoman would have stabbed Bellaria.”
“How dare you say that when you know perfectly well that Mavis is innocent?”
“Indeed, Haskins, then who is guilty?”
“I should like you to tell me that,” said Gerald significantly.
Rebb gave a short laugh. “Are you going to accuse me?” he remarked, much in the same manner as Haskins himself had spoken earlier to Morgan.
“You know best.”
“Don’t be a fool, Haskins,” said Rebb, flushing, and very roughly; “considering the circumstances of the case, and what you—on false premises—are ready to do, would I be such an idiot as to kill Bellaria?”
“Yes,” said Gerald dryly, “you knew that I would move heaven and earth to prove Mavis’ sanity so that I could marry her. Therefore, in order that her homicidal mania could be proved beyond all doubt, you had Bellaria killed and Mavis taken away. If she cannot prove her innocence—and I can guess how difficult it will be for her to do so—you will then have her put into an asylum, and enjoy her money for the rest of your life. It’s a very pretty plot, Major Rebb.”
“I agree with you there, Haskins. It does credit to your imagination as a writer of fiction. But I am glad to see that you do not accuse me of murdering Bellaria myself.”
“No, I do not: you are too cunning to risk your own neck,” said Gerald decidedly, “you remained in the inn to prove an alibi. I believe that, but you sent Geary here to kill Bellaria, for the reasons that I have given you. Don’t deny it, Rebb. The yellow-handled knife which belongs to Geary is in Morgan’s possession.”
“Does he know that it is Geary’s?” asked Rebb anxiously.
“No. But I shall tell him so.”
“You can spare yourself the trouble. I shall tell him myself. The knife does belong to Geary, as both I and his wife and half-a-dozen other people can prove. He gave it to Bellaria, because she asked for a weapon to defend herself. Probably Mavis wrenched the knife from her at the gate and then—”
“A very ingenious explanation. But I believe Geary to be guilty. He would stick at nothing, as I know from the way in which he tried to kill me last night by your orders.”
“Pardon me,” said Rebb, not at all taken aback, “Geary attacked you because you were trying to injure me. He overheard our conversation as he returned from this place sooner than he expected. The foolish fellow, who is devoted to me, hoped to silence you by death. When he came back I rebuked him severely, and you can see that, as Geary’s right arm is wounded by you, Haskins, he could not have murdered Bellaria.”
“I am not so sure of that,” said Gerald dryly, but felt all the same that the Major was wriggling like an eel out of a very difficult position, “and your story of the way in which he wounded himself won’t hold water. If I tell the truth—”
“I wonder you did not while I was speaking,” said Rebb, exasperatingly calm. “Why did you not?”
“Because I— Well, I have my reasons,” said Gerald, nonplussed by the man’s boldness. “But if I tell the story—”
“Geary will be convicted of a falsehood,” finished Rebb, nodding. “It will not harm my reputation as a truth-teller in any way, if that is what you mean. I suggested the excuse of an accident to Geary, and if he is questioned, on the authority of your wild statement of assault, he will say that he told me the invention, so as to keep dark his wrongful attack on you—which I would never have countenanced,” ended Rebb, with great emphasis.
“I shall say nothing at present, as I have my reasons for keeping silent. What do you mean to do about this murder?”
“What can I do? I believe that Mavis is guilty—”
“It’s a lie—a lie!” cried Haskins vehemently.
“No,” insisted Rebb. “I really believe that she killed Bellaria. When she is captured, as she will be sooner or later, she will be tried for her life. Still, as I can swear to her insanity, she will be placed in a public asylum, with sufficient allowed out of the estate for her keep, and I—”
“You will enjoy the rest of the money?”
Rebb bowed! with a gratified and malicious expression. “As Mavis can never marry now I retain the income for the rest of my life.”
“And I,” said Haskins, raising his hand solemnly, “swear never to rest until her innocence is proved and she is my wife.”
“I defy you to do your worst,” snapped Rebb contemptuously, “all the cards are in my hands. Might is on my side.”
“And right on mine and on Mavis’. Let God decide, Rebb.”
The Major laughed insolently, shrugged his shoulders, and left the room, convinced that Haskins could not harm him. He disbelieved in God.
After that interview Gerald saw that he would have to leave the Major in possession of the field. For the present, as he had observed, Rebb held all the cards, and Haskins could only retire to consult with Macandrew as to some way of winning the game in the teeth of such bad luck. Moreover, Gerald was now in possession of all facts connected with the crime, and by lingering at the Pixy’s House he would become possessed of no more important facts. Also Rebb, wishing to get rid of his too observant enemy, so worked on Morgan’s feelings that the inspector hinted retirement to the lover. Having learned that the inquest would take place in the inn of Leegarth village, next day, Haskins mounted his machine and returned to Silbury.
But he felt that it was impossible to sit down and do nothing, for he was very anxious regarding the future of Mavis. Probably, on discovering the dead body of Bellaria, she had fled panic-stricken from that bloodstained mansion; but distraught with terror, and not knowing the country, it was probable that she would soon be captured. Gerald would have gone in search of her forthwith, but that he did not know in which direction to look for her, and again, if he did find her, would be unable to smuggle her into safety while the countryside was all on the alert. He half made up his mind to return to London and enlist the services of Tod, but could not quite decide to do so, since his going to the Metropolis meant his leaving the neighborhood in which the girl he loved was wandering. Mavis was a fugitive with, so to speak, a price on her head. He could not go away heartlessly, and leave her, so innocent and unsophisticated, in the lurch.
His hesitation was ended at five o’clock in the afternoon, by a wire from Exeter asking him to come there at once and meet the person who signed the telegram—Simon Arnold by name—in the coffee-room of the Monmouth Hotel. It flashed across Gerald’s mind at once that the former tutor of Mavis had sent the telegram, and probably wished to see him about the girl whom they both loved in their several ways. But he wondered how Arnold—whom Mavis playfully called Schaibar—had learned his address, and then, on examining the telegram again, saw that it had been directed to the Devon Maid at Denleigh. Wondering if Geary had opened it, he sent for the boy, and found that Mrs. Geary, on receiving the wire at the door, had told the lad that Mr. Haskins was staying at Silbury. Gerald was relieved at this, as Geary would undoubtedly have read the telegram, in order to learn any possible plans Haskins might have formed. Nevertheless, on the face of it, the wire could convey little information to the conspirators likely to be of use, save that Arnold—whom Rebb apparently dreaded—was enlisting himself on the side of the lovers.
Haskins found that there was a train from Silbury to Exeter at seven o’clock that same evening, so after dinner he packed his portmanteau and went to the station. Guessing that Rebb would probably make inquiries as to his whereabouts, he left a message with Mrs. Jennings, stating that he had gone to London, and hoped that the information would upset the Major, by making him think that steps were being taken to save Mavis from his snares. Strong as was Rebb’s hand, he yet had a difficult game to play. The fact of Durham’s will would undoubtedly be made public should Mavis be arrested, and Rebb certainly would not like his friends to think that he derived his income in the way he did. But then Rebb had daring enough to face anything, especially when six thousand a year was at stake.
Somewhere about nine o’clock Gerald reached Exeter, and, leaving his portmanteau in the cloak-room, proceeded to the Monmouth Hotel, a small inn on the outskirts of the cathedral city. The place was little known, but Haskins was fortunate enough to pick up a cabman who came from the neighborhood where it is situated. In half-an-hour he found himself in the coffee-room of the hotel, and recognized Arnold at once from the description given by Mavis.
The ex-tutor, and present hawker of books, was reading a Latin author when Gerald entered, but flung it aside when the young man, conducted by a waiter, appeared on the threshold. He was about to greet the newcomer, but on seeing the waiter turned aside to look out of the window. To make an excuse for entering Gerald ordered a glass of whisky and soda, which he truly needed, so wrought up was he, by the strain and stress of the situation. The waiter disappeared and soon came back with the drink. While he was absent Gerald eyed Arnold—who still did not speak—and sat down near the fireless grate. But a glance passed between the two men which showed mutual recognition.
Arnold was a remarkably small man, quite worthy to be called a dwarf, but he was not deformed in any way. His body, his hands and feet and his head, were all perfectly proportioned, and the most noticeable thing about him was his long gray beard, which fell below his waist. He had a noble forehead, crowned with long loose gray hair and two vividly blue eyes, penetrating and unblinking. No one could have called the little man ugly, but, owing to his small stature and noble beard, he looked uncanny. Gerald, ever imaginative, thought at once of the Norwegian gnomes and kobolds, although Arnold was not so grotesquely ugly as those earth fairies of legend.
When the waiter finally left the coffee-room, and the two men had it all to themselves, Arnold moved swiftly forward and gripped Gerald’s hand, before the young man was aware of his intention. “You are the lover of my dear girl,” he said, in a singularly melodious voice. “I knew you at once, from her description of you.”
“I can return the compliment,” said Gerald, responding to the warm clasp. “Mavis told me what you were like, and indeed, I also have the description given in ‘The Arabian Nights’ to go upon.”
“Schaibar!” said Arnold, with a smile. “Yes; she always called me that. I am glad that you have obeyed my summons so speedily, Mr. Haskins, as I am sure that you are a true friend to my unhappy pupil.”
“I am her lover,” replied Gerald quietly, “and, as her lover, I am prepared to go any lengths to save her from that rascal.”
“Meaning Major Rebb?”
“Of course! He is trying to ruin Mavis, in order to get her money.”
“I wonder how you found that out, Mr. Haskins.”
“It’s a long story and—”
“And you can tell it to me and Mavis.”
“Mavis!” Gerald stared. “What do you mean? Have you any idea where she is, Mr. Arnold?”
“Of course,” answered the little man quietly; “it was for that reason that I wired to you. Mavis told me that you were stopping at Denleigh.”
“As a matter of fact I am—or rather I was—stopping at the Prince’s Head, Silbury,” explained Gerald, “but your wire was sent on to me. I heard from Mrs. Jennings, and from Rebb also, that you were in the neighborhood of Leegarth.”
“And it was very lucky for Mavis that I was,” said Arnold, nodding. “Only by being on the spot was I enabled to save her from arrest.”
“You saved her? How? Tell me all.”
“Gently, Mr. Haskins. Do not talk so loud. Walls have ears, and keyholes have eyes.” Arnold glanced round the room, and then drew near to the eager young man to speak in still lower tones. “Last night I went to see if I could enter the Pixy’s House and try Mavis, but, as the gate was shut and locked, I could not get in. I would have climbed the wall, but that my age and rheumatism prevented my doing so. However, I thought that by going to the river wall I might obtain a foothold on the ivy. I made the attempt, and fell. You see that I still limp.” Arnold walked a pace or two, and Gerald saw that his leg dragged. “I lay insensible for some hours. Then I managed, when I revived, to drink some brandy which I had brought with me, and so deemed that I could get back to my caravan, which was on the other side of the village. I had got round to the lane wherein the gates are to be found when I heard a scream of alarm.”
“Was it Bellaria being killed?” asked Gerald quickly.
“No; I staggered as fast as I was able toward the gates, and found them open. Bellaria, stabbed to the heart, lay within, and over her bent Mavis. When she saw me she was terrified; but I called out, and she recognized my voice. Running forward, she stammered out that Bellaria had gone to meet some one, and had been killed. I, at once, saw the danger to which Mavis was exposed, having read the will of Julian Durham, and so insisted that she should fly. She was surprised that I desired her to do this, as, in her innocence, she never deemed that she would be accused. However, I rapidly convinced her, and she agreed. Leaning on her arm, I led her round the village, as I feared lest her scream should have attracted attention. We reached my caravan in safety, and I then put the horse in the shafts and drove to Exeter through the night. We reached this city this afternoon, and I took her on board a barge, which is owned by a man I can rely upon. Then I sent the wire to you. We must save the poor child, Mr. Haskins. She is safe now, but at any time she may be discovered.”
“You will be suspected.”
“I don’t think so, Mr. Haskins. While she was in my caravan I had qualms that search might be made therein: but now that Mavis is safe on the barge, with Sammy Lee looking after her, there is little danger. I have only to say that I know nothing of her whereabouts, and who can convict me of falsehood? But I want Lee to take his barge down to Exmouth, and then we can place Mavis on board some outward-bound steamer. She will then be safe until we can prove her innocence.”
“Why, do you believe that she will be accused?” asked Gerald.
“I am perfectly sure,” said Arnold dryly, “that Major Rebb will take advantage of Bellaria’s death to fasten the guilt on Mavis, so that he may shut her up in an asylum, and, by thus preventing her marriage, will be enabled to keep her six thousand a year.”
Gerald nodded. “That view does credit to your powers of penetration, Mr. Arnold. Rebb is moving precisely on those lines.”
“Quite so. I know Major Rebb—”
“But do you know that he—”
“There is no time to be lost,” said Arnold, in a peremptory tone, “as Mavis will be in danger of arrest until she is safely bestowed out of England. She refuses to leave this city until she sees you, and that was why I wired. Come down at once to the Exe, and let us board the barge. Then we can decide what is to be done and you can ask what questions you choose.”
Haskins consented; and, after finishing his whisky and soda, he went out with the little man, into the darkness. Arnold leaned on Haskins’ arm, as his leg was still painful from the fall of the previous night, and guided him through many narrow and dingy streets down to the banks of the river. A lumbering barge was lying near a littered wharf, and as they approached this they were hailed by a rough voice, which Gerald rightly took to be that of Sammy Lee. The two men stepped on board the low-lying barge, to find themselves welcomed by a gigantic Devonian, with a hairy face, who paid the utmost deference to the dwarf. As Arnold led Gerald down into the cabin of the barge—leaving Sammy Lee to keep watch—he whispered to Haskins. “I can absolutely trust this man, so you need have no fear. Last year I saved the life of his only child by means of the herbal medicine, when the doctors had given her up, so he will never betray our poor girl.”
“But if he hears that she is accused of murder—it will be all over Exeter to-morrow?” questioned Gerald.
“He will decline to believe it, as he sees what Mavis is, and even if he did believe, he would never betray anyone whom I wished to shield.”
This was very satisfactory, and Haskins wondered at the marvelous ways of Providence, which had snatched Mavis from a dangerous position to place her in safety, until such time as her innocence could be made manifest. It seemed as though everything would come right in the end, despite Major Rebb’s boast of his might. Haskins recalled his last words to the man, in which he left the matter for God to decide. And God was deciding—against Rebb and his wicked machinations.
A rap at the cabin door brought Mavis to open it. She was still in her favorite white dress, in which she had fled from her prison on the previous night, but over this she wore a long black cloak with a hood—now closely pulled over her head for obvious reasons. When she saw Gerald, and the tender smile in his eyes, she flung back the hood, as though stifling, and fell into his arms, sobbing as if her heart would break. And no wonder. To learn all the cruelty of the outside world, and to be a hunted fugitive, accused of a terrible crime, was an extraordinary change from the seclusion and romance of the Pixy’s House.
“Oh, Prince Gerald,” was her cry, as she wept on his breast, “how I have longed to see you.”
“And I also have wished to hold you thus,” he replied, kissing her, “but we were kept apart by wicked men, dearest. Now we are together, please God, we shall never part again.”
“Amen to that,” murmured Arnold, who had sat down.
“Schaibar has told me everything,” said Mavis, still crying. “Oh, what a wicked world it is outside the Pixy’s House, Gerald.”
“There can be no wickedness where you are, darling. You will not find me like Major Rebb.”
“Oh, but, Gerald, surely my guardian is kind?”
“Has he proved himself kind, to accuse you of murdering Bellaria?”
Mavis drew back, with a pale face and startled eyes. “There—must—be—some—mistake,” she faltered. “Why should I kill Bellaria?”
“Oh, Rebb knows quite well that you did not: but to suit his own ends he is willing that you should suffer.”
“Is it for that horrid money Schaibar told me about?” she asked tearfully.
“Yes; Rebb thinks that six thousand a year is worth losing his own soul for. It is the world he gains, and the price he pays. But he shall not succeed, my sweetheart; you shall have your own way, I swear.”
“Gerald! Gerald! I would much rather fly away with you to the end of the world, and leave everything to my guardian.”
“I daresay, dear; and in the South Seas, no doubt, we could find an Eden whither that serpent would not come. But your good name has to be considered, Mavis. Rebb has put it about that you are insane, and that such insanity made you kill Bellaria.”
Mavis sat down on the locker, looking utterly miserable. “I know! I know!” she cried, rocking with the terror of her thoughts. “Schaibar has told me what my guardian said to people outside to account for my being locked up in the Pixy’s House. And to think that he should have said to me that all English girls were brought up as I was! Why did you not tell me before that my guardian was deceiving me?” she asked her former tutor.
“My dear,” he said gently, “it is only lately that I have learned the truth about your father’s will. Bellaria let drop a word or so, and I began to ask questions. Rebb came to know of my curiosity, and so gave me a sum of money, and insisted that I should go to Australia, and hold no communication with you. I took the money, to save you, and I had no compunction in doing so, as the money belonged to you, my dear. To deceive Rebb I pretended to go to Australia; but, in reality, I remained in England, to search out your past. Bellaria had hinted that Rebb enjoyed a large income for keeping you shut up in the Pixy’s House, and that your father had been wealthy. I searched for the copy of the will at Somerset House, and there learned how Rebb was to enjoy the six thousand a year to which you were entitled until your marriage. I then saw why he made out that you were insane, and resolved to effect your escape. I therefore bought a caravan to sell books, thinking—and my design was successful—that I could get you out of the house, and smuggle you away in my caravan. I have done so, as no one ever thought of searching for you in my company. Now you will go down to Exmouth with Sammy Lee, and I shall again go round the country. If my caravan is searched by Rebb and the officers of the law nothing will be found, and you will be safe.”
“For how long—for how long?” cried Mavis, clasping her hands.
“Until God sees fit to enable us to punish Rebb, and save you,” was the tutor’s reply, “and everything will come right in the end, I am sure.”
The eyes of the girl wandered to Gerald. He sat down beside her, and gathered her in his arms. “I am sure, also,” he whispered. “See how wonderfully things have worked for your benefit as it is. I was brought into your life by means of the cylinder to marry and cherish you, in spite of Rebb’s cruel device of keeping you ignorant, so that you should not be able to communicate with the outside world. Then Arnold, by God’s mercy, has been enabled to snatch you from the very jaws of your enemies. These things point to joy coming out of sorrow. Go down, my dear, to Exmouth with Sammy Lee. I dare not come with you, nor can Schaibar, as we will both be suspected by Rebb, and must prove—as we can—that we have nothing to do with your flight. Lee will arrange for you to be taken round by water to London, and there I shall meet you to arrange for your safety.”
“Would it not be better that she should go abroad?” asked Arnold.
“No. I can arrange for Mavis to be concealed in a way which Rebb will not suspect. If she goes abroad she may be extradited, should Rebb—as he might—discover her whereabouts. But he will never look for my darling where I will place her.”
“So long as I am with you, Gerald, I care nothing,” said Mavis, shivering and drawing closer to him, “but, oh, how can I go round to London by myself—I who have never been beyond my prison walls?”
“Sammy Lee will see to that, darling. You must be brave. And remember that I meet you at the end of your journey. Promise to be brave.”
“Yes, yes; I promise,” said Mavis, flushing, “but it is all very terrible to think that this is the world.”
“This is Rebb’s world,” said Haskins tenderly, “but not the world of joy and peace and love in which you will dwell when we are married.”
“Married? Oh, Gerald!”
“Yes.” He kissed her now flushed cheek. “But tell me, Mavis, who killed that poor Bellaria?”
Mavis shivered again, although the cabin was warm. “I do not know,” she said faintly. “Bellaria came back from London very terrified.”
“I can guess why,” murmured Gerald, thinking of the coral hand.
“She said that she might be killed, and made Geary give her that yellow-handled knife so that she might protect herself.”
“Ah! So Rebb’s story so far is true. Go on, dear.”
“Bellaria never went out at night, as you know, but a day or two ago she received a letter, and said it would save her.”
“Did you see the letter?”
“No. She did not show it to me. But last night I thought I heard a cry about midnight. I went to Bellaria’s room and found her gone. I was afraid and ran downstairs, to find the door open, and also the big gates. Then I saw her dead, and cried out. Schaibar came and—”
“You know the rest,” interposed Arnold, addressing Gerald. “I lighted a match and saw that Bellaria was dead; then took Mavis away. Don’t question her further. She cannot bear it.”
Gerald nodded, and soothed the girl, who was much terrified. “But we must find that letter,” he remarked; “I am sure it has to do with the crime. Did you see anyone about, Mr. Arnold?”
“No; I saw no one.”
“Nor did I,” sobbed Mavis.
“Hush, dearest, do not weep; you are safe with me. Arnold, who do you think killed Bellaria Dondi?”
“Major Rebb,” repeated the tutor quietly, “to secure the income. He has—as you say—sold his soul for six thousand a year.”
The next afternoon Gerald was in London. All the way up in the train he had reflected upon the extraordinary events which had transferred Mavis from the keeping of Major Rebb to his own. In spite of surrounding dangers—and these were great—he was not at all downcast. Mavis had been protected so far, and he made sure that she would be protected to the end, which in this case meant marriage with him. The Major would never believe that Haskins had anything to do with the girl’s flight, though he certainly might suspect Arnold. But if Arnold were traced to Exeter, where he intended to stay, to avert suspicion, nothing could be learned likely to incriminate him. Mavis had already gone down to Exmouth in Sammy Lee’s barge, and that faithful fellow swore that he could procure her a passage to the Thames in a coaster owned by a comrade in whom he could implicitly trust.
Things were therefore right so far, and Gerald’s spirits were high. He had every reason to feel happy. Mavis was deeply in love with him, and once Major Rebb was circumvented as it appeared he would be—there would be no one else to interfere with the progress of his suit. Before the end of the year Gerald hoped that he would be able to introduce his beautiful bride to his London friends, and place her in a position warranted by her wealth. It would not have been human if Haskins had not remembered that Mavis was an heiress, but, in justice to him, it must be admitted that his love was for the girl, and not for her money—welcome as it was to a young man who liked the pleasant things of this life. Gerald would have been contented to take Mavis without a sixpence; nevertheless, it was not disagreeable to find that she was bringing six thousand a year along with her.
Also Gerald was human enough to desire a certain amount of revenge on Major Rebb for his behavior. Rebb certainly should be punished for the infamous way in which he had treated the girl. Hitherto everything had gone as he desired, but with the finding of the cylinder came the change in Rebb’s fortunes. Now he had a determined young man to deal with, who would be less easy to manage than an unsophisticated girl. Haskins chuckled as he thought how angry Rebb would be when Mavis, free from the slur on her sanity, and from the wicked charge which he was striving to fasten on her, came forth boldly to face the world. Then the luxurious Major, as Mrs. Geary prophesied, reduced to his five or six hundred a year, would no longer be able to indulge in motor cars, or in such-like luxuries.
When Haskins next evening went to Bloomsbury to see Mrs. Pelham Odin he felt very satisfied. Mavis was on her way to London, and would arrive at Gravesend in two days; her pursuers had been thrown off the track, and a bombshell with regard to the will was being prepared by Tod Macandrew. Gerald had not seen him yet, but he expected to meet him at the flat of the old actress, and then could arrange for certain steps to be taken in the interests of Mavis. All things considered, everything was going excellently, and Gerald entered into the presence of Mrs. Pelham Odin with a very cheerful air.
That astute lady remarked his beaming face. She was as usual reclining on the sofa in an effective attitude, waiting until ten o’clock, which was the hour at which she usually went to the Belver Theatre to fetch back her adopted daughter. She had been reading the evening paper, but threw it aside with an air of relief when Haskins was announced. “I am so glad to see you,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin, “there is positively nothing in the papers. Dear me, Mr. Haskins, you have the air of a bridegroom.”
“Nothing in the papers?” echoed Gerald, his bright face growing grave. “Do you mean to say that the murder is not reported!” And he took up The Globe to skim the columns.
“Murder!” cried Mrs. Pelham Odin, in the low thrilling tone of Lady Macbeth. “To what dastardly deed do you refer?”
“The woman who watched Mavis Durham has been stabbed to the heart, a couple of days ago.”
“Alas! for your comedy,” cried the actress, “it has changed into a tragedy. What of the girl herself?”
“She is a fugitive, the police are looking for her.”
Mrs. Pelham Odin screamed melodramatically. “Is she accused?”
“Yes. And color is lent to the accusation by the scandal of Major Rebb, who, as I told you, spread the report that she was insane.”
Mrs. Pelham Odin gave a second scream, and flung up her hand. “Hold!” she cried, in her deep voice. “Do I understand that this unfortunate young woman has given way to her mania and has murdered—”
“No one. I tell you she is not insane,” snapped Haskins tartly.
“But the corpse? Account for the corpse.”
“I can’t, unless Rebb himself murdered the woman, so as to get Mavis placed in an asylum, and so be free to enjoy her money.”
Mrs. Pelham Odin rose and walked to and fro with a nervous shudder, less feigned than real, although theatrical instinct made her accentuate it. “I don’t love Major Rebb,” she said, after a pause. “I think I told you that before. All the same, he would never, never go so far as crime.”
“He has gone as far as that already,” retorted Haskins, stretching out his long legs and looking gloomily at the carpet, “what do you call keeping that girl’s money from her and shutting her up but criminal?”
“Still if he had reasons—good reasons?”
“He had none, either good or bad. Dear Mrs. Pelham Odin,” Gerald rose, and laid his hand on the old woman’s arm, “hear what I have to say. This is the time when you can show yourself my friend by protecting one who is dear to me.”
The actress recoiled, powerfully effected and very genuinely. “I cannot mix myself up in a crime,” she faltered.
“You will not be doing so, if you substitute Mavis for Charity, as you suggested when I was last here.”
“Oh,” Mrs. Pelham Odin clasped her pretty, withered hands, and stepped back a pace to be more dramatic. “Think of the scandal.”
“There will be no scandal.”
“My name will be brought into disrepute. And let me tell you, Mr. Haskins, that my name both on and off the stage, is above reproach.”
“I am quite sure of that, else I certainly should not ask you to take charge of the woman I hope to make my wife.”
“You will marry her still?”
“Of course, of course,” said Haskins impatiently. “I love her more than ever. And even if I loved her less, I am not the man to desert a woman when she needs help so sorely.”
“You are, as I know, very chivalrous.”
“And you are, as I know, the kindest-hearted woman in the world.”
“A fool, a fool, I fear, like all kind-hearted women.”
“No. Were you a fool I should not ask you to carry out this plot. As it is, Mavis is coming to London, and I want you to get Charity married at once, and to place Mavis at the Belver Theatre for the dance.”
Mrs. Pelham Odin looked distinctly nervous. Carried away by her theatrical instincts, and by admiration for Gerald’s chivalry, to say nothing of the interest she felt in his love affair as a woman much less sentimental would have done, she had proposed the plot without thinking that she would be taken seriously. Yet here was a young man whom she admired actually asking her to lend herself to a fantastical mode of concealment such as had never, to her knowledge, been seen off the stage. Her dramatic instinct impelled her to yield: but her common-sense warned her against mixing herself up in a murder committed by a lunatic.
“Dear boy,” she said, genuinely distressed, “it really is impossible.”
“You proposed it, Mrs. Pelham Odin,” muttered Gerald, sorely disappointed, for if this actress did not help him, how was he to conceal Mavis from the persecutions of Rebb?
“I did not think that you would take me at my word,” she faltered, “and after all, Mr. Haskins, Major Rebb might find out.”
“I don’t think so. I don’t see how he could.”
“If he comes to the theatre?”
“He will see the girl he believes to be Charity, dancing.”
“But is this Mavis Durham really so like my girl?”
“They might be sisters—they might be twins. It would take you all your time to find the difference between them, Mrs. Pelham Odin.”
“Oh, that is impossible,” she retorted sharply.
“No. When you see Mavis—”
“I am not going to see Mavis.”
Gerald rose—he had thrown himself down when she so persistently refused. “In that case I must apologize for taking up your time, and see in what other way I can save this innocent girl.”
“You are sure that she is innocent?”
“As sure as I am that you are a kind woman.”
Mrs. Pelham Odin smiled. “That is very clever of you,” said she: “you appeal to my weakest side, which is vanity. Come sit down again, and tell me all about this dreadful murder.”
“Will you assist me, if I do?”
“At least I won’t betray you,” rejoined the actress evasively, and arranged herself gracefully on the sofa. “Begin; I hang upon your every word.” And she cast a glance at an imaginary audience to mark the effect of the speech.
Thinking that she might yield, for he had certainly aroused her curiosity, Gerald related all that had taken place. Mrs. Pelham Odin quite lost her stage airs and graces, so taken up was she with the narrative. “So you see that Arnold believes in Mavis’ innocence as much as I do. And you believe also, Mrs. Pelham Odin. I see it in your eyes.”
The actress closed them. “My eyes tell what my tongue would hide,” she remarked, in measured tones. “Yes, I admit that your story puts the matter in a new light. I really think that I must assist this poor young creature, who is being persecuted by a cruel world.”
“Bless you for a good woman,” muttered Gerald, kissing her hand.
She pulled it away. “Don’t make a mistake. I am playing to the gallery,” she said, with an artificial laugh. “If Mavis is proved guiltless and you marry her with her income, it will be a great advertisement for me. And perhaps,” added Mrs. Pelham Odin, with emphasis, “it may bring back to the public in a worthy fashion the name of one who was their idol for many, many brilliant and successful years. On the other hand if this girl really is insane, and guilty—”
“You will have acted in a way which no other woman would have done, and your conscience will reward you.”
“I prefer the loaves and fishes,” said the actress, smiling, “moreover, I admit that I am curious to see this girl, who—as you say—is so like Charity. Mavis came from India?”
“Yes—according to Major Rebb, who declares that her mother died in Bombay, when Mavis was born.”
“Charity, according to the juggler’s wife, who was told by the ayah, was born in Simla.” Mrs. Pelham Odin frowned, and then waved her hand. “There can be no relationship between the two girls.”
“I think that there will be—when we learn the truth.”
“Major Rebb will not tell it.”
“Oh yes, he will, when I prove Mavis guiltless and force him to give up the money. Sooner than remain in ignorance I shall ask Mavis to bribe him into confession.”
Mrs. Pelham Odin thought for a few moments, being as sharp as a needle to see the pounds, shillings, and pence side of things. “Mr. Haskins,” she finally remarked, “this likeness may be a freak of nature—we have heard of such things before.”
“Quite so, but so exact a likeness as this is can only come from the two girls being born of the same mother.”
“Well, you seem to be so certain that they are, Mr. Haskins, that, for the sake of argument, we will grant it. In that case—and presuming that Major Rebb confesses such is the case—Charity certainly ought to have half the income.”
“I quite agree with you,” rejoined the young man unhesitatingly, “and I am quite sure that, if we can prove the relationship, Mavis—being guided by me—will be quite ready to hand over three thousand a year to Charity. That would only be fair.”
Mrs. Pelham Odin hopped off the sofa, very much excited. “Now you talk common-sense, you show me in which way my duty lies. I am willing to see this girl.”
“And to help her against her enemies?”
“Hum!” Mrs. Pelham Odin pressed her fan to her lips, “even three thousand a year for Charity might be earned too dearly. I can say no more than that I’ll see her. I am shrewd in reading characters, and I can easily tell if Mavis is insane, or deceitful, or bloodthirsty.”
Gerald laughed when he thought of his beautiful love. “Mavis is none of the three. You will be ashamed of your suspicions when you see her angel face.”
“I know that angel face,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin dryly, “it is a very useful mask in some cases to cloak wicked designs. Well, I am going to the theatre soon. Mr. Macandrew is there, and will come back with me and Charity.”
“Can I come to supper?”
“No,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin quickly, “you must leave the matter in my hands to explain. I like the centre of the stage, you know, and all the limelight that I can obtain.”
“You will speak to Tod and Charity?”
“Yes; and will do my best to obtain their consent. I’ll let you know by post what they say; provided,” added the actress with emphasis, “that you will not see Mr. Macandrew in the meantime.”
“Why not? I want to ask him—”
“One thing at a time. If this plot is to be carried through I must have the sole handling of it, so I do not wish you and Mr. Macandrew to discuss the matter. If they are agreeable to marry and slip away quietly out of the kingdom, leaving Mavis to take Charity’s place at the Belver Theatre, I shall let you know. Then, when this girl arrives in London, wire me when you will bring her. She must stop here.”
“But the people of the house will see two Charitys,” remonstrated Gerald, “and, as an account of the crime will be in the papers, Mavis may be given away by some of your servants.”
Mrs. Pelham Odin nodded. “True,” she said, with her sharp eyes on the carpet, “well, then, you must take Mavis to your rooms.”
“Worse and worse: Rebb would hear of it.”
“There is Mr. Macandrew’s office, of course. Yes.” Mrs. Pelham Odin dropped her fan with an air of decision. “Take Mavis there, closely veiled. I shall bring Charity also veiled. Should we settle to carry through this plot, I can arrange for Charity to board somewhere, and Mavis can come back here as Charity. And then— Oh, it’s all right. I begin to see my way. Good-night.”
“Good-night, and thank you. Your kindness will not be unrewarded.”
“No,” she laughed—“three thousand a year is worth working for.”
“I don’t believe that you think of that.”
“Not solely, of course. I want to help you and to see you happy. Also I am very sorry for this poor girl, and Major Rebb is a man I hate. But the three thousand a year for Charity also forms an element. Mixed motives, you understand—very mixed. So once more, good-night.”
Gerald took his departure very much cheered at having brushed away another obstacle from the path which was to lead Mavis to the altar. He knew that Mrs. Pelham Odin was both a clever and an obstinate woman, and although he did not credit her with money-grubbing, yet he felt convinced that she would not surrender Charity’s chance of getting three thousand a year, if she could help it, since she would indirectly participate in such good fortune. Also Tod, for the same reason, would be anxious to assist—though Tod was not a miser either. On the whole, Haskins was very satisfied, and having done all that he could do he waited patiently for the arrival of the Seamew at Gravesend with Mavis on board.
The boat was late, as the weather did not prove propitious. Gerald went to Gravesend, and walked about the streets of that dull seaport in a frenzy of impatience. Finally he was undeservedly rewarded, for to the hotel where he was stopping—he had given Sammy Lee the address at Exeter—came a lean, bright-eyed captain with Mavis in charge. The girl was closely veiled, and plainly dressed in some dark material. It would not do for her to attract attention, seeing that England was ringing with the murder of which she was accused and with her strange escape.
Sammy Lee’s mate proved to be a very pleasant little man, who confided to Gerald that Sammy had told him all and that he did not believe in the guilt of his passenger for one moment. “She’s as pretty as a picture, and as true as steel, and as innocent as a dove,” said the poetical captain, “and if that Rebb beast hurts her, well then, I’ll have him shanghaied on board the Seamew, and do for him.” After which, with a nod, he departed.
The lovers had no time to talk at the hotel, as Gerald had wired at once to Tod, and they were expected in London. But in the train—Haskins secured a first-class carriage to themselves—they had a long conversation, and learned to know one another even better, if that were possible. And in spite of her danger Mavis was happy in the company of her adored Fairy Prince. As to Gerald, he could only worship her, so gentle and innocent and lovely did she seem.
On arriving in London they drove—with Mavis again veiled—to Tod’s Chancery Lane office, and were shown into the inner room. Here were Tod and Mrs. Pelham Odin, and Charity—also veiled. The two girls looked at one another and unveiled as by impulse. Then—
“As in a looking-glass!” cried Mrs. Pelham Odin. “Wonderful, marvelous. Here indeed is material for a new Comedy of Errors.”
Mrs. Pelham Odin might well exclaim. Gerald and Tod were silent from sheer amazement, even though the first might have expected to see one girl the double of the other. In that box of an office, and in the somewhat dim light that filtered through the dingy window, Mavis and Charity appeared to be exactly alike. Miss Bird was also plainly dressed in a dark frock, so as not to attract attention from Tod’s clerks, and this, along with the thrown-back veils, completed the resemblance. The two girls had similar eyes and hair, and complexion and cast of face, and even Mrs. Pelham Odin found it difficult to distinguish one from the other, long as she had known her adopted daughter.
“It is like a dream,” she declared—“Girofla-Girofle in real life. Oh, that I were in management again: what a chance for a play, a serious play, which has to do with twins.”
“What we are engaged in is serious enough,” said Gerald, sitting down. “My dear Mavis, this is Mrs. Pelham Odin, who is going to take charge of you until we can prove your innocence.”
Mavis shook hands with the old actress. “And you don’t believe that I am guilty?” she asked, in a whisper.
For answer Mrs. Pelham Odin embraced and kissed her. “My dear,” she said amiably, “truth looks out of your eyes.”
“Out of my eyes, I think,” said Charity. “Mr. Haskins, this is really amazing. I never thought to find my double. It seems uncanny. Tod, you will be marrying Mavis instead of me.”
“No,” said Tod slowly, and looking from one girl to the other, “there is a difference.”
“Meaning that Mavis is more charming than I am. Thank you.”
“Oh no,” broke in Miss Durham, “I am only an ignorant country girl, but you are clever and polished and—”
“And quite perfect,” ended Charity, kissing Mavis as Mrs. Pelham Odin had done, and with the same kindness, “let us hope that I am, in Tod’s eyes. This is Tod, Mavis; he is to be my husband.”
“At last,” gasped Macandrew sentimentally.
Gerald displayed impatience. “Had we not better get to business?” he observed. “These girls are so alike that I don’t want them to be seen together, lest trouble comes of it.”
“And trouble will come,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin, who had not yet got over her amazement. “As Charity says, this line-for-line resemblance is uncanny. I hope your veils are thick enough, my dears. If anyone saw you two together, the wonderful resemblance would certainly be commented upon, and might get to Major Rebb’s ears.”
Charity looked long and earnestly at Mavis. “We must be sisters. Can you remember ever having a sister, Mavis?”
“No. Nor did Major Rebb ever say that I had one. He brought me, as he said, from Bombay, some time after my mother died, and ever since I have been shut up in the Pixy’s House.”
“I was born at Simla,” said Charity thoughtfully, “at least the ayah who sold me to the juggler’s wife declared that I was. I don’t remember anything about it, of course. Mother—”
“Oh, don’t ask me, my dear. I can explain nothing. You know what I know, and it is strange that both you and Mavis should have been born in India. That fact, and the resemblance, certainly points to some relationship between you.”
“They are sisters,” declared Haskins firmly, “in no other way can the likeness be accounted for.”
“And yet there is a difference,” said Tod, for the second time. “It is in the tone of the voice, and in the look of the eyes.”
“Quite so,” said Charity swiftly. “My voice has been trained for the stage and Mavis’ has not. I have been brought up in the world and Mavis out of it, which fully accounts for the innocence looking out from her eyes and the worldly wickedness in mine.”
“My dear,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin, displeased, “how you rattle on. But I rather agree with you, I must say. If Mavis had been brought up as you, and you as Mavis, you would simply have changed places. I hope that I make myself clear.”
“As clear as the murky darkness of this twin mystery can be made clear until Major Rebb confesses. Meanwhile, and until we can force that man’s hand, we had better arrange what has to be done.” It was Gerald who spoke.
Mrs. Pelham Odin patted Mavis’ hand, which she was holding in her own very fondly. “I lose one daughter to find another,” she said cheerily. “Mavis can come back with me to my flat, and can wear some dresses which Charity has left behind. Then I’ll teach her to dance, and in a couple of days she will be able to replace Charity at the Belver.”
“You are quite willing?” Gerald asked Miss Bird anxiously.
“Of course I am,” she answered quickly. “I am quite on your side.”
“Remember that Mavis is accused of being a lunatic and a murderess.”
“I know. My mother told me. But I don’t believe it for one moment. I would as soon think myself capable of committing a crime.”
“I say the same,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin. “I told you, Mr. Haskins, that I would wait until I saw Mavis before deciding. Now that I have seen her, I disbelieve all that Major Rebb says. And moreover, since the likeness is even stronger than you said between these two girls, I can promise you that the plot will be carried out safely.”
Gerald hesitated. “Will Mavis dare to face the footlights?”
Mavis herself replied, and the brave blood of her soldier father flamed in her cheeks as his courage shone in her eyes. “I shall dare anything for your sake, Gerald,” she declared, without faltering. “And Bellaria has taught me to dance—poor Bellaria!” she ended sadly.
“It will be all right,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin, who had been watching the girl critically. “It is a risk, of course, but as there is only one dance, and the child has courage, I do not think she will experience stage fright. I can teach her the dance.”
“No,” interposed Charity quickly. “Let me do that. Mavis can come veiled to my lodgings, which are now at Kensington, and I can show her all the steps and tricks and manner necessary. I swear that when she is dressed as I was in The Moon-Fay, and dances as I shall teach her, no one will be a bit the wiser. And my engagement ends in a week or so; and it will not be necessary for her to continue to appear.”
Mrs. Pelham Odin nodded. “You must keep yourself quiet, Charity. No one must see you at Kensington. I can trust my old dresser, with whom I placed you there. To-night and to-morrow night you can go to the theatre, as usual. On the third night Mavis can appear.”
“And I shall see after Charity meanwhile,” said Tod eagerly; “in five days we can get married, and I have bought a special license, so that no banns need be put up. Then we can go abroad.”
“But, Tod,” said Gerald, somewhat dismayed, although he might have expected this course of conduct, “I want you to help me.”
“I shall do so when I return, in a month,” said Tod quickly. “It is as well, since Mavis is to play the part of Charity, that my wife should be out of the kingdom. I shall leave her abroad when I return, and then we can try and put things straight. They are crooked enough now.”
“Do you agree to this?” Gerald asked Charity once more.
“Of course,” she answered promptly, “and I shall send Tod back from Switzerland before the end of our honeymoon. The sooner these affairs are settled the better. I wish you and Mavis to be happy, and also I want to know about my parentage. I am tired of being Charity Bird.”
“You will soon be Charity Macandrew,” whispered Tod tenderly.
“Oh yes—but I wish to know if I am Charity Durham.”
“I am sure you are, and my sister,” said Mavis, taking the other girl’s hand, “and Gerald and I have been talking. If I get this six thousand a year, you shall have half.”
“Oh no,” cried Charity, half delighted and half doubtful.
“Oh yes—even though you may not prove to be my sister.”
Gerald shrugged his shoulders. “There’s no more to be said,” he remarked, “save that I am certain my surmise is correct. Well, Mrs. Pelham Odin, will you take Mavis to your flat?”
“Yes.” The old lady rose, and with her own hands drew down Mavis’ veil. “We had better go at once, seeing that we all now understand what is to be done. Charity?”
That young lady had already arranged her veil. “Tod is taking me back to Kensington,” she said, “and will call for me to-night at the theatre. I shall say that you are indisposed, mother.”
“Quite so,” rejoined the actress, “but pray tell as few lies as possible, and do behave yourself with Mr. Macandrew.”
“We’ll be as good as gold,” said Tod piously. “By the way, Gerald, one moment. My clerk went to watch Mrs. Crosbie and her mother at Bognor.”
“Well, and what happened?”
“Neither Mrs. Berch nor Mrs. Crosbie are there. They have not been near the place.”
“Now, what does that mean. She certainly said that she was going.”
“I suppose she changed her mind in a feminine way,” rejoined Tod, and the symposium broke up, having arranged all necessary plans for the immediate future.
For the next day or two Gerald was extremely anxious, as may be guessed. The daily papers were filled with accounts of the Leegarth murder, and with details respecting the search which was being made for Mavis Durham. The inquest had taken place, and the jury—as was natural, considering what Major Rebb declared—brought in a verdict of wilful murder against the girl. No one entertained a shadow of doubt as regarded her guilt, and Haskins was glad, for once, that Mavis had not been taught to read, since she could not worry herself over what the newspapers said. Rebb, at the inquest, had been severely reprehended for not having shut up his ward in a public asylum: but nothing came out about the income belonging to her which he enjoyed. It was the prevailing impression that Rebb had taken charge of his brother officer’s little girl out of sheer kindness of heart, and many of the journals praised his philanthropy. Gerald could imagine Rebb’s grim smile on reading about the undeserved honors thrust upon him.
And the young man was also anxious about Mavis’ appearance at the Belver Theatre, since she had been shut up all her life, and might be terrified out of her wits when facing an audience. If she did fail, Mrs. Pelham Odin intended to announce that her daughter was ill, and so gloss the matter over. But neither the actress or the lover need have been afraid. Mavis knew what was expected of her: knew what was at stake, and heartened by her love for Gerald, as well as by her desire for safety, she behaved like a heroine. In a wonderfully short space of time she picked up the dance, having been already taught how to use her hands and feet by the unfortunate Bellaria. Moreover the girl was a born dancer, and likewise suggested improvements which delighted both Charity and her adopted mother. Indeed the latter lamented loudly that Mavis was to marry Gerald, instead of appearing on the stage, as out of such promising material she said that a wonderful actress could be made. Dancing was only one way in which Mavis could express herself: but with instruction and experience—as Mrs. Pelham Odin averred—she could attain to a high position on the English stage. “And we need new talent,” wailed Mrs. Pelham Odin, “half the actresses who are on the boards should be off them.”
One result of Mavis’ improvements in the Moon-Fay dance was that Mrs. Pelham Odin, being an old friend of the Belver manager, induced him to give Mavis a rehearsal. Of course he thought that the demure young lady who appeared was the Charity Bird he knew, and that she merely wanted to alter the dance a trifle. As the ballet was nearly at an end he scarcely deemed it necessary to grant Mrs. Pelham Odin’s request, but in the end she got her own way, and Mavis was fortunate enough to have a trial trip. This assisted her greatly, as it enabled her to face a small audience before beholding the greater one. The manager was delighted with the improvements, and hinted to Mrs. Pelham Odin, as he had hinted before, that he was anxious to re-engage Miss Charity Bird for the new ballet.
“No,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin, privately lamenting the necessity of declining exceptionally good terms, “in a couple of weeks or so, when the run of The Moon-Fay is over, my daughter and myself are going to Southend for a rest.”
“Miss Bird is not going to marry that Macandrew fellow, I hope?” remarked the manager, who had heard rumors. “She will be a loss to the stage.”
“Nothing has been arranged as yet,” replied the actress evasively, and the matter dropped.
When the night came for Mavis’ appearance, Charity did a rash thing, in which she induced Tod to support her, although both Mrs. Pelham Odin and Gerald would have been seriously annoyed had they known. This was nothing less than to make Tod take her—closely veiled—to the gallery of the Belver Theatre to see her double, dance. Tod remonstrated, but, being very much in love, yielded in the long run, and, just before the curtain rose on The Moon-Fay, Charity and the lawyer found themselves very comfortably seated among the gods. The theatre was crowded as usual, as the ballet was a successful one, and Charity pointed out Gerald and Mrs. Pelham Odin in a small box near the stage.
“I do hope Mavis is not afraid,” whispered Charity, who was a trifle nervous herself.
“No,” answered Tod, in the same low tones. “I am quite certain that she will pull through all right. That girl has the heart of a lion.”
And indeed Macandrew’s prophecy proved to be a correct one. When the curtain drew up on the forest scene, in which Charity had figured for so many nights as a Moon-Fay, everything went excellently. The wandering lover, who was searching for his peasant love, chased the moonbeams as usual—these were electric lights—and when they gathered into one radiance of white, and he fell on his knees, invoking the Fairy of the Moon to assist him in his search, Mavis, arrayed in filmy, vaporous robes of snow, stepped calmly on to the stage. She had altered the dress a little as she thought Charity’s robes were a trifle scanty. The wardrobe mistress and the manager had remonstrated on the change, and could not understand why Miss Charity Bird had altered her mind about the dress when the ballet was nearing its end. But they never suspected the truth, as Mavis, a born actress, had mimicked Charity’s speech and gesture in private life. So she appeared in a kind of Greek dress worn long, and sparkling with silver. Her hair was crowned with a diadem of crystals, and with her pure face uplifted in the glory of the light she looked indeed like a spirit. The audience, as did the stage hands and the manager, thought still that they saw Charity Bird; but all the same they felt, in a puzzled way, that there was something different in the girl. What would they have said had they known that the Moon-Fay was being sought for far and wide, as a lunatic and a murderess. But no one dreamed of such a thing, and Gerald would not have winced even had Rebb himself been present. But the Major was not there, as he had more important matters to attend to; and moreover there was no need that he should come, seeing that he was ignorant of the dancer’s identity.
In the dark scenic forest, and amidst the soft radiance of the electric lights, Mavis danced as she had been instructed by Charity, so as to swing in time to the music, but also she introduced something of the mystic element she had displayed when Gerald had beheld her swaying in the grounds of the Pixy’s House. She floated across the wide stage like a veritable moonbeam, beckoned to the lover, bent over him like a fair white angel, and finally melted into a mist. This was contrived by gauze screens, a clever device, which had been much commented upon by the Press. When the Moon-Fay vanished there was a burst of applause. Charity always had been applauded for her dance, but never had the audience been so hearty in showing their appreciation as on this night. But Charity was not at all jealous for the attention bestowed upon her double.
“I must have looked splendid, if I was like that,” she whispered to Tod.
“Of course you were like that,” replied Macandrew, “isn’t she your double, dear. Only,” he added loyally, and what is more, he really believed what he said, “you were ever so much better.”
Mrs. Pelham Odin hurried behind the scenes as soon as Mavis’ dance was at an end, and hurried the girl away the moment she completed her change of dress. As this was the old actress’ usual way of behaving with Charity her action caused no comment. Beyond the fact that several people behind the scenes remarked that Miss Bird had been in unusually good form on this particular night no one troubled about the matter. And indeed why should they, seeing how they had beheld the ballet for more than a hundred nights, and also the dance of Charity Bird?
Gerald was delighted, and there was a very merry little supper at Mrs. Pelham Odin’s flat that night. Mavis again and again asked her lover if she had done well, and if he was pleased with her. Gerald could only reply with kisses, until Mrs. Pelham Odin merrily declared that she could not remain in the room if they were so affectionate. “And then, child,” she added, “we must turn this young man out, for to-morrow I have to be at Mr. Macandrew’s wedding.”
“Cannot I come?” asked Mavis eagerly.
“Bless me, child, no! Your presence would bring about the very complication we are desirous of avoiding. Things are going right so far, so do not put them wrong.”
So the next day Mavis remained in the flat, quite accepted by the servants of the house as Miss Charity Bird, while the real lady who bore that name went with Macandrew and Gerald and Mrs. Pelham Odin to a quiet country church in Essex, where Tod had elected to get married. Gerald was the best man, and Mrs. Pelham Odin gave the bride away in her best theatrical style. None of Tod’s relatives were present, for obvious reasons, but as he led his bride down the aisle after the ceremony he grinned to think of Lady Euphemia’s wrath did she know what had taken place.
“I hope that I have done right,” sighed Mrs. Pelham Odin, when looking after the train that bore Tod and his bride away. “I think I have.”
Gerald did nothing until the conclusion of the presumed Charity Bird’s engagement at the Belver Theatre. There was no need to do so for the moment, as the scheme to hide her had proved entirely successful, and no one guessed where to look for the much-wanted Mavis. Mrs. Pelham Odin took her to the theatre, waited for her there, and escorted her back again, so that Mavis spoke very little to the people behind the scenes. Gerald often came to supper, and spent much of his time at the Bloomsbury flat. He was supposed to be writing a new book, but in reality he indulged himself with a holiday, to make love to the girl he had so strangely rescued.
But when the Belver Theatre closed for a time, Mrs. Pelham Odin, feeling the want of a change, took Mavis to Southend, and there occupied pleasant apartments looking out on to the sea. Mavis did not like to be parted from her lover, as he could not see her so frequently; but Mrs. Pelham Odin pointed out that Haskins would have to begin his search for the true murderer of Bellaria, so that things could be put right. Also, as Mavis was being taught to read and write by the old actress, it was just as well that Gerald should not come too often, to distract the scholar’s attention from her lessons. So Mrs. Pelham Odin stopped with Mavis at the lively seaside town, happy in the company of the girl, and happy also to receive glowing letters from Mrs. Tod Macandrew, in which she expatiated on her heavenly honeymoon.
Haskins found his time hang rather heavily on his hands when Mavis and her new guardian left London. He wished to wait for Tod before beginning operations, but it would be quite a fortnight until Macandrew returned, and until then there was nothing to do. Gerald tried to write a few chapters of his new book, in vain. The thought of Mavis and of her perilous position filled his head, so he was obliged to throw aside his literary work, until matters were made straight for the girl. Having come to this conclusion, he resolved not to wait for Tod’s arrival, but to work at the case himself. The difficulty was how to begin.
Arnold had stated plainly that he believed Rebb to be the guilty person, but of this Gerald could not be sure. He was convinced that if Bellaria’s life had stood between Rebb and the six thousand a year she would have been murdered long ago. Moreover, the story of how Geary’s knife came to be used sounded very plausible, and, if Rebb were guilty, Haskins believed that he would not have told the police about the weapon, as he had done, when the inquest was held. Then, again, Arnold did not know the true reason of Bellaria’s fear and why she had buried herself in that secluded Devonshire village. It struck Gerald that the Tána Society had traced Bellaria Dondi to Leegarth, and there she had been slain, as she expected. Mrs. Berch knew of Bellaria’s dread of the coral hand, as Gerald had told her about it when she called to claim it again. She might have informed Venosta, who had bestowed the amulet on Mrs. Crosbie. He was undoubtedly an emissary of the Tána Society, and probably was the real criminal.
Arguing in this way, Haskins resolved to call on Mrs. Crosbie, and question her mother as to whether she had betrayed Bellaria to the burly Italian. Also, he was anxious to learn why Signor Venosta had given the coral hand to the widow, as it was incredible to think that she belonged to such a cut-throat organization. But there must be some reason why Mrs. Crosbie should hold the trinket which had so sinister a significance, and this Gerald made up his mind to see into. Finally, and as a third reason for his visit, he desired to know when Rebb and Mrs. Crosbie would marry. If Tod were right about the widow’s impecuniosity—and Gerald believed that he was—she would not become the Major’s wife unless he was certain of his income. And while Mavis remained undiscovered Rebb could by no means be certain.
Gerald would have asked Arnold to come to London, but he thought it best that he should not be seen in the company of Schaibar, as the Major might suspect that something was wrong. It was of course, impossible that Rebb could ever trace Mavis, but it was just as well to be on the safe side. So Arnold remained in Exeter, touring the surrounding country as far as Silbury, Denleigh, and Leegarth, keeping a keen eye on Geary, and communicating to Gerald by registered letters all the gossip dealing with the case which he could gather. It seemed from the little man’s epistles that the excitement had died down after Bellaria was buried, and a belief existed that Mavis, while flying from justice, had fallen into some river and had been drowned. Whether the negro or Rebb shared this comfortable belief Haskins could not discover. He thought not, else the Major might have been still more afraid of losing his illegal income. In spite of his denial that Mavis had any relatives either on the father’s or mother’s side, it was possible that the gallant officer lied. And if relatives existed they would certainly claim the money if Mavis was supposed to be dead.
A few days, therefore, after Mavis had departed with Mrs. Pelham Odin to Southend, Gerald paid a visit to Ladysmith Mansions. Mrs. Crosbie was within, looking much the same as usual, and she received him in quite a friendly manner. He fancied that the disagreeable topic of their last conversation had vanished from her memory. But her first words, after greetings, proved that this was not the case.
“I am glad to see you, my dear Gerald,” she said, languidly pointing to a seat, “but I hope you are not going to tell me any more horrors.”
“I was not aware that I had ever told you any,” he answered, rather annoyed by her tone.
“Oh yes. All that story of the lunatic, whom you wanted me to look after. It was just as well that I did not, seeing how mad she is.”
“She is not mad,” insisted the young man. “I told you that before, and I tell you again, Madge.”
“How often have I said that you are not to call me by my Christian name, you silly boy,” said Mrs. Crosbie irritably.
“There is no one here.” Gerald looked at the curtains dividing one room from the other. “I suppose Mrs. Berch is not again lying down with a headache.”
“No. She is out shopping, and will be in soon. And you needn’t look so cross. Neither mother nor I told Major Rebb about your weird love affair. Mother overheard, as she said, but held her tongue.”
“Don’t, I tell you. Major Rebb may come in at any moment, and I am also expecting Signor Venosta to afternoon tea. What would either of them say, if they heard you address me so familiarly.”
Gerald shrugged his shoulders, and did not argue the point. “As you please, Mrs. Crosbie. I was merely taking the privilege of our age-long acquaintanceship.”
“Why not friendship?” she inquired, closing her eyes.
“Friendship, then. When are you to be married?”
“I can’t say! Michael—that is Major Rebb, you know—has not settled anything yet. He’s very much upset, poor man, over this crazy girl.”
“I don’t believe that the girl is crazy!” said Gerald decisively.
“So you said before! Major Rebb told me of his interview with you at that Denleigh inn, and how absurd you were. Now I suppose you will admit that you have had a lucky escape?”
“I admit nothing of the sort!” said Haskins bluntly: then added, in a diplomatic manner: “Did I know where that poor girl was I would look her up and marry her to-morrow.”
“I don’t think that lunatic marriages are legal,” yawned Mrs. Crosbie. “In spite of what you say, the girl must be guilty. The jury brought in a verdict of wilful murder, and she should be hanged. As it is, owing to her insanity, I presume she will be shut up in an asylum.”
“Then the Major will be pleased, I expect,” said Gerald grimly.
“No; he will not. He is very sorry about the affair. It has brought his name before the public in a most unpleasant manner. Luckily, everyone knows how well he behaved in looking after the girl. He got nothing for doing it.”
Haskins started, and wondered if it would be wise to reveal the real terms which existed between Mavis and her guardian. If Mrs. Crosbie did not know how Rebb earned his income—if it could be called earning—he was certainly marrying her under false pretenses. For the moment Gerald was inclined to blurt out the truth: but, remembering how Mrs. Crosbie had taken his last confidence, he resolved to hold his tongue about the money question, and to let the widow and her admirer adjust their own private affairs.
Meanwhile the widow had gone to the tea-table, which had just been set, and was talking, while she poured out the tea. “I hope that you have got over your infatuation for that girl, Gerald. You will never see her again. I expect she is dead; fell into a pit, or a river, or something, when she ran away after committing murder. Poor thing! it is a lucky business for her that she is dead.”
“Mrs. Crosbie,” said Gerald, ceremoniously taking a cup of tea, “you will insist that Miss Durham killed her nurse. I believe from the bottom of my heart that she is innocent.”
“Oh, of course you would, being in love,” said Mrs. Crosbie, with a shrug, “but, if she is innocent, who is guilty? Major Rebb?”
“No, I do not accuse him.”
“How good of you, my dear Gerald.”
“But,” added the young man, with emphasis, “you may have an idea as to who killed Bellaria Dondi.”
A piece of bread and butter fell from Mrs. Crosbie’s hand, and she turned round with an amazed look. “I? In heaven’s name, how should I know?”
“Didn’t your mother tell you what I said about Bellaria and that coral hand which I found in your cigarette-case?”
“Yes. The woman was afraid when she saw it.”
“Do you know why she was afraid?”
“No; I certainly do not.”
“Could Signor Venosta tell you?”
Mrs. Crosbie rose, and came forward with a glittering light in her eyes not pleasant to look at. “What do you mean? Signor Venosta—”
“Gave you the amulet? Mrs. Berch told me as much.”
“If he did, what then? Signor Venosta is an old friend of mine. So long as Major Rebb does not object, I fail to see why you—”
“Oh, I have no objections to offer,” interrupted Gerald hurriedly. “But Bellaria was afraid of that coral hand, which symbolized—now then, Mrs. Crosbie, what did it symbolize?”
“I don’t know,” she faltered, and her eyes dropped; after a pause she looked up. “I’ll tell you all I know,” she added, passing her lace handkerchief across her lips. “But keep what I say to yourself.”
“Go on. I shall say nothing to the world without your permission.”
Mrs. Crosbie reflected. “I was in difficulties over money when we last met,” she said rapidly. “There was an Italian moneylender—a Jew in the city—who held a bill of mine, and treated me badly. I did not know what to do. When I told Signor Venosta, in despair, since he was always a good friend of mine, he asked me the name of the Jew, and all particulars.”
“What is the name of the Jew?” asked Gerald quickly.
“That has nothing to do with the story. There is no need for you to know. This moneylender was an Italian Jew, and came from Naples. When Signor Venosta heard my tale he detached that coral hand from his watch chain, on the very day you found us together, and gave it to me, saying, that if I showed it to the Jew everything would go well. I put it for safety in my cigarette-case, which you carried off. So small an object could easily be lost, as you may guess. When I found that my case was missing I sent mother at once to you, thinking—and rightly—that you had taken it. She brought it back.”
“Well, go on. Did you show it to the Jew?”
“Yes. He was desperately afraid, and agreed to whatever terms I chose to make; so you may guess, I insisted on having favorable ones. That is all, Gerald.”
“Why was the Jew afraid?”
“I know no more than I know why Bellaria was afraid.”
“Did this Italian Jew from Naples say anything?”
“No. He turned a dirty yellow, and nearly went on his knees. I told him that if he did not give me my way that he would get into trouble, and that I had brought the sign to show him. He yielded, and after our making terms he seemed glad to get rid of me.”
“But you know—”
“I know nothing,” she interrupted tartly, and returned to the tea-table, Haskins wondering if she was playing a part. Since she knew so much it seemed to him that she must know more. He tried the effect of a surprise. “Ah, the Jew was probably afraid of the Tána.”
This time Mrs. Crosbie dropped the teapot, which clattered on the tray with a great noise. “The Tána Society?” she stammered, very pale.
“The Tána Society?” said a new and foreign-sounding voice at the same time, and Signor Venosta was shown into the room as the teapot fell.
Mrs. Crosbie recovered herself with an effort. “Oh, signor, how are you to-day? Last time, Mr. Haskins—you know Mr. Haskins—found you with me, now you find him with me. How strange!”
She was talking for the sake of talking, as Gerald noted, for her face was livid and her bosom rose and fell stormily. The burly Italian, who looked perfectly self-controlled and composed, eyed Haskins, who bore his gaze without flinching. Neither man took notice of Mrs. Crosbie’s chatter, and she sank again into her seat before the tea-table. “Won’t you sit down also, you two?” she tittered nervously.
“You mentioned the Tána Society,” said Venosta, turning on the little woman, “and to this young man.”
“Pardon me. I mentioned it first to Mrs. Crosbie,” said Haskins coolly.
“What do you know of the Tána Society?”
“Very little beyond the fact that it consists of a body of men who emerge on occasions from the Den to dispense that justice which cannot be obtained by law. The headquarters of the society is in Naples, and the symbol is a coral hand grasping a dagger.”
Signor Venosta might have been hewn out of marble for all the surprise he showed at this speech. But he was staggered, since Gerald caught the expression of his eyes. “May I ask how you know all this, sir?”
Gerald shrugged. “I see no reason to conceal the fact that by chance I carried away Mrs. Crosbie’s cigarette-case during my last visit. The amulet fell out when I opened the case in my rooms for a cigarette.”
“Quite so,”‘ assented Venosta blandly, “but you thought, no doubt, that it was merely a trinket.”
“Yes; such as an old friend—you, for instance, Signor Venosta—might give to Mrs. Crosbie.”
“Ah!” the Italian turned swiftly on the widow, “you have told him.”
“No, no!” she said vehemently, “only that you gave me the trinket, and that I made that Jew moneylender do what I wanted by showing it to him. I did not tell anything else, because I know nothing else, save that the coral hand has to do with some society called the Tána.”
“How do you know that much even?”
“My mother told me. Mr. Haskins told her.”
“And how do you know?” demanded Venosta, turning toward Gerald.
“Because Bellaria Dondi,” the Italian started, “came to my rooms just before Mrs. Berch appeared to reclaim the cigarette-case. Bellaria was afraid when she saw the amulet, and staggered out of the room crying out: ‘Tána! Tána!’ I asked a friend what the word meant, and he told me it meant a den. Told me also, that he had heard of the society by that name in Naples. I guessed then from what Bellaria said, and from her terror, that the Tána Society wished to kill her.”
Venosta nodded and smiled amiably. “You are a clever young gentleman to piece things together so cleverly. Well, I have heard the name of Bellaria Dondi.”
“In connection with this murder?” asked Gerald, “or long ago, when she was a singer, and in love with Enrico Salviati?”
Signor Venosta’s brow grew dark, and he frowned fiercely. “Bellaria told you much,” he said, striving to appear calm.
“Much,” assented Gerald easily, and not at all daunted by black looks, “but she did not tell me who had struck the blow, or who had given the information which led to the striking of the blow. She could not; she is dead, poor soul.”
Venosta eyed him coldly. “Then, and in spite of the verdict which accuses an English young lady of murder, you believe the Tána Society murdered Bellaria Dondi.”
“Did justice on her, let us say,” remarked Gerald quietly; “that is the euphonious way in which you Italians put such things.”
“And you believe that I obtained the news of Bellaria’s whereabouts from—” His eye wandered to Mrs. Crosbie.
She sprang to her feet indignantly. “It is not true. I told you nothing of what my mother said; nothing of what she heard from Gerald. Say that I did not tell you? How could I, when I knew nothing? Had I known of this society, and your connection with it, I should not have made use of that coral hand to terrify the Jew.”
“I do not say that I am connected with the Tána Society, madam.”
“You gave me the trinket.”
“Which was given to me by a member of the society for use in emergencies, madam. I gave it to you to aid you out of friendship. That is all. He waved his large white hand. There is no more to be said.”
“Pardon me,” said Gerald quickly, “there is this much to be said. How did you come to know of Bellaria’s hiding-place, if Mrs. Crosbie—”
“Madam here told me nothing,” interrupted the Italian, silencing the little widow with a gesture. “Bellaria Dondi was a traitress, who deserved to be killed. Nevertheless, she hid herself so successfully that the Tána Society never knew where she was until the papers said that she had been found dead in Devonshire.”
“Did not an emissary of the Tána Society kill her?” asked Gerald, confounded.
“No,” said Venosta gravely. “Heaven punished Bellaria, not the Tána. She is dead—stabbed—but I do not know who struck the blow.”
He looked at Mrs. Crosbie, and at Gerald coldly, bowed slightly, and left the room.
Almost as soon as the Italian went out, Mrs. Berch entered. Since Gerald had seen her last she had greatly aged, and looked more worn and thin than ever in her dark gown. Glancing from the young man to her daughter, she went to the latter and took her hand.
“What is the matter, Madge?” she asked, in her stern, cold voice, “why has Signor Venosta left, and why are you shivering? Gerald,” she turned to Haskins, “what have you been saying to my daughter?”
“Nothing,” he answered calmly, “but Signor Venosta has been saying a great deal to both of us.”
“It is about that coral hand, mother,” cried Mrs. Crosbie feverishly, and clinging to Mrs. Berch. “Signor Venosta says that it is the symbol of a society which murders, and for that reason the moneylender was afraid. I wish I had refused Venosta’s assistance,” she ended.
“Why did you talk of these horrors?” asked Mrs. Berch reproachfully, “you know, Gerald, that Madge cannot bear such things.”
“I am trying to learn who killed Bellaria, Mrs. Berch, and it struck me—since she was afraid of the coral hand—that you told Madge what I told you, and that this being repeated to Venosta, he might have stabbed the woman by order of the Tána Society.”
“I don’t know anything about the Tána Society.”
“Neither do I; neither do I,” muttered Mrs. Crosbie.
“And there is no reason why Signor Venosta, who is our friend, should kill Major Rebb’s servant,” went on Mrs. Berch steadily. “Everyone knows that she was stabbed by that crazy girl.”
“I don’t agree with you,” replied Gerald coldly, and prepared to leave. “However, it is useless arguing, I can only apologize to Mrs. Crosbie for having brought up so disagreeable a subject. Good-day.”
“No,” said the widow, rising and recovering her color and nerve, “don’t go yet, Gerald. I know that you did not mean any harm, and after all, as Signor Venosta has nothing to do with the death, it matters very little. Had I known when I saw the moneylender what I know now I should never have taken that coral hand. But I have given it back to Signor Venosta, and he will not mention the subject again. Sit down and have another cup of tea.”
“Do,” urged Mrs. Berch, the light coming into her cold eyes. “I think you owe it to Madge to remove the impression of this horror. The whole thing is too fantastical, with its symbols and secret societies and murders in lonely houses. We live in the twentieth century, and these things belong to fiction.”
“The last does not,” replied Haskins dryly: “Bellaria was certainly murdered at the Pixy’s House.”
“And by that crazy girl,” insisted Mrs. Berch. “I hope she will be caught and shut up in an asylum. It is not safe to let such a creature go at large.”
Haskins defended Mavis no longer, as he was afraid that the two women, both keen-eyed and clever, might guess his secret knowledge of the girl’s whereabouts. “Let us change the subject,” he said, taking a fresh cup of tea from Mrs. Crosbie’s hand. “I hope you enjoyed yourselves at Bognor?”
“Oh, very much indeed,” said the widow brightly, “and we were quite sorry to return to London. But we are going abroad soon, to Switzerland.”
Gerald winced. Switzerland was a wide place: yet if Mrs. Berch and her daughter went there, it was not impossible but what they might come across the honeymooning path of Mr. and Mrs. Macandrew. In that event Major Rebb would certainly learn that Charity was married, and therefore guess that Mavis was with Mrs. Pelham Odin. However, he showed no signs of his fears, but privately resolved to write to Tod. “When are you going, Mrs. Crosbie?”
“I can’t say exactly,” she answered carelessly, “it all depends on Major Rebb. He is coming with mother and myself, but has some business to arrange before he can leave London. What have you been doing with yourself lately, Gerald? We, as you know, have been at Bognor.”
“Writing as usual.” And Haskins plunged into an account of his new book, for the sake of talking on a safe subject. Yet even as he spoke, his brain was wondering why the widow lied about Bognor. According to Tod’s clerk the two ladies had not been near that watering-place: but Mrs. Crosbie spoke as having just returned from that very town. Probably, since both were hard up—Mrs. Crosbie in talking of the moneylender had confessed as much—they had been ruralizing in some quiet and cheap part of the country.
For the next twenty minutes the conversation was of a light and somewhat frivolous order, and in so congenial an atmosphere the widow expanded like a flower. Even Mrs. Berch grew more human, and less like a stone image. It was quite like old days, when Gerald’s mother had sat knitting and listening with a smile on her well-remembered face. Mrs. Crosbie evidently recalled the past, for when Gerald finally took his departure she accompanied him to the door.
“What a pleasant quarter of an hour we have had,” she said, pressing his hand. “We always get on well together, Gerald, and mother is so fond of you. I wish you had not quarreled with Michael—with Major Rebb, that is—for when I am married I want you still to be my friend.”
“I am only too willing to continue so: but Rebb doesn’t like me.”
“How can you expect him to,” said Mrs. Crosbie petulantly, “when you accuse him of shutting up that girl unjustly? I do hope you have got over your infatuation for her. It would never do for you to marry a madwoman.”
“No,” said Gerald, shirking a useless argument, “it would never do. Good-day, Madge. I shall see you again soon.” And he went down the stairs with backward glances to see Mrs. Crosbie shaking a playful finger at him for calling her as usual by her Christian name.
When in the street Gerald suddenly remembered that it would have been as well to get Signor Venosta’s address from the widow, as he wanted to gain further information concerning the Tána Society. But on second thoughts he saw little use in again questioning Venosta. The Italian had plainly denied the murder, and would tell him nothing more about the society, which was a secret one. Haskins quite believed what Venosta said with regard to the crime. If Bellaria, judged a traitress by the Tána, had been deliberately stabbed, it was improbable that Venosta—as the mouthpiece of the cut-throat organization—would deny that such justice had been executed. Such societies were rather proud than otherwise of their vengeance, and did not mind the truth being known, since publicity on this score terrified other members who might wish to break their oaths. The Tána Society therefore was guiltless of Bellaria’s death, and the assassin would have to be sought for in another quarter. “But where can I look?” Gerald asked himself, and it was not until he reached Frederick Street that he decided what to do. The decision he came to, was to journey at once to Denleigh and interview the negro. Probably Geary knew the truth and might be bribed or terrified into telling what he knew. To depend upon this semi-civilized creature was grasping at a straw, but to whom else could he go for information? Rebb, fighting with his back to the wall, would not tell, but Geary, knowing his master’s secrets, might be persuaded, or kicked, or bought over, into speech.
When Gerald arrived in his rooms he was met with a surprise in the shape of Tod Macandrew, looking sunburnt, healthy, and marvelously happy. “Good heavens, what are you doing here?” asked Haskins, amazed.
“Looking for you,” retorted Tod, and shook hands. “Charity is so anxious to see Mavis cleared, and you married to her, that she made me come back.”
“And where is Mrs. Macandrew?”
“What is she doing there?”
“Waiting for me. She would not stop in Switzerland, as it was too far away, so she came to Amsterdam. I can run over and see her there whenever I like, until this infernal business of the murder is cleared up and I can bring her back to England.”
“I am glad she is in Holland,” remarked Gerald, and told Tod how Mrs. Crosbie and her mother intended to go to Switzerland, and of his dread lest they might meet Charity.
Tod nodded. “It is just as well,” he answered. “However, Charity is all right and snug, so I am at your disposal. Mavis and Mrs. Pelham Odin are at Southend?”
“Yes, where Rebb is not likely to look for them. As for myself I am going to Devonshire to-morrow to see Geary and Arnold.”
“Arnold? Yes, I should like to interview him, and see if he has picked up any further information. As to Geary?—do you suspect him?”
“Yes and no. According to Rebb, Geary gave the knife to Bellaria, and certainly I shot Geary in the right arm, so on the night of the murder he was in no condition to kill the woman. Geary, I believe, is guiltless; but he knows Rebb’s secrets, and I wish to force him into telling them.”
“Hum,” said Tod, nursing his chin. “Do you believe that Rebb—”
“I don’t know what to believe of Rebb,” interrupted Gerald quickly. “As I told you, Mr. Arnold thinks that Rebb stabbed Bellaria. He may have done so, or he may not: at all events I am going down to find out.”
Then Haskins related what he had learned about the coral hand, and how Venosta had disclaimed the murder. “Which he would not have done, Tod, had the society executed vengeance on Bellaria.”
“But by confessing he would run his neck into a noose.”
“No. He would simply deny having told me, and his guilt would be difficult to prove, since both Mrs. Crosbie and Mrs. Berch say that they did not tell him about Bellaria’s terror of the amulet. Moreover he would clear out of England back to his own country, and could laugh at the English law. No, Tod; I feel certain that Venosta and his accursed society are innocent.”
“And you believe that Geary is innocent also? You leave only Rebb to be accused. However, I’ll come down with you and scour the country after a conversation with this Arnold. We can then learn what strangers were in the neighborhood of Leegarth on the night of the murder.”
“What then? No stranger had any reason to murder Bellaria?”
“Well, I don’t know. The crime may be the work of a tramp. I daresay there were rumors of jewels and money and all the rest of it. A tramp might—”
“No,” said Gerald very decidedly. “Mavis declares that Bellaria received a letter which excited her. I should not be surprised to learn that the letter asked her to come to the gate at midnight, so that she might meet with her death.”
“Ah! Then you think this letter was written by the assassin? If so, Rebb is guiltless. He would not commit himself to making an appointment in writing, when he could have met Bellaria easily without doing so. Where is this letter?”
“I don’t know. Mavis says that Bellaria had it on her person: but it could not have been found, else it would have been produced at the inquest. I know, from reading the papers, that it was not.”
“Hum,” said Tod again. “Well, let us go down to Devonshire and then we can look into things.”
“It is very good of you to cut short your honeymoon to help me,” said Gerald, patting Macandrew on the back.
“It is very good of me, indeed,” assented Tod readily, “and I wouldn’t have done it for another living soul. Come now take me out to dinner at the Troc, and amuse me with the best play in London.”
Haskins laughed, and did all that was desired, as it was just as well to keep Tod from fretting after the wife he had left at Amsterdam. But Macandrew did not do things by half: having come over to help his friend, he did not keep reminding him of the sacrifice he had made. Tod ate an excellent dinner, and laughed at a musical comedy, and went to sleep in Gerald’s extra bedroom, after a smoke and a glass of whisky slightly diluted with water. Macandrew, as became a native of Scotland, liked his drink strong.
Next morning the two friends went down to the west of England in very good spirits. At Exeter Tod alighted to see Arnold—having obtained the Monmouth Hotel address from Gerald—and the other amateur detective proceeded to Silbury, where as usual he put up at the Prince’s Head. Mrs. Jennings was pleased to see him, but could tell him very little about the murder likely to throw any light on its darkness. It seemed to Gerald that she took very little interest in the matter.
“That crazy girl can’t be found,” she told her guest, “so I expect, poor soul, she has been drowned—that is the general opinion, sir. As that is the case, and Miss Bellaria is buried in Leegarth graveyard, there is no more to be said.”
“What of the Pixy’s House?”
“Major Rebb has shut it up—in a way, that is. For that mad girl’s rooms were beautifully furnished. I saw them myself,” added Mrs. Jennings breathlessly, “when I went over after the inquest, to Leegarth. But Major Rebb has been living in those rooms, with his man—”
“No, sir. Geary is still the landlord of the Devon Maid. He was fiddling with a pistol and hurt himself: but he is all right now. Major Rebb brought his own man from town, who cooks and looks after the place. I expect the Major likes better to live in the Pixy’s House than in the hotel at Denleigh. I would not live in that wicked house myself,” ended Mrs. Jennings, with a shudder. “I should be afraid of Miss Bellaria’s ghost.”
“Is Major Rebb there now?” asked Gerald quickly.
“He comes again to-morrow or the next day, I believe,” answered the landlady, who knew all the gossip of the neighborhood, “and they say that he intends to repair the house against his marriage with a London lady.”
Haskins nodded, and took his way over the hills to Denleigh. It was apparent that Rebb really believed Mavis to be drowned, according to common report, and, since no one was likely to question his right to the income or the house, he intended to reap as a married man the fruit of his villainy. It seemed strange to Gerald that Mavis should not have any relative who would dispute the will, but he knew how often old families dwindle down to a single person. In this case, he believed that there were two twigs still sprouting from the Durham family tree, in the persons of the twin girls.
On crossing the bridge, in Denleigh valley, Haskins saw Geary lounging at his door, looking big and black and sullen and dangerous. However, a white man was not to be intimidated by a barbarous animal like this, so Gerald walked up to him coolly, and wished him good-day. Geary grew green under his black skin, and glared like a wild beast, his hands working convulsively. At his back, in the passage, could be seen the scared face of Mrs. Geary. She evidently dreaded what Haskins’ errand might be, since she must have known of her husband’s footpad attack.
“What might you be doing here, sah?” asked Geary, rolling his eyes.
“Taking a stroll, Geary—simply taking a stroll. How is your arm?”
The negro glared and took a step forward, his hand slipping round to the back. Haskins moved aside and gripped the revolver which he had taken the precaution to bring with him. Mr. Geary’s knife was too dangerous a weapon to be met with mere fists. “I am quite ready,” said the white man coolly: “you bring out that knife and I shoot.”
“Dat would be murder, sah,” whimpered Geary, reading danger in Haskins’ steady eye: but he withdrew his hand from his back all the same. “You nearly murdered me afore, sah.”
“I winged you as a murderous dog,” said Gerald sharply, “and you quite deserve to be shot. Are you not afraid lest I should bring you into court for attacking me? You would get a long term of imprisonment, Adonis. We don’t allow these sort of things in England.”
“You do what you like, sah. Major Rebb, him look after me.”
“I don’t think Major Rebb will interfere,” said Gerald carelessly.
Geary showed his white teeth significantly. “Dat massa ob mine will see dat all is safe wid me, sah, until he die.”
“Ah, that means you can force him to protect you.”
“I say noting, sah.”
“Strange—for you were always garrulous. Where is your amiable smile, Mr. Geary, and your polite manners? I always knew you to be a murderous hound. But you might have spared poor Bellaria.”
Geary flung up his hands, and looked greener than ever. “I did not hab noting to do wid dat woman, sah.”
“Oh, I think so—stand where you are and keep your hands in front of you,” cried Haskins sharply, “or I’ll send a bullet through you.”
The negro’s eyes rolled, and he looked round for assistance. But the population of Denleigh were indoors partaking of the evening meal, and beyond a few children playing far down the stream no one was in sight. “I no kill dat Bellaria,” he repeated doggedly, but did not venture to grip his knife. He had experienced the shooting of his opponent before.
“You liar! You came back here, and, after having had your arm bound up, you went to the Pixy’s House.”
This chance shot of Haskins’ hit the mark. “No, sah; no sah,” gasped the big man, but his knees knocked together.
“You did,” cried Haskins, following up his advantage, “and Major Rebb went also.”
“It’s one big lie, sah. No! No, doan’ shoot, sah,” and with a scream he backed into the house to shut the door, but could not because Mrs. Geary, large and massive, blocked the way.
“See here, Geary,” said Haskins, lowering the pistol he had raised. “I intend to have you arrested for that assault unless you tell me the truth about this crime. You are guilty.”
“No, sah; no, sah,” moaned the man again.
“Mr. Haskins,” said the woman, brushing aside her husband and coming out, “my husband has been a bad one to me: but he is innocent. Major Rebb went to the Pixy’s House on—”
“Hole dat tongue, you beast,” yelled Geary furiously.
But Mrs. Geary would not be silenced. Her meekness seemed to have disappeared, and she faced the negro, as bold as any Amazon. “I shall not hold my tongue, Adonis,” she said, drawing a deep breath, “the time has gone by when you could bully me. I have suffered enough at your hands, and a fool I was to marry a black savage such as you are. You—”
How long she would have gone on in that manner it is impossible to say, for the pent-up anger of years appeared to break forth. However, Gerald saw that people were coming out of their houses, and sauntering in the direction of the inn. Unwilling that too much should be made public—for obvious reasons—he pushed his way past Mrs. Geary and into the house, commanding the two to follow him. They did so—the woman willingly enough. But the negro hung back with a snarl and evidently tried his old tricks on his wife. There was a scream as Haskins entered the old sitting-room, which he had occupied with Tod, and then the sounds of slapping and scuffling and swearing. Gerald flung himself into an armchair, and looked towards the open door. It was filled the next moment by Geary being thrust forward by his wife, who had cuffed and thrashed him into a dazed silence. She literally flung him into the room, and following herself closed and locked the door. Standing before this, wrathful and gigantic, she pointed a menacing finger at the black man.
“I was a fool to marry such a black savage as you are,” she went on from where she had left off. “You have been a beast and a tyrant and have driven me to drink. The drink is in me now, and that is what makes me so bold.”
“Wait till the drink is out of you,” breathed Geary, trying to assert himself, and flashed an angry look in her direction. Formerly that look had cowed the woman, but now she simply snapped her fingers in his astonished face.
“It won’t do, Adonis, it won’t do. The worm has turned at last: you have made me desperate. I’ll have no more of these murders and beatings and swearings. I am a Baptist myself, and you have nearly ruined my soul. But now, you black dog, it is my turn. To-morrow I go back to my mother at Barnstaple with my children. I can get work to do, and earn money to keep them and myself. As for you, stay here with your ill-gotten money for doing Major Rebb’s dirty work. I could ruin you; but I shall not do that. Still, the truth must be told to this gentleman.”
“What is that?” asked Gerald, sitting up, and expectant of what was coming. He saw the truth in Mrs. Geary’s fiery eyes.
“The truth is that Major Rebb murdered Bellaria.”
“It isn’t de troofth,” muttered Geary, clenching his huge fists.
His wife taunted him. “Ah, you’d like to strike me, you animal,” she said, in a loud voice. “But do—do. I dare you. Never again: oh, never again! I can die but once, and if you use your knife, I’ll use my teeth and my hands and my feet to fight you. Better death than more of this dog life with you.”
Her breast rose and fell stormily, and Gerald looked at her as amazed as was her husband. Never before had the meek ogress behaved in this fashion, although on several occasions she had tried to assert herself. But having turned, she left no room for doubt as to what she meant. Looking at the transformed woman, who had been goaded into revolt, Haskins thought of Balzac’s remark, which was now excellently illustrated: “There is nothing more horrible than the rebellion of a sheep.”
“Wait; only wait.”
It was Geary who spoke, but he spoke without conviction, since he felt rather than saw that his rule was at an end. It is ever thus with tyrants. They browbeat those who are willing to serve them, for many years, and the milder the servant the greater burden does the master impose. Mrs. Geary had labored like a horse, doing more than was required of her. Still, the negro had not been pleased, and therefore had beaten and kicked his beast of burden, never dreaming of any revolt. But the measure was filled to the brim: the last straw had stiffened the camel’s back rather than broken it; and Mrs. Geary had risen to assert the right of a human being. Adonis blustered and threatened, but he knew that never again would his wife submit to his domination.
“With your domestic affairs I have no need to meddle,” said Gerald, raising his hand to stop Mrs. Geary’s speech and her husband’s growling. “I think you are right to leave that brute, and if you need money I shall supply you with all you wish.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Mrs. Geary, dropping a curtsey; and glared at her husband. The drink was dying out of her, but she still fought, as she was supported by Haskins’ presence. “You hear that, Adonis?”
“I’ll go to law, sah,” growled Geary, “you make my wife fight.”
“You shall have more law than you bargain for,” said Gerald coldly. “I can promise you that. Go on, Mrs. Geary, tell your story.”
She placed her big arms akimbo, and spoke steadily. “When Geary went after you on that night, sir, I knew he was up to some deviltry, since he almost stripped himself and used all the oil in the cruet stand to rub over himself. I spoke to the Major—that is, I went in to speak to him here, and ask what Geary was up to. But the Major was gone.”
“Gone?” echoed Gerald. “Then he went immediately after I left?”
“Not exactly, sir. It was quite an hour after Adonis followed you that I came in here. Then Adonis came back wounded, and I bound up his arm. He asked if his old master was in, and when he heard that the Major had gone out he followed.”
“I followed to the Pixy’s House,” said Adonis hoarsely, “you may as well know dat what I know, sah. I hab noting to do wid de murder. I went ober de hills for de Major, and I found him coming back—”
“At what time was that?”
“After midnight,” cried Mrs. Geary, “it was two o’clock before the Major and Adonis returned.”
“And Bellaria was murdered—according to the medical evidence—about midnight,” murmured Haskins. “So you went to the Pixy’s House?”
“No, sah, I no go dere. I meet de Major coming back. He say dat he had gone to see if you, sah, had been visitin’ de house, after you went from here. Den I tole him dat I tried to kill you, for I hear that you wished to make trouble for de Major. De Major berry angry wid me, and we come home. Den, in the morning, we hear ob de murder.”
“Didn’t the Major tell you that he had found Bellaria stabbed?”
“No, sah. Him say noting: I ask noting. Dat’s all.”
“If Major Rebb was in the Pixy’s House at midnight, he either stabbed Bellaria himself, or he knows who stabbed her,” said Gerald deliberately, and rose. “Is this all you have to tell me?”
“Dat all,” growled the man sullenly. “But de Major did not kill. Bellaria asked for my big knife, ‘cause she was feared.”
“Did you know what she feared?”
“No, sah. De Major, he know, but he no tell me.”
There was nothing to be done but to wait and see Rebb, so as to question him on this unexpected information, which Mrs. Geary had forced her cowed husband to give. Haskins slipped a sovereign into the woman’s hand, and walked to the door. “If you follow me again to knife me, Adonis,” he remarked, “remember I have a revolver.”
The negro pointed to his useless right arm. “I can do noting,” he said, and his eyes flashed as he added: “I should like to.”
Mrs. Geary pushed past her husband. “No, you can do nothing with that arm. It has beaten me often enough. Geary,” she pointed a finger at him, “now I leave your house with my children; this very moment I leave. I shall never see you again.”
“You have nowhere to go, you fool gal.”
“I can tramp with the children to Leegarth and there a friend of mine can put me up for the night. I have this sovereign the young gentleman has given me, and to-morrow I take the train back to my mother.”
“I think you are wise, Mrs. Geary,” called back Gerald, and began his return journey to Silbury, leaving the negro and his wife to settle their private affairs as they best could. But he felt certain that Mrs. Geary meant what she said, and would leave the Devon Maid at once. She feared, now that she was more sober, and Gerald was gone, lest she should again succumb to the tyranny of the negro.
The next morning Gerald received a letter from Tod, saying that he was going with Arnold to Belldown, a village on the hither side of Leegarth, and some ten miles distant. Haskins wondered why his friend and the tutor should go to such a secluded place. Probably Tod had found some evidence which took him there, for examination of the same. But his letter was most unsatisfactory, as he gave no hint of what Arnold had explained. Gerald felt somewhat in the dark. However, it was useless to conjecture. When Macandrew had done what he wanted to do at Belldown—whatever that might be—he would come to Silbury with Mr. Arnold and explain himself. Meanwhile Gerald possessed his soul in patience, and wished that Rebb would come down to the Pixy’s House.
When he descended to breakfast, and Mrs. Jennings entered with her budget of gossip, he learned that Major Rebb had driven through Silbury early that morning on his way to Leegarth. “He came down by the night train I hear, sir,” said Mrs. Jennings.
Haskins was very well satisfied, as this arrival provided him with work for the day. Apparently Rebb had seen Mrs. Crosbie on the previous day, and had learned what took place from the widow, or her mother. And it was possible that he had come to the Frederick Street chambers to ask Haskins what he meant by meddling with the case. There he would learn that the marplot—as he regarded Haskins—had gone on to Devonshire, and so had come down post-haste by the next train he could catch. All this argued a guilty conscience, and Gerald took his way to Leegarth later in the morning to have it out with his enemy. It occurred to him that Rebb was guilty after all.
The day was not so hot as the previous one had been, so Haskins walked to Leegarth. He could have obtained a horse, or a bicycle, as on the two former occasions, but preferred to use his legs. The country was very beautiful, and the air most exhilarating, so he enjoyed the journey, and arrived at Leegarth without unduly hurrying himself. When he came in sight of the Pixy’s House he felt in his hip pocket to make sure that his revolver was safe. Rebb was a desperate man, and might make an attack after the fashion of Geary; therefore it was as well to be on the safe side. Thus ready for any emergency, he rang the bell at the big gates, which were again closed and bolted. In less time than he expected the gates were thrown open by the mild-faced valet of Rebb whom Haskins had last seen in London.
“My master is expecting you, sir,” said the valet, stepping back to permit the visitor to enter, “in fact, sir, he came down here immediately after you for an interview. I have been watching at the gates all the morning.”
“How did Major Rebb know that I was in Devonshire?” asked Gerald, and received the expected reply—that Rebb had inquired at his Frederick Street rooms. While following the valet up the narrow path, which wound between saplings and jungly grasses, Gerald looked hard at him, wondering if this man, like Geary, knew of Rebb’s affairs. But the mild face of the valet betrayed nothing. He looked like a sheep, and probably was one. Major Rebb did not care for over-clever servants. Probably he had learned a lesson when pensioning off Geary, who knew far too much.
The old place looked very beautiful in the warm golden light, and Gerald caught a glimpse of the lawn whereon Mavis had danced. He sighed to think of what had happened since that wonderful night. A gulf had opened between the girl and the world which could only be bridged by an open confession by Rebb as to the truth of the murder.
But Haskins had very little time to cogitate, for the valet led him swiftly through the archway, and into the house. He preceded the visitor up a shallow staircase, and along a spacious passage on the first floor. On knocking at a door, and being bidden to enter, he introduced Gerald into a large room, with no less than five windows looking out on to the tangled avenue and rough lawns and riotous shrubberies. This was Mavis’ apartment—as Gerald had been told, when he came to see Inspector Morgan—and it was luxuriously furnished, so as to be a pleasant prison for the unfortunate girl. Bad as Rebb was, he had done his best to make Mavis’ voluntary captivity endurable—that is, it could be called voluntary, since the Major had told her that all English girls were brought up in seclusion, and she had acquiesced.
“How are you, Haskins?” said the Major, when his man had shut the door and they were alone together in the splendid room. “I have been expecting you.”
“So I have been given to understand by your valet,” replied Gerald coolly, and sat down to take out his pipe. “You don’t object to my smoking, I presume?”
Rebb smiled grimly. “No,” he rejoined deliberately, “you may need soothing before our conversation ends.”
“Dear me, that sounds threatening. Are you going to murder me, or drop me into an oubliette. If so, I advise you to think twice about it. The police at Silbury know that I am here. I told a young constable in the High Street where I was going.”
“I don’t see why you should do that?” said Rebb sharply.
“I do,” rejoined the young man calmly. “You are a dangerous man, Rebb, and you are being driven into a corner. However, if you think to silence me by violence, you will only get yourself into difficulties.”
“You are afraid,” taunted the Major sneeringly.
“Oh, not at all,” retorted Haskins, although his fair face flushed a trifle; “there is no question of that. The mere fact that I come here alone is enough to prove that I do not fear you.” He lighted his pipe carefully and looked along the stem at his host. “Fire away.”
Rebb sat down in a comfortable chair with his back to the window, probably so that Haskins should not read his face too easily. He was neatly dressed in a maroon-colored smoking-suit, and looked as spic and span as though he had just stepped out of a band-box; but then Rebb, being something of a lady-killer, had always been attentive to his personal appearance. He suited the room very well, as he looked high-bred and bland, and dangerously amiable.
“What do you wish me to say?” he asked quietly.
“That is for you to judge,” answered Haskins lazily, but very attentive to Rebb’s slightest movement. “You say that you expected me. Well, I presume that means you have something to say.”
“You have called to see me without an invitation,” retorted Rebb, “so that shows you have a few questions to ask me.”
“You are right—I have. But you are not hospitable, Rebb. I am dry after that long walk from Silbury. What about beer?”
“Are you not afraid of my poisoning you?” asked the Major, rising and going to a sideboard.
“Not at all; you would like to, so as to silence me for ever. Had I come here without anyone knowing my whereabouts you would doubtless try to get rid of me in some way or another. But the game in this case is not worth the candle. The Pixy’s House has a bad reputation for one murder, Major, and I don’t think you would care to have another committed either by yourself or your tool, Geary.”
“I did not set Geary on to you,” snapped Rebb, discomposed by this cool chatter, and returning to the central table with a tray.
“So I understand. Geary told me so last night.”
“You have seen him?”
“Oh yes; and his wife also. She rather gave you away, Major, and I may tell you that she has left her husband, having had enough of his brutality. The children, I believe, are with her.”
“I don’t know what you mean about that woman having given me away,” said the Major, trying to control himself, “there is nothing in my life but what will bear inspection.”
“Even by the law?”
“Even by the law. Will you have hock or claret?”
“Hock, please, and some seltzer. I congratulate you on your courageous conscience, Major. Few people, even the best of us, can stand having their secret lives looked into.”
Rebb passed along a glass foaming with the drink, and shrugged his shoulders as he took up the claret jug. “Did you come here to preach platitudes?” he asked cynically.
Gerald took a long drink, and set down his glass with a laugh. “No. I came to ask you where Mavis Durham is hiding.”
“How should I know? She may be dead for all I can tell. And, indeed,” added Rebb to himself, “I believe she is dead, else she would have been discovered long ago. Have you any idea of her whereabouts?”
“If I had would I ask you?” fenced Gerald coolly. “I stopped on the night of that poor girl’s flight at the Prince’s Head, as you will find if you ask Mrs. Jennings.
“I have asked her already, and I know that.”
“Ah! Then you did suspect me of having a hand in the murder.”
“I fancied that you might, since you loved Mavis, and wanted to get her away from here. I hope you are satisfied with your work.”
“With my work. What do you mean?” Haskins sat up.
“Simply this, that nothing has gone right since you found that infernal cylinder, and pryed into my private affairs.” Rebb glared. “If it was the old days of dueling, Haskins. I should call you out.”
“I quite believe it. But as dueling days are past you will have to silence me in another way.”
“Why should I silence you?”
“Because, Rebb, I know too much. After I left you on that night at the Devon Maid you came here, and—”
“I did not,” interrupted Rebb fiercely.
“You came here. Mrs. Geary says so. And I believe from my soul that you killed Bellaria, and put the blame on Mavis to secure her money.”
Rebb started to his feet. “You infernal liar!” And he flung his glass at the young man.
The glass skimmed past Haskins’ head, and smashed against the wainscoting. By this time both men were on their feet; Rebb glaring and furious, but Gerald perfectly calm. A few drops of the claret had sprinkled his face, and he wiped these off quietly. “There is nothing to be gained by your losing your temper, Rebb,” he remarked.
“Don’t tell me what to do or what not to do,” raged the Major, striding towards the door, which he locked. “You are in my power here.”
Haskins sat down again with a contemptuous laugh. “So much so that, if you opened that door to let me out, I should refuse to go. Don’t be a fool, Rebb. One would think you were a melodramatic actor. Do you think that I am afraid of you or of a dozen like you? Sit down and let us talk quietly over the matter.”
Rebb walked forward, and flung himself into a chair, gnawing his moustache, somewhat taken aback by Haskins’ aplomb. Usually, when he asserted his undeniably strong will, his opponents sat down and obeyed. But the Major recognized readily enough that he had a determined man to deal with, and, moreover, knew that he could not get the better of him by treachery, since the Silbury police were aware of Haskins’ whereabouts. The Pixy’s House already had an unpleasant reputation, and Rebb did not wish an inexplicable disappearance to take place there. He would willingly have got rid of this man, who so persistently crossed his path, but the risk was too great. And as man to man, Gerald was more than able to hold his own. Rebb was no fool, and, for the moment, he mentally confessed himself beaten.
“I ask your pardon for losing my temper,” he said, wiping his forehead, “but no man can sit quietly and hear himself accused of woman murder.”
“Defend yourself then,” said Gerald, relighting his pipe, which had gone out during the episode.
“There is no need for me to make a defence,” snarled the other.
“I think there is. Geary may hold his tongue, since he appears to be devoted to you, but his wife, having left her husband, will certainly speak out.”
“What can she say?” asked Rebb, taking another glass of claret.
“That you went to this place on the night, and about the time, of the murder. You went away some time after I left, and did not return until two in the morning.”
Major Rebb sat moodily looking at the tips of his slippers. He saw well that Gerald was right, and if the young man—as he probably would—supported Mrs. Geary in making trouble, very unpleasant questions might be asked. “Why the devil do you interfere in my business?” he asked, between his teeth.
“Because I love Mavis Durham.”
“She is dead.”
“You can’t be sure of that.”
“Then you know!” cried the Major, starting to his feet.
“Now how should I know anything when you have exonerated me from complicity in her flight?” argued Gerald, dexterously skirting the subject. “If I had run away with Mavis she would be my wife by this time.”
“And would have passed her honeymoon in prison?” growled Rebb, quite convinced by Gerald’s quiet tone.
“I think not. I should have fought for my wife. And I intend to search for her and fight for her still.”
“You’ll never find her. If she were alive she would have been captured long ago.”
“Ah, it would please you, no doubt, to see her hanged.”
“No! on my soul, no!” cried the Major, beginning to walk to and fro, “I only want to see her happy. She was happy here,” he added, as Gerald laughed unpleasantly. “She was happy until you came and disturbed her poor brain.”
“Her very clever brain!” contradicted the young man acidly. “Pshaw! Major, am I a fool that you should talk to me in this way? Whatever you may state to the outside world, for the sake of your illegal income, you know perfectly well that Mavis is perfectly sane.”
“She is not! Would she have killed Bellaria if sane?”
“Oh, you are trying to keep up that fiction also?”
“It is not fiction,” insisted Rebb, obviously in earnest. “I will admit that the girl’s brain was stronger than I chose to tell anyone outside this room. All the same, I believe that, weary of being shut up, she tried to escape on that night. Bellaria came to stop her, and Mavis then must have stabbed her. Remember, Bellaria had Geary’s knife.”
“Do you really believe this?” asked Gerald, quite puzzled.
“I swear that I do! Come, Haskins, let us talk plainly, since there is no one to hear us. Don’t you believe it yourself?”
“No, I do not! You, if anyone, killed Bellaria.”
“Why should I?”
“Because you knew that I would take the girl away and marry her. To put her presumed insanity beyond all doubt you murdered Bellaria, and placed the crime on the poor girl’s shoulders. In this way, should she be found, you secure her income for life, since she cannot marry.”
“That would have been a clever thing for me to do,” said Rebb, in a quiet way, “but I had not the brains to conceive such a plot, much less the cleverness to carry it out. I might, in a fit of rage, kill a man capable of defending himself. I certainly should never raise my hand to stab a defenceless woman, whatever provocation I might have.”
“You were here about the time of the murder?” said Haskins, and he wrinkled his brow in perplexity. Rebb spoke very earnestly.
“I was—since Mrs. Geary has let the cat out the bag I may as well confess, and you will see how groundless your suspicions are. It was long after ten o’clock when I left the Devon Maid, and I took a lantern with me.”
“Why did you go at all?”
“To search for your confounded canoe. Geary told me about it, and so did Bellaria, who learned where it was hidden from Mavis.”
“Yes. I told Mavis. Well?”
“Well, I wanted to find it and break it up, so that you should no longer get across the pool and climb the wall. I walked over the hills, and lost my way for a time. It was close upon twelve o’clock when I got to the pool. I searched for the canoe and could not find it. I heard a shriek inside the grounds of this house—”
“And you went to see what it was?”
“Not at the moment. I knew that Bellaria, being always terrified, for reasons you need not know—”
“Pardon me, I know all about the Tána Society.”
Rebb looked astonished, but made no comment, being too occupied in exonerating himself. “Then you know that she suffered greatly from nerves, and was afraid of being discovered and killed. Often she shrieked at night, as Mavis told me, and at times, when here late, I heard her myself. I therefore merely thought that Bellaria was in one of her mad fits and went on searching. About one o’clock I climbed the bank and, crossing the stream by the bridge to Leegarth, I went to the gate of the Pixy’s House, wondering if you had dared to come there, after seeing me. I found the gates opened and Bellaria dead. As I was stooping over the body, Geary came running from the house. He said that he had followed me to tell about your shooting him in the arm, and on finding Bellaria’s body he had gone to look for Mavis. She had vanished. I searched the house also, and could not find her. I therefore came back to Denleigh with Geary, making him promise to say nothing of our midnight visit.”
“Why?” asked Gerald straightly.
“Why?” echoed the Major, looking surprised, “when you were meddling with my affairs? Had you known of that visit at the time, you would have denounced me to the police, and I should have had great difficulty in clearing myself. I held my peace. And I tell you that I really believed, as I believe now, that Mavis had stabbed Bellaria, so as to get her liberty.”
“Why did you not believe that some emissary of the Tána Society had found out Bellaria’s hiding place and had killed her?”
“You mean Venosta?” said Rebb hurriedly; “well I own that, after the first shock of surprise, I did suspect Venosta, as Mrs. Crosbie had shown me the coral hand, and had told me the use she put it to.”
“Did she know about the society?” asked Gerald. “She declared that she was ignorant of its existence.”
“So she was. But I knew about the society at Naples fifteen or sixteen years ago, when I rescued Bellaria from its clutches. No; I don’t believe Venosta killed Bellaria, although he would have done so, I am sure, had he known where she was hiding. But he did not, and who could have told him? Not Mrs. Crosbie—although you mentioned Bellaria’s name and whereabouts, confound you!—as Mrs. Crosbie knew nothing of the Tána Society. Well, Haskins, you must see now that I am innocent.”
“It looks like it, I admit. But everything fitted in so well with your plans that I naturally thought you guilty.”
“Then you see that I am not,” snapped Rebb, much ruffled. “If I were, would I confess my midnight journey to you?”
“Seeing that Mrs. Geary is about to make it public, I think you would have had to in the long run,” retorted Gerald sharply.
“She mustn’t do that,” muttered Rebb, still walking and becoming much agitated, for he was beginning to realize his danger.
“She will, now that her husband can no longer terrorize her. You are in a very awkward position. My advice to you—if you are really as innocent as you pretend to be—is to search out Mavis and hand over her income. After all, by the will, you need not account for what you have spent up to date, and you have had a long run for your money.”
“You say that, because you want the income yourself.”
“I could do with it, and when I marry Mavis I shall certainly insist upon justice being done to her. I would take her without a penny, as you well know, but I am not such a fool as to refuse six thousand a year along with a pretty, clever wife.”
“Well then, find Mavis, and we shall see,” cried Rebb, quite out of temper, and throwing himself into a chair.
“For you to accuse her when she is found? No, thank you. First I want to prove her innocence.”
“You will find that difficult.”
“Not with your help, Major.”
Rebb grew violent. “Damn you. I say that I believe the girl may be innocent, and surely I have exonerated myself.”
“I may think so, but the public—”
“The public need never know anything about it. See here, Haskins, you love this girl, and you seem to think that she is still alive. Good. I make a bargain with you. Give me three thousand of this six thousand a year belonging to the Durham estate, and you can marry Mavis quietly, and take her to America, or the Colonies. No one will think to find the notorious Mavis Durham in Mrs. Gerald Haskins. Thus everything will be settled, and I can marry Mrs. Crosbie—as I greatly want to—with a quiet heart. What say you?”
“I refuse your offer,” said Gerald calmly. “Mavis shall have her character cleared, and shall have nothing or all of her income.”
Rebb rose and snapped his fingers. “Do your worst,” he said, trying to suppress his anger. “Find Mavis and marry her. But be prepared for me to have her condemned for Bellaria’s murder and shut up in an asylum.”
“I hope to prove her innocence,” said Haskins quietly.
“Even if you do,” snarled Rebb, becoming reckless when he found himself so beset, “you may lose the money.”
“That is impossible: it belongs to Mavis.”
“To the real Mavis.”
Gerald rose, guessing that Rebb referred to the other twin. “What do you mean by that, Rebb?”
“Mavis has a sister. Yes, you may look, but Charity Bird is the real Mavis—or at least I can prove it to be so.”
“There is a likeness between the girls, I admit,” said Gerald, pretending ignorance, “but it is ridiculous to say that they are sisters.”
“They are twin sisters. Sit down and I’ll tell you all about it. But that you can make so much mischief I should not say a word; but when you know the truth, for your own sake you may hold your tongue and give me half the income.”
Without a word Haskins resumed his seat, marveling at thus having been able to force Rebb’s hand, without revealing his suspicions. The Major hastily swallowed another glass of claret, and began to speak in a hurry.
“I was in a Goorkha regiment in India some twenty-five years ago—”
Gerald interrupted: “I thought you were in a West Indian Regiment.”
“Later, later!” said Rebb testily. “Don’t interrupt. I exchanged to Jamaica a few years later. But in India I had a brother officer, who was my greatest friend. His name was Julian Durham, and he had six thousand a year against my six hundred. He was not very strong, and always said that, as he had no relatives, he would make me his heir. Then he married a silly, flirting girl, with whom he quarreled, and my hopes were thus dashed to the ground.”
“Did you aid the quarrel?” asked Gerald delicately.
“Yes,” replied Rebb shamelessly. “The wife stood in the way of my getting a fortune from Julian, and I tried to part husband and wife. I succeeded; for more than a year after the marriage, Mrs. Durham went to Bombay, with the intention of living apart from her husband.”
“What a scoundrel you are, Rebb,” said Haskins, astonished at the cold-blooded way in which the man recounted his villainy.
The Major laughed harshly. “I only tell this to you, and you don’t matter,” he retorted. “Outside, if you say anything, I shall deny all, and who will believe you, Haskins? However, to continue. We were stationed in the far north of India, and I escorted Mrs. Durham to Bombay, where she intended to embark for England. At Bombay she was taken ill, and died giving birth to twins. I didn’t want a couple of girls on my hands, as I knew that Julian could not live long, so I paid the nurse to take one of the children—the eldest, mind you—to Simla, and to get rid of it somehow. She sold it, I believe, to a juggler’s wife, and afterwards Mrs. Pelham Odin, then on tour, bought the child in Calcutta, to bring up. That child is Charity Bird.”
“Can you prove this?”
“Yes! Be quite certain of that. The ayah and the juggler’s wife are still alive. Well, then, that disposed of one twin. I brought the other back to the north of India to her father, and she was christened Mavis. Julian was very ill, so made a will in my favor and in favor of his child. I was to be her guardian, and to enjoy the money until she married. Then I was to hand it over, without accounting for what I had spent. In this way Julian hoped to satisfy me for his old promise to make me his heir, and of course I agreed.”
“And you said nothing of the other twin?”
“No. Why should I? One brat on my hands was enough. Afterwards Julian came home to Brighton and died. It was at Brighton that he made his will, as you know. I came back from India with Mavis, and, to cut off all association with those who knew her and Durham, I exchanged into a West India regiment, and took her to Jamaica. I sold out fifteen or sixteen years ago, and brought the child here, after a tour in Italy. It was in Naples that I found Bellaria. She was a singer, and had betrayed some man belonging to the Tána Society. I don’t know the exact story, but she was in danger of death, so I took her by stealth to Devonshire and made her nurse to Mavis.”
“He was my servant in Jamaica. In Devonshire, at Barnstaple, he met with his wife, and, as I wanted someone to watch the Pixy’s House, I established him at the Devon Maid, making him a present of the freehold.”
Gerald rose. “And you paid for it out of Mavis’ money?”
“Of course I did—only you mistake, the money doesn’t belong to Mavis until she is married.”
“She will be married to me the moment that I can find her,” said Gerald grimly, stalking to the door.
“Wait a bit,” called out Rebb, “if you marry her without promising me the three thousand a year I shall prove the identity of Charity, and she will get the lot. When she marries Tod Macandrew—he’s in love with her, you know—you will get left.”
“You cannot take the money from Mavis. Her name is mentioned in the will,” said Gerald coolly, and tried the door, which was locked. “I say, open this, confound you!”
Major Rebb flung the key across the room, and Haskins fitted it into the lock. Before he could open the door Rebb continued: “Don’t be a fool in your own interests, Haskins. I shall swear that Charity is Mavis, and your beloved will lose all.”
“You can scarcely do that, in the face of the story you will have to tell. Mrs. Pelham Odin and the juggler’s wife and the ayah can prove that Charity is the missing twin. And I daresay Mavis’ baptismal certificate can be found. Her name in the will makes her the heiress.”
“Then I’ll tell about Charity and prove her identity,” cried Rebb, starting furiously to his feet, “and she will at least get half.”
“I don’t care if she does,” retorted Gerald, flinging open the door.
“But you had better give the money to me, and then I’ll be silent as to Charity being Durham’s daughter.”
“No, Major. I don’t care for your crooked ways. I’ll find Mavis and marry her. Probably she will be quite willing to halve the income with her twin. Three thousand a year will be enough for her and for me. Good-day, Major, find some other man who is willing to become such a blackguard as you are.”
Rebb caught the decanter and slung it across the room. It only crashed against the closed door. And when Rebb ran forward to pursue the man who flouted him he found the door locked on the outside.
On returning to the Silbury Hotel. Gerald sat down to think over the important conversation with Rebb. To all appearances the master was as innocent as the man. Nevertheless, according to the Major, Geary had been to the Pixy’s House on the fatal night, in spite of his denial. On the face of it, the negro had no reason to kill Bellaria, and Rebb had sworn that the murder was neither committed nor prompted by him. If this were so, it appeared strange that Rebb should have found Geary, not only in the grounds of the Pixy’s House, but in the mansion itself, when he arrived. Seeing that Geary was thus first in the field, it was not improbable that he had caught a glimpse of the assassin. Whether he had, and had told his master, it was of course impossible to say. But Haskins determined to have another interview with the landlord of the Devon Maid, and force him to disclose the whole truth, which he assuredly had not told in his wife’s presence.
One important thing Gerald had learned from Rebb, and that was the truth of his surmise regarding Charity. She was—as he had always supposed—the twin sister of Mavis, and Haskins congratulated himself on guessing this before Rebb had spoken out. Still, it was just as well that rage had made the Major thus candid, and the matter was put beyond all doubt. Haskins was pleased also by the discovery, as, guided by him, Mavis would be quite willing to divide the income, and then Lady Euphemia would not be angry at Tod’s runaway marriage. So far everything was right.
But the mystery of the crime had still to be solved. Until it was, Mavis must continue, not only to be an outcast and a fugitive from justice, but must remain unable to claim her rights as Julian Durham’s heiress. Apparently Geary and Rebb and Signor Venosta, as an emissary of the Tána Society, were all innocent. If so, who was the guilty person? Gerald wondered, if the letter to which Mavis had referred could be found, as he firmly believed that it would afford a clue to the identity of the criminal. In his own mind he constructed the manner in which the crime had been committed. Bellaria had received this mysterious letter, which for some reason overcame her fears sufficiently to make her venture out at night. To meet the writer of the letter she had opened the gates, and then had been stabbed by her own knife—Geary’s weapon—which had been wrested from her in a hand-to-hand struggle. The wonder was that the struggle had not attracted attention. As it was, Rebb swore that he had heard only one scream, and that might have been uttered by Mavis when she found the dead body of the nurse. Bellaria therefore was in all probability slain unawares.
However, it was useless to build up theories, which were all moonshine, so Gerald resolved to wait until Tod and Arnold arrived. According to Macandrew’s letter, they would come to Silbury early the next day, so Gerald had a good many hours to himself. He had half a mind to see Inspector Morgan, and learn all details concerning the inquest, as some possible evidence might have been obtained, likely to throw light on the darkness. But Haskins refrained from doing so, as he did not wish to arouse Morgan’s suspicions and reopen the case. For Mavis’ sake the quieter he moved in the matter the better it would be. Gerald wondered, after hearing Rebb’s acknowledgment of Charity’s birth, if he had any idea of the scheme by which the girls had been made to change places. But, after reflection, he decided that it was impossible, as Mrs. Pelham Odin had managed very cleverly. Also Rebb was unaware that the twin he had got rid of was now Mrs. Macandrew, and, since that young lady was at Amsterdam, there would be no chance of her being met by Mrs. Berch and her daughter, when in Switzerland.
Bearing in mind what Mrs. Crosbie had told him of her projected tour abroad, Gerald was greatly surprised when he met the widow and her mother driving up the Silbury High Street from the railway station.
She saw him at once, as he stood thunderstruck on the pavement, and beckoned for him to come to the side of the landau.
“You are surprised to see us here,” she said, with a gay smile. “This is not Switzerland, is it?”
“You said nothing about coming down here yesterday,” he answered.
“No, because neither I nor my mother had any intention of coming. It was this way, Gerald. Michael—Major Rebb, you know—came in almost as soon as you had left, and we told him all that had taken place.”
“Why did you do that?” asked Haskins imperatively.
“Don’t bully, Gerald,” said Mrs. Crosbie tartly. “I told Michael because I have no secrets from Michael, and he was very angry that you should have spoken to me as you did.”
“I was perfectly polite, permit me to remind you, Madge.”
“Don’t call me by my Christian name,” she said as usual, “well then, Michael went away to have an explanation with you, and later telegraphed to me that you had gone to Devonshire and that he intended to follow at once. He also asked us to come down that we might see the Pixy’s House, as we intend to repair it when we marry.”
“Do you indeed?” muttered Haskins ironically.
“Of course,” said Mrs. Crosbie, with an airy flutter of her laces, “and I may tell you, Gerald, that I came down the more willingly, since I do not want you and Michael to quarrel. That is why we are here.”
“To see the house, and to prevent a quarrel,” said Gerald coolly. “I am greatly obliged to you for the trouble you have taken, Mrs. Crosbie, but I have already seen the Major.”
Mrs. Berch, who had hitherto kept silence, looked up sharply. “Have you had a quarrel?” she demanded eagerly.
“Yes and no. Rebb was slightly difficult to deal with, but we now understand one another.”
Mrs. Crosbie asked: “What about?”
“About various things,” answered Haskins carelessly. He was determined not to answer her questions, as he had a vague idea that she was not so honestly his friend as she pretended to be.
“And you parted amiably, I hope?” said Mrs. Berch.
Haskins laughed as he remembered the parting, and how he had locked Rebb in the room. “I think that the Major would gladly see me tarred and feathered,” he said lightly.
“There!” cried Mrs. Crosbie, with a childish pout. “I knew you had quarreled, and I did so wish you to be friends. I want you to come to the Pixy’s House when I marry Michael and see the improvements. I have already arranged what to do.”
“Have you been down here before then?” asked Gerald, astonished.
“Yes—over two years ago. Michael asked me down when we were first engaged. I saw that poor Bellaria, but not Mavis.”
“Why did you not see Mavis?”
“Because Michael said her mental state was so sad, that she might be dangerous. She was shut up on the day I went over the house, and, as I was only there for an hour, she knew nothing of my visit. I and mother were stopping in the neighborhood—it was when I was learning to drive a motor, Gerald. I would have taken that poor girl out for drives, as I got to know the country so thoroughly, but it was too dangerous.”
“Where did you stop?” asked Gerald, still lingering, although Mrs. Berch seemed inclined to cut short her daughter’s chatter.
“At a village miles away, called Belldown. Why do you start?”
“A mosquito stung me,” answered Haskins readily: but his real reason for starting was that Belldown happened to be the place where Mr. Arnold and Tod were now stationed. “There are heaps of mosquitoes here, Mrs. Crosbie. You will be stung.”
“Ah, well, we are only here for a couple of days—at the Pixy’s House, that is. I merely want to look round, and now that the poor mad girl has gone I can explore at my leisure. Good-day. I wish I could ask you to come over, but Michael might object. So stupid of you to quarrel with my future husband, when we are such friends.”
She gave the signal to the driver of the landau to move on, and both she and her mother bestowed friendly smiles on the young man, as he took off his hat. Gerald watched the carriage climb up the long street and vanish over the crest of the hill. Then he walked back again to the hotel, wondering why Mrs. Crosbie was so anxious to retain his friendship when she became Mrs. Rebb. He knew that Madge was a flighty woman, although much cleverer than she pretended to be, and was sure that she had some reason for all this friendliness and chatter.
However, he had more important things to think about than Mrs. Crosbie’s airs and graces, and spent a wakeful night building up theories and knocking them down again. By dawn he had arrived at the conclusion that Geary was the criminal. “I expect,” thought Haskins, while taking his bath, “that Geary found his hold over Rebb was getting lax, so he deliberately killed Bellaria, knowing that the Major had gone to the Pixy’s House, in the hope of getting blackmail by threatening to throw the blame of the murder on his master. And by the murder he secured to Rebb an income out of which large sums could be paid. Yes. I really believe that Geary will prove to be the guilty person. But how am I to fix the crime on him?”
This was a hard question to answer, and Gerald waited for the arrival of Tod to put it to him, since two heads are better than one. The solicitor arrived at midday, along with Arnold, having come from Belldown—so they explained—by railway. Tod looked anxious, and not so healthy as he had done in London, but Haskins put this down to the man’s unavoidable fretting after his bride. Arnold had not changed in the least, and appeared to be as tiny and gnome-like as ever. First and foremost the two men, being hungry, had dinner, and then Gerald conducted them both to the hotel drawing-room—a gorgeous apartment, which had been placed at his disposal by Mrs. Jennings, for an extra pound on the bill. Having the apartment to themselves, the three men saw that the door was closed, and then sat down to talk. Gerald immediately asked the question which had been trembling on his tongue from the moment he set eyes on his friend.
“In the first place, Tod,” he said impatiently, “what took you and Arnold to Belldown?”
“That is a long story,” said Tod leisurely.
“Then tell it as shortly as you can.”
“One moment, let us do things in order. First let me know your doings here, Jerry.”
“But—” began Haskins with irritation.
Tod cut him short. “See here, Jerry,” said he firmly. “I am supposed to be your solicitor, and it is my place to conduct the business. I want things done in order. First your story and then mine. Both will be extremely interesting, I have no doubt.”
Gerald stared. “Why should you think that I have anything to tell?”
“Well,” observed Macandrew jocularly, “a little bird—Mrs. Jennings by name—whispered to me that two London ladies had come down on a visit to Major Rebb, who is camping—so to speak—at the Pixy’s House.”
“Yes. Mrs. Crosbie and her mother. What of that?”
“I shall tell you when I have heard what you have to say about them.”
Arnold uttered a grunt and raked his long beard with lean fingers. Haskins looked from one to the other quite mystified. “Has what you have to say anything to do with those ladies?”
“A great deal to do with them, Jerry.”
A light broke in on Haskins’ clouded brain. “Mrs. Crosbie said that she had stopped at Belldown—that is where you have been.”
“Hum,” said Tod, glancing at Arnold. “I didn’t think she would have admitted so much.”
“Tod,” Gerald caught his friend’s arm, “don’t worry me with your hints and looks. Has Mrs. Crosbie anything to do with this crime?”
“I can’t say,” rejoined the solicitor stolidly, “and I shan’t speak until you tell me how you got along with Rebb.”
Haskins threw himself back in his chair and made the best of a Scotsman’s obstinacy. “I have something very important indeed to tell you,” he said seriously. “You know the likeness between the girls?”
Macandrew nodded. “I told Mr. Arnold here all about it, and about your idea of the two beings twins.”
“My idea has proved to be correct. They are twins.”
Tod jumped up, scattering his papers, and with his red hair almost standing on end. “Do you mean to say that Rebb—”
“Yes. Sit down. Toddy, and listen,” said Gerald vigorously, and when his legal adviser became quiet he related the whole of the conversation with Rebb.
“Well I’m blessed,” muttered Tod, rubbing his head, when the narrative was ended, “what a wonderful thing! There is something in your intuitions after all, Jerry.”
“I don’t think it needed much intuition to guess at a possible relationship, seeing how marvelously alike Mavis is to Charity. The wonderful part consists in my getting Rebb to give himself away.”
“Ah,” said Arnold significantly, “the military gentleman is beginning to see that the wheel of fortune is turning the wrong way with him.”
“And quite right too,” said Tod meditatively. “What a scoundrel the man is, to be sure! Well, Jerry, important as what you have told us is, I am more interested in the movements of Mrs. Crosbie and her mother. When you tell me about them I can explain what Mr. Arnold and myself have discovered at Belldown.”
“There is little to tell about them. Rebb came down after me, and they came down after Rebb. He asked his future bride here to have a second look at her future home.”
“Oh, so she had been here before?”
“Yes—so she says—some time ago. This is her second visit.”
“Her third, more like,” muttered Arnold, in his beard.
“We can’t be sure of that,” said Tod rapidly.
“For Heaven’s sake, tell me what you mean,” cried Haskins, jumping up in his turn, “my nerves are wearing thin with all this suspense.”
“Well then,” began Macandrew, shuffling with his papers, “it’s this way. Mr. Arnold here was going about the country in his caravan, selling books, and reached Belldown on the same day that Mavis fled.”
“Mavis fled at night.”
“Well, well,” cried Macandrew testily, “you know what I mean. Arnold was at Belldown on the day of the night when Mavis fled and the murder was committed. Is that plain enough?”
“Yes. Go on, Toddy. Don’t be a silly ass.”
“I am your solicitor just now and not your pal,” said Tod, with great dignity; “well then, while wandering about Belldown, Arnold saw two ladies in a motor car. One was driving and one was being driven.”
“And they were—”
“Mrs. Berch and her daughter, whom we, Jerry, supposed to be at Bognor. I never knew that Mrs. Crosbie could drive a motor.”
“Oh yes. I taught her a trifle myself, and she is quite an expert at the business. She mentioned to-day, when I stood by her carriage, how she had motored over every inch of the country. But what was she doing down hereabouts, when—”
“When she was supposed to be at Bognor? That is what I want to ask her, and I am glad that she is on the spot.”
Gerald thought for a few moments. “How did you recognize these ladies, Mr. Arnold?”
“Major Rebb once showed me a colored photograph of the lady to whom he was engaged, and I recognized Mrs. Crosbie when she passed in her motor. A severe-looking old lady in black was with her, and Mr. Macandrew tells me that she is Mrs. Berch, the mother. I may tell you that the two ladies wore motor goggles and veils.”
“Then how did you recognize them?” asked Gerald again.
“Mrs. Crosbie’s veil was up as they passed, and she pulled it down when she saw that I was looking earnestly at her. The motor was going very slowly at the moment because a hay wain was in front blocking the road.”
“I see. Well, what happened?”
“The motor went to the inn at Belldown. It was about six o’clock, and the two ladies had dinner. They were at the inn when I left Belldown in my caravan on the way to Leegarth where I hoped to rescue Mavis.”
“Yes! yes! yes!” cried Tod, impatient at the slow way in which Arnold was speaking, “and late that night—about ten o’clock—he passed the motor on the road between Belldown and Leegarth. It had broken down, and Mrs. Crosbie was tinkering with the machine.”
“I shouldn’t think she could mend a broken motor, Tod.”
“Oh, I don’t expect anything very serious was the matter. Probably her driving—she drives furiously, as a woman always does—had put the gear out of order. However, Arnold passed them and camped some distance outside Leegarth, so that the villagers, who knew his face, would not recognize him. Then, some time after eleven, he saw the motor coming along, also skirting the village. The two women were in it, and he thought that they had lost their way. And then again he fancied that Mrs. Crosbie was going to the Devon Maid to see Rebb. At all events the motor passed out of sight in the darkness. I may tell you that its lamps were not lighted, so Mrs. Crosbie ran the risk of police interference. Rather foolish, I think, seeing she did not want to be seen.”
“Well! well,” said Gerald, after a pause, “and what does all this mean?”
“Arnold,” went on Tod cautiously, “did not attach much importance to this motor car business, but when he told me I fancied that Mrs. Crosbie had to do with the murder.”
“I don’t see how—”
“I do. She didn’t want to be recognized: she had no lamps, so that she could slip along easily, and—as we learned at Belldown—she did not return through the village. If she did not come down to murder Bellaria, why was she in this neighborhood, and why did she lie to you about Bognor?”
“It’s a mare’s nest you have found, Tod. Mrs. Crosbie has no motive to murder Bellaria, and she certainly hasn’t the nerve.”
“I’ll ask her myself,” said Tod, rising. “Come on over to Leegarth.”
In his anxiety to prove his theory, Tod would then and there have taken his friend and Arnold over to the Pixy’s House. But Gerald, more cool-headed than the impetuous Scotsman, pointed out that he had not sufficient grounds upon which to accuse the widow.
“If you ask her to explain her movements on that night she will only refuse to gratify your curiosity,” said Haskins positively.
“The police could make her speak.”
“The police could not arrest her without a warrant, and there is not, to my mind, sufficient evidence to obtain a warrant. And certainly the police cannot ask questions about anyone’s private affairs until some reason can be given to show why such questions should be asked.”
“Those ladies said that they were at Bognor, when they really intended to come to Devonshire,” observed Arnold, who seemed to side entirely with Macandrew.
“It is a woman’s privilege to change her mind, Mr. Arnold. And I ask you, what possible motive could Mrs. Crosbie have had to journey all the way to Devonshire to commit an unnecessary murder.”
“Unnecessary?” snorted Tod, displeased. “Seeing that the murder is ascribed to Mavis, who may thus be shut up, to provide Rebb with an income, I cannot see that it is unnecessary.”
“Ah, but Mrs. Crosbie did not know that the Major’s income depended upon the seclusion of Mavis,” said Haskins rapidly. “I did not tell her, as there was no reason why I should. And I am quite certain that Rebb himself would not explain. If Mrs. Crosbie had known that his income was so uncertain she would have refused to marry him.”
“Perhaps she will do so now,” said Arnold hopefully.
“No! She has come down to see about the repairs to the Pixy’s House,” answered Gerald, “and Rebb loves her too well to let her go. I believe, Tod, that Geary is the man who committed the murder.”
“It sounds plausible enough,” grumbled Macandrew, “and a case could easily be built up against him. But the presence of Mrs. Crosbie on the spot has to be explained.”
Gerald rose and walked up and down the room, thinking. “I tell you what, Tod,” he said abruptly. “I am getting tired of poking about in the dark. I believe, as you do, and Arnold does, that Mavis is entirely innocent. Hitherto we have kept her in hiding, so as to prove her innocence, since she may be arrested if she is discovered. Well then, I think it would be best to let her be arrested.”
Both Arnold and Macandrew jumped up wrathfully! “What?” they exclaimed, and Tod continued: “What is the use of Charity’s sacrifice if you intend to hand over Mavis to the law?”
“Tod,” said Gerald seriously, “as things stand now, we are not able to force either Geary or Mrs. Crosbie or Rebb to speak. If Mavis is put on her trial they can be called as witnesses, and then the truth may come out. Also Mavis can be examined by two doctors—I shall insist upon that—when her sanity will certainly he proved beyond all doubt. If she is proved to be sane, then Rebb will find himself in Queer Street and will be hard put to it to prove his innocence.”
“We could have done all this in the first case,” said Arnold irritably.
“No,” replied Haskins sharply, “for then we did not have the evidence to hand that we have now. Rebb, Geary, and Mrs. Crosbie are all implicated, and we may also be able to place Venosta in the witness-box. But the proof that Mavis is responsible for her acts, and has been shut up in the Pixy’s House, while Rebb enjoyed her income, will gain the sympathy of everyone, and will go far to show her innocence. I shall support her throughout the case.”
“She is Rebb’s ward, and is under twenty-one,” said Tod crossly; “so the Major may not allow you to support her.”
“I propose to take her out of the Major’s keeping by making her my wife forthwith,” said Gerald coolly.
“But if you do, sir,” cried Arnold, much upset, “Mavis will be arrested. Indeed I doubt if you will find any clergyman who will marry her to you, seeing that she is said to be a lunatic.”
“That’s all right,” rejoined Haskins easily. “I have arranged that in my own mind. There is an old college chum of my late father’s who can see both sides of the question, and I can trust him utterly. To-day I am going to London to repeat your experience and get a special license, Toddy. Our marriages are expensive matters, old boy, aren’t they?”
Tod grunted, and kicked the carpet. “When you are married, what do you intend to do?”
“I shall bring my wife down here within three days, and we shall all go over to the Pixy’s House. Mrs. Crosbie will not have left by that time, as, from the quantity of luggage she brought, I fancy she intends to remain for a week or so. Then we can confront her and Rebb, and, if possible, Tod, I wish you to bring Geary on the scene. Thus all the actors in this tragedy of real life—as Mrs. Pelham Odin would call it—will be together, and we can bring about the fall of the curtain.”
“With Mrs. Gerald Haskins in gaol,” said Arnold gloomily. “Mavis will be arrested on Rebb’s information, at once.”
“That is highly probable. But whether Mavis appears early or late she will have to stand her trial, seeing that she is accused. Also she will have to be examined as to her sanity. But in both these ordeals, I intend to be beside her as her husband.” There was a pause. “Well?”
“It’s a forlorn hope,” said Macandrew, hesitating, “and risky. Still—” He looked questioningly at Arnold.
The little man nodded sadly. “Things are so bad that they can scarcely be worse,” he remarked, “and certainly, as Mr. Haskins thinks, a public trial would force the witnesses we want into court. Once in the box, and closely examined, the truth might come to light. I think Mr. Haskins should do as he says, but—it is a risk.”
“Life is all risks,” said Gerald cheerfully. “Well, I am going to pack up and clear off to London. And you, Toddy?”
“I shall keep my eye on Geary, and, if possible, I shall see Mrs. Crosbie, or her mother.”
Gerald nodded, and, matters thus being arranged, he went up to London that same afternoon, en route for Southend, there to make Mavis his wife. Tod and Arnold, left behind, remained at the Prince’s Hotel, and wandered about the country, even as far as Leegarth. They heard that the London ladies were still with the Major, but did not catch a glimpse of them. And even Tod, audacious as he was, shrank from going to the Pixy’s House and openly accusing the lively widow.
Tod took occasion to pay a special visit to the Devon Maid, and found the hotel in charge of a rough man and his slatternly wife. It appeared that since Mrs. Geary’s disappearance her husband had taken heavily to drink, and refused to attend to his business. His uncivilized instincts had got the better of him, and he was running wild in the neighborhood. Mrs. Geary, now with her mother in Barnstaple, refused to return to him, or to surrender her children, and Adonis talked loudly of forcing her stubborn will by law. But, as yet, he had not done anything, perhaps because he was in danger of the law himself. Tod learned as much from Inspector Morgan, whom he met in the Silbury High Street on the third day after Gerald’s departure in search of a wife.
In the course of an idle conversation about this, that, and the other thing—for Macandrew, during his holiday at the Devon Maid, had learned to know Morgan intimately—the name of the negro was mentioned, and the inspector uttered a grunt.
“He’s a black scoundrel, that,” he remarked.
“Why?” asked Tod, pricking up his ears. “I always understood that Geary was a meritorious inhabitant of Denleigh. He certainly conducted the Devon Maid well, as I stopped there myself. You know that?”
Morgan nodded. “Things have changed since you and Mr. Haskins were there, sir,” he said slowly. “It was Mrs. Geary who kept the inn respectable, and a miserable life she had with that sooty blackguard. But she got fed up with his brutality, and went back to her mother in Barnstaple. Since then the inn has gone from bad to worse, and Geary is drinking.”
“I heard something of this,” observed Tod. “Why don’t you pull him up?”
“I am going to,” said Morgan grimly. “I have my eye on him. He is nearly always drunk, and frightens children and insults women and threatens men. Sooner or later he will be locked up. And the strength the man has! Why, do you know, Mr. Macandrew, that he knocked down the river wall of the Pixy’s House—that portion overhanging the pool. I wanted to run him in for that, but Major Rebb will not prosecute, for some reason.”
“He has a sneaking regard for his old servant, I suppose,” said Tod, smiling. “But this wall, Morgan? How the dickens could one man knock it down?”
“Oh, the wall has been in a shaky condition for years and years,” said the inspector. “It was only held together by the ivy—the bricks and mortar were rotten.”
“But even then—”
“A good strong push would have sent it over, and Geary gave it that push. He was climbing over, I believe, as he wanted, mad with drink, to get into the Pixy’s House, and because of the ladies Major Rebb had ordered the gates to be closed and locked. However, he found that the wall leaned a trifle towards the cliff, and managed to knock it down. The man has an immense strength naturally, and when drink is added to that—” Morgan shrugged his big shoulders. “I have known drunken men do some wonderful things in the way of superhuman strength,” he finished.
“I think Geary must have been superhuman to have pushed that wall over, rotten as it was. If you remember, Mr. Haskins climbed it.”
“I remember, and a good thing it was that it didn’t fall and drop him into the pool below. However, it’s down now, and on that side the grounds of the Pixy’s House lie open to the world. By the way, how is Mr. Haskins? Has he got over the death of that crazy girl?”
Tod laughed. “I don’t think myself that she was crazy, Morgan, or that she killed that wretched Italian woman. Nor do I believe that she is dead,” and he looked straightly at the officer’s red face.
“Have you any reason to think she is alive, sir?”
“Her body has not been found,” rejoined Tod evasively.
“What of that? Plenty of bodies are not found. But the girl was never outside the Pixy’s House before that time she fled after the murder. Not knowing the lie of the country, it is more than probable that she tumbled into some river, or water hole, and was drowned. If alive, she certainly would have been caught by now. We have had constables all over the place for weeks.”
“Well, no. The men have been withdrawn, as so long a time has elapsed since the commission of the crime. We’ll hear no more of the matter.”
“Never prophesy until you know, Mr. Inspector.”
“I do know,” said Morgan positively. “I don’t go about with my eyes shut, Mr. Macandrew.” And after saluting he stalked in a military way down the street, leaving Tod to pursue his shopping—which Tod had come out to do. Macandrew rather chuckled at the positive way in which this official Dogberry, who could see no further than his nose, asserted that the Pixy’s House murder had been relegated to the past.
On the fourth day of Gerald’s absence Tod received a letter from his friend in the character of a bridegroom. Everything had gone well, as the clergyman, on hearing the whole story, told in Haskins’ persuasive manner, had joined Mavis and his friend’s son in holy matrimony. Now Rebb had lost his income, as the conditions of the will had been fulfilled, and in spite of all his precautions Mavis had come into her own. Tod would have been less than human had he not reflected with great glee that, the income being safe from Rebb’s clutches, his wife, as the twin sister of Mavis, would benefit to the extent of three thousand a year. “And Lady Euphemia called me a fool,” chuckled Tod complacently. “What will she say when she knows that I have married an heiress and will be able to get back a part of the family estate?”
In his letter, Gerald informed Macandrew with great pride that Mavis had learned how to sign her name, and had produced a singularly fine specimen of calligraphy. “The rest of my darling’s education,” wrote the young man, “will be completed by me after all these troubles are over, and we can spend a proper honeymoon.”
Education, as a means of passing a honeymoon, did not commend itself to Tod, and he made a grimace. Then he sat down and wrote a letter to Amsterdam telling Charity to come over and repair to Mrs. Pelham Odin’s London flat, where he would join her later. He also gave her a full account of all that had taken place, and detailed the story of the Major, as to her birth, mentioning also the income which Mavis intended to hand over, as soon as the mystery of the crime was solved. When Tod posted this letter he took his way to Denleigh to see if he could find Geary and arrange for him to appear at the Pixy’s House. It was necessary, as Gerald had explained, that all the actors in this drama should come together for the clearing up all perplexities.
But Geary was not easy to be found. Afraid of the official warning uttered by Morgan, he had taken to the hills, and although Tod roamed all over the place he could not find the man. He returned to the Prince’s Head quite fatigued, and found a telegram from Gerald, stating that he and his bride would be in Silbury by the midday train next day. Macandrew communicated the joyful news to Arnold, who had come back from a round of bookselling—for the gnome did not neglect his business even in these anxious days—and the two had a merry little dinner on that same night, prepared by Mrs. Jennings’ own hands. And the landlady’s cooking, when she desired, was something to be wondered at. Tod insisted on a bottle of champagne being sent for, and the tutor and the lawyer drank long life and happiness to the bride and bridegroom with all honors. “Although,” said Tod, setting down his glass, “we are not yet out of the wood.”
An hour after dinner, and while Arnold was detailing his early connection with Mavis, Mrs. Jennings came in, much flustered. “Oh, sir,” she said, “here’s that horrid black landlord of the Devon Maid. He asks to see you, sir. I wouldn’t if I were you. He’s always drunk, and may be dangerous.”
“Never mind, I am not afraid. Show him up,” said Tod valiantly.
Mrs. Jennings shook her head but did as she was bidden, and in a few minutes Mr. Adonis Geary, looking a wreck of his former stalwart self, came into the room. However, he was perfectly sober, and very much depressed. Wanderings on the hills did not agree with him, and he looked as one of his ancestors might have looked when Cuban bloodhounds were hunting flesh and blood in the days of slavery.
“You wish to see me, sah?” said Geary, after a casual glance at Arnold.
“Yes, Mr. Geary,” replied Tod, settling himself in his chair, “the fact is that things are coming to a climax, and I want you to come to the Pixy’s House to-morrow afternoon, say at two o’clock, to state what you know of Bellaria’s murder.”
“I doan’t know noting, sah,” said the negro doggedly.
“Mr. Haskins believes that you know everything,” retorted Tod sharply, “and, unless you want to get into trouble, it will be best for you to speak out.”
“I doan’t know noting,” said Geary again, and rolled his eyes ferociously at the mention of Gerald’s name, “and dere’s noting can hurt me. I hab sold de hotel, and nex’ week I go to Jamaica.”
“As a pensioner of Major Rebb’s, I suppose?”
“Dat’s my business, sah. Dis place no place for me, when my wife go away wid my chill’n. Bellaria dead—dat mad gal dead—an’—”
“You are wrong in thinking that Miss Durham is dead, Mr. Geary,” said Tod, exploding his bombshell according to Gerald’s written instruction, “she is very much alive.”
Geary staggered and turned his usual green. “She alive?”
“Yes, and married to Mr. Gerald Haskins. You can tell the Major that if you like, Mr. Geary, and tell him also that we are all coming over to-morrow to demand the six thousand a year which Major Rebb has held for so long. I fear that your Jamaican pension is not very safe.”
Geary stood dumfounded, clutching his breast. His dull brain could scarcely grasp the significance of this speech. But he did grasp the fact that Rebb was losing the money, and that he—Mr. Adonis Geary—would not benefit. “I tell de Major,” he faltered, wheeling.
“By all means,” said Tod easily. “I sent for you to be my messenger. Come, Geary, as Rebb loses the money, you had better come on our side and tell us who murdered Bellaria.”
The negro turned at the door and drew himself up. “No, sah,” he declared, with something of majesty, “I eat de Major’s bread, and I no betray de Major.” After which speech he went out abruptly.
“Does that mean Rebb is guilty?” Tod asked Arnold.
“I always said that he was,” rejoined the ex-tutor dryly, and later the two retired to their several couches to ponder over the new problem.
The bride and bridegroom duly arrived the next day. Tod was slightly uneasy, since Geary had probably told the Major, and that gentleman would undoubtedly, for his own safety, take steps to have Mrs. Haskins arrested. However, Geary had probably not delivered the message that Mavis was alive, for no officer of the law appeared to break the joy of the meeting. Mavis looked slightly pale, but her courage was high, and she evidently determined to go bravely through the ordeal. United to her adored Prince Gerald, she was ready to face anyone and anything by his side.
After greetings and explanations and a hurried meal the whole party drove over to Leegarth in a landau for the momentous meeting. As the carriage passed through the village Mavis kept her veil down, so she was not recognized. The gates of the Pixy’s House, marvelous to relate, were open, and the carriage drove up to the house. Major Rebb with two ladies was on the terrace. Mavis alighted and raised her veil.
“Great heavens!” cried Rebb, pale with terror. “Mavis Durham!”
“Mrs. Gerald Haskins,” she replied proudly, “and I come for my money.”
It would be hard to say who was the palest and most terror-stricken of the trio who stood on the terrace. Mrs. Crosbie clung to her stern mother with dilated eyes, shaking like a reed: but Mrs. Berch, although stern and unmoved—outwardly at least—was also pallid. As for Rebb, he leaned against the balustrade of the terrace scarcely able to speak. Before him stood Tod and Arnold, Gerald Haskins and the girl whom he had treated so cruelly—the girl whom he had believed until now was at the bottom of some rural stream. The hour of retribution had come, and in a flash the guilty man saw everything he possessed reft from him—saw also the structure of crime and falsehood he had reared crumble into dust. His worst enemy would have pitied the Major in that hour of agony.
“You!” he faltered, staring at Mavis, as though she were indeed the ghost he almost believed her to be. “You!”
“Ah!” murmured Macandrew complacently, “so Geary did not deliver my message to you after all.”
“Geary!” The Major stood erect, braced for the coming struggle, and his face hardened. “Did Geary know this—” And he pointed to Mavis.
“I told him the truth last night.”
“And he never told me; he never warned me.” Rebb clenched his fists. “Oh the scoundrel! I might have— But there, it is too late—too late.”
“What do you mean by too late?” said Mrs. Berch imperiously, and throwing a protecting arm round her daughter, “fight for Madge if you will not for yourself.”
But Rebb paid no attention to her. “Geary! Geary!” he muttered, looking round with bloodshot eyes, “he was in the courtyard an hour ago, and he did not tell me, curse him! He may be— Geary! Geary!” he raised his voice to an angry cry and ran swiftly along the terrace through the arch and into the quadrangle.
Gerald took the hand of his wife and followed quickly, with Tod and the ex-tutor behind. They did not wish to lose sight of Rebb. For one moment Mrs. Berch and her daughter looked at one another, and Madge hung back, trembling. But the mother suddenly seized the widow’s wrist and dragged her, a miserable figure, pale-faced, and shaking in her gay attire, into the quadrangle. “We must see what Michael will do,” whispered Mrs. Berch, passing her tongue over her dry lips. “He may win the day yet.”
“No, no,” moaned Mrs. Crosbie; “he is lost.”
At the far end of the quadrangle Gerald and Mavis saw the token of Geary’s drunken handiwork. A considerable portion of the ivy-clothed wall had fallen outward, and lay in ruins on the lip of the cliff. Three or four trees had been dashed into the pool below, and there was a clear view across the Ruddle to the green forest beyond. The mystery of the Enchanted Castle was at an end, and, no longer a palace of the Sleeping Beauty, it lay open to the world, as Morgan had said. And now in its romantic quadrangle there were sterner doings than the moonlight wooings of lovers who had, for the moment, recalled the Golden Age, when the gods came down to men.
“Geary! Geary!” shouted Rebb, rushing towards the fallen wall, and mounting its ruins. There was no response, and Gerald fancied that Rebb had merely made an excuse, so as to get near the river and throw himself in. But, guilty or innocent, the Major was sufficiently brave to face the sins he had committed, and came down again slowly to the group near the battered sundial. He was still livid, but more self-controlled.
“I shall deal with Geary later,” he said thickly, “in the meanwhile I can deal with you.”
“We are quite ready,” said Gerald tranquilly.
“Who are we?” questioned Rebb scathingly.
“Myself and my wife.”
“She is not your wife. A marriage with a madwoman is not legal.”
Mavis shuddered, and clung to Gerald’s arm. It was the first time that she had been called mad to her face. “Oh, guardian,” she wailed, “how can you say that of me when I was so fond of you?”
“You had every reason to be fond of me,” said Rebb harshly, and his eyes gleamed as he thought the girl was weakening. “I gave you a happy home, in this delightful place, because your brain was not strong enough to bear the troubles of this world.”
Mavis withdrew her hand from Gerald’s arm, and looked scornfully at the liar, whom she now saw in his true colors. “You kept me here that you might enjoy the money which my father left to me,” she declared, in haughty tones, “you betrayed the trust your dead friend placed in you. I was a weak girl, and an ignorant one, to believe in your lies: but now,” she added, stepping forward a pace, “now, Major Rebb,” and her use of the name showed the attitude she intended to adopt, “I call upon you to give me back my money, and leave this place, which belongs to me.”
“No madwoman can possess money,” said Mrs. Crosbie shrilly. She saw the Major’s income was about to be lost, and that it would be useless to marry him. “Michael, call the police and have her removed.”
“One moment,” said Gerald quietly. “You go too fast, Mrs. Crosbie. But I am glad to see you at last as you really are. I thought you were my friend. I now see that you are my enemy. My wife is perfectly sane, and, as her husband, I shall see that her sanity is proved.”
“Call the police—call the police!” cried Mrs. Crosbie furiously; and she broke from her mother’s grip. “How dare you stand there and insult me, Gerald? I was your friend, and I will be your friend still, if you will shut up that girl, and apologize.”
Tod laughed at the weakness of this speech. “If you cannot find anything better to say, Mrs. Crosbie, you had better hold your tongue,” he said caustically. “Even if Mrs. Haskins is shut up the money still belongs to her husband. Major Rebb has lost that for ever. It is the money you are after, madam.”
“Yes, it is; yes, it is,” said Mrs. Crosbie, utterly reckless, and defying the efforts of her mother to keep her silent. “If you knew the miserable years of poverty I have had you would not wonder at my wishing for the money. My marriage with Michael will save me from shame and misery and—and—” She choked with mingled terror and rage, and Mrs. Berch pulled her back roughly.
“Are you a fool to talk like this?” she muttered. “Hold your tongue, you silly child.” She shook her angrily. “Wait until Michael settles this affair. Major Rebb?” she turned inquiringly to her proposed son-in-law.
“I shall settle this affair very speedily,” said Rebb, walking across the lawn towards the archway, “my man shall go for the police. Or, better still, that coachman who drove you from Silbury, Mavis, shall go back to bring Inspector Morgan. I am very sorry that you have thrust yourself into danger. But I should not be doing my duty by society if I did not have you imprisoned.”
“As a lunatic?” asked Mavis scornfully. She had quite lost her old dread of the Major by this time.
“As a murderess,” he retorted.
“Prove that,” said Haskins, stepping in Rebb’s path.
“Out of my way,” growled Rebb, looking dangerous.
“You have brought a serious accusation against my wife,” persisted the young man, “and I intend to make you prove it. On what grounds do you say that my wife is crazy?”
“She has been all her life,” said the Major, forced to answer, for he saw very plainly that Haskins would knock him down if he attempted to pass the archway. Not that the Major feared a fight, but his situation was so desperate that he wished to adjust things as quietly as possible. His threat to call the police was bluff, as Gerald knew, and because Gerald did know Rebb was furious.
“Prove that she has been mad all her life,” said Haskins coolly. “Mavis has been with Mrs. Pelham Odin since she left here, and that very clever old woman cannot see that my wife is mad: nor can Macandrew, nor Arnold, nor anyone else.”
“I can, I can!” cried Mrs. Crosbie, with a bright red spot burning on either cheek, and looked very angry.
“Ah! you are a prejudiced witness, seeing that you wish to marry Major Rebb, for the income he is now losing.”
“That he has lost,” interposed Tod, in a dry legal tone: “the conditions of Julian Durham’s will have been fulfilled, and Mrs. Haskins now takes possession of her property.”
“How can you prove that my wife is mad?” asked Gerald again, and taking no notice of the interruption, “have you had her examined by two doctors, according to law?”
“No,” replied Rebb grudgingly.
“Then how dare you shut her up in this house? I shall bring an action against you, on behalf of my wife, for false imprisonment.”
“You had better think twice before you do that,” said the Major, in icy tones, “for I shall retort with an accusation of murder.”
“You say that my wife murdered Bellaria?”
“I do,” said Rebb doggedly. “I swear to it.”
“I dare say; but you have yet to prove your accusation. I am quite willing to allow Mavis to be arrested.” Gerald stepped aside. “Go and fetch the police, Rebb. They will be here soon.”
“Here!” Rebb started and turned a shade paler.
“I left instructions at the police station before coming here that Inspector Morgan was to come with two men. When they arrive you can give Mavis in charge and then we can submit your accusation of insanity to a couple of doctors, and your charge of murder to a jury.”
“Then,” cried Mrs. Crosbie viciously, “Michael will get back his money.”
“I think not,” replied Gerald coldly. “I take charge of that.”
By this time the courage was oozing out of Rebb, who had not expected the young man to take up such an attitude. “Cannot we arrange this matter quietly?” he asked, trying to appear composed.
“No,” said the other quietly. “The offer you made me in yonder room does not suit me.”
“An offer?” said Mrs. Berch, in her deep voice.
“I offered to let Haskins marry Mavis and take her to America, if he—or rather she—surrendered half the income.”
“I refuse, as Gerald refused,” said Mavis proudly. “I prefer to stand my trial. I am not going to pass the rest of my life under a cloud for your sake, Major Rebb.”
“Your sister—your twin sister—shall get the money,” cried Rebb, at his wits’ end how to deal with the situation. “Ah, you never knew that.”
“I knew when Gerald told me,” said Mrs. Haskins composedly, “and I more than suspected it before. Indeed Charity allowed me to pass as herself, so as to save me from you. I shall repay that, with three thousand a year. My husband and I have arranged that.”
“You passed as Charity,” cried Rebb, amazed.
“Yes; I danced at the Belver Theatre, and—”
“It’s a lie—you couldn’t. What became of Charity, if you did that?”
“Charity was with me,” said Tod, stepping forward.
“Yes, as my wife.”
Major Rebb jumped, and staggered against the sundial. “So both the sisters are married?” he muttered.
“They are,” said Tod, “and they have agreed to share the income you have held all these years. I am afraid that the game is up, Major.”
Rebb said nothing. The game was indeed up, and he did not know which way to turn, or how to get the better of his pitiless opponents. Mrs. Berch left her daughter for the moment and touched his arm. “Why did you not tell me that there was another girl?” she asked hoarsely and savagely.
“There was no need.” And the Major shook her off.
“There was every need. You told me, you told Madge, that your income depended upon Mavis Durham—”
“Mavis Haskins, if you please,” interpolated that young lady.
Mrs. Berch paid no attention. “On Mavis Durham not marrying. You said that if in some way her insanity could be proved, and she could be stopped from marriage, that your income would be safe. For that reason my daughter wished to marry you.”
“She loved me,” said Rebb unsteadily, and looked at Mrs. Crosbie.
“I loved you as well as any other man,” she said coolly, and shrugging her shoulders, “but I would have married anyone to escape from debt and duns and hideous poverty. As you are now poor, of course I cannot marry you. Come, mother. There is nothing more to be got here. Let us go back to our misery.”
Rebb said nothing, but turned very white. The woman for whom he had sold his soul was ready to cast him aside like an old glove. Mrs. Crosbie, with a vicious glance at Mavis, and a look of indifference at the man she had professed to love, took her mother’s arm. Mrs. Berch was quite ready to go, and indeed seemed to be in a hurry to depart. But the path of the two was blocked by the tiny figure of Arnold, who had hitherto held his peace.
“So you did know that the Major’s income depended upon Mavis being prevented, even by the murder of Bellaria, from marrying?”
“What is that to you? Let me pass,” cried Mrs. Crosbie haughtily.
“We,” Arnold waved his hand to include Gerald and Tod, “we thought that you were ignorant, and so could not guess what was your motive for murdering that unfortunate woman.”
“Murder!” Mrs. Crosbie went a dead-white, and became as rigid as a corpse.
Rebb started and came forward.
“You must be mistaken,” he said, in shaking tones to Arnold.
“He is a foul liar,” said Mrs. Berch, grasping her daughter to keep her from falling. “Let us pass, sir.”
“No,” said Arnold, still holding his ground, and speaking loudly, while the others kept silence. “When Inspector Morgan comes you shall be arrested. I shall give you in charge for this murder, of which Mrs. Haskins is wrongfully accused.”
Mrs. Crosbie shrieked, looking a pitiable spectacle of fear and shame, as she clung to her mother. But that stern lady, although white and also terrified, controlled her feelings with iron nerve. “On what grounds do you accuse my daughter?” she demanded.
“I saw you and her in a motor car at Belldown—I saw you on the way here—you were at the gates of the Pixy’s House shortly before twelve o’clock, waiting for Bellaria, whom you lured to the gate by means of a letter.”
“I was at Bognor—I was at Bognor,” cried Mrs. Crosbie, shaking with fear.
“No,” interposed Tod. “My clerk went to watch you at Bognor. Neither you nor Mrs. Berch went there at all. You were down here. Come, Mrs. Crosbie, you may as well confess. We can prove all about the motor car, and your presence here.”
“Madge! Madge!” cried Rebb, who looked horrified, “is this true?”
But Mrs. Crosbie only clung sobbing to her mother, being terrified almost to death. At the same moment that Rebb spoke Inspector Morgan, with a couple of policemen, entered the quadrangle, and advanced towards the group. “You wanted me here, Mr. Haskins?” he asked inquiringly. “I got your message, and here I am with my men. What is it?”
“In the first place,” said Gerald quietly, “allow me to present to you my wife,” then when Morgan saluted in a puzzled way, he continued, “once known as Mavis Durham.”
“What!” Morgan grew red, and his eyes almost started out of his head. “Do you mean to say that this lady is Mavis Durham?”
“Mavis Haskins now,” said the girl, with a perfectly calm smile, “and I surrender myself to you willingly.”
“I arrest you in the King’s name for murder,” gabbled Morgan, trying to recover his official dignity. “Anything you say now will be used in evidence against you.” And he signed to his subordinates, likewise startled out of their wits, to take charge of the girl. Arnold sprang forward as a young constable placed his hand on Mavis’ arm.
“Stop,” he cried. “Mrs. Haskins is innocent. Here is the guilty woman.” And he pointed to Mrs. Crosbie.
“No, no! You can’t prove that—you dare not—you—”
“I can prove it!” cried Arnold, bluffing. “Mrs. Crosbie was at the gate of the Pixy’s House at the time Bellaria Dondi was murdered. A dozen witnesses can swear that she was in the neighborhood.”
“Is this true?” Morgan asked the little widow, whose gaiety was all gone, and who suddenly looked twice her age.
“It is not true! It is not true!” she cried. “Mother and I were at Belldown. We went on to see Major Rebb at Denleigh.”
“Hush, you fool!” muttered Mrs. Berch, shaking her.
“You never came near me there!” cried Rebb, and then became aware that, on the impulse of the moment, he had ruined the widow. In a paroxysm of shame and terror, for the man did love the miserable woman, he added: “Mrs. Crosbie is innocent. I swear she is. I know who is guilty.”
“You?” everyone cried out, Inspector Morgan loudest of all. The scene was beyond his comprehension, and he was on the verge of an apoplectic fit. The whole scene was melodramatic and unreal, and, on the stage, or when written in a book, would have been described so by critics.
“Who is guilty?” demanded Morgan fiercely.
“Geary—Adonis Geary,” said Rebb. “The knife was his, and I found him in the grounds when I arrived.”
There was a savage shout before he could finish, and Geary sprang from behind the ruined river wall. He had been concealed there, and had heard everything: but he did not appear until his adored master accused him of the crime. Then terror and rage made him leap forward, half mad and half drunk. “You say one big lie, sah!” he shouted, with rolling eyes, and a thick voice. “I lubbed you once, but now you would kill me with a lie. I tell who did kill dat poor Bellaria.”
“Who killed her?” asked Gerald, for Morgan was too bewildered to ask.
Geary looked slowly round, and pointed to Mrs. Berch.
“Oh, mother, mother,” cried Mrs. Crosbie, “I would have saved you if I could.”
There was an absolute silence for a few moments. What with one accusation and another, Inspector Morgan’s brain was reeling. Gerald could only stare in blank amazement at the negro, who declared so positively that Mrs. Berch was guilty of a cowardly murder. As for the accused woman, she put aside her weeping daughter gently and faced the police boldly. Tod and Rebb and Arnold were silent out of sheer astonishment. Haskins had thought Geary guilty: Arnold had believed Rebb to be the doer of the deed: Tod deemed that Mrs. Crosbie had struck the blow: but not one of the three ever fancied that Mrs. Berch was the mysterious assassin of the unfortunate Italian.
“Ask this man,” said Mrs. Berch harshly, to Morgan, and pointing towards Geary. “Ask him on what grounds he makes such an accusation. My daughter and I certainly were at Belldown, and drove on past Leegarth, intending to call on Major Rebb at the Devon Maid. But our car broke down and we were obliged to stop in a cottage for the night. I can prove an alibi.”
“If you can,” said Morgan, finding his tongue, “why should your daughter say that she would have saved you if she could?”
“My daughter is mad with terror!” said Mrs. Berch, stonily, “Madge knows that I am wholly innocent,” and she looked at Mrs. Crosbie.
“Yes, yes, yes!” whispered the widow faintly, “we stopped the night in a cottage—we are innocent. My mother can prove an alibi.”
“Dat one big lie!” cried Geary, with scorn, “you would like de Major to say dat I killed Bellaria. Oh yis, and I wud be hanged. Sah,” he turned reproachfully towards his master, who had been willing to sacrifice him for another, after his years of faithful service, “you very wicked massa. I lub you: I do all bad tings for you, but I no die. Dis woman,” he pointed to the perfectly calm Mrs. Berch, who was much the most composed of the group, “she come here an’ kill Bellaria. She write a letter sayin’ dat if Bellaria come to de gate late, she wud be safe from dos who would kill her. And Bellaria she comes, wid my big knife to save herself. Den dis woman,” he pointed again at Mrs. Berch, “she stab and stab and stab.”
“It is all utterly false,” denied the accused woman coldly. “Do you believe this of your mother’s friend, Gerald?”
“No,” said the young man generously, “there must be some mistake. I cannot believe that Mrs. Berch would be so wicked. Her known character contradicts this man’s accusation. I believed that Geary murdered Bellaria himself, at Major Rebb’s instigation.”
“That’s a lie,” said Rebb, in an agitated voice.
“Dat one big lie,” repeated Geary in his own vernacular, and fumbled in his breast pocket, “see, massa,” he went towards Morgan, “dis de letter dat I find in Bellaria’s dress, and—”
Mrs. Crosbie made a bound and a grab; but Morgan whisked the letter out of Geary’s hand and held it above her head. One of the policemen caught the widow to hold her back, and she burst into tears. “Is this your writing, madam?” Morgan asked Mrs. Berch, holding the letter before her.
“No,” said Mrs. Berch, in an unshaken voice. “Mr. Haskins knows my writing well. Gerald, look at the letter.”
The young man took the epistle. It was evidently disguised handwriting, clumsy and illiterate. He could not reasonably say that Mrs. Berch had penned the few lines which asked Bellaria to come to the gates of the Pixy’s House at midnight on a certain date to meet a well-wisher—so the letter was signed—who could save her from the Tána Society. The script was quite unlike Mrs. Berch’s sloping Italian hand, which was that of the mid-Victorian epoch. “No,” he said, and very gladly, “I don’t think that Mrs. Berch wrote this letter.”
“Ah,” the woman drew a long breath, but displayed no triumph. “Of course, Mr. Inspector, the charge is absolutely absurd. This mad girl whom Mr. Haskins has married murdered the miserable creature.”
“Ah,” said Gerald, slipping his arm round Mavis, who shivered, and hid her face, “you return evil for good, Mrs. Berch.”
Morgan took the letter and placed it in his pocket. “I don’t know what to think,” he muttered. “You may be innocent and Geary—” He glanced at the savage face of the negro, who shouted wrathfully.
“I no kill dat woman,” he cried, stamping like a wild bull in a rage, “she write de letter, I come to dis house to find de Major, and I find Bellaria dead—she just dying.”
“Did she speak?” Mavis asked the question.
“No, she no speak; she die at once. I look in de dress, and I find dat letter and dis.” Geary opened his huge black palm, and on it lay the coral hand with the dagger. “Dat on de ground near de dress,” he ended.
“Do you recognize this?” asked Morgan, turning to Gerald, while Mrs. Crosbie uttered a wail of fear and Mrs. Berch became even paler than she had been.
Gerald had defended Mrs. Berch before and she had returned his kindness by accusing Mavis. He determined to leave her to her fate, since she was so ungrateful, especially as he readily recognized the coral hand. “So you did not give it back to Venosta after all!” he said to the terrified Mrs. Crosbie. “Mr. Inspector, this amulet belongs to—” He was about to say the name when Mrs. Berch, after a glance of despair around, interrupted.
“It belongs to me,” she said harshly, “not to my daughter. Mrs. Crosbie received it from Signor Venosta, but she gave it to me to return to him after she made use of it to control the Jew moneylender. I did not return it to Signor Venosta, I—” She stopped.
“It was found near the corpse of Bellaria by this man,” said Morgan gravely, “so if it belonged to you—”
“It hers; it hers,” shouted Geary.
“How do you know?” asked Rebb sharply.
“I see dis woman in dat engine,” he meant the motor car, “on de hill when I leave Bellaria dead. I run out to see where anyone was, dat kill Bellaria, and I see dat woman wid dis odder in dat engine.”
“But you came running from the house,” cried Rebb; “you could not—”
“Let be,” said Mrs. Berch, evidently recognizing that denial was useless: “no doubt he did see me. But I am guilty and Mrs. Crosbie is perfectly innocent.”
“Then you killed the woman?” cried Gerald, appalled.
“Yes. But not intentionally. Listen. From you we learned something about this girl, and then my daughter and I were here on one occasion and knew something beforehand about the matter. We forced Major Rebb to explain, as the girl was supposed to be pretty,” she cast a disdainful glance at Mavis, “and my daughter was a trifle jealous. When you, Gerald, came asking Madge to take charge of this girl I took alarm, as I thought that something serious was the matter.”
“You did,” said Rebb bitterly, “and you forced me to tell you the truth of how my income depended upon Mavis never getting married. But I did not expect you to kill Bellaria so as to save the income.”
“I did not do so for that purpose,” said Mrs. Berch steadily. “Madge and I were in despair, as only her marriage with you could save us from terrible trouble. When Gerald explained about Bellaria’s fear of the coral hand I learned its purport from Signor Venosta. Then I thought that I could use it to bend Bellaria to my will.”
“What was your will?” asked Tod, who looked awestruck.
“To insist that Bellaria should take Mavis to Italy and keep her there, so as to prevent her marrying. Then I knew that Major Rebb’s income would be safe, and that Madge could marry and take us both out of the horrible misery we endured trying to keep up appearances on nothing.”
“On nothing?” cried Haskins suddenly.
“Beyond a hundred a year, Madge and I were penniless,” said Mrs. Berch coolly.
“But you lived in style,” said Rebb, who seemed to be thunderstruck by these sordid revelations.
“Oh, we are only a couple of adventuresses,” said Mrs. Berch ironically, “we deceived everyone, even Gerald’s mother, who was as kind and good a woman as ever breathed.”
“Don’t,” muttered the young man softly.
“I am only praising the dead,” said Mrs. Berch stolidly. “I say no evil of her. Well then, we were in desperate straits, else I never would have hit on the desperate scheme of getting Bellaria to kidnap Mavis, which was what it amounted to. I told Madge nothing, save, that I wanted to see Major Rebb. We informed Gerald that we were going to Bognor, and we really were going. But, by my plan, we came to Devonshire, and Madge got one of her friends to lend her a motor. She drives excellently, and as we were at Belldown before, she knows the country. I pretended that Major Rebb was at the Pixy’s House and had arranged to see me at midnight. This I told my daughter.”
“And you believed so ridiculous a story?” said Morgan, fixing an official eye on the shrinking woman. But she only moaned.
“Leave her alone. I am to blame,” said Mrs. Berch sharply, “and the murder of Bellaria was pure accident.”
“Pure accident!” muttered Arnold ironically.
Mrs. Berch turned on him with a wintry smile. “Yes, sir. The car broke down—that was really an accident. While Madge was seeing what was the matter I said that I would walk on and inquire if Major Rebb was at the house, and could take us in for the night. I came to the gates and waited for a time. Bellaria came at length. She opened the gates in fear and trembling, and was armed with a large yellow-handled knife.”
“Dat my knife,” muttered the negro, and rolled his eyes.
“I explained who I was, and told her about the marriage. I said that I could put Venosta, as representing the society, on her track, unless she took Mavis to Italy, and kept her single. I promised her a pension, but the foolish creature,” Mrs. Berch shrugged her shoulders, “would listen to nothing. She refused to go to Italy, saying that she would be killed there. I showed her the coral hand, and she tried to snatch it from me. We struggled, and she lost her head, saying that I had come to kill her. Once she wounded me in the arm,” here Mrs. Berch rolled up her sleeve and showed a newly healed scar of considerable dimensions, “so I tried to take the knife from her. Then—”
“Then?” said Morgan, speaking for the others, who were all tongue-tied and staring at the terrible recital.
Mrs. Berch put a slim hand to her head. “I don’t know exactly what took place,” she said wearily and indifferently, “but somehow I got the knife, and in the struggle, in the darkness, I stabbed her to the heart. When she fell I was terrified at what I had done, and flung the knife into the long grass—the coral hand had long since fallen to the ground. Then I ran away back to the car. I found Madge had repaired the damage, which was slight. She saw blood on my dress. I told a lie, and we got into the car to fly. On the hill yonder”—she pointed over the ruined wall towards Denleigh—“the car went wrong again. Then it was that we saw a man come running up. It was Geary, but Madge started the car, and we managed to get away. I was not sure if he recognized us.”
“You—you,” said Geary, with a grin, “in de lamp. I saw you when I come to town wid my massa. But I say noting till my massa want to hang me. I come back and look for dis gal in de house.”
“I had fled by that time with Arnold,” said Mavis faintly.
“Is that all?” asked Morgan formally, turning to Mrs. Berch.
“What else would you have?” she asked.
“Did your daughter know of—”
“She knew nothing.”
“I only knew that my mother had accidentally killed Bellaria,” cried Mrs. Crosbie foolishly. “I made her tell me because of the blood—”
“You idiot,” said the mother between her teeth.
“Then,” said Morgan officially, “I must arrest you both.”
“But I am innocent,” shrieked Mrs. Crosbie.
“You are an accomplice after the fact,” said Morgan. “Come!” He laid a heavy hand on Mrs. Crosbie’s shoulder.
She started away with a terrible cry. Rebb flung himself forward to save her. Morgan grappled with him, and Mrs. Berch tried to snatch her daughter out of the way. The others were too startled to move. Mrs. Crosbie, who was mad with fear, tore herself from the grasp of Mrs. Berch, and ran towards the ruined wall, in the vain hope of escaping. “Save me—help me! I won’t go to prison. I am innocent—innocent.”
In deadly terror she scrambled over the fallen wall. Geary ran forward to stop her from escaping, while Morgan still fought with the Major, and the two policemen were trying to help their superior. On seeing the negro run after Mrs. Crosbie, the mother, silent and savage, moved swiftly across the grass in pursuit. She did not run, but she glided so rapidly that in a moment—as it seemed—she was over the ruins of the wall, and on the verge of the cliff along with Madge. The negro she pushed aside. As the others came running up she cried out: “Madge, let us die together.” And before Mrs. Crosbie knew what was in her mother’s mind she had leaped into the deep pool, holding her dearly loved daughter, for whom she had sinned so deeply. There was a loud splash, the agonized scream of Mrs. Crosbie, and then silence.
* * * * * * * * *
Six months later a happy young couple were in the drawing-room of a handsome house in Kensington. With them was Mrs. Pelham Odin, looking more stately and graceful than ever. She had established herself on the sofa in her regulation attitude, and Mavis was seated in a low chair beside her. Gerald stood with his back to the fire, smoking, and looked extremely happy. His happiness was reflected in the face of his young wife, and Mrs. Pelham Odin presided over the joint enjoyment like a fairy godmother.
“You are both looking splendid,” she said, in her deep, clear voice, “and I am glad to see you both after your sojourn abroad. But do you think it was kind to leave England without seeing me?”
Mavis caught the two hands of the old actress. “No, it was not kind. I said that it was not kind. But Gerald—”
“Gerald said that it was necessary,” said that young man coolly. “Dear Mrs. Pelham Odin look at the circumstances. There was the inquest on the bodies of those two poor women, who drowned themselves in the Peace Pool—in Mother Carey’s Peace Pool.”
“I thought that Mrs. Berch dragged her daughter to death.”
“So she did,” admitted Gerald quickly. “Mrs. Crosbie would have been arrested as an accomplice after the fact, and in any case would have sunk into poverty without her mother to help her. Mrs. Berch of course thought she would be hanged, although, seeing how she swore that the crime was accidental, extenuating circumstances might have been found. I suppose Mrs. Berch, who was frantically fond of her daughter, thought it best they should go together. Madge certainly would have lived, poor soul, in spite of all her misery, as she loved life. But Mrs. Berch pulled her down, and they are buried in Leegarth cemetery—”
“Beside Bellaria!” said Mavis, with a shiver. “How strange.”
“The punishment of providence, my dear,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin rebukingly. “The murderess was laid beside her victim. A wicked woman—”
“No,” said Gerald, throwing up his hand. “Don’t call her that.”
“But she murdered—”
“I believe that the crime really was committed accidentally. And as she and poor Madge have paid for their sins let us leave them to God, Mrs. Pelham Odin. Who are we to judge, and, as was revealed at the inquest, those two women had suffered much misery and trouble.”
“I wonder how they managed to deceive the tradesmen for so long,” said the old actress musingly. “I am sure my tradesmen always make me pay every month. But look at the thousands they owed and—”
“It would all have been paid had Mrs. Crosbie married the Major.”
“I daresay—with Mavis’ six thousand a year.”
“I have only three thousand,” said Mrs. Haskins: “Charity has the rest.”
Mrs. Pelham Odin kissed the girl’s forehead. “You behaved in a noble way, my dear. I hear that Lady Euphemia has quite taken to Charity, now that she knows her father was a Devonshire Durham. And Tod has got back his ruined castle to play the laird. He says, however, that he is coming back from Scotland to work again at the law.”
“And quite right he is,” said Gerald, sitting down. “I don’t believe in any man being lazy. Lady Euphemia wants Tod to play the laird on his wife’s money, but Tod has too much respect to live on his wife.”
“I know you have,” said Mavis, looking at him fondly. “You don’t know how difficult it is to make him take money,” she added, turning to the actress, “he will live on his own income, and works like a nigger.”
“Not like Geary, if he is the nigger in question. My dear Mavis, this house is yours, and I—”
“You’re going to say that you are a boarder. Stop!” And Mavis laid a pretty hand over his mouth. Gerald kissed it.
“You are both extremely silly,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin, “share and share alike—money and love and sentiments and everything.”
“Right,” said Haskins playfully, “Mavis, darling, give me back that kiss.”
“I came here,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin, in her most dignified way, “to welcome you back from the Continent, so I must be attended to, and you did leave England after the trial without seeing me.”
Gerald rose, and became serious. “I did so to save my wife from an attack of brain fever,” he said gravely. “Think of what that trial meant to a girl who had never faced such a throng of people.”
“Oh, Gerald, there was the Belver Theatre.”
“I am sure the people in the court were a better audience,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin, using her fan, “and after all, the trial was a mere form. You were proved to be quite sane by those two nice doctors, and perfectly innocent, when the evidence was given as to Mrs. Berch’s verbal confession. I read all about it in the papers. You were made quite a heroine, Mavis, and as I like heroines I expected you to come and tell me all about it. Instead of which,” added the actress, returning to her grievance, “you went quietly to the Continent.”
“To Switzerland,” said Haskins, slipping his arm around Mavis’ waist. “There we passed a happy time, and Mavis recovered from the shock of all these dreadful things. We never talk of them now.”
“I am very sorry to,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin obstinately, “but I must know what has become of everyone. Major Rebb, I understand, is in South America?”
“Yes. He could not face the court, and so he bolted. No one went after him, as of course he knew nothing about the murder, and Mavis did not prosecute him for his behavior to her.”
“Geary—that terrible Uncle Tom’s Cabin person?”
“He ran away also. I expect he is with Rebb now. I must say Rebb did not treat him well, trying to fix the guilt on him. Perhaps he’s given Rebb the go-by on that account, and is now in Jamaica with another wife.”
“Where is his English one?”
“In Barnstaple, with her coffee-colored children. Mavis allows her a small income.”
“I am so sorry for her,” said Mrs. Haskins apologetically. “I am sorry for anyone who is unhappily married.”
“Well, you and Charity have married good men.”
“But poor men,” said Gerald, smiling.
Mrs. Pelham Odin shook her fan at him. “I could mention the Continent again,” she said, smiling, “but as it was necessary that Mavis should have peace and quiet after all her trials, poor dear, I forgive the apparent rudeness. What are you going to do now?”
“We are going to repair the Pixy’s House and live there.”
Mrs. Pelham Odin gave a little scream. “Then don’t ask me to come and see you. Two murders—for Mrs. Berch murdered her daughter as well as that poor Italian woman—and three corpses. Ugh! Why, the house will be haunted.”
“Not at all,” said Gerald tartly. “We can live there with a clear conscience, and the evil influence of the place will depart when good people dwell there.”
“Meaning yourself, my dear boy. How modest!”
“I was rather thinking of Mavis, with her pure mind and—”
“There, there!” Mrs. Pelham Odin got rather restive, as she didn’t like to hear any woman but herself complimented. “You are a six months’ old husband—”
“I shall be a lover all my life.” And Gerald kissed his wife.
“My Fairy Prince.” And Mavis kissed Gerald.
Mrs. Pelham Odin cast her eyes up to the ceiling. “Quite like Romeo and Juliet, without the limelight,” she said, in a fatigued tone. “Well, you must come to me before going to Devonshire. Charity Macandrew and her husband are coming. I want to give a dinner-party and introduce you two girls to all sorts of delightful people at a reception to follow. Everyone is delighted with the romantic story.”
“I daresay they are,” said Gerald crossly. “The papers have made far too much of the matter.”
“I daresay they wouldn’t have done so had it not happened to be the dull season,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin consolingly. “Of course there have been romantic accounts, and portraits of the girls, and all that, but I have not seen what the newspapers call the sealed message.”
“Do you mean the phonograph record which Mavis sent me?”
“Yes; only she didn’t send it to you. She sent it to anyone who happened to fish it up.”
“Tod did that, but the message was sent to me. Nothing happens by chance, Mrs. Pelham Odin, so—”
“Oh, dear me, here comes your occult stuff. Tod told me all about it. I don’t like such deep subjects. The message—”
“We have it,” said Mavis, rising and going to a side-table on which stood a Jekle & Co. phonograph. “Gerald and I often turn on the machine to hear the message which brought us together.”
While she fitted the tube on to the machine Mrs. Pelham Odin yawned. “It was very clever of you to use a phonograph, since you couldn’t read or write. I hope you are less ignorant now.”
“I am getting on very quickly. Gerald teaches me every day.”
“You conjugate the verb to love, I suppose. What’s that?”
Gerald raised his finger. “The message which Mavis sent me.”
“Sent anyone,” muttered Mrs. Pelham Odin obstinately: but she listened.
“This to the wide world,” babbled the machine in the sweetest and most melodious of voices. “This to the Fairy Prince, who will come and waken me from dreams. Come, dear Prince, to the Pixy’s House, and watch that the jealous ogress, who guards me, does not see you. I cannot read, I cannot write: but I talk my message to you, dear Prince. To the stream I commit the message on this first day of April in this year five. May the river bear the message to you, dear Prince. Come to me! Come to me! Come to me! and waken your Princess to life with a kiss.”
The machine stopped, for Gerald laid a hand on it. “That,” he said solemnly, “is the Sealed Message.”
“As I thought,” said Mrs. Pelham Odin, in her lively tones, “it might have been sent to the Man in the Moon.”
“Instead,” said Mavis, kissing her husband, “to the dearest Fairy Prince on Earth.”
“Which has none outside pantomimes,” ended Mrs. Pelham Odin, determined to have the last word. She managed to do so, for the husband and wife were kissing one another.
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