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Title: The Case for the Crown Author: Fred M White * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1000301h.html Language: English Date first posted: July 2010 Date most recently updated: July 2010 This eBook was produced by: Lyn Mulcahy Project Gutenberg 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 License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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The woman at the table languidly peeling a peach looked like a beautiful white flower floating on a lake of flame as she sat half hidden in ferns and flowers under the glare cast by the shaded electric lights. Any less fortunate sister of hers who had glanced in through the open windows leading to the garden would have envied her as one of those who toil not, neither do they spin. She looked so beautiful, so detached and aloof from the cares and troubles of the world. She was dressed in a pallid evening gown, all lace and dainty chiffon, and about her was all the evidence of luxury and wealth. Nothing was wanting there, from the dull red of the walls with their pictures, the glint of silver on the table, the gleam of crystal glass; it seemed not unlike a scene from some society comedy. And yet the girl's face was drawn and hard, there were deep lines under her eyes and a queer, proud tremor about the corner of a mouth that was made for smiles and kisses, rather than for the hard lines of sorrow.
At the other end of the table the man was seated, a big fine-looking man with the frame and appearance of an athlete, comparatively young, handsome in an animal way, and the owner of this beautiful house. But, at the same time, the blue eyes were dull and bleared, the hand that trifled with the coffee cup was tremulous and shaky, and on the man's forehead a bead of perspiration had gathered. A doctor would have guessed what Robert Molyneux was suffering from at a glance. To the trained eye those twitching muscles and the loose, hanging lips would have told their own story in a word. For Robert Molyneux was a dipsomaniac, and the beautiful girl sitting opposite to him was his wife. The beautiful surroundings were no more to her than a human cage.
For two years Cecil Molyneux had lived a life that it would be impossible to describe. If there was one comfort that she deprived, one drop of consolation in her sea of misery, it lay in the fact that she cared nothing for her husband, and that he was equally indifferent to her. He had never loved her; he had married her because he would, because she had loathed and despised him, and because it had seemed good to him that he should break that proud spirit of hers. He had known at the time that her heart was given to Godfrey Coventry, but this had merely been part of the punishment that he had designed for her. He had taken every advantage of the fact that fate had placed her father's good name in the hollow of his hands, and with this lash over her head she had gone like a statue to the altar. She had known, too, only too well, the character of the man whose name she had taken. She was used now to his insults and humiliations, and she was little better than a nurse who is charged with looking after a dangerous lunatic. And there were times when her husband was dangerous, there were times when she carried the marks of his violence on her white flesh, times when she knelt by her bedside and prayed a merciful Providence to put an end to it. And one of these times was at hand now. She knew the signs too well to be deceived even for a minute.
For an hour or more Molyneux sat opposite to her, glowering at her, muttering, and threatening her. He had touched nothing of the dainty dinner which had been set before him. She had contrived to swallow a mouthful or two. The peach before her was the first thing that appealed to her appetite. And all this time Molyneux had been steadily drinking. Cecil knew that he was fighting off the horrors that were fast closing in upon him after a week during which he had hardly touched anything save the brandy which at times like this was his sole support. She could see in his clenched muscles and the narrow pupils of his eyes that the crisis was at hand. At any moment now he might break out wildly, might lay his hands upon her and do her some deadly violence. Not that she was afraid, for it seemed to her that she was afraid of nothing now, except the prospect of the dreary existence before her.
"Why don't you say something?" Molyneux demanded. "Why do you sit there sneering at me like that?"
"What can I say?" Cecil asked. "What is the use of saying anything? You know perfectly well—"
"There you go. Always so superior. Always so cold and distant when I am suffering the tortures of the damned. I wonder what the devil I married you for.
"I have often asked myself the same question." Cecil replied. "If you had really cared for me, if you had had any affection for anybody but yourself—".
"I should have let you go, of course." Molyneux sneered, "Then you could have married Coventry, and deluded yourself that you were happy with love in a cottage. But you didn't know then that Coventry's father's old partner was going to die and leave him all that money. If you had—"
"If I had," Cecil cried, "then I should not be here to-night. But it is like you to twit me with this after you have deliberately spoilt my life."
"Why don't you go to him now?" Molyneux demanded. "Shall I tell you why you don't?"
"You know perfectly well why I don't."
"Because you are too proud. Because you are too cold. It isn't in you to love any man as a man likes to be loved, I don't see you, in spite of that infernal beauty of yours, driving a man mad for love of you, making him forget everything for a kiss and a smile. Oh, I know I can trust you all right, though you do meet Coventry sometimes. You see, I know all about it. But I'm not worrying. When is he going—Coventry I mean?—When is he going to America?"
"To-morrow, I believe," Cecil said coolly. "I think he is coming to see me before he goes."
She forced herself to speak quietly, conscious at the same time that the blood had mounted to her checks. She would not let this man see how he was stinging her; she would not let him know that he was torturing her till she could have cried out with the agony that wrung her to the soul. And yet she knew that all this was so much sport to the man opposite. She knew that he played with her most sacred feelings as a cat plays with a tortured little mouse. Apparently it was all he lived for now. There was a time when he would go off for a day or two with his golf clubs or his gun, or, perhaps pass a week or so at Newmarket. Now he was past all that sort of thing. His shattered nerve kept him in the house, his friends had fallen away one by one, and the only comfort that he knew, and the only transient happiness that he felt, lay behind the glass of a bottle of brandy. He looked at his wife now with a cold, cruel gleam in his eyes.
"You look at me as if I were so much dirt," he said. "Well, perhaps I am. But you are my wife, and don't you forget it. You treat me as if I were a dog, but you don't mind spending my money on your clothes. I wonder what that dress cost you, and I see you are wearing that ring I gave you the day we were engaged. It belonged, to a—a friend, of mine in China, the only creature on God's earth who ever cared for me. Take it off, do you hear me? Take it off at once."
Cecil scornfully obeyed. It was a beautiful ring, an antique, quite unique in its workmanship, and a striking ornament which would have been noticed anywhere. It lay flashing on the table till Molyneux reached for it with a shaking hand, and dropped it with a laugh into his pocket.
"You are obedient," he sneered. Then he stopped and placed his hand to his head and staggered to his feet.
"Oh. Oh," he cried. "Here they come. All the devils in hell after me. Give me that stuff at once."
From the lips of the tortured man there came a queer, horrible whistling scream, the scream of a man on the verge of epilepsy. His eyes were full of a nameless horror, the sweat poured down a face white and ghastly. Molyneux staggered across the room in the direction of the fireplace, where a large plant in a big pot stood. He picked it up, and held it at arm's-length as if it were a feather weight. At that moment he possessed the strength of a dozen men. Then the pot came crashing down upon the Persian carpet, and the next moment the tortured drunkard was fighting a legion of unseen horrors as if his life depended on it. His cries rang through the house, they echoed out into the garden and carried far down the road. But it was only for a brief space, and then the temporary madness passed, leaving Molyneux faint and helpless, and so spent that he dropped into a chair with no strength left in that big frame of his. He wiped the horror from his face, and out of his eyes.
"For goodness sake, make haste," he cried in a voice so small and still that it hardly carried to Cecil's ears. "Give me a dose of the stuff that Barclay prescribed. Hurry up, or all those devils will be back again. Do what I tell you, or by Heaven I won't be responsible for what happens. Give me a double dose. If it kills me, so much the better for you."
Cecil crossed the broad hall and made her way to her own sitting-room. Here she took a key from a dragon vase on a little Chippendale table, and opened her desk. From it she took a tiny blue bottle in which were a few drops of some white fluid. This was a powerful drug that had been placed in her hands by the London specialist who had pulled Molyneux through his last bout. The phial and the prescription had been placed in Cecil's hands with strict injunctions that she was to keep them carefully under lock and key, and that in no circumstances was she to allow either of them out of her possession. She knew that the drug was a powerful poison, to be most carefully administered; she knew that the local chemist would not make up the medicine unless she presented the prescription herself. And she knew, too, that those deadly drops were only to be administered when a violent attack came on. And that was why she kept the bottle in a secret place, knowing only too well the recklessness and cunning of the man with whom she had to deal. She knew, too, that more than once Molyneux had threatened her with violence because she would not hand over to him the prescription. She had found him searching for it on more than one occasion, and now he was trying to bully her into giving him a double dose. She was thankful to know that there were only sufficient drops in the bottle to comply with the doctor's orders, and that there was not another drop in the house. Dr. Barclay had told her that her husband's heart was in a terrible state, and that any sudden exertion might prove fatal. And this was why he had been so careful to warn her of the necessity of exercising the greatest care in pouring out the medicine. In no circumstances was it to be administered more than once in twenty-four hours.
Cecil hastened back to the dining-room with the bottle in her hand. She rang the bell and the butler appeared.
"Can I get anything for you, madam?" he asked.
"A wine glass, Barton," Cecil said. "A wine glass half filled with water."
"And buck up, Barton," Molyneux cried. "Your mistress is in a hurry. She has got an important appointment to keep. Mr. Coventry is waiting for her down the road."
The blood flamed into Cecil's face. But this was not the first time by a good many that Molyneux had grossly insulted her before the servants. A wave of disgust swept over her, but her hand was steady enough as she allowed the drops to trickle one by one into the glass of water. There were twenty-four of these altogether, and when the last petered out the bottle was empty. Cecil handed it to the butler, who carried it gravely from the room.
"Is that all?" Molyneux growled. "Didn't I tell you to give me a double dose? None of your tricks with me. Go and fetch another bottle. This is no good."
"There isn't another drop in the house," Cecil said. "I have given you a full dose, and in no case can you have any more till to-morrow night. I will go down to Metcalfe's in the morning, and get some more of the medicine made up."
A queer cunning look came into Molyneux's eyes. He seemed to be amused about something, though Cecil did not notice it at the time. He held out a trembling hand for the glass, and poured the contents down his throat. Then, for some little time he sat holding on rigidly to the arms of his chair, his teeth and his eyes glaring as if he were looking into some inferno visible only to himself. Then gradually, very gradually, the tension of his muscles relaxed, his mouth fell open, and the horror faded from his eyes, leaving them strangely colourless and devoid of expression. At the same time a profuse perspiration broke out upon his face, and the big drops gathered and rolled down upon the lapels of his dinner jacket. He drew a deep breath of shuddering relief.
"Ah, that's better," he gasped, "I've done them again, I've beaten the devils. My goodness, if you only knew what it is to go through what I have to. If you only knew what the tortures of hell are like. You needn't stay here any longer. Not that I feel fit yet, for that stuff doesn't act like a charm as it used to. That's why I wanted a double dose."
"Which would probably kill you," Cecil said.
"I don't believe it would. At any rate, I'm ready to risk it. I'd give half my fortune at the present moment for another twenty-four of those drops. What's the good of standing there looking at me as if I were some disgusting animal? Why don't you go? Go and meet Coventry if you like. Tell Barton to bring me my cigar-case and the evening paper. Great Scot, is it only nine o'clock?"
A big timepiece on the mantel-shelf pealed out the hour of nine on a drift of silver bells, as Cecil turned with a sigh of relief and made her way from the room. Upstairs in her dressing-room her maid, Judith Carr, was putting her mistress's things away in a big wardrobe. She seemed just a little confused as her mistress entered, but the confusion was lost upon Cecil.
"I thought you were going out for the evening, Carr," she said. "Have you already been?"
"No, madam." the neat, refined-looking maid returned. "I had a letter or two to write. But I am going now if you have no objection. I think you said if I was back by eleven it would be early enough."
"Oh, yes, that will do, Carr. You needn't trouble to see me when you come in."
The maid murmured her thanks and departed, and Cecil was alone. She raised her white arms above her head imploringly.
"How long?" she cried. "How long? How long can I go on living like this? What have I done to deserve it?"
There were no tears in her eyes, for Cecil was long past tears, and there was something to be done before she slept. She pulled the blind aside and looked out into the sweet and fragrant September night.
"There can be no harm in it," she whispered. "No harm in my wishing Godfrey good-bye. It will be a wrench, but it will be best for both of us that he should go."
She wound a wrap about her shoulders and made her way into the garden.
Cecil drew a long breath of relief. She was feeling like a swimmer who has taken his life in his hands and has plunged into an unknown sea of difficulties and dangers; anything to get away from the peril behind. Outside it was so sweet and wholesome after the trying atmosphere of the house and the horror that faced her day and night that, for the moment, she could think of nothing else. From a puritanical point of view she was doing a wrong thing, and yet her heart did not reproach her or conscience whisper, for there was no guile in her, and, after all, she was doing no more than seeing the man she loved for the last time.
She had never disguised from her husband the fact that as long as she could recollect she had loved Godfrey Coventry. They had been brought up together, they had lived almost side by side until Robert Molyneux had come along with that masterful way of his and swept all opposition aside and robbed Coventry of his promised wife. Coventry was a poor man, and his prospects none of the best, and Cecil's dead father had been in needy, not to say desperate, circumstances. It was the pressure at home that had finally forced Cecil to defy the dictates of her own heart, and embark on a sea of trouble and misery with her eyes wide open. True, her father's good name had been saved, true he had died honoured and respected, but this had only added to Cecil's humiliation.
Then a distant relative had died, and Godfrey Coventry was no longer poor. But the fortune had come too late to save Cecil, and she knew she would have to 'dree yer ain weird' so long as it pleased Providence, and that she must cling to her own misery until the end, whenever that might come. And Coventry had understood; no one appreciated better than himself the sacrifice that Cecil had made and why. He had never reproached her, he never said one word in anger to her, for he fully appreciated the nobility of that sacrifice. Cecil understood his feelings, and she knew that Godfrey was going to Canada on the morrow entirely for her sake. She knew that in meeting him this evening she was going to say good-bye to him, perhaps for ever. There would be no attempt on his part to influence her in any way, and she would be as safe in his hands as she would be in the hands of her own mother. And no one knew this better than Robert Molyneux, though he had taunted her with her love for Coventry, and had outraged her finest feelings before her own servants. But this much it seemed to her she owed to her lover, and not for a moment was she going to hesitate or draw back.
He came presently across the lawn from under the shadow of the elms and stood there before her in the moonlight, a fine figure of a man, and a striking contrast to the physical and mental wreck upon which Cecil had turned her back only a few minutes before. He came forward with a smile upon his lips and held out his hand.
"It's very good of you to see me like this," he said. "Though of course I should have much preferred to have called at the house, and said good-bye to you in the ordinary way."
"Ah, well, there is very little of the ordinary way in my mode of life," Cecil said bitterly. "Robert would only have been rude to you, to put it mildly, and I have had quite enough humiliation in the presence of the servants already. It is an insult to you, Godfrey, to be here like this at all, and I know you must feel it so; but what can I do?"
"Don't you think about me at all," Coventry said. "In any case, what does it matter? This is entirely between you and me; we have nothing to reproach ourselves with. It has been a hideous blunder altogether, dear. There are times when I feel hard and bitter against Providence that you should have been made to suffer like this from no fault of your own. And heaven knows, I love and respect you all the more because you have suffered so terribly, and because you have sacrificed yourself on the altar of a mistaken duty. And it was a mistake, Cecil; no girl is called upon to sell herself as you did, even to save the honour of a parent. But we have had all this over before. You know why I am going away."
"Of course," Cecil said gently. "You are turning your back on this fine property of yours, you are leaving all your friends and all you value in life to make things easy for me. You are going away because you think that Robert may be kinder and more considerate. It is very noble of you, and, if possible, I love you all the more for it. Because I understand; it is only one in my unhappy position who can understand. But it will make no difference, nothing could make any difference to a man who has gone so far down as Robert Molyneux has fallen."
Godfrey Coventry's jaw stiffened.
"He has been ill-treating you again," he said.
"Does it matter?" Cecil asked wearily. "In a degradation as deep as mine there are hurts worse than blows. Even my position has consolations. I might once have loved that man, and, if I had, how much worse it would have been. But I never did, there were no deceptions between us, and I think he hates me all the more for it. You see, all this life he has been accustomed to have what he wants, and opposition was to him a sheer delight. If I could have deceived him, if I had angled for him like some women did, he would never have glanced at me again. But why speak of the things that might have been? I must go back, I must say goodbye to you here and now."
And yet they lingered on there in the moonlight till an hour or more had elapsed before they finally parted. How Godfrey was fighting with his feelings perhaps Cecil only knew. He was holding himself well enough in hand, but he could not disguise the passionate love in his eyes, though when the moment came to part he did no more than take her hand in his and lift it gently to his lips. A moment later he was gone, half an hour later and he would have turned his back on the place for ever, and Cecil slowly retraced her steps to the house.
She crossed the hall. Barton, white, agitated, came out of the smoking-room.
"I have been looking everywhere for you, madam," he exclaimed. "Something is the matter with Mr. Molyneux. I cannot rouse him anyway, madam."
More or less mechanically Cecil turned her gaze in the direction of the hall clock. She was alarmed and uneasy to see that it was long past eleven. She had been in the garden for at least an hour and a half. And she was prepared to swear that not more than half an hour had elapsed since she left the house. But there was the evidence of the long clock in its beautiful Chippendale case, and there was no gainsaying it.
"Where is Mr. Molyneux?" she asked.
"In the smoking-room. He had a cigar after you went out, and the evening paper, and I took in the spirit stand and the syphons as usual. He told me to go in at a quarter-past eleven, as he wanted to go to bed early. I went in a little time ago, and he seemed to be asleep. I couldn't wake him any way, madam. He seemed to be quite insensible."
"I had better go in and see," Cecil said. "Is Carr anywhere about. Oh, gone to bed, has she? Yes, I recollect telling her that I shouldn't want her again."
Cecil moved across the hall into the smoking-room and stood by the side of the couch where her husband was lying. She laid her hand upon his head and started back.
"He is dead," she cried. "Send for Dr. Barclay."
There was no disorder or confusion in that perfectly appointed household. To Cecil, standing dumb and frozen there, in the hideous amazement of the moment, came the strange feeling that this was all part and parcel of a well-ordered scheme, and that she had expected it in the ordinary course of things. And even in that trying moment behind the horror of it was a certain sense of freedom and knowledge that her chains were broken that amounted almost to exultation. She was strangely calm, so calm and collected as to be absolutely amazed at her own self-possession. She had never cared for this man, she had gone to him, hating and loathing him, and perfectly comprehending what manner of man he was. So there need be no self-deception, no mockery of grief or even a passing regret. Robert Molyneux had died practically by his own hand. He had drunk, and drugged himself into his grave, he had piled up the horrors on his own head knowing perfectly well what the result of the self-constituted tragedy would be. No doubt that last dose of the drug had been too much for a heart enfeebled and strained to breaking point by a long course of dissipation.
And though the master of the house lay there dead and cold, the establishment was going on smoothly and regularly as if nothing out of the common had happened. All the servants, with the exception of Barton, had gone to bed, and, for the moment, at any rate, there was no occasion to disturb them. On the hearthrug in front of the fireplace Molyneux's favourite spaniel lay at full length fast asleep; in the window a parrot in a gilded cage climbed restlessly up the bars and clicked his iron beak in imitation of a pair of nut-crackers. Robert Molyneux was dead, but the world was going on just the same.
Barton moved on tiptoe across the room into the hall, and a moment or two later the silence was broken by the whirr of the telephone handle as the well-trained servant quietly called up the doctor, and got in contact with him. Then there was a matter of conversation, and Barton came back again.
"Dr. Barclay will be here in ten minutes, madam," he said. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
He expressed no regret, he ventured on no condolences. It seemed to Cecil that he perfectly understood, and that, if he had spoken his mind, his words would have taken the form of congratulation more than condolence.
"Nothing, thank you, Barton," Cecil said. "You will of course wait up till the doctor comes and bring him to me in the drawing-room. You need not wake the other servants—at any rate, not for the present."
There was nothing for it now but to sit down and quietly wait for Dr. Barclay. He came presently bland and suave and quiet as usual. From his lips there came the usual polite professional condolences, the inevitable phrases due to such an occasion, but it seemed to Cecil that even Dr. Barclay looked at her with a certain expression in his eyes that spoke of something of congratulation. Molyneux had not been a popular man, and there was no one in the neighbourhood who would have gone out of their way to say a good word for him.
"It must have been a great shock, of course," Barclay said. "But, knowing what we do, Mrs. Molyneux, not—er—altogether unexpected. I told my late patient several times what to expect if he persisted in his irregular mode of life."
"Quite so, doctor; I don't think there need be any delusions as far as you and I are concerned, Robert has been drinking heavily for a week. In that time he has hardly touched any food at all. I suppose you want to know exactly what happened. All day to-day he has been dreadful, such a state of nervous irritation that the brandy he has been drinking has had practically no effect on him. He had one of his attacks this evening after dinner, so that I had to give him a dose of that medicine. He seemed to grow better after that."
Dr. Barclay nodded gravely.
"You were duly careful, I hope? I never cared about that drug myself, and, if you remember, I protested against it when Mr. Molyneux consulted the Harley-street specialist. It is a very powerful drug, and ought not to be administered to any man who is in the habit of drinking heavily. I always said that any one should not touch that drug who was not practically a teetotaler. Still, the responsibility wasn't mine. I want you to remember that I particularly cautioned you not to give Mr. Molyneux a single spot out of that bottle beyond the proper dose. Of course, there will be an inquest to-morrow, and for your sake I want to clear the ground as much as possible. Do you follow me?"
Cecil started slightly. She had not thought of this.
"I have been most particular," she declared. "As you know, that prescription was given into my hands with special instructions that no one was to have it made up but myself. Even the chemist was warned that no one was to handle that prescription except me. And since I have had it it had been under careful lock and key in my own room. I keep the key of the drawer where it is locked up in a secret hiding-place. I dare say you will think all these unnecessary precautions, but I can assure you they were not unnecessary in my husband's case. When he was on the verge of an attack of his horrors, he used to go on his knees to me and implore me to give him a dose. He has even gone further than that. It is not a nice confession to have to make, but I have suffered from his violence when he has found persuasion use-less."
"I have suspected as much," Barclay murmured.
"But I was always firm," Cecil went on. "And never once have I given him a spot except at intervals of twenty-four hours, which are the directions on the bottle. Of course, I quite understand the most searching inquiries will be made, but it is fortunate for me that this evening I gave him the very last dose in the bottle. Of course, if necessary, I can give you the dates and times on which I have administered every dose. But surely you don't think—"
"Oh, quite so, quite so," Barclay said hastily. "But at a coroner's inquest there is always some fool of a juryman who asks questions. As an old family doctor, of course I can speak freely. And everybody knows the history of, shall I say, your unfortunate married life."
The hot blood flamed into Cecil's face.
"Yes, in a small place like this people will talk," she said. "You see, I never anticipated anything like this. But I shall be able to meet all inquiries. I shall be even able to produce the empty bottle. But I don't mind telling you that my husband to-night implored me to give him an extra dose. Would you like to have that empty bottle?"
"It would be just as well, perhaps," Barclay said.
Cecil led the way into her own sitting room where she turned on the lights and proceeded to take the key of her writing table from the big china vase where she usually kept it concealed. She put the key in the lock and pulled open the drawer. With an unsteady smile on her lips she handed Barclay the envelope containing the Harley street prescription, and together with this a little green bottle graduated as to its doses by lines on the back of the label.
"There," she said. "Here is the empty bottle which you had better take care of. I want you to see that I have made no mistake in what I am saying."
"But what's this?" Barclay asked. "This is a phial of the drug right enough, but it appears to be full all except one dose. Where is the empty bottle?"
Cecil stood there with parted lips and a face from which every drop of the blood had been drained. For the empty phial had vanished and only the new one remained.
The frozen horror that gripped Cecil's heart and seemed to hold her numb and helpless to the very soul left her brain clear and alert enough. Even in that very first moment of peril she was quick to see the danger. She could read it in the startled look on Barclay's face, in the eyes of a man who had known her from childhood, and had been one of her best and most stalwart friends.
"What does it mean?" she murmured. "My dear old friend, I am prepared to swear to you—"
The rest of the words died on her lips in very hopelessness. She did not require any words from Barclay to show her where she stood. She knew, too, as well as if she had been present at the time, that the missing dose from the fresh bottle of medicine had been administered to her husband in her absence, and that the dose had been fatal. She knew, too, that she would be accused of secretly administering it to him, that she had purchased the freedom which everybody knew she longed for at the cost of Robert Molyneux's life.
"What can I say?" she asked.
"As a friend, everything," Barclay said. "At least, that is the advice I should give you in ordinary circumstances."
"Then you don't think I am innocent?"
"Isn't it rather early to talk of innocence or guilt?" Barclay asked. "My dear child, I have known you all your life. I have always been your friend, as you know. And no one fought harder to save you from this ill-favoured marriage than I. But you must see that their are times when silence is almost a duty. I mean, towards yourself. Tell me what you like, or as little as you please. The less I know the less I shall be able to say at the inquest. I am not addressing you now as a friend, but as a man of the world."
"Oh, what do I care for all these subtle distinctions!" Cecil cried. "I am a desperate and unhappy woman, and the only thing that I crave is sympathy."
"God knows you have it, my dear," Barclay murmured.
"Oh, yes, yes, I know. Pray forgive me. But why should I not speak? I am innocent, even in intent. I have told you everything, I have told you how I administered the last dose in the old bottle to my husband in the presence of Barton. I brought you here to prove it. Had I been guilty, should I have been mad enough to open that drawer under your eyes and show you the damning evidence that you hold in your hand? Should I not have destroyed it? And if I had planned this crime should I have been insane enough to have procured this second bottle of poison from Metcalfe, the chemist who always makes up our prescriptions? Why, I should have gone a long way for that: and if I had not brought you here to-night I should not have read in your eyes the doubt and sudden horror that you could not conceal. Don't you believe me?"
"Heaven knows I do. And, in a way, I am glad that you can see the position in which you stand. There must be some explanation for this, an explanation which, doubtless, you will be able to make to the coroner. Perhaps you will be able to prove an alibi. You may be in a position to state that from the time when you administered the drug to the moment that Barton found his master lying dead, you never saw him. If that is so—"
Cecil made no reply. The alibi would have been easy enough, but then, how many people would have understood it? She had been in the garden all the time saying good-bye to Godfrey Coventry. But what would be the use of that? There would be spiteful tongues only too willing to say the worst. There would be those again prepared to believe that here was a hideous crime concocted between an injured wife and her guilty lover. There would be thousands ready to believe that Godfrey had come forward and committed a deliberate parjure to save the woman he loved from her just punishment.
"Well," Barclay asked impatiently. "Well?"
"I cannot do it," Cecil said after a long pause. "What you suggest is impossible. All the same, I have my own idea. You know what a life mine has been. It is not for me to blacken the character of the dead. But I am firmly under the impression that Robert planned all this in that diseased mind of his. By some means he discovered where the prescription was hidden, and obtained possession of it. He managed to get it made up, and after administering himself a second dose hid the bottle in my desk. He would argue that if it was not fatal his scheme would convince me that in future I need not be quite so particular to follow instructions. If it did kill him, then I should run a chance of being accused of murdering him. He planned it all deliberately in that diseased mind of his. He hated me, and this is his method of striking at me from beyond the grave. Oh, I know it's a horrible thing to say, but Robert was quite capable of it."
Barclay listened to all this in silence. Knowing something of his dead patient, he was not inclined to disagree with Cecil's theory. He sat there, turning the little bottle over in his hands, then his eyes suddenly became fixed on the label and an exclamation broke from his lips.
"Why, this medicine was not made up by Metcalfe at all," he said. "It is not Metcalfe's label, but Johnson's. I had not noticed it before."
"Is that so?" Cecil asked. "Of course, Metcalfe would not make up that prescription for anybody but me, which fact must have been known to the person who stole it. The more we go into this, the more complicated it becomes. But don't you think this fact is rather in my favour?"
For a little while longer they sat there talking till at length Barclay aroused himself from his painful thoughts and suggested that long before he should have called up the Inspector of Police on the telephone. The Inspector came presently, grim and silent, and listened coldly and professionally to the story that Cecil and her companion had to tell. He made no comment, there was nothing to be judged from the expression of his face. He made a few notes coolly.
"There is nothing more to be done for the present," he said. "But there will be an inquest here to-morrow morning, of course. Meanwhile, if you have no objection, madam. I will go through the usual formality of searching the body."
It was merely a formality, and nothing was discovered beyond the dead man's watch and chain and sovereign purse, together with a few odds and ends, and in the right-hand pocket of his dress trousers an old-fashioned diamond ring in an antique setting. The Inspector handed it gravely to Cecil.
"You know this, madam?" he asked.
"Oh, yes," Cecil replied. "It has been in my husband's possession a long time; in fact, it belonged to a Chinese friend of his. He gave it me before we were married, and I have always worn it till to-night. After dinner my husband lost his temper over some foolish dispute we had and ordered me to take it off my finger, which, in a moment of petulance, I did. He must have slipped it in his pocket, and forgotten all about it. Did you think you had made a discovery?"
"In cases like this one never knows, madam." the Inspector said. "Your explanation is perfectly satisfactory, but I will retain all these things for the moment. If you have no objection. It is a mere formality."
"As you please," Cecil said wearily. "If you have no more questions to ask. I should like to leave you now, for I am utterly overcome, and quite worn out."
The big dining-room was packed with eager and excited spectators gathered together there to hear the evidence in connection with the tragic death of Robert Molyneux. It was 12 o'clock on the following morning, and only a few minutes before Cecil had crept wearily downstairs to give her evidence. There was hardly a soul there with whom she was not acquainted, with the exception of a pressman or two and an odd spectator here and there attracted by idle curiosity.
The first person called to give evidence was Cecil herself. She looked very white and fragile in her simple black dress as she came forward to give her testimony to the crowded room, where only a few hours before she had sat at dinner with the dead man at the other end of the table. She spoke in a low voice, but every word that she said was perfectly clear and distinct, and every syllable was followed with rapt attention by an audience who knew her domestic life almost as well as she knew it herself. She was strung up to high pitch now, and she did not spare her own feelings or the reputation of the man who had gone to his account.
She told the coroner how Molyneux had been drinking steadily for the past few days, and how the crisis had come just after dinner in an attack that left the dead man little more than a living wreck. She told how she had administered the last dose of medicine prescribed by the Harley-street physician, and how the drug had had the desired effect. She spoke of the manner in which Molyneux had appealed for another dose, and how she had refused with a statement that not another drop of the cordial was left. The quiet way in which she gave her evidence was not without its effect on the listeners.
"Did you stay with your husband after-wards?" the Coroner asked. "Did you stay till he was all right?"
"No," Cecil exclaimed. "The drug was an exceedingly powerful one, and began to take effect almost at once. It did not completely restore my husband, indeed, he was long past anything of that sort, but it enabled him to get a grip of himself and rendered him comparatively normal. He asked for more, but I had to refuse him."
"It was a very powerful drug?" the Coroner asked.
"Both powerful and dangerous. Dr. Barclay told me that a man who had injured his heart like my husband had by the amount of brandy he drank ought never to have touched it. Still, it was prescribed by a Harley-street physician, and I had no alternative. But I was always careful. Twenty-four hours always elapsed between each dose."
"A double dose would have been fatal?"
"Beyond the shadow of a doubt."
"Quite so, Mrs. Molyneux. Pray proceed."
"A few minutes after-wards my husband went in the smoking-room. Barton, the butler, took him the evening paper and his cigar case, and from that moment till an hour and a half later, when Barton came to see me and told me he could not rouse his master, I did not see my husband again till I followed Barton into the smoking-room and found him dead."
"You were in the house all the time?"
Just for a moment Cecil hesitated. Should she tell these people the whole truth, or should she suppress the fact that she had been saying good-bye to the man who was known to practically everybody present as her old lover? By so doing she might save herself in the long run from serious consequences, on the other hand she might be stirring up a scandal which would hang over her for the rest of her life. And to tell the truth with regard to that precious hour and a half could not possibly affect the investigation. It was her business, and hers alone. She shot one passing glance in Barclay's direction, but he was looking away from her, and the opportunity was lost.
"I was not in the house at all," she said. "It was a beautiful moonlight night, and I spent all the time in the garden."
One or two questions more, and the Coroner intimated that for the moment the witness was done with. As Cecil stepped back from the table Barclay came forward. He deposed that he was called to the scene of the tragedy by telephone, and that, as a result of his inquiries, he had come to the conclusion that the deceased had met with his death owing to the administration of a powerful drug which had been too much for a constitution broken down and shattered by continual excess in the use of alcohol.
"Do you mean that he was poisoned?" the Coroner asked.
"Well, not quite that," Barclay fenced. "A man in normal health would doubtless have assimilated that drug without evil consequences. But the deceased was not normal."
"In other words, he was a dipsomaniac, Dr. Barclay?"
"He was a physical wreck, sir. In ordinary conditions he would have been dead in three months. But, undoubtedly, I should say that drug was responsible for the sudden collapse. I cannot definitely say yet, because I have made no post-mortem. When this is done I shall be in a position to be more definite. At the same time it is my duty to tell you that I am quite convinced of the fact that Mr. Molyneux had not one dose of that medicine, but two doses. You have heard Mrs. Molyneux tell you how she administered the first dose, and I now produce the bottle from which the second came."
A thrill ran through the audience as Barclay produced a little green phial and held it up for the Coroner's inspection. Then in a breathless silence, he proceeded to tell the jury how that concentrated death had found its way into his hands. He was profoundly sorry for Cecil, he was absolutely convinced of her innocence, but he had his duty to do and his professional reputation to consider. He would have been only too glad to suppress this evidence if in honour he could have done so. But, as it was, he made the best he could of the position from Cecil's point of view.
"This is a serious matter," the Coroner said gravely. "Will you kindly hand me that bottle? Thank you. Ah, I see this prescription was made up by Mr. Johnson. Yet in her evidence Mrs. Molyneux told us that no one but Mr. Medcalfe had ever handled that prescription and that she alone was responsible for every bottle received. And yet this bottle was found in what I might call a secret hiding place with one dose already gone. Perhaps it would be as well, Dr. Barclay, if you stepped down for a moment whilst I ask Mrs. Molyneux a few more questions. What does Inspector Glass say?"
"Later on, sir, if you please," the Inspector interrupted. "I should be glad, sir. If you will finish with Dr. Barclay, and then I will put Mr. Johnson in the witness-box. At the present moment it would be hardly fair to Mrs. Molyneux to ask her any incriminatory questions."
There was something so ominous about this remark that the audience thrilled again. There was a still deeper note of tragedy in the air when Barclay stepped away from the table and the chemist, Johnson, took his place. The fresh witness deposed that on the previous evening, about half-past 9, a well-dressed woman, closely veiled, came into his shop with the prescription, which he made up. The bottle on the table was his own, and the contents therein had been compiled from the prescription in question. The lady had waited for the medicine to be made up, which did not take long, as there was no one else in the shop; she had paid for it and taken it away with her, and there the incident closed.
"You say she was closely veiled?" the coroner asked. "Had you any clue as to her identity?"
"Undoubtedly," the chemist said. "I have no hesitation in saying that my customer was Mrs. Molyneux."
A startled cry rang round the room. It came simultaneously from every man and woman standing there. A moment before they had been mechanically following a commonplace story of drink and accident, and now, suddenly, at a word, they had been thrown headlong into thrilling drama. And in that instant, in the vague intangible way in which such things happen, it came to Cecil that she had been transformed into the hunted here, and that these people were like the hounds hot upon her trail. It was that vague psychological instinct, the instinct of original man for the hunting of his fellows, the most fascinating of all dramas. And in that instant, too, Cecil divined that nearly every one there was against her. She glanced round, half timidly, yet wholly defiantly, but she could read no sympathy anywhere save in the eyes of Dr. Barclay and perhaps on the face of the coroner.
"Indeed!" the latter exclaimed. "This puts a different complexion upon matters altogether. I have something to think of besides the scope of my former inquiry. In common fairness to Mrs. Molyneux she ought to be legally represented in the face of a statement like this. If I had known what was coming I should certainly have cautioned her before I took her evidence. It is now close on 1 o'clock, and I propose to adjourn the inquiry for an hour. Then I will take Mr. Johnson's evidence, by which time, no doubt, Mrs. Molyneux will be properly represented."
The excited audience filed out, followed by the officials, and Cecil found herself alone in her own dining-room with the exception of Dr. Barclay.
"I am sorry," the doctor said. "More sorry than I can tell you. But it was my plain duty to tell the Coroner what I knew about that second bottle of medicine. It was my duty, not only to the Crown, but to myself. But I never anticipated Johnson's evidence."
"I am absolutely dazed," Cecil murmured. "It struck me like a flash of lightning. You may believe me or not, but I swear to you that last night, from the time I saw my husband alive to the time of his death, I was not beyond the garden gate. Mr. Johnson must have been mistaken."
"I believe you," Barclay said. "There is some strange mistake here, not to speak of it by a harsher name. It looks to me like a vile conspiracy, but all this is mere conjecture till we hear what Johnson has to say. And the coroner was quite right—you must be legally represented. I will call upon our friend Snow, and ask him to come along and see you at once. I don't think you could have a better man, and, besides, he knew your family intimately. Now try and eat something. You must keep up your strength. And when Snow comes, tell him everything. Tell him exactly what happened last night, and if there is anything you do not care to confide to me, don't make the mistake of keeping it a secret from him. I should be a false friend if I disguised from you the fact that your present position is a desperate one."
Cecil made a poor attempt to eat something, and she was more like herself when the lawyer put in an appearance half an hour later. He asked her a multitude of questions, and, though she was candid enough up to a certain point, she remained obstinately silent as to her farewell interview with Godfrey Coventry. It seemed to her that no good purpose could be served by her disclosure of facts: indeed, on the contrary, it would inevitably open up the way to a scandal without in any way bearing on the mystery of Robert Molyneux's death. And the more questions that the advocate asked the more grave his manner became.
"Am I in any danger?" Cecil faltered.
"Well, not quite so bad as that, perhaps. But you know what people are, and how easily they jump to conclusions."
Cecil asked no further questions. She found herself back presently in the crowded dining room, waiting with an eagerness that gripped at her throat like a physical pain to hear what Johnson might have to say. He was a heavy, stolid man, conscious of the importance of his position, and absolutely certain of his ground. In every way an ideal witness for a prosecution, confident and unshaken.
"Are you prepared to swear that it was Mrs. Molyneux you served last night?" the Coroner asked. "You will, of course, see how important it is that there should be no doubt."
"There is no doubt, sir," the witness said. "It was about half-past 9 when Mrs. Molyneux came into my shop and handed me the prescription across the counter. There was no one else there at the time, and all the lights were fully on. I know Mrs. Molyneux very well by sight: I have known her for years. At intervals she has been a customer of mine. I cannot say what sort of a dress she was wearing, but she had a sort of silk wrap over an evening blouse, and a small hat which was covered by a heavy veil."
"Did you address her by name?" the Coroner asked.
"No, I didn't, sir—at least, I don't think so. I probably said 'Good evening, madam,' or something of that kind. The lady did not answer, but pushed the prescription across to me, and murmured something to the effect that she would wait for it. I made up the medicine myself there and then, and then told her that it would be three and sixpence. In paying me she took her purse from her left-hand pocket, and removed her glove. It was then I was sure of my customer. On the second finger she was wearing a diamond ring of antique workmanship, a ring that I have noticed Mrs. Molyneux wearing before. I am a great admirer of old jewellery, and that is how I came to notice it."
Inspector Glass rose from his seat and handed a small glittering object to the Coroner.
"Will you ask the witness if he has seen it before, sir?" he said. "Ask him if that is the ring."
"That's it," the witness exclaimed after a close examination. "Mrs. Molyneux was wearing it last night."
"I am not going to deny it," Cecil cried. "I can see that that is my ring from here. My husband gave it me before we were married, and it has rarely been off my finger till after dinner last night, when my husband and I had a little dispute and he commanded me to give it back to him, which, in the heat of the moment, I did."
"You would be well advised," the Coroner said, "to say nothing now. Inspector Glass, would you mind telling the Court when and how that diamond ring found its way into your possession?"
"Certainly, sir. I found it on Mr. Molyneux's body when I was searching it last night."
Once more the wave of sensation rippled through the court. There were many people there who had now made up their minds as to what had happened, many of them there who would have been quite ready to convict Cecil out of hand. From their point of view she had deliberately taken the ring from her finger and placed it on the body of the man she had destroyed. The rest of the evidence mattered nothing. They listened with more or less impatience to Barton's evidence, and when at length 4 o'clock arrived and the court closed for the day there was no doubt as to Cecil's fate.
"The Court is adjourned for a month," the Coroner said. "It will take at least that time for the Home Office analyst to complete his examination of the body. This day month, therefore, at the same time."
It was over at length, the ordeal was at an end, and it seemed to Cecil that she was without a friend in the world.
But we are never quite so much alone and so friendless as we think ourselves to be in times of overwhelming misfortune, and though Cecil Molyneux little dreamt of it, the hand of fate was already moving in her aid. The man who had been seated just inside the door replaced the notebook, in which he had been writing, in his pocket, and followed the rest of the crowd into the garden, and from thence along the road in the direction of the High street.
He was a man apparently young in years, with a skin smooth and fair as that of a girl. His flint-blue eyes were just a little hard, but they were limpid enough, and his little brown moustache was carefully trimmed. It was only when he removed his hat that Archenfield's hair proclaimed the fact that he was considerably older than he looked, for his locks were absolutely white, and there were fine lines of care and suffering impressed indelibly on that high forehead of his. He was slight of build, with a certain suggestion of wiry strength, and he had the quiet assured manner of one who knows the world, and has seen human nature in most of its phases.
He crossed the road, until he came at length to an old house in the high street which appeared to be given over to different sets of offices. He glanced at the brass plate inscribed "Mr. Thomas Snow, Commissioner of Oaths," and then walked down a dingy passage to the clerks' room at the back. There he inquired if he could see Mr. Snow, and in a few moments was closeted with that gentleman in his private room.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Archenfield?" Snow asked.
"My name is familiar to you?" Archenfield suggested.
"My dear sir, of course, of course. I have never had the pleasure of meeting you before, but it is an honour to know so distinguished a playwright has elected to settle down so near to Oxley."
Archenfield waved the compliment aside.
"A dubious honour, I fear," he said, "I like the neighbourhood, perhaps mostly because it is so quiet, and because I can work down here without much interruption. In my peculiar position, Mr. Snow—"
"Need we go into that?" Snow asked. "I don't suppose that any sensible person believes the story. At any rate, I don't, I assure you."
"Ah, but then you are a lawyer, and accustomed to weigh evidence. But still, you are quite right, because my past has nothing whatever to do with this visit. And now, Mr. Snow, I will come to the point. I drove my car into Oxley early this morning to change some books at the library. And the first thing I heard, of course, was all about this tragedy. The librarian, who is apparently a born gossip, is full of it. He told me how Mr. Robert Molyneux had died, and he more than hinted at the fact that Mrs. Molyneux could say a good deal on the subject if she only chose. In fact, all the poisonous sort of gossip you can get in a small place like this."
"'Be ye as pure as snow, as chaste as ice, thou shalt not escape calumny,'" Snow quoted.
"Of course, of course. The fellow rather annoyed me, he smiled and deprecated what he was saying, but he was full of smug satisfaction, all the same. Now, Mr. Snow, I have seen Mrs. Molyneux several times, and naturally I know a good deal about her story. She is a true and noble woman, if ever I saw one, and I am intensely sorry for her. That is perhaps why I decided to attend the inquest. I won't disguise from you that, being a writer of plays, the dramatic side of the business appealed to me, but that is a secondary consideration. As you know, as everybody knows, for the matter of that, I was once tried for my life on a charge of murdering my wife, the one person in the world that I would have died for cheerfully. True, the trial took place in Hongkong, but it excited as much attention over here as it did there, and of course I was condemned by public opinion before the trial was over. There are thousands of people in this country who regard me as a lucky man, and who look upon me as a cold-blooded murderer who escaped the hangman on a legal technicality. Some day they will know the truth. But that's nothing to do with the case. Knowing myself to be an innocent man, I can afford to ignore public opinion, all the more so because I have ample private means and can therefore produce my plays in my own theatre, I dare say you will think I am a long time coming to the point, but it is this. Now, ingenuity and, I flatter myself, originality, make my plays the success they are. And I make a great study of crime and criminals. It's a hobby of mine to attend sensational trials when I believe the prisoner to be innocent, and without undue egotism I have saved at least two men and three women from what appeared to be certain death."
"You think Mrs. Molyneux innocent, then?" Snow asked.
"My dear sir, I am certain of it," Archenfield said earnestly. "I was certain of it before I went into that room this morning, and now I am more convinced of it than ever. Never mind why. I believe that that girl, for she's nothing more, is being made the victim of an infamous conspiracy. And I want to help her, Mr. Snow. I want to devote the whole of my time to prove her innocence. It is just the very case that appeals to me. And she is in danger, terrible danger."
"I am afraid she is," Snow admitted. "And yet I would have staked my professional reputation—"
"You can go on staking it," Archenfield said curtly. "That woman is innocent enough. I know it; in fact I know a great deal more than you are aware of, though when I went into that room this morning I was as ignorant of what has really happened as you are. I think you will agree with me that my services may be useful."
"My dear sir," Snow cried, "they will be invaluable. I read all about that Morton murder case, where you simply smashed up the Scotland Yard theory. I should be only too glad of your assistance."
"Then, in that case, you won't mind answering a few questions," Archenfield said. "In the first place, do you know anything about Mr. Molyneux's monetary affairs?"
"To a certain extent, yes. I have been his solicitor for some time."
"Is he a man of means?"
"Well, upon my word, there you have me." Snow confessed. "I really can't say. Molyneux kept up a big establishment, he lived well and paid everybody, but somehow I don't fancy that he was very sound financially. About 12 years ago, his father died, and left him a large property, which he promptly dissipated on the racecourse and the prize-ring, and in riotous living generally. He always had a queer crowd about him; racecourse touts and pugilists, and all the disreputable needy set that one associates with the worst side of the turf. Even in recent years, since he was married, Molyneux has had some exceedingly shady characters staying in the house. Much to his wife's disgust, of course, But, then, what could she do?"
"Yes, but you said he dissipated all his patrimony. In that case, where—"
"I was just coming to that," Snow went on. "I know that Robert Molyneux was exceedingly short of money when he went abroad about 10 years ago."
"Where did he go to?"
"Oh, I can tell you that. He went to China."
Archenfield's eyes narrowed slightly and there came a quick gleam into those blue pupils of his.
"Oh, China!" he said softly. "Mr. Snow, that's very interesting. And how long did he stay there?"
"Oh, about three or four years altogether, I believe."
"And when he came back, he bought the Red House, and has lived there ever since in comparative prosperity?"
"You are quite justified in saying that," Snow remarked.
"And then he got married. Can you tell me why Mrs. Molyneux married a brute like that?"
"I think it was a case of necessity. Molyneux helped her father out of a tight place, and I think the match was forced on the girl. Not that Molyneux cared anything about her. He was the sort of man who would compel a girl to marry him out of sheer obstinacy, knowing perfectly well that she cared for somebody else."
Again Archenfield's eyes narrowed.
"Oh, there's somebody else, is there? But I might have known it. I suppose you see how this fact tells against your client, Mr. Snow?"
"Well, naturally. There you have the motive for crime, if crime there is."
"We'll put that aside for the moment, and get on a little farther. Now, this morning a certain ring was produced at the inquiry, a ring that was given to Mrs. Molyneux by her husband—the ring which, I mistake not, will form one of the most important links of the prosecution. The ring was shown to the coroner, and subsequently taken possession of by the police. Mr. Snow, I want to have a look at the ring."
"Why not?" Snow asked. "If you'll walk across to the Town Hall with me I will introduce you to Inspector Glass, and I have no doubt that he will show you what you want to see. But I don't quite understand—."
"My dear sir, there are lots of things in this world that you don't understand yet," Archenfield replied. "There are lots of things I don't understand myself, but, at the same time, I think I have an intelligent grip on the situation. Let's go over and see Inspector Glass."
The official was in his office writing out a report, and was quite willing to give his distinguished visitor all the information that lay in his power. Inspector Glass might have had his own opinions, but he had a profound respect for this distinguished visitor, who had more than once refuted the ingenious theories of Scotland Yard. Without the least hesitation he produced the ring from his safe and passed it across the table for Archenfield's inspection. The latter gave it one swift glance, there was a quick in-drawing of his breath, a flash of his blue eyes, but no further sign.
"Thank you, Inspector," he said. "And now I am going to make a somewhat strange request. Would you mind granting me the loan of that ring for 24 hours?"
"Surely a strange request, sir," the inspector said.
"An unreasonable one, if you like," Archenfield replied. "But still, such things have been done, and I will guarantee a safe return to-morrow morning. I am sorry I can't tell you why I want it, but I am working up Mrs. Molyneux's case, and I think you will believe me when I say that I regard the request as essential."
"Very well, sir. It's rather a risk, of course, but if you will give me a receipt for the ring, you can have it, on the distinct understanding that I have it back to-morrow."
Archenfield gave the desired receipt, and departed a little while latter with the ring in his pocket. Outside in the street he stopped and laid his hand earnestly on Snow's shoulder.
"This is a most important piece of evidence," he said. "I cannot tell you what it means now, but you shall know all in good time. I have gone a long way towards solving the mystery. Now, Mr. Snow, will you do me another favour? Will you take me as far as the Red House, and introduce me to Mrs. Molyneux. I want you to convince her that I am her friend, and that I have taken up her case out of sheer sympathy and because of the bond between us. Then you might leave us together for a little while, if you don't mind."
The blinds were all down at the Red House. The place had a forlorn and deserted appearance, save for a gardener or two going about their work as usual. A neat maidservant in trim black and white answered the door to the visitors that Mrs. Molyneux was lying down and too prostrate to see any one. But Snow was persistent, and a few moments later Archenfield found himself in the darkened library shaking hands with Mrs. Molyneux, who seemed to listen at first quite indifferently to what Snow was saying. But she brightened up presently when she heard who Archenfield was, and there was something like animation in those splendid eyes of hers.
"Oh, of course, I know Mr. Archenfield very well by name," she said. "It is really very good of you to come here like this, to try and cheer me up at a moment when I feel as if I had not a friend in the world. But you can't help me, Mr. Archenfield, indeed, you can't. Nothing can help me now. I must go through this to the bitter end. I must stand in the dock charged with the murder of the man who was my husband and yet whom I loathed and despised as everybody knows. My story is public property. My name has been dragged in the mud; even the little children in the streets pity me. And yet heavens knows I did my best for that unhappy man—"
"I don't think we need go into that now," Archenfield said gently. "I came here to see if I could help you—in fact, I know I can help you. I came here because your case is very like mine, and because I have been quite successful in one or two similar instances. I want you to feel that, Mrs. Molyneux. I want you to feel that I am heart and soul on your side, and that I am convinced of your innocence. Would you mind answering me a few questions?"
Cecil Molyneux looked up languidly.
"You are very good and kind," she said. "But I am afraid that it is quite useless."
"All the same, you never know," Snow pointed out. "If you don't mind, I'll leave you two together."
Archenfield lay back in his chair and glanced with some curiosity round the darkened library. It rather surprised him to find so fine a collection of books in the house of a man who was devoted entirely to outdoor amusements. He did not comment on the fact; that would come presently.
"Now, I want you to make an effort, Mrs. Molyneux. I want to ask you a good many apparently trivial questions, though from my point of view they are anything but trivial."
"I will do my best," Cecil said wearily.
"Very well, then. In the first place, how many servants have you—indoor servants, I mean?"
"Six altogether. Cook, housemaid, parlour-maid, scullery maid, together with Barton the butler and my own woman."
"We will leave the women out altogether for the moment. The butler now, how long have you had him?"
"Barton was here in my husband's father's time. The domestic servants about two years. My maid has been with me for six months."
"May I ask where she came from?"
"Really, I don't know. She came from a London registry office, and I took her on the recommendation of a lady whose husband was in the English Diplomatic Service in China."
Archenfield drew a long, quiet breath.
"Then the woman has been in service in China?"
"For two years, I believe. But you don't suspect Judith Carr, do you? That is impossible."
"I didn't say I suspected anybody," Archenfield said. "I told you I should ask you a lot of trivial questions, and you must not attach importance to them. And now I come to a more delicate subject. Your husband's habits."
"They were notorious," Cecil said a little coldly.
"Yes, yes, I quite understand that. But really, I must ask you to be quite candid with me. Your husband was an outdoor man, wasn't he?"
"Up to six months ago, yes. He used to play golf and attend race meetings and boxing entertainments in London. But for the last six months he has hardly been outside the house. During that time he has been drinking heavily. You must have heard all the sordid details at the inquest this morning."
"Don't be impatient with me," Archenfield said gently. "Now, didn't it strike you as a strange thing that a man who has always lived out of doors should suddenly elect to make himself a prisoner? Why didn't he go out? Was he afraid of anything?"
Cecil Molyneux sat up suddenly,
"Do you know," she said, "that I have asked myself that question more than once. I thought it was fancy, but about six months ago a strange man came here late one night, a man who looked like a foreigner, but gave no name. He saw my husband, and when he had gone I noticed a great change in Robert. From that moment he began to drink more heavily, and I don't think he was really properly sober from that hour to the day of his death."
Archenfield smiled as if he were pleased.
"Thank you," he said. "Your husband had no intimate friends, I suppose?"
"Not lately; in fact, my husband seemed to have a morbid dislike of visitors. With the exception of a man called Flint—Mr. Stephen Flint—"
"And who may he be?" Archenfield asked.
"Well, really, I can't tell you. He is a great racing man who lives in Oxley, and I believe calls himself manager of a racing stable. But he is the sort of person I dislike exceedingly, and I never met him if I could help it. Whenever he came to dinner I never came downstairs."
"Still, that doesn't prove anything against him," Archenfield said. "A man may be vulgar and dissipated, and yet be anything but a criminal. But, from what I can gather, this man Flint spent a lot of time here."
"He was here every day, sometimes twice a day. And I believe, too, that he has spent a good deal of his time in China. But I—I can't be sure."
Archenfield rose from his chair.
"You have been very kind and attentive," he said. "And I don't think I'll trouble you any further now. I shall probably come again to-morrow with further questions, and in the meantime you might give your servants a hint that the house is to be placed at my disposal whenever I want to have a look as it. You have a month before you, and in that time much may happen. Now, Mrs. Molyneux. I am going to make a request that you may regard as strange. But it is not strange at all. I have the strongest reason for making it. You will be lonely here, and it is essential that you have a certain amount of exercise. Now, I want you to come over to my house and spend the week-end with us. My wife's sister looks after the place, and she will be pleased to see you, I know, because she takes the greatest interest in these cases of mine. She is a Chinese lady, who has had an English education, as my wife had, and you will find her very sympathetic and charming. She will come on Friday with the car and fetch you. And now, would you think it strange if I asked you to leave me here alone for half an hour? You won't mind?"
Cecil Molyneux shook hands with this new friend of hers, and slowly left the room. Archenfield made a tour of the library shelves and took down presently a richly-bound volume that he opened at a certain place. Then he strolled out into the hall, and from thence into the porch. On one of the stone pillars some apparently idle person had scratched with a piece of chalk what appeared to be a rude drawing of a bird with a ring about its neck. It was only a mere outline that any idle errand boy might have perpetrated, but still there was a suggestion of the draughtsman about it. Making sure that he was alone Archenfield took a magnifying glass from his pocket, and examined the chalk marks with the closest attention. Then he replaced the glass in his pocket, and recrossed the hall in the direction of the library.
He was looking grave enough now, grave and alert with that peculiar electric spark gleaming in those blue eyes of his. Then he bent over the open volume on the library table and fluttered the pages of the book rapidly. It was apparently a volume of foreign travel with the name of its well known author on the back. It was a book filled here and there with pages of Chinese characters, and at the top of one of these pages was a pen-and-ink sketch of something that looked like a bird, three birds, in fact, very similar, though more finished than the rude outline in chalk on the porch. Very rapidly Archenfield ran his finger down the lines of Chinese characters.
"The League of the Three Fishers," he murmured. "The Three Fishers, beyond the shadow of a doubt. This is going to be a much bigger thing than I anticipated."
Cecil Molyneux awoke to the knowledge of a perfect day. The sun was shining brilliantly as she came down to breakfast, the rays of light pierced through the sides of the blinds, the birds were singing in the garden, and on the lawns the gardeners were busy with their mowing machines as if nothing had happened. The whole thing struck Cecil as a kind of outrage, as something that ought not to be. It seemed to her that the whole world ought to stand still in sympathy with her misfortunes.
And yet with all the dread and misery of it there was a certain sense of rest and peacefulness, a sedative for the nerves to the like of which she had been a stranger ever since that evil day when she first came to the Red House as its mistress. But there was no getting away from the awful feeling of dread and the knowledge of the trials that lay before her. She was conscious of it in her own heart and in the half-averted glances of her servants as they waited on her and moved silently about their household duties. She knew perfectly well what was going on in their minds, and how they were wondering why she was still at liberty. And so the long, long day dragged on until it became a terror and a torture, the more intensified by the knowledge that there were many days like it to follow.
It seemed to Cecil that she could not stay there, that she must get somewhere, anywhere, away from that darkened house and the remembrance of that room on the first floor wherein the remains of Robert Molyneux lay. The room was opened presently by official-looking persons who came from London with the authority of the Home Office. These men came and went silently, stolid-looking men who might have been doctors by their appearance, asking no questions and answering none, and comporting themselves as if the whole place belonged to them. It was quite a relief, later on in the afternoon, when Dr. Barclay appeared. He came quietly into the drawing-room where Cecil was reclining on a couch.
"I thought I would look in and see you," he said. "Now that those Home Office doctors have gone I have a little time to spare. How are you feeling?"
"I don't know," Cecil said. "I cannot tell you. Only I must get away from here, from this darkened house; the horror of it is getting on my nerves. No one comes near me, even the servants appear to be frightened of me. But for my maid I might be in a desert."
"You must be brave," Barclay said. "Of course, I know it's easy to give advice of that sort, but, after all—"
"After all, it is nothing to the ordeal that lies before me, I suppose you are going to say. Well, I suppose I shall be able to survive it. And, in a way, I am at peace. That constant dread of something happening all the time is no longer with me. If the blinds were only up—"
"In a day or two," Barclay said soothingly. "There is no reason now why the funeral shouldn't take place at any time. Those men have finished their work."
Cecil shuddered slightly. She knew exactly what Barclay was speaking about. She knew that certain portions of Robert Molyneux's body had been removed for examination, and that there was nothing now to delay the funeral. But these were details that she did not care to discuss.
"Perhaps you will arrange everything for me," she suggested. "There is no one else that I care to appeal to. What can I do? I cannot go out. I cannot face the people in the street. And yet I have done nothing. I think I should be happier if the police arrested me."
"I don't think you would," the doctor said. "At any rate, there isn't much chance of that for a month or so. Remember that the inquest was adjourned for a month, and in that time much may happen. Pin your faith to Mr. Archenfield. He is a wonderful man, and he has been most successful in far more desperate cases than yours. Yes, you can leave everything to me. But you must go out, even if it is only for an hour or two in the evenings. No, I don't think there is the least reason why you should attend the funeral."
For a long time Cecil Molyneux lay back there, in the darkened room, trying to look into the future. It seemed to her unreasonable that she should have any great faith in Max Archenfield, but she was conscious of the fact that she did. And she knew something, too, of his own extraordinary case. To a certain extent it was on all fours with her own. The details were somewhat hazy in her mind, but she recalled the fact that Archenfield had married the daughter of a Chinese gentleman, had run away with her, in fact, and that the romantic elopement had been largely successful owing to the assistance of Mrs. Archenfield's sister. There had been something like a scandal, of course, and, indeed, the daring bridegroom had escaped more than one attempt at assassination. He had done an exceedingly risky thing, and until he had been arrested on a charge of murder had gone in peril of his life.
He had been charged with the murder of his wife on the ground that he had taken her up into the mountains and had deliberately pushed her over a precipice. There was more than one actual witness of the crime, witnesses which Archenfield declared had been suborned, and though the body of the unfortunate woman had never been found and Archenfield had got off, owing to some legal technicality, there was not one person in a hundred who knew the circumstances who did not regard him as a murderer. Then he disappeared from China, and his wife's sister, perhaps the one person in the world who thoroughly believed in Archenfield's innocence, had accompanied him.
That, roughly, was the story as Cecil Molyneux recalled it while she was lying there in the darkened drawing-room, till the light began to fade and Barton came in to tell her that dinner was served. With a bitter smile on her lips she followed him into the dining room, where she endeavoured to eat. But she could touch little or nothing, a mouthful of food, perhaps eaten in the semi-darkness. She felt as if she could not eat again, or, at any rate, not until that fateful room upstairs had given up its dead, and the blessed sunshine crept into the house again. It was nearly 9 o'clock and the afterglow of the sunset burnished the western sky before Cecil rose to her feet, and, pushing back the French windows, walked into the garden.
She drew a breath of relief as she did so. It was almost as if she were escaping from a tomb. It was so peaceful and quiet there, so different from the atmosphere of the house. The birds had ceased singing now, the dew was falling, the whole world was sweet with the scent of flowers. Cecil sat down presently in a secluded corner of the garden, and let her thoughts wander where they would. She had been sitting there quite a long time when the sound of voices in the shrubbery close by brought her back to the present again.
One voice was familiar enough, but the other was strange. Assuredly, it was her maid, Judith Carr, who was speaking.
"Surely it is enough," the girl was saying.
"You told me a week or two ago that it would be more than sufficient."
"Oh, well," a man's voice replied. "A week or two ago and to-day are two different matters. When I saw you last I quite thought I shouldn't want to trouble you again. But who would have thought then that everything would have gone wrong? My dear girl, I never had such a week in my life. First of all, Firefly gets beaten by a short head, and then Romulus breaks down in training. And I never had such infernal luck at cards in my life. You'll have to put your hand to it again."
"But how?" the girl asked. "There's nothing more to be got hold of, as you know. That's all over. Isn't it bad enough as it is? You'll have to manage."
"But I tell you I can't," the man went on. "I must have it, Judith. You know whereabouts to find—"
The speaker dropped his voice to a whisper and Cecil heard no more. She could hear shuffling footsteps in the shrubbery, and what sounded like a sob, then the unmistakable suggestion of a kiss, and a moment or two later a man emerged from the shrubbery and went down one of the grass paths in the direction of the fields. It was too dark to make out his features, but Cecil caught the flash of a dress shirt and the glint on a patent leather shoe. It was quite evident to her that Judith Carr was carrying on something more than a flirtation with a man, not of her own class.
A little later the girl herself appeared, looking white and distracted, and furtively wiping her eyes. She drew herself up and smiled slightly as she saw her mistress seated there.
"I didn't want to listen, Judith," Cecil said. "But I could not help myself."
The pallor deepened on the girl's cheeks.
"You heard?" she gasped.
"Not much," Cecil said. "But quite enough to know that you are doing a very foolish thing. I don't want to pry into your secrets, I don't even know who you were talking to, but presumedly to a gentleman from his accent and his evening clothes. Do you think you are wise?"
The girl tossed her head defiantly.
"I am quite capable of taking care of myself," she said. "It is my own business, madam."
"Oh, very well," Cecil replied. "I have no more to say. Only I have warned you."
The girl walked on towards the house with her head in the air, as Cecil rose and walked aimlessly in the direction of the shrubbery. There, on the grass, almost at her feet, lay a glittering object which resolved itself presently into a beautifully chased gold box on the lid of which in blue enamel and precious stones was the figure of a bird with a gold ring about its neck, an elaborate copy of the chalk outline that Archenfield had discovered on the porch of the Red House. It was not yet too dark to see on the reverse of the box an inscription to the effect that the box had been presented to S.F. by R.M. It was a beautiful piece of workmanship, magnificently Oriental, and its charm appealed to Cecil strongly.
"From R.M. to S.F.," Cecil murmured. "That must be from Robert Molyneux to Stephen Flint. So that dissipated individual is Judith's lover. I wonder what it all means. And why did my husband, who was not a generous man, make this handsome present to Mr. Flint? I think, on the whole, I had better refer the matter to Mr. Archenfield."
Another weary day or two dragged on, the funeral was over at length, and the blessed sunshine seemed to purge the dismal old house of some haunting evil. So far there had been no further sign of Archenfield, except a telephone message to the effect that his sister-in-law was looking forward to seeing Cecil on the following Friday, and that she would call for her in the car in due course. Dr. Barclay had been in and out once or twice, but he had no news to impart, and nothing to say except that the Home Office investigation was going on, and that, consequently, Cecil had nothing to fear until the time for the adjourned inquest came round, which would not be for nearly another month yet, and consequently there was a good deal of time, all of which was in favour of Archenfield's investigations. Whether or not that individual had begun to move Barclay could not say, and Archenfield was not the type of man to anticipate events by talking about them. And there was another thing. There was just a chance that in the opinion of the Home Office authorities the drug administered to Robert Molyneux had not been directly the cause of his death, in which case Cecil had nothing more to fear. The whole thing would become more or less a nine days' wonder, and, in the course of time, absolutely forgotten.
"I sincerely hope not," Cecil said. "Nothing worse could happen to me. It would be a sort of living death, just as bad as if I were on Broadmoor. The stigma would cling to me till the end of my life. There would be always people ready to say that I intended to murder my husband."
Barclay was silent. He could not deny that there was much in Cecil's point of view, so that he left her, feeling that she was none the better for his visit. He had hardly turned his back upon the house before a woman came in, a slender little creature who threw herself into Cecil's arms, and kissed her with the sympathetic tears in her dark eyes.
"You poor dear thing," she cried. "Why didn't they write and tell me all about your trouble? And here have I been enjoying myself, while you are in such need of me. Why didn't Godfrey stay?"
"It is very good of you to come, Cissie," Cecil said. "I began to think you had deserted me with the rest. But I might have known that Godfrey's sister would have behaved better than that. I had a nice letter from Harold, but I could not go to the bank to see him."
"Well, he's coming to see you this morning," Cissie Bowen said. "We talked it all over when I got back last night, and Harold will be here almost at once. And you really thought that Godfrey's sister and her husband had turned their backs upon you? You really thought that?"
"My dear," Cecil said, "I have been thinking all sorts of hard things lately. And I quite forgot that you were away from home, and I quite forgot that Harold, your husband, as head of Bowen's bank, would have too much to do to come and see me. And, of course, Godfrey couldn't stay. It was the one thing in the world he couldn't do. Don't you see has was bound to go away, especially after you and he had come into all that money. It was my one consolation to know that I am spared that scandal, at any rate. I said goodbye to Godfrey on the night of my husband's death, and the next morning he sailed for Canada. He did not give me his address; he did not give anybody his address. You can guess the reason why. And my conscience is clear, so far as Godfrey is concerned. But what does Harold want to see me about?"
"Why, your own affairs, of course," Mrs. Bowen said. "You will want money. You can't keep up the house without. And I understand that all Robert Molyneux's securities are deposited in Harold's bank."
A few minutes later and Harold Bowen, the head of the prosperous firm of Bowen and Bowen, entered the drawing-room. He was quite a young man, and looked more like a country gentleman than a bank manager, which indeed he was, for Bowen's was a prosperous affair, and had come down from father to son for generations. But there was a suggestion of embarrassment on Bowen's face as he made his apologies and dropped into a chair by the side of Cecil's seat.
"I am very sorry, Cecil," he said. "But I really must inflict business upon you. Don't think me hard, because I talk in this way, but it is quite necessary. Now, tell me, how much money have you got in the house?"
"None, as far as I know," Cecil said.
"What, none! Then what became of the L2000 that I gave your husband about 4 o'clock on the day of his death? He came down to the bank and cashed a cheque for that amount. Do you mean to say that you have not found it?"
"Well, I didn't look," Cecil said. "But Dr. Barclay and I have been through all the papers in my husband's desk, and we have found no money anywhere."
"That's very strange," Bowen murmured. "Did Robert write any letters after he got back from the bank? Why, you were with him, you waited outside whilst he came in and cashed the cheque. I saw you drive away together."
"I didn't know he had cashed a cheque,"
Cecil murmured. "I didn't know what he went to the bank for. Robert never told me anything. He hardly ever spoke to me, unless it was to say something unpleasant. Indeed, I am quite certain he wrote no letters after he got back, and that he never saw anybody from the time he entered the house to the hour of his death."
"You are quite sure of that?" Bowen demanded.
"Absolutely certain," Cecil said. "There is not the slighest doubt in my mind about it. Robert was in his room till dinner time. He had one of his most dreadful turns. But of course the money is in the house somewhere."
"Well, I wish you could find it," Bowen said ominously. "Because I have every reason to believe that that was all the money your husband had in the world. My dear Cecil, when he cashed that cheque he left nothing on his account but a balance of a few pence."
"But he told me once that you hold all his securities," Cecil cried.
"Yes, so I did once. It's like this, Cecil. We bankers know all about a man's private affairs, and I have known for a long time that Molyneux was living on his capital. I warned him over and over again, but he took no notice. I told him that he was drifting toward bankruptcy, but he only laughed and said that what he had would serve his time. And when I spoke about his duty to you, he was absolutely brutal. He made sneering remarks about you and Godfrey which I cannot repeat."
"Oh, what does it matter?" Cecil asked wearily. "I am almost glad to think that I shall not be compelled to live on Robert's money. But I do know this: Robert was not short of money six or eight months ago."
"No, he wasn't," Bowen agreed. "That's the extraordinary part of it. Just after he married you he came to me, and was quite confidential for him. He brought me a heap of things, mostly portable property. There were jewels and gold and silver treasures, elaborately carved fans, and all sorts of artistic things, all of which were Chinese make. I am not much of a judge, but I am quite sure that those cases were worth at least L30,000. I showed them to a connoisseur friend of mine who collects such things, and he raved about them. He said that they must have belonged, at one time, to a royal Chinese family. He was under the impression that they might easily have fetched three times their face value at Christie's. Those are the things that your husband left in my custody, and on those things I advanced him money from time to time. It wasn't legitimate banking, you understand, but I obliged Robert because—well, principally because he was your husband. And so it went on till about six months ago, when he came round and took everything away. He called in November just after the bank opened on the morning following the great gale, and I met him on the doorstop. He cleared everything up, and Robert took all his treasures away with him. Did he never mention it to you?"
"He never mentioned anything to me," Cecil said. "I told you so before. But I have occasion to remember the day of that great gale. It was one of Robert's worst days; it was the day—yes. That was the very day that that mysterious visitor called—the man who came in the evening and stayed late. From that moment Robert never left Oxley except to go to the bank or across to the club, and it is from that day that he grew more nervous and restless—more frightened, I might say. Harold, there's something very wrong here. There is something going on that I don't understand. Now, where can those things have gone to, and why have they disappeared in this mysterious fashion? I suppose we shall know some day. Meanwhile, it looks to me as if I am penniless."
"Oh, not as bad as that," Bowen said uncomfortably. "You must come and stay with us."
"No," Cecil said firmly. "I will remain here as long as it is possible to do so. At any rate, there is nothing owing, and this house and its contents must represent a large sum of money. I must get rid of my servants, I must discharge the butler and my maid, and manage with a cook and housemaid—that is, if they will stay with me, which I very much doubt. But really, I don't care much. In the terrible position in which I stand, nothing matters. What you say about the loss of this money doesn't trouble me in the least. Still, at the same time I will look round and see if I can find that missing money. I suppose it was all in notes?"
"All in notes, yes, and fortunately I have the numbers. Only, as a matter of precaution, you had better not mention that fact to anyone."
But although Cecil spent the rest of the afternoon in searching in every likely part of the house, there was no sign anywhere of the missing money. It was nearly dinner time before she had finished, and just at the time she was entering the dining-room the telephone bell rang.
It was Archenfield speaking at the other end.
"I'll only keep you a moment," he said. "Please on no account discharge any of your servants."
It was not without a certain feeling of nervousness that Cecil found herself setting out to pay her visit to Max Archenfield and his sister-in-law. To begin with, there was something about the man that impressed her with a feeling of something approaching fear. His manner had been convincing enough, he bore the impression of suffering, and bore it with a dignity; but, at the same time, other men who had come under the suspicion of the law, and deservedly, had conveyed a suggestion of innocence on very slender grounds. And, again, why was it that Archenfield should have gone out of his way to interest himself over a woman whom he had probably never seen before the tragedy of her life had overwhelmed her. True, he was in the habit of taking up such cases; but that, after all, might have been no more than a pose.
Still, she had promised now, she was desperately situated, and therefore it could not much matter either way. So Cecil found herself on the Friday afternoon seated in a small car, which was driven, so far as she could see, by a silent self-contained individual who looked like a foreigner. He spoke the few necessary words in good enough English, but with just the suspicion of a lisp and a smoothing away of the sibilants. He was dressed, not in the usual uniform of a chauffeur, but in a plain loose long blouse that fitted tight to the neck, and underneath that a pair of loose baggy trousers of the same hue and material. His black hair was closely cropped; he had a thin, pencilled moustache, and his eyes were large and slanting. They were wonderfully cool and observant eyes, Cecil noticed, restless and eager, with a certain hidden power behind them. The man conveyed a decided air of mystery.
"I am Mr. Archenfield's servant, madam," he said, in that quiet way of his. "Chim Fang."
"Oh, then, you are Chinese?" Cecil asked.
"Chinese, yes, madam," the man said. "Though really I am Mongolian."
He volunteered no further information, but got into his seat and presently the car was whirling along into the country, leaving the sleepy little town of Oxley behind it. For some time they proceeded along the valley of the Lydd that ran between high cliffs swiftly to the sea, and the great port of Lyddmouth, which was some 15 miles away. And then they came presently to a square stone house standing in its own grounds and overlooking the steep bank that gave upon the river. It was at this point that Cecil noticed the high wall surrounding the gardens, and the big front gates that formed almost a barricade to the rest of the world. And then she recollected that the House on the River, as it was called, had been built originally as a small private lunatic asylum.
To tell the truth, Cecil was feeling none too easy in her mind as the iron gates swept back, apparently without human agency, and the car passed between them. Then in the same mysterious way the gates closed again, and Cecil looked about her with a strange feeling of being a prisoner. She could see that the grounds were beautifully kept and that the well-shaven lawns were bordered by the choicest flowers; still, the impression remained even after the front door was opened, and she found herself confronted by an exceedingly pleasant-looking maid in a brilliant coloured kimono, a girl with a smiling flower like face, and heavy masses of dark hair, in which Cecil did not fail to notice one or two lillies had been twined.
"My daughter, Li," the man called Chim Fang remarked almost curtly. "We are the only servants inside the house, madam, and we do everything for our master."
It was inside the house, however, that Cecil began to throw off the impression that had gripped her, ever since she had started from Oxley. The hall in which she stood was English enough, almost conventionally so. She could see that it was richly furnished with everything in the best possible taste. And then she forgot everything else as she found herself gazing into the face of the most beautiful woman that she had ever met.
She was young—indeed, so young that she looked almost like a child. She was dressed in some flowing robe of almost Greek design that only served to bring out the perfect lines of her figure; her eyes were dark and swimming, with just a mere suggestion of almond shape about them; the complexion was brilliantly clear and soft, and the heavy masses of her hair were coiled upon the top of her little head and roped with flowers. She came forward with a smile of welcome and took Cecil's hand in hers.
"I am so glad to see you," she said, speaking in perfect English, with just the same suspicion of a lisp as Cecil had noticed in Chim Fang, "You cannot tell how sorry I am for you, and all the more so because I, too, have suffered. My brother-in-law has told me all about you. Now, you come this way, and I will show you your bedroom, and then you must come down to the drawing-room and have some tea. It will be a novelty to you to have real Chinese tea made in Chinese fashion, and I am sure you will like it. And now, we are going to be friends, are we not? And my brother-in-law, he is your good friend, too. Ah, it is a lucky man or woman who is fortunate enough to win the regard of Max Archenfield."
"So I have been told," Cecil smiled faintly. "Yes, I am quite sure that I did right in coming here, though, to tell you the truth, I was frightened at first. But please tell me what I am to call you."
"Simply call me Hara," the other said with a pleasant smile. "That is what you would call my Christian name and surname all in one. So that is all you have to say."
"I'll try," Cecil said. "It is all so strange at present. But what good English you speak."
"Why not?" Hara asked. "My father was a great man, a mandarin of the Three Peacock's Feathers. A Chinese gentleman, you understand. The idea of a Chinese gentleman may seem strange to you, but there were such things, of course, when your ancestors here lived in caves. Well, my father was a great man in his way, what you call a progressive who had no objection to Europeans, and he had my sister and myself taught English. There came masters and mistresses from Hongkong, who lived with us. And that is how I learnt your language. But there are many things that you will understand presently."
Cecil found herself presently drinking unsweetened tea from tiny cups of the most fragile and exquisite porcelain, and actually enjoying it. Just at that moment Oxley and all her troubles seemed to be very far away.
There was something fresh and original, something soothing about the atmosphere of that secluded house, with its signs of the Orient scattered here and there, and, above all, with that exquisite little figure in brilliant garb, curled up in a big armchair opposite her. And then Max Archenfield came in.
It did not need a close observer to see that there was a vast depth of affection between Hara and her brother-in-law. Her dark, beautiful face lighted up with the tenderest of smiles as she caught sight of him, and as he passed her chair his hand rested just for a moment lovingly on her shoulder.
"Welcome, Mrs. Molyneux," he said. "More welcome than I can express to you. It is a great compliment to me that you have placed yourself so unreservedly in my hands. And I shall see to it that your trust is not misplaced. I hope Hara has been making you quite comfortable."
"She has been more than kind," Cecil said gratefully. "She is so sympathetic that really I feel as if I had known her for years. Your wife's sister, I think?"
Archenfield smiled just a little vaguely.
"Oh, yes, quite so," he said. "My wife's sister. There are times when I almost forget it, if you understand what I mean. Mrs. Molyneux, but for her I should not be here at the present moment. But for her wonderful courage I should still be rotting in a foreign gaol or dead by this time. No words of mine can ever express what I owe her. But you shall hear the story presently. It is only fair, in the circumstances, that you should. It is an extremely strange story, and you will be the first person who has ever heard it."
"That is very flattering," Cecil murmured.
"No, because I want you to feel quite at home. I want you to realise that your cause is mine, heart and soul. I want you to feel that you can rely upon us, because you will need all your courage before long. Your case is no ordinary one, Mrs. Molyneux, Through no fault of your own, and quite unwittingly, you have been dragged into a net of crime and intrigue which is probably without parallel in the history of British wrong-doing. It is by cruel misfortune that you find yourself in his spider's web, but the danger is none the less great on that account. You think of course, that you are the victim of circumstances, and to a certain extent you are. You think that someone is persecuting you."
"Don't you think so yourself," Cecil asked.
"Of course, my dear lady, or you would not be sitting here at the present moment. But I did not know that when I first came to see you. It was only when I came to your house that I fully realised what had happened. But don't let me unnecessarily alarm you."
"Why should I be alarmed?" Cecil asked bitterly. "Could any case be more desperate than mine? Oh, I know perfectly well what is going to happen at the end of a month. And with that knowledge uppermost in my mind I don't think that you will find me deficient in courage."
"I am sure of it," Hara cried.
She lay back in her chair, slowly waving to and fro a small, beautifully carved fan with ivory sticks, superbly painted and finished in varied hues of enamel. She saw Cecil's eyes bent admiringly upon it. With a laugh she commented upon it.
"The fan is very, very beautiful." Cecil murmured. "But, how strange. There is a bird here on it in blue enamel exactly the same as there is on the gold box that my husband had. It was a box that he gave as a present to a friend."
Archenfield jumped up suddenly.
"Where is that box now?" he demanded hoarsely.
Cecil thrilled at the tone of Archenfield's voice.
"I have it here," she said. "I don't quite know why I brought it but it occurred to me that the gold box might interest you."
"It you only knew how much!" Archenfield murmured.
"It's upstairs in my dressing-case. Perhaps I had better tell you how I found it. You see, my husband had a friend called Stephen Flint. I believe he is a gentleman by birth, and a trainer of horses by profession. I don't know much about him myself, but what little I do know, I dislike exceedingly. He is an idle, dissolute man, and his influence over my husband was all for the bad. But I suppose my husband made him a present of that gold box, because there were Robert's initials upon it as a gift to S.F., who, of course, must be Stephen Flint. I didn't know anything about the present, for my husband never told me anything. A night or two ago I was in the garden sitting in a secluded corner by the shrubbery, when I heard voices. One of them belonged to by maid, Judith Carr, and the other I did not recognise. Neither did I hear much that was taking place, except that the man wanted something which my maid was not in a position to give him. Evidently, it was not a pleasant interview, and when it was over I caught a glimpse of a man in evening dress. It is not good, in my opinion, for ladies' maids to be carrying on an intrigue with gentlemen, and I told Judith so. She practically told me to mind my own business, and I said no more. But when I walked through the shrubbery I picked up that box, which, of course, must have been dropped by Judith's companion, otherwise Mr. Stephen Flint. And on the box was the inscription I speak of. But it is of no great consequence is it?"
"I will look at it presently," Archenfield said. "Remember, I told you that in cases of this sort there are no such things as trifles, but we will dismiss that for the moment. Now, if you have finished your tea, I will tell you my story. I will make it as short as possible, but I think you ought to hear it. It is a remarkable story."
"But not if it gives you pain," Cecil suggested.
"There is not much pain about it now, is there, Hara?" Archenfield said, smiling into the exquisite little face opposite him. "We got rid of all that long ago, didn't we? Well, it's like this, Mrs. Molyneux. A year or two ago—four years, to be particular—it occurred to me to write a Chinese play, or, at any rate, a play with a Chinese background. So I went there, and from Hongkong visited various parts of the Celestial Empire where a European is permitted to go. And it was there that I met my wife and her sister. Let me say at once that I met them surreptitiously. It doesn't matter in the least how I penetrated into the sacred precincts of a great mandarin's household, and how I used to make love to my wife in the gardens. That was all the easier of course because she understood the English language, but I should never have succeeded at all if Hara had not helped me."
"That is quite right," Hara laughed sweetly.
"Well, to make a long story short, I ran away with my wife, and we were married at Hongkong. That was just after her father died, and consequently we deemed ourselves to be safe. But we had entirely reckoned without my wife's father's brother, who was a typical Chinese mandarin of the old school and head of the family. Also, what was more important, he was head of that powerful Chinese secret society known as the Three Fishers. I won't tell you what the objects of the society are now, but I might inform you that the bird on the box you speak of is the symbol of the craft."
Cecil thrilled, though she hardly knew why.
"Well, I had heard a great deal about Chinese secret societies, but I always smiled at those grim stories and regarded them more or less as fiction. I little knew that those men had sworn to have my life, and that my wife's life was forfeit too; I little realised the cunning and cruelty of those men, and what atrocities they were capable of. Without knowing it, we were tracked and dogged from day to day, and there is little doubt that had we been more remote from civilisation we should have been murdered without the slightest hesitation. But there are far better methods than that, as you will hear presently."
Archenfield paused with a grim look on his face.
"We went out together one day," he proceeded, "my wife and I together, for a long ramble above the valley of a river, which, like the river here, has cliffs on either side, but high rugged cliffs with steep precipices and ragged rocks and lofty mountains behind. Some of the passes there are so narrow that it is hardly possible for two people to walk abreast. But it is little that my wife or I cared for that; we were used to those wild walks, and we knew every inch of the ground. What we did not know was the fact that we were being followed on that favourite ramble of ours from the very first by members of the Society of the Three Fishers. No doubt we had been followed many times before without being aware of the fact. They had timed their vengeance well; they waited for us day after day with a patience that was almost satanical."
Again Archenfield paused.
"It was getting on towards the afternoon and we had turned our faces homeward, quite innocent of the fact that on the shelf of rock above our heads at the back of the pass half a dozen figures were following us. At least, I surmise that now, though I could not prove it; but it is the only logical conclusion that one can come to in view of the tragedy that happened a few moments later. I was in front of my wife at a very narrow part of the pass, and presently, when I turned to speak to her I found, to my horror, that she was no longer there. Evidently from some cause or another her foot had slipped and she had disappeared over the edge of the path to be dashed to pieces on the rock five hundred feet below. I looked down, but I could see nothing; it was impossible to make out anything in those gloomy depths, and equally impossible for any human being to explore. I know now that my poor wife must have been pushed over the edge of the cliff by one of those hidden fiends, who had doubtless used a long pole or bamboo for the purpose. I am not going to dwell on the horror of that moment, when I stood there, all alone, looking down at those black depths, all alone and helpless, and half mad with despair and anguish. Of course I did not realise then that I was being made the victim of a cruel conspiracy. All I could do was to hurry home and raise an alarm. But nothing could be done, and early the next morning I was arrested on the charge of murdering my wife, I, who would have given my life for her. And then the conspiracy began to show itself. Three witnesses, whom I after-wards identified as members of the Three Fishers, came forward and swore that coming up the pass they had actually seen the crime committed. Fortunately for me I was in an English prison, and fortunately for me, too, all attempts to get me into the hands of the Chinese authorities were frustrated. If they had been successful, I should have died a lingering death in a Chinese gaol, which was just what those miscreants wanted. In that case they would have doubly avenged what they regarded as an outrage on my part, for they had destroyed the woman who had dared to become the wife of an Englishman as they would have destroyed him had he once fallen into their clutches. That would have been their punishment for both of us."
Archenfield stopped and wiped the moisture from his forehead. His face was white.
"How dreadful," Cecil cried. "Oh, please don't go on if the story distresses you so much."
"It's got to be told," Archenfield said. "And you will know why presently. Well, my trial dragged on, month after month. One day it looked as if I should escape, and the next as if my fate were sealed. There were a few who believed me innocent, but hundreds who regarded me as guilty. It was my wife's sister who eventually saved me. She came forward at the greatest risk to herself, braving the anger of those people, and testified to the great affection that had existed between my wife and myself. It was her testimony that saved me and procured my release. But it did not procure me the opinion that I wanted from my fellow men, so eventually I drifted here, where I have been living ever since. Fortunately I am a man of means, and I have my plays to occupy my mind. And I have another blessed consolation which may be revealed to the world some of these days, perhaps when the leaders of the Three Fishers are wiped out. Till then my lips are dumb, I cannot speak, because if I did so, it would imperil the happiness that still remains to me and the lady who sits opposite me."
"It will come some day," Hara whispered.
"Well, it might, perhaps," Archenfield said. "And it is all the more possible because I have every reason to believe that the leaders of the Three Fishers are at present in England. It is a society divided into sections, each of which pursues a particular object; and if we can get rid of them, then I may possibly be able to hold up my head again. And, incidentally, I think I shall be able to convince the world that Mrs. Molyneux is as innocent as I am myself."
"You don't know how you interest me," Cecil said. "But how is it possible that those wretches you speak of should have anything to do with an English woman who has never been within thousands of miles of China."
"Don't forget that your husband had," Archenfield smiled.
"My husband," Cecil cried. "What could he have to do with this dreadful business?"
Archenfield rose from his seat and paced restlessly up and down the room. His lips were firmly set and the pupils of his eyes narrowed to pin-points.
"That," he said sternly, "Is what we have to find out. That is why I am going to find out. Now, doesn't it strike you as somewhat strange that your late husband should be in possession of a certain gold box which I have every reason to believe formed part, at one time, of the sacred regalia of the League? Would you mind fetching it?"
The blinds were drawn and the lights turned on, and Cecil and her new-found friends were seated in the drawing-room after dinner once more discussing the grave positions of affairs.
For the first time since the death of her husband Cecil had actually appreciated the food which had been placed before her. It had been a simple yet perfectly-cooked meal, and the little Chinese maid had been entirely responsible for it, indeed. It was almost marvellous to realise that this well-ordered household that seemed to run on oiled wheels was entirely served by the maid Li, and Chim Fang, who appeared to be a host in himself. And as Cecil contrasted her own extravagant household with the economical way in which the House on the River was run, she found herself envying these people their perfect domestic staff. This evening she was more sanguine and easy in her mind than she had been for a long time. There was something, too, in the feeling that the high stone walls round the House on the River had cut her off from the rest of the world. Really, she was getting a grip on herself, and all her natural courage was coming back to her.
Under the lamplight on a little table stood the gold box that Cecil had found in the shrubbery. Archenfield was bending over it with knitted brows and a thoughtful look on his face.
"I am afraid I am going to give you a good deal more trouble," he said, "and worry you with many questions. But you will quite understand that it is absolutely necessary."
"I have nothing to conceal," Cecil said. "Anything to get to the bottom of this dreadful business."
"Very well, then," Archenfield went on. "Now, in the first place, I want you to tell me a few more things about your husband. I take it he was a man of natural courage?"
"At least I can say that for him," Cecil replied. "He was always absolutely reckless even from a boy. Bravery was one of his virtues. He had absolutely no notion of the word fear, and the more mad and dangerous a thing was the better he liked it. His friends had only to dare him to do a thing, and it was done. I always thought that my husband, if he had been properly brought up, would have made a splendid soldier. He was a born leader of men, too."
"That is good hearing," Archenfield said. "And all the more so, because it tends to confirm the theory that I am building up in my mind. We will assume, therefore, that your husband was afraid of nothing, and that he loved adventure for its own sake. We will argue that he would go out of his way to find reckless things to do. Does that apply to the last few months of his life?"
"Well, no," Cecil said. "Up to six months ago it would have done so, but not since then."
"Ah, well, that is easily accounted for. No man could go on for ever drinking as your husband did and maintain his nerve to the finish. But, still, that is no reason why he should lose his manhood all at once."
"I don't, think he did in that sense," Cecil said. "Of course, there were times when he was wretchedly nervous in the presence of his own shadow; but I saw no signs of real fear till that night, six months ago, when he had a mysterious visitor late in the evening."
"Do you recollect the circumstances?" Archenfield asked. "For instance, was there anything uncommon about that visit?"
"Outwardly, no," Cecil said. "I can recall the circumstances very well. My husband had been out shooting, and he came back in quite a good temper for him. We were seated in a the drawing-room after dinner, the servants had all gone to bed, and the house was very quiet, when suddenly I heard something outside that might have been the cry of an owl. I should not have noticed it if my husband had not suddenly jumped up with a cry on his lips. When I looked at him he had changed almost beyond recognition. He was ghastly pale, his face was wet, and he was trembling from head to foot. I have seen him like that before when what he called the horrors came upon him; but on the occasion I speak of there was a difference—a difference that frightened me. Naturally, I asked him what was the matter, but he turned upon me savagely and ordered me to bed at once. After I reached my room I heard the front door open, and for the best part of an hour after-wards the murmur of voices in the library. But in the morning no further allusion was made to the matter."
"You asked your husband no questions?"
"I didn't," Cecil said bitterly. "It did not pay to ask my husband questions."
"And you heard no more about it? Now, did you, about that time—say the next day, for instance—notice any marks on your porch. Chalk marks. I mean the sort of signs that tramps are supposed to leave behind them after they have visited a likely house?"
"Now you come to mention it, I did," Cecil said. "Oh, yes, on more than one occasion. Chalk marks that might have been something, I suppose."
Archenfield indicated the gold box on the table.
"You see the enamel bird on this?" he asked. "Were the rude drawings anything like it?"
"They certainly might have been intended to represent a bird," Cecil said. "Oh, yes, now you mention it, I am quite sure that they were meant for birds."
"I should say there was not the slightest doubt of it," Archenfield said gravely. "Secret signs, the meaning of which I do not propose to discuss now. But I may tell you that the day I came to your house, that was on the afternoon of your husband's death, on the pillar of the porch I saw a fresh sign in chalk, the outline of a bird. And if you look at this box, you will perhaps recognise the fact that what I am speaking of was a rude copy of this bird. It was a cormorant, which is the symbol of the Three Fishers. The cormorant has been employed by Chinese fishermen literally for thousands of years. The birds are caught young, and trained and carried on frames to the side of the river, where they dive for the fish. To prevent them swallowing their prey, their necks are fitted with iron rings, and if you will look at this beautiful specimen of enamel work you will see that the bird on the box has a gold ring round its neck. That will be one of the king birds, almost a sacred water-fowl. I suppose that next to agriculture, fishing in China is quite its oldest industry, and for generations the Chinese fishermen have been a most powerful political body. It was amongst them that the secret society of the Three Fishers was first instituted. For centuries that society has played a most important part in the history of China. Great men, princes, mandarins, and rulers of provinces have belonged to it. In every important province it has its lodges its regalia, and its ritual, and dynasties have trembled before it. The mere fact that it has fallen into decay of recent years makes no great difference, because it still has a following, though it is nothing like as strong as it used to be. And in certain provinces the Three Fishers boasted considerable treasures. I mean that its regalia was exceedingly valuable, not to say sacred; and if anybody had stolen it, then the thieves would be followed to the ends of the earth, and nothing, not even murder, would prevent its recovery."
Cecil was listening now with parted lips and a strange cold feeling at her heart.
"You mean to suggest," she murmured, "that this has something to do with my husband's death."
"Well, it certainly looks like it," Archenfield said gravely. "Now, let us go over the somewhat sinister facts as we know them. A few years before you married your husband he went to China. No doubt he started in a spirit of pure adventure, and without any ulterior motive, but the fact remains that before he went he had dissipated his fortune, and was more or less a needy man. So far as you know, he remained in China for a year or so—at any rate, quite long enough to pick up something of the language and learn a good deal about the manners and customs of the inhabitants. Without duly libelling Robert Molyneux, I take it that he naturally gravitated towards that class of people who are not noted for quiet living or any nice scruples—er—you know what I mean."
"I am afraid that is right," Cecil murmured.
"Then he came back, came back apparently a well-to-do man. He said nothing to anybody as to how he found his new fortune, but assuredly he had found it, because up to the day of his death he lived in good style and paid everybody. And besides, you have already told me what Mr. Bowen at the bank said in connection with all those Chinese treasures and jewels which were deposited in Bowen's Bank. It is quite clear to me that by some means or another your husband got hold of the chief of the Three Fishers Regalia. He could only have stolen it—there is no other conclusion to come to. How, or by what desperate means, heaven only knows. I should have said such a thing was impossible. But then, to a man of utterly reckless courage, there is nothing impossible. Your husband came home and lived comfortably on what I will call his ill-gotten gains. Then mark what follows. At a time when his nerve was breaking down he has a late visit from some mysterious person, who leaves the Sign of the Three Fishers behind him, and within a very short time personated you on the night your husband removed all those treasures from the bank. What for, and what has become of them, does not matter for the moment. And now, I must switch aside for a moment and revert to that antique diamond ring upon which the police lay such stress. I mean the ring you were supposed to be wearing when you went to the chemist's shop. Now, supposing that there was another ring exactly like it?"
"But is there?" Cecil replied.
"There was," Archenfield said. "A duplicate ring which originally reposed in that gold box. Now what has become of it? It was probably worn by the person who impersonated you on the night of your husband's death."
Cecil lay back in her chair with her eyes closed, trying to concentrate her thoughts. It seemed almost incredible to her that she, who had passed all her life harmlessly in a little country town, should be suddenly drawn into such a black and murderous affair.
"I am afraid I don't understand," she said, faintly. "My mind is in an absolute whirl."
"That's natural enough," Archenfield said, with a sympathetic smile "Let me try and make myself a little plainer. Now, here is your ring, which I obtained from the police, and which I have ventured to retain a day or two longer than they quite liked. Look at it."
As Archenfield spoke he took the fateful ring from his pocket, and laid it in Cecil's unsteady hand.
"Now, are you quite sure this is yours?" he asked.
"Oh, that is mine beyond the shadow of a doubt," Cecil cried. "I can recognise it owing to the fact that a tiny piece at the back of the gold band has been chipped out—indeed, I chipped it out myself. That is my ring."
"Yes, I think it is. I am taking that for granted. Now, on the night of your husband's death he lost his temper with you, and forced you to give him the ring back again. You don't think that he was acting a part?"
"I am quite sure he wasn't," Cecil said. "He was in no mental condition to do anything of the kind. He was on the verge of a serious collapse, and fighting with those unseen demons that were gathering about him. In fact, he was out of his mind. Oh no, he was playing no part. I am convinced of that. But why do you ask?"
Archenfield waved the question aside.
"We won't go into that for the moment," he said. "What did your husband do with the ring?"
"He dropped it into the pocket of his dress waistcoat."
"Dropped it in quite casually, I suppose?"
"Yes. Just as he might have dropped his cigarette case. Nothing more was said about the matter, and I dismissed it from my mind. Is it important?"
"Well, it may be," Archenfield said.
As he spoke he crossed the room, and lifted the gold box from the table on which it was standing. Then from the mantelpiece he took a magnifying glass, and handed both articles over to the bewildered girl.
"Now, take this glass," he said, "and examine the setting of that ring carefully, and when you have done that compare what you see to the enamelled cormorant on the box."
With a thrill of excitement that she could not restrain, Cecil lifted the ring to the light and looked at the setting long and steadily through the magnifying glass.
"Well, what do you see?" Archenfield asked.
"It is very strange," Cecil murmured. "Very strange indeed. But it seems to me that all those little points of gold that form the setting of the ring and the part that goes round the finger are nothing but a chain of tiny birds."
"Cormorants, in fact," Archenfield said. "Each, so to speak, perched on the shoulder of the one in front. You see what I mean now. Every tiny niche is a bird; and every bird is a sign of the Three Fishers. Mrs. Molyneux, that is a sacred ring, indeed, almost the most sacred thing in the Three Fishers Regalia. There was a time when that gold box was lined with silk, and in it reposed two rings which were identical. If you will take up the glass again and examine it, you will see that the centre diamond in the ring is an engraved stone. It is, in fact, the seal of the league. It was placed, from time to time, on documents of the highest importance, sacred archives that were bound up in a volume encased in a most marvellous illuminated cover. It would be almost priceless if it were offered for sale today, because the cover is nearly a thousand years old and was the work of the greatest Chinese artist who ever lived. What has become of that cover, goodness only knows; probably your husband could tell us if he were alive to-day. It is certain he knew."
"Oh," Cecil cried, "I remember—"
"One moment," Archenfield went on hastily. "Let me finish what I was going to say first, I told you that there were two rings in that box, duplicates. Now, what has become of the other ring?"
"It is useless to ask me." Cecil murmured.
"It is only a surmise on my part," Archenfield said. "But it seems to me that the person who impersonated you in the chemist's shop must have been wearing, not the ring that is in your hand at the present moment, but the duplicate that was originally inside that case before your husband tore the lining out and made a present of it to Stephen Flint. Why these miscreants have gone to all this trouble, and what they hope to gain by throwing the blame for your husband's death upon you is something we have to find out."
"But isn't it quite plain?" Cecil asked. "They wanted to murder my husband, and get the treasure back at the same time. If they could do so and throw all the blame upon me, they would incur no risk. It looks like a vile conspiracy on the part of those people."
"Oh, there is a conspiracy, no doubt," Archenfield said. "But I am by no means satisfied that what you suggest is the proper explanation. It looks to me as if the tangle goes much further than that, as if, for instance, one set of crimes have become super imposed upon another. There is not the slightest doubt that when your husband removed all those treasures from the bank he unconsciously prolonged his life. Those people found out by some means or another probably they had been dogging him for months—that he had removed the treasures, and had hidden them in some secret hiding place. It would have been like him, even after his nerve had failed, to defy them and let them know that they could do their worst, but that they were going to fail in their big search. I feel quite convinced that several members of the Three Fishers have been hanging about in the neighbourhood for months."
"But surely we should have noticed them," Cecil said.
"I don't think so. We are only a few miles from Lyddmouth, remember, which is a great cosmopolitan port, and more or less full of Chinese and coolies all the year around. We shall have to look deeper into this business. We shall have to look for the fortunate chance, the fortunate chance from the point of view of those miscreants, that enabled them to throw all the blame upon you, and in the excitement of the moment to get clear away with the coveted spoil. For the moment, I can't say any more, and—oh, by the way, what were you going to say just now when I mentioned those archives?"
"I was going to explain," Cecil said. "My husband had a great many Chinese books in his library. I don't mean books in the Chinese language, but volumes on China. They didn't interest me, but a week or two ago, when I was putting a shelf straight, I came upon a manuscript volume with a most beautiful cover. It was a lovely thing, but I didn't open it."
Archenfield drew a breath sharply.
"I must have a look at that," he said. "It might possibly be the archives I speak of. And it certainly sounds like your husband to thrust that precious volume away casually on his shelf. If you don't mind, I'll go over to Oxley to-morrow and fetch it. We must not delay."
"But the house is shut up," Cecil said. "I gave all my servants a holiday till Monday."
"Nevertheless, I must have it," Archenfield said curtly. "You have a latchkey? Good. If you will give it to me, I will go over to the Red House the first thing in the morning. And now, Mrs. Molyneux, as you have had a long and trying day, I won't bother you with any further questions, but will leave you to the sympathetic attentions of Hara."
With which Archenfield turned almost abruptly on his heel and quitting the room went off in the direction of the library. He turned on the light and rang the bell, and almost immediately Chim Fang appeared. He stood at his master's elbow, quiet and impassive, and without the sign of an expression on his features, waiting for his master to speak.
"Sit down," Archenfield commanded, "and listen to me."
He spoke quietly and impressively for half an hour or more, whilst the Chinaman listened with no semblance of interest except an occasional flicker in his almond-shaped eyes. But he drew a deep breath presently as Archenfield took the ring from his pocket and handed it over.
"And what do you think?" Archenfield asked.
"It is one of the rings, master," Chim Fang replied. "One of the two sacred rings, undoubtedly. And, as your excellency says, doubtless the book is in the House of Red over there in Oxley."
"Most assuredly," Archenfield said. "And we go to fetch it, Chim Fang. Not to-morrow, as Mrs. Molyneux thinks, but now, tonight, Chim Fang. It is too great a risk to leave it there. And I was annoyed to find that Mrs. Molyneux had locked up the house. When I told her not to discharge her servants I had more motives in my mind than one. Chim Fang, I can rely upon you now as always."
"Yes, master," Chim Fang said quietly.
"Then go and get the boat ready. Bring me a long thin overcoat, and cover that blue suit of yours. We will leave the boat down there on the tideway, and walk across the sands to Oxley. Everybody has gone to bed?"
"Everybody in bed, master," Chim Fang said.
"Then go off and get the boat ready, and I will be with you in five minutes. Not a word, even to your daughter."
Chim Fang, bowed and retired, and ten minutes later he and his master were dropping quietly down the midnight river in the direction of the estuary. Then, presently, they moored the boat, and crept across the sands towards Oxley like thieves working silently under cover of the night.
Archenfield, with his faithful companion, pushed his way presently across the lonely sands in the direction of Oxley. There was no moon, but it was not a dark night, though the sky was slightly overcast with a thin veil of summer cloud, and there was just a suspicion of rain in the air. They came presently to the barren, low lying land beyond the tideway, and in the course of time to the broad coast road that linked Oxley up with the great port of Lyddmouth and its contiguous seaside towns, given over, for the most part, to coal-mining and kindred industries. Here Archenfield, who knew every inch of the way, turned abruptly to the right, and so they went onward until presently they could hear a clock in some distant church spire strike eleven. And then, for the first time, they came in contact with something moving.
A quarter of a mile or so down the road a big waggon with a tail-light on it lumbered along slowly. In front of it was another, and yet another, until the adventurers found themselves passing a score of gaudily-painted cars each bearing some strident letter on its side. The cars wheeled off the road on to a large patch of open grass, and there pulled up.
"Looks like a travelling circus," Archenfield said, "Gunter's, if I am not mistaken."
He spoke of a well-known travelling circus that frequently made the circuit of that part of England. Behind the lumbering, trail of waggons half a dozen caravans had been grouped in a circle round a ring of braziers, by the side of which the travellers were engaged in cooking. Archenfield stood there. Just inside the ring of light, looking on, and as he did so a big man in a Sombrero hat and a velveteen coat advanced and addressed him by name.
"Hello, sir," he said, "and what might you be doing here at this time of night?"
"Is that you Gunter?" Archenfield asked.
"That's me, sir," the other replied. "Me, as large as life, and twice as natural. And main glad to see you, sir, too. But come along, sir, if you've got nothing better to do, and perhaps I have got something that might be useful to you."
"Well, just for five minutes," Archenfield said. "It is getting rather late, and I and my servant here are a long way from home."
"Come on then, sir," the proprietor of the circus said heartily. "Is that Chim Fang, because if it is, he might be glad to hear as we've got a countryman of his amongst us."
Archenfield pricked up his ears, and Chim Fang dropped discreetly into the background. He had his own peculiar reasons for not wishing to see his compatriot just at that moment, and perhaps Archenfield knew something of what was passing in his servant's mind, for he turned to Chim Fang and whispered something hurriedly into his ear.
"Go down to the corner of the road and wait for me there," he said. "I don't like this, Chim Fang. It may be a coincidence: but if there is a Chinaman with these people, it is just as well that he shouldn't see you."
"But I can see him, master," Chim Fang said stolidly. "And when I have done so, I will wait for you yonder."
With this Chim Fang disappeared into the darkness, and Archenfield walked with his host in the direction of the largest of the caravans. A large, red-faced women greeted him smilingly. For Gunter and his wife were old friends of Archenfield's, and he had passed a whole fortnight with them on one occasion when he had been writing a melodrama that dealt with circus life.
"Very pleased to see you again, Mr. Archenfield," the woman said. "If you will sit down and have a bit of supper with us we shall be honoured. No, very well, then; perhaps Gunter will give you a cigar."
"I'm afraid I can't stop more than a minute or two," Archenfield said. "But I will certainly come and see you again. I had no idea you were in these parts. Are you making a long stay, or going through?"
"We are at Oxley to-morrow night," Gunter explained. "And after resting there for a day or two we go to Lyddmouth for the fair, which lasts for the best part of a week."
"Oh, then, I'll come and see you before you go," Archenfield said. "There are one or two little things that you might do for me. Never mind about Chim Fang. I have sent him on ahead. Yes, he is still with me, and just as invaluable as ever. I couldn't do without him."
Archenfield was talking easily enough, but more for the sake of saying something than anything else. All the while he was busily scanning the more or less shadowy figures that passed to and fro in front of him, and were outlined in the light of the braziers where the rank and file of the circus company were cooking their suppers. The performers, for the most part, were housed in the various caravans, so that there were none of them to be seen. But it wasn't for any of these that Archenfield was seeking. He was anxious, if he could, to make out the Chinaman that Gunter had spoken of. Just at that moment he was deeply interested in Chinamen of all kinds. The man that Gunter had alluded to might have been some wandering coolie who was making his way to the nearest port, but in the light of the stirring events of the last day or two he might easily have been connected with the strange happenings that were taking place at the Red House.
So Archenfield stopped there, in the steps of the caravan, asking what appeared to be trivial questions, each of which, however, had its object.
"I suppose you have all sorts of people about you from time to time?" he asked. "All nationalities?"
"Lord bless you, yes, sir," Mrs. Gunter laughed. "There are circuses in every land, and a show like ours attracts 'em as treacle attracts flies. There's that Chinaman Gunter was speaking about. He picked him up on the other side of Hill. A deserter from some ship, I expect. Half starved, he was, and so Gunter gave him a job. He's a useful sort of chap, who can turn his hand to most things, but I shan't be sorry to get rid of him when we get to Lyddmouth. Nasty, slimy, treacherous creatures, those Chinese, though you wouldn't think so to see him cooking his rice yonder."
As Mrs. Gunter spoke she pointed to a brazier a little apart from the rest, where a man in a loose-fitting blue suit was engaged in preparing his frugal supper. From time to time the light flickered on his face, but from where he was sitting Archenfield could make nothing of those Mongolian features, which are always so much alike to the European eye. But it seemed to him presently that he could discern the shadowy outline of Chim Fang standing a yard or two behind the unconscious figure behind the brazier. Then the ghostly shadow vanished, and Archenfield knew that Chim Fang had probably accomplished his purpose, for he was seen no more.
"Well, I suppose you're all here still?" Archenfield asked. "The same old distinguished galaxy of talent that has performed before all the crowned heads of Europe. But I must come round again, and renew my acquaintance with them. Where is the famous Hiko?"
"Oh, Hiko's all right," Gunter said. "And still going as strong as ever. Here, come out of that, an old friend wants to see you. Come along."
A moment or two later there appeared in the doorway of the caravan the hairy outline of a huge chimpanzee. He stood there with what might have been a smile on his face, that peculiar half-humorous, half-sinister expression that gives a monkey the semblance of humanity. He squatted there, grinning and smiling, till suddenly he caught sight of Archenfield, and then, with every manifestation of delight, climbed down the steps and stroked Archenfield's cheek with his paw.
"So you haven't forgotten me?" he said. "No, I see you haven't. There, there, that'll do, Hiko; you mustn't be too demonstrative in your affections, or else your master will be jealous. Have a cigarette?"
"Hiko was always very fond of you, Mr. Archenfield," Gunter said. "Lor' bless you, he knows; got a soul, he has, with his likes and dislikes the same as any human being. Not as he's bad-tempered, as you know, but he can't stand the Chinaman that the missus was telling you about, at any price. And Chink, he teases him, not knowing, perhaps, what a dangerous game he is playing. Some day he'll do that yellow man a mischief. And if Hiko fell foul of a man, I guess he wouldn't have much chance. I saw him kill a bulldog once just in the same way as you or I would smash a fly. You don't like him, Hiko, do you?"
With a gleam of extraordinary intelligence Hiko pointed a skinny finger in the direction of the Chinaman and chattered viciously.
Then he laid his hand on Archenfield's knee again and looked up with intelligent anticipation.
"Oh, it's that cigarette you want, is it? Well, there you are, and there are the matches."
Hiko took the cigarette and stuck it gravely in the corner of his mouth, struck a match, and handed the box back to Archenfield just as a human being might have done. He lay back, crossing his legs, and exhaled the smoke with an air of exquisite enjoyment. There was something almost uncanny in the beast's amazing intelligence.
"I suppose he's just as big a draw as ever?" Archenfield asked. "Just as clever?"
"You well may say that," Gunter replied. "Hiko is a perfect gold mine to us. Some of our artists fancy themselves, and there's no end of trouble with them sometimes. But its Hiko the people come to see. It ain't very flattering to the vanity of the others, but it's a fact, all the same. Not but what Hiko is popular with them, for he's popular with everybody except that darned Chinaman, and he don't count."
"Well, I must be going now," Archenfield said. "I'll come and see you in a day or two. Good-bye, Hiko. Come and shake hands with me."
The chimpanzee rose gravely and held out his paw, which Archenfield took and then went down the steps of the caravan, and turned his face once more in the direction of the Red House.
Archenfield found Chim Fang awaiting him at the appointed spot. The Chinaman said nothing, but walked along by the side of his master in the darkness, waiting for the latter to speak. Chim Fang's grave demeanour was eloquent enough to the man who knew him so well.
"Did you see the fellow?" Archenfield asked.
"Not as well as I could have wished, master," Chim Fang said. "The light was not good, and it flickered. But the man was Chinese, of that there is no doubt."
"A real Chinaman, I suppose?"
"Master, it is not possible to say. Perhaps and yet perhaps not, but he was one of us, and his presence here is no chance. That man has come with some mischief in the back of his brain, come all this way, perhaps, without money, and is working towards some object. It is the way of my country, and the way of my people. He did not see me, for that I took good care, but I saw him, and I should know him again, and we shall see him again, master."
There was something almost ominous in the way in which Chim Fang uttered the last few words. Even in the uncertain light Archenfield could see how grim his features were. And Chim Fang was not the man to make mistakes. All his life he had lived in an atmosphere of violence, intrigue, and crime, and his senses had been sharpened by the presence of constant danger. Moreover, he never spoke, unless he knew.
"Then you think that man is to be feared?" Archenfield asked. "You think—"
"Master, I am sure of it," Chim Fang said. "That man is no coolie, he is no man that goes to the sea in ships, or he would not keep himself apart from the rest as he did tonight. He does not eat his food with the others, and take everything that came along, as your low coolie always does. That man is of a caste, a race apart, and, moreover, a Chinaman who is under a vow. I could see that by the food he was cooking, and that is how I know that there is danger."
"Well, forewarned is forearmed," Archenfield said. "We know what to expect now. You think that man is one of the gang responsible for the trouble at the Red House? One of the gang who made those marks on the door-post?"
"Master, I am certain of it," Chim Fang repeated solemnly. "It would be as well, perhaps, for you to go back and leave me to find out what I can. Remember the peril, remember what you have gone through before. And those men are not after you, master, they have forgotten you long ago, and as you say in this country, it is better to let sleeping dogs lie. I implore you, master, not to go any further into this business. Keep out of it, and write those wonderful stories of yours. It is not you they are troubling about at all. They have had their vengeance on you, and the woman you loved. Their anger was deeper against her than it was against you. Through her they struck you to the heart, and with that their thirst was satisfied. Now they are after something quite different. But if you thwart them, if they find out that you are interested in this thing, then they will turn on you again like tigers. And, if they discover the secret that you have so carefully hidden in the house by the River—"
This was a long speech from Chim Fang, the longest that his master had ever heard him utter. He was not thinking of that for the moment, he was thinking of his faithful servant's last words, and the ominous ring in them fairly startled him.
"I had not thought of that, Chim Fang," he said hoarsely. "That peril had almost escaped me. But at any risks, I must go on. I cannot leave a beautiful and innocent woman to her fate like this. Do you know what will happen to her if I turn my back on her now?"
"She will be hanged," Chim Fang said stolidly.
"Well, at any rate, she will probably be kept in prison for the rest of her life, which is a worse fate. An innocent woman, mind you, as innocent as you are."
"It would be a pity," Chim Fang said calmly. "But it would be a greater pity if those men were to discover the secret of the House on the River."
"I tell you, I must go on," Archenfield cried. "I dare nor turn my back upon Mrs. Molyneux now, it would be worse than a crime. At any cost she must be saved."
The Chinaman shrugged his shoulders resignedly.
"Very well, master," he said. "I knew you would say that, and if that is what you wish, then your servant is with you as you say all the time. For my life is yours, the life you gave back to me twice. But for you, I should have died in great torment; but for you, those Boxers would have torn out my eyes and left me to die with broken bones and in great suffering. And, therefore, my life is yours, to do what you like with."
"You are a faithful friend, Chim Fang," Archenfield said. "And I know that I can rely upon you. We are going to see this thing through, we are going to beat these people, and give an innocent woman her freedom."
For some time the two men tramped on side by side until they came at length to the gate leading to the garden of the Red House. Here Archenfield paused, and looked carefully, around him. He was taking no risks, he was not blind to the chance that he might be followed, and that already those cunning scoundrels had some inkling of his intention. He had not been particularly well pleased to know that the servants had been sent away, and that the house was deserted. It was the one thing that he had wished to avoid.
So far as he knew to the contrary, there might even now be enemies hidden in the garden, and in the thick shrubbery at the back of the tennis lawn. And this cover he made up his mind to explore before he used the latch key that Cecil had given him. Very quietly and cautiously he whispered his views to Chim Fang, and for the next half hour or so they crept along through the shrubbery until it seemed to Archenfield that they had covered every inch of the ground.
He was just turning in the direction of the house, satisfied that he had nothing to fear for the present, when a thin pencil of light radiated from the foot of a tree, and cut a narrow slice into the darkness for some ten or fifteen feet. It was only a very thin shaving of brilliant glow that picked out every blade of grass and every twig that it touched, but it was quite sufficient to bring Archenfield up sharp, standing, and flattened against a laurel bush with Chim Fang motionless as a statue by his side.
"Evidently an electric torch," Archenfield whispered. "With a man at the end of it, of course. Keep quite still, Chim Fang, the fellow must show himself presently."
For five minutes or more the beams from the torch played on the grass and under the roots of the trees, always held downwards, as if the man there was seeking something that he had lost. The beams played backwards and forwards, steadily and patiently, with just a suspicion of a brown shadow behind them. Then somebody muttered an exclamation of disgust, there was a sound of a snarling oath, and the man with the torch spoke.
"Confound it," he said. "It must be here somewhere. I know I had it in my pocket when I got here the other night, and I missed it directly I got into the road. And I am sure those gardener fellows know nothing about it; I am certain of that, after the examination I put them through. The confounded thing must be here somewhere."
Once more the torchlight searched the grass, but apparently all in vain. Who this man was, and what he was searching for, Archenfield could not make out; all he knew was that this midnight intruder was an Englishman, and that he spoke at any rate with the accents of a gentleman. It seemed almost impossible to believe that he could be connected in any way with the black peril that hung like a cloud over Cecil Molyneux's fortunes. It deemed almost incredible to believe that this palpable Englishman was in league with those Oriental miscreants, but certainly he was looking for something, and that mysterious something was of almost vital importance to him.
"I must find it, I must," the unseen man went on. "I'd give a thousand pounds to put my hand on it at the present moment. A thousand pounds! Why, I'd give five years of my life. I must come here every night till I can lay my hands upon it. Devilish awkward, too, with the police always prowling about the house. Now, let me see. I stood just here, and she stood just over there, at the moment when we parted. And I know I had it in my pocket at the time I crossed the park. Curse the thing, I must be within a foot of it, I must—"
Archenfield stepped forward, illumination had just come to him in a flash. A second or two before he had been full of horrible doubt, horrible disloyalty towards the woman whose cause was so near his heart, but he saw clearly enough now. From his pocket he took a torch of his own, and turned the blazing light full upon the other man. He saw a figure in evening dress covered with a light dust coat; he saw a thin, rather dissipated face, and an ugly mouth, half concealed under a straggling moustache.
"Good evening," Archenfield said. "Can I help you? I am a friend of Mrs. Molyneux, and I should like to help you if I can. Your name is Flint, I think."
"Th—that's right," the other man stammered.
"And you've lost something? Yes, I see you have. I heard you say so just now. I have lost something, too, and we might possibly be able to help one another. For the moment it doesn't matter what I am in search of, but if you are looking for a small gold box with a blue enamel bird on the outside, why, in that case—"
"By Jove," Flint cried. "You don't mean to say—. But you are wrong, sir; I am looking for a silver cigarette case."
With that Flint turned and disappeared in the bushes. Chim Fang's hand descended on Archenfield's arm suddenly.
"Look, master," he said quietly. "Look at the blind. There is somebody in the house yonder."
But Archenfield was not listening, he was hardly conscious of that iron grip upon his arm. Just for that moment his thoughts were very far away from the secluded corner of that quiet garden, for in imagination he was following the man in the evening dress whose footsteps were still audible in the distance. For it seemed to Archenfield that he was on the verge of a fresh discovery. At any rate, he had learned something.
"Did you notice that fellow's manner, Chim Fang?" he asked. "You know why I am here—In fact, I don't think there is anything that I have not told you. You know all about the gold box, and the conditions in which it was lost. What do you make of that man?"
"A bad man," Chim Fang said solemnly.
"Oh, a bad man beyond the shadow of a doubt," Archenfield agreed. "A dissipated fellow, furtive and underhanded, and palpably dishonest. He carries his character in his face. But that is not quite what I mean. Did you notice how confused he was when I turned my lamp upon him? He was startled, of course, but I attached nothing to that. He was frightened; he was shaking from head to foot, and almost speechless with fear. And when I asked him if he was looking for a gold box, his face suddenly lighted up with pleasure. He was taken quite off his guard under the impression that I had found it, and then his natural cunning came back to him. You heard him say that he was looking for a silver cigarette case, which was a lie, Chim Fang. He was looking for the gold box, and just for a moment, he thought that I had found it. Well, so I have, but not quite in the manner he thought. Now, why should he suddenly deny himself, why should he declare that he was searching for something else? I don't know why, but we have got to find that out. Upon my word, Chim Fang, the deeper I go into this matter the more mysterious it becomes. Here is a man looking for a piece of property, which, no doubt, he has honestly come by, which must be nothing but a novelty for him; yet though he needs it desperately he goes the length of denying its existence to the very man who can give it back to him. Why? This is a most intricate problem, Chim Fang."
To all this Chim Fang listened solemnly and without comment. He merely shrugged his shoulders, and pointed again in the direction of the house.
"Somebody in there, master," he said.
"Eh, what?" Archenfield exclaimed. "Somebody in the house; I think you said that before, didn't you? I was thinking of something else."
"Yes, master," Chim Fang went on. "There is someone in the house. Someone in a house that is supposed to be locked up and empty. If you will look, master, you will see the flicker of a light presently."
Archenfield turned his face eagerly towards the dim outline of the house, and presently in one of the windows of the ground floor there was a flicker that was gone almost as soon as it had come. Again the tiny glow appeared, as if behind the blind in one of the downstairs windows somebody was moving about with a torch in his hand. The mere sight of it thrilled Archenfield to his fingertips.
He was not afraid, though he was strung up, and conscious of a tight feeling in the region of his heart. He had come into this business with no expectation of danger, and with no thought of finding any unseen forces up against him. He had taken up Cecil Molyneux's case much as a detective might have done, and because he was always in sympathy with those who were wrongly accused. But he had no idea then of what was in store for him in the way of peril. But he knew now, and the knowledge of it did not sway him from his purpose by a hair's breadth; still he realised that his nerve was not what it used to be, and that he would require all his courage before this black business was finished.
"You are right, Chim Fang," he whispered. "You are right, as you always are. There is someone in the house beyond the shadow of a doubt, some one who is up to no good, and I think you and I could give a pretty shrewd guess as to the nationality of yonder intruder."
"A countryman of mine," Chim Fang said.
"Of course. And perhaps more than one. They are here in search of the treasure that Mr. Robert Molyneaux must have hidden somewhere, and probably they are looking for the precious manuscript as well. So we'll just go and spy on them, Chim Fang. It will be a risky business."
Something like a chuckle broke from the Chinaman, and he tapped the pocket of his coat significantly.
"Oh, you brought a revolver with you, did you?" Archenfield asked. "That was very thoughtful of you, Chim Fang, all the more so because you know how to use it, and I don't. My education in firearms has been neglected; a revolver in my hands would probably be more dangerous to me than it would be to the other man. But come along."
Very cautiously they made their way across the lawn until they stood presently right under the shadow of the house and close to the window behind which, from time to time, the light was still flickering. As a matter of fact, the light flickered in three windows, behind the green blinds and the muslin curtains which stood out ever and again in their delicate tracery as the gleam from the torch flashed upon them. Archenfield had been in the house before, and his keen powers of observation told him that this room must be the library. He and Chim Fang stood there for a moment or two, flattened against the window, but they could make out nothing, neither could they hear the slightest sign of anyone in the house.
It was intensely still and silent as they stood there, and not too dark now that their eyes had become accustomed to the gloom. There was no sound to be heard save the occasional barking of a dog in the distance and the bleat of a sheep every now and again in some adjacent pasture. For quite five minutes they stood there, until Archenfield gave the sign and they moved round hugging the shadow on the wall tightly until they came at length to the front door.
"We had better go inside," Archenfield whispered.
As he spoke, the branch of a tree that almost touched the house, and which hung within a few feet of a stone balcony outside one of the bedroom windows began to sway backwards and forwards as if disturbed by the wind, though it was absolutely still, and then it seemed to Archenfield as if a shapeless body were suddenly impelled forward over the edge of the balcony. The bough ceased to sway, and all was silent again.
"What was that?" Archenfield whispered. "Your eyes are better than mine. Did you see anything?"
"A man," Chim Fang said. "A man there, up the tree. He swung himself forward and dropped on the balcony."
"Then we have no time to lose," Archenfield said. "Let's get inside at once, and see what is going on. We must run the risk of running across this tree-climbing acrobat, and assume that he is another intruder who has nothing whatever to do with the one downstairs. Still, we shall have to be careful."
He put the latchkey in the door, and opened it noiselessly. Then he quickly flashed his light over the hall, and picked up his landmarks. He recognised exactly where he stood now, and with Chim Fang at his heels crept across the hall in the direction of the library door. The door was not closed and inside now it was fully lighted. No doubt the intruders had satisfied themselves that all was safe, for as Archenfield glanced in he saw that there were two of them bending over what appeared to be a plan of some sort that lay before them on the big library table. Just inside the room was a big three-fold Japanese screen, with an ornamental pierced scroll top, behind which the two newcomers hid themselves. They could see plainly enough by looking between the holes in the screen.
The two men there in Oriental dress were palpably Chinamen, and were bending eagerly over the paper on the table. By the way in which the centre window blind swayed gently it was quite evident that the catch had been left unfastened as a precaution in case they were disturbed. They were discoursing in low, eager voices in a language that was quite incomprehensible to Archenfield, though Chim Fang was following it with every sign of intelligent interest. To him the language was plain enough, and therefore Archenfield could only wait in patience till such time as it could be translated to him.
He saw one of the two men rise at length, and take from the pocket of his loose-fitting blue coat a tape measure with which presently he proceeded to go over the opposite wall, which was filled from floor to ceiling with shelves of books. This went on for some time, but apparently from the expression on the face of the two men they did not get the results they expected. They started again to measure from an opposite direction, then they, went back to the table again and once more entered into an eager discussion. They were still in the midst of this controversy when a noise somewhere in the hall attracted their attention. Somebody there had blundered against a table, and apparently displaced a metal tray of some kind, for it came down on the tiled floor with a resounding crash.
"The man on the balcony," Archenfield whispered. "I had forgotten all about him.."
In the excitement and eager curiosity of the moment he had. But Chim Fang rose to the occasion. Very quietly he moved one of the wings of the screen round so that he and Archenfield should not be seen behind it by any one who entered through the door. But he need not have been so cautious, for the clatter of that tray in the hall had driven every thought but their personal safety from the minds of the two men standing by the table. Instantly one of them snatched up the plan and stuffed it away in a pocket, and the two together made a dash across the room in the direction of the open window. They pulled the blind aside, and disappeared like shadows, without the slightest noise. It was as if they had not existed at all, almost as if they had been no more than a dream. Archenfield could hardly believe they had been there.
Then the other man crept silently into the room.
He came very quietly, with a peculiar smile upon his face, and not at all disturbed apparently to find that the lights were blazing in the principal room of a house which evidently the intruder believed to be empty. It was obvious that he could have no connection whatever with the two men who had recently been exploring there, or probably he would have adopted a more orthodox method of entry. Quite unconscious of the fact that he was being watched by two pairs of keen eyes over the top of the screen, he sat down on a chair by the side of the big library table and proceeded to light a cigarette. His face was turned away, half in the shadow, so that it was impossible to identify him. He was evidently quite at home, quite sure of his ground, and not in the least afraid of interruption. He took from his pocket a paper which he proceeded to read diligently. The contents apparently pleased him, for he rose presently, and proceeded to make a careful examination of the bookshelf on the far side of the room. He moved leisurely from one shelf to another, he even used a chair to examine the high shelves, and for a long time this went on until at length he appeared to find the object of his search. It was a volume, beautifully bound and evidently of great value, for he gave vent to his delight in a laugh that had a suggestion of triumph in it. It was at that moment that Chim Fang clutched Archenfield by the shoulder, and hissed a few words in his ear.
"Reach out your hand, master," he said.
"Reach out your hand behind you and push down that switch."
"Put the light out, you mean?"
"Put the light out, master, yes. And leave the rest to me. Because he has got the book, the book you were telling me about. The sacred volume of the Three Fishers. He has come on purpose for it, he has come all these thousands of miles. And perhaps you will be astonished when you know who he is."
"Then you know?" Archenfield whispered.
"Not yet, master, but perhaps I am not far wrong. Put out the light, and trust Chim Fang."
Without the slightest hesitation Archenfield stretched out his hand behind him and very softly pushed up the switch.
Immediately the room was plunged into darkness, and at the same instant Chim Fang crept from behind the screen and darted forward towards the bookshelf in the direction of the man who stood there with the book in his hand. Apparently he had measured the distance to an inch, and located his antagonist exactly before he made his rush, for, almost instantly Archenfield, standing there in the darkness, heard the impact of two bodies and the laboured, breathing of two men as they struggled together. There was no sound beyond this, no articulate expression on either side and so it went on for a minute or so in the pitchy blackness of the room, until it seemed to Archenfield like so many hours. Then there was a grunt and the noise of an overturned chair, and then a breath of fresh air as if some one had pulled the blind aside and had thrown open the French window. Almost immediately afterwards there came the voice of Chim Fang, stolid and indifferent as usual.
"Put up the light, master," he said.
Archenfield hastened to comply. And the room was flooded with welcome light again; he saw Chim Fang standing there alone with that precious volume in his hand. The centre blind was pulled slightly on one side, and showed the way by which the other man had escaped.
"It took him by surprise," Chim Fang said.
"I snatched the book from his hand and threw it on the table. He did not know what to do. He must have known the window was open, so I let him escape that way. But he will not go very far away, master; we shall see him again."
"You did that splendidly, Chim Fang," Archenfield said. "Yes, that's the book, right enough. These are the sacred archives of the Three Fishers. Fancy the reckless carelessness of a man who leaves a volume like that on a library shelf. Now I wonder who that chap was."
"If I told you what I thought, you would be amazed," Chim Fang said "But I am not sure as yet, master; until I am certain I will say nothing. But this I can tell you—the man I took that book from is the same man we saw an hour or so ago cooking rice outside the circus. And he is no common man. He was dressed like a coolie, but underneath his woollen coat he wears the finest silk. I could feel the stiffness of it and the fine embroidery. And the inferior Chinaman does not wear silk under his clothes."
Chim Fang declined to say more than that. He was mute, almost taciturn, as he could be upon occasion.
"Well, it's no use staying here," Archenfield said. "I have got the thing I was after, and that is all that matters for the moment. We only came just in time."
They turned their backs upon the house and made their way along the road towards their boat. The clock in the hall of the House on the River was striking 2 as Archenfield turned into bed. It was characteristic of him that he was down to breakfast at 9 in the morning, and ready to greet Cecil Molyneux as she came out of the garden with her hostess.
"You are feeling better?" he asked.
"Yes,"' Cecil said "I slept quite well last night. Hara has been showing me round the garden. But I am afraid I was much more interested in her story. And what a sad story, it is. And how well she behaved when your trouble came upon you. And how did you manage to tell your wife from her sister when they were together? The likeness between them must have been marvellous, to judge from the photograph I have just seen."
"It was almost difficult at times," Archenfield said. "But breakfast is on the table. Now there is one thing I want you to do, Mrs. Molyneux. I want you to stay here a few days longer, and I shall be glad if you will let your servants know that you will not need them for the present. Never mind why; I have quite good reasons for the suggestion."
"Oh, just as you like," Cecil said. "It is very good of you to keep me here like this, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity of being away from Oxley and escaping from the prying eyes of curious people there."
"Well, that's settled." Archenfield said. "I am quite sure that Hara and myself will only be too pleased to keep you here as long as you care to stay. I am going to motor into Oxley presently, and if you will write out the telegrams, I will see they are despatched to your servants. I am going to call at the bank and see Mr. Bowen. If you have any message for him, I shall be pleased to deliver it."
"Give him my kind regards," Cecil said, "And my love to Cissie. Mrs. Bowen is a great friend of mine, as you know; indeed, she is a sister of the man I used to be engaged to."
"Ah, that was Mr. Godfrey Coventry, was it not?" Archenfield asked. "You see, we have lived here quite long enough to have picked up a good deal of local gossip. And of course it would be stupid on my part to pretend that I didn't know that you and Mr. Coventry were once engaged. Do you happen to know where he is at present?"
A little colour crept in Cecil's cheeks.
"I am almost glad to say I don't," she said. "I saw him not—not long before my husband died, and that was on the eve of his departure for Canada. No, there is no sort of arrangement between us, and there was no suggestion of correspondence. You may guess why he went away. It was better for him, and better for me; anyway, he has gone without leaving his address behind for any one. He promised to write to his sister as soon as he was settled."
Archenfield discreetly changed the subject. Towards the middle of the morning he got into his car and drove over to Oxley, where he called at Bowen's Bank, and asked to see Mr. Bowen, who welcomed him cordially.
"Sit down, Mr. Archenfield," he said. "I need not say that I am very glad to see you, and I need not say how deeply my wife and I appreciate all that you are doing for Cecil Molyneaux. I am told that you take up these sort of cases, and that you hare been extraordinarily successful with them. Of course, you know that poor girl is innocent."
"If I was not sure of it, I should never have interfered," Archenfield said. "But don't let me waste your time in talking generalities. I assure you I am not wasting mine, and I have learnt a good deal in the last twenty four hours. Now, tell me this, is the Red House a really old one?"
"Oh, quite," Bowen explained. "Though you wouldn't think so to look at it. Years ago it was a smuggler's stronghold, a sort of farmhouse with double walls, and all that sort of thing. When Mr. Molyneaux's father bought it, he altered it almost out of recognition, so that it looks quite modern, but I believe that inside those walls still remain—"
"Ah, that's something to the good," Archenfield said. "And now, another question. I understand that on the day of his death Robert Molyneaux cashed a cheque here for two thousand pounds, and drove straight home with that money, in notes. According to what I am told, he could not possibly have parted with that money, or any part of it, because he wrote no letters that night and sent no notes, and indeed he passed the rest of the afternoon in his bedroom. That money can't be found, there is not the slightest trace of it, although the most careful search has been made. But that money must be somewhere, and if not in the house, in the possession of some one who knew all about it, and who took advantage of Mr. Molyneaux's death to steal it. Bank notes don't vanish, Mr. Bowen, and they are of no earthly use to anybody unless they can be turned into cash. Sooner or later they must be presented for payment. And as you have the numbers there ought to be some machinery for tracing them. By any chance have you heard of any of those notes being presented?"
"Yes," Bowen said. "One of them came in here this morning—a five-pound note, number 77777."
The information dropped from Bowen's lips in a manner that proved to Archenfield that Bowen had not yet regarded it as important. The dramatist smiled to himself as he regarded the man before him in his well-cut tweeds and healthy clean-shaven face, a man who looked a good deal more like a country gentleman than a banker. And this, indeed, he was, for it was only an incident in his career that had made him the head of a prosperous firm.
"You think nothing of it?" Archenfield asked. "You don't see any importance in this discovery?"
Bowen looked up with some show of interest.
"Do you?" he asked. "Perhaps it is of some importance, but I quite fail to see it. After all said and done, Robert Molyneux must have parted with some of that money, and I have no doubt that it came to us legitimately enough. Probably paid in by one of our customers."
"Very likely," Archenfield said drily; "in fact, extremely probable. But do you really mean to say that you don't know who paid that money in?"
Bowen smilingly confessed that he didn't.
"Well, if you don't mind my saying so," Archenfield said with some irritation, "it is exceedingly careless of you. Just consider, my dear sir. A man draws out two thousand pounds in notes, which in itself is rather a strange proceeding in these times when practically everything is paid by cheque. Oh, I admit that Molyneux was not quite normal, but what did he want all that cash for? But I'll put that aside for a moment. Molyneux went away with all the money in his possession, and in a few hours was dead; died in mysterious circumstances that point strongly to foul play. The police regard it as foul play, and you are bound to admit that they have strong grounds for their suspicions. All the present evidence points to Mrs. Molyneux as the culprit. It is nothing in her favour at present that you and I believe her to be innocent. But, my dear sir, we have got to prove it. We have got to prove that she didn't handle those notes, and it was not she who called at the chemist's shop—not the chemist that her husband usually employed, mark you—and bought the second bottle of that deadly drug. Now, bearing that in mind, just realise what a task we have before us. And yet you regard the paying into your bank of one of those missing notes as a mere incident."
"It did seem a trifle," Bowen confessed.
"Trifle! There are no trifles in a case like this; there are no such things. Man alive, did you ever read the account of the Stephenson case that I took up some time ago? All I had to work on there was a solitary button from the coat of a man who had no more to do with the crime than you. And that trifle, as you call it, ultimately saved a man's life and proved his innocence beyond the shadow of a doubt. And here are you, with what might be a piece of priceless evidence on your hands, paying no more attention to it than you would to a cake of soap in your bathroom. You must pardon my irritation, but really the stupidity of some people is beyond belief."
"I am very sorry," Bowen stammered.
"Well, I suppose we must make the best of it," Archenfield went on. "And assume that what you have just told me is of no importance. But, all the same, we have got to find out who paid that note into this bank. I take it that the information came to you quite casually."
"Quite by accident," Bowen admitted. "But what do you suggest? What can I do?"
"Well, this is a quiet day in the week, and I don't suppose that you will have many customers in this morning."
"Not more than a dozen, anyway."
"Ah, well, in that case, the thing is not so difficult. I don't know much about banking, but I believe it is customary for customers who pay in money to note down on a paying-in slip the amount to be credited to them in cheques and notes and cash. I suggest that you get one of your clerks to examine those paying-in slips and find the names of the customer, or customers, who handed in notes over the counter this morning."
Bowen rang his bell, and gave the desired instruction. The clerk came back a minute or two later with information to the effect that only two customers had paid in notes that morning, and that one of those had handed in three Bank of England notes in sequence, and that therefore he, at any rate, was outside the limits of investigation. A certain provision dealer in the High-street named Magness had paid in some gold and one five-pound note.
"Oh, come," Archenfield smiled. "This is better. Obviously this man Magness is the individual we are after. What sort of a man is he?"
Bowen's features broadened into a smile.
"A most respectable individual," he said. "A meek and mild little grocer of somewhat studious habits, the sort of man who goes to church twice on a Sunday and brings up his family in the way they should go. He belongs to all the institutes in the town, and rather prides himself on his general information. He has been in the High-street for years, and in a small way is quite well to do. I cannot conceive William Magness being connected with anything wrong."
"I don't for a moment suppose that he is," Archenfield said. "Five minutes will dispose of him, and I don't suppose we shall want to trouble him again. At any rate, he will be able to tell us where that note came from. Of course, I can't go and ask him, but perhaps you will be good enough to come along with me. I don't want to frighten the man, and the last thing in the world I desire is to give him anything to gossip about. I know what these tradesmen in a sleepy town are. Trivial gossip is the soul of life to them. You are a banker, Mr. Bowen, and you will know exactly what to say. Only don't frighten the man, and treat the matter as of no importance."
"I'll come with you now," Bowen said.
They crossed the High-street in the sunshine together, and presently entered the shop of the little grocer, who himself stepped from behind the counter with eager politeness to greet so important a person as Mr. Bowen of the Bank.
"Good morning, sir," he said. "Good morning, gentlemen. What can I do for you?"
"Oh, nothing very much, Magness," Bowen said carelessly. "But this gentleman here is somewhat interested in a bank-note that has gone astray. You must quite understand that there is nothing wrong about it, but, at the same time, my friend here would like to have the matter cleared up. It appears that the note in question was paid into my bank this morning, which to a certain extent clears up the mystery, but not quite. So far as I can gather the note was passed over my counter by you."
The little man smiled doubtfully.
"I certainly paid in some money, sir, directly after the bank was opened," he said. "And amongst the money was a five-pound note. Yes, that is so."
"Would you know that note again Magness?" Bowen asked. "Because there is no question that the note I speak of was paid in by you. Nothing to be alarmed about."
Magness changed colour, he seemed to be covered with confusion, and glanced helplessly round his well-stocked shop, as if seeking for some avenue of escape. In his quiet way Archenfield was watching him closely. At a sign from him Bowen took the note from his pocket.
"Here it is," he said. "The note you paid me this morning. I wonder if you took the number of it. I know that some tradesmen do."
"Well. I didn't, sir," Magness stammered. "Usually I do, just as a precaution, but I didn't this morning. Oh yes, sir, that's the note right enough, and I am not going to deny it, I recognise it by that stain in the right hand corner, and there is the mark of a finger print on the back. I do hope there is nothing wrong, gentlemen."
The little man was dancing about from one foot to the other with what to some eyes would have looked like an appearance of guilt, but as far as Archenfield was concerned the man appeared to be more like a schoolboy detected in some trivial fault than a potential criminal.
"Oh, there's nothing wrong," Bowen said. "You have only to tell us where you got that note from, Magness, and there is an end of the matter."
"That's just it, sir," Magness whispered. "You've put me in rather a mess, but I am a respectable man and I don't want any wrong impressions created. The fact is this, gentlemen. I was in Lyddmouth yesterday, and a friend persuaded me to go to the races there, which is a thing I have never done before in my life. And I don't want anybody to know it, least of all my wife. And I went, and who should I meet there but Mr. Flint, who manages the racing stable here, and because he owes me some money that I can't get, he gave me what he called a tip. And I was weak enough to put a pound on a horse with what's called a bookmaker, and I won five pounds. And the bookmaker gave me that five-pound note and my pound back, and I came away. And that's the solemn truth, gentlemen. And I hope you'll respect my confidence."
"Oh, there's no harm in that," Archenfield said. "Now, Mr. Magness, can you tell me the name of the man with whom you had the bet?"
Magness pondered over the question for a moment or two, and then his face lighted up.
"Yes, I can," he said. "He's a big man who stood by the rails just outside the paddock, and his name was on his bag, and his red umbrella. His name was—yes, I remember—his name was Wal Mockett. That's all I know."
There was nothing in the expression of Archenfield's face to show the effect that the little grocer's information had upon him. His lips were pressed tightly together, his brows were knitted in thought, his eyes had narrowed, and he was paying no heed whatever to the more or less trivial remarks that his companion was making. It was only when they were back again in the bank parlour that he grew more expansive.
"What we have just discovered," he said, "opens up a still wider prospect, and makes the problem somewhat difficult. I must first of all find this bookmaker."
"Well, that won't be difficult," Bowen said. "As a matter of fact, the bookmaker in question lives at Lyddmouth, and as the races there last for three days you are not likely to have much difficulty in finding him."
"Then in that case I will go over at once. I wonder if you would mind coming along with me?"
"Well, it wouldn't be the first time I have been on a racecourse," Bowen laughed. "To tell you the truth, I am by no means averse to a mild gamble myself, and, in any case, I was going to motor over to the Lyddmouth racecourse this afternoon. So if you don't mind stopping with me to lunch we can go together. But, tell me, do you really attach any importance to the information you have just obtained?"
"I attach the greatest possible importance to it," Archenfield said gravely. "It may lead to nowhere, but, on the other hand, it may take us a long way. And, anyhow, it is very interesting. How could one of the missing notes, which we believe Robert Molyneux never parted with, find its way to a bookmaker? That is what we must find out."
It was past 2 o'clock before Archenfield and Bowen arrived at the big racecourse which was situated in an old park on the outskirts of the town, and there, during the progress of a race, they wandered about the enclosure until the excitement had simmered down. There began one of those dreary intervals between racing which makes the sport so uninteresting to the mere outsider. It was at this point that Archenfield suggested a stroll along the rails outside the paddock till they came at length to a red umbrella on which was inscribed the name of the bookmaker they were in search of, and by the side of it stood a big man in a strident suit of elaborate checks, who was refreshing himself from a paper of sandwiches, and drinking champagne from the neck of the bottle. As he caught sight of Bowen he lifted his hat politely, and inquired if he could do anything with him on the next race.
"It looks as if you were having a good day, Mockett," Bowen said. "But then you book-makers always do."
"Well, I'm not grumbling, sir," the big man said. "Now, sir, have a bit on for the good of the game, Here, I'll lay you seven to four against the favourite."
"I'll take that to a fiver," Bowen said. "But that isn't what I came to speak to you about. Look at this note, Mockett. You paid it out yesterday to an Oxley tradesman over a bet. Do you remember it?"
"Lor' bless your soul, no, sir," the bookmaker replied. "I am receiving and paying out banknotes all day long. But I hope there's nothing wrong about it."
"Not in that sense," Bowen replied. "But for reasons which I need not go into, my friend here is very anxious to trace that note. Now, do you think you can help him?"
"Well, perhaps I can, sir. But I won't deny that a good many notes come my way from people who haven't any right to them. It's all part of the game, and no business of mine. You would be astonished if you knew how often the police come to me about notes that have been passed on the racecourse. Still. I have got a pretty good memory—you wouldn't make much money, at my game if you hadn't—and I may be able to trace it. Now, you gentlemen come back to me after the next race, and I'll see what I can do for you. Leave the note with me. It looks like a clean one, and I'll refer to the numbers of the notes that I make every night in case I should come up against some of the 'boys' and find myself relieved of my little parcel. Well, and what can I do for you?"
The bookmaker's tone changed, and the question put to the newcomer who had thrust his way forward was neither respectful nor friendly. The man was holding a note in his hand, and was asking questions as to the odds against a certain horse in the next race. He was a tall, thin individual with a dissipated face and a ragged moustache, a typical racecourse frequenter, who was not alone, but accompanied by one or two callow youths of good class who seemed to hang upon his words as if he were an oracle. As Archenfield glanced at him again he saw that he was face to face with the man whom he had seen the night before looking for the gold box in the shrubbery of the Red House garden. Obviously the stranger did not recognise him, for the simple reason that when they had met in the darkness Archenfield had been entirely obscured behind the light of his own electric torch. Therefore he could afford to stand there casually and listen till the bets of the tall man and his manifest dupes were made, and the whole group swaggered away in the direction of the paddock.
"Do you know who that man is?" Archenfield asked.
"Oh, everybody knows in this part of the country," the bookmaker laughed. "His name is Flint, and he manages a racing stable out Oxley way. There was a time when he was a friend of yours, Mr. Bowen."
"Not during the last few years," Bowen said curtly.
"Well, anyway, he's a real bad lot," the bookmaker blazed out. "And I suppose I am the only man in the ring he doesn't owe money to. He'd owe me money now, only I happened to drop into a billiard room a night or two ago where he was flashing some notes about, and I threatened him until he squared up with me. That's why I gave him credit just now, but not so much for his sake as because of the young fools with him. I might just as well have their money as he, for he'll skin 'em of every farthing before he's done with them. I recollect the time he was a gentleman, just the same as you two. Many a bet have I had with his father, the General, and I never wish to meet a straighter man."
Archenfield stood listening to all this without even a sign of interest in his face. But as he and Bowen moved away he put to the latter some searching questions as to the past and present history of Stephen Flint and all he learnt was distinctly to that young man's disadvantage.
"Why are you so interested in him?" Bowen asked.
"That I will explain later. There is one thing, at any rate; I am not wasting my time here."
Archenfield broke off suddenly and stood, facing the bookmaker Mockett, who was now busy in shouting the odds on the next race. A little fringe of clients clustered eagerly around with their stakes in their hands, and the clerk under the umbrella was entering up the wagers and handing out tickets with a dexterity born of long practice.
But it was not these regular followers of racing that attracted Archenfield's attention, for in the fringe of the little crowd stood two Chinamen in their blue flannel costumes patiently and solemnly waiting their turn to make a bet. They were accommodated at length, and just as they were being merged into the crowd Gunter, of Gunter's circus, bustled forward and greeted Archenfield breezily.
"Oh, you're here, sir." he said. "Come to have a little flutter with the rest of us?"
"Never had a bet in my life," Archenfield said quietly. "But it always interests me to see other fools wasting their money. I see even those Chinamen are not exempt from the madness. Do they happen to be your men?"
"Chinamen are the biggest gamblers in the world," Gunter said. "I have had lots of 'em in my show from time to time, and there wasn't one who wouldn't put his week's wages on a game of cards. Yes, those chaps belong to me—in fact, they only came back to me this morning. They are two wonderfully clever acrobats, and I was sorry to lose them a month ago. They left me just as mysteriously as they came, without a word of warning, but that is a way the Chinaman has. All the same, I was glad to get them back at the old wages, because they are really a good draw, Mr. Archenfield."
"And what about the other Chinaman?" Archenfield asked. "Is he with you still?"
"Oh no, he went off last night without notice. We had had a few words in the morning, but I didn't think much of that, but during the day he caught sight of the other chaps and just put on his hat and vanished immediately. Knew 'em, perhaps, and had very likely had a row with them at some time or another. But he cleared out before they could do him any mischief. Anyway, I'm glad he's gone, because he could never leave Hiko alone; and if I hadn't have interfered yesterday the chimpanzee would have killed him. He marked him pretty well as it was."
Archenfield moved on with his companion, having gleaned another piece of valuable information. There was nothing to do now but wait and hang about the course until it was time to see the bookmaker again. They strolled side by side past the various booth's and attractions, past the swings and roundabouts, till they came almost on to the open course and close to a big refreshment tent, just inside of which a man was talking to a woman. He appeared to be vehement, almost angry, and Archenfield could see that the girl's eyes were swollen with recent weeping.
He could see, too, that the man was Stephen Flint. He turned to Bowen.
"Who is the girl with our interesting friend Flint?" he asked. "Nice-looking girl she is."
Bowen lifted his eyebrows in surprise.
"Why, that's Mrs. Molyneux's maid." He said.
It was quite evident to Archenfield that his companion attached no importance to the statement that he had made. Bowen took out a fresh cigarette and lighted it casually, then turned his steps in the direction of the enclosure.
"What do you make of it?" Archenfield asked.
"Why, my dear fellow, I make nothing of it," Bowen replied. "Judith Carr is an attractive girl, probably vain and shallow, and I understand educated slightly above her position. Her father was a small farmer who came to grief, as many of them do. It is quite evident that his daughter has ideas, and is, no doubt, greatly flattered by the attentions of a gentleman. And whatever his record may be, Stephen Flint is a gentleman by birth and breeding, and quite a number of good houses are still open to him. You see, we're a sporting lot about here, and as Flint manages a racing stable he is naturally a good deal sought after by the gilded youth who like to appear in the know. You don't suggest there is any harm about it, do you?"
"For the present, I don't suggest anything," Archenfield said. "I was only asking for information."
He appeared to dismiss the subject from his mind, and walked quietly along by Bowen's side until the reserved enclosure was reached. Perhaps the most recent discovery meant nothing; perhaps, on the other hand, it meant a great deal. For even at that moment with the roar of the crowd in his ears Archenfield was busy with his own thoughts. It had been evident to him from the first that he was not likely to derive much assistance from his companion. Bowen was kind and amicable enough, but he was not imaginative enough to connect obvious facts together. At every other step Bowen was accosted by one friend or another on some trivial pretext. Undoubtedly he was a popular man, and everybody seemed to like him. But as an assistant to Archenfield he was emphatically a drag on the coach. The latter turned to him as they entered the enclosure.
"I don't think I'll trouble you any further, Mr. Bowen," he said. "I have kept you from your friends too long already. If you will take me inside the stand and show me where the telephone is, I'll get through to my house, and have my car sent on to meet me here. There are one or two little things I want to do in the town, and the sooner the better."
Bowen murmured his regrets politely enough, and appeared to be relieved of further responsibility. Archenfield got his message off at length and wandered out on to the course again. He had made up his mind not to trouble the bookmaker, Mockett, until the last race of the day was over, when the man would have more time to give to him, and meanwhile Archenfield would have an opportunity of collating the evidence he had gathered. It didn't amount to much, it was true. Merely the fact that one of the missing notes had found its way on to a racecourse, which in itself sounded trivial enough; but, all the same, Archenfield was not discouraged. More than once he had built up a great case around a more trifling incident than this.
It was nearly four o'clock and a big concourse of people was already leaving the racecourse before Archenfield approached the rails where Mockett was standing. The latter had finished for the day, his umbrella was down. And his clerk had vanished. He turned his big, good-natured, shrewd Yorkshire face in Archenfield's direction and smiled.
"Now I'm ready for you, sir," he said. "I am glad you didn't come to me before, because I have been busy."
"So I expected," Archenfield said. "I am afraid I have come too early as it is."
"Well, I wouldn't say that, sir," Mockett replied. "I have been through my book, and I have been through my memory, which is a jolly good one, though I say it myself, but it hasn't been much good. I don't know more than the dead where I got that note from. It might have been given me by a man in a bet, or I might have got it in change in the refreshment room—in fact, it might have come to me in a score of ways. I am very sorry, sir, to disappoint you."
"It isn't I who am disappointed so much as somebody else," Archenfield said.
"So I gathered, sir, I hope there's nothing wrong. I hope it isn't a son, or a relative of yours who has been helping himself to what doesn't belong to him. No offence, sir, but these things will happen when young fools get it into their heads that they can make a fortune on the racecourse. And I would do a good deal to help anyone who's got a relation who has made that mistake. You can take the note with pleasure, If you like; the loss of it won't break me."
"That's very good of you," Archenfield said; "and I much appreciate the kindly spirit behind your offer. Then you can't help me in any way?"
"Well, not directly, sir; but I'll tell you something that happened a few minutes after you left me just now. Two men came up to me and made a bet; indeed, there were several bets, as a matter of fact, and they staked a couple of five-pound notes. I didn't take much notice of them at the time. I just dropped the notes in my satchel and thought no more about it. But after the race was over, and I had a few minutes to spare, I began to think about you, and I took out that note—77777, it was. I had it in my hand, turning it over with some other notes, and what do you think I found? Why, two more of those notes were numbered respectively 77778 and 77779, so they must have come off the same batch as the one you are interested in. I have got them in my pocket, and you can see for yourself."
Here, at last, was something in the way of a discovery, for, beyond the shadow of a doubt, two more of the missing notes had found their way on to the racecourse. And then one of his quick inspirations came to Archenfield.
"You know where those notes came from of course?" he asked. "You know who paid them over?"
"Yes, sir, I do," Mockett said confidently. "I do, because they are the only notes I have taken this afternoon, and there was no more paper in the satchel."
"And the name of your client?"
"Well, that's just what I can't tell you, sir," Mockett said. "But the bet was made by two Chinamen. I couldn't help noticing them in the crowd, and it struck me as a queer thing to think that I should be doing business with those Chinks. I have had some funny clients in my time, but never a Chinaman before. And they weren't what you might call mugs at the game, either. They made some pretty shrewd bets, though luck was against them."
Archenfield took his purse out of his pocket and handed ten sovereigns over to Mockett.
"I want you to let me have those two notes," he said. "And I'll ask you to keep the other one for the present. Put it away somewhere carefully, because it is just possible that the police may ask questions about it."
"All right, sir," Mockett said. "I'll do that with pleasure. Of course, I don't want to ask you a lot of questions, but I'll help you all I can."
Archenfield decided to be candid. He was a shrewd judge of human nature, and it seemed to him that he might gain something by trusting the Yorkshireman.
"Well, between ourselves," he said, "I am making all these inquiries on behalf of a certain lady who is being a good deal talked about lately. I mean Mrs. Molyneux."
The bookmaker held out his hand impulsively.
"Then you can count me in," he said. "I'd do anything in the world to help that lady. A real good sort, she is, and so was her poor old father before her. A real gentleman, he was. I ought to know, because I started life in his house as a boy doing odd jobs in the garden. Rare and open-handed he was, and always liberal with his money. Always ready to trust other people, and that's why he got into a mess at the last and had to allow his daughter to marry one of the biggest blackguards who ever disgraced the name of a Yorkshireman. And if anybody tells me that Mrs. Molyneux murdered her husband, then I say he's a liar. You come and see me, sir. I'll be proud to have you under my roof. There's my card, and anybody will show you my house in Lyddmouth. You drop in any evening, and the missus will do her best to make you at home."
"Could I come to-night?" Archenfield asked.
"Come by all means, sir."
"I shall he glad," Archenfield said, "About nine o'clock then, if it is quite convenient to you."
It was a few minutes after that hour that Archenfield found himself passing through the gateway of a quiet little house in one of the best roads in Lyddmouth and knocking at the door. A neat maid-servant of the parlour-maid type admitted him, and presently he was seated in a quite well-appointed drawing room talking to a woman who received him cordially and who struck him as being quite well-mannered and refined.
"Very pleased and proud to see you, sir," Mockett said. "I don't suppose you have ever been in a bookmaker's house before. We don't all drink and swear and spend our spare time watching prize fights. At least, I don't. And I flatter myself there is no better respected man in Lyddmouth than Abe Mockett, though I say it as shouldn't. And now, Mr. Archenfield, what can me and the missus do for you?"
"Are you Mr. Archenfield, the dramatist?" Mrs. Mockett asked.
"You are? Wal, this is Mr. Archenfield that I was reading about to you the other day in one of the Sunday papers. He takes up cases for people who are falsely accused. I wonder if he has heard by any chance of Mrs. Molyneux."
"It is on her behalf that I am here tonight," Archenfield smiled. "But that had better remain a secret, Mrs. Mockett, and I will ask you to say nothing about it."
"You can rely upon the missus," Mockett said. "She can be close enough if she likes, and besides, she is as firm a believer in Mrs. Molyneux's innocence as you are."
"I am that," Mrs. Mockett said emphatically. "And if, I can help the lady I shall be delighted."
"It is more than possible that you can," Archenfield said. "Now, you seem to have read a good deal of me and my methods in the Sunday papers. I suppose the journal you speak of did not omit to mention my past history? No, I thought not. So I had better explain. When I came back to England I discovered that I was, let us say, born to be a detective. I began to interest myself in cases precisely like that of Mrs. Molyneux. I had the time and the necessary means to devote to such things, and I have been fairly successful."
"Eh, you have indeed," Mrs. Mockett said.
"Oh, we need not talk about that. When I heard what had happened to Mrs. Molyneux and convinced myself that she was an ill used woman, I called upon her and offered my services. She was good enough to place herself in my hands, and now I am devoting every minute of my time to her interests. I cannot, for obvious reasons, tell you what I have discovered, but I have found enough to convince me of her innocence. She is not only innocent, but she is also the victim of a deep-laid conspiracy; at least, that is my opinion so far as I have gone. Still I am only in the early stages of the case, and I have no doubt that I shall make many mistakes and pursue a great many false trails before I get to the bottom of the problem. Just now I am inquiring into the character of a man called Stephen Flint. He may not have anything to do with the case; indeed, I don't think he has. But he knows something of it, and what that something is I have to find out. Your husband will tell you, Mrs. Mockett, that he was on the racecourse this afternoon, and I saw him in earnest conversation with Mrs. Molyneux's maid. Now, do you happen to know anything about her?"
"I know everything about her." Mrs. Mockett said. "You see. I was lady's maid myself, before I married my husband. I was in a big house, and Judith Carr was employed for a short time in the same establishment. She is a clever girl, almost too well educated for her position, and inclined to be flighty and romantic. The sort of girl who reads penny novelettes, and dreams of marrying a duke and all that kind of thing. She always said she would marry a gentleman, and I have no doubt that she is extremely flattered by the attention she is receiving from Mr. Flint. You see. I was more or less instrumental in getting her her job. She comes here sometimes. Not a bad sort of girl at all, but shallow and vain, and always open to flattery. If Mr. Flint is carrying on with her, all I can say is that I am very sorry to hear it. He'll never marry her, and if he did he couldn't possibly make her happy. In my opinion, he's a downright bad lot."
"Eh, that he is," Mockett said. "He's a rogue and a swindler, and most ready for anything. It's lucky for him that the man whose stables he manages is easy-going, because it's my firm conviction that Flint has been robbing him for years. I couldn't prove anything, but I am convinced of it. I know that Flint is desperately hard up for money, and that he is always in dread of being found out."
"This only confirms what I have heard," Archenfield said. "Does he spend much time in Lyddmouth?"
"Two or three days a week as a rule," Mockett said. "He has got rooms here, and spends most of his evenings at the Gaiety Music Hall."
"Do you think he will be there to-night?" Archenfield asked.
"I should think it is a dead certainty. Lyddmouth is always full of people at race times; we have all sorts of people here, from the aristocracy downwards, and, of course, the usual quantity of young mugs with money. The lounge at the Gaiety Music Hall is always full of 'em. It's a happy hunting ground for sharks like Flint, and you are pretty certain to find him there after 10 o'clock to-night."
"Then I think I'll go," Archenfield said. "No thanks, Mr. Mockett I think I'll go by myself. So far as I am aware, Flint has no idea as to my identity: but if I am seen with you he may ask questions. I have my own particular reasons why the fellow should not know of my interest in Mrs. Molyneux. I have my man waiting at the Dragon Hotel with my car, and therefore I shall not want to trouble you any more."
"Well, sir, come and see us when you like," Mockett said. "And if there is anything I can do for you I'll do it with pleasure."
Archenfield turned his back presently upon the hospitable bookmaker and his wife, and made his way through the crowded streets of the great seaport town in the direction of the Gaiety Music Hall. He knew the streets fairly well, for he had been there on a good many occasions, so that he did not have to inquire his way. He skirted presently along the docks where the mean streets crowded with public-houses and lodging-houses represented so many traps for the sailors of the world. Here were low boxing saloons and dancing establishments, and further back from the front the opium dens where the Chinese and Malays gathered to smoke themselves into insensibility. In the latter Archenfield was more or less at home, for he had visited most of them from time to time in search of local colour for a drama which had been one of his greatest successes. As he passed one set of dock gates a thin, cadaverous, white-faced man in a blue overall rose up like a ghost and confronted him. This battered human derelict greeted him eagerly.
"Want to go down the street to-night?" he asked.
"Not just now, my friend," Archenfield said. "Oh, it's you, Jim, isn't it? Where have you been lately?"
"Been nowhere," the man said. "Had no money, not a penny for the last two days."
The speaker, a half-breed hanger-on and tout for some of the opium dens along the water-front, touched the brim of his ragged cap and held out his hand. Archenfield produced a shilling and dropped it in the clutching claw.
"There you are," he said. "Come over and see me on Sunday morning. It's not a long walk, but it may be worth your while. I may require you to keep an eye on someone for me, somebody whom I suspect is in one of those dens of yours at the present moment. That'll do. And now, drop back and don't follow me another yard."
Obediently enough the human wreck dropped back into the shadows and was seen no more. Archenfield turned away thoughtfully, his mind engaged upon the problem before him and the new development that had just occurred to him, and this chain of ideas occupied him till he came at length to the big staring front of the Gaiety Music Hall, blazing with electric light and luringly attractive with its big posters. In the vestibule a florid-looking individual with a vast expanse of white shirt front and a palpably paste diamond in the centre thereof pulled off his hat with a flourish as he caught sight of Archenfield.
"Good evening, Mr. Archenfield," he said. "Very pleased to see you here again, sir. Must be months since you were here last. Have you got another drama on? Come here to look up some local colour, perhaps?"
"Well, you might have made a worse guess, Chesson," Archenfield said.
"Something in the racing line, perhaps?" the manager suggested. "If so, you've come at the right time. We've got a rare squash inside. Everybody from the aristocracy downwards. Anybody in particular you're looking for?"
"Well, no," Archenfield said. "By the way, do you know a client of yours called Flint?"
The man with the shirt front shrugged his shoulders,
"I know nothing good about him," he said. "So far as I am concerned, I should be glad if he stayed away altogether. A man like that hanging round a music hall only does it harm. And we have to be so particular over our license nowadays, what with people writing to newspapers and visiting magistrates and all the rest of it. Two or three months ago there was a nasty card swindling case connected with a young man who was staying in one of the hotels here. They made him drunk and robbed him of over two thousand pounds. And when the case got before magistrates it came out that the whole conspiracy was hatched here, and that Flint was at the bottom of it. Of course, he got off scot free, as he always does, but the superintendent of police told me that if anything of the kind happened again he would see that I lost my license. Of course, I do the best I can, but all the same I should be jolly glad to see Flint's back for the last time."
Archenfield paid for his admission and strolled into the lounge at the back of the hall, which was filled, as the manager had said, with all sorts and conditions of men and women. No one appeared to be paying the slightest attention to what was going on on the stage; indeed, it would have been difficult to say why the great majority of the shady crowd were there at all. For a little time Archenfield stood back in the shadow of the dress circle and looked about him. It was some little time before he saw Flint seated by himself at a little table in an alcove moodily smoking and refreshing himself from time to time from the long glass at his elbow. Stephen Flint was in evening dress as usual, as indeed was a large majority of the men gathered about him. From the way he glanced up from time to time and surveyed the passing crowd, it was evident that he was waiting for someone; but through Archenfield stayed there till long after the clock had struck eleven, nothing happened to reward him for his patience. He was just turning away when two figures brushed past him and walked straight across to the alcove where Flint was sitting.
Archenfield drew a deep breath as he saw that the men in question were two Chinamen, the same two Chinamen beyond the shadow of a doubt that he had seen quite recently in the library of the Red House. Of that he was convinced. The two men seated themselves one on either side of Flint, and the latter summoned a passing waiter to his side. And there they sat, talking in eager whispers, till the performance was over.
Archenfield lingered in the comparative darkness of the mean street in which the Gaiety Music Hall stood much like a brilliant insect against a background of somberness and decay. He waited there with that sublime patience of his, as he always waited when he was on the track of anything vital. He meant to throw away no chance, even of the smallest scrap of information. And presently he was rewarded, for he saw Flint emerge with the two Chinamen following him like faint blue shadows. They walked down the road, still eagerly discussing a matter that seemed to greatly concern them, gesticulating violently, and ever and again Archenfield could catch a word or two that proved to him that they were in anything but accord on the matter in dispute. It was getting very late now, and the streets were practically deserted, so that it was a difficult matter for Archenfield to keep his quarry in sight and follow them discreetly thirty or forty yards behind. Then they turned at length into a side street and disappeared into one of the mean houses there, a house that Archenfield knew very well as an opium den, and into which, in the circumstances, it was impossible for him to follow.
He was turning away to retrace his footsteps when the door of a neighbouring house opened, and a man came hurriedly down the broken steps; so hurriedly, indeed, that it looked as if he had been impelled by force, then, muttering angrily to himself, he wheeled sharply round and came swiftly in Archenfield's direction. They met almost face to face under a lamp post and exchanged glances. Then the stranger stepped in the middle of the road, and vanished in the gloom, leaving Archenfield standing there surprised and shaken, and filled with a certain almost unreasonable fear.
"Chang Hen," he muttered. "Chang Hen himself, beyond the shadow of a doubt. What is he doing here? Is it possible that he has come all this way—"
Archenfield broke off abruptly and made his way as speedily as possible to the hotel on the other side of the town where Chim Fang and the car were awaiting him. The Chinese was seated huddled up on the driving seat in his usual patient attitude; he hardly moved as Archenfield jumped up by his side and gave him a sign to start. It was not until they were well in the country that Archenfield broke the silence.
"Chim Fang," he said. "I have had a great shock, and a great surprise to-night. I will tell you presently where I have been and what I have been doing, but my movements for this evening are as nothing compared with the discovery I made about 10 minutes ago. I have seen Chang Hen, Chang Hen, here in this town. What does it mean?"
"I could have told you that, master," Chim Fang said stolidly. "It was Chang Hen that I took that book from the other night at the Red House. I said nothing about it, master, because I was not quite sure, and I could do nothing until I had a chance of making a few inquiries for myself. You seen him, master? He recognised you?"
"He must have done." Archenfield said moodily. "I was following some other people, and he came out of a house near the water front and we met face to face. The light was shining on us both, so that he must have identified me. But he gave no sign, and that is all I can tell you."
With which Archenfield lapsed into silence, and nothing more was said until the House on the River was reached. It was very late now, but late as it was, Hara was still waiting in the dining-room with sandwiches and whisky and soda ready for Archenfield's arrival. She fussed about much like some affectionate little butterfly; her face was wreathed with smiles as she waited upon him hand and foot.
"You have some news to tell me presently," she said. "Yes, I can read it in your face. But not until you have had your sandwiches and drunk your whisky."
Archenfield drew up his chair presently, and Hara sat down patiently opposite to him.
"Now you're going to tell me," she said.
"Yes, I must, I suppose," Archenfield said. "Hara, I have had a great surprise to-night, a most unpleasant surprise. Chang Hen is in Lyddmouth."
A sudden pallor crept over Hara's face. She looked at Archenfield with something like terror in her eyes.
"Then you are in danger," she cried.
"We both are, I am afraid. Still, it may not be quite as bad as we think, but there is no getting away from the fact that I met that man in the street, and the recognition was mutual."
"But he can do nothing here," Hara protested. "This glorious country of yours is not China. The police—".
"What have the police to do with it? I cannot go to them and say that a murderous enemy has come all this way to do me a mischief. I can prove nothing, and so long as he does not attempt actual violence the police are powerless to act. Besides, it would be only stirring up the old scandal again."
"Then you can do nothing, Max?"
"Nothing, except take every precaution. We have a fine watch dog here in Chim Fang, and perhaps I am taking too gloomy a view of the situation. It is just possible that Chang Hen knows nothing."
"Then what is he here for? A great man in his own country would not be wandering about England in the guise of a tramp unless there was some powerful reason for it. Do you think he has discovered the great secret? Do you think he has come all this way for the revenge that he was baulked of by that clever idea of yours."
"Well, he might," Archenfield admitted. "And again, he might not. Possibly it is only a coincidence; possibly we are alarmed by the recollection of the torture we underwent out in China a few years ago. Chang Hen may be here with a view to getting those treasures back. He may have come for no other reason. He wants that regalia, and the missing ring, and, above all, he wants those archives which were actually in his hand the night of our adventure in the Red House. Chim Fang's wit and resource baffled him at the critical moment."
"You are sure that it was Chang Hen?"
"Well, at any rate, Chim Fang says so. He says he had his suspicions at the time, but when I told him that I had come face to face with that scoundrel to-night he was certain of it. It is a desperate situation, and we shall be fortunate if we get out of it without serious trouble. Still, as I said just now, it may be no more than a coincidence. Chang Hen might have come here without the slightest idea that we are near Lyddmouth. Possibly if I had not taken up Mrs. Molyneux's case we should never have known that that miscreant was in England at all. On the other hand, our place may be his objective."
"Oh, we are," Hara said.
"Well, I am not going to make up my mind to that yet, knowing as I do that Robert Molyneux and his associates robbed the Three Fishers of all their treasures and got away safely to England with them. And that raises another question. Molyneux could not have done what he did without the aid of confederates. He must have had other Chinamen to help him, either traitors to the cause of the Three Fishers, or desperadoes who joined the expedition for the sake of what they could get."
Archenfield took his note-book from his pocket and began to read.
"It's like this," he said. "Robert Molyneux dissipated a fortune, and went off to China. With him, part of the time at any rate, was the man Flint I told you about. After a while Molyneux returned, apparently wealthy, and married. He died in suspicious circumstances, and on strong evidence his wife is accused of his murder, or, at least, she will be before long. The man may have committed suicide, and Mrs. Molyneux might be the victim of a conspiracy. Just before Molyneux died he withdrew all his money from the local bank. Six months ago, after being visited one night by a mysterious stranger, he took a mass of treasures from the custody of his bank, and no trace of them has since been found. Those treasures, we know beyond the shadow of a doubt, form the sacred possessions of the Three Fishers, and after this lapse of time the heads of the society are on the track of them again. That is proved by those crude warnings in chalk that I saw on the porch of the Red House. Undoubtedly, Robert Molyneux understood the warning. You know what it means, and I know, so does Chim Fang. These warnings may have something to do with Robert Molyneux's death; on the other hand, they may be coincidental. The people who could tell us the truth and clear Mrs. Molyneux's reputation may know no more about the Three Fishers than the dead. It is a most extraordinary tangle, by far the most difficult case I was ever interested in. What I have found out to-day makes it more of a tangle still."
"What was that?" Hara asked.
"Well, I traced one of those missing notes I told you about. It has been paid by what is called a bookmaker on a racecourse to an Oxley tradesman. But the bookmaker hadn't the remotest notion where it came from. Till it can be traced, and as regards this note it is only a matter of time. Indeed, I was rather pleased with my discovery until I made another one that crossed the trail entirely. The same bookmaker was paid two more of the missing notes this afternoon, and, what is more, they were handed to him by two Chinamen—two Chinamen who have just joined Gunter's circus. I must confess that this fact has upset all my theories, and for the moment I hardly know which way to turn. It begins to look as if China was at the bottom of it all."
After breakfast the following morning Archenfield confided to Cecil Molyneux the amazing story of his adventures on the day before. She listened with dull comprehension, quite at loss to understand what it all meant. It occurred to her almost despairingly that the further those investigations went the more obscure they became.
"What do you make of it?" she asked.
"For the moment," Archenfield confessed, "I am as much in the dark as you are. I thought it as well to tell you the whole story, so that you could know exactly where we stand. I have had all night to think the matter over, and I can see a speck of light here and there. For the present, I am going to confine my activities to the tracing of those missing notes. That knowledge must help us, because the person who robbed your husband is bound to know something. Before that individual robbed Robert Molyneux he must have known where those notes were hidden. That, so far, is crystal clear. Now, can you tell me anything about the Red House? It was a sort of smugglers' resort before your husband's father purchased it, and I know that behind all the new brickwork there must be secret hiding-places that your husband was probably aware of. You told me he was a secretive sort of man, and never discussed anything with you. Is there any one in Oxley who can remember the Red House before the additions were built?"
"Why, yes," Cecil said. "One of our assistant gardeners, a lame old man who is a brother of our butler's. I believe he was engaged in the building of the new house when he met with an accident that prevented him following his trade, and my husband's father took him on in the garden. He probably knows more about the Red House than anybody."
"Oh, that's something." Archenfield said. "I will go into Oxley this morning and see him."
The lame gardener turned out to be quite a mine of information with regard to the Red House. He folded his hands upon the top of his spade, and spoke freely enough of the time when the Red House had been more or less a derelict farm building, standing by itself in the fields.
"I ain't forgotten nothing, sir," he said. "Why, I'm old enough to remember the time when a certain amount of smuggling was still going on. They used to bring the brandy and bacca and all them sort o' things on to the flats there on the far side o' the river, an' smuggle the stuff in barges into the meadows when this house stood by itself, and old Farmer Gregory, 'e used to burn lights in the winders as a signal as 'ow the coast was clear. An' my old father, he was regularly in the game. But, lor' bless you, sir, it got too 'ot for 'im after a bit, an' 'e 'ad to drop it. But in them days Oxley was only a village, an' it was a paying game before the farmer died an' the house became a ruin. Then old Mr. Molyneux bought it, an' made this 'ouse same as what you see it to-day. He didn't pull the old place down, but faced it, so to speak, and added a bit 'ere and a bit there, until it was like what you see now. The library and two o' the best bedrooms ain't hardly been touched. Why, behind the bookcase in the library there's all sorts of wide spaces as you could ride a 'orse and cart in. But they was all covered in with the shelves, an' they didn't make no odds, 'cause there was boards behind 'em. I knows all about it, because I was a builder in them days afore I met with my accident, and worked on it. But that's about all I can tell you."
Archenfield listened with the deepest interest. He had the latchkey of the house in his pocket, and had made up his mind to investigate for himself. He made no comment, he wanted it to seem as if this information was of no particular importance, and after exchanging a few words with the old gardener on the subject of Mrs. Molyneux and her troubles went down the road and presently found himself in the private office of the solicitor, Snow.
"Well, how are you getting on?" the latter asked. "Made any startling discoveries yet?"
"I have made a start, at any rate," Archenfield said. "But I can't tell you anything about it now. On the other hand, I want you to tell me something. About that man Flint. I have been making inquiries as to his antecedents, and I can hear no good of him whatever. Still, I have an idea that he will be useful to us one of these days, and I am anxious to be in a position to make him speak. Do you happen to know anything about his employer, the man he trains for?"
"Oh, yes," Snow said. "He is a client of mine, a sporting stockbroker who has a house in the neighbourhood that he visits occasionally. He is not over-respectable himself, and anything but an ornament to the turf. He is a rich man, however, and leaves matters almost entirely to Flint. But his stable has a very sinister reputation."
"Careless with money, evidently," Archenfield said.
"Ah, there you are quite wrong," Snow replied. "He is generous in a way, as are most men who make large fortunes by robbing the public, but if an employee of his were to swindle him he would prosecute him without mercy."
"Then, in that case, I should be glad if you will drop him a hint as to the way in which Flint is going on. I am not doing this out of any vindictive feeling towards Flint, but because I am sure that Flint can help Mrs. Molyneux if he likes. Never mind how for the moment; you must take my word for it. Can't you advise your client that it is high time his stable accounts were audited? Say you have heard some sinister rumours about Flint, anything to arouse suspicion. If you do this you will be playing my game, and I think helping your unfortunate client in a way you little dream of. I want Flint to realise that he has got to give an account of his stewardship without delay; in other words, I want to force his hand, and you must help me."
"Oh, well, I'll do that," Snow said. "And all the more because I have heard some strange rumours myself about Flint lately. I'll get my client on the telephone during the course of the afternoon, and give him a hint or two. If he thinks he is being robbed, he will move fast enough. But you might be a little more explicit."
"I can't," Archenfield said. "You must permit me to conduct this business in my own way. You shall know fast enough when the time comes. At any rate, I can rely upon you to do what you promised, and that in due course Flint will be informed that the auditors are coming down here without delay to examine his books."
Snow gave the desired assurance, and Archenfield wended his way thoughtfully back to the Red House again. It was the dinner hour when he got back; the gardeners were away, so that he had the whole place to himself. It was his intention to spend an hour or so in the library and make a few preliminary investigations. Little doubt existed in his mind now that Molyneux had hidden those notes in some secret place known only to himself. Probably in the diseased condition or his brain and the hideous state of his nerves just before he died he was full of the delusions which always beset the man whose system is saturated with the poison of alcohol, and no doubt the missing treasures of the Three Fishers were, not so very far to seek. The three Chinamen knew that, and though they were working separately it was assuredly a common end that they had in view. It was more impossible, too, that the men who had been surprised in the library on the occasion of Archenfield's first visit there had been Molyneux's confederates in China when the successful raid had been made upon the head-quarters of the Three Fishers. But this was only a theory which would have to be verified later on. The house was quiet enough as Archenfield entered it and crossed the hall in the direction of the library. As he pushed the door open and walked in he saw, to his astonishment, that he was not alone there.
Standing in front of one of the shelves with a book in her hand was Mrs. Molyneux's maid, Judith Carr. She was apparently about to replace the book on the shelf when she suddenly turned and saw Archenfield gazing at her. The colour receded from her cheeks as she hastily replaced the book in its place, but not before Archenfield had made out its title.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded. "You are Mrs. Molyneux's maid, are you not?"
"I am," said Judith Carr defiantly. "I came here to look for something I had forgotten; I have the key of the back door. If you think anything is wrong—"
"Oh, not for a moment," Archenfield said carelessly. "It strikes me as strange that I should find you here. My name is Archenfield, and your mistress is staying in my house."
Judith Carr muttered something to the effect that she had found what she required, and with that Archenfield allowed her to depart. Then he proceeded to remove the books from the shelf opposite which the woman had been standing, and saw presently that there was a big open space at the back. He explored with the aid of a box of matches, but there was apparently nothing there besides a foolscap envelope the flap of which bore the stamp of Bowen's bank, Oxley. The envelope it self was empty, but its significance was not lost on Archenfield. There was a gleam in his eyes as he crossed the hall, and called up Bowen at the bank on the telephone.
"It's Archenfield speaking, from the Red House," he said. "Is that you, Mr. Bowen? Oh, it is. Well, I have just found an empty envelope here with your bank's stamp on it. Now, would you mind telling me, if Robert Molyneux took away those missing notes in a foolscap envelope?"
"No, in two envelopes," Bowen corrected. "There was a big mass of notes, mostly in tens and fives, and for the sake of convenience they were packed in foolscap envelopes. You don't mean to say you have found them?"
"I have found one empty envelope," Archenfield said drily.
Snow lost certainly no time in carrying out the instructions that Archenfield had given him. Being a lawyer, he was accustomed to all sorts of strange requests, and he asked no questions, knowing full well that Archenfield was not the man to embark upon any quixotic enterprise, and that he had the best of reasons for the request that he was making. As a matter of fact, Snow had the greatest admiration for Archenfield and his methods, and was only too anxious to cooperate with him in the heavy task that lay before him.
Therefore he got on to his client in London without delay, and at the end of a few minutes' conversation was in possession of instructions to act as he thought fit in connection with the racing stable and Flint's connection therewith. It was barely an hour later before Flint received a note informing him that his presence was desired in Oxley without delay on an important matter of business, and Snow chuckled to himself as he signed the letter in question.
"I think that ought to fetch him," he chuckled. "If he has been doing anything wrong, his conscience will begin to worry him, and he will be here presently."
In which Snow was absolutely right. Stephen Flint came along presently smoking his inevitable cigarette, and asked, none too pleasantly, what was wrong. He spoke in his usual insolent manner, but there was a droop in his eyes and an uneasy twitching about the corners of his lips that spoke eloquently enough of uneasiness of mind.
"Sit down, Flint," Snow said. "I don't suppose I shall keep you very long. The fact is, I have been on the telephone with Mr. Crosby, and he is a long way from being satisfied with the way you are carrying on over the stables. Of course, you know that Crosby has trusted you."
"I wouldn't have stayed a week if he hadn't," Flint, said truculently. "If he isn't satisfied, he's only got to say so, and I'll clear out at once. It's no picnic, having a man like Crosby to deal with. There's always something or another, and he needn't talk. There isn't a trickier man on the turf, and you know that as well as I do."
"Is that so?" Snow asked drily. "I don't know anything about racing matters. But that isn't the point, Mr. Crosby tells me that he hasn't had an account for nearly a year, though he has asked you for one frequently. For your own protection you ought to have had those books audited. So Mr. Crosby is going to have it done himself. He has asked me to make the necessary arrangements, and I thought it only fair to tell you that I am sending an auditor in to-morrow. It is quite a matter of form, and should only take a couple of days at the outside. I think that is all, Flint."
Flint rose from his chair and lighted a fresh cigarette with a hand that trembled strangely. He was evidently trying to carry it all off with his usual air of insolent bravado, but it was a poor attempt, and not for a moment was Snow deceived by that uneasy swagger.
"If anybody suggested that there is anything wrong," said Flint threateningly.
"My dear sir, whoever suggested anything of the sort?" Snow asked. "After all, it is merely a business transaction, as you know, as well as I. I suppose there is no objection to the course I suggest?"
"Oh, dear, no," Flint replied. "I shall be quite ready for your men in the morning."
And, saying this, Flint swaggered out of the office and down the street, while Snow took down the telephone receiver and informed Archenfield what he had done. Archenfield's telephone was in his library, and, at the moment the bell rang he was poring over the exquisitely bound volume that contained the archives of the Three Fishers and reading the extracts therefrom with the aid of Chim Fang, who sat beside him.
"Well, that's all right, so far," he said. "That message was from Mr. Snow, the solicitor in Oxley. You already know that I consulted him with reference to learning something definite about that man Flint and his monetary affairs. It seems that he has seen Mr. Snow this morning, and from what I gather on the telephone the fellow is horribly frightened at the prospect of having his books examined. We must not lose sight of him Chim Fang, and for the next day or two you will have to act as my watchdog. I must know of every move of his for the early future, and it will be up to you to keep him in sight as much as possible. I expect you will have to disguise yourself, but it won't be for the first time."
"You can leave that to me, master," Chim Fang said.
"I can leave that to you with every confidence," Archenfield replied. "I have done so in the past with the best possible results. We will look at your disguise presently. Meanwhile we have not wasted our time over this precious volume. So far as I can see from the record the Three Fishers appear to be in a bad way. The Chinese revolution, following on the Boxer riots, has apparently broken up the league. It was inevitable sooner or later, as civilisation spreads, and those countrymen of yours begin to learn something of the blessings of Western civilisation. It appears to me that, to all practical purposes, Chang Hen now represents the Three Fishers. The league is broken up and scattered, and apparently its leading spirits are all dead. From what I can make out Chang Hen is no longer a rich man, his power is broken, and it is only fair to assume that he is the man who has come here with the idea of frightening Robert Molyneux into disgorging his ill-gotten gains. That is only a theory, of course, but I believe there is something in it. We have now got to concentrate our energies entirely on proving Mrs. Molyneux's innocence, and I believe that we have made an important step to-day."
"I believe we have, master," Chim Fang said.
"Then we must begin to act. You must keep an eye upon Flint, and follow him as if you were his shadow. He will try, almost at once, to get in communication with Mrs. Molyneux's maid, of that I am certain. And I really suspect that Flint can tell us a good deal about Mr. Molyneux's death, if he will. If that death has anything to do with the Three Fishers, I am sure he can. But we must not pin ourselves down to one theory alone, because I have quite another view as to the real facts surrounding Robert Molyneux's death, and the more I think the matter over, the more convinced I am that I am right I don't want to discuss that matter with you now, Chim Fang, because it is only a theory. The police would probably call it a wild one. They might say that only a dramatist could conceive it. All my successes have been built up upon ingenious theories and dramatic possibilities that some folk contend could only happen on the stage. But truth is stranger than fiction, Chim Fang, as you and I have very good reason to know."
"Shall I get on, master?" Chim Fang asked.
"By all means," Archenfield said. "Now, as to that disguise. I think a sort of Sunday suit, such as those Italian metal workers wear who come out of Lyddmouth holiday making sometimes, would do very well. That and a scrubby black moustache, and a pair of gold rings in your ears will alter you out of all recognition. Yes, I think that's the scheme."
Chim Fang left the House by the River half an hour later, so successfully disguised that even Archenfield was delighted. He made his way along the road with a cigarette between his teeth in the direction of Oxley, looking for all the world like a prosperous workman bent on a holiday in the sunshine. He came at length to the low range of buildings with the grey house behind that formed the racing stable which was presided over by Stephen Flint. Then, with a pair of glasses in his hand, Chim Fang seated himself with the dogged patience of his race to wait for Flint. He sat there for over two hours, watching the various horses at exercise, he saw Flint from time to time clad in his breeches and gaiters going about his work, but Chim Fang never moved as he smoked one cigarette after another, with his eyes over on the range of buildings before him. And his reward came presently when he saw Flint, beautifully attired in a suit of grey flannels, striking off across the fields in the direction of the woods that fringed the river. Chim Fang rose, and followed at a discreet distance until he too entered the wood, and wormed his way, like a snake, through the undergrowth until he reached the open space where Flint was standing by the side of a fallen tree evidently waiting for someone. That someone came presently, and Chim Fang's little dark eyes gleamed as he saw it was Mrs. Molyneux's maid, Judith Carr. She looked very neat and attractive, very quiet and lady like but there was a dash of red in her cheeks and a sparkle of anger in her eyes that did not bode much good for the peacefulness of the interview.
"Well." she said indifferently. "Here I am."
Chim Fang crouched down comfortably behind a thick patch of bracken where he could not only hear, but see everything that was going on before him.
"What's the matter?" Flint asked. "Upon my word, Judith, anybody'd think you didn't like me."
"I wish to Heaven I didn't," the girl said vehemently. "I wish to goodness I had never seen you. I was happy enough and honest enough before you came along with that glib tongue and those wheedling ways of yours. And I was fool enough to be flattered by your attentions. Oh, you look very nice in that beautiful flannel suit of yours; you pretend to be fond of me, but it is only because I am useful to you."
"Oh, drop that nonsense, Judith," Flint said. "I'm fairly sick of it. You know I do care for you and that I'd marry you to-morrow if things were better. But, as it is, I am in a worse mess than ever."
"That means more money, I suppose," the girl sneered. "That's all you care about. And I should like to know where it is coming from."
"Where the other did, I suppose," Flint said hoarsely.
A bitter laugh broke from the girl's lips.
"Do you know what you have had already?" she asked. "Because if you don't, I'll tell you. It's just a thousand pounds. A whole thousand pounds inside a week. And I used to be an honest girl who prided herself upon being absolutely straight. If anybody had told me a week ago that I should find you a thousand pounds I should have laughed. And yet it is true, and you can't deny it. And now you come to me asking for more. You can't have it."
"I must, and I will," Flint said between his teeth. "Oh, come, be sensible Judith. I have had the most infernal luck the last few days. Everything I have touched has gone wrong. Every horse I have backed has gone down. And that's not the worst of it. Some old acquaintances of mine turned up the other day, men I knew abroad, and they bled me fairly white. I had to give them what they wanted because they know too much, and it was necessary to close their mouths. And there's worse even than that. Crosby has suddenly made up his mind to have my books gone into, and he is sending accountants in to-morrow for the purpose. That old brute Snow told me this morning. They've caught me all right. They believe I have been robbing Crosby, and they're not far wrong. And if they go into those books now, I shall be prosecuted to a dead certainty. I shall have to go to gaol, and what will you do then?"
Flint lowered his voice as he spoke and laid his hand on the girl's arm. Then he drew her to his side and kissed her. There were tears in her eyes now, and all signs of her jealousy and anger had vanished. This man she cared for was in trouble, and she could think of nothing else.
"Is it really as bad as that, Stephen?" she faltered.
"Haven't I already told you it is?" Flint said irritably. "Funny thing you women can never understand these matters. I tell you I am in a deuce of a hole. I tell you, if I can't find that money by to-morrow night I shall be handed over to the police. Crosby is fond of doing other people, but he hates to be done himself, and he won't spare me. Now, then, are you going to find me that money or are you not? Are you going to let me go to gaol, because if you do, we shall never meet again, and all your schemes for becoming the wife of a gentleman will vanish. Now what is it to be?"
"All that money?" Judith faltered.
"Not a penny less would be any good."
"You can't have it," the girl cried. "It is impossible. I haven't got a penny."
"What, and you told me—"
"Never mind what I told you. I tell you I can't find any more. And when I say I can't find it I don't mean I won't find it. I literally can't find the rest of the money, Stephen. I thought it was in the same place where the other came from, but it isn't. I have looked everywhere for it, and there is not a sign to be seen. I didn't mean to give it you if I found it, but you should have every penny of it now if it were possible. You know I'd do anything to save you."
"It's easy to say that now," Flint replied moodily. "But I don't believe you."
"It doesn't matter whether you believe me or not," Judith retorted. "Anyhow, it's the truth."
They talked on thus for half an hour or so, but evidently there was nothing more to be learnt, so Chim Fang crept away cautiously upon his hands and knees until he was out of earshot, then he hurried off without further loss of time and made his way back to the House on the River. Here he found Archenfield with Hara and Mrs. Molyneux sitting on the lawn in the sunshine with the tea table before them. At a sign from Chim Fang, Archenfield rose and walked towards the house. He led the way to the library and closed the door behind him.
"You have got some news?" he asked.
"I have got some news, master, yes," Chim Fang said. "I have not been wasting my time."
In his quiet stolid way Chim Fang told his story of his afternoon's adventure. Archenfield listened and nodded his head from time to time as he smoked his cigarette.
"That's very good, Chim Fang," he said approvingly when the Chinaman had finished his narrative. "Very good indeed, as your work always is. And now we begin to understand something about the mystery of those missing notes. Beyond the shadow of a doubt that girl stole them, or at any rate, a part of them, and, of course, she handed them over to the man who has been undoubtedly making love to her for the very purpose of getting them."
"But how did she know they were there, master?" Chim Fang asked. "How could she tell that Mr. Molyneux drew that money out of his bank on the day of his death?"
"That's a very shrewd question, Chim Fang," Archenfield said. "How did she know! That's what we have to find out. One thing is certain; she would never have dared to take them as long as her master was alive. Even to help her lover she could not have faced a danger like that. Therefore, it is only fair to assume that she found those notes and took them after her master's death. She must have found out, by some means, or another, that he was dead; she must have been in the library with him when he was actually lying a corpse and have taken the notes either from the body or from some place close by. Then she would have crept out of the room and probably left the house without giving the alarm, at the same time feeling perfectly safe in the possession of the stolen money. Of course, this is all theory, Chim Fang; this is merely what the French police call reconstruction of the crime. And it seems to me that it is not one crime, but three. Now, what do you make of it?"
Chim Fang shook his head slowly. "I don't know what to make of it, master," he said. "Isn't it possible that after all Chang Hen found his way into the house and murdered Mr. Molyneux? As we know, he could have done it three or four ways without the danger of being found out. We know all about those secret Chinese methods of getting rid of an enemy."
"Yes, that's quite possible," Archenfield said thoughtfully. "But for the fact that that second bottle of the medicine was found in the house with a dose missing, I should be inclined to say you were right. Let us put that on one side for a moment. Don't let's go wandering down sidepaths. This discovery about the missing notes is important. That girl stole them beyond the shadow of a doubt—in fact, you heard her say she had stolen them, and handed them over to Flint, who, of course, knows they belonged to Molyneux. Now, let us go a bit further. Those notes were handed over to Mr. Molyneux at the bank in two separate envelopes, each containing a thousand pounds. Molyneux, of course, hid them in a secret place, at least, what he thought was a secret place, but no doubt he was being watched by the girl without his knowing it. Of course, she must have watched him, because I actually caught her myself in the library with that book in her hand, the book that covered the hiding place. And in that hiding place I found the empty envelope that had contained half the bank notes. But Molyneux must have put the other envelope somewhere else, and it was the other envelope that Judith Carr was looking for when I surprised her in the library. Again, a girl like that, living in the house, would know all about Molyneux and his peculiarities, and she would probably be aware of the fact that he never took his wife into his confidence. She would take it for granted that Mr. Molyneux would not tell his wife that he had drawn all that money from the bank, and, as a matter of fact, he didn't, because the lady in question knew nothing whatever about it until I told her myself. Therefore Judith Carr would be on safe ground in that supposition. Can't you see the temptation, Chim Fang? I don't suppose that she's naturally dishonest, but here are temptations and opportunity going hand in hand, and besides the infatuated girl knew that her lover was in urgent need of money. She stole it all right. But unfortunately for Flint she can't find the rest of the plunder, though I have no doubt she will try. And now another thing becomes quite clear. The bank note that led up to all this investigation of ours was undoubtedly paid to Mockett by Flint the night that Mockett met him in the billiard-room where those bank notes were being flashed about. I have no doubt when I see Mockett again and put this before him, he will agree that my suggestion is right. And that being so, we can go still a step further. The other two notes paid to Mockett by the Chinamen came from Flint, and were handed over to them by him no doubt under a threat."
"That is very clever of you, master," Chim Fang said. "I would not have thought of that."
"Oh yes, you would, if you had given it a moment's consideration. It is quite obvious. You heard Flint say this afternoon that certain old acquaintances had turned up and that he had to help them. He was speaking, of course, of the Chinamen with whom I saw him at the music hall, fellow countrymen of yours, no doubt, that he and Molyneux had employed in China when they raided the treasures of the Three Fishers. Anyway, that will do for the present, Chim Fang. You go back into Oxley and keep an eye upon Flint. Don't lose sight of him."
Chim Fang departed on his errand without another word, and Archenfield returned thoughtfully to the garden with a blank telegram form in his hand.
"We're getting on, Mrs. Molyneux," he said. "My faithful Chim Fang has had a most successful afternoon. Now, I want you to do something for me."
"Anything you like," Cecil Molyneux said.
"Well, I want you to fill in this telegram form, and address it to your maid, Judith Carr. Tell her that you have need of her services and that she is to come here, directly she gets your message. You had better add that you are staying here a few days longer. Oh, there's nothing mysterious about it. Only it is just as well, perhaps, if the girl were here, because I should like to have her under my eye."
Though Archenfield spoke modestly to Chim Fang and those principally concerned with the result of his investigations, he had gone a great deal further towards solving the mystery than he admitted. It seemed to him, as he sat in his study working the matter out in his mind, that one side, at least, of the mystery was now fairly clear. He had worked the whole thing out with the same infinite care and pains that he bestowed upon one of his ingenious dramas. In his mind's eye he could see the model stage all set out, and the exact position of the leading characters, and he was now more or less able to move his puppets about the mimic boards as he wished. At least, he could but for one thing.
And that one thing was the extraordinary appearance of the Chinese faction in the midst of what had apparently been a story of sordid crime and a base conspiracy against an innocent woman. And yet, try as he would, Archenfield could not dissociate one set of circumstances from another. They fitted in so beautifully, but he would have been ready to swear, when he had first taken the case up, that they had nothing to do with each other. And he was still of the opinion that he could dissociate Cecil Molyneux from that amazing cycle of crime without interfering with the rest of the puzzle. For there were two distinct puzzles that lay before him, interlocked though they were; and if he could succeed in removing one set of figures from that strange and dramatic stage, then it would be easier to manipulate the others as he wished. It seemed to him, as he sat poring over the problem, that he could lay a finger unerringly upon one principal criminal at any rate, but on the other hand he did not want to alarm this particular quarry until he was quite prepared. And it had been, therefore, with a view to expediting matters that he had decided to have Judith Carr under his own roof. For the moment he had no intention of explaining his reasons for doing this to Cecil Molyneux, though she was plainly puzzled, and a little alarmed. Archenfield was not at all surprised to find that the maid was not particularly anxious to fall in with the wishes of her mistress. On one excuse or another, she delayed her arrival for two days, and when she came at length it was evidently with manifest reluctance.
And when she did come her appearance fairly startled Cecil. It was not that the girl had lost any of her good looks. She moved about with the same jaunty self-possession, but her features were drawn and haggard, and there where dark rings under her eyes which gave her a perfectly ghastly appearance. There was a marked nervousness in her manner, and she started violently at the slightest sound. She looked a great deal more like a suspected criminal than did Cecil herself. All this she accounted for on the grounds that the tragedy of the Red House had been a terrible shock to her, and that she could not sleep at nights for thinking of her mistress. She was restless and ill at ease, too, in Archenfield's household, and from the very first she resolutely kept Chim Fang and his daughter at a distance. When not waiting upon her mistress she spent most of her time in her own bedroom, and more than once Cecil found her in a fit of passionate weeping. Indeed, so concerned was Cecil over this that she mentioned the matter to Archenfield.
He merely smiled and murmured some commonplace remark to the effect that the girl was highly strung, and that evidently the events of the past few days had been too much for her. He thrust the matter on one side, as of no importance, nor did he enlighten Cecil as to the close watch that he himself had kept on Judith Carr ever since her arrival.
From his point of view, at any rate, things were going very well, and the faithful Chim Fang, who was now spending most of his time in Oxley and Lyddmouth, sent favourable reports from time to time over the telephone. Things were moving fast now, and a startling development of the Red House mystery might be expected at any moment.
Therefore Archenfield was not pleased when, in the course of the morning, the little maid, Li, came to him with the announcement that a gentleman who would not give his name wanted to see his master on important business.
"Oh, show him in," Archenfield said impatiently.
There entered a tall, pleasant-faced young man, keen-eyed and resolute looking, the sort of man to whom Archenfield's heart went out instinctively, for here, undoubtedly, was a gentleman in every sense of the word, who looked him straight in the face and addressed him directly.
"I am sorry to intrude upon you," he said. "But I have been talking to our mutual friend, Mr. Snow, and he advised me to come here. Of course, I have heard your name before, and I am delighted and grateful to hear that you have interested yourself in Mrs. Molyneux. My name is Godfrey Coventry."
"Oh, Indeed," Archenfield murmured. "Oh, indeed. You are an old friend of Mrs. Molyneux's."
Coventry gave an impatient gesture.
"Yes," he said. "I was engaged to Mrs. Molyneux for two years before she was married. We were, and are, passionately attached to one another. I am not mincing matters when I say that blackguard Molyneux forced us apart deliberately and callously. He had no feeling of enmity against me, and he didn't care for Cecil a single heartbeat. Because she was cold and kept him at a distance he made up his mind to marry her. He did that in his brutal fashion, and because he was in a position to save Cecil's father from serious trouble she was forced to marry him. She did not disguise her feelings; he knew she disliked him, and he knew that her heart was mine. But that made no difference to a perverted nature like Molyneux: it only hardened him in his determination. I was a poor man in those days, and could do nothing, and so Cecil married him. And she made him a good wife, she did her honest best, she faced the hell that lay before her with a pluck and courage that used to bring tears into my eyes. We never saw one another except in the presence of outsiders, and very seldom then. We were never alone till the night before I sailed for Canada."
"That was the night of Molyneux's death, wasn't it?"
"Yes. I asked Cecil to meet me to say good-bye, and she consumed. Not secretly, because she told Molyneux all about it. I could not go to the house, because he would only have insulted me if I had, but I met her in the garden, he knowing I was going to do so. It was just the sort of situation that his crooked mind delighted in. Well, we met after dinner, and I suppose we must have been together two or three hours. But really, the time passed more quickly than we thought. And I swear to you, Mr. Archenfield, that no word of love passed between us. We parted at length, and I left Oxley the same night. I went to Liverpool, where I was waiting for a friend, and for some days I was too busy to look at the papers. Then this morning I read all about the Red House mystery in the 'Telegraph.' I need not tell you that I hastened back at once. I came back, because my testimony will free Cecil from suspicion at once. When, she joined me in the garden, her husband was alive. She was with me till after his death and the evidence of the inquest proves. Now, if I come forward—"
"But that is exactly what Mrs. Molyneux does not want," Archenfield interrupted. "She has not been altogether candid with me on this point, but, all the same, I can quite understand her scruples. She would see at once what people would say when they knew that she was keeping an assignation with you in the garden. Gossips would jump to the conclusion that it was a secret meeting, and I am afraid Counsel for the Crown would point to all this as a motive for the crime. Surely, Mr. Coventry, you can see this."
"I hadn't thought of that," Coventry groaned. "What a ghastly business the whole thing is. And unhappily you are right. It is a most uncharitable world, and what is worse, everybody in Oxley knows of my one time engagement to Cecil. Oh yes, I can quite see now why she didn't mention it, though she must have known that I was in a position to prove that she was in the garden at the time her husband died, and that therefore it was not she who called at the chemist's."
"Oh, I see that plainly enough," Archenfield said. "Excuse me a moment, there's someone at the telephone."
It was Chim Fang at the other end of the wire.
"Is that you, master?" he asked. "Flint was arrested this morning, and comes before the magistrate to-morrow."
Archenfield gave a few brief instructions to his henchman. Chim Fang was to stay in Oxley for the present and attend the police court proceedings on the morrow, after which he was to return to the House on the River without delay. He went back to his seat and resumed his conversation with Coventry.
"I expected something like this," he said. "I don't mean to say that I expected to see you back here so soon, but I knew that Mrs. Molyneux was concealing something from me. It was an innocent deception, and I am bound to say that I like her all the better for it. If the worst comes to the worst, you will have to go into the witness-box and tell your story. But I warn you that it will not be believed. It will be suggested that you concocted the whole thing to save the woman you love from a fearful charge. You have no witnesses. But, on the other hand, in view of certain information which I have received, I don't think there will be any occasion for you to appear in the case. I am sure you will agree that if we can keep Mrs. Molyneux's love affairs out of the case it will be all the better. You can rest assured that before long Mrs. Molyneux will be free from all suspicion, and that being so, it is a pity you came back at all? When the whole case is forgotten, then—"
"But how should I know this?" Coventry cried. "I was bound to come back, in my position; I should have come back if Cecil had been a mere stranger to me."
"Oh, I quite see that. What you have done does credit to your feelings; but if you take my advice you won't try and see Mrs. Molyneux."
"You think it better not?"
"My dear sir, I am sure of it. Don't give anybody the slightest hand. Unfortunately certain people must know by this time that you have come back, and if it becomes generally known that you are here—"
"Well, it isn't. I walked. I thought it best to do so, it was very hard that I can't see the poor girl and say a few words of encouragement to her; but I am entirely in your hands, and will do anything you suggest."
"You are quite right," Archenfield cried. "Go back to Oxley and stay there by all means. Tell people you have changed your mind about going to Canada. There is not the slightest reason why you shouldn't write to Mrs. Molyneux and let her know that you have returned. There would be no possible harm in that. And I will inform her that you have been here—in fact, I will tell her all about it."
"That is very good of you," Coventry said. "And now I won't detain you any longer."
Archenfield saw his visitor off the premises with the comfortable feeling that Coventry had not been seen. Then he went back to the library and sent a message to Mrs. Molyneux that he wanted to see her. She came in a minute or two later, looking a little startled and uneasy, and expressed the hope that there was nothing wrong.
"On the contrary," Archenfield smiled reassuringly. "I have just had a visitor, a visitor who came to see you, but I persuaded him that he had better not."
"Godfrey!" Cecil cried. "Godfrey here."
"Well, he was, but he has gone now. And I am sure you will agree with me that it was better you should not meet, even so far remote from prying eyes as this. Now, do sit down and try and compose yourself. Because I am going to scold you."
"What have I done?" Cecil asked.
"It is something you have not done," Archenfield said. "Now, why didn't you tell me, when you said you had told me everything, that on the night of your husband's death you left him sitting in the library, and that you did not see him again alive? You found him dead in the library, and immediately called for assistance. You couldn't have murdered him from between the time that you went into the room and the moment you rang the bell, could you now? And you couldn't possibly have gone down to the chemist's shop and purchased that second bottle of drug between dinner-time and eleven o'clock, for the simple reason that you were in the garden with Mr. Coventry all the time."
Cecil's face flamed hotly.
"Oh, I was," she said. "Perhaps I ought to have told you, but what would have been the good? We could have gained nothing by it. Besides, Godfrey went without even telling me by what boat he was sailing. And I didn't want anybody to know that I had been with him that night."
"Are you sure that no one knew?"
There was a startled expression in Cecil's eyes.
"Well, yes, I imagine that Barton knew. Yes, he did. I remember now my husband telling me in Barton's presence not to stay there fussing about him, but to go into the garden and meet the man who was awaiting me there. It was one of those dreadful remarks that Robert was fond of making in the presence of the servants. He never lost a chance to humiliate me. But can't you see what people would say if they knew that I had met Godfrey in the garden that night? There are lots of uncharitable people who would be ready to declare that we deliberately planned to destroy my husband. Mr. Archenfield, I will put up with any punishment rather than I would stand in the dock and hear Godfrey give evidence in my favour. That must not happen—indeed, it must not. Oh, surely there is some way of saving me without putting me in that terrible position. And it would be none the less humiliating because I am absolutely innocent. Oh, I could not bear it."
"Try to control yourself," Archenfield said. "I don't think that there is the slightest chance of anything of the sort happening. Very fortunately. Mr. Coventry came direct here, and told me his story. He was detained in Liverpool and only saw the inquest in the paper yesterday. Then, of course, he came back hot-foot to do what he could for you, and the only man who knows why he has returned is your own solicitor, Mr. Snow, who is not likely to say anything about it. Anyway, I have persuaded Mr. Coventry to say nothing for the present, and to make no attempt, in the circumstances, to see you. He wanted to very badly, of course; but he was quite reasonable, and he went back to Oxley feeling convinced that everything he has done is for the best. And so it is. The story of that garden interview of yours must never be public property. But, all the same, I wish you had told me."
"I wish I had now," Cecil said meekly. "Is there anything more you want to say to me?"
There was nothing more for the moment, and Cecil left the library and made her way upstairs in the direction of her bedroom. She wanted to be alone, wanted to have a chance to think over what Archenfield had said, and to regain the composure which she had lost when the dramatist had informed her that Coventry had returned.
As she passed the bedroom next to hers, where Judith Carr had been established, she heard the unmistakable sound of violent sobbing going on inside. She hesitated just for a moment before opening the door.
Her maid was lying face downwards on her bed in a perfect agony of uncontrollable grief. Cecil laid her hands upon Judith's shoulder and shook her gently twice before the girl realised that she was no longer alone. She lifted a tear-drenched, woe-begone face that was all white and despairing, then turned over on her side again.
"Won't you tell me what's wrong?" Cecil asked gently. "I am afraid you have had some very bad news, Judith."
"It's Stephen," the girl sobbed. "Mr. Stephen Flint, the man I am engaged to."
"Oh, you are engaged to him," Cecil said a little coldly, in spite of herself. "He has been behaving badly to you."
"No, he hasn't," the girl cried fiercely. "Mr. Flint is a gentleman, and we have been engaged quite a long time. It was a secret of course. But that isn't the trouble. He has been arrested on a charge of robbing his employer. And I could have saved him, I could have saved him all this, if I had not been dreadfully unfortunate. Why—"
The girl stopped suddenly and stared at her mistress with a terrible fear in her eyes. But with her sympathy aroused, Cecil saw nothing of this.
"How much is it?" she asked.
"Nearly a thousand pounds. And with any luck I could have saved him."
The arrest of Stephen Flint on a charge of robbing his employer, and falsifying the books of the training establishment, caused a sensation in Oxley, though, of course, not comparable to the public excitement which the death of Robert Molyneux aroused. The little court was crowded to suffocation, and it was only by dint of a little diplomacy, together with a judicious half-crown, that Chim Fang was able to be present. As a matter of fact, for the last day or two he had hardly lost sight of Flint, and indeed, he had been on the downs behind the racing stables when the Chief Inspector of the Oxley Police had made the arrest. And now Chim Fang was seated in the front row of the gallery, a stolid figure in a bowler hat and a black moustache, watching the proceedings with a keen interest that belied his sleepy expression in his dark eyes.
The Inspector of Police was the first witness. He testified to the fact that, acting on instructions, he had called at the racing stables with a warrant for the prisoner's arrest, which had been taken out at the instance by the proprietor of the establishment in question. The charge was one of misappropriating the sum of some nine hundred odd pounds, and the falsification of the account books. It was intimated that there might be other charges against the prisoner, but for the moment, at any rate, that was as far as the prosecution was prepared to go.
"I arrested Stephen Flint yesterday morning," the Inspector said, "in the stables, and on reading the warrant over to him he made no reply except that he was innocent of the charge."
"Anyone representing the prisoner?" the chairman asked.
"Not at present, sir," Flint said from the dock. "I have had no time to consult my solicitor in Lyddmouth, and I object to the proceedings going any further in his absence. I shall have a perfect answer for this charge when the times comes, and meanwhile, I ask for bail."
"We can go into that presently," the chairman said coldly. "I should like to hear a little more evidence first."
Accordingly the prosecutor stepped into the box. He was a big man with a coarse, red face who was clearly prejudiced against the prisoner, and would have been still more vindictive had he not been pulled up by the magistrate's clerk and told to confine himself to the main point. But what he said was quite enough. He had trusted the prisoner implicitly, he had left the books of the training establishment entirely in his hands—indeed, Flint had even power to draw cheques. And this was not the first time that certain irregularities had aroused his suspicion. But he was a busy man, the head of a large concern in the City of London, and, in the circumstances, it was absolutely necessary that he should trust someone. He was clearly annoyed to find his confidence misplaced.
Then Snow gave his evidence, followed by the chief clerk of the firm of auditors who had examined the books. Those books, they found, had been kept in the most slipshod manner: they had not been posted up for quite a long time; but, by examining certain bills and vouchers, together with a bank book, defalcations to the extent of over nine hundred pounds had been found up to the time of the issue of the warrant.
"That is the case, sir," the Inspector said. "And on the evidence before your worships I ask for an adjournment for a week."
"Then this day week," the chairman said.
Flint leant eagerly forward.
"And what about bail?" he asked. "I must have bail. How can I give instructions for my defence if I don't? I have friends in the Court ready to help me."
"What do you think, Inspector?" the chairman asked. "Do the police raise any objection?"
"Well, it's rather a serious charge, sir," the Inspector replied. "But, seeing that the prisoner has lived all his life here, and is respectably connected, we do not oppose bail. We suggest two sureties of five hundred pounds each."
The bail was immediately forthcoming in the shape of two youthful admirers of Flint who stepped forward, apparently pleased to find themselves so prominently in the limelight. The necessary formalities having been entered into, Flint left the court with his friends. He looked a little dejected, but smiled bravely enough as he made his way across the road in the direction of the principal hotel. He emerged from that half an hour later alone, and turned his steps in the direction of the station, to which he was followed at a discreet distance by Chim Fang, who travelled in the same train to Lyddmouth. And there, for a couple of hours or so, he dogged the footsteps of the unconscious Flint, until at length the latter made his way to the flat in the big block of buildings not far from the Gaiety Music Hall which he occupied two or three nights a week, or whenever business or pleasure took him to Lyddmouth.
The flat in question was on the top of a lofty structure which was faced by a corresponding mass of flats on the other side of the somewhat narrow road. They were by no means luxurious flats, but more in the nature of tenements. Inhabited for the most part by prosperous artisans and iron workers, of which the great port of Lyddmouth boasted many thousands. At any rate, they were clean and commodious, and as Flint's flat was at the top of the block of buildings, some eighty feet from the ground, he could be quiet up there and remote from the noise of the street. Moreover, there were balconies in front of each top flat, so that it was possible to enjoy the air on the summer evenings and keep the windows open for the sake of the breeze that blew up the river from the open sea.
There was no occasion for the patient watcher down below to climb up those stone stairs, for Chim Fang had been there already; indeed, he had done more than examine the outside of Flint's flat. He had actually been over the four rooms contained therein with the aid of a key with which Chim Fang boasted, not without reason, that he could open any ordinary lock within a minute or two.
But, all the same, he hung about patiently below, waiting for Flint to reappear again, not because he expected to find anything of importance, but because he never neglected an opportunity, and, moreover, Archenfield had told him that he was to keep Flint persistently in sight.
So he hung about there with characteristic patience, till at length he was rewarded by the appearance of two of his fellow-countrymen—the two men, in fact, that he had seen on the night of the adventure at the Red House—and Chim Fang opened his eyes as he saw the two blue-clad figures disappear in the block of flats immediately opposite to those in which Stephen Flint's modest tenement was situated.
Secure in his disguise, Chim Fang followed at a respectful distance, until the two men in front of him disappeared in one of the topmost flats immediately facing the big building opposite. Chim Fang was sure of this, because the flat next door on the same side was empty, and by looking through the open door he could actually see Flint seated at the open window just beyond the balcony. Then Chim Fang crept quietly down the stairs again and made his way to the nearest telephone office. There he called up his employer.
"Chim Fang speaking, master," he said, "Can you meet me to-night and go to circus? Yes, Gunter's Circus, master. Perhaps I can show you something that will help you. But, all the same, master, you had better come."
Archenfield, sitting there in his library, weighing the theories that he had been weaving about the case of Cecil Molyneux, paid little or no attention, for the moment, to Chim Fang's telephone message from Lyddmouth. He knew perfectly well that his faithful Chinese henchman would not have asked him to go into the big seaport unless he had had some pressing reason. He trusted Chim Fang implicitly, for the stolid Oriental had been his right-hand man now for years, and Archenfield had learned to appreciate his many sterling qualities. He was absolutely trustworthy; he would have lain down his life cheerfully for the man to whom he owed so much, and he was in every way an admirable coadjutor in the work which Archenfield had in hand.
Moreover, Chim Fang possessed all the subtle mental qualities of his race. He rarely spoke unless spoken to, and when invited to give his opinion he expressed himself in the fewest possible words. There had been many times when he had made suggestions of the greatest possible value. In his quiet way he watched every movement in the case, and it is no exaggeration to say that he could see as far into the heart of a mystery as Archenfield. Beyond question Chim Fang had stumbled upon some clue of importance which he wanted Archenfield to see for himself, or he would never have asked him to go into Lyddmouth.
There was no great hurry for the moment, so that Archenfield worked away in the library till lunch time, and after that smoked a meditative cigarette or two in the garden, where he was joined presently by Cecil Molyneux. He glanced at her shrewdly from under his eyebrows as she dropped into a chair in the shade. He waited for her to speak.
"You have something to say to me?" he said.
"I don't know how you know that," Cecil smiled faintly. "But I have."
"Yes, I thought so. Something in connection with your maid, is it not?"
"Yes. Of course, I don't quite know why you brought her here, but I am afraid that Judith Carr is in great trouble. You remember my telling you what I heard in the shrubbery of the Red House just after my husband's death to the effect that Judith was there with a man not of her own class. It turns out now that the man in question was Mr. Stephen Flint, and it was he, of course, who dropped the box that I found."
"Oh, really," Archenfield said dryly. "I presume Mr. Flint turns out to be the mysterious lover."
"Quite right," Cecil said eagerly. "And now he has been arrested on a serious charge in connection with the racing stable he manages. I found my maid just now in almost a state of collapse in her bedroom, and she told me all about it. She was most mysterious, too. She said all sorts of wild things; amongst others that she could have saved him had she not been unlucky, though what she means by that I cannot think, because it is a matter of nearly a thousand pounds."
Archenfield looked up swiftly.
"Oh, she said that, did she?" he remarked. "But then, when a girl makes a fool of herself over a man like Flint, she is liable to say all sorts of things."
With which Archenfield turned the conversation, and began to talk about something else. But, all the same, he had gleaned a piece of information of great value, and, at the same time, had confirmed the theory which had grown up in his mind, and which he was working steadily for. Cecil would have been astonished had she known exactly why Archenfield had contrived to get Judith Carr under his own roof, and how pleased he was with the way that things were going.
It was a little later on in the afternoon that he contrived to have an interview with Judith Carr herself. He was discreetly sympathetic, but asked no questions that were calculated to arouse the girl's suspicions. He dismissed her presently with a general impression that he was quite a nice type of man, good natured and kind hearted, and not too astute, in which she was wrong, for in a few words Judith Carr had told him a great deal more than she dreamt of. Then he brought the car out of the garage and drove into Lyddmouth.
It was getting late in the evening before Archenfield met Chim Fang at the appointed place, and together they turned their faces in the direction of the spot on the waste grounds at the back of the town where Gunter's Circus tent had been erected.
"You haven't wasted your time then?" Archenfield asked.
"I have not, master," Chim Fang said.
It was characteristic of the man, and his methods that he vouchsafed no further information. And neither would he, as Archenfield very well knew, until he was ready, and perhaps not even then. For Chim Fang was not to be hurried, not to be moved out of that extraordinary calm of his until the right moment. So they walked along, side by side, and presently entered the huge tent where the performance was to take place. Archenfield paid for two seats in the stalls, which were already well filled, whilst the rest of the vast arena was packed. But Chim Fang, after glancing about him for a moment or two, rose from his seat and made a sign that Archenfield should follow him. They passed down between the gangway and under the arch that led to the back of the tent where the performers were grouped together. In the midst of them, resplendent in a braided frock-coat, knee breeches, and a dazzling silk hat, was Gunter himself, and he gave Archenfield a hearty welcome.
"Very pleased to see you again, Mr. Archenfield," he said. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
"I don't know," Archenfield said. "My friend brought me here. This is Chim Fang, only you wouldn't know it."
"Why, bless my soul, so it is," Gunter said. "I would not have known you but for those eyes of yours. But what's the game, sir? Why is Chim Fang in that disguise?"
"I rely upon your discretion," Archenfield said. "You must not mention that this prosperous-looking workman is my old servant. And now, Chim Fang, perhaps you will tell Mr. Gunter and myself why you brought me here."
Chim Fang's eyes twinkled, but he made no reply. He gave a sidelong glance at two men who were seated in a distant corner deeply absorbed in a game of cards. And as Archenfield followed the direction of the glance he recognised the Chinaman he had seen on the night of the adventure in the Red House. But the two Orientals in question were no longer clad in loose garments of blue. They were arrayed now in tights and the gorgeous short jackets usually favoured by acrobats. Archenfield waited for Chim Fang to speak, but the latter maintained his absolute silence. He was evidently waiting for Archenfield to begin. It was one of his peculiarities.
"Oh, I see, those are the two Chinamen you spoke about," Archenfield said. "I mean the men who left you and came back again. What are they doing there?"
"They are playing cards," Gunter said. "They're always playing cards. They do nothing else all day long. It doesn't matter to me, as long as they do their work all right, and they are about the strongest turn I have got."
"How did you get them back again?" Archenfield asked.
"Oh, don't ask me. They came back, just as they went, without a word of warning and no sort of apology for leaving me in the lurch. Still, they come pretty cheap, and I am not going to grumble. Why, those two chaps could easily get five times what I pay them in a London music hall."
Archenfield listened, all attention now. He began to understand why Chim Fang had brought him here, and there was a feeling at the back of his mind that there was a good deal more yet that he had to learn. And as he stood there with an impassive countenance he was asking himself questions. Why were these men here? Why had they suddenly vanished and then returned in so mysterious a fashion? And why were they working here for what practically amounted to a labourer's wage? And again, why had Chim Fang so completely obliterated himself directly the two acrobats came back to the circus? Was he afraid of meeting them, or was there a yet more powerful reason why he was keeping out of their way? At any rate, it was quite clear that Chang Hen and the other man were working for some common end, and that, at the same time, they were absolutely antagonistic to one another.
"I am rather curious to see those Chinamen," he said. "Is it a very thrilling show they put up?"
"Well, you wait and see," Gunter said significantly.
A bell rang somewhere in the distance, and, with a word or two of apology, Gunter hurried off. Chim Fang turned at the same time, and Archenfield followed him, feeling that there was nothing more to be done for the moment. So, side by side, they made their way back again to the carpeted seats which were dignified by the name of stalls, and then, for the best part of an hour, watched the performance. It was, on the whole, a depressing show, and Archenfield would have turned his back upon it at an early stage of the proceedings had he not been convinced that Chim Fang had brought him here for some very definite purpose.
Then, at length, the ring was cleared, and the attendants in their gaudy uniforms busied themselves with the erection of a net that covered the whole of the space in the centre of the tent. Other assistants, with the aid of ropes and pulleys, raised what appeared to be a small wooden house fronted by a balcony, and fixed it more or less securely to the roof of the tent. Presently in this wooden structure a girl appeared. She was dressed in white, her hair hung all down her back, and she was evidently intended to be the heroine of the romantic drama. Her hands and feet were fettered, and she had something white in her mouth, obviously a gag. On the programme the episode was described as "Mary of the Lonely Tower." The audience understood from the programme that here was a persecuted young woman who was kept, gagged and bound, in confinement by some desperate villain who had imprisoned her there away from her friends until such time, presumably, as she consented either to marry him or to disclose the hiding-place of a hidden treasure. So far the plot of the story was clear enough, and it became clearer still when presently, some twenty-five feet away in the roof of the tent, a canvas structure was hauled up, and intended to represent the top of a rocky precipice from which the rescuers could view the unfortunate lady in her bower separated from them by a huge gulf that loomed between them. The mimic rock was an overhanging one, some twenty feet or so above the bower in which suffering beauty was confined, and presently the two Chinamen appeared on the summit of the rock. To them the gagged young woman made frantic signs that they should come and release her. And so, for a time, the drama went on, with perplexity on one side and imploring gestures on the other.
Chim Fang was leaning forward with his eyes stuttering, and Archenfield could see that he was more excited than usual.
"Is this what you brought me to see?" he asked.
"That's it, master," Chim Fang said. "You watch. And presently I tell you what I think."
With which Chim Fang lapsed into silence again. That there was something more than a cheap and flashy sensation behind what was going on up there in the roof, Archenfield was convinced. It was no use to press Chim Fang, no use to try and hurry him, for he would tell everything in his own time and in his own peculiar and mysterious way. So Archenfield watched the performance with more than usual interest. He saw, presently, that the actors up there on the rock had thought out a plan, for presently one of them produced a rope, which he proceeded to attach to the rock, and then slid down nearly to the end of it. Presently the rope began to work like a pendulum, swinging slowly backwards and forwards until the man clinging there could almost touch the balcony opposite where the girl with the long hair was watching him in mingled delight and terror. But it transpired presently that the rope was not long enough to touch the balcony, and that apparently the efforts of the two heroes were in vain. A sea of upturned faces watched the performance with breathless silence, and the spectators gasped presently as the second man slid down the rope until he reached his companion, and then began to work below him until at length he had grasped the other by the ankles. Then, once more, the rope began to oscillate to and fro, until presently it touched the balcony opposite, and the lower Chinaman, relaxing his grip of the colleague's ankles, flung himself forward, and clutched the rail in front of the balcony. Then, amidst thunders of applause, he climbed over and took the swooning heroine in his arms, and with that the thrilling turn ended.
Apart from the excitement, it was a clever enough performance, neat and daring, despite the fact that there was a net underneath in case of accidents. Presently the acrobats reached the ground, and stood bowing their acknowledgments before they disappeared from the ring.
"Clever enough," Archenfield said. "But I quite fail to see the point of that, Chim Fang. Do you mean to say that it has got anything to do with the task we have before us?"
"Yes, master," Chim Fang said quietly. "I think it has, I can't say yet, and we can't say until we know for certain. If I am not wrong, there is another what you call tragedy not far off. But we can do nothing to stop it, because those police of yours will never listen to what I could tell them. The police will not interfere in a case of suspicion. But I believe Flint is in great danger."
"Can you interfere at all?" Archenfield asked.
"Perhaps master, perhaps not. But I can try. I came here last night because I had to stay here on your orders and I had an hour or two to spare. Besides, I wanted to feel sure that the Chinamen were still here with the circus. And to-day when I keep them in view I learned something, master. Then I asked you to come and see for yourself."
"Oh, well. Chim Fang, you must do things your own way, I suppose," Archenfield said. "You are generally right. But you can tell me as we drive back this evening."
"I am not driving back with you this evening, master," Chim Fang said in his impassive way. "There is much I have to do before I return to the House on the River in the morning. But it is not time to speak yet, perhaps in the end I shall never have reason to speak. But you go your way, master, and I will go mine. You trust Chim Fang."
"I am certain to do that," Archenfield said. "And now. Is there anything else you want to show me, because, if not, I will get back home? I have much to do before I sleep."
Without reply, Chim Fang got up from his seat, and the two made their way towards the door of the tent. As they did so, a sudden volume of smoke impelled by the draught came bursting into the tent, and immediately behind it Archenfield could see a long tongue of yellow flame. Then some excitable woman cried out "Fire!" and in an instant the whole place was in confusion. But, fortunately, there was no panic, and the audience was safely got out in a few minutes: but, meanwhile, the fire, which had been caused by the overturning of big flare lamp, had got a good grip on some of the tents behind where the horses and the animals were stabled, and then, for a quarter of an hour or more, there was a scene of the most intense excitement. Fortunately, there was an ample supply of water at hand, so that at the end of half an hour the flames were all extinguished, and Gunter, with blackened face and hands, was ruefully contemplating the damage.
"Well, it might have been worse," he said, "Anyhow, I am insured, but I don't see how we're going to give another performance under a week. It will take all that to repair the big tent. But I haven't lost anything."
"Here, where's Hiko?" Mrs. Gunter cried. "He was in his cage half an hour ago."
"Good Lord!" Gunter cried. "I wouldn't have anything happen to the chimpanzee for a fortune."
As Gunter spoke a forlorn-looking object, drenched and frightened, crept from under the ruins of one of the tents and looked up appealingly into Archenfield's face. He stooped down and caressed the great simian and offered him a cigarette.
"Let me take him," he said. "Hiko knows me as well as he knows you, and I know exactly how to feed him. Let me have him for a day or two. My sister-in-law will be delighted. He can't stay here in this mess."
It looked almost as if the chimpanzee knew what was being said, for he snuggled up to Archenfield and put those long arms of his round his waist.
"All right, Hiko," Archenfield said. "Don't you worry; I'll look after you for the present."
Archenfield drove home in the darkness with Hiko muffled up in an overcoat seated by his side. The chimpanzee seemed to be thoroughly at home, for he chatted to himself and smoked the cigarette that Archenfield gave him with amazing zest and enjoyment. He had a good meal presently and was made comfortable for the night. He would be quite happy, Archenfield knew, for this was not the first time that Hiko had enjoyed the hospitality of the House on the River.
For an hour or two after everybody had gone to bed Archenfield sat up turning over in his mind the events of the evening. But, try as he would, he could make little or nothing of Chim Fang's mysterious movements, and the reason why the latter had asked him to come into Lyddmouth and watch that performance in Gunter's circus. But, being a wise man, Archenfield went to bed presently, knowing full well that Chim Fang would speak when the time came.
As a matter of fact, the Chinaman walked into the library next morning at about 11 o'clock, and stood stolidly there by the side of the table waiting for Archenfield to speak.
"Well," the latter said, "Any news?"
"Yes, master," Chim Fang said calmly. "The man called Stephen Flint is dead."
"Dead!" Archenfield cried. "What do you mean?"
"Just dead, master," Chim Fang went on, without the flutter of an eyelid. "He died in Lyddmouth last night, or early this morning. He was found by the police in his flat stabbed through the heart."
"You mean he was murdered?" Archenfield cried.
"I think so, master. He would not commit suicide. He is not the man who had the courage for that. When the woman who looks after him went in to take him his cup of tea she found him lying on the floor of the sitting room quite dead. They say that he had been dead for hours. I don't know how many hours, but it must have been after one o'clock this morning, because, up to that time, I was watching outside the flat, and from the time Flint came home to the time I speak of nobody went in or out. Then I went to my own room, and in the morning everybody was saying that Mr. Flint had been murdered."
"Chim Fang," Archenfield exclaimed, "I believe you knew that this was going to happen."
"I expected it, master," Chim Fang said blandly, "but I did not think it was going to happen last night."
"But why didn't you tell me of your suspicions? Why didn't you confide in me yesterday? We might have prevented this if you had been a little more candid. Really, Chim Fang, you carry your reticence to a ridiculous extent."
"Perhaps it is a good thing the man is dead," Chim Fang went on in the same placid fashion. Nothing seemed to move him from his inviolate calm. "Besides, it makes no difference. It does not affect what you are doing; it cannot make any sort of difference to the unfortunate lady who is under your roof. And if I had gone to the police and told them all I knew, they would have laughed at me. You know that, master."
"I am afraid they would," Archenfield admitted. "But, at any rate, you can speak freely to me. I see you know all about it. How did that man die?"
"He was murdered by those two Chinamen, master," Chim Fang said. "And they murdered him because he would not give them what they wanted. What they wanted, I am not quite sure of. But it is something he had, and something he declined to part with. We shall know presently."
"We are going to know to-day," Archenfield declared. "You are going to tell me, at any rate."
"I came back on purpose, master," Chim Fang said.
"Very well, then, go and get the car ready, and we will drive to Lyddmouth at once. I have no doubt the police will give me every facility for inquiring into this matter, and after we have visited the scene of this last crime, then you shall tell me what you have got in the back of your mind and how the thing was done. Because I am sure you know it."
"I know it, master, yes. I knew it was going to happen when we were in the circus last night. Master, I thought that you would see everything."
"Then you thought wrong," Archenfield said irritably. "My mind is not so subtle as yours. Still, perhaps you are right in saying that the police would only have laughed at you if you had gone to them and told them what you suspected. But we are wasting time here. Get the car ready."
Lyddmouth was talking about nothing else but the strange fatality that had overtaken Stephen Flint. He was quite well known in the town, had indeed been a familiar figure there for years. It appeared that he had been found dead in his sitting-room by the charwoman, and that he had been stabbed to death with some sharp-pointed instrument, no trace of which could be found. The Chief Constable, who received Archenfield civilly enough, professed himself to be utterly at fault; there was no clue, so far, and the whole thing was wrapped in mystery.
"I am sorry I can't tell you anything more, Mr. Archenfield," he said. "But, to be quite candid, there is nothing to tell. Flint went home alone last night, at about half-past eleven; he apparently let himself into his flat with the latchkey, and, so far as we know, he had no callers. Of course, in a big block of flats, it would not have been difficult for a dozen people to walk in and out without exciting any suspicion."
Archenfield nodded. He knew, at any rate, that no one had called upon Flint up to one o'clock in the morning, but he was going to say nothing about that for the moment.
"I am much obliged to you," he said. "And I am sure you would have told me everything had there been anything to tell. No, I am not particularly interested, except as a dramatist, you understand, and I happen to know something about Flint."
"Nothing to his credit, I fear," the Chief Constable said. "My theory is that this crime is the work of some racecourse loafer who had a grudge against Flint or perhaps owed him money. But, for the present, it is only a theory."
"Nothing to be found out there," Archenfield said to Chim Fang as they walked down the road together in the direction of the flats where the crime was committed. "The police were absolutely ignorant."
Chim Fang chuckled drily. Then, without saying another word, he continued his way until the flats were reached, and preceded Archenfield up the countless flights of stone stairs till they came at length to the empty flat from whence a view of the balcony outside Flint's residence could be seen. Here Chim Fang paused for a moment or two and called Archenfield's attention to the fact that the balconies were open stone ones and that they were not more than 20 feet apart. Also he curtly mentioned the fact that the flat in which they stood had been empty for some considerable time. Any one but Chim Fang would have spoken more freely, but that was not his way. He gave his employer credit for being able to see into the heart of the mystery as quickly and clearly as he had done himself. Then he stooped down and raised a tiny object from the floor. It looked like a little metal flute with a bell at the end of it.
"What's that?" Archenfield asked.
"Opium pipe," Chim Fang said. "Chinese opium pipe. Master, it seems quite—"
"By heavens, I see it," Archenfield cried. "I see it all now."
Archenfield drove back to the House by the River in absolute silence, with Chim Fang by his side. Without discussing the discovery that he had made, he turned his back on the empty flat, anxious only to be alone in the seclusion of his library before going further. It seemed to him, on the spur of the moment, that he must have the ground clear before he took the next step. For any move now that was not carefully considered would be deeply prejudicial to Cecil Molyneux's interests. He reasoned that he could see the way clearly out of the maze of darkness, and therefore he put aside the idea that had occurred to him of going straight to the police and inviting their assistance in the matter.
It was plain to him that nothing would be gained by undue haste, and the delay of another four-and-twenty hours would be all for the best. All the way home he was turning the matter over in his mind. It was only when the car pulled up that he spoke to Chim Fang, who had been sitting by his side in his peculiarly stolid fashion, and as grimly silent as his master himself.
"You had better drive yourself back into Lyddmouth, Chim Fang," he said. "No doubt you can find something to do there, and you may pick up something useful."
Chim Fang smiled.
"All right, master," he said. "There are one or two things that I can do. When shall I come back?"
"As soon as you like," Archenfield said. "Or, on the other hand, you can stay till tomorrow. Only don't forget to keep in contact with me on the telephone."
Archenfield turned away and proceeded at once to the library. He knew that he would not be interrupted there, so, for the next two or three hours, he sat in his chair turning things over in his mind until the lunch gong sounded. He came in to the midday meal with that thoughtful frown no longer on his forehead. He was cheerful, and apparently without a single care or worry in the world. As he took his place at the table the dining room door was quietly opened, and the chimpanzee came confidently in. He grinned cheerfully in Archenfield's face, and appeared to be absolutely sure of a welcome. Hara smiled as she looked at him.
"He is really wonderful," she said. "The more I see of Hiko the more I admire him. He follows me about like a dog. Really, Mrs. Molyneux, there is nothing to be afraid of."
"No doubt it is very foolish," Cecil said. "Hiko is almost human, but I am not used to him, and I find him rather alarming. Isn't he a bit too big to make a pet of? If he lost his temper, he would be dangerous."
"He certainly would," Archenfield said. "Hiko has his likes and dislikes. Just the same as human beings, and he fell foul with one of the men in the circus the other day. But he is devoted to us, and this is not the first time he has been here. Now, Hiko, go and curl yourself up in the chair yonder, and smoke a cigarette."
Hiko took the cigarette and curled himself up in the armchair with his legs crossed like a human being. It almost seemed that he had followed the conversation and understood every word of it.
"By the way, how is your maid to-day?" Archenfield asked, "I suppose she has heard the news."
"I told her myself," Cecil explained. "It was exceedingly painful and she took it very badly. Why is it that a man of that type always manages to fascinate the average woman? It isn't as if Judith didn't know all about him. She must have been aware of his real character and felt in her heart that she never could have been happy with him."
"Did she want to go away?" Archenfield asked.
"Oh, of course. She wanted to leave at once, though she hadn't the remotest idea where she was going to. Her father and mother live hundreds of miles away, and as I pointed out to her, she would gain nothing by leaving me."
"She must not leave you," Archenfield said curtly. "She must stay here, for many reasons. If she persists in her determination, I shall be glad if you will refer her to me; but, in any case, she must not go yet."
Cecil looked up just a little surprised by Archenfield's firmness. Perhaps he noticed the expression in her face.
"I think I will speak to her myself," he said.
He had his opportunity an hour or two later. It was only an interview for a minute or two, but it quite sufficed for his purpose, and shortly after-wards he got out his bicycle and rode off into Lyddmouth, leaving Hara and Cecil in the garden, where they sat reading in the sunshine. Hiko had crept out with them, and sat just immediately over their heads on the bough of a tree catching flies and eating them with the utmost zest and enjoyment. He was so grave over it and so deeply immersed that even Cecil smiled.
"Really, Hiko is most entertaining," she said. "And I am ashamed to think that I am afraid of him. I wish he didn't look quite so cruelly strong."
The conversation lapsed for a while, and then Cecil said, "If you will excuse me, I will go and see how Judith is getting on."
"Oh, don't spoil her," Hara smiled and said, "By the way you study her, any one would think that she was the mistress and you were the maid."
Cecil disappeared in the direction of the house, and for some time Hara sat there leaning back in her basket chair in the full enjoyment of the brilliant sunshine. After a while she heard a stealthy step on the gravel behind her, and then, as she turned, she realised that she was no longer alone. A few yards away on the edge of the lawn a man was standing gazing at her with a strange menacing expression in his dark almond-shaped eyes. He was not dressed as a Chinaman, for he wore the rough thick tweed clothing such as sailors and firemen on steamers wear, but this did not disguise his Oriental origin.
He stood there with that malignant expression on his face; an expression that was not altogether devoid of triumph. For a moment or two Hara sat there dazed and fascinated.
"Chang Hen," she whispered softly.
"Chang Hen, yes," the man said "I speak to you in the language that you have learnt to call your own. I speak to you in that language because we both know it as well as we know our own. You didn't expect to see me."
Slowly the blood was coming back to Hara's cheeks; slowly she began to breathe again, and the violent action of her heart ceased its painfulness. She looked in the eyes of the man opposite, much as a bird looks at a snake.
"Why do you come here?" she asked.
The man made a strange noise in the back of his throat.
"Ah, why did I come?" he echoed. "I did not come to see you I didn't expect to see you. You are the last person in the world I expected to see. But I know your secret now. You cannot disguise it from me."
"Why do you come?" Hara asked, repeating herself almost mechanically. "You are in danger here."
"I think not," the man called Chang Hen replied. "It is not I who have to be afraid, but others who have robbed us, and dared to lay hands upon the sacred treasures of the Three Fishers. No man can do that and live."
"It has been done," Hara said.
"Once," Chang Hen said significantly. "Once, at a cost I need not remind you of. But the arm of our vengeance is long, and we know how to be patient. What has become of the man called Max Archenfield?"
"How dare you come here and ask me such a question?" Hara said. "Go away at once, or I will call assistance and hand you over to the police."
Chang Hen came a step or two forward and grasped Hara savagely by the wrist. Then came a snarling cry, and a chatter of rage from the branches of the trees overhead, and a moment later Hiko dropped at the feet of the astonished Oriental. He would have had the intruder by the throat and torn the life out of him if Hara had not bent down and thrown a long white arm around the neck of the chimpanzee. Chang Hen staggered back with a great fear in his eyes.
"Go away," Hara cried. "Go away at once. I can't restrain him much longer. He'll kill you."
With a snarl and a look of baffled rage in his eyes the Chinaman turned away and moved swiftly across the garden in the direction of the high wall over which he contrived to scramble. He had hardly disappeared before Hiko broke away from the restraining grasp and followed him. But Hara called him back and he came.
With the way clear before him, and utterly unconscious of the peril that he had left behind him, Archenfield cycled into Lyddmouth and made his way directly to the police station, where he was fortunate enough to encounter the Chief Constable. In a few words he explained his errand.
"Now, Captain Cole," he said, "will you tell me if you have discovered anything in connection with the murder of Stephen Flint?"
"Not a single thing," Cole said. "We are utterly baffled. There is no clue of any sort, and I am more and more convinced that it is a case of revenge, probably on the part of a racecourse associate. What do you think about it?"
"I have great news for you," Archenfield said. "Not only do I know all about the whole thing, but I can take you and show you where the miscreants are to be found."
"Miscreants? There was more than one, then."
"As a mater of fact, there were two. And they have nothing whatever to do with race-courses. I am afraid I shall have to detain you for some little time. First of all I want to ask you to be good enough to let me be present at the arrest."
Cole gave his assent, and Archenfield continued: "Now, my dear sir, this is quite a romance, or rather a tragedy, far more ingenious and complicated than anything I ever embodied in any dramas of mine. You remember Robert Molyneux of course?"
"Of course I do," Cole said. "Am I not engaged in investigating his death, and is not his widow at present under your roof?"
"Now, I tell you this," Archenfield said, "if Robert Molyneux had not died, through his own folly, or through his wife, if for the present you prefer to regard it from that point of view, Stephen Flint would never have been murdered. Indeed, I will go further, and say that he would never have been brought into this business at all. Now I come to the point. Some years ago Robert Molyneux was in China. He went out there with the idea of seeking his fortune. He did find a fortune eventually, but not by legitimate means. As a matter of fact, he, together with Stephen Flint and two low-caste Chinamen, planned to steal the treasures of a powerful secret society called the Three Fishers, and eventually got away safely with booty worth many thousands of pounds. I happened to be in China at the time, and I married the niece of a great Mandarin called Chang Hen, who is the head of the society in question. Now, I don't suppose you know anything about Chinese manners and customs, but I have no doubt you have read a book called 'The Moonstone.'"
"Who hasn't?" Cole asked.
"Well, that makes it easier. The scenes described in the 'Moonstone' are no exaggeration. You will remember how the Indians traced their lost treasure to England and the coldblooded way in which they got it back again. You will recollect their amazing patience. Well, Robert Molyneux got back to England and settled down to the life of a country gentleman, and eventually married. For a year or two he heard nothing of the Three Fishers, but then they began to make themselves felt. Remember, Oxley is not far away from a port where Orientals go about the streets without attracting the slightest attention. An active man could walk from Lyddmouth to Oxley and back again in an afternoon easily. So these Chinamen began to make themselves known to Molyneux, and gradually got on his nerves. They probably gave him a warning, gave him the chance of restoring the lost treasure. They would not be anxious in a well-policed country like this to resort to extreme violence if they could get what they wanted by diplomatic means. Therefore they began to haunt Molyneux. They left mysterious signs on his front doorstep, and no doubt tortured him in a hundred ingenious ways. One of them actually called upon him once late in the evening, and after that Molyneux withdrew all his treasure from Bowen's Bank and hid it in a secret place. It is just the sort of thing that a dogged, determined man like Molyneux would do; but doubtless all the time the steady pressure was going on; and knowing the tenacity and patience of the Chinaman I feel certain that they would eventually have succeeded in recovering what was left, only unfortunately Molyneux died."
"You mean he was murdered, too," the startled Chief of Police said. "They killed him?"
"Ah, we must wait and see," Archenfield said. "For the present I must be absolutely silent as far as that side of the complication is concerned. I don't mind saying that, in my opinion, they did not murder Molyneux. You will know, sooner or later, why I think so. But I have not the slightest doubt that they would have done so had not Molyneux anticipated them."
"He committed suicide, you think?"
"I am not going to say anything on that point, either. Molyneux being dead was beyond the reach of his enemies. If his hiding-place was well chosen, then those chaps were baffled for all time. When they realised this, they had to reconsider their plans. And in so doing they picked on Stephen Flint. They did this because Flint was one of the accomplices at the time the treasure was stolen; he had been exceedingly friendly with Molyneux ever since. They would naturally have assumed that he was sharing in the proceeds of the treasure, and that he would know where it was hidden. Personally, I don't think he had any share of it at all. But that doesn't point to any flaw in the argument of the Chinamen, and I am quite sure that, once Molyneux was out of the way, they began to put pressure upon the man who helped to loot their coffers. He would probably deny that he knew anything at all about it, and for once, no doubt, he was telling the truth; but they wouldn't believe him, and probably they threatened his life. He disregarded that threat, and paid the penalty."
"Yes, all this sounds very ingenious," Captain Cole said. "And I am ready to admit that up to a certain point it throws a good deal of light on the darkness. Here we have suspected persons and the motive, but surely you must see for yourself that what you have told me does not justify me in arresting those men, even if they are in Lyddmouth still."
"Oh, they are in Lyddmouth still, right enough," Archenfield said. "They are acrobats at Gunter's Circus."
"Well, that's something gained, at any rate," Cole said.
"Yes, that is so. But there is one man here under a vow to get the treasure back, but he does not come within the line of the argument. In my opinion, the two Chinamen I speak of were the native confederates who assisted Molyneux and Flint in getting hold of the treasure. In other words they are not members of the Three Fishers Society at all. I think that they were employed under promise of happy reward, and that the two leading thieves left China without paying them. At any rate, that does not matter, either way. They came over here, no doubt in their profession of acrobats, with a view to getting their living, and perhaps brought to England in the vague hope of coming in contact with the two Englishmen who had betrayed them. They probably drifted into Oxley by accident, as members of Gunter's Circus, and here they found just what they wanted. I am all the more sure of that, because they left Gunter suddenly and returned to him later on without an explanation. That they knew Flint I know, because I myself have seen them with him in the Gaiety Music Hall."
"That's right, up to a certain point," Cole said, "But what evidence have I to charge them on?"
"I am just coming to that," Archenfield said. "Please bear in mind the fact that I have seen Flint in earnest conversation with those two Chinamen more than once, and they always appeared to be quarrelling. Flint returned to his own flat at the top of a high block of buildings with a balcony in front of it—don't forget the balcony—and in the morning he was found dead in his sitting-room, having been murdered. Now, on the previous evening, quite late, I myself saw Flint engaged in a violent quarrel with two Chinamen. After they parted Flint went alone to his flat. Up to 1 o'clock in the morning nobody had visited him, because a servant of mine, who was doing a bit of shadowing for me, told me so. It so happens that that servant I speak of is a Chinaman too."
"Yes, I know your Chinese servant," Cole said.
"I have Chinese servants for a reason which will become public before very long, I hope. But never mind about that. As I said before, nobody visited Flint up to 1 o'clock. At that hour my servant left, feeling sure that nothing was likely to happen before morning. But something did happen before morning, as you know. Flint was murdered in his flat by somebody who got into his room, which was a dangerous thing to do because that block of flats is inhabited by working men, some of whom are on night shifts and consequently there were people on the stairs more or less all through the night. And, therefore, those murderers, whom I think you believe now are the Chinamen, must have found some extraordinarily subtle means of carrying out their crime, and escaping detection at the same time. It would be in their favour, of course, that Flint's flat was at the top of the building. Now, suppose they could have gained access to a flat in a corresponding block of buildings on the other side of the road, one of those flats with the balcony?"
"But what good would that have been," Cole protested. "They would have been on the other side of the road, and at least eighty feet above the ground."
"It seems insuperable, doesn't it?" Archenfield smiled. "And now, at the risk of being tedius, I am going to switch off on another line for a moment. The night before the crime took place my servant, Chim Fang, was in Lyddmouth on business for me, and finding time hanging heavy on his hands, he looked into Gunter's Circus for an hour. And there he saw a remarkable acrobatic performance given by the two Chinamen in connection with a lady who acted the part of the persecuted heroine. It was a great sensational show, and on the night following my servant persuaded me to go and see it. He had his own very good reasons for doing so, as you will see presently. Don't forget that my servant is a Chinaman, a man who is entirely in my confidence, and who, to a certain extent, has shared with me in all the little dramas of crime and mystery that it has been my fancy to interfere in."
Cole looked up with sudden interest.
"By Jove," he cried, "I begin to see what you are driving at. I have seen that show myself. You think, then, that these two Chinamen played the same trick on Flint? You think that by some means or another they managed to get across to one of the flats opposite the block inhabited by Flint, and that, by means of a rope attached to the roof, they swung themselves across the road in the dark and making their way into Flint's flat killed him there?"
"I am certain of it," Archenfield said. "And my servant is certain of it, too, or he would never have asked me to go into Lyddmouth and witness that performance. You see, it's quite easy. Two acrobats like those would have made nothing of such a trifle."
"Well, it certainly begins to look clear," Cole admitted. "But there are certain things yet that remain to be explained. To begin with, those scoundrels would have had some difficulty in obtaining the use of the flat."
"Oh, I don't think so," Archenfield said. "In fact Chim Fang has been making inquiries and he has discovered that one of the top flats in the block of buildings opposite Flint's was empty. And there, it seems to me, you have the whole thing in a nutshell. I may tell you myself that Chim Fang and I have been over the empty flat, and there we discovered a piece of evidence which proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the Chinamen had been there. What do you say to this?"
From his pocket Archenfield produced an empty opium pipe and handed it over to his companion.
"An opium pipe, isn't it?" Cole asked.
"Precisely. We found it on the floor of the opposite flat. And now, do you think there is any occasion for me to go any further? Haven't I told you enough to afford you grounds for making the arrest at once?"
Cole promptly rang his bell. He gave certain instructions to the Inspector who entered, and after filling up an imposing-looking sheet of paper with Royal Arms on the top he sent the Inspector away with instructions to get the information sworn before the nearest magistrate.
Ten minutes later the Inspector was back with the necessary signature.
"Everything is in order," Cole said. "I shall want you to come with me, Weston, and bring a couple of your detective officers. We are going down to Gunter's circus to make a couple of arrests in connection with the murder of Mr. Stephen Flint. You will come too, Mr. Archenfield?"
"Of course I will," Archenfield said promptly. "You promised me that I should go, and I have strong reasons for wishing to be present when those two men are searched."
A few minutes later and the little procession set out in the direction of Gunter's Circus. The whole place was quiet except that some men were repairing the big tent which had been damaged by the fire; but the caravans in the background were peaceful enough, and there was very little sign of life going on about them. Gunter emerged presently from his office, and, seeing the police in force, naturally inquired if anything was wrong.
"Not as far as you are concerned," Captain Cole said. "But I want those two Chinamen of yours. I have a warrant for their arrest."
The Orientals were on the premises, and came obediently enough. They listened without an expression of emotion or any kind whilst the warrant was read over and submitted to the handcuffs with not so much as the flutter of an eyelid. Half an hour later they were at the police station at the Town Hall, and Archenfield stood there in the detaining room with a certain glitter of curiosity in his eyes whilst the search of the Chinamen was being made. Apparently there was nothing of importance, just a few trifles and a little money; but presently there came to light from within the lining of one of the men's coats a half-sheet of notepaper on which something that looked like a rough plan had been hurriedly drawn. Captain Cole threw it on one side as a matter of no importance. But there were no such things as trifles so far as Archenfield was concerned, therefore he picked it up and held it towards the light.
There was a glitter in his eyes and a compression of his lips as he studied the paper.
"Can I have this for an hour or two?" he asked quietly.
The Chief Constable waved the slip of paper on one side as if it had been a matter of comparatively no importance, and with the same detached air Archenfield folded it up and put it in his pocket. No one seemed to be troubling much about anything, and, to a casual observer, there was no air of tragedy in the proceedings. The two Chinamen themselves might have had nothing to do whatever with what was going on, for they were perhaps the most indifferent of the group, though one of them appeared to Archenfield to cast a lingering, regretful eye upon the sheet of notepaper. But a minute or two later they had vanished down a flight of stone steps leading to the cells below, and the incident was over.
Cole turned to Archenfield.
"I am really very grateful to you," he said. "There is little doubt that we are on the right track now, and you can safely leave the details to us. Unless, perhaps, there is something that you have not told me."
"I have told you all I am going to—at any rate, up to the present," Archenfield said. "A little later on perhaps I might ask you to discuss another affair."
"Meaning Mrs. Molyneux, of course."
"Meaning Mrs. Molyneux, certainly. You don't really think that she is guilty, do you?"
"Well, upon my word, I don't know what to think," Cole confessed. "On the face of it we have a very strong case, and when those Home Office people have finished I shall be much surprised if we don't have a stronger case still."
Archenfield smiled meaningly.
"Let me make a little prophecy," he said. "Or we will put it in the form of a wager, if you like. I'll just bet you a sovereign that Mrs. Molyneux will be proved innocent, and that if another week elapses you will not even have the unpleasant task of taking her into custody. I won't press that bet upon you, because it would be sheer robbery."
"You mean to say you know all about it?"
"Certainly I do. I might even say I have known all about it from the first, and assuredly within forty-eight hours of Robert Molyneux's death."
"And you can put your hands upon the criminal?"
"I can. If it is a criminal. But I am puzzling you, and I am afraid you must remain in a puzzled state for the present. As a matter of fact. It is a most extremely simple case and yet it is full of complications, if you know what I mean."
With which cryptic remark, Archenfield shook hands with Cole and left that bewildered official to his own reflection. He was busy in Lyddmouth for the next half-hour or so, before he turned his back on the port and made his way home, where he arrived shortly before tea time. Chim Fang had not returned yet, and Hara was in the garden waiting for Cecil Molyneux to appear. The latter had been resting in her bedroom at Hara's advice and would not be down just yet.
"I am rather glad of that," Archenfield said, "because I want to talk to you. We are getting on, and the time to strike has nearly arrived. But what's the matter, what are you looking so pale and anxious about?"
Hara's dark eyes were sombre as she turned them on her companion. There was no smile on those perfect lips of hers, and no gaiety on the exquisite little face.
"I have had a great fright this afternoon," she said. "Max, I have had a visitor."
Archenfield drew a long deep breath.
"Surely not Chang Hen," he exclaimed.
"How quick you are," Hara said. "How you seem to see into the heart of everything. Yes, it was Chang Hen, but how he got here I don't quite know. He must have contrived in some way to scale the wall. I was sitting here in the sunshine, half asleep, when suddenly I looked up and Chang Hen was standing there before me. Max, he frightened me; there was something in that cold malignant stare of his that filled me with terror. And this is not the worst. He knows the truth, I am sure he does. He has found out our secret, and you and I will know no peace as long as he is alive."
Archenfield bent down and kissed the speaker on the lips.
"Courage, dear girl, courage," he said. "It is not like you to be cast down and dejected in this way. When I remember the fortitude you displayed—"
"Oh, I believe I have all that still," Hara said. "But that man frightened me. His appearance here was so unexpected, and I have been happy here so long, that I had almost forgotten him. Oh, surely he has come here to be revenged upon us. He will never rest—"
"I am not so sure of that," Archenfield said. "Don't forget that we are in England now, where such plots as those men indulge in are almost impossible. I don't think that Chang Hen tracked us down here. My opinion is that he found his way quite by accident whilst he was in the neighbourhood looking for something else. It is long odds that if he had found what he is after we should never have seen him at all. He would have gone back to China quite ignorant of our whereabouts."
"I wish I could think so," Hara sighed. "What could he have come for besides to carry out the threat he made against you a few years ago?"
"Well, many things," Archenfield said. "To begin with, he could have come here to recover the lost treasures and the Three Fishers regalia. As a matter of fact, I know that that is exactly what he did come to England for. Your Uncle Chang Hen is a vindictive man and a fanatic as far a what he calls his religion is concerned. Though both he and your father received part of their education in England they never ceased to be Orientals, and their Western civilisation was only skin deep. When your father died Chang Hen became head of the family, and he thought it was his duty to punish me for daring to fall in love and marry the daughter of a great mandarin. To punish me became the work of Chang Hen's life, second only to his determination to get that regalia back. As I have already explained to you, recent upheavals in China have altered the outlook there altogether. Secret societies have fallen into decay and are no longer the terror that they were, and you know that in the Boxer Rebellion Chang Hen lost most of his supporters, all of them members of the Three Fishers, and, what is more to the point, he lost that public appointment that was his main source of income, so that to-day he is a poor man. What more natural, then, that he should come to England and tour about the country with a travelling circus in the hope of running up against Robert Molyneux one of these days. That he was successful we know, and once he was successful he would have no further use for my friend Gunter. He did get what he wanted, and as I have already told you I have actually seen him at the Red House."
"But what of those other men?" Hara asked. "Have we not them to fear as well?"
"Not for a moment," Archenfield declared. "They are working on their own, and have nothing whatever to do with Chang Hen. But let me tell you what has happened this afternoon, and I think that I can convince you that Chang Hen is the only one we have to fear."
Hara listened with rapt attention to Archenfield's story. There was a smile on her face when he had finished.
"You are very wonderful, Max," she said.
"I have been very lucky," Archenfield replied. "Still, you can see now that the field of danger so far as we are concerned is narrowed to one man. And I think I shall know how to deal with him when the time comes. But, tell me, what happened this afternoon? Were you in any danger?"
"I have already told you nearly all there is to tell," Hara said. "And I do think I was in danger. I believe that man would have killed me there and then, only by a fortunate chance Hiko happened to be in the branches of the tree overhead and directly he caught sight of Chang Hen he came down to my assistance. If I had not been able to restrain him, which was not an easy matter, I am sure he would have torn Chang Hen from limb to limb. It was very near to being a tragedy. But Chang Hen recognised his danger, and made off as quickly as possible. He managed to get over the wall before Hiko could reach him, and that is all I can tell you. But I am sure that man has guessed our secret."
"I don't see how he could have helped it, if he was here, face to face with you," Archenfield said. "But does it very much matter? I think I shall know what to do when the time comes. Still, after what has happened, I don't care much about leaving you alone here, and for the next day or two Chim Fang and myself will be busy elsewhere."
"Oh, I am not at all afraid now," Hara smiled. "Hiko is more use in the house than any man. He is devoted to me, and I am sure that he knows that Chang Hen is an enemy of mine. I am more than glad that that intelligent animal is in the house. If he could talk he would be unable to say any more to me than he has already, so you can be quite easy in your mind, Max. So long as Hiko has the run of the house after dark I shall not have the least fear. Of course, I have said nothing about this to Mrs. Molyneux, neither shall I, for the poor girl has had more worry and anxiety now than she can put up with."
A moment later and Cecil Molyneux came across the lawn in the direction of the the table.—She looked more than usually pale and worn as she took her place listlessly opposite to Archenfield, who in, a few words told her what had happened as far as the murderers of Stephen Flint were concerned. She leant back in her chair with her eyes half closed.
"What a horrible tangle it all is!" she murmured. "Nothing but bloodshed and violence, that leaves me with a feeling that I am more or less responsible."
"Well, you are not," Archenfield said. "All this would have happened in any case, and I almost wish it had taken place a year ago. But let me tell you, with all the earnestness in my power, that you are nearly at the end of your troubles."
Cecil sighed wearily.
"I wish I could think so." she murmured. "But everything seems darker and more dreary to me than ever. If there was only something that I could do."
"There is," Archenfield said. "You can get your maid to come down and speak to me in the library. I want to speak to her now, because I am going out after dinner, and I may not be back before morning. I suppose she knows all that has happened. Is she any calmer now?"
"I think she is," Cecil said. "It seems rather a cruel thing to say, but Judith Carr never really cared for that man. She honestly thinks she did, but the disappointment in not being able to marry a gentleman is the one thing that troubles her more than anything else. It may sound cruel of me."
"It is nothing of the kind," Archenfield said. "You are perfectly correct. And now, if you don't mind—"
Cecil disappeared and returned in a few minutes with the information that Judith Carr was in the library waiting to see Archenfield. She stood by the side of the table, very pale and shaky, but with a touch of angry red on either cheekbone and a defiant gleam in those fine eyes of hers. It was not an unattractive picture of sullenness and rebellion.
"I won't keep you a minute," Archenfield said. "There is something I want you to do for me. You need not do it now—in fact, you had better take the night to think it over. I want you to tell me what happened on the night after Mr. Molyneux's death, when you met your lover, Stephen Flint, in the shrubbery behind the Red House. Why did you meet him there, and for what purpose? And what did you promise that you could not carry out? Now, listen to me, my girl, and don't toss your head in that fashion. I wish you no harm, because I regard you as a mere tool. And it would be far better to tell me quietly than tell a judge from a witness box. Because I am going to know, and it would be less painful to you to tell me than for me to refresh your memory concerning things that had best be forgotten. That is all. I don't want any denial, and I don't want any cheap impudence. You can go."
Judith Carr essayed to speak, but her lips merely moved without any sound coming from them, and the angry red died out of her cheeks, leaving them ghastly pale. Then she turned from the room and hurried away, with her handkerchief pressed to her eyes. Archenfield smiled faintly as the door closed behind her, only to open almost immediately and admit Chim Fang. He entered in his stolid way and waited for his master to speak.
"You have done very well, Chim Fang, and I am exceedingly pleased," Archenfield said. "And of course you know that those two fellow-countrymen of yours have been laid by the heels and that sooner or later they must pay the penalty for the murder of Stephen Flint. And, incidentally, the police owe you a great deal. If you had not gone to the circus the night before last I might have gone about groping in the dark for weeks, and really, the way that subtle mind of yours connected up the performance you saw and the crime in the top flat was a piece of logical deduction that I should have been extremely proud of myself. You are a born detective, Chim Fang, and when you are tired of serving me I shall be happy to recommend you to Scotland Yard."
Chim Fang beamed with undisguised delight.
"Oh, that's all right, master," he said. "Anybody but a fool could have done it. And now tell me what we are going to do next."
By way of reply Archenfield produced the half-sheet or notepaper from his pocketbook and laid it on the table.
"I want you to look at this, Chim Fang." he said. "This scrap of paper was found concealed in the lining of the coat of one of the Chinamen, and as that none too astute Chief Constable appeared to attach no sort of value to it, I put it in my pocket. You see, it's a sheet of notepaper with a rough plan upon it, with certain capital letters here and there that speak for themselves. There is also a list of figures, one of them being group—77777, which represents the first of the missing bank notes we traced. Therefore, I assume that these figures were written by Robert Molyneux. They are on the back of the plan, and, for some reason or another, Molyneux made a note of them. Now, you will see for yourself that this half-sheet of notepaper has been torn from a full sheet, and on the back of it is the embossed address 'Down Lodge,' which is the address of the racing stables that Flint managed. Evidently this plan was originally drawn by Robert Molyneux on one occasion when he called to see his friend Flint. Perhaps you see the significance of it, Chim Fang?"
"I think I do, master," Chim Fang said. "Mr. Molyneux talked the matter over with Flint, probably about the time when Chang Hen first began to worry him. He confided to Mr. Flint where the hiding place of the treasure was, and in case of accidents he gave him this plan. No doubt it found its way back into Mr. Molyneux's hands again; but that doesn't matter much to us, master, does it?"
"Really, you are a most valuable assistant, Chim Fang," Archenfield said. "Your reasoning is perfect. I should say that is exactly what did happen. If Molyneux came to grief, then Flint knew where the treasure was hidden. And Molyneux did come to grief just about the time when it was absolutely vital for Flint to have a large sum of money."
"But he didn't murder him, master," Chim Fang said.
"Ah, you see what is running through my mind. Well, perhaps he did, and perhaps he didn't. But all that we shall know before very long. What we have to be careful of is that we don't have too many theories. At any rate, we have got two enemies out of the way, and now it must be our task to get rid of the third and greatest of them all in the person of Chang Hen. That is the man who, after all, we have most to fear. Those other two men came here purely and simply for the sake of plunder. They may, or they may not, have been members of the Three Fishers, but they were not accredited envoys, and their one object in coming to England was to get their hands on all that loot and turn it into money. So we can put them aside, all the more because they are never likely to do mischief again. But Chang Hen is a different matter entirely."
"He is only one, master," Chim Fang said.
"Only one, yes, but more dangerous than all the rest put together, because he has brains and education and courage all combined, to say nothing of his hatred of me and some one else who shall be nameless. You know what I mean."
"I know, master. I am waiting."
"Then I propose to go over to the Red House to-night with this plan in my hand and see if we can locate the missing treasure. If you look at the plan again, you will see that it is undoubtedly that of the interior of a room. Here are measurements thirty-five by thirty, which is somewhere near the size of the library at the Red House. I am convinced, as I have been all along, that that regalia is hidden somewhere behind the bookcases in those deep recesses where the smugglers used to conceal their goods. With this plan and these letters on it it will be hard indeed if we fail to locate the spot where the treasure is hidden. There is nothing more to do for the moment, for all my plans are laid, and everything is in train. Unless I am greatly mistaken, I shall have another important witness before long; and when she has been compelled to tell the truth, then the mystery surrounding the death of Robert Molyneux will be a mystery no longer. You follow me, Chim Fang?"
"I follow you, master," Chim Fang said. "But what are we going to do with Chang Hen?"
"Ah, that I have not gone into yet," Archenfield said. "I suppose, if the worst comes to the worst, we can buy him off. He has surprised a secret which I would have given all I possess to have kept inviolate. And rather than one I care for should suffer, I am prepared to make terms with that scoundrel. I don't doubt for a moment that he would only be too glad to turn his back upon us if he could lay hands on that regalia and trouble us no longer."
Chim Fang showed signs of protest.
"That doesn't sound like you, master," he said "If you leave him to me."
"Yes, if I leave him to you, you would forget all the years of training you have had at my hands and Chang Hen would disappear mysteriously and be picked up some of these days floating on the tideway beyond the bar of Lyddmouth. And you would smile and rub your hands and generally behave as if you had earned the thanks of a grateful country. No, no, Chim Fang, I don't want anything of that sort. And I think that will do for the present. Have the car ready at about nine o'clock, and we will spend an hour or two at the Red House."
It was a little after the hour in question that Archenfield and Chim Fang set out on their errand. It was quite dark when they reached their destination, and they left the car in a turning off the road and made their way across the lawn in the direction of the house. They were wearing rubber-soled shoes, so that they made no noise as Archenfield put the key in the latch and felt his way across the hall. They were in the library presently, where Archenfield turned on the lights and signed to Chim Fang to draw the heavy curtains across the windows in case some inquisitive policeman should come along and want to know what the lights were doing there.
As Archenfield glanced round the room, he saw, to his surprise, that it was all in utter confusion. Heaps of papers were plied up on the table, the bookshelves were stripped, and all the valuable volumes had been thrown carelessly in a heap upon the floor. Here and there shelves were missing, and splintered woodwork testified to the fact that they had been torn away heedlessly and hurriedly.
"Chang Hen's work for a thousand," Archenfield cried. "I hope we are not too late, Chim Fang."
"Chim Fang's nostrils twitched.
"Opium, master," he said. "I smell fresh opium."
Surely enough the heavy atmosphere of the empty house was impregnated with the fumes of opium, as Archenfield, accustomed to the smell of it, did not fall to notice.
"Then in that case there must be somebody here," he said. "Rather an impudent thing to do, don't you think, Chim Fang?"
Chim Fang nodded in his most mysterious way
"Yes, master," he said. "You stay here, and I will go up and see. Perhaps put down the lights."
Archenfield waited there in the darkened library whilst Chim Fang crept up the stairs with his electric torch in his hand. He was gone for so long that Archenfield was beginning to be conscious of the fact that the silence and solitude were getting on his nerves when Chim Fang returned.
"There is nobody in the house at all, master," he said "I have been in every room, and I know. But in one of those rooms somebody has been using the bed, for the clothes are all tumbled, and I have found some grains of opium on the floor. Surely Chang Hen has been here master."
"Not the slightest doubt of it, I should say," Archenfield replied. "The impudent blackguard. Well, we have got to risk it. It he comes back again we must tackle him between us. Still, you had better lock the door."
Chim Fang turned the key, and Archenfield laid his plan on the table. Then, with a tape measure, he proceeded to go over the nails. He smiled presently, as if something pleased him.
"Yes, this is all right, so far," he said. "Those figures and the capital letters correspond exactly with my measurements, but, why does the trail break off suddenly? I have got it, Chim Fang, I see. This is only half the plan, and we shall find the rest of it on the corresponding half-sheet of note paper. Now I wonder if by any chance it is in the same place where I discovered that empty bank envelope."
Another five minutes' search proved the correctness of Archenfield's deductions, for it disclosed the other half of the plan lying at the bottom of the hiding-place where Archenfield had stumbled upon the foolscap envelope.
"Yes, that's all right," he said. "Look at it, Chim Fang. It fits all right, but the letters and figures are in another handwriting, I shouldn't mind making a bet that Flint was responsible for this half. That's the idea. Each of them made half the plan and then exchanged them. It was a sort of precaution and a guard against treachery on either side. Those two fellows seem to have had a fine amount of confidence in one another. Still, that's nothing to us."
With the plan complete, lying on the table, Archenfield was not long in getting to the heart of the mystery. With Chim Fang's assistance the shelves were removed and the old stone wall behind lay exposed with its two deep pockets open to view for the first time. In one of these was another foolscap envelope containing banknotes to the extent of a thousand pounds. Archenfield smiled as he counted them.
"We are getting on, Chim Fang," he said.
"There are the notes that Judith Carr was looking for. She wanted them for Stephen Flint, and if she could have found them, he would have escaped a prosecution. This makes clear the conversation you overheard between Judith Carr and Flint the other afternoon. And now for the regalia."
Very carefully Archenfield went over his measurements again, until he laid his hand on the stone work and tapped it sharply. It gave out a hollow sound.
"Here we are," he said. "I knew those measurements were correct. You see what has happened. What you take to be stonework is a large sheet of some substance they call, I think, lincrusta, the sort of stuff that you see on friezes in halls. It is made to look exactly like stonework and reflects considerable credit on Molyneux's ingenuity. Have you got a knife in your pocket, Chim Fang?"
Chim Fang produced a big sailor's knife, with which Archenfield proceeded to attack the obstacle in front of him. It came clean away under the keen edge of the blade, and disclosed a space beyond, in which was a small tin box some two feet square. It was only a flimsy affair, and was easily opened. It was crammed to the lid with gold ornaments and valuable jewels, each of which had been carefully wrapped in paper. The whole might easily have been worth the value that the people at the bank had put upon it.
"So that's the lot," Archenfield said thoughtfully. "Well, there's nothing more to wait for. We'll get these into the car and return home at once."
Five minutes later the car was on its way, but it had not gone unobserved, for Chang Hen, himself loitering in the bushes as Archenfield and his servant emerged from the house, had seen what they were carrying, and he muttered something to himself as he set off in dogged pursuit of the car. Stolidly and patiently he plodded his way along the dusty road, until at length he reached the House by the River, and there paused until every light in every window was extinguished. Then he managed to climb the wall and drop into the garden beyond.
Ten minutes later he was in the house and searching diligently about Archenfield's library. He listened from time to time as he moved cautiously about, but no sign came from overhead and the whole place was wrapped in silence. The intruder blundered presently upon a small safe standing on a wooden pedestal in the corner of the room, the handle of which he tried. He tugged at it just a little impatiently. One of the legs of the pedestal gave way, and the whole thing came down with a crash. But Chang Hen stayed doggedly on. He was going to remain there in spite of everything, and he did remain till he heard footsteps in the hall outside, then a hand reached for the switch and the whole room was flooded with light. Almost before Archenfield could challenge the intruder, the Chinaman was upon him. There was a brief struggle for a minute or two, then Archenfield, with the Chinaman's leg crooked into his, went down backwards and his head came violently in contact with the floor. A sort of sigh escaped his lips and he lay absolutely still.
Chang Hen, breathing heavily from his exertion, stood upright and softly turned down the light. It seemed to him that, if no one else was aroused, he was quite safe, and there he stood whilst the clock on the mantelpiece ticked off a quarter of an hour, and the same silence seemed to brood over the house. With just one contemptuous glance at the man lying on the floor, Chang Hen went back to the safe again. Perhaps he had learnt something about safes, perhaps his eye was a practised one, for a contemptuous little smile flickered about the corner of his thin lips as he turned the safe over and produced some sharp steel instrument with a cutting edge from his pocket. Into the poor metal the steel point cut as if it were penetrating rotten cheese, and Chang Hen smiled again in anticipation of his coming triumph. He was not conscious, perhaps, that he was breathing stertorously from his exertions and that outside the door Hara was listening, frightened and trembling, but yet completely mistress of herself, to what was going on inside. She was calm enough, at any rate, not to reach her hand inside the doorway for the switch, and as she stood there her brain was working rapidly. She crept away presently to the dining-room and felt around there for one of the candles on the piano and a box of matches that she knew was on the mantelpiece. Then with a hand that was quite steady she lighted the candle and moved slowly back in the direction of the library. As she approached the door she heard a strangled cry, followed by a chattering scream of rage and fury that seemed to bring her heart into her mouth as she literally forced herself to enter the room.
Lying on his back, close to the door, utterly unconscious but breathing steadily and regularly, Archenfield lay with his eyes closed and his face turned upwards. By the side of the safe Chang Hen had fallen backwards, and on his chest, gripping him by the throat with those long scaly claws of his, was Hiko, grinning down at the purple face of his helpless antagonist, with rage and fury gleaming in his little eyes. At the same moment, stolid and unemotional as usual, Chim Fang came quietly into the room, Hara turned to him with a gasp of relief.
"Thank God you have come," she whispered. "Pull him off, Chim Fang. Can't you see that Hiko is murdering that man?"
"If he has not already done so, mistress," Chim Fang said quietly. "Perhaps a good job."
All the same, he bent down and laid a hand on Hiko's shoulder. The chimpanzee grinned up into his face and chattered with an intensely human air, and the gesture of one who has done something to be proud of. Then, apparently satisfied that his work was finished, he hopped on to the table, where he helped himself to a cigarette and a match, and rolled about on the hearthrug with every symptom of exquisite enjoyment.
Chim Fang bent down coolly, and laid a finger on the eyelid of the man lying so ominously still there.
"He is dead, mistress," he said, quite casually.
And, indeed, it was evident enough, even to Hara's inexperienced eyes, that Chang Hen's stormy career was finished. He lay there, absolutely motionless, with face all blotched, with ghastly purple patches and tongue protruding through his yellow teeth. The man was dead, beyond the shadow of a doubt. And as Hara contemplated him with a shudder and a feeling of physical sickness, shaking her from head to foot, Archenfield slowly sat up and began to recover his senses.
"Where am I?" he gasped. "What has happened?"
It was Chim Fang who told him, for just then Hara was absolutely incapable of speech.
"You are not hurt, master?" Chim Fang asked.
"Not a bit," Archenfield said. "That fellow knocked me off my feet and I caught my head a nasty crack on the floor. Oh, I begin to see. So Hiko is the hero, is he? Well, it is just likely that he saved my life. Go to the telephone at once and call up the Lyddmouth police. And when you are about it give my compliments to Captain Cole and say I shall be personally glad if he will attend the inquest to-morrow."
Here was another blazing sensation for Oxley people, and one that was likely to occupy them some considerable time. Not that Archenfield was in the least concerned with what the people in that gossiping little town would say or think; his immediate business was to see that as little as possible outside the bare details necessary for the inquest trickled through to the public. And, therefore, he was glad of the opportunity on the following morning of discussing the details of the ghastly business with Captain Cole before the arrival of the coroner.
"I am pleased that you have come over so early," he said to the Chief Constable, as they sat in the library just after breakfast. "I would have asked you to have come out last night, as it was, but I didn't want to worry you."
"Oh, that would have been all right," Cole said. "And now tell me exactly what happened. I have heard a good deal from my Inspector, but from what I can gather you were very reticent. He only knows that a Chinaman was caught here trying to rob your safe, and that he was attacked and killed whilst you were insensible by a pet monkey of yours."
"Well, so far that's true enough," Archenfield smiled. "And what he told you would have been quite sufficient for a newspaper reporter. But, to begin with, I may say that the monkey in question is a powerful chimpanzee, and belongs to Gunter's circus. I brought him here when the fire broke out there the other night, because Hiko and I are old friends, and we enjoy one another's company. And Hiko knew this Chinaman before, and they were at daggers drawn. But I didn't bring you here to discuss Hiko's likes and dislikes."
"So I gathered," Cole smiled. "Look here, Archenfield, you have lived in China, and you married a Chinese woman whose sister keeps house for you. Now, do you think there is any connection between the two circumstances? Or do you think it is a mere coincidence, and that this Chinaman came here to commit burglary, as he might have done anywhere else?"
"No, I don't," Archenfield said. "That man was after something I have in my safe, something he had come all these thousand miles to obtain, but what it was he was after and why he came are matters I decline to discuss."
"But you know his name," Cole protested.
"Certainly I do, but I am not going to tell you what it was, nor will I tell the coroner. Let it be sufficient to say that he was a Chinese mandarin of high rank—my father-in-law's brother, in fact—and at one time he held my life in the hollow of his hand. Oh, dash it all, Cole; you know all about my story, you know what a crime it is for an Englishmen to marry an aristocratic Chinese woman. Not that I should mind telling you everything, but there are reasons why certain things must not come out at to-day's inquest. My friend Hiko has done a service by getting rid of that man, but, all the same, I wish he had waited another day or two. The Chinaman was after something that he thought I had got; as a matter of fact, I have got it, but it only came in my possession late that night. I give you my word that everything shall be revealed, all in due course, and when I tell you that any publicity now might seriously interfere with the proof of Mrs. Molyneux's innocence, I am sure that you will help me all you can. I don't mind giving you my word of honour that within 24 hours Mrs. Molyneux's character will be clear; that is, if you give the coroner a hint to restrain his natural curiosity."
"Um! Sounds mysterious," said Cole "But I don't think you are the man to say that unless you mean it. Of course, if I drop the coroner a hint or two and let him know that there are good reasons for keeping certain things in the background, he will be obliged to listen."
"That's all I want," Archenfield said. "And I am more than obliged for your courtesy in the matter. For the present, at any rate, there is nothing more to be said."
Attracted by wild rumours which had gone abroad, a huge crowd of people would have invaded the House by the River to attend the inquest which had been timed for 11 o'clock, but the big gates were closed, and Chim Fang turned a smiling face to the hundreds who clamoured for admission. There was no room, he said, the house was already crowded, so that the sensation mongers were fain to retire discomfited. The inquest itself was held in a barn at the back of the house, and the first evidence called by the corner, after he had made his opening statement, was Archenfield himself.
"Now, tell us what happened," the coroner said.
"I was out last night on business with my servant." Archenfield said, "and we did not get back till close on midnight. To make matters as plain as possible, I may say that I had been over to the Red House at Oxley looking for a certain article. Oh, yes, I had the latchkey in my pocket, and Mrs Molyneux knew that I was going."
"Mrs. Molyneux is staying with you?" the Coroner asked.
"At the present moment she is under my roof. I may say that I am greatly interested in her case, and doing all I can to help her. I got home, as I said, just after twelve, and a few minutes later went to bed. I was aroused some time after-wards by a noise that seemed to come from the direction of my library. It was a heavy crash, and I went downstairs to investigate matters. I had just time to see that my safe had fallen off its pedestal and that a man was bending over it. He attacked me suddenly, and in the struggle I fell and lost consciousness. When I came to myself my sister-in-law was in the room and so was my Chinese servant Chim Fang. On the floor lay the man who had attacked me, with the chimpanzee that you have heard of sitting on his chest. The man was quite dead, and there is not the slightest doubt that Hiko strangled him."
"Do you know the Chinaman, by any chance?" the Coroner asked. "You see, Mr Archenfield, you have a Chinese lady under your roof, and you will excuse me if I remind you that a great many people are acquainted with your romantic story. Was there any connection between this attempted burglary, do you think, and certain things that happened to you in China?"
"Not the slightest doubt of it, I should say," Archenfield replied. "I know there was something in my safe that that Chinaman wanted, something that he came thousands of miles to get. And I have every reason to believe that he was aware that the article in question was in my possession."
"And he came to steal it?"
"Of course. And he would have stolen it had not the chimpanzee intervened."
"In that case you know the man's name?"
"I do." Archenfield said promptly. "And, with all due deference to you, sir, I don't propose to divulge it at present, in fact, I shall be greatly obliged if you ask me no further questions. I take it that these proceedings will be adjourned, and I hope that at the next meeting I shall be in a position to tell you everything. Perhaps it will be sufficient if I hint that this business is closely involved with the death of Mr. Robert Molyneux and the murder of that unfortunate man Flint, who, you know, was a victim of two other Chinamen. They have not yet been charged, but, as a private individual, I may venture to say that I regard them as guilty. You see, sir, by making public certain facts at this moment, I am afraid that I shall be doing a cruel injustice to Mrs. Molyneux."
"But this is all very irregular," the Coroner protested. "Very irregular indeed."
"I am quite aware of it." Archenfield said. "But, at the same time, I must respectfully decline to say any more I am quite sure that Captain Cole will support me."
"Really, sir, I must," Cole said. "Mr. Archenfield has made some exceedingly frank statements to me, and, in the interests of justice, this inquiry ought to be adjourned. When you have heard the evidence of Mr. Archenfield's sister-in-law and his servant, and also the testimony of the medical man you will be convinced I am sure, that this Chinaman died at the hands, if I may so put it, of the chimpanzee called Hiko. So far nothing has been concealed, and I would suggest that your usual burial certificate should be given and the hearing adjourned to this day week."
"Oh, very well," the Coroner said shortly. "I will hear the rest of the evidence, and then give my decision."
After Hara had spoken and the other witnesses had said all that was necessary, the Coroner adjourned the proceedings for a week and the excited spectators turned their faces homewards. They had heard a good deal, but there was more to come and with that knowledge they had to console themselves.
The Coroner drove away presently, accompanied by the jury, and then, with a sigh of relief, Archenfield turned in the direction of the house, followed by Cole.
"Now, I am going to justify your faith in me," he said, as he turned into the library.
"I am going to explain the whole thing, and incidentally, you are going to hear proof of Mrs. Molyneux's innocence. Ring the bell, please. Thank you.... Here, Chim Fang, send Judith Carr to me."
The girl came a moment or two later, a little white and shaky but defiant enough as she glanced from Archenfield to the man by his side. The features of the Chief Constable were known to her, and she changed colour.
"Sit down, Judith," Archenfield said. "Captain Cole and myself want a little chat with you. I may say that if you tell the truth nothing harmful will happen to you."
"I have nothing to conceal," the girl said sullenly.
"I am glad to hear that, for your own sake," Archenfield went on. "And the truth is all I want. You were engaged, were you not, to Mr. Stephen Flint?"
"We have been engaged for months," the girl replied.
"Yes, so I understood. Now, on the night that Mr. Molyneux died or early the next day you gave your lover a thousand pounds in Bank of England notes. Where did you get them from, and how did they come into your possession? Now, don't deny it, because I know that what I say is correct. When and in what circumstances did Mr. Molyneux give you those notes?"
Judith Carr looked slowly from one to the other of the two men seated on either side of the table; she caught her lower lip between her teeth and clenched her hands till Archenfield could see her knuckles gleaming ivory white; he could see, too, that he had shaken her to her very centre. There was a tense silence for a minute or two before she slowly pulled herself together and turned upon him as a cat turns when a terrier has driven her into a corner.
"I shall say nothing," she said.
"I think you will," Archenfield replied. "I think you will see the advantage of telling the truth, because, if not, you will be arrested on a charge of murdering Robert Molyneux."
"I murdered him," the girl cried. "Why, he was dead in his chair before—"
She broke off, and then suddenly her defence collapsed, and she fell forward with her face in her hands. Cole would have said something, but Archenfield signalled him to silence.
"Yes," he said, "Please go on. After that half-confession you might just as well make a clean breast of it. Of course, we know you are not guilty of murder; but there are other crimes, as you perfectly well know. Now, tell us all about that mysterious bottle, and how the drug in question came into Mr. Molyneux's hands. And this I can promise you, if you disclose the whole truth no harm shall come to you."
"Then I will tell you everything," Judith Carr said with tremulous eagerness. "And perhaps when I do you will see that I am not altogether to blame."
Archenfield rang his bell, and Chim Fang, stolid as ever, silently appeared.
"Tell the ladies I want to see them," Archenfield said, "And when Mr. Coventry comes, as he will in a few minutes, bring him in here also."
Hara and Cecil Molyneux entered wonderingly, and something like a gleam of hope came into the latter's eyes as she saw the expression on Judith Carr's face.
"Please sit down." Archenfield said. "Mrs. Molyneux, your maid has a statement to make."
"Yes, I am going to tell all I know." Judith Carr said. "Where shall I begin, sir?"
"I think." Archenfield said thoughtfully, "that you had better start on the night of Mr. Molyneux's death. And if there is anything you have forgotten I will do my best to refresh your memory. Now, you remember that after Mr. Molyneux had been so ill immediately dinner was over, Mrs. Molyneux administering a dose of that drug to him—the last dose in the bottle, by the way—and the unfortunate man, who was practically himself again by the time he entered the library and sent Barton for his cigar-case. So far as I can see, that must have been about 9 o'clock."
"Just 9 o'clock, sir," the girl said.
"Quite so. And as you are going to speak freely, I might as well save you the trouble of telling the story, and if I make a slip here and there, please correct me. But I don't think I am going to make any slips. I take it that after that painful scene the matter was discussed more or less freely amongst you servants. Ah, I see it was. And Barton told you how, in a fit of spleen, or bad temper his master compelled your mistress to give up a certain ring she was wearing, and a ring which by the way, you had admired on several occasions. Now, directly afterwards Mrs. Molyneux left the house. She went into the garden, I understand, and I presume you know for what purpose."
Judith Carr glanced at her mistress almost timidly.
"We servants hear a great deal," she said.
"You can speak quite freely, Judith," Cecil said. "It is useless to try and conceal matters any longer—indeed, there is nothing to conceal."
"I am glad you said that." Archenfield remarked.
"I went into the garden to meet Mr. Godfrey Coventry," Cecil said. "I went to say good-bye to him. We were together for a long time—over two hours, to be correct—and when I returned to the house my husband was dead. It was I who found him and gave the alarm."
Cole, still hardly comprehending, shrugged his shoulders at what, in the circumstances, struck him as a somewhat hazardous statement. But he said nothing though he smiled dryly as the door opened and Godfrey Coventry walked in. Cecil gasped as she caught sight of Coventry, and a deep flush came over her face. Then Archenfield broke in again to her relief, and explained in a few words what the purport of the present gathering meant.
"And now I can resume." he said. "I don't think I need trouble you to speak again, Mrs. Molyneux. You were away for an hour or two, saying good-bye to Mr. Coventry, and when you came back your husband was dead. And now Judith, I must address you again. A few minutes after nine o'clock you dressed and went out. You had permission to do so, and there was no occasion for you to come back, as your mistress informed you that she had no further need for your services during the rest of the evening. So you went out, no doubt with the intention of meeting Mr. Stephen Flint."
Judith Carr's eyes dilated and she regarded Archenfield almost with terror.
"I did go to meet him," she said.
"Yes, but you didn't see him then. You came back again, and as you were passing the library door Mr. Molyneux spoke to you, or you went into the library for something, it doesn't matter which. And he made you a suggestion or rather, he made you an offer. You remember that, of course?"
"Yes," the girl said slowly, and much as if the words were being dragged from her. "He asked me to do something for him. It was something he wanted."
"He wanted some more of that drug, I think. He was worse than he thought, and those dreadful feelings were coming on him again. He asked you to get him another bottle?"
"He did," Judith Carr said. "I told him that it was impossible, and that even if I had the prescription, Mr. Metcalfe, the chemist, would not make it up. I reminded him that it was a very dangerous drug and that the family chemist had been warned not to make the prescription up unless it was presented to him by Mrs. Molyneux herself. He told me that he knew where Mrs. Molyneux's keys were, and that he had found out where the prescription was hidden."
"He fetched it for you?" Archenfield asked.
"He did more than that, sir," Judith Carr explained. "He showed me where the key of Mrs. Molyneux's desk was hidden, and told me to replace the prescription and return the key to its hiding place when I had done with it. But, I pointed out to him that it was quite useless, because I knew that the chemist would never make up that medicine for me. Then Mr. Molyneux suggested that I should go to the other chemist, the man called Johnson, who, knowing nothing about the matter, would make no objection. I reminded Mr. Molyneux that Mrs. Molyneux frequently dealt with Johnson, and that if any thing happened he would recognise me and I might get into serious trouble."
"I quite understand," Archenfield said. "You knew that your master was tempting you to do wrong, and, moreover, you knew that an extra dose of that drug might be fatal."
"Oh, yes, sir," Judith Carr said eagerly. "But he laughed at my fears, and said that more than once he had got a dose on the sly, and that it never hurt him. He said doctors were silly old women, who were frightened of their own shadows. But I wouldn't do it, because I was afraid."
"And then he made another suggestion to you," Archenfield said. "Knowing that your mistress was out of the way, he persuaded you to dress up in some of your mistress's clothes and try and pass yourself off on Johnson as Mrs. Molyneux. Is that not so? Yes, I see it is. And then he produced the ring that there has been so much talk about—the ring that looked at one time like condemning your mistress to death—and he induced you to put it on your finger. Oh, it was a cunning scheme and you fell in with it."
"I am sorry to say I did, sir."
"Quite so. But let me remind you that you didn't do it for nothing. Tell us what it was you were to have if you were successful in getting the drug."
"Well, it was five hundred pounds, sir," Judith said. "It was to be twenty, but as we talked he got worse and worse and at last it was to be five hundred."
"And he took the money from a secret hiding place from behind a book case in the library?"
Once more the gleam of admiration came into the girl's eyes. Archenfield seemed to fairly fascinate her.
"You are a wonderful man, sir," she said. "You might have been present. To make a long story short, Mr. Molyneux gave me the money and I went as far as Johnson's and got him the drug. This was after he had paid me the money. He had one dose and after that the bottle was placed in Mrs. Molyneux's desk. But I swear to you that I didn't put it there with the intention of doing her any harm, I did it because he told me to, and I thought no more about the matter."
A quick expression broke from Cecil's lips. There was something in the cold malignity of the evidence on her husband's part to strike at her and injure her from beyond the grave, should anything happen to him, that turned her numb and cold. Knowing Molyneux as she had known him she never anticipated anything as vile as this. Archenfield gave her a quick glance of sympathy and then went on.
"Having accomplished so much, and having that money in your pocket," he said "you went out again and in due course met Stephen Flint. You knew that he was in desperate need of money and you were pleased to have the chance of turning your good luck to account so far as he was concerned, I believe the man had already had all your savings. But anyway you met him and gave him the money did you not?"
"You know everything," Judith Carr muttered. "Yes. I met Mr. Flint, and gave him the money, and he told me that it would do to go on with, but that it was not nearly enough. He had got into trouble with his employer, and needed quite another thousand pounds. And everything had gone wrong with him lately. I was foolish enough to tell him that Mr. Molyneux had a large sum of money hidden in the house, and that I knew where to find it. And Stephen persuaded me to get the rest for him. I did get another five hundred pounds, but I knew there was still more in the house, and I searched for it in vain. I was looking for it, Mr. Archenfield, when you surprised me in the library the other day. You will remember that?"
"Yes, I knew you were looking for it," Archenfield said "But you failed to find it, and I didn't. But we need not labour that point. When you got back home at night your employer was dead, and you were the one person in the world who could have explained the mystery. Why didn't you do so and save your mistress this torture."
"I—I was afraid to," the girl said hoarsely. "Besides, I was not quite sure—"
"Oh yes, you were, you must have known it."
"Well, perhaps I did. But it never occurred to me at the time that my mistress would be suspected. It never occurred to me that Mr. Johnson would come forward and give evidence, and after he had done so it was too late. But in the end I could not have kept silence. And after Stephen Flint's death I made up my mind to speak, I swear to you I did. But I have put it off from day to day, because I am a coward, and because I was afraid to tell the truth. If my mistress had once been arrested it would have been a different matter."
"She would have been arrested to-day." Cole interrupted. "I might tell you now, Mrs. Molyneux, that I have actually a warrant for your arrest in my pocket at the present moment, a warrant sworn in London on behalf of the Home Office authorities. And because I wanted to serve it myself I came over here this morning. You can quite understand what an intense satisfaction it is to me to know that I have been spared that painful duty. And now what are you going to do with this girl?"
"So far as I am concerned, nothing," Cecil said. "I think she has suffered enough already. I don't know much about the law, but I don't see what you are going to charge her with except robbing my husband, and I think that is a point for me to decide. Oh, let her go."
A minute or two later Judith Carr crept to her room, broken and humiliated, but at the same time deeply thankful that matters were no worse.
"Well, that's done with, anyway," Archenfield said. "At the adjourned inquest that miserable girl will have to tell her story, of course; and when she has done so Mrs. Molyneux will stand before the world without a stain on her character. And now, Cole, if you will listen for about ten minutes I will straighten out the whole tangle for you and prove to you beyond the shadow of a doubt that these Chinese—I mean Chang Hen and the other two miscreants—are really responsible for the whole business. I am going to tell you this for your own satisfaction as Chief Constable, and you may make as much or little public as you like. Anyway, we have done with them. The once powerful Chang Hen is dead, and those other two miscreants who no doubt were confederates of Mr. Molyneux at one time will be beyond our reach before long."
"Get on with your story," Cole said.
With everything at his finger's ends Archenfield reeled off his narrative, making his points clearly and logically, and leaving Captain Cole without a single question to ask. Everything was as clear as noonday to him now.
"Marvellous," he cried. "And you built that case up practically on theory. I congratulate you. And I congratulate Mrs. Molyneux."
"There is only one thing more to be said," Archenfield went on. "And that is in relation to my private affairs. You all know this lady here as my sister-in-law, but, as a matter of fact, she is my wife. My wife and her sister were twins, and it was practically impossible to tell one from the other. And when I discovered that my wife had miraculously escaped death, and we managed to conceal the fact from Chang Hen and his blood-thirsty followers, we made a change of identity that thoroughly puzzled those people, and, at the same time, rendered my wife safe for the future. Her sister went into a different part of China altogether, and no one would have known the deception if Chang Hen had not come here one day and surprised his niece in the garden. What he would have done, goodness knows, but he is dead now, and we need not trouble about him any further. And I think that is about all."
Cole rose and solemnly shook hands with everybody in the room, and departed, feeling that his presence at the House on the River was no longer desirable.
"I think you can leave it to me to do everything that is necessary," he said. "The adjourned inquest will take place the day after to-morrow, or as soon as I can arrange it, and about all we shall require will be for the girl Judith Carr to tell her story as she told it just now, and then Mrs. Molyneux can go back to her friends with an easy mind again. Of course, if you like, Archenfield, we need not make too much of that Chinese business."
"My dear sir," Archenfield said impressively, "you can't make too much of it. Now that my efforts on Mrs. Molyneux's part have been happily successful, the more this thing is discussed the better I shall be pleased. Pray, don't forget that there are thousands of people in England to-day who regard me as a murderer. They think that I destroyed the woman who is by my side at the present moment, and who is all the world to me. Oh, no, let's have the whole thing out. And before I forget it, here is a bit of paper for you. It is the scrap of paper that was taken from one of those Chinamen the other day. Apparently you regarded it as of no importance, but in my idea it is just the thing that will hang those two ruffians. As a matter of fact, it is part of the plan by means of which Mr. Molyneux and Flint hid those stolen treasures. And here is the other part of it, which I found in the library of the Red House. But there, take it, and see for yourself. To my mind, it is absolutely vital."
Cole went off presently, and after seeing him outside the lodge gates, Archenfield returned to the library again. Hara was standing by the side of the table with an enchanting smile on her lips, and Coventry was sitting next to Cecil with her hand in his. In the background was Chim Fang, a little more stolid and wooden than usual, and Hiko, seated on the floor, was gravely smoking a cigarette.
"Well, that's all right," Archenfield said cheerfully. "It has been something of a tangle, and I must confess that at one time I began to despair of ever straightening it out again. The thing was so involved and contained so many threads that I was always following blind trails and leaving myself up against a blank wall. I don't think I should ever have got it through but for my faithful servant here."
"No credit for me, master," Chim Fang said.
"Oh, yes, there is, my friend, every credit. There is one thing I can flatter myself. I wasn't very long in making up my mind that Judith Carr was the one who impersonated Mrs. Molyneux at the chemist's shop. I knew that at the inquest when it came out that Robert Molyneux had forced his wife to surrender the ring. What happened afterwards was pretty clear. But I confess, at the time, that I thought he had taken the ring with the scheme already clear in his mind. But I don't think so now. The use he made of the ring was an after-thought, not a piece of calculated cruelty. But the thing was to make Judith speak. She might have kept silence to the end, and very likely would have done so, had I not schemed with Mr. Snow to lay Stephen Flint by the heels. Then came the tragedy with the two Chinamen who murdered Flint to get possession of that plan. How they knew he had it, I don't know, and it doesn't in the least matter; but they did know, and that knowledge killed Stephen Flint. But I could go on talking about this case for hours. Let's get out in the sunshine and forget it."
They drifted into the garden presently, and gradually Archenfield and his wife and Cecil Molyneux and Coventry separated. They were all exceedingly quiet—quiet with that feeling of ineffable peace that comes after long suffering and anxiety.
"What are you going to do, Godfrey?" Cecil asked.
"Well, I am going away for the present," Coventry said. "Heaven knows, my dearest girl, I want to be as near you as I can all the time, and yet I am most anxious that there should be no sort of scandal. I have kept my presence here practically a secret, except so far as my sister and her husband are concerned, and I should not have been here today if Archenfield had not telephoned for me. He asked me to come over and hear the whole thing cleared up, and I came. In two days' time you will be free. And no one will know that you met me in the garden on the night of your husband's death. We have the satisfaction of feeling that all the world might have been present at that occasion. But still, you understand—"
"Oh. I do, Godfrey," Cecil said eagerly. "You are jealous entirely for my good name. That is very good of you. But you will come back soon, won't you?"
"In three or four months at the outside," Coventry said. "I shan't go very far away not beyond Paris, probably. And do you think—don't you think—"
He bent down and looked lovingly into Cecil's clear eyes, no longer sad and sorrowful, but filled now with happiness and the pure joy of life. She reached her arms about his neck and drew his face down to hers and kissed him on the lips.
"Why not, Godfrey?" she whispered. "Why not?"
"I can afford to wait now," Coventry said tenderly.
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