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Title: The Chinese Jar Author: Fergus Hume * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1800881h.html Language: English Date first posted: October 2018 Most recent update: October 2018 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Chapter 1. - A Debatable Verdict
Chapter 2. - The Cryptograph
Chapter 3. - Tu Soh
Chapter 4. - An Extraordinary Interview
Chapter 5. - A Remarkable Discovery
Chapter 6. - Further Complications
Chapter 7. - Another Richmond In The Field
Chapter 8. - Circumstantial Evidence
Chapter 9. - Jerricks
Chapter 10. - Crate Gives His Opinion
Chapter 11. - General Deswarth Makes A Confession
Chapter 12. - Darker Than Ever
Chapter 13. - Proof Positive
Chapter 14. - Foxes In A Trap
Chapter 15. - The Secret Of The Chinese Jar
Conclusion. - A Few Words By Mr. Fanks
Luke Crate hated Octavius Fanks for three reasons,—all sufficient in themselves to one of his envious temperament. In the first place, Fanks was a gentleman by birth and education; in the second, Fanks treated him with benign indifference; in the third—and this was worst of all, Fanks held rank as the smartest detective in London. Crate was not the first being of humble parentage, but he was the last without the superlative adjective, therefore he sorely grudged Fanks his birth, his brains, and, above all his position. Here was a man of aristocratic connections who, leaving the professions generally followed by his class, assumed the rôle of a thief-catcher, and took the bread out of hungry mouths. To add insult to injury, this interloper, not only knew his business thoroughly, but, by the skilful use of an educated brain, succeeded in solving riddles long given up as hopeless by blundering detectives of the Crate species. Certainly Crate possessed a vein of cunning which stood him in good stead when investigating an ordinary case, but lacking the delicate perceptions and deducible abilities of his rival, he was never entrusted with those notorious mysteries by the solution of which Fanks gained his renown. And after all, as the reputation of this English Vidocq rested mostly on the famous case of Monsieur Judas Crate, on the one-swallow-does-not-make-a-summer ground, failed to see why the brains of this gentleman detective should be rated higher than his own. He grumbled incessantly at the chances thrown in Fanks’ way, and complained bitterly of the advantage always taken of those same chances. Furthermore, Fanks, not being infallible, had failed on occasions, and with these failures he was frequently taunted by Crate, who likewise proclaimed his belief that the successes of his rival were more the result of accident than design. Fanks, hearing indirectly of these captious criticisms, felt somewhat nettled at their manifest injustice, and resolved to put a stop to them at the earliest opportunity, by making Crate follow him step by step in the unravelling of some particularly intricate case. By forcing Crate to acknowledge his inability to solve the problem thus presented, and then doing so himself, Fanks hoped to shame this lower intelligence into silence.
With this idea he cast about for the necessary enigma, and one soon presenting itself for solution, Fanks, before taking a single step towards the desired end, sought out Crate for the purpose of arranging details. Crate, a thickset, bull-necked, obstinate man of full habit and narrow understanding, received his visitor with scarcely veiled suspicion, and when Fanks proposed that they should work amicably together in this particular case, gave voice to his doubts. In his own lodging, unrestrained by the ordinary rules of courtesy, Crate, hating Fanks with all the intensity of a petty soul, took full advantage of the opportunity in the way of plain speaking.
“I don’t see why you want to work with me, Mr. Fanks,” he said roughly. “You think enough of yourself to do without my help, don’t you?”
“As a general rule I do,” replied Fanks serenely, his angelic temper in no wise ruffled by the idiosyncrasy of this ruffian; “but the fact is, I have heard on all sides that you consider yourself to be a more capable man than I, and grudge me the position I have won by hard work. Now I do not usually take notice of this sort of thing, as there are many men of your temperament in the world, but in this instance I wish to teach you a lesson, and prove to you how difficult it is to unravel one of these criminal enigmas you seem to think so easy. I therefore propose that we work together at the same case, and he who first unravels the mystery shall be admitted by the other to he the best man.”
During this speech Crate’s face expressed nothing but blank astonishment. In his own heart he knew that Fanks was infinitely his superior in brain power, and could afford to treat all adverse criticism with silent contempt. Yet, notwithstanding this tacit acknowledgment of inferiority, Crate’s egotism strove to crush down the feeling and persuade him into the belief that he could conduct a case quite as admirably as could Fanks. Hitherto he had lacked the chance to so distinguish himself, as he was forbidden by the authorities to undertake any but the easiest cases, but now that Fanks desired his co-operation in one of these intricate riddles, Crate greedily seized the opportunity. Quite overlooking Fanks’ generous self-abnegation in the matter, Crate hoped, by means of this opportunity, to oust his rival from his position and take it himself. At the same time he was conscious that he was the weaker of the two, and tried to hide his knowledge of this fact under an aggressive demeanour.
“I don’t say you ain’t clever, Mr. Fanks,” he observed, swelling like the frog in the fable, “but what I do say is, as there are others as clever as you. If I had your chances I could show myself just as capable as you.”
“That remains to be seen, Crate,” replied Fanks significantly; “here is one of my chances, as you call them. Work it out according to your own fashion, and let me see this wonderful capability of which you speak.”
“It’s a bargain!”
“Very good! But on one condition only. If you fail and I succeed, you must promise to stop speaking ill of me behind my back.”
“Behind your back!” echoed Crate, in an indignant tone. “I never say anything behind your back I wouldn’t say to your face. In my opinion you are over-rated, and I can beat you. Prove to me that I am wrong, and I won’t open my month except to praise you.”
“I don’t require that,” said Fanks, coldly. “Only leave off abusing me, and I shall be satisfied. Here!” he continued, taking a newspaper out of his pocket, “here is the case—that of the man found dead last Friday morning at the base of Cleopatra’s Needle on the Embankment.”
“That!” said Crate, disdainfully; “what are you talking about?”
“About this murder!”
“It ain’t a murder. Can’t you tell a murder from a suicide?”
“I fancy I can, and in this instance say it is the former.”
“The former,” persisted Fanks, tapping his newspaper, “decidedly the former.”
Crate, greatly excited, thumped the table with his fist, and proceeded, as he thought, to annihilate his rival.
“You’re on the wrong lay, you are!” he declared, vociferously; “the jury say it is suicide, the world says it is suicide, and I—”
“You say it is suicide,” said Fanks, contemptuously, “simply because other people have made up your mind for you. However, stick to your own opinion and solve the riddle. If you can prove it to be suicide, you are cleverer than I think you are.”
“I’m not going to take up the case. It would be a waste of time to do so. Give me an out-and-out murder and I’ll find the criminal, but—”
“Precisely!” interrupted Fanks, with a sneer. “I quite believe you would find the criminal in what you term an out-and-out murder, but you are perfectly aware that I never touch those sort of cases. It is by an affair like this that I gain my reputation—this is one of the chances you complain of; I offer it to you, and you refuse to have anything to do with it.”
“There’s nothing in it!”
“On the contrary, there is quite a romance in it!”
“Then do it yourself! If you prove it to be murder I’ll say you deserve your reputation.”
“Very good!” replied Fanks, unfolding the newspaper. “With regard to this case, I have succeeded in impressing on the authorities that there is more in it than meets the eye, therefore it has been put in my hands for solution. Notwithstanding that you refuse to have anything to do with it, I still hope to convince you of the uselessness of your attempting this class of work, by setting you to follow me step by step as I unravel this case. By so doing you will see how difficult it is to deal with these enigmas, and how wrong you are in supposing that my successes are due to chance only.”
“Fire away, Mr. Fanks!” said Crate, quite delighted at having ruffled his rival’s usual placidity. “I’ll follow your arguments as closely as you please, but all this murder business is moonshine.”
“So you think! I hope to prove it to be otherwise, and am not the man to waste my time in looking for a mare’s nest. Now let us begin! Just cast your eye over this report of the inquest in The Morning Planet.
Crate sniffed in a disbelieving manner, and glanced at the paragraph indicated by the forefinger of Fanks; a paragraph, cross-headed, “An Unknown Suicide,” containing the following intelligence, condensed, superficial, and altogether unsatisfactory—from a detective’s point of view!
“Last evening an inquest was held on the body of the man found at the base of the Obelisk on the Thames Embankment on Friday morning last. Constable X 300 stated that he discovered the body at one o’clock on Friday morning, and had it at once taken to the Morgue. He had previously passed the place at midnight, but had then seen no suspicious circumstance likely to attract his attention. At that hour the space at the foot of the Obelisk was quite empty. It was impossible to identify the body as the linen was not marked, and the pockets contained nothing but a knife, a pipe, ten shillings in silver, a tobacco pouch, and a sixpenny novel.
“Dr. Beauvoir deposed that he had examined the body of the deceased. It was that of a young man under thirty years of age, badly nourished, and bearing traces of dissipation. He should say that deceased had been a hard drinker. On examining the contents of the stomach he found that death was due to the effects of prussic acid. According to his calculations the deceased must have died between twelve and one o’clock’ on Friday morning.
“This was all the evidence obtainable, and the coroner, while pointing out that the deceased died from the effects of poison, said there appeared to be no reason to suspect foul play. According to the evidence of Dr. Beauvoir, the deceased had led a dissipated life, so had probably poisoned himself while in an excited mental condition brought on by excessive drinking. Notwithstanding all efforts made by the police, it was found quite impossible to obtain any clue to the identity of the deceased. On this meagre evidence the jury would have to found their verdict.
“The coroner offered to adjourn the case for the purpose of obtaining further evidence if possible, but the jury deemed it unnecessary, and returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased had committed suicide while in a state of unsound mind.”
“There you see,” cried Crate, triumphantly, when they had finished reading this bald narrative, “it’s nothing but a case of suicide.”
“So it appears from that report,” said Fanks, benignly, folding up the newspaper; “but having seen the body, examined the articles found in the pockets of the clothes, and made a few inquiries, I have come to a different conclusion. In my opinion this man was murdered by some unknown person who was with him on the night in question.”
“How do you know some unknown person was with him?”
“Ah! that requires a somewhat lengthy explanation. In order to support my theory that he was murdered, there must have been a second person with the dead man at midnight. I believe this to be so, hence my disagreement with the verdict of the jury.”
“Have you any reason for such a belief?”
Fanks produced a book from his pocket—a thin, yellow-covered volume with a gaudy picture on the outside. This he slapped down on the table before the wondering eyes of his doubter.
“Taken from the body of the dead man,” explained Fanks, pointing to the title, “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” by Edgar Allan Poe, published at the moderate price of sixpence, and purchased at even less, allowing for discount.
Crate picked up the book, glanced through the pages, replaced it on the table, and looked inquiringly at Fanks.
“What has this book to do with your theory?” he asked contemptuously.
“Everything! But in order to make you thoroughly understand its importance, I had better offer a preliminary explanation.”
“Go on! I’m all attention.”
“I saw the body after it was taken to the Morgue,” said Fanks, drawing the book towards his end of the table; “the dead man had been a handsome fellow in his day and evidently a gentleman. They said at the inquest that he was under thirty, but in my opinion, making allowance for the marks of dissipation, he was not more than twenty-five. Evidently he had at one time occupied an excellent social position, and having come down in the world through fast living—”
“Had committed suicide!”
“Nothing of the sort. People don’t as a rule go to the banks of a river to poison themselves. If this man had desired to commit suicide, he would have probably thrown himself off one of the bridges where there would have been more chance of immediate extinction of life. If he were bent on self-destruction by poison, he could have made away with himself comfortably in the seclusion of his own lodgings.”
“Supposing he had no lodgings?”
“You forget! Ten shillings in silver were found in his pockets, so he was not without the means of obtaining a roof to cover him. There was no need for him to come to the river in order to poison himself, and no need for him to bring poison there if he intended to drown himself.”
“He might have taken poison first and then intended to throw himself into the river, so as to do away with any chance of escaping death.”
“That objection is answered by the nature of the poison and by the nature of the place where the body was found. Prussic acid kills almost instantaneously; therefore there was no need for him to supplement his rash act by drowning. But even admitting that he intended to do so, he would decidedly have gone down the steps and taken the poison there, so that he could fall at once into the water. If this were so, your theory of suicide might be feasible, but as the body was found at the base of the Obelisk far away from the water, I hardly think it is a plausible conjecture. In short, if he desired to drown himself, he would have thrown himself off one of the Thames bridges, had he intended to poison himself he would have done so at his lodgings for the night, and if, according to you, he had determined to combine poison and drowning, he would certainly have taken the first where there was a chance of his falling involuntarily into the river.”
“This is all supposition,” said Crate, unable to find any answer to these arguments. “What is your other idea?”
“I believe that on Thursday night the deceased met an unknown person by appointment at the foot of Cleopatra’s Needle, and that during their interview this unknown person induced the deceased to take poison.”
“But for what reason?”
“I don’t know at present. I must find it out.”
“You have a clue?”
“I have already said so. In this book—”
“Were there no letters in the pockets of the deceased likely to establish his identity?”
“Name on linen—initials on clothes?”
“None at all!”
“In fact,” said Crate, triumphantly; “there is not the slightest clue to show who this dead man was?”
“Not the slightest!”
“And yet you hope to discover the truth?”
Crate looked at his rival with unwilling respect. Such dogged perseverance was beyond his comprehension.
“I don’t know if this is a game of bluff,” he said at length, rubbing his chin, “but you have certainly more self-assurance than I gave you credit for.”
“Thank you!” replied the imperturbable Fanks, “I trust to convince you shortly that this is not a game of bluff.”
“Well! And what about this clue?”
“Ah, of course! The clue! It is in this book! Do you know anything of the detective stories of Poe?”
“That’s a pity! They might educate you in your profession by illustrating the doctrine of ratiocination. However, I’ll show you somewhat of it myself. Now on finding this book I thought it strange that the deceased should have bought it the week before he died.”
“How do you know he did?”
“It is cheap and clean. If he had bought these stories in his wealthy days it is probable that the copy would have been an expensive one. Had this copy been bought long ago it would have been dirty and dog-eared. Therefore from these facts I deduce that this poor man, to whom the expenditure of a penny was a consideration, must have had some powerful reason for making such a purchase.” Crate began to feel curious, and grunted approval.
“Furthermore,” pursued Fanks, opening the book, “You will notice that herein a page is turned down. I examine this turned-down page and find that it marks the place where occurs the cryptograph in “The Gold Bug.”
“Cryptograph! Gold Bug!” echoed Crate, much obfuscated. “What on earth are you talking about?”
“Edgar Allan Poe,” explained Franks, smoothing out the turned-down page, “is a famous American author, who wrote a clever story called ‘The Gold Bug,’ in which occurs an ingenious cryptograph.”
“What is a cryptograph?”
“A puzzle! A cipher! A number of words purposely thrown into confusion in order to conceal a secret. Now this dead man evidently wished to correspond with someone in cipher, and, not being clever enough to invent one, resorted to this book in which he found his cryptograph ready made.”
“But would the person to whom the cipher was sent know how to unravel it?” questioned Crate dubiously.
“I have a theory as to that which I shall now explain. Let us invent a story which, though it may not be true, will yet convey to you clearly my ideas on the subject of this murder.”
“You seem to consider me very stupid,” exclaimed Crate, rather nettled at the infinite pains taken by Fanks to put forth his theory in a simple form.
“I think you lack the ratiocinative faculty, otherwise you could deduce the theory yourself from what I have told you.”
“My imagination is not so lively as yours. Let me hear your deductions.”
“Willingly. Follow me closely, please. This dead man, I say, is, or rather was, a person of good family. He is dissipated—we will speak in the present tense as most convenient. He is dissipated, he takes to drink; his family, disgusted at his conduct, will have nothing to do with him, so he sinks lower and lower till he is little else than a vagabond of the streets. One person, a relative no doubt, alone retains, as he thinks, a kindly feeling for him. He wishes to communicate with this person, but owing to his ostracism cannot do so directly. He is forbidden the house; his handwriting is known and his letters left unanswered, so this prodigal son is at his wits’ end how to communicate with his well-wisher. Suddenly he thinks of a cipher in the newspaper as the means of communication. Either he is not able to invent a cipher, or does not know how to give his correspondent a key to one invented by himself, therefore he casts about for some method by which the desired result can be achieved. Having probably read Poe’s story of ‘The Gold Bug,’ he recollects the cipher therein, and thinking it suitable to his purpose, buys two books of Poe’s stories.”
“Cannot you guess? One book he keeps himself so as to aid him to write the cipher, the other he sends to the person with whom he desires to correspond, having the cipher page turned down. What happens? The well-wisher receiving this book at first wonders why it is sent to him; then noting the turned-down page, at once sees that the sender of the book desires to correspond with him. The newspaper is the only available medium of communication, so the well-wisher looks daily in the newspaper for a cipher similar to that in Poe’s book.”
“How would the well-wisher know in what newspaper to look?”
“Very easily. Every house takes a particular newspaper, so the dead man, knowing the special journal affected by his well-wisher, puts his cipher in that one. You can guess what follows! The well-wisher finds the cipher message, asking for a meeting at Cleopatra’s Needle on Thursday night; replies in a similar cipher; the victim and the murderer meet and the crime takes place.”
“A very cleverly constructed case,” said Crate sarcastically; “but why should this well-wisher go to be killed?”
“You forget, Crate! It was the well wisher who killed his friend. The dead man evidently thought that the person with whom he corresponded in cipher was attached to him. Instead of being so, this person meets his victim, with the intention of poisoning him by means of prussic acid.”
“Rubbish! How could the murderer force his victim to take prussic acid in a public place?”
“That, of course, I do not yet know,” replied Fanks, musingly; “it could certainly not be done by force, else there would have been a struggle and an outcry on the part of the victim. No! It must have been accomplished so cautiously that the intended victim did not know he was taking poison until it was too late, and died before he could utter a cry.”
“Such a thing is impossible.”
“Nothing is impossible in the criminal world,” said Fanks emphatically; “and, as regards this theory, remember that celebrated case where an American doctor induced girls to take poisoned pills, which they did in all innocence, and then died. For all we know this murderer may be a doctor, and under the pretence that his victim was ill, may have administered the fatal dose. Of course this is pure supposition. Still it might be so.”
“But why court danger by committing a crime in so public a place?”
“The more public the place in which a crime is committed the less chance is there of detection. Moreover, according to my theory, the meeting place was appointed by the deceased, not by his destroyer, and as the latter could not alter the locality, he had to carry out his infernal intention as he best could. He did succeed in achieving his purpose, as you see.”
“This is a good plot for a novel, Mr. Fanks,” observed Crate, scoffingly, “but it’s very improbable. How can you hope to follow up this slight clue, if indeed it is one, which I very much doubt?”
Fanks jumped up briskly to his feet, and slipped the book into his pocket. “I intend to follow up the clue, which you despise so much, by searching the newspapers for the cipher. When I find it and solve it by means of Poe’s explanation I shall know something important. On the information that cipher contains depends all my future movements.”
“You hope, perhaps, to find the name of the dead man?”
“It’s not impossible I may do so,” retorted Fanks coolly; “to indicate his identity this dead man must certainly have put his real name in the cipher.”
“You are making a mountain out of a molehill,” declared Crate, as Fanks moved quickly towards the door.
Fanks looked back at this sceptic with a smile.
“Not convinced yet?”
“No! Nor am I likely to be.”
“Wait till I bring you the cipher to-morrow, Crate. You will find therein the second link of the chain destined to bind the hands of this unknown criminal.”
“And the first link?”
Fanks tapped the pocket wherein reposed the book of Poe’s stories, nodded smilingly, and then disappeared.
Fanks was not the man to let grass grow under his feet. He knew from experience the value of time, and the importance of securing traces of a crime while they were still fresh. In the present instance the presumed murder had taken place, strictly speaking, on Friday morning, the inquest on Monday afternoon, and it was now Tuesday night. By setting his quick wits to work he had already, within this short period, hit on a clue likely to solve the mystery, and, on leaving Crate, went to his club in order to follow it up by finding the cipher.
As has before been stated, Fanks was a man of good family, and followed the profession of a detective, as one for which he was particularly adapted by nature. At the same time he was unwilling to cut himself off entirely from the station in life he was entitled to occupy by virtue of his birth, so solved the problem by leading a double existence. In Scotland Yard he was known solely as Octavius Fanks, the clever detective; but in clubland he assumed the rôle of Octavius Rixton, idler and man-about-town. By good fortune and much dexterity he succeeded in keeping these two characters distinctly apart, and no one ever identified Rixton with Fanks, or Fanks with Rixton. In this latter character he often heard remarks about his detective self which amused him mightily, and were not without their uses, seeing they enabled Fanks to benefit through the experiences of Rixton. The members of that aristocratic club, The Chesterfield, would have been horrified had they known of his real profession, but so cleverly had Rixton concealed his identity with Fanks, that no one dreamed of connecting the gentleman of leisure and the expert detective. It was as well that this ignorance prevailed, for many of the club’s members would have felt uncomfortable had they known how conversant was Mr. Octavius Rixton with the secrets of their lives. Asmodeus, unroofer of houses, is a peculiarly detestable fiend.
On his way to the club the detective dropped into his chambers, and there doffed the tweed suit of Fanks for the evening dress of Rixton. He went up his stairs a somewhat negligently attired individual, and came down a West-end masher, though his face was too clever, and his conversation too brilliant to successfully enable him to ape that character. At The Chesterfield he made an excellent dinner, then ordering himself some strong coffee, went to work on his enigma. What he wanted to discover in the first instance was the special newspaper in which the cipher would probably appear. His imagination assisted him to select the right one at the outset of his search.
“This man,” argued Fanks to himself, “this man was a gentleman—I could tell that from his appearance. His friends and relations, being of good social standing, probably take in the Morning Post, that being the aristocratic organ peculiarly affected by the gentry. If, therefore, he wanted to communicate with a member of his family, or with a friend in his own rank of life, he would certainly advertise in that paper. Good! Let us look at the Morning Post.
Selecting a file of that newspaper, he carefully examined the numbers, dating backwards from the day of the murder. As he surmised, the cipher duly appeared in the agony column, and he found both the request for a meeting and the affirmative reply thereto. On examining the cipher—solved by using Poe’s key—he also discovered sufficient evidence to show him that he was right in his conjecture concerning the presence of a second person, but who that person was he could not guess. The ciphers both ended with the same name—at least he assumed it was a name—but beyond the fact that it appeared to be a Chinese appellation, he was unable to fathom its meaning. The name was “Tu Soh.”
The puzzling out of this problem afforded him employment for the whole evening, but by the time he went to bed he was as far off guessing the meaning of “Tu Soh” as ever. It appeared to be Chinese, but whether it referred to a man, a thing, an event, or a religion, he could not make up his mind. Ultimately he wrote a letter on the subject to an omniscient friend of his, who knew all kinds of stray facts, and, having posted this, went to bed at midnight.
Next morning he slipped into the clothes of Fanks and went off to the office of the Morning Post, where he procured copies of the newspapers in which the ciphers had appeared. Armed with these credentials of his astuteness, he sought out Crate, whom he was fortunate enough to find at his lodgings in Fleet Street.
“Halloo, Mr. Fanks,” cried Crate, when he saw his rival, “have you given it up?”
“On the contrary, I am more convinced than ever that I am right.”
Crate, who was busy with his breakfast, laid down his knife and fork to stare in astonishment at his visitor.
“What!” he ejaculated, in a sceptical tone, “is all that nonsense you told me yesterday true?”
“A goodly part of it,” replied Fanks, taking a chair and producing his newspapers. “I have found those ciphers.”
“Same kind as are in that book?”
“Precisely! Here they are.”
After glancing at the cryptographs, Crate resumed his breakfast with a grunt of discontent, being genuinely disappointed at the success achieved by Fanks. Much as he would have liked to have disbelieved the information, he could not doubt the evidence of his own eyes. The ciphers were assuredly there, set forth in the same characters as were in the book of Poe’s, shown to him by Fanks on the previous day.
“How do I know you did not insert these yourself?” he said doubtfully, with a cunning look in his little eyes.
“Look at the dates,” rejoined Fanks, exasperated by this obstinate blindness, “the murder took place, on the twentieth of June. The first of these papers is dated the fourteenth, the second is published on the eighteenth of the same month. Considering these ciphers appeared before the crime was committed, you can hardly accuse me of playing such a trick. I do not pretend to be a prophet.”
Crate, unwilling as he was to be convinced, could not but admit the force of this reasoning, and, having finished his breakfast, concealed his chagrin at being baulked by closely examining the cryptographs.
“What can you make out of this jumble?” he asked irritably.
“I can make sense out of it. It is perfectly easy to do so, for Poe gives the key to its solution in his story of ‘The Gold Bug.’ Look at this.”
He pointed to the longer cipher of the two which was published on the fourteenth of June, and ran as follows:—
“I can’t make top or tail of it,” growled Crate crossly, after a vain endeavour to extract a meaning out of this confusion.
“Probably not, seeing you are holding it upside down, said Fanks dryly; “as a matter of fact it is not a difficult cipher. Even without a key I could have solved it but as all these symbols have their alphabetic equivalents in Poe’s story, the solution is easy. Shall I tell you at once what this cipher means, or explain the solution in detail?”—
“Explain it—if you can,” replied Crate, still clinging to the belief that Fanks was trying to hoodwink him with pretended knowledge.
“Nothing can be easier, but you must give your closest attention to my explanation, else you may lose the meaning. Now these symbols stand for letters of the alphabet, and to what letter each corresponds we must find out.
Crate began to grow interested in the discussion. Curiosity is the most powerful of passions, and he was intensely curious to know in what way Fanks had worked out this apparently insoluble riddle. He fancied he would have but to listen to a clear explanation from Fanks, in which belief he was quite wrong. Fanks had no intention of doing all the work, and forthwith submitted Crate to a close examination, so that he might clearly understand the difficulties of cipher-reading. Drawing his chair close to that of Crates, he produced a pencil and a sheet of paper in order to set forth the explanation in the clearest fashion.
“What letter occurs most frequently in the English language?” asked Fanks in an inquisitorial manner.
“S,” responded Crate, after a few moments’ consideration.
“By no means. S is of comparatively rare occurrence.. Vowels predominate most. Now the field to select from is narrowed by that statement. What vowel occurs most frequently?”
“Yes! You could scarcely fail to have hit it in the long run. If ‘e’ had failed you would have tried ‘i,’ and so on through the vowels. Now ‘e’ occurring most frequently in the English language it naturally follows that the symbol of which it is an equivalent occurs oftenest in this cipher.
“8 is most prominent in the cipher.”
“Good! ‘8,’ as you see, occurs seven times. Assuming, therefore, that ‘e’ is the correlative, let us set it down as follows:
That will be enough, as there are no more eights. Now the predominating word in which ‘e’ usually occurs is ‘the.’ See then if you can pick it out by taking the two symbols preceding 8. You can, of course, leave out the double eight as we want ‘the’ not ‘thee.’ ”
Crate took the first three symbols that came to hand and set out ; 9 8 as “the.”
“That must he wrong,” said Fanks, quickly; “for, assuming ; to be ‘t’ and ‘9’ to mean ‘h,’ if you read from the beginning of the cipher you set ‘h e e t h e,’ which means nothing. Try again.”
Crate wrote; 4 8 as ‘t h e.’
“You can see by this,” explained Fanks, “that ; stands for ‘t,’ as it occurs twice in such close proximity to ‘8.’ Let us therefore assume for the present that it is so, and set it down. Give me the pencil.”
Fanks set down the letters thus, leaving blanks for the undiscovered ciphers—. e e t. e. tt h e, e e., e.
“Now then,” he resumed, pausing for a moment. “What word can you form by adding one letter to ’e et?”’
“If that were so, ‘9 8’ would mean ‘f e,’ which is absurd. Guess again.”
“Fleet! Greet! Sheet!”
“All words with two letters before ’e e t.’ Confound it, Crate, you are stupid. As the cipher is a message, can’t you guess the missing letter?”
“Of course. ‘9’ stands for ‘m,’
‘9 8 8; 98’ means ‘meet me.’ There, you see, we have the clue to the solution of the problem. We have discovered so much, and also that 4 indicates ‘h.’ It is no use explaining further, as anyone could now work out the cipher. We know, however, that, the meeting was for Thursday night, so see if you can pick out those words.”
“I don’t know that the meeting was for Thursday night.”
“Yes, you do,” cried Fanks, exasperated by his stupidity. “Good heavens, man, use your brains a little. The victim was certainly found dead on Friday morning, but if, as I suspect, the meeting was arranged for midnight, the words used would surely be ‘Thursday night.’”
“Yes, it might be so.”
“It is so, I tell you. Go on! Find out Thursday night. There is a ‘t h’ and an ‘h t.’ Remember the symbols of ‘t h e,’ and work it out on that basis.”
“I suppose I have to find; ‘4’ or ‘4—”
Fanks snatched the paper from the hands of this incapable individual with an ejaculation of anger.
“The idea of you calling yourself a detective. You know absolutely nothing. You see no further than your nose. Can’t you solve a simple problem like this?”
“I don’t call it simple!”
“Because you have no brains. See! I shall write out the symbols and their equivalent letters. Then you may be able to get the idea of the cipher into your thick head.”
Crate greatly resented this plain speaking, but Fanks, silencing him by a peremptory gesture, wrote out his explanation:
“Now see if you can fill up the blank.”
“9 stands for ‘m,’” ruminated Crate slowly, “6 for ‘i,’ but what is the cross?”
“Can’t you guess! What letter is required to complete the word ‘mi—night?’”
“Wonderful,” exclaimed Fanks, jeeringly. “You have actually found out something. Now by taking these letters you can easily work out the rest of the problem. No? It is no use your trying, Crate, I don’t want to be here all day. This is the meaning of the ‘cryptograph.’”
“Meet me at the Needle Thursday midnight, Tu Soh.”
“Oh!” cried Crate, opening his eyes to their widest extent, “so that is the meaning. But how do you know this refers to the Embankment Obelisk?”
Fanks suppressed a strong inclination to swear.
“What other monument in London is termed the ‘Needle’ save that Obelisk?”
“I suppose you are right,” said Crate, giving in with an envious sigh; “it is certainly wonderful how you have worked out the cipher. No doubt some person did meet the dead man at Cleopatra’s Needle on the night in question, but this does not argue a crime.”
“Seeing that the victim was found dead immediately after the meeting, that he died of poison, that there was no bottle, phial or cup in his possession to carry the poison, and many other evidences, I think it does argue a crime.”
“And what does ‘Tu Soh’ mean?” asked Crate, abandoning one objection to fix on another; “it means nothing.”
“It must mean something, else it would not be there. The cipher-writer would waste neither time nor money in putting in useless words. What it means I know not, at the present moment, but I shall find out.”
“Do you attach much importance to it?”
“So much importance that I believe that the whole secret of the crime is contained in those twice repeated words.”
“What do you mean by twice repeated?”
“Look at this second cipher,” said Fanks, reading it out aloud—
which means, ‘Yes! Tu Soh.’ The person for whom the cipher was intended replies that he will come to the meeting-place, and repeats in his cryptograph the strange words ‘Tu Soh.’ Both of them must have attached some significance to these words, and therefore each in his turn used them.”
“Are the words English?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Might it not be the phonetic spelling for Madame Tussaud?”
Fanks looked at him derisively.
“Why use phonetic spelling in a cipher? Why put an enigma inside an enigma?—“No: ‘Tu Soh’ does not mean Tussaud. It is Chinese.”
“How do you know?”
“I don’t know for certain, but I have a strong suspicion that it is so.”
“On what grounds?”
“I haven’t got any special grounds. The words sound to me to be of the Chinese tongue, and therefore I assume for the present that they are so. I may be wrong, but I shall know their meaning to-day.”
“Who can inform you of their meaning?”
“A friend of mine called Mankers. He knows everything; that is, while ignorant of every-day things, he is acquainted with all kinds of recondite knowledge. ‘Tu Soh’ belongs to this category, so he may know the meaning of the word.”
“Why not?” said Fanks, calmly putting the newspapers in his pocket; “it may be one word Tusoh, or two words Tu Soh. I am quite ignorant of its meaning.”
“It can’t be Chinese, at all events,” contradicted Crate, who had no grounds for making this captious remark.
“It may not be Chinese, certainly. As I tell you, I have no reason for such a belief other than the sound of the word or words. But why are you certain it is not Chinese?”
“No English person would use the Chinese language.”
“I don’t know so much about that. There is a story attached to these talismanic words. They were not used by the murderer and his victim without some reason.”
“Well!” said Crate, tired of this discussion, “it seems to me that you are not much further on than you were before.”
“There I disagree with you. I have succeeded in establishing the reason of the book of Poe’s tales being in the pocket of the dead man. Moreover I have proved that he corresponded in cipher with an unknown person, who promised to meet him on the night appointed. I think all this does away with your idea of suicide.”
“It complicates matters, certainly. But these ciphers don’t give you the names of either the murderer or his victim, so I don’t see how you are going to identify the one or the other.”
“It is a difficult task, certainly, but I hope to identify them by finding out the meaning of ‘Tu Soh.’”
“And how are you going to find out the meaning?”
“I hope Mankers will do that. I expect a note from him to-day. Even if he does not know himself, he may put me on the track of some person better informed.”
“I wish you all success!” said Crate, who was now, against his will, beginning to believe in Fanks. “When shall I see you again?”
“As soon as I have found out the meaning of ‘Tu Soh.’ ”
Certain was Fanks that in some unknown corner of his brain lay hidden an explanation of those strange words appended to the ciphers. Somewhere he had heard them uttered and commented upon, otherwise he would hardly have felt convinced that they belonged to and were part of the Chinese tongue. In themselves they had positively nothing, either in spelling or in pronunciation, to lead him to thus settle their philology, yet he had a lurking suspicion that his guess was a correct one—if indeed that, which he believed to be a faint shadow of a memory, could be called a guess. Fanks was a man of wide and varied experiences, whose memory was tenacious of all he saw or heard, yet on this occasion it played him false, for, cudgel his brains as he might, these two words still eluded his endeavour to classify them to his satisfaction.
That afternoon, while still trying to whip up his sluggish memory, he received a letter from Mankers which gave him but little satisfaction. Nay, rather did it add to his perplexity, seeing that this man on whose omniscience he depended, confessed himself at fault. “I cannot,” wrote his correspondent with manifest acrimony, “call to mind the explanation of the enigma you have submitted to me for solution. Were it a question of ignorance I might contemplate my failure to advise you of its meaning, with a certain degree of philosophy, but the omission must be ascribed less to ignorance than to a bad memory. I have a faint recollection of having discussed these same words with some one a few years back, but beyond the fact that they are of Chinese origin, and refer to some Chinese superstition, I cannot charge my memory with further information. This annoys me greatly, as I particularly dislike not having my memory under control, therefore I am determined not to rest until I have found out what Tu Soh means. Come and see me at four o’clock, and we will discuss the subject together.”
Seeing that Fanks himself also had a faint memory of the words, he thought it best to accept this invitation, hoping that in the course of conversation, the knowledge of at least one of them might revive and furnish the required information. Acting promptly, as was his custom in all things, Fanks no sooner finished reading the letter than he put on his hat and set off at once for Wardour Street, where Mr. Mankers kept a curiosity shop.
It was a disorderly looking place, all kinds of incongruous things being heaped up cheek by jowl in the most ludicrous proximity. Suits of armour, oil paintings, Arabian lamps, Indian carpets, ivory carvings, Dresden china, Japanese monsters, all jostled each other in the dim twilight of the shop. Statues of white marble, suggestive of Hellenic myths, were half hidden by tapestries torn from the walls of mediaeval chambers. Grim Polynesian weapons lay beside silver-framed mirrors of Renaissance workmanship, mummies tightly swathed in bituminous steeped cerements stood nigh cabinets of Louis Quinze, recalling memories of Versailles and Dubarry. Jewellery, tarnished and old-fashioned, silver teapots, exquisitely chased trays, watches of all epochs, strings of rings, and many other things were all piled up together in picturesque confusion. And over all lay the grey veil of dust, trying to hide from the modern world these pitiful wrecks of the past. What sermons did that shop preach of folly, of sorrow, of crime, of tenderness! The wreckage of households was here, the records of dead generations, the emblems of past splendour, all crowded confusedly behind the dingy windows, under the constantly increasing dust.
If the shop was queer the proprietor was queerer. A stumpy dwarf, with a huge head, a flat round face, and piercing black eyes softened by the glasses of horn-rimmed spectacles. Mankers, with his low stature, his disproportionate head, his eccentric ways, seemed like some goblin guardian placed here to watch over these splendours of old time. Yet he was only an ordinary shopkeeper, with a bent towards antiquities and with a knowledge of out-of-the-way things unsurpassed in London.
“Hey, Mr. Fanks,” he croaked, emerging from behind a shimmering fall of Indian brocade as his visitor entered. “I am glad you came. That letter of yours—yes. Tu Soh! those words worry me; I can’t conceive what has become of my memory. I have heard them before.”
“And so have I,” replied Fanks, taking his seat on a worm-eaten chest of black oak; “like yourself, I guessed they were Chinese the moment I saw them.”
“Hey! you did, did you? And where did you see them?”
Fanks hesitated. He did not wish to tell Mankers anything at present, as the little man was free with his tongue and unable to keep a secret. He therefore told half the truth.
“I came across them in a cipher,” he said with apparent frankness. “You know I am fond of solving cryptographs. Well, in the Morning Post I found a clever cipher and solved it with some difficulty. The meaning is unimportant, but these two words, ‘Tu Soh,’ occurred in the reading, so I am curious to know what they mean. Hallo, what’s that?” he added, hearing a movement at the back of the shop.
“Only a customer of mine,” said the dwarf, casting a careless look over his shoulder. “He won’t pay any attention to our conversation, being too busy looking at some old china I bought the other day.”
“Well, what about Tu Soh?”
“Tu Soh! Tu Soh!” repeated Mankers, irritably. “I have a faint memory of those words. Where did I hear them, and what do they mean? The devil!”
“Are they Chinese?”
“Yes. They don’t read particularly so or sound much in that way, yet I am convinced I have heard them termed Chinese.”
“Ah, that I don’t know. How I wish I could revive this dormant memory of mine. A word would do it.”
“The right word, of course,” said Mankers, biting his nails. “Some word which occurred in the conversation I wish to recall. With whom did I have that conversation—with you?”
“It is not impossible. We have had many conversations together on out-of-the-way subjects. I certainly have heard something of those words before, so it might be that we have spoken together on the subject.”
“Chinese,” muttered the dwarf thoughtfully. “Chinese! China! Hey, China! It has something to do with china.”
“So you said before.”
“I don’t mean the country, but porcelain.”
“What? Is it the name of some vase or jar?”
“Maybe, maybe. By the way, it is curious that Mr. Jerricks should be here to-day.
“The customer whom you heard moving about just now. He is a great man for china, and knows more about it than any man I know. If Tu Soh has to do with porcelain he is the man to tell us all about it.”
“Ask him to come here,” said Fanks eagerly; then, in a lower tone, “you need not mention that I am a detective.”
“Of course not, of course not,” replied Mankers, and shuffled off to the back of the shop, from whence he returned with a tall man dressed in a rusty frock coat, shabby trousers bagged at the knees, and a somewhat dilapidated hat.
“A friend of mine, Mr. Jerricks,” said the dwarf purposely suppressing the name of Mr. Fanks. “He wants some information.”
“I shall be most happy,” returned the gentleman called Jerricks, with a stiff bow, “to place my poor services at the disposal of your friend.”
Fanks acknowledged his courtesy in a conventional manner, and looked at the new-corner keenly. This long, lean man, with the clean shaven, hatchet face was evidently a character in his way. A gentleman decidedly, and yet badly dressed in a negligent fashion. A man with a hobby, whose life was taken up with the pursuit of that hobby to the exclusion of all other things. He had a sallow complexion, lank black hair, and a curious habit of closing his eyes when he spoke. His speech too was peculiar, a slow drawling enunciation, which became sharp and rapid when he grew excited. At present he was calm, but during the conversation which ensued Fanks noticed this marked change in his speaking. Standing by the dwarf, his exceptional tallness was even more noticeable than it would have otherwise been. Shabby as he was, yet Fanks recognized the gentle breeding underlying that rusty attire. Moreover a certain timidity and retirement of manner matched somewhat fittingly with his faded gentility. Yet it seemed to the detective that the timidity was assumed, for every now and then a confident personality flashed forth from behind the artificiality of his manner.
“I must apologize, sir,” he said to Fanks, in his slow drawl, “for having overheard a portion of your conversation. Inadvertently, I assure you; still, such eavesdropping has not been without its advantages. The words Tu Soh set me off thinking.”
“Good!” said Fanks, eagerly slipping off the chest. “I hope your thoughts will result in information to me.” me.
“Probably so,” replied Jerricks thoughtfully. “By the way, both yourself and Mankers here seemed to have talked on this subject before?”
“We think we have done so, but are not sure!”
“You say,” said Jerricks turning to the dwarf, “that a word might revive the memory of your conversation. What about peach tree?”
“Peach tree!” repeated Mankers slowly; “peach tree,” he added in a livelier tone; “hey! peach tree,” he finished in a high shrill voice, “the sacred peach tree of China.”
“I see you remember!”
“I do! I do! Mr. Fanks,” cried Mankers quite forgetting the detective’s caution in his eagerness. “I did have a conversation on that question with a third party, but you were present and doubtless heard some portion of it?’
“Ah! that must be the reason I remember the words,” said Fanks quietly, “but I can’t think what peach tree has to do with it.”
“The sacred peach tree of the Chinese that grows on the holy mount Tu Soh.”
“The cosmic Tree of Life,” added Jerricks, supplementing the dwarf’s explanation.
“Oh, that is Tu Soh, is it?” said Fanks slipping his signet ring up and down his finger, a habit with him when perplexed. “The information does not help me much.”
“Help you in what?” asked Mankers eagerly.
“Nothing! Nothing! By the way!” added Fanks, turning towards Jerricks, “would many English people be likely to know the meaning of Tu Soh?”
“I doubt whether anyone but myself would know,” responded Jerricks smiling; “in fact it was I who told Mankers about it in connection with a porcelain vase, on which the sacred peach tree was painted.”
“What became of it?”
“I sold it long ago,” replied Mankers, rubbing his head.
“Have you any idea of the name of the purchaser?”
“H’m! That’s a pity,” said Fanks in a vexed tone; “tell me all you know about Tu Soh.”
“There is not much more to tell,” answered Mankers, turning away; “but what there is I have no doubt Mr. Jerricks can tell you. I must attend to my business.”
He shuffled back into the dim obscurity of the shop, leaving Fanks but ill-pleased at the result of the interview. That “Tu Soh” meant a sacred emblem of Chinese in nowise aided him to solve the mystery of the murder. He was as much in the dark as ever, for he could not conceive why this name, Tu Soh, should be used in the cryptograph. For a few moments he thought over the matter, and then, shaking his head impatiently, looked up to meet the mild eyes of Mr. Jerricks fixed on him with a look of eager curiosity. That look startled Fanks and recalled him to his senses. Not wishing anyone to know of his purpose, least of all this man, of whom he knew nothing, he civilly thanked Mr. Jerricks for his information, said he would trouble him no further, and was turning away, when a remark from the latter arrested his attention.
“If you confide in me,” said Jerricks, in rapid, sharp tones, “I may he able to help you.”
“Confide in you,” repeated Fanks, temporizing by way of caution, “and about what?”
“The crime you are now engaged in following up,” answered Jerricks, still strident in tone.
“The crime? What have I to do with crime?”
“Mr. Fanks,” observed Jerricks, closing his eyes and subsiding into mildness, “is not a virtuoso, I take it, and therefore comes not to seek out recondite matters with no purpose in view. I know your name and profession, Mr. Fanks, and with such knowledge am satisfied that you are now seeking to elucidate the mystery enveloping some crime. With that mystery the words Tu Soh, referring to the sacred life tree of China, are connected. I know more about that particular matter than you think; confide in me, and I may probably aid you in your search for the criminal. Tell me nothing, and I follow your example. No oyster can be closer than I when I choose.”
This strange speech, so much at variance with the ostensible timidity of the man, was not without its effect on Fanks. Surveying Jerricks with a piercing look, he strove to read the real meaning underlying these words, and—failed. No oyster could be closer than Mr. Jerricks when he chose, and oyster he was now. Fanks learned nothing. For a moment or so he did not reply to his companion, being engaged in rapidly considering the reasons for keeping his business secret or revealing it to this stranger. After all there was no absolute necessity for secrecy, and great necessity to find out all he possibly could about these talismanic words, which seemed to be the key to the enigma. Under the stress of circumstances, Fanks, anxious to learn all, made up his mind to confide in this queer person who had appeared so opportunely to reveal the actual meaning of the words in question. Having made up his mind to this course, he lost no time in following it.
“I do not deny,” he said, with grave deliberation, “I do not deny that my name is Fanks, nor that I am a detective. Your surmise that I am investigating a crime is correct. On Friday morning last a man was found dead at the base of the Obelisk on the Embankment. Although the jury said he committed suicide, yet I believed from certain circumstances, which I need not now explain, that he was murdered. That belief has now been confirmed.”
“In what way?”
“By the discovery that the deceased met someone by appointment on Thursday night; and was poisoned by prussic acid.”
“How did you come by this?” asked Jerricks with a look of wonder on his haggard face.
“In the pockets of the dead man was a book of Poe’s stories, with a page turned down at the cipher in ‘The Gold Bug.’ Thinking this hinted at a purpose, I examined the papers, and found in the Morning Post two ciphers which I solved by means of Poe’s key in the tale. Those ciphers confirmed my belief regarding a meeting, and were both signed Tu Soh. What Tu Soh has to do with the murder, I wish to find out.”
Jerricks pondered for a few moments after this explanation, as though he were considering the advisability of aiding the detective who reposed such confidence in him.
“Up to the present you have acted very cleverly,” he said at length in a hesitating manner Doubtless you think the solution of the mystery is to be found in Tu Soh?”
“I do! Those words were used with a purpose by the murderer and his victim.”
“I don’t see how I can help you,” said Jerricks in a puzzled tone, “but I will tell you all I know about Tu Soh.”
Fanks produced his note-book and pencil at once.
“Go on! I am ready!”
“Tu Soh!” explained Jerricks, taking a seat on the oak chest vacated by Fanks, “is the sacred Tree of Life of the Chinese. They believe children are flowers on the tree, that its roots are in the under world, its summit in heaven. It grows on the sacred mount, Tu Soh, though some say the peach tree itself is Tu Soh. I have no doubt you will notice the belief in this Tree of Life corresponds to that in our Bible and to the tree Yggdrasil in the Edda. It is three thousand miles high, and—well, I need not tell you what superstitions are connected with it. Sometimes, though rarely, it is represented on porcelain jars, but there are few examples of Chinese ceramic art thus illustrated. If you want to see a jar so painted, I can tell you where to find one.”
“Do you mean the jar sold by Mankers?”
“No! Mankers sold that jar to me, though he forgets having done so. I have not got it now, as it was broken some years ago. The only person who possesses a jar with a painting of the Tu Soh thereon is General Deswarth.”
“I don’t know him.”
“Yet he was famous in his way,” replied Jerricks, with faint satire; “he was prominent in the Chinese war, and it was during the sack of the Summer Palace in Pekin that he obtained this jar. It is a magnificent example of ceramic art, and unique of its kind. If you want to see it and know more about Tu Soh I advise you to call on General Deswarth.”
“I shall certainly do so. What is his address?”
“Number 39, Brazen Street, Mayfair.”
“Good, I shall call on him,” said Fanks, calmly shutting. his book with a snap; “have I permission to use your name?”
“Certainly! I know the General slightly. Like myself, he is fond of old china. If there is anything to be discovered in connection with Tu Soh, he will certainly he able to afford you the information. He is surprisingly well informed as regards the folk-lore of the Mongolians.”
“Could you not come with me to General Deswarth’s?”
“I prefer not to,” said Mr. Jerricks coldly; “we are not very good friends at present.”
“At that rate I had better not use your name.”
“You can do so without fear! We have only disagreed over a piece of Sèvres china, not worth troubling about. However, you need not use my name if you choose. General Deswarth will be only too delighted to show you his famous Tu Soh jar.”
“When, can I see you again?”
“I come here every morning between eleven and one o’clock. Come and tell me all you have discovered.”
“Certainly! But I really don’t see what help this visit will be to me.”
“One never knows,” replied Jerricks philosophically, as they parted at the shop door.
Fanks looked after this curious person with a thoughtful face as he walked lamely down the street.
“Humph!” he said to himself after a pause; “it was queer my meeting you here, and queerer still that you should explain what I wished to know. I wonder if this is accident, or design.”
Decidedly Fanks was incurably suspicious.
The information supplied by Mr. Jerricks was of so little value that Fanks did not deem it necessary to enlighten Crate as to the result of his quest; There was positively nothing fresh to tell, and unless he fared better with General Deswarth than he had done at the shop of Mankers, it seemed to Fanks, as though, for lack of evidence, he would be unable to proceed further with the case. He had hoped, on discovering the meaning of those mystical words, “Tu Soh,” to have found therein some occult allusion likely to suggest the reason of their use by the cipher-writers. Instead of this, the intelligence that they referred to a sacred Chinese symbol afforded him no clue whatsoever whereby to achieve a tangible result. Indeed Fanks looked upon his proposed visit to General Deswarth as a kind of forlorn hope, and saw plainly that on the result of the information there obtained would depend the abandoning or carrying on of the case.
Thinking of the smug complacency of Crate should this be the end, Fanks could not bring himself to so far lower his dignity in the eyes of one whom he justly despised as an envious incapable. At all costs he determined to proceed with the case, and discover if he could the perpetrator of what be believed to be a foul crime. After the fashion, therefore, of a drowning man clutching at a straw, he started for Brazen Street with the intention of finding out if General Deswarth could supply any possible reason for the use of the words in question. At first he had determined to go as Rixton, and learn all he could under the mask of casual inquiry, but on reflection he judged it best to call openly on the General, and announce his profession and his reason for the visit. By such frankness he fancied that Deswarth, always presuming he had nothing to conceal, would in his turn afford him all the information in his power.
To Brazen Street went Fanks on this errand, in the tweed suit and pot hat of his detective calling. Sending up his card to the master of the house, who fortunately happened to be at home, he awaited with some anxiety for the return of the servant. Fanks, unencumbered with false modesty, was well aware that his name was celebrated, and dreaded lest the General being acquainted with it might refuse to see him, on the plea that he did not care about being mixed up with criminal matters. On the other hand, Deswarth might possibly be ignorant of his name, and consent to the interview as a simple act of courtesy towards a stranger. Looking on both sides of the question, he was unable to say which view the General would take of the matter, when his doubts were ended by the return of the servant.
“Please walk upstairs, sir,” said this messenger of fate; “General Deswarth will see you in the library.”
Joyfully obeying the summons, which seemed to be an augury of success, Fanks mounted the stairs in the tail of his guide, and was speedily shown into a fair-sized room lined with books. At the far end sat General Deswarth bending over a writing table, but on the entry of his visitor he came forward to greet him. After a few civil words of welcome, he pointed to a chair, and taking a seat on one himself, waited to hear Fanks explain the reason of his visit.
A typical warrior of the old school was the General. Bed-faced, white moustached, keen-eyed, tall of stature, straight as a ramrod, and nut less stiff. So far was his outward appearance, and as to his demeanour it was bluff and brusque, the decisive speech of one who had commanded men. General Deswarth had long since retired from active service, yet the years of army training had ingrained in his nature the do-this, do-that air which some people find so offensive. He was courteous and polite to Fanks, yet withal questioned him in a sharp, decisive manner, as though he were yet in command, and his visitor a disobedient soldier.
“Well, sir,” said Deswarth smartly, taking in the external features of Fanks at a glance. “and what can I do for you?”
“I must apologize, in the first place, for having called on you, General Deswarth,” said Fanks, evading a direct reply; “but I am here on a particular errand, and one which you will no doubt think somewhat peculiar.”
Deswarth, rather taken aback at this strange speech, paled a trifle under the bronze of his skin, much to the astonishment of Fanks.
“Halloo!” said that astute individual to himself, “there’s a skeleton in this cupboard.”
“May I ask why you have called on me?” questioned Deswarth, with a certain stiffness of manner designed to cover an inward tremor.
“I have called,” said Fanks, fixing his eyes on the old man, “I have called to ask you the meaning of the words ‘Tu Soh?’”
The General was idly playing with a paper knife, but at the last words of the detective his fingers closed tightly round its handle with a convulsive clutch. Accustomed by his military training to the habit of self-control, he suppressed all outward signs of annoyance as much as he was able, yet Fanks, now observantly alert, noted that such restraint cost him a powerful effort. For one moment he raised his eyes swiftly to the face of his visitor, and immediately afterwards looked down at the floor as though fearful what they would reveal. All this doubtful agitation astonished Fanks greatly, as he could not conjecture the reason; but it was evident that the Chinese words used in the cipher had a powerful effect on the man before him.
“Tu Soh,” repeated Deswarth in a muffled tone, his glance travelling uneasily over the carpet; “I don’t know what you mean?”
“The sacred peach tree of China!”
“What sacred peach tree?” muttered the old man, with a dogged refusal to understand anything.
“The one pictured on that jar yonder,” said Fanks, looking towards the far end of the room; “that famous jar which came from the Summer Palace in Pekin.”
“Sir!” cried the General with an oath, springing to his feet, “Who are you? What are you? Why do you force yourself on me?”
Simultaneously with his host Fanks arose from his chair, genuinely astonished at the strange behaviour of Deswarth. Hat in hand, he stood silent for a moment, and then with a stiff bow moved towards the door.
“I beg your pardon, General Deswarth,” he said quietly; “you seem to consider me an interloper, so with your permission I shall withdraw.”
So he said, so he acted, for his hand was already on the door, but all the same it was by no means his intention to leave the room when evidently on the verge of a fresh discovery connected with Tu Soh. It was a game of bluff, for he calculated on Deswarth’s diplomacy coming to his aid, and, if he had anything to conceal, hiding it in a less dangerous fashion. His calculation proved correct, for Deswarth, wiping his brow with his handkerchief, beckoned him back from the door.
“Pardon me!” he said faintly, pointing to the chair, “I am not very well. I have had some trouble of late. Your question startled me.”
“Yes?” said Fanks interrogatively, returning to his seat.
“Those words Tu Soh are connected with a painful event in my life.”
“One which happened lately?” asked the detective, somewhat startled.
“No,” replied Deswarth, sharply; “the event took place in Pekin! Where I got that jar! An old event, a very old event.”
“That’s a lie,” thought Fanks, noting the clumsy fiction.
“Can this man have anything to do with those ciphers? I’ll spring a surprise on him.”
“A very old event,” repeated the General uneasily, taking Fanks’ silence for disbelief.
“Do you know anything of cipher writing?” asked the latter suddenly.
To his surprise the General never turned a hair.
No, I do not,” he replied calmly; “why do you ask me so extraordinary a question?”
“Do you know who I am, General?”
“Mr. Fanks!” said Deswarth, referring to the card which lay on the table before him.
“Detective of Scotland Yard,” finished Fanks sternly. “I don’t put that on my card.”
“You are a detective,” remarked the General, taking this announcement with the utmost composure. “Well! and your reason for calling on me?”
“I told you before, sir. I wish to know about Tu Soh.”
“Beyond the fact that it is painted on that jar yonder, which came from the Summer Palace, I can tell you nothing about it.”
Fanks for the moment was puzzled. All the irritability and excitement of the old man had departed, and he was now quite cool and collected. This sudden change from hot to cold was most extraordinary. Moreover, after his last remark the General stood up as though to terminate the interview, but Fanks, determined to hear more, kept his seat.
“It will he as well that I should explain myself,” he said, pointedly.
“I hardly know what there is to be explained,” retorted Deswarth coldly. “Nevertheless, as you have not yet told me the reason of your visit, and I am at a loss to know why I am so honoured, I await your explanation.”
He resumed his seat with a nonchalant air, but Fanks saw that his apparent ease was only sustained by a great effort of self-control. More convinced than ever that he was on the right track, and would soon learn why those mysterious words were used in the cipher, Fanks, beeping his eyes fixed on the face of the General, spoke slowly and deliberately, marking the result of every word he uttered.
“On the fourteenth of June,” said Fanks, slowly, “a cipher appeared in the Morning Post, framed in accordance with the cryptograph invented by Poe in his story of ‘The Gold Bug.’ I translated that cipher, which was as follows, ‘Meet me at the Needle, Thursday, midnight, Tu Soh.’ On the eighteenth of the same month a reply in the same cipher writing appeared, consisting of three words only, ‘Yes, Tu Soh.’ On the nineteenth of June a meeting took place as appointed between the two people who communicated by means of the cipher. At that meeting one of those persons killed the other—”
“Impossible!” cried Deswarth, starting to his feet.
“It is not impossible, but true. The young man who inserted the first cipher requesting the meeting was found dead at the base of Cleopatra’s Needle on Friday morning, the twentieth of June. At the inquest held on the body a verdict of suicide was returned, it being supposed that the dead man had poisoned himself by taking prussic acid. I disagree with that verdict.”
“Why so? It probably was suicide.”
“It was not suicide, but murder.”
There was silence for a moment after this emphatic declaration, during which time Deswarth seemed to be considering how best he could answer and baffle this pertinacious visitor.
“All you have told ms is very interesting, Mr. Fanks,” he observed at length, with faint hesitation; “but I don’t see what it has to do with me.”
“I never said it had anything to do with you,” replied Fanks, serenely, “but I beg you to observe that each cipher was signed ‘Tu Soh.’”
“Rather extraordinary words for two English people to use.”
“Very extraordinary,” answered Deswarth, simply. “I cannot conceive why they should be made use of, as few people know their meaning.”
“Of course you do, General,” said Fanks with marked emphasis.
“Yes! I will give you all the information in my power, but I am afraid it will not be of much use. Come here, Mr. Fanks, and let us examine this Chinese jar.”
He walked towards the far end of the room, followed by the detective, who was genuinely puzzled by the strange behaviour of his host. At the beginning of the interview the General had been anxious and upset; now he had recovered his nerve, and conversed calmly with his unwelcome visitor. Fanks felt convinced that he knew something in connection with the words Tu Soh, but whether such knowledge had anything to do with the murder he was unable to make up his mind. Meanwhile, he had discovered that the information given to him by Mr. Jerricks was true, for here was the famous Chinese Jar from the Pekin Palace, and on it was painted the cosmic Tree of Life growing on Mount Tu Soh, bizarre, grotesque, and full of symbolic significance.
It was truly a magnificent specimen of ceramic art. Considerably over six feet in height, it was of large proportions, with an oblong body, wide neck, and gaping mouth. The handles were richly gilt with gold, and the whole surface of the jar was covered with sprawling dragons in red and green. On the spherical surface of the body was painted the holy Mount Tu Soh, from the summit of which sprang the sacred peach tree of the Chinese, with its multitudinous branches, its flowers of red and white, entangled with sun, moon, and the host of heaven. This superb vase was elevated on a squat stool of black wood, and arose in all its gaudy splendour until it nearly touched the ceiling. A man could have dropped easily into the huge body through the wide mouth, and no one would have guessed he was concealed therein. Such an example of the potter’s art was unique, and Fanks, forgetting for the moment the purpose of his visit, was loud in his admiration of this relic of Eastern civilization.
“A superb jar,” he said, walking close up to it so as to obtain a better view of the paintings; “it is like those in which hid the forty thieves.”
“Ah! those were only made of porous red clay,” replied Deswarth, with an attempt at a smile. “This, you see, gains additional value from the paintings of celebrated Chinese artists.”
“I meant more as regards the size,” exclaimed Fanks, quickly; “a man could easily hide in that jar.”
“A man did, Mr. Fanks. Yes! When the Pekin Palace was sacked one of the Emperor’s bodyguard hid himself therein. No one imagined he was so concealed until the jar was being moved; then he was discovered. Of course, once in, it is difficult to get out, as the hands are pinned close to the sides. We thought we would have to break the jar to extricate the Chinaman, but at length we managed to draw him out like an oyster from its shell, and then I took possession of the jar, brought it with me to England, and it has been here ever since.”
“I would like to get into it myself,” said Fanks, laughing, “but I am afraid my size is against me.”
“You could get in but not out,” rejoined the General, with a grim smile; “therefore I would not advise you to risk being shut up in such a porcelain prison. However, that is neither here nor there. This is the jar on which is represented the sacred peach tree Tu Soh, and I know nothing more about the matter.”
“You cannot conceive why the name should have been used in the cipher?”
“No! How is it possible, when I know nothing about the people who corresponded in cipher? Until you told me, I knew nothing even about the ciphers themselves.”
“In fact,” said Fanks with some chagrin, “you are in absolute ignorance beyond what you have told me?”
It seemed as though the General hesitated before replying to this question; but at length he pulled himself together with a great effort and answered in the negative.
“I know nothing more,” he said, resolutely, “nothing more, and I have the honour to wish you good day.”
“Good day,” replied Fanks abruptly, and walked towards the door. As he did so, Deswarth struck a bell, and before Fanks reached the entrance a servant appeared at the portal.
“Show this gentleman out,” said Deswarth abruptly, and turned towards his desk.
Fanks, pausing a moment on the threshold, considered. In spite of the General’s denial, he felt sure that he was being deceived, and that the whole key to the mystery was connected with the Chinese Jar. Still, as he could not tax the General with untruth, there seemed no chance of gaining any further information, and he stood irresolutely at the door, unwilling to go, yet unable to stay without violating the rules of courtesy.
All at once it struck him that he had not used the name of Jerricks for the purpose of explaining how he came to call on Deswarth; so, unwilling to leave his host with a bad impression of his courtesy, he resolved to mention the name. The result astonished him hugely.
“One moment, General Deswarth,” he said, coming forward a few steps, “I am obliged for the courtesy with which you have received me, and think it only due to you that I should tell you how I came to call here.”
Deswarth bowed in silence, but it appeared to Fanks that an apprehensive looked passed over his face.
“I was told about that jar, and you, sir, by a Mr. Jerricks.”
Deswarth, self-controlled as he was, turned ghastly pale at the mention of this name, and laid his hand on the desk in order to steady himself.
“Jerricks!” he said faintly, “Jerricks!”
“Yes. He told me that you could explain the words Tu Soh,” replied Fanks, astonished at the agitation of the General.
“In connection with—with—the murder?”
“Jerricks told you—told—told—”
The words dropped slowly from his mouth; he placed his hand in his breast with a spasm of pain; then flung up his arms, and, before Fanks could rush forward, fell heavily on the floor.
The startled cry of the servant when he saw his master fall brought a new personage on the scene. As Fanks supported the inanimate body in his arms he heard a light step approaching, and looked up to see a tall, young lady advancing towards him. She was strikingly beautiful, of a pronounced brunette type, and her strong resemblance to the General would in itself have revealed the relationship between her and the unconscious man, even had not her exclamation settled the matter.
“My father,” she said, in an alarmed tone, throwing herself down by Fanks. “What is the matter? Run for assistance,” she added sharply, turning towards the servant. “Send for a doctor. We must take him to his room.”
“I think it is only a fainting fit,” said Fanks, loosening the collar of the General.
“Yes, a fainting fit,” she replied quickly; “his heart is weak, and when startled he is liable to these seizures. You must have been saying something to alarm him.”
“I assure you, Miss Deswarth,” began Fanks, when she cut him short, as several servants hurried into the room.
“Not now, sir. Tell me all in a few minutes. Take your master to his bedroom,” she added, rising to her feet. “Gently. You have sent for a doctor? That is right. I hope he will lose no time in coming.”
She issued her commands with such wonderful coolness and self-restraint that Fanks was perfectly astonished. Notwithstanding her age—for she seemed no more than twenty—she was perfectly composed, and where many a man, let alone a young girl, would have lost his head, she was quite mistress of the situation. The servants carefully lifted their master in their arms and bore him towards the library door. Miss Deswarth followed slowly, but turned on the threshold when they disappeared with their burden.
“I must attend to my father at present,” she said, addressing Fanks, who was astounded at her self-command. “Pray wait here till I return. My father has no secrets from me, and I must request you to tell me the reason of this unfortunate occurrence. I only hope it will not be followed by ill results.”
She left the room, and Fanks, considerably bewildered by his late experience, sat down in his old seat to think over matters. That the mention of Jerricks’ name should produce so marked an effect on the General appeared to him most extraordinary, and he could not conjecture the reason. The words “Tu Soh” had also made an impression, and, putting one thing and another together, Fanks began to wonder if he had not unwittingly stumbled on the clue to the solution of the Obelisk murder.
He felt certain that the key to the riddle lay in those mysterious words “Tu Soh” used in the ciphers. Only people conversant with the religious lore of China would have thought of using them in such a way, as their very oddity would show the person to whom the cipher was addressed that he who wrote it was an individual who shared with him the knowledge of the esoteric meaning of the words. Under these circumstances the murderer would know who sent him the book of Poe’s tales, who wrote the cipher, and the reason for which a meeting was requested. If, therefore, Fanks could find anyone to whom the words “Tu Soh” were familiar, he would be on the track of the criminal.
Jerricks certainly knew all about the sacred peach tree and its folk lore, but Fanks never dreamed for a moment of attributing the crime to that person, as there seemed no possible connection between him and the dead man. Now the only man in England who possessed a jar adorned with the sacred peach tree was General Deswarth, therefore Fanks thought it probable that the cipher writers, both victim and murderer, were people who had seen that jar. Otherwise they would never have used the words as a means of communication, and if they had, he would certainly find them to be familiar with Deswarth. The alarm displayed by the General on hearing the words showed that they had some painful memory for him, and Fanks, for one moment, wondered whether it were possible that the old man knew something of the crime.
This idea seemed improbable, but not impossible, but as Fanks was quite unaware of the domestic history of the Deswarths, he was unable to follow up what he now began to believe was a clue. Unfortunately, owing to this fainting fit, he had failed to elicit any further information from the General, but resolved, when Miss Deswarth returned, to question her closely with the object of discovering if she knew of anyone among her father’s friends who resembled the dead man. With this idea he was content to wait in the library, and meanwhile occupied himself in closely examining the famous Chinese Jar.
The exterior view was soon exhausted, as Fanks was not an enthusiast in ceramic art, and soon grew weary of the grotesque imagery painted on the delicate porcelain. Then he thought he would like to look into the interior; but as, owing to the height of the jar perched on its pedestal, he was unable to do this without being raised above the mouth, he looked round for some means whereby to secure the necessary elevation; he saw near at hand the library steps used for getting books from the higher shelves, so taking these over to the jar, he climbed up and peered into the wide mouth.
As has before been stated, the jar was placed on a pedestal at the far end of the library, and on the left through a tall window the brilliant daylight poured into the room. A portion of it penetrated into the interior darkness of the jar, and faintly illuminated the gloom some way down. Fanks, whose eyes were remarkably keen, strove to see the bottom, but found this somewhat difficult, as the depth was so great that the light could not penetrate far enough to dispel the darkness. While bending over the wide mouth, however, he became conscious of a faint odour, and uttered an ejaculation of astonishment.
The odour reminded him of peaches.
“Prussic acid has an odour like that,” muttered Fanks, coming down from his perch. “What does this mean? The mystery thickens. That dead man who used the words ‘Tu Soh,’ referring to the peach-tree painted hereon, died of prussic acid, and this jar breathes a perfume similar to that exhaled by such a poison. There is some queer thing inside here.”
As at any moment Miss Deswarth might return, and Fanks wished to make a thorough examination of the jar without interruption, he cast about in his own mind for some method of seeing the bottom of the groat vase. Ever fertile of ideas, Fanks soon hit on an expedient whereby to carry out his plans, and put it into practice without loss of time.
On the library table was a pink wax taper used for softening wax when sealing letters; taking this out of its stand, Fanks hastily lighted it, tied it to a piece of string he happened to have in his pocket, and once more climbing up the steps, lowered it into the depths of the jar. As soon as the light touched the bottom, he saw a faint glitter of metal, and his heart gave a leap as he recognized the outline of a silver flask.
“What is that doing there?” he muttered, hastily drawing up the light, “a travelling flask. Without doubt tin’s peach-like odour hinting at prussic acid comes from there. The dead man was killed by prussic acid, which he drank in all innocence. What could be easier than for the murderer to hand his victim a flask filled with brandy, and then—but it’s impossible. I am jumping to conclusions, and yet that travelling-flask concealed in that jar; the words ‘Tu Soh’ also referring to the jar; the emotion of the General; the odour of peaches. By heaven, I believe I am on the right track.”
He felt a certain sense of triumph in having thus far solved the enigma, though he certainly had nothing but theory to go upon. Yet all things seemed to point to the conclusion that Deswarth, if not guilty of the murder, at least knew something about it. And Jerricks! it was strange that he should have sent him to the house wherein he had made so startling a discovery. Decidedly, he was on the eve of finding out more than he ever dreamed of, and his sole idea now was to secure the silver flask before Miss Deswarth returned to the library.
It was a difficult thing to fetch up from the depths of the jar, as though Fanks, slim and active, could easily have slipped into the vase, it was as the General truly observed, no easy task to get out again. For the moment Fanks was perplexed how to obtain the flask, as he had no idea of getting into the jar, and perhaps remaining there till Miss Deswarth returned to extricate him from so unpleasant a position. He would be unable to give any explanation of being there, and altogether saw that such an attempt was out of all reason. Therefore he looked around for some means whereby to achieve his purpose.
Luck favoured him, for he saw leaning against the wall a curious contrivance, invented by Deswarth for the purpose of getting any special book from the upper shelves without using the step ladder. This was a long stick forked at the end like a claw, and working from the handle by means of a spring. The General’s weakness of heart forbade him to climb up steps, so when he wanted a book from the upper shelves he had but to extend the stick, and having seized the required volume in the claw, touch the spring, by which means the book was held fast and brought safely down to his hand. No better means could have been found whereby to fish up the flask from the depths of the jar, so Fanks, with this instrument in one hand and his lighted candle at the end of a string in the other, once more climbed up the steps.
Lowering the light, he soon saw the flask lying at the bottom of the jar, and inserting the stick gingerly through the mouth, laid the claw on the flask. On touching the spring it tightened at once, and in another moment he had the flask in his hand. Before examining it, he first replaced the extinguished candle on the table, the steps and the stick in their respective corners, and thus made all evidence safe against the unexpected return of Miss Deswarth. He did not want anyone in the house to know of his late actions, or that the flask was in his possession.
This being done, he returned to his seat and carefully looked at his prize. It was a silver travelling flask richly chased in an antique fashion, with no stopper, and on applying it to his nose, Fanks smelt the peach-like odour very strongly.
“Prussic acid,” he said, once more, “I am sure of it! The flask held brandy, and mixed with prussic acid it left this perfume. I have no doubt that I hold in my hand the instrument by which the crime of the Obelisk was committed. Now we shall see to whom the flask belongs.”
He turned it over and examined the carving. It was very elegant and costly, and could only have been owned by a wealthy man. On one side was a small shield and thereon was a monogram C. B.
“C. R.,” muttered Fanks thoughtfully, surveying the flask; “it is not therefore the property of the General. Can it be that some one else has killed this man; or did the flask belong to the deceased, and was it brought by the murderer to him at the meeting-place? I’m quite in the dark. Until I find out the name of the dead man I can be sure of nothing, but once I discover that, what with the evidence of the Chinese Jar and the clue of this flask I’ll soon lay hands on the murderer.”
He was inclined to suspect the General, despite the different initials on the flask. Believing as he did that the dead man had drunk poison from this flask, it was clear that it had been concealed in the Chinese Jar so as to destroy all traces of the crime. Only Deswarth, or a member of his household, could have placed it there, and remembering the alarm displayed by the former on hearing the words Tu Soh, it seemed as though he were the criminal. If not, why had he been so moved, so agitated by the reference to the sacred peach tree? why was the flask concealed in the jar? and why did it breathe odours of peachlike flavour which betrayed only too clearly the late presence of prussic acid, that poison whereby the unknown man of the Obelisk had met his death?
Undoubtedly the General was implicated in this terrible affair, and Fanks resolved not to leave the house until he had discovered the name of the man who had been murdered. It may be that he was known to Deswarth alone, but on the other hand, judging from his use of the words Tu Soh, it was possible that he might have been an habitual visitor at the house and well acquainted with the Chinese Jar and its painting of the peach tree. If so, he would be known to Miss Deswarth, so Fanks made up his mind to describe the appearance of the dead man to the General’s daughter, and see if she recognized the deceased. In the meantime he resolved to say nothing to her for the present about the travelling flask he had fished up from the jar, and slipped it into his pocket with the intention of carrying it away with him. Hardly had he done so when a servant appeared at the door.
“If you please, sir, Miss Deswarth would like to see you in the drawing-room.”
“I shall follow you at once,” replied Fanks, taking up his hat; “lead the way.”
He left the room slowly, throwing a final glance at the vase as he left the library.
“If you are the means of tracing the criminal,” he thought, surveying the gaudy hues, “this will be a very queer case.”
It was a queerer case than even Fanks considered it to
She was waiting for him in the drawing-room, but not alone, for near her stood a companion somewhat older than herself. This second member of the Deswarth household was a quiet, demure-looking girl, apparently verging on the middle of the twenties. Being thus five years older than Miss Deswarth, she should certainly have been the more composed of the two. Yet this was not the case, for while the younger was as calm and self-contained as she had been in the library, the elder looked grey and pinched, shrinking away from the keen gaze of the detective with an involuntary movement of apprehension. Fanks had but time to see that she was pretty in a colourless kind of way, when his attention was diverted by the General’s daughter, who spoke boldly and to the point without any hesitation.
“My father is very ill,” she said, in her clear, decisive voice; “the doctor says he has had a severe shock. As I am particularly anxious that he should be spared all trouble on account of his failing health, I must ask you, sir, to explain the reason of your visit to me.”
“It is hardly necessary.”
“Indeed you are mistaken. It is very necessary. I do not want the calamity of to-day to fall on him again. Henceforth, if your business is likely to be of a protracted nature, you must communicate with my father through me.”
She spoke with cool deliberation, more in the manner of a woman of the world hardened to self-restraint by long usage to social dictates, than like a girl just emerging from the retirement of the schoolroom, Fanks could not withhold a secret feeling of admiration for her courage and diplomatic manner, though he truly felt somewhat astonished at the unexpected force of character displayed in her every word and gesture. He did not then know the history of Miriam Deswarth. When that knowledge came, he was less astonished at the old head she carried on young shoulders.
“My business with your father,” he said, temporizing to gain time, “is purely of a private character, about which you can possibly know nothing. I quite unwittingly startled him to-day, but at a future interview I shall be more careful.”
“Will it be necessary for you to see him again?”
“I fear so,” answered Fanks, thinking of that damning piece of evidence hidden in his pocket.
“Can I not do as well?”
“I think not.”
Miss Deswarth frowned and looked at her friend. That lady, who had somewhat recovered herself, being upset by the recent occurrence, came forward and took up the conversation. She had a soft voice, which added to the charm of her manner so greatly, that when speaking in an animated fashion she looked positively beautiful. In repose she reverted to her colourless plainness. It may be here remarked that she was small of stature and delicate in appearance, while her demure manners gave her the air of a quaker Titania, “I think, Miriam,” she said, with some hesitation, “that it will be best for this gentleman to go. When the General is quite recovered we can ask him what it was that startled him, and whether he is willing to see this gentleman again.”
“I know no more than you do what startled him,” exclaimed Fanks, before Miriam could reply; “I simply mentioned a name and he fainted.”
“A name!” repeated Miss Deswarth anxiously, what name?”
Fanks closed his lips and cast a look at the other girl, as if to intimate that her presence debarred him from uttering the name. This was not his feeling in the matter, and his silent diplomacy was simply due to the fact that he wished to learn who and what was this third participant in the conversation.
“Oh!” said Miriam carelessly, “this is my friend and companion, Miss Stacey—Miss Lydia Stacey. She is well acquainted with all that concerns this household, and you can speak before her without fear.”
Fanks acknowledged the introduction with a bow, and having thus obtained the necessary information as to the name and status of the lady, went on with his remarks.
“I called to see General Deswarth,” he continued quietly, “about a certain piece of folk-lore connected with the Chinese Jar standing in the library.”
“The Tree Tu Soh!”
“The same! I was curious to know about it, and also to see that famous Jar which came from the Summer Palace of the Chinese Emperor.”
“You are an antiquarian?”
“Precisely!” asserted Fanks, who saw no reason to inform his listeners of his real vocation. “I am fond of all kinds of curiosities, and was anxious to learn all about the sacred peach tree of China.”
“Who sent you here?” asked Miss Stacey, curiously.
“The gentleman whose name so startled the General.”
“And the name—”
“Jerricks!” cried both the girls in a breath.
“Yes! I met him at a curiosity shop in Wardour Street, and on asking for information about Tu Soh was recommended by him to call on General Deswarth. He permitted me to use his name as an introduction.”
There was silence for a moment, and then Miss Deswarth, casting a look of embarrassment on her companion, whose face was turned away, spoke in a low voice, “I don’t wonder you startled my father, Mr.—Mr.—.”
“Fanks!” said that gentleman, trusting to providence that neither of his listeners would connect him with the famous detective, “Fanks!”
He thought Miss Stacey started on hearing this name, but was not quite sure, his attention being fully taken up with Miriam, who continued speaking serenely, in no wise disturbed.
“That Mr. Jerricks should send you here, Mr. Fanks, is indeed strange, as he has quarrelled bitterly with General Deswarth. Indeed, my father has forbidden his name to be mentioned in his presence, so when you inadvertently uttered it, of course it affected him as you saw.”
“Mr. Jerricks said he was not on good terms with the General, but that the quarrel was a trivial one.”
“So it was,” exclaimed Miss Stacey vehemently. “No, Miriam, I cannot be quiet. You know how kind Mr. Jerricks has been to me. It was he who got me this place as your companion, and I am very sorry that the quarrel took place. It was only over some old china.”
“I think it was more than that,” said Miriam doubtfully; “however, though Mr. Jerricks is your friend, Lydia, this matter concerns no one but my father. I am sorry you mentioned the name, Mr. Fanks,” she added, turning towards the detective, “but, of course, you did so in ignorance of the effect it would produce. If your business was only to know about Tu Soh, I presume that now my father has told you all about it, and shown you the Jar, you will not need to see him again.”
“Indeed I shall, Miss Deswarth,” replied Fanks decisively. “This matter is more serious than you imagine.”
The detective hesitated. He felt that from these women, if from anyone, he would obtain sufficient information to lead to the identification of the dead man, and was inclined to speak out. It was difficult to do so without proclaiming himself a detective, and he was unwilling to do this, knowing the vague fear which women have of the law. If he blurted out the truth he might shut their mouths and learn nothing, whereas he wished them both to talk as openly as possible. With these thoughts in his mind he came to the conclusion that it would be best to tell the story as delicately as possible, and not reveal his profession unless absolutely obliged to do so. For this purpose he invented a fiction founded on fact, and blended the two so skilfully that he gained his end in some measure.
“As I told you, Miss Deswarth,” he said with apparent frankness, “I am a bit of an antiquarian, and fond of all kinds of queer things. Among these things I number ciphers, which have an attraction for me.”
“Yes! Cryptographs! Words thrown into confusion so as to hide a secret.”
“Like that in Poe’s ‘Gold Bug’? said Miss Stacey innocently.
Fanks threw on her a piercing look, being astonished that she should mention the very book found in the pockets of the dead man.
“Oh! I know that cipher!” exclaimed Miss Deswarth. “If you remember, Ferdinand was very fond of puzzling it out. He showed us how to do it one day.”
“Poor Ferdinand!” sighed Miss Stacey, turning her head away, but not in time to prevent Fanks seeing a tear roll down her cheek. Miss Deswarth also seemed affected, which added considerably to his perplexity.
“Who the deuce is this Ferdinand who is fond of ciphers?” he thought anxiously. “Possibly the dead man, if that ‘Gold Bug’ cipher was his favourite. Well, I’ll wait and see.”
He continued his story:
“In the paper the other day, I found a cipher which curiously enough was written in the special symbols to which you refer.”
“Similar to the cipher in the ‘Gold Bug’?”
“Yes! It contained the words Tu Soh.”
“Those words?” cried Miss Deswarth, rising to her feet. “Why, Ferdinand must have written that cipher. He must be in London, and I thought—we all thought he was in Australia.”
Fanks felt his heart beat rapidly. He had no doubt that he was on the verge of a great discovery. For the moment he felt inclined to tell the truth, yet controlled himself sufficiently to ask in a careless tone who was this mysterious Ferdinand. In his own mind he had no doubt but that it was the dead man.
When he asked the question both the women looked doubtfully at him as if questioning the advisability of replying.
“I think I may tell you,” said Miriam at length, “as you may perhaps be able to inform us where Mr. Bargrave is.”
“Yes! Mr. Ferdinand Bargrave.”
“Ah!” thought Fanks with a thrill of triumph. “So that is the name of the deceased.”
“He is my father’s ward,” explained Miriam, quite unconscious of the information she had given, “and was rather wild at college.”
“Very wild,” said Lydia, with a sigh. “When he came here he was no better, and quarrelled with the General.”
“In fact he so angered my father that he bade him leave the house.”
“And never come near it again.”
“We have not seen him since,” continued Miss Deswarth, taking up her share of the duet. “We are both very fond of him, but he has forgotten all about us. Oh, Mr. Fanks, if you know where he is, do tell us!”
“We shall go and see him at once,” cried Lydia, her eyes lighting up with joyful anticipation. “I am so glad he has come back from Australia.
Both girls were so anxious about the matter that Fanks felt a pang at the thought of how soon their joy would be changed into mourning. He had not now the slightest doubt in his own mind that the dead man was called Ferdinand Bargrave. Regarding the person by whom he was murdered he was not quite sure. All things seemed to point towards General Deswarth, but Fanks invariably distrusted first impressions. His experience was that when all things seemed clear they were on the eve of becoming darker than ever. He was right in this instance. Meanwhile he had to break the truth to these two poor girls, who were evidently so fond, in a sisterly way, of the dead man.
“The cipher I spoke of, ladies, was in the Morning Post, and requested a meeting.”
“With whom?” asked both his listeners breathlessly.
“That I do not know. I wish I did.”
“Because if the cipher was written by Ferdinand Bargraves, he was murdered on the twentieth of June by the person to whom the cipher was addressed.”
Miss Deswarth looked at Fanks in a horrified manner, her mouth half open, her eyes dilated with fear. Lydia, on the contrary, burst into a passion of tears. The difference of nature between these two women was well illustrated by their several ways of expressing emotion.
Fanks, having shot his bolt, said nothing. Indeed after the hard crude fact that Bargraves had been murdered, there was nothing more to be said. No embroidery of lies and glossing could alter that fact. The man was dead, and there was an end to it. But his murderer lived; there was not yet an end to that.
At the one woman, weeping after the fashion of her somewhat weak nature, looked the other with a kind of impatient contempt. She glanced at Fanks first; then at the weeping Lydia; afterwards at Fanks again. This time she spoke.
“How do you know he was murdered?”
“I am a detective!” said Fanks quietly, deeming it now time to throw off the mask.
“And you know this to be the truth?”
“I am certain of it.”
“Did you come to tell this to General Deswarth?”
“No. I came to find out, if possible, the name of the dead man. Now I know. It is Ferdinand Bargraves.”
A gleam of hope came into her eyes.
“You may be making a mistake. Describe to me this man whom you say was murdered, and I shall tell you if it is my father’s ward.”
“A young man of about twenty-five years of age; under middle height; somewhat dissipated in appearance; brown hair and slight moustache of the same colour, blue eyes, oval face.”
“That description might fit a dozen men.”
“So it might, but this dead man had a scar on his cheek.”
“On the right cheek?”
Miss Deswarth sat down with a gesture of despair.
“That is Ferdinand Bargraves,” she murmured, pushing her hair off her forehead. “Yes! That scar was caused by me when we were children together. In a fit of temper I threw a knife at him, and so inflicted that wound. Tell me how he came by his death.”
“Ah, as to that, I am not quite sure,” said Fanks, marvelling at the self-control of this girl. “I only know that he was found dead at the foot of the Obelisk on the Embankment—that he was poisoned with prussic acid—that—”
“I know that case,” cried Miss Stacey, standing up; “it was in the papers. I never thought that was Ferdinand; but it was not murder; it was suicide.”
“So the papers and the jury said. I think differently. It was murder.”
“Who murdered him?” asked Miriam slowly.
“That is what I wish to find out.”
She remained silent for a few minutes, evidently putting great restraint on herself to keep from breaking down. The tears of Lydia seemed to annoy her, and she touched her friend on the shoulder.
“It is no use crying, Lydia,” she said softly; “that won’t bring him back to life. Dry your eyes, and come with me to see my father.”
“Are you going to tell him that Ferdinand is dead?” asked Lydia, rising slowly, her handkerchief to her eyes.
“What! In his present state of health? No! That is impossible; but I wish to be alone, to think over what Mr. Fanks has told us. And you, sir,” she added, turning towards Fanks, who was now on his feet, “pray call and see me to-morrow; I shall tell you all I know about Mr. Bargraves. I only hope you will catch and punish his murderer.”
Fanks took his dismissal quietly enough, having learned all he wished to know. He saw that he would find a valuable coadjutor in Miss Deswarth, and might hope, with her assistance, to solve the mystery. With the idea that the murderer might be her own father in his mind, he rather shrank from asking for it, but resolved to take no definite action until he saw her on the morrow, and learnt from her lips the past career of the dead man.
“I shall call to-morrow, Miss Deswarth,” he said respectfully, as they moved towards the door, “believe me I am sorry to be the bearer of such bad news.
Here he suddenly paused, being occupied in looking at a small water-coloured painting hanging near the door.
“What is the matter?” asked Miss Deswarth, following the direction of his eyes.
“What about it?”
Fanks did not reply at once, as he was examining the picture with his eyes. The painting represented the Embankment by moonlight, with the Needle standing up gaunt against the sky, the leaden-coloured river, the endless lamps of bridge and street, with a haggard moon peering down from a wrack of ragged clouds.
“That picture. Cleopatra’s Needle! It was there the body was found.”
Miss Deswarth looked at the picture also, with a startled expression, and then, her self-possession evidently giving way, she hurried out of the room. Miss Stacey, who had now dried her tears, remained by Fanks, contemplating the picture.
“Who painted it, Miss Stacey?”
“A friend of ours, Mr. Claud Rainton! His name is in the corner.”
Fanks looked at the point indicated by her finger, and there saw, in red paint, the name “Claud Rainton,” and the date “22nd June.”
“Why,” he said, suddenly, “it was lately painted.”
“Yes! Mr. Rainton only gave it to us yesterday.”
“Where does Mr. Rainton live?”
“At Hampstead, I think. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, nothing, nothing,” muttered Fanks, unwilling to awaken her suspicions by asking for any further address. “I thought I knew him; but now I must go, Miss Stacey. I shall see you to-morrow.”
He left the house hurriedly, being anxious for solitude in order to think over this new complication. Judging by the date in the corner of the picture, it had been executed by Claud Rainton on, or about the date of the murder. The inference, therefore, to be drawn was, that on the night in question Rainton had been near the scene of the murder. Nor was this the only suspicious circumstance, for, taking the silver flask once more from his pocket, Mr. Fanks noted with much perplexity the monogram thereon.
“Claud Rainton,” he muttered slowly, “Claud Rainton, and the initials on this flask are C. R.”
Here, then, was a new element introduced into this affair which promised to still further complicate matters. Previously Fanks had felt inclined to suspect General Deswarth of complicity in the murder, but now that he discovered the man to whom the flask used by the criminal belonged, his suspicions began to point in another direction. Why should this Claud Rainton have been on the Embankment on the night in question? For Fanks felt certain that the water-colour painting was an assurance of his presence there. No artist could have depicted that wild midnight scene otherwise than from personal observation, and would have consequently executed it while the picture was still fresh in his mind’s eye. The murder had taken place on the 20th of June, while the painting appeared to have been executed on the two succeeding days. So it certainly did look as though Mr. Rainton had been in the neighbourhood on that fatal night.
Moreover, the silver flask which had held the fatal draught so innocently taken by Bargraves belonged to Rainton, and unless he could explain in a satisfactory manner how it happened to smell of prussic acid, and how it came to be hidden in the Chinese jar, it would certainly point to the conclusion that he was mixed up with the affair. Altogether the case was now becoming singularly entangled, and as Fanks revolved the results of his visit in his mind, he mentally declined to commit himself to any opinion as to who was the guilty party.
“If this Rainton did murder Bargraves,” he thought, as he returned to his lodgings to change from Fanks to Rixton, “he must have had some reason for doing so. One man doesn’t kill another without a strong motive. Perhaps they were rivals for the love of Miss Deswarth. I saw her flush up when I drew her attention to the painting. But then this doesn’t say that Bargraves loved her also, and even supposing by way of argument that he did, Rainton could certainly have had little to fear from such a rival. Bargraves was evidently a bad lot, who had quarrelled with his guardian, and with such a breach between them Deswarth would assuredly not have given his daughter to a man he disliked. Of course, if Miss Deswarth loved Bargraves, that would complicate matters, but that she prefers Rainton I am certain. Besides, if she did not love Rainton, it would scarcely forward his cause to remove Bargraves out of his path. Hang it,” concluded Fanks, entering into his sitting-room; “it is a puzzle—worse even than that of M. Judas. Well, I found that out, so I don’t see why I should not he successful in this instance.”
He dressed himself in evening clothes, having resolved to go down to his club, and make inquiries about this unknown artist who had painted the “Moonlight on the Embankment.” While doing so, he thought aloud, according to his habit, but, notwithstanding all his cudgelling of his brains, could come to no satisfactory conclusion. So far from becoming clearer, every step forward led further into darkness.
“If Bargraves and Rainton were rivals for the love of Miss Deswarth, they would certainly not communicate with one another in cipher. And yet, if it was not Rainton who met the deceased on that night, why was his flask used to carry the prussic acid, and why was it hidden in the Chinese jar? There is only one thing to he done. I must find out Rainton, and have a conversation with him. He may be able to explain all; if not, it will be rather awkward for him. This circumstantial evidence is pretty strong, and unless that flask is explained away, it may put a rope round his neck. Afterwards, I must see the Jerricks again. Judging from the effect of his name on the General, there is something more than a mere quarrel between them, I don’t believe Miss Deswarth’s explanation, and feel certain that there is something at the back of all this, and equally certain that Bargraves’ death has something to do with it. Yes,” he decided, putting on his cloak, “I’ll go down to the club and find out all I can about Rainton. Jevons will be sure to know a thing or two in connection with him.”
Jevons was the gossip of the Chesterfield Club, an elderly gentleman who devoted his declining years to finding out and discussing other people’s business. He had imagination, too, and out of the slightest suspicions could, and did, construct wicked little tales which reflected anything but credit on the people about whom they were told. Nothing pleased Mr. Jevons better than to be asked for the history of some one, and if he did not know it, he made it his business to find it out, with the result that he had by this time a fine collection of biographies which were quite at the service of any one who wanted to make mischief. In a small way he was an amateur detective, and what Fanks did in the criminal line Jevons achieved in the social.
To this gentleman, then, did Fanks apply for information regarding Claud Rainton, and, as he anticipated, Jevons knew something about him. Not quite so much perhaps as Fanks would have desired, as Jevons was only acquainted with some people who knew Rainton, and not with Rainton himself. Nevertheless, the hint that information about the artist was required sufficed to set Mr. Jevons off on the hunt. He nosed the trail with alacrity, ran his prey to earth, and returned to seek Fanks at his lodgings the next day with the necessary information.
It may be here remarked that Fanks was only known to the omniscient Jevons as Rixton, else this amateur detective might have hesitated about playing jackal to a professional lion. But Fanks, as seen in his fashionable haunts, was of so harmless a character, that Jevons, looking on him with something like contempt, had not thought it necessary to acquaint himself with his early history. Now, however, that Rixton alias Fanks had inquired about Rainton, Jevons made up his mind to inquire about him, and called at Fanks’ lodgings with the twofold object of telling his story and learning that of his host.
Fanks had not been long in Jevons’ company when he saw what Mr. Jevons was driving at, and well aware that ‘sooner or later this meddler would find him out, took the bull by the horns, swore the curious Jevons to silence, and revealed the identity of Rixton with the famous London detective.
This piece of news was a sweet morsel to Jevons, but there was one drawback to it—he could not reveal what he had heard. Far from shrinking from Fanks, the amateur was charmed to find himself cheek by jowl with the professional, and promised to assist him in all ways and at all times to the best of his abilities. Truth to say, Fanks had often made such use of Jevons before under the guise of Rixton, but now that he had thrown off the mask, and secured the silence of this gossip, he foresaw that he had obtained a valuable ally in the West End, who would be of great use to him in future cases. In this instance, he was well satisfied with the way in which Jevons had done his work, as not only had the curious one found out all about Rainton’s history, but was able to give the address required by Fanks:
“He lives in Heat’s Lane, Hampstead, Rixton,” said Jevons, rubbing his hands together gleefully. “Not a fashionable locality, is it? but then, you see, Rainton isn’t a fashionable young man.”
“Well, some people would call him so,” replied Jevons, who was plain himself. “I don’t think he’s an Apollo. Tall, good figure, fair hair, and moustache—cavalry moustache—nice smile, carries his head well, and dresses very badly. Why do you ask if he is good-looking?”
“Because good looks in a man generally attract a woman’s attention, and I want to know if a certain lady is in love with our artist friend.”
“Ah, you are talking of Miss Deswarth,” said Jevons, evincing no-surprise; “she is in love with him, very much so. A charming girl, isn’t she? and has a wonderful composed manner for so young a person. You have met her, I think you said,” continued Jevons, in an insinuating manner. “Eh, is that so?”
“It is so,” answered Fanks quickly; “I certainly did meet her at her own house.”
“You know the General?”
“I have met him.”
“Never you mind, Jevons,” said Fanks severely; “it strikes me you are trying to cross-examine me. That is my privilege, not yours. I have told all I intend to tell.”
“But why do you want to know about Rainton and the Deswarths?” asked Jevons, who was devoured with curiosity.
“I don’t want to know about the Deswarths,” retorted Fanks, resolved to keep his business to himself, “that information was purely gratuitous on your part. As to Mr. Rainton, I have seen a picture of his, and I want to give him a commission to paint one for me.”
“Then all this has nothing to do with the detective business?”
“Nothing at all.”
Fanks was a past master in the art of lying, and did it so beautifully on this occasion that the suspicious Jevons was quite deceived. Seeing the advantage he had obtained, Fanks proceeded to follow it up.
“You hold your tongue about my detective business, Jevons. Rixton has nothing to do with Fanks, and I don’t want the identity of the two established by means of your long tongue all over the West End.”
“You can depend on me,” said Jevons eagerly; “I won’t breathe a word to a living soul. But, I say, Rixton, you’ll let me help you in some case, won’t you, eh!”
“Certainly! When I require your assistance I shall certainly ask for it. But in this instance, beyond the address and history of Rainton, I don’t require your help. I only want him to paint a picture for Rixton. Fanks is not appearing in this matter.”
“Oh, I see,” responded Jevons quite pleased; “well, I have told you a good deal about Rainton, haven’t I?”
“Yes, but not enough. Answer a few questions, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all. I’m all attention.”
“Is Rainton rich?”
“No! He’s as poor as a church mouse. Still, he is a rising artist and will, I hope, achieve fame.”
“Does he love Miss Deswarth?”
“Yes, he does. He was a drawing-master at the school she attended, and they fell in love with one another, when she was at her studies. I believe he is a gentleman of very good family, and quite a match for her, save that he is poor.”
“Does he go to Deswarth’s house?”
“Yes! To give Miss Deswarth lessons. We all know what that means.”
“Does the General know?”
“Not a thing. If he did, he’d forbid Rainton to visit the house, but he thinks his daughter is quite safe.”
“Don’t you know! She’s engaged to young Bargraves.” Fanks started to his feet with an ejaculation, considerably surprised by this piece of news. If this were true, it threw a new light on the affair, and he proceeded to at once cross-examine Jevons even more closely than he had done. That gentleman, seeing he had produced an impression, was very pleased, and rubbed his hands together with a loud chuckle. Nothing delighted Jevons so much as the chance of destroying some person’s character, and this he now proceeded to do in his best style.
“Stop that poultry-yard noise,” said Fanks, who, having known Jevons for years, took many liberties with him, “I wish you’d attend to what I am saying.”
“I am attending.”
“Who is young Bargraves?”
“A ward of General Deswarth’s. He’s not of age till he’s twenty-five, and then comes in for thirty thousand pounds.”
“And Miss Deswarth is engaged to him?”
“Yes! The marriage was arranged by the fathers, Deswarth and Bargraves were in the same regiment, and the latter died, leaving his son to the care of the General.”
“But Miss Deswarth does not love Bargraves?”
“No, she loves Rainton. I don’t know what Bargraves will say to it when he turns up again.”
“Why! Where is he now?”
“The deuce,” exclaimed Fanks in a sceptical tone, “who told you that?”
“General Deswarth himself.”
Making no reply to this last remark, Fanks slowly paced to and fro, thinking of what he had just heard. Probably at their quarrel, Bargraves had announced his determination to go to Australia, but instead of doing so had remained in London. Of this, however, judging from Jevons’ story, Deswarth was quite ignorant. Yet, as the lad was entitled to so large a sum of money, why did he not ask his guardian for some, instead of sinking into such poverty?
“Had young Bargraves an allowance?” he asked, abruptly.
“Yes, five hundred a year, but it was entirely at the discretion of Deswarth.”
“They had a quarrel, I believe?”
“Yes! Bargraves was very wild—awfully; oh” said Jevons, chuckling, “I could tell you no end of stories about him.”
“Never mind the stories, I want to know why he left Deswarth’s house.”
“Well, I don’t exactly know the rights of that,” murmured Jevons, scratching his head; “it was some row about a woman, with whom Bargraves was carrying on. As he was engaged to Miss Deswarth, of course the General was furious and spoke his mind about it. Bargraves, I suppose, was impudent and there was a battle royal. It ended in Bargraves being turned out of the house without a penny. Then he went to Australia, where I suppose he now is.”
“How do you mean he was turned out of the house without a penny?”
“The General cut off his allowance, and told him that until he mended his ways he would not give him a penny unless forced to do so by the law. As Bargraves is twenty-five in another month or so I suppose he’ll come back from Australia, get his thirty thousand pounds, and snap his fingers at the General.”
“Does he love Miss Deswarth?”
“Not a bit! Don’t I tell you it is a family arrangement. They do not care for each other. She loves Rainton, and he loves—well, I have not yet found out who is the woman,” finished Jevons, regretfully.
“Did Rainton know Bargraves?”
“Slightly! But of course Bargraves thought he was a drawing-master, and didn’t take much notice of him. I think they hated one another pretty well.”
“For what reason?”
“Bargraves gave Rainton some impudence, and there was a quarrel. I don’t know exactly the facts of the case.”
“Was young Bargraves a nice fellow?”
“No!” said Jevons, candidly, “to my mind he was a young beast. He had no respect for age. I wonder you never met him.”
“I was away for some months.”
“On one of your detective excursions, I suppose?”
“It’s not improbable. And of course Bargraves was at Oxford?”
“He had left Oxford when the row took place,” said Jevons, rubbing his chin; “at least, I think so. He was only four months in town before he went off to Australia, and as you were away, that is why you never dropped across him. But you’ll no doubt see him on his return. He comes to The Chesterfield sometimes.”
“It is doubtful,” replied Fanks, thinking of the dead body he had seen at the Morgue. “So Bargraves was not a desirable companion? What about Rainton?”
“I don’t know him personally, but I understand he’s a very decent fellow, indeed. He is a gentleman, you know, though a drawing-master.”
“Well, can’t a drawing-master be a gentleman as well as a detective?” said Fanks with a smile, picking up his hat.
“Of course! of course,” replied Jevons, hastily, “but you must admit it is not usually the case. Where are you going to?”
“Up to Hampstead, to give Mr. Rainton a commission for a picture.”
“Don’t tell him what I’ve told you, Rixton. I don’t like gossip.”
“Don’t you!” returned Fanks, dryly; “so I should think from the way you abstain from it. Well, I won’t say a word about you. By the way, there is just one other thing I should like to know.”
“Yes! And that is!”
“Who is Jerricks? and what is he to do with General Deswarth?”
Jevons opened his pale blue eyes to their widest extent.
“Oh!” he said in a whisper, “I know about that also. Found it out by accident. It’s a profound secret.”
“What is a profound secret?”
“The identity of Jerricks. He is an independent gentleman, with a small income, fond of old china.”
“Well! I don’t see much of a secret about that.”
“No, but you don’t know what relation he is to old Deswarth.”
“I don’t. What is he? Cousin?”
“Nearer than that. He is,” said Jevons, mysteriously, bringing his lips close to Fanks’ ear, “the illegitimate brother of General Deswarth.”
Fanks was not easily surprised, but this last piece of information considerably startled him.
“What, Jevons, you say that Mr. Jerricks—”
“Is the illegitimate brother of Deswarth. Only about half a dozen people in town know it. I’m one,” concluded Jevons, thankfully.
The detective did not pay any attention to him. This new discovery complicated matters more and more. In fact the case was getting a trifle beyond the comprehension of Mr. Fanks.
“Deswarth! Rainton! Jerricks!” said Mr. Fanks to himself, while walking up Fitzjohn’s Avenue shortly after his interview with the omniscient Jevons; “Jerricks! Rainton! Deswarth!” he added thoughtfully, reversing the order of the names. “D—.”
The expletive was eloquence itself, for Fanks was a man who rarely made use of bad language, and that he should do so on this occasion, showed how perturbed was his mind. His late conversation with Jevons was affording him plenty of food for reflection, and he by no means saw so clearly ahead as he desired. Jevons, like some malignant magician, had evolved all kinds of phantoms out of thin air, and these phantoms were troubling Fanks exceedingly. By name they were Deswarth, Rainton and Jerricks.
“I suspect all three more or less,” muttered the detective, musingly, “yet I have no positive proof for such suspicion in any one case. Deswarth was alarmed when I uttered the words Tu Soh! Does that count for anything? Jerricks is his illegitimate brother and sent me to him! That looks suspicious; and as to Rainton, ah!” said Fanks, drawing a long breath, “I must say that things look bad in that direction. If he can’t explain how that silver flask came to contain prussic acid, and to be hidden in the Chinese jar, I am afraid it will be a strong piece of presumptive evidence against him. That picture also looks queer. Humph! I’ve no doubt he has a story all cut and dried ready to tell in case of being questioned. Well, I am going to question you, Mr. Claud Rainton, and we shall see if any neat story such as you are likely to tell will impose upon me.”
It was with considerable difficulty that Fanks had escaped from the clutches of Jevons, for that gentleman, scenting a mystery, was anxious to be the detective’s shadow for the rest of the day. This was all very well for Jevons, but not to the taste of Fanks, as he was unwilling that this busybody should know anything of the business he had in hand. Certainly he should not have objected to Jevons’ assistance, for no one could ferret out secrets like this amateur detective, but as he was garrulous and indiscreet Fanks at once saw the advisability of dispensing with his services. The possibility of discovering who had killed Ferdinand Bargraves depended upon the most absolute secrecy being observed regarding all steps taken to that end, therefore Fanks, much as he would like to have taken Jevons into his confidence, decided not to do so. For the present he preferred to conduct the inquiry without assistance, and having shaken off the pertinacious Jevons (no easy task), was now on his way to the abode of Rainton, with a view to examining that gentleman as to his reasons for painting the picture of the Embankment by moonlight.
The information that Jerricks was the illegitimate brother of General Deswarth had taken Fanks very much by surprise, and had the effect of rendering him still more doubtful of that gentleman’s motives. That Jerricks should have been in Mankers’ shop so pat to the moment when he was required had at the time seemed strange, but now that it appeared he was connected with the man whose name he had mentioned, it seemed to Fanks that Mr. Jerricks was trying to further some ends of his own.
“And yet,” thought Fanks, doubtfully, “he could not possibly have known I was coming to see Mankers on that special morning, unless indeed Mankers, warned by my letter, told him. But why should Mankers tell him, and why should Jerricks stay to see me? Even had he known I was coming he could have guessed nothing of my errand. Yet he was able to give me all the satisfaction I required, and to place me in possession of a clue at the time when all seemed hopeless. I wonder if he wants to get Deswarth into trouble? It looks like it, and yet—and yet—oh!” said the detective, with a smile, “I am too suspicious; nevertheless, I shall certainly call and see Jerricks after I interview Rainton.”
While concluding this train of thought he was turning down Keats Lane, which leads off from Fitzjohn’s Avenue, and soon arrived at the house in which Mr. Rainton was lodged. It was an unpretentious-looking cottage, small and mean in appearance, but before it a very pretty garden of flowers in full bloom somewhat compensated for the absence of architectural effects.
“Humph!” said Fanks, grimly, as he rang the bell, “I don’t think General Deswarth will accept a son-in-law from this lowly cot. The course of this love is by no means likely to run smooth.”
A stout lady with some pretensions to gentility opened the door, and having intimated that Mr. Rainton was within, showed the visitor into a stuffy little drawing room ornamented with horse-hair furniture and woollen mats. It was a room which, like the landlady, had seen better days, and Fanks was left in this mournful solitude to his own reflections, while she retired to seek Mr. Rainton. In a little time she returned, and, asking Fanks to follow her, led the way through a narrow passage to the back of the house, where, in the garden, was erected a large wooden studio. Ushering the detective into this, she closed the door after him. Fanks found himself alone with Rainton.
The artist was by no means a bad-looking fellow, and fulfilled very fairly the description given of him by Jevons. At present, however, he looked worn and haggard as if much worried, a fact which Fanks noted with secret satisfaction, as it hinted at a possibility of Rainton being mixed up with the case. It was not due to dissipation, as Fanks speedily saw, but to a disturbed mind, and what could disturb this young man’s mind other than the knowledge that he had committed a crime. Fanks, however, though he thought in this fashion, by no means believed Rainton to be guilty, as beyond the flask stamped with his initials, he had no proof, and that special proof might be explained away in the ensuing conversation.
In making this call Fanks had provided himself with a card which bore neither his real nor his assumed name, but a third cognomen which he made use of in cases of this kind. He did not want to be known as Rixton, for that was quite outside his business of a detective, nor as Fanks, as the name might put Rainton on his guard, so for the present he answered to the name of “Adolphus Steward.”
“Will you please to take a seat, Mr. Steward,” said Rainton, in a pleasant voice, coming forward to greet his visitor with the card lightly held between finger and thumb; “you have had a long walk. Can I offer you anything to drink?”
“No, thank you,” replied the pseudo. Mr. Steward, politely; “but I should like to smoke, if you don’t mind.”
“By no means,” said the artist, casting a look round the studio. “I make a Liberty Hall of this place.”
It was a large bare apartment sparsely furnished. A couch, a few chairs, a small table, and an infinite number of pictures, finished and unfinished. None of the frippery of the fashionable studio, no carpets of Indian workmanship, nor lamps of Eastern design, all was plain and severe. Fanks easily saw Mr. Rainton’s poverty was no mere figure of speech. He was very poor indeed.
“And,” thought Fanks, charitably, as he took a seat, “probably wants to marry Miss Deswarth for her money. That would supply a strong motive for the committal of the crime.”
His thoughts did not appear on his face, however, and he opened the conversation with Rainton, by casually mentioning that he had seen a picture of his, and wanted a similar one painted for himself.
“What picture was it?” asked Rainton, curiously.
“The Embankment by Moonlight—a water-colour picture.”
“Why! I gave that to Miss Deswarth.”
“I know you did. She told me as much.”
“Do you know Miss Deswarth?”
“I met her for the first time yesterday.”
“You must have been very friendly with her to learn such an unimportant fact so speedily,” said the artist, rather piqued.
“We had some conversation which led up to that picture.”
Rainton changed colour and shuffled his feet about uneasily.
“What do you mean?” he asked, looking sharply at his visitor.
“Nothing particular,” replied Fanks with well simulated astonishment; “I caught sight of your picture of the Embankment, and merely observed that the artist must have studied it on the spot, and she assented. Then she told me your name and address, so, charmed with the picture, I came here to ask you to paint me a similar study.”
“I have no objection.”
“Will it be necessary for you to go down to the Embankment again at midnight to study the scene?”
“How do you know I went down to the Embankment at midnight?” asked Rainton, imperiously.
Fanks raised his eyebrows in feigned surprise.
“It is a midnight scene, and as both Miss Deswarth and myself agreed that it must have been studied on the spot, I naturally concluded that you went down to the Obelisk at midnight to observe the scene.”
“You are right, Mr. Steward. I have been often on the Embankment at night.”
“I suppose,” said Fanks, innocently, “you were down there during last week?”.
“What makes you think so?” asked Rainton, turning away his head..
“As the picture was finished on the twenty-second of June, it must have been executed immediately after your visit to the Obelisk. To retain the features of the scene so capitally, I expect you were down there on—let us say, the twentieth of June.”
“I was not on the Embankment on that night.”
“Well, say the nineteenth—at midnight!”
Rainton vouchsafed no reply to this remark so artfully made, but rising abruptly from his seat walked to the end of the studio and looked out of the window. He appeared to be in deep thought, and convinced that he was debating the advisability of speaking or of holding his tongue, Fanks waited in silence for his next remark. For some minutes there was a dead silence, then Rainton, apparently having made up his mind, wheeled round and returning to his seat, looked steadily at his visitor.
“Mr. Steward,” he said, gravely, “you did not come here to buy a picture!”
“Why do you think that,” asked Fanks, coolly.
“Because you are so anxious about the details of the one I gave to Miss Deswarth.”
“That is only because I wish mine to be as good.”
“Do you know General Deswarth?” demanded Rainton, suddenly, with apparent irrelevance.
“Did he say anything to you which led you to seek me here?”
“Not a word.”
Rainton seemed perplexed, and Fanks wondered if this hinted at any understanding between the two men. Certainly Rainton’s question led him to suspect as much. He determined to startle the young artist.
“May I ask you a question, Mr. Rainton?”
“Did you know Ferdinand Bargraves?”
“I did know Ferdinand Bargraves,” said Rainton, nervously, “before he went to Australia.”
“Oh! indeed. So he went to Australia? Are you sure of that?”
“He said he was going there,” replied Rainton, evasively.
“Possibly he changed his mind.”
“Why should he?”
“Well! Suppose he wanted to remain near Miss Deswarth?”
Rainton had hitherto maintained his composure very fairly, but this last remark was too much for him, and he leaped to his feet with an angry light in his eyes.
“Who are you, sir!”
“Mr. Adolphus Steward,” replied Fanks, who had also risen.
“What is your motive in coming here?”
“To ask you to paint me a picture!”
“That is a lie!”
“A polite remark,” said the detective, quietly, “and made without any reason.”
The young man dropped back into his seat with a groan, and covered his face with his hands. Fanks, willing to give him time to recover himself, walked to the end of the studio and looked out of the window. Decidedly, Rainton was very clumsy in concealing his feelings, and that he had something to conceal Fanks saw plainly; though the only evidence he had to think so, was by observing how badly the mask was worn. It was difficult to know how to proceed in the matter and force Rainton to confess that he had been on the Embankment on that special night. The artist, unused to intrigue, betrayed himself at every moment, yet Fanks saw plainly that he would learn nothing definite from him unless he adopted strong measures to make him speak.
Fate put an instrument into his hands to accomplish this miracle before he had been a minute at the window. On the ledge was a book. Fanks took it up unceremoniously and saw that it was a volume of Ibsen’s plays. The moment he read the title he knew that he would discover that which he desired to know, and returned to his seat with a comfortable sense of coming triumph.
By this time Rainton had recovered himself, and evidently desirous of getting rid of his visitor, made a weak excuse.
“I regret to say, Mr. Steward, that I cannot paint the picture you want. I am too busy at present!”
“Well, never mind just now,” said Fanks, with a genial smile. “I had no business to ask you questions like I did, but you see I have just been introduced to the Deswarth family and so—well, say no more. Let us revert to another topic of conversation. I see you have a volume of Ibsen there.”
“Yes!” said Rainton, eagerly grasping at this opportunity of changing the subject. “I am very fond of reading his plays.”
‘Have you seen any?”
“Oh, yes!” replied the artist, unconsciously falling into the trap so neatly set. “I saw Ghosts at the Avenue Theatre last Thursday—a special performance given by some Society.”
“Ah!” said Fanks, triumphantly. “Was not last Thursday the nineteenth of June.
“Yes!—that is—why do you ask?”
“Because,” said the detective, fixing his keen eyes on the young man, “you were at the Avenue Theatre on the nineteenth, and you afterwards walked along the Embankment in the direction of the Obelisk about midnight.”
“And what if I did?” demanded Rainton, defiantly.
“Simply this, that you denied having been there!”
“I don’t recognize your right to ask me these questions, sir,” said Rainton, rising in a haughty manner; “be kind enough to explain your reasons for so doing.”
Fanks now judged it necessary to reveal himself. Putting his hand in his pocket, he produced the silver flask, and placed it before the startled eyes of the artist.
“That is one of my reasons,” he said, grimly.
“My flask! Where did you get that?”
“I found it at the bottom of the Chinese jar in the library of General Deswarth.”
“My name is not Steward,” interrupted the other, “it is Fanks, and I am a detective.”
Rainton turned so white that Fanks thought he would faint. With a strong effort he recovered himself, and looked anxiously at his visitor. “A detective,” he stammered. “I do not understand! Why do you come to me?”
Fanks, placing his hands on his knees, leaned forward till his face nearly touched that of the shrinking man before him.
“To ask you why you murdered Ferdinand Bargraves?”
The other sprang to his feet with an indignant ejaculation.
“I murder Ferdinand Bargraves! What do you mean?”
“You know well enough.”
“I know nothing of the sort. Ferdinand Bargraves is in Australia.”
“Ferdinand Bargraves is dead,” rejoined Fanks, sternly.
“Yes! Murdered on the twentieth of June last at the foot of Cleopatra’s Needle by a dose of prussic acid given to him out of this flask.”
“Out of that!” gasped Rainton, in an agitated tone; “impossible.”
“I think you know it not to he impossible.”
“Do you accuse me of this murder?”
“Oh, this is horrible! horrible!” muttered the artist, clutching his head with both hands. “I swear I am innocent. What grounds have you for making such an accusation?”
“Plenty of grounds!” retorted Fanks, becoming weary of this fencing. “Listen to me, Mr. Rainton, and I will put the case plainly before you. If you are innocent, prove your innocence; if not, confess that you are guilty.”
“Tell me your grounds for believing me to be a murderer,” said Rainton, savagely.
“You are in love with Miss Deswarth,” began Fanks, coolly, and would have proceeded, but that his listener, springing to his feet, interrupted him with a passionate gesture.
“By what right do you meddle with my private concerns?”
“By the right which the law has over the criminal,” said Fanks, sternly. “Sit down, Mr. Rainton, and listen to what I have to say. If you can vindicate yourself from the charge I bring against you, no one will be more pleased than I, but when you hear my evidence, you will see in how dangerous a position you now stand.”
“Go on,” said Rainton, hoarsely, resuming his seat.
“You love Miss Deswarth,” resumed Fanks, deliberately, “and she returns your love. By a family arrangement, however, she is engaged to her father’s ward, Ferdinand Bargraves. You hated him bitterly—”
“I did,” said the artist, lifting his pained face; “a dissipated scoundrel unworthy of her love.”
“Don’t admit a fact so much against yourself,” replied Fanks, significantly; “it may be used hereafter in evidence against you. To resume. You hated Bargraves desperately because he was your rival, and you did not consider him worthy of Miss Deswarth’s love. When the quarrel took place between him and his guardian you were pleased, as it removed the only obstacle to your suit to Miss Deswarth. You thought that Deswarth would not permit Bargraves to marry his daughter. In this, however, you were wrong, as Deswarth, feeling his anger against the young man subdued by time, determined to pardon him and reinstate him in his former position. You saw in this reconciliation a blow to your hopes, and determined to destroy your rival. On the nineteenth of June you were going to the Avenue Theatre, and decided to appoint a meeting with Bargraves at the Obelisk. His friends thought he had gone to Australia, but you knew he was in London, poor and friendless. By means of the newspapers you corresponded with him in cipher, and appointed a meeting for the nineteenth of June. In that cipher you made use of the name Tu Soh, connected with the Chinese vase, knowing Bargraves was acquainted with that fact. After the play was over you went to the meeting-place with this flask in your pocket containing brandy mixed with prussic acid. What took place at your interview I do not know, but at its conclusion, you offered your flask to Bargraves for a drink. He took one, and then you hurried away with the flask, and on your next visit to Deswarth’s dropped it into the Chinese jar where you thought it would remain hidden. Thus you see, Mr. Rainton, I have all the links in the chain necessary to prove your guilt, so it will be best for you to confess at once and so save further trouble.”
A goodly part of this speech was bluff, as Fanks was by no means so sure of arresting Rainton as he appeared to be. It may be that Rainton saw this weakness of the statement, for at the conclusion of the detective’s speech he lifted his hand proudly and proceeded to confute his arguments.
“I do not deny, sir, that I was on the Embankment on the night in question. I went to the theatre, and after the performance, the night was so fine, that I walked along the Embankment to enjoy the beauty of the scene. I did not pause a moment, however, and turned up by the Savoy Hotel on my way to the Strand. There I took a hansom and came straight home. I did not see Bargraves on that night, and truly thought he was in Australia. I did not go near the Obelisk, but walked all the way from the theatre to the Savoy on the opposite side of the road, and I can swear by all that I hold most sabred, that this is the first time I have heard of the death of Bargraves.”
“That is all very well, Mr. Rainton, but is not this your flask?”
“Yes!” admitted Rainton, after some hesitation. “It is my flask.”
“Then how comes it that it was used by the murderer?”
“I don’t know.”
“You must know!”
“I tell you I do not,” retorted Rainton, with a look of despair on his pale face. “I refuse to answer any more questions. Arrest me if you please. I have told you all I can tell you.”
“Or intend to tell me,” said Fanks, significantly.
“You admit that you hated Bargraves.”
“I hated him bitterly, but I did not kill him.”
“Yet the poison which killed him was in this flask and it is yours.”
“I can’t account for that,” muttered the young man, doggedly.
“That is nonsense! You must know everything about your own property.”
“I—I lost the flask.”
“When and where?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes you do,” persisted Fanks, coolly. “You can tell me if you choose.”
“Enough of this, Mr. Fanks. Arrest me if you choose. I offer no resistance, but decline to speak further.”
Fanks smiled and laid his hand on the young man’s shoulder.
“Many detectives would arrest you at once on such evidence as I have collected,” he said, quietly. “But I do not intend to arrest you.”
“Because I am not certain that you are guilty.”
“You told me I was.”
“I did, because I wanted to force you into a confession. You must admit things look black against you.”
“I can’t help that. I am innocent.”
“At present I think you are, so you can remain free till I change my mind; but don’t try to run away, or I shall have a warrant out against you at once.”
“I don’t intend to run away,” said Rainton, sullenly, “I suppose I am at liberty to go out occasionally?”
“Oh, yes! But do not call on the Deswarths.”
“How do you know I intend to call on the Deswarths?”
“You want to see General Deswarth and tell him of our conversation.”
“I don’t see in what way that would interest the General.”
“Seeing it is his ward who has been murdered and that you don’t want your prospective father-in-law to think you killed Bargraves, I think it would interest the General.”
“Do you object?”
“Yes, I do! Look here, my friend,” added Fanks, in a kind tone. “I have too often seen how misleading appearances are to jump to a conclusion in this case. Things look black against you, I don’t deny, and I would be quite justified in having you arrested, but I don’t intend to do that. I know you won’t run away because you want to prove your innocence, and if you do attempt to bolt I can have you captured in no time. But on condition that I let you remain free, you must promise me not to hold any conversation with the General.”
“What! Do you think—”
“I think nothing,” retorted Fanks, sharply. “Promise!”
“Very well,” said Rainton, after a moment’s thought, “I promise, but why do you think me innocent?”
“Humph, that is my business. I do not say you are guilty, nor do I say you are not guilty. I have my own opinion on the subject, Don Quixote.”
“Why do you call me Don Quixote?”
“Because,” said Fanks, looking straight at him, “you are either guilty of this murder, or—”
“Well?” asked the other, his breath becoming hard and laboured.
“Or you are trying to screen some one else.”
Rainton dropped his eyes before the keen gaze of the detective.
“I say nothing,” he replied, in a low voice. “I know nothing.”
“Yes, you do, Mr. Rainton. You know who picked up that silver flask you lost, and the person who picked it up killed Bargraves.”
Certainly Crate would have quite misunderstood Fanks’ behaviour at this juncture, and the latter feeling this to be so, had no desire to inform his rival of the position of affairs. Had the case been in the hands of Crate, and he had discovered as much as had Fanks, he would certainly have at once arrested Rainton, and congratulated himself on thus skilfully securing the real criminal. The ideas of Fanks, however, were somewhat different. It was true that things looked black against the young man, particularly his refusal to furnish any explanation of the flask being hidden in the Chinese Jar, but Fanks, despite all evidence to the contrary, could not bring himself to believe that the artist was guilty.
Truth to tell, Fanks had a strong belief that the real criminal was to be found in the person of Deswarth, though he had absolutely no reason for harbouring such a suspicion, beyond the fact that the use of the words “Tu Soh” had moved the General to a display of strong emotion. That the secret of Bargraves’ death was connected with those words Fanks felt convinced, and as he had not yet discovered the reason for the emotion of Deswarth on hearing them, he hesitated about arresting Rainton until he learned that reason. If he did so, there was a strong possibility of the General being put on his guard, and if he were truly guilty, as Fanks half believed him to be, he would be able to escape, while the law was busy investigating the case of Claud Rainton. Hence Fanks permitted the young man to remain at liberty, but in order to keep him in hand should he be required, had him closely watched after that interview at Hampstead.
In the subtle cases with which he dealt, Fanks had so often seen the strongest suspicions point in the wrong direction that, notwithstanding the refusal of Rainton to explain the mystery of the flask, he could not yet bring himself to believe that the young man was guilty. At the same time he was not quite sure of his innocence, and resolved to form no opinion on the matter until he had consulted with Jerricks.
His reason for doing so was to find out what possible motive General Deswarth could have for desiring the death of his ward. Rainton candidly acknowledged that he disliked Bargraves, and as that young man had been a rival in his affection for Miss Deswarth, there was in this estrangement a sufficient reason for supposing that Rainton had committed the crime. On the other hand, it might be that Deswarth had an equally strong motive for ridding himself of Bargraves, hence Fanks refrained from giving his opinion about Rainton’s innocence or guilt, until he had satisfied himself that Deswarth could have no reason for wishing his ward out of the way.
If anyone could give a reason so detrimental to Deswarth, probably it would be Jerricks, as, despite the fact that Miriam said the quarrel was but a slight one, Fanks felt assured that the half-brothers undoubtedly hated one another. If this were as he suspected, Jerricks would be only too pleased to tell all he knew about Deswarth’s private affairs, and therein might be found the motive which would lead the General to commit the crime.
Altogether Fanks, on thinking over the facts, was content that he had done rightly in not arresting Rainton at the present moment. After leaving Hampstead, he came at once to town in order to find Jerricks, and it entirely depended upon what passed between them as to what steps he would take regarding Rainton. Meanwhile, he sent off a detective to watch the young man closely, and repaired to Mankers’ shop in the hope of finding the General’s half-brother.
“Mr. Jerricks isn’t here,” said Mankers, when the detective stated his errand, “he never comes here in the afternoon. Between eleven and one o’clock he is generally in my shop, but never after that time.”
“Do you know where he lives?”
“Yes! Sixty-three Lurgan Square, Bloomsbury. I daresay you’ll find him in. Beyond coming here in the morning, he stays at his rooms all day and goes out at night like an owl.”
Fanks was satisfied with this information, but curious to know whether Mankers knew anything of the relationship existing between Deswarth and Jerricks, asked a leading question before leaving the shop.
“Do you know who is this Mr. Jerricks?”
“No! Nobody knows! He’s as close as an oyster about his affairs. Seems to have plenty of money though, as he is always buying things off me, and I charge good prices.”
“Is he liked?”
“I like him,” returned the dwarf, with a grin. “He’s a good customer. But I believe he is liked by some people. A kind-hearted gentleman he is.”
“Oh, indeed!” said Fanks, doubtfully, pausing in his outgoing. “I should hardly have thought that from the looks of him.”
“Yes! There was an actor called Stacey, who died of drink in the same lodging-house as that occupied by Mr. Jerricks, and left his daughter without a penny in the world. Mr. Jerricks interested himself in her and got her a situation as companion to Miss Deswarth.”
“He must have had influence with the General to do that,” said the detective, artfully.
Mankers nodded his large head sagely.
“I believe Mr. Jerricks was at school with General Deswarth, so I suppose they are old friends. By the way, are you satisfied about that ‘Tu Soh’ business?”
“Why did you want the information?”
“Ah! I’ll tell you that in a fortnight,” replied Fanks, and fearful lest Mankers, who was very sharp, should seek to know too much, he beat a hasty retreat. Mankers was puzzled by this reserve, but guessed that the information required was connected with some criminal case, and wondered if Mr. Jerricks had by any means got into trouble.
“I hope not,” he muttered prayerfully, as he returned to his dusky den at the back of the shop, “he’s too good a customer to lose.”
Fanks proceeded at once to Lurgan Square, Bloomsbury, and had no difficulty in finding the house occupied by Mr. Jerricks. It was a lodging-house of the shabby-genteel order, and Jerricks occupied the first floor in company with his books and, curios. Having dwelt there for many years, he was regarded by the landlady as the mainstay of her establishment, particularly as he paid well and ate very badly. His mind being taken up with collecting what the landlady termed rubbish, he humbly devoured what was put before him, so what with his small appetite and regular payments he was quite a gold-mine on a small scale.
Shown up to the first floor by a thin servant, who looked as though she had never eaten a decent meal in her life, Fanks found Mr. Jerricks seated in an apartment, not unlike the curiosity shop of Mr. Mankers in Wardour Street. There was the same heterogeneous collection of queer things from all quarters of the globe, the same insufficiency of light, and the same veil of grey dust over everything; Jerricks himself was wrapped in an old dressing-gown which, once of vivid hues, had now faded to a dingy-looking piece of rag. He also wore a skull-cap and slippers of red morocco, much worn. Not an attractive personage, for he looked leaner than ever, and blinked his little eyes in a nervous manner, as he glided forward like an untidy ghost to salute his visitor.
“I am pleased to see you, Mr. Fanks,” he said eagerly, motioning the detective towards a seat; “did you find out all you wanted to know about the sacred peach tree?”
“And you saw the vase—”
“Of your half-brother. I did.”
“Half brother,” ejaculated Jerricks, recoiling a step. “What jest is this?”
“No jest at all, but the truth.”
“Who told you this fable?”
“It is not a fable, and you know it.”
Jerricks sank into a chair near Fanks and passed his hand across his sallow brow. The discovery that Fanks knew his secret took him by surprise, and he was now trying to collect his scattered thoughts in the hope of wriggling out of his unpleasant position. Fanks watched him closely, and divined the ideas passing through his brain. He was astonished at Jerricks’ evident desire that the matter of the bastard relationship should be kept secret in this instance, as, if Jevons knew it, the information must be public property. Perchance Jerricks was afraid that the discovery might bias Fanks against him, but, be the reason what it may, there was no doubt that the old bookworm was dismayed and much annoyed.
“Supposing I admit it to be true,” he said at length, in a harsh voice.
“Eh? supposing you do,” replied Fanks, coldly, “that is neither here nor there. But what I do want to know,” he continued, with emphasis, “is why you sent me to your half-brother’s house?”
“Rather a curious question for you to ask, Mr. Fanks,” said Jerricks coolly, having quite recovered his composure; “you wanted to know all about Tu Soh, and I sent you to the only place where you would be likely to gain any information.”
“The mention of your name had a great effect on the General.”
“As soon as I mentioned it he dropped down in a fit.”
A gleam of joy shot into the eyes of the old man, but as quickly vanished.
“A guilty conscience, I suppose,” he said, grimly.
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing! Save that my half-brother and myself had a quarrel about some money. I was afraid of his getting into trouble in connection with some investments, and, with the best intentions in the world, warned him against them. He resented my interference, so we quarrelled and parted.”
“Ah! then the quarrel was not over a mere trifle, such as old china?”
“Who said it was?”
“You did, at our last meeting.”
Jerricks seemed a trifle disconcerted at the excellent memory of Fanks, but, quickly recovering himself, passed off the mistake with a laugh.
“I am not bound to tell you all my family secrets.”
“By no means. I did not expect you to tell me anything.”
“But I want you to tell something now.”
“What is it?”
“Why should your half-brother have a guilty conscience about investing his own money?”
“I did not say it was his own money,” retorted Mr. Jerricks, pointedly.
“Then whose money was it he desired to invest?”
“Some one of whom you have no knowledge.”
“Don’t you be too sure of that, Mr. Jerricks,” said Fanks, significantly; “I know more about the Deswarth family than you think.”
“I am glad to hear it, as you will certainly gain no knowledge from me.”
There was no reply to this polite speech as Fanks was considering what was best to do next. Evidently Jerricks did not hate his half-brother sufficiently to say anything to his disadvantage, and yet Fanks felt sure that he would be willing to do so if pressed. At length he resolved that the only way to manage this disagreeable old man was to pretend indifference, so, acting on this idea, he took up his hat and made for the door.
“Of course, Mr. Jerricks,” he said, pausing a moment, “as you decline to say anything, it is not worth while my staying. I wish you good day.”
As he suspected, the bait took, and, far from wishing him to go away, Jerricks followed him to the door and asked him to return to his seat. This action confirmed Fanks in his belief that Jerricks hated Deswarth, and would harm him if he could. If this were so, it threw a new light on the tangled case, and the detective resumed his seat with the eager expectation of hearing something likely to confirm his suspicions of General Deswarth. He was not disappointed, for Jerricks, to satisfy his own malignity and Fanks’ curiosity, revealed fully the seamy side of his half-brother’s character.
“Before I tell you anything, Mr. Fanks,” he said, when they were in their old places, “I wish to know the reason of all these inquiries.”
“I think I told you that at our last interview,” replied Fanks, quietly.
“Is it about that man found dead at the foot of Cleopatra’s Needle?”
“And you think my brother is mixed up in that crime?”
“I don’t think anything at the present time,” replied the detective, unwilling to minister to Jerricks’ evident hatred of this half-brother. “I have certainly an idea that General Deswarth may know something about it.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Because the dead man’s name is Ferdinand Bargraves.”
“What! my brother’s ward?”
“I thought he had gone to Australia,” said Jerricks, in a puzzled tone.
“He said he was going, but evidently changed his mind. He was the man found murdered on the Embankment.”
“Did you tell my brother this?”
“No, I did not, but I told his daughter!”
“She was startled?”
“Very much startled, and so was Miss Stacey!”
“Ah, Lydia Stacey,” said the old man, softly; “this will be a blow to her. You know, Mr. Fanks, she loved Ferdinand.”
“Impossible! He was engaged to Miss Deswarth.”
“Yes; that was a family arrangement, but he did not care for her, and loved Lydia. He promised to marry her when he came in for his money at the age of twenty-five.”
“She did not seem so shocked as Miss Deswarth.”
“Ah! that is woman’s artfulness. You know, Mr. Fanks, she is a protégée of mine; her father left her to my care, and I obtained her that situation as companion to Miriam Deswarth. It was on account of Ferdinand’s love for her that my brother quarrelled with him and turned him out of the house.”
“I wonder he did not turn out Miss Stacey also.”
“He would have done so, but by my advice she told him she did not love young Bargraves. I wanted her to remain in the house till Ferdinand came of age, then he could get his money from the General and marry her at once.”
“Meanwhile,” continued Jerricks, quickly, “Deswarth thinks that she favours the addresses of Sir Francis Audrey, a young baronet, who is paying court to her. If he thought she still loved Ferdinand you may be sure he would not let her remain in the house.”
“I can’t say I admire Miss Stacey’s conduct in the matter,” observed Fanks, in a reflective tone; “it would be more honest if she told Deswarth she loved Ferdinand, and then left the house.”
“Don’t blame her for staying, blame me. It was I who advised her to do so; but now,” added Jerricks, with a sigh, “as young Bargraves is dead I suppose, in order to secure a home, she will have to marry Sir Francis Audrey.”
“A title is a wonderful consolation to a broken heart,” said Fanks, drily; “you don’t give the lady credit for much constancy. I admire Miss Deswarth more—she loves young Rainton, and is not ashamed of it.”
“Her father will never let her marry him.”
“Perhaps not, but things may turn out in favour of the match,” replied Fanks, who had his own opinion on the matter. Jerricks did not reply, but remained silent for a few minutes deep in thought.
It will be observed that Fanks made no mention of his interview with Rainton, or of his suspicions regarding that young gentleman. The fact is, he mistrusted Jerricks and did not intend to tell him more-than he could help until he had further proof of the presumed criminal. All he wanted to find out from the old antiquary, was any possible motive Deswarth might have for wishing to rid himself of Bargraves. This motive was speedily furnished in the most untoward way by the ensuing remarks of his companion.
“I am sorry for the death of young Bargraves,” said Jerricks, rousing himself from his reflections, “and when my brother hears it he also will be sorry—but relieved.”
“Mr. Fanks,” said Jerricks, solemnly, “I am about to tell you something which I think it fit you should know.”
“I don’t wish any harm to come to my brother, and if any aspersions are cast on him regarding this murder I hope you will be able to refute them.”
“Gently, my good sir,” exclaimed Fanks, grimly, “no one knows that Bargraves was murdered save ourselves and the Deswarths, therefore no aspersions can be cast on the General by the world. The public think Bargraves committed suicide.”
“The truth always comes out,” replied Jerricks, shaking his head, “it is well to be prepared for it.”
“But why do you think people would cast aspersions on your brother because of the death of his ward?”
“Because he benefits by the death!”
“The deuce!” exclaimed Fanks, in a lively tone, “in what way?”
“Bargraves,” said Mr. Jerricks, rapidly, “was the son of a brother-in-arms of General Deswarth. He died and left his son, together with thirty thousand pounds, to the guardianship of Deswarth. By the will the money was to be paid over to the boy when he reached the age of twenty-five—if he died in the meantime it was to go to Deswarth.”
“Ah!” said Fanks, ironically, “so you think people will say Deswarth killed the boy for the sake of getting the money?”
“I’m afraid so, and I wish to guard against the possibility of such a thing being said. Certainly I have quarrelled with my half-brother, but I wish no evil to him or his.”
“By the way, that reminds me. You said you quarrelled with Deswarth over the investing of some money that was not his. What do you mean?”
“Simply this,” responded Jerricks, nodding his head, “my brother lost a great deal of money through speculation, and, as he is sole guardian of young Bargraves’ money, wanted to speculate with that also. I advised him not to, hence our quarrel. Still,” added Jerricks, sinking his voice to a low whisper, “I am afraid he did so, and lost. Had young Bargraves lived, Deswarth could not have paid him the thirty thousand pounds on his twenty-fifth birthday, no, not the half of it.”
“In that case,” said Fanks, thoughtfully, “it was a good thing for your half-brother that Bargraves did die, else he would have been arrested for embezzlement as a trustee.”
“And also by the death this danger is not only done away with, but he gets the balance of the thirty thousand pounds.”
Fanks whistled. This revelation supplied a strong motive for Deswarth getting rid of Bargraves, and Fanks began to think that after all Deswarth and not Rainton was guilty of the crime. But supposing this to be so, the attitude taken up by Rainton was inexplicable. Fanks was puzzled.
Looking suddenly up he caught the gaze of Jerricks fixed on him with eager inquiry, and comprehending in that glance the whole malignity of the man in his attitude towards his half-brother, he arose quickly to go away. For one thing he was determined not to give Jerricks the reward of his treachery by declaring what Jerricks evidently expected to hear—that he believed Deswarth to be guilty of Bargraves’ murder.
“You don’t think—” began Jerricks, as Fanks walked towards the door.
“I don’t think anything. I must consider the matter. What you have told me, Mr. Jerricks, has put me all wrong.”
“In what way?” asked the old man, in a puzzled tone of voice.
“Never you mind,” retorted Fanks, rudely, being wroth with the treachery of the man before him. “I’ll tell you when I lay my hand on the criminal.”
“Don’t say a word, sir. Suspicions are not proof.”
Fanks walked out, smartly banging the door behind him, and leaving Jerricks much put about by this sudden hostility. When he got half way down the stairs he heard a voice calling him, and looked up to see Jerricks bending over the bannisters.
“When shall I see you again, Mr. Fanks?”
“To-morrow or the next day.”
“Oh,” muttered Jerricks to himself, “he means mischief.”
Whether it was mischief to himself or to his half-brother, he did not say.
The close of that important interview with Jerricks left Fanks in a somewhat perplexed state of mind. If the old man could be believed, Deswarth, guilty of embezzling his ward’s money, had a sufficiently powerful reason for wishing him out of the way. On the other hand, even if Deswarth were guilty, of which Fanks was by no means certain, this did not explain the attitude taken up by Claud Rainton. The flask discovered in the Chinese Jar had certainly been used to accomplish the crime, and it was the property of Rainton. That young man said that it had been lost by him, but refused to say into whose hands it had fallen.
Under these circumstances Fanks did not feel justified in affirming that Deswarth was guilty, as beyond the fact that the flask had been hidden in the jar which stood in the library, he had no proof that it had been in the possession of the General. The only person who could throw any light on the subject was Claud Rainton, and he absolutely refused to commit himself to any opinion. After all, it seemed as though Fanks would be forced to arrest the artist, so that, under the stress of circumstances, and to release himself from so perilous a position, he might be forced to confess all he knew. The agitation of the General at the use of the words Tu Soh, the discovery of the flask in the Jar, and the story of his embezzlement told by Jerricks—all these things were dead against him. As to Rainton, the facts that the flask was his property, that he hated Bargraves, and had been near the scene of the murder at the very time, on the very night when it had been committed, were anything but favourable to the establishment of his innocence. The whole solution of the mystery as it now stood lay in accounting for the destination of the flask, and finding out whether it had remained in the possession of the artist, or had passed into that of the General. On this point Fanks was quite unable to satisfy himself, and, much perplexed, wondered what would be the next best thing to do.
While thus considering his future movements, he thought it might be as well to place Crate in possession of all the facts in connection with the crime. Fanks had not forgotten his promise that Crate should be told all that took place, in order to show him how difficult was the case, and this was one reason why he now went to consult him. A second and a stronger reason was that he fancied Crate’s stolid good sense might throw some light on the affair, if all the details were placed before him. Certainly Fanks had but a small opinion of Crate’s abilities, still he felt so bewildered over the rapid development of this case, that he thought the company of Crate would be a relaxation, and that he might unwittingly furnish a way out of the labyrinth. It was a forlorn hope certainly, still Fanks grasped at it, and on the morning after he had seen Jerricks went off to interview his rival.
He found that individual in a decidedly hilarious state of mind, as he had just achieved the feat of discovering and arresting a gentleman of Whitechapel, who was wanted particularly in connection with a burglary. The gentleman of Whitechapel was a comparative novice at crime, and had shown no more sense than to pawn, at a prominent Hebrew’s establishment, the articles collected by him in the dead of night. The Hebrew, who had an understanding with the police, had given notice of this, therefore there was no difficulty in securing the burglar. It was but a trifling case, involving no expenditure of brain power in any way, but Crate was highly delighted with himself, as he considered he had achieved a very difficult task and covered himself with glory.
Being thus satisfied that he was indeed a clever fellow, he received Mr. Fanks in a most amiable manner, the more so as he noted a certain despondent look on his rival’s face, which augured ill success. That things should go badly with Fanks, and well with him was quite to Mr. Crate’s liking, so he beamed brightly on his visitor, and prepared to cheer him up after the manner of Job’s comforters.
“You look as if you had lost a sovereign and found a halfpenny,” he said graciously, as Fanks flung his hat on the table and sat down disconsolately with his hands in his pockets.
“I’m down in my luck,” replied Fanks, taking refuge in slang.
“About that case! I knew you wouldn’t get any evidence to support your theories.”
“That’s just where it is. I’ve got too much evidence.”
“Well, I’ve found strong presumptive evidence against two men; so strong that I don’t believe them to be guilty.”
“That’s what they call an epigram, isn’t it?” said Crate, doubtfully; “if you’ve got strong evidence, why don’t you arrest them?”
“Don’t I tell you I have my doubts on the subject?”
“Refer your doubts to a jury.”
Fanks shook his head.
“No! I don’t like arresting a man on anything less than a certainty, or care to make my report until it is without a flaw.”
“You’re so particular,” grumbled Crate crossly; “if I waited for that sort of thing I’d never earn a penny.”
“You and I are two very different people,” retorted Fanks with a scarcely concealed sneer; “however, I did not come here to fight, but to tell you all about this case.”
“I don’t know why you should take so much trouble.”
“Yes, you do! We agreed that I should inform you how things went, so that you could see for yourself how difficult are the cases I take up.”
“You’ve failed in this one anyhow,” taunted Crate, ignoring this remark.
“No, I haven’t, but things are in such a mess that I don’t very well see my way clear ahead.”
“Tell me what you discovered.”
Whereupon Fanks, without farther preamble, narrated all that had taken place since he had last seen Crate. That gentleman listened with some wonderment to the story, and could not but admire the dexterity with which Fanks had followed up the slight clue afforded by the words Tu Soh. He was not going to show his admiration, however, and thus gratify his rival, so when Fanks had finished he sat silently before him, without making any comment on the story.
“Well,” said Fanks impatiently, after a pause, during which he expected Crate to make a remark, “have you nothing to say?”
“Only this,” replied Crate, deliberately, “that I wonder you hesitate at arresting Claud Rainton.”
“You think he is guilty?”
“I’m sure of it. He owns the flask which, you say, contained the prussic acid; he acknowledges that he hated Bargraves, and he was on the Embankment at midnight on the twentieth of June. What further proof do you require?”
“For one thing, how that flask came to be hidden in the Chinese Jar!”
“Rainton put it there.”
“Why should he trouble to do that when he could have washed it out and kept it? No one would have been a bit the wiser.”
“Perhaps he put it into the jar in order to throw suspicion on Deswarth.”
“The deuce!” exclaimed Fanks, looking up, “that is not a bad idea; but why should he want to throw suspicion on Deswarth?”
“So as to force him to consent to a marriage between himself and the old man’s daughter.”
“It sounds improbable but not impossible,” mused Fanks, struck with this view of the case. “You have more imagination than I gave you credit for, Crate. But after all,” he added, on further consideration, “I don’t hold with that view; it doesn’t explain the attitude of Deswarth.”
“Do you suspect Deswarth?”
“Don’t you?” asked Fanks, replying with a counterquestion.
“No! The evidence is not so strong against him as against Rainton. He was startled at hearing you make use of the words ‘Tu Soh,’ but, as he explained himself, that agitation might be connected with an old episode.”
“What about his fit when he heard that I had been sent by Jerricks?”
“Oh, because he thought Jerricks had told you all about this embezzlement business, and that there might be trouble.”
“Yes! It might be so. But then I don’t altogether believe Jerricks’ story.”
“I don’t see why you shouldn’t,” retorted Crate, aggressively; “he has no motive for blackening his half-brother’s character.”
“That is where I disbelieve him. Why should Jerricks take the trouble to tell me what he did, when he knows that such a story must damage Deswarth’s character? He must have some strong reason for so doing. You say he has no motive; I say he has, and what is more I intend to find that motive out.”
“Perhaps you believe that Jerricks committed the murder?”
“No, I don’t go so far as that; but I believe that Jerricks, for some reason, hates his half-brother like poison, and has done a lot in an underhand way to bring about the commission of the crime.”
“I can’t say.”
“Then by Rainton?”
“I’m not sure of that either.”
“Then what in heaven’s name are you sure of?” exclaimed Crate, irritably.
“Of nothing. I am quite in the dark. The only chance I have of finding out anything is by seeing Deswarth and demanding an explanation.”
“Which he will refuse to give.”
“Not when he sees in what a perilous position he stands.”
Crate laughed ironically.
“Rainton, according to your story, was likewise in a perilous position, yet he refused to explain.”
“Because I did not press him. If I fail with Deswarth, I’ll go at once to Rainton and force him to tell me what became of that flask.”
“That is if Rainton does not bolt in the meantime.”
“He can’t,” replied Fanks with calm conviction, “I am having him closely watched. His every action will be reported to me.”
“Do you think Rainton knows anything about this murder?”
“I fancy he does.”
“And you also believe Deswarth is not quite ignorant of how his ward died?”
“I do! But all the same I am not prepared to say that either of them actually committed the crime.”
Crate thought for a few moments and then delivered himself of a new theory.
“Suppose it is this way,” he said, slowly: “Rainton wants to marry Miss Deswarth and tells her father so. Deswarth, knowing his desperate position and that he cannot pay up Bargraves’ money when due, agrees, on condition that Rainton assists him to put the unlucky young man out of the way.”
“You mean, then, that they committed the crime together?”
“Yes. If you look at all the evidence you will see that it is the only possible explanation of the affair.”
Making no reply to this brilliant theory, Fanks sat quietly in his chair, slipping his signet ring up and down on his finger, as was his custom when much perplexed. Crate, who expected his idea to clear away all difficulties, was irate at the apathetic way in which the suggestion was received, and burst out talking with an air of angry amazement.
“I really don’t see what more you want, Mr. Fanks. You have established the fact that Bargraves was killed by a dose of prussic acid administered from that flask; you have found that the flask belongs to a man who candidly admits he hated Bargraves, and who had everything to gain by his death; yet in spite of all this you doubt his guilt. He refuses to tell you how the flask left his possession for the depths of the Chinese Jar—a jar,” added Crate with emphasis, “which is also connected with the use of the words Tu Soh in the cipher. Why, my good sir, the man is guilty, there is no doubt about it. Had I been in your place, I should have arrested him at once.”
“No doubt you would,” replied Fanks with quiet satire; “but you see, my dear Crate, this is one of those subtle cases which you think so easy, and I am not yet sure in my own mind that Rainton is guilty. If he tries to run away, that will be a stronger proof to my mind that he is the criminal than anything else. But you will see he won’t run away. He’ll stay and face it out.”
“Why do you believe in his innocence when facts are so strong against him?”
“Because in all my experience of criminal cases I have seen that the strongest evidence may be against an innocent man. When the matter is beyond all doubt, and I find that Rainton is guilty, I will have him arrested and hanged with infinite pleasure. But at present—no, Crate—I don’t want to have murder on my soul, and if I were the cause of Rainton mounting the scaffold in my present uncertainty, I should certainly run that risk.”
“Then what do you intend to do?”
“Call on General Deswarth, and hear what he has to say.”
“Do you think you’ll find out the truth from him?”
“I’ll find out part of it. If he doesn’t know that Bargraves is dead, he at least knows that he did not go to Australia.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what I’d do to find out if he’s working in the dark with that artist chap,” said Crate, wisely. “Just tell him that Rainton’s sweet on the daughter and wants to marry her. If he’s hand in glove with Rainton he won’t say a word; if not, there will be a row, and you know the saying, ‘When thieves fall out, etc.’ ”
“Why, Crate, you’re getting quite sharp,” observed Fanks with a laugh, as he arose to take his leave. “It’s possible I may adopt your suggestion; but before I go I’ll just tell you my idea.”
“As to who committed the murder!”
“No, not exactly that, but as to the man who knows more about it than anyone else.”
“Both wrong. My suspicions point towards Jerricks.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Mr. Crate, derisively, “and you haven’t got a scrap of evidence against him.”
“I know that, but I’m doubtful of the gentleman. He knows far too much, and is far too free with his information for me to think him a neutral party. You mark my words, Crate, when I do find out the truth, Jerricks will show up in a bad light.”
“Then why don’t you try and get some evidence against him?”
“I’m on the search for it now. This afternoon I’ll visit the General.”
“He’ll only call Jerricks names, and return the compliment of speaking ill of him behind his back.”
“I’ve no doubt of it, but he may also tell me the reason Jerricks has for hating him so fervently.”
“And what good will that do?”
“It will show me if Jerricks had any reason for wishing to get rid of Bargraves.”
“I don’t see the slightest connection between them.”
“Nor do I, at present. Wait a week, Crate, and I’ll bring you some astonishing news. Good day. I’m off to Scotland Yard first and to the General’s afterwards.”
It was just as well that he did call at Scotland Yard, for there he found a letter waiting for him addressed to “Mr. Fanks.” Opening this, he was astonished to find that it was an intimation from General Deswarth that he wanted to see the detective that afternoon on business.
“Hullo!” said Fanks to himself when he mastered the contents of this note. “What the deuce does this mean? He’s taking the bull by the horns anyhow. Thinking I suspect him, he is going to tell me a fiction—or,” added Fanks with a grave look, “the truth. If it’s the first, I’ll soon find that out—if the latter—ah! if it is the truth—he’s innocent.”
On his part, Crate felt puzzled at the way in which Fanks was behaving “The fool!” he said to himself when his visitor left. “Anyone can see that Rainton is guilty. Had I my way, I would have arrested him at once. While Fanks is looking in the wrong direction Rainton will slip through his lingers. I’ll have the laugh against him in that case.”
And with this amiable reflection, Mr. Crate also took his way to Scotland Yard, to be congratulated on his skill in capturing the gentleman of Whitechapel.
On receiving Deswarth’s note Fanks lost no time in making his way to the house in Brazen Street. Biased in a great measure by the story told by Jerricks, he thought that Deswarth was inviting him to hold a conversation merely for the purpose of throwing dust in his eyes. As he had confessed to Crate, he was by no means certain that the General was guilty of the crime, and yet as he started for the interview, he could not but confess to himself that the conduct of the guardian towards the ward was very suspicious. One thing he had made up his mind to—not to leave Deswarth’s presence until he got to the bottom of all things with which the old soldier was connected.
As he turned the corner of the street in which the house was situated he saw a lady and gentleman leave the entrance. They met him on his way, and he recognized in the lady Miss Lydia Stacey. She, more charming and fragile than ever, was laughing gaily with her companion, a weedy youth, who looked as though he had outgrown his strength. Fanks lifted his hat to her as she passed, whereupon she vouchsafed him a contemptuous little nod and immediately resumed her conversation with her cavalier.
“Humph,” thought Fanks as he rang the bell, “if Miss Stacey was in love with Ferdinand Bargraves, she bears his death uncommonly well. It was only the day before yesterday that I told her of it, and now she is laughing with another man as though she knew nothing about his tragic end. I am afraid Jerricks is wrong for once, and that the love was all on the side of the dead man.”
His reflections were cut short by the opening of the door and the appearance of the footman. On giving his name, Mr. Fanks was at once conducted upstairs to the library, which he found empty. Being left to himself, he strolled forward and had another look at the Chinese Jar, that gaudy piece of porcelain which was so curiously mixed up with Bargraves’ death. The servant returned and announced that the General would soon be with him.
“Thank you,” replied Fanks, politely; “by the way,” as the man retired towards the door, “who was the gentleman who left the house just now with Miss Stacey?”
“Sir Francis Audrey.”
“Sir Francis Audrey,” repeated Fanks, reflectively; “I fancy I heard that Miss Stacey was engaged to him.”
“Yes, sir. I believe it is all settled now, sir.”
“Thank you; that will do.”
The servant retired, and Fanks went to the window to see if he could espy Sir Francis and his fiancee. They were out of sight, so the detective, leaving the window, took his seat by the library table with a rather cynical expression of countenance.
“She’s forgotten poor Bargraves already,” he muttered, drumming on the table with his fingers; “what short memories women have! No, despite the assurance of Mr. Jerricks, I can’t believe that she loved him, otherwise she would scarcely engage herself to a new lover before the old one has had time to grow cold in his grave.”
He had hardly finished this somewhat bitter speech when the door of the library opened, and General Deswarth entered the room. Fanks, hearing the firm, military step, turned his head sharply, and, seeing his host, sprang to his feet with a bow.
“I have come in answer to your note, sir,” he said, briefly.
“I am much obliged to you for so prompt a reply in person,” answered Deswarth with a stiff bow; “pray be seated, Mr. Fanks, we can then talk more at our ease.”
He looked haggard and careworn, as though some secret grief was gnawing at his heart. Nevertheless, with an iron hand he suppressed all outward signs of emotion, and spoke as coolly as though he had not a care in the world. Evidently he had quite made up his mind as to what course to take, and sat down tranquilly, prepared to meet, and, if he could, baffle this prying detective.
“He looks pretty worn out,” was Fanks’ comment to himself, “but he has all his wits about him. If he has anything to conceal, he is certainly able to keep it hidden; but knowing what I do, I fancy I shall be able to force him into a confession.”
The two men looked at one another in silence for a few moments, both anxious to begin the conversation, yet each too wary to utter the first word. It was a game of waiting such as Fanks had often played in his prosecution of searches for criminals, therefore he was well used to it. On the other hand, Deswarth, in spite of his self-control, was impatient of delay, and ultimately, weary of the silence, was the first to speak.
“I confess you startled me the other day, Mr. Fanks,” he said, abruptly, “but in excuse I must tell you that my heart is weak, and I am subject to such illnesses on being unduly startled.”
“I am sorry I should have been the cause of such a misfortune,” replied Fanks, smoothly; “but may I ask why the name of Jerricks startled you so much?”
“Because he is my bitterest enemy!”
“Surely not! He must have a kindly feeling towards you.”
“Oh, I do not know, unless we adopt the idea that blood is thicker than water!”
“Ah!” said Deswarth, darting a keen look at his visitor, “then you know all?”
“No,” replied Fanks, tranquilly, “I do not know all, I wish I did.”
“Nevertheless, you know that Jerricks is my illegitimate brother.”
“Yes, I know that.”
“How did you discover it?” asked the General gloomily, in nowise pleased at finding his private affairs so public.
“I am a detective, and I find out many things which people would rather keep hidden.”
The old soldier made no reply to this speech, but seemed to be turning it over in his own mind. At length he spoke, but his remark was quite irrelevant to the previous conversation.
“So my unhappy ward is dead?”
“Yes! He was murdered on the twentieth of June, and his body discovered lying at the foot of the Obelisk on the Embankment.”
“How do you know he was murdered?”
Fanks shrugged his shoulders as if this speech was hardly worth replying to.
“He died of prussic acid,” he said at length, looking steadily at his companion.
“That might have been suicide.”
“So the jury said,” retorted the detective, coolly, “but I and you know better.”
“What do you mean, sir?”
“I mean!” said Fanks, making a bold attempt to force his adversary’s hand, “I mean that you know more than you will admit.”
“I confess that I do not understand you.”
“No! Then why were you so agitated when I pronounced the words ‘Tu Soh’?”
“I don’t see what that has to do with the murder, if it is a murder,” said the General, still obstinately bent on keeping his secret.
“It has everything to do with it. Those words wert appended to two ciphers which appeared in the Morning Post, the first written by Bargraves asking some unknown person for a meeting, the second inserted by that unknown person agreeing to be at the trysting place.”
“And this unknown person,” said Deswarth in a low voice.
“Was the murderer of Bargraves!”
The face of Deswarth paled a little under the keen glance of Mr. Fanks as he made this last remark, but with an uneasy laugh he turned the conversation.
“You no doubt wonder why I sent for you,” he said, quietly.
“I never wonder at anything, as a rule. But in this case I confess I felt surprised.”
“And for what reason?”
“I should have thought,” replied the detective, pointedly “that General Deswarth would he more diplomatic than to ask such a question.”
A flush passed over the General’s face at the significance of this observation, and, springing to his feet, he walked rapidly up and down the library, evidently debating in his own mind as to what he should say next. Fanks, though puzzled by this strange behaviour, made no remark, and waited in silence to hear his host speak. Suddenly Deswarth stopped before the detective, and spoke abruptly.
“I sent for you, Mr. Fanks, to tell you the story of Ferdinand Bargraves.”
“What!” cried Fanks, startled out of his self-possession, “are you going to—”
“Confess I committed the murder?” finished the other with a bitter laugh; “hardly! Had I that sin on my soul I would hardly have sent for you.”
“I don’t understand!”
“When you came to see me the other day,” said Deswarth, quietly, “I knew that Bargraves was dead.”
“You guessed my errand?”
“The moment you mentioned your name.”
“And why I asked about Tu Soh?”
“Yes! Though I confess I wondered how you had discovered that which the law said was a suicide to be a murder.”
“If you knew all this,” observed Fanks, anxiously, “you must know who committed the crime.”
“I do not! I can only say that I am innocent!”
Fanks said nothing, being busily occupied in considering whether this last statement was to be believed.
“I am innocent,” replied Deswarth haughtily, “else I would not now tell you what I know.”
“What do you know?” asked Fanks, lifting his eyes curiously.
“I know all about the ciphers, and of the meeting which took place. I know that my unhappy ward was murdered but I do not know by whom.”
“This conversation is somewhat fragmentary,” said the detective after a pause; “I hardly know what view to take of your remarks. Your best course will be to tell me the story of Bargraves.”
“I intend to do so, because I feel that I am in a false position, and want your aid to extricate myself therefrom.”
“I am all attention.”
“I do not wish to speak evil of the dead,” said Deswarth in his quick, decisive manner, “but in this instance I am in a measure compelled to allow myself a little latitude, so that you may plainly understand the reasons which compelled me to turn Ferdinand Bargraves out of my house. His father was a very dear friend of mine who was killed in a frontier Indian war, and when dying gave into my charge his only son. When I came back to London I saw the lawyers, who informed me that my friend had left me trustee of thirty thousand pounds, which were to be paid to his son when he reached the age of twenty-five. The mother of this lad had been an extravagant, reckless woman, who broke the heart of my friend, hence his desire that the boy should not have control of the money till he was of an age to know how to take care of it. When dying he also asked me to let his son marry my daughter Miriam, and knowing nothing of the child, and thinking I could train him to be as honourable a man as had been his father, to this I consented. I accepted the guardianship; I took charge of the boy and brought him up with my daughter. It was an understood thing that if they liked one another when they grew up they should marry. Mr. Fanks,” said Deswarth, solemnly, “I assure you from the time I took charge of that lad he was a thorn in my flesh.”
“A bad lot!”
“A thoroughly bad lot,” repeated Deswarth, emphatically; “he inherited all the vices of his mother without the redeeming virtues of his father. As a child he was a liar and a coward, as a man a drunkard and a scoundrel. You think I speak harshly, no doubt, but if you only knew what I have had to put up with from Ferdinand Bargraves you would not deem my words too severe.”
“Did your daughter love him?”
“No! she detested him. They never got on well together, and she said that she would rather die than marry him. Willing to fulfil my promise to my dead friend, I strove to mend the breach between them, but in vain. At the University he was extravagant and reckless, when he came home he behaved so badly that I sent him abroad for a tour, hoping he would be cured of his follies. This year he came back to my roof, as he was to receive his money next month.”
“He is, or rather would have been, twenty-five years of age next month?”
“Yes! That is why I permitted him to return; and as my daughter did not want to marry him I hoped to pay over the thirty thousand pounds and get rid of him.”
“You would have been able, then, to pay him the money?”
“Of course! What makes you think I should not?” asked Deswarth in haughty surprise.
“Ah! now I understand,” interrupted the General, quickly. “Yes, Jerricks knew I had all this money in my power, and that I was investing it on behalf of Bargraves. I entered into a rather risky speculation, and asked his opinion about it.”
“And he dissuaded you from it.”
“On the contrary, he strongly urged me to go in for it. I did so, and lost a large amount; but so that the boy should receive his money intact, I replaced the lost cash from my own fortune. Had Ferdinand Bargraves lived, he would have received thirty thousand pounds in full on his twenty-fifth birthday.”
“Ah,” said Fanks in a tone of satisfaction, “that is rather a different story from Jerricks’, who said that you had embezzled the fortune of Bargraves, and wished him out of the way because you could not pay up the money.”
“The scoundrel!” cried Deswarth, fiercely; “he accused me, then, of embezzlement and murder.”
“And you believed him?”
“Well, no I did not,” replied Fanks, slowly. “Jerricks’ hatred for you was so very patent that I felt sure he was trying to harm you by blackening your character. I never believe those sort of falsehoods.”
“I thank you, Mr. Fanks, that you believe so far in my innocence,” said the General with great dignity. “I hope I have cleared myself in your eyes of the embezzlement.”
“Well, I trust now to show you that Jerricks’ charge that I murdered Bargraves is equally unfounded.”
Fanks bowed his head in silence, not being quite sure of Deswarth’s capability to do this.
“When Bargraves came back this year,” pursued Deswarth, quietly, “he behaved worse than ever. He made love to my daughter’s companion, Miss Stacey, and when she refused to have anything to do with him, he insulted her so grossly that no course was left to me but to turn him out of the house.”
“Yet Jerricks said Miss Stacey loved him.”
“I don’t doubt it. Jerricks wants to make out that I behaved like a tyrant, and parted two faithful hearts so that Bargraves should marry my daughter. Such is not the case. Both my daughter and Miss Stacey hated him.”
“Yet they pitied him the other day.”
“Very likely, after he was dead. Women have soft hearts. But what I now tell you are the true facts of the case. I turned Bargraves out of my house because he behaved in a grossly insulting manner to Miss Stacey. He left, saying he would go to Australia, and there I thought he was till the night of the twentieth of June, when I saw him lying dead at the foot of the Obelisk.
“You saw him lying dead there?” said Fanks, hardly able to believe his ears.
“Yes! I would not tell you that were I not sure of proving my innocence, would I?”
“No, I suppose not! But tell me, how did you know Bargraves would be there on that night?”
“Easily enough! Like yourself, I saw the cipher in the Morning Post, and knew by the words ‘Tu Soh’ that it could only be Ferdinand who put it in. Of course, there was a chance it might be somebody else, and as I thought he was in Australia I was not quite sure. To satisfy myself on the night appointed, I went to the Obelisk, but, being detained, arrived too late.”
“How do you mean too late?”
“The meeting was appointed in the cipher for midnight. I arrived half an hour later and found Bargraves lying dead. I did not see anyone with him.”
“Why did you not give the alarm?”
A flush passed over the worn face of Deswarth as he replied in a low tone,—
“To tell you the truth, I was afraid of the scandal. I had turned Bargraves out of my house, and could give no plausible explanation as to how I came to be standing by his dead body at midnight. Had I told about the cipher and of my suspicions, I would not have been believed. Thinking of my daughter, I feared to face the outcry there would be, the more so as I reflected what a bitter enemy I had in my half-brother, and how he would use my predicament to get me into trouble. No! I thought it best to say nothing about the matter, so I went away. Next day I saw that the body had been discovered; afterwards I read about the inquest where the jury brought in a verdict of suicide, and breathed freely, thinking all was safe. It was only when you appeared and asked about Tu Soh, that I saw in how dangerous a position I stood. Since your visit I have been debating as to what would be the best course to take, and came to the conclusion I would tell you all and place myself and my honour in your hands.”
“It is as well you did,” said Fanks a trifle grimly, “for to tell you the truth, Mr. Jerricks has done his best to make me believe you killed Bargraves.”
“I have no doubt of it!”
“Why does he hate you so?”
“Because when our father died I succeeded to the property, and he, being illegitimate, received nothing. Few people know of our relationship, nor do I care to talk about it. I allowed him a yearly income, and received him as a friend, yet notwithstanding this he hated me bitterly. Further reason for his hatred I cannot give.”
“You quarrelled with him?”
“Yes! Over that speculation he recommended. He knew it was a risky one, when he urged me to invest Bargraves’ money in it. I taxed him with having had such knowledge, and he did not deny the imputation. We had a quarrel and parted. Since then he has done his best to injure me.”
“Tell me, General Deswarth, did you think Bargraves had committed suicide?”
“No, I did not,” replied Deswarth earnestly, “I saw by that cipher that some one had met him, and as he died a violent death I concluded that he had been murdered.”
“You have no idea to whom the cipher was addressed?”
“No! I supposed it was to one of his disreputable companions.”
“Humph!—I don’t think so. By the way,” added Fanks, breaking off the train of conversation suddenly, “do you know anyone called Rainton?”
“Yes! He is my daughter’s drawing-master!”
“Surely! A man of very good family, I believe, who earns his bread as an artist. He was recommended to me by a friend as a good drawing-master, so I engaged him to teach my daughter. As a matter of fact, I believe he taught her while she was at school.”
“Do you like him?”
“Very much indeed!”
“Enough for to permit him to be your son-in-law?”
The General had risen to his feet, and with a very red face was looking indignantly at Fanks. The remark evidently surprised him greatly.
“What do you mean?” he said at length; “there is nothing between my daughter and Mr. Rainton.”
“Indeed, you are wrong!” replied Fanks coolly, “there is love between them!”
“How dare Mr. Rainton make love to my daughter! And yet,” resumed the General in a milder tone, “I have no doubt it was foolish on my part to throw a romantic girl and a handsome young fellow together. I might have guessed what the result would be.”
“I don’t think Miss Deswarth is romantic, and believe me, General, you might do worse than let your daughter marry a man who was ready to sacrifice himself for you and yours.”
“What do you mean, sir?”
“Simply this. When I called on you the other day I found in that Chinese Jar this flask. It belongs to Rainton, and it contained the poison which killed Bargraves.”
“Great heavens! And you found it in the Chinese Jar?”
“I did! And at once went to Hampstead to see Rainton. He told me his story so frankly that I believed him to be innocent, but he admitted that he had lost this flask.”
“That he did not tell me. But as it was found in the Chinese Jar, and I told him so, I have no doubt he suspects—”
“That it was placed there by you.”
“But how could I come into possession of the flask?”
“Did he not give it to you?”
Deswarth thought a moment, and then struck his forehead violently with his hand.
“Of course he did! I saw it in his hand, and, admiring its antique workmanship, asked if I might look at it. He went away and left it behind.”
“Well, then,” said Fanks with an air of triumph, “don’t you see how loyal he is? Thinking you had something to do with the death of Bargraves, he refused to tell me what had become of the flask, and was prepared to be arrested rather than divulge your name.”
Deswarth was so overpowered by this speech, that he sat down to collect his scattered thoughts. After a moment’s pause he looked up, and would have spoken, but that a knock came to the door. In response to his invitation to enter, the door was flung open and two people appeared on the threshold.
The new comers were Miriam Deswarth and Claud Rainton.
When Fanks said Miriam Deswarth was not romantic, he meant it to be understood that he deemed her to be of too cold and self-governed a nature to give way to such a feeling. In spite of her youth, he considered that she had the air of a woman of mature age, and so, would not let her head he guided by her heart. All these ideas vanished from his mind at the sight of her beautiful face transfigured by love, as she came forward with Rainton.
At a glance both men saw what had happened, saw that, reckless of the barriers of caste dividing him from the young girl, Claud Rainton in a moment of passion had declared his love. She accepted the heart which he laid at her feet, and now, despite the shadow of the crime which hovered above them, they understood one another thoroughly.
General Deswarth guessed all this, but instead of breaking out into fierce reproaches as Fanks half expected him to do, he remained quiet, waiting to hear what his daughter had to say. Perchance the peril in which he now found himself placed, rendered him more thoughtful of the feelings of others, or perhaps his heart was touched by the story of Claud’s proposed self-sacrifice told by Fanks; but whatever was the feeling which actuated him it that time, he was certainly wonderfully calm and kindly in his reception of the lovers.
As they advanced Fanks cast a swift glance at Rainton, and saw that all the fear of the young man was swallowed up in the thought that he was loved by Miriam Deswarth. Yet as Rainton gazed upon the General, Fanks thought he detected a glance of anxiety in his eyes, for there was no doubt, judging from the attitude he had taken up at Hampstead, that Claud Rainton believed Deswarth to be connected in some way with the crime.
Miriam walked at once up to her father, and placing her hand on his shoulder looked defiantly at Mr. Fanks. That gentleman, who was rather glad chance had brought Rainton and the General face to face, took no notice of her indignant glances, but before anyone could say a word, addressed himself at once to the artist.
“So, Mr. Rainton,” he said sharply, “this is how you keep your promise not to see General Deswarth.”
“Mr. Rainton came here at my request,” said Miriam, anticipating the reply of her lover. “I knew when you departed the other day that you intended to call upon him, and speak with him about the murder of Ferdinand Bargraves. So I wrote to him to come and see me at once in order to learn what you had said.”
“I feel honoured by the trouble you have taken,” said Fanks with a stiff bow, “but may I ask your reason for seeking to know what passed between myself and Mr. Rainton?”
“Because I believe you intend some harm to my father.”
“There you are wrong, Miss Deswarth, I wish him nothing but good.”
She looked at her father for confirmation of this remark.
“It is quite true, Miriam,” replied the old man quietly; “Mr. Fanks and myself understand one another very well.”
As he spoke, Fanks saw Rainton looking at the General with a look of horror in his eyes, as though he believed the old soldier had confessed himself guilty of the crime. Noticing this wrong impression, he at once hastened to remove it by plain speaking, “It is all right, Mr. Rainton,” he said quickly; “your chivalrous silence is now unnecessary. I know with whom you left the flask.”
“Who told you?” stammered Rainton, taken aback at this speech.
“General Deswarth himself!”
“Then you know I am innocent?”
“Innocent!” repeated Miriam, turning pale; “and of what?”
“Of the murder of Mr. Bargraves,” explained Rainton quickly; “Mr. Fanks was so good as to suspect me of the crime.”
“And to suspect me also!” said the General quietly.
Miriam turned fiercely on the detective, and, if a look could have slain him, he, at that moment, would have fallen dead on the floor.
“How dare you sir, how—”
“Pray be calm, my dear young lady,” said Fanks, soothingly. “It is my business as a detective to suspect people. To tell you the truth, I was by no means sure that Mr. Rainton or your father was guilty of this crime, and now I know they are perfectly innocent.”
“I wonder you could suspect them of such a horrible thing,” said Miss Deswarth vehemently.
“Well, when the silver flask with which the crime was committed was found in yonder Chinese Jar, I naturally suspected your father, and when I found it marked with the initials C. R., I of course believed Mr. Rainton knew something about the matter.”
“How did your flask get into the Chinese Jar?” asked Miriam, turning to her lover.
“I cannot tell you!” he replied quietly. “As there is no longer any necessity for concealment, I may as well admit that at General Deswarth’s request, I left the flask with him.”
“And I,” added Deswarth calmly, “examined it carefully and left it on the library table.”
“Perhaps you put it in the jar by mistake, papa!”
“No,” said Fanks decisively, “because between the time your father left it on the table and the hour it was dropped into that jar, it had been made use of by the person who killed Ferdinand Bargraves.”
“And who is that person?”
Fanks shrugged his shoulders and spread out his hands to intimate that he had no opinion to offer on the subject.
“Indeed I do not know, I wish I did. Have you any ideas on the subject, Miss Deswarth?”
“I—how could I possibly have any ideas on a subject about which I know absolutely nothing?”
“Well, the flask must have been removed from this table, used and then hidden in the jar by someone who knows this house.”
“Do you mean to say that the murderer is a member of my household?” asked Deswarth indignantly.
“I can’t say, sir,” replied Fanks promptly; “did any of the members of the household hate Bargraves?”
“Hate is a strong word, Mr. Fanks,” said Miriam gravely; “but to tell you the truth, he was no favourite with any of us.”
“Not with Miss Stacey?”
“No! She did not like him at all. He wanted to marry her, but she was engaged to Sir Francis Audrey.”
“Did he know that such an engagement existed?”
“No! Miss Stacey became engaged to Sir Francis after Ferdinand left the house and went, as we all believed, to Australia.”
“You don’t know anyone who hated him sufficiently to kill him?” said Fanks, asking this very foolish question with a hidden purpose.
“I do not,” said Miriam promptly.
“Nor I,” added Rainton. “I certainly did not like him myself, but I hope I have exonerated myself in your eyes, Mr. Fanks, from the charge of being his murderer.”
“That’s all right,” said Fanks shortly, turning towards Deswarth. “What do you say, General?”
“I don’t know what to say,” replied Deswarth helplessly. “I left the flask on this table, but I never missed it or thought of looking at it again till you told me you found it in the Chinese Jar.”
“I suppose the servants often come into this room?”
“Yes, but you surely don’t suspect them?”
“Hm! I don’t know,” muttered Fanks half to himself. “Things turn out queerly in that direction sometimes. With his bad temper and utter disregard for the feelings of others, I have no doubt that many of your servants hated him sufficiently.”
“I don’t doubt that for a moment,” replied Deswarth emphatically. “All the same I hardly think one of them would go so far as to kill him, or even have the brains to conceive and carry out so dexterous a murder as this one appears to be.”
“Moreover,” said Rainton at this point, “the person who committed this crime must understand the meaning of the sacred peach-tree painted on that jar, else he would never have used the name Tu Soh.”
“True enough!” admitted Fanks with a smile. “Well, gentlemen, we have narrowed down the field considerably. You, Mr. Rainton, gave that flask to the General, and he left it on that table in this room. Some one who had permission to enter this room must have taken the flask and made use of it to kill Bargraves. The question is, who took the flask?”
“I only know one person who would have taken it,” said Miriam suddenly.
“And that person?”
Fanks and Deswarth looked at one another significantly, and then the latter spoke.
“What makes you think so, Miriam?”
“Because he used to come here very often until within the last three weeks.”
“Ah! is that so?” said Fanks rapidly. “Tell me, General, when was the flask given to you by Mr. Rainton?”
“A month ago,” interposed Rainton, who was listening eagerly.
“And your quarrel with Mr. Jerricks?”
“Took place three weeks ago. Since then he has not entered the house.”
“Have you any idea that he would take the flask?”
“I have,” said Miriam quickly. “The flask was a very beautiful one of antique design, and as Mr. Jerricks is fond of curiosities, it is more than probable that he would take it for his collection.”
She spoke very bitterly, and evidently did not like the gentleman whose actions she was discussing so freely. Fanks guessed at once that whomsoever knew of Jerricks’ relationship to the General, Miriam Deswarth was at all events ignorant that such a blood tie existed.
“What is your opinion, General?”
“Certainly Jerricks may have taken the flask. I know of no one else who would have the daring to steal it.”
“Very good,” said Rainton, thoughtfully; “but even supposing he did so, how did the flask get into the Chinese Jar if Mr. Jerricks has not been here since?”
His listeners all looked puzzled as he made this objection, and Fanks added another.
“Besides, it was Mr. Jerricks who set me on the track by telling me about that jar. If he were guilty of the crime, he would hardly have told me to go to the very place where I would find strong evidence against him.
“True!” observed Deswarth quickly; “but you know Jerricks hates me for the reasons I have given you. If he did not commit the crime himself, and I confess I see no reason that he should do so, he evidently knows who is the guilty person, and he probably knew the flask was hidden in that jar, and that you would find it therein. Hence he sent you here, and by bolstering up your discovery of such damning evidence with his lies about embezzlement hoped to get me accused of committing the crime.”
“Hang it!” muttered Fanks, in a vexed tone. “I’m more in the dark than ever.”
“At all events,” said Miriam vivaciously, “you believe my father and Claud—I mean, Mr. Rainton—to be innocent.”
“I do,” replied Fanks, smiling at her slip of the tongue. “They would not have confessed to visiting the Embankment on that special night were they not innocent.”
“What do you intend to do now, Mr. Fanks?” asked Deswarth, as the detective took up his hat.
“I’m going to try and find out something about Jerricks. By his over hatred to you he has betrayed himself to me. He had no motive so far as I can see for committing the crime, and yet, who knows what discoveries I may make?”
“Even if you find he has a motive,” objected Rainton, “how did Jerricks get that flask into the jar?”
“He may have bribed a servant.”
“I don’t think any of my servants would accept a bribe,” said the General, indignantly.
“My dear sir, you don’t know the weakness of human nature. Remember every one has his price. When next I see you I shall have a strong story to tell you.”
“Connected with Jerricks?”
“Yes, sir! Meanwhile,” added Fanks, anxious to do a good turn to Rainton, to whom he had taken a great fancy, “don’t forget the self-sacrifice our friend here was prepared to make for you.”
“Really, Mr. Fanks,” began Rainton confusedly, when Deswarth cut him short by taking his hand.
“I thank you very much, Mr Rainton, for behaving in such a noble manner, and I shall not forget your kindness.”
Miriam took her lover silently by the hand, and the General smiled a little at the action.
“You betray your secret easily, Miriam. I know that you love Mr. Rainton.”
“Oh!” cried Miriam eagerly, “and you consent to our marriage?”
“I don’t say that yet,” replied her father with a smile. “Mr. Rainton must know there are obstacles in the way.”
“I scarcely dare hope you will consent,” said Rainton in a low tone, knowing the other referred to his poverty.
Miriam said nothing, but retained her hold of the young man’s hand with a look of determination on her face “Well!” said her father at length, “I shall say nothing at present, but when Mr. Fanks has cleared up the mystery of the death of my unhappy ward we shall see.”
“And the mystery,” said Fanks, opening the door, “shall be cleared up before the month is out. I have found out a great deal in a short space of time. Now I am going to find out the past of Mr. Jerricks.”
He left the room with a light step, though his heart was by no means so light as his words would lead one to suppose. All he had found out up to the present was comparatively valueless, unless he could discover that one missing link.
“That flask,” muttered Mr. Fanks to himself as he went down the street, “passed from Rainton to Deswarth, from Deswarth to Jerricks, but how the devil did it get into the Chinese Jar? Hm! when I find that out I’ll lay my hand on the man who murdered Bargraves.”
“It is a queer end to my search in that direction,” mused Fanks, as he strolled along Piccadilly on his way to Wardour Street. “I looked for a criminal and I found a lover. Rainton ought to be very grateful to me, for had I not put in a good word for him, I question much whether General Deswarth would not have turned him out of his house for such audacity. Even now it is doubtful whether he will consent to let his daughter marry a poor artist. Nevertheless, as the poor artist was willing to shield Deswarth even at the risk of his liberty, I daresay such Quixotism will soften the old gentleman and make the path of true love run smooth. It is all right so far as that trio is concerned, but what about myself and the case?”
In truth Fanks was puzzled to know how to act at this juncture. He was keen-witted enough to see that the stories of both Rainton and Deswarth were perfectly true. Had the first been guilty, he would not have confessed, even under pressure, to being on the Embankment on that fatal night, but would have provided a sufficiently strong alibi to provide against danger. This frank confession showed the detective that Rainton was so sure of his innocence, that he never dreamed his highly suspicious movements on that night would militate against him. It was a fortunate thing for him that he had to deal with a shrewd observer of human nature like Fanks, who looked rather to the motive than to the act, else it might have gone hard with him. Had Crate conducted the case, assuming from external circumstances that Rainton was guilty of the crime, he would certainly have arrested him at once. As it was, Fanks being the judge, Rainton was allowed to remain free, having by his confession and demeanour quite convinced the astute detective of his innocence.
As regards General Deswarth, it was plain he was guiltless. The story of Mr. Jerricks proved to be entirely false when examined, and Fanks plainly saw that the object of the man was to deal a mortal blow to his half-brother’s reputation and, if possible, disgrace him in the eyes of the world by having him arrested as a criminal. Even when Jerricks told him the spiteful slander Fanks had doubted its truth, and had half believed that Deswarth was less guilty than he appeared to be; but after the frank avowal of the old soldier that he had seen the dead body of Bargraves, he was quite convinced that he was innocent. No man who had guilt on his soul, would dare to tell so compromising a story to the detective entrusted with the case. Had the General been guilty, he would not have had the nerve to narrate how he read the ciphers, guessed the secret of the meeting, and gone down to the trysting-place on the night in question. Feeling himself innocent, he could tell the story of his doings with impunity, with the result that Fanks, ever on the alert to catch him tripping, believed him to be as innocent of the crime as was Rainton.
So far so good. Two men against whom things looked black had cleared their characters to the satisfaction of Fanks, but the question now remained, if they were innocent, who was guilty? The silver flask could not have been taken out of the library and ultimately hidden in the Chinese Jar, unless by someone well acquainted with the household of the General. In his own mind, Fanks had not the slightest doubt but that Jerricks was the thief. Having a magpie-like tendency to take and hide anything on which he could lay his hands, he had doubtless, attracted by the antique workmanship, slipped the flask into his pocket and taken it home for his collection.
Notwithstanding that Fanks believed Jerricks had the flask, and that it had been used for the purpose of accomplishing a crime, he could not bring himself to think that Jerricks was the criminal. There seemed absolutely no reason why Jerricks should murder Bargraves, and he surely would not have been so foolish as to do so on the off-chance that the murder would be put down to the man he hated. If that had been his scheme, and he had administered the poison to Bargraves, he would certainly have left some compromising evidence on the body likely to lead to the accusation of Deswarth as the criminal. In place of this, nothing likely to incriminate a single person had been discovered, the body had been buried as that of an unknown man who had committed suicide, and but for the presence of Jerricks in Mankers’ shop, Fanks would never have found out the meaning of the words “Tu Soh,” and would thus have failed at the very outset of his search.
“No!” thought Fanks, thus considering the question. “Jerricks can’t have committed the crime himself, and yet if he took the flask, as I shrewdly suspect he did, how did it get back into the Chinese Jar? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if an entirely new personage came on the scene after the fashion of Rainton, and I found out that this murder had nothing to do with Deswarth, Rainton, or Jerricks. No, by Jove, it has to do with Deswarth, for he owns the jar and the flask was hidden there. What a misfortune!” sighed the detective, entering into Mankers’ shop. “After all my trouble and wonderful luck in finding out so much, I am as far off the truth as ever. Well, I will see if Mankers can help me.”
The dwarfish proprietor of the shop saw the entry of the detective, and speedily shuffled forward from the dim obscurity of the back apartments. He issued therefrom like a spider from its den, and rubbed his large hands in an obsequious manner as he approached Fanks. The fact was that Mankers, afraid of no one else, had a kind of dread of this man who appeared to know everything, and as there were a few passages in his past life which hardly bore scrutiny, he was anxious to stand well with the representative of the law.
Fanks had not deemed it necessary to inform Mankers of the reason for his frequent visits to his shop, and his questions concerning “Tu Soh.” Already he had told too many people about the matter, but as these were more or less mixed up in the affair he did not much mind, as it was necessary to his plans that they should know the reason he asked so many questions. There was no necessity, however, that Mankers should know anything, as Fanks preferred to keep his business to himself; therefore in questioning the dwarf about the silver flask, he was careful to let no hint escape him as to his reason for such inquiries.
“Good-day, Mr. Fanks,” said Mankers with a grin. “Have you come to buy anything or to ask for more information?”
“What information do you think I require?” asked Fanks, parrying the question.
“Hey! I don’t know. Perhaps you want to know more about Tu Soh.”
“Oh, that,” replied the detective, shrugging his shoulders. “I found out all about that, and much use it was to me. I might as well have left it alone.”
“You didn’t find the criminal, then?”
“What criminal?” questioned Fanks, sharply. “I did not say I required that information to trace a criminal. You’re too clever by far, Mankers! Don’t seek to know what I don’t want to tell you, or it may cause trouble.”
“I don’t wish to know a thing,” protested Mankers eagerly; “I only thought it was connected with your business. You aren’t the man to run about wasting your time.”
“Don’t you think I take a holiday occasionally,” said Fanks, good-humouredly, “because I do, I only asked about Tu Soh in connection with some old china, and I want to know your opinion on this flask which I picked up in a shop in the Strand.”
Mankers did not believe the first remark, but he believed the second, and, thinking Fanks had been hunting for curios, stretched out his hand for the flask.
“If you want anything of this sort you might come to me,” he said, reproachfully. “I don’t think it’s like you to pass me by.”
“My dear Mankers, I’m always coming to you and spend a small fortune in this shop of yours. That flask caught my eye as I was passing, and as it seemed rather quaint I bought it.”
“You didn’t get it out of a shop in the Strand at all events,” said Mankers, cunningly turning over the flask with close attention. He seemed to recognize it at once.
“What do you mean?”
“It was a present!”
“What is this now,” thought Fanks, eyeing the dwarf keenly; “am I going to find out something more about this confounded flask?”
These thoughts he kept to himself, and simply looked inquiringly at Mankers, who appeared to have seen the flask before.
“It was a present,” repeated Mankers, nodding his head, “from Mr. Jerricks.”
“Jerricks!” repeated Fanks, jumping down off his seat in surprise; “that flask surely never belonged to him!”
“Yes, it did!” said Mankers doggedly, “I am as sure it belonged to him, as I am that it never came out of your Strand shop.”
“There’s no deceiving you, Mankers!” laughed the detective lightly, “and as a rule you are right, but in this case you are quite wrong. I did pick that up in the Strand, and if it belonged to Mr. Jerricks he must have sold it.”
“Sold it! That is hardly like Mr. Jerricks. He has never yet sold a thing to my knowledge.”
“This is the exception to the rule,” said Fanks impatiently; “how do you know it belonged to Mr. Jerricks?”
“Because we had a long talk about this same flask. You know I occasionally visit Mr. Jerricks, and we examine his collection. A fortnight ago I was at his rooms and saw this flask. It seemed pretty and antique, so I took it up to examine. Then we had a quarrel.”
“Over the flask?”
“Yes! Mr. Jerricks pretended that it was an old Charles the First relic, and that these initials, C. R., meant Carolus Rex.”
“Oh!” thought Fanks with a certain amount of amusement, “so Claud Rainton’s initials are the same as those of Charles the First!”
“You don’t believe that?” he asked aloud.
“Believe that?” echoed Mankers derisively, “no, nor does Mr. Jerricks. Anyone can see that this flask is of Victorian workmanship in imitation of the antique—that is a Renaissance pattern. It’s very pretty, but worth little from a collector’s point of view.”
“Where did Jerricks say he got it?”
“I don’t know! I never asked him; but he seemed to set some value on it, and I am astonished that he should sell it.”
“Perhaps he got a good price for it as a relic of Charles the First!”
“I don’t think so! Anyone would be a fool to be taken in by it in that way. How much did you give for it?”
“I don’t know, I forget!” replied Fanks, who having found out all he wished to know, was rather tired of the discussion. “Here, give it to me back, I’m going to take it home!”
“Don’t you tell your friends it’s a Carolean cup,” said Mankers, handing back the flask, “for they won’t believe you unless they are fools.”
“Well, most of them are, so it will be right,” replied Fanks, coolly stuffing the flask again into his pocket. “By the way, Mankers, do you know anything about Mr. Jerricks?”
Mankers cast a sudden glance at Fanks from under his bushy eyebrows. That astute gentleman, however, was never taken unawares, and seemed as cool and careless as though the answer were not of the slightest importance to him.
“I don’t know the biographies of all my customers, Mr. Fanks! Mr. Jerricks is Mr. Jerricks! I’ve no doubt you know more about him than I do.”
“I!” said Fanks, in pretended surprise; “why, what in heaven’s name can I know about the man?”
“Enough to make you curious to know more!”
“As I said before you are too sharp, Mankers!” he replied indifferently. “Mr. Jerricks seemed an odd fish, and I am curious about all such people. It is part of my duty as a detective. However, let us not talk about Mr. Jerricks, but of General Deswarth. Do you know him?”
Fanks really asked this apparently irrelevant question, in order to find out if Mankers was aware of the relationship which existed between the General and his half-brother. Apparently he did not, or, if he did, concealed his thoughts sufficiently well to let them remain hidden from the discerning Fanks.
“I have met him once!”
“Indeed! And where?”
“In his own house last week!”
“What the devil were you doing there?”
“Oh, I didn’t call on my own account, you may be sure. Mr. Jerricks asked me to go and see General Deswarth on his behalf.”
“And for what reason?” asked Fanks, a wild idea beginning to take shape within his brain.
“Well, you see, Mr. Fanks,” said Mankers, who apparently desired to conceal nothing, “Mr, Jerricks had quarrelled with General Deswarth, and wouldn’t see him again. The General had in his possession a cup of Sèvres china belonging to Mr. Jerricks, so he asked me to get it for him.”
“Why did he not write for Deswarth to send it?”
“He was afraid it might get broken, and knew I would carry it carefully,” replied Mankers equitably. “Well, I went to the house and saw Deswarth—he gave me the cup and I came away.”
“Did he see you in the library?”
“Yes! It was there I saw that famous Chinese Jar.”
“You examined it?”
“Closely! I looked both inside and out.”
“A week ago?”—
“Less than a week!”
Fanks was puzzled to know what to make of this conversation. At first he wondered if it were possible that Jerricks had sent Mankers to hide the silver flask in the Jar. Mankers confessed to having examined the Jar, so could have easily done so without exciting suspicion. If this were the case, and Jerricks had committed the crime, it would implicate Mankers as an accomplice. On second thoughts he hardly believed Mankers would speak thus openly, if he were guilty of such a thing, unless indeed he had executed the commission in ignorance of its real meaning.
It was a difficult matter to understand, and Fanks could not quite make up his mind as to whether this monkeylike piece of humanity was not playing him false. It seemed as though he had been the tool of Jerricks in putting the flask into the Jar, but if so, he betrayed in no way that he had executed such a commission. Fanks looked keenly at him, and made an attempt to get at the truth by daunting the man.
“I suspect you know more of Mr. Jerricks than you admit.”
“I don’t know anything more than you do,” retorted Mankers doggedly.
“Look here, my friend, you are playing a very deep game which may end in your losing. You had better make a clean breast of it.”
“Of what?” asked Mankers, with what certainly looked like surprise.
“About this commission that Mr. Jarricks asked you to execute for him in the library of Deswarth’s house!”
“That Sèvres cup?”
“Bah! I’m not talking of a cup but of a flask.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” repeated Fanks, holding out the flask towards the dwarf, “that you did not go to Brazen Street about a cup. You went to place this flask in the Chinese Jar you examined. No wonder you were confident I did not buy this flask in the Strand. You were quite right, I found it in the Jar, where it had been hidden by you at the instance of Mr. Jerricks.”
“Upon my soul, Mr. Fanks, I don’t know what you mean!” cried Mankers, turning pale.
“Yes, you do! Make a clean breast of it.”
“Of what? I don’t understand.”
“Pray do not let us waste words, Mankers, I’m not in the mood for trifling. You know Jerricks is guilty.”
“Guilty of what?”
“Come, now, do not pretend further ignorance. Guilty of the murder of young Bargraves, the ward of General Deswarth.”
“I don’t know anything about it, Mr. Fanks, indeed I don’t,” said Mankers, now thoroughly terrified-by the mention of the word “murder.”
“I did not know the General had a ward, or that his name was Bargraves, or that he had been murdered. I am quite in the dark.”
“If you don’t confess that you hid this flask in that Jar, I shall have you arrested,” said Fanks, beginning to lose his temper.
“I can’t confess to what I didn’t do!” replied the dwarf piteously; “I took no flask to Deswarth’s, I swear.” Fanks considered. If the dwarf knew anything, it was evident that it was not to be bounced out of him. The only chance of getting at the truth would be to lay a trap for him, and this Fanks did without delay. With a sudden change of front he burst out laughing, and clapped Mankers on the back.
“I was only joking, Mankers; don’t take on so.”
“I wish you wouldn’t joke in that way, Mr. Fanks,” replied Mankers, wiping his brow. “I thought you were going to accuse me of committing a crime.”
“Pooh! you have no nerves,” said Fanks gaily, sauntering to the door of the shop; “don’t let us say anything more about it; and above all, Mr. Mankers,” he added, turning round, “keep your own counsel about my joke.”
“Was it a joke?”
“You know that best yourself,” retorted Fanks, significantly; “but I think it would be as well for you to mention it to no one.”
He hurried away from the shop, leaving the dwarf in a state of nervous prostration. His terror certainly looked genuine enough, but Fanks thought it was a piece of clever acting. No one but Mankers could have put the flask into the Jar, but he was faithful to his employer, and would not betray Jerricks. Fanks, knowing that if there was anything in his idea, Mankers would warn Jerricks that there was trouble ahead, went off to Scotland Yard, and sent two detectives to watch the movements of the two men.
“There,” said Fanks, rubbing his hands, “now, Mr. Mankers, you can fall into the trap if you like. A man in Wardour Street, another in Lurgan Square; I don’t think you’ll communicate with your accomplice without my knowing it, and if you do, Mr. Mankers, I’ll know how to get the truth out of you.”
If any one man knew himself thoroughly, that man was Fanks. He rated his intellect high, but at the same time he never disguised from himself that, even so clever a man as himself was liable to make mistakes. Since he had taken up the rôle of detective he had achieved many successes, but on occasions he had failed, not perchance through any fault of his own, but because circumstances were too strong for him. All our carefully laid plans, our sleepless anxiety, our most dextrous combinations are at the mercy of chance. Knowing this from experience, Fanks never for a moment counted on a triumph before he achieved it. Many a time when on the verge of success, chance had intervened, and spoilt the toil of many days. He therefore knew that he was liable to fail, and a knowledge of this made him doubly careful when conducting a particularly intricate case.
In this instance he had twice appeared to be within reach of the wished-for discovery, and both times it had eluded his grasp. In spite of the strong evidence against them both, Deswarth and Rainton had proved their innocence. So taking a lesson from such unexpected results, Fanks was by no means certain that either Jerricks or Mankers would fall into the trap so artfully set for them. Still he had done all that mortal man could do to discover the truth, and having arranged that Jerricks and his accomplice were to be closely watched, waited calmly for the expected result. He thought that the dwarf, not knowing he was a marked man, would go to Jerricks in order to warn him of the danger to them both. So soon as he was informed they were together, Fanks intended to pounce down on them, and not let them out of his clutches until he had wrung the truth of Bargraves’ murder from their unwilling lips.
Unfortunately for the success of this experiment, neither of the watchers reported that the suspected persons had come together. Mankers paid no visit to Jerricks, but remained within doors as though he had no desire to see his presumed accomplice. All that evening after his interview with the dwarf, Fanks waited anxiously at Scotland Yard for news. None came that night, nor was there any the next morning. At last he could bear the suspense no longer, and about ten o’clock set off to Wardour Street, there to speak with the detective, who had been watching Mankers’ house all night.
“Well! any news?” he said to the man, who looked worn and jaded with his vigil.
“None, Mr. Fanks. Mankers has not come out, nor has that Jerricks such as you described him, gone in.”
“Humph!” muttered Fanks anxiously, “it is possible that this is what Crate terms a mare’s nest, and that Mankers has nothing to do with the matter. Never mind, I’ll stay here a bit and see if anything occurs before noon.”
He waited with the man close to the shop, and about eleven o’clock his patience was rewarded by seeing Jerricks coming round the corner, followed by the detective who had been watching him. Fanks was disappointed at this, as he saw plainly Jerricks was simply paying his morning visit to Mankers, according to custom. Then another idea struck him, and he began to think the dwarf was rather crafty.
“He perhaps guessed I would have him watched,” said Fanks to himself, “and so as to run no risk decided to wait till Jerricks came as usual, when he could tell him all without awakening any suspicion. They are together now! Shall I go in or wait?”
Ultimately he thought it would be best to wait till Jerricks and his dwarfish friend were in the full tide of conversation, when he could enter quickly and perhaps catch them unawares. Dismissing the two men who were worn out with watching, he kept his eye on the door of the shop, resolving to enter in ten minutes or thereabouts. Before half the time had expired he saw a boy—Mankers’ errand-boy—leave the shop with a letter in his hand.
“Hullo!” said Fanks suspiciously, “they’re sending out a letter; I’ll just see what that is.”
He crossed over to the other side of the street and with his long legs speedily caught up with the boy as he was turning the corner.
“That letter!” he said to the messenger, a guileless youth who was by nature unsuspicious. “Mr. Mankers is afraid he didn’t put on the correct address.”
“Oh, it’s all right,” said the boy, taking him for a messenger from his master, “Miss Stacey, Brazen Street;” and then before Fanks could detain him he darted up the street as fast as his legs could carry him.
“The deuce,” muttered Fanks, looking anxiously after the flying figure; “why is Mankers writing to that girl? I wish I had kept those men and had the boy followed. I can’t myself afford to go away from my trap at present. I wonder now,” continued the detective, strolling back to the shop, “I wonder if that letter can have any possible bearing on this matter. Impossible! Miss Stacey can’t know anything about the murder. Wish I’d seen the writing and found out whether it was written by Jerricks or Mankers. Never mind, I’ll get that out of them before I leave this shop.”
He stepped into the doorway as he spoke, and saw the two men in earnest converse at the far back. They started apart as they recognized him, but without speaking a word he walked quickly up to them, glancing keenly from one to the other. Of the two, Mankers looked the more agitated, but there was no sign of emotion on the lean face of Jerricks. He might have been a graven image for all that could be read on his impassive countenance, even by so keen an observer as Fanks.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” said the detective in an ironical tone, “don’t let me interrupt your very interesting conversation.”
“Is it interesting?” queried Jerricks coldly.
“I should think so,” replied Fanks smiling, “seeing it entails the sending of a message to Miss Stacey. A pretty girl, Mr. Jerricks. I congratulate you on your choice.”
The unexpected thrust told, and for the first time Jerricks exhibited discomposure.
“How do you know I sent a message to Miss Stacey?”
“Ah! it was you who wrote the letter, then,” thought Fanks, fixing the old man with his keen eye; “I wonder what about!”
“I repeat,” observed Jerricks in an uneasy tone, “that I want to know why you think I sent a message to Miss Stacey?”
“Very easily. I met the boy as he turned the corner, and questioned him.”
“Very impertinent!” said Jerricks indignantly.
“To he sure it is. All that a detective does is impertinent to people of guilty conscience.”
“So you think I have a guilty conscience, Mr. Fanks?”
“Don’t know, I’m sure,” replied Fanks cheerfully; “it may be as hard as a flint for aught I know to the contrary. If it isn’t, I’ve no doubt you feel remorse at some past events of your life.”
“What the deuce do you mean, sir?”
“Don’t bluster, my friend! You can do all that sort of thing later on. Where is Mankers? Halloa! sir, come here! Now, then,” as Mankers, looking very uncomfortable, stole back from the front of the shop, “I wish to ask you gentlemen a few questions.”
“For my part I won’t answer them,” said Jerricks curtly.
“No? Very well, then, I must appeal to Mr. Mankers. What about that flask, my friend?”
“I told you last night, sir, I know nothing about it.”
“And yet you were talking about it to Mr. Jerricks when I entered.”
“It’s the flask you refer to,” said Jerricks with supreme disdain. “Yes, Mankers certainly was talking to me on that subject. It seems, Mr. Fanks, that you say that I gave Mankers the flask to take back to General Deswarth’s?”
“And that I took the flask from the library-table of the General?”
“No,” said Fanks quickly, “I certainly did not say that! You have betrayed yourself, Mr. Jerricks. So it was you who stole the flask?”
Jerricks would have denied this, but knowing that Mankers had told the detective that he had seen the flask in his possession, and was evidently prepared to stick to his assertion, he got out of the entanglement the best way that he could.
“I certainly did not steal the flask,” he said with dignity; “but seeing it on the library-table, I admired it, and at my request it was given to me by Deswarth.”
“That’s rather curious,” said Fanks drily, “seeing that it belonged to Claud Rainton.”
“Ah!” cried Mankers, “his initials, C. R.”
“Yes! And not Carolus Rex as Mr. Jerricks fondly imagined. Well, sir,” he added, turning sharply to Jerricks, “what other lie have you on your lips?”
“I am not lying!” said Jerricks, much disturbed, “I tell you the truth. General Deswarth gave me the flask, and I took it home with me.”
“Whether the flask was given to you or not, I know it was in your possession; but how did it come to be hidden in the Chinese Jar?”
“Not by me!” cried Mankers hurriedly; “I swear that I had no hand in this!”
“Who the devil said you had?” retorted Jerricks, turning savagely on the little man; “the flask was placed in the Jar by me.”
“Indeed! How so? when you were forbidden the house?”
“I called one day while Deswarth was absent.”
This was a clumsy lie, as Fanks very well saw, but he pretended to believe it, as the admission gave greater weight to his next remark.
“So you admit that you placed the flask in that Jar. What did you do with it in the meantime?”
“I kept it in a drawer at home.”
“And why did you put it in the Jar?” asked his merciless tormentor.
“I shan’t tell you!” said Jerricks defiantly; “I am not a criminal to be questioned thus.”
“That is where you are wrong, Mr. Jerricks. You are a criminal.”
Jerricks bit his lip and said nothing, while Mankers with a pale face shrunk away from both the detective and his victim.
“These are strange words, Mr. Fanks,” he said at length in a husky tone.
“Very strange, but very true. Listen to me, Mr. Jerricks, you have thrown dust in my eyes long enough. I know now who killed young Bargraves—it was not Rainton—it was not Deswarth—it was you, and Mankers here is your accomplice!”
Mankers put out his hands with a piteous cry.
“I swear I am not! I know nothing—nothing!” Jerricks did not move. An evil light came into his eyes, as he saw all his schemes for the destruction of others recoiling on his own head.
“So you accuse me of the murder, do you?” he said with a sneer. “Where are your proofs?”
“My proofs are quite enough to hang you,” retorted Fanks, nettled at the contempt conveyed by his voice. “One is the silver flask in my pocket, which was stolen by you, and, by your own acknowledgment, hidden by you in the Chinese Jar.”
“I admit all that, and what then?”
“Simply this, that by that flask was Ferdinand Bargraves killed. Oh, I know well what you did, Mr. Jerricks! You killed Bargraves, and hoped to throw the blame on your half-brother. Knowing the unhappy young man was in London, and acquainted with the words ‘Tu Soh’ through that Jar, you inserted that first cipher asking for a meeting. I thought Bargraves himself had done so, but I was mistaken. It was you! He responded to your cipher in the same paper, and having decoyed your victim to the Obelisk on the Embankment, you offered him a drink out of that flask. It contained brandy and prussic acid. He drank and dropped down dead. Then you came away, and sent Mankers to put the flask into the Chinese Jar, so as to cast suspicion on General Deswarth. When you saw the jury had brought in a verdict of suicide you thought your scheme had failed, but when I came to Mankers to ask the meaning of the words Tu Soh, it was you who put me on the right track!”
“I did not come here by design.”
“Yes, you did. I wrote to Mankers asking for information regarding Tu Soh. He told you about it, and then seeing there was yet a chance of your brother being accused of the murder, you came to this shop to meet me and put me on the track of Deswarth.”
“It is true! it is true!” gasped Mankers, who was crouching at the elbow of Fanks. “I did tell him about your letter, and he asked me when you would come. It was all planned out!”
“You see, sir,” said Fanks, as Jerricks darted a venomous look at the dwarf, “your accomplice is ready to tell all. The ruin you thought to bring on others, has recoiled on yourself. Here is my warrant, and I arrest you in the Queen’s name for the murder of Ferdinand Bargraves, and I also arrest Mankers as an accessory to the fact.”
On hearing this, Mankers gave a gasp and fell down at the feet of the detective in a faint, but as Fanks advanced towards Jerricks, the wretched man pulled a large horse-pistol out of his pocket, and held it threateningly in front of him.
“If you lay a finger on me I shall fire!” he said fiercely.
For answer, Fanks put a whistle to his lips, and in another minute three policemen were in the shop. Fanks had laid his plans too well to be taken at a disadvantage by the bluster of Mr. Jerricks.
“Arrest these men!” he said curtly, and, disregarding the pistol, marched steadily towards Jerricks.
Instead of firing, Jerricks returned the weapon to his pocket, and threw up his hand in warning. He had evidently a new idea in his head.
“Wait a moment, Mr. Fanks!” he said coolly, “you need not put the handcuffs on me yet. I declare I am innocent of this crime. Deswarth is the real criminal, and I can prove it to you if you will take me to his house.”
“I don’t believe you,” said Fanks, coldly. “You have told me nothing but lies hitherto, so why should I think you speak truth now?”
“You are arresting an innocent man!”
“I’ll take the risk of that. Hold out your hands.”
“Mr. Fanks,” said Jerricks, earnestly watching the policemen moving the inanimate body of Mankers, “come with me to Deswarth’s and I swear I will point you out the criminal.”
Fanks paused a moment, struck by the man’s earnestness. It was just possible that there might be something else to discover in order to make the chain of evidence complete. If he could bring the two half-brothers together, he might be able to find out sufficient to put the question of the commission of the crime by Jerricks beyond a doubt. He did not for a moment believe that Deswarth was guilty, and was fully persuaded that Jerricks was the criminal, but he determined to accede to his request and by bringing him face to face with the man whom he had tried to injure, force him into a confession of his crime.
“I don’t believe Deswarth is guilty,” he said, coolly replacing the handcuffs in his pocket, “and I have quite enough evidence to show me that you are. We shall go to Brazen Street, and there you will find your half-brother and Rainton, the two men whom you have tried to injure. I am satisfied that in their presence you will be shamed into a confession, and wonder at your asking to be taken there. However, it is your own wish, so we shall go. Officer, get a cab.”
One of the policemen went out to hail a hansom, and Jerricks, making no attempt to escape, stood silently looking on the ground with a gloomy face. He evidently saw that there was no chance of his clearing himself from the accusation, but it was also evident that he was fully determined to make a final effort to injure his half-brother.
Meanwhile, Fanks turned to Mankers, who had revived from his faint and was being guarded by two policemen.
“As for you, Mankers, until I hear what Jerricks has to say at Brazen Street, you can stay here. The policemen will look after the shop for you, and as you are not handcuffed you can’t complain. If I find from the confession of your accomplice that you are innocent, which I don’t believe, I shall come back and see you in an hour. Till then remain here.”
By this time the cab was at the door, and Fanks turned toward Jerricks.
“Come!” he said, curtly. “Get in first!”
Jerricks obediently entered the cab, and Fanks seated himself by his side, after giving the directions to the driver. In a few moments they were being driven along towards Brazen Street on what the detective firmly believed to be a fool’s errand.
“I wonder you are not afraid,” said Jerricks, with a sneer, “seeing I have a pistol.”
“What! that rusty old horse-pistol,” retorted Fanks, laughing. “I’m not afraid of that; this,” producing a revolver, “is my weapon, so you had better sit still, Mr. Jerricks, and make no attempt to eseape.”
“I don’t intend to. When you bring me face to face with Deswarth you will see who is the criminal.”
“No doubt! But your lies won’t avail you much. I’ll lodge you in gaol in an hour.”
“Say rather,” said Jerricks confidently, “you will lodge General Deswarth.”
Fanks made no reply to what he regarded as a silly piece of bravado.
In anticipation of being able to capture Jerricks on this particular day, Fanks had written to Rainton, requesting him to be at Brazen Street in the morning. After lodging his prisoner in gaol, he purposed calling on Deswarth to tell him of his success in bringing home the crime to the guilty person, and wished Rainton to be also present at the interview. It is true that Fanks believed them to be innocent, that they knew themselves to be innocent, yet withal, a certain feeling of distrust existed between all three, which could only be removed by the discovery and punishment of the actual assassin. Partly for this reason, among others, Fanks had agreed so far to stretch his authority as to take Jerricks to Brazen Street.
During the journey, beyond the first remarks of the prisoner, a strict silence was observed by both. Jerricks was in the lowest spirits consequent on his crime being traced home to him, and Fanks was thinking of the remarkable chain of circumstances which had led to the capture of the man seated beside him. He was quite satisfied that in Jerricks he had secured the perpetrator of the crime, and considered his threat to expose Deswarth as the real assassin, to be mere bravado. The only part of the affair which struck him as peculiar was, why Jerricks, knowing the importance of the flask as evidence of his guilt, had admitted placing it in the Chinese Jar. Either he wished to save Mankers from being arrested as an accomplice, lest he should turn Queen’s evidence, or else felt confident that Fanks could not complete the chain of evidence necessary to establish his guilt as the assassin of Ferdinand Bargraves.
In due time the cab arrived at the mansion in Brazen Street, and, taking a firm hold of Mr. Jerricks by the arm lest he should try to escape, Fanks rang the bell. He was evidently expected, for the servant at once showed him upstairs to the library, casting furtive glances on Jerricks as he marched silently along At the door of the room, before it could be opened, Jerricks wrenched himself free from the grip of the detective, with an oath.
“What is the use of all this care, Mr. Fanks?” he said angrily. “You have not yet proved that I am guilty, and until then I beg you will not treat me as a criminal.”
“You entirely forget that you are my prisoner,” rejoined Fanks tartly; “I have the warrant in my pocket.”
“It’s only waste-paper,” muttered Jerricks, disdainfully; “I shall leave this house free.”
“That remains to be seen,” said the detective with a sneer. “Are General Deswarth and Mr. Rainton in the library?” he added, turning to the servant.
“No, sir, in the drawing-room, but they will come to you presently. The General told me if you came to show you into the library. I don’t think he expects to see Mr. Jerricks.”
“No doubt,” retorted that gentleman with an ugly smile; “nor does he expect to hear the story Mr. Jerricks is about to tell.”
Fanks vouchsafed no reply to this last observation, and, pushing Jerricks in front of him, entered the library. They had been speaking for some time on the stairs, and the sound of their voices soon brought Deswarth and Rainton from the drawing-room. When Fanks entered the library he thought he heard a slight noise in the direction of the Chinese Jar, but, considering it to be nothing worth investigating, turned his attention to General Deswarth and the artist, who appeared at that moment. Behind them came Miriam, who looked much surprised when she saw Jerricks, but, saying nothing, took her seat at the desk near her father. Jerricks himself did not sit down, but hat in hand, stood sullenly looking on the ground.
“General Deswarth,” said Fanks, noting the look of astonishment on Deswarth’s face as he beheld Jerricks, “let me introduce you to the gentleman who committed the crime of which you were accused.”
“What!” cried Deswarth, aghast, “did Jerricks kill Bargraves?”
“No, brother, I did not!” said Jerricks, sneeringly.
“Brother!” repeated Miriam, looking towards her father in an inquiring manner.
“Yes, Miriam,” he replied bitterly, “I have kept you in ignorance hitherto, but this man—this murderer is my illegitimate brother, and my bitterest enemy.”
Jerricks thrust forward his head, with a malignant light in his eyes.
“You say that of me, Deswarth, because you know only too well what I am about to reveal.”
With the exception of Fanks and the speaker, all looked up in surprise at this menacing speech. After a pause, Deswarth gazing calmly at his enemy, answered briefly and to the point,—
“Say what you wish.”
This calmness somewhat disconcerted Jerricks, nevertheless, urged by hatred, he lost no time in bringing forward his accusation.
“I have been arrested by this blundering detective for your crime,” he said with cold malice, “and none know better than you do how innocent I am. It was you who murdered Bargraves, deny it if you can.”
“I do deny it!”
“Can you deny that you wished your ward out of the way because you embezzled the money entrusted to your care? Can you deny the fact that you are unable to pay, on the birthday of the man you murdered, the thirty thousand pounds held by you in trust?”
“I admit that I invested a portion of my ward’s money, on your recommendation, in a risky business,” replied Deswarth, with dignity; “you knew the business was bad when you advised me to put in the money. You hoped that I would get into trouble through losing the money. I did lose the money, thanks to your cunning, but my ward would not have suffered on that account. Had he lived, I would have paid him over thirty thousand pounds in full on his birthday, replacing what was lost by my own money.”
“Lies! lies!” muttered Jerricks, taken aback by this confession, “about yourself—about me—all lies.”
“Pardon me!” said Fanks, smoothly, “I know this to be true. It was told to me by General Deswarth only the other day.”
“Did he tell you that he was on the Embankment on the night—at the hour of the murder?”
“Bravado! He wanted to forestall me. I accuse him of committing the murder. I took the flask, it is true, but I brought it back before Bargraves died, and it was used by my half-brother to commit the-crime. Afterwards he hid it in the Chinese Jar.”
“Pshaw! You admitted putting it there yourself,” said Fanks impatiently; “what is the use of your telling all these lies? I knew well enough when I consented to bring you here, that you would repeat these stale stories. General Deswarth told me all you have stated.”
“You don’t believe me?”
“I believe all you say so far as it coincides with the General’s story, otherwise—” here Fanks shrugged his shoulders and advanced towards Jerricks, “it’s no use further talking; the cab is still at the door, so it will be as well for you to come along with me.”
“I am innocent, I tell you—innocent!” repeated Jerricks viciously.
“That remains to be seen.”
Jerricks drooped his head and remained silent for a few minutes, then evidently making up his mind what course to pursue, raised his head defiantly.
“I’ll baffle you yet, Fanks,” he said insolently; “where is Miss Stacey?”
“She has gone out, I think,” replied Miriam, rather surprised at this irrelevant question.
“In that case,” said Jerricks with the utmost deliberation, “she is now in safety, so I can speak freely. You won’t catch her now, Mr. Fanks!”
“Why should I want to catch her?”
“Because Lydia Stacey, and not Adolphus Jerricks, is the person you want.”
“Lydia Stacey!” cried Deswarth, starting; “what do you mean?”
“That she murdered Ferdinand Bargraves!”
His hearers looked at one another in great consternation on hearing this announcement. Fanks was the first to recover himself.
“So that was why you wrote her a letter from Mankers’ shop?” he said slowly.
“It was! I thought there might be a chance of your finding out the truth, so I wrote advising her to fly to a safe hiding-place of which I told her. She has obeyed, and is now beyond the reach of capture.”
“I don’t believe this story,” cried Rainton with decision; “from what I have seen of Miss Stacey she is incapable of such a crime.”
“If you knew her as well as I do, you wouldn’t say so,” said Jerricks, spitefully; “she looks soft enough, but she has a hard, unyielding nature under all her childish exterior. Remember, I introduced her into this house, and I knew what she was before I brought her here. A vile, unprincipled woman, who brought disgrace where-ever she went.’”
“And knowing this, you dared to recommend her as a fit companion for my daughter!” cried Deswarth furiously.
“I did, because I hated you so. I thought she would get you into trouble, but having bungled the business, as only a woman can, she was forced to fly, and I, to save myself from arrest, have to betray her. Not that it matters much,” added Jerricks with a contemptuous shrug, “for she is concealed safely enough. No one will ever find her.”
“This is terrible,” murmured Miriam faintly, clinging to her lover’s arm for support, “and, I am afraid, true. I did not understand the meaning of many of her actions at the time. I do now!”
“Wait a moment,” said Fanks smoothly, while Jerricks was enjoying the explosion of his bombshell. “I do not believe this story, other than that Lydia Stacey is a bad lot. She was introduced here to cause trouble, I’ve no doubt, but I question still whether she killed Ferdinand Bargraves. What possible motive could she have for the commission of such a useless crime?”
“The best of all possible motives to a woman,” retorted Jerricks grimly; “she was desirous of marrying Sir Francis Audrey, and therefore for such a match sacrificed Bargraves.”
“What was he to her?”
“Only her husband.”
“It’s a lie!” cried Deswarth, stamping his foot; “why, Bargraves insulted her! I turned him out of this house for doing so. She hated him.”
“She did so!” replied Jerricks with a grin, “so much so that she killed him.”
“If this is true, Mr. Jerricks, I don’t see that it betters your position much,” broke in Fanks at this moment; “you were doubtless her accomplice, since the silver flask with which the crime was committed, was acknowledged by you to have been in your possession.”
“She stole it from my rooms,” said Jerricks coolly, “I was not her accomplice. I knew she was married to Bargraves. Oh, yes! I urged her to marry him if she could, so as to spoil the match between him and that girl there!”
“I!” cried Miriam with disdain, “I hated Ferdinand, and would not have married him had he possessed twice his fortune.”
“That is questionable,” sneered Jerricks. “At all events I put it out of your power, by helping Lydia to secretly marry Bargraves. Then he treated her badly, and thinking that Deswarth had embezzled the fortune of his ward, she did not care about being tied to a poor man whom she hated.”
“You told her that I had embezzled the money!” cried Deswarth fiercely. “You liar!”
“I did,” taunted his half-brother; “I told her that when Ferdinand came of age at twenty-five he would not have a penny. By my advice the marriage was kept secret.”
“Why?” asked Rainton, in a puzzled tone.
“Because I wanted to see the rage of Deswarth when he saw how I had circumvented him. It was to he revealed on Ferdinand’s twenty-fifth birthday, when the money was to be paid over. On that date I have no doubt Deswarth intended his daughter to become formally engaged to Ferdinand.”
“You mistake me,” said Deswarth coldly; “I would never have permitted my daughter to marry such an utter blackguard. But I plainly see what was your scheme. You advised me to embark the money of my ward in a bad speculation and lose it. Not thinking I would replace the lost money, you counted on my not being able to pay over the thirty thousand pounds on Ferdinand’s birthday, and bribing him to silence by giving him my daughter. He was then to confess he was married to Lydia Stacey, and I was to be arrested for embezzlement.”
“How clearly you put it!” retorted Jerricks, with a scowl. “Yes, that was my plan. But I had trouble with Lydia, who, seeing a chance of marrying Sir Francis Audrey, wanted to get rid of her husband. I saw what was in her mind, but I did not advise her what to do, I swear. The worst I thought was that the murder might be brought home to you; but how she murdered him I swear I do not know.”
The coolness of this confession took everybody’s breath away, and Fanks, disgusted with the recital of these villainies, advanced quickly. Placing a heavy hand on Jerrick’s shoulder, he pulled him towards the door.
“As you know so much you must know more,” he said sharply; “besides, the absence of Lydia Stacey is a bad thing for you. She certainly won’t corroborate your story by coming forward, so I am afraid you will have some difficulty to escape hanging.”
Jerricks turned pale, seeing the peril in which he was placed despite all his lies, and strove to wrench himself from the grasp of Fanks.
“I have told the truth! I swear it. Let me go.”
“I don’t think so,” said Fanks, producing the handcuffs; “come, be quiet, will you, and let me put them on.”
“If I suffer, I’ll suffer for something,” said Jerricks between his teeth; “now—”
He broke away from Fanks, and, before anyone knew what he was about to do, produced the horse-pistol from his pocket and levelled it at Deswarth. The General was standing a little to one side of the Chinese Jar, and Fanks, ever on the alert, expecting something of this sort, had only time to dash the pistol back as Jerricks fired. The ball missed the man for whom it was intended and struck the great Jar near the bottom. There was a smashing sound, a shrill scream, and the next moment the Jar had crashed off its pedestal on to the floor.
It smashed into a myriad pieces, but no one looked at the destruction. All eyes were fastened on the writhing body of a woman lying in the centre of the debris, with the’ blood pouring from her wounded breast.
“Lydia Stacey!” cried the General, rushing forward; “she must have hidden in the Jar.”
“Lydia Stacey,” muttered Jerricks in dismay, the still smoking pistol falling from his hand. “I’ve shot her!” Miriam was already on her knees beside the unhappy woman, who opened her eyes and made an attempt to speak.”
“I hid—too late to fly—am I dying?”
Rainton rushed out of the room for a doctor, and the General came forward to help if he were able. But before he could reach the ruins of the Jar, Jerricks dashed past him, and, throwing himself down beside his victim, burst into a passion of tears.
“Lydia! Lydia!” he cried, wringing his hands, “I did not mean to shoot you! I did not know you were hiding in the Jar.”
Lydia opened her eyes slowly, and looked at him with an expression of hatred on her face. Miriam was trying to staunch the wound with her pocket handkerchief, but, pushing the gentle hand away, Lydia, half raising herself, bent forward towards Jerricks.
“You! you!” she said feebly, “my evil genius! Yes, you warned me to fly, and I would have obeyed you. I came to get something before I departed, and was here when I heard your voice on the stairs and that of the detective. There was not a moment to be lost, I could not reveal myself for fear you would betray me, so remembering what the General had said of a man being able to get into the Jar, I hid therein resolving to fly when you all left the room. I was there! I heard all! I heard you betray me—you—you—traitor!”
Deswarth, who had gone for brandy, now returned and held it to her lips. She took a sip or so, and then proceeded with fresh vigour,—
“Listen all! You, detective, take down my confession. I know I am dying! I am glad I am dying—a wretch like myself is not fit to live. That man was my evil genius—he ruined me—he made me what I now am, and he betrays me—traitor! traitor! traitor!”
Fanks ran to the table, got some paper and a pencil, then, sitting beside her, took down the words that fell from her lips. Jerricks, with bent head, remained kneeling beside the woman he had ruined, a look of despair on his lean face.
“I killed Ferdinand Bargraves,” gasped Lydia, who, lying in Miriam’s arms, was evidently growing weaker. “I was married to him—yes! He treated me badly—I thought he would be poor—I wanted to marry Sir Francis Audrey. I spoke to Jerricks! He advised me to kill Bargraves.”
An exclamation of horror broke from the lips of the General and his daughter, but Jerricks gave no sign of emotion.
“He told me how to do it! He helped me with the cipher—the words ‘Tu Soh,’ Ferdinand and myself had agreed upon as a signal. When we parted he was to look in the Morning Post daily for a message—I was to let him know if his guardian relented. I put in the cipher which was to lure him to his death. Jerricks told me how to carry out the crime safely. He gave me the silver flask filled with brandy mixed with prussic acid. I went down to the Obelisk at midnight. I told him his guardian had relented. I gave him the brandy to drink as the night was cold; then when he fell dead I fled away. Miriam, you were at the theatre with your father. I had pleaded a headache and stayed at home. When I came back you had already gone to bed. I dropped the flask into the Chinese Jar, I never thought it would be discovered. I killed my husband by his instructions.”
“You hated him!” murmured Jerricks in a low tone.
“I did not hate him enough to kill him. It was you who told me how I could marry Sir Francis Audrey. I was but a tool in your hands for you to revenge yourself on your half-brother. Let no one else suffer for my crime. The confession—I am dying—let me sign it.”
Fanks thrust the pencil into her hand, and guided it to the foot of the statement he had hastily written out. She signed it slowly, and the pencil fell from her weak fingers. Jerricks tried to take her hand, but with one last effort she thrust him fiercely back.
“Traitor! liar!” she murmured, and fell back dead.
At that moment the doctor arrived—too late.
I must admit that I was much astonished by the highly dramatic termination to the extraordinary case of the Chinese Jar. Never for a moment did I suspect Lydia Stacey of having committed the crime, and yet with the example of the case of M. Judas before my eyes, I ought to have had some idea that such a thing might be possible. In that affair, as in this, the criminal turned out to be a young girl, and in each case was there a secret marriage with the victim. Yet, in this instance, Lydia Stacey had no excuse of hereditary insanity to account for her committal of the crime as had Flossy Marston. Rather was she a weak-natured woman governed by the stronger will of Jerricks, and used by him as a mere tool for his revenge on Deswarth.
Jerricks, who is decidedly the worst character I have ever known, not even excepting M. Judas, received the reward of his wickedness. Implicated in the murder by the confession of Lydia Stacey, he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment, though not so long as it should have been. When discharged, he vanished from England, and disappeared I know not whither. Yet I have an idea in my mind that I shall meet with Mr. Jerricks again, and shall once more catch him tripping. If so, I hope on the next occasion to hang him, as he is far too dangerous a man to be at large.
The scheme of the murder suggested by him was cleverly carried out by the wretched woman. It appears that Jerricks was fond of her, though her past life was scarcely of a kind to inspire any man with respect or affection. She became tired of wickedness, and, anxious to retrieve her position, asked Jerricks to place her in a good family as a companion. With the idea that she might get Deswarth into trouble, he managed to obtain for her a situation as companion to Miriam.
There Lydia met with Ferdinand Bargraves, and anxious to make a rich marriage, by the advice of Jerricks, inveigled the young man into matrimony. Jerricks to thwart Deswarth’s desire that Bargraves should marry Miriam, forwarded this scheme, and eventually a secret marriage was contracted. It was kept secret by the advice of Jerricks, and was to be revealed to Deswarth on the day the thirty thousand pounds were paid over to the husband. Then the young man behaved so badly that Deswarth turned him out of the house, and Lydia, for her own ends, swore to the General that she did not love him. Unwilling to lose a good home, she was quite ready to sacrifice her young husband for her own comfort.
After this, being courted by Sir Francis Audrey, and hearing from Jerricks that Deswarth had embezzled the fortune of Bargraves, this secretly married young woman wanted to rid herself of her, as she thought, poor husband, and marry the baronet. On explaining this to Jerricks, he agreed to assist her, foreseeing in the scheme a chance of injuring his half brother.
Contrary to my early idea as to who put the first cipher into the paper, it turned out to be Lydia and not Bargraves. This mode of corresponding had been agreed upon between them, and was duly carried out. The flask was used by Lydia at the suggestion of Jerricks, who, not knowing it was the property of Rainton, thought it belonged to the General and would implicate him in the murder. Thus with devilish ingenuity was the crime accomplished.
There is nothing more to tell about the matter. Deswarth, by the death of Bargraves, inherited the thirty thousand pounds, and gave it to Miriam as her dowry when she married Claud. He consented to the marriage without much difficulty, as he really liked Rainton very much, and was touched by the devotion displayed by the young man in trying to shield him, when in danger of being accused of the crime.
Crate says that I failed in this case because it was chance and not design which revealed the truth. I don’t think so! Had I not traced the crime, as I thought, to Jerricks, he certainly would not have betrayed Lydia Stacey. As to the firing of the pistol and the smashing of the Chinese Jar, that I admit was chance and highly dramatic; still, had it not been for my bringing about the whole scene, the mystery of Bargraves’ murder would still remain undiscovered. Therefore I can safely say that I managed to unravel this difficult case, and I think Crate believes this to be so, as he does not talk half so bitterly of me as formerly. Of course it is impossible to altogether silence his rancorous tongue.
As to the Chinese Jar which so curiously led to the detection of the assassin—it is smashed. Its career is ended—and so is this story.
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