Part 5 out of 5
advice. Never, never, tell anyone of what happened to you this morning."
The girl blushed painfully. "I know I ought not to have told you," she
whispered, "but I felt so wretched." She hesitated, and then added:
"Ever since it happened I have been remembering that first evening, when
my dear father warned me to leave this house. Oh, how I wish I had done
what he told me to do!"
"I think you are wrong there," said Blanche. "I think a day will come,
Helen, and in spite of anything that has happened, or that may happen,
when you will be very glad that you stayed on at Wyndfell Hall."
"Do you?" she said wistfully and then she went on, with a note of
diffidence and shyness which touched the older woman: "You and Bubbles
have both been so kind to me--would you rather that I stayed on with
you? I will if you like."
"As a matter of fact, Bubbles and I are going away to-day, after all,"
said Blanche, "so let me send one of the men down with your telegram."
"I would rather take it myself--really!" and a moment later she
disappeared round the sharp turning which led on to the open road.
* * * * *
Blanche walked on, her eyes on the ground, until there fell on her ears
the sound of quick footsteps. She looked up, to see Varick's tall figure
hurrying towards her.
They met by the moat bridge, and as he came up to her he saw her pull
forward the veil which, neatly arranged round the rim of her small felt
hat, was not really meant to cover her face.
"Let's walk down here for a moment," he said abruptly. "I want to ask
you a question, Blanche."
They stepped off the carriage road on to the grass, and, walking on a
few paces, stood together at the exact spot from which Varick, on
Christmas Eve, had looked at the house before him with such exultant
Three weeks ago Wyndfell Hall had appeared kindly and welcoming, as well
as mysteriously beautiful, with its old diamond-paned windows all aglow.
Now, in the wintry daylight, the ancient dwelling house still looked
mysteriously beautiful; but there was something cold, menacing, forlorn
in its appearance. The windows looked like blind eyes....
He turned on her suddenly, and held out the telegram she had received
"One of the servants picked this up on the breakfast table and brought
it to me. What the devil does it mean? If Mark Gifford wanted to see you
why couldn't he come here?"
Blanche looked at him dumbly. Had her life depended on her speaking she
could not have spoken just then.
He went on: "Have you seen Gifford? Did he say anything about me?"
He uttered the words with a kind of breathless haste. She had the
painful feeling that he wanted to put her in the wrong, to quarrel with
her. Even as he spoke he was tearing the telegram into small pieces, and
casting them down on to the neat, well-kept grass path.
"I suspect I know the business he came about--" He was speaking quietly,
collectedly, now, and she felt that he was making a great effort to
speak calmly and confidently.
"I don't think, Lionel, that you can know," she answered at last, in an
almost inaudible voice.
"Well, let me tell you what it is that I suspect," he said.
There was a long pause. He was looking at her warily, wondering,
evidently, as to how far he dared confide in her. And that look of his
made her feel sick and faint.
"I suspect," he said at last, "that Gifford came to tell you a
cock-and-bull story concocted by my wife's companion, a woman called
"Yes, Lionel, you have guessed right."
It was an unutterable relief that he thus made the way easy for her; a
relief--but she now knew that what Gifford had told her was true.
"He wants me to get everyone away from here to-day," she went on, in a
tone so low that he could scarcely hear her.
"Away from here? To-day?" he repeated, startled.
"Yes, away before to-morrow midday." She moistened her dry lips with
"I am the victim of a foul conspiracy!" he exclaimed. "Panton warned me
that I should have trouble with that woman." He waited a moment, then:
"Did Gifford tell you that they have sent for Panton?" he asked
suddenly. So that, she told herself, was what had really put him on the
track. She nodded, and he added grimly: "They won't get much out of
Then he was going to fight it--fight it to the last?
"You will stand my friend, Blanche," he asked, and slowly she bent her
"Of course you know what this woman Pigchalke wishes to prove?"
He was now looking keenly, breathlessly, into her pale, set face.
"Come," he said, "come, Blanche--don't be so upset! Tell me exactly what
it was that Gifford told you."
But she shook her head. "I--I can't," she murmured.
"Then I will tell you what perhaps he felt ashamed to say to any friend
of mine--that is that Julia Pigchalke suspects me of having done my poor
Milly to death! She went and saw Panton; she did more, she actually
advertised for particulars of my past life. Did he know that?"
He waited, for what seemed a very long time to Blanche, and then in a
voice which, try as he might, was yet full of suppressed anxiety, he
added: "She had got hold somehow of the fact that I once lived at
Blanche looked down, and she counted over, twice, the thirty little bits
of the torn telegram before she answered, in a low, muffled voice:
"It's what happened at Chichester, Lionel, that made them listen to
There was a long moment of tense, of terrible, silence between them.
At last Varick broke the silence, and, speaking in an easy, if excited,
conversational tone, he exclaimed: "That's a bit of bad luck for me! I
have an enemy there--an old fool of a doctor--father of that woman you
met me with years ago."
He walked on a few steps, leaving her standing, and then came back to
More seriously he asked the fateful question: "I take it I am to be
He saw by her face that he had guessed truly, and as if speaking to
himself, he said musingly: "That means I have twenty-four hours."
She forced herself to say: "They think you have a good sporting chance
if you stay where you are."
"It never occurred to me to go away!" he said angrily. "I want you
always to remember, Blanche, that I told you, here, and now, that, even
if appearances may come to seem damnably against me, I am an innocent
She answered: "I will always remember that, and always say so."
He said abruptly: "I want you to do me a kindness."
She asked uneasily: "What is it, Lionel?"
"I want you to get Gifford to prevent the meeting which has been
arranged for to-morrow morning between Panton and the Home Office expert
He waited a moment, then went on: "It was the summons to Panton which
put me on the track of--of this conspiracy." And Blanche felt that this
time Varick was speaking the truth.
She said, deprecatingly: "Mark would do a great deal to please me, but
I'm afraid he won't do that."
"I think he may," he answered, in a singular tone, "you may have a
greater power of persuasion than you know."
She made no answer to that, knowing well that Mark would never interfere
with regard to such a matter as this.
"Can you suggest any reason I can give, why we should be all going away
to-day?" she asked falteringly.
Without a moment's hesitation he answered: "You can say there has been
trouble among the servants, and that I should feel much obliged if I
could have the house cleared of all my visitors by to-night."
Then Blanche Farrow came to a sudden determination. "I will get them all
away to-day, Lionel, but I, myself, will stay till to-morrow morning."
For the first time during this strange, to her this unutterably painful
conversation, Varick showed a touch of real, genuine feeling. It was as
if a mask had fallen from his face.
He gripped her hand. "You're a brick!" he exclaimed. "I ought to tell
you to go away, too, but I won't be proud, Blanche. I'll accept your
There are hours in almost every life of which the memory is put away,
hidden, as far as may be, in an unfathomable pit. Blanche Farrow never
recalled to herself, and never discussed with any living being, the
hours which followed her talk with Lionel Varick.
Of the five people to whom she told the untrue tale so quickly and so
cleverly imagined by their host, only one suspected that she was not
telling the truth. That one--oddly enough--was Sir Lyon Dilsford. He
guessed that something was wrong, and in one sense he got near to the
truth--but it was such a very small bit of the truth!
Sir Lyon suspected that Varick had made an offer to Helen Brabazon, and
that she had refused him. But he was never to know if his suspicion had
been correct, for he was one of those rare human being who are never
tempted to ask indiscreet or unnecessary questions from even their
nearest and dearest.
In answer to Miss Farrow's apologies and explanations, everyone, of
course, expressed himself or herself as very willing to fall in with the
suggestion that they should all travel up to town together that day. It
also seemed quite natural to them all, even to Bubbles, that Blanche
should stay behind for the one night.
She was not the sort of woman to leave a task half done. She had engaged
the servants, and she would remain to settle up with them. The average
man--and most of them thought Varick an average man--is helpless in
dealing with so complicated a domestic problem as a number of job
As the hours of the early afternoon went by, Blanche more and more
marvelled at Varick's extraordinary powers of self-command. Excepting
that he was, perhaps, a little more restless than usual, he was at his
best as the courteous, kindly host, now parting with regret from a
number of well-liked guests.
He even succeeded in putting Helen Brabazon once more at her ease, for,
choosing his opportunity, he told her, in a few earnest words which
touched her deeply, that he had come to see her point of view, and to
acquiesce in her decision.
Blanche heard him making an appointment with Dr. Panton to lunch at the
Ritz on one of the days of the following week. He asked Sir Lyon to join
them there; and Blanche saw the look of real chagrin and annoyance which
passed over his face when Sir Lyon declined the invitation.
But even what was obviously sincere and real, seemed utterly insincere
and unreal to Blanche Farrow, during those tense hours. Thus, when she
overheard Donnington and Bubbles talking over the arrangements for their
wedding, their talk seemed to her all make-believe.
At last, however, there came the moment for which she had been longing
for what seemed to her an eternity.
Miss Brabazon, Sir Lyon, and Dr. Panton were the first to go off;
followed, after a few minutes' interval, Donnington, Bubbles, and the
Blanche noticed that Lionel's parting with Bubbles was particularly
suave and cordial. But the girl was not at her best. When her host
touched her, accidentally, she shrank back, and his face clouded. And,
as the motor drove off, he turned to Blanche and said discontentedly: "I
wish Bubbles liked me better, Blanche!"
She hardly knew what to answer, for it was true that the girl did not
like Varick, and had never liked him. Yet it seemed such a strange thing
for him to trouble about that _now_. But Lionel, poor Lionel, had always
had an almost morbid wish to be liked--to stand well with people, so she
told herself with a strange feeling of pain at her heart.
They walked back together into the house, and Blanche, going over to the
fire-place, poured herself out another cup of tea.
In a sense she still felt as if she was living through a terrible,
unreal dream, and yet it was an unutterable relief to be no longer
obliged to pretend.
She glanced furtively at Varick.
He looked calm, cheerful, collected. "Will you excuse me for a few
moments? I have got several things to do," he said. "Then I think I will
go out and tramp about for a bit. It's been a strain for you as well as
for me, Blanche," he added sympathetically.
"Yes, it has," she answered almost inaudibly.
"Is there anything I can get you?" he asked. "Will you be quite
She repeated, mechanically: "Quite comfortable, thank you, Lionel," and
then, as an after-thought: "I suppose we shall dine at the same time as
"Certainly--why not?" He looked puzzled at her question. "Let me
see--it's not much after five now; I'll be back by seven."
He walked to the door, and from there turned round. "So long!" he cried
out cheerily, and she was surprised, for Varick seldom made use of any
slang or colloquialism.
Feeling all at once utterly exhausted and spent, she drew a deep chair
forward to the fire and lay back in it. Her mind seemed completely to
empty itself of thought. She neither remembered the past nor considered
the future, and very soon she slipped off into a deep sleep--the sleep
of exhaustion which so often follows a great mental strain.
* * * * *
It must have been over an hour later that Blanche seemed to awaken to a
perception that the big oak door behind her, which gave access to the
deep-eaved porch, had opened and closed.
She looked round; and, in the candle-light, for the fire had died down,
she saw Varick, looking neither to the right nor to the left, walk
quickly across the long room and slip noiselessly through the door
leading to the interior of the house.
Then it was seven o'clock? Nearly three-quarters of an hour before she
must go up and dress for dinner.
Almost at once she was asleep again, to be, however, thoroughly awakened
a few moments later by the opening and the shutting of a door.
It was the old butler, a man Blanche had come to like and to respect.
He held a salver in his hand, and on the salver was a letter. "Mr.
Varick asked me to give you this note at a quarter-past seven, ma'am. I
understood him to say that he might be late for dinner to-night as he
had to go up to the Reservoir Cottage."
Blanche sat up, all her senses suddenly on the alert.
"Mr. Varick came in some minutes ago," she said, "at least, I think he
She was beginning to wonder if Lionel had really come in, or if she had
only dreamt that he had done so.
"I don't think he came in, ma'am, for I've been in the dining-room, with
the door open, for a long time. I would have heard him if he had come
through and gone upstairs."
"You might see if he is in," she said quietly.
She took the letter off the salver, but did not break the seal till the
old man had come back with the words: "No, ma'am, Mr. Varick is not in
He lingered on for a moment. "I hope you will forgive me, ma'am, for
mentioning that Mr. Varick told us we could all go off early to-morrow
morning if we liked, instead of next Monday. He paid us up after the
visitors had gone away, and he also gave us the bonus he so kindly
promised. I never wish to serve a more generous gentleman. But the chef
and I decided that we would ask you, ma'am, if it is for your
convenience that we leave early to-morrow?"
"Anything that Mr. Varick has arranged with you will suit me," she said
quickly. "As a matter of fact, I think he would like you to leave by the
train I shall be going by myself."
As the man turned away she looked down at Varick's letter. On the
envelope was written in his good, clear handwriting: "The Hon. Blanche
Farrow, Wyndfell Hall." But no premonition of its contents reached her
still weary, excited brain.
Written on a large plain sheet of paper, the letter ran:
"My dear Blanche,--I fear I am going to give you a shock--for, by
the time this reaches you, there will have been another
accident--one very similar to that which befell poor little
Bubbles. But this time there will be no clever, skilful Panton to
bring the drowned to life.
"I suggest that you begin to feel uneasy about a quarter past
eight. I leave to your good sense the details of the sad discovery.
I have but one request to make to you, kindest and truest of
friends; that is, that you remember what I asked you to do with
reference to Panton's appointment to-morrow morning. If you can get
a telegram or telephone message through to Gifford to-night, I
think that appointment will be postponed indefinitely. You will
perhaps think me a sentimental fool for wishing to keep Panton's
good opinion, but such is my wish.
"I am distressed at the thought of the trouble and worry to which
you must inevitably be exposed to-night. On the other hand, much
more trouble and worry in the future will thus have been saved,
even to you.
"I trust to your friendship to destroy this letter as soon as
Blanche read the letter once again, right through, then she held out the
big sheet of paper, and dropped it into the heart of the fire.
For the second time that day she burst into tears, shaken to the depths
by the extraordinarily complicated feelings which filled her heart and
mind, feelings of horror and of pain--and yet of intense, immeasurable
Then she pulled herself together, and prepared to act, for the second
time that day, her part in a tragi-comedy in which where there had been
two characters there was now but one.
Dr. Panton's appointment at the Home Office had been for half-past ten,
and, though there happened to be on this early January day an
old-fashioned, black London fog, he had been punctual to the minute.
It was now eight minutes to eleven, and he began to feel rather cross
There was nothing to do in the big, ugly, stately room into which he had
been shown. There was a bookcase, but it was locked, and he had not
brought a paper with him--but that, perhaps, was a good thing, for the
one electric globe gave a very bad light.
He wondered what manner of man Dr. Spiller might be--in any case a
remarkable and distinguished person, one of the great authorities on
poisons in Europe.
At last the door opened, and Dr. Panton felt surprised--even a little
disappointed. Not so had he imagined the famous Spiller.
"Forgive me for having kept you waiting, Dr.--er--Panton."
The tone of the quiet-looking, middle-aged man who stood before him was
extremely courteous, if a trifle uncertain and nervous.
"If I hadn't been lodging close by I should have been late, too, Dr.
"My name is not Spiller," said the other quickly. "I have come to
explain to you that the matter concerning which you were to see Dr.
Spiller this morning has been settled. We should have saved you the
trouble of coming here had we known where you were staying in London."
Dr. Panton felt, not unreasonably, annoyed. "If only Dr. Spiller had
sent me a wire yesterday," he exclaimed vexedly, "he had my address in
the country, I should have been saved a useless visit to London!"
"He couldn't have let you know in time, for the matter was only settled
There was a pause, and then the speaker added: "You will send in a
minute of your expenses, of course?"
Dr. Panton bowed stiffly. He felt that he had been badly treated.
"I'm sorry you have been put to this inconvenience," and the courteous
Home Office official really did look distressed. He waited a moment. "I
think you know a friend of mine, Miss Blanche Farrow, Dr. Panton?" he
said a little awkwardly.
"Yes; we've both been staying in the same house for the New Year."
Panton's good-humour had come back; he was telling himself, with some
amusement, how very small the world is, after all!
There was a pause, and then Panton asked: "Do you happen to know Lionel
Varick, who owns the beautiful house where Miss Farrow and I have both
been staying, Mr.--er--?"
"Gifford," supplied the other quickly. "Yes, I have been slightly
acquainted with Mr. Varick for some years." A very uncomfortable,
peculiar look came over the speaker's face. "I wonder if you have heard
of the terrible thing which happened yesterday at Wyndfell Hall?" he
"I only left the house at five o'clock," exclaimed Dr. Panton; and then,
as he saw the look of gravity deepen on the other man's face, he asked:
"Was there a fire there last night? I trust not!"
"No," said the other, slowly, "nothing has happened to the house, Dr.
Panton. But your friend Mr. Varick is dead. He went out for a walk in
the dark, and seems to have slipped over the side of an embankment into
deep water. His body was not recovered for some hours--in fact, not till
early this morning."
Dr. Panton got up from the chair on which he had been sitting. He was
too shocked, too taken aback, to speak, and the other went on:
"I cannot give you many details, for when Miss Farrow telephoned to me
she was very much upset, and the line was very bad. But I may add that
there is no doubt about it, for the news was confirmed, through another
source, half an hour later."
"What a terrible thing! What an awful--awful thing!"
The young doctor looked overwhelmed with horror and surprise. "You must
forgive me," he went on, "if I seem unduly shocked; but I have lost in
Lionel Varick one of the best friends man ever had, Mr. Gifford--I'd
have sold the shirt off my back for him and I think I may say he'd have
done the same for me."
Mark Gifford, cautious man though he was, took a sudden resolution. "If
you can spare the time," he exclaimed, "I wonder, Dr. Panton, if you
would go back to Wyndfell Hall to-day? It would be an act of true
kindness to Miss Farrow. I had thought of going myself; but, as you
seem to have been such a friend of Varick's--?"
"Of course I'll go down--by the very first train I can catch!" answered
"Perhaps you could persuade Miss Farrow to come up to London at once,
and leave all the sad details connected with the inquest, and so on, to
"I will indeed! Miss Farrow must be terribly distressed, for I know she
was a very, very close friend of poor Varick's."
Mark Gifford winced--it was a very slight movement, quite unperceived by
To the surprise of his subordinates, who had never seen him do so much
honour to any male visitor before, Mr. Gifford accompanied the young
medical man along the corridor, down the stone staircase, and through to
the great outer arch which gives on to the quiet street.
At the moment of their final parting Dr. Panton exclaimed: "Am I to
understand that Dr. Spiller will not be sending for me again?"
"I thought I had made it clear," replied Mr. Gifford mildly, "that the
matter about which he wished to see you is now closed."