Part 2 out of 7
"I can't give you the date. Say ten days ago."
"And there would be no hurry for a reply," Bell said, thoughtfully. "And
you had no cause for worry on that head. Nor need the woman who found it
have kept the envelope beyond the delay of a single post, which is only a
matter of an hour or so in London. If you go a little farther we find
that money is no object, hence the £1,000 offer and the careful, and
doubtless expensive, inquiry into your position. Steel, I am going to
enjoy this case."
"You're welcome to all the fun you can get out of it," David said,
grimly. "So far as I am concerned, I fail to see the humour. Isn't this
the office you are after?"
Bell nodded and disappeared, presently to return with two exceedingly
rusty keys tied together with a drab piece of tape. He jingled them on
his long, slender forefinger with an air of positive enjoyment.
"Now come along," he said. "I feel like a boy who has marked down
something rare in the way of a bird's nest. We will go back to Brunswick
Square exactly the same way as you approached it on the night of the
THE BROKEN FIGURE
"Any particular object in that course?" David asked.
"There ought to be an object in everything that even an irrational man
says or does," Bell replied. "I have achieved some marvellous results by
following up a single sentence uttered by a patient. Besides, on the
evening in question you were particularly told to approach the house from
the sea front."
"Somebody might have been on the look-out near the Western Road
entrance," Steel suggested.
"Possibly. I have another theory.... Here we are. The figures over the
fanlights run from 187 upwards, gradually getting to 219 as you breast
the slope. At one o'clock in the morning every house would be in
darkness. Did you find that to be so?"
"I didn't notice a light anywhere till I reached 219."
"Good again. And you could only find 219 by the light over the door.
Naturally you were not interested in and would not have noticed any other
number. Well, here is 218, where I propose to enter, and for which
purpose I have the keys. Come along."
David followed wonderingly. The houses in Brunswick Square are somewhat
irregular in point of architecture, and Nos. 218 and 219 were the only
matched pair thereabouts. Signs were not wanting, as Bell pointed out,
that at one time the houses had been occupied as one residence. The two
entrance-halls were back to back, so to speak, and what had obviously
been a doorway leading from one to the other had been plastered up within
comparatively recent memory.
The grim and dusty desolation of an empty house seemed to be supplemented
here by a deeper desolation. Not that there was any dust on the ground
floor, which seemed a singular thing seeing that elsewhere the boards
were powdered with it, and festoons of brown cobwebs hung everywhere.
Bell smiled approvingly as David Steel pointed the fact out to him.
"Do you note another singular point?" the former asked.
"No," David said, thoughtfully; "I--stop! The two side-shutters in the
bay-windows are closed, and there is the same vivid crimson blind in the
centre window. And the self colour of the walls is exactly the same. The
faint discoloration by the fireplace is a perfect facsimile."
"In fact, _this_ is the room you were in the other night," Bell
"Impossible!" Steel cried. "The blind may be an accident, so might the
fading of the distemper. But the furniture, the engravings, the fittings
"Are all capable of an explanation, which we shall arrive at with
"Can we arrive at the number over the door with patience?"
"Exactly what I was coming to. I noticed an old pair of steps in the back
sitting-room. Would you mind placing them against the fanlight for me?"
David complied readily enough. He was growing credulous and interested in
spite of himself. At Bell's instigation he placed the steps before the
fanlight and mounted them. Over his head were the figures 218 in
elongated shape and formed in white porcelain.
"Now then," Bell said, slowly. "Take this pocket-knife, apply the blade
to the _right-hand_ lower half of the bottom of the 8--to half the small
O, in fact--and I shall be extremely surprised if the quarter section
doesn't come away from the glass of the fanlight, leaving the rest of the
figure intact. Very gently, please. I want you to convince yourself that
the piece comes away because it is broken, and not because the pressure
has cracked it. Now then."
The point of the knife was hardly under the edge of the porcelain before
the segment of the lower circle dropped into Steel's hand. He could feel
the edges of the cement sticking to his fingers. As yet the full force of
the discovery was not apparent to him.
"Go out into the road and look at the fanlight," Bell directed.
David complied eagerly. A sharp cry of surprise escaped him as he looked
up. The change was apparent. Instead of the figures 218 he could read now
the change to 219--a fairly indifferent 9, but one that would have passed
muster without criticism by ninety-nine people out of a hundred. With a
strong light behind the figures the clumsy 9 would never have been
noticed at all. The very simplicity and ingeniousness of the scheme was
"I should like to have the address of the man who thought that out,"
David said, drily.
"Yes, I fancy that you are dealing with quite clever people," Bell
replied. "And now I have shown you how utterly you have been deceived
over the number we will go a little farther. For the present, the way in
which the furniture trick was worked must remain a mystery. But there has
been furniture here, or this room and the hall would not have been so
carefully swept and garnished whilst the rest of the house remains in so
dirty a condition. If my eyes don't deceive me I can see two fresh nails
driven into the archway leading to the back hall. On those nails hung the
curtain that prevented you seeing more than was necessary. Are you still
incredulous as to the house where you had your remarkable adventure?"
"I confess that my faith has been seriously shaken," David admitted. "But
about the furniture? And about my telephone call from Mr. Gates's town
house? And about my adventure taking place in the very next house to the
one taken by him at Brighton? And about Miss Gates's agitation when she
learnt my identity? Do you call them coincidences?"
"No, I don't," Bell said, promptly. "They are merely evidences of clever
folks taking advantage of an excellent strategic position. I said just
now that it was an important point that Mr. Gates had merely taken the
next door furnished. But we shall come to that side of the theory in due
course. Have you any other objection to urge?"
"One more, and I have finished for the present. When I came here the
other night--provided of course that I did come here--immediately upon my
entering the dining-room the place was brilliantly illuminated. Now,
directly the place was void the supply of electric current would be cut
off at the meter. So far as I can judge, some two or three units must
have been consumed during my visit. There could not be many less than ten
lights burning for an hour. Now, those units must show on the meter. Can
you read an electric meter?"
"My dear fellow, there is nothing easier."
"Then let us go down into the basement and settle the matter. There is
pretty sure to be a card on the meter made up to the day when the last
tenant went out. See, the supply is cut off now."
As Steel spoke he snapped down the hall switch and no result came. Down
in the basement by the area door stood the meter. Both switches were
turned off, but on Bell pressing them down Steel was enabled to light
"There's the card," Bell exclaimed. "Made up to 25th June, 1895, since
when the house has been void. Just a minute whilst I read the meter. Yes,
that's right. According to this the card in your hand, provided that the
light has not been used since the index was taken, should read at 1521.
What do you make of the card?"
"1532," David cried. "Which means eleven units since the meter was last
taken. Or, if you like to put it from your point of view, eleven units
used the night that I came here. You are quite right, Bell. You have
practically convinced me that I have been inside the real 219 for the
first time to-day. And yet the more one probes the mystery the more
astounding does it become.... What do you propose to do next?"
"Find out the name of the last tenant or owner." Bell suggested.
"Discover what the two houses were used for when they were occupied by
one person. Also ascertain why on earth the owners are willing to let a
house this size and in this situation for a sum like £80 per annum. Let
us go and take the keys back to the agents."
Steel was nothing loth to find himself in the fresh air again. Some
progress had been made like the opening of a chess-match between masters,
and yet the more Steel thought of it the more muddled and bewildered did
he become. No complicated tangle in the way of a plot had ever been
anything like the skein this was.
"I'm like a child in your hands," he said. "I'm a blind man on the end of
a string; a man dazed with wine in a labyrinth. And if ever I help a
He paused as he caught sight of Ruth Gates's lovely face through the
window of No. 219. Her features were tinged with melancholy; there was a
look of deepest sympathy and feeling and compassion in her glorious
eyes. She slipped back as Steel bowed, and the rest of his speech was
lost in a sigh.
THE HOUSE OF THE SILENT SORROW
A bell tolled mournfully with a slow, swinging cadence like a passing
bell. On winter nights folks, passing the House of the Silent Sorrow,
compared the doleful clanging to the boom that carries the criminal from
the cell to the scaffold. Every night all the year round the little
valley of Longdean echoed to that mournful clang. Perhaps it was for this
reason that a wandering poet christened the place as the House of the
For seven years this had been going on now, until nobody but strangers
noticed it. From half-past seven till eight o'clock that hideous bell
rang its swinging, melancholy note. Why it was nobody could possibly
tell. Nobody in the village had ever been beyond the great rusty gates
leading to a dark drive of Scotch firs, though one small boy bolder than
the rest had once climbed the lichen-strewn stone wall and penetrated the
thick undergrowth beyond. Hence he had returned, with white face and
staring eyes, with the information that great wild dogs dwelt in the
thickets. Subsequently the village poacher confirmed this information. He
was not exactly loquacious on the subject, but merely hinted that the
grounds of Longdean Grange were not salubrious for naturalists with a
Indeed, on moonlight nights those apocryphal hounds were heard to bay and
whimper. A shepherd up late one spring night averred that he had seen two
of them fighting. But nobody could say anything about them for certain;
also it was equally certain that nobody knew anything about the people at
Longdean Grange. The place had been shut up for thirty years, being
understood to be in Chancery, when the announcement went forth that a
distant relative of the family had arranged to live there in future.
What the lady of the Grange was like nobody could say. She had arrived
late one night accompanied by a niece, and from that moment she had never
been beyond the house. None of the large staff of servants ever left the
grounds unless it was to quit altogether, and then they were understood
to leave at night with a large bonus in money as a recompense for their
promise to evacuate Sussex without delay. Everything was ordered by
telephone from Brighton, and left at the porter's lodge. The porter was a
stranger, also he was deaf and exceedingly ill-tempered, so that long
since the village had abandoned the hope of getting anything out of him.
One rational human being they saw from the Grange occasionally, a big man
with an exceedingly benevolent face and mild, large, blue eyes--a man
full of Christian kindness and given to largesse to the village boys. The
big gentleman went by the name of "Mr. Charles," and was understood to
have a lot of pigeons of which he was exceedingly fond. But who "Mr.
Charles" was, or how he got that name, it would have puzzled the wisest
head of the village to tell.
And yet, but for the mighty clamour of that hideous bell and that belt of
wildness that surrounded it, Longdean Grange was a cheerful-looking house
enough. Any visitor emerging from the drive would have been delighted
with it. For the lawns were trim and truly kept, the beds were blazing
masses of flowers, the creepers over the Grange were not allowed to riot
too extravagantly. And yet the strange haunting sense of fear was there.
Now and again a huge black head would uplift from the coppice growth, and
a long, rumbling growl come from between a double row of white teeth. For
the dogs were no fiction, they lived and bred in the fifteen or twenty
acres of coppice round the house, where they were fed regularly and
regularly thrashed without mercy if they showed in the garden. Perhaps
they looked more fierce and truculent than they really were, being Cuban
bloodhounds, but they gave a weird colour to the place and lent it new
terror to the simple folk around.
The bell was swinging dolefully over the stable-turret; it rang out its
passing note till the clock struck eight and then mercifully ceased. At
the same moment precisely as she had done any time the last seven years
the lady of the house descended the broad, black oak staircase to the
hall. A butler of the old-fashioned type bowed to her and announced that
dinner was ready. He might have been the butler of an archbishop from
his mien and deportment, yet his evening dress was seedy and shiny to
the last degree, his patent leather boots had long lost their lustre,
his linen was terribly frayed and yellow. Two footmen in livery stood in
the hall. They might have been supers playing on the boards of a
travelling theatre, their once smartly cut and trimmed coats hung
raggedly upon them.
As to the lady, who was tall and handsome, with dark eyes and features
contrasting strangely with hair as white as the frost on a winter's
landscape, there was a far-away, strained look in the dark eyes, as if
they were ever night and day looking for something, something that would
never be found. In herself the lady was clean and wholesome enough, but
her evening dress of black silk and lace was dropping into fragments, the
lace was in rags upon her bosom, though there were diamonds of great
value in her white hair.
And here, strangely allied, were wealth and direst poverty; the whole
place was filled with rare and costly things, pictures, statuary, china;
the floors were covered with thick carpets, and yet everything was
absolutely smothered in dust. A thick, white, blankety cloud of it lay
everywhere. It obscured the china, it dimmed the glasses of the pictures,
it piled in little drifts on the heads and arms of the dingy statues
there. Many years must have passed since a housemaid's brush or duster
had touched anything in Longdean Grange. It was like a palace of the
Sleeping Beauty, wherein people walked as in a waking dream.
The lady of the house made her way slowly to the dining-room. Here dinner
was laid out daintily and artistically enough--a _gourmet_ would have
drawn up to the table with a feeling of satisfaction. Flowers were there,
and silver and cut-glass, china with a history of its own, and the whole
set out on a tablecloth that was literally dropping to pieces.
It was a beautiful room in itself, lofty, oak panelled from floor to
roof, with a few pictures of price on the walls. There was plenty of
gleaming silver glowing like an argent moon against a purple sky, and yet
the same sense of dust and desolation was everywhere. Only the dinner
looked bright and modern.
There were two other people standing by the table, one a girl with a
handsome, intellectual face full of passion but ill repressed; the other
the big fair man known to the village as "Mr. Charles." As a matter of
fact, his name was Reginald Henson, and he was distantly related to Mrs.
Henson, the strange chatelaine of the House of the Silent Sorrow. He was
smiling blandly now at Enid Henson, the wonderfully beautiful girl with
the defiant, shining eyes.
"We may be seated now that madam is arrived," Henson said, gravely.
He spoke with a certain mocking humility and a queer wry smile on his
broad, loose mouth that filled Enid with a speechless fury. The girl was
hot-blooded--a good hater and a good friend. And the master passion of
her life was hatred of Reginald Henson.
"Madam has had a refreshing rest?" Henson suggested. "Pardon our anxious
Again Enid raged, but Margaret Henson might have been of stone for all
the notice she took. The far-away look was still in her eyes as she felt
her way to the table like one in a dream. Then she dropped suddenly into
a chair and began grace in a high, clear voice.
".... And the Lord make us truly thankful. And may He, when it seemeth
good to Him, remove the curse from this house and in due season free the
innocent and punish the guilty. For the burden is sore upon us, and there
are times when it seems hard to bear."
The big man played with his knife and fork, smilingly. An acute observer
might have imagined that the passionate plaint was directed at him. If so
it passed harmlessly over his broad shoulders. In his immaculate evening
dress he looked strangely out of place there. Enid had escaped the
prevailing dilapidation, but her gown of grey homespun was severe as the
garb of a charity girl.
"Madam is so poetical," Henson murmured. "And charmingly sanguine."
"Williams," Mrs. Henson said, quite stoically, "my visitor will have some
She seemed to have dropped once again into the commonplace, painfully
exact as a hostess of breeding must be to an unwelcome guest. And yet she
never seemed to see him; those dark eyes were looking, ever looking, into
the dark future. The meal proceeded in silence save for an oily sarcasm
from Henson. In the dense stillness the occasional howl of a dog could be
heard. A slight flush of annoyance crossed Henson's broad face.
"Some day I shall poison all those hounds," he said.
Enid looked up at him swiftly.
"If _all_ the hounds round Longdean were poisoned or shot it would be a
good place to live in," she said.
Henson smiled caressingly, like Petruchio might have done in his
"My dear Enid, you misjudge me," he said. "But I shall get justice
Enid replied that she fervently hoped so, and thus the strange meal
proceeded with smiles and gentle words from Henson, and a wild outburst
of bitterness from the girl. So far as she was concerned the servants
might have been mere automatons. The dust rose in clouds as the latter
moved silently. It was hot in there, and gradually the brown powder
grimed like a film over Henson's oily skin. At the head of the table
Margaret Henson sat like a woman in a dream. Ever, ever her dark eyes
seemed to be looking eagerly around. Thirsty men seeking precious water
in a desert might have looked like her. Ever and anon her lips moved, but
no sound came from them. Occasionally she spoke to one or the other of
her guests, but she never followed her words with her eyes. Such a sad,
pathetic, pitiable figure, such a grey sorrow in her rags and snowy hair.
The meal came to an end at length, and Mrs. Henson rose suddenly. There
was a grotesque suggestion of the marionette in the movement. She bowed
as if to some imaginary personage and moved with dignity towards the
door. Reginald Henson stood aside and opened it for her. She passed
into the dim hall as if absolutely unconscious of his presence. Enid
flashed a look of defiance at him as she disappeared into the gloom and
Henson's face changed instantly, as if a mask had fallen from his smug
features. He became alert and vigorous. He was no longer patron of the
arts, a wide-minded philanthropist, the man who devotes himself to the
good of humanity. The blue eyes were cold and cruel, there was a hungry
look about the loose mouth.
"Take a bottle of claret and the cigars into the small library,
Williams," he said. "And open the window, the dust stifles me."
The dignified butler bowed respectfully. He resembled the typical bad
butler of fiction in no respect, but his thoughts were by no means
pleasant as he hastened to obey. Enid was loitering in the hall as
Williams passed with the tray.
"Small study and the window open, miss," he whispered. "There's some game
on--oh, yes, there is some blessed game on again to-night. And him so
anxious to know how Miss Christiana is. Says she ought to call him in
professionally. Personally I'd rather call in an undertaker who was
desperately hard up for a job."
"All right, Williams," Enid replied. "My sister is worse to-night. And
unless she gets better I shall insist upon her seeing a doctor. And I am
obliged for the hint about Mr. Henson. The little study commands the
staircase leading to my sister's bedroom."
"And the open window commands the garden," Williams said, drily.
"Yes, yes. Now go. You are a real friend, Williams, and I will never
forget your goodness. Run along--I can actually _feel_ that man coming."
As a matter of fact, Henson was approaching noiselessly. Despite his
great bulk he had the clean, dainty step of a cat; his big, rolling ears
were those of a hare. Henson was always listening. He would have listened
behind a kitchen door to a pair of chattering scullery-maids. He liked to
find other people out, though as yet he had not been found out himself.
He stood before the world as a social missioner; he made speeches at
religious gatherings and affected the women to tears. He was known to
devote a considerable fortune to doing good; he had been asked to stand
for Parliament, where his real ambition lay. Gilead Gates had alluded to
Reginald Henson as his right-hand man.
He crept along to the study, where the lamps were lighted and the silver
claret-jug set out. He carefully dusted a big arm-chair and began to
smoke, having first carefully extinguished the lamps and seen that the
window leading to the garden was wide open. Henson was watching for
something. In his feline nature he had the full gift of feline patience.
To serve his own ends he would have sat there watching all night if
necessary. He heard an occasional whimper, a howl from one of the dogs;
he heard Enid's voice singing in the drawing-room. The rest of the house
was quite funereal enough for him.
In the midst of the drawing-room Margaret Henson sat still as a statue.
The distant, weary expression never left her eyes for a moment. As the
stable clock, the only one going on the premises, struck ten, Enid
crossed over from the piano to her aunt's side. There was an eager look
on her face, her eyes were gleaming like frosty stars.
"Aunt," she whispered; "dear, I have had a message!"
"Message of woe and desolation," Margaret Henson cried. "Tribulation and
sorrow on this wretched house. For seven long years the hand of the Lord
has lain heavily upon us."
She spoke like one who was far away from her surroundings. And yet no
one could look in her eyes and say that she was mad. It was a proud,
passionate spirit, crushed down by some bitter humiliation. Enid's
"That scoundrel has been robbing you again," she said.
"Two thousand pounds," came the mechanical reply, "to endow a bed in some
hospital. And there is no escape, no hope unless we drag the shameful
secret from him. Bit by bit and drop by drop, and then I shall die and
you and Christiana will be penniless."
"I daresay Chris and myself will survive that," Enid said, cheerfully.
"But we have a plan, dear aunt; we have thought it out carefully.
Reginald Henson has hidden the secret somewhere and we are going to find
it. The secret is hidden not far off, because our cousin has occasion to
require it frequently. It is like the purloined letter in Edgar Poe's
Margaret Henson nodded and mumbled. It seemed almost impossible to make
her understand. She babbled of strange things, with her dark eyes ever
fixed on the future. Enid turned away almost despairingly. At the same
time the stable clock struck the half-hour after ten. Williams slipped
in with a tray of glasses, noiselessly. On the tray lay a small pile of
tradesmen's books. The top one was of dull red with no lettering upon
it at all.
"The housekeeper's respectful compliments, miss, and would you go through
them to-morrow?" Williams said. He tapped the top book significantly.
"To-morrow is the last day of the month."
Enid picked up the top book with strange eagerness. There were pages of
figures and cabalistic entries that no ordinary person could make
anything of. Pages here and there were signed and decorated with pink
receipt stamps. Enid glanced down the last column, and her face grew a
"Aunt," she whispered, "I've got to go out. At once; do you understand?
There is a message here; and I am afraid that something dreadful has
happened. Can you sing?"
"Ah, yes; a song of lamentation--a dirge for the dead."
"No, no; seven years ago you had a lovely voice. I recollect what a
pleasure it was to me as a child; and they used to say that my voice
was very like yours, only not so sweet or so powerful. Aunt, I must go
out; and that man must know nothing about it. He is by the window in
the small library now, watching--watching. Help me, for the love of
Heaven, help me."
The girl spoke with a fervency and passion that seemed to waken a
responsive chord in Margaret Henson's breast. A brighter gleam crept
into her eyes.
"You are a dear girl," she said, dreamily; "yes, a dear girl. And I loved
singing; it was a great grief to me that they would not let me go upon
the stage. But I haven't sung since--since _that_--"
She pointed to the huddled heap of china and glass and dried, dusty
flowers in one corner. Ethel shuddered slightly as she followed the
direction of the extended forefinger.
"But you must try," she whispered. "It is for the good of the family, for
the recovery of the secret. Reginald Henson is sly and cruel and clever.
But we have one on our side now who is far more clever. And, unless I can
get away to-night without that man knowing, the chance may be lost for
Margaret commenced to sing in a soft minor. At first the chords were thin
and dry, but gradually they increased in sweetness and power. The
hopeless, distant look died from the singer's eyes; there was a flush on
her cheeks that rendered her years younger.
"Another one," she said, when the song was finished, "and yet another.
How wicked I have been to neglect this balm that God sent me all these
years. If you only knew what the sound of my own voice means to me!
Another one, Enid."
"Yes, yes," Enid whispered. "You are to sing till I return. You are
to leave Henson to imagine that I am singing. He will never guess.
Enid crept away into the hall, closing the door softly behind her. She
made her way noiselessly from the house and across the lawn. As Henson
slipped through the open window into the garden Enid darted behind a
bush. Evidently Henson suspected nothing so far as she was concerned, for
she could see the red glow of the cigar between his lips. The faint
sweetness of distant music filled the air. So long as the song continued
Henson would relax his vigilance.
He was pacing down the garden in the direction of the drive. Did the man
know anything? Enid wondered. He had so diabolically cunning a brain. He
seemed to find out everything, and to read others before they had made up
their minds for themselves.
The cigar seemed to dance like a mocking sprite into the bushes. Usually
the man avoided those bushes. If Reginald Henson was afraid of one thing
it was of the dogs. And in return they hated him as he hated them.
Enid's mind was made up. If the sound of that distant voice should only
cease for a moment she was quite sure Henson would turn back. But he
could hear it, and she knew that she was safe. Enid slipped past him into
the bushes and gave a faint click of her lips. Something moved and
whined, and two dark objects bounded towards her. She caught them
together by their collars and cuffed them soundly. Then she led the way
back so as to get on Henson's tracks.
He was walking on ahead of her now, beating time softly to the music of
the faintly distant song with his cigar. Enid could distinctly see the
sweep of the red circle.
"Hold him, Dan," she whispered. "Watch, Prance; watch, boy."
There was a low growl as the hounds found the scent and dashed forward.
Henson came up all standing and sweating in every pore. It was not the
first time he had been held up by the dogs, and he knew by hard
experience what to expect if he made a bolt for it.
Two grim muzzles were pressed against his trembling knees; he saw four
rows of ivory flashing in the dim light. Then the dogs crouched at his
feet, watching him with eyes as red and lurid as the point of his own
cigar. Had he attempted to move, had he tried coercion, they would have
fallen upon him and torn him in pieces.
"Confusion to the creatures!" he cried, passionately. "I'll get a
revolver; I'll buy some prussic acid and poison the lot. And here I'll
have to stay till Williams locks up the stables. Wouldn't that little
Jezebel laugh at me if she could see me now? She would enjoy it better
than singing songs in the drawing-room to our sainted Margaret. Steady,
you brutes! I didn't move."
He stood there rigidly, almost afraid to take the cigar from his lips,
whilst Enid sped without further need for caution down the drive. The
lodge-gates were closed and the deaf porter's house in darkness, so that
Enid could unlock the wicket without fear of detection. She rattled the
key on the bars and a figure slipped out of the darkness.
"Good heavens, Ruth, is it really _you_?" Enid cried.
"Really me, Enid. I came over on my bicycle. I am supposed to be round at
some friend's house in Brunswick Square, and one of the servants is
sitting up for me. Is Reginald safe? He hasn't yet discovered the secret
of the tradesman's book?"
"That's all right, dear. But why are you here? Has something dreadful
"Well, I will try to tell you so in as few words as possible. I never
felt so ashamed of anything in my life."
"Don't tell me that our scheme has failed!" "Perhaps I need not go so far
as that. The first part of it came off all right, and then a very
dreadful thing happened. We have got Mr. David Steel into frightful
trouble. He is going to be charged with attempted murder and robbery."
"Ruth! But tell me. I am quite in the dark."
"It was the night when--well, you know the night. It was after Mr. Steel
returned home from his visit to 219, Brunswick Square--"
"You mean 218, Ruth."
"It doesn't matter, because he knows pretty well all about it by this
time. It would have been far better for us if we hadn't been quite so
clever. It would have been far wiser to have taken Mr. Steel entirely
into our confidence. Oh, oh, Enid, if we had only left out that little
sentiment over the cigar-case! Then we should have been all right."
"Dearest girl, my time is limited. I've got Reginald held up for the
time, but at any moment he may escape from his bondage. What about the
"Well, Mr. Steel took it home with him. And when he got home he found a
man nearly murdered lying in his conservatory. That man was conveyed to
the Sussex County Hospital, where he still lies in an unconscious state.
On the body was found a receipt for a gun-metal cigar-case set with
"Good gracious, Ruth, you don't mean to say--"
"Oh, I do. I can't quite make out how it happened, but that same case
that we--that Mr. Steel has--has been positively identified as one
purchased from Walen by the injured man. There is no question about it.
And they have found out about Mr. Steel being short of money, and the
£1,000, and everything."
"But we _know_ that that cigar-case from Lockhart's in North Street was
"Yes, yes. But what has become of that? And in what strange way was the
change made? I tell you that the whole thing frightens me. We thought
that we had hit upon a scheme to solve the problem, and keep our friends
out of danger. There was the American at Genoa who volunteered to assist
us. A week later he was found dead in his bed. Then there was
Christiana's friend, who disappeared entirely. And now we try further
assistance in the case of Mr. Steel, and he stands face to face with a
terrible charge. And he has found us out."
"He has found us out? What do you mean?"
"Well, he called to see me. He called at 219, of course. And directly I
heard his name I was so startled that I am afraid I betrayed myself. Such
a nice, kind, handsome man, Enid; so manly and good over it all. Of
course he declared that he had been at 219 before, and I could only
declare that he had done nothing of the kind. Never, never have I felt so
ashamed of myself in my life before."
"It seems a pity," Enid said, thoughtfully. "You said nothing about 218?"
"My dear, he found it out. At least, Hatherly Bell did for him. Hatherly
Bell happened to be staying down with us, and Hatherly Bell, who knows
Mr. Steel, promptly solved, or half solved, that side of the problem. And
Hatherly Bell is coming here to-night to see Aunt Margaret. He--"
"Here!" Enid cried. "To see Aunt Margaret? Then he found out about you.
At all hazards Mr. Bell must not come here--he _must_ not. I would rather
let everything go than that. I would rather see auntie dead and Reginald
Henson master here. You _must_--"
In the distance came the rattle of harness bells and the trot of a horse.
"I'm afraid it's too late," Ruth Gates said, sadly. "I am afraid that
they are here already. Oh, if we had only left out that wretched
"Before we go any farther," Bell said, after a long pause, "I should like
to search the house from top to bottom. I've got a pretty sound theory in
my head, but I don't like to leave anything to chance. We shall be pretty
certain to find something."
"I am entirely in your hands," David said, wearily. "So far as I am
capable of thinking out anything, it seems to me that we have to find
"_Cherchez la femme_ is a fairly sound premise in a case like this, but
when we have found the woman we shall have to find the man who is at the
bottom of the plot. I mean the man who is not only thwarting the woman,
but giving you a pretty severe lesson as to the advisability of minding
your own business for the future."
"Then you don't think I am being made the victim of a vile conspiracy?"
"Not by the woman, certainly. You are the victim of some fiendish
counterplot by the man, who has not quite mastered what the woman is
driving at. By placing you in dire peril he compels the woman to speak to
save you, and thus to expose her hand."
"Then in that case I propose to sit tight," David said, grimly. "I am
bound to be prosecuted for robbery and attempted murder in due course. If
my man dies I am in a tight place."
"And if he recovers your antagonist may be in a tighter," Bell chuckled.
"And if the man gets well and that brain injury proves permanent--I mean
if the man is rendered imbecile--why, we are only at the very threshold
of the mystery. It seems a callous thing to say, but this is the
prettiest problem I have had under my hands."
"Make the most of it," David said, sardonically. "I daresay I should see
the matter in a more rational light if I were not so directly concerned.
But, if we are going to make a search of the premises, the sooner we
start the better."
Upstairs there was nothing beyond certain lumber. There were dust and
dirt everywhere, save in the hall and front dining-room, which, as
Bell sapiently pointed out, had obviously been cleared to make ready
for Steel's strange reception. Down in the housekeeper's room was a
large collection of dusty furniture, and a number of pictures and
engravings piled with their faces to the wall. Bell began idly to turn
the latter over.
"I am a maniac on the subject of old prints," he explained. "I never see
a pile without a wild longing to examine them. And, by Jove, there are
some good things here. Unless I am greatly mistaken--here, Steel, pull up
the blinds! Good heavens, is it possible?"
"Found a Sistine Madonna or a stray Angelo?" David asked. "Or a ghost?
What _is_ the matter? Is it another phase of the mystery?"
"The Rembrandt," Bell gasped. "Look at it, man!"
Steel bent eagerly over the engraving. An old print, an old piece of
china, an antique jewel, always exercised a charm over the novelist. He
had an unerring eye for that kind of thing.
"Exquisite," he cried. "A Rembrandt, of course, but I don't recollect
"The picture was destroyed by accident after Rembrandt had engraved it
with his own hand," Bell proceeded to explain. He was quite coherent now,
but he breathed fast and loud, "I shall proceed to give you the history
of the picture presently, and more especially a history of the
"Has it any particular name?" David asked.
"Yes, we found that out. It was called 'The Crimson Blind!'"
"No getting away from the crimson blind," David murmured. "Still, I can
quite imagine that to have been the name of the picture. That shutter
or blind might have had a setting sun behind it, which would account
for the tender warmth of the kitchen foreground and the deep gloom
where the lovers are seated. By Jove, Bell, it is a magnificent piece
of work. I've a special fancy for Rembrandt engravings, but I never saw
one equal to that."
"And you never will," Bell replied, "save in one instance. The picture
itself was painted in Rembrandt's modest lodging in the Keizerskroon
Tavern after the forced sale of his paintings at that hostel in the year
1658. At that time Rembrandt was painfully poor, as his recorded tavern
bills show. The same bills also disclose the fact that 'The Crimson
Blind' was painted for a private customer with a condition that the
subject should be engraved as well. After one impression had been taken
off the plate the picture was destroyed by a careless servant. In a
sudden fit of rage Rembrandt destroyed the plate, having, they say, only
taken one impression from it."
"Then there is only one of these engravings in the world? What a find!"
"There is one other, as I know to my cost," Bell said, significantly.
"Until a few days ago I never entertained the idea that there were two.
Steel, you are the victim of a vile conspiracy, but it is nothing to the
conspiracy which has darkened my life."
"Sooner or later I always felt that I should get to the bottom of the
mystery, and now I am certain of it. And, strange as it may seem, I
verily believe that you and I are hunting the same man down--that the one
man is at the bottom of the two evils. But you shall hear my story
presently. What we have to find out now is who was the last tenant and
who is the present owner of the house, and incidentally learn who this
lumber belongs to. Ah, this has been a great day for me!"
Bell spoke exultingly, a great light shining in his eyes. And David
sapiently asked no further questions for the present. All that he wanted
to know would come in time. The next move, of course, was to visit the
agent of the property.
A smart, dapper little man, looking absurdly out of place in an
exceedingly spacious office, was quite ready to give every information.
It was certainly true that 218, Brunswick Square, was to be let at an
exceedingly low rent on a repairing lease, and that the owner had a lot
more property in Brighton to be let on the same terms. The lady was
exceedingly rich and eccentric; indeed, by asking such low rents she was
doing her best to seriously diminish her income.
"Do you know the lady at all?" Bell asked.
"Not personally," the agent admitted. "So far as I can tell, the property
came into the present owner's hands some years ago by inheritance. The
property also included a very old house, called Longdean Grange, not far
from Rottingdean, where the lady, Mrs. Henson, lives at present. Nobody
ever goes there, nobody ever visits there, and to keep the place free
from prying visitors a large number of savage dogs are allowed to prowl
about the grounds."
Bell listened eagerly. Watching him, David could see that his eyes
glinted like points of steel. There was something subtle behind all this
common-place that touched the imagination of the novelist.
"Has 218 been let during the occupation of the present owner?"
"No," the agent replied. "But the present owner--as heir to the
property--I am told, was interested in both 218 and 219, which used to be
a kind of high-class convalescent home for poor clergy and the widows and
daughters of poor clergy in want of a holiday. The one house was for the
men and the other for the women, and both were furnished exactly alike;
in fact, Mr. Gates's landlord, the tenant of 219, bought the furniture
exactly as it stands when the scheme fell through."
Steel looked up swiftly. A sudden inspiration came to him.
"In that case what became of the precisely similar furniture in
218?" he asked.
"That I cannot tell you," the agent said. "That house was let as it stood
to some sham philanthropist whose name I forget. The whole thing was a
fraud, and the swindler only avoided arrest by leaving the country.
Probably the goods were stored somewhere or perhaps seized by some
creditor. But I really can't say definitely without looking the matter
up. There are some books and prints now left in the house out of the
wreck. We shall probably put them in a sale, only they have been
overlooked. The whole lot will not fetch £5."
"Would you take £5 for them?" Bell asked.
"Gladly. Even if only to get them carted away."
Bell gravely produced a £5 note, for which he asked and received a
receipt. Then he and Steel repaired to 218 once more, whence they
recovered the Rembrandt, and subsequently returned the keys of the house
to the agent. There was an air of repressed excitement about Bell which
was not without its effect upon his companion. The cold, hard lines
seemed to have faded from Bell's face; there was a brightness about him
that added to his already fine physical beauty.
"And now, perhaps, you will be good enough to explain," David suggested.
"My dear fellow, it would take too long," Bell cried. "Presently I am
going to tell you the story of the tragedy of my life. You have doubtless
wondered, as others have wondered, why I dropped out of the road when the
goal was in sight. Well, your curiosity is about to be gratified. I am
going to help you, and in return you are going to help me to come back
into the race again. By way of a start, you are going to ask me to come
and dine with you to-night."
"At half-past seven, then. Nothing will give me greater pleasure."
"Spoken like a man and a brother. We will dine, and I will tell you my
story after the house is quiet. And if I ask you to accompany me on a
midnight adventure you will not say me nay?"
"Not in my present mood, at any rate. Adventure, with a dash of danger in
it, suits my present mood exactly. And if there is to be physical
violence, so much the better. My diplomacy may be weak, but physically I
am not to be despised in a row."
"Well, we'll try and avoid the latter, if possible," Bell laughed.
"Still, for your satisfaction, I may say there is just the chance of a
scrimmage. And now I really must go, because I have any amount of work to
do for Gates. Till half-past seven, _au revoir_."
Steel lighted a cigarette and strolled thoughtfully homewards along the
front. The more he thought over the mystery the more tangled it became.
And yet he felt perfectly sure that he was on the right track. The
discovery that both those houses had been furnished exactly alike at one
time was a most important one. And David no longer believed that he had
been to No. 219 on the night of the great adventure. Then he found
himself thinking about Ruth Gates's gentle face and lovely eyes, until he
looked up and saw the girl before him.
"You--you wanted to speak to me?" he stammered.
"I followed you on purpose," the girl said, quietly, "I can't tell you
everything, because it is not my secret to tell. But believe me
everything will come out right in the end. Don't think badly of me, don't
be hard and bitter because--"
"Because I am nothing of the kind," David smiled. "It is impossible to
look into a face like yours and doubt you. And I am certain that you are
acting loyally and faithfully for the sake of others who--"
"Yes, yes, and for your sake, too. Pray try and remember that. For your
sake, too. Oh, if you only knew how I admire and esteem you! If only--"
She paused with the deep blush crimsoning her face. David caught her
hand, and it seemed to him for a moment that she returned the pressure.
"Let me help you," he whispered. "Only be my friend and I will forgive
She gave him a long look of her deep, velvety eyes, she flashed him a
little smile, and was gone.
"THE CRIMSON BLIND"
Hatherly Bell turned up at Downend Terrace gay and debonair as if he had
not a single trouble in the world. His evening dress was of the smartest
and he had a rose in his buttonhole. From his cab he took a square brown
paper parcel, which he deposited in David's study with particular care.
He made no allusion whatever to the sterner business of the evening; he
was gay and light-hearted as a child, so that Mrs. Steel sat up quite an
hour later than her usual time, absolutely unconscious of the fact that
she had broken a rigid rule of ten years' standing.
"Now let us go into the study and smoke a cigar," David suggested.
Bell dragged a long deck-chair into the conservatory and lighted a Massa.
Steel's offer of whisky and soda was declined.
"An ideal place for a novelist who has a keen eye for the beautiful,"
he said. "There you have your books and pictures, your stained glass
and china, and when you turn your eyes this way they are gladdened by
green foliage and lovely flowers. It's hard to connect such a room with
"And yet the tragedy was worked out close by where you are sitting. But
never mind that. Come to your story, and let me see if we can fit it
Bell took a fresh pull at his cigar and plunged into his subject.
"About seven years ago professional business took me to Amsterdam; a
brilliant young medical genius who was drinking himself prematurely into
his grave had made some wonderful discoveries relating to the brain and
psychology generally, so I decided to learn what I could before it
was too late. I found the young doctor to be an exceedingly good
fellow, only too ready to speak of his discoveries, and there I
stayed for a year. My word! what do I not owe to that misguided
mind! And what a revolution he would have made in medicine and
surgery had he only lived!
"Well, in Amsterdam I got to know everybody who was worth
knowing--medical, artistic, social. And amongst the rest was an
Englishman called Lord Littimer, his son, and an exceedingly clever
nephew of his, Henson by name, who was the son's tutor. Littimer was a
savant, a scholar, and a fine connoisseur as regarded pictures. He was
popularly supposed to have the finest collection of old prints in
England. He would travel anywhere in search of something fresh, and the
rumour of some apocryphal treasure in Amsterdam had brought him thither.
He and I were friends from the first, as, indeed, were the son and
myself. Henson, the nephew, was more quiet and reserved, but fond, as I
discovered, of a little secret dissipation.
"In those days I was not averse to a little life myself. I was
passionately fond of all games of cards, and I am afraid that I was in
the habit of gambling to a greater extent than I could afford. I don't
gamble now and I don't play cards: in fact, I shall never touch a card
again as long as I live. Why, you shall hear all in good time.
"We were all getting on very well together at that time when Lord
Littimer's sister paid us a visit. She came accompanied by a daughter
called Enid. I will not describe her, because no words of mine could do
her justice. In a word, I fell over head and ears in love with Enid, and
in that state I have remained ever since. Of all the crosses that I have
to bear the knowledge that I love Enid and that she loves--and despises
--me, is by far the heaviest. But I don't want to dwell upon that."
"We were a very happy party there until Van Sneck and Von Gulden turned
up. Enid and I had come to an understanding, and, though we kept our
secret, we were not going to do so for long. From the very first Von
Gulden admired her. He was a handsome, swaggering soldier, a
good-looking, wealthy man, who had a great reputation for gallantry, and
something worse. Perhaps the fellow guessed how things lay, for he never
troubled to conceal his dislike and contempt for me. It is no fault of
mine that I am extremely sensitive as to my personal appearance, but Von
Gulden played upon it until he drove me nearly mad. He challenged me
sneeringly to certain sports wherein he knew I could not shine; he
challenged me to écarté, where I fancied I was his master.
"Was I? Well, we had been dining that night, and perhaps too freely, for
I entirely lost my head before I began the game in earnest. Those covert
sneers had nearly driven me mad. To make a long story short, when I got
up from the table that night, I owed my opponent nearly £800, without the
faintest prospect of paying a tenth part of it. I was only a poor,
ambitious young man then, with my way to make in the world. And if that
money were not forthcoming in the next few days I was utterly ruined."
"The following morning the great discovery was made. The Van Sneck I have
alluded to was an artist, a dealer, a man of the shadiest reputation,
whom my patron, Lord Littimer, had picked up. It was Van Sneck who
produced the copy of 'The Crimson Blind.' Not only did he produce the
copy, but he produced the history from some recently discovered papers
relating to the Keizerskroon Tavern of the year 1656, which would have
satisfied a more exacting man than Littimer. In the end the Viscount
purchased the engraving for £800 English.
"You can imagine how delighted he was with his prize--he had secured an
engraving by Rembrandt that was absolutely unique. Under more favourable
circumstances I should have shared that pleasure. But I was face to face
with ruin, and therefore I had but small heart for rejoicing.
"I came down the next morning after a sleepless night, and with a wild
endeavour to scheme some way of getting the money to pay my creditor. To
my absolute amazement I found a polite note from the lieutenant coldly
thanking me for the notes I had sent him by messenger, and handing me a
formal receipt for £800. At first I regarded it as a hoax. But, with all
his queer ways, Von Gulden was a gentleman. Somebody had paid the debt
for me. And somebody had, though I have never found out to this day."
"All the same, you have your suspicions?" Steel suggested.
"I have a very strong suspicion, but I have never been able to verify it.
All the same, you can imagine what an enormous weight it was off my mind,
and how comparatively cheerful I was as I crossed over to the hotel of
Lord Littimer after breakfast. I found him literally beside himself with
passion. Some thief had got into his room in the night and stolen his
Rembrandt. The frame was intact, but the engraving had been rolled up and
"Very like the story of the stolen Gainsborough."
"No doubt the one theft inspired the other. I was sent off on foot to
look for Van Sneck, only to find that he had suddenly left the city. He
had got into trouble with the police, and had fled to avoid being sent to
gaol. And from that day to this nothing has been seen of that picture."
"But I read to-day that it is still in Littimer Castle," said David.
"Another one," Bell observed. "Oblige me by opening yonder parcel. There
you see is the print that I purchased to-day for £5. This, _this_, my
friend, is the print that was stolen from Littimer's lodgings in
Amsterdam. If you look closely at it you will see four dull red spots in
the left-hand corner. They are supposed to be blood-spots from a cut
finger of the artist. I am prepared to swear that this is the very print,
frame and all, that was purchased in Amsterdam from that shady scoundrel
"But Littimer is credited with having one in his collection,"
"He has one in his collection," Bell said, coolly, "And, moreover, he is
firmly under the impression that he is at present happy in the possession
of his own lost treasure. And up to this very day I was under exactly the
same delusion. Now I know that there must have been two copies of the
plate, and that this knowledge was used to ruin me."
"But," Steel murmured, "I don't exactly see--"
"I am just coming to that. We hunted high and low for the picture, but
nowhere could it be found. The affair created a profound impression in
Amsterdam. A day or two later Von Gulden went back to his duty on the
Belgian frontier and business called me home. I packed my solitary
portmanteau and departed. When I arrived at the frontier I opened my
luggage for the Custom officer and the whole contents were turned out
without ceremony. On the bottom was a roll of paper on a stick that I
quite failed to recognise. An inquisitive Customs House officer opened it
and immediately called the lieutenant in charge. Strange to say, he
proved to be Von Gulden. He came up to me, very gravely, with the paper
in his hand.
"'May I inquire how this came amongst your luggage?' he asked.
"I could say nothing; I was dumb. For there lay the Rembrandt. The red
spots had been smudged out of the corner, but there, the picture was.
"Well, I lost my head then. I accused Von Gulden of all kinds of
disgraceful things. And he behaved like a gentleman--he made me ashamed
of myself. But he kept the picture and returned it to Littimer, and I
was ruined. Lord Littimer declined to prosecute, but he would not see me
and he would hear of no explanation. Indeed, I had none to offer. Enid
refused to see me also or reply to my letters. The story of my big
gambling debt, and its liquidation, got about. Steel, I was ruined. Some
enemy had done this thing, and from that day to this I have been a
"But how on earth was it done?" Steel cried.
"For the present I can only make surmises," Bell replied. "Van Sneck was
a slippery dog. Of course, he had found two of those plates. He kept the
one back so as to sell the other at a fancy price. My enemy discovered
this, and Van Sneck's sudden flight was his opportunity. He could afford
to get rid of me at an apparently dear rate. He stole Littimer's
engraving--in fact, he must have done so, or I should not have it at this
moment. Then he smudged out some imaginary spots on the other and hid it
in my luggage, knowing that it would be found. Also he knew that it would
be returned to Littimer, and that the stolen plate could be laid aside
and produced at some remote date as an original find. The find has been
mine, and it will go hard if I can't get to the bottom of the mystery
now. It is strange that your mysterious trouble and mine should be bound
up so closely together, but in the end it will simplify matters, for the
very reason that we are both on the hunt for the same man."
"Which man we have got to find, Bell."
"Granted. We will bait for him as one does for a wily old trout. The fly
shall be the Rembrandt, and you see he will rise to it in time. But
beyond this I have made one or two important discoveries to-day. We are
going to the house of the strange lady who owns 218 and 219, Brunswick
Square, and I shall be greatly mistaken if she does not prove to be an
old acquaintance of mine. There will be danger."
"You propose to go to-night?"
"I propose to go at once," Bell said. "Dark hours are always best for
dark business. Now, which is the nearest way to Longdean Grange?"
"So the House of the Silent Sorrow, as they call it, is to be our
destination! I must confess that the place has ever held a strange
fascination for me. We will go over the golf links and behind Ovingdean
village. It is a rare spot for a tragedy."
Bell rose and lighted a fresh cigar.
"Come along," he said. "Poke that Rembrandt behind your books with its
face to the wall. I would not lose that for anything now. No, on second
thoughts I find I shall have to take it with me."
David closed the door carefully behind him, and the two stepped out into
Two dancing eyes of flame were streaming up the lane towards the girls, a
long shadow slanted across the white pathway, the steady flick of hoofs
drew nearer. Then the hoofs ceased their smiting of the dust and a man's
"Better turn and wait for us by the farm, driver," the voice said. "Bell,
can you manage, man?"
"Who was that?" Enid whispered. "A stranger?"
"Not precisely," Ruth replied. "That is Mr. David Steel. Oh, I am sure
we can trust him. Don't annoy him. Think of the trouble he is in for
"I do," Enid said, drily. "I am also thinking of Reginald. If our dear
Reginald escapes from the fostering care of the dogs we shall be ruined.
That man's hearing is wonderful. He will come creeping down here on those
large flat feet of his, and that cunning brain will take in everything
like a flash. Good dog!"
A hound in the distance growled, and then another howled mournfully. It
was the plaint of the beast who has found his quarry, impatient for the
gaoler to arrive. So long as that continued Henson was safe. Any attempt
to escape, and he would be torn to pieces. Just at the present moment
Enid almost hoped that the attempt would be made. It certainly was all
right for the present, but then Williams might happen along on his way to
the stables at any moment.
The two men were coming nearer. They both paused as the dogs gave tongue.
Through the thick belt of trees lights gleamed from one or two windows of
the house. Steel pulled up and shuddered slightly in spite of himself.
"Crimson blinds," he said. "Crimson blinds all through this business.
They are beginning to get on my nerves. What about those dogs, Bell?"
"Dogs or no dogs, I am not going back now," Bell muttered. "It's
perfectly useless to come here in the daytime; therefore we must fall
back upon a little amateur burglary. There's a girl yonder who might have
assisted me at one time, but--"
Enid slipped into the road. The night was passably light and her
beautiful features were fairly clear to the startled men in the road.
"The girl is here," she said. "What do you want?"
Bell and his companion cried out simultaneously: Bell because he was so
suddenly face to face with one who was very dear to him, David because it
seemed to him that he recognised the voice from the darkness, the voice
of his great adventure. And there was another surprise as he saw Ruth
Gates side by side with the owner of that wonderful voice.
"Enid!" Bell cried, hoarsely. "I did not expect--"
"To confront me like this," the girl said, coldly. "That I quite
understand. What I don't understand is why you intrude your hated
Bell shook his handsome head mournfully. He looked strangely downcast and
dejected, and none the less, perhaps, because a fall in crossing the down
had severely wrenched his ankle. But for a belated cab on the Rottingdean
road he would not have been here now.
"As hard and cruel as ever," he said. "Not one word to me, not one word
in my defence. And all the time I am the victim of a vile conspiracy--"
"Conspiracy! Do you call vulgar theft a conspiracy?"
"It was nothing else," David put in, eagerly. "A most extraordinary
conspiracy. The kind of thing that you would not have deemed possible out
of a book."
"And who might this gentleman be?" Enid asked, haughtily.
"A thousand pardons for my want of ceremony," David said. "If I had not
been under the impression that we had met before I should never have
"Oh, a truce to this," Bell cried. "We are wasting time. The hour is not
far distant, Enid, when you will ask my pardon. Meanwhile I am going up
to the house, and you are going to take me there. Come what way, I don't
sleep to-night until I have speech with your aunt."
David had drawn a little aside. By a kind of instinct Ruth Gates
followed him. A shaft of grey light glinted upon her cycle in the grass
by the roadside. Enid and Bell were talking in vehement whispers--they
seemed to be absolutely unconscious of anybody else but themselves.
David could see the anger and scorn on the pale, high-bred face; he
could see Bell gradually expanding as he brought all his strength and
firm power of will to bear.
"What will be the upshot of it?" Ruth asked, timidly.
"Bell will conquer," David replied. "He always does, you know."
"I am afraid you don't take my meaning, Mr. Steel."
David looked down into the sweet, troubled face of his companion, and
thence away to the vivid crimson patches beyond the dark belt of foliage.
Ever and anon the intense stillness of the night was broken by the
long-drawn howl of one of the hounds. David remembered it for years
afterwards; it formed the most realistic chapter of one of his most
"Heaven only knows," he said. "I have been dragged into this business,
but what it means I know no more than a child. I am mixed up in it,
and Bell is mixed up in it, and so are you. Why we shall perhaps know
"You are not angry with me?"
"Why, no. Only you might have had a little more confidence in me."
"Mr. Steel, we dared not. We wanted your advice, and nothing more. Even
now I am afraid I am saying too much. There is a withering blight over
yonder house that is beyond mere words. And twice gallant gentlemen have
come forward to our assistance. Both of them are dead. And if we had
dragged you, a total stranger, into the arena, we should morally have
"Am I not within the charmed circle now?" David smiled.
"Not of our free will," Ruth said, eagerly. "You came into the tangle
with Hatherly Bell. Thank Heaven you have an ally like that. And yet I am
filled with shame--"
"My dear young lady, what have you to be ashamed of?"
Ruth covered her face with her hands for a moment and David saw a tear or
two trickle through the slim fingers. He took the hands in his, gently,
tenderly, and glanced into the fine, grey eyes. Never had he been moved
to a woman like this before.
"But what will you think of me?" Ruth whispered. "You have been so good
and kind and I am so foolish. What can you think of a girl who is all
this way from home at midnight? It is so--so unmaidenly."
"It might be in some girls, but not in you," David said, boldly. "One has
only to look in your face and see that only the good and the pure dwell
there. But you were not afraid?"
"Horribly afraid. The very shadows startled me. But when I discovered
your errand to-night I was bound to come. My loyalty to Enid demanded it,
and I had not one single person in the world whom I could trust."
"If you had only come to me, Miss Ruth--"
"I know, I know now. Oh, it is a blessed thing for a lonely girl to have
one good man that she can rely upon. And you have been so very good, and
we have treated you very, very badly."
But David would not hear anything of the kind. The whole adventure was
strange to a degree, but it seemed to matter nothing so long as he had
Ruth for company. Still, the girl must be got home. She could not be
allowed to remain here, nor must she be permitted to return to Brighton
alone. Bell strode up at the same moment.
"Miss Henson has been so good as to listen to my arguments," he said. "I
am going into the house. Don't worry about me, but send Miss Gates home
in the cab. I shall manage somehow."
David turned eagerly to Ruth.
"That will be best," he said. "We can put your machine on the cab, and
I'll accompany you part of the way home. Our cabman will think that you
came from the house. I shan't be long, Bell."
Ruth assented gratefully. As David put her in the cab Bell whispered to
him to return as soon as possible, but the girl heard nothing of this.
"How kind--how kind you are," she murmured.
"Perhaps some day you will be kind to me," David said, and Ruth blushed
in the darkness.
BEHIND THE BLIND
There was a long pause till the sound of the horse's hoofs died away.
Bell was waiting for his companion to speak. Her head was partly turned
from him, so that he could only watch the dainty beauty of her profile.
She stood there cold and still, but he could see that she was
"I never thought to see the day when I should trust you again," she said;
"I never expected to trust any man again."
"You will trust me, darling," Bell said, passionately. "If you still care
for me as I care for you. _Do_ you?"
The question came keen as steel. Enid shivered and hesitated. Bell laid a
light hand on her arm.
"Speak," he said. "I am going to clear myself, I am going to take back
my good name. But if you no longer care for me the rest matters
"I am not one of those who change, God pity me," Enid murmured.
Bell drew a long, deep breath. He wanted no assurance beyond that.
"Then lead the way," he said. "I have come at the right time; I have been
looking for you everywhere, and I find you in the hour of your deepest
sorrow. When I knew your aunt last she was a cheerful, happy woman. From
what I hear now she is suffering, you are all suffering, under some
"Oh, if you only knew what that sorrow was, Hatherly."
"Hatherly! How good the old name sounds from your lips. Nobody has ever
called me that since--since we parted. And to think that I should have
been searching for you all these years, when Miss Ruth Gates could have
given me the clue at any time. And why have you been playing such strange
tricks upon my friend David Steel? Why have you---What is that?"
Somebody was moving somewhere in the grounds, and a voice shouted for
help. Enid started forward.
"It is Williams coming from the stables," she said. "I have so arranged
it that the dogs are holding up my dear cousin, Reginald Henson, who is
calling upon Williams to release him. If Reginald gets back to the house
now we are ruined. Follow me as well as you can."
Enid disappeared down a narrow, tangled path, leaving Bell to limp along
painfully in her track. A little way off Henson was yelling lustily for
assistance. Williams, who had evidently taken in the situation, was
coming up leisurely, chuckling at the discomfiture of the enemy. The
hounds were whining and baying. From the house came the notes of a love
song passionately declaimed. A couple of the great dogs came snarling up
to Bell and laid their grimy muzzles on his thighs. A cold sensation
crept up and down his spine as he came to a standstill.
"The brutes!" he muttered. "Margaret Henson must be mad indeed to have
these creatures about the place. Ah! would you? Very well, I'll play the
game fairly, and not move. If I call out I shall spoil the game. If I
remain quiet I shall have a pleasant night of it. Let us hope for the
best and that Enid will understand the situation."
Meanwhile Enid had come up with Williams. She laid her hand imperiously
upon his lips.
"Not a word," she whispered. "Mr. Henson is held up by the dogs. He must
remain where he is till I give you the signal to release him. I know you
answered his call, but you are to go no farther."
Williams assented willingly enough. Everything that tended to the
discomfort of Reginald Henson filled him with a peculiar and
"Very well, miss," he said, demurely. "And don't you hurry, miss. This is
a kind of job that calls for plenty of patience. And I'm really shocking
Williams retreated leisurely in the direction of the stables, but his
malady was not so distressing that he failed to hear a groan and a
snarling curse from Henson. Enid fled back along the track, where she
found Bell standing patiently with a dog's muzzle close to either knee.
His face was white and shining, otherwise he showed no signs of fear.
Enid laid a hand on the head of either dog, and they rolled like great
cats at her feet in the bushes.
"Now come swiftly," she whispered. "There is no time to be lost."
They were in the house at last, crossing the dusty floor, with the motes
dancing in the lamp-light, deadening their footsteps and muffling the
intense silence. Above the stillness rose the song from the drawing-room;
from without came the restless murmur of the dogs. Enid entered the
drawing-room, and Bell limped in behind her. The music immediately
ceased. As Enid glanced at her aunt she saw that the far-away look had
died from her eyes, that the sparkle and brightness of reason were there.
She had come out of the mist and the shadows for a time at any rate.
"Dr. Hatherly Bell to see you, aunt," Enid said, in a low tone.
Margaret Henson shot up from the piano like a statue. There was no
welcome on her face, no surprise there, nothing but deep, unutterable
contempt and loathing.
"I have been asleep," she said. She passed her hand dreamily over her
face. "I have been in a dream for seven long years. Enid brought me back
to the music again to-night, and it touched my heart, and now I am awake
again. Do you recollect the 'Slumber Song,' Hatherly Bell? The last time
I sang it you were present. It was a happy night; the very last happy
night in the world to me."
"I recollect it perfectly well, Lady Littimer," Bell said.
"Lady Littimer! How strange it is to hear that name again. Seven years
since then. Here I am called Margaret Henson, and nobody knows. And
now _you_ have found out. Do you come here to blackmail and rob me
like the rest?"
"I come here entirely on your behalf and my own, my lady."
"That is what they all say--and then they rob me. You stole the
The last words came like a shot from a catapult. Enid's face grew colder.
Bell drew a long tube of discoloured paper carefully tied round a stick
from his pocket.
"I am going to disprove that once and for all," he said. "The Rembrandt
is at present in Lord Littimer's collection. There is an account of it in
to-day's _Telegraph_. It is perfectly familiar to both of you. And, that
being the case, what do you think of this?"
He unrolled the paper before Enid's astonished eyes. Margaret Henson
glanced at it listlessly; she was fast sinking into the old, strange
oblivion again. But Enid was all rapt attention.
"I would have sworn to that as Lord Littimer's own," she gasped.
"It is his own," Bell replied. "Stolen from him and a copy placed by some
arch-enemy in my portmanteau, it was certain to be found on the frontier.
Don't you see that there were two Rembrandts? When the one from my
portmanteau was restored to Littimer his own was kept by the thief.
Subsequently it would be exposed as a new find, with some story as to its
discovery, only, unfortunately for the scoundrel, it came into my
"And where did you find it?" Enid asked. "I found it," Bell said, slowly,
"in a house called 218, Brunswick Square, Brighton."
A strange cry came from Enid's lips. She stood swaying before her lover,
white as the paper upon which her eyes were eagerly fixed. Margaret
Henson was pacing up and down the room, her lips muttering, and raising a
cloud of pallid dust behind her.
"I--I am sorry," Enid said, falteringly. "And all these years I have
deemed you guilty. But then the proof was so plain; I could not deny the
evidence of my own senses. And Von Gulden came to me saying how deeply
distressed he was, and that he would have prevented the catastrophe if he
A servant stood waiting in the doorway with wondering eyes at the sight
of a stranger.
"I'm sorry, miss," she said, "but Miss Christiana is worse; indeed, she
quite frightens me. I've taken the liberty of telephoning to Dr. Walker."
The words seemed to bring consciousness to Margaret Henson.
"Christiana worse," she said. "Another of them going; it will be a happy
release from a house of sorrow like this. I will come up, Martin."
She swept out of the room after the servant. Enid appeared hardly to have
heard. Bell looked at her inquiringly and with some little displeasure.
"I fancy I have heard you speak of your sister Christiana," he said.
"Is she ill?"
"She is at the point of death, I understand; you think that I am callous.
Oh, if you only knew! But the light will come to us all in time, God
willing. Look at this place, look at the blight of it, and wonder how we
endure it. Hatherly, I have made a discovery."
"We seem to be living in an atmosphere of discoveries. What is it?"
"I will answer your question by asking another. You have been made the
victim of a vile conspiracy. For seven years your career has been
blighted. And I have lost seven years of my life, too. Have you any idea
who your enemy is?"
"Not the faintest, but, believe me, I shall find out in time. And
A purple blackness like the lurid light of a storm flashed into his eyes,
the lines of his mouth grew rigid. Enid laid a hand tenderly on his arm.
"Your enemy is the common enemy of us all," she said. "We have wasted the
years, but we are young yet. Your enemy is Reginald Henson."
"Enid, you speak with conviction. Are you sure of this?"
"Certain. When I have time I will tell you everything. But not now. And
that man must never know that you have been near the house to-night, not
so much for your sake as for the sake of your friend David Steel. Now I
can see the Providence behind it all. Hatherly, tell me that you forgive
me before the others come back."
"My darling, I cannot see how you could have acted otherwise."
Enid turned towards him with a great glad light in her eyes. She said
nothing, for the simple reason that there was nothing to say. Hatherly
Bell caught her in his strong arms, and she swayed to reach his lips. In
that delicious moment the world was all forgot.
But not for long. There was a sudden rush and a tumble of feet on the
stairs, there was a strange voice speaking hurriedly, then the
drawing-room door opened and Margaret Henson came in. She was looking
wild and excited and talked incoherently. An obviously professional man
"My dear madam," he was saying, "I have done all I can. In the last few
days I have not been able to disguise from myself that there was small
hope for the patient. The exhaustion, the shock to the system, the
congestion, all point to an early collapse."
"Is my sister so much worse, Dr. Walker?" Enid asked, quietly.
"She could not be any worse and be alive," the doctor said. "Unless I am
greatly mistaken the gentleman behind you is Mr. Hatherly Bell. I presume
he has been called in to meet me? If so, I am sincerely glad, because I
shall be pleased to have a second opinion. A bad case of"--here followed
a long technical name--"one of the worst cases I have ever seen."
"You can command me, Enid," Bell said. "If I can."
"No, no," Enid cried. "What am I saying? Please to go upstairs
Bell departed, wonderingly. Enid flew to the door and out into the night.
She could hear Henson cursing and shouting, could hear the snarling
clamour of the dogs. At the foot of the drive she paused and called Steel
softly by name. To her intense relief he came from the shadow.
"I am here," he cried. "Do you want me?"
"Yes, yes," Enid panted. "Never more were your services needed. My sister
is dying; my sister must--die. And Hatherly Bell is with her, and--you
"Yes," said David. A vivid flash of understanding had come to him. "Bell
shall do as I tell him. Come along."
"Hold him up, dear doggies," Enid murmured. "Hold him up and I'll love
both of you for ever."
A MEDICAL OPINION
David Steel followed his guide with the feelings of the man who has
given himself over to circumstances. There was a savour of nightmare
about the whole thing that appealed distinctly to his imagination. The
darkness, the strange situation, the vivid streaks of the crimson
blinds--the crimson blind that seemed an integral part of the
mystery--all served to stimulate him. The tragic note was deepened by
the whine and howling of the dogs.
"There is a man over there," David whispered.
"A man who is going to stay there," Enid said, with grim satisfaction.
"It is virtually necessary that Mr. Reginald Henson should not be
disturbed. The dogs have a foolish weakness for his society. So long as
he shows no signs of boredom he is safe."
David smiled with a vague grasp of the situation. Apparently the cue was
to be surprised at nothing that he saw about the House of the Silent
Sorrow. The name of Reginald Henson was more or less familiar to him as
that of a man who stood high in public estimation. But the bitter
contempt in his companion's voice suggested that there was another side
to the man's character.
"I hope you are not asking me to do anything wrong," David murmured.
"I am absolutely certain of it," the girl said. "It is a case of the end
justifying the means; and if ever the end justified the means, it does in
this case. Besides--"
Enid Henson hesitated. David's quick perception prompted him.
"Besides, it is my suggestion," he said. "When I had the pleasure of
seeing you before--"
"Pardon me, you have never had the pleasure of seeing me before."
"Ah, you would make an excellent Parliamentary fencer. I bow to your
correction and admit that I have never _seen_ you before. But your voice
reminds me of a voice I heard very recently under remarkable
circumstances. It was my good fortune to help a lady in distress a little
time back. If she had told me more I might have aided her still further.
As it is, her reticence has landed me into serious trouble."
Enid grasped the speaker's arm convulsively.
"I am deeply sorry to hear it," she whispered. "Perhaps the lady in
question was reticent for your sake. Perhaps she had confided more
thoroughly in good men before. And suppose those good men had
"In other words, that they had been murdered. Who by?"
There was a snarl from one of the hounds hard by, and a deep, angry curse
from Henson. Enid pointed solemnly in his direction. No words of hers
would have been so thrilling and eloquent. David strode along without
further questions on that head.
"But there is one thing that you must tell me," he said, as they stood
together in the porch. "Is the first part of my advice going to be
"Yes. That is why you are here now. Stay here one moment whilst I get you
pencil and paper... There! Now will you please write what I suggest? Dr.
Bell is with my sister. At least, I suppose he is with her, as Dr. Walker
desired to have his opinion. My sister is dying--dying, you understand?"
Enid's voice had sunk to a passionate whisper. The hand that she laid on
David's shoulder was trembling strangely. At that moment he would've done
anything for her. A shaft of light filtered from the hall into the porch,
and lit up the paper that the girl thrust upon Steel.
"Now write," she commanded. "Ask no questions, but write what I ask, and
trust me implicitly."
David nodded. After all, he reflected, he could not possibly get himself
into a worse mess than he was in already. And he felt that he could trust
the girl by his side. Her beauty, her earnestness, and her obvious
sincerity touched him.
"Write," Enid whispered. "Say, 'See nothing and notice nothing, I implore
you. Only agree with everything that Dr. Walker says, and leave the room
as quickly as possible!' Now sign your name. We can go into the
drawing-room and wait till Dr. Bell comes down. You are merely a friend
of his. I will see that he has this paper at once."
Enid led the way into the drawing-room. She gave no reasons for the
weird strangeness of the place, it was no time for explanations. As for
Steel, he gazed around him in fascinated astonishment. A novelist ever
on the look-out for new scenes and backgrounds, the aspect of the room
fascinated him. He saw the dust rising in clouds, he saw the wilted
flowers, he noted the overturned table, obviously untouched and
neglected for years, and he wondered. Then he heard the babel of
discordant voices overhead. What a sad house it was, and how dominant
was the note of tragedy.
Meanwhile, with no suspicion of the path he was treading, Bell had gone
upstairs. He came at length to the door of the room where the sick girl
lay. There was a subdued light inside and the faint suggestion of illness
that clings to the chamber of the sufferer. Bell caught a glimpse of a
white figure lying motionless in bed. It was years now since he had acted
thus in a professional capacity, but the old quietness and caution came
back by instinct. As he would have entered Margaret Henson came out and
closed the door.
"You are not going in there," she said. "No, no. Everything of mine
you touch you blight and wither. If the girl is to die, let her die
She would have raised her voice high, but a lightning glance from Bell
quieted her. It was not exactly madness that he had to deal with, and he
knew it. The woman required firm, quiet treatment. Dr. Walker stood
alongside, anxious and nervous. The man with the quiet practice of the
well-to-do doctor was not used to scenes of this kind.
"You have something to conceal," Bell said, sternly. "Open the door."
"Really, my dear sir," Walker said, fussily. "Really, I fancy that under
"You don't understand this kind of case," Bell interrupted. "I do."
Walker dropped aside with a muttered apology. Bell approached the figure
in the doorway and whispered a few words rapidly in her ear. The effect
was electrical. The figure seemed to wilt and shrivel up, all the power
and resistance had gone. She stepped aside, moaning and wringing her
hands. She babbled of strange things; the old, far-away look came into
her eyes again.
Without a word of comment or sign of triumph Bell entered the sick room.
Then he raised his head and sniffed the heavy atmosphere as an eager
hound might have done. A quick, sharp question rose to his lips, only to
be instantly suppressed as he noted the vacant glance of his colleague.
The white figure on the bed lay perfectly motionless. It was the figure
of a young and exceedingly beautiful girl, a beauty heightened and
accentuated by the dead-white pallor of her features. Still the face
looked resolute and the exquisitely chiselled lips were firm.
"Albumen," Bell muttered. "What fiend's game is this? I wonder if that
scoundrel--but, no. In that case there would be no object in concealing
my presence here. I wonder--"
He paused and touched the pure white brow with his fingers. At the
same moment Enid came into the room. She panted like one who has run
fast and far.
"Well," she whispered, "is she better, better or--Hatherly, read this."
The last words were so low that Bell hardly heard them. He shot a swift
glance at his colleague before he opened the paper. One look and he had
mastered the contents. Then the swift glance was directed from Walker to
the girl standing there looking at Bell with a world of passionate
entreaty and longing in her eyes.
"It is _your_ sister who lies there," Bell whispered, meaningly, "and
He paused, and Enid nodded. There was evidently a great struggle going on
in Bell's mind. He was grappling with something that he only partially
understood, but he did know perfectly well that he was being asked to do
something absolutely wrong and that he was going to yield for the sake of
the girl he loved.
He rose abruptly from the bedside and crossed over to Walker.
"You are perfectly correct," he said. "At this rate--at this rate the
patient cannot possibly last till the morning. It is quite hopeless."
Walker smiled feebly.
"It is a melancholy satisfaction to have my opinion confirmed," he said.
"Miss Henson, if you will get Williams to see me as far as the
lodge-gates ... it is so late that--er--"
Williams came at length, and the little doctor departed. Enid fairly
cowered before the blazing, searching look that Bell turned upon her. She
fell to plucking the bedclothes nervously.
"What does it mean?" he asked, hoarsely. "What fiend's plaything are you
meddling with? Don't you know that if that girl dies it will be murder?
It was only for your sake that I didn't speak my mind before the fool who
has just gone. He has seen murder done under his eyes for days, and he is
ready to give a certificate of the cause of death. And the strange thing
is that in the ordinary way he would be quite justified in doing so."
"Chris is not going to die; at least, not in that way," Enid
"Then leave her alone. No more drugs; no medicine even. Give Nature a
chance. Thank Heaven, the girl has a perfect constitution."
"Chris is not going to die," Enid repeated, doggedly, "but the
certificate will be given, all the same. Oh, Hatherly, you must trust
me--trust me as you have never done before. Look at me, study me. Did you
ever know me to do a mean or dishonourable thing?"
They were down in the drawing-room again; David waiting, with a strange
sense of embarrassment under Margaret Henson's distant eyes; indeed, it
was probable that she had never noticed him at all. All the same she
turned eagerly to Bell.
"Tell me the worst," she cried. "Tell me all there is to know."
"Your niece's sufferings are over," Bell said, gravely; "I have no more
to tell you."
A profound silence followed, broken presently by angry voices outside.
Then Williams looked in at the door and beckoned Enid to him. His face
was wreathed in an uneasy grin.
"Mr. Henson has got away," he said. "Blest if I can say how. And they
dogs have rolled him about, and tore his clothes, and made such a picture
of him as you never saw. And a sweet temper he's in!"
"Where is he now?" Enid asked. "There are people here he must not see."
"Well, he came back in through the study window, swearing dreadful for so
respectable a gentleman. And he went right up to his room, after ordering
whisky and soda-water."
Enid flew back to the drawing-room. Not a moment was to be lost. At any
hazard Reginald Henson must be kept in ignorance of the presence of
strangers. A minute later, and the darkness of the night had swallowed
them up. Williams fastened the lodge-gates behind them, and they turned
their faces in the direction of Rottingdean Road.
"A strange night's work," David said, presently.
"Aye, but pregnant with result," Bell answered. There was a stern,
exulting ring in his voice. "There is much to do and much danger to be
faced, but we are on the right track at last. But why did you send me
that note just now?"
David smiled as he lighted a cigarette.
"It is part of the scheme," he said. "Part of my scheme, you understand.
But, principally, I sent you the note because Miss Enid asked me to."
MARGARET SEES A GHOST
With a sigh of unutterable relief Enid heard Williams returning. Reginald
Henson had not come down yet, and the rest of the servants had retired
some time. Williams came up with a request as to whether he could do
anything more before he went to bed.
"Just one thing," said Enid. "The good dogs have done their work well
to-night, but they have not quite finished. Find Rollo for me, and bring
him here quick. Then you can shut up the house, and I will see that Mr.
Henson is made comfortable after his fright."
The big dog came presently and followed Enid timidly upstairs. Apparently
the great black-muzzled brute had been there before, as evidently he knew
he was doing wrong. He crawled along the corridor till he came to the
room where the sick girl lay, and here he followed Enid. The lamp was
turned down low as Enid glanced at the bed. Then she smiled faintly, yet
There was nobody in the room. The patient's bed was empty!
"It works well," Enid murmured. "May it go on as it has been started.
Lie down, Rollo; lie there, good dog. And if anybody comes in tear him
The great brute crouched down obediently, thumping his tail on the floor
as an indication that he understood. As if a load had been taken from her
mind Enid crept down the stairs. She had hardly reached the hall before
Henson followed her. His big face was white with passion; he was
trembling from head to foot from fright and pain. There was a red rash on
his forehead that by no means tended to improve his appearance.
"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded, hoarsely.
Enid looked at him coolly. She could afford to do so now. All the danger
was past, and she felt certain that the events of the evening were
unknown to him.
"I might ask you the same question," she said. "You look white and
shaken; you might have been thrown violently into a heap of stones. But
please don't make a noise. It is not fitting now. Chris--"
Enid hesitated; the prevarication did not come so easily as she
"Chris has gone," she said. "She passed away an hour ago."
Henson muttered something that sounded like consolation. He could be
polite and suave enough on occasions, but not to-night. Even
philanthropists are selfish at times. Moreover, his nerves were badly
shaken and he wanted a stimulant badly.
"I am going to bed," Enid said, wearily. "Goodnight."
She went noiselessly upstairs, and Henson passed into the library. He was
puzzled over this sudden end of Christiana Henson. He was half inclined
to believe that she was not dead at all; he belonged to the class of men
who believe nothing without proof. Well, he could easily ascertain that
for himself. There would be quite time enough in the morning.
For a long time Henson sat there thinking and smoking, as was his usual
custom. Like other great men, he had his worries and troubles, and that
they were mainly of his own making did not render them any lighter. So
long as Margaret Henson was under the pressure of his thumb, money was no
great object. But there were other situations where money was utterly
Henson was about to give it up as a bad job, for tonight at any rate. He
wondered bitterly what his admirers would say if they knew everything. He
wondered--what was that?
Somebody creeping about the house, somebody talking in soft, though
distinct, whispers. His quick ears detected that sound instantly. He
slipped into the hall; Margaret Henson was there, with the remains of
what had once been a magnificent opera-cloak over her shoulders.
"How you startled me!" Henson said, irritably. "Why don't you go to bed?"
Enid, looking over the balustrade from the landing, wondered so also, but
she kept herself prudently hidden. The first words that she heard drove
all the blood from her heart.
"I cannot," the feeble, moaning voice said. "The house is full of ghosts;
they haunt and follow me everywhere. And Chris is dead, and I have seen
"So I'm told," Henson said, with brutal callousness. "What was the
"Like Chris. All pale and white, with a frightened look on her face. And
she was all dressed in white, too, with a cloak about her shoulders. And
just when I was going to speak to her she turned and disappeared into
Enid's bedroom. And there are other ghosts--"
"One at a time, please," Henson said, grimly. "So Christiana's ghost
passed into her sister's bedroom. You come and sit quietly in the library
whilst I investigate matters."
Margaret Henson complied in her dull, mechanical way, and Enid flew like
a flash of light to her room. Another girl was there--a girl exceedingly
like her, but looking wonderfully pale and drawn.
"That fiend suspects," Enid said. "How unfortunate it was that you
should meet aunt like that. Chris, you must go back again. Fly to your
own room and compose yourself. Only let him see you lying white and still
there, and he must be satisfied."
Chris rose with a shudder.
"And if the wretch offers to touch me," she moaned, "If he does--"
"He will not. He dare not. Heaven help him if he tries any experiment of
that kind. If he does, Rollo will kill him to a certainty."
"Ah, I had forgotten the faithful dog. Those dogs are more useful to us
than a score of men. I will step by the back way and through my
dressing-room. Oh, Enid, how glad I shall be to find myself outside the
walls of this dreadful house!"
She flew along the corridor and gained her room in safety. It was an
instant's work to throw off her cloak and compose herself rigidly under
the single white sheet. But though she lay still her heart was beating
to suffocation as she heard the creak and thud of a heavy step coming up
the stairs. Then the door was opened in a stealthy way and Henson came
in. He could see the outline of the white figure, and a sigh of
satisfaction escaped him. A less suspicious man would have retired at
once; a man less engaged upon his task would have seen two great amber
eyes close to the floor.
"An old woman's fancy," he muttered. "Still, as I am here, I'll make
He stretched out his hand to touch the marble forehead, there was a snarl
and a gurgle, and Henson came to the ground with a hideous crash that
carried him staggering beyond the door into the corridor. Rollo had the
intruder by the throat; a thousand crimson and blue stars danced before
the wretched man's eyes; he grappled with his foe with one last
despairing effort, and then there came over him a vague, warm
unconsciousness. When he came to himself he was lying on his bed, with
Williams and Enid bending over him.
"How did it happen?" Enid asked, with simulated anxiety.
"I--I was walking along the corridor," Henson gasped, "going--going to
bed, you see; and one of those diabolical dogs must have got into the
house. Before I knew what I was doing the creature flew at my throat and
dragged me to the floor. Telephone for Walker at once. I am dying,
He fell back once more utterly lost to his surroundings. There was a
great, gaping, raw wound at the side of the throat that caused Enid
"Do you think he is--dead, Williams?" she asked.
"No such luck as that," Williams said, with the air of a confirmed
pessimist. "I hope you locked that there bedroom door and put the key in
your pocket, miss. I suppose we'd better send for the doctor, unless you
and me puts him out of his misery. There's one comfort, however, Mr.
Henson will be in bed for the next fortnight, at any rate, so he'll be
powerless to do any prying about the house. The funeral will be over long
before he's about again."
* * * * *
The first grey streaks of dawn were in the air as Enid stood outside the
lodge-gates. She was not alone, for a neat figure in grey, marvellously