Part 3 out of 7
like her, was by her side. The figure in grey was dressed for travelling
and she carried a bag in her hand.
"Good-bye, dear, and good luck to you," she said. "It is dangerous
"You have absolutely everything that you require?" Enid asked.
"Everything. By the time you are at breakfast I shall be in London. And
once I am there the search for the secret will begin in earnest."
"You are sure that Reginald Henson suspected nothing?"
"I am perfectly certain that he was satisfied; indeed, I heard him say
so. Still, if it had not been for the dogs! We are going to succeed,
Enid, something at my heart tells me so. See how the sun shines on
your face and in your dear eyes. Au revoir, an omen--an omen of a
THE PACE SLACKENS
Steel lay sleepily back in the cab, not quite sure whether his
cigarette was alight or not. They were well into the main road again
before Bell spoke.
"It is pretty evident that you and I are on the same track," he said.
"I am certain that I am on the right one," David replied; "but, when I
come to consider the thing calmly, it seems more by good luck than
anything else. I came out with you to-night seeking adventure, and I am
bound to admit that I found it. Also, I found the lady who interviewed me
in the darkness, which is more to the point."
"As a matter of fact, you did nothing of the kind," said Bell, with the
suggestion of a laugh.
"Oh! Case of the wrong room over again. I was ready to swear it. Whom did
I speak to? Whose voice was it that was so very much like hers?"
"The lady's sister. Enid Henson was not at 218, Brunswick Square, on
the night in question. Of that you may be certain. But it's a queer
business altogether. Rascality I can understand. I am beginning to
comprehend the plot of which I am the victim. But I don't mind
admitting that up to the present I fail to comprehend why those girls
evolved the grotesque scheme for getting assistance at your hands. The
whole thing savours of madness."
"I don't think so," David said, thoughtfully. "The girls are romantic as
well as clever. They are bound together by the common ties of a common
enmity towards a cunning and utterly unscrupulous scoundrel. By the
merest accident in the world they discovered that I am in a position to
afford them valuable advice and assistance. At the same time they don't
want me to be brought into the business, for two reasons--the first,
because the family secret is a sacred one; the second, because any
disclosures would land me in great physical danger. Therefore they put
their heads together and evolve this scheme. Call it a mad venture if you
like, but if you consider the history of your own country you can find
wilder schemes evolved and carried out by men who have had brains enough
to be trusted with the fortunes of the nation. If these girls had been
less considerate for my safety--"
"But," Bell broke in eagerly, "they failed in that respect at the very
outset. You must have been spotted instantly by the foe, who has
cunningly placed you in a dangerous position, perhaps as a warning to
mind your own business in future. And if those girls come forward to save
you--and to do so they must appear in public, mind you--they are bound to
give away the whole thing. Mark the beautiful cunning of it. My word, we
have a foe worthy of our steel to meet."
"_We_? Do you mean to say that your enemy and mine is a common one?"
"Certainly. When I found my foe I found yours."
"And who may he be, by the same token?"
"Reginald Henson. Mind you, I had no more idea of it than the dead when I
went to Longdean Grange to-night. I went there because I had begun to
suspect who occupied the place and to try and ascertain how the Rembrandt
engraving got into 218, Brunswick Square. Miss Gates must have heard us
talking over the matter, and that was why she went to Longdean Grange
"I hope she got home safe," said David. "The cab man says he put her down
opposite the Lawns."
"I hope so. Well, I found out who the foe was. And I have a pretty good
idea why he played that trick upon me. He knew that Enid Henson and
myself were engaged; he could see what a danger to his schemes it would
be to have a man like myself in the family. Then the second Rembrandt
turned up, and there was his chance for wiping me off the slate. After
that came the terrible family scandal between Lord Littimer and his wife.
I cannot tell you anything of that, because I cannot speak with definite
authority. But you could judge of the effect of it on Lady Littimer
"I haven't the faintest recollection of seeing Lady Littimer to-night."
"My dear fellow, the poor lady whom you met as Mrs. Henson is really Lady
Littimer. Henson is her maiden name, and those girls are her nieces.
Trouble has turned the poor woman's brain. And at the bottom of the whole
mystery is Reginald Henson, who is not only nephew on his mother's side,
but is also next heir but one to the Littimer title. At the present
moment he is blackmailing that unhappy creature, and is manoeuvring to
get the whole of her large fortune in his hands. Reginald Henson is the
man those girls want to circumvent, and for that reason they came to you.
And Henson has found it out to a certain extent and placed you in an
"Witness my involuntary guest and the notes and the cigar-case," David
said. "But does he know what I advised one of the girls--my princess of
the dark room--to do?"
"I don't fancy he does. You see, that advice was conveyed by word of
mouth. The girls dared not trust themselves to correspondence, otherwise
they might have approached you in a more prosaic manner. But I confess
you startled me to-night."
"What do you mean by that?"
"When you sent me that note. What you virtually asked me to do was to
countenance murder. When I went into the sick room I saw that Christiana
Henson was dying. The first idea that flashed across my mind was that
Reginald Henson was getting the girl out of the way for his own purposes.
My dear fellow, the whole atmosphere literally spoke of albumen. Walker
must have been blind not to see how he was being deceived. I was about to
give him my opinion pretty plainly when your note came up to me. And
there was Enid, with her whole soul in her large eyes, pleading for my
silence. If the girl died I was accessory after and before the fact. You
will admit that that was a pretty tight place to put a doctor in."
"That's because you didn't know the facts of the case, my dear Bell."
"Then perhaps you'll be so good as to enlighten me," Bell said, drily.
"Certainly. That was part of my scheme. In that synopsis of the story
obtained by the girls by some more or less mechanical means, the reputed
death of a patient forms the crux of the tale. The idea occurred to me
after reading a charge against a medical student some time ago in the
_Standard_. The man wanted to get himself out of the way; he wanted to
be considered as dead, in fact. By the artful use of albumen in certain
doses he produced symptoms of disease which will be quite familiar to
you. He made himself so ill that his doctor naturally concluded that he
was dying. As a matter of fact, he was dying. Had he gone on in the same
way another day he would have been dead. Instead of this he drops the
dosing and, going to his doctor in disguise, says that he _is_ dead. He
gets a certificate of his own demise, and there you are. I am not
telling you fiction, but hard fact recorded in a high-class paper. The
doctor gave the certificate without viewing the body. Well, it struck me
that we had here the making of a good story, and I vaguely outlined it
for a certain editor. In my synopsis I suggested that it was a woman who
proposed to pretend to die thus so as to lull the suspicions of a
villain to sleep, and thus possess herself of certain vital documents.
My synopsis falls into certain hands. The owner of those hands asks me
how the thing was done. I tell her. In other words, the so-called murder
that you imagined you had discovered to-night was the result of design.
Walker will give his certificate, Reginald Henson will regard Miss
Christiana as dead and buried, and she will be free to act for the
honour of the family."
"But they might have employed somebody else."
"Who would have had to be told the history of the family dishonour. So
far I fancy I have made the ground quite clear. But the mystery of the
cigar-case and the notes and the poor fellow in the hospital is still as
much a mystery as ever. We are like two allied forces working together,
but at the same time under the disadvantage of working in the dark. You
can see, of course, that the awful danger I stand in is as terrible for
those poor girls."
"Of course I do. Still, we have a key to your trouble. It is a
dreadfully rusty one and will want a deal of oiling before it's used,
but there it is."
"Where, my dear fellow, where?" David asked.
"Why, in the Sussex County Hospital, of course. The man may die, in
which case everything must be sacrificed in order to save your good
name. On the other hand, he may get better, and then he will tell us all
"He might. On the other hand, he might plead ignorance. It is possible
for him to suggest that the whole affair was merely a coincidence, so far
as he was concerned."
"Yes, but he would have to explain how he burgled your house, and what
business he had to get himself half murdered in your conservatory. Let us
get out here and walk the rest of the way to your house. Our cabby knows
quite enough about us without having definite views as to your address."
The cabman was dismissed with a handsome _douceur_, and the twain turned
off the front at the corner of Eastern Terrace. Late as it was, there
were a few people lounging under the hospital wall, where there was a
suggestion of activity about the building unusual at that time of the
night. A rough-looking fellow, who seemed to have followed Bell and Steel
from the front, dropped into a seat by the hospital gates and laid his
head back as if utterly worn out. Just inside the gates a man was smoking
"Halloa, Cross," David cried, "you are out late tonight!"
"Heavy night," Cross responded, sleepily, "with half a score of accidents
to finish with. Some of Palmer of Lingfield's private patients thrown off
a coach and brought here in the ambulance. Unless I am greatly mistaken,
that is Hatherly Bell with you."
"The same," Bell said, cheerfully. "I recollect you in Edinburgh. So some
of Palmer's patients have come to grief. Most of his special cases used
to pass through my hands."
"I've got one here to-night who recollects you perfectly well," said
Cross. "He's got a dislocated shoulder, but otherwise he is doing well.
Got a mania that he's a doctor who murdered a patient."
"Electric light anything to do with the story?" Bell asked, eagerly.
"That's the man. Seems to have a wonderfully brilliant intellect if you
can only keep him off that topic. He spotted you in North Street
yesterday, and seemed wonderfully disappointed to find you had nothing
whatever to do with this institution."
"If he is not asleep," Bell suggested, "and you have no objection--"
Cross nodded and opened the gate. Before passing inside Bell took the
rolled-up Rembrandt from his deep breast-pocket and handed it to David.
"Take care of this for me," he whispered. "I'm going inside. I've dropped
upon an old case that interested me very much years ago, and I'd like to
see my patient again. See you in the morning, I expect. Good-night."
David nodded in reply and went his way. It was intensely quiet and still
now; the weary loafer at the outside hospital seat had disappeared.
There was nobody to be seen anywhere as David placed his key in the
latch and opened the door. Inside the hall-light was burning, and so was
the shaded electric lamp in the conservatory. The study leading to the
conservatory was in darkness. The effect of the light behind was
artistic and pleasing.
It was with a sense of comfort and relief that David fastened the door
behind him. Without putting up the light in the study David laid the
Rembrandt on his table, which was immediately below the window in his
work-room. The night was hot; he pushed the top sash down liberally.
"I must get that transparency removed," he murmured, "and have the window
filled with stained glass. The stuff is artistic, but it is so frankly
what it assumes to be."
A COMMON ENEMY
David idly mixed himself some whisky and soda water in the dining-room,
where he finished his cigarette. He was tired and ready for bed now, so
tired that he could hardly find energy enough to remove his boots and get
into the big carpet slippers that were so old and worn. He put down the
dining-room lights and strolled into the study. Just for a moment he sat
there contemplating with pleased, tired eyes the wilderness of bloom
Then he fell into a reverie, as he frequently did. An idea for a
fascinating story crept unbidden into his mind. He gazed vaguely around
him. Some little noise outside attracted his attention, the kind of noise
made by a sweep's brushes up a chimney. David turned idly towards the
open window. The top of it was but faintly illuminated by the light of
the conservatory gleaming dully on the transparency over the glass. But
David's eyes were keen, and he could see distinctly a man's thumb crooked
downwards over the frame of the ash. Somebody had swarmed up the
telephone holdfasts and was getting in through the window. Steel slipped
well into the shadow, but not before an idea had come to him. He removed
the rolled-up Rembrandt from the table and slipped it behind a row of
books in the book-case. Then he looked up again at the crooked thumb.
He would recognise that thumb again anywhere. It was flat like the head
of a snake, and the nail was no larger than a pea--a thumb that had
evidently been cruelly smashed at one time. The owner of the thumb might
have been a common burglar, but in the light of recent events David was
not inclined to think so. At any rate he felt disposed to give his theory
every chance. He saw a long, fustian-clad arm follow the scarred thumb,
and a hand grope all over the table.
"Curse me," a foggy voice whispered, hoarsely. "It ain't here. And the
bloke told me--"
The voice said no more, for David grabbed at the arm and caught the wrist
in a vice-like grip. Instantly another arm shot over the window and an
ugly piece of iron piping was swung perilously near Steel's head.
Unfortunately, he could see no face. As he jumped back to avoid a blow
his grasp relaxed, there was a dull thud outside, followed by the tearing
scratch of boots against a wall and the hollow clatter of flying feet.
All David could do was to close the window and regret that his
impetuosity had not been more judiciously restrained.
"Now, what particular thing was he after?" he asked himself. "But I had
better defer any further speculations on the matter till the morning.
After the fright he had my friend won't come back again. And I'm just as
tired as a dog."
But there were other things the next day to occupy David's attention
besides the visit of his nocturnal friend. He had found out enough the
previous evening to encourage him to go farther. And surely Miss Ruth
Gates could not refuse to give him further information.
He started out to call at 219, Brunswick Square, as soon as he deemed it
excusable to do so. Miss Gates was out, the solemn butler said, but she
might be found in the square gardens. David came upon her presently with
a book in her lap and herself under a shady tree. She was not reading,
her eyes were far away. As she gave David a warm greeting there was a
tender bloom on her lovely face.
"Oh, yes, I got home quite right," she said. "No suspicion was aroused at
all. And you?"
"I had a night thrilling enough for yellow covers, as Artemus Ward says.
I came here this morning to throw myself on your mercy, Miss Gates. Were
I disposed to do so, I have information enough to force your hand. But I
prefer to hear everything from your lips."
"Did Enid tell you anything?" Ruth faltered.
"Well, she allowed me to know a great deal. In the first place, I know
that you had a great hand in bringing me to 218 the other night. I know
that it was you who suggested that idea, and it was you who facilitated
the use of Mr. Gates's telephone. How the thing was stage-managed matters
very little at present. It turns out now that your friend and Dr. Bell
and myself have a common enemy."
Ruth looked up swiftly. There was something like fear in her eyes.
"Have--have you discovered the name of that enemy?" she asked.
"Yes, I know now that our foe is Mr. Reginald Henson."
"A man who is highly respected. A man who stands wonderfully high in
public estimation. There are thousands and thousands of people who look
upon him as a great and estimable creature. He gives largely in
charities, he devotes a good deal of his time to the poor. My uncle, who
_is_ a good man, if you like, declares that Reginald Henson is absolutely
indispensable to him. At the next election that man is certain to be
returned to Parliament to represent an important northern constituency.
If you told my uncle anything about him, he would laugh at you."
"I have not the slightest intention of approaching your uncle on this
matter at present."
"Because you could prove nothing. Nobody can prove anything."
"But Christiana Henson may in time."
Once more Ruth flashed a startled look at her companion.
"So you have discovered something about that?" she whispered.
"I have discovered everything about it. Legally speaking, the young lady
is dead. She died last night, as Dr. Walker will testify. She passed away
in the formula presented by me the night that I met her in the darkness
at 218, Brunswick Square. Now, will you be so good as to tell me how
those girls got hold of my synopsis?"
"That came about quite naturally. Your synopsis and proof in an open
envelope were accidentally slipped into a large circular envelope used by
a firm of seed merchants and addressed to Longdean Grange, sent out no
doubt amongst thousands of others. Chris saw it, and, prompted by
curiosity, read it. Out of that our little plot was gradually evolved.
You see, I was at school with those two girls, and they have few secrets
from me. Naturally, I suggested the scheme because I see a great deal of
Reginald Henson. He comes here; he also comes very frequently to our
house in Prince's Gate. And yet I am sorry, from the bottom of my heart,
that I ever touched the thing, for your sake."
The last words were spoken with a glance that set David's pulses beating.
He took Ruth's half-extended hand in his, and it was not withdrawn.
"Don't worry about me," he said. "I shall come out all right in the end.
Still, I shall look eagerly forward to any assistance that you can afford
me. For instance, what hold has Henson got on his relatives?"
"That I cannot tell you," Ruth cried. "You must not ask me. But we were
acting for the best; our great object was to keep you out of danger."
"There is no danger to me if I can only clear myself," Steel replied. "If
you could only tell me where those bank-notes came from! When I think of
that part of the business I am filled with shame. And yet if you only
knew how fond I am of my home.... At the same time, when I found that I
was called upon to help ladies in distress I should have refused all
offers of reward. If I had done so I should have had no need of your
pity. And yet--and yet it is very sweet to me."
He pressed the hand in his, and the pressure was returned. David forget
all about his troubles for the time; and it was very cool and pleasant
and quiet there.
"I am afraid that those notes were forced upon us," she said. "Though I
frankly believe that the enemy does not know what we have learnt to do
from you. And as to the cigar-case: would it not be easy to settle that
matter by asking a few questions?"
"My dear young lady, I have done so. And the more questions I ask the
worse it is for me. The cigar-case I claimed came from Walen's, beyond
all question, and was purchased by the mysterious individual now in the
hospital. I understood that the cigar-case was the very one I admired at
Lockhart's some time ago, and--"
"If you inquire at Lockhart's you will find such to be the case."
David looked up with a puzzled expression. Ruth spoke so seriously, and
with such an air of firm conviction, that he was absolutely staggered.
"So I did," he said. "And was informed in the most positive way by the
junior partner that the case I admired had been purchased by an American
called Smith and sent to the Metropole after he had forwarded
dollar-notes for it. Surely you don't suppose that a firm like Lockhart's
would be guilty of anything--"
Ruth rose to her feet, her face pale and resolute.
"This must be looked to," she said. "The cigar-case sent to you on that
particular night was purchased at Lockhart's by myself and paid for with
my own money!"
ROLLO SHOWS HIS TEETH
The blinds were all down at Longdean Grange, a new desolation seemed to
be added to the gloom of the place. Out in the village it had by some
means become known that there was somebody dead in the house, either
madam herself or one of those beautiful young ladies whom nobody had ever
seen. Children loitering about the great lodge-gates regarded Williams
with respectful awe and Dr. Walker with curiosity. The doctor was the
link connecting the Grange with the outside world.
To add to the gloom of it all the bell over the stables clanged
mournfully. The noise made Walker quite nervous as he walked up the drive
by Williams's side. Not for a pension would he have dared approach the
house alone. Williams, in the seediest and most dilapidated rusty black,
had a face of deepest melancholy.
"But why that confound--Why do they ring that bell?" Walker asked,
"Madam ordered it, sir," Williams replied. "She's queerer than ever, is
mistress. She don't say much, but Miss Christiana's death is a great
shock to her. She ordered the bell to be tolled, and she carried on awful
when Miss Enid tried to stop it."
Walker murmured vaguely something doubtless representing sympathy.
"And my other patient, Williams?" he asked. "How is he getting along?
Really, you ought to keep those dogs under better control. It's a
dreadful business altogether. Fancy a man of Mr. Henson's high character
and gentle disposition being attacked by a savage dog in the very house!
I hope the hound is securely kennelled."
"Well, he isn't, sir," Williams said, with just the glint of a grin on
his dry features. "And it wasn't altogether Rollo's fault. That dog was
so devoted to Miss Christiana as you never see. And he got to know as
the poor young lady was dying. So he creeps into the house and lies
before her bedroom door, and when Mr. Henson comes along the dog takes
it in his 'ead as he wants to go in there. And now Rollo's got inside,
and nobody except Miss Enid dare go near. I pity that there undertaker
when he comes."
Walker shuddered slightly. Longdean Grange was a fearful place for the
nerves. Nothing of the routine or the decorous ever happened there. The
fees were high and the remuneration prompt, or Walker would have handed
over his patient cheerfully to somebody else. Not for a moment did he
imagine that Williams was laughing at him. Well, he need not see the
body, which was a comfort. With a perfectly easy conscience he could give
a certificate of death. And if only somebody would stop that hideous
bell! Someone was singing quietly in the drawing-room, and the music
seemed to be strangely bizarre and out of place.
Inside it seemed like a veritable house of the dead--the shadow of
tragedy loomed everywhere. The dust rose in clouds from the floor as the
servants passed to and fro. They were all clad in black, and shuffled
uneasily, as if conscious that their clothes did not belong to them. Enid
came out into the hall to meet the doctor. Her face seemed terribly white
and drawn; there was something in her eyes that suggested anxiety more
"I suppose you have come principally to see Mr. Henson?" she said. "But
"No occasion to intrude upon your grief for a moment, Miss Henson,"
Walker said, quietly. "As I have told you before, there was very little
hope for your sister from the first. It was a melancholy satisfaction to
me to find my diagnosis confirmed in every detail by so eminent an
authority as Dr. Hatherly Bell. I will give you a certificate with
"You would like to see my sister?" Enid suggested.
The quivering anxiety was in her eyes again, the strained look on her
face. Walker was discreetly silent as to what he had heard about that
bloodhound, but he had by no means forgotten it.
"Not the least occasion, I assure you," he said, fervently. "Your sister
had practically passed away when I last saw her. There are times
when--er--you see--but really there is no necessity."
"Mr. Henson is terribly fastidious about these things."
"Then he shall be satisfied. I shall tell him that I have--er--seen the
body. And I have, you know. In these matters a medical man cannot be too
careful. If you will provide me with pen and ink--"
"Thank you very much. Will you come this way, please?"
Walker followed into the drawing-room. Mrs. Henson, wearing something
faded and dishevelled in the way of a mourning dress, was crooning some
dirge at the piano. Her white hair was streaming loosely over her
shoulders, there was a vacant stare in her eyes. The intruders might have
been statues for all the heed she took of them. Presently the discordant
music ceased, and she began to pace noiselessly up and down the room.
"Another one gone," she murmured; "the best-beloved. It is always the
best-beloved that dies, and the one we hate that is left. Take all those
coaches away, send the guests back home. Why do they come chattering and
feasting here? She shall be drawn by four black horses to Churchfield in
the dead of the night, and there laid in the family vault."
"Mrs. Henson's residence," Enid explained, in a whisper. "It is some
fifteen miles away. She has made up her mind that my sister shall be
taken away as she says--to-morrow night. Is this paper all that is
necessary for the--you understand? I have telephoned to the undertaker in
Walker hastened to assure the girl that what little further formality was
required he would see to himself. All he desired now was to visit Henson
and get out of the house as soon as possible. As he hurried from the
drawing-room he heard Mrs. Henson crooning and muttering, he saw the
vacant glare in her eyes, and vaguely wondered how soon he should have
another patient here.
Reginald Henson sat propped up in his bed, white and exhausted. Beyond
doubt he had had a terrible shock and fright, and the droop of his
eyelids told of shattered nerves. There was a thick white bandage round
his throat, his left shoulder was strapped tightly. He spoke with
"Do we feel any better this morning?" Walker asked, cheerfully.
"No, we don't," said Henson, with a total absence of his usual
graciousness of manner. "We feel confoundedly weak, and sick, and dizzy.
Every time I drop off to sleep I wake with a start and a feeling that
that infernal dog is smothering me. Has the brute been shot yet?"
"I don't fancy so; in fact, he is still at his post upstairs, and
"Therefore you have not seen the body of my poor dear cousin?"
"Otherwise I could have given no certificate," Walker said, with dignity.
"If I have satisfied myself, sir, and the requirements of the law, why,
then, everybody is satisfied. I _have_ seen the body."
Technically the little doctor spoke the truth. Henson muttered
something that sounded like an apology. Walker smiled graciously and
suggested that rest and a plain diet were all that his patient needed.
Rest was the great thing. The bandages need not be removed for a day or
two, at the expiration of which time he would look in again. Once the
road was reached in safety Walker took off his hat and wiped the beads
from his forehead.
"What a house," he muttered. "What a life to lead. Thank goodness I need
not go there again before Saturday. If anybody were to offer me a small
glass of brandy with a little soda now, I should feel tempted to break
through my rule and drink it."
Meanwhile the long terror of the day dragged on inside the house. The
servants crept about the place on tiptoe, the hideous bell clanged out,
Mrs. Henson paced wearily up and down the drawing-room, singing and
muttering to herself, until Enid was fain to fly or break down and yell
hysterically. It was one of Margaret Henson's worst days.
The death of Christiana seemed to affect her terribly. Enid watched her
in terror. More than once she was fearful that the frail thread would
snap--the last faint glimmer of reason go out for ever. And yet it would
be madness to tell Margaret Henson the truth. In the first place she
would not have understood, and on the other hand she might have
comprehended enough to betray to Reginald Henson. As it was, her grief
was obvious and sincere enough. The whole thing was refinedly cruel, but
really there was no help for it. And things had gone on splendidly.
Henson was powerless to interfere, and the doctor was satisfied. Once she
had put her hand to the plough Enid's quick brain saw her through. But
she would have been hard put to it to deceive Henson under his very nose
without the help of the bloodhound. Now she could see her way still
farther. She waited nervously for a ring from the lodge-gates to the
house, and about four o'clock it came. The undertaker was at the gates
waiting for an escort to the Grange.
Enid passed her tongue out over a pair of dry lips. The critical moment
was at hand. If she could get through the next hour she was safe. If
not--but there must be no "if not," she told herself. The undertaker
came, suave, quiet, respectful, but he dropped back from the bedroom door
as he saw two gleaming, amber eyes regarding him menacingly.
"The dog loved my sister," Enid explained, quietly. "But he has found
his way to her room, and he refuses to move. He fancies that we have
done something her.... Oh, no, I couldn't poison him! And it would be a
dreadful thing if there were to be anything like a struggle _here_.
Evidently the dog had learned his lesson well. He wagged his great tail,
but refused to move. The undertaker took a couple of steps forward and
Rollo's crest rose. There was a flash of white teeth and a growl. At the
end of half an hour no progress had been made.
"There's only one thing for it," suggested Williams, in his rusty voice.
"We can get the dog away for ten minutes at midnight. He likes a run
then, and I'll bring the other dogs to fetch him, like."
"My time is very valuable just now," the undertaker suggested, humbly.
"Then you had better measure me," said Enid, turning a face absolutely
flaming red and deadly white to the speaker. "It is a dreadful, ghastly
business altogether, but I cannot possibly think of any other way. The
idea of anything like a struggle here is abhorrent.... And the dog's
fidelity is so touching. My sister and I were exactly alike, except that
she was fairer than me."
The undertaker was understood to demur slightly on professional grounds.
It was very irregular and not in the least likely to give satisfaction.
"What does it matter?" Enid cried, passionately. She was acting none the
less magnificently because her nerves were quivering like harpstrings.
"When I am dead you can fling me in a ditch, for all I care. We are a
strange family and do strange things. The question of satisfaction need
not bother you. Take my measure and send the coffin home to-morrow, and
we will manage to do the rest. Then to-morrow night you will have a
four-horse hearse here at eleven o'clock, and drive the coffin to
Churchfield Church, where you will be expected. After that your work will
The bewildered young man responded that things should be exactly as the
young lady required. He had seen many strange and wild things in his
time, but none so strange and weird as this. It was all utterly
irregular, of course, but people after all had a right to demand what
they paid for. Enid watched the demure young man in black down the
corridor, and then everything seemed to be enveloped in a dense purple
mist, the world was spinning under her feet, there was a great noise like
the rush of mighty waters in her brain. With a great effort she threw off
the weakness and came to herself, trembling from head to foot.
"Courage," she murmured, "courage. This life has told on me more than I
thought. With Chris's example before me I must not break down now."
The lamps gleamed upon the dusty statuary and pictures and faded flowers
in the hall, they glinted upon a long polished oak casket there reposing
upon trestles. Ever and anon a servant would peep in and vanish again as
if ashamed of something. The house was deadly quiet now, for Mrs. Henson
had fallen asleep worn out with exhaustion, and Enid had instantly
stopped the dreadful clamour of the bell. The silence that followed was
almost as painful as the noise had been.
On the coffin were wreaths of flowers. Enid sat in the drawing-room with
the door open, where she could see everything, but was herself unseen.
She was getting terribly anxious and nervous again; the hour was near
eleven, and the hearse might arrive at any time. She would know no kind
of peace until she could get that hideous mockery out of the house.
She sat listening thus, straining her ears to catch the slightest sound.
Suddenly there came a loud clamour at the front door, an imperative
knocking that caused Enid's heart to come into her mouth. Who could it
be? What stranger had passed the dogs in that way?
She heard crabbed, sour, but courageous old Williams go to the door. She
heard the clang of bolts and the rattle of chains, and then a weird cry
from Williams. A voice responded that brought Enid, trembling and livid,
into the hall. A young man with a dark, exceedingly handsome face and
somewhat effeminate mouth stood there, with eyes for nothing but the
shining flower-decked casket on the trestles. He seemed beside himself
with rage and grief; he might have been a falsely imprisoned convict face
to face with the real culprit.
"Why didn't you let me know?" he cried. "Why didn't you let me know?"
His voice rang in the roof. Enid flew to his side and placed her hand
upon his lips.
"Your mother is asleep, Frank," she said. "She has had no sleep for three
nights. A long rest may be the means of preserving her sanity. Why did
you come here?"
The young man laughed silently. It was ghastly mirth to see, and it
brought the tears into Enid's eyes. She had forgotten the danger of the
young man's presence.
"I heard that Chris was ill," he said. "They told me that she was
dying. And I could not keep away. And now I have come too late. Oh,
He fell on his knees by the side of the coffin, his frame shaken by
tearless sobs. Enid bit her lips to keep back the words that rose to
them. She would have given much to have spoken the truth. But at any
hazard she must remain silent. She waited till the paroxysm of grief had
passed away, then she touched the intruder gently on the shoulder.
"There is great danger for you in this house," she said.
"What do I care for danger when Chris lies yonder?"
"But, dear Frank, there are others to consider besides yourself. There is
your mother, for instance. Oh, you ought not to have come here to-night.
If your father knew!"
"My father? He would be the last person in the world to know. And what
cares he about anything, so long as he has his prints and his paintings?
He has no feelings, no heart, no soul, I may say."
"Frank, you must go at once. Do you know that Reginald Henson is here? He
has ears like a hare; it will be nothing less than a miracle unless he
hears your voice. And then--"
The young man was touched at last. The look of grief died out of his eyes
and a certain terror filled them.
"I think that I should have come in any case," he whispered. "I don't
want to bring any further trouble upon you, Enid, but I wanted to see the
last of her. I came here, and some of the dogs remembered me. If not, I
might have had no occasion to trouble you. And I won't stay, seeing that
Henson is here. Let me have something to remember her by; let me look
into her room for a moment. If you only knew how I loved her! And you
look as if you had no grief at all."
Enid started guiltily. She had quite forgotten her _rôle_ for the time.
Indeed, there was something unmistakably like relief on her face as she
heard the porter's bell ring from the lodge to the house. Williams
shuffled away, muttering that he would be more useful in the house than
out of it just now, but a glance from Enid subdued him. Presently there
came the sound of wheels on the gravel outside.
"They have come for the--the coffin," Enid murmured. "Frank, it would be
best for you to go. Go upstairs, if you like; you know the way. Only,
don't stay here."
The young man went off dreamily. A heavy grief dulled and blinded his
senses; he walked along like one who wanders in his sleep. Christiana's
room door was open and a lamp was there. There were dainty knick-knacks
on the dressing-table, a vase or two of faded flowers--everything that
denotes the presence of refined and gracious womanhood.
Frank Littimer stood there looking round him for some little time. On a
table by the bedside stood a photograph of a girl in a silver frame.
Littimer pounced upon it hungrily. It was a good picture--the best of
Christiana's that he had ever seen. He slipped out into the corridor and
gently closed the door behind him. Then he passed along with his whole
gaze fixed on the portrait. The girl seemed to be smiling out of the
frame at him. He had loved Christiana since she was a child; he felt that
he had never loved her so much as at this moment. Well, he had something
to remember her by--he had not come here in vain.
It seemed impossible yet to realise that Christiana was dead, that he
would never look into her sunny, tender face again. No, he would wake up
presently and find it had all been a dream. And how different to the last
time he was here. He had been smuggled into the house, and he had
occupied the room with the oak door. He--
The room with the oak door opened and a big man with a white bandage
round his throat stood there with tottering limbs and an ugly smile on
his loose mouth. Littimer started back.
"Reginald," he exclaimed, "I didn't expect to see you here, or--"
"Or you would never have dared to come?" Henson said, hoarsely. "I heard
your voice and I was bound to give you a welcome, even at considerable
personal inconvenience. Help me back to bed again. And now, you insolent
young dog, how dare you show your face here?"
"I came to see Chris," Littimer said, doggedly. "And I came too late.
Even if I had known that I was going to meet you, I should have been here
all the same. Oh, I know what you are going to say; I know what you
think. And some day I shall break out and defy you to do your worst."
Henson smiled as one might do at the outbreak of an angry child. His eyes
flashed and his tongue spoke words that Littimer fairly cowed before. And
yet he did not show it. He was like a boy who has found a stone for the
man who stands over him with the whip. With quick intuition Henson saw
this, and in a measure his manner changed.
"You will say next that you are not afraid of me," he suggested.
"Well," Littimer replied, slowly; "I am not so much afraid of you
as I was."
"Ah! so you imagine that you have discovered something?"
Littimer apparently struggled between a prudent desire for silence and
a disposition to speak. The sneer on the face of his enemy fairly
"Yes," he said, with a note of elation in his voice, "I have made a
discovery, but I am not going to tell you how or where my discovery is.
But I've found Van Sneck."
A shade of whiter pallor came over Henson's face. Then his eyes took on a
murderous, purple-black gleam. All the same, his voice was quite steady
as he replied.
"I'm afraid that is not likely to benefit you much," he said. "Would you
mind handing me that oblong black book from the dressing-table? I want
you to do something for me. What's that?"
There was just the faintest suggestion of a sound outside. It was Enid
listening with all her ears. She had not been long in discovering what
had happened. Once the ghastly farcical incubus was off her shoulders she
had followed Littimer upstairs. As she passed Henson's room the drone of
voices struck on her ears. She stood there and listened. She would have
given much for this not to have happened, but everything happened for the
worst in that accursed house.
But Henson's last words were enough for her. She gathered her skirts
together and flew down the stairs. In the hall Williams stood, with a
grin on his face, pensively scraping his chin with a dry forefinger.
"Now what's the matter, miss?" he cried.
"Don't ask questions," Enid cried. "Go and get me the champagne nippers.
The champagne nippers at once. If you can't find them, then bring me a
pair of pliers. Then come to me on the leads outside the bathroom. It's a
matter of life and death."
David did not appear in the least surprised; indeed, he was long since
past that emotion. Before the bottom of the mystery was reached a great
many more strange things were pretty sure to happen.
"So you bought that cigar-case yourself?" he said.
"Indeed, I did," Ruth answered, eagerly. "Of course I have long known
you by name and I have read pretty well all your tales. I--I liked your
work so much."
David was flattered. The shy, sweet admiration in Ruth's eyes
"And I was very glad to meet you," Ruth went on. "You see, we all liked
your stories. And we knew one or two people who had met you, and
gradually you became quite like a friend of ours--Enid and Chris and
myself, you understand. Then a week or two ago I came down to Brighton
with my uncle to settle all about taking the house here. And I happened
to be in Lockhart's buying something when you came in and asked to see
the cigar-case. I recognised you from your photographs, and I was
interested. Of course, I thought no more of it at the time, until Enid
came up to London and told me all about the synopsis, and how strangely
the heroine's case in your proposed story was like hers. Enid wondered
how you were going to get the girl out of her difficulty, and I jokingly
suggested that she had better ask you. She accepted the idea quite
seriously, saying that if you had a real, plausible way out of the
trouble you might help her. And gradually our scheme was evolved. You
were not to know, because of the possible danger to yourself."
"At the hands of Reginald Henson, of course?"
"Yes. Our scheme took a long time, but we got it worked out at last. We
decided on the telephone because we thought that we could not be traced
that way, never imagining for a moment that you could get the number of
your caller over the trunk line. Enid came up to town, and worked the
telephone, Chris was in No. 218, and I brought the money."
"You placed that cigar-case on my doorstep?"
"Yes, I was wound up for anything. It was I whom you saw riding the
bicycle through Old Steine; it was I who dropped the card of
instructions. It seems a shameful thing to say and to do now, but
I--well, I enjoyed it at the time. And I did it for the sake of my
friends. Do I look like that sort of a girl, Mr. Steel?"
David glanced into the beautiful shy eyes with just the suggestion of
laughter in them.
"You look all that is loyal and good and true," he exclaimed. "And I
don't think I ever admired you quite so much as I do at this moment."
Ruth laughed and looked down. There was something in David's glance that
thrilled her and gave her a sense of happiness she would have found it
hard to describe.
"I am so glad you do not despise me," she whispered.
"Despise you!" David cried. "Why? If you only knew how I, well, how I
loved you! Don't be angry. I mean every word that I say; my feelings for
you are as pure as your own heart. If you could care for me as you do for
those others I should have a friend indeed."
"You have made me care for you very much indeed, Mr. Steel," Ruth
"Call me David..... How nice my plain name sounds from your lips. Ruth
and David. But I must hold myself in hand for the present. Still, I am
glad you like me."
"Well, you have been so good and kind. We have done you a great deal of
injury and you never blamed us. And you are just the man I have always
pictured as the man I could love ... David!"
"Well, it was only one little kiss, and I'm sure nobody saw us, dear. And
later on, when you are my wife--"
"Don't you think we had better keep to business for the present?" Ruth
"Perhaps. There is one little point that you must clear up before we go
any farther. How did you manage to furnish those two big dining-rooms
"Why, the furniture is there. At the top of the house, in a large attic,
all the furniture is stored."
"But the agent told me it had been removed."
"He was wrong. You can't expect the agent to recollect everything about a
house. The place belonged to the lady whom we may call Mrs. Margaret
Henson at one time. When her home scheme fell through she sold one house
as it was. In the other she stored the furniture. Enid knew of all this,
of course. We managed to get a latch--key to fit 218, and Enid and a man
did the rest. Her idea was to keep you in the dark as much as possible.
After the interview the furniture was put back again, and there you are."
"Diplomatic and clever, and decidedly original, not to say feminine. In
the light of recently acquired knowledge I can quite see why your friends
desired to preserve their secret. But they need not have taken all those
precautions. Had they written--"
"They dared not. They were fearful as to what might become of the reply."
"But they might have come to me openly."
"Again, they dared not for your sake. You know a great deal, David, but
there is darkness and trouble and wickedness yet that I dare not speak
of. And you are in danger. Already Reginald Henson has shown you what
he can do."
"And yet he doesn't know everything," David smiled. "He may have stabbed
me in the back, but he is quite ignorant as to what advice I gave to Enid
Henson, which brings me back to the cigar-case. You saw me looking at it
in Lockhart's. Go on."
"Yes, I watched you with a great deal of curiosity. Finally you went off
out of the shop saying that you could not afford to buy the cigar-case,
and I thought no more of the matter for a time. Then we found out all
about your private affairs. Oh, I am ashamed almost to go on."
The dainty little face grew crimson; the hand in David's trembled.
"But we were desperate. And, after all, we were doing no harm. It was
just then that the idea of the cigar-case came into my mind. We knew that
if we could get you to take that money it would only be as a loan. I
suggested the gift of the case as a memento of the occasion. I purchased
that case with my own money and I placed it with its contents on the
doorstep of your house."
"Did you watch it all the time?"
"No, I didn't. But I was satisfied that nobody passed, and I was
sufficiently near to hear your door open at the hour appointed. Of
course, we had carefully rehearsed the telephone conversation, and I knew
exactly what to do."
David sat very thoughtfully for some little time.
"The case must have been changed," he said. "It is very difficult to say
how, but there is no other logical solution of the matter. At about
half-past twelve on that eventful night you placed on my doorstep a
gun-metal cigar-case, mounted in diamonds, that you had purchased from
"Yes, and the very one that you admired. Of that I am certain."
"Very well. I take that case with me to 218, Brunswick Square, and I
bring it back again. Did I take it with me or not? Anyhow, it was found
on the floor beside the body. It never passed out of my possession to my
knowledge. Next day I leave it at the office of Messrs. Mossa and Mack,
and it gets into the hands of the police."
"Was it not possibly changed there, David?"
"No, because of the initials I had scratched inside it. And beyond all
question that case--the same case, mind you, that I picked up on my
doorstep--was purchased by the man now lying in the hospital here from
Walen's, in West Street. Now, how was the change made?"
"If I could only see my way to help you!"
"The change was made the day you bought the case. By the way, what
time was it?"
"I can't tell you the exact time," Ruth replied. "It was on the morning
of the night of your adventure."
"And you kept it by you all the time."
"Yes. It was in a little box sealed with yellow wax and tied with yellow
string. I went to 219 after I had made the purchase. My uncle was there
and he was using the back sitting-room as an office. He had brought a lot
of papers with him to go through."
"Ah! Did you put your package down?"
"Just for a moment on the table. But surely my uncle would not--"
"One moment, please. Was anybody with your uncle at the time?"
Ruth gave a sudden little cry.
"How senseless of me to forget," she cried. "My uncle was down merely for
the day, and, as he was very busy, he sent for Mr. Reginald Henson to
help him. I did not imagine that Mr. Henson would know anything. But even
now I cannot see what--"
"Again let me interrupt you. Did you leave the room at all?"
"Yes. It is all coming back to me now. My uncle's medicine was locked up
in my bag. He asked me to go for it and I went, leaving my purchase on
the table. It is all coming back to me now.... When I returned Mr. Henson
was quite alone, as somebody had called to see my uncle. Mr. Henson
seemed surprised to see me back so soon, and as I entered he crushed
something up in his hand and dropped it into the waste-paper basket. But
my parcel was quite intact."
"Yellow wax and yellow string and all?"
"Yes, so far as I remember. It was Mr. Henson who reminded my uncle about
"And when you were away the change was made. Strange that your uncle
should be so friendly with both Henson and Bell. Have they ever met under
"No," Ruth replied. "Henson has always alluded to Dr. Bell as a lost man.
He professes to be deeply sorry for him but he has declined to meet him.
Where are you going?"
"I am going with you to see if we can find anything in the waste-paper
basket at No. 219. Bell tells me that your servants have instructions to
touch no papers, and I know that the back sitting-room of your house is
used as a kind of office. I want, if possible, to find the paper that
Henson tried to hide on the day you bought the cigar-case."
The basket proved to be a large one, and was partially filled with
letters that had never been opened--begging-letters, Ruth said. For half
an hour David was engaged in smoothing out crumpled sheets of paper,
until at length his search was rewarded. He held a packet of note-paper,
the usual six sheets, one inside the other, that generally go to
correspondence sheets of good quality. It was crushed up, but Steel
flattened it out and held it up for Ruth's inspection.
"Now, here is a find!" he cried. "Look at the address in green at the
top: '15, Downend Terrace.' Five sheets of my own best notepaper, printed
especially for myself, in this basket! Originally this was a block of six
sheets, but the one has been written upon and the others crushed up like
this. Beyond doubt the paper was stolen from my study. And--what's this?"
He held up the thick paper to the light. At the foot of the top sheet was
plainly indented in outline the initials "D. S."
"My own cipher," David went on. "Scrawled in so boldly as to mark on the
under sheet of paper. Almost invariably I use initials instead of my full
name unless it is quite formal business."
"And what is to be done now?" Ruth asked.
"Find the letter forged over what looks like a genuine cipher," David
"THE LIGHT THAT FAILED"
Bell followed Dr. Cross into the hospital with a sense of familiar
pleasure. The cool, sweet smell of the place, the decorous silence, the
order of it all appealed to him strongly. It was as the old war-horse
who sniffs the battle from afar. And the battle with death was ever a
joy to Bell.
"This is all contrary to regulations, of course," he suggested.
"Well, it is," Cross admitted. "But I am an enthusiast, and one doesn't
often get a chance of chatting with a brilliant, erratic star like
yourself. Besides, our man is not in the hospital proper. He is in a
kind of annexe by my own quarters, and he scoffs the suggestion of
Bell nodded, understanding perfectly. He came at length to a
brilliantly-lighted room, where a dark man with an exceedingly high
forehead and wonderfully piercing eyes was sitting up in bed. The dark
eyes lighted with pleasure as they fell upon Bell's queer, shambling
figure and white hair.
"The labour we delight in physics pain," he greeted with a laugh and a
groan. "It's worth a badly twisted shoulder to have the pleasure of
seeing Hatherly Bell again. My dear fellow, how are you?"
The voice was low and pleasant, there was no trace of insanity about the
speaker. Bell shook the proffered hand. For some little time the
conversation proceeded smoothly enough. The stranger was a good talker;
his remarks were keen and to the point.
"I hope you will be comfortable here," Bell suggested.
A faint subtle change came over the other's face.
"All but one thing," he whispered. "Don't make a fuss about it, because
Cross is very kind. But I can't stand the electric light. It reminds me
of the great tragedy of my life. But for the electric light I should be a
free man with a good practice to-day."
"So you are harping on that string again," Bell said, coldly. "I fancied
that I had argued you out of that. You know perfectly well that it is all
Heritage passed his left hand across his eyes in a confused kind of way.
"When you look at one like that I fancy so," he said. "When I was under
your hands I was forgetting all about it. And now it has all come back
again. Did I tell you all about it, Cross?"
Bell gave Cross a significant glance, and the latter shook his head.
"Well, it was this way," Heritage began, eagerly. His eyes were gleaming
now, his whole aspect was changed. "I was poor and struggling, but I had
a grand future before me. There was a patient of mine, a rich man, who
had a deadly throat trouble. And he was going to leave me all his money
if I cured him. He told me he had made a will to that effect, and he had
done so. And I was in direst straits for some ready cash. When I came to
operate I used an electric light, a powerful light--you know what I mean.
The operation failed and my patient died. The operation failed because
the electric light went out at a critical time.
"People said it was a great misfortune for me, because I was on the
threshold of a new discovery which would have made my name. Nothing of
the kind. I deliberately cut the positive wire of the electric light so
that I should fail, and so that my patient might die and I might get
all his money at once. And he did die, and nobody suspected me--nobody
could possibly have found me out. Then I went mad and they put me under
Bell's care. I should have got well, only he gave up his practice and
drifted into the world again. My good, kind friend Reginald Henson
heard of my case; he interested some people in me and placed me where I
am at present."
"So Reginald Henson knows all about it?" Bell asked, drily.
"My dear fellow, he is the best friend I have in the world. He was most
interested in my case. I have gone over it with him a hundred times. I
showed him exactly how it was done. And now you know why I loathe the
electric light. When it shines in my eyes it maddens me; it brings back
to me the recollection of that dreadful time, it causes me to--"
"Heritage," Bell said, sternly, "close your eyes at once, and be silent."
The patient obeyed instantly. He had not forgotten the old habit of
obedience. When he opened his eyes again at length he looked round him in
a foolish, shamefaced manner.
"I--I am afraid I have been rambling," he muttered. "Pray don't notice
me, Bell; if you are as good a fellow as you used to be, come and see me
again. I'm tired now."
Bell gave the desired assurance, and he and Cross left the room together.
"Any sort of truth in what he has been saying?" asked the latter.
"Very little," Bell replied. "Heritage is an exceedingly clever fellow
who has not yet recovered from a bad breakdown some years ago. I had
nearly cured him at one time, but he seems to have lapsed into bad ways
again. Some day, when I have time, I shall take up his case once more."
"Did he operate, or try some new throat cure?"
"Exactly. He was on the verge of discovering some way of operating for
throat cases with complete success. You can imagine how excited he was
over his discovery. Unfortunately the patient he experimented on died
under the operation, not because the light went out or any nonsense of
that kind, but from failure of the heart's action owing to excitement.
Heritage had no sleep for a fortnight, and he broke down altogether. For
months he was really mad, and when his senses came back to him he had
that hallucination. Some day it will go, and some day Heritage will take
up the dropped threads of his discovery and the world will be all the
better for it. And now, will you do me a favour?"
"I will do anything that lies in my power."
"Then be good enough to let me have a peep at the man who was found
half-murdered in my friend David Steel's conservatory. I'm interested in
Cross hesitated for a moment.
"All right," he said. "There can't be any harm in that. Come this way."
Bell strolled along with the air of a man who is moved by no more than
ordinary curiosity. But from the first he had made up his mind not to
lose this opportunity. He had not the remotest idea what he expected to
find, but he had a pretty good idea that he was on the verge of an
important discovery. He came at length to the bedside of the mysterious
stranger. The man was lying on his back in a state of coma, his breath
came heavily between his parted lips.
Bell bent low partly to examine the patient, partly to hide his face
from Cross. If Bell had made any discovery he kept the fact rigidly
"Looks very young," he muttered. "But then he is one of those men who
never grow any hair on their faces. Young as he looks, I should judge him
to be at least forty-five, and, if I am not mistaken, he is a man who has
heard the chimes at midnight or later. I'm quite satisfied."
"It's more than I am," Cross said, when at length he and his visitor were
standing outside together. "Look here, Bell, you're a great friend of
Steel's, whom I believe to be a very good fellow. I don't want to get him
into any harm, but a day or two ago I found this letter in a pocket-book
in a belt worn by our queer patient. Steel says the fellow is a perfect
stranger to him, and I believe that statement. But what about this
letter? I ought to have sent it to the police, but I didn't. Read it."
And Cross proceeded to take a letter from his pocket. It was on thick
paper; the stamped address given was "15, Downend Terrace." There was no
heading, merely the words "Certainly, with pleasure, I shall be home; in
fact, I am home every night till 12.30, and you may call any time up till
then. If you knock quietly on the door I shall hear you.--D.S."
"What do you make of it?" Cross asked.
"It looks as if your patient had called at Steel's house by appointment,"
Bell admitted. "Here is the invitation undoubtedly in Steel's
handwriting. Subsequently the poor fellow is found in Steel's house
nearly murdered, and yet Steel declares solemnly that the man is a
perfect stranger to him. It is a bad business, but I assure you that
Steel is the soul of honour. Cross, would you be so good as to let me
have that letter for two or three days?"
"Very well," Cross said, after a little hesitation. "Good-night."
Bell went on his way homeward with plenty of food for thought.
He stopped just for a moment to light a cigar.
"Getting towards the light," he muttered; "getting along. The light is
not going to fail after all. I wonder what Reginald Henson would say if
he only knew that I had been to the hospital and recognised our mutual
friend Van Sneck there!"
The expression on Henson's usually benign countenance would have startled
such of his friends and admirers as regarded him as a shining light and
great example. The smug satisfaction, the unctuous sweetness of the
expansive blue eyes were gone; a murderous gleam shone there instead. His
lips were set and rigid, the strong hand seemed to be strangling the
bedclothes. It wanted no effort of imagination to picture Henson as the
murderer stooping over his prey. The man had discarded his mask
"Oh," he said, between his teeth, "you are a clever fellow. You would
have made an excellent detective. And so you have found out where Van
"I have already told you so," Littimer said, doggedly.
"How many days have you been hanging about Brighton?"
"Two or three. I came when I heard that Chris was ill. I didn't dare to
come near the house, at least not too near, for fear of being seen. But I
pumped the doctor. Then he told me that Chris was dead, and I risked it
all to see the last of her."
"Yes, yes," Henson said, testily; "but what has this to do with
"I was looking for Van Sneck. I found that he had been here. I discovered
that he had left his rooms and had not returned to them. Then it occurred
to me to try the hospital. I pretended that I was in search of some
missing relative, and they showed me three cases of bad accidents, the
victims of which had not been identified. And the third was Van Sneck."
Littimer told his story with just the suggestion of triumph in his voice.
Henson was watching him with the keenest possible interest.
"Do you know how Van Sneck got there?" he asked.
Littimer nodded. Evidently he had heard most of the story. Henson was
silent for some little time. He was working out something in his mind.
His smile was not a pleasant one; it was nothing like his bland platform
smile, for instance.
"Give me that black book," he said. "Do you know how to work the
"I daresay I could learn. It doesn't look hard."
"Well, that is an extension telephone on the table yonder worked in
connection with the main instrument in the library. I like to have my own
telephone, as it is of the greatest assistance to me. Turn that handle
two or three times and put that receiver to your ear. When the Exchange
answers tell them to put you on to O,017 Gerrard."
Littimer obeyed mechanically, but though he rang and rang again no answer
came. With a snarling curse Henson dragged himself out of bed and crossed
the room, with limbs that shook under him.
He twirled the handle round passionately.
"You always were a fool," he growled, "and you always will be."
Still no reply came. Henson whirled angrily, but he could elicit no
response. He kicked the instrument over and danced round it impotently.
Littimer had never seen him in such a raging fury before. The language of
the man was an outrage, filthy, revolting, profane. No yelling, drunken
Hooligan could have been more fluent, more luridly diffuse.
"Go on," Littimer said, bitterly. "I like to hear you. I like to hear the
smug, plausible Pharisee, the friend of the good and pious, going on like
this. I'd give fifty years of my life to have just a handful of your
future constituents here for a moment."
Henson paused suddenly and requested that Littimer should help him into
"I can afford to speak freely before you," he said. "Say a word against
me and I'll crush you. Put out a hand to injure me and I'll wipe you off
the face of the earth. It's absolutely imperative that I should send an
important telephone message to London at once, and here the machine has
broken down and no chance of its being repaired for a day or two. Curse
He lay back on his bed utterly exhausted by his fit of passion. One of
the white bandages about his throat had started, and a little thin stream
of blood trickled down his chest. Littimer waited for the next move. He
watched the crimson fluid trickle over Henson's sleeping-jacket. He could
have watched the big scoundrel bleeding to death with the greatest
"What was Van Sneck doing here?"
The voice came clear and sharp from the bed. Littimer responded to it as
a cowed hound does to a sudden yet not quite unexpected lash from a
huntsman's whip. His manliness was of small account where Henson was
concerned. For years he had come to heel like this. Yet the question
startled him and took him entirely by surprise.
"He was looking for the lost Rembrandt."
But Littimer's surprise was as nothing to Henson's amazement. He lay flat
on his back so that his face could not be seen. From the expression of it
he had obtained a totally unexpected reply to his question. He was so
amazed that he had no words for the moment. But his quick intelligence
and amazing cunning grasped the possibilities of the situation. Littimer
was in possession of information to which he was a stranger. Except in a
vague way he had not the remotest idea what Littimer was talking about.
But the younger man must not know that.
"So Van Sneck told you so?" he asked. "What a fool he must have been! And
why should he come seeking for the Rembrandt in Brighton?"
"Because he knows it was there, I suppose."
"It isn't here, because it doesn't exist. The thing was destroyed by
accident by the police when they raided Van Sneck's lodgings years ago."
"Van Sneck told me that he had actually seen the picture in Brighton."
Henson chuckled. The noise was intended to convey amused contempt, and it
had that effect, so far as Littimer was concerned. It was well for Henson
that the latter could not see the strained anxiety of his face. The man
was alert and quivering with excitement in every limb. Still he chuckled
again as if the whole thing merely amused him.
"'The Crimson Blind' is Van Sneck's weak spot," he said. "It is King
Charles's head to him. By good or bad luck--it is in your hands to say
which--you know all about the way in which it became necessary to get
Hatherly Bell on our side. All the same, the Rembrandt--the _other_
"Van Sneck has seen the picture," Littimer said, doggedly.
"Oh, play the farce out to the end," Henson laughed, good-humouredly.
"Where did he see it?"
"He says he saw it at 218, Brunswick Square."
Henson's knees suddenly came up to his nose, then he lay quite flat again
for a long time. His face had grown white once more, his lips utterly
bloodless. Fear was written all over him. A more astute man than Littimer
would have seen the beads standing out on his forehead. It was some
little time before he dared trust himself to speak again.
"I know the house you mean," he said. "It is next door to the temporary
residence of my esteemed friend, Gilead Gates. At the present moment the
place is void--"
"And has been ever since your bogus 'Home' broke up. Years ago, before
you used your power to rob and oppress us as you do now, you had a Home
there. You collected subscriptions right and left in the name of the
Reverend Felix Crosbie, and you put the money into your pocket. A certain
weekly journal exposed you, and you had to leave suddenly or you would
have found yourself in the hands of the police. You skipped so suddenly
that you had no time even to think of your personal effects, which you
understood were sold to defray expenses. But they were not sold, as
nobody cared to throw good money after bad. Van Sneck got in with the
agent under pretence of viewing the house, and he saw the picture there."
"Why didn't he take it with him?" Henson asked, with amused scorn. He was
master of himself again and had his nerves well under control.
"Well, that was hardly like Van Sneck. Our friend is nothing if not
diplomatic. But when he did manage to get into the house again the
picture was gone."
"Excellent!" Henson cried. "How dramatic! There is only one thing
required to make the story complete. The picture was taken away by
Hatherly Bell. If you don't bring that in as the _dénouement_ I shall be
"You needn't be," Littimer said, coolly. "That is exactly what did
Henson chuckled again, quite a parody of a chuckle this time. He could
detect the quiet suggestion of triumph in Littimer's voice.
"Did Van Sneck tell you all this?" he asked.
"Not the latter part of it," Littimer replied, "seeing that he was in the
hospital when it happened. But I know it is true because I saw Bell and
David Steel, the novelist, come away from the house, and Bell had the
picture under his arm. And that's why Van Sneck's agent couldn't find it
the second time he went. Check to you, my friend, at any rate. Bell will
go to my father with Rembrandt number two, and compare it with number
one. And then the fat will be in the fire."
Henson yawned affectedly. All the same he was terribly disturbed and
shaken. All he wanted now was to be alone and to think. So far as he
could tell nobody besides Littimer knew anything of the matter. And no
starved, cowed, broken-hearted puppy was ever closer under the heel of
his master than Littimer. He still held all the cards; he still
controlled the fortunes of two ill-starred houses.
"You can leave me now," he said. "I'm tired. I have had a trying day, and
I need sleep; and the sooner you are out of the house the better. For
your own sake and for the sake of those about you, you need not say one
word of this to Enid Henson."
Littimer promised meekly enough. With those eyes blazing upon him he
would have promised anything. We shall see presently what a stupendous
terror Henson had over the younger man, and in what way all the sweetness
and savour of life was being crushed out of him.
He closed the door behind him, and immediately Henson sat up in bed. He
reached for his handkerchief and wiped the big beads from his forehead.
"So the danger has come at last," he muttered. "I am face to face with
it, and I knew I should be. Hatherly Bell is not the man to quietly lie
down under a cloud like that. The man has brains, and patience, and
indomitable courage. Now, does he suspect that I have any hand in the
business? I must see him when my nerves are stronger and try and get at
the truth. If he goes to Lord Littimer with that picture he shakes my
power and my position perilously. What a fool I was not to get it away.
But, then, I only escaped from the Brighton police in those days by the
skin of my teeth. And they had followed me from Huddersfield like those
cursed bloodhounds here. I wonder--"
He paused, as the brilliant outline of some cunning scheme occurred to
him. A thin, cruel smile crept over his lips. Never had he been in a
tight place yet without discovering a loophole of escape almost before he
had seen the trap.
A fit of noiseless laughter shook him.
"Splendid," he whispered. "Worthy of Machiavelli himself! Provided always
that I can get there first. If I could only see Bell's face afterwards,
hear Littimer ordering him off the premises. The only question is, am I
up to seeing the thing through?"
ENID LEARNS SOMETHING
Reginald Hensen struggled out of bed and into his clothing as best he
could. He was terribly weak and shaky, far more weak than he had imagined
himself to be, but he was in danger now, and his indomitable will-power
pulled him through. What a fool Littimer had been to tell him so much
merely so that he might triumph over his powerful foe for a few minutes.
But Henson was planning a little scheme by which he intended to repay the
young man tenfold. He had no doubt as to the willingness of his tool.
He took a bottle of brandy from a drawer and helped himself to a liberal
dose. Walker had expressly forbidden anything of the kind, but it was no
time for nice medical obedience. The grateful stimulant had its
immediate effect. Then Henson rang the bell, and after a time Williams
"You are to go down to Barnes and ask him to send a cab here as soon as
possible," Henson said. "I have to go to London by the first train in
Williams nodded, with his mouth wide open. He was astonished and not a
little alarmed at the strength and vitality of this man. And only a few
hours before Williams had learnt with deep satisfaction that Henson would
be confined to his bed for some days.
Henson dressed at length and packed a small portmanteau. But he had to
sit on his bed for some little time and sip a further dose of brandy
before he could move farther. After all there was no hurry. A full hour
was sure to elapse before the leisurely Barnes brought the cab to the
Henson crept downstairs at length and trod his catlike way to the
library. Once there he proceeded to make a minute inspection of the
telephone. He turned the handle just the fragment of an inch and a queer
smile came over his face. Then he crept as silently upstairs, opened the
window of the bathroom quietly, and slipped on to the leads. There were a
couple of insulators here, against the wire of one of which Henson tapped
his knuckles gently. The wire gave back an answering twang. The other
jangled limp and loose.
"One of the wires cut," Henson muttered. "I expected as much. Madame Enid
is getting a deal too clever. I suppose this is some suggestion of her
very astute friend David Steel. Well, I have given Mr. Steel one lesson
in minding his own business, and if he interferes further I shall have to
give him another. He will be in gaol before long charged with attempted
murder and robbery with violence, and so exit Steel. After that the girl
will be perhaps chary of seeking outside assistance. And this will be the
third I have had to get rid of. Heavens! How feeble I feel, how weak I
am. And yet I must go through this thing now."
He staggered into the house again and dropped into a chair. There was a
loud buzzing in his ears, so that he could hardly hear the murmur of
voices in the drawing-room below. This was annoying, because Henson
liked to hear everything that other folks said. Then he dropped off into
a kind of dreamy state, coming back presently to the consciousness that
he had fainted.
Meanwhile Frank Littimer had joined Enid in the drawing-room. The house
was perfectly quiet and still by this time; the dust-cloud hung on the
air and caused the lamps to burn with a spitting blue flame. Enid's face
looked deadly pale against her black dress.
"So you have been seeing Reginald," she said. "Why--why did you do it?"
"I didn't mean to," Frank muttered. "I never intended him to know that I
had been in the house at all. But I was passing his room and he heard me.
He seemed to know my footsteps. I believe if two mice ran by him twice in
the darkness he could tell the difference between them."
"You had an interesting conversation. What did he want to use the
"I don't know. I tried to manipulate it for him, but the instrument was
out of order."
"I know. I had a pretty shrewd idea what our cousin was going to do. You
see, I was listening at the door. Not a very ladylike thing to do, but
one must fight Henson with his own tools. When I heard him ask for the
telephone directory I ran out and nipped one of the wires by the
bathroom. Frank, it would have been far wiser if you hadn't come."
Littimer nodded gloomily. There was something like tears in his eyes.
"I know it," he said. "I hate the place and its dreadful associations.
But I wanted to see Chris first. Did she say anything about me
"My dear boy, she loved you always. She knew and understood, and was
sorry. And she never, never forgot the last time that you were in
Frank Littimer glanced across the room with a shudder. His eyes dwelt
with fascination on the overturned table with its broken china and glass
and wilted flowers in the corner.
"It is not the kind of thing to forget," he said, hoaresly. "I can see my
"Don't," Enid shuddered, "don't recall it. And your mother has never been
the same since. I doubt if she will ever be the same again. From that day
to this nothing has ever been touched in the house. And Henson comes here
when he can and makes our lives hideous to us."
"I fancy I shook him up to-night," Littimer said, with subdued triumph.
"He seemed to shudder when I told him that I had found Van Sneck."
Enid started from her chair. Her eyes were shining with the sudden
brilliancy of unveiled stars.
"You have found Van Sneck!" she whispered. "Where?"
"Why, in the Brighton Hospital. Do you mean to say that you don't know
about it, that you don't know that the man found so mysteriously in Mr.
David Steel's house and Van Sneck are one and the same person?"
Enid resumed her seat again. She was calm enough now.
"It had not occurred to me," she said. "Indeed, I don't know why it
should have done. Sooner or later, of course, I should have suggested to
Mr. Steel to try and identify the man, but--"
"My dear Enid, what on earth are you talking about?"
"Nonsense," Enid said, in some confusion. "Things you don't understand at
present, and things you are not going to understand just yet. I read in
the papers that the man was quite a stranger to Mr. Steel. But are you
certain that it _is_ Van Sneck?"
"Absolutely certain. I went to the hospital and identified him."
"Then there is no more to be said on that point. But you were foolish to
"Not a bit of it. Why, Henson has known it all along. You needn't get
excited. He is a deep fellow, and nobody knows better than he how to
disguise his feelings. All the same, he was just mad to know what I had
discovered, you could see it in his face. Reginald Henson--"
Littimer paused, open-mouthed, for Henson, dressed and wrapped ready for
the journey, had come quietly into the drawing-room. The deadly pallor of
his face, the white bandages about his throat, only served to render his
appearance more emphatic and imposing. He stood there with the halo of
dust about him, looking like the evil genius of the place.
"I fear I startled you," he said, with a sardonic smile. "And I fear that
in the stillness of the place I have overheard a great part of your
conversation. Frank, I must congratulate you on your discretion, so far.
But seeing that you are young and impressionable, I am going to move
temptation out of your way. Enid, I am going on a journey."
"I trust that it is a long one, and that it will detain you for a
considerable period," Enid said, coldly.
"It is neither far, nor is it likely to keep me," Henson smiled.
"Williams has just come in with the information that the cab awaits me at
the gate. Now, then!"
The last words were flung at Littimer with contemptuous command. The hot
blood flared into the young man's face. Enid's eyes flashed.
"If my cousin likes to stay here," she said, "why--"
"He is coming with me," Henson said, hoarsely. "Do you understand? With
me! And if I like to drag him--or _you_, my pretty lady--to the end of
the world or the gates of perdition, you will have to come. Now, get
along before I compel you."
Enid stood with fury in her eyes and clenched hands as Littimer slunk
away out of the house, Henson following between his victim and Williams.
He said no words till the lodge-gates were past and the growl of the dogs
had died into the distance.
"We are going to Littimer Castle," said Henson.
"Not there," Littimer groaned--"not there, Henson! I couldn't--I couldn't
go to that place!"
Henson pointed towards the cab.
"Littimer or perdition!" he said. "You don't want to go to the latter
just yet? Jump in, then!"
If you had asked the first five people on the Littimer Estate what they
thought of the lord of the soil you would have had a different answer
from every one. One woman would have said that a kinder and better man
never lived; her neighbour would have declared Lord Littimer to be as
hard as the nether millstone. Farmer George would rate him a jolly good
fellow, and tell how he would sit in the kitchen over a mug of ale;
whilst Farmer John swore at his landlord as a hard-fisted, grasping miser
devoid of the bowels of compassion.
At the end of an hour you would be utterly bewildered, not knowing what
to believe, and prepared to set the whole village down as a lot of
gossips who seemed to mind everything but its own business. And,
perhaps, Lord Littimer might come riding through on his big black horse,
small, lithe, brown as mahogany, and with an eye piercing as a
diamond-drill. One day he looked almost boyishly young, there would be a
smile on his tanned face. And then another day he would be bent in the
saddle, huddled up, wizened, an old, old man, crushed with the weight of
years and sorrow.
In sooth he was a man of moods and contradictions, changeable as an April
sky, and none the less quick-tempered and hard because he knew that
everybody was terribly afraid of him. And he had a tongue, too, a
lashing, cutting tongue that burnt and blistered. Sometimes he would be
quite meek and angry under the reproaches of the vicar, and yet the same
day history records it that he got off his horse and administered a sound
thrashing to the village poacher. Sometimes he got the best of the vicar,
and sometimes that worthy man scored. They were good friends, these two,
though the vicar never swerved in his fealty to Lady Littimer, whose
cause he always championed. But nobody seemed to know anything about that
dark scandal. They knew that there had been a dreadful scene at the
castle seven years before, and that Lady Littimer and her son had left
never to return. Lady Littimer was in a madhouse somewhere, they said,
and the son was a wanderer on the face of the earth. And when Lord
Littimer died every penny of the property, the castle included, would go
to her ladyship's nephew, Mr. Reginald Henson.
In spite of the great cloud that hung over the family Lord Littimer did
not seem to have changed. He was just a little more caustic than ever,
his tongue a little sharper. The servants could have told a different
story, a story of dark moods and days when the bitterness of the shadow
of death lay on the face of their master. Few men could carry their grief
better, and because Littimer carried his grief so well he suffered the
more. We shall see what the sorrow was in time.
There are few more beautiful places in England than Littimer Castle.
The house stood on a kind of natural plateau with many woods behind, a
trout stream ran clean past the big flight of steps leading to the hall,
below were terrace after terrace of hanging gardens, and to the left a
sloping, ragged drop of 200ft into the sea. To the right lay a
magnificently-timbered park, with a herd of real wild deer--perhaps the
only herd of this kind in the country. When the sun shone on the grey
walls they looked as if they had been painted by some cunning hand, so
softly were the greys and reds and blues blended.
Inside the place was a veritable art gallery. There were hundreds of
pictures and engravings there. All round the grand staircase ran a long,
deep corridor, filled with pictures. There were alcoves here fitted up as
sitting-rooms, and in most of them some gem or another was hung. When the
full flood of electric light was turned on at night the effect was almost
dazzling. There were few pictures in the gallery without a history.
Lord Littimer had many hobbies, but not one that interested him like
this. There were hundreds of rare birds shot by him in different parts
of the world; the corridors and floors were covered by skins, the spoil
of his rifle; here and there a stuffed bear pranced startlingly; but
the pictures and prints were the great amusement of his lordship's
He passed along the corridor now towards the great oriel window at the
end. A brilliant sunlight filled the place with shafts of golden and blue
and purple as it came filtered through the stained glass. At a table in
the window a girl sat working a typewriter. She might have passed for
beautiful, only her hair was banded down in hideously Puritan fashion on
each side of her delicate, oval face, her eyes were shielded by
spectacles. But they were lovely, steady, courageous blue eyes, as
Littimer did not fail to observe. Also he had not failed to note that his
new secretary could do very well without the glasses.
The typewriter and secretary business was a new whim of Littimer's. He
wanted an assistant to catalogue and classify his pictures and prints,
and he had told the vicar so. He wanted a girl who wasn't a fool, a girl
who could amuse him and wouldn't be afraid of him, and he thought he
would have an American. To which the vicar responded that the whole
thing was nonsense, but he had heard of a Boston girl in England who had
a passion for that kind of thing and who was looking for a situation of
the kind in a genuine old house for a year or so. The vicar added that
he had not seen the young lady, but he could obtain her address. A reply
came in due course, a reply that so pleased the impetuous Earl that he
engaged the applicant on the spot. And now she had been just two hours
in the house.
"Well," Littimer cried, "and how have you been getting on?"
Miss Christabel Lee looked up, smilingly.
"I am getting on very well indeed," she said. "You see, I have made a
study of this kind of thing all my lifetime, and most of your pictures
are like old friends to me. Do you know, I fancy that you and I are going
to manage very well together?"
"Oh, do you? They say I am pretty formidable at times."
"I shan't mind that a bit. You see, my father was a man with a
villainous temper. But a woman can always get the better of a
bad-tempered man unless he happens to be one of the lower classes who
uses his boots. If he is a gentleman you have him utterly at your mercy.
Have you a sharp tongue?"
"I flatter myself I can be pretty blistering on occasions," Littimer
"How delightful! So can I. You and I will have some famous battles later
on. Only I warn you that I never lose my temper, which gives me a
tremendous advantage. I haven't been very well lately, so you must be
nice to me for a week or two."
Littimer smiled and nodded. The grim lord of the castle was not
accustomed to this kind of thing, and he was telling himself that he
rather liked it.
"And now show me the Rembrandt," Miss Lee said, impatiently.
Littimer led the way to a distant alcove lighted from the side by a
latticed window. There was only one picture in the excellent light there,
and that was the famous Rembrandt engraving. Littimer's eyes lighted up
quite lovingly as they rested upon it. The Florentine frame was hung so
low that Miss Lee could bring her face on a level with it.
"This is the picture that was stolen from you?" she asked.
"Yes, that's the thing that there was all the fuss about. It made a great
stir at the time. But I don't expect that it will happen again."
"Why not?" Miss Lee asked. "When an attempt of that sort is made it is
usually followed by another, sometimes after the lapse of years. Anybody
getting through that window could easily get the frame from its two nails
and take out the paper."
"Do you think so?" Littimer asked, uneasily.
"I am certain of it. Take my advice and make it secure. The panels behind
are hard wood--thick black oak. Lord Littimer, I am going to get four
brass-headed stays and drive them through some of the open ornamental
work into the panel so as to make the picture quite secure. It is an iron
frame, I suppose."
"Wrought-iron, gilt," said Littimer. "Yes, one could easily drive four
brass-headed stays through the open work and make the thing safe. I'll
have it seen to."
But Miss Lee insisted that there was no time like the present. She had
discovered that Littimer had an excellent carpenter's shop on the
premises; indeed, she admitted to being no mean performer with the lathe
herself. She flitted down the stairs light as thistledown.
"A charming girl!" Littimer said, cynically. "I wonder why she came to
this dull hole? A quarrel with her young man, perhaps. If I were a young
man myself I might--But women are all the same. I should be a happier man
if I had never trusted one. If--"
The face darkened; a heavy scowl lined his brows as he paced up and
down. Christabel came back presently with hammer and some brass-headed
stays in her hand.
"Don't utterly destroy the frame," Littimer said, resignedly. "It is
reputed to be Ouentin Matsy's work, and I had it cut to its present
fashion. I'll go to the end of the gallery till the execution's over."
"On the contrary," Miss Lee said, firmly, "you will stay where you
A little to his own surprise Littimer remained. He saw the nails driven
firmly in and finished off with a punch so that there might be no danger
of hammering the exquisitely wrought frame. Miss Lee stood regarding her
work with a suggestion of pride.
"There," she said, "I flatter myself a carpenter could have done
"You don't know our typical carpenter," Littimer said. "Here is Tredwell
with a telegram. For Miss Lee? I hope it isn't an intimation that some
relative has died and left you a fortune. At least, if it is, you mustn't
go until we've had one of those quarrels you promised me."
Christabel glanced at the telegram and slipped it into her pocket. There
were just a few words in the telegram that would have been
unintelligible to the ordinary understanding. The girl did not even
comprehend, but Littimer's eyes were upon her, and the cipher had to
keep for a time. Littimer walked away at an intimation that his steward
desired to see him.
Instantly the girl's manner changed. She glanced at the Rembrandt with a
shrewd smile that meant something beyond a mere act of prudence well
done. Then she went down to the library and began an eager search for a
certain book. She found it at length, the "David Copperfield" in the
"Charles Dickens" edition of the great novelist's works. For the next
hour or so she was flitting over the pages with the cipher telegram
spread out before her. A little later and the few jumbled, meaningless
words were coded out into a lengthy message. Christabel read them over a
few times, then with the aid of a vesta she reduced the whole thing,
telegram and all, to tinder, which she carefully crushed and flung out of
She looked away down the terrace, she glanced at the dappled deer
knee-deep in the bracken, she caught a glimpse of the smiling sea, and
her face saddened for a moment.
"How lovely it all is," she murmured. "How exquisitely beautiful and how
utterly sad! And to think that if I possessed the magician's wand for a
moment I could make everything smile again. He is a good man--a better
man than anybody takes him to be. Under his placid, cynical surface he
conceals a deal of suffering. Well, we shall see."
She replaced the "Copperfield" on the shelf and turned to go again.
In the hall she met Lord Littimer dressed for riding. He smiled as
"Au revoir till dinner-time," he said. "I've got to go and see a tenant.
Oh, yes, I shall certainly expect the pleasure of your company to dinner.
And now that the Rembrandt--"
"It is safe for the afternoon," Christabel laughed. "It is generally
when the family are dining that the burglar has his busy time. A
pleasant ride to you."
AN UNEXPECTED GUEST
Lord Littimer returned, as he declared, with the spirits and appetite of
a schoolboy. All the same, he did not for one moment abandon his usual
critical analysis. He rattled on gaily, but he was studying his guest all
the same. She might have been the typical American lady student; but he
was not blind to the fact that the plain muslin and lace frock she wore
was made in Paris or that her manners and style must have been picked up
in the best society. She sat there under the shaded lights and behind the
bank of flowers like as to the manner born, and her accent was only
sufficiently American to render her conversation piquant.
"You have always been used to this class of life?" Littimer asked.
"There you are quite mistaken," Christabel said, coolly. "For the last
few years my existence has been anything but a bed of roses. And your
remark, my lord, savours slightly of impertinent curiosity. I might as
well ask you why your family is not here."
"We agree to differ," Littimer responded. "I recollect it caused me a
great deal of annoyance at the time. And my son chose to take his
mother's part. You knew I had a son?"
"Yes," said Christabel, without looking up from the peach she was
peeling. "I have met him."
"Indeed. And what opinion did you form of my son, may I ask?"
"Well, I rather liked him. He seemed to me to be suffering from some
great trouble, and trouble I am sure that was not of his own creating."
"Which means to say you feel rather sorry for Frank. But when you say the
trouble was not of his own creating you are entirely mistaken. It is not
a nice thing to say, Miss Lee, but my son was an utter and most
unmitigated young scoundrel. If he came here he would be ordered out of
the house. So far as I am concerned, I have no son at all. He sides with
his mother, and his mother has a considerable private fortune of her own.
Where she is at the present moment I have no idea. Nor do I care. Seems
odd, does it not, that I should have been very fond of that woman at one
time, just as it seems odd to think that I should have once been fond of
Littimer spoke evenly and quietly, with his eyes full upon the girl. He
was deceiving himself, but he was not deceiving her for a moment. His
callousness seemed to be all the more marked because the servants were in
the room. But Christabel could see clearly what an effort it was.
"You love your wife still," she said, so low that only Littimer heard.
His eyes flashed, his face flamed with a sudden spasm of passion.
"Are we to quarrel so early as this?" he whispered.
"I never quarrel," Christabel said, coolly; "I leave my antagonist to do
that. But I have met your son, and I like him. He may be weak, but he is
a gentleman. You have made a mistake, and some day you will be sorry for
it. Do you grow those orchids yourself?"
Littimer laughed, with no sign of anger remaining. All the same,
Christabel could see that his thin brown hand was shaking. She noticed
the lines that pain had given under those shrewd black eyes.
"You must see my orchids," he said. "Most of the specimens I obtained