Part 5 out of 7
the criminal classes, and you are also an enthusiast. I've looked up the
names of one or two people in the directory who go in for that kind of
thing, and I'm going to get up a bazaar at Littimer Castle for the
benefit of the predatory classes who have turned over a new leaf. I am
particularly anxious for Mr. Merritt to give us an address. Don't you
think that will do?"
"I should think it would do very well indeed," Bell said.
The quaint and somewhat exclusive town of Moreton Wells was reached in
due course and the street where the Rev. James Merritt resided located at
length. It was a modest two-storeyed tenement, and the occupier of the
rooms was at home. Chris pushed her way gaily in, followed by Bell,
before the occupant could lay down the foul clay pipe he was smoking and
button the unaccustomed stiff white collar round his throat. Merritt
whipped a tumbler under the table with amazing celerity, but no cunning
of his could remove the smell of gin that hung pungently on the murky
Merritt dodged his head back defiantly as if half expecting a blow. His
eyes were strained a little anxiously over Bell's shoulder as if fearful
of a shadow. Bell had seen the type before--Merritt was unconsciously
looking for the police.
"I am so glad to find you at home," Chris said, sweetly.
Merritt muttered something that hardly sounded complimentary. It was
quite evident that he was far from returning the compliment. He had
recognised Bell, and was wondering fearfully if the latter was as sure
of his identity. Bell's face betrayed nothing. All the same he was
following Merritt's uneasy eye till it rested on a roll of dirty paper
on the mantelshelf. That roll of paper was the missing Rembrandt, and
he knew it.
"Won't you offer me a chair?" Chris asked, in the sweetest
Merritt sulkily emptied a chair of a pile of cheap sporting papers, and
demanded none too politely what business the lady had with him. Chris
proceeded to explain at considerable length. As Merritt listened his
eyes gleamed and a broadening grin spread over his face. He had done a
great deal of that kind of thing, he admitted. Since Henson had taken
him up the police had not been anything like so inquisitive, and his
present pose was fruitful of large predatory gains. The latter fact
Merritt kept to himself. On the whole the prospect appealed to his
imagination. Henson wouldn't like it, but, then, Henson was not in a
position to say too much.
"I thought perhaps if you came over with us and dined at the castle,"
Chris suggested. She spoke slowly and thoughtfully, with her eyes on the
ground. "Say to-night. Will you come?"
Merritt grinned extensively once more. The idea of his dining at the
castle appealed to his own peculiar sense of humour. He was at his ease,
seeing that Bell failed to recognise him. To dine at the castle, to note
the plate, and get a minute geographical knowledge of the place from
personal observation! ... His mouth watered at the thought.
"They ought to be more careful yonder," he suggested. "There's plate and
"Nothing has ever been stolen from Littimer Castle," Bell said, crisply.
He read the leer in Merritt's eyes as he spoke of pictures. "Nothing
"What, not lately?" Merritt asked. "Didn't I hear tell of a--"
He paused, conscious of saying too much. Bell shook his head again. An
utterly puzzled expression crept over Mr. Merritt's engaging countenance.
At the present moment an art treasure of price stood in that very room,
and here was a party from the castle utterly innocent of the robbery.
Chris glanced at Bell and smiled.
"I love the pictures," she said, "especially the prints. That Rembrandt,
'The Crimson Blind,' for instance. I found a fresh light in it this
morning and called Lord Littimer's attention to it before we started. I
should lock that up if it were mine."
Merritt's eyes fairly bulged as he listened. Had he not half-suspected
some deep "plant" he would have been vastly amused. But then he had got
the very picture these people were speaking about close to hand at the
"Tell you what," he said, suddenly. "I ain't used to swell society ways,
but I'm always ready to sacrifice myself to the poor fellows who ain't
found the straight path like me. And if you gets up your bazaar, I'll do
what I can to 'elp."
"Then you will dine with us to-night?" Chris asked, eagerly. "Don't say
no, I met a man once with a past like yours at Lady Roslingham's, and he
was so interesting. We will call for you in an hour's time with the
waggonette. Then we can settle half our plans before dinner."
Merritt was graciously pleased to be agreeable. Moreover, he was utterly
puzzled and absolutely consumed with an overpowering curiosity. It seemed
also to him to be a sheer waste of providence to discard such an offer.
And the plate at Littimer Castle was superb!
Meanwhile Chris and Bell walked down the street together. "He was puzzled
over the Rembrandt," Chris said. "Seeing that he has our picture--"
"No doubt about it. The picture was rolled up and stood on the
mantelshelf. I followed Merritt's gaze, knowing perfectly well that it
would rest presently on the picture if it was in the room. At the same
time, our interesting friend, in chuckling over the way he has deceived
us, clean forgot the yellow pawnticket lying on the table."
"Dr. Bell, do you mean to say that--"
"That I know where your diamond star was pledged. Indeed I do. Merritt
had probably just turned out his pockets as we entered. The pawnticket
was on the table and related to a diamond aigrette pawned by one James
Merritt--mark the simple cunning of the man--with Messrs. Rutter and Co.,
117, High Street. That in itself is an exceedingly valuable discovery,
and one we can afford to keep to ourselves for the present. At the same
time I should very much like to know what Rutter and Co. are like. Let me
go down to the shop and make some simple purchase."
Rutter and Co. proved to be a very high-class shop indeed, despite the
fact that there was a pawnbroking branch of the business. The place was
quite worthy of Bond Street, the stock was brilliant and substantial, the
assistants quite above provincial class. As Bell was turning over some
sleeve-links, Chris was examining a case of silver and gold
cigarette-cases and the like. She picked up a cigar-case at length and
asked the price. At the mention of fifty guineas she dropped the trifle
with a little _moue_ of surprise.
"It looks as if it had been used," she said.
"It is not absolutely new, madam," the assistant admitted, "therefore
the price is low. But the gentleman who sold it to us proved that he had
only had it for a few days. The doctor had ordered him not to smoke in
future, and so--"
Chris turned away to something else. Bell completed his purchase, and
together they left the shop. Once outside Chris gripped her companion's
"Another great discovery," she said. "Did you see me looking at that
cigar-case--a gun-metal one set with diamonds? You recollect that Ruth
Gates purchased a case like that for that--that foolishness we thought of
in connection with Mr. Steel. The case had a little arrow shaped scratch
with the head of the arrow formed of the biggest diamond. Enid told me
all this the night before I left Longdean Grange. Dr. Bell, I am
absolutely certain that I have had in my hand just now the very case
bought by Ruth from Lockhart's in Brighton!"
A BRILLIANT IDEA
Bell was considerably impressed with the importance of Chris's discovery,
though at the same time he was not disposed to regard it in the light of
"It's a useful discovery in its way," he said; "but not very remarkable
when you come to think of it. Somebody with an eye to damaging Steel
changed that cigar-case. How the change affected Steel you know as well
as I do. But the cigar-case purchased by Ruth Gates must be somewhere,
and we are as likely to find it near Reginald Henson as anywhere else,
seeing that he is at the bottom of the whole business. That change was
made either by himself or by somebody at his instigation. Once the change
was made he would not bother about the spare cigar-case. His ally
probably came here to see Henson; the latter as likely as not threw him
over, knowing that the fellow would not dare to talk; hence the thing is
turned into money. I am merely speculating, of course, under the
assumption that you are quite sure of your facts."
"Absolutely," Chris cried, eagerly. "Two long, irregular scratches
leading up in arrow-headed shape to the big diamond in the centre. Ruth
told Enid all about that the very last time they discussed the matter
"How came Ruth Gates to remember it so clearly?"
"Well, she did it herself. She was rubbing some specks off the case at
the last moment, and the scratches were made accidentally with the stones
in one of her rings."
Bell was fain to admit that the discovery was an important one. "We'll
leave it for the present," he said. "In a small place like this so
valuable an article is likely to remain in stock for some time. I'll call
in again to-morrow on the pretence of getting further goods and obtain
all the information there is to be gained as to who sold the case and
what he was like. There is just time for a little lunch before we take up
our reverend friend. Where shall we go?"
Chris would like to see the Lion. There was a marvellous coffee-room
there with panelled walls and a ceiling by Pugin, and an Ingle-nook
filled with rare Dutch tiles. They had the beautiful old place to
themselves, so that they could talk freely. Chris crumbled her bread and
sipped her soup with an air of deep abstraction.
"A great idea is forming itself in my mind," she said.
"What, another one?" Bell smiled. "Is it the air of the place or what?
Really, there is a brilliancy about you that is striking."
Chris laughed. She was full of the joy of life to-day.
"It is the freedom," she said. "If you only knew what it is to feel free
after the dull, aching, monotonous misery of the last few years. To be
constantly on the treadmill, to be in the grasp of a pitiless scoundrel.
At first you fight against it passionately, with a longing to be doing
something, and gradually you give way to despair. And now the weight is
off my shoulders, and I am free to act. Fancy the reward of finding
Reginald Henson out!"
"Reginald Henson is the blight upon your house. In what way?"
"Ah, I cannot tell you. It is a secret that we never discuss even among
ourselves. But he has the power over us, he has blighted all our lives.
But if I could get hold of a certain thing the power would be broken.
That is what I am after, what I am working for. And it is in connection
with my endeavour that the new idea came to me."
"Can't you give me some general idea of it?" Bell asked.
"Well, I want to make Merritt my friend. I want him to imagine that I am
as much of an adventuress as he is an adventurer. I want to let him see
that I could send him to prison--"
"So you can by telling the police of the loss of your star."
"And getting Merritt arrested and sent to gaol where I couldn't make use
of him? No, no. The thing is pretty vague in my mind at present. I have
to work it out as one would a story; as David Steel would work it out,
for instance. Ah!"
Chris clapped her hands rapturously, and a little cry of delight
"The very thing," she exclaimed. "If I could lay all the facts before Mr.
Steel and get him to plan out all the details! His fertile imagination
would see a way out at once. But he is far away and there is no time to
be lost. Is there no way of getting at him?"
Chris appealed almost imploringly to her companion. She made a pretty
picture with the old oak engravings behind her. Bell smiled as he helped
himself to asparagus.
"Why not adopt the same method by which you originally introduced
yourself to the distinguished novelist?" he asked. "Why not use
Chris pushed her plate away impetuously.
"I am too excited to eat any more," she said. "I am filled with the new
idea. Of course, I could use the telephone to speak to Mr. Steel, and to
Enid as well. If the scheme works out as I anticipate, I shall have to
hold a long conversation with Enid, a dangerous thing so long as Reginald
Henson is about."
"I'll keep Henson out of the way. The best thing is to wait till
everybody has gone to bed to-night and call Steel up then. You will be
certain to get him after eleven, and there will be no chance of your
being cut off at that hour of the night in consequence of somebody else
wanting the line. The same remark applies to your sister."
Chris nodded radiantly.
"Thrice blessed telephone," she said. "I can get in all I want without
committing myself to paper or moving from the spot where my presence is
urgently needed. We will give Mr. Steel a pleasant surprise to-night, and
this time I shall get him into no trouble."
The luncheon was finished at length, and an intimation sent to Merritt
that his friends were waiting for him at the Lion. As his powerful figure
was seen entering the big Norman porch Henson came down the street
driving a dog-cart at a dangerous rate of speed.
"Our man is going to have his trouble for his pains," Bell chuckled. "He
has come to interview Merritt. How pleased he will be to see Merritt at
Merritt shambled in awkwardly, obviously suppressing a desire to touch
his forelock. There was a sheepish grin on his face, a suppressed triumph
in his eyes. He had been recently shaved and his hair cut, but despite
these improvements, and despite his clerical garb, he was not exactly the
class of man to meet in a dark lane after sunset.
Chris, however, showed nothing of this in her greeting. Long before
Littimer Castle was reached she had succeeded in putting Merritt quite at
his ease. He talked of himself and his past exploits, he boasted of his
cunning. It was only now and again that he pulled himself up and piously
referred to the new life that he was now leading. Bell was studying him
carefully; he read the other's mind like an open book. When the
waggonette finally pulled up before the castle Littimer strolled up and
stood there regarding Merritt quietly.
"So this is the gentleman you were going to bring to dinner?" he
said, grimly. "I have seen him before in the company of our dear
Reginald. I also--"
Chris shot Littimer an imploring glance. Merritt grinned in friendly
fashion. Bell, in his tactful way, piloted the strange guest to the
library before Littimer and Chris had reached the hall. The former
polished his eyeglass and regarded Chris critically.
"My dear young lady," he said smoothly, "originality is a passion with
me, eccentricity draws me as a magnet; but as yet I have refrained from
sitting down to table with ticket-of-leave men. Your friend has 'convict'
writ large upon his face."
"He has been in gaol, of course," Chris admitted, cheerfully.
"Then let me prophesy, and declare that he will be in gaol again. Why
bring him here?"
"Because it is absolutely necessary," Chris said, boldly. "That man can
help me--help _us_, Lord Littimer. I am not altogether what I seem. There
is a scoundrel in your house compared with whom James Merritt is an
innocent child. That scoundrel has blighted your life and the lives of
your family; he has blighted my life for years. And I am here to expose
him, and I am here to right the wrong and bring back the lost happiness
of us all. I cannot say more, but I implore you to let me have my own way
in this matter."
"Oh!" Littimer said, darkly, "so you are masquerading here?"
"I am. I admit it. Turn me out if you like; refuse to be a party to my
scheme. You may think badly of me now, probably you will think worse of
me later on. But I swear to you that I am acting with the best and purest
motives, and in your interest as much as my own."
"Then you are not entitled even to the name you bear?"
"No, I admit it freely. Consider, I need not have told you anything.
Things cannot be any worse than they are. Let me try and make them
better. Will you, will you _trust_ me?"
Chris's voice quivered, there were tears in her eyes. With a sudden
impulse Littimer laid his hands upon her shoulders and looked long and
searchingly into her eyes.
"Very well," he said, with a gentle sigh. "I will trust you. As a matter
of fact, I have felt that I could trust you from the first. I won't pry
into your schemes, because if they are successful I shall benefit by
them. And if you like to bring a cartload of convicts down here, pray do
so. It will only puzzle the neighbours, and drive them mad with
curiosity, and I love that."
"And you'll back me up in all I say and do?" Chris asked.
"Certainly I will. On the whole, I fancy I am going to have a pleasant
evening. I don't think dear Reginald will be pleased to see his friend at
dinner. If any of the spoons are missing I shall hold you responsible."
Chris went off to her room well pleased with the turn of events.
Brilliant audacity had succeeded where timid policy might have resulted
in dismal failure. And Littimer had refrained from asking any awkward
questions. From the window she could see Bell and Merritt walking up and
down the terrace, the latter talking volubly and worrying at a big cigar
as a dog might nuzzle at a bone. Chris saw Littimer join the other two
presently and fall in with their conversation. His laugh came to the
girl's ear more than once. It was quite evident that the eccentric
nobleman was enjoying the ex-convict's society. But Littimer had never
been fettered by conventional rules.
The dog-cart came up presently and Henson got out. He had an anxious,
worried look; there was an ugly frown between his brows. He contrived to
be polite as Chris emerged. He wanted to know where Littimer was.
"On the terrace, I fancy," Chris said, demurely. "I guess he is having a
long chat with that parson friend of yours--the brand plucked from the
burning, you know."
"Merritt," Henson said, hoarsely. "Do you mean to say that Merritt is
here? And I've been looking for--I mean, I have been into Moreton Wells.
Why did he come?"
Chris opened her eyes in innocent surprise.
"Why," she said, "I fetched him. I'm deeply interested in brands of
ANOTHER TELEPHONIC MESSAGE
Henson forced a smile to his face and a hand from his side as he
approached Merritt and the rest. It was not until the two found
themselves alone that the mask was dropped.
"You infernally insolent scoundrel," Henson said, between his teeth. "How
dare you come here? You've done your work for the present, and the sooner
you go back to your kennel in London the better. If I imagined that you
meant any harm I'd crush you altogether."
"I didn't come on my own," Merritt whined. "So keep your 'air on. That
young lady came and fetched me--regular gone on me, she is. And there's
to be high jinks 'ere--a bazaar for the benefit of pore criminals as
can't get no work to do. You 'eard what his lordship said. And I'm goin'
to make a speech, like as I used to gull the chaplains. Lor', it's funny,
Henson failed to see the humour of the situation. He was uneasy and
suspicious. Moreover, he was puzzled by this American girl, and he hated
to be puzzled. She had social aspirations, of course; she cared nothing
for decayed or reformed criminals, and this silly bazaar was only
designed so that the ambitious girl could find her way into the county
set. Then she would choose a husband, and nothing more would be heard of
Merritt and Co. Henson had a vague notion that all American girls are on
the look-out for English husbands of the titled order.
"Littimer must be mad," he muttered. "I can't understand Littimer; I
can't understand anything. Which reminds me that I have a crow to pluck
with you. Why didn't you do as I told you last night?"
"Did," said Merritt, curtly. "Got the picture and took it home with me."
"You liar! The picture is in the corridor at the present time."
"Liar yourself! I've got the picture on my mantelshelf in my sitting-room
rolled up as you told me to roll it up and tied with a piece of cotton.
It was your own idea as the thing was to be left about casual-like as
being less calculated to excite suspicion. And there it is at the present
moment, and I'll take my oath to it."
Henson fairly gasped. He had been inside that said sitting-room not two
hours before, and he had not failed to notice a roll of paper on the
mantelshelf. And obviously Merritt was telling the truth. And equally
obviously the Rembrandt was hanging in the corridor at the present
moment. Henson had solved and evolved many ingenious puzzles in his time,
but this one was utterly beyond him.
"Some trick of Dr. Bell's, perhaps," Merritt suggested.
"Bell suspects nothing. He is absolutely friendly to me. He could not
disguise his feelings like that. Upon my word I was never so utterly at
sea before in all my life. And as for Littimer, why, he has just made a
fresh will more in my favour than the old one. But I'll find out. I'll
get to the bottom of this business if it costs me a fortune."
He frowned moodily at his boots; he turned the thing over in his mind
until his brain was dazed and muddled. The Rembrandt had been stolen, and
yet there was the Rembrandt in its place. Was anything more amazing and
puzzling? And nobody else seemed in the least troubled about it. Henson
was more than puzzled; deep down in his heart he was frightened.
"I must keep my eyes open," he said. "I must watch night and day. Do you
suppose Miss Lee noticed anything when she called to-day?"
"Not a bit of it," said Merritt, confidently "She came to see me; she
had no eyes for anybody but your humble servant. Where did she get my
address from? Why, didn't you introduce me to the lady yourself, and
didn't I tell her I was staying at Moreton Wells for a time? I'm goin'
to live in clover for a bit, my pippin. Cigars and champagne, wine and
all the rest of it."
"I wish you were at the bottom of the sea before you came here," Henson
growled. "You mind and be careful what you're doing with the champagne.
They don't drink by the tumbler in the society you are in now, remember.
Just one or two glasses and no more. If you take too much and let your
tongue run you will find your stay here pretty short."
Apparently the hint was not lost on Merritt, for dinner found him in a
chastened mood. His natural audacity was depressed by the splendour and
luxury around him; the moral atmosphere held him down. There were so
many knives and forks and glasses on the table, such a deal of food that
was absolutely strange to him. The butler behind made him shiver.
Hitherto in Merritt's investigations into great houses he had fought
particularly shy of butlers and coachmen and upper servants of that
kind. The butler's sniff and his cold suggestion as to hock slightly
raised Merritt's combative spirit. And the champagne was poor, thin
stuff after all. A jorum of gin and water, or a mug of beer, was what
Merritt's soul longed for.
And what a lot of plate there was on the table and sideboard! Some of it
was gold, too. Merritt's greedy professional eye appraised the collection
at some hundreds of pounds--hundreds of pounds--that is, after the stuff
had been disposed of. In imagination he had already drugged the butler
and was stuffing the plate into his bag.
Henson said very little. He was too busily engaged in watching his
confederate. He wished from the bottom of his heart now that Chris had
never seen Merritt. She was smiling at him now and apparently hanging on
every word. Henson had seen society ladies doing this kind of thing
before with well-concealed contempt. So long as people liked to play his
game for him he had no objection. But this was quite different. Merrit
had warmed a little under the influence of his fifth glass of champagne,
but his eye looked lovingly and longingly in the direction of a silver
spirit-stand on the sideboard. The dinner came to an end at length, to
Henson's great relief, and presently the whole party wandered out to the
terrace. Bell dropped behind with Chris.
"Now is your time," he whispered. "Henson dare not lose sight of Merritt
before he goes to bed, and I'll keep the latter out here for a good long
spell. I've muffled the striker of the telephone so that the bell will
make no noise when you get your call back from Brighton, so that you
must be near enough to the instrument to hear the click of the striker.
Chris dropped back to the library and rapidly fluttered over the leaves
of the "Telephone Directory." She found what she wanted at length and
asked to be put on to Brighton. Then she sat down in an armchair in the
darkness close under the telephone, prepared to wait patiently. She
could just see the men on the terrace, could catch the dull glow red of
Her patience was not unduly tried. At the end of a quarter of an hour the
striker clicked furiously. Chris reached for the receiver and lay back
comfortably in her chair with the diaphragm to her ear. "Are you there?"
she asked, quietly. "Is that you, Mr. Steel?" To her great relief the
answering voice was Steel's own. He seemed to be a little puzzled as to
who his questioner was.
"Can't you guess?" Chris replied. "This is not the first time I have had
you called. You have not forgotten 218, Brunswick Square, yet?"
Chris smiled as she heard Steel's sudden exclamation.
"So you are my fair friend whom I saw in the dark?" he said. "Yes, I
recognise your voice now. You are Miss Chris--well, I won't mention the
name aloud, because people might ask what a well-regulated corpse meant
by rousing respectable people up at midnight. I hope you are not going to
get me into trouble again."
"No, but I am going to ask your advice and assistance. I want you to be
so good as to give me the plot of a story after I have told you the
details. And you are to scheme the thing out at once, please, because
delay is dangerous. Dr. Bell--"
"What's that? Will you tell me where you are speaking from?"
"I am at present located at Littimer Castle. Yes, Dr. Bell is here. Do
you want him?"
"I should think so," Steel exclaimed. "Please tell him at once that the
man who was found here half dead--you know the man I mean--got up and
dressed himself in the absence of the nurse and walked out of the
hospital this morning. Since then he has not been seen or heard of. I
have been looking up Bell everywhere. Will you tell him this at once?
I'll go into your matter afterwards. Don't be afraid; I'll tell the
telephone people not to cut us off till I ring. Please go at once."
The voice was urgent, not to say imperative. Chris dropped the
receiver into its space and crept into the darkness in the direction
of the terrace.
A LITTLE FICTION
Bell seemed to know by intuition that Chris required him, or perhaps he
caught a glimpse of her white dress from the terrace. Anyway, he strolled
leisurely in her direction.
"Something has happened?" he whispered, as he came up.
"Well, yes," Chris replied, "though I should like to know how you
guessed that. I had no difficulty in getting Mr. Steel on the
telephone, but he would say nothing directly he heard that you were
here beyond a peremptory request that you were to be told at once that
Van Sneck has gone."
"Gone!" Bell echoed, blankly. "What do you mean by that?"
"He has disappeared from the hospital at Brighton to-day. Mr. Steel
thinks they were extra busy, or something of that kind. Anyway, Van Sneck
got up and dressed himself and left the hospital without being observed.
It seems extraordinary to me."
"And yet quite possible," Bell said, thoughtfully. "Van Sneck had
practically recovered from the flesh wounds; it was the injury to his
head that was the worst part. He resembled an irresponsible lunatic more
than anything else. Steel wants me, of course?"
"He suggests that you should go down to Brighton without delay."
"All right, I'll make some excuse to take the first train in the morning.
We've got a fine start of Henson, and that's a good thing. If Van Sneck
comes within his net we shall have a deal of trouble. I had hoped to get
permission to operate on Van Sneck, and relied upon him to solve the
mystery. And now you had better go back to your telephone."
Chris hurried back again. A whispered word satisfied her that Steel was
still at the other end.
"Dr. Bell starts as early as possible to-morrow," she said. "If you will
listen carefully I will give you a brief outline of all that has happened
since I have been here."
Chris proceeded to tell her story succinctly and briefly. From little
sounds and signs she could tell that Steel was greatly interested. The
story of the man with the thumb fascinated him. It appealed to his
"And what do you want to do with him?" Steel asked.
"Well, you see, I have him in my power," Chris explained. "We can get the
other Rembrandt any time we like now, but that is quite a minor
consideration. What I want is for Merritt to know that I can have him
arrested at any time for stealing my star. It's Enid's star, as a matter
of fact; but that is a detail."
"An important one, surely," Steel's voice came thin and clear.
"Suppose that our dear friend chances to recognise it? ... No, don't
ring off yet."
"I'm not. Oh, you are speaking to the Exchange people ... Yes, yes; we
shall be a long time yet ... Are you there? Well, Henson has never seen
the star. Enid bought it just before the great trouble came, and
afterwards she never had the heart to wear it."
"I understand. You want Merritt to know this?"
"Well, I do and I don't," Chris explained. "I am anxious not to frighten
the man. I want to get him in my power, and I want to prove to him that
it would be to his advantage for him to come over to my side. Suppose
that Enid gave it out that the star had been stolen? And suppose that I
could save him at the critical moment? I shouldn't mind him thinking that
I had stolen the star in the first place. That is why I am asking you as
a novelist to help me."
"You would have made an excellent novelist yourself," David said,
admiringly. "Give me five minutes.... Are you there? I fancy I have it.
Can't you hear me? That's better. I'll see Miss Gates the first thing in
the morning and get her to go over to Longdean and see your sister....
Confound it, don't cut us off yet. What does it matter so long as the
messages are paid for? Nobody else wants the line. Well, I may for an
hour more.... Are you there? Very sorry; it's the fault of the Post
Office people. Here is the plot in a nutshell. Your sister has lost a
diamond star. She gives a minute description of it to the police, and
drops a hint to the effect that she believes it was taken away by
mistake--in other words, was stolen--from her in London by a chance
acquaintance called Christabel Lee--"
"Ah," Chris cried, "how clever you are!"
"I have long suspected it," the thin voice went on, drily. "The full
description of the star will be printed in the _Police Gazette_, a copy
of which every respectable pawnbroker always gets regularly. I suppose
the people where the star was pawned are respectable?"
"Highly so. They have quite a Bond Street establishment attached."
"So much the better. They will see the advertisement, and they will
communicate with the police. The Reverend James Merritt will be
"I don't quite like that," Chris suggested.
"Oh, it's necessary. He will be arrested at the castle. Knowing his
antecedents, the police will not stand upon any ceremony with him. You
will be filled with remorse. You have plunged back into a career of crime
again a being who was slowly climbing into the straight path once more.
You take the blame upon yourself--it was at your instigation that Merritt
pawned the star."
"But, really, Mr. Steel--"
"Oh, I know. But the end justifies the means. You save Mr. Merritt, there
is a bond of sympathy between you, he will regard you as a great light in
his interesting profession. You saved him because you had appropriated
the star yourself."
"And go to gaol instead of Mr. Merritt?"
"Not a bit of it. The star you deemed to be yours. You had one very like
it when you saw Miss Henson, when you were staying in London at the same
hotel. By some means the jewels got mixed. You are confident that an
exchange has been made. Also you are confident that if Miss Henson will
search her jewel-case she will find a valuable star that does not belong
to her. Miss Henson does so, she is distressed beyond measure, she offers
all kinds of apologies. Exit the police. You need not tell Merritt how
you get out of the difficulty, and thus you increase his respect for you.
There, that would make a very ingenious and plausible magazine story. It
should be more convincing in real life."
"Capital!" Chris murmured. "What an advantage it is to have a novelist to
advise one! Many, many thanks for all your kindness. Good-night!"
Chris rang off with a certain sense of relief. It was some time later
before she had a chance of conveying to Bell what had happened. He
listened gravely to all that Chris had to say.
"Just the sort of feather-brained idea that would occur to a novelist,"
he said. "For my part, I should prefer to confront Merritt with his
theft, and keep the upper hand of him that way."
"And he would mistrust me and betray me at the first opportunity.
Besides, in that case, he would know at once that I wanted to get to the
bottom of his connection with Reginald Henson. Mr. Steel's plan may be
bizarre, but it is safe."
"I never thought of that," Bell admitted. "I begin to imagine that
you are more astute than I gave you credit for, which is saying a
Chris was down early the following morning, only to find Bell at
breakfast with every sign of making an early departure. He was very
sorry, he explained, gravely, to his host and Chris, but his letters gave
him no option, He would come back in a day or two if he might. A moment
later Henson came into the room, ostentatiously studying a Bradshaw.
"And where are you going?" Littimer asked. "Why do you all abandon me?
Reginald, do you mean to say that you are going to refuse me the light of
"Is Dr. Bell going, too?" Henson asked, with just a suggestion of
uneasiness. "I mean--er--"
"Business," Bell said. "I came here at great personal
inconvenience. And you?"
"London," Henson replied. "A meeting to-day that I cannot get out of. A
couple of letters by this morning's post have decided me."
Chris said nothing; she appeared to be quite indifferent until she had a
chance to speak to Bell alone. She looked a little anxious.
"He has found out about Van Sneck," she said. "Truly he is a marvellous
man! And he had no letters this morning. I opened the post-bag
personally. But I'm glad he's going, because I shall have James Merritt
all to myself."
THE FASCINATION OF JAMES MERRITT
On the whole Mr. James Merritt, ex-convict and now humanitarian, was
enjoying himself immensely. He did not sleep at the castle, for Lord
Littimer drew the line there, but he contrived to get most of his meals
under that hospitable roof, and spent a deal of time there. It was by no
means the first time he had been "taken up" by the aristocracy since his
conversion, and his shyness was wearing off. Moreover, Henson had given
his henchman strict instructions to keep his eyes open with a view to
getting at the bottom of the Rembrandt mystery.
Still, there is always a crumpled rose-leaf somewhere, and Merritt had
his. A few days after Henson departed so hurriedly from town the stolen
Rembrandt disappeared from Merritt's rooms. Nobody knew anything about
it; the thing had vanished, leaving no trace of the thief behind.
Perhaps Merritt would have been less easy in Littimer's society had he
known that the missing print was securely locked away in the latter's
strong room. Still, had Merritt been acquainted with the classics,
_carpe diem_ would like as not have been his favourite motto. He
declined to worry over the matter until Henson's return. It was not for
him to know, yet, that Chris had actually gone over to Moreton Wells,
and, during the absence of Merritt's landlady, calmly walked into the
house and taken the picture away.
"You are going to see some fun presently," she said, coolly, to the
astonished Littimer, as she laid the missing picture before him. "No, I
shall not tell you anything more at present. You shall hear the whole
story when Reginald Henson stands in the pillory before you. You know now
that Henson was at the bottom of the plot to destroy Dr. Bell's
"I always felt that our Reginald was a great scoundrel," Littimer
purred over his cigarette. "And if you succeed in exposing him
thoroughly I shall watch the performance with the greatest possible
pleasure. I am not curious, my dear young lady, but I would give
sixpence to know who you are."
"Keep your sixpence," Chris laughed, "and you'll know all in good time.
All I ask is not to be astonished at anything that happens."
Littimer averred that he had long since lost the power of astonishment.
There was a brightness and restlessness about Chris to-day that
considerably added to her charms. It was nearly a week now since Bell and
Henson had departed, and in the meantime Chris had heard nothing from
Longdean. Half an hour before a telegram had arrived to the effect that a
gentleman in a blue coat might be expected at Littimer Castle at any
moment. The police were coming, and Merritt was late to-day. If Merritt
failed to turn up the whole situation would be spoilt. It was with a
feeling of unutterable relief that Chris saw him coming up the drive."
"Come on the terrace," she said. "I have something very serious to say to
you. Mr. Merritt, you have got us both into very serious trouble. Why did
you do it?"
"Ain't done nothing," Merritt said, doggedly. He repeated the old
formula, "What's up?"
"Er--it's about my diamond star," said Chris. "I lost it a few days ago.
If I had known what was going to happen I should have put up with my
loss. But I made inquiries through the police without saying a word to
anybody, and now I find the star was pawned in Moreton Wells."
"Oh, lor," Merritt gasped. "You don't mean to say the police know
"Indeed I do. You see, once I allowed matters to go out of my hands I was
powerless. The case now rests entirely with the police. And I am informed
that they may come here and arrest you at any moment. I fear there is no
escape for you--you pawned the thing yourself in your own name. What a
thousand pities you yielded to sudden temptation."
"But I found it," Merritt whined. "I'll take my oath as I found it under
the terrace. I--I--was rambling along the cliffs one day and I found it.
And I didn't know it was yours. If I had known it was yours, I'd never
have gone and done no such a thing."
Chris shook her head sadly.
"And just as you were getting on so nicely," she said.
"That's it," Merritt whined, brokenly. "Just as I was properly spoofing
everybody as I--I mean just as I was getting used to a better life. But
you can save me, miss; you can say as you were hard up for money and
that, knowing as I knew the ropes, you got me to pawn it for you. Put it
in that way and there's not a policeman in England as can touch me."
"I had thought of it," Chris said, with a pretty assumption of distress.
"But, but--Mr. Merritt, I have a terrible confession to make. It was not
I who started the police: it was somebody else. You see, the star was not
my property at all. I--I got it in London."
Mr. Merritt looked up with involuntary admiration.
"You don't mean to say as you nicked it?" he asked. "Well, well."
Chris bent her face lower to conceal her agitation, Her shoulders were
heaving, but not with emotion. The warmth of Merritt's admiration had
moved her to silent laughter, and she had made the exact impression that
she had desired.
"I have telegraphed to the lady, who is more or less of a friend of
mine," she said. "I have urged her to take no further steps in the
matter. I fancy that she is a good and kind girl and that--but a reply
might come at any time."
There was a reply on the way now, as Chris knew perfectly well. The whole
thing had been carefully arranged and planned to the moment by Steel and
"I dare say they'll let you down easy," Merritt said, disconsolately;
"but it'll be hot for me. I've copped it too many times before, you see."
"Yes, I see," Chris said, thoughtfully. "Mr. Merritt, I have made up my
mind: if I had not--er--borrowed that star, it would not have been lost,
and you would not have found it, and there would have been no trouble. My
conscience would not rest if I allowed you to be dragged back into the
old life again. I am going to save you--I am going to tell the police
that you pawned that star for me at my instigation."
Merritt was touched even to tears. There was not an atom of chivalry in
the rascal's composition. He had little or no heed for the trouble that
his companion appeared to be piling up for herself, but he was touched to
the depths of his soul. Here was a clever girl, who in her own way
appeared to be a member of his profession, who was prepared to sacrifice
herself to save another. Self-sacrifice is a beautiful and tender thing,
and Merritt had no intention of thwarting it.
"Do that, and I'm your pal for life," he said, huskily. "And I never went
back on a pal yet. Ask anybody as really knows me. 'Tain't as if you
weren't one of us, neither. I'd give a trifle to know what your little
game is here, eh?"
Chris smiled meaningly. Merritt's delusion was distinctly to be fostered.
"You shall help me then, presently," she said in a mysterious whisper.
"Help me and keep your own counsel, and there will be the biggest job you
ever had in your life. Only let you and I get out of this mess, and we
shall see what we shall see presently."
Merritt looked speechless admiration. He had read of this class of
high-toned criminals in the gutter stories peddled by certain publishers,
but he had never hoped to meet one in the flesh. He was still gazing
open-mouthed at Chris as two men came along the avenue.
They were both in plain clothes, but they had "policeman" writ large all
"Cops, for a million," Merritt gurgled, with a pallid face. "You can tell
'em when you're asleep. And they are after me; they're coming this way.
I'll be all right presently."
"I hope so," Chris said, with a curling lip. "You look guilty
Merritt explained that it was merely the first emotion, and would pass
off presently. Nor did he boast in vain. He was quite cool as the
officers came up and called him by name.
"That's me," Merritt said. "What's the trouble?"
One of the officers explained. He had no warrant, he said, but all the
same he would have to trouble Mr. Merritt to accompany him to Moreton
Wells. A diamond star not yet definitely identified had been handed over
to the police, the same having been pawned by James Merritt.
"That's quite right," Merritt said, cheerfully. "I pawned it for
this young lady here--Miss Lee. Of course, if it is not her
property, why, then--"
The officer was palpably taken back. He knew more than he cared to say.
The star had been pledged by Merritt, as he cheerfully admitted, but the
owner of the star had lost the gem in London under suspicious
circumstances in which Miss Lee was mixed up. And at present it was not
the policy of the police to arrest Miss Lee. That would come later.
"I am afraid that there has been a misapprehension altogether," Chris
said. "Allow me to explain: Mr. Merritt, would you step aside for a
moment? I have to speak of private matters. Thank you. Now, sir, I am
quite prepared to admit that the ornament pledged does not belong to me,
but to Miss Henson, whom I met in London. I took the star by mistake. You
may smile, but I have one very like it. If Miss Henson had searched her
jewels properly she would have found that she had my star--that I had
hers. I heard of the business quite by accident, and telegraphed to Miss
Henson to look searchingly amongst her jewels. She has a large amount,
and might easily have overlooked my star. Here is a boy with a telegram.
Will you take it from him and read it aloud? It is addressed to me, you
It was. It was signed "Enid Henson"; it went on to say that the sender
was fearfully sorry for all the trouble she had caused, but that she had
found Miss Lee's star with her jewels. Also she had telegraphed at once
to the police at Moreton Wells to go no farther.
"Looks like a mistake," the officer muttered. "But if we get that
"Which has reached the police-station by this time," Chris interrupted.
"Come into the castle and ask the question over the telephone. I suppose
you are connected?"
The officer said they were; in fact, they had only recently joined the
Exchange. A brief visit to the telephone, and the policeman came back,
with a puzzled air and a little more deference in his manner, with the
information that he was to go back at once, as the case was closed.
"I've seen some near things in my time, but nothing nearer than this," he
said. "Still, it's all right now. Very sorry to have troubled you, miss."
The officers departed with the air of men who had to be satisfied,
despite themselves. Merritt came forward with an admiration almost
fawning. He did not know quite how the thing had happened, but Chris had
done the police. Smartness and trickery of that kind were the highest
form of his idolatry. His admiration was nearly beyond words.
"Well, strike me," he gasped. "Did ever anyone ever see anything like
that? You, as cool as possible, and me with my heart in my mouth all
the time. And there ain't going to be no trouble, no sort of bother
over the ticket?"
"You hand over that ticket to me," Chris smiled, "and there will be an
end of the matter. And if you try to play me false in any way, why, it
will be a bad day for you. Give me your assistance, and it will be the
best day's work you ever did in your life."
Merritt's heart was gained. His pride was touched.
"Me go back on you?" he cried, hoarsely. "After what you've done? Only
say the word, only give old Jim Merritt a call, and it's pitch-and-toss
to manslaughter for those pretty eyes of yours. Good day's work! Aye, for
both of us."
And Chris thought so too.
A USEFUL DISCOVERY
Waiting with the eagerness of the greyhound in leash, David Steel was
more annoyed and vexed over the disappearance of the wounded Van Sneck
than he cared to admit. He had an uneasy feeling that the unseen foe had
checkmated him again. And he had built up so many hopes upon this
strangely-uninvited guest of his. If that man spoke he could tell the
truth. And both Cross and Bell had declared that he would not die.
David found Cross in a frame of mind something like his own. It was late
in the afternoon before it transpired that Van Sneck was gone, and,
unfortunately, David did not know where to find Bell just at the moment.
Cross had very little to say.
"A most unpleasant incident," he remarked. "But these things will happen,
you know. We have been so busy lately, and our vigilance has been
slightly relaxed. Oh, it is impossible to guard against everything, but
he is certain to be found."
"You don't think," David suggested, "that anybody secretly connected with
the man's past--"
"No, I don't," Cross snapped; "that would be impossible. The man had
something on his mind, and so far as bodily condition was concerned he
was getting quite strong again. In his dazed state he got up and dressed
himself and went away. He seems to have been seeking for somebody or
something for days. We are certain to have him again before long."
With which poor consolation David returned home again. He was restless
and desirous of human companionship. He even resented it, as a kind of
affront, that his mother had chosen at this time to go to Hassocks to
stay with an old friend for a couple of days. That Mrs. Steel knew
practically nothing of her son's trouble counted for naught. Therefore it
was with something akin to pleasure that David found Ruth Gates waiting
in the drawing-room for him when he came in from his walk on the
following afternoon. Nothing had been heard of Van Sneck in the meantime,
but thanks to Chris's telephone message late the previous night he had
got in touch with Bell, who was coming south without delay.
There was a look of shy pleasure in Ruth's eyes and a deep carmine flush
on her cheeks.
"You don't think that this is very bold of me?" she asked.
"I am pretty Bohemian in any case," David laughed, as he looked down
fondly into the shy, sweet eyes. "And I'm too overjoyed to see you to
think about anything else. I wish my mother was at home. No, I don't,
because I have you all to myself."
"David! On an occasion like this you ought to be the pink of propriety.
Do you know, I believe that I have made a great discovery?"
"Indeed, little girl! And what have you found out?"
"Well, you must tell me something before my discovery seems valuable.
David, you are a close student of human nature. Is it possible for men of
phenomenal cunning to make careless mistakes? Do the most clever
criminals ever make childish blunders?"
"My dear child, if they didn't the police would have very little chance.
For instance, I have discovered how those enemies of ours got hold of the
notepaper that lured Van Sneck here. They sent a messenger to Carter's,
in East Street, presumedly knowing that my dies were there, and ordered a
quarter of a ream of paper and envelopes. These were to be sent to an
address in East Grinstead in a hurry. Now, that was very clever and
smart, but here comes the folly. Those people, in the stress of business,
actually forgot to ascertain the cost and pay for the paper, so that it
was down yesterday in my last quarter's bill. Oh, yes, I assure you, the
most brilliant criminals do the most incredibly foolish things."
Ruth looked relieved. Her pretty features relaxed into a smile.
"Then I fancy Reginald Henson has done so," she said. "I fancy I have
solved the mystery of the cigar-case--I mean, the mystery of the one
"And which was changed for the one purchased at Walen's, hence these
tears. But Lockharts say that _our_ case was really purchased by an
"Yes, I know. And I fancy that the manager honestly thought so. But I
think I can explain that."
It was David's turn to look up eagerly.
"Do you mean it?" he exclaimed. "It will make a wonderful difference if
you can. That has been one of the most bewildering knots of the whole
puzzle. If we could only trace the numbers of those notes, I suppose
changed at the same time as the cigar-case."
"Indeed they were not," Ruth cried. "I have ascertained that the case was
changed by Henson, as you and I have already decided. Henson made the
exchange not at the time we thought."
"Not when you left the package on the table for him to see?"
"No; at least I can't say. He had the other case then, probably, passed
on to him by Van Sneck. Or perhaps he merely ascertained what I had
purchased. That was sufficient for his purpose. Of course he must have
found out all about our scheme. After I had laid my cigar-case on your
doorstep a man quietly changed it for the other purchased at Walen's. But
this is the alternate theory only. Any way, I am absolutely certain that
you got exactly the same notes that we had placed in the original case."
"That might be," David said, thoughtfully. "But that does not explain the
fact that Lockhart's sold _your_ case to an American at the Metropole."
"I fancy I can even explain that, dear. My uncle came down suddenly
to-day from London. He wanted certain papers in a great hurry. Now, those
papers were locked up in a drawer at 219 given over specially to Mr.
Henson. My uncle promptly broke open the drawer and took out the papers.
Besides those documents the drawer contained a package in one of
Lockhart's big linen-lined envelopes--a registered letter envelope, in
fact. My uncle had little time to spare, as he was bound to be back in
London to-night. He suggested that as the back of the drawer was broken
and the envelope presumably contained valuables, I had better take care
of it. Well, I must admit at once that I steamed the envelope open. I
shouldn't have done so if Lockhart's name had not been on the flap. In a
little case inside I found a diamond bracelet, which I have in my pocket,
together with a receipted bill for seventy odd pounds made out to me."
"To you?" David cried. "Do you mean to say that--"
"Indeed I do. The receipt was made out to me, and with it was a little
polite note to the effect that Messrs. Lockhart had made the exchange of
the cigar-case for the diamond bracelet, and that they hoped Miss Gates
would find the matter perfectly satisfactory."
David was too astonished to say anything for the moment. The skein
was too tangled to be thought out all at once. Presently he began to
see his way.
"Under ordinary circumstances the change seems impossible," he said.
"Especially seeing that the juggling could not have been done without
both the cases--but I had forgotten how easily the cases were changed. I
have it! What is the date of that letter?"
Ruth slowly unfolded a document she had taken from her purse.
"The day following what you call your great adventure," she said. "Henson
or somebody took the real case--my case--back to Lockhart's and changed
it in my name. I had previously been admiring this selfsame bracelet, and
they had tried to sell it to me. My dear boy, don't you see this is all
part of the plot to plunge you deeper and deeper into trouble, to force
us all to speak to save you? There are at least fifteen assistants at
Lockhart's. Of course the ultimate sale of the cigar-case to this
American could be proved, seeing that the case had got back into stock
again, and at the same time the incident of the change quite forgotten.
And when you go and ask questions at Lockhart's--as you were pretty sure
to do, as Henson knew--you are told of the sale only to the American.
Depend upon it, that American was Henson himself or somebody in his pay.
David, that man is too cunning, _too_ complex. And some of these days it
is going to prove his fall."
David nodded thoughtfully. And yet, without something very clever and
intricate in the way of a scheme, Henson could not have placed him in his
"There is only one thing to be done," he said. "You and I must go down to
Lockhart's and make a few inquiries. With that diamond bracelet and
letter in your possession you should have no difficulty in refreshing
their memories. Will you have some tea?"
"I am too excited," Ruth laughed. "I couldn't eat or drink anything just
at present. David, what a lovely house you have."
"I'm glad to hear that you are going to like it," David said, drily.
Lockhart's received their customers in the usual courtly style. They were
sorry they had no recollection of the transaction to which madam
referred. The sale of the bracelet was clear, because that was duly and
properly recorded on the books, and as indeed was the sale of the
gun-metal cigar-case to an American gentleman at the Metropole. If madam
said that she had purchased the cigar-case, why--still the polite
assistant was most courteously incredulous.
The production of the letter made a difference. There was a passing of
confidences from one plate-glass counter to another, and presently
another assistant came forward. He profoundly regretted that there had
been a mistake, but he remembered the incident perfectly. It was the day
before he had departed on his usual monthly visit to the firm's Paris
branch. Madam had certainly purchased the cigar-case; but before the sale
could be posted in the stock ledger madam had sent a gentleman to change
the case for the diamond bracelet previously admired. The speaker had
attended to both the sale and the exchange; in fact, his cab was waiting
for him during the latter incident.
"I trust there is nothing wrong?" he asked, anxiously.
"Not in the least," Ruth hastened to reply. "The whole matter is a kind
of comedy that I wanted to solve. It is a family joke, you understand.
And who made the exchange?"
"Mr. Gates, madam. A tall gentleman, dressed in--"
"That is quite sufficient, thank you," said Ruth. "I am sorry to trouble
you over so silly a matter."
The assistant assured madam with an air of painful reproach that nothing
was counted a trouble in that establishment. He bowed his visitors out
and informed them that it was a lovely afternoon, a self-evident axiom
that the most disputatious could not well deny.
"You see how your inquiries might have been utterly baffled but for this
find of mine," Ruth said, as the two went along North Street. "We shall
find presently that the Metropole American and Reginald Henson are one
and the same person."
"And you fancy that he made the exchange at Lockhart's?"
"I feel pretty certain of it," Ruth replied. "And you will be sure later
on to find that he had a hand in the purchase of the other cigar-case
from Walen's. Go to Marley's and get him to make inquiries as to whether
or not Walen's got their case down on approval."
David proceeded to do so without further delay. Inspector Marley was out,
but David left a message for him. Would he communicate by telephone later
on? Steel had just finished his dinner when Marley rang him up.
"Are you there? Yes, I have seen Walen. Your suggestion was quite right.
Customer had seen cigar-case exactly like it in Lockhart's, only too
dear. Walen dealt with some manufacturers and got case down. Oh, no,
never saw customer again. That sort of thing happens to shopkeepers every
day. Yes. Walen thinks he would recognise his man again. Nothing more?
A DELICATE ERRAND
It looked like being a long, dull evening for Steel if he were not going
to the theatre or anything of that kind. He generally read till about
eleven o'clock, after which he sat up for another couple of hours
plotting out the day's task for to-morrow. To-night he could only wander
restlessly about his conservatory, snipping off a dead leaf here and
there and wondering where the whole thing was going to end.
With a certain sense of relief David heard the front door-bell trill
about eleven o'clock. Somebody was coming to see him, and it didn't
matter much who in Steel's present frame of mind. But he swept into the
study with a feeling of genuine pleasure as Hatherly Bell was announced.
"My dear fellow, I'm delighted to see you," he cried. "Take the big
armchair. Let me give you a cigar and a whisky and soda and make you
comfortable. That's better."
"I'm tired out," Bell said. "In London all day, and since six with Cross.
Can you put me up for the night?"
"My bachelor bedroom is always ready, Bell."
"Thanks. I don't fancy you need be under any apprehension that anybody
has spirited Van Sneck away. In the first place Henson, who seems to have
discovered what happened, is in a terrible state about it. He wanted very
badly to remain at Littimer, but when he heard that Van Sneck had left
the hospital he came down here; in fact, we travelled together. Of course
he said nothing whatever about Van Sneck, whom he is supposed to know
nothing about, but I could see that he was terribly disturbed. The worst
of it is that Cross was going to get me to operate on Van Sneck; and
Heritage, who seems wonderfully better, was going to assist."
"Is your unfortunate friend up to that kind of thing now?" David asked.
"I fancy so. Do you know that Heritage used to have a fairly good
practice near Littimer Castle? Lord Littimer knows him well. I want
Heritage to come into this. I want to get at the reason why Henson has
been so confoundedly good to Heritage. For years he has kept his eye upon
him; for years he has practically provided him with a home at Palmer's.
And when Heritage mentions Henson's name he always does so with a kind of
"You think that Heritage is going to be useful to us?"
"I fancy so. Mind you, it is only my idea--what I call intuition, for
want of a better word. And what have you been doing lately?"
David proceeded to explain, giving the events of the afternoon in full
detail. Bell followed the account with the deepest interest. Then he
proceeded to tell his own story. David appeared to be fascinated with the
tale of the man with the thumb-nail.
"So Miss Chris hopes to hypnotise the man with the thumb," he said. "You
have seen more of her than I have, Bell. Does she strike you as she
strikes me--a girl of wonderfully acute mind allied to a pluck and
audacity absolutely brilliant?"
"She is that and more," Bell said, warmly. "Now that she is free to act
she has developed wonderfully. Look how cleverly she worked out that
Rembrandt business, how utterly she puzzled Henson, and how she helped me
to get into Littimer's good books again without Henson even guessing at
the reason. And now she has forced the confidence of that rascal Merritt.
She has saved him from a gaol into which she might have thrown him at any
moment, she has convinced him that she is something exceedingly brilliant
in the way of an adventuress, with a great _coup_ ahead. Later on she
will use Merritt, and a fine hard-cutting tool she will find him."
"Where is Henson at the present moment?" David asked.
"I left him in London this afternoon," Bell replied. "But I haven't the
slightest doubt in the world that he has made his way to Brighton by this
time. In all probability he has gone to Longdean."
Bell paused as the telephone bell rang out shrilly. The mere sound of it
thrilled both of them with excitement. And what a useful thing the
telephone had proved!
"Are you there?" came the quick, small whisper. "Is that you, Mr. Steel?
I am Enid Henson."
There was a long pause, during which David was listening intently. Bell
could see him growing rigid with the prospect of something keen, alert,
"Bell is here with me at this moment," he said. "Just wait a minute
whilst I tell him. Don't go away, please. Under the circumstances it
might be dangerous for me to ring you ... Just a moment. Here's a
"Well," Bell said, impatiently, "I'm only a mere man, after all."
"Henson is at Longdean; he turned up an hour ago, and at the present
moment is having his supper in the library before going to bed. But that
is not the worst part of it. Williams heard the dogs making a great noise
by the gates, and went to see what was wrong. Some poor, demented fellow
had climbed over the wall, and the dogs were holding him up. Fortunately,
he did not seem to be conscious of his danger, and as he stood still the
hounds did him no harm. Williams was going to put the intruder into the
road again when Miss Henson came up. And whom do you suppose the poor,
wandering tramp to be?"
Bell pitched his cigar into the grate full of flowers and jumped
to his feet.
"Van Sneck, for a million," he cried. "My head to a cocoanut on it."
"The same. They managed to get the poor fellow into the house before
Williams brought Henson from the lodge, and he's in the stables now in a
rather excited condition. Now, I quite agree with Miss Henson that Henson
must be kept in ignorance of the fact, also that Van Sneck must be got
away without delay. To inform the hospital authorities would be to spoil
everything and play into Henson's hands. But he must be got away
"Right you are. We'll go and fetch him. _Et apres_?"
"_Et apres_ he will stay here. He shall stay _here_, and you shall say
that it is dangerous to remove him. Cross shall be told and Marley shall
be told, and the public shall be discreetly kept in ignorance for the
present. I'll go over there at once, as there is no time to be lost. Miss
Henson suggests that I should come, and she tells me that Williams will
wait at the lodge-gates for me. But you are going to stay here."
"Oh, indeed! And why am I going to stay here?"
"Because, my dear friend, I can easily manage the business single-handed,
and because you must run no risk of meeting Henson yonder. You are not
now supposed to know where the family are, nor are you supposed to take
the faintest interest in them. Stay here and make yourself comfortable
till I return.... Are you there? I will be at Longdean as soon as
possible and bring Van Sneck here. No, I won't ring off; you had better
do that. I shall be over in less than an hour."
David hung up the receiver and proceeded to don a short covert coat and a
cap. In the breast-pocket of the coat he placed a revolver.
"Just as well to be on the safe side," he said. "Though I am not likely
to be troubled with the man with the thumb again. Still, Henson may have
other blackguards; he may even know where Van Sneck is at the present
moment, for all I know to the contrary."
"I feel rather guilty letting you go alone," Bell said.
"Not a bit of it," said David, cheerfully. "Smoke your cigar, and if
you need any supper ring for it. You can safely leave matters in my
hands. Van Sneck shall stay here till he is fit, and then you shall
operate upon him. After that he ought to be as clay in the hands of the
potter. So long."
And David went off gaily enough. He kept to the cliffs for the first part
of the distance, and then struck off across the fields in the direction
of Longdean. The place was perfectly quiet, the village was all in
darkness as he approached the lodge-gates of the Grange. Beyond the drive
and between the thick, sad firs that shielded the house he could see the
crimson lights gleaming here and there. He could catch the rumble and
scratch in the bushes, and ever and again a dog whined. The big gate was
closed as David peeped in searching for his guide.
"Williams," he whispered; "Williams, where are you?"
But no reply came. The silence was full of strange, rushing noises, the
rush of blood in David's head. He called again and again, but no reply
came. Then he heard the rush and fret of many feet, the cry of a pack of
hounds, a melancholy cry, with a sombre joy in it. He saw a light
gleaming fitfully in the belt of firs.
"No help for it," David muttered. "I must chance my luck. I never saw a
dog yet that I was afraid of. Well, here goes."
He scrambled over the wall and dropped on the moist, clammy earth on the
other side. He fumbled forward a few steps, and then stopped suddenly,
brought up all standing by the weird scene which was being solemnly
enacted under his astonished eyes.
PRINCE RUPERT'S RING
Whilst events were moving rapidly outside, time at Longdean Grange seemed
to stand still. The dust and the desolation were ever there. The gloom
brooded like an evil spirit. And yet it was but the calm before the storm
that was coming to banish the hoary old spectres for good.
Still, Enid felt the monotony to be as maddening as ever. There were
times when she rebelled passionately against the solitude of the place.
There were moments to her when it seemed that her mind couldn't stand the
strain much longer.
But she had hope, that blessed legacy to the sanguine and the young. And
there were times when she would creep out and see Ruth Gates, who found
the Rottingdean Road very convenient for cycling just now. And there was
always the anticipation of a telephone message from Chris. Originally the
telephone had been established so that the household could be run without
the intrusion of tradesmen and other strangers. It had seemed a great
anomaly at the time, but now Enid blessed it every moment of the day. And
she was, perhaps, not quite so unhappy as she deemed herself to be. She
had her lover back again now, with his character free from every
The sun straggled in through the dim, dusty panes; the monotonous voice
of Mrs. Henson droned in the drawing-room. It was what Williams called
one of the unhappy lady's "days." Sometimes she was quiet and reasonable,
at other times the dark mood hung heavily upon her. She was pacing up and
down the drawing-room, wringing her hands and whimpering to herself. Enid
had slipped into the grounds for a little fresh air; the house oppressed
her terribly to-day. The trim lawns and blazing flowerbeds were a
pleasant contrast to the misery and disorder of the house.
Enid passed on into the shadow of the plantation. A little farther on
nearer the wall the dogs seemed to be excited about something. William's
rusty voice could be heard expostulating with some intruder. By him
stood a man who, though fairly well dressed, looked as if he had slept
in his garments for days. There was a dazed, puzzled, absent expression
on his face.
"You might have been killed," Williams croaked. "If you hadn't stood
still they dogs would have pulled you to pieces. How did you get here?"
"I've lost it," the stranger muttered. "I've lost it somewhere, and I
shall have no rest till I find it."
"Well, go and look in the road," Williams suggested, smoothly.
"Nothing ever gets lost here. Just you hop over that wall and try your
Enid came forward. Evidently the intruder was no stranger to her.
Williams started to explain volubly. But Enid cut him short at once.
"A most extraordinary thing has happened," she said. "It is amazing
that this man should come here of all places. Williams, this is the man
"What, the chap as was wounded in the hospital, miss?"
"The same. The man is not in full possession of his senses. And if
Reginald Henson finds him now it is likely to go hard with him. He must
be taken into the house and looked after until I can communicate with
somebody I can trust. Mr. Steel, I think. He must be got back to the
hospital. It is the only place where he is safe."
Van Sneck seemed to be looking on with the vacant stare of the mindless.
He suffered himself to be led to the house, where he was fed like a
child. It was in vain that Enid plied him with all kinds of questions.
He had lost something--he would have no peace till he had found it. This
was the one burden of his cry. Enid crossed to the window in some
perplexity. The next moment she had something else to occupy her mind.
Reginald Henson was coming up the drive. Just for an instant Enid felt
inclined to despair.
"Williams," she cried, "Mr. Henson is here. On no account must he see our
unfortunate visitor. He cannot possibly know that Van Sneck is here; the
whole thing is an accident. I am going down into the hall. I shall
contrive to get Mr. Henson into the drawing-room. Without delay you must
smuggle Mr. Van Sneck into your apartments over the stable. You will be
perfectly safe if you go down the back staircase. As soon as the
drawing-room door closes, go."
Williams nodded. He was essentially a man of action rather than words.
With all the coolness she could summon up Enid descended to the hall.
She gave a little gesture of surprise and disdain as she caught sight
"So you came down to welcome me?" Enid said, coldly.
A sudden light of rage lit up Henson's blue eyes. He caught Enid almost
roughly by the shoulders and pushed her into the drawing-room. There was
something coming, she knew. It was a relief a minute or two later to hear
Williams's whistle as he crossed the courtyard. Henson knew nothing of
Van Sneck's presence, nor was he likely to do so now.
"You are forgetting yourself," Enid said. "How dare you touch me
"By heavens," Henson whispered, vehemently, "when I consider how I have
been fooled by you I wonder that I do not strike the life out of you.
Where is your sister?"
Enid assumed an air of puzzled surprise. She raised her eyebrows, coldly.
But it needed no very brilliant intelligence to tell her that Henson had
"I had only one sister," she said, "and she is--"
"Dead! Rot. No more dead than I am. A nice little scheme you had put up
together with that scribbling ass David Steel. But Steel is going to get
a lesson not to interfere in my affairs, and you are going to get one
also. Where is your sister?"
Despite his bullying triumph there was something nervous and anxious
about the tone of the question. It was not quite like Henson to let his
adversary see that he had scored a point. But since the affair of the
dogs Henson had not been quite his old self. It was easy to see that he
had found out a great deal, but he had not found out where Chris was yet.
"I know nothing," said Enid. "I shall answer no questions."
"Very well. But I shall find out. Accident put me on the trail first. And
I have been to see that man Walker. He never saw your sister after her
'death,' nor did the undertaker. And I might have met my death at the
fangs of that dog you put upon me. What a fool Walker was."
Enid looked up a little anxiously. Had Walker said anything about a
second opinion? Had he betrayed to Henson the fact that he had been
backed up by Hatherly Bell? Because they had taken a deal of trouble to
conceal the fact that Bell had been in the house.
"Dr. Walker should have called in another opinion," she said, mockingly.
"The man was too conceited for that, and you know it," Henson growled;
"and finely you played upon his vanity."
Enid was satisfied. Walker had evidently said nothing about Bell; and
Henson, though he had just come from Littimer, knew nothing about Chris.
"You have made a statement," she said, "and in reply I say nothing. You
have chosen to assume that my sister is still alive. Well, it is a free
country, and you are at liberty to think as you please. If we had
anything to gain by the course you suggest--"
"Anything to gain!" Henson burst out angrily.
"Everything to gain. One whom I deemed to be dead is free to follow me to
pry into my affairs, to rob me. That was part of Steel's precious scheme,
I presume. If you and your sister and Miss Gates hadn't talked so loudly
that day in the garden I might not--"
"Have listened," said Enid, coldly. "Ears like a hare and head like a
cat. But you don't know everything, and you never will. You scoundrel,
you creeping, crawling scoundrel! If I only dared to speak. If I cared
less for the honour of this unhappy family--"
"If you could only get the ring," said Henson, with a malicious
sneer. "But the ring is gone. The ruby ring lies at the bottom of the
Some passionate, heedless words rose to Enid's lips, but she checked
them. All she could do now was to watch and wait till darkness. Van
Sneck must be got out of the way before anything else was done. She did
not dare to use the telephone yet, though she had made up her mind to
ask Steel to come over and take Van Sneck away. Later on she could send
Van Sneck had eaten a fairly good meal, so Williams said, and had fallen
into a heavy sleep. There was nothing for it but to wait and watch.
Dinner came in due course, with Mrs. Henson, ragged and unkempt as usual,
taking no notice of Henson, who watched her furtively during the meal.
Enid escaped to her own room directly afterwards, and Henson followed his
hostess to the drawing-room.
Once there his manner changed entirely. His lips grew firm, his eyes were
like points of steel. Mrs. Henson was pacing the dusty floor, muttering
and crooning to herself. Henson touched her arm, at the same time holding
some glittering object before her eyes. It was a massive ruby ring with
four black pearls on either side.
"Look here," he whispered. "Do you recognise it? Have you seen it
A pitiful, wailing cry came from Mrs. Henson's lips. She was trembling
from head to foot with a strange agitation. She gazed at the ring as a
thirsty man in a desert might have looked on a draught of cold spring
water. She stretched out her hand, but Henson drew back.
"I thought you had not forgotten it," he smiled. "It means much to you,
honour, peace, happiness--your son restored to his proper place in the
world. Last time I was here I wanted money, a mere bagatelle to you. Now
I want £10,000."
"No, no," Mrs. Henson cried. "You will ruin me--£10,000! What do you do
with all the money? You profess to give it all to charity. But I know
better. Much you give away that more may come back from it. But that
money you get from a credulous public. And I could expose you, ah, how I
could expose you, Reginald Henson."
"Instead of which you will let me have that £10,000."
"I cannot. You will ruin me. Have you not had enough? Give me the ring."
Henson smilingly held the gem aloft. Mrs. Henson raised her arm, with the
dust rising in choking clouds around her. Then with an activity
astonishing in one of her years she sprang upon Henson and tore the ring
from his grasp. The thing was so totally unexpected from the usually
gentle lady that Henson could only gasp in astonishment.
"I have it," Mrs. Henson cried. "I have it, and I am free!"
Henson sprang towards her. With a quick, fleet step she crossed to the
window and fled out into the night. A raging madness seemed to have come
over her again; she laughed and she cried as she sped on into the bushes,
followed by Henson. In his fear and desperation the latter had quite
forgotten the dogs. He was in the midst of them, they were clustered
round himself and Mrs. Henson, before he was aware of the fact.
"Give me the ring," he said. "You can't have it yet. Some day I will
restore it to you. Be sensible. If anybody should happen to see you."
Mrs. Henson merely laughed. The dogs were gambolling around her like so
many kittens. They did not seem to heed Henson in the joy of her
presence. He came on again, he made a grab for her dress, but the rotten
fabric parted like a cobweb in his hand. A warning grunt came from one of
the dogs, but Henson gave no heed.
"Give it me," he hissed; "or I will tear it from you."
HEARING THE TRUTH
David Steel stood contemplating the weird scene with almost doubting
eyes. In his wildest moments he had never imagined anything more dramatic
than this. The candle in its silver sconce that Mrs. Henson had snatched
up before her flight was perilously near her flimsy dress. Henson caught
her once more in a fierce grip. David could stand it no longer. As Henson
came by him his right arm flashed out, there was a dull thud, and Henson,
without having the least idea what had happened, fell to the ground, with
a very hazy idea of his surroundings for a moment or two.
Equally unconscious that she had a protector handy, Mrs. Henson turned
and fled for the house. A minute later and she was followed by Henson,
still puzzling his racking head to know what had happened. David would
have followed, but the need for caution flashed upon him. If he stood
there perfectly still Henson would never know who his antagonist was.
David stood there waiting. As he glanced round he saw some little object
glittering near to his feet. It was the ruby ring!
"Be you there, sir?" a rusty voice whispered close by.
"I am, Williams," David replied; "I have been waiting for some time."
Williams chuckled, making no kind of apology for his want of punctuality.
"I've been looking after our man, sir," he said. "That Dutch chap what
Miss Enid said you'd come for. And I saw all that business in the
shrubbery just now. My! if I didn't feel good when you laid out Henson on
the grass. The sound of that smack was as good as ten years' wages for
me. And he's gone off to his room with a basin of vinegar and a ream of
brown paper. Why didn't you break his neck?"
David suggested that the law took a prejudiced view of that kind of
thing, and that it would be a pity to hang anyone for such a creature as
"Our man is all right?" he asked.
"As a trivet," said Williams. "Sleeping like a baby; he is in my own
bed over the stable. I'll show you into the harness-room, where Miss
Enid's waiting for you, sir, and then I'll go and see as Henson don't
come prowling about. Not as he's likely to, considering the clump on
the side of the head you gave him. I take it kind of Providence to let
me see that!"
Williams hobbled away, chuckling to himself and followed by David. There
was a feeble oil-lamp in the harness-room. Enid was waiting there
"So you have put Henson out of the way for a time," she said. "He passed
me just now using awful language, and wondering how it had all come
about. Wasn't it a strange thing that Van Sneck should come here?"
"Not very," David said. "He is evidently looking for his master,
Reginald Henson. I have not the slightest doubt that he has been here
many times before. Williams says he is asleep. Pity to wake him just
yet, don't you think?"
"Perhaps it is. But I am horribly afraid of our dear friend Reginald, all
"Our dear Reginald will not trouble us just yet. He came down as far as
London with Bell. Of course he had heard the news of Van Sneck's flight.
Was he disturbed?"
"I have never seen him in such a passion before, Mr. Steel. And not only
was he in a passion, but he was horribly afraid about something. And he
has made a discovery."
"He hasn't found out that your sister--"
"Is at Littimer Castle? That is really the most consoling part of the
business. He has been at Littimer for a day or two, and he has not the
remotest idea that Christabel Lee is our Chris."
"A feather in your sister's cap. She has quite captivated Littimer,
"And she played her part splendidly. Mr. Steel, it is very, very good to
know that Hatherly has cleared himself in the eyes of Lord Littimer at
last. Did Reginald suspect--"
"Nothing," Steel said. "He is utterly and hopelessly puzzled over the
whole business. And Bell has managed to convince him that he is not
suspected at all. That business over the Rembrandt was really a brilliant
bit of comedy. But what has Henson found out?"
"That Chris is not dead. He has seen Walker and the undertaker. But he
does not know yet that Dr. Bell was in the house that eventful night,
which is a blessing. As a matter of fact, Reginald has not been quite the
same man since Rollo nearly killed him that exciting evening. His nerves
seem to be greatly shaken."
"That is because the rascal feels the net closing round him," Steel said.
"It was a fine stroke on your sister's part to win over that fellow
Merritt to her side. I supplied the details per telephone, but the plot
was really Miss Chris's. How on earth should we have managed without the
telephone over this business?"
"I am at a loss to say," Enid smiled. "But tell me about that plot. I am
quite in the dark as to that side of the matter."
David proceeded to explain his own and Chris's ingenious scheme for
getting Merritt into their power. Enid followed the story with vast
enjoyment, tempered with the fact that Henson was so near.
"I should never have thought of that," she said; "but Chris was always so
clever. But tell me, what was Henson doing in the garden just now?
Williams says he was illtreating my aunt, but that seems hardly possible
even for Reginald."
"It was over a ring that Mrs. Henson had," David explained. "She was
running away with it, and Henson was trying to get it back. You see--"
"A ring!" Enid gasped. "Did you happen to see it? Oh, if it is only--.
But he would not be so silly as that. A ring is the cause of all the
trouble. _Did_ you see it?"
"I not only saw it but I have it in my possession," David replied.
Enid turned up the flaring little lamp with a shaking hand. Quite
unstrung, she held out her fingers for the ring.
"It is just possible," she said, hoarsely, "that you possess the key of
the situation. If that ring is what I hope it is we can tumble Henson
into the dust to-morrow. We can drive him out of the country, and he will
never, never trouble us again. How did you get it?"
"Mrs. Henson dropped it and I picked it up."
"Please let me see it," Enid said, pleadingly. "Let me be put out of
David handed the ring over; Enid regarded it long and searchingly. With a
little sigh of regret she passed it back to David once more.
"You had better keep it," she said. "At any rate, it is likely to be
valuable evidence for us later on. But it is not the ring I hoped to see.
It is a clever copy, but the black pearls are not so fine, and the
engraving inside is not so worn as it used to be on the original. It is
evidently a copy that Henson has had made to tease my aunt with, to offer
her at some future date in return for the large sums of money that she
gave him. No; the original of that ring is popularly supposed to be at
the bottom of the North Sea. If such had been the case--seeing that
Henson had never handled it before the Great Tragedy came--the original
must be in existence."
"Why so?" David asked.
"Because the ring must have been copied from it," Enid said. "It is a
very faithful copy indeed, and could not have been made from mere
directions--take the engraving inside, for instance. The engraving forms
the cipher of the house of Littimer, If Henson has the real ring, if we
can find it, the tragedy goes out of our lives for ever."
"I should like to hear the story," said Steel.
Enid paused and lowered the lamp as a step was heard outside. But it was
"Mr. Henson is in his bedroom still," he said. "I've just taken him the
cigars. He's got a lump on his head as big as a billiard-ball. Thinks he
hit it against a branch. And my lady have locked herself in her room and
refused to see anybody."
"Go and look at our patient," Enid commanded.
Williams disappeared, to return presently with the information that Van
Sneck was still fast asleep and lying very peacefully.
"Looks like waiting till morning, it do," he said. "And now I'll go back
and keep my eye on that 'ere distinguished philanthropist."
Williams disappeared, and Enid turned up the lamp again. Her face was
pale and resolute. She motioned David towards a chair.
"I'll tell you the story," she said. "I am going to confide in you the
saddest and strangest tale that ever appealed to an imaginative
"I am going to tell you the story of the great sorrow that has darkened
all our lives, but I shall have to go a long way back to do it," Enid
said. "I go back to the troublous day of Charles, as far back as the
disastrous fight at Naseby. Of course I am speaking more from a Royalist
point of view, for the Littimers were always followers of the Court.
"Mind you, there is doubtless a deal that is legendary about what I am
going to tell you. But the ring given to my ancestor Rupert Littimer by
Prince Rupert himself is an actuality.
"Naseby was over, and, so the legend goes, Prince Rupert found himself
desperately situated and in dire peril of capture by Cromwell's
troops, under one Colonel Carfax, a near neighbour of Rupert Littimer;
indeed, the Carfax estates still run parallel with the property round
"Now, Carfax was hated by all those who were attached to the fortunes of
the King. Seeing that he was of aristocratic birth, it was held that he
had violated his caste and creed by taking sides with the Roundheads.
History has told us that he was right, and that the Cavaliers,
picturesque as they were, were fighting a dubious cause. But I need not
go into that. Carfax was a hard, stern man who spared nobody, and many
were the stories told of his cruelty.
"He and Rupert Littimer were especially at daggers drawn. I believe that
both of them had been in love with the same woman or something of that
kind. And the fact that she did not marry either made little difference
to the bitterness between them.
"Well, Carfax was pressing close on Rupert, so close, indeed, that unless
some strategy were adopted the brilliant cavalry leader was in dire
peril. It was there that my ancestor, Rupert Littimer, came forward with
his scheme. He offered to disguise himself and go into the camp of Carfax
and take him prisoner. The idea was to steal into the tent of Carfax and,
by threatening him with his life, compel him to issue certain orders, the
result of which would be that Prince Rupert could get away.
"'You will never come back again, friend,' the Prince said.
"Rupert Littimer said he was prepared to run all risk of that. 'And if I
do die you shall tell my wife, sir,' he said. 'And when the child is
born, tell him that his father died as he should have done for his King
and for his country.'"
"'Oh, there is a child coming?' Rupert asked.
"Littimer replied that for aught he knew he was a father already. And
then he went his way into the camp of the foe with his curls cut short
and in the guise of a countryman who comes with valuable information.
And, what is more, he schemed his way into Carfax's tent, and at the
point of a dagger compelled him to write a certain order which my
ancestor's servant, who accompanied him, saw carried into effect, and so
the passage for Prince Rupert was made free."
"The ruse would have succeeded all round but for some little accident
that I need not go into now. Rupert Littimer was laid by the heels, his
disguise was torn off, and he stood face to face with his hereditary foe.
He was told that he had but an hour to live."
"'If you have any favour to ask, say it,' Carfax said.
"'I have no favour to ask, properly so-called,' Littimer replied; 'but I
am loth to die without knowing whether or not I have left anybody to
succeed me--anybody who will avenge the crime upon you and yours in the
years to come. Let me go as far as Henson Grange, and I pledge you my
word I will return in the morning!'
"But Carfax laughed the suggestion to scorn. The Court party were all
liars and perjurers, and their word was not to be taken.
"'It is as I say,' Rupert Littimer repeated. 'My wife lies ill at Henson
Grange and in sore trouble about me. And I should like to see my child
before I die,'
"'Then you shall have the chance,' Carfax sneered. 'I will keep you a
close prisoner here for two days, and if at the end of that time nothing
happens, you die. If, on the other hand, a child is born to you, then you
shall go from here a free man.'
"And so the compact was made. Unfortunately or fortunately, as the case
may be, the story got abroad, and some indiscreet person carried the news
to Dame Littimer. Ill as she was, she insisted upon getting up and going
over to Carfax's camp at once. She had barely reached there before--well,
long ere Rupert Littimer's probation was over, he was the father of a
noble boy. They say that the Roundheads made a cradle for the child out
of a leather breastplate, and carried it in triumph round the camp. And
they held the furious Carfax to his word, and the story spread and spread
until it came to the ears of Prince Rupert.
"Then he went to see Dame Littimer, and from his own hand he drew what
is known in our family as Prince Rupert's ring. He placed it on Dame
Littimer's hand, there to remain for a year and a day, and when the
year was up it was to be put aside for the bride of the heir of the
house for ever, to be worn by her till a year and a day had elapsed
after her first child was born. And that has been done for all time, my
aunt, Lady Littimer, being the last to wear it. After Frank was born it
was put carefully away for his bride. But the great tragedy came, and
until lately we fancied that the ring was lost to us for ever. There
is, in a few words, the story of Prince Rupert's ring. So far it is
quite common property"
Enid ceased to speak for a time. But it was evident that she had
more to say.
"An interesting story," David said. "And a pretty one to put into a book,
especially as it is quite true. But you have lost the ring, you say?"
"I fancied so till to-night," Enid replied. "Indeed, I hardly knew what
to think. Sometimes I imagined that Reginald Henson had it, at other
times I imagined that it was utterly gone. But the mere fact that Henson
possesses a copy practically convinces me that he has the original. As I
said before, a true copy could not have been made from mere instructions.
And if I could only get the original our troubles are all over."
"But I don't see how the ring has anything to do with--"
"With the family dishonour. No, I am coming to that. We arrive at the
time, seven years ago, when my aunt and Lord Littimer and Frank were all
living happily at Littimer Castle. I told you just now that the Carfax
estates adjoin the Littimer property. The family is still extant and
powerful, but the feud between the two houses has never ceased. Of
course, people don't carry on a vendetta these peaceful days, but the
families have not visited for centuries.
"There was a daughter Claire, whom Frank Littimer got to know by some
means or other. But for the silly family feud nobody would have noticed
or cared, and there would have been an end to the matter, because Frank
has always loved my sister Chris, and we all knew that he would marry her
some of these days.
"Lord Littimer was furiously angry when he heard that Frank and Claire
had got on speaking terms. He imperiously forbade any further
intercourse, and General Carfax did the same. The consequence was that
these two foolish young people elected to fancy themselves greatly
aggrieved, and so a kind of Romeo and Juliet, Montague and Capulet,
business sprang up. There were secret meetings, meetings entirely
innocent, I believe, and a correspondence which became romantic and
passionate on Claire Carfax's side. The girl had fallen passionately in
love with Frank, whilst he regarded the thing as a mere pastime. He did
not know then, indeed nobody seemed to know till afterwards, that there
was insanity in the poor girl's family, though Hatherly Bell's friend,
Dr. Heritage, who then had a practice near Littimer, warned us as well as
he could. Nobody dreamt how far the thing had gone.
"Then those letters of Claire's fell into Lord Littimer's hands. He found
them and locked them up in his safe. Frank, furious at being treated like
a boy, swore to break open the safe and get his letters back. He did so.
And in the same safe, and in the same drawer, was Prince Rupert's ring.
When Lord Littimer missed the letters he missed the ring also and a large
sum of money in notes that he had just received from his tenants. Frank
had stolen the ring and the money, or so it seemed. I shall not soon
forget that day.
"After taking the letters Frank had gone straight to Moreton Wells, and
it looked for a little time as if he had fled. Within an hour of the
discovery of his loss Lord Littimer met Claire Carfax on the cliffs. She
was wearing Prince Rupert's ring. Frank had sent it to her, she said.
Anybody but a man in a furious passion would have seen that the girl was
not responsible for her actions. Littimer told her the true circumstances
of the case. She laughed at him in a queer, vacant way and fled through
the woods. She went down to the beach, where she took a boat and rowed
herself out into the bay. A mile or more from the shore she jumped into
the water, and from that day to this nothing further has been seen of
poor Claire Carfax."
"Or the ring, either?" David asked.
"Or the ring either. The same night Lady Littimer started after her boy.
Littimer was going to have Frank prosecuted. Lady Littimer fled to
Longdean Grange, where Frank joined her. Then my uncle turned up, and
there was a scene. It is said that Lord Littimer struck his wife, but
Frank says that she fell against his gesticulating fist. Anyway, it was
the same as a blow, and Lady Littimer dropped on the floor, dragging a
table down with her, flowers and china and all. You have seen that table
in Longdean Granges Since then it has never been touched, the place has
never been swept or dusted or garnished. You have seen my aunt, and you
know what the shock has done for her--the shock and the steady
persecutions of Reginald Henson."
"Who seems to be at the bottom of the whole trouble," said David. "But do
you think that was the real ring on the poor girl's finger?"
"I don't. I fancy Henson had a copy made for emergencies. It was he who
sent the copy to Claire, and it was the copy that Littimer saw on her
hand. You see, directly Frank broke open that safe, Henson, who was at
the castle at the time, saw his opportunity--he could easily scheme some
way of making use of it. If that plot against Frank had failed he would
have invented another. And the unexpected suicide of Claire Carfax played
into his hands. Henson has that ring somewhere, and it will be our task
to find it."
"And when we have done so?"