Part 7 out of 7
saying that he hoped to call again later in the day.
"It's a good thing you were firm," Bell said, grimly. "Otherwise there
would have been no need for an operation on Van Sneck. My dear Heritage,
it's quite time your eyes were opened to the true nature of your friend.
Henson watched Steel and myself out of the house He wanted to see Van
Sneck; he has probably known from the first that the latter was here."
"Matter of philanthropy, perhaps," Heritage suggested.
"A matter of murder," Bell said, sternly. "My dear fellow, Van Sneck was
nearly done to death in yonder conservatory, and his would-be assassin
was Reginald Henson."
"I was never more astounded in my life," gasped Heritage. "I have always
looked upon Henson as the soul of honour and integrity. And he has always
been so kind to me."
"For his own purposes, no doubt. You say that he found you a home after
your misfortunes came upon you. He came to see you frequently. And yet he
always harped upon that wretched hallucination of yours. Why? Because you
were the Carfax family doctor for a time, and at any moment you might
have given valuable information concerning the suicide of Claire Carfax.
Tell Heritage the story of Prince Rupert's ring, Steel."
David proceeded to do so at some length. Heritage appeared to be deeply
interested. And gradually many long-forgotten things came back to him.
"I recollect it all perfectly well," he said. "Miss Carfax and myself
were friends. Like most people with badly balanced intellects, she had
her brilliant moments. Why, she showed me that ring with a great deal of
pride, but she did not tell me its history. She was very strange in her
manner that morning; indeed, I warned her father that she wanted to be
most carefully looked after."
"Did she say how she got the ring?" Steel asked.
Heritage did not answer for a moment.
"Oh, yes," he said, presently, "She said it was a present from a good
boy, and that Reginald Henson had given it her in an envelope. I met
Henson close by, but I didn't mention the ring."
"And there you have the whole thing in a nutshell!" Bell exclaimed.
"Nothing of this came out at the inquest, because the ring story was
hushed up, and Heritage was not called because he had nothing to do with
the suicide. But Henson probably saw poor Claire Carfax show you the
ring, and he got a bit frightened, and he kept an eye upon you
afterwards. When you broke down he looked after you, and he took precious
good care to keep your hallucination always before your eyes. Whenever he
came to see you he always did that."
"You are quite right there," Heritage admitted. "He mentioned it this
afternoon when I said I was going to take part in the operation on Van
Sneck. He asked me if I thought it wise to try my nerves so soon again
with the electric light."
"And I hope you told him he was talking nonsense," Bell said, hastily.
"There, let us change the subject. The mere mention of that man's name
Morning brought a long letter from Chris Henson to David, giving him in
detail the result of her recent interview with John Rawlins. There was a
postscript to the letter which David showed to Bell with a certain
"A nasty one for our friend Henson," he said. "What a sweet surprise it
will be for that picturesque gentleman the next time he goes blackmailing
to Longdean Grange."
Bell chuckled in his turn. The net was drawing very close about Henson.
"How is Van Sneck to-day?" David asked.
"Much better," Bell replied. "I propose to operate to-night. I'm glad to
hear that your mother is going to be away a day or two longer."
Heritage appeared to be ready and eager for the work before him. A
specially powerful electric light had been rigged up in connection with
the study lamp, and an operating table improvised from the kitchen. More
than once Bell looked eagerly at Heritage, but the latter stood the
scrutiny bravely. Once the operation was successfully through. Heritage
would never suffer from hallucinations again.
"I fancy everything is ready now," Bell said, at length. "After dinner
to-night and this thing will be done. Then the story will be told--"
"Mr. Reginald Henson to see you, sir."
A servant looked in with this information and a card on a tray. There was
a slight commotion outside, the vision of a partially-wrecked bicycle on
the path, and a dusty figure in the hall with his head in his hand.
"The gentleman has met with an accident, sir," the parlourmaid said.
Henson seemed to be knocked about a great deal. He was riding down the
terrace, he said, when suddenly he ran over a dog, and--
"What sort of a dog?" Bell snapped out. "What colour and size?"
Henson was utterly taken aback by the suddenness of the question. He
gasped and stammered. He could not have told Bell more plainly that the
"accident" was an artistic fake.
"You must stay here till you feel all right again," David suggested.
"Stay here for the night," Bell growled, _sotto voce._ "Stay here till
to-morrow morning and hear something from Van Sneck's lips that will
finish his interesting career for some time. Medical treatment be hanged.
A clothes-brush and some soap and water are all the physic that he
Presently Henson professed himself to be better. His superficial injuries
he bore with a manly fortitude quite worthy of his high reputation. He
could afford to smile at them. But he feared that there was something
internal of a sufficiently serious nature. Every time he moved he
suffered exquisite agony. He smiled in a faint kind of way. Bell watched
him as a cat watches a mouse. And he could read a deeper purpose behind
that soft, caressing manner. What it was he did not know, but he meant to
find out before the day was passed.
"Hadn't we better send him to the hospital?" David suggested.
"What for?" was Bell's brutal response. "There's nothing whatever the
matter with the man."
"But he has every appearance of great pain."
"To you, perhaps, but not to me. The man is shamming. He has come here
for some purpose, which will be pretty sure to transpire presently. The
knave never dreams that we are watching him, and he hugs himself with the
delusion that we take his story for gospel. Fancy a man in the state that
he pretends to be in sending his card to you! Let him stay where we can
keep an eye upon the chap. So long as he is under our observation he
can't do any mischief outside."
There was wisdom in what Bell suggested, and David agreed. Despite his
injuries, Henson made a fair tea, and his dinner, partaken of on the
dining-room sofa, was an excellent one.
"And now, do not let me detain you, as you have business," he smiled. "I
shall be quite comfortable here if you will place a glass of water by my
side. The pain makes me thirsty. No, you need not have any further
consideration for me."
He smiled with patient resignation, the smile that he had found so
effective on platforms. He lay back with his eyes half closed. He seemed
to be asleep.
"I fancy we can leave him now," Bell said, with deep sarcasm. "We need
have no further anxiety. Perfect rest is all that he requires."
Henson nodded in a sleepy fashion; his eyes were closed now till the
others had left the room. Once he was alone he was alert and
"Ten minutes," he muttered, "say, a quarter of an hour. A touch, a spot
of water, and the thing is done. And I can never be found out."
PUTTING THE LIGHT OUT
Once the trio were in the operating-room Bell gave one rapid glance at
Heritage. But the latter seemed to have forgotten all his fears. There
was an alert air about him; he was quiet and steady. There was something
of the joy of battle in his eyes.
"Now go and fetch Van Sneck in," Bell said.
The patient came at length. Everything was ready. Van Sneck murmured
something and looked vaguely about him, like a man suddenly aroused from
a deep sleep. But he obeyed quite willingly when Bell commanded him to
get on the table. A moment or two later and he was gone under the
influence of the ether administered by Bell.
A case of glittering instruments lay on the table. The strong
electric light was switched on and hung just over the head of the
"You hold the sponge," Bell whispered to David. "There will be very
little blood. I like to have a man with me who has coolness and courage.
Oh, here is the spot. Feel the depression of the skull, Heritage. That is
where the pressure lies, and no larger than a pea."
Heritage nodded, without reply. He took up the knife, there was a flash
of steel in the brilliant light and a sudden splash of blood. There was a
scrape, scrape that jolted horribly on David's nerves, followed by a
convulsive movement of Van Sneck's body.
"Beautiful, beautiful," Heritage murmured. "How easily it comes away."
Bell was watching in deep admiration of the strong hand that was yet
light as thistledown. The big electric light flickered for just a moment,
and Heritage stood upright.
"Don't be a fool," Bell said, sternly. "It's a mere matter of current."
Heritage muttered that it must be. Nevertheless it had given him quite a
turn. His face was set and pale and his hand shook ever so slightly. The
knife was cutting deep, deeper--
A snarling oath broke from Bell's lips as the light flickered again and
popped out suddenly, leaving the whole room in intense darkness. Heritage
cried aloud. David felt a hand guiding his fingers to the patient's head.
"Press the sponge down there and press hard," Bell whispered. "It's a
matter of life and death. Another minute and Van Sneck would have gone.
Heritage, Heritage, pull yourself together. It was no fault of yours the
light went out--the fault is mine."
Bell stumbled down the kitchen stairs and returned with a candle. The
electric lights were out all over the ground floor with the exception of
the hall. One of the circuits had given out completely, as sometimes
happens with the electric light. Bell leapt on a table and turned the
hall light out. A second later and he was dragging the long spare flex
from the impromptu operating-room to the swinging cord over the hall
lamp. With a knife he cut the cord loose, he stripped the copper wires
beneath, and rapidly joined one flex to the other.
"It's amateur work, but I fancy it will do," he muttered. "Anyway, that
rascal is powerless to interfere with the circuit that controls the
Snap went the hall switch--there was a sudden cry from Heritage as the
big lamp over the head of Van Sneck flared up again. Bell raced into the
study and shut the door.
"A trick," he gasped. "The light was put out. For Heaven's sake,
Heritage, don't get brooding over those fancies of yours _now._ I tell
you the thing was done deliberately. Here, if you are too weak or feeble,
give the knife to _me_."
The request had a sting in it. With an effort Heritage pulled
"No," he said, firmly, "I'll do it. It was a cruel, dastardly trick to
play upon me, but I quite see now that it _was_ a trick. Only it's going
to make a man of me instead."
Bell nodded. His eyes were blazing, but he said nothing. He watched
Heritage at work with stern approval. Nothing could have been more
scientific, more skilful. It seemed a long time to David, looking on, but
it was a mere matter of minutes.
"Finished," Heritage said, with a triumphant thrill. "And successful."
"And another second would have seen an end of our man," Bell said. "He's
coming round again. Get those bandages on, Heritage. I'll look after the
mess. Give him the drug. I want him to sleep for a good long time."
"Will he be sensible to-morrow?" David asked.
"I'll pledge my reputation upon it," Bell said. "Hadn't you better
telephone down to your electrician to come and see to those lights? I see
the fuse in the meter is intact; it is only on the one circuit that they
Van Sneck opened his eyes and stared languidly about him. In a clear,
weak, yet wholly sensible voice he asked where he was, and then lapsed
into slumber. A little later and he lay snug and still in bed. There was
a look of the deepest pleasure in the eyes of Heritage.
"I've saved him and he's saved me," he said. "But it was touch and go for
both of us when that light failed. But for Bell I fancied that I should
have fainted. And then it came to me that it was some trick, and my nerve
"Never to leave you again," Bell said. "It tried you high, and found you
"Heaven be praised," Heritage murmured. "But how was it done?"
Bell's face was stern as he took the kitchen candlestick from the table
and went in the direction of the dining-room.
"Come with me, and I'll explain," he said, curtly.
The dining-room was in pitchy darkness, for the lights there had been on
the short circuit; indeed, the lights on the ground floor had all failed
with the exception of the hall, which fortunately had been on another
circuit. The fact had saved Van Sneck's life, for if Bell had not
speedily used that one live wire the patient must have perished.
Henson looked up from his sofa with a start and a smile.
"I am afraid I must have been asleep," he said, languidly.
"Liar," Bell thundered. "You have been plotting murder. And but for a
mere accident the plot would have been successful. You have worked out
the whole thing in your mind; you came here on purpose. You came here to
stifle the light at the very moment when we were operating on Van Sneck.
You thought that all the lights on the floor would be on the same
circuit; you have been here before."
"Are you mad?" Henson gasped. "When have I been here before--"
"The night that you lured Van Sneck here by a forged letter and left him
Henson gasped, his lips moved, but no words came from them.
"You have a little knowledge of electricity," Bell went on. "And you saw
your way pretty clear to spoil our operation to-night. You got that idea
from yonder wall-plug, into which goes the plunger of the reading lamp on
the cabinet yonder. At the critical moment all you had to do was to dip
your fingers in water and press the tips of them against the live wire in
the wall-plug. You did so, and immediately the wires fired all over the
circuit and plunged us in darkness. But the hall light remained sound,
and Van Sneck was saved. If it is any consolation to you, he will be as
sensible as any of us to-morrow."
"Hensen had risen to his feet, pale and trembling, He protested, but it
was all in vain. Bell approached the china wall-plug and pointed to it.
"Hold the candle down," he said. "There! You can see that the surface is
still wet, there is water in the holes now, and some of it has trickled
down the distemper on the wall. You ought to be shot where you stand,
Henson protested, with some dignity. It was all so much Greek to him, he
said. He had been sleeping so quietly that he had not seen the light
fail. Bell cut him short.
"Get out," he cried. "Go away; you poison the air that honest men
breathe, and you are as fit and well as I am. Why don't you pitch him
into the street, Steel? Why don't you telephone to Marley at the
police-station, and say that the Huddersfield swindler is here? Oh, if
you only knew what an effort it is to keep my hands off him!"
Henson made for the door with alacrity. A moment later and he was in the
street, dazed, confused, and baffled, and with the conviction strong upon
him that he had failed in his great _coup_. Van Sneck would be sensible
to-morrow--he would speak. And then--
But he dared not think of that at present. He wanted all his nerve and
courage now. He had just one last chance, one single opportunity of
making money, and then he must get out of the country without delay. He
almost wished now that he had not been quite so precipitate in the matter
of James Merritt. That humble tool might have been of great advantage to
him at this moment. But Merritt had threatened to be troublesome and must
be got out of the way. But then, the police had not picked Merritt up
yet. Was it possible that Merritt had found out that--
But Henson did not care to think of that, either, He would go back to the
quiet lodgings he had taken in Kemp Town for a day or two, he would
change his clothes and walk over to Longdean Grange, and it would go hard
if he failed to get a cheque from the misguided lady there. If he were
quick he could be there by eleven o'clock.
He passed into his little room. He started back to see a man sleeping in
his armchair. Then the man, disturbed by the noise of the newcomer,
opened his eyes. And those eyes were gleaming with a glow that filled
Henson's heart with horrible dread. It was Merritt who sat opposite him,
and it was Merritt whose eyes told Henson that he knew of the latter's
black treachery. Henson was face to face with death, and he knew it.
He turned and fled for his life; he scudded along the streets, past the
hospital and up towards the downs, with Merritt after him. The start was
not long, but it was sufficient. Merritt took the wrong turn, and, with a
heart beating fast and hard, Henson climbed upwards. It was a long time
before his courage came back to him. He did not feel really easy in his
mind until he had passed the lodge-gates at Longdean Grange, where he was
fortunate enough, after a call or two, to rouse up Williams.
The latter came with more alacrity than usual. There was a queer grin on
his face and a suggestion of laughter in his eyes.
"There seems to be a lot of light about," Henson cried. "Take me up
to the house, and don't let anybody know I am here. Your mistress
gone to bed?"
"She's in the drawing-room," Williams said, "singing. And Miss Enid's
there. I am sure they will be glad to see you, sir."
Henson doubted it, but made no reply. There was a chatter of voices in
the drawing-room, a chatter of a lightsomeness that Henson had never
heard before. Well, he would soon settle all that. He passed quietly into
the room, then stood in puzzled fear and amazement.
"Our dear nephew," said a cool, sarcastic voice. "Come in, sir, come in.
This is quite charming. Well, my sweet philanthropist and most engaging
gentleman, and what may we have the pleasure of doing for you to-night?"
"Lord Littimer?" Henson gasped. "Lord Littimer _here_?"
Bell gave a gesture of relief as the door closed upon Henson. Heritage
looked like a man who does not quite understand.
"I haven't quite got the hang of it yet," he said. "Was that done for
"Of course it was," Bell replied. "Henson found out that Van Sneck was
here, as he was certain to do sooner or later. He comes here to make
inquiries and finds you; also he comes to spy out the land. Now, without
being much of a gambler, I'm willing to stake a large sum that he
introduced the subject of your old trouble?"
"He invariably did that," Heritage admitted.
"Naturally. That was part of the game. And you told him that you had got
over your illness and that you were going to do the operation. And you
told him how. Where were you when the little conversation between Henson
and yourself took place?"
"He was asked into the dining-room."
"And then you told him everything. Directly Henson's eyes fell upon that
wall-plug he knew how to act. He made up his mind that the electric light
should fail at a critical moment. Hence the dramatic 'accident' with the
cycle. Once Henson had got into the house the rest was easy. He had only
to wet his fingers and press them hard against the two wires in the
wallplug and out pops the light, in consequence of the fuses blowing out.
I don't know where Henson learnt the trick, but I do know that I was a
fool not to think of it. You see, the hall light being dropped through
from the floor above was on another circuit. If it hadn't been we should
have had our trouble with Van Sneck for nothing."
"He would have died?" David asked.
The two doctors nodded significantly.
"What a poisonous scoundrel he is!" David cried. "Miss Chris Henson does
not hesitate to say that he was more or less instrumental in removing two
people who helped her and her sister to defeat Henson, and now he makes
two attacks on Van Sneck's life. Really, we ought to inform the police
what has happened and have him arrested before he can do any further
mischief. Penal servitude for life would about fit the case."
Van Sneck was jealously guarded by Heritage and Bell for the next few
hours. He awoke the next morning little the worse for the operation. His
eyes were clear now; the restless, eager look had gone from them.
"Where am I?" he demanded. "What has happened?"
Bell explained briefly. As he spoke his anxiety passed away. He saw that
Van Sneck was following quite intelligently and rationally.
"I remember coming here," the Dutchman said. "I can't recall the rest
just now. I feel like a man who is trying to piece the fragments of a
"You'll have it all right in an hour or two," Bell said, with an
encouraging smile. "Meanwhile your breakfast is ready. Yes, you can smoke
afterwards if you like. And then you shall tell me all about Reginald
Henson. As a matter of fact, we know all about it now."
"Oh," Van Sneck said, blankly. "You do, eh?"
"Yes, even to the history of the second Rembrandt, and the reason why
Henson stabbed you and gave you that crack over the head. If you tell me
the truth you are safe; if you don't--why, you stand a chance of joining
Henson in the dock."
Bell went off, leaving Van Sneck to digest this speech at his leisure.
Van Sneck lay back on his bed, propped up with pillows, and smoked many
cigarettes before he expressed a desire to see Bell again. The latter
came in with Steel; Heritage had gone elsewhere.
"This gentleman is Mr. Steel?" Van Sneck suggested.
Bell responded somewhat drily that it was. "But I see you are going to
tell us everything," he went on. "That being so, suppose you begin at the
beginning. When you sold that copy of the 'Crimson Blind' to Lord
Littimer had you the other copy?"
"Ach, you have got to the bottom of things, it seems," Van Sneck gurgled.
"Yes, and I have saved your life, foolish as it might seem," Bell
replied. "You came very near to losing it the second attempt last night
at Henson's hands. Henson is done for, played out, burst up. We can
arrest him on half-a-dozen charges when we please. We can have you
arrested any time on a charge of conspiracy over those pictures--"
"Of which I am innocent; I swear it," Van Sneck said, solemnly. "Those
two Rembrandts--they fell into my hands by what you call a slice of good
luck. I am working hand in glove with Henson at the time, and show him
them. I suggest Lord Littimer as a purchaser. He would, perhaps, buy the
two, which would be a little fortune for me. Then Henson, he says, 'Don't
you be a fool, Van Sneck. Suppress the other; say nothing about it. You
get as much from Littimer for the one as you get for the two, because
Lord Littimer think it unique.'"
"That idea commended itself to a curio dealer?" Bell suggested, drily.
"But yes," Van Sneck said, eagerly. "Later on we disclose the other and
get a second big price. And Lord Littimer he buy the first copy for a
"After which you discreetly disappear," said Steel. "Did you steal those
"No," Van Sneck said, indignantly. "They came to me in the way of honest
business--a poor workman who knows nothing of their value, and takes
fifteen marks for them."
"Honest merchant," David murmured. "Pray go on."
"I had to go away. Some youthful foolishness over some garnets raked up
after many years. The police came down upon me so suddenly that I got
away with the skin of my teeth. I leave the other Rembrandt, everything,
behind me. I do not know that Henson he give me away so that he can steal
the other Rembrandt."
"So you have found that out?" said Bell. "Who told you?"
"I learn that not so long ago. I learn it from a scoundrel called
Merritt, a tool of Henson. He tells me to go to Littimer Castle to
steal the Rembrandt for Henson, because Di. Bell, he find _my_
Rembrandt. Then I what you call pump Merritt, and he tells me all about
the supposed robbery at Amsterdam and what was found in the portmanteau
of good Dr. Bell yonder. Then I go to Henson and tell him what I find
out, and he laughs. Mind you, that was after I came here from Paris on
business for Henson."
"About the time you bought that diamond-mounted cigar-case?" David
Van Sneck nodded. He was evidently impressed by the knowledge possessed
by his questioners.
"That's it," he said. "I buy it because Henson ask me to. Henson say he
make it all right about the Rembrandt, and that if I do as I am told he
give me £500. His money is to come on a certain day, but I pump and I
pump, and I find that there is some game against Mr. Steel, who is a
"That is very kind of you," David said, modestly.
"One against Miss Enid Henson," Van Sneck went on. "I met that young lady
once and I liked her; therefore, I say I will be no party to getting her
into trouble. And Henson says I am one big fool, and that he is only
giving Mr. Steel a lesson in the art of minding his own business. So I
ask no further questions, though I am a good bit puzzled. With the last
bank-notes I possess I go to a place called Walen's and buy the
cigar-case that Henson says. I meet him and hand over the case and ask
him for my money. Henson swears that he has no money at all, not even
enough to repay me the price of the cigar-case. He has been disappointed.
And I have been drinking. So I swear I will write and ask Mr. Steel to
see me, and I do so."
"And you get an answer?" David asked.
"Sir, I do. You said you would see me the same night. It was a forgery?"
"It was. Henson had anticipated something like that. I know all about the
forgery, how my notepaper was procured, and when the forgery was written.
But that has very little to do with the story now. Please go on."
Van Sneck paused before he proceeded.
"I am not quite sober," he said. "I am hot with what I called my
wrongs. I come here and ring the bell. The hall was in darkness. There
was a light in the conservatory, but none in the study. I quite
believed that it was Mr. Steel who opened the door and motioned me
towards the study. Then the door of the study closed and locked behind
me, and the electric light shot up. When I turned round I found myself
face to face with Henson."
Van Sneck paused again and shuddered at some hideous recollection.
His eyes were dark and eager; there was a warm moisture like varnish
on his face.
"Even that discovery did not quite sober me," he went on. "I fancied it
was some joke, or that perhaps I had got into the wrong house. But no,
it was the room of a literary gentleman. I--I expected to see Mr. Steel
come in or to try the door. Henson smiled at me. Such a smile! He asked
me if I had the receipt for the cigar-case about me, and I said it was
in my pocket. Then he smiled again, and something told me my life was
"I was getting pretty sober by that time. It came to me that I had been
lured there; that Henson had got into the house during the absence of the
owner. It was late at night in a quiet house, and nobody had seen me
come. If that man liked to kill me he could do so and walk out of the
house without the faintest chance of discovery. And he was twice my size,
and a man without feeling. I looked round me furtively lor a weapon.
"He saw my glance and understood it, and smiled again. I was trembling
from head to foot now with a vague, nameless terror. From the very first
I knew that I had not the smallest chance. Henson approached me and laid
his hand on my shoulder. He wanted something, he gave that something a
name. If I passed that something over to him I was free, if not--
"Well, gentlemen, I didn't believe him. He had made a discovery that
frightened me. And I had what he wanted in my pocket. If I had handed it
over to him he would not have spared me. As he approached me my foot
slipped and I stumbled into the conservatory. I fell backwards. And then
I recovered myself and defied Henson.
"'Fool,' he hissed, 'do you want to die?'
"But I knew that I should die in any case. Even then I could smile to
myself as I thought how I could baffle my foe. Once, twice, three times
he repeated his demands, and each time I was obdurate. I knew that he
would kill me in any case.
"He came with a snarl of rage; there was a knife in his hand. I hurled
a flower-pot at his head and missed him. The next instant and he had me
by the throat. I felt his knife between my shoulders, then a stunning
blow on the head, and till I woke here to-day I cannot recollect a
Van Sneck paused and wiped his face, wet with the horror of the
recollection. David Steel gave Bell a significant glance, and the
"Was the thing that Henson wanted a ring?" Steel asked, quietly.
WHERE IS THE RING?
Van Sneck looked up with some signs of confusion. He had not
expected a question of that kind. There was just the suggestion of
cunning on his face.
"A ring!" he murmured, vaguely. "A ring! What ring?"
"Now, look here," David said, sternly. "You are more or less in our
power, you know, but we are not disposed to be hard on you so long as you
are quite candid with us. Henson required something that he believed to
be in your possession; indeed, you have as good as said you had it with
you. Henson lured you into my house to get that more than anything else.
That he would have killed you even after he got it, I firmly believe. But
that is not the point. Now, was not Henson looking for Prince Rupert's
ring that you got from him by means of a trick?"
Van Sneck dropped his hands helplessly on the bed.
"Gentlemen," he whined, "you are too much for me. The marvellous
accuracy of your knowledge is absolutely overwhelming. It was the ring
Henson was after."
"The one you stole from him years ago! But what did you know about it?"
Van Sneck smiled.
"There is no living man who knows more about those things than I do," he
said. "It is a passion and a study with me. And some seven years ago, in
Holland, Henson gave me the description of a ring he wanted me to copy.
Henson never told me what the ring was called, but I knew it was the
Prince Rupert ring. I made the copy, and Henson was pleased with it. Some
time later he came to me with the original, and asked for another copy. I
meant to be honest, but my love for those things got the better of me. I
made him two copies: the one good, and the other an exact facsimile of
the Prince Rupert. These I handed over to Henson, and he went away
perfectly satisfied that he had a good copy and the original. I chuckled
to myself, feeling pretty sure that he would never find out."
"But he did find out?" David said.
"Only lately. Probably he took it to an expert for valuation or perhaps
for sale. Lately his idea was to offer the ring to Lord Littimer for a
huge sum of money, but when he discovered he had been done he knew that
Lord Littimer would not be so deceived. Also he had a pretty good idea
that I should keep the ring about me. You see, I dared not sell an
historic gem like that. And, as usual, Henson was perfectly right."
"Then you had the ring in your pocket the night you came here?" asked
Steel, with a commendable effort at coolness. "Did Henson get it?"
"No, he didn't," Van Sneck chuckled. "Come what might, I had made up my
mind that he should never see that ring again. You see, I was frightened
and confused, and I was not properly sober, and I did something with the
ring, though to save my life I couldn't say what I did. Do you know, Dr.
Bell, I have lost my sense of smell?"
Steel wriggled impatiently about on his chair. The interruption was
exasperating. Bell, however, seemed to take a different view of the
"Quite naturally," he said. "The blow on your head held all your senses
suspended for a time. After the operation I should not have been
surprised to have found you half blind and stone deaf into the bargain.
But one thing is certain--your smell will come back to you. It may remain
in abeyance for a few days, it may return in a few moments."
"What on earth has this to do with our interview?" David asked.
"I fancy a great deal," Bell said. "The sense of smell has a great deal
to do with memory. Doesn't the scent of flowers bring back vivid
recollections of things sometimes for years forgotten? Van Sneck was
going to say the air was heavy with the fragrance of some particular
blossom when he was struck down by Henson in your conservatory."
"Very clever man, Dr. Bell," Van Sneck said, admiringly. "He seems to see
right through your mind and out at the other side. To a great extent I
recollect all that happened that eventful night. And just at the very
last I seem to smell something powerful. That smell came to my nostrils
just like a flash and then had gone again. Gentlemen, if I could have a
good long scent at that flower I tell you what I did with that ring."
"Sounds rather complex," David said.
"Not a bit of it," Bell retorted. "Our friend is talking sound common
sense, and our friend is going to rest now late into the afternoon, when
well put him into an armchair with some pillows and let him sit in the
conservatory. Associating with familiar surroundings frequently works
wonders. Van Sneck, you go to sleep."
Van Sneck closed his eyes obediently. He was somewhat tired with the
interview. But, on the whole, Bell decided that he was doing very well
indeed. And there was very little more to be done for the present. The
two men smoked their cigars peacefully.
"We have got to the end," Bell said.
"I fancy so," David murmured, "But we can't save the scandal. I don't see
how Reginald Henson is going to get out of the mess without a
Any further speculation as to the future of that engaging rascal was cut
short by a pleasant surprise, no other than the unexpected arrival of
Ruth Gates and Chris Henson. The latter was beaming with health and
happiness; she had discarded her disguise, and stood confessed before all
the world like the beautiful creature that she was.
"What does it all mean?" David asked. "What will Longdean village say?"
"What does Longdean village know?" Chris retorted. "They are vaguely
aware that somebody was taken away from the house a short time ago to be
buried, but that is all their knowledge. And there is no more need for
disguise, Lord Littimer says. He knows pretty well everything. He has
been very restless and uneasy for the past day or two, and yesterday he
left saying that he had business in London. Early to-day I had a
characteristic telegram from him saying that he was at Longdean, and that
I was necessary to his comfort there. I was to come clothed in my right
mind, and I was to bring Mr. Steel and Dr. Bell along."
"It can't be managed," said Bell. "We've got Van Sneck here."
"And I had forgotten all about him," said Chris. "Was the operation
Bell told his budget of good news down to the story of the ring and the
mysterious manner in which it had disappeared again. David had followed
Ruth into the conservatory, where she stood with her dainty head buried
over a rose.
She looked up with a warm, shy smile on her face.
"I hope you are satisfied," she said, "you are safe now?"
"I was never very much alarmed, dearest," Steel said. "If this thing had
never happened I might never have met you. And as soon as this business
is definitely settled I shall come and see your uncle. I am a very
impatient man, Ruth."
"And you shall see my uncle when you please, dear," she said. "You will
find him quite as charming as you say your mother is. What will she say?"
"Say? That you are the dearest and sweetest girl in the world, and that I
am a lucky fellow. But you are not going off already?"
"Indeed, we must. We have a cab at the door. And I am going to brave the
horrors of Longdean Grange and spend the night there. Only, I fancy that
the horrors have gone for ever. I shall be very disappointed if you don't
Behind a friendly palm David bent and kissed the shy lips, with a vow
that he would see Longdean Grange on the morrow. Then Chris caught up
Ruth with a whirl, and they were gone.
It was after ten that Bell and Steel managed to convey Van Sneck to the
conservatory. The place was filled with brightness and scent and colour
and the afterglow of the sunshine. The artistic eye of the Dutchman
lighted up with genuine pleasure.
"They say you islanders are crude and cold, and have no sense of the
beautiful," he said. "But there are no houses anywhere to compare with
those of the better-class Englishman. Look at those colours blending--"
"Hang those colours," said Bell, vigorously. "Steel, there is nothing
like moisture to bring out the full fragrance of flowers. Turn on your
hose and give your plants a good watering."
"It's the proper time," David laughed. "Turn on the tap for me."
A cooling stream played on the flowers; plants dropped their heads filled
with the diamond moisture; the whole atmosphere was filled with the odour
of moist earth. Then the air seemed laden with the mingled scent.
"I can smell the soil," Van Sneck cried. "How good it is to smell
anything again! And I can just catch a suggestion of the perfume of
something familiar. What's that red bloom?"
He pointed to a creeper growing up the wall. David broke off a spray.
"That's a kind of Japanese passion flower," he said. "It has a lovely
full-flavoured scent like a mixture of violets and almonds. Smell it."
Van Sneck placed the wet dripping spray to his nose. Just for an instant
it conveyed nothing to him. Then he half rose with a triumphant cry.
"Steady there," said Bell. "You mustn't get up, you know. I see you are
excited. Has it come back to you again?"
"That's the scent," Van Sneck cried. "The air was full of that as I fell
backwards. And Henson stood over me exactly by that cracked tile where
Mr. Steel is now. Give me a moment and I shall be able to tell you
everything ... Oh, yes, the first time I slipped on purpose. I told you I
stumbled. But that was a ruse. And as I fell I took the ring from my
waistcoat-pocket ... Let me have another sniff of that bloom. Yes, I've
got it now quite clear."
"You know where the ring is?" David asked, eagerly.
"Well, not quite that. I took it from my pocket and pitched it away from
me ... I saw it fall on to a pot covered with moss, but I can't say which
pot or in which corner. I only know that I threw it over my shoulder, and
that it dropped into the thick moss that lies on the top of all the pots.
I laughed to myself as it fell, and I rejoiced to see that Henson knew
nothing of it."
"And it is still here?" Bell demanded.
Van Sneck nodded solemnly.
"I swear it," he said. "Prince Rupert's ring is in this conservatory."
Reginald Henson had had more than one unpleasant surprise lately,
but none so painful as the sight of Lord Littimer seated in the
Longdean Grange drawing-room with the air of a man who is very much
at home indeed.
The place was strangely changed, too. There was an air of neatness and
order about the room that Henson had never seen before. The dust and dirt
had absolutely vanished; it might have been the home of any ordinary
wealthy and refined people. And all Lady Littimer's rags and patches had
disappeared. She was dressed in somewhat old-fashioned style, but
handsomely and well. She sat beside Littimer with a smile on her face.
But the cloud seemed to have rolled from her mind; her eyes were clear,
if a little frightened. From the glance that passed between Littimer and
herself it was easy to see that the misunderstanding was no more.
"You are surprised to see me here?" said Littimer.
Henson stammered out something and shrank towards, the door. Littimer
ordered him back again. He came with a slinking, dogged air; he avoided
the smiling contempt in Enid's eyes.
"My presence appears to be superfluous," he said, bitterly.
"And mine appears to be a surprise," Littimer replied. "Come, are you not
glad to see me, my heir and successor? What has become of the old
fawning, cringing smile? Why, if some of your future constituents could
see you now they might be justified in imagining that you had done
something wrong. Look at yourself."
Littimer indicated a long gilt mirror on the opposite wall. Henson
glanced at it involuntarily and dropped his eyes. Could that abject,
white-faced sneak be himself? Was that the man whose fine presence and
tender smile had charmed thousands? It seemed impossible.
"What have I done?" he asked.
"What have you not done?" Littimer thundered. "In the first place you did
your best to ruin Hatherly Bell's life. You robbed me of a picture to do
so, and your friend Merritt tried to rob me again. But I have both those
pictures now. You did that because you were afraid of Bell--afraid lest
he should see through your base motives. And you succeeded for a time,
for the coast was clear. And then you proceeded to rob me of my son by
one of the most contemptible tricks ever played by one man on another. It
was you who stole the money and the ring; you who brought about all that
sorrow and trouble by means of a forgery. But there are other people on
your track as well as myself. You were at your last gasp. You were coming
to see me to sell that ring for a large sum to take you out of the
country, and then you discovered that you hadn't really got the ring."
"What--what are you talking about?" Henson asked, feebly.
"Scoundrel!" Littimer cried. "Innocent and pure to the last. I know all
about Van Sneck and those forgeries of Prince Rupert's ring. And I know
how Van Sneck was nearly done to death in Mr. Steel's house; and I know
why--good heavens! It seems impossible that I could have been deceived
all these years by such a slimy, treacherous scoundrel. And I might have
gone on still but for a woman--"
"A lady detective," Henson sneered. "Miss Lee."
Littimer smiled. It was good, after all, to defeat and hoodwink
"Miss Chris Henson," he said. "It never occurred to you that Miss Chris
and Miss Lee were one and the same person. You never guessed. And she
played with you as if you had been a child. How beautifully she exposed
you over those pictures. Ah, you should have seen your face when you saw
the stolen Rembrandt back again in its place. And after that you were mad
enough to think that I trusted you. My dear, what shall we do with this
Lady Littimer shook her head doubtfully. It was plain that the presence
of Henson disturbed her. There was just a suggestion of the old madness
in her eyes.
"Send him away," she said. "Let him go."
"Send him away by all means," Littimer went on. "But letting him go is
another matter. If we do the police will pick him up on other charges.
There is a certain consolation in knowing that his evil career is likely
to be shortened by some years. But I shall have no mercy. Scotland Yard
shall know everything."
There was a cold ring in Littimer's voice that told Henson of his
determination to carry out his threat. The other troubles he might
wriggle out of, but this one was terribly real. It was time to try
"It will be a terrible scandal for the family, my lord," he whined.
Littimer rose to his feet. A sudden anger flared into his eyes. He was a
smaller man than Henson, but the latter cowed before him.
"You dog!" he cried. "What greater scandal than that of the past few
years? Does not all the world know that there is, or has been, some heavy
cloud over the family honour? Lord and Lady Littimer have parted, and her
ladyship has gone away. That is only part of what the gossips have said.
And in these domestic differences it is always the woman who suffers.
Everybody always says that the woman has done something wrong. For years
my wife has been under this stigma. If she had chosen to keep before the
world after she left me most people would have ignored her. And you talk
to me of a family scandal!"
"You will only make bad worse, my lord."
"No," Littimer cried. "I am going to make bad infinitely better. We come
together again, but we say nothing of the past. And the world sneers and
says the past is ignored for politic considerations. And so the public
is going to know the truth, you dog. The whole facts of the case have
gone to my solicitor, and by this time to-morrow a warrant will be
issued against you. And I shall stand in open court and tell the whole
world my story."
"In fairness to Lady Littimer," said Enid, speaking for the first time,
"you could do no less."
"You were always against me," Henson snarled
"Because I always knew you," said Enid. "And the more I knew of you the
greater was my contempt. And you came here ever on the same
errand--money, money, money. From first to last you have robbed my aunt
of something like £70,000. And always by threats or the promise that you
would some day restore the ring to the family."
"As to the ring," Henson protested, "I swear--"
"I suppose a lie more or less makes no difference to an expert like
yourself," Enid went on, with cold contempt. "You took advantage of my
aunt's misfortunes. Ah, she is a different woman since Lord Littimer came
here. But her sorrow has crushed her down, and that forgery of the ring
you dangled before her eyes deceived her."
"I never showed her the ring," Henson said, brazenly.
"And you can look me in the face and say that? One night Lady Littimer
snatched it from you and ran into the garden. You followed and struggled
for the ring. And Mr. David Steel, who stood close by, felled you to the
earth with a blow on the side of your head. I wonder he didn't kill you.
I should have done so in his place. And yet it would be a pity to hang
anyone for your death. See here!"
Enid produced the ring from her pocket. Lord Littimer looked at it
"Have you seen this before, my dear?" he asked his wife.
"Many a time," Lady Littimer said, sadly. "Take it away, it reminds me of
too many bitter memories. Take it out of my sight."
"An excellent forgery," Littimer murmured. "A forgery calculated
to deceive many experts even. I will compare it with the original
by and by."
Henson listened with a sinking feeling at his heart. Was it possible, he
wondered, that Lord Littimer had really recovered the original? He had
had hopes of getting it back even now, and making it the basis of terms
of surrender. Lady Littimer snatched the ring from Littimer's grasp and
threw it through the open window into the garden.
She stood up facing Henson, her head thrown back, her eyes flaming with a
new resolution. It seemed hardly possible to believe that this fine,
handsome woman with the white hair could be the poor demented creature
that the others once had known.
"Reginald Henson, listen to me," she cried. "For your own purpose you
cruelly and deliberately set out to wreck the happiness of several lives.
For mere money you did this; for sheer love of dissipation you committed
this crime. You nearly deprived me of my reason. I say nothing about the
money, because that is nothing by comparison. But the years that are lost
can never come back to me again. When I think of the past and the past of
my poor, unhappy boy I feel that I have no forgiveness for you. If
you--Oh, go away; don't stay here--go. If I had known you were coming I
should have forbidden you the house. Your mere presence unnerves me.
Littimer, send him away."
Littimer rose to his feet and rang the bell.
"You will be good enough to rid me of your hateful presence," he said,
"at once; now go."
But Henson still stood irresolute. He fidgeted from one foot to the
other. He seemed to have some trouble that he could find no
"I want to go away," he murmured. "I want to leave the country. But at
the present moment I am practically penniless. If you would advance me--"
Littimer laughed aloud.
"Upon my word," he said, "your coolness is colossal. I am going to
prosecute you, I am doing my best to bring you into the dock. And you ask
me--_me_, of all men--to find you money so that you can evade justice!
Have you not had enough--are you never satisfied? Williams, will you see
Mr. Henson off the premises?"
The smiling Williams bowed low.
"With the greatest possible pleasure, my lord," he said. "Any further
orders, my lord?"
"And he is not to come here again, you understand." Williams seemed to
understand perfectly. With one backward sullen glance Henson quitted the
room and passed into the night with his companion. Williams was whistling
cheerfully, with his hands thrust deep into his pockets.
"Is that how you treat a gentleman?" Henson demanded.
"I ain't a gentleman," Williams said. "Never set up to be. And I ain't a
dirty rascal who has just been kicked out of a nobleman's house. Here,
stop that. Try that game on again and I'll call the dogs. And don't show
me any of your airs, please. I'm only a servant, but I am an honest man."
Henson stifled his anger as best he could. He was too miserable and
downcast to think of much besides himself at present. Once the
lodge-gates were open, Williams stood aside for him to pass. The
temptation was irresistible. And Henson's back was turned. With a kick of
concentrated contempt and fury Williams shot Henson into the road, where
he landed full on his face. His cup of humiliation was complete.
Henson took his weary way in the direction of Brighton. He had but a few
pounds he could call his own, and not nearly enough to get away from the
country, and at any moment he might be arrested. He was afraid to go back
to his lodgings for fear of Merritt. That Merritt would kill him if he
got the chance he felt certain. And Merritt was one of those dogged,
patient types who can wait any time for the gratification of their
Merritt was pretty certain to be hanging about for his opportunity. On
the whole the best thing would be to walk straight to the Central
Brighton Station and take the first train in the morning to town. There
he could see Gates--who as yet knew nothing--and from him it would be
possible to borrow a hundred or two, and then get away. And there were
others besides Gates.
Henson trudged away for a mile or so over the downs. Then he came down
from the summit of the castle he was building with a rude shock to earth
again. A shadow seemed to rise from the ground, a heavy clutch was on his
shoulder, and a hoarse voice was in his ear.
"Got you!" the voice said. "I knew they'd kick you out yonder, and I
guessed you'd sneak home across the downs. And I've fairly copped you!"
Henson's knees knocked together. Physically he was a far stronger and
bigger man than Merritt, but he was taken unawares, and his nerves had
been sadly shaken of late.
Merritt forced him backwards until he lay on the turf with his antagonist
kneeling on his chest. He dared not struggle, he dared not exert himself.
Presently he might get a chance, and if he did it would go hard with
"What are you going to do?" he gasped.
Merritt drew a big, jagged stone towards him with one foot.
"I'm going to bash your brains out with this," he said, hoarsely. His
eyes were gleaming, and in the dim light his mouth was set like a steel
trap. "I'm going to have a little chat with you first, and then down this
comes on the top of your skull, and it'll smash you like a bloomin'
eggshell. Your time's come, Henson. Say your prayers."
"I can't," Henson whined. "And what have I done?"
Merritt rocked heavily on the other's breastbone, almost stifling him.
"Wot?" he said, scoffingly. The pleasing mixture of gin and fog in his
throat rendered him more hideously hoarse than usual. "Not make up a
prayer! And you a regular dab at all that game! Why, I've seen the women
snivellin' like babies when you've been ladlin' it out. Heavens, what a
chap you would be on the patter! How you would kid the chaplain!"
"Merritt, you're crushing the life out of me."
Merritt ceased his rocking for a moment, and the laughter died out of his
"I don't want to be prematoor," he said. "Yes, you'd make a lovely
chaplain's pet, but I can't spare you. I'm going to smash that 'ere wily
brain of yours, so as it won't be useful any more. I'll teach you to put
the narks on to a poor chap like myself."
"Merritt, I swear to you that I never--"
"You can swear till you're black in the face, and you can keep on
swearing till you're lily-white again, and then it won't be any good. You
gave me away to Taylor because you were afraid I should do you harm at
Littimer Castle. That Daisy Bell of a girl there told me so."
Henson groaned. It was not the least part of his humiliation that a mere
girl got the better of him in this way. And what on earth had she known
of Reuben Taylor? But the fact remained that she had known, and that she
had warned Merritt of his danger. It was the one unpardonable crime in
Henson's decalogue, the one thing Merritt could not forgive.
Henson's time was come. He did not need anyone to tell him that. Unless
something in the nature of a miracle happened, he was a dead man in a few
moments; and life had never seemed quite so sweet as it tasted at the
"You gave me away for no reason at all," Merritt went on. "I'm a pretty
bad lot, but I never rounded on a pal yet, and never shall. More than one
of them have served me bad, but I always let them go their own way, and
I've been a good and faithful servant to you--"
"It was not you," Henson gurgled, "that I wrote that letter about, but--"
"Chuck it," Merritt said, furiously. "Tell me any more of your lies and
I'll smash your jaw in for you. It _was_ me. I spotted Scotter in Moreton
Wells within a day or two. And Mr. Scotter had come for me. And I got
past Bronson in Brighton by the skin of my teeth. I turned into your
lodgings under his very eyes almost. Before this time to-morrow I shall
be arrested. But I'm going to have my vengeance first."
The last words came with intense deliberation. There was no mistaking
their significance. Henson deemed it wise to try another tack.
"I was wrong," he said, humbly. "I am very, very sorry; I lost my nerve
and got frightened, Merritt. But there is time yet. You always make more
money with me than with anybody else. And I'm going abroad presently."
"Oh, you're going abroad, are you?" Merritt said, slowly. "Going to
travel in a Pullman car and put up at all the Courts of Europe. And I'm
coming as chief secretary to the Grand Panjandrum himself. Sound an
alluring kind of programme."
"I'll give you a hundred pounds to get away with if you will--"
"Got a hundred pounds of my own in my pocket at the present moment," was
the unexpected reply. "As you gave me away, consequently I gave you away
to his lordship, and he planked down a hundred canaries like the swell
that he is. So I don't want your company or your money. And I'm going to
finish you right away."
The big stone was poised over Henson's head. He could see the jagged
part, and in imagination feel it go smashing into his brain. The time for
action had come. He snatched at Merritt's right arm and drew the knotted
fingers down. The next instant and he had bitten Merritt's thumb to the
bone. With a cry of rage and pain the stone was dropped. Henson snatched
it up and fairly lifted Merritt off his chest with a blow under the chin.
Merritt rolled over on the grass, and Henson was on his feet in an
instant. The great stone went down perilously near to Merritt's head.
Still snarling and frothing from the pain Merritt stumbled to his feet
and dashed a blow blindly at the other.
In point of size and strength there was only one in it. Had Henson stood
up to his opponent on equal terms there could only have been one issue.
But his nerves were shattered, he was nothing like the man he had been
two months ago. At the first onslaught he turned and fled towards the
town, leaving Merritt standing there in blank amazement.
"Frightened of me," he muttered. "But this ain't the way it's going
He darted off in hot pursuit; he raced across a rising shoulder of the
hill and cut off Henson's retreat. The latter turned and scurried back in
the direction of Long-dean Grange, with Merritt hot on his heels. He
could not shake the latter off.
Merritt was plodding doggedly on, pretty sure of his game. He was hard as
nails, whereas good living and a deal of drinking, quite in a gentlemanly
way, had told heavily on Henson. Unless help came unexpectedly Henson was
still in dire peril. There was just a chance that a villager might be
about; but Longdean was more or less a primitive place, and most of the
houses there had been in darkness for hours.
His foot slipped, he stumbled, and Merritt, with a whoop of triumph, was
nearly upon him. But it was only a stagger, and he was soon going again.
Still, Merritt was close behind him; Henson could almost feel his hot
breath on his neck. And he was breathing heavily and distressfully
himself, whilst he could hear how steadily Merritt's lungs were working.
He could see the lights of Longdean Grange below him; but they seemed a
long way off, whilst that steady pursuit behind had something relentless
and nerve-destroying about it.
They were pounding through the village now. Henson gave vent to one cry
of distress, but nothing came of it but the mocking echo of his own voice
from a distant belt of trees. Merritt shot out a short, sneering laugh.
He had not expected flagrant cowardice like this. He made a sudden spurt
forward and caught Henson by the tail of his coat.
With a howl of fear the latter tore himself away, and Merritt reeled
backwards. He came down heavily over a big stone, and at the same moment
Henson trod on a hedge-stake. He grabbed it up and half turned upon his
foe. But the sight of Merritt's grim face was too much for him, and he
turned and resumed his flight once more.
He yelled again as he reached the lodge-gates, but the only response was
the barking and howling of the dogs in the thick underwood beyond. There
was no help for it. Doubtless the deaf old lodge-keeper had been in bed
hours ago. Even the dogs were preferable to Merritt. Henson scrambled
headlong over the wall and crashed through the thickets beyond.
Merritt pulled up, panting with his exertion.
"Gone to cover," he muttered. "I don't fancy I'll follow. The dogs there
might have a weakness for tearing my throat out and Henson will keep,
I'll just hang about here till daylight and wait for my gentleman. And
I'll follow him to the end of the earth."
Meanwhile Henson blundered on blindly, fully under the impression that
Merritt was still upon his trail. One of the hounds, a puppy three parts
grown, rose and playfully pulled at his coat. It was sheer play, but at
the same time it was a terrible handicap, and in his fear Henson lost all
his horror of the dogs.
"Loose, you brute," he panted. "Let go, I say. Very well, take that!"
He paused and brought the heavy stake down full on the dog's muzzle.
There was a snarling scream of pain, and the big pup sprang for his
assailant. An old, grey hound came up and seemed to take in the situation
at a glance. With a deep growl he bounded at Henson and caught him by the
throat. Before the ponderous impact of that fine free spring Henson went
down heavily to the ground.
"Help!" he gurgled. "Help! help! help!"
The worrying teeth had been firmly fixed, the ponderous weight pressed
all the breath from Henson's distressed lungs. He gurgled once again,
gave a little shuddering sigh, and the world dwindled to a thick sheet of
Bell's professional enthusiasm got the better of his curiosity for the
moment. It was a nice psychological problem. Already Steel was
impulsively busy in the conservatory pulling the pots down. It was a
regretful thing to have to do, but everything had to be sacrificed, David
shut his teeth grimly and proceeded with his task.
"What on earth are you doing?" Bell asked, with a smile.
"Pulling the place to pieces," David responded. "I daresay I shall feel
pretty sick about it later on, but the thing has to be done. Cut those
wires for me, and let those creepers down as tenderly as possible. We
can't get to the little pots until we have moved the big ones."
Bell coolly declined to do anything of the kind. He surveyed the two
graceful banks of flowers there, the carefully trained creepers trailing
so naturally and yet so artistically from the roof to the ground, and the
sight pleased him.
"My dear chap," he said, "I am not going to sit here and allow you to
destroy the work of so many hours. There is not the slightest reason to
disturb anything. Unless I am greatly mistaken, Van Sneck will lay his
had upon the ring for us without so much as the sacrifice of a blossom."
"I don't fancy so," Van Sneck replied. "I can't remember."
"Well, you are going to," Bell said, cheerfully. "Did you ever hear of
"The sort of thing you get in law courts and political speeches?" David
suggested. "All the same, if you have some patent way of getting at the
facts I shall be only too glad to spare my poor flowers. Their training
has been a labour of love with me."
Bell smoked on quietly for some time. He toyed with the red blossoms
which had so stimulated Van Sneck's recollection, then tossed a spray
over to Van Sneck and suggested that the latter should put it in his
"So as to have the fragrance with you all the time," he said.
Van Sneck obeyed quietly, remarking that the scent was very pungent. The
Dutchman was restless and ill at ease; he seemed to be dissatisfied with
himself--he had the air of a man who has set out with two or three
extremely important matters of business and who has completely forgotten
what one of them is.
"You needn't distress yourself," David said, kindly.
"I beg your pardon," Bell said, tartly. "He is to do that very same
thing. Mental exercise never hurts anybody. Van Sneck is going to worry
till he puzzles it out. Will you describe the ring to us?"
The Dutchman complied at considerable length. He dwelt on the beauty of
the workmanship and the exceeding fineness of the black pearls; he talked
with the freedom and expression of the expert. Bell permitted him to
ramble on about historic rings in general. But all the same he could see
that Van Sneck was far from easy in his mind. Now and then a sudden gleam
came into his eyes: memory played for the fragment of a second on a
certain elusive chord and was gone.
"Were you smoking the night you came here?" Bell asked, suddenly.
"Yes," Van Sneck replied, "a cigarette. Henson handed it over to me. I
don't deny that I was terribly frightened, I smoked the cigarette out
"You went into the conservatory yonder and admired the flowers,"
Van Sneck looked up with astonishment and admiration.
"I did," he confessed. "But I don't see how you know that."
"I guessed it. It takes the brain some little time to get level to the
imagination. And as soon as you came face to face with Henson you knew
what was going to happen. You were a little dazed and frightened, and a
little overcome by liquor into the bargain. But even then, though you
were probably unconscious of it yourself, you were seeking some place to
hide the ring."
"I rather believe I was," Van Sneck said, thoughtfully.
"You smoked a cigarette there. Where did you put the end?"
Van Sneck rose and went into the conservatory. He walked directly to a
large pot of stephanotis in a distant corner and picked the stump of a
gold-tipped cigarette from thence.
"I dropped it in there," he said. "Strange; if you had asked me that
question two minutes ago I should not have been able to answer it. And
now I distinctly remember pitching it in there and watching it scorch
some of that beautiful lace-like moss. There is a long trail of it
hanging down behind. I recollect how funnily it occurred to me, even in
the midst of my danger, that the trail would look better brought over the
front of the pot. Thus."
He lifted the long, graceful spiral and brought it forward. Steel nodded,
"I came very near to dropping the ring in there," Van Sneck explained. "I
had it in my fingers--I took it for the purpose from my waistcoat-pocket.
Then I saw Henson's eye on me and I changed my mind. I wish I had been
Bell was examining a pot a little lower down. A piece had been chipped
off, leaving a sharp, clean, red edge with a tiny tip of hair upon it.
"You fell here," he exclaimed. "Your head struck the pot. Here is a
fragment of your hair on it. It is human hair beyond a doubt, and the
shade matches to a nicety. After that--"
A sudden cry broke from the Dutchman.
"I've got it!" he exclaimed. "You have cleverly led my mind into the
right direction. The only marvel is that I did not think of it before.
You will find the ring in the pot where the tuberose grows. I am quite
certain you will find it amongst the moss at the base."
David carefully scooped up all the loose moss from the pot and laid it on
the study table. Then he shook the stuff out, and something glittering
lay on the table--a heavy ring of the most exquisite and cunning
workmanship, with a large gem in the centre, flanked by black pearls on
either side. Van Sneck took it in his fingers lovingly.
"Here you are," he said. "Ach, the beauty! Well, you've got it now, and
do you take care of it lest it falls into my hands again. If I got a
chance I would steal it once more, and yet again, and again. Ah, what
mischief those things cause, to be sure!"
The speaker hardly knew how much mischief the ring in question had
caused, nor did his companions seek to enlighten him. David wrapped it up
carefully and placed it in his pocket.
"I'm glad that is settled," he said. "And I'm glad that I didn't have to
injure my flowers. Bell, you really are a most wonderful fellow."
Bell smiled with the air of a man who is well satisfied with himself. At
this moment a servant came in with a message to the effect that Inspector
Marley desired to see Mr. Steel on important business.
"Couldn't have come at a better time," David murmured. "Ask Mr.
Marley in here."
Marley came smilingly, yet mysterious. He evinced no surprise at the
sight of Van Sneck. He was, doubtless, aware of the success of the
operation on the latter. He particularly desired to know where Mr.
Reginald Henson was to be found.
"This is a queer place to look for him," said Steel.
"But he was here yesterday," Marley protested. "He had an accident."
"Bogus," said Steel. "We turned him out of the house. Is he wanted?"
Marley explained that he was wanted on three different charges; in fact,
the inspector had the warrants in his pocket at the present moment.
"Well, it's only by good chance that you haven't got one for me," David
laughed. "If you have ten minutes to spare, between Van Sneck and myself
we can clear up the mystery of the diamond-mounted cigar-case for you."
Marley had the time to spare, and, indeed, he was keen enough to hear the
solution of the mystery. A short explanation from David, followed by a
few pithy, pertinent questions to Van Sneck, and he was perfectly
"And yet I seemed to have an ideal case against you, Mr. Steel," he said.
"Seems almost a pity to cut a career like Mr. Henson's short, does it
not? Which reminds me that I am wasting time here. Any time you and Van
Sneck happen to be passing the police-station the cigar-case is entirely
at your disposal."
And Marley bustled off upon the errand that meant so much for Reginald
Henson. He was hardly out of the house before Ruth Gates arrived. She
looked a little distressed; she would not stay for a moment, she
declared. Her machine was outside, and she was riding over to Longdean
without delay. A note had just been sent to her from Chris.
"My uncle is in Paris," she said. "So I am going over to Longdean for a
few days. Lord Littimer is there, and Frank also. The reconciliation is
complete and absolute. Chris says the house is not the same now, and that
she didn't imagine that it could be so cheerful. Reginald Henson--"
"My dear child, Henson is not there now."
"Well, he is. He went there last night, knowing that he was at his last
gasp, with the idea of getting more money from Lady Littimer. To his
great surprise he found Littimer there also. It was anything but a
pleasant interview for Mr. Henson, who was finally turned out of the
house. It is supposed that he came back again, for they found him this
morning in the grounds with one of the dogs upon him. He is most horribly
hurt, and lies at the lodge in a critical condition. I promised Chris
that I would bring a message to you from Lord Littimer. He wants you and
Dr. Bell to come over this afternoon and stay to dinner."
"We'll come, with pleasure," David said. "I'll go anywhere to have the
chance of a quiet hour with you, Ruth. So far ours has been rather a
prosaic wooing. And, besides, I shall want you to coach me up on my
interview with your uncle. You have no idea how nervous I am. And at the
last he might refuse to accept me for your husband."
Ruth looked up fondly into her lover's face.
"As if he could," she said, indignantly. "As if any man could find fault
David drew the slender figure to his side and kissed the sweet, shy lips.
"When you are my wife," he said, "and come to take a closer and tenderer
interest in my welfare--"
"Could I take a deeper interest than I do now, David?"
"Well, perhaps not. But you will find that a good many people find fault
with me. You have no idea what the critics say sometimes. They declare
that I am an impostor, a copyist; they say that I am--"
"Let them say what they like," Ruth laughed. "That is mere jealousy, and
anybody can criticise. To me you are the greatest novelist alive."
There was only one answer to this, and Ruth broke away, declaring that
she must go at once.
"But you will come this afternoon?" she said. "And you will make
Lord Littimer like you. Some people say he is queer, but I call him
an old darling."
"He will like me, he is bound to. I've got something, a present for him,
that will render him my slave for life. _Au revoir_ till the gloaming."
* * * * *
The dew was rising from the grass, the silence of the perfect morning was
broken by the uneasy cries of the dogs. From their strange whimpering
Williams felt pretty sure that something was wrong. At most times he
would have called the dogs to him and laid into them with a whip, for
Williams knew no fear, and the hounds respected his firm yet kindly rule.
But Williams was in an exceptionally good temper this morning. Everything
had turned out as he had hoped for and anticipated, and the literal
kicking-out of Henson the previous evening was still fresh and sweet in
his memory. It would be something to boast of in his declining years.
"Drat the dogs," he exclaimed. "Now, what's the matter? I had better
go and see. Got a fox in a hole, perhaps! We shall have to tie 'em up
Williams darted into the thicket. Then he came full upon Henson, lying on
his back, with his white, unconscious face and staring eyes turned to the
sky, and two great dogs fussing uneasily about him. A big pup close by
had a large swelling on his head. By Henson's side lay the ash stick he
had picked up when pursued by Merritt.
Williams bent over the stark, still figure and shuddered as he saw how
his clothing was all torn away from the body; saw the deep wounds in
the chest and throat; he could see that Henson still breathed. His
loud shouts for assistance brought Frank Littimer and the lodge-keeper
to the spot. Together they carried the body to the lodge and sent for
"The case is absolutely hopeless," Walker said, after he had made his
examination. "The poor fellow may linger till the morning, but I doubt
if he will recognise anybody again. Does anybody know how the thing
Nobody but Merritt could have thrown any light upon the mystery, and he
was far away. Williams shook his head as he thought of his parting with
Henson the previous night.
"I let him out and closed the gate behind him," he said. "He must have
come back for something later on and gone for the dogs. He certainly hit
one of the pups over the head with a stick, and that probably set the
others on to him. Nobody will ever know the rights of the business."
And nobody ever did, for Henson lingered on through the day and far into
the night. At the house Lord Littimer was entertaining a party at dinner.
Everything had been explained; the ring had been produced and generally
admired. All was peace and happiness. They were all on the terrace in the
darkness when Williams came up from the lodge.
"Is there any further news?" Lord Littimer asked.
"Yes, my lord," Williams said, quietly. "Dr. Walker has just come, and
would like to see you at once. Mr. Reginald Henson died ten minutes ago."
A hush came over the hitherto noisy group. It was some little time before
Lord Littimer returned. He had only to confirm the news. Reginald Henson
was dead; he had escaped justice, after all.
"Well, I'm not sorry," Lady Littimer said. "It is a rare disgrace
saved to the family. And there have been trouble and sorrow enough and
"But your own good name, my dear?" Lord Littimer said. "And Frank's?"
"We can live all that down, my dear husband. Frank will be too happy with
Chris to care what gossips say. And Dr. Bell and Enid will be as happy as
"And Ruth and myself, too," David said, quietly. "Later on I shall tell
in a book how three sirens got me into a perfect sea of mischief."
"What shall you call the book?" Littimer asked.
"What better title could I have," David said, "than _The Crimson Blind_?"