Part 2 out of 6
"The police then asked him in a roundabout way if he thought any of his
guests could have had anything to say to it. Phew! How furious Sir
Roland became with them! You should have seen him--I was with him at the
time. Then suddenly he grew quite calm, realizing that they were, after
all, only trying to do their duty and to help him to trace the thieves.
"'Up to the present I have not, so far as I am aware,' he said in that
cold, dignified way of his, 'entertained criminals at Holt Manor or
elsewhere. No, my man,' he ended, turning to the sergeant, or the
inspector, or whatever he was, 'the men who have stolen my property were
not any of my guests. You may set your minds at rest on that point.'"
Conversation drifted to other topics. Several times during supper I
endeavoured to lead my beautiful companion on to talk about herself, but
on each occasion she cleverly diverted conversation to some other
subject. I confess that when she casually questioned me concerning my
own affairs I was less successful in evading her inquiries; or it may
have been that I, in common with most of my sex, like to talk freely
about "self" and "self's" affairs, especially when the listener is a
beautiful woman who appears to be sympathetic and deeply interested in
all one has to say about oneself.
During that brief half-hour our intimacy grew apace. There are people
with whom one seems to have been on terms of friendship, almost as
though one had known them for years, within ten minutes after being
introduced to them; others who, when one has known them quite a long
time, seem still to remain comparatively strangers. Mrs. Stapleton
belonged to the first group, although she spoke so little about herself.
Yet I was not in the least attracted by her in the way Dulcie Challoner
attracted me. I found her capital company; I could imagine our becoming
great friends; I could think of her in the light of a _bonne camarade_.
But that was all. As for feeling tempted to fall in love with her--but
the bare thought was grotesque.
"What a charming, delightful girl that is--I mean Miss Challoner," Mrs.
Stapleton exclaimed suddenly, when, after talking a great deal, we had
been silent for a few moments. "And how exquisitely pretty," she added
after an instant's pause.
I hardly knew what to say. I know enough of women to be aware that no
woman is particularly anxious, save in exceptional cases, to listen to a
panegyric on the charms and the physical attractions of some other
woman. Therefore, after a moment's reflection, I answered with affected
"I think I agree with you. I have known her a number of years. Her
father was a great friend of my father's."
"Indeed?" she replied, raising her eyebrows a little, then letting her
gaze rest full on mine. "That is interesting. I am a believer in
platonic friendships. I wonder if you are."
"Oh, of course," I said quickly. "It is ridiculous to suppose that a man
and woman can't be friends without--without--"
"Yes?" she said encouragingly.
"Oh, well--I suppose I mean without falling in love with each other."
She smiled in a way that puzzled me a little, but said nothing.
"Do you mean in all cases?" she suddenly inquired.
"In most cases, anyway."
"And when would you make an exception?"
This was a problem I felt I could not solve. However, I made a dash at
"In the case of people of abnormally susceptible temperament," I said,
"I suppose such people couldn't be friends without soon
"Ah, I see," she observed thoughtfully.
She was toying with a strawberry ice, and her lowered eyelids displayed
the extraordinary length of their lashes. Certainly I was talking to an
interesting and very lovely woman--though again here, as before in the
hunting field in Berkshire, I found myself wondering in what her beauty
consisted. Not a feature was regular; the freckles on nose and forehead
seemed to show more plainly under the glare of the electric lights; the
eyes were red-brown. But how large they were, and how they seemed to
sparkle with intelligence!
She looked up suddenly. Her expression was serious now. Up to the
present her eyes, while she talked, had been singularly animated, often
full of laughter.
"Mr. Berrington, have you ever been in love?"
I was so surprised at this question, from a woman to whom I was
practically a stranger, that I thought it best to treat it as a jest.
"Yes, a dozen times," I answered. "I am in love at this moment," I added
lightly, as if joking.
"You need not have told me that," she said, serious still. "I knew it
the moment I saw you both together. I asked--but only to hear what you
"But--but--" I stammered, "I--you--that is I don't quite catch your
meaning. When did you see 'us' both together--and who is the other
person you are thinking of?"
She had finished her ice.
"Please give me some more champagne," she said.
I picked up the half-empty bottle, refilled her glass, then my own. She
held out her glass until it clinked against mine.
"Here is health and long life to your friend on the chestnut," she
exclaimed, smiling again, "and to you too. I only hope that your married
life will be happier than--"
She checked herself. Her tongue had run away with her, and, as our lips
touched our glasses, I mentally finished her sentence.
But who, I wondered, had her husband been?
People were still flocking into the room. Others were moving out. From a
distance there came to us above the noise and the buzz of conversation
the words of a song I love:
"Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix
Comme s'ouvre les fleurs
Aux baisers de l'aurore,
Mais O! Mon bien aime
Pour mieux secher mes pleurs
Que ta voix parle encore,
Dis moi qu'a Dalila
Tu reviens pour jamais.
Redis à ma tendresse
Les serments d'autrefois
Les serments que j'aimais.
Ah, réponds à ma tendresse,
Ah, verse-moi l'ivresse!"
"How gorgeous!" I exclaimed, straining my ears in a vain attempt to hear
better. "Who is it?"
"Kirkby-Lunn," my companion answered quickly. "Are you fond--"
She stopped. Her face was partly turned. I saw a glance of recognition
flash into her eyes and vanish instantly. Following the direction of her
glance, my gaze rested upon the strange, striking woman I had seen but
once but could not possibly forget. Mrs. Gastrell had just entered, and
with her, to my astonishment, Jack Osborne. It was Jasmine Gastrell with
whom my companion had exchanged that momentary glance of recognition.
"Are you fond of music?" Mrs. Stapleton asked, looking at me again.
"Very," I answered absently, "of music that is music."
For my attention had become suddenly distracted. How came this woman to
be here, this woman who called herself Gastrell's wife? Lord Easterton
was somewhere about, for I had seen him in the crowd. Such a striking
woman would be sure to attract his attention, he would inquire who she
was, he might even ask Gastrell, and then what would happen? What would
Gastrell say? Was the woman actually his wife, or was she--
Mechanically I conversed with my companion for a minute or two longer,
then suddenly she suggested that we should go.
"And let some of these starving people take our table," she added, as
she prepared to rise.
Osborne and his singularly lovely companion were now seated at a table
only a few yards off. His back was turned to us, and I had not caught
Mrs. Gastrell's glance.
"D'you know who that is, that woman who has just come in?" I inquired
carelessly, indicating her as I rose.
"That?" Mrs. Stapleton answered, looking full at her, and this time
their eyes met in a cold stare. "No, I have no idea."
I confess that this flat untruth, spoken with such absolute
_sang-froid,_ somewhat disconcerted me. For I could not be in the least
doubt that I had distinctly seen the two women greet each other with
that brief glance of mutual recognition.
THE HOUSE IN GRAFTON STREET
One afternoon, some days later, I was sitting in my flat in South Molton
Street, smoking a pipe and carelessly skimming an evening paper, when my
man brought me some letters which had just arrived.
Several I tossed aside unopened--I recognized the handwritings and was
in no haste to absorb the contents of epistles from acquaintances whose
company, at the best of times, "bored me stiff," as some Americans say.
But the letter was there that I had expected in the morning, and at once
I tore it open.
Dulcie wrote chiefly about herself--which was all I wanted to
hear--about her father and "Aunt Hannah," while two pages she devoted to
her little brother Dick, of whom she was inordinately fond.
Dick, she said, had shown the utmost pluck and endurance throughout his
painful convalescence after his rough-and-tumble with the burglars. She
told me how he had from the first sat up in bed with his "honourable
wounds" upon him, bandaged and swathed, joking and making light of the
occurrence now, as perhaps only the best breed of English schoolboy
knows how. One thing still puzzled both little Dick and herself, and for
that matter the whole family, she said--who could the woman be to whom
the thieves had alluded? No word, added Dulcie, had as yet been
forthcoming as to the whereabouts of any of the valuables stolen on that
memorable day, either family jewels or plate, and the detectives at
Scotland Yard acknowledged that so far matters were at a deadlock.
Further on in her newsy letter Dulcie made mention of the fascinating
widow staying at the Rook Hotel in Newbury, and of her wish to know her
better. She added incidentally that Mrs. Stapleton had been away since
the day after the meet at Holt Manor, and that no one knew where she was
staying. She hoped she would soon be back, she said, as she wished so
much to renew her acquaintance, and to strengthen it. Dulcie then spoke
of her Aunt Hannah, who had been particularly amusing and crochety of
late, but added that she was really such a "dear" at heart that people
all loved her when they came to know her well. "My dear," she wrote,
"Aunt Hannah has surpassed herself lately. You know what vigorous likes
and dislikes she takes, all of a sudden? Well, now Auntie has conceived
an inordinate aversion for poor Mrs. Stapleton, and seems inclined not
only to give her the cold shoulder, but to hound her down by saying the
nastiest things about her, just as the other people in the county did
when she first came to live among us. I rather believe that she had this
feeling all along, more or less, but now she seems positively to hate
her--though she confesses that she doesn't know why she does! Isn't that
like Auntie? And now she has been asking me never to notice Mrs.
Stapleton, and not to speak to her again when she returns, in fact to
drop the acquaintance entirely--and that just as we have called, and
I've tried to be nice to her out hunting, and we've had her to dine; I
told you how taken father was with her, and how he took her all over the
house and showed her simply everything. I really don't see why I should
draw back now. Nor does father. As a matter of fact, I don't see how we
can--it has gone too far--and just to satisfy one of dear old Auntie's
whims! She has a good many, as you know, Mike. There is just this one
thing, however, that sometimes one of her unaccountable whims or
dislikes turns out to have been well grounded."
My darling then went on to speak of her father and of the happiness our
engagement afforded him, happiness tempered, as she could not help
knowing, by the sorrow her leaving him would bring to him, for the most
wonderful confidence and companionship existed between father and
daughter. This sadness, Dulcie went on, came out almost pathetically in
her father's even added tenderness to her--he whose tenderness and
affection had always been such a wonderful thing to her since her
earliest childhood. But now, she said, her father sometimes followed her
about the house and grounds when she had been absent from him for a
short time, seeking occasion for talks with her, giving her his
confidence, and consulting her wishes on matters about the gardens and
stables in a way that was quite touching. It was as though, now that the
parting was so soon to take place, he could not get enough of his only
daughter's company, as if the old man clung to her more than
The closely-written sheets dropped from my hand on to my knee. "Ah, my
own little girl," I thought, "who wouldn't miss you--sadly, yes,
terribly? Your delightful presence, the truth and honour that seem to be
manifest in your smallest gesture, in every glance from your clear eyes;
the companionship of your fearless intellect cutting through
conventionalities like a knife, arriving at the right point with the
unerring instinct of a woman, yet with the _naiveté_ of a child."
Memories crowded in upon me, memories of all my happy days with Dulcie
in the country--in the hunting field, in the gardens about her home, of
afternoons spent among the books and prints and pictures in her father's
quiet, book-lined library at Holt, of the evenings in the drawing-room
at the piano, of hours of pleasant talk in the beautiful conservatories
and on the grassy terraces, and by the lake-side below the tennis lawn.
What, I thought, would life be like when at last I had her always with
me, brightening my life, filling my own home--our home--with laughter
and with the music of her voice! Again and again she rose to my
enthralled vision, and ever she was Youth and Love, the vision crowned
with the wonder of her nebulous, brown-gold hair as she gazed at me out
of her sweet, clear eyes in which I seemed still to read unfathomable
purity and truth.
It is a terrible thing to be in love. Some savage races there are which
hold to the belief that the spirits of lovers changing places, give rise
to the feverish mental upheaval which we prosaically term "falling in
love," the spirits being restless at their enforced imprisonment and
unsatisfied until they have returned each to its appointed sphere. Now
that I have recovered from the affliction I sometimes wonder if it might
not with advantage be treated as ordinary maladies and some passions
are--with the aid of drugs. Perhaps some day it will be. Certainly it
soon will be if the eugenists get their way.
And, thinking of the letter I had just read, which now lay folded in my
pocket, my memory drifted backward. For since the day I had met Jack
Osborne at Brooks's on his return from Nigeria, many incidents had
occurred which puzzled me. Trifling incidents individually, no doubt,
yet significant when considered in the concrete. There was the incident,
for instance, of Sir Harry Dawson's declaring in a letter written to
Lord Easterton from the Riviera that he had never met Gastrell, never
heard of him even, though Lord Easterton had Gastrell's assurance that
he knew Sir Harry Dawson and had intended to call upon him on the
evening he had unwittingly entered Lord Easterton's house, which was
Then there was something not quite normal in Gastrell's posing one day
as a married man, the next as a bachelor; also in his pretending at one
moment that he had never seen Osborne and myself before, yet admitting
at the next that he had met us. True, he had advanced an apparently
sound reason for this _volte-face_ of his, but still--
The affair, too, in Maresfield Gardens. That surely was an "incident"
which bordered on a mystery. I felt I should never forget our
extraordinary reception that night--the "black out" house, as stage
managers say; our repeated ringing the door bell; the slow unlocking and
unbolting the door; the cautious inquiry; our wait in the darkness after
our admission; the discovery of that horrible serpent with its chilling
eyes; the locked door; the sudden entry of Gastrell, and his odd
Then the conflagration which had occurred a few days later, and the
subsequent discovery among the _débris_ of a body, charred and stabbed;
the apparent ignorance of everybody as to whose body it was; the
statement made by the police that none knew the names of the sub-tenants
who had occupied that house when the fire had broken out, or what had
since become of them--the actual tenant was in America. Without a
doubt, I reflected as I knocked the ashes out of my pipe into the grate,
something "queer" was going on, and I had inadvertently got myself
mixed up in it.
The last "incident" to puzzle me had been that momentary glance of
mutual recognition exchanged between the woman I knew only as "Mrs.
Gastrell"--or "Jasmine Gastrell," as Osborne always spoke of her--and
Mrs. Stapleton, and their subsequent apparent entire lack of
recognition. That, certainly, had been most odd. What could have been
the cause of it? Why, knowing each other, did they all at once feign to
be strangers? And the extraordinarily calm way Mrs. Stapleton had,
looking me full in the eyes, assured me that she had never before even
seen the woman she had just smiled at. Lastly--though this was of less
consequence--how came Jack Osborne to be dancing attendance upon the
woman I knew as "Mrs. Gastrell," when he had assured me as we drove away
in the taxi from Maresfield Gardens that night that though he admired
her he mistrusted her?
I had filled my pipe again, and, as I puffed at it to set it going, one
more thought occurred to me. And this thought, I must say, perplexed me
as much as any.
Hugesson Gastrell was said to have spent the whole of his life, until
six months previously, in Australia and Tasmania. If that were so, then
how did he come to have so large a circle of friends, or at any rate of
acquaintances--acquaintances, too, of such distinction and high
position? Was it possible he could in a few months have come to know all
these peers and peeresses and baronets and knights, distinguished
musicians and actors and actresses, leading members of the learned
professions, and all the rest of the Society crowd who had thronged his
house that evening?
Suddenly something I had been told at the club an hour or so before
flashed back into my mind. Another club member besides Easterton had, it
seemed, become acquainted with Gastrell through Gastrell's calling at
the wrong house--by mistake.
A coincidence? Possibly. And yet--
I sucked meditatively at my pipe.
Suddenly the telephone rang. Easterton was speaking.
"What!" I exclaimed, in answer to the startling information he gave me.
"When did he disappear?"
"Where was he last seen?"
"No, he has not been here. I haven't seen him since Gastrell's
"Oh, yes, I saw you there."
"Yes, very extraordinary."
"Good. I'll come to you at once. Are you at Linden Gardens?"
"Very well, I'll come straight to the club."
Mechanically I hung up the receiver. Curious thoughts, strange
conjectures, wonderings, arguments, crowded my brain in confusion. Five
days had passed since the date of Gastrell's reception, when I had seen
Jack Osborne at supper with the woman he had said he mistrusted. Since
that evening, according to what Easterton had just told me, nobody had
seen or heard of him. He had not been to his chambers; he had not left
any message there or elsewhere; he had not written; he had neither
telegraphed nor telephoned.
Where was he? What was he doing? Could some misfortune have befallen
him? Had he--
I did not end the sentence my mind had formed. Instead I went out,
hailed a taxi, and in a few minutes was on my way to Brooks's.
Outside a house in Grafton Street a group of people stood clustered
about the door. Others, on the pavement opposite, stared up at the
windows. Two policemen upon the doorstep prevented anyone from entering.
Leaning forward as my taxi sped by, I peered in through the open door of
the house, then up at the windows, but there was nothing out of the
ordinary to be seen. Further down the street we passed three policemen
walking briskly along the pavement in the direction of the house.
"What's the commotion in Grafton Street?" I inquired of my driver as I
paid him off at Brooks's.
"I've no idea, sir," he answered. "Looks as though there was trouble of
some sort." Another fare hailed him, so our conversation ended.
I found Easterton awaiting me in a deserted card-room.
"This may be a serious affair, Berrington," he said in a tone of anxiety
as I seated myself in the opposite corner of the big, leather-covered
settee. "Here five days have gone by, and there isn't a sign of Jack
Osborne, though he had not told anybody that he intended to absent
himself, had not even hinted to anybody that he had any idea of
"You say he has not been seen since Gastrell's reception?"
"Not since then--five days ago. The fellows here at the club are getting
quite alarmed about him--they want to advertise in the newspapers for
news of his whereabouts."
"That means publicity, a shoal of inquiries, and maybe a scandal," I
answered thoughtfully. "If Jack has intentionally disappeared for a day
or two and all at once finds himself notorious he will be furious."
"Just what I tell them," Easterton exclaimed; "I wish you would back me
up. You see, Jack hasn't any relatives to speak of, and those he has
live abroad. Consequently the fellows here consider it is what the
Americans call 'up to them' to institute inquiries, even if such
inquiries should necessitate publicity."
I pondered for a moment or two.
"You know," I said, "Jack is a curious fellow in some ways--some call
him a crank, but he isn't that. Still, he is something of a 'character,'
and absolutely unconventional. I remember his making a bet, once, that
he would punch out a boastful pugilist at the National Sporting
Club--no, it wasn't at the N.S.C., it was at a place down
East--'Wonderland,' they call it."
"And did he do it?" Easterton asked.
"Did he? By heaven, the poor chap he tackled was carried out unconscious
at the end of the second round--Jack's bet was with Teddy Forsyth, and
he pocketed a couple of ponies then and there."
"Did he really? Capital! And Teddy's such a mean chap; he didn't like
partin', did he?"
"Like it? He went about for the rest of the night with a face like a
"Capital!" Lord Easterton repeated. "But to return to the point, Jack's
eccentricities and vagaries can have nothin' to do with his
"Why not? How do you know?"
"Well, why should they? I only hope he hasn't gone and made a fool of
himself in any way that'll make a scandal or get him into trouble. In a
way, you know, we are connections. His mother and mine were second
cousins. That's really why I feel that I ought to do somethin' to find
out what has happened to him. Do you--do you think he can have got mixed
up with some woman?"
"I won't say that I actually think so, but I think it's more than
"No! Why? What woman?"
At that instant I remembered that the woman I had in my mind was the
woman who on board the _Masonic_ had, so Jack had told me, called
herself Hugesson Gastrell's wife, and called herself his wife again at
the house in Maresfield Gardens. But Gastrell had told Easterton, or at
any rate led him to suppose, he was unmarried. How, then, could I refer
to this woman by name without causing possible friction between
Easterton and his tenant, Gastrell?
"I am afraid I can't tell you, Easterton," I said after an instant's
hesitation. "I don't want to make mischief, and if what I think is
possible is not the case, and I tell you about it, I shall have made
Easterton was silent. For some moments he remained seated in his corner
of the settee, looking at me rather strangely.
"I quite understand what you mean, Berrington," he said at last. "Still,
under the circumstances I should have thought--and yet no, I dare say
you are right. I may tell you candidly, though, that I can't help
thinkin' you must be mistaken in your supposition. Jack doesn't care
about women in that way. He never has cared about them. The only thing
he cares about is sport, though, of course, he admires a pretty woman,
as we all do."
To that observation I deemed it prudent to make no reply, and at that
moment a waiter entered and came across the room to us.
"Your lordship is wanted on the telephone," he said solemnly.
"Who is it?" Easterton asked, looking up.
"Scotland Yard, my lord."
"Oh, say, hold the line, and I'll come down."
"Have you informed the police, then?" I asked quickly, when the servant
had left the room.
"Yes. I went to Scotland Yard this mornin', but I told them not to let a
word about the disappearance get into the newspapers, if they could help
it, until they heard further from me, and they promised they would
respect my wish. You had better come down with me. They may have found
I waited outside the glass hutch, which effectually shut in all sound,
watching Lord Easterton's face below the electric light. His lips moved
rapidly, and by the way his expression suddenly changed I judged that he
was hearing news of importance. After talking for a minute or two he
hung up the receiver, pushed open the door and came out. His face
betrayed his emotion.
"Come over here," he said in a curious tone. "I have something to tell
I followed him a little way down the passage which led to the
card-rooms. When we were out of sight and earshot of the club servants
he stopped abruptly and turned to me.
"Jack has been found," he said quickly. "He was found gagged and bound
in a house in Grafton Street half an hour ago. He is there now, and the
police are with him."
"Good God!" I exclaimed. "How did they identify him?"
"He was not unconscious. The police want me to go there at once. Come."
We walked up to Grafton Street, as it was such a little way, also
Easterton wanted to tell me more. The Inspector who had just spoken to
him had not told him what had led to the police entering the house in
Grafton Street, or if anybody else had been found upon the premises. He
had only told him that Scotland Yard had for some weeks had the house
under surveillance--they had suspected that something irregular was
going on there, but they did not know what.
"I expect they have a pretty shrewd idea," Easterton added, as we
crossed Piccadilly, "but they won't say what it is. Hello! Just look at
Up at the end of Dover Street, where Grafton Street begins, the roadway
was blocked with people. When we reached the crowd we had some
difficulty in forcing our way through it. A dozen policemen were keeping
"Are you Lord Easterton?" the officer at the entrance asked, as
Easterton handed him his card. "Ah, then come this way, please, m'lord.
This gentleman a friend of yours? Follow the constable, please."
We were shown into a room on the ground floor, to the right of the hall.
It was large, high-ceilinged, with a billiard table in the middle. Half
a dozen men were standing about, two in police uniform; the remainder I
guessed to be constables in plain clothes.
Suddenly I started, and uttered an exclamation.
Seated in a big arm-chair was Dulcie Challoner, looking pale,
frightened. Beside her, with her back to me, stood Aunt Hannah!
"Good heavens, Dulcie!" I exclaimed, hurrying across to her, "whatever
are you doing here? And you, Aunt Hannah?"
At the sound of my voice Dulcie started up in her chair, and Aunt Hannah
turned quickly. To my amazement they both looked at me without uttering.
Dulcie's eyes were troubled. She seemed inclined to speak, yet afraid
to. The expression with which Aunt Hannah peered at me chilled me.
"What is the meaning of this, Mr. Berrington?" she asked coldly, after a
brief pause. Even in that moment of tense anxiety it struck me that Aunt
Hannah looked and spoke as though reproving a naughty schoolboy.
"Meaning of what?" I said stupidly, astonishment for the moment
deadening my intelligence.
"Of your bringing us up to London to find--this."
"Bringing you up? What do you mean, Miss Challoner?" I exclaimed,
In spite of my deep anxiety, a feeling of annoyance, of resentment, had
come over me. No man likes to be made to look ridiculous, and here was I
standing before a lot of constables, all of them staring in inquisitive
astonishment at my being thus addressed by the old lady.
"Is this Mr. Berrington, madam?" an immensely tall, bull-necked,
plain-clothes policeman, of pompous, forbidding mien, suddenly asked.
"Yes, officer, it is," she snapped. During all the time I had known her
I had never seen her quite like this.
"See here," he said, turning to me, "I want your address, and for the
present you will stay here."
I am considered good-tempered. Usually, too, I can control my feelings.
There is a limit, however, to the amount of incivility I can stand, and
this fellow was deliberately insulting me.
"How dare you speak like that to me!" I burst out. "What has this affair
to do with me? Do you know who I am?"
"Aren't you Mr. Michael Berrington?" he inquired more guardedly,
apparently taken aback at my outburst of indignation.
"Then read that," he said, producing a telegram and holding it out
It was addressed to:
"Miss Dulcie Challoner, Holt Manor, Holt Stacey," and ran:
"The police have recovered property which they believe to have been
stolen from Holt Manor. Please come at once to 430 Grafton Street, Bond
Street, to identify it. Shall expect you by train due Paddington 12:17.
Please don't fail to come as matter very urgent.
It had been handed in at the office in Regent Street at 9:30 that
morning, and received at Holt Stacey village at 9:43.
"How absurd! How ridiculous!" I exclaimed. "My name has been forged, of
course. I never sent that telegram; this is the first I have seen or
heard of it."
"That you will have to prove," the detective answered, with official
"Surely, Aunt Hannah," I almost shouted--so excited did I feel--as I
again turned to her, "you can't think I sent that telegram?"
"I certainly think nothing else," she replied, and her eyes were like
shining beads. "Who would send a telegram signed with your name but you,
or someone instructed by you?"
I saw that to argue with her in the frame of mind she was then in would
be futile--my presentiment at Holt that some day I should fall foul of
her had come true! I turned to the officer.
"I must see the original of that telegram," I said quickly, "and shall
then quickly prove that it was not sent by me. How soon can I get
hold of it?"
"Oh, we can see about it at once, sir," he answered much more civilly,
for, pretending to look for something in my pocket, I had intentionally
pulled out my leather wallet, containing two hundred pounds or more in
notes, and opened it for an instant. There is nothing like the sight of
paper money to ensure civility from a policeman disposed to be
impertinent--I should like, in justice, to add that most policemen
Also Easterton had come over and spoken to me, and of course pooh-poohed
the idea of my having sent the telegram, which had just been shown to
him. Dulcie stared at me with large, pathetic eyes, and I knew that, but
for Aunt Hannah's so-to-speak mounting guard, she would have asked me
endless questions instead of sitting there mute.
"You had better come with me and hear Jack Osborne's story," Easterton
said some moments later. "The Inspector tells me he is upstairs, and
still rather weak from the effect of the treatment he has received."
I had seen a puzzled look come into Aunt Hannah's eyes while Easterton
was speaking, but she remained sour and unbending.
Osborne was sitting up in a chair, partly undressed--he still wore his
evening clothes--cotton wool bound round his ankles and one wrist. He
smiled weakly as we entered, and the policeman who sat at his bedside
immediately rose. It was easy to see that Jack had suffered a good deal;
he looked, for him, quite pale, and there were dark marks beneath his
eyes. Nor was his appearance improved by several days' growth of
beard--he was usually clean-shaven.
His story was quickly told, and points in it gave food for thought, also
It seemed that, while he was at supper with the woman I knew as "Mrs.
Gastrell," at Gastrell's reception, two men, unable to find a vacant
table, had asked if they might sit at his table, where there were two
vacant seats. Both were strangers to him, and apparently to "Mrs.
Gastrell" too. They seemed, however, pleasant fellows, and presently he
had drifted into conversation with them, or they with him, and with his
fair companion--Jack, as I have said, is extremely cosmopolitan, and
picks up all sorts of acquaintances. I could well believe that at a
reception such as Gastrell's he would waive all formality of
introduction if he found himself with companionable strangers.
Supper over, the four had remained together, and later, when Jack had
seen his fair friend safely into a cab, he had rejoined the two
strangers, becoming gradually more and more friendly with them. The
reception had not ended until past one in the morning, and he and his
two acquaintances had been among the last to leave. Having all to go in
the same direction, they had shared a taxi, and on arriving at the
chambers which the strangers had told him they shared--these chambers
were in Bloomsbury, but Jack had not noticed in what street--one of the
strangers had suggested his coming in for a few minutes before returning
to the Russell Hotel, where he had his rooms, which was close by.
At first disinclined to do this, he had finally yielded to their
persuasion. He had a whiskey-and-soda with them, he said--he mentioned
that the chambers were comfortable and well furnished--and one of them
had then suggested a game of cards. They had all sat down to play, and--
Well, he remembered, he said, seeing cards being dealt--but that was all
he did remember. He supposed that after that he must have fainted, or
been made unconscious; he now suspected that the drink he had taken had
When he recovered consciousness he had no idea where he was, or how long
he had been insensible. The room was unfamiliar to him, and everything
about him strange. He was stretched upon a bed, in an apartment much
larger than the one he was now in, with hands and feet tightly tied. The
two windows faced a blank wall, the wall apparently of the next house;
later he came to know, by the sound of Big Ben booming in the night,
that he was still in London.
The door of the room was at the back of the bed; he could not see it
from where he lay, and, bound as he was, could not even turn, but was
forced to lie flat upon his back.
He had not long been conscious, when the light of day began to fade.
Soon the room was in pitch darkness. Then it was he became aware that
someone was in the room. He listened attentively, but could hear
nothing; nevertheless the presence of a man or woman made itself "felt"
beyond a doubt. He judged the time of day to be about six o'clock in the
evening, when suddenly somebody touched him--a hand in the darkness. He
started, and called out; but there was no answer. Some minutes later a
The voice was not that of either of the men he had met at Gastrell's
reception; he could swear to that, he said. Yet he seemed to recognize
the voice, indeed, to have heard it recently. He racked his brains to
remember where, but to no purpose.
The man spoke in a low tone, and its _timbre_ and inflection betrayed
what is called the voice of a gentleman, he said.
"You have been brought here," the man said, "to give certain
information, and to reveal certain secrets. If you do this, you will be
released at once--you will be taken away from here in an unconscious
state, just as you were brought here, and set down in the night not far
from your hotel. If you refuse, you will be taken out during the night,
and dropped into the Thames."
The man had then gone on to question him. The questions he had asked had
been numerous, and one and all had had to do with persons of high
station with whom Jack was on terms of intimacy--all of them rich
people. What most astonished him, he said, was that his unseen
interlocutor should know so much about him--his questions and remarks
showed how much he knew--and that he should apparently know who all his
Jack could not remember all the questions he had been asked, but he
repeated some of them. Whereabouts did the Duchesse de Montparnasse keep
her jewels in her château on the Meuse? The questioner said he knew that
Osborne could tell him, because he knew that Osborne, just before going
to Nigeria, had, while staying at that château, been shown by the
Duchesse herself her priceless jewellery--one of the finest collections
in the world, chiefly valuable owing to its interesting historic
Then, in which apartment in Eldon Hall, in Northumberland, the seat of
the Earl of Cranmere, was the large safe that Lord Cranmere had bought
ten months before from an American firm, the name of which was given? He
said that he, Osborne, must know, because he was a guest at Lord
Cranmere's when the safe arrived--which was the truth. He also wanted to
know if there were a priests' hiding-hole in Eldon Hall, as was the case
in so many of the large country mansions built about the same period,
and, if so, its exact whereabouts in the house.
As Jack Osborne said this, my thoughts flashed away to Berkshire, to
Holt Manor, to the dark, depressing hiding-hole there that I had peered
down into more than once. Who had spoken to me of that hiding-hole only
recently? Why, Dulcie, of course. She had mentioned it whilst telling me
about Mrs. Stapleton, and about Sir Roland's showing the young widow
over the house. Dulcie had mentioned it specially, because Mrs.
Stapleton had evinced such evident interest in it.
I checked my train of thought, focussing my mind upon that single
Mrs. Stapleton, the "mysterious widow" of whom nobody appeared to know
anything, had been strangely interested in that hiding-hole and in all
that Sir Roland had said about it--Dulcie had told me that. The
hiding-hole was in close proximity to Sir Roland's bedroom, and to one
other room from which valuable jewellery had been stolen. Mrs. Stapleton
had left the neighbourhood on the day after the robbery, had been absent
ever since--that of course might be, and probably was, merely a
coincidence. At supper at Gastrell's reception in Cumberland Place Mrs.
Stapleton had acknowledged "Mrs. Gastrell's" smile of recognition, and
an instant later the two women had stared at each other stonily, and
Mrs. Stapleton had assured me that she did not know the other woman,
that she had "never seen her before." Then those two men, of whom
Osborne had just spoken, had of their own accord joined him and "Mrs.
Gastrell" at supper, and eventually he had gone with the men to their
flat in Bloomsbury. And now here was an unseen man, evidently a
scoundrel, inquiring the whereabouts of a safe in a country house
belonging to a nobleman known to be extremely rich, and asking in
particular if the house possessed a priests' hiding-hole, and if so,
exactly where it was located--a man who threatened evil if the
information were withheld. Could all this, I could not help wondering,
be mere coincidence? Then on the top of it came that extraordinary
telegram sent to Dulcie from London, with my name attached to it.
Jack, however, had not done relating his adventures, so I turned again
to listen to him.
"A third thing the fellow asked," he said, "was the name of Hugo
Salmonsteiner's bankers--Salmonsteiner the millionaire timber-merchant
whose son was out big-game shooting with me a year ago. It seemed an
absurd question, for surely it must be easy to find out who any man's
bankers are, but still he asked me, and appeared to be most anxious
that I should tell him. Oh, but there were scores of other questions,
all much on the same lines, and tending to extract from me information
of a peculiar kind."
"Did you answer any of them?" Easterton asked.
"Answer them? Why, of course--all of 'em. I didn't want to remain here
in durance vile an hour longer than I could help, I can assure you. But
naturally my answers were--well, 'inaccurate,' to say the least. I had
to word them very carefully, though, or the fellow would have caught me
out. He suspected that I might be misleading him, I think, for once or
twice he put questions which might have unmasked me if I had not been on
my guard when answering them. Really we pitted our brains and cunning
against each other's all the time, and, if I may say so without
boasting, I think my cunning won."
"Then why were you not released?" I said.
"I was to have been, to-night--_so he said_. Do you think, though, he
would, whoever he was, have let me go after questioning me like that? He
said not a word about my not giving information to the police, or
warning the people he had questioned me about. Do you think he would
have let me go? I don't.
"Every day food and drink were left by me--set on a table within reach
of me, while the room was in inky blackness, for the man who had touched
me in the dark had also released my right arm and left it so. Several
times I tried to free my other arm, and my feet, but I couldn't manage
it. I have been lying here with both feet and one arm bound for four
nights and three days, to my knowledge, without seeing anybody, and, of
course, without shaving or washing. I can't tell you what these days and
nights have been like--they have been like a long, awful nightmare;
even the house has all the time been as still as death. My God, what a
relief it was to hear the door bell ringing this afternoon, and the
knocker going as though the place was on fire!
"And when the police did force an entrance it seems they found nobody
Women are extraordinary--a platitude, of course, for everybody who has
mixed with women and who possesses a gleam of intelligence knows that
they are extraordinary, just as he knows, or ought to know, that if they
were not _bizarre_ and mystifying, complex and erratic, they would be
less insidiously captivating than they are.
There are, however, exceptions to most rules--some misguided _savant_ of
a bygone epoch formulated a maxim which says that "the exception proves
the rule," obviously an absurd statement, for if one man has no nose on
his face it is no proof that all other men have noses on theirs. Aunt
Hannah constituted an exception to the rule that women are rendered
additionally attractive through being extraordinary. Had she been less
extraordinary she would have been more lovable. As it was she came near,
at this time, to being the reverse of lovable, or so it struck me when,
upon my endeavour to talk calmly and rationally to her after hearing all
that Jack Osborne had just told us, and striving to induce her to listen
to reason, she remained prejudiced, illogical.
I should not have cared a button, naturally, had it not been for Dulcie
and the estrangement between us that the foolish old lady's behaviour
created. Dulcie thought no end of her aunt, respected her views and
sentiments--she had been brought up to do so, poor child--and, I knew,
really loved her. "Well," I said to myself tartly, "she will now have to
choose between Aunt Hannah and me," and feeling cock-sure, after all
that had occurred between us, that I should be the favoured one and that
Aunt Hannah would be metaphorically relegated to the scrap-heap, I
decided to approach Dulcie at once.
No, first I must see the original of that telegram, I reflected.
Accompanied, therefore, by the police officer, I made my way to the post
office in Regent Street. Having explained that I wanted to see the
original of the telegram "because," as I said, "I think a mistake has
been made in transcribing it," I was presently confronted by the
postmaster, a most courteous, obliging person.
"Why, certainly," he said, when I had repeated my untruth. "You shall
see it at once."
I waited in anxious expectancy, chatting lightly with the policeman,
while the postmaster looked through the file of the day's messages.
"This is it, I think," he said presently--we were in his private room.
"But," he went on, glancing from the message that had been sent to the
original, "your original message is unsigned. Is that the alleged
mistake of which you complain?"
"Unsigned!" I exclaimed, taking both papers from him. "Why yes, so it
is! Then how does that message that was sent off come to be signed?"
The original message was type-written. The wording was exactly the same
as that in the telegram received, with this exception--the telegram
received was signed "Michael Berrington," the typed message had no
"How do you account for this discrepancy?" I asked quickly.
"If you will kindly wait a moment," he answered, "I will inquire into
He left the room. The policeman, to whom I had handed both messages,
was still contemplating them with a look of perplexity in his round
eyes, when the postmaster returned, bringing with him an
"This," he said, "is the young lady who transmitted the message."
I am afraid I smiled. How long, I wonder, will post-office assistants,
and shop girls, bar tenders, and others continue to be "young ladies,"
while ladies in the correct sense of the word never think, when talking
of one another, of using terms more distinctive and dignified than
"girl" and "woman"?
"Do you remember my sending this telegram this morning?" I asked,
looking her full in the eyes.
"I remember taking in the message, but I'm afraid I don't remember your
face, sir," she answered nervously, evidently afraid that I was about to
get her into trouble. "You see, we see so many people, and most of them
only for a few moments. I recall rather clearly taking in that message,
because it was typed, which most telegrams are not. And--and I thought
it was handed in by a lady, and not by a gentleman. In fact I feel sure
it was. Was it really you who gave it to me to send off?"
"No, it was not," I answered quickly. "A lady? Can you remember what she
"I can. She was, I think, really the most beautiful lady I have ever
seen. She was quite tall, as tall as a man, and she had a lovely figure.
It did seem to set off her beautiful clothes so well. Then her face was
lovely too--long, dark eyebrows she had, if I remember rightly, and her
eyes were large. Oh, and she had a lot of auburn hair--red you might
almost call it--I don't know which it was really, but I never saw
"Good!" I exclaimed.
I turned to the policeman.
"She has described beyond doubt a woman I know; a woman you will
probably soon know something about too."
"Indeed, sir?" he said, interested.
"But about this signature," I went on, again addressing the operator.
"How does this telegram you sent off come to be signed if the original
was not signed?"
"It was signed, sir. It must have been. Otherwise the name wouldn't have
been telegraphed. Ah--I remember!"
"The signature was in pencil. Just after the telegram had been
despatched, the lady came in again and asked if she might see the
message again just for a moment--she was not sure if she had said
something she had meant to say, she said. I got it and gave it to her,
and a moment or two afterwards she gave it back to me, thanking me very
much for having let her see it. She must have rubbed off the signature
then. She could do it easy with a damp finger. Of course, I ought to
have looked, but I didn't think to."
"I think we have now solved the mystery--in part," I exclaimed
triumphantly. "This is some abominable conspiracy, and I am going to get
to the bottom of it. My name was evidently signed, telegraphed, and then
After thanking the postmaster for his extreme courtesy and for the
trouble he had taken, and impressing upon him that under no
circumstances was the bright-eyed little operator to be censured, or
allowed to get into any trouble, I returned with the policeman, who was
now quite apologetic, to the house in Grafton Street. The door was
locked. A constable standing by, however, told us that Osborne and
Easterton had driven away together in a car--"his lordship's car, which
his lordship had telephoned for," he said, and that "the two ladies had
gone to the Ritz for tea"--he had heard them say, as they walked away,
that they were going there.
Alone I followed them. I know my way about the Ritz as though I lived
there, being there so often with friends, and I soon found Aunt Hannah
and Dulcie. They were alone in a cosy private tea-room leading out of
one of the large rooms which is but seldom used, having tea.
I saw Aunt Hannah stiffen as I approached. I saw too--and this disturbed
me far more--that Dulcie had been weeping. Her eyes were still
"What do you wish, Mr. Berrington?" Aunt Hannah inquired starchily,
sitting bolt upright in her chair as I approached.
I detest the use of the word "wish" in place of "want"; I don't know
why, but I always associate it with prim, prudish, highly-conventional
"I have come to explain everything, and to set your mind at rest," I
said, trying to speak lightly, and intentionally saying "mind" instead
of "minds," for I did not want Dulcie to suppose that I thought she
shared her aunt's grotesque belief in this matter--the belief that I
actually had sent that hateful telegram.
"I hope you will succeed," Aunt Hannah observed, then shut her lips
She did not offer me a cup of tea, but I feigned not to notice this
paltry affront, and proceeded briefly to relate what had just taken
place at the post office. At last, when I had, as I thought, completely
cleared my character, I stopped speaking. To my surprise the old lady
remained as unbending as ever.
"I don't know why I've gone to the trouble of telling you all this," I
said, hiding the mortification I felt, "but you see, at any rate, that I
_had_ an explanation to offer, though I grant you that at present it can
only be a partial one. That is no fault of mine, however."
"'Partial'--yes, it certainly is that," muttered the old lady.
Aunt Hannah has small green eyes, and they seemed to snap. She still sat
up stiffly, her entire aspect rigid.
"This," I thought, "is the limit. Decidedly the moment of battle has
arrived"--indeed, the initial encounter had already taken place. I don't
mind confessing that my spirit quailed--for an instant. Then, realizing
that I was "up against it," my courage returned. My engagement to Dulcie
hung in the balance. I must face the music.
Perhaps at first I overdid it, but something is to be conceded to
nervousness. Aunt Hannah kept tapping her teaspoon against her saucer
with nervous little taps. The constant "small noise" was very
irritating. Determined to stop it, I leant suddenly forward across the
little table, till my face was close to Aunt Hannah's. Anger boiled in
my heart. Sympathy for Dulcie rose up and flooded my mind. Though I
allowed my most charming "boudoir" smile to overspread my face, it was
all I could do not to seize hold of that old lady and shake her.
Inwardly I craved to grasp her lean wrists in a firm grip, and force her
to listen to reason. "A dear" Dulcie had sometimes called her. "A dear"
she might be when in a nice mood, but in the peevish vein she was now
in, her obstinacy held a particularly maddening quality.
"You know," I said, still smiling hypocritically, "you are really
_trying_ to disbelieve me now. You are trying to make mischief between
Dulcie and me--and you enjoy it," and I glanced in the direction of my
darling, whose eyes were shining strangely. "Why don't you answer?" I
went on, as Aunt Hannah remained silent; I could hear her gulping with
rage. At last she spoke:
"What impudence--what unwarrantable impudence!" The words were shot from
between her teeth. "You--you dare to speak to me like this--you--you--"
"After all, Miss Challoner," I cut in, "it's true. I no more sent that,
or any telegram, to Dulcie than I am flying over the moon at this
moment. And if you still disbelieve me, at least tell me why. Yes, I
must know. Don't evade an answer. You have something else in your mind,
I can see that, and I am not going to rest until I know what that
"Oh, you very rude young man," she burst out. "Yes, you shall know what
it is! If, as you say, the telegram was not sent by you--and I suppose I
must believe you--why was it not sent to Sir Roland? Such a telegram
should have been sent to him, and not to his daughter--if the stolen
property had been found, it was for him to come to Town, or even for me
to, but certainly it was not Dulcie's place to go gallivanting about in
London. Now, I maintain it was sent to Dulcie because the sender knew
Sir Roland to be away from home--and who, but you, knew him to be away?
He left only yesterday, and he should return to-night. You knew
because, so my niece tells me, she told you in a letter that he was to
leave home for a day."
"My niece!" Really, Aunt Hannah was qualifying for _opéra bouffe!_ Just
then she knocked her spoon so loudly against her cup that it
"Don't worry, Dulcie," I said, seeing how distressed she looked. "You
believe I didn't send it, anyway--I don't mind what anybody else
thinks," I added spitefully. "The mystery will be cleared up sooner or
later, and 'he laughs longest ...' you know the rest. Only one thing I
wonder," I ended, again facing Aunt Hannah, "if you thought that, why
did you bring Dulcie up to town? Why didn't you leave her at Holt, and
come up alone?"
"I will tell you why," she snapped back. "Because, wilful and
disobedient as she has always been, she refused to stay at Holt and let
me come up alone."
Dulcie looked at me without answering, and I read love and confidence in
her eyes. That was all I really cared to know, and the look afforded me
I felt there was no good purpose to be served by remaining there longer,
so after shaking hands warmly with Dulcie--to the manifold disapproval
of Aunt Hannah, who stared at me frigidly and barely even bowed as I
took my leave--I sauntered out into Piccadilly.
My thoughts wandered. They were not, I must say, of the happiest.
Obviously there was an enemy somewhere--it might be enemies. But who
could it be? Why should I have, we have--for Dulcie suffered equally--an
enemy? What reason could anyone have for wishing to make Dulcie, or me,
or any of the Challoners, unhappy? Everybody I knew who knew them seemed
to love them, particularly the tenantry. Sir Roland was looked up to
and respected by both county people and villagers for miles around Holt
Stacey, while Dulcie was literally adored by men and women alike, or so
I believed. True, old Aunt Hannah sometimes put people out owing to her
eccentricities and her irascible temper, but then they mostly looked
upon her as a rather queer old lady, and made allowances for her, and
she had not, I felt sure, an enemy in the country-side.
As for myself, well, I could not recollect ever doing any particularly
bad turn--I had my likes and dislikes among the people I knew,
naturally. Then suddenly a thought struck me--my engagement to Dulcie.
Could that be--
I smiled as I dismissed the thought--it seemed too grotesque. No; once
and for all I decided that the whole affair could have nothing to do
with any kind of personal animosity. Criminals were at work, desperate
criminals, perhaps, and Osborne and Dulcie and I had chanced to prove
very useful as pawns in some scheme of theirs for securing plunder. I
glanced at my watch. It was just five o'clock. Concluding that Jack
Osborne must now be at his rooms, I drove to the Russell Hotel. Yes, he
particularly wanted to see me; would I please go up at once, the clerk
said when he had telephoned up my name and my inquiry if Mr. Osborne
were at home to anybody.
Easterton was with him still; a doctor was on the point of leaving as I
entered the room where Jack sat in his dressing-gown in a big chair,
drinking a cup of soup. Already he looked better, I thought, than when I
had seen him at the house in Grafton Street, barely two hours before.
After exchanging a few remarks with him, and being assured by Easterton
that the doctor had said that Jack might now see anyone he pleased, I
came straight to the question of the telegram, repeating to him almost
word for word what I had told Aunt Hannah.
For nearly a minute after I had stopped speaking he did not utter. He
appeared to be thinking deeply, judging by the way his brows were knit.
Then, suddenly looking straight at me, he said:
"Mike, I don't like this business--I don't like it at all. There's
something radically wrong about the whole thing. Now, look here, you
know that when I say a thing I mean it. Therefore I tell you this--I am
going to set to work, as soon as I have quite recovered from the
nightmare I have been through, to discover what is happening. I am going
to solve every detail of this mystery, and if there is some gang of
scoundrels at work committing burglaries and what not--because I feel
quite sure this affair is in some way connected with the robbery at
Holt--I am going to get them convicted. The doctor tells me I shall be
perfectly all right in a couple of days. I have nothing to do. You have
nothing to do. Will you join me in this attempt I am going to make to
track these men down? I hear it said that you are engaged to be married
to Dulcie Challoner. If that's so, then you should be even more anxious
than I am to get this gang arrested--the police say it must be a gang.
They have looted some thousands of pounds' worth of jewellery which
practically belonged to Dulcie Challoner. Think what it will mean to her
if through your efforts all that is restored to her. Besides, she will
think you a hero--I mean an even greater hero than she already considers
you, most likely; I confess I don't agree with her, old man. You are a
very good chap--but a hero? No. Say, then, will you help me in this
search? It may prove exciting too; on the other hand, it may not."
Jack's breezy manner and almost boyish enthusiasm appealed to me. After
all, I had, as he said, nothing on earth to do--I often wished I
had--and I was rather keen on anything that might lead to or savour of
adventure. Though I was engaged to Dulcie, there were family reasons why
the marriage could not take place at once, and then I thought again of
what Jack had just said about the stolen jewels--Dulcie was still
greatly upset at their loss, and there was even the possibility, I
thought with a smile, that if I were directly or indirectly responsible
for their recovery Aunt Hannah might eventually deign again to smile
upon me--which would, of course, give me great joy!
"Yes, old chap," I said, "I'll do anything you jolly well like. I'm sick
of doing nothing."
"First rate!" he answered. "Then that's settled. I've all sorts of ideas
and theories about the Holt Manor robbery and this affair of mine, and
that telegram to-day, and other things that have happened--some you know
about, some you don't. I have a friend who was for twenty years at
Scotland Yard--George Preston, wonderful chap, knows London upside-down
and inside-out, and now he's kicking his heels with nothing to do he'll
be only too glad to earn a bit. You might ring him up for me now, and
ask him to come here to-morrow."
Somebody knocked, and I went to the door, Jack having told me that he
did not want to see anybody likely to bore him.
It was only an hotel messenger. The clerk in the office had tried to
ring up the room, he said, but could get no answer. Turning, I saw that
Jack had forgotten to replace the receiver the last time he had spoken.
"What do you want?" I asked.
The messenger said that a "young gentleman" had just called. He wanted
to see "a Mr. Berrington" who was probably with Mr. Osborne.
"What about?" I said. "And didn't he give his name?"
"He wouldn't say what about, sir, though he was asked. He said it was
'most important.' He said to say 'Mr. Richard Challoner.'"
"Dick!" I exclaimed. "Good heavens, what is Dick doing up in London? Oh,
go down," I said to the messenger, "and send him up at once."
"It's Dick Challoner," I said, turning to Osborne and Easterton, "Sir
Roland's boy, the little chap I told you about who behaved so pluckily
when the thieves at Holt got hold of him. I wonder what _he's_ doing in
town, and why he wants to see me."
Then I sat down, lit a cigarette, and waited. I little suspected what an
amazing story I was about to hear.
Dick's face bore a broad grin as he entered the room. He looked
dreadfully mischievous. Assuming as serious an expression as I could
conjure, I said to him:
"Why, what's the meaning of this, Dick? How do you come to be in town?
Are you with Aunt Hannah?"
"It's all right--brother-in-law," he answered lightly. "No, I am not
with Aunt Hannah, nor is Aunt Hannah with me. I have come up on my own."
"'On your own'? What do you mean?"
"I'll tell you, but--won't you introduce me, Mike?"
"Easterton," I said, "this is Roland Challoner's boy, Dick. Jack, this
is the boy I told you about who was chloroformed by the thieves
Jack's eyes rested on Dick. Then he put out his hand.
"Come here, old chap," he said in his deep voice. For several moments he
held Dick's hand in his while he sat looking at him.
"Yes," he said at last, "I have heard about you--Dick. I heard about
what you did that day those men caught you. Keep that spirit up, my
boy--your family has never lacked pluck, if history is to be
trusted--and you'll become one of the kind of men England so badly
needs. What are you doing in London? Is your father with you?"
"No, I have come up on my own," Dick repeated. "I am going to tell Mike
why, in a moment. Are you Mr. Jack Osborne that Mike is always talking
to my sister about, who took Mike to that house--the house where the
"Yes, I am," Jack answered, laughing. "Why?"
"Oh, because my sister didn't like your taking Mike there, you know--she
didn't like it a bit. She and Mike are going to be married, you know,
and Mike is going to be my brother-in-law."
I pounced upon him to make him be quiet, though Easterton and Osborne
clamoured that he should be left alone and allowed to say anything he
liked, Jack declaring that he wanted to hear "more of this romance."
At last we all became serious, and then Dick said:
"I made a discovery this morning at Holt. There is someone hidden in the
old hiding-hole close to father's bedroom."
"Hidden in it!" I exclaimed. "Oh, nonsense!"
"Your telegram to Dulcie arrived at about half-past ten this morning,"
he went on, not heeding my remark, "and she and Aunt Hannah at once got
ready to go to town--I know what was in the telegram, because Dulcie
told me. About an hour after they were gone, I happened to go up to
father's bedroom to fetch something, and when I came out again I noticed
an odd sound--at first I couldn't think where it came from. It was like
someone breathing very heavily, someone asleep. I stood quite still, and
soon I found that it came from the priests' hiding-hole--you know it,
you have seen it. I went over on tip-toe, got into the angle where the
opening to the hole is, and pressed my ear down on the sliding board. I
could hear the sound quite well then--somebody breathing awfully
heavily. First I thought of sliding back the board and peeping in. Then
I decided I wouldn't do that until I'd got somebody else with me. I
noticed that the sliding board was unbolted--there is a little bolt on
the side of it, you know--so I very quietly pushed forward the bolt and
then went downstairs to look for James or Charles--that's the butler and
the footman, you know," he said to Jack. "Cook told me they had both
gone into Newbury for the day, and of course father's chauffeur was out
with the car--he had taken Aunt Hannah and Dulcie to Holt Stacey to
catch the train to London, and I knew that he would take a day off too,
because he always does when he gets the chance--father isn't expected
back until to-night. So then I went to try to find Churchill, or one of
the other gardeners--goodness knows where they were hiding themselves.
Anyway, I couldn't find them, nor could I find either of the keepers; in
fact, I seemed to be the only man on the place."
"Well, go on," I said, as he paused. "You were the only man on the
place. What did the only 'man' do then?"
"I'll tell you if you'll wait a moment--my brother-in-law is always so
beastly impatient," he said, turning again to Jack. "Don't you find him
like that, Mr. Osborne?"
"I do--always. But go on, old boy, I'm very interested."
"And so am I," Easterton laughed.
"Of course, it was no use telling cook or the maids; they'd have got
what cook calls 'styricks' or something, so then it suddenly struck me
the best thing for me to do would be to come right up to town and find
Aunt Hannah and tell her. I knew where she'd be, because you'd said in
your telegram--four hundred and thirty Grafton Street. I didn't know
where Grafton Street was, but I thought I could find out--I borrowed
money from cook for the railway ticket, though I didn't tell her what I
wanted it for, or she wouldn't have given it to me, and directly after
lunch I bicycled to Holt Stacey station and caught the train.
"I got to Grafton Street all right by a 'bus down Bond Street. There was
a policeman standing near the house in Grafton Street, and when I rang
the bell he came up and asked me what I wanted. I told him, and he said
he thought I'd find 'the two ladies I wanted' at the Ritz Hotel. I knew
where that was, and he showed me the way to get to it, down Dover
Street--of course, if I'd had money enough I'd have taken taxis and got
about much quicker. A giant in livery at the Ritz Hotel told me that
'two ladies answering to the description of the ladies I sought' had
left the hotel about a quarter of an hour before I got there, and he
didn't know where they had gone. Then I went to Brooks's to see if you
were there, but you weren't, though they said you'd been there. That put
the lid on it. I didn't know what to do, and I'd only got tenpence
ha'penny left. I was awfully hungry, so I went and had tea and buns at
the A.B.C. shop at Piccadilly Circus. While I was having tea I
remembered hearing you tell Dulcie that Mr. Osborne lived at the Russell
Hotel. I'd have telephoned to Mr. Osborne and explained who I was and
asked him if he could tell me where I could find you, and I'd have
telephoned too to your flat in South Molton Street to ask if you were
there, but I'd got only fivepence ha'penny left after tea, and you might
both have been out and then I'd have had only a penny-ha'penny and
Paddington seemed an awfully long way to walk to, and I wasn't quite
sure of the way, so I'd have had to keep asking, and that's such a
bore, isn't it?
"So after tea I got on to the tube and came here and asked for Mr.
Osborne. The man downstairs told me 'two gentlemen were with him,' and I
asked him what they were like. He told me as well as he could, and I
guessed from the description one of them must be you, and then just
after the messenger had come up to ask if it was you and to tell you I
was there, another hotel man turned up downstairs, and I talked to him,
and he said he knew a Mr. Berrington was with Mr. Osborne because he,
the man, had telephoned up your name a little while before, and Mr.
Osborne had said to show you up. And so here I am, and that's all."
He stopped abruptly, breathless after his long talk, which had been
delivered without an instant's pause.
"For your age you seem fairly intelligent," Jack said, with a look of
"Yes, fairly," Dick retorted. "But my brother-in-law says that 'when he
was my age' the world was a much better and finer place, that the boys
did wonderful things--'when he was my age.' He says, for instance, that
he talked Latin and Greek and German and French and one or two other
languages just as you talk English, Mr. Osborne, 'when he was my age'--
funny how he has forgotten them all, isn't it? My sister told me only
yesterday that Mike talks French fluently, but that his German 'leaves
much to be desired.' Those were her words. Were all the boys wonderful
when you were my age too, Mr. Osborne, can you remember? Another thing
Mike says is that 'when he was my age' all boys were taught to swim by
being taken to the ends of piers and flung into the sea--Mike says he
was taught like that just as the rest were, and that he jolly well had
to swim or he'd have been drowned, which seems pretty obvious, doesn't
it, when you come to think of it? When did the fashion of teaching boys
to swim like that go out, Mr. Osborne? I'm jolly glad it has gone out."
When I had succeeded in checking Dick's flow of talk and quelling his
high spirits, and had questioned him further with regard to the man he
declared to be in hiding at Holt--though without my being able to obtain
from him any further information--I turned to Jack.
"What do you make of it?" I said. "What do you suggest ought to be
"I think," he answered after a moment's pause, "that it affords an
excellent excuse for you to run down to Holt to-night."
"Oh, good!" Dick exclaimed, jumping with excitement. "And there's a
train at a quarter to seven that we can catch; it gets to Holt Stacey at
five minutes to eight."
Jack glanced up at the clock.
"In three quarters of an hour's time," he said. "That will suit you,
Mike, and you'll be glad, I know, of the excuse to go down to Holt to
see the flowers and--and things. Don't think I suppose for a moment that
you want to see either Dulcie Challoner or the old lady you call 'Aunt
Hannah,' but still if you should see them, and of course you will--"
"Oh, he'll see them right enough," Dick burst out, "especially my
sister. There aren't any flies on my brother-in-law, you bet!"
I boxed Dick's ears, but he didn't seem to mind. Perhaps I didn't box
them very hard, for instead of howling as he ought to have done, he
looked up at me sharply and exclaimed:
"Then you're coming down to Holt now! Hooray! We'll go down
together--how ripping! I'll telephone to say you're coming, and say to
get your room ready," and he sprang across to the instrument by
I stopped him, gripping him by the shoulder, though not before
he had pulled off the receiver and called through to the
"You'll do nothing of the sort," I said, "and look here, Dick, you are
in Mr. Osborne's rooms, and not in your own play-room, so don't
I felt greatly preoccupied as the train sped down to Berkshire--anxious,
too, about many things, not the least of these being how I should be
received. Would Sir Roland have returned? Would Aunt Hannah have told
him everything? If so would he have adopted her view with regard to the
sending of that telegram, and with regard to other matters? And Dulcie,
would she at last have come to think as Aunt Hannah thought? I could not
believe she would have, but still--
As I have said, women are so extraordinary, that there is no knowing
what they may not do, no accounting for what they may do.
Knowing there would be no conveyance obtainable at Holt Stacey, I had
decided to go on to Newbury. On our alighting at Newbury I suddenly
heard Dick's shrill voice calling:
"Why, Mike, there's father!"
Sir Roland had just got out of a compartment further up the train, and
soon we were in conversation. He too had come from London, but whereas
Dick and I had only just caught the train, Sir Roland had, he said,
entered it as soon as it came into the station, which accounted for our
not having seen him at Paddington. As we walked along the Newbury
platform I explained to him very briefly the reason I had come down, and
how it was I had Dick with me, inwardly congratulating myself upon my
good fortune in thus meeting Sir Roland and so being able to explain
everything to him concerning what had happened that day, before he
should meet his sister and hear what she would tell him.
"It was only at the last moment I decided to come by this train," Sir
Roland said as he entered the taxi that a porter had hailed, and I
followed him, while Dick hopped in after us. "How tiresome it is one
can't get a conveyance at Holt Stacey; people are for ever complaining
to me about it. As I have not telegraphed for the car to meet me I had
to come on to Newbury."
"I came to Newbury for the same reason," I said; and then, as the taxi
rolled swiftly along the dark lanes, for we had a twelve miles' run
before us, I gave Sir Roland a detailed account of all that had happened
that day, from the time Easterton had rung me up at my flat to tell me
of Jack Osborne's disappearance and to ask me to come to him at once,
down to the sudden and unexpected arrival of Dick at Jack's rooms at the
Sir Roland was astounded, and a good deal perturbed. Several times
during the course of my narrative he had interrupted in order to put
some question or other to Dick. At first he had reproved him for going
to London on what Dick called "his own"; but when I told him more he
admitted that what the boy had done he had done probably for the best.
"Oh, I haven't told you one thing," Dick suddenly interrupted.
"Well, what?" Sir Roland asked.
"While I was on my way to Holt Stacey this morning, Mrs. Stapleton
passed me in her car. I was on that part of the road, about a mile from
the lodge, where if you look round you can see a long bit of the avenue.
I wondered if Mrs. Stapleton were going to Holt by any chance, so I
bicycled rather slowly for a minute or two, and looked round once or
twice. I had guessed right, because all at once I saw her car going up
"Are you sure it was Mrs. Stapleton?" I asked, suddenly interested.
"Oh, quite. But I don't think she saw me, her car went by so fast."
"Was anybody with her?"
"No, she was alone--the chauffeur was driving."
"And the car that went up the drive, are you sure it was the same?"
"Positive--that long grey car of hers, I'd know it anywhere; you can
recognize it ever so far away."
We were half a mile from the lodge, now. Soon we had shot through the
open gates, and were sliding up the splendid avenue. I felt intensely
excited, also happier than when in the train, for I knew I now possessed
Sir Roland's entire confidence. Delicious was it to think that in a few
minutes I should see Dulcie again, but what excited me--and I knew it
must be exciting Sir Roland too--was the thought of that man--or would
it prove to be a woman?--lying concealed in the hiding-hole. Who could
he be? How long had he been there? How had he got there and what could
he be doing?
I had told Sir Roland of the false conclusion Aunt Hannah had come to
with regard to the sending of that typed telegram, and how bitterly she
had spoken to me about it--I had thought it best to prepare him for the
absurd story that I felt sure Aunt Hannah would proceed to pour into his
ear directly she met him. To my relief he had laughed, appearing to
treat the matter of her annoyance and suspicion as a joke, though the
sending of the telegram he looked upon, naturally, as a very grave
matter. Consequently, upon our arrival at Holt, instead of inquiring for
his sister, and at once consulting her upon the subject of the day's
events, as he would, I knew, have done under ordinary circumstances, he
told Charles, the footman, to send the butler to him at once, and to
return with him.
We were now in the little library--Sir Roland and myself, Dick, the
butler and the footman, and the door was shut. Without any preliminaries
Sir Roland came straight to the point. He told the two servants of
Dick's discovery that morning, told them that presumably the man was
still in hiding where Dick had bolted him down, and that the four of us
were at once going, as he put it, "to unearth the scoundrel."
"And you will stay here, Dick," Sir Roland added. "We shall not need
your services at this juncture."
Dick was, I could see, deeply disappointed at, as he put it to me in an
undertone, "being side-tracked like this by the guv'nor when it was I
who marked the beggar to ground "; but his father's word was law, and
he knew it.
"Never mind, my dear old chap," I said, as I noticed a slight quiver of
the under lip, "directly we've unearthed him and got him safely bagged
I'll come and tell you what he looks like and all about him. You see,
your father doesn't want to run unnecessary risk--you're the only boy
he's got, and this man may be armed. You would be annoyed if the fellow
were to make holes in you, and I should be vexed too; greatly vexed."
Dick laughed at that, and when, a minute later, we left him, he was
happier in his mind.
No sound was audible as we stood above the priests' hole, listening
intently. This hiding-place was oddly situated, and ingeniously
constructed. In an angle formed by two walls with old oak wainscoting
was a sliding floor--in reality it was a single board, but it was made
to resemble so exactly several boards set parallel and horizontally that
none could believe it to be a single board unless they were shown.
Immediately beneath was a room, or closet, not much bigger than a very
large cupboard, which could accommodate three men standing, or two
seated. In olden days this sliding board was covered with tapestry, and
being made in such a way that, when stamped upon or struck, no hollow
sound was emitted, it formed a safe place of concealment for any
outlawed person for whom the emissaries of the law might be in search.
To this day the board slides away into the wall as "sweetly" as it did
in the days of the Reformation; but Sir Roland, owing to an accident
having once occurred through someone leaving the hole uncovered, had
affixed a small bolt to the board and given orders that this bolt should
always be kept pushed into its socket.
When we had all stood listening for fully a minute, Sir Roland said
"Charles, draw the bolt and slide back the board--get back, James!" he
exclaimed sharply to the butler, who in his anxiety to see what would be
revealed was bending forward.
"D'you want to be shot? Whoever the man may be he is pretty sure to be
An instant later the board had vanished into the wall, and Sir Roland
stood peering down exactly as he had warned his butler not to do.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed.
Casting prudence aside, we all pressed forward and looked down into the
hole. Huddled in a heap at the bottom was a man in hunting kit--white
breeches, top boots and "pink" coat. Sitting along the floor, he was
bent almost double, so that we could not see his face.
"Hello!" Sir Roland called out, "who are you? What are you doing there?"
But the figure didn't move.
At one end of the hiding-hole a ladder was nailed vertically. The feet
of the man touched its lowest rung. Turning, Sir Roland began carefully
"Let me, sir!" the butler exclaimed excitedly, "let me--it's not
safe--he may attack you, sir!"
Without answering Sir Roland continued to clamber down. Now he stood
upon the floor of the hiding-hole, at the foot of the figure. We saw him
stoop, raise the man's head, and bend the body upward until the back
rested against the other end of the hole.
An exclamation escaped us simultaneously. The face was that of a man of
twenty-seven or so, though the stubbly beard and moustache, apparently a
week's growth or more, at first gave the idea that he was much older.
The eyes were closed and sunken. The mouth gaped. The face was deathly
pale and terribly emaciated.
"By Gad!" gasped Sir Roland, as he took hold of the wrist and felt for
the pulse. "My Gad, I think he's dead!"
NARRATES A CONFESSION
Half an hour later the man found in the hiding-hole lay upon a bed in
one of the spare rooms.
Though not dead, he had, when discovered, been in the last stage of
exhaustion. The doctor telephoned for had at once discovered that what
we already suspected was true--the man's left ankle was very badly
sprained. It must, he said, have been sprained ten or twelve days
previously. In addition, the man was almost like a skeleton.
"You found him not an hour too soon," the doctor said when, after
completing his diagnosis, and giving instructions concerning the
treatment of his patient to the nurse who had just arrived, he rejoined
us in the smoking-room downstairs. "He is in a state of complete
collapse. For days he has evidently not touched food."
He looked at us in turn with an odd expression as he said this. He was
clearly mystified at finding a man at Holt Manor dying of starvation--a
starving man dressed for the chase, a man obviously of refinement, and
undoubtedly to be described as a gentleman.
Sir Roland decided under the circumstances to tell the doctor
everything: how the man's presence had been discovered by Dick, how we
had afterwards found him lying upon the floor of the hiding-hole,
apparently dead, and how, with the help of ropes, we had finally pulled
him out. The doctor had, of course, heard of the robbery at Holt nearly
a fortnight before, and he at once put two and two together.
For two days the stranger quivered between life and death. Two nurses
were in constant attendance, and the doctor called frequently. It was on
the afternoon of the third day that he expressed a desire to talk to Sir
Roland; he had, until then, been allowed to speak only a word or two.
He wanted, he said, "to speak with Sir Roland alone"; but to this Sir
Roland would not agree.
"If you want to speak to me, you can speak quite freely before this
gentleman," he said; I was in the room at the time.
At first the man seemed distressed, but at last, finding that Sir Roland
would make no concession, he said in a weak voice:
"I'm dying, Sir Roland, I feel it, and before I go there are things I
should like to say to you--things that it may be to your advantage
His voice, I noticed, had in it the _timbre_ peculiar to the voices of
men of education.
"Say anything you like," Sir Roland answered coldly.
"You have been exceedingly kind to me: there are men who, finding me in
concealment as you found me, and after what has happened in this house,
would at once have called in the police. You may believe me or not, but
I am extremely grateful to you. And I want to show my gratitude in the
only way I can."
He paused for nearly a minute, then continued:
"Sir Roland, I will tell you as much as I am justified in telling about
the robbery; but first, has anybody concerned in it been arrested?"
Sir Roland shook his head.
"Nobody--as yet," he answered. "The police have not discovered even the
"I and another were in your bedroom when your son suddenly sprang from
behind the screen," the stranger went on. "Again you may believe me or
not, but I tried to prevent my companion from doing him any injury. It
was I who put the chloroform on the boy, but I did him no other harm, I
I saw Sir Roland's eyes blaze. Then, as his glance rested upon the
stranger's starved, almost ashen face--it seemed to be gradually
growing livid--the sternness of his expression relaxed.
"How came you to be in hiding here?" he asked abruptly. "How many
accomplices had you?"
"Seven," the stranger replied, without an instant's hesitation. "The
robbery was carefully planned; it was planned so carefully that it
seemed without the bounds of possibility that it could fail to succeed.
I and others were at your hunt breakfast--"
"Were your accomplices all men?" I interrupted sharply.
The man's stare met mine. He looked at me with, I thought, singular
"They were not," he answered quietly. He turned again to Sir Roland.
"Just after your son had been rendered unconscious, I had the misfortune
to slip up on the polished floor and sprain my ankle badly. No sooner
did my companion realize what had happened, than he snatched from me all
the stolen property I held, in spite of my endeavour to prevent him,
then emptied my pockets, and left me. Dismayed at being thus
deserted--for unless I could hide at once I must, I knew, quickly be
discovered--I crawled out of the room on all fours, and along the
landing as far as the angle where the hiding-place is. The hole was
open--we had opened it before entering your room, lest we might be
surprised and suddenly forced to hide. Almost as I reached it I heard
somebody coming. Instantly I scrambled down and slid the board over
"How came you to know of the existence and the whereabouts of the
hiding-hole at all?" Sir Roland inquired, eyeing the stranger
"That I do not wish to tell. I hoped ultimately to be rescued by my
accomplices, and for that reason I made no sound which might have
revealed my presence. My ankle had swollen considerably, and, confined
in my riding-boot, which I couldn't pull off, it gave me intense pain.
To clamber out unaided was consequently an impossibility; so there I
lay, slowly starving, hoping, night after night, that my accomplices
would force an entrance into the house and rescue me, for my companion
who left me must have guessed where I was in hiding--we had agreed, as I
have said, to seek concealment in that hole should either of us be
driven to hide in order to escape detection."
"Was the man who deserted you the man who deliberately strained my boy's
arm by twisting it?" Sir Roland asked.
"What is his name?"
"Gastrell--Hugesson Gastrell, that's the name the brute is known by. He
always was a blackguard--a perisher! I shall refuse to betray any of the
others; they are my friends. But Hugesson Gastrell--don't forget that
name, Sir Roland. You may some day be very glad I told it to you--the
man of The Four Faces!"
He paused. He seemed suddenly to be growing weaker. As we sat there,
watching him, I could not help in a sense feeling pity for the fellow,
and I knew that Sir Roland felt the same. It seemed terrible to find a
man like this, quite young--he was certainly under thirty--a man with
the unmistakable _cachet_ of public school and university, engaged in a
career of infamy. What was his life's story I wondered as I looked at
him, noting how refined his features were, what well-shaped hands he
had. Why had he sunk so low? Above all, who was he? for certainly he was
no ordinary malefactor.
Suddenly he turned on to his back, wincing with pain as he did so; he
had been lying partly on his side.
"I can't betray my friends, Sir Roland," he murmured, "but believe me
when I say I am deeply grateful for your kindness to me. I was not
always what I am now, you know," his voice grew weaker still; "not
always an adventurer--a criminal if you will. Yes, I am a criminal, and
have been for many years; unconvicted as yet, but none the less a
criminal. I was once what you are, Sir Roland; I took pride in being a
gentleman and in calling myself one. Educated at Marlborough and at
Trinity--but why should I bore you with my story--eh, Sir Roland? Why
should I bore you with, with--ah! The Four Faces! The Four Faces!"
His eyes rolled strangely, then looked dully up at the ceiling. What did
he mean by "The Four Faces"? Did he refer to the medallion worn by
Gastrell? His mind was beginning to wander. He muttered and murmured for
a minute, then again his words became articulate.
"Jasmine--oh, Jasmine my darling, I love you so!"
"Jasmine, if only you would ... oh, yes, that is all I ask, all I want,
my darling woman, all I ... you remember it all, don't you? ... yes ...
oh, it was her fault ... he wouldn't otherwise have killed her ... oh,
no, discovery is impossible, the ... it was quite unrecognizable.... The
Four Faces--ha! ha! ... I myself saw it, black, charred beyond all hope
of recognition ... he did right to ... dear, I should have done
Between these scraps of sentences were words impossible to catch the
meaning of, so indistinctly were they uttered, some being said beneath
his breath, some muttered and inarticulate, some little more than
He moved restlessly on the bed. Then his eyes slowly closed, and for a
minute he lay still. And then, all at once, he seemed to spring back
"Mother!" he shouted suddenly in quite a strong voice.
He started up in bed, and now sat erect and still, his wide-stretched
eyes staring straight before him.
The nurse had, at Sir Roland's request, left the room before the
stranger had begun to speak to him. Now, opening the door quickly, Sir
Roland called to her to return.
The stranger's eyes were fixed. Motionless he sat there glaring, as it
seemed to us, at some figure facing him. Instinctively we followed the
direction of his gaze, but naught was visible to us save the artistic
pattern upon the pink-tinted wall-paper opposite the foot of the bed.
His lips were slightly parted, now. We saw them move as though he spoke
rapidly, but no words came. And then, all at once, he smiled.
"The Four Faces!" he repeated, almost inaudibly.
It was not a vacant smile, not the smile of a man mentally deficient,
but a smile charged with meaning, with intelligent expression; a smile
of delight, of greeting--a smile full of love. It was the first time we
had seen a smile, or anything approaching one, upon his face, and in an
instant it revealed how handsome the man had been.
This time the word was only murmured, a murmur so low as to be barely
audible. The fellow's pyjama jacket, one Sir Roland Challoner had lent
to him, had become unfastened at the throat, and now I noticed that a
thin gold chain was round his neck, and that from it there depended a
flat, circular locket.
Sir Roland was seated close beside the bed. Almost as I noticed this
locket, he saw it too. I saw him bend forward a little, and take it in
his fingers, and turn it over. I could see it distinctly from where I
sat. Upon the reverse side was a miniature--the portrait of a woman--a
woman of forty-five or so, very beautiful still, a striking face of
singular refinement. Yes, there could be no doubt whatever--the eyes of
the miniature bore a striking likeness to the stranger's, which now
gazed at nothing with that fixed, unmeaning stare.
I had noticed Sir Roland raised his eyebrows. Now he sat staring
intently at the miniature which lay flat upon the palm on his hand. At
last he let it drop and turned to me, while the stranger still sat
upright in the bed, gazing still at something he seemed to see
"I believe I have discovered his identity," Sir Roland whispered. "I
recognize the portrait in that locket; I couldn't possibly mistake it
seeing that years ago I knew the original well. It's a miniature of
Lady Logan, who died some years ago. Her husband, Lord Logan, was a
gambler, a spendthrift, and a drunkard, and he treated her with
abominable cruelty. They had one child, a son. I remember the son
sitting on my knee when he was quite a little chap--he couldn't at that
time have been more than five or six. He went to Marlborough, I know;
then crammed for the army, but failed to pass; and yet he was
undoubtedly clever. His father became infuriated upon hearing that he
had not qualified, and, in a fit of drunkenness, turned him with curses
out of the house, forbidding him ever to return, in spite of Lady
Logan's pleading on the lad's behalf. The lad had from infancy been
passionately devoted to his mother, though he couldn't bear his father.
The mother died soon afterwards--of a broken heart it was said--and Lord
Logan survived her only a few months, dying eventually of _delirium
tremens_. Upon his death the little money he left was swallowed up in
paying his debts. The son, whose name was Harold, didn't show up even at
the funerals--none knew where he was or what had become of him. It was
generally believed that he had gone abroad, and Logan's executors
thought it probable that the son had not had news of either his mother's
or his father's death. Altogether it was a very sad story and--"
He checked himself, for the stranger had turned his head and was looking
at us--never shall I forget the infinite pathos of his expression at
that moment. There was something in the face which betrayed misery and
dejection so abject that for days afterwards the look haunted me. Again
I saw the lips move, but no sound came.
He had sunk back upon his pillows. Once more his eyes gazed fixedly at
the ceiling. Some moments later the mouth gaped, the lips turned slowly
blue, a dull, leaden hue spread over the pale features.
The nurse hurried forward, but there was nothing to be done. Harold
Logan, Lord Logan's wastrel son, was dead.
CONCERNS MRS. STAPLETON
Ten days had passed since the events I have set down in the previous
chapter, and still no clue of any kind had been obtained to the robbers
at Holt, or the perpetrators of the outrage at the house in Grafton
Street. Nor, indeed, had any light been thrown upon the mystery of the
forged telegram, while the incident of the discovery of the charred body
of a murdered woman among the _débris_ of the house in Maresfield
Gardens destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve had, to all intents, been
In the firelight in a small room leading out of the large library,
Dulcie and I sat and talked. Perched on the broad arm of a giant padded
chair, swinging her small, grey-spatted feet to and fro, she glanced at
me moodily, replying in monosyllables to most of my remarks. Presently I
rose with a gesture of annoyance, and began to pace the floor.
It was not a comfortable atmosphere by any means--metaphorically. In
point of fact, Dulcie and I quarrelled.
We had quarrelled during our afternoon walk over the hard-frozen snow to
a neighbouring hamlet to take a deserving widow a can of soup, and old
"Captain" Barnacle in Wheatsheaf Lane a promising Christmas pudding.
The cause of our quarrel was a curious one. Though Aunt Hannah appeared
to have overcome her belief concerning the telegram she had felt so
certain I had sent, I felt that she was now prejudiced against me--why,
heaven only knew. Her manner towards me, as well as her expression, and
the way she spoke to me, all betrayed this. Women dislike being proved
to be in the wrong even more than men do, and the conclusion I had come
to was that Aunt Hannah would never forgive my having, in a sense, made
her eat her words and look ridiculous. It was on the subject of Aunt
Hannah, then, that Dulcie and I had begun our quarrel, for Dulcie had
stood up for her when I condemned her--that I condemned her rather
bitterly, I admit. From that we had presently come to talk of Mrs.
Stapleton, for whom Dulcie had suddenly developed a most extraordinary
On the morning that Dick, on his way to the station, had passed Mrs.
Stapleton in her car, Mrs. Stapleton had called at Holt and asked to see
Dulcie. At that moment Dulcie was in the train with Aunt Hannah, on her
way to London in response to the telegram. The widow had then asked to
see Aunt Hannah Challoner, and then Sir Roland.
Upon hearing that all three were absent from home, she had asked if she
might come into the house to write a note to Dulcie, and the maid who
had opened the door to her--the butler and footman having, as we know,
gone into Newbury--had politely but firmly refused to admit her,
declaring that she had orders to admit nobody whomsoever.
This refusal had apparently annoyed Mrs. Stapleton a good deal, and on
the same evening she had called again, and again asked to see Dulcie,
who by that time had returned. It was while she was alone with Dulcie
in her boudoir that Sir Roland and Dick and I had returned to Holt, and
that the stranger--whom we now knew to have been Lord Logan's son--had
been discovered in the hiding-hole. Mrs. Stapleton had remained with
Dulcie over an hour, and during that hour it was that she had apparently
cast the spell of her personality over Dulcie. It was on the subject of
this infatuation of Dulcie's that Dulcie and I had ended by quarrelling
"I won't hear a word said against her," Dulcie suddenly declared
impetuously, kicking her heel viciously against the chair. "I think she
is the most fascinating woman I have ever met, and the more you abuse
her the more I shall stand up for her--so there."
"Abuse her!" I answered irritably. "When did I abuse her? Repeat one
word of abuse that I have uttered against her. You know quite well that
I haven't said a syllable that you can twist into abuse. All I have said
is that I mistrust her, and that I think it a pity you should for ever
be metaphorically sitting on her skirts, as you have been during the
past few days."
"And you don't call that abuse?" Dulcie retorted. "Then tell me what you
do call it."