Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Middle of Things by J. S. Fletcher

Part 5 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"See him go out abaht an hour ago, guv'nor--wiv anuvver gent," said the
lad eagerly, his bright eyes wavering between Viner's face and the hand
which he had thrust in his pocket. He pointed to the distant entrance of
the yard. "Went aht that way, they did."

"Ah! And what was the other gentleman like?" asked Viner.

"Swell!" answered the informant. "Proper swell, he was!"

"And Dr. Martincole?" Viner continued. "You've seen him many a time, of
course. Now what's he like!"

"He's a tall gentleman," said the boy, after some evidently
painful thought.

"Yes, but what else--has he got a beard?" asked Viner.

"Couldn't tell you that, guv'nor, d'yer see," said the lad, "'cause he's
one o' them gents what allus wears a white silk handkercher abaht his
face--up to his eyes. But he's a big man--wears black clothes."

Viner gave the boy his promised reward, and was passing on when Miss
Wickham touched his arm.

"Ask if he's seen a lady go out this way," she said. "That's equally

The boy, duly questioned nodded his head.

"I see Mrs. Killerby go out not so long since," he answered. "Her what
used to live here one time. Know her well enough."

"Come along!" muttered Viner. "We've hit it! Mrs. Killerby--who is Mrs.
Killenhall--used to live here at one time! Good--which means very bad,
considering that without doubt the doctor who wears a white silk
handkerchief about his face is the muffled man of Lonsdale Passage. Miss
Wickham, something has alarmed these birds and they've flown."

"But why were we brought here?" asked Miss Wickham.

"I've an idea as to why you were," said Viner, "and I propose to find out
at once if I'm right. Let's get away, find a taxicab, and go to
your--but, good heavens!" he went on, breaking off as two men came into
the yard. "Here's one of Carless' clerks, and Perkwite the
barrister.--What are you doing here?" he demanded, as Millwaters and
Perkwite hurried up. "Are you after anybody along there--in that
house--the one at the end?"

"We're after a good many things and people in Dr. Martincole's place, Mr.
Viner," answered Millwaters. "Mr. Perkwite and I traced Mr. Cave here
early in the afternoon; he went in, but he's never come out; we saw you
enter--here you are. We saw Miss Wickham and Mrs. Killenhall--there's
Miss Wickham, but where's the other lady? And where--"

Viner stopped the clerk's questions with a glance, and he laughed a
little as he gave him his answer.

"My dear fellow," he said, "you should have posted somebody at the back
here. Why, we don't quite know yet, but Miss Wickham and myself were
trapped in there. As for Cave, he must be the man who went away with
Martincole. As for Mrs. Killenhall, she too has gone. That boy down there
saw all three go, some time ago, while we were locked up. But--what made
you watch these people?"

"We followed Cave," said Perkwite, "because Millwaters had been ordered
to do so, and because I considered his conduct mysterious. Then, when
we saw what was going on here,--your arrival following on that of Miss
Wickham and Mrs. Killenhall,--we telephoned for Mr. Carless and more
help. Carless and Lord Ellingham, and a couple of detectives, are at
the front now. Millwaters and I heard from a denizen of these unlovely
parts that there was a back entrance. We'd tried in vain for admittance
at the front--"

"But they've got in now, Mr. Perkwite!" exclaimed Millwaters suddenly.
"See, there's Mr. Carless at a back window, waving to us to come in. I
suppose we can get in by the back, Mr. Viner?"

"Yes--if you like to take the risk of entering people's houses without
permission!" said Viner sardonically. "I don't think you'll find anybody
or anything there. As for Miss Wickham and myself, we've an engagement

He hurried his companion away, through the street on which they emerged
from the whitewashed yard, and out into the Whitechapel Road; he hurried
her, too, into the first taxicab which came along empty.

"Now," he said, as they stepped in, "tell this man the name of your bank,
and let him go there, quick!"



Four o'clock had struck, and the doors of the bank were closed when Miss
Wickham and Viner hurried up to it, but there was a private entrance at
the side, and the man who answered their summons made no difficulty about
admitting them when Miss Wickham said who she was. And within a few
minutes they were closeted with a manager, who, surprised when they
entered, was astonished before many words had been exchanged. For during
their dash from the Whitechapel streets Viner had coached his companion
as to the questions he wished her to put on arrival at the bank, and she
went straight to the point.

"I wanted to know if my companion, Mrs. Killenhall, had called here this
afternoon?" begun Miss Wickham.

"She has," answered the manager. "I happened to see her, and I attended
to her myself."

"Did she present a check from me?" inquired Miss Wickham.

"Certainly--and I cashed it," said the manager. He gave his customer
and her companion a look of interrogation which had a good deal of
surprise in it. "Why?" he continued, glancing at Miss Wickham, "wasn't
it in order?"

"That," replied Miss Wickham, "depends upon the amount."

"The amount!" he exclaimed. "You know--if the drawer! It was for ten
thousand pounds!"

"Then Mrs. Killenhall has done me, or you, out of that," said Miss
Wickham. "The check I gave her was to have been filled up for the amount
of the usual weekly bills--twenty pounds or so. Ten thousand?

"But--it all seemed in order!" exclaimed the concerned manager. "She was
as plausible, and all that--and really, you know, Miss Wickham, we know
her very well--and, in addition to that, you have a very large balance
lying here. Mrs. Killenhall merely mentioned that you wanted this amount,
in notes, and that she had called for it--and of course, I cashed the
check--your check, remember!--at once."

"I hadn't filled in the amount," remarked Miss Wickham.

"Mrs. Killenhall had often presented checks bearing your signature in
which you hadn't filled in the amount," said the manager. "There was
nothing unusual, I assure you, in any detail of the affair."

"The most important detail, now," observed Viner dryly, "is to find Mrs.

The manager, who was obviously filled with amazement at Mrs. Killenhall's
audacity, looked from one to the other of his visitors, as if he could
scarcely credit their suggestion.

"You really mean me to believe that Mrs. Killenhall has got ten thousand
pounds out of Miss Wickham by a trick?" he asked, fixing his gaze at
last on Viner.

"What I really mean you to believe," said Viner, rising, "is that a
rapid series of events this afternoon has proved to me that Mrs.
Killenhall is one of a gang who are responsible for the murder of John
Ashton, who stole his diamond and certain papers, and who have
endeavoured, very cleverly, to foist one of their number, a scoundrelly
clever actor, on the public, as a peer of the realm who had been missing.
Mrs. Killenhall--who has another name--probably got wind of possible
detection about noon today, and took advantage of Miss Wickham's habit of
giving her a weekly check, to provide herself with ample funds. That's
really about the truth--and I think Miss Wickham and I had better be
seeing the police."

"The very best thing you can do!" responded the manager with alacrity.
"And take my advice and go straight to headquarters--go to New Scotland
Yard. Just think what this woman--and her accomplices--could do! If she
or they had one hour's start of you, they can have already put a good
distance between themselves and London; they can be halfway to Dover, or
Harwich, or Southampton. And therefore--"

"And therefore all the more reason why we should set somebody on their
trail," interrupted Viner, and hurried Miss Wickham out of the manager's
room and away to the taxicab which he had purposely kept in waiting. "I
don't think Mrs. Killenhall, or Killerby, or whatever her name is, will
have hurried away as quickly as all that," he remarked as they sped along
toward Whitehall. "My own idea is that, having got hold of your money,
she'll probably have made for the headquarters of this precious gang, she
and they are sure to have one, for I should say the place in Whitechapel
was only an outpost,--and they'll be better able to arrange an escape
from there than she would to make an immediate flight. She--but what are
you thinking?"

"That I seem to be involved, somehow, in a very strange and curious
combination of things," answered Miss Wickham.

"Just so!" agreed Viner. "So do I--and I was literally pitchforked into
the very midst of it all by sheer accident. If I hadn't happened to go
out for a late stroll on the night on which it began, I should never
have--but here we are!"

The official of the Criminal Investigation Department with whom
they were shortly closeted, listened carefully and silently to
Viner's account of all that bad happened. He was one of those
never-to-be-sufficiently-praised individuals who never interrupt and
always understand, and at the close of Viner's story he said exactly what
the narrator was thinking. "The real truth of all this, Mr. Viner," he
said, "is that this is probably one of the last chapters in the history
of the Lonsdale Passage murder. For if you find this woman and the men
who are undoubtedly her accomplices, you will most likely have found, in
one or other of them, the murderer of John Ashton!"

"Precisely!" agreed Viner. "Precisely!"

The official rose from his seat and turned to the door.

"Drillford, of your nearest police-station, had this case in charge," he
remarked. "I'll just call him on the telephone."

He left the room and was away for several minutes; when he returned
there was something like a smile on his face.

"If you and Miss Wickham will drive along and see Drillford, Mr. Viner,"
he said. "I think you'll find he's some news for you."

"Has he told it to you?" demanded Viner.

"Well--just a little," answered the official with another smile. "But
I won't rob him of the pleasure of telling you himself. You ought to
be disappointed. However, I'll just tell you enough to whet your
appetite for more--Drillford is confident that he's just arrested the
real man! No--no more!" he added, with a laugh. "You'll run up there
in twenty minutes."

Drillford, cool and confident as ever, was alone in his office when Viner
and his companion were shown in. He looked at Miss Wickham with
considerable curiosity as he handed her a chair, and Viner noticed that
the bow he made her was unusually respectful. But he immediately plunged
into the pertinent subject, and turned to Viner with a laugh of

"Well, Mr. Viner!" he said. "You were right, and I was wrong. It wasn't
that young fellow Hyde who killed Mr. Ashton. And now that I know who
did, I don't mind saying that I'm jolly glad that his innocence will be

"But do you know who did?" asked Viner eagerly.

"I do!" answered Drillford.

"Who, then?" exclaimed Viner.

"He's in the cells at the back, now," said Drillford, "and I only hope
he's not one of those chaps who are so clever that they can secrete
poison to the very last moment and then cheat the gallows, for now that I
know as much as I do, I should say he's as pretty a specimen of the
accomplished scoundrel as ever put on fine clothes. Dr. Cortelyon, of
your square!"

This sudden and surprising revelation, made in ordinary matter-of-fact
tones, produced different effects on the two people to whom it was made.
Viner, after a start and a smothered exclamation, stared silently at
Drillford as if he scarcely comprehended his meaning. But Miss Wickham,
with a quick flush which evidently denoted suddenly-awakened
recollection, broke into words.

"Dr. Cortelyon!" she exclaimed. "Ah--I remember now. Mr. Ashton once told
me, in quite a casual way as we were passing through the square, that he
had known Dr. Cortelyon in Australia, years and years ago!"

Drillford glanced at Viner and smiled.

"I wish you'd remembered that little matter before, Miss Wickham!" he
said. "It might have saved a lot of trouble. Well--Cortelyon's the man!
And it all came about quite suddenly, this afternoon. Through your aunt,
Mr. Viner--Miss Penkridge. Smart lady, sir!"

"My aunt!" exclaimed Viner. "Why, how on earth--"

"Some of your gentlemen had a conference with that fellow Cave at your
house, after you left court this morning," said Drillford. "Miss
Penkridge was present. Cave told more of his cock-and-bull story, and
produced a certain letter which he said had been handed to him at the
hotel he'd put up at. All that, and all the stuff he told at the
police-court, was bluff--carefully concocted by himself and Cortelyon in
case Cave was ever put in a tight corner. Now, according to what she
tells me, Miss Penkridge immediately spotted something about that letter
which none of you gentlemen were clever enough to see--"

"I know!" interrupted Viner. "She saw that the envelope and paper had
been supplied by Bigglesforth, of Craven Gardens, and that a certain
letter in the typewriter which had been used was defective."

"Just so," laughed Drillford, "and so, being, as I say, a smart woman,
she went round to Bigglesforth, got him to herself, and made some
inquiries. And--it's very queer, Mr. Viner, how some of these apparently
intricate cases are easily solved by one chance discovery!--she hadn't
been talking to Bigglesforth ten minutes before she was on the right
track. Bigglesforth, when he'd got to know the main features of the case,
was willing enough to help, and your aunt immediately brought him round
here to see me. And I knew at once that we'd got right there!"

"Yes--but how, exactly?" asked Viner.

"Bigglesforth," answered Drillford, "told me that he'd supplied
stationery to Dr. Cortelyon for some time, and he'd no doubt that the
paper and envelope described by Miss Penkridge was some which he'd
specially secured for the Doctor. But he told something far more
important: Six months ago Cortelyon went to Bigglesforth and asked him if
he could get him a good second-hand typewriter. Now, Bigglesforth had a
very good one for which he'd no use, and he at once sold it to Cortelyon.
Bigglesforth didn't mention the matter to his customer, for the machine
was perfect in all other respects, but one of the letters was
defective--broken. That was the same letter, Mr. Viner, which was
defective in the document which Cave showed to you gentlemen and spoke of
previously in court!"

"Extraordinary!" muttered Viner. "What a piece of luck!"

"No, sir!" said Drillford, stoutly. "No luck at all--just a bit of good
common-sense thinking on the part of a shrewd woman. But you'll want to
know what we did. I was so absolutely certain of the truth of Miss
Penkridge's theory that I immediately made preparations for a descent on
Cortelyon's house. I got a number of our best men--detectives, of
course--and we went round to Markendale Square, back and front. Inquiry
showed that Cortelyon was out, but we'd scarcely got that fact
ascertained when he drove up in a taxicab with Cave himself. They
hurriedly entered the house--I myself was watching from a good point of
vantage, and I saw that both men were, to say the least, anxious and
excited. Then I began to make final preparations. But before I'd finished
telling my men exactly what to do, another party drove up--your
companion, Miss Wickham, Mrs. Killenhall. She too entered. Then I
moved--quick Some of us went to the front--I with the others went in by
the back. We made straight for Cortelyon's surgery, and we were on him
and the other two before they'd time to move, literally. The two men
certainly tried to draw revolvers, but we were too many for 'em, and as
they'd tried that game, I had 'em handcuffed there and then. It was all
an affair of a moment--and of course, they saw it was all up. Now,
equally of course, Mr. Viner, in all these cases, in my experience, the
subordinates immediately try to save their own skins by denouncing the
principal, and it was so in this instance. Mrs. Killenhall and Cave at
once denounced Cortelyon as the mainspring, and the woman, who's a
regular coward, got me aside and offered to turn King's evidence, and
whispered that Cortelyon actually killed Ashton himself, unaided, as he
let him out of his back door into Lonsdale Passage!"

"So--that's settled!" exclaimed Viner.

"Yes, I think so," agreed Drillford. "Well, we brought 'em all here, and
charged 'em, and examined 'em. Nothing much on Cave, who, of course, is
precisely what Hyde said he was--a man named Nugent Starr, an old
actor--if he was as good a performer on the stage as he is in private
life, he ought to have done well. But on Mrs. Killenhall we found ten
thousand pounds in Bank of England notes, and one or two letters from
Cortelyon, which she was a fool for keeping, for they clearly prove that
she was an accessory. And on Cortelyon we'd a big find! That diamond that
Ashton used to carry about, the other ring that Ashton was wearing when
he was murdered, and--perhaps most important of all--certain papers which
he'd no doubt taken from Ashton's body."

"What are they?" demanded Viner.

Drillford glanced at Miss Wickham.

"Well," he said, "I've only just had time to glance at them, but I should
say that they effect Miss Wickham in a very surprising fashion, and I
shall be glad to hand them over to her solicitors as soon as they come
for them. They're birth certificates, burial certificates, marriage
certificates, and a complete memorandum of a certain case, evidently
written out with great care by Ashton himself. And of course, knowing
what I do now, it's very clear to me how Ashton's murder came about.
Cortelyon knew that if Ashton was out of the way, and he himself in
possession of the papers, he could use some, suppress others, and foist
off an accomplice of his own as claimant to a title which, from what I've
seen, appears without doubt to belong to--"

Drillford was again glancing at Miss Wickham, but Viner contrived to stop
any further revelations and got to his feet.

"Extraordinary!" he said. "But--my aunt? Where is she?"

"She remained here until we'd safely caged the birds," answered
Drillford. "Then she said she'd go home. And I suppose you'll find
her there."

Viner took his companion away from the police-station in silence. But at
the end of the street Miss Wickham looked back.

"Are those three people really locked up--in cells--close by where we
were sitting with the inspector?" she asked.

"Just so," answered Viner.

"And will they all be hanged?" she whispered.

"I sincerely hope one will!" exclaimed Viner.

"What," she inquired, "did the inspector mean about the papers found on
Dr. Cortelyon? I have some uneasy feeling that--"

"I think you 'd better wait," said Viner. "There 'll have to be some
queer explanations. We must let Mr. Pawle and Mr. Carless know of what's
happened--they're the proper people to deal with this affair."

And then, as they turned into Markendale Square, they saw Mr. Pawle and
Mr. Carless, who, with Lord Ellingham, were hurrying from Miss Wickham's
house in the direction of Viner's. Mr. Carless quickened his pace and
came toward them.

"I was so upset when I heard from Perkwite that Miss Wickham has been in
that house in Whitechapel," he said, "that, on learning she'd gone off
with you, Viner, Lord Ellingham and I drove to Pawle's and brought him on
here to learn if she'd got home and what had happened."

"What had happened?" demanded Mr. Pawle. "What is it, Viner?"

Viner gathered them round him with a look.

"This has happened!" he said. "The whole thing's solved. Ashton's
murderer is found, and he and his accomplices are under lock and key.
Listen, and I'll tell you all that's been done since one o'clock, up
here--while we've been at the other end of the town. But I 'll only give
you an outline. Well, then--"

The three men listened in dead silence until Viner had repeated
Drillford's story; then Mr. Pawle glanced round at the window of
Viner's house.

"Miss Penkridge, by all that's wonderful!" he said in a deep voice. "Most
extraordinary! Where is she?"

"At home, I should imagine," answered Viner with a laugh.

"Then, my dear sir, by all means let us pay our respects to her!" said
Mr. Pawle. "A tribute!"

"By all means!" exclaimed Mr. Carless. "A just tribute--richly

"I should like to add my small quota," said Lord Ellingham.

Viner led the way into his house and to the drawing-room. Miss
Penkridge, in her best cap, was calmly dispensing tea to the two Hyde
sisters, who were regarding her with obvious admiration. She looked
round on her nephew and the flood of callers as if to ask what most of
them were doing there. And Viner, knowing Miss Penkridge's peculiar
humour, rose to the occasion.

"My dear aunt," he said in a hushed voice, "these gentlemen, having heard
of your extraordinary achievement this afternoon, have come to lay at
your feet their united tribute of--"

Miss Penkridge shot a warning glance through her steel-rimmed spectacles.

"Don't talk nonsense, Richard!" she exclaimed sharply. "Ring the bell for
more cups and saucers!"



But Viner, instead of ordering the teacups, whispered a word or two to
Miss Penkridge, and then beckened Lord Ellingham and the two solicitors
to follow him out of the room. He silently led them to his study and
closed the door.

"Miss Wickham will be all right for a while under my aunt's care," he
said, with a smile that had a certain meaning in it which was not lost
on Mr. Pawle or on Mr. Carless, "but there are matters connected with
her which ought not to wait, even for ten minutes hanging round Miss
Penkridge's tea-table. Now, I have been thrown headlong into this case,
and like all the rest of you, I am pretty well acquainted with it. And I
take it that now that the murder of Ashton has been solved, the real
question is--what is the truth about the young lady who was certainly
his ward?"

"That is right!" exclaimed Mr. Pawle. "Carless--and Lord Ellingham--I am
sure, agree with me."

"Absolutely--as far as I'm concerned," asserted Mr. Carless. "His
Lordship will speak for himself."

Lord Ellingham answered Viner's smile with one equally frank.

"I don't know whether I'm Lord Ellingham or not!" he said. "I have had
considerable doubt on that point ever since our conference the other
day. But I will say this, gentlemen: I had some conversation with Miss
Wickham the other day, after we left your office, Mr. Carless, when she
was kind enough to allow me to escort her home, and--well, to be frank,
gentlemen, whether she is my cousin or not, I--to me an old-fashioned
phrase--desire her better acquaintance! And if she is my cousin, why,
then--the title is not mine but hers!"

The two lawyers exchanged significant glances.

"Admirably spoken, My Lord!" said Mr. Pawle. "Excellent!"

"It is just what I would have expected of his Lordship," remarked Mr.
Carless. "I have known His Lordship since he was first breeched! But I
believe Mr. Viner has something to say?"

"Yes--this," answered Viner. "Drillford found on Cortelyon the papers
which are missing from those which Ashton had evidently kept together
with a view to proving his ward's right to the title and estates. He is a
sharp, fellow, Drillford, and he told me just now that he had glanced
over those papers since Cortelyon's arrest, and he--well, I only just
stopped him from letting out to Miss Wickham who--if the papers and the
deduction to be drawn from them are correct--she really is. I am right
in supposing," he continued, suddenly interrupting himself, "that the
Ellingham title runs in the female as in the male line?"

"Quite right, Mr. Viner," said Mr. Carless. "Quite right. It does! I
believe I mentioned the other day that there has already been one
Countess of Ellingham in her own right. The male line came to an end at
one period--the daughter of the last male holder succeeded, and the man
whom she married took the family name of Cave-Gray, and their eldest son,
of course, succeeded on the death of his mother. Quite right, sir."

"Then," suggested Viner, "don't you think it would be advisable, rather
than that Lord Ellingham should be kept in suspense, that we should go
round to the police-station and inspect the documents? I don't know
whether Drillford will give them up until his prisoners have been brought
before the magistrate, but he said he would give them to the proper
persons eventually, and in any case he will show them to you three

"Good!" said Mr. Pawle. "Let us go at once--it is only a few
minutes' walk."

"And in the meantime," suggested Mr. Carless, "Miss Wickham might be
asked to remain here--under the wing of the excellent Miss Penkridge?"

Viner laughingly remarked that he had no doubt whatever that Miss
Penkridge would willingly assume this position of trust, and leading his
callers into the hall, left them for a moment while he returned to the
drawing-room. He was smiling when he returned.

"I think Miss Wickham will be safe for some time," he said. "Horrified as
she is at the conduct of the wicked Mrs. Killenhall, she is sufficiently
feminine to be taking a vast interest in my aunt's account of how she
brought off her wonderful stroke of genius this afternoon. So--shall we
go round?"

Drillford, found alone in his office, showed no surprise when Viner
brought in and introduced his companions. He already knew the two
lawyers, and exchanged comprehending words with them, but he looked at
Lord Ellingham with the same interest which Viner had seen in him when
Miss Wickham was present.

"Of course, you may see the whole lot, gentlemen," he said as he unlocked
the drawer. "I don't want you to take these things away now, though,
because we'd like to produce them when these people are brought up
tomorrow morning. But after they've been shown, I'll hand them over--and
in the meantime you can rely on it that they'll be taken care of--rather!
Well, now, here's the missing ring! Hyde, you know, admitted to picking
up one--this is the other, without doubt. And--there's the
fifty-thousand-pound diamond. Of course, Cortelyon robbed Ashton after
he'd killed him as a piece of bluff--what he wanted was these papers. He
evidently gave Cave, or Starr, his accomplice, certain of the papers, to
play the game with, but the really important ones he kept in his own
pocket, where I found 'em. There you are, gentlemen."

He handed over a stout linen-lined foolscape envelope to Mr. Carless, and
that gentleman, whose fingers trembled a little in spite of his
determined attempt to preserve his professional coolness, drew certain
papers from it, and laying them on a desk close by, beckoned the other
men to his elbows, and began to examine them. For several minutes the
four pairs of eyes ran over the various documents, Mr. Carless' finger
pointing to one particular passage or another during their hasty perusal,
and he and Mr. Pawle nodding assent as they exchanged glances and
muttered remarks.

"Not a doubt of it!" exclaimed Mr. Carless suddenly. "Not one doubt!
Observe the extraordinary care which the missing Lord Marketstoke took to
safeguard his own interests and those of his daughter, in case he ever
wished to revive his claims. Here, for instance is his marriage
certificate. You see, he took good care to be married in his own real,
proper, legal name! Here, again, is the birth certificate of his
daughter. You see how she is described--Avice Wickham Cave-Gray, daughter
of, et cetera, et cetera. And here is his death certificate--that too is
all in order. You see, all these are duly attested copies--we could, of
course, insist on having them verified over there, but I've no doubt
about their genuineness--what do you say, Pawle?"

"I should say there's no doubt whatever," answered Mr. Pawle readily.
"But now, this memorandum, evidently written by Ashton himself, in
London, soon after he got here?"

Mr. Carless ran his eye over the document which Mr. Pawle indicated.

"Aye!" he said. "A most important, most valuable piece of evidence. You
see that Cortelyon's name is mentioned in it. What's he say--'_The only
man besides myself who is in full possession of the facts_,' Gad--that'll
hang this scoundrel! Yes, here it is--the full history of the case, very
lucidly summarized; he must have been a very good business man, this
unfortunate Ashton, poor fellow! But what's this he's put at the end, as
a sort of note?"

"'Since arriving in England and making inquiries in London and about
Marketstoke and Ellingham as to the character and abilities of the young
man who is the present holder of the title and estates which are by right
my ward's I have had considerable doubt as to whether or not I should
exercise the discretion extended to me by her father. Having nobody of my
own, I have left her all my fortune, which is a handsome one, and she
will be a rich woman. The young man seems to be an estimable and
promising young fellow, and I am much exercised in mind as to whether it
might not be best if Cortelyon and I kept the secret to ourselves until
our deaths.'"

Mr. Carless read this passage aloud, and then smote the desk heavily
with his hand.

"There's the secret of the murder!" he exclaimed. "You see, gentlemen,
Ashton, one holder of the secret, was honest; the other, Cortelyon, was a
rogue. Ashton wanted nothing for himself; Cortelyon wanted to profit.
Cortelyon saw that by killing Ashton he alone would have the secret; he
evidently got two accomplices who were necessary to him, and he meant, by
suppressing certain facts and enlarging on others, to palm off an
impostor who--mark this!--could be squared by one hundred thousand
pounds! Oh, a bad fellow! Keep him tight, Mr. Inspector, keep him tight!"

"You needn't bother yourself, Mr. Carless," answered Drillford
laconically. "We'll see to that!"

Mr. Carless again cast an eye on the passage he had just read, and then,
touching Lord Ellingham's arm, drew his attention to it again, whispering
something in his ear at which the young man's cheek reddened. Then he
gathered up the papers, carefully replaced them in their linen-lined
envelope, and handed them to Drillford.

"Much obliged to you," he said. "Now, at what time are these miscreants
to be put in the dock tomorrow? Ten sharp? Then," he declared, with a
shrewd glance, "I shall be there--and in all my experience I shall never
have set eyes on a worse scoundrel than the chief one of 'em! Now,
gentlemen, shall we go?"

Outside, Mr. Carless took Lord Ellingham's arm.

"You know what this really means--to you?" he said.

Lord Ellingham laughed.

"Of course!" he answered.

"Remember," continued Mr. Carless, with a knowing glance at Mr. Pawle,
"you needn't give in without a struggle! You can make a big fight. You're
in possession; it would take a long time to turn you out. You can have
litigation--as much as ever you wish. But--I don't think there's the
least doubt that the young woman we're going back to is your cousin, and
therefore Countess of Ellingham."

"Neither do I!" said his client with a smile. "Nor, I think, does
Mr. Pawle?"

"Not a doubt of it!" affirmed Mr. Pawle.

"Very well," said Mr. Carless, and pulled his companions to a halt.
"Then--the question now is--who is to tell her?"

The two lawyers and Viner looked from one another to Lord Ellingham--but
Lord Ellingham was already eager and responsive.

"Gentlemen," he said quickly, "I claim that right! If I am to abdicate
in favour of another, let me have at any rate the privilege of first
greeting the new sovereign! Besides, as I have already said to you--"

Mr. Carless interrupted him by pointing toward Viner's house, of which
they were now in sight.

"I dare say our friend Viner, who has, as he says, been strangely mixed
up in this strange affair, can manage matters," he said dryly. "And as
things are, nothing could be better!"

Viner took his companions back into his library, and opening a door,
showed Lord Ellingham a small study which lay beyond.

"I'll bring Miss Wickham to you at once," he said. Then, with a glance at
the two lawyers, which went round again to Lord Ellingham, he added
quietly, "When you have told her, you'll let us know what she says?"

"Aye, aye!" muttered Mr. Pawle. "Good--we must know that!"

Viner went away to the drawing-room and presently brought Miss Wickham
back with him. She looked from one solicitor to the other with something
of a smile.

"More mystery?" she asked.

Mr. Carless, with a courtly bow, took the girl's hand.

"My dear young lady," he said, "there is, this time, a mystery to be
explained. And--allow me to hand you into this room--there is a young
gentleman in here who will explain it, all of it, a thousand times better
than we old fogies possibly could!"

He closed the door on her, and turned to Mr. Pawle.

"I'll trouble you for a pinch of that old snuff of yours, Pawle!" he
said. "Urn--dear me! What extraordinary moments we do pass through!
Viner, my dear fellow, you're a book-collector, I know. To--er--pass the
time, show me some of your treasures."

Ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes, went by, while Viner showed
some of his most treasured possessions in the way of print and binding to
the two old lawyers. They were both past masters in the art of
make-believe, and they contrived to show great interest in what was
exhibited to them, but Viner knew very well that when Mr. Pawle was
expatiating on the merits of an Elzevir or Mr. Carless on the beauties of
a Grolier, they were really wondering what the two young people in the
next room, so strangely thrown together, were saying to each other. And
then, as he was about to unlock a cabinet, and bring out a collection of
autograph letters, the door of the inner room was opened, and the two
appeared on the threshold, one looking extremely confident, and the other
full of blushes and surprise. And--they were holding each other's hands.

"Gentlemen--our very good friends," said Lord Ellingham, "it is only
right that we should take you into our confidence at once. There will be
no litigation, Mr. Carless--no difficulties, Mr. Pawle. I absolutely
insist on resigning--what is not mine--to my cousin, the Countess of
Ellingham. And--not in any return, gentlemen!--she has promised to give
me something which I shall prize far more than any title or any
estate--you understand? And now, if Mr. Viner will excuse me, there are
just a few more things we have to say to each other, and then--"

He drew the girl back into the room and closed the door, and the three
men, once more left to themselves, solemnly shook hands with each other,
heaving sighs of infinite delight and gratification.


Book of the day: