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The Avenger by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Part 2 out of 6

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time. Now I can watch and talk. Truly, the dresses are ravishing.
Doucet never conceived anything more delightful than that blend of
greens! Tell me about your mysterious-looking friend, Mr. Wrayson. Is
he, too, an editor?"

Wrayson shook his head.

"To tell you the truth," he said, "I know very little about him. He is
one of those men who seldom talk about themselves. He is a barrister, and
he has written a volume of travels. A clever fellow, I believe, but
possibly without ambition. At any rate, one never hears of his doing
anything now."

"Perhaps," the Baroness remarked, with her eyes upon the stage, "he is
one of those who keep their own counsel, in more ways than one. He does
not look like a man who has no object in life."

Wrayson glanced downwards at the empty stall.

"Very likely," he admitted carelessly, "and yet, nowadays, it is a little
difficult, isn't it, to do anything really worth doing, and not be found
out? They say that the press is lynx-eyed."

Louise leaned a little forward in her chair.

"And you," she remarked, "are an editor! Do you feel quite safe, Amy? Mr.
Wrayson may rob us of our most cherished secrets."

Her eyes challenged his, her lips were parted in a slight smile.
Underneath the levity of her remark, he was fully conscious of the
undernote of serious meaning.

"I am not afraid of Mr. Wrayson," the Baroness answered, smiling. "My age
and my dressmaker are the only two things I keep entirely to myself, and
I don't think he is likely to guess either."

"And you?" he asked, looking into her companion's eyes.

"There are many things," she answered, in a low tone, "which one keeps
to oneself, because confidences with regard to them are impossible.
And yet--"

She paused. Her eyes seemed to be following out the mystic design painted
upon her fan.

"And yet?" he reminded her under his breath.

"Yet," she continued, glancing towards the Baroness, and lowering her
voice as though anxious not to be overheard, "there is something
poisonous, I think, about secrets. To have them known without disclosing
them would be very often--a great relief."

He leaned a little towards her.

"Is that a challenge?" he asked, "if I can find out?"

The colour left her face with amazing suddenness. She drew away from him
quickly. Her whisper was almost a moan.

"No! for God's sake, no!" she murmured. "I meant nothing. You must not
think that I was speaking about myself."

"I hoped that you were," he answered simply.

The Baroness turned in her chair as though anxious to join in the
conversation. At that moment came a knock at the door of the box. Wrayson
rose and opened it. Heneage stood there and entered at once, as though
his coming were the most natural thing in the world.

"Thought I recognized you," he remarked, shaking hands with Wrayson. "I
believe, too, I may be mistaken, but I fancy that I have had the pleasure
of meeting the Baroness de Sturm."

The Baroness turned towards him with a smile. Nevertheless, Wrayson
noticed what seemed to him a strange thing. The slim-fingered, bejewelled
hand which rested upon the ledge of the box was trembling. The Baroness
was disturbed.

"At Brussels, I believe," she remarked, inclining her head graciously.

"At Brussels, certainly," he answered, bowing low.

She turned to Louise.

"Louise," she said, "you must let me present Mr. Heneage--Miss Deveney.
Mr. Heneage has a cousin, I believe, of the same name, in the Belgian
Legation. I remember seeing you dance with him at the Palace."

The two exchanged greetings. Heneage accepted a chair and spoke of the
performance. The conversation became general and of stereotyped form. Yet
Wrayson was uneasily conscious of something underneath it all which he
could not fathom. The atmosphere of the box was charged with some
electrical disturbance. Heneage alone seemed thoroughly at his ease. He
kept his seat until the close of the performance, and even then seemed in
no hurry to depart. Wrayson, however, took his cue from the Baroness, who
was obviously anxious for him to go.

"Goodnight, Heneage!" he said. "I may see you at the club later."

Heneage smiled a little oddly as he turned away.

"Perhaps," he said.

It was not until they were on their way out that Wrayson realized that
she was slipping away from him once more. Then he took his courage into
his hands and spoke boldly.

"I wonder," he said, "if I might be allowed to see you ladies home. I
have something to say to Miss Fitzmaurice," he added simply, turning to
the Baroness.

"By all means," she answered graciously, "if you don't mind rather an
uncomfortable seat. We are staying in Battersea. It seems a long way out,
but it is quiet, and Louise and I like it."

"In Battersea?" Wrayson repeated vaguely.

The Baroness looked over her shoulder. They were standing on the
pavement, waiting for their electric brougham.

"Yes!" she answered, dropping her voice a little, "in Frederic Mansions.
By the bye, we are neighbours, I believe, are we not?"

"Quite close ones," Wrayson answered. "I live in the next block of
flats."

The Baroness looked again over her shoulder.

"Your friend, Mr. Heneage, is close behind," she whispered, "and we are
living so quietly, Louise and I, that we do not care for callers. Tell
the man 'home' simply."

Wrayson obeyed, and the carriage glided off. Heneage had been within a
few feet of them when they had started, and although his attention
appeared to be elsewhere, the Baroness' caution was obviously justified.
She leaned back amongst the cushions with a little sigh of relief.

"Mr. Wrayson," she inquired, "may I ask if Mr. Heneage is a particular
friend of yours?"

Wrayson shook his head.

"I do not think that any man could call himself Heneage's particular
friend," he answered. "He is exceedingly reticent about himself and his
doings. He is a man whom none of us know much of."

The Baroness leaned a little forward.

"Mr. Heneage," she said slowly, "is associated in my mind with days and
events which, just at present, both Louise and I are only anxious to
forget. He may be everything that he should be. Perhaps I am
prejudiced. But if I were you, I would have as little to do as possible
with that man."

"We do not often meet," Wrayson answered, "and ours is only a club
acquaintanceship. It is never likely to be more."

"So much the better," the Baroness declared. "Don't you agree with
me, Louise?"

"I do not like Mr. Heneage," the girl answered. "But then, I have never
spoken a dozen words to him in my life."

"You have known him intimately?" Wrayson asked the Baroness.

She shrugged her shoulders and looked out of the window.

"Never that, quite," she answered. "I know enough of him, however, to be
quite sure that the advice which I have given you is good."

The carriage drew up in the Albert Road, within a hundred yards or so of
Wrayson's own block of flats. The Baroness alighted first.

"You must come in and have a whisky and soda," she said to Wrayson.

"If I may," he answered, looking at Louise.

The Baroness passed on. Louise, with a slight shrug of the shoulders,
followed her.

CHAPTER X

OUTCAST

The room into which a waiting man servant showed them was large and
handsomely furnished. Whisky and soda, wine and sandwiches were upon the
sideboard. The Baroness, stopping only to light a cigarette, moved
towards the door.

"I shall return" she said, "in a quarter of an hour."

She looked for a moment steadily at her friend, and then turned away.
Louise strolled to the sideboard and helped herself to a sandwich.

"Come and forage, won't you?" she asked carelessly. "There are some
_pt_ sandwiches here, and you want whisky and soda, of course--or do
you prefer brandy?"

"Neither, thanks!" Wrayson answered firmly. "I want what I came for.
Please sit down here and answer my questions."

She laughed a little mockingly, and turning round, faced him, her head
thrown back, her eyes meeting his unflinchingly. The light from a
rose-shaded electric lamp glittered upon her hair. She was wearing black
again, and something in her appearance and attitude almost took his
breath away. It reminded him of the moment when he had seen her first.

"First," she said, "I am going to ask you a question. Why did you do it?"

"Do what?" he asked.

She gave vent to a little gesture of impatience. He must know quite well
what she meant.

"Why did you give evidence at the inquest and omit all mention of me?"

"I don't know," he answered bluntly.

"You have committed yourself to a story," she reminded him, "which is
certainly not altogether a truthful one. You have run a great risk,
apparently to shield me. Why?"

"I suppose because I am a fool," he answered bitterly.

She shook her head.

"No!" she declared, "that is not the reason."

He moved a step nearer to her.

"If I were to admit my folly," he said, "what difference would it
make--if I were to tell you that I did it to save you--the inconvenience
of an examination into the motive for your presence in Morris Barnes'
rooms that night--what then?"

"It was generous of you," she declared softly. "I ought to thank you."

"I want no thanks," he answered, almost roughly. "I want to know that I
was justified in what I did. I want you to tell me what you were doing
there alone in the rooms of such a man, with a stolen key. And I want you
to tell me what you know about his death."

"Is that all?" she asked.

"Isn't it enough?" he declared savagely. "It is enough to be making an
old man of me, anyhow."

"You have a right to ask these questions," she admitted slowly, "and I
have no right to refuse to answer them."

"None at all," he declared. "You shall answer them."

There was a moment's silence. She leaned a little further back against
the sideboard. Her eyes were fixed upon his, but her face was
inscrutable.

"I cannot," she said slowly. "I can tell you nothing."

Wrayson was speechless for a moment. It was not only the words
themselves, but the note of absolute finality with which they were
uttered, which staggered him. Then he found himself laughing, a sound
so unnatural and ominous that, for the first time, fear shone in the
girl's eyes.

"Don't," she cried, and her hands flashed towards him for a moment
as though the sight of him hurt her. "Don't be angry! Have pity on
me instead."

His nerves, already overwrought, gave way.

"Pity on a murderess, a thief!" he cried. "Not I! I have suffered enough
for my folly. I will go and tell the truth to-morrow. It was you who
killed him. You did it in the cab and stole back to his rooms to
rob--afterwards. Horrible! Horrible!"

Her face hardened. His lack of self-control seemed to stimulate her.

"Have it so," she declared. "I never asked you for your silence. If you
repent it, go and make the best bargain you can with the law. They will
let you off cheaply in exchange for your information!"

He walked the length of the room and back. Anything to escape from her
eyes. Already he hated the words which he had spoken. When he faced her
again he was master of himself.

"Listen," he said; "I was a little overwrought. I spoke wildly. I have no
right to make such an accusation. But--"

She held out her hand as though to stop him, but he went steadily on.

"But I have a right to demand that you tell me the truth as to what you
were doing in Barnes' rooms that night, and what you know of his death.
Remember that but for me you would have had to tell your story to a less
sympathetic audience."

"I never forget it," she answered, and for the first time her change to a
more natural tone helped him to believe in himself and his own judgment.
"If you want me to tell you how grateful I am, I might try, but it would
be a very hard task."

"All that I ask of you," he pleaded, "is that you tell me enough to
convince me that my silence was justified. Tell me at least that you had
no knowledge of or share in that man's death!"

"I cannot do that," she answered.

He took a quick step backwards. The horror once more was chilling his
blood, floating before his eyes.

"You cannot!" he repeated hoarsely.

"No! I knew that the man was in danger of his life," she went on, calmly.
"On the whole, I think that he deserved to die. I do not mind telling you
this, though. I would have saved him if I could."

He drew a great breath of relief.

"You had nothing to do with his actual death, then?"

"Nothing whatever," she declared.

"It was all I asked you, this," he cried reproachfully. "Why could you
not have told me before?"

She shook her head.

"You asked me other things," she answered calmly. "So much of the truth
you shall know, at any rate. I have pleaded not guilty to the material
action of drawing that cord around the worthless neck of the man whom you
knew as Morris Barnes. I plead guilty to knowing why he was murdered,
even if I do not know the actual person who committed the deed, and I
admit that I was in his rooms for the purpose of robbery. That is all I
can tell you."

He drew a little nearer to her.

"Enough! Do you know what it is that you have said? What are you?
Who are you?"

She shrugged her shoulders. Somehow, from her side at least, the tragical
note which had trembled throughout their interview had passed away. She
helped herself to soda water from a siphon on the sideboard.

"You appear, somewhat to my surprise," she remarked, "to know that. I
wonder at poor little Edith giving me away."

"All that I know is that you are living here under a false name,"
he declared.

She shook her head.

"My mother's," she told him. "The discarded daughter always has a right
to that, you know."

Her eyes mocked him. He felt himself helpless. This was the opportunity
for which he had longed, and it had come to him in vain. He recognized
the fact that his defeat was imminent. She was too strong for him.

"I am disappointed," he said, a little wearily. "You will not let me
believe in you."

"Why should you wish to?" she asked quickly

Almost immediately she bit her lip, as though she regretted the words,
which had escaped her almost involuntarily. But he was ready enough with
his answer.

"I cannot tell you that," he said gravely. "I never thought of myself as
a particularly emotional person. In fact, I have always rather prided
myself on my common sense. That night I think that I went a little mad.
Your appearance, you see, was so unusual."

She nodded.

"I must have been rather a shock to you," she admitted.

She watched him closely. The fire in his eyes was not yet quenched.

"Yes!" he said, "you were a shock. And the worst of it is--that you
remain one!"

"Ah!"

"You mean to keep me at arm's length," he said slowly, "to tell me as
little as possible, and get rid of me. I am not sure that I am willing."

She only raised her eyebrows. She said nothing.

"You have told me nothing of the things I want to know," he cried
passionately. "Who and what are you? What place do you hold in the
world?"

"None," she answered quietly. "I am an outcast."

He glanced around him.

"You are rich!"

"On the contrary," she assured him, "I am nearly a pauper."

"How do you live, then?" he asked breathlessly.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Why do you ask me these questions?" she said. "I cannot answer them.
Whatever my life may be, I live it to myself."

He leaned a little towards her. His breath was coming quickly, and she,
too, caught something of the nervous excitement of his manner.

"There are better things," he began.

"Not for me," she interrupted quickly. "I tell you that I am an
outcast. Of you, I ask only that you go away--now--before the Baroness
returns, and do your best to blot out the memory of that one night
from your life. Remember only that you did a generous action. Remember
that, and no more."

"Too late," he answered; "I cannot do it."

"You are a man," she answered, "and you say that?"

"It is because I am a man, and you are what you are, that I cannot," he
answered slowly.

There was a moment's breathless silence. Only he fancied that her face
had somehow grown softer.

"You must not talk like that," she said. "You do not know what you are
saying--who or what I am. Listen! I think I hear the Baroness."

She leaned a little forward, and the madness fired his blood. Half
stupefied, she yielded to his embrace, her lips rested upon his, her
frightened eyes were half closed. His arms held her like a vise, he could
feel her heart throbbing madly against his. How long they remained like
it he never knew--who can measure the hours spent in Paradise! She flung
him from her at last, taking him by surprise with a sudden burst of
energy, and before he could stop her she had left the room. In her place,
the Baroness was standing upon the threshold, dressed in a wonderful blue
wrapper, and with a cigarette between her teeth. She burst into a little
peal of laughter as she looked into his distraught face.

"For an Englishman," she remarked, "you are a little rapid in your
love affairs, my dear Mr. Wrayson, is it not so? So she has left you
_plant l_!"

"I--was mad," Wrayson muttered.

The Baroness helped herself to whisky and soda.

"Come again and make your peace, my friend," she said. "You will see no
more of her to-night."

Wrayson accepted the hint and went.

CHAPTER XI

FALSE SENTIMENT

With his nerves strung to their utmost point of tension Wrayson walked
homeward with the unseeing eyes and mechanical footsteps of a man unable
as yet fully to collect his scattered senses. But for him the events of
the evening were not yet over. He had no sooner turned the key in the
latch of his door and entered his sitting-room, than he became aware of
the fact that he had a visitor. The air was fragrant with tobacco smoke;
a man rose deliberately from the easy-chair, and, throwing the ash from
his cigarette into the fire, turned to greet him. Wrayson was so
astonished that he could only gasp out his name.

"Heneage!" he exclaimed.

Heneage nodded. Of the two, he was by far the more at his ease.

"I wanted to see you, Wrayson," he said, "and I persuaded your
housekeeper--with some difficulty--to let me wait for your arrival. Can
you spare me a few minutes?"

"Of course," Wrayson answered. "Sit down. Will you have anything?"

Heneage shook his head.

"Not just now, thanks!"

Wrayson took off his hat and coat, threw them upon the table, and lit a
cigarette.

"Well," he said, "what is it?"

"I have come," Heneage said quietly, "to offer you some very good
advice. You are run down, and you look it. You need a change. I should
recommend a sea voyage, the longer the better. They say that your paper
is making a lot of money. Why not a voyage round the world?"

"What the devil do you mean?" Wrayson asked.

Heneage flicked off the ash from his cigarette, and looked for a moment
thoughtfully into the fire.

"Three weeks ago last Thursday, I think it was," he began, reflectively,
"I had supper with Austin at the Green Room Club, after the theatre. He
persuaded me, rather against my will, I remember, for I was tired that
night, to go home with him and make a fourth at bridge. Austin's flat, as
you know, is just below here, on the Albert Road."

Wrayson stopped smoking. The cigarette burned unheeded between his
fingers. His eyes were fixed upon his visitor.

"Go on," he said.

"We played five rubbers," Heneage continued, still looking into the fire;
"it may have been six. I left somewhere in the small hours of the
morning, and walked along the Albert Road on the unlit side of the
street. As I passed the corner here, I saw a hansom waiting before your
door, and you--with somebody else, standing on the pavement."

"Anything else?" Wrayson demanded.

"No!" Heneage answered. "I saw you, I saw the lady, and I saw the cab.
It was a cold morning, and I am not naturally a curious person. I
hurried on."

Wrayson picked up the cigarette, which had fallen from his fingers, and
sat down. He could scarcely believe that this was not a dream--that it
was indeed Stephen Heneage who sat opposite to him, Heneage the
impenetrable, whose calm, measured words left no indication whatever as
to his motive in making this amazing revelation.

"You are naturally wondering," Heneage continued, "why, having seen what
I did see, I kept silence. I followed your lead, because I fancied, in
the first place, that the presence of that young lady was a personal
affair of your own, and that she could have no possible connection with
the tragedy itself. You were evidently disposed to shield her and
yourself at the same time. I considered your attitude reasonable, if a
little dangerous. No man is obliged to give himself away in matters of
this sort, and I am no scandalmonger. The situation, however, has
undergone a change."

Wrayson looked up quickly.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"To-night," Heneage said calmly, "I recognized your nocturnal visitor
with the Baroness de Sturm.

"And what of that?" Wrayson demanded.

Heneage, who was leaning back in his chair, looking into the fire with
half closed eyes, straightened himself, and turned directly towards his
companion.

"How much do you know about the Baroness de Sturm?" he asked.

"Nothing at all," Wrayson answered. "I met her for the first time
to-night."

Heneage looked back into the fire.

"Ah!" he murmured. "I thought that it might be so. The young lady is
perhaps an old friend?"

"I cannot discuss her," Wrayson answered. "I can only say that I will
answer for her innocence as regards any complicity in the murder of
Morris Barnes."

Heneage nodded sympathetically.

"Still," he remarked, "the man was murdered."

"I suppose so," Wrayson admitted.

"And in a most mysterious manner," Heneage continued. "You have gathered,
I dare say, from your knowledge of me, that these affairs always interest
me immensely. I am almost as great a crank as the Colonel. I have been
thinking over this case a great deal, but I must confess that up to
to-night I have not been able to see a gleam of daylight. I had dismissed
the young lady from my mind. Now, however, I cannot do so."

"Simply because you saw her with the Baroness de Sturm?" Wrayson asked.

"They are living together," Heneage reminded him, "a condition which
naturally makes for a certain amount of intimacy."

"Do you know anything against the Baroness?" Wrayson demanded.

"Against her?" Heneage repeated thoughtfully. "Well, that depends."

"Do you mean to insinuate that she is an adventuress?" Wrayson
asked bluntly.

"Certainly not," Heneage replied. "She is a representative of one of the
oldest families in Europe, a _persona grata_ at the Court of her country,
and an intimate friend of Queen Helena's. She is by no means an
adventuress."

"Then why," Wrayson asked, "should you attach such significance to the
fact of her friendship with Miss Deveney?"

"Because," Heneage remarked, lighting another cigarette, "I happen to
know that the Baroness is at present under the strictest police
surveillance!"

Wrayson started. Heneage's first statement had reassured him: his later
one was simply terrifying. He stared at his visitor in dumb alarm.

"I came to know of this in rather a curious way," Heneage continued. "My
information, in fact, came direct from her own country. She is being
watched with extraordinary care, in connection with some affair of which
I must confess that I know nothing. She is staying in London, a city
which I happen to know she detests, without any ostensible reason. Of all
parts, she has chosen Battersea as a place of residence. It is her
companion whom I saw leaving your flat at three o'clock on the morning of
Barnes' murder. I am bound to say, Wrayson, that I find these facts
interesting."

"Why have you come to me?" Wrayson asked. "What are you going to do
about them?"

"I am going to set myself the task of solving the mystery of Morris
Barnes' death," Heneage answered calmly. "If I succeed, I am very much
afraid that, directly or indirectly, the presence of Miss Deveney in the
flats that night will become known."

"And you advise me, therefore," Wrayson remarked, "to take a voyage--in
plain words, to clear out."

"Exactly," Heneage agreed.

Wrayson threw his cigarette angrily into the fire.

"What the devil business is it of yours?" he demanded.

Heneage looked at him steadily.

"Wrayson," he said, "I am sorry that you should use that tone with me. I
am no moralist. I admit frankly that I take this matter up because my
personal tastes prompt me to. But murder, however great the provocation,
is an indefensible thing."

"I am not seeking to justify it," Wrayson declared.

"I am glad to hear that," Heneage answered. "I cannot believe, either,
that you would shield any one directly or indirectly connected with such
a crime. I am going to ask you, therefore, to tell me what Miss Deveney
was doing in these flats on that particular evening."

Wrayson was silent. In the light of what he had just been told about the
Baroness, he knew very well how Heneage would regard the truth. Of
course, she was innocent, innocent of the deed itself and of all
knowledge of it. But Heneage did not know her; he would be hard to
convince. So Wrayson shook his head.

"I can tell you nothing," he said. "I admit frankly my sympathies are not
with you. I should not say a word likely to bring even inconvenience upon
Miss Deveney."

"Dare you tell me," Heneage asked calmly, "that her visit was to you?
No! I thought not," he added, as Wrayson remained silent. "I believe
that that young lady could solve the mystery of Morris Barnes' death, if
she chose."

Then Wrayson had an idea. At any rate, the disclosure would do no harm.

"Do you know who Miss Deveney is?" he asked.

Heneage looked across at him quickly.

"Do you?"

"Yes! She is the eldest daughter of the Colonel!"

"Our Colonel?" Heneage exclaimed.

Wrayson nodded.

"Her real name is Miss Fitzmaurice," he said. "Her mother's name
was Deveney."

Heneage looked incredulous.

"Are you sure about this?" he asked.

"Absolutely," Wrayson answered. "I saw her picture the day of the garden
party, and I recognized her at once. There is no doubt about it
whatever. She and the Baroness were schoolfellows in Brussels. There is
no mystery about their friendship at all."

Heneage was thoughtful for several moments.

"This is interesting," he said at last, "but it does not, of course,
affect the situation."

"You mean that you will go on just the same?" Wrayson demanded.

"Certainly! And it rests with you to say whether you will be on my side
or theirs," Heneage declared. "If you are on mine, you will tell me what
Miss Deveney was doing in these flats on that night of all others. If you
are on theirs, you will go and warn them that I am determined to solve
the mystery of Morris Barnes' death--at all costs."

"I had no idea," Wrayson remarked quietly, "that you were ambitious to
shine as an amateur policeman."

"We all have our hobbies," Heneage answered. "Take the Colonel, for
instance, the most harmless, the most good-natured man who ever lived.
Nothing in the world fascinates him so much as the details of a tragedy
like this, however gruesome they may be. I have seen him handle a
murderer's knife as though he loved it. His favourite museum is the
professional Chamber of Horrors in Scotland Yard. My own interests run in
a slightly different direction. I like to look at an affair of this sort
as a chess problem, and to set myself to solve it. I like to make a
silent study of all the characters around, to search for motives and
dissect evidence. Human nature has its secrets, and very wonderful
secrets too."

"I once," Wrayson said thoughtfully, "saw a man tracked down by
bloodhounds. My sympathies were with the man."

Heneage nodded.

"Your view of life," he remarked, "was always a sentimental one."

"No correct view," Wrayson declared, "can ignore sentiment."

"Granted; but it must be true sentiment, not false," Heneage said. "This
sentiment which interferes with justice is false sentiment."

"Justice is altogether an arbitrary, a relative phrase," Wrayson
declared. "I know no more about the case of Morris Barnes than you do. I
knew the man by sight and repute, and I knew the manner of his life, and
it seems to me a likely thing that there is more human justice about his
death than in the punishing the person who compassed it."

"There are cases of that sort," Heneage admitted. "That is the advantage
of being an amateur, like myself. My discoveries, if I make any, are my
own. I am not bound to publish them."

Wrayson smiled a little bitterly.

"You would be less than human if you didn't," he said.

Heneage rose to his feet and began putting on his coat. Wrayson remained
in his seat, without offering to help him.

"So I may take it, I suppose," he said, as he moved towards the door,
"that my visit to you is a failure?"

"I have not the slightest idea of running away, if that is what you
mean," Wrayson answered. "I am obliged to you for your warning, but what
I did I am prepared to stand by."

"I am sorry," Heneage answered. "Good night!"

CHAPTER XII

TIDINGS FROM THE CAPE

Wrayson paused for a moment in his work to answer the telephone which
stood upon his table.

"What is it?" he asked sharply.

His manager spoke to him from the offices below.

"Sorry to disturb you, sir, but there is a young man here who won't go
away without seeing you. His name is Barnes, and he says that he has just
arrived from South Africa."

It was a busy morning with Wrayson, for in an hour or so the paper went
to press, but he did not hesitate for a moment.

"I will see him," he declared. "Bring him up yourself."

Wrayson laid down the telephone. Morris Barnes had come from South
Africa. It was a common name enough, and yet, from the first, he was sure
that this was some relative. What was the object of his visit? The ideas
chased one another through his brain. Was he, too, an avenger?

There was a knock at the door, and the clerk from downstairs ushered in
his visitor. Wrayson could scarcely repress a start. It was a younger
edition of Morris Barnes who stood there, with an ingratiating smile upon
his pale face, a trifle more Semitic in appearance, perhaps, but in other
respects the likeness was almost startling. It extended even to the
clothes, for Wrayson recognized with a start a purple and white tie of
particularly loud pattern. The cut of his coat, the glossiness of his hat
and boots, too, were all strikingly reminiscent of the dead man.

His visitor was becoming nervous under Wrayson's close scrutiny. His
manner betrayed a curious mixture of diffidence and assurance. He seemed
overanxious to create a favourable impression.

"I took the liberty of coming to see you, Mr. Wrayson" he said, twisting
his hat round in his hand. "My name is Barnes, Sydney Barnes. Morris
Barnes was my brother."

Wrayson pointed to a chair, into which his visitor subsided with
exaggerated expressions of gratitude. He had very small black eyes, set
very close together, and he blinked continually. The more Wrayson studied
him, the less prepossessing he found him.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Barnes?" he asked quietly.

"I have just come from Cape Town," the young man said. "Such a shock it
was to me--about my poor brother! Oh! such a shock!"

"How did you hear about it?" Wrayson asked.

"Just a newspaper--I read an account of it all. It did give me a turn and
no mistake. Directly I'd finished, I went and booked my passage on the
_Dunottar Castle._ I had a very fair berth over there--two quid a week,
but I felt I must come home at once. Fact is," he continued, looking down
at his trousers, "I had no time to get my own togs together. I was so
anxious, you see. That's why I'm wearing some of poor Morris's."

"Are you the only relative?" Wrayson asked.

"'Pon my sam, I am," the other answered with emphasis. "We hadn't a
relation in the world. Father and mother died ten years ago, and Morris
and I were the only two. Anything that poor Morris possessed belongs to
me, sure! There's no one else to claim a farthing's worth. You must know
that yourself, Mr. Wrayson, eh?"

"If, as you say, you are the only relative, your brother's effects, of
course, belong to you," Wrayson answered.

"It's a sure thing," the young man declared. "I've been to the landlord
of the flat, and he gave me up the keys at once. There's only one
quarter's rent owing. Pretty stiff though--isn't it? Fifty pounds!"

"Your brother's was a furnished flat, I believe," Wrayson answered. "That
makes a difference, of course."

The young man's face fell.

"Then the furniture wasn't his?" he remarked.

Wrayson shook his head.

"No! the furniture belongs to the landlord. There will be an inventory,
of course, and you will be able to find out if anything was your
brother's."

It was obvious that Mr. Sydney Barnes had not as yet entered upon the
purpose of his visit. He fidgeted for a moment or two with his hat, and
looked up at Wrayson, only to look nervously away again. To set him more
at his ease, Wrayson lit a cigarette and passed the box over.

"Thank you, Mr. Wrayson! Thank you, sir!" his visitor exclaimed. "You
see I'm a smoker," he added, holding up his yellow-stained forefinger.
"That is, I smoke when I can afford to. Things have been pretty dicky
out in South Africa lately, you know. Terrible hard it has been to make
a living."

"Your brother was supposed to have done pretty well out there," Wrayson
remarked, more for the sake of keeping the conversation alive than
anything. The effect of his words, however, was electrical. Mr. Sydney
Barnes leaned over from his chair, and his little black eyes twinkled
like polished beads.

"Mr. Wrayson," he declared, "a week before he sailed for England, Morris
was on his uppers! He was caught in Johannesburg when the war broke out,
and he had to stay there. When he turned up in Cape Town again, his own
mother wouldn't have known him. He was in rags--he'd come down on a
freight--he hadn't a scrap of luggage, or a copper to his name. That was
Morris when he came to me in Cape Town!"

Wrayson was listening attentively; he almost feared to let his visitor
see how interested he was.

"He was fair done in!" the young man continued. "He never had the pluck
of a chicken, and the night he found me in Cape Town he cried like a
baby. He had lost everything, he said. It was no use staying in the
country any longer. He was wild to get back to England. And yet, do you
know, sir, all the time I had the idea that he was keeping something back
from me. And he was! He was, too! The--!"

He stopped short. The vindictiveness of his countenance supplied
the epithet.

"You'll excuse me if I'm a bit excited, Mr. Wrayson," he continued. "I'll
leave you to judge how I've been served when you hear all. He got over
me, and I lent him nearly half of my savings, and he started back to
England. He took this flat at two hundred pounds a year the very week he
got back, and he's lived, from what I can hear, like a lord ever since.
Will you believe this, sir! He sent back the money he borrowed from me a
quid at a time, and wrote me to say he was saving it with great
difficulty--out of his salary of three pounds a week. When he'd paid back
the lot, I never heard another line from him. I was doing rotten myself,
and he knew well enough that I should have been over first steamer if I'd
known about his two hundred a year flat, and all the rest of it. What do
you think of my brother, sir, eh? What do you think of him? Treated me
nicely, didn't he? Nine pounds ten it was I lent him, and nine pounds ten
was all I had back, and here he was living like a duke, and lying to me
about his three pounds a week; and there was I hawkering groceries on a
barrow, selling sham diamonds, any blooming thing to get a mouthful to
eat. Nice sort of brother that, eh? What?"

Wrayson repressed an inclination to smile. There was something grimly
humourous about his visitor's indignation.

"You must remember," he said, "that your brother is dead, and that his
death itself was a terrible one. Besides, even if you have had to wait
for a little time, you are his heir now."

The young man was breathing hard. The perspiration stood out in little
beads upon his forehead. He showed his teeth a little. He was becoming
more and more unpleasant to look upon as his excitement increased.

"Look here, Mr. Wrayson!" he exclaimed. "I'm coming to that. I've been
through his things. Clothes! I never saw such a collection. All from a
West End tailor, too! And boots! Patent, with white tops; pumps,
everything slap up! Heaven knows what he must have spent upon his
clothes. Bills from restaurants, too; why, he seems to have thought
nothing of spending a quid or two on a dinner or a supper. Photographs
of ladies, little notes asking him to tea; why, between you and me, Mr.
Wrayson, sir, he was living like a prince! And look here!"

He rose to his feet and planked down a bank-book on the desk in front
of Wrayson.

"Look here, sir," he declared. "Every three months, within a day or two,
cash--five hundred pounds. Here you are. Here's the last: March
27--cash, 500! Look back! January 1--By cash 500! October 2--cash,
500! There you are, right back to the very day he arrived in England.
And he left South Africa with ten bob of mine in his pocket, after he'd
paid his passage! and from what I can hear, he never did a day's work
after he landed. And me over there working thirteen and fourteen hours a
day, and half the time stony-broke! There's a brother for you! Cain was
a fool to him!"

"But you must remember that after all you are going to reap the benefit
of it now," Wrayson remarked.

"Ah! but am I?" the young man exclaimed fiercely. "That's what I want to
know. Look here! I've been through every letter and every scrap of paper
I can find, I've been to the bank and to his few pals, and strike me dead
if I can find where that five hundred pounds came from every three
months! It was in gold always; he must have gone and changed it
somewhere--five hundred golden sovereigns every three months, and I can't
find where they came from!"

"Have you been to a solicitor?" Wrayson asked.

"Not yet," the young man answered. "I don't see what good he'll be when I
do. Morris was always one of the close sort, and I can't fancy him
spending much over lawyers."

"What made you come to me?" Wrayson inquired.

"Well, the caretaker at the flat told me that you and Morris used to
speak now and then, and I'm trying every one. I'm afraid he wasn't quite
classy enough for you to have palled up with, but I thought he might have
let something slip perhaps."

Wrayson shook his head.

"He never spoke to me of his affairs," he said. "He always seemed to have
plenty of money, though."

"Doesn't the bank-book prove it?" the young man exclaimed excitedly.
"Every one who knew anything about him says the same. There was I half
starved in Cape Town, and here was he spending two thousand a year.
Beast, he was! I'll find out where it came from if it takes me a
lifetime."

Wrayson leaned back in his chair. Nothing since the events of that night
itself had appealed to him more than the coming of this young man and his
strange story.

"I am sorry that I have no information to give you," he said. "On the
other hand, if I can help you in any other way I shall be very glad."

"What should you advise me to do?" the young man asked.

"I should like to think the matter over carefully," Wrayson answered.
"What are your engagements for to-day? Can you lunch with me?"

"I have no engagements," his visitor answered eagerly. "When and
what time?"

Wrayson repressed a smile.

"I shall be ready in twenty minutes," he answered. "We will go out
together if you don't mind waiting."

"I'm on," Mr. Sydney Barnes declared, crossing his legs. "Don't you hurry
on my account. I'll wait as long as you like."

CHAPTER XIII

SEARCHING THE CHAMBERS

Wrayson took his guest to a popular restaurant, where there was music and
a five-course luncheon for three and six. Their conversation during the
earlier part of the meal was limited, for Mr. Sydney Barnes showed
himself possessed of an appetite which his host contemplated with
respectful admiration. His sallow cheeks became flushed and his
nervousness had subsided, long before the arrival of the coffee.

"I say, this is all right, this place is," he said, leaning back in his
chair with a large cigar between his teeth. "Jolly expensive, I suppose,
isn't it?"

Wrayson smiled.

"It depends," he answered. "I don't suppose your brother would have found
it so. A bachelor can do himself pretty well on two thousand a year."

"I only hope I get hold of it," Mr. Sydney Barnes declared fervently.
"This is the way I should like to live, this is."

"I hope you will," Wrayson answered. "An income of that sort could
scarcely disappear into thin air, could it? By the bye, Mr. Barnes, that
reminds me of a very important circumstance which, up to now, we have not
mentioned. I mean the way your brother met with his death."

The young man nodded thoughtfully.

"Ah!" he remarked, "he was murdered, wasn't he? Some one must have owed
him a nasty grudge. Morris always was a one to make enemies."

"I don't know whether the same thing has occurred to you," Wrayson
continued, "but I can't help wondering whether there may not have been
some connection between his death and that mysterious income of his."

"I've thought of that myself," the young man declared. "All the same,
I can't see what he could have carried about with him worth two
thousand a year."

"Exactly," Wrayson answered, "but you see the matter stands like this. He
was in receipt of about 500 every three months, as his bank-book proves.
This sum would represent five per cent interest on forty thousand pounds.
Now, considering your brother's position when he left you at Cape Town,
and the fact that you cannot discover at his bankers or elsewhere any
documents alluding to property or shares of any sort, one can scarcely
help dismissing the hypothesis that this payment was the result of
dividends or interest. At any rate, let us put that out of the question
for the moment. Your brother received five hundred pounds every three
months from some one. People don't give money away for nothing nowadays,
you know. From whom and for what services did he receive that money?"

Mr. Sydney Barnes looked puzzled.

"Ask me another," he remarked facetiously.

"You do not know of any secrets, I suppose, which your brother may have
stumbled into possession of?"

"Not I! He went about with his eyes open and his mouth closed, but I
never heard of his having that sort of luck."

"He could not have had any adventures on the steamer, for he came back
steerage," Wrayson continued thoughtfully, "and he was in funds almost
from the moment he landed in England. I am afraid, Mr. Barnes, that he
must have been deceiving you in Cape Town."

"If I could only have a dozen words with him!" the young man
muttered savagely.

"It would be useful," Wrayson admitted, "but, unfortunately, it is out of
the question. Either he was deceiving you, or he was in possession of
something which turned out far more valuable than he had imagined."

"If so, where is it?" Mr. Sydney Barnes demanded. "If it was worth that
to him, it may be to me."

"Exactly," Wrayson remarked, "but the question of your brother's
murder comes in there. People don't commit a crime like that for
nothing, you know. If it was information which your brother had, it
died with him. If it was documents, they were probably stolen by the
person who killed him."

"Come, that's cheerful," the young man declared ruefully. "If you're
guessing right, where do I come in?"

"I'm afraid you don't come in," Wrayson answered; "but remember I am only
following out a surmise. Have you looked through your brother's papers
carefully?"

"I've gone through 'em all," Mr. Sydney Barnes answered, "but, of course,
I was looking for scrip or a memorandum of investments, or something of
that sort. Perhaps if a clever chap like you were to go through them, you
might come across a clue."

"It seems hard to believe that he shouldn't have left something of the
sort behind him," Wrayson answered. "It might be only an address, or a
name, or anything."

"Will you come round with me and see?" Mr. Barnes demanded eagerly. "It
wouldn't take you long. You're welcome to see everything there is there."

Wrayson called for the bill.

"Very well" he said, "we will take a hansom round there at once."

They left the place a few minutes later, and drove to Battersea.

"There's a quarter to run, the landlord says, so I'm staying here,"
Barnes explained, as he unlocked the front door. "I can't afford a
servant or anything of that sort of course, but I shall just sleep here."

The rooms had a ghostly and unkempt appearance. The atmosphere of the
sitting-room was stuffy and redolent of stale tobacco smoke. Wrayson's
first action was to throw open the window.

"There isn't a sign of a paper anywhere, except in that desk," the young
man remarked. "You'll find things in a mess, but whatever was there is
there now. I've destroyed nothing."

Wrayson seated himself before the desk, and began a careful search. There
were restaurant bills without number, and a variety of ladies' cards,
more or less soiled. There were Empire and Alhambra programmes, a bundle
of racing wires, and an account from a bookmaker showing a small debit
balance. There were other miscellaneous bills, a plaintive epistle from a
lady signing herself Flora, and begging for the loan of a fiver for a
week, and an invitation to tea from a spinster who called herself Poppy.
Amongst all this mass of miscellaneous documents there were only three
which Wrayson laid on one side for further consideration. One of these
was a note, dated from the Adelphi a few days before the tragedy, and
written in a stiff, legal hand. It contained only a few lines:

"DEAR SIR,--

"My client will be happy to meet you at any time on Thursday you may be
pleased to appoint, either here or at your own address. Please reply,
making an appointment, by return of post.

"Yours faithfully,

"W. BENTHAM."

The second document was also in the shape of a letter from a firm of
private detective agents and was dated only a day earlier than the
lawyer's letter. It ran as follows:

"MY DEAR SIR,--

"In reply to your inquiry, our charges for watching a single person in
London only are three guineas a day, including all expenses. For that
sum we can guarantee that the person with whose movements you desire to
keep in touch will be closely shadowed from roof to roof, so long as
the person remains within seven miles of Charing Cross. A daily report
will be made to you, and should legal proceedings ensue from any
information procured by us, you may rely upon any witness whom we might
place in the box.

"Trusting to hear from you,

"We are, yours sincerely,

"McKENNA & FOULDS."

The third document which Wrayson had preserved was the Cunard sailing
list for the current month, the plan of a steamer which sailed within a
week of the murder, and a few lines from the steamship office respecting
accommodation.

"These, at any rate, will give you something to do," Wrayson remarked.
"You can go to the lawyer and find out who his client was who desired to
see your brother. There is a chance there! You can go to McKenna & Foulds
and find out who it was whom he wanted shadowed, and you can go to the
Cunard office and see whether he really intended sailing for America."

Mr. Sydney Barnes looked a little doubtful.

"I suppose," he suggested timidly, "you couldn't spare the time to go
round to these places with me? You see, I'm not much class over here,
even in Morris's togs. They'd take more notice of you, being a gentleman.
Good God! what's that?"

Both men had started, for the sound was unexpected. Some one was fitting
a latch-key into the door!

CHAPTER XIV

THE DEAD MAN'S BROTHER

At the sight of the two men who awaited her entrance, the Baroness
stopped short. Whatever alarm or surprise she may have felt at their
presence was effectually concealed from them by the thick veil which she
wore, through which her features were undistinguishable. As though
purposely, she left to them the onus of speech.

Wrayson took a quick step towards her.

"Baroness!" he exclaimed. "What are you--I beg your pardon, but what are
you doing here?"

She raised her veil and looked at them both attentively. In her hand she
still held the latch-key by means of which she entered.

"Do you know," she answered quietly, "I was just going to ask you the
same thing."

"Our presence is easily explained," Wrayson answered. "This is Mr. Sydney
Barnes, the brother of the Mr. Barnes who used to live here. He is
keeping the flat on for a short time."

The Baroness was surprised, and showed it. Without a moment's hesitation,
however, she accepted Wrayson's words as an introduction to the young
man, and held out her hand to him with a brilliant smile.

"I am very glad to meet you, Mr. Barnes," she said, "even under such
painful circumstances. I knew your brother very well, and I have heard
him speak of you."

Mr. Sydney Barnes did not attempt to conceal his surprise. He shook
hands with the Baroness, however, and regarded her with undisguised
admiration.

"Well, this licks me!" he exclaimed frankly. "Do you mean to say that you
were a friend of Morris's?"

"Certainly," the Baroness answered. "Why not?"

"Oh! I don't know," the young man declared. "I'm getting past being
surprised at anything. I suppose it's the oof that makes the difference.
A friend of Morris's, you said. Why, perhaps--" He hesitated, and glanced
towards Wrayson.

"There is no harm in asking the Baroness, at any rate," Wrayson said.
"The fact of the matter is," he continued, turning towards her, "that Mr.
Sydney Barnes here finds himself in a somewhat extraordinary position. He
is the sole relative and heir of his brother, and he has come over here
from South Africa, naturally enough, to take possession of his effects.
Now there is no doubt, from his bank-book, and his manner of life, that
Morris Barnes was possessed of a considerable income. According to his
bank-book it was 2,000 a year."

The Baroness nodded thoughtfully.

"He told me once that he was worth as much as that," she remarked,

"Exactly, but the curious part of the affair is that, up to the present,
Mr. Sydney Barnes has been unable to discover the slightest trace of any
investments or any sum of money whatever. Now can you help us? Did
Morris Barnes ever happen to mention to you in what direction his
capital was invested? Did he ever give you any idea at all as to the
source of his income?"

The Baroness stood quite still, as though lost in thought. Wrayson
watched her with a curious sense of fascination. He knew very well that
the subtle brain of the woman was occupied in no fruitless attempt at
reminiscence; he was convinced that the Baroness had never exchanged a
single word with Morris Barnes in her life. She was thinking her way
through this problem--how best to make use of this unexpected tool. Their
eyes met and she smiled faintly. She judged rightly that Wrayson, at any
rate, was not deceived.

"I cannot give you any definite information," she said at last, "but--"

She hesitated, and the young man's eagerness escaped all bounds.

"But what?" he cried, leaning breathlessly towards her. "You know
something! What is it? Go on! Go on!"

"I think that if I can remember it," she continued, "I can tell you the
name of the solicitor whom he employed."

The young man dashed his fist upon the table. He was pale almost
to the lips.

"By God! you must remember it," he cried. "Don't say you've forgotten.
It's most important. Two thousand a year!--pounds! Think!"

She turned towards Wrayson. She wished to conciliate him, but the young
man was not a pleasant sight.

"It was something like Benton," she suggested.

Wrayson glanced downward at one of the three documents which he had
preserved.

"Bentham!" he exclaimed. "Was that it?"

The face of the Baroness cleared at once.

"Of course it was! How stupid of me to have forgotten. His offices are
somewhere in the Adelphi."

Barnes caught up his hat.

"Where is that?" he exclaimed. "I'm off."

Wrayson held out his hand.

"Wait a moment," he said. "There is no hurry for an hour or so. This
affair may not be quite so simple, after all."

"Why not?" the young man demanded fiercely. "It's my money, isn't it? I
can take out letters of administration. It belongs to me. He'll have to
give it up."

"In the long run I should say that he will--if he has it," Wrayson
answered. "But before you go to him, remember this. He has seen the
account of your brother's death. He did not appear at the inquest. He has
taken no steps to discover his next of kin. Both of these proceedings
were part of his natural duty."

"Mr. Wrayson is quite right," the Baroness remarked. "Mr. Bentham has not
behaved as an honest man. He will have to be treated firmly but
carefully. You are a little excited just now. Wait for an hour or so, and
perhaps Mr. Wrayson will go with you."

Barnes turned towards him eagerly, and Wrayson nodded.

"Yes! I'll go," he said. "I know Mr. Bentham slightly. He once paid me
rather a curious visit. But never mind that now."

"Was it in connection with this affair?" the Baroness asked him quietly.

Wrayson affected not to hear. He passed his cigarette case to Barnes, who
was stamping up and down the room, muttering to himself.

"Look here, you'd better have a smoke and calm down, young man," he
said. "It's no use going to see Bentham in a state like this."

The young man threw himself into a chair. Suddenly he sat up again, and
addressed the Baroness.

"I say," he exclaimed, "how is it that you have a key to this flat? What
did you come here for this afternoon?"

The Baroness laughed softly.

"Well, I got the key from the landlord a few days ago. I told him that I
might take the flat, and he told me to come in and look at it and return
the key--which you see I haven't done. To be quite honest with you,
though, I had another reason for coming here."

The young man looked at her with mingled suspicion and admiration. She
had raised her veil now, and even Wrayson was aware that he had scarcely
realized how beautiful a woman she was. Her tailor-made gown of dark
green cloth fitted her to perfection; she was turned out with all that
delightful perfection of detail which seems to be the Frenchwoman's
heritage. Her smile, half pathetic, half appealing, was certainly
sufficient to turn the head of a dozen young men such as Sydney Barnes.

"I have told you," she continued, "that your brother and I used to be
very good friends. I wrote him now and then some rather foolish letters.
He promised to destroy them, but--men are so foolish, you know,
sometimes--I was never quite sure that he had kept his word, and I meant
to take this opportunity of looking for myself that he had not left them
about. You do not blame me, Mr. Sydney? You are not cross?"

He kept his eyes upon her as though fascinated.

"No!" he said. "No! I mean of course not."

"These letters," she continued, "you have not seen them, Mr. Sydney? No?
Or you, Mr. Wrayson?"

"We have not come across any letters at all answering to that
description," Wrayson assured her.

The Baroness glanced across at Barnes, who was certainly regarding her in
somewhat peculiar fashion.

"Why does Mr. Sydney look at me like that?" she asked, with a little
shrug of the shoulders. "He does not think that I came here to steal?
Why, Mr. Sydney," she added, "I am very, very much richer than ever your
brother was."

"Richer--than he was! Richer than two thousand a year!" he gasped.

The Baroness laughed softly but heartily. She stole a sidelong glance
at Wrayson.

"Why, my dear young man," she said, "it costs me--oh! quite as much as
that each year to dress."

Barnes looked at her as though she were something holy. When he spoke,
there was awe in his tone. The problem which had formed itself in his
thoughts demanded expression.

"And you say that you were a pal--I mean a friend of Morris's? You wrote
him letters?"

The Baroness smiled.

"Why not?" she exclaimed. "Women have queer tastes, you know. We like all
sorts of men. I think I must ask Mr. Wrayson to bring you in to tea one
afternoon. Would you like to come?"

"Yes!" he answered.

She nodded a farewell and turned to Wrayson.

"As for you," she said under her breath, "you had better come soon if
you want to make your peace with Louise."

"May I come this afternoon?" he asked.

She nodded, and held out her exquisitely gloved hand.

"I knew you were going to be an ally" she murmured under her breath.
"Don't let the others get hold of him."

She was gone before Wrayson could ask for an explanation. The others! If
only he could discover who they were.

He turned back into the room.

"Do you mind coming down into my flat for a moment, Barnes?" he asked. "I
want to telephone to the office before I go out with you again."

The young man followed him heavily. He seemed a little dazed. In
Wrayson's sitting-room, he stood looking about him as though appraising
the value of the curios, pictures, and engravings with which the
apartment was crowded. Wrayson, while waiting for his call, watched him
curiously. In his present state his vulgarity was perhaps less glaringly
apparent, but his lack of attractiveness was accentuated. His ears seemed
to have grown larger, his pinched, Semitic features more repulsive, and
his complexion sallower. He was pitchforked into a world of which he knew
nothing, and he seemed stunned by his first contact with it. Only one
thing remained--the greed in his eyes. They seemed to have grown narrower
and brighter with desire.

He did not speak until they were in the cab. Then he turned to Wrayson.

"I say," he exclaimed, "what was her name?"

Wrayson smiled.

"The Baroness de Sturm," he answered.

"Baroness! Real Baroness! All O.K., I suppose?"

"Without a doubt," Wrayson answered.

"And Morris knew her--she wrote letters to him," he continued, "a
woman--like that."

He was silent for several moments. It was obvious that his opinion of his
brother was rising rapidly. His tone had become almost reverential.

"I've got to find where that money is," he said abruptly. "If I go
through fire and water to get it, I'll have it! I'll keep on Morris's
flat. I'll go to his tailor! I'll--you're laughing at me. But I mean it!
I've had enough of grubbing along on nothing a week, and living in the
gutters. I want a bit of Morris's luck."

Wrayson put his head out of the cab. The young man's face was not
pleasant to look at.

"We are there," he said. "Come along."

CHAPTER XV

THE LAWYER'S SUGGESTION

The offices of Mr. Bentham were situated at the extreme end of a dingy,
depressing looking street which ran from the Adelphi to the Embankment
Gardens. It was a street of private hotels which no one had ever heard
of, and where apparently no one ever stayed. A few cranky institutions,
existing under the excuse of charity, had their offices there, and a firm
of publishers, whose glory was of the past, still dragged out their
uncomfortable and profitless existence in a building whose dusty windows
and smoke-stained walls sufficiently proclaimed their fast approaching
extinction. They found the name of Mr. Bentham upon a rusty brass plate
outside the last building in the street, with the additional intimation
that his offices were upon the first floor. There they found him, without
clerks, without even an errand boy, in a large bare apartment overlooking
the embankment. The room was darkened by the branches of one of a row of
elm trees, and the windows themselves were curtainless. There was no
carpet upon the floor, no paper upon the walls, no rows of tin boxes,
none of the usual surroundings of a lawyer's office. The solicitor, who
had bidden them enter, did not at first offer them any salutation. He
paused in a letter which he was writing and his eyes rested for a moment
upon Wrayson, and for a second or two longer upon his companion.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Bentham!" Wrayson said. "My name is Wrayson--you
remember me, I daresay."

"I remember you certainly, Mr. Wrayson," the lawyer answered. His eyes
were resting once more upon Sydney Barnes.

"This," Wrayson explained, "is Mr. Sydney Barnes, a brother of the Mr.
Morris Barnes, who was, I believe, a client of yours."

"Scarcely," the lawyer murmured, "a client of mine, although I must
confess that I was anxious to secure him as one. Possibly if he had lived
a few more hours, the epithet would have been in order."

Wrayson nodded.

"From a letter which we found in Mr. Barnes' desk," he remarked, "we
concluded that some business was pending between you. Hence our visit."

Mr. Bentham betrayed no sign of interest or curiosity of any sort.

"I regret," he said, "that I cannot offer you chairs. I am not
accustomed to receive my clients here. If you care to be seated upon
that form, pray do so."

Wrayson glanced at the form and declined. Sydney Barnes seemed scarcely
to have heard the invitation. His eyes were glued upon the lawyer's face.

"Will you tell me precisely," Mr. Bentham said, "in what way I can be of
service to you?"

"I want to know where my brother's money is," Barnes declared, stepping a
little forward. "Two thousand a year he had. We've seen it in his
bank-book. Five hundred pounds every quarter day! And we can't find a
copper! You were his lawyer, or were going to be. You must have known
something about his position."

Mr. Bentham looked straight ahead with still, impassive face. No trace
of the excitement in Sydney Barnes' face was reflected in his features.

"Two thousand a year," he repeated calmly. "It was really as much as
that, was it? Your brother had, I believe, once mentioned the amount to
me. I had no idea, though, that it was quite so large."

"I am his heir," the young man declared feverishly. "I'll take my oath
there's no one else. I'm going to take out letters of administration. He
hadn't another relation on God's earth."

Mr. Bentham regarded the young man thoughtfully.

"Have you any idea, Mr. Barnes," he asked, "as to the source of
this income?"

"Of course I haven't," Barnes answered. "That's why we're here. You must
know something about it."

"Your brother was not my client," the lawyer said slowly. "If his death
had not been quite so sudden, I think that he might have been. As it is,
I know very little of his affairs. I am afraid that I can be of very
little use to you."

"You must know something," Barnes declared doggedly. "You must tell us
what you do know."

"Your brother was," Mr. Bentham said, "a very remarkable man. Has it
never occurred to you, Mr. Barnes, that this two thousand a year might
have been money received in payment of services rendered--might have
been, in short, in the nature of a salary?"

"Not likely," Barnes answered, contemptuously. "Morris did no work at
all. He did nothing but just enjoy himself and spend money."

"Nothing but enjoy himself and spend money," Mr. Bentham repeated. "Ah!
Did you see a great deal of your brother during the last few years?"

"I saw nothing of him at all. I was out in South Africa. I have only just
got back. Not but that I'd been here long ago," the young man added, with
a note of exasperation in his tone, "if I'd had any idea of the luck he
was in. Why, I lent him a bit to come back with, though I was only
earning thirty bob a week, and the brute only sent it me back in bits,
and not a farthing over."

"That was not considerate of him," Mr. Bentham agreed--"not at all
considerate. Your brother had the command of considerable sums of money.
In fact, Mr. Barnes, I may tell you, without any breach of confidence, I
think that if he had kept his appointment with me on the night when he
was murdered, I was prepared, on behalf of my client, to hand him a
cheque for ten thousand pounds!"

Barnes struck the table before him with his clenched fist.

"For what?" he cried, hysterically. "Ten thousand pounds for what?"

"Your brother," Mr. Bentham said calmly, "was possessed of securities
which were worth that much or even more to my client."

"And where are they now?" Barnes gasped.

"I do not know," Mr. Bentham answered. "If you can find them, I think it
very likely that my client might make you a similar offer."

It was the first ray of hope. Barnes moistened his dry lips with his
tongue, and drew a long breath.

"Securities!" he muttered. "What sort of securities?"

"There, unfortunately," Mr. Bentham said, "I am unable to help you. I am
an agent only in the matter. They were securities which my client was
anxious to buy, and your brother was not unwilling to sell for cash,
notwithstanding the income which they were bringing him in."

"But how can I look for them, if I don't know what they are?" Barnes
protested.

"There are difficulties, certainly," the lawyer admitted, carefully
polishing his spectacles with the corner of a silk handkerchief; "but,
then, as you have doubtless surmised, the whole situation is a
difficult one."

"You can get to know," Barnes exclaimed. "Your client would tell you."

Mr. Bentham sighed gently.

"Of course," he said, "I am only quoting my own opinion, but I do not
think that my client would do anything of the sort. These securities
happen to be of a somewhat secret nature. Your brother was in a position
to make an exceedingly clever use of them. It appears incidentally to
have cost him his life, but there are risks, of course, in every
profession."

Barnes stared at him with wide-open eyes. He seemed, for the moment,
struck dumb. Wrayson, who had been silent during the greater part of the
conversation, turned towards the lawyer.

"You believe, then," he asked, "that Morris Barnes was murdered for the
sake of these securities?"

"I believe--nothing," the lawyer answered. "It is not my business to
believe. Mr. Morris Barnes was in the receipt of an income of two
thousand a year, which we might call dividend upon these securities. My
client, through me, made Mr. Barnes a cash offer to buy them outright,
and although I must admit that Mr. Barnes had not closed with us, yet I
believe that he was on the point of doing so. He had doubtless had it
brought home to him that there was a certain amount of danger associated
with his position generally. The night on which my client arrived in
England was the night upon which Mr. Morris Barnes was murdered. The
inference to be drawn from this circumstance I can leave, I am sure, to
the common sense of you two gentlemen."

"First, then," Wrayson said, "it would appear that he was murdered by the
people who were paying him two thousand a year, and who were acting in
opposition to your client!"

Mr. Bentham shrugged his shoulder gently.

"It does not sound unreasonable," he admitted.

"And secondly," Wrayson continued, "if that was so, he was probably
robbed of these securities at the same time."

"Now that, also," Mr. Bentham said smoothly, "sounds reasonable. But, as
a matter of fact," he continued, looking down upon the table, "there are
certain indications which go to disprove it. My personal opinion is that
the assassin--granted that there was an assassin, and granted that he was
acting on behalf of the parties we have referred to--met with a
disappointment."

"In plain words," Wrayson interrupted, "you mean that the other side have
not possessed themselves of the securities?"

"They certainly have not," Mr. Bentham declared. "They still remain--the
property by inheritance of this young gentleman here--Mr. Sydney Barnes,
I believe."

His tone was so even, so expressionless, that its slightest changes were
noticeable. It seemed to Wrayson that a faint note of sarcasm had crept
into these last few words. Mr. Barnes himself, however, was quite
oblivious of it. His yellow-stained fingers were spread out upon the
table. He leaned over towards the lawyer. His under lip protruded, his
deep-set eyes seemed closer than ever together. He was grimly, tragically
in earnest.

"Look here," he said. "What can I do to get hold of 'em? I don't care
what it is. I'm game! I'll deal with your man--the cash client. I'll give
you a commission, see! Five per cent on all I get. How's that? I'll play
fair. Now chuck away all this mystery. What were these securities? Where
shall I start looking for them?"

Mr. Bentham regarded him with stony face. "There are certain points," he
said, "upon which I cannot enlighten you. My duty to my client forbids
it. I cannot describe to you the nature of those securities. I cannot
suggest where you should look for them. All that I can say is that they
are still to be found, and that my client is still a buyer."

The young man turned to Wrayson. His face was twitching with some
emotion, probably anger.

"Did you ever hear such bally rot!" he exclaimed. "He knows all
about these securities all right. They belong to me. He ought to be
made to tell."

Wrayson shrugged his shoulders.

"It does seem rather a wild-goose chase, doesn't it?" he remarked. "Can't
you tell him a little more, Mr. Bentham?"

Mr. Bentham sighed, as though his impotence were a matter of sincere
regret to him.

"The only advice I can offer Mr. Barnes," he said, "is that he induce you
to aid him in his search. Between you, I should never be surprised to
hear of your success."

"And why," Wrayson asked, "should you consider me such a useful ally?"

Mr. Bentham looked at him steadily for a moment.

"You appear to me," he said, "to be a young man of intelligence--and you
know how to keep your own counsel. I should consider Mr. Barnes very
fortunate if you could make up your mind to aid him in his search."

"It is not my affair," Wrayson answered stiffly. "I could not possibly
pledge myself to enter upon such a wild-goose chase."

Mr. Bentham turned over some papers which lay upon the table before him.
He had apparently had enough of the conversation.

"You must not call it exactly that, Mr. Wrayson," he said. "Mr. Barnes'
success in his quest would probably result in an act of justice to
society. To you personally, I should imagine it would be expressly
interesting."

"What do you mean?" Wrayson asked, quickly.

The lawyer looked at him calmly.

"It should solve the mystery of Morris Barnes' murder!" he answered.

Wrayson touched his companion on the shoulder.

"I think that we might as well go," he said. "Mr. Bentham does not mean
to tell us anything more."

Barnes moved slowly towards the door, but with reluctance manifested in
his sullen face and manner.

"I don't know how I'm going to set about this job," he said, turning once
more towards the lawyer. "I shall do what I can, but you haven't seen the
last of me, yet, Mr. Bentham. If I fail, I shall come back to you."

The lawyer shrugged his shoulders. He was already absorbed in other work.

CHAPTER XVI

A DINNER IN THE STRAND

Wrayson was conscious, from the moment they left Mr. Bentham's office, of
a change in the deportment of the young man who walked by his side. A
variety of evil passions had developed one at least more tolerable--he
was learning the lesson of self-restraint. He did not speak until they
reached the corner of the street.

"Where can we get a drink?" he asked, almost abruptly. "I want
some brandy."

Wrayson took him to a bar close by. They sat in a quiet corner.

"I want to ask you something," he said, leaning halfway over the little
table between them. "How much do you know about the lady who came into my
brother's flat when we were there?"

The direct significance of the question startled Wrayson. This young man
was beginning to think.

"How much do I know of her?" he repeated. "Very little."

"She is really a Baroness--not one of these faked-up ones?"

"She is undoubtedly the Baroness de Sturm," Wrayson answered, a
little stiffly.

"And she has plenty of coin?"

"Certainly," Wrayson answered. "She is a great lady, I believe, in her
own country."

Barnes struck the table softly with the flat of his hand. His eyes were
searching for his answer in Wrayson's face, almost before the words had
left his lips.

"Do you believe then," he asked, "that a woman like that wrote
love-letters to Morris? You knew Morris. He was what those sort of people
call a bounder. Same as me! If he knew her at all it was a wonder. I
can't believe in the love-letters."

Wrayson shrugged his shoulders.

"The whole affair," he declared, "everything connected with your brother,
is so mysterious that I really don't know what to say."

"You knew Morris," the young man persisted. "You know the Baroness. Set
'em down side by side. They don't go, eh? You know that. Morris could tog
himself up as much as he liked, and he was always a good 'un at that when
he had the brass, but he'd never be able to make himself her sort. And if
she's a real lady, and wasn't after the brass, then I don't believe that
she ever wrote him love-letters. What?"

Wrayson said nothing. The young man held out his empty glass to a waiter.

"More brandy," he ordered briefly. "Look here, Mr. Wrayson," he added,
adopting once more his mysterious manner, "those love-letters don't go!
What did the Baroness want in my brother's flat? She struck me dumb when
I first saw her. I admit it. I'd have swallowed anything. More fool me! I
tell you, though, I'm not having any more. Will you come along with me to
her house now, and see if we can't make her tell us the truth?"

Wrayson shook his head deliberately.

"Mr. Barnes," he said, "I am sorry to disappoint you, and I sympathize
very much with your position, but you mustn't take it for granted that
I am, shall we say, your ally in this matter. I haven't either the time
or the patience to give to investigations of this sort. I have done
what I could for you, and I will give you what advice I can, or help
you in any way, if you care to come and see me. But you mustn't count
on anything else."

Barnes' face dropped. He was obviously disappointed.

"You won't come and see the Baroness with me even?" he asked.

"I think not," Wrayson answered. "To tell you the truth, I don't think
that it would be of any use. Even if your suspicions are correct--and you
scarcely know what you suspect, do you?--the Baroness is much too clever
a woman to allow herself to be pumped by either you or me."

Wrayson felt himself subjected for several moments to the scrutinizing
stare of those blinking, unpleasant eyes.

"You're not taking her side against me, are you?" Barnes asked
distrustfully.

"Certainly not," Wrayson answered impatiently. "You must be reasonable,
my young friend. I have done what I can to put you in the way of helping
yourself, but I am a busy man. I have my own affairs to look after, and I
can't afford to play the part of a twentieth-century Don Quixote."

"I understand," the young man said slowly. "You are going to turn me up."

"You are putting a very foolish construction upon what I have said,"
Wrayson answered irritably. "I have gone out of my way to help you, but,
frankly, I think that yours is a wild-goose chase."

Barnes rose to his feet and finished his brandy.

"I don't believe it," he declared. "I'm going to have that two thousand a
year, if I have to take that man Bentham by the throat and strangle the
truth out of him. If I can't find out without, I'll make him tell me the
truth if I swing for it. By God, I will!"

They left the place together and walked towards the corner of the street.

"I shouldn't do anything rash, if I were you," Wrayson said. "I fancy
you'd find Bentham a pretty tough sort to tackle. You must excuse me now.
I am going into the club for a few minutes."

"How are you, Wrayson?" a quiet voice asked behind.

Wrayson turned round abruptly. It was Stephen Heneage who had greeted
him--the one man whom, at that moment, he was least anxious to meet of
any person in the world. Already he could see that Heneage was taking
quiet but earnest note of his companion.

Wrayson nodded a little abruptly and left Barnes without any
further farewell.

"Coming round to the club?" he asked.

Heneage assented, and glanced carelessly behind at Barnes, who was
walking slowly in the opposite direction.

"Who's your friend?" he asked. "You shook him off a little suddenly,
didn't you?"

"He is not a friend," Wrayson answered, "and I was trying to get rid of
him when you came up. He is nobody of any account."

Heneage shook his head thoughtfully.

"It won't do, Wrayson," he said. "That young man possessed a cast of
features which are positively unmistakable."

"What do you mean?" Wrayson demanded.

"I mean that he was a relation, and a near relation, too, I should
imagine, of our deceased friend Morris Barnes," Heneage answered coolly.
"I shall be obliged to make that young man's acquaintance."

"Damn you and your prying!" Wrayson exclaimed angrily. "I wish--"

He stopped abruptly. Heneage was already retracing his steps.

Wrayson, after a moment's indecision, went on to the club, and made his
way at once to the billiard-room. The Colonel was sitting in his usual
corner chair, watching a game of pool, beaming upon everybody with his
fatherly smile, encouraging the man who met with ill luck, and applauding
the successful shots. He was surrounded by his cronies, but he held out
his hand to Wrayson, who leaned against the wall by his side and waited
for his opportunity.

"Colonel," he said at last in his ear, taking advantage of the applause
which followed a successful shot, "I want half an hour's talk with you,
quite by ourselves. Can you slip away and come and dine with me
somewhere?"

The Colonel looked dubious.

"I'm afraid they won't like it," he answered. "Freddy and George are
here, and Tempest's coming in later."

"I can't help it," Wrayson answered. "You can guess what it's about. It's
a serious matter."

The Colonel sighed.

"We might find an opportunity later on," he suggested.

"It won't do," Wrayson answered. "I want to get right away from here. I
wouldn't bother you if it wasn't necessary."

"I'm sure you wouldn't," the Colonel admitted. "We'll slip away quietly
when this game is over. It won't be long. Good shot, Freddy! Sixpence,
you divide!"

They found themselves in the Strand about half an hour later.

"Where shall we go?" Wrayson asked. "Somewhere quiet."

"Across the way," the Colonel answered. "We shan't see any one we
know there."

Wrayson nodded, and they crossed the street and entered Luigi's. It was
early for diners, and they found a small table in a retired corner.
Wrayson ordered the dinner, and then leaned across the table towards
his guest.

"It's that Barnes matter, Colonel," he said quietly. "Heneage has taken
it up and means going into it thoroughly. He saw me letting out your
daughter that night."

The Colonel was in the act of helping himself to _hors d'oeuvre._ His
fork remained suspended for a moment in the air. Then he set it down with
trembling fingers. The cheery light had faded from his face. He seemed
suddenly older. His voice sounded unnatural.

"Heneage!" he repeated, sharply. "Stephen Heneage! What affair is
it of his?"

"None," Wrayson answered. "He likes that sort of thing, that's all. He
saw--your daughter with a lady--the Baroness de Sturm, and the seeing
them together, after he had watched her come out of the flat that night,
seemed to suggest something to him. He warned me that he had made up his
mind to solve the mystery of Morris Barnes' murder; he advised me, in
fact, to clear out. And now, since then--"

The waiter brought the soup. Wrayson broke off and talked for a moment or
two to the _matre d'htel,_ who had paused at their table. Presently,
when they were alone, he went on.

"Since then, a young brother of Barnes has turned up from South Africa.
There was some mystery about Morris Barnes and the source of his income.
The brother is just as determined to solve this as Heneage seems to be to
discover the--the murderer! They will work together, and I am afraid! Not
for myself! You know for whom."

The Colonel was very grave. He ate slowly, and he seemed to be thinking.

"There is one man, a solicitor named Bentham," Wrayson continued, "who I
believe knows everything. But I do not think that even Heneage will be
able to make him speak. His connection with the affair is on behalf of a
mysterious client. Young Barnes and I went to see him this afternoon, but
beyond encouraging the boy to search for the source of his brother's
income, he wouldn't open his mouth."

"A solicitor named Bentham," the Colonel repeated mechanically. "Ah!"

"Do you know him?" Wrayson asked.

"I have heard of him," the Colonel answered. "A most disreputable person,
I believe. He has offices in the Adelphi."

Wrayson nodded.

"And whatever his business is," he continued, "it isn't the ordinary
business of a solicitor. He has no clerks--not even an office boy!"

The Colonel poured himself out a glass of wine.

"No clerks--not even an office boy! It all agrees with what I have heard.
A bad lot, Wrayson, I am afraid--a thoroughly bad lot. Are you sure that
up to now he has kept his own counsel?"

"I am sure of it," Wrayson answered.

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