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Till the Clock Stops by John Joy Bell

Part 5 out of 5

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As he spoke, Lancaster, Doris, Mr. Harvie and the doctor appeared from
the passage.

"Doctor, will you go to Caw?" said Alan rapidly. "He's hurt--downstairs."

Handyside ran out, and Guidet banged the door after him. "Guard it!" he
shouted to Teddy. "Let not the pig-hog escape!"

The little Frenchman was beside himself. "So I suspect you right!" he
almost screamed. "You think I was greater fool than you look when you ask
me to make clock the same for five hundred pounds! Bah! What idiot you
was! For I think a little after you go, and I take not many chances. How
to get here most quick, I ask myself. The train to Greenock, the ferry to
cross the water, and the legs to run three miles. I do so! I
arrive!--behold, I arrive in time!" He laughed wildly. "And so you would
try to kill him--my clock!" he yelled, and with that, like a furious
bantam, ignoring the pistol, he flew at Bullard, tore away the mask and
tossed it against the wall.

"Monsieur Guidet!" cried Alan, running forward and catching his arm.
"Leave him to us."

Guidet shook off the clasp. "Pig-hog," he went on, "behold, I pull your
nose! There! Also, I flap your face! One! two! I do not waste a good
clean card on you, but I will give you satisfaction when you like--after
you come out of the jail!"

Alan had grabbed Bullard's right wrist. "Teddy, take the madman away," he
cried, and Teddy removed Guidet, who went obediently, but blowing like a
porpoise, to a seat by the wall.

Lancaster, looking ill, had sunk into an easy-chair by the fire. His
daughter, pale but composed, stood beside him, her hand on his shoulder.
She still feared Bullard: even now she was ready for sacrifice. Mr.
Harvie, lost in amazement, had not got beyond the threshold.

As for Bullard, he had gone white to the lips at the Frenchman's affront;
his expression was diabolical. Wrenching his wrist from Alan's grasp, he
stepped back until he stood framed in the curtains. His black eyes stared
straight in front of him, at the clock, perhaps; perhaps into the future.

Alan went back to the door, and whispered to Marjorie: "Go beside Doris,
please." Then he turned to Bullard.

"I may as well tell you," he said, "that unless my servant Caw is another
of your victims, like Flitch, we shall neither attempt to injure you nor
give you in charge; the reason for that is our affair."

At this Teddy found it necessary to restrain Monsieur Guidet.

"But, on the other hand," Alan continued, "you are not going to walk out
of this house as easily as you seem to have entered. In fact, you are not
going to leave this house until many things have been settled."

Bullard gave him a glance. "Indeed!" he said quietly. "And what does Mr.
Lancaster say to that?"

"Mr. Lancaster is not going to be troubled over this matter," Alan
replied calmly, "and you will have no opportunities for troubling him on
any other matter. We happen to have a nice, dry cellar, and--well, in
short, you are our prisoner, Mr. Bullard--"

Mr. Harvie took a step forward. This was too much for his legal mind. "My
dear Mr. Craig," he began, "pray consider carefully--"

"Oh, please, for goodness' sake, keep quiet, Mr. Harvie," Marjorie
impulsively interposed, and he collapsed, partly, it may have been, from
astonishment.

"For how long, may I ask," sneered Bullard, "am I to have the felicity of
your hospitality?"

"Till the clock stops."

A short silence was broken by Monsieur Guidet's clapping his hands and
exclaiming: "How you like that, pig-hog? Bravo, Mr. Craik! That was a
good bean to give him!"

Marjorie and Teddy laughed, and the others, excepting Lancaster, smiled.
And just then the doctor entered supporting Caw, who looked dazed and
wretched. Alan shook his limp hand and helped him to a seat beside
Guidet--which was an error of judgment, for the Frenchman's eloquence was
loosened afresh.

"Ah, poor Mr. Caw," he cried, patting the sufferer affectionately. "But
never mind, for now you have the enemy on the toast! Cheer up, for I will
tell you a good choke! Figure it to yourself, the pig-hog comes here with
a glass dish over his bad face--he was so fearful of my clock that it
would hurt him--he had so great terror of the green fluid--ha! ha!--I
must laugh, it was so very droll." Then he flashed round on Bullard. "But
listen, pig-hog, and I tell you the secret of the dreadful, fearful,
terrible, awful green fluid! I know the secret, for I make it myself. It
is a kind of fish--what you call a cod--understand? And I make it with
the oil of castor and some nice colourings! _Voil_! I could laugh for
weeks and fortnights, and--"

"Look out!" shouted Teddy, and sprang forward--too late.

"Till the clock stops," said Bullard in a thick voice, and fired at it.
Then he flung the pistol behind him and grinned.

Teddy secured Guidet just in time, and a silence fell that seemed to last
for minutes.

The bullet, having made a starry hole in the glass, had pierced the face
an inch below its centre, and as the company stared, the pendulum
shuddered and fell with a little plash into the green liquid.

A wild cry came from the Frenchman--"Miracle!"--and he fell to
hugging poor Caw.

As though the others had ceased to exist, Bullard strode forward. Now his
countenance was congested, his eyes glazed. "The diamonds!" he muttered.
"Where are the--"

He stopped short, as did Alan and Teddy, who had started to intercept
him,--stopped short, as did every other human movement in that room at
the sound of a voice--a voice emanating from no person present.

Far and faint it sounded, but distinct enough for the hearing of all.

"Do not be alarmed," it said, and paused.

And Bullard was ghastly again, and Lancaster gasped and shivered and put
his hands to his face. Marjorie caught Doris's hand, and Caw tried to
rise. The others stared at the clock.

The voice slowly proceeded--

"These are my instructions to my nephew, Alan Craig, respecting the
diamonds once mine, now his; and if Alan has not returned, to my servant
Caw, and failing him, to my lawyer, Mr. George Harvie, who shall then
open the letter marked 'last resort,' which I leave in his care. But I
make this record in the full belief that my nephew lives and will hear my
words." A pause.

Bullard threw himself on the couch. "'His master's voice, Caw,'" he
sneered most bitterly.

No one answered save the impulsive Marjorie.

"Cad!" she said clearly.

The voice resumed:

"Alan, you will have the diamonds divided expertly and without delay into
three portions of equal value, and you will hand one portion to Miss
Marjorie Handyside, the second to Miss Doris Lancaster, yourself
retaining the third. I make no restrictions of any sort. I also desire
you to present the pendulum intact to Monsieur Guidet, the maker of the
clock, provided he has proved faithful. Finally, I ask you to present to
my one-time friend, Francis Bullard, the Green Box left in the deep
drawer of my writing-table, unless he has already obtained possession of
the same, along with the key which Mr. Harvie will provide. And may God
bless and deal gently with us all!--even with the traitor in our midst.
Farewell."

There was another silence. Doris was kneeling, her arms round her father,
as though to protect him, and Bullard had risen; the others had scarcely
changed their positions.

Mr. Harvie cleared his throat. "Really, my dear Mr. Craig," he said, "all
this is most interesting, but, I beg leave to say, extremely irregular.
And--and where are the--"

"I almost forgot to say," replied the voice--and you might have fancied a
repressed chuckle--"that the diamonds are deposited, in my nephew's name,
with the Bank of Scotland, Glasgow. Once more, farewell."

And with that the clock, having performed its duty, though so long before
its time, disintegrated, the works falling piecemeal into the green
fluid, there forming a melancholy little heap of submerged wreckage.

No one seemed to know what to say, until Mr. Harvie came to the rescue.
He advanced and congratulated Marjorie.

"And you, too, Miss Lancaster," he said kindly.

Doris rose and gave him her hand. "It's really true, isn't it?" she
whispered. "And I can do anything I like with them?"

"Anything you like, my dear."

Alan and Teddy approached the girls, but Bullard was before them. The man
refused to believe he was beaten.

"Doris," he said, almost pleasantly, "now that the clock has stopped, I
feel at liberty to announce our engagement."

She looked at him bravely, but did not speak.

He lowered his voice. "Your father's debt to the Syndicate is
paid, but--"

"Oh, you worm!" cried Marjorie. "Where's my revolver?"

But Alan took him by the collar and slung him halfway across the room,
crying savagely: "How dare you speak to a lady?"

"Bravo, Mr. Craik!" Guidet chuckled. "Another good bean!"

"Leave him to me," said Teddy. "He has asked for it, and, by Heaven, he's
going to get it! Look here, Bullard!" He held up an inch of fine gold
chain with a nugget attached, and Bullard wilted. "If you aren't out of
this country within three days, and if you ever defile it again, I'll use
this, though I should get five years for holding it back. Now go!"

Bullard turned to the door.

"Oh, stop him!" feebly cried Caw. "He must not go without the Green Box."

Bullard made a dash, but the Frenchman was before him and held the door
till Teddy brought box and key. For an instant Bullard looked as if he
would send the thing crashing amongst the midst of them all. Then he took
it and went.

"Mr. France," said Caw, "please take my revolver and see that he carries
the box right off the premises."

"I'll see him to the gates," said Teddy.

* * * * *

And so Francis Bullard realised that he was beaten at last. Yet even in
the agony of rage and hate and defeat that shook his being as he turned
from the gates of Grey House, he ignored despair. Nothing was final!
South Africa was before him! There was money to be made! There was
revenge to be planned.... Revenge! He could think of nothing else--not
even of some one who might be crazy for revenge on himself.

He came to the wood, started the car, and backed it out to the road. Then
he set off for Glasgow at a more reckless pace than usual--and suddenly
remembered that the Green Box was on the seat beside him. Fool that he
was!--the thing must be got rid of! The water--that was the place. He
prepared to slow down. No, not yet. Better get past that bit where the
road ran so high above the shore. He put on speed again, and then--

A snarl behind him, a hot breath on his ear, and two hands fastened
viciously about his neck.

"Stop the car!" quacked the voice of Edwin Marvel. "My turn now! I've
been waiting for this, you beast, you liar, you swindler! Stop the car!"
repeated the madman, and wrenched at his captive's throat so that the
latter's hands were torn from the wheel.

Bullard's prayer, warning, or whatever it was, came forth in a mere
gurgle. The car swerved, left the road, ran up a short, gentle, grassy
slope, tilted at the summit, toppled and plunged to the rocky shore.

There was an appalling explosion.

CHAPTER XXIX

A fortnight later, Caw, in his little sitting-room, was entertaining
Monsieur Guidet to afternoon tea. The Frenchman had just completed the
operation of replacing Christopher's clock with one of similar aspect
minus the glamour and mystery of pendulum and fluid.

"Monsoor," said Caw, "excuse my asking it again, but could you not have
done what the bullet did?"

"Perhaps, Mr. Caw, only perhaps. I am not so clever as Chance. The
bullet, you see, came at the exact right instant to the exact right
place. It was a miracle! The pig-hog--no! I call him not so since he is
dead--the poor devil might have fired a million hundred bullets without
doing what that one bullet did. That is all I can say--all I wish to say,
because I still am sad that my clock was not let to stop himself. But
now, I will ask _you_ a query, Mr. Caw. How did the young lady, so
beautiful, so brave, so splendid, come to be in the room with the--the
poor devil?"

"Miss Handyside, being uneasy in her mind," Caw answered, a trifle
stiffly, "had come secretly to ask me to keep an eye on an unworthy
person who was staying in the house. Which is as much as I care to say on
the subject, Monsoor."

"But you will tell me if she and Mr. Alan Craik are now betrothered?"

At that Caw's manner relaxed; he smiled rather complacently. "As a matter
of fact, Monsoor," he replied, "the event took place yesterday, at four
thirty-five p.m."

"Bravo! But I am not all surprised. That night, when I see them together,
I begin to smell a mouse."

"If I may say so," said Caw modestly, "it was myself who pulled the
string, as it were."

Monsieur looked puzzled.

"I need not go into details, Monsoor, but I may tell you, in strictest
confidence, that I had become fully fed up with the thing hanging fire.
To my mind the position was absurd. Here were two pleasant young persons,
worth nearly quarter of a million apiece, and as miserably in love as
ever I hope to see two of my fellow creatures--and nothing doing! So,
when the chance came, I felt it was my duty to take it. Accordingly,
while they were going through the passage, I shut off the electric at the
main switch." Caw paused to light a cigarette: he was becoming somewhat
frivolous in his ways. "Later," he proceeded, "I gathered that they came
out at the other end an engaged couple."

"Clever, Mr. Caw! You are a philosopher, I think."

"Oh, any idiot knows that people in that condition prefer darkness.
Still, I think I have done a service to both my masters, for she was Mr.
Christopher's choice for his nephew. Well"--he sighed--"I'm glad to have
done one thing without bungling."

"And the other young lady--also most beautiful but too hungry--too
skim--you understand?"

"Slim, if you please, Monsoor. You'll be talking about slim milk next!
But to be serious, it is a case where one can only hope for the best.
There was never a finer young man than Mr. France, and it is a great pity
there were no diamonds for him. I understand he is none too well off, and
when a lady happens to have a very large fortune--of course, I understand
that is no impediment in your country--"

"Would you not shut off the electric again, Mr. Caw?" the Frenchman
eagerly asked.

Caw shook his head. "I was never one for tempting Providence by trying to
repeat an immense success. Likely as not, they would fall down the stair
instead of into each other's arms."

"Hah! that would not be so pleasing. The broken heart can be repaired,
but the broken nose--" Monsieur made an expressive gesture and rose.
"But, as you have said, we must hope for the best. It is always well to
take an optical view of the future--is it not? And now, Mr. Caw"--he
became nervous and produced a jeweller's package--"before I go I give you
a small momento. My clock has brought you dangers, for which forgive. We
have been allies in the service of my benefactor, Mr. Christopher Craik,
and I hope we remain good friends for ever always. Take this, mon ami,
but look not at it till I have depart. The description on it I hope you
will approve on. But one thing more--I trust you to let me know when the
marriage--no, I say the marriages, not singular--are about to go off ...
Au revoir!"

* * * * *

When Caw opened the package he was amazed to find a very fine gold
hunting watch; and he was not a little touched on reading the inscription
inside the case.

"To J. Caw from A. Guidet.
To Be Faithful
Is The Best Thing
We Can Do."

"Ay," he murmured ruefully, "but I've made a pretty poor show of it."

* * * * *

At the same hour, in the doctor's study, Marjorie and Alan were
awaiting--without any visible impatience--the return of the others for
tea. Lancaster and Teddy were still Alan's guests, but Doris was now
Marjorie's. On the day following the stoppage of the clock, Mrs.
Lancaster, finding it imperative that she should fulfil certain most
important social engagements, had returned to London. She left Grey House
in ignorance of all that had happened beyond the bare details of the
division of the diamonds. Of Bullard's end she did not hear till a week
later, and the particulars of his death were as vague as many of the
particulars of the man's life. The "accident" had remained undiscovered
for a couple of days, and the tides of the Firth had removed much. Mrs.
Lancaster had departed with sullen, smouldering eyes. She honestly
considered her daughter thankless and undutiful, because the latter had
not promised her a share of the diamonds on the spot.

It was of her that Alan and Marjorie had been talking for the past
five minutes.

"I wouldn't be too pessimistic, Alan, if I were you," the girl was
saying. "Mrs. Lancaster, given her own way and plenty of money, may be
quite bearable, if not charming, to live with, and Doris is evidently
bent on supplying the money--"

"For her father's sake. Doris will never forgive her mother, and I don't
see why she should."

Marjorie smiled. "Let's wait and see. What will the Lancasters' income be
from Doris's gift?"

"If Doris spends a hundred thousand on a joint annuity, as she threatens
to do, they will have about 8,000 a year."

"Goodness! what a lot to have to spend in twelve months!"

"And, of course, Lancaster, though he will have retired from
business, will have quite a decent income of his own when the mines
come round again."

"Well, I prophesy that they will both be fairly happy. Mrs. Lancaster
ought to be able to make a pretty good display in what she calls
Society. Now and then Mr. Lancaster will have a shilling left to spend
on a nice book for his library, poor dear; and, with no business
worries, he will probably begin to admire his wife once more as well as
love her, which he has always done; and when he gets a surfeit of her
friends, as I fear he will now and then, he will just take a little
holiday and pay you a visit--"

"Us, please!"

"I wonder," said Miss Handyside, becoming extremely grave, "I wonder
whether we ought to marry, after all."

"What?"

"We're both of us far, far too rich. You know I have always despised very
rich people."

"I'm sure I'll lose my bit in no time," said Alan, hopefully.

"On the other hand, I have never admired foolish people."

"I never said you were conceited, did I?" he retorted.

"You wouldn't have said a thing like that twenty-four hours ago,
Mr. Craig!"

"Twenty-four hours ago I would not have interrupted you for the world."

"What do you mean?"

"Look at the clock! Twenty-four hours ago, in that dark passage, you were
whispering--"

"I wasn't!" cried Marjorie, blushing adorably. "Hold your tongue and
talk about something sensible."

"Right! Do you think you could be ready to marry me next month?"

When a minute or two had passed, she said: "We're a pair of horrid,
selfish things!"

"How so?"

"We're so wrapped up in happiness--at least, you are--that we have no
thought for poor Doris, and poor, _poor_ Teddy. Oh, what is to be done
about them? ... Why don't you answer?"

"Because it's a problem, dear girl. We know it's simply want of money
that's holding Teddy back, but even a fellow with plenty can't say to his
friend: 'Look here, old cock, take this cheque and run away and get
engaged!'"

"Certainly not! There's no need to be indelicate. Couldn't you put the
cheque in his stocking at Christmas--or something?"

"While I am doubtful as to whether Teddy hangs up his sock, I know he's
too sensitive and proud to accept a money gift, however delicately
offered. As a matter of fact, Marjorie, I've tried--wanted him to take a
quarter of the diamonds as a sort of souvenir, you know--"

"You dear, kind, generous man!" exclaimed Marjorie....

Order being restored--

"My only hope," he went on, "is that Teddy will, somehow, lose his head
and take the plunge, and _then_ it would be a wedding present. One can't
reject a wedding present, can one?"

"No--though every one of my sisters has fervently wished one could. And I
could give him a wedding present, too!"

"We!"

"No, big!"

They both laughed, then sighed, and with one accord said--

"But he'll never do it!"

* * * * *

Dusk was falling on the loch. The figures of Lancaster and Handyside
walking in front were becoming invisible.

"But why," asked Doris, "are you going back to London? I thought you had
decided to spend the winter at Grey House and help Alan with his book
about the Eskimos."

"I'm afraid it's a blue lookout for the Eskimos. You see, Alan hopes
Marjorie will agree to marry him in January. The stopping of the clock
has altered a good many things," he finished, rather drearily.

"It seems to have altered you, Teddy," she said shyly.

He did not respond, and there was another of the long pauses which had
been frequent during the walk.

"Father and I must be going, too, before long," she said at last.

"Your father is looking a new man, Doris," he returned, with an effort.

"Thanks to you.... Oh, I know you have told me not to speak about it, but
I implore you to tell me how you did that wonderful thing about the debt
to the Syndicate. Tell me, Teddy."

"You must excuse me."

"But why should you want to hide the truth from me? Do you know what you
force me to think?--that you paid the debt yourself!"

"Well, I didn't."

"Not some of it?"

There was silence, then--"For heaven's sake, Doris, let the matter rest.
Forget about it!"

"Forget! What do you think I'm made of? ... Oh, I'm beginning to wonder
whether Christopher's diamonds have brought me any real happiness."

Controlling himself he said: "You know they have, for your father's
sake alone--"

"Even so," she said, and halted.

"Doris," he whispered with passionate bitterness, "I will say it only
once: it's rotten to be poor. That's all. Now let's--"

"And I think I will say it all my life," she answered almost inaudibly;
"... it's rotten to be rich, and I'm afraid we shall be late for tea."

They were,--very late.

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