IF one consults a dictionary one finds that the word dipsomaniac means a man who spends his life continually desiring alcoholic liquor; a name that properly classifies it has not yet been invented for the individual who exhibits a perpetual craving for notoriety, and yet one is, perhaps, as much a nuisance to society as the other. After his run of success there came a time when Simon Carne, like Alexander the Great, could have sat down and wept, for the reason that he had no more worlds to conquer. For the moment it seemed as if he had exhausted, to put it plainly, every species of artistic villainy.
He had won the Derby, under peculiar circumstances, as narrated elsewhere; he had rendered a signal, though an unostentatious, service to the State; he had stolen, under enormous difficulty, the most famous family jewels in Europe; and he had relieved the most fashionable bride and bridegroom of the season of the valuable presents that their friends and relations had lavished on them.
Having accomplished so much, it would seem as if he had done all that mortal man could do to create a record for himself, but, like the dipsomaniac above mentioned, he was by no means satisfied, he craved for more. It delighted him beyond all measure to hear the comments of his friends upon each daring crime as it became known to the world. What he wanted now was something before which all the rest would sink into insignificance. Day after day he had puzzled his brains, but without success. All he wanted was a hint. When he got it he could be trusted to follow it up for himself. At present, however, even that was wanting.
On a morning following a banquet at the Mansion House, at which he had been a welcome, as well as a conspicuous guest, he was sitting alone in his study smoking a meditative cigar. Though the world would scarcely have thought it, a fashionable life did not suit him, and he was beginning to wonder whether he was not, after all, a little tired of England. He was hungering for the warmth and colour of the East, and, perhaps, if the truth must be told, for something of the rest he had known in the Maharajah of Kadir's lake palace, where he had been domiciled when he had first made the acquaintance of the man who had been his sponsor in English society, the Earl of Amberley.
It was a strange coincidence that, while he was thinking of that nobleman, and of the events which had followed the introduction just referred to, his quick ears should have caught the sound of a bell that was destined eventually to lead him up to one of the most sensational adventures of all his sensational career. A moment later his butler entered to inform him that Lady Caroline Weltershall and the Earl of Amberley had called, and would like to see him. Tossing his cigar into the grate, he passed through the door Ram Gafur held open for him, and, having crossed the hall, entered the drawing-room.
As he went he wondered what it was that had brought them to see him at such an early hour. Both were among his more intimate acquaintances, and both occupied distinguished positions in the social life of the world's great metropolis. While her friends and relations spent their time in search of amusement, and a seemingly eternal round of gaieties, which involved a waste of both health and money, Lady Caroline, who was the ugly duckling of an otherwise singularly handsome family, put her life to a different use.
Philanthropy was her hobby, and scarcely a day passed in which she did not speak at some meeting, preside over some committee, or endeavour in some way, as she somewhat grandiloquently put it: "To better the lives and ameliorate the conditions of our less fortunate fellow creatures." In appearance she was a short, fair woman, of about forty-five years of age, with a not unhandsome face, the effect of which, however, was completely spoilt by two large and protruding teeth.
"My dear Lady Caroline, this is indeed kind of you," said Carne, as he shook hands with her, "and also of you, Lord Amberley. To what happy circumstance may I attribute the pleasure of this visit?"
"I fear it is dreadfully early for us to come to see you," replied her ladyship, "but Lord Amberley assured me that as our business is so pressing you would forgive us."
"Pray do not apologise," returned Carne. "It gives me the greatest possible pleasure to see you. As for the hour I am ashamed to confess that, while the morning is no longer young, I have only just finished breakfast. But won't you sit down?"
They seated themselves once more, and when they had done so, Lady Caroline unfolded her tale.
"As you are perhaps aware, my friends say that I never come to see them unless it is to attempt to extort money from them for some charitable purpose," she said. "No, you need not prepare to button up your pockets, Mr. Carne. I am not going to ask you for anything to-day. What I do want, however, is to endeavour to persuade you to help us in a movement we are inaugurating to raise money with which to relieve the great distress in the Canary Islands, brought about by the late disastrous earthquake. My cousin, the Marquis of Laverstock, has kindly promised to act as president, and, although we started it but yesterday, ten thousand pounds have already been subscribed. As you are aware, however, if we are to attract public attention and support, the funds raised must be representative of all classes. Our intention, therefore, is to hold a drawing-room meeting at my house to-morrow afternoon, when a number of the most prominent people of the day will be invited to give us their views upon the subject.
"I feel sure, if you will only consent to throw in your lot with us, and to assist in carrying out what we have in view, we shall be able to raise a sum of at least one hundred thousand pounds for the benefit of the sufferers. Our kind friend here, Lord Amberley, has promised to act as secretary, and his efforts will be invaluable to us. Royalty has signified its gracious approval, and it is expected will head the list with a handsome donation. Every class will be appealed to. Ministers of religion, of all known denominations, will be invited to co-operate, and if you will only consent to allow your name to appear upon the personnel of the committee, and will allow us to advertise your name as a speaker at to-morrow's meeting, I feel sure there is nothing we shall not be able to achieve."
"I shall be delighted to help you in any way I can," Carne replied. "If my name is likely to be of any assistance to you, I beg you will make use of it. In the meantime, if you will permit me, I will forward you a cheque for one thousand pounds, being my contribution to the fund you have so charitably started."
Her ladyship beamed with delight, and even Lord Amberley smiled gracious approval.
"You are generous, indeed," said Lady Caroline. "I only wish others would imitate your example."
She did not say that, wealthy though she herself was, she had only contributed ten pounds to the fund. It is well known that while she inaugurated large works of charity, she seldom contributed very largely to them. As a wit once remarked: "Philanthropy was her virtue, and meanness was her vice."
"Egad," said Amberley, "if you're going to open your purse strings like that, Carne, I shall feel called upon to do the same."
"Then let me have the pleasure of booking both amounts at once," cried her ladyship, at the same time whipping out her note-book and pencil with flattering alacrity.
"I shall be delighted," said Carne, with a smile of eagerness.
"I also," replied Amberley, and in a trice both amounts were written down. Having gained her point, her ladyship rose to say goodbye. Lord Amberley immediately imitated her example.
"You will not forget, will you, Mr. Carne?" she said. "I am to have the pleasure of seeing you at my house to-morrow afternoon at three o'clock. We shall look forward to hearing your speech, and I need not remind you that every word you utter will be listened to with the closest attention."
"At three to-morrow afternoon," said Carne, "I shall be at your house. You need have no fear that I shall forget. And now, since you think you must be going, good-bye, and many thanks to you for asking me."
He escorted them to the carriage which was waiting outside, and when he had watched it drive away, returned to his study to write the cheque he had promised her. Having done so, he did not rise from his chair, but continued to sit at his writing-table, biting the feather of his quill pen and staring at the blotting pad before him. A great and glorious notion had suddenly come into his head, and the majesty of it was for the moment holding him spellbound.
"If only it could be worked," he said to himself, "what a glorious coup it would be. The question for my consideration is, can it be done? To invite the people of England to subscribe its pounds, shillings, and pence, for my benefit, would be a glorious notion, and just the sort of thing I should enjoy. Besides which I have to remember that I am a thousand pounds to the bad already, and that must come back from somewhere. For the present, however, I'll put the matter aside. After the meeting to-morrow I shall have something tangible to go upon, and then, if I still feel in the same mind, it will be strange if I can't find some way of doing what I want. In the meantime I shall have to think out my speech; upon that will depend a good deal of my success. It is a strange world in which it is ordained that so much should depend upon so little!"
At five minutes to three o'clock on the following afternoon Simon Carne might have been observed—that, I believe, is the correct expression—strolling across from Apsley House to Gloucester Place. Reaching Lord Weltershall's residence, he discovered a long row of carriages lining the pavement, and setting down their occupants at his lordship's door. Carne followed the stream into the house, and was carried by it up the stairs towards the large drawing-room where the meeting was to be held. Already about a hundred persons were present, and it was evident that, if they continued to arrive at the same rate, it would not be long before the room would be filled to overflowing. Seeing Lady Caroline bidding her friends welcome near the door, Carne hastened to shake hands with her.
"It is so very good of you to come," she said, as she took his hand. "Remember, we are looking to you for a rousing speech this afternoon. We want one that will inflame all England, and touch the heart-strings of every man and woman in the land."
"To touch their purse-strings would, perhaps, be more to the point," said Carne, with one of his quiet smiles.
"Let us hope we shall touch them, too," she replied. "Now would you mind going to the dais at the other end of the room? You will find Lord Laverstock there, talking to my husband, I think."
Carne bowed, and went forward as he had been directed.
So soon as it was known that the celebrities had arrived, the meeting was declared open and the speechmaking commenced. Clever as some of them were it could not be doubted that Carne's address was the event of the afternoon. He was a born speaker, and what was more, despite the short notice he had received, had made himself thoroughly conversant with his subject. His handsome face was on fire with excitement, and his sonorous voice rang through the large room like a trumpet call. When he sat down it was amidst a burst of applause. Lord Laverstock leant forward and shook hands with him.
"Your speech will be read all over England to-morrow morning," he said. "It should make a difference of thousands of pounds to the fund. I congratulate you most heartily upon it."
Simon Carne felt that if it was really going to make that difference he might, in the light of future events, heartily congratulate himself. He, however, accepted the praise showered upon him with becoming modesty, and, during the next speaker's exhibition of halting elocution, amused himself watching the faces before him, and speculating as to what they would say when the surprise he was going to spring upon them became known. Half an hour later, when the committee had been elected and the meeting had broken up, he bade his friends goodbye and set off on his return home. That evening he was dining at home, intending to call at his club afterwards, and to drop in at a reception and two dances between ten and midnight. After dinner, however, he changed his mind, and having instructed Ram Gafur to deny him to all callers, and countermanding his order for his carriage, went to his study, where he locked himself in and sat down to smoke and think.
He had set himself a puzzle which would have taxed the brain of that arch schemer Machiavelli himself. He was not, however, going to be beaten by it. There must be some way, he told himself, in which the fraud could be worked, and if there was he was going to find it. Numberless were the plans he formed, only to discover a few moments later that some little difficulty rendered each impracticable.
Suddenly, throwing down the pencil with which he had been writing, he sprang to his feet and began eagerly to pace the room. It was evident, from the expression upon his face, that he had touched upon a train of thought that was at last likely to prove productive. Reaching the fireplace for about the thirtieth time, he paused and gazed into the fireless grate. After standing there for a few moments he turned, and, with his hands in his pockets, said solemnly to himself: "Yes! I think it can be done!"
Whatever the train of thought may have been that led him to make this declaration, it was plain that it afforded him no small amount of satisfaction. He did not, however, commit himself at once to a decision, but continued to think over the scheme he had hit upon until he had completely mastered it. It was nearly midnight before he was thoroughly satisfied. Then he followed his invariable practice on such occasions, and rang for the inimitable Belton. When he had admitted him to the room, he bade him close and lock the door behind him.
By the time this had been done he had lit a fresh cigar, and had once more taken up his position on the hearthrug.
"I sent for you to say that I have just made up my mind to try a little scheme, compared with which all I have done so far will sink into insignificance."
"What is it, sir?" asked Belton.
"I will tell you, but you must not look so terrified. Put in a few words, it is neither more nor less than to attempt to divert the enormous sum of money which the prodigal English public is taking out of its pocket in order to assist the people of the Canary Islands, who have lost so severely by the recent terrible earthquake, into my own."
Belton's face expressed his astonishment.
"But, my dear sir," he said, "that's a fund of which the Marquis of Laverstock is president, and of whose committee you are one of the principal members."
"Exactly," answered Carne. "It is to those two happy circumstances I shall later on attribute the success I now mean to attain. Lord Laverstock is merely a pompous old nobleman, whose hobby is philanthropy. This lesson will do him good. It will be strange if, before I am a week older, I cannot twist him round my finger. Now for my instructions. In the first place, you must find me a moderate-sized house, fit for an elderly lady, and situated in a fairly fashionable quarter, say South Kensington. Furnish it on the hire system from one of the big firms, and engage three servants who can be relied upon to do their work, and, what is more important, who can hold their tongues.
"Next find me an old lady to impersonate the mistress of the house. She must be very frail and delicate-looking, and you will arrange with some livery stable people in the neighbourhood to supply her with a carriage, in which she will go for an airing every afternoon in order that the neighbourhood may become familiar with her personality. Both she and the servants must be made to thoroughly understand that their only chance of obtaining anything from me depends upon their carrying out my instructions to the letter. Also, while they are in the house, they must keep themselves to themselves. My identity, of course, must not transpire.
"As soon as I give the signal, the old lady must keep to the house, and the neighbourhood must be allowed to understand that she is seriously ill. The day following she will be worse, and the next she will be dead. You will then make arrangements for the funeral, order a coffin, and arrange for the conveyance of the body to Southampton, en route for the Channel Islands, where she is to be buried. At Southampton a yacht, which I will arrange for myself, will be in readiness to carry us out to sea. Do you think you understand?"
"Perfectly, sir," Belton replied, "but I wish I could persuade you to give up the attempt. You will excuse my saying so, sir, I hope, but it does seem to me a pity, when you have done so much, to risk losing it all over such a dangerous bit of business as this. It surely can't succeed, sir?"
"Belton," said Carne very seriously, "you strike me as being in a strange humour tonight, and I cannot say that I like it, Were it not that I have the most implicit confidence in you, I should begin to think you were turning honest. In that case our connection would be likely to be a very short one."
"I hope, sir," Belton answered in alarm, "that you still believe I am as devoted as ever to your interests."
"I do believe it," Carne replied. "Let the manner in which you carry out the various instructions I have just given you, confirm me in that belief. This is Wednesday. I shall expect you to come to me on Saturday with a report that the house has been taken and furnished, and that the servants are installed and the delicate old lady in residence."
"You may rely upon my doing my best, sir."
"I feel sure of that," said Carne, "and now that all is arranged I think that I will go to bed."
A week later a committee of the Canary Islands Relief Fund was able to announce to the world, through the columns of the Daily Press, that the generous public of England had subscribed no less a sum than one hundred thousand pounds for the relief of the sufferers by the late earthquake. The same day Carne attended a committee meeting in Gloucester Place. A proposition advanced by Lady Weltershall and seconded by Simon Carne was carried unanimously. It was to the effect that in a week's time such members of the Relief Committee as could get away should start for the scene of the calamity in the chairman's yacht, which had been placed at their disposal, taking with them, for distribution among the impoverished inhabitants of the Islands, the sum already subscribed, namely, one hundred thousand pounds in English gold. They would then be able, with the assistance of the English Consul, to personally superintend the distribution of their money, and also be in a position to report to the subscribers, when they returned to England, the manner in which the money had been utilized.
"In that case," said Carne, who had not only seconded the motion, but had put the notion into Lady Weltershall's head, "it might be as well if our chairman would interview the authorities of the bank, and arrange that the amount in question shall be packed, ready for delivery to the messengers he may select to call for it before the date in question."
"I will make it my business to call at the bank to-morrow morning," replied the chairman, "and perhaps you, Mr. Carne, would have no objection to accompany me."
"If it will facilitate the business of this committee I shall be only too pleased to do so," said Carne, and so it was settled.
On a Tuesday afternoon, six days later, and two days before the date upon which it had been arranged that the committee should sail, the Marquis of Laverstock received a letter. Lady Caroline Weltershall, the Earl of Amberley, and Simon Carne were with him when he opened it. He read it through, and then read it again, after which he turned to his guests.
"This is really a very extraordinary communication," he said, "and as it affects the matter we have most at heart, perhaps I had better read it to you:
154, Great Chesterton Street,
To the Most Noble the Marquis of Laverstock,
As one who has been permitted to enjoy a long and peaceful life in a country where such visitations are happily unknown, I take the liberty of writing to your Lordship to say how very much I should like to subscribe to the fund so nobly started by you and your friends to assist the poor people who have lost so much by the earthquake in the Canary Islands. Being a lonely old woman, blessed by Providence with some small share of worldly wealth, I feel it my duty to make some small sacrifice to help others who have not been so blessed.
Unfortunately, I do not enjoy very good health, but if your Lordship could spare a moment to call upon me, I would like to thank you in the name of Womanhood for all you have done, and, in proof of my gratitude, would willingly give you my cheque for the sum of ten thousand pounds to add to the amount already subscribed. I am permitted by my doctors to see visitors between the hours of eleven and twelve in the morning, and five and six in the afternoon. I should then be both honoured and pleased to see your Lordship.
Trusting you will concede me this small favour, I have the honour to be,
Yours very sincerely,
There was a momentary pause after his lordship had finished reading the letter.
"What will you do?" inquired Lady Caroline.
"It is a noble offering," put in Simon Carne.
"I think there cannot be two opinions as to what is my duty," replied the chairman. "I shall accede to her request, though why she wants to see me is more than I can tell."
"As she hints in the letter, she wishes to congratulate you personally on what you have done," continued the Earl of Amberley; "and as it will be the handsomest donation we have yet received, it will, perhaps, be as well to humour her."
"In that case I will do as I say, and make it my business to call there this afternoon between five and six. And now it is my duty to report to you that Mr. Simon Carne and I waited upon the authorities at the Bank this morning, and have arranged that the sum of one hundred thousand pounds in gold shall be ready for our messengers when they call for it, either to-morrow morning or to- morrow afternoon at latest."
"It is a large sum to take with us," said Lady Caroline. "I trust it will not prove a temptation to thieves!"
"You need have no fear on that score," replied his lordship. "As I have explained to the manager, my own trusted servants will effect the removal of the money, accompanied by two private detectives, who will remain on board my yacht until we weigh anchor. We have left nothing to chance. To make the matter doubly sure, I have also arranged that the money shall not be handed over except to a person who shall present my cheque, and at the same time show this signet ring which I now wear upon my finger."
The other members of the committee expressed themselves as perfectly satisfied with this arrangement, and when certain other business had been transacted the meeting broke up.
As soon as he left Berkeley Square Carne returned with all haste to Porchester House. Reaching his study he ordered that Belton should be at once sent to him.
"Now, Belton," he said, when the latter stood before him, "there is not a moment to lose. Lord Laverstook will be at Great Chesterton Street in about two hours. Send a messenger to Waterloo to inquire if they can let us have a special train at seven o'clock to take a funeral party to Southampton. Use the name of Merryburn, and you may say that the amount of the charge, whatever it may be, will be paid before the train starts. As soon as you obtain a reply, bring it to 154, Great Chesterton Street. In the meantime I shall disguise myself and go on to await you there. On the way I shall wire to the captain of the yacht at Southampton to be prepared for us. Do you understand what you have to do?"
"Perfectly, sir," Belton replied. "But I must confess that I am very nervous."
"There is no need to be. Mark my words, everything will go like clockwork. Now I am going to change my things and prepare for the excursion."
He would have been a sharp man who would have recognised in the dignified-looking clergyman who drove up in a hansom to 154, Great Chesterton Street, half an hour later, Simon Carne, who had attended the committee meeting of the Canary Island Relief Fund that afternoon. As he alighted he looked up, and saw that all the blinds were drawn down, and that there were evident signs that Death had laid his finger on the house. Having dismissed his cab he rang the bell, and when the door was opened entered the house. The butler who admitted him had been prepared for his coming. He bowed respectfully, and conducted him to the drawing-room. There he found an intensely respectable old lady, attired in black silk, seated beside the window.
"Go upstairs," he said peremptorily, "and remain in the room above this until you are told to come down. Be careful not to let yourself be seen. As soon as it gets dark to-night you can leave the house, but not till then. Before you go the money promised you will be paid. Now be off upstairs, and make sure that none of the neighbours catch sight of you."
Ten minutes later a man, who might have been a retired military officer, and who was dressed in deepest black, drove up, and was admitted to the house. Though no one would have recognised him, Carne addressed him at once as "Belton."
"What have you arranged about the train?" he asked, as soon as they were in the drawing-room together.
"I have settled that it shall be ready to start for Southampton punctually at seven o'clock," the other answered.
"And what about the hearse?"
"It will be here at a quarter to seven, without fail."
"Very good; we will have the corpse ready meanwhile. Now, before you do anything else, have the two lower blinds in the front drawn up. If he thinks there is trouble in the house he may take fright, and we must not scare our bird away after all the bother we have had to lure him here."
For the next hour they were busily engaged perfecting their arrangements. These were scarcely completed before a gorgeous landau drove up to the house, and Belton reported that the footman had alighted and was ascending the steps.
"Let his lordship be shown into the drawing-room," said Simon Carne, "and as soon as he is there do you, Belton, wait at the door. I'll call you when I want you."
Carne went into the drawing-room and set the door ajar. As he did so he heard the footman inquire whether Mrs. O'Halloran was at home, and whether she would see his master. The butler answered in the affirmative, and a few moments later the Marquis ascended the steps.
"Will you be pleased to step this way, my lord," said the servant. "My mistress is expecting you, and will see you at once."
When he entered the drawing-room he discovered the same portly, dignified clergyman whom the neighbours had seen enter the house an hour or so before, standing before the fireplace.
"Good-afternoon, my lord," said this individual, as the door closed behind the butler. "If you will be good enough to take a seat, Mrs. O'Halloran will be down in a few moments."
His lordship did as he was requested, and while doing so commented on the weather, and allowed his eyes to wander round the room. He took in the grand piano, the easy chairs on either side of the book-case, and the flower-stand in the window. He could see that there was plain evidence of wealth in these things. What his next thought would have been can only be conjectured, for he was suddenly roused from his reverie by hearing the man say in a gruff voice: "It's all up, my lord. If you move or attempt to cry out, you're a dead man!"
Swinging round he discovered a revolver barrel pointed at his head. He uttered an involuntary cry of alarm, and made as if he would rise.
"Sit down, sir," said the clergyman authoritatively. "Are you mad that you disobey me? You do not know with whom you are trifling."
"What do you mean?" cried the astonished peer, his eyes almost starting from his head. "I demand to be told what this behaviour means. Are you aware who I am?"
"Perfectly," the other replied. "As to your other question, you will know nothing more than I choose to tell you. What's more, I should advise you to hold your tongue, unless you desire to be gagged. That would be unpleasant for all parties."
Then, turning to the door, he cried: "Come in, Dick!"
A moment later the military individual, who had been to Waterloo to arrange about the train, entered the room to find the Most Noble the Marquis of Laverstock seated in an easy chair, almost beside himself with terror, with the venerable clergyman standing over him revolver in hand.
"Dick, my lad," said the latter quietly, "his lordship has been wise enough to hear reason. No, sir, thank you, your hands behind your back, as arranged, if you please. If you don't obey me I shall blow your brains out, and it would be a thousand pities to spoil this nice Turkey carpet. That's right. Now Dick, my lad, I want his lordship's pocket-book from his coat and those sheets of note-paper and envelopes we brought with us. I carry a stylographic pen myself, so there is no need of ink."
These articles having been obtained, they were placed on a table beside him, and Carne took possession of the pocket-book. He leisurely opened it, and from it took the cheque for one hundred thousand pounds, signed by the chairman and committee of the Canary Island Relief Fund, which had been drawn that afternoon.
"Now take the pen," he said, "and begin to write. Endeavour to remember that I am in a hurry, and have no time to waste. Let the first letter be to the bank authorities. Request them, in your capacity of Chairman of the Relief Fund, to hand to the bearers the amount of the cheque in gold."
"I will do no such thing," cried the old fellow sturdily. "Nothing shall induce me to assist you in perpetrating such a fraud."
"I am sorry to hear that," said Carne sweetly, "for I am afraid in that case we shall be compelled to make you submit to a rather unpleasant alternative. Come, sir, I will give you three minutes in which to write that letter. If at the end of that time you have not done so, I shall proceed to drastic measures."
So saying, he thrust the poker into the fire in a highly suggestive manner. Needless to say, within the time specified the letter had been written, placed in its envelope, and directed.
"Now I shall have to trouble you to fill in this telegraph form to your wife, to tell her that you have been called out of town, and do not expect to be able to return until tomorrow."
The other wrote as directed, and when he had done so Carne placed this paper also in his pocket.
"Now I want that signet ring upon your finger, if you please."
The old gentleman handed it over to his persecutor with a heavy sigh. He had realized that it was useless to refuse.
"Now that wine-glass on the sideboard, Dick," said the clergyman, "also that carafe of water. When you have given them to me, go and see that the other things I spoke to you about are ready."
Having placed the articles in question upon the table Belton left the room. Carne immediately filled the glass, into which he poured about a tablespoonful of some dark liquid from a bottle which he took from his pocket, and which he had brought with him for that purpose.
"I'll have to trouble you to drink this, my lord," he said, as he stirred the contents of the glass with an ivory paper knife taken from the table. "You need have no fear. It is perfectly harmless, and will not hurt you."
"I will not touch it," replied the other. "Nothing you can do or say will induce me to drink a drop of it."
Carne examined his watch ostentatiously.
"Time flies, I regret to say," he answered impressively, "and I cannot stay to argue the question with you. I will give you three minutes to do as I have ordered you. If you have not drunk it by that time we shall be compelled to repeat the little persuasion we tried with such success a few moments since."
"You wish to kill me," cried the other. "I will not drink it. I will not be murdered. You are a fiend to attempt such a thing."
"I regret to say you are wasting time," replied his companion. "I assure you if you drink it you will not be hurt. It is merely an opiate intended to put you to sleep until we have time to get away in safety. Come, that delightful poker is getting hot again, and if you do not do what I tell you, trouble will ensue. Think well before you refuse."
There was another pause, during which the unfortunate nobleman gazed first at the poker, which had been thrust between the bars of the grate, and then at the relentless being who stood before him, revolver in hand. Never had a member of the House of Lords been placed in a more awkward and unenviable position.
"One minute," said Carne quietly.
There was another pause, during which the Marquis groaned in a heartrending manner. Carne remembered with a smile that the family title had been bestowed upon one of the Marquis' ancestors for bravery on the field of battle.
As he spoke he stooped and gave the poker a little twist.
The words were scarcely out of his mouth before Lord Laverstock threw up his hands.
"You are a heartless being to make me, but I will drink," he cried, and with an ashened face he immediately swallowed the contents of the glass.
"Thank you," said Carne politely.
The effect produced by the drug was almost instantaneous. A man could scarcely have counted a hundred before the old gentleman, who had evidently resigned himself to his fate, laid himself back in his chair and was fast asleep.
"He has succumbed even quicker than I expected," said Carne to himself as he bent over the prostrate figure and listened to his even breathing. "It is, perhaps, just as well that this drug is not known in England. At any rate, on this occasion it has answered my purpose most admirably."
At five minutes before seven o'clock a hearse containing the mortal remains of Mrs. O'Halloran, of Great Chesterton Street, South Kensington, entered the yard of Waterloo Station, accompanied by a hansom cab. A special train was in waiting to convey the party, which consisted of the deceased's brother, a retired Indian officer, and her cousin, the vicar of a Somersetshire parish, to Southampton, where a steam yacht would transport them to Guernsey, in which place the remains were to be interred beside those of her late husband.
"I think we may congratulate ourselves, Belton, on having carried it out most successfully," said Carne when the coffin had been carried on board the yacht and placed in the saloon. "As soon as we are under weigh we'll have this lid off and get the poor old gentleman out. He has had a good spell of it in there, but he may congratulate himself that the ventilating arrangements of his temporary home were so perfectly attended to. Otherwise I should have trembled for the result."
A few hours later, having helped his guest to recover consciousness, and having seen him safely locked up in a cabin on board, the yacht put in at a little seaport town some thirty or forty miles from Southampton Water, and landed two men in time to catch the midnight express to London. The following afternoon they rejoined the yacht a hundred miles or so further down the coast. When they were once more out at sea Carne called the skipper to his cabin.
"How has your prisoner conducted himself during our absence?" he asked. "Has he given any trouble?"
"Not a bit," replied the man. "The poor old buffer's been too sick to make a row. He sent away his breakfast and his lunch untouched. The only thing he seems to care about is champagne, and that he drinks by the bottle full. I never saw a better man at his bottle in all my life."
"A little sickness will do him no harm; he'll have a better appetite when he gets on dry land again," said Carne. "His time is pretty well up now, and as soon as it is dark to-night we'll put him ashore. Let me know when you sight the place."
"Very good, sir," replied the skipper, and immediately he returned to the deck again.
It was well after ten o'clock that evening when Simon Carne, still attired as a respectable Church of England clergyman, unlocked the door and entered his prisoner's cabin.
"You will be glad to hear, my lord," he said, "that your term of imprisonment has at last come to an end. You had better get up and dress, for a boat will be alongside in twenty minutes to take you ashore."
The unfortunate gentleman needed no second bidding. Ill as he had hitherto been, he seemed to derive new life from the other's words. At any rate, he sprang out of his bunk, and set to work to dress with feverish energy. All the time Carne sat and watched him with an amused smile upon his face. So soon as he was ready, and the captain had knocked at the door, he was conducted to the deck and ordered to descend into a shore boat, which had come off in answer to a signal, and was now lying alongside in readiness.
Carne and Belton leant over the bulwarks to watch him depart.
"Good-bye, my lord," cried the former, as the boat moved away. "It has been a sincere pleasure to me to entertain you, and I only hope that, in return, you have enjoyed your little excursion. You might give my respectful compliments to the members of the Canary Island Relief Fund, and tell them that there is at least one person on board this yacht who appreciates their kindly efforts."
Then his lordship stood up, and shook his fist at the yacht until it had faded away, and could no longer be seen owing to the darkness. Presently Carne turned to Belton.
"So much for the Most Noble the Marquis of Laverstock," he said, "and the Canary Island Relief Fund. Now, let us be off to town. To-morrow I must be Simon Carne once more."
Next morning Simon Carne rose from his couch, in his luxurious bedroom, a little later than usual. He knew he should be tired, and had instructed Belton not to come in until he rang his bell. When the latter appeared he bade him bring in the morning papers. He found what he wanted in the first he opened, on the middle page, headed with three lines of large type:
THE MARQUIS OF LAVERSTOCK ABDUCTED.
THE CANARY ISLAND RELIEF FUND STOLEN.
"This looks quite interesting," said Carne, as he folded the paper in order to be able the better to read the account. "As I know something of the case I shall be interested to see what they have to say about it. Let me see."
The newspaper version ran as follows:
"Of all the series of extraordinary crimes which it has been our unfortunate duty to chronicle during this year of great rejoicing, it is doubtful whether a more impudent robbery has been perpetrated than that which we have to place before our readers this morning. As every one is well aware, a large fund has been collected from all classes for the relief of the sufferers by the recent Canary Island earthquake. On the day before the robbery took place this fund amounted to no less a sum than one hundred thousand pounds, and to-morrow it was the intention of the committee, under the presidency of the Most Noble the Marquis of Laverstock, to proceed to the seat of the disaster, taking with them the entire amount of the sum raised in English gold. Unfortunately for the success of this scheme, his lordship was the recipient, two days ago, of a letter from a person purporting to reside in Great Chesterton Street, South Kensington. She signed herself Janet O'Halloran, and offered to add a sum of ten thousand pounds to the amount already collected, provided the Marquis would call and collect her cheque personally. The excuse given for this extraordinary stipulation was that she wished to convey to him her thanks for the trouble he had taken.
"Accordingly, feeling that he had no right to allow such a chance to slip, his lordship visited the house. He was received in the drawing-room by a man dressed in the garb of a clergyman, who, assisted by a military-looking individual, presently clapped a revolver to his head and demanded, under the threat of all sorts of penalties, that he should give up to him the cheque drawn upon the Bank, and which it was the Marquis's intention to have cashed the following morning. Not satisfied with this assurance, he was also made to write an order to the banking authorities authorising them to pay over the money to the bearer, who was a trusted agent, while at the same time he was to supply them with his signet ring, which, as had already been arranged, would prove that the messengers were genuine and what they pretended to be. Next he was ordered to drink a powerful opiate, and after that his lordship remembers nothing more until he woke to find himself on board a small yacht in mid-channel. Despite the agony he was suffering, he was detained on board this piratical craft until late last night, when he was set ashore at a small village within a few miles of Plymouth. Such is his lordship's story. The sequel to the picture is as follows.
"Soon after the Bank was opened yesterday, a respectable-looking individual, accompanied by three others, who were introduced to the manager as private detectives, put in an appearance and presented the Relief Fund's cheque at the counter. In reply to inquiries the letter written by the Marquis was produced, and the signet ring shown. Never for a moment doubting that these were the messengers the Bank had all along been told to expect, the money was handed over and placed in a handsome private omnibus which was waiting outside. It was not until late last night, when a telegram was received from the Marquis of Laverstock from Plymouth, that the nature of the gigantic fraud which had been perpetrated was discovered. The police authorities were immediately communicated with and the matter placed in their hands. Unfortunately, however, so many hours had been allowed to elapse that it was extremely difficult to obtain any clue that might ultimately lead to the identification of the parties concerned in the fraud. So far the case bids fair to rank with those other mysterious robberies which, during the last few months, have shocked and puzzled all England."
"I regard that as a remarkably able exposition of the case," said Carne to himself with a smile as he laid the paper down, "but what an account the man would be able to write if only he could know what is in my safe upstairs!"
That afternoon he attended a committee meeting of the fund at Weltershall House. The unfortunate nobleman whose unpleasant experience has founded the subject of this story was present. Carne was among the first to offer him an expression of sympathy.
"I don't know that I ever heard of a more outrageous case," he said. "I only hope that the scoundrels may be soon brought to justice."
"In the meantime what about the poor people we intended to help?" asked Lady Weltershall.
"They shall not lose," replied Lord Laverstock. "I shall refund the entire amount myself."
"No, no, my lord; that would be manifestly unfair," said Simon Carne. "We are all trustees of the fund, and what happened is as much our fault as yours. If nine other people will do the same I am prepared to contribute a sum of ten thousand pounds towards the fund."
"I will follow your example," said the Marquis.
"I also," continued Lord Amberley.
By nightfall seven other gentlemen had done the same, and, as Simon Carne said as he totalled the amounts: "By this means the Canary Islanders will not be losers after all."